Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Blockbuster, what do you take me for?!

I recently signed up for Blockbuster Online, and have been thrilled by the resulting onslaught of films on my doorstep: Lady and the Tramp, I <3 Huckabees, and The Royal Tenenbaums have been recent favorites. As soon as I finish watching a movie, I diligently rate it on Blockbuster's site to establish more (and, in theory, better) recommendations. I have so far rated 84 films, so the site should have a pretty good idea of what I like.

...which is why I'm worried that Angel of H.E.A.T. was recommended to me. I mean, I always get insulted when the site suggests a movie that has been given 1.5 stars by other viewers (which is supposed to mean, according to the site, "I really didn't like this movie"). Really, why don't they just give me a scrolling banner that says WE THINK YOU HAVE HORRIBLE TASTE IN MOVIES! But evidently they have somehow translated my love of Disney animation into an obsession with porn, based on the description of the film:

Angel of H.E.A.T.

Full Synopsis:
Videophiles will know The Protectors, Book 2 by its original title, Angel of H.E.A.T.. Porn star Marilyn Chambers plays a secret agent, teamed up with cult favorite Mary Woronov. Their mission is to stem the world-domination plans of evil Dan Jesse. To accomplish this task, Chambers finds it expedient to shed her clothes at the least provocation. ~ Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide

Wonderful. Put it at the top of my queue, please.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Gay/Rape

Maybe I'm getting old. Maybe I'm getting overly defensive. Maybe I need to relax. Maybe it's my problem, but for some reason I absolutely cannot stand hearing people refer to things as "gay" (in the pejorative sense), refer to a disliked person as "fag", or inform me that they got "raped" if they didn't do well in a competition. Yes, friends, I have a new vendetta against language.

Let's address each of these terms one by one, sprinkling in bonus info on less editor-friendly terms like "pussy" as well!

According to the incredibly legitimate academic source Wikipedia, gay became popular as a pejorative term in the 1980s and late 1990s, when homosexuality was becoming increasingly discussed and, as a result, increasingly oppressed by many. Oh yes, I certainly remember that phase of my life when every teenager I knew was talking about "gay" this and "gay" that. I didn't think much of it at the time, thinking it instead to be one of those inexplicable quirks of language that I would never quite understand, such as how for a brief time "bad" actually meant "good". I'll be the first to admit that even I may have uttered one or two "gays" in my younger life, not understanding the implications.

What troubles me is that this term has not died out with the other, more transient elements of the 1990s, like hypercolor shirts or Kurt Cobain (too soon?). It is still in use with abundance and fervor, particulaly in chat on World of Warcraft (I can't speak for other games or chat rooms, as this is the only one I frequent...I am not ashamed). One of my friends surprised me the other day by saying "ghey" with a :P face following it, as though that were somehow an amusing, yet acceptable, alternative. Once again, Wikipedia comes to the rescue, noting that many have tried to use "ghey" as a non-offensive substitute for "gay", as others have tried to use "knigger", thereby only capturing the new meaning of the word without linking it pejoratively to the people it otherwise would reference.

Nope, I'm not buying it.

I can't believe that the BBC ruled that "gay" need not be offensive as a pejorative. I love you, BBC, but you've done me wrong here. There is no way you can tell me that the use of "gay" to mean "stupid" or "uncool" is not a direct (and very recent) derivative of similar connotations against homosexuals. In fact, that use of "gay" directly flies in the face of its original meaning, which suggests "happy", "carefree", and "liberated from traditional constraints". By all accounts, then, "gay" should mean "cutting edge", not "sub par".

I don't think much more needs to be said on the topic of "fag". "Fag", of course, is short for "faggot" and similarly is used in connotation with homosexuals (typically men), although it has always held a more desparaging air. This one I'm not as worried about, because it doesn't masquerade as being acceptable as "gay" now does (according to the BBC, even...for shame). This one is blatantly offensive, and links the offending person with homosexuality and thus, apparently, weakness.

Now, this is just ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous. The "N" word is finally all but gone from our vernacular as a pejorative (and the blacks are even reclaiming it!). I doubt these same people run around using racial slurs. So why is it okay to choose homosexuals as the new scapegoat of choice? Oh, right, because they're not being recognized as people yet. Silly me.

I'm not saying that you need to support gay marriage, or that you need to be gay. Maybe I'm dead wrong about language use and it has become separate from the pejorative, demeaning cultural psyche against homosexuality. I doubt it, though. Think about the most offensive terms we have for men: fag is a big one, followed closely by (and pardon my language, I'm just interested in the linguistics here) pussy, cocksucker, and the now-dwindling alternatives of dick and asshole. First of all, I find the obsession with body parts to be remarkable, especially those of a sexual nature. That one, I can't explain. But I do find it frightening that three of these (four, if you want to stretch it) refer directly to homosexuality. Is that really the most offensive thing we can say to a man? That he might prefer the company of other men? It isn't surprising, given our culture's obsession with "manliness". But I've always laughed when a man has been called a "pussy" in front of me, because as far as I can tell, "pussies" have more power over a man than absolutely anything else.

Nevertheless, it seems as though we as a culture are fixated on making homosexuality undesirable. So what do we do? Are homosexuals just the scapegoat of the week? If we move on from this group, do we just pick another? Why don't disabled (differently abled?) individuals get upset at our rampant use of "lame"? Is somebody ALWAYS going to be denigrated?

The Sapir-Whorf stuff about how language defines our reality may have been, well, rubbish in terms of its experimental design, but I think there's some truth to it. As long as we run around saying bad things are gay, we're likely going to think that gay things are bad, too. And I, for one, am not cool with that.

What can we do about it, then? I've had a decent amount of luck just saying to people "Would you mind not using 'gay' to mean 'bad' around me? I find it offensive." There have been three common responses: silence, a surprised "Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to offend", and the oh-so-mature "So you're a dyke then. Lesbo." Classy, I know. But what is the alternative? I ask, dear readers, what I do now? Do I shut up and let this phase pass on its own? Do I politely suggest that people around me not use such language, perhaps reverting to such bland standbys as "bad" or "unpleasant"? Do I get over it and fall into the "it's just language, it doesn't mean anything" camp?

...or do I suggest new, entertaining vernacular!

Now, replacing "bad" with anything else is probably going to offend some people. I've thought of using some objects in that role, since they clearly can't be offended, but I fear the use of "rutabaga" is not only unwieldy, but would also upset environmentalists by saying I am now devaluing plant life and encouraging an anthrocentric mindset. Oops. Sorry, carrots. Okay, how about something that is obviously less evolved? "He's such an amoeba" has a nice ring to it, but people might have trouble spelling it. I think the safest alternative is gibberish: "That party was completely zizzlefex". Perfect. Your submissions are welcome below.

On a more serious note, however, I have failed to address the final, and perhaps most complex, term mentioned above: "rape". Rape is not funny. Rape is not something to be taken lightly. Rape is not equivalent to losing badly in a video game. Rape is a life-altering, psychologically scarring violation of your body and soul. I'm fairly sure you're not going to walk away from a debate round needing years of therapy, hating yourself, fearing all men and unable to enjoy a healthy self-image or sex life. So why do people consistently use this term in video games, debate, and other competition to describe their loss? Is it actually okay, and I'm just getting up in arms? Maybe it's because I'm female, but...such a term makes me shudder, and I think that using it consistently in unimportant settings removes that strong connotation and lessens the importance of that reality. What disturbs me even more, however, is when players or debaters support this act of "raping", getting excited about the prospect of "raping" their opponents. Not only does this devalue the atrocity of rape, it encouragessuch an act. That is something we absolutely cannot afford to do. Am I overreacting? You tell me. I'm curious to know. If I'm not overreacting, though, I think we (especially those in the debate community) need to start doing something about our colleagues and students throwing this term around like a Glow-In-The-Dark Frisbee (tm).

So, there's my opinion. I think these terms shouldn't be used in common speech. I think we need to start thinking about our language choices, because language is probably the most important and pervasive tool of ideology that we have. You may not realize it, but the way we talk about things is directly responsible for how we think, feel, and act about them (check out any number of communication scholars on this topic; Sapir and Whorf are the big ones, but there are others). That being the case, I'm not comfortable with normalizing rape or denigrating sexual choices via my vernacular. Please help me either reconcile these concerns in my own mind, or provide a solution. Until then, I will be celebrating my homosexual friends, avoiding sexual violence in debate rounds, and happily yelling about every zizzlefex fool I come across.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

I am not a feminist.

After having graduated with an honors thesis that fell clearly into the realm of feminist studies, speaking at a relatively intense feminist studies conference, and beginning graduate work that once again embroils me quite thoroughly in the world of feminism, I have come to a rather surprising conclusion: I am not a feminist.

In fact, I'm very near what one might call an anti-feminist.

Now, don't get me wrong. I love being a (rather liberal) female, I fully support females and femininity, and I'm far from the typical "anti-feminist" throw pillow types who prefer adhering to standard gender roles over rocking the boat. You'd be hard pressed to ever find me in the kitchen with an apron. I'm still iffy on whether I even want children. While I love makeup, I go out most days without it. I'm certainly not in support of any oppressive patriarchy here.

Another necessary caveat entails the distinction between "feminism" and "feminist studies". I fully support, and find fascinating, the study of gender roles, including their construction and enforcement. Indeed, such study has taken over the vast majority of my collegiate career. I read Cosmopolitan in order to figure out the hidden messages behind "104 Ways to Please Your Man", right alongside many of the top feminists in academia. I find the academic, analytical side of feminist studies to be quite appealing, yet nevertheless I have always felt that awkward, deer-in-the-headlights embarrassment whenever I am called a feminist. After a few years of feeling guilty for my curmudgeonly refusal to stand beside fellow women in feminism, I've finally figured out the main problems - or, at least, my problems - with feminism.

First of all, feminism doesn't exist. If you asked one hundred self-identifying feminists what they stand for, you'd likely get one hundred very different answers. Obviously, this is also true for political parties, and other movements as well. Some vegetarians, for example, are against the meat industry, while others are against the moral notion of eating another creature. Some Republicans support the party because of their economic policies, while others support it for...well, I don't really know anymore, because politics have started to scare me, but I'm sure they have a reason. In any case, however, both of these groups can unite on one key practice: Pretty much all vegetarians choose not to eat meat (what type of meat, of course, is up for debate), while most staunch Republicans choose to vote for Republican candidates. Feminists, however, don't really agree on much. Minimalist feminists (say that three times fast!) think that there really are few differences between the sexes, while maximalists think there are key differences that should be recognized. Liberal feminists want to work within the current system to include women's voices, but materialist feminists think the system shouldn't exist at all. Stiletto feminists embrace their sexual power, yet other groups see sexuality as a form of male objectification. I'm sure there are countless other subfactions of feminists who all have different beliefs; third wave feminists, cultural feminists, and others that aren't even cohesively labeled as of yet. Various groups think that "women" should be defined and empowered as a separate gender group, while others want gender labels to become unimportant and view gender as a fluid identity characteristic. So, in short, "feminists" can't agree on whether women exist, how women should act, how women should be treated, and how other genders fit into this whole mess. While I fully support individuals aligning with a cause they believe in, I find it problematic to label any one of these "feminist" when we can't even agree on what feminism is and what it should strive for.

My second concern follows from the first somewhat paradoxically, in that I oppose the "image of feminism" (which by all previous logic shouldn't exist). Indeed, in spite of feminism's amorphous nature, a surprising number of (primarily uneducated) individuals have nevertheless decided on a stereotypical feminist image. Come on, let's be honest, I'm sure at least once or twice you've associated the word "feminist" with other words and images like "butch", "dyke", "lesbian", "man-hating", "troublesome", "rabble-rousing", "liberal", and even "crazy". It's not necessarily a pleasant image that comes to mind for many people. To be sure, these associations are not without cause. Feminist groups often embrace a Black Power fist-type logo, or coopt the image of Rosie the Riveter. Feminists are often outspoken, and...well...a bit crazy at times. Gay women have often been forced to deal with notions of gender identity more harshly than their heterosexual counterparts, so it isn't surprising that they have a voice in the movement, too. Nevertheless, as noted earlier, there is no such thing as a stereotypical feminist. It isn't fair to make these assumptions. More importantly, it entrenches a negative connotation with the movement that, before you get the chance to explain what species of feminist you are, immediately turns off a surprising number of listeners. So, I suppose that's my problem. Why would I label myself in such a way that will make it harder to get my message out? Even if the stereotype weren't negative, however, I would still oppose it, simply because it isn't fair. If feminists can't even agree on what feminism is, it's probably not a good idea for the rest of the world to try to decide for them, then get it wrong and alienate themselves along the way.

My final and most personal opposition to the label of feminist is one that, I realize, may just stem from my age, and my refusal to accept that women are the only (or more important) people who have been oppressed. I realize that I have grown up in a remarkably liberal environment, where I was never told that I couldn't do something because I was a female. I haven't seen a lot of overt oppression, although I recognize there is a startling amount of mind control still going on subliminally. However, I simply can't justify a philosophy that favors women over all other groups. If feminists are fighting for freedom, security, respect, and opportunity for oppressed individuals (which is probably the closest we'll come to finding something that all feminists agree on), I can't possibly see why those values would be promoted for females, yet not other individuals like transsexuals, those with disabilities, elderly people, black people, or even, heaven forbid, men. By calling myself a feminist, I linguistically limit myself to championing the rights of the female above all others. That just seems to fly in the face of everything that I, and many feminists I know, stand for in terms of equal respect and opportunity. Besides, with the growing acceptance of homosexuality, transsexuality, transgender roles, hermaphrodites, and other things we haven't figured out how to name, I'm not even so sure I know who (what?) falls into the archaic category of "female" anymore. So why would I align myself with a group that privileges one group over another, in order to combat...you guessed it...the perpetual privileging of a different group. To play on the classic phrase, fighting privilege with privilege makes the whole world oppressed.

So, what's the answer? If I'm not a feminist, what am I? Am I just going to stand quietly by and let the world go on wronging people around me? No, of course not. First and foremost, I shouldn't need a label to believe in something; I'd rather explain my beliefs through lengthy blog posts that nobody reads. However, because labels are catchy and do give some people a shared identity to empower themselves, I've decided that I'd like to be an equivalist. I don't believe in equality, which is a key facet of "civil rights". I think "all men are created equal" is dead wrong, and an absolutely ridiculous notion to uphold. We are not equal, and I am eternally thankful for that. We all have different ideas, skills, hopes, and beliefs, and that's what makes life interesting. I, personally, will never be good at sports, and I don't want to be given a spot on the same team as Brett Favre just because I'm a person and "deserve that right". I am, however, great at other things, and I'd like to be rewarded for those talents. The key? I want to be valued and respect just as much for my abilities and choices as the next person. In other words, I want equal value, or equivalence, not equality. Now, this isn't a foolproof plan. I recognize that my job as a janitor might not involve as much skill as that of a neurosurgeon, so I'm not saying we should value all skills equally; people will get paid differently, some people will be more skilled than others, and there is always going to be inequality. What I personally will be trying to do, however, is to give people fair chances, and respect the choices they make if they're not hurting anybody else. I won't deny people respect or opportunities based on identity features like race or gender. I'll do my very best to value people equally, in spite of their differences. I guess what I am saying is that we should take a little more time to respect that we do all have differences, and that's okay. In fact, it's a good thing. We just need to start seeing the value in other people's ways of life.

Okay, so I don't have it all figured out. I don't know what will make everyone happy, because everying is different. Moreover, there are just some things that I will never respect: Those who hurt other people intentionally, for example, are pretty low on my personal totem pole. We all have intrinsic value systems that, no matter how hard we try, will probably privilege one group over another. Maybe feminists have it right, and I'm just crazy. To be sure, they do some pretty cool things, and I say rock on if that's what you want to do and be. But it just isn't for me.

After four years of identity crisis rich enough to be a Lifetime TV movie (which isn't saying much, I know), I'm finally letting go of my shame. I am not a feminist. So what do I do know? I guess, to quote The Nightmare Before Christmas, I'm gonna do the best I can.