The Worst, Most Infuriating Timeline


TW for some quoted transphobic stuff, and men generally being awful.

I know that we’re living in the Worst Timeline, and that means that I should probably never be surprised by anything that happens. Trump unilaterally declares war by ordering the assassination of an Iranian official and then posts a shittily compressed jpeg of an American flag? Sure. Sure, that seems about right. Journalists are mocking the appearance of a seven-year-old on a public forum? That tracks. Gender reveal parties keep resulting in deaths, wildfires, and property-destruction? Yeah, of course.

But because we are, in fact, living in the Worst and Most Infuriating Timeline, sometimes things are so bad that I’m still shocked by how wrong and maddeningly ignorant they can be. Enter, the “22 Conference,” aka, the Make Women Great Again Conference. And an offshoot of the “21 Conference,” which is apparently a conference that teaches men how to be “alpha non-cucks,” or something.

I’m not going to link to it, because just because my cookies are now fucked up doesn’t mean yours should be. But here are the things you need to know about the 22 Conference:

What is it? It is the “mansplaining event of the century.”

It is “a miraculous three day (and night) event with iconic speakers gathered from the worldwide manosphere community to dramatically improve your life and femininity.”  

This is the conference that will tell you that, “No longer will you have to give in to toxic bullying feminist dogma and go against your ancient, biological nature as a woman.” They also promise “you will learn the truth that unhealthy militant feminists have been hiding from you your entire life.” (HOW DID THEY FIND OUT ABOUT OUR SECRETS?)

Also important, it will teach you to “raise your femininity 500%” and how to “get pregnant and have unlimited babies!” Also also, it tells you how not to be a fattie. Twice.

Who is it for? “natural born biological women only.” I am seriously going to vomit.

Where is it? Orlando Florida, at an undisclosed location. (I’m not kidding, they won’t tell you where it is until after you buy a ticket, probably so that people don’t threaten to boycott the hotel.) Though they do, swear to God, tell you that it will be a “safe space.” Mainly so that people don’t actually find out you attended this shitty thing. The following is taken directly from the site:

Q: IS THE EVENT A SAFE SPACE?

A: The 21 Convention is the greatest and safest space in the world for men, and we take security considerations very seriously. This is no different for The 22 Convention. We will be coordinating with law enforcement and licensed security personnel for safety during the event, and taking precautions to keep your privacy, identity, and attendance confidential to the best of our ability.

When is it? May 1st through May 3rd, partially overlapping with the related 21 conference that is Just for the Menz. (Though the 21 Conference goes from April 30th to May 3rd, because women are only worth half the time that men are.)

Who are these “manosphere” people that are going to tell me how to be a better woman?

Oh, only the best of the worst. There is the 21 Conference founder, Anthony “Dream” Johnson. There is the self-described “President of the Manosphere” and author of that infamous “How to be a beautiful woman” tweet, Alexander J.A. Cortez. There is Mike Cernovich, most famous for being the guy who found the tweets that got James Gunn (temporarily) fired (but also famous for his rape apologia). And of course, there is noted white nationalist, semi-famous movie non-understander, and recent tweeter regarding Emma Watson’s decreasing? fertility (seriously, the FUCK is wrong with this man) Stefan Molyneaux.

How much does it cost? $1,999.

Dead serious. $1,999. But you can save 50% on “early bird” tickets, so that it is “only” $999. And for a limited time, you can bring a friend for free. Because everyone knows that the best way to experience patriarchal brainwashing is with a friend.

Why is this happening? Because we live in the Worst, Most Goddamn Infuriating Fucking Timeline, and God has forsaken us.

When I try to even imagine a woman attending this event, my brain skips and spits out a 404 error. Even knowing that there are a ton of women in the Sunken Place who voted for Trump, even knowing that women like Lauren Southern and Candace Owens and Faith Goldy exist, I cannot actually fathom any woman going to this conference. Mainly because everything they say they are going to tell women, women have shouted at them by strangers every day. For free! I promise you that if I go into certain Reddit pages or Facebook comment threads and then also walk down a busy street while not smiling, I will get “taught” all of these things (again: for free!), and someone will call me a bitch at no extra cost. Even your average Sunken Place white woman has better things to do with $2k than spend it on getting told how to be a woman by Stefan-fucking-Molyneaux. They could buy like, four handguns, or two really nice purses, or the down payment on a Chrysler Pacifica, or those diamond-plated cursive necklaces that say “Karen.”

Part of me actually admires the gumption of these assholes trying to get women to pay to oppress themselves, but also it just makes me want to scream, you know, forever.

So… Welcome to 2020 y’all. This is obviously going to end well for us.

Signed: Feminist Fury (now with extra fury!)

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Featured image depicts the character Data (from Star Trek: The Next Generation) speaking with Picard and Riker over a destroyed version of Data’s own head. The caption reads “Data, are you trying to tell me-?” “Yes sir, this one is from the year 2020.”

So… 2019 Happened


2019 was the kind of year where so much shit happened, if you told me a cultural or political event and then held a gun to my head, I probably still couldn’t tell you when in the year it happened. Or if it even happened this year, or was just part of the long, national nightmare/fever dream that has been the last three years. I had to put genuine thought into trying to remember if the Justice League movie also came out this year, or if it was just mentioned so much in comparison to the new Avengers movie that I thought it also came out this year. (Aw, remember when I was excited for the Avengers movie? Poor early-2019 Elle. So young. So naïve.) Politics has become a giant game of mad libs where if you put literally anything terrible into any slot in the year, I would probably believe that it happened. And I was going to try and come up with examples of ludicrous things you could tell me, but I’m tired and I couldn’t imagine many things worse than kids in cages, the military no longer screening for white nationalists, a cop shooting a woman through her own living room window, Senators openly acknowledging that they plan to violate their oaths with no consequences, and a 2020 election that is shaping up to be awful in the…. all the ways.

Much as the upcoming year 2020 is giving me the inklings of a mid-life crisis, because “20 years ago” does and shall always refer to the 1980s, ThankYouVeryMuch, I’m excited to put a nail in the coffin for the year that was 2019. 2020 feels like a year for transition, a year for all the change we have been talking about for a long time. And I have to remind myself that change isn’t always painless. One of the reasons we end up in ruts of the status quo is that change will, by its nature, bring us some pain. So I have to brace myself for that. But I’m ready.

Also, so that this post isn’t both short AND depressing, here’s a list of books I read this year that I really liked (though my reading list can be its own kind of depressing given that I read a lot of social justice stuff). So enjoy that. Happy New Year, everyone.

The Golem and the Jinni by Helen Wecker

She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey

Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South by Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers

Circe by Madeline Miller

How to be an Antiracist and Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi

Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado-Pérez

Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity by Julia Serano

Stand Still, Stay Silent: Book 1 by Minna Sundberg

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Gaga Feminism: Sex, Gender, and the End of Normal by J. Jack Halberstam

Happy (almost) New Year, all.

Signed: Feminist Fury

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Featured image is of a photo over the top of people’s heads at new year’s eve in Times Square, 2019. Taken by Chris Amelung and released under a CC-BY-2.0 license.

The Only 3 Things You Should Give to Charity



It’s the holiday season, which means that it’s time for clickbait-y articles like, “The Top 10 Things to Give to Charity for the Holidays.” But I’m going to one better, and give you the clickbait-iest article of all: The Only 3 Things You Should Give to Charity. Oh yeah. I’m that confident.

Are you ready?

  1. Exactly what they have asked for
  2. Money
  3. Your time and attention

….that’s it. That’s the list.

I’ve worked for or volunteered for multiple nonprofits and charities, so I feel pretty confident with my list. Let me tell you why.

1.Why You Should Only Give Them What They Ask For

Most people donate items for a good reason. They want to help! That’s a fantastic impulse. But they don’t always think through all the implications of their gift. And some people… well they don’t have as good reasons. Some people are merely trying to assuage guilt from their own over-consumption. Some people think that the poor should be “grateful” for literally anything. Some people are donating items just for the tax write-off. Some people are donating so they don’t have to bother sorting through things themselves. Some people donate because they don’t want to pay the fee for the dump.

What a lot of people don’t think about are the various resources that charities need to expend when it comes to donations.

 First, organizations need to sort through donations. They need to make sure the items are in good condition, that food is before its expiration date, that clothes are clean and somewhat in fashion (a good rule of thumb: if you wouldn’t wear the clothes yourself or gift the clothing to your friends or family, then don’t donate it. If it isn’t good enough for you, it isn’t good enough for the clientele of the charity, either), that electronics work, etc. This all takes time. During the holidays, it takes a LOT of time. Time that employees or volunteers are then not spending doing other things.

Second there is storage. Each organization has a different storage capacity, but I say with confidence that basically every organization has storage that is bursting at the seams. At best, it is a well-organized Narnia closet that somehow manages to hold more than it should. At worst, it is a chaotic Pile O’Stuff that last saw organization about five giant donations ago. And when there is that much stuff, organizations need to make choices about what to keep, and those choices aren’t even always about what they need the most- it’s sometimes about what they think they might not be able to get again, or what they don’t think another organization could use, etc. An organization might need couches to give to clients for apartments, but don’t have anyone who needs a couch at the moment. But are they going to be sure they get a couch the next time they need one? They might not, so into the storage unit the couch goes, where it sits until it is needed, taking up half of their available storage space. Maybe a local school just did a drive for menstrual hygiene products, and the organization now has tampons stuffed into every spare inch of their storage. They can’t possibly use or give away all the products in the near future, but because they’re name-brand, still-wrapped products, they know they will eventually use all of them, so they might as well keep it all.

An organization will rarely, if ever, turn away donations, even if they can eyeball the donation and determine that they don’t want or need the item. They are desperately worried about being seen as ungrateful, or turning someone off of donating in general. So they’ll take it with a smile, and you’ll never know that they are silently screaming. And then they’ll do the work that you didn’t bother to do, and sort things into what they actually need, what should go to the dump, and what will make yet another donation trip to the local thrift shop.

Almost every nonprofit or charity will have a wishlist of items they need on a consistent basis or at particular times. If you can’t find one, call the organization and find out. You can also be on the lookout for specific calls for items. Do you have an old bookshelf you know you need to get rid of eventually, but can keep around for a bit? Hold on to it until you see a call for bookshelves from a charity, and hey, you are now fulfilling an exact need! Or contact the charity and let them know that you will have certain items available for a certain amount of time, and they can be on the lookout for clients to match your items with. Maybe they don’t know anyone who needs a bookshelf right now, but if they ask some of their clients it will turn out one of them needs a bookshelf.

2. Why You Should Just Give Them Money

I cannot emphasize enough how helpful cold, hard cash is to charities. It is the lifeblood of a charity, and the most important type of funding is the “no strings attached” donation funding that an organization can use how it sees fit. Most of the grants and programs that help fund charities want to fund specific projects or programs—few are willing to give a grant to an organization just to help it pay staff, or pay rent on its office space, or keep the lights on. Federal funding often can’t cover things that organizations find incredibly useful, like giftcards for clients to do their own shopping at a shelter, or something like that. Donation money is vitally important for general operations funding or for specific discretionary funding.

3. Why You Should Give Them Your Time and Attention

Not everything you give to a charity has to be material. Equally important to specific items or money are time and attention. While in an ideal world all work would be paid work, the truth is that in Whatever Hellish Stage of Capitalism This Is, a lot of important work is only going to be done if people are willing to volunteer to do it. If you are willing and able to do so, offer to volunteer for a local organization. Know going in that this isn’t necessarily going to be glamorous or fun work—not everyone gets to have that super photogenic moment of putting a house together or dealing one-on-one with clients. A lot of the time, it’s going to be sorting the above-mentioned donations, or folding newsletters, or answering phones, or even just doing actual housekeeping. The “grunt work” of volunteering is incredibly important. And if you can’t volunteer, give your attention—attend or publicize fundraisers, share social media messages, talk about the charity in letters to the editor or discussions with elected officials—there are a lot of ways you can give the organization some love.

Giving to charities and nonprofits is a fantastic thing, and I certainly don’t want to discourage it. But when you are donating, make sure that you are thinking of the organization more than you are thinking of yourself.

Signed: Feminist Fury

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Featured image is of a scrabble tile holder with letters spelling “charity.” It was taken by Flickr user airpix and released under a CC-BY-2.0 license.

Ellements of Film: Jojo Rabbit


Warning, this will have spoilers for Jojo Rabbit. Not too many actually, but still. Spoilers. You have been warned.

I have been unspeakably excited to see Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit since I first heard about it nearly a year ago. I’ve been loving Waititi’s work, and I dearly wanted to see two things: one, Waititi (a Polynesian Jew) playing Adolf Hitler, and two, modern proof to shove down the throat of any anti-PC crusader who whines, “You couldn’t make a Mel Brooks movie today.” I was not disappointed.

Almost everything that I could say about my hatred of the argument, “You couldn’t make a Mel Brooks movie today” is covered better than I ever could by this Lindsay Ellis video, which I strongly encourage everyone to watch. The tl;dr version is that satire is a fine line to walk—it has to be obvious as satire, it has to be unavailable for appropriation by the subject of its satire, and it has to represent harmful ideas in order to skewer them without simply replicating them. I want to talk about those points, and how I think Waititi meets them in this work.

First, that it has to be obvious as satire. Ellis talks about how things that are meant to be satire wind up coming across as straight if the target of the satire or the audience doesn’t understand the satire, or just looks at it and thinks, “Yeah, that’s cool.” When you’re talking about Nazis, you can accidentally make them too lovable and identifiable (Aw, Nazis. They’re Just Like Us), you can accidentally make them too ridiculous (Why would anyone take these “Nazis” seriously? They’re obviously such buffoons) or you can make them too monstrous (Why would anyone become a Nazi? They’re so evil.)

And indeed, some critics have said that Waititi made the Nazis in his film fall into these traps—there are some very fun characters and tons of anachronisms, there are a lot of moments where the Nazis are idiotic or the subjects of slapstick accidents, and there’s at least one cartoonishly evil Nazi who took a quick break from asking Indiana Jones where he left the artifact in order to rifle through someone’s home. But I don’t think that Jojo Rabbit is ever caught completely in any of these traps. In a way that (in my opinion) exceeds even Mel Brooks’ The Producers, Waititi shows that the Nazis are, in fact, human and mockable. And some of them could be occasionally nice, or funny, or silly. The film showcases the buffoonery of the Third Reich and how their beliefs are often hollow. But, importantly, it shows that this does not make the Nazis any less dangerous. And this is the vital point that I think a lot of the negative reviewers of the movie are overlooking. Normally, I would agree with the detractors that “actually there were some nice Nazis, too” is the kind of terrible, “good people on both sides” messaging that we don’t really need right now. But this film acknowledges that “nice Nazis” can exist, but then emphasizes, “But Nazis will still fucking murder you.” And not just the cartoonishly evil Nazi—all the Nazis. Even the “nice” Nazis. Even the old lady neighbor Nazis. Even the children. They are silly and buffoonish and human and relatable and evil and dangerous.

I also want to look at the idea of how a proper critique should be unavailable for appropriation by the subject of satire. Ellis talks about the way that some drama films that have directly represented the evils of Nazism have wound up being appropriated by neo-Nazis because they think that the depiction makes them look cool (like American History X). And I promise you, no alt-right edgelord is going to look at Jojo Rabbit and think, “That movie makes me look cool.” Waititi deliberately refused to learn literally anything about how Hitler spoke or acted. This is whatever the opposite of Method Acting is. Waititi’s totally out there Hitler is an aspect of the film that some people have found bad, but I think is the most hilarious thing in the world. And fitting, because this isn’t Real Hitler. It is a ten-year-old-boy’s imagined best friend version of Hitler. And at no point does Waititi’s Hitler, or any of the Nazis in the film, do anything that makes Nazis look cool. Even the one moment that could fall into that, Captain K’s glam rock “invasion uniform” moment is still purposefully deflated by having his subordinate carrying a goddamn gramophone around behind him (and by being defeated basically seconds later).

And finally, the last and hardest point—depicting an oppressor without replicating the oppression. When people claim, “You couldn’t make a Mel Brooks movie today,” what they are really saying is that they cannot imagine a film that passes that last element—they cannot imagine a satire that tackles something like the Nazis without breaking taboos about appropriate depictions of marginalized groups. And that’s what I think Waititi did very well. You can talk about marginalized people without making the marginalized people the butt of the joke. You can punch up, rather than down, even about one of the darkest periods in history. And the majority of this film is punching up.

However, it does have some moments where it punches down, or at least could be seen to punch down. And honestly, I feel like I don’t have a lot of room to speak about those moments. The film does go out of its way to come up with literally dehumanizing concepts of Jews, ranging from “they have horns” to “A Jewish man once lay with a fish and that’s why Jewish people have scales” to “there is a literal Satan who is sitting in a Jewish person’s head and controlling them.” I’d like to think that these depictions are so outlandish and so disconnected from some of the actual, historical stereotypes of Jewish people, but… I also don’t have a lot of faith in humanity at the moment. So it’s entirely possible that these depictions will not come off as ridiculous satire of racist ideology, and will instead just be hurtful anti-Semitism. And if anyone feels hurt by this, they have the right to feel so. I can’t tell anyone how to feel about this stuff, and “Well the director is Jewish” works about as much as “Well my one black friend says I can tell that joke” when defending something against claims of being offensive.

This potential anti-Semitism is really the only critique I’ve seen that I think has full merit, whereas other critiques seem (to me) to be missing the point of the film. Some of the criticism of Jojo Rabbit points towards the fact that the film doesn’t engage much with the actual tenets of Nazi ideology. And it’s true, the film really doesn’t. The only thing that really gets any play is “Jews are bad, Hitler is good” which are obviously part of being a Nazi, but certainly not a deep take. But I think that’s not necessarily because Waititi’s film is “cowardly” or is afraid to push certain buttons—it’s because I think that the film is not so much about Nazis, as it is about how someone becomes a Nazi. As well as how someone, hopefully, ceases being a Nazi. It is a film about radicalization and de-radicalization on the small scale rather than the large.

Jojo is the 1945 version of a normie who is being radicalized. He fits a lot of the classic signs of our modern day alt-right—he’s lonely, he considers himself unattractive, he’s adrift after experiencing a loss, he feels like he’s lacking male support, he’s looking outward to find someone or something to blame for his problems, and looking outward for validation.  When Jojo speaks with Elsa, she tells him that he’s not a Nazi, he’s just a little boy that likes to dress up in costumes and wants to join a club. And… yeah. He’s spouting racist rhetoric but he doesn’t fully understand it, he just understands that almost everyone around him is part of it. (Not that this is not to let him off for trying to be a Nazi, or to say that it isn’t still very bad to try and be a Nazi.) In a scene of book burning, you see Jojo’s enthusiasm for the activity fade until he sees how happy and active everyone else is as they burn the books, and this gets Jojo back into things. This desire for an identity and sense of belonging is where I think Waititi’s performance as imaginary Hitler really shines. “Imaginary best friend Hitler” is the perfect personification of what a modern alt-right person or a young would-be Nazi is looking for when they join that type of movement. Waititi’s Hitler tells Jojo that he’s cool, that he’s handsome, that he’s sneaky and sly instead of cowardly, that he’s awesome, that he’s got this. Hitler gets Jojo pumped up, he consoles him when he’s sad, and he’s there for him when he’s lonely. Jojo sees being a Nazi as the path to being accepted—he dreams about being in Hitler’s main guard. He still is absorbing Nazi ideology, but the ideology is attractive partly because it comes with a group identity.

When Jojo starts becoming better friends with Elsa, Imaginary Hitler starts acting more like actual Hitler—spouting rhetoric, starting to glower and snarl. He also becomes possessive of Jojo and Jojo’s time. This can serve two purposes—first, showing Jojo seeing his “idol” in a clearer light, and also, showing how hollow and conditional the love and acceptance of a radicalized group can be. Whereas an actual friend would likely be happy for Jojo to be happier, Imaginary Hitler/the Nazis/any right-wing group needs their followers to be unhappy, to be isolated, and to be upset. Jojo becoming stable and content without the influence of any Nazi groups is dangerous to the continuance of the Nazi ideology. When he is a step removed, he can begin to see flaws in the organization, and begin to see the way his life can work outside of that group. We don’t really get to see him get to come to a full reckoning with his past actions (probably at least partly because he is ten) but we do watch him start to come to terms with what Nazi ideology leads to—largely, a lot of a death.

One of the questions the film asks is, what do you do if your own child is being radicalized? Especially if that radicalization fits the mainstream culture better than your own beliefs? In one of the most poignant moments of the film, Jojo’s mother Rosie is speaking to Elsa, the Jewish girl that she is hiding in her home. She is warning her to be more careful and quiet because she is worried that her own 10-year-old son, Jojo, would turn Elsa in if he found out about her. Tears shining in her eyes, she talks about how she thinks the “real” Jojo is still in there somewhere, behind the fanaticism. She does her best to counter-program him (as much as she can in a fascist police state where her own pre-teen could and potentially would turn her in for traitorous statements) emphasizing the values of love and bravery. Some people see this as a shallow, hippy-dippy moral of the movie, “All you need is love, man.” I didn’t see it that way. I saw it as the only weapon that Jojo’s mother had against the overwhelming messages of the Nazi party and German culture at the time. What can you do for someone who is radicalized besides try to remind them of what they are missing? What can you do when the person you are afraid of is your own child? What can you do when society is contradicting your role as a parent?  The answer that Jojo Rabbit seems to give is, keep loving them, but don’t let them get away with terrible things. Confront their beliefs. Point out holes. Emphasize the superiority of positivity rather than negativity. Do what you need to do to keep yourself safe. That seems like pretty sound advice to me.

Perhaps more importantly, it gives a blueprint for someone who is in the process of being radicalized to de-program themselves. The big things? Connect with someone outside of your echo chamber. Question the fundamental beliefs of the group you are a part of. Take stock of who is being hurt by what you, and they, are doing. If a 10-year-old can de-Nazi himself, so can you!

Signed: Feminist Fury

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Featured image is of the main characters of Jojo Rabbit jumping through the air with the words “Ellements of Film” superimposed.

Having Tough Conversations


As part of “Elle’s-Magical-Mystery-Continuing-Education-Because-Good-Activism-Requires-Constant-Learning-Tour” (what, rich people’s horses don’t get all the fun ridiculous names) I’m trying to read texts that I have heard of/are famous/are often cited in certain arguments but that I have never personally read. Because I’d rather know what I’m talking about before I spout off about someone else’s idea (which is honestly a remarkably rare attitude when it comes to online arguments). So cued up on my Kindle reader I have Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria by Beverly Daniel Tatum, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media by Edward S Herman and Noam Chomsky, and Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde. And currently I’m reading The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. And it’s been… kinda weird.

Sometimes I find myself agreeing with him. I don’t think that anyone’s beliefs override the lived experiences and human rights of others. I don’t think that religious people are the sole arbiters of morality. I don’t think it’s right that churches are exempt from taxation, or that Joel Osteen can call a mega-mansion a “parsonage” and get away with it. But at the same time…. Giminy Christmas, Richard Dawkins. You need to calm down. Being violently anti-religion isn’t really better. I also don’t think that it’s right to forbid a Muslim woman from wearing a headscarf. YouTube is full of anti-Semites, and it is horrifying. And in possibly one of the weirdest moments of my life, I got into an online fight with a mayoral candidate because he told me that being pro-LGBTQ meant that I was Islamophobic. (Welcome to Wyoming, y’all.) And I was thinking about all of these things while I was reading, and realizing that trying to navigate my own personal line between respect for religion and denial of special privileges for religions or religious people could get kinda murky.

It reminded me of a recent controversy regarding ContraPoints. (No, not that one. The one before that.) ContraPoints was expressing, albeit inelegantly, that some behaviors we adopt to accommodate non-passing trans folks, nonbinary folks, and genderqueer folks, namely asking for pronouns, could make passing binary trans women like her feel uncomfortable and like they are not, in fact, passing. And while the original remarks could have been framed in a way that better expressed the context of her feelings and I understand why people could feel upset by what she said, her initial comment didn’t really deserve the internet pile-on that ensued. Because actually, she was bringing up an important point. As A. Khaled explained on Medium (emphasis mine),

Natalie later made a clarification—albeit unneeded—that her initial remark did not mean to encroach upon non-binary and non-passing people’s pronoun sovereignty—the issue more was that Wynn was thrust into accepting that without being consulted on what works, and doesn’t work for her. In essence, it’s the eternal clash between wanting to spread practice of an easily digestible norm, and a situation where certain individuals feel like they’ve been signed up for an overt manifestation of a tolerance program that despite its best attempts, manages to exclude them—including Wynn—in a way that doesn’t entirely make sense within the framework of ideological diversity that the left is often a major touter of.

What’s the connection to the religious dilemma I’ve been having while reading Dawkins? It’s an issue that is underpinning a lot of activism, but that often remains a dirty little secret: there isn’t really any such thing as “universal accommodation.” There is not one tack you can take to be simultaneously considerate of all people and all situations. There is never going to be a single solution that helps everyone absolutely equally.

For example, I was recently discussing with a friend the various pedagogical advice I have received over the years when it came to taking attendance and requiring participation in the college courses I was teaching:

1. Don’t make the entire grade wrapped up in assignments, because a lot of people can understand material and discuss it well but freeze when it comes to written work. Give them lots of attendance and participation grades.

2. Don’t force students to speak, because it can be intimidating and they can have anxiety. Don’t sink a kid’s grade with participation grades.

3. Require attendance but have no differentiation between excused and unexcused absences. It isn’t your role to dictate who had a “worthy” excuse to not be in class.

4. Show preferential treatment to working mothers and people with disabilities, and don’t count their absences for things like lack of childcare or disability-related incidents of missing class.

5. Don’t require attendance at all. Requiring notes for excuses is classist and assumes the student has the time and resources to go to the doctor, and requiring attendance doesn’t accommodate the lived-experiences of many students who are struggling to balance all of their responsibilities.

6. Require attendance, because otherwise students are not getting the benefit of collaborative learning.

7. Have similar attendance and participation policies to a workforce job—you’re expected to show up more often than not, and you’re expected to participate more often than not.

8. Require attendance and have participation grades, because otherwise students will never participate, and that is a core component of most learning. Just lecturing is not as successful in imparting knowledge.

As an educator, you are expected and required to have a singular policy that applies to all students, so that they know the rules and expectations of your class. That’s basically what a syllabus is. But as you may have noticed, it is not actually possible to have a single attendance and participation policy that accommodates all of teaching philosophies that people encouraged me to adopt. Even though each of those philosophies is valid, at least for a certain kind of student. So each teacher is left to craft as comprehensive a policy as possible, and then (depending on their freedom within their institution) to make individual judgment calls when certain situations arise. Because barring having a room full of individual, one-on-one instructors, there is no way to fully accommodate each type of student with each type of need and learning style.

We don’t talk about this impossibility very much, either in or out of activist circles, and there are a number of reasons for that.

The first is the desire, as A. Khaled put it, “to spread practice of an easily digestible norm.” If we want the public at large to perform accommodations for certain types of needs, we have to break things down into quick instructions and sound bites, and they have to sound definite. “We should make sure all fire alarms have a visual element so that people with auditory disabilities are able to be alerted to a fire.” “We should all put our pronouns in our Twitter bios and e-mail signatures and ask for pronouns before workshops to normalize the fact that we shouldn’t assume gender identities.” “We should call Black Americans Black Americans because ‘African American’ ignores the diaspora and assumes African identity for Americans of extremely distant extraction (who may not have any interest in identifying as African—or the reverse).” These are all “rules” that we try to spread into the general populace, with the intended desire of serving as many people as possible. We want these practices to be widely accepted and adopted, so we make them as simple as possible and as all-encompassing as possible.

The second reason is that we worry that if we acknowledge the difficulties or conflicts in being socially aware, people will be less likely to do it. We’re afraid that the more complex the road to “wokeness” is, the fewer people there will be who are willing to walk it. And we do have reason to think this—you can see it in all of the people who throw up their hands and declare, “I can’t keep up with all of this jargon anymore, I give up.” Acknowledging complexity risks alienating people.

The third reason is that we are afraid that any sign of doubt is an opportunity for the opposition to pounce and declare, “gotcha!” Have you ever been debating with someone, and they ask you a question, and you start to answer by saying, “Well that’s a really complicated issue,” and then they say, “So you don’t have an answer then, do you?!” Or you start explaining the complexity of your answer, and then they say, “But you just said X, and now you’re saying Y. Which is it, huh? Huh? Your whole point is invalid.” The slightest acknowledgement of weakness provides an opening for bad-faith people who didn’t really want to try to be a good person in the first place to declare everything a lost cause and your entire existence invalid.

The fourth reason is that it also risks creating a hierarchy of the oppressed, or even a hierarchy among the oppressed (aka the “Oppression Olympics”). We already have weird social guidelines for when someone is “disabled enough” to “deserve” accommodation. If we acknowledge that some accommodations conflict with each other, we risk basically creating a flow chart of who gets to be considered.

And all of that is too bad, because we really do need to talk about the conflicts, and the impossibilities of universal accommodation. In each instance I described above, there are individuals for whom this broad intended accommodation doesn’t apply, seems incorrect, or even becomes actively harmful. Automatically putting flashing lights in all smoke alarms is great for folks with auditory disabilities, but horrible for folks with epilepsy. Normalizing asking for pronouns is great for nonbinary/genderqueer/non-passing binary trans folks, but as we saw with ContraPoints, can make passing binary trans folks feel uncomfortable or singled out (though if we normalized pronoun introductions, it’d be fine). Using the term Black Americans acknowledges the diaspora, but some people feel it underplays the fact that many Black or mixed-race citizens are the descendants of slaves who were forcibly brought here from Africa and underplays the coercion in the “American” part of their identity.

The answer to these conflicts is not to give up on the whole endeavor, but to do our best to work through the conflicts and provide solutions whenever possible—or at least acknowledge the conflict and acknowledge that it really sucks for some people. We may decide that all residential fire alarms should be sold with a flashing light option that can be enabled or disabled by the purchaser, but that we shouldn’t include the light in fire alarms that are installed in public spaces, and instead have staff or client policies that ensure that any people with auditory disabilities are notified some other way of fire danger since it is easier to be on the lookout for people who can’t hear the alarm than to evacuate someone who has been triggered into an epileptic seizure. We may decide that yeah, it does suck to be a binary trans person who is asked for their pronouns and thus feels uncomfortable, but that the benefits of normalized pronoun use outweigh the drawbacks. In that case, we should still talk about how it sucks for some people, and validate those experiences. We may decide that we should go with Black American in order to acknowledge the diaspora, but increase our efforts to more thoroughly address slavery and its after-effects and thus address the legacy of the forced removal from Africa. Going all the way back to my Dawkins reading, we may decide to accommodate religious belief as much as possible but also pass nondiscrimination ordinances that would protect people from being the target of religiously-motivated bigotry.

I don’t know that anything I just suggested is a proper answer—I’m not deaf, I’m not epileptic, I’m not nonbinary or trans, I’m not Black, I’m not strongly religious. To get real answers to these conflicts, we need to talk to the people who are. But we do need to have that conversation, and we need to talk about the conflicts that arise. We need to continually work to figure out best practices, and transmit those best practices to the broader culture, while knowing that we’re not going to hit 100% perfection. We need to acknowledge that this stuff can be as difficult as it is important.

Signed: Feminist Fury

***

Featured image is of two people sitting on opposite park benches having a heated discussion. It was taken by Sharon Mollerus and is used under a Create Commons CC-BY-2.0 license.

“Ok, Boomer”

Let’s talk about “Ok, Boomer,” the Zoomer craze sweeping the nation, inspiring delight in Millennials and seemingly incandescent rage in Boomers everywhere.

So a couple of things to start us out:

Class and financial inequality are the main causes of the problems that “Ok, Boomer” is a response to. “Ok, Boomer” is mostly about class.

But “Ok, Boomer” is not not about age.

The main issue is class and inequality, but to pretend that age plays no part in the discourse would be disingenuous, in the same way that trying to talk about class without talking about gender or race would be disingenuous (intersectionality is important, because it’s 2019, friends). A poor white man and a poor black woman have very different experiences of the world, and their poverty means very different things in terms of the way they navigate the world and the way the world responds to them.

A good portion of what I was going to say in this post is made effectively unnecessary by this Facebook post by Kelly Jean and Matt Hershberger, which I will provide in full here because I know none of y’all ever click on my links:

1) “Okay, Boomer” is directed not at a particular generation, but at a class structure and the people who defend it, who are often members of the Baby Boomer generation.

(2) The Boomer mindset is one that offers unsolicited or bad advice to younger people that is based on an economic context that has not been in place for over four decades. The new economic context, in which “work hard and pay off your loans” or “just find a job with healthcare” are absurd things to say, was, in fact, largely built by the Baby Boomer generation.

(3) This bad advice is often uttered condescendingly or dismissively to struggling Millennials or Gen Z “Zoomers,” who do not appreciate it.

(4) For a long time, the only argument a Millennial or Zoomer could offer in response was a long explanation as to why that’s not how it works anymore. This response, usually heartfelt and born of frustration, almost always was ignored, because:

a) the Millennial/Zoomer economic struggles are a direct result of popular Boomer policies, and the only policy programs that could serve as a corrective to these policies would be the center-left wealth redistribution programs that are popular in the modern Democratic Socialist movement,

b) Boomers grew up in a Cold War context which made the vague menace of “socialism” the existential, atom-bomb-is-coming enemy for most of their lives. This childhood fear has been effectively weaponized by the right, who declares any social program to be indistinguishable from Stalinist purges, and

c) The arguing parties are, usually, children and their parents (or older family members), meaning that the arguments will almost always be tinged with parent/child power dynamics, which means they get easily derailed because the child doesn’t feel seen by the parent and the parent doesn’t feel appreciated by the child.

(5) “Okay, Boomer,” is the first retaliatory response to the bad advice given by Boomers that is effectively the same in both content and form. It is reductive, dismissive, condescending, and designed to end conversation rather than start it. Boomers — particularly the leftists who have actually been fighting the current economic context since the 60’s and 70’s — could recognize in “Okay, Boomer,” the same spirit their own bards adopted. For 60’s Boomers, Dylan:

“Come mothers and fathers throughout the land
And don’t criticize what you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly aging
Please get outta’ the new one if you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin'”

And for 70’s Boomers, Bowie:

“And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They’re quite aware of what they’re goin’ through.”

In conclusion, “Okay, Boomer” is a (slightly more concise than usual) iteration of the type of dialectical weapon that always appears in intergenerational warfare. Disclaimer: Academic criticism of or minor quibbles with this thesis will be responded to with “Okay, Boomer.”

See? Maybe I didn’t even need to write this post. Anyway.

The Boomer/Class differentiation is kind of like the thing you learn in school about squares and rectangles: not all Boomers are wealthy and powerful, but (almost) all of the wealthy and powerful are Boomers. And then we run into the “not all men” defense. No, not all Boomers. But enough Boomers that the discourse becomes necessary to have, and it is not necessarily a personal attack on you. As Richard says, “Of course it’s not all Boomers, but if you’re going to center yourself in a conversation about privilege by telling us so, it’s definitely about you.” It’s also important to note that one of the reasons the Venn diagram between Boomers and Wealthy Assholes is so close to a circle is that a lot of the poor Boomers have died or become otherwise removed from public discourse. We’ve lost countless Boomers to poverty, to HIV/AIDS, to mass incarceration, to unaddressed health issues, etc. Most of the Boomers that are left are the wealthy elites by process of literal elimination.

The obvious retort a lot of “Ok, Boomer” respondents have is to this is to tell Millennials to stop getting upset about critiques against Millennials, and to a certain extent, yeah, fair. But (and this may be my Millennial bias showing) I think that there is actually a distinction between the Millennial: Applebee’s Assassin figure and the stereotypical wealthy Boomer that “Ok, Boomer” addresses. That Millennial Assassin doesn’t actually exist (or if they do, many of the things they are accused of are not actually their fault), whereas the condescending, wealthy Boomer does.

Here is a (far from complete) list of things that Millennials have been accused of killing:

  • Home Ownership
  • J. Crew
  • Car Ownership
  • Home Depot
  • Buffalo Wild Wings
  • Napkins
  • Cruises
  • Golf
  • Marriage
  • Diamonds

Now what could all these things possibly have in common? Millennials are “killing” industries because we don’t have any bloody money. Accounting for inflation, today’s minimum wage is worth roughly half of what it was in the 1970s, while the effective cost of college is almost 200% more than it was at that point. And I will literally be Too Depressed if I look up what the difference in housing costs is, so you’ll have to do that yourself. Or imagine it. Napkins are more expensive and less multi-purpose than paper towels. We can’t afford to buy property, and you don’t really need a home repair store if you can’t afford to buy a home. Marriage means combining debts and spending about $30,000 for a party, and is also hard to do when you can’t afford to leave your parents’ house. It’s difficult to buy a car when all your “extra” income is going to student loans. You can’t really go on a cruise when you have no money and don’t have a job with those wacky and rare fringe benefits like “vacation time.” Eating out, buying higher-class fast fashion, and playing a game of golf are all the types of “frivolous” expenses that we don’t have much of a budget for and that we also get yelled at for spending money on because it is “fiscally irresponsible.” And diamonds? Give me a fucking break. The best thing the economic crisis has done is make people break out of the 100-year hypnosis the De Beers company had us in and realize that compressed pieces of carbon are not actually worth three months salary. When Millennials get blamed for “killing” something, it is because the Boomers who run the economy arranged things so that these industries would die. I would happily patronize All of the Stores if I had the money to do so. I would possibly lower myself to buying napkins (especially if they are the cute ones with designs on them). I probably still wouldn’t play golf, but that’s because I hate golf. If a Boomer tells me that I need to work harder to get a “good job,” responding “Ok, Boomer” is code for, “Why did you construct an economy where that is impossible for me?”

There are two other aspects of “Ok, Boomer” that I would like to address that I don’t think the aforementioned Facebook post fully addressed. The first is the role of “Ok, Boomer” as an indictment of inaction.

Have you seen that viral picture of the elderly woman holding up a sign that tells you all the things she never bothered protesting, but then says she’s out here protesting Trump because he’s THAT bad? (I would show it here, but I can’t find it because I have great visual memory but terrible instincts towards saving images, and there are actually so many Trump protest signs that Google image search is unhelpful.) What she’s trying to get across is, “Trump is the worst president possible.” What she is accidentally getting across is, “I have been too complacent to bother protesting injustice over the last fifty years.” The world that Millennials and Gen Z are facing is literally and metaphorically on fire. And we neither set that fire, nor sat back and watched it burn. Billy Joel is lying, Boomers did it. (Again, #NotAllBoomers. Do not @ me, Boomers.) A lot of people spent a lot of their lives being politically inactive, and are just now waking up and going, “Man, maybe we should do something.” I feel guilty for not being as politically active as I could have been in the last ten years. A lot of Boomers were politically inactive for the last 50 years. (And again, don’t @ me. I’m happy for all people to join the revolution, even if it’s a bit late. We need all hands on deck, and I’m not going to spend a lot of time scolding anyone as long as they’re willing to do the work now.) Sure, some Boomers took part in Civil Rights campaigns, in various waves of feminism, and in the LGBTQ rights movement. But a lot of them didn’t. They were so convinced that they were the temporarily disenfranchised millionaires that they let unions sink, made recycling campaigns instead of holding industries accountable for emissions, and allowed the GOP to systematically take charge of nearly every state legislature. And then Millennials get accused of being disengaged.

“Ok, Boomer” is “Cool story bro.” “Ok, Boomer” is “Why do you suddenly care?” “Ok, Boomer” is “Why didn’t you make the world easier for me instead of harder?”

The other thing I want to talk about is the role of “Ok, Boomer” as a sigh of defeat. “Ok, Boomer” is a sign that the speaker has tapped out of the conversation, that they are tired of making the same arguments into the void again and again, and that they acknowledge that the person they are speaking to will never see them as an equal or change their mind on a topic. “Ok, Boomer” is the way I had to excuse myself to use the restroom last time I got into one of these arguments with someone I care about, so that I could cry silently in frustration for a couple of minutes because the person I was arguing with would never admit that systems of oppression, and not personal responsibility or entitlement, kept my friends and loved ones from making a living wage. “Ok, Boomer” is someone sighing, shaking their head, and acknowledging that you are a lost cause. Or at least that they don’t have the time and energy to keep engaging with you.

Do I think that it’s the most productive thing to have inter-generational conflict over nicknames? No, of course not. Do I get at least a bit of schadenfreude about the same generation of people who called my generation snowflakes and protested against the need for “political correctness” that asked them not to use slurs losing their shit over getting called something they call themselves? Yes. Yes I do. I do think that inter-generational conflict is probably a distraction from the actual problem, which is our current class system and distribution of wealth. But “Ok, Boomer” didn’t rise out of a vacuum, and it isn’t totally off the mark. In order to really address the problems in our society, we do need unity. But asking for unity without acknowledging the ways your actions (or inaction) have harmed others, without acknowledging the different lived experiences of various participants, and without acknowledging your own privilege is not really asking for unity, it is asking for forgetfulness.

Signed: (Millennial) Feminist Fury

***

Featured image is a “laser text meme” of the words “ok boomer”

Sexy Halloween Costumes V: Yandy, Are You Okay?

This is my fifth solid year of writing sexy costume roundups. That is… probably not good for my psyche. And honestly, I’m starting to think it’s not good for anyone else’s psyche, either. Because while last year’s roundup made me ask the question, “Do I have Stockholm Syndrome? Am I ok?” this year’s roundup is making me ask, “Yandy, are you ok?” Because I don’t think Yandy is ok. I think they may be a victim of their own success. Because once you have made All the Things sexy… what is left? What can you do besides continue churning out mindless nothingness? What can you do to push the envelope when you have already destroyed the envelope? I mean, they didn’t even have much enthusiasm to be racist this year. (Don’t worry, they were still racist. But their heart wasn’t really in it, I don’t think.)

As usual, I’ll be embedding photos instead of linking, because I don’t need this site flagged as something that is sending Yandy traffic. Also, Yandy doesn’t deserve traffic. Yandy was sent to us to make us contemplate our sins.

First, like last year, there were a few costumes that I actually liked. Fewer costumes than last year, so I think the Stockholm Syndrome faded. But a couple.

I actually liked both of these takes on Beetlejuice (known as “Horror Honey” and “Got the Juice” respectively):

I also liked this take on “sexy Belle,” which is actually labeled “Beautiful Belle,” which means that either they’re actually working with Disney, or they’re about to get sued. (I’m leaning towards the latter; you’ll see why later.)

I also liked this take on the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland, appropriately named “Punctual White Rabbit.”

And… that was about it. Not much I liked this year. (Though there was one Wednesday Addams costume that got bonus points for being named “Woman Crush Wednesday,” even though the costume itself was pretty lame.) They of course had their usual crop of racist costumes, but even those were toned down this year. There weren’t as many new racist costumes as there usually are, and they seem to mostly be recycling things they’ve already done in terms of having white women pose in “ninja” costumes and use “Egyptian” costumes as an excuse for a lot of costume jewelry. Feast your eyes on “Violent Warfare Ninja,” “Empress Divine” and “Samurai Jackie.”

But this is where “business as usual” Yandy seems to end. Because honestly, a lot of their stuff this year seems like they’re not even trying. They have some costumes that are clear allusions to pop stars. Among many others there are costumes of Madonna, Lil’ Kim, Cardi B, and Mel B from the Spice Girls, and all of them are… fine. I mean, they’re about as sexy as the original outfits were. They basically just ARE the stars’ original outfits.

As usual, Yandy seems to be trying to spoil our childhoods by going after family friendly cartoon characters. But this year, they picked… Toy Story. and Minions. And no, I never had the question, “I wonder what the aliens from the claw machine would look like if they were sexy,” but I also don’t feel like clutching my pearls. Make Woody sexy. Go ahead. His name is “Woody,” and his friend is named “Buzz,” the costumes design themselves.

As usual, there are some “ripped from the headlines” Sexy (blank object or idea) costumes, but they… aren’t really trying. Like, at all. Not even to the level of “sexy pizza rat.” There’s a “sexy Whiteclaw” called Hard Outlaw. So…. a sexy alcoholic seltzer. And the costume is… meh.

There’s a Beyond Burger costume which is just… a hamburger dress with a “plant based” flag fascinator.

There’s a costume that references the time that Popeye’s sold out of its new chicken sandwich, which… yeah, I guess is a thing that happened? I kinda remember that? Also it’s basically an altered version of the burger dress with “sold out” on the crotch.

They reference the current impeachment crisis with… a beauty pageant outfit? I don’t even understand this. It is “Miss Impeachment.” Is that… they don’t think that’s a pun, do they? And it comes with a whistle. For the whistleblower. I have to show you the ad copy for this one because it makes absolutely nothing better, but is one of the best examples of “trying desperately to make something work” I’ve seen since one of my students tried to take an exam on a book they hadn’t read:
Is that the sound of a whistle blowing? It turns out there are eyes and ears everywhere. Claiming collusion won’t get you any justice, but curves like these will get you sent down in history. Smile and wave while you reflect on your questionable acts in this exclusive Miss Impeachment costume featuring a peach, floor-length dress with halter straps, a deep V-neckline, a sexy high leg slit, a white MISS IMPEACHMENT print sash with peach decals, a rhinestone studded crown, and a silver whistle. No quid pro quo required.

Just…. what?

There’s also a college scandal reference costume, and I’ve got to be honest… I could make a better sexy college scandal costume. Like, an Aunt Becky costume but with handcuffs. That would be kinda clever, right? This… this is not clever.

There is a sexy cauliflower pizza costume and… did I miss something? Was cauliflower pizza a national talking point of some sort? I don’t remember this happening. Also, this is just obviously an attempt to reuse the “plant based” fascinator from the Beyond Burger costume. I think they just ordered too many flags and then scrambled.

There is a…. Tater Thot costume. *sighs deeply*

There is also a tariff costume, which is about the point at which I exclaimed, “You’re not even TRYING.” It is a money dress with “Tariff” stamped on it. That’s it. This is the sexy dress equivalent of Stephen King’s lamp monster.

Strangest of all, there were multiple costumes this year that were not sexy. At all. Just… straight up not sexy. They decided to go with a lot of ponchos, including one that I’m pretty sure is made up of shirts they got from Goodwill, and TWO separate scarecrow poncho costumes. Two.

There were also a rather frightening number of onesies, the best/worst of which was probably this Pumpkin Spice onesie. It looks comfortable as hell, but I’m pretty sure if you wear it to a party, you are never having sex again. Also I’m not sure how you walk in it, because it seems to take Hammer Pants drop crotch to a whole new level, where you ask yourself, “I wonder what it would feel like to shuffle around as if my pants were all the way down, only they AREN’T down?”

And then there is the Guacward Avocado costume. It’s just… it’s just an avocado. That’s it, that’s the whole concept. Not even a sexy avocado, just… like if Whole Foods was hiring someone to dress as an avocado to do some street promotions, this is what they would have you wear.

Now, for those of you who have seen some writeups of Yandy’s merchandise this year, you may feel as if I’m making two glaring omissions. But I promise you I’m not, I’m getting to them. Because even though in most years, these two costumes would win the “Why hast thou forsaken me, oh God” prize, this year I think they’re actually further evidence that Yandy has given up on life. I’m talking, of course, about the Nicest Neighbor and Happy Tree Painter costumes.

Now, do I feel a little bit worse about the world, knowing that these costumes exist and that at least one person probably bought them? Yes, of course I do. But I also feel like they’re the ultimate evidence that Yandy has pushed about as far as they can before they become a Cards Against Humanity meme. They took two of the kindest, most wholesome figures in pop culture and made them sexy. Which means they have nowhere else to go. I have heard more negative things about Mother Theresa than I have heard about either Fred Rogers or Bob Ross. There is no higher peak of outlandish, out-of-place sexiness for Yandy to climb to. We have reached Peak Sexy. (See what I did there?)

Now, because the universe hates me and doesn’t want me to have nice things, this time next year I’ll probably be drinking and muttering, “That wasn’t supposed to be a challenge.” But for this year, I’m genuinely concerned for Yandy. I mean, after spending five years mocking their costumes, I feel like I know them pretty well, and I think they might have a problem. I think they have flown too close to the sexy sun. (Why don’t they have a sexy sun costume?) I think they have become a snake eating its own tail, a victim of their own success. I think they maybe need to call someone to drive them home. Yandy, are you ok?

Signed: Feminist Fury

***

featured image is a goofy jack-o-lantern with the caption “R U OK?” superimposed. Original photo by Douglaspperkins (linked to https://ccsearch.creativecommons.org/photos/4f1342a3-0683-4c98-9d4c-388c32191003), used under a CC-BY 4.0 licence.

Ellements of Film: Joker

Now before I get started, I should admit that I am not the target audience of this film for a couple of reasons. The first is that I’m not a white male who feels disenfranchised. Not to say that only white males with a sense of disenfranchisement are the only ones who could enjoy the film, but that is definitely who it was meant for. The second is that I thought this movie was pointless when it was announced.

For me, The Joker is basically an embodiment of chaos. He is the id of Gotham City. My favorite versions of Joker (namely, Mark Hamill in the animated series and Heath Ledger in the Nolan films) go out of their way to avoid letting us know what Joker’s background is. Ledger’s Joker tells different stories of how he got his scars, and in the animated series, Batman challenges Harley’s belief that she has a connection to the Joker by pointing out that he knows all of the multiple backstories that Joker likes to tell people. One of the more “authoritative” backstories of Joker (and one that obviously influenced this film) is found in The Killing Joke, where Joker was a failed stand-up comedian who ended up turning to crime. But even within that text, Joker tells Batman he remembers different versions of his own backstory, making the entire story unreliable. Pretty much the only origin story I find passable is the Batman movie where Jack Nicholson is Joker, and even then…. I’d kind of prefer it didn’t exist? Like, cool twist bro, Joker is the gangster who killed your parents, but it also makes his character arc harder to track. Like he goes from a slightly unhinged but overall serious gangster to a prank and joke loving supervillain because… falling into a vat of chemicals apparently makes you like jokes, and his calling card was a Joker? It’s not my favorite interpretation of the character, even though I like Nicholson’s performance. And in general, I go with the Patton Oswalt view on prequels that explain villains—I don’t care what they were like when they were kids, or before they were cool. I usually don’t even care when they are explaining the background of heroes. The Song of Susannah is the worst book in the Dark Tower series. Hannibal Rising tells us that Hannibal Lecter likes to eat people because… Nazis. I just… don’t want the Joker explained. I want to see Batman and Joker going against each other, because that is the cool part.

So I admittedly went into this film already not sure it needed to exist. Add to that the mixed reviews, and the fact that the director seems to be completely unaware/uncaring that the way he has presented Joker might encourage ideological violence (and the fact that he’s apparently one of those people who thinks “woke culture” killed comedy) and I was pretty sure that I was not going to enjoy myself.

What I didn’t expect was how much I would hate it.

Before we start, let’s go through a brief summary of the film (partially stolen from Wikipedia, augmented by me.) If you don’t want the summary, skip down to the section titled “The Good,” but know that my actual critiques will probably reference multiple plot points from the movie and basically also be a spoiler. I have given up on spoiler-free reviews.

Summary

In 1981, party clown and aspiring stand-up comedian Arthur Fleck lives with his mother, Penny, in Gotham City. Arthur is presumably a felon (since he isn’t supposed to have guns) and was recently hospitalized for unspecified mental health issues. He takes multiple medications for these unspecified problems as well as the fact that he suffers from a disorder that causes him to laugh at inappropriate times. He goes to a city-provided social worker for therapy and medication. He’s beaten by a gang of teens in an alley, leading his co-worker, Randall, to lend him a gun. Arthur invites his neighbor, single mother Sophie, to his stand-up comedy show, and they begin dating. (Note: I learned Sophie’s name from the internet. NO ONE EVER SAYS HER NAME IN THE MOVIE.)

While entertaining at a children’s hospital, Arthur’s gun falls out of his pocket. Randall lies and says that Arthur bought the gun himself and Arthur is fired. On the subway, still in his clown makeup, Arthur is beaten by three drunken Wayne Enterprises businessmen; he shoots two in self-defense and executes the third. The murders are condemned by billionaire mayoral candidate Thomas Wayne, who labels those envious of more successful people as “clowns.” Demonstrations against Gotham’s rich begin, with protesters donning clown masks in Arthur’s image. Funding cuts shutter the social service program, leaving Arthur without medication.

Arthur’s comedy show goes poorly; he laughs uncontrollably and has difficulty delivering his jokes. Talk show host Murray Franklin mocks Arthur by showing clips from the routine on his show. Arthur intercepts a letter written by Penny to Thomas, alleging that he is Thomas’ illegitimate son, and berates his mother for hiding the truth. At Wayne Manor, Arthur talks to Thomas’ young son, Bruce, but flees after a scuffle with butler Alfred Pennyworth. (Note: This is the worst Alfred I’ve ever seen. Seriously, The Worst.) Following a visit from two Gotham City Police Department detectives investigating Arthur’s involvement in the train murders, Penny suffers a stroke and is hospitalized.

At a public event, Arthur confronts Thomas, who tells him that Penny is delusional and not his biological mother. In denial, Arthur visits Arkham State Hospital and steals Penny’s case file; the file says Penny adopted Arthur as a baby and allowed her abusive boyfriend to harm them both. Penny alleged that Thomas used his influence to fabricate the adoption and commit her to the asylum to hide their affair. Distraught, Arthur goes to the hospital and kills Penny. He returns home and enters Sophie’s apartment unannounced. Frightened, Sophie tells him to leave; their previous encounters were Arthur’s delusions. (One of my friends said that the movie would have been better if Sophie had actually been dating him and had been evidence that “the love of a good woman” is still not enough to “cure” a mentally ill or otherwise unstable/incel-y person, and I’m inclined to agree.)

Arthur is invited to appear on Murray’s show due to the unexpected popularity of his routine clips. As he prepares, Arthur is visited by Randall and fellow ex-colleague Gary. Arthur murders Randall, but leaves Gary unharmed for treating him well in the past. En route to the studio, Arthur is pursued by the two detectives onto a train filled with clown protesters. One detective accidentally shoots a protester and incites a riot, allowing Arthur to escape.

Before the show goes live, Arthur requests that Murray introduce him as Joker, a reference to Murray’s previous mockery. Arthur walks out to a warm reception, but tells morbid jokes, admits he killed the men on the train, and rants about how society abandons the disenfranchised. After calling out Murray for mocking him, Arthur kills him, and is arrested as riots break out across Gotham. One rioter corners the Wayne family in an alley and murders Thomas and his wife Martha, sparing a traumatized Bruce. Rioters in an ambulance crash into the police car carrying Arthur and free him. He dances to the cheers of the crowd.

At Arkham, Arthur laughs to himself and tells his psychiatrist she would not understand the joke. He runs from orderlies, leaving a trail of bloodied footprints.

The Good

So I try to be fair to everything I watch, and acknowledge the good parts. So I tried hard.

There are Super Rats. I freaking love the idea of Super Rats. They have basically no impact on the film, except kinda skittering in the background during the death of the Waynes, but I love them.

Joaquin Phoenix has some moments where he’s actually a very good proto-Joker. His manic laugh is pretty great, and he has amazing facial control—you can tell how much he hates the laughter even as he’s laughing, and can switch instantly between the laughter and being stone-faced. His habit of dancing when he is alone is basically the only sign of the “joie de vivre” that I associate with the Joker.

Frances Conroy and Zazie Beetz are both treasures, and they both deserved much more to do in this film.

I had a fun time going, “Is that… .is that Gary Gulman? Wait a second, is that Chris Redd? That can’t be Marc Maron, can it?” I was right every time.

I actually like the super-clown face makeup style of the Joker look. It’s a lot more “classic clown” than we have gotten used to with Joker designs, and plays well to the moniker of the “Clown Prince of Crime.” It also helps distinguish him from the character design of the Riddler, which some artists make too similar.

I like the reframing of Thomas Wayne as a kind of dickish billionaire who thinks the rest of the world should thank him for being so good to them and should pull themselves up by their bootstraps. I can better believe that the kind of man who would dress up like a bat and decide he needed to save his city with his fists would come from this kind of father than a doting, “I built this train to save the city” kind of father.

Now is an excellent time for an “eat the rich, let’s revolt” message. I think emphasizing this class divide between the “villains” and the wealthy like the Wayne family is really good, and I wish like hell the message had been done better.

The Bad

Well… where do we start.

I think the biggest, and most overarching problem with the film, is that it is joyless. Almost literally. There was one joke I actually found funny, and it was about how Arthur Fleck isn’t funny. When Arthur tells his mother that he is becoming a standup comedian, she responds, “Don’t you have to be funny to be a comedian?” Because Arthur isn’t funny. At all. The closest he gets is slapstick. The fact that he’s a terrible standup comedian is a main plotline. His life is miserable, and the point of the film is to show us Joker’s “one bad day” from the comics only it’s “one bad week.” Though his mother calls him “Happy” as a nickname, he responds that he has never been happy a moment in his life. He seems briefly joyful in the end of the movie, when he’s lording over an adoring crowd or dancing down a mental asylum hallway, but it is way too late, and way too subdued. Joker’s manic joy, his sheer pleasure in destruction and plotting and screwing with things, is one of the core components of the character for me. He’s the antithesis of Batman, and that includes Batman’s broodiness. His sense of humor may be twisted, but he has it.

I’ve heard this film be called both racist and sexist, and I can see where those readings came from. There are actually a number of Black actors in this film, but they mostly stand as either accessories or impediments to Arthur. His social worker, who doesn’t have enough time or patience to be a good therapist, is Black. His love interest, who turns out to have mostly been a delusion in his own head, is Black, as is her child. The mother on the bus who reprimands Arthur for interacting with her child is Black. The MC who lightly mocks Arthur as he introduces him is Black. The nurse who reports him from bringing a gun into a children’s ward is Black. The Arkham worker who tries to keep Arthur from seeing his mother’s full file is Black. The protestor who sums up the ethos of the protest as “fuck the rich, fuck Thomas Wayne, fuck the whole system” is Black. And the Arkham social worker who is recording his final actions (and ends up implicitly murdered) is Black. None of them are fully fledged characters, and I’m pretty sure the child is the only one whose name you learn during the course of the actual movie. (Again, the love interest doesn’t get a name FOR THE ENTIRE MOVIE.) So while they are a presence quantitatively, qualitatively they aren’t shown in the best light.

Meanwhile, women in the film are…. scarce. Off the top of my head, I can think of the two social workers (both unnamed) Arthur’s mother, Penny, his love interest (whom the internet informs me is named Sophie) and her daughter, Gigi, the lady on the bus, the woman who is being harassed by the Wall Street bros before Arthur kills them, the nurse in the children’s ward, the woman who is Murray Franklin’s booking agent (I think she gets a name, but I don’t remember it), Martha Wayne (who gets no lines) and… I think that’s it. I don’t even know if this movie cares enough about women to bother being sexist. The women barely get enough lines for us to have any sense of them, and the two women who talk the most are his delusional mother and a girlfriend who turns out to be a delusion itself, so it’s not like either of them are really representative. I feel like you maybe have to acknowledge women exist to be thoroughly sexist towards them? Like ignoring them entirely is also sexist, but I’d somewhat prefer that if creators don’t care enough about women to give them names, they just leave off writing women altogether rather than muck it up.

I think the second biggest problem with the film is that it isn’t totally sure what it is trying to say (or if it is sure, it has shitty execution). There are two messages that I think the movie attempts to engage with, with pretty mixed results. One is the marginalization of the mentally ill. Arthur is definitely discriminated against, and sometimes even met with violence, due to his tic of uncontrollable laughter. And he presumably has other mental illnesses for which he is taking up to seven medications, leading him to be committed at one point and also leading him to imagine a relationship with Sophie that doesn’t exist. After you find out that he’s been hallucinating a relationship with Sophie, it makes all the rest of the movie also have an unreliable sense of reality. How much of what we just saw was objective fact, and how much was filtered through Arthur’s mental illness? Arthur has a “cog in the system” therapist who doesn’t truly listen to him, merely going through the motions of asking him the questions that she needs to ask based on his release conditions. His journal shows evidence of some sort of learning disability or at least lack of education, given the poor spelling and handwriting. He also seems to have some sort of psychosexual fixation, given that many of the pages have cutouts of women’s bodies from magazines. (I think. That one was harder to tell). One of the more poignant messages he writes is, “The worst part about having mental illness is that people expect you to behave as if you don’t.” As someone with mental illness, that one hit me right in the feels.

There have been pro and con debates going on about presenting Arthur as mentally ill. One of my friends made a compelling argument for including the mental illness, as it can certainly be a contributing factor to someone’s negative behavior and their feelings of isolation. There are also compelling arguments that say that this is further demonizing the mentally ill and associating them with the “school shooter” mentality and making it seem as if the root of violence is mental illness rather than say, hatred of others (when actually, the mentally ill are more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators). I’m kind of in the middle. I don’t think you can make a serious argument for any version of the Joker doesn’t have at least something different going on in his brain—that’s kind of his thing. But I also feel like the deliberate vagueness of his mental illness makes it harder to empathize with and harder to differentiate “problems Arthur has as a result of his mental illness” and “problems Arthur has as a result of his own shitty personality.” Even early on in the film, we see evidence of Arthur having problems with anger and violence, kicking dumpsters and destroying a punch-in machine at his job. Is this related to his mental illness, or is he just your average white dude with anger issues? He gets upset and defensive when the Black woman on the bus tells him not to bother her child (in my opinion, a pretty reasonable thing for a Black woman to ask the random white dude on the bus, even if he has “good intentions”). How much is him truly not understanding social boundaries, and how much of him is feeling like he deserves to set his own for other people? How much of his imagined relationship with Sophie is due to his mental illness, and how much is pretty typical male entitlement about “deserving” relationships with women just because the guy wants them? It’s even further muddied when we learn that Arthur was abused as a child, including head trauma. So now we have a third question, how much of this is due to something like CTE? Obviously mental illness and personality issues can intertwine, but it makes it difficult to understand if this movie is trying to say, “We should be kinder to the mentally ill” or “If disenfranchised white men don’t get what they want, they will kill us and they deserve to do so.”

The second message is, “the wealthy have let us down and deserve our anger.” But again, this message ends up very muddled. One of the first things that we learn in the film is that there is a garbage strike going on. Then in some of the most forced and non-necessary exposition I’ve ever seen, Arthur’s therapist draws a connection between the garbage strike and the tough times that are happening outside. (Because we didn’t get that from the literal piles of garbage and the 70’s NYC vibe). Presumably the city government is not responding well to the strike demands, as the strike continues throughout the film. At a later point, the city has cut funding for social services, meaning that both Arthur’s therapy and his medication will be cut off. (I honestly don’t know why it means that his medication will be cut off, as presumably he should still be able to get a prescription filled even if he’s not seeing the same therapist, but apparently in this world only this one therapist gets to give him meds.) Again, The Very Obvious Exposition Therapist comes through, telling him about the higher powers in the city government, “They don’t give a shit about people like you, Arthur. And they really don’t give a shit about people like me.” We get this message again when Arthur goes to Arkham and asks the clerk what it takes to get sent there. The clerk tells him that in some cases it is the performance of crimes, sometimes it is if someone is a threat to themselves or others, and sometimes when someone just has no where else to go. Those who are left in desperate straits are kept side-by-side with the criminally insane, because there are not better mechanisms for social services.

Meanwhile, the uber-wealthy, here presented in the figurehead of Thomas Wayne, seem pretty oblivious to the conditions of class inequality. The three Wall Street bros that Arthur killed were employees of Wayne enterprises, and their death somehow sets off the anger of the citizens towards the rich. This time, Exposition the Newscaster tells us, “There’s a groundswell of anti-rich activity. It is almost like the less fortunate are taking the side of the killer.” (What gave you that sense, Exposition Newscaster? Was it all the people rioting in clown masks talking about “fuck the rich” and reveling in the death of these people?)  Thomas Wayne goes on TV to make things worse, deriding people who hide behind a mask (Get it? It’s irony. Or something. Cuz his son is gonna be Batman.) and says that, “Those of us who made something of ourselves will always look at those who haven’t as clowns.” Because obviously the reason poor people are poor is that they just didn’t try hard enough to make something of themselves. Wayne later says that there is something wrong with all of the protestors, and that he is their only hope. He doesn’t really explain… why. Like, is he going to help fund the government, so that things like the garbage strike and social services cuts don’t happen? Signs are unclear. In probably one of the better shots and moments of the film, protestors gather around the building where a bunch of the uber-wealthy gather to watch a special showing of Modern Times, a Chaplin film that centers around a hapless industry worker who is the victim of modernization, and includes the main character showing sympathy towards other industry workers who are starving and desperate and taking part in a strike. Self-awareness level of the Gotham wealthy = zero.

When Arthur admits on television that he was the one to kill the Wall Street bros, he makes some pretty good points about the way that the system around us assigns value—he says the system decides what is right or wrong the same way the decide what is funny or not. It’s easy to read into this something like, “The system thinks it’s right to make people go to Arkham when they have no other options to take care of themselves, but think it is wrong to riot or revolt against oppression.” He also says that the world is bad enough to drive anyone crazy, and is upset that people care so much about these three deaths but most people would “step over him if he died on the street. He says the rich think that “everyone else will sit and take it.”

But overall, I feel like this message is pretty hollow when applied to Joker himself. He doesn’t kill the rich dudes because they are rich dudes—he kills them because they are drunk assholes who were harassing a girl and then start harassing him. While their actions and sense of entitlement are perhaps enhanced by their wealth, I can speak from personal experience to say that both blue collar and middle class men will ALSO harass women who clearly don’t want to talk to them on a subway, or turn their attention to random loners that they decide to harass as well. Being a dick on public transportation doesn’t really seem confined to class. Arthur even says that when he killed the men he wasn’t trying to start a movement, “they were just awful.” The interpretation of Joker as a “fuck the rich” avenging vigilante is a message that is put on him. And in occasions where Arthur is given a chance to take credit for the riots that build in the wake of the deaths, or even align himself with the message of the rioters, he vehemently denies any participation. When someone asks him if he is part of the protest, he says, “No, I don’t believe in that, I don’t believe in anything.” His anger doesn’t seem to be directed at systems, even though most of his problems are the result of systems. His killings are all personally motivated—he kills the three men on the train because they harassed him. He kills his mother because she lied to him and allowed people to abuse him. He kills his former coworker because the coworker lied about the gun he’d given Arthur and led Arthur to get fired. He kills Murray Franklin because Franklin mocked his standup and crushed his dreams. He kills the social worker at Arkham because… they needed a reason to film him dancing down the hallways while leaving bloody footprints?

Yet he confusingly turns back to society as a cause for his problems before he kills Franklin. The “joke” he tells him before his death is, “What do you get when you cross a mentally ill loner with a society that treats him like trash? You get what you fucking deserve.” (We’ll come back to this line in a minute.) This language is echoed when the Wayne murder is reframed as an issue of class anger and not a random robbery. After making the super fabulous decision to take his family to a movie on the night of a major riot, Wayne is cornered by one of the mask-wearing rioters who says “Hey Wayne, you get what you fucking deserve” before shooting him. But besides being a bit of a dick on television, Wayne doesn’t really… seem to have done anything worth shooting him over? Like at no point does anyone say, “All of the garbage strike and social service cut problems are attributable to Thomas Wayne not paying his taxes.” The worst thing he clearly does is punch Arthur, and Arthur is the only one who knows that. There’s a possible reading of this that says that Arthur really is his love child and he manipulated things so that Penny was seen as crazy, but most of Penny’s Arkham file doesn’t really support that reading. He just seems to be a rich asshole. Which is cause for a revolution and redistribution of wealth, but not necessarily execution. And despite asserting that he has no connection to the rioters, Arthur is perfectly happy to jump on top of a car and be adored by a crowd of them after he is rescued from his original arrest. So… is he accepting his role as an icon of class unrest? Is he exploiting the message that got built around him for his own gain? Is he just a lonely guy who is glad that he finally sees seen? I have no idea.

The movie also ends up saying things about class revolt that are… not great? I’m not inherently down on violent protest—I think many protests require violence in self defense, and the number of grand social changes that have come about without some amount of violence on the part of the oppressed against the oppressors is… not large. I also don’t necessarily disagree with protests that are somewhat unfocused—sometimes you are just angry, and you don’t have to have an exact solution to your problem (Occupy Wall Street didn’t usually have a cohesive list of demands, but their action was a necessary outpouring of class frustration with the fallout of the 2008 recession.) But this movie combines an unfocused protest with violence in a way that somewhat poses the rioters as the bad guys. Like ok, they are prompted by a violent attack by a crazed clown on some Wall Street Bros—so are they only inspired by the violence? By continuing to hold Joker up as a figure of reverence despite his admission that his act was non-political and non-ideologically motivated, are they showing that they are more concerned with performing violence than enacting ideology? Also, by using this riot as a reason to kill Thomas Wayne… Bruce, the billionaire who decides to grow up and fight crime (often against the lower classes) now has “class-motivated protestor” as his number 1 hated person/cause of all of his nightmares and trauma. But Batman is supposed to be the good guy. So doesn’t that make the people who killed his parents… the bad guy? So the people who are upset about class inequality are the initial bad guys of the Batman mythos. Ok, cool. Cool. That’s great.

Then you get what I call the “edgelord elements.” These are the elements of the film that make you go, “Oh yeah, this was definitely made by someone who thinks that you can’t make comedies anymore because of ‘PC culture.’ That totally scans.” The character of Gary, played by Leigh Gill, seems to exist primarily so that other characters can make little people jokes and call him a midget. Because apparently the last movie anyone involved with this film saw was the second Austin Powers, and they thought it was timely and hilarious. A joke comparing having sex with women to parking spaces includes a comparison between parking in a handicapped space and having sex with a handicapped person, and having the thought, “I hope no one sees this.” …hilarious. And then there is the thing that Joker says to Murray Franklin: “What do you get when you cross a mentally ill loner with a society that treats him like trash? You get what you fucking deserve.” Honestly, overall this film was less pandering to incels than I’d been led to believe by some reviews. But holy shit, if this isn’t a call to arms for lonely incels who think that no one likes them because they are misunderstood loners and not because they are goddamn asshole incels, I don’t know what is. Again, I’m not necessarily against violent protests. But when the violent protestors are incel assholes who are taking out their entitlement and anger on others, a la Elliot Rodgers… yeah, I have a problem with that. And this scene basically screams, “Hey, are you a Misunderstood Genius? Have people never given you the respect you deserve? Will women not fuck you? You know what they all deserve? A bullet to the head.” And the most upsetting thing is that this line, in the context of the film, is not necessary. Again, while his mental illness and social standing are probably contributing factors to Arthurs state, his killing of Murray Franklin is deeply personal. It could have been a short, brutal “joke”: “Knock knock,” “who’s there?” *shoots him in the head*.  I dunno, I’m not an artiste. But I feel like they could have made this film without making it appeal so strongly to the “mass shooter” demographic.

This movie wanted to be Taxi Driver, The Purge, and Gotham in a world where Taxi Driver, The Purge, and Gotham all already exist and are doing their thing better than this film. It’s a film that didn’t need to exist, because nothing it does is new, or coherent, or even really entertaining. The end.

Signed: Feminist Fury

***

Featured image is a still of the Joker from the film with the words “Ellements of Film” superimposed.

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

***

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.”