Baby, it's Cold Outside

[Crossposted to My Vox blog.]

Via Majikthise, Brad Hicks has a good analysis of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”

There’s not much more I can say about the analysis, but the responses in comments are quite interesting, particularly in how the song is defended. It’s illustrative of the ways in which the status quo with respect to rape and consent gets defended.

Aesthetic Defense

And analysis destroys another great song.

Here the argument is that we shouldn’t engage in feminist analysis of popular culture, lest we lessen our enjoyment of or ability to participate in said culture. If we look to closely at our culture, the argument goes, all we’ll see is patriarchy. (In this way, it’s similar to the “we can’t complain about coercion or people wouldn’t get laid” argument).

Free Speech

Thus we must ban any song that may seem to have those sorts of connotations!


Occasionally the argument is not that the analysis will “spoil” the work for the critic, but that the critic has an agenda to “spoil” the song for everybody else through censorship. The effect of this argument is to silence criticism because nobody wants to sound like a censor. A related argument is that the critic is against sexuality in general rather than the problematic depiction being critiqued.


People shouldn’t be too uptight about music.

Also known as the “you have no sense of humor” or “it’s just a song” argument. Tekanji posted about this in “Debunking the Myth of Frivolity”, and it’s a better rebuttal than any I could give here.

Good Intentions

Both Frank Loesser and his wife have archived interviews regarding this song, its composition, and premiere at a party they gave for friends. Sorry, I don’t have URLs for them. Neither allude to anything that would lend credence to these darker interpretations of the lyrics.

This is a different kind of argument; it relies on the authority of the author (or someone closer to the author than the critic is) to say what a work is really about. That the author of the lyrics may have thought them playfully sexy and didn’t intend to describe a date rape doesn’t make them problematic; indeed, it’s a quite similar argument to the one that an actual rapist may make – that the understanding was that the encounter was fully consensual. While an artist’s interpretation of his own work can make for interesting conversation material, it doesn’t invalidate other interpretations, and it certainly doesn’t disqualify the work from being used as a springboard to talk about the culture in general.

Armchair Psychoanalysis

I think you have misinterpreted the lyrics according to your own ideas of right and wrong (obviously) and this has defined the result more than the song itself.

This is basically a way of deflecting the criticism back onto the critic, and ties into the argument from popularity: “Nobody else has a problem with it, why do you?” The effect is to get critics to stop talking about the work and focus more on themselves.

Rape Apologism

leaving verbal inflection aside she does a fair amount of dithering but assuming she has her own wheels and car keys the failure to get up and go combined with making *excuses* sounds a LOT like “convince me. I want to have my cake (being a good girl) and eat it too (not live like a nun)”.

In fact the whole point is that she is in the position to definitively say “no,” to leave, to forcefully reject her pursuer, but she specifically never does. In the end her response is always well “maybe.” I ought to say no. Well maybe one more drink. After all, it is cold outside.

“She really wanted it.” “She could have said no, or left.” I think these folks need to read Biting Beaver’s posts on coercive rape and playing hard to get, in order to see how problematic these statements really are.

It Was a Different Time

In a nutshell, she really wants to, but she can’t square that with societal mores.

Some good comments here, but also a lot of temporal imperialism.

It’s very easy to judge people in the past as naive, or stupid, or ignorant, or otherwise somehow shameful because they perceived things or conducted themselves differently from us. They weren’t, they simply lived in a different milieu.

I think these sorts of arguments are fundamentally misguided. “Temporal imperialism” is not the same thing as colonialism. The former is simply reinterpreting the data; the latter involves significant power differentials and the potential for exploitation. Both involve privileged perspectives, but the privilege of hindsight is by definition not exploitative; the past may not be able to answer for itself, but neither can it be altered.

In addition, the criticism of the song isn’t actually all that focused on the time the song was written, because it’s not one that establishes itself as belonging to its time period. These attitudes aren’t altogether gone, and that’s why it’s still important to point out that what’s described in the song is either a prelude to rape or indistinguishable therefrom.

Great Moments in Jurisprudence

[Crossposted to my Vox blog.]

Plenty of people have commented on the Missouri rape case where a judge decided that once penetration had been consented to, there really wasn’t any crime.

And as plenty of people have pointed out, this is a monumentally stupid ruling.

(Trigger warning.)

Reading the narrative, it’s pretty clear that what consent there was was very limited. The complainant had just been sexually assaulted and raped by the appellant’s friend, and then gave a very conditional consent to appellant (“If I say stop, you have to stop”) which was then withdrawn.

How twisted do you have to be to see that as a “green light”?

It’s interesting to note that the complainant and appellant’s stories differ at this point. The appellant says he stopped immediately; the complainant says he didn’t. I suspect this is because everyone involved, with the exception of the appeals judge, realized that this is an important distinction on which the charge hangs.

There’s another difference in the testimony, which refers to the extent in which the appellant participated in the prior sexual assaults. According to the complainant’s testimony, he was heavily involved, and would presumably know that consent had not been given; according to the appelant’s testimony, he was away from his friend.

The trial judge’s instructions also strike me as fucked up:

The amount of force necessary depends upon the circumstances, and no particular amount of force is required but it must be sufficient to overcome the resistance of the victim. You must be satisfied that the victim either resisted and that this resistance was overcome by force or threat of force or that the victim was prevented from resisting by force or threat of force. The victim must have resisted to the extent of her ability at the time unless her resistance or will to resist was overcome by force or fear that was reasonable under the circumstances. Finally, “consent” means actually agreeing to the sexual act rather than merely submitting as a result of force or threat of force.

Given that the last sentence negates pretty much everything that came before it, why do the instructions spend so much time focusing on how much the complainant resisted?

The appellate judge’s ruling is based primarily on (i) Battle v. State a 1980 case that did not actually hold that ignoring post-penetration withdrawal of consent constituted rape, but merely that a jury instruction was ambiguous, and (ii) old English common law. The judge goes on to cite (especially barbaric) “Biblical and Middle Assyrian” law on the subject, which treated rape as “trespass upon the property,” calling it “common law.” In fact, it is no such thing; both the old English jurisprudence and the Biblical-era laws had long been superseded by later statutes and understandings on the subject.

It’s always been one of my little legal rules of thumb that any opinion that relies on “tradition” rather than statute or case law is worthless and more likely than not wrongly decided. Bowers v. Hardwick did this (and thankfully, has been superseded by Lawrence v. Texas); U.S. v. Reynolds did as well.

Rape is a dicey issue in the criminal courts, because the typical lack of witnesses, the consent defense, and the standards of proof. It’s exacerbated by a societal view of sex that sees consent as mere acquiescence rather than as enthusiastic participation. It’s also dicey in the moral sphere, because the social consensus seens to be that anything which doesn’t meet the criminal standard of rape is acceptable. Not to get all Sapir-Whorf here, but I think the fact that we don’t have separate terms for “legal rape” and “moral rape,” the way we do for other crimes (e.g., “larceny” versus “stealing,” “murder” versus “killing”). There’s no term for someone who’s forcing sex on another in a way that doesn’t meet the legal requirements of a rape charge, which leads people to think it’s all right.

Once again, more at Pandagon.

You Make Me Feel So Young

[Crossposted to my Vox blog.]

Just when I was starting to feel like I was getting old, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services comes through and treats me like a kid again:

Now the government is targeting unmarried adults up to age 29 as part of its abstinence-only programs, which include millions of dollars in federal money that will be available to the states under revised federal grant guidelines for 2007.

Up to 29? Heck, even if we don’t take the usual tactic here of focusing on the endpoint, the average age of the cohort they’re including is 24. Most unmarried 24-year-olds are going to be either in the workforce or higher education – presumably at that point they’ve merited a little autonomy?

For twenty-somethings, it’s not really an abstinence only program any more, because as far as I’m aware there’s no centralized, government-funded source of sex education for us. There is not as yet any law against turning on my TV and watching Sue Johansson on cable, or going to the library and checking out books on the subject, or going online and (unless I’m on Buffalo’s heavily filtered municipal wireless, where I can’t read half my usual blogs because they’re afraid someone’s going to lure a kid into an unmarked van with promises of Pandagon posts) reading about any imaginable variation.

In addition, many of the abstinence arguments for teenagers simply don’t apply in the same way. Telling a 15-year-old that he or she should wait to have sex is very different from telling a 25-year-old to wait. The message to the kid is more “wait until you’re older” than “wait until you’re married,” although the assumption is that they will follow the approved life script and marry in their late teens or twenties. For the adult, it’s all about marriage – nobody has a problem with his or her married peers being sexually active – and an adult has a better idea of the likelihood of their getting married at some point than a teenager does.

So I suspect “abstinence only” isn’t really aimed at gutting sex ed like it is for the kids; it’s about funding a propaganda campaign.

But Wade Horn, assistant secretary for children and families at the Department of Health and Human Services, said the revision is aimed at 19- to 29-year-olds because more unmarried women in that age group are having children.

Wait, I thought that women were supposed to have children in their twenties. Isn’t that what the panic about career women who wait until later in life to have kids is about? Oh, right, we’re talking about unmarried women here. (I suspect we’re also talking about women of color here when we mention “identifying groups” at risk.)

“The message is ‘It’s better to wait until you’re married to bear or father children,’ ” Horn said. “The only 100% effective way of getting there is abstinence.”

This is flatly untrue. Given that (as of now) abortion and contraception are both legal, for folks with access to them (which sadly isn’t universal), that’s pretty much a 100% effective way of not bearing children you don’t want. Ironically, the statement is a lot more true for men, given that they have to abide by their partner’s decision. So why does “abstinence only” ignore contraception for does every form of abstinence only treat men’s behavior as an afterthought?

Furthermore, I’m not sure how my marrying someone would make either them or me a better parent. The only thing I can think of is that they could get the benefit of my health insurance. It’s not going to make us better off financially or make me want children.

I think this shows what the “abstinence only” movement is really about: it’s less about helping people than social control. (I suppose that when enough arguments get leveled at the pregnancy rationale, they’ll switch over to STDs as the reason.) Abstinence-only education, the ire over gay marriage, it all boils down to the idea that we should all be good little Christians and adhere to the script; if we’re not good little Christians, we should at least have the decency to hide it.

More at Pandagon.

I <3 NY

[Crossposted to my Vox blog.]

It’s been a while since I’ve heard good news on the reproductive rights front – it’s been abortion bans and “conscience clauses” for so long.

Yesterday the New York Court of Appeals issued a decision in Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Albany v. Serio upholding a provision of the Women’s Health and Wellness Act which requires all but a narrowly defined category of religious institutions to provide insurance coverage for contraception if they provide prescription drug coverage.

It should be noted that some religious entities can exempt themselves from this requirement, if they meet the following criteria:

(a) The inculcation of religious values is the purpose of the entity.
(b) The entity primarily employs persons who share the religious tenets of the entity.
(c) The entity serves primarily persons who share the religious tenets of the entity.
(d) The entity is a nonprofit organization as described in Section 6033 (a) (2) (A) i or iii, of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended.

(That last provision means that the entity qualifies as a church or religious order under the federal tax code.)

What the WHWA does not exempt are religious organizations engaging in fundamentally non-religious activities that wish to use their clout to deny contraception to nonreligious employees:

It is also important, in our view, that many of plaintiffs’ employees do not share their religious beliefs. (Most of the plaintiffs allege that they hire many people of other faiths; no plaintiff has presented evidence that it does not do so.) The employment relationship is a frequent subject of legislation, and when a religious organization chooses to hire non-believers it must, at least to some degree, be prepared to accept neutral regulations imposed to protect those employees’ legitimate interests in doing what their own beliefs permit.

They actually recognize that everyone has beliefs, not just the anti-choicers!

Finally, we must weigh against plaintiffs’ interest in adhering to the tenets of their faith the State’s substantial interest in fostering equality between the sexes, and in providing women with better health care. The Legislature had extensive evidence before it that the absence of contraceptive coverage for many women was seriously interfering with both of these important goals. The Legislature decided that to grant the broad religious exemption that plaintiffs seek would leave too many women outside the statute, a decision entitled to deference from the courts.

Finally, this shouldn’t need pointing out, but even if you take the idea of “judicial activism” as a bad thing seriously, this is not a case of “judicial activism,” but of enforcement of legislation. It is the religious organizations who wish to deny contraception coverage to their employees who are petitioning for a duly enacted law to be overturned.


[Crossposted to my Vox blog.]

Amy Gahran has a good post up about apologies and why they’re necessary.

The post was sparked by Amy Alkon‘s advice column about cheating, entitled “Along Came Polyamory.” Understandably, many polyamorous folk were miffed at the equation of the concepts. (It’s hard enough figuring out who’s okay with the concept without it being confused with unethical behavior.) But rather than apologize for causing offense, Ms. Alkon decided to take the offensive, complaining that those who had a problem just didn’t understand her irony, and basically just being a big bully.

Coincidentally enough, I had just discovered Ms. Alkon’s anti-feminist screed “Victims Gone Wild” the other day. She seems to be one of those “postfeminists” in the vein of ifeminists or IWF that figure that since they’re privileged, anyone who complains that they’re not is just adopting a “victim mentality,” and that feminism is unnecessary because of what someone said Dworkin or Mackinnon said a couple decades ago.

Ms. Gahran’s post, though, could have been sparked by any of the non-apologies of late (Ann Althouse, Harlan Ellison, and so on all the metaphorical way back to “she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.”) Why is it so hard for people to apologize for offending people? It can be done.

What To Do When You Screw Up

(…and we all screw up at some point.)

[Crossposted to my Vox blog.]

From Hugo Schwyzer‘s post on the Valenti/Althouse incident, after he himself got called on an offensive comment he made:

For the record, I will happily pose for a picture with anyone. If the local leader of the Klan came by, I’d stand for a photo with my arm around him and grin for the camera, and then promptly give him a good earful. If the camera only captures my smile, and not my rebuke, that’s not my responsibility. Bill Clinton is not in the Klan. * Clinton’s private failings are better known than the failings of any other human being alive. But compared to the other living men who have held the office of president, he has clearly been the one most committed to the overall goals of the feminist agenda. And for that, he deserves our — qualified — gratitude.

*Sometimes I post things I ought not to have. Once they’ve been commented on, though, I don’t delete them — just strike them as evidence of my foolishness.

While we can debate whether it’s better to delete altogether or use strikethrough, either approach is a heck of a lot better than Althouse’s (and Ellison’s, and Kos’s) tactics of denial, minimization and blame-shifting. Thanks for pointing out the high road, Hugo.

Yet Another Take on the Althouse Incident

[I’ve got a new blog on Vox, with these posts and a few others. Commenting, unfortunately, requires registration to the service, but I’ve got a few invite codes for it. Come visit.]

There’s been a bit of a kerfuffle this weekend over Ann Althouse‘s treatment of Feministing‘s Jessica Valenti.

(I’m not going to call it “Boobiegate.” It’s been over thirty years since Watergate; can we stop framing everything in terms of the Baby Boomers and let that go the way of Teapot Dome?)

What It Was About

The short version: Ann Althouse responded to this photo of Bill Clinton with several bloggers by making an vague allusion to the Lewinsky scandal.

Let’s just array these bloggers… randomly.

(As other folks have pointed out, the bloggers were arrayed not “randomly” but in terms of height.)

The first commenter, Goesh, picked up on it:

Who is the Intern directly in front of him with the black hair?

The woman in question, Jessica Valenti of Feministing, takes offense at being reduced to an element of a joke:

The, um, “intern” is me. It’s so nice to see women being judged by more than their looks. Oh, wait…

And it all snowballs from there as Ms. Althouse gets defensive:

Well, Jessica, you do appear to be “posing.” Maybe it’s just an accident.

Jessica: I’m not judging you by your looks. (Don’t flatter yourself.) I’m judging you by your apparent behavior. It’s not about the smiling, but the three-quarter pose and related posturing, the sort of thing people razz Katherine Harris about. I really don’t know why people who care about feminism don’t have any edge against Clinton for the harm he did to the cause of taking sexual harrassment seriously, and posing in front of him like that irks me, as a feminist. So don’t assume you’re the one representing feminist values here. Whatever you call your blog….

She goes on to create a whole new post, entitled “Let’s take a closer look at those breasts“, in which she writes:

Sooooo… apparently, Jessica writes one of those blogs that are all about using breasts for extra attention. Then, when she goes to meet Clinton, she wears a tight knit top that draws attention to her breasts and stands right in front of him and positions herself to make her breasts as obvious as possible?

Maybe it’s just overexposure to comics, but I don’t really see that as anything more than standing up straight, turning to make sure she’s not blocking out Mr. Clinton, and smiling. Other people, especially those commenters who identify themselves as Ms. Valenti’s age or younger, seem to see it the same way.

After that post draws 500 comments’ worth of ire, defensiveness and trolling, she washes her hands of the whole deal with one more post:

I’m surpassingly sick of this comments thread from yesterday, and I’m not even going to read all the commentary on other blogs. The immense tiresomeness is actually undermining my will to blog this morning.

I don’t mind an intense, verbal fight about ideas, but this wasn’t that. This was, every time you expressed a substantive idea, the answer was, essentially, “Stop looking at my breasts.” (I’m picturing an SNL sketch based on that concept, and like the usual SNL sketch, it goes on way too long.)

Why Althouse Was Wrong

There’s not really much to be said on this point that other people haven’t already said better. Ms. Valenti writes:

You know, I was psyched to be invited to this lunch and was feeling pretty honored. But then things like this remind me that no matter what I do or accomplish, because I’m a young woman all I’m good for is fodder for tacky intern jokes and comments that I don’t “represent feminist values” because of the way I posed in a picture.

Here’s another quick rule of thumb: if you’re complaining about people supporting a sexual harasser, it’s best not to do it in a way that encourages future sexual harassment.

Althouse’s “Real Point”

Ms. Althouse is claiming that her critics miss the point, which seems to be something along the lines of (a) real feminists don’t accept invitations to meet with Bill Clinton; and (b) people should respect the office of the Presidency by dressing in formal business attire when meeting with a former President.

I’m not sure these two positions are completely reconcilable – “pleading in the alternative”
doesn’t work so well outside of a legal context – but the idea that she gets to be the one
who decides what the “real” issues are is the same thing that constantly gets done to feminism, as feminists are asked to put their issues aside for the important shit. That’s what Ms. Valenti was being asked to do – not complain about being used as part of a blowjob joke (I’m not exaggerating here; Ms. Althouse makes references to berets and blue dresses in her comments) because Ms. Althouse was making a point about Bill Clinton.

Generation Gaps

There’s another generation gap that is going on in these arguments, and that’s in the perception of Clinton. Here’s a fact that makes me feel old: Anyone younger than 28 (including Ms. Valenti) was never able to vote for Clinton, because they were too young during the 1996 election. Ms. Althouse is of a generation that was politically active during the Clinton administration, and for whom the impeachment issue was primary. For many of the younger commenters, that issue is of historical interest, but doesn’t leave much of a direct “legacy.” As one commenter, Parry_Lost, notes:

Allright, I’m sorry I lack in knowledge of the scandalous affairs of foreign presidents (I’m not an American) that happened while I was in middle school. Yes, I know many people do have such knowledge. Allright. My feminist and historical knowledge is lacking. I accept these flaws and will continue to try and work on them.

But why, why, why is it wrong to criticize Althouse for unfairly insulting another blogger?
What did her comments that Jessica was showing off her breasts to someone and that the Feministing blog is trying to get attention with breasts even have to do with the Clinton scandal of which I am admittedly ignorant?

This, of course, gets seized on by older commenters, who basically treat Parry_Lost and other younger posters as if they were still in middle school.

Althouse and Privilege

Ms. Althouse seems to run her blog in a much more “top-down” way than I’m used to – it’s more like a syndicated news column or radio call-in show, in contrast to the more “community” focused blogs I tend to read. At least in the posts I saw, there’s a divide between Althouse herself and other commenters. Often, she adopts her law-professor role and actually grades people’s comments (as she did with me when I commented there), which strikes me as an attempt to take the privilege she enjoys as a professor and apply it to contexts where it’s unwarranted.

Ms. Althouse gets a lot of mileage (increased readership, newspaper articles, etc.) out of her academic credentials; Ms. Valenti’s fame in these circles is mostly from her blogging.

Ms. Althouse’s attacks on Ms. Valenti’s appearance and youth seem to me to be founded in part on the idea that Ms. Valenti’s privilege is unwarranted, and must be to some extent based on being a conventionally attractive young woman, since she hasn’t paid her dues yet.

The trouble with this, obviously, is that it basically relegates young women to be nothing more than “eye candy.”

Basically, it’s a hazing mentality. Since Ms. Althouse (presumably) didn’t have these sorts of opportunities in her twenties (at the very least, she wouldn’t have been able to publish a blog), but does now, people in their twenties need to wait until she’s had her turn at the helm of public discourse before they demand their say.

A Confession

Somewhere out there is a picture of me with Christopher Cox, taken back in 1993. As a high school junior, I took a trip to DC and part of that trip invovled meeting with the members of Congress who represented us.

Mr. Cox addressed the Generation X concern (not really my generation, but we were high school students and didn’t have much of a political voice yet) that we would likely be economically worse off than our parents. And do you know what he blamed for that possiblity? Women in the workplace. I can only wonder what he would have said if there
were a female student there as well. The argument was something like this: back in the Good Old Days, a man got paid enough to provide for a family because women didn’t work; now the expectation is that both men and women would work, so a single income doesn’t have to go as far. (Privilege? What’s that?) Totally economically unsound, of course. Which explains why he’s now running the SEC, I suppose.

Anyway, what would Ms. Althouse say I should have done – respect the office of U.S. Representative, or stay away? Should I have walked out? I was 16, and had the understanding that this meeting was more about being presented with the program recognition, Argued back? I thought that you weren’t supposed to “make a scene” or ask hardball questions at those sorts of events. Besides, at that age I didn’t have a ready response; I knew there was a flaw in the argument, but didn’t know exactly what. But I guess it doesn’t matter, because I wore a blazer and slacks and don’t have breasts.


Althouse: Bill Clinton, lunching with the bloggers.
Althouse: Let’s take a closer look at those breasts.
Althouse: Comments, comments, comments.
Jessica @ Feministing: Feminists don’t pose
Jessica @ Feministing: The “dirty pillow” line of attack
Jill @ Feministe: Wherein Ann Althouse Shoots Any Credibility She Had Left
zuzu @ Feministe: More about that Clinton blogger lunch
zuzu @ Feministe: Know Your Place
Lindsey Beyerstein @ Majikthise: Let’s take a closer look at those nuts
Amanda Marcotte @ Pandagon: But there’s titties in that picture!
OTF Wank: Feminist wank.

Harlan Ellison's "Apology": Sorry I Rubbed You the Wrong Way

(I’ll be away for the next few days at Fan Expo Canada in Toronto. If anyone else will be there and wants to meet up, drop me a line. As far as I know, Harlan Ellison won’t be there.)

Dora has written a great post on the subject of Ellison’s behavior at the Hugo Awards. If you haven’t read it already, stop reading this and go read that one first.

She linked to Ellison’s apology, which was the sort of non-apology I’ve gotten used to hearing from public figures when they don’t understand that they did anything wrong.

Would you believe that, having left the Hugo ceremonies immediately after my part in it, while it was still in progress … and having left the hall entirely … yet having been around later that night for Keith Kato’s traditional chili party … and having taken off next morning for return home … and not having the internet facility to open “journalfen” (or whatever it is), I was unaware of any problem proceeding from my intendedly-childlike grabbing of Connie Willis’s left breast, as she was exhorting me to behave.

Shorter HE: the opinion of you peons doesn’t count.

Note the introductory phrase, “Would you believe…,” suggesting that the reasonable reader would be surprised that he hadn’t heard about it. I believe this is being used ironically – i.e., that he thinks it’s eminently believable that one could avoid hearing about this because the complainers are out on the fringe. I can understand alternative interpretations here, though.

Note , however, the name-dropping (though I hadn’t heard of Keith Kato before, a quick Google suggests that he hosts invitation-only afterparties at a lot of conventions. In other words, to be at that party is to be important. Further note Ellison’s putting JournalFen in scare quotes and follows it a dismissive parenthetical. And finally, note that Ellison attributes the “problem” to a single source (JournalFen – i.e., Fandom Wank, which I hadn’t actually checked to find out about this).

Finally, there’s the contextualizing of the incident as a joke. Because Willis was telling him to “behave,” he groped her. Of course, the age old rule about jokes applies: if you have to explain ’em, they ain’t funny.

Nonetheless, despite my only becoming aware of this brouhaha right this moment (12 noon LA time, Tuesday the 29th), three days after the digital spasm that seems to be in uproar …YOU ARE ABSOLUTELY RIGHT!!!

Emphasis, despite the capslock abuse, still seems to be on how long it took him to find out about it. Absolutely right about what? He hasn’t said yet.

IT IS UNCONSCIONABLE FOR A MAN TO GRAB A WOMAN’S BREAST WITHOUT HER EXPLICIT PERMISSION. To do otherwise is to go ‘way over the line in terms of invasion of someone’s personal space. It is crude behavior at best, and actionable behavior at worst. When George W. Bush massaged the back of the neck of that female foreign dignitary, we were all justly appalled.

What’s interesting here is not that he “gets it,” to the extent he does (though his reasons seem very male-centric – it’s bad because the behavior is crude, or because you can be sued for it); what’s interesting is that he’s talking in generalities, and when he brings up an example it’s someone else (and the woman is reduced to “female foreign dignitary”).

Finally, he gets around to talking about the incident:

For me to grab Connie’s breast is inexcusable, indefensible, gauche, and properly offensive to any observers or those who heard of it later.

I agree wholeheartedly.

“Gauche”? He didn’t break wind on stage, he groped somebody. That’s like slugging somebody and then apologizing for your bad manners.

I’ve called Connie. Haven’t heard back from her yet. Maybe I never will.

Implication: If Connie Willis doesn’t complain, neither should you.

This doesn’t work for me for a few reasons. For one, this wasn’t private behavior; it was on stage. More importantly, Ms. Willis is situated differently from other people commenting on the issue; she potentially has more to lose from a backlash from Harlan’s fans than a random blogger like me does. (Though on the other hand, I could use the publicity if I ever finish my novel.)

So. What now, folks?

Implication: it’s your problem, not mine.

It’s not as if I haven’t been a politically incorrect creature in the past. But apparently, Lynne, my 72 years of indefensible, gauche (yet for the most part classy), horrifying, jaw-dropping, sophomoric, sometimes imbecile behavior hasn’t–till now–reached your level of outrage.

Shorter HE: What are you, retarded? I’m the goddamn Harlan. And if you haven’t complained before, you can’t now.

I tend not to bother paying much attention to the personal lives of writers, so I’m not sure what else he’s been up to. I’ve heard about the Penny Arcade kerfuffle; I’m sure there are other incidents where he pissed people off, and it seems from this “apology” that he regards this as merely another of those times. This is orders of magnitude larger than that, and invokes privilege and institutional power in ways that other arguments don’t.

I’m glad, at last, to have transcended your expectations. I stand naked and defenseless before your absolutely correct chiding.

Shorter HE: I’m an asshole; what are you going to do about it?

The “I’m an asshole” defense, though, isn’t one. Never has been. It’s simultaneously an assertion of power (“I can act like this, and you still have to deal with me”) and a desertion of responsibility (“I’m just this way. Can’t be helped”).

With genuine thanks for the post, and celestial affection, I remain, puckishly,

Yr. pal, Harlan

Shorter HE: Ain’t I a stinker?

Funny, while I remember Puck (both the Shakespearean version and the Gargoyles version) being a trickster, I don’t remember him sexually assaulting anybody.

P.S. You have my permission to repost this reply anywhere you choose, on journalfen, at SFWA, on every blog in the universe, and even as graffiti on the Great Wall of China.

Implication: it doesn’t matter what you do; it can’t affect me.

Sexism on a Plate (Classism, too)

“I’ve had it with this m*****f***ing sexism on my m*****f***ing plate!”

Over on Feministing, Sailorman recently commented about an entry on The New York Times “Dining & Wine” blog concerning the increasingly infrequent practice of giving menus without prices to some patrons at restaurants. (Feministe has commented on this as well.)

The actual practices described varied from automatically giving a woman a menu “sans prix” when she dined with a man, to providing price-free menus only on request for people who wanted to treat a family member or business client.

I was most surprised at the comments to the blog entry, which had a surprising number of people bemoaning the loss of “class,” “chivalry” and “old world style” involved with this practice.

So sad to see yet another tradition dying out. I don’t see how the practice is insulting at all. I remember being taken to Le Bernadin to celebrate a special occasion, and being given a menu without prices. I thought it was a very chivalrous gesture; and on a day-to-day basis we all split enough bills in the name of equality and fairness that I can’t see how one old-fashioned gesture once in a while is something to decry.

Most restaurants I’ve met in Europe follow this practice (no menu prices for the guests), and I like it. Here in Florida, no such luck. I am often frustrated when taking my poor Depression-era mother to dinner and she goes into shock, ordering the meanest, cheapest salad instead of a meal. Absolutely no class throughout the state (but the winter weather’s nice).

Oh come on! Can’t you see the charm in it? It has a hint of old world class. It takes us back to a time when men took pains to put a lady at ease.

Doesn’t this make you long for the days when men still stood when a lady entered the room?

Here’s what I find wrong with price-free menus:

They Confuse the Customers

One recurring theme throught the comments to the post was that, despite protests that everybody knew more or less which entrees would be expensive (“chicken costs less than lobster”), many people whose menus didn’t contain prices made expensive mistakes as a result:

As he had prices, and I did not, I was unaware that I had ordered a $75 salad–I don’t remember for sure, but I think it was more expensive than our wine.

Then, after the meal, she asked for a copy of the menu, to remember the meal by. It came, autographed by the chef. She almost fell off the chair. She had assumed, not seeing prices on her menu, that we had a set prix fix meal with several courses, and naturally she wanted to taste all of them.

The most expensive meal I ever ate was at a restaurant where I — known to be the penny-pincher in the relationship and completely unaware that unpriced menus existed — assumed my price-less menue meant it was a prix fixe meal. My husband, shocked and happy, thought I was just caving in to the beauty of the experience. Well, hello! I’d never have spent that much money on a meal, and never have again. Though I sure did enjoy it, until the bill came.

The problem here is that these mistakes usually benefit the restaurant, which means there’s little incentive not to offer the menus, especially if they can play into class anxiety by doing so:

It seems the worst thing one can be called today is “cheap”. It is the most cutting insult of all. Liar, cheat, thief, addict, scoundrel, even racist or slut – these are forgiven and in some cases even admired. But “cheap”… cheap is the lowest.

But “cheap” is often nothing more than a ploy by others to manipulate one to spend more. Once labeled as cheap, the only defense is to go further into opulence. Typically the accuser is the benficiary.

I think it’s telling that the most common use of the price-free menu was traditionally during a date, where there can be even more pressure not to appear “cheap.”

They Make the “Guest” Uncomfortable

I see a lot of talk about “I’m the host and price-free menus are what *I* want!” but I don’t see very much talk about what the guests want.

The idea behind the price-free menu is to put the “guest” (i.e., the person who’s not buying) at ease by letting him or her choose her courses without being influenced by price. Of course, that doesn’t always work:

If I were handed a host who insisted on price-free menus, my anxiety would go through the roof. I would worry and try to guess what was a “safe” choice. When I eschewed the chicken in favor of salad and then found, to my horror, that the salad was $75, I would be mortified.

I’ve been a guest and received a menu without prices. I don’t care for it because, frankly, I’m not always sure what I want to order and use the prices to decide whether I really want the lobster if it costs $150. No matter how much money I have, certain things just aren’t worth the money…no matter who’s paying for it. It’s not a matter of being cheap…more a matter of using the price to assist me in a sometimes difficult decision.

When I was treated to that ilk of restaurant by my father years ago, not seeing the menu with prices left me the task of guessing which might be the modest choices. It therefore brought more frustration than ease.

I have seen it cause distress with some guests who REALLY need to know what the prices are and are then made more uncomfortable by the lack of that knowledge.

The idea that less information will put someone at ease doesn’t make much sense to me. If I’m being treated by someone I care about, the price is going to matter as much to me as it does to them, because their comfort is important to me. If I’m worried it’ll be a problem; it’s going to worry me as much, if not more, if I don’t know how much of a bill I’m racking up. If I know it’s not a problem, I’ll get what I want regardless. If I’m not sure if it’s all right, I’ll ask. (I’ll probably ask anyway, because I’m used to everyone sampling each other’s courses at restaurants.)

Besides, as one waiter points out:

It never works.

The other guest(s) always excuse themselves at some point and ask to see a menu with prices outside the watch of their host. I rarely sense they feel this was any sort of compliment to their company and it usually signals a first and last date.

It’s Sexist as Practiced

Quite obviously the practice of assuming that a man will pay for a woman’s meal is a sexist one, whether that assumption takes the form of handing the check to a man, or giving a woman a menu without prices. (Many commenters also pointed out that the assumptions get even more muddled when dealing with non-heterosexual couples.)

This is one of those things that straddles the border between chivalrous and “look how hard I’m trying to impress you, I must really, really need to get laid.”

If my attempt to pay for my meal is refused within a dating context, I want to feel less beholden than more, so again, not seeing the prices is an annoyance rather than a luxury.

May I also add that this is not sweetness or chivalry – this is taking the chattle out for a little treat, and since she can’t earn money (or drive, or vote, or think) why should she see the prices?

Another comment shows how this sexism intersects with other forms (in this case, emphasizing the cultural narrative of the date as an exchange of dinner for sexual favors):

How about this…I invited my husband and another couple for a wonderful steak dinner at La Queu de Cheval in Montreal. I was appropriately presented the bill but when I casually turned it over there was a quote imprinted, which equated something like “a good steak is like a good woman, juicy in all the right places”. This is not a verbatim quote since it was years ago and I have never been back.

However, I don’t think the sexism entirely goes away when the policy is made facially neutral (though you’re less likely to find such an offensive quote on the check), such as the proposed practice of asking who the host is. It’s akin to citing “asker pays” as a non-sexist alternative – while facially neutral, it’s not actually equal outside of a culture in which the idea of “asker” is not gendered.

It’s Classist

Throughout the comments, there’s a strong element of “it doesn’t matter,” with an implied accusation of cheapness on the part of the people who do complain.

if I am inviting guests to a meal at a restaurant, I greatly appreciate the option of being able to set aside the vulgarity of money, and enjoy each others’ company for its own sake.

If you find money so vulgar, how about letting those of us who don’t find it so relieve you of that burden?

Other commenters agree that being focused on money – i.e., not being sufficiently rich – is bad manners:

To me, it clearly [shows] the decline of proper etiquette and good manners.

Why must it be so hard to just be a guest and leave it at that? If you think your host can’t afford it then suggest someplace else. Jeesh this is not rocket science it’s called civilization.

Some commenters go so far as to insinuate that the riff-raff should know their place and stop trying to dine at “high class” restaurants:

It always strikes me as tacky / low rent when a server in an otherwise good restaurant is quoting prices for the specials. Turns any fine dining experience into a “my God, do they think we are at TGI Friday’s?” moment.

I agree with the post above that asks why you would go to a restaurant you could not afford in the first place?!?! If the $600 check is going to make you gag, then you should have gone to the Shake Shack with grandma!

Fuck you both, and the luxury cars you rode in on. I routinely go to restaurants (even that bastion of plebeianism, TGI Friday’s) with the assumption that I’m not going to get the high-priced items on the menu (if I did, I couldn’t dine there routinely).

As for the comment ‘if you can’t afford it, don’t go,’ well, there’s more than one problem with that. Firstly, there’s often a considerable price range on the menu. Just because you can’t afford the most expensive items doesn’t mean you shouldn’t eat there! Myself and a traveling partner have several times ’saved up’ for a meal at a nice restaurant at the end of a trip. We always chose nice places, even if we could only afford a glass of wine and mid-priced entree, because it was a ‘treat’ as much for the ambience as the quality of the food.

I think a lot of the classist “if you have to ask, you can’t afford it” folks underestimate the difference between low-priced and high-priced entrees. Even taking extreme outliers like lobster off the list, it’s not uncommon for the high-priced entrees to be over twice the cost of lower-priced ones, which can be a very big deal when you’re eating at a restaurant where even the low-priced courses will stretch your budget.

If a slice of pie is going to be $8, then we’d like to know before we order it. If that makes us classless and vulgar, well, we didn’t inherit our money – we earned it. It took a long time, a lot of care, and more than a few coupons. I guess that makes for vulgar people who like to know the price of things before buying! 🙂

Damn right.

Feminist Video Games?

This is disappointing.

I’ve seen Beyond Good & Evil and The Longest Journey cited as exemplars of “feminist video games”, but not much beyond that.

Of course, there’s the larger question of what would make a game good from a feminist perspective. In addition to being good from a gameplay perspective, I’d say such a game would include female characters who are full agents in the game world, and who are treated as subjects rather than objects. I think a variation of the Mo Movie Measure applies as well, in that female characters should interact with other female characters in ways that aren’t centered around men.

So do other games fit the bill? I think a lot of them do to an extent, but have aspects that undo their positive messages. Final Fantasy X, for example, has several active female characters, but their stories each have problems. Lulu isn’t given nearly as much character development as the other characters, and the main element to her backstory is a romantic relationship. Yuna’s got a great story, but it cedes precedence to Tidus’ perception of Yuna. (Incidentally, how much cooler would FFX have been if Yuna rather than Tidus were the primary character we followed?) Rikku doesn’t get the pairing-off treatment, but does get the “fanservice” treatment, most notably during her reintroduction when the camera pans along her body.

It’s been a while since I played Suikoden III, but I remember Chris Lightfellow being a fairly complex and foreground character; the only drawback there was that she was the only female in an otherwise all-male group of knights (albeit the leader of the group). Xenosaga I contains the characters of Shion, a female scientist, and KOS-MOS, a feminine android, which both appeared promising, though I never progressed far enough in the game to find out how the characters were handled.

In other genres, the Metroid series gets cited as a feminist game, since Samus Aran is a hyper-capable woman who avoids (mostly) being objectified. While Metroid doesn’t quite fit the standards I put forth above, I think that speaks to my own bias toward adventure games and RPGs, which may be unfair.

What games do you all think meet the standard for good video games from a feminist perspective?