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Archive for March, 2008


One more time, the trolls and troglodytes are harassing women on the web. This time, sex columnist Violet Blue came in for a bunch of unwarranted crap. She fought back late last week with a column that’s worth reading in its entirety (so go check it out). The proximate cause of it was this chivalrous comment in an online chat about sex scandals:

“Sorry, but being an unattractive skank is not enough to make you an expert. Watching Violet is like watching the female version of Bill Gates expound on sex — something you just don’t want to see. Or hear (thank God we don’t have smell-o-vision!)”

Eew. Thank God we don’t have to see what this guy is insecure about! Does he look like the Geico caveman? Or is he just an ordinary guy who’d be lucky to get a date with a smart, witty, attractive woman like Violet Blue who knows way more about sex than he ever will?

See? I can play that game too. But mostly, when women attack men online, we go after the substance of what they’ve said. We do sometimes take aim at their personal qualities, especially when they’ve got a long track record of assholery and dipshittery. I’m speaking now mostly about liberal women, not wingnut women, who generally inhabit a different Internet than I do.

Women aren’t angels. Online, plenty of women indulge in ad hominem attacks, launched at each other as well as at men. That’s part of the general coarseness and incivility that online anonymity seems to breed in people. (For a particularly vile example of this, see this comment thread at Pandagon, which in general is one of my favorite-most blogs.)

But liberal women don’t generally attack people’s appearance as a first or even last resort, and I have yet to see a woman threaten another poster with physical and/or sexual violence. While men, too, can take the brunt of nasty and even bullying behavior online, I don’t know of any case involving a man that went as far as the death threats that dogged Kathy Sierra and forced her to quit tech blogging.

Violet Blue’s response to the targeting of women online was inspired – and inspiring:

I just write and talk about sex. But every woman on the Internet gets called slutty and ugly and fat (to put it lightly) no matter what; all we have to be is female. …

The problem is, with so many women I talk to, the trolling is effective. The number of times I’ve talked down a crying girlfriend after she’s been trolled in her comments about being fat, ugly, skanky, slutty or stupid is higher than I can count (no matter what she writes about). Trolls watch too much mainstream porn and TV, and believe stereotypes are real; they slap us with it and then we believe it, too. …

In Margaret Cho‘s “Beautiful” tour, she talks about recently being on a radio show and having the host ask her point-blank, live, on the air, “What if you woke up one day, and you were beautiful?” When asked, he defined beautiful as blonde, thin, large-breasted, a porno stereotype. Cho says, “Just think of what life is like for this poor guy. There’s beauty all around him in the world, and he can only see the most narrow definition of it.”

So maybe if you’re a woman, you’re just going to be fat and ugly on the Internet no matter what you look like, say or do. Of course, I could swap out my SFGate bio photo for Jenna Jameson’s. Then maybe we’d have some serious discourse about sex culture around here.

(I quoted at length because it’s all spot-on, but do read the rest here.)

Right. It’s a classic double bind. If you’re sexy, you can’t be smart and serious. If you’re smart and serious, you’d better not reveal your sexy side or you won’t be taken seriously. And yet, when women don’t combine all those things at once, we fall short of what Anna Quindlen called “effortless perfection.”

I’m not suggesting the guys need to shoot for perfection, too. But how about we all cut women a little slack, and let us be our imperfect, sexy, smart, silly, sassy selves – out loud, in public, without fearing attacks on our person or safety.

Photo by Flickr user Lady-bug, used under a Creative Commons license.

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The latest tactic out of the Clinton camp has got me laughing (not out loud – it’s more of an internal snicker). They’re questioning whether Obama has the right to say he’s been a “professor” at the University of Chicago. As summarized by Salon’s War Room, here’s the accusation on Clinton campaign’s website:

“Sen. Obama consistently and falsely claims that he was a law professor.” The item referenced a Chicago Sun-Times article that stated, “‘Several direct-mail pieces issued for Obama’s primary [Senate] campaign said he was a law professor at the University of Chicago. He is not. He is a senior lecturer (now on leave) at the school. In academia, there is a vast difference between the two titles. Details matter.’ In academia, there’s a significant difference: professors have tenure while lecturers do not.”

This is true up to a point. Beyond the assistant professor rank, professors have tenure. As a rule, professors are at least tenure-eligible, though my university also has a special category of non-tenure-line professors. University administrators like that, because they can be fired capriciously.

Personally, I can’t call myself a professor, because I’m a lowly instructor. This is a theoretically less secure spot than the non-tenurable professors, as I’m hired only on a quarterly basis, but practically speaking, I’m more secure since I’m the cheapest labor they’ve got. I’m a captive “trailing spouse” – an awful term that always evokes snail trails for me – but I keep adjuncting for the love of it, even though Wal-Mart, our only other large local employer, might well give me better benefits. Seriously. That’s assuming that Wal-Mart would even hire me, a dubious proposition since they’d smell subversion as soon as I walked in the door. Anyway, the administration really loves people like me, and they’d probably be happy if we had 95% of all teaching staff in my category, with the other 5% reserved as actual professorships for Famous People who teach only a reduced load anyway.

But that’s the true and ugly story of how the more academic branches of academia function. As War Room points out, in professional schools such as law and medicine, the titles get blurry and don’t map onto the rest of the professoriate.

It’s not too suprising, then, that the University of Chicago has issued a statement in full support of Obama calling himself a professor:

From 1992 until his election to the U.S. Senate in 2004, Barack Obama served as a professor in the Law School. He was a Lecturer from 1992 to 1996. He was a Senior Lecturer from 1996 to 2004, during which time he taught three courses per year. Senior Lecturers are considered to be members of the Law School faculty and are regarded as professors, although not full-time or tenure-track. The title of Senior Lecturer is distinct from the title of Lecturer, which signifies adjunct status. Like Obama, each of the Law School’s Senior Lecturers have high-demand careers in politics or public service, which prevent full-time teaching. Several times during his 12 years as a professor in the Law School, Obama was invited to join the faculty in a full-time tenure-track position, but he declined.
(I’m not sure how permanent this link will be; sorry if it’s not stable. For more detail on this, see also FactCheck.)

Pretty clear, huh?

So Clinton and her cronies are playing a game that I recall from my time hanging around German universities, where everyone is closely scrutinized to make sure they haven’t appropriated a title they don’t deserve. I remember early on during my research in Berlin, I referred to the director of an archive as “Herr Doktor So-und-so,” and his secretary – who was scandalized! – told me I’d better refer to him as “Herr Doktor Doktor So-und-so” because he had two doctorates. And as horrified as she was, I was grateful for the correction; the guy made me nervous as it was, with his waxed mustache and his grandson-of-Bismarck demeanor.

So that’s why I had to snicker at the absurdity of Clinton’s tactic. It reminds me of some of the pettiest jockeying for respect in academia. You wouldn’t think it could have legs in politics.

And yet, it’s not funny in the least if you recall how the Republicans and the media pigeonholed Al Gore as a serial exaggerator. The title of Clinton’s press release? “Just Embellished Words: Senator Obama’s Record of Exaggerations & Misstatements.” Eek. Wanna bet on whether the press is smart enough to sniff out the real exaggerators and mis-staters in this kerfuffle?

LOLcat by me, featuring my own dearly departed Grey Kitty, at I Can Has Cheezburger?

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Via Art Levine at the Huffington Post, I read today of a new Pew Foundation report that casts a disturbing light on the role of race in this presidential campaign:

In particular, white Democrats who hold unfavorable views of Obama are much more likely than those who have favorable opinions of him to say that equal rights for minorities have been pushed too far; they also are more likely to disapprove of interracial dating, and are more concerned about the threat that immigrants may pose to American values. In addition, nearly a quarter of white Democrats (23%) who hold a negative view of Obama believe he is a Muslim.
(quotation from the Pew Foundation)

So, this is pretty straightforward. Except I’m not sure how equal rights can be pushed too far; you’re either equal – or you’re not. (This is a corollary of: you’re either logical – or you’re not!)

In other words, Obama’s Democratic foes are more likely than other Democrats to be racist, xenophobic, and religiously intolerant.

And would someone please explain to me: Why is it considered a smear to call someone a Muslim? I haven’t known that many Muslims well. But those I’ve known (I’m thinking particularly of a straight-A student from Indonesia whom I had the pleasure of teaching last spring) have tended to be a heck of a lot more reasonable and open-minded than many people who claim to be Christians.

Interestingly, gender is playing a more benign role in Democratic voters’ attitudes. Says the Pew Foundation:

Gender makes a significant difference in personal perceptions of Hillary Clinton. Democratic women voters are much more likely than their male counterparts to view Clinton as honest and down-to-earth, and they more often report that Clinton makes them feel proud and hopeful.

That is to say, gender is creating positive identifications. The reverse doesn’t seem to be a big factor. Pew notably does not report that Obama supporters tend to be more sexist than the average Dems. Instead, they found the reverse correlation:

Democrats with more liberal views on interracial dating, the country’s pursuit of equal rights, and even the question of whether men make better leaders, hold a more favorable opinion of Obama than do Democrats with conservative views on these questions. [My emphasis.]

By contrast, most of these values are only weakly related to favorability ratings of Clinton. Taken together, they give little indication of a Democratic voter’s impression of Clinton.

Given the relative youth of Obama supporters, this seems to reflect generational change, with young people rejecting their parents’ and grandparents’ tired old racism and sexism. I like to think that’s true, and this Pew survey happily bears it out. (Follow the links for the detailed data, which show a striking generational shift away from open prejudice.)

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Good news for mamas and babies who don’t want to live in seclusion until the kid is weaned. The AP reports:

The Vermont Human Rights Commission ruled there are grounds to believe Freedom Airlines discriminated against a woman ordered off a plane after refusing to cover up while breast-feeding her child. …

The panel found grounds to believe that Freedom Airlines, a subsidiary of Mesa Air Group, Inc., “violated Vermont’s prohibition against discrimination against women breast feeding in places of public accommodation,” said Commission Executive Director Robert Appel.

First off, how fucking cool is it that Vermont has a Human Rights Commission? A quick Google search on “Ohio” and “human rights” turned up a hit for Ken Blackwell (who served on the UN Human Rights Commission! WTF?) and a colleague of mine here at the university who’s got an intriguing project on human rights and feminist ethics. But no Ohio commission for human rights. Maybe one exists; but doesn’t the name matter? How can we get one of these?

And how ironic is it that the offending company is called Freedom Airlines?

Here’s the incident that sparked this case, again according to the AP:

On Oct. 13, 2006, Gillette, her husband and their then 22-month-old daughter, River, were headed to New York. While waiting at the gate to take off, Gillette, seated next to the window in the next to last row, began to breast feed her child.

She says a flight attendant handed her a blanket and told her to cover up. She refused. A short time later they were removed from the plane.

If you’re reading my blog, you probably already agree that this is just silly. America really stands alone in so thoroughly sexualizing women’s breasts that we’re scandalized when they’re used to give a child a healthy start.

What I want to add is how impractical a blanket usually is. Both my boys – but especially the Bear, who was born with his eyes wide open and pretty much hasn’t closed them since – would never settle for eating under a tent, at least not once they were able to lift their heads. I mean, try throwing a large beach towel over your head during dinner and see how much you enjoy your meal! Better yet, move your plate into the bathroom and then savor your towel-bedecked meal. That’s what babies and mamas are repeatedly demanded to do.

This kid was nearly two years old, so you can imagine how gladly she would’ve accepted a blanket over her face. Of course, if she’d thrown a tantrum as a result, that might’ve gotten her ejected, too. Then again, if your kid just repeatedly says “bye-bye” and you refuse to dope her with Benadryl, that alone can get you booted these days.

It doesn’t have to be like this for nursing mamas and babies. I did most of the early care and feeding of the Bear in Germany, where he was born, and you know what? Breastfeeding in public was just a non-issue. Like most civilized people, the Germans recognize that sometimes, a breast is just a breast. And that mother’s milk is a human right.

LOLmama and well-nursed LOLkitteh from I Can Has Cheezburger?

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Flying the Hostile Skies


I just heard the oddest, most infuriating air travel story of the year. And it happened to a dear friend of mine. In fact, she’s still grounded as I write this. But more on that in a moment.

You may have heard earlier this week that a federal appeals court struck down a New York state law that would have required airlines to provide food water, fresh air, and only slightly revolting toilets to any passengers trapped on the tarmac for over three hours. The judges’ reasoning was that only the federal government has the power to regulate air traffic, which I actually find persuasive, since most of us do cross state borders whenever we fly (California and Alaska being obvious exceptions).

Similar legislation has cleared the U.S. House of Representatives and is now awaiting Senate action, so there’s hope of redress. I can actually imagine Dubya slapping the bill with a veto, because the poor widdle incompetent airlines don’t like it. Of course, he’d face the wrath of millions – not that that’s ever stopped him.

But grounding is not just for delays anymore! My friend J. is stranded in Albuquerque this morning with her two young daughters, and it’s largely due to what you might call an anti-delay. They arrived more than an hour in advance, but the check-in lines made the terminal look more like a football stadium (as J.’s husband told me) and they missed their plane.

The kicker? The plane left ten minutes early.

Maybe the airlines have decided that on-time stats can be calculated as an average, and if enough flights leave ten minutes early, they’ll balance out those six- and ten-hour delays. This might also be a clever tactic for when they’ve overbooked, so they can avoid compensating bumped passengers. And of course, if you could leave all the passengers on the ground, just think of the fuel savings!

The culprit this time is United. If my friends don’t make it back in time for their scheduled playdate with my kids tomorrow, I’ll be tempted to tape my kids’ sad, whiny, complaining reaction and send it to United’s CEO.

Flying kittehs from I Can Has Cheezburger?

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I’m still fuzzy-headed from caffeine deprivation, so in lieu of clever thoughts, here’s a silly quiz. The great thing about online quizzes is that you get all the fun you’d get from an issue of Cosmo, but without 1) having to shell out money on dreck, 2) being spotted by your friends at the grocery store while you’re buying said dreck, or 3) having to first page through the stinky perfume ads and the more-they-change-the-more-they-stay-the-same sex tips.

Anyway, I’d have been bitterly disappointed if the quiz had come back much different than this. I think it overstates my greed slightly and definitely understates my sloth. The rest seems just about right. Then again, maybe greed has some overlap with lust. It should, logically, right?

Greed: Medium
Gluttony: Medium
Wrath: Low
Sloth: Medium
Envy: Medium
Lust: Very High
Pride: Low

Discover Your Sins – Click Here

And when/if you take the quiz, do share it in comments! Good thing for me that nosiness is evidently only a venial sin.

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Fur the Sake of Fashion

Via Benny Bleiman of Zooillogix at Science Blogs comes a real dog of a fashion news item:

A totally normal British couple has made headlines by wearing sweaters, knitted out of the hair of their deceased pet dogs. Beth and Brian Willis have made two sweaters, one out of Kara, a Samoyed, and the other from Penny, a Swedish Lapphund.

Hmm, totally normal? Well, I guess I’m always saying that normalcy – like gender and race and a whole bunch of other goodies – is a social construct. Some constructs have a useful and benign function, though, and “thou shalt not wear the fur of your deceased pets” seems like as a good a taboo as any.

Here are the originals:


And here’s the fashion statement/canine tribute:


I actually knew a couple who did something similar. I hadn’t thought of them in years until this news item popped up. They were my landlords in Palo Alto the summer after I graduated from college in 1986, a young couple in the thirties with no kids and, from what I gathered, some fertility issues. They kept a couple of long-hard dogs (the breed is lost to history) who seemed to function as an ersatz. I was occupying my then-boyfriend’s rented room for the summer while he was in Germany. They were very kind when Grey Kitty broke her jaw, driving us to the emergency vet at 10 p.m., well past their usual bedtime. I imagine Kitty saw this as minor compensation for all the times those critters put the fear of Dog into her.

They also evicted my boyfriend a few weeks into the fall – after he’d already lived there a year – when they figured out that he and I had been coupling in said rented room. Why it took them so long, I don’t know. They were extremely Christian, so that may explain both their naiveté and their swift, draconian reaction. (And yes, I’m pretty sure the sex was worth it.)

Anyway, a couple of years later they moved out, and somehow I heard through the grapevine that they’d been collecting dog hair in order to knit with it. I couldn’t picture it. Now I can – a bit too clearly.

Both photos from the Daily Mail (UK), which was Benny’s source, too.

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