A decree from your overlord

So yesterday I banned someone from my blog for the first time, though hopefully not the last.  I mean, what a rush, right?  To finally have the opportunity to exert my unilateral will over another person and exile them from my domain, to be filled with the joy of embracing my masculinity in a confrontation.  No, to wield my digital dominance makes me more than a man – truly, for one moment, I was as the kings of old, elevated by my glory, less a man… than a god.

And, of course, by doing so I prevented myself from being exposed to any more of the dangers that this commenter posed to my own self-satisfied sense of righteousness and wisdom.  My whole identity is wrapped up in being certain that I am always good and right at all times, and everyone else is a half-thinking monster.  Brave truth-tellers who challenge my ideological declarations could undermine my certainty and thus send me spiralling into an abyss of horror and shame as I could no longer hide from the fundamental realities of the world, in whose shining surfaces I must see myself as I truly am: weak and without principle, fearfully scraping together flimsy rationalisations to convince myself that my failings are somehow pathetically virtuous.

In the words of Socrates: lol no.

I’m not going to write up a formal policy on commenting or banning, because I don’t think it would be a good use of my time to create it or anyone else’s time to read it.  I’m not interested in rules-lawyering with anyone about the definition of ‘polite’ or ‘constructive’.  If I want you gone, you’ll be gone, and rapidly forgotten for anything except the horrified amusement you may have brought me during your visit.  Cries of ‘freedom of speech’ will not move me.*  Claims that I am an ideological dictator will not faze me.

Here is a useful fact to understand, if you are the type of person whose behaviour often gets described as ‘trolling’: you don’t matter to me.  As yesterday’s comment thread illustrates, I will certainly discuss issues with people who disagree with me, in a manner corresponding to their own civility.  But I am far too cynical to imagine that somehow my blog will be the one thing that finally turns you around (if I think you’re misguided) and your continued self-inflicted suffering, while perhaps tragic, will not tug at my heartstrings.  I have been clear and honest on this matter before: I am not nice.  I do try to be good (true story, I saved a lost old blind dog wandering in traffic yesterday and returned it to its owner), and I attempt to simulate ‘nice’ when it seems appropriate, but I would have to think you’re worth the effort.  And it is so, so easy to decide that trolls aren’t worth the effort.  My base level of caring is low.

Chances are good that the only purpose this post will have in the long run is that I might link to it when I next encounter a troll that I haven’t decided whether to ban or not.  Guess we’ll see.  If you are a troll looking to maintain a long career, do pay attention to what finally resulted in yesterday’s banning: not disagreeing with me, not advocating for dudes’ rightness in ignoring other people’s personal decisions and agency – the banning was for using a slur after being told not to (and being told what the consequences were).

For reals, don’t do that.  (Or do, and feed my hunger for power and validation.  A god, I tell you.)

*Also, in Canada, we have this thing called the ‘notwithstanding clause’ (section 33) in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms which, essentially, says that Parliament can ignore most of the really good freedoms and rights whenever it feels like it, as long as they acknowledge that they’re doing so and they vote again in favour of it once every five years.

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Old women with firewood

(Content: references to bigoted language and violence.  Fun content: robot cupcakes and Euler’s identity.)

The key question is: why do you even want to?

Specifically, this is the question I want to pose, on an individual basis, to every person on the internet speaking out for their freedom of speech as represented by other people not getting mad at them for using bigoted slurs.  The argument that leads up to this point is ubiquitous and never ever changes at all.  It starts with the bigot (whose exact suborder is still unidentified) using the slur of the day in some kind of context that doesn’t involve them actively wearing a Klan uniform and burning down the orphanage in their town’s Little Vietnam neighbourhood.  Since that wasn’t what they were doing, they are obviously a blameless paragon of virtue and everyone else is just ‘getting offended’*.  If this is a lucky day, someone in their audience might say that maybe it is possible they shouldn’t use that particular word – for our purposes, it doesn’t matter whether the word is misogynist, racist, homophobic, transphobic, or even that elusive specimen, misandrist.  (I’ll get back to that last one in some other post.)

What follows is simple and predictable: the bigot says ‘Whatever, get over it’, someone else says ‘No, this matters’, and the bigot agrees that yes, it does matter, because this is about their FREEDOM OF SPEECH and they should be able to say whatever they like without being censored, including using this slur of choice.  And it may be hard to get a coherent response here, but often one can be gleaned from our bigot’s subsequent righteous quest for validation, and this if nothing else at last differentiates them a bit from the majority of contiguous jackwagonry out there.

The toddler response: “I didn’t mean it like that“.  This’s a popular response that can be dismissed quickly.  Someone who uses ‘gay’ to mean ‘bad’ is still riffing off the social disapproval for gay folks, and the fact that they don’t actually care about that makes them more culpable, not less.  I’d like to think everyone grasps this one by now, and I don’t think I’ve seen it much lately.  I suspect we’re seeing more polarisation between the people who actually care that words mean things (and so stopped doing it) and the people who have realised they’re just fine with admitting to being horrible bigots.

The high school bully response: “It’s only a word“.  Still going strong, of course.  This is the anti-intellectual position wherein we insist that if people would just stop thinking about things that mean things we could all spontaneously evolve into independent superhumans who would build our own high-tech orbital houses from the grizzly bears that we personally strangled, except that everyone but them is too sensitive and sentimental and needs to toughen up.  The temptation to call them on their bluff and only ever address them thereafter as ‘apesnot’ is enormous.  (Ideally, I’d like to get their employer in on it too.)

The university hipster response: “I’m using it ironically“.  These people are master philosophers who are too busy observing the beauty of Euler’s identity in the shape of a shiny corkscrew to be bothered with mundane things like the psycholinguistic shaping of sociological institutions through repetition of a simple concept.  Or something?  I would expect these folks to actually be really interested in the distinctions between the definition of a word, its connotations, and its implicature, but none of them will join my discussion group.  Even though I brought cupcakes!

The secret agent response: “My friend said I could“.  Well, that’s all right then, as long as you’ve got clearance from the hierarchy.  But I’m curious about the logistics of this: what happens if you have two black friends?  (For some reason, this never comes up.  WHY COULD THAT BE.)  If one of them gives you N-Word privileges and the other one says you can’t, is that like dividing by zero?  Unstoppable force meets immovable object?  Does the Matrix glitch out?  Or is it some kind of Pandora’s Box deal, where anyone can open the box and once it’s opened no one can close it?  We need to set up a rigorous scientific trial for this.  Quick, find more black friends!

The adjudicator response is a bit special: “But sometimes it’s true“.  This person isn’t denying that the slur is a slur, they’re just saying that they distinguish between members of the minority to whom it does apply and those to whom it doesn’t.  They don’t just throw it around all over the place like an actual bigot would; they only use it to refer to women who really are evil conniving man-hating trash.  Their judgments are carefully considered while sitting for nine days under a bodhi tree to ensure that it is justified.  And somehow they haven’t noticed – or they’re hoping no one else will notice – that they can always justify it.  That if you want to, you can always find some reason to say that this time it’s accurate, that this person really is the stereotype and deserves all the hate that’s got their particular label on it.  If these people honestly believe that it’s sometimes true and sometimes justified, then they just haven’t thought about it long enough to notice the pattern.

Yet all of these possible responses are dancing around the same core issue: they’re arguing for why it’s okay for the person to use a particular slur, which keeps them a safe margin away from arguing about why the person did use the word.  Maybe you can say it.  So why do you want to?  That’s a much more uncomfortable thing to talk about, because there are really only so many reasons you can want to use a slur, and the only way you’ve got a good one is if you’ve thought about it, which means you ought to be able to provide it pretty easily.  If you can’t answer right away, you have admitted that you don’t have a good reason.  Coming up with one after the fact is about as convincing as saying that the note you wrote is bilingual and you were actually secretly putting poisson in your boss’s drink because he just loves trout so much.

The reasons people give for this are also pretty common: because it’s funny – because it gets people’s attention – because no one can tell me what to say.  My view on the ‘funny’ case is that if your joke boils down to ‘saying a bad word’ then you should probably workshop that sucker a little more, because I’m pretty sure it was funnier when I heard it on the first day of kindergarten.  If it’s about getting attention, then it’s still lazy and just proving that you really don’t care about other people so again I’m not going to worry too much that I’m being unfair to you.  And if it’s about proving that you can say whatever you like: well, yes, duh.  No one’s going to confiscate your vocal cords.  But just as your freedom of expression allows you to say anything, my freedom of expression allows me to find you childish and stupid.  Just so’s we’re clear on that.

METAPHOR TIME.  Because I have had more than one discussion about the intelligent use of references to minorities in comedy, and there are vast hordes of people out there who will happily insist that since comedy ought to be an element that reflects and interacts with all of modern culture, it can’t be cut off from dealing with subjects like racism and homophobia et cetera.  True dat, no argument here.  But if you’re imagining yourself as a comedian, take a break from that and instead join me in imagining you as a juggler.  You’re up there juggling away and making important social commentary on the place of bowling pins in a world with a black US president.  And then you get to the bit where you start juggling flaming knives, which always gets a big reaction and sends people home thinking about the knives in their lives.  And somehow in the big finish, instead of all the knives ending up safe on the floor, one of them ends up in someone’s foot.  You’re not sure what happened – did you screw up?  Did they not see the warning tape and put their foot inside the Knife Zone?  I don’t know and I don’t care: the point is that someone’s just gotten stabbed in the foot and that should matter to you if you’re a good juggler.  You should be curious about what you might have done wrong, or how you can improve your act to take risks into account that you didn’t see before.  You’re the one who brought knives onto the stage, and it’s your responsibility to make sure none of them end up lodged in a person.  If you’re the type of person who think s that it’s other people’s fault if they get one of your knives stuck in their foot, then you can go to hell.  And if you do care but this keeps happening and you can’t seem to avoid it, or if you’re not willing to take the risk and the blame for knife accidents, then stop bringing knives on stage, because you obviously can’t be trusted with them. 

(The knives in this metaphor are slurs used for humour without oppressive intent.  I just want to make sure we’re all on the same page here.  That got kind of intense.)

*I’m fuzzy on exactly what folks think ‘offended’ means in the modern parlance.  Cases where I would tend to use it myself would be things like ‘offensive smell’, a sensation that repulses and demands that everything everywhere be scrubbed thoroughly.  I’m pretty sure I’ve stopped using it to refer to things like bigotry, because ‘stupid and evil’ really gets to the heart of the problem much more effectively.  But what do other people think ‘offensive’ means when they talk about how easily other people get offended?  It seems like a word without definition.

The Comrade Sector

(Content: screwed-up gender dynamics, heterocentric discussion of sexist concepts.  Fun content: Klingons and daguerrotypes!)

(Alternate titles included The Ally Territory, The Companion Realm, and Eight Rules For Dating My Non-Age-Specific Fellow Sapient.  [Edit: also, Salacious Tortoises would have been a good one.])

This is one of those subjects that makes it hard for me not to just profane for a while.  I have been spending time (any amount is too much) on parts of the internet where ‘The Friend Zone’ is treated as an established and accurate concept, and now I just want to reboot the world.  On the plus side, it’s also providing me with a fascinating new perspective on the way I view people.

I’ve mentioned before that one of the reasons I love the heroic villain archetype is that they are doing the right thing even while not feeling like it.  They protect people they don’t particularly care about and they stand up for ideals that they think are just daydreamy nonsense.  This is what I feel like most of the time, because while I’m a long-run optimist (I believe that people will eventually transcend their current widespread and colossal failures) I’m a short-run pessimist (I believe that on the road to that transcendence we will oppress, harm, and in various ways kill uncountable multitudes of people and things) and I have unreasonably high standards for folks.  I tend to think of myself as being misanthropic by nature, and continually try to remind myself not to act like it.  And yet the internet, in its signature style, teaches me things that were not the things I expected to learn.

And one of those things is that I’m way less misanthropic than some of the chuweros out there subscribing to supposedly mild and mainstream concepts that are actually totally awful.  And the Friend Zone will here act as our exhibit A.

The definition is simple: a woman (occasionally a man) is said to have ‘friendzoned’ a man (occasionally a woman) when she spends time with him but rejects the possibility of a romantic relationship, which the man was interested in.  Once it happens, there is no escape from its sorcerous boundaries, no matter how the man may entreat for a fresh trial to prove his suitability.

Or, in normal-person talk, ladies only date dudes they want to date, and callously disregard the dudes they don’t want to date who nevertheless want to date them.

I grew up in the age when home video game consoles exploded, and so was bombarded with the insistence that this new form of media would corrupt and ruin the young and completely remove their appreciation of daguerrotypes and that sort of thing.  Is this the reckoning that was foretold?  Do people now believe that relationships have terrain hazards?  If you mistakenly equip the Hylian Shield as you’re heading up the river valley, the octorok will shove you off the ledge and you’ll land in the friend zone and have to start over?

All of the things wrong with this framework require some effort to disassemble and fully appreciate.  It presents the idea that forming a relationship is, from the dude’s perspective, the task of continually avoiding ‘getting friendzoned’ until some kind of romantic connection can be made.  It’s an inherently adversarial concept like something out of Klingon rituals (“Women roar.  Then they hurl heavy objects.  [The male] reads love poetry.  He ducks a lot.“) and it repeats the same eternal stupid thing about men wanting (especially sex, but often generalised into ‘affection’) and women withholding (see previous).  But beyond that, it also implies that a woman can want to friendzone a guy but not be able to until he does something to justify it.  It has to presume this, because otherwise it would have to accept reality, which is: if a woman doesn’t want to date a man, then she won’t (voluntarily).  There is no complicated process, there are no rules, and there is no rigid categorisation; no one is getting a forehead stamp and sorted into the Non-Dating Cabinet.

Or, in abnormal-person talk: if the friend zone existed, it would be immediate and unstoppable.  You can’t dodge it, you can’t ward it off – you don’t get put in it; it simply eminent-domains the ground under your feet.

But some people apparently see a personal benefit to operating on this nonsensical framework (elsewise they wouldn’t be parroting it to each other), and as near as I can tell, it’s about the externalisation.  It lets a person reclassify what they did (or have done, or are doing) that made them an unsuitable date and turn it into something that was done to them.  And this is a particularly important reclassification to pull off if you are a Nice Guy.

The Internet Nice Guy, of course, is the guy who is sweet and caring and giving but women just won’t date him because they’re only interested in jerks.  At least according to his webpage.  In reality, it turns out that he’s a self-important self-entitled guy who thinks that not actively burning down orphanages puts him in the top 1% of humanity and just can’t understand why women don’t reward his awesomeness with Naked Fun Times.  He’s already spending all of his time hanging out with them and only doing what they want and trying to make them completely dependent on him for their emotional needs – what more is he supposed to do, explicitly say that he is attracted to her?  MADNESS.  If he did that, he would just get friendzoned!  Do you expect him to fall for such an obvious ruse?

At this point, I may sound like I’m constructing strawmen and chastising them for their dealings with strawwomen, but it’s honestly not that difficult to find examples.  A friend linked to another blog’s post on friendzone concepts, and lo, but the second comment from the top was a guy explaining that Some Women really do manipulate guys and use the dudes’ “honest mating attentions” for personal profit which they have no intent to compensate the dude for.  Check it out.  That’s a direct quote: “honest mating attentions”.  I couldn’t make this up if I tried.

So: do I have a low opinion of my species as a whole?  Often.  Am I insufficiently sympathetic to others’ pains?  Probably.  But am I as much a misanthrope as that guy?  No.  Because that guy believes that women are heartless selfish manipulators and men are conniving fools who are trying to trade for sex but are being hornswoggled by the evil women’s superior treachery.  That is what some quality misanthropy looks like.

Now, as a socially-awkward person myself (and note that when I talk about Nice Guys, I refer to a group I was previously part of) I do like rules, and I think the desire for rules is part of what makes Nice Guy philosophies and frameworks like ‘the friend zone’ so attractive to dudes: it purports to take a complex system and reduce it to a simple series of laws, interactions, and consequences.  Never let it be said that I am unwilling to provide good rules to replace bad ones.  Here are some actual rules that serve well:

  1. If a person does not want to date another person, then they won’t.  Attempting any strategy that might subvert rule 1 makes you a bad person.  (Trying to actually be a person they would want to date is a somewhat more complicated grey area; even if New You can be sustained, it’s still generally a better plan to try with someone else.)
  2. Person A, if treating Person B like a friend when Person B has only ever acted like a friend, is not doing anything wrong.
  3. Acting like a friend purely for the purpose of getting something from your supposed friend makes you a bad person.  (This was true when it was the jerks in school ingeniously absorbing the kid whose family had a pool, and it remains true now.)
  4. If a friendship is all one-way, then it’s not a friendship, it’s indentured service.  Ditch ’em.

But there’s a second aspect to this friendzone concept – its inescapability – that needs to be dealt with separately.  The premise is, again, that once a person has been identified as a friend rather than as a Potential Naked Fun Times Compatriot, the process can never be reversed, and it is impossible to go from being close friends to romantic partners.  Or, more importantly, dudes will claim that women will use their existing friendship as an excuse not to start dating.  So, keep in mind:

  1. If a person says they don’t want to date another person, the most probable answer is that they don’t want to date them, never have, and never will.
  2. It is possible that a person legitimately believes that, regardless of their possible attraction to you, the potential failure of a romantic relationship is too great to risk the consequences for the friendship.
  3. Ask yourself if you can, if nothing else, imagine a friendship with [member of whatever gender(s) you’re attracted to] that you valued so much, in its platonic form, that you would hesitate or turn them down if they propositioned you.  If the answer is ‘no’, then chances are good we’ve just identified why your friend didn’t want to date you from the beginning.*
  4. No one needs an excuse in order to not date someone.  Therefore, if you have had what you believe to be An Excuse deployed on you: it was for the sake of sparing your feelings and the other person simply doesn’t want to explain that, while you’re fun to hang out with, they might rather make out with a galapagos tortoise.

I have had a lot of female friends.  I have been attracted to some of them.  I have broached the subject of dating sometimes.  I have sometimes been turned down; I have even had things which I suspect were Excuses deployed on me.  What is the correct response here?

Move on with your life.

Which is bleedin’ difficult sometimes, I know.  Great Jaddeth Below, I know.  When I refer to myself as a ‘former Nice Guy’, I see parallels with ‘recovering alcoholic’ – with destructive behaviours, we might never stop wanting to backslide, we might have to work constantly to be better than ourselves.  I may never stop wanting to be Romantic Comedy Guy.  But resisting that is the definition of winning.  (And sadly there are no cookies for basic decency.)

I used to dislike stories that made it explicitly clear that Our Heroes could never really win – that they would just right this injustice, push back evil this time, and then some day it would come back, and they would fight it again, or someone else would have to do it, forever.  But I get it now.

*Gracious, I almost let a post go by without a footnote.  Well, it occurred to me on rereading this rule that the ‘you’ here might just be a polysomething person of the sort who doesn’t feel any particular need to maintain hard lines between platonic and sexual relationships, and that may be just fine on its own; I’m not saying you’re a horrible person.  But I hardly need to tell someone who has a robust set of sociosexual ethics that the turning-you-down person may not be comfortable getting into that, so I think the rule stands on its own, both in its judgey and non-judgey forms.

What shoes to wear

I am amused to find that I am a small tumblr sensation.  Specifically, one of my first real posts, ‘The Badger Rampant’, has twice now gone on day-long sprees of reblogging among Harry Potter fans, leading my normally-trickling site stats to suddenly spike well over a hundred.  To celebrate, I am currently listening to ‘Popular’ from Wicked, which will probably then result in me listening to ‘Defying Gravity’ for the rest of the day, because daaaamn that’s a voice.  But this is not about that.  This is about other things.

First thing: it feels really cool to see that something I wrote can be meaningful to that many people.  I haven’t got a lot of responses to my writing since I stopped posting stuff to fanfiction.net.  This reminds me of how good it feels to win at writing, so to speak.

Second thing: it’s been that post, twice now, that’s brought in so much attention.  That post represents 13% of the total views of my blog.  Why so?  I mean, I’m proud of it, I think I made a good point about the value system in Harry Potter and how it reflects on valuing of traits in our culture, but I think I’ve had some good points to make in other posts as well and they definitely haven’t taken off like that at all.  Is it the ready-made fandom audience?  As a subsection of that, is it because Hufflepuff just so rarely gets the glory and it’s nice to be advocated?  Would regular features on things that are awesome about undervalued Harry Potter institutions get the same attention?

Third thing: having already confessed to posting on ff.net, I may as well note that I was unabashed in my shipping in every context.  I mostly wrote in ‘verses based on video games that tried to do a lot with a little in terms of characterisation – which was quite intentional on my part, since I don’t usually see the point in writing fanfiction for characters that are already well-written.  (Lord of the Rings fanfiction: I know lots of people write/wrote it, including some I know and respect, but I just can’t see the attraction.)  And one of my favourite activities was deciding who should hook up with whom.  I wrote canonical, I wrote deuterocanonical, and I made stuff up out of whole cloth.  It was so from my first fic (which was a more-or-less canonical retelling plus romance between Protagonist Dude and Staff Chick) to my last (which was an utterly noncanonical ensemble romp with a complicated pseudorelationship between two minor characters with an understated near-random beta couple in the background).

And all throughout that time I was trying to understand popularity, because I got unbelievably positive feedback – multiple people, independently, compared me to Terry Pratchett how is this a thing that they say – but only in small quantities, while other writers there got teeming masses of fans.  I was always trying to work out why.  And one thing that I did notice, mid-career, was that regardless of the romantic content of the stories, I always got more attention if I clearly labelled my pairings.  Pageviews for a Fire Emblem 8 fic that was, upon reading, all about two couples would nevertheless be ignored by many until I added [Eirika/Seth, Franz/Amelia]* tags in the summary.  I didn’t have to change the content in order to get twice as many readers, but I did have to help people realise that this was a story they were looking for, if they were looking for warrior-princess/faithful-knight yearnings, or magically-empowered teenage soldier couples fistfighting three-score skeletons while hashing out their jealousy issues.

For all that marketing gets cynically dismissed as people trying to foist onto us stuff that we don’t need, there is a tricky and useful art to helping people identify the stuff that they want.  And most things are wanted by someone, somewhere.

*Searching for art to illustrate those two, I noticed that the vast majority of the stuff for Eirika and Seth has her being all dainty and him being all bodyguardly.  Now, granted, when we meet them, this is the case, because she’s untested in battle and he has just been assigned to escort her through an army and across a country.  But by the end of the game, Eirika has grown enormously and tears up the battlefield better than he does (although he can still be a good and reliable comrade).  I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised that fans imprinted on the pretty-girl-protected-by-burly-man image, but one of the things that’s nice about the Fire Emblem mythos is that it’s not as terrible about gender equality as a lot of medieval fantasy, and I would prefer that not get downplayed.  (Seth gets a lance in his gut for his trouble – being the Designated Bodyguard Gender sucks too.)

Through rhyme’s vexation

Apparently April was National Poetry Month.  Well, I knew it was in the US, but I didn’t check whether we just followed their lead up norph.  We do.  I am not always the best-informed when it comes to poetry-related calendar divisions, get off my back.  Ahem.  So, who can tell me where the name of this blog comes from?  Did I hear “the blogger’s fascination with the artistic angst of his own irretrievable past”?  Ten points to Hufflepuff!

But for reals, John Donne is amazing.

    I am two fools, I know,
    For loving, and for saying so
        In whining poetry ;
But where’s that wise man, that would not be I,
        If she would not deny ?
Then as th’ earth’s inward narrow crooked lanes
    Do purge sea water’s fretful salt away,
I thought, if I could draw my pains
    Through rhyme’s vexation, I should them allay.
Grief brought to numbers cannot be so fierce,
For he tames it, that fetters it in verse.

    But when I have done so,
    Some man, his art and voice to show,
        Doth set and sing my pain ;
And, by delighting many, frees again
        Grief, which verse did restrain.
To love and grief tribute of verse belongs,
    But not of such as pleases when ’tis read.
Both are increasèd by such songs,
    For both their triumphs so are published,
And I, which was two fools, do so grow three.
Who are a little wise, the best fools be.

“The Triple Fool”, John Donne

That is how we poet ’round here, y’all.  I have a different, unpublished post, which has been sitting in the queue since I started this blog, that also features The Triple Fool.  That post will be staying unpublished, because it is basically me whining in between stanzas of pretty excellent verse.  It’s a control-valve post, like that thing about writing letters and then not sending them, just for the feeling of getting everything out.  I’m suspicious of that kind of practice, because in my experience (both for myself and observing others) rolling thoughts over without ever actually expressing them to the person they’re directed at is usually just practicing being angry (or whatever other troublesome emotion) and makes the stress worse and the potential future outburst more raw, like a punch to a bruise.  Maybe it’s useful in emergencies.  I go back and edit that post every once in a while.  It contains a list of things I try not to think about.  Sometimes I notice that one or two of the things on the list don’t bother me so much any more.

On a parallel subject, does W.B. Yeats seem to anyone else like an amazing spokespoet for Internet Nice Guys?  I first learned of him through The Chieftains’ styling of “Never Give All The Heart”:

Never give all the heart, for love
Will hardly seem worth thinking of
To passionate women if it seem
Certain, and they never dream
That it fades out from kiss to kiss;
For everything that’s lovely is
But a brief, dreamy, kind delight.
O never give the heart outright,
For they, for all smooth lips can say,
Have given their hearts up to the play.
And who could play it well enough
If deaf and dumb and blind with love?
He that made this knows all the cost,
For he gave all his heart and lost.

“Never Give All The Heart”, W.B. Yeats

I was still in a long-term relationship at the time, and while I didn’t quiiiite buy into the message here, I did feel like Yeats (which I did not know how to correctly pronounce) was definitely onto something and it sure did seem like she just didn’t care sometimes and what was with her criticising my heartfelt romantic gestures just because they were also sometimes possessive and selfish?  Ha ha!  Past-Me could have benefited from being abducted to a re-education camp and taught about empathy and what it feels like to be smacked with a cod, is what I’m saying.  And being self-righteously passionate and unappreciated is what Nice-Guying is all about.  Which is not to say that Yeats himself deserves to be condemned for this alone – I don’t know much about him aside from the pessimism and the political involvement and the Nobel Prize – but I bet individual reactions to a poem like this can tell you a lot about a person.

My mother has never been a fan of Margaret Atwood, and as a child I tended to assume that my parents knew what they were talking about (retrololz) but upon investigating her for myself, I’ve found I rather like her style, even as it gives me poetic whiplash by leaping from classic elemental imagery to mundane technical phrases about the importance of chlorophyll.

More and more frequently the edges
of me dissolve and I become
a wish to assimilate the world, including
you, if possible through the skin
like a cool plant’s tricks with oxygen
and live by a harmless green burning.

I would not consume
you or ever
finish, you would still be there
surrounding me, complete
as the air.

Unfortunately I don’t have leaves.
Instead I have eyes
and teeth and other non-green
things which rule out osmosis.

So be careful, I mean it,
I give you fair warning:

This kind of hunger draws
everything into its own
space; nor can we
talk it all over, have a calm
rational discussion.

There is no reason for this, only
a starved dog’s logic about bones.

“More and More”, Margaret Atwood

It’s past midnight now, so it is my birthday, though the exact time would be, I believe 3:54 AM.  Twenty-six has been something of a recovery year – after a couple years of things getting progressively more awesome, I hit a hell of a rough patch and it’s taken a while to feel like I had my legs under me again.  (That’s only partly metaphorical, what with the foot injury that announced the onset of the The Suck.)  What I need to do now is build a new environment inside my head: I react strongly to my surroundings and follow patterns based on them, which means I either feel permanently inspired (the first fall after I moved to Ottawa was like this) or stuck in a meaningless rut (swathes of 2011 were like this).  I want that ‘harmless green burning’ back, assimilation without consumption, because if I can’t find that kind of equilibrium, I know I’m going to fall back to starved irrationality, desperately grasping at things I think I need and never actually getting any of the things that I want.

However, it is now May, and the primary thing I think I want is an Extreme Cake Recipe, ideally involving fire.  Not candles; those are the easy way out.  I mean FIRE.  None of this ‘harmless green burning’ unless there’s a lot of copper salts involved, and even then the ‘harmless’ part should be a matter of debate and concern.

So at least I have one goal to start with.

Interlude: A good were is hard to find

Aaaaaaaagh so tired of people.  I have serious posts underway about empathy, racism, and unusual music, but I really am in no mood to talk about grim matters, so for starters – let’s talk about gender in language That always cheers me up.

I’ve gone on in the past about how ‘man’ used to be neutral, ‘wif’ indicated female, and ‘vir’ indicated male.  And what continues to bug me is that while ‘man’ became male-specific, language did not shift to maintain common use of a neutral term, so that now we end up with a modern English whose euphony still likes to be able to refer to all people with a single syllable but whose supposedly-neutral term is blatantly gender-referential.  Let’s be very clear: this is not a woman-only issue (oh look I just realised what the next short post will be about).  This is a legitimately egalitarian thing – treating ‘man’ as generic both exoticises/marginalises women and it generifies men, contributing to the idea that men are not special, not important, et cetera.

So, if the formerly-neutral term is now male-specific, I think it’s time we dust off the formerly-male term and declare it the new neutral.  In its older form, this would be ‘vir’, but the direct modern descendant is ‘were’*.  Plural weres.  Fireweres, fisherweres, congressweres, policeweres, salesweres.  Imagine a stereotypical surfer dude thoughtfully addressing a stranger whose gender identity is not clear to him: “Were, that was a sick wave you just rode, were!  Weeerrrreee that was awesome.  Waves like that separate the weres from the kids, were.”  Imagine Aragorn rallying the army in front of the gates to Mordor: “By all that you hold dear on this good earth, I bid you stand, Weres of the West!”

Eventually it stops sounding ridiculous, like most words.  (I think I once said ‘blogosphere’ with a straight face: a shame I may never overcome.)

Since we’re already redefining the word (just as has happened to ‘man’, I remind you) its parameters can be whatever we want.  It doesn’t have to be age-specific (though it was in the surfer example); it doesn’t even have to be  species-specific.  ‘Were’ could refer to any sapient life.  That dinner conversation in Star Trek VI could have been made a lot less awkward if they could have smoothly referred to ‘were rights’ instead of talking about ‘human rights’ to a bunch of Klingons.

The only people I could imagine complaining about this might be particular fans of therianthropic fantasy, but they should probably already know that the ‘were’ part of ‘werewolf’ is referring to being part-human, not animal transformation.  Linguistic rigour is important in your hobbies.  But possibly there are other flaws I’m overlooking, which people are invited to detail in the comments.

I’m just sayin’, y’know, we have the option, were.

[Edit] *I think ‘were’ is probably the best spelling to use, but alternatives could include ‘wer’ for simplicity or ‘wair’ if that made it more phonetically sensible.

Teaspooning on Women’s Day

(Content: rampant sexism, discussion of rape, violence, and related statistics.  Fun content: a bajillion links and mild video game pastiche.)

It was a week ago and I still giggle about it sometimes.  It’s taken me a week to finish this post because I desperately did not want to go back and reread the whole nightmare to make sure I covered all the points.

Last Thursday was International Women’s Day, and I celebrated by getting into a fight on the internet with a colossal jackwagon.  It was one of those situations where you either have to laugh or throw up forever and then sing the song that ends the Earth, so instead I am electing to write about it here.  Everyone should have their Derailing For Dummies bingo cards ready because we are getting All Of The Bonus Points today.

Allow me to set the stage for our carnival of horrors: a friend posted a link to an article about how dudes can avoid being a skeeze when approaching women, and why it is that women might not always be super-trusting and happy to have a random dude introduce themselves on the bus or something.  (Spoiler: it is because some dudes are rapists and women are socialised to believe that if they get assaulted it will be their fault, or at the very least that everyone else will tell them that it’s their fault.)

There were a few people involved in the conversation, aside from the person who linked the article – one who was clearly not able to approach the issue in a serious way, one who was reasonably smart but still fell for some of the usual justifications for telling women to hush up.  Both of these guys also submitted the common response of “But I’m not a rapist, so why is this article being mean to me?!”  Protip: if it is an article about rapists who are men, and you are a man who is not a rapist, then it is not an article about you.  It’s great!  You’re not under attack and therefore don’t have to defend yourself!  But I try not to be excessively harsh with these people, because they respond well to intelligent arguments and they legitimately think they are doing the right thing for gender equality.  They’re wrong, and need to learn more, but they are not consciously trying to oppress anyone.

I cannot say the same about the last individual, who just made me want to turn to my friend and channel Joseph from Scott Pilgrim: “Your friends are douchebags*.  Seriously, get new ones.”  This guy (where necessary to specify I will refer to him as Derailer) began his list of grievances by stating that a ‘true feminist’ would want to destroy the backwards notion that all men are ‘rapists until proven otherwise’.  If you didn’t open the article back there, you may wish to do so now to help follow the arc of horrors.  Because the article in question literally begins by stating that the author is sure her male readers are all wonderful and respectful people who would never rape anyone.  As if that weren’t gratuitous enough, our Derailer simply decides to ignore it.  This was the rhetorical equivalent of the bar coming down in front of you before the roller coaster gets moving.

I pointed out that the article was not saying that all men are potential criminals or assaulters, but that a woman can’t be expected to know instantly whether she’s being approached by a potential assaulter and that some caution is (or at least should be) understandable.  But I kind of suspected this wasn’t going to be over that fast.

Next we had his assertion that ‘assigning wariness to one sex’ is wrong, because if a stranger approaches him in a dark alley, he will still be nervous.  (But That Happens To Me Too!  20 points.)  Because obviously the characteristics of this scenario are exactly the same regardless of your gender and obviously what the author was saying is that men are never victims of violent crime.  (Derailing for Dummies is far too general to include something as specific as What About Men but I’ll give a 10 point combo bonus for Anything You Can Do.)  When the friend who linked this tried to provide some of her own experience being approached by aggressive men, Derailer demanded to know if she would feel safe being approaced by an aggressive woman.  (I’m going to go ahead and award 15 points for You’re Arguing With Opinions Not Fact for gloatfully dismissing someone else’s actual own experiences rather than looking at whether they line up with the data.  After all, it’s not like the vast majority of violent crimes are perpetrated by men or something.)

For an interlude (combo breaker!), someone came in to complain about how articles like these just served to dismiss assault on men and make nice guys more nervous about approaching women.  He wasonly joking, but also relatively easy to shut down by pointing out the vast gulf of incomparability between ‘worried cute girl will turn me down’ and ‘worried stranger on the train will get off at my stop, follow me until I am alone, and attack’.  He still protested that the article went to far and made it seem like even if you were a philanthropist you were doomed, causing me to wonder if he actually believed there’s no such thing as an apparently good man who still thinks that sexual consent is optional.  But let us move along, because I went and said the article was trying to give a female perspective on a situation.

Derailer sprang into action by announcing that ‘the female perspective on rape doesn’t matter’ because, again, this only increases the gender division, because PEOPLE ARE PEOPLE and it’s not like all men are criminals or all victims are women and honestly I have a hard time figuring out what kind of point he thought he was making here.  Gender is a socialised thing – Derailer had obviously embraced that much – because if it weren’t, there would have to be some biological reason why the vast majority of violent crimes, including rape, are committed by men, and I refuse to entertain the idea that I am biologically inclined towards evil.  So, given that the vast majority of rapists are men (about 99%) and the vast majority of victims of rape are women (about 91%), just mayyyyyyybe there’s something gender-related in socialisation going on here?  Just maybe there’s something about the way our society treats men and treats women that makes it easier for men to be rapists and women to be targeted?  Is this a startling idea to anyone?

We are wrapping up now, because the last part was just Derailer reiterating his super-enlightened position of totally ignoring gender and basically saying that there’s no way a woman could have something valuable to say about being targeted for rape unless she was actually a victim.  (I tried supplying him with statistics as well, but I knew he would have Immunity To Fact; I just thought the effort was important.)  I endeavoured once more to point out the social differences, to suggest that women who are not victims might still have noticed the huge track record of women who accuse someone of rape to get an enormous public backlash against them and their character, flooded with additional threats of violence, and just maybe women know they’re living in a hostile environment and have tried to adapt in response, but Derailer was resolute in his insistence that this was just a bias against men, and accused me of being sexist** for implying that such a backlash could never occur against a man.  (I invited him to find an example of this happening; he mysteriously did not take me up on the offer.)

But then we get to my favourite part, the Secret Bonus Ending that made it so very rewarding to have beaten my head against this particular wall for a few hours, because then he called me a bleeding heart.

Achievement Unlocked: “We’ve Got A Bleeder!”  50 points!

I love it.  ‘Bleeding heart’, really?  At that point you’ve basically decided to be a Saturday morning cartoon villain without the sweet mustache.  When the best insult you can come up with is “Oh yeah?  Well, you care about people other than yourself!” then possibly it is time to reconsider which side of the argument you have elected to support!  Note to everyone everywhere ever: ‘bleeding heart’ is a terrible insult that really only serves to highlight what a hilariously awful person you are.  It’s like a wardrobe malfunction, but instead of a harmless nipple, your clothes slipped and everyone saw the gaping void where your soul should be.

Anyway.  Though I may not have made much progress with that particular jackwagon, I was able to make these arguments because I listened to smart people until I realised how and why they were right.  In particular, I listen to a lot of women.

Women I know through the internet: Kit Whitfield, mmy, Izzy, Ana Mardoll, Ginny, whose blog I just realised lately I should really have been keeping up with, and so many more whose names I wish I could remember.  Women I know in real life: Erica with a C, Erika with a K, both of the Saras without an H, Ally with a Cat.  These are women actively enriching my life and it is a godsdamn travesty that so much of our culture is designed to make life harder for them, to limit their freedom and their safety and their rights.

And notably my mother, who gave me a huge advantage by helping me start out life by demonstrating on a regular and ongoing basis that women are in fact fully people – and like any other person, when you try to keep them down, they will barrel on through and achieve what they want, and if that means using the trampled bodies of sexists as an on-ramp, so be it.  My mom is kind of awesome that way.

It’s been a week since International Women’s Day, but for some reason not every issue disproportionately affecting women seems to have been resolved.  We should get on that.

*I waffle continuously over what I think of this particular insult.  On the one hand, it appeals to the inherent sexism of ‘eww, lady stuff is gross’.  On the other hand, douches are legitimately a potentially-harmful contraption shoved onto women by a misogynist culture and they should be spoken of with contempt.  There seems little hope of reaching universal agreement.

**So here’s a distinction: if a man is discriminated against on the basis of his gender, that’s a gender bias, and the same if a woman is discriminated against on the basis of her gender.  But only in one of these cases will the discrimination have the weight of the vast majority of social, cultural, and in some cases legal institutions supporting and amplifying it.  For this reason, some people suggest that ‘sexism’ should only be used to describe discrimination against women, i.e., the type of discrimination that’s really, really popular.  I like precise terminology, so I tend to agree with this.  But at the same time, whenever someone says ‘reverse sexism’ or ‘reverse racism’ I can’t help feeling like they’re complaining that someone is breaking the rules, because while it’s obviously not good for women to be discriminated against, discriminating against a man is just cheating.

***This footnote doesn’t actually attach to anything; it’s just a place for me to note that the other potential title for this post was ‘Reverse Double-Pump Fastbreak Sexism’.  Instead I went with a reference to the Shakesville teaspoon terminology, which is used in awesome posts like this one.