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.


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