WisCon and Rachel Moss

The Angry Black Woman is rightfully angry about What Rachel Moss Did, and has a great post up covering the whole thing. I think the way she describes it there covers what this was about for Rachel Moss: making sure that the world is aware of the inherent superiority of Rachel Moss.

Rachel Moss understands the meaning of indigenous identity and can mystically/scientifically/intuitively assess whether someone has (deserves?) it or not. Rachel Moss is Totally Not Fat and therefore fully qualified to dispassionately consider the issues surrounding fat acceptance, condemn those who advocate it as entitled whiners and contribute further to mocking and shaming them lest they remain unaware of their inherent inferiority. Rachel Moss has eleventy billion degrees in biology, psychology and medicine that mean that we should automatically trust her word when she calls fibromyalgia a “fake disease”. Rachel Moss is able to cut through the concept that individuals on a panel discussing the current presidential election are individuals with individual political opinions and immediately see what the casting directors were trying to prove by putting them up at the front of the room (except for how it backfired and the individuals turned out to have individual political opinions not neatly corresponding to the expected narrative).

I generally don’t like to post rants, or to take on topics that make me nothing but angry, but after clicking through to the google cache of the original post, the first paragraph tipped me right over the edge on this one:

If you are unfamiliar with this con, it is like any other sci-fi con, except that well over half of the attendees are female, about a third of the panels are political, there is no gaming, and absolutely everybody is a huge bitch.

This is my second year attending WisCon. I go because I love this. I remember how much I hate my fellow women, and then I go the whole rest of the year thankful that normal life is never this horrible.

I’ve never been to WisCon, because Wisconsin is really kinda far away, but at least one of my fellow Hathorites (Revena) has been several times and will likely post a very well-written, pleasant analysis of what she heard there this year within the next couple of weeks. I’ve seen a couple of people other than abw comment on this post, and most of them have been unfamiliar with what WisCon is, which is one of the reasons that this presses some buttons for me. Sci-fi/gaming feminism is a subculture within a subculture, and anti-racism, fat acceptance and queer advocacy are a subculture within that. It’s like gold to find a place where you can talk and share passionately about issues that concern you, with other people who share your concerns and who don’t immediately dismiss you either because

  1. Science fiction/comics/fantasy/gaming has always been male-oriented, sexist and homophobic and if you don’t like it, just stop reading it; or
  2. Feminism/anti-oppression activism has better things to worry about than pop culture, especially niche markets like science fiction/comics/fantasy/gaming, so if you really cared, you’d start talking about what really matters

And Rachel Moss, not really being a member of this subculture within a subculture within a subculture, has access to a wider audience, and not really caring about the people who are members of this community, she can use that forum to make them all well and truly aware of just how small, irrelevant and downright idiotic they are. It’s classic bullying, and it fucking pisses me off.

If you love to hate your fellow women, just stay the hell away from me. If you enjoy whatever feelings of smug superiority you get when you talk about just how silly, stupid, bitchy and ugly others are, when you publicly mock them for it, when you name them and post their photographs for the expressed purpose of reminding them of just how silly, stupid, bitchy and ugly they are, if you enjoy going into spaces full of people that you find horrible, I seriously hope that you seek help, because it can’t genuinely be pleasant to feel that hateful all the time.

Apparently, since posting this, Rachel Moss has gotten some threats, and whenever one talks about something like this in that context, it is obligatory to mention that such threats are absolutely, 100% not okay.

My note to Rachel Moss: Point taken. You are, in fact, better than those sci-fi/fantasy/gamer geeks who also happen to be feminists/anti-oppression activists, myself included. I’m really glad that your life, other than WisCon, is so much less horrible than mine, involves a much lower proportion of bitches, ugly people and little boys who are “pussies”. I can’t be positive, but I’m pretty sure that the male sci-fi/fantasy/gamer geeks in your life, like the dudes who frequent the Something Awful forums, whose opinion is clearly something that you value, have also received the memo that you are not, in any way, like those other bitches, myself included. Your superiority having been duly noted, you can joyfully choose not to attend WisCon next year and save yourself what is clearly a miserable experience for you. Your hard work and mockery have not gone in vain.

More on Forgiveness: Silence and Sunflowers

I picked up a copy of The Sunflower at my local den of temptation (aka used bookstore) a couple of weeks ago, and have been slowly making my way through it since. It’s pretty much the go-to book for initiating theological discussions of forgiveness – first of all, the initial narrative is told exceptionally well, so it’s impossible for the problem to come off as a simple one lacking in personal emotional or moral resonance. Since the Amazon description kind of sucks, the book is in two sections: in the first hundred or so pages, Wiesenthal describes what his life was like in a concentration camp, surrounded by constant death and knowledge of death and wondering how there could possibly be a God as this was being done to human beings, then being called to enter a dark room for no immediately apparent reason, only to find that he was to hear the dying confession/request for forgiveness of a 22-year-old Nazi officer, and finally Wiesenthal’s inability to get the event, and his choice – to remain silent and walk out following the request – out of his mind, to the point that he visited the man’s mother after the war. The second section is the “What would you do?” posed to theological and philosophical scholars and leaders after the fact.

It sounds very abstract and grandiosely hypothetical, but a number of themes run through the book that make me think. One is the fact that the question of forgiveness in the book is tied up with issues of racism and collective guilt/responsibility, rather than just harm done on an individual basis. The story gets its name from the sunflowers that Wiesenthal would see marking the graves of Nazi soldiers, reminding him that even in death, they were connected to life, to beauty, to individuality, while he and his friends and family would ultimately end up in mass graves, unnamed and unidentified. I think it’s extremely important to point out that Wiesenthal wasn’t chosen by the Nazi soldier because he had harmed him personally. The soldier simply asked for “a Jew”, and the nurse went outside and asked Wiesenthal if he qualified. Rebecca Goldstein says it better than I can:

You are summoned for no reason other than that you are a Jew, as if “Jew” were a mass term comparable, say, to “water” or “salt”. Here is a bit of water, we say, and any sample of it will do. All water manifests the same interchangeable water properties. That a Nazi should think this way about Jews is not in the least surprising. Mass terms, mass murders, mass graves: they are all of a piece.

When I was writing about Apologies a little while ago, I was thinking about how those highly individual terms/experiences translate to “mass” community terms, and one of the parallels is the way that privilege allows the harmer to transfer responsibility back onto the harmee, to essentially demand forgiveness and suggest that the other lacks grace if s/he can’t forgive/chooses not to/remains skeptical. Personally, I found it heartbreaking to read Wiesenthal’s description of the guilt he felt at having remained silent, which he felt and discussed with friends even while still in the concentration camp, assuming he would never survive. I honestly can’t think of a more powerful manifestation of grace than that, not because he was giving anything to the Nazi soldier or to the complicit bystanders, but because it speaks to his inability to lose that thread of connection to hope, humanity, the possibility that something like that mattered.

Eva Fleischner’s response reports that, having used the book as a text in a Holocaust course for years, the division between students who believe that Wiesenthal should have forgiven and those who believe that his silence was okay falls fairly neatly along Christian/Jewish lines. I find that sad, but completely unsurprising. Thinking about contemporary discussion on race, so many privileged people ask why it is that they’re expected to repent for things they’ve never done (perhaps vaguely beginning to entertain the notion of complicity, but only ever so peripherally), why we even have to keep talking about shit like this, demanding to know what more these people want, since isn’t an apology enough already? There is still a mass of these people who are not forgiving, and there is still one evildoer who has asked forgiveness/accepted punishment, thereby letting the rest of us off the hook. One action/one individual’s action is enough for those needing the forgiveness – the pope can do it on behalf of the Catholic Church, say, and then all Catholics are good to go in a general sense – but if even one among the harmed group speaks to say that no, s/he is not satisfied, it is not enough, we need more time, we need to see more change, you can damn well bet that others will step in to condemn the mass because of it. Ungrateful, the lot of them. The oppressors, those in power, are still individuals, they still get their single sunflowers, while the harmed are still a mass, because hearing them as individuals is way too damn difficult.

I think Fleischner’s response is my favourite among those I’ve read so far, and she goes on to discuss the difference between “atonement” during Yom Kippur – which is asked directly of those harmed – and confession in the Catholic tradition, which is mitigated by a priest presumably unconnected to the incident and which usually includes as the path to forgiveness the message “Say and Our Father or Hail Mary” and you’re done.

As I reread the story once more I am struck not only by the agony of the dying man, but by his obliviousness to the suffering, the inhuman condition, of Simon and his fellow Jews. The mere fact of having summoned Simon to his room exposes the Jew to punishment, if not death. Yet Karl insists on seeing “a Jew” – any Jew – in the hope of being able to die in peace. His own suffering completely blinds him to the suffering of the Jews – not of the Jews in whose murder he participated and who continue to haunt him – but of those still alive in the camps and ghettos, also of Simon.

We’re not just talking about the limits of forgiveness, about the psychology and metaphysics and theology. We’re talking about humanizing and individualizing, we’re talking about “othering” and dehumanizing and objectifying and making into a mass. I keep coming back to hearing the voices of “but what do you want me to do about it?” and “reverse racism/sexism/etc” and I see this: It’s uncomfortable for someone in a privileged position to become part of a collective, a mass, a group. We’re used to seeing ourselves as individuals. We’re used to being sunflowers.

(I’m leaving my reference to “silence” in the title of the post, even though I didn’t get around to making the point I wanted to in that regard…I’m hoping that will remind me to do it later).

Talk Like A Man

Caroline’s at Uncool has had a couple of posts recently that caught the attention of the linguist portion of my brain (which the blogosphere seems to be trying desperately to rouse from its dormancy).

First, Language of Feminists covers a lot of similar ground to a post I was going to write a while back based on the same comments (one of many posts that exist only in my mind, but that are brilliant and revolutionary, and if only I didn’t have to do my dishes, could have changed the world).

Then, she also linked to the Gender Genie, a tool that will analyze your text to determine whether it was written by a man or a woman, based on an algorithm developed by a couple of computational linguists. The programmer who wrote the code (and who has presumably seen lots and lots of data from the demographic survey attached to the Gender Genie site) admits:

Despite having written the program, I didn’t come up with the algorithm and believe that the Genie works no better than the flip of a coin.

She goes on to say that because “serious academic study” went into the algorithm, it’s not a complete waste of time to think about it and to describe how the linguists in question did their work:

Using complicated formulas, they determined that male writers tended to write more about specific things like an apple, a book, or the car. In contrast, female writers wrote about connections to things like my apple, your book, or our car.

Memo to the world: complicated formulas, mathy words like “algorithm”, academic credentials and serious, intense study don’t mean jack shit if the results of your hard (and probably well-paid) work don’t predict reality any better than the flip of a coin. (Also, that paragraph misrepresents the linguistics of determiners and possessive pronouns, but that’s just me being pedantic.) Apparently, even though the damn thing is, you know wrong about real people and real conversation, this programmer has received a number of letters thanking her for helping authors to write the speech of male or female characters more realistically.

Which brings me back to the accusations of “violent”, “pornified”, “masculine” language that have regularly been used to dismiss arguments made by the wrong kind of feminist (/the wrong kind of woman). Caroline’s points are all great, but in combination with the “Gender Genie” bullshit, this quoted comment, originally by Maggie Hayes, stands out:

“laughing like a super villain”? “wank worthy fantasy”? I agree that these comments were totally inappropriate. This makes me think: this kind of language is awfully similar to the sort of language a porn-using abuvive ex-boyfriend of mine was often using when talking to me.

Apparently, so is “the”.

I know I’m being overly dismissive, but this language shit really gets to me, and the above comment really shows how the arguments are becoming all layered on top of one another, such that it’s now impossible to actually have a discussion about the issue of how to stop or deal with the abuse she suffered from this ex-boyfriend, because instead we’re talking first about the fact that he used porn and further about the language he used to talk about the fact that he used porn. I know language can be triggering, I definitely know that language can be violent, but those of us who are survivors of abuse and assault and violence need to learn to see words and expressions in context, lest we start conflating the use of words like “wank” or “supervillain” with assaulting people, no matter the meaning behind them, as long as they’re not being used by us/against people we don’t like.

Because, see, if we’re going to actually start getting uncomfortable with “masculine” language, and we’re going to continue to assume that “masculine”=”aggressive” (a point that is far from uncontestable or unproblematic), and we’re going to create linguistically “feminine”/nurturing/comfortable spaces, then the Gender Genie and its complicated algorithms inform us that we’re going to have to make sure people stop using words like “the”, “is” and “to”. Because who cares about pesky things like “meaning” and “context” and “reality”, anyway?

(By the way, the Genie thinks the author of this post is male).

Letting Go

This is pretty much all personal, no political, but so it goes.

For someone who thinks as much as I do about language, I’m amazed sometimes at how I can miss blatantly obvious elements in the meanings of common expressions.

I’ve been working a lot on “letting go” – by “working”, I’m referring mostly to meditation and stuff like that, but also to the kind of overthinking that characterizes the exact polar opposite of “letting things go”, a counterproductivity of which I am not unaware. When I think about it, I focus on what it is I’m trying to control, events or relationships onto which I’m projecting expectations, outcomes, attachments and wants mistaken for needs. I concentrate on acceptance, finding peace within situations that are less than calm, making peace with a past that has been less than calm.

What surprises me is that I’ve never connected this kind of letting go, the kind that people mean when they say “let it go” as they try to comfort you and get you past that anger and rage (whether productively or not), to the kind of “letting go” that involves letting yourself display emotion with another person, or even letting yourself have emotion and admit it to yourself. The kind that people mean when they talk about letting down walls or just giving yourself permission to feel/be less than perfect.

I’ve known, obviously, that I need to do both, but it somehow past me by, in all the times I said the words referring to one or the other of these concepts, that they’re the same thing. I make the mistake of thinking that peace and acceptance are the antithesis of pain, sorrow, hurt or grief, and because I feel pain, sorrow, hurt and grief over things – sometimes a little, sometimes a lot – I assume it must be because I haven’t “let go”, so I re-erect walls and barriers, I go back to expressing nothing but anger, I go back to trying desperately to force myself into a nice, controllable little box. And because I can’t control it all, because the pain, sorrow, hurt and grief still exists, the impossibility of that control, my refusal to let go and just accept its existence, proves yet again that whatever it is that I refuse to admit to, whatever it is that I just can’t bring into consciousness, whatever it is that I must be better than is the one thing that is going to come to control me.

Nearly two years after my separation, my divorce becomes final on Saturday. After nearly two years of separation, and nearly two years of knowing with absolute certainty and progressively less hostility or resentment that it was the only possible way toward progress, I figured this should/would feel like just a formality. I accepted the outcome here a long time ago. But I still need to let it go.

Idol-ization

As an introductory sidebar, I’m immensely grateful that I’m Canadian right now, since from where I sit, the Democratic primary looks to be bringing out the ugliest in a lot of people, and I imagine that offline, when you have to discuss your vote, your reasons, and the potential prejudices it reveals ad infinitum with family, friends and strangers on the bus, it’s even less pleasant.

The charged emotion and people taking positions on one “side” or another is bringing to the surface something that I see a lot during strong disagreements among passionate people – the tendency to create idols of various individuals (sometimes the candidates, sometimes just figurehead individuals involved in movements or political parties). In the narratives, these people are no longer human beings, but rather representatives of entire categories of ideals, faces attached not to bodies, but to concepts, statements, actions; in these cases, always to That Which Is Unquestioningly Good. On a grand scale, MLK is treated with this kind of pedestal-placement, and much analysis has gone into how this serves to whitewash his record, at the same time as a great deal of time has been spent trying to root out his imperfections, his possible infidelities, his missteps. If he can be proven imperfect, none of us will have to listen to him.

Since it isn’t possible that That Which Is Unquestionably Good is wrong, criticism of the figurehead, the representative, the idol becomes criticism of the ideals. I really liked this post of Octogalore’s on ageism, and how many feminists and other anti-oppression activists seem to miss that particular locus of privilege. I made a comment, but very shortly after I did, another commenter (smmo at 11:33 a.m.; Firefox seems to hate the idea that I want to link directly to the comment and crashes whenever I try) linked back to the debate between Gloria Steinem and Melissa Harris-Lacewell that took place after Steinem’s much-criticized editorial on race/gender oppression. After this comment, I honestly felt it was useless to try to weigh in on the conversation altogether (emphasis mine):

I remember watching it then and being enraged by H-L’s disrespect for Gloria Steinem. This is a lion of a woman, a hero, a legend, and she’s being told she hasn’t sufficiently considered questions of race and gender? Really? The hostility and dismissive attitude really comes out in the video. It worries me that this is coming from an Obama supporter. Move out of the way, old hags, we got NEW IDEAS here.

Now, I’m far too conflict avoidant a lot of the time, and my immediate reaction to dismiss the whole conversation out of hand is a classic example of my own tendency to throw babies aplenty out with all kinds of bathwater. But there are two factors in that very brief comment that are characteristic of so much of the conversation/commentary around this primary and around race/gender oppression in general (not just now). If Gloria Steinem’s arguments hold water, they need to hold water on their own, based on their own merits, not because they come with her name attached to them. Her legendary status and past heroics don’t change the content of what she said, and it really frustrates me that this comment was packaged around the issue of ageism. Steinem’s editorial and the commentary she gave during that debate were problematic at best, and it’s total bullshit to suggest that she’s beyond reproach – that makes her beyond humanity, an idol, an icon, a legend. For about the billionth time, an idol, an icon, a legend is not a person. The second reason that comment was so frustrating was the statement that “it’s worrisome that an Obama supporter should speak this way”, with its accompanying tones of presumed Kool-aid consumption or strategic willingness to dismiss others, and what I wouldn’t GIVE right now for people to be talking about American politics rather than American idols, icons and personalities who happen to be running for president.

I didn’t rewatch that debate just now, so maybe there’s a dismissiveness that I missed back in January, and Harris-Lacewell does, in fact, adopt a tone of “move aside, third wave coming through”, but honestly, it wouldn’t surprise me if a relatively young academic weren’t just intimidated to be debating with the aforementioned “lion of a woman”, suddenly receiving a much larger stage and audience as a result of the name, and coming out more aggressively in order to compensate for that. The point is that Gloria Steinem deserves respect not because she’s a legend, not because she’s lived a certain length of time, not because she’s accomplished x number of things, but because she’s a human being. I’m not denying that ageism is a real phenomenon, but as was noted in the comments at Octogalore’s, it’s equally common for younger women to be dismissed as flighty, not capable of understanding complex ideas, not knowing their place, and for these women to be told to hold their tongues while the important folk do all the teaching.

What I can’t help but notice is that nobody’s talking to people anymore; they’re all talking to thoughts and ideas and faces tenuously attached to concepts, concepts as broad as “race” and “feminism” and “hope”. Sometimes people are being attached to attachments, as Harris-Lacewell is here, to that increasingly vague and nebulous concept called “Obama”. It’s all a series of interchangeable masks, each representing That Which Is Unquestionably Good, and the only point of the political process is to get more “people” wearing your mask.

I find the whole damn thing exhausting.

Language Footprints

Lauredhel at Hoyden About Town has a post up about Endangered Languages week and the concept of a Language Footprint. It means pretty much exactly what you’d expect – a linguistic version of the “Ecological Footprint”, an examination of the impact your personal language-based actions have on the world’s linguistic picture. The suggestions are pretty far-reaching, and I doubt I would meet any native English speaker who scores well at all, which is unsurprising given the significant role language plays in people’s lives and the near complete subconsciousness with which they deal with it (people, especially liberals or anti-oppression activists, may consider which words they use, but they rarely get to the point of questioning which language they are using). As Lauredhel says:

This concept is an alternative to the ideas that linguistic dominance is benign, that there is nothing individuals can do about it, and that endangered languages are doomed to die no matter what.

I hide it well around here, but I actually have this conversation a lot in my real interactions. A few years ago, I finished a Master’s in Linguistics that included some field work on a reserve in Alberta and was peripherally connected to a language revitalization project my Supervisor was involved with there. In September, I’m starting a Master’s in Globalization Studies focusing on the question of language death and strategies for language revitalization, specifically in the Canadian context. If people ask what I’m going to be doing, I generally have to first explain how it is that I can be talking about “globalization” in Canada, and if we get past that, then about what “endangered” means in linguistic terms. Since there is a very limited amount of knowledge about minority languages and language death among the general public, I spend a great deal of time explaining just how many languages we’re talking about and what I mean.

“Yes, there really are about 50-60 indigenous languages spoken in Canada today, though the vast majority are dying”

“No, they’re not all dialects of one language, actually. Some are in the same family, yes, but so are English and French.”

“No, there really isn’t any such thing as a ‘primitive’ language”

“Well, yes, many immigrant communities all over Canada are struggling to retain some use of European languages here, but that’s not really the same situation as what’s happening with indigenous languages that aren’t spoken anywhere else”

(I say European in that context because in the conversations I get into, the commentary will tend toward the desire to protect those, and if there’s any mention of, say, Asian languages like Mandarin and Arabic, the commentary will be…different.)

I could write separate posts on the issues surrounding each of those questions (and you know, maybe I will, though I tend to promise a lot of posts that never materialize), but my main point is that this is the conversation before I ever get around to talking about why it matters or about why the politics of language is important far beyond signage laws in Quebec or about how linguistic homogenization is far from a natural, neutral concept or about the layers of racism that are wrapped up in the conversation.

And my language footprint still sucks, in all honesty. (On a personal note, I am, however, really looking forward to starting this MA in September and feel frighteningly hopeful about it).

Capitalism and Club Feminism

Sudy: Surveying the Damage, Part II, in which she says in very few words what I have tried to get to, requiring far too many:

…a feminism pitched to a buying audience is a feminism sold.

What she’s getting at was also well addressed by a commenter in one of those endless (insomnia abating) threads on Feministe, who noted that we talk all the time about “intersectionality” as the intersection of identity features (sex, race, and class being the big ones) rather than as the intersection of oppressions and oppressive forces of sexism, racism and capitalism. I emphasize that last one in particular because it is glossed over in these discussions constantly – in addition to the career-talk, there is also the unquestioned, barely even acknowledged, assumption that the goal of getting young women (or young men) to self-identify as feminists is a laudable one. Getting our numbers up is a goal, and if pressed, the argument would be that as we make more feminists/allies, more of them will agitate for change, more of them will vote with women’s issues in mind, more of them will live their own lives in feminist ways. But numbers have become the only part of the game, they’ve become not only the method of success, but the measure.

Before one can engage in criticism of books published by feminist authors by an ostensibly feminist press, one has to issue the caveat that of course, it is thrilling and exciting and wondrous to see feminist authors publishing feminist books and more feminist books on more feminist shelves is full-frontal-fabulous. If you aren’t happy to see those sales, if you couldn’t care less whether Seal Press folds or not, well then…why do you hate America?

“Because a feminism pitched to a buying audience is a feminism sold.”

Betacandy used the term Narcissist Feminism, and it is, but in a much more banal sense, it’s just simply capitalist individualist feminism. Several women (mainly in comments) have suggested that they don’t feel like they can call themselves feminists anymore, given what they now see of the banners raised on the masts of the flagship. Others have expressed anger or frustration at this attitude, asking why we should allow feminism to be defined only by this self-aggrandizing, self-promoting element. I’m on the fence as to the specific question, but I’m honestly troubled by the thought that the loss of numbers within the group of women wearing the “Club Feminist” label, even when nothing else about the political beliefs, statements, and actions of the women has changed, is, in and of itself, a loss.

Club Feminism is capitalism, not community. I’ve had some more personal thoughts running around my head lately relating to living in community, what that entails and why it’s so damn hard, and maybe I’ll post them later, though I must admit that I’m finding the real world rather distracting of late.