BroadSnark

Thoughts on politics, religion, violence, inequality, social control, change, and random other things from an autonomous, analytical, adopted, abolitionist, anarchist who likes the letter A
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Archive for the ‘Stratification’

Work Less. We Need You.

May 23, 2017 By: Mel Category: Seeking, Stratification, Work

It seems like everyone I know is in one of two situations. Either they are un(der)employed and trying to figure out how to get some hours/money to survive or they are working far too many hours and trying to figure out how to fit any kind of a life into a workday.

I used to work appallingly long hours. It started because I was severely underpaid and had little choice. But it continued because I had internalized the idea of a “hard worker” being a good thing. I succumbed to the expectation that people are supposed to fit their life around their work, rather than the other way around. I also wanted independence. Work seemed like a better route to independence than housewife, the only other option on offer.

There were some rewards for all that “hard work” and long hours. It might almost make you believe in the pull yourself up by your bootstraps nonsense. Of course, not everyone can do it. While I was getting raises and promotions for being “indispensable,” my coworker was struggling just to get to the office on time. She was a single mother who lived in a part of Liberty City where the buses, when they were working at all, only ran Monday through Friday during rush hour. Ostensibly my raises and promotion were a result of all those long hours. But the reality is that requiring long hours to “get ahead” is a way of privileging certain people without seeming to.

Even a forty hour week is too much. It worked o.k. for my father, when I was small.  He was able to work full time, still have a social life, and participate in his community. But that is because he had a stay at home wife, a support staff in his office, a periodic housekeeper, and various babysitters for us kids. In other words, he had a cadre of women doing much of the work for him. Once his business was crushed by the big box stores, life changed. No more stay at home wife. No more support staff. The community participation stopped. He had a stroke and was never really able to work full time again.

So if you are feeling like you are somehow failing, if you think you need some self-help bullshit about how to manage your time better, you don’t. There is nothing wrong with you. The reason we have so many exhausted, sick people hanging by one last nerve is not that we are all inadequate. It is that the grind is killing us.

When I entered the nonprofit world things got even trickier. Suddenly, it isn’t that you are giving all your life hours to make an owner even richer. It is that you are dedicated to a cause. When the people you are ostensibly helping seem even worse off than you, how can you justify cutting them off?

Ironically, one of the first nonprofits I worked for was an organization in California that helped people who were caring for someone with a brain impairment. I worked long hours. I was tired, stressed, and cranky. I spent zero time trying to be a part of the community. I didn’t treat people the way they should be treated. While I was supposedly helping caregivers, I had a life which would not have allowed me to do any caregiving. So how was that really helping anyone?

What I have come to see is that the more we work at our jobs, the worse off we are as a society. Our work structure is designed to provide cover for continuing discrimination and inequality. It is designed to prevent us from being able to participate in the life of our communities. It relies on a cadre of women – disproportionately poor women of color – whose struggles are mostly invisible. It is exploitation that we are all complicit in, whether you hire someone to clean your house or are so busy that you need to rely on the poverty wage workers who make your fast food. I began to understand what Nancy Fraser refers to as a “crisis of care.”

Between the need for increased working hours and the cutback in public services, the financialized capitalist regime is systematically depleting our capacities for sustaining social bonds. This form of capitalism is stretching our “caring” energies to the breaking point. This “crisis of care” should be understood structurally. By no means contingent or accidental, it is the expression, under current conditions, of a tendency to social-reproductive crisis that is inherent in capitalist society, but that takes an especially acute form in the present regime of financialized capitalism.

In short, Capitalism cares only about production and marginalizes the relationship building and care that our lives actually depend on. If our communities are falling apart, it is because the time we need to nurture the relationships that make communities strong is being stolen from us. I don’t see how we will resolve any other problem unless we can tackle this one.

Clearly, this is a systemic issue that will require collective action. But one of the first steps has to be reprogramming our own thinking and pushing back on the theft of our time and well-being.

It is not easy to break the cycle. It might even be a little terrifying. We have been programmed our whole lives to believe that one false move will land us on the streets. The reality is that some people really are in such a precarious position that they have little room to push. But that isn’t true for all of us. And the more collective hours we can recover, the more time we will have to do things to open space for the people who don’t have it now.

A good start is to push back against all the voices, including the ones in the back of our heads, which tell us to judge people for not being hard working enough. Push back when people start every conversation by asking what a person does for a living. Don’t work overtime if you can afford not to. Find ways to decrease your material needs or alternate ways to meet those needs. Refuse to get on emails outside of work hours. Take every minute of your vacation (if you are lucky enough to have it).

Thank people who actually take off when they are sick. Support paid sick days for everyone. Applaud publicly those who prioritize their family and community in actions and not just words. Call out anyone who criticizes people who actually have their priorities straight. Build a support system that makes risking your job a little less scary. Be there for others so that they can take risks too. Be the one who helps those trying to live without wage labor, not the Petty Crocker who resents anyone that isn’t working as much as they are.

When you have a moment of guilt or fear, think about how this system is designed to make it impossible to have a reasonable life. Think about all the people who could benefit from a drastic shift in culture and expectations. Ask why, if you leave work early or get on Facebook at your desk, employers say that you are stealing time. Yet it is totally accepted that an employer expects you to be on email 24/7, schedules meetings during lunch hour, or takes advantage of lax overtime exemption laws to make people work late for free.  Get pissed. Remember that you aren’t just pushing back for yourself. Remember that time is not money, time is life. They are stealing your life.

No matter how you earn your living, you aren’t doing anyone any favors by abandoning your loved ones, community, and health to the organization. No person can work 40 hours a week or more, support their loved ones in the way they deserve, be an active member of a community, be aware of what is going on in the world, be conscious about the systems they support, take care of themselves, create beautiful things, and find time for the joy that makes life worth living. Too many of us are sacrificing all the most important things on the altar of work. We need to look at our lives differently. Or as Fraser puts it

“The idea that you could build a society that assumes every adult is a person with primary care responsibilities, community engagements, and social commitments. That’s not utopian. It’s a vision based on what human life is really like.”

You can (and should) read the whole interview here.

What’s Different with Trayvon?

March 29, 2012 By: Mel Category: Conflict, Stratification

Last week I wrote about how I think that the Rush Limbaugh shit storm was in large part because of who the target was, how people perceived her, and what they thought their role towards her should be.  Now I’m thinking about how much attention the Trayvon Martin murder has gotten and why.

Black kids are killed all the time. They are killed on the streets. They are killed by cops. They are killed by prison guards. Why did this one cause such an uproar while the others end in silence?

There is this idea that racism is only personal prejudice – extreme personal prejudice. George Zimmerman confirms that view of racism for us. Racists are those southern, white, redneck, low-class, militia, KKK types. And in this case, we even have a German name for added umph. You can practically see the Hollywood script being written.

When some southern vigilante kills a black kid, everyone can be up in arms without questioning our society and all the institutions in it. Not so when it is a cop or a prison guard. When an “authority” does it, we either have to accept it or question authority. Not so when racism is not personal prejudice but systemic, institutionalized, economic and social subjugation. Then the fault is not some redneck. Then the fault is ours.

It is true that some people are making the connections, but how many? How long will that last? And why does it have to take a kid murdered by a stereotype to make people pay attention? Weren’t all those other dead kids human too?

Probably not. At least not in the minds of a lot of people.

Not surprisingly, the dehumanization of Trayvon has begun. Somewhere along the line we have accepted that a person who smoked pot once or did one stupid thing in their life deserves to suffer for all eternity, or even die for their arguable imperfections. Only in a truly sick society would any of the accusations – true or not – matter at all.

Be upset that some kid was shot down in the street. But be more upset that so many people accept a society that glosses over its racism by focusing only on people like Zimmerman. Be more upset about the millions of people who languish or die in prisons because we have accepted dehumanization as a way of life.

Using Prejudice

March 22, 2012 By: Mel Category: Seeking, Stratification

I’ve been watching the fall of Rush Limbaugh with a certain amount of glee, but also with some ambivalence. I’m perfectly happy for him to get shit for calling Sandra Fluke a slut after testifying about contraceptives. But I am wondering why all his other equally offensive comments didn’t come with the same amount of backlash. Why did he go too far this time?

He went too far because he directed his comments toward someone who is put on a pedestal. I don’t mean her as an individual. I mean a young, white, college student who fits the idea of what is pure and good and needs to be protected. If Fluke was a prostitute,  if she lived in a trailer, if she wasn’t white, if the news media had been able to traipse out a parade of guys she had slept with, if she was trans, if she was a guy – then things would have played out very differently.

I was thinking about this the other day when someone was telling me how Occupy received good press in the beginning and then it turned, at least in the mainstream media. But that isn’t really true. Occupy wasn’t receiving much press until some white women in New York were kettled and maced by cops. The police had crossed a cultural line.

When a Hollywood movie wants to show us that the character is a bad guy, what do they do? They have him hurt a woman. If they want to show that he is a good guy, what do they do? They have the dude rescue some woman in distress. So when somebody attacks a woman who fits the mold of who is supposed to be rescued, all hell breaks loose.

There are some times when using sexism is about the only available option. The Madres de la Plaza de Mayo were able to protest when nobody else could. Not even the dirty war government of Argentina could mow down a bunch of mothers and grandmothers. But in protesting, they also reinforced the idea of  our role as mothers, of women as non-threatening.

So I have been thinking about whether or not it is possible to use stereotypes and prejudices without reinforcing them.

The only example I can think of so far is Budrus. (If you have not seen the movie about one of the towns in Palestine that is fighting that Israeli wall, you should.) Women were not involved at first. But the daughter of one of the leaders convinced her father to let the women protest.  Faced with the Israeli bulldozers she thought, correctly, that they would be more hesitant to run over women. It worked.

In the case of Budrus, they were both challenging their role in their community and using sexism at the same time. But that seems to me to be pretty rare. And it is such a difficult line to walk.

It isn’t just reserved for gender roles and stereotypes either. Dave Chappelle has an amazing ability to use stereotypes to deflate them. I love the skit he did on whether or not white people can dance. But Chappelle has said that one of the reasons he quit the show was because of “the realization that his racially charged comedy was too often lost on an audience a little too enthusiastic about repeating the N-word.” In other words, he was afraid he was just reinforcing the stereotypes and prejudices he was trying to challenge.

Can people use prejudice to fight for justice? Or is it always destined to backfire in the long run?

 

Sex, Age, Consent, and Power

January 05, 2012 By: Mel Category: Conflict, Core, Sex, Stratification

Mel at SixteenJust after I turned sixteen, I met this guy who would end up being my boyfriend for about a year. He was twenty-two. He didn’t think I was that young at first. I never lied to him, mind you. He just didn’t ask me the night we met. I regularly passed for older in clubs, buying cigarettes, whatever. That’s me at sixteen in the pic. I have a bag full of snacks, several packs of cigs, and a jug of rum. (Clearly, my hobbies haven’t changed much. Except I mostly drink vodka now.)

By about a year and a half after that pic was taken I will have been kicked out of school, kicked out of my house, working two jobs, and taking care of myself. Which is to say that I wasn’t a particularly young sixteen. And my boyfriend wasn’t a particularly old twenty-two. He was just coasting, living with his brother, and figuring out what to do since a motorcycle accident ended his army gig.

I was not the only one of my friends who dated guys quite a bit older than them. In fact, I’m having a hard time remembering people any of us dated who weren’t quite a bit older than we were. Some of my friends were passing as 21 when they were 15. If they had dated guys their age, they would have looked like pedophiles.

Not surprisingly, my parents were not pleased with my choice of boyfriend. My father found his phone number one day and called him. To this day I do not know exactly what he said. My boyfriend, ironically, was always trying to get me to repair the relationship with my parents. Whatever my father said to him was something that he thought would have set me off. So I can only assume that my father threatened him. He moved to Chicago soon after.

Now you may be thinking that my parents were just worried for my well-being. They weren’t monsters. I’m sure they were concerned. But I am also sure that they did not think for one minute that I was being taken advantage of. While most kid’s parents were always on the lookout for “the bad influence” (including my parents when it came to my sister), my parents knew that I was too strong-willed for that. The year before they said to me, “We know nobody makes you do anything you don’t want to do.” True then. True now.

So when I read about people being prosecuted for statutory rape, or just vilified for having relationships with people much younger than they are, I take a personal interest. My first reaction is often, “I wonder what the supposed victim has to say about all this.” Lately, I’ve come across a ton of stories that involve people with big age differences.

Let’s start with this guy. A twenty-two year old man was friended on Facebook by someone pretending to be a fourteen-year-old girl in order to get information about the guy’s brother. He arranged to meet the fake fourteen-year-old for sex. The police were waiting for him. He’s going to jail for three years. Now, even though I suspect the guy is probably a cretin, I still don’t think he should be going to jail. I’m not cool with prison, but especially not sending someone to prison for a crime they wanted to commit. And we can’t even judge the maturity of the “victim” since there wasn’t any.

What about this woman? She was a high school teacher. She had sex with one of her soon-to-be-former students on prom night. He was a week away from his eighteenth birthday. She is going to spend five years in prison for that. Are we really saying that the boy had no free will? A week later he would have been eligible to enlist in the military. That is just mindbogglingly outrageous to me.

Then there is this woman. She had sex with three of her daughter’s tween friends and is now facing eighty years behind bars. I think what this woman did was wrong, not least because her daughter is going to need some serious therapy. This woman needs some therapy too. But eighty years behind bars? And when you compare that with say, the police officers who were acquitted of rape charges in New York…

That is not to say I don’t get seriously repulsed by some of the stories I read. Why would a forty-nine-year-old man be getting a thirteen-year-old fucked up so that he could grope her? What kind of fifty-two-year-old would be trying to get with a fourteen-year-old? What about thirty-four and thirteen? And I have no words for this cop who molested an eight-year-old autistic girl.

When exactly does someone cross over from being a child, incapable of consent, to an almost adult with possibly poor judgment but the ability to make decisions for themselves? For me, the pivotal age was fourteen. Everything changed for me that year. For other people it will have been different.

Clearly, a bigger age difference matters. But it matters less and less as people get older. We might raise an eyebrow at the celebrity couples with huge age differences, but we don’t generally assume that they are criminal. We might think they are damaged. We might think they are immature, having a crisis, in denial about their age, or incapable of having a healthy relationship. But I would hope that we wouldn’t come to definitive conclusions based on a picture and a couple birth dates.

I’m thirty-eight and can hardly imagine being attracted to a twenty-year-old, much less a tween. But my inability to comprehend how someone my age would do that hasn’t erased the clear memory of how powerless and angry I was at being dismissed and coerced as a teen. My parents abused their power to force me into not doing something they didn’t want me to do. To me, it is essentially no different than parents who force their teen daughters into marrying someone they don’t want to marry.

What this really comes down to is power and consent. In some situations, there is a power imbalance regardless of age. A teacher has power over a student. A cop has power over pretty much everyone. A boss has power over their employee. A guard has power over their prisoner.  As someone who believes that the ideal is for all relationships to be relationships of equals, I think we should be aiming to get rid of power imbalances. Instead, we usually end up restricting relationships in order to preserve positions of power. That seems a little back assward.

But we also have to confront the fact that things like age and physical strength also involve imbalances of power. And imbalances of power make consent a very tricky thing. Sadly, as I’ve written about before, most of us are pretty bad at consent in even the best of situations. Which means there are no easy answers. But people don’t like ambiguity, especially when it comes to sex or young people.

So I guess my question to you all is – How do we prevent abuses of power, both by the kinds of adults who molest children and by the kind of adults who dis-empower and coerce young people?

In Defense of the South

January 02, 2012 By: Mel Category: Seeking, Stratification

Tour gathered outside African American history museum at Harper's Ferry WVThere were a couple of interesting pieces out in the last week. One was an outsider’s view of  southern plantation tourism, where slavery is never mentioned and everyone wants to be Scarlett O’hara. The other article was written by a southern woman who pushes back on the usual northern/western/coastal take on the South.

Reading the articles made me think of how many times I find myself defending the South from people who “hate” it, despite the fact that many of those haters have spent little or no time there.

Technically, I’m from the South. But South Floridians don’t really think of themselves as southern. Southern people are those backwards, redneck, white supremacist, country bumpkins. South Florida is urban, suburban, diverse, Latino, Caribbean… Right?

Except that Florida is the South. You can find all of the southern stereotypes in Florida, even South Florida, if you know where to look. I mean I grew up in a suburb called Plantation for Pete’s sake. But you can also find pretty much everything else in Florida. I think maybe I thought Florida was the southern exception, but it isn’t. The South is much more complicated than movies, television, and pundits would have us believe.

Not every person who lives in the South is a white supremacist. Even if every white southerner was a white supremacist, not every person in the South is white. Damn near 40% of the state of Mississippi is black.  Damn near 40% of the state of Texas is Latino. There are indigenous communities and immigrant communities. There are incredibly rich people and incredibly poor people – with all kinds of backgrounds.

I’ve run into a cafe full of Guatemalans in the middle of Arkansas. I’ve seen the former cronies of Papa Doc throwing their cash around in New Orleans. I’ve learned Spanish colonial history at a Seminole reservation. And I’ve watched an Asian family learn about John Brown at Harpers Ferry. All of it in the South.

When people talk about The South as though the only people that exist are the KKK, they dismiss so many people who live there. It is amazing to me that the same people who hold up the civil rights movement as the pinnacle of justice and exemplary non-violent action could turn right around and dismiss the very people who took part in it. MLK, Medgar Evers, Rosa Parks, Jo Ann Robinson, Claudette Colvin, Ella Baker – all from the South.

When people dismiss the South as being backwards and racist, they imply that where they are from isn’t.  They are implying that it is only low class people who think like that, not them. It is a way for people to define racism as solely the kind of violent white supremacy you see in Mississippi burning – rather than the institutional discrimination and economic exploitation that is, and has always been, found in every state.

California and New York prisons are filled with POC that have been targeted by some of the worst drug laws and police departments in the country. The North and West have plenty of police brutality, housing discrimination, job discrimination, profiling, hate crimes… I’ve lived in Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Orlando, Santa Cruz, and DC. Of all those places, the one where I saw the most discrimination and closed-mindedness was Santa Cruz, CA.

I liked both of the articles that inspired this post. I’m certainly not suggesting that the writer who criticized those horrible plantation tours was wrong. But we need to examine truthfully all the many layers of fuckedupedness, past and present, all over this country. It isn’t just a southern thing.

Targeted, Vilified, Ignored

December 22, 2011 By: Mel Category: Conflict, Politics, Stratification, Work

In a strip mall, right across the border from DC, there is a small event center called Plaza 23. People can rent the space for all sorts of things, from birthday parties to cabarets. Often, they have go-go shows.

Go-go is DC music. This is a city that can be incredibly segregated by both race and class. Go-go is the music of the working class and poor black people that are all too often targeted, vilified, or ignored. The people who listen to go-go are portrayed as violent and dangerous. So is the music they listen to and any place that plays it.

That isn’t to say that there have never been violent incidents at or near go-go shows. But any time there is violence nearby, it is all too easy for the “authorities” to swoop in and scapegoat the artists and venues based on already preconceived ideas about who listens to go-go.

Plaza 23 is located in PG County, Maryland. PG county had a spate of violence in January of 2011. Unfortunately for Plaza 23, and all the other music and dance venues in PG County, the sixteenth homicide of 2011 happened not far outside the Plaza after a TCB show.

In response, the PG county council passed an emergency bill regulating dance halls. Lowlights of the bill include:

  • A $1,000 nonrefundable license fee
  • A background check and denial of a license to anyone who has been “convicted of a felony, violating any Federal or State laws relating to offenses involving moral turpitude, or crimes involving financial misrepresentations”
  • A security plan, including installation of cameras inside and outside
  • Private security officers to patrol the perimeter
  • Suspension or revocation of the license at the whim of the “authorities”
  • No dancing between 2:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.
  • A $1,000 fine or up to six months in jail for anyone who “is a licensee, and/or owns, leases, operates, is in charge of or in apparent charge of an adult dance hall or teen dance hall, or promotes a facility or event required to be licensed under this Division without first having obtained a public dance license”. Same penalties for violating any provision of the act.

The emergency bill sailed through the PG County council in July of 2011. Just before the bill was passed, the owner of the Plaza tried to get his license renewed, but the county was not renewing them. Applications in accordance with the new bill were not made available until October. In November, as the Plaza was trying to apply for their license, they were cited and closed down.

According to this Washington Times article from December 18th, “no new dance hall licenses have been granted and the county has ceased to renew old licenses…save for the two venues whose old dance hall permits are still valid, Prince George is a dry county in regard to dancing.”

Isn’t this the plot from Footloose?

Shutting down the Plaza because someone got shot outside is like saying we should shut down the Hilton across from my house. After all, Reagan got shot there. And those shady political types are always gathering there. It’s just too damn dangerous. And perhaps we ought to outlaw homes too. That is where the biggest chunk of violent crimes occur.

That part about hiring security for the outside of venues. They were already required to do that. Every event required inside security and the hiring of off duty cops for the outside. Except that the PD in PG county refused to show up for some shows. That saying about how we should respect cops because they run towards violence while we run away from it – turns out not so much.

What about felons not being allowed to own dance venues? DC has the highest rates of incarceration of any city in the United States, often on bullshit drug charges. Three out of four black men in DC will go to prison. Then they come out and nobody will hire them. On top of that, all kinds of licenses are denied to former felons. Now we can add owning a dance hall to that list. How is a person supposed to make a living?

Ironically, at the very same time this is happening, the DC council is holding press conferences on jobless ex-offenders.

“We need to look at helping ex-offenders get businesses and apply for contracts,” said Charles Thornton, director of the Office of Returning Citizen Affairs in the D.C. Mayor’s Office. “If you own a certified business, with more contracts, you can hire who you want.”

Charles, maybe you could go and have a chat just over the border? In fact, perhaps you could have a chat with a whole bunch of Maryland officials. While incarceration rates across the country are decreasing, Maryland has the dubious distinction of being one place where they are going up. Somehow I don’t think bills like this are going to help.

Plaza 23 is not giving up without a fight. They have hired an attorney. But they are fighting without being able to operate their business. And their funds are sure to dry up soon. They are asking people to spread the word and to sign this petition to let them operate while they contest this.

I said before that this is about a community that is routinely targeted, vilified, or ignored. Let’s not be the people that ignore them.

The Friendship Binary

December 15, 2011 By: Mel Category: Core, Sex, Stratification

My friend Graham sent me the below video where a guy goes around asking people if men and women can be just friends. All the guys he asks say they cannot. All the girls he asks say they can, but then admit that they think their guy friends would hook up with them if they had the opportunity. So the dude who produced the video claims that he has proven that men and women cannot be friends.

Dear Graham – my friend who I do not think wants to hook up with me –  my requested response is below the video.

The first problem with the whole premise is the assumption that all people are straight. Lots of my guy friends are gay and most certainly have no interest in having sex with me. Or as my friend Lance gasped when someone told us we were a cute couple, “OMG! That’s my sister!”

So can straight women be friends with gay men? Can lesbians be friends with straight men? Do bisexual people not get to have any friends? And WTF do we even begin to talk about with people who identify as genderqueer. I mean if you don’t pick a gender our whole world may fall apart here.

Secondly, how are we defining “just friends?” Maybe some of the women who said that men and women can be friends are defining friendship differently. Why does sexual attraction, or even having sex, have to move you out of the friend category? As it turns out, there are a whole lot of different kinds of friends with benefits relationships out there.

Perhaps what the women mean is that they can have a relationship with someone, even including sex, that does not include romantic love or thoughts of weddings and white picket fences. Or perhaps those women aren’t sleeping with their friends but would be if they didn’t grow up in a place where people wear purity rings. Maybe they are sleeping with them and just don’t want to admit it because of all the baggage that comes with open acknowledgement of having sex with people you don’t want to marry.

And what about age? The Harold and Maude scenario isn’t exactly an everyday occurrence. Actually, any kind of relationship across generations seems to be kind of unusual. But they do occur. And I can attest to the fact that the dynamic is a lot different when you are friends with someone who is old enough to be your grandfather or young enough to be your kid.

I think most, maybe all, friendships involve attraction. That includes the friendships that mostly straight people have with people of their own gender. That doesn’t mean I want to have sex with all my girlfriends, hot as you all are. Then again, we women are more likely to admit to being gay or bisexual and are apparently turned on by a much wider range of things than you dudes are. As Mary Roach wrote in Bonk,

A series of studies by Meredith Chivers and colleagues at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto showed that men are more discriminating than women when it comes to how they respond to pornographic images. Women, both gay and straight, will show immediate genital arousal…in response to films of sexual activity, regardless of who is engaging in it – male, female, gay, straight, good hair or bad. Men, contrary to stereotype, tend to respond in a limited manner; they are aroused only by footage that fits their sexual orientation and interests…To test the limits of the phenomenon, Chivers gamely ran a follow-up study in which men and women viewed, in addition to the usual gamut of human sexual scenarios, footage of bonobos mating. Here again, the women’s genitals responded – though not as strongly as they did to images of human beings – and the men’s did not.

Uh oh. Guess no friendships for any of us. Possibly no pets either.

Where does this bullshit come from? It comes from a strict gender binary. It comes from thinking sexuality is rigid rather than a spectrum that can change over time. It comes from a very narrow range of relationship options, where women are only supposed to have sex with people they love and all relationships are supposed to end in monogamous marriage.

It comes from too many dudes who don’t see women as human beings, or as one charming commenter on the YouTube video put it,

there’s this girl who wanted to be “just friends with” me, meaning no sex…i told her “hell no” my friendship comes with certain sexual requirements…either that or take the highway girl…point being, a straight male can’t be just friends, even with a semi good-looking chick, so long as she has a hole to dip it into

I think its pretty clear that if you see women as “a hole to dip into,” then you probably can’t be friends with them. Thankfully, not all guys are as douchey as you.

The video focused on presumably single, young people. But the bfriend had a similar conversation to this at his work a while back. Of all the coupled people, only the non-heterosexual and him thought that men and women could be friends. Mostly, there was a lot of “my husband would never let me be friends with a man” blah blah blah.

What is that about? Do people think that love equals possession? Do men think they are conquistadors and their dick is a flag? Do women think their men are just walking hard ons who have to be kept in the house? Is everyone so insecure? If your relationship is so fragile that a friendship can break it, you already had problems.

My bfriend has a lot of women friends. One of the things I love most about him is that he actually likes women. He doesn’t just like to have sex with women. He likes to hang out with us. I wouldn’t trade that for anything. I wouldn’t be with him if he couldn’t be friends with women. That doesn’t mean there haven’t been one or two occasions where I might have had a twinge of jealousy. But that was my insecurities, not his behavior.

Let me just end by saying that life is about relationships. It is one thing to make the very reasonable decision that you want to have a monogamous, sexual relationship. But if you cut the person you supposedly love off from having even non-sexual relationships with at least half the population, then you cut them off from life. And if you really think that sexual attraction means you can’t be friends, you are cheating yourself and probably lying to yourself about how attracted you are to the friends you have now – of whatever gender.

What Choices?

November 28, 2011 By: Mel Category: Criminalization, Stratification

A couple months ago, the Positive Force book club read Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. One of the book club members thought that Alexander had gone too far in comparing the drug war to Jim Crow. He pointed out that it is far different to be discriminated against based on some accident of birth than it is to be discriminated against based on a choice that you made to break the law.

I don’t think Alexander was suggesting that Jim Crow and the drug war are exact equivalents. She made the case that the drug war was part of a continuum. Chattel slavery and Jim Crow were tools for economic exploitation and social control. Once one form of subjugation was no longer viable, a new form came to take its place.

The conversation got me thinking about choices and how often we are mistaken about what choices we think we had or what choices we think other people had.

Could a person have chosen not to do drugs or sell drugs. Maybe. But what if you had few other options for employment? What if you simply have no compelling reason not to be high all the time? Even if I agreed that it should be illegal to use or sell drugs, which I don’t, I would still ask why someone made the decisions they did. I would still ask what choices people perceived they had, why their choices are illegal, who made them that way, and to what purpose.

I still ask those questions when people do things that I actually think are wrong – violent things, cruel things. Whatever choices people make that cause themselves or other people to suffer should be examined.

We don’t all have the same choices in life. Sometimes it is perception. Often, as is the case with many of the people who end up in prison on drug charges, the options have been intentionally narrowed. Our drug laws were created in large part and are enforced selectively to criminalize very specific people. Once you criminalize/demonize someone, it is so much easier to take away their rights. And that serves some people’s interests quite nicely.

Looking at the social and historical circumstances and at the institutional processes that led someone to make a decision does not absolve them of responsibility for their decision. It doesn’t ignore their agency. It puts their decision in context. And context is everything when it comes to choices.

The Occupation of Franklin

November 19, 2011 By: Mel Category: Seeking, Stratification

The Franklin School building in DC was occupied today.

The building was being used as a homeless shelter until 2008, when the city closed it down just before winter. The plan was to sell it to a developer who would turn it into a boutique hotel. Homeless advocates, including Eric Sheptock, fought like hell to stop the closure. You can read his story here.

It took about three hours for the police to pull the occupiers out of the building and haul them off. Until then, supporters did what they could to rally the crowd, document what was going down, and block the exits to make it a little more difficult for the police to get them out – at least not without witnesses.

It makes no sense, in a city with one of the highest populations of homeless people in the country, to have a building sitting vacant while people are sleeping on the streets.

A passerby, who asked us to explain what was going on, agreed. He was “one of the lucky ones” who was able to get a home voucher before they cut the local rent supplement program. He commented that, in other cities, people said occupiers were violent, inferring that was not the case tonight. I said, “They always make it look like that.” Let’s see if that will be the case tonight.

Below are some pics I took.

* Update: Read the statement from Free Frankin DC

Remember When All the Dudes Were Hot

November 18, 2011 By: Mel Category: Culture, Stratification

Some economist named Glen Whitman wrote a post called Pan Am and the Economics of Hot Flight Attendants. In it he claims that deregulation lowered air fares and made paying for hotness in your employees prohibitively expensive.

Since I have read that piece, I have been racking my brain to think of a similar situation for dudes. Is there a career out there where hotness was required of the dudes and where we are all decrying the current lack of hotness?

Anyone?

Megan McArdle, responding to the post, theorizes that a whole bunch of things (like unions and anti-discrimination laws) made it impossible for airlines to fire people if they gained a couple pounds or hit the ripe old age of thirty (Oh, the horror!). Moreover, as more women were flying, less airline customers cared “whether the stewardess has a nice rack.”

A lot of people complain that there is too much sexualization, that everything is about selling sex. I actually think there might be too little sexualization. I don’t necessarily care that someone wants attractive people pushing their product. I care that the definition of attractive is what a middle-aged, white, heterosexual man with the maturity of a fourteen year old is supposed to like.

Our world institionalized and socialized prejudice and economic privilege. It ensured that most people with money to spend were going to be middle aged, white dudes who would certainly hide it if they were gay. So it stands to reason that the airlines would hire the employees that those people were supposed to like.

Which makes me wonder. If there had been no unions or anti-discrimination laws, but only the growing economic power of women and POC – along with the growing visibility and acceptance of homosexuality – would flight attendants look much different than they do now? (Hello scantily clad rent boys flying shuttles to circuit parties.)

It is an impossible question, of course. Because the civil rights movement, the feminist movement, unions, and all the rest had a direct bearing on the economic power of the people I am talking about. But the point I am trying to make is that the idea of what is beautiful is subjective, cultural, and individual.

The problem with the way sex is sold now is a problem of whose narrow definition of beauty still reigns supreme. The problem with the way sex is sold now is that it still reflects very real power imbalances, economic and otherwise.

I’m not particularly attracted to skinny, blonde, white women under thirty. I’m not the only one.