Notes and Comment Blog

Our short and pithy observations on the passing scene as it relates to the mission of Butterflies and Wheels. Woolly-headed or razor-sharp comments in the media, anti-rationalist rhetoric in books or magazines or overheard on the bus, it’s all grist to our mill. And sometimes we will hold forth on the basis of no inspiration at all beyond what happens to occur to us.

An ugly trick of saying what is not true of any one you do not like

Aug 25th, 2013 4:16 pm | By

Because it came up in a Twitter conversation (with Vlad Chituc and Michael Payton) and because sometimes a good polemical response is called for, I thought we should revisit Hazlitt’s Letter to Gifford. (I say revisit because I did a post on it back in 2004.)

SIR, You have an ugly trick of saying what is not true of any one you do not like; and it will be the object of this letter to cure you of it. You say what you please of others : it is time you were told what you are. In doing this, give me leave to borrow the familiarity of your style : for the fidelity of the picture I shall be answerable.

You are a little person, but a considerable cat’s-paw; and so far worthy of notice. Your clandestine connection with persons high in office constantly influences your opinions, and alone gives importance to them. You are the Government Critic, a character nicely differing from that of a Government spy; the invisible link that connects literature with the police. It is your business to keep a strict eye over all writers who differ in opinion with His Majesty’s Ministers, and to measure their talents and attainments by the standard of their servility and meanness. For this office you are well qualified. Besides being the Editor of the Quarterly Review, you are also paymaster of the band of Gentlemen Pensioners ; and when an author comes before you in the one capacity, with whom you are not acquainted in the other, you know how to deal with him. You have your cue beforehand. The distinction between truth and falsehood you make no account of : you mind only the distinction between Whig and Tory. Accustomed to the indulgence of your mercenary virulence and party-spite, you have lost all relish as well as capacity for the unperverted exercises of the understanding, and make up for the obvious want of ability by a barefaced
want of principle. The same set of threadbare commonplaces, the same second-hand assortment of abusive nick-names, the same assumption of little magisterial airs of superiority, are regularly repeated ; and the ready convenient lie comes in aid of the dearth of other resources, and passes off, with impunity, in the garb of religion and loyalty.

The end sanctifies the means; and you keep no faith with heretics in religion or government. You are under the protection of the Court j and your zeal for your king and country entitles you to say what you choose of every public writer who does not do all in his power to pamper the one into a tyrant, and to trample the other into a herd of slaves. You derive your weight with the great and powerful from the very circumstance that takes away all real weight from your authority, viz., that it is avowedly, and upon every occasion, exerted for no one purpose but to hold up to hatred and contempt whatever opposes
in the slightest degree and in the most flagrant instances of abuse their pride and passions. You dictate your opinions to a party, because not one of your opinions is formed upon an honest conviction of the truth or justice of the case, but by collusion with the prejudices, caprice, interest, or vanity of your employers.

That’s a sample of it. A fine pleasure for a Sunday afternoon; I wish you joy of it.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Take that

Aug 25th, 2013 3:03 pm | By

A friend on Twitter shared some flatulence de guerre:

Image preview

Well all right then! We’ve got precedent.

Much more at io9.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)


Aug 25th, 2013 12:44 pm | By

It’s everywhere.

It’s in the RCMP.

A Mountie whose harassment complaints against the RCMP prompted legislation to modernize so-called bad apples within the force says her employer is moving to dismiss her.

Cpl. Catherine Galliford says she received a letter saying the RCMP is seeking to discharge her because she’s unable to do her job.

Galliford, who has filed a civil lawsuit against the RCMP alleging years of bullying and sexual abuse, has been on sick leave since 2006.

Let’s follow the details. The CBC reports in November 2011.

CBC News has learned that one of B.C.’s highest profile Mounties says she’s suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after years of sexual harassment.

Cpl. Catherine Galliford was the face of the B.C. RCMP for years. During her tenure as the RCMP’s spokesperson, Galliford announced the arrest of Robert William Pickton and revealed charges had been laid in the Air India bombing.

But in an internal RCMP complaint, Galliford makes serious allegations about misconduct inside the RCMP. She shared the complaint with CBC News and spoke with reporter Natalie Clancy about her claims.

“Everything that came out of his [a supervisor's] mouth was sexual,” Galliford said. “If I had a dime for every time one of my bosses asked me to sit on his knee, I’d be on a yacht in the Bahamas right now.”

Galliford says she faced constant sexual advances from several senior officers from the moment she graduated from the RCMP Academy in 1991.

But surely she just reported them and it was all taken care of, right? Because that’s what always happens, right?

Galliford says the command and control structure at the RCMP means Mounties are instructed to do as they’re told, or risk getting reprimanded.

“If they can’t screw you, they are going to screw you over. And that’s what it became like and so I started to normalize the harassment because I didn’t know what else to do,” she said.

“It just got to the point that after I had about 16 years of service, I broke. I completely broke.”

In 2007, Galliford joined the ranks of 225 B.C. Mounties who are currently off duty on sick leave.

“I’ve been off work for four years now and I have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, agoraphobia and chemical dependency on occasion,” Galliford said.

Oh. Well…uh…it’s too late now! Yeah, that’s it. She waited too long.

Mike Webster, a consulting police psychologist in private practice, believes Galliford’s deteriorating health has little to do with the murder files she worked on, and is directly linked to the harassment she faced from colleagues on the job.

“I don’t think there’s a female in the outfit who hasn’t been approached sexually,” Webster said.

“The way her employer handled it afterwards is likely to have had a greater effect on her present mental state than what she went through initially.”

Oh. Uh…she shouldn’t have gone into police work in the first place?

Webster says Galliford’s allegations come as no surprise.

“Senior executives for decades have been accountable to no one and they’ve created a toxic work environment, high levels of employee stress and a culture of fear,” Webster said.

“It’s causing a tremendous effect on the morale of the RCMP, so the grievance process doesn’t help them at all. What are they going to do? They turn to ODS, off duty sick … the RCMP membership calls it ‘off duty mad.’”

Oh. Uh…I’m all out of excuses.



(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Beware the naval gassing

Aug 25th, 2013 10:51 am | By

It’s deadly, it comes from the sea, it smells of fish and diesel oil -


Out of nowhere, apropos de bottes, context-free, random, Dadaist.

Jokes about farting on submarines always welcome.



(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Like that

Aug 24th, 2013 5:38 pm | By

From Gnu Atheism on Facebook, again.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Your career is almost certainly over

Aug 24th, 2013 4:47 pm | By

Trudeau did a series on sexual harassment in the military this past week. The one for August 22 is especially…cogent.

In fact, if you report rape, your career is almost certainly over.

People keep saying – keep shouting, roaring, bellowing – that if there is rape or harassment victims must report it and if they have failed to report it or reported it too late or reported it to the wrong person or institution (too late or wrong in the view of the shouter, of course) then they are doing a terrible, criminal thing. But the reality is that reporting rape or harassment can fuck up the victim’s life even more than it already was. It’s not the case that one can just stalk off to make a report and there you go, job done.

See August 23, too. That’s even more cogent.

Since only a tiny percentage are ever convicted, sexual predators feel free to attack with impunity.

Why are so few punished? Well, for one reason, victims have to report up the chain of command, so few of them report.

Why? 33% of victims don’t report because their superior is a friend of the rapist. 25% don’t report because he is the rapist!

Exactly, and not just in the military.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

What a sweet couple

Aug 24th, 2013 3:28 pm | By

Hey I’ve got a great idea for a sitcom. A guy rapes a girl of 14, see, and makes her pregnant, and she has the baby and her mother has to quit her job to take care of the baby. Good so far, right? Then – this is where it gets really funny – a judge decides to give jurisdiction to family court, so the girl is stuck with him for the next sixteen years! Hilarious or what?

The rape victim doesn’t think so.

“The plaintiff, a rape victim in a state criminal matter, became pregnant in 2009 at age 14 as a result of the crime and gave birth to her attacker’s child,” the lawsuit states.

“The defendant in the state criminal proceeding, age 20 at the time of the impregnation, was convicted of rape in 2011 and was sentenced to 16 years probation. Conditions of probation include an order that he initiate proceedings in family court and comply with that court’s orders until the child reaches adulthood. The plaintiff here seeks to enjoin enforcement of so much of the state court’s order as violates her federal rights by binding her to an unwanted 16-year legal relationship with her rapist.”

H.T., who recently graduated from high school, says the order forces her to participate in unwanted court proceedings for 16 years with the man who raped her, and to spend money on legal fees.

But…um…family values?

 In June 2012, H.T. found out that Melendez was seeking visitation rights with the child.

After a family court judge ordered Melendez to pay $110 a week in child support, he Melendez asked for visitation rights, and offered to withdraw his request in exchange for not having to pay child support, according to the lawsuit.

“Melendez had no prior contact with the child and had expressed no interest in the child, but no Massachusetts law forbids the enforcement of visitation rights by a biological father who causes a child’s birth through the crime of rape,” the complaint states.

The law is an ass.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

The hatred of Skyler

Aug 24th, 2013 12:36 pm | By

Who else? Well there’s Anna Gunn, who plays the character Skyler White on Breaking Bad (which I’ve never seen, I should add in case I’m expected to be knowledgeable about the show). She gets hatred and threats, because…well because she plays this one tv character that people don’t like, because her character is a woman, married to a man, and even though the man does some bad things, well…

My character, to judge from the popularity of Web sites and Facebook pages devoted to hating her, has become a flash point for many people’s feelings about strong, nonsubmissive, ill-treated women. As the hatred of Skyler blurred into loathing for me as a person, I saw glimpses of an anger that, at first, simply bewildered me.

It is bewildering at first.

Because Walter is the show’s protagonist, there is a natural tendency to empathize with and root for him, despite his moral failings. (That viewers can identify with this antihero is also a testament to how deftly his character is written and acted.) As the one character who consistently opposes Walter and calls him on his lies, Skyler is, in a sense, his antagonist. So from the beginning, I was aware that she might not be the show’s most popular character.

But I was unprepared for the vitriolic response she inspired. Thousands of people have “liked” the Facebook page “I Hate Skyler White.” Tens of thousands have “liked” a similar Facebook page with a name that cannot be printed here.

Let me guess. “Skyler White is a cunt”?

As an actress, I realize that viewers are entitled to have whatever feelings they want about the characters they watch. But as a human being, I’m concerned that so many people react to Skyler with such venom. Could it be that they can’t stand a woman who won’t suffer silently or “stand by her man”? That they despise her because she won’t back down or give up? Or because she is, in fact, Walter’s equal?

Yes, yes, and yes.

At some point on the message boards, the character of Skyler seemed to drop out of the conversation, and people transferred their negative feelings directly to me. The already harsh online comments became outright personal attacks. One such post read: “Could somebody tell me where I can find Anna Gunn so I can kill her?” Besides being frightened (and taking steps to ensure my safety), I was also astonished: how had disliking a character spiraled into homicidal rage at the actress playing her?

But I finally realized that most people’s hatred of Skyler had little to do with me and a lot to do with their own perception of women and wives. Because Skyler didn’t conform to a comfortable ideal of the archetypical female, she had become a kind of Rorschach test for society, a measure of our attitudes toward gender.

I can’t say that I have enjoyed being the center of the storm of Skyler hate. But in the end, I’m glad that this discussion has happened, that it has taken place in public and that it has illuminated some of the dark and murky corners that we often ignore or pretend aren’t still there in our everyday lives.

Along with Mary Beard and Laurie Penny and Caroline Criado-Perez and Anita Sarkeesian and Rebecca Watson and and and.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)


Aug 24th, 2013 10:52 am | By

It was Merlyn’s 3d birthday yesterday. Dave Richards’s Merlyn. He has a birthday portrait.

Photo: Merlynus T. Devil's 3rd birthday today. The "T" stands for Trouble. Tuna tonight.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

That durn cat

Aug 23rd, 2013 5:52 pm | By

Google says said happy 126th birthday to Erwin Schrödinger.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

He invited them in

Aug 23rd, 2013 4:18 pm | By

From Gnu Atheism on Facebook:


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Yard sales and memory

Aug 23rd, 2013 3:51 pm | By

A funny little thing about memory a couple of hours ago – a madeleine-equivalent but not to do with taste or smell. I happened on a mammoth yard sale which turned out to be loaded with interesting stuff. An old-fashioned wicker dolls’ carriage was the first thing I spotted, with old-fashioned doll dresses in it, plus a stack of handmade doll bedding in a pretty fabric. A couple of slipper chairs with purple velvet seats, an oddly-shaped floor lamp – and table after table after table full of dishes, costume jewelry, tchotchkes, toys – all sorts, and much nicer than the usual yard sale dreck. Hoarder-like in quantity but not in quality. I settled down to take my time and look at everything, because it was worth looking at.

So I got to a table with a box on it full of costume jewelry on cards, and I picked up a card with a pair of earrings with tiny shells – tiny shallow bowls surrounding a rhinestone – and zoom a memory shot out of the vault, one I’d never retrieved before. I had a kit or set of some kind when I was a child, to make costume jewelry of that kind. It must have had pieces like those tiny shallow bowls. The weird thing is that I don’t really remember the pieces, but looking at those earrings prompted a very real (yet vague) memory. I think you glued them onto things (but what things?), and you could make pins and earrings.

I looked at the rest of the stuff and then went back to the table with the box with the earrings to look at them again, and they had the same effect. It’s a bit eerie.

I’m pretty sure I hadn’t remembered that kit since childhood. It was interesting having it pop up like that – not unlike a popup ad, actually.

I have lots of available memories of toys – toys I can summon easily just by thinking of “toys I had as a child.” A tricycle, a red wagon, a Davy Crockett pistol, a rifle, a cowboy pistol with a holster. A little red table with two benches for dolls. A china tea set. Several dolls. A cardboard playhouse.

Mostly though I played with the outdoors. Trees, bushes, the brook, the fields – they were all my toys.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Later on Saturday morning

Aug 23rd, 2013 2:47 pm | By

The “Gender Equality in the Secular Movement” Panel from Women in Secularism 2 is online.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

But she

Aug 23rd, 2013 11:59 am | By

But she smiled at me. But she didn’t object when I sat next to her. But she flirted back. But she let me kiss her. But she laughed at my joke. But she didn’t say no when I refilled her glass. But she drank the wine. But she let me in when I rang her doorbell.

MIKE “Handy” Hancock MP has a curious attitude to the treatment of women, judging by his lawyers’ efforts to defend him. If a woman lets a man into her home, she consents to his advances, the lawyers are arguing as they try to derail an investigation into the Portsmouth MP’s alleged harassment of a mentally ill constituent.

“In order for Hancock to have access to [her] home she would have had to have let him in,” said his solicitors, Saulet Ashworth. “In other words, she clearly consented to any actions about which she now makes complaint. Indeed, she openly admits that she consented to our client cuddling her. So, even on her version of events, this is a trivial complaint.”

Extraordinary, isn’t it? Letting a friend in the front door equals consent to any sexual actions he might take. In what universe?!

The affair may be rather more than “trivial”. Handy is desperate to stop Portsmouth city council investigating allegations from a constituent, “Annie” (not her real name), which have forced him to resign the Lib Dem whip while he fights the case. She approached Hancock in 2009 over problems with noisy neighbours and respite care for her son. She told the MP she had mental health problems (brought about by childhood sexual abuse). She alleged that Hancock bought her presents – including a teddy bear he called “Mike”.

Annie’s solicitors, the human rights firm Birnberg Peirce, say that Hancock sent her text messages, which she has kept, including: “Please give me a chance you never know my Princess xxx,” and “You are special and sexy to me”.

In a letter to the council, they allege: “It is not a trivial complaint that Hancock attempted to force his tongue into her mouth, that he tried to part her legs with his foot or that he exposed his penis and invited her to masturbate him. Nor is it a trivial complaint that Mr Hancock used his position and status as both an MP and councillor to target, groom and exploit for his own purposes a vulnerable woman.”

How familiar is that – a bigshot man using his position and status to grab sex from a woman.

But she let me in. But she didn’t hit me with a tire iron. But she didn’t stab me with a kitchen knife. But she didn’t set her Rottweiler on me. That totally equals consent, to whatever.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

In a strange, pathetic little niche

Aug 23rd, 2013 10:54 am | By

One of the sectors of The Culture where under-representation of women (in all senses) is an issue, along with rage at efforts to rectify the under-representation, is gaming. Ernest Adams addresses the issue at Gamasutra.

The topic of institutionalized misogyny in game culture is finally getting the attention it deserves, and the situation is grim. Once again we embarrassed ourselves at the Electronic Entertainment Expo with a parade of booth babes and an Xbox One launch that featured a rape joke and not a single female protagonist among its launch titles. Try pointing this out to many industry executives and you’ll get a collective shrug. Try pointing it out in online gamer spaces and you get howls of outrage and a torrent of vile abuse from a small number of very angry men. The attacks get worse if the person who points it out happens to be a woman: death threats, threats of sexual violence, character assassination and cyberstalking are commonplace. Jennifer Hepler, a writer at BioWare, recently received explicit death threats… not to her but to her children, a new low.

The haters are simply infuriated at the suggestion that games might be improved by making them more appealing to women, and they’re warning us that they’ll do something about it.

No girls in the club house!

So who is asking for a change, and what exactly are they asking for? I’m going to call them “progressive gamers,” for want of a better term; they’re both men and women. With respect to gender in games (the treatment of racial minorities or under-represented sexualities is a separate, but related issue), their requests are simple and few:

  1. More opportunities to play female protagonists in AAA titles.
  2. More female characters—especially protagonists—who are not hypersexualized and whose clothing is appropriate for their activity.
  3. More female characters portrayed as strong and competent people rather than victims, trophies, or sex objects.

More female cooties, in other words.

If you visit YouTube or the gamer message boards frequented by reactionary players, you encounter, again and again, the same set of arguments for not building any new games that the progressive players might like. I’ll summarize them here:

  • Dismissive: They’re only games; they’re not important, so it doesn’t matter if there aren’t many women or their portrayal of women is unrealistic.
  • Male chauvinist: Feminazis are pushing their way into the game industry with their political correctness, and they’re going to ruin games and (male) gaming culture.
  • Ignorant: Asking for female protagonists in games is a violation of game designers’ freedom of speech.
  • Misogynist“Wherever there are happy men there will always be a woman there to ruin it.” That’s about the mildest quote I could find.
  • Financial: Male players don’t like to play female characters, and they like to see the women in games eroticized. The game industry will lose a lot of money if it stops catering to those men.

Ernest then provides actual information on the financial claim and finds it to be dead wrong. His conclusion is very heartening, because it applies to other sectors of The Culture too.

By this point it should be clear that if the reactionary players leave in a huff, it won’t do us any real harm. Like all extremists, they wildly overestimate the number of people who agree with them, and the sales that they represent are too small a fraction of the overall numbers to worry about. They are noisy and obnoxious, but financially irrelevant. We don’t need the haters.

The only companies in the industry that are at risk are ones whose business depends on selling games to these clowns. It’s kind of stupid to alienate a large audience in order to serve a small one, and as our markets continue to grow, they will end up in a strange, pathetic little niche like strip poker games.

They are noisy and obnoxious, but otherwise irrelevant.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Because it’s less hassle that way

Aug 22nd, 2013 6:21 pm | By

Laurie Penny is tired of “Not all men!!” and similar petulant irrelevancies. True, it’s not all men, but that’s not the same thing as not a problem.

You can be the gentlest, sweetest man in the world yet still benefit from sexism. That’s how oppression works. Thousands of otherwise decent people are persuaded to go along with an unfair system because it’s less hassle that way. The appropriate response when somebody demands a change in that unfair system is to listen, rather than turning away or yelling, as a child might, that it’s not your fault. And it isn’t your fault. I’m sure you’re lovely. That doesn’t mean you don’t have a responsibility to do something about it.

Dealing with sexism – that is, trying to change it – really is a massive hassle. I know why that is, too – it’s because we’re all tangled up together. Women and men live together, work together, ride the bus together, swim in the culture together. Sexism is all over every bit of that stuff. To change it you have to pay attention to fucking everything, and that’s a huge pain in the ass. Nag nag nag – why is this show all about men working together and having a beer together and women are just an occasional dead body? Kvetch kvetch kvetch – why are you telling me to smile when I don’t know you from Adam? Call me a waaaaaaaambulance – I wish people could disagree with Hillary Clinton without calling her a bitch or a cunt.

But many hands make light work, right? If more people did it, the rest of us wouldn’t have to be such nagging kvetching Professional Victims.

Sexism should be uncomfortable. It is painful and enraging to be on the receiving end of misogynist attacks and it is also painful to watch them happen and to know that you’re implicated, even though you never chose to be.

Mmmmmm. No. Not as painful and enraging, at least. She doesn’t say it is, but she seems to imply it with that sentence structure – and I can tell you, it’s not. How do I know? Because attacks on people in groups that don’t include me are not as painful and enraging to me as misogynist attacks on me are. That’s a filthy thing to say, I realize, but it’s the truth. I hate them, but not as viscerally as I hate the ones that are personal.

Saying that “all men are implicated in a culture of sexism” – all men, not just some men –may sound like an accusation. In reality, it’s a challenge. You, individual man, with your individual dreams and desires, did not ask to be born into a world where being a boy gave you social and sexual advantages over girls. You don’t want to live in a world where little girls get raped and then are told they provoked it in a court of law; where women’s work is poorly paid or unpaid; where we are called sluts and whores for demanding simple sexual equality. You did not choose any of this. What you do get to choose, right now, is what happens next.

You can choose, as a man, to help create a fairer world for women – and for men, too. You can choose to challenge misogyny and sexual violence wherever you see them. You can choose to take risks and spend energy supporting women, promoting women, treating the women in your life as true equals. You can choose to stand up and say no and, every day, more men and boys are making that choice.
It’s a hassle. Do it anyway.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Guest post: Now you have lots of cases coming to light

Aug 22nd, 2013 5:39 pm | By

Guest post by Dan Bye, originally a comment on Not prepared for what happened.

Everyone agrees there is “a” problem, and nobody is claiming that philosophy’s problem is the worst of all academic fields. So what’s left is whether philosophy has a *bad* problem.

Massimo points out that there is no evidence that philosophy has a particularly bad problem, and leaves it at that. And it’s also true that the existence of male majorities can be the result of societal pressures (i.e. sexist attitudes in the world at large) rather than sexist hiring practice, which Massimo also leaves there.

What we’ve got here is a lecture about the nature of evidence. Thanks very much. The implication, of course, is that since there is no evidence that philosophy has a particularly bad problem, then nothing special need be done about it except deal with individual cases if they come up and wait umpteen generations for the old men of the academy to die off and be replaced by a few more women.

But Massimo is overlooking something crucial. Saul has been surprised by the feedback she’s got on this. Surprise indicates that the problem is worse than suspected. It means that it’s a hidden, invisible problem. There’s more of it than expected. Where before you might have encountered the odd case over decades, sometimes well handled, sometimes badly, now you have lots of cases coming to light – some of which have never been dealt with.

That ought to be pause for thought. It ought to make some in a position of power think, “hmm, I didn’t expect to see all of this, this needs a bit more attention”.

Confronted with a new set of surprising information, it is not enough to resort to the “no evidence of a particular problem” line. The correct response is “ooh, this is evidence of a surprisingly widespread and hitherto invisible problem, this needs investigating”. In other words, there is enough there that if you don’t have any data then you ought to be getting some data rather than merely pointing out that the data doesn’t exist.

If you’re out having a picnic and someone says “there’s a wasp! I don’t want to sit here!”, then you can say, “I’ll deal with the wasp, but it’s just one wasp, we don’t need to move.” If someone shouts “argh there’s a veritable cloud of wasps come out of nowhere!  we’ve got to move!”, then rather than saying, “there is no evidence that there are more wasps here than anywhere else”, you should be checking whether you’re sitting on a wasp’s nest. Alternatively, insert a better analogy here.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

All the princesses know kung-fu now

Aug 22nd, 2013 1:53 pm | By

The hell with Strong Female Characters.

What what what? What should we want, weak female characters?

No; characters with more than one adjective.

Sophia McDougall explains in the New Statesman.

…the phrase “Strong Female Character” has always set my teeth on edge, and so have many of the characters who have so plainly been written to fit the bill.

I remember watching Shrek with my mother.

“The Princess knew kung-fu! That was nice,” I said. And yet I had a vague sense of unease, a sense that I was saying it because it was what I was supposed to say.

She rolled her eyes. “All the princesses know kung-fu now.”

No one ever asks if a male character is “strong”. Nor if he’s “feisty,” or “kick-ass” come to that.

The obvious thing to say here is that this is because he’s assumed to be “strong” by default. Part of the patronising promise [premise?] of the Strong Female Character is that she’s anomalous. “Don’t worry!” that puff piece or interview is saying when it boasts the hero’s love interest is an SFC. “Of course, normal women are weak and boring and can’t do anything worthwhile. But this one is different. She is strong! See, she roundhouses people in the face.”

In real life, normal women aren’t weak and boring and unable to do anything worthwhile. It’s in movies and tv that normal women are like that (and anomalous women are always having cat-fights over shoes).

Is Sherlock Holmes strong? It’s not just that the answer is “of course”, it’s that it’s the wrong question.

What happens when one tries to fit other iconic male heroes into an imaginary “Strong Male Character” box?  A few fit reasonably well, but many look cramped and bewildered in there. They’re not used to this kind of confinement, poor things. They’re used to being interesting across more than one axis and in more than two dimensions.

A lot more than one axis and a lot more than two dimensions.

Martin Amis is a good example of this, as I’ve mentioned before. Ever read The Information? It’s brilliant, in some ways, and deeply stupid in others. The protagonist is complicated and detailed as fuck, and the female characters have all the depth of paper dolls.

That kind of thing unnerves me, because Amis apparently doesn’t even really believe women are quite there – and if even guys as clever as he is can be that wrong, what hope is there?

It’s much the same with the blankness and scarcity of most female characters in popular culture. The Smurfette principle – nearly everybody is male (and complicated, interesting, detailed), but there might be one female, who is Fluffy. Or Beautiful. Or Intrepid.

Ok now I’m discouraged.

H/t Stacy.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

People do talk

Aug 22nd, 2013 11:23 am | By

Russell Glasser was pointing out on Twitter a couple of days ago that it’s not the case that “People only go to the police. They never talk about their stories in blogs or articles.” He provided examples of the contrary: of the preliminary stage (which can last years) when people and groups do indeed make claims in public without/before going to the police.

Like SNAP for instance. Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. Just one item on their front page -

Abuse victims and SNAP are being attacked by lawyers for KC Bishop Robert Finn and pedophile priests. We’re fighting hard to protect the confidentiality of victims, witnesses, whistleblowers, police, prosecutors, journalists and others who come to us for help. Details available here.

Sound familiar?

That doesn’t mean all accusations are always true, obviously. It does mean it’s not automatically the case that all accusations are false until they’re ruled true by a judge or jury. It also (if you do some thinking and/or reading) points to the fact that there are often impediments to reporting the kinds of crimes that powerful people perpetrate on less powerful people. Bishops and priests; popular entertainers like Jimmy Savile; famous people like Roman Polanski*; football coaches like Jerry Sandusky; high school football players, even, like the ones in Our Guys and the ones in Steubenville.

It’s not simple. It’s not easy. Sometimes there are moral panics combined with pseudoscience like “recovered memory”; sometimes there are long histories of abuse by people who are shielded by colleagues or institutions or just general indifference. No one case is likely to be a slam-dunk either way. But it is not the case that there are only two choices: take it to the cops or stfu.

*In Polanski’s case the impediment wasn’t to reporting but to extradition after he fled the country.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Just who would conduct these “virginity tests”?

Aug 21st, 2013 5:55 pm | By

That’s how to make girls eager to go to school – force them to undergo “virginity” tests. Way to go, Indonesia.

From the Guardian:

A plan to make female high school students undergo mandatory virginity tests has been met with outrage from activists, who argue that it discriminates against women and violates their human rights.

Education chief Muhammad Rasyid, of Prabumulih district in south Sumatra put forward the idea, describing it as “an accurate way to protect children from prostitution and free sex”. He said he would use the city budget to begin tests early next year if MPs approved the proposal.

“This is for their own good,” Rasyid said. “Every woman has the right to virginity … we expect students not to commit negative acts.”

Stupid thug. Having a right to one’s own virginity is not the same thing as being forcibly ”tested” for it as a condition of attending school. That in fact is the opposite of a right to one’s own virginity, since the school is in effect raping the students by “testing” them.

And why just girls? Why is it only women who have a “right” to virginity?

The test would require female senior school students aged 16 to 19 to have their hymen examined every year until graduation. Boys, however, would undergo no investigation into whether they had had sex.

The plan has met with some support from local politicians, who said the test would help cut down on “rampant” promiscuity in the district.

It would cut down on “rampant” female education, too.

Local and national MPs, activists, rights groups and even the local Islamic advisory council have all denounced Rasyid’s plan as potentially denying female students the universal right to education, in addition to targeting girls for an act that may not have even been consensual, such as sexual assault.

Good. Let’s hope they prevail.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)