Jul. 21st, 2015 02:13 pm
rinue: (Default)
As the saying goes, some of my best friends are men. Some of my best friends, men and women, are aweome. There’s a lot of overlap between being awesome and being my friend.

Something I’ve noticed as I’ve gotten older is that when my women friends look at how much work they’re doing at work, or around the house, or with children, they compare themselves to everyone both inside and outside that environment. There are drawbacks. For instance, that’s one of the ways women talk themselves out of asking for raises, is to notice how somebody somewhere does more than them for even less. (Whether they’d be given those raises if they asked is a different topic.) A lot of women make themselves crazy with parenting and housekeeping because if somebody’s doing it better anywhere, why aren’t you doing it that better way also? It has been demonstrated as possible, and therefore should be strived for.

In contrast, when my guy friends look at how much they’re contributing, they compare themselves only to other men in similar circumstances. Like: here’s the guy who is most similar to me, and I’m doing slightly more than him. Therefore, let’s chat about how he’s a loser and how I’m super great and should be widely applauded for being super great. I mean, I make mistakes like anybody, but not like that guy. If everybody’s agreed he’s ok and gets to stick around, then you must really want me to stick around, because I’m doing so much extra stuff.

That approach has advantages, obviously. It’s fairly close to my approach (I’m a woman) except for one thing: that “only to other men” part. I keep seeing guy friends totaly screw up their relationships (or schooling, or get fired) because they’re comparing themselves to “the average guy in this situation” and have this mental blind spot to 50% of the world, some of whom may live with them and be kicking in twice the work for less compensation.

It’s weird. It’s not something every guy does (holy crap do I know and admire some male overachievers), but it’s common even among dudes who classify themselves as feminist and have taken women’s studies courses. It’s that thing where I hear “everyman” and think “every,” but seemingly the men think there’s more emphasis on the "man," and what women do is a mystery that can’t be comprehended. Like, men do a single load of laundry like this. Women do 30 loads of laundry but was it even them? Were there small singing birds? There’s not enough data because of women’s vast uterine darkness, which makes them naturally sweet-tempered and willing to labor, like plow animals with nesting instincts. As cuckoo as cowbirds, parasitic and unappreciative of the more-than-his-man-share man.
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Just learned the "for girls" expansion of the Expendables franchise is called the Expendabelles. Because god forbid we just put some women on the Expendables team; they'd sap the manliness of the male action stars and turn them into incompetent weaklings because of all the estrogen leaking from their pores, polluting the air. As a woman, I know I only feel empowered if I'm given my own seperate woman space, where it is clearly understood that although I can kick butt I also eat hamburgers while wearing makeup and trip a lot, because I'm relatably clumsy.
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It occurred to me yesterday that neo-Disney's "princess don't need a prince" romantic story template* just flipped the script on girl-stuck-in-tower-or-behind-dragon; somebody still needs to get rescued, but it's now the guy. But since they're guys, they don't have to be rescued from a lack of institutional power; they need to be rescued from their overweening male privilege. Beast is selfish and an ass to poor people. John Smith is selfish and a colonialist. Mulan's guy is a sexist jerk. Aladdin is selfish; I don't even know where to start with the Princess and the Frog dude, who I despise above all others.

Thank god Disney turned an about-face from the hellish world of Cinderella and Snow White, in which two kind people meet and like each other.** What a strong woman wants is an opportunity to devote her life fighting to reform some patriarchal asshole. Oh, Disney, you have understood us feminists.

* Romantic story template = princess films, but by Disney standards where they don't always involve princesses. So Mulan counts, but Tarzan and Hunchback don't. When I say "neo-Disney," I put the dividing line just after The Little Mermaid and just before Beauty and the Beast. Mermaid was the first in what's now called the Disney Renaissance, and was made basically as a love letter to the older films. Beauty and the Beast is kind of a mix of the old and new, and the new got a lot of PR mileage out of the idea of "new classics," with "new" implying an improvement from the bad old days. Never mind that the older Disney films always courted a female audience by flattering them, and gave their princesses a lot of agency.

My theory does not address Tangled and Frozen, partly because I haven't seen them and partly because 3D's a different medium with different traditions and personnel, in much the way film is a different working environment from digital and this influences the stories you tell.

** Even Prince Eric, who gets a bad rap. The worst you can say of him is that he thinks he's mistaken the identity of someone he met once after she transformed into somebody else. He was still nice to her afterward, and set to work to make things right when he got clued in. Mermaid has never been one of my favorites, but it's definitely old-school Disney playbook.
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Something I've noticed, although I haven't kept statistical track, is how frequently a "call to action" delivered by a woman includes a non-sequitor into dietary advice. For example, today I was listening to a speech trying to recruit mentors for impoverished black children. Lots of statistics about reading levels and incarceration rates, lots of anecdotes about mentors and mentees, shout-outs to community groups working for the same goals. And then: And do yourself a favor and stop having a bagel for breakfast in the morning; you make yourself a protein shake with flax seed, so you can nourish your body. Here is my recipe.

What stood out to me is not just how unrelated this was to the rest of the presentation, but how familiar it is. We need to fight the patriarchy and also not eat refined sugar. Stop gun violence and while you're at it go paleo.

I don't know whether this frequent coincidence is because women's activism and political consciousness-raising has tended to happen via women's lifestyle magazines, which alternate female-focused journalism with diet and exercise tips, so that this has been internalized as a sensible narrative structure. It seems possible. You could try to argue that "well, we need to change ourselves, be transformed." Yet I do not see the same number of intrusions of "and here's how to dress for your body type" or "and switch to a henna hair dye," both of which also seem physically transformative and are also women's magazine staples.

I also don't see this amount of recipe-giving in activist speeches by men on topics not related to diet and exercise.

My current theory is that diet advice is a way of appealing to the essential feminine by people whose self-identity is closely tied to their gender. I think this because men's nonsequitors tend to be direct appeals to masculinity: "we have to do this to be men." Sometimes there will be a discussion of a war zone or sports. What is the core of me? That I am a woman, where woman is defined more than anything else to mean mammary. Here, I feed you. Here, feed yourself. There is no way I can speak deeply to you, woman-to-woman, without talking about eating. There is no way I can talk to a man without talking to him as a warrior or defender. I am not sure that the people who do this could put into these words why they are doing this - I suspect they couldn't. However, I also suspect they would say "Amen" to my description if I presented it as something that resonated with me (which it doesn't).
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[In that imaginary world where I have free time, I could pitch these as articles and then write them up at much greater length for money. For the time being, I am simply copying comments I left in other people's blogs.]

A comment on Val's Blog

Medicine is in a weird place right now. There is a ton of information to keep up with, whereas before it was like "here, you can use this for a cough, and if that doesn't work just wait and if that doesn't work I guess you're going to die."

At the same time, practictioners don't particularly know their patients anymore. Everybody moves; everybody changes insurance; everybody is going to a bunch of different specialists and the doctor has certainly never been to your house.

The only way to cope with this is large databases, most of which are online. And either you're putting your own information in, or doctors are doing the exact same thing at the office.

As much as I am a Person of Science, I kind of feel like doctors have turned into librarians. You find the thing and come to them and they say "yep, you can check that out, here's the treatment" or they say "hmmm, that reference is out of date and also you've been checking out a lot of books and not returning them, so no."

Which is very useful! But not the way doctors are used to thinking of themselves at all, and certainly not the way they are trained (which cost them a lot of time and money). So there's friction and dissatisfaction all around.

A comment on Spacefem's blog

The whole "turning on each other" thing happens a lot in marginalized groups - that thing where suddenly we have a new superhero we all love and will not hear criticism about, and then a few weeks later we all hate that person and anybody who likes that person. It happens a lot in feminism, but I've also seen it happen a lot in queer spaces, and among mid-list fiction writers.

I suspect it's related to the Bases of Power theory. People who don't have much access to coersive power, reward power, and legitimate power (the stuff that comes from being on top of an org structure) or expert power and informational power (because they're getting most of their information from the same sources as the people they're talking to and/or believe it's been corrupted by the self-interested) have to lean really hard on referent power: I approve or disapprove this, loudly. I get to say what's good, and you can't take that away from me.

[As feminists of color have repeatedly brought up, including Flavia Dzovidan, blackfeminpower, and Gradient Lair, this power can be appropriated - white people trading on the referent power of black people, straight people trying to assume the moral authority of gay people, etc. My personal feeling is that building a movement solely on referent power is standing on shifting sands.]
rinue: (inception train)
There was a flap over the weekend about Jonathan Ross being asked to host the Hugo awards and then being asked not to host the Hugo awards after twitter blew up; it's not really possible to get a telling of it that doesn't slant one way or the other, but I like this roundup from Bleeding Cool because it's predominantly direct quotes from primary sources. (Hat tip to [personal profile] treehavn for the link.)

The summary: Jonathan Ross is a British comedian/host. For an American analogue, imagine Jimmy Kimmel crossed with Jon Stewart. When it comes to awards shows, he's an entertaining host, which means he teases people. That's one of the jobs of an awards show host, whether it's Billy Crystal or Whoopi Goldberg or anyone else. You keep the proceedings from getting so self-serious that they collapse under their own weight.

Jonathan Ross is about at the Tina Fey or Ellen DeGeneres level when it comes to teasing. He's not Chris Rock or Ricky Gervais or Stephen Colbert (all people I like as hosts). He also has bona fides with the SF community - he's written SF; he's been married for almost two decades to Hugo-winning screenwriter Jane Goldman; he's a fan who was going to host for free and who would have brought more viewership to the awards.

He was a great choice to host the Hugos.

Just not this year.

This year, the SFWA is deep into a major schism between people who think as a professional group it should be more welcoming to racial minorities and to women, and people who have literally said girls can't write, don't have senses of humor, need to keep out of the clubhouse, etc. It's been nasty. Any male host at all was going to get caught in the crossfire, and LonCon3, the organizers who asked Ross to host, did him a disservice by setting him up for that fall without (1) warning him and (2) giving him a lot of backup.

Personally, I think the organizers should have been careful to pick a woman, for the symbolism of it, although she would also have had fallout (from the women are not funny, blame the pc police contingent) and would also have needed to be backed up in the face of a predictable flame war.

This was the SFWA's mess, not Ross's, and not really the people who were anti-Ross. Not that there's much SFWA could do to make this year's awards cordial: with the controversy and side-taking, all of which the participants on both sides take very personally, it was inevitable that this year's awards were going to feel like the Gym Mambo from West Side Story. It's too raw right now. Nobody wants to be teased, or have outside attention.

However, I don't think the loudest pro-diversity voices have shown themselves in a good light. I think we've come off like assholes. I think we've done that by being assholes. And yeah, our feelings were hurt and our feelings have been hurt for a really long time, and it's not fair etc. etc. I empathize with us, I really do.

Yet we must acknowledge that we came off like whiny babies, and like everything the other side is afraid of - that we're humorless; that we crucify "nice men" who we take as random symbolic targets; that we're so emotionally damaged there's no point being nice to us; that you wouldn't want us around anyway.

Shit, I don't want to hang out with you people, and I am you people.

In particular, I would like to strike the phrase "safe space" from our vocabulary - the vocabulary in our mouths and the vocabulary in our heads. "Safe space" as in the sentence "this con was supposed to be a safe space for me."


Y'all, let's be real about patriarchy.

Patriarchy is everywhere, including inside your head. The thing about patriarchy is that there isn't an outside of it. You can make a space within a patriarchal system that is safe-er. You can strive to make a space welcoming to minorities, to the disadvantaged, to those of us who have comparatively less patriarchal privilege. You can strive to elevate the voices which have been unheard. And you should. But you can't make a safe space. My feelings regularly get hurt when I'm alone in my own house, when a sad thing occurs to me, like that I'm alone in my own house.

As we know from recent priestly child abuse scandals, the walls of a sanctuary don't actually keep the devil out.

We could also maybe acknowledge when criticizing the "white dude parade" that many of us making these criticisms are also conspicuously white?

HBO Essay

Feb. 4th, 2014 03:44 pm
rinue: (eyecon)
[Yesterday, HBO Access opened submissions for a program seeking filmmakers of "diverse" backgrounds to possibly be mentored by HBO. Diverse is, in this case, code that means not a straight white man, because we know the majority of humans are straight white men, right? (I kid. I also leave it to you to work out how a single person could within themselves be diverse. I do contain multitudes . . . of microorganisms.)

I don't know whether they're doing this as an act of good corporate citizenship or to get some good PR after being dinged for too much whiteness and too much T&A; either way, I approve of the move. I've applied.

As part of the application, I was asked to write a 750-word essay with the prompt "How has your diversity worked to your advantage?"

For real.

If it wasn't backed with a promise of money, I would regard it as straight-up trolling. As it stands, it's merely evidence that yes, HBO has a diversity problem. Which they're trying to fix or at least trying to appear to try to fix.

This was my essay.]

* * *

My experience of being a woman is not separate from my experience of being a person. I think of myself as normal, as an everyman.

Who I suppose happens to be a not-man.

I have been told by other directors (people who are mostly white men, because most working directors are white men) that I use faces in an odd way - that I don't go to closeup in moments when you might think I would, or I do when you'd think I wouldn't. In a two-hander, I tend to leave the camera on the person who is listening instead of the person talking. I'm more likely to put a camera below eye level than above eye level.

Could be the femaleness that makes me odd. I wouldn't know. I'm not "other" to myself. That's the way it works.

I've been told my films are cold and there isn't a way into them. I've also been told that my films treat everyone as a subject instead of an object. I like the second one better. I do well in art museums. The people who like my films tend to like them obsessively. Or they tend to be people like Mike Leigh, Jonathan Lethem, the folks at American Zoetrope, Muriel d'Ansembourg (who you haven't heard of, but she's amazing). They're kind of odd themselves, I gather. Not deliberately; in service to the story.

Here are some short films I've seen white male directors make several times:

- A man pulls into a motel in a cool car. He has a duffle bag full of money! And a gun. He holes up in a room. The maid comes in. She is sexy and possibly Latina. She may be a prostitute instead of a maid. Some other guys show up and they want the money. Everybody shoots everybody. The maid or prostitute leaves with the money.

- A man pulls into an abandoned construction site in a black car. He is wearing sunglasses and a black suit. Another man is tied up or handcuffed. Please don't kill me, he says, or maybe he just whimpers. Guard men give a signal to sunglasses man, maybe a nod. He shoots the tied up man in the head. He never makes a facial expression. He is inscrutable! He gets back into his car.

It has never occurred to me to make either of these films. Because I'm a woman? I think it's because movies like that are terribly, terribly pointless. But it could also be because I am a woman. I haven't seen enough films by women yet to know what the women film cliches are.

I don't make my films to be not-male. Of course I want to create films that are different than what's already been made. Those films are already made. We have them. Film is nicely archival. I find I can automatically make films that are different even when I try to conform.

I run into a bit of a problem as regards access. In order to make films, you need money. A lot of it. To get the kind of budget it takes to make, say, a science fiction film, you have to prove first that you can make something weeny. Maybe you start by working with Troma, or for Roger Corman; you make some cheap slasher film with plenty of tits and blood. You work your way up.

Although I feel I am competent to film tits and blood in the woods, let us say the producers of these films do not see themselves in me or feel I have a deep dedication to the genre.

I would probably portray tits a bit too realistically.

And get a bit literary.

Wes Anderson said that he made Fantastic Mr. Fox by trying to imagine what Roald Dahl would do, but wound up with a Wes Anderson film because he was Wes Anderson trying to imagine what Roald Dahl would do.

I would not say my diversity has worked to my advantage. If it had, I wouldn't need a special white-men-excluded program by HBO to give me a hand up. Between you and me, it's a perverse question.
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There's a book out called The Geek's Guide to Dating. Geek of course equals male. It has adorable chapter titles like "Escape from the Friendzone" that certainly don't imply that women are only useful as sexual partners. Overall, the way the book uses the framing device of women as goals in a game doesn't remind me at all of the sexual predation of pickup-artist culture; how about you?

Leaving aside whether this particular book is odious rather than cute, it doesn't address the central mating problem of heterosexual geek culture, which is as follows:

1. Geeks of any gender for whom geekdom is a central part of identity would prefer to date other geeks.

2. Straight male geeks are more likely than the general college-educated US male population to believe in firmly steriotyped sex-based categories - to believe that a man is like this and a woman is like this.

3. Female geeks of any orientation are much more likely than the general population to be genderqueer and/or believe that gender is an oppressive social construct.

This is not merely the source of geeky dating woe; it's the driver behind all of the harassment at conventions. Female geeks don't want to be treated as female; they are drawn to geekdom as a safe space in which to be post-gender. Male geeks absolutely want to be treated as masculine, and are drawn to geekdom as a safe space to practice rococo masculinity. These safe spaces don't overlap in their safety.

Obviously, this is a generalization; I know plenty of straight male geeks who aren't like this at all. But they're not the ones who are going to buy a geek's guide to dating. Those guys are pretty much stuck, I'm afraid.
rinue: (Aperture)
A movie I don't intend to see is The Counselor, mainly because it looks awful. If you had asked me to make up a capsule summary of a movie I wouldn't find interesting in the least, the description would have fit perfectly. Even more perfectly than Savages. It's amazing. This means, if you follow the logic, that I would rather sit through a bad animated kids' movie with ample poop jokes. (Note: I would rather not do this. Hence I don't. What a wonderful world we live in.)

It's just candles on the cake that it's directed by Ridley Scott, who 30 years ago directed two films I like (Alien and Blade Runner) and then drifted into garbage like Gladiator, American Gangster, and Prometheus. (Notable exception: Matchstick Men was enjoyable.) It's kind of like the career trajectory of George Lucas. (If you follow the logic of my first paragraph, I'd rather watch a new Star Wars film than The Counselor. JJ Abrams and all. Yet won't. What a wonderful world.)

The real bit that makes me know I'm not interested in the film is the script. The script by Cormac McCarthy.

I have liked a film based on McCarthy. Of course I have, because it was made by the Cohen brothers. They have never let me down, ever. Not once.

I have read one McCarthy book. The Road. I didn't like it.

I have read, or been exposed to, various McCarthy interviews in which he has been casually misogynist. Casually like breathing or sweating, like he can't stop himself, views it as totally natural. But also not casually, like he wants to make sure we all see that he is breathing and sweating, that he lives this complete disbelief that women are people. He has seen through the conspiracy, it seems, the conspiracy that says women exist even though we all know it's absurd to imagine that they do.

It is certainly possible to separate an artist from the artwork. If I could only read books by fourth-wave feminists, I couldn't read most books. Most people don't even acknowledge the existence of a fourth wave. (Hint: it involves intersectionality.)

But not reading McCarthy is not a hardship. I don't find he understands people particularly, even the ones who aren't women. Nor are his ideas exciting to me. I'm not his audience.

In any case, saw this in a review, referring to Diaz's character:

Bathed in the kind of misogyny that seems like a tedious relic of the generation in which Scott, now 75, and McCarthy, 80, grew up, it’s not a very intriguing role. I hope I’m not being hopeful in calling it a relic.

Pretty much sums it up. "It" more broadly than just this character. Or just this movie. Or just these men.

Perhaps the interesting thing is that I suddenly understand in a way that I have previously not understood why some people can't read Huckleberry Finn because of one word. Or Injun Joe in Tom Sawyer. I'm not against "bowdlerized" copies of these books; I roll my eyes when people (white people) freak out and scream about censorship. These people are not bothered by the "censorship" of American copies of Harry Potter changing "pavement" to "sidewalk." I'm fine with Angry Joe, or just Joe. I'm fine with just Jim.

I think people can read what they want. This is not new.

But I get it now. I understand that it's not flightiness or political correctness or baggage. It's not about "hurtfulness," or being "triggered." It's - well, it's this:

GUIL: . . . It could have been - it didn't have to be obscene. . . . It could have been . . . . I was prepared. But it's this, is it? No enigma, no dignity, nothing classical, portentous, only this - a comic pornographer and a rabble of prostitutes. . . .
rinue: (Best friends)
[Slightly edited excerpt from a longer chat between me and Val. Just before it starts, I'm talking about the manager-focused nature of baseball, and after it ends, Val talks about how aggravating Good Morning America is.]

Valancy: Did you ever read Reality is Broken?

Romie: I don't think so, no.

Valancy: It's quite interesting. Repetitive and not perhaps brilliantly written, but interesting. Basically focusing on how humans really work well with games, saying we should take advantage of that and turn more things into games because it makes people happy and productive. And it also talks about how people are getting less into complex games now because of the advances of easily joined games - i.e., music v. video games.

Romie: I'm very familiar with that argument but am actually on the other side of it. I'm very against gamification of regular life.

Valancy: Why so? I don't know I necessarily agree or disagree, just curious. I do think it's helpful for some people, motivation-wise.

Romie: Well, you know that I love games, and am perfectly willing to use games of my own devising to keep myself engaged. However, those games are (importantly) invented by me and understood to be games. Sort of like the way I can talk about "filmmaker Romie" as though that's a separate person but know full well that is not a separate person and that I am using it as a metaphor and only temporarily. The push toward gamification is bound up in neoliberal economics, and aggressively views us each as individuals who are in some sense or another competing in a market system of rules.

Valancy: Interesting.

Romie: It can make people "happier" but in a kind of superficial way, in that it says you are not part of a community or narrative.

Valancy: I think her approach was actually more about making difficult chores tolerable and helping to reawaken some aspects of community, i.e., allowing cemeteries to become places of gathering, and exploring social connections. I haven't heard of what you're talking about. Now I need to read up more.

Romie: Yes, but it's still capitalist.

Valancy: It's...a creepy thought.

Romie: And I'm not exactly anticapitalist, but you run into - have you heard the term "patriarchal bargain"?

Valancy: I think I've heard you mention it, but I couldn't define it

Romie: It's where instead of challenging the system, you work to maximize the benefits of a corrupt system that accrue to you. For instance, as a woman, you're in a shitty situation, but you know that flirting with your boss is going to get you a promotion. Do you not flirt with your boss, because it's shitty that you're in that position? Then you don't get a raise and don't have influence. Or do you flirt with your boss, which means you get a raise and have more influence, but influence that derives from cooperating with the patriarchy?

This happens all the time, and obviously applies to other minorities than women - anybody low status. Gamification basically says: Yes, definitely make the best patriarchal bargains. And yes, to some extent, that is a good strategy. And to another extent, it is totally soul destroying.

Then there's another angle to gamification. I could define the goal of gamification as: "socially engeineer desirable responses in a population by managing rewards and penalties." This sounds good and logical, and as an economist obviously it appeals to me. Social engineering yes. Rewards that align with behaviors I want to enforce, yes. But you wind up hitting some problems, like: cheaters win. Assholes get rich and then act more assholish and get richer; "playing the system" is accepted as a good thing.

Valancy: That is true.

Romie: And so you get editorials saying "oh, we shouldn't blame bankers for the banking crisis. We set up the wrong incentives." NO WE DID NOT. They knew the right thing and chose not to do it.

Valancy: And we okayed it because they technically followed some loosely defined rules and found loopholes.

Romie: So gamification can become a form of oppression, reinforcing the status quo (accepting that the "winners" are "winners"), and is also very convenient for corporate interests, who try to convince us that it's a good "game" we enjoy to do things like freely advertize their brands and "win" badges, etc.

Valancy: Ah, I see now. I'm getting the picture.

Romie: Instead of paying me more for creating a good, you reward me by showing that I got a high score. Instead of making a product I need, you give me points for buying a product I don't need. Again, obviously I say all this loving games. I am always recommending people play video games instead of taking painkillers. But they are painkillers.

Valancy: The book, by the way, focuses more on trying to make social connections stronger and facing down troubling difficulties, like poor health and house chores, by creating your own positive reinforcement systems. As I recall, anyhow.

Romie: If you start talking to people who design slot machines, it gets very disturbing very quickly, particularly since slot machine style design is making its way into regular video games and also into other forms of gamification.

Valancy: Oh, gosh, I can imagine. I get creeped out most of the time by those. Acevedo and I have never been into a casino here. We are not officially against them - I love glamour, as you know - but there seems to be an aura of severe depression around them. They do not feel like good places.

Romie: That whole "getting into the zone" thing - I read a very good piece a while back about how what this is doing is tricking your brain into thinking it's getting "flow," which is that kind of perfect joy of playing a musical instrument or something.

Valancy: Exactly.

Romie: But it's like . . . it's like that Next Gen episode where everybody's playing the game on those eye things. You know the ep I'm talking about?

Valancy: It rings a bell.

Romie: And eventually it's like "I don't even have to play, it just does it on its own."

I guess what I'm saying is I do think games can be used in very positive ways and that play is a natural human state, but that it's dangerous when it loses its "play" aspect. It can start being like artificial sweetener that is not giving you any calories, or can have strongly coercive qualities.

Valancy: It's a good point.

Romie: Gamification theory draws a lot on the positive psychology movement, which similarly mixes stuff that is sensible (cognitive behavioral treatments that have been demonstrated to work on depression), stuff that's classic self-help in new clothes (The Secret or How to Win Friends and Influence People but dressed up in academic language), and some really fraudulent research. For instance.

Both gamification and positive psych fall into the trap of wanting to take something sensible like "drinking water is good for you!" and say "water cures cancer!" Or "prayer helped me get through this" versus "God is the only solution." There's a desperation to transform "seems useful in some situations" into argument-clinching panaceas, when the data isn't there. Lots of sloppy studies and correlation presented as causation.

[Unrelatedly, today was the first day cold enough that I woke up to a warm radiator.]
rinue: (Default)
Sent off another Arc essay; writing these makes me nervous in a way other submissions don't, for structural reasons. They start out friendly and jokey, and then stay superficially friendly and jokey but are stealth critical essays that try to run you through a lot of data to support an argument I am making (which I may not have stated directly), and then on the last page I suddenly base jump while screaming "I am a science fiction authorrrrrrrrrrrr." At this point, I propose a radical philosophical shift in how we think about technology, usually with some accompanying shift in public spending priorities, which you are maybe suckered into thinking is not radical because I have given you a lot of data, but which maybe you think is a joke because I have been superficially friendly and jokey.

Contextually, this ending should not be a surprise, since that is why you are reading an essay by me and not somebody else. But out of that context (or in light of the high percentage of works classified as science fiction that do not do this), it has a "wait, what did I just read?" quality. It is perhaps the nonfiction equivalent of a prose poem.

However, this particular essay struck me as odd in an additional, different way, which is as follows: the science is mainly mammalian biology. And it is presented as a wonderous fronteir.

It's odd for that to be odd. But it kind of is. Science fiction, speaking broadly, has a love for shiny surfaces. (Or these days, gritty pitted surfaces.) Bio is squishy. Human bodies are not otherworldly. Of the poetry submissions I receive at Strange Horizons that I would classify as science fiction and not fantasy, ballpark 90% of them are about astrophysics. 9% are about mechanical technology - robots, spaceflight, internet. 1% are chemistry or number theory.

Bio is not so much in there. I am not sure science fiction people think of it as one of the hard sciences, possibly because it is entangled with medicine, which is not science as much as it is a combination of technology and religion. Yet science fiction people are comfortable writing about technology, and about religion. And cell biology, for instance, should be unaffected by this, but only mitochondria are considered SF-worthy.

It reminds me of an attitude I somehow picked up in high school, or maybe even middle school, that bio is for girls and physics is for boys. (Chemistry, which is my favorite, was kind of bisexual and kind of a consolation prize for people who weren't good enough at physics.) I don't know how this was communicated to me, and I don't remember it being stated (except the bit about Chemistry being a physics stepchild), but it was communicated as clearly as math is for boys and English is for girls. Or for that matter Science Fiction is for boys and Fantasy is for girls.

Never mind that my classes in all these things (and the genre readers I knew) were pretty evenly gender divided, and my teachers were similarly not gender segregated. The masculinity of physics/math/scifi and the femininity of bio/English/fantasy simply were, in the same way words in Latinate languages have genders. And in all cases, of course, the male subjects were indefinably superior, indefinably prestigious, and widely accepted as more difficult.

This last part is boggling to me. I know a lot of people struggle with math. But math has one right answer. English does not have one right answer. And in physics, I can derive stuff, but in bio I have to memorize it. Harder.

I don't know whether I defaulted to the "harder" sciences (in both the SF sense and the percieved difficulty sense) because of this perceived prestigious maleness, or because I would have anyway. (I am not big on memorizing, although who knows why, because I'm good at it and for instance learn my lines as an actor without any fuss. But this is a reason piano performance went nowhere for me; I just don't want to memorize the sheet music, out of pure stubbornness. Somebody wrote it down. I respect that.) It took me easily ten years to shake off my feeling that learning about biology was "slumming."

And I am glad I did, because biology is a lot more hackable than physics. Not to mention really, really weird. Much moreso than black holes.
rinue: (eyecon)
Message board comment from a whiny white dude run without context:

"Unfortunately, one cannot counter this argument without being accused of sexism, so there is no debate to be had....."

Yes, it is funny how a factual and documented description of easily verifiable discrimination isn't debatable. It's almost as if a woman might occasionally write down a description of reality which has nothing at all to do with opinion! Modern ladies, you are so droll.
rinue: (Default)
It is fashion week in New York, which means I occasionally get to see pictures of pretty clothes, but am also subjected to hagiographic television specials in which badly-dressed male talking head after badly-dressed male talking head tells me how fashion is the center of the universe and more exciting than anything else that has ever existed. They demonstrate this by making unfortunate comments about how New York is being swarmed by flocks of exotic and mysterious creatures and bright flashes of color (because women can be any number of things, but none of those things are people).

This is an example of the problems that occur when you declare everything "art." If fashion is art rather than design, then women's bodies are canvases. Like canvases, they are inert; they are vessels upon which the artist inscribes his genius. As when chosing a canvas, the artist may pick the size and color of woman that best suits his vision, and ignore the rest. The artist does not serve the canvas; the canvas serves the artist. The artist need not retain a canvas once she is no longer "fresh," nor need the artist worry about preservation once the work is done, the strain that might be placed upon a body by a poorly-structured frame. That kind of worry is for conservators.

This is why well-paid male fashion "artists" can sit around talking about how tremendously important fashion is while themselves dressing like shlubs. Fashion in their view is not clothing. It is art that is done to women.

Thankfully, there was a segment with Diane von Furstenberg, who said the following: My job as a designer is to be a friend to the woman. I want her to know when she wakes up that she can go to her closet and there will be something comfortable and easy that will make her feel confident throughout whatever day is ahead of her.

Thank you, Diane von Furstenberg. Thank you for your design.
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