Category Archives: Sexuality and Gender

Damsels and Heroes

So, Anita Sarkeesian has a new series of videos that is out to address the use of the Damsel In Distress trope in video gaming.

Here’s Part 1.  

I fired it up and started watching, hoping to hear an interesting and nuanced discussion.  I’ll give it this; she definitely does pick out many examples of games where you have to Rescue The Princess or Save The Girlfriend.  To the exclusion of anything else.  But, even when she’s addressing the Legend of Zelda series — one of the more traditionally mythic storylines — she never seems to address the one critical point.

The heroes are saving the princess because the princess is important.

The fact that she misses that point is… bad.  Quite bad, really.

I’ll probably write about Zelda some other time, because there’s quite a lot to dig into there — and it’s my favorite story in gaming, anyway.  But today I’ll rebut her ‘argument’ by focusing on one classic NES game — THE classic NES game, one could argue.  A game with a rich and symbolic story, telling of powerful magic and the great mystical connection between females and the power of nature itself.  Yes, today I’ll be writing about… Super Mario Bros.

What, didn’t you ever read the manual?  Check out Page 2!

Or, I’ll summarize:  The Mushroom Kingdom has been overrun by black magic turtles.  Under their sway, the good Mushroom citizens have been turned into stones, bricks, and plants.   To make matters worse, Toadstool, the Princess of the Mushroom Kingdom, has been kidnapped by the Koopa King, a towering spike-shelled reptilian named Bowser.  But why does he kidnap the princess?  It’s not just because “that’s the plot.”  It’s not just to give Mario a reason to defeat Bowser.  In fact, it’s not about Mario at all.

Princess Toadstool is “the only one who can undo the magic spell on the Mushroom People and return them to their normal selves.”

Mario is not the one who saves the world here.  The Princess is.  Mario is just some schlub who has to fight his way through level after level, obstacle after obstacle, in order to find and free the person who has the actual power.

Not only does Mario not have the power to save the Mushroom People, his own greed and power actually destroy the people.  Remember what that manual said about bricks?

Remember getting the power-up mushrooms and smashing the hell out of those bricks to get more points or find some coins?

Mario’s a blundering greedy murderer!

Assume Mario knows that the Mushroom People have been turned to bricks, and that’s why he’s saving the Princess.  Assume you play like usual — stomping on enemies, smashing bricks, gathering powerups, all that jazz.  Congratulations!  You’re a monster!  I mean, think about it.  You can jump over all of these enemies.  You don’t actually have to kill them.  But you probably do.  You don’t actually have to break bricks and take power ups.  But you probably do.  I mean, that’s the point of the game, right?

That’s just the thing.  IS it?

Yes, it is possible to rescue Toadstool and beat the game without smashing a single brick, or squishing but one single Goomba.  Disregarding the time it takes to let the clock run out, it’s actually faster and less dangerous.  If the point is to Save The Princess — and, more precisely, to NOT DIE before you save the princess — that enemy-avoiding method would probably be the best idea, yeah?  After all, these enemies aren’t pursuing you.  Except for the Hammer Bros. and Bowser himself (and his decoys — whoops, spoiler alert for any time-travelers from 30 years ago,) most of them don’t even direct an attack at you.  They only hurt you if you touch them.  Which, again, they aren’t going to do unless you goof up and walk into them, or unless you stand there and let them walk into you.  Even Bowser can be defeated passively — and much more easily, at that — by grabbing the axe at the end of the lava-moat bridge.  You just let gravity do all the work.

However, that’s not as fun.

When you play the game normally, all Mario can do is smash things, kill enemies, and gather — more accurately, steal — coins that he never can spend.  In his world, Mario may be a plumber who makes his living by using tools, getting dirty, fixing problems, and providing services to others in need — but in this world, the Princess’s world, Mario is an oblivious agent of destruction, desecration, and greed.  It’s hard to even see him as brave or noble — what kind of coward would kill something he can so easily avoid?   What strength does it take to jump on something’s head until it dies?   Mario’s most significant trait isn’t strength or courage or bravery or love.  It’s just endurance.  He can run and run and run without stopping; he can jump for hours without his legs giving out.  And that’s it.  Every other power he gains, like shooting fireballs or becoming invincible or becoming, well, super, he gains from the magic powers of the world he’s invaded — powers which, one might suspect, have the Princess as a source.  (So far as the story goes, only Bowser and the Princess are magical agents — and if the Fire Flowers and Invincibility Stars are Bowser’s work, you’d think his minions would use ’em.)

To go even further into the potential symbolism, you could even draw a parallel between the gauntlet Mario runs  and the elaborate, painful, arguably unnecessary rites of passage many cultures require for a young male to become a “real man.”  Moreover, there might be a parallel between the abduction and isolation of Toadstool due to her life-restoring power and some cultures’ ritual 
seclusion of womenoften in darkness — where, at menarche, the woman is treated with the same mix of reverence and fear as divine kings, and given to think about the immensity and significance of her capacity to bear life.

But let’s reel it back in a bit.

Some people – even in this modern Western culture – want to portray Super Mario Bros. as an anti-feminist fantasy because the Princess is passive and takes no part in her own rescuing.  That’s technically true, but, well, given that she’s trapped in a pit in a castle, she isn’t able to rescue herself — and, again, that’s kinda the point.  Yes, the Princess is trapped and rendered powerless — and that’s exactly what’s caused all the problems in the world.

The moral of Super Mario Bros. is this:  Bad Things Happen When Women Are Stripped Of Agency.

Mario isn’t better than Toadstool; it’s hard to say anything more complimentary than that he performs some necessary evil in order to restore the balance of the good.  The Princess doesn’t have to fight monsters or kill anything in order to be powerful enough to save the world.  She just has to BE, and the world becomes as it should be.

And that’s where things get weird.

If a game were made where a female character could only be successful in proportion to how well she embodied certain negative female stereotypes — like vanity, ditziness, helplessness, etc — and oh, they have been — critics would rightly argue that the game perpetuated those stereotypes and was to some extent anti-woman.

But it’s vanishingly rare for one to look at a game where a male character is successful only in proportion to how well HE embodies certain negative male stereotypes — like violence, rashness, crudeness, etc. — and to call it anti-male.   (And, yes, I get that a male who lives up to male stereotypes is likely to be more successful than a female who lives up to female stereotypes.  That embodying male stereotypes is seen as “better.”  But isn’t that a problem, too?  Isn’t that THE problem?)

Ultimately, Super Mario Bros. says worse things about males than about females.  It says worse things about what males will do, when given the opportunity – smash and kill, even when it’s not necessary, even when it’s more dangerous, even when it makes it more unlikely that they’ll meet their ultimate goal.  It says worse things about what males value – money and rank, even when they’re not necessary, even when they’re arbitrary.  It says that they value power, even when they only gain that power from an external source.  It says worse things about what males have to endure in order to matter — miles and miles of peril, whereas all a woman needs to do is EXIST to be powerful.  It says that players — mostly young men, at the time the game came out — should aspire to a self-destructive sort of heroism.

And it says worse things about what men find rewarding.

What happens when Mario gets to the end of a level?  All he gets to do is lower Bowser’s flag from the flagpole.  He doesn’t raise his own.  There’s no little victory dance.  He doesn’t do the Mario.  The only celebration that happens is if you happen to finish with 1, 3, or 6 seconds left on the timer’s last digit — and then there’s a corresponding number of fireworks from the castle.  And then he just walks in there.

(I always wondered about those fireworks, though.  Who was setting them off?  Was there still some Mushroom Citizen holed up in there, celebrating Mario’s victory?  Was it some traitorous Goomba?)

What happens when Mario reaches the Princess?  Do we get to see her save the world and bring the Mushroom Kingdom back to balance?  Do they kiss?  Do they even make contact?

Nope.  The text you see is this:

“Thank you Mario!  Your quest is over.  We present you a new quest. Push Button B to select a world.”

Mario doesn’t win the Princess.

Mario doesn’t save the world, doesn’t even get to see it saved.

Mario wins nothing but another fight.

And when he gets to the end of that one, when he meets the Princess again, does he “win her” then?  Does he save the world then?

Nope.  You see the same text.

Sure, Joseph Campbell’s idea of the Monomyth may be overly simplified, but it’s still interestingly apt here.  Given the Princess’s powers, this would seem to be the Meeting With The Goddess, the sacred marriage, the unity with the anima.  But does that unity really happen?  The penultimate step of the Monomyth, usually, is becoming Master of the Two Worlds, coming to power both in the outside world one’s done all the adventuring in, AND the domestic world of their home.  Mario has to master two worlds all right — but they’re both alien, both dangerous; he never gets that final step of Freedom To Live.  There’s no credits roll, no “The story is over,” no closure.

Mario never gets to stop running that torturous gauntlet.  Toadstool never gets to bring the world to balance.  Or, at least, it isn’t shown.  They’re never even shown to leave the castle.

Mario only gains the illusion of freedom by accepting a second, more agonizing quest.

The usual interpretation says that Mario gets to Do Things and act upon the world, whereas Princess Toadstool just sits there in distress and waits to be rescued.  That this supports the idea that males are powerful and strong and active; females are ineffectual, weak, and passive.  That the Princess exists only to be saved.

But, if anything, it’s the opposite.  Mario exists only to save the Princess.  Everything else he “gets to do” doesn’t matter. The coins don’t matter, the kills don’t matter, the points don’t matter.  He doesn’t have any dialogue.  He doesn’t display any emotion. Mario has no personality whatsoever. He’s a total proxy for the player.  Nothing done by Mario matters, except for rescuing the Princess and returning her to her full potential.

You want to talk about video games setting weird examples of gender roles?  The Damsel in Distress has occurred in fiction of all sorts, for ages — but it’s only in video games that the hero, the male protagonist, is so stripped of personality and humanity.  It’s a game mechanics thing, I know — early on, it had more to do with memory demands; even in modern games, the silence of the protagonist is a space that the player can fill with his or her own thoughts and emotions. If we don’t feel like we’re in control of the player character, we don’t feel like we’re playing a game, and the whole point is stripped away.  So, it’s not like it’s done for no purpose.  But that doesn’t mean it can’t be interpreted, can’t be seen as symbolic, or can’t have ramifications on what players come to think about the nature of heroes and heroism.

Personally, I think a player would come away from Super Mario Bros. — and, potentially, most other damsel-rescuing / world-saving games — less with a toxic impression of females and their roles, and more with a toxic impression of the purpose of males.  That males  want to — or should — attack anything that moves, and that they can’t or won’t solve problems peacefully. That males are expected to fix any problem, by whatever means necessary.  That males should not need help. That males should not ever show fear, nor any other emotion.  That males should not ever get physically tired.  That males are greedy, and will gather money or points or anything else just for the sake of Having The Most.  That males cannot make a mistake without it meaning their death, and the probable end of the world.   That males should suffer intense pain, without displaying emotion, just to be considered men at all.

Sure, games downplay the mythic significance of the Princess, the way she’s important to the unity and order of the entire world.  But they also downplay the practical, worldly issues of the hero — playing him up as something more than just himself, all the while disregarding the absolute trauma that prettymuch any given game puts the guy through.  What’s worse, honestly — being kidnapped and held in a pit, or running for miles, forgoing food, water, and sleep, and fighting off battalions of enemies at the risk of life and limb?   That we’d see the one as problematic and the other as perfectly natural, even desirable or glorious, is telling.

In the end, anyone who thinks the Damsel In Distress trope is inherently misogynistic just doesn’t have a good enough imagination. I’m not saying it’s inherently misandrist, either.  It’s just a method of telling a story, and it’s not inherently problematic to -anyone-.  But I do think it could be used in more interesting ways than it currently is.  And I’m not just talking about sprite-swapping and pronoun-editing, either, fun as those are.  I have ideas for a game where the intro makes you believe it’s a standard rescue-the-princess game — but, in actual gameplay, you ARE the princess, you know it’s a setup, you escape, and you have to try to reach the ‘hero’ before he destroys himself.  Or a game where the young male protagonist does have to face dangers to save a female who’s important to him — his mother.  He’s not the only person in the world who’s capable of it — he’s just the only one who cares enough.  It might have different gameplay, as well –  sure, you could hit the enemies with a bat, but implicit in the entire story would be “What would your mother say?”  Or, just a straight-up Save The Princess / Goddess / World one where it gets a little more heavyhanded with that symbolism — and a lot more sympathetic to the trials the hero goes through.

Women don’t have to be damsels in distress.  But men don’t have to be heroes in distress, either.

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Your Daily Rage: A “Straight Look” at Landen Gambill and Blaming the Victim.

So. Allegedly, a UNC student was raped, stalked, and abused by an ex-boyfriend – a fellow student. And she reported this through the University’s “proper channels,” which somehow involve NOT contacting the police and instead abiding by the school’s “Honor Code.” It did its own independent investigation – somehow, despite having no real clout – and apparently determined that the ex’s take on the matter was Nuh-Uh, She’s Lying. When nothing resembling justice seemed to be forthcoming, and when she filed a federal complaint about it, she made matters more public – still without naming the alleged perpetrator. And now SHE is the one being accused of “intimidating behavior,” and facing expulsion by the student-led campus judicial system. And this ex-boyfriend has faced no consequences, nor even the threat thereof.

In response to this issue, Alexander Baron has crafted an op-ed entitled “A Straight Look at the ‘Rape’ of Landen Gambill” which, as you can infer by the quotes placed around “rape,” is very nearly the Iliad of victim-blaming.

There’s no end of things to criticize in it, but I’ll focus on just one – one that seems to be at the core of it all.

How could he have abused her sexually for a long period? A one-off assault or act of rape, yes, but that is not what was alleged here.

It appears the internal tribunal did as good a job as could be expected under the circumstances. One of its members asked her: “Landen, as a woman, I know that if that had happened to me, I would’ve broken up with him the first time it happened. Will you explain to me why you didn’t?’”

That sounds perfectly reasonable. Her answers did not, and the adjudication concluded that her claims were without merit, or at the very least that they had not been proved. Reading between the lines, they thought she was a bit of a flake, apparently with good reason.

Yes, Baron seems to believe that persistent sexual abuse is almost ludicrously implausible, that no rational woman would not break up with an abuser immediately, that breaking up with an abuser would make one safe, and that Gambill – and, by extension, all other domestic abuse victims – is “a flake,” and, later, “an emotionally or mentally disturbed young woman.”

Further, he asserts that “Some women are just plain dumb.”

This is said to them, after enduring persistent sexual abuse, physical abuse, stalking, and harassment. I’m just not talking about the UNC case in specific; the facts of that matter are for the law to decide. It’s clear that Baron would say these things of any case, of any woman, of any human who has been abused by their partner. He, and others like him, say these things as if the dynamics of an abusive relationship do not make you hold yourself hostage as much as any sneering, snapping “partner.”

So why DON’T abuse victims leave?  Why don’t women leave abusive partners?  Why don’t men leave cruel wives?  Why in the world would anyone stay? Why would you get into a relationship with someone so terrible, and why wouldn’t you leave with the first hit?

Because it happens much more slowly than you might think.  Slowly enough that you think you can adapt, can follow that learning curve, and that it’s all going to be over soon.  You’re both going to get through this together, you just have to be strong through the hard times and not make things worse.

Slowly, over months or even years, the abuser has isolated you. You do not have friends anymore – each time you spoke of friends, your partner grew more cold, acting as if it was a betrayal; each time you said no to coffee or a movie to instead watch TV with your partner, they seemed so much more kind. Soon you feel guilt for your friendships, and set them aside, because love is more important than selfishness.

The same can extend to family – through that same slow pulling-away of the rug, that same guilt, and often an appeal to your own strength. Mocking you, a grown adult, for wanting to talk to mommy and daddy – you just talked to them last week. A couple weeks back. Last month. You don’t need anyone else to make your decisions for you, you don’t need help; you know in your heart what to do. All you need is each other. Right? Or are you saying they’re not enough for you?

And you think you could leave? Where would you go? Who else would put up with you? You really think it’s possible to SAFELY betray the only person who will ever love you?

“You’re stupid if you don’t leave,” others say, as if it makes you safer – even though about 75% of domestic assaults reported to police have occurred AFTER separation.

As if you feel you HAVE the freedom to leave. As if you have the ability to get by on your own.

As if you aren’t made to believe, day after day, that your validity as a human, your permission to exist, hinges on how well you’ve appeased the irrational.

That, desperate for sense, isolated from others or any contrary idea, you don’t cling to the cardboard cutouts of Logic and Love that your most-adored enemy builds for you, holds up to you as real. Each day, pushing the grotesqueries closer and closer to you; each day, taking genuine Love and Logic farther away. As if, when you start to believe you don’t need them, don’t take that most tentative step away, they don’t falter, don’t quiver doe-eyed at your feet and beg to be washed in your mercy, don’t rend their clothes and recite the litany of I’ve Just Been Under A Lot Of Stress Lately, But I Can’t Make It Without You, I Need You, Or Else I Don’t Know WHAT Will Happen To Me; I’ll Just Go CRAZY.

As if you are not the lynchpin that keeps them from flying off the axle.

Or, more than that, the shock absorber trying to know everything, plan everything, predict everything, to diminish any unpleasantness to nothing. Dutifully absorbing all the damage you can to give them a smooth ride – and absorbing, on the other side, all the damage they deal out disproportionate when the slightest bump comes through into that isolated echo chamber – the smallest bump becoming a shake, becoming a tremor; as if all Armageddon is not due unto you because you allowed the imperfect.

The mangled metaphors are intentional; you can not waste your time trying to quantify just how irrational or convoluted everything is, because you are stripped of context and are busy just trying to survive it. You can only grasp at fragmentary metaphors. You want to deny what is happening, to deny how senseless, how meaningless it is, but you have no escape, and all you can do is hope against hope that, somehow, someday, it will have meant something.

Why didn’t you get out earlier? Why get out when things still looked safe, when the only hazards you saw could be avoided easily, when every assurance was that it would all be calm again soon, if you were just careful enough? Why, when everything bad is really only your own fault, and if you can just be a better person, be a better partner, nothing will go wrong?  By the time you realized it was more than you could handle, it was already more than you could escape.

To give still another metaphor – it’s like a broad and gentle river, once peaceful and warm and almost impossible to drown in, that has grown ever rockier, ever swifter, and each time you tried to reach the shore it swept you back along. Soon it’s all a roar of rapids. Soon your boat is sundered on the rocks. And now that you’re being rushed downstream with a force you could never fight, now that you’re too sore, too tired to swim – now that the banks are too steep to climb, even if you could reach them, and too muddy and slippery and eroded by the river’s own force to give you anything to hold on to – now that you’re being battered on the rocks and close to drowning, you’re being told it is YOUR fault. It’s never the river’s fault for dashing you against the stones; it’s never the stones’ fault for being there, it’s your fault for getting in, your fault for not getting out, your fault for being in the wrong damn place at the wrong damn time. It can’t help the way it is, but you know that. Why don’t YOU help what you’re doing? Why don’t you watch where you’re going? Why don’t you pay attention? Why don’t you ever LEARN? Do you think the river actually LIKES pushing you around? It doesn’t, it’s just the way things are, and they can’t be otherwise – not as long as you keep making mistakes and causing trouble.

If it sounds like that diminishes the abuser’s agency, that’s because it does. They themselves don’t believe they are being abusive. “Abuse” is always an action at least two steps more harsh than whatever they’re doing now.  They’re just venting. Just acting in the way that they have to act. They’re only being fair. The fact that it doesn’t feel fair to you is only PROOF of how selfish you are. This isn’t What Is Being Done To You Because I Choose To Do It. No, simply enough, This Is Just What Happens When You Screw Up.

It is the way it is. And, as they assure you in those lucid times, in the small hours of the morning, they tell you they are sorry and they tell you they are trying and they tell you it was a mistake.  They really do feel better, though.  It won’t happen again.   They’re glad you understand.

You see, they’ve had a Rough Childhood. They learned how to be by watching other monsters, and you should be proud of them for growing claws so much shorter than their sires’.

And you are.  And you do believe in them.  And you do care.  You do believe they can get beyond this, that it’s all temporary, that everyone’s given up on them but you.  So you have to help.  You have to give.  You have come to believe this is Right, and this is Just, and if YOU don’t do this, who will?

Because you’ve seen the fragile good in them, the intelligence, the sensitivity, the talent – it shined out so bright, before, soul-true and clear, and it is why you first came to love them. And it’s not gone away, oh no; it’s still there, but it’s hidden, deep under layers of filth and talons. Nobody else can see it; nobody else takes the time to look. Even THEY have forgotten it, sometimes.  Sometimes the filth and anger and dull-eyed dispassion covers it up for so long that not even a glimmer of The Real Them is seen anymore, and you start to doubt it all.  You start to wonder if they haven’t really changed, if what matters more isn’t who they are on the inside but how they act, how they treat you, for most of the actual time.

And you burn with shame for your selfishness, because how dare you care so little for them?  Helping them get better is the most important thing of all.  Even if they have changed, that only makes it more important that YOU stand strong.  If they’ve changed, and their life has changed, it only reaffirms that you can not.

You have made your commitment, and you will do your duty: you will protect them from all that troubles them. You will give them safe haven to drop their defenses. You will help them wash away the collected dirt of ages. You will endure the flinging of all the filth they’ve packed into their wounds like scars. You will not flinch at the claw-marks left on them, at the gouges that never heal, at the lifeblood that’s never stopped oozing away or the blazing red infection that’s spread out to taint almost everything in them. Your patience is a pitcher and your love is clear, cool water, and you will fill it to the very brim, you will balance it on your head and walk it to them, barefoot and mincing, not spilling a single drop or wasting any on yourself.

And when the closest wells run dry, you find one even farther. Because there are those precious evenings when Everything Has Gone Okay Today, when you see the slightest curl of a smile, and see that light sparkling in their eyes again, and the air tastes so much sweeter because you didn’t even realize how long you’d been holding your breath.

And you believe that, someday, if you can just be good enough, every day will go okay.

So you come to them and surrender your love to them — not trying to control what they do or how they do it or to do anything for them, of course.  That’s not your place. And you know that you must respect only what they want, only what they need, only what they choose.

So you surrender it and you hope that they will raise it and wash themselves, sluice away the grime, wash out the wounds and soothe the burning pain. That they will raise it to their lips and drink deep, like a magic potion, that will shrink their claws and calm their rage and turn them from beast to man.

But you surrender it all before them, and wait for a moment in between work and smoke and food and game and drink where they have attention to spare for acknowledging you. And they take up all the love you’ve borne to them, but that great jar looks no bigger than a thimble in their taloned hands, and you realize how foul all the water really is. And they give you that reproachful look that says “I’d ask if this is REALLY everything, if you don’t actually have more for me, but I know you can’t do any better.”

You look down to the floor that you’ve memorized, and your chest grows tight and your teeth grind and you wish that shame made you invisible. But you are all too there, existing audaciously, full of that galling selfish habit of filling up the space that you’re standing in. You know you don’t deserve anything from them. You don’t deserve anything at all. You can only earn the right to give a damn about yourself when you adequately help your partner.

So you try to be even more patient, to walk even farther, still spilling nothing, spending nothing on yourself, and hoping that if you do this every day for enough days, it will all add up to enough.  Enough for them to DO something with. Finally enough to matter.

Because if you stop now, nobody else will ever help them. Nobody else will even try. Because if you can’t do this for them, if you decide to give them any less than all of you, you are a disgrace. If you have ever had any question about whether you deserved the lashing-out they’ve given you, whether you really needed to endure the stink of it all, you KNOW that you’ll deserve – and get – even more if you try to leave.

You didn’t know what you were in for when you began this, but you can not stop until it’s over.

You know that what’s happening does not make sense. Still, you are stripped of anything else. You’re made to feel simultaneously useless AND crucial. You are worthless, but you are needed. Without you, everything would be even worse. Without you, they would hurt themselves. Without you, they would hurt their friends. They would hurt their family. They would hurt the pets. They would hurt strangers.

Isn’t it worth the pain if they just hurt you instead?

It’s not like you matter much, anyway.

And you’ll matter even less if you allow the only person who cares about you to sink completely into ruin on your watch.

Soon, you’re in that echo chamber, that whitewater, that seething mass of metaphors, seeing only what you’re allowed to see, responding only in the ways you’re allowed. And even though you don’t matter, even though you have no real power, YOU are the one who’s responsible for how things go. YOU are the strong one. YOU are the one in control.

Nothing bad has to happen at all, if you don’t make mistakes. If you don’t predict every possible bad thing and prevent it. If you don’t forget to put the laundry in the dryer, don’t drop the eggs, don’t make sure the restaurant still sells the combo meal they like before you say you’re going to buy one for them, don’t buy the wrong brand of soap, don’t change the channel when they’ve been out of the room for half an hour, don’t talk out of turn, don’t ask any uncomfortable questions, don’t look disapproving when they take their tenth shot, don’t wear your seatbelt when you know that means you don’t trust their driving, don’t smile when you should be frowning, don’t frown when you should smile, don’t look like you’re faking it, don’t just agree to everything you’re told but don’t you dare say no.

Is it irrational? Yes. But you are in a situation where rationality no longer matters. You can’t use reason as a tool to fix anything, help anything, stop anything, or remotely change anything; it’s like trying to pound water with a hammer, or reverse a river by turning it with a wrench. There’s nothing solid to strike, nothing solid to grab onto. The abusive relationship dynamic operates on irrational emotion. Nothing is “smart” or “dumb” or “right” or “wrong” anymore, nothing is “safe” or “unsafe,” “okay” or “not okay.” There is only what they want and what they don’t want, and whether you’re satisfying that want or not. The only way to survive is to adapt – to try to play along, even though the rules change all the time.

And there is nobody in your life but them. Even you aren’t really there anymore. Nobody else sees what’s happening. The few times you’re with others, your partner acts just fine, and nothing shows, even when their friend goes on about that new product they bought – the same one that your partner spent GOOD MONEY ON last month but broke just because they threw it at a wall during the first week when they were mad and they KNOW the store has a return policy but they lost the receipt because YOU didn’t take it out of their pants pocket before doing the laundry and you had the BIG FUCKING MOUTH to tell them that it wouldn’t cover damage from throwing it at a wall and they said it shouldn’t fucking BREAK so easy, and they’ll pick up the shoddy plastic piece of shit and speed back to the store even though you and your fat fucking mouth are saying it’s probably closed by now and OH LOOK, CLOSED, I BET YOU THINK YOU’RE SMART, and DON’T YOU TELL ME TO CALM DOWN, I’M CALM ALREADY, DO YOU WANT TO SEE ME GET MAD? And it’s not ABOUT this plastic piece of shit they don’t even WANT it it’s about the PRINCIPLE of it but it’s NOT EVEN ABOUT THAT anymore because YOU have to act all SCARED JUST BECAUSE THEY SPEAK THEIR MIND AND WANT WHAT’S THEIRS and they are DONE talking to you, don’t you say ANOTHER FUCKING WORD, just GET IN THE CAR and you do and they throw the plastic thing at you and you don’t make a sound, and they speed back to the house you’re supposed to call home, pausing only to puke rum and bile on the roadside, and you say nothing all night and try to wait it out and you sit on the couch and watch stupid TV and something makes them make that little sound that they make instead of really laughing anymore and you think the storm has passed but then the commercial comes on for that stupid plastic product and their face goes hard again and you memorize the floor again and you don’t know whether they want you to say sorry again or if you say sorry one more time you’ll have a reason to be sorry and you just say nothing and wait again, and eventually it’s time for Well Are You Coming To Bed Or Not and you know that not’s not an option and you just say nothing and wait because tomorrow will be a different day and maybe everything will go okay.  Maybe everything will go okay. Just as long as you never ever mention that product or that company or that store ever again and are willing to see them angry at you all day if they so much as see a billboard that reminds them of it all. But here’s their friend, going on and on about that very thing and how great it is, and your partner somehow keeps their cool.  And when, later, with surgical caution, you praise their strength and calmness, they tell you it was only a big deal earlier because they owe you their honesty. That only you get to know the Real Them. Only you can be trusted with it. Everyone else sees a mask, but they give you the truth, both good and bad, because That’s What Love Is.

You’re not saying you want them to be the same fake person they are for everyone else, are you? You DO love who they really are, right? You don’t think that they’ve put this much work into the relationship, been SO patient, been SO trusting, only for you to wish they treated you like everyone else, DO YOU? Because that would be pretty fucking ungrateful, wouldn’t it. That would make you a real piece of shit. But you’re not like that, are you. You’re the only one who really loves them, you know. Who knows what would happen without you. Aren’t you glad that they TELL you when something’s wrong? Aren’t you glad they can SHARE what upsets them, glad they can yell and punch walls and break things and make a mess and make threats, without being judged? Aren’t you glad that they know how to handle their emotions – that they don’t come looking to hurt you, but they only push you if you’re in the way? That they sometimes just need to THROW things, and if your head wasn’t there it wouldn’t have been hit, now would it? That sometimes, they just NEED what they NEED and you just need to understand and give it to them and save your selfish “no” for a day that’s not bad enough already. Because it’s not healthy to keep it all bottled up, you know. You wouldn’t want them to just keep it all in until they EXPLODE, would you? You know better. Aren’t you glad they can be so open and honest? Isn’t that what love is?

Love is their honesty.
Love is your silence.
Love is their freedom.
Love is your caution.
Love is their freedom from consequences.
Love is your suffering so they don’t have to.

Love is telling you every way you’re wrong.
Love is never telling them no.
Love is trusting them, even in danger.
Love is being stronger than your fear.

Love is patient. Love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
It does not dishonor others.
It is not self-seeking.
It is not easily-angered; it keeps no record of wrongs.

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Even when you have lost all faith, even when you are shorn of all hope, you still have that love. And you believe they still love you. And no matter how hard things you get, you stay, and you hold on. You hold on for dear life. 

Because can you imagine how it would end if they DIDN’T love you anymore?

Can you imagine how things would end if you left?

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Your Daily Rage: “Gadgets, Guns, and Guilt-Free Murder”

First, read Cintra Wilson’s article here, then come back when you’ve finished, and when you’re done throwing things at your monitor.

Fun times, huh!  Ready to rage at it with me?  Let’s go!

MY, what a heteronormative heap this is! My primary function as a woman is “to be critical of the corruptions that divide men from themselves?” No, thank you kindly! I believe my primary function is to determine and aspire toward that which fulfills me and enables me to fulfill others in turn. I believe that’s every human’s function. But apparently I’m wrong!  My real purpose is to nag men when they’re “corrupt.”  But that’s only my primary function “aside from childbirth!”  My REAL function is to extrude more children into the world.  Tell infertile women about how they no longer meet their primary function. Tell it to those childless by choice. My primary function is not mandated by my uterus. I do not owe motherhood to my society.

“Then I wondered if the female currency had been unduly diluted by the unprecedented availability and mainstreaming of porn. The scarcity economics through which Pussy had enjoyed a relatively stable value, most of our lives, was suddenly, abruptly clobbered by the internet.”

Does she seriously believe that is all women are, or are worth, to men or to ourselves? That our only value is in our genitalia? While it’s true that all media – not just porn – relentlessly hammers men and women with impossible ideas of perfection, it is ludicrous to assume that sex is the cause or center of it all. Porn is not a “new normal.” Porn is an old, old normal. What has changed is how accessible porn is — and how ephemeral and disposable it is.   Does she genuinely believe that all the personal relationships she mentions, and all the high-profile celebrity affairs, are truly driven by lust and lust alone?  Maybe it’s not just that men sought younger, sexier women to bed — an instinct which is not new to the media-driven culture, mind you.  Maybe it’s that these women were also, as she indicates, equally shallow and vapid, equally uninterested in personal fulfillment, equally deluded by beliefs in perfection and Prince Charming.  Why should any man want to stay with someone who believed she could or should be doing better?  Who would be eternally unsatisfied so long as the man had flaws?  Why would either party accept anything less than their unattainable dreams?

But when people have no deeper understanding of themselves, or of others, and do not aspire to such understanding or contentment, when they are engineered to simultaneously see themselves as deeply flawed and as people who deserve to have and to be only the very best, there seems to be no choice but to get rid of the other person and replace them with something newer, better, younger, more representative of what they want to be.  Women are not being undervalued because men value porn more.  It’s just that people on both sides of the issue are rarely thinking about what they value anymore, because our culture no longer values the very idea of lasting value.  

Instead of addressing the big picture — the way that capitalism needs disposability  and planned obsolescence, and the way it  disincentivizes fixing or accepting the imperfect — she instead treats heterosexual sexual dynamics as the core of the issue. Men don’t throw away women because porn has taught them to only want young, perfect girls. Men throw away women because men and women throw away EVERYTHING. Men throw away the imperfect and women wait for Mr. Right because capitalism teaches us that we deserve The Best, and teaches us that The Best is something we obtain from outside ourselves, not a peace and contentment we find from within.

“Valor, honor, nobility and courage are virtues now exclusively relegated to sports and warfare. Men are not really encouraged to cultivate the interior qualities that have classically defined a warrior/philosopher/poet/ king/hero (or, for that matter, an adult man).”

Well, a fine fuck-you to that. Nobody’s encouraged to seek those qualities anymore, I can say that much — our heroes are now just as disposable as anything else in our culture. But to lay all of this out with the clear implication that these traits are For Men Only? I have just as much ability to seek and attain those traits as any wang-bearing human out there. Who the hell is she to suggest otherwise?  Everyone can undertake the Hero’s Journey.  Everyone can identify with the philosopher king. These are not the qualities of an adult man.  They are the qualities of anyone – male, female, trans*, both, neither – who has reached Apotheosis and the Return.

“Only a close, sustained human relationship, with all of the rigor, ordeal and misery this implies, can actually tell you where the termites live in your psychological foundation.”

So nobody can lead a complete, healthy, and sustainable life, emotionally and physically and mentally, unless they are in a relationship? Because that’s what “only” implies. I’m sure Buddhist monks, Catholic nuns, and other single spirit-seekers would appreciate the knowledge that their psyche is inherently fragmented and flawed, despite and in fact BECAUSE of the fact that they forgo these human relationships to seek a higher truth or connection with the inner and outer world.  She strongly asserts that monogamy is vital to combating the more noxious aspects of capitalism, and holds that polygamy (which she conflates with infidelity) is emblematic of the capitalist drive.  However, in this, she asserts that being single is inherently undesirable.  That the only way to develop and stress-test one’s own psychological foundation is to enter into a long-term relationship.   This is the kind of cart-before-horse inanity that causes relationship problems in the first place: the belief that one NEEDS to be in a relationship, that one NEEDS to define oneself in terms of another person, that one logically cannot know oneself without someone else’s input.  This kind of thing is why people rush into relationships that they cannot fulfill, making promises they cannot keep.  They do not know who they are, much less who the other person is, and they believe it’s the purpose of the other person to help them identify and exterminate the problems in their life.  This is the most poisonous suggestion she could possibly make.  You cannot simultaneously extol monogamy — not even serial monogamy; she rails just as much against divorce as against infidelity — and also deny the individual any ability to know themselves and cultivate themselves while single.

So, in sum, women have no place in seeking valor or honor on our own, and in fact our only purpose is to enable men along their road to valor. We cannot both be single and know ourselves, nor can we be single and still fix the flaws in our psychological foundations.  However, even though we inherently won’t have a complete sense of who we are and what we want, and even though our psychological foundations will be troubled, we must seek a monogamous relationship as soon as possible in order to remedy those problems.  And we must stay in that relationship for our entire life.  Men are the only people capable of the Hero’s Journey, but they are divorced with it completely if they enjoy pornography or play violent video games.  They are also destined to die alone, because apparently no female would ever masturbate, no female would ever play such games, and any person who does either thing should be ashamed of themselves.  Women also do not ever spurn the ideas of Disney princesses, hookers with hearts of gold, or dream weddings.  It is absurd to think that women AND men might be able to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives alone or in same-sex relationships.  Gender is completely binary, and sexual diversity does not even merit a mention.  Also, something about drones and prisons and Goldman Sachs and G.I. Joe.

In leaping from attacks on capitalism to attacks on very specific elements of media and culture, she belittles women and their purpose as strongly as any simpleton senator, she undermines men, she rails against certain implications of gender roles while heavy-handedly endorsing others, and she disregards the personal integrity of anyone who leads a life of solitude.  All the while, she forgoes any discussion of what connects those elements, what drives them, how they in turn drive capitalism and drive its Perpetual Dissatisfaction Engine — Dissatisfaction which both creates and is created by the undue sense of Self-Entitlement that lurks closer to the heart of these interpersonal and cultural issues.

For a person to treat a relationship or a person his- or herself as disposable is shameful.  It indicates an inability to accept flaws or imperfections in the other, it may indicate a lack of desire on the other’s part to fix or even address those problems, and it indicates a lack of communication that would enable both partners to understand and accept each other, flaws and all, while they grow and mature and seek their goals.

But our culture teaches that our flaws are more outward than inward, and that they can be remedied by seeking something new.  That our inner dissatisfaction comes from dissatisfaction with our goods.  That we are represented by our goods, that we are what we wear, what we drive, what we watch, what we listen to.  That we should think about our goods more in terms of What This Says About Us than What It Does For Us, and we think about What It Does For Us far, far more than we think about What We Can Do With It.  It is a heresy to stop oneself and ask “Do I want to have or do this thing, or do I want to be The Kind Of Person Who Has And Does This Thing?”  We are made to think these are  — and should be — one and the same.  We are more manipulated by our tools than manipulators of them ourselves.  

We don’t fix anything anymore. When something breaks, or gets damaged, or has flaws, we throw it out and get a new one.  Whether discussing computers, phones, shoes, clothing, or cars, it’s often easier, cheaper, and usually more advantageous to just get a replacement instead of repairing the old one.  In fact, more often than not, what’s being thrown away simply can’t be fixed — it’s engineered to be unfixable.  It’s made with hidden screw-holes that require proprietary tools; it’s made to self-destruct when tampered with; it’s just too cheap and flimsy to be worth sewing or patching or darning or cobbling.

And, worse, if our goods show the signs of patches and repair, they make us look like we’re Not Rich, which is one of capitalism’s greatest sins.

What about designer jeans with holes in them, you ask?  What about “vintage” style tees, already soft and thin and faded when you buy them off the rack?  Aren’t you paying extra for the status of owning something that looks like it’s been around the block a few times — something that looks “authentic?”

Yes, and that’s exactly the issue.  Because that very pre-worn nature means that the clothing will be less durable as time goes on.  They will rip so much that they don’t function as pants; they will fade and fray and be useless as shirts.  The prestige is not just in saying “I can afford these expensive objects.”  The prestige is in saying “I can afford to buy expensive objects that have already been damaged enough that they have only 30% of their utility left.”  It’s tearing and wear that are valued — there is no trend for patches.  There is no trend for mended seams.  There is no trend for artfully sewn-up holes.

Patches and visible repairs also make us look Not Young, which is another sin of capitalism.  We’re old enough to have had these objects for a long time, and for those objects to have become worn and damaged.  If our items are old, then we too must be old. This is why it’s trendy to buy new vintage-style items, but it’s a mark of the mildly countercultural to buy actual thrift clothes.  Feigned authenticity is more desirable than actual age, actual wear, actual damage, actual ugliness — the actual admission that the styles of even one decade ago are now so undesirable as to be subjects of mockery, something that can be worn as a joke, or to assert an understanding that modern trends are just as ephemeral.

And yet actually sewing your own clothes is still largely considered something well beyond the popular/counterculture dynamic and squarely in the category of things done by poor kids and losers.

Because the biggest issue of fixing the old or making things from scratch isn’t just being Not Rich and Not Young, it’s being Not Busy.  Capitalism works best when a person’s time is worth so incredibly much that it’s more expedient to spend money than to spend time.  This critique of How You Spend Your Time can be heard levied against all sorts of fringe groups, from DIY enthusiasts to foodies to computer nerds to artists.  Why spend TIME on these things?  Don’t you know how much your TIME is worth?  Your life is short, and you are running out of TIME.

And so it’s no surprise that we treat other people as we treat our objects.  If that person shows age, shows wear, shows the scars of a life lived hard, shows eyes that have seen both too much and not enough, shows calloused hands and wrinkled faces, lines where years of emotion have visibly etched themselves into the flesh, that person is clearly Not Rich enough to get cosmetic surgery, to get a new nose and new boobs or new hair.  That person is clearly Not Young anymore.  And that person has clearly spent too much time doing things that didn’t have a goal of maintaining youthful perfection — not enough time exercising, or moisturizing, or doing makeup, or doing anything else to conceal their bodies.  They’ve spent too much time doing other things they value more than the way they look, the way they feel, the way they act.   Therefore, their very appearance is proof of the passage of time, proof of the ephemeral nature of life and beauty, and is therefore undesirable.  And if we define ourselves by what we own, and if a woman’s place, particularly, is as an object or tool by which men are to be satisfied and kept in check, an object or tool by which more children enter the world, then yes, a man will discard that woman as swiftly as he’d disregard any other outmoded product.

And if there are flaws in the relationship itself, flaws in what motivates each partner as a person, or motivates them both as a couple, flaws in how one copes with the world, copes with these very processes of aging and feeling obviated, we are not taught to fix these flaws.  We are not taught to admit to having them.  Youth is valued, and age is valued by the degree to which it still has the appearance and abilities of youth.  Experience, understanding, and wisdom are irrelevant, because our culture thrives on an inability to learn from past mistakes and a willingness to make the same mistakes over and over again, forever believing that the Next Big Thing will solve all our problems.

And so people throw away relationships when the other person gets too human, too old, too real. They reach out to someone else who is more of a fantasy, abandoning it again when the genuine human frailties show through.  Monogamy isn’t in opposition to capitalism, like she asserts.  It, too, is just another instance of seizing onto whatever sounds best at the time — most self-affirming, most reflective of the you you’d like to be, most useful toward one’s own ends — then enjoying it and using it until it’s expended, then seeking out the newest model.  Serial monogamy is monogamy, too. And whether that’s done while still in a relationship or after a divorce, it’s the same concept of expending / disposing / replacing, frequently with something that more closely embodies the fantasy of what they want in someone else and what they want in themselves.

And, yes, they frequently reach out to their own inner fantasies, using them more and more as a crutch.  It doesn’t even matter what that fantasy is.  Maybe it’s a sexual fantasy.  Maybe it’s a fantasy of wielding guns and swords to save the world.  But maybe it’s a martyr syndrome.  Maybe it’s a belief in religious or cultural superiority.  Maybe it’s keeping up with the Joneses.   Maybe it’s a fantasy less about what you hope to be, and more about what you fear. But, whatever it is, it perpetuates that drive toward believing oneself to be undeniably and objectively valuable and simultaneously believing oneself to be somewhere irrevocably behind where one Should Be.  It keeps you running like mad just to stay in the same place, simultaneously believing that something better is just around the corner and that it should have come to you already.  It keeps you unsatisfied, unfulfilled, unable to even explain to yourself why you feel this way, or to realize that you feel unsatisfied at all.  You will dispose of everything you can, replace everything you can, buy everything you can, in hopes of finding the secret.

But so long as it’s something that perpetuates that drive toward dissatisfaction, it’s nothing but cultural spackle — something with no purpose but to give a false sense of fulfillment and a false sense of repair.  Something that exists to smooth out all natural variation, to make a bland and neutral surface — a surface that’s receptive to whatever somebody else wishes to paint you with. To make you feel, believe, and know that your true self is weak and unworthy — and that you are only beautiful, only strong, when painted.

Wilson does not challenge us to seek our true selves. She does not fully address how culture motivates what we keep and what we dispose.  She does not encourage us to look at the way capitalism tries to sell us ourselves.  She just tosses out these sexist assertions, throws in a peppering of jabs against porn and video games, adds some scary noises about Wall Street and drones and prison, jumping from concept to concept without ever saying anything concrete about what she thinks one should do, how she thinks one should live — except, of course, for the sexist parts about what a woman’s purpose may encompass.  At every turn, she misses the chance to clearly address the disposability and entitlement at the heart of so many of these issues. And I can only guess that it’s because she isn’t able to pin it down as such.  That she, too, believes herself to be simultaneously enlightened and unfulfilled.  That she finds more value in what she can throw away — like capitalism, or women’s liberation, or sexual freedom, or coherent thesis statements — than in what she can cultivate.  As a result, this article becomes just another kind of spackle, and she only wants to coat us with a different kind of paint.  

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Guys, Gals, Grrls, and Other Slang For Women: A Broad Analysis

The Atlantic has this interesting piece by Lily Rothman about the decline of the word “gal” – despite such an analogue to “guy” being more needed now than ever – and the hope of its resurrection.

Personally, I use “guy” as a gender-neutral term all the time – male or female, everyone is equally likely to be “guy,” “dude,” or even “man,” in the “Hey, ___, what’s up?” or “___, look at that!” kinds of ways. (…But not “bro.” Never “bro.”)  Heck, I sometimes use “guys” and “dudes” as placeholder names, in the same sense as “doohickeys” or “whatsits.”  “Hand me one of those little metal guys.” “Put these dudes in the drawer for me?”

I’m sure something could be said about patriarchy there; that this blanket use of masculine terms carries some implicit assumption that all persons are male until proven otherwise, that even all humorously-personified inanimate objects are male by default, or that all things should be male, or something equally ridiculous. Nevermind that the mass-noun substitution could also be seen to objectify males just as much as it masculinizes objects.  But that’s a separate and less interesting discussion.  (As is the discussion that could be had on slang terms for females that are also terms for prostitutes, or for the female genitalia.  It’s self-evident that none of them would be an equivalent to “guy.”)

Regardless, the common current options for females do leave something to be desired. “Girl” does have those connotations of dependence and immaturity. “Woman” isn’t casual enough. And “lady” implies an elegance and sophistication that may not be present or even desirable. A lady is the counterpart of a gentleman; to presume that female-shaped-and-or-identifying humans are somehow classier, more refined, or have more genteel sensibilities than males is just a different sort of stereotype. Also, something is fundamentally jarring about a sentence like “Two shirtless guys are punching each other in the alley next to the dumpster, and there’s a lady hitting one of them with a shoe.”

I know where Rothman is coming from, but etymologically, “gal” just comes from “girl,” which makes it feel like a somewhat insufficient substitution.  It also doesn’t seem to be quite as neutral – there’s a sort of fun-loving, inherently-friendly connotation there.  “Gal pals.” Buffalo Gals, dancing by the light of the moon.  Something almost sounds contradictory about an “angry gal” or a “dour gal.” It might just be the vintage nature of the term, but I only ever think of a gal as a perpetually smiling 1940s-era woman, staring off the page of an advertisement.

Despite the musical’s suggestion, “dolls” is not a suitable counterpart for “guys,” either. A doll is a toy, a passive object that exists to be played with by others — and, moreover, one whose purpose usually falls into one of two types: infants to be nurtured, and disproportionate fashion models. In both, the doll is an object of the player’s actions, rather than a protagonist in its own right.  But if I had to be one or the other, I’d rather be called a “girl” than a “doll;” girls are at least sentient.

“Babe,” taken literally, is even more infantilizing than “girl,” though still less objectifying than “doll.”  Even after a near-century of use, it’s still a little strange that a word for babies is also used to describe sexually attractive women.  What constitutes “attractiveness” is always subject for debate, but this still makes it far too specific to be an analogue of “guy.”  You can be an ugly guy; you can’t be an ugly babe.

“Chick” is slightly better than the previous options, but still iffy. It has a lighthearted and somewhat lightheaded association, even an affiliation with commercialism, which I think comes more from its other formations – chick lit, chick flick. Chicks hang out at malls until dudes pick them up in cars that are total chick magnets.  Chicks don’t go to the library.  Chicks go to the bar – and they never have to buy their own drinks.

I’ve never quite been sure if the British slang “bird” had the same, er, flighty connotations of “chick.” But since it’s never yet caught on in the States – and since both it and “chick” might, to the pedant, be too dehumanizing – it doesn’t seem particularly viable, either.

Anything spelled wrong is right out – that means you, “gurl.”  “Girl” is bad enough; spelling it wrong and implying lazy typing or outright illiteracy is not making it the least bit better. And “grrl” only wants me to give the user a REASON to be incapable of pronouncing vowels.  It might – might – have a small window of utility for females aged anywhere from 13 to 17 or so, but it lacks credibility even for them. It’s trying to be meaningful and distinctive and tough, but only comes across as cutesy and a little desperate, the very opposite of the independent attitude it’s trying to convey.

So too with “womyn.”  The Old English “man” at the root of both “men” and “women” was basically a synonym of “one” or “anyone,” with no connotations of gender in the first place; knowing that etymology, stripping away the “man” and keeping the “wo-” seems to be missing the point.  Going back to wer-man and wyf-man for males and females would be pretty nifty, as it would acknowledge two main groups and leave “man” itself open for the gender-neutral – but it wouldn’t exactly be casual.  Politically-driven language rarely is.

“Skirt,” on the other hand, goes way too far in the opposite direction; it can stay in the old detective fiction, if you ask me. It just describes a whole person (or gender of persons, in fact,) by a single garment.  Females have been rocking the bifurcated trousers for long enough now that “skirt” is rarely even an accurate description of one’s clothing, anyway.  Given the rough timeframe when both began falling out of favor, we can go back to calling girls “skirts” when we can accurately call guys “suspenders.”

“Dame” also has that wonderful old-fashioned flair to it.  It’s a strange hybrid of high and low class.  A dame is the equal of a knight, a status of even higher import than a lady! And as such, it has the same sorts of assumptions, at face value.  Elegance, nobility, poise, grace, and all that jazz.  Used as the slang term, though, it’s much more low-down and streetwise, to the point of mild offensiveness.  I’m not sure what made it become offensive, originally – if there was an element of sarcasm, or if it was just the fact that it was a common slang term for women from a time when being a woman was seen as inferior.  These connotations don’t seem to balance each other out as much as they trip each other up.

Even more obscure, and more purely low-down, would be “moll.” The gun moll is already the counterpart to the wise guy, when it comes to 30s-era gangster slang.  But that’s a little too much inherent criminality for “moll” alone to be a useful all-purpose analogue for “guy.”  There’s also an implication of codependence – the gun moll is a partner to, or supporter of, the gangster, not quite someone who operates on her own.  No dice.

I love the word “broad” though. I can’t quite explain why. It’s similarly vintage, and even if it’s supposed to be pejorative, it’s still a great sounding word. I don’t know where it came from – broad hips, maybe?  If so, cool; nice to imply that being more than 16 inches in diameter is okay again.  That wouldn’t make too much sense, either – males tend to be broad in the chest and broad in the shoulders, so it doesn’t sound like it could be a physical term at all. Even if it was originally an invective, or at least meant to be demeaning, it doesn’t specify anything about attitude or appearance, and it therefore has… well, broader applications.  You can’t be an ugly babe, but you can be a classy broad.  Or a smart broad.  Or a strong broad, though that sounds like Rule 63 for Strong Bad. It isn’t inherently youthful, and it isn’t matronly. (Though you can be an old broad, which is rather more casual than being an old woman or an old lady, and less oxymoronic than an old girl – or an old gal, for that matter.)   Even acknowledging its history as an insult, people are trying to reclaim “bitch” as an empowering term, and that’s an outright swear!  It’s a direct insult against a person, whereas “broad” is, if anything, vaguely dismissive – and even then, not half as disdainful as “toots.”  “Broad” is less harsh and less cruel than “bitch,” which might mean it has less need to be defused and reclaimed – but it also might mean it would have more (and more meaningful) success.

To seek to ennoble the word “bitch” can be misconstrued for a celebration of “bitchiness” itself.  The very point may be that the traits that constitute unacceptable “bitchiness” in a woman are often the same traits that constitute laudable boldness in a man, but the term is much more often used to describe regular old rudeness, viciousness, and self-entitlement – sneering, snarling, and snootiness. The absurdity of the idea that women should deserve a separate word for their rudeness than men is a fair counterpoint; women certainly don’t have a monopoly on such attitudes — but I’ve rarely heard “asshole,” “pig,” or even “jerk” ascribed to a female, and for men to try to reclaim any of those words would be somewhat similarly weird. This isn’t true for “broad,” however.  A reclamation of “broad” can’t be seen as an attempt to celebrate the unpalatable behaviors or attitudes it’s used to describe, because “broad” isn’t descriptive.

At least, not in that sense.

Used more generally, “broad” is rarely a negative adjective.  It’s good to to be broad-minded, to have broad knowledge, to be unrestrained. To be broad is to be open, expansive, and it can describe both someone who has explored and the expanse of the places or concepts she’s been exploring.  To be broad is to be rife with possibilities. To be broad is to inherently defy being belittled or overlooked or disregarded; to defy being pigeonholed. It is to not only be there, but to take up just as much space as you damn well please, and to contain as much as you damn well like within yourself.  If something is broad,  with broad implications, in broad daylight, and you still can not or will not see it, everyone knows it’s because you just aren’t looking.

Broadly speaking, I think it’s a pretty good option.

But what do you guys think?

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Your Daily Rage: Senate Nominee Says RAPE-rape Doesn’t Cause Pregnancy; “Journalist” Is Fine With That

Rep. Todd Akin seems to be ever so slightly misinformed.  As stated in this interview with the Jaco Report, he seems to believe that rape cannot result in pregnancy.  Rather, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

But, y’know, I think he’s really going somewhere with this “legitimate” distinction. Bodies apparently know the intent behind various kinds of physical trauma, and react differently depending on that context. Did someone try to slit your throat? Well, if it were a LEGITIMATE throat-slitting, your body has ways of clotting the blood and shutting that whole thing down! If you find yourself bleeding out after your throat’s been cut, well, there’s just something wrong with you then. You must have wanted them to do it.

You may have just been sliced ear to ear by a stranger, a jealous lover, or a drunk friend; who did it and how is vital to determining whether they actually slashed you, or if you just FEEL like they slashed you. Some kinds of throat-slitting are just more real than others. For instance, it’s a legitimate throat-slashing if a knife-wielding stranger jumps out of a bush as you walk home. But were you asleep, or drunk, or even slightly intoxicated, and when you came to, you were bleeding profusely from the neck? Or maybe you only found the scars a while later? Well, you might have been “slashed,” but you probably weren’t SLASH-slashed.

It’s also important to know how much you fought back. Were you so scared of the knife-wielding aggressor making threats against your body that you froze and couldn’t run away? Did you think trying to fight would only make them cut you even worse? Did you forget to say “NO” in a loud clear voice, so that they would know you didn’t agree to have your throat cut? Well, maybe he was just following his natural instincts.

Needless to say, it’s a completely illegitimate throat-cutting if you went out wearing a low-cut top: a thick wool turtleneck would’ve protected your neck much better! You think you can just show off your soft, fleshy neck in public, or even in private with a friend you thought you knew, without inviting exactly this kind of thing? You should have known better, and the fact that you’re bleeding out right now is proof that you actually wanted this to happen. Your body would have defended against it otherwise. It’s science. I understand it from doctors.

So, don’t try to make everyone else pay for your bad deisions! Cover your necks, say NO, and just remember: if you didn’t want this to happen to you, your body would have kept it from happening. That’s more than reason enough to limit the kinds of medical choices you should have available.

…Oh wait – you mean he misspoke?  He was able to make a complex statement and try to justify it as being information he got from doctors, but it was all just a slip of the tongue?  Somehow, that sounds like a very difficult flub to make.

So here’s the compromise:  either he didn’t know it was wrong when he said it, which displays a staggering and abhorrent level of scientific illiteracy as well as failings in fundamental human empathy… or he knew it was wrong and said it anyway, which is a little thing we like to call a “lie.”

It wasn’t misspoken.  He didn’t leave out a “not,” or confuse a subject and an object, or make any error in his manner of speaking.  The error was in the content of what he said, and in what he thought.  He could have said he learned something today.  He could have embraced the chance to move forward with a better understanding.  But no, it’s easier to simply brush it off as a simple little flub, that he misspoke, that everyone should have understood what he meant.

The only thing that isn’t legitimate here is his apology.

Oh – and the interviewer’s journalistic integrity.

“Mmhmm.  Okay, let’s go on to the economy.”   Let’s not, Jaco.  Let’s take the opportunity to teach something, instead.


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Your Daily Rage: Pastor Sean Harris Promotes Beating LGBT Kids

It sounds like an inflammatory headline, I know.  Like it must be condensed and exaggerated.  But no: if your children are not 100% cisgendered — if your male child plays dress-up, or if your female child does not adequately play dress-up — Pastor Sean Harris of Berean Baptist Church, Fayetteville, NC, gives you dispensation to give that kid “a good punch.”

Jeremy Hooper of Good As You provides the audio and transcript (which apparently I can’t embed for some reason:)

“So your little son starts to act a little girlish when he is four years old and instead of squashing that like a cockroach and saying, “Man up, son, get that dress off you and get outside and dig a ditch, because that is what boys do,” you get out the camera and you start taking pictures of Johnny acting like a female and then you upload it to YouTube and everybody laughs about it and the next thing you know, this dude, this kid is acting out childhood fantasies that should have been squashed. 
Can I make it any clearer? Dads, the second you see your son dropping the limp wrist, you walk over there and crack that wrist. Man up. Give him a good punch. Ok? You are not going to act like that. You were made by God to be a male and you are going to be a male. And when your daughter starts acting to [sic] Butch you reign her in. And you say, “Oh, no, sweetheart. You can play sports. Play them to the glory of God. But sometimes you are going to act like a girl and walk like a girl and talk like a girl and smell like a girl and that means you are going to be beautiful. You are going to be attractive. You are going to dress yourself up.” 
You say, “Can I take charge like that as a parent?” 
Yeah, you can. You are authorized. I just gave you a special dispensation this morning to do that.”

Where to even begin?

The call to violence is, obviously, the most glaring aspect: if a young male child, too young to even know of the stereotypical affectation of the limp wrist, happens to make this gesture, the father should break the child’s wrist.  And punch the child, for good measure.  I’m going to repeat that: Pastor Harris encourages parents to punch children and break their wrists.  That is unacceptable for any infraction.

Boys, to Harris, become men by performing physical labor, and by not wearing dresses.  One cannot, apparently, be a man who wears a dress, despite all evidence to the contrary.  Boys can also become men by being physically acted upon, presumably because this “toughens them up” and keeps them from being “soft.”  (I can only guess that, in the Pastor Sean Harris Super-Slim Guide to Science, pain makes the body produce androgens.)

I’d contrast this with how Harris thinks girls become women, but he says nothing of the sort.  He only addresses how girls should act like girls.

I think that this aspect of his screed might get lost in the completely-justified outrage surrounding the “beat your children” part of the sermon, and I’m not sure I’d have anything more to add to that anyway — the hideousness and indefensibility are self-evident.  Instead, I’d like to dig into what this little rant of his reveals about his overall assumptions about gender, and more specifically his assumptions about femininity.

While I’m sure he means “act” in the sense of “behave,” what he’s describing is the “act” of a performance.  Yes, he implies that girls can’t dig ditches, and can only play sports sometimes.  But he mainly implies that, regardless of how a girl might naturally walk, speak, or smell, she must put on a show of femininity.  Not all women naturally walk heel-to-toe and swish their hips.  Not all women speak with a breathy voice and end every sentence in a high rising terminal.  If there were any doubt that Harris is talking about performative femininity, it would be shattered by his statement that a girl should “smell like a girl.”  A girl who plays sports, who gets dirty and sweats and has any amount of body odor, would indeed smell.  Logic would say that these scents would obviously smell like a girl — specifically, the girl they are coming out of.  But no — one only smells like a girl when one does NOT smell like a girl.

Moreover, all these factors combined “mean you are going to be beautiful.”  Any girl who clomps around when she walks and uses declarative sentences cannot also be beautiful, no matter how she looks.  It’s not even enough to be beautiful, however — “you are going to be attractive.” A point which is even more uncomfortable when one remembers that he’s saying nothing of women, just of girls. The purpose of being beautiful is not to delight in aesthetics as an end in itself, but to appeal to the male gaze.

To delight in aesthetics as an end in itself is stereotypically appealing to the male gays, too.   But also to young people, males and females alike, who may or may not even understand gender yet.  All the polemics of “sin” aside, what could Harris be seeing as so very Wrong about boys enjoying beautiful things, or engaging in the same performative femininity as girls?

Maybe it’s exactly that: the fact that it IS such a blatant reminder that all these “feminine” behaviors are an act.  If Pastor Harris and his ilk only acknowledge women – pardon me, girls – as beautiful or attractive when they’re wearing the right things and speaking the right way and moving the right ways, why, they might momentarily be attracted by a passing transgender female who wears, moves, speaks, and smells like a girl, too!   The fear of even fleeting and inadvertent homosexual attraction is so strong that they must maintain the clearest possible distinction between the sexes, starting by instilling fear into even the youngest children — by any means necessary.  The sooner one is taught to associate a “lapse” or “failure” of heteronormativity with physical pain, the better society will fare.

Also note his language: he encourages parents to “punch” and “crack” boys, and to “reign in” [sic] girls.  Essentially, Harris believes children should be taught about gender norms the way one would (badly) break a horse: for the boys, apply the whips and spurs to goad them in the right direction. Flog them when they misbehave or follow the path their nature impels them to follow.  For the girls, make sure the bit is good and tight in her mouth so you can keep her reined in, such that she can’t even try to follow her natural path. Note that, purely coincidentally, she’d be less able to speak.  All these violent and restraining actions are nothing more than “taking charge.”

There is, frankly, no way I would ever subject myself to listening to Harris’s past sermons to find anything that reveals his attitude toward women overall.   I did find a sermon about female deacons, however, where he states that female deacons can be acceptable in churches whose structure of governance is exclusively led by the church elders, and wherein the deacons are no more than a figurehead.  He does also say at the 4 minute mark that “If you see on the church website that they have female deacons, that should serve as a red flag to you. You should not just go ‘Okay, that’s fine;’  you need to be concerned about that.”  Clearly, he believes that women should not serve as leaders in the church, and that males and females should serve God in different ways.

Moreover, I’ve not bothered to find anything more specific to his attitudes toward sexual immorality than this sermon on how sex outside of marriage is never safe.  Which I’ve not listened to in full.

However, I don’t doubt at all that Pastor Harris believes there are “immoral” women who flaunt their sexuality.  Women who prey on the lusts of men by dressing imprudently, wearing too much makeup, wearing short or tight skirts, and so forth.  Though, again, I cannot find any specific statement to this effect, I also cannot imagine – knowing what I know of his conservative Christian ideology and beliefs on the acceptable roles of women in the home and in church – that Pastor Harris would find such sexualization acceptable.

So, a woman must act like a woman, and walk like a woman, and dress like a woman, and smell like a woman, and must be beautiful and attractive — but, surely, if one acts too attractive and shows off too much of her God-given womanly attributes, that’s an affront.   I suppose this, again, is why girls need to be “reined in,” to make sure they’re neither too “butch” nor too “slutty.”  Neither too passive to follow God’s supposed will, nor too willful on their own.   A boy becomes a man by, basically, doing masculine things and NOT doing feminine things.  It’s probably impossible for a boy to act too manly.  But a girl only lives properly as a girl by being neither too masculine nor too feminine — a balance which, you’ll note, should be moderated by the father: Pastor Harris specifically encourages “dads” to exercise these punishments.  The role of the mother in family discipline, or in anything else, is unclear.  Given the apparent analogy Harris draws between children and horses, perhaps a mother’s role is as little more than brood mare.

“Where to even begin?” was one question.   “Where can it be ended?” is another.

I’m not sure what could be said to counteract this sort of rhetoric.  What wouldn’t immediately be filtered away by a misdirected fear that is interpreted as self-preservation.   I’m sorry to say that I hold no hope that Pastor Harris will ever see anything wrong with his statements.  As Senior Pastor, he has been living an entire life predicated upon this certain set of beliefs, indoctrinated indepenedently of logic. For the rest of his days, he will accept others’ homosexuality or being transgender no more than he would accept them committing murder or arson or infanticide.  All too likely, he himself was given a few lashes for playing dress-up.  All too likely, he has fears of loving or lusting after someone who is secretly a male, accidentally dooming himself to Hell forever.  All too likely, whatever children he has or teaches have been given this same anxiety and revulsion, and one can only hope that they come to think independently and with compassion in the course of time.  But, here and now, he believes to the very core of his being that he speaks God’s own truths, the only truths that can save the souls of the impressionable.  He believes to the core that he is a spiritual guide and protector.  He will never comprehend how he is hurting his community.  He will never comprehend how he is driving them away from the church, and from any sense of trust in adults.  Nor could he ever care, because he believes

Pastor Harris is right on one basic assumption:  not that physical or emotional abuse can affect one’s sexuality or gender expression, but that it can affect what one learns to fear.

If I were a young person in Fayetteville, NC, I would fear Pastor Harris and the members of his church.

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