Useless Vanity. Or Not.

Over on the PZ post “Let’s Smoke Out Some More TERFs” a discussion developed in which Susan Stryker & Sandy Stone were mentioned. In that thread, I mentioned being one person of, I am sure, many who were forced independently to coin “transfeminism” when the “trans-” prefix trend was emerging. From people like Sandy Stone and Sylvia Rivera who were adult activists while I was too young to control my bladder to youngsters like, well, me, a lot of work had been done incorporating feminism into trans* activism by the 1990s. However, it was always in a haphazard, highly individualized way. There wasn’t a broader and explicit call to make our trans* activism feminist or our feminism trans* inclusive. The movements were largely separate, both nominally and functionally, even if philosophically they were closely related in myriad ways.

In response to this observation that I was doing transfeminism before there was a word (or at least a publicly recognized word) for transfeminism, HJ Hornbeck asked if I was involved in the early transfeminist movement, even if neither I nor anyone else could ever be called a single originator or even indispensable to the movement. In response, I wrote a small personal history that after some thinking I decided I might want to be able to find again. So, I’m preserving it here in its own post even though both of my readers have probably already seen it on Pharyngula. Call it an exercise in personal vanity. Or call it oral history of an interesting time of transition. Call it whatever you like, but if you haven’t read it, here it is.

[Read more…]

Accountability Is The ONLY Radical Idea: Oh, and look what we have here!

I’ve been saying for years now that accountability is the only radical idea. You can propose single payer health care, you can propose shutting down entire federal agencies, you can propose a post-racial, post-sexual orientation society where everyone gets randomly assigned sex partners for 6 days before sex partners are randomly reassigned for the next 6 days, but nothing about any of those ideas is radical unless there are actual consequences for failing to implement them.

You can have the most hare-brained scheme proposed by the most hairy-eyed word-bomb thrower*1, but hare-brained schemes tend not to get actual implementation, and when things get hard, people will give up unless the consequences for giving up are worse than the consequences for moving forward.

So think about it: which would produce more screaming about radical change, a US president saying that they’re working on a proposal to tighten the laws and increase the penalties for white collar crimes, or a US president restructuring the justice department’s priorities so that no laws are changed, no new crimes are created, but every time a company is found to have committed a crime, the justice department actually sends the people that run the company to jail for conspiracy to commit that crime? ShearsonLehman defrauds investors and profits to the tune of US$12 billion, then negotiates with the feds to reduce the financial penalty down to US$250 million? Okay. That sucks. We’re incentivizing lawbreaking right? But if the top 200 corporate officers each spend a minimum of 12 years in prison, that’s a fuck of a lot more incentive for ShearsonLehman not to break the law going forward than the profit is an incentive to break the law. Also, when fucking EVERYONE involved in the conspiracy goes to jail, you get a fuckload more whistleblowers because they don’t want to be the least powerful person in the conspiracy, with no way to stop the fraud from getting too brazen, but with just as much criminal culpability as the persons at the very top of the corporation. The net result is a hell of a lot more effective than adding new penalties to some dusty book of laws without ever providing a credible threat than any executives will face any consequences at all.

Accountability, then, is the ultimate – and ultimately the only – radical idea. This is also why accountability is as rare as a mountain-dwelling tree wearing a tricorn and denying the existence of the FSM in front of CNN’s cameras on Talk Like A Pirate Day.

But wouldn’t you know it, while NBC isn’t willing to create actual structures of accountability, it appears that they’re actually going ahead with a little accountability mimicry. And not just NBC, but apparently at least one talent agency as well. “What’s that?” you ask. “What is our fair Crip Dyke on about?” It is just this: Megyn Kelly has been mutually dumped by her current talent-rep agency, and while apparently there has been a movement towards separation for a while now, the agency that Kelly was courting for her next monagentous relationship called off the engagement. You want more? Kelly’s ultimate boss, NBC News Chair Andy Lack, has made it clear he’s kicking her to the curb.

“But accountability mimicry?” you say. “Dear Crip Dyke, wouldn’t this be actual accountability?” I understand the inclination to think so, but that’s not exactly likely. If you read the article, NBC has been upset with Kelly about ratings, they’ve been upset about her insensitivity pissing off her guests in ways that created bad publicity for the show, and most of all they’ve been upset because – with notable exceptions during discussions of Kavanaugh and the guys to whom she wants to show actual favoritism – she repeatedly returns to the topic of sexual harassment in the workplace and expresses the opinion that guys should get fired for that shit. Of particular note, she has criticized NBC personalities and the NBC brass – including, yes, Andy Lack – for an environment in which sexual harassment is allowed to flourish. Andy Lack might be particularly upset about that last one because it comes across as actually being true, given all the evidence and shit.

So now when Megyn Kelly decides to rant about how blackface is just a jolly-happy-funtime and can’t we all just agree to let a little racism slide between whites, the outrage among many people around the country is certainly genuine, and the outrage among prominent Black presenters on NBC is probably genuine, but there are good reasons to question whether consequences imposed by management are actually motivated by her racism. This may not be accountability so much as backstabbing, revenge, and an effort to secure impunity for sexual harassers and the managers who enable them.

Nonetheless, I say celebrate. Break open that juice box and take a good, hard suck at that straw, because when people get fired on the pretext of their racism, sooner or later the 300 million people who aren’t following inside politics at the big media companies are going to think that racism is an actual fireable offense. This is a classic example of the seemingly paradoxical phenomenon unintentional performativity. Performativity is a concept most frequently associated with feminist Judith Butler, and is intended to describe acts that create the truths they portray. Someone who has no wife, but who tells your friendly, neighborhood Crip Dyke, “I take you as my wife,” may very well (if certain preconditions are met) actually gain a wife by saying those words. Performativity is especially important in the Butlerian analysis of gender where a person say, “I am a woman,” far less frequently using actual language as such a person might do by brushing on some eye shadow or donning a dress. And, in performing gender in this way, one may very well become a woman at least for the purposes of how others will treat you on that day. But here’s the thing, if one does that often enough, then one gets treated as a woman with regularity, and in being treated as a woman with regularity, the psychological and sociological traits that adhere to women eventually adhere to the person performing womanhood. At that point, one might be said to have become a woman through performing womanhood and the performativity cycle, though much longer than even a wedding, is finally complete.

In the case of unintentional performativity, one can accidentally initiate this cycle. Of course, it’s not actually peformativity if the performance does not eventually create the reality, so unintentional performativity is not a one-off. It must actually begin or continue a pattern that eventually creates the reality it depicts.

Let me be clear: I do not think that NBC is getting rid of Kelly because of her racism. However, taking advantage of her racism to fire someone that NBC dislikes for other reasons requires making the case that it is reasonable to fire someone for their racism. Moreover, Kelly has a contract which is guaranteed unless she is fired for a sufficiently serious cause. So if NBC really wants to keep their money, and/or if they really want to hurt Kelly (the latter being the more likely motive), they have to make the case that it is not only reasonable to fire someone for a defense of blackface, but that it is unreasonable not to fire someone for such statements.

NBC, then, while clearly anti-accountability judging by the tolerance they showed to Matt Lauer and others, is going to be making the public case that those who use prominent media positions to spread racism must always be fired. We may suspect that an institution like NBC with its history of tolerating sexism and racism has other motives, but in portraying racism as a fireable offense, NBC is making racism a fireable offense.

Make no mistake, this is a feud between different members of the wealthy and powerful, and none of those directly involved actually want accountability for the wealthy and powerful. And yet, what today begins as mere consequence will someday become the outcome of accountability.

Today is a very, very good day.


*1: One of my favorite commenting pseudonyms in the ever!

Achievement Unlocked! We don’t know what sexism is!

So in this great conversation we’re having that began with discussing whether TERFs are feminists ultimately required addressing the question, What is feminism? I gave an answer here:

if you work to end sexism, you’re probably a feminist.

After Hj Hornbeck posted a riff on Siggy’s original question (that riff is found here), I felt compelled to create my own post, with failed sarcasm calling this discussion a Fiiiiiiiiiggghht. In that, I repeated my proto-definition of feminism where Hj Hornbeck and others found it, furthering the conversation by discussing the perils of gate-keeping as well as other topics.

But let’s allow those topics to continue being discussed in their original venues. I’m interested in this astute reply to my definition delivered by Hj Hornbeck:

[Read more…]

Privileged Explained: I’m Tiny Because You’re White

So, I recently was introduced to Reductress, a really good (though not quite great) website that reads a lot like what you’d get if Bitch & BUST formed a joint venture to take over The Onion. Like Bitch and BUST, it’s often focussed a bit too much on popular culture than I’d prefer, but its satires of Cosmo-style sex tips are completely brilliant. When it steps away from those, it has more potential to embed meaningful, educational commentary in its satire, but it also falls down a bit more often.

One piece that didn’t fall down, was this one about class privilege. But that assumes you know what privilege is. It’s another piece that really nails a basic explanation of the concept of privilege in the midst of a beautiful bit of satire-as-education. That piece is titled I’m Not Tiny Because I’m Asian, I’m Tiny Because You’re White.

[Read more…]

Hurricane Harvey & The New Normal

There’s a new study up which does something that I hadn’t realized atmospheric physicists had not yet accomplished: equate the energy deposited over land by a hurricane with the energy removed from the ocean by that same hurricane. It seems that one of the reasons that hadn’t yet been done is the need for relatively calm seas in order to get sufficiently accurate measurements of the oceanic heat energy transferred.

That’s always going to be easier in the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico than in the open Atlantic, so there aren’t as many storms to try this on as one might think.

[Read more…]

Peterson IS Freud

PZ has another post up on the failures of Jordan Peterson. It points out the irony of skeptics embracing Peterson when Peterson himself does skepticism so damn badly. As a major exemplar, PZ calls out Peterson’s embrace of Freudianism. Among other observations, he expresses surprise that Peterson, a psychologist, would embrace Freud long after he’s been discredited. Others in the comments provide other observations on just how rare it is to teach much Freud in university psychology programs.

I don’t doubt the truth of those observations, but Freud is nonetheless highly relevant today, and his relevance to today very likely explains exactly why Peterson embraces the man’s ideas.

[Read more…]

On the Corner: Intersectionality is Not Feminist

By which I mean that it is not inherently or always feminist. Unlike other posts, I think I can keep this point short:

If intersectionality is an examination of how two experiences/identities interact, then when neither of those experiences/identities is woman and/or female, it is difficult to see how one might guarantee that the examination is feminist in any meaningful way. Remembering that intersectionality is not only the examination of marginalized experiences and identities, we could read a meaningful examination of any of the following without encountering feminism per se:

Black and Christian

Jewish and immigrant

Disabled and heterosexual

Asexual and queer

As I have explained elsewhere, intersectionality was born of Critical Legal Theory, which discipline has its origins in anti-racism, not feminism. Although the originator of the term, metaphor, and theory (Kimberlé Crenshaw) did so while examining legal cases of specific import to Black women and thus is as feminist in its birth as it is anti-racist, still intersectionality is something else. It could not be intersectionality if it was only about gender and sex, nor could it be intersectionality as we’ve come to understand that term if it was always inclusive of gender and sex.

The essence of intersectional thought is looking at how membership in one category affects one’s experience of belong to (or existing within) another category. It is liminal thought, as Gloria Anzaldúa might say. Too often we speak of intersectionality as a theory that “belongs” to feminism, but this notion both relies on a simplified, frequently erroneous history as well as a drastic limitation of intersectionality’s scope and potential.

On The Corner: Intersectionality and Existence of Privilege

Siggy, over at A Trivial Knot, has a new post up with some interesting things to say about Privilege Theory and its successes and limitations as a lens through which to examine certain social dynamics.

One line in particular resonated with me, not for how I view Privilege Theory, but for how I view Intersectionality. It starts when Siggy asks how to evaluate a theoretical framework like privilege or intersectionality:

[Read more…]

Not For Your Enjoyment: I perform a PZ Myers imitation

No, you will not see my pseudonymous face or hear my pseudonymous voice on Pervert Justice today. However, my knowledge of biology, greatly enhanced by reading PZ Myers and articles linked by PZ Myers over the last 8ish years, led me to geek-rage on a paragraph in a story that would not have caused any negative reaction in the Crip Dyke of 10 years ago.

The paragraph in question comes from an article on the pop-sci site New Atlas which describes recent evolutionary changes in insular populations of geckos:

[Read more…]

Moral Flexibility: Why Ethicists Are Wrong About Why Things Are Wrong

It is hard to say that I work as a professional ethicist as their are few jobs that are framed in just this way. To the extent “professional ethicist” jobs are known as such, they are largely professorial positions. I’ve never held such a position, even when I was teaching in a university. However, many jobs include making ethical recommendations as an important part of the total role. Though some lobbyists would not want their jobs to be connected with ethics in any way (typically for fear of scrutiny), those who craft public policy proposals are actually in the business of morality and ethics. Implementations of a proposal might depend on a host of practical questions, but the motivation for a public policy proposal is very often moral or ethical in nature. Also moral or ethical in nature are many of the arguments for a legislator to vote on a proposal, or submit a bill, or act to move a bill forward procedurally. The same is no less true when lobbying an administrative official for regulatory or enforcement action (or inaction). Understood in this way, it’s quite clear that I (and many, many others) have experience working as a professional ethicist. The full number of people working professionally on questions of ethics dwarf the subset whose job titles explicitly include ethics. It is this larger set of ethicists to which I indisputably belong that imposes a moral responsibility upon me to question and critique ethics as a profession and ethicists as a group.

But even this larger group does not sum up all people who think seriously about ethical questions. In our non-professional lives, too, we must frequently engage quite explicitly with questions of ethics. Anyone with a child in the “Why?” phase of conversational development certainly spends more than 40 hours a week on ethical questions.*1 Anyone who takes the responsibility of voting seriously must also engage in questions of ethics. It is precisely the ubiquity of ethical reasoning in human life that inspires me to write today about an important shortcoming in the field of ethics.

[Read more…]