Saturday, February 24, 2007

Banning the N-Word

I noticed that Stillman College is having a conference on usage of the N-word. The article also makes the point that there were a number of city councils that are trying to ban the word. While I think the conference is a great idea and deathly neccessary, I'm not so sure that official bannings of the word is the right way to go. It is my opinion that the only beneficiaries of censorship (of any kind) is the power structure--they will twist whatever ability to censor that they have towards their own ends and goals. And so, for that reason, I feel very uncomfortable with the talk of "banning" anything. It feels like (to paraphrase Audre Lorde) using the master's tools to dismantle his house.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Can a man be a feminist?

I was drawn to a blog posting at a place called Progressive U, debating the concept of whether a man can be called a feminist. To quote:

[T]his idea is based on Irving Weinman as quoted by Treichler and Kramarae who said, “When used by a man to refer to himself it is a “male appropriation of language no less stupidly defensive than a white man imagining myself a black radical.” Profeminist is the term used to describe the male who works toward feminist goals.

And then the author's opinion:

I feel that men can be feminists because I believe feminism, though it has its roots in the Women’s movement, is more encompassing than just women concerned with women’s issues. Women are half of the world’s population but the other half is often intimately connected to the lives of women. If a man recognizes his privileges and believes oppressions to be systematically linked I see no reason why he should be denied the title “feminist”. For a man to embrace the title and the stigma associated with it could be an important step in his awareness of privilege and marginalization.

I actually agree with a lot of that, but I've noticed something interesting: most young men who identify with feminism call themselves a feminist--but most older men identify themselves as "pro-feminist."
To me, this suggests a shift in more than just men's place in the spectrum of feminist ideologies, but rather the entire spectrum of feminist ideologies itself. It seems to me that those who identify as "second wave" feminists tend to believe that feminism is primarily identity politics, while those who identify as "third wave" believe in feminism as a series of ethical ideals and human rights. It would appear that men who are supportive of feminist politics would also be influenced by changing definitions of feminism, and this would be the reason for the change in terminology.

What do you think? True, not true? A good thing, bad thing, or neither?

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Meaning of Satire: Addendum

Someone sent these to me as an example of effective satire. As in, we clearly know that it is a joke, has a clear point, and is well constructed to mirror actual arguments. I'm not an expert on satire, but I do think that both Sex is for Fags and Iron Hymen are hysterically funny. (Warning: links probably not appropriate for work, but at least there's no sound).

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Meaning of Satire

Update: Mike Domitrz at at AskingFirst actually has an opportunity for you to contact the author of the article mentioned below directly. Check it out here.

I get really irritated when people say "can't you just take a joke?" Unfortunately, we don't get to choose how other people take our words. All we can do when a cutting joke falls flat is to try and understand why it bothered the other person so much, and hopefully those conversations will avoid miscommunications in the future.

Although bothered by the botched joke, I am a little heartened by John Petroski's response to his editorial. Apparently inspired by Jonathan Swift's satirical proposal that the Irish eat their babies, Petroski offered up these nuggets of wisdom (taken from the New Britain Herald):

Striving for the prose style of 18th Century satirist Jonathan Swift, Petroski called rape "a magical experience that benefits society as a whole." He went on to write that if it weren't for rape, "how would ugly women ever know the joy of intercourse with a man who isn't drunk?"

Petroski fortunately said that he realizes now that a lot of people were hurt by what he wrote, and knows more about the pain and trauma of rape now than he did before. But unfortunately, I'm not so sure he's on the right path to understanding why it wasn't actually satire. See, Swift had a clear thing that he was mocking--the people who claim that poor people can "dig their way out of it" and "pull themselves up by their bootstraps." The suggestion "why don't they eat their babies?" is an attempt to show how absurd most of those statements really are.

On the other hand, Petroski admitted he didn't know much about rape--he was attempting to parody Rush Limbaugh and the "drive-by media", as he called it. But instead of satirizing misogynistic culture, he embraced it full-on to satirize something else.

I'd also like to note that this is not the first time he's expressed a (relatively) offensive opinion. Check out this non-satirical editorial he wrote the week before:

Before I step on my soapbox, however, it may be prudent for me to clear a few things up. I am a white male who does not agree with affirmative action, reparations for black citizens or even banning the “n-word.” Nonetheless, despite what some people would like you to think, being white and having such beliefs does not make me a racist.

No offense, but given his apparently serious "blame the victim" mentality in his previous editorial, I'm not so sure I would get the joke.

Before satirizing something, it is important to be clear what you are satirizing. Otherwise, it is merely an expression of the dominant culture, whether you intend for it to be or not. When I was in college, a number of writers for the local humor magazine wrote an article that was supposedly "satirizing" racism. It basically was just one long list of racist statements, and it was supposed to be intended as ironic. When confronted with the fact that they were merely repeating destructive stereotypes rather than critiquing them, they continued to stick to their guns and say "but it was a joke!" But again, we don't get to take how our words are intended, and that's especially true when one doesn't have a clear point.

Unless, of course, Petroski's true point was to demean victmis of rape or women in general. Sometimes, people hide behind the label "parody" in order to let loose how they really feel. Unfortunately, this is probably the most accurate analysis of the situation--from his "apology", that shows that I don't think he's really been listening to what's being said:

"Listen, I wrote the article. I (messed) up. It was a stupid thing to do and a
stupid topic to even tread on, and I apologize to everyone I've hurt. I wasn't
writing this to try and hurt people though. I was trying to point out that
people don't give a damn about anything in a paper besides something they can
rally around. It looks like I succeeded, especially with our front page. That
doesn't excuse what I did. I should have used a much less touchy pseudo-subject
to do this with. Like animal rights or something like that ..."

"I'm sorry you're so sensitive" is not an apology. It is another attack, especially when you call it a "pseudo-subject". And from the student paper:

"We didn't know the campus community as well as we thought we knew, and because of that that's why we're getting this backlash and we're sorry because of it,''
Rowan wrote in the apology.

I'm sorry we didn't know the community as well as we thought? Why, because you expected them to fall in line and laugh mindlessly at rape culture jokes? You're sorry because of the backlash? Sounds like you're just sorry you got caught.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

John Amaechi is ####

More interesting news in the sports world and masculinity--a former NBA player recently came out as gay. In response to the announcement by John Amaechi, LZ Granderson at wrote the most absurd and ridiculous editorial that I think I've ever read. He actually compares his plight as an out gay sportswriter to an out gay athlete, and tells the closeted gay athletes to "man up."

And don't hand me the it's-harder-in-sports crap, either. I've been an out sportswriter for years now. I've been on TV, had my face in one of the largest newspapers in the country and my mug is sitting right next to this column. I've
been called names in work meetings, received death threats and told I was going
to hell more times than the devil. But you know what, I don't give a rip. Because at the end of the day I know walking within what I know is true for me is a lot easier than trying to run from it.

I'm not entirely sure what to say to this, except: Am I the only person to think he's not exactly comparing Apples to Apples here? Let's see, a gay sports journalist is forced to operate in an ultra-masculine environment, but anytime a player insults him it could be printed in the mass media. Plus, you are relatively low-profile, and you don't have to spend all of your time in that environment. On the other hand, a player has to spend time in a locker room with an incredibly homophobic population and to face belittling and threats against them from their own coach (see Sloan, Jerry and Jackson, Phil and their use of homophobic slurs). Oh, and hundreds of death threats in every city you go to. Jackie Robinson might be a better comparison than a sports journalist. A gay sports player risks their career, life, and family by coming out. On the contrary, most people who read Granderson didn't even know he was gay until that editorial, and some of them still don't (see the paragraph about message boards for more on this).

While Granderson has a good point that coming out while you're still in the prime of your career would do more good, I'm not so sure he has the authority of experience to speak here and tell others what to do with their lives. When asked directly about it, most athletes know not to say anything too inflammatory when the spotlight is on them. However, we have video evidence about how most sports players really feel on this issue: check out this and this.

The most fascinating part is their message board, which I think is worth a read. But as someone pointed out, "gay" is blocked out on their message board, instead replaced with "####". Usually, this is to protect against the usage of the word as a slur (which I applaud), but in the context of this story, it's actually content. I'm actually starting to wonder if they block out Rudy Gay's last name as well. Here's a comment from the site that I think is worthwhile:

I think the fact that this board replaces the word g-a-y with #### says a lot about how society views homosexuals, [athlete] or not. The very same site that is running this article is also censoring the very word that is the subject of said article. This goes a long way twords explaining why so few athletes come out, even after they retire, and even fewer (none in recent memory) active athletes come out. The very word used to describe these people is "taboo" in our society. It's ok when it is in a sitcom, and it comes across as humerous, but as soon as a "role model" or "sports hero" comes out, the perception greatly changes. Parents no longer want their children to admire these people. Does it make them any less of a person, or any less of a superstar because of their sexual preferance? All of a sudden the guy won't be able to dunk anymore, because he is openly ####?

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

The Snickers Super Bowl Ad

I received the boiler-plate response to the Snickers Super Bowl Ad the other day, and it didn't sit right with me. If you are interested in the background on this, please check out AmericaBlog's post here--it has basically everything you could need to know about this ad spot, and exactly what the "core consumer" is.
(and if you're curious about why I included the part on Mexican immigrants, check out this report from the ADL here)

Here's my response, which I sent in to Snickers today.

Seriously, your Super Bowl commercial was not funny at all.

I already have your stock response, so please read this before sending me the email.

"As with all of our SNICKERS Brand advertising, our goal was to capture the attention of our core SNICKERS consumer."Feedback from our target consumers has been positive."

Is your core consumer homophobic?

"In addition, many media and website commentators of this year's Super Bowl commercial line-up ranked the commercial among this year's top ten best. USA Today ranked it #9 of its top ten pick."

There are a lot of things that are popular. Attacking homosexuals through the media and print is one thing that is very popular, and while I am sure you are proud of the plaudits you have received, it's a knee-jerk response in a homophobic culture. It is not a reflection of your superior commercial.
Another thing that is popular: bashing Mexican immigrants.
Suppose it was two men who sat there and ate a Snickers bar, and all of a sudden
they started turning skin color until they were Hispanic. Scared as all get out, they frantically attempt to reach for their money, check their stock portfolios, and bring out their college degrees to "prove" to themselves they are still white. Is that a funny sounding commercial to you? Because it's really no different than the other one, and it would probably be very popular with your "core" consumer.

"We know that humor is highly subjective and understand that some people may have found the ad offensive. Clearly that was not our intent. Consequently, we do not plan to continue to air the ad on television or on our SNICKERS Brand website."

I'm very glad to hear it, but I'm not sure you really understand. This isn't about offending" people. To say I'm just "offended" is really trivializing what this is all about. This is about demonstrating the inferiority of an entire group of people, and making it so explicitly clear. Furthermore, the connection to violence against homosexuals is also made explicit in the now-taken-down website, in which the
friends attack each other.

I'm really frustrated with the stock response. I am not gay, but I have a number of friends who are and I refuse to accept anything but equality for them. I'm glad you took it down, but your continued defense of the commercial really skims over the important part of this. You've helped (in a very small way) make the world a more dangerous place for an entire segment of the population--including many of my
friends. If I were you, I'd consider finding a way to help rectify

Sunday, February 4, 2007

A better court system

A quick break from word-related analysis:
If this law is adopted, I think that we should seriously consider pushing this in other states as well.
I actually had a conversation with Ulester Douglas at Men Stopping Violence in Atlanta over a year ago, and I told him I thought this was the next way to go. We definitely need better protection for rape survivors, and this would eliminate one of the largest barriers to reporting (and, frankly, it's totally irrelevant to a rape case. does it matter if I give money to a homeless person before I was mugged?)
I hope we all pick up on this one--are there any other organizations working towards similar legislation?

Nepalese Transgender Citizens

Nepal has its first ever transgender citizen. I think it's interesting that they went ahead and marked it as both "male" and "female". Do you think that's a respectful way of handling it, or do you think they should have put a "trans" to recognize the different representations of gender that are not "male" or "female"?
Either way, kudos to Nepal. What other countries do that?