Hope in Days of Silence

April 30, 2008

On this day in 1939, the New York’s World Fair opened with the theme “The World of Tomorrow.” The fair was attended by tens of millions, and was seen as a beacon of hope for internationalism, peace, prosperity and progress.

On this day in history, six years later, Adolf Hitler shot himself in the head in a Berlin bunker, pushing one of the most violent, nastily nationalist periods of history towards closure.

Which might seem like a depressing start to our morning in blog land, yes. But to me its not; its a reminder that history and social life can change very fast and that “the world of tomorrow “can be a very different one than the world of today, in ways that seem totally improbable and unlikely.

Today, I’m specifically holding out hope that our world of tomorrow will be one in which Black American men have no reason to fear random death-by-firing-squad at the hands of “peace” officers, and for a world in which eighth-graders have no reason to fear violent asassinations delivered by their homophobic classmates.

I find it encouraging that I am not the only one who hopes for these things. It appears that 5,000 schools had participation in this years Day of Silence aimed at drawing attention to the harassment and abuse of LGBTQQ students and in honor of Lawrence King.

And while the rally I recently attended in protest of the legal whitewash of Sean Bell’s murder (incidentally, not at all far from the site of the 1939 fair), was disappointingly small, I find it encouraging that this injustice isn’t going unnoticed–not in New York City classrooms, not in discussions at work, not in activist circles and, despite what NPR thinks, not in communities affected by police brutality.

Two reactions to the trial made me hopeful, each for different reasons:

1) Cynthia McKinney’s statement on the verdict does a great job putting Sean Bell’s murder in context, but also linked it to a call for all of us to imagine something different, and better.

2) I heard an announcement from the Queer Justice League of New York City on the radio yesterday, making connections between police harassment of queer people and police violence in communities of color. I looked up their website, and while I really know nothing about this organization, except that they have an awesome name, that also gave me hope.

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Really, its mostly the name that gives me hope. Like this postcard of the 1939 Fair’s Lagoon of Nations, the fantastical super-hero ring of “Queer Justice League” reminds me of the sometimes secret, sometimes shame-faced connections between a hopeful left-wing politics and the realm of utopia, imagination, and fantasy.

Because, of course, behind all my emphasis on hope this morning lies the stark reality that the present moment gives us little to hang our hope hats on. The movements for Black Liberation, Queer Liberation, Women’s Liberations and Workers’ Liberation are at low tide, to put it mildly. The US economy is in a world of shit, and empty rhetorical cover for a right-wing neoliberal agenda is what passes for a politics of “change” around here these days.

That’s why hope requires a different, more imaginative, engagement with the fourth dimension. I’ve previously alluded to the significance of reflection on the past and past hopes. But maintaining–building–hope, much less any communities or movements rooted in it, requires imagining, often detailed imagining of not only the past and the present, but the future as well.

This is what left-wing activists, queer communities and sci-fi geeks sometimes share–imagining a wholly different kind of economy, and/or new and liberating configurations of ‘family’, and sometimes all of the above on a yet-undiscovered planet.

Doing that can make you unpopular, yes. Perhaps it is slightly insane. And uncool. But, I am compelled to argue, its nowhere near as insane and uncool as accepting a total lack of alternatives.

Holla Back That Ass Up!

April 29, 2008

Handy illustration of hot feminist activism? Or just more sex-sells advertising? I can never tell…

Some of you may be aware of the much-lauded feminist self-defense project, Holla Back. The project started with Holla Back NYC, and has spread to an uncountable number of world-wide locations.

Personally, I’ve always had some concerns.

First, some of these cretinous Dudes are probably proud to have their grinning mugs and exposed penises posted on the internet.

Second, many of the comments on Holla Back trade in heavy doses of classism to put pervvy assholes in their place–including on post in which the poster called the harassers’ “nice,” “polite” boss. This is unsurprising, but strikes me as a strategy likely to reproduce, rather than eradicate, a cycle of shame, resentment, misogyny and harassment.

But my main concern is that there is nothing particularly feminist about the technology of the camera phone-plus-internet combo, or strategic about this kind of individual resistance to street harassment. In the context of a sexist, porn-sick society I fear that defending our right to take pictures of whomever we want in public and do whatever we want with them on the internet will be more than likely to bite us in the ass, than solve the problem.

The Camera phone expose is a neutral technology on a power-infused field; who’s going to be more humiliated to find their picture posted on the internet against their will (given that a main function of the internet is collection and delivery of pornographic images)–me or some asshole street harasser?

I don’t know quite yet, because I haven’t located my picture on the internet as of this morning. But that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen. My feeling is that 80’s night should be a sacred space of cheese where I’m allowed to dance in peace without some shitbag taking pictures of myself and my companions to giggle (or worse) over with his friends, but, alas, it isn’t.

Which leads me to my final point. Regardless of what recent 20/20 “journalism” might suggest to the average viewer, straight men getting turned on by live girl-on-girl action and then hitting on said girls or taking their picture or laughing and pointing or following them home really doesn’t count as social “approval” of gay public displays of affection.

Getting Played

April 17, 2008

These WWI soldiers were sent “home” to scenic, segregated Houston.
Their unwillingness to acquiesce to Jim Crow street cars and policing erupted into the “Camp Logan Mutiny” of 1917.

Yesterday, on the A train, I was squashed next to a man who was absorbed in a book entitled “Blacks in America’s Wars.” While I was trying to read the name of the book’s author, i noticed that the man was turning pages right to left, rather than left to right, and that when he paused, his eyes darted around the page, resting on a word here an there.

There were only two possible explanations for this that I could think of: 1) He cant read, but he’s trying anyway. Or trying to look like he is reading for some reason.

or 2) He’s read this book so many times that he’s flipping through the book and reminding himself of well-loved sections or ideas contained therein.

In either case, it seemed high time for me to bother strangers, a favorite activity of mine. Ironic, I know.

Artb213: “That looks like an interesting book.”

Man on the train: He holds up cover, so I can see it, “Its about wars.”

A: “Is it any good? I’ve read a different book on the same topic and I learned a lot of things I didn’t know.”

M: “I’m a soldier, so I already knew a lot of it, but yeah, its an interesting topic. Its a played topic. This shit is getting played.”

A: “Yeah, you’re right. It can seem like its the same thing over and over again. One thing I learned in the other book that I didn’t know was that Black vets from WWII came home pissed off and started the Civil Rights movement. I hope that part happens over again.”

M: (Looks at me like I’m a little crazy) “Well, people are pissed off. I’m pissed off…I’m getting out here. Have a good day!”

A: Have a good day!

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Of course, you already knew that I am a bitter crone,
doomed to die alone with her cats. Fortunately, cats are funny.

 

Overall I like the gym. It meshes nicely with my many compulsions. Plus I am vain about my biceps.

But is this really necessary?:

Me (pulling on some kind of weight system meant to strengthen my back): “ug. phooe. phwee. ouch. ”

Dude-who-oogled-my-ass-*from below it*-while-stretching-on-his-back-and-then-followed-me-out-of-the-cardio-room: “I can help you learn to use the weight machines.”

Me: “no, thanks.”

Dude: “Don’t you want to make the most of your workout?”

Me: “Its 10pm. Its late. I don’t really like to meet strange men at the gym while wearing clothes that amount to unattractive underwear. I just want to work out. Please leave me alone.”

Dude (under his breath while walking away): “Bitch.”

It helped matters not at all that during the early stages of this interaction the gym in question had selected their entire playlist from the tracks suggested on the blog Stuff White People Like. Starting with the old chestnut “Baby Got Back.” Nice.

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Drunk and carefree with a twist of psuedo-political posturing! Sexy.

Yesterday on the Leonard Lopate Show, there was much (maybe too much) discussion of Elliot Spitzer’s apparent downfall at the hands of a high-class call girl. I wish i had something intelligent to share with you; either a well-crafted analysis of this juicy, juicy scandal or a nuanced position on the age-old debates about sex work, porn, blowjobs, on and on.

But I don’t.

Instead, I want to share with you an ad for an escort service that Lopate read aloud on-air. The copy is hilarious. Hilarious in a way that may cause you both to laugh uproariously and to vomit a little in your own mouth. Like when you eat candy corn on a roller coaster.

Behold:

Daniella is natural beauty and refinement. The elegance of an educated culured woman coupled with gaiety and fun… with the light-hearted feminism of a fine Merlot and the sweet, floral finish of a splendid Riesling you’ll agree that moments with Daniella are the ultimate in unrestrained luxury.

Now. I like feminism, Merlot and a little gaity in a gal as much as the next dude. Perhaps more. Not to mention a floral finish. But.

Lopate thought this blurb sounded “like a personal ad.” I’d like to point out that personal ads are generally written in the first person perspective, rather than from the pimps-eye-view. Personal ads also frequently include the author’s wants in addition to hir selling points and special features. I, personally, have never written an ad awkwardly organized around comparing myself to inanimate edibles.

Just saying.

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But I think I’d rather own this car.

“Being married to me would be better than working.”

Why, that is the most convincing marriage proposal I’ve ever had. Even if it was in response to my admission that I am too poor to buy the Parliment special.

Come to think of it, its the only convincing marriage proposal I’ve ever had.

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If my experience is any guide (and according to MRA concern trolls, it is not) rudeness can be an effective and satisfying strategy against sexual harassment.

When I was a budding young man-hating bitch, I was still too young to drive. I therefore had to walk about a mile to the bus to get to my summer job at an art supply store. Back then I lived in Houston, Texas, a city that some have described as “the Asshole of America.” In fact, it is more accurately described as the Cunt of America; Houston is incredibly wet, ridiculously hot, and with a basically roundish geography that some people, unaccountably, find endlessly confusing.

In any case, I was walking along the bayou to the bus. It was hot as hell. For trips like this I always packed a 48oz plastic cup full of homemade iced tea (non-sweet; I was a traitor to the South even back then) . On this particular day, a white Ford Explorer slowed down. The Ford Explorer contained at least four baseball players from the nearby high school, wearing white baseball caps. White-capper Dudes. Great.

They start calling out “hey, babys” and “you look sexys” and “nice ass.” They speed off. They round the corner. They do that again. The slow down as the approach me once again from behind.

This time they drive slowly next to me, and the passenger leans out of the car, and describes, in a creepy whisper, sexual acts he would like to perform on my body in detail so crass and violent I can’t bring myself to repeat it even now 10 years later. Also, if I do, my readership, which seems to consist entirely of c8rpse p8rn surfers and MRA’s searching for “misandry,” would probably double.

I was young, inexperienced both with sex and with the level of hate directed at people with the bodies of adult women. But I only froze in anger and fear for a moment. In the next move, without turning to look at them, I threw the entire 48oz of iced tea in the window of the Explorer.

Passenger Dude stopped talking mid-charming discussion of my various orifices. The Explorer sped off, this time with no intention of circling back for more. I took pleasure in picturing Driver Dude explaining to his mom how the white upholstery came to be covered in tea…

Him: “We were stopped at a red light and this crazy girl threw tea at us!”

Mom: “yeah, my ass.”

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Whoa. What’d she say to him?

M. Leblanc over at Bitch Phd (she’s the Lawyer Bitch) asks us what we think: Should you be rude to your harasser?

My policy is this: when I’m in a one-off cat-call kind of situation, I ignore it. When its random guys saying “hello” on the street for no reason, I nod or say a quick “hello” back and keep walking. But when someone follows me, touches me, or won’t go away, I believe that safety requires rudeness.

First, I’ll defend my fairly passive response to what I think of as low-level background harassment. Yeah, its submissive. Yes, it totally capitulates to the patriarchal order in which half of humanity apparently thinks they have the right to order me to smile (which always makes me wish I didn’t have teeth.) And no, I don’t have to say hello to every joker who greets me politely on the street when what he really means is “you appear to be sexually available.”

But I do it anyway because my aim in every case is to stop the interaction as quickly as possible. With low-level harassers, responding negatively, and often even merely pointedly ignoring them, has the potential to escalate the situation. That escalation is what I want to avoid. A mere “hello” back tends to do the trick.

But some Dudes aren’t content with ritual submission. They want real submission. They want to humiliate you. They want to see you sweat. Maybe they really actually do want to attack you. These persistent fuckers are the gropers, the grabbers, the stand-to-closers, the follow you down the dark street nasties, and the keep-the-conversation-going-at-any-cost salesmen for misandry.

With these guys, its my firm belief that politeness kills. Being polite show you care what they think, that they are in control of the situation, not you. And with someone more interested in real rather than ritual submission, if they are in control, the incident is NOT going to end, no matter how uncomfortable you look or how much you silently pray that they will spontaneously combust. Quite the opposite. Thats just the thing that makes these Dudes’ panties wet.

Thats why rudeness–bitchiness, specifically– is a life-saving skill. It is unexpected. If I do it right, it throws the situation momentarily out of the Dude’s control, and gives me an opportunity to achieve my goal: Ending the disgusting interaction.

With the Grip Dude I am most proud that I was good and rude; I regret only that I wasn’t more impolite.

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Manifesto is here. Origninal narrative here.

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The light is red. I am standing on the corner. A cab stops, the driver opens his passenger (!) door— to show me his penis!

De-coded misogynist logic for the benefit of readers: “There’s a woman! I can make her uncomfortable!”

I almost forgot about this incident, until i remembered that I have a blog devoted to this sort of thing.