Friday, June 10, 2016

The Brock Turner Rape Case

The outrage this week over the sentencing of Brock Turner for the three counts of sexual assault he was convicted of in the recent Stanford rape case highlights the disconnect between what the public views as appropriate punishment for various crimes and how the legal system sentences. I will admit to sharing that outrage.

I don’t enjoy an online lynching, but I don’t feel sorry for this kid. At all. No matter what hook-up culture exists on college campuses today, no matter how much alcohol flows at parties or how sex is viewed by young people these days, choosing to rape an unconscious women behind a dumpster is the action of a predator. Brock Turner saw someone vulnerable and instead of choosing to help or even just pass on by, like the proverbial priest and Levite, he stripped her, took photographs of her breasts and texted them to his friends, then sexually assaulted her until he was stopped by two Swedish men who happened upon them.

I’ve previously written about the importance of girls staying safe and sober in order to avoid sexual assault. I stand by that opinion. Some people are dangerous. It’s a sad fact, but it’s true. No one else will be responsible for your safety, girls, so you have to be. It’s fine to have a designated driver or a responsible friend, but the only person who will prioritize your safety in these situations is yourself or people who genuinely care about your welfare like your family.

This isn’t, by the way, advice solely directed at women. I would also tell my son not to get blackout drunk at parties or put himself in close proximity to people who might hurt him. People do stupid things when they’re drunk that get them into trouble. They gamble large sums of money, they drive and have accidents, and they get into fights. Rape is not the only negative outcome of binge drinking. There are any number of them, and they can seriously derail your life.

In this case, I went further and I talked to my son about predatory behavior. I wanted to use Brock Turner as an example of someone I do not want him to ever emulate - not because Brock’s life has taken a sharp turn for the worse, not because he was caught and found guilty and will go to jail, but because it’s his responsibility, no matter how drunk, how sexually frustrated he is, or what is going on around him, to be a decent human being.

It’s harder these days, I know. We’ve got a real Lord of the Flies society thing going on. It’s not impossible, though. Brock is not an isolated case. He’s not representative of all or even the majority of people, men, or college students, but he’s not a token. He’s one of many predators who will hurt people when they get a chance and will fight being held accountable for it until the people who care about him go bankrupt. In other words, he’s a waste of oxygen. The world is not a better place because he exists.

I didn’t change all of those diapers and cook all of those meals so that my son can do the same. I expect him to earn his oxygen and not do stupid, selfish things when he’s a man, just as I would any daughter of mine.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Neal Gabler on America's Declining Standard of Living

For the May issue of the Atlantic Neal Gabler, a writer, university lecturer, and erstwhile movie reviewer, wrote The Secret Shame of Middle-Class Americans, a piece about how he has struggled with his finances in silence due both to his family’s personal choices and the declining standard of living for middle-class Americans. This is an interesting piece, more for what it says about the author than the people with whom he’s trying to equate himself.

Gabler’s tale is another reiteration of Aesop’s fable, The Ant and the Grasshopper, padded with statistics for more effect. The problem with this piece is that Gabler wrote it, and he’s hardly the spokesperson for the down and out in America. Even if he’s shedding light on a real trend, his motivation is to gain sympathy for himself while placing himself over the unwashed in the social hierarchy.

The fact is, it is hard out there for many, many Americans these days. The statistics Gabler cites are true. The standard of living for lower income, working class and middle class Americans has definitely gone down in the past decades. While the cost of items we’ve grown to think of as non-negotiable - like housing, education, and healthcare - has sharply risen. Many more people are living on the edge of bankruptcy. As the article points out, 47 percent of respondents to one survey said that they would have to borrow or sell something to come up with $400 to pay for an emergency expense or would not be able to come up with it at all.

$400 is not that much money. There are so many things that cost at least $400 to repair or replace. This winter my refrigerator died, my washing machine died, and my laptop more or less collapsed. Each of these problems cost at least $400 to resolve. A car repair, an unexpected tax bill, or a medical emergency will easily run up into that kind of money as well, and most of us are vulnerable to those kinds of issues since we drive, pay taxes, and have bodies that break down.

The bump in prosperity the United States experienced in the middle of the twentieth century got people out of the habit of behaving in the kinds of pragmatic, cooperative, and self-denying ways that our ancestors had to live in order to survive, as well. And, unlike previous generations, the Boomers haven’t saved much and are looking winter straight in the face at this point. It’s coming.

Gabler, however, seems to have managed to either purchase or achieve most of his life goals. As a writer, he works a job of his choice in a financially unpredictable field, getting paid sporadically rather than steadily. He lived in New York City, a very expensive part of the country. His wife quit her job and stayed home with their two daughters when they were younger. They purchased a house in the Hamptons before they sold off their co-op apartment in NYC. They sent their daughters to private school and then chose to use savings and an inheritance to send them to Stanford, Harvard Medical School, Emory, and the University of Texas. (The UT degree was a master’s in social work, so the ROI on that investment will be calculated in negative numbers.) They also paid for one daughter’s wedding.

Essentially Gabler had caviar taste on a tuna budget. He wanted certain things for himself and his family - a career as a writer/professor, posh schools, owning property in a high status zip code - and he got them. He mentions them all in this article so that we know that, while he doesn’t have any money, he is still not among the great unwashed and uneducated. He chose to invest in the finer things because he has taste and refinement. This money wasn’t blown on a drug habit, cruises to the Bahamas, or an unhealthy obsession with cars.

The problem is, he still couldn’t afford these things and have a retirement that’s something other than a lead slug. And it’s retirement time.

Historically, Americans didn’t make these types of choices because they didn’t have the option. Easy credit wasn’t available, so people could spend only until they ran out of money. As a result they didn’t get all new carpeting in their condo. Instead they made their own rag rugs and called it good enough. People didn’t have designer weddings. They got married by a minister in the living room of their parents’ home, and they sat down to a homemade dinner afterward. My great-grandmother insisted that all of her children go to college because it was the only way she could see them not following in her own path of subsistence farming/seasonal work in the pickle factory. All of them did a year at County Normal and then went off to work. It was an entry level option into a better paid field instead of status signalling to everyone she knew how smart they - and, by extension, she - were.

It’s okay to be proud of the intelligence and accomplishments of your kids. It’s fine to invest your money in them. There’s nothing wrong in wanting to live in a safe area with good schools or to work a job that’s better suited for your temperament than sales, accounting, or customer service. The problem is, you can’t make those decisions when you don’t have the money to pay for them and then lump yourself in with Americans who sell their plasma to pay bills because they can’t find any work that pays over $12 an hour. There are quite a lot of those people living in America today, and they don’t feel solidarity with guys who send their daughter to Harvard Med.

Neither do I.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Chrissie Hynde's "recklessness"

The other day when I was on my way to my son's school I caught part of Chrissie Hynde's NPR interview with David Greene in which Greene decided to focus on the chapter in Hynde's new book, Reckless: My Life as a Pretender, in which she discusses how her drug use resulted in her getting sexually assaulted.

The upshot of the interview, or at least what I heard, is that Hynde viewed this experience as something she walked into by doing drugs and getting high with dangerous people. She didn't want to label it rape, and she resisted other people telling her how she should think of it, and, as a result, she's gotten all sorts of garbage on social media for it. Essentially, she's making the argument that what women do, where they go, and what they have on make a difference to their safety, and no one wants to hear that. No one.

I found it interesting and even sort of funny that, when pressured by Greene to frame her experience differently she told him (and the audience): "Just don't buy the fucking book, then, if I've offended someone. Don't listen to my records." She also compared the social media response to a lynch mob. It's funny because Hynde apparently lived a pretty raucous life, and the audience isn't offended by any of the mistakes she made and acknowledges, but rather by her old-fashioned view that people are entitled to tell their own stories according to their own values and be left alone if they refuse to go along with what the current narrative says about things.

Sadly, that's not the way things work anymore. You have to say what they want you to say, or at the very least they'll take you apart online. They'll probably come for your livelihood as well.

It's been over five years now since I said something along the lines of what Hynde said in the online community I was in. I commented on a blog piece about frat parties and women's safety and wrote:

"I am SO tired of women thinking that since the Sexual Revolution, sex is now roped off and controlled, bureaucratized, no longer subject to natural law or the lusts of man (and woman).

"Men do not go to frat parties or bars during meat market rush to talk Plato and sample the culinary repast. They go to 1) get drunk and 2) get laid. Do women not know that? Come on, they have to know that. If you go to these venues scantily dressed, intend to flirt a lot, get all kinds of validating male attention, and go home on an ego high, you are a tease. You get something, they get nothing. Again, they don’t care what your thoughts on Plato are. Men accept the possibility of failure, but still it’s a set-up. They provide the booze and atmosphere, and hopefully you provide the ____.

"If you walked into a bordello and got drunk, would you expect to wake up with your panties still on? No. Why are you getting drunk if you’re inserting yourself into an unstable situation?"

I've had a lot of time to reflect on this incident, and, you know what I think? It was ridiculous. I was quoted and reviled on numerous blogs, Twitter, and even in newspapers. I received threats - physical threats - I was psychoanalyzed to death, and ultimately I quit the position I was in within that community. It wasn't because they fired me. It was because I felt that after 10 years of reading, commenting, and volunteering within that community, if this was the response I got when I said something people didn't agree with, I didn't want to interact with those people ever again. At the time I was volunteering like 20 hours a week of my time and generating a great deal of free content. I thought that people would care more about me as a person instead of words I wrote on one blog piece. I was wrong.

And, you know what? I could have been a lot less angry in that post. I could have skipped the sarcasm, and I didn't have to double down after. I suppose I could have apologized and gotten "educated," and I probably could have stayed in that community. That's not what I wanted. It's quite possible this was my way out of a commitment I'd grown tired of. Considering how little drama I create in real life and online, that seems as decent an explanation as anything else.

Why did I write it then? I wrote it because I really did not want to see any more girls get assaulted. That's it. I didn't write it to corral women and pen them back up. I didn't write it so that rape victims would feel worse about themselves. I didn't have a political agenda, and nothing I did or wrote made any difference at all except that it served as a rallying cry to circle the wagons and reaffirm what the right stand on women and sexual assault was within that community.

Twenty-one years ago I went and lived abroad. I've talked about this before, but within the last year, I've been examining my behavior more and trying to figure out some of my own thoughts and responses. The place I lived in, post-Soviet Russia, was not a safe place. It wasn't the most dangerous place in the world either, but things were destabilizing quickly at the time, and the experiences I had while living there and traveling through the area have had long-term effects.

I have night terrors practically every night. I wake up two or three nights a week - sometimes more, sometimes less - screaming. Sometimes I wake up everyone in the house. I find myself pawing through my purse in the middle of the night looking for my documents, checking to see if I still have them.

I don't feel safe traveling. I don't feel safe anywhere near anyone in a government issue uniform. I have an almost unbearable time flying, not because of the flying itself, but because people take your things, and pat you down, even strip search you. If I have to fly anywhere it takes me a long, long time after to feel safe again. I know what it's like to be in a place where you have no rights, protections, or legal recourse and to feel grateful when you come home alive.

None of this really has anything to do with rape at fraternity houses or drunkenness, but it does have to do with vulnerability and naivete. When I went to Russia, I assumed it would be okay. It wasn't. From a safety standpoint this was a dumb choice for me to make. I'm old enough now with enough experience to see and admit that. And I'd like to spare other people from decades of nightmares and fear.

I still don't understand why the shaming frenzy is necessary when people talk about the dangers out there for women and how to avoid them. Is it pride at work? Does it strike a personal chord in so many people? Why does everything have to be shouted down? Why can't we say women are vulnerable to predation; please avoid doing these things for your own safety?

I took some souvenirs home with me from my experiences abroad, but it's not the matrioshka dolls or the now historical currency that I examine the most, it's why two decades later I still wake up screaming all the time. It seems like we're doing nothing practical or worthwhile about stopping that from happening to more girls and women, and we can't even talk about our options anymore. How is this better?

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Obergefell and the creeping federal overreach

So I haven't commented too much on the whole gay marriage thing. For the record, I don't have a problem with civil unions. I have gay friends, and I think anyone should be able to control issues like inheritance, shared finances, medical or durable power of attorney assignment, insurance beneficiaries or covered dependents, etc. I also think marriage as a whole was long ago downgraded to civil union status in the West since, with the advent of no-fault divorce, it's now an unenforceable contract. The whole point of marriage is that people need structure in order to make sure that the vulnerable or defenseless are protected and the most effective, loyalty-inspiring arrangements seem to be familial. But if there's no bite to the contract, the strong will leave and the weak will go under. This is what we're experiencing now - a whole lot of people slowly going under.

What cheeses me off about the whole gleeful celebration of the past several weeks is that loads of people don't see what coming just around the river bend for religious people whose values are in conflict with the equality cult religion now in power.  It's been in the works for quite some time already.

If the government can fine you into oblivion for refusing to bake a cake for an occasion that goes against your religious beliefs and then place a gag order on you after the fact, we no longer have free speech or freedom of religion. For that matter, we don't even have equality, since some citizens are protected upon pain of fine or jail and others are jailed or fined.

So I got into a Twitter discussion. Yes, I did. I know, I know. But when people say this Supreme Court decision won't change anything about my life since I don't want to marry another woman, I have to shake my head. Where have these people been living for the past 60-70 years or longer? Haven't they seen kids forced to travel by bus clear across a city to an unknown school so the equality flag can fly higher? Haven't they seen federal tax dollars funneled for Planned Parenthood and abortion initiatives? Have they not seen public schools stripped of any Christian cultural expression? Haven't they noticed how hostile college campuses are to the religious or people of conservative values? Haven't they watched as villages and hamlets get sued into submission for their Santa displays or Christmas tree decorations? The Boy Scouts - the Boy Scouts - have been successfully rebranded as bigotry purveyors.

If Christians want to have Christmas programs at community schools at Christmastime, they're out of line and selfish, but people can dance naked and simulate sex in public parades and religious people are told, "Don't go, then." Media has become unbelievably offensive. The solution? "Don't watch/listen/read/view/participate, then." Don't watch the media? Any media? The media is everywhere. Good luck with that.

If anyone thinks that this most recent Supreme Court decision is the end of this, they have not been paying attention. We are about to witness lawsuit after lawsuit against the religious, and not just about cakes and wedding photo shoots. Every Christian college is about to be forced to lose their ability to regulate sexual mores on campus or lose their ability to offer their students federal financial aid. Churches that refuse to marry gay people or have gay people in relationships hold office will lose their tax exempt status. These people will not stop until religious groups speak, think, and act by their rules within their own walls. Full stop.

Put out a rosary in your own cubicle and expect a complaint to rise. If you're not willing to nod and smile about your coworker's sex transitioning plastic surgery, expect HR to call and mandate a reprogramming class. Or lose your job. A lot of this road has already been traveled.

So when people say it's paranoia to think this decision was anything but a victory for love, I'm not at all convinced. Because the people we are dealing with do not negotiate in good faith. They take, and they sue, and they bulldoze, and they expect you to say thank you that you can still put up a cross and "believe what you want" in your own home.

Well, no thank you.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Grerp elsewhere

I thought I'd put up a notice of things I'd participated in elsewhere.

28 Sherman posted my review of Sexy Baby and Hot Girls Wanted this morning. I didn't mention this in my piece, but the hands-off parents in Sexy Baby named their daughters Winnifred, Gogo, and Myrtle, and, as far as I'm concerned, that's all that needs to be said about them. Except that she's a heavily tattooed NYC lawyer who actually competed on the dance floor with her tarted up daughter at the girl's bat mitzvah and he sought out feminist picture books to read to his girls when they were little. Mark my words, this will not end well.

A few months back I also did an interview for Ascending the Tower on femininity and gender roles. If you missed it, check it out. This was a fun conversation, and I was very pleased to be asked to participate. Thank you to Surviving Babel and Nick B. Steves.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

"Create Your Own Religion"

Quit Playing Prophet by Mark Yuray is certainly worth a read.

I've been following a few atheist and humanist sites over the past year or so. I always find it interesting to try out the head space of people who view the world much differently than I do. I find it fascinating that suddenly, arriving seemingly concurrently with post-apocalyptic visions of the world in pop culture, young people are obsessed with science and rationality - religiously obsessed, as if all of life must be put through these twin lenses or be counted inauthentic. And these are the same people who spend loads of money on steampunk costumes and paraphernalia so they can go to comic book conventions and interact with other people who are also pretending to be fictional characters.


I also have found it amusing to read ranting comments about the harmfulness of religion and how it "poisons minds and hearts" and amounts to child abuse while watching the twin trends of lessening religious observance and increasing rates of suicide, mental illness, obesity, illness, depression, illegitimacy, family breakdown, crime, arrests, imprisonment, and poverty.  Not that these two are in any way connected. Of course not.

Full disclosure: While I am a practicing and observant Catholic, I've experienced my own periods of religious doubt, some lasting for years. From what I've read few people come out of the experience of infertility and miscarriage with the same view of the world and how it works. I was no exception. It took its toll.

I've read the whole Bible, had read it by the time I was 15 (I was raised in an evangelical tradition). There are a lot of things, particularly in the Old Testament - which, I confess, I prefer - that do not rest easily in my mind with my ideas of right and wrong and how to handle conflict.

I've never observed a miracle, have never seen anything that I would classify as even being close to miraculous. I am naturally religious; I'm not at all spiritual. When people - and this happens frequently - tell me that everything happens for a reason, I cringe.

I have come to believe, however, that my personal ideas and beliefs, questions and doubts are unimportant, that focusing on what I need my religion to provide for me is, in fact, hubris and completely inappropriate. Religion was never meant to provide individual satisfaction or happiness, although it does do this frequently enough. I've known so many people who have survived horrible trials only because of their religious faith and the support their religious community gave them.

Religion is the way culture maintains and reproduces itself. It's the way values are transmitted between generations, the way worldviews are shaped, and destructive behavior within a community is minimized. Religion gives us multisensory ways of experiencing the passage of time and heightened spiritual experience. Religious belief inspires; it's creative. Religion ties people to their communities and brings them together to celebrate and mourn everyday happiness and sadness.

While it's true that people could theoretically come up with purely social methods for transmitting culture and bonding themselves together, most people would not feel compelled to participate without some higher meaning or guilt attached, and you need significant buy-in for the prophylactic effects of religion to work. A small percentage of people are capable of creating community and policing their own behavior adequately without this framework. Most people are not.

Human beings are endlessly innovative, and it's quite possible that someone could come up with a successful religious framework that would accomplish the above goals in the West better than Christianity has for the past two millenia. Certainly Christianity has not done a great job of standing up to the kindergartenish ideals of "fairness," "equality," or "tolerance" over the past century. But I have absolutely no interest in a religion created out of whole cloth for practical reasons for the same reasons I wouldn't bother to learn to "speak" Dothraki or an Elven tongue, even though I love languages. The countless iterations of Christian observance tell us nearly everything we know about our ancestors and what they believed, lived, and valued. The rituals they made up to celebrate life and time satisfy me very likely because they satisfied them and we are genetically connected.

The pastor's chair that once sat in the front of my grandfather's church sits in my bedroom today. It's not the most valuable piece of furniture in my house, but it reminds me that my grandfather helped build his church with his own back and his own money and these things were important to him. I still sing his favorite hymn, and it helps me to remember the person he was. I have my grandmother's stained glass nativity set, and I think of her and how we are alike and different every year when I set it up.

I am neither a philosopher nor a theologian, but I am a mother, and I have chosen to raise my child in a religious community with religious values. He feels he is a part of something and surrounded by like people who care about him. We talk about the saints who came before us, we sing the Agnus Dei as people did for centuries. Religion meets different needs in different people, but I'm not confident I could manufacture anything out of whole cloth that would be as relevant or inspirational as what Christian tradition offers. And it would not be a connection to my ancestors or their lives.

From what I've seen over the past 43 years, attempts to bypass the negatives of "organized religion" while still maintaining its "spiritual" benefits have failed, and the Boomers had the benefit of being raised in a functional society with actual rules and obligations. I'm not foolish enough to think I could do better on my own.

Friday, December 5, 2014

21st Century 'ships: Cartoons, not gay gay couples, and Kimye

Yesterday, EOnline wrote up a piece about the 20 most 'shipped couples on Tumblr in 2014. For those who aren't familiar with "'shipping" - and I'm not really either - it's:

Ship: (noun) Short for "relationship," an imagined romantic pairing of two people, fictional or otherwise.

Basically, from what I can tell because I don't read or write fan fiction or slash fiction, it's readers and viewers writing, video editing, gif making, and talking about real, fictional, or imagined couples from popular media. It seems to have exploded with the internet and particularly on sites like Tumblr which allow for the fast spread of any idea someone can come up with and make a .jpg or .gif file about.

I know I'm dating myself here, but we didn't do this sort of thing when I was young. Popular media was still somewhat universal, and there was little way for fans of esoteric fiction, written or filmed, to come together to obsess about their fandom. There were media events - like when Dave and Maddie hooked up on Moonlighting (epic writing/plotting mistake) - but we just watched them and then talked about them with our friends. Or we watched with our friends. We didn't buy Moonlighting-inspired Shakespearean costumes off of Etsy and go to conventions dressed as Katarina and take 1000 selfies with people dressed as werepuppets or some other absurdity.

Seriously, I don't get this trend. None of it. It's all too bizarre to me. What is going on with kids these days?

It's not just that I don't get fan fiction, although I don't. I've written fiction. I have no interest in writing other people's characters doing things I'd prefer them doing. That feels intrusive to me. I certainly would not want to write their characters doing or being something other than what the original writer wrote them doing. For instance, being gay or hooking up with villains.

I first became aware of slash fiction when people started writing Lord of the Rings characters Merry and Pippin as gay lovers instead of semi-intrepid hobbit friends in a war zone. I remember thinking, "Why would anyone ever want to read or write that? Why is this kind of character shift intriguing to them? What are they getting out of this?" Particularly because the people I knew who were doing this sort of thing - then on Livejournal - were young, heterosexual women. What was it about these women that made them want to see hobbits get it on?

I still don't get it, but as this trend exploded, I find it more and more distressing because fast forward 15 or so years and now out of the Top 20 Couples of 2014, only five of them are heterosexual. Five. And one of those five is Kim Kardashian and Kanye West. The rest of them are anime character couples, Youtube video makers, a couple of actually gay couples, and pairings made up of heterosexual characters who people think would be hotter if they were gay.


Look, Harry Potter isn't supposed to be with Malfoy. Romantic couples are supposed to be inspirational, aren't they? When girls read or watch Pride and Prejudice, they're supposed to want to be Elizabeth Bennet, right? When Colin Firth stares at Jennifer Ehle in P&P, a normal reaction is not to wonder what it would be like if Darcy and Bingley hooked up. Right? Right???  I just looked it up. There actually is Darcy/Bingley fiction out there. What? What a bizarro world we are living in.

Babies, people. Babies. It used to be, you wanted your characters to get together so that they would be all romantic and everything and then the natural would occur and they would have about twelve babies and be happy forever. Because gorgeous people - perfect couples - should reproduce themselves and populate the (imaginary) world with smarter, more athletic, better looking, more inspiring people with perfect teeth

When even women's fantasies don't involve family formation and reproduction - or even the involvement of female people - that's some kind of mass-induced insanity right there. What is going on here?