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.

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

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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.

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

***

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

When is a Fridge Not a Fridge?


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

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

It killed Aunt May.

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

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

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

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

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

And then Aunt May gets sick.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Signed: Feminist Fury

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

I Know It When I See It (“It” Is Sexism)

When discussing obscenity, one Supreme Court Justice whom I am too lazy to look up right now* said that he would “know it when [he sees] it.” Like most moralistic crusades, rules against obscenity, sexuality, and sexually suggestive dress/behavior are usually left vague, opening them up to a lot of subjective interpretation. And wouldn’t you know it, that interpretation almost always winds up punishing women worse than men. Isn’t that just so weird?

Everything from school dress codes to online nipple bans tells women that literally everything about their bodies is sexual or sexualized. Female nipples? Indistinguishable from a male nipple in a closeup picture, but super sexy. A two-inch gap of skin between the end of your skirt and your knees? Super sexy. A bare shoulder? Oh baby, oh baby. A wedgie in your swimsuit? Sexy enough to disqualify you in a swim meet. (Google it, I swear to God.)

Twitch, the popular streaming platform, forbids “sexually suggestive content or activities.” And how they define that seems to be…. broad. And sexist. And subject to pressure from online harassment campaigns. Last week, streamer Quqco was suspended for three days for just such a crime for cosplaying on her stream as Chun-Li, a popular character from Street Fighter whose qipao involves a thigh-high slit. Now, again, this is cosplaying as a character from a game. A game that you can stream yourself playing on Twitch. But not, apparently, stream yourself dressing as.

Twitch’s guidelines seem to be purposefully vague. Cecilia D’Anastasio outlines this vagueness in an article:  

“Attire intended to be sexually suggestive and nudity are prohibited,” Twitch’s community guidelines read. For streams like Quqco’s, they “recommend attire appropriate for public settings, such as what you would wear on a public street, or to a mall or restaurant.”

As anyone who has ever been in public can tell you, “attire appropriate for public settings” covers a very, very large swathe of clothing. Like, all clothing. And Twitch seems to have banned just about all clothing at one time or another, at least when it is being worn (or drawn) by women. Nathan Grayson illustrates a few more recent bans that show that there is actually very little rhyme or reason to the way Twitch enforces its policies:

In addition to Quqco, several other notable streamers have received suspensions or warnings from Twitch about sexually suggestive content in the past few days. Late last week, IRL streamer Bridgett Devoue was given a three-day suspension for “sharing or engaging in sexually suggestive content or activities,” but Twitch did not elaborate any further. Over the weekend, Overwatch streamer Fareeha got hit with a warning (and a 90-day probationary period) after wearing a sports bra and baggy shorts at the gym. Also over the weekend, art streamer Saruei found herself on the wrong side of a warning for drawing “nudes,” despite the fact that her characters—while hentai-inspired and scantily clad—are clothed. Today, Twitch suspended her for three days.

Twitch has given the people it has punished very little in the way of explanation, and the victims of their vague guidelines worry about speaking against the platform for fear of further punishment or deplatforming. A few of them do point to online drama with the subreddit Livestreamfail, and YouTube or Discord channels aimed at harassing streamers, who often mass report streamers they don’t like, increasing the chances that Twitch will do something in response.

It’s my personal belief that much of Twitch’s eagerness to police women’s bodies is due to fears of retribution from FOSTA/SESTA, which would hold the platform accountable if certain vaguely or explicitly sexual content was hosted on it. But while I have empathy with this fear (because FOSTA/SESTA is garbage legislation that is actively harming women and other groups) it doesn’t excuse Twitch for its vague policies, inconsistent enforcement, gendered focus, and willingness to follow the desires of an online mob.

Signed: Feminist Fury

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*Justice Potter Stewart of the United States Supreme Court, in the case Jacobelis v. Ohio, famously said “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [“hard-core pornography”], and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that. “

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Featured image is a screenshot of the “Chun Li vs. competitor” screen from the game Street Fighter II for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, with the competitor as the Twitch company logo.