FOSTA and SESTA, and Why You Shouldn’t Pass Legislation Without Talking to the People it Will Affect

The road to hell is paved with good intentions sex work shaming

 

So I had every intention of doing a deep dive into the recent passage of the FOSTA/SESTA legislation. Then I fell asleep in front of my laptop while writing said deep dive. So instead you’re going to get bullet points, and links. Because this truly is important, and it truly is going to hurt at least a million women (and likely many men) who are engaging in consensual sex work. Not to mention members of the LGBT community, individuals who engage in online kink, and apparently even people who want to say “fuck” on Microsoft products. (Note to self: don’t save first drafts to One Drive, or else I’m fucked.) Also it kinda takes the whole concept of internet freedom and takes it out back for some Ol’ Yellering.

So the basics:

The phrase “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” is exemplified by the recent FOSTA/SESTA legislation.  The Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) and the Stop Enabling Sex Trafficking Act (SESTA) both have the aim of ending online sex trafficking by targeting the sites where trafficking enticements and advertisements might happen.

The legislation may or may not help the roughly 6,000 cases of reported trafficking that occur each year. Research is still conflicting about whether this type of action helps decrease trafficking by making it harder for traffickers to find customers, or if it just makes trafficking harder to track and address as it goes underground.

The legislation definitely will hurt roughly one million sex workers who rely on internet resources to advertise their services safely, screen their clients, warn one another about bad clients, seek out clients from a safer indoor location. One study by Baylor University found that escort ads reduced the female homicide rate by over 17%. It’s fairly hard to argue for any legislation that has a net effect of raising the female homicide rate, even if it has ostensibly good intentions.

Because of the breadth and vagueness of the law, many sites are going to close up shop due to the fear that they might be swept up in the legislation, even if they were not initially targeted. Kink sites, dating sites, and social media forums are all going to be either tightening restrictions or closing up shop. This has a quelling effect on many online industries, not to mention freedom of speech and any marginalized person who relies on the internet to be a safe space for them to explore their identity or their sexuality.

The bill has the potential to change online freedom of speech as we know it, and could even lead to the downfall of user-influenced sites like Wikipedia.

So read the links I post. We are unfortunately past the “Call your Congressperson” stage, as the bill has passed both the House and the Senate, and there is little chance that the Hypocrite in Chief won’t sign it into law. But laws can be overturned, and a groundswell of public opposition might make politicians think twice, and might make online sites less scared.

 

 

 

 

Signed: Feminist Fury

***

Featured image of classified ads in a newspaper: Ian Lamont, CC BY 2.0

Voltaire Didn’t Say It And You Shouldn’t Do It

Not all speech deserves “defending to the death.”

 

In a common misconception, people often “quote” Voltaire with the phrase “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” This was not, in point of fact, written at any time by Voltaire, but rather by his biographer, Evelyn Beatrice Hall.

And anyway, it’s a damned foolish statement to begin with, mostly because it’s almost universally a lie.

No country on Earth pays such slavish devotion to the idea of completely unregulated, unrestricted speech as America. You can picket a soldier’s funeral with “god hates f***s* signs, credibly threaten a country with nuclear annihilation, and support a political candidate with unlimited sums of money, all in the name of “freedom of speech.”

But despite this, there are many kinds of speech that US law does not protect, and if you think about it for even a moment, you don’t even want it to.

Perjury—that is, lying under oath—is not protected. If it were, witnesses could just lie with impunity on the stand and it would deal a major blow to the rule of law. Defamation isn’t protected, either, in both the written (libel) and spoken (slander) forms, on the premise that if you’re going around lying about someone else in an effort to ruin their character, that too is bad for society. Blackmail is speech, too, but again, of the unprotected variety. Once again, this is because if it were legal it would be bad for society—are you getting the connection yet? Solicitations to commit crimes, incitement to “imminent lawless action” (whose definition is still up for debate), “fighting words” (again, it’s weirdly undefined), and “true threats” all make the unprotected list in this country. America does not protect a lot of harmful kinds of speech, and for damned good reasons.

So why do people keep using this fake quote? Why would you defend someone’s right to say literally anything “to the death”?

Well, many countries have problems with censorship, so in part there’s a fear of that. But a large part of it is something else. Something I talk about a *lot*. Are you with me yet? If you read my tweets you’re probably there by now. You got it: social hierarchies of power, otherwise known as “privilege.”

When someone quotes Hall (thinking they’re quoting Voltaire) what they’re mostly saying is that they’ll even defend speech that offends them. They’re not (usually) saying they’ll defend speech that harms them—I haven’t seen any perjury legalization rallies lately, but you let me know if you do—they’re just saying that “people shouldn’t get so offended.”

And here’s the thing: mistaking harm for offense is all about power.

If you’re white and male and straight and all the majority demographic categories in this country at once, it is almost impossible to use protected speech to harm you. You have, at this moment in 2018, so much social capital that, say, if you’re a man who gropes women and who thinks he can get away with it because he’s rich (say), and people go tell everyone about it, you can still be elected president of the entire goddamned country. Remember, it’s not libel or slander if it’s a real true thing you yourself have been caught on tape bragging about. Telling everyone “hey that guy grabs women by their genitalia without their consent” is protected speech, and no matter how egregious, it doesn’t seem to do harm. Because that’s the privilege of power.

Now think of hate speech. Not the kind that explicitly endorses violence, which many legal experts do consider unprotected (but which is still up for debate because people are terrible), but the kind that doesn’t. The kind that gradually dehumanizes a minority group, the kind that calls for legal but unjust actions, that has a cumulative effect of diminishing the social capital of an already marginalized group.

To someone from a group with a lot of social capital, this might be offensive, but to someone from a group struggling to achieve equal rights, it is actively harmful. Until a majority of the population considers a marginalized group worth standing up for, change does not happen. Gay marriage didn’t happen until a majority of the American population came on side. And that kind of achievement was held up for decades by legally-supported anti-queer speech.

So if you’re straight and some noxious human windbag says queer people are subhuman and don’t deserve the right to marry, and you’re not a completely unforgivable bigot, you’re offended by that speech. But if you’re queer and gay marriage isn’t legal yet? Especially if there’s an ongoing debate as to whether you should have rights? That speech harms you.

And now’s the point where I have to say “no, I don’t think being a completely reprehensible human being should be illegal, per se,” because someone’s going to come along and interpret my explanation of power, speech, offense, and harm as a call for the criminalization of being Ricky Gervais on any given Tuesday night in public. No.

What I’m here to do is to point out that if you say “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” you’re probably lying to yourself. There are plenty of kinds of speech you wouldn’t defend to the death, because those kinds of speech would cause you yourself harm rather than simple offense.

What I’m here to do is to ask you, the next time you think about saying that, to instead ask yourself exactly how much harm you think speech should be allowed to do, to whom it should be allowed to do that harm, and what your justifications are for where you draw that line.

Because all societies have to draw a line, and all individuals have to draw a line, and nobody draws that line without reference to their own positions of privilege and power.

Signed: The Remixologist.

***

Featured image of a statue of Voltaire is CC0 (Public Domain).

Loving Pop Culture When Pop Culture Doesn’t Love You Back

A deep dive into Ready Player One and the ways we cater to specifically male nostalgia.

As a woman and a feminist, my relationship with pop culture is inherently going to be a love/hate one. Partly because pop culture keeps screwing its representations of women, gender relations, sex, etc., but primarily because for most of my life (and still for a lot of the current period) pop culture wasn’t created for me. Pop culture was largely created by and for men, and if women happened to also like it, great, bonus viewers without trying! Or small subsets of pop culture would be created for girls and women, but rarely with the care and attention that was given to content created for men and boys, and our relationship with pop culture was not granted the same respect.

I’ve been thinking about this uneven relationship a lot lately. In part this is because of the way that the box office and critical reception for Black Panther and A Wrinkle in Time have essentially been pitted against each other: as if the fact that they were both created by black directors with primarily or largely black characters overwhelms the fact that they were created on different budgets for different audiences. It’s also in part because of the upcoming release of the film version of Ready Player One, and because of a recent video essay about that film by Lindsay Ellis.

I’m going to use the latter to dive deeper into what it says about catering to men’s versus women’s nostalgia, because a critical discussion of the comparison between Black Panther and A Wrinkle in Time is just going to give me a headache right now. Go see both movies. Yes, A Wrinkle in Time is supposedly not good and isn’t faithful to the book, but you know damn well that five years from now, “movies based on books that aren’t faithful to the book do poorly” is not going to be the narrative around its failure any more than the narrative around Catwoman’s failure was “movies with shitty scripts do poorly.” The narrative will be “major movies entrusted to black lady directors with ladies of color in the cast do poorly.” So go see the damn movie so we don’t have to have that exhausting and incorrect conversation.

Anyway, I first read Ready Player One at the request of a friend. He’d said he really liked the novel, but that something had felt off about it, and he wanted my opinion on it. I read it over the course of a plane ride, and texted him when I had landed. I don’t remember what exactly I said, but it was something to the effect of feeling as if the book was supposed to have been written for me, but that something had gone wrong in the process. The uncertainty was akin to feeling the whoosh of a metaphorical arrow as it went past my shoulder—I was close to the target audience of Ready Player One, but not quite there.

I pondered those feelings for a while, and to be honest I’m still untangling them. But the end result was this: the book wasn’t written for me. It wasn’t really written with a female audience in mind, period. It was written by a well-meaning man (I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Ernest Cline in person and can confirm that he is a very nice, very (ha) earnest geek) who included women and people of color as an afterthought, or as an intended bonus that he didn’t really think through. Ready Player One is, in its purest form, the distillation of the white, straight, cisgender male geek experience. The fact that my own life experiences have overlapped with that experience enough for me to also enjoy the book is an unintended bonus.

Better people than me have written on the problems with the characters of Art3mis and Aech, including Beth Elderkin and Lindsey Weedston.  But I will summarize.

The main character, Wade, is the Nice Guy in his truest form. (Don’t take my word for it, he even calls himself “a really nice guy” in the book.) He’s the poor, unpopular kid who everyone overlooked until it turned out he was super awesome, and that his very particular skillset, which would win him no prizes in the real world, is actually way important in the virtual world. He is the geek made good. He is literally the White Knight—his username in the OASIS is Parzival, one of the Knights of the Round Table.

And like most nice guys and white knights, his shine comes off the more you get to know him. He cyber-stalks Art3mis before ever meeting her. He objectifies Art3mis at the same time he idolizes her for “not being like other girls.” When Art3mis turns down his affections, he moves on to actual stalking, including having his avatar hold a boombox up to her window. When he finally finds out her big secret (*spoiler*) that she has a birthmark on her face, he is manly enough to “overcome” her disfigurement and love her anyways. And then I threw up a little in my mouth.

Art3mis, meanwhile, comes so, so close to being something besides a quest object, only to fail, hard. She starts off as a fully realized character—a fellow searcher who has her own active social media life, and at the start of the book, she is actually better at questing than Wade is. However, all of this character development quickly falls apart. Wade soon shows her up at questing, firmly slots her in the role of love object and supporting character, and makes her a trophy just as much as the keys and eggs of the OASIS. At the end of the story I find myself really wishing that Art3mis had the powers of the actual Artemis’ (you know, the virginal goddess of the hunt) and could turn Wade into a deer that got ripped to pieces by dogs. Come on, it’s a little violent, but no one would have seen that ending coming.

And honestly, Art3mis gets a boat load of character development compared to Aech, Wade’s best friend who we find out (way, way late in the book, spoilers again) is not actually the Caucasian male that Aech presented as in the OASIS, but is actually an overweight, black, lesbian woman. (I honestly don’t know if the lesbian part was added to be part of the tokenization trifecta, or so that we could have a super awkward exchange where Wade realizes that he’s been talking to Aech for a long time about how much he likes certain girls, but it’s totally okay because Aech also likes girls.) We get a brief moment of a really, really interesting idea with Aech—she reveals to Wade that she presents as a white male because she is more likely to get respected that way, even in the supposed equalizing utopia of the OASIS. For every female gamer who has ever created a male character in an MMORPG in order to avoid getting sexually harassed, this is a familiar concept with huge implications for the world of Ready Player One. What does it mean for the promise of technology if technology only replicates oppression instead of solving it? How might the perceived perfection of virtual reality lead to more internalized misogyny, homophobia, racism, and fatphobia?  Is there a way for a virtual world to truly be “better” than the real world? How could we use virtual reality to help us gain empath—oh, we’re only 50 pages from the end of the book? And we’re literally never going to address any of these topics, and we’re only going to vaguely continue addressing the fact that Aech is an overweight black lesbian? Oh, ok. Cool. Never mind.

And again, don’t get me wrong—I still do like a lot of the book. It is fun for me as a geek to indulge in this nostalgia-fest. But that is because, like Art3mis in the novel, I have grown up to enjoy pop culture that is filtered through a male lens. Beth Elderkin explains,

Ready Player One suggests that nostalgia is universal, how similar interests can bring strangers together, but all of that nostalgia is filtered through a distinctly male lens—and not just because Cline insert a lot of his personal fandom into the story. In the book’s world, OASIS co-creator James Halliday created the contest that the entire world is obsessed with, so everyone’s nostalgia is filtered directly through him. (“The only thing Anorak’s Almanac seemed to indicate was that a familiarity with Halliday’s various obsessions would be essential to finding the egg. This led to a global fascination with 1980s pop culture.”)

This framing leaves little room for women to desire anything that doesn’t also reflect what men want. Just like the game, Art3mis is a character created around male interests; she can’t be anything other than a trophy because there’s no room in the story for her own interests (you won’t find her watching Sailor Moon or Jem and the Holograms, but she sure as hell likes John Hughes). If your entire world is centered around the obsessions of one man—first James Halliday, followed by his protégé Wade Watts—what purpose do you serve that doesn’t also serve his needs?

I enjoy the book because I enjoy a lot of the things that the book’s male author, and his male protagonists, enjoy. I genuinely enjoy Monty Python, old-school arcade games, Star Trek, Japanese robot anime, etc. But that isn’t all that I enjoy, and it’s not all the nostalgia for the 1980s that is possible. It’s just the specifically male nostalgia. And again, trying to give all possible credit to Ernest Cline, I don’t think that he wrote this book with the specific intention of discounting women or female nostalgia. I think in his own mind, he really wrote a book about “universal” nostalgia. But in the same way that medical practices are androcentric, making the male body the norm, popular culture and popular nostalgia is androcentric too, making make interests and desires the norm. If a male author doesn’t question this androcentrism, it feels totally normal and reasonable for that author’s experiences to seem universal, even when they aren’t.

This hit home when another friend showed me a satirical Youtube video, “Ready Player One for Girls” by Jenny Nicholson. Nicholson explains that since she’s not a man in her mid to late thirties, “all of these super obscure 80s references” went over her head. Luckily, she was able to get the Ready Player One girl translation (complete with sparkly pink cover) with nostalgic pop-culture references that she could understand. She reads a few “passages,” essentially recreating the text of Ready Player One but with girl-centered references instead of guy-centered ones. Gail Carson Levine, Stephanie Meyer, Teen Witch, Legally Blonde, Gary Marshall movies, and Lady Lovely Locks all get shout outs. (Also, I may have exclaimed out loud in joy because someone besides me remembers Lady Lovely Locks.) As do Rainbow Brite, Sailor Moon, My Little Pony, and Neopets. Nicholson hits on one of the core attributes of Ready Player One when she exclaims “reading lists of things I recognize is pretty fun.” Later, the main character hits a virtual reality nightclub on a steed that combines She-Ra, Jem and the Holograms, hit clips, friendship bracelets, and Lisa Frank.

When I first started to watch the video, one of my instinctive thoughts was “this is so ridiculous.” And then I examined that thought. Because it is only as ridiculous as Ready Player One. It is the exact same concept, only filtered through female nostalgia instead of male nostalgia. But even as a woman, I have been taught that the properties women are nostalgic for, or even women’s inclusion in nostalgia, is ridiculous. And when this nostalgia does happen, it is rarely accepted or successful.

The female-centered Ghostbusters film, despite being a pretty decent flick, broke the internet and enraged the fanboys. My Little Pony succeeded on a massive scale, but a large part of that is due to its unexpected male audience. Nostalgia revivals like Gilmore Girls and Fuller House have had to flee to Netflix, whose algorithms are seemingly a bit gentler regarding female viewers than the strict Nielsen ratings. The Jem remake resembled its original so little and was so obviously broken that it was yanked from the theaters within a couple of weeks. The Powerpuff Girls reboot was a half-assed dumpster fire that didn’t seem to understand why the original worked. And the upcoming Heathers reboot looks like it’s going to be what happens when you take one of the least nuanced storylines of recent South Park memory (sometimes people who care about being PC can become oppressive themselves!) and then make a show about it where we’re supposed to root for the poor cisgender white people who are afraid of all the mean homosexuals, genderqueer people, and women of color.

Even when girls are present in properties that run on nostalgia, they are often sidelined either in the property itself or in the marketing. Paul Dini has acknowledge that networks frequently dismiss or actively avoid girl-centered storylines in superhero properties. While shows like Stranger Things have female characters that are actually well-written and complex, they’re still effectively sidelined for male storytelling. Hell, even when the nostalgia-fest is about them they don’t get any due. One of the most nostalgia-friendly, ‘member berries downing movies of the last decade, Star Wars: The Force Awakens has a female protagonist. That’s not just my opinion, that is literally how the movie works. But Rey was frequently sidelined in merchandising, to the point that she wasn’t even included as a figure in the branded version of Monopoly that they released.

We can even see this in one-to-one comparisons of similar properties. The Xena reboot that promised to feature an explicitly queer relationship between Xena and Gabrielle died before it could live, even though we got two goddamn Hercules movies in the same year. We had at least four dudes play Batman before we got a Wonder Woman movie.* People who were born when the first X-Men movie started to kick off the superhero renaissance will be old enough to vote before we get our first female-led, solo Marvel movie.

All of this emphasizes the idea that mainstream pop culture is not really meant for or aimed at women, but two of these in particular, the Ghostbusters film and the studio execs actively fleeing female audiences, point to something else that is equally insidious: things are considered worse when girls and women like them.

Marykate Jasper had an interesting article comparing Ready Player One to Jupiter Ascending. Jasper does not defend Jupiter Ascending for being a good movie (it’s not) but her argument was that it was just as trashy and wish-fulfilment-y as Ready Player One, but that it was taken way less seriously and given much less credit because it fulfills the escapist fantasies of girls instead of boys. Back on our old site, our guest writer Amelie was making that point before it was cool: 

These outrageous action sequences are not unusual for American cinema, but it is unusual for them to occur in a movie written for a predominantly female audience. Generally, the blockbuster-level special effects are saved for “gender-neutral” movies containing approximately one female character (let’s call her “Princess Leia”) who is routinely subjected to the male gaze through costumes and camera angles.

But the multi-million dollar special effects budget of Jupiter Ascending was spent on women. Watching it, I experienced flashbacks to my teenage years lurking on internet forums like DeviantArt, Gaia Online, Quizilla, and fanfiction.net, where creatively-inclined teenaged girls congregated to experiment with writing and wish-fulfillment. Jupiter Ascending does not differ extensively from what I saw posted on these sites. There was the everygirl self-insert character who was propelled from a humdrum existence to extraordinary circumstances. There was the love triangle, where the protagonist had to choose between two archetypes—the awkward but heroic spacedog Caine, and a dangerously smooth Space Prince played by Douglas Booth. The dialogue contorted itself to reveal a tragic backstory for nearly every named character. Plot developments followed one another with the awkward and incongruous charm of a teenager experimenting with the basic mechanics of storytelling. And while Caine reigned supreme over most of the action sequences, all of this was to make him a more desirable love interest; the actual plot mechanics revolved around Jupiter’s decisions.

Ultimately, this is what I found the most impressive about Jupiter Ascending. The outcome is decided by protagonist Jupiter Jones—and no one else. Jupiter decides the fate of the earth, and at a stereotypical moment of dialogue (something along the lines of “You can’t! It’s too dangerous!”) tells her love interest “This is my decision.” From the moment she comes to grips with her new identity as Space Queen, Jupiter exercises her agency. She actively pursues a romantic relationship with Caine. She brokers her own (disastrous and unfulfilled) marriage contract. She negotiates with the lead villain, Balem Abrasax, for the release of her family. She demands, repeatedly, to be taken home to earth. And near the movie’s end Jupiter grows into her role as action hero, scaling a burning building and repeatedly whacking Balem Abrasax (played by Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne, whose bizarre performance deserves its own review) with a metal rod. The script of Jupiter Ascending has many flaws, but it never doubts Jupiter’s desires or her agency. Jupiter Jones wants to save the earth—and then she wants to go home and be with her family.

To be totally honest, the plot of Jupiter Ascending is pretty much equal in wish fulfillment, bizarre plot, and special snowflake characters when compared to Ready Player One. And while Jupiter Ascending relies on aspects stolen from almost every sci fi story and fairy tale that has come before it, it at least has the decency to leave this in the realm of homage, instead of literally saying “hey, remember Power Rangers? Aren’t Power Rangers cool? I have Power Rangers in my movie.” But Jupiter Ascending is going to be remembered as an incredibly expensive flop, while the buildup around Ready Player One has already basically guaranteed that it will at least make its money back. And as Amelie pointed out, at least in the very expensive flop, the female protagonist had some damn agency.

This discussion of things being worse because girls like them is central to a recent video essay by Lindsay Ellis that reexamines Twilight. While I personally think that Ellis glosses over some of the more legitimate reasons to dislike the franchise (namely the way it romanticizes a deeply unhealthy and abusive relationship and emphasizes an abstinence-only message where the woman is mindlessly needy and the man has to be stoic and deny her desires) she makes some excellent points about the overwhelming hatred aimed at the book and its fans. (She also takes some swipes at Ready Player One. Look at me, pulling strings together. It’s like I know what I’m doing when I write things.) She points out that as a culture, we have extra disdain for teenage girls and basically anything that they like, and we actively encourage girls to distance themselves from one another in order to be respected.

I will admit to being one of the people that Ellis discusses, a young woman eager to distance herself from a cultural phenomenon that was unapologetically embraced by teenage girls. I’ve had to process a loooooot of internalized misogyny that stems from early experiences of being shunned and misunderstood by the “popular girls” and feeling as if I didn’t “fit in” as a girl. Now I can recognize this as early signs of rebellion against gender norms, but for a long time, it was “not-like-other-girls-itis” where I disliked what I couldn’t understand within my own gender. So while I do maintain that while a good portion of my disdain for the book series comes from a legitimate place (the writing is bad, the pacing is terrible, and again, the aforementioned serious, serious problems with the relationships it portrays) I can and do admit that I was likely more vicious towards it than I would have been towards male-centric books of equally poor quality. Both because I was trying to distance myself from other girls, and because I was fairly ashamed that of all the quasi-trashy supernatural romance novels that were aimed at young girls, it was the worst of them that exploded into popularity and became representative of What Girls Like. (There are so many better quasi-trashy supernatural romance novels. I have read them.)

So where does this leave us? Well, depending on who we are, it leaves us with a few tasks.

For audience members of all gender persuasions, it means we have to come to an agreement: we either have to universally raise our standards on pop culture and dismiss wish-fulfillment quasi-trash of all types, or we have to agree to be kinder to the work of that type that features and is aimed at girls and women. We have to be equal opportunity consumers of mindless entertainment. It also means we need to show up, and show demand, for things that cater to traditionally female interests. We also have to stop demeaning female fans, especially teen girls, for being passionate about things.

On the production side, it means that media organizations need to start cultivating female fans. Not just creating things that will only appeal to a narrow spectrum of girls, or things that will appeal to girls by default, but start actively courting a broad female audience in the same way that a broad range of men and boys are appealed to in various media creations.

Girls should have their Ready Player One. Girls should have their Transformers. They should be able to have debates over who was the “best” cinematic Wonder Woman, or the best incarnation of a female-led spy franchise. They should be able to quote the movies they watched as teens and have an entire room say the next line to them.

They should be able to love, and be loved by, pop culture.

Signed: Feminist Fury

***

*For you nitpickers, four discounts West and Affleck because they were roughly contemporaneous with Carter’s and Gadot’s Wonder Women, respectively.

Featured image is a collage of 80s nostalgia figures Rainbow Brite, She-Ra, and Jem and the Holograms. All characters belong to their original rights holders.

Things I Read This Week That Made Me Go “Interesting!”

I hate the word listicles. Don’t use the word listicles.

So this has been an insane week for me, complete with power outages, sickness, and people-I-thought-were-burglars-but-were-just-unexpected-visitors-for-my-neighbor. Oops. So long story short, I didn’t really ever have the time to sit down and write a post. I did, however, have moments were I was trying to find something to write about, and mostly just found interesting things written by other people. So here are a few of those things. Lists are cool, right? Listicles? I hate that word, forget I used that word. Titles are links, because we live in a glorious age.

1. “Headless Women” Project Shows How Often Women Are Dehumanized on Movie Posters

2. How Would Snape Have Treated Harry Potter If Harry Had Been a Girl?

3. ‘Mallory Is Not Gone’: Daniel Mallory Ortberg on Coming Out As Trans

4. The ‘Lame Bitches’ Were Right

5. Shattering the Myth That Women Rappers Are More Expensive to Sign Than Men 

6. It’s Cool That Kristen Wiig Is Cheetah, but Were There No Women of Color Available?

7. Here’s the Academy Award Acceptance Speech Barry Jenkins Would Have Given

That’s it for this week, folks. Tune in next week, when my life will hopefully be less on fire, and I will probably have finally binged all of the new Jessica Jones and I can write about a fictional character whose life is on fire instead.

Signed: Feminist Fury

***

Featured Image: A feminist blogger “to do” list. Source: own photo.

Let’s Talk About “Tribalism”

Tribalism sucks. But also: calling it tribalism sucks.

 

I’m going to break a pretty major rule of writing right now, not just because it’s my blog and I can do as I like, but because in this case it’s the literal subject of the post: I’m going to start with a definition.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines tribalism in the following way:

tribalism, n. 

Pronunciation:  Brit. /trʌɪbəlɪz(ə)m/, /trʌɪbl̩ɪz(ə)m/, U.S. /traɪbəˌlɪzəm/

a. The condition of existing as a separate tribe or tribes; tribal system, organization, or relations.

b. Loyalty to a particular tribe or group of which one is a member.

It’s a word you hear a lot these days, and it’s almost entirely referring to meaning b. And among those references, it’s essentially always in relation to a “group of which one is a member” and almost never in relation to a “tribe.”

What they’re talking about is the increasing tendency, especially in America, to hold all your opinions not based on facts and evidence, but based on a sense of identity. It doesn’t matter, for instance, if you’re white and lower-middle-class and that you won’t see a dime of the trillion dollar tax cut, because Bob who’s been working at Wal-Mart for twenty years got a thousand dollars, and you like Bob because he’s a lot like you.

“Tribalism,” as we’re calling it, is a short-circuit in our brains. We automatically sort people—automatically, as in, without even thinking about it, not on purpose—into “in groups” and “out groups.” My people and your people.

This crappy part of our brains was probably useful once upon a time. If you’re a hunter-gatherer in a hostile landscape, banding together with a limited group of others to gather and defend resources is a great idea in an evolutionary system. It helps strike the balance between effort-sharing, profit distribution, and competition. If you work together, you do better—to a certain point. When the group gets too big, your share goes down because of various inefficiencies. Plus, of course, it’s pretty profitable to kill and steal from other groups, so everyone being in the same group limits whose lives you can destroy for your own gain. Humans are the particularly nasty result of, well, really it’s thermodynamics, but we can talk about that later. The point is, we (the descendants of the survivors of this system) used to find it really profitable to band together and lock others out.

And now that we all have to live together, and now that we don’t (openly, at least) accept that murdering others for what they have is an acceptable practice, it’s a piece of particularly destructive evolutionary baggage.

Economics mostly operates on the idea that people are, by and large, “rational actors” who do what’s in their own best interests, except that we don’t and a lot of that is because limited acts of altruism—only for the in group, you understand—are also, weirdly, advantageous. Add to that the modern problems of propaganda, bizarro political identity formation, and shifting demographics, and you get poor white male Christian Mike defending tooth and nail the need for tax breaks for billionaire white male Christian Ted at the expense of his own social safety net.

So: tribalism sucks.

But also: calling it tribalism sucks.

As someone who’s studied the Middle Ages more than most, I have a chip on my shoulder about the way scholars of earlier years created the myth of the “Dark Ages,” a period of unenlightened thinking between the totes amazeballs Roman Empire and the second coming of awesomesauce the Renaissance. I mean they literally called it the “rebirth,” as though all through the Middle Ages culture and thinking were dead. This is a lie. But part of how that lie operated was in the naming of things.

The Romans built “roads.” The insular people of the “Dark Ages” made “trackways.” I kid you not. Roman roads and “Anglo-Saxon” trackways. Nomenclature carries meaning with it, and it’s rarely innocent. In this case, it’s used to imply “primitivism,” a devaluation of a thing because it doesn’t fit a certain model of “modernity” or the then-prevailing (deeply-flawed) view of “progress.”

And that’s why I hate that we’re calling in-group/out-group dynamics “tribalism,” because we (and by we I mean western colonizers) have spent hundreds of years using the word “tribe” to denote that same kind of primitivism.

Look at the first line of the Wikipedia definition of “tribe”: “A tribe is viewed, developmentally or historically, as a social group existing outside of or before the development of states.” It’s the “developmentally” and “before” that’s the problem there. We’ve spent so long making a distinction between “civilized” people who live in “nations” and “primitive” people who live in “tribes.”

Now step back and look at what we’re doing with “tribalism.” We’re taking something decidedly negative, an evolutionary throwback in our brains that causes us to be irrational and nasty to one another, and we’re calling it by the name of a form of social organization that we’ve historically denigrated for being “primitive.”

Calling something as dangerous as in-group/out-group prejudice “tribalism,” to me, sounds pretty damn insulting to everyone whose social organization white colonizers have spent the last centuries calling “tribal” as a placeholder for “primitive.”

So here’s my suggestion: let’s stop. Don’t call it tribalism. Call it factionalism. Call it identitarianism maybe, or sectarianism. Call it in-group/out-group community formation. Call it literally anything but “tribalism.”

Let’s try to stop factionalism (or whatever we agree to call it), but let’s also try to stop calling it that, too.

Signed: The Remixologist

***

Featured image: The definition of “tribalism” from the Oxford English Dictionary (Online). Source: OED.

International Women’s Day and Paying it Forward

International Women’s Day was originally meant to be a day of collective action.

The only thing I hate worse than a total lack of support for women is a lack of support for women that is coupled with lip service from politicians and companies.

Like Mother’s Day. Sure, on Mother’s Day we take our moms out for brunch, or finally remember to call them, or send them flowers and cards. Which are honestly all great things! We should probably do them more often. Our mothers didn’t strangle us when we were children. We owe them. (Unless, of course, your mother is toxic and all of this enforced love is traumatic and harmful to your progress. In that case, forget your mother. Love is a process, not an obligation. I’m getting on a tangent….) Mother’s Day also allows all sorts of politicians and business to tweet about how they loooove mothers, and think mothers do amazing work. Then they turn around and pass legislation that makes it harder to be a single mother, or refuse to improve their maternity leave, or refuse to raise wages to a point where parents aren’t trapped in the insane situation where it actually makes more financial sense for one parent to give up on their dreams and stay at home than to try and be a two-income household that also pays for childcare.

This is the case with International Women’s Day, too. Google does a cute Google doodle, but has a serious gender and pay imbalance. Politicians and companies use the opportunity to spout their love for women, but few put their money and policies where their mouth is. So it falls to us to do what we can to make sure women are actually supported on International Women’s Day.

International Women’s Day was originally meant to be a day of collective action, where women would strike, march, etc. But that’s harder to accomplish in this day and age, and speaking as someone with a mobility issue, marching is not always my best method of showing effort.

So for the past few years, I’ve made International Women’s Day a Pay it Forward day. I take a certain amount of money, and split it in half. One half goes to female artists of various types—authors, painters, crafters, etc.—and the other half goes to women-led or women-friendly causes, like Planned Parenthood, She Should Run, etc. In this way I feel like I am actually supporting women, both on the local level and on a systemic level.

I would like to ask you, my readers, to do something similar. It doesn’t necessarily have to be monetary. But do something to support the female creators and female causes in your life. Tell an artist friend you love their work. Write a note to a hardworking female state Senator to let her know that you recognize her effort. Figure out some way to make International Women’s Day (and Women’s History Month in general. Did you know it was that too? Yeah.) a day where you support women.

Signed: Feminist Fury

***

Featured image depicts an International Women’s Day protest from 2017, featuring meany people holding many signs marching in the streets. Source: Molly Adams, CC BY 2.0

On Being an Autistic Person

I can’t tell you the number of times people on the internet have tried to correct autistic people about the way we refer to ourselves.

Y’all need to stop.

As you may or may not know, I’m autistic.

I don’t make a secret of it, but I don’t often go around trying to explain what it’s like, so I’m taking this opportunity to put it in words. And to explain something that really annoys me, while I’m at it.

Autism is a whole a spectrum of neurodiversity, so it means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. For me it means a little trouble with “seeing the forest for the trees” (details overwhelming generalities); as well as trouble with dry sarcasm (I’m okay with the kind of sarcasm that you sing); more subtle facial expressions (loud ones get through); and properly communicating what I mean through my body language (yours is usually fine, if I remember to pay attention). I have some mild sensory issues, too: touching cotton balls, paper napkins, and dry crystal glasses makes me intensely nauseated; I don’t have the auditory filtering that lets you neurotypicals navigate cocktail parties; and my body doesn’t give my brain great feedback (which has made exercise a little… fraught… on a couple of occasions, and makes me more comfortable when moving, including swaying and rocking). When I was a kid I threw a lot of “temper tantrums,” and when I got older, I had “anger management” issues. Except they weren’t tantrums or a bad temper, they were meltdowns, and they’ve almost entirely evaporated post-diagnosis, because hey, it’s amazing how knowing what’s wrong makes things easier to fix.

I am an autistic person.

Now here’s the thing: I can’t tell you the number of times people on the internet have tried to correct autistic people about the way we refer to ourselves. You can’t so much as whisper “I’m an austistic person” on Twitter Dot Com without some “autism parent” popping up to tell us we’re not “autistic people” we’re “people with autism.”

Y’all need to stop.

Austim is, as best we can tell, a difference in brain architecture. It looks like there are a number of genes involved, and that there may be environmental factors affecting the expression of those genes. It’s not contagious. It’s emphatically not a disease. While many of us would be very happy to have some of the “comorbidities” mitigated (or done away with entirely), under no circumstance does autism itself need a cure. It’s a variant organizational structure specific to our brains, not a disease.

It’s like our brains run Linux, instead of Windows or OSX. They work, just not the same way.

A truly shocking amount of who you are is a function of the shape and design of your brain. The ways you think about things are, in my opinion, one of the most defining features of your identity. Autism is a defining characteristic of my identity. I don’t “have autism” so much as I “am autistic.” It’s who I am.

Think about it like race or gender: people don’t “have Blackness,” “have womanness,” or “have queerness.” Someone is Black, they are a Black person. They are a woman. They are queer.

“Person-first” language—”person with/of X” formulae—were invented to foreground the personhood of groups that were traditionally denied personhood by other (usually white, male) people. Some of them are even still used by the people who identify as such. For example, if I’m not mistaken, “people of colour” is still in use, but it’s complicated.

It’s important to remember that the people who came up with it, and who use it, often mean well. I appreciate that. But.

You would never come up to someone who said “I’m a Black person” and try to correct them. You would never say to a gay person “don’t let your gayness define you!” (And if you would, ew, go away.) (And let’s not forget that there are people with multiple overlapping identities, like (say) queer black people, who probably get twice this crap.) But people with truly stunning regularity tell me and other autistic people that we’re not “autistic people,” but rather “people with autism.” That we shouldn’t “let our autism define us.”

Do. Not. Do. This.

As someone who’s studied the development of languages at the graduate level for longer than many people even attend post-secondary school, I will be the first to admit that language is a slippery beast that rejects all attempts to corner it and make it obey rules.

But as a matter of basic humility, you do not tell people how to interact with their own identities.

The vast majority of autistic people prefer to be called “autistic people.” Use that as your starting point. If they want to be called a “person with autism,” call them that.

I’m an autistic person. You can call me that.

Signed: The Remixologist.

***

postscript:

A final note before I go: under no circumstances should you ever tell an autistic person that they are not “autistic enough” to offer insights regarding your child—your child who uniformly “has more severe autism” than we do. I’m an autistic adult. Your autistic kid’s still a kid. They’re going to change as they get older, but I promise you, they will never be less autistic. That’s all I’m going to say about that for now, because it’s a whole other post and more.]

***

post-postscript: I’ve come to realize that one of my comments above may have been harmful in its lack of intersectionality, and I’ve added to them to point out that identities are not either/or, and that there are plenty of people who are, for example, black, queer, and autistic, who probably have to deal with a whole dogpile of garbage at once. (12/3/2018)

***

Photo source: Neil Conway, CC BY 2.0