Are too a feminist.

Sometimes I’ll hear someone, either a friend or just someone in earshot, talking along about political and social issues, say this:

“I’m not one of those feminists.” Or, “I can’t stand those feminists.”

If queried on this, I’ll hear something like “I wouldn’t put myself in that category” or “I’m just not like that, I couldn’t be one of those people.” If the person is male, the original comment was probably “I can’t stand feminists” or “Those feminists, they are bad because of blar blar blar.”

My response is a series of questions. For women: Do you have a college degree? Do you drive your own car? Do you have a career, or plan to have one? Do you have your own bank account and credit card? Do you wear pants when you feel like it? If you are with a man and you can’t stand him, can you leave? Do you like the fact that you can leave?

For men, the questions are more fun. Do you have a girlfriend? Do you and your girlfriend share an apartment or house? If so, does she pay half the rent and utilities? Does your wife or girlfriend work, and contribute to the family finances? Do you like being able to date women without marrying them? Do you like being able to earn an income and keep it without being obliged to marry? Do you like getting sex retail instead of having to buy it wholesale? Do you enjoy participating in hobbies, sports, and work activities with women? Are any of your customers or clients women who pay you for your services?

Folks, if you answered any of these questions “yes” then guess what! You are a feminist. You are benefiting and profiting from the increasing equality of women in society over the last hundred years. “Feminist” does not mean “angry castrating lesbian who wants you to use awkward pronouns”. It means someone, male or female, who believes that women should have financial, political, and sexual freedom, and that these freedoms require protection and extension.

Next time you benefit from the F-word you should remember it’s not an insult, it’s a badge of pride.

Note: this was originally posted on my “Content Goes Here” blog in 2003.

Assorted premature thoughts on Breivik

I’m not sure, but this appears to be the first use of Family Circle cartoon art in a mass killer’s video manifesto. Eerie. For a guy who clearly hates both the modern and the postmodern, he sure hit the postmodern gong hard with his media technique.

Breivik managed to repeat the last 15 minutes of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It reminds me of Timothy McVeigh’s identification with DeNiro’s heroic HVAC guy in Brazil. Have we reached a singularity of satire, culture war, confused thinking, and fertilizer bombs?

Breivik says he’s anti-Nazi, because he hates all modern collective post-Christian socialist ideas. But he would have got on great with Himmler and his crazy medieval Teutonic Knight Arthurian mysticism. That idealized medieval agrarian dream of the racially pure heartland is the European version of Imaginary 1903 Tennessee as imagined by reactionaries here in the U.S. Everyone’s stuck with the hell of modern industrial life, but powerful people hold out that idyllic dream of a small farm town to everyone who’s alienated.

And finally, what makes the difference between the internet comment person who talks like this guy, and the one who actually does the deed? Is there any way to tell?

On Hating Vegetarians

Many of my friends are vegetarian. To clear up the terminology, I am talking about people who do not eat meat of any kind (not fish or chicken either, folks), but may use other animal products, e.g., eggs or honey.

Non-vegetarian friends rarely handle this well. If the subject comes up, at least one person will immediately and vociferously attack it in one of these ways:

  1. I don’t get it! Boy, I sure do love a big steak. And my mom’s meatloaf. So great! What is with this vegetarian shit? I love lamb chops, and fried clams, and lobster! You know, one favorite place of mine is Kelly’s down on the beach. Boy, they sure do make a great hamburger. Another thing I like…
  2. What is their problem? I’m so tired of all this preaching. Everyone’s telling people what to eat, what to smoke, what to say. Why can’t they just enjoy a normal life like anyone else? Let me tell you, my sister-in-law is one of those vegetarian types and I can’t eat at her house. Just broccoli and shit. Tofu! It’s not food! Who’d eat that shit?
  3. So what do you mean, like, I’m a bad person? Who are you to judge! I bet you do bad things, and you’re telling me I’m a jerk just for doing what everyone does! People like you are all hiding something.
  4. Wow, that’s really unhealthy. Be sure to get enough protein. I mean, you have to make up for it. Be sure to eat huge amounts of [food with high protein content] in it or you’ll get really sick. OMG you make your KID eat vegetarian? That’s like CHILD ABUSE!!!
  5. It’s ridiculously unnatural. Humans are hunters, we eat meat. I mean, c’mon, ancient cave paintings are about hunting. We aren’t meant to survive with out it. How else would we continue to be large, dominant creatures with upper arm strength and a killer instinct? People who don’t eat meat are girly and possibly homosexual. It’s a betrayal of our natural healthy state.

None of these make sense. Let’s learn!

  1. Other people don’t necessarily like your food, and you know it. Why should others like a whole class of foods you enjoy? For that matter, if you learned that a food you enjoyed was made from babies or profited al Qaeda, would you continue to eat it? Your taste has nothing to do with other people!
  2. Did anyone just tell you what to do, or what not to do? Other people not eating something doesn’t constitute restrictions on your habits. It’s their choice. If your sister-in-law can’t cook, either tell her so or push the food around on your plate until it’s time to go. And tofu is just another food, not some condensed symbol of Berkeleyite pseudo-meat hypocrisy. Like it or don’t, but leave the poor curdled soy alone.
  3. Wait, who said that? The person across the table from you just said she doesn’t eat meat. Did she go on to say that people who eat meat are psychopathic murderers without empathy? Did she just start with a lecture about where your burger comes from, or what some religious figure said about eating animals? Did she tip your plate over? If not, she’s just choosing to eat differently from you, and the implication of wickedness is all yours. Not everyone with principles is either a Tartuffe or an inquisitor. Drop it.
  4. You’re just wrong. People who eat a reasonable mix of foods don’t get malnutrition. And that reasonable mix does not have to include meat. When you hear people talk about getting enough “protein,” they are talking out their ears. “Protein” in U.S. culture is just a word for meat. Actual proteins come from many foods, and nobody is getting beri-beri or pellagra from lack of burger. Go look it up!
  5. If you hear an argument for modern behavior based on “instinct,” or “evolution,” or “basic human nature,” stop and investigate, or just dump it. Any human behavior can be justified or condemned based on unexamined assumptions about our nature. These arguments have been used to justify rape, celebrate war, demonize men, excuse cannibalism, and attack pantaloons. Humans have survived with and without meat just as we have survived in the Antarctic and the Sahara, survived genuinely destructive malnutrition, survived Pop-Tarts, and survived living in rivers of raw sewage without antibiotics. All evolutionary biology means is that someone lived long enough to fuck and someone else lived long enough to squirt out some babies of which some survived. It does not imply burgers.

What have we learned? We have learned that meat eaters like meat. We have learned that people who feel criticized morally become upset and defensive. We have learned that in U.S. culture, not eating something can get a person in big social trouble. And we’ve learned that the reasons for this are not reasonable. And finally, we have learned that reactions to food choices are visceral (ha).

It’s true that vegetarianism in the U.S. is almost always a moral choice rather than a tradition or a practical dietary one. Choosing not to eat meat implies a judgment on the act of meat eating parallel to the message of celibacy, sobriety, or boycotts. Vegetarianism also goes against deeply rooted (ha) beliefs about wealth, health, pleasure, and choice. It’s not neutral.

What I take from this is that many people are threatened by the idea of conscious morality. Of any kind. Someone who makes a moral choice and gives up some pleasure, adding some complexity and trouble to life, is a psychological threat. The immediate response is that the person making that choice is a stereotyped hypocrite from a Hollywood movie, an unhappy person who wishes others to be unhappy, an obsessed idiot. I’ve noticed a linguistic shift during my life that perfectly evokes this: I hear people using “righteous” to mean “self-righteous,” as if the very idea of moral choice implies hypocrisy and the need to control others.

I myself am not a vegetarian. I have no meat days twice a week. I am not a believer in “animal rights,” nor do I consider killing animals and eating them to be immoral. My reasons are humanist. Meat takes a lot of grain to make, and eating meat has an environmental and economic impact on others. I’ve been impressed by some calculations of how much better one can do just by eating less meat, and so far I’m doing so. I have no authority or desire to tell anyone else to do the same, or to say that I’m “more moral” because of this. It just feels right to me, and I enjoy my food more.

if you’re not a vegetarian, and vegetarians make you grumpy, consider why. Are there good reasons why someone else’s personal moral choice makes you upset? Are people who make a moral choice necessarily hypocrites, nannies, deluded utopians? Or have you avoided and denied ethical and empathetic impulses so much in your own life that anyone making the effort has you terrified?

Hating others for harmlessly doing what they believe to be right does not reflect well on us as individuals or as a society. Eschew that.

Dear fellow educated bourgeois lefty white Americans:

The Angry White Guy on TV is nasty, brutish, and probably short. He bulges with barely repressed bigotry. He and his Angry White Lady wife hate foreigners, Muslims, intellectuals, and anyone with politics to the left of Ronald Reagan. He’s poorly educated, or perhaps just willfully ignorant. He feasts on improbable conspiracy theories and violent languages provided by TV personalities who are paid to do this by nauseating billionaires. Worst of all, he’s intent on sawing off his own branch by attacking public infrastructure that he needs, and taking everyone else with him.

Christ, what an asshole.

That having been said, we need to check ourselves. Angry White Guy opposes us on serious political issues. No good can come from appeasing know-nothing reactionary populism (hear that, White House?) and we mustn’t. There’s something else we mustn’t do either.

My own reading of the progressive and liberal response to the Angry White Guy depresses. Major media, writers, bloggers, and others take the same easy route every time. We’re snobs.

We hit Angry White Guy with the class bat. He has terrible taste: NASCAR shirts, chain restaurants, airbrushed van art, current Nashville country music, and the 2009 Chevrolet Monte Carlo. He’s a Guido or an Okie or a backwoods Ozarks rapist out of Deliverance. Worse, he’s a suburbanized version of all these things, without even the Noble Savage credibility of “real” country folk. Not only is he a Christian, but he’s got bad taste there too: he goes to a suburban megachurch. His hobbies are ridiculous: guns, powerboating on fake lakes, scrapbooking for the ladies.

Okay, I’ll stop now.

The next level of failure comes when we take a moment to ask why he’s being so awful. At this point, patronizing explanations arrive: AWG doesn’t really know what’s going on. He lacks our education, our sophistication, our informed perspective. If only he’d been plucked out of his awful culture and groomed! Neither does he have the deep but self-accepting guilt we feel at our own privilege, much less our natural generosity towards the less fortunate. The empathy we draw from this gives us a wider view of the world than his. Unfortunately, AWG is stuck. He can’t enlighten himself, and oddly enough he doesn’t react well when we arrive to explain him to himself. He wants all the riches to himself and hates the poor. Again and again we explain that he’s really poor like them and should be nicer. Why can’t he get that?

Now that we’ve told Angry White Guy that he’s a few notches below us, a Snopes to our Sartoris, unenlightened, hard-hearted, greedy, a victim of his own (lesser) culture, and frankly a bit dim, we can declare victory with satisfaction.

Sometimes real information is stuffed in the cracks of this big shitball: how taxes work and where money goes, why wars are being fought, why pluralism and tolerance make sense, why things are hurting so damn much right now. I doubt anyone but the converted hears the Gospel over all this crappy preaching. We exit smirking and now Angry White Guy is ten times as angry with more reason than ever.

I propose a different line of communication. Set aside the aristocratic mess detailed above and just talk straight. There’s an honest, simple message with some punch to it:

You and I are up against the same enemy. I know you don’t think so, but hear me out, because we’re in danger. The big money guys and their friends in Washington are doing their best to grind us all down into the streets. Everyone on television is lying because they’re paid to lie, and that means the ones you like as much as the ones we like. There aren’t any fancy conspiracies, just jerks with money who want more. The only way we can push back on these guys is to hold our noses and work together on the shit we have in common. Otherwise, we’re all fucked.

Maybe some others among my people have a different way of putting it, but it might just be time to switch off the Snide Channel and try something more like this.

In Defense of Marriage: A Modest Proposal

It is a fact generally acknowledged that the institution of marriage in the United States is troubled.

Editorial writers, television journalists, and politicians are agreed that less people are marrying, less are taking their marriages seriously, more are ending their marriages, and those who end them often have several. The importance and permanence of marriage appear to be badly eroded.

More recently, the attempts by homosexuals to have their marriages legally recognized have alarmed many of the same people. They’ve urged others to stop these proposed changes, on the grounds that marriage between anything other than a man and a woman is against Nature, and that this change will further damage this wounded institution of marriage or even finally kill it.

Whatever the measurable facts might be, there is a perception among the educated middle class that marriage is reduced, threatened, devalued, and possibly outmoded, and it’s a great cause for concern for many people. It would be generally helpful to calm their fears and, if possible, to revive marriage as a serious institution for those who choose it. Mistreating homosexuals is not helpful, nor is theocracy.

Prohibiting divorce and remarriage is the most obvious approach, but is politically impossible. Religious or simply conservative individuals who dislike homosexuals and fornicators are still unwilling to abandon serial marriage as an option, and will resist this fiercely, despite implied contradictions in their thinking.

Instead, I propose that we treat this as a matter of state incentive, and make our improvements with pricing as we do in the case of roads, for example. In this particular case, the problem is not the first marriage itself, which must be kept simple and inexpensive, but the mechanism of divorce. Easy divorce erodes the permanence and seriousness of marriage.

I propose a new set of taxes or fees, which will at once act as a brake on casual marriage and benefit the people financially. The act of divorce also must remain simple and inexpensive; the cost of endless failed marriages is measured not only in misery but in the cost of domestic violence and child abuse, which unduly burdens us all.

Instead, the schedule of fees will apply to remarriage. A second marriage, for example, might cost $5,000. This is a reasonable fee for a serious commitment, and will emphasize to both parties that they are taking on a serious responsibility. The third marriage in this case would require a $15,000 fee; the fourth, $50,000; and the fifth, $100,000. Whether to continue increasing the fee or not is a matter for further discussion.

This schedule of assessment on new marriages would apply to any marriage license issued by the government. Religious institutions would remain free to declare marriages valid or not by their own accounting, but none of this would apply to the legal status of those marrying.

In the case of polyamorous marriage, fees would apply to all participants.

Widows and widowers would be exempt from the remarriage payment for the next marriage after the death of their former partners. Legal penalties for the intentional death of a spouse to avoid the marriage fee would be increased over and above those for other murders, to reduce moral hazard from this rule.

The advantages of this system are obvious. No one is prevented from legally ending an insupportable marriage. Those who are seriously committed to further marriages are free to do so after paying the fee. Feckless and flighty couples with money will progressively enrich the state and the people. And as in all such plans, the cycle of divorce and remarriage will be dramatically slowed. Finally, the power of the institution itself will be greatly enhanced both in practical decision-making and generally respect. Nothing commands more authority in American society than a very large price tag.

I hope you’ll join me in sharing this proposal with friends, family, church leaders, and government representatives. I think that all of us, whether we intend to marry or not, can support a rescue of the power of marriage that restricts none of us and enriches all of us.

Why to Vote

I hear the same thing each election: “It makes no difference” or “They’re all the same” or “My party/candidate/entire system betrayed me again.” And therefore, one more of my friends doesn’t vote. Most of my friends are somewhere on the left, and I want you to vote.

I share your disappointment. The Democrats have backed down so much in the last 20 years that they’re currently Eisenhower Republicans. It’s dispiriting, and it’s hard to be enthusiastic about most of these candidates.

Please vote. Here’s why.

They’re not all the same, and there is at least one huge difference between the parties.

If you are a woman, or have women in your family, or if you just like women, please vote for the Democratic party candidate. The Republican Party has almost uniformly opposed women’s reproductive rights. Their record on equal pay is just as bad. The Democratic Party defends women’s rights. Which do you want in control of Congress and the governors’ offices?

Despite the depressing similarity of candidates and parties, the rights of half the people are at risk from one side. And no matter how competent or centrist the Republican candidates appear, control of the Senate and House will have the same result for women.

Please hold your nose and vote a straight Democratic ticket tomorrow. It’s important.

My Holiday Wish For All, Damnit

Hi there.

As snowflakes fall on happy little upturned faces and the wassail bowl is flung down decked halls, our minds turn inevitably to how everything is going to hell on hot greased rails. Therefore, here’s my holiday wish for the world:

1. Spend less time raging at the extremes, trolls, and obviously manufactured non-issues you see on the television. Shun Sarah Palins, ACORNs, that crazy thing about the President dad sent in email, and Michael Moore. Almost none of it matters, and the people repeating it have no love for you.

2. Instead, look around where you live. Find out what’s right and wrong with your town and your neighborhood. Look up who runs things and get to know those people better. Find the local charities and political action groups and see what can be fixed or encouraged locally. It’s way harder to be BS’d when you can see what’s happening, and way more rewarding to see change.

3. Pay more attention to your local political representatives and their opponents. Encourage what’s good and discourage what’s bad to them, early and often. It’s the best way to deal with the pain of #1.

4. Lose an argument now and then. No, really.

Ho ho ho,

substitute

Halloween: What Not To Wear

The Halloween costume for women that I call the “Slutty Noun” outfit is now a topic of debate and outrage; I’ve been complaining about it for years. It’s mainstreaming the sex industry, dragging women back into the Playboy Bunny past, and in poor taste. Yuck!

Last year I realized something worse. While the women dress as stereotyped available objects (nurse, catwoman, stripper outfits, little French maid, showgirls) the men have their own roles. They’re pirates, soldiers, cops, horror movie murderers, Dracula, barbarian.” These roles have something in common too: they’re powerfully violent and often depicted assaulting women.

What’s the message? Men are rapists and women are their victims. And now every year the men and women dress that way, go to parties and bars and get sloshed, and see what happens.

Anyone is free to explore sexuality and enjoy role-playing I don’t like. In this case it would be less worrisome if any if these people knew what roles they were taking on and where that might go.