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.