Online Gender Workshop: Teaching Gender Attribution for Skeptics and Scientists

Online Gender Workshop, as ever, is brought to you by your friendly, neighborhood Crip Dyke.

In a recent thread, Okidemia posed a question that many parents have these days: When and how should I teach my child/ren about trans* folk?

Okidemia framed it this way:

…kids have not been told about transpeople yet, because we don’t know any. Thus an important educationnal question:
at what age would you* speak about it to kids? (certainly, you* should begin before they meet psychologically transgendering acquaintances –as opposed to biologically transitioning which certainly happens later in life.

One of the reasons this question seems so confounding is that, like many confounding questions, it is the wrong question. [Read more…]

Gender Workshop: How to think like you’re not

Redundant posts are redundant

Except when they aren’t.

Here your gender-workshop-taskmistress Crip Dyke encourages you to revisit the douchegabbery of the Minnesota Child Protection League. PZ did an excellent job of illuminating just that in “Two steps forward, one step back” in December of last year, and the discussion on that thread when it was current included a great many useful comments.

I want, however, not to merely rehash criticisms of MCPL (criticisms well-deserved and well-made the first time around) but to use that example to talk a bit about what “centering” and “marginalized” really mean. In the post on the need for transfeminist critiques of other feminisms, I focussed on Katha Pollit and identified places where, quite frankly, I think she employed some bad thinking to construct some bad feminism. I suggested that marginalization had something to do with this bad thinking on Pollit’s part. Here you can learn more about exactly what marginalization has to do with it …and the extent of my criticism of Pollit, rather than merely Pollit’s column.

I didn’t pick Pollit because her work is low hanging fruit. She has written excellently on many topics. She clearly has the writing chops to be clear about the distinctions between political theorizing and political rhetoric. Yet the only reasonable inference is that she was, in fact, talking about rhetoric when she was using the phrase “political analysis”. She also has the analytical skills to make the distinction between gendered terms like the French pronouns ils and elles, and gender neutral words like people. Yet here, too, she fell down.

So what is the problem with this Katha Pollit person anyway? The problem is the same as one in our community: the inability to think like you’re not.  [Read more…]

Jenna Cavelle wants to correct ‘Chinatown’

If you’ve heard any history of the California desert at all, you’ve likely heard of the Owens Valley Water War.

Here’s the canonical version of that War: The Owens Valley is watered by runoff from the immense snowfall from the Sierra Nevada to its west, much of which runs into the Owens River when it melts. The Owens Valley is an endorrheic basin: it has no outflow. The Owens River never reaches the ocean. Instead, it flows into Owens Lake, in the valley’s lowest point at its south end.

Late in the 19th Century a thriving network of agricultural communities was developing due to the river’s water, growing a vibrant local economy along with their crops. Enter the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, led by engineer William Mulholland. DWP quietly bought up water rights throughout the Owens Valley in a series of deceptive land deals, then built a 223-mile aqueduct to bring Owens River water to Los Angeles. The aqueduct was finished in 1913 — 100 years ago this November — and farms started going out of business in the decade after. Owens Valley farmers dynamited parts of the aqueduct in 1924, but the rebellion was short-lived. Owens Lake, which had been a rich habitat for waterfowl, dried up and is now the single largest point source of particulate matter pollution in the U.S.

As canonical histories go, it’s pretty accurate. Or at least more accurate than the version a lot of people have in their heads due to the film Chinatown, which was based on the Owens Valley story. But it’s a woefully incomplete history nonetheless. The history of the Owens Valley didn’t start in the late 19th Century. Before the first European settlers arrived there were people living in the Owens Valley for thousands of years. The Owens Valley Paiute took advantage of the relatively well-watered landscape by gathering seeds, hunting the Valley’s abundant game, and — though this hardly ever gets mentioned in any of the formal histories — diverting the water of the Owens River and its tributaries to irrigate their crops.

Journalist Jenna Cavelle wants to correct the canonical history to include the Owens Valley Paiute, who are still very much alive and shaping the valley:

This film documents the history of Paiute Native Americans who constructed 60 miles of intricate irrigation systems in Owens Valley for millennia long before LA secured its largest source of water through modern engineering a century ago. After the Indian War of 1863, surviving Paiute returned to the Valley from the Eastern Sierra and White Mountains to find their ancient waterworks taken over by white settlers. Today, over 150-years later, the Paiute continue to fight to save their waterworks, which are remnant in the Owens Valley landscape, along with water rights the city of LA never granted. PAYA (“water” in Paiute) stands to recover both Paiute history and water rights by increasing awareness through the powerful medium of documentary film.

She’s working to put together a set of resources, centering around a documentary film, before the last remaining Paiute elders who have some tenuous personal knowledge of their ancestors’ irrigation systems aren’t around to document anymore.  Here’s Cavelle’s Kickstarter trailer:

She’s halfway to her goal with half her fundraising period left. This project combines history, the California desert environment, and social justice, so you won’t be surprised that I really want to see it happen. I’m scratching together a few bucks to throw Cavelle’s way: maybe you’ll want to as well.

Presenting the most festive holiday image possible

We’re not much for the Big Winter Holidays at our place, for a few reasons: the atheism thing, revulsion at enforced mass consumption, Seasonal Affective Disorder. For myself there’s also the fact that my birthday follows close on the heels of the New Year, and though that used to be a jolly opportunity for reflection on the accomplishments of the previous year, the process gets old when you’ve gone through it 50 times or more.

But we are seeing some friends in the coming week, and getting outside to enjoy the gorgeous winter light in the Mojave, and taking advantage of the slight slowdown in our work schedules to enjoy life a little bit. Also there’s the Doctor Who special. One cannot understate the importance of the Doctor Who special.

Regardless of how you experience the next few days,  with joy and hilarity or with clenched teeth or by not caring much at all either way, I hope your December 25 is every bit as happy as any of the other 365 days we’re scheduled to have had this year. And in that spirit I offer you the best holiday image ever.

[Read more…]