Yes, This Matters

I was going to school in the early days of the wane of Columbus Day as a holiday. For the first few years of grade school, we got the day off. After the second grade, we suddenly stopped. Instead it became a day for teachers to trot something out about how, “in fourteen hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue,” and not much else.

In sixth grade, my teacher split the class into groups. Each group was assigned an explorer that reached North/South/Central America, and we had to put on presentations for other classes to explain why our explorer was the first to find America. The other students would then vote on who they thought was correct. (The Magellan group won, because they were the funniest and the last to go and 11-year-olds don’t have the best attention span. My group was Leif Erikson, and I will die on the hill of vikings being the first European explorers to North America. Plus I had a cool fake fur cloak. Weirdly, “the indigenous people who already lived here/discovered the place obviously first” were not a group that you could choose to be in.) The Columbus group obediently recited the same facts we had all learned throughout school: Columbus thought the world was round, but no one believed him! He was cruelly mocked in his native Italy, and it wasn’t until Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain believed in him that he had the chance to prove his theory. He took three ships, the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria, and after a harsh journey and mocking from even his own sailors, he discovered America! And that’s why we have Columbus Day today. This was the Truth According to the United States education system.

And then I got to the tenth grade, and my world was rocked.

My tenth grade US History teacher assigned us chapters from Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States in addition to chapters from our textbook. I can still remember sitting at a table in my high school cafeteria during a free period, pressing hard on the book so that the thick text would stay open, and learning that Columbus was a genocidal fuckhead.

I learned that pretty much everyone in the world knew that the world was round in his time.

I learned that Columbus was after gold and spices, not knowledge.

I learned that Columbus was trying to find a way around the Turkish control of the land route to Asia.

I learned that Columbus was terrible at math, and if he’d actually had to sail to Asia, he would have definitely died. But he lucked out and hit the Americas instead.

I learned that Columbus was promised ten percent of his profits and rule over the lands he found.

I learned that Columbus lied to shortchange the man that actually sighted land first, so that he could receive the reward for first sighting instead.

I learned that Columbus and his followers raped, enslaved, and murdered the natives they came across.

I learned that Columbus and his men made impossible demands of the native people, demanding gold that didn’t exist, and cutting off the hands of those that failed to get the nonexistent gold. 

Like I said, my world was rocked. Somehow, in the many years of being taught every few years that all of the previous things I’d learned about history were a lie, I’d never learned about the massive lie around Columbus Day. And as I grew older, things only got worse. I learned more and more, and what I knew about Columbus grew worse and worse.

The Washington Post has an article on Columbus’ time with the Taino, and a from a contemporary account roughly ten years after Columbus first landed.

From the article,


So Columbus tried again for gold, but this time he and his men didn’t go looking for it. They ordered all Taino people 14 and older to deliver a certain amount of gold dust every three months. If they didn’t, their hands would be cut off. At this point, the Taino were refusing to grow crops, and those that didn’t bleed to death after their hands were removed began to die of famine and disease. When they fled into the mountains, they were hunted down by dogs. Many killed themselves with cassava poison.

Columbus and his men also continued to sexually abuse Taino women and girls. In 1500, Columbus wrote to an acquaintance that, “there are many dealers that go about looking for girls; those from nine to 10 are now in demand.”


And from the contemporary account by Bartolome de las Casas in 1502:


They [Spanish explorers] forced their way into native settlements, slaughtering everyone they found there, including small children, old men, pregnant women, and even women who had just given birth. They hacked them to pieces, slicing open their bellies with their swords as though they were so many sheep herded into a pen. They even laid wagers on whether they could slice a man in two at a stroke, or cut an individual’s head from his body, or disembowel him with a single blow from their axes. They grabbed suckling infants by their feet and, ripping them from their mothers’ breasts, dashed them headlong against the rocks. Others, laughing and joking all the while, threw them over their shoulders, shouting, ‘Wriggle, you little perisher.’

Between direct actions and smallpox, 90% of the Taino population was killed following Spanish conquest. Columbus is also indirectly responsible for the growth of the slave trade. When the original Taino and other indigenous people that he transported over to Europe and that he forced to labor on their original land proved to be too “weak” and died too quickly from mistreatment, they began to import African slaves en masse.

In short, Columbus was a monster. He’s directly or indirectly responsible for the maiming, enslavement, rape, and death of thousands and even millions of people. He was, in the words of Eddie Izzard, “a genocidal fuckhead… with bunny rabbit ears.”

Which is why I find it so goddamn confusing that efforts to replace Columbus Day (which never should have happened in the first place, and is a mix between the inventive mind of Washington Irving and a desire by Italian Americans to be a little bit less hated, aka start being considered white) with Indigenous Peoples’ Day often get met with indifference at best and hostility at worst.

Trying to rename Columbus Day in honor of the people that he slaughtered has been labeled a volley in the “culture war.” Throwing paint on statues of Columbus has been compared to ISIS destroying cultural monuments. The people who want Columbus Day renamed have been called hysterical SJWs, cultural terrorists, and idiots.

Notably, almost all of the people slinging that mud are white.

I genuinely can’t imagine the kind of cultural trauma caused by a figure like Columbus, let alone the additional trauma of having a holiday named after him. And I also can’t imagine having people shrug off or even insult that trauma.

It isn’t hysterical to point out that Columbus was a genocidal monster unworthy of celebration. It’s history. And even though his misdeeds happened hundreds of years ago, the results of his actions are still reverberating today. And what we decide to celebrate, whether it be in the form of statues, media, or holidays, says a lot about who we are and what we value. We can’t move forward if we are still glorifying the most terrible parts of our past.

Signed: Feminist Fury

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Featured image is a “the more you know” meme reading “Columbus was a Genocidal Fuckhead.”

Why Would You Accidentally Admit that?



Sometimes you’re reading something, and when you’re done, you stare at the screen. And then, to the room at large, but specifically to the author (who you imagine hears you somehow despite the fact that you’re miles away and have no idea who they are), you say, “Why would you tell on yourself like that? Why would you write something and then show it to God and everyone and let them know that you think this thing?

That is what I thought after reading the article “A Good Man Is Getting Even Harder to Find” by Gerard Baker for the Wall Street Journal. The crux of the article is that, because women are now 57% of college graduates at the bachelor’s degree level and 59% of graduates at the master’s degree level, they are outnumbering the educated men of the world. And since women are very much more discerning than men (according to Baker) we are choosier in picking a mate. We are apparently more picky in our judgment of attractiveness of men on dating apps, and highly value intelligence and economic achievement in our partners. Combined, this means that women will not find acceptable men to mate with and the population is going to decrease and we will not have sex and things will be very bad.

…. So. A few things.

I feel compelled to point out that, for hundreds of years, women were under-represented in universities, or even forbidden from attending universities. Women were unable to obtain certain jobs, or in some cases any job at all. And somehow, men found it within themselves to fuck us anyway. And even marry us. Granted, there were some cultural factors helping this out—things that definitely wouldn’t apply today, like a woman being considered a wasted shell of a person if she didn’t marry, and men relying on women for emotional and domestic labor, and women being seen as an extension of their male partners. (None of that would happen today, would it?) But still, we somehow managed to survive as a species for ages without both partners being seen as intellectual and economic equals.

When Baker is talking about how women are more “discerning” regarding their partners, he’s playing into a few stereotypes. The women get the “model minority” type of stereotype, where something that is supposedly making them “better” than others is still used as a way to pigeonhole and ascribe aspects to a group. Women are more “discerning,” supposedly, which means we’re going to be picky and judgmental about our partners. We’re going to, in fact, “choose” ourselves into a loveless, sexless existence, because we are just so picky. And on the other hand, men are less “choosey” (aka, they will supposedly stick it in anything) which means that they’ll sleep with anyone, and women barely even have to try.  (I mean, as long as they’re attractive. Otherwise… ugh, right?)

But underlying all of this is an assumption. One that I kinda can’t believe Baker is willing to expose: Baker thinks that men have nothing to offer women if they cannot be their equal or superior in education, money, or looks. Baker thinks that a man either has to be a scientist, a stock broker, or a smoke show in order to get a woman. And speaking as someone who has seen married couples literally ever…. No?

People are happily married in couples where the man didn’t go to college, or doesn’t make as much money, or doesn’t meet the same level of conventional attractiveness, as their female partners. Because people have more to offer than their face, their degree, and their pocketbook. Maybe a man didn’t go to college, but he is funny as hell and is super handy. Maybe a man isn’t very conventionally attractive, but he’s incredibly sensitive and supportive. Maybe a man is making less money than his spouse, but he is an absolutely incredible father. Maybe a man is a broke, unattractive dullard, but he’s fantastic at sex. There are a lot of aspects of a person that make them seem like an appropriate or attractive partner. And Baker is admitting that he either thinks men don’t have these aspects, or he thinks that they aren’t good enough or strong enough to overcome the “deficiencies” of being less educated or less wealthy than their partners.

There are things that Baker could advise men to do that would genuinely increase their chances of getting a partner: don’t send women unsolicited pictures of your genitalia on a dating app. Don’t act entitled to sex in exchange for the most basic acts of human decency. Communicate openly and genuinely with the person you are trying to connect with. All of those things are really basic, really helpful, and Baker has no interest in any of them. Because they involve actually talking to men about their behavior and suggesting social change that must be undertaken by men, instead of clutching metaphorical pearls and asking, “But what if women have become too equal?”

Baker obviously has a low opinion of women, but he also obviously has a low opinion of men. Yes, power dynamics are changing. Yes, that is changing the way the dating world works. But that doesn’t mean that men and women will never mate again—it means that some men are going to have to go beyond the general staples of masculinity to appeal to a partner. And to do that, they might even have to treat women like an actual partner and a peer.

Signed: Feminist Fury

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Featured image is of a “Change My Mind” meme with the caption “Men Are Just Trash, Change My Mind.”

When is a Fridge Not a Fridge?


WARNING: SPOILERS FOR “MARVEL’S SPIDER-MAN” FOR THE PS4

I’ve wanted to play the Spider-Man game for the PS4 basically since it came out. “It’s so pretty! And it looks so fun!” but I wavered over the price, and my fear that it would go the way of Assassins Creed 3 (me failing to perform the particular sneak/acrobatic trick that was needed enough times in a row I said “fuckit” and made someone come over and do it for me, and then never kept playing because that was not a super workable solution.) When I finally found it on sale I bought it. And it. Was. Glorious. It is my favorite adaptation of the original Peter Parker story, and is very close to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse for my favorite Spider-man adaptation, ever. It’s so good. It leaves core story elements as they are while updating aspects in a fun and interesting way (J Jonah Jameson is an Alex Jones’ Infowars style radio host and it is so perfect I almost cried). It starts after Uncle Ben dies (all Spider-Man adaptations should start after Uncle Ben dies).  It lets you change powers independently of costumes, so you don’t have to give up looking cool just so that you could use the best powers. I could literally spend an hour just swinging around New York City. Even though the collectables element of the game is slightly maddening it is also really thoughtful, with tons of Easter eggs. It handles pretty much all of the characters with depth, and gives the bad guys pathos without forgiving them for their actions. But do you know what the game did to really, truly, win me over forever?

It killed Aunt May.

….kind of a record scratch moment coming from me, right? Let me explain.

Occasionally when I’m arguing with people about the Women in Refrigerators trope, a disingenuous MRA will say something like, “What, are female characters not allowed to have bad things happen to them or be killed?”  (Click here if you’re not familiar with the trope.)  In their view, anyone who complains about “fridging” just never wants any female characters to have anything bad happen to them. And that’s not what I mean—I just want those bad things to mean something, especially to the character that it is happening to. I want the female character to be well-rounded and fully presented, and for their death or injury to have meaning beyond “the inspiration to make the hero go kick some ass.”

Aunt May’s death in this game has so. Much. Meaning.

Well first of all, Aunt May herself has so much meaning. Aunt May, in this game, has a fully realized life outside of Peter. Quick, what do any of the Aunt Mays in any of the recent adaptations do for a living? Is she retired? Does she garden? Does she volunteer for anything? Basically only the Aunt May in the most recent film, Spider-Man: Far From Home, seems to have any life outside of her nephew. The Aunt May in the game is fully fleshed out, and has a life and motivations of her own. Aunt May is a volunteer/staff member at a homeless shelter, one that she has obviously gotten Peter to spend a lot of time at as well since some of the residents know his name. She distributes supplies, talks to residents, and handles situations. She obviously loves Peter and watches over him, while allowing him to be the adult that he is in this game.

In the latter half of the game, a bio-engineered illness is sweeping the city at the same time Rikers’ entire population has been released. Even as civilization seems to be crumbling, with people too ill to do their jobs, hospitals overcrowded, and looting going amok (one of the game’s only failures is it seems to think that all people in prison are actually stereotypical baddies who will immediately start taking over neighborhoods and harassing people, and not like, going home because they’ve been in prison for 10 years for an ounce of weed), Aunt May focuses on keeping the shelter above water, making it a safe haven in the chaos. She cares for the sick who are in the shelter, and makes sure they have supplies and medicine.

And then Aunt May gets sick.

Like pretty much every battlefield nurse, she eventually succumbs to the illness she was helping to treat in others. She powers on, coughing up blood and taking a moment to realize what is happening, before steeling her spine and going back to work.

She is critically ill as Spider-Man goes into his final battle, with the aim to retrieve the antidote to the illness. Eventually he succeeds, but the stakes are high. He only has one vial of the cure; enough to cure one person, or to be used as the basis for a synthesis of enough cure for the whole city. But not both. And Aunt May doesn’t have long enough to live to later receive the synthesized cure.

Spider-Man walks into Aunt May’s room, clutching the cure. He is obviously choked up when he tells her, “You’re going to be okay, ma’am. I’ve got the cure right here.” She replies, “Take off your mask. I want to see my nephew,” revealing that she has known all along that he is Spider-Man. He tells her that he never wanted her to worry—she lets him know that she did worry, but that she is proud of him, and that Uncle Ben would be, too. (I’m not crying, you’re crying.) Obviously distraught, Peter tells her, “I don’t know what to do.” With the bemused smile of every parental figure who has figured something out before their child, she tells him, “Yes, you do.” She starts coughing, and Peter moves to put the cure into her IV line, working himself up to make the selfish but loving choice in the face of his aunt’s pain. He doesn’t. He sets the antidote aside, and the angle moves so that we can see May’s now-unconscious form, Peter kneeling at her bedside, clutching her hand and sobbing. The sound of her EKG gets louder and louder. The scene fades to black, and her EKG flatlines. And I’m crying.

(I am legit crying AGAIN from just writing this and re-watching the scene on YouTube.)

May’s death is poignant, and heartbreaking, and not fridging. Because May’s death is about May, not Peter. A villain didn’t pick on May because of Peter—May got sick doing what she was passionate about, taking care of people at the shelter. May’s sickness didn’t drive Peter to heroism or revenge—Peter was already in search of the antidote before he even knew that May was sick. May’s death wasn’t something to motivate Peter—he was already a hero, and already saving the day. The closest May’s death gets to being “about” Peter is that it serves as something as a test for Peter; but as May points out, Peter already knew the right thing to do.

 Even though the game is focused on Peter, May’s character has a full, fleshed-out arc over the course of the game. Her life and her death have meaning to the character and to the audience.

This is what Avengers: End Game thought it was doing when it killed the Black Widow. (Spoilers, it was not.)

Bad things can happen to female characters in media. In fact, if we want equal representation in media, bad things are bound to happen to female characters, because bad things happen to people, and women are half of all people. But those bad things should be purposeful. They should be doing something for the character and for the story. Women shouldn’t just be sexually assaulted to show how evil the bad guy is. Women shouldn’t just be kidnapped or murdered to inspire their boyfriends or fathers to go on killing sprees. Women should have lives, and character arcs, and meaning unto themselves. Like Aunt May.

Signed: Feminist Fury

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Featured image is a play on Margitte’s “Ceci N’est Pas Une Pipe” painting, depicting a refrigerator with the caption “Ceci N’est Pas Un Refrigerateur.”