Thursday, December 27, 2007

How To Be A Postfeminist In 5 Easy Steps/many many links

Some time ago now Verte began musing on 'postfeminism': I went back to that now because of the way the word is used in the introduction to this book which I am reading. It's a collection of women's Telegraph obits - fun, quirky read so far, but here's how the two editors (both women) used the word 'postfeminism' in the intro:

As they explored new opportunities, some women went a little over the top in their efforts to prove that they could be as good as their male counterparts. [...] The sex war is only a s mall part of the story. With one or two exceptions (notably the splendid battling feminist Bella Abzug) few of these women had time for 60s-style Women's Lib. [...] Almost to a woman our subjects would have been horrified by today's 'victim culture' and would have taken a dim view of introspection. [...] Nor is there any whingeing about male chauvinism, though most of them faced it to a degree that would be almost unimaginable now.

But this collection is not some worthy litany of women's achievements played out to the accompaniment of shattering glass ceilings. In these post-feminist days we can welcome the fact that freedom for women means not only freedom to be good, brave or clever, but freedom to be mad, bad or dangerous to know - sometimes all three. [...]

None of the women whose lives are chronicled here had their careers mapped out for them. They could not follow their fathers into the family regiment - or inherit a title. No rich uncle would take them to his club to introduce them to his contacts in the City. As a consequence their stories often have a free-wheeling, anarchic quality, full of surprises and sudden changes of direction.

5-step recap there:

1. We're the Telegraph, dummy. It's like printed Fox News.

2. We want women to continue to be special cases of people rather than people, just as things have always been.

3. We are poutywahwah with everyone who has tried to make the world otherwise, and will make disparaging comments about them at every opportunity.

4. We will make vaguely feminist sentiments - freedom to be mad, bad or dangerous to know - but we will use a magic word to make these sentiments safe rather than challenging to the white guy overlords.

5. This word is 'postfeminism'.

This is just one instance of the word, and an instance with a particularly strong dose of wingnut behind it, but these things are starting to pile up. I've seen Tricia Sullivan's works referred to as 'postfeminist' too. They are not. They are feminist. Perhaps 'third-wave' was the adjective the reviewer was looking for. I do not know. Is postfeminism an attempt to pretend feminism (like punk) never happened?

Now, links: The Debate Link: Why is the Only "Good" Civil Rights Leader a Dead One? makes many interesting points that I think run parallel to the whole postfeminism hoohah in one sense; privileged people desperately trying to deny that the civil rights movement was what it was but at the same time having to give brownie points to what it was because if they didn't, they'd look like the assholes they really are.

Irshad Manji explains why Benazir Bhutto sucked all along.

RenegadeEvolution comes bearing win: Creepy Dudes and
Creepy Chicks.

Qaequam on intellectual property. I love this topic, because it's unusual in human history, completely broken and also the backbone of the popular culture industries. One of my favourite instances of it is the Rider-Waite-Smith Copyright FAQ, which should generate much fun in 2012, but that is by the by.

David Wong et al explain in gruesome detail why we should all pretend 2007 never happened. I for one would cheerfully do that.

And, Erin at projectdownload has found an unexpected happy ending. Which is great but it didn't have to be that miraculous and the only reason it is is because a bunch of cruel, violent assholes with pretend respect for human life decided it should be so.

Friday, December 21, 2007

circular firing squad: set lasers to 'snark'.

Fact: all internets firing squads are circular. All real arguing tends to happen between people who basically follow the same principles. If you're going at someone you truly disagree with, you're not a firing squad, you're a crack team of snipers.

With that said, this kinda pissed me off.

The whole thing? About stereotype threats etc? Good to see explored and discussed out in bloglandia. But Amanda let her slip show again; she talked of the 'rationalisation' (one of those Freudian words I'm not deadly keen on using in sane conversation) of 'choices made under [patriarchal] oppression'. The post up til then was all about educational stereotypes (azns good; girls suck at maths; you know), so to illustrate what she meant about rationalisation she said...

Like getting breast implants could be considered a rational choice (it improves your social status, which is still mainly based on the good opinion of men), but then the patriarchal blather after the fact about how it’s an improvement to “self-esteem” (as if a woman’s sense of self is not inseparable from her physical body, because in a patriarchy only the latter counts anyway) is actually believed. Or your soon to be husband makes it quite clear that there will be no peace in your marriage unless you take his name, and then after you cave to it, you sincerely and completely believe that it was for the best, and the tradition is a good one. Because it’s easier to believe the nonsense you go along with than constantly feel like you’re the victim of the world.

Amanda isn't even slightly obsessed with breast implants. Not at all. I think it's actually been almost a month since she last told us how 'desperate' women with breast implants are. She did even better last time - she went almost two entire months without criticising the 'painful, expensive advantage' that is breast enhancement surgery. You'd think someone who reminded us of their opinion on the topic on a regular basis would have some kind of personal experience to relate here, but no, Amanda just doesn't like saline and doesn't like any woman who does.

I don't have any personal experience to relate there, so I don't intend to pontificate about it. Instead I tend to prefer listening to what women who do have that experience have to say about it. (And about people who don't listen, too).

But that other thing? The surname thing? That's a me thing. And it's not an Amanda thing - iirc, she doesn't believe in marriage. (My beliefs concerning marriage - and lack thereof - I have yet to discuss here; I may come back to that in a few months). So I've had to face this down in my own life, not because anyone else wants me to but because I had to: I have an appalling non-relationship with my father, I have no mother to tie me to any other family, and I am getting married to the person who walks through the world with me. None of these three things are true for Amanda, and it is likely that none of them ever will be. (well, it's likely she'll one day also be motherless but she'll never be a person who grew up that way).

Commenters chime in to say that any hard emotional/identity work I have to do over this is merely 'cognitive-dissonance reduction', and that any way in which this issue is more fraught for people with father problems is 'irrelevant'. Also, lots of hypothetical, supposedly normal, descriptions of a world which is not the world I live in; a world where name-changing is a "show of love" (that's never been how it is in me-land), where it's an expectation (quite the opposite, if anything - I think he was initially expecting to wind up with my name), where someone in your family has put pressure on you about it (there are eight adults called Ms A____ in his family already and funeral gatherings are getting pretty confusing. And I haven't discussed this with anyone in my family except Kathie, who is confused enough as it is).

And oh, Amanda:

It seems frightful to me to be like, “My father is abusive so I’m losing HIS name and taking THIS GUY’S name,” because you still buy into the idea that women don’t and can’t have names of our own.

I mean, why do I never hear men say, “I dumped my abusive father’s name?” Because as men, they get to say it’s their name, not their fathers.

I prefer the Tina Turner method. My name, wore it, made a name for myself under it, etc. Belongs to no man.

Three paragraphs there. The first involves perfectly simple acceptance of fact; in the conventional world that most people live in, women do not have surnames. They just rent them for a few decades at a time. Surnames are shining lights of masculinity, passed from fathers to sons by uninvolved female hands. You can buck the trend, sure (though Amanda will not do so, because she is childfree - not that that stops her talking about labour pains in that thread, not at all), but the trend is still there. Not even just in your culture, but in most others too.

The second is outright untrue. I said that, too, told her I knew a few men who've done just that. She called these men 'myths' because she hasn't met any, and passing judgement about people you've never met is a big Amanda thing.

And the third....oh fucking hell, where do I begin?

Tina. Freaking. Turner. An abused woman. A (in terms of background) poor woman. A woman of colour. Who made a hard choice about the name thing. Keeping a name given to you by someone who hurt you is a choice non-survivor, middle-class, white Amanda approves of. So she will take this abused, poor woman of colour and say that all people who've had to make this choice should make that choice, because it's the only right choice - Amanda says so, and if one poor abused WOC agrees it must be true for all people in that situation.

A brief step aside; there's this bright spark, zombie z, who talks about how her feelings regarding her name and identity have shifted over the course of her life (a cool read, that - I had the same name-avoidance as a child, and I'm not sure if that's related to trying to get distance from my father or not), and how she's now planning to change her surname in the future to a name of her own choice. I've never come across this person before, and I don't know anything much of her other views and writings, but this one made my brain bleed. Her changing her name is awesome, because she's got this whole story behind it and it's a fitting identity for her! But me changing my name would be bad and would be, as she quotes Amanda saying, 'trying to rob other women the right to own their given names'!

Me. Robbing other people of the right to own their names. Because I spoke up to say that for people who've been slapped around by their fathers, that one is frekking complicated and is not just readable as your name vs your spouse's name - it instead takes you back to that original purpose of surnaming, that denoting of a masculine lineage. (btw, as I am robbing other people of the right to own their names, Amanda is assuring me that the name-changing men I know are mythical, and don't even own their own existences). While it's not the same situation and can't be mapped onto it point for point, I was reminded of a certain Alas post: Q: Since When Is Being Criticized Like Having Your Limbs Blown Off by a Landmine? A: Since That Criticism Came from Someone with Less Privilege Than You.

Monday, December 17, 2007

left, right, left, right, links, invite.

I was watching the snooker on BBC2 with my sister on Sunday night (boring, but Saturday's was good) and because of some comment from the teevee ppl about right-handed and left-handed play, plus a bit of questioning of my super-righty sister, I realised something I'd never known before; I play pool left-handed. I can't imagine doing it the other way, with my right hand behind and my left hand on the table. I didn't know that, but it wasn't a surprise - I instinctively do a lot of things left-handed.

hmm, list:

Writing - right-hand only. I've tried learning to use the left but can't catch the trick of it.
Mouse - right for preference, but I can easily use the left if the right is hurt. (Though I still really want a nice concave foot-mouse. <3 feet!)
Skating, netball, pool - left.
Hockey - left hand above right. I don't know which 'way' that is.
Cartwheels - preferably right hand first, but I can at least try to go with left, and I've heard most people can't bear to throw their heads at the floor in their non-dominant way.
Splits - right foot forward.
Fencing - both; initial preference for left, but often moving to right when tired because my right arm is stronger. I haven't done any LARP in forfeckingever (I way prefer P&P) but with nice light pretend metal, I was one of those aggravating ambi people.
Jilling - left. Right just doesn't feel the same.

I am not good at picking a side and sticking with it. ;_;

Links: Rumble in Gotham: Two Guys in an Asylum, or, The Killing Joke by Alan Moore, or, best. Batman. S_D. ever. I'm not a great Batman geek - I've read hardly any of his canon, just dipped in here or there, mostly on S_D or while browsing bookshops - but I love watching the fandom chatter about him, because a) he's one of we motherless freaks, b) he's a single father, and c) Bats/Supes OTP is, like, canon. These things are part of his iconography. So watching people talk about the dear boy and how crazy he is (or is not), and occasionally derailing such talk, is my win.

The Moonbat explains why Bali is made of fail, Al Gore is full of shit and everything sucks. Today is one of those days when Moonbattery is terrifying to contemplate; if he is right, we are all screwed, and the boy has sure done his sums. I don't know how he remains as optimistic as he is, given all the sums he has done. But doom-prophets are not a new phenomenon.

Invite: The Anti-Christmas Carol Service. I have been a muppet in recent years and never attended the previous version of this event, which was a blatantly illegal, unauthorised protest in favour of Christmas, peace and love that took place in Parliament Square in the week before Christmas. No arrests were ever made because the police seemed to think it was not a protest, so this year a near-identical event is being held, save only that it is a formally registered protest against Christmas.

This year's anti-Christmas protest will, therefore, provide legal clarity to the situation; if this demonstration format (candles, carols, etc) is granted a permit, and thus given the status of a legal protest, all subsequent events with the same format (candles, carols) but without authorisation will be proper illegal protests.

Gordy has promised to repeal the no-protest zone law. Well, he mentioned it a while ago but nothing else has been said since. Humbug.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Screw. You.

[this is me thinking aloud about drinking, living, and Somebody Else's Problems.]

I haven't drunk alcohol in around 17 years, but I do remember how it goes - and now it's just so much fun to watch Brits self-medicating. Especially at this very special time of year - holly, migraines, in-laws, that bloody partridge up a gum tree, spewing its ring. We work hideously long hours, our weather is getting worse, our savings may be worthless by next Tuesday and our individual debt repayments would each sustain a Latin American state, we are distantly, hopelessly at war, we're tired of God but confused about praying to Dawkins - of course we find it tricky to relax. So we medicate with prescribed medication, we medicate with illegal medication and we chug down a licensed drug that makes the government millions every month. (Lucky coincidence, here - after all, would we ever vote for any of them, if we weren't either mashed or hung over?)


I love this. I'm glad I found it right when I was trying to line up all this stuff in my head. It is Christmas and I have, as recently mentioned, living space issues, I have family issues, and I have, to be specific, other people's alcohol issues. For Christmas I get a special bumper pack of issues tied with a big red ribbon. I am hoping, almost expecting, that this is the last time I will spend Christmas with my father. We don't go to his house - he comes to ours, and he brings his way of life with him (folded up in a suitcase. and he came much sooner than usual, this year, because he is recovering from brain surgery). I hope it's the last time he's ever in the same living space as me, and that's a liberating concept; it means I no longer have to be cold, or cruel, or kind, to this half-infirm old man. He will be in the hands of another soon enough. The success of the surgery has made him happy. I can let that make life easier.

He moved the corkscrew.

The corkscrew lives in the kitchen, because nothing containing alcohol would ever get opened outside the kitchen, unless it's somebody's birthday or the green fairy is here. A corkscrew on the living-room table is bad. It's someone living in a hurtful way, in my house. You know how it is when you can't even stand the smell of someone? When finding their laundry mixed in with yours is just hateful, when you can only feel at home by pretending they're not in your house - preferably by pretending they don't exist?

Alcohol isn't even the most potent part of this mix. It's money. I have seen him drink more money in the last week than I like to spend in a month, on everything. And sometimes money isn't even more potent than symbols. It's a corkscrew, just a corkscrew - a folding one with penknife on the back and a bottle-opening tool on the end. It's not mine. It's like the tin opener or the pastry brush. It's not for getting mashed with and it shouldn't be outside the kitchen drawer.

I've contemplated many improv homicides over the years, with tube lights and pestles and fire, but corkscrew through eyeball has been a favourite mental image since June 2004. The Corkscrew (not the one that lives in the kitchen, the one that lives in my head) looks kinda like this; I've never owned an athame, or particularly wanted to, but if I did.... So my hand starts curling as I walk about the house, imagining horn ridges and a twist of iron that, fortunately, is not there.

And then he said it. Right after I'd got done whining on the phone to the blue person about it all. He'd brought spirits into the house for the first time in a year, literally replacing almost-empty bottles purchased last December; I made some cocoa and added a dash of cointreau, because it was there, commenting that I'd not had any in about three years. And he just said, in the amicable way that many things have been said lately; "I drink too much."

Never happened before, that one. Not outside that couplet, you know the one-
"You drink too much."
"That's your fault - you drive me to it."

-that every kid who ever had an addict in their family knows about. This time, he just said it. (The green one and I got talking a while ago how, in his age group, alcohol abuse is pretty normalised).

I was probably meant to say something kind. Something gentle of the we-love-you-and-want-you-to-get-better type. What I said, and I said it amicably, was was 'Yes, we know, we knew ten years ago, back when we had no one else in the world, but it's different now, we've got our own lives and...' I stopped before the 'and it's not our problem any more, so I. Don't. Care.' Maybe I have a heart after all. Maybe I'm not done untangling 'I care' from 'This is fucking hurtful to me'. Maybe I expect my siblings will be mired in this even after I'm gone - I tend to be the appointed communicator in this failed excuse for a family unit, as she gets too down and he gets too angry when they try to communicate with him. I am half telephone, half human shield. I am the reason she does not have to deal with the reason she's scared of answering the (real) phone. When our father actually asked why the youngest never calls him and does his best to make it impossible for him to be called, I was the one who didn't say 'Why didn't you worry about that five years ago?', and got on with playing intermediary instead.

He said it a couple of days ago, went out to buy more of it yesterday, and nothing more has been said about it.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

'Sacred', innit?

Mandolin at Alas has brought my attention back to that precious right-wing handwringing that says 'human life is sacred!' (Not). Orson Scott Card's exact words on the subject are:

Bush never backed down. He had compromised as far as he could, without bending his understanding of the principle of the sanctity of human life that civilization depends on.

Stating the obvious yet again:
a) Civilisation depends on no such thing, and frequently relies on the opposite.
b) People on the extreme right say human life is sacred when it supports their politics, and say human life is worthless when it that supports their politics instead.

Example: Project Download, which I came across on the M15M LJ yesterday. Project Download is so fucking ridiculous and tiny that I am still crying tears of frustration every time I even think about it. How much pure hate and cruelty does it take to put someone through this? How can you do that, say it's a-okay to inflict that kind of violence against a person's life, for the want of £750 (and I've had overdrafts bigger than that), and still say 'oh, but human life is sacred?' Of course you don't fucking believe that, you'll just say any old crap that keeps you up and everyone else down.

(And no, I don't care if you think Erin is fake; if human life were sacred, she couldn't possibly be a convincing lie.)

Friday, December 07, 2007

where the heart.

The ABC ladies are poking my head; Kyraninse on how comfort levels are for wet blankets: and V on faith, works, etc. The former reminds me that there is value in going over the things I'm finding hard to go over, harder still to articulate, even if it's only of use to myself; the latter - I could pretend she reminds me that there's no bloody point to writing anyway, but that's not true, the truth is that I agree with everything she said and I got there on a road I don't like, barefoot, but I am like Posy and can learn with my feet.

Speaking of, I made a Sex Pixie:

I believe that wisdom is in the body - wisdom, joy, sadness, truth, there's a physical accompaniment to all of it, and I often find it easier to connect to that than to the rest of it. I get distracted by the abstracts and dream-reals easily; I think that's how the world is, that if you're engaged with one thing you're inevitably drawn to its opposite. A foot on the ground is a head in a cloud, no disjunct.

Verte told me a while ago of a sweet group exercise in which people were asked to point to the body part in which their 'self' resided. Most went to the head; she to her heart; her sparkliness has said such things about hands; my More Pretentiouser Than Thou Pseudo-pagan self would've gestured to the spinal cord, but here in the real world life seems to come from my feet.

And where are my feet, lately? In limbo.

My new US visa arrived by courier on Monday - it is in a giant yellow envelope I am not allowed to open, that will not be opened until I reach the border; it came with an inevitable feeling of carefully treading in Orpheus's footprints. I run circles around my neighbourhood in old, broken shoes; I'm trapped, waiting for January, and ashamed of it. I really am. That shame is why a lot of things are hard to say - it's like navigating around a great pit, always worrying if I'll fall, if I'll be pushed -

I've been wanting to talk about what V said, about neighbours. I could call it something I learned from early-life Christianity - I mean, it's right there in Matthew 25 -

"Come, you whom my Father has blessed, take for your heritage the kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you made me welcome; naked and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to see me." Then the virtuous will say to him in reply, "Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you; or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and make you welcome; naked and clothe you; sick or in prison and go to see you?" And the King will answer, "I tell you solemnly, in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me."

- but really, I think I feel that way because I learned it with my feet.

Those of you who've been reading a while will know that my adolescence was needlessly chaotic, that I was never a teenager like other teenagers, that I was sore and stupid about it the whole time - but that wasn't the start of the crazy by any means. It started with a house. The one my parents should've built, but didn't.

They met in London, where the eldest and I were born, but both had grown up in the same general area of the Pennines - I don't know why they moved back there, maybe for family, who died, or out of nostalgia. Maybe anywhere they settled would've been as much of a disaster. It was a quarter-acre plot of land with an old barn on it, in the middle of a village (a village of the 25-houses-1-pub-1-church model, with a river running through it and roads that led to three others like it, though I'm told that many decades ago it had a butcher and a baker). It was meant to be something - house, extension, garden, hearth and home; what it became was shame, stray cats, petty fights over never-enough hot water, a coal fire to huddle by, always a mess, never my space, never happy. Where it worked, it was beautiful. I sometimes made spaces, took the well-lit never-used upstairs living room, cleared it and turned cartwheels there, had a folding table and an inherited dining chair. It got good after midnight, or when I was skipping school, but in the evenings you could hear the television blaring through the thin wood floorboards, hear my father speaking to it as if he were trying to cow some petty demon. It didn't work. The house did not work.

When I whined about The Cement Garden, that was part of why; the physical isolation was a real force in my life back then, almost as real as death itself. The 'garden' was vast, untended, and full of the rubbish of construction - a bit of an adventure to a child, turning offcuts of wood into flimsy treehouses and playing with cats in the long grass - but to a motherless adolescent with a younger child to fail to care for, a household to slipshodly run, a thwarted want to eke out some kind of life in that grey place? Every stone was its weight in shame. Alchemilla molis overran the flower patch - I planted salvias, but the slugs took them within days, and any upkeep my mother had done was lost, though there were still roses. Compassions. I cut their withered heads off when necessary.

I remember walking to the river that Saturday night, taking off my shoes and putting my bare feet in the water, talking to the half-moon, trying to make myself and my life over in response to the crisis in my mind; if I'm back there any time soon, as I sadly think I must be, I am going to do that again.

I remember breaking a toe on the pitch-pine stairs that snaked all around the hallway.

It was too wrecked and shameful for friends - I rarely asked them back. My gamers came, but strange-smelling ruins are cool for PnP. I never felt I could just say 'this is my space, I want to share it with you' to anyone - it wasn't anyone's space, it was a monster. Once I wanted to share my place with a friend badly enough that instead of asking him there, I asked him to my sister's home in London, 250 miles south. (Thus began the unholy triumvirate, a merry thing that violates all your nuclear-family logic, but is another story, and not really mine to tell).

I didn't have many people anyway - I was difficult, angry, had nothing positive to offer but dreams, so there's no one to blame for that. One of the few who was consistently kind and welcoming to me, who noticed when I was sad and such, turned out to be a complete and crazy prick to everyone else in the world, and is still being hurtful to others I knew then, six years later; what am I to make of that, that he terrorised good people who, themselves, wouldn't've given me the time of day?

Did I mention my sister's home is the same one my parents used to have? It's a small place (well, it's dandy for us, even when all three of us are here, but didn't do for parents with three young children), and the lease was controlled, and they made their own house so had no mortgage, and our father talked his company into making use of it sometimes and paying some of the rent - they didn't want to let it go. Now we live here, behind a mountain of unsolicited mail from Foxtons begging us to move the hell out. I'd planned to move in the day after I finished sixth-form; what happened is that a month before that, a rooftop fire destroyed the attic above these four rooms and the burned-out roofspace fell through into two of them.

It was a trauma, especially after all the other living-space issues we'd had, but I confess that I am glad we had that one clean break from the past; I remember standing in the soot and broken tiles, on a treasure hunt a few weeks after the fire, and seeing a shard of that aggravatingly low glass light fitting, the one he was forever banging his head into, and laughing. I'm glad I got to see the sky inside this place, got to know how insubstantial home is. I don't know about the rest of us, but to me that was worth the cost - in fact, the cost was worth the cost, if you get me. Home shunted from place to place during 2003, and somewhere in the middle it slid into the space-between-spaces that swallowed the bulk of that year, but that is a story for another day, or maybe never.

Having a place to live in, to me, means having a place to share. Dignity is an uncluttered floor with a rug on it; a kitchen I can cope with being in; spare blankets for my friends. I've a craving to give and to care and to shelter friends from the cold - and that does not make me a good person by any account, abstract arguments about true altruism aside, because it's too satisfying and it too easily makes up for something I formerly couldn't have. So I give - sure, sometimes I have to come up with dinner for seven on the fly, and I never know where to keep all the duvets, but to be prepared to love, to have such tools and raw materials at hand and to keep a tidy workshop for the craft of loving, is not my gift to you. It's your gift to me. It's proof that I escaped and that I can do better now.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Carnivals etc.

Just SFnal links today.

The 18th Carnival of Feminist Sci-Fi and Fantasy is up: Part I (Women, Gaming and You!); Part II (These Things We Love, And How We Interact With Them; Part III (Reviews, Reactions And Recommended Further Reading). It is a lovely carnival, in spite of the fact that I appear twice.

Helen Keeble is making a Weird writeup, which is way better than my Weird writeup. Here is part 1, which is about Lovecraft, Narnia and the tension between worlds - the discussion has veered towards Harry Freaking Potter. [addendum: part 2 and part 3.]

(Oh, and I think I never linked this before: the Alas thread about the whole sex-workers-in-sci-fi thing, which I briefly resuscitated t'other day with a link to my last post. It has been a fun conversation).

Monday, December 03, 2007

From The Whoreses' Mouth

[addendum: Helen Keeble has written some wonderful notes on the Weird Symposium, and I've collected the links here - my own, much inferior, notes are linked at the end of this post.]

This would be further to '1958'. Because, as I mentioned on t'other blog, I went to The Weird symposium, and then the Weird symposium went to a bar, and China Miéville bought me a drink and talked with me about whores.

I shall now leave a few lines blank to give you time to get over how wonderful my life is.

By then I was suffering from brain-mush induced by lack of sleep and passive inhalation of Immanuel Kant, so there are two important things about the whores in The Perpetual Train that I didn't manage to bring up, but on the whole, I forgive him. The first thing he said when I mentioned the topic was that he'd thought through the gender politics of it and was prepared to stand by that part of the story, both its stance and its way of getting there; I think he'd had this conversation before, and that he'd had it with himself before that.

It's a bit of a duckrabbit: looked at through the lens of an SF-reading feminist, it's part of one distinct pattern; read from the point of view of a revolutionary socialist (I can pretend to have that POV for a moment, right?) it's a different picture. He said he was reflecting the history of railway-making, in which women do appear only as prostitutes or as slaves; given that, presenting the prostitute as a wage-labourer who can, like male wage-labourers, be radicalised by their experiences under capitalism, is (he thinks) a positive. He's well aware of the general SF reading, though, and says 'they do not have hearts of gold.'

The big thing I did manage to get out was that it seemed like his male characters had jobs - surveyors, gendarmes, railwaymen - while his prostitutes were their jobs. He said he felt he'd written them as people who were in control of their labour - they had rules, enforced them, went on strike. He pointed out that the prostitutes are at the forefront of the workers' radicalisation, and reminded me of one charming aspect of the story that I didn't mention last time; the Iron Councillors all, irrespective of gender, call each other 'sister' because the prostitutes refused to use 'brother'. (The other radical group in Iron Council, the Caucus, all, irrespective of gender, call each other Jack, which was really funny before Ori and Madeleina got to know each other). That explicitly identifies the rest of the wage-labourers with the prostitutes, which I think you've got to love.

I pointed out how invisible sex work is to women; how my young brother is far more exposed to the sex industry than I am, how very few women will encounter stripping and hooking (and those who do will mostly be those whose partners are consumers of such), while the industry is marketed at most men and part of the culture of many. How this makes writing about the sex industry excluding for women and entitling for men. (I don't think I said that part particularly clearly). He told me that that was a pretty recent thing - that 15 years ago it was a far more obscure part of male life than it is now. (That is the kind of information that women do not have access to, see?) It's weird that that's happened at the same time as women are becoming more economically powerful.

I didn't, and I wish I had remembered to, mention the problem Ide Cyan so eloquently described here:
"This is the kind of bullshit coming from leftist men that feminist women have been debunking since the invention of socialism. It presupposes that women's oppression is the result of industrial capitalism, rather a specific form of oppression with its own relations of production, and conveniently obscures proletarian men's role in the oppression of women. Obviously, leftist men still haven't paid attention, or do not care to integrate that particular analysis into their revolutionary approaches."

I don't think Miéville has completely failed to integrate that analysis, but he's certainly putting it way second to capitalist oppression, because that's what the whole sodding book is about. (That his stance is ultimately abolitionist is related to this; yeah, he's imagining a post-sex work utopia, but that's because he's imagining the end of all capitalist wage labour).

The second thing I missed, closely tied to the above, is the point V raised here about the use of sex work as part of the 'story' of individual characters (Ann-Hari and Carianne, but also dozens of other SF characters - Molly Millions, Niki Sanders, several continuities of Catwoman, et cetera ad infinitum). It's extremely irritating when read as part of that group of male-authored SF about sex work; I'd imagine he'd again be writing it as a being about wage-labour rather than being about sex, but I would've liked to argue the toss about it, because I refuse to believe it's a coincidence that it happens with so very many strong female characters. It's also, I feel, touching on appropriation; using a real-world group (sex workers) to explain your politics, your stories, your world.

He told me to come say hello if we're ever at the same convention again, so you never know. My notes from The Weird, if you'd like to read them, are here.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

[no title today]

Creeping realisation: I've written a fair bit about things I care about here, but not nearly as much as I intended about things that really hit me deep-down. I realised how ingrained this was getting on the Trans Day Of Remembrance last week. The things I write here are usually polite-disagreement territory, give or take a swearword or two; transphobia is more like I-would-cheerfully-put-your-eye-out-with-a-corkscrew land. I don't keep a corkscrew in my handbag, so when the sparkly one and I are out and about and the sparkly one gets hassled, I tend to smile. Sometimes, we both laugh. They are not nice smiles or nice laughs, even when they seem to be so; my intent is to penetrate, and then twist.

I could say more - describe specific incidents I've witnessed or had related to me, and the people who instigate them; drunk, sober, young, older, nosy, objectifying, they-think-they're-so-subtle, women, men. I could ask why it is that gender lines are, by so many people, held to be fortresses - like a Great Wall, a bulwark we pretend is visible from space (<3 Snopes), diligently patrolled to keep the Khan at bay.

But what last Tuesday was about is murder.

Coupla links; Julia Serano on 'deception' and Holly brings the 101.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

the shipping forecast

I'm being very excited about music lately, but I find myself wanting to do No Music Day anyway. I am cheating. I didn't read about it til it was gone midnight, and there's only so much you can do when you've just discovered DJ Shadow, so I'm drawing the line now, at 1.22 21/11/07.

Drummond wrote this about No Music Day last year. I don't share his jadedness at all - there's things I love that I'm only just starting to swim in; swirling pools on the ambient end of hip-hop; relics of mid-20th century jazz; folk-rock secrets that get passed from hand to hand on Soulseek. I heart Soulseek. Yesterday, I was sharing with someone who had a vast collection of different recordings of 'Summertime' - which is part of why the 'year zero' idea caught my eye.

I even have fantasies about waking up to find that all music has disappeared from the world. We can't even remember what it sounded like. We knew we had music, we knew it was important to us. In my fantasy we would have to start making music again from a year zero situation, with nothing but our voices. As I said, just a fantasy.

I'm not fond of generational generalisations, but I'm attracted to the image of Generation Y (a meaningless descriptor that suggests I, for the rest of my life, will have properties in common with people if they were born between 1981 and 1995 - astrology is not yet dead!) - a generation abruptly swept up in a weightless culture, lifted on the upthrust of words and sounds, a shoal scattering as each finds her own current, descending til she she can no longer bear the pressure. Walking in the real world, we carry our words and music with us, bound on our backs as if it were oxygen - portable atmospheres.

(I've written, a little, about the one who drowned. S/he's vaguely why I don't use portable music myself, except when called to by these amazing people).

No Music Day isn't too hard for me - a No Written Words day would be more unsettling. I'm not sure I've ever passed a day without reading something, writing something or both. Funny thing is, I used to think that might be a Gen Y thing, a product of text-based everything and all the dreadful free papers on the Tube - part of that shared silence. That was very metropolitan. My brother, not nearly so wordy, has lately been imploring me to join Facebook. I tell him I'd rather die (exaggeration, that) and ask why the heck he wants me to. 'So you can see all my pictures!' Why do I need to see his pictures? Can't I see them at Christmas? Can't you get a Livejournal like a civilised Y-izen? Nono, he says, because what on earth would he want to write about? Or read about?

He's clearly part of some image/movie/connection wave, and I'm lost in words and sounds. I'm not sure who's deeper out to see.

What No Music Day mostly reminded me of was Sound Mind by Tricia Sullivan - a story about a world fractured by rationalism. (Sound Mind might have been the best story ever, except that you have to slog through Double Vision to really get it.) This is from a chapter called 'Beat Fascism' - some of which touched on why not to keep a beat. This is from a public gathering overheard by the narrator.

"You see, most people when they consider their own musical expression rely on other people to do it for them. They express themselves in terms of what they listen to. They elect heroes. They "appreciate". But they don't dare take it further than that. They don't dare use the medium themselves. Because music education is so fascistic and structured and nose-down-looking that they could never make it by the official route. And if they are talented enough to make it by the official route, that route brands them with its own fascistic structured nose-down-looking ways. And if they do it in jazz, then they're lucky because maybe they have a shot although what the odds are of making a living as a jazz musician I don't know. And if they go for anything post-1960 in origin like rock or soul or rap then their whole aspiration becomes getting a record contract and you're right back into the System again, under the yoke of commerce. Not to mention under the musical yoke of an increasingly conventionalized form. [...]

"So here's music, universally lauded as the deepest expression of cosmic humanity or whatever you want to call all that music-of-the-spheres stuff. Here's music, making the screaming hoards move like one organism at a big concert. Here's a mother singing her baby a lullaby, here's music, and we're totally cut off from it except as consumers." [...]

"Bring back Bob Dylan!" somebody said.

"No, you don't get it - that's just the point. Bob Dylan is just a guy. Hey, we wouldn't dare make sound in our own right. If we did, wed feel compelled to judge our sound on the basis of the commercial stuff. Somewhere along the line, listening became the whip hand of judgement instead of a tool for understanding. [...] We're trapped in a small world and we can't get out of it. And the whole thing is in our heads. [...] It's just taking what was already true and making it more obvious."

-that last line could represent the entire internets, I figure.

No music today. Except for singing things I made up. If I'm brave, no reading or writing on Thursday.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Two more tasers:

First, a reminder from Canada that tasers kill.

Second, the West Yorkshire Police helpfully explain why it's perfectly good and legal to taser someone, twice, if they 'look Egyptian', are carrying a rucksack, and are already in a diabetic coma.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Hypocrisy - specifically; mine.

I did a bad thing here yesterday. A stupid, emotional thing that was contradictory and lame - not unusual, I'm perpetually full of it, but I want to own up to it this time.

I linked to David Cameron bemoaning the low rates of sex crime convictions, and then I linked a successful terrorism conviction and got sceptical and paranoid about it. This is not only an inconsistent attitude towards criminal justice, towards the principle of innocent until proven guilty - it's also inconsistent regarding individual people.

I've mentioned this in passing before: there's these two guys - Jean Charles de Menezes and Mohammed Abdul Kahar. You've probably heard of at least one of them.

I'm not cherrypicking examples here - they are the only two people to have been shot by Metropolitan Police officers as part of Operation Kratos, in which a shoot-to-kill order was applied to terror suspects who were thought to be capable of causing imminent damage. Menezes died after being shot eight times while catching a train at Stockwell tube station, and Kahar survived being shot once in the chest during a house raid at Forest Gate.

Both were, within days, confirmed to be innocent of terrorism.

Both were, shortly afterwards, charged with sex crimes - Menezes was accused of rape and Kahar was accused of downloading child porn.

Further forensic examination found that both charges were as devoid of substance as the original terrorism suspicions.

So if we're going to ask that our legal system doesn't shoot to kill, assumes innocence until guilt is proven, and requires a case to be solid beyond reasonable doubt, that has to apply to terrorism and to sex crimes because the wrongly accused may well be the exact same people, under suspicion for the exact same reasons. (and it doesn't take much in the way of paranoia to cause speculation as to why these two men were wrongly accused of sex crimes - if it happens the next two times as well, maybe we can talk about a trend).

Monday, November 12, 2007

ye linkage

David Cameron wants to fix our broken rape laws. Please, please, let this become the bipartisan effort it should be. Some of it - like the idea that sex ed should be absolutely compulsory and should include lessons on consent (and I'd hope they'd do some on the effects of abuse too) - might even work. Read this too - terrifying stories about women who were let down by the police and/or the courts.

This bothers me in so many ways. It says it's a horrible crime to own a few books and to write a few poems. It says that crime is equivalent to those of Abu Hamza, or other hate preachers. It is all a bit bizarre and scary. I wonder what'll happen if/when she appeals.

I actually find this strangely reassuring - I like knowing I'm not the only one who can't look the bullshit in the eye.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Seven Reasons Why The Campaign Against Climate Change Is Good For A Laugh

[or, Selected Notes from a Mass Meeting, with Panel, held at Friends House on November 8th.]

1. It made consumerism feel like a sort of black magic. At one point in the floor session, John Sauven's reply to a questioner included the words 'We mostly exceed our fair carbon ration even if we don't fly, and I won't embarrass you by asking if you do fly...' Total Heroes moment there, hand gesture and all. Flying, for Christ's sake, what could be more magical than that? We were told, in a variety of different ways, that emissions in the developing world are not increasing and ours are not decreasing, that we're merely outsourcing our own consumption - having the things we use made on the other side of the world, where it will create even more inefficient mess. (The Moonbat helpfully added that we wipe our asses on trees shipped over from Brazil). I own more books and more changes of clothing than any medieval queen, you know? And when Sauven said all advertising is pornography and that industry should be ended...we're dipping back to before economics, back to objects with moral dimensions, back to magic as if we never left.

At the CCC's heart is the belief that this way of living is going to radically change our world, probably destroy vast swathes of it. The government's target is for a 60% cut in emissions by 2030; apparently this target was pegged not by science, but by the CBI - science suggests that to avoid runaway warming we need to cut emissions by 90% as soon as we possibly can.

2. The Moonbat. The Moonbat! He's a lovely voice - even pronounces 'solution' correctly, and vanishingly few people can do that without sounding like an utter twat. I wrote down some of the things he said;
"As an environmentalist I quite like pain. We all thrash ourselves with nettle leaves in the morning before breakfast."

"I don't care very much about trawlermen."

"I was a great supporter of the Stern Report, until I read it."

"Microgeneration requires ambient energy, and people avoid living in places with high ambient energy - the tops of mountains, the middle of the Sahara desert, or several hundred miles offshore..."

"There are only three questions [about stopping climate change] left; if not now, then when? If not here, then where? If not us, then who?"

[as with almost all nicknamage, I call him the Moonbat because I love him, really I do.]

3. Everything they were talking about - about shutting down Drax again, about supergluing people to the Shell HQ, about taking to the streets on December 8th, about building a mass movement, about the failure of the million-strong Stop The War campaign - is directly tied to the meaningless of civic life in the UK. These people, driven people who know their science, who know what has to be done, who care so deeply about the preservation of life and of wellbeing and even of our crazy magic economy - cannot do anything to influence the course of events other than by putting a tick in a box once every five years, and by supergluing themselves to Shell and maybe writing a few letters here and there. Meanwhile, government climate targets are set by the CBI.

This is why we need to move towards direct democracy as soon as we possibly can.

[addendum: a recent Moonbat piece on this very subject.]

4. The repeated allusions to 'total war'. If stopping cimate change were the overriding priority of our society, we would, as happened in the USA right after Pearl Harbour, rapidly turn our entire economy towards that priority. (The Moonbat in particular was confident that we haven't lost this one yet, and he firmly believes that Europe, if Europe so wanted, could be generating all its power from renewable sources within a few years.)

Could we? Would we? That was sixty years ago. That was a world ago. That was back when we actually made things here, back before we substituted real economic growth for the City boom, back when such efforts didn't require renationalisation and imported labour, back when dissent was a different beast. It's really weird, from here in the magic carpet world, to listen to people harking back to long-gone efforts as if it could ever be the same again.

5. The confidence in carbon rationing. It's the only fair way of making cuts, sure. It also wouldn't work, wouldn't last, wouldn't be secure, and would be extremely morally iffy.

There were 600 people in Friends House that night, some there because they cared, some there because it was free and interesting. Given carbon rationing, how would we have 'paid' for the lighting and ventilation? Would the organisers bear the burden, or would all the attendees share in it? How about other public events - bonfires, for instance. And who picks up the tab for your copy of the Metro? These are tiny things, but they add up - would rationing only cover large indiscretions like food miles and flight? Or would it cover everything? If the government builds a new hospital, who covers its power use? Patients, taxpayers, who? For individual consumers, out there going places and buying things, rationing would work. Consider it on a social, community level and it shatters.

We're used enough to chip and pin, right? But there's always the odd granny out there who doesn't get it; people who don't use cards, or don't know their PINs, even some who can't use them due to disabilities. My teenage brother has only just got his first one, and still goes to the bank counter because he's shy of ATMs. Carbon rationing would have to be used by everyone; it would have to be simple enough and secure enough for, at the very least, everyone in Europe to be able to use it, no getouts for disability or incomprehension or unwillingness.

And what happens if someone urgently needs something - a meal, an ambulance, a morning after pill, a ride home - and finds they have no carbon ration left?

And then it has to be secure, and those who calculate the carbon costs must be accurate. I'm not even going to go there.

6. Crowd demographics. I'll tell you a secret; I'm tired of gender. I'm fed up of it, it's exhausting me, I'd like to see it abolished, and I wish I could put it down, but I can't, because it has no intention of putting me or anyone else down, and that's the fault of people like the CCC, and just about everything else I walk into.

There were, we were told, 600 people at the meeting; all but perhaps a dozen were white. I'd hazard that the gender split was dead even. Where that got interesting was when the floor was opened at the end (nb: not like that, though the reference is appropriate) - of those, we'll call it 20 people, who raised their hand to put forward a question, I counted only three women, and only two not-white men.

Even on the far left, political discussion is still all about Mr Special White Guy.

Why? Why the crap do vast numbers of women enter that political space as listeners, and then not even attempt to contribute? And why - even after being challenged about this last year at Conway Hall, by a fantastic black lady from the floor - do the CCC organisers seem oblivious to the whole race/gender thing? They were speaking of building mass movements, of the pressure from the street that had brought social changes in the past - how the heck are they going to get that if they've come up with a way of having meetings that gives access [almost] only to Mr Special White Guy?

No, it's not their fault - it seemed to be like any other white boys' club, with questions taken from men they knew, men with clipboards, men from thinktanks, men of science, men with opinions, men who knew other men. It's interesting how the gender split among the organisers (all white, except the West London rep lady) worked out; there were three male panellists - two campaigners (the CCC head and the Greenpeace head) and a writer - while the compère, the Climate Camp (ie. direct action) head, at least half of the local London organisers, and (as far as I could see) all the people carrying microphones around were women. As if the boys are meant to talk about the big ideas while the girls do all the work. I've heard this one before. It's not the CCC's fault, but it's their problem and they haven't a hope in hell of building any kind of popular movement without fixing things so they have a room that at least looks like London and sounds like London.

(The unbearable whiteness is echoed on the other side of the same coin, in the UK's new religious movements - not the same thing as the green movement, but there's a hefty overlap. I touched on that a little bit here, not that that post is recommended reading, being as long and rambly as it is, but hey.)

7. John Sauven. He's a really special white guy. He even started a sentence with 'The cost purely from an American perspective -' (No, of course he's not American, and I doubt he's ever lived or worked there, he's just making shit up). He also said 'Money isn't a problem - the world is awash with money.' No, really, who the fuck are you and what planet are you from?

A lot of suggested emissions cuts are based on European metropolitan privilege; the Moonbat cheerfully announces that the Sahara gets 15 hours of sunlight a day so we could just go run a 4500-mile DC power line to it and - Maybe he's forgotten that it's not his desert? (I actually doubt it has escaped his mind - more likely he thinks it would enrich the region, because the oil markets have totally proven how that works - but it wasn't something he touched on). Individual cuts also work for us but not them; while we develop ever more fuel-efficient cars, our secondhand gas guzzlers, like so much of our secondhand clothing, get shipped to Africa and sold on to people who've never had cars before, people who really benefit from having cars.

People like John Sauven need reminding that not everyone can be Mr Special White Guy like he is.

I've every intention of continuing to support the CCC, and I'll likely be outside the US Embassy with a placard on December 8th, but they remain in blissful single-issue obliviousness to their place in the world.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Feminist Art Criticism: When Not To Even Bother/links + an invite

Ow, my brain.


Alis Dee has more about Frank Miller, with added BATMAN.

V, who has begun a blog about art, mental health and race, yey!!1, is telling us why to hate The Poisonwood Bible (which I've never read) and Lost In Translation (which I never liked and was just gagging for a good reason to hate).

And an invite to be a greenie leftie:

Campaign against Climate Change - "How can we win the race against climate catastrophe?"
A Public Meeting on Thursday November 8th, at 7.00pm
at the Friends Meeting House, Euston Road, London.

With George Monbiot, Author, Journalist and Campaigner
John Sauven, Director of Greenpeace UK
Claire Fauset, from the Camp for Climate Action
and Phil Thornhill, National Coordinator Campaign against Climate Change

This year the arctic ice cap shrunk to just 60% of its normal size (the average summer size for 1979-2000). We are seeing the first macro-impact of global warming. Some have speculated that only a small temperature increase (of a kind quite possible in the next ten years or so) could see the ice disappear completely and very rapidly. That would leave open sea which absorbs heat from the sun rather than reflect it back into the atmosphere as ice does. The warmed waters would then transmit heat to the land causing massive melting of permafrost, releasing huge quantities of CO2 and methane., triggering a massive warming event that would render much of the globe uninhabitable. This is just one of the terrifying “positive feedback” scenarios that have been suggested as a possible result of continuing to belch out greenhouse gases into the atmosphere the way we do now.

So what are we doing about it?

Changing the light bulbs. Buying cars that use slightly less petrol. At most, reducing emissions by a few percentage points a year. Do we have a plan even remotely radical enough to stand any real chance of heading off disaster ? Where are the politicians conveying the true urgency of the situation ? Where is the solemn prime ministerial broadcast explaining that the nation and the world is in grave peril and we need to take extreme action? What can we do in this situation to turn the politics around and get the scale and speed of action that we really need?

George Monbiot in his recent book “Heat” has offered a radical blueprint for survival. But recently he has said that even that does not go far enough.

Come to this Public Meeting to find out what he is saying now –what the Director of Britain’s best known environmental pressure group has to say about it, too, - and also the view from the activists who hit the headlines with their 'Climate Camp' at Heathrow, earlier this year.

The Moonbat is a decent speaker, so should be alright, for a laugh if nothing else. Friends House is right opposite Euston Station. I'll be there.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Rules

Alas and Feminist SF (I got a minor Heroes spoiler on that thread, oh noez) are doing an excellent job of saying 'Nice, but not good enough' in JK Rowling's general direction. This comment had me running to the Indy archives, because I recalled that I've heard this conversation before.

I first read this wonderful Hari piece in a newspaper I picked up on the Tube nearly two years ago, and it's sharp enough to have stuck in my head. It's about the laws of depicting gay men in Hollywood, and boils down to this:

"There are two types of Acceptable Gay Man: you can be a sexless sissy who is fairly happy with his female friends and waspish one-liners, or you can be masculine and actually have a sex drive - in which case you will die."

[an aside: Hari missed one of the rare exceptions, The Wedding Banquet, which was Ang Lee's first gay film. It's a comedy, but a serious one with a lot of cultural smarts to share and a lot of real troubles to talk about, and the sexuality is masculine and the ending is cosy. Back when I was at university, I once had half a gender seminar dissolve into an argument about whether we liked Simon or not.]

That's Hollywood, and Hari explores the particulars in splendid detail. The underlying rule - that men having sex with men and enjoying it and enjoying life cannot be shown to the world - also seems to drive Rowling, who has gone with celibate, tragic and dead, and added silence atop of that. Gay relationships in SF/F have a distinct leaning towards tragedy; Iron Council we spoke of yesterday, China Mountain Zhang can be shelved beside it, and the LHM goes without saying (um, that's when it is shelved, rather than in the guilty sop pile next to my bed). Meanwhile in ILLUMINATUS! (and I feel in The Year Of Our War too), teh gay is a sort of comedic, pornic horror. Interview With The Vampire skirts both, looking for shock, tears and erotic frisson. (One sometimes-glorious counterexample is the Authority, though most of what I know about that I learned from reading Alis Dee).

Lesbians, from Sandman to Discworld, are better at getting away with it, but I can't help but wonder if that's because everyone knows that if there's no cock, it's not real sex. Then there's distractions like Inara - and most of the queer in the Vagina Monologues, come to that - who are just doing it for the men, because the men are so mean, and the men never let us 'be ourselves', oh wah wah, because gay has to be a 'choice', a justification, a negative rather than a positive. Sex has to have a cock. One cock. Even if you're just hiding from it. And more than one cock just can't be good.

Addendum, which I can't believe I forgot earlier: Daurizre (see #8 specifically) once wrote on the same topic, but took it in the opposite direction. She calls it 300 Syndrome, and says it thusly:

"There is, among conservatives and Republicans, what I might dub 300 Syndrome. It's been pointed out before that many Nazi leaders were homosexual, and people have pondered why it is that gays would run to a group of people that would try to kill them--the obvious answer being summed up in the phrase 'self-defense'. But there's a flip side to it, when people who otherwise loathe gays embrace certain gay men, or bisexuals, as the epitome of Manliness, all without acknowledging that they were, in fact, gay or bi. For example, the movie "300" stars three hundred Spartans, and the Spartans, like most in Greek society at the time, subtly encouraged gay relations so long as they strengthened the bonds between fellow soldiers. However, the righties who want to hold the movie up as an example of all that is white manliness ignore this--not because they're stupid, but because being gay is forgivable if you kill a whole lot of people. Alexander the Great loved Hephaestion, and slept with Bagoas, but this is okay--he killed a whole mess of folks, too, which balances the gayness out. That sort of thing. This is Don't Ask Don't Tell in action, where men and women are allowed to fight and die so long as they don't admit their sexuality."

300 was, of course, based on a book by Frank Miller. Ho hum.

Saturday, October 20, 2007


[NB: I originally wrote this to let of steam, but both this post and the FMT are now very slightly Internets Famous, and have thus been Criticised by Smart People. I'd therefore like to add C A Monteath-Carr's suggestion for an alternate FMT equation:

If (# of Female Prostitutes) > (# of All Other Women), then [WTF?]

I would like to propose a measure called The Frank Miller Test. It will test how much male sci-fi writers are obsessed with whores; if the proportion of female sex workers to neutrally presented female people in his story is above 1:1, he fails.

I said, alonglongtimeago, that I'd get back to the whole general mess of how sex work gets portrayed in sci-fi & fantasy. It's a happy coincidence for me that Yonmei recently wrote about this vile story CS Lewis penned in 1958 because if she hadn't, I would've had to search it out and reread it, ewwww. It's a short exploration concerning sex on an exploratory mission to Mars. 'Sex' meaning to Lewis exactly what it often means in sci-fi and in videogames - sex between the male adventurer and the female prostitute. Go read Yonmei's post, because I can't bear to rehash this vile example. Gist is, women can only come to Mars if they're going to be prostitutes. (The really cringlingly awful part is that when I first read it - I think I was 14 or 13 - I swallowed this shit whole.)

There's a lot of supposedly 'speculative' fictions where it's still 1958.

I am going to start with the ones I love the most, because they're the ones that hurt; China Mieville remains my writer of ultimate worship (and not just because of what he called Charles Clarke that one time on Lenin's Tomb), but there's this moment in The Scar where one of the minor characters, Carrianne, tells a story near-identical to that of Lewis's 'ministering angels'. Even on a first, frantic readthrough of a book I was badly in love with, this stood out as the weakest thing he'd ever put on paper.

We were sailing our whim-trawler for Kohnid in Gnurr Kett. That's a long, hard journey. I was seventeen. I won the lottery to be figurehead and concubine. I spent the daylight strapped to the bowsprit, scattering orchid petals in front of the ship, spent the night reading the men's cards and in their beds. That was dull, but I enjoyed the days. Dangling there, singing, sleeping, watching the sea.

Yeah. Great journeys are for penises, but vaginas can tag along and put out for us and that makes them winners! This isn't normative, I know, it's descriptive, he has an anthropology background, I shouldn't be so quick to smell a rat. And yet.

Carrianne is only one woman, but in male-authored sci-fi, the whole stupid prostitutes-only thing more often follows that 1958 pattern of the organised group. Iron Council is such a self-aware commentary on socialism, on industrial organisation, on the politics of objects (both technologies and bodies), on revolution, that I'm hesitant to rip at any one moment. It's a journey, a circle. The bit that involves prostitution is that wild present-tense 150-page book-within-book that some people hate and I hopelessly adore: Anamnesis ~ The Perpetual Train.

Mostly, it's about technological determinism with sociological determinisms piled atop that. (Beautifully. It's probably the best book in the entire world). A company sponsored by a wealthy coastal city-state is building a railway line across a continent, out from their city toward places they have never been. The Perpetual Train follows Judah, one of the Transcontinental Railway Trust's surveyors: he watches as the construction of the railway changes the land and the communities that it passes through.

The villages they pass become rich and murderously violent - decadent, liquor-swilling, whore-filled and lawless - for the few days or weeks of the railroad, and then die. The towns live mayfly lives. Sex is as much part of the iron-road industry as spiking, grading, herding and paperwork. A tent city of prostitute refugees from New Crobuzon's red-light districts follows the rails and the men that set them down. The men call it Fucktown.

It's 1958 again. The men have a quest, and the women are the questers' prostitutes. (Anonymous homosexual intercourse is suggested as the cash-free alternative). There's also, of course, this narrative about how 'vices' of all kinds are brought by the evil capitalist enterprise to the virgin wilderness -

- but not quite, I fucking adore this one:

There are several like her, some boys but mostly young women, utterly charged by the arrival of these tough roustabouts and the breathing pistons of the trains. Their families lament while they let their flocks run, or sell them for meat to railroaders for scrimshawed trinkets from the tool-rooms. The goatkeep young men join the grading teams and fill the rivers. The young women find other outlets. [...] There is bad blood among the camp followers. The whores who have dutifully followed these men, splitting from the perpetual train to work with these mountain diggers, are affronted by their new rural rivals, these farmgirls who expect no pay. Some of the workers themselves are threatened by these newly voracious young women who do not sell sex or even give sex but take it. They know no rules. They have yet to learn taboos...

Part of me adores that bolded line, and the energy of the passage in general. The other part is saying waitacottonpickingminute, you're appropriating vaginas to demonstrate your philosophy of technology? You're using the gender-neutral word 'worker' to mean 'man who pays for sex'? You're drawing lines between 'untamed' rural amazons and prostitutes who are Slaves Of The Patriarchal-Capital-Whatsit? Prostitutes who (as the story goes) 'corrupt' those women through violence, enforce their taboos and turn them, vampire-like, into prostitutes themselves? The shit?

There are only four sorts of women in The Perpetual Train: these village sluts, these whores, monsters and a few passing gamblers. The only ones that organise are, naturally, the whores.

Mieville is a materialist revolutionary - the (male) workers unionise, and the (female) sex workers unionise, not for ideology but because the TRT's wage money dries up; the two unions then unite and eventually do things their own way, a way in which no one is being paid for anything. So women get to stop being prostitutes AFTER THE REVOLUTION! and not before. That's all the women he's writing about, by the end of The Perpetual Train, excepting a few nameless Remade (class-critical monsters). It's not like this in The Scar: there, where a small group of women gather together, they're usually librarians.

[Addendum: I spoke to him about this after the Weird symposium - see here for his response to some of the points raised.]

I've done Firefly. The circumstances are murky, but the only reason Inara was able to be part of the quest while retaining her class privilege was because she was a sex worker.

I said I wouldn't do Frank Miller himself. It's the writers I love that I want to unpick. We're going to Discworld. We're going to the fandom-splitting nadir/zenith of Discworld, Night Watch. It has two things in common with The Perpetual Train; firstly it is a fold in time, set about thirty years before the rest of the series around it; secondly, all the women in that time-fold are prostitutes, excepting only two, who are both addressed as potential prostitutes. In the past, all women were bought and sold, geddit?

There are the prostitutes. There's the cat-owning figure at the back, Madame, and at one point a man asks if that's her title or her profession. There's the real seamstress, for Discworld regulars. I can't recall another woman in the entire thick of the book: Sybil and Angua creep in only at the temporally flat edges. I can't excerpt *listens to collective sighs of relief* because I can't find a copy anywhere (fact: he once posted my copy of Night Watch to Australia, but then gave me one of the other zillion we had sat about just-in-case), but I swear to god it's true. And again, as in The Perpetual Train, the unionising of the prostitutes is their key issue. It's an entirely realistic concern. And yet.

It's not like this is how he usually 'does' gender; Pratchett adores toying with female stereotypes, and has made us see eye to eye with the bitter one; fall in love with the fat, forty-year-old virgin; awaken the inner babysitter. He's franchised the Tooth Fairy. He's done an entire book about the orphaned servant-girl not getting married to the handsome prince. He's followed the queen from beehive to chessboard to mountaintop kingdom. Do not ask us about Mrs Cake.

Thing is, outside of the agency-worker Tooth Fairies, the only organised group of that union, a guild no less, of prostitutes. There is this whole thing about how the witches do not have a hierarchy, or a leader, because Esme Weatherwax would never allow it; there is this other whole thing about how only three city guilds will even accept female members; the whores, the beggars, and the detested Night Watch (but only long after the revolution, even then). In other words, women do not form organised groups, but prostitutes do. And in Night Watch, the revolution demands 'reasonably priced love', because the only women the author has welcomed on board are whores.

[Here there could've been a word or two about how prostitution is brought into videogames, but it's just more of that cock-coddling I mentioned here, with the occasional added touch of slut-shaming or poor-little-victiming. I do think it makes me feel less comfortable presenting as a female PC in a gameworld, just because it makes it overtly clear that this invented society, otherwise little resembling our own, is programmed to cater specifically to the cock. Bioware has been known to proffer an occasional rentboy. It doesn't work, because I am not really a potential consumer of sex. It just looks like mapping male sexuality on to that afterthought that is the female PC, which is what it is.]

I'll say it again; when male sci-fi authors write about trade unions for sex workers, they do not do so out of the goodness of their bleeding liberal hearts. One fascinating thing about sex work that I would never have known without reading the words of sex workers themselves: the johns are sometimes organised. (The immensely readable PeridotAsh has written about this here and here). The sex industry impinges more on the average man's life than the average woman's - few women are potential customers or potential employees, while a sizeable minority of men are consumers of sex and all will find it marketed to them at some point. Is this why male sci-fi writers circle the topic like vultures, appropriate it and sometimes use it as their only discourse on women at all? By fantasising about organised sex workers, are they becoming an organised community of sex consumers? Are they already that, and just acting it out on paper?

Um, I think Mieville doesn't even like vagina, and I know Frank Miller has never spoken to a woman in his entire life. But hey.

[addendum: the angry black woman assures me that Mieville does like vagina. I am more than cool with that, because oh god would I ever hit it.]

Does this matter out in the real world? Only in that it makes it harder to hear real sex workers because of all the male-invented versions getting in the way, and putting fanrats like me off the topic entirely because I've seen how these guys use it.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

always christmas and:

[in my next post, I will take the piss out of CS Lewis more directly, I promise.]

Alis Dee: breaking my heart and winning the internets.

A related aside; when replaying RPGs, it's really interesting to gen a character of the opposite gender to the one you took in your first trip. Firstly, I find it subtly changes the way you see social tone of the gameworld. (This is particularly so in BGII: Throne of Bhaal - standing there between Sarevok and Imoen, whether you're representing yourself as male or female does make a slight difference, if only in my head.) Secondly, it makes you aware of how the gameworld doles out [relentlessly heteronormative] sexual comfort to each gender. I usually, but not always, go with female characters on first playthroughs, and regularly wind up shocked when situations that were rendered neutrally in that first playthrough are directly, deliberately sexual when I'm playing a man.

I've just got done replaying Neverwinter Nights and it's pretty stunning how much cock-soothing there is thrown in there - everyone from both the two female henchmen to many minor NPCs to one of the major villains is at it. I'm fond enough of Aarin Gend, but after trying it in gamer drag, he feels like famine. Solanas was right; a female PC is asexual, desireless, but a female NPC is an object, a fucktoy. [We will forgive NWN, but only because of Valen. Valen!]

You can always reinterpret a book, but in videogames misogyny is hardwired, right there in the 1s and 0s. It's made invisible to female gamers except in the ultralight of drag. Weirder still is the experience of playing one of those games that were written before gender; I played a little of Final Fantasy I last year, and was confused at the excess of random lesbianism until I realised that the game was assuming that all my self-genned, neutrally presented characters were male.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Human life isn't sacred.

Somebody had to say it.

I'm not speaking of religious tenets about the status of human life; what I'm talking about is policy. There are no leaders anywhere (well, except just maybe Bhutan) who put human life first when making the rules. Life wasn't sacred when we invaded Iraq. It wasn't sacred when we decided that it's worthwhile to have all these death machines on our streets, either - cars kill 67 people each week in the UK, and 825 each week in the USA. Life isn't sacred when we talk about climate change - zillions of reports on the human cost of the crisis resulted in mere hand-wringing, while the Stern report on the economic cost of inaction was what made climate change a political priority. When the hell do we ever talk about the importance of human life when we're deciding on policy?

Oh. Yeah. Here. (a link I totally stole from here). Why is that, I wonder?

Honestly, there's no need to invoke conspiracy theories there - it just looks like a vicious cycle of silence. Because human life is sacred, celebrating the economic and social boon of free, legal abortion is a supposedly icky thing to do. (All the while, we're meant to cheer on those lovely liberated Iraqi statue-squishers while a million of their compatriots lie dead at their feet. I'm just saying.) Maybe this silence stops people from seeing it in the same way they do road deaths. Or maybe it's because the benefits are bound to the 'ending' of life in a way that's more obvious than - no, no, wait, it's pretty bloody obvious in the case of that stupid war. Or maybe these losses are seen as preventable by other means - which often isn't true. (More to the point, why were you even driving that car? Why didn't you take the goddamn train?)

So as a political position, it's very hard to consistently defend the right-to-life. As a religious view, that's your call, but it's not mine - I don't think life is simply created and destroyed, I don't see human life as being intrinsically above other forms, and I think personhood is of far greater importance than life. (By 'personhood' I really mean presence in the world, physically, socially, intellectually and spiritually; being part of a great structure of things that touch you and relate to you. Everyone engages at their own level, but that of a 24-week fetus is negligible - certainly when compared to that of a newborn baby, in my totally uninformed and liberally-biased view.) Were I to become troubled about the needless killing of persons, abortion would be a long way down the agenda.

Sunday, October 14, 2007


Who said this?

"The Armenians were subjected to a genocidal campaign that defies comprehension and commands all decent people to remember and acknowledge the facts and lessons of an awful crime in a century of bloody crimes against humanity. If elected President, I would ensure that our nation properly recognizes the tragic suffering of the Armenian people."

I think you know who said that. In a letter written during his election campaign seven and a half years ago. Hats off to Irving Washington for the heads-up.

A later addendum for further paydirt:

What happens when a mass-market magazine prints a topless photo of an unconsenting 14-year-old? They get a slap on the wrist. Because they can't possibly check that the material they make oodles of money from is consensual, let alone legal! They're far too busy making money for that. So they get a slap on the wrist. Meanwhile, of age women who consent to appear in porn get three years inside, if the Home Office doesn't like their porn, but they can't know if it's okay or not until the Home Office has watched their porn. The law makes so much sense. But it is good to know that I agree with APRFs sometimes.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Kissin' trolls

Just when you're thinking the world is a decent place, up pops an idiot CiFer reminiscing about the good old days when it was cool to rape your spouse. *le sigh* I've got a lot of cynical enjoyment out of leaving youthful, uninformed comments on that thread. I'm not quite there yet myself, so I'm free to see it as a bundle of things (religious/cultural rite + legal arrangement + domestic situation) that do no need to be related, all of which have immensely dodgy histories, and which it is wrong to reward people for bundling together because on the whole those who do it are already winners.

Something everyone should know about: Warner Bros have decided to never again make a film with a female lead. Fine. Fine. That's their prerogative. I'll just never pay money to see one of their films again.

These may be the coolest people in the whole wide world. There's this beautiful idea in ILLUMINATUS! that one can only ever be the caretaker of a space, not its owner, because you are fleshy and temporary while the space, the land, is eternal. By that measure, these 'artists' are probably better caretakers than those who claim to be 'violated' by their squatting in spite of never finding a sign of their presence in four years of occupation.

But wait, no, these are the coolest people in the world. (the sparkly person showed me that.)

and !! Extraordinary place-games indeed. Shame I missed it, but hey.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Ten Things I Have Discovered About Rugby Union.

[I made this up on the touchlines four and a half years ago. The brat is 18 now. And not scrawny, though still pretty short, and very mad about rugby union. I'm mostly putting it here because <3 Alas. My opinion of rugby has refined in the years since, and now includes far more slash.]

1. There are either not many rules, or so many rules that it looks as if there are not many rules.

2. It is possible to keep running with two people bigger than you hanging off your ankles. I have seen it.

3. The best bit is where they fall in the mud and sit on each other. In rugby, there is a lot of mud. This is a requirement. I think you get points for pushing people over in it, but I am not sure about this.

4. There are a lot of people involved. Thirty boys and only one rugby ball. This is perhaps why people who do not have the ball tend to sit on each other in the mud a lot.

5. To manufacture the all-important mud, you need rain. A lot of rain. This is something I do not like about being a Rugby Mum.

6. It is funny when scrums collapse. You get two big heaps of upside-down boys in the mud.

7. My scrawny fourteen-year-old kid can take other scrawny fourteen-year-old kids in both hands and drop them in the mud with one flick of his wrists.

8. Rugby backs are scrawny. Rugby forwards are not scrawny because they are in the scrum, and there is no point being in the scrum if you are not going to make a big "splat" when it all collapses in the mud. Apart from the falling in the mud part, rugby forwards do the same thing as football backs do.

9. Fourteen-year-old boys really care about rugby union. Really care about rugby union. There is a scrawny boy on my brother's team who is called Johnny, who shouts a lot about how much he cares about rugby union, and particularly about how badly his team is going about displaying its devotion to rugby union. He cares so much about rugby that he should really be playing in the under-fifteens team for al-Qaeda.

10. The winning team is the first team that wins. My brother was not on it. Perhaps he had not accumulated enough mud.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Piffle About Gender Identity

I think I am in love with this blog. Mostly just for articulating this in a way I never could;

A term coined by a good friend of mine is "Wendying", which is the process by which a masculine-identified person expects a femme (or a small group of femmes) to deal with hir problems and take care of hir without hir ever having to confront hir issues or actually acknowledge their roots. This ties in with the Peter Pan idea of not having to grow up, and the communal expectation that femmes will get masculine-identified people to settle down and become responsible adults. Which, of course, places the burden of encouraging adult behavior on femmes, assumes that all masculine-identified people are interested in femmes as partners, and that all femmes are interested in masculine-identified people as partners.

I've never lived in that sort of queer community (that most of my close friends are queer is more of a disparate, happy coincidence), but this applies well to many heterosexual situations I've seen, or been involved with. It also chimes with a phenomena I've nattered to Drew (Newfoundland separatist, PETA enemy and the nicest MRA in the whole wide world) about; the way young men are seen, and portrayed in the media, as being 'riskier', less stable, less adult, than young women. In some places - New York City and the UK as a whole are two - women in their 20s earn, on average, more than men of the same age. It doesn't outweigh the income plunge that begins in the 30s, but it's real. Another odd effect is that men who take arts degrees earn less than men who do not go to university at all. One could speculate that the man who goes to university for the same reasons many women go to university - transferable skills, learning for the sake of learning, a little freedom without too much responsibility - become that media stereotype of the wasted student who never gets up before noon. Meanwhile 20y/o men who are in a trade, or a career that doesn't require a degree, are considered to have passed The Great Masculinity Test and can be rewarded with man$s.

Marriage has a way of conferring adulthood on a man, and conferring responsibility for another life on a woman.

I have quoted SCUM on the subject of gender identity before now, on Deadjournal, but there is no harm in doing it again;

Being an incomplete female, the male spends his life attempting to complete himself, to become female. He attempts to do this by constantly seeking out, fraternizing with and trying to live through and fuse with the female, and by claiming as his own all female characteristics - emotional strength and independence, forcefulness, dynamism, decisiveness, coolness, objectivity, assertiveness, courage, integrity, vitality, intensity, depth of character, grooviness, etc. - and projecting onto women all male traits - vanity, frivolity, triviality, weakness, etc. It should be said though, that the male has one glaring area of superiority over the female - public relations. (He has done a brilliant job of convincing millions of women that men are women and women are men.)

(It's worth mentioning that the manifesto also supports asexual supremacy; Solanas is pretty clear about the fact that she'd had relationships with men and with women before settling into asexuality.)

As I've said before, that passage isn't about gender, it's about privilege and power. Any person with agency will exhibit those 'female characteristics', and any person without will exhibit the 'male' ones. (Like being a player character in life rather than an NPC.) It's as if Solanas is describing the shock of seeing women sailing under their own steam. What does this have to do with 'Wendying'? Simply that asking someone to be your supportive, empathic Wendy is going to steal from their objectivity, integrity and assertiveness in relation to you, while all the while allowing you to be frivolous and weak (not that those are bad things) through them, without ever facing up to it yourself. Wendying is that public relations job Solanas is writing about.

Wendying is also my worst nightmare, biggest heterosexual headache, and a skill base I possess that I insist on using only on my own terms. I fail at queer identity, really I do; I look very femmy ('Earth mother' more than anything, much as I loathe the concept), but I'm far more drawn to butch ethics/dynamics, esp. in relation to other queer women. I'm that girl who'll stay awake while you nap, or offer you her shawl when you're cold, or listen without getting empathically sucked into your problems, or being responsible for them in any way. I bake a lot and repair or mod my own clothes; I also love videogames, repel wasp/spider incursions for my insect-phobic flatmates, hitch-hike, enthusiastically do basic electrical repairs, and loudly lambast the (many, many) people who address me as male on CiF. I tend to admire butch women and fancy femme ones (but not always). I should possibly make a post about how I [emotionally/spiritually] get off on being hospitable, and why, and why it may be extremely fucked up.

I also, as ever, have giant issues with the way my father Wendied (wendyed?) me when I was a teenager and will take a metaphorical knife to the metaphorical bollocks of anyone who tries to do the same, except that I can't, for I am butch and thus fundamentally bad & passive at negotiating with my own problems. Back to RadMasc;

This idea that masculine folk take care of others to the exclusion of themselves goes far beyond sex. The stereotype is definitely of someone who does not openly express emotions, does not go to others for help with hir problems, and is protecting others to the exclusion of protecting hirself. In fact, the archetype of a butch is of someone who is a guardian of the community, has a job that enables hir to support others (despite the realities that many masculine butch and/or trans folk face intense job discrimination for being visibly queer and gender variant), shrugs off emotional and physical pain without complaining or asking for help, and in general giving constant support without ever needing any of hir own.

-that [excepting the difficulties of visible queerness - I get the much more benign, but sometimes suffocating, difficulties of invisible biness instead] is the kind of ideal I have for the sort of lifestyle I'd like to lead. (I am made of fail, so atm not, but it's what I'm after and I'd be mildly surprised if I don't wind up there sooner rather than later).

One last thought; the other place I've encountered that 'butch woman', unable to reach out for help, but good at supporting others, emotional persona is in descriptions of the general behaviour pattern of the abuse survivor. I am reluctant when it comes to claiming that my teenage life involved emotional abuse, except that by most definitions it did. I like to think that I would've been like this anyway, but better at it.