Thursday, September 3, 2015

Ze Zir Peh Per Ve Xe Zher - How silly is it, really?

The umpty-zillionth person has just disagreed with me that the concept of "gender" is pretty useless and outdated. Usually these objections begin with the "Everybody knows" statement that people are either born male or female - that's it! Maybe they make allowances for a stray hermaphrodite here and there, but, by golly, beyond that, there's only two lines, and you're born in one of 'em, and you better not step out of it.

And if'n you do, sure as heck you better not expect any right thinking person to let you cut in the other line.

So, start there.  Everybody (with a tiny footnote number and an italicized caveat "well almost everybody" at the bottom of the page) is born this or that.

Well, no.  Not really, no. Mostly, sure, that's the common lay understanding of gender, but it's certainly not the reality.  You're generally born more or less one sex or the other, but gender mostly gets put on you, and in your head, by society. And even with "sex", it's not a binary you're-either-this-or-that so much as it's actually more of a spectrum.  Every fetus starts off technically female, and then gets masculinized to some degree, depending on genetics, uterine environment and conditions, and hormonal exposure.

Mostly, gender is a social construct that's used to separate those in power from those not in power, the owners form the owned, the beings from the breeding stock.  It's not always one "gender" or the other that's up or down, across cultures and across history, but it's always one or the other.  There's -no- reason to sort everyone into those two categories -except- to clearly define who gets these rights and privileges, and who has to make do with those.

But let's ignore all that, shall we?  Let's assume sex equals gender, and there are only two (tiny footnote caveats excepted) and so it's critical we have two - and only two - pronouns to describe them.

Now, ask the next question... Why? Why do we have to describe them at that fundamental a level?  I mean, we have lots of binaries that we don't have mandatory special linguistic constructs for.

Almost everyone is either right or left handed - why don't we have different pronouns for those two classes? Lis and Ris, perhaps?
Almost everyone is either Colorblind or not color blind - why don't we have different pronouns for those two classes?
How about tall and short people? Everybody knows Short People aren't the same as the rest of us.  Surely we should have different pronouns for tiny munchkin creepers under 5 feet tall...
Everyone either has attached earlobes or unattached earlobes. My wife insists that the unattached mutant horde, including myself, aren't normal. Isn't it crazy we don't have different pronouns for even that?

So why is it that in this day and age - when even the UK has recently admitted that little Mistress Mary is just as good an heir as little Master James - do we still need an entirely different linguistic structure just to describe to everyone listening what kind of shape of the subjects secondary sexual characteristics are in?

Just stop and think about it a moment, and tell me it doesn't seem mad.  Of the millions of things a stranger could possibly know about you from the first word, the only one SO important that it's got to be served with completely segregated forms of address and reference is what's in your pants? Seriously?

 So - aside from the admitted fact that it's always going to be a bit of a pain to shift gears, wholesale, on language usage, is it really all that silly to say that this is kind of an outdated concept anyway?  I mean, I can respect a good, honest "It'd be unreasonably hard" as a reason to avoid doing something - even if "But it's hard!" is a lame reason, for the most part, it's still a hell of a lot more respectable than making a big nonsensical argument about how it's the will of god and nature that we don't do it, because by golly that just now (we're ignorantly pretending) it is!

Friday, May 8, 2015

What really makes the ultimate assault so ultimate?

I frequently come back to wondering about this...

If someone cornered you, kind of pushed you against a wall or something or in some other way physically restrained you in order to shake your hand... Well, that wouldn't be pleasant, would it? It'd suck really. Guy's (or girl's) an asshole, no question. But is it really going to wreck your whole life? Are you going to need therapy, spend your nights in fear, and never really be able to enjoy an honest, open handshake with anyone ever again?

What if it was a kiss? With tongue?

What if it was a fifteen minute conversation while holding hands?

At what point of "intimacy" does it cross the line from a creepy annoyance into full-blown life-shattering hell that justifies you being called a "victim" or "survivor"...?

Is rape as terrible as it is purely because of some quality or qualities inherent in sex, or is it - at least in part - because we have centuries and centuries of mythology and social taboo bundled up with sex?

Sex is "dirty", sex is "intimate" and "private", and should only be shared with someone "special".

Sex is a one-way commodity. Think about the common terminology - none of these are universal, but all of them are common. Males "get some" while females "give it up".  Girls "lose" their virginity (their innocence, their purity, their virtue, their honor), males "take" it.  A male might "give" a female his dick, but a female "gives" a male herself.

Ok, now, shake loose of the illustration. This isn't an essay about "Wah! It's so unfair being a girl!" The illustration is only there to show how steeped in taboo and sexism the nature of intercourse typically or often is for many people. (and especially historically - you know, in that time period when our current traditions and social outlooks were formed)

So, the question is this.  If we hadn't invested so much time, energy, and effort building up this mythology of personal worth and social value and shame around sex and sexuality, would rape be as big a deal as it is? Or would it be pretty much the same, in a reasonable scale, with any other kind of unwanted physical attention?

There's the matter of the possibility of pregnancy, of course.  If someone corners you and holds your hand for an hour, you stand little chance of having your life ruined (and by ruined, I mean "blessed by the gift of a child", of course) by it.  Is that a meaningful moderator of the subject, or is that another layer of the same kind of question - If humans were better at making distinctions between a fetus and a person, between a baby and a potential for a baby, would termination of a pregnancy be as big a deal as it is now?

Don't get me wrong, please. I'm not saying "Rape isn't a big deal" or even "Rape isn't as big a deal as we make it".  This essay isn't a statement or a proclamation, it's a question. What I'm saying is, what is it in our history, or society, or mental, psychological, and social makeup that makes rape as huge and devastating a deal as it is?

If we had more data from males who'd been raped, how would that shape the answers to these questions? Is it pretty much the same for them? Better? Worse?

Challenge Your Beliefs

Pardon the painfully obvious title, but as obvious as it is, it's also far too rare.

I think one of the big, important markers about how you measure yourself has got to be how much time you spend giving serious due consideration to ideas that give you a knee-jerk reaction of "Oh, bullshit!"
Political, economic, moral, ethical, cultural, societal, scientific, whatever - You have to give these discomforting ideas their due consideration, or you're not being a good steward of your own intellectual fitness. You're letting your brain get away with less thinking than it needs to be healthy, and nobody's going to stop you. It has to be internal - nobody else can do this for you, nobody else can check your answers. Only you know your own thoughts, and only you know whether you're being hard enough on your preconceptions and ingrained beliefs... 
And if you don't come away from it exhausted and exhilarated and sometimes much more "sure" of your position than you were when you first thought you were sure - or, very often, much LESS sure, but with a level of certainty or uncertainty borne by much better reasons, then you're not trying hard enough.
And you have to. If you don't really interrogate the hell out of your closely held beliefs, how do you have any idea of their value?
It's like a tool you never use. It's a lovely gold filigreed enamel painted porcelain fire extinguisher. Will it work when you need it? Does it actually do anything at all? Well, I don't know. I've never actually -used- it. But, I like it. No, I love it! It comforts me. I just -feels- right, having it there on the wall. I feel safer just looking at it.
If you catch yourself glancing at an idea that conflicts with your own existing ideas and dismissing it with a "Nah, that's bullshit." you need to rein yourself in.
"Ah ha!"
Hear that...? Off in the shadows, somewhere, someone just spotted what they perceive as hypocrisy! "I've got you now!" they're saying, finger stabbing skyward, "I must have seen you dismiss some claim or idea you consider mumbo-jumbo or 'woo' a hundred times in the last year alone!"
Well, I did say "serious due consideration" - not "limitless non-critical consideration".
If today is the first time you ever hear of ghosts, and it sounds like bullshit that dead people can wander around and do and feel things, and you just say "Bullshit!" then you're being intellectually lazy. If, however, you hear someone talk about how their uncle's ghost keeps eating the yoghurt, and you've already done some pretty extensive consideration and study into ghosts in the past, all that's required is a quick check to make sure there's nothing actually meaningfully new or unusual about this claim.
Once you've worked out the math for 64*813, it'll probably be the same result for a very long time. You just need to make sure you don't automatically apply it when the question asked is "What's that number in the mid sixties times that other number just over eight hundred?"

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Mind Your Label!

Labels, right? When's the last time you heard someone refer to the concept of a label, in the context of terms used to categorize human beings) in a positive light?
It's "Do we have to have labels?" or "I defy all labels!" or - as someone commented on a Facebook post on this subject, probably in jest, "I transcend all labels."
And there are those -ists and -ians and -isms. At least two dozen separate times I've heard (or read) someone saying they oppose, disagree with, or in some other way deny or defy all -isms, etc.  Which, of course, makes them one of them - a contrarian.
The thing is, we need these things.  Life and the world and the mind, these are all very complex things, and we need labels to act as shortcuts and directories. 
When someone asks "Are you male or female?" there are rather a lot of folks for whom it's just not that simple, but for the vast majority, it's a lot easier to say "male" than saying you're a marginally typical example of Homo Sapiens Sapiens with the XY chromosomal variant and external genitalia, flat structure body hair extending to the cheeks, neck, cheeks, and subnasal plate, etc.
So, while there are always exceptions that fall outside the label's normal range, there are also those large majority who don't, and it's incumbent upon those who do to further explain where they are relative to it, not to demand we all expand the label to accommodate their not wanting to use more precise language.
Suppose you've got someone who's a sushi chef but also likes making donuts, and they demand that we all alter our perception of what it is to be a sushi chef. When they say "I'm a sushi chef" they don't want you to just think "Someone who makes sushi" but also "and deep fries donuts."  This is a little problematic for all the other sushi chefs who now have customers coming in looking for a California roll and a jelly roll.  As silly as the example is, it seems fairly obvious to most of us that the person in question should just say "I'm a sushi chef and a donut maker" rather than demanding we all accomodate his unusual use of the term "sushi chef".
So, if you're calling yourself a feminist, a liberal, a conservative, a socialist, communist, Christian, atheist, agnostic, doctor, lawyer, or sushi chef, and your positions aren't exactly in line with the definitional positions of that thing, movement, philosophy, whatever... Well, that's kind of to be expected. Labels are to save time, not to shape our existence, and nobody agrees with -all- of anything. There's got to be some wiggle room, or the labels themselves become too restrictive to be useful.
But, if you claim a label and or labeled position and your relevant views are diametrically opposed to the actual positions that are properly identified by that label - you're part of the problem.
So, I'd like to cordially and politely invite all fake feminists, liberals, conservatives, progressives, and feminists - especially feminists, this week - to fuck off and find your own damned label.
And, at least part of the problem is that the name "feminist" was very poorly chosen. It sounds like "female supremacist" - if you knew nothing about it but the Latin and Greek roots, you'd assume it meant "female supremacist" or misandrist...
Still - either come up with a new label, or use it properly. "Feminist" means someone who believes males and females should be legally and socially equal. Period. That's it. If you say "I'm not a feminist!" you're either saying "I'm a sexist" or "I'm an ignoramus" and I wish you'd just say that instead.