Dressing with self-respect

Recently, #FastTailedGirls trended on Twitter. It’s a hashtag that was started by Mikki Kendall for black women to talk about their experiences with being hyper-sexualised at a young age. I saw tweets about girls as young as four years old being labeled “fast” for wanting to play with their male peers, for dressing up in sundresses and hats, or hitting puberty early. And because black women can’t have their own space respected there were of course trolls, slut-shamers and victim-blamers.

(I was going to put a picture of an adorable little girl wearing a hat here, but got frustrated trying to find a non-watermarked picture of a pre-teen when “girl” is assumed to refer to all women.)

One of them tweeted, about an hour ago: “@yvethepoet How do those laws have anything to do with allowing children to dress like they don’t respect themselves?” (To clarify, he was addressing it to @yvethepoet, who was contributing to the hashtag. Additionally the tweet he was replying to didn’t say anything about laws, so I’m going to assume he means age of consent legislation or something similar.) And good lord that tweet raises so many issues but is so, so typical of the responses women get talking about this shit that I really want to address it.

1. Age of consent laws don’t have anything to do with how children dress because clothing isn’t consent.
2. Though he later mentioned “young women”, he is definitely referring to children here. Presumably pre-teens. A child wearing “provocative” clothing, a child wearing heels and make up, a child wearing a bikini, does not look sexy. Not to me, not to most adults. Children learn about the world through play. They dress up, they play pretend, they role play, they copy what they see. An eleven year old experimenting with her clothing in imitation of how adults dress is not making some kind of comment on her sexual availability. Ideally an eleven year old doesn’t even know what that means, though sadly many (particularly black girls and other girls of colour such as natives) have been forcibly introduced to their sexuality way, way too young. Even a fifteen year old who hit puberty early and has a lot of curves is still clearly a young girl on interaction. There are very, very few fifteen year olds who are actually so magically mature that you can’t tell them apart from an adult. And while the age of consent here in New Zealand is 16, in much of America where the people contributing to #FastTailedGirls live it’s 18, so a fifteen year old girl is not “only” a few months away from being “legal”.
3. How exactly does one indicate through their clothing that they don’t respect themselves? I actually addressed this point on Twitter and never got a reply. By asking this he’s assuming that his assumptions about the meaning of dress are universally true. Some people think that a woman who doesn’t cover her hair must have no self-respect. I could think that anyone who’d wear a onesie in public doesn’t have any self-respect. The motivations behind how we dress are incredibly complex, very culturally specific, and entirely subjective. Often people will object to clothing on one woman that is a completely normal thing to wear. For example, one woman on the hashtag talked about being told to wear trousers instead of shorts as a child because her mother’s boyfriend was coming to the house. Obviously, that’s bullshit. A young girl wearing shorts is not some sultry temptress. She’s a young girl wearing shorts. I’m wearing shorts right fucking now and I don’t think they’re particularly sexy. Another woman talked about a teacher chiding her for showing too much cleavage wearing a tank top. Women who have large cleavage often complain about trying to find clothes that properly cover them up, because sometimes it’s just not possible. You can’t wear a turtleneck in hot weather (the American South in summer…) and sometimes a turtleneck actually draws more attention to the breasts by outlining them and not having a neckline directly above them to distract the eye. Ultimately what people are actually objecting to is these girls and women having a certain type of post-puberty onset body, and that’s not something that girls and women can control.
4. Following on from that, what does the assumed self-respect or lackthereof of young girls even have to do with rape? I mean, obviously, it does because a) rapists are predatory and deliberately target vulnerable girls and women who often have poor self-esteem and b) being sexually objectified and hypersexualised erodes self-esteem and self-respect, but the guys who are making this argument don’t fall in line with that reasoning. They don’t talk about rape as a deliberately predatory act and they don’t worry about the self-esteem of girls who are being constantly judged according to their perceived sexuality. They think “confidence” is a codeword for “dressing slutty” and victims call rape on themselves by being too sexy. And in that case, shouldn’t the opposite be true, that girls who don’t respect themselves are less attractive? Unless, I guess, you think low self-esteem and lack of self-respect are sexy, that they make an eleven year old girl desirable, and that the exaggerated play-acted “flirting” of pre-teens, in the few cases where it existed in the first place (which it usually doesn’t, most girls did not invite the attention, not that any level of flirting implies consent anyway and especially in a fucking child) is somehow attractive rather than clumsy and immature.

This huge focus on clothing is ridiculous. Clothing is not the be all and end all of attractiveness. It might influence it in some ways, but not enough to make someone who you wouldn’t ordinarily be attracted to suddenly become someone you’re going to chase after, past the point of just eyeing them up, past the point of approaching them, past the point of flirting, past the point of asking them out, someone you’re actively trying to have sex with even if their first response isn’t “yeah, let’s do it!” Likewise, someone who’s attractive in and of themselves isn’t suddenly unattractive because they’re wearing more clothes. So how, how, how can what a child is wearing be a relevant factor? People who aggressively pursue children do it because of social values and conditioning that tells them it’s okay and they won’t face consequences. In some (but not all or even most) cases they do it because they’re pedophiles or ephebophiles, who are attracted specifically and exclusively to that age group, and also because social values and conditioning tell them they won’t face consequences. But the idea that there’s something that black girls in particular are wearing that accounts for the way they’re sexualised and shamed defies all logic and common sense.

Cultural Action and Conscientisation (in The Politics of Education by P Freire)

Extract from one of my readings for Mana Māori on the culture of silence, the phenomenon whereby societal elites control the way subordinates think and impose their culture on others to prevent unrest. The immediate context is to discuss the relationship between a metropolis and a dependent society – it’s about Latin America but can be applied universally, hence being a reading for a Māori paper.

“In Peru, as the military group that took power in 1968 pursued its political objectives, many of its actions caused ‘cracks’ to appear in the most closed areas of Peruvian society. Through these cracks, the masses began to emerge from their silence with increasingly demanding attitudes. Insofar as their demands are met, the masses everywhere tend not only to increase their frequency but also to alter their nature.

“Thus, the populist approach also ends up creating serious contradictions for the power group. It finds itself obliged either to break open the culture of silence or to restore it. That is why it seems to us difficult in many parts of the Third World for any government to maintain even a relatively aggressive independent policy toward the metropolis while preserving the culture of silence internally.

“In 1961, Janio Quadros came to power in Brazil in what was perhaps the greatest electoral victory in the nation’s history. He attempted to carry out a paradoxical policy of independence toward the metropolis and control over the people. After seven months in office, he unexpectedly announced to the nation that he was obliged to renounce the presidency under pressure from the same hidden forces that had driven President Getulio Vargas to commit suicide. And so he made a melancholy exist and headed for London.

“The Brazilian military group that overthrew the Boulart government in 1964, picturesquely designating their action a revolution, followed a coherent course according to our preceding analysis: a consistent policy of servility toward the metropolis and the violent imposition of silence upon their own people. A policy of servility toward the metropolis and rupture of the internal culture of silence would not be viable. Neither would a policy of independence toward the metropolis while maintaining the culture of silence internally.”

Obviously New Zealand is not Latin America; there are vast differences between these very heirarchical, underdeveloped societies and a relatively well-off Western nation that, while increasingly unequal, doesn’t come anywhere near some of those in South or Central America. But it strikes me that the US is a metropolis with an awful lot of dependent societies and the goal of mana motuhake/Māori self-determination/etc seems like it would be extremely difficult to fulfill while maintaining a national policy of servility because it requires a radical re-structure of how we conceive society (though whether it SHOULD be so radical is another matter – I think the changes are pretty easy to imagine, whereas others think they’re impossible on any level, ideal or practical). Part of that re-structure necessarily involves challenging the norms that place the US into a position of such power, that gives any group such a huge level of power over any other. It requires a structure of co-operation rather than a unilateral sovereignty that doesn’t even see the other party’s position as valid enough to be taken seriously. On some level the current power structure is actually quite fragile in that it doesn’t tolerate any challenge – hence why we were ejected from ANZUS for the Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament and Arms Control Act, and why white people get so damn upset at the notion that other cultures might have any rights that could be seen as different or better, and why men throw temper tantrums when women don’t sit down and shut up in response to being mansplained to. It almost can’t afford to negotiate compromise with any other group, because if it does so, you start to get a peek in at the contradictions and logical inconsistencies and it risks unraveling entirely. So the only method, if you want to cultivate the patronage of the metropolis through servility, is to impose unquestioning control on those below you, and the easiest way to do that is not through might but through manipulation. It makes you a slave doing someone else’s bidding, but it creates the illusion that you’re wielding the power, and if you keep the metropolis happy you can guarantee their support in maintaining that power (through market mechanisms rather than directly from the US government, which in some ways is itself a dependent society to the metropolis of corporatism).

Shit smells like Hollywood

The headline on Stuff reads, “Veronica Mars meets Kickstarter target”, and while that’s true, it obscures the reality – that Warner Bros were the ones profiting. This multi-billion dollar company, one of the two biggest movie studios in the Western world (to be honest I’m not sure how Bollywood measures up), used a crowdsourcing website to fund a movie. And people bought into that.

Not that I really blame them, mostly, because you do get rewards for donating on Kickstarter. But this is still some mighty bullshit. Are we to believe that Warner Bros needed grassroots assistance to fund a movie that has an existing fanbase to market to? A company that is constantly lobbying the US government for restrictive anti-piracy legislation, financing anti-piracy think tanks with bad science, buying out inconvenient laws in other countries and interfering in international treaties, all to maximise their precious profits? I mean, I guess a market-liberal corporation’s gotta do what a market-liberal corporation’s gotta do, but normally the justification for those big salaries that the top staff draw is that they’re taking risks and have responsibility for failures as well as successes. This removes the risk. There is no risk. They have found the crowning glory of shunting the risk off to the consumer, which is astounding because the heads of corporations like this are pretty good at doing that already – they’re just usually a little more subtle.

And it’s win-win for them, too. Because not only do they have the fans covering investment costs, they get a hell of a lot of publicity, too. “Oh gee, that’s that Veronica Mars movie! ORDINARY PEOPLE helped make that movie, how cool! It wouldn’t exist without Kickstarter, which all the young people love! Amanda Palmer even used it, and she’s so hip and edgy and married to Neil Gaiman and uses Twitter and gives TED talks! I love all of those things!”

No, guys. No. You did not help make that movie. You just got conned into paying for it. Not even in the “fair” market way where you base your decision on advance screening reviews and rumours and ads and what your friends who’ve already seen it say and the studio is at least nominally obliged to produce a decent movie. With this maneuvre they could set up a single camera focused on Kristen Bell and her co-stars playing with a sloth for two hours and still make money because they’re not paying for it. (Okay, to be fair, I think a lot of Veronica Mars fans would actually pay to see that anyway, but you get my point. I really doubt you need millions of dollars to pay Kristen Bell to play with a sloth on a livecam. She might even do it for free.)

The sad thing is, now that it’s been done once, who really thinks it will stop there? And studios are not going to to anything to reduce their profits in light of the massively reduced risk, let’s be real. They’ll still be dicking over everyone they can and aggressively pursuing anyone who even sneezes at a torrent site. No, I don’t think every movie will be funded like this, but it sure does open the door for some of them to be. And sorry, Warner Bros, but if I’m investing in something for a well-established, highly profitable company like you, I damn well want a percentage of the revenue from it.

This is the real story on mental health

Every time a white man commits mass murder, we see the inevitable: mental illness blasted into the headlines, debates about mental health provisions, discussions about how to solve a problem that, largely, doesn’t actually exist.

This isn’t to say that better access to mental healthcare isn’t needed, because it definitely is. But not as the solution to the frequency of mass murders. Taylor and Gunn (1999) finds that: “There was little fluctuation in numbers of people with a mental illness committing criminal homicide over the 38 years studied, and a 3% annual decline in their contribution to the official statistics.” I’ll just say that again to be clear: 3% annual decline in the proportion of people with a mental illness committing criminal homicide. This is over a period of time that began when the mentally ill were regularly institutionalised rather than in the community, and granted it was a study in England and Wales where there is much less access to guns, but that increased access to guns applies to everyone. So does legislation like “stand your ground” laws, which you’d have a hard time convincing me are mostly invoked by the mentally ill. There may be an argument that normalising mental illness would provide an outlet for those people who are not mentally ill but who are driven to extremes for other reasons, but that’s not the argument anyone seems to be having.

On the contrary I’m sure everyone has heard the line that people with a mental illness are more likely to be victims than perpetrators. But do you know to what extent? Coz it’s pretty appalling. Teplin et al (2005) found that more than a quarter of people with a severe mental illness had been a victim of violent crime in the past year (discounting murder, as the participants in the study were still alive). Depending on the crime they were anywhere from 6 to 23 times more likely than the general population to have been a victim. That’s a lot. Twice as likely would be a lot. Twenty three times more likely is a HELL of a lot. And that’s not covering murder, which is a huge problem for people with disabilities, including mental illness, and which is often treated as less serious than the murder of a healthy person with otherwise similar characteristics. It’s labeled as a mercy killing, justifiable because they were a burden, a cause of stress, with a life that was probably miserable anyway.

Or they were killed by police. Police killings are generally vehemently defended as well, and (this one isn’t a proper study, sorry), in the US in 2012 through to the end of September about 1 in 8 police killings involved a victim who was mentally ill or in severe mental distress. (I’ll also note that this examination seems to include things like autism, which aren’t really mental illnesses but could be mistaken for them by some people in some circumstances.) Of the 428 police killings according to available reports (and bearing in mind that these are vastly under-reported), 30 victims had been the subject of a 911 call because they were suicidal. Why are the police being sent, armed and ill-prepared, to calls for help for someone who’s suicidal? Fuck if I know.

Really there are two problems here. One is the stigmatisation of mental illness and the funding cuts that go hand in hand with it – it’s easy to cut services for someone who’s regarded as less than everyone else. The other is the way the media operates, relying on ratings and hits and page views to generate revenue. Which is one of the reasons public service tv channels are so important, incidentally, because they’re not centered around the pursuit of profits. That, however, is a sideline. The creation and packaging of spectacle is the thing that needs to be re-examined, because to some degree the media is itself responsible for many of the problems in our society. (Just look at the Cunliffe “coup”, which largely consisted of him being a bit impolitic in response to being repeatedly asked the same question, over and over.) It also ensures that you’ll never see the real story – honestly, just read the entirety of that last link for some examples – because the real story doesn’t sell well.

The sad thing is that so many people profess to know this. And yet, still, every time a white man commits a mass murder, they bring up mental health.

Hey, remember polio?

Hey, remember polio? Chances are most people reading this don’t personally, though they may know someone who had it when they were younger and still lives with the effects, or know someone who knew someone, etc. There’s really only about three countries left where polio’s a big deal, apparently: Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan. However, medical workers are making progress on getting numbers down with the help of vaccination programs. It’s been working. This year so far there have been 22 new cases in Pakistan, compared with 52 in the same period last year. That’s less than half, and if numbers continue like that there’ll be well under a hundred cases this year! Hell yes, doctors! Sadly, you might have seen something in the news about how the Taliban don’t want polio vaccinations anymore though, because it’s “against Islam”. I say this because I did, though I didn’t have time to read the whole article.

Hey, remember Osama Bin Laden? How much do you know about how he was captured? I don’t know if the name Shakil Afridi means anything to you, for example. He was a doctor too. He went to Abbottabad in the first half of last year to run a vaccination campaign, oh, and also to spy on Osama. He confirmed to the US that one of Osama’s top local bodyguards was in the compound in April. On May 2, they attacked the compound. (Afridi went on to be arrested and convicted to 33 years prison for his part.)

You may see where this is going. Because now, doctors want to do another polio vaccination drive. They have enough of the stuff to vaccinate 161,000 children under the age of five. That’s fucking huge. But because last year the US used a vaccination drive as a cover for a military operation, some of the powers that be in Pakistan don’t trust foreign doctors anymore. So it’s not so much that vaccinations are against Islam, really. It’s more that they’re worried – and quite possibly rightfully so, considering ongoing drone strikes in the country – that this program will be a cover for spying as well.

So, you know, good job America. Using doctors to do your dirty work, really paying off now, huh? I mean, your wars have already killed more civilians (sorry, “potential combatants”) in the region than anything else, and now you’re getting completely preventable diseases in on the fun as well!

Summary: Medicine should never be a cover for military operations. Ever. It’s simply too fucking important.

Framing the issue

There’s a lot of talk today about marriage equality. Obama made a speech supporting it, but also supporting state’s rights. David Shearer also supports it, but qualifies that he’d have to look at the wording of the legislation, presumably to make sure no one sneaks in an amendment to make murder legal or something.

Then there’s all the people talking about this, and the people talking about how people are talking about this. It’s the latter that actually annoys me the most.

Obama’s gotten quite a bit of support, and also some people pointing out the irony of a black President supporting state’s rights on a civil rights issue. (Incidentally, Fox’s original headline announced that Obama had declared a war on marriage, then removed that part.) Shearer’s also gotten some support, and also some people questioning his need to qualify his support.

The rhetoric now is that the angry hordes are lambasting Shearer for his wording while no one gives a fuck that John Key is a homophobic tool, or that Obama’s getting a million high fives for a theoretical stance but Shearer’s getting told off for wanting marriage equality in practice.

I’ve made a few comments to various people that haven’t had replies – firstly that it’s a lot more politically dangerous to support marriage equality in the States (though I still think the state’s rights argument is bullshit, it ought to be federal), secondly that anyone who thinks John Key didn’t get much criticism doesn’t know nearly enough gay people, and thirdly, when Tau Henare was saying that it should be a conscience vote and that he’s sure it will happen, I asked him how he’d vote.

Further comments that I haven’t made on Twitter but will now: I have not seen a single person actually angry at Shearer. Not even really annoyed. I’ve seen people pointing out that he shouldn’t need to qualify it, that if he wrote the legislation he wouldn’t need to eyeball it, that presumably he reads all legislation before voting on it and why is marriage equality any different? Apparently in the world of some commentators, this constitutes an angry horde.

Even if that were true, though, here’s something I’ve learned from, you know, being LGBT: people who support you are more likely to listen to your criticism. When I call John Key a homophobic tool, no matter how polite I am about it, I don’t actually expect him to go “Wow, you’re right, I’m going to reverse my position completely!” I’d like him to. I’d love him to, in fact. But it’s just not going to happen. But when I ask Shearer* why he needs to qualify his support by saying he’d need to read the legislation, there’s a much better chance that he’ll think about it and go, “Yeah, that’s true, actually.”

* Not that I, personally, actually get to ask him anything. As party leader I don’t think he’s very active on Twitter and he certainly doesn’t read my blog.

So no, I’m not actually going to give completely proportionate intensity of responses. I’m going to put the effort where it’s most effective. I will be angry about John Key being a homophobic tool, but I’m not going to devote hundreds of lengthy posts to it just so I can justify calling out a left-wing leader on qualifying their support with something so absolutely obvious as “I’d have to read the legislation.”

And anyone who thinks calling out Shearer on this is an expression of uppity queers being uppity seriously needs a reality check.

Stand your ground

Imagine you’re with a group of friends, out in public somewhere. As you’re walking down the street to a grocery store, some people start yelling abuse at you, targeted toward whatever minority you happen to be part of (straight white cis men will just have to pretend, sorry). Wishing to stand up for yourself, for the sake of your own self-respect if nothing else, you approach and tell them that you don’t appreciate hate speech.

In response, one of them smashes a glass in your face, slicing right through your cheek. A fight breaks out as the others back up their friend and your friends back up you, and at the end of it, one of them is dead.

Now imagine that, even though it’s unclear what the murder weapon was (of two possibilities) and it’s unclear who used it, you are the only one arrested – not any of the group who were using hate speech, not the woman who seriously assaulted you. You are not given adequate medical care (initially, stitches, but you have to wait two months for a follow up, during which time your cheek swells badly, putting pressure on your eye and making it difficult to eat). You’re interrogated for hours. Under pressure and stress you confess, but later recant, saying that though you don’t know which of your friends it was, they were defending you, and you’d wanted to protect them. Nonetheless, you’re charged with two counts of second degree murder; for defending yourself (verbally) against bigotry, for whatever exactly happened after someone attacked you for daring to flaunt your existence. You remain in jail for several months, twice being placed in solitary confinement “for your own protection”, despite your wishes to remain in the general population. Meanwhile your friends are still subject to harassment and ignored by police when reporting it.

Congratulations, you are now a black transgender woman in Minneapolis. Your name is CeCe McDonald and your trial is set to begin on April 30.

CeCe is currently back in jail after an alleged parole violation – an accusation that she tampered with her electronic monitoring device for twelve hours, which may well have been a mechanical fault, and a drug test showing THC in her system. Her bail is set to $500,000, despite the fact that before this she was trusted to go to school and work (neither of which she can do while locked up).

‘Let Women Die’ passes Arizona Senate

The US has a shockingly high maternal death rate for the Western world, and Arizona wants to make it worse. The Senate has passed a bill allowing anti-choice doctors to simply not tell women if they detect a problem during pre-natal check-ups, because it might lead to them choosing to abort – and they’ll be immune from malpractice lawsuits. This includes not only foetuses likely to develop disabilities, but things like ectopic pregnancies which are extremely high-risk for the woman and have only a very small chance of being viable anyway.

Even disregarding the possibility of death, this means that even women who would choose to keep their child will not be given the time to prepare for the difficulties of raising a child with disabilities – emotionally, practically, financially, etc. Everything will be thrown at them after birth, a time which is already stressful and hectic and emotional and includes the possibility of post-partum depression (or worse, though happily rarer, psychosis). While you can certainly argue – with validity – that anyone carrying a pregnancy to term should be willing to accept the possibility of disabilities affecting their child, foreknowledge should absolutely not be taken away when parents could otherwise have the opportunity to use the time before birth to set up support systems in advance, or even to decide that they’re not at a place where they can raise that child at all. Disabled children and adults have an incredibly high risk of abuse at the hands of caregivers. We should do everything we can to reduce that, even if it means some of those children are never born – especially if the alternative also increases risk of injury or death to their mothers.

Make love not war

Yesterday I came across this article on Buzzfeed about a gay teen whose screen print order was turned down because it was too positive about the notion of two men fucking. The text she wanted to use was “Why is it that as a culture we are more comfortable seeing two men holding guns than holding hands?”

The thing that strikes me though, is that even if you think that homosexuality is wrong, you shouldn’t really have a huge objection to this question. Here’s why:

Holding hands has more than one purpose. While the immediate implication in the quote is that the two men are romantically involved, there are other reasons to hold hands. They could be friends. (In this extremely homophobic society it’s unlikely, but possible.) They might want to avoid losing each other in a crowd. One could be helping the other up off the ground, or they’re clinging to each other for support climbing a steep slope. None of these things are “wrong”, and a few of them are to be lauded.

Holding guns is different. A gun is purpose-built to kill things. They do do more than that, admittedly – the men could have intent to injure only, or merely to threaten or intimidate. Or they could be going hunting for food. But the express purpose of a gun is violence, and the quotation seems to want us to come to the conclusion that this violence is to be against other people.

The Bible says that all commandments hold the same weight, though the Big Ten are often regarded as more important. There’s nothing about homosexuality in the Ten. There is something about killing. You can read the Bible as saying that homosexuality is as bad as gun violence, but you cannot possibly read it as saying that it’s worse.

So, to focus specifically on the two men holding hands part of this quote is to give homosexuality a weight that you’re not giving to violence and murder. You are showing that you are more bothered by something that gets only one or two lines in the long list of rules laid down by your religion than by something that comes up repeatedly, over and over.

Murder is not less important than homosexuality. Even if you think homosexuality is bad, that is an objective fact, and to say otherwise is completely unsupported by anything in the apparently holiest of holy texts.