Would it kill you to be civil?

We’ve been talking about rape culture and myths about artistry (or, perhaps, artiste-ry) for the last few days, and god help us but it’s been depressing. I want to continue the conversation a bit but shift it to the somewhat less eye-gougingly bleak realm of the Nice Guy TM, specifically how it relates to geeky guys and girls.

I’m prompted by this post (on SP fave Sociological Images) about a recent xkcd strip. Now, xkcd has done some instant classic antisexist strips in the past, like this one and this one. In fact, xkcd even has a strip that handily illustrates Nice Guys TM. In other words, xkcd often serves as a kind of Feminism 101 for nerds, which is why it’s extra disappointing when the strip has its rare excursions into “woe is the geeky boy, who shall never get pussy” territory. The strip in question starts with a spot-on confrontation between a woman on a train and a strange man hitting on her, in which she firmly tells him that if she wanted his attention, she’d have shown it. It’s the conversation you always wish you would have with skeezy dudes on the train, if you weren’t worried that they’d retaliate in some way. The punchline of the strip is — haha! — the chick wanted it all along! She’s aching for some sweet sweet cock! If only men hadn’t been so paralyzed by feminist talk about rape culture and personal respect, she’d get hit on by more men, which is exactly what she wants on the train! (ETA: The mouseover is: “And I even got out my adorable new netbook!”) It’s funny because it’s true, and it’s EXTRA funny because she brought her cute netbook specifically so men would hit on her, just like when you wear a low-cut shirt it’s because you really want men to comment on your hot tits. Geeky girls are so hot! They’re so hot for you, geeky boy!

Look, I really love xkcd 95% of the time. But just as surviving violence doesn’t make it somehow totally cool to rape people, not meeting cultural standards of he-man masculinity doesn’t make it just fine to perpetuate rape culture. That’s what the Sociological Images post* gets at very clearly:

So this is the crux of the issue for me: nerds really are members of a subordinated masculinity, and from within that viewpoint it’s easy to dismiss anything which says that you are privileged and not downtrodden. Once you’re in that space, it’s really easy to start thinking in a certain way that says you’re not privileged just because you’re a man — and I think things like this XKCD strip can contribute to that way of thinking.

Of course, any man who falls farther from the pinnacle of hegemonic masculinity is less privileged than his more “masculine” counterparts, but he’s still a man. Nerd discourses sometimes let us forget that, and let us think we operate outside the system, because we’re not like those other, sexist guys — but it’s a fantasy. We can be better than that, but it means telling ourselves the truth, and not pretending that our interactions with women — even a simple conversation on a train — aren’t influenced and structured by the patriarchy.

This is how privilege works: you have less of it in some areas, and more of it in others. That’s how it works for everyone. This is why it’s important to think beyond yourself: not in some self-abnegating “I can never talk about my own problems” way, but in a way that understand that some forms of your own behavior contribute to a culture that hurts you too. (This is, for instance, why we don’t bash thin bodies to promote fat acceptance — because “fat acceptance” and “body acceptance” are really the same project.) So talking about geekery is actually one of those scenarios in which saying that patriarchy hurts men, too, is not a strategy to distract from women’s issues. But the xkcd strip is the fantasy of a Nice Guy TM: if only he weren’t so gosh-darn nice to women, he’d get some tail. The Nice Guy TM blames on feminism what is really the fault of sexism, thus imagining himself the True Victim of both.

I do think this particular comic may have worked fine if the same scenario were played out by known characters, instead of xkcd’s generic boy-and-girl stick figures. What’s so powerful about the “How It Works” strip is that very generic-ness: the joke is just that, that men are assumed to be individual human beings and women are not. But that’s also what’s happening in the male fantasy in the “Creepy” strip: the man is an (oppressed) agent of his own desires, while the woman is a mess of contradictions and unreadability.

All of which brings me to what is perhaps my favorite Nice Guy TM lament of all time, as well as the perfect cap to a post about geeks and rape and entitlement: Jonathan Coulton’s great song, “Skullcrusher Mountain,” about a mad scientist “in love.”

What I love so much about this song is that the creepiness builds from verse to verse (never disturbing the sweetness of the melody), so that what starts with “Welcome” ends with the most passive-aggressive murder threat ever:

You know it isn’t easy living here on Skullcrusher Mountain
Maybe you could cut me just a little slack
Would it kill you to be civil?
I’ve been patient, I’ve been gracious
And this mountain is covered with wolves
Hear them howling, my hungry children
Maybe you should stay and have another drink and think about me and you

Nice Guys TM, you see, pretend that we don’t live in a culture that systematically deprives women of power; they think (or rather, they pretend to think) that interacting with women is just a matter of being civil. I’m so nice, but women don’t like me! They say “think about me and you” as if we didn’t know that they could unleash the wolves at any second. They think women on the train are secretly doing everything — using a cute netbook, sitting there looking pretty — in order to snag their attention. They’re nice, not like those other guys — how dare you lump them in with the worst of their gender! You’re just like all the other girls.
*Note ableist metaphor in title. Hello there, privilege!

Polanski, Polanski, Polanski

kateiconThat has been my entire week. Since my first post about it here got a lot of responses, I figured I’d share everything I’ve been doing on it in one place. (Trigger warnings on pretty much all of it.)

But before I get to that incredibly depressing shit, please go watch Chris Rock going off on Polanski on Jay Leno last night. I was beginning to despair of ever seeing an actual big-name celeb I like join Team Child Rape Is Bad (see second Thursday post below). The clip is both painfully (and I mean that) funny and quite satisfying if you’ve been waiting like I have, though not perfect. In any case, it’s ABOUT FUCKING TIME.

Monday
Reminder: Roman Polanski Raped a Child

Tuesday
Letters from Hollywood: Roman Polanski’s Rape of Child No Big Thing

Wednesday
Sharon Tate’s Sister: It Was A Consensual Matter

Peter Fonda and Roman Polanski on Rape vs. Murder

Thursday
Lynchpin of Polanski Misconduct Case: I Lied

Are Anti-Polanski Celebs Afraid To Speak Up?

Oh, and Thursday was also the day I appeared on The Today Show to talk Polanski, because that’s just how bananas shit had gotten by that point. (If you haven’t seen it yet, don’t get excited. They literally left in one sentence of my 15- or 20-minute interview.)

Speaking of shit being bananas, I was also on Nightline last night, though that was not Polanski-related. They finally aired a teeny part of an interview I did weeks ago (I got like two sentences in that one!), squished in among Crystal Renn, Brooke Elliott and headless fatty B-roll. Woohoo!

Friday
Polanski, “Hounddog” and 13-year-old voices (After Monday’s post, this is probably the one I’m proudest of.)

And, finally, The best Polanski you might have missed this week — a round-up of other people’s posts I loved this week, though it doesn’t include two amazing ones by survivors: Lauren’s at Feministe, and our own Tari’s – which, if you read one Polanski post, should maybe be it.

Quote of the day: Normal

I take the war on terror personally because the war on terror is really a war on difference, because my body strikes terror in the hearts of other Americans.

My body and the bodies of the people I love are the most intimate sites of American imperialism. Because our sex anatomy isn’t normal, they operate on us without our consent. Because who we have sex with isn’t normal, they won’t let us get married. Because our gender isn’t normal, they don’t give us jobs, health care, or housing. We work, we pay rent, we pay taxes, but because we’re not normal, we don’t get the same freedoms other Americans enjoy, the same freedoms American soldiers are murdering to protect.

Normal is a weapon of mass destruction. It’s just as deadly, and just like those weapons, it’ll never be found.

– Thea Hillman, Intersex (for lack of a better word), 2008

I very highly recommend this book: it’s fascinating and moving.

Straw Feminist Weekly: The baby-hater

Introducing what I hope will be a regular feature here: Straw Feminist Weekly! In which we give a shout-out to the egregious straw feminists that cunningly populate the media and blogosphere.

<div><a rel="cc:attributionURL" href=This week’s Straw Feminist is a classic, and it comes to us from that site which is itself gunning for the 2009 Straw-Feminist-Fighting Championship: DoubleX. Shapelings, welcome an old favorite: The Baby-Hater. Katie Roiphe’s essay on how much she loves her newborn is accompanied, naturally, by the subtitle: Why won’t feminists admit the pleasure of infants? Come on, feminists! Why do you hate tiny babies?

This is you

This is you.

Who are all these feminists who hate infants and want to take away Roiphe’s ability to experience “The high of a love that obliterates everything. A need so consuming that it is threatening to everything you are and care about”? Well, for one thing, they’re Second Wavers:

One of the minor dishonesties of the feminist movement has been to underestimate the passion of this time, to try for a rational, politically expedient assessment. Historically, feminists have emphasized the difficulty, the drudgery of new motherhood. They have tried to analogize childcare to the work of men; and so for a long time, women have called motherhood a “vocation.” The act of caring for a baby is demanding, and arduous, of course, but it is wilder and more narcotic than any kind of work I have ever done.

Hear that, ladies? You may find yourself longing for adult conversation and wishing you could get a full night’s sleep while your partner feeds the baby for once, but that’s because you’re denying the narcotic effect of your infant’s natural musk!

Feminists of the world, how can you not love the “opium-den quality to maternity leave”? Maternity leave, as we all know, was benevolently granted to women by men because they understand that motherhood is like an addiction, and hey, we all deserve a little time off from work when we’re high on opiates, am I right? Wait, what’s that — maternity leave is only available to you because of feminist activism that “analogized childcare to the work of men” (you know, real work!), and in fact we have far less paid parental leave than many of our international peers? Oh, you feminists and your politics! Why don’t you put those boring history books down and pick up a baby, for god’s sake? Quit being so dishonest and tell it like it is: motherhood is just like drug addiction, which is a financially supported and widely approved lifestyle.

But look, it’s not only Betty Friedan and her lying friends who hate babies: it’s also every great woman writer of the past 250 years.

BO-ring

BO-ring

I remember visiting one of my closest friends on her maternity leave last summer. We sat on a wooden bench in her garden and drank iced coffees, and gazed at her second baby. She is a writer, and we talked about how the women writers we most admired had no children, or have had one child, at the absolute most, but never two. (Edith Wharton, Virginia Woolf and Jane Austen had no children; Mary McCarthy, Rebecca West, Joan Didion, and Janet Malcolm all had one.) My friend looked down at her newborn and her tiny eyelashes. She could entertain this conversation in an academic way, but as she adjusted the baby’s hat I could see how far removed it was from anything that mattered to her. Here, sitting in the garden, looking at the eyelashes, would you trade the baby for the possibility of writing The House of Mirth? You would not.

Oh, sure, some women writers had babies, but they totally hated them! You can tell because they only had one: real women love babies so much they have as many as possible. You never see books about how much women love their children and miss them when they’re gone. I mean, Virginia Woolf had that whole room of her own, right? Surely she could have fit a crib in there.

Look, Edith Wharton may have had a Pulitzer Prize and a bibliography as long as her baby-less arm, but The House of Mirth is some crazy feminist novel and thus totally not worth having written. It’s all about how upper-class women are forced into marriage because it’s their only economic option and beauty is their only currency! What kind of crazy nonsense is that? Leave the novels to the men, ladies. You wouldn’t want to spend all your time crafting deathless prose if you would just snorgle a baby once in a while. Those eyelashes!

Remember, feminists: you’re all a bunch of baby-haters who are so selfish you don’t even want Katie Roiphe to love her baby — even if you are parents yourselves, even if you advocate for longer parental leave, even if you run an orphanage filled with nothing but sweet, sweet babies. Katie Roiphe knows: she wrote a whole article dissing you; therefore, she’s right about feminism and you’re wrong.

Straw Feminist Weekly: We define feminism so you don’t have to!

Elsewhere on the internet

I wrote about anonymous cyberbullying for The Guardian’s Comment Is Free:

Yet all over the web, people operating under the illusion that their identities are thoroughly hidden continue to prove John Gabriel’s famous theory of internet behaviour: Normal person + anonymity + audience = total prat.* And too often, particularly when it comes to misogynistic attacks that not only harm women’s public reputations but drive them away from participating in online communities, citizens of the internet side with the prats. People become obsessed with hypothetical legal arguments about freedom of speech – even the kind of speech that’s never been protected – to the exclusion of looking at a larger, more important question: What kind of internet culture do we want?

And then I wrote about the fake controversy over Michelle Obama wearing shorts over at Broadsheet:

That’s right: Michelle Obama wore shorts. In August. To The Grand Canyon. Which is in Arizona. Which is really, really, really hot. And which is also in the United States, where it’s been common for women to wear shorts in public for decades. Not seeing the news angle? Neither is any other thinking person, but that didn’t stop outlets from the L.A. Times to “The Today Show” from discussing the American people’s ostensibly conflicted reaction (unfortunately, most journalists haven’t been able to locate an American person willing to express an opinion other than, “Seriously?”) or the Huffington Post from asking readers: “Does Michelle Obama have the right to bare legs?” … My favorite part of that poll is that the pro-shorts answer is, “Absolutely! It’s so modern!” Shorts. In August. “Modern.” Did Peggy Olson sneak in and write that copy? Or Laura Ingalls Wilder, maybe?

Talk about those posts, or anything else your heart desires, in the thread below. ‘Cause I am way too lazy to write something new here today as well.

*Gabriel’s phrase is, of course, “total fuckwad,” but the editor cleaned it up in a delightfully British way for me.

On Message

Last week someone asked my husband why there weren’t more women in ham radio and other techy jobs/hobbies, and being a good feminist he asked me what he should say. The response he’d been tossing around, he said, had something to do with how nobody tells women they can do science, math, or engineering.

This, it seemed to me, was a start but only the tip of the iceberg. I mean, it’s generally true that people don’t tell girls they can get into technical hobbies or STEM professions, but does that really get to the heart of what we’re missing? The implication then is that all girls need is a firm steady guiding hand giving them a Walkie-Talkie and a physics text. Not only does it understate the complexity of the problem, but it leaves your argument open to facile rebuttals: “But my daughter’s Girl Scout troop learned how circuits work.” “But I tell all my math students they can succeed.” “But my niece was signed up for science camp and she just didn’t like it — are you sure it’s not something innate?”

Because the problem isn’t the messages girls don’t get — it’s the ones they do. It’s not the lack of someone telling them, in so many words, that math and science are open doors for them. It’s the fact that everything else in their life tells them that’s not true. Maybe nobody says out loud “but that’s math, that’s for boys.” Some well-meaning parent or counselor or teacher may actually say otherwise. But overt articulation is not the only way that messages get through. Maybe teachers call on you less in certain subjects. Maybe the books and gifts you get push you down one path instead of another. Maybe it’s just the tone in your mother’s voice when you tell her what you want to be when you grow up — disappointment, or amused indulgence. Maybe after being bombarded with these unspoken conclusions every day since birth for your entire life, Teen Talk Barbie no longer needs to tell you in so many words that math is hard.

The same is true of other messages girls get. As Sweet Machine posted recently, Harriet Jacobs of Fugitivus put her finger on how these implicit messages operate in the case of rape and resistance. It’s true of body image too. No quantity of Sesame Street songs about how there is only one you and you are fundamentally worthwhile is going to fully counteract the million insidious messages that say you’re ugly, you’re unloveable, you take up too much space, you don’t measure up. It’s like putting on a Band-aid before you walk through a thicket of thorns. Even if nobody says it out loud (and face it, they probably do), women aren’t stupid. By the time we’re four or five, we can read the wall of text next to the checkout. We can interpret advertisements and facial expressions. We hear subtext. We know the score.

When we talk about the messages that women receive, this is often interpreted as meaning things that people actually say directly and in so many words. Wouldn’t that be simple, if we could just make sure people told girls out loud that they were unique and valuable people? But we are subtle creatures, primed to take in information even when it’s not served up to us on a platter. As an example: I was turning this post over in my head while driving home from the Metro the other day, and I thought to pay attention for a few minutes to all the information I was taking in as I drove. In addition to paying attention to the road and (vaguely, since I do this drive every day) noticing where I was and which direction I was going, I was also taking in messages about the weather, the time, the season, my bladder, my hunger level, the fit of my shoes which were rubbing on my heel, the feel of the steering wheel, an itch on my ear, the functioning of the car, the behavior of other cars and pedestrians not in my direct line of vision, the music and lyrics of the song on my iPod and its relationship to the song before it. I’m generally not consciously aware of all these bits of information, but they come together to make up my picture of the world at any given instant. And if any kind soul had told me they weren’t true, I’d know they were blowing smoke.

This is why patriarchy is so difficult to defeat — because you’re soaking in it. Unless you lock a girl in a windowless, TV-less room from birth and have her wet-nursed by Hortense from Jezebel, she’s going to encounter the sticky tentacles of a social system that says she’s more decoration than person, and a flawed decoration at that. She’s going to encounter them every single day of her life, reinforcing each other, ganging up, forming part of her understanding of reality. And just telling her she’s fine how she is — or not telling her, out loud, that she isn’t — simply will not be enough.

This is also true, by the way, of the messages men receive. I’ve been thinking about this, especially Jacobs’ points about how women learn passivity, in connection with the gym shooting incident (by the way, Kate has a brilliant post about the gym shooter and Nice Guy Syndrome on Broadsheet, in case you missed it). Jeff Fecke wrote a post at Alas about shooter George Sodini’s pathological attitude towards women, in which he talks about the way that “pickup artists” the man’s loneliness and told him that women were less than human:

Sodoni [sic] went to seminars where they told him to “kill the nice guy,” as if niceness was his failing. He read books telling him that if he was assertive enough, bold enough, that twentysomethings would be beating a path to his door… Sodoni looked to charlatans and hucksters who claimed that you, too, can get the girl of your dreams if you just insult her enough.

(You can see the responses of some of these charmers to Sodini’s rampage at another post on Alas, but be warned that you will feel crushing despair.)

It’s all very well to think of Sodini as a sad crank whose chipped shoulder was exploited by misogynist con men. He really did have a little devil whispering in his ear that women owed him sex and deserved to be hurt and mistreated for withholding it — he was even paying the devil for the privilege. But it would be a grave mistake to imagine that just because these messages were more overt than what we usually hear, they were in some way unusual. Sodini paid people to tell him that women are lesser beings. Most men get those messages for free.

We can’t symbolically get rid of Sodini by pointing out all the explicit encouragement he got from the PUA community, both before and after his repugnant crime. Normal men don’t seek out that encouragement, it’s true — but they don’t have to, because they live in the society that bred the PUA movement in the first place. The difference between the messages Sodini got and the ones men are bombarded with every day is only a difference of scale and obviousness, not one of kind. This is why otherwise decent men make sexist jokes  (or listen quietly to sexist jokes), or justify or minimize “gray rape,” or derail discussions of feminism by focusing on men’s needs. It’s overt feminist messages that are unusual, not overt sexist ones. In an atmosphere of constant sub rosa misogyny, where that constant misogyny actually forms part of our sense of reality, it’s the people who object that bring us up short, more than the people who participate or even take it to extremes.

Why do feminists “overreact” to the tiniest traces of misogyny in ads and media, things the more enlightened call harmless fun? Because those tiny traces pollute our minds and our environments. Because we struggle each day through a miasma of subtle, insidious particles of information saying that men need to fuck women into submission, that women are inherently lesser beings, that women’s looks are their only worth, that women’s safety and health and comfort are unimportant — and the particles that stick to you don’t wash off easily. Because this polluted environment breeds girls who think they can’t do math, but also men who kill. And because contradicting only the most obvious, bald-faced, clear-cut messages just doesn’t do enough to stop it.

Douchehound of the Day: Satoshi Kanazawa

I’m a little late to this one, but in case anyone missed evolutionary psychologist (really, need I say more?) Satoshi Kanazawa’s devastating takedown of a certain kind of feminist — to wit, the straw kind — at Psychology Today, let me tell you two things about it.

1) The title is “Why Modern Feminism is Illogical, Unnecessary, and Evil.” NO, REALLY.

2) It contains reasoning like the following:

Another fallacy on which modern feminism is based is that men have more power than women.  Among mammals, the female always has more power than the male, and humans are no exception.  It is true that, in all human societies, men largely control all the money, politics, and prestige.  They do, because they have to, in order to impress women.  Women don’t control these resources, because they don’t have to.  What do women control?  Men.  As I mention in an earlier post, any reasonably attractive young woman exercises as much power over men as the male ruler of the world does over women.

Setting aside the ridiculousness of that assertion — for practically infinite reasons, including how heterosexist and indeed anti-male it is (“We all think with our dicks! Amirite? NO-CAPACITY-FOR-HIGHER-ORDER-THINKING-IN-PRESENCE-OF-BOOBIES HIGH FIVE!”) — I’ll just point out the obvious.  You say you’re female but not, for whatever reason, someone generally regarded as a “reasonably attractive young woman”? Fuck you!

I shall not fully fisk (though I’ll certainly have things to add in comments) because I’ve got a busy day ahead, and I’m sure you all can do a more thorough job of it anyway. Gina Barreca gets the fun started here, and I trust this thread will be highly entertaining reading by the end of the day. Go to it, Shapelings.

“She didn’t fight back because you told her not to”

Trigger warning: this post and the comment thread discuss rape and violence against women.

We’ve gotten a lot of traffic from Kate’s classic post about online sexual harassment; its directive to male readers to stop treating misogynistic behavior by other men as normal seems to really hit home for a lot of people. If you haven’t read it, for god’s sake, get to! And if you have, check out this amazing post by Harriet Jacobs at Fugitivus (a blog I only stumbled across recently) about a similar phenomenon: the way “resisting” rape is not normalized behavior for women.

People wonder why women don’t “fight back,” but they don’t wonder about it when women back down in arguments, are interrupted, purposefully lower and modulate their voices to express less emotion, make obvious signals that they are uninterested in conversation or being in closer physical proximity and are ignored. They don’t wonder about all those daily social interactions in which women are quieter, ignored, or invisible, because those social interactions seem normal. They seem normal to women, and they seem normal to men, because we were all raised in the same cultural pond, drinking the same Kool-Aid.

And then, all of a sudden, when women are raped, all these natural and invisible social interactions become evidence that the woman wasn’t truly raped. Because she didn’t fight back, or yell loudly, or run, or kick, or punch. She let him into her room when it was obvious what he wanted. She flirted with him, she kissed him. She stopped saying no, after a while.

These rules for social interactions that women are taught to obey are more than grease for the patriarchy wheel. Women are taught both that these rules will protect them, and that disobeying these rules results in punishment.

[snip]

It’s a rude fucking awakening when a woman gets raped, and follows the rules she has been taught her whole life — doesn’t refuse to talk, doesn’t refuse to flirt, doesn’t walk away ignoring him, doesn’t hit, doesn’t scream, doesn’t fight, doesn’t raise her voice, doesn’t deny she liked kissing — and finds out after that she is now to blame for the rape. She followed the rules. The rules that were supposed to keep the rape from happening. The rules that would keep her from being fair game for verbal and physical abuse. Breaking the rules is supposed to result in punishment, not following them. For every time she lowered her voice, let go of a boundary, didn’t move away, let her needs be conveniently misinterpreted, and was given positive reinforcement and a place in society, she is now being told that all that was wrong, this one time, and she should have known that, duh.

For anybody who has ever watched the gendered social interactions of women — watched a woman get browbeaten into accepting attention she doesn’t want, watched a woman get interrupted while speaking, watched a woman deny she is upset at being insulted in public, watched a woman get grabbed because of what she was wearing, watched a woman stop arguing — and said and done nothing, you never have the right to ever ask, “Why didn’t she fight back?”

She didn’t fight back because you told her not to. Ever. Ever. You told her that was okay, and necessary, and right.

Read the whole thing, because it’s a powerhouse of a post. You will want to bookmark it and reread it and pass it along. I see it as a spot-on elaboration of one of the key points from Kate’s post mentioned above: the “little things” that some people dismiss as “unimportant” sexist behaviors are the same things that normalize sexual harassment and assault. Here’s Kate again:

And because the really bad guys don’t pop out of thin air as fully formed misogynists. They need encouragement and reinforcement in order to completely miss the fact that there’s something deeply fucking wrong with them. Subtle sexism gives them that. Keeping your mouth shut about overt sexism gives them that. Not really listening to the women you love, let alone women you don’t even know–thereby being one more guy sending a message to women that we’re only worth listening to on men’s terms–gives them that. Telling yourself and anyone who will listen that that’s just the way it is, and people need to quit whining gives them that. How can they clue into the fact that there’s something deeply fucking wrong with them when so many guys are acting just like they do in public, or at least never calling them out?

The Fugitivus post also has a great discussion of when calling someone out is worth the risk — definitely also worth following.

What’s the point of judicial power if you don’t have Girl Power?

Here’s the thing about Robin Givhan, the WaPo‘s fashion journalist. She frequently writes about fashion in contexts that should make for fascinating readings: the images portrayed by women in power, and how their stylistic choices reflect (or, often, deflect) our expectations of femininity. Sounds right up our alley, no? But here’s the other thing about Givhan: she’s bad at it. To be more precise (and more fair), she’s not bad at writing, and she’s not bad at fashion; she’s just bad at feminism. Sure, I don’t need all reporters in the world to be feminist (but, oh, what a world that would be!), but if your beat consists of analyzing fashion and gender, and you’re not doing it through a feminist lens, you may as well work for Cosmo.

Givhan made herself infamous in the feminist blogosphere by dedicating an entire article to Hillary Clinton’s cleavage and how “unnerving” it supposedly was, during campaign season, natch. (Choice quote: The cleavage, however, is an exceptional kind of flourish. After all, it’s not a matter of what she’s wearing but rather what’s being revealed. It’s tempting to say that the cleavage stirs the same kind of discomfort that might be churned up after spotting Rudy Giuliani with his shirt unbuttoned just a smidge too far. No one wants to see that. But really, it was more like catching a man with his fly unzipped. Just look away!) Now she’s weighing in on Sonia Sotomayor, claiming that for her hearings, Sotomayor chose to eschew femininity altogether. In maddening but typical fashion, she fails to even remotely discuss why Sotomayor might make such a choice, instead dissing her for being stuck in the ’80s — which is so hot right now, unless you’re a lady judge, of course. (See Jezebel for a great comparison of Sotomayor’s look to the “1980s lady power broker” that Givhan claims she’s channeling. Maybe Givhan isn’t that good at fashion after all.)

Whether or not you agree with Givhan’s premise that Sotomayor “embraced that period in fashion when femininity had no place in the executive suite” (for the record, I don’t), you’d think Givhan might at least mention the fact that Sotomayor’s status as a Vagina American has actually been a point of contention and debate in the past few weeks. Givhan sidles up to a gender-based analysis, but then she gets distracted by shiny things or something and doesn’t follow through:

In recent years, it’s been men in Sotomayor’s position, with their hands raised as they promise to tell the truth. In matters of aesthetics they’ve had it easy. They needed only to wear a tidy dark suit with an unstained tie and a crisp dress shirt. A fresh haircut was always a wise move. Meeting these meager requirements has sometimes been a struggle. Still, both Samuel Alito and John Roberts were mostly unremarkable when they appeared before the Judiciary Committee.

Sonia Sotomayor didn’t try to imitate the boys by assembling androgynous ensembles. That would not have gone over at all. Too dark a palette or too sleek a silhouette would have looked too urbane. Too unapproachable. Too minimal. Too suspiciously New York liberal.

Sotomayor avoided wearing clothes so bland that they faded into the background and left her looking dowdy and retiring and like she was trying to remake herself into something she is not. Based on her résumé and her life story, “flat” and “dull” are not adjectives that could accurately be applied to the “wise Latina.” So she was not a blur in beige.

Gosh, why do you think men wouldn’t bother doing more than getting a haircut and a dry cleaning before appearing before the Senate (and the nation)? It’s almost like they are evaluated on their accomplishments and qualifications instead of on their color palettes. I guess they’re just lucky!

I can’t believe that Givhan has the nerve to refer to the “wise Latina” comment — which has been widely mocked by white men (who, of course, are Neutral Humans) as a sign of being uppity — in the context of how neutral Sotomayor decided to dress, without even a hint of irony. It’s as though she has no idea that Sotomayor might have a vested interest in appearing nonthreatening to the white men who have been trying to get her to admit she’s some kind of pity nominee. Givhan writes that Sotomayor’s fashion projects the following statement: “I am palatable. I am familiar. And in addition to my ethnicity, I also know how to leave my gender at the door.” AND THEN THE ARTICLE ENDS. Because, I guess, there’s nothing interesting to say about being required to “leave” your ethnicity and gender at the door to the Supreme Court.

For a journalist who writes about fashion in politics, Givhan seems to miss the main point of her own work: fashion is political. Can you imagine the uproar if Sotomayor, a fat (or at least not thin)*, middle-aged Latina, actually showed up at the confirmation hearings in the sheath dresses and bare legs** that Givhan recommends? The powers that be in fashion may have announced that “Strength, femininity and fashion can coexist in the boardroom as well as on Capitol Hill,” but I’m pretty sure that these guys didn’t get the fucking memo.

*ETA: I am actually not sure at all if Sotomayor is fat or “Hollywood fat,” but her body shape is still not one we would see in a lot of the fashion magazines that apparently should dictate her every move.

**IIRC, the Bush White House required women to wear pantyhose to work (though I can’t find a link for that at the moment).

Dainty Little Bites: Discuss.

So the fellas and I are packing up and moving several states away this week — on Friday or Saturday, depending on how packing and loading up the truck goes — and as a result I have no dadgummed clue where my copy of Susan Bordo’s Unbearable Weight is. It may be in the garage (appropriately off-the-floor and well-cared-for, I hasten to add; for I am not a hater of books, and I would wither if any of the awesome Shapeling librarians or librarians-to-be gave me the hairy eyeball) or it may be in a pile of somethings, or under something, or in with the cookbooks, I’m just not sure.

If I had access to the book, I would here post something intelligent and pertinent about the Dainty Little Bite — that culturally-approved way for women to have appetites. Because I’ve been thinking a lot about appetites, as I expect most of you have noticed; and I’ve been thinking lately about the Dainty Little Bite in particular. And I would love to rehash what Susan Bordo has already said, and use an excerpt as conversation fodder. (Note to Susan Bordo, if you’re reading: You are my fantasy Famous Shapeling. I love to imagine that you read here. I like to think that that’s actually entirely possible, and that one day we’ll discover that you’re a regular commenter here with a wickedly clever little alias that you chose so that you could help collaborate on some of the more ribald contributions that the SP community has made to humanity over the years… the parodies, the Douchehoundings, etc. But a friend of mine from college has now gone and ACTUALLY STUDIED WITH YOU in grad school, and she tells me that in her opinion you’d have no qualms about commenting here under your own name, because you’re fearless like that. Sigh. Reality, why must you get in the way of all my cherished fantasies?!)

But, as established, the book is not handy. So here are my off-the-cuff thoughts and questions about the Dainty Little Bite. First, it really has cognates in other appetites, no? (I’m just thinking for example of all those advertisements, mostly ones directed at heterosexual doods… where a woman is pictured with the product, the camera angle is from above and looking down on her, she’s looking up playfully — childishly let seductively — and her mouth is half-open. Isn’t that kind of the Dainty Little Bite of sexual appetite? Or have I got it all backwards and inside-out?)

Related to that: is it just me, or is the Dainty Little Bite not basically a shorthand for “I have just enough desire to indulge my appetites when you would find it titillating and/or useful, but not enough desire to spur me to set my own terms”?

And third, how is the Dainty Little Bite situated by whiteness and by middle class identity? Having seen the racist and classist ways in which virtuous eating functions among white middle-class people* I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that it’s thoroughly situated by whiteness and middle class anxiety/internalized superiority. But I’m a white straight cis middle-class chick. For me, the DLB goes all the way down, so far that I can’t see where it starts and where it stops.

All these may be obvious, and all may have been stated better (BY SUSAN BORDO, PROBABLY, which is why I wish I could put my hands on the damn book). Anyway, may we talk about it? (I feel a twinge of guilt here for not having, you know, a strong and assertive thesis statement — “In this blog post, I shall argue that…” etc. — but honestly, I’d more like to know what you all think. Plus, I’m in the middle of a move, and I’m rather pleasantly surprised I can put together sentences at all beyond “The thus-and-such goes in the this-or-that.”)

Sooo, discuss! (Please? And thanks.)

*-Recently someone cold-called one of my husband’s colleagues and asked him if their church group could bring “fresh fruits and vegetables” to their neighborhood in the “inner city.” He was like, “How did you get this idea? Do you know anyone in our neighborhood? Did anyone call you and ask for your gracious help?” No no no, they just heard from other white crunchy virtuous eaters, and saw on the teevee, that there were poor people of color in the inner city who were miserable wretches in need of produce. So they decided to help. Without being asked. Which straightaway reminded me of the clip from Sesame Street where some kids are just eating their lunches, minding their own business, and are interrupted by the obnoxious and intrusive Captain Vegetable… who bursts in and sings “It is I, Captain Vegetable! With my carrots! And my celery!” Ah, Sesame Street. Always so ahead of its day. I think I’m going to start humming this now anytime someone starts plotting to save the world from types of eating which they find icky-poo.