Avert Your Eyes

I lead a strange sort of double-life when it comes to things popular and pop-culture-like. On the one hand, I feel as if I live my life on the “geek culture” fringe — as evidenced, I’m sure, by past references to Comic-Con staples like Joss Whedon, True Blood and Game of Thrones. There’s lots of big “mainstream” hits and trends — Survivor, American Idol, Real Housewives all spring to mind — which have in their own time and place saturated the airwaves, and yet which I have never ever seen. Quite frankly, sometimes my monastic schedule, with its endless cycle of work, write, study, sleep, even keeps me from staying up-to-date on geek culture. (This many weeks later, and I still haven’t seen Guardians of the Galaxy. Guess that’s another membership card I’ll be handing in…)

On the other hand, my continued engagement with mainstream morning news (GMA) and print journalism (Entertainment Weekly) means I have a pretty good sense of what the pop culture trends and happenings are, moment to moment.

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Lazy Sunday

We’re up at the lake house for our last getaway of the summer — spending some time in the water, some time hanging out with the fam, watching the Red Sox on TV, and doing a fair amount of reading.

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The Games We Play

(a.k.a. Gaming the System, part 2.)

spy_vs_spy_by_ragdollnamedgaryThere’s times when I feel as if, when writing my “flagrantly feminist” posts, that I’m veering uncomfortably close to dividing the world into two teams: men as the “black hats,” the villains, the aggressors, the colonizers; and women as the “white hats,” the heroes, speaking truth to power and conscientiously standing up for what’s Right and True and Good.

And if I’ve ever implied that I’ve sorted the world into those two teams, please let me say clearly for the record: that would be bullshit, ’twere I to do so. Unmitigated, odiferous bullcrap.

Though I can see how it might happen. Continue reading

Gaming the System

I’m not really a gamer. At least, not as I understand the term.

videogamesYes, I spend way too much time playing iPad games, but it’s all amateur hour stuff: endless runners, connect-3 games, nostalgia favorites like Tetris. That kind of thing. Whenever the topic of gaming comes up, I jokingly say that I have the videogame tastes of a 9-year-old. Earlier in the summer, my nephew saw me playing Jetpack Joyride and said “I remember that game! My friends and I used to play it back in 7th grade.” So maybe my tastes are that of a 12-year-old rather than a 9-year-old, but the basic point stands: I’m not a gamer.

A gamer — to my understanding of the term — is someone who plays those extensive role-playing and/or immersive first-person shooter games. Stuff like World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy, Grand Theft Auto, or Halo. (The fact that I don’t have any current titles/examples springing to mind is yet another sign of how not-a-gamer I am, so there you go…)

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Letting the Genie Out of the Bottle

Some days I think I’m such a bad feminist that someone’s going to knock on the door and ask me to turn in my membership card.*

nailpolish_by_rainbow_colourToday is definitely one of those days, because I am rather out of step with the wave of outrage against the new roofie-detecting nail polish that’s been all over the news.

Before I prove all the ways I am limited as a feminist, I do want to acknowledge the ways that I share many of the concerns I’ve seen expressed in the media blitz about “Undercover Colors.” ThinkProgress quotes Tracey Vitchers of Students Active For Ending Rape (SAFER): “I think we need to think critically about why we keep placing the responsibility for preventing sexual assault on young women.” Damn straight. Some day soon I might just tell the story about the time I nearly lost my shit at Elizabeth Vargas and tried to take exactly that ideological stand (alas, in a woefully inarticulate, limited, and ultimately ineffective, way).

The ThinkProgress article goes on to talk about the kinds of efforts they (and their interviewees) would recommend be publicly highlighted:

So, rather than targeting efforts at helping women identify roofies in their drinks, it would likely be more effective to focus on larger efforts to tackle the cultural assumptions at the root of the campus sexual assault crisis, like the idea that it’s okay to take advantage of people when they’re drunk. There’s a lot of student-led activism on college campuses around these themes, as well as some college administrations agreeing to implement more comprehensive consent education and bystander intervention training programs. The advocates who spoke to ThinkProgress said they wish more of those campaigns would start making headlines.

Again, I’m in agreement. I even think Jessica Valenti of The Guardian (or her editors) pretty much hit the nail on the head when she/they titled her article on this topic: Why is it easier to invent anti-rape nail polish than to find a way to stop rapists?

So I agree that there are huge problematics with rape culture — the victim-blaming, the way women are expected to carry the responsibility for “rape prevention,” the way those two things fuel a world in which women’s freedoms are endlessly constrained. And I think the media firestorm around this “life-saving nail polish”** is hugely symptomatic of rape culture, and adds to the ongoing perpetuation of same.

And yet. (Here’s where I’m about to lose my feminist credentials.)***

I don’t really have that much of a problem with the product itself. Because when I think about the primary objections I’ve seen voiced against the product as its own thing, they don’t entirely ring true for my understanding of the world.

1. This product will create more victim-blaming. Is that even possible? When I look around me, it seems like victim-blaming is already up to 11. Yeah, I’m sure that this nail polish will be added as a new flavor to the victim-blaming soup but it doesn’t sense to me like it would actually, objectively increase the quantity of victim-blaming or the likelihood that victim-blaming will occur. ‘Cos, as far as I can tell, the unfortunate truth is that you’ll be blamed for whatever you do or don’t do — if you didn’t wear this nail polish, you’ll be blamed for that, but if you were to wear it, you’d still be blamed just as strongly, only for some other bullshit excuse.

2. It’s wrong for a team of college men to be profiting (or trying to profit) off a crime predominantly commuted against women. I’m not really loving the fact that the R&D team for this is all guys. Still, this line of reasoning feels uncomfortably reductive to me: casting all men into the mold of sexual predator — which is similarly problematic to the societal mythology that casts all women into the mold of sexual object.

Besides, the company founders are hitting a lot of good notes in their public statements. From the Facebook page:

We are taking just one angle among many to combat this problem. Organizations across the country need your support in raising awareness, fundraising, and education. Among the ones we recommend are:

RAINN
Men Can Stop Rape
InterAct (locally in Raleigh)

Please consider following these campaigns and finding new ways to fight this crime in your communities around the world.

And, yes, it’s possible these words are insincere and manipulative. It’s also possible they’re completely sincere, and I want to give these guys the benefit of the doubt until I see more definitive evidence that they’re being unethically opportunistic.

3. This product will create a false sense of security (in this big unsafe predator-filled world), and also at the same time Women shouldn’t have to police their behavior or work so hard to protect themselves (the world should be a safer place). I’ve grouped these last two together, because I’ve been so deeply fascinated by the ways they’re often invoked together despite their contradictory undertones.

Part of the “false sense of security” narrative is based in the statistical reality that only about 2.4% of  campus rapes are suspected to be linked to roofies or other such substances. As such, someone electing to use that product may feel like they’re protecting themselves from danger when in actuality they might have made themselves less aware and more careless about all the real dangers that are out there in the world.

[SIDEBAR] I am very curious to see if that statistical fact — only 2.4% of sexual assaults involve roofies — is the thing that finally tanks the business model for Undercover Colors. I’m not convinced there’s that much of a market here. But I still don’t think it’s wrong for anyone to be exploring that question. It’s the circle of product development: prototype something to see if it can be created, then do further market research to see if there’s enough of a desire for that newly-created thing to warrant further development and scaling up. [/SIDEBAR]

And, somehow, simultaneous with the reasoning that this product is a Bad Thing because it won’t guard against the real dangers out there, stands also the reasoning that it is a Bad Thing because it’s not fair that women need to put in the extra effort to negotiate an unsafe world. Which brings me back to Valenti:

As former Israeli prime minister Golda Meir said after a cabinet member suggested that women be given a curfew to curb a spate of sexual assaults: “But it’s the men who are attacking the women. If there’s to be a curfew, let the men stay home, not the women.”

And to ThinkProgress, quoting Rebecca Nagle, co-director of the activist group FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture:

“The problem isn’t that women don’t know when there are roofies in their drink; the problem is people putting roofies in their drink in the first place.”

And, quite honestly, this brings me back to a place of partial agreement. Because, yes, I believe — I know — that the ultimate necessity here is to dismantle rape culture, to stop rapists from raping, all of that. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the patriarchy needs to die in a fire, like now.

Except “like now” isn’t really how it’s gonna go. Cultural transformation takes time, and until we’re on the other side of that transition, I can’t help but have empathy and compassion for anyone choosing to use whatever techniques they choose to feel a little bit safer and (in a statistical “playing the odds” kind of way) maybe even to be a little bit safer.

And yes, it sucks that those sorts of calculations can so strongly restrict women’s freedom. And we should live in a world where freedoms aren’t restricted like that. But we’re not there yet.

I kept an army knife in my bedroom for a number of years in Philly. Would it have been potentially useful if I’d been attacked? Perhaps. Was it a foolproof method of self-defense? No way. Would I have been “to blame” for being attacked if that knife wasn’t effective self-defense? No fucking way. Was it symptomatic of our fucked-up rape culture that I felt the need to have this knife? Absolutely. Was it an expression of personal weakness that I wanted that object to help me feel/be safer? I’m betting yes.

Do I blame myself, current and past, for making that adaptive choice to help myself get through the days, and to achieve some level of freedom from hyper-vigilant insomnia during the nights? Not on your life.

And as with my old army knife, so with someone else’s chemically reactive nail polish.

* I’m not giving back my free toaster, though…

** Don’t you just love marketing hyperbole?!?

*** Though, hey! I’m still thinking through all these different threads of meaning and feeling. It’s possible I’m onto some level of personal truth. It’s possible I’m talking out of my ass. I’ma just keeping on writing and watching, and I’ll see if I refine this line of thinking or if my ongoing study leads me to a different place, when all is said and done.

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Image credit: “nailpolish” by rainbow-colour, shareable via a Creative Commons License (retrieved from http://rainbow-colour.deviantart.com/art/nailpolish-73597318 )

Going (Semi-)Viral

A funny thing happened this past week. A friend of mine shared an upsetting incident on Facebook where she experienced public prejudice against breast-feeding. Her story then went viral, earning (well-deserved) media coverage and public outrage.

That’s not the funny part. The funny thing is what happened next: I wrote a blog post about the event, and then I went viral, too.

See exhibit A, WordPress’s visitor stats summary for JALC during the last couple weeks:

stats copy

The August 12-19 stretch shows me with my customary rate of site visitors — usually somewhere in the 15-25 range, with slight upticks and down-drops depending on factors like weekday vs. weekend, if I skipped a day, etc.

August 20 is when I posted about Ingrid’s experience: you can already see the uptick to 60 site visitors in those hours between hitting “Publish” and midnight, as a few folks started sharing my post within their own networks.

The next day, August 21st was when things hit big (relatively speaking). Yeah, that’s more than 400 hits — and from there, things have dropped off until yesterday and today I seem to have re-equalized back where I started.

So, all told, this is a very mild flavor of “going viral,” as compared to Youtube videos that get hundreds of thousands, or even millions of hits. Still, it was such a disproportionate spike in attention that it feels like the junior baby blogger version of “going viral.” And the sorts of study and self-examination the experience has invited for me — well, I wonder how different these reflections would be if I were talking about 4,000 hits rather than 400. I’m thinking: perhaps not that different at all.

First: Who woulda thunk it? For the most part, my writing here on JALC has been divorced from expectations about achieving any particular readership level on any timetable. The practice for me has been a practice of showing up, of experimenting with regular, focused writing. Finding my voice again. Yes, at some level there’s the prayer of my words being read and having positive impact — otherwise I’d just be writing in my diary rather than in a blog. But I’ve maintained a pretty decent level of non-attachment from any expectations about how many readers I want to have and how quickly I want them to appear.

And if you asked child-free me what sort of post I’d predict might be the first one to get public traction, there’s no way on this earth I would have predicted it be something about breast-feeding and the mommy wars. Talk about a subject that’s completely outside of my field of knowledge! (Okay, not completely, since I do have breasts as an anatomical feature of my body. But still.)  You never know what’s going to hit a nerve and garner that flash of attention. Like catching lightning in a bottle, that is. Write something true and honest and authentic, and I guess sometimes it’ll hit a nerve, fall in with a moment of zeitgeist. But to predict what’s going to hit that zeitgeist energy? Not within my current powers, as so clearly evidenced by the disconnect between my expectations and the actual happening of which JALC post first topped 550 views.

SecondYou never know what’s going to hit a nerve and garner that flash of attention. I’ll admit, however well I’ve maintained a state of non-attachment around my readership numbers where they were at a low and steady pace, that there was something sincerely exciting about seeing the bar graph keep climbing during the 21st. And when I sat down the evening of the 21st to write my first post-viral post, I could absolutely feel myself on a precipice. Feeling the demand that I “measure up” to this new level I’d achieved, feeling the temptation towards finding some other juicy topic that’d be “click bait” and that could build some kind of popularity for myself.

I walked myself back from that precipice, reminding myself: it’s like catching lightning in a bottle, that is. All I can do is continue showing up at the screen, writing as true and authentically as I can, taking on the topics that grab me and won’t let go until I say what I have to say. That’s why I wrote my post to begin with — even though I’ve spent years trying not to comment on parenting choices or the mommy wars. Something about Ingrid’s story just grabbed me, and I couldn’t rest until I wrote about it. That’s the feeling I need to keep following: I can’t rest until I write about this, rather than I think this will get good traffic.

So who knows? Maybe another post of mine will hit a zeitgeist moment a few weeks from now. Or a few years from now. Or never again. It’s all in service, however it unfolds.

I just need to keep in the practice of it. Say it plain, say it true. Stay as authentic as I can be.

Princesses, to Arms!

[Quick hit: thank you WordPress scheduling feature!]

Considering my past musings on Disney Princesses and Princess Culture, I couldn’t let The Will Box‘s photo set of Disney Princesses in armor to go by without comment.

princess-armor

The costumes came to my attention in this io9 article. Since I am not much of a cosplay aficionado, I’ll admit I only scrolled through the first dozen or so pictures to see the Princess remixes — after that, things devolved very quickly to a bunch of pictures of people I don’t know, trying to look like fictional characters I also don’t know, in an expression of a hobby (cosplaying) that I just profoundly don’t get.

Ultimately, one of my discomforts around cosplay is the cultural patterning that so often happens with men armoring themselves up while women sex themselves up (also see: Halloween costuming trends).

To some degree, these armored Princesses still twinge my discomfort on that score, being as the “armor” is still very much of the plate-mail bikini variety. Nevertheless, I am also very interested in and pleased by the subversive remix of presenting these Princesses as individuals capable of their own fights and self-defense, rather than needing to wait around for their princes to rescue them. And all while maintaining enough of the original iconography for the connections to be clear.

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Image Credit: The Will Box. (Retrieved from: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.575306665931274.1073741976.308639119264698&type=1 )