Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Sexy halloween costumes and social justice neo-puritanism, Parts 1 & 2

Part 1

Halloween is supposed to be transgressive, meaning it's supposed to be a time when a culture's norms are challenged. Which is why so many different groups fight to control it. In the social justice community, that's taken the form of criticizing sexy costumes.

Many of which, I grant, are ugly or stupid or both.

But the complaint of social justice warriors is that they're sexy. Given that when Halloween was first celebrated, the "costumes" were nudity and deshabille, that seriously misses the point.

Until the 1930s or so, Halloween costumes were only associated with the supernatural. My hasty googling doesn't come up with much in the way of early ghosts and demons, but here are some historical images of sexy witches from a blog that's very easy to google, Sexy Witch. (For the wage-slaves among you, yes, that site is generally NSFW, but this post will only have images that should be SFW, unless your boss is an extreme prude.)

Here's an 1855 illustration from Robert Burns' Tam O'Shanter:

Here's an 1895 illustration for a White Witch costume to wear to a Fancy Ball. Note that the bodice is shockingly low and the ankles are revealed in a very daring fashion:

They may not seem sexy to you, but they know what they're evoking as witchy women in the woods. Here's a Pears Soap label from the same decade:

The sexy witch costume may have begun to thrive in the Roaring Twenties. Here's a tally card:

And an ad:

From the 1930s, a Halloween witch, actor Nancy Carroll:

From the '40s, aircraft nose art:

And one of my favorite sexy witches, Dusty Anderson:

The 1950s gave us water-skiing witches:

And possibly the greatest pin-up painting of all time, Gil Elvgren's "Riding High":

Halloween is a time to play. If your idea of playful includes sexy, go ahead and outrage the neo-puritans. They're always happiest when they have something to be unhappy about.

Happy Halloween!

PS. I just googled "sexy puritan" and came up with a couple more images that, on first glance, appear to be fairly old.

Part 2

After posting sexy halloween costumes and social justice neo-puritanism, I did a little more googling for Halloween costumes. Here's the range of visible skin for men and women that's available to anyone with a credit card:

So when someone complains about skin-revealing costumes, remember that they're not complaining about not having choices. They're complaining about the possibility someone else might show skin.

I chose the picture of the people in buckskin because they were literally the first couple who came up when I googled for sexy costumes. At the site, the writer notes they're racially insensitive, but I doubt anyone in the universe thinks any American Indian ever dressed anything like that. And if you assume "buckskin = American Indian", all you know about Indians came from Hollywood.

Catholics are the largest religious denomination in the US, but they're not excluded from the US's available sexy costumes:

A transgressive holiday will include something that will offend someone. Sometimes being offensive is the point. More often, it's simply because outrage junkies need to be offended by something. What they don't understand: Silly does not equal offensive. Sexy does not equal offensive. Stupid does not equal offensive. Mocking equals offensive.

Prudes say we should try to avoid offending people. As a principle, that's true. In practice, that's impossible. If you work hard enough to avoid offending anyone, you will let the most repressive people win.

In the discussion about my previous post at Google+, Sean McCrohan said,
Is your point that "it's always been this way" is an argument against objecting to something? Because I'd like to submit 'oppressing the lower classes, since practically forever' into the record in that case :)
He's completely right that tradition alone is a terrible reason for doing something. I focused on tradition because I had seen people talking about sexy costumes who thought they were a new development.

My greater argument is simple: people should be free to wear what they like. It's a free speech issue, which the people who are offended recognize. They think certain kinds of clothing send a message that they want to repress.

In the case of sexy clothing, the message is "sex is fun".

Some people really hate that message.

In the G+ comment thread, Kirin Robinson said,
...there's value to a not-actually-arousing sexual aesthetic (no matter your orientation) in mainstream visual culture that is a different thing from intent-to-arouse straight-up pornography, but frustratingly the pulchriphobes can't seem to tell the difference. for that particular word goes to the artist +Zak Smith and the "chainmail bikini wars" over here in the tabletop gaming world.
Zak Smith's word is lovely. I suspect I'll have cause to use it again. But I really hope I don't.

comments on Part 1: sexy halloween costumes and social justice neo-puritanism

comments on Part 2: more on sexy halloween costumes and social justice neo-puritanism

Monday, October 29, 2012

class and catcalling

This video about catcalling is both funny and a fine illustration of the ineffectiveness of Social Justice Warriors:

The advice? Men should talk to their friends about how women hate catcalling. The ineffectiveness? Catcalling has an enormous class component. The men who will talk to their friends about catcalling are not the problem, and neither are their friends. They're usually in a social class that doesn't catcall.

The problem is recognized in Catcalling and Connections to Class at Sustained Enthusiasm. The writer doesn't have room to explore the connection, maybe because exploring it calls for exploring US capitalism, bad schools, and the lives of men who don't have work. Some of those men catcall in the way poor people buy lottery tickets, knowing it won't work but, for a moment, being able to dream that it will. Others catcall because, for one brief moment, they're more powerful than someone else.

A proper study of catcalling would explore the class dynamics. Do poor women and middle-class women respond the same way to catcalling? Do they get the same kinds of catcalls? Do they get them from the same kinds of men?

I'll keep looking for answers. But right now, I'm glad I was able to find someone who saw the problem clearly enough to acknowledge that this is yet another issue with an enormous, rarely acknowledged class component.

Rebecca Watson (Skepchick) and "no means no"

From Sexism in the skeptic community: I spoke out, then came the rape threats.:
The audience was receptive, and afterward I spent many hours in the hotel bar discussing issues of gender, objectification, and misogyny with other thoughtful atheists. At around 4 a.m., I excused myself, announcing that I was exhausted and heading to bed in preparation for another day of talks.As I got to the elevator, a man who I had not yet spoken with directly broke away from the group and joined me. As the doors closed, he said to me, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I find you very interesting. Would you like to come back to my hotel room for coffee?” I politely declined and got off the elevator when it hit my floor. 
A few days later, I was making a video about the trip and I decided to use that as an example of how not to behave at conferences if you want to make women feel safe and comfortable. 
...My YouTube page and many of my videos were flooded with rape “jokes,” threats, objectifying insults, and slurs. A few individuals sent me hundreds of messages, promising to never leave me alone. My Wikipedia page was vandalized. Graphic photos of dead bodies were posted to my Facebook page.
I have enormous sympathy for Skepchick because I've gotten insults and death threats from haters online. But haters are the price of speaking on the internet—something that's triply true on Youtube, as anyone knows who has made the mistakes of reading comments there.

What fascinates me in her story is her interaction with the man at the conference. She's with a group at a bar at a hotel. It's 4 am. She's going back to her room. He's going back to his. He asks her if she'd like to come to his room for coffee. She says no and leaves. End of story.

Was he hoping for more than coffee? Probably. This situation has been and will be played out many times. Sometimes the man offers; sometimes the woman does. Sometimes it leads to sex; sometimes it leads to coffee and conversation. Sometimes it ends badly: men have been robbed and women have been raped when they accepted an offer from someone they shouldn't have.

But this man understood that "no means no." He offered coffee. She declined coffee. They went their separate ways.

And it should be acknowledged that he may not have wanted more than coffee and conversation. I've been in groups that broke up when I still wanted to talk. Coffee at 4 am in a hotel room can be exactly that, a chance for a private conversation with someone who seems interesting.

I don't plan to go digging into Skepchick's beliefs about sex—life's too ashort—but I'm curious. Does she think men should never make any offer that has the potential of leading to sex?

When I was a young would-be actor in New York City, I was hit on fairly often by gay men. Sometimes the timing was annoying, but I was raised to be polite. My response was invariably, "No, thanks." Some of the guys became good friends after learning I was hopelessly straight; others had no interest of any sort in me once they learned I had no sexual interest in them.

I've always believed that "no means no", whether you're talking about sex or anything else. It's a good standard for every sort of human interaction.

At least, I always thought so, until I read Skepchick's account.

Because some people have remarkably poor reading comprehension, I'll stress that I'm not condoning the response to her. Haters respond with empty expressions of hatred, and if you've had no experience with them, that's terrifying or infuriating or both.

But I must add, as someone who has gotten similar threats from women, that the online crap she's encountered says nothing about men. It only says that people who can't reason will fall back on threats and abuse.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

I'm not the only one who noticed slactivists fall for hate crime hoaxes

Bogus hate crimes all the rage - "But rumors, fueled by social media, started almost immediately. Internet posters speculated that the attack was a hate crime that had been carried out by members of the Ku Klux Klan. Several claimed, falsely, that Moffit, who is black, had been wearing an Obama T-shirt and that she had been sexually assaulted. Reporters from media around the world called officials in Winnsboro."

Sharmeka Moffitt and the gullibility of Social Justice Warriors

Sharmeka Moffitt told an implausible story: she was set on fire by three strangers who wrote "KKK" on her car. Social Justice Warrior sites like Racialicious reported it without reservation.

It turns out Moffitt lied.

To be fair to the SJWs, in my younger days, when racial issues were much tenser than today, I believed Tawana Brawley's story of being raped by white cops. When that turned out to be a hoax, I realized I'd been both racist and sexist in assuming a black woman would not lie about something that horrible. Now I try harder to reserve judgment until a claim has been investigated.

If you google "hate crime hoaxes", you'll find that just as racists often say people of other races attacked them, social justice warriors often say racists and sexists attacked them. People who think they're supporting truth in the war against evil love to lie about the people they consider their enemies.

Possibly of interest: Nebraska Woman Charlie Rogers Faked Anti-Gay Hate Crime, Police Say - ABC News

ETA: Hate crime hoaxes present burdens, lessons for college campuses | Inside Higher Ed

Monday, October 22, 2012

C. S. Lewis understood Social Justice Warriors

"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive...those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience." —C.S. Lewis

Thursday, October 18, 2012

An update from Zathlazip about life after her outing

After I posted Social Mob Justice: The Outing of Zathlazip, I got an email from Zathlazip. With her permission, here’s what she had to say:

I saw that you put an analysis out there of what happened to me in 2008 with WisCon. I appreciate the parts about me being mobbed, because I do feel that's accurate.

As for the folks who contacted the university, that did happen, but my graduate advisor was very understanding. He actually thought it was funny, and he teased me about it for a few weeks, but I had a very difficult time seeing this as so entertaining. After one of the WisCon attendees went into my office, I was afraid to go into work, and I was so stressed that I ate very little. I eventually did have to go to a doctor about the stress and not eating enough.

I did have to contact the police about the harassment, and a very nice policeman who honestly didn't really know much about social media was as considerate as he could have been.

A letter was mailed to my advisor and to a dean at my school, and my advisor did show me the letter. It made some claims that I didn't agree with, and was written by someone claiming to be an adjunct professor who had authority in the academic sphere. I was never contacted by any dean or any member of the administration about it. It doesn't surprise me, because the convention was not associated with the university and I hadn't broken any laws. Some people have claimed that I had signed some kind of form saying I wouldn't harass anybody, and that that's the reason I should have been booted from graduate school? I don't remember any such form. It's generally school policy and decent sense not to harass people, but I just wrote a thing on a comedy forum and took it down when other people got mad; I never went after any of these individuals with intent to harass them. Anyway, story short, people at the university felt more sympathy than anything else.

To see what was still happening with my reputation, I checked the web every once in a while to see where my name was popping up. In 2009, I think, there was that issue of coffeeandink being outed with her real name. I generally stay far, far away from feminist blogs nowadays, but I found it because I had done a search on myself. In one of her posts showing how upset she was about this, she actually called me out by name, saying that the person who had done this to her was just as bad as [my full name]. I contacted her about the hypocrisy of this, and she did change it to only my first name.

This year, I was contacted by a reporter at the UK version of Glamour magazine doing a story on internet trolls. I told her that I still get panicky thinking of the harassment I received, but I agreed to do the interview nonetheless as long as she didn't use my real name. She asked me some questions, then wrote an article as if this was first person with me speaking. A few of the details were incorrect, like that it implied I joked about a transwoman going into a women's bathroom (which would have been a despicable thing to do) instead of the actual case of me being snarky about a transman going into the women's bathroom, but overall I believe it generally covered how things were going for me. The interviewer asked me if I felt like I was internet famous, and I said something like "No! Of course not! People forgot about this a week or two after it happened. But with internet caches searchable, I'm just hoping that I can get a job with this degree I've worked for years to obtain." I tried not to cry during the interview, but bringing up all these memories of what people tried to do to me was tough.

I'm not sure if this will affect my future job searches or not. So far, it hasn't seemed to, but in this economy I really wish I didn't have to worry about it. I don't think about WisCon or being terrorized every day anymore, thankfully. I don't like that I generally have to mention this thing when I start dating someone, because eventually they'll probably do a search on my name, but I guess a dirty internet past happens to a lot of people these days.

Another thing... I knew they had a panel about me and issues relating to what I did at the WisCon in 2009. At that same hour that that was happening, I skydived for the first time. If people want to be stuck in the past, they can do that, but I wanted to show myself that I'm about progress, moving forward, and making my own life better.

It may be four years too late to convince people I'm not really the boogeyman, unfortunately. I hope that my current optimism about my life doesn't make anyone think that what they did to me then was okay; getting over what people did, and what's out there with my name on it without my consent, was a struggle that I wish didn't happen to anybody who wasn't a public enough figure to have experience handling it. Without friends, family, and academic support through it all, I think the outcome could have been much worse.

I did get my PhD this year, and I'm so thankful that the work I've put in paid off. I've had a lot of support from my academic advisors and the administration at the university, and without them I couldn't have made it through. I'm incredibly thankful and honored to be able to say I do have a doctorate now.

In 2010-2011, I wrote a grant proposal to my university to bring in female environmental engineers to speak at my university about their path to professional success and what they recommend for mentoring female engineers in college and graduate school. Although the gender ratio is equaling out on the college level (less so for engineers than scientists, but there are still improvements), I've seen a lot of women drop out of graduate school, and I've seen others leave the possibility of going for an academic position to instead follow their male partners to wherever their postdoc or professorship position brings them. The grant was funded, and I got co-sponsorships from a couple other departments, and I was able to coordinate the trips of female professors to come here. It was a great experience.

Thankfully, no one who approved my grant proposal, and none of the professors I invited, took notice of the WisCon issue, otherwise I doubt this would have been so successful. It gives me a lot of hope that the Google bombing didn't reach the level where I couldn't even contribute to the furthering of professional women even if I had wanted to!

You're welcome to use any of this that you want, or not. I just wanted you to be a person who knew what happened after May 2008. Of course, please don't use my real name. I'm not planning on changing it, because I have a doctorate under it and am proud of who I am.

If anyone wants to help make this right, the solution is very simple. If you do a search for my real name, and your own blog pops up as a result, go to that post and change it to my user handle, Zathlazip, instead. It's likely that making this change will not much affect the interest or frequency of hits you'll receive. If you are the administrator of or contributor to a wiki that has my real name and personal information, such as what school I attended, change it to my user handle instead and remove or make more vague the personal information. If your blog does not give out my real name, but you are the friend of someone who does have a blog giving it, please ask them to change my real name to a user handle. Changing my real name to a user handle was done for the WisCon Chronicles and did not take away from the message of the book. It will help me, a real human being with a real life ahead of me, move forward, and it may help the community move forward too. Thank you.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

anti-racist excess: the digest

1. Businessman arrested over 'anti-gypsy' email he did not even write: A businessman became the subject of a £12,000 police investigation after council officials accused him of being “offensive” to gypsies in an email he had not even written.

Maybe it's like an April Fools Day joke that I don't get because I'm not a local. But it appears to be real. The Daily Mail covered the story also.

I hope the gypsies get to keep their home. But I also hope someone changes the law that came into play there, because freedom of speech includes the freedom to be a rude idiot.

Brits may not have a constitutional right to free speech, but many of them do get the concept: We all have the right to be offensive.


2. First read NBC Cafeteria Celebrates Black History Month With Fried Chicken Special (Update)

Then read Cook defends fried chicken choice for Black History Month menu and play the video. The cook's a black woman. She came up with a menu of what's been called soul food.

Anti-racists, I realize this is hard for you to understand, but fried chicken is not racist.


3. MARTA "Yellow" Train Now "Gold": Atlanta Asian Community Pushed For Change:
The Metro Atlanta Regional Transit Authority, known as MARTA, announced the change Thursday. MARTA recently renamed its train lines with colors – yellow, red, blue and green.

The yellow line went to Doraville in the northeast suburbs, an area that has a large Asian population.
And the red line went to an American Indian village, the blue line went to a tree of Na'vi, and the green line went to Mars.

Dear anti-racists, the color yellow is not racist.

As you would expect, there's a Mixed reaction on MARTA's ‘yellow line' rebranding.
"What difference does it make if it's yellow, gold or black," said Gary Gung, noting that New York and other major cities use color coding to help commuters better navigate their transit systems. "Make the issue about the economy or something else more important."
Kenny Wong, manager of the Hair Capital salon, said such racial issues tend to be overly scrutinized in America.

"I heard about [the controversy]," Wong said. "It doesn't matter to me. Only racial people think about things like this."

His friend, John Nguyen, owner of Saigon Deli, took a different approach. "I don't consider myself yellow. I'm gold," he said, smiling.


4. Russian Ice Skaters 'Aboriginal-Themed' Dance Controversy:
Russia's Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin Aboriginal-themed costumes and dance stirred controversy during the Vancouver Winter Olympics Feb. 21, 2010. Australian media cited aboriginal leaders as complaining that the routine contained inauthentic steps and showy costumes. "It's very offensive," Sol Bellear of the New South Wales state Aboriginal Land Council said. "We see it as stealing Aboriginal culture and it is yet another example of the Aboriginal people of Australia being exploited." Their coach, Natalia Linichuk, responded to the accusations, saying, "Aboriginal, it translates from Latin language, it's from the beginning. We try to represent a picture of this time when Aboriginal people start being in the world. It's no customs, no country, nothing." (Reuters)
Why are people who complain about cultural appropriation so quick to impose their concepts of racism on other cultures?


5. White Sorority zeta tau alpha wins Sprite Step Off.

Their victory provoked charges of racism and a change in the official result. I especially liked this comment atYouTube - White Sorority zeta tau alpha wins Sprite Step Off!!!: "The only color is ego. We are all one."

'The bottom line was they didn't care if the girls were better or not, the people that were upset were saying white girls should not have won, period,' Antoine said. 'I think this is bigger than a step competition. Race relations in America still needs a lot of work,” he said.

Ironically, it was an attempt to foster unity that first brought Zeta Tau Alpha into stepping. The chapter at the University of Arkansas began participating 16 years ago in a Unity Step Show sponsored by the campus chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha, Inc., an African-American sorority.� Through the years, the Zeta Tau Alpha teams learned a variety of steps as well as some history on the tradition of stepping, said Alexandra Kosmitis, a senior Zeta Tau Alpha who is a member of the current step team.
Even if Zeta Tau Alpha was best, I can't quibble with Sprite's solution: two teams got to win.

The comments at youtube are interesting. There are people who say they're black who say this team deserved their victory. And yet, it may've also been dancing bear syndrome--not that this team won because they're white and therefore better, but that they won because expectations were so low for a white team.


6. Students Kicked Off Campus for Wearing American Flag Tees on Cinco de Mayo.

Yeah, the kids were probably being assholes, but freedom of speech has to include the freedom to be a jingoistic jerk.


7. History is racist!

And now, the antiracist community is upset because a TV show is focusing on history they don't know about rather than history they already know about: racebending: I'm like, 'Where are the Chinese?'. All communities like having their preconceptions validated.

I get why they want more stories about the Chinese in America. I'm as frustrated as anyone that Hollywood ignores working folk of all hues. I hate the tendency to cast white folks wherever possible--I want to visit the universe where Bruce Lee got to be the star of the Kung Fu TV show.

But, to use identitarian terminology, why are they playing oppression olympics?

This is yet another example of identitarians being unable to engage with class issues. They have a vision of the 19th century that Hollywood created for them: all black folks were slaves, the railroads were built by Chinese laborers, women were either farmwives or whores... They are as fond of old Hollywood mythic history as any racist who rants about revisionist historians.

 Someone could as easily argue that people who want to focus on the Chinese crews want to "erase" the Plains Indians. Picking any point to tell the story is going to leave out someone initially. While I would've used a Chinese crew because I've always loved stories about the Chinese in the Old West, I can see an argument for choosing a setting that's not as well known and for making the story move from east to west, a direction that's symbolically very powerful.


8. From Phillip Roth's An Open Letter to Wikipedia About Anatole Broyard and "The Human Stain":
“The Human Stain” was inspired, rather, by an unhappy event in the life of my late friend Melvin Tumin, professor of sociology at Princeton for some thirty years. One day in the fall of 1985, while Mel, who was meticulous in all things large and small, was meticulously taking the roll in a sociology class, he noted that two of his students had as yet not attended a single class session or attempted to meet with him to explain their failure to appear, though it was by then the middle of the semester.

Having finished taking the roll, Mel queried the class about these two students whom he had never met. “Does anyone know these people? Do they exist or are they spooks?”—unfortunately, the very words that Coleman Silk, the protagonist of “The Human Stain,” asks of his classics class at Athena College in Massachusetts.

Almost immediately Mel was summoned by university authorities to justify his use of the word “spooks,” since the two missing students, as it happened, were both African-American, and “spooks” at one time in America was a pejorative designation for blacks, spoken venom milder than “nigger” but intentionally degrading nonetheless. A witch hunt ensued during the following months from which Professor Tumin—rather like Professor Silk in “The Human Stain”—emerged blameless but only after he had to provide a number of lengthy depositions declaring himself innocent of the charge of hate speech.

A myriad of ironies, comical and grave, abounded, as Mel had first come to nationwide prominence among sociologists, urban organizers, civil-rights activists, and liberal politicians with the 1959 publication of his groundbreaking sociological study “Desegregation: Resistance and Readiness,” and then, in 1967, with “Social Stratification: The Forms and Functions of Inequality,” which soon became a standard sociological text. Moreover, before coming to Princeton, he had been director of the Mayor’s Commission on Race Relations, in Detroit. Upon his death, in 1995, the headline above his New York Times obituary read “MELVIN M. TUMIN, 75, SPECIALIST IN RACE RELATIONS.”

But none of these credentials counted for much when the powers of the moment sought to take down Professor Tumin from his high academic post for no reason at all, much as Professor Silk is taken down in “The Human Stain.”