Wednesday, January 30, 2013

feminist or equalist? or What kind of feminist am I?

Only 24% of women and 14% of men in the USA consider themselves feminist in the absence of a definition, according to a 2009 CBS poll. But when you give them a definition like the Oxford English Dictionary's "the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes", the percentage of people who accept the name shoots up to 65% of women and 58% of men.

And if you don't use the name "feminism", the percentage of people with traditional feminist goals skyrockets. In 2010, support for "a new law that would provide women more tools to get fair pay in the workplace" was at 84% in the US.

I've always believed in equal rights for women. My father may have made me a feminist. He grew up on a farm where the boys and girls did whatever needed doing, so he raised my brother, my sister, and me the same way. My sister reinforced my feminism: she never saw why being a girl should keep her from having as much fun as a boy, and she was ready to fight—literally—if I ever said being male meant I should get more. Mom's example ensured my egalitarianism would never waver: she often worked outside our home, for others and in family businesses. My first heroes included Gloria Steinem and Angela Davis because they were doing what Wonder Woman did, battling for their place in Man's World.

Early in life, I simply got the notion everyone should have the same opportunities. Maybe I picked it up in Sunday School from St. Paul's, "There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female." Maybe I got it in public school from the Declaration of Independence's "All men are created equal"—I read "men" in the generic sense of "humans". The fact that the US's founders didn't mean to include women, slaves, free black folks, or white men without property was a subtlety I missed until after my beliefs about equality had formed. For most of my life, if you asked me if I was a feminist, my "yes" would've come without hesitation or qualification.

But feminism split in the 1980s—see "The Man Who Changed Middle-Class Feminism". While feminist goals were being achieved, identitarian feminists narrowed the definition of who was feminist. Feminists on the right and left like Camille Paglia, Katie Roiphe, Dita Von Teese, Christina Hoff Sommers, and Naomi Wolf were denounced as anti-feminist, even though none of them want a world of unequal opportunity. Men cannot be feminists in the eyes of identitarians; their term is "male ally". What identitarians make of the fact that "feminism" was coined in 1837 by a man, the socialist Charles Fourier, I haven't found.

Ask me if I'm a feminist, and my answer is, "What kind?" You could call me a traditional feminist, a second-wave feminist, or an equity feminist. I'm not an identitarian feminist, a third-wave feminist, a bourgeois feminist, or a gender feminist. I prefer to say simply say I'm a socialist in the tradition of Frederick Engels, who wrote in The Origin of the Family:
The first class opposition that appears in history coincides with the development of the antagonism between man and woman in monogamous marriage, and the first class oppression coincides with that of the female sex by the male.
I'm not a Leninist, but I love his observation that "No nation can be free when half the population is enslaved in the kitchen."

It may be time to let "feminist" join its place in history with "suffragist" and "abolitionist". I prefer "equalist", a rare English word that dates back to 1661. There's no suggestion in equalist that one side might be better than the other, and it applies to all social inequalities rather than one.

Recommended reading:

If you accept the CDC reports on rape and abuse, remember that it finds no saints. Many women and men are the victims of physical and sexual violence, the CDC reports: "Men have been victimized as well: About one in seven reports an intimate partner has been physically violent and one in 19 has been the victim of stalking."

When discussing the CDC reports, remember there are good reasons to question its approach and conclusions. From How the CDC is overstating sexual violence in the U.S.:
The agency’s figures are wildly at odds with official crime statistics. The FBI found that 84,767 rapes were reported to law enforcement authorities in 2010. The Bureau of Justice Statistics’ National Crime Victimization Survey, the gold standard in crime research, reports 188,380 rapes and sexual assaults on females and males in 2010. Granted, not all assaults are reported to authorities. But where did the CDC find 13.7 million victims of sexual crimes that the professional criminologists had overlooked?
If you believe the presumption of innocence should not be granted to men accused of rape, see Do Women Lie About Rape?: "Research has shown that only roughly 2 to 8 percent of rape reports are untrue, (for car thefts, another felony offense, that number is about 10 percent [pdf].)" That article acknowledges the problem while downplaying it. For a harsher take on the same fact: Sometimes, women lie about rape.

The 2% figure is often claimed, but it's never been substantiated. There's another take on the issue at 'Truth test' to uncover false rape allegations - The Independent: "Between 10 and 41 per cent of allegations of rape are made up by the "victim", according to previous research."

False Rape Accusations May Be More Common Than Thought focuses on DNA evidence: "the rate of false reports is roughly between 20 (if DNA excludes an accused) to 40 percent (if inconclusive DNA is added). The relatively low estimate of 25 to 26 percent is probably accurate, especially since it is supported by other sources." The writer makes two important points: "the category of 'false accusations' does not distinguish between accusers who lie and those who are honestly mistaken. Nor does it indicate that a rape did not occur, merely that the specific accused is innocent."

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

the eleven female incarnations of Dr. Who

Fans usually talk about the eleven male incarnations in Dr. Who, which is about as sexist as sexist can be. In my opinion, the women were every bit as good, and were arguably better.

Here are some of my favorite pictures of the Doctor's feminine side.

1. Hermione Gingold

2. Honor Blackman

3. Diana Rigg.

4. Nichelle Nichols

5. Joanna Lumley

6. Miranda Richardson

7. Michelle Yeoh

8. Emma Thompson

9. Helen Mirren

10. Helena Bonham Carter

11. Whoopi Goldberg

I'm looking forward to the twelfth.

ETA: My comment above about sexism isn't entirely sincere. I understand why the producers did what they did, given the time they did it in. Commercial artists should not be blamed for the commercial realities of their time.

Besides, if incarnation was truly random, there would be periods in which the Doctor repeatedly incarnated as male. Eleven white male Doctors in a row? That's a long run, but it's not impossible. Still, by the 1980s, it was time for a female Doctor, imho.

As for the argument that Time Lords and Time Ladies incarnate by gender, I don't buy it—it would only make sense to me if a Time Lord had enough control over reincarnation to be able to choose major details about the next body, like gender and race. In my alt-fandom, Time Ladies are simply female incarnations of Time Lords.

ETA 2: In my alt-fandom, Claudia Black may have been the best incarnation of The Master, but she wasn't called The Mistress then. Whether there were cyberwomen who looked like Maria in Metropolis, I haven't decided.

ETA 3: Here's the source of the Joanna Lumley pic:

ETA 4: And here are all eleven canonical regenerations:

ETA 5: About a week after I made this post, this appeared on the web: Alternate History of Doctor Who Female cast as The Doctor. They put a little more effort into their version, and I salute them.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

women of the USSR: combat soldiers, cosmonauts, and engineers

Because the US has finally allowed women soldiers to officially serve in combat, here are a few links about Soviet women who officially served in combat, starting with Woody Guthrie's song about Lyudmila Pavlichenko, who regularly appears in lists of history's ten greatest snipers. As Woody notes, over 300 Nazis died by her gun.

Lest anyone think sniping was a safe occupation because snipers usually shot from distant hiding places, of 2000 female Soviet snipers in World War II, about 500 survived. Here's a brutal picture of one who did not: Dead russian female sniper.

Then there were the pilots known as the Night Witches: "It was the most highly-decorated female unit in the Soviet Air Force, each pilot having flown over 1,000 missions by the end of the war and twenty-three having been awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union title. Thirty of its members died in combat."

That inspired a little reading about the status of women in the USSR. Lenin said, "No nation can be free when half the population is enslaved in the kitchen." And while the USSR was hardly a feminist paradise, its constitution included this, from Article 35:
Women and men have equal rights in the USSR. Exercise of these rights is ensured by according women equal access with men to education and vocational and professional training, equal opportunities in employment, remuneration, and promotion, and in social and political and cultural activity, and by special labor and health protective measures for women, by providing conditions enabling mothers to work.…
Under Stalin and his heirs, that changed for the worse. Soviet women generally had lower-paying jobs for the same reason women in the US do today: either women make different job choices than men, or sexist men keep women down.

Despite the post-WW2 pushback against women, the USSR sent a woman, Valentina Tereshkova, into space in 1963, and in '64, Svetlana Savitskaya became the first woman to walk in space. It took the US twenty more years to catch up: In 1983, Sally Ride became the first American woman in space, and in '84, Kathryn D. Sullivan became the first American woman to make a space walk.

Recommended: Women and the Soviet Military is a short article written in 1982 for the US Air Force. It includes observations about women in Soviet society such as:
Fifty percent of the labor force is now female, compared with only 41 percent in the United States.
Soviet Women in the Work Force and Professions by William M. Mandel, written in 1972, points out:
The 775,000 women engineers in the USSR (1969) is almost equal to the total number of engineers in the United States (870,000), of whom only 1% are women."
If you like old pictures of strong women: Old Photos: Women of the USSR - Kansas City With The Russian Accent

Monday, January 21, 2013

Martin Luther King: one dream down, two to go

We live in a time when a black man leads the most powerful nation on Earth, but King's dreams of ending war and poverty continue to be dreams.

King supports a Guaranteed Annual Income in a short clip:

And opposes the Vietnam War in a long one:

If you're in a hurry, here's the text for Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence: By Rev. Martin Luther King.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

there was nothing brave in Brave

I'd heard Brave was disappointing, so I waited to get the DVD from Netflix, thinking I would enjoy the art and trusting I would think the story was good enough.

It wasn't. It was barely there. This should've been the story of a young woman striking out on her own, saving her kingdom while dealing with family issues and finding true love. Instead, it's the story of a girl learning she should trust her mom. There's nothing brave about the story, and the heroine never really has her bravery tested. It felt like the director-writer wanted to address mother-daughter issues in a non-threatening way, and she succeeded with the non-threatening part—the witch who creates the problem is more goofy than scary, and we never worry that the mom's in danger.

Visually, it's all you would expect from Pixar. But great visuals are not enough.

I gave it three stars at Netflix, but I would've given it 2 1/2 if I could've.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Django Unchained should be nominated for the World Fantasy Award: historicity vs world-building

Friends wanted to see Django Unchained, so I saw it a second time. I think I liked it more this time, because I knew the conclusion was going to be nothing but spectacle. Tarrantino's a master of genre artistry: he creates worlds that are true to themselves, dreams or nightmares where humans behave by the logic of their genre—in this case, the spaghetti western—rather than the real world.

A quick breakdown of the historical inaccuracies in Django Unchained, focusing on slavery:

In the film's opening shot, it looks like whipping is standard treatment for slaves. It wasn't. The threat of whipping, like the threat of being separated from their family, was most effective when that was the exception rather than the rule. A scarred slave was a damaged slave, and a scarred slave usually inspired buyers to ask why the slave was whipped. No one wanted to pay top dollar for a slave that was insane or some sort of troublemaker. (In Henry Watson's account of being sold, he says, "If they discover any scars, they will not buy; saying that the nigger is a bad one."

Django's owner gave orders to sell him cheap. That would be like a horse trader saying to sell a horse cheap: it's a good line, but bad business practice.

Candie says slaves are property, and he can do anything he wants to his property. Not quite true: there were some laws to protect slaves. But as noted in Slavery in the United States | Economic History Services: "prosecuting masters was extremely difficult, because often the only witnesses were slaves or wives, neither of whom could testify against male heads of household."

Slaves and free blacks rode horses, and about 10% of the US's black population in the 1850s was free, so all the goggling at Django is purely for dramatic purposes.

"Mandingo fighting" was pure fantasy—Tarrantino got the idea from Mandingo, a 1970s exploitation flick. A healthy male slave was too expensive to use so casually.

But despite the many inaccuracies, the greater truth remains: slavery was an abomination. Quibbling about the details in Django Unchained is like quibbling about the details in a Robin Hood story: that misses the point.

Recommended: How Accurate is Django Unchained? On Riding Horses, Mandingo Fighting and Dogs Eating Slaves

Bonus: The trailer for Mandingo:

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Django Unchained: 3/4s of a great movie

I love the best spaghetti westerns. The tragedy of Django Unchained is that it could've been the greatest ever, but it fails in the third act.

Before getting into why, a few words about the obvious: if taboo words or violent images upset you, don't see this movie.

But "nigger" and explosions of blood are not what's wrong with Django Unchained.

Nor is the history, because anyone who confuses this movie with a historical knows little about westerns or history. It's set in the spaghetti west, as should be clear by Django's "Little Joe Cartwright" costume. It's a place where you cross the Rockies when you ride from Texas to Mississippi. It deserves huge credit for acknowledging slavery, but it's not about slavery. It uses slavery as an excuse for a standard spaghetti western plot: the good violent man kills all the bad violent people.

Here be spoilers.

The plot is extremely improbable. If Schulz and Django have $12,000 to spend, why didn't they simply offer Candie ten or twenty times the $300 he paid for Brunhilde? Everyone would've won.

But the movie could've survived its idiot plot—we know from the beginning that we're in a genre story where things happen by genre rules.

The movie fails—or at least, becomes generic—when King Schulz shoots Candie. At that point, Schulz and Django have got what they want. Schulz is an old hand who knows the stakes. I didn't buy his decision, even by spaghetti logic.

Without Schulz and Candie, the movie loses focus. Django never properly mourns his mentor, possibly because his mentor's last act was so stupid, and he doesn't get a memorable scene with Brunhilde. Instead, Django kills a lot more people, and the movie ends.

In the brouhaha over "nigger", a more interesting discussion about Django has been lost: it's surprisingly sexist, and I say "surprisingly" because Tarrantino ought to know that a story like this requires at least one moment when the good man's woman saves his ass by killing someone who is about to kill him. But poor Brunhilde never gets to be anything more than the Grail.

If Tarrantino was committed to having Candie die at the end of the second act, he should've set up Candie's sister to be as bad or worse than her brother. Instead, she's merely someone who gets to die in a bit of black comedy.

And comparing the movie's use of "bitch" to "nigger" is interesting. "Nigger" isn't always used as an insult, but "bitch" is. That may be the most historically accurate approach to language in the movie: the distinction between "nigger" and "negro" wasn't established in the south until long after the Civil War, but "bitch" was always an insult. I can't remember if Brunhilde is called a "nigger bitch", but she probably is, and when she is, she's at the intersection of gendered and racialized insult.

Which doesn't mean a whole lot more than that she should've gotten to kill someone who called her a nigger bitch.

But it's hard to discuss what should've been in a movie that only had three goals:

1. Acknowledge slavery.

2. Provide funny moments.

3. Provide violent moments.

Tarrantino did all three. I wanted more, but he succeeded on his own terms. While I'm disappointed that ultimately there's nothing of substance in Django Unchained, this spaghetti western fan enjoyed himself.

Will-Bob gives it four stars out of five.

PS. There's a simple test for whether this is a racist movie: Do most audience members think Django's cool? I hereby announce Shetterly's rule for action movie racism: If the black guy's cool, the movie ain't racist. Whether Django Unbound is sexist is trickier with that test: we don't disrespect Brunhilde, but the only people who get to make choices in this movie are male—which is another way in which it's not historically accurate.

PS 2. Before I saw the movie, Christopher Enis at G+ linked to Quentin Tarantino on Django Unchained and the Problem with ‘Roots’ - Newsweek and The Daily Beast, which includes this:
One thing both men agreed on was a scene in Roots that served as an example of what not to do in Django Unchained. The last act of the final episode features the character Chicken George being given the opportunity to beat his slave master and owner in much the same way he’d been punished and tormented. In the end the character chooses not to so he can be “the bigger man.” 
“Bulls--t,” exclaim both Tarantino and Hudlin in unison as they discuss the absurdity of the scene. “No way he becomes the bigger man at that moment,” says Tarantino. “The powers that be during the ’70s didn’t want to send the message of revenge to African-Americans. They didn’t want to give black people any ideas. But anyone knows that would never happen in that situation. And in Django ­Unchained we make that clear.”
At the time, I commented:
Something Tarantino seems to have missed in the Hong Kong flicks he loves is that a lot of them end with the good guy refusing to sink to the level of the bad guy. And, throughout history, people tend to forgive. He talks as if every story should end on a note of revenge. But that's only a film noir ending.
I still stand by that.


We are respectable negroes: Post-Django Unchained: How Many of You Remember "The Legend of Nigger Charley?"

Faster, Quentin! Thrill! Thrill! - Roger Ebert's Journal

Why Smart People Are Stupid : The New Yorker

From Why Smart People Are Stupid : The New Yorker:
intelligence seems to make things worse. The scientists gave the students four measures of “cognitive sophistication.” As they report in the paper, all four of the measures showed positive correlations, “indicating that more cognitively sophisticated participants showed larger bias blind spots.” This trend held for many of the specific biases, indicating that smarter people (at least as measured by S.A.T. scores) and those more likely to engage in deliberation were slightly more vulnerable to common mental mistakes. Education also isn’t a savior; as Kahneman and Shane Frederick first noted many years ago, more than fifty per cent of students at Harvard, Princeton, and M.I.T. gave the incorrect answer to the bat-and-ball question.
I was pleased that I got the bat-and-ball question right, but that may just be because I did a lot of time behind cash registers in my youth.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Old white guy can't dance (yet) #3

I think this video would've helped me if I'd known about it when I started. Or it might've made me feel totally incompetent.

So if you're tempted to try something like Zumba or Flashmob and this intimidates you, don't worry about it. All you really have to do to learn something is want to learn it enough to be willing to do it badly until you figure it out.

Guide to basic Zumba® Fitness steps - YouTube:

Thursday, January 3, 2013

chain mail bikinis: context matters

Ask me if the chain mail bikini is stupid, and I'll agree with you.

But so are any number of pulp fiction conventions. Shooting from the hip or fanning a six-shooter for example. The Lone Ranger never took off his mask, which had to get mighty uncomfortable. Why Batman isn't constantly getting tangled in his cape when he fights, I dunno.

But in stories that are not supposed to be realistic, what looks coolest always wins.

Ask me if the chain mail bikini is sexist, and I'll ask at least two questions.

The first is why cosplayers like to dress as Red Sonja.

© Luigi Novi / Wikimedia Commons

The second is "What are the men wearing?"

I love this video because it explores a double standard:

But when you look for the origin of the chain mail bikini, you don't find a double standard. Red Sonja went from this:

To this:

Originally, Conan showed more skin. When Red Sonja got the mail bikini, it was a draw: she showed more hip and belly, but she sometimes had higher boots, she had some upper torso protection, and she had gloves.

Now, if I was writing Red Sonja, she'd go back to something like the earlier costume, because the mail bikini only makes sense for a circus performer or a gladiator, not a wandering adventurer, and I like a bit of realism in my fantasy.

But while stupid and sexist often intersect, they ain't the same. So long as Conan's showing as much skin as Red Sonja, both costumes are sexist or neither is.

PS. If I had to be in a swordfight and my choice of costume was a furry diaper or a chain mail bikini, I would choose the bikini in an instant. Are there women who would prefer the diaper?

PS 2. In patriarchal societies, women publicly showing skin is a transgressive act. Part of the appeal of costumes like Wonder Woman's or Red Sonja's for cosplayers is the thrill of flouting a social convention. If this was a serious essay, I would mention nudity at Mardi Gras—most societies have holidays when people are allowed more freedom with their flesh than usual.

PS 3. While it's very true there's a double standard in the amount of flesh most superheroes display, anyone talking about the issue might want to consider 11 Rather Risqué Male Superhero Outfits - Topless Robot. And any serious essay about fantastic heroes who show skin would probably have to start with Tarzan, Jane, John Carter, and Dejah Thoris.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

On sex scenes

I just left this comment at Book Dirt: Quotable: Bad Sex Writing, Bad Coffee Table Books, and a Really Bad Amis Bio:

There's a simple reason why most fictional treatments of sex seem wrong in some way: situations rarely change for characters during sex scenes, so most sex scenes exist purely to fill pages in a story. Which means the reader is no longer thinking about what the sex means to the characters and is instead thinking about how it meets the reader's expectations, experiences, or desires.