Saturday, December 28, 2013

Old school racism and subsequent self-righteousness

I am a Research Associate. That's my title. But at my research-oriented university, there are scads of Postdocs. (All of our titles are capitalized like that.) Someone in the Postdoc Office decided to throw a mixer and invite both the Postdocs and the Research Associates. I was happy to go, as I don't meet a lot of university people outside my department and I'd been missing the company of people so recently forged in the fire of grad school hell. 

I work in a bubble. My project is very community-oriented so I usually face away from the university and out towards our neighbors. When I'm focused on campus, I interact with folks from the College of Arts and Sciences, the LGBT Center, the Office for Diversity and Inclusion, you get the drift. It is easy for me to forget that most of my university is focused on hard science and medicine. We are a tiny slice of humanities in a sea of quantifiable data. 

So I show up to this postdoc lunch, which is at the biomedical research building, a twenty minute walk away from the Social Justice Institute in below-freezing weather. It was like entering another world. Then I remembered - all of these people are scientists. I can argue all day that anthropology is a science, especially archaeology and physical anthropology, but I do think of myself as more of a humanist, a social scientist on those days when I whip out my qualitative data analysis software.

Secretly, I love science. In high school, all I wanted to do was become a biologist. I was lucky to go to a school where we were doing recombinant DNA experiments (admittedly low-level stuff) back in the 1990s. I took the regular 4 years plus an independent study. I love the smell of Bunsen burners. I rocked at calculus. I even was only a little squeamish when the rat-mom we were breeding ate her litter over the weekend. Then - well, life. I dropped out of college for four years and when I went back, I felt out of the loop in science and I met anthropology, that dark mistress that promised answers for all of social conundrums I encountered during my extended hiatus from higher learning. In my heart of hearts, I know I could have been one of them, the lab-dwellers, in their white coats and safety glasses. 

The second thing that struck me at this little mixer was that there was 2:1 of men to women. It wasn't all men, but it definitely wasn't parity. Throwing anxiety to the wind, I made myself a burrito bowl and approached a table. Seated were three men, one white, two Asian (and the reason for me mentioning race will become apparent shortly). Eventually, the other half of the table was filled with three more men and another woman, but our conversations stayed divided into halves. 

Two of the men were in physics and the third was in biostatistics, although his PhD was in theoretical mathematics. We talked about where we went to grad school, at which point the white guy gestured wildly at his hat until I noticed that he went to my alma mater. So there was that. He talked about loving that tiny little Washington town while I talked about how eager I had been to get out of there.

We did the "What department are you from?" chit-chat. I had to explain what social justice is, never mind that the university has an entire (albeit small) institute devoted to it. Trying to relate it to their experiences, I mentioned Engineers Without Borders, at which point, one guy was like, "so it is about science." Sigh. 

When I brought up the fact that I worked on racism, the white guy looked at me and asked, "But has it been scientifically proven that certain characteristics don't go with certain races? I mean, Asians don't want to lose the idea that they are inherently good at math, right?" With this, he looks to our two tablemates for support. One shrugs noncommittally and the other says, "Not necessarily." But at this point, my self-righteousness is going full force. "Of course it has been proven scientifically," I thunder. I launch into the full-blown, by-the-book, American-Anthropological-Association rant about differences between "races" being less significant than those within the categories along with the concepts of social constructs and hegemony.

He then looks at me and says, "But isn't it true that people from Europe and North America are smarter than other people? Like, hasn't that been tested?" Oh my god, I think to myself, he's serious. I spend a good portion of my days thinking about institutionalized racism, structural racism, neoliberalism, neocolonialism; I had forgotten that people are still flat-out racist, in an interpersonal way that goes beyond white privilege. I then hold forth on what exactly those tests measure and how it is a form of imperialism to believe the Global North is somehow better, smarter, more sophisticated, whatever, than all other human societies. I hadn't been that riled up since grad school. I have to admit, it felt good.

The community I work in struggles with the image many Black communities struggle with, made even more problematic by the fact that my university often tells new students, particularly freshman, not to cross the bridge (where this community starts) because they will be subject to violence. The racial tensions are high and are compounded by the wealth surrounding the university and the dire economic straits experienced by many in this community. All that to say, I am sensitive to how people talk about this community.

One of the Asian guys asks me how safe this community is, as he has heard it is dangerous to ride the bus (which I do everyday) and he worries about his wife. I tell him the reputation is overblown and that the people are lovely and that I like working in this community. Then the white guy tells us that he heard that "In Cleveland, twenty years ago, a white person didn't have to stop at red lights at night because they would be carjacked by Black people." At this point, I asked him if he realized how crazy that sounded. He got defensive, saying that wasn't what he believed but that's just what he heard. So I asked him what he was trying to achieve by repeating that story. He pretty much stopped talking after that.

I continued to talk to my tablemates, who are doing some really interesting work, even if I can't follow the specifics. We had a good conversation about economic disparity and how hard it is to meet new people in the city. Finally, lunch was over and I returned to my office, feeling like the defender of the oppressed, the voice of righteousness, a gladiator. I told my co-workers about the encounter and we collectively railed against injustice. I even posted about it on Facebook.

A week later, I met up with one of the guys I met at that lunch, who is originally from Hong Kong. He mentioned that I seemed to be looking to him for support when the white guy was saying some outlandish things but he understood that this guy might have never been exposed to any of these ideas. He told me a little about how he grew up and it made me reflect on my own privilege. I wondered if I might not have been equally oblivious to social justice issues had I continued down my path to biology without all the hiccups I experienced while growing into myself.

I wouldn't have changed the encounter. Someone needed to call that guy on his bullshit and maybe make him think about why he was saying the things he was saying. But was I arguing with him because I was being an ally? I was enjoying the sense of  self-righteousness, of knocking him down a peg from his white, male, cis-gendered pedestal. I liked repeating the story and coming out the hero. Upon reflection, I even hesitated to blog about it. In the end, I feel like the story bears re-telling, not for my stunning command of anti-racist rhetoric, but as a reminder that old-school racism still exists, and not just in the backwoods of Mississippi (speaking from personal experience and not to disparage a whole state's worth of people). It is present in our institutes of higher learning. Institutional and structural racism are not simply legacies but are actively enabled. I needed to be reminded of this.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Don't panic!

Before my class in Portugal on Sexuality & Morality, I was thinking of morality with a capital "M," moral-majority-morality, the kind that got me in trouble at Catholic school. After my week of anthropology in warmer climes, I came to accept a kind of provisional anthropology of moralities. From the outside looking in, it's easy to see US morality (of the kind preached by conservatives and liberals alike) as the imperialist enterprise that it is. It is even possible to be swimming in it and be critical of it, but it is much more difficult.

One of the coolest things about being an anthropologist is that you get to learn, deep down in your bones, that there are different manners of living that are meaningful and true. For me, that sense first developed in a real way when I did my MA fieldwork in Belize, in a way that not a hundred ethnographies prepared me for. I was reminded of this in Lisbon, although the stay was shorter and differently aimed. However, most of my radical relocation has been within the United States, so while I'm good at spotting regional differences quickly, I still get stuck in a US frame of mind. Ethnocentrism is a bitch.

Part of what makes me suspicious of morality is not the notion that there is right and there is wrong. It's the totalizing narrative of it, at least in the way I was raised. There is little room for relativism. In practice, people seem to resolve moral dilemmas in ways that recognize that right and wrong shift, but there is no place for that in dogma. That is where morality gets dangerous - it is wielded as a weapon, usually against people who are already marginalized. People preaching morality recognize themselves as agents with the ability to navigate right and wrong, yet they insist that others cannot possibly distinguish between the two unless explicit instructions are tattooed on their foreheads. Of course, they know how those directions should read.

I have been working on a talk about moral panics the last few weeks, specifically how throwing sexuality into any moral argument wipes out rational thought or reasonable debate. Case in point, after my talk, a man shared that he was talking with other men about gun control, which he supported. His acquaintances, to counter his position, immediately jumped to, "What if someone was raping your wife or kids?" Of course. Because that's a defensible position - "Sure, I'd just let them rape away since I don't believe everyone has the right to own an AR-15."

The thing about moral panics is that they require both a folk devil and a group that is perceived to be threatened, which represents a threat to the very moral fabric of society. The folk devil is the person persecuted for the threat. For example, during the White Slavery era at the beginning of the 20th century, there was fear that evil Jewish monopolists were luring innocent women, including their own daughters, into forced prostitution. This popular narrative allowed for the surveillance, restriction, and mistreatment of Jewish people in the United States. Suspicion was also cast on the French, the Chinese, and the Italian (all immigrants). A panic also works to control the population being threatened, in this case women, particularly those who were moving into cities for industrial work.

As I have waxed, poetic or otherwise, about my feelings about the current framing of human trafficking, I'll just point out that (as I learned in my research for this talk) that the Trafficking in Persons Report (2011), authored by the US State Department, cites, with nary a suggestion of irony or critique, tracts from 1910 to support their claim that the sexual traffic in women has a long history in this country.


The ingredients of moral panics can be seen in the Satanic ritual abuse hoopla of the 1980s, the vilification of gay men (for just one example, see the political campaign in Florida in the 1970s-80s), and the McCarthy Era post-WWII.

Lynching in the US at the turn of the 20th century had deadly consequences, unlike what we see in current panics (although as the San Antonio 4 prove, loss of liberty is still an issue) but the same mindset is there - fear of the "other" cast as sexual assault against women or children to justify inequality and distract from other injustices occurring at the same time. Racism and beliefs about the body combined to result in particularly savage behaviors.

I think any anthropology of morality (or -ies) needs to address the outbreak of moral panics. I don't know enough about cross-cultural instances although I suspect rapid globalization is spreading the tendency now, if it was not present before. If you live or work outside of the US, I'd love to hear whether any of this panicking behavior matches up with what you've seen.

I know of a current example in Syria, where the Assad regime (among others) accused the rebels of soliciting sexual jihad from Tunisian girls and women. Der Spiegel and France24 seem convinced that this is a case of panic, while the Huffington Post and the BBC are not so quick to dismiss it out of hand.

On a personal level, I can picture panic being created. I'm from New Orleans. I left the year before Katrina hit. A dear friend, made homeless by the storm, was travelling away from the city. I asked why she didn't go to a shelter rather than risking a long drive with no definite end in sight. She replied, "They're raping babies in the Superdome." This from a college-educated, normally reasonable woman who had just suffered a terrible trauma. No doubt, madness ensued in the wake of that storm. I won't forget that reaction - at her most vulnerable, that is what drove her over the edge. She had no reliable source for this assertion, just what people were saying.

The media thrives on this stuff. When you see salacious photos of victimized women and children, when you hear impossible statistics that rile up your self-righteousness, when the only "good" you can do is to "raise awareness" by parroting the headlines, ask yourself what you are really accomplishing. Is changing your Facebook status going to impact the material living conditions of young women in Tunisia? Are you contributing to a conversation about how to end gendered violence or are you just giving into the joys of gossip and moralism? What social justice issues are being obscured in the name of the panic? Are you ignoring the atrocities of war, economic oppression, mass incarceration, or unending surveillance in order to protect the "safety" of women and children by fomenting heightened passions? Where is the morality in panicking?

My advice to you, in the immortal words of Douglas Adams - "Don't panic."

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

His tongue on her neck

As part of my recent intensive course in Portugal, we were required to engage in a fieldwork exercise. Between Friday night's group dinner and Saturday's afternoon class, we had to find somewhere in Lisbon to observe something to do with sexuality and morality. From what I understand, in the previous cohort, many people went to church. My classmates had different ideas.

Of course I looked for a leather bar. I found an English website devoted to gay bars in the city. There was exactly one leather bar listed. It was a men-only deal and stress was placed on being in fetish gear. I think had I had the correct fetish gear, I could have talked my way in. Conversely, had I been male, I could have gotten away with jeans and my Docs. Luckily, I had a back up plan. There were two lesbian-friendly gay bars.

That Friday night was the kickoff for the Lisbon Queer Film Festival. Most of our group went out to eat at a traditional Portuguese restaurant. (Lured away from my vegetarianism by fresh octopus, I succumbed. Let's just say I wouldn't recommend deep-fried cephalopod. I know some people dig calamari, but it's just not for me.) Afterwards, we climbed about a million stairs to get to the Bairro Alto, which is a charming district during the day that transforms into a hubbub of nightlife after dark, like the French Quarter of Lisbon. The Queer Film Festivals was holding their opening party there at midnight and several of my classmates decided to do their fieldwork there.

On the way, we had the mandatory shot of ginja, a type of liquor soaked in sour cherries that is common in the region. I don't normally drink, so it went to my head pretty quickly. It also tasted a little like cough syrup, which probably says more about how people in the US flavor all their medicine to taste like candy than any judgement call about another culture's method of imbibing spirits.

We went to a bar Valerio was familiar with which was also listed on my website as a gay bar. There was nothing overt, no rainbow flags or anything, but the clientele was split between male/male couples and male/female customers, so the bar seemed at least gay-friendly. Our group had a couple of drinks while everyone waited for the Queer Film Festival party to start. A good friend met me in Portugal for the last half of my time there. She and I decided to split off to visit the lesbian bars on my list before we were too much in our cups to get any good info.

The thing about anthropology, for me, is that it allows me to explore fearlessly in ways I don't feel empowered to do when I am just plain Misty. I am shy and socially awkward in new situations. I have little filter and tend to talk about inappropriate things, making other people uncomfortable unintentionally, which embarrasses me. As an anthropologist, however, I am fearless and bold. I listen more and am less likely to blurt out the first thing that comes into my head as I am engaged in embodied learning. I know that it appeared like I was taking my assignment too seriously when I could have hung out and drank with the group, but I wanted to learn more about Lisbon in a way I couldn't do with a group.

Fieldwork, even for a couple of hours, would be hampered by my nonexistent Portuguese, although many people spoke English. I decided a bar would be a good place to at least watch people, their body language, their eye contact, their dress. Earlier that day, Miguel Vale de Almeida came to our class to discuss the political climate surrounding the LGBT movement in Portugal. He had noted that the community isn't well defined, in part because many people do not come out in the same way they do in the United States (again, one day I'll post on that topic). I was curious to see how a website directed toward Anglophone gay men would classify a lesbian bar.

First off, let me say that bars in Lisbon are tiny. I mean, everything in Portugal (except the castles and monasteries) tended to be smaller than the sprawling spaces I am accustomed to. But seriously, Purex could have fit inside my one bedroom apartment. For me, I begin to study the field by analyzing the space as it is being used. This gives me a starting point, a way to work myself into analysis.

The bar was divided into three areas - behind the bar, the front room with tables and chairs, and the back room with overstuffed chairs and a couch and a small dance floor with a live DJ. Sad to say, I did not visit the bathrooms, and so cannot speak to those areas. Again, there were no rainbow flags or anything that would obviously point out the nature of the bar as I am familiar with in the US. Behind the bar, however, there was a bird cage full of lipsticks, all open and pushed up. I am not sure what it symbolized, but I found it noteworthy. With more time, I would have asked about it.

Rather than rehash all of my fieldnotes, I'll get to the point of the title of this post. The bar was entirely staffed by women. During my time in Lisbon, I saw a handful of women of any age with short hair. Honestly, I was glad mine had grown out to pixie length since I shaved it last June. The women working at the bar and the one spinning had shorter hair (except one). I am not sure whether this indicates a sign of gender bending in the same way it (sometimes) does in the US.

For sure, there were gay men there as customers, mostly lounging in the back space on the comfy couches, cuddling one another, or in one instance, dance together very intimately. There were two genderqueer individuals, possibly transmasculine. They were hanging out with the gay men and left shortly after the dancing started.

A group of six women came in together and began dancing together. I couldn't tell if they were necessarily straight or queer, as they danced relatively far apart and were not overtly sexual. They were certainly enjoying themselves without male company.

I did see two instances of women touching one another, in one case a woman stroking another's breast and a woman with her hand cupping another's butt. However, and this is a big however, both of the instances were done in front of what was obviously one of the women's boyfriends. All my years stripping, I am not a stranger to performing lesbianism for a male gaze. I do not think that invalidates same-gender desire but it puts a different spin on things, speaking from experience. During my heyday of sexiness for money, there was a marked difference between the women I flirted with onstage and the backstage romances. Maybe, one day, I'll come clean about that.

The most notable event of the night, however, was a disruption of this supposedly lesbian-friendly space. After an hour of dancing/fieldwork (big selling point of anthropology - these can be the same thing!), a man and two women came on the dance floor. He was obviously inebriated. He mugged for his friends. He inserted himself in other people's pictures. He took up a lot of space on the tiny dance floor. The women who had been in the center gave way to his antics, moving to the edges of the space. This was not done in deference but rather to avoid his antics. My friend and I continued to dance, making allowances for his general sloppiness.

After fifteen minutes of this, he caught my eye and started to edge in on us. Let me make it clear that my friend and I were clearly dancing *with each other* and not as two women dancing in the same space. The more insistent he became on inserting himself, the more we nuzzled up to one another. Then he started dancing behind my friend in order to force me to look at him. Then he licked her neck. I didn't actually see this, but I felt her shudder. I don't know what standard protocol is in other countries, but given my work experience, I have handled more than my fair share of drunk men edging in on my space. I shoved him away with my hand on his face, all the time smiling and laughing like I wasn't going to kick his ass. The reprieve only lasted a couple of minutes, as soon he was dancing next to me and eventually kissed me on the cheek. Once again, I nonchalantly shoved my hand in his face and pushed him away.

It's a stripper trick- pretend like you're flattered that Mr. Can't-Keep-His-Hands-To-Himself finds you irresistible, but you just have other things you need to be doing at that exact moment. I have poured beer on men, stepped on their hands with my heels, slapped them across the face, and worse, all the while smiling like it's a big joke. If you frame it the right way, you can get a guy to leave you alone without turning it into a situation that could result in escalating tension. It's a sad fact, but as a woman, I have to live with the fact that if I reject a man in the wrong way things can go tits-up quickly. Obviously preferring the company of a woman over a drunk party boy brings about another set of risks. I don't know how other women handle unwanted attention. Deflect and diffuse are my preferred methods.

In this case, I didn't feel too threatened as Mr. CKHHTH was with two other women, so it wasn't likely that he would press the issue after a couple of theatrical gestures to leave us the fuck alone. He did, eventually stumbling out the bar after a few more songs. My friend and I enjoyed some more dancing. At 2 a.m. we called it a night, although the party was picking up a bit. We blew kisses to the DJ and made our way back to the hotel, a bit tipsy and sweaty, but none the worse for wear.

What I found really interesting was reporting on my experience to my classmates. They were affronted on my behalf. I saw it as an example of how same-gender desire among women is not respected in the same way it is with men. I understood it as a pedestrian example of patriarchy and heteronormativity. But they were offended that such a thing would even happen. Although some of the men in my class identified as queer, I am not aware that any of the women did. I don't know if it was my experience as a queer woman, as a US citizen, as an ex-stripper, or what, but it didn't surprise me that man felt entitled to touch us, not in the way it seemed to shock them. One woman even asked if I complained to the bar so they could throw him out. That didn't even occur to me.

This being a class on morality, the question became whether he had acted immorally. It is tough to answer that sufficiently. I don't know enough about culture in Lisbon in general, much less nightclub mores, to judge. I had witnessed vivid examples of lesbianism performed for a male gaze that night, so he might not have been too off in thinking his attentions were appropriate. Once we made it obvious that we were having no part of it, he left us alone. For me, the most disappointing thing about the experience was that the other patrons, particularly the gay men, did nothing to intervene. When I was making it a habit of patronizing gay clubs at home (whatever state that might have been), they were pretty exclusively non-heterosexual. In similar situations, other people inserted themselves between drunk-straight-and-clueless and the objects of his (yes, exclusively his) unwanted attention. In Lisbon - no help.

It was an interesting experience and one that I am glad I had. It is at the ruptures that we learn about the structure. It is what makes it exciting to wake up every day and be an anthropologist. I didn't judge all of the continent based on the actions of one drunk man, although I was oddly touched that my classmates were so moved by what I considered as little more than a data point. That was my experience with heteronormativity in Lisbon, which was remarkable in its complete familiarity.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Anthropology out of context

I learned so much while I was in Portugal and some of it even had to do with anthropology!

First, no one there is a "cultural" anthropologist - they are all "social" anthropologists. The distinctions are fuzzy, even for someone inside the discipline, but part of it derives from the American tradition handed down from Boas focusing on cultures as coherent wholes, hence "cultural anthropology," whereas European anthropology tended to focus more on structure and institution, therefore "social anthropology." Most people use the terms interchangeably, or at most as a marker of origin. It was neat to see it in action.

I was there, as you may recall, for a class on Sexuality and Morality: Intercultural Perspectives and Mediations. I have a feeling that I'll be working through ideas I encountered there for a while yet, both via blog and in my more scholarly writing.

The class was hosted by ISCTE_IUL (the Lisbon University Institute) and taught by two postdocs at CRIA (the Center for Research in Anthropology), Anna Fedele and Valerio Simoni . Anna is from Italy and Valerio is from Switzerland. Each researches different topics that intersect one another at the area of sexuality (or eroticism, but more on that in another post). Anna, in a nutshell, works with religious groups (particularly Marian cults and pagans) and Valerio, equally briefly, has worked on sex tourism. After a week, I don't feel I know their work intimately enough to represent it fairly in a blog post, but it seems fascinating. I look forward to learning more about their work through their written corpus and personal correspondence.

One of the most immediate effects of this course has been the drastic expansion in my personal network. Anna and Valerio are both social anthropologists. The class, however, was not limited solely to anthropologists, but instead drew on a number of disciplines and professions. Religious studies, psychology, social work and secondary education were all represented and in most cases by professionals rather than academics. People came from Belgium, Canada, Italy, Norway, Poland, and Greece. They are all doing incredible work. Once I get their permission, I'll share a link with you to the cool things going on.

The class consisted of people in different phases of their career, from one woman considering grad school, to a man fresh back from his preliminary fieldwork, to another who was just about to dive into his dissertation. The professional members of the class kept us grounded in praxis (although sometimes the theoretical nerd rage just couldn't be contained). I felt like, yes, I have passed through these trials. It made me feel old but also accomplished. Some days, I feel like I got my Ph.D. by mistake, that I will be revealed for the impostor I am. This class reminded me of how much I love anthropology and that I am pretty good at it.

During the course, I was lucky to be able to present on my work. Morality has been a sticking point for me in the past. I'm still processing my epiphanies, but I forgot how important it is to have a community of scholars or otherwise engaged people to toss around ideas with. Fieldwork is always a lonely time, but my choice to remain in Texas to write afterwards rather than return to my university shaped a lot of my analysis. I don't know that it was necessarily better or worse; it was simply how things had to be. However, this class has made me nostalgic for the intensity and drive elicited by too much theory and not enough sleep caused by grad school.

My current work is very engaging, but sometimes I feel like such an focused perspective on the local tricks me into a provincial mindset. I work with historians and sociologists and other social scientists; their attention is very much on an American context for social justice issues. Going to Lisbon, even if only for ten days, reminded me that I am part of a global community, that people from around the world (not all people and not all the world, of course) find interesting and salient the same topics I do. I needed that.

I was able to attend the class through the generous support (I always thought that was a cliché, but the individuals involved were very generous; they didn't have to do anything for me, but they found some room in their budget for a random research assistant) from several sectors of my institution, including my home institution, the LGBT center at the university, the international office, and the local/community LGBT center. Now I have to process everything I've learned in order to share it with these different audiences.

Next time, I promise more sex and anthropology. I just wanted to say, if you have the chance to do something like this, take it! Networking, theorizing, workshopping, all of it. Conferences can give you these things in small doses, but an intense class forces you into participating in ways that watching a panel seldom does.

And if you're still in grad school, I know this will sound insane, but try to enjoy it. What I wouldn't give for the chance to discuss the limitations of Judith Butler and queer theory over a coffee (or a beer, or more likely, several coffees followed by several beers) with people who give a shit about it.

Monday, August 26, 2013

"I see a zoo"

Slave Kitten (a person active in the scene) has written a very thoughtful response to my post about morality and I'd like to share it with you here. They raise some very interesting points. I am particularly interested in the implications of setting aside questions of morality for eroticism. Does this make it, in the strictest sense, amoral?

Thanks, Slave Kitten, for your thoughts.

I think that people in the BDSM community do have morals. I think, perhaps in response to assumptions of amorality (or immorality, as you mentioned), part of the kink (more specifically, Leather) narrative is that it makes them hyper-moral. When I ask leatherfolk about themselves, they often wax poetically about honor, integrity, bravery, honesty, tradition, and if I'm very, very lucky they'll mention that they like to have deviant sex.
It's so common and I think the unspoken caveat is "I'm a way better person than the average bear and so am permitted to engage in deviant behavior because (in the final calculation) I am equal to the average citizen.
That sash, title, book deal, or position in leadership are the utmost symbolic capital. It buys immunity, deems them worthy, and gives them the scepter of judgement. But it doesn't always correlate to SSC (safe, sane, consensual).

What I'd like to see more of is an assertion that BDSM doesn't inform what kind of person I am. It doesn't need to. That's not the role it plays in my life. It neither elevates me to hyper-moral or demotes me or immoral. I think assigning it moral weight makes us lose something. It internalizes the assumption of immorality and makes what we do directly respond to it instead of rejecting it.
I recently read a passage that gripped me. I'd like to share from Tim Krieder's We Learn Nothing:
 "The truth is, people are ravenous for sex, sociopaths for love. I sometimes like to daydream that if we were all somehow simultaneously outed as lechers and perverts and sentimental slobs, it might be, after the initial shock of disillusionment, liberating. It might be a relief to quit maintaining this rigid pose of normalcy and own up to the outlaws and monsters we are."
I may be an outlier in the BDSM community, but I'm certainly not alone. Transposing traditional morality onto my sex feels counter-intuitive, like housing a tiger in a cage. That's not where it belongs. And sure, it may be fun to have it do little tricks to entertain tourists, but it's real beauty is the untamed. And (with a few exceptions) I don't see a wilderness when I look at my community. I see a zoo.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Questionable morality

Everything's got a moral, if only you can find it. 
mo·ral·i·ty (m-rl-t, mô-)
n. pl. mo·ral·i·ties
1. The quality of being in accord with standards of right or good conduct.
2. A system of ideas of right and wrong conduct: religious morality; Christian morality.
3. Virtuous conduct.
I am attending a class on Sexuality and Morality in Lisbon, Portugal next month. It's an anthropology class that lasts for 6 days. It will be my first time in Europe and I'm super-excited for a number of reasons, a major one being the chance for me to work through the questions of morality raised by my dissertation work. This was a major sticking point for one of my mentors that I felt I never fully addressed.

Over the course of the class, we'll be focusing on sexuality and religion; sex and commerce; and heteronormativity. When asked what further topics we would like to have formal discussions about, of course I asked for BDSM. I am particularly interested in the ways that sm practices mirror some religious penitent practices. Huzzah mortification of the flesh! In another post, I'll expound on how they might be two sides of the same coin, both using the same methodology to experience the body, one to deny, the other to indulge.

I was excited to be asked to do a short presentation on some of my work as it may fit into the class's framework. So in this post, I'm toying with how I may situate my presentation. Feedback is welcomed.

I am going to assume that in our first two days of general anthropological inquiry, we'll debate the definition of morality. I'll be interested in how this falls out in terms of cultural relativity vs. universal human rights. I *know* female genital cutting will come up, as it always does in this instance. One of the articles (Fassin 2008) we've read in preparation argues not for a moral anthropology (a la Nancy Scheper Hughes) but rather an anthropology of morals, a holistic approach to understanding how groups formulate morality. Fascinated as I am with taboos, I didn't realize this wasn't already occurring. It is the blood and bones of anthropology to understand people's worldviews and with this comes their morality. I don't know; perhaps the call is for comparative morality? Or maybe it only counts when it's one of the big religions passing judgements on morality and the small-scale groups beloved of classic anthropologists don't pass muster? This is something I'm looking forward to discussing.

In terms of my work, however, I think there are a few important points.

Do people who practice BDSM have morals?
As anyone who has read my blog or my work for more than a paragraph would know, I would argue emphatically that yes, people in the BDSM community I worked with have morals. One of the stigmatizing aspects of sm, however, is that practitioners are accused of being amoral at best, immoral at worst. Even among a group of people invested in pushing limits, breaking taboos, or generally thumbing their noses at society, there are strictures that they follow. Ask anyone of them if they are a moral person, and very few who have been in the scene for more than a couple of years have doubts. People tend to think of themselves as good people. In my experience, people in that community were generally kind and generous and very concerned with not damaging people. I think that accusations of amorality or immorality may stem in part from the attitude encapsulated in the standard credo, "your kink is okay by me." From the outside, this seems to indicate that anything goes. When a vanilla person considers spanking depraved, it is not difficult for them to imagine a descent into pedophilia, bestiality, or necrophilia. One of my favorite responses to this is the 3 C rule - no children, no critters, and no corpses.

Is a particular act immoral or does context matter?
I have thought about this in depth, as there were many situations that made me uncomfortable during my time in the field. The most obvious example sexual violence against women (I have chosen women because women are often the victims of this type of violence and it touches a collective nerve in the United States in a way that sexual violence against men does not). Outside of a BDSM context, this would be defined as rape. And everyone knows rape is bad, right? I am not arguing that rape is acceptable. I am, however, trying to complicate the accepted ideology. I think it is an artifact of living in a state-level society that certain acts are considered immoral, like sexual violence against women and murder. In order to live under the rule of law, we must make acts and not intentions criminal or immoral.

Setting aside the question of rape-like behavior for a minute, I would like to consider murder. In the Judeo-Christian purview, as one of the ten commandments, murder is always wrong. However, the Bible is riddled with instances of people being murdered. Despite the best attempts by conservatives in the United States, we live in a secular society, although many of our laws stem from Judeo-Christian ideology. In many cases, the law stands in for morality. We find a similar stricture against murder codified in our legal system. Nonetheless, we find instances when murder (as the willful taking of another human's life) is not only acceptable but even endorsed by the state in cases of the death penalty and war. So even though some moralists may argue that there are some acts so atrocious as to always be immoral, in practice people justify actions usually considered heinous in order to picture themselves as moral actors.

The problem with equating the death penalty or the actions of war to BDSM, however, is that these acts are inherently non-consensual, yet we have an example of murder which is consensual. Euthanasia, although hotly debated, is, in some circles, considered a moral act. I cannot speak for others, but having witnessed my mother's final week on her deathbed, wracked with pain and confusion, I know that I hope that someone will help me to exit peacefully if it looks like I am going the same way. According to the Catholic church, this would be a mortal sin. As our technology allows us to extend life further and further without necessarily maintaining the quality of that life, when does withholding care become tantamount to euthanasia?

True pacifists, perhaps the Quakers, could take the moral high ground and say murder is always, in all situations, wrong. However, most of us are not Quakers and still consider ourselves moral beings.

Returning to sexual violence against women, I ask again, can this ever be moral? To be clear, I am speaking about violent acts, such as beating, whipping, branding, cutting, binding, burning, with the goal of sexual satisfaction on the part of the perpetrator, either from the act itself or from sex, however you define that. For people in the BDSM community in Texas, the answer hinges on the consent of the participants.

What morals do people in the Texas BDSM hold?
There are many rules in the kinky community, but only two restrictions rise to the level of moral invective, in my experience in Texas: no children and consent is paramount.

No one in the United States is more reviled than a child molester, although the media would have us believe they lurk everywhere, could be anyone. The kinky community has embraced this condemnation of adults becoming sexually involved with children. The definition of "child" is a bit slippery, but much like obscenity, in the kinky community people say they know it when they see it. In general, a child is anyone under the age of eighteen, despite the fact that the age of consent in Texas is 17. In another post, I will get around to exploring how the definition of "child" shifts and the implications for young people's sexuality.

Consent structures much of the interactions in the kinky community. People think deeply about what it means to consent. It is the topic of endless conversations. Established members have extensive lists of what they will and will not consent to, especially when interacting with new partners. Safe words ensure that consent is an ongoing process. Playing in public is one way some people ensure that safe words are enforced. Of course, all of these precautions do not mean consent is never violated. But when it is ignored, it is a violation, a violence against a person in the most negative way. We can talk about consent - who can give it, when it may be coerced, what conditions must be met - but again, people feel that it would be immoral to disregard it once it is in place.

This brings me back to sexual violence against women, particularly in the form of play called "consensual non-consent." This type of play does not necessarily demand a male top and a female bottom, but this configuration is most likely to set off alarm bells about rape and the knee-jerk reaction many people in the United States have to this scenario. "Consensual non-consent" means different things in different areas of the country (my thanks to Staci Newmahr for pointing this out) or even to different people, but in my experience it involved the bottom resisting the sexual advances of the top and eventually being forced to capitulate. All of this is agreed to prior to the action. Outwardly, this can manifest in the bottom screaming, begging, saying no, physically trying to escape, and threats or actual violence on the part of the top. I'm not going to lie; the first time I saw this I freaked out and had to leave. If this wasn't rape, it was too close for me. In the kinky community, this is not considered rape or immoral as the agency of all parties is respected. Ideally, the bottom can use her (or his) safe word and stop the action at any time. (This post seems to generate a lot of, "In another post..." caveats, but in another post, I will explore the choice to play without safe words.)

Where do morals stem from?
The answer to this question has generated endless pontification among theologians and philosophers for thousands of years, and I know I can't answer it in a blog post. I bring it up only to point out how the kinky community's understanding of morality compares to that of the mainstream United States. In a mainstream understanding, morality stems from religious and secular authority. The kinky community in Texas cannot be separated from this context. However, through consensus, they have been able to re-imagine morality to encompass acts that are considered immoral in the larger society, including public sex, multiple sexual partners, and myriad acts of consensual violence. It was my impression that people in the community believed that these morals evolved from rational debate among themselves rather than unquestioned edicts handed down by those with special knowledge not available to common folk. In the tradition of Martin Luther, this fits in well with the Protestant ethic that still influences life in the United States, although practitioners of BDSM have arrived at drastically different conclusions.

What are the repercussions for acting immorally?
This is where things kind of fall apart. The kinky community acts as a small-scale society in many ways, including the ways in which it treats offenders. Typically, if it can be proved (or even given highly suggestive evidence) someone has acted immorally, the only repercussion is expulsion from the group. In a true small-scale society, this consequence has more significance than it does for someone living in the urban United States. If the group shuns you, there is always Craigslist or OKCupid to troll. It may be painful to lose relationships, but the threat may not be great enough to keep people in line. In this way, the kinky community relies on appeals to people's better natures not to act immorally. The state has the threat of imprisonment or even death for violations of the law, while religions can promise ever-lasting torment. The kinky community just says, "We don't accept you." New clubs often ask for references from old associations, particularly if a person relocates. This, however, only protects the kinky community and leaves the larger circle of people engaged in kinky activities outside of the community at risk.

I find it interesting that I did not hear of a single instance where the police were called to report a violation of morality, especially in light of the fact that a violation also meant that a crime was committed, either rape or child molestation. For many reasons, the kinky community is hesitant to engage with law enforcement. This reluctance results in crimes or immoral acts going largely unpunished, as perpetrators slip into the anonymity of the city.

These are my thoughts on morality thus far. I look forward to learning about other people's understandings of what it means to be a moral actor and whether that is mutually exclusive with practicing BDSM. I'm excited about the anthropological promise of recognizing the different ways people make sense of morality. I know this post is more about philosophy and less about sex, but I hope everyone, from anthropologists to sapiosexualists, can appreciate it.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

My personal response to the political

I am finally sterile! It seems a weird thing to celebrate, especially as many of my friends my age are starting or expanding families. For me, however, it feels like a victory. I am no longer held hostage to the threat of reproduction.

For all my po-mo-ness and general constructivism, I firmly believe that control over the means of reproduction has been the biggest game changer in the global situation of women. The pill, abortion, sterilization, these technologies make it easier for women to make the lives they want for themselves. Like any technology, they are distributed unevenly and deployed politically.

The costs of reproduction fall disproportionately upon the heads of women, in terms of mortality, mobility, restrictions in life opportunities. I do not denigrate the joys of motherhood, which many of my friends have found. But most of them were able to control, to some extent, their fertility.

I left behind a neighborhood of teenage mothers only by the grace of some higher power and the soul-wrenching fear of pregnancy implanted by my mother. As soon as I was old enough to go to Planned Parenthood, I got on the pill. Even without insurance or even a steady income, I made as sure as possible that I was not going to get pregnant.

My husband has a vasectomy. It puzzled my doctor why I would want to be sterilized on top of that, especially when the in-office procedure didn't work out due to complications and I would have to go the surgery route. But shit happens. It is my body and I don't want to rely on anyone else to make sure I don't end up pregnant. I cannot overstate how much I appreciate him getting a vasectomy so I could come off of hormonal birth control and have time to get everything lined up.

I've been trying to have the procedure for over a year now, but luckily I found out literally days before I was scheduled for the first time that the Affordable Health Care Act would require insurance companies to cover sterilization at 100% starting last January. Then I changed jobs and switched insurances. Fingers crossed, they say they are covering everything fully.

I've thought a lot about the slogan "the personal is political" on and off, for years. Living in Texas for four years, I became very aware of the fact that if I needed an abortion, things were going to be complicated (not that making that decision is a walk in the park in the first place). I tried an IUD for five months and learned exactly what a transvaginal ultrasound is. It is one of the requirements in Texas to have an abortion, along with mandatory waiting periods, a script doctors must read to patients about the development of the fetus, and a forced viewing of said ultrasound.

My mother was able to consider having an abortion for medical reasons in the late eighties and was able to decide to take the risks of carrying the baby to term, not because she was intimidated into it by draconian laws but because it was the right thing for her. I realized I might not have the same options.

Then we moved to Ohio, which *had* to be better than Texas in terms of women's reproductive health. I learned how wrong I was in short order as the governor signed a budget that included de-funding Planned Parenthood, funding "Crisis Pregnancy Centers" (which do not provide abortions, information about abortions, and often offer medically inaccurate information to women who ask about abortions), requiring a trans-abdominal ultrasound, and again the description of all the anatomical features of a fetus, on top of a mandatory waiting period.

Fortunately, there is a kickass organization in my area, Preterm, that is an incredible abortion provider which helps women who may not otherwise be able to afford an abortion, since all public moneys are forbidden from touching any type of abortion services.

But for me, it is not enough of an assurance. I don't trust that there will be safe, effective, reliable abortions or even birth control for the rest of my reproductive career. My answer was to have my tubes removed. I am privileged in so many ways that I was able to make that decision. I also feel lucky that the decision was not emotionally complicated for me. Excepting one month at the end of my undergraduate career, I have never wanted to be a mother. Now I don't have to calculate failure rates of various birth control methods, especially living in a "belts-and-suspenders" household . It is a relief.

My choice is simply that, my choice. I do not look down on people who have made choices other than mine, but I will still be there marching to make sure there *are* choices. Sterility isn't for everyone (and forced sterility is a topic for an entirely different post) but I am glad it was an option (both economically and politically) for me.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Why break?

When people learn about my work with the sm community, there are a few different reactions. First is usually incredulity, that it could be studied, that it deserves to be studied, that I would study it. This is often followed by some version of, "What's the strangest thing you've ever seen?" Then, eventually, we come to the crux - "Do you think it is ok/normal/right?" This usually implies that, somehow, it is not. I experienced the cognitive dissonance so often experienced by anthropologists in the field. I was around it so much, thinking about it, experiencing it, it seemed perfectly normal. To answer the question, yes, I think it is often ok/normal/right, even given my distance from the field.

There is an important concept in anthropology which is called "cultural relativism." It has spawned countless debates which usually start sometime around a person's first anthropology class. For those beginning the process, just know that the question is never full resolved. Simply put, cultural relativism asks the anthropologist to understand a culture on its own terms, setting aside her own biases and cultural training to understand the culture as a native does. This is, of course, well neigh impossible. Chasing objectivity is a subject for another post. I think, however, that the general American public could benefit from the concept. It does not require us to approve of Nazi Germany (the extremist example used against the concept), but rather asks us to imagine that social world and how it makes sense to the actors involved. What to do with that knowledge afterwards is also up for debate, see the hotly contested Human Terrain System or Paul Farmer's brand of activist anthropology (which is much easier to get a room of anthropologists behind). The goal of cultural relativism sets anthropology apart from other social sciences, especially as it demands recognition that different cultural systems are worthy of respect. 

The BDSM community in Texas is still firmly embedded in the larger structures of Cactus, Texas, the United States, the Global North, but taken as a small group of people making meaning together, the subculture is still coherent. Given my anthropological training and previous experiences in the sex industry, I was able, I thought, to be open to it being "ok." I will say that I am proud of the fact that I was able to recognize when I was out of my comfort zone (which was frequently at the beginning). All those classroom debates about relativism came rushing back as I confronted scenes which looked like torture and rape. My process was made easier, however, because the kink community is incredibly reflexive and expects neophytes to react viscerally to their first experiences. And people were carrying on "normal" conversations, snacking, laughing, and hugging while this unfolded. So I had space to pause and think, "There is dissonance here. I am going to sit with this for a little while before I start screaming bloody murder and call the police." I don't know how it is for others in the field. I think of friends who study agricultural practices or social clubs or climate change and wonder if they have had those moments, where everything just seems wrong in the moment. I felt like a real anthropologist when I was able to fit the pieces together and understand the deeper text of what was occurring. It was also a relief.

But it always seems odd to me that people don't usually ask, "Why BDSM?" Take a moment and ask yourself if you think you already know.

It usually comes down to sex. People assume that it is something sexual, even if they don't understand it. And the conversation ends there. Who understands the mysteries of sex and desire? Pop psychology inclines people to pathologize it but even when people are tolerant, it is often of the variety of, "Well, I certainly wouldn't want my penis nailed to a board, but whatever gets you off, eh?" And sometimes, it is about sex. I would be doing a disservice to the community if I downplayed that aspect of it. But why that type of sex?

I have several theories, one of which I will discuss here, especially as it regards the experience of physical pain. It may come as a surprise to some that there are many types of masochists. Some people truly enjoy intense sensation and their minds interpret it as something other than pain in a type of transcendence. Other people are invested in the idea of being hurt. Some people chase the endorphin high - being set alight, as scary as it sounds, releases a chemical cocktail similar to a runner's high without the bad knees and dozens of miles required.

Setting aside the physical rewards of pleasure, sexual or otherwise, and endorphins, pain can sometimes be about endurance. It is a test. More importantly, however, it is designed to have a high failure rate. Sometimes, it is enough to withstand the pain, to take it all and not break. Often, however, the catharsis brought about by intense experience only happens once one's defenses have buckled. Gut-wrenching sobs or maniacal laughter can signal this collapse, although different people experience it differently. One woman described to me,
"I used to get into this state, especially with the roleplaying scenes, the being captured and forced to submit and lots of impact, where eventually it’s like being mentally broken, where I couldn’t stand anymore and I couldn’t refuse anymore and whatever he wanted to do to me was going to happen... the idea that you can’t fight anymore, that nothing you can do matters, that you’ve completely lost and you have to give in, which I like."  

Looking in from the outside, one might wonder why. What is it about being helpless that is so appealing? As a feminist, this was particularly difficult for me to grapple with, as it was generally women being put in this position in the groups I worked with. After a while, however, it began to dawn on me that this was a way to embody survival, to say, "I have endured a trial and come out the other side whole." This is NOT to say that BDSM is a simple reenactment of trauma, as so many people seem to assume. Yes, for some people, past trauma plays a role in the types of play they engage in, but for scenes that are mostly about physical pain, the concept of endurance works well.

Other things we endure, the grind of grad school, the stress of showing up for work every day, raising a child, rarely do these end (although, thankfully, school has to stop sometime). It is only over the span of years do we have the chance to say, "I did this. I withstood it." And should we fail, there is no joy in it. Our society does not take kindly to surrender. Most people make peace with failure, one way or the other, but our culture forces that accommodation to come at a price, often the loss of esteem or self-respect. However, our society sets people up to fail in ways that have nothing to do with their worth as individuals. Barring an incredible amount of support, women cannot be supermoms and CEOs at the same time. People's employment situation is very often precarious. Black and Brown people face structural violence all the time and then are castigated for not being able to achieve the American dream. I could go on, but all the -isms are implicated.

Is it so strange that people might crave the feeling of having withstood a trial, endured, survived, and coming out whole, maybe even stronger, on the other side? Physical pain (when administered in a safe, sane, consensual way) can embody these lessons for us. I broke and yet the world didn't end. 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The March Hair

Every woman I know has a complicated relationship with her hair. From Delilah to Rapunzel, there is something about femininity in the US that is bound up in locks. I am not limiting this relationship strictly to the US, it's just where I have the most experience. In fact, I had one professor who worked in Samoa who posited that the shift in women's hairstyles with the arrival with the missionaries was a symbol of sexual repression. Of course, she was a psychological anthropologist, so most things were about sex for her.

I shaved my head when I quit dancing. Prior to that, I generally kept my hair long, to the middle of my back. Much like makeup, however, I only wore it loose when I was at work. It was part of my stage presence. Working in the sex industry is complicated, neither the tale of the happy hooker or damsel in distress (for an interesting ethnographic examination, take a look at Stripped by Bernadette Barton). So when I was finally ready to leave (although I had left and gone back several times), I shaved my head. There was no turning back.

I was also just learning about gender through anthropology and I was pretty angry that I had bought into conventional standards of feminine beauty. Shaving my head was a giant "eff you" to patriarchy. As liberating as it was for me personally, it did not have the shocking effect I had hoped, since I was living in New Orleans and one had to be really odd to be truly outré.

Then I moved to Washington State for grad school. I routinely got the comment "she intimidates me" on my student evaluations. Ok, I had a shaved head and a nose ring, but if you knew me, I am hardly intimidating. Students in a small-town, conservative, state school were unsettled by what, for me, had become normal.

I let my hair grow in some before I did my MA fieldwork in Belize, not knowing how it would be taken abroad. It was a lucky choice for me, as I spent a good deal of time "gaining rapport" with the women I worked with by getting my hair done. Rollie-pollies, corn rows, extensions, and more braids than I could catalogue. I looked ridiculous most of the time owing to the fact that my pale scalp burned every time I got a new style. If it wasn't fire red, it was peeling. It was an education for me. Women bonded over hair. It was the intersection of the natural and the cultural, between self and other. And it was something that women did together. It did not translate for me back to the United States. I returned to the solitary ritual of dying my hair at home and occasionally making a salon date with a friend.

Once I moved to Texas, I had settled into a more traditional hair style, although the color scheme varied. Then my mother died. I shaved my head as an act of mourning. It was a relief to have an external symbol of my grief. People would ask and I could explain - otherwise, there's no easy way to start off a conversation with, "Well, my mom just died and it has me all messed up..." A shaved head and, bam, it's out there. Luckily, I worked for a city department where I didn't have to deal with the public and my co-workers were generous granola folks. It was definitely more of a show stopper than in New Orleans but not in a bad way. I was a little put off by how often people wanted to rub my head.

By the time I moved up here, my hair was decently long. Given the ravages of winter and no referrals for a good hairdresser, I just let it grow. By spring time, it reached my shoulders. I felt like it was weighing me down. I went to a conference on community organizing and a queer woman there told me I "read as normal" so it was important that I come out. I don't know that I've ever felt normal, so when I picture myself as a middle-aged woman with frizzy red hair, it just didn't sit well.

At a fundraiser for an abortion provider, I won a haircut for a swanky salon. I decided if I was going to get a haircut that was valued at $70, I wanted to do something extreme. Note to self, Cleveland is not the place to experiment with hipster haircuts. At least not the salon I went to. I ended up with a faux-hawk/undercut that was patchy and uneven. My partner, ever GGG, helped me shave the sides to even things out. What surprised me was the reactions I got and how different they were. Most white people looked a bit shocked, although younger people seemed pretty unfazed. The reaction from black people was entirely different. Women and men would smile at me and kind of nod. I started thinking deeply about the ways that black women style their hair. My half-and-half 'do had more in common with many of the black hairstyles than the white ones in the area.

Although I sing the praises of liminality, I couldn't handle the inbetween state of my hair, both practically and psychologically. I also realized if I shaved my head, it would not raise as many eyebrows in the black community where I primarily work as it might if I worked with elderly white people. So I did it - not as sign of inner turmoil but as way to start over. The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. Additionally, many of my new friends identify as queer in some way or another, and a woman with a shaved head is not a novelty. They have helped me celebrate my shorn state. All the times I've shaved my head, I have had many women confess that they wish they were brave enough to do it. Bravery has seldom entered into the equation for me. It is nice, however, to walk down the street and see people smile.

I'll be back on the job market, eventually. I'll probably only keep it shaved this summer before I begin the awkward process of growing it back in so I can look professional. But for now, I am enjoying this corporeal social experiment.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Performance Anxiety

My current work has me thinking about theatre (and, oh yes, it's theatre, not that pedestrian "theater" as the plebs refer to it) in a very practical way. We will be staging a dramatization of some of the collected ethnographies and I'm in charge of the logistics. This is a little weird for me, for although I was in summer musicals at the camp for nerds I loved (Brigadoon; need I say more?), my most consistent thespian role was Janet at the local Rocky Horror Picture Show floorshow (Friday nights only) during most of high school. Despite, or perhaps because of, my nontraditional involvement in performance, I lack the technical know-how. My friends, the theatre geeks, would despair. Luckily I'm in the position to be receiving really solid advice about budget estimates, commissionning playwrights, set design, etc. It's exciting and a new way for me to think about presenting ethnographic data, in part because it is such an activist thing to do.

Over the course of my dissertation work, it was difficult not to make a connection between a BDSM "scene" and theater. Goffman's theory of the performance of identity was an easy, if obvious, link between social science and BDSM. Some scenes would be orchestrated down to the finest detail while others were improvs and sometimes even stand-up routines. There is a qualitative difference between scenes performed in private and those which are done in public. Although I talked to people often about what their private scenes were like, I really only have firsthand knowledge of my own. For me, it was the difference between experience and performance.

Although the socials, the pool nights, the study groups, the demos, all served to tie the community together, the foundations of the Texas subculture were the parties. A truly good scene at a party often attracted an audience. On the part of the players (another term borrowed and repurposed from theatre), the goal was often to transcend the audience. Top space and subspace became the connection between the individuals playing. The energy of the audience, in the form of attention and even arousal, was added to the dynamics of a scene. However, there were very clear demarcations between player and observer. It was verboten to enter another's scene uninvited, an offense worthy of expulsion.

As part of my research, to go the whole-hog participant-observation (the favored method among cultural anthropologists), I felt it was important to experience playing in public at least once. It was a much bigger deal than I expected. I felt... exposed... gazed upon... even a bit objectified, in ways I didn't expect. It became more than an experience; it became performance.

I have a bit of a split personality when it comes to being the center of attention. Most social situations, I avoid it like the plague (although if you get me started on my research, I won't shut up, as evidenced by this blog). But when I was dancing, there was something powerful about being worshipped, for lack of a better word. Now when I dance (for fun, not profit), I don't mind being a spectacle.

But to get back to BDSM, I think it is a postmodern theatre based on individualism. People sample the scenes they watch, rarely staying for a full performance. The line between actor and audience is rigid during a scene, but in five minutes, the watchers could become the watched. In some cases, this becomes a bit competitive, sort of, "My scene was more hardcore than yours" one-ups-man-ship that I found a little off-putting (for what it's worth, this pissing contest usually happened between male dominants; submissives had their own version - my marks are more prominent than yours, I withstood more pain). Other times, people would be inspired by the scenes of others and the energy became synergistic.

The props may be extensive, but the staging was usually very minimal. I am interested to learn more about the community in my new city, as the little I've seen, based on the gay male leather conference I went to, suggests a more sustained interest in costuming and setting. My first Texas party reminded me strongly of the performance art parties I attended in New Orleans, probably before I was old enough to appreciate them. Performance, if not specifically theatre, has been part of the air I breathe for most of my life, in large part due to the environments I moved in.

In my (admittedly limited) experience, the most powerful theatrical experiences involved the actors inviting the audience to be vulnerable with them. Moments of erotic crisis are certainly a window into another's life we do not often witness outside of our own realm of lovers (however extensive or limited that might be).

As my work-theatre project progresses, I am interested in the types of restriction that will inform this performance. Although the subject matter and audience and methodology is radically different, a shared goal between the worlds is transformation. In BDSM the transformation is focused on the players while in activist theatre (at least this one) is the transformation of the audience. I am inclined to think the former is more democratic but perhaps the effectiveness is diffused. I hope, much like a poet writing a sonnet, the limitations of a conventional theatre production will cause us to stretch creatively within structure.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

How the other half lives

As you, faithful reader, may remember, when I worked in the sm scene in Texas, I worked predominantly with the het/pan group and a women's group. There was a relatively small but distinct set of gay men who did not necessarily mix with the other groups on a regular basis. As much as I wanted to know more about them, my gender was an issue (not an insurmountable one, as there were many female "bois" who took part in many, but not all, of their activities). However, my time in the field was limited and I felt others had captured the ethnographic experiences of at least some, if not these, leathermen (see particularly Peter Hennen's Fairies, Bears, and Leathermen).

There were two main reasons gay men did not play at the pansexual parties that I identified. First, the gay male tradition is based solidly in leather, whereas the pan groups were predominantly kinky in orientation, with smaller offshoots that practiced the leather lifestyle. The differences between kinky heterosexuals and leatherfolk can be summed up in how each perceives the activities they engage in. One leather individual told me, "Men work - boys play" (the subtext being that real men are leather, boys, and those less serious, are somehow engaged in something more frivolous). Leather is more grounded in tradition and protocol while kink is more idiosyncratic. This is not to say that leatherfolk were always serious but they often carried themselves with a sense of propriety. This attitude did not always mix well with the laissez-faire approach to kink often found at pan parties.

Secondly, penetrative sex was not allowed at some (but not all) of the pan groups. In other posts, I have discussed the implications of this for how women's orgasms define (or rather do not define) sex in these settings. This injunction also served to deter gay men from playing in pan spaces as penetration was seen as an integral part of most play. Based on my reading and casual conversations with leathermen, it is not as easy to tease apart play(work) and sex as it was in the het community (as arbitrary as that distinction might have been).

For all of these reasons, I had very little experience in this subset of the community (some would even argue its own community outside of the larger kinky umbrella). So when a new acquaintance asked if I'd be willing to volunteer for the area's annual major gay male leather conference, I jumped at the chance. She was going to be out of town but I could volunteer on behalf of the local LGBT group.

Logistically, it was a tad frustrating. I started my volunteer shift after the registration table had closed and therefore could not get a badge. I spent a good portion of the night reassuring well-meaning men that, no, I was in fact supposed to be there, despite my obvious cleavage and girly dress. There were other female volunteers who didn't get asked, so I really do think it was my badge-less state.

Last year, the silent auction was situated around the play space in the ballroom. The woman who put me in touch with the organizers went on at length about the things she had seen during her shift there. A lot of it sounded pretty similar to my experiences, although horses and kittens were replaced with puppies. To my disappointment, the silent auction this year was set up in a hallway with no view of any action. Without a badge, I couldn't even go check out the setup.

However, I had a little glimpse into the gay male leather world. Or perhaps I should say, the 99.9% gay male leather world. Not counting the female volunteers, I saw a handful of women participating, including an incredibly hot Ms. International Leather and a member of a transmasculine leather group. I was feeling pretty tricked out, with my newly (half) shaven head and my trusty black boots. Despite my femme-ness and my cis-ness, the men were welcoming in ways I didn't have the chance to experience in Texas. I am not sure how much that has to do with the differences in local culture, my role as a volunteer, or my physical location on the outskirts of the convention.

One of the striking things I noticed was the lack of cowboys. I guess it's hard to pull that trope off anywhere but the West (or Texas), but it is one of my favorite hyper-masculine typologies. The other thing I noticed was that these men are *fit*. It's hard for me to say on average whether the people in Ohio are smaller than Texans because it varies a lot depending on ethnicity in both locales, but in general the white people here weigh less than their counterparts in Texas. This is not to say that the leathermen I knew in Texas were all bears, as there were some very lean and muscular men there as well. But here (in the Midwest of all places), most of the men looked fighting-trim. It puts me in mind of the fact that beauty is (usually) performed for the male gaze and therefore those performing beauty fall under the same hegemonic ideals, whether male or female.

Mostly, however, being there made me miss my leather and kinky friends. I saw some insane latex/steam punk crossovers and more leather bow ties than I could shake a stick at. The smells, the costumes, the arcane equipment, the easy laughter, and the erotic charge. I am not sure those translate well through text. And although I had never met any of those people before that night, I felt, just a bit, "these are my people."

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

To sleep, perchance to dream: insomnia and an uneasy relationship to big pharma

I am a terrible sleeper. Without soporifics, it takes me hours to fall asleep. I wake up constantly. I have vivid nightmares. Insomnia is its own special hell. The day after not sleeping for 24 hours, everything is kind of punchy and frenetic. By day three, I bust into tears for no reason. Luckily, this hasn't happened in years.

In Washington, I had been on different types of sleeping aids for years, but I always felt hung over in the morning, never fully awake. In one case, I was sleeping 14 hours a day. The doctor recommended just lowering the dosage of that particular drug. I passed. Not sleeping at all was a better option than playing a drugged Briar Rose.

Before my friends who swear by holism get their panties in a twitch, I had also tried sleep hygiene, melatonin, valerian, warm showers, cold showers, hot toddies, acupuncture, exercise, meditation, and anything other suggestion, whether it seemed remotely feasible or not. It felt like failure on my part that none of these methods worked. I just wanted to sleep.

Then my doctor in Texas introduced me to Ambien. It was, hands down, the best drug I have ever tried. I woke up the next morning and it was as if the world had been drenched in technicolor. I had slept the entire night. I kept thinking to myself, "If this is how other people sleep all the time, no wonder they are always happy." In my earliest memories, I grew up in a house of snorers and I would while away the early morning hours listening to the chorus of snoozers (including, a one point, a basset hound). I had no idea what sleep could be.

And everything seemed to be going well. I was more productive and more pleasant to be around. My dissertation research had just begun and anything seemed possible. I had the side effects that people are warned about - eating in my sleep with no memory of it was the least of my concerns. I had amnesia from the time I took it in the evening until I woke up the next morning. The problem was that I wouldn't immediately go to sleep after taking it. Luckily, my partner, with the patience of a saint, kept an eye on me and didn't let me get too crazy. The high (or low, depending on your perspective) point came when I swam in the pool fully dressed. It's not as crazy as it sounds, as Texas summer nights are still warm and my partner was babysitting me. After that, however, we decided I should not be allowed to leave the house.

I had trouble scheduling overnight trips without a chaperon. There were at least two women-only leather events I missed out on because they involved camping out. I just couldn't be trusted to make decisions on my own after I had taken Ambien. The amnesia and strange behavior really freaked me out at the beginning. I brought it up with my doctor and he said it was normal. I wondered if this was what it was like to go senile. My partner would have conversations with me, or we would watch TV, and I'd not be able to remember anything. After I had been taking it every night for a year, I learned to embrace the zen-like state between medication and sleep. I know I enjoyed the things I was doing in the moment, even if I couldn't remember the specifics the next day.

After two years, I noticed I was starting to have trouble remembering things during my waking hours. People would ask about my childhood and I just couldn't remember things about the school I went to or who my favorite teacher was. I did not connect this with my Ambien, as it had always affected my short term memory, not my long term one. This was particularly problematic, since I was in the final stages of writing my dissertation. I had to constantly refer back to notes to get even a page written. I couldn't remember the names of authors I had cited a thousand times. The point was driven home to me on one of my job interviews when someone asked me what, in my past, had made me want to tell stories. I had no answer. I made something up. I started talking to my doctor, wondering if I was having early onset Alzheimer's. My mother's memory was poor but she was never diagnosed with anything before her death from cancer at 54. Unfortunately, my tendency toward sanguinity underplayed my concerns, making it seem like this was a tad disconcerting but not the descent into madness I was fearing.

Fast forward to Cleveland. Part of what I hate about moving to a new city is getting a new doctor. I went for the introductory visit and in the course of the exam, explained that I was having cognitive difficulties. She said I was just getting older (I am 35!) and should expect not to remember things the way I used to. At a different point in our interaction, she flipped out that I was on Ambien, especially because I took it every night. She explained that there had been "fatal consequences for sleep partners" and that she could not let me continue to take it at the dose I was on. I freaked out. Sleep is so important to me. The idea that she was going to mess with that pissed me off and made me defensive. But she wouldn't give me a perscription. She halved my dose.

I tried it for a week, but I wasn't sleeping, again. She gave me a perscription for anxiety medication to take a bedtime instead. Angry and bitter about not sleeping, I tried it. It took me hours to fall asleep. I woke up constantly. I took a higher dosage to compensate for that and was groggy in the morning. However, I stopped being stupid. I could remember a phone number for more than 3 seconds. I could recall watching movies with my sister growing up. If my doctor had only suggested to me that it was the Ambien that was causing my memory problems, I would have been more enthusiastic about giving it up. She was worried I'd kill my partner, but not that I couldn't remember which preposition to use when writing.

I miss good sleep. I'm not willing to trade my memories for it though. It just frustrates me that it took switching to a new doctor before someone better informed than me thought to take me off of it, even if it was not for the reasons I could articulate. It is terrifying to be told, at my age (or any age, I suppose), that my memory loss was just part of growing older, especially as it was happening so rapidly.

Like any addict, I enjoyed the benefits of and yet felt held hostage by my drug. I feel betrayed that my previous doctor had me on a high dose for years, rather than the weeks recommended by the FDA. I hate my dependence on big pharma for the ability to make it through the night.

'Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die to sleep,
To sleep, perchance to Dream; Aye, there's the rub,
For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come,

Saturday, April 13, 2013

BDSM exceptionalism

If you haven't been able to tell from reading my blog, I love the kinky people I work with. I think kink can be liberating, life-affirming, hot, transcendent, and a hell of a lot of fun. The people I know are generally good people. Of course there are some people I don't get along with, but it happens in every group. In my time in the community, however, I didn't meet any psychopaths or fundamentally disturbed people. When talking about BDSM to straight folks, the overwhelming urge is to talk about how similar most aspects of most social interactions are to mainstream America. This can do a disservice to the queer potential of kink.

Before I open this can of worms, let me state unequivically that I support the right of people to marry whomever they please and to have that union recognized by the state. I benefit from that privilege and it would be hyprocritical to take any other stance. However, queerness offers a unique perspective from which to critique the institution of marriage as the perpetuation of heteronormativity and, in most cases, patriarchy. I am not suggesting that every marriage supports these qualities, but on the whole, the Human Rights Campaign has focused all its energy in proving that gay folks are just like everyone else in every way except who their romantic partner is and deserve to be married. For this reason, they are willing to throw "bigamists and drug addicts" under the bus in their effort to prove that they pass some moral muster. (I'd link to the fundraising email I had from them disavowing their association with those types but I cannot lay my hands on it at this second). In my experience in the queer community, in Texas, where there were no civil unions, much less marriages, people were creatively negotiating relationships. It sucked that they are denied human rights and penalized through taxes and other ridiculousness. But, their status as outsiders allowed them to evaluate whether they wanted all the baggage that comes along with the "institution of marriage," including unequal gender roles and expectations of monogamy. They formed families, raised children, supported households, and made meaningful lives in ways that sometimes reflected heteronormative partnerships and sometimes could be the furthest thing from it. In my ideal world, the state would recognize all of these partnerships, whether they are two people, forever and ever, or a collection of polyamorists that transition in and out of each others' lives.

In some circles, the kinky community is eager to prove it is mostly like the mainstream for a number of reasons, including reducing stigma and lowering the risks that come along with being a stigmatized group, including social ostracism, loss of child custody, or arrest if a person is outed. There seems to be the belief that if the community reaches a critical mass, mainstream society will have to accept them. The cynic in me would like to point out that racism would serve as an example that this strategy doesn't work. In my experience, it is predominantly het groups that aim for popularization (while maintaining that sexy, exotic, edginess). The queer group I worked with was more willing to take lessons learned from radical erotic experiences as a platform to question hegemony.

I waffle on the question when my work comes up in the course of normal conversation. If I perceive a person to be conservative, I try the "just like normal folks" route in order to avoid confirming their worst suspicions and shutting down productive conversation about the power of sexuality and community and ritual. In more "liberal" settings, I find myself making the case for kink as anything but normative. This is complicated, since there is no one singular kinky community. Like any people grouped together by certain traits, these are all individuals with their own histories and social positions to take into account. Despite the relatively small size of the population in Texas, there were several different groups with diverging perspectives on the role of kink. People filtered between groups freely, but generally strongly identified with a single group as their home base. So in some cases, it was true that traditional gender roles were not only accepted but reified, racism was left unquestioned, and just about everyone voted Republican. It is easy to make the case that they are the mainstream, except for the beating and public sex. At the same time, there existed spaces where gender was unmoored from the physical body and power was constructed and deconstructed in ways that challenged hegemonic ideals.

If my bias isn't apparent already, I preferred the latter. I enjoy the disruptive potential of radical sex. So if you find me telling you that BDSM clubs really are just like church (and I believe this is true), you should check with me about how I feel about church. For some groups, I mean Presbyterians. For others, I mean Voudonists.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

How can you sell yourself?

When I was a dancer, I had several women (mostly professors) ask me, "How can you sell yourself like that?" I knew what "like that" meant - why would I want to get paid to be naked and sexual for strangers? The snarky answer is that it was better than doing it for free. But what tripped me up was the "yourself" part of the equation. I didn't feel like I was slicing off bits of organs for purchase. Many critics of prostitutes and porn stars and other sex workers focus on how sexuality is identified as "the self." I'd venture to say that many of the people who pose that question to sex workers (and I'm inclined to say female sex workers, although if there are any male sex workers who have had a similar experience, I'd love to hear about it) would not ask that same question of a physical therapist or a psychiatrist. Seeing a physical therapist is a sensual experience that involves touching in intimate ways, although general not pleasurable. Massage therapy may come closer to sex work, but people are very big on the "professionalization" trend toward licensing so that everyone knows they are not *that* kind of masseuse (no happy endings here). Then psychiatry - a good portion of my time was spent making people feel comfortable and valued. I was, as one of my friends refers to her therapist, a "pay friend." But "selling yourself" means having sex for money. Other forms of intimacy for cash don't count. I'd like to think of myself as a complete human who, at one point, sold varying levels of sexual access to my person. Leave that whole "She gave herself to him completely" romance innuendo bullshit at the door, please. I was always more than my pasties and t-back.

But I have been thinking about how one sells one's self.

Being a Marxist, I tend to rely on the notion that what employers should pay you for is your labor. However, working for the municipal government in Texas, I learned that what my employers were paying me for was my time. I was expected to be productive while I was at work, but even if there wasn't anything for me to do, I had to breathe their air until it was time for me to go home. In some ways, they were purchasing my availability, which is very different than paying me for my labor. Macro-economic perspective on the shift to a service economy inserted here.

Now I am back in the university system, whoring myself out in my favorite way - professional anthropology! I don't have any set hours - the job just has to get done. Sometimes this means I work ten hour days for a week at school and sometimes I work five or six hours a day from home. I get paid to do intellectual work (macro-economic perspective on information economy here) and I bet none of those snitty women would dare ask me how I felt about selling myself now, even though I tend to over-identify with my smarts rather than with my sex.

On the other hand, a dear friend has recently begun working at a corporate retailer after an extended, involuntary absence from the labor market. It was the only job available and like a trooper, they took it. As they were explaining to me the expectations of the job, I began to think about what corporate employers are buying from you. This person was required to submit to a drug screening (even though the most dangerous thing they will be doing involves moving boxes by hand). I found myself feeling self-righteous on their behalf. They don't even use drugs, but how could a corporation bully its way into your personal life, the life you lead outside of the labor (or even time) they are paying you for? But in order to get a job, they had to pee in a cup to prove that their personal habits weren't a liability to this national company. Proving morality with piss -  there's a Andres Serrano joke in there somewhere. I know others have made the argument that this type of surveillance is a form of discipline (good god, I love Foucault) but it creeps me out even more that it is a corporation disciplining its employees, like Big Brother in the form of the State wasn't horrifying enough. At least the State sometimes pretends that the welfare of its citizens matter more than profits.

The small humiliations that go along with my friend's new job may sound familiar to anyone who has worked in retail - wearing an apron (and who are we kidding, unless one is a blacksmith or a shoe cobbler, an apron is not unisex, making it more humiliating for men and reinforcing the role of service for women), having no control over their schedule, no health benefits for 3 months (and exceedingly poor benefits at that), no vacation or sick leave until January 1 of next year, being treated as a potential thief or a witless idiot as a matter of course, and (for some reason, this one really gets me) only having a half hour for lunch, non-negotiable. They get to enjoy all these perks while making a little more than minimum wage. The company has bought their time and labor during work hours and even the right to police this person's behaviors outside of work for less than it takes to maintain one person at 133% of the federal poverty level.

When I sold sexuality, sometimes it was because I felt like I had to. I needed rent or tuition. But I never felt like I was selling myself. Looking at what we expect from workers in a service economy, I think that metaphor might be better applied to how corporations such as this one treat their employees. How can they get away with demanding employees sell themselves (their time, their social behaviors outside of work) like that? And for that little money? I was always a stripper, even when I wasn't at the bar, but my autonomy was my own and I felt fairly compensated. I don't think my friend feels the same.

Monday, March 25, 2013

My Marxist feminist dialectic brings all the boys to the yard

I am the proud owner of a t-shirt emblazoned with "My Marxist feminist dialectic brings all the boys to the yard" but I usually only bust it out for good feminist giggles, not that I object to the sentiment. I've only recently begun a job where it is once more appropriate office-wear.

When I first realized I was a feminist, I was angry about everything, all the time. I didn't feel like I fit into the feminist movement by virtue of my work but at the same time, I was realizing that I had been sold a load of bullshit and taught that that was what being a woman was about. Learning about Marxism only fueled the flames. It took a couple of years for me to be able to watch TV in the company of anyone, as my tirades often prevented friends and family from enjoying their shows. I have since calmed down (somewhat) and am able to separate my raging feminist tendencies from impeding on my enjoyment of life's small pleasures.


I am reviewing a book for a journal for which I've reviewed previously. When the editor sent out the solicitation, I thought I might try something new, something outside of anthropology. The program I work on now has a large social justice component, so I thought, "Hey, I should check out that book on social justice policy." I'll spare you the review (which I don't think I could publish for ethical reasons since it will be in the journal, nor do I have it written yet) but I was trying to be responsible and get through the rest of the rather dry stuff before my deadline. I had been discomfited on behalf of black people and immigrants and non-native English speakers (who the author treats oddly) and disturbed by his almost full endorsement of capitalism.

But then.

The civil rights movement combined with the women's movement in efforts to eliminate discrimination against women, and to give them more opportunities for employment and social participation. All societies have made distinctions in sex roles that have become a major part of their cultural tradition [no citation]. Mostly women have been restricted to the domestic role of raising children and household chores [no citation], while men have been given the main role of working outside the home to provide the family with needed resources [no citation]. They have also been assigned the more physically demanding tasks, including protecting women and children in the event of war and from crime and other hostile forces [no citation]. The result is that, in most societies, males have been treated as dominant and women as subservient. Rapidly changing technology has brought about major changes in sex roles. Birth control and other factors have led to a declining birth rate, and an increased number of women participate [sic] in the workforce (Cohn & Livingston, 2010; Sullivan, 2009) [popular articles linking the declining birth rate to the recession, one of which is a friggin' Time article].
And he goes on to say:
The use of machinery that requires less physical strength made the employment of more women possible. An example was the development of the automatic starter, which enable women to drive without using the physically demanding crank. Most significant was giving women the right to vote and full citizenship, which has increased their political power. That factor, combined with the changing roles of women, has led to successful efforts to include women in most jobs. Also more women have been selected and elected for leadership positions in business and government [no citation].
What a bunch of ethnocentric crap. The role of women in different societies is complicated and nuanced and gender is often a site of oppression and social control. However, making it sound like it happens everywhere naturalizes it and there are dramatic instances where women are not considered subservient, many in indigenous cultures and foraging populations, although contact with colonizing forces often changes that. The public/private sphere divide is an artifact of patriarchy (perhaps the point he was trying to make) but fails to take into account all of the women who have been forced to work outside of the home due to class, race, or nationality. Where do they fit into this scheme where women didn't have any agency and now all of a sudden they do?

I am often confronted with the rhetoric that women need to be protected from crime in a special way that men do not. I don't think anyone should suffer violence. Being shot at or sexually assaulted is always bad, no matter your gender. This rhetorical device, however, often limits the freedom of movement of women. Rather than making sure people don't rape women in the first place, women are required to have escorts.

I am a firm believer that reliable, effective, safe birth control has done much to relieve the oppression of women. His academic sleight of hand, however, doesn't make me think he thinks so. By citing articles linking declining birth rates to the recession, he is either arguing that more women in the workforce are part of the reason for the recession, or that women base their reproductive choices on economics. The later would make sense, but I don't see how that argument has anything to do with what he actually wrote. You upcoming scholars beware: just throwing in some mildly appropriate citations at the end doesn't cut it. And try to pretend that you didn't get your information from popular media if you are making academic arguments.

Thank god for the automatic starter! I am sure all those women working in military factories during World War II just would not have been able to handle a crank. Just like I'm sure the legions of male office workers today would be able to start up one of those relics in a jiffy. I feel privileged to live in a world where men are sensitive to the special needs women have for technology to compensate for their inferior abilities (see Bic for Her and read the comments, if you haven't already). And thank god someone had the balls to *give* us full citizenship and the right to vote, as if it wasn't earned at the expense of our foremothers' labor.

I'm glad women are included in "most" jobs now, even though the preponderance of women earn less than their male colleagues. Of all the universities I applied to, only one had women earning 99% of what men earned. For my over-educated, privileged status, I can still expect to earn 77% of what my male colleagues earn.

Now we have more women executives and advice to Lean In, as if the only thing keeping us from taking over the world was our inability to balance our work/life responsibilities or act more like men. I'm sure it has absolutely nothing to do with the capitalist patriarchy's need for a disposable, adaptable labor force. Exceptionalism isn't equality. It also assumes that women are in jobs where they get to make career decisions, instead of just getting by.

This is the Leftist propaganda that we're supposed to buy into to work toward social justice through policy change. The revolution is over - the women have been recognized - we can all put our panties on straight and go home. Just a few more tweaks and we'll be done.

I don't accept it. I'm ready for a real revolution.

And in case you are interested, the book is Putting Human Universal Rights to Work: Policy Actions in the Struggle for Social Justice by Archibald Stuart, PhD [sic]