Wednesday, August 29, 2012

This is a response to Roxanne Gay's

AMAZING piece about trigger warnings. Please read it before you read my response. I agree with the point that trigger warnings can provide false utopian senses of security which need to be challenged. But I still think they have incredible value.

Trigger warnings are vitally useful in the age of the internet where there is no actual physical space to catalogue information. The inverse of "everything is a trigger for someone" is that no one is able/available to engage in (potentially triggering) information on disparate topics at all times. Context matters. Especially physical context (which the internet can't account for). I'd like to know if an article might make me cry or rage before I read it in the bathroom at a family reunion. (true story)

On the internet pics of kittens can be tabbed right next to a post about rape/rape culture. Sometimes even in reverse as an effort offer relief. The transition between these two hunks of information is sometimes helped immensely by a few words (a trigger warning). In other words a trigger warning is courteous to your audience because it considers their possible context/history. It acknowledges that, based on cultural trends, certain topics will probably be more triggering to certain populations others. This is not coddling, this is using assumptions based on cultural trends to allow others to make space for how they are likely to receive certain info. It's internet polite, if you will. 

The information on the internet is very different from the information in a book/magazine/pamphlet. A book has a jacket/cover, a blurb, some imagery, a table of contents, and sometimes even an introduction or preface; a protestor or a promoter probably handed you a pamphlet at a specific location/event; magazines have tons of images and thoughtful layout. When it comes to analogue reading/viewing we're often much more primed for how to receive that content. Internet/digital content is usually sorely lacking in this sort of contextualizing information.

A trigger warning attempts to provide some of the same context-centering information. Maybe one day we won't need them, but while we're still transitioning from a print culture to a digital information one, they serve to make transitions between contexts smoother.

Trigger warnings provide a form of notation. They let folks know what sort of information they're about to access. If I think of the internet like a huge library of information I know there are sections of information/books I don't want to access at certain times (I would not go to the horror section in the middle of the night, or to the erotica section after being assaulted, or the sexual assault memoirs section at while trying to research marine biology).

I am a fan of trigger warnings as both a reader and a writer. They give me & my readers information that helps us decide when and where to read a text. As a writer I am always considering how an audience will receive a message. Trigger warnings help in this regard. They may be inelegant but they serve their function.

I don't think that trigger warnings make the internet (or any other space) "safer" but I do think they provide more information we can use to navigate tough information (like a map or table of contents). They're a tool for helping us switch contexts more smoothly.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

I know I'm not the first person to say this...

But the incredulity and shock with which liberal, democratic, and radical folks have been talking about this whole Akin/Paul Ryan "legitimate rape" and "rape as a form of conception" is too much. And actually HELPS those within the republican party who are looking to distance themselves from such bad press.

It IS important and I am glad that this is getting coverage. These views are totally illogical and oppressive but they are not abnormal. 

I am kind of annoyed that folks keeping saying that these sorts of views are "extreme" (Rachel Maddow's words). A lot of conservative republicans, and probably a couple of people you know do hold these dehumanizing medically incorrect views. They are widely disseminated by Crisis Pregnancy Centers.

The problem is that most visible politicians who hold these and similar beliefs use coded language (like Newt Gingrich did last December with the "poor urban youths" whose parents can't teach them the "dignity of work" and need to obviously work as janitors). This excess of coded language is conservatives' tactical response to 90's PC awareness. They are so good at this semantic derailing tactic that they can believably eschew Akin-esque honesty when it comes out. 

This deception is not new (campaigning on jobs/the economy and then pushing abortion restrictions). Reactions to Akin or Ryan's rhetoric surrounding rape can and has been easily characterized as overreaction to a single or few words. This minimizes the critique and doesn't allow for a larger examination of misogyny and rape culture as overarching tools oppression used by politicians.

Rape culture (and racism coincidentally) affects everyone & is especially alive and well in the minds and (mostly) coded language of republican politicians. Calling Akin & Ryan's words "extreme" makes other conservative politicians who do believe and push policy about on the same stuff but know not to say it seem normal and acceptable. Screw that. It's not a fringe belief, it is the status quo. It's just learned to hide in more confusing language and repeated politispeak.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The importance of radical non-presence in maintaining intersectional integrity

Note: This is an idea I am still very much mulling over and would LOVE to hear any feedback folks have about privilege, oppression, & intersectionality as it relates to presence/non-presence.

As a teenager, before I explored myself sexually, before I maturbated, before I began writing about my fantasies, & before I began to interrogate my own desires, I accepted the romantic paths society laid out for me. More simply put: I identified as straight until I was 23. Fortunately during my sexual oblivion I gravitated toward the queer youth space in my hometown. I attended weekly meetings and identified myself as a straight ally. My very best friend had come out to me in middle school and I wanted to be the best ally I could.

These meetings provided vital challenges to the way I conceptualized my world. I encountered and began to process the reality of trans and genderqueer folk for the first time. One of our regular leaders spoke with raw vulnerability about living with and contracting HIV. I was blown away. I value what I learned there more than I can say.

A year into my attendance of these meetings a decision was made that the meeting space would available to LGBTQ -identified individuals only. I considered saying I was queer or questioning, but back then straight still felt most comfortable. Conflict & anger burbled in my belly and often escaped my mouth in the shape of resentment as I spoke about the group’s decision. “It’s mean and discriminatory and I feel like I’m being unfairly excluded”.

After listening to my complaints, calmly and at length, my best friend opened his mouth haltingly but without apology. "Sometimes, it's just better to be around people who've had the same experiences you do."

Those simple words clicked instantly. I understood the reason my experience of straightness was excluded from a queer youth space. I didn’t have words for it then but it didn’t matter. I understood. I understood that spaces can be more deeply healing and illuminating when the people in that space have a shared experience & history with specific tools of oppression (in this case trans- & homophobia). At 17 I’d never had someone hate or question me for being queer. More importantly, I hadn't had it happen to me on a repeated, systematic basis. My friend was telling me that the most valuable support I could give him was my non-presence as a person full of a lived history of straightness.

The exclusion of my straight 17 year old self from my hometown's queer youth space facilitated deeper, unquestioned explorations of internalized and subconscious trans- & homophobia. The lessons I’d have learned by continuing to share that space would have no doubt been valuable. But my experiences of straightness took up space in that room. I required time and information to connect deeply to others’ experiences of homophobia and transphobia. I wanted to be included in explorations of those tools of oppression. But it wasn’t the job of those suffering from trans- & homophobia to educate me about that experience. It is never the obligation of the oppressed to educate others about the deep level of systematic oppression they experience. This is especially true if they are present to explore that oppression for themselves.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Further down the rabbit hole: Gender & Success- Comment Edition

I received a comment on my most recent post this morning and I began witing a response. Before I noticed I'd ended up with 700wds and 2 hours had passed. Clearly this was of some importance.

Comment from previous article says

Personally, I find it frustrating that you assume the choice is between compromise your feminist values / live off benefits.

Financial independence is a feminist goal because if you do not have your own money, you are dependent on whether or not someone else will be 'nice' to you; which usually (and in the case of my own parents) means placating a man to support you, regardless of his behaviour. 

I am a manager in an internet company. I wear smart-casual clothing and makeup if I want, or not if I don't. I am attaining, rather than compromising, my feminist values, because if my partner left me tomorrow, I could survive easily. This makes our relationship more equal and makes me feel safer. 

I have found, that women who do not work, or are able to work part time, are *far* more likely to shame women who want / have to work full time. I think this is a class issue. 

My response:

Two of my previous articles detail my feelings about dependence & specifically gendered dependence shaming:

The work I've chosen to devote my life to (writing & activism) rarely pays the bills. It sometimes pays for coffee. I work side jobs when/if I can get them. I am all-but-entirely financially dependent on my partner. This might make you think I am a lazy freeloader (I hope not). But does this make me less feminist? or less likely to leave my partner? I don't think so. I don't placate my partner to gain his support, he pays for us because we are a family. It is TOUGH not to feel pressured or guilty about this. I try very hard to keep my sense of independence from being defined by my economic status. 

Sounds like you do tie your feelings of independence to your economic status. I don't agree with this but I don't think it's a bad thing. I am glad that you are able to find & maintain empowerment in this way (WOOT). But for women who are straight up denied access financial independence (like say teen/very young mothers, disabled women) other nontraditional/non-capitalist avenues to empowerment & independence are needed. It belittles their efforts to tell such women that they will never be truly powerful unless they attain financial independence. (which I don't think you're saying, but is often the implication if women are told to sacrifice their identities to "get ahead" as I see Lady Coders doing)

I don't assume that the choice that you identify as so frustrating is the choice all women must make, but I think it IS the reality for many women (& other oppressed folks). My experience is not everybody's, but I chose to accept the financial benefits my partner offers & do work I find most important, instead of working 40hrs in a shit pay job that fails to nourish my passions. It heartens me so much to hear that you didn't have to make that choice. I am, to be fully honest, actually a bit jealous of that because it was a choice I wish I didn't have to make, but based on my chosen profession, one that was necessary. Also semantics: The choice I meant to draw out & identify as false was the choice between professional success & feminism. Which I think you & I are on the same page about already. (apologies if I was unclear or insinuating otherwise)

I totally agree that many women (& others, namely male partners & churches) DO disparage women who choose to work long days outside of the home. They're shamed for being terrible mothers or not being invested enough in their families or femininity. This IS a class issue because the overarching goal of this shame is to keep women less economically powerful.

In that vein I am thrilled to hear that you (a woman & feminist!) have gained financial success (despite all the horrific shit described above). But you, one woman, earning the privilege of financial success personally does nothing to ensure that other women will find it any easier/doable than you did. Your personal success is not inherently feminist; personal success is not revolution. 

Now I bet, as a feminist, you want more women & women's ideas in your field. I bet you encourage other women in your profession. These are feminist actions/ideas; They are helping other women gain more power. Without goals framed towards furthering women as a whole, women who do find success are often easily tokenized & even disdain the kind of work & success other women attain or fail to attain. Without feminist action/ideas successes of individual women play right into misogyny's hands. (ugh, didn't mean for that so sound so spooky-scary)

This is a messy complex issue. Thanks for voicing your frustration. It inspired me to to slog through & solidify a bunch of things I was previously unclear about.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Is financial independence the ultimate scapegoat for compromising on feminism?

So I recently read the book Female Chauvinist Pigs. It had some gratingly problematic uses of transphobic, gender-essentialist, & objectifying rhetoric but oh, did it ever get my ears pricked for instances of women spouting gendered oppression.

I wanted to share a depressing instance of what female chauvinism looks like to me. This progressively intentioned project wants to "help" get women into the tech industry and specifically into professional coding field. The problem of course is that much of the advice given and projects proposed enforce gendered stereotypes that do nothing for women as a whole. This approach would only serve to (maybe!) garner success for the individual woman who make those compromises.

Small example : "it’s our job (for now) to be easily integrated into an all-male team, nonthreatening, and hyperskilled"

This might just be lazy or "hip" rhetoric employed by their copy writers which bores me. I really hope they don't mean it. Because this is not feminism or if it is, it's a twisted sort of feminism. And it's a great example of why I have issues with "financial independence" being a feminist goal (identified as such in bell hooks' Feminism is for Everybody). It is not surprising to me that when the goals of feminism try to mix with the goals of capitalism it invariably ends up looking like female chauvinism. But this point seems to fall through the cracks (even in Female Chauvinist Pigs) when it comes to other self-professed (successful) feminists.

Am I nuts, or is bowing to capitalism in order to gain financial independence becoming the ultimate scapegoat for compromising on feminist goals? Case and point:
many of the responses to the kerfuffle this project has caused decry that the compromises the Lady Coders project is promoting are necessary and that those dissenting are merely being ideological purists. So I guess personal success is more important than standing for your own boundaries & beliefs about sexism?

To be clear, I acknowledge that compromising on one's boundaries & beliefs in order to survive is often a valid and unfortunate necessity. I would not fault anyone for doing something like identifying with a previous and inaccurate gender/name in order to receive unemployment/social services. Their subsistence depends on that compromise. This is fucked up because folks in such situations are at the actual mercy of the social services system. And is completely different from compromising on your boundaries & beliefs to accrue a higher financial and professional status. If you have a skill/attribute that is valued and sought by an industry that you choose you have power. You are not at the mercy of that industry/system in the way that others are.

And, oh yeah, for all those folks defending the project as looking to be "effective" in their compromise and that this will (slowly) make the environment more diverse:

This whole Lady Coders mess comes to me via my partner who is a (cis-male) web dev. He is furious because this means that even though this project will get more women in the room, the level of diversity of ideas and experiences will be discouraged and disparaged by its approach. And coding (by his account) is a creative, knowledge based work. In such work you NEED a diversity of ideas in order to approach the incredibly diverse of problems with appropriate solutions.

It would actually behoove the tech (and other knowledge-based) industries to welcome diversity with open arms. It is risky, but in the long run it stands to make them more successful, competitive, and flexible. The idea that (potential) workers must compromise their identity in order to work in certain places is the oppression of capitalism at work. It alienates workers from their labor & progress which depletes recourses of experience and ideas that business will have to call upon.

This mandated compromise also creates a system of shaming in which women who have compromised and gained success/status express disdain for women who did not. Often saying that if women don't trade on things like their appearance or novelty that they are just "not trying hard enough". 
The Lady Coders project offers no challenge to this status quo & appears to be a great project for getting big tech companies those token female techies who'll help them look progressive while publicly excoriating those who refuse to compromise their feminist values. 

Not radical ladies, really, just not...

Saturday, August 11, 2012

In other news: Airport security is a terrible thing

Today while passing through TSA on my way from Seattle to Denver I refused to enter the potentially unsafe backscatter X-ray.

I was instead patted down.
I wrote a quick poem about this experience.
It sucked.