Toxic Masculinity, Elliot Rodger, and What You Can Do

The actions of future Elliot Rodgers are preventable.

A long time ago, my first foray into screaming into the void came in the form of my own blog. It was, by most measures, not terribly successful. As you may have noticed by my often-rambling posts and my loose relationship with the term “Friday,” I’ve got a tendency to focus on over-long deep dives and a hatred of deadlines. These characteristics often make it difficult to actually finish and publish pieces, and these characteristics are not improved when I am my own editor/boss.

The best thing to come out of that early blog, besides Richard going “hey, wanna also write for my blog?” (seriously, imagining Richard looking vaguely disappointed in me does wonders for my completion rate) was one of my very first, and most disturbing, deep dives—a prolonged piece on Elliot Rodger, his 100+ page manifesto, and aspects of sexism in culture.

At the time, many news outlets were focusing on the more sensational aspects of Rodger’s manifesto, like his declaration that women should either be starved to death in concentration camps or selectively bred, like cattle, to declare Rodger somehow less-culpable by means of “insanity.” But at the time, I had the notion that the explanation was both more simple and more dangerous—Rodger’s actions weren’t the result of a mental illness, but of a cultural one. And the laborious, upsetting slog through his manifesto and his videos confirmed that belief for me. Rodger may have been a few different kinds of emotionally disturbed, but he was, at heart, a product of his culture.

He had been taught that women, and specifically sex with beautiful women, was his due in life. He had been taught that virginity was shameful. He was taught that he was special, and that he should be treated as such. He was taught that his narcissistic view of the world was the right one. He was taught that money would solve all of his problems. He was taught that his feelings and thoughts were more valid than those of women. He was taught that any rejection by women is the cause of great distress. (Seriously, he apparently cried for an hour in a bathroom stall after he said “hi” to a hot girl and she didn’t respond. I’m so not even making this up.) He was taught that his actions have no real consequence, and that he could get away with assaulting women. He was taught that women were lesser than him, no better than “beasts.” He was told that he was a “gentleman,” and that he should be rewarded accordingly. He was taught that there is something wrong with women, and something wrong with the asshole “alpha males” they supposedly flock to. He was taught that other men were being given things that he deserved more.

Elliot Rodger was a product of toxic masculinity.

It was in reading his manifesto that I first began truly understanding and appreciating the multitude of meanings behind that phrase. The way that it implies both danger and disease. The way that it implies harm both to the infected and the people around the infected. Toxic masculinity is like nuclear waste—dangerous in small doses, deadly in larger ones, and capable of harming both the first person to come into contact with it and all of the people that come into contact with that person. In my mind I start seeing the world as if I’m Roddy Piper in They Live—when I have my sunglasses on, I can see the neon green taint of toxic masculinity on teenagers joking about “no homo,” on message boards, on the survivors of domestic or sexual abuse. I can see men glowing a sickly chartreuse, eating themselves up from the inside at the same time that they infect the world around them.

When I first wrote about Elliot Rodger, I assumed that I was already as outraged, and as burned out, as I could get. Now I look back on that time with a sad smile, because 2018 Elle can’t help but think that 2014 Elle was still sweetly idealistic and naïve. I ended my original post on Rodger thusly:

I wish I had some nice, neat way to wrap this all up, but I really don’t. My outrage is too strong for that. Seeing the ways that seemingly innocuous “nice guy” rhetoric can snowball into murder, seeing the ways that the indignant and apologetic “not all men” battle cry can be used to cover up the obvious and self-professed motives of a killer, and even briefly scrolling through the stories on “When Women Refuse” is enough to make me despair about the world. All I can do is hope that the things that I write, and the things that others who are much more eloquent than myself have written, can spark a thought, a conversation, or a movement. The actions of future Elliot Rodgers are preventable. If we can create a culture where sex is neither an assumed privilege nor a badge of honor, where a woman’s right to decide her own desires and sexual partners is respected, where women are allowed to voice their grievances without being interrupted, and where women are seen as equals, not as transactions, then there may be some hope for us yet.

The actions of future Elliot Rodgers are preventable.

The actions of future Elliot Rodgers are preventable.

The actions of future Elliot Rodgers are preventable.

That line jumps out to me again and again. Because I was so right, and so wrong, at the same time. The actions of future Elliot Rodgers were preventable. We just didn’t fucking do it.

The pickup artist forums of Rodger’s time have turned into the “incel” forums of today. (“Incel” is an absurd made up word that means “involuntary celibate.” It’s used by misogynists who think that women literally owe them sex, and that the fact that they aren’t getting their dicks wet is the highest treason possible. I will never use that term again after this point in the article, because I think of it the same way I think of the term “alt-right”; I refuse to use the terms that bigots came up with to keep themselves from sounding like bigots. So they’ll be “misogynists” and “Nazis” respectively from here on out.) A brief perusal of these forums shows virulent misogyny, bewildering levels of entitlement, and a frightening commitment to violence and violent language. Rape is frequently advocated. Women are frequently denigrated. The “Stacys” of the world, aka women, are purposely going out with the “Chads” of the world, aka “normie” guys who are alpha males and not this particular brand of misogynist, and that is just super unfair. It’s so unfair, in fact, that people should probably die because of it.

That seems to be the thought process behind Alek Minassian, who praised Elliot Rodger as the “supreme gentleman” and promised a misogynist rebellion shortly before using a van to kill and injure people.

Alek Minassian is the future Elliot Rodger that four years ago I was hoping we could stop. We obviously didn’t. If anything, things have gotten worse. Even our president is a sexual predator. There’s not a lot of difference between “grab ‘em by the pussy” and the vitriol spewed on these misogynist sites. #MeToo is happening, but there also already a slate of fawning articles wondering when the men who were temporarily deposed by #MeToo can make their “comeback,” as if they were caught doing coke at a party and not, you know, sexually harassing and assaulting women. If I had a nickel for every time a respected news outlet wondered if feminism has gone “too far,” I wouldn’t have student loans anymore. Gamergate has permanently changed the landscape of gaming, game journalism, and even the goddamn sci-fi awards, all for the worse. I thank my lucky stars because I have been a woman blogging about feminism on the internet for four years, and I have yet to receive my first rape threat for doing so. I’m basically the only female blogger I know who can say that, and I know it is a matter of time and google algorithms until it happens to me as well.

The only positive difference between today and four years ago is that this time, news outlets are actually acknowledging Minassian’s misogyny and toxic masculinity, instead of just wondering if he’s mentally ill (which, for the record, is not a significant contributor to violence, so stop blaming mentally ill people every time someone goes on a shooting spree).

That difference is the only reason I can end this post on a somewhat hopeful note. Because unlike issues like gun control or SESTA, toxic masculinity is something that literally every one of us can help fight against. This is not in the hands of an inept Congress. While the patriarchy is strong, MRA’s don’t have quite the political reach of the NRA. This is our culture, and we can take it back. This is especially important for parents. We’ve already fucked up our existing generations, and we’re gonna have to do a lot of work to fix them. It’s easier if we can start when they’re young and haven’t learned toxic masculinity yet. So to that end, I’m going to leave you with ten things you (yes you!) can do. Start today.

  1. Stop buying into bullshit gender binaries, especially ones that claim men can’t be emotional, weak, or have associations with traditional feminine qualities.
  2. Encourage men and boys to consume more “girl-focused” media.
  3. Don’t segregate children by gender for every damn thing. Encourage non-gendered friendships and play.
  4. Abandon terms like “real men.” Even if it is being used in supposedly helpful ways, like “real men respect women.” There is no such thing as a “fake man.” At least not until the robots take over, and that’s an entirely different conversation. Let’s just give up on that whole concept of policing what it means to be a man, shall we?
  5. If you’re a man, do your best to unlearn gender norms that hurt you, even if, again, they are supposedly positive. You don’t have to be the bread winner. You aren’t “babysitting” your kid, you are raising your damn kid. You don’t have to pay for dinner (unless your partner is making 60% of what you do because of the pay gap. In that case, yeah, keep paying for dinner.)
  6. Work to dismantle the value system around virginity. The fact that guys who are virgins are failures and that girls who are no longer virgins is sluts means that guys and girls are constantly in a sexually-based conflict in which the rise of male value implicitly comes with the diminishing of female value. Stop it. Encourage healthy, consensual sexuality for everyone. Virginity is great if people want to be virgins. Not-virginity is great if people want to be not-virgins. The end.
  7. Please, for the love of God, abandon language like “don’t be a pussy.” Anyone who has seen a childbirth video knows that the vagina is basically the strongest thing in the world. I’m not telling you to “reclaim” the word pussy, because I’m a little skeptical about the idea of “reclaiming” words, but at the very least it shouldn’t be a phrase that means the very opposite of what it should. While we’re at it, let’s get rid of phrases like “that takes balls” and “ball busters.” Let’s just get rid of cisgender-normative genitalia phrases in general, shall we?
  8. Stop assuming the worst about men, even when it’s a convenient excuse. I’ve known plenty of boys and men in my life. Weirdly, none of them have been sex-obsessed maniacs who can’t control themselves around a woman’s bare shoulders. They’ve also all been passable at doing laundry, keeping track of appointments, talking about their emotions, and communicating clearly. It’s like men aren’t all latent rapists lying in wait, or totally inept at household tasks and emotional labor. Weird.
  9. Call people out on their shit. Is someone around you buying into outdated stereotypes? Is someone telling a rape joke? Is someone complaining about “blue balls” because they haven’t been graced with sex yet? Is someone complaining about being in the “friend zone”? Tell them to knock it off.
  10. Encourage male friendships and male affection/diminish the association of weakness with homosexuality. I can hug any of my girlfriends pretty much any time I want. I can hug any of my guy friends almost any time I want. It’s a fantastic world of hugs. But for a lot of guys, simple affectionate contact is seen as suspect, especially with other men. They live in fear of being called too sensitive, or being called homosexual. They have to hedge acknowledgements of platonic love with “no homo, bro.” Men, I have to conclude, are often really fucking lonely. Let them be friends. Let them hug.

Signed: Feminist Fury

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Featured image is of a warning sign reading “TOXIC” and showing a human figure in distress after consuming something presumably toxic. Michael Smith, CC BY 2.0

Let The Students Sleep

Shift the school day later.

 

Eight for work, eight for rest, eight for what we will. That’s the slogan that best represents the fight for a reasonable work-life balance, the one that led to the 40-hour work week. The venerable nine-to-five.

In my life I’ve seen the gradual erosion of the nine-to-five. I’ve seen commutes as long as two or even three hours each way. I’ve seen people working seventy or even eighty-hour work weeks, which where I come from (Canada) is literally not even legal. And I sure as hell haven’t seen wages go up to account for it.

But what I want to talk about for a moment is more than the labour movement. It’s about kids and the nine-to-five. And about how we aren’t even giving them that.

My local high school starts at 7:30am. It ends at 2:25pm.

Why?

This absolutely isn’t a post about teachers not working enough, by the way. If school starts at 7:30 and goes until 2:30, you know damn well they’re there from seven to five, doing coaching and club mentoring and music and theater, not to mention the lesson planning and the grading they take home with them every night. That’s its own injustice.

But what I fail to understand is why any school should start classes at 7:30 in the morning.

I can hear you saying right now that it’s to let parents drop their kids off and then get to work. Bull. If they were concerned about that, they wouldn’t close up shop until well after 6:30, if an hour and a half is the buffer you want to give working parents around the nine-to-five. It’s not out of consideration for parents, I promise.

Literally the only thing I can find in my scouring of the internet is vague references to agricultural life, cheaper busing, and an ingrained idea that if students are tired it’s because they’re morally lacking.

But year after year we get study after study demonstrating that school start times should be later.

It improves sleep time, which improves overall health.

It decreases lateness and improves attendance.

It improves student behaviour, which honestly makes everybody’s lives easier.

There are Many Many Studies On This.

Hell, even the CDC agrees.

So why are we doing this?

Recently, Boston had a fight over school start times, and the discussion was telling: everyone seems to favour starting school between 7:45 and 8:45, and according to the city, the buses would be too expensive if they did that for everyone, so some schools are starting as early as 7:15am. They were trying to follow the studies, they say, that show that teens need later start times. So they pushed younger kids earlier.

And apparently nobody thought of just pushing the whole schedule later.

I say: what about 9:30am for high school? What about 10am? Instead of keeping the vaunted “7:45-8:45” window for high school students and pushing the younger kids earlier, why not just push everything later? It’s not like the teachers are going to work any more or less (unfortunately—sorry teachers): they’ll just have to do their class prep, grading, and so on before rather than after the day.

One school in Australia tried 10:45am, though they admit they did have to scale it back to 10am to squeeze everything in by 4:30pm. It seemed to go over rather well, especially with the grounds opening at 9am.

And I know it’d throw a kink in the American cult of teenager sports. A day that ends at 3:30pm or 4:30pm means pushing sports into the evening. But maybe sports aren’t a good reason to hurt student attendance, health, and even completion rates.

Look, I get it. School is very important. It’s the foundation for the well-educated society we need to ensure our collective prosperity as a society. But it isn’t an emergency. It shouldn’t require students to be dragged out of their beds before the sun comes up just so they can meet an unreasonable and punitive schedule that objectively hurts learning outcomes and student health.

Let the students sleep. Shift the school day later.

Signed: The Remixologist

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The Featured Image is a woodblock print from the early days of the labour movement reading “8 Hours for Work, 8 Hours for Rest, 8 Hours for What We Will.”

When Character Descriptions Should Exit, Stage Left

Screenwriters. Dialogue yes. Characters not so much.

 

Hey loyal readers (yes, both of you, I see you!), sorry for my prolonged absence. Life refuses to cease happening, even when I’m really, really busy. Totally unfair. To make up for it, I’m going to babble about female characters in movies! (Which I was going to do anyways, but now it sounds like a treat. That’s called “salesmanship.”)

In my last roundup post I mentioned the “describe yourself as a male author would” trend, and my adoration for it. This week, Vulture is helping me up my game by providing 50 actual descriptions of female characters from (primarily male-written) screenplays. And…. wow. We have got ourselves some sexism folks. And some weird obsessions. But first, I want to take you back a bit, to the Long Long Ago, when Richard and I were on This Week in Tomorrow. You may remember my insanely long posts on Joss Whedon, and how I started by taking umbrage with his script for Wonder Woman. The script started off on literally the wrong foot, focusing on Steve Trevor as he crashed into an island, before revealing a character known as “The Girl,” followed by a sexualized, primitive-esque description of said Girl. (Who, remember, is Wonder Woman. Like, our main character.):

To say she is beautiful is almost to miss the point. She is elemental, as natural and wild as the luminous flora surrounding. Her dark hair waterfalls to her shoulders in soft arcs and curls. Her body is curvaceous, but taut as a drawn bow. She wears burnished metal bracelets on both wrists, wide and intricately detailed. Her shift is of another era; we’d call it Greek. She is barefoot.

I made a lot of fun of this description, and all of the descriptions after it, (did you know that absolutely every character in that movie is beautiful? I mean all the female characters, obvi.) but little did I know how… average… they really are in the film industry. Because hot damn, do male writers like their semi-pornographic character descriptions.

James Cameron made me very, very uncomfortable, both because his description of Neytiri made me realize how young she was supposed to be (18? Are you freaking kidding me? Were you trying to go full Pocahontas and make her 13 but just couldn’t do it?) and because of how clearly it seems that James Cameron has been thinking about sex with blue catgirl teenagers:

Draped on the limb like a leopard, is a striking NA’VI GIRL. She watches, only her eyes moving. She is lithe as a cat, with a long neck, muscular shoulders, and nubile breasts. And she is devastatingly beautiful — for a girl with a tail. In human age she would be 18. Her name is NEYTIRI (nay-Tee-ree).

Yep, beautiful except for that tail. The tail is definitely a turnoff, and not clearly a turn-on. Also, the description of her breasts doesn’t even make sense. You’re either saying she has sexually mature breasts, or sexually attractive breasts. Which, yeah. They’re breasts. That’s kind of their gig. You could have gone with like, actually describing them (which is still icky but at least makes sense) or just say what you’re obviously trying to say, which is “SHE’S LEGAL I PROMISE.”

Or we have the description for Margot Robbie’s character in Wolf of Wall Street:

We see NAOMI, 24, blonde and gorgeous, a living wet dream in LaPerla lingerie. Naomi licks her lips; she’s incredibly, painfully hot.

The only thing that should be “painfully hot” is touching a working stove. But the “winner,” both for creepiness and for bringing back a racist word I thought for sure died during Reconstruction, is Quentin Tarantino in his description of “Jungle Julia” from Death Proof:

A tall (maybe 6ft) Amazonian Mulatto goddess walks down her hallway, dressed in a baby tee, and panties that her big ass (a good thing) spill out of, and her long legs grow out of. Her big bare feet slap on the hard wood floor. She moves to the cool rockabilly beat as she paces like a tiger putting on her clothes. Outside her apartment she hears a “Honk Honk.” She sticks her long mane of silky black curly hair, her giraffish neck and her broad shoulders, out of the window and yells to a car below. This sexy chick is Austin, Texas, local celebrity JUNGLE JULIA LUCAI, the most popular disc jockey of the coolest rock radio station in a music town.

Of course he mentioned her feet. Of course. And of course he compared her to multiple animals, and brought back the “M” word, and called her “Amazonian” for being tall. Of course he had to mention her ass, and even enter a parenthetical about it. Of course he called her a “chick.” What does a “giraffish” neck even mean? Shouldn’t that mean its abnormally long? Is that also supposed to be sexy? I need about a million showers, and to never read these words again.

The one saving grace of these descriptions, and of the Whedon descriptions, is that they at least don’t try to underplay the beauty of the character, or act as if the woman is unaware of it.

The “Obliviously Beautiful” trope is common enough it gets its own TV Tropes page, as well as about a million songs.  With this trope, the character is somehow unaware of her beauty, or could be more beautiful if she tried, or something. There’s some weird moralizing attached to this trope– it is as if we are supposed to like the character better, or think she is a better person, because she is either unaware of her beauty or doesn’t try to be beautiful. Or even as if her beauty is enhanced by not being aware of it. As opposed to all of those self-aware skanks ruining their good looks by thinking about them, or something? A bizarre number of the scripts follow this theme.

Sarah Connor, in the first Terminator film:

SARAH CONNOR is 19, small and delicate-featured. Pretty in a flawed, accessible way. She doesn’t stop the party when she walks in, but you’d like to get to know her. Her vulnerable quality masks a strength even she doesn’t know exists.

Lisa Cohen in Margaret:

On LISA COHEN, just 17. Not the best-looking girl in her class but definitely in the top five.

(Insert obligatory Flight of the Conchords reference here)

Helen Tasker from True Lies:

To call her plain would be inaccurate. She could be attractive if she put any effort into it, which doesn’t occur to her.

… Right. I’m sure that any woman, in the beauty-obsessed US, simply didn’t have it “occur” to her that she could be attractive. That’s definitely the issue.

Summer, from 500 Days of Summer:

SUMMER FINN files folders and answers phones in a plain white office. She has cropped brown hair almost like a boy’s but her face is feminine and pretty enough to get away with it.

(Who knew you had to be pretty in order to “get away” with short hair? All this time I was assuming that you could just do what you wanted with your hair, but apparently there are standards. Next time I get a pixie cut I’ll make sure to stamp “not a boy” on my forehead, since I don’t know for certain if my features are feminine enough to support that haircut.)

They even have to downplay Princess Buttercup from The Princess Bride before building her back up:

Buttercup is in her late teens; doesn’t care much about clothes and she hates brushing her long hair, so she isn’t as attractive as she might be, but she’s still probably the most beautiful woman in the world.

Damn, if she’s already the most beautiful woman in the world, I’d hate to see what she looks like if she is as attractive as she “might be.” She might turn out “painfully hot,” like Margot Robbie.

All of this seems to be done to make the character seem more “realistic” to the audience (as if they are not still being played by amazingly beautiful movie stars.) As Kyle Buchanan and Jordan Crucchiola put it in the same Vulture article,

Many screenplays try to hedge their female character’s beauty, lest she seem so gorgeous as to be unattainable. Perhaps the woman doesn’t know how pretty she is, or there’s a slight imperfection added to make her relatable. The exact calibration of these female characters’ beauty begs a reference to Goldilocks: They’re hot, but not too hot.

Why, you may ask, am I harping so much on these character descriptions? I’ll tell you.

The way we write about women shapes and is shaped by the way we think about women. Some of the most iconic women in movies are introduced, not via their personality or their attitude or their bearing, but by their beauty. Beauty that is either nearly pornographic, or is undercut and underplayed in some vain attempt at “relatability.” It’s important to remember, that these descriptions aren’t just the first appearance of the character in the film; they are the basis on which the director, actors, stagehands, everyone who works on the film, start to  get their idea of the character. What is she like? How does she carry herself? What are her concerns? And I don’t know about you, but I’d have a hard time trying to get to the “heart” of my character if most of what I knew about her was “she’s pretty, but not like, too pretty, you know?”

And to me, the ones that try the “Obliviously beautiful” route are almost worse. The porny ones are at least aware of the objectification they are taking part in. The oblivious descriptions are trying to have their cake and eat it, too. Oh, she’s beautiful, but she doesn’t know it. Or she’s not as beautiful as she could be. It adds even further restrictions on how women are supposed to look and act; we’re supposed to be beautiful, yet so humble or so stupid that we don’t realize it. We are only relatable when we are unselfconscious about our appearance (yeah, good luck with that) but we are not actually allowed to be ugly or even unalterably plain. 

In almost every case I listed here, the actress who was given the role imbued their character with energy, tension, and dare I say, pizzazz. But that likely has much more to do with the skills of the actresses than the quality of the character descriptions they were given. I would love to see these skilled actresses get handed scripts where their character is introduced with complexity and not just sex appeal.

Signed: Feminist Fury

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Featured image is a close-up of the description of Wonder Woman from the script.

Art Bell (1945-2018)

Art Bell died this week.

If you don’t know who he was, well, he was probably best known as the former host of Coast to Coast, a paranormal-themed radio show broadcast back in the 1990s. There’s probably no real reason you should know who he was, and if I’m being honest, I don’t even know who he turned into. I don’t know if he was a good person in his personal life, or what he did after the 90s. As far as his Wikipedia article says, he didn’t get up to anything more controversial than a quick remarriage after the death of his wife.

But here’s what I remember of Art Bell.

I’ve always had insomnia. Like, imagine an autistic kid who didn’t know there was a name for it, who literally banged his head on his pillow to fall asleep on a regular basis (much to the concern of his parents and the annoyance of his older sister). Imagine a kid who couldn’t make his mind shut up for love or money, and whose legs have ached since forever, especially in the small hours of the morning. Sleep and this kid have never been much better than acquaintances, and that’s in the good times.

Now imagine that kid’s parents give him a small, AM radio, powered by a couple of batteries (double A’s, I think), so he can stick it under his pillow and at least not die of boredom while he’s lying in bed, awake.

The kid, you obviously know, is me.

There wasn’t a hell of a lot to listen to at night, not on AM radio in the Toronto suburbs in the 1990s. There was baseball and hockey, sure, but aside from the 92 and 93 seasons—when the Jays even attracted fans from the less-masculine among us—that didn’t mean much to me. There was a show called “Lovers and Other Strangers” that still cracks me up to this day when I remember it, mostly for the love letters they read in sultry voices and for the sheer, unironic abundance of Kenny G. Soprano saxophone that was the siren song of late-night AM radio.

And then, later at night, so late it was really more like morning, there was Coast to Coast AM.

God it was weird. They covered everything, from Bigfoot and other “cryptid” sightings, to ghosts and psychics, to alien abductions and government conspiracies. It didn’t matter if it was real. It was fantastic, in the most literal sense of the world.

Lying there in my bed, head pressed to the pillow that muffled the sounds of talk radio for everyone else in the house, I heard stories. Calling different numbers from east and west of the Rockies, I heard a parade of long-time listeners (first-time callers) sharing their personal experiences, opening the door to a whole world that existed beyond the one I knew. For a couple of exhausted hours in the time of the night that even the monsters under my bed were too tired to come out, I had a front-row seat to strange, bizarre, and sometimes dark fantasies made real.

The truth value of the things covered was essentially nil, but the truth claims held something deeper. In retrospect it’s a little bit sad. So many of the callers were people who were genuinely scared of things they didn’t understand, or who were sublimating the terrible stresses of their daily lives into a kind of performance art without even knowing it. I think many of them genuinely thought they’d been abducted, or were the target of a conspiracy, or that they’d really seen Bigfoot out of the corner of their eye while they were out in the deep forest in their early twenties, some decades ago. Many more probably knew they hadn’t seen the things they were saying, but just desperately needed someone, anyone, to take them seriously for a moment’s time. Just for thirty seconds on the end of an echoey, staticky phone line.

Art Bell did that for them.

Of course the genre isn’t what it used to be. The successors to the late-night tin-foil-hat conspiracy theory talk shows have gone from the realm of harmless cranks endlessly rewatching the Zapruder film, arguing whether it was one bullet or two, to people openly subverting the country’s faith in democracy and screaming at fever pitch that the first black president—not, of course, because he was black, never that—wasn’t a legitimate president because he was “born in Kenya.” It’s gone from people calling in at 3 in the morning to talk about that time they saw the chupacabra on their ranch to a red-faced Alex Jones wannabe ranting that the woman who would’ve been the first woman to be president—not, of course, because she was a woman, never that—was a literal tool of the Devil who had to be stopped at any cost.

And maybe Art Bell had a part to play in that history. Maybe in entertaining the minor conspiracies, the outlandish ones that never gained any real traction, he carved out a space that could be exploited later by his more malicious successors. Maybe the world would be a better place today if he hadn’t been who he was and done what he did.

But for that kid with his head to the pillow in the hours of the night that even god wasn’t awake to see, Bell’s absurd little show was a lifeline into a realm of possibility. For a couple of hours when nobody else was around, the impossible was possible, for better or worse, and every dark thing that ever haunted your dreams was out there, somewhere, waiting to be seen—or caught on camera.

Art Bell died this week. He was 72.

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Featured image is of Art Bell in his recording studio, and is taken from various unattributed twitter feeds. If you know whose photo this is, let me know, as my google-fu is clearly lacking.

When Silence Is Supportive

Greetings, fellow male and male-adjacent (i.e. living with a greater or lesser amount of male privilege) westerners. This post is addressed to us, not to anyone else. Everyone is, of course, free to read it, but this is more about keeping our own house in order than anything else. It’s a post about a piece of advice.

This is not a revolutionary piece of advice. This is not “woke.” This is very explicitly old advice that I keep seeing us not taking, and often see myself not taking, which is why I’m bringing it up. Here’s the advice:

Give underprivileged voices space.

Sometimes, the best thing you can do is shut up and listen.

Here’s what I mean.

***

CUE SCENE

Woman 1, tweeting about her day: Ugh men are such trash.

Woman 2, sympathizing: God, I know, what now?

Woman 1: Dick pic. Again.

Woman 2: Don’t they know that it’s repulsive?

Man: [says literally anything]

Woman 1 and 2, simultaneously: *hit block button*

END SCENE

***

In this scene, there were two women having a conversation about a shared negative experience at the hands of a demographic (in this case, men) that you, a man, belong to. There is very little you can say in this instance that is helpful. You could #NotAllMen them, which is highly inadvisable for reasons that ought to be pretty clear to anyone who can use google at this point. You could also try to be supportive, something like “I’m so sorry that you had an awful experience (Again. At the hands of people like me.),” instead. This isn’t the worst response, but does insert yourself into a conversation where your presence isn’t required.

Instead, sometimes the best thing you can do is stay out of the way. That’s what I’d advise.

Is it hard when you want to be helpful and reassuring to sit on your hands and say nothing? Sure. It’s so tempting to insert yourself into a conversation with even the best of intentions. I screw up a lot, too, because I was raised to think that everyone wanted and/or needed to hear my opinion, and I’m still trying to undo the way that arises out of my own privilege. Also, Twitter flattens social hierarchies and makes you feel close to people who you’re not, and that’s a challenge, too.

And I get the irony, I do. I’m saying this in a blog post that I want people to read. I’ll probably tweet about it, too. On the other hand I made this space and set it out from the beginning of this post to not be up in someone else’s mentions about it.

What can you do, then? Well, you can listen and learn. You can make a separate conversation with other people about how you can change the cultural norms that have led to these women’s shared negative experience. You can boost their voices, too (with their permission), seeking out and sharing pieces written by those like them who have put their thoughts into words.

But all of this relies on, first, you backing away a little and asking yourself “is my input really required here?” and “will my input replace the voice of someone else?” and “would my silence be more beneficial than my speech in this instance?”

Because while sometimes silence is complicity—not speaking out against oppression, for instance—at other times it’s actively supportive.

Sometimes giving people the space to have a conversation without you is the best thing you can do. So think about it, I guess. And try to be good.

Signed: The Remixologist.

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Featured image of a cosplayer making the finger to lips “shh” gesture: Jennie Park, CC BY 2.0

Think Happy Thoughts

Because roundups are objectively good, people.

 

I can’t tell if people are more tired out/bored by my insanely long rants or by my ridiculously short roundups. So in the name of science, I’m doing another roundup. Yep. This is a science experiment. This has absolutely nothing to do with sleep deprivation. Science.

Because she’s probably slightly concerned for my blood pressure in the Age of Trump, one of my friends suggested that I do my roundup this time about things that actually make me happy. I stared at my screen for way, way too long before I started thinking of things that made me happy in recent culture.

1. Rachel Bloom’s “Ladyboss.” Rachel Bloom is a goddess among women who has accomplished enough in her 31 years that it makes me feel kinda intimidated. All of the music from her amazing show (that I didn’t give proper credit to at first because of its title) Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is amazing, but I’m equally fond of the songs she has on her youtube channel racheldoesstuff that are unrelated to the show. One of them, Ladyboss, perfectly encapsulates the combined confidence and self-doubt that comes from being a woman in charge, as well as the constant tightrope walk of “boss-ness” versus “culturally demanded femininity.” And really, is caring if someone thinks you’re a bitch internalized misogyny?

2. The “describe yourself like a male author would” Twitter thread/trend. It’s so good. So pure. And so indicative of how tired women are of being reduced to T&A when we’re described in literature. True story, I once reviewed a short story collection that had nine stories in it. Every woman, in every story, had her ass described—in detail—as part of her character description. My own attempt: “She was Amazonian, in that she was very tall, and when you saw her from far away it seemed like she didn’t have any boobs. She was log-shaped, so it was hard to tell if she was sexy or not until you were closer, and you realized she did, thank God, have breasts. And kind of an ass.”

3. New York passed a law that forces convicted domestic abusers to surrender firearms and forbids them from obtaining or renewing a firearm license. I’ve written before about how gun control is a feminist issue, and particularly the way that guns ensure that domestic violence situations have an increased risk of fatality. Laws like these go a long way to helping address at least that issue.

4. Finding out that Jordan Peele is attached to a project that will revisit the Lorena Bobbitt scandal, and actually address the domestic violence that was a major underpinning of the incident (and that no one talked about because ha, she cut off his dick and their last name is “bob” it. Get it?)

5. Janelle Monáe’s new album and new music videos. Because she’s Janelle effing Monáe.

It took me longer than I would have liked to come up with five things that made me happy, but I finally did it. So what is making you happy these days? What is keeping your spirit up in the Age of Ultra-Stupid? Sound off in the comments. Or, you know, just keep basking in the thing that makes you happy. Whatev.

Signed: Feminist Fury

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This post’s featured image is a screenshot of a tweet by Whitney Reynolds reading “new twitter challenge: describe yourself like a male author would.”

White Supremacism Is More Than Saying “White People Are Better”

You just have to put white people’s comfort over the rights of anyone else.

 

Had a fun (read: banal) little bit of back and forth yesterday on Twitter Dot Com with someone convicted of a hate crime for teaching his girlfriend’s dog to “nazi salute” when prompted with antisemitic speech and then putting a video of it on YouTube and leaving it up to drive traffic to other videos.

I said (not really to him, but someone had tagged him into the coversation and I hadn’t noticed) that I didn’t believe the “it was a joke” defense because of his association with a white supremacist (one “Tommy Robinson,” aka Stephen Christopher Yaxley, formerly of the notorious anti-Muslim hate group the “English Defense League“) and his simultaneous wearing of a symbol commonly worn by white supremacists with a hard-on for vikings, the Valknut. He responded demanding proof that his buddy is a white supremacist, in the form of the demand: “Find me evidence of Tommy saying that the white race is superior, which is a requirement to being a white supremacist.”

I didn’t have the time or energy at that moment to explain that there really is no such requirement, but here, I’ll say it now:

You do not have to say “the white race is superior” to be a white supremacist and/or to support white supremacism. You don’t have to get caught on tape saying it. You don’t have to be photographed wearing a white sheet over your head with little holes cut for your eyes. You don’t have to get a membership to a Nazi party or give Nazi salutes in rooms full of people chanting things like “white power” or “Trump! Trump! Trump!”.

You just have to act like a white supremacist.

So here’s just a few things white supremacists do, that, if you happen to find yourself doing, you might want to think long and hard about. Because maybe, somehow, you don’t know that you’re participating in white supremacism.

Well, here’s your chance to stop.

 

1. Giving preference to white people over others.

Here’s a photo of the White House intern pool. Notice anything? I’ll wait.

If your workforce looks like this, when white people make up far less of the population than the roughly 97% shown above, then you’re probably participating in white supremacism.

Fun fact: you get bonus white supremacy points if your automatic response to this is something about “merit.”

 

2. Implying that nonwhite people should “know their place.”

Expecting nonwhite people to be silent, to not speak up for their own wellbeing, to be grateful for their success as though it’s somehow something you allowed them to have? Yeah, that’s definitely something a white supremacist does. So don’t do that.

 

3. Spreading conspiracy theories about nonwhite people “infiltrating” or “subverting” a country.

Xenophobia, fear of anyone or anything different, is the primary weapon of white supremacy. It’s used to take insecurities about change in a person’s neighbourhood, town, or country, and elevate them to the point where the people who harbour them start advocating for white supremacist positions, like “separate but equal” (see below). This is, in point of fact, why I don’t believe Mr. Yaxley’s claims to not support white supremacism: because he’s spreading xenophobic lies about “Islamism spreading across the country.” In Yaxley’s defense, he does seem to limit his personal bigotry to the 1.8 billion Muslims in the world. The fact that Muslims are by and large nonwhite is, I’m sure, totally inconsequential.

 

4. Advocating for the division of society along racial lines, even if you say “everyone’s equal.”

White supremacists love this one, because it lets them pretend they’re not what they are. Out loud they’ll say things like “everyone’s entitled to a homeland,” and then use it to advocate for a white ethnostate. Fun fact: you can’t make a white ethnostate in a place where nonwhite people currently live without being a white supremacist. The action of preferentially removing people from where they live so that white people can be more comfortable is literally putting the comfort of white people over the rights of nonwhite people, and that’s a white supremacist action.

 

 

This is the thing: you don’t have to say “white people are better” to be a white supremacist.

You just have to consistently put white people’s interests, or even their simple comfort, over the rights and comfort of everyone else.

That’s it. That’s what makes a person a supporter of white supremacism. That’s what makes a person complicit in white supremacism. Even if they never say “whites are better” out loud. It’s not “thoughtcrime” to point this out. It’s not “1984” to call racism racism. It’s putting white people over nonwhite people over and over again, using whatever excuse you feel like coming up with at the time.

So if you find yourself doing these things, white folks? And you don’t like people saying you’re supporting white supremacism or you are a white supremacist? Here’s a quick tip: stop.

I’ll see you all next week.

Signed: The Remixologist

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Featured image of a family of Klan members (one adult and three children, in Klan hoods and robes): Image Editor, CC BY 2.0