Laudatory categories

Theseus’ ship is a philosophical thought experiment that asks what happens if you take a ship, replace it piece by piece until none of the original pieces are left. Is it the same ship, or is it a different one?

Now imagine the following response: “It depends. Is the ship seaworthy?”

This response is a bit absurd, because clearly the question does not depend on whether the ship is seaworthy. A ship may still be the same ship while falling into disrepair, or perhaps the ship was never seaworthy in the first place. And on the other hand, you could have another ship which is also seaworthy but is nonetheless a different ship. We may disagree on how to answer the question about Theseus’ ship, but surely whether the ship is seaworthy is besides the point.

Nonetheless, this seems to be the way people think about many categories. A laudatory category is one whose definition has become intertwined with the question of “is it good?” A pejorative category is one whose definition has become intertwined with the question “is it bad?” Let’s talk about a few examples.

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Zumba & Gender

Zumba is the world’s largest dance fitness program. I’ve been doing it remotely since the start of the pandemic, actually because my mother runs a small class. I’ve also seen her participate in larger classes, where it’s clear that just about all of the participants are women.

I once observed that the exception seemed to be the instructors, who were much more likely to be men. I asked my mother if this was a common pattern. No, she said. It’s only that she personally preferred male instructors, because their classes tended to be less sexualized.

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“Secure in my masculinity”

“Secure in my/his/their masculinity” is a common expression, but what does it mean? Some readers may find this obvious, but permit me a bit of exploration, to see what we can learn.

In a basic search, I found several low quality listicles, which I take to represent what the common person thinks (as opposed to more scholarly interpretations). The listicles say that you can tell when a man is insecure in his masculinity if he tries to one-up everyone, is homophobic, or avoids anything girly, and so on. In short, masculine insecurity is evidenced by toxic masculinity.

The underlying theory seems to be that insecurity about masculinity causes toxic masculinity. And, by the way, this theory seems to be correct. Another article I found in a basic search describes psychological studies, where men were given tests of “masculinity” and physical strength. They received randomized scores, and the men who were told they scored poorly reported higher aggression, would exaggerate their height, and be more likely to avoid products perceived as feminine.

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The contentiousness of womxn

cn: It’s about language, so don’t complain to me about wasting time with pointless semantics, it was your choice to read onward!

“Womxn” is a term that was intended to be more inclusive of trans women, nonbinary people, and women of color. It recently entered the news when Twitch used “womxn” in a tweet. This resulted in backlash, with people accusing the term of being transphobic. It is a term that inspires, shall we say, conflicting viewpoints.

I first heard about “womxn” in the context of TERFs complaining about it. I don’t exactly watch TERFs, but my husband, you see, likes to argue with TERFs on Twitter. Yes, yes, there’s no accounting for taste. In any case, TERFs would complain endlessly about “womxn”, seemingly in disproportion to its actual use. This is common practice in TERF communities, to highlight something said somewhere by some trans person, and amplify everywhere as an example of why the TRAs (their term for trans activists, intended to parallel MRAs) are bad.

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Drowning, again

cn: sexual violence, and sexual coercion in particular

I’ve said before that sexual violence is a lot like drowning: it does not look like how it looks in the movies. That’s what every lifeguard needs to learn, if they are to help people in need. It is what advocates against sexual violence need to learn too.

When I point out that a story is an example sexual violence, I get shock and disbelief. That is understandable; it does not look how you expected. Now you can adjust your expectations to what sexual violence really looks like.

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Give and take: Preferences in sex

cn: Non-graphic references to oral sex

Many asexuals don’t want sex of any sort. However, if you listen to asexual and ace-adjacent experiences, you find a pretty wide range of stories, from people who don’t like to even think about sex, to people who are basically okay with it. You also have stories of people who like certain aspects of sex and dislike others. For instance, some people only like to “give” oral sex, and other people only like to “receive” it.

This is not just an ace thing. Historically, “stone butch” has been used to describe masculine lesbians who don’t want to receive sexual touch. Of course, this leaves out people who want to receive (sexual) touch but not give (sexual) touch. I know of two terms that have been coined to fill the void: “stone femme“, and “paper“. In this post, I will use “paper” because it doesn’t say anything about the gender, orientation, or gender expression of the person.

In sex-positive feminism, people who don’t like to give oral sex are frequently the object of derision, and moral approbation. Recently, fellow FTBlogger Giliell provided an excellent example of both.

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On subversivism

This has been crossposted to The Asexual Agenda.

“Subversivism”, according to Julia Serano, is

the practice of extolling certain gender and sexual expressions and identities simply because they are unconventional or nonconforming. In the parlance of subversivism, these atypical genders and sexualities are “good” because they “transgress” or “subvert” oppressive binary gender norms.

Serano criticizes subversivism because it creates a double-standard, where people who are perceived as having less transgressive experiences are excluded or othered.

Subversivism was established in Serano’s book, Whipping Girl, and further discussed in Excluded. Although, I admit that I have not read these books, and have instead gotten the short version from Serano’s blog. I refer to subversivism often enough that it seems useful to write up my own thinking about it, and discuss its applications to my own area of activism.

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