My Hero

“I heard police or ambulancemen, standing in our house, say, “She must have provoked him,” or, “Mrs Stewart, it takes two to make a fight.” They had no idea. The truth is my mother did nothing to deserve the violence she endured. She did not provoke my father, and even if she had, violence is an unacceptable way of dealing with conflict. Violence is a choice a man makes and he alone is responsible for it.”

-Patrick Stewart (via Shevilfempire)

Something That Makes Me Smile

A Beginner’s Guide to Sherlock Fandom

Here that, Supernatural and Teen Wolf and Inception and Thor and Suits and now Skyfall and…?  This is why I avoid you on the internet. And even though I enjoyed you, X-Men and The Avengers? It’s getting a little boring.

Rating in David Tennant “oh yes”s: 4/5

Apples and Oranges are Still Both Fruit

Recently I’ve been reading a lot about a new book by Andrew Solomon, a journalist, called Far From the Tree.  Full disclosure: I haven’t finished it yet.  From what I’ve read so far though, and read about it (a multi-page article in The New Yorker, among others), I’m a bit disappointed.  It’s an interesting topic and approach but there are some glaring questions regarding Solomon’s take on his chosen subject.  The book rests upon the premise that there are two kinds of identities, those that are shared among family members (vertical) and those that people develop independently (horizontal).  To summarize his efforts, Solomon has set out to investigate how families cope with children’s development of horizontal identities and in particular how parents deal with children dramatically different from themselves.  My problem is that I don’t believe that horizontal and vertical identities are as distinct and clearly differentiated as Solomon claims.  Several of what Solomon characterizes as horizontal identities (mental illness, criminality, genuis) arguably are passed on vertically, from parents to children by way of genetics, child-rearing, social situation and status, or some combination of these and other factors.

Furthermore, from what I’ve found out so far, Solomon fails to differentiate between identities based on the level of their social construction.  All the identities he discusses are in some sense socially constructed, but there is no arguing that deafness, for example, has a more biological basis than criminality.  Indeed, his inclusion of “criminal” as a horizontal identity makes me uncomfortably wary of Solomon’s book as a whole.  That “identity” is so subjective (it could be argued that it isn’t an identity at all, as it is primarily defined by behavior rather than any intrinsic personal characteristic) that it threatens to dilute any interesting conclusions he may have reached. After all I doubt he is including jaywalkers in his analysis.

Even having just begun the book, I have also already noticed some off-putting misrepresentations of vertical identities.  Solomon claims that vertical identities are more accepted as immutable and worthy of embrace, even if they are marginalized, which I agree is true.  He goes on though to say that people do not attempt to change these identities and that no one would ever suggest that they should, a statement that seems puzzlingly oblivious to me.  Clearly this is the work of someone who has never set foot in the hair care aisle of a CVS in an African-American neighborhood or been informed about the popularity of nose jobs in the Jewish-American community.  How someone so educated, clearly intelligent, and worldly can so wholeheartedly ignore the ongoing struggles and conflicts over assimilation experienced by many, if not all, vertical identity groups eludes me, and it does not bode well.

In some ways what upsets me the most is that this question, of drawing too sharp a line between horizontal and vertical identities, need not have presented a problem for Solomon.  I believe he betrays a lack of confidence in his argument through his insistence on an either/or system of characterization of identities.  Solomon has chosen an interesting and important topic for his book, one which deserves the attention it is receiving.  I only hope that his analysis proves worthy of it.

Rating in David Tennant “oh yes”s: 3/5 (so far)

Internalized Sexism in Country Song Form

Jaida Dreyer – Guy’s Girl

I’ll no doubt have more to say about this later, just posting it so I won’t forget.  For the moment, its existence is just making me kind of sad.  Country music isn’t exactly a bastion of progressiveness, but really.

ETA: Upon later reflection, I’ve realized there actually isn’t anything else that needs saying about this.  Except that that line about being whistled at is really, really embarrassing at best.

Rating in David Tennant “oh yes”s: 0/5

Racism and Denial

I’m a big fan of podcasts, they make all the time I spend on public transportation ineffably more tolerable, and in particular I’m always trying out different football podcasts, looking for that perfect blend of entertainment and analysis. Last night I decided to try one called “God Save the Prem,” which turned out to be three USAmerican guys talking heatedly about the EPL. It wasn’t great but it held my attention well enough, they seemed to know what they were talking about (aside from the somewhat strange references to Leeds United as a “small club”) and certainly had strong opinions, which always makes for good listening in my view.

I was planning to subscribe and make it one of my regulars until they got to the topic of racism, unfortunately unavoidable these days if you’re talking about England and football. I always brace myself whenever such discussions begin, but so far I’ve generally been happily surprised by the mature and thoughtful discourse on the podcasts I listen to regularly. Sadly, not so this time. One of the participants claimed that football fans, Chelsea fans specifically, don’t know what they’re doing when they make monkey noises at black players, that they do so out of ignorance. Well, that was the end of my listening. Of course they know what they’re doing; the idea that they don’t is denial bordering on delusion. After the recent brouhaha over Kick it Out t-shirts, the English outrage over the racist behavior of Serbian fans (recently and in 2007!), John Terry and Anton Ferdinand, Louis Suarez and Patrice Evra, and the banning of numerous fans of numerous clubs in recent years from watching football because of their racist behavior, the idea that any English football fan could somehow still not realize the implications of shouting monkey noises is ludicrous. They know how offensive and inflammatory it is: why else would they do it?

I find it particularly telling that no one on any of the British podcasts I listen to has suggested such a thing, and I’ve been thinking about why that might be so. I don’t know enough about British racial politics to come to any definitive conclusions, but one idea I’ve had is that white USAmericans are deeply wedded to the idea that our country is a place of equality and equal opportunity: witness the popularity of so-called “colorblindness.” The fact that we have an amazing capacity for denial when it comes to inequality, racial and otherwise, is well-established. The possibility that people can knowingly and consciously be racist, people who should and do know better, challenges that denial. Furthermore, it connotes guilt in a way that ignorance doesn’t.  Ignorant people can’t be held fully accountable for their behavior; following that logic, one can even go so far as to blame people of color for not sufficiently “educating” their oppressors. Voila, no one white has to feel bad or take responsibility for the past centuries and continuing occurrence of race-based oppression. Self-aware racists can’t just be let off the hook that way though, and if they are guilty, then what about the rest of us, who continue to accept this racial status quo?

Perhaps white Brits have no such fantasy, or at least are less bull-headedly committed to it. I’m not saying there’s less racism in England; maybe there is, maybe there isn’t  I don’t know. I am wondering if it is a different kind, if it doesn’t hide behind a myth of equality the way USAmerican racism so often does. I’ve been told that Great Britain is a much more class-conscious society than the US (admittedly not a difficult feat) and that they are not as committed to believing in the potential for upward mobility and meritocracy as we are. Maybe that awareness of inequality extends to race as well. It’s just an idea; the one thing I know for sure is that I won’t be listening to that podcast again.

Your Mileage May Vary, and Other Sex Ed Lessons from Fandom

(Alternate Title: Everything I Know About Sex I Learned from Fanfiction)

In Dan Savage’s most recent podcast he interviews Cindy Gallop, creator of the (somewhat misleadingly titled IMHO) organization Make Love Not Porn (  Gallop talks about how she realized that many people, especially younger people, are getting a lot of their sexual education via pornography and, absent any alternative sources of information *cough cough actual, comprehensive sexual education cough*, are coming (hehe) away with a lot of misconceptions that can get in the way of a healthy, fulfilling sex life.  MLNP is an effort to provide a more realistic alternative and in essence to encourage critical porn consumption.  People in general, especially younger ones, are much more media literate than they once were (though they could definitely stand be more so) but for a variety of possible reasons (because watching porn is stigmatized so we don’t like to think about it, it taps into our lizard brains, etc.) not many of us apply those skills to porn.  Gallop thinks, and I agree with her, that that should change.

Listening to her talk about all this on the podcast, what was the first thought that sprang to my mind? Thank G-d for fanfiction!  It sounds strange, but the truth is, a lot of what I learned about sex and sexuality came from reading fanfic as a young teenager, and it has proven a much better textbook than the porn vids many of my peers apparently learned from.  After all, no one in a written story is contorting themselves to get a better camera angle, and since fandom isn’t driven by profit no one is trying to reach the largest possible audience so authors are free to express and indulge in all the diversity of real-world sex and sexuality.  Fanfiction is where I learned about safewords and negotiation, it’s where I first started figuring out what gets me going and what does nothing for me.  It’s also where I learned that some people not only aren’t disgusted by things like female pubic hair and love handles, but actually find them appealing.  Fanfiction told me that not everyone wants the same things in bed or looks for the same things in their partners, a revelation after a lifetime of bombardment with identical, airbrushed bodies and interchangeable sex scenes.

Fanfiction also differs from straight-up porn in that the sex isn’t artificially isolated from the rest of the narrative.  In porn, sex serves one purpose exclusively: to arouse the consumer.  It can serve that purpose in fanfic as well, but it can also facilitate character development, advance the plot, or illuminate the relationship between characters.  All this is a lot closer to how sex functions in the real world; no one leaves their personality, history, and relationship at the bedroom door.  This also opens the door to a different kind of sexual diversity: in quality.  No, it doesn’t happen often, but characters in fanfiction do occasionally have *gasp* bad sex.  As do those of us in the real world.

Being exposed to all this during my sexually formative years has given me what feels like a relatively solid foundation for my own sex life.  It’s made me better at asking for and articulating what I want and what I don’t.  Unlike some peers I’ve talked to and those Dan and Cindy spoke about, I don’t spend all my time self-objectifying and frantically evaluating my performance visually.  That’s not to say I’ve been spared entirely, nor that I would want anyone to get their information about sex and sexuality EXCLUSIVELY from fanfiction (there are an awful lot of straight women out there writing some very painful-sounding gay male sex scenes).  Nor is it to say I’m completely sexually liberated, lacking in self-consciousness, and free of hang-ups and body image problems, or that fanfiction is completely responsible for my relative health, but I am better off than many others, and fanfic deserves some of the credit for that.

One further note: during the interview, Dan Savage says that he’s noticed an undercurrent of anger and resentment threading through a lot of straight porn, but he doesn’t think it’s about misogyny or sexism.  It’s just about men wanting women they can’t have, so the porn is doubling as a revenge fantasy.  Sorry Dan, but I’m not buying it.  If it isn’t about gender, then why don’t you find it in gay porn?  Surely there are gay guys out there being rejected and resenting it too?  Yes, anger is a natural response to rejection for many people in many situations, but I think patriarchy shapes pervasiveness and expression of this particular anger.  If men didn’t feel generally entitled to women’s bodies and sexuality then I don’t think there would be this level and intensity of rage.  Add to that the evident desire to punish women sexually, with rape and humiliation, and any argument that this isn’t misogyny gets pretty shaky.  That’s my take on it anyway.