“The Adult Market”

What’s adult about forcing someone to do something she doesn’t really want to do?

What’s adult about doing sexual things to children?

What’s adult about humiliating another person?

What’s adult about hurting another person?

 

We should call it what it is.  The psychopathic sociopathic misogynist market.  The sick fucks market.

 

(I’d intended to be more specific, but I’m concerned that the psychopathic sociopathic misogynist dudes would like that.  Plus, merely describing these things repulses me.)

 

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Sweet Sixteen (a short story)

 

It’s John’s sixteenth birthday tomorrow.  He’s coming of age.  His cousin, Jane, who lives just down the street, won’t come of age until her eighteenth birthday, and everyone said at the beginning how unfair that was, but truth be told, and John knows it, guys can do a lot of damage between sixteen and eighteen.

“It’s your sixteenth birthday tomorrow,” his mother had said that morning, in a carefully neutral voice.  “What are you going to do?”

“I don’t know!” he’d screamed at her, as if she’d asked the question a hundred times before.  Then he stomped out of the house, slamming the door on his way out.  Standing in the middle of the yard, he’d called a few of his buddies, but they were all away.  Summer camp, vacation, whatever.  So he’d climbed into his old treehouse and sat there, alone, fuming.  It was all he could do not to kick the walls out.

 

What happened was, in 2035 organized religion finally went too far.  That might seem like an odd thing to say, given the institutionalized misogyny of Judaism what with Jewish men thanking their god every morning for not making them female, the Vatican’s decision to prohibit contraception and permit pedophilia, the routine defrauding by various Protestant evangelists, the Puritans’ tendency to cut off people’s ears and bore a hole in their tongues with a hot iron, the witch ‘trials’, the Inquisition’s habit of dislocating limbs and burning people alive, the human sacrifices of the Mayan, Inca, and Aztec theocracies, the Islamic Taliban, jihads, fatwas, burkas—

Ironically enough, it was the Americans’ ramped-up military engagement with Islamic countries that made the long-time similarities between Christianity and Islam suddenly all too apparent.  People started to see the my-god-versus-your-god subtext and were hard-pressed to prove their own god was the one true god.  It wasn’t something they were used to doing, providing support for their beliefs.

So what, you may ask, was the thing that was considered going too far?  Because really, how much further can you go beyond torture and mass murder?

It was this: the American president was not only refusing to sign anti-nuclear accords and pro-environment accords, he was actively pursuing nuclear and environmental destruction to ensure that the Biblical prophecy of the apocalypse would be fulfilled.  He would thus prove once and for all that the Christian god was the one true god.  That there would be no one left alive to appreciate such proof seemed to have escaped his notice.

Immediately upon discovering this insanity, the Scandinavian countries organized a global boycott of everything American, and, upon further thought, of everything from every country that claimed, one way or another, to be a nation under god.

The world became atheist overnight.

And then philosophy finally, finally, took its true place in society.  The ‘Philosophy for Children’ programs run by various fringe ‘wingnuts’ were suddenly mandatory.  The brave initiative in Canada in 1995 to introduce philosophy into the high school curriculum, an initiative that flashed then faded, blazed into popularity: both senior courses became mandatory not only in Canada, but also in the United States, and courses were developed for grades nine and ten as well.  At universities, Departments of Philosophy and Religion finally separated: Philosophy became a department on its own, and Religion was added to Folklore Studies or completely subsumed into invisibility in Ancient History.

And people, ordinary people, began to think.

Almost overnight, instead of hearing people talk on and on about sports, you could hear them, here and there, talk about things like how sure you had to be about something before you could say you knew it.  Epistemology in the pubs!

And without religion to issue decrees, suddenly questions of right and wrong were, well, questions.  Recourse to legal moralism was common among the lazier minds, but the presumed equivalence between law and morality did not go unchallenged.

People also talked a lot about rights and responsibilities.  It was almost as if they had been wanting to do that for a very long time, but had lacked a vocabulary.  The sudden proliferation of philosophy courses, as well as philosophy blogs, philosophy newspaper columns, philosophy talk shows, and even philosophical counselors (after all, many mental health issues are simply the result of not thinking things through clearly) gave them that vocabulary.

One of the first things to go was the right to reproduce.  “The Smiths and their Biochem Cubes” had become a staple in the grade eleven Philosophy course:

Suppose the Smiths make biochem cubes—biological-chemical cubes about one metre by one metre with an input for the resources required for sustenance at one end and an output for the unusable processed resources at the other.  Why do the Smiths make biochem cubes?  Good question.  Truth be told, the cubes are unlikely to make the world a better place.  And the Smiths don’t sell them.

Should we make allowances for the Smiths with regard to money (salaries, taxes, subsidies, etc.)?  After all, they have, let’s say, ten biochem cubes to support.  If the cubes are to stay alive, the Smiths need to provide sustenance.  They need a bigger house.  More electricity.  More food.

Should we encourage their ‘hobby’?  Perhaps even consider it respectable, a rite of passage to maturity?

Or should we censure it?  Because once their biochem cubes become ambulatory, the rest of us have to go around them in one way or another.  And when we’re all dead, the Smiths’ ecological footprints will have been at least ten times the size of those of us who don’t make biochem cubes.  (More, if the cubes they made go out and make other cubes.)

Suddenly everyone was aware of Oliver Wendell Holmes’ famous comment, ‘Your right to swing your fist ends were my nose begins’.  That is to say, suddenly everyone understood that the crux of the matter for rights was that, and how, others were affected.  No right was absolute because no person was an island.  Everything, everyone, was connected.  Maybe not directly, maybe not immediately, but if the change in the Earth’s climate had taught us anything, it had taught us that.

So a right to reproduce?  No.  It was a privilege.  One had to earn it.  And even so, it could be taken away.

Shortly after, the abortion question was finally seen as a simple matter of competing rights: the right of the fetus to develop versus the right of the woman to carry on with her life.

And once it was decided that the fetus’ right didn’t trump the woman’s right, that the fetus didn’t automatically have a right to develop, a right to life (why would it? just because some man ejaculated into some woman and started the process?), it was a very small step for people to realize that they themselves didn’t automatically have a right to life.  After all, everyone was just the result of some man ejaculating into some woman.  Everyone was just someone’s biochem cube.

A lot of people resisted.  They struggled to argue for a right to life, an inalienable right to life.  But there was simply no basis for it.  Absent a god to grant it.

 

John wasn’t aware of any of this, of course.  He just knew that once he came of age, he had to prove somehow that he had a right to live.  He had to be useful or valuable in some way.  You got a free ride until then, that was the deal now.  But once you turned eighteen, or sixteen, if you were male, you had to earn the right to life, you had to prove your life was worth—well, worth the resources you used, perhaps, or worth the negative consequences you inevitably caused for others.

It was easier for girls, John thought.  Jane had been useful since she was old enough to dry the dishes, standing on a stool at the sink.  She had a whole list of chores to do: dishes every day, dinner twice a week, dusting and vacuuming on Saturdays, babysitting on Sundays…

She’d even learned to play the piano.  By the time she was fourteen, she was practicing an hour a day, and the last time he was at her house, she played something by Mozart for him.  She was useful and valuable.  And she wasn’t even sixteen yet.

When John saw how good Jane was at the piano—she’d even played some retro Supertramp for him once—he decided he’d become a musician too.  So he got a guitar.  But he had no idea how to play it.  A friend of a friend finally showed him a few chords, but even after two whole weeks, it was hit-and-miss, so he gave up.  Clearly, he had no talent.  Jane was lucky, he thought, she could do shit like that.

He didn’t know why it was different for girls.  Maybe all that stuff just came naturally.  Guys were different.  For example, a couple weeks ago, he and his buddies broke all the windows at their school.  Every last one of them.  They’d had a race to see who could break the most.  And just last week they had a great time turning over everyone’s garbage.  He always felt a little bad the day after they did these things, seeing the mess they’d made, but a guy’s entitled to have a little fun, right?

It took Jane a good two hours to pick up all the stuff that had overnight blown onto their lawn.  Wads of tissue, scraps of soiled, unrecyclable packaging—  So, he thought, philosophically, he’d given her the opportunity to be useful.  Didn’t that make him useful?

Long ago, his parents had told him he had to cut the grass, but he’d said ‘Fuck that!’ and took off.  They didn’t insist.  Truthfully, they were a little afraid of him.

All the young men who in earlier times might have proved themselves useful as soldiers didn’t have that avenue open to them now.  Because now there were no wars.  Killing someone—remember, everyone had earned the right to live now, everyone who was alive had proven themselves to be useful or valuable—killing someone, taking away someone’s right to life, was the quickest way to get your own right to life revoked.

And once people started thinking, they realized that football, hockey, soccer, basketball—these things did nothing to improve humanity.  So that avenue for young men was also no longer open.  The entertainment defence for that level of sport, for that concentration of resources for sport, was tried, but it failed.  As it did for pornography.  There was simply too much violence involved—and in the latter case, too much degradation—to grant entertainment value to anyone but vicarious sadists.

Even so, at the beginning it was easy for guys like John.  On their eighteenth birthday, guys like John would just start roaming the highways picking up the garbage that littered the ditches.  But a generation later, well, the kind of people who had earned the right to live weren’t the kind of people who tossed their garbage out their car windows.

The more ambitious guys got jobs.  But jobs weren’t that easy to find now.  Certainly John couldn’t find one overnight.  And he certainly wasn’t doing well enough in school to argue that he was going to become a scholar, a scientist, or even an entrepreneur.

The truth of the matter was that John wasn’t unusual.  A great many men by the age of eighteen hadn’t done anything, not one thing, to improve life for humanity, to justify their existence.

The same was true, of course, of a lot of young women.  The ones who’d expected to get a free ride by being somebody’s wife and/or somebody’s mother.  In fact, Brittany, one of John’s classmates, would have trouble a couple years from now.  In a previous time, she may have been useful as a prostitute, but once pornography became illegal, prostitution quickly followed.  The similarities were clear, once people thought about it, but also, the demand for it decreased quite quickly.

Even so, even now, in certain cesspool corners of the world, to which John and Brittany could escape if they’d known about them, Brittany could have, would have, found herself useful.  But she’d’ve been raped to death within six months.

And then John would have discovered just how useful he could be.

John kicked at the walls of the treehouse.  Now he wishes they had, he wishes his parents had insisted.  Again, and again, and again if necessary.  That he cut the grass.  Or whatever.  It was their responsibility to make sure he was useful, wasn’t it?  They created him.  It was their fault he was in this situation!

He looked back toward the house.  Then came down out of the trees.  And went on one last rampage.

Tomorrow he’d be sixteen.

And he wouldn’t be missed.

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The Trouble with Trans

1. To the extent that a transsexual is someone who experiences body dysphoria, someone who feels they’re in the ‘wrong’ body, someone who feels their body is the ‘wrong’ sex — how do they know? What is it like to feel female (or male)? I was born female, and I don’t know.   So how can they know?  It’s Nagel’s ‘What is it like to be a bat?’ problem. (1)  I know what it is to feel healthy only because I have also been sick.  I don’t know what it is to feel female because I haven’t been male.  Anything that I feel that I can know for sure is due to being female, rather than due to simply being human, is related to having a uterus (which can ache and hurt during menstruation) and breasts (which can feel heavy).

Other things subjectively felt are certainly due to my body — to its levels of estrogen and progesterone, for example, but also to its levels of dopamine and vasopressin, for example.  But given the overlapping range of levels of these biochemicals in males and females (many of which are not differentiated for males and females), again, how can one say ‘I feel this—because I’m female’?

If transsexuals feel like their exterior doesn’t match their interior, why do they (also) get hormone treatment—which will change their interior (as well as their exterior)?  Doing that suggests they want to change their sex, not that they were born with the wrong sex.  Even if sex is brain-based, and they feel like they have a female brain in a male body — it’s the brain that produces hormones.  So if they do have a female brain, it would be producing estrogen, and there would be no need for hormone treatments.

I’m not saying body dysphoria isn’t ‘real’.  In fact, I experience every day the mismatch between what’s inside and what’s outside: I look like a middle-aged woman, but I don’t feel like a middle-aged woman.  Then again, I do.  I must.  This must be what a middle-aged woman can feel like.  (Similarly, if you’re in a male body, what you feel must be male.  Maybe it’s not the male you see on billboards and television, but it is male nevertheless.) (Welcome to our world.)  When I say I don’t feel like a middle-aged woman, I’m using my personal and thus limited experience (my interaction with other middle-aged women) and I’m using stereotypes, pushed at me primarily by profit-seeking marketing departments.

But even so, in this case, I can know that my interior doesn’t match my exterior: at forty, for example, I know what I felt at twenty, so when I say I still feel twenty, I know what I’m talking about.  I could mean, for example, that my skin feels the same, even though when I look in the mirror, I see that it’s lost its elasticity.  Usually, though, I mean something like I still feel energetic and impassioned, not bland and resigned.  But this takes us back to my point about referencing limited experience and stereotypes.

What we need are thorough and carefully conducted studies of MTFs and FTMs.  Only they know what it felt like when they were male or female and what it feels like after they add or subtract certain body parts.  (To the extent that those parts aren’t connected to the whole in the same way, though, any change in subjective experience won’t be very useful.)

More importantly, only they know what it felt like when they were, for example, flooded with testosterone and what it feels like to be flooded with estrogen.  Sadly, those studies aren’t being done, as far as I can tell (which may mean they’re just not being publicized).  And even if they were, their reliability would be compromised by the nature of subjective report and a self-selected sample, both of which are likely to be further confounded by the subject’s conflation of sex and gender.

 

2. To the extent that a transgendered person is someone who adopts the gender that is traditionally aligned with the other sex, there are several problems.

If gender is socially constructed, then it’s not dependent on sex—so one need not change one’s sex in order to change one’s gender.  In fact, transgendered people don’t even need their own label.  Every woman who refuses to wear make-up and shave her legs is as much a transgendered person as the man who insists on wearing make-up and shaving his legs.  (Assuming that not wearing make-up is not just not-feminine, but is masculine.  If it’s just not-feminine, then perhaps it’s more accurate to call such a woman non-gendered.  So would a woman who wears pants instead of a dress be transgendered?  Still no.  It turns out that aspects of appearance commonly associated with men are more acceptable for women than vice versa.  Perhaps that’s why there are more men than women seeking to cross the gender divide.  Women already can, at least on superficial matters.)

And if it isn’t socially constructed—that is, if is dependent on sex, how do we explain effeminate men and ‘tomboys’?  How is it that many males use their voice and their hands in a very expressive fashion?  How is it that many females are strong and aggressive?

 

3. Are MTFs female? The answer to this question requires an informed understanding of biology, chemistry, and biochemistry that I don’t have. It also requires a definition: how much of how many (and which) primary and secondary sexual characteristics is required to be a member of that sex category?  Is a female who has undergone a hysterectomy and a bilateral mastectomy still female?  Is a post-menopausal and thus low-estrogen female still female?

 

4. Are MTFs women? To the extent that being a woman is a matter of gender rather than sex, maybe. Again, we need a definition: which, how many, how much…   And does a woman need to be a female?

Of course it is possible, by observation and comparison, to identify what it’s like to be treated as a female/woman.  I was born female, raised as a girl, and all of my adult life, treated, by most people most of the time, as a woman.  And what does that feel like?  It feels like shit.  To be patronized, marginalized, objectified…

So perhaps a more useful question is ‘Should MTFs be treated as women?’  Should we pay them less for work of equal value?  Should we mock or at least ignore their contributions to society?  If we want consistency, yes.  If we want justice, no.

On that note, it needs to be said (apparently) that how you’re treated affects the person you become.  Kick a dog often enough, and it becomes a cowering, fearful mess.  The same is true for humans: ignore a person often enough, and she stops speaking up; make her feel like all of her value is in her body, and she obsesses over it; and so on (and so on, and so on).  There is a difference between being a FAAB (female assigned at birth) and being an MTF: a lifetime lived in a female body.  That difference is not inconsequential.  To understate.  And if MTFs had any understanding at all of sexism, they’d know this.  (But perhaps they’ve been too busy dealing with their dysphoria.) (Or they’ve just been, well, men.)

So answering the question of whether MTFs are women is a no-brainer for the people who’ve been women all their lives.  MTFs make demands, not polite requests. (2)  They are quick to resort to insult, threat, aggression.  They compete.  They dominate.  They convey a sense of entitlement none of us has ever had.   They don’t take ‘no’ for an answer.  They scream “WHO THE FUCK ARE YOU TO KEEP US OUT WE HAVE A FUCKING RIGHT TO BE HERE TO GO WHEREVER THE FUCK WE WANT!”—a response to exclusion from FAAB spaces that is “right up there, ideologically, with demanding that girls and women be sexually available visually and physically, for and with men” (Julian Real, http://radicalprofeminist.blogspot.ca/2011/02/who-gets-to-define-women-only-space.html). (3, 4)  In short, it quacks like a duck.

 

In any case, perhaps the most important question is ‘Why does it matter?’ —whether one is male or female, a man or a woman?  It matters only to those who want to maintain a rigid sex/gender dichotomy.  And why would someone want to do that?  To support a sexist system/society.

So, I say to MTFs, who are apparently among those who want to maintain such a system/society, if you want to be considered a woman, act like one.  Sit down and shut up.  Understand that your opinion doesn’t count.  Be sensitive to everyone else’s feelings, respect them, accommodate them.  Don’t assume you know more than anyone else.  In particular, don’t assume you know more about sex and gender than second-generation feminists and radfems; they are Ph.D.s (in fact, many of them have Ph.D.s) when it comes to sex and gender, and no man of any kind comes close to their level of understanding: “They lost many of [their] privileges when they started identifying as women, but rather than recognising that this is because of sexism, they decided it was because they are trans. Why? Because, being male, they knew fuck all about sexism” (thebeardedlady, Nov17/09 at https://factcheckme.wordpress.com/2009/11/16/the-fallacy-of-cis-privilege/).

It is no surprise to me that twice as many MTFs as FTMs commit suicide.  I have not ready many accounts of their transition, but in most of those I’ve read, I see a shocking naiveté with regard to sexism, gender politics, etc.  It is as if these people had no idea that they were voluntarily becoming a member of the sexed subordinate class.  So no wonder, on top of everything else, they can’t handle, are broadsided by, the sudden and almost complete disenfranchisement …

(So as for the dysphoria, like the person who rejects their leg because it doesn’t feel right, because it doesn’t feel like it’s theirs, isn’t it better to deal with the dysphoria than to go through life as an amputee?)   (Because yes, being a woman in the patriarchy is, in many ways, like being an amputee.  We are crippled.  We are, relative to men, dis-abled.)

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Change the way we do business

Looking back at the last fifty years, we see protests against deception and injustice: the anti-war movement, the civil rights movement, feminism, the gay rights movement, environmentalism, the animal rights movement, the Occupy movement.

What’s left?  What should be the current generation’s crusade?  Big Business.  Big Oil, Big Ag, Big Pharma, Big Media.

“In 2011, a think tank in London called the Carbon Tracker Initiative conducted a breakthrough study that added together the reserves claimed by all the fossil fuel companies, private and state-owned.  It found that the oil, gas, and coal to which these players had already laid claim—deposits they have on their books and which were already making money for shareholders—represented 2,795 gigatons of carbon. … [W]e know roughly how much carbon can be burned between now and 2050 and still leave us a solid chance (roughly 80%) of keeping warming below 2 degrees Celsius …  565 gigatons.  … [A]s Bill McKibben [author of Oil and Honey] points out, ‘The thing to notice is, 2,795 is five times 565.  It’s not even close. … What those numbers mean is quite simple.  This industry has announced, in filings to the SEC and in promises to shareholders, that they’re determined to burn five times more fossil fuel than the planet’s atmosphere can begin to absorb.’ … In other words, the fossil fuel companies have every intention of pushing the planet beyond the boiling point” (Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything  148, 353-4).

And BigAg? “Billions of people on the planet are supported by farmers who save seeds from the crops and replant these seeds the following year. Seeds are planted. The crop is harvested. And the seeds from the harvest are replanted the following year. Most farmers cannot afford to buy new seeds every year, so collecting and replanting seeds is a crucial part of the agricultural cycle. This is the way food has been grown successfully for thousands of years. With Monsanto’s terminator technology, they will sell seeds to farmers to plant crops. But these seeds have been genetically-engineered so that when the crops are harvested, all new seeds from these crops are sterile (e.g., dead, unusable). This forces farmers to pay Monsanto every year for new seeds if they want to grow their crops.”  (Ethical Investing: Monsanto Terminator Technology http://www.ethicalinvesting.com/monsanto/terminator.shtml

Big Pharma? The average price of the fifty drugs most used by senior citizens was nearly $1,500 for a year’s supply.  In 2002.    And now they’re creating the disease so they can sell the cure.  Halitosis was just the beginning.  Now we’ve got erectile dysfunction, female sexual dysfunction, bipolar disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), restless legs syndrome, osteoporosis, social shyness (also called social anxiety disorder and social phobia), irritable bowel syndrome, and balding.  We’re all sick.  We all need drugs.  (Larry Dossey, “Creating Disease” The Huffington Post Jun18/10 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-larry-dossey/big-pharma-health-care-cr_b_613311.html)

But this kind of information isn’t screamed in the news because—BigMedia.  A mere six corporations own 90% of the median in the States.

So this is my call to this generation: protest against the veneer of respectability that has enabled ‘business’ to proceed ‘as usual’–unchallenged.  Question progress.  Question profit.  Question the right of way that’s been given to business merely because it wears a suit and tie and provides jobs.  (Like ‘I’ve got a family,’ ‘I’ve got a business to run’ is used as an all-purpose legitimizing excuse.  Youcan get away with anything ifyou’re doing it for your kids.  Ditto if you’ve got a business to run.  As if merely by employing several people, business becomes some sort of social service.  It’s not.

You’ve got fifty years to learn from.  The greater one’s youthful idealism, the greater one’s middle-aged bitterness.  So, yes, many of us over forty are worse than useless: we are infectious with cynicism.  But we were once young.  Study what we did and what we didn’t do.  Figure out what worked and what didn’t work–then.  Figure out what’ll work and what won’t work—now.  Take a good look at Kent State, Birmingham, Greenham Common, Tiananmen Square, Seattle…  It’s not as easy anymore (if it ever was) as offering a flower or sitting in the way.  They will shoot you.  They will run over you.  And you can’t depend on media coverage–your local station is owned by some fat cat in LA or NY who doesn’t want the world to know.   DIY.  Use the internet.  Figure it out.

As is the case with movements, little bits here and there gradually add up to something that makes the structure collapse and the veil of naïveté dissipate.  Utopia doesn’t rise from the rubble, but we never see things in quite the same way again.

A special note to those in business—with great power comes great responsibility.  You’re in the driver’s seat.  Get us out of here.  Use your intelligence, use your imagination.  Find a way.  Change the way we do business.  And save your world.

 

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On Power Outages in the Middle of Nowhere

I live in a cabin on a lake in the forest.  You’d think that whenever the power goes out, there would be silence.  Lovely silence.  And lovely dark.  And there is.  For all of thirty seconds.  Then everyone’s backup generator goes on.  And for the next five, ten, twenty, or forty-eight hours, I hear engine noise.  Constant engine noise.  Like a tractor trailer is parked in my driveway.  Idling.  Loudly.

Because my god but the world would end if people had to go without TV for five hours!  Or without whatever the hell it is they need their generators for.

Two hours in, and they’re driving into town.  Because ‘What about supper?’  What?  Food is that foremost on your mind?  You’re not in Ethiopia.  You just ate a couple hours ago.  And if you’re really that hungry, don’t you have anything in the house that can be eaten raw, out of the box, or out of the can?

Perhaps they can’t stand the silence.  No, that can’t be right, because everyone’s generators are on.

Is it that they can’t stand the severance from—what, exactly?  Civilization?  Please.  Most people here couldn’t care less about their neighbours.  When I asked one to join a sort of neighbourhood watch so we could call the fire department whenever, during a total fire ban, some asshole one had a huge, blazing campfire, as was his habit, she refused.  Didn’t want to stick her neck out.

Quite apart from the fact that a power outage doesn’t sever you from civilization.  Can’t you hear everyone’s generators?  Everyone’s still here.

Is it that people are so fearful they need the illusion of safety that noise and light provide?  Hm.  Now I understand why people have their TV on all day even though they aren’t watching it.  And it suddenly occurs to me that most of the people who live here never leave their houses, except to get into their car and go somewhere.  I never see them out for a walk, on the road, or in the forest.  I never see them down at the water, let alone out on the lake.

Or perhaps it’s just that there’s nothing going on inside their little heads, so they need the external stimulation to keep them from utter boredom.

Far more than pathetic, it’s scary.  That people are so dependent on that kind of (external) energy.

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Catherine, by Chris Wind

Catherine, by Chris Wind (from Snow White Gets Her Say)  www.chriswind.net

 

That you don’t recognize me by name is but the first of my complaints about my tale. Oh you know me alright. I’m the main character—in a tale titled with the name of one of the men in the story. But what’s in a name? A lot. Especially if it’s a man’s name. This man’s name is the answer to the question upon which rests the fate of myself and my newborn child. So his name is very powerful, it is very important. My name apparently is not.

Nor is my life. For whether it is to be filled with joy and delight from being with my newborn, or empty with grief and loss from separation is to be decided by a mere guessing game.

Nor are my words important. I denied my father’s boast. I told the King I most definitely could not spin gold out of straw. But he didn’t believe me. Of course not. He chose instead to believe the words of an immature, egotistic, vain man. And I suffer the consequences.

The consequences. To pay for my father’s ridiculous lie, I lose my sanity, my freedom, and my dignity for three nights—and almost my child, forever. (And one sentence—one sentence in the whole tale is devoted to that ‘choice’, that decision to give up my child in return for my life.)

Because I ‘succeeded’ on the third night, I was ‘rewarded’ with marriage to the King. Thus, for all intents and purposes, I also lost my life. Can you imagine what it is like to be married—legally bound to honour and obey until death, and socioeconomically bound with little option but to stay and make the best of it—to a man who didn’t believe me, a man who locked me in a room for three nights, a man so greedy that he said three nights in a row he’d kill me unless I did as he wanted? And that was before he owned me.

But as the tale says, I am shrewd and clever. And I have learned the force of threat, and the importance of a name—especially if it is male. Proud fathers want very much to pass it on. But royal fathers—dear husband, aging Highness, what would happen to your precious lineage if my, your, only son were to suddenly—

Since I am not dead, and am living still…

 

**

Catherine is the name I’ve given to the woman in “Rumpelstiltskin”. One day a vain and proud miller boasted about his beautiful and clever daughter to the king, telling him that she could spin gold out of straw. The poor maiden denied it, but the king locked her in a room full of straw and insisted that she spin it into gold or else she’d lose her life.

Once in the room, she began to cry; then “a droll-looking little man” appeared and, after hearing her story, offered to do it for her if she’d give him her necklace. When the king returned and saw that the straw had indeed been spun into gold, he locked up the maiden with another roomful of straw. This time she paid the little man with her ring. The third time, the king added the promise of marriage if she succeeded, but she had nothing left with which to pay the little man. He asked for her first child, and having no other option, fearing death if the king returned to find straw and not gold, she agreed.

So she was married to the king, and when her first child was born, the little man came to collect. Appalled, she offered him instead “all the treasures of the Kingdom”—but he wanted the child. Eventually he softened his terms and said that if within three days she could tell him his name, she could keep the child.

For the next two days, she guessed all the names she knew and sent messengers all over the land to gather new ones. Finally, on the third day, a messenger returned with the name ‘Rumpelstiltskin’—which was indeed the little man’s name. She was therefore able to keep her child, and everyone laughed at the little man, Rumpelstiltskin, as he made his way away.

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Oh the horror

On yet another occasion during which I was stunned by one of my neighbour’s stupidity and ignorance, it suddenly occurred to me that the person I was speaking with probably hadn’t read a book since high school.

(Yes, it then occurred to me that s/he probably hadn’t read a book during high school either.)

Then it occurred to me that that was probably true for most people. 

I tried to imagine what that would be like.  What my mind would be like if I hadn’t read a book, not one book, in the last, say, forty years.

Oh the horror.

Because what could possibly go on inside such a mind?

In addition to their high school history and geography textbooks, through which they might have plodded here and there, they might have read, perhaps, a dozen novels, in all.  Library books for the annual book review assignment in English class.  Who is the main character?  Describe the setting.  What is the main conflict?

They may as well be illiterate.  They are, essentially.  They’re functionally illiterate.    Because yes, they can and probably do read package labels and price tags, but what else?

The newspaper.  Which is pretty much nothing but exposition.   Low-level description.  No analysis.  No critique.

What if everyone read just one non-fiction book a week?  What if employers rewarded them for doing so, as many of them do now for physical exercise: in addition to so many points per kilometer, because it reduces their healthcare costs, so many points per page, because —   Ah, there’s the rub.  What’s in it for them?  Nothing.  In fact, on the contrary, it’s to their advantage not to have their employees develop knowledge, understanding, critical ability.

Okay, so what if the government implemented such a reward program?  Well, it’s not really in their best interests either.  Which explains, perhaps, why the education system doesn’t mandate critical thinking courses.

Of course, if parents …    But every time they say ‘Because I said so,’ they stomp on critical thinking.  It’s just easier that way, I guess.

So in whose interests is it be critical?  Our own, of course.  Otherwise, we’re suckers to manipulation by media.  Corporations.  Government.  Anyone who puts their own self-interest before yours.

But in our society, the word ‘critical’ has negative connotations.  It’s bad to be critical.

Oh the horror.

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Why is honesty rude?

If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.  

What?  Why is honesty rude?

What kind of society considers honesty, truth, to be less important than—what?  Social cohesion?

And that assumes that people will be offended by the truth.  If the truth is about them, I suppose that’s an accurate assumption.  But what does that say?  About people.

And actually, even if the truth isn’t about them, I suspect many people would be offended by the truth when it challenges their own views.  And what does that say?

More likely, truth has simply been trumped by self-interest.  Because if honesty does offend, for whatever reason, then the truth-speaker will be alienated, ostracized, a social outcast.  (Though, as far as I’m concerned, social inclusion is of dubious value…)

But if we’d’ve been honest every time rights collide, speaking up about the limits of freedoms, perhaps everyone wouldn’t feel so frickin’ entitled all the time.  To everything.

If we’d’ve called each other out, on anything, on everything, we’d be leading more authentic lives.

Many of my neighbours have their tvs on all the time; as a result, they do very little thinking on their own.  Not only because there is no silence, typically required for thought, but also because they’re exposing themselves so relentlessly to a worldview censored by a handful of conglomerates motivated primarily by self-interest.  And then, because there’s nothing going on in their heads, they can’t stand the silence, so they keep the tv on all the time…  But do I say “Shut that thing off and wake the fuck up!”?  Of course not.  That would be rude.

A couple of them also take RV trips.  Do I point out that they’re leaving a huge ecological footprint, that they’ve contributed to climate change, that they’re partly responsible for the increasing number and severity of storms, and that, therefore, they’ve been rather selfish and inconsiderate?  No.  I ask whether they had a good trip.

When I see a woman performing femininity, do I tell her she’s making it hard for those of us who’d like to be taken seriously, for our knowledge and our skills, not for our clownface and shoestilts?  No.

So as it is, superficiality has become a habit.

Those of us with half a brain, who are trying to live an authentic life, a morally responsible life—we’ve been silent too long.  We’ve been polite too long.  We’ve been dishonest too long.

 

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Brunettes, Blondes, and Redheads

So the other day I started reading iron shadows by Steven Barnes.  He’s apparently a bestselling author.  Which is really disturbing.

Because four sentences in, he describes a woman as “a small wiry brunette”.  Seriously?  Does anyone actually identify women by their hair colour any more?  That’s so—1940s.  Isn’t it?  I check.  The book’s copyright is 1998.  Okay.  Guess not.  Guess the tradition of objectifying women lives on.

We don’t do that with men.  We don’t objectify them by their hair colour (or anything else, for that matter).  Their hair colour for godsake.  She’s a brunette.  Or a blonde.  Or a redhead.  As if all women with brown hair are what, interchangeable?  Because they’re completely defined by—the colour of their hair?

Not only that, but he had to mention her size.  Small.  Of course.  If she’s going to be a heroine, she has to be small.  I’m surprised he didn’t tell us how large her breasts are.

And whereas she’s small, he’s “enormous”.  Of course he is.

Could we just reverse the description with nothing odd happening, that test for sexism?  “The man, a small, wiry brunette with an ugly bruise on his left cheek, wore a yellow unisex utility uniform.  The woman was enormous, but barely conscious.”  Not only do you find it odd to hear a man called “a small, wiry brunette”, you no doubt found it a bit disgusting to hear the woman called “enormous”.

I am, goddamnit, still a little forgiving, so I read on.

But the very next woman—or maybe it’s the same woman, since the next bit happens two months earlier—the very next woman “nibbles” on dry wheat toast.  Because we can’t have a woman actually eating with guilt-free enthusiasm.

And she has “an oval face framed by a cascade of small soft blonde ringlets”.  Small again.  And soft.  And blonde.  And ringlets.  Ringlets?!

In case we missed it, “Her habit of peering out from behind them sometimes made her resemble a mischievous child peeking through a fence.”

In 1998.  And published by Tor.

No wonder women can’t get published.  As long as this insulting crap is deemed worthy.  Is bestselling.

When will men finally get it?  When will they finally get it right?

Robert J. Sawyer.  He’s the only one.  The only male sf writer who’s smart enough to create a non-sexist world.

 

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The Dialogue, by Chris Wind

The Dialogue, by Chris Wind (from Deare Sister)

 

Lasthenia, your beard is slipping.

Why thank you.

Did you get the mathematics done?

No. And I tried so hard, Axio, after you left last night. I worked at it for another two hours. It’s just not clear at all. Can you help me again tonight?

All right—I should be able to get away.

Wonderful!!

Lasthenia, please be more discreet passing these notes back and forth. People will begin to notice us.

Well maybe it’s time they did. I get so angry! None of the other students have to pass notes, they murmur freely to each other whenever they have something to say. (Which is all the time.)

None of the other students have soprano voices.

None that we know of. Haven’t you wondered about that new student? The one who sits in the back—never says a word—         Also has a beard.

Stop now, Plato has come in.

See that’s the problem with this disguise. Not only does it cut us of from the men, it cuts us off from each other too.

But otherwise we couldn’t be here, and we’d be even more cut off. Now please! If Plato sees us, he’ll think we aren’t paying attention, and I’d hate to offend him so!

Do you think he’s going to continue with the concept of justice? I was thinking about that on my way here this morning. And I think the problem is that we associate justice with goodness. Look what happens if we don’t do that: something can be just without necessarily being good.

That’s an interesting idea. So the person to whom the guns were entrusted gives them back when the owner, though no longer in his right mind, requests them—the action can indeed be just, but not good.

Yes, and it can be just to charge everyone the same amount (or to charge anything at all) for medical services, but not good.

But that doesn’t get us any closer to defining justice, to deciding what is and is not just.

Well to me, it’s a lot like mathematics.

Meaning you don’t understand it?

Very funny. No, meaning it’s a matter of equations, of strict equivalences.

Go on.

Well that’s all very fine with numerical relations, but it’s impossible in human relations—unless we treat people like numbers. An example: for one child, taking away a toy is punishment, for another, the mere suggestion of it is enough.

Because the children are different emotionally, the impact will be the same even the action needs to be different.

Exactly, because numbers just have quantity, but people have quality as well—emotional quality, physiological quality, situational quality.

Hm. So are we saying justice has no place in human relations?

Oh shit, Aristotle’s getting up to speak. If he rants and raves about women again like he did yesterday, I swear I won’t be silent this time.

No, Lasthenia, you mustn’t! If you speak out, all will be lost!

If I don’t, all will be lost. If he’s allowed to continue, uncontested, he will soon persuade the others—you know how he can talk. And he’s rich too.

So?

Well, don’t you see? Plato is getting old. Unless he names a successor, the Academy will close, then Aristotle will open his own school. He knows Plato will never ask him to carry on the Academy, his ideas are too different. And as far as I know, he hasn’t named anyone. Has he sent any word to you about it?

To me?

Well why not? You heard what Speusippus said he said about you, “Axiotheo alone has the mind bright enough to grasp my ideas.”

Yes but that doesn’t mean he’s going to name me his successor. Sometimes I think he knows I’m really Axiothea. And he knows as well as I that if the next director were a woman, the state would stop its funding. And unlike Aristotle, my father is not physician to the King—I have no private backing to keep a school going.

What about Samothea? She was head of the Hyperborean University in Cornwall.

True enough. I don’t know how she managed. I would think enrolment as well as funding would decrease. But she’s a Briton, things must be different there. No, Plato would be wise to name Lycurgus or Demosthenes.

Those airheads? Maybe they speak well, but they say nothing.

How would you know? You never listen! You’re always too busy distracting me with these notes!

I listen when there’s something worth listening to. And Aristotle is not worth listening to.

Give him a chance.

A chance? Did you hear what he just said? Axio, I have to speak out!

No, Lasthenia, be careful of winning a battle only to lose a war! The time isn’t right!

The time is never right!

That’s not true. Wait until this mess with the Macedonians has passed. Everything’s at loose ends now, our voice will get lost.

But when everything’s tight, there’s no room for our voice.

No, listen, we have to wait until the men feel secure. If we rise now, we’re just one more threat. Their response will be irrational, flung out of fear. When things are settled, when they are sure of their own position, then they can listen to the arguments about ours.

No! They were ‘secure’ last century. And look what happened. Already Aspasia and Diotima are unacknowledged, forgotten. We hear only of Socrates, not of the women who taught him. And yet Diotima’s social philosophy and her theories on nature have never been surpassed. And Elpinice and Aglaonice—what has happened to them, to their work? The surer the men get of their ‘position’, the surer they are to ‘put us in ours’! Perictyone alone is remembered, her papers are still read, but only because she’s Plato’s mother; you watch, as soon as he’s dead, she’ll be buried too!

No, that won’t happen, I don’t believe it!

It will! Axio, it has! Who is credited with the golden mean concept? Pythagoras, not Theano! She was brilliant! Mathematics, medicine, physics, psychology, named successor to his Institute at Croton—but is her name ever mentioned? And Theoclea, and Myla, Arignote, Damo—     Axio, it’s gone on long enough! We have to do something, we have to speak out!

We?

No—you’re quite right—you!

Me?! You’re crazy! Why me?

Well no one knows me from a hole in the ground. But if Axio—if Axio stands up as a woman—     Plato will have to acknowledge you! You’re his favourite—he’ll have to support you! And so will all the other students: either that or retract their past judgements, admit error. And you know how unlikely that is.

Oh Lasthenia, I don’t know. You don’t know what you’re asking. As I said, I think Plato knows. And if I expose myself, I expose him. I’d be putting him in a very awkward position. You’re right, he is old, and what with the way things are, he may lose the Academy altogether if I—     No. I owe him, he’s let me attend his classes, even though I am a woman.

You’d be putting him in an awkward position? Look at us! Plato has given you less than you deserve! That’s no cause for gratitude! You owe him nothing!

But Lasthenia, you’re exaggerating about Aristotle. His system of formal logic, remember his seminar last week? You must admit that what he proposes is an excellent way of thinking.

Does he think we’re capable of it?

His three types of soul, vegetative, sensitive, rational—

Ask him which type women have.

Happiness as the aim of all human action—

Whose happiness?

Lasthenia, he’s not that bad!

Axio listen to him! “For the female is, as it were, a mutilated male”—not that bad??
Axio, I beg you—think of Arete. She’s eleven now. In a few years, she’ll be ready to come to the Academy, she can’t learn everything from her father. She’s very bright, you know that. I gave her Perictyone’s paper On Wisdom to read a fortnight ago. Do you know, she understood it? And questioned very well! Do you want her to bind her breasts too, paste on a beard and learn to swagger—do you condemn her as well to silence in school?

All right.          All right. Maybe it is time.     But Lasthenia, I can’t stand up to Aristotle.

What do you mean you can’t stand up to Aristotle! For a man interested in empirical data, he seems positively blind to the reality of women. Just tell him the facts, tell him what we can do, what we are. And his logic—it’s so weak, even I could make it collapse.

But look at who’s here—they’ll laugh—          I can’t speak.     I’ll squeak.

Axio, I’ve heard you speak. You’re intelligent, you’re articulate—you can so speak. Just pretend you’re speaking to me Axio, as you do every evening—go, you can do it!

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