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29 November
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Someone on one of the lists I belong to sent out a really beautiful post about the historical and cultural meaning of feasting yesterday. It touched on the heart of my personal ambivalence about consumption.

As an American and a fat person, I am presumably an over-consumer. Maybe I am, maybe I'm not. I do buy a lot of stuff. I give stuff away. I keep stuff forever. I throw stuff away without really using it, or fully re-using it. I don't eat that much. I feel attacked by other progressives sometimes for having a job that pays well, for being fat.

It saddens me that this particular time of year, particularly for progressives, has come to be about American's gluttony. It's like we're not seeing the other meanings of the consumption, not feeling the love, when we get all het up about things like Buy Nothing Day.

Buying nothing for a day is a diet mentality. Refusing to buy things during the holiday season is the same. These things are all based on the presumption that consuming at all is bad, that we should be ashamed to be seen consuming more than what we absolutely need. [Except, of course, in terms of the expense of what we need, which can be as insane as we like - as long as the purchases we make are as moral as possible. But there I'm just lashing out at Adbusters, which is all about a sort of celebrity diet mentality for your whole life, not just your food.] This assumes that consuming is mindless, that we never think about what we put in our mouths or do with our money.

But there are times when consuming isn't just consuming. It's feasting. Consuming, ultimately, is thoughtless and alone. Feasting is shared, intentional. And the winter holiday season is all about feasting. At least - it should be.

Feasting is social. It's sharing pleasure. Holiday parties, Thanksgiving dinners, craft fairs, even the specter of mall shopping are all extensions of this.

There's a cultural history of winter feasting that predates modern consumerism, predates Christianity even. It makes biological sense (eating to fatten oneself for cold), economic sense (using up what can't be stored through winter), social sense (drawing in closer in the fallow season). Intentional excess can't be the heart of so many winter seasons in cyclical religions for nothing.

But the diet mentality of our culture leads us to treat this social exercise as an embarassment, something we must pay for later (with credit card debt, resolutions to diet, gym memberships).

I believe that's how we get to a sort of mindless consumerism - brand consciousness, eating without tasting, emphasis on the cost of gifts as signifiers of the thought involved. And if that's the case, the absolute worst thing we can do on the celebrated days of excess is to fast (economically speaking). It just readies our bulimic wallets for a day of bingeing to follow.

What we should do, on any day, but particularly during the excessive holidays, is keep the feasting in mind. Share. Be conscious. Buy things with meaning and intention.



warrior womyn
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As I started to think about this week's WHB topic (that is, what am I going to post - I think it's going to be a feminist response to a feminist response to pop culture, that is, a reflection on something I read in Bitch.), I realized that I'd never actually completed - scratch that, never even saved - my response to Alison's Warrior Womyn post from last week. Um, oops.

She asks, of the Discovery Channel (Canada) "Warrior Women" week:

Is this television special one you will watch?
How do you feel about such a focus on Warrior Womyn?
Do you feel that we should have this specific and individual focus, or should they be included in general historical views of warriors?
Should we focus on the past, or should we be educating on our modern warriors?
And, lastly, who would you include if you were making the schedule?

First, I recall watching the Joan of Arc one when it aired in the states. At least, I watched something about Joan of Arc that involved Xena in some way. It was alright. I mean, it was very "Discovery Channel", meaning that it was frequently reductive and probably contained factual holes that any serious Jeanne D'Arc scholar would have found laughable (this being my experience when Discovery does shows on anything I'm particularly knowledgeable about).

What it did do well was in actually focusing on the military accomplishments rather than the whole "crazy girl hears voice of God" thing. And I recall it being somewhat hedgey about some of the conventional wisdom about Joan of Arc, which is commendable - it very much worked the "everyone thinks this, but honestly we don't know" angle, and I can appreciate that.

Second. The focus on warrior women. As much as I believe that a woman warrior is well, a warrior (don't see any specials on "man warriors", do you?), I think there is some value in calling out what is still an exception to convention. Until it is assumed that women and men have equal fighting potential, pointing out these exceptions shows the possibility. Including them in the general "warrior" population presumes more equality in this area than actually exists.

Is it ideal? Hell, no. I see these kinds of things as a temporary function. Of course, they can backfire. I suppose it's possible that I'll say "Women still are assumed to be weaker and less qualified fighting forces" and someone else will say "But no! Joan of Arc! Feminism died in the middle ages!" (or they could always use a more current example of an exception to prove me wrong, I suppose). Generally, though, a good temporary measure - it adds Joan, Mulan, warrior women in all forms, heck - even Xena, to the role models girls and women have access to.

Third. The modernity angle. While there is certainly also value in focusing on contemporary (or at least, less distantly historical) figures, that is frequently not what the Discovery Channel is about. There has been some interesting coverage of women in the US armed forces baked into the WWII and Vietnam weeks on the History Channel (which I'm pretty sure is related to Discovery), though. Something interesting about that - the coverage of women in each successive US war seems less distinct from the coverage of men - so, where we have "Oh look at the brave and pretty nurses" in WWII, we have "Oh, and some of these army folk were women" in the Gulf War. I take that as a positive sign that the slow, quiet integration of the military is slowly and quietly being incorporated into the culture at large.

And honestly, I'm not sure who I'd include. I'll have to contemplate that.


26 November
email from dan the anti-abortion guy
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I received an email this morning from Dan. I don't know who Dan is, but he took the trouble to scan my site and send me his attempt to convert me to an anti-abortionist.

What is he thinking? Clearly Dan didn't read but so much of my site - that, or he is in fact an automated script that combs sites looking for the word "abortion". We'll presume he's actually a person.

So, he sent me the text of this anti-abortion argument from this ministry group, and being me, I couldn't just delete it.

Hi there,
I took a look at your site. Thought you might want to know the truth. :-)

You can read this all at http://www.epm.org/abortarg.html

I pray you will open your eyes, and your heart...

Listen, Dan - my eyes and heart are already open, metaphorically speaking. And nothing angers me as much as someone who treats a matter of opinion, of personal belief, as truth.

As for those arguments? An insult to the intelligence of any pro-abortion person who encounters them. Perhaps people respond to these anti-abortion arguments with stunned silence because they're so confounded by the circles they talk? And what the hell is being "pro-choice about rape"? Huh?

My reply:

I assume you didn't read much of my site. I'm not pro-choice about abortion while anti-abortion myself. Far from it. I do believe, very strongly, that a woman has a right to end the "life" of a fetus as long as it can't survive outside her body. Period.

It may be a difficult choice for some women to end a potential life, and I respect that it's hard for them. It's a difficult choice for some people to have hysterectomies and vasectomies - again, because of the potential that's sacrificed. But all of these choices amount to legal medical procedures that not only need to remain legal but readily available to people who choose to have them for whatever reason.

I also feel a need to refute the generalizations about hesitant pro-choice folk. People who support the legal right to abortion but don't think they could decide to abort a child themselves aren't necessarily thinking "Gosh, well I believe it's killing a person who has a right to live, but I guess it's legal, so...." - For the most part, those people are troubled on the subject of whether potential life is something they feel needs to be protected or not, whether abortion amounts to killing at a certain point, when if ever a fetus is a child, etc. They're the ones who struggle with the question of when life is life, and when it's just potential. You and I, on the other hand, clearly already have our minds made up about life vs. potential. They're the ones you and I have to convince, and I think you're selling them short.

In short, I read your arguments, and - while I appreciate your efforts - there is nothing that could make me agree with you. Your arguments are not "the truth" as you call them, but simply what you believe.

If you'd like to contact Dan, I'm sure he'd be happy to hear from you.


25 November
the wage gap and work pattern
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A study from the GAO reported by Reuters last week finds that the wage gap continues, and is attributable to the mommy track. Women are still making 80% of what men make in the US, adjusting for education, marriage, job, etc.

The wage gap was attributed partly to differing work patterns between the sexes, with women being penalized for their frequent dual roles as wage earners while caring for home and family.

While the Reuters summary doesn't tell us anything explicit about the makeup of the group studied, it does point out some findings about men with children (they earn 2% more than men without kids) and women with children (they earn 2.5% less than their childless counterparts) that I thought were interesting.

It's common for various post- and anti-feminists to assert that a wage gap attributed primarily to women's role in the family wasn't a wage gap at all.

It's a paradox. If women are consistently faced with making less than their male partners, who is likely to do more of the child care? If women are assumed to make less and assumed to do more of the child care, are they likely to suddenly start making more? I don't think so.

Back to the post- and anti-feminists. They seem to have two arguments that "prove" the existence of a wage gap is women's "fault".

  1. That women are wired to care for children. Men, coincidentally, are wired to be more aggressive and ambitious. Thus, women are more satisfied by family and will choose family over work, while men are driven to be successful and see their family role as primarily economic.

    This argument is loaded with such obvious sexism on both sides, such notions of biological determinism and the ineffability of gender, that I expect it to be followed with some statement about the sanctity of marriage and why gays shouldn't be allowed to have any. Seriously, though, biological determinism is problematic for people of both sexes - when you assume biology forces certain behaviours, you eliminate choice. It's an overly reductive view of the family that prevents people from making the choices that might really satisfy them.

  2. That feminism made it possible for women to choose family, career, or a mix of both. Since feminism is over an all its goals accomplished, women who make less must do so because they already have the ability to choose. Thus, women make less than men because we choose to.

    Dizzying, but it's the sort of geometric proof logic that post-feminists have argued to me. And inevitably, this argument must revolve back to #1 (biological determinism) or assume that men don't have reasonable choice in their lives, because, barring any innate preference, men and women would equally choose family or career. If that were so, there'd be no wage gap.

It's more complicated than that. A family role-driven wage gap probably indicates a lack of malice or intentional discrimination on the part of employers, but it's still indicative of a lack of equality in general. And given that studies only seem to partially attribute the gap to any one factor, the ability to prove the existence of the wage gap again and again is probably a sign of many different types of economic inequalities.

The wage gap has been and continues to be emblematic of some core inequalities between the sexes. These are real concerns for women and men, because the assumptions we make about breadwinning limit choices for both genders.


23 November
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I've been very very very sick.

Now I'm better.

That's all.


19 November
faerie tales
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Roni's back on WHB with this week's question. Yay, Roni!

Are Disney movies harmful? Is giving a lil girl a copy of Grimm Fairy Tales going to plunge her into a self-doubting abyss? Is Shrek really the feminist tale we'd like it to be? Also, fess up, what's your favorite fairy tale?

I think there are some problems with faerie tales, because of the way we use them. We think they're just great stories, but they have so many implications.

The study article Roni referenced points to a statistic I find interesting:

The five tales that have been reproduced more than 101 times are "Cinderella," "Snow White," "Briar Rose" (also known as "Sleeping Beauty"), "Little Red Cap" (also known as "Little Red Riding Hood") and "Hansel and Gretel."

So, we have four tales about girls who mostly are pretty and get rescued, despite some show of ingenuity, and one where the girl is plucky enough to get herself in and out of trouble (that'd be Gretel; she's got moxie).

Is that a problem? Well, yes.

It's a problem that ties into a lot of the things we unintentionally teach kids about gender. Of course, it's hard to say whether it's parents or kids who drive the popularity of these stories, but I think they're emblematic of the subtle ways we influence kids into gender stereotypes - girls are purty and sensitive, boys are (sometimes facelessly and generically) strong and plucky. The faerie tale is part of a whole culture of gender roles.

But. There are faerie tales and more modern stories in which girls are plucky and boys are sensitive, and I think any examination of the influence of kids' stories needs to look at the total - not just what traditional stories are most popular, but what is the sum total of the stories kids get. That, as others mentioned in response to this question, needs to include looking at the way parents share these stories with their kids. Do they point at pictures of heroines and say "isn't she pretty?", or do they ask kids questions that encourage broader gender roles?

Would handing a girl a book of all the faerie tales instantly make her a self-doubting little chica? Well, no. But if you only handed her books without asking her to question them, it might set her up to expect faerie tales out of life.

but wait! there's more »


gay marriage, hooray?
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If you don't know about the Massachusetts ruling that banning gay marriage is unconstitutional, I'd assume you were living in dark, dark hole. You should read the clip Ampersand posted.

But then. It's not getting the sort of instant, overwhelming press I would have expected. Is it a secret? Do, as Eris wonders 3/4 of people think gay marriage is bad? Is this really the blow for freedom we were waiting for, or just another blip (albeit a positive one), one more paint speck in this huge huge Seurat painting?

I feel hesitant. Actually, there's a really good description of how I feel over at Subversive Harmony. I mean, look at all the states with explicit definitions of marriage as man-woman (Virginia being one of them): Wisconsin being the latest. So, some states block the anti-gay laws, then others pass them. It ends up about even.

Or there's New Hampshire's implication that gay sex can't be adulterous, particularly ironic given that state's past tendency towards reasonableness on this issue.

I tend to side with Ampersand when looking at court-driven change. It works sometimes, sometimes it doesn't. Legislative bodies are a much clearer barometer of social change than courts, though both have been known to trump each other on this stuff. I just don't know.

I do know that some of my middle american family and friends think (or thought, rather) that gay marriage is a non-issue because gay people are so promiscuous that they wouldn't want marriage. They don't hate gayness; they just don't have any experience of relating to queer folk. There are people who last heard about gay culture in the eighties and haven't needed to think about gayness since then; maybe they're the 3/4 who oppose gay marriage. Maybe it's just about lack of information?

But then, the talk on the disturbing but sometimes funny conservative talk radio sure sounds like people are afraid of gay marriage. Afraid that extending the same privileges to people regardless of gender amounts to devaluing a sacred institution of the union of opposites, where opposition is defined by the possession of certain genitals. Sacredness. It's an argument just this side of "Jesus hates gay people, but he loves me".

I have a hard time grasping that argument. I have a hard time not just dismissing it as evidence of the stupidity of religion, and I don't even believe religion is stupid.

In any case, this week is a landmark for gay rights in Massachusetts. But I don't think it's anywhere near over.


18 November
big mac is number 3!
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No, this is not about the well-known hamburger.

I heard a rumor about this last week, and apparently it's true: Virginia Tech's Big Mac cluster is the third fastest supercomputer.

That's a big effing deal. Even though this stuff changes and the Big Mac could be beaten out fairly quickly, it's impressive to make it into the top bracket for even a picosecond.

And get this - the thing was assembled from parts you and I could buy off the shelf, for way less than the cost of any of the other supercomputors (still millions, but not hundreds of millions). Score one for Apple.

I'd like 1100 G5's on my desk. How cool would that be?

On the down side, I might have to retire all those jokes about Virginia Tech students' um, aptitudes, from my joke repository now.


17 November
britney spears, smarter than you might think
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This quote (which, like so much other random news, appeared in my inbox) from a BBC radio interview with Britney Spears just made me smile:

"I probably have more older fans than the younger ones, but I think the reason why everyone talks about the younger fans so much is because the parents are concerned," Spears was quoted as saying. "And in the end they shouldn't be concerned because they should trust their kids and believe in their kids."

Hmm. Yes.

Pause for a contented smile.

Listen, no one's kids are going to become oversexed, stupid, or gay because of Britney Spears (well, okay, maybe she might be part of some preteen lesbians' roots). They just like to imitate her for the power factor. [Heh, maybe if our world leaders were more exciting and wore cooler clothes, kids would imitate them.] It's fun, it's helpful, it's harmless.

Nuff said.


14 November
weblogs aren't fucking stupid, waah
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I have to preface this by saying that I realize the abject pointlessness of refuting a humorous argument, but that I feel compelled by my self-importance to point out the one wild untruth contained in this Why I Hate Weblogs essay.

Note that I'm not refuting any of the rest of the essay. Thus, one can assume that I found the vast majority of the statements to be more or less true and more (not less) funny.

The wild untruth:

There are acceptable uses of weblogs? SURE! Weblogs aren't fucking stupid under the following situations/paradigms.

The 'Celebrity Figure Information' Model. This model provides an insight into the lives of persons of public interest. A model might keep a weblog of their daily routine or places they travel. A television star might comment on their personal lives or events they attend. A professional sports player might comment on games (see Expert In A Field model also) or just on how they are feeling.

Okay, okay, I know it's fucking irony. It's funny, it's funny. But it also totally misses the point of blogging communities in the first place - blogging is more often than not a way of interacting with other people in a way you don't normally do in any other context. Other ordinary people, for the most part. The ordinariness is key. Celebrity weblogs are a niche, largely read for the kitsch factorness. [Does anyone really believe Wil Wheaton has anything more interesting to say than anyone else? No; he's just another blogger. But we linked to him in droves because it's fucking funny that Wesley Crusher has a blog. And hey, we're all desperate geeks. Inside.]

Sure, it's a shallow form of interaction, but it's less shallow than most chat environments, more community-oriented than email, and more likely to open you up to wholly new things than conversations with the people you've known for years.

That, and everyone always has to wait for you to finish before they start commenting. If they don't, you can get all snitty and huff about how they clearly didn't read what you posted and they really ought to have read your entire web-published oeuvre before they even considered calling you on the inane bullshit you just unleashed upon the world.

So, the point is just this: I have very little interest in celebrity weblogs - including the blogs of those who attain their minor celebrity status largely because of their blogs. Except, perhaps, for Margaret Cho. Margaret Cho ROXXX, yo. I <3 Margaret effing Cho.


13 November
your weekly abortion update
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You've all probably heard by now about the cases that enabled a handful of doctors to continue the "partial birth abortion" procedures, and have been watching Bush's conservative judicial appointments. But if you haven't, you should read up.

Meanwhile, Cinnamon has created a "purse for choice". It's lovely, beneficial to the cause, and shocking. And true - even if not true in the way most people will think (alluding to the ever-creepy Back Alley Abortion). The majority of women who died of illegal abortions were not ones who sought the "back alley" abortionist, but ones who attempted their own abortions through various (sometimes horrid) means; the coat hanger was apparently one of many approaches.

Ick. It scares me to think how fragile abortion rights are. Everyone is so damned apologetic about this medical procedure.

And Tennessee is doing a nice job of maintaining its reputation for conservative hickdom with its new "choose life" license plate. Yes, we're all backward hicks here in the South. Sigh. For a change, my state's better (ironically, Virginia had a similar debate awhile ago, which resulted in both the possible pro-choice and pro-life plates being nixed)

Also, when I came across this dismissive article on Feminists for Life, I had to go check them out. They're pretty much the affront to my intelligence that they were advertised to be.

I don't think this has to be true. I don't think pro-lifers are inherently gooey and stupid. I don't agree with pro-life people in general, but I also don't consider it to be impossible to be a pro-life feminist. I'm just not sure what that viewpoint would mean, exactly. In any case, the only way this site could have convinced me, even at my most choice-ambivalent, that I wanted to join this group of people and sent them money, is if I had an instantaneous frontal lobotomy.

And I'd been hoping for an explanation of this perplexing point of view, feminists who think abortion is forced and anti-choice.

[A side note. Why is it that so many pro-life sites take this breezy, women's magazine approach to writing and design? The very site design denies the seriousness of the issue at hand, denies the seriousness of the visitor. Am I the only one who finds that offensive? Admittedly, the March for Choice site isn't a lot better - though it's still better than the FFL one. I am not pastels (er, and I'm in the middle of redesigning the WHB site).]

There's also a March for Choice meetup next week. As Kerri pointed out, meetup's the new trend in liberalism. Also, whether you're meeting up with real live people to plan your marching activities or not, if you're a blogger thinking about marching, check out Roni's Bloggers for Choice site.


10 November
girls on film, indeed
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This week on WHB, Ryan has us talking about the use of the female body as background visuals in film.

It seems like a couple of posters turned this back around to the porn debate, which I don't think is where Ryan was trying to take us. Whatever one may feel about pornography, it's intriguing that many non-pornographic movies make use have naked and half-naked women as a sort of wallpaper. The movies that come to mind for me are primarily action movies filled with guns and kicking (i.e. the entire Jackie Chan / Chris Rock oeuvre), so I've tended to assume that it's a cheap visual device for entertainment. Besides, everyone knows that (according to stock Hollywood filmic criteria) all gangsters, drug users, organized criminals and seedy informants hang out at strip clubs. Crime = naked women. It's been a truism of Hollywood film - and therefore American life - since the 1920s.

And hey, I like pretty ladies, too. I don't pay it much attention. It's surprising how few examples I can come up with to cite something I know I see weekly; that's how little attention I pay. I know, though, that there are un- and half-clothed women cavorting in the background of many of the brainlessly violent buddy and cop movies I've seen, and I don't notice.

Yet. Ryan, being perhaps less of a pop culture kid than myself, cites a couple of excellent movies with very little action that still use this device. And I find this interesting.

Amélie, I think, is a great film, that just happens to throw in a scene with the main male character talking to a stripping woman in the back room of the sex shop he works in. I realize the French, as well as many other societies European and otherwise, are more open to nudity and sexuality than Americans are, or purport to be, but I feel it still fits. Lost in Translation is one of the best films I’ve seen. At about the two-thirds mark, the two main characters are, inexplicably, in a strip club.

So, it's not just action movies.

And again, I barely even noticed this aspect of Amelie (Lost in Translation I have still not yet seen). I suspect part of the inexplicable universality of the strip club sex shop locale that so many movies use is environment creation for viewers like me. It goes back to that crime = naked girls assumption, but it becomes naked girls = soothingly wacky underground scene. If we see sexiness in the background in a non-"criminal" way, I suspect we automatically associate that scene or character with certain qualities: freedom, sexiness, subculture, perhaps?

I'm sure there's more. I bet movies test better if there are some scantily clad women in the background, and I bet a lot of people, like me, don't even register their presence. I don't know how much this impacts independent films like Ryan's examples, but I'm sure it's a factor in big US studio pictures.

Why might this be? Why might the sight of female bodies please us, make us think more highly of a film even, without us paying attention?

I think it's an extension of the use of the body in all sorts of advertising, and an extension of beauty culture. We've used "perfect" female images to convey happiness, health and desirability for so long that I suspect the female body has become a stand-in for those things. And I don't think this is specifically limited to the male gaze, though it likely originated with men as the intended audience. I think we've gotten to the point where the meaning of the nude female body is weighted with a lot of the same implications for viewers of any gender.

Does this necessarily need to be combatted? Well, yes. It's never a good plan to unconsciously consume. At the least, we should all be paying attention enough to recognize when we see nudity used as wallpaper and to notice how we respond to it.

I don't believe we can or should expect the way nudity is treated on film, this use of the body as object - at least, not until we as an audience have ceased to respond to it.


06 November
your weekly abortion update
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I started to collect a series of useful links to update you, gentle reader, on the current state of the partial birth abortion ban and what it means to you.

But you know, sometimes other people have already done a good job of saying what you mean and you don't have much to add to it.


Some level-headed information and a nice ass-fire-lighting rant from Roni. Please read. Thanks.

Who's meeting me at the March for Choice next April?


eris is designing again.
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Consider this a public service announcement. Eris, who is - in addition to one of the more interesting people I know - one of the finer designers I've met, ever, is designing again. Her work continues to put mine to shame. [I say this not to undercut myself but because Eris truly is a more dedicated and gifted designer than myself; it's a source of pleasure for me.]

There should be rejoicing, I tell you. Rejoicing.


04 November
coffin ban
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Did you wonder why the media hadn't been showing images of body bags and such? I thought they were exercising a combination of improved taste and spinning the war coverage so we didn't have to think too much about death.

But hey, I was wrong - the press isn't allowed to film dead soldiers, so there are no pictures to show. Roni linked up this article about the ban on filming coffins. Hmm.


03 November
a feminine mode of creating
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How do you create?

By virtue of the fact that you blog, you are a writer of sorts. So, how do you experience creativity? Does it come in fits and starts? Is it sometimes overwhelmed by lifely concerns? Do you make time for it? Is it a steady flow or a trickle?

Dawn is talking about housekeeping and writing as a renaissance woman, and proposes the idea that a woman must look to other women as a model for creative work. She has a point. Historically, we assume a man has the capability to drop it all to some extent, while a woman has a thousand responsibilities to the people she supports. Given this model, it makes sense that there might be a "masculine" mode of creation (driving to completion) versus a "feminine" version (circling back around to work, through a series of other attention-drawers). Not that these modes are limited to women or men - just, one is more indicative of the feminine principle, and one of the masculine; people of both genders may express either mode.

Which is what I find to be true for myself. There are times when I am intensely prolific (c.f. the day I designed a flyer and updated my theatre company's website with a new design, then started collaging and made a painting, then went to rehearsal) and times when I squeeze in my creative work a moment at a time (c.f. my latest effort to redesign this site, which has been going on intermittently for two months). Both have value - one is more immediately productive, and one gives you time to consider options.

I think that we as a culture tend to presume all artists create in this "masculine" mode, maybe because most of our ideas of artists are based on men who very much worked the drop-it-all-and-create vibe, and we also seem to think that seriousness means intense, constant dedication to work. Well, seriousness is intense, but that doesn't necessitate constant, direct work (which is another assumption of legitimate artistry). One can, in short, be an artist in one's spare time.


sigh. election day.
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Election day is tomorrow. And. There's no one for me to vote for.

Seriously, all of the offices in my district are being pursued by Republicans who are running unchallenged. Now, I don't have a moral opposition to Republicans in general, but I can't vote for any of these particular ones. I don't agree with them. Mostly they're whining about how the school system didn't consult enough people before rolling out a program 2 years ago to give all kids free iBooks. Whine. Whine. Whine. The school board elections, which are the only county elections with any issues being discussed, seem to be largely a referendum on the iBook rollout. I'm for it. I guess. I cared more about local issues when I lived in the city, where schools aren't doing so well that the primary issue is whether or not to give out computers.

I really wish there were in fact a binding "none of the above" option. Maybe next year I should run for some sort of county office?


cult of beauty
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This week on WHB, Brigitte asks about beauty, specifically about body augmentation.

In the sixth century women bled themselves to have the coveted pale complexion. Today AlloDerm and Cymetra Dermalogen Facian, used for facial augmentation, contains refined fat from cadavers; the vast majority of the patients recieving injections being women. We've come a long way, baby. So what are your thoughts on the "cult of beauty"? Is it part of the patriarchy? Or is body augmentation empowering?

There is a possibility for body modification to be a politically empowering act, but I don't think that is what happens in most cases.

Nor do I think things like injecting oneself with toxins or having voluntary surgery to make any part of one's body "prettier" are indicative of an increased focus on meeting some rarified idea of "pretty". Rather, the rise in the number of people pursuing what I'd consider extreme routes to beautiful is proportional to the availability of those routes - technologically, financially, et cetera.

What I find frustrating and disturbing is the tendency of the beauty "ideal" to narrow - for both genders, but especially for women. We have what Paul calls "The Night You Became Fat" (when the BMI assessment of obesity changed overnight), we have, as Morgaine has pointed out, the introduction of cosmetic surgery for the labia and women dyeing their pubes on shows like Sex and the City, not to mention the oft-cited thinning of the supermodel body type.

I don't believe these things point to a conspiracy to keep women from thinking about serious issues. Rather. There are two factors I see at work (well, two among many). One is the market, and the other is our own fear.

The market - obviously, there are a number of industries that depend on notions of ideal beauty. Not just the obvious ones that sell beauty-oriented products, but pharmaceuticals, advertising, entertainment, many others are built in part upon this ideal. In the simplest terms, a tightening ideal sells more. A widening ideal requires all these industries to reconsider some aspect of their strategies. So where do you expect the ideal to go - tight or broad?

Fear - I become more and more convinced that fixation on anything that seems frivolous or absurd on the part of Americans particularly is likely a symptom of a sort of culture dysphoria. We think we are the generous great-uncle of global politics, but there are so many problems with our image, with our policy, with what we experience as individuals on a day-to-day basis. I believe we choose to fixate on the material, the things we think we can control, in order to absorb ourselves away from the scary things we think we can't control. This ties very much into what Michael Moore has called the "Horatio Alger myth": namely, that we believe we can make ourselves.

There is undoubtedly some inequity in terms of gender here. Those two factors can affect both men and women, but women are far more caught up in the notion of making oneself as related to makeup, clothing, or surgical modification (women continue to make up 85% of the cosmetic procedures done, for instance). A lot of discussion on this topic makes women sound more stupid and vulnerable to suggestion when it comes to beauty, as if we're victims of the media on this one. I infer from this that women are supposed to be more susceptible than men, but what is more likely true is that we've trained ourselves to be susceptible to different types of peer pressure. Thus, it seems to be easier for men to accept their bodies, and easier for women to accept varying degrees of financial success.

Still - while I don't deny that beauty culture (not to mention cultural assumptions, role proscriptions in general) is incidentally disempowering for women as a group, I think there's more at work here than just this role proscribed for women - namely "be beautiful".

Some aspects of beauty culture can be appropriated and used in a way that is empowering. For my generation of women, I think the riot grrrl movement is an example of this - a lot of riot grrrl culture is about inversion of beauty ideals (those not of my cohort may still remember Kathleen Hanna's lipsticked "slut" proclamations on her midriff, which was just one of many diverse expressions of angry femininity). That riot grrrl aesthetic has fed quite a bit of watered-down pop culture, but even that runny version can still empower young girls to embrace their Britney Spears tube tops as an ironic choice.


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