Recovery!

Ugh, so, the Tit moved country two years ago and changed phones, thus becoming locked out of WordPress. With the recovery codes fantastically packed away, no means to log in. Well, now that the Tit is moving country again, the codes have been found and we’re back in the nest!

My apologies, dear readers (all ten of you!) for the absence and let us all hope for more from PT in the near future.

Open Letter to Jon Stewart

Hi Jon,

Can I call you Jon?

TheDailyShowIn all honesty, I wouldn’t know what else to call you. In our one-sided friendship, I can’t be formal.

I watched your first show sitting in a dingy living room in a tiny house in the American Midwest. I watched your last show from overseas, as I stare back at the United States and wonder what happened.

First, I want to thank you as so many others have. You were and I think will remain to be a foothold of reason in a tempest of insanity. You trumpeted truth through comedy, as so often must be the case. After all, only the fool can mock the king. There will be others, yes. Some of those others you have trained. Others will come out of the woodwork and light up our lives. But you were there for so many pivotal moments of the American story.

I remember few individual shows and fewer yet individual moments. The one I will never forget, and the one that has stayed with me through everything I have been through in my own life, was the 9/11 Moment of Zen. A puppy.

That show was awkward, uncomfortably funny in places. Mostly poignant and reflective, it wasn’t the usual Daily Show. It couldn’t be. But it was a start. I watched it. In fact, I needed it. We all needed it. We needed any step toward normality that we could take. I also needed to know what you were going to say. After the debacle of Indecision 2000, yours was the voice I wanted to hear the most because I knew you would say what I needed to hear, without platitude, without empty, flag-waving patriotism, and without an agenda.

But I didn’t remember what you said, not all these years later. I only remember the puppy. The wiggling, crazy, happy, confused and adorable puppy that you pulled out from under your desk because you knew that’s what we needed in that moment.

That was the first time I remember laughing after 9/11.

If you think about it, most laughter is forgotten. You, who make so many laugh so many times, could not possibly remember it all. You generate laughter professionally and know the nuances of it better than I ever could. Laughter of joy, laughter of embarrassment, laughter of delight, laughter of dismay. As a comedian, you wield so much power to change people, and you always used that power honorably. But at no time did you wield it better than through a puppy.

That puppy. The way I laughed brought tears to my eyes. It hurt to release the tension that had built for a week. The laughter was cathartic. It was healing. It was profound.

Life…..is a series of dogs,” said George Carlin. And one puppy.

If we cannot laugh, we cannot live. You, personally — You, Jon Stewart — brought me and so many others back to life time and again. Through the challenges laid before me: loss, grief, terror, fear, distrust, anger, resentment, frustration or loneliness, I would think of that puppy. That whatever my situation, underlying it was a joy of life, and a realization that the world is not mine. No matter my struggles, there are happy puppies. No matter my pain, there are happy puppies. For all that is negative, there is a positive.

How ill white hairs become a fool and a jester. How tragic that white hairs come for us all.

Jon. I hope that whatever your future plans, you allow me to welcome you into my life again. After all, you’ve been in my life for sixteen years. I can’t say goodbye forever. I know it is time for you to move on, even from something you clearly love. But I look forward to your role in the next act, with all the profound grace you will bring.

Thank you for sharing yourself with us.

Geek Woman :: Invisible Man

I'm working on my neckbeard...

I’m working on my neckbeard…

I am a Geek Woman, but I’ll be damned if you’ll find me.

The fact is, I don’t feel particularly welcome in Geek culture, not as a normal human being who likes Vulcans and Elves. Hum, maybe it’s the pointy ears? I’m an oddity, perhaps. Something tantalizing? Sure. The girl whose supposed to “get” if not flat-out admire the Geek guys and put up with their misogyny with a cute smirk and an eye roll behind my librarian glasses. Well, no thanks. Also, I don’t even wear glasses.

By now, everyone is aware of the mass murder in Santa Barbara and the role misogyny played in it. And if you haven’t yet, read Arthur Chu’s recent piece. Please. (It’s okay. I’ll wait.) I’ll not press the same points being made across the Internet about male entitlement, etc. I’m also not going to talk about the highly sexualized and anatomically inaccurate depictions of women in Geek and/or Cosplay culture, some happily perpetuated by the women themselves. There’s plenty out there.

Instead, I’d rather share my own experiences by explaining my coping mechanism of both being female and enjoying, say, playing online games.

My main coping mechanism is, well, to be male. In all online games, I create a male character. I often make this character black. I don’t know why. I feel more empowered as a strong, black male. Yes, I’m sure there’s so many interesting psychiatric goodies going on. Leave me alone about it. The point here is that under no circumstances would I play an online game as a female. Even in the days when I spent most of my life on MUSHes (multi-user text RPGs for you kids out there) I mostly played male characters.

This has nothing to do with my sexual preferences. I’m hetero. I’m married. To a man. It’s just that why would I voluntarily bring on myself the pile of sexist shit that goes along with being a gaming woman? Never mind the almost infinite slurs that could be launched my way, most of which are colorful names for my body parts and what I should be done to them, but I would also prefer to avoid such beautiful prose as “Make yourself useful and suck my dick” and the tired-yet-inevitable requests for sandwiches. (And, by the way, I make amazing sandwiches and you jerks will never, ever know the joy of consuming one of them)

Geek culture aside, the open and anonymous Internet is definitely not the place to go to avoid female-directed harassment. Exhibit A: advice from Skype support on how to avoid the almost unending parade of contact invitations:

For the ladies, I now recommend checking your Profile to ensure no gender is selected.  (Skype -> Profile -> Edit your Profile -> Gender -> Not Specified.) This seems to go a long way in keeping unwanted contact invitations at bay. (source)

I found this because I was having precisely such a problem. “Gen Jame C. McConville” (holy shit, McCONville? You can try harder that.) and Terry.Brown both tried. There was also an Eng.Macsean James. Yeah, I don’t know these people. I know they don’t know me. I checked my Skype profile that I had set up back in the Dark Ages of the naughts and, lo, I was FeMaLe. Gads. What a burden. I deselected my gender and not a request since.

So what’s a girl to do? My choice is to become an Invisible Man. I avoid using real pictures. If I must put in a name, I use initials. If I need to create a full identity, such as in an online game, I make a male persona. My gaming skills (or lack thereof) do not in any way change, but the perception of them does. Yes, I know men level slurs at each other, often of the homosexual variety (such repartee often attempting to “feminizing” the victim—the worst thing you could do to a man, I guess) but for me these are easier to brush off than the verbal assault focused on my genitalia. No, it’s not rape. Yes, it’s a bit too personal.

You see, the anonymity of the Internet works both ways. It allows immature people to harass others without any direct consequences. It also allows me to disappear. No, I shouldn’t have to, but the way women are treated online is only a more dramatic version of the general lack of respect we get IRL. What women do, even if it is what men are doing, is of less consequence and less value by virtue of it being done by a woman. This is not a new observation. It’s the old “Men are Chefs, Women are Cooks” problem.

I also understand that by not standing up and demonstrating loud and proud that I am a woman Geek and erstwhile gamer that I am helping to perpetuate the perception that women aren’t those things. But you know what? I don’t care. It isn’t my job to demonstrate to a man that I’m a normal human being just as it isn’t my job to be sexually available or sexually attractive to him.

So until all the “I can smell your cunt”-slinging, sexually stunted thirteen-year-old boys grow up and drag the 30-something men acting like them into adulthood with them, I will continue to be, geekily yours, an (online) Invisible Man.

The Resume I Wish I Could Send Out

Objective:  A paycheck. I’m not looking to find personal satisfaction through employment, I’m looking for money. The only thing of any value I’ve got to sell is my time, so I am willing to sell you around forty hours of it per week in order to eat and sleep under shelter, preferably in my own bed. On the other hand, I am getting pretty good at this hunting and gathering thing and I can build a surprisingly waterproof tent out of three trash bags and some duct tape.

Work Experience:

Grad School:

I had do both field and library research and write a book, all while I taught classes, acted as a personal assistant to my advisor, travelled to international conferences and gave presentations to people who have been knighted by the Queen of England, took skills workshops, mentored undergraduates, did a lot of pointless paperwork, took comprehensive exams and defended my work to a panel of world experts. I also worked as a baker to make some extra cash, but yeah, I have no real work experience here.

All of my shitty undergraduate jobs:

To put myself through school (twice), I have done the following: fixed pianos, cleaned printing presses, ran a computer printing lab, repaired circulating books in a library, worked as an office assistant, and cleaned up after other undergraduates. I did all of this while taking a full course load and graduating with honors. You’re right though, I have no idea how to work hard, learn new skills or manage my time.

My one “real” job:

Between degrees, I worked in IT. I had to go around my organization and update their e-mail client to one that no one wanted. I got yelled at a lot, both in person and on the phone. I also updated our project webpages and did the job of another person on my team while she was having a baby. My boss forgot my birthday even though she gave everyone else a party. I quit because there was no room for advancement. A decade later, some of my old team is still there doing essentially the same job.

Skills:

I’m not a spring chicken, so I’ve actually taught myself a lot of stuff. For instance, I know how to build a website with fancy stuff like SQL and javascript, how to program Excel, how to plan a three month overseas research trip across numerous countries, how to live on a personal budget well below the poverty mark, how to write accurate reports based on actual data and present them to my peers, how to do American ex-pat taxes without triggering an audit, how to write and edit the English language. Of course, I haven’t been directly paid to do most of these things, so I guess I don’t know how to do them after all. I’m sure you’d rather hire someone who likes to spend his time wrapping his co-workers’ cubicles in wrapping paper.

Accomplishments:

  • I made the front page of Reddit once.
  • I have a high score of 32 on Flappy Bird.
  • I’ve completed all the Candy Crush levels without paying anything, although I haven’t gotten three stars on all of them yet.
  • I’m a decent Bridge player.
  • I can knit AND crochet. Yeah, I know. I should probably lead with that.
  • Because of the shitty car I had in grad school, I’m pretty good at working on Buick 3800 engines.

Education:

Humanities Ph.D. from quite a good university (not Harvard)

Yes, I have a Ph.D. and it was the biggest waste of time in the world. You’re looking at this and thinking I’ll make everyone call me “doctor” and that I’ll make the workplace uncomfortable by having more education than my boss. You also won’t hire me as a supervisor because I have no paid experience supervising people because supervising TAs and undergraduates doesn’t count to you. So getting all of this education has, in fact, relegated me to a life of unemployment and poverty. Yay American Dream!

Humanities Bachelor of Arts from a State University (definitely not Harvard)

I have a BA in a non-STEM area, which I think these days means that I’m an idiot who can’t learn to do a “real” job. Yeah, I can do all of those things you want like work with people, communicate effectively, manage my time, solve problems… but because I “only” have a degree and little “real” work experience, I’ve somehow not proven this. Of course, if I had the experience and not the degree, I wouldn’t get the job either.

Bachelor of Fine Arts from a State University (still not Harvard)

Oh. My. God. How much of a walking stereotype am I? Just to let you know, I don’t even have a tattoo. I got this degree printing books by hand because I liked the layout calculations and the printing technology. My paintings suck. I also learned how to make books on computers too with all sorts of fancy programs because, you know, I’m actually smart and capable. But since all of that was a while ago now, you’ll think I somehow became stupid in that time. Well, I did go and get that Ph.D. you already know about, so you might be right.

Honors and Awards

Oh yeah, like you read this far.

I’m not Watching the Sochi Olympics, but Don’t Call it a “Boycott”

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The official Sochi Olympic logo. I hope you are as inspired by this as I am.

Greetings Friends,

First, let me confess that I love the Olympics. I’ve loved them since my vague memories of the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid. The United States boycotted the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, the last Olympics to be held in Russia. The real Olympic fever set in during the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles (ah, those dashing Red, White and Blue stars!). I collected the cups, saw the torch run through my town, and because our main competition, the then Soviet Union, returned the favor and boycotted our Olympics, US athletes won a ridiculous number of medals.

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Now THAT’S a logo!

Because of all of this bad sportsmanship, I grew up thinking that not only are the Olympics an essentially American thing (that Sarajevo thing was a blip), but that we were amazingly awesome at them. Look at all of our medals! I wanted to be a gymnast and bask in that glory myself. That dream was short-lived since I had neither the flexibility nor the natural talent to even do a backbend much less flip and fly like Mary Lou Retton.

My love of the Olympics continued. When the Seoul Olympics ended, I actually cried. Calgary bobsledding! I’ll admit during my cranky late teenage years, I let the 1992 Olympics slide (except that amazingly epic lighting of the torch by flaming arrow at Barcelona. The world still tips its hat, España). More recently, the Beijing Olympics gave me a much needed distraction during my recovery from a serious illness.

But I’m not watching the Sochi Olympics because the organizers are stepping on two matters that, well, matter to me. The first is their controversial approach to homosexuality. The news has blown up about this over the lead-up to the Olympics and some people have called for another boycott. Now, boycotting something that is meant to bring the world together is, I think, an inappropriate response. If an individual athlete does not want to compete, that is his or her prerogative. That is not a decision that needs to be made from the top. In fact, the best approach to such things is to go and annoy the host country by acting in a manner that undermines their draconian laws. Google is demonstrating how to do this.

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I can feel Putin’s annoyance from here.

The second matter is their approach to animal control. Russian cities are home to many feral dogs (the ones in Moscow commute to work!), I suppose because the cultural infrastructure is not such that puts excessive resources toward government-run animal shelters or humane population control measures, such as Trap-Neuter-Return programs. Rather than expend any effort during the past several years (Sochi was awarded the Olympics in 2007, so they had some warning) toward dealing with these animals gently and over time. Instead, city officials have ordered mass poisonings for these dogs.

Sochi dog

I wouldn’t trust that abandoned hamburger, old fella

Lastly is the matter of the planned display of two orca whales, captured as juveniles in the wild, as entertainment at the Olympic Games. Russia regularly captures wild cetaceans and delivers them into captivity around the world. This plan, apparently, has been changed or cancelled, perhaps due to outrage/bad press or perhaps due to further planning woes. No wild cetacean should live in permanent captivity (rehabilitative captivity is often required for injured individuals) and it is just one more reason to eschew these “Games”.

A poster reading "Justice for all Captives" with a beluga whale breaking handcuffs on its flippers

Someday…

Given these matters, I’m not watching the Sochi Olympics. This is a personal decision. The IOC made the (I think bad) decision to award the games to Sochi despite the infrastructure for the Games not being in place (and reports coming in from Twitter suggest that it still isn’t) and officials there seem to be intent on making a stream of boneheaded decisions. I am just one person, but the Olympics is a huge source of advertising revenue and general kerfuffle. By not taking part in that, I’ve lessened the impact of the Games, if only by one-eight-billionth.

However, this isn’t a boycott, it’s a decision, in the same way I make the decision not to watch a certain movie or television show or musical concert. No, the argument that I need to “support the athletes” is invalid. They don’t need my support. Most of them are reasonably wealthy and furthermore they are having the time of their lives and competing on the world stage. I doubt they are excessively concerned with who’s watching on television. After all, the Games are older than television itself, so I’m sure they’ll manage.

Ancient Olympians from Greek ceramic

Also, we wear pants now

I’m not expecting anyone to join me in this, but I also don’t need to give my attention to something I think is unworthy of it. Hopefully, Rio de Janeiro will deliver.

The Power of “Mom”

Hello, Friend.

A young woman wearing a frilly dress and apron rolls out dough with a smile

I’m so glad my favorite baking gown was back from the cleaners!

Sit down. We need to talk. I only bring this up because you’re being severely manipulated by such subtle, little things that you may be unaware of it. The one that caught my bright eye today is the use of motherhood in media.

Now, there are the obvious stories, such as Wendy Davis’s political opponents questioning her abilities as a mother. Riley even says at the end, “Americans will forgive a lot in a politician. But a woman who leaves her kids is just beyond the pale.”

Why?

Because women in American society serve two important functions. The first is to make themselves sexually attractive, but the second is to be a GOOD MOTHER. Yes, this is a double-standard because there is plenty of slack in the leash for a man (in politics or otherwise) to be a disengaged or absent father. In fact, many male American politicians have less-than-stellar track records when it comes to their commitment to family.

But this type of verbal thwacking to reinforce societal gender standards is obvious. Less obvious is the subtle use of the word “Mom” in mainstream media.

See, the word “Mom” conjures thoughts of frilly aprons, apple pies, a string of pearls and the delicate scent of Chanel No. 5. What? Your mom smoked a pack a day of Marlboro Reds, never wore a heel higher than one inch in her life and worked the night shift at the distribution warehouse? Well, picture the other lady. That’s the real American Mom.

This lady is a saint and everyone knows it. She loves her kids. If she works outside the home, she doesn’t let them know it. She sacrifices even the least of her personal needs for the sake of her husband and children and her fierce mamma bear nature means that if anyone including her husband got in the way of her taking care of her children, that person would be sorry he or she had been born. If you are a woman, this is what you are supposed to be (or want to be).

This lady is as fictitious as Santa Claus (sorry, kids), but the Good Mother an important tool of propaganda. This isn’t to say there are not good mothers. Most probably are, but very few of them are June Cleaver, especially in a society where only 1/4 of married mothers of children under 15 stay at home (5 million out of the total US population female population of circa 160 million).

The Good Mother means a lot. According to US Census Data, “About 1 in 6 custodial parents were fathers (17.8 percent).” Advice for divorcing parents does not paint a nicer picture. [1], [2] Now, the legal system is what it is an every civilization must continue to evolve and strive for justice. But the facts are that there is a perceptual bias that says women are, by nature, better caregivers.

This perceptual bias, like all perceptual biases, is man-made, not nature-made. The media in America and Britain constantly and carefully reinforce the idea that mothers are the better and primary caregivers to children and have a unique access to a child’s needs. They do this through terminology. Just a few examples:

  • “One group of mothers from Connecticut gathered for a group interview with Pelley and told him that the stigma is one of the most difficult parts of raising a child with mental illness.” [CBS 60 Minutes] Why just interview mothers? Did the fathers refuse to appear on camera? Are all the fathers absent? One father in a hospital was briefly interviewed at the beginning of the piece.
  • The morning news and information show, has a parenting subdomain called Today Moms. Today Dads? Not a thing.
  • Headline: Family of murdered Newport News mom: ‘We just want justice served for our sister’ [WTKR] This is extremely typical for headlines. If a woman does something, or if something happens to her, she is listed as a “mom” or “mother” and not more generically as a “woman”. Given that 81% of women have had at least one child by the age of 44 [1], the only purpose for headlining the title of “mom” is to garner an emotional reaction. (Compare this to just one of a plethora of headlines about men: Cops: Man killed daughters because he didn’t have car seats” [CBS] He’s obviously a father, why not say, “Dad killed daughters…”? Perhaps because men are not defined in our culture by their reproductive status?)

None of this is mean to be Mom-bashing, as if such a thing exists. Rather, it is meant to highlight the ways in which media outlets use “Mom” to establish cultural norms. The media could do better showing parents equally and reinforcing that men are, can, and should be equally willing and able to provide child care and that women are not defined primarily by their reproductive status. Headlines about women should be about women, not “Moms”. “Local mom to run for Congress” is irrelevant. “Mom rescues her baby from fire” could just as easily read, “Woman rescues her baby from fire”. “Today Moms” should be “Today Parents” because, well, that’s just embarrassing.

Next time you read a news article or watch a news show, pay attention to how men and women are portrayed and discussed vis-à-vis their reproductive status.

The news will never be the same.