11 July 2010

Women As Sex Class in Renaissance

I should really get to writing my paper (proposals are due soon) but in the meantime, as I contemplate the film I've decided to add to my resources for this piece, I want to mention that said film -- Renaissance -- while amazing for my piece on signs, meaning, narrative, and detective fiction, is ALSO an incredible demonstration of women's place as a sex class. It's just a normal sci-fi / neo-noir adventure flick, but look at the representation of women and also the way the film depicts a future world as being ridiculously sexist (all the bad elements of our own sexism are retained, no gains for women have been made in this futuristic world). Depressing but interesting to analyze.

21 June 2010

Gendered Experiences, Part 2

The erstwhile GoodMan from Thus Spake Zuska has dropped by and commented on my post Perceived Threats, Gendered Experiences. I started replying on that thread, but decided to make it a post when I realized how many topics (and links!) I was addressing.

TheGoodMan wrote:
I thought that the idea that he was not trying to scare you might comfort you a little. It didn't seem to me that you had considered that he might be innocent [Ed: of what? innocent of the actions I witnessed -- yelling and urinating? Um, no, he definitely did that; I know that empirically. See below for why it's the actions and not the intent that I care about.] (albeit stupid) and didn't purposefully offend you. I'm not saying you shouldn't be offended, I'm just hoping that ignorance is less offensive than maliciousness (to me it is, but perhaps not for you).

Looking at situations from another person's shoes doesn't seem like something you do very often. As your sexist teacher said, you have a very experiential view. [Ed: Golly! Thanks for bringing up that sore subject. Damn, I'd better stop experiencing the world as a woman so I can actually have an objective viewpoint like dudes do.] My goal was to better represent the shoes of the teenage boy who you saw taking a piss [Ed: let's use urinate, just 'cause], since you were condemning him as a pervert.
I'll take GoodMan at his word that he had good intentions. However, I wasn't looking for comfort, even the priceless and extremely valuable comfort of being dismissed. Nor was I looking for a lecture on how I should try harder to look at situations from someone else's point of view. Sweet Mother of God, every time I actually want a lecture on how I ought to be more sympathetic to the male point of view, no one will ever give me one!!! Then, of course, when it's not what I asked for, an angel comes along bearing gifts to surprise me. Humph, as internet feminists know, I've been trained from a very young age to always discredit my gut reactions and my experiences in favor of the "wisdom" of others' perspectives -- especially men's perspectives. More on this below -- along with references to Hanging Chads. Hurrah!

As I had indicated in my original post, I wondered if I had over-reacted and I was trying to unpack my response to the incident. As I wrote:
However, it's the fact that he yelled at me that made me freaked out. Was he angry? Was he just trying to justify his behavior? I had no way of knowing from his tone, and ... it seemed safest to assume the worst, and act in a way that wouldn't leave me alone outside with him.
Rather than my own inarticulate ramblings, I really should just have quoted Starling's incredible essay on Schrodinger's Rapist. The essay is addressed to men who are actually trying to establish a positive relationship with a woman, rather than men who are hassling women while urinating in public -- however, the overall message explains how I and many women think. How we have to think, given the rape culture we live in, and how that culture trains us to think. An excerpt:
When you approach me in public, you are Schrödinger’s Rapist. You may or may not be a man who would commit rape. I won’t know for sure unless you start sexually assaulting me. I can’t see inside your head, and I don’t know your intentions. If you expect me to trust you—to accept you at face value as a nice sort of guy—you are not only failing to respect my reasonable caution, you are being cavalier about my personal safety.... Now that you’re aware that there’s a problem, you are going to go out of your way to fix it, and to make the women with whom you interact feel as safe as possible.

To begin with, you must accept that I set my own risk tolerance. When you approach me, I will begin to evaluate the possibility you will do me harm. That possibility is never 0%. For some women, particularly women who have been victims of violent assaults, any level of risk is unacceptable.
Yelling at a woman while urinating in public? Definitely doesn't indicate a 0% risk that the man is possibly violent. I didn't say or do anything to this young man; I didn't talk to him, approach him, and as soon as I realized what he was doing I looked away and started walking away. I was leaving him alone and he went out of his way to shout after me and verbally harass me. Not a good sign that he is someone I should trust and to whom I should give the benefit of the doubt. Remember, women have the right to set their own risk tolerance. If a man's intentions are good but his behavior sets off alarm bells, it is not the woman's responsibility to ignore the disquieting behavior. It is the man's responsibility to change his behavior if he finds that his behavior is eliciting a response different from the response he desires.

I'm glad that I did not give this young man the benefit of the doubt. For me, a man yelling at me without cause is going to make me uncomfortable. Perhaps TheGoodMan feels differently; perhaps he also has male privilege, which I don't have; perhaps he hasn't had years of being warned that men are Possibly Violent accompanied by anecdata of friends who have been violently and sexually assaulted by men -- and actual data on the terrible frequency of sexual assault. For me (and Joy, it seems) whether a man's penis is out in public is also an indicator of his lack of trustworthiness. This doesn't equate to calling the young man a pervert; it merely says that I am inclined to not trust men who yell at me and/or who unzip their pants in public. Man, it really sucks for guys, right? They have to choose between being able to yell at me while urinating in public or being a nodding acquaintance! I don't know how any male sleeps at night with the weight of that choice on his mind.

But really, it's very simple: if Person A's behavior sets off alarm bells for Person B, A can continue with said behavior as long as ze accepts that Person B is not going to be amused. Person B has no responsibility to modify hir reactions or to educate Person A about what aspect of zir behavior is objectionable. Person B can (and should) leave the situation for one in which ze feels safe. And as the Person B in this scenario, I don't appreciate being told by someone who was not present that I should put myself in Person A's shoes and not be so judgmental. GoodMan, why do you feel that it's necessary to ventriloquize what you assume that young man was thinking/doing to convince me to take a more charitable view? Why do you care? And if you meant to be comforting, as you say, you will not succeed by dismissing my experience and telling me that even though you weren't there you know that I am wrong. You know as little as I do about what was going on in that young man's head. And you don't have my empirical evidence that the young man was indeed yelling at me while urinating on the sidewalk. I have the right to say that that behavior is not behavior that is going to make me comfortable.

As far as the ability of man like TheGoodMan to offer his unique male insight to a benighted feminist, I have only this to say (thanks, Twisty, for the incredible post on Hanging Chads -- men who persistently and irritatingly comment ignorantly on feminist blogs):

These hanging chads, they really never get it. Because women generally, and radical Internet Feminists in particular, are to them some mystical, unfathomable alien species, they think we don’t understand them! It is hilarious, the predictability with which they all, without exception, every single time, enduringly and persistently, are compelled to lecture the ignorant Savage Death Islanders on the finer points of the superior dude civilization back on the mainland. Because if we just understood them, we would see how wrong we are to experience Chadly privilege as oppression....

What all chads fail to grasp is that, as members of an oppressed class, we have always considered it a matter of survival and our No. 1 priority to grok the fullness of the oppressor. In fact, we’ve been grokking the oppressor’s fullness since the cradle, mostly without even realizing it. It hasn’t been too difficult, since we were all raised in the smelly nutsack of Dude Nation, and continue to be engulfed by and to marinate in dudelionormative swampwater all day, every day. If there is ever some little dudecentric point here or there that eludes us, not to worry; dudelionormative socialization protocols are in place to take us back to school and whip us into shape.

The result?

There is nothing about men that Savage Death Islanders don’t know. Nothing. We know all about your dicks and your glands and what gets you off and how you were socialized and the terrible strain of male privilege. We get all your dude-jokes. We know all your antifeminist arguments. We know all your porn-is-necessary justifications. We know how you behave when you perceive that someone of a lower caste has challenged your authori-tay. No need to explain to us that we are doing feminism wrong, because we’ve already heard it from the 495,312 dudes who thought of it before you were born. We know that you are not conscious of your own privilege.
TheGoodMan is definitely a Hanging Chad, and his lack of awareness of his own privilege has become abundantly clear at Zuska's blog. I'm getting very tired of it, especially since I've filled up all my anti-feminist bingo cards.

Of course, that wasn't all. (It never is, with Hanging Chads!) TheGoodMan also honored me by echoing what my sexist professor told me when he dismissed my analysis of a film because I -- a woman -- conducted a feminist analysis -- gasp! Yeah, you guessed it, that particular gem from TheGoodMan didn't win him any cookies whatsoever. Especially because of the logical fail in which he calls my professor sexist while reiterating my professor's sexist statement. Or maybe it isn't an error in logic but a telling Freudian slip? Either way, it's as unoriginal as every other privileged argument that an oppressed class is just too familiar with their oppression to take an objective view of said oppression. Magically, the members of the oppressing class are somehow immune to any kind of proximity-based biased, and although they are as steeped in the situation as the oppressed class, the oppressors claim that they possess some delightful distance that gives them a Unique Unbiased Objective Perspective. As Twisty says, ah, the ennui!

Yes, I see the world from a particular experiential viewpoint. My experiences, my body, my gender, how I was socialized, and what I know of the world do indeed influence how I see the world. And guess what? The same applies to my professor and to TheGoodDude. They just have the privilege of an experiential viewpoint that they deem to be "normal" while they consider mine "biased" because the male is the default and they have always been surrounded by the comfortable "objectivity" of their impenetrable male privilege.

You know what's damn un-objective and irresponsible? Presuming to speak as the ultimate authority about an event at which one was not present. My post was anecdata; TheGoodMan's comment was neither anecdote nor data, but profitless speculation.

18 June 2010


With writing like this, who needs cinematography?

Watching "Doubt," it is seems that the script and the story were lifted rather than adapted from the play; the staging, language, story arc, etc. are theatrical and make little to no use of the abilities of the screen image to convey added meaning beyond that which is conveyed by language. (Example: Meryl Streep says something about the wind rising and getting stronger, or "winds of change" and then there is a shot of the wind blowing leaves around her shrouded figure. In the original play, I imagine that a similar line created the atmosphere; in the film, the words are irrelevant if such an image is also employed.)

However, in terms of feminist theory, the film/play is ripe with suggestive moments. The dialogue is fantastic, and many of the tete-a-tete scenes are gripping -- I was almost breathless in one scene between Meryl Streep's powerful and comparatively privileged and sheltered nun and a poor black woman trying desperately to keep herself and her son alive between an abusive husband/father and a hostile community. There is plenty of commentary on male privilege and class privilege in the film -- including several hilarious cuts from the priests wining and dining riotously to the nuns eating ascetically in silence. Philip Seymour Hoffman's abusive priest employs almost every silencing trick in the Patriarchy's book when he tries to get Streep's character to drop her investigation of his abuse of a young boy. The power structure of the church is dissected and displayed, with its dependence upon male privilege and the oppression of the weak particularly critiqued.

The film is a weak adaptation, and I suspect that the director's attachment to his own script was part of what made elements of the film particularly painfully stage-y. However, his writing is incredible in the dialogues between the lead characters (with the exception of Amy Adams, who seemed flat when acting beside Streep) and both emotionally and intellectually stimulating.

03 June 2010

Perceived Threats, Gendered Experiences

There are so many things that I experience differently from men because I am a woman. Part of that is because I can imagine so many worst-case scenarios in which I could get very hurt from doing things that men might do. Some of these imaginary situations are ones I wouldn't have thought of if it weren't for the pervasive images and messages of rape culture around us; others are inspired by the very real fear for me that is expressed by men who care about me. Comrade Dziga goes running after dark all the time. Would he ever feel comfortable if I went jogging at night? No.

All of this is running through my head right now because I am working in a building that has had its plumbing cut off for the week and all employees and the general public are forced to use portapotties in the parking lot. Today, upon exiting the portapotty, I saw a teenager standing outside the building in an odd place. I looked at him curiously for a moment, until I figured out what he was doing. He shouted at me that the bathrooms weren't working as he continued to urinate on the sidewalk. I was freaked out and ran inside to get a man from one of the other offices to go talk to this kid. Yes, I could have told him that there were portapotties. But I just didn't feel particularly safe talking to him given the circumstances.

Now I'm wondering if I should have just said something brief rather than "running to daddy" and getting a man to take care of the situation. However, it's the fact that he yelled at me that made me freaked out. Was he angry? Was he just trying to justify his behavior? I had no way of knowing from his tone, and ... it seemed safest to assume the worst, and act in a way that wouldn't leave me alone outside with him. Sigh.

13 May 2010

Subtle Misogyny

Men usually only notice blatant sexism. This is because they have the privilege of not noticing. But women who do notice subtle forms of discrimination need to talk about them. Especially with other women who may be facing the same kinds of misogyny and incorrectly interpreting sexist interactions as being simply personal or the woman's own fault.

I've been dealing with a professor who has a particularly crafty way of marginalizing female students. He talks about how much he hates sexism, and he even scolded me for liking a film that he felt was sexist. See? He's even more sensitive than the radical feminist in the class! But all along, he's also been telling me (in person and by e-mail) that I need to be less theoretical and less intellectual and that I should stop viewing the world from my specific experiential viewpoint (ie that of living as a woman). Even my privilege-blinded male colleagues got a good laugh out of that one. Yessir! I will immediately stop being "a woman" and will be "a person" like you! Hahahahaha. Good one.

The problem with this kind of thing is that it is usually subtle enough that an individual woman will tend to doubt that she really saw or heard something that devalued her. I even doubted myself when my argument that the 1950s were an era marked by visible patriarchy garnered the following reply: "If I do have one criticism with the way you approach the world, it is that you have developed a very highly tuned and critical eye that tends to see things through very specific theoretical [read: feminism] (and, of course, experiential) vantage points. These inform everything you do, but they are only one of many possible ways to view the world - and are no more right then other models." So feminism is no more right than other models of viewing the world! All the alternative viewpoints are equally valid. Note that this professor describes himself as a "deep relativist." Great, I feel so safe in your class, dude.

I think this professor really is well-intentioned, but he doesn't understand that it is incredibly offensive to tell a young, intellectual woman that she should stop being so damn smart about things. And because I assumed he was well-intentioned in his e-mail, I tried very hard to rationalize his words. But finally one of my female professors explained that, no, I wasn't a "crazy, hysterical woman," that he was indeed treating me differently from how he treats intellectual male students, and that he has a habit of using other subtle-or-not-so-subtle sexist language in dealing with his female colleagues among the faculty.

It really made my day to have my feelings of frustration heard and confirmed. Because women are socialized to not notice sexism or to ignore it, we need to point it out when it occurs. Less for the benefit of the man (or woman) who is perpetuating misogyny but rather for the onlookers and the quiet women who are struggling with how to name the oppression they feel. It was a similar feeling (though in smaller scale) to how I felt when Comrade Dziga confirmed that my "creeper" alarms about a stalker were justified. Women are so thoroughly schooled to doubt ourselves and give men the benefit of the doubt. It is astonishing.

Much of this post (especially this latter part) was inspired by an article I recently re-discovered. I came across the article that I referenced in my earlier post about men who don't respect women's boundaries. This article is fantastic; it says everything I was trying to say so much better than I could. Thank you, Starling, of Shapely Prose, for "Schrodinger's Rapist."

25 April 2010

Dudenation Demands P2K-Compliance from the Women they "Care About"

Men sometimes think it is acceptable to demean, dehumanize, and devalue the women they know, because it's all in fun, and because the women they know accept it as humor. But I want to know: How can men actually endure the dynamic of watching a woman who they (presumably) know, value, and care about smilingly agree to her own dehumanization?

(I don't really need to ask, sadly. The question is really more rhetorical.)

Last night, riding in a car with a mixed-gender group at college, I had the following conversation:

Dude (shouting out window at three women): Hey sluts!

Me: (blinking in shock)

Dude: Oh, sorry, I didn't mean to be -- I know those girls. I'd never yell that out the window at someone I didn't know!

Me: I'm sure.

Dude: No seriously, I know them, it's ok.

Me: I have no doubt that you know them.

Dude: (continues awkwardly justifying himself/apologizing, eventually leaves car to go meet a "booty call")

Afterward, I felt guilty that perhaps I had been rude. Then I realized *headdesk* that's exactly what the Patriarchy would want me to believe. If anything, I'd merely refused to absolve him from his guilt by my deadpan, blank-stare response. But of course that's not enough! Women owe Dudes forgiveness and absolution or even apologies when we cause Dudes some kind of pain or embarrassment by pointing out their misogyny!!

But in the final analysis what struck me about this incident is that the Dude realized that it would be rude to dehumanize a woman he didn't know -- or at least it would make her think less of him, since the woman he didn't know wouldn't understand the sophisticated humor in his use of the epithet. Hence, he refrains from heckling women he doesn't know, because that would result in them regarding him as an a$$hole. But a woman he does know, with whom he interacts on a regular basis, and who he presumably thinks he respects, she's fair game. Because she's proven to him over and over her conformity to the Patriarchy, and he knows he won't get any crap from her about his abuse. In fact, he assumes that she will recognize that because he's Such a Great Guy, the epithet isn't even an epithet. It's a mark of his notice, a sign that he has magnanimously granted her some of his precious male attention.

What a world. Again, I don't blame the women for laughing it off; it's what they've been trained to do and it's usually the best option available. IBTP.

23 April 2010

Men Who Cannot Read Signals from Women

[I have been trying to find an article I read a few years ago that discussed why women are rightly offended/alarmed/disturbed when men ignore blatant indications that the woman is not interested in conversation, etc. I can't find it, and I apologize in advance to the author for broadly restating hir arguments. It was a revelation to me when I read it, and I hope to rediscover it someday.]

This morning I was waiting at the bus stop when a nearby man tried to catch my eye. It was 8:30 a.m., I'd just done a three-week grocery shop on very little coffee, and I was even less interested in socializing than I usually am. And believe me, I'm rarely interested in socializing. So I pointedly looked away, gathered my shopping bags around me, pulled out my phone, and focused on texting Comrade Dziga. I even pulled up the hood of my jacket. Message: not in talking mood.

But of course the guy ended up coming closer to me and hovering in that "I want to talk to you, lady," way. Even more intense focus on the cell phone on my part. He asked me my name, and I waited about a minute before looking up and answering, "um ... [not-totally-accurate-name]." Looked back down at my phone. No inquiries about his name or any indication that I wanted to pursue this conversation. He wanted to know if the nickname I'd given was short for anything. I looked at him with a "seriously? you're an idiot" expression and after a long pause gave the him the obvious fullname associated with the nickname. Back down to the phone, more "I'm ignoring you" body language. He asked me if I lived or worked in the area. Um, no. I just routinely come to distant cities to do grocery shopping! It's great! I reluctantly said that I go to college here, and when he asked which college, I said that I was sorry, but I don't share personal information with strangers.

He was good enough to nicely apologize and walk away. I appreciated that -- and then, of course, I started feeling the old patriarchal guilt trip that I should have been nicer to him! He was actually a respectful guy! But no ... why do I owe anyone conversation just because HE desires to chat me up?

This guy was probably harmless, but as the article I read a few years ago points out, women are rightly concerned when a guy ignores clear signals that she's uninterested in engaging in conversation. The assumption that a woman is obliged to be nice to some random stranger who peppers her with unwanted questions in public is ultimately related to the assumption that a woman owes sex to any man who express interest in / affection for her. This guy probably had no intentions beyond talking with me, but it really bothered me that he was unwilling to read simple signals that scream I am ignoring you.

I found this article that (pretty much) argues that guys are just hopelessly clueless because of their biology: "So ladies trying to brush off a guy at work or the gym may need to be, uh, more direct." No, actually ... when it comes to the guy-trying-to-pick-up-a-stranger-in-the-street. It's not my obligation to go around informing strangers that I'm not interested in flirting. It's the stranger's obligation to leave me the f*ck alone if I'm pointedly ignoring him.

No one owes you conversation, attention, or affirmation, buddy; and if you wouldn't heckle a strange man to give you his name and address, don't do the same to a woman. I rarely see or hear about men being approached by other men in this manner, but it has happened innumerable times to me and my female friends. And no, I'm not trying to destroy romance by forbidding people from trying to pick up dates; if I'd returned his smile and nod with the same, then his initial approach would have been acceptable. And if I'd given him my name and then asked for his, that would indicate that I'm up for further conversation. But I didn't. I looked away when he tried to catch my eye, I tried not to answer his questions and I certainly expressed zero interest in asking him anything or getting to know him in any way. Yet he still continued demanding that I engage in conversation.

It is not sweet, adorable cluelessness that drives this kind of behavior. It's the privileged assumption that women exist to be nice, friendly, and to give men what they want.

11 April 2010

Infidelity in the News

I'm so tired of the endless media circus about infidelity. Yes, cheating on a spouse is terrible; but what is really the subject of the debate hidden behind outrage over infidelity? I argue that society uses infidelity as a way to talk about other subjects. Witness the different coverage of Tiger Woods' and Jesse James' infidelities. In one case, infidelity becomes a way to talk about the impudence of a black man marrying and then disappointing a white woman. In the other case, the topic turns from the actual infidelity to speculations on whether a woman's career can provoke her husband to cheat. Two cheating spouses, two very different stories.

What is also exasperating about our fixation with following the infidelities of others is that it centers on The Sanctity of Marriage. Marriage is fine, same-sex marriage should be legal, trusting and caring partnerships (in or out of marriage) are amazing. However, marriage simply is not as important as the social discourse around infidelity would have us believe. And since it's the people who believe that Marriage Is The Foundation of Society who pose one of the biggest threats to civil liberties in this nation (abortion rights, gay rights, women's rights are all under threat from these Sanctimonious folk) it's even more important to reject the cultural memes that further promote the idea that Marriage is the Most Important Part of Society. Peace, justice, friendship, loving-kindness. Much more important.

Therefore, I was particularly struck by this article from Women on the Web, which makes the startling claim that "It’s almost as bad as discovering your father is a child molester — the person you thought you knew the best in the world turns out to be a stranger." Um, no, I'm sorry -- infidelity and child molestation are very different degrees of criminality/betrayal. Yes, I know Norris Church Mailer wrote "it's almost as bad" so she wasn't really equating them ... but still, the comparison rings completely false and bringing it up is offensive to survivors of molestation. Yes, infidelity is a violation. But it is a very different kind of violation.

What kind of violation is it? The author provides this answer:
Nothing has changed since the caveman days, when the man hunted the giant mammoth and the woman cleaned it and cooked it and took care of the kids. They were a team, they needed each other. If some other woman came sniffing around the man, it was to take him away from his woman so he could provide for her, and that was life threatening because the wife’s food source was taken, as well, and she and her children likely might die. It’s still the same. There is always some woman who wants what you have, who wants your man, your house, your car; your life. If the door is opened a little bit, a predatory woman will not hesitate to kick it in, and let’s face it — there is a bit of the predator in all of us, as well as the good and decent woman we are.
Oh, evolutionary psychology! How right you are. Infidelity poses a risk to a woman's very livelihood!!! She and her children will die if her husband is unfaithful!!! And yes, in parts of the world and in certain situations, this is still true. However, for many Western women, thankfully, we have more support from the law than we once did. If anything, we need to work to make the laws and social conventions even more supportive of women who are divorced, single parents, etc. But I'm sorry, I don't accept the logic that women are emotionally scarred by infidelity because a cavewoman ancestor would have feared starvation if another predatory woman stole her man. The emotional scars are there, but this is not where they come from. (Also, a bit of a predator in all of us? Please. I've been attracted to plenty of men who were in relationships, and I never made the slightest move to "steal" them away from their partners. I reject and resent the stereotype that all women are catty man-thieves.)

More EvoPsych follows:
It’s often said that men in happy marriages don’t cheat, but that’s not true. Pretty much all men will cheat, given the right circumstance and the right woman. They are wired differently than us, at least my husband was.
Are they wired so differently? Just like proposing that all women are predators, this generalization sells the honest men short, and ends up like most of these "my experience explains the world" pieces (see the Atlantic!) by admitting that the generalization is based on a very small sample. And since Norris Church Mailer was married to Norman Mailer ... yes, I'm sure she had a pretty awful time of it. But the conclusion is that Norman Mailer was a CPOS, not that all men are.

And then the plot thickens, as Mailer reveals that she was Norman Mailer's 6th wife. I would never blame her for his infidelities, but I do question why anyone would choose a partner who has demonstrated that he/she has traits that the potential partner deems to be problematic. (And again, this is a perspective from which the cheating spouse / child molester father are totally different. We can't choose our parents and we can't really "divorce" them.) However, it's none of my business why she married him and why she decided to stay with him -- until she makes it public by using her own story as a framework for understanding all men and all women and all relationships.

I have a lot of respect for the conclusion of her piece, in which she points out that sometimes more complicated relationships can be better than the high-school-sweethearts-never-touched-anyone-else model that Sanctity of Marriage folks endorse. However, the article doesn't really lead up to this conclusion effectively; it jumps out at the reader at the end, reversing much of the earlier arguments. And as noted above, the earlier arguments tend to be tedious, EvoPsych infused justifications of both infidelity and our hysteria over infidelity.

All men are wired to cheat. And a cheating spouse is The Worst Thing That Can Happen to a Woman or Society.

Oh, please. Let people work out their relationship issues between the two (or three or four or five or ten) people concerned, and let's put more of our time into ending female genital mutilation, preventing child molestation, and eliminating domestic violence.

(Note: this is not meant to be an argument that women who are concerned about or hurt by infidelity should "get over it" and "focus on the real issues." This is addressing the media coverage of infidelity, which tends to elevate it to an importance granted to very few other issues -- an importance which I believe is undeserved and which is detrimental to society because it reinforces the ideas of the Sanctity of Marriage movement.)

09 April 2010

Privlege and Prejudice Move Product

I was in a discussion at Thus Spake Zuska about an ad that originally I took as (relatively) politically neutral (not that anything really can be, of course!). As I watched the ad a few times, however, I started noticing aesthetic elements that were interesting to me, and I described them:
What struck me (especially since I've been watching a lot of old musicals lately, full of racist cliches) is how the white couple talked to their appliances. They use the same tone of voice as the heroes and heroines of classic Hollywood musicals use when addressing their black servants....For anyone interested in a few more thoughts on some interesting choices in the ad (things many of you have probably already noticed) ... the woman's dress (especially the full cut of the skirt), pearl necklace and hairstyle strongly evoke the 1940s and 1950s, and although the man is not wearing the sport coat that is usually featured in films from that era, his classic cardigan is something that Fred Astaire might wear (say in "The Band Wagon").
The replies were hilarious, with several people basically telling me to shut up and go read fashion magazines. Even better was the fact that most of the responses criticizing my analysis were very much in line with the kind of comments I hear from freshmen when I introduce an analysis with which they disagree in my lectures. For some people the idea of responding to what is literally one the screen is impossible; they'd rather respond to an alternative version of the media that exists only in their own heads. And responding in one's own name with one's own reading is regarded as "stream-of-conscious" analysis, overly subjective, etc. etc. Tell me, if I don't respond with my own reading, whose reading should I offer? In whose name should I speak, if not my own? And when is any reading anything other than subjective???

But the point of this post: others replied by arguing that the ad isn't racist because it could have been produced with black actors playing the couple. Yes ... and no.

I can imagine the ad's creators making the ad with a black couple. I don't believe they set out to make a "racist ad." However, that would only happen if, say, focus-group data indicated that such casting would appeal to consumers. Because ...

...ads are never created to actually give us new ideas about the world; rather, they present the world as it is already understood by the majority of the population. By doing that, advertisers are able to sell the maximum amount of product.

Even ads that appear to be "edgy" or "transgressive" usually are not; they are simply subtly concealing their complicity in giving the world an image of itself that conforms to patriarchal/capitalist norms. Any image that fundamentally contradicts the way we are programmed to understand and relate to the world will not sell product. And since the patriarchal world is racist, sexist, classist, sizist, ableist, imperialist etc., the vast, vast majority of ads participate in a racist, sexist, sizist, ableist, classist, imperialist discourse.

The people who indignantly posted that the ad wasn't racist/sexist are ignoring the fact that every ad has to participate (to a greater or lesser extent) in this racist/sexist/etc/etc discourse that is absolutely part of everyone's pattern of thinking in our patriarchal world.

08 April 2010

Nice Guys

Reading the definition of "Nice Guys (TM)" at Shakesville got me thinking about my own recent experience with a "nice guy" who ended up deeply disappointing me when it became clear that our friendship had never been what I thought it was.

Two years ago, I became friendly with a guy from work. He knew that I was engaged, but suggested that we hang out and watch some movies together. I asked my fiance (and my mother) what they thought I should do, since I was getting vaguely flirtatious vibes from this guy. Comrade Dziga (fiance still ... but only for six more months!) told me that of course I should enjoy a friendship with this interesting guy; we shared interests and Dziga pointed out that he had plenty of female friends. So I went forward with the friendship.

For months, Nice Guy and I would hang out and watch films, with nothing romantic/flirtatious/sexual going on. He'd tell me about his relationship troubles, and ask me about my relationship. I was always uniformly positive about things with Comrade Dziga, and for good reason. The man's a marvel! Suffice it to say, I never gave any indication that I was in any way questioning my engagement or that I was interested in Nice Guy.

Finally, Nice Guy met Comrade Dziga (with whom I've been in a long distance relationship for 2.5 years). Things got weird. Weird in that he started behaving completely differently, not talking to me, a host of strange behaviors. Since then, Nice Guy periodically mentions how wonderful it was when we used to hang out, suggests that we correspond by letter, or proposes that we do something together. I gamely try to follow through, from the theory that it's a friendship I would like to preserve. And he ends up leaving me hanging, backing out on plans, and generally behaving weirdly.

So thanks, Jeff

31 March 2010

Healthcare Debates with Non-Comrade Papa

My wonderful, intelligent, Libertarian father and I have been having a spirited discussion about Obamacare--we both see the problems with the bill that was passed, but our views sharply diverge from there. Recently he sent me this article from Mises.org. An excerpt:

The United States once had the finest health-care system in the world, one based on the principles of economic liberty and the free market. That changed in a big way in 1965, when liberal statist Lyndon Baines Johnson secured passage of Medicare and Medicaid, socialistic programs that provided "free" medical care for the poor and elderly.

What Medicare and Medicaid did, decade after decade, was to place an inordinate demand on health care, producing a concomitant rise in prices all across the board. When government makes things "free," people tend to over-consume, which causes prices to go up.

The idea of "overconsumption" of healthcare is a bit vague in the article. It's disturbing to me that the idea of overconsumption of healthcare seems to be directly correlated to income level -- it seems that only poor people and poor elderly people are capable of "overconsuming" healthcare. The article suggests that once government policies were put in place to allow the poor to afford more healthcare, they immediately started overconsuming. So their healthcare consumption level was appropriate before, when their access to healthcare was radically restricted by their access to wealth? Therefore, if a wealthy person has multiple plastic surgeries, that's not overconsumption, but if a poor person has help paying for treatment of Type 1 diabetes, that's over (i.e. unnecessary, excessive, shouldn't happen) consumption?

It sounds to me like a value judgment that explicitly ties one's access to something necessary for life to one's access to wealth; people who have succeeded in making money have the right to access whatever healthcare they want to preserve and enhance their lives, while people who are from the less fortunate class are infringing upon others in their "overconsumption" of even basic healthcare.

I realize that the author of the article might be talking about things like excessive spending in end-of-life care, or excessive use of antibiotics, or other specific type of overconsumption. However, that's never stated in the article, and the inference is that even such "excesses" would be perfectly acceptable if they were the choice of someone with money. So really, it's not specific, expensive, and perhaps unnecessary medical practices that are the culprit; overconsumption of healthcare seems like a euphemistic way of saying "poor people who can't afford care should die rather than receive government funded access."

From the article, I see a class system in which only certain people have the right to live and the others are doomed to die unless some individual or group of individuals decides, out of their magnanimity, to help these unfortunates gain access to something to which they would otherwise have no right. Of course there are grayer scenarios where life and death are not in the balance; however, the article offers no provision for protecting the lives of people who don't have access to wealth and the advantages it confers...therefore, the question of access to healthcare is a question of life and death.

Am I missing something? How is "overconsumption" of healthcare defined? Who gets to define it, and for who?

23 March 2010

Changing Names

Apparently, women who keep their last names are still really, really, really freaking radical. Newsflash for me! Some background before the point of my story:

I grew up with a mother who had kept her "maiden" (father's) name for personal, not political, reasons. There were hassles trying to explain the different last names, and hassles because her father refused to acknowledge that her legal name did not match her husband's. However, overall it was mostly a non-issue, and I liked the sense that I was part of a forward-thinking family. Also, because she didn't go by my father's name, my mother couldn't be called Mrs. and that gave me an early respect for Ms. as my honorific of choice.

Now that I'm getting close to getting married myself, I started to think about whether or not to change my name. I assumed that simply keeping my (father's) name was not political enough, since it's still a man's name rather than my own (see Godard's Weekend). I contemplated creating my own last name, seeing if my fiance would want to create a name together (no dice there, he likes the connection to his father, and fair enough), or whether I'd change my name for the ease of having the same last name. Because we're post-feminism, right?

I was literally rendered speechless in a critique class last week when I showed a rough cut of a film that includes my maternal grandfather, my mother, my brother and myself. Grandfather and mother share a last name, my brother and I share our father's last name. Obviously my mother simply didn't change her name, right?

In comments from about 4 classmates and a professor (~5 out of ~16) there was a disturbing consensus that:

1.) it was confusing that my grandfather and I have different last names (what?)
2.) it was extremely confusing that my mother and I have different last names (even though it was clear that my mother and my grandfather have the same last name)
3.) it was really distracting, they didn't know what to think about it, and assumed that some deep family dysfunction was at the root of all that craziness.

So I guess I'm keeping my (father's) name when I get married. It's still apparently plenty radical for a woman to simply not change her name.

What century is this again?

20 March 2010

Why Citations are Important

Isn't it great when an argument that seems to be undermining one's own position in a debate is demonstrated to be based upon faulty research? Or, in this case, deceptive (and I hope not intentionally deceptive) citations.

Zuska's excellent post on "femsplaining" -- the mistaken notion that some men have that women who see sexism often in daily life are somehow overreacting or imagining it -- resulted in a debate in which Michael Hawkins persistently insisted that the feminists listen to him expound upon the importance of Kant. Or as he puts it, "Kant and co." I'd like to know which philosophers he includes in the "and co." but that's a question for another day.

Intentions are important, Hawkins argues, using Kant to support his argument. Therefore, when my 60-year-old professor insisted on kissing me on the cheek on the first day of class, his intention to give a friendly greeting (if that was his intention) overrides my interpretation of his gesture as sexist (he did not kiss the male students, only the [two] female students [ah, gender balance in film school]).

I suggested that Hawkins check out Jane Flax's paper "Is the Enlightenment Emancipatory?" on the gendered metaphors that inform Kant's writings, from her monograph "Disputed Subjects." With all due respect to Kant, I find her reading of his work to be particularly interesting because she doesn't simply point to his infamous assertion that women cannot participate in the Enlightenment:
The guardians who have so benevolently taken over the supervision of men have carefully seen to it that the far greatest part of them (including the entire fair sex) regard taking the step to maturity as very dangerous, not to mention difficult.
Kant, "What is Enlightenment"
...but conducts an analysis of the way language is employed and the assumptions about binary oppositions which pit qualities overdetermined as feminine (domesticity, the bodily, the private world, and dependence) against those overdetermined as masculine (the public world, the mind, thought, independence). Therefore, her conclusion that Kant's writings are in some senses problematic doesn't just stem from that one simple phrase that can be written off as a product of his time, but addresses our current mental models of maturity and adulthood (many of which came into play in Hawkins' discussion with those at Zuska's blog, in which he insisted that describing a woman as "screeching" had nothing to do with sexism because it was an infantilizing adjective rather than a sexist one).

When I read Hawkins response to my reading recommendation, I was struck by the fact that the quote he pulled from Flax in his rejection of her position seemed to roundly contradict what I know of her work. I wondered if it was from a different book, or if it was from a part of the article I overlooked in my enthusiasm for the analysis of language. However, when I looked at the pdf he linked to through Flax's name, I found that it was an article by Ruth Dawson that paraphrases Flax once ... only to distance Dawson's argument from Flax's position on the Enlightenment. While Flax is concerned with the underpinnings of the philosophy itself, Dawson is interested in the historical portrait of women's lives at the time. Both interests are equally valid -- but Dawson's article has nothing to do with Flax's analysis.

And thus Hawkins rebuttal of Flax's position doesn't only falter -- it goes up in flames.

A story I can tell my students when they want to know why proper citations matter.

07 March 2010

Event Co-ordinating

I'm sitting in the empty screening room waiting for an audience (hopefully!) and the director (already running a bit late) who are supposed to be here in 25 minutes for a screening and Q&A it was my honor/headache/achievement(?) to plan. A series of small disasters required changing the time of the screening, last minute appeals to the Dean for transportation money for our non-budgeted series, and various other stress-inducing nightmares. Why? Because my "collaborator" changed his plans without any notice -- or any attempt to make up for his absence.

This experience has taught me:

1.) that I can write killer letters to beg for understanding, help, money, etc. (did I mention that I managed to get the director to waive the usual $500 screening fee -- we're getting the film for free!)

2.) that if I get involved in anything, I need to try to get a team around me, and failing that, I must simply be prepared to shoulder everything -- just in case

3.) always have work done ahead of time so that these kinds of emergencies (this particular one took up my whole week) won't set me so far back in my writing again

4.) don't rely on that particular team-member again -- no matter how nice and engaging and creative he is.

The thing that has bothered me most, perhaps, is that this activity that has taken over my whole life for a week, and was seriously impinging upon my life for months beforehand (oh, did I mention this is a weekly series of screenings, several with famous-ish guest speakers?) is something that most of the other people in my department are barely aware of -- and those who are aware of it don't realize that I'm actually organizing it all by myself.

But then what else is new? I remember when I started a theater company as a teen, everyone thought my mother ran the company. Sigh. At least I don't have to worry about others judging me as an over-achiever for once!

21 February 2010

Femininity: Or, Patriarchy Warps Our Brains

I've been reading through ancient discussions on I Blame the Patriarchy, and naturally (the essentialism of the blogosphere!) certain mansplainers took it upon themselves to tell women what aspects of socially constructed femininity to accept or reject, based on the assumption that certain aspects of femininity are just so darned fun that they are, actually, innate activities women naturally enjoy. Here's an example [italics added]:
However, someone who did look critically at her own practices of femininity might decide that: it does not feel right to allow herself to be silenced in the boardroom; it doesn't feel right to buy certain kinds of toys only for a female child; certain patriarchy-acceptable outfits are just too uncomfortable and it doesn't feel right to be uncomfortable no matter how many men swoon in your path; use of collagen or botox may be counterproductive; wearing makeup regularly is more effort than men are expected and is therefore not cool; however, a comfortable flattering red dress is really not problematic, and a matching shade of lipstick that takes exactly thirty seconds to apply isn't either, especially if it's more fun to wear them to a client meeting than a boring suit.
Lipstick only takes a few minutes to apply, therefore it's "not problematic." What?!? Since when is feminist critique of the Patriarchy based on some kind of Taylorist efficiency model wherein culturally-proscribed feminine behaviors are only rejected based on how godawfully time-consuming they are? A quick rape takes a lot less time than cunnilingus!

20 February 2010

Enough with the Feminism?

A major criticism of my Feminist Advisor is that her classes are "all just the same class about feminism and cinema, rinse, repeat." Male students ask when we can get to the "real" topic of talking about the aesthetics of shots without having to discuss their political or social implications. "Too much theory" they squeel in protest.

It boggles my mind that these students feel that simply describing what is on the screen is a higher level of analysis than describing what is on the screen and analyzing its connection to discourses from other disciplines (philosophy, economics, politics, history, gender studies, etc.). Yes, it takes training to accurately describe shots, camera work, and mise-en-scene. But it's not rocket science! Seriously, isn't there something more to engaging a text (in this case, a film) than simply describing what it does on a formal level?

And having described the formal aesthetics of a shot (say, a close-up of a woman's face, suitably soft-focus, and covered with tears) are we to simply leave it at that?


Does the shot really say nothing to them about how women are depicted in media, how Image and Woman relate, different dynamics of spectatorship, etc.? If the shot is "beautiful" shouldn't we question what makes it beautiful? What in our culture, history, upbringing, and the media around us makes us see a woman in tears as a beautiful image?

I believe this is what Godard was asking in A woman is a woman. How can my male classmates only care about describing the image Godard created, disregarding the implicit question that the director asks?

It almost feels like the "boys" are terrified of having the formal purity of their engagement with cinema "dirtied up" with questions that pertain to women, death, life (and the meaning of life), and "Others" in general.

18 February 2010

Paths of Glory

Stanley Kubrick, 1957

Beyond the powerful critique of the military-industrial complex, I was fascinated by how masculinity is portrayed in the film. The soldiers are constantly posturing, competing to be the most noble, deserving of the most respect, strongest, etc., all qualities that can be summed up as attributes of traditional masculinity. Soldiers who are not behaving correctly are explicitly infantilized or feminized. A soldier who is being exhorted to die bravely is told to think about how he wants his wife and child to remember him ... the obvious options being a coward (unmanly) or a Man.

And finally, there's the scene at the end in the bar, the only time that we actually see a German in the entire film. And she's a woman. The men behave like animals, another expression of "masculinity," but eventually, struck by her fear and tears, they feel a kinship with her. Many cry themselves. And suddenly their commanding officer, who had postured as much as any other character, assisted by dramatic low-angle close-ups, sees redemption and hope for humanity in his soldiers' identification with a German woman.

Fascinating stuff.

05 February 2010

Marry the Man Today?

The Atlantic never ceases to amaze me with its remarkable blend of vitriol directed at Men in general and hectoring assurances that women should marry, bear children, and realize that feminism is bunk.

An individual's unfortunate experience or personal compulsion to marry and bear children does not a social science make. Yet authors in the Atlantic routinely extrapolate from their own limited experiences great social "truths" that somehow always end up reinforcing the lessons of the Patriarchy and stereotypes about women. And stereotypes about men.

Excuse me while I go throw up.

04 February 2010

It's Women's Bodies, not Babies

The Raging Grannies' video about CBS's decision to run the FotF ad is a wonderful image of strong, older women speaking truth to power.

The response to it, however, is appalling, with comments that don't merely drag up the same old arguments about how loose women who sleep around deserve the punishment of pregnancy -- instead, the comments focus on the bodies of the women in the video, calling them "skuzzbags" and remarking acidly that "no would would sleep with them anyway."

This simply underscores how much the discourse about abortion is emphatically not about saving babies, but is instead about women's bodies, and the investment that the patriarchy, the state, and the church have in controlling women's bodies.

In this dialogue, a woman's body is only acceptable when it is attractive to and available for men who can impose their own laws (secular or religious laws) upon its use. The Raging Grannies cannot be objectified comfortably, hence they are not sexually attractive and available, and instead of responding to their video by arguing passionately for the sanctity of life (meaning life, including the lives of Arab and Muslim children killed by US bombs) the comments are full of invective against the real issue that the video addresses:

Who controls the representation, the use, and the function of the female body? Women themselves, in all their variety, at all ages, and with complete self-determination? God forbid! These audacious crones must be attacked viciously for daring to defy the culture that requires women to be both silent and young/sexually available/attractive.

Oh, and one YouTube member has been posting at regular 6-minute intervals the observation that the South Florida Grannies all have Jewish last names. Thanks, sexist anti-semitic d00d. Great argument there.

02 February 2010

Abortion Debates, and Babies as Punishment

Echidne's excellent coverage of the Superbowl Ad debacle has gotten me thinking about the real motivations of those who want to further regulate or eliminate legal abortions. In October, a Slog post caught my eye with its assertion that:

Banning abortion only makes abortions more dangerous and kills women—which is what many opponents of abortion are after, really. They want people who have sex to be punished.
Ass Echidne pointed out, they want women specifically to be punished for their sins, because obviously nature is constructed (by God!) in such a way that the consequences of sex fall more heavily on the woman. So that must be what God intended, right?

***Embarrassing Confession Below***

On a personal note, I remember a conversation I had with my mother when I was twelve and excessively influenced by the Victorian novels I obsessively read. We were washing dishes (ha!) and talking about abortion, and my mother was trying in vain to explain to me that not all people who end up requiring or desiring an abortion are Scarlet Women of Babylon. (I also used to tell her that I would never kiss a man until I was married. She must have been really worried about me! But now I'm happily "living in sin" and loving it...)

I remember that, to my immature mind, absurdly scared of sex and ridiculously judgmental of "sinful" women, it did seem just that a woman who decided to have sex would have to bear the consequences of her action. (I was willing to make an exception for rape, which as Bitch Ph.D. points out is the hallmark of someone who does not trust women to be the experts on their own individual bodies and situations. Again, it's about judging and condemning sin.) At no point in my (thankfully brief!!) "pro-life" phase did I actually worry that much about the babies. In fact, I think I was all for stem cell research. This is my own subjective experience, but in reading between the lines of a lot of "pro-life" literature, there's more about sin and punishment than about love for unborn babies.

How do I know? Because of the absence of any pro-contraceptive agenda. Every year I approach the pro-life tablers at the local county fair and ask them what their position on contraception is, and they never answer my question. They tell me to ask my doctor about contraception. They tell me that they only intend to encourage pregnant women to carry their babies to term. So they either ignore that contraception exists and is the most powerful tool for reducing the incidence of abortion, or they're actively against it. Why? Because their concern is sex, not babies. They say that they're for babies to cloak that they're really against sex (except in certain circumstances in which it can be controlled effectively by family patriarchs).

That Victorian mentality that I thankfully outgrew before I was old enough to vote is very persistent in the world today. The obsession with sex that characterized Victorian morals is at the center of the religious right's take on many issues. I haven't read enough Foucault to really analyze the abortion debates from that perspective, but the conflation of sex/sin/guilt/power/control that we see in the abortion debates is both extremely Victorian and (I would argue) extremely immature. And all the more frightening.

01 February 2010

Avatar and Waking up from Dreams

I've been meaning to write something about Avatar ever since I saw it at the beginning of January. Luckily, I didn't get around to it until now, and Mark Morford has done an incredible job of saying pretty much everything I had hoped to say, but funnier.

My favorite part of his piece:

...in this movie, you don't merely get to fantasize about the Other from afar or even just indulge in interspecies sex. You get to literally become one of them. You enter into their bodies and actually move and hunt and breathe and fight and screw and kiss and talk like them, fuse your DNA to theirs forever and ever....Behold, the ultimate in guilty colonialist fetish fantasy epic porn filmmaking, ever.
The one thing I want to add to Morford's awesome analysis is to point out the one line that offered a hope of redemption for the film. Right before the Great Epic Fantasy Battle of Manliness, Our Hero is pulled abruptly out of his dream world with his hot alien girlfriend and says in voice over, "I was a warrior fighting for peace, but sooner or later you have to wake up."

Cameron actually cuts to black right after that insightful line, and when I was watching the film, I thought (oh, what a fool!) that that was actually the end. Imagine how different the film becomes if it ends with the message that sooner or later one has to wake up from idealist fantasies about escaping one's own situation?

My reading of the film departs from that line, and even the epic battle scene at the end can be perversely read as an element of a metaphor that compares how we watch films, desiring to project ourselves into and "Other" and truly understand her/him, to the white guilt fantasy porn of being able to literally inhabit the body of the Other. We're reminded briefly that "sooner or later you have to wake up" ... the film will end, fantasies are unrealizable ... but then Cameron plunges immediately into one of the most epic fantasy-realization sequences ever. We breathe a sigh of relief -- the film can have a happy ending!

However, this happy ending is marred by how utterly implausible the script becomes, as alien populations we never knew about magically appear, as the Sky People decamp never to return again (really?!?!), and the ultimate magic of becoming one of the Na'vi allows Jake to utterly escape all responsibility for his own situation and his own contributions to colonization. The fact that the end is so fantastical, so full of wish-fulfillment fantasies, just underscores the fact that sooner or later we have to wake up from this dream.

But sadly, I know that wasn't Cameron's intention. And sadly, most theater goers seem to have left the theater still deep in the dream that is Avatar. The film is about environmentalism? What?!?! It's a protest against colonialism? Really?!?!

31 January 2010

Mansplaining and Gendered Representation

I was responding to Historiann's thread that included a link to the post on "mansplaining" when I started thinking about Freud, De Beauvoir's "The Second Sex" and generally about women, men, image, representation, and power. I've adapted that comment here, since I didn't want to hijack Historiann's comments thread any more than I already had!

It would seem at first that "mansplaining" doesn't really need to refer only to men talking to women but that it applies more generally to posturing in dialogues to assert one's power. That was my first impression, although I had a gut feeling that there is a difference in the dynamic when a man condescends to a man and when (a certain kind of man) condescends (in a certain kind of way) to a woman.

If the dialogue takes place between two men, is it about jockeying for power? In other words, does the mansplainer enter into the discussion as if it is a competition for authority between two people, each of whom could conceivably "win" the competition? Earlier, I used the (classy) metaphors of pissing contests and dick-measuring contests to describe some of the dynamic I see between men who are condescending to each other as a way of racing to the top. But in terms of image and representation, these size-related competitions are one of the most common ways we represent one man's power over another man. Both men have the same "weapons" to be deployed in the competition, although one will win over the other in the end.

In contrast, a mansplainer talking to a woman is engaging in a dialogue that cannot be represented as a competition between equal parties. From the mansplainer's perspective (thanks, Freud!) the woman is simply not even in the running. She cannot compete in the battle of size because she just doesn't have a phallus. At all. Thus, to me, “mansplaining” refers to that implicit assumption that the woman isn’t just the lesser party in the race for authority, but that she can’t even take part in the competition?

And that is precisely why it is so extraordinarily frustrating! The mansplainer starts from the assumption that the woman he is addressing isn't just subordinate to him, but that she literally cannot claim authority to speak. Ever.

Who is Comrade Svilova?

She was a member of the infamous Council of Three, the Soviet Avant Garde filmmaking group that revolutionized documentary. As an editor working in the Soviet Montage movement in the 1920s, she made a significant contribution to film editing as we know it today. Ever seen a humorous cutaway to something that is not actually related to the scene at hand but provides a welcome punchline to the events of the film? That would be a (bastardized) example of the techniques of the Soviet School of Montage. (The Council of Three was really more interested in using film to change the world -- viva the revolution!)

And yet, most people have never heard of her; those who have know her primarily as the wife/editor of Dziga Vertov, the most famous member of the Council of Three.

I'm blogging anonymously for now, and as a feminist filmmaker and film scholar it seemed appropriate to take on the name of someone whose contributions to film art and culture are immense, but who is so little known as to be almost anonymous herself. For more information:

Yelizaveta Svilova on imdb.com

A short bio from movies.amctv.com

More about the blogger: I am a PhD candidate focusing on the cinemas of Eastern Europe and Russia, as well as feminism and gender in cinema.

Mansplaining, or Boys and Their Toys

I've been following this post from ScienceBlogs on "mansplaining" -- which is not to be confused with the act of explaining-while-male.

Mr. Svilova is a born explainer. Working in I.T., he'll patiently go over computers and other technological widgets and gadgets with anyone who wants/needs help, but believe me, he's thrilled when someone comes to the conversation with their own knowledge -- or when his help isn't required.

And I think that's the key difference between "mansplaining" and helpful explanations. For a mansplainer:

1.) It's an issue that the other person (male or female) doesn't require/appreciate his assistance
2.) Specifically, it's a phallic/castration issue, and strikes deep at the heart of his manhood
3.) Such individuals are compelled to carry on conversations with people who don't want their input, suggesting that it's for the other person's good.

Someone who is genuinely interested and engaged in something and wants to share their experience -- especially with someone who has equivalent knowledge or experience -- will frame their comments in terms of questions, opening up discussion to further inquiry. For a mansplainer, he/(she*) prefers to engage in dialogue with those who have strong backgrounds/opinions/knowledge about a topic but will not approach the conversation as one between equals -- because a worthy opponent makes grandstanding and posturing so much more satisfying! There is no suggestion of open exchange of ideas and expertise in a mansplainer's style of addressing those who he purportedly wants to help. By pretending that these Others -- his equals -- are in need of his expertise, the mansplainer is able to reaffirm his identity and shore up his fragile sense of self/manhood.

The exchange on ScienceBlogs (especially in the comments) points out that mansplaining is just another form of pissing contest. It brings back vivid memories of all of the pissing contests I've had to sit through in 4 years of film school. Ultimately, of course, the best topic for dick-measuring contests is film equipment of all kinds; which brings me to my own recent exchange with a mansplainer.

It all began when a classmate was considering using a certain camera for his project, a camera I'd used myself and really liked. I mentioned my positive experience, and that I was considering buying one myself. Oops! I shouldn't have stepped on the boys' turf by revealing that I'd used and researched the Hottest New Toy!

His response:

I'd definitely rent one before just going out and buying one. It is a very difficult camera to use, and NOT A GOOD CHOICE FOR DOCUMENTARY. Unlike the DVX, HVX, EX1 - you cannot take it out of the box and just begin shooting beautiful images. The jury's still out, but it may be an alright camera to use in a narrative production, with an AC, Sound Person, cam op, etc...but one thing it is not is a DIY documentary rig. While it would probably yield some pretty good results in a sit down interview, this is the last camera I'd want to shoot a live event with. Not only is the sound awful, but most of your footage (and I do mean much more than 60%) would be out of focus. In a controlled environment where you can rehearse camera movements, focus pulls, marks, etc...one could definitely, with some trouble, achieve a good looking take. In a spur of the moment, live scenario (where you don't get a second chance)...this is not the sole camera you want capturing an event.
Notice all of the assumptions ... I couldn't possibly decide for myself whether the camera was appropriate for my needs, my own trial with camera must have been flawed because he knows exactly how much of my footage will be out of focus, and as a documentary maker 1.) I just take cameras out of boxes and shoot pretty images, 2.) I never use a crew, 3.) my films are only interviews and live events. This is doubly ironic since he had been my dolly grip for a soundstage-based shoot just a week before!

I wrote**:

Thanks for the feedback on your experience of the camera. Double-system sound is definitely a drawback, but when I've used the camera I found that it was a similar shooting experience to the DVX. I find that the DVX's auto-focus is very unreliable, as is the auto-exposure, so fiddling with those settings on the 7D to set up shots was pretty similar to what I'm used to with the DVX.

The 7D I used a few months ago belongs to a friend of mine who machined a set of rails to hold the camera and the sound system; this also adds some extra weight for greater hand-held usability. I didn't use his rig since I was shooting MOS on the 7D, but that kind of system seems to make the 7D even easier to use in less controlled settings.

I do feel obliged to note that documentary is not only sit-down interviews and run-and-gun event coverage. ;-)

Hmm, isn't it odd that in replying to his comments, I focused on my experience with the camera, without asserting that I knew whether it would be useful to him? I'm not suggesting that my reply didn't have its own posturing, but I hope I did my best to make my comments open-ended and not suggest that I knew more about his situation than he did.

His "generous" reply:

You can do whatever you like, but...

...in my opinion most documentaries ARE sit down interviews and run and gun event coverage. From the footage I've seen you produce - live [event] footage, walk and talk interviews, classroom footage, etc; it would have been extremely difficult to capture those "events" on a 7D. It has nothing to do with the fact that you are a skilled focus puller, or have no use for the auto focus system on your DVX - The focus is SOOOOOOOOO shallow that you simply cannot nail it all the time perfectly, in fact, I'd go as far as to say you will almost never get it right unless you set marks, and then rehearse those marks. If you were ONLY doing place films I might agree with you, it's probably a great camera for something like that, but it's still a real challenge to get the look and feel you'd like out of this camera. It is quite awful at handling any type of movement, panning, flashing lights, etc.

I'll go back to what I said before I even laid my hands on the 7D. It is, at it's heart, a still camera. It is not first and foremost, designed to shoot video or motion pictures. It is designed to capture 18 megapixel still photography. If that is what you primarily want to do, than buy the camera. If not, I'd advise you to purchase a camera designed to capture video. In the long run you will appreciate the extended features, battery life, motion picture lenses, that cater to cinematography over still photography.
I don't think much further analysis is required. His comments speak for themselves -- or do they? What was (depressingly) amusing in the responses to Zuska's post is how many people responded by engaging in precisely the form of behavior that was being critiqued.

Boys and their toys = men and their phalluses. And for too many, it seems, their sense of manhood is inextricably tied to posturing and putting others (men but especially women) "in their place."

And this necessitates speaking for rather than speaking with the Other.

* Perhaps women engage in this form of dialogue, too; I'm thinking Maggie Gallagher for one.
** The exchange was a class wiki. I.e. public enough for me to feel I'm not violating his privacy by posting it on this anonymous blog.