February 25, 2013

on cunt

Filed under:, , , — cwage @ 11:47 pm

I thought the onion's joke was hilarious. The joke:

"Everyone else seems afraid to say it, but that Quvenzhan Wallis is kind of a cunt, right?"

For those (like me) that maybe didn't actually watch the Oscars: Quvenzhan Wallis is a 9-year old actress up for an award at the ceremony. A few of the hypothetical reasons proposed that this joke was horrible and should have immediately been deleted, and my response to them:

The word "cunt" is horrible and offensive and should never be used ever.

Yeah ... no.

Still, it was kinda funny, but they should have chosen a less inflammatory word, like "bitch".

What? Frankly, bitch is just as horrible a word in a colloquial context. The inflammatory, derogatory gendered nature of the word is specifically what made the joke so funny.

I don't get it. Why are they calling a 9-year old a cunt?

Because calling a 9 year old girl a cunt is a horrible, horrible thing to do -- similar to all the horrible, horrible things floated in the name of snarky Oscars commentary. Often, these things center around highly contentious and offensive gender notions/roles. Get it? This is not horribly complicated humor.

I still don't get it -- I find it easier to be obtuse and pretend I've never read The Onion and I don't really get how humor works, because I really love Being Offended.

Er .. okay.

Okay, fine, you're right. The onion is pretty hilarious and often risque. But still, no one should ever objectify a 9 year old in that way, no matter what their intent. If anyone called my little girl a cunt, I'd kidneypunch them.

If we're going to go down the "protect the virgin ears of an oh so innocent child" route, might I remind you that this is a 9 year old actress that was in a movie that spent the evening at the Oscars -- a gathering of arguably some of the worst people in the world. I find it hard to believe that being called a cunt on the internet is really the most damaging aspect of her experience for her, assuming she would have heard about it at all. It's not like the Onion sent a correspondent on to the red carpet to call a little girl a cunt to her face. But she will hear about it, now, undoubtedly -- thanks to the indignant claims of offense and raucous calls for censure. It's headline news, now. (Nice work, indignant public!)

So yes, she probably has heard about it. What horrible things exactly are we imagining have happened as a result? A brief explanation by her parents that it was a joke poking fun at institutional sexism and the vacuity of celebrity viciousness in general? A more in-depth conversation about the power of the word "cunt" and how its colloquial usage is pernicious and should be avoided, and how the Onion turned that on its head to make a rather biting point? A quick lesson that the Onion is, in fact, hilarious? Are we really claiming exasperated offense at this idea because we are so cynical so as to assume that she's so stupid she won't understand any of this? Or that her parents are too stupid to explain it to her?

Okay, yeah, but ... the word "cunt" is horrible and should never be used ever.

*headdesk*

It seems to me that any reasonably intelligent adult (I realize this rules out a lot of the American population, but stay with me here, dear reader) can discern the difference between using a slur in a casual way that promulgates a negative stereotype (which I have talked about at length) and using it in a specific way to make a point, or a joke. Given that, the crux of the Onion's supposedly horrible offense was making the joke in a context where this 9 year old girl might hear about it (and ignoring for the moment the relative initial implausibility of this), let's examine this for what it is: the rough equivalent of grown adults making a joke to eachother using a word in a context that a 9 year old might not understand, and a 9 year old in the next room maybe overhearing it. Do you: a) pull the kid aside, explain to them that "cunt" is a horrible word and that mommy was making a joke, or b) freak the fuck out and accuse the person telling the joke of being a horrible misogynist bully, even though you know they're not and that you're being willfully obtuse so you can be a big jerk?

February 12, 2013

diction

Filed under:, , , — cwage @ 2:02 am

It took all my willpower not to title this post "DICKtion". GET IT?! Moving on:

So, Southern/Alpha is sponsoring an event called Spark Nashville, which will feature some startup pitches, general tech-ey networking, and some speakers -- Marcus Whitney and Nicholas Holland, who were referred to in the press release as "patriarchs" -- a truly unfortunate choice of words.

Why is this a problem?

First, the definition of patriarchy, courtesy of wikipedia:

Patriarchy (rule by fathers) is a social system in which the male is the primary authority figure central to social organization and the central roles of political leadership, moral authority, and control of property, and where fathers hold authority over women and children. It implies the institutions of male rule and privilege, and entails female subordination. Many patriarchal societies are also patrilineal, meaning that property and title are inherited by the male lineage.

Now, stay with me here, but some wacky feminists of late have suggested that female subordination is a total bummer and should be avoided. If you stretch your imagination a bit, you can prrrrrobably imagine how this particular word might be a little off-putting to any women that read it.

Given that, do I think it likely that the author of the press release intended to promote the subordination of females? Not likely. Both Hanlon's and Occam's razor apply here. It's more like that whoever chose the word was simply ignorant of its implications. There really is no common ungendered colloquial sense of "patriarch", especially when so many other words would have sufficed (start with "leader" and go from there), so it's a bit weird. There it is. Patriarchs. A truly unfortunate choice of words in a city trying desperately to get women involved in many traditionally male-dominated fields, technology foremost among them.

I won't get into the details of any actual patriarchy in the industry (which of course does exist), and how hegemonies tend to be promulgated despite the best conscious intentions of everyone involved. I can't speak for Nick or Marcus, but I know that if anyone ever described me as a "patriarch" of anything I'd be annoyed and politely but firmly ask them to choose another word.

Related: this older blog post.

January 17, 2010

revolutionary thought

Filed under:, , , , — cwage @ 6:10 am

Kevin Carson has a good article today over at c4ss.org that you should read. He first tackles the notion that libertarian thought is weak or "soft" with respect to progressive social norms that historically have been (or can only be) furthered by state authority.. Anyone that has had even a casual dinner conversation about libertarianism has probably run into this.. It's inevitable that racism or sexism will come up -- used as an example of something that would be "allowed" in a stateless society, since it's non-coercive.

But critics of non-coercive unfairness like racism and sexism are also in danger of being led astray by the same tendency. Libertarians, in advocating for libertarianism on the left, are constantly confronted with the objection that people would be “allowed” to engage in racial or sexual discrimination, to deny food to the needy, etc.

But as Brad points out, this word “allowed” is perverse insofar as it “conflates ‘allows’ with what would be more precisely understood (in terms of libertarian theory) as ‘does not necessarily justify use of violence to compel restitution for in all cases’.” But this obsession with what’s “allowed,” in the narrow sense that nobody’s entitled to use force to prevent it, ignores “the holistic integrity of a stateless society arising from non-violent mechanisms of social normatization that cross the arbitrary topical boundaries one imposes on one’s self when analyzing and advocating various potential state policies.”

Civil society is prior to the state, and those “mechanisms of social normatization,” voluntary social safety nets, etc., predate it by millennia. One of the worst evils of the state is that it has crowded out or actively suppressed such mechanisms of civil society, as described by Pyotr Kropotkin. As Kropotkin argued in both Mutual Aid and The State, for most of the human race over most of human history, the state was merely a parasitic layer of tax collectors and feudal landlords superimposed on the peasant commune—the latter including the Russian mir, the English open field system, and Marx’s “Asiatic mode of production.” Had the Tsar and nobility vanished in 1700, Russian village life would have continued exactly as before—only with the peasants keeping all they produced. It was only in the past few centuries that the state actively attempted to supplant civil society, and to suppress private associations for mutual aid and social cooperation as rivals to its power.

He concludes with a comment on violent revolution which seems like it should be a given by now, but still bears repeating:

The way to achieve victory is not by seizing the state, or violently overthrowing it, but quietly confronting it with a reality already on the ground: the reality that a rapidly expanding share of its laws are either no longer enforceable or cost more to enforce than it’s worth.