Flare and Fade

Limited Imagination In A Universe of Endless Possibilities

Rebecca Brink

Anita Sarkeesian released a fact-filled fun ride (I'm being sarcastic) through violence against women in video games and, of course, lots of gamer bros have been quick to dismiss it because they hate Anita Sarkeesian because other gamer bros hate Anita Sarkeesian because SHUT UP WOMAN.

I don't have enough energy to take apart every single argument I've seen about it, but I will at least address five:

  1. Video games are JUST FANTASY. That's like saying that no one internalizes the lessons they learn from fiction novels, and video games are arguably much more immersive. Saying fiction is "just fantasy" is an easy, quick way to dismiss objections without thinking about them for more than ten seconds.

  2. The video game rating system serves as fair warning to players that there will be graphic violence in the game. These games treat domestic, sexual, and physical violence against women as a throwaway plot device intended to empower the male protagonist. No protagonist (male or female or other) should require that women be endangered, raped, threatened, abused, or killed in order for them to be empowered. It's not an issue of giving people fair warning about violence or rape - it's about the way that that violence or rape is treated in the narrative. Game writers absolutely have the ability to treat violence and rape as trauma to treat it with the respect and compassion that it deserves, but instead they choose to treat it as everyday happenstance.

  3. Video games wouldn't be realistic or historically accurate without violence against women. If you're going to argue that games wouldn't be "realistic" without violence against women, then you also have to accept that they are equally unrealistic if they don't acknowledge the physical and psychological aftermath of violence against women for those women, and, by so doing, treat them as whole human beings. (Part of doing that, of course, is also not treat rape victims and sex workers as if they're psychologically damaged or broken - it is a normal response for the brain to adapt to trauma, it means the brain is working, not that it's broken.)

  4. It's too much work to write up these new ideas for video games. Then video game writers are sexist and unimaginative and need to get new jobs. Anything is possible in video games, including respect and compassion.

  5. It's not like video games inspire people to rape women. I agree: video games don't instruct people to kill, beat, or rape other people. There's plenty of evidence that first-person shooter games, for example, don't make players want to use guns against other human beings. But they do train players to treat gun violence with a fair amount of indifference - indifference that we've seen abound in the last few weeks in reaction to Mike Brown's murder, and that abounds in America in general as we get more and more used to hearing about the increasing numbers of gun deaths every year. Likewise, they train players to treat violence against women with indifference at best, worse yet skepticism ("you deserved it" "you provoked him" etc. etc.), and worst of all arousal or amusement (you can see this in the videos of girls and women who are raped at parties - why else would someone bother to videotape it, much less laugh or encourage the rapist?).

A friend posed this question: Is it immoral for game writers to include violence against women in video game scripts? My answer is that it's immortal for video game writers to treat violence against women the way they tend to do. Games take this attitude because it's an old, popular cultural trope (women are inevitably bound to face violence, especially if they're sex workers; violence against women serves to empower the men who are supposed to protect them; casual violence against women is a good way to manipulate an audience into pity; it does not matter what women feel after an assault or the assault of a friend or community member), and, in turn, uphold and contribute to that popular cultural trope. If the trope is wrong, the games are wrong.

The Aura of Artworks

Rebecca Brink

I visited the massive Magritte exhibit at AIC today and am still trying to process it. I spent two and a half hours in it and had to take a break about 2/3 of the way through to go on Twitter and give my brain a break.

I try to bring a notebook and pen with me wherever I go so that if I have a brilliant thought I can write it down, but I particularly make a practice of it when I'm going to a museum, not so that I can write, but so that I can take notes:

I don't know that much about Magritte. I could tell you a lot about Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Lynda Benglis, Gustave Caillebotte; a fair amount about Robert Morris and Donald Judd, and a smattering about Manet. So if I have the opportunity to learn - and the artworks themselves are the best teachers, although great wall text is certainly helpful - I will take it.

The note at the very top of the second page reads "I am lucky to be here." I wrote that in front of Magritte's The Human Conditiona spectacularly famous painting of his. I felt the same thing in front of Starry Night at the MoMA, not to mention in the presence of Kara Walker's sugar sphinx, or MoMA's Lygia Clark retrospective, or Tony Smith's Die at the National Gallery of Art, or Rodin's The Burghers of Calais at the Met or the Rodin Museum in Philly, or for that matter every time I get to stand in front of Caillebotte's Paris Street, Rainy Day, which I have the opportunity to do fairly frequently.

I recall Christopher Hitchens (I believe) saying that as a matter of principle he didn't believe that luck exists because events don't arrange themselves around our lives. I think he was describing fate, not luck. Luck is the good or bad things that happen to us as a matter of chance. It's a matter of chance that I am white and decently prosperous, was encouraged to pursue the arts as a child, live in Chicago and have the means to buy a yearly membership to the Art Institute and the physical ability to get there, plus the schedule to be there at my leisure and dedicate two and a half hours of my day to it. Those are things that are not entirely in my control.

I feel lucky to be in the presence of great works of art because they carry what Benjamin called an aura. I don't entirely agree with his thesis - Rodin's works were reproduced and because it was programmed into the medium I don't think they lost their aura - but it stands that original works of art carry the marks of the artist's hand or mind in a way that commercial prints of artwork do not.

I'm getting around to my point here, which is about how we value artworks. Not monetarily, although that follows in a capitalist economy, but in terms of what we consider "great." A work of art is an idea, and the way it's manifested physically. So the quality of a work of art depends both on the quality of the idea and on the quality of its execution. Great works of art are novel, intelligent, probing ideas that are put into physical forms that are skillfully created or conceived. They are the physical products of the most rigorous imaginations humanity has to offer.

And emphasis on rigorous. The majority of an artist's job is to think and think hard. To create not just a great idea, but a great way of expressing that idea to the public. It holds true over visual art, writing, poetry, dance, theater, and music.

So artworks are sort of like talismans. Their aura comes from the quality of the mind and the skill of the hand that produced them. You really cannot understand an artwork until you've seen it in person. I've seen art critics absolutely fail to understand a painting because - and it's obvious when it happens - they never saw the paint on the canvas with their own two eyes. Even with an artwork like Portrait of Ross, by nature, you can't understand until you've encountered the object and decided to take or not take a piece.

And when you see them, you are lucky to be there. You are lucky to have the opportunity, because a lot of artwork is produced in the world, but very little of it is truly great. Mastering your understanding of a great artwork brings you closer to the heart of humanity. Unfortunately I haven't done that with Magritte yet - I will have more to say about his way of tackling representation and language once I have some time to really think on it.

You deserve to hold your judgment (updated)

Rebecca Brink

People are saying that Mike Brown deserved to be killed because he stole cigarillos. They say that Christy Mack deserved to be beaten brutally because she was a porn star, and because she stayed with a man who she knew was abusive.

I hate the word "deserve." The people who use it tend to be people who don't think very hard before meting out justice. And this is a matter of justice - a matter of reward or punishment for one's actions.

So the argument goes that it was just for War Machine to beat and assault Christy Mack for staying with him, and for talking to another man. The argument goes that it was just for Darren Wilson to shoot Mike Brown repeatedly and kill him in so doing for stealing cigarillos and, according to the police, being abrasive to them, basically. 

I mean, the law says differently. The law says that it's unjust to beat and assault someone in almost every situation. The law says that even physical assault in self-defense can go too far. The law says that it is unjust to kill people - again including, in most situations, in self-defense.

But instead of relying on the law to be the agent of justice, we're placing our faith in War Machine and Darren Wilson to act as agents of justice. What would the law say is a just response to staying in an abusive relationship? Well, nothing. The victim might expect to face more abuse, but that doesn't make the abuse just, it just makes it predictable.

What would the law say is a just response to petty theft and (maybe!) abrasiveness toward police officers? Arrest and trial.

It creates problems when we place judgments on justice in the hands of individuals. That's why we have a juried trial system. I don't want to seem flip about this. It's a real problem that we deign to say what other people "deserve." It's dangerous to dole out justice without all the relevant facts and without hearing other perspectives. It's risky to let your bias be your guide, especially when you're talking about doling out bodily harm to another human being or ending another human being's life. In fact, it's sort of micro-totalitarian to entrust ONE person to make the call about justice, and it's especially dangerous if they haven't been trained to make those sorts of philosophical decisions.

You won't think it's just that another person took it upon themselves to decide what was best for your body or for the very fact of your existence when it's you who's being beaten or killed.

Update: Of course, it bears noting that neither Christy Mack nor Mike Brown experienced what they did because of the ostensible reasons people put out there. Christy Mack was beaten and assaulted because she was a woman and War Machine has documented views about women that are deplorable. Mike Brown was killed because he was black and the police tend toward shooting to kill unarmed black people under even mild duress.

The effort to say "she was beaten because she stayed with him/because she's a porn star/because she was talking to another man" or "he was killed because he stole things" deflects blame off of Darren Wilson and War Machine for doing unjust things and places blame onto Christy Mack and Mike Brown. Why? I would guess that it's because we, as an American society, have trusted white men to be our agents of justice for a very long time, and trying to trust a woman to decide for herself what is just treatment of her body or trying to trust a black man, or the black people who are protesting not primarily to remember him but (this is important) to save their own lives in the future, to decide what is just treatment of their lives is beyond the scope of our collective imagination.

The Great White Slut

Rebecca Brink

Sluts are like bigfoot except a majority of people actually believe they exist. What evidence is there of the existence of sluts?

For that matter, what the hell is a slut? Can we come to a consensus on this?

Here's what Oxford says: A slut is a woman who has many casual sexual partners. You have to work back from there: "Many" means "a large number of." What constitutes a large number? "Large" means "of considerable or relatively great size," which on its face seems kind of self-contradictory (considerable or relatively great? PICK ONE OED). The definition of "considerable" contains the word "large," so that's when we start running in circles.

I mean, we can come to the conclusion that "many" means at least "more than one." Which would mean that most women are sluts, having probably had more than one sexual partner.

Of course, I'm operating under the impression that the real thing here is the number of casual sexual partners and not the fact that they're casual. "Casual" in relation to sex, according to the OED, means "occurring between people who are not established sexual partners." That's true of everyone the first time you have sex, though. So that broadens the category even further - not just any woman who has sex with more than one partner, but any woman who has sex period.

But then, if we're all sluts, then why even bother having a word for it? Plenty of the people who throw it around as a pejorative seem to believe that some women are sluts and some women aren't sluts. But we've established that all women who have sex, technically, are sluts, so they're creating a false system of valuation wherein there's one category of human beings that simply doesn't exist, unless they're interested in dating someone who will remain celibate.

But of course, they're not interested in someone who will remain celibate. They're interested in having a high-quality sexual partner (sluttiness is assumed to convey low quality, of course). But once they have sex with that woman - the two not being "established" sexual partners - she automatically becomes a slut. Ergo the man has to move on to a different, untarnished woman if he wants to keep having sex with women who aren't sluts.

In so doing, he would theoretically accrue a relatively great number of previously unestablished sexual partners. Which makes him...? :-/

What do the clocks mean?

Rebecca Brink

Since it's summer, this tattoo is visible the majority of the time, and it's an intriguing tattoo so I get asked about it. A lot.

"What do the clocks mean?" I'll give you guys a fuller answer to this question than I'm able to give people on the street. 

I'm a fangirl for the artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres in the same way that I imagine a lot of you are fangirls/boys/people for Sherlock and Doctor Who and Game of Thrones and all that (I also love those things, but not as much as I love Felix). I hate saying that he was a participatory artist in the 1990s because I don't really think of his work that way; I see it as more neo-minimalist. It is also participatory at heart. And it's my blog, so I'll call it what I want, which I can't do when I'm submitting work to art historians because they have a rigid way of thinking about the world, not least of all because that's the only way for them to set up a value system for contemporary art.

Anyway. I fell in love with Felix in 2012. I was studying his work Untitled (Portrait of Ross in L.A.) which is on view most of the time at the Art Institute here in Chicago. Ross Laycock was Felix's partner. Both of them had AIDS. Ross died in 1993, after which Felix made Portrait of Ross. Felix died in 1996. 

Portrait of Ross is a pile of multi-colored, multi-flavored hard candies weighing 175 pounds at the outset, which was Ross's approximate body weight when he was healthy. Viewers are encouraged to take a piece. As the days go on, the pile dwindles, simulating the process of death by illness. The certificate of authenticity states that the owner provides "endless supply" of the candies, so eventually the pile is refilled.

There's a lot going on in that artwork. For one, for his candy piles Felix generally chose to use one flavor and color of candy (see Placebo). Ross is the outlier here, which says a lot about how Felix felt saw Ross and why he loved him - the artwork is full of bombast and color, it's a kaleidoscope, there's the act of matching color and flavor and having so many different kinds of candy to choose from. Ross was not a monolith, he was a whole and complex human being.

Then there's the act of depleting and refilling. Many critics (and I have read just about everything there is to read about this artwork) claim that this is a way to watch Ross die, the way Felix had to, and inasmuch as that's the case it was a way for Felix to "rehearse" his feelings about death. "Rehearse" is Felix's word, and he used it - to my memory - to talk about the act of letting go of artwork and putting it out into the public space. I think something else is going on in Portrait of Ross entirely.

Because it's an endless supply. The body never dies. It's depleted and refilled. That's not the process of death - that's the process of resurrection. Rather, it's the process of life: We shed skin cells and grow new cells; trees shed their leaves and sprout them again come spring; stars explode and swallow planets in the process, expelling particles into space, and eventually the force of gravity gathers the particles in new combinations and forms new stars and new planets. Felix didn't make this artwork to have Ross die over and over - he made this so that Ross would live indefinitely.

And inasmuch as that's the case, it's the most beautiful elegy I've ever seen in my life. I am heartbroken and in love.

What do the clocks mean? The clocks are Felix's artwork Untitled (Perfect Lovers). When the artwork is displayed, two matching clocks are hung on a wall lying tangent to each other. This forms the illusion of an infinity sign. Fresh batteries are put in, they're set to the same exact time, and they're started at the same exact time. Eventually, because of natural variations in the batteries, one of the clocks starts to slow more quickly than the other, and it stops ticking.

It's a meditation on time and mortality and what it's like to watch someone you love - your perfect lover - die. And not just that, but to know your time is approaching, too. It's the sensation of having this love that feels like it could go on forever (into infinity) but facing the bodily reality that it can't. It's the sensation of being a man with AIDS in a couple.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres had the great accomplishment of expressing that very complex, very particular, very core human experience with two simple wall clocks. Try telling me that any author has ever expressed an idea as elegantly as that. Try telling me that anyone has ever used any medium so well as Felix Gonzalez-Torres used his to express the most vulnerable parts of the human experience, death and love.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres is the single greatest artist and rhetorician I have ever come across. By many, many heads. I aspire to that level of genius and ability, and I know I will never reach it.

Felix is a personal love of mine. I could proudly have his work tattooed over my hands and my sternum and my neck and pretty much my whole body. Felix saved my life. One day in 2012, when I was doing my primary round of research on Portrait of Ross in L.A., I was reading through a stupendous interview he did with Tim Rollins. At the time, I was considering the possibility of applying to graduate schools for art history programs, which is why I was doing all this work. It was the summer. I had been in an abusive relationship for seven years. I was obsessed with the idea of having obligations: Obligations are the reason that I stayed in that relationship. I had made a commitment and I was going to keep it come hell or high water because keeping your commitments come hell or high water or predation or abuse is just what you do. I had married this man and no matter what sacrifices were asked of me I was going to make it work. I was a doubtful but dutiful Christian wife.

Then I read this:

 

I have a major problem with the cultural traps and constructions of God. I think that it is a good excuse for us to accept any kind of situation as natural, inevitable. Once we believe that there is no God, that there is no afterlife, then life becomes a very positive statement. It becomes a very political position because, then, we have no choice but to work harder to make this place the best place ever. There is only one chance, and this is it. If you fuck it up this time, you've fucked up for ever and ever... There's nothing except here - this thing, this table, you, me - that's it. That becomes a very radical idea because you have to take responsibility to make it the best.

"It is a very good excuse for us to accept any kind of situation as natural, inevitable." I must do my duty. I must fulfill my obligations. I must stick to this commitment no matter what the consequences are for me. This is what we are meant to do.

I left my husband about two months later.

What are the clocks? The clocks are my new conception of god: I do not believe in god anymore. I believe in the power of the human imaginative capacity. I believe in the possibilities that come along with change. I believe in letting things go. I believe in working with the real resources we have at hand to create something new and better. I believe in art.

 

This is a rhetoric blog, here's what that means.

Rebecca Brink

So I didn't come to the conclusion until a few months after I first started posting that this was going to be a blog dedicated to talking about rhetoric, so I never got to do an introductory post of any real worth. Consider this that introductory post after-the-fact.

Rhetoric is the art of persuasive speaking. People have kind of bastardized the word to make it mean "empty bloviating," but at heart, rhetoric is about framing your argument or whatever you're trying to express persuasively.

I use this space to take examples of arguments that are either given to me or that I notice and parse through the language to see if it's effective or not. So far, it's been 100% "not." It's really easy to critique bad rhetoric, not least of all because there's so much of it floating around out there. 

This means that I'm really, really interested in which words people use and why they use them. sometimes I have to make guesses about why people use the language they do; sometimes they make it obvious; sometimes it's easy enough to tell from cultural patterns. Sometimes I can draw a conclusion from examining someone's actions alongside their words.

I plan to start branching out and doing more work about effective arguments and effective expressions of ideas, especially complex ideas. I also plan to branch out beyond language and examine visual works as well, artworks in particular, because that shit is my jam.

Inasmuch as I write and I write about writing and speaking and words, I'm likely to examine or explain my own use of language here sometimes. And I understand that this is a learning and practicing process - I don't always write well. No one always writes well. I'm currently in the beginning of my career as a professional writer, and I hope that the more I write and the more I think really critically and really hard about language, the more my rhetoric will improve.

Oh, I'll also be starting to put up videos soon. I'm throwing around a few ideas. It probably won't all be about language and rhetoric. 

If you have any questions, please reach out! Just be respectful and refer to my hate mail policy on the sidebar (I get enough hate mail via my work here and on The Frisky that I have to have a hate mail policy; thankfully I've made it fun for myself). You can write me at rebecca@flareandfade.com or reach out on Twitter at @rebeccavbrink. I won't ALWAYS get back via e-mail but more than likely I will at least favorite or retweet if not respond on Twitter.

Well, welcome! I hope this clears things some things up and I look forward to hearing from you.

My hate mail policy

Rebecca Brink

Hey guys! So here's the deal: The majority of the people who visit this site tend to like me, except on the rare occasions that Flare and Fade is linked to on an incendiary subreddit or an anti-feminist blog. If this happens to be one of those occasions, hi, and I would like to put forth the suggestion that there are better things you can do with your time.

From time to time, I get e-mail from people who really, really don't like me and choose to speak to me in a way that's insulting, patronizing, condescending, disrespectful, and/or hateful. Which is your right! Just understand that I don't take you seriously.

Because I feel that the public should know about what it's like to be a woman writer on the internet who receives this type of e-mail, my official policy is to screencap your e-mail (without censoring your name or e-mail address if applicable), find your IP address and screencap that, and then use the screencaps to ridicule you on social media.

Because really, I have yet to get a piece of critical mail that is at all well-composed, intelligent, or worth my time except as a form of entertainment. By the way, this is one of the reasons I know my convictions are on the side of right: Because the counterarguments are fucking shit.

If you want a taste, check out hate mail 6! You're forewarned. 

"Relevant" vs. "Good"

Rebecca Brink

Social media and Gawker have picked up on something this week that I've been saying for the last few months: Thought Catalog is a garbage site for editorials. This follows Gavin McInnes's "Transphobia is Perfectly Natural," maybe the most blatant piece of bigotry I've ever seen pass through an editorial review, and Anthony Rogers' "Ferguson, Missouri Looks Like A Rap Video," which on top of being flat-out racist is also flat-out poorly-written.

When I started freelancing, I looked at Thought Catalog to see if they paid their contributors. They don't. At the time, their submissions page said that, rather, your compensation is that you have your work published by a platform that hosts great writing. Even at the time, I was like "eh NOPE" because alongside some really beautifully-done writing on Thought Catalog, there was already a lot of total bullshit. If you're saying that you're basically paying your writers in reputation, you have to have a good reputation to offer. 

That claim has disappeared from their submissions site in the last few months. Instead, they make this bold claim: "All thinking is relevant." This change in rhetoric has come alongside a slew of misogynist and transphobic writing hosted on the site, and now is alongside racist writing as well.

All thinking is relevant. Let's look at the word "relevant": Closely connected or appropriate to the matter at hand. If we're going to assume that they mean "relevant to the world today" (lacking any further information from Thought Catalog on the matter), then, all right, maybe racist thought is connected to the world today. Maybe transphobic thought is appropriate to consider when you're considering the totality of the issue of trans inclusion in society.

Cultural misunderstandings, lack of good background information, misrepresentations, and lies, though - by their very nature, these things aren't relevant to anything, particularly if you refrain from labeling them as such. And that's the thing, here: Thought Catalog passes bigoted thinking through their editorial process (which, if you read the Ferguson story, is lax even on the matter of proper research and grammar) without bothering to point out to their authors that scholarly and scientific consensus is against them. They are willing to let incorrect claims stand as facts, such as these gems from McInnes's essay:

"They die of drug overdoses and suicide way before they're 40 and nobody notices because nobody knows them. They are mentally ill gays who need help."

All right, Gavin, let's talk about trans identities and mental health, then. The DSM-5 has separated it from sexual dysfunctions and paraphilic disorders (those relating to sexual attraction), thereby making it, yes, a mental state, but not a disordered way of thinking. They go on:

Persons experiencing gender dysphoria need a diagnostic term that protects their access to care and won’t be used against them in social, occupational, or legal areas. When it comes to access to care, many of the treatment options for this condition include counseling, cross-sex hormones, gender reassignment surgery, and social and legal transition to the desired gender. To get insurance coverage for the medical treatments, individuals need a diagnosis. The Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders Work Group was concerned that removing the condition as a psychiatric diagnosis - as some had suggested - would jeopardize access to care. Part of removing stigma is about choosing the right words. Replacing “disorder” with “dysphoria” in the diagnostic label is not only more appropriate and consistent with familiar clinical sexology terminology, it also removes the connotation that the patient is “disordered.”

McInnes cites a ten-year-old Guardian article about sex reassignment surgery not having that great of an effect on mental health. Here's a two-year-old article that examines the same question and comes out with the conclusion that while sex reassignment does ease the condition of gender dysphoria, no, it doesn't decrease a person's depression or suicidality - mainly because those conditions are based on other factors, like a lifetime of bullying and harassment.

You know, that thing that McInnes is doing in his Thought Catalog article.

And there's the rub. Thought Catalog publishes and endorses bigotry and lies without labeling it as bigotry and lies, thereby validating, perpetuating, and justifying behaviors that are harmful to other people. Let's say that again: Thought Catalog uncritically publishes and endorses writing that is untruthful, bigoted, and harmful to other people. Thought Catalog is a hate speech publication.

Sure, you could justify all thinking as "relevant." But that gives authors carte blanche approval to set up the bad habit of writing without doing thorough and broad research, checking their facts, and backing them up with a wealth of evidence from the best possible sources. If that's the reputation they and their writers want, well, they can go for it.

Where the hell am I on YouTube? (updated)

Rebecca Brink

I'm getting a bunch of you clicking through from YouTube but it's not telling me where on YouTube I'm linked. The only video I have up so far is me cutting up a cantaloupe so I know it's not me. Anyone wanna hit me up and let me know where it's coming from? I'm curious. @rebeccavbrink or rebecca@flareandfade.com Please and thanks.

Also, if you want to know how to cut up a cantaloupe the quick way, here you go:

EDIT: I was directed to it. Big eye roll. Thank you for letting me know where this is, but here's my response to the video that specifically called out my WAF photoset:

1. This person didn't put my arguments in the context of my beliefs about feminism, which I've stated here and elsewhere. He drew a lot of conclusions that were pretty wild because he ASSUMED that I believe the same things as some of the most radical feminists, which is like assuming that all Christians are anti-Semitic or anti-Islamic or anti-any number of things or in other words is a logical fallacy. Read my Mrs. and Mr. Reader post as evidence.

2. The existence of violence against men does not negate the existence of violence against women and vice versa. However, much of the violence that happens against women happens BECAUSE we are women and seen as less deserving of bodily or moral respect, or less deserving of autonomy or dignity. Much of the violence against men that occurs happens because of factors not having to do with gender. That's why feminists care so much about violence against women - because of the causes and motivations behind it.

3. My blog isn't a feminist blog. I am a feminist. My blog is about rhetoric. Anti-feminists happen to give me a lot to approach on the subject of rhetoric.

4. Speaking of which, when I say "shitting on women," I specifically mean making ad hominem pot-shot character attacks, which no, I did not do in that photoset. I had been planning on not ever addressing this because it shouldn't need to be said, but since a vocal minority of people seem to not get the point, here it is. I never called anyone stupid. I never called anyone a slut or a whore. I did point out that some people are displaying poor reasoning skills, which is an argument about their RHETORIC. Because again, this is a blog about RHETORIC. It's not like reasoning is something that can't be improved. I'm saying that many of the arguments I saw in WAF were lacking logic or context. And on the other hand, while I never said anyone was stupid (because I don't believe that any of the WAF are stupid), plenty of the people who have "critiqued" (that is a generous word for it) my photoset have called me dumb, stupid, slut, whore, etc. etc. I don't resort to ad hominem attacks, you do. It negates much of what you say, IMO, because I care about the way arguments are made.

5. Understand that the amount of backlash I've gotten in response to that photoset in no way compares to the amount of support I've gotten. You may not agree with me, but it doesn't make you right and it doesn't make your opinion a fact. Oh wait, where have I heard that before? (In case we're not clear, I'm calling the creator of that video hypocritical.)

This is the last time I'm going to address my detractors on my blog because that's not what this space is for. What I will say is this: When people attack me or the things I say, they tend to make me into a figurehead who speaks for the totality of the feminist movement. The feminist movement is too broad for me to speak for it. I speak for my own beliefs, which, because I'm a writer online, are widely available to read. It's anyone's prerogative to attach other people's ideas to my name, but it's not a very good way of approaching the subject of me or the things that I stand for as a writer, as an individual, as a feminist.

Mrs. and Mr. Reader

Rebecca Brink

I received an e-mail from a reader this weekend:

“I am a career focused woman, and mother of 4.  My husband is a stay-at-home dad, but the disrespect he receives by taking this role in support of me and my career and ambitions is appalling.  The other day a woman (stay-at-home mother) in our neighbourhood even accused him of being a pedophile because ‘why else would a man stay home with so many children?’ This was disgusting to me because, unless some major scientific medical intervention is involved, it takes a man as well as a woman to have a baby.

I’m disgusted that women don’t accept men in the stay at home roles. Why should he have to be part of a daddy play group rather than just a play group? The worst part is that there is so little voice for this fight. Men who complain about this are treated horribly.  The general attitude is that stay at home dads just play video games all day, while the stay at home moms work way harder than any man.

I firmly stand behind the opinion that until men have social equality at home, women won’t have it at the office.

On top of that, the discrimination I have received because my husband is a stay at home dad is abhorrent. Maybe you can figure out why no one can accept a woman working and a man staying at home? Because I’m not sure why it only makes sense to them all if they switch our genders.”

I have to note here that this particular part of what I do - this blog - focuses mainly on the language we use and the way we use it, i.e. how we construct arguments, how to construct a good argument or spot a bad argument. The bottom line is that I’m a feminist because the arguments against feminism are really, really bad and the arguments for feminism are good at least half the time (there are some arguments made in the name of feminism that are horseshit).

The reader asked me to write about this and I have plenty to say, but part of that plenty is this: I hate the notion that gender-binary roles are “traditional.” I prefer seeing them as “conventional” in that traditions can be wonderful things that affirm cultures whereas conventions have less meaning; conventions are “practices established by usage,” habits, things we do because we’ve always done them.

An argument I see freeeeeeequently from anti-feminists is that men have been providing and women have been caring for families since the beginning of humanity, so SCIENCE, FEMINISTS! HA-HA! The implication is that women and men should still be operating by this set-up because it’s what’s natural or inevitable for human beings.

Except that’s not even historically true. I’ve seen this National Geographic article cited to prove the point on more than a handful of occasions. I mean, if you only want to read the headline, that’s fine, but maybe paying attention to the content of the article itself would help:

As in hunter-gatherer societies of the recent past, men likely hunted large animals while women gathered small game and plants, enabling a more efficient use of available food sources.

When small game and plant foods were scarce, women and older children were often involved in other vital activities, such as producing clothing and shelter.

In other words, women have always worked. It’s not efficient for a society to employ only half of its potential workforce. Our role has never been solely that of mothers and caregivers. Furthermore:

The scientists point out in their study that gender roles were not always the same in early-human cultures, and there's nothing that predisposes either sex toward certain kinds of work.

"That women sometimes become successful hunters and men become gatherers means that the universal tendency to divide subsistence labor by gender is not solely the result of innate physical or psychological differences between the sexes; much of it has to be learned," the authors write.

Emphasis mine, obviously. And further emphasis on “subsistence work,” because this is absolutely crucial: If we’re talking about the developed world, most people are not performing subsistence work when they have a job anymore. The comparison between work for post-neanderthal humans and work for humans in 2014 isn’t even apt. We’re working in a service economy, where instead of hunting for prey we’re providing services in exchange for money, which we then exchange for our subsistence goods.

To review: hunting for food ≠ going to the office. Maybe men were (on the whole, but not exclusively) better able to hunt for food when we had to do that instead of going to the grocery store, but that’s not the world we’re living in now. Beyond that, scientists agree that there is no sort of work to which men and women are inherently predisposed because of our gender. Gender roles are learned.

I’m going to take this argument one step further because this is my blog and I can. I have to point out that there are only sort of surface reasons that we divide human beings into “men” and “women” anyway. The heart of it is that it’s efficient to say, “Well, the majority of human beings are born with what is clearly either a penis and testicles or a vagina, so let’s just say that those are the two broad categories of people.” It’s efficient, but not exactly correct. I will continue to cite the shit out of Anne Fausto-Sterling’s The Five Sexes and The Five Sexes Revisited until you people get it in your heads that human beings don’t consist of only “men” and “women.” Genital ambiguity is more common than we imagine, and we don’t imagine it mostly because the parents of babies who are born not strictly female or not strictly male are told that they have to pick one while their child is still an infant. It’s not that other sexes don’t exist, it’s that our medical system doesn’t allow them to exist. Because of convention. Raising children with ambiguous genders just isn’t what we do, not least of all because there are so few guidebooks for parents of intersex kids. We’ve built a male-female society and parents of intersex children are told that they must fit their children into that society one way or another.

What this means, broadly, is that conventional ideas about gender are abstractions, not concrete realities. The concrete reality is that human beings are more diverse than just “men” and “women.” We’ve washed people of other sexes out of our medical and cultural memories, but they exist. What are their roles? What is inherent to them? It’s easy to divide our culture in half and say “men, you take this; women, you take this.” It’s harder to treat individual human beings with individual respect, but now that we aren’t living in a subsistence economy, for those of us who have reached the top of Maslow’s hierarachy and have our basic needs met and have the luxury to justice and philosophical pursuits, it is possible for us to do so and we should.

For the sake of this particular post, I hope you’ll understand why I’m going to go back to talking broadly about men and women. There are two philosophical issues at play when I talk about gender roles: The first is the fact that we treat people as “men” and “women,” and that is a system that comes with its own consequences. The second is that regardless of the way we treat people, there is in actual point of fact a huge diversity of sexes and genders. The fact that there’s a diversity of sexes and genders should make us question the fact that we treat people as if they are only “men” and “women,” and the fact that we treat people as if they are only “men” and “women” has had immense ill effects on the lives of people who do not identify as such. All of that has to be acknowledged, but right now I’m engaging with the first philosophy.

As the reader pointed out, our conventions about gender have been detrimental to everyone. She’s had abhorrent language directed at her for working while her husband stays at home with the kids, and he’s been excluded from the regular play groups (how is that healthy for the kids’ socialization?), perceived as lazy, and called a pedophile.

This reminds me of a good friend of mine who agreed, during her divorce, to have her husband take primary custody of the children because he wanted it and would be better able to provide for them. She’s taken flack for years for being a bad or uncaring mother by people who aren’t really in her life and don’t really know how dedicated she is to her kids. She told a friend that she didn’t want to disappear from her children’s lives, and her friend said, “So don’t.” So she didn’t - just like a lot of fathers who have secondary custody don’t disappear from their kid’s lives. When my parents separated, my dad lived in a different state, but he drove 300 miles round trip in a night to come to school events. My friend has been there for her kids for all their games, recitals, conferences. She talks to them every day. But people still look at her and think “You’re not doing what you’re supposed to be doing.” How would they know? They’re basing that judgment on only two facts: She is a woman, and she is not her children’s primary caretaker.

Likewise, Reader’s husband is being dangerously labeled as a pedophile based on two facts that Nosy Neighbor knows: He is a man, and he is acting as the children’s primary caretaker. There are any number of conclusions you could draw from those two facts, and it seems like Reader’s community is jumping to the worst possible conclusions (“He probably just sits at home playing video games all day!”). They certainly aren’t basing their assumptions on the well-being of the kids. It sounds like Reader and her husband both care a lot about their roles as parents, and there’s no tell that the kids are doing anything but well. As long as that’s the case, why criticize the way a family structures their home? Why is it anyone’s business?

And I’m stuck on this pedophile thing. This is also at the heart of the reason that men have a hard time getting jobs as grade school teachers and librarians: Because people assume that the primary male motivation is sex, and whatever they’re doing, they’re doing it because it gets them off. Therefore, if they choose to spend a lot of time around kids, they must be pedophiles. If that was true, though, most men throughout the history of industrialized society would be gay, because god knows there are plenty of workplaces and social spaces that are exclusive of women. This assumption is exacerbated by the fact that our conventions teach us to see male caregiving as “unnatural.”

But the whole point of the first half of this post is that there is no such thing as particular work being “natural” or “unnatural” to gender. So we’ve covered that.

As far as the supposed male sex urge goes, can I ask everyone to think back on books they’ve read that were written by men, movies they’ve watched that were directed by men, music composed by men, scientific advancements that were made by men, furniture crafted by men, farm work done by men, clothing designed by men, diplomacy performed by men, sports played by men, surgeries performed by men, lives saved by first responders who are men, planes flown by men, and on and on and on into infinity, and tell me again why it is that we assume that sex is the only thing men think about? Is there not enough cultural and economic production done by men to adequately demonstrate that men’s brains have a lot going on inside them, and a whole lot besides sex?

I think we’ve set it up so that it’s socially beneficial for men to embrace their sexuality openly, to talk about sex publicly, to joke about only wanting sex. But it’s a stereotype and it’s imbalanced and untrue. I have never in my life met a man who is as preoccupied with sex as the stereotype would make him out to be. The stereotype doesn’t allow room for men to be rational or intellectual or even emotional, to be whole human beings, much in the same way that the woman-as-caregiver stereotype doesn’t allow women the room to be rational or intellectual or sexual. How is this fair to anyone?

I reiterate: Everyone is different. We have the ability to treat everyone as individuals and give them individual respect instead of painting in broad strokes that don’t at all adequately represent the real diversity of humanity.

Reader: I noticed a pattern in your speech. Appalling, disgusting, disgusted, horribly, abhorrent. You’re expressing revulsion. The way you talk about your feelings is visceral. The words people are using toward you and Mr. Reader are going in your ear, through your brain, under your skin, and into your bones, and the words you’re using aren’t even describing the way people are treating you, but instead the way you feel in your body because they’re treating you that way. They’re talking about you and the person you love and the children you love and the responsible and healthy choices you’ve made together in a way that is false. I don’t blame you for feeling that way.

That being said, you asked me to figure out “why no one can accept a woman working and a man staying at home.” I hate the fact that you used the phrase “no one,” because that’s also false. A lot of people around you don’t accept it, but there are lots of resources and sources of support for stay-at-home dads and working moms. Some people can’t accept the choices you’ve made in your family despite the fact that A) it’s been good for your and Mr. Reader and the kids and B) it’s none of their damn business. But you are by no means alone.

I agree with you about women in the office and men at home, but I would phrase it a little differently: Professional equality and social equality go hand-in-hand. Professional spaces are social spaces too, after all, and our social lives are informed and paid for by the work we do. To me it's not just about men and women - it's about being whatever and whoever you are or want to be and having that identity separated from the way you're valued as qualified at what you do. The fact that I'm a bisexual woman has nothing to do with how well I write. The fact that Barack Obama is a heterosexual black husband and father has nothing to do with his capacity to govern. The fact that Laverne Cox is trans has nothing to do with the quality of her acting. The fact of Mr. Reader's possession of a penis has nothing to do with how well he changes diapers, prioritizes his and the Little Readers' time, cooks meals, reads aloud, cleans, dresses them, plays, or makes decisions. 

Why can’t they accept it? Convention. Because it’s what they were taught. They are wrong. You and your mister should feel free to make a polite fuss over the regular play group and insist that he and your kids be included. Feel free to give people who think Mr. is just playing video games all day an exhaustive list of the things he did yesterday. Count it on your fingers. Then tell them to mind their own business. And your neighbor? Tell her that by her logic her husband must be sexually attracted all of his coworkers, since going to work is how he chooses to spend his time and god knows men only think with their dicks, and that you’re so sorry her marriage is going through such a rough time and see how she likes it. Or don’t, because that might not be a good way to interact with other people, and just keep your head up knowing that you’re better than resorting to spurious and hurtful assumptions about other people and their lives that hinge on bad logic and falsehoods about gender and biological sex and sexy-sex.

More than anything, don’t fall back on the bad feelings you have over this. Feel them, but don’t let them color the way you talk to people about this. Use facts to deconstruct their arguments. Reason wins out. You have reason on your side.

A supposedly fun thing I'll never do again

FeminismRebecca Brink

Last week, my "I Don't Need Feminism Because" gallery caught the eye of, well, a lot of people (hi Reddit). One of them was BBC Trending, who asked me to do an interview in which I would represent the feminist point of view and talk to one of them Women Against Feminism. You can listen to it here (for the next 27 days, at least).

Here are my rules of conduct when I'm arguing for something: refrain from ad hominem attacks, always be able to back up my arguments with data or evidence from reputable sources, listen to and truly consider the opposing argument even if I disagree strongly, and treat everyone with dignity and respect. The only way I can phrase why I hated doing this interview, in the end, is that my fellow interviewee, Janet Bloomfield, violated all of those rules.

The reason that I'm even bothering to blog about it is that I was involved in a forum where someone told flagrant, outright lies and I don't want to be perceived as endorsing those lies. The three I especially have in mind:

  • Men are being denied due process: She was referring specifically to an incident at Occidental College that as far as I've been able to tell is nonexistent, wherein a man was falsely accused of rape and denied due process. This is the exact opposite of the case: Occidental's anonymous rape reporting process was flooded with false rape accusations from the Men's Rights subreddit. If by "denied due process" she's referring to the fact that the system is anonymous, well, it's anonymous for both male and female students, and it's an attempt to protect rape victims, since so many colleges don't bother to do that. I'm not denying that false rape accusations happen, but I contest the idea that you can make an argument about that without acknowledging the fact that colleges mishandle rape complaints horrifically all the time: Hell, half the colleges in the US claim that there are no campus rapes at all, ever, which is statistically impossible.
  • Feminists don't support shared parenting after divorce: She was referring to a claim she made that the National Organization for Women released a position statement or a publication stating that they don't support shared parenting, they support single-parent custody. I scoured NOW's web site for this because it seemed like the opposite of NOW's mission. The only thing that was even close was that ten years ago, the NOW Foundation compiled legal resources for women who were going into a custody battle with an abusive spouse. In those resources, they tell women to gather evidence to prove that their spouse was abusive. Like, they're not advising anyone to make that claim willy-nilly. 
  • Male circumcision and female genital mutilation are the same thing: First of all, yes, I agree with the compelling arguments against male circumcision and I think the reasons it was instituted as a norm are spurious at best. HOWEVER: The justification for male circumcision is medical; it was a misguided attempt to keep baby boys' penises healthy. The justification for female genital mutilation is specifically to deny girls and women the ability to experience sexual pleasure to ensure that they have no (sexual, anyway) reason to stray from their marriages. It is violence to women's bodies for the express benefit of their husbands. It's the difference between good intentions gone awry and bad intentions period.

Now that I've cleared that up: I was honored to be asked to do this interview, but the likelihood that I'd agree to something like this again is absolutely zero. I'll defer to Sean Carter on this one: "A wise man told me don't argue with fools, 'cause people from a distance can't tell who's who." While like any level-headed person I recognize the fact that my writing isn't always perfect (I've been writing professionally for THREE MONTHS, guys), I'm happy with the vast majority of it, and I treat my work academically and with rigor.  I'm happy to talk to people who disagree with me who treat their work the same way, because that's enriching and enlightening. People who laugh off other people's (well-documented!) experiences, tell bold-faced lies, and resort to personal attacks, though? NOPE. NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE.

Why "feminism" and not "humanism"

Rhetoric, FeminismRebecca Brink

So one of the frequent, not so well-thought-out arguments you hear in opposition to feminism is "if you believe in equal rights for everyone, why not be a humanist or an equalist rather than a feminist?"

  1. Humanism is its own philosophy with its own long tradition. I happen to be both. You can't just replace entire intellectual histories and active philosophies because you like the sound of the word.
  2. "Equalist" is not linguistically correct. You would mean "egalitarian." Egalitarianism is also a standing philosophy, one in which I also happen to believe.
  3. Per points 1 and 2, if you suggest "humanist" or "equalist" you're proving yourself ignorant of philosophical tradition (and, you know, the structure of the English language), which makes it really really hard for me to take your argument seriously. Because you clearly haven't thought that hard about it.
  4. Feminists are walking in the philosophical footsteps of Olympe de Gouges, Mary Wollstonecraft, Jane Addams, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Betty Friedan, Simone de Beauvoir, Anaïs Nin, bell hooks, Adrienne Rich, Angela Davis, Alice Walker, and a host of men and women I don't have the time to name here. But they all called themselves "feminist" because they were aware of the fact that there's social, political, and economic inequity between male and female people and sought to address and change that. Feminists today recognize the same thing and are building on the tradition these people founded. The issue is more complicated now, but it is the same philosophical tradition, and it wouldn't make sense to just slap another word on it now. It's kind of like how Catholics these days don't participate in Inquisitions of any sort; the faith has changed, but they're still Catholics. Philosophies change with their current climates, but you don't just start calling it something else.
  5. Feminists KNOW ALREADY FOR CRYING OUT LOUD that for a number of reasons - some of it the unintended consequences of feminist philosophy put into action, some of it the very same established gender inequities feminists are trying to fight in the first place, and some of it various other socio-economic circumstances - men are at several disadvantages. We care. We want that to change. We want YOU to acknowledge out loud that women are at many, many very well-documented, statistically-backed disadvantages as well. Can we both just say these things to each other and have a civil conversation about this so that we can move forward?
  6. Have you ever considered that possibly - just possibly, somewhere deep down inside - a little bit of you doesn't want to call yourself a feminist because you associate femininity with weakness? And that that's fucked up?

Here's the thing, you people who hate the word "feminism": You act like WE are the ones who are getting all hung up on something silly. If you really believe in equal rights, what's so wrong with including feminism in that vision? Isn't it YOU who's getting hung up on something as small as the way a word sounds?

Give me five minutes of your time

Rebecca Brink

So, in the next few days/weeks I know my blog is going to be getting more traffic for various reasons, and I want to be a little opportunistic and ask you for some help but I promise it's not for me, it's for a clinic that is extremely worthy.

I'm running in the Chicago Marathon this October on behalf of Advocate Hospitals, and specifically on behalf of Advocate Illinois Masonic Behavioral Health. Before Emanuel closed 50 of the Chicago public schools last year (disproportionately affecting black students, BTW), he closed half of the city's publicly-funded mental health clinics. Mental health services in the city of Chicago are poorly-funded to begin with, and it's extremely difficult to find quality comprehensive mental health care if you're a low-income patient.

Advocate Illinois Masonic Behavioral Health is a privately-run clinic that serves low-income patients almost exclusively. They do terrific work; their patients are accountable and consistent, their counselors are top-notch, there are psychiatrists available for each patient, they have some of the best group therapy resources available in the city, and maybe closest of all to my heart, they have fantastic trauma recovery services, particularly for women. If you read my work on The Frisky, you know how much I care about helping women who have been raped, assaulted, abused, and/or otherwise isolated. Quality mental healthcare can be difficult for women to access, particularly if they have recently left an abusive situation and are now economically independent, and a lack of good mental healthcare resources can be what keeps women in abusive relationships.

That being said, I'm going to ask you to donate anything you can to my fundraising page for the marathon. Every cent you donate goes to Masonic Behavioral Health, and I am so, so proud to run for them. My fundraising goal is $1500 but I would love to smash and exceed that goal. The option to enter whatever amount you want is at the bottom of the suggested donation list, so if you can't afford more than a few dollars, please don't be turned away. Every penny counts and will go to good use.

Click here to go to my fundraising page, and thank you in advance!

Books and bros

RhetoricRebecca Brink

I made a point on a white-male-dominated literature forum that a poster's list of necessary works to read if you're going to be taken seriously as a writer was white-male-dominated (The Great Gatsby, The Scarlet Letter, 1984, Lolita, you get the point), and that it implied that women and POC don't write works of literature that are "necessary" to read, which is racist.  The reaction I got was that I was being racist to whites and dismissive of men.

So, OK, here's the first thing. "Racism" doesn't mean, like, "dislike." It doesn't mean "dismiss." It means that white people have been able to keep people of color out of power for a long, long time. It means that white people have been able to keep access to power away from POC for a long, long time. There is no such thing as reverse racism, because POC do not have the power necessary to do the same thing to white people. When someone excludes whites, it doesn't affect the fact that white people hold power. There is no such thing as reverse racism, because there is no system by which white people are disenfranchised in any viable way.

Second, the implication that by suggesting that women and POC have also made great works of literature, I was "dismissing" white guys, is precisely the problem with white guy rhetoric. There's this false sense of victimhood, a feeling that as a white guy they've lost power by someone suggesting that other people are worthy of respect. No, white guy, you have not. I never said that literature by white men was lesser, I said that literature by anyone else should be considered as greater than the original list implied.

White guys: Power and respect are abstractions, and in that that's the case, they are not finite. Let go. Share. It's OK, you'll be fine.

Brevity is becoming

RhetoricRebecca Brink

I got into a short "debate" on Facebook that wound up with someone saying that they had been misunderstood.  When I pointed out that it was their poor choice of words that led to the misunderstanding, they replied with a three-paragraph comment.  I replied, "TL;DR."

That's "too long; didn't read" for anyone who was about to go Google it.  I'm sure some people feel like it's important that every single masturbatory word that comes out of their mouths (or fingers) be listened to and they'd be upset to get this reaction.  His was "SMH," which means "shaking my head," which, ironically, conveyed his meaning better and more succinctly than anything else he had written in the thread.

I try to operate on four-sentences-or-less for my casual Facebook comments.  That being said, I just posted one that was, oh, maybe eight.  It was a serious discussion in which more fleshed-out opinions were being welcomed.  All the same, I got to the damn point, and communicated three ideas in the course of eight sentences.

When I was in high school, we were taught to make our essays shorter, which I know is not something that generally happens in high school.  My teachers said that Thoreau was a fantastic example of brevity.  I beg to differ; I wrote my undergrad thesis on Walden.  I would say that Kurt Vonnegut is a better example of what you can do with fewer words.  When I got to college and there were word minimums, I didn't know what to do except to fill out the extra space with more data (therefore my neurosis about including and citing data).  That makes for a good argument, though.  Have a clear and concise assertion and back it up with lots of data.  Fantastic.

When you spew out words and words and words, the likeliest thing to happen is that your meaning will be lost.  State what you mean and don't over-explain.  It's boring to read through tomes of people's feelings and opinions.  I know people don't like hearing that, but really, most of the thinking we do is completely unoriginal. 

Am I on too much of a roll with the "humility" kick?  Really, in my experience, most bad writing comes from thinking too much of yourself and the worth or originality of your ideas.

Deductive reasoning is the only type of reasoning I'll accept

Rebecca Brink

As Sherlock Holmes says, "It is a capital mistake to theorize before you have all the evidence."

Deductive reasoning is when you make an argument based on the best available evidence.  Inductive reasoning is when you gather evidence to support your hypothesis.  I feel like high schools make the mistake of telling you you have to make a hypothesis and then do research; that is bad reasoning, bad arguing, bad writing.

It works in science because the idea is that you have some familiarity with the field and can make an educated guess as to the behavior of whatever set of principles or matter or whatever you're studying.  In addition, there are plenty of laws and theories already in place that have been thoroughly tested upon which you can base your hypothesis.  The expectation after you make a hypothesis is that you test the hypothesis, and if your hypothesis fails, you must change your hypothesis and test again.  It's a very humble process.

It doesn't work this way in the humanities.  Because so much of the humanities is subjective and abstract, you could posit literally any opinion and find evidence to support it, even from reputable sources - say, if you took a quote out of context.  The humanities are wide-open.  You can finagle a lot of things to make it seem like you're right.

What does "right" mean in the humanities?  To me, it means the clearest and simplest possible identification of patterns that exist throughout the totality of the best possible work on the subject.  In other words, I will believe you're right if you can demonstrate to me that you've done a lot of reading and a lot of research, paid close attention to your documents, and instead of desperately trying to piece together the truth that you want to have exist, you identify the common points in all of the documents you have and provide a logical interpretation of those common points.

That's deductive reasoning.  You pick a topic, you read all the work you can get your hands on about that topic, and you base your conclusions on the best available scholarship (scholarship not merely meaning scholarly journals, etc., but also popular books, magazine articles, news articles, and so on).

We treat the humanities as if they're supposed to be a source of personal expression.  They are not.  That's unfair to the work that's been done in the humanities.  That's unfair to the artworks, human experiences, music, philosophy, and books that we study.  We owe great things our intellectual rigor.  We owe it to the things we care deeply about the care deeply enough about them to treat them with intellectual respect.

This is why I'm neurotic about citing sources.  If I don't cite sources, it's because either I'm stating common knowledge (i.e. the info on reasoning in this blog post, you can look this shit up all over the place) or I'm stating an informed opinion.  I don't write about things about which I am only mildly informed; for example, I have opinions about the way our culture has treated black hair, but I'm not going to share them because I am neither read up enough nor, more importantly, culturally close enough to the topic.

Sharing your experiences is a different story, of course.  Telling people about something that happened to you is providing evidence, not making an argument (unless you're using your experience as anecdotal evidence, with the caveat, of course, that it is merely anecdotal although maybe part of a trend you've noticed, etc.).  But when you're making an argument, make sure you have sources handy.  Make sure you can back it up.  I hate hate hate bad arguments, and they are almost always inductive.

Listen up, guys

RhetoricRebecca Brink

Ugh, why does ANYONE publish a headline that starts with "listen up"? It's commanding, it's rude, it presumes that the speaker has such interesting things to say that everyone ought to listen when usually the phrase "listen up" is a precursor to a lot of unimportant opining over something trivial.  No one says "Listen up, we found the cure for cancer," they say things like "Listen up, you can still feel like a princess."  Barf barf barf.

So Here's a Thing I Hate: Comment Sections

So Here's a Thing I HateRebecca Brink

I've decided to make regular sorts of posts/regular posts in general!  OK!  This is the first of a series called So Here's a Thing I Hate, because there are things that deserve critique in the way we talk and write in our culture.

I tend to be on Donald Judd's side when it comes to talking about things you don't really know about.  He said:

The majority of the society, as the descendants of peasants, brand new people who remember little, has had to be educated. There were not enough educated people to do this; the group was originally very small. As they taught their much more numerous successors, the level couldn’t be maintained, until finally only bare information was taught, if science, and academic nonsense, if the arts... The opposition can’t be an institution but must be lots of diverse and educated people arguing and objecting. These people must have real knowledge and judgment and they must have an influence upon the less educated majority.”
— Donald Judd, '...not about masterpieces but about why there are so few of them.' Art in America, New York, September 1984.

In other, less elegant words, if we're to create great cultural works or even have coherent conversations, the people who know what they're talking about must be allowed to speak in the role of teaching and influence.  Implicitly, then, people who don't know what they're talking about have an imperative to learn.  To listen, and to ask questions, but not to speak with an air of authority, and not to be granted validation merely because they have an opinion.

I understand that this is borderline-elitist if not just elitist, especially in the context in which we live, one in which women and people of color and various other marginalized groups are left out of academia.  But if you broaden Judd's point, there's no reason to say we're only talking about academia, first of all, and second of all, I'd like to imagine this system in an ideal world where everyone is given the same respect.

Back to the point: I hate comment sections because more often than not, they serve as a jumping board for poorly-formed opinions that are built on a shaky foundation of knowledge on a topic.  And everyone is given equal authority despite that not everyone actually has the command of knowledge or depth of background work done to speak with authority on a subject.  When you go down that path, you wind up in the territory of trolls and stalkers.  It's a generalization but it tends to be the case.  Look at what happened in the comment section of an article about how to make a rainbow cake.

We tend toward mob mentality and anonymity only makes it easier to mob up in comment sections, because you don't have to attach your face to your stupid ideas or someone else's stupid ideas, you don't have to explain your thinking, you're not held accountable.  Inasmuch as that's the case, I hate anonymity too.  Anonymity is cowardice except when you're speaking truth to power.  Speaking vitriole to writers and artists and people with different opinions than you isn't the same thing as whistleblowing, although I'm sure compulsive commenters would think otherwise.  If you can't hook your name to your opinions and ideas, you're just trying to insulate yourself from the bad reputation you're willfully creating for yourself by spouting off ideas without doing the hard work of research and composition and editing first.

If someone wanted to talk to me about the quality of my ideas, there are about a million ways to get a hold of me because it's clear who I am.  I'm willing to present my ideas publicly because I'm proud to publish the ideas that I do and use them to create a positive public reputation.

When was the last time you saw a comment section that had respectful, well-informed debate?  When was the last time you saw a comment section that demonstrated that the commenters had really read the article and considered it before posting a response?  I think a lot of people cry "free speech!" about comment sections, but this is a venue for speech that we didn't even have twenty years ago.  It's not necessary for our daily lives and it's almost never a good place to find productive speech, although it's frequently a good place to find harassment.  If you have to voice your opinion, start a damn blog.  Let the quality of your ideas or of your delivery determine your audience, don't coattail on someone else's audience.

That's why I turn all the comments off here.  I don't have a choice elsewhere, which sucks, but I do have a choice here.  So I'd ask for you to leave your thoughts, but I guess instead just think on it, and if you have respectful feedback, you know where to find me.