Bully pulpits and the abuse thereof

Chez Scalzi the last couple of days has been host to a discussion about the resignation of Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich. Long story short, for those unaware: It was discovered he made a large donation to a Prop 8 campaign, OK Cupid then decided to cut ties with Mozilla in protest, and that led to Eich’s resignation.

The chatter in the wake of that has centered on free speech rights, and, predictably, there are the usual people making the following errors:

1. Not understanding that the First Amendment covers only speech-silencing actions by government, not by individuals and private entities, and that it also doesn’t protect all speech, nor guarantee a rapt audience, a soap box, and an enforcer squad keeping your opposition from speaking up.

2. Not understanding that, going beyond constitutional protections and into the philosophy of free speech, people are STILL guaranteed the right to dissenting opinions on the speech of others.

3. Not understanding that calling for a boycott is a free speech right, and it’s one that everyone has equally. The boycotts of some groups may have more power than others due to that group having larger numbers, or economic or political power, but calling for the boycott itself is still something everyone has an equal right to do. People can call for a boycott of OK Cupid for their initial action, for instance. Yay, freedom.

4. A whole heapin’ helpin’ of false equivalence and misunderstanding the difference between speech and action. This is, of course, being muddied by Scalia and his dipshit cronies in SCOTUS deciding that political donations are speech rather than action. (And really, if that’s so, then why not classify paying someone to commit a murder the same way as we classify saying you’re going to murder someone? Money speaks far louder than words and has way more power to initiate subsequent action; the two cannot be considered equivalent.)

I pointed out the above things over there, but there was something else going on that made me a lot angrier: Something that boiled down to the belief that calling for help when you’re being abused is somehow equally as bad as the act of abuse in the first place; the belief, in short, that gathering allies to oneself in order to have strength in numbers against a foe is somehow inherently morally wrong. This is actually a problem underlying a lot of conservative-leaning libertarian thought, so I’d like to dig into that a little more. Continue reading

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Post-script on the essentialism thing

Because this point may have been buried well enough in that wall-o’-text that some might miss it: I absolutely do not reject trans* identities just because I reject gender essentialism. I also don’t reject monosexual orientation identities just because I consider gender to be a lot more complex than innies vs. outies.

I’ve read pieces recently arguing that the mere existence of people who use non-binary gender labels somehow devalues trans* people who do have a binary identity. (That was part of the inspiration for my recent authenticity post, too.) That’s absolutely not the case anymore than the existence of bi/pansexual people makes it impossible for gay people to argue that their state of being is innate. There are, of course, biological elements to both gender identity and orientation, but there are also constructed elements, too–and even elements that are a matter of conscious choice. Acknowledging that and working toward changing the negative aspects of some of those non-hardwired things isn’t in any way eliminating anyone’s identity.

Indeed, it can (and should) be argued that the reason LGBT people deserve justice isn’t because we “can’t help” the way we are, but because we shouldn’t be expected to. Endless research trying to prove why we are this way only leads to people trying to find ways to fix those “birth defects.” Our argument should be that existing and living our lives in a way that makes us happy harms no-one, and therefore there should be no legal or social impediments to our doing so. The burden of proof shouldn’t be on us to prove why we should have rights. It should be on the other side to prove why we shouldn’t. Continue reading

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Why essentialists make me want to throw things

Another day, another cisgender femme arguing that women who “want to look like men” are inherently sexist because in rejecting certain aspects of a narrow definition of femininity, they’re rejecting women. I have neither heads nor desks enough to express my feelings on this. Words will have to suffice, I suppose.

First of all, the short version: Anyone who identifies as a woman, regardless of how their body is configured, whether they have or want children, or their dress and grooming habits, is a woman. Period. A woman in her natural physical state, with natural body hair, no makeup or jewelry, and in comfortable, functional clothes is not a man nor is she trying to be one. Likewise a woman who doesn’t want to be a parent, or who doesn’t wish to breastfeed or be a solecaregiver. Additionally, everyone who doesn’t meet the ideal of being a masculine, cisgender, heterosexual male is, for the purposes of sexism, considered enough of a woman to be subjugated and therefore has a stake in feminism. This is why, even though I identify as masculine-spectrum genderqueer on a personal level, on a political level I identify as female. The world is going to consider me that regardless of what feels right to me, and I believe in standing with everyone else considered so as a matter of solidarity.

That need for solidarity, and strength in numbers, is why the policing of who is and isn’t a woman, whether it’s a woman who isn’t “femme” enough, or a woman who was assigned male at birth, is actually supporting the goals of sexism, not feminism. (See my previous post on authenticity policing for more on that.)

Beyond that, however, the essentializing of artificial femininity is overt sexism in itself, not just in denying women their identities, but in reinforcing the capitalism-fueled social structures that form a huge part of the cage that women are kept in. Continue reading

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Authenticity policing

Have read a couple of things in the past few days that made me start thinking about “authenticity” when it comes to drawing characters who aren’t members of the dominant power group.

First up was a great photo project featuring the huge diversity of labels that queer folk use to describe ourselves. In the comments on one of the articles about this project was a gay man who was furious about the “freakshow” making “normal” gay people look bad. Sadly, this is not an uncommon sentiment. A lot of “straight-acting” queer folk sincerely believe that the B’s, T’s, queens, fairies, butches, bears, oh my! are what’s really to blame for homophobia. If we’d just act “normal,” they argue, surely there would be gay rights for all and everyone would get a puppy or something. Conversely, there’s also a contingent on the other side that’s convinced anyone who could pass as straight or cis, or who is fighting for legal marriage is just trying to suck up to the people in power and crib their privilege. Nevermind if someone just plain happens to pass easily or genuinely wants to settle down and raise gaybies with the love of their life; obviously everyone who does is just trying to be straight and insulting the “real” queers.

The other thing I saw was this great article examining whether a character would be “black enough” if he didn’t use Black Vernacular English because apparently some people see BVE as some sort of stamp of black authenticity (see: “But you don’t sound black!” Egad.)

As I’m basically pink, I have no business really commenting on the racial aspects of this question, but I can definitely relate it to the overall issue of authenticity policing among marginalized groups, and the fact that it’s a giant pain in the ass both for people living these issues in real life and creators who want to be inclusive in a respectful way. Continue reading

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Emotion is logical: Or, Vulcans aren’t actually very smart

First of all: Hi! Long time, no blog. Aside from posts on my parenting blog and the occasional burst of Twitter rants, my kid hasn’t given me much time to think, much less write, about much else. However, the dear little bug is now a year old, and has started part-time day care, so my writing bandwidth should be in much better shape, soon. Expect more posts here, as well as–I hope!– at least one new book by the end of the year or early next.

On to today’s topic: Sexism, individualism, and emotional asceticism.

I won’t rehash the entirety of the recent SFWA drama here, but suffice it to say: sexism happened, anti-sexists protested, then anti-anti-sexists threw toddler tantrums about free speech and damn broads and all that sort of fun stuff. I wasn’t even indirectly involved, just followed the proceedings and tried not to sprain my eye muscles with all the rolling. This was, of course, an outgrowth of the years-long shitstorm in geek/atheist/etc. circles over harassment, inclusiveness and such. A certain segment of straight, white dudes in these communities have got it into their heads that said communities were built primarily or exclusively for them, and thus have been apoplectic that their crayon-scrawled “no girls, queers, or non-whites allowed” signs are being ignored–and even worse, that other straight, white dudes are being traitors to their kind by actually welcoming the interlopers. Quelle horreur.

In the midst of the most recent iteration of this drama, I also watched an interesting movie called After The Dark (previously The Philosophers.) No spoilers, but the basic gist is a series of thought experiments in a philosophy class re: end of the world/bomb shelter scenarios. The instructor is trying to convince the class that they should choose only those who will be good breeders and have useful post-apocalyptic skills for the shelter, leaving “useless” artists and those with illnesses and such to die. Other students protest that, trying to argue for practical uses for art, etc. The dilemma isn’t specifically presented as one with gendered sides, but it does sort of neatly fall into that, in stereotypical terms: “practical” men and “emotional” women.

Which brings me to the intersection of these these things, and the reality that a life philosophy that encourages minimal emotion is a) impossible to apply and b) actually illogical. Continue reading

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Token chicks and superheroes: Thor 2 and the Bechdel Test

Thanks to the world’s best roomie giving us a date night, M and I went to see Thor: The Dark World last night. Not only did I enjoy it more than I expected to (it was also much funnier than I expected), I was also very pleasantly surprised to see so many prominent female characters in this, and a lot of Bechdel-Test passing. Jane and Darcy’s friendship and working relationship got a lot of chance to shine, Sif easily held her own, and even Frigga had a moment where she was far more than just Thor and Loki’s mom (though her refrigerator status did irk me.) Not that the film is not without its flaws, of course–almost everything Superhero/SFF has fail along those lines–but in context, there was just a lot more attention to women characters than I’ve come to expect from this franchise, and I was truly delighted.

Continue reading

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Tempering tantrums

Way busy these days, and not enough time to comment on current events the way I’d like (aside from some late-night Twitter spew), but I do have a couple of things to say about this whole shutdown business:

1. Contrary to some of the arguments presented by my side, I’m not opposed to the shutdown on the “democracy” point. The fact is that the US is not a democracy (direct or representative); it’s a representative republic. Majority rule is not absolute, especially if the majority in a given case passes (or tries to pass) a law that would violate constitutional rights. For instance: instead of the ACA, imagine that the law in question required trans* people to have wrist tattoos of the letter representing their assigned-at-birth sex. This would be a blatant violation of human rights, and damn right, I’d lobby for the government to be shut down in protest even if the Supreme Court (say, if it were stacked with Scalia and Thomas clones) had approved the law. So, yes, I do believe that there is legal and moral standing for actions such as this in extreme circumstances.

2. This is not an extreme circumstance. Continue reading

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