Monday, October 28, 2013

A Word

I finished Julia Serano's new book yesterday. It is good. It is very good. I can't really talk about it because I'm not sure I can do it justice, but I do want to digress from a certain part of it.

At one point, she briefly talks about cis resistance to the terms 'cis' and 'cissexism'. She attributes this resistance to the idea that accepting those as legitimate terms means accepting her and her ideas as also legitimate- that cissexism is predicated on trans* being fake.

I can't disagree, but I feel like it also stems from a more generalized place than the cis/trans relationship.

When I first encountered the term 'cissexual' as the opposite of 'transsexual', I immediately rejected it in my mind. This didn't have anything to do with any opposition to transsexuality- that made some sense to me, but cissexual was such a nonsense word. Then I learned the etymology of it (cis has always meant the opposite of trans) and that this dichotomy is found in the sciences (specifically in organic chemistry.) At which point I embraced it fully- the word has etymological validity as so it's a great word.

Etymological validity is fundamental to the natural progress of language, to people understanding what you're talking about. You can blog because you understand what a web log might be because you understand what the World Wide Web is. Etymological validity is continuity. Etymological validity is the preservation of the core of language. Etymological validity is utter bullshit.

Because I understand that a Jedi fights the Sith. I understand that a Blorgon is the Inspector Spacetime equivalent of a Dalek. I understand that this dren is a load of smeg and frak the people who say otherwise. I understand that a Vulcan has a katra and a Klingon wields a bat'leth. I understand that I am a muggle and that every single word in this paragraph, despite having no etymological validity, is perfectly cromulent because those words were necessary to define something and someone made that word.

Appealing to etymological validity is a generic privilege of gatekeepers. The entire course of language is dominated by the flow of the majority over the minority. History is written by the victors and it is written in the words they want.

So we can recognize that English lacks a third-person, genderless pronoun to refer to people. We stress over "should we use 'they'? it's not okay to use 'it' right?" when people have already made those pronouns. But those pronouns don't have etymological validity, i.e. those pronouns were made up by people who we don't want to give the position of power that lets them change our language.

We can recognize that English lacks a second-person plural, and we don't how the hell you're supposed to refer to a group of people without confusing the issue. Except for that we have y'all, yinz, youse, and you guys. But those are unacceptable- they come from lower classes and dammit we need a word that we can imagine people with power saying. The Queen is not going to say 'yinz,' can you imagine?

And these are things that are trying to correct deep, fundamental flaws of the language itself- this doesn't even go into something like cissexual which is necessary, but its necessity is utterly invisible to the vast majority of people. Allowing everyone to contribute to a conversation means allowing everyone to say it in their own words- no matter where the words come from.

Friday, October 25, 2013

One, Two Sitcoms Stand Before You

The Mindy Project

I was pretty excited for the Mindy Project. I like Mindy Kaling a lot and giving her a show seemed like a really fantastic idea. The show has always had some structural problems (too many completely undeveloped characters, not enough time) but this season, I've got a grump.

As the last season progressed, it tried to fix the too many characters problem by slowly bleeding out some of the extraneous ones. For example, Mindy's best friend Gwen (Anna Camp) who gradually went away in favor of oh I guess Mindy doesn't have any female friends anymore or the uncommented on exit of the other administrative assistant Shauna (Amanda Setton). Okay, fine. It's not so bad, there's still Betsy and Beverly and they added Tamra to sort of take Shauna's place, but funnier.

Then this season, they decided they needed another male doctor on top of the two who had always been there and Morgan, the nurse. Also, all of the female characters who aren't Mindy? You'd be lucky to notice more than one of them in the background. Suddenly, the show became Mindy and a bunch of dudes. And then the last episode was basically about how Mindy needs to just learn to deal with the fact that there are a bunch of dudebros around her, constantly giving her crap about being female, and you know what, they're just guys, let them be guys who cares.

So I'm grump there.

But then

Brooklyn Nine-Nine

I'm not so grump! New show from the creators of Parks and Recreation, starring another SNL alum, Andy Samberg. In general, I don't like Samberg. His comedy is too big and too obnoxious, like so many SNL performers before him (Adam Sandler, Will Ferrell, etc.) but he's been expertly constraned to "big enough to be funny" in this show. Then there's the rest of the cast: it actually looks like what you'd expect from a New York police precinct in terms of diversity. It's legitimately an entire sitcom cast without a single WASP member in casting or in character and the show doesn't even play it off as a big deal. The requisite no-nonsense police captain is that way because he spent 20 years being pushed around as an openly gay man in the NYPD and now that he's been given a command, he refuses to let anyone screw it up. Loving it.

Which is almost secondary to the fact that it's actually really enjoyable from the word go. P&R took a while to reach its stride, but B99 is pretty funny to begin with, with tons of obvious potential moving forward. The characters are immediately identifiable and memorable and they play off each other so well that literally any combination is fun to watch. Easily my favorite new show of the season.

Which means it will be cancelled.


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Negative Positivity

Last week, Liss at Shakesville posted a really good analysis of the "sex is natural" trope and how it's harmful to both certain peoples but also has harmful implications for sexual interaction. She said everything about that very well and you can just read that right there while I go off on a different tangent which is:

How useless is that statement? Seriously. "Sex is natural"? Well, yes. Nature has a lot of sex. It also has a lot of not-sex. Nature is having not-sex right now. Look down. Look left and right. Look around you. Is there nature having sex? Are you having sex? NO! (Probably. If yes, I am intrigued by your choice of erotic reading material.) That is also perfectly natural! Not-sex is natural. Either state of being is pretty much natural, so why even bother making the distinction.

And furthermore, there are plenty of sex acts that can be considered unnatural. Nature doesn't generally use contraceptives, for instance. But that doesn't mean they're bad. There's no correlation between something being natural and good or unnatural and bad. The only distinction that needs to be made is if something is harmful or not (which includes if there's been a meaningful level of communication and consent to anything taking place).

Which brings me to another issue I have with the sex-positive movement, or at least, how it exists in context.

The only time I've seen a feminist post get put on /r/bestof on Reddit was a sex-positive feminist who was yelling about other feminists. The patriarchy eats that crap up. They can be 'feminist' in a way that means 'these women want to have sex with me' AND they get to talk about how much the other feminists suck. Wooooo.

On the one hand, yes, this is somewhat correct. A lot of third wave feminism is sex-positive in contrast to second wave feminism which rejected porn out of hand. And a lot of that rejection was both offensive and harmful to porn actresses and made a lot of assumptions about them that were and are very wrong.

That does not mean "porn is good!" People having sex for the entertainment of people who want to watch? Nothing wrong with that action. People watching other people have sex for their own sexual gratification? Still nothing wrong with that! But in the context that it's produced in society, there is something wrong. There's something wrong with the industry that is controlled by men and uses women are a commodity. There's something wrong with fetishization of different body types. There's something wrong with the reduction of a person to sex parts.

In the same way that you can say "GMO crops could possibly provide better nutrition or hardiness in more hostile climates" and "Monsanto is an evil multinational corporation who uses GMO to control the world's food supply", you can say "watching or performing in porn can be a healthy and fun experience" and "the porn industry is potentially harmful to society and people's sex lives." You can say both and mean both. And you should! You should have that kind of nuance to your worldview!

The takeaway is not "don't be sex-positive." Sex-positivity, when considered with nuance, when considered with context and empathy, is good. It's an attempt to make everyone's sex lives better, safer, and healthier. But that greater consideration is required in any movement, no matter how good the intentions.