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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

"Obviously I have strong, mixed emotions about something like this."

Pajiba (via Deadline) reports that Joss Whedon will be back on television "on a network that's not Fox and with a show no one would dare cancel." I think they're letting their enthusiasm get the best of them. I'm excited that it's not Fox -- that much, we agree on. But I have to admit that I'm a little bit McKayla on this one. I have......feelings about it. It's possible that Whedon will write a well-crafted, smart, fun, pilot script about S.H.I.E.L.D.'s attempts to protect the world from various supernatural baddies. It's even possible that that script will retain much of its original character (or even get improved) from script to screen. And maybe ABC will cast the show with people who can act, or who can, at the very least, be compelling in whatever their roles are. IF this pilot actually gets made, AND it gets aired, I will watch it. But, even if the pilot is good, I'll be surprised if it's something I want to continue watching. Maybe this is because I'm not familiar with the S.H.I.E.L.D. comics, but nothing about the movie S.H.I.E.L.D. has ever made me think I wanted it to be the main idea. Avengers? Yes. S.H.I.E.L.D.? Not so much. And what will the show actually be about? I don't mean what will they *do* -- they will protect the world from various supernatural baddies. But, what will be the show actually be about? Is there a story there past what they do? And is there any chance a weekly TV series -- especially one that will be selling itself as an action-hero show -- will be given the time to develop that story in a way that makes it interesting enough for me to watch? Fox or not, they'll still need to generate ratings numbers, and I really get the feeling that the version of a S.H.I.E.L.D. show I'd be most likely to watch and enjoy for more than the first episode is not the version of a S.H.I.E.L.D. show that will have enough of an audience to survive on the budget it will need to do it well. And there's a lot that could go wrong here, from trite, dumbed-down storytelling to bad acting to lack of diversity in the cast to all of the huge gender issues that run rampant in both television and the comics world. And then there's Dollhouse.

All of which is to say that, while I can't wait to see what Whedon et al. try to do with this, I'm not entirely optimistic. As I said when I got news of HBO's American Gods plans, I'm not *completely* sure it'll be a tragic failure, and at least the pilot will be good? It's a big question mark, and I'm not impressed, yet.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Don't Be That Dog

In response to "Feel the Shame," Dave M. writes:
From my perspective, these idiots with dicks are insufferable bores to everyone, not just women. How women respond to that sort of aggressive, bullying behavior is a symptom of male privilege, for sure; our society teaches us that the stakes are much higher, and the punishment much harsher, for women who try to spew bullshit in such a glib manner. But the ignorant man doing the splaining in this scenario treats women the same way they treat beta-males who don’t speak up the same way they treat a dog who happens to wander in front of them while they’re holding forth on the latest series of Doctor Who. They’re not necessarily motivated by sexism, they’re just arrogant and self-absorbed. It’s male privilege and hegemonic oppression that makes some women struggle to tell these mansplainers to STFU.

I feel like we mis-diagnose the problem when we call it “mansplaining,” though it’s a minor point. The solution is the same regardless: what we really need is for non-arrogant men and informed women to call out this behavior when we see it, whether it’s directed at a woman or a man. Women need to be supported in standing up for themselves, and also, not dismissed as crazy or emotional if they tell some arrogant boob to peddle their attention-seeking garbage elsewhere.
Thanks for your comment, Dave M. I find it interesting that you've made a very near response to the comment I address in the post itself. Given the similarity, there will be some overlap in my reply. There are, of course, people -- male and female -- who are just terrible bores, unable or unwilling to read the normal social signs that alert many of us to a conversation partner's lack of interest in our topic of choice. Most of us who are both chatty and able to get excited about hobbies, television, books, music, etc have been that person once or twice. And I'm sure that, now and again, someone more frequently guilty of universally inconsiderate behavior is accused of being inconsiderate in a more specific way. But, fully admitting all of that, it should be clear that that's not what any of the articles linked, or my own post, are talking about. I think it should be clear, but understand why it isn't always, that to insist on changing the subject, dismissing the phenomenon we *are* talking about as a "minor point" (and in a post where you've taken the time to explain to me the rather obvious fact that there are lots of people with poor social skills, no less) is to both replicate and reinforce exactly the behavior being called out. 

But I think there might be more to your reply than a simple dismissal, which is why I take the time to respond. You say in your reply that "it's male privilege and hegemonic oppression that makes some women struggle to tell these mansplainers to STFU." This is to observe, at least on some level, that there are structural forces that affect how women respond to people. I'd say that these forces especially affect how women respond to men, though there's room to argue about that. But, there is something odd in admitting that sexism structures the way women respond, but being unable (I presume it's not just a stubborn unwillingness) to see that sexism also structures what women are responding to -- that is, mens' behavior.
Through work to bring materials from Women’s Studies into the rest of the curriculum, I have often noticed men’s unwillingness to grant that they are over privileged, even though they may grant that women are disadvantaged. They may say they will work to improve women’s status, in the society, the university, or the curriculum, but they can’t or won’t support the idea of lessening men’s. Denials, which amount to taboos, surround the subject of advantages, which men gain from women’s disadvantages. These denials protect male privilege from being fully acknowledged, lessened or ended.
To redesign social systems we need first to acknowledge their colossal unseen dimensions. The silences and denials surrounding privilege are the key political tool here. They keep the thinking about equality or equity incomplete, protecting unearned advantage and conferred dominance by making these taboo subjects.
--Peggy McIntosh, "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack"
We do need to have non-arrogant men and women band together in shutting down attention-seeking jerks. We also need to have men and women band together in recognizing that there are structural reasons for men to be more likely to behave this way, and to do so more even more frequently in interacting with women than in interacting with men. 

In this case, you seem fully able to articulate what you think is lacking in my position. A response that was designed for dialogue, rather than dismissal, would have considered that, while I might be misdiagnosing a behavior, you might be also be missing something. Maybe women are often trained to put up with bullshit as, while, and because men are often trained to spew it. If that is the case, shifting the conversation to what women should be better at responding to does nothing to address the behavior itself. In Rebeca Solnit's terms, you've admitted that women are, in fact, trained in a certain way, but refuse to admit that there is also, as a corollary, something equally distinct about mens' training -- that the "arrogant boob"-ness is often just as gendered as the lack of confidence in responding to it is.

The point is this: to argue against the experience of the group affected -- insisting that mansplaining is not a thing because there are bores/idiots/assholes of all types -- is dismissive of the experience, and this is never a minor point. It is perfectly legitimate for you to maintain that you have never had the experience, and therefore don't understand what the problem is. But to insist that there is no problem because it has never been a problem for you is, well…problematic. There must be room for the possibility that others have either had an experience that you haven't had, or have been able to see a problem that you have never seen. My blog piece and the articles linked from it are attempting to alert you to the presence of a dynamic that may well be related to the one that is more familiar to you, but cannot be reduced to it in actual experience. I am happy to admit that people of all types might be bad at interacting with others, but the one (generalized social inappropriateness) does not cancel out the other (mansplaining, or the specifically gendered way in which men feel completely comfortable condescending to women). Rather than explaining away the specifically gendered aspects of the issue, be willing to hear that not all problems can productively be reduced down to their most universalizable parts, if only because the "universal"is rarely experienced in the same way for everyone.
More generally, if you truly wish to be an ally, rather than an adversary (and neutrality often means tacitly adversarial) you sometimes have to be wiling to believe that there might be problems where you can't really see them. It can be difficult to explain why someone in a position that shields them from a problematic dynamic can't always see that dynamic, much less understand how it is problematic. Here are a couple of brief pieces that do a much better job than I can of explaining why, and what can be done about it. Peggy McIntosh's "White Privilege: Unpacking the invisible Knapsack," begins with the quote at the start of this post. The entire article is, I think, good to read for anyone who sees herself (or himself) as contributing towards the sort of supportive, non-dismissive community you mention at the end of your comment. "Of Dogs and Lizards: A Parable of Privilege" uses what I find to be a very effective metaphor to illustrate the fact that "just because you personally can't feel that hurt, doesn't mean it's not real." It's a good reminder not to be that dog.
As a minor point, I feel like I should clarify that I only drone on about Doctor Who when someone has expressed an interest. Now, Buffy, on the other hand...

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

"Feel the Shame"

Every woman knows what I'm talking about. It's the presumption that makes it hard, at times, for any woman in any field; that keeps women from speaking up and from being heard when they dare; that crushes young women into silence by indicating, the way harassment on the street does, that this is not their world. It trains us in self-doubt and self-limitation just as it exercises men's unsupported overconfidence.
--Rebecca Solnit on "The Problem With Men Explaining Things"(@Mother Jones)

Over at FB today, a friend of mine linked to the article excerpted above. With his link, he included a very thoughtful comment about sexism as fundamentally dehumanizing, and "mansplaining" as a manifestation of that, tied to the notion that a good woman is "silent and submissive." (Well said all around, A.) Two interesting things happened in response to the link he'd posted and the comment he'd made. First, women started commenting with tales of having been mainsplained to. It's a familiar experience for many (I'd guess most) of us, so this was not surprising. Second, within the 1st five comments, someone replied with the following:

It's the kind of comment that is intended to put the discussion to bed by explaining that the thing being discussed is unworthy of the attention the discussants are giving it. According to this reply, mansplaining is not worth actually having this discussion about, because there are lots of assholes in the world, male and female. My friend, and another friend of his, had already left responses pointing out how problematic this comment is by the time I got there. It is, as one of them wrote, derailing and dismissive. It also, as the other pointed out, misses the point that "mansplaining" is a very specific type of idiocy. So, here's the 2 cents that I didn't write over there (I tend to be sparing with how much I "argue" on Facebook, since there's so little payoff to it.)

Yes, idiots come in all genders. But, it is far more common for an idiot with a dick to think that he has any right to offer such a truism as an adequate response to anything. The fact that idiots with dicks are given a far larger slice of the authority pie than anyone -- idiot or otherwise -- without a dick is exactly why they feel like they can mansplain away legitimate objections to unfair power dynamics. (See also: Why So Many of Those Feminists Are Angry.)

It was pointed out that the comment smacks of privilege. Must be nice. What privilege I have (and I do have some, as straight, cis-gender, ridiculously well-educated citizen of one of the world's richest countries) is spotty, and always in peril, so it rarely has that sort of free reign. The sort of privilege that allows for this comment is, I would argue, closely tied to the privilege that allowed Todd Akin to utter -- with a straight face -- his asinine and sexist comments on "legitimate rape." President Obama said in response to that particular bit of idiocy that "these comments do underscore...why we shouldn't have a bunch of politicians -- a majority of whom are men -- making health care decisions on behalf of women." But we do. And, as an excellent article co-authored by another friend (well done, A.R.!) points out, those men are not just making health care decisions on behalf of American women.
There's a 38 year-old Congolese woman named Josephine who has probably never heard of U.S. Representative and Senatorial candidate Todd Akin. But, if she had, Josephine would know all too well how wrong Akin was when he said that a woman's body can "shut the whole thing down" and prevent a pregnancy if she experiences a "legitimate rape." When Josephine was 29, she, like many of the estimated 1.8 million other women and girls who were raped during the Congo's series of conflicts, became pregnant. Akin's comments will never affect Josephine, so she has little reason to care. But she cares very much about the U.S. legislative efforts to restrict abortion access, because that decades-long campaign, of which Akin is only an example, has changed her life permanently.
.....Thousands of girls and women raped and impregnated in armed conflict are routinely denied abortions with devastating consequences. Health experts say that about 5 percent of rapes lead to pregnancy, which suggests that the 1.8 million women and girls raped during the Congo's crisis may have led to as many as 90,000 unwanted pregnancies.
Though international humanitarian law provides a right to non-discriminatory medical care for rape victims in conflict, U.S. legislation forbids U.S. foreign assistance funds from being used to provide abortion services or information about abortion. This means that aid groups of the sort that might have helped Josephine are forced to choose between offering even basic information about abortion or accepting U.S. funding, which is often their largest source of funds. In effect, this pressures aid groups to deny a necessary medical service to pregnant women.
--Akila Radhakrishnan & Kristina Kallas, Foreign Policy, Akin-Style: How the U.S. Denies Abortions to Women Raped in War" (It's an informative and well-written piece, and you should check it out.)

I'm sure that A.'s friend had no intention of denying abortion to rape victims in the Congo when he wrote that comment. But every time you dismissively shut down a conversation about sexism, bigotry, the right to personal expression, educational access, autonomy, dignity, the silencing of those less powerful by those with greater resources -- every time you treat those things as unimportant, you allow the mindset in which women are not really deserving of the integrity of their own thoughts and bodies to persist. You contribute to a world in which LGBT teens are bullied. You make it impossible to address the injustice inherent in the fact that in this, one of the richest countries in the world, only a small percentage of the population has full access to those riches. So, this comment -- a perfect storm of cluelessness and hegemonic privilege -- is my internet Moment of the Day. It is a fantastic object lesson in missing the point and unwittingly (I have to presume) taking part in exactly the problematic behavior being discussed, an excellent object lesson in how not to move through the world. If someone says, "Wow -- it's really a problem that an entire class of people has their concerns dismissed and their humanity devalued on a regular basis," you should not respond by dismissing that concern, which devalues their humanity. Unless you mean to be a dick.

Oh, sorry -- an idiot with a dick.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Tonight's meditation

Felix culpa

Stay, said the serpent.
Surely he would want you to stay
In the garden
The trees full of familiar fruit

It was easier the first time –
The breeze carried a hint of sweetness
Just out of reach
And I stood on tiptoes

Now, I notice how the trees bend
The sweetness laced with something sinister

I let it fall
And leave the way I came
The serpent at my heel
As I step lightly over the guard where he sleeps
Careful not to touch the sword
Still flaming
Pointing every way and none

Thursday, August 9, 2012

More DIY excitement: kitchen cleanser and lemonade

Thanks to Pinterest, I've been reading a lot about homemade cleaning supplies. Just recently, I ran across this post about "orange vinegar." Two orange peels in a 16 oz mason jar, filled with vinegar and left for two weeks for a pleasant-smelling natural cleaning product. I decided I'd rather lemon-scented. I'd already been using vinegar to clean some things (cleanup around the kitchen, but it also works wonders at getting deodorant stains out of clothes!), but only had a bit left (maybe about 10oz), so I thought I'd pick up a big jug while out buying groceries yesterday. But I didn't make it to Safeway, and neither CVS, now Walgreens, not Trader Joe's carries big jugs of vinegar, so I decided to modify the recipe. I poured my 10oz of vinegar over a small bag's worth of lemon peels, in a smaller mason jar, and filled the rest of the way (not far, really), with water.

I'd actually forgotten that the post suggested 2 weeks steeping. I checked this morning, to see what it smelled like, and it's already got only a slight whiff of vinegar to it -- maybe because it's a bit diluted, and also has more peels in it? I'll leave it a few days, then strain it into a spray bottle.

in other news, I'd picked up some other fruits to use in the "weightorade" (via Dr. Oz) I've been making. It's just green tea with tangerines and mint. It allegedly boosts your metabolism, because green tea and tangerine (from the original recipe) allegedly boost your metabolism. I did a little research, and it seems like tangerine's metabolism-boosting claims are based in vitamin C's metabolism-boosting claims, which are, like most weight-related claims, not really proven. But, I'm in little danger of overdosing on vitamin C, and it seemed like a good excuse to drink more water, and jazz it up, flavor-wise, without jacking up the calorie content so high (I add just a little bit of agave nectar while the tea is hot). So, I figured it can't hurt. Anyway, the original recipe was tangerine, mint, and green tea, but I've been playing around with other fruits that have lots of vitamin C in them. This time, I picked up blackberries and strawberries. Since I was running this lemon-vinegar experiment, I decided to make blackberry lemonade.


Lucky I did this last night. Before bed, I washed my Brita pitcher, and left a new filter soaking in it. This morning, I awoke to find that the water had been shut off in my building (some sort of emergency in another apartment). So, as it turns out, this lemonade is the only thing I have to drink right now that's not alcoholic!

Leland Bobbé's "Half Drag"

I think this was, officially, the most interesting thing I saw on Facebook today: Leland Bobbé's "Half Drag" photographs. On his blog, Bobbé writes of "Half Drag" that his intention is "to capture both the male and the alter-ego female side of these subjects in one image."(L. Bobbé. "Support Half-Drag." Web. 8 August 2012)

Photo by Leland Bobbé (
These are really fascinating to me. In addition to how interesting the comparisons are, I found that I usually couldn't "see" the feminine side properly with the masculine side showing -- I had to cover the right to see how the left really looked. I didn't feel like the opposite was true, though. I wonder why that is.
Photo by Leland Bobbé (

I also found that some of the subjects actually looked *more* masculine on the drag side of the photo. Again, I wonder why that is.

Interesting stuff, and lovely photographs.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

House Proud, plant edition

In other news, I have officially become a Crazy Plant Lady. It's like a Crazy Cat Lady, but with fewer hairballs. How crazy? Well...

Let's start with the jungle corner.

The media collections prefer partial shade
Up top is a plant that's been with me through 3 apartments now (one in Palo Alto, one in San Francisco, and now here in Oakland). It survived San Francisco, and finally started to flourish last year, when it lived at my desk at work.

To the left is the herb garden (sage and oregano).

It's looking sort of skimpy again but for good reason -- things got so fluffy (the oregano, especially) that I harvested and dried some. Tonight's sage-butter popcorn was made with fresh sage  :)

Note the subtle coloring
To the right is one of my newer plants -- a fuchsia bromeliad I got just over a month ago.

In the middle is the peace lily, which has grown like crazy in the last year. I begin to wonder if there are steroids in Oakland's water supply.

Plants in the middle window are hanging from the plant rail I installed, inspired by the pot rail I put up in the kitchen. Snaptoggle Heavy Duty toggle bolts might be my new favorite things.

Below the rail is a gift from my friend K.: purple tomatoes. Not sure how those are going to work indoors, but I've been reading that it's possible, and the apartment gets *a lot* of sun, so we'll see how it goes!

 Also on top of the "bar," alongside the tomatoes, is another new plant. I thought I'd killed it while I was in Louisiana, but it bounced right back. The little pot next to it houses the first clippings from it, which have already rooted in water. 

I almost drowned this one in San Francisco, so its largest stalks are floppy (thus the tomato cage). But it's definitely happy here -- look at all the new shoots!

Hard to get a good shot of the other corner with the lamp right there, but it's mostly succulents over there. The hanging one was a housewarming present (to myself). I actually bought two plants, and this is the one I was really worried about killing at the start. Naturally, it's in fantastic shape, and the other one is dead.

Left, a trailing succulent; right, all the rest.

Nightblooming cereus, from a clipping given to me by Plantmaster J.

Another plant from J. I've recently moved it, because it didn't seem happy in the window.

I haven't been able to figure out what it is, so can't compare it to one I know is healthy. It used to stand up, then it just flopped over one day, but it doesn't seem to be unhappy, and has been growing well.

In the kitchen, that pot rail that I mentioned, home to a couple of spider plants, a tillandsia, and a whole bunch of cast iron.

Green onions in water, another spider plant, and more minis of the red and green leafy one.

The only piece of lucky bamboo that made it to Oakland. And, yes, that is a plastic velociraptor standing guard.

In my room, a spider plant that didn't start flourishing until a few months ago -- look at the baby spider  :)

Meanwhile, outside, there's mint, basil, more green onions (I've never tried replanting them before), another bromeliad, a smaller (but steadily growing) clipping of J.'s Night Blooming Cereus, and a jade plant. They're not in proper formation right now -- I've temporarily moved a few of them into a spot that gets more direct sun, in the hopes of drying them out a bit. I'm much more likely to drown a plant than to let it die of dehydration.

House proud, DIY edition

Last night, I came across a couple of chairs being discarded. The one I remembered to take a picture of looked like this:

I didn't take this one because the arms make it too difficult to stow away when not in use. The one I took is mostly the same, but is an armless version, and didn't have a ginormous stain on it. I took it home, thinking I'd throw the gross (not stained, but ugly, old, and obviously crumbling inside) upholstery away, clean the frame and leave it until I had time/money to get new wood for the seat (I presumed it would be gross as well).

But, when I opened it up, is wasn't gross inside at all. The innards looked supremely uncomfortable. On top of the wood, there was a base that reminded me steel wool, then a thin layer of something that looked like household insulation, and then the remains of what had once been a foam cushion -- it was hard, and had crumbled into smaller chunks. I'm not really sure how comfortable it was when it was in new condition, and can't imagine anyone having enjoyed sitting on it for quite some time.

Since it turned out not to be gross, and the wood for the seat was in perfectly good condition, I went ahead and cleaned it up, then reupholstered it with things I already had around the house: some fabric from Piedmont Fabric's moving sale, a bag of stuffing from an accent pillow that exploded, and my trusty staple gun, which hadn't seen use in some time.

It's a little lumpy --  I'll open it up and restuff it at some point, now that I know how easy it is. I also put the seat back on just a tiny bit further back than it should have been (you can hardly tell); when I restuff it, I'll recenter it. Still, not bad for an impromptu, first-time reupholstering  :)

Next up: getting started on some of the sewing projects, and maybe doing something exciting to the little bookcase I'm using as a bar.