Sunday, April 13, 2014

28 Books in 28 Days

For the month of February, I read a book a day (or, more properly, 28 books during the month; I wasn't interested in actually completing one whole book every single day).  It was awesome, and really not that hard (granted, I read pretty quickly); it just cut into my internet time, and a little bit of my cuddling time and a little bit of my sleeping time, but nothing too drastic.  Obviously I deliberately selected books of a length and complexity that I felt appropriate to this challenge -- no Les Miserables or War and Peace!

1.  We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler, 308 pages, Feb 1
Loved this one. Memory and family and '70s psychology and animal liberation. “Language does this to our memories -- simplifies, solidifies, codifies, mummifies.  An oft-told story is like a photograph in a family album; eventually, it replaces the moment it was meant to capture.”

2.  This Beautiful Life by Helen Schulman, 222 pages, Feb 2
A “golden boy” forwards a sex video an eighth-grader crushing on him sends him, and everything is ruined.  I’m not sure how I feel about this, particularly the ending, since it’s all him-centric (until the end where she’s fine?) and I’m not sure where the judgment falls.  Or I suppose there’s not any and that’s the point, but I don’t like that either.

3.  Shine Shine Shine by Lydia Netzer, 309 pages, Feb 3
Autistic Maxon and bald Sunny are living a perfect suburban fake life.  He goes to space to start a moon colony of robots but a meteor hits the spaceship.  Meanwhile her mother is dying, she’s taking her autistic son off medication, and she’s refusing to wear the wig anymore.  General theme, I guess, is be wonderful and weird and yourself.  The sex scenes were surprisingly hot.

4.  The End of Eternity by Isaac Asimov, 253 pages, Feb 4 [for Cambridge’s February book club], reread
Technician Harlan lives in Eternity, which is where the Eternals who manage Reality (century by century) live.  They make carefully plotted Changes that are intended to better the human race by altering reality in the future Centuries. Very man-centric (as per most Asimov), though the woman turns out not to be completely useless.
“...and we and we try to plot out all the infinite possibilities of the might-have-beens and pick out a might-have-been that is better than what is and decide where in Time we can make a tiny little change to twist the is to the might-be and we have a new is and look for a new might-be, forever, and forever…”

5.  Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman, 299 pages, finished Feb 5
More explicitly political than the TV show, but also less interesting and not especially well-written.

6.  The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, 335 pages, finished Feb 7
Good, but weird, and difficult to read since obviously I don’t speak Spanish.  Not one I super loved, but I’m glad I read it.

7.  Zone One by Colson Whitehead, 259 pages, Finished Feb 8
I’m kind of tired of zombies, but this was less about the zombies and less about survival and more about human psychology and culture (and trying to rebuild), which I liked.  He really writes very beautifully and strikingly, and I plan to check out more of what he's written. I liked all the nonsense with the provisional governor soliciting sponsors, whose products were the only ones one was permitted to use (no looting), which is not something I'd encountered before but seems spot-on.

8.  Back When We Were Grownups by Anne Tyler, 274 pages, finished Feb 9
“Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person.” Rebecca feels her life took a wrong turn when she married Joe and ended up stuck with his three daughters and his family party-planning business after his death, so tries to get back her old life (meeting up with her high school boyfriend, reading more intellectual things, etc.) before she realizes that this life is pretty good.  There’s a lot more bittersweet in there.  I was not completely enthralled the entire time, but if I’d known it was going to end the way it did I might have been more at peace. “Look...face it...there is no true life.  Your true life is the one you end up with, whatever it may be.  You just do the best you can with what you’ve got.”

9.  Arcadia by Lauren Groff, 289 pages, finished Feb 10
About Bit, who grew up in a hippie commune that later sort of fell apart, and the lives he and the other now-grown children try to make in the "real" world. I liked the first half better than the last half (I have a soft spot for communes), but the best part was the language and how it was written, with such joys as:
“Ike tries to answer, but his mind jitters off like a lizard when he thinks, and he is left with a handful of tail-thought.”

10.  Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell, 243 pages, finished Feb 11
Short stories, with a bit of the magical about them. One of them was about a bunch of horses who were reincarnated presidents and kept arguing about whether they were in heaven or hell or what.

11.  The Night Guest by Fiona McFarlane, 241 pages, finished Feb 12
An older woman living alone is surprised by a ‘government carer’ who appears and seems to solve all her problems. It was beautiful and well-done, but I am kind of indignant on behalf of the character, whom I feel that the author betrayed.
“...and afterwards in conversation -- just a few days later -- Ruth realized he’d forgotten all about it, and she was furious at the way she fell in love with small things that turned out to be meaningless.”

12.  Room by Emma Donoghue, 321 pages, Feb 13
From the point of view of a kid born to a woman who had been kidnapped and kept prisoner for years, about their life in the shed where he spent his whole life to that point. I thought, from hearing so much about it, that this was going to be a lot more traumatic and grittier than it was, but I really liked it.  This is probably the thing I've read from the point of view of a child which I think is most authentic and interesting and properly done. I also love a lot of what the mother has to say to people in the latter half of the book.

13.  One of Ours by Willa Cather, 371 pages, finished Feb 16
I was surprised how much I liked the writing, but the story really makes me deeply uncomfortable.  Here, this young man is too sensitive for life and wants more than this provincial life (basically), so then he goes off to war and finally finds likeminded fellows and blooms (uh, seriously?), and then dies and his mother is glad of it because he would have been disillusioned by the world afterward.  Meh.
“He was a jolly, easy-going father, indeed, for a boy who was not thin-skinned.” (I feel like this is the saddest line ever, much in the vein of Hemingway's "For sale: baby shoes, never worn.")
“[...]a broad yellow beam shone out into the choked air, and down it millions of snowflakes hurried like armies, an unceasing progression, moving as close as they could without forming a solid mass.[...]  There was a solemnity about a storm of such magnitude; it gave one a feeling of infinity.  The myriads of white particles that crossed the rays of lamplight seemed to have a quiet purpose, to be hurrying toward a definite end.”

14.  The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.  by Adelle Waldman, 240 pages, finished Feb 17
I saw this reviewed as a description of the kind of guy who’s enlightened, not an asshole, but who wastes women’s fertile years and never settles down with them, etc.  Which I guess it is; it’s the most reasonable indictment (if it is one) of the Millennials I’ve seen thus far.  I find it vaguely anxiety-inducing to identify terribly closely with some of these thoughts and scenes (some from the male and some from the female perspective).
“Contrary to what these women seemed to think, he was not indifferent to their happiness.  And yet he seemed, in spite of himself, to provoke it.”

15.  See Now Then by Jamaica Kincaid, 182, finished 2/19
So I actually didn’t especially like this, though I had expected to.  The “lyricism” etc. turned out to be just thoughts going in circles, and while bits of it were intriguing, I didn’t really like the effect.  Or the characters.

16.  Lexicon by Max Barry, 388 pages, finished Feb 20
I really liked this.  Poets using words to control/persuade people, the bareword, all the drama, the psychology, the shielding, the plotting.  Tied in to Tower of Babel mythology.  I especially liked the news stories (cover stories) about the events in the book.

17.  Golden Boy by Abigail Tarttelin, 343 pages, finished Feb 22
About an intesex kid being raised as a guy (he apparently was never informed there were other options, but he does identify as a guy, so there's that) who is raped by his best friend and winds up pregnant, just as he's starting his first serious relationship and while his dad is running for office. Lots of secrecy and shame and confusion. I think it's a good book to exist and for kids to have access to, but I imagine it's a kind of triggering read for people who have similar experiences or thought patterns. He ends up in a good place, but there's a lot of blame-taking and gender essentialism and suicide ideation stuff in the middle. It's told from several characters' perspectives (him, the girlfriend, his little brother, his mom, the doctor).

18.  Love is Power, or Something Like That by A. Igoni Barrett, 199 pages, Feb 22
Short stories about family and such set in Nigeria.  I liked “My Smelling Mouth Problem,” “Trophy,” and “The Little Girl with Budding Breasts and a Bubblegum Laugh” best.

19.  Tampa by Alissa Nutting, 263 pages, Feb 22
Very much a gender-reversed Lolita (a 24-year-old woman becomes a teacher specifically so she'll have access to the specific type of 14-year-old boy she's attracted to -- quite the sociopath) except much more sexually explicit.

20.  The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton, 217 pages, Feb 24
Actually pretty good.  A young man marries instead of pursuing the not-yet-divorced (and with pressure, presumed never to be) cousin of his fiancee, regrets it and keeps trying to set up an affair, but she finally leaves and he doubles down on his life and such.  Very duty-driven, and then at the end, about the change in New York society in a very short generation.
“He reviewed his friends’ marriages -- the supposedly happy ones -- and saw none that answered, even remotely, to the passionate and tender comradeship which he pictured as his permanent relation with May Welland.  He perceived that such a picture presupposed, on her part, the experience, the versatility, the freedom of judgment, which she had been carefully trained not to possess; and with a shiver of foreboding he saw his marriage becoming what most of the other marriages about him were:  a dull association of material and social interests held together by ignorance on the one side and hypocrisy on the other.”

21.  The Optimist’s Daughter by Eudora Welty, 109 pages, Feb 24
Laurel comes home to be with her father when he gets eye surgery, from which he never recovers.  The funeral, complete with everyone from the town, the new (younger) wife Fay who is terrible, and a couple days reliving the past in the old house.

22.  Stuck in the Middle With You: A Memoir of Parenting in Three Genders by Jennifer Finney Boylan, 280  pages, Feb 26
Memoir about parenting (and a lot of ruminating about the difference between fathering and mothering and what doing either says about you and your gender that I'm not really personally sold on) by a transgender woman who transitioned while her children were fairly young.
“But then, this is one of the fundamental contradictions of parenthood -- the unending necessity to teach your children lessons that you yourself still have not learned.”
“Is this one of those moments you always remember because it’s so adorable?  Or because it was the first clue you had that your child would someday grow up to shoot the president?”

23.  Virgin:  The Untouched History by Hanne Blank, 257 pages, Feb 26
History of virginity, what it's meant (physically, socially) at various points in time. I was pleased to learn that it has at some times been much more a thing of power, like the vestal virgins and women who went into convents in order not to marry and thus to retain legal personhood.
"This isn't to say that virginity is relative and therefore irrelevant. To the contrary, we have more than two and a half millennia of written history that make it abundantly clear that virginity is relative and therefore immensely relevant."

24.  Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell, 290 pages, Feb 27
A father vanishes without giving any indication of why, which gives way to some family drama.
"Aoife has to resist the urge to grind her teeth, to throw something at the wall. Why is it that twenty-four hours in the company of your family is capable of reducing you to a teenager? Is this retrogression cumulative? Will she continue to lose a decade a day?"
"He feels, he realizes, jealous of himself, as if he is looking back at the scene from a distance."

25.  Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, 247 pages, Feb 27
Lovely even if I don’t agree with the faith.
“In every important way we are such secrets from each other, and I do believe that there is a separate language in each of us, also a separate aesthetics and a separate jurisprudence.  Every one of us is a little civilization built on the ruins of any number of preceding civilizations, but with our own variant notions of what is beautiful and what is acceptable -- which, I hasten to add, we generally do not satisfy and by which we struggle to live.  We take fortuitous resemblances among us to be actual likeness, because those around us have also fallen heir to the same customs, trade in the same coin, acknowledge, more or less, the same notions of decency and sanity.  But all that really just allows us to coexist with the inviolable, untraversable, and utterly vast spaces between us.  Maybe I should have said we are like planets.  But then I would have lost some of the point of saying that we are like civilizations.  The planets may all have been sloughed from the same star, but still the historical dimension is missing from that simile, and it is true that we all do live in the ruins of the lives of other generations, so there is a seeming continuity which is important because it deceives us.”

26.  The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, 336 pages [audiobook, though], finished Feb 27
A precocious girl contemplates burning down her apartment as sort of a protest against her parents and the world, while the concierge in her building persists in hiding that she's actually a very cultured woman.

27.  Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout [Pulitzer], 270 pages, Feb 28
A series of short stories set in one small town.
“[She] felt she had figured something out too late, and that must be the way of life, to get something figured out when it was too late.”
“Olive’s private view is that life depends on what she thinks of as ‘big bursts’ and ‘little bursts.’  Big bursts are things like marriage or children, intimacies that keep you afloat, but these big bursts hold dangerous, unseen currents.  Which is why you need the little bursts as well.”
“[...] she had the sensation that she had been seen.  And she had not even known she’d felt invisible.”

28.  The Reader by Bernhard Schlink, 218 pages, Feb 28
“I don’t know why I did it.  But today I can recognize that events back then were part of a life-long pattern in which thinking and doing have either come together or failed to come together -- I think, I reach a conclusion, I turn the conclusion into a decision, and then I discover that acting on the decision is something else entirely, and that doing so may proceed from the decision, but then again it may not.  Often enough in my life I have done things I had decided not to do.  Something -- whatever that may be -- goes into action; ‘it’ goes to the woman I don’t want to see anymore, ‘it’ makes the remark to the boss that costs me my head, ‘it’ keeps on smoking although I have decided to quit and then quits smoking just when I’ve accepted the fact that I’m a smoker and always will be.  I don’t mean to say that thinking and reaching decisions have no influence on behavior.  But behavior does not merely enact whatever has already been thought through and decided.  It has its own sources, and is my behavior, quite independently, just as my thoughts are my thoughts, and my decisions my decisions.”

Sunday, December 8, 2013

It's Just a Joke

Let's just put this out there first:  I understand that you made a joke and that it's supposed to be funny. I'm not stupid; if they're done properly I will in fact recognize them.  I understand that it was lighthearted, that you just wanted to infuse some humor into everyone's day, that it wasn't intended to be taken seriously, that it isn't literal, that I'm putting way more thought than you did into your joke, and that you think my job is to just laugh and move on.

All of that is beside the point.  Jokes don't exist on some magical plane where meaning disappears, critique is irrelevant, and analysis breaks down. 

Of course it was a joke...but it's not "just" a joke.  

Its being a joke doesn't somehow excuse it from being offensive the way it would be if you just flat-out said something nonhumorous with the same content.  ("What do you call a blonde with brains?  A golden retriever." vs. "Blondes are dumber than dogs."  Those are saying exactly the same thing, except one of them is (also) a joke. They are both offensive. (And yes, I deliberately picked a blonde joke because it was the least offensive kind of offensive joke I could think of, and I didn't actually want to Google rape jokes or racist jokes.) )

Jokes aren't objective bundles of funny. Humor is subjective...but that's not an out; it's a tell.  The whole reason you find a joke funny is that you more or less agree with the assumptions being made.  Otherwise it wouldn't really make sense.  You wouldn't really get it, or you'd at least have to make an effort to perspective-shift before you did.  Jokes that you find funny work because they fit into your conception of the world.  So if you find yourself laughing at rape jokes, you might want to check and make sure you're not actually kind of an entitled misogynist inside somewhere.

It's also kind of the case that all jokes are offensive.  Freud (as far as I understand, not actually having read the relevant work myself) definitely pegged humor.  He said that all jokes were motivated either by eros, the sex instinct, or thanatos, the death (aggression) instinct.  Seems about right.  Pretty much every joke in the world (except (some) puns, which usually aren't funny anyway) is about sex or aggression at the core, and sometimes both (any joke that involves a husband coming home to catch or almost catch or not catch his wife's lover).  Jokes almost always turn on putting someone down.  Someone's stupid, or someone gets beaten up, someone's powerless, someone's a member of some group that can't do X or always does Y.  Most jokes don't work if there's not a butt.

And so yeah, that sucks, because humor is an important force in the world.  That means you have to figure out a way to do it well.  Which is hard! But when you don't, that's your fault, not the fault of the people who got offended.  You don't get a free pass to be an asshole just because you're trying to create something to make people happy.  Especially when it doesn't actually  because your privilege gets in your way of understanding that not everyone interacts with the world in exactly (/at all) the same way as you and so not everyone is going to think you're hilarious, or is going to be able to (or want to) ignore an aspect of your joke that is immensely problematic to them.

But if it comes down to it, I firmly feel that not making other people feel like shit is more important than adding giggles to other people's lives.  Humor is important, but it's not as important as not feeling like everyone else on the planet wishes you would disappear, or actively wishes you harm.

But humor is supposed to push boundaries, and it helps us work through terrible things that happen to and around us.  True!  I don't actually think there are subjects per se that shouldn't be joked about.  But there is a huge difference between joking about something to work through it or make a point about it and joking about something to make it worse.
You can talk about controversial subjectsin fact, you should talk about controversial subjects, because comedy is an incredibly powerful subversive toolbut if you want people like me to stop bitching at you (a dream we share, I promise!), you need to stop using your comedy to make those things worse.  You don't have to make things betteryou are under no obligation to save the worldbut if you are actively making things worse for people, especially when you are not a member of the group whose existence you are worsening, don't be surprised when people complain.
For instance, race jokes.  A lot of jokes about race are racist and offensive.  But they don't have to be.  A Dave Chappelle joke about race that is not itself a racist joke:  
You know the only time racism is really good for black people?  Terrorism.  Terrorismnever take black hostages.  You know it's true.  You know why they don't take black hostages, don't  you?  'Cause we're bad bargaining chips.  They call the White House, "Hello!  We have got five black people, and we will kill them, too!  Hello?  Hello?"
See?  Racism is the butt of the joke, not black people! It critiques how little public attention crimes against black people get as compared to similar crimes.  (Gun violence in white suburbs = neverending news story.  More black kids dead in Chicago?  Not so much.) 

Same works for rape jokes.  See:  How to make a rape joke.  So I actually don't really think the Louis CK raping Hitler joke is all that OK, but the part immediately after it (which actually sounds more appalling) I think is perfect:
Now I'm not condoning rape; obviously you should never rape anyone.  ...unless you have a reason, like you want to fuck somebody and they won't let you, in which case what other option do you have?  How else are you supposed to have an orgasm in their body if you don't rape them?
Because, of course, it's an explicit disavowal of what he just implied about rape being OK (even for Hitler), and it perfectly makes fun of rapists' thought processes and horrific entitlement, not of women who get raped.  (The tone of voice and facial expressions help; it's much less funny in print than in video because it's increasingly possible to misread the emphasis.  Which is why Facebook is a bad place for controversial jokes.)

Bonus:  15 Rape Jokes that Work (Except I actually feel a lot more ambivalent about most of these.  Wanda Sykes and Dane Cook, yes; all the Onion stuff I'm a lot more on the fence about.)  Rape jokes about how much you want to rape someone:  not cool.  Rape jokes about what it feels like to be a woman afraid to go anywhere or do anything:  useful to the discussion.  Race jokes about how stupid/lazy/watermelon-loving black people are:  not cool.  Jokes about what it feels like to be a black person who likes fried chicken (because who doesn't?) or about all the racist things people have said to you, or what it's like to be afraid to have any interaction with the police:  germane.  Jokes about putting babies in blenders:  not cool.  Jokes about how people treat you after you have a miscarriage:  I've never heard any, but there is at least room for them to make good points.

Kind of on a basic level, even apart from how people feel when they're the butt of a joke, or how making certain kinds of jokes makes the climate worse by normalizing terrible attitudes and making it seem like a safe space for them, it's a matter of quality and complexity.  Racist/sexist/ableist jokes just aren't very good.  They're simple; they're lazy; they show a lack of imagination, they tap into the obvious.  Taking it a couple layers deeper?  More complexity means better jokes.

Mark Twain is full of crap ("Explaining humor is a lot like dissecting a frog; you learn a lot in the process, but in the end you kill it")*.  If your  joke can't stand up to analysis, it's not worth making.

* Except it seems it was actually E.B. White, and he said "Few people are interested and the frog dies of it."

Things I just cannot get over in otherwise amazing shows

Things I just cannot get over in otherwise amazing shows:

1) West Wing:   Every single character who has occasion to express this sentiment says "I could care less" rather than "I couldn't care less."  Of course I don't expect every character on every TV show to speak beautiful, grammatically correct, professorial English. (But if one show were going to be it, wouldn't you think it'd be West Wing?)  And of course plenty of well-educated and otherwise intellectual people say weird and incorrect things because they've decided they like it better that way (for me, it's the singular "they"), or because that's just the way they grew up saying it so it stuck, or they have a strong preference between two more-or-less accepted options (my "have another think coming" rather than "thing" (except I'm also right; read all the Grammarist posts and the like)).  But you cannot convince me that of all the intellectual snobs there are on that show, none of them would be pedantic enough to not only use the proper "couldn't care less" themself (see?!*) and correct everyone else every time they said it wrong.  Et tu, Bartlett?

2) Pushing Daisies:  The inconsistent level of concern Chuck and Ned have about touching each other.  You'd think if a single brush of skin could kill you or the one you loved, you'd be a little more cautious about sitting or standing next to each other, and yet they stand approximately as far away from each other as any other pair of people on TV does (except she's not allowed to ride up front in the car!).  She should really be dressing in head-to-toe lightweight underlayers (Cuddl Duds!).  Or he should, I guess; I only just realized that I was joining the chorus of putting the onus on the woman to dress appropriately for her interactions with men.  He's the one with the freaky magical powers!  But then they're remarkably slow to figure out how they can hold hands (that weird partition in the front seat of the car with a rubber glove, or, you know, just wintertime when they're wearing gloves) or otherwise have any contact with each other at all.  Vague references to a potential sex life of some kind pop up toward the end of the show, and they start kissing through Saran Wrap, but it shouldn't take a genius to realize that if they'd just cover up, they can touch like normal people.  But I guess it's more fun to talk about making her wear a bell like a cat or for them to announce "Coming," "Going," "Crossing" as they move about the apartment.

3) Buffy the Vampire Slayer:  Will nobody ever have any situational awareness? How about we all look where we're going instead of bumping into bad guys while we're peering off in some other direction?  How about instead of forming a circle facing in having some conversation or fight or "smoochies" in the graveyard, we face outward?  How about we look around a whole room before entering it if we expect there to be demons or somesuch lurking around?  Also:  can we all please stop dressing and doing our hair and makeup like we're 35? And using terminology like "wigging" and "smoochies"?

* Though I'm never really sure whether the reflexive form of the singular "they" should be "theirself" or "themself."

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Shitty Reasons to Be Opposed to Gay Marriage, an incomplete list

1) Think of the children!!

Which ones?  The ones who you keep telling their orientation is dirty and shameful and sinful and who see it will result in a lifetime of fighting for basic human rights, the ones who are bullied at massively higher rates than everyone else, who have much higher suicide rates, who are sexually assaulted at higher rates, who are kicked out and left homeless at higher rates?

No?  Oh, then you must mean the ones whose parents have to keep trying to cobble together a series of documents to attempt to legally protect their family and their custody, the ones whose families may be sharply redefined simply by moving one state over, the ones whose parents are rendered invisible or who are held up as examples of what we can't let the world turn to, whose parents are compared to child molesters?  Oh, except it turns out there's actually no evidence they have poorer outcomes.  They're not more likely to be gay themselves (if you consider that a negative outcome), and they're not less likely to be well-adjusted. They're just kids, and legitimizing their families would seem like a great conservative project if "family values" hadn't acquired a bizarre definition.

Oh, so it sounds like you mean your children, who might—horror of horrors—be forced—forced, I say!—to read a book where someone has two mothers or where two penguins raise a chick together.  And then they might—oh no, anything but that!—ask you a question or something.  So by "think of the children!" you mean "I don't like having to talk to mine."

2) Webster

Dictionaries don't create meaning, they report it (sometimes poorly).   Not that "marriage" actually has meant much of anything we currently use it to mean throughout human history, since, after all, its a concept humans invented to serve their own purposes at varied places and times.  The Bible alone reports polygyny, concubinage, and forced marrying of deceased siblings' spouses, none of which we're anxious to include today.  Sometimes spouses have been selected by parents* and sometimes they were self-selected.  Sometimes marriage was a practical economic arrangement (division of labor).  Sometimes people paid to marry someone, and sometimes they were paid.  Sometimes marriage is assumed to be monogamous, sometimes not.  (Sometimes it actually is, sometimes not.)  Sometimes it's meant to be permanent, sometimes not.  Sometimes the participants have to be of a certain age.  Sometimes they have to be of the same race or caste.  Sometimes they have to be of different sexes.  Sometimes one member controls another, sometimes they're seen as equals.  Sometimes they have to make religious vows, sometimes only secular ones.  Sometimes children are required or at least intended, sometimes that's irrelevant. Sometimes control of property and inheritance was the primary goal, sometimes sex was, sometimes love was. Sometimes you share a bed, sometimes you don't.  Sometimes you like each other and talk over breakfast, sometimes you go months without seeing each other.  Sometimes you can't have been married previously but sometimes that doesn't matter.  Sometimes you can't be married currently; sometimes that too doesn't matter.  Sometimes you have to sign things, sometimes you have to break things, sometimes you have to light things, sometimes you jump over a broom.  Sometimes there has to be a clergy member or pillar of the community to pronounce your marriage valid, but sometimes it's only between you and the other party.  Sometimes it's a partnership, sometimes it's a hierarchy.  Sometimes you're in love (sometimes before, sometimes just after). Sometimes it's a community issue (even/especially the consummation), sometimes it's private.  Sometimes it's a legal process, sometimes it's a religious process, sometimes it's a personal process; sometimes it's some combination.  Read some books on the history and functions of marriage.  Or just go look a married gay couple in the face.  (Other countries are already doing this.  Some states in this country are too.  Married gay people exist, so obviously the term "marriage" already means them.  You have already lost this battle.)

To be continued, naturally.

*I was going to put links for every single thing, but that gets old.  Everyone's capable of Googling, I hope.

Saturday, March 2, 2013


It was brought to my attention that I'm (thankfully) not the only person on the planet bothered by the "Our wives and mothers" rhetoric and that there's a White House petition about it.  (Which obviously isn't going to get anywhere near enough signatures to get a response since there're under 5,000 now and the deadline is March 15.)  Since then I've even seen the petition linked to on two blogs I read, so that's somewhat promising, though I'm still annoyed none of them noticed the problem on their own.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Our wives and mothers

My Google Reader is full of feminists.  Actual feminist blogs, style blogs written by feminists, parenting blogs written by feminists, a couple news sources where one is more or less guaranteed to see a feminist coverage of any large event among the six or seven articles they publish concerning it, etc.  And yet somehow I am entirely alone in seeing something a little questionable in the president's feminism as expressed in his inaugural address.  This is kind of a first for me, finding myself with more extreme thoughts than literally anyone else I've encountered, even among more or less professional feminists on the internet, people who generally spend a lot of time dissecting language and nuance and implication.  So maybe I am "just looking for things to be offended about," * or maybe I'm just that special.  At any rate, I wanted to explore my thoughts a little bit.

*  I'm not.  Though obviously I do look at basically everything with, first and foremost, a critical attitude, so if there's an aspect in which something is unfair or questionable, I'm going to notice it, and of course I'm going to point it out.  That's how I work, yo.

The section in question, which was Facebooked and blogged by several women I know and loads of random internet women, goes like this:

For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the lawfor if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.

So, first of all:  yes, obviously, to the sentiment.  Women should earn fair wages on par with men and gay people's marriages matter as much as straight people's.  No quibble there.

However, I find this part to be, ironically, a sudden (linguistic, rhetorical) departure from his previous language of inclusivity.  It's a subtle shift, but I find it surprisingly alienating.  If Obama is suddenly talking about "our" wives and mothers and daughters and "our" gay brothers and sisters, the "we" he is speaking to doesn't seem to actually include those people who are the wives/mothers/daughters, brothers/sisters.  He suddenly seems to be speaking to those in charge, those with the power, those who are 'neutral,' who actually (functionally, historically, are perceived to) make up the "we" of the citizenry of America.  And that implication is where I suddenly have a problem.  For these sentences he shifts into the usual language of privilege and exclusivity that I generally see all around but that is the result of attitudes that he is explicitly trying to end.  Sure, let's give rights to those people.  "We" in our benevolence, can bestow that upon them.  It's perpetuating the attitude he's trying to solve.

I'm really surprised that nobody else has had this reaction, because it stuck out like a sore thumb to me.  Reading down the transcript, you get we, we, we, together, together, together, "we have always understood," "this generation of Americans," "for we, the people, understand...," "we understand...," "we, the people, still believe...," "any one of us," "the commitments we make to each other," "we, the people," "we, the people," "we."  All togetherness and unity and melded identity, and then, wait a second, "our wives, our mothers, and daughters."  Except he's talking about me.  In the third person.  And if I'm not part of the "we" here, I'm left to wonder if I've been part of the "we" all along or if this whole speech is addressed to people who aren't  me.

And it really is rather abrupt and rather unique.  He didn't say "our friends who are parents of a disabled child," he just said, "parents of a disabled child," which I at least take as the implied "those of us who," or "if you end up being."  He didn't say "when our old spent their twilight years in poverty," he said, "when twilight years were spent in poverty."  He does say "our brave men and women in battle," but I feel like that's different and rings more of "those of us who..." than "our sons and daughters" (which he could have, and often has, said).  It's all about smoothing over differences and kind of looking past individuality, about identifying as part of an amorphous blob of citizenry.  (Which I don't mean to sound negative; we could use more of that.)  We, we, we, together, my fellow Americans, you and I as citizens...  Why not continue with "Our journey is not complete until we all, regardless of gender, can earn a living equal to our efforts" (or even "until we all can earn...," though I assume he wants to specifically point out gender, and I dig that) or "until our income is not dependent on our gender" or "until those of us who are women can earn a living in accordance with our effort"?  Why not "until we view all marriage as equal" or "until we all can enjoy the legal and social sanction of our declared love" or "those of us who are gay enjoy equality under the law" or "all our marriages are equal, as our love is"?

I actually have less of a problem with the gay part, I guess because "our brothers and sisters" still more invokes "each other" than "our wives and mothers and daughters" does.  (At least I hope it's not just that I am a woman and not gay.  That would be disappointingly normal of me.)  So while I still don't like the alienating "our," it's more an "our" of "our friends" than "our children."  It's a mutual relationship being implied.  And "brothers and sisters" is obviously meant yet a step more metaphorically than "wives and mothers."  Plus I feel like the follow-up sentence furthers the thought and focuses on the identity and equality more:  "for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well."  Back to "we."  And not a "we are equal with them," but a "we [all of us] are equal [with each other]."

Secondarily, I have a problem with people being defined in relation to others.  Part of this is connected, but part of it is distinct.  I've never liked politicians talking about "our children and grandchildren" when what they mean is either young Americans or future generations of Americans, partially because (as above) it alienates any minors who happen to be listening and paying attention (or, well, not even minorsI'm going to be alive when the environment self-destructs, and I'm going to be around when Social Security runs out...), but partially because  it unnecessarily links people to us, gives us the primacy and the importance.  If doing something about the environment is important because of its effects on future people, it's important regardless of how those people may be connected to us.  You shouldn't have to have a personal connection to someone to care.  And I know it's metaphorical and is an accepted rhetorical device, and I know that most people really do care more about things when they have a personal relationship with someone it affects (and that's fine, though I would prefer it to be more in a drawing-one's-attention way and less in a hey-that's-my-grandson-you're-talking-about way), but I don't really think that sort of absurdity should be encouraged.

It's offensive to other people's full autonomy as individuals and human beings to couch their existence in relation to ours.  "Our children"?  Blech.  "Our wives and mothers"?  Even blech-er.  This is, obviously, generally much more often done with women ("our children" and "our sons (and daughters) off to war" being the only common exceptions).  Sorry, I am a person.  My rights and my earning power, much less this country's willingness to stand for my equality and full citizenship, should have absolutely nothing to do with my being anyone's wife or mother or daughter.  I'm neither a wife nor a mother, and while obviously all women are technically someone's daughter...really? That's not part of my identity.  That's not who I am, it's just a thing one can say about me.  Like ten or so things down the list.  And you know?  That kind of makes it more important that I make an appropriate amount of money.

(And yeah, I just did kind of the same thing rhetorically, switching to talking about "me" instead of "women."  Fair enough, what I deserve or want doesn't matter either; relating to myself instead of abstractly is exactly the problem.  But the difference is I'm not trying to smash the entire country into one happy huggy together-identifying mass though the power of my words.  Also, this is a personal blog and I am one person, and my job in the world is to be that one person and not a representative of anything else.  So yeah, lots of first-person singular here.  Also, of course, the fact that apparently nobody else out there has quite the same take on this as I do, so of course I'm only speaking of myself.)

Friday, January 11, 2013


A revelation I had at some point in 2012:  You can choose clothes based on something other than aesthetics.  Or rather, you can make choices about your appearance and presentation that aren't rooted in making you look as attractive and pleasing as possible.

I know, right?  Simultaneously mindnumbingly obvious and completely revolutionary.

I can deliberately choose to wear skinny jeans even though they make my legs look shorter and even though they draw attention to my disproportionately heavy thighs.*  I can even choose them because that.  Hello, world, I'm going to stick my thighs in your face and there's nothing you can do about it!

* It is possible this is just me being insecure.  That's kind of beside the point, though.  I can wear clothes that I don't think necessarily flatter my body!  And I can like them and be happy about them and just go out in the freaking world and live already instead of worrying about it like I'm really letting somebody down by not downplaying my "flaws" and highlighting my "assets."

I mean, I always knew that some people chose clothes or hairstyles for practical reasons:  they don't show dirt or they stretch with you or it's easy to wash and wear.  But I always thought of this as a sacrifice, as a tradeoff, that they were giving up on looking nice by prioritizing something else.

But you can wear horizontal stripes because, gasp, you like them, or because you like flouting rules.  You can wear tank tops even though you have broad shoulders, or cropped pants even if you have short legs or mustard even if you're pale or...I don't know, I'm running out, but there are loads of these rules, and you can ignore all of them!  Because society at large doesn't have the right to demand of you that you look as hourglassy and poreless as possible.  You're not required to try to adopt a body shape you don't have, or accentuate the one you do.  You can emphasize whatever you want.  You can be deliberately ugly.

Seriously, nothing is as awesome as people thumbing their nose at other people's demands.  I don't have to smile in public, I don't have to wear only flattering colors, I can slick my hair back away from my face in the least flattering way (as my mother kept encouraging me away from and even outright banning when I was in middle school) as a deliberate signal to society (/men) that I don't want their approval, that I have other stuff going on in my life.

Edited to add this, which I have no idea what it's from (other than the comment on a post I just read, but it purports to be from elsewhere), which, YES:
"Pretty is not the rent you pay for occupying a space marked 'female'."

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Bra Rage

OK, so I know the internet is overflowing with women ranting about incorrect bra sizing recommendations and how they've all been properly measured and are really a 30F instead of the 34B they've been wearing their entire lives and lamenting the difficulties of finding bras in their proper sizes and actually being able to afford such things and it really doesn't need another.

But seriously, y'all, bra measurement today is ridiculous.  Everyone is just going around reprinting the same sizing instructions that they've always encountered everywhere else without even stopping to envision what that would mean.  They're certainly not manufacturing bras that fit their own measurement guidelines.

Oft-cited "oh, it's as easy as 1, 2, 3" bra measurement advice:  measure around your ribcage at or just below where your bra band sits.  Add five inches to that (and then also round up if you get an odd number) to get your band size.  Measure around your bust at the fullest point.  Subtract your band size from your bust measurement, and if it's a one-inch difference, you're an A; two, a B; three, a C; and so forth.  (No difference or a very small difference would be a AA.)

Except how does this work in real life?  Unless you have more than a five-inch difference between your ribcage measurement and your bust measurement, you should be wearing...a negative cup size?  And even then, if you have seven inches of difference, you're a mere B cup?

Huh, anyone think this could possibly have anything at all to do with the oft-touted "studies" (read:  likely entirely mythical, like the eight glasses of water a day thing) that inform us that 50/70/80/85% of women are wearing the wrong size bra?!  (How insulting can you get?  Women!  You can't even follow a simple three-step measuring process (that leaves you with nonsensical results and has nothing in common with the bras actually sold in the real world)!)  The only actual study I ran across was this, which I'm not going to pay $31.50 to read, but whose abstract claims that 100% of the women (admittedly a biased sample since it was women seeking breast-reduction surgery) were wearing the incorrect bra size "when compared with manufacturers' fitting guidelines."

Oh, manufacturers' fitting guidelines?  How funny you should mention...

My adventure started out on the Champion website (this whole thing was sparked by my merely needing a real sports bra that doesn't come from Old Navy).  "Fit matters," their sizing guide advises.  (Just not enough for us to put accurate information on our website...)  Sure enough, "Measure snugly and evenly around or just below your existing band.  Add 5 to that measurement and round up to the next even number.  This measurement is your band size.  To double-check your band size, measure around your torso below your armpits.  If this measurement is close to the band measurement, then your measurements are accurate.  Measure loosely around the fullest part of your bust, keeping the tape even.  Subtract the band size from the bust size.  The difference between the two measurements is your cup size.  (See chart.)  Test fit with your athletic motion.  Imitate the intended activity to check fit and support."  (The chart in fact shows the normal 1"=A, 2"=B progression -- the one thing the entire internet can agree on, apparently.)

OK, my rib cage measures 30.5".  My bust, 34.5".  Over my bust, 33".

So let's see, 30.5 + 5 = 35.5, and then round up to an even 36
34.5 - 36 = -1.5  (depending on how one is supposed to round the bust size, that's a -1 to -2)
So, a 36 negative A to negative B.  Awesome, because that's totally a real size.  (How nice of them to tell me to compare it to my over-bust measurement for accuracy.  Well, no, it's not close so is probably inaccurate.  Except, you know, that's my actual measurements, so what are you going to do?)

Well, let's try Victoria's Secret.  Their "how to measure" guide recommends measuring above your bust to get your band number and ignoring your rib cage entirely:  "Hold the tape measure around your back at band level.  Then bring it to the front, just above your bust.  The resulting number is your band size.
Hint:  If the number is odd, round down to the closest even number."  (Ooh, rounding down.  This shows promise.)  If your bust measurement is a half-inch, they advise rounding that up.

So for VS:
34.5 rounds up to 35
35 - 33 = B

Gap, where I actually purchase my basic bras (in size 34C, though I actually do think it's quite likely that's the wrong size, but they at least fit on my body and contain my breasts), gives you the option of going up or down, which I appreciate:  "Because standard band sizes are even numbers only, if you have an odd-numbered band size, you may need to go up or down a size depending on how you like your bra to fit."  They stick with the +5 band size and also advise you can "double check your band size by measuring loosely around your back, even with your bra line, bringing the tape to the front just above your bra line" (but with, again, no recommendation on what to do if this is vastly different...which, you know, it is, except for people who happen to fall exactly in the range of having a volume of breast that bumps that measurement to exactly five inches more than the rib measurement).

So again, 36 negative A-B.  Or if I go with the over-bust measurement, 32B-C or 34AA-A, depending on which way I round each measurement.  (It occurs to me that regardless of how one has to round to get to a band size that's sold, one should probably compare the actual measurements of the one with the actual measurements of the other when determining cup size.  Not that anyone recommends that.  So, let's see, a 1" difference between overbust and bust, so a 32 or 34A?  Never mind.  Or using the ribcage measurements, that's a difference of four inches, which would be a D.  But certainly not a 36D, right?)

Old Navy has the same info as Gap but in a different format, while Athleta has the same except specifies to round down for the band and up for the bust.  So a 30D?

Maidenform has this to say:  "Most women measure their ribcage under their breasts to get their band measurement. [notice their complete lack of ownership of your results; "most women" also wear the wrong size bra...]  Double check this measurement by wrapping a tape measure snugly around your back, under your arms and across the top of your chest above your breasts. Because your ribcage expands and contracts as you breathe, taking both measurements will help you find your most comfortable fit." As this is under the heading "Band Measurement" and there is no follow-up, dare I assume we're not adding anything to anything?  This shows promise.  Except there's also no hints on rounding, and 30.5 either rounds down to 30 or up to 32, which isn't quite even...  So, let's see, a 30D-DD if I round the rib measurement down, a 32 B-C if I round up (or 32D if I determine my cup size before doing any rounding), or a 32B-C or 34A-B going from the above-bust measurement.  Well, that's basically every size possible, now, isn't it?  But then there's also a sizing conversion chart included that lists under-bust measurements of 30-31 inches corresponding to above-bust measurements of 36-41 inches, which correspond respectively to 36AA to 36DD.  I assume this is just pasted in from elsewhere and doesn't actually reflect their bra sizing philosophy (it seems to align more or less with the +5 measurement style).

Calvin Klein, another retailer from which I have personally worn multiple bras (though again, likely ill-fitting ones, as they simultaneously ride up in the back and bulge breast tissue over the cups in the armpit area, but if I sized down the band and up the cup like I've heard most of us should do (and would agree with), that would leave me wearing a 32 D or DD, the former of which still leaves breast tissue in my armpits and the latter of which doesn't exist, because heaven knows nobody is allowed to be a DD unless they have the large band size to match (40DD, say) or are a porn star (who apparently deserve not to have well-fitting bras either, the hussies; that'll teach them)) starts to sound vaguely like how I would recommend measuring for a bra, based on what size bras have historically fit me.  "Wrap a measuring tape closely around the rib cage, just below the breasts.  If this calculation results in an odd number, round up to the next even number. this number is the band size."  So a 32C-D.

Playtex has a video about fit, presumably as an attempt to attract younger women, but this younger woman is a text-and-chart kind of gal, so we're not off to a terribly good start.  (Also, the woman does a lot of shimmying and looking terribly proud about everything.  And says "the girls" in the most incredibly ridiculous wink-wink kind of way.  I'm sorry, I am not in possession of girls; I have breasts.  That you are supposed to be teaching me how to fit appropriately.)  They hedge a whole lot, with the text preceding the video warning, "Most women wear the wrong size. Are you one of them? It's always best to get a professional fitting, but here's a guide to measure yourself. We know how important the right fit is and that it’s specific to every woman, so remember that this video is just one way to measure yourself and get started."  Then Ms. Shimmy-Shimmy in the actual video recommends that you schedule an annual bra-fitting appointment just like you would a doctor's visit, but then says, "It's always tougher to measure yourself, but if you want to try at home, here are some tips to help you."  I'm pretty sure the measuring oneself is not what is the tough part of this whole process, as I imagine we've all come to see by now...

At any rate, rib plus 5 (and then round up if necessary to get an even number) unless 38 or more, in which case add 3.  Double-check by measuring above (round up to even, but no adding).  This puts me again at the tiresome 36 negative something-or-other cup size.  It's also amusing that there's a sharp line at 38, which leaves a 35.5" ribcage and a 38" ribcage wearing the same 42 band size.

A variety of oh-so-helpful online bra calculators churn out the following sizes (respectively):  36A, 34D, 34B, or 34D ("Note: many bra manufacturers, especially in the US, will add four, five, or even six inches to the band size."  No they won't, they'll just tell you they are and then look at you like you're insane when you could shove an extra person into your bra band with you.).

Then there are the bra calculators from people who appear to be aware of all these crazy problems (by which I mean linked to by or embedded in blog posts by the aforementioned enraged internet denizens)  and do something akin to measuring your ribcage, measuring your bust, calculating your cup size from the difference, and then finding a band that seems appropriate (this is actually much easier and much more in line with actual bras; why do women's magazines and manufacturers cling to their varied and silly ways?), which would put me at (respectively) 30DD, 30DD-E (if I want a "very snugly"-fitting band) or 32D ("moderately snugly"), 30C ("Please note that we do not use the plus 4 method, so this calculator may not be suitable for women up to a C cup."  Funny, I thought this adding-extra-inches-everywhere method (though five everywhere I actually saw, it's frequently referred to as "plus-four") was least likely to work for people up to a C cup...), or anywhere from 32C to 32B to 34AA to 34A depending on how I round each half-inch.

Oh, that cleared up everything.  I can wear a 30C-E, 32B-D, 34AA-D, or 36 from negative cup sizes through an A.  (It's especially worth pointing out that nowhere (at least not these manufacturers!) actually carries 30" bands in cup sizes over B, 32 in over a C, 34 in less than an A, or 36 in less than a B.)

It's especially interesting that most of these manufacturers or sites explain how to determine poor fit -- the band shouldn't ride up (too big), breast tissue shouldn't spill over (cup too small) or gape (cup too big), straps shouldn't fall down (cup too large) or cut into your shoulders (cup too small, I assume).  Combining any manufacturer's sizing guidelines with their fitting guidelines leaves one entirely throwing one or the other out the window.  As I said before, CK and Gap bras more or less fit at 34 C but their bands ride up (especially when they stretch) and there's tissue spillage.  So I should go down to a 32" band and up to a D to find the proper "sister size" (a 34C and 32D and 36B theoretically all permit the same volume of breast tissue; since cup size is dependent on band size it's not an absolute measure of anything on its own).  Then, assuming the 32D does actually fit my breasts themselves the same as the 34C, I should go up another size to eliminate the spillage issue.  This puts me at a 32DD, which neither manufacturer carries.  A 32D doesn't fit in either (pushes half my breast out my armpit), nor does a 34D (simultaneously leaves me with armpit boob and front cup gapping).

The internet community of women who care about these things loudly encourages everyone to get a professional bra fitting (not at a department store, where it will be more of this +5 nonsense and/or advising you they don't carry your size) and then special order bras (by the truckload--preferably from England--since every manufacturer differs).  Which is absolutely insane, given that I'm actually perfectly normal and average body and chest size.  I should not need to special order undergarments unless they are actually building them bespoke.  Bra companies are simultaneously completely failing to provide bras for large women (which we all knew, I think, given that I have never in my life seen a bra in a store with a cup size larger than DD, and I'm not sure I've seen any band sizes over 42), small women, medium women, and anyone else.  What with sister sizing, there is a terribly narrow range of actual breast proportions that are acceptable.  (If 32D = 34C = 36B = 38A, you can really only have about one cup size's worth of variation before you run out of appropriate band sizes on either end even if you're a smallish to mediumish band size to start.)

So yeah.  I feel like I should spend today trying on every single bra the Victoria's Secret in my mall has and then yell at them about how their sizing chart doesn't reflect reality (even though that gets closer to a bra size I would actually wear, I know from experience the bra sizes they recommend for me aren't the size of their brand of bras that actually fits me) and then dissolving into tears while throwing bras across the store.  Or taking fitting-room pictures of me wearing the size bras manufacturers recommend and sending them to them with "???!!!!" captions.  Or going up to hapless sales clerks and asking them whether they think I'm a 36 negative-A or 36 negative-B, because I'm between sizes, you see, and don't know which way to go.

Instead I'm likely going to just keep wearing my crappy Old Navy sports bras (size:  medium) and stretched-to-hell ill-fitting underwires.  So keep the sanctimonious moralizing to yourself, cheery women's magazines citing astonishing "studies" of huge percentages of women who don't know how to even fit themselves for a bra. Those who do know how to fit themselves can't find bras to wear, and those who don't have a good freaking reason.  (Isn't capitalism supposed to solve these problems?!)

Or, you know, I'll actually turn into a bra burning feminist.