What’s a Geek? Are there Fake Geeks? Do You Care?

I hate to keep relying on the same couple sources, but my internet friend Emmie keeps writing smart things. (It’s also a quantity issue, I think; by my calculations, Emmie is writing approximately 35 percent of the modern internet.) Yesterday she was at Spellbound Scribes, writing about the idea of the “fake geek” and how profoundly silly all that is. It isn’t the first time I’ve seen that subject dealt with (not by a longshot), but the writers of those other pieces typically lament (rightly) the treatment of certain women, especially cosplayers, at conferences and the like, and leave it at that; Emmie’s is a more inclusive and holistic approach. I won’t quote much, because you should go read her words for yourself, but the key takeaway: “Being a geek is about loving a thing.” Geeks know what it is to be an Other, and denying others their geekery is really just Other-izing someone else. What sense is there in keeping anyone out?

I love this. For the most part.

In addition to all the reasons Emmie gives: where does that weird geek pride even come from? I don’t get that, and I say that as a confirmed, dyed-in-the-wool, multidisciplinary geek; there’s just not much to be proud of in knowing every Doctor Who or Battlestar Galactica episode by name, number and its three most memorable quotes. You really, really like something that someone else created; come forward and claim your cookie! Don’t get me wrong: we loves what we loves, and should feel all sorts of good things (in addition to, y’know, love) about those things. Pride, though, the kind that makes you want to keep other people out of your exclusive little club? Eh. That’s pretty weak.

I do get where the impulse comes from, I think. It’s easy to say “you know what it’s like to be Othered, so stop Othering others.” The thing is, though, that to a large degree, geekdom developed because geeks were being Othered, and was created to allow them to escape all that, to escape the whole rest of the world. It’s a step beyond the Golden Rule; it’s asking your OG geeks to treat others not only as they would want to be treated, but precisely as they were not treated, growing up, by some of those same others, which is why their little club existed in the first place. I can see how some geeks would find that sort of thing a bit irksome, and especially so when the “fake geek” looks like the kind of guy or girl who gave you wedgies and swirlies and worse in school (or who dated that first guy or girl). It’s wrong, of course, it’s stupid, for Emmie’s reasons and the one or two above. I get the impulse, but impulses can and often should be ignored.

So my quibble isn’t with that, but with this: I want words to really mean something, and I want to avoid broadening their definitions so much that every word means exactly the same thing as a ton of other words, such that we just keep sliding further and further toward Newspeak. When you hear the word “geek,” you think certain things, and even beyond the unfortunate appearance- (or even gender-) based stereotypes, you think of certain real, immutable things, too. It can’t just mean “one who loves a thing” — we have words like “fan” and “devotee” and “connoisseur” and a dozen others that all mean basically that. A geek has to love a certain type of thing (or a thing within a certain range of types of things), and in a certain eccentric way. I’m not an authority on this (or on anything), and I’m not going to tell you what those types and ways are. But I definitely envision certain qualities, and so do you, and there’s a pretty good chance that what you are envisioning right now resembles what I’m envisioning, and it definitely goes well beyond just loving a thing. There’s plenty of room for differing types and degrees, but there’s a certain indispensable character to geekery. Continue reading

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In Which Kickstarter Rules the (Corporate) World

I feel like I need to put something up here, since I went off on Kickstarter a bit two days ago.

The response was slow, by huge corporate internet scandal standards, but the response was great:

Dear everybody,

On Wednesday morning Kickstarter was sent a blog post quoting disturbing material found on Reddit. The offensive material was part of a draft for a “seduction guide” that someone was using Kickstarter to publish. The posts offended a lot of people — us included — and many asked us to cancel the creator’s project. We didn’t.

We were wrong.

First, there is no taking back money from the project or canceling funding after the fact. When the project was funded the backers’ money went directly from them to the creator. We missed the window.

Second, the project page has been removed from Kickstarter. The project has no place on our site. For transparency’s sake, a record of the page is cached here.

Third, we are prohibiting “seduction guides,” or anything similar, effective immediately. This material encourages misogynistic behavior and is inconsistent with our mission of funding creative works. These things do not belong on Kickstarter.

Fourth, today Kickstarter will donate $25,000 to an anti-sexual violence organization called RAINN. It’s an excellent organization that combats exactly the sort of problems our inaction may have encouraged.

We take our role as Kickstarter’s stewards very seriously. Kickstarter is one of the friendliest, most supportive places on the web and we’re committed to keeping it that way. We’re sorry for getting this so wrong.

My understanding is that Kickstarter made, gross, about $800 on this project. Obviously, they were faced with PR losses that dwarfed that figure; obviously, this and everything else a corporation does was largely or entirely a business decision. There are people who will be upset about this, who will say they should’ve done even more, or acted faster, or whatever.

Please don’t be those people. We live in this world, where businesses do, you know, business, and this is the best public apology I’ve ever seen (leaving aside a couple missing commas). It seems truly genuine, it’s titled “we were wrong,” nowhere does it say “we’re sorry you were offended” or “we apologize to those who were offended” — the company takes full responsibility, then donates thirty-one times what it earned on this project to a very worthy organization (honestly? When I got to the $25,000-to-RAINN part, I teared up a bit). Yes, I think they could have pulled the project (and if they don’t have some procedure in place for pausing projects pre-funding to allow for fuller review, I think they’d better come up with one quickly), but I can also appreciate that it was a sticky situation they were in, not the kind of thing that a corporation’s leaders and lawyers can usually work their way through in two hours. It’s really a tragedy that Hoinsky gets his $16,000…but he might have gotten this funded through other, less conscientious venues anyway. Failing having stopped the process before funding, I think this is the best they could possibly have done.

Obviously, I had nothing whatsoever to do with this…my little screed was just between you, me, and the like two or three other friends and relatives who are reading this right now (okay, like 300 people or something saw it; still basically nothing). But I still feel proud, like, for people in general. For the power of the internet in the right hands. And so on. As Chuck Wendig said on Twitter a bit ago: “This is why you shouldn’t listen when people get cranky about Internet outrage and claim it to be temporary & useless.” Sometimes a little well-placed anger, repeated thousands of times over, can do great things.

So I’m happy, and I’m a big Kickstarter fan again. Now to puzzle over whether my Big Plans (which were in large part a response to this) are still worth doing…if you’re one of the six or seven people I’ve shared them with, I’d welcome your input on that. Or if you’re not and just want to guess and comment below anyway, I’d welcome your input, too. 🙂

Seven Hundred and Thirty-Two “Men” to Stay the F*** Away From

I had big plans for today (Wednesday). Really Big Plans, in fact. I still do have those plans, and I worked a little bit on them today, and will probably work a little bit more on them tonight. I’m excited about these plans, and hope they become a Thing That Happens, and that I can share with you soon.

But it turns out that tonight (Wednesday night) is not a night for Big Plans. Today (Wednesday) was a day of untimely deaths; of way too much hate, generally; of bizarrely crappy deniapologies; of incredibly blasé and casual celebrity racism; and of a bit of personal stress and discouragement (nothing major, but overall: oy, today). Tonight, then, is a night for family, and beer, and baseball, and possibly video games. There will be better days for Big Plans, and probably soon.

Instead, I want to talk for just a second about this. If you missed it, on Wednesday morning the internet very suddenly became aware of a Kickstarter project called “Above the Game: A Guide to Getting Awesome with Women,” through which a mouth-breathing and probably badly deluded little lump of diseased chipmunk feces named Ken Hoinsky sought $2,000 to finance his book doling out advice regarding how to successfully get women in bed. He ended up raising over $16,000.

It sounds innocent enough, if incredibly dumb; these “pick-up artists” lurk in creepy dark little places everywhere, and while stupid and probably not strictly harmless, they aren’t exactly Public Enemy No. 1. This is a lot worse than that, though. Hoinsky wisely wiped the existing segments of his book from the internet, but a wiser blogger/comedian named Casey Malone (who appears to also deserve credit for calling this to everyone’s attention in the first place) was able to archive some of his words. There are too many atrocious bits for me to pick big chunks to share here, but the gist of the worst bits were: first, always be “escalating,” making more and more intrusive physical contact with the woman you’re creeping on, and don’t stop until she shouts “NO” or pushes you away (and even then, maybe just take a break and try again later).

A bit later (all emphasis Hoinsky’s): “Physically pick her up and sit her on your lap. Don’t ask for permission. Be dominant. Force her to rebuff your advances.”

Later still: “Pull out your cock and put her hand on it. Remember, she is letting you do this because you have established yourself as a LEADER. Don’t ask for permission, GRAB HER HAND, and put it right on your dick.”

That’s sexual assault. All of it. It’s sick, and it’s quite reasonably very illegal. It’s a step-by-step manual for dehumanizing and sexually assaulting women, and it leads you right up to the doorstep of rape. It plainly violates Kickstarter’s guidelines, which bar offensive content (specifically listing hate speech, which I’d argue this is, as an example). Kickstarter must have received thousands of “reports” through its own website and thousands of tweets bringing this atrocity to its attention.

Kickstarter did nothing.

As I write this, Kickstarter’s twitter account hasn’t tweeted in more than 24 hours, and the company has allegedly directly refused comment to at least one media outlet. No action, nothing to justify its inaction. (Later update: they did eventually issue a kind of milquetoast statement. Malone has it, and a bit on why it was the wrong call, here.) It’s a disgrace all around. I was happy to participate in one Kickstarter project (both as a writer and a “backer”) a while ago, and this probably won’t keep me from using it again, but it’s terribly disappointing.

Think about this, though: there are 732 people (almost all men, of course) who backed this project. Now, I don’t actually believe Hoinsky has ever followed his own advice in any meaningful way — both (a) because the people who espouse this sort of nonsense tend overwhelmingly to be sniveling inarticulate lying dullards who aren’t actually capable of talking to or making eye contact with a woman and (b) because I have enough faith in humankind to think that these tactics would lead to arrest and incarceration at least as often as they’d “work” — but I could be wrong. Regardless, though, there are now seven hundred and thirty-two* cripplingly self-conscious, dim-witted little boys (of all ages) out there in the world who will be receiving Hoinsky’s book and reading his mental diarrhea.

Some of them are bound to try his tactics. I still don’t think they’ll “work,” by and large, but I wouldn’t want to be any of the women at whose expense they fail, either.

The thing is: the backers are listed right here, and though they’re not required to, the vast majority appear to provide their real names (first and last), their location, or both.

Kickstarter backers

I think if I were a woman who is likely to go out…anywhere, ever, I’d look through that list for guys near my area. If I found one, I’d find out as much as I could about him, through Facebook, Twitter, Google, whatever — and let’s face it, if he’s leaving his whole name on a Kickstarter for what is basically a criminal instruction manual, there’s likely to be a lot of info on him out there. And then I think I’d make sure all my friends knew everything about him that I now knew.

(Just for instance: one of them is Frank Galatis, who lives in Chisago City, Minnesota, not at all far from me. This is his Facebook page. This is his LinkedIn page, which identifies him as an owner of Fallout Shelter Arcade, a video gaming center for Battletech:Firestorm and Red Planet games (Facebook). If I were that kind of gamer, male or female, I’d probably avoid that place on account of one of the owners being like super creepy.)

These are 732 guys who may or may not themselves be the same sorts of loathsome puerile woman-hating fuckwits that Hoinsky is; they could also just be insecure, desperately lonely and shockingly gullible boys. But either way, they’re going to be unleashed on the world with this nonsense in their heads, and in that case, is the second possibility really that much better than the first?

* Roughly. A few of the backers identify themselves as women, weirdly enough, and not all of them actually pledged enough to get a copy of the book.

[Hey, there’s a follow-up now: In Which Kickstarter Rules the (Corporate) World]

Comedy, Rape and other stuff, Censorship, and Embracing the Pariah

I’m a big fan of stand-up comedy, and I’m surprised I haven’t really had an occasion to do a post about it here yet. I’ve started one — one in which I describe every comedian I know of in exactly eight words, because obviously [reasons] — but it might never be finished. In any case, I love my comedy.

And comedy’s been through the wringer a bit recently. Lindy West and Jim Norton debated “rape jokes” earlier this month, in a thoughtful and generally respectful debate that later got posted on the internet and was quickly made the opposite of thoughtful and respectful. Which is what the internet tends to do to things.

You’d guess (correctly) that I come down firmly on West’s side. There’s no way around the truth that while no topic should be off-limits in comedy (or in art generally), there are certain ways of framing certain sensitive topics, and especially this one, that can (and do) shame and encourage the mistreatment of already disadvantaged groups. Any joke about rape of which the victim is the target, in any way? Not okay. West wrote a post about a year ago called “How to Make a Rape Joke” that I think does a really good job of explaining the difference between jokes involving rape that “work” and rape jokes that do not. A lot of people have written a lot more and a lot better about this than I have or can, like West and Patton Oswalt (at Part 3).

There are other (relatively) easy lines to draw, too: generalizing about people of other races, where the other race’s imputed characteristics are the joke (fairly rare now, among white comics); men generalizing about women (still sadly pervasive).

But I’ve been thinking a lot about comedy more generally, and where the line between “funny” and “offensive” falls, or ought to fall, in less clear-cut cases. Because comedians really do need to have basically unfettered access to any topic; comedy’s purpose, as people like Norton point out, is frequently to call attention to all the horrible things about the world, and to take some of their power away by making light of those things. Many comedians need to be able to shock you and disgust you and make you groan and laugh at the same time. There are comedians for whom producing that effect is basically the essence of their art form, and they’re brilliant at it. Not everyone has to like it, of course, but it’s not something that should be shut down wholesale.* August’s post earlier this week made me think about it again too; her point had to do with “blonde jokes” (which, it was a good opportunity to remind myself, are uniformly terrible) and how sexist and demeaning they can be. Poking fun at people who are different, in whatever way, has always been the crutch of the hacks at the bottom of comedy’s barrel.

There has to be a line, however hard it is to find or identify, one that doesn’t apply exclusively to rape jokes. Funny on one side of the line, offensive and off-limits on the other. Of course, a lot of it is a matter of personal taste, too, and I suppose everyone has their own line. Some people are offended by profanity, in which case the “OK” side of their line has Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Cosby and Brian Regan on it and basically nobody else, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

But I think I’ve identified The Line, the one place where, at least for me personally, acceptable is on one side and you’re-a-horrible-person-who-shouldn’t-be-allowed-to-talk-in-public is on the other.

And that line is Anthony Jeselnik.

Or rather, he’s just, I mean barely, almost imperceptibly, on the “OK” side of that line.

That’s not going to be a terribly popular choice. A lot of people who think like me hate Jeselnik. He says some of the most shocking and intentionally tone-deaf things you’ll hear from anyone. He’s also one of the most outspoken anti-censorship comics out there; there’s no chance he agrees with me that there even is a line. And he’s made some missteps; I gave up on him for a while after a tweet about the marathon bombing I thought was in incredibly poor taste, and he has a couple other jokes that I think come too close to victim-shaming. But that tweet was quickly removed, and I’ve since listened to more of his material and become convinced (again) that he’s one — maybe the one — who, those few exceptions aside, gets the incredibly fine line between edgy and demeaning.

The topics Jeselnik covers are almost uniformly sensitive topics. Mistreating women and the elderly. Violence toward women and children. Death, including of children. He made a point to open his last album with a track titled “Rape.” Exactly the opposite of everything you’d think I’d stand for.

But if you listen carefully, I don’t think — you might disagree, and I’d respect that — the real punchline is a victim, or a class of people, or anyone but him. The point of nearly every Jeselnik joke, the thing you laugh at, is what an unbelievably, shockingly horrible person he is. Or not Jeselnik, rather, but the character he plays: the joke is that anyone could be so depraved, so stupid, as to honestly believe the things Jeselnik claims to believe. He’s said, “if people think I’m serious, then they won’t laugh,” and I think that’s right; if you’re inclined to agree with anything Jeselnik’s character says, you’ve missed the joke. And at his best, he does just what comedy is supposed to do: he calls attention to the worst parts of society and makes us laugh about them, without asking us to laugh at anyone who suffers because of them.

Consider the following (all from here, which isn’t the best selection but it’ll do):

We just found out my little brother has a peanut allergy, which is very serious I know. But still I feel like my parents are totally overreacting — they caught me eating a tiny little bag of airline peanuts…and they kicked me out of his funeral.

.

Yesterday I accidentally hit a little kid with my car. It wasn’t serious — nobody saw me.

.

I’ve got a kid in Africa that I feed, that I clothe, that I school, that I inoculate for 75 cents a day. Which is practically nothing…compared to what it cost to send him there.

These are solid. They’re funny (it might help to hear his delivery). You laugh because you’re shocked; he’s talking about death or child abuse, and as you laugh there’s a should I be laughing at this? sort of moment which is an indispensable part of the experience. But, he’s not saying there’s anything funny about child abuse, or Africa, or poverty, or serious allergies; the funny part is that he really just said that, that he really is that completely horrible (though you know he’s really not).

Compare to this one from Daniel Tosh, who in many superficial ways is kind of a Jeselnik clone (good-looking clean-cut youngish white boys who get by mostly on shock value) and often gets lumped in with him:

If you had to eat another human being to survive, do you think they taste like their ethnic background? Mexicans are spicy? Do you have to have chips and salsa before you bite into one? Chinese people: are you hungry 30 minutes later for more? Let’s go everybody — black people: taste like chicken…**

This is far from the worst Tosh joke, but again, it’s the one I found. Tosh would say (and I suppose Jeselnik would agree) that there’s no real difference here; they’re both saying intentionally offensive things they don’t really believe for a laugh. But where the punchline in Jeselnik’s comedy is (usually) Jeselnik himself, the punchline with Tosh is the group he’s singling out (nearly always an ethnic group, gays, or women), and a stereotype about that group. He’ll often make a few cracks at his own expense, but then immediately moves on to just blankly reciting stereotypes, much like the above. So I guess I’d put that on the other side of the line: what Jeselnik does is shocking and offensive, but he’s the target; what Tosh does is shocking and offensive, but “the other is the target.

To me, that makes all the difference. Your mileage may vary, and I respect that; it’s not a topic that has one clear answer we should all be able to agree on, beyond (I’d hope) “jokes at the expense of rape victims are never okay.” I also might be wrong about my evaluation; maybe the difference isn’t as great as I’m making it out to be, maybe Jeselnik crosses the line as badly as anyone (or worse, come to think of it, given how often and relentlessly he does it). But it’s a distinction that makes sense to me right now. For what it’s worth, I’d still prefer comics who get by on truthful observations about actual interactions between actual people, and don’t need to rely on the shock factor at all — Oswalt, Marc Maron, Maria Bamford, John Mulaney — where you don’t often need to worry much about where “the line” is. But there has to be a line, and that’s where (I think) I’m drawing mine.

In any case, comedy is best as a visual thing, so here’s a pretty solid (and extremely NSFW) Jeselnik set to leave you with:

* Nobody should be “shut down,” in the sense of being prevented from speech — we have a whole constitutional amendment about that — but I’d sure like to see rape jokes and the like be shouted down, so that they don’t get to say them on TV or in crowded clubs.

** [Edit:] Two people have told me I’m taking the Tosh joke out of context, that he’s actually making an important point there about the audience’s expectations and discomfort about race generally. Watching the video, I agree. If you can tough it out to the real punchline, it’s actually a pretty good, thought-provoking joke. But the quote on Comedy Central’s website — click on the link just above where I quote him — omits the “real punchline,” too. Which isn’t fair to Tosh, but it gets to the issue, I think — to many of the people who really enjoy Tosh’s comedy, the laugh lines are the stereotypes themselves.

Beautiful Music for Ugly Children: Gender- and Genre-Bending

A couple weeks ago, I was in a Barnes & Noble — a physical bookstore! they still have those, sometimes, for now! — and I saw a book on the “local authors” table that seemed really interesting. It was set in a fictional town that was eerily similar to Mankato, Minnesota, which is where I was (and I happened to be starting a… potential novel set in a fictional town that’s eerily similar to a smaller town not very far from Mankato, Minnesota). The protagonist of this book I found was a young transsexual — a female becoming a guy — and a music geek who aspired to be a radio host. I hadn’t ever read, or didn’t think I had, a novel with a trans individual as a main character. It had a title that the relentlessly nerdy nonconformist kid still residing in me really liked: Beautiful Music for Ugly Children.

I didn’t buy it at the bookstore, because really, there’s a reason brick-and-mortar bookstores are barely hanging on; but I did add it to my Goodreads “To Read” list right then and there, and last weekend, I saved a couple bucks by downloading it from the Kindle store. Started reading it on Friday, and finished on Monday. It was short and easy to read, but more importantly, it was a good story, and I just never really felt like putting it down for long.

In short: high school senior Gabe Williams has been called the wrong name — Liz, or Elizabeth — his whole life, has only recently revealed his true name and identity as a male to his family, to his best friend since kindergarten, Paige (with whom he’s also in love), and to his seventy-something neighbor and musical mentor, John. John has gotten him a radio show, where he gets to explore his new identity invisibly…only it turns out Gabe is really good at this, and starts to get a loyal following (the “Ugly Children Brigade”), including among people at his own high school, who also know “Liz.” Things get complicated; he experiences basically the full range of reactions as people start to figure out “who he is,” including instances of frank and immediate acceptance, the cold-shoulder and denial from his family, and some ugly and violent and scary ones too. It’s a really well-crafted, fast-moving story; Gabe’s character is beautifully deep and broad, a person you’d really like to know, and really, every character — save perhaps the two brainless thugs who just want the freak to go away and die, and their appearances are brief — has a good deal of depth. It pulls you into Gabe’s world, and into Gabe’s desperate need to get out of that same world.

There were little things that bothered me about it, though: some difficult concepts that were glossed over a little too quickly, some dialogue that seemed just a bit too simplistic and expositional, musical references that could be kind of all over the board and didn’t seem to serve a real central purpose, and a few things (like the endearingly confused and unsure-of-himself main character almost immediately and effortlessly having really realistic romantic chances with not one but two beautiful and brilliant young women who knew all about the Gabe/Liz thing) that came together just a bit too neatly.

It wasn’t until about halfway through, and then not until I read a bit more about the book on Goodreads and Amazon, that the truth hit me: I was reading a YA novel. Meant mostly (though certainly not exclusively) for high school students and written by a college professor, it even has a little student-geared primer on sexual identity issues (and one that I’d guess is very helpful for someone who’s just learning about these issues) tacked on as a kind of epilogue.

But the thing is: I’d never intentionally read YA.

That’s not quite true. I eventually started the Harry Potter series (which…may qualify) sometime in the summer of 2001, after three years of nonstop lectures from my fiancee-turned-wife about how much I was missing, and I was immediately hooked, reading all four books in under a week and each of the three that hadn’t been released yet as quickly as I could get my hands on them.

But that was it.

Until, that is, I was on a trip and desperate, and I’d heard so many good things from so many people about the Hunger Games series that I decided to give it a try. I flew through book one, loved book one; found book two slightly forced and a bit of a letdown after the first, but still engaging; hated the third so utterly, found it so hopelessly groundless and pointless, that it actually ruined the whole rest of the series (and, I suppose, the very idea of adults reading non-Rowling YA fiction) for me.

And that was it, ferreal. No teenaged vampires or any of that, ever, thanks. To be honest, with a handful of other exceptions (A Song of Ice and Fire is the only one that comes to mind), I avoided fiction that fit well into any genre; I stuck to classics, John Updike, Philip Roth, David Foster Wallace. I’d had some bad experiences in the “mainstream” — Dan Brown, Tom Clancy, John Grisham, the wretched little bits I’ve seen on the internet of Twilight and Fifty Shades — and I’d decided that nothing that wasn’t likely to be taught in a literature class somewhere could teach me anything, none of it was worth my time at all. That’s changed a bit, recently — I’ve read some mysteries, some thrillers, and each of them (more or less) has had something in it somewhere that’s driven me batty, but I’ve enjoyed the hell out of quite a lot of them. I’ve found that while I love really, really good, inventive, one-of-a-kind writing, so-called “literary fiction” doesn’t have a monopoly on that, and that I also really love a really well-crafted story, even when it follows certain conventions and doesn’t necessarily break new ground or make you feel smarter just for reading and kind of getting it.

Still, though: no YA. Never YA. Twilight is YA. Nope.

Until this one, by accident, because I saw it on the “local authors” table and nothing about it immediately screamed YA (sure, it had a high-school protagonist, but Updike and DFW have both used youths as protagonists of very adult novels). And you know what? I loved it. In fact, once I’d uncovered its dirty little YA secret, I enjoyed the book a good deal more than I had been, because those little things that were bothering me no longer bothered me. They were just a part of this genre I’d had almost no experience with. I learned to take those things for what they were, get into the rhythm of the story for what it was, and appreciate what was a really beautiful, important sort of message and story in the context in which it was meant to be appreciated.

You should probably check out Beautiful Music, especially if you’re looking for a character you can really pull for with a perspective you probably haven’t seen a ton of before. And me…well, what’s occurred to me is that there are a lot of great stories out there, and they don’t always all take the form of 600-page masterworks that make your head hurt. I’m going to stop reading books that make me feel smart and start looking for stories that make me feel good, for one reason or another. Which, for me, still generally means crisp, witty, lasting writing and vibrant imagery — I’m probably going right back to marching laboriously through Moby-Dick now, in fact. But because I want to, not because it feels like a thing I should be doing. Reading should be fun, and Beautiful Music for Ugly Children (while it has its dark and difficult moments) is a whole lot of that.

Tattoos, and Misogyny, and Dumb Kids (again)

I didn’t think I’d write here this week, for several reasons. But there’s a certain kind of garbage that crops up on the internet now and then that’s great at pulling me out of my little mindless stupor.

I don’t have any tattoos, and neither does my wife, and I can’t say there’s any sort of void in my life there. List off the usual reasons for not being interested, and I probably have all of them. I hate pain, of all types (I’m a real weenie about it). There’s not much that I’m so passionate about now that I’d want to display it 24/7 on my body, let alone stuff that I’m confident I’d feel just as proud of 50 years from now. It’s just not the kind of thing that I’d spend real money on, somehow. And so on.

I kinda dig them, though, on others. I had a woman who cut my hair a few years ago who I hope doesn’t read this (that’d be weird), but she was, and presumably still is, vibrant and spunky and friendly and frankly adorable and did all kinds of awesome and creative things with her time when she wasn’t cutting hair, and she had both arms and her back absolutely covered in highly colorful, completely absorbing art. Not my thing personally, never my thing, but they were her, totally, and I really admired them. It gave me a new appreciation for the whole idea, really; if you’re passionate about something, and that’s what works for you — for whatever that means — I think it can be a pretty beautiful thing.

What I guess I’m trying to say with all this is that OH HOLY HELL PEOPLE ARE AWFUL, as evidence of which I offer the following:

Tattoos and Other Easy Ways to Ruin Your Body” [EDIT: I seem to have a knack for this. He’s deleted the post and replaced it with an apology that actually seems reasonably sincere. EDIT AGAIN: Now the whole blog is private. But it seemed sincere!]

You may have gathered from the title alone that this was written by a man, and a dyed-in-the-wool misogynist, one who claims the right to speak to all women and on behalf of all men based on his own extremely ill-formed and unsupportable opinions, maybe even one who’s exceptionally young and just head-splittingly naive.

And you’d be right about those things. But you still wouldn’t really have a firm grasp on exactly how dumb and offensive this is.

So here’s a taste:

Women, let me tell you something that your friends and many guys will not. Your tattoos are ugly. We do not like them. We respect you less for them. We think you’re a pawn without a sense of solidarity in a world that pressures you to conform.

Note to all male bloggers and writers, the younger and less experienced the better: always start everything you write with “Women, let me tell you something.” They love that!

Also: all men, everywhere? Even me, even with what I just said above about kind of loving them sometimes?

Yep!

Even if we’re not conscious of this belief, we hold it. Men who gush about the sexiness of girls with tattoos do this because they are culturally trained to do so.

Culturally trained. Culturally trained! You either agree with the opinion that this author has formed across what must so far have been just a depressingly sheltered 23 years — an opinion which is in large part about aesthetics, the most subjective thing in the world — or you’re a pawn, a victim of the great cultural indoctrination.

There’s a ton of ignorance in this, but I love the idea that “culture” is something that exists separate and apart from people, or from men. Like there’s a thing that all of the 49% hates, but we put up with it, and some of us convince ourselves that we like it, because this headless monster The Culture instructs us that we must! Cruel mistress, The Culture.

So we’ve been informed that all men hate women’s tattoos and that the men who don’t hate them are just too stupid to realize they hate them. We now get the parade of horribles, the reasons why a woman getting a tattoo is the worst thing. Might as well:

1. Because it’s where another man left his mark on you.

This is exactly what it sounds like: her tattooist was probably a man, and letting him put a thing on her (that she’s asked him and will pay him to put on her) is “lending him a level of familiarity over [her].” And I can’t decide how refreshing/terrifying it is that he actually recognizes the thing he’s doing here:

Does this fall under the category of what the mainstream media calls “jealous men calling normal things cheating?” Yes. Does that make us wrong? No. A man has marked you and you will always carry his handiwork.

asdfadsfkj.

Forget for a moment that the whole idea of a man “leaving his mark” on a woman, like cattle, is repulsive, and pretend that this kind of pathetic sniveling emasculating fear and jealousy is ever even arguably okay. A guy she doesn’t know (if it’s a guy; she’s apparently in the clear on this point if she finds a female tattooist) carried out a job that she asked him to do, maybe even just transferring something she designed herself on paper, because it’s important to her, and she paid him for the service. If this is the kind of thing that makes you jealous akin to the way one might react to a cheating spouse (worse, since this apparently applies to all women who may ever be in a relationship with a man, whether they’re single when they get the tattoo or not), please just don’t bother with human contact of any kind, ever, for the rest of your days. It’s not going to go well for you.

2. Because tattoos were primarily a symbol of prostitutes.

Well, okay. He cites to an Amazon page selling a book containing a highly unscientific 1933 “study” that’s apparently available nowadays as kitsch, like those little yellow “How to Make Love” pamphlets from the 1940s. But even if it’s true, it’s a good bet — and I’m not going to look this up — that earrings and other piercings and many modern hairstyles and clothes were once a symbol of prostitutes, too. Anyone who sees a tattoo in 2013 and thinks “WHORE!!!” (and he’s very clear that he’s talking about all tattoos here: butterfly on the ankle, the whole bit) might just possibly have some issues that don’t really have much of anything to do with body art.

3. Because your desire to participate in the counter-culture betrays a rebellious heart.

That’s a sentence, I guess, barely, but it doesn’t appear to mean anything. The point is apparently that the purpose of all tattoos is rebellion against something (patently ridiculous), but that they’re so commonplace that getting one makes you a “sheep” — even that it’s not getting one that really makes you a rebel, because everybody’s doing it!

Now, assuming they were that commonplace (and he later moronically cites a study that supports none of his points and in which about 13.5% of female participants had a tattoo — and this is outside my scope, but he apparently hasn’t had time in his 23 years to learn about the whole correlation-does-not-imply-causation deal), the unspoken assumption that “getting a tattoo” itself is the expression, rather than what that tattoo displays or means to the person, might be the single most braindead mistake in this whole braindead mistake of a post.

4. Guys and tattoos

Well, this isn’t a reason anymore, he just wants to really carefully spell out what he’s saying here, in case you missed it: that he hates women, essentially. That men can have tattoos (though he doesn’t like it), because, in essence, they’re not subject to being owned and dominated by the other sex. (In his actual words: “Like sleeping around, the detrimental effects of a guy doing this are much less severe. It’s not fair, but neither is child leukemia or Cystic Fibrosis.”)

The conclusion might be my favorite part: “We will never respect you for having [a tattoo]. You will lower your social value by having one and limit your choice of potential suitors.” Hi-larious. The next study I’d like to see is a comparison of the “potential suitors” of the average tattooed young woman to the “potential suitors” of one karamozov1989. Really. I’d buy a ticket, if they could sell tickets to a study somehow.

One of my first posts here reflected on some incredibly dumb things that had been written by a college senior for his student newspaper, and wondered if it wasn’t a really bad idea to make the half-formed opinions of some poor college kid whose whole outlook will probably change nine times in the next five years freely available to anyone who wants to read or mock them on the internet. The author here is 23 — out of college, presumably, but not substantially different from the roughly-22-year-old there. It takes some of them a while to figure out (and some never do) that their set of ideals and beliefs, no matter how fervently held, just can’t be applied to and forced on everyone generally, or to figure out that they haven’t actually learned everything they need to know yet, and that some of those ideals or parts of them might ultimately prove to be among the stupidest things it’s possible for any person to think.

Ultimately, though? Shit this stupid is out there, and sometimes when you’re reminded of that, you have to take it apart. It’s like intensive therapy for the world’s general awfulness. And dammit, it feels good.

Why Catcalls Feel Threatening

I saw a long, superb rant by my internet friend Emmie on Twitter that referenced an old post she’d written on catcalls, and I had to go find said post.

It’s wonderful. You should read it. And then you should read as much as you can stomach of the comments, where she is soon joined by a self-assured young gentleman who feels the need to mansplain away all her petty concerns with what he calls “loud compliments.” The farcical-and-disgusting-term-that-exists-for-some-reason “misandry” comes in at one point, which is how you know it’s good.

Emmie and another woman who joins in do a great job of parrying the arrogant asswipe’s half-considered arguments…but I couldn’t get through more than about half of it. There’s just nothing I enjoy less than a man telling a woman how she should feel about a thing that — however many parallels he might try to draw — can really ONLY be experienced by a woman. Nothing at all, at least that I can think of right now.

Anyway. It’s a fabulous, eye-opening read. This is my first reblogging (and from my phone)! Hope I’m doin’ it right.

I walk to work fairly often. I do it to save petrol and for the exercise, because I live a brief ten minute walk from where I work.

Barely a day goes by when I manage to walk that ten minutes without one of the scenarios depicted above occurring. Sometimes more than once.

I’ve had guys try to get me in their car. Guys try to get me to come over and eat their leftovers (seriously). I have guys holler all sorts of random “compliments” my way. I’ve been pestered. I’ve been interrupted. I’ve even been followed.

More than once.

For men, this sort of thing is just a non-issue. (For the most part. I acknowledge and understand that there ARE cases of street harassment where the targets are male.) But it’s different when you’re a woman.

Here’s why this subject matters, and why it should be talked about.

It’s…

View original post 1,375 more words

What Dove Promises Promise Us

ImageI’ve been aware of Dove Promises chocolates for a really long time; I’m almost positive my mom used to pack them in my school lunches. Dove makes really good chocolate, as affordable chocolate goes, and they come in convenient little pieces so that you can exercise portion control eat about a hundred of something delicious without actually dying.

Now my office has them, constantly restocked in a big jar in a kitchen that’s otherwise filled with mostly healthy things. And I’m obsessed. Not with the chocolate (though that’s still great) so much as with the promises. The promises!! Man. The promises.

Each individually-wrapped piece of chocolate has a little message inside the wrapper — a “promise,” presumably — ranging from utterly meaningless (“Enjoy your life today,” to make one up) to bizarrely specific (“Build a snowman and breathe deeply the childlike wonder of winter,” to — not totally without basis — invent another). They all have a few things in common, though: they’re condescending, jaw-droppingly vapid and, if you assume (as I do from the tone) that the product is marketed mainly toward (a certain stereotyped subset of) American women, they’re at least a little bit sexist. Basically: they’re the worst and kind of also the best things in the world. They’re hilarious.

Lots of products are packaged with little messages not related to the product in any way — Snapple has trivia (does Snapple still have trivia? Is there still Snapple?), other on-mainstream soft drinks have quotes, Alaska Airlines used to have Bible cards. Promises strike me as unique, though, in that the name of the product itself leads you to believe that the point is the little three- to nine-word inspirational message printed on the inside of a terribly fragile foil wrapper, and OH JUST BY THE WAY you get a little delicious chocolate, too. The only comp I can think of is fortune cookies; nobody would eat those awful things if not for the message inside. You can get chocolate anywhere: the promise inside is how Dove pays the bills.

Or so suggests the name; it doesn’t seem to work that way. The description on Dove’s official site concludes with “Each piece is wrapped with a special PROMISES® message for a truly unique moment,” but it’s pretty clear it’s the “exceptional, silky smooth chocolate experience” that’s intended to hook you. Dove’s official Facebook page is full of references to Promises, the product, but I can’t find any references to promises, the messages. It turns out that the promises — product name and all — are an archaic figurehead that is best ignored and forgotten; they’re the British royal family to the chocolate’s Parliament.

We can’t have that. Someone writes these things, sits there and thinks about the kinds of things he (I’m just assuming it’s a he) thinks your stereotypical working mom might really want to hear while she’s enjoying her daily chocolate (ACK!!). Someone, or rather a group of someones, makes it possible for them to be printed on the inside of each wrapper. Someone designed the oh-so-sincere “Love, Dove” signature that accompanies each and every one. These contributions cannot simply be cast aside like so many, well, foil chocolate wrappers!

I have in my possession 22 Dove Promises wrappers, containing 14 distinct messages. Some I have collected over several days at work. Some — too many — I consumed the contents of today even though work also had fresh peanut butter cookies and even though I ate one of those too. (This is what I believe is called Dedication to the Craft.)

“Promises”  seems something of a misnomer. The majority of the messages come in the form of little life suggestions, or commands. Of the 14 messages, there are two that could arguably be called “promises,” and even those end up sounding a lot more like advice than actual promises. It’s possible that they started out as literal promises, years ago, but that over time they have evolved (as great art will) into a thing all their own.

I would definitely read a Vanity Fair oral history of Dove Promises.

At any rate, it turns out that Promises* is quite concerned about you — the probably female, probably middle-aged, possibly un- or underemployed, probably nonetheless overworked, probably lonely, probably overeating consumer — and has a lot of advice to offer. Some of it is contradictory, but you know, we’re complex beings, and what we need to hear from our chocolate at one time may conflict with things we need to hear from our chocolate at other times. Some of it is extremely cryptic, but what matters here is what it means to you. Promises works in mysterious ways. Promises does not apologize for the extremely varied- and generally low-quality photographs below, but I do (mousing over the images below will show you the text of the depicted promise).

* Just so we’re clear: from here on out, “Promises” is a singular, self-aware entity who is very concerned with your well-being. Continue reading

Feminism and Dumb College Kids

My now-wife and I in the student newspaper office, ca. 1999.

My now-wife and I in the student newspaper office, ca. 1999. Photo by Trevor Anthony.

I was editor-in-chief of my college newspaper for my senior year. It was a weekly paper, serving a tiny liberal arts school, but it was a ton of work, and generally pretty rewarding.

Early in that year, we had an opinion article come in from an enthusiastic, slightly awkward, impossibly young-seeming freshman girl; I’m going to call her “Abby” (I legitimately have no memory of her name, not that I’d use it if I had). I remember it was riddled with typos and muddled sentences, and I helped to fix those, but paid little attention to the content — it was opinion, so couldn’t Abby say basically whatever she wanted to? I also had an opinion-section editor I trusted with this sort of thing. And at a school that size, you kind of have to take what you can get. Wouldn’t running this be better than a giant opinion-article-shaped white space? I don’t know if I thought even that much about it, but if I had, that would’ve been my thinking.

And as it turned out, the piece was awful. Truly, disastrously, unconscionably poor. This would’ve been the early fall of 2000, and enthusiastic Abby had written an article enthusiastically endorsing Reform Party candidate (and enthusiastic racist, misogynist and xenophobe) Pat Buchanan for president. And it endorsed all the most horrible things Buchanan had said; I don’t remember the specifics now, and he’s said so many horrible things since that you’ll have a hell of a time finding them, but I believe there was one about abortion being like slavery, there was something else compared to Hitler, and there was, of course, a whole lot to be said about those damned illegals. I think there was a condemnation of homosexuality, too, but I can’t remember.

This wasn’t a simple matter of someone assuming an unpopular political position at a hippy-dippy West Coast liberal arts school (it certainly was that, but that’s a big part of why small-liberal-arts-college newspapers exist); it was a column that had overtly offended, in one way or another, very nearly everyone in the school. Nowadays, being smarter than a college kid, I’d have chosen the white space instead, or ugly comp ads for various student organizations, or I’d have written a ten-minute editorial on why ‘N Sync was better than 98 Degrees and Backstreet. Something. Anything but that piece.

The fallout was huge, for a school that size and a paper nobody usually cared much about. People wrote letters. There was an emergency meeting of some kind with professors and assistant deans. I somehow escaped the fate I feel like I probably deserved (or any repercussions at all, really, save some discomfort), but she was, for a while, the laughingstock of the school.

Long story short (long story entirely skipped, actually, because I never really knew it):

By the end of that year, Abby had discovered she was a lesbian — immersed in what seemed from a distance like an awesome, loving, serious relationship with a fellow freshman — and something between a Marxist and an anarchist. I’d love to say she went on to teach yoga and take vegan cooking classes and tutor immigrant children in San Francisco or Portland and never had another day of trouble in her life, but I have absolutely no clue what happened to her after that year; the point is, she became an entirely different (and certainly happier, kinder, and far more comfortable-with-herself) person. That’s the kind of thing that happens. College kids are stupid, and most of them eventually get smarter; sooner or later, almost all of them become themselves.

And that’s a long-winded way of saying I can’t get as upset as I thought I was going to about this: NOLD: Feminism Hurts Modern-Day Relationships. It got some wider attention and became kind of a big internet deal on Friday. It’s written by a college senior named Zach Nold, for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s daily paper, and it starts like this:

Feminism has met its goals and women are now equal with men as they should be.

Yes, he really said that, and no, there were no commas, and the rest of the article is exactly as incoherent as you’d expect anything that started with a preposition that ridiculous to be. It seems that his evidence that men and women are equal now (it’s so hard to even freaking type that) is total number of jobs, with no mention of income or any of the non-employment-opportunity based ways in which men continue to dominate women. Because men and women are equal, Nold says, feminists continuing to be feminists are doing so with the goal of becoming more than equal, of “pushing men off the platform,” and are “ruining modern relationships.”

It’s pure shit, all the way through. I guess the one saving grace is that it’s almost completely incoherent shit; I assume if he’d been more capable of saying what he really meant, it’d really piss you off. Jezebel was really pissed off anyway, understandably.

I was all set to rip into him too, but it turns out I can’t (or not any more than I just did), because Abby.

Now, Nold is a senior, not a freshman, and there can be massive differences between 18 and 21 or 22. And it’s not just one misguided piece, like Abby’s; here’s one that says poor people shouldn’t get to vote, and Jezebel found some pretty disgusting tweets. He’s clearly pretty set in his ways, and those ways are pretty terrifying.

He’s also a college kid, though, and college kids are stupid. I was stupid at that age (in softer but not altogether different ways). People change all the time, and completely; that’s a big part of what I think college, and the few years after college, are for. Considering that — remembering Abby — I’m not comfortable condemning this kid for writing a crap article he’s completely unqualified to write and of which he will probably be completely ashamed in a year or five (and with Abby, of course, it was a few months). I mean, even Limbaugh would struggle a bit to get away with this sort of drivel; this is the stuff of awful websites hidden away in the mildewy corners of the internet where men complain about how women are sluts because they (the men) had a spouse who wouldn’t deal with their abuse anymore, or because women seem to them to be willing to sleep with everyone but those men, that sort of thing (if you want to just hate everyone forever, google “misandry” and scroll down past the Wikipedia and dictionary entries). He might turn out to be one of Those Guys, but I’m not going to assume he is now. Too young, too dumb. It’s a problem that he’s a senior English major who writes this poorly, I suppose, maybe that can’t be fixed, but he’s still got time to figure out the bigger things (that’s pretty much a life-long deal, not that he’s not much farther behind right now than most).

I’d rather ask a few different questions. Like: why are newspapers still doing point/counterpoints (the article by the young woman representing the inarguably correct side can be found here; it’s pretty solid)? They work only when both writers firmly, legitimately believe their side of things and both sides can be competently argued with a straight face — I’m sure the first was met here, the second clearly was not. (They also work if the publication is The Onion, which is just another way of saying that serious point/counterpoints are almost always stupid.)

Second: the Nebraskan is a daily serving a school with ten times the enrollment of my alma mater. Shouldn’t they have a faculty adviser who (if he or she glances at these things and is even halfway competent) might have noticed, even if multiple layers of student-editors didn’t, that a point/counterpoint wherein the white conservative dude argues that feminism is over forever probably isn’t a great idea?

Third, maybe most important: does everything need to be online? I suppose it does, but if so, does it need to be quite so freely available? These are not journalists; they’re college students, and with maybe five or six exceptions a year nationwide, they’re not capable of saying anything that educates or informs or even really interests anyone beyond the students, faculty and alumni of their own schools. Slap a password on that thing, at least. There’s no likely benefit to having this stuff out there in the larger world, and there’s a lot of potential harm to the dumb kid who, let’s say, writes a terrible and senseless “opinion” article that gets picked up by Jezebel.

We weren’t on the internet in 2000, or barely (it wasn’t searchable; I think it all went up in PDF-like format on the student government site). Make it five or ten years later, and Abby, briefly the laughingstock of the school, may have become the laughingstock of the whole internet; that itself may have forced her in a different direction, stifled all that awesome growth she experienced almost immediately thereafter, changed the whole course of her life.

It’s important to address horrible, laughable-on-their-face ideas like the ones that show up in Nold’s article. I just don’t know how I feel about making the school’s issue the entire internet’s issue, and I know I don’t like taking it all out on the kid himself.

On the Multitudinous Beauties of Women

BOAWIntroductory note: Hi! My very dear and since-basically-forever friend August McLaughlin is hosting, for the second consecutive year, a thing called The Beauty of a Woman Blogfest, and I’ve decided to finally inaugurate this blog by taking part. It’s an odd topic for the first public non-sports writing in six years or so from a straight-dude lawyer and baseball writer, but that was kind of the point — get out of my comfort zone and just write a thing. If you’re interested in more about who I am (and what this blog is likely to be about), look here.

Here are five things I know are true:

  1. There’s a problem with the way women are presented in certain segments of popular media. Film, TV series, commercials, the internet, whatever. A very clear suggestion persists, somehow, in 2013 — and can be found in large parts of each of those places — that a woman’s value is in her face, her body, her capacity to make men happy in one way or another.
  2. This attitude seems to have a correlation with the active mistreatment of women, well beyond the passive diminution of the entire half (well, 51%) of a species that flows naturally from our behaving as though they exist primarily to make things more pleasant for the other half (well, 49%). This is where a lot of harassment and assault and rape comes from.
  3. That passive diminution is plenty harmful on its own. This is where a lot of self-loathing and self-harm and resentment and eating disorders come from.
  4. It should go without saying that in fact, women on the whole are at least as capable as are men on the whole when it comes to thinking, feeling, explaining or doing things. In my experience, most women are better at most of those things than most men are.
  5. But: women can be damned sexy. I find that most women are attractive in one form or another, but also find that some are more physically or visually attractive to me than others are, generally based on characteristics the taking notice of which our society likes to think of as shallow, base, piggish — and the very same ones, basically, that our society glorifies in 1. above.

The biggest gender-related problem we have right now is probably some better-worded combination of items one through four. Once you’ve identified and started wrestling with that problem, though, a secondary issue — and one I think a lot of very intelligent and progressive people really struggle with — emerges: how to reconcile number five with those other four.

Once, I struggled with this a lot. I’m not proud, but the truth is that I’m a solidly, maybe overwhelmingly heterosexual male. I love women, and I mean that in every way. I love the way they look, I love the way they smell, I love their curves and their hair and their relative smallness. I love sex with a woman, I love lingering for just a moment (usually just a moment) on the idea of sex with a woman, and I love looking at a woman — certain women more than others, of course, distinguished, by and large, by characteristics that have nothing whatsoever to do with their talent for songwriting or carpentry, their contributions to medical science, or their capacity to love their fellow humans. Sometimes women are just reeeeaaal purty, in essence, and sometimes I think that’s really awesome. I like pretty smiling faces. I like legs. I like boobs.

And the biggest step I’ve taken as a person over the last year or two, the one thing that’s taken me farther along than anything else on this ceaseless trek toward becoming a happy, well-adjusted, comfortable-in-my-own-skin sort of human being, is the realization that that’s totally fine, that my noticing those things (and thinking they’re really awesome) doesn’t by itself conflict with my deeply-held feminism, doesn’t make me a pig or a neanderthal or an adolescent or a freak. I like what I like because the chemicals in my brain work in a certain way, because the Creator or series of accidents that brought me into being made me in exactly that way, and that’s as it should be. People were made to appreciate all kinds of things in each other. Hetero women appreciate men in the same way, even if they tend not to think about it quite so much (or it’s not quite as socially appropriate for them to acknowledge it). Our faces and bodies have developed as they have in large part for the purpose of being attractive to other people. You’re supposed to notice shit like that.

I’ve always been this way (or since like age eleven), and finally becoming more or less okay with that has been incredibly freeing. Sure, my coarser impulses make me do things (to myself) I wish I wouldn’t — like watch every single episode of Two Broke Girls, for instance, one of the worst and most cringe-inducing shows on television, solely to watch the wonderful Kat Dennings do things in high definition — but the impulses themselves are just a (relatively small) part of who I am, which is not entirely different from who everybody else is, and that’s cool.

Where I think the confusion comes in — and this is an essential companion to the liberating realization above — is here: those things you and I have, those preferences, the likes and dislikes, the “interests,” come with certain responsibilities. The responsibilities can all be summed up this way: these things are totally our own issues, and absolutely no one else’s. Nothing wrong with being a bit superficial (everyone is) or with noticing those things (everyone does), but there’s a lot wrong with “noticing” them in a way that makes another person feel uncomfortable or less human, with expecting another person to strive to fit some ideal you’ve cooked up in your own brain, with treating your own idea of beauty as the single definition thereof, with faulting anyone for not living up to those ideas (or for not attempting to), with patronizing media figures or outlets or types that attempt to impose similar ideals on women (or men), with valuing those features above or to the exclusion of qualities like wisdom, competence, wit, creativity and compassion; with, more generally, anything that fails to recognize at all times that all other people are people, not little collections of lips and butts and eyes and waistlines and so forth.

When Walt Whitman wrote: “Do I contradict myself? / Very well, then, I contradict myself; / (I am large–I contain multitudes),” he probably meant a lot of things (he did contain multitudes, after all), but one, certainly, was that he was capable of holding many different thoughts — even contradictory thoughts — and of being many different things — even contradictory things — all at once. Everyone is, which I suppose is what has made “Song of Myself” a classic poem, and not a long-lost diary entry or something.

Women can be both beautiful outside (pretty gorgeous alluring sexy: in your eyes, in someone’s) and beautiful in (brilliant generous creative thoughtful and valuable in any of hundreds of other ways), or either or (rarely enough) neither. It’s a great mistake to conflate the two, which is essentially what our culture does when we tie a woman’s value to her ability to approximate some preset physical ideal. It’s a not altogether dissimilar mistake, though, to treat them as mutually exclusive, as we do when we equate any appreciation at all of one’s personal concept of superficial beauty with a demeaning attitude toward women — or as can be seen in things like the Olivia-Munn-on-TheDailyShow backlash. I used to be able to appreciate what I see as Jenny McCarthy’s physical beauty, but I really wish she’d stop trying to kill our children; can’t say I’ve ever lost myself staring at Hillary Clinton, but I think that what I know of her is pretty damn beautiful. While I’m on the subject, my wife of nearly twelve years is beautiful in every way, and getting more beautiful all the time (d’awww, but it’s true).

Just about everyone is beautiful in more than one way, I think. We contain multitudes. 

Whether you’ve had similar experiences or think I’m totally full of it, I’d be happy to hear from you below. Thanks for reading, and I hope you’ll check back again sometime.