I just saw an unfortunate exchange on twitter. I don't play online games, but I follow lots of nerds and some of them are gamers. I've seen various blog and twitter posts about how sexist many gaming communities are, and when a woman complains the standard "positive" reactions (from the majority of men/boys) tend to be: 1) ignore it, boys will be boys. 2) if you don't like it, leave. 3) if you don't want to be hassled, never do anything that could possibly give a hint that you are a woman.
Then there is further contention about whether these responses are in themselves hostile to women.
In the particular case last night, race got brought into the conversation too (the person who brought it up apologized today). Speaking as a white man who pretty much loathes both sexism and racism, I have to say that the rhetorical move to compare different kinds of bias almost never works well. But it struck me that there is one interesting difference between sexism and racism: it is still socially acceptable to joke about gender stereotypes in ways that are now thoroughly unacceptable with regard to race.
That is, even people who call themselves feminist (or, for the younger set, would call themselves feminist if the very word hadn't been poisoned by the sexists) can say disparaging things about "barefoot and pregnant", kitchen work, makeup, bubbleheadedness, sexual desirability, and so on, including casual use of a wide range of slurs (I'll only mention "bitch"); whereas jokes about racial stereotypes are out of bounds among the civilized, at least in public.
Here I want to make disclaimers. I am not saying that women have it harder than Blacks or Jews or Puerto Ricans or what have you. Racism is alive and ill in the US, and I don't mean to condone it, and I don't want to bring back the days when such jokes were acceptable. Rather, only on the day when it would make as much sense for such a joke as it would be for a York/Lancaster to make a disparaging comment in jest about red/white roses respectively; that is, it would sound only archaic and quaint, and would not reflect any difference in jobs or wages, life quality, treatment by police or neighbors, prices paid in stores or banks, and so on.
I suppose there is a big obvious difference between race and gender: it's easy to avoid, or never be exposed personally, to someone of another race, but except for a small number of monks and nuns or the like, the genders are going to mix one way or another. I don't know what that means, but it probably means something.
I think I have a point, and I think this is it. The language we use matters. It's not just a question of whether it's offensive (another common exchange: "I'm offended." "No, you're not."); it's offensive because it's damaging in a way that's extralinguistic. So if a woman complains about treatment she sees as sexist, you (whether you're a man or a woman) might want to listen to the person. What may sound purely linguistic may well reflect a real problem, like social exclusion, loss of privilege, or lack of opportunity.
This all sounds kind of stuffy and pompous. Is it possible to avoid all trigger words?
I finished 2 books recently: "Dear American Airlines" by Jonathan Miles and "Dr. Sweet and His Daughter" by Peter Bradshaw. Both were worth reading; the first is a better book, but is darker and more bittersweet. The latter handles family interactions beautifully, but the more fantastic elements are shakier (the author gets almost every detail of cancer research wrong.) But my main conclusion is this: I need a personal moratorium on books with 40-something male protagonists coming to terms with their failures.
Here's how it becomes Obama's oil spill. If it turns out that George W. Bush had a team of experts documenting potential oil safety violations; if they were preparing to prevent any disasters; if they passed specific information to Obama's team warning about hazards; and if there was information in the White House a day or two before predicting the event; then blame Obama all you want.
So I was just at the P**si site voting for lemurs, and I was puzzled over some odd censorship in the comments section. Here are some examples:
"... acknowledge the importance o***** non-humans ..." "I'm competing against big en***ies ..." "I was hoping some o***** could return the favor ..."
It took me a bit, but I figured out that the blocked letters are, respectively, "f the", "tit", and "f you".
At least this is better than another notorious filter (considered a clbuttic in its field), which produced words like 'enbreastled', 'insbreastution', 'Buttociated Press', and so on.
There is an interesting tangentially related article from Language Log here: http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/005361.html My favorite spell-checker gone amok was when my former employer, CuraGen Corporation, based in Branford, CT, sent out a press release that at least one site "corrected" to 'Courage Corporation, based in Barnyard, CT'.
To vote for a new Lemur Trail at Duke Lemur Center, please go here: http://www.refresheverything.com/thepathtosavinglemurs Once you register, you can vote for up to 10 projects per day. It seems like a kind of goofy way to fund projects, but it only takes a few seconds, and so far I have not been flooded with email ads for P**si.
I've watched something like 30 episodes of Buffy in the last 3 weeks (They're dropping most episodes from Hulu.com soon, and some friends lent me the season 3 DVDs). This has caused significant enough brain damage that I just bought myself the entire 7 season set as my birthday present to myself. I promised Janet that I would not watch all 4 remaining seasons within the next 3 months. Up until the last year or so, I hadn't watched more than 5 hours or so of TV in a given year, mostly in hotel rooms while on vacation.
I came to Buffy pretty recently, after having borrowed the Firefly DVDs from the same friends. I liked Firefly a lot, but found some of the more serious stuff to get a bit soppy and sentimental. As I watched Season 2 of Buffy, I was happy not to have quite as much melodrama. Then I got to season 3. My goodness.
A few days ago I was browsing thinkgeek.com and came across an evil device that makes random electronic beeps, and is advertised to drive co-workers insane. Normally I wouldn't even mention such a thing because the very thought makes my teeth hurt, and I don't want to advertise it.
But a new store is opening across the street from our house, and for the last couple of days they've been using a snorkel lift which apparently needs a lot of little adjustments throughout the day. And it beeps. And today I am trying to work from home. So I figure if I'm going to be punished for even reading about the Annoy-a-tron, I may as well link to it too.
I saw "Tales of the Gimli Hospital" and "Archangel" when they came out in 1988 and 1990 respectively, but missed most of the rest of Guy Maddin's films after that. I just found "Brand upon the Brain" at the Philadelphia Library, and was reminded of what an odd genius he is. His films are weird, disturbing, and funny. They are mostly black and white, and mostly silent, and he generally invokes styles and techniques of early film-making. I just watched a couple of his short films on youtube, and had to post a link to one of them ("Sissy-Boy Slap-party") on facebook. Anyway, if you like this sort of thing, look him up, and enjoy.
For some reason yesterday's contretemps between Perez Hilton and Miss California really got under my skin. It just seems like a whole series of unfortunate decisions.
1) Who in their right mind picks a self-centered, immature, intemperate person like Perez Hilton to be a Miss America judge? Honestly.
2) Who in their right mind thinks the Miss America pageant is a suitable forum for PC? That just seems so wrong in so many ways.
3) If Miss California had made her statement under other circumstances, or in a different venue, I'd have had little or no sympathy for her. But Perez overreacted, turned it into a circus, and handed a martyr to the other side. So I'm strongly tempted to give the best possible spin to her statement.
Seriously. It was only a few years ago that same-sex marriage was being banned, and there was serious talk about a federal constitutional amendment. Maybe I'm just being optimistic, but it seems to me the tide is turning quite nicely. But I don't expect everyone to change their minds at once. If we're not quite to the point where bigots have to lie in public when somebody gets in their face, well, we'll get there eventually. It seems too soon to me right now. And hearts are not won by calling people stupid. If anything, now the Man-Lady-marriage-only crowd has sympathy and a new soap box.
Edit: the last paragraph is still harsher than I intended. What I mean to say is that all we need right now is acceptance, however grudging, that same-sex marriage (or even civil unions) should be legally recognized. Not everybody has to like it. There are plenty of legal things I don't like. But I'm not clamoring to, say, make Ayn Rand's books illegal.