Friday, October 18, 2013

Women Of Science Explain How Stuff Is

In the wake of a series of unfortunate events that have rocked and shocked the small, chummy world of science writing this week, there are currently a lot of really smart women on Twitter talking about sexual harassment in science, academia and journalism.* If you are in need of a primer on the sort of guff one tends to get when one is a lady person doing sciencey things, have a glance at the hashtag #ripplesofdoubt, started by scientist Karen James to collect stories of harassment. It's quite instructive.

My wife here has just been reading over the many tales of lady-woe in the hashtag, and alternately nodding in sisterly agreement and rolling her eyes. "Bluh," she says. "It's kind of Take Back The Night-ey."

Bear in mind, this is a woman who once, as an exceedingly broke and exceedingly hungry freelance travel writer alone on assignment in the rural South, very nearly escaped having to have sex with a strange guy in a motel parking lot in Louisiana because she ate some of the barbecue he was cooking out of the back of his truck.** She is not easily impressed. Nor is she a big fan of Take Back The Night.

I am not a big fan of Take Back The Night, either, despite having spilled my guts at several of them in college. That was back before I realized, right in the middle of a doleful weepy monologue about My Very Sad Story, that spilling your guts at Take Back The Night does not actually get anybody to stop raping people, because rapists don't go to Take Back The Night.*** 

Here's where she's wrong, though. The great thing about this hashtag, which is indeed full of Very Sad Stories and not a small amount of weepage, is that it's happening among a group of professionals who already know each other, not primarily through gender politics, but through their shared work and culture. Every tenth tweet or so is from some guy whose mind has just been blown by the revelation that women all throughout his professional network are getting systematically hazed just for showing up, and institutions are looking the other way.

I am all for the creation of women-only safe space, even if that New Agey phrase makes me crabby. (What doesn't, really?) But I am so very glad this particular conversation is happening in mixed company. It's delivering a swift and brutally effective 101 course in the ugly daily realities of ladyhood to a lot of smart dudes that, for all their precociousness, have probably never had the occasion to really see this stuff before. And they ought to, really, if the goal is to get things to, y'know, change.

Keep it coming, Science Women.


*Pro tip: There's a bunch of it. Here is an absolutely withering example of the sort of thing that goes on, well, everywhere. And here is another. And another.

**Pro tip: Don't eat the barbecue.

***Not science. I could be wrong.

Update: You've really got to read this one. Kathleen Raven brings the wreckage.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Phoenix Shuts Down; Women Are Ambivalent, Emotional

You've probably already heard this, since you care hard about newspapers: The Boston Phoenix is kaput.

Full disclosure: I'm a former employee of a paper that spent a lot of its time aiming potshots at the Phoenix -- some of which landed, others of which careened off into the shrubbery in excitingly futile parabolic arcs. If the Phoenix was the scrappy dog of Boston media, we were the fleas. And a few of us were probably disease vectors.

That said, I'm absolutely gutted by the Phoenix's closing. It's a huge loss for the alternative press -- which remains one of the few niches in media where writers can still work their way up quickly from the intern desk to a paid job writing real, meaty, feature-type stuff, if they have the hustle and the drive. It's a huge loss for Boston. Frankly, it's a huge loss for the Phoenix's competitors, large and small, who all had to be better and smarter and fiercer because that paper existed.

A torrent of ink has been spilled over the Phoenix's closing in the last 24 hours. More is on the way. Most of it just makes me want to drink beer and throw things.

But one story stands out in my mind: This tribute to the heady glory days of the Phoenix, by alum Charles Pierce, writing for Grantland. This story deserves some sort of special prize for being both a  devastatingly well-written outpouring of grief for the Phoenix, and an unconsciously hilarious display of what a huge sausagefest the whole enterprise of alt-weeklies was (and is).

It's beautiful. How can you not love this:

I mean, Jesus Mary, where do you start with the newspaper at which you grew so much, and learned so much, and came to respect the craft of journalism with a fervor that edged pretty damn close to the religious? What memories have pride of place now? The fact that T.A. Frail, now at Smithsonian, suggested you might just like Dos Passos’s U.S.A. trilogy and it wound up changing your life? The day that Doug Simmons, now at Bloomberg News, snuck up behind you and stuck a pair of earphones on your head, cranked Black Flag’s “Six Pack” up to 11, and taught you that rock and roll had not calcified when you graduated from college? What’s the song that plays when you realize that you’re young when you thought you were growing old? What’s the prayer of thanksgiving for a hundred days of fellowship, drunk on words, all of us, as though there were nothing more beyond the next word, the next sentence, the next paragraph locked into place? Please say that the muse is something beyond the balance sheet, something beyond technology. Tell me that she’s alive the way she once was when you’d feel her on your shoulder as one word slammed into the other, and the story got itself told, and you came to the end and realized, with wonderment and awe, that the story existed out beyond you, and that it had chosen you, and you were its vehicle, and the grinning muse had the last laugh after all.
And yet. There was that familiar sinking feeling, as the names of the beloved fraternity of hard-drinking, fist-pounding, day-seizing boyos of the good old Phoenix were called. And then, just to prove once and for all how mightily the fearless alternative paper did speak truth to power: There was a dick joke.

I think I let out a bitter little bark of laughter. And then I blew my nose.

The culture of the alts, now passing into a long dark twilight, is something most vigorously to be mourned. And I'm mourning it hard. But let's be honest with ourselves: There were a lot of stories that went unwritten amid the din of writers who all looked a lot alike busily high-fiving each other for their contrarianism. There were a lot of people who didn't get to join that party. Or got stuck doing the writing equivalent of serving drinks at it.

I'm not one of them. I got a seat at that table, and I fucking loved it. As a non-penis-owner who got to experience some of the thrill and the camaraderie and the honest-to-God fistfighting of the alt-weekly press before the desperation fully set in, I feel tremendously lucky.

I don't think that world ever fully belonged to people like me, though. And now that it's unraveling at the seams, it never will.

I'd just like to take this moment to note -- knowing full well how shrill the cry of the harpy grates upon the ear -- that most of the recently-unemployed Phoenix writers being lionized now, almost forty years after Pierce got his start, are --

Oh, hell, I can't do this. I love those guys too much.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Felix Salmon Is Very Sorry He Said Nice Things About Women, Sort Of

Backhanded apology alert! Women, you can't read. But Reuters blogger Felix Salmon should've known that. He's really sorry.

Apparently Salmon pissed off a vocal chunk of the feminist Twitterverse with a recent blog post about Maria Popova and the medium-large pile of money she makes for being nice to everybody on the Internet.

If you, like the staff of Women Do, were under a rock somewhere when this went down, here's the offending excerpt:


The consistently positive and upbeat tone to Popova’s blog might generate healthy Amazon income as a side-effect, but it’s also genuine: she’s one of those bloggers — Gina Trapani is another very successful example — who have no time for snark and who naturally look for things to celebrate rather than things to tear down. (Just listen to that O’Reilly talk: she dishes out huge amounts of praise to virtually everybody she cites.) 
To a certain extent, this is a female thing: positive happy bloggers tend to be female, as do their readers.* And when someone like Anne-Marie Slaughter supports Maria Popova to the tune of $300 per year, there’s definitely an element there of supporting the sisterhood. Which is a good thing! 
But to many male observers, there’s something a bit off there. 


Salmon then turns to fellow manblogger Andrew Sullivan, for a disquisition on why paywalls are so much more manly professional than these panhandling tip jars popular amongst the girlyblog set.

Today, Salmon has something to explain. It's not that he thinks women are nice. Not even women bloggers. Au contraire.

Actually he thinks nice bloggers are women. Take that, haterati!


My first reaction was indignation: I hadn’t generalized about women, or women bloggers. If I say that “brain surgeons tend to be men”, you really haven’t learned anything about men, or about male surgeons. Men don’t tend to be brain surgeons, and neither do male surgeons.
 But on reflection, including that passage was pretty obviously stupid. For one thing, my language (“female thing”, “male observers”) naturally and unnecessarily raised a lot of hackles: there’s a line between being plainspoken and being needlessly provocative, and I crossed it. In doing so, I made it far too easy for my readers to miss the precise meaning of “most positive happy bloggers are female”, and to read it instead as “most female bloggers are positive and happy”, or even “most females are positive and happy”.



Being a man data junkie, Salmon, unlike a distressing number of reporter types, is well able to tell the difference between A--->B and B--->A.* But he knows you can't, and he really should've taken your dumbness into account. He's really, really sorry he forgot you can't do logic. It won't happen again.

Carly Carioli over at the Phoenix, who brought this to our attention, points out -- and quite rightly, too -- "If there was a Women Do bat signal, it would be shining over this guy's head." Felix Salmon, we detect an air of smug condescension about you, and we hereby shake our tiny fists in your general direction.

It must be added: If it's true that the key to financial success in the ladybloggoverse is 1.) be nice, and 2.) put out a tip jar, Women Do is clearly doin' it wrong.


*N.B.: Women Do is officially a pro-logic blog. Any invalid syllogisms that are brought to the attention of management will be taken out back and shot.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Women Do End Up In Binders

I have to say. The Google results for a search on "binders full of women" give me a shred of hope for the future of this benighted species.

What is there to add, really? Well, except this. (Sorry, Barry Manilow.)

His name was Romney, he had some binders
They were full of women who had the expertise to do
What needed doing, in Massachusetts
And while they worked the Cabinet, Mitty never made them sweat
He let them leave at five
So they could cook and thrive
They were capable women with jobs, but good mothers too
At the State House, it was a great house
A women-can-still-procreate house
At the State House, it was a greeeaaaat house
Women in power had flexible hours
At the State House, he was the Guv.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Once There Was A Time When Men Loved Cats

How in the hell did I miss this? Better late than never.

It's a New York Times story, dated October 3, 2008, entitled "More Men Are Unabashedly Embracing Their Love Of Cats." Or, because every New York Times trend story has to come in two flavors -- Original and Extra Cheesy -- "Sorry, Fido, It's Just A Guy Thing."

Did you know? Cats are for women so, so, so gay. Look here:

Mr. Fulrath is one of a growing number of single — and yes, heterosexual — men who seem to be coming out of the cat closet and unabashedly embracing their feline side. 
And also:

“Any single, straight man who has the slightest bit of insecurity about his own sexuality will probably find it difficult to admit to owning or even appreciating cats” he said, echoing Mr. Scalzi’s sentiments.
And:

“But then in the Seventies, Eighties and Nineties, Hollywood decided that we need to have the token gay man as the witty sidekick friend of the main female protagonist,” he said. “ ‘What kind of signature thing can we give him to convey that he is not an entirely masculine being? I know! We’ll give him a big fluffy cat!’ ”
I am just speechless at the existence of this story. Ten out of ten on the Women Do! Totally Objective Quantification Scale. Never mind that it's a Men Do. It has everything. 

1. Irrelevance: 3. Uh. It's about men with cats. Would that there were more than three points to give this thing for its total lack of bearing on the bonafide gender issues of our benighted age. Although there is this little stab at relevance to the question of the Role of Women (and Non-Women) In Society:

Stacy Mantle, the founder of Petsweekly.com, a magazine for pet lovers, said that men are becoming more “cat literate” because they themselves are evolving.

“It’s the unevolved members of the species who tend toward abuse of cats — and oftentimes, women and children,” said Ms. Mantle, who owns 18 cats.

Evolution: It's not like it's a word that means something in science or anything. By all means, sling it around in the service of your schlocky unexamined female exceptionalism, Stacy Mantle. The New York Times is totally gonna let you get away with that shit.

2. Perkiness: 3. Fido! Fluffy! This thing is a total hyukfest.

Indeed, it seems that man’s best friend is no longer a golden retriever, but a cuddly cat named Fluffy...
And there is this:
...The image of the crazy spinster cat lady persists, and plenty of people do wonder about a guy with a cat. As a writer on adventuresofacitygirl.blogspot.com put it: “Single men and cats are like a burger and broccoli. Separately they are okay, but together it just seems off.”
Look, I don't say this kind of thing often, because why use a curt little brick of a word when you've got an arsenal of baroque portmanteaux at your disposal? But:

Fuck you, New York Times. That graf is just so wrong.

3. Bullshit: 3. Nope, no science here:

Although there are no hard (or soft) statistics (it is rare to find an owner, man or woman, walking a cat in public), it seems that single, heterosexual male cat owners are on the rise.

Wait, I found a number:

Carole Wilbourn, a cat therapist (yes, really) in Manhattan, said that the number of her single, straight male clients has risen about 25 percent over the last five years. 

False precision: It's what's for dinner.

And the magical extra point, because it wasn't exactly a slow news week.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Truly, The Google Is A Wonderful Thing

Dear people who found this blog via searches for "tit needle punction" and "women who have eaten mice": I sincerely hope you found what you were looking for.

It's awfully specific.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

In Which Everything Ascribed By The Globe To Women In General Is Actually True Of Me Specifically

While yesterday's installment of hot bloggy goodness was undeniably a rollicking good time, in its own way, it did not -- it must be noted -- have much to do with Women And The Things They Do (According To Newspapers).

Fear not, O Reader, we still do that sort of thing around here. And the Globe, being the Globe, still does too, I'm secretly a little bit glad to say. (Would it still be the Globe, if they stopped ladling practically every lifestyle story that goes out the door with a soupรงon of pointless and self-conscious gender commentary? Would I still have a reason to get up in the morning if someone, somewhere, wasn't writing a really obnoxious Useless Reveal lede about women who drive cement mixers?)

Well, I'm late in hitting a couple of recent splendid specimens from Morrisey Boulevard, but since they're not really news anyway, it hardly matters.

First, this bizarre little story, "The strange allure of the stand mixer." (Hat tip to champion noticer Amy Derjue for tipping me off to this.)

They may be mere appliances, but they have something to say about women! And feminism! And also non-women! (The Globe is not sure exactly what that something is, but they feel compelled to take bold declarative sentences about Women And Their Stand Mixers, fold them up into tortured little origami, and call it a day.) Viz.:

These women are teachers, lawyers, bankers — modern women with robust lives outside the home, and yet this symbol of homemakers, this tool for home chefs continues to draw them in. While some may be novice bakers or kitchen hobbyists, many would rather leave the cooking up to someone else. Nevertheless, they’re dazzled by this symbol of culinary proficiency. And in their signature color, of course.

But what is it about a hard-working countertop mixer that has some women so transfixed? Is this “keeping up with the Joneses” or is it feminist commentary at its finest?

Questions for the ages, that will forever go unanswered. This being the Globe, the ostensible point in all this verbiage -- that there is a special bond between women qua women and KitchenAids -- is dispensed with halfway through the story.

And it’s not just women who love them.

“I think what’s happened more recently is that many more men are becoming interested in cooking as a form of leisure and relaxation,” Kinchin says. “In fact, it’s just as likely to be the husband who will put that on the registry as the bride.”

Well then.

Full disclosure: I have a stand mixer. It is buttercup yellow and chrome, and it is a sexy beast, and I sometimes lick its smooth enameled flank when no one is looking. Make of that what you will.

Secondly, there is the matter of Billy Baker's story about Southie last month. (Hat tip to Adam Gaffin for this one.) You should be apprised that the douchebagification of Southie is all the fault of women who want to get into Matt Damon's pants.

GOOD WILL HUNTING has turned out to be a double-edged sword. It captured something great about Southie and at the same time ruined it forever. Because what I saw after that was unbelievable: Young women would get out of college and choose to move to Southie. Sure, it’s close to downtown, but the real reason they were moving was because they were subconsciously thinking they were going to find “a Southie” like Matt and Ben. Everything else followed them, namely young guys. That’s how everything changed. That’s how the old Southie reality ended.

It sort of boggles the mind, but I must put a Full Disclosure on this one, too; I moved to Southie briefly myself, lo these seven or eight years ago. Specifically, into a life of sin in a triple-decker on Second Street with an oldskool, hockey-playing, R-dropping, trash-talking, wisecracking, track-pants-wearing, 100% South Boston Irish red hot ticket whose nickname was, in fact, "Southie." So there's that.

I am reasonably sure no Jersey douchebags were hot on my trail, though. And if they were -- hey, sorry about that, Billy.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Toward A New Semantics Of Rapeology; Or, We Have Met Todd Akin, And He Is Us

This past week, along with most of the rest of America, I've been thinking about rape.*



It seems likely that we're headed for a future in which laws in this country and its constituent states are increasingly drafted by people like Todd Akin, who have little knowledge of how sex works, and a vested interest in defining the word “rape” so narrowly that it rarely applies to coercive sex acts.



Being myself a rapee,** and also an empirically-minded sort of person, I find myself wondering what would have been different about my life so far if I'd grown up under Todd Akin Law. And, being fully committed to empiricism even when it conflicts with dearly held personal beliefs, I have to confess: Not much.



Here are the four pillars of what I call Akin's Theory of Rapeology:



1. A sex act is not rape unless it is physically forced.



2. A sex act that is physically forced will not result in a pregnancy. 



Number 2 is demonstrably false, but, if accepted as a premise, leads inescapably via the power of contrapositive reasoning to:



3. If a sex act results in a pregnancy, it must not have been physically forced.

Thus, the kicker:  



4. If it is acceptable to deny abortion to women in any circumstance, there is no need to carve out an exemption for rape victims, since no rape victim will ever become pregnant from the act.

Upon this rock of dubious logical soundness, Akin et al presumably seek to erect a new legal edifice, which would have two main features:



1. Abortion would become unobtainable, for rape victims as well as for the general population.



2. Increasingly, the concept of "forcible" rape – a term that does crop up in the state-by-state mosaic of law on sexual assault -- would be enshrined in law, and used to distinguish sex acts that are physically inescapable from those that involve coercion, temporary physical or mental incapacity, or inability to consent to sex acts due to age or mental status. For all intents and purposes, “forcible” rape would be considered "real" rape, opening the door for the legal penalties accorded to "lesser" varieties of rape to be diminished.



I must be frank here; I find this prospect terrifying. But I am also honor-bound to point out that while it seems likely Akin Law would have narrowed my options for legal recourse, I have not had much in the way of justice from the status quo either, despite having sustained injuries that would probably strike the average person -- perhaps even Akin himself -- as an unforgivable affront to human dignity.



 First, let us consider abortion. Here, I will own that I dodged a bullet: I was far too young at the time I was raped for pregnancy to be remotely a possibility. While I am of the firm belief that no one should be legally permitted to dictate for you what kinds of things should be lodged in your own body -- whether that be someone else's appendages, a medical instrument, or another living being -- my own personal experiences do not offer much to advance this aspect of the discussion.



I did, however, worry privately and intensely throughout my childhood and young adolescence about AIDS -- a disease I lost a family member*** to in 1982, not long after the incidents in question. If anonymous HIV testing had been available to me as a second-grader, it's likely I would have taken advantage of it, and spared myself many years of anxiety on that front. 



I doubt any of the prominent Democrats who are currently outraged by the proliferation of Akinesque commentary on rape would get behind the idea of federal funding for anonymous HIV testing in elementary schools, and can only imagine how the man himself would react to such a suggestion. I can therefore say with some certainty that there is no remotely feasible legal structure that could have spared me some ten years of private angst over whether I might suddenly develop a fat, ulcerating Kaposi's sarcoma in the middle of gym class. Some things man is fated to endure.



But onward! Next, let us consider the issue of what constitutes "legitimate" rape.



Here, I suppose it would be appropriate to confess a spot of equivocation on this front. As a child, I myself was often vexed by the fact that I had not, as it were, "fought back." I sustained no outwardly visible injuries during the course of my repeated indoctrination in the preferred sexual practices of teenage males. Indeed, I cannot recall ever having uttered the word "no" -- though if memory serves, the word "but," followed by a series of insufficiently reasoned excuses, escaped my lips on numerous occasions. 



In retrospect, it may have been a mercy that my rapist was wont, on evenings when we were the house's sole occupants, to turn off all the lights, deploy a strobe light and a bullhorn, and chase me around the furniture, shrieking "YOU'RE GONNA DIE YOUNG," in a terrifyingly distorted and amplified voice. This behavior, while intensely unpleasant at the time, has also been a source of great comfort to me during times when I reflected unhappily on the fact that I did not do more to deter him from penetrating my small person. The sheer cartoonish villainy of it did much to advance the hypothesis that what transpired between us was, in fact, entirely his fault.



But getting back to the issue at hand. It seems that Akin Law would have it that my rape, while possibly "rape," was not "rape-rape," to lift a snappy little phrase from Whoopi Goldberg.**** What are we to make of this?



It is said that the wheels of justice turn slowly, even on well-paved roads; when the road gets muddy, they cease to turn altogether. There may well be a law prohibiting the kind of treatment my five-year-old ladyparts received at the -- well, I shall not say hand -- of the perpetrator, but in my admittedly limited experience, the stricture against raping one's fellow humans remains far more de jure than de facto. He got off, as they say, scot-free.



Despite the existence of medical evidence corroborating my assertions, no charges were ever brought against my rapist in a court of law, mainly for the reason that -- I am told – it would have meant subjecting me to painful and pointless cross-examination on the stand. Without an eyewitness, a lawyer advised at the time, there was no hope of conviction.

My assailant was also a minor, which may well have factored into the adults' calculations; the worst he faced in any situation was probably a couple of years in juvenile detention. And by the time I was of an age to pursue legal battles on my own behalf, the statute of limitations had, most regrettably, expired. Even now, I hesitate to provide identifying details about the person in question, for the simple reason that it is far more likely that I should be sued for libel than that this man will ever be called upon in court to explain how his penis ended up in a very small child.



I know a lot of rapees personally, and I can't think of a single one whose rapist ever did time. As Kurt Vonnegut might have said, So it goes.



In summation: Under Akin Law, many rapes would be trivialized, many more would go unpunished, and many people who are raped would fail to obtain any semblance of justice. But the difference between Akin Law and the current state of affairs is not one of quality, but of degree.



And when we claim that Akin is trying to redefine rape for American society, we have cause and effect backwards. Rather, we should say that the current state of political discourse is the product of a culture that wholeheartedly supports the division of coercive sex acts into "rape" and "rape-rape," and is content to quibble over where to draw the line. Whenever some apologist struggling to draw the line between rape and real rape throws up his or her hands and says "Oh, you know what I mean," we do know. Almost everyone who's been raped has wondered uncomfortably, at some point, what side of that line they're on. God knows I have.



I can only speak with authority about my own experiences, and I concede that n=1 is a weak data set. But I posit that when you have a culture in which a child who is made to learn the mechanics of blowjobs before getting through kindergarten wonders whether or not it counts as rape, Houston, we have a semantics problem.



Akin's Theory of Rapeology is monstrous. But it's not his, not really. It's ours. He got it from a culture of rape apologetics that is rarely challenged in polite conversation, and is certainly not confined to one end of the political spectrum.



I have little faith that any amount of bloviation, by anyone, will be sufficient to shift the current appalling state of American discourse on sexual violence to more evidence-based territory. But it seems to me that a little more first-hand testimony in an arena currently dominated by non-rapees probably couldn't hurt. Thus, I'm throwing this woefully inadequate little essay onto what is already a vast pyre of stupidity, in the hopes that someone who might once have been tempted to utter the phrase "legitimate rape" will think for a minute before grossly abusing the English language.



And, I suppose, I'm going to try to do a better job of calling out rape apologetics in casual conversation.



Although, frankly, I don't know how much willpower I'll have for that one. Being the avowed rapee at the party is such a downer.







*If you haven't, I submit that you have been living under a rock, and I would earnestly love to know the location of this rock, so that I might crawl under it, and thereby get a fucking break from this constant barrage of rapetastic rapeitude that currently has most of American national media under a code-red toxic smog alert.



**What. I don't like the phrase "rape victim." 



***Not the guy.



****In 2009, Whoopi Goldberg used the phrase “rape-rape” to distinguish acts of grave sexual violence from Roman Polanski having sex with an unconscious 13-year-old. “It was something else, but I don't believe it was rape-rape.”


Note, 8.28: I've made a few tweaks to this essay, for a couple of reasons:

1. It's being published in The Nation online, and thus has been submitted to the editing process. Which, when it is working properly, makes everything better. Shoutout to web editor Emily Douglas and the Nation staff for their professionalism, with my deep gratitude for taking this on and bringing it to a wider audience. Thanks, too, to several fellow writers and editors who urged me to publish this properly.

2. After my mother read it, she revealed a detail that I had been hitherto unaware of, and that actually made it worse:

"the only thing i would change is the reason why charges weren't pressed. i was told that under NY law, there would not be a conviction without an eyewitness. ridiculous, but there you have it. that's what i was told, by the lawyer... he said you would be forced to testify, and then there would be no conviction."

The fact that we received this legal advice -- that without an eyewitness, we would never get a conviction -- has been duly noted in the essay.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Apparently There Is Insufficient Evidence That Women Do Things


Jezebel notes that Molly Templeton, a former alt-weekly editor (w00t!) now cast into the cold sea of self-employment with the rest of us, was really annoyed at the latest NYT Book Review cover. Have a look at it and see if you can figure out why.

(There are several options here, I suppose. Why are they all about writing? Will Dave Eggers ever stop being a Thing? How have we stumbled into this precious little hall of mirrors, and why is it so yellow?)

Anyway, unlike the New York Times, Templeton is under the impression that women can do more things besides cook and breed, and has started a Tumblr of How To articles written by women to prove it. From her inaugural post:

I’m sure there’s something you know how to do. I’m sure there are things your many brilliant friends know how to do, or something you could write about that has to do with doing a thing (most of the NYTBR pieces were, of course, book reviews). 

Basically, if there is something you know how to do, and you're one of those women-people, Molly Templeton would like for you to write a how-to essay about it for her blog. Which shall stand as a glorious beacon in the night, shining with the deeply inspiring light of Women Doing Things.

So far, here are the things that the avowed women of Molly Templeton's blog can do: Read Infinite Jest, do public readings, write songs, dump their therapists, feel really really guilty about the heavy responsibility of speaking for other people (!), clean oil paintings with their own spit, love their mothers, light fires, look like they're working when they're doing fuckall, and be fisherwomen.

I found an excerpt from that last one, about the "wild and womanly"* fisherladies and how best to emulate them, particularly striking:

You have nothing to prove, and you have everything to prove. It is the paradox of being a woman, and of being part of a species that loves to categorize itself into small and confining subspecies. You are doing this for yourself, whether for your career or for the experience, not for anyone else. Yet you paradoxically have suddenly come to represent any woman wishing to do something seen as beyond her physical/mental/natural capacity.

There's a lot of adverbs in there, so I could be wrong, but I think this tortured passage might be some sort of cri de coeur about how vastly irritating it is to have to go around in life being a goddamned ambassador for three and a half billion other people all the time.** In a blog whose entire purpose for existing is to represent all thing-doing women everywhere. What?

Not gonna lie: Everything about this -- from the NYT's insufferable twee-ness, to Jezebel's vacant signal-boosting, to the earnest curation of Things Women Can (And Do) Do as an antidote to misogyny everywhere -- annoys me right down to the depths of my blighted ovaries.


*AUGH, MAKE IT STOP.

**I have to admit. It's pretty vastly fucking irritating.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Banned Words Digest

Having been off the women-doing-things beat for awhile, I am still getting up to speed, here. I thought I might check in on a few of our Banned Words on Google News to see how they're doing lately.

The results were edifying. I shall have to do this more often.

Things that are feisty: Canadian football teams, Joe Biden, otters, Pixar's protagonist-shaped mass of red hair (ya think?), Yvette Nicole Brown, and oh my God you have to read this story from the Belfast Telegraph about a Tory MP yelling at the Prime Minister.

An excerpt from that last one:

Nobody could make head nor tail of it as she screamed louder and louder to make her voice heard over the din of the Commons.

The blood pressure rose, her face became redder and redder - rhubarb, tomato, beetroot - up the colour chart it went. Her arm - the one in the sling - started gesticulating widely.

Veteran MP James Gray sat back as far as he could, conscious no doubt of taking one in the eye at any moment.

As the kids on the Tubes say: GPOY.

But back to business! Things that are sassy: E!, Britney Spears, celebrity journalistrixes, Bachelorette Emily Meynard's minidress, Pink's new single.

Things that are plucky: the Oakland A's, faithful dogs, Aussie footballers, tennis player Laura Robson, wee schoolchildren, death-defying seals, the Pittsburgh Pirates.

I sense an opportunity for Science here. There ought to be a more long-term study, with pretty charts breaking down the relative frequencies for each word. (Categories: Women, sports teams, animals, Irishmen, the celebrity-industrial complex.)

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Pre-Women Rock

In the New York Times today: Rocking Out, No Boys Allowed.

This was not a standard garage band. For one, the members had picked out instruments two days earlier. For another, the jam session ended when a supervisor called, “Ladies, it’s snack time.”

The band formed at Girls Rock Camp in Atlanta, which teaches 10- to 16-year-old musical beginners to bang drums and windmill guitars like their rock heroes. The five-day camp has a simple message: Girls rock too. In a genre long dominated by men, the founders want campers to feel as comfortable being loud and expressing themselves on stage as many boys do. 

Oh, to be a preteen in July. These kids are precious, no sarcasm intended. Here's 10-year-old Katherine Butler, whose band Think Fast has already been riven by artistic disputes:

“We’ve had some hard times,” she said. “It feels like we’ve been a band way more than two days.”

And another anonymous rockette:

“I don’t respect Justin Bieber, but I really, really like him.” 

Bless. Absolutely darling. But wait.

A similar rock camp for girls opened in Portland, Ore., in 2001, and the idea has quickly gained steam. It was founded by a women’s studies student who had worked in the music industry and wanted to encourage more women to start bands. 

Encouraging more women to start bands. Oh yes let's. As the article reminds us, this is all so empowering. By all means let us gather up our tender young offspring and deliver them into the loving, empowerfulizing embrace of the music industry.

Summary: be solo, or a duo, because a full band is financially untenable; work much, much harder, under much more stressful conditions, than bands of earlier generations had to. Be very young, or have the ability to take the broke-ness, the physical and emotional knock-around, that very young people can.

Whoops, Mike Doughty, you're such a downer. Let's try that again. Being in a band is so empowerfulmentatious! You go, girl!
On a personal level, I have witnessed the impoverishment of many critically acclaimed but marginally commercial artists. In particular, two dear friends: Mark Linkous (Sparklehorse) and Vic Chesnutt. Both of these artists, despite growing global popularity, saw their total  incomes fall in the last decade. There is no other explanation except for the fact that “fans” made the unethical choice to take their music without compensating these artists.

Shortly before Christmas 2009, Vic took his life. He was my neighbor, and I was there as they put him in the ambulance. On March 6th, 2010, Mark Linkous shot himself in the heart. Anybody who knew either of these musicians will tell you that the pair suffered depression. They will also tell you their situation was worsened by their financial situation. Vic was deeply in debt to hospitals and, at the time, was publicly complaining about losing his home. Mark was living in abject squalor in his remote studio in the Smokey Mountains without adequate access to the mental health care he so desperately needed.

Artists, comma, good news about. Anyone?