The Writing Life

Saturday, May 27, 2006

And Science marches on

Just read a story from Yahoo about an invisibility cloak. Scientists now have a working theory on how to make one and have begun creating the man-made materials necessary to put the theory to the test. The material would bend light, making whatever the cloak/shield covered, invisible.

This is darn cool stuff! A friend of mine, Elena, told me that her father (who is a well-known Russian astro-physicist) created a theoretical time machine. According to Elena, the math is correct, but our ability to put the theory into action is not there yet.

Scientific theory is such a fascinating subject. Because the human mind doesn't have the limitations that practical engineering has, scientists have been able to suss out many of the things known only in science fiction. Then again, science fiction is also the product of human minds. Fiction writers are free to dream up realities to their hearts' contents. There are few limitations as long as one follows the rules of 'suspension of disbelief'. It's incredible that what these authors dream up have been known to become reality with the advance of science and engineering. Flying machines were once science fiction and now we barely give a thought to hopping on a jet, other than to hope for an aisle or a window as opposed to that crowded middle seat. Trips to the moon? Been there, done that. And now invisibility, time machines, intersellar space travel -- nothing is really outside of the boundaries, regardless of how 'crazy' it may sound.

Me? I'm still waiting for the Space Plane. I worked on the project in the 80's and back then, they said it should become reality in 2020. That's only 14 years from now. That may be the future, but it's not all that far away. Like all scientific advances, inspiration+time can often lead to reality.

And now, I'll just drape my invisibility cloak over my blog (been using one since I started here, as evidenced by the paucity of comments) and go back to seeing you without you seeing me.

Aravosisblog: the new standard for net parody

My new favorite blog is Johnny A-List's blog. It is a parody of Americablog and is truly brilliant. I don't know who is behind it, but the writer is obviously a skilled comedy writer. Johnny A-List has hit so many things dead center, from personality quirks to 'Friday Orca blogging'; that one leaves the site wishing one had written every last word of it. That's how good it is. If you've ever read Americablog and have a sense of humor, get over to Aravosisblog asap.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Moral High Ground

One of the things I have difficulties with when reading various blogs is that it appears to be okay to make disparaging comments about those on "the other side" that would never be acceptable when describing one's own side.

Some of these insults are in the socially acceptable (read: the group that it disparages has no voice) put-downs, like weight. Calling someone 'fat' appears to be perfectly okay, despite the fact that the majority of the population is now overweight. And often, the person casting that stone could stand to lose a few pounds, but isn't quite as fat as the object of derision, therefore making it 'okay' to be mean-spirited, insulting, and hypocritical.

Both sides of the political spectrum do this, and I don't like it on either side. Each side is vying for the title of "moral high ground", and if that's your aim, perhaps you should start with your own words. The Right claims moral superiority through Biblical teachings, protecting cells (whether in a womb or 'stem'), and proselytizing about the sanctity of marriage (i.e., keeping it only for heterosexuals). The Left claims moral superiority through talk of tolerance (for approved groups, of course), saving the environment, and freedom of choice.

Both have their points, and those with deep hearts, regardless of political conviction, are coming from a place of belief and 'morality'. But there are many who are almost interchangeable with their opposition when it comes to hitting below the belt.

If a pundit is overweight, the insults are fast and voluminous, regardless of the political ideals. An alien, observing our culture, wouldn't be out of line thinking that being overweight was a crime of the highest order. Fat, instead of being equated with physical size, becomes synonymous with low IQ, bad personal hygiene, laziness – the list goes on. Calling someone fat becomes synonymous with so many negative adjectives that no one appears to notice that there are actual fat people who are none of these things. Weight has nothing to do with IQ. Nor does it mean one never bathes. Skinny doesn't mean one has no courage. Short doesn't mean one is forever childlike. And the list goes on.

Making fun of someone's physical appearance, their weight, their height, the shape of their face – anything – is universally accepted as fair game. The Left calls Bush "The Chimp in Chief" because of his physical resemblance to that primate. The Right makes fun of Michael Moore's weight and sometimes scruffy appearance as if these alone explain why one never has to believe anything he ever puts in his films.

Women are often the brunt of jokes, whether it's derisive language about women, or likening men to women (see my posts below about the Americablog fracas where John Aravosis called Sen. Pat Roberts a "Big Girl"). Apparently, the moral high-grounders feel it's okay to call Ann Coulter (on the Right) or Maureen Dowd (on the Left) slang words for female sex organs. Yeah, that's taking the high road, all right.

Seems to me, if you want to take the position of morality, or 'people who are correct in their thinking', then for crying out loud, show us in your language. Attack the ideas, not the person. Insult the policy, not an individual's looks, or gender, or sexual identity. Don't sink to your opponent's level!

Right now, I identify more strongly with the Left than the Right. I believe in things like helping fellow citizens with health care, strong education, environmental protection, the eradication of poverty, alternative fuels, and the equality of races, genders, and sexual identity. I don't believe in attacking countries for oil, tax cuts for the wealthy, denying gays their civil rights, or giving men control over a woman's body.

It's time we all (meaning on both sides of the political fence) stopped the petty, vicious, demeaning attacks on individuals. Disagree with their ideas, their policies, their written and spoken statements, but don't add the obligatory fat or horse-faced or troglodyte or pussy or munchkin or retard. These undermine everything you think you stand for if you are claiming even the tiniest piece of Moral High Ground.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Aravosis and the Big Girls

You know, I should be over this. I should be able to just forget that it happened and move on. But I have found myself clinging to the memory of the weekend and John's meltdown on Americablog. Perhaps it's because his mantra is now "Let it go", as if only he gets to decide what we think and write. I don't appear to be letting it go and I wonder if it's because he's telling me to. I don't like taking orders from people like him, meaning powerful men who call themselves progressive and yet are still weilding a stone age club when it comes to women. We must not be heard. We are good little servants, but nothing of importance.

As many other bloggers have said, his being gay doesn't give him a free pass to be sexist. His calling himself progressive doesn't mean that he gets to act like the worst of the current administration -- silencing voices of dissent, surrounding himself with yes-men by banning anyone who disagrees with him, refusing to admit mistakes, and acting like a dictator. His words are not the last words. His calling the sincere and hurt women who read his blog, "freepers, trolls, and a tiny minority" does not make us so.

He may have deleted my words, but he can't delete my voice. I'm still out here, John. You don't know who I am, but I am not a troll, nor am I a dismissable minority. I am a woman who demands respect. You have not given it to me. You are not who you were pretending to be at all, are you, John? And now that the portrait is out of the attic and in full view, I can no longer generate even a modicum of respect.

A friend of mine has decided the opposite. She wasn't around this past weekend, but I told her about it, and she read some of the opinions. She, too, was hurt by his bigotry. After writing him an angry email, she regretted it. He wrote back, telling her how hurt he'd been by the ruckus, quoting a "feminist" who didn't object to the "Big Girl" comment, as though that made it all okay. My friend forgave him. I understand this. He meant more to her than he did to me. To me, it was just a blog where I could get news. She cared about the man behind the blog.

I'll find other sites for news. I'm happy watching Countdown with Keith Olberman, a man I really can respect. As for Americablog, good-bye. No funds, no comments, no respect whatsoever for the emporer who wears no clothes.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Why some words have the power to hurt

On Americablog, there's a huge fight over John Aravosis' use of "big girl" as an insult to politician Pat Roberts. Several women asked him politely to change the words and John dug his heels in, claiming the words as belonging to "gay venacular" as opposed to women. He doesn't appear to like admitting mistakes and would rather eliminate a large portion of his readership, instead. My posts were deleted, as were hundreds of others. He left the ones that agreed with him or denigrated women (apparently, the women had "sand in their vagina" according to many of the men whose posts remained. John wrote a note saying that he didn't have time to eliminate those notes. I'm guessing it was because he was too busy eliminating the notes written by women or those sympathetic to women). Soon he just started deleting the entire comments thread. Over and over again.

I won't be visiting his blog again. I don't go where I'm not wanted. But I would like to have my say, so I shall do so here, telling him why we're all so upset.

It has to do with power and words.

In our society, the straight male WASP is the ultimate dominant. Beneath him are all others.

Those at the same level, i.e. black to black, woman to woman, gay to gay, can say whatever they want to each other because they are equals. But when a dominant uses degrading words about a non-dominant, it's demeaning, regardless of intent simply because he's in the power seat. One of the ways he retains that power is through language. When one word becomes taboo, he creates another one to replace it, though he will often use the old words for awhile, knowing they are offensive. Many dominants hate giving up any of their power.

This is one reason why the non-dominant work hard to take back those pieces of language. A black calling another black by the N word is saying to the dominant whites, "You can't use it, but I can. It's my word now. I just chipped one tiny piece out of your power position." A lesbian calling another lesbian a dyke is saying the same thing to straights. There are a lot of words that start with the dominant and end up in the hands of those he's sitting upon.

This doesn't cross boundaries. White gays don't get to call blacks the N word just because gays are another subjugated group. White supercedes gay in this case because the word refers to race, not sexual orientation.

The "rules" are pretty clear and it all boils down to one thing: the non-dominants in society doing whatever they can to claim some of the power that has been stolen from them by the dominant.

As a male, John Aravosis is not allowed to use the words "big girl" as an insult. Gay has nothing to do with it. He is male. In his hands, it can only be a slur. Period.

It's up to the non-dominant group as to how they want to use the words they're trying to usurp. Some flaunt them, as the use of the N word is often flaunted, black to black. The N word is well-known as a slur, and therefore no longer can be used by whites without it being demeaning.

Some don't want the word used at all. Gays no longer like the word homosexual, but it's still being used all the time, because it's a relatively new word grab. Several decades ago, the worst name you could call a gay person was queer. But now queer is known to be a slur, so it's safe to use, gay to gay. In fact, it's been usurped so long, it's almost lost all of its sting. That's why straights have abandonned it for fag and other epithets. Gays are working on usurping fag. Homosexual isn't known to be a slur to many people, so it still needs to become one. The usurping has just begun. In 10 or 20 years, it will most likely be bandied about like queer or dyke.

Women have been trying to get rid of 'girl' and 'pussy' and several other female words for awhile, but it's a difficult fight. People rarely listen to us. People rarely validate the hurt. There's usually a "grow up" or a "whiny bitch" or a "don't be so emotional and sensitive" thrown our way for objecting to it. It's going to take a lot longer for women to win back their words. Men aren't going to give them up without a fight, because so many men adore using them. Gay men often feel they have a right to female words, because of the straight male dominance over gay males. But it's not true. Those are our words. Gay does not superceded male because these are words specific to our gender, not yours. Fight all you want to take back the gay words, but leave our female epithets alone. Only we get to decide when and if to use them.

So why haven't we successfully usurped them? When adult black males objected to being called 'boy', they eventually won the fight. Yet women are still almost at ground zero in the battle to eradicate 'girl' as a subtle and not-so-subtle put-down. We made some headway in decades past, but it stalled out and 'girl' is still being used far too commonly as both an insult and a way to describe an adult female.

Why is it so difficult for us? Because unlike any of the other groups I mentioned, women are half the population. We're too big a threat. Some men may not know a gay or a jew or a black, but they all know women. We're everywhere, and instantly recognizable as women. And even worse, we're in every group except "male".

That's why men fight so hard to control our bodies, our lives, our paychecks, and our words.

We're scary -- scarier than any other group by far. Better make sure girl=bad, or there's no telling what else might happen.