Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Limits of Chivalry

[Content note: Misogyny; male supremacism]

This week's interactions with self-proclaimed chivalrous man Roger/Hector has prompted me to contemplate, again, chivalry's limits.  These limits, I suspect, are not news to many readers here, but they are notable, still.

Despite having been banned from my blog in August when he was posting as "Hector_St_Clare," Hector created a new identity, "Roger Chillingworth," just so he could comment on my recent post about Mike Huckabee's purported chivalry toward women.

In this conversation, before Hector/Roger's arrival, several readers noted how so-called chivalrous men nonetheless aggressively lash out toward women who do not accept their chivalrous behavior.  To this observation, I add that because it sounds nice and innocuous, perhaps many men, even progressive ones, don't immediately understand how chivalry and benevolent sexism are, in fact, harmful.

I've seen men like Hector/Roger be willing to have genteel conversations and disagreements with other men - their equals - about politics, and even progressive men don't always pick up on, or acknowledge, the condescending tones and assumptions that Chivalry Man is putting out toward women in the conversation. Yet, many women know from lived experience that hell hath no fury like a chivalrous man being rejected, or called out, for his chivalrous behavior.

Chivalry, many women learn, has limits. This week, Hector/Roger fulfilled a helpful purpose in articulating quite well these limits:

Rule # 1 of Chivalry is this. While the chivalrous man will proclaim that he adores women, that he puts them on a pedestal, and that he believes that women as a class should be treated with the utmost love and respect as special creatures, this chivalrous treatment does not actually extend to all women. It extends, we know, only to women who accept their inferior status in relation to the chivalrous man.

First, let's note how Roger/Hector says he treats women:
"See, I have rather higher expectations of how men should treat women than you apparently do, and I hold myself to those high expectations. Which includes treating you as the chivalric code demands."
Ah, but put the chivalrous man in a roomful of feminist women, and the true colors come out, as he barges into a conversation to tell me this about my blog, my writing, my life, and my human dignity, in general:
"I don't mean to be rude, but you're almost a perfect example of the person with nothing useful to say, and who is therefore undeserving of political or civil rights."
The chivalrous man loves nothing more than boasting about how honorably he treats women. Hup, correction. What the chivalrous man loves even more than boasting about his high moral manly code, is tearing women down when they get too uppity for his own liking. (Dating tip: chivalrous men do not like their women confident).

Rule #2. The chivalrous man does not actually love women, not in any true sense of the word.  What the chivalrous man loves about women, as a class, is that women are who he defines himself as in opposition to: namely, as superior than.

He has a lot of anxiety tied up with this love, naturally. Most of all, he fears being compelled, by others or by laws, to have to deal with women as his equals. To interact with women as equals is for him to lose his status, he believes, as a man. It is to lose his god-given (or biology-given, if he's an atheist) right to feel superior than half of humanity.

Too insecure to engage with people on the merits of their ideas and the content of their character as individuals, he uses gender to categorize people into two types of people: those he treats seriously, and those from whom he dismisses and demands subservience.  Roger/Hector explains:
"I have zero interest in treating you as an equal, and my moral values won't allow me to do so. It's thoroughly inappropriate for inferiors to demand to be treated as equals in a conversation with their moral and intellectual superiors. If you have trouble dealing with that, then go ahead and ban me again. Evidently you have no interest in learning anything about obedience , submission and self sacrifice, so this is probably a fools errand."
So fragile, this chivalrous manhood. It's the NFL player boasting about his ultimate toughness as a destroying machine while simultaneously whining that sharing a locker room with a gay teammate will decimate his ability to play football.

Rule #3. The chivalrous man, believing in his own supremacy over women, does not imbue women with the same rights to autonomy with which he imbues himself and, at times, other men.

Being entitled to profound self-centeredness, he believes that women, our bodies, and our wombs, are extensions of himself, his will, his needs, and his rights. Women don't have equal rights, in his worldview, because women don't have value and full humanity in and of ourselves. Women, he thinks, should have rights and protections only insofar as those rights coincide with his own interests.

In responding to Rebecca's Daughter, who noted that she has no interest in being treated with chivalry just because she's a woman, for instance, Roger/Hector noted:
"I must say, Rebecca [sic], that I'm almost completely uninterested in your autonomy or sovereignty."
Despite her clearly articulated will, Roger/Hector notes that he has a quite different manpinion on how Rebecca's Daughter ought to be treated, as a woman, and that these manpinions over-ride her own.

In some ways, I suppose I appreciate a man who lays out the ugly truth of chivalry for all to see.  Illusory superiority combined with complete ignorance of feminism is truly something to behold in a man. And, as I've interacted with Roger/Hector on Internet for more than a year, often not of my own choosing, his beliefs seem somewhat sincerely held, fragile as they also seem.

It's clear that people with these beliefs really, truly exist and that women who are not accomplices in this fraud called "chivalry" do not deserve a place in the society, political order, or world of the chivalrous man. Take note, ladies and ladies who love chivalry.

But, of course, I suspect most women who are "into" male chivalry instinctively or explicitly know all of this, too. Dworkin noted decades ago that it partly explains female complicity: Women don't comply with sexism because they actually believe in male supremacy; they comply because they think it's safer to do that than to be a feminist. In some ways, they're not wrong.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A Wednesday Re-Post: On Sock-Puppeting and Entitlement

Coincidentally, a year ago today, I wrote this post on Sock-Puppeting and Entitlement, where I noted:
"...if people can't respect simple Internet boundaries like "please don't comment on this blog anymore," I mostly worry about how their entitlement to traverse other people's boundaries affects their interactions with people in the physical world. How people act in some situations can be a good test, or indicator, as to how they act in other situations. Rarely, I think, does an Internet Asshole limit his behavior only to the Internet. A person either believes that other people have the right to set boundaries in their own space, or they don't. Full stop. 
So, like, how's that rape culture mentality workin' out for ya, pal?"
It's an appropriate reminder today, as readers and commenters of Fannie's Room encounter Hector St. Clare/Roger Chillingworth. Hector/Roger, I believe, followed me from the Family Scholars Blog, where I used to blog and where he used to comment.

Hector's/Roger's approach, I have found, is often to sigh himself into a conversation, as though it's pure tedium for him to deal with all of us, who he perceives as his obvious intellectual and moral inferiors who he has to take time out of his day to correct. I've never seen him counter a feminist argument or idea with any substantive argument of his own. His approach is that, well, he's a man, and if he says it, that settles it, and feminists are dumb. Take a recent arriving comment of his:
"Sigh. I am quite certain, Fannie, that most women are delighted to be treated according to the traditional chivalric code."
Just because he says so, I guess. No evidence or citation needed! It's Hector/Roger speaking! All hail the truth and wisdom!

He then proceeded to yawn about his supremacy for a bit, before I banned him, once again:
"Sigh. not much interesting or meaningful thought here, Fannie. 
I don't mean to be rude, but you're almost a perfect example of the person with nothing useful to say, and who is therefore undeserving of political or civil rights."
Mostly, I just want to note that these are not the comments of a person looking to engage in a serious or sincere manner. Over the years, I've become pretty good at recognizing patterns in commenting that evidence that a commenter is likely going to be Trouble.

The fun thing about having my own blog, is being able to choose not to engage with jerks if I don't want to! It's an entitlement I freely exercise and advocate.

Monday, March 24, 2014

For Vernita Gray

Vernita Gray, part of the first same-sex couple legally married in Illinois, passed away last week, as first reported by The Windy City Times. 

I only knew her peripherally, but I was always glad Vernita was on our side.

The article I link to gives an account of her years of activism and I hope you will take the time to read it, in honor of one who's bloody feet have helped smooth many of our own paths, today and for the future.

It feels scary to me, when we lose prominent and charismatic activists.  Do we lose parts of ourselves, when those who fight for us are gone? How and will we be okay and pick up the slack?

I don't have any magical words to say, and I think it's okay to be sad. Many people, myself included, are just incredibly grateful for her activism.  She was, and is, greatly loved.  We carry on.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Last Homobigot in US Dies

I'm speaking of Fred Phelps, of course, who passed away on Wednesday.

In my experience as an Avowed Lesbian on Internet involved in many debates and conversations about what does and doesn't constitute bigotry and what kinds of people do and do not constitute bigots, it became clear to me that many people in the US who oppose equality for LGBT people and same-sex couples, have a really difficult time thinking that the views they hold are bigoted or that, gasp, they themselves might be bigots because of their views.

In their view, Fred Phelps is pretty much the last person in the US who was bigoted against LGBT people and so, like, when he dies the queers should shut up already (much like how some white people think that as long as one isn't a member of the KKK, they're "all good" on race).

Like, I have seen even well-known public figures who have made, or still make, careers and large amounts of money in keeping the "gay marriage" debate alive express condemnation of Fred Phelps.  Maggie Gallagher, for instance, has referred to the Westboro Baptist Church as a "fringe cult"that holds "revolting signs," in a piece suggesting that the Supreme Court ought to have limited Phelp's free speech rights.

It makes sense that anti-LGBT Christians would want to distance themselves from, and condemn, perhaps the most notorious symbol of anti-LGBT Christian hatred in the US.

Although, when pressed to distinguish their own religiously-based beliefs about the sinful nature of homosexuality from Phelps', the conversation, I have found, often comes to a screeching halt.  Many anti-LGBT Christians like to wag their fingers at Phelps in the abstract, but when we start comparing and contrasting the theology on a more specific line-by-line level, things get a little too uncomfortable for them.

I really don't have much to say about Phelps' death. I'm not here to gloat.

The members of the Phelps family are, like most human beings, neither 100% evil nor 100% good, as their neighbors have reminded us. It seems a tragedy that he must have continued to stifle that spark of goodness that was probably somewhere in him and that he, to my knowledge, didn't publicly express a more compassionate understanding of other human beings before he died.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Book Update: Kushiel's Dart, Paris Was a Woman

Well, in my 2014 Reading Experiment, I have finally finished Kushiel's Dart and Paris Was a Woman.

I will discuss the latter first, as it's a bit more simple, for me, to summarize. Written by Andrea Weiss, Paris portrays the community of artistic women, many of whom were queer, during the 1920s. Women profiled include Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, Djuna Barnes, and more.

In all, I found it interesting. Weiss relied on letters, photographs, and original writings to paint a lively picture of what these women's lives might have been like. Some of these women formed lifelong relationships with one another, with some even wishing for legal marriage rights for same-sex relationships. A large subtext of the book, to me, was that it was these women's detachment from heterosexual marriage and relationships, in addition to having financial means of their own, that enabled them to have independent lives and careers in Paris.

Yet, that this community of women existed who rejected traditional gender roles was not something I had ever learned about in my years of formal education, where most women were presented on the periphery. Paris does mention male artists and writers such as James Joyce and Pablo Picasso as being in these women's lives yet, in contrast, their presence in the book was peripheral.

Kushiel's Dart is a bit more difficult for me to summarize easily as, at 900+ pages, author Jacqueline Carey built a rich, morally-complicated world that rivals George RR Martin's Westeros. Spoiler alert!  I will gear this post more to people who have read the book and, as such, are familiar with the plot points.

I will start by noting that I mostly enjoyed the book. For me, it started slowly and introduced many characters that were very difficult to keep track of. Yet, in looking back, I wonder if the overwhelming amount of information and detail the reader is bombarded with, was intended to mimic how Phedre, the first-person narrator, must have felt as a young girl trying to get a handle on the politics and relationships of her world. For, over time, as Phedre grew and interacted with more people, her narrative and perspective became more compelling, perhaps because we came to know more about these people who were so often talked about.

Secondly, the setting is a world that parallels medieval Europe, albeit with significant differences. Phedre is from Terre D'Ange, where the dominant religion is based on the single commandment "Love as thou wilt," which is in contrast with the religion of the "One God." Under this religion, sexual behaviors that, say, Christianity, often considers shameful, sinful, or deviant, are instead non-issues.

Phedre, for instance, has a genetic inclination toward masochism (with Josceline being perhaps the conscience of some readers who are squicked by it). And, while I wouldn't consider the book to be overly erotic, she is presented having sexual encounters with men and women, as are other characters in the book. Homosexuality is simply presented as a non-issue in her culture.

[Content note: sexual assault]

Rape, however, is presented in a more complicated manner, in my opinion. On a surface level, Phedre notes that, under her religion, rape is the most serious sin that one can commit, violating the "Love as though wilt" rule. Rape is, I believe, in Terre D'Ange, a capital offense. Thus, when Phedre is sold into slavery and raped by two Skaldic leaders, Carey presents these occurrences in a judgmental manner with explicit commentary about Phedre feeling shame and about the sinful nature of this type of assault. This portrayal, I think, comes in contrast to George RR Martin's portrayal of rape which, in my opinion, has more of a non-judgmental "welp, rape happens" tone.

Yet, Phedre's consent to sex as Delauney's indentured servant is tenuous, in my opinion, and I question what other choices she has in life to survive, at least in the beginning before she becomes politically adept. She is cast off from her family of origin, taken in as an outcast member of a House, and then bought as an indentured servant by Anafiel Delauney, who then trains her to be a sex worker and spy for him. Yes, she lives in physical comfort, if not luxury, with Delauney and seems eager to engage in the work, but her ability to give meaningful consent seems to be lacking in her society.

It is only near the end of the book, after she has established herself as having other useful skills - spying, politics, strategy - that she seems to acknowledge that she can make a choice about what type of work she will engage in the future.

Other features of note about sexuality in Terre D'Ange are that (a) I'm not sure how Phedre avoided pregnancy throughout her many sexual encounters with men throughout the book (was that discussed? did I miss something?); (b) the religion also seemed to encourage polyamory without sexual jealousy; and (c) marriage is not viewed in this society as the "be-all" type of human relationship.

In all, the book is a lot to take in. Like Martin, Carey is not afraid to let bad things happen to major characters and, yet, she is able to do so in ways that don't feel too contrived for some other character's "personal growth saga." #HeyJoss:I'mStillNotOverTara

I'm curious what others think - share your thoughts in the comments!

Next up: Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake and Octavia Butler's Bloodchild: And other stories. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

Whites Riot on Chicago's North Side

This past weekend, 21 people were arrested, 17 ambulances were called, fights were had, property was damaged, and a man and a woman were caught having sex in an alley.

The cause of this disorderly conduct was "partying" due to St. Patrick's Day, a holiday largely celebrated in this particular Chicago neighborhood by masses of white heterosexual young adults who binge drink throughout the weekend.

It is clear that the white heterosexual community, which celebrates this behavior, is in crisis.

What is to blame for this drunk, violent, and lewd behavior among white heterosexuals?  How is the family and society failing this segment of the population and what can be done about it?  Why are white parents failing their children?

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Huckabee's Gender Incivility

Gasbag Mike Huckabee's deep thoughts about female candidates are currently making the progressive and feminist rounds.

Via Think Progress:
"Huckabee told The New Republic, 'I’ve twice run against women opponents, and it’s a very different kind of approach. For those of us who have some chivalry left, there’s a level of respect. … You treat some things as a special treasure; you treat other things as common.' He added that a male opponent is 'common,' while a woman requires 'a sense of pedestal. I’ll put it this way. I treat my wife very differently than I treat my chums and my pals. I wouldn’t worry about calling them on Valentine’s Day, opening the door for them, or making sure they were OK.'”
To start, here, I'll first note that I would first and foremost ask Huckabee, and any other man holding this view, if he's ever bothered to consider, you know, asking women, including the women in his life, if they want to be placed on this so-called pedestal of extra-specialness.  It's truly a special kind of non-consent when men place women, all women (ha ha, in theory), onto this patronizing pedestal not on the basis of our individual qualities but on the sole basis of our gender identity.

Which ties into my second point, which I've made before - In my experience, those who treat women like delicate flowers also treat us like we're not fully human, or capable, in the way that men are. The pedestal on which some men demand we're placed, in reality, serves as an excuse for them not to engage us as equals.

For instance, claiming that women are so different from men that we require to be treated in the public sphere as a "special treasure" suggests that we're weak and frail, two qualities not typically coded in our society with "leader" and "presidential."  So, Huckabee saying that a woman is a "special treasure" might, say, give him credence to back up with his hands in the air when Certain Sensitive Unladylike Topics come up in a political debate, like war and sexual assault, and suggest that some topics aren't fit to talk about with or in front of women.  Seriously, I watch Mad Men, I know that men with that era's gender mentality, like Huckabee, are that fucking condescending.

This strategy, while it might appear chivalrous and benevolent, actually begins to look a lot more like a very deliberate approach to frame women in contradistinction to the very traits associated with leadership and political competence, for purposes of male political gain.

Lastly, notice how Huckabee admits that he doesn't care about opening doors for his bro pals and that he doesn't have an interest in making sure his male friends are okay.  To men like Huckanee, women supposedly are godly beings, while men are common and not worthy of human concern - once again proving that, generally, it's traditional sexists who are the most misandrist of all.

MRAs, meet Mike Huckabee.  Take your shit up with him, playas.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Stepping In and Stepping Back

Hello dear readers, just thought I'd check in to let you know I'm fine, I just haven't been able to blog regularly due to being busy. Plus, we're apparently still deep in the middle of Hell Winter, so I think that gives many of us a ready-made excuse for any occasion.

As such, I'm a bit disconnected from the blogosphere - are people having fun and talking about stuff without me?!  Are Internet explosions happening?  Is Shmugo Shmyzer finding new ways of making Internet feminism all about him? Are MRAs still assholes?  Is it still worse to be called a bigot than it is to be bigoted?

It's weird, these periods of stepping away from blogosphere every now and then, after periods of immersion in it. Away from Internet, I've actually been doing a lot of writing, like 12 hours a day of writing, of the variety that, unlike blogging, pays my bills and doesn't lead to veiled rape threats.

So, in a sense, I've been avoiding blogosphere, with few exceptional day trips, so I'm not triggered to use my limited writing energy Telling Someone They're Wrong on Internet or telling a Condescending Mansplainer that his maleness and anti-feminism don't make him automatically smarter than everyone here.

But, give me about 5 minutes of actually being able to read the blogs in my RSS feed and I'm sure I'll start cranking out a blogpost immediately.  So, stay tuned for that!

In other news, I've been reading Kushiel's Dart, in line with my 2014 Book Experiment (which definitely needs a better name).  It's not what I expected it to be, I'll say that for now - but I am enjoying it, especially as I've progressed through it.