You are not entitled to my attention

Ignoring someone can be the most powerfully feminist action anyone can choose to take. There’s situations and types of entitlement it’s especially effective against, especially when women receive unwanted attention from men.

Dear attention-seekers: I know it’s hard being you. There’s really very little attention to go around these days, what with advertising everywhere, cellphones, e-readers, and mp3 players vying for your favoured commodity. But you’re not entitled to my attention, no matter what context you want it in.

Female attention-seekers seem to be quite keen on feminism only so far as it produces positives for them: as they see it, their opinion is more valued, less suppressed, and agreed with more readily now that the social paradigm has shifted to take at least some tenets of feminism into account, and tend to hide behind it as a shield to a certain degree when they don’t get what they want beyond the point that feminism would actually support. (I’m not saying this is a common thing in general, just among attention-seekers- they tend to treat ANY potential social advantage that way)

The problem is that this is a completely straw-feminist position. A woman is entitled to equal treatment by anyone who believes in equality or feminism on principle, but that doesn’t mean that any given thought or action a woman expresses or takes should be defended automatically. Feminism is about criticising unequal treatment, and the ways in which women are built up when they shouldn’t be- the kid gloves many men use on women that they view as sexually attainable, when they’re lacking social skills or could do with thinking more critically- that attitude is just as sexist as the unfair and negative treatment more prominent women receive.

One of the most feminist things I do around women is to be ambivalent when they’re pretending to be someone they’re not, when they’re feeling entitled, or when they’re simply attention-seeking. It’s an excellent contrast to the supportive side of feminism, and I don’t even have to be critical to do it, and when used together with supportive feminism, withdrawing praise or attention can actually change people’s behaviour quite dramatically when they value you socially.

But it can get me some odd reactions sometimes. It’s especially a mixed blessing in the dating world, (or at least, the 90% of it or so that involves androsexual women) but it’s not like beliefs are something that can be turned off. Attention is something that people earn, it’s not necessarily a right, and while you get a little of it for free, you can lose it pretty fast, too. While needy favoritism might be successful in getting some positive feedback on the surface, acting out something closer to what you actually feel about people is a pretty good policy.

Reaction: What isn’t wrong with hate crimes legislation

I picked up on an article in the online edition of the Times by John Cloud this morning on the extension of hate crimes legislation in the USA.

Firstly, let me agree with John Cloud on the critical point here: We can neither police what is in someone’s head, nor can we limit their ability to peacefully express their thoughts. This is what freedom of speech as a legislative principle is about. But hate crimes are not free speech, because they’re not speech. Punishing a hate crime more than an ordinary killing, assault, or harassment doesn’t risk punishing people for being wrong- rather, the angle of attack it’s most vulnerable to (and I don’t agree with this, I’m just being straightforward) is that it’s disproportionate punishment.

John claims that this additional strictness in sentencing is to punish someone for thinking bad things. I completely disagree: the extra punishment is because there are two crimes involved, not just one. The obvious crime is the physical or mental harm inflicted by the damage of the crime directly, and John correctly acknowledges that.

However, the less obvious crime is not that minority groups are outraged or encouraged to riot- no, those are reactions, not causes. The less obvious crime is that hate crimes are an act of domination. They tell people of other races, sexualities, or gender identities to shut up, take what they’re given, and to be very afraid that if they don’t comply with what a few violent and hateful individuals think, they will be harassed, hurt, or killed.

While these visions of kyriarchy might be protected inside someone’s head, or as words on paper, or even in a public speech, expressing them as violent crime aimed to intimidate and dominate the wider culture is indeed going further than a regular violent offense, and the harm that these acts of terrorism- and make no mistake, this is how hate crimes are intended to work, to terrify portions of the populace- need to be deterred with whatever extra muscle we can throw at them.

It’s also disingenuous to say that the only thing someone will care about with regard to hate crimes is the actual crime: I care about the motivation because that motivation spreads, and makes it more dangerous for me to be open about who I am, or for transgender people to transition, or for women to be out at night, or any number of other worries that come along with being who you are and doing what you want to. Hate crimes legislation is a strike back, it gives a little more courage, and tells everyone that the government is on your side a little.

John argues hate crimes legislation doesn’t need to extend to private land1 because hate crimes are already falling. I’m going to have to disagree with him that this is a good reason to abandon protective legislation: This law isn’t what’s going to end hate crimes altogether. The biggest reduction to hate crimes will come when everyone can actually understand and empathise with people of different sexualities, races, and gender identities, and I agree that hate crimes legislation, no matter how comprehensive and punitive, will make little difference. The point of hate crimes legislation is to act as a line in the sand, it starts as a symbol and hopefully gets people to think twice about making that leap from merely being wrong, which ought to never be a crime, to doing wrong- which often is. It gives courage to those of us worried about being a victim, and lets us act a little more closely to how free the average rich white guy can. 😉

1I’ll do him the favour of assuming his opposition to the bill proposed is not on the basis of it extending hate crimes protections to include acts of violence based on gender identity or sexual orientation, because I find the idea of someone opposing that appalling. Who knows if that’s optimistic or not?

Would the other ex-partners please stand up?

So, I’m going to issue an ultimatum here: I don’t care whether Pauline Hanson really was photographed nude by an ex-boyfriend or not, and it has nothing to do with her being from over the ditch. But what I do care about is this: How is it not trying to dismiss her career because she, at one point, may have dared to have sex while being female?

Politicians, even ones you or I don’t like- are entitled to have sex lives, especially if we want to be able to vote for people who have stable long-term partners or children. Sex lives are almost always a necessary ingredient there. We cannot then turn around and try to make our (or Australia’s) representatives ashamed of one of the parts of their life that makes them so able to understand our lives as citizens and voters. Being a politician certainly exposes you to embarrassment, but if we as a society agree that sexy times need to stay in the bedroom, (or at least, behind closed doors) then we have to afford the same level of consideration to our representatives- at least so far as they’re willing to stay out of our own bedrooms. That’s the case against this sort of tabloid “journalism” in general: that it attacks people who are living ordinary lives to pander to our prejudices.

But what else causes me to be dismissive of this bitter popularity grab to discredit Pauline Hanson is that no ex-partner of any male politician has ever pulled this sort of crap. (Partly, this is because women and gay men don’t tend to think as much that they own anyone they’ve seen in a sexual relationship before, while some straight men definitely do think that way of all their partners) I don’t think it even matters if those photos are of her or not: there’s no reason to pay attention to them in a world where only women can have their careers sabotaged by the papers when they are caught having sex. We can talk more about the general moral consequences of sexy photos if it’s Kevin Rudd or John Key next.

edit: Looking around the interwebs, QoT reminded me of yet another thing that pissed me off about the coverage that led me to write about this, which I had forgotten overnight: TV3 doesn’t get to excuse showing nude pictures of someone who may be Pauline Hanson because she’s willing to wear lycra, unless being caught wearing tight jeans on TV somehow turns me into a male porn star. (In which case, I better start avoiding cameras…)

It still is.

This is going to be a brief one.

I don’t care that you just touched and caressed. It still is.

I don’t care that it was just one of you giving and the other receiving. It still is.

I don’t care if neither of you got there, it still is.

I don’t care if you only used your mouth, it still is.

I don’t care if you only used a toy, it still is sex.

I don’t even care if one of you got off without any bodily contact due to some obscure pie-fighting fetish, even then it is still sex. Because it involved intentional manipulation of your partner for pleasure.

And for all of you out there in penis-land wondering how lesbians have sex, maybe I’ve just explained a few things. My god we can be dumb sometimes- this is a thing that even teenagers can learn with their fumbling experiments. That all the bases matter. Because we’re still playing the same ballgame.

So, kindly expand your definition of “sex” beyond penis-in-vagina. Thankyou.

The end of the global gag rule?

For those depressed by our own election, hopefully this chunk of news over at Shakesville will cheer you up. 🙂

Family First is at it again.

This time, “it” is the new bylaw allowing nudity that is not determined to be indecent on Kapiti coast beaches.

Apparently, a “decency check” is not enough for groups like Family first- any nudity is wrong and could potentially cause innocent children instant psychological harm. One wonders how Bob McCoskrie and the children he is out to “protect” manage at the swimming pool, where theu are no doubt confronted with plenty of penises in just a few minutes while changing. Or maybe nudity is only bad when it lasts long enough, like staring into a bright light. Who knows?

They’re swarming all over the Dominion Post now, too, with angry letters about how one of their opinion editors seemed to think a good test of whether something was morally permissable was to see if Bob McCoskrie opposed it. Good on her.

As far as I’m concerned, it can only do children good to be exposed to men and women who are not ashamed of their bodies, given the unhealthy pressures society piles on to have “ideal bodies”. A little nudity only hurts when you’ve been conditioned to panic at it, as my changing room example might remind you.

Why “Slut” is still sexist

So, I’ve been annoying my brother recently by challenging his usage of the word “slut”. (And no, that doesn’t mean I think my brother’s sexist, hold on for a second!)

Interesting, he’s actually using the word in a gender-neutral way, (ie. he’s also calling men sluts, and applying it to other habits than sexuality) which almost makes it seem okay to me. I’ve thought about this a bit since I last discussed it with him and I think I’ve hit on what’s bothering me, despite the obvious reaction of “calling men names is not the way to fix the fact that women are called names.”

The problem is that when we use the word “slut” to describe men, even if we’re using it as a term meaning they’re not appropriately careful with who they do the deed with, we’re still not using it consistently with how the word is used in regards to women.

When we “reclaim”1 the word slut to use it against men, it tends to get used to criticise a habit. But when we use the word slut to describe a woman, it’s almost always understood as a dismissal of what she’s saying, what she’s doing, or even of her worth to the speaker as a person. There is no such undertone for men- if men have “bad” sexual habits, that’s mostly viewed as some private failing. (Unless you’re a politician and you get caught at it)

When women have “bad” sexual habits, (much like when they have “bad” appearances) it becomes a standard by which we can judge their entire character and use to denigrate or dismiss them as we wish. The problem is not so much the word as the power we as a society have granted to the idea behind it- and this is something I’ll discuss more as we go along- that it carries with it the connotation that all women are either virgins or whores2, and as a slut, you fall into the latter category, and can thus be mistreated.

1 Really, I don’t think turning around a sexist insult counts as reclaiming a word, so much as turning the patriarchy back on itself. While perhaps useful as an object lesson for men particularly hypocritical about their own sexual habits, I don’t really want to see this happening on a wider scale.
2 This is why “Your mother” jokes are so powerful- motherhood is a positive female image, (thus making us view our mothers as if they’re virgins) but it clashes with our view of women who have sex* as whores- creating cognitive dissonance and challenging our expectations about society. Yeah, humour can be deep sometimes.
* Yeah, okay, I know it’s possible to be a mother without having had sex- but it’s vanishingly unlikely, as most mothers who are artificially inseminated, or who are do-it-yourself-non-sexually-impregnated are still likely to have had sex beforehand, whether with a man or a woman. The point is that motherhood, one of the coolest things in our society, is a result of women who have sex. Therefore, women having sex can be a positive and beautiful thing beyond just the self-gratification involved.

In which I reconstruct sexuality

So, one of the really interesting works on sexuality (and more notably bisexuality) is the Kinsey Scale. While being an excellent example of forward-thinking classification that came about from excellent research into homo- and bisexuality in both men and women. However, it’s old- it was first published in 1948, and it doesn’t really delve deep into the issues surrounding sexuality.

The Klein Grid expands upon the the Kinsey scale and gives a much broader background. It recognises a large number of things which are important to sexuality, including drawing distinctions between (sexual-) orientation and lifestyle, action and ideation, recognising the impact of emotional attraction as well as physical attraction, the realisation of changing conceptions of sexuality and actions reflecting those conceptions causing him to question people seperately about their past, present, and the ideal future they would like. He also raised the idea of socialisation being as relevant to sexuality as gender is.

In some ways the Klein Grid is excellent, perhaps even too comprehensive- there are seven variables, which each belong to one of two sets of seven answers along the Kinsey scale, and each variable needs an answer for not only the past and the present, but also the ideal future. But I also find Klein’s variables inadequate- for instance, asexuality is completely undefinable on the Klein Grid.

What are the key things we can learn from Klein’s conception of sexuality?  Well, for a start, I would probably rework his variables into something new:

  • Reaction: Are you more likely to react sexually to women or men?
  • Ideation: Are you more likely to fantasise about men or women?
  • Action: Are you more likely to form relationships with or have sex with women or men?
  • Socialisation: Are you more likely to socialise with men or women?
  • Gender identification: Do you see yourself as a woman or a man?
  • Approach: Are you more interested in companionship or sex?
  • Sexual drive: How compelled to have sex, or interested in sex, are you in general?

I personally think that changes in the answers to these questions generally reflect self-attitude or self-discovery rather than fluid sexuality, but perhaps that’s an ideological blindspot of my own. The research on the subject does seem to give credence to the idea that sexuality is something that’s “set”, however1– what it’s set by is an interesting question. The Klein Grid is great for biographical purposes, but in terms of trying to classify sexuality, I think it complicates things needlessly.

I personally think sexual drive is also incredibly important to any discussion of continuous sexuality- people with extremely high sexual drives behave very differently to people with low sexual drives, and of course, there are those with little to no interest in sex. Discussion of sexual drive is largely missing from analysis of sexuality, although it’s been a practical concern to people on the front line of counselling or advice since those professions were first formed.

1And that perceived change in sexuality is actually self-discovery.

On “innocence”

There’s a very interesting view in New Zealand that seems to permeate through certain sections of the population.

Namely, it’s the view that children are born innocent and that society corrupts them as they go along. The view that we should all aspire to be like children.

While I agree that there is much to be liked about children- their enthusiasm, their openness, their caring nature, their carefree competition, and desire to learn and explore, for instance- I also know that children are far from innocent. Children will happily repeat racist and sexist slurs they hear from their parents or from other children with no idea what they mean- because they are naive and in many cases sheltered from the harm done by words. As discussed elsewhere, children will beat and bully each other into submission, and stand by or enable bullies. Children don’t care about being objective, they are highly partisan and before they become teenagers, they tend to be devoted largely to what they’ve been taught by their parents.

So you’ll have to excuse me when I reject the notion that children having sex is corrupting their innocence or some larger failure of society. Nope. It’s because puberty is accelerated in modern society with more plentiful and sometimes more nutritious food available. (and also partly due to lax farming standards that include hormones and other “goodies” in our meat, but fortunately we don’t do as badly on that sort of practice with locally grown food) It’s because we have a society where children have small amounts of independence at school and afterwards and parents are generally only accepted as authoritarian lords over their families when they panic1 and decide to hurt or abuse their children. Oh, and it’s also because we don’t try to stop them finding out about sex, say, by never talking about it among ourselves in public.

Now, while our conservative friends may realise that children that bully aren’t necessarily to be emulated by adults, they don’t seem to extend this logic to children who are sexually ignorant. Apparently they would like us to believe that a ring and a promise will arbitrarily heal everyone’s relationship issues, that sex before then is less than ideal, that teenagers having sex will inevitably result not only in teen pregnancy, (not if you educate them and make sure they have condoms and other birth control if they have girlfriends/boyfriends) but also abortions. (see before, see their opposition to emergency contraceptives despite the ones being sold or given away in New Zealand not even being physically capable of performing an abortion) Even worse than that, our friends to the right railed against a policy that made sure that girls would be protected from cervical cancer through the HPV should they ever choose to have sex. (yes, family first again linked to this article. Aren’t they lovely?)

It strikes me as an inherent contradiction to maintain that kids that don’t have sex (well, at least until they’re old enough and independent enough to get married without your consent) are “innocent” and somehow more morally pure for their virginity even when they are bullying each other, and even when you claim that this behaviour is so bad you’re prepared to hit them for it.

And that’s not the worst of it- this concept of sexual innocence is directly psychologically damaging. Not only does it disproportionately punish young girls for being sexually active, (as opposed to treating young boys equally) it treats teenage pregnancy as somehow making daughters and sisters “damaged goods” sexually and in their career life instead of merely viewing a symptom of bad social choices encouraged by our lacking support of young people being safe in their sexuality. And it’s not just teenagers who get damaged when women’s virginity is held up on a pillar- it hurts rape victims, it hurts women who decide to have casual sex and are then shamed for it if they speak about it, it hurts women who have had experiences in imperfect relationships and are viewed as threateningly independent by future partners or husbands.

Even beyond that, it hurts men too, implying that male sexuality is some sort of corruptive agent, that loving someone safely and with regard for their mind body and feelings is wrong, that sex is something dirty we inflict on people and we shouldn’t talk about it to learn how to do it better and with more care and respect. And even beyond that, it implies that homosexuality extends that corruption to other men, (and you begin to see part of why those influenced by conservative religious doctrine like this idea now) that anal sex is necessarily wrong, (despite the fact that women do it with men, too) and all these other ridiculous ideas around penetration being some sort of shame.

We’re also missing the effect it has on women who initiate sex- because the idea is that she’s to be shamed for wanting it, there’s this false implication (and it tends to be more an assumption than an issue of denial) that women simply do not, or should not, initiate sex, nor should they approach men to try and strike up a relationship- women are supposed to be subtle little wallflowers, after all.

And that has two more (fortunately the last I want to talk about here) flow-on effects: People raped by women are treated with additional skepticism because women “simply don’t do that”. I suspect this seems to be because of the perception that rape is exclusively a violent crime- yet all cases of women commiting rape I’ve ever heard of have involved abuses of power which involve the woman in question adding a sexual dynamic to an existing relationship that’s unbalanced in her favour. (Don’t get the impression that women are unique in this though- men commit almost all rapes, yet that element is present in most rapes overall anyway, as most rapists are trusted by their victim. Consider rape-incest or pedophilia.)

Finally, it also justifies rape and sexual misbehaviour committed by men, due to a perception that innocence must be guarded- what went wrong that “we let” this happen to young boys when charges are laid against priests for sexually abusing them. How women “need to keep themselves safe”, how “drinking is making young women vulnerable”, how men get away with saying disgusting things like how they “just couldn’t help themselves”- and get such statements covered without editorial criticism in the media. Innocence, at least in the sense of not being violated, is not maintained through vigilance. It’s taken without consent.

1If you follow the link, please note how none of these people were charged except when someone who was suspected to be trustworthy was willing to testify. There’s apparently more than one way to beat something up.

note: Apologies I was late with this one, I’ve been writing all over the place today.

Let’s talk words (in which I am apolitically correct)

Words are powerful things. While the origin of the quote is disputed, back in the annals of history, several people opined something along the lines of “among great leaders, the pen is mightier than the sword”, referring to how the best leaders recognise the power of ideas before they recognise military power. Words fuel discrimination in huge ways, whether we dismiss this fuel or not. And words are one of the most insidious ways we disrespect and disclude women, transsexual, intersex, and homosexual people, even beyond the fact that words are largely classist due to the fact that you need a very good education to understand even half of them. Maybe thousands of years later, we’ll be arguing about who said that words determine the way we think.

There’s nothing political about political correctness- you don’t need to be left-wing to value social justice. It’s about taking away the power of words to dictate the way we think- have you ever wondered why talking about doctors gets people to assume you’re talking about men? Possibly because you’re used to having other subtle indicators in people’s language point out the gender of the person they’re talking about for you, which are largely absent with doctors. Possibly because the way many people use English assumes that male is the norm or default. One of the most wonderful things feminism has brought with it, to my mind, is the idea of English as a language that’s no longer normative, where there are a lot less assumptions about what a word, and therefore a sentence, means.

A prominent example of sexist words is that our pronouns are gendered and binary. Some people insist that you’re a he or a she, or if you’re lucky, a (s)he. (even if you’re intersex or transgendered or genderqueer) Recently we’ve been getting retro and using “they” as a nice ambiguously genderless pronoun, but it’s not catching and the more inflexible grammarians are rioting over plural ambiguity.1

There’s also the whole issue with -man and man-. Mankind? No, I think you mean humankind. Fireman? No, I think you mean firefighter. Chairman? No, I think you mean chair, or maybe chairperson if you like long words. Manpower? I think you mean labour. Manhours? I think you mean workhours. I’m still working on manhole2, however. 🙂

normative sexuality versus pluralistic sexualityThen there’s sexuality- our labels for sexuality are mostly normative, even though our society is becoming a lot more pluralistic on this matter. I think here the teenagers have it right- we like boys or we like girls, or we like both. Saying that we’re gay or straight, hetero or homo, feeds into heteronormativity. Two wonderful new words should make your acquaintance: gynosexual and androsexual, respectively meaning “attracted to women” and “attracted to men”. Not only do these words not assume a norm, they can’t even identify gayness or straightness without you knowing who they’re being attached to. They also join bisexuality in uniting sexuality by the object of attraction- drawing attention to the potential similarities in what women and men are attracted to about men, and what women and men are attracted to about women. The mere existence of terms like this offer a subtle challenge to our ideas about sexuality.

It’s even more illustrative of how easy this type of thinking is that “Maori” can be translated as “normal”, and “Pakeha” as “different”. But I’ll leave the concept of pluralistic racial language to someone much better equipped to deal with it.

1If you’re one of those grammarians, I suggest to you that you attempt to resurrect the second-person familiar pronoun otherwise known as “thee” before you complain about us copying respected literary figures like Jane Austin in adding some general (and not just gender) ambiguity to our pronouns. And if anyone starts talking about gender being a grammatical term and having its meaning stolen by feminism, I’ll whack them over the head with my over-sized German dictionary (it comes with three genders included) as a way of introducing them to the idea that a term can have multiple contexts. Try mentioning the word “jerk” to a group of teenagers, then to a group of physicists, and you might see what I mean.
2Personholes have thus far failed to catch on, especially as they’re often taken to be innuendo. Product development is hard at work fixing this issue. 😉