Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Only Verdict is Vengeance

Progressive bloggers have coined a number of terms for the reactionary trolls that sometimes invade our spaces. Thanks to bloggers such as the inimitable Melissa McEwan of Shakesville,, we have the use of such colorful terms "concern trolls," "mansplainers," and "dudebros." Right now, I would like to propose a new addition to this ever-evolving lexicon: the "Perseus." Allow me to explain.

I am an avid reader and commenter on the blog Sociological Images. This fascinating site features thought-provoking images from around the world, with commentary on their sociological significance. Officially, Sociological Images is not a feminist blog, or even a progressive one. However, many of the posts have a definite progressive slant, which reflects the authors' political orientation. And the comment section is typically a relatively progressive, feminist space.

Recently, however, Sociological Images has been discovered by a number of determined trolls, most of them anti-feminist. These folks swoop down on certain threads--usually the ones dealing with gender issues--and instigate long-running flame wars that derail any actual discussion.

Now, I love a good debate, and I also love having the last word. As a result, I have a tendency to get sucked into lengthy arguments with these anti-feminist trolls. Recently, I've been involved in a couple of skirmishes with a fellow who goes by the handle "Perseus."

A few days ago, Perseus posted some sexist crap in a thread about women and modesty. In response to concerns that elaborate modesty codes might be oppressive to women, he wrote, "You are only as oppressed as you want to be."

I am not making this up.

I posted a brief response, politely informing him that his argument was both inaccurate and offensive. In response, he asked me if I was replying to his posts simply because I had a "vendetta" against him.

So apparently, I have a vendetta against Perseus, of which I was previously unaware.

As my next act in this vendetta, I hope to vanquish this venal and virulent vermin by adding his name to my typology of internet and real-life trolls. Here, ladies and gentlemen, is the definition of a Perseus.

The Perseus is a particular breed of of self-styled intellectual, often encountered in the comments sections of feminist or progressive blogs. Like the mansplainer, the Perseus is always male; a female troll with similar characteristics may be termed an Andromeda.

The Perseus is characterized by his compulsion to debunk any and all feminist arguments. When he cannot accomplish this goal through logic, he resorts to sophistry and derailing.

A typical Perseus is usually quite civil. However, he will periodically indulge in a blatant show of disrespect toward one of his female interlocutors. These performances are usually completely unprovoked.

The truly fascinating aspect the Perseus is that he views himself as a champion of rational discourse. His most vociferous attacks are reserved for women whom he accuses of non-rigorous thinking. Invariably, the Perseus fails to see the painful irony of his attempts to raise the level of discourse through bullying and puerile insults.

Now, this may seem like a weirdly specific definition, which would only apply to Perseus himself. However, I have personally interacted with several individuals who fit this definition to the letter. It seems that the Perseus is indeed a distinct variety of troll, and that I'll be putting my new word to some good use.

The Perseus is not necessarily malicious, stupid, or mentally unbalanced. If anything, he is smarter than most, and reasonably well-intentioned. And yet it seems pretty much impossible to engage him in a serious discussion of gender issues. Which, frankly, makes me sad.

And now, my gentle readers, I'd like to know: have you met a Perseus type, or some variation on the Perseus theme? Do you think it's possible for a feminist woman to debate with a Perseus in a productive way? Or is the Perseus just a troll, pure and simple?

Verily, this vichyssoise of verbiage veers most verbose. So, let me simply add that it is my very good honor to have you on this blog, and you may call me...Simone.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

I Wrote a Guest Post on Female Sexual Dysfunction!!!

Hello Feminist Rebels,

I am honored to have the opportunity guest post for one of my favorite blogs,
Feminists with Female Sexual Dysfunction.

Female sexual dysfunction (FSD) is often taboo even in feminist spaces. The author of Feminists with FSD, who goes by the handle "K," tackles this difficult subject with rigor, wit, and irreverence. Her blog has been a wonderful resource for me personally, during my ongoing struggle with FSD.

Previously, I've written about my experiences with FSD, and how they have influenced my views about defining sex. In my guest post, I discuss my fruitless quest to get medical help for my FSD. In particular, I reflect on the various attitudes I've encountered from doctors, and how these attitudes may reflect certain stereotypes about women with sexual problems.

Check out my post here!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Women Owe You Nothing, Part 1

So, I've been participating in a pretty heated discussion over at Sociological Images about gender, dating norms, and the bar scene. In light of this, I want to talk a bit about how men can pick up women, without being disrespectful.

It's no secret that lots of women have problems with the "meat market" atmosphere of most bars and clubs. But, judging from the comments on the socimages thread, it seems that men are just as unhappy. The unhappy men seem to have two major complaints. First, they feel that women are too quick to view harmless flirting as harassment. Second, they feel exploited by women who happily accept free drinks, and then split.

In this post, I do my best to address the first concern: the fear that feminists are trying to ban men from hitting on women. I'll do another post soon about the phenomenon of women "trolling for drinks"--and why men should cut them some slack.

My goal here is not to be anti-male in any way. Instead, I want to open up communication between genders, by explaining how things look from a woman's point of view--and how guys can respond.

Guest blogger Starling wrote an excellent post on a similar topic over at Shapely Prose. In this post, I rehash much of the same material, though with a different emphasis. I don't agree with all of Starling's arguments, but I highly recommending her post.

Let me also say: I recognize that my post here is incredibly heteronormative, and I'm sorry. Given my own life experience, it's the best I can do right now. I would love comments about how these or similar dynamics play out in same-sex flirtation.

Yes, We Know "Hello" Is Not Harassment

Whenever there's a discussion of gendered dating norms come up, some guy inevitably complains that feminists are trying to ban male flirting. In practice, this concern is usually misplaced. Most feminist women don't want to stigmatize harmless flirtation. What we do want is for men to show us some basic respect.

Let's say you're a guy at a local pub. You walk up to a woman and say, "Hi, my name is Joe, can I buy you a drink?." This is a perfectly innocuous behavior. Most of the time, no one will judge you for it.

There are some caveats here, but they're mostly common sense. It's important to be sensitive to the woman's social cues. If a woman is clearly deep in conversation, or if she's brought her laptop to the bar (yes, there are women who do this), then you probably shouldn't approach her. If you do, you're sending the message, "I am more important than whatever you are doing right now!" Women, understandably, may react to this with annoyance.

In a similar vein, If you're too drunk, too stoned, or too tired to read a woman's social cues, even at the most basic level, then this is not the time to approach a new woman. When your judgement is impaired, it's easier to make the a thoughtless mistake that will get you a slap in the face.

With that in mind, there's usually nothing wrong with trying to strike up a casual flirtation at a bar. Typically, how men go wrong is not by approaching a woman in the first place; it's by approaching a woman, getting a reaction they don't like, and then failing to respond appropriately.

If you're going to approach some stranger in a bar, you have to be willing to accept that she might turn you down. Maybe she'll ignore you outright. Maybe she'll respond to your attempts at conversation with monosyllabic grunts. Maybe she'll accept a proffered drink, but her voice will convey unmitigated boredom. As before, pay attention to her signals. If she's clearly disinterested, take that as your cue to move on.

A woman may give you the cold shoulder for any number of reasons. Maybe she doesn't want to flirt because she thinks you're creepy, or because your deodorant isn't working as well as you think. Or, maybe she's busy writing a symphony in her head, and she doesn't want to be interrupted. Maybe she's in a relationship. Maybe she doesn't date men. Maybe she just doesn't feel like socializing on this particular night.

If a woman rebuffs you, don't take it personally, and don't get indignant. You have no reason to think that her behavior reflects negatively on you, or on her. She is simply asserting her right to decide how, and with whom, she spends her evening. Accept this and move on. Do not, under any circumstances, try to pressure her into paying attention. Don't track her down later and try again. The woman has made it clear that she wants you to leave her alone. Honor her wishes. It's a matter of basic human courtesy and respect.

Remember: the woman you've approached owes you nothing. Yes, you were "nice" to approach her, flirt with her, and offer her a drink. But she didn't ask for any of those things. Expecting her to reciprocate your "niceness" is completely absurd. Doing so puts you in the same category as those squeegee men who swoop down on cars stuck in traffic, wash their windows, and then demand payment. It's extortion, pure and simple.

Women don't owe you their attention--even if you're handsome, and charming; even if you offer them drinks. When you refuse to honor a woman's desire to be left alone, you are denying her fundamental right to personal autonomy. You are failing to treat her like a human being, who deserves your full consideration and respect. And that is always, always wrong.

Feminist women are not trying to outlaw harmless flirting. We understand that trying to buy us drinks is not harassment. But we do want is to be treated like full human beings, even in the club, at 1:00 am.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Quick Clarification: Cheating in Cyberspace

So, I've installed Google's analytics on this site. This program lets me keep track of how many people are reading my blog, and what search terms they have used to find me. No data about individual readers is reported, so your privacy is protected.

So far, I haven't seen many outrageous search terms. However, I did find this one, which amused me greatly.

"Is utherverse considered cheating?"

Apparently, this question lead someone to my post about sexism in ads for Utherverse, a social networking site with a distinctly "adult" flavor.

Now, whoever asked this question didn't spend much time on my site. Presumably, I was unable to provide them with a satisfactory answer. I would like to take a moment to correct this oversight.

As a feminist, I spend a lot of time thinking about what it means to have a healthy sexual relationship. It's not enough to tear down our current system of sexual values, bankrupt as they are. We need to create something better to put in their place. With that in mind, here's my answer to the utherverse question.

Is Utherverse Considered Cheating?

The short answer is, if you have to ask, then yes, it probably is.

The long answer is more complicated. Whether a particular behavior counts as "cheating" varies from couple to couple. Let's say you're in an an exclusive relationship. In contemporary America, most folks would agree that having sex with someone besides your partner counts as cheating; most would also agree that maintaining your platonic friendships is not cheating, regardless of your friends' gender.

There are people, both men and women, whose use "fidelity" as an excuse to control or isolate their partners, and that's a real problem. If your partner tries to restrict your interaction with members the opposite (or same) sex; if they try to cut you off from your friends; if they forbid you from going to certain parties or wearing certain clothes; those are major, major red flags. Being faithful to a partner shouldn't mean sacrificing your right to have your own life, and make your own choices.

That being said, there's a broad range of behaviors which a reasonable person may or may not consider cheating. Is casual flirting okay? How about a peck on the cheek? Cuddling? One-on-one dinners with your ex? It all gets pretty confusing.

The whole thing is made more complicated by the fact that many people have open or polyamorous relationships. These folks might not mind their partners having sex, or even full-blown relationships, with other people, but they still might want to impose some limits.

Given all this ambiguity, there's only one viable option: communication with your partner(s). It's a good idea to have some ground rules about what is and isn't cheating. Sometimes, differing ideas about what constitutes cheating can destroy an otherwise lovely relationship. That's unfortunate, but it's no reason to avoid confronting the issue.

But wait, what about Utherverse!?

I'm getting to that.

Okay, here's my opinion. If you're flirting with cyber-cuties on an "adult" themed site, that's the sort of behavior that a reasonable person could consider cheating. On the other hand, If you're on Utherverse, but you're not engaged in any cyber-flirting, that's probably okay. A little strange, but okay.

More broadly, though, I have to wonder: if you're worried that a particular behavior might be cheating, why are you asking google? Maybe you're interested in this question from a purely sociological perspective, in which case, I suppose it's an okay strategy. But if you're hoping the internet will tell you whether your Utherverse activity is ethical, stop fooling yourself. The internet doesn't know the details of your relationship, or what's right for you and your partner. What matters is not whether the internet thinks you're a cheater; it's whether your partner does. Instead of trying to assuage your guilt with google search results, why not sit down with your partner, and talk things through?

If you're worried that your behavior could be considered cheating, you shouldn't be asking the internet, or me. You should be asking the person you're dating right now, and any hypothetical partners you might have in the future. And you should be ready to accept the fact that different partners may give you different answers, and that some of those answers won't be what you want to hear.