26.05.14

(TW: misogyny, violence, violence against women, death

The main story on the internet at the moment is a pretty difficult one for a lot of people. Yesterday in California, Elliot Rodger shot and killed 7 people after posting a video to youtube detailing his severe and terrifying hatred of women. This act of violent misogyny has sparked a massive conversation about the violence, whether actual, threatened or potential (all of which have serious consequences for women’s lives) that women face; for some, every single day.

If you’re up to it, the #YesAllWomen hashtag on twitter is worth a read, detailing the experiences women have with violence and misogyny, from supposedly minor to major. It inevitably needs to come with major trigger warnings for violence, sexual assault, physical and psychological abuse and death.

Some other interesting (but again, very hard to read) pieces on the shooting and the issues it raises include this piece on The Belle Jar about the problematic way the media has been reporting on this tragedy, especially speculations about Rodger’s mental health. s.e. smith has also written about the issue, focusing on the systemic violence that women (and indeed most people who do not identify as men) face and the fear we are constantly subjected to. Laurie Penny’s piece looks at the ‘not all men’ reaction that women often get when discussing male violence and misogyny. Beatrix Campbell’s piece is not directly about the shooting, but examines neoliberalism as a distinct form of patriarchy (though, be warned, she doesn’t engage with some issues in a particularly critical way).

Before moving on from this horrible subject, I want to take a moment in all the #YesAllWomen discussions to acknowledge that the ability to take such precautions as making knuckle dusters out of one’s keys, or (in jurisdictions that allow it) carrying small weapons like tasers and pepper spray, is not universally available to women. Quite apart from the fact that these precautions may make little difference, the US at least has a history of denying such measures of self-defence to women of colour and trans women. We have to always keep in mind the intersecting lines of identity that silence or lessen the impact of some voices in global discussions of violence.

If you’ve still got the energy for some more devastating and challenging commentary, read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ incredible long-read at The Atlantic on the case for slavery reparations in the US. If the last 36 hours have left you unable to do that right now, please save it and read it later: it is an incredibly important argument and a stunning piece of journalism. The article is meticulously researched and a lot of that research has been posted along with the final product. This interview with Coates is also worth a watch.

Still on institutionalised prejudice, but on a slightly lighter subject, this piece on colonialism in science fiction is an interesting read. I’m especially interested in discussions of political issues in sci-fi right now ’cause I just hit a very stressful story arc in Battlestar Galactica (by the wizard gods, you haven’t seen Battlestar Galactica? Go and watch it right now. No, go and read it after you’ve read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ essay).

Interest in the story of the nearly 300 kidnapped Chibok girls in Nigeria, has sadly (and almost inevitably) waned of late, so it’s worth reading about the deployment of US troops in Chad to assist the search, some obstacles facing the search, the political ramifications of the crisis in Nigeria and another piece from The Atlantic on the issue (the Atlantic may be my favourite site for current affairs and social commentary at the moment).

Finally, to cheer you up, Alex Casey’s blog at Flicks.co.nz on movie makeovers and why they are the worst is hysterically funny (be warned, do not read immediately before you have to work, or you may, like me, have to explain to people why your mascara is halfway down your face). If you’re a West Wing fan, have a read of this oral history of the show (Allison Janney thought that Gail was the same goldfish for seven years) and go and play with this RIDICULOUS show of nerdery, in which an uber fan has created a giant graphic analysis of the episode ’17 People’.

It’s going to be a hard week, so look after yourselves and each other.

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Serving Whose Country? The Ethics of Naturalisation Through Military Service in the USA.

The use of the military by enlistees as a tool for gaining citizenship and civil rights raises some interesting ethical questions. In the United States, people who serve in the military while living in the US on a Green Card can be eligible for fast-tracked citizenship, originally either after serving one year in peacetime, or immediately when serving in combat. A programme was initiated in 2009 to allow enlisted soldiers to naturalise after completing basic training. In 2012, 7257 service men and women became US citizens.

Guadalupe Denogean’s episode of the ‘I am an American’ video series, on gaining his citizenship through military service.

The United States has a long history of allowing naturalisation through military service and it has been a powerful tool especially by African, Irish and Asian Americans to challenge societal prejudices and gain recognition within society:

Central to military naturalization is a powerful symbolic message: those willing to fight and die for the United States are worthy of its citizenship. For immigrants historically considered “racially distinct,” military naturalization afforded an opportunity to challenge preexisting conceptions of citizenship that equated color with country.

The practice has strong ties to the concept of the citizen-soldier, a figure who fights for their country as a part of their duty as a citizen of that country. Offering legal citizenship to those who fight is seen, in this sense, as a kind of natural justice. There is also evidence to suggest that minority groups who are able to serve in the military, in societies which value military service, gain an important tool in their struggles for greater rights and recognition.

An RT News segment discusses some of the issues with military naturalisation

In contrast to the many positive aspects of military naturalisation, the tradition of allowing US residents who serve to become legal citizens exists alongside a long history of promoting a racialised concept of citizenship, showing that only ‘certain kinds of foreigners’ have historically had guaranteed access to it. It also seems problematic that those in society who may already be seen as less grieveable because of their race, ethnicity or nationality, are prompted to join the military as a way of gaining recognition, allowing more privileged members of society to more easily avoid military service. Migrants, especially undocumented ones, already experience higher levels of ‘precarity’ than documented residents and citizens, so it may be that it is easier to send them to fight (and die) in war.

Sexism and homophobia in the military may also act as limitations on who gets to be eligible for naturalisation through military service, though hopefully the repeal of the ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ policy from Uniform Code and the recent decision to allow women to hold frontline combat positions will help to begin lessening this risk. Citizenship gained through military service can also be revoked for ‘bad behaviour’ under some circumstances, a rule which most certainly does not apply to soldiers who were born in the US.

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President Barack Obama meets newly naturalised service men and women

Various measures aimed at opening up military naturalisation to undocumented migrants have been proposed in the US, raising some prickly ethical questions about coercion. Offering people with few other options the chance to risk death for a country that may otherwise deport them seems problematic, much in the same way that allowing desperate people to sell their organs on the black market is problematic. After all, the benefits of citizenship can only be enjoyed if one lives long enough to enjoy them.

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‘Demented stick-chewing cartoon villains’: Othering and the Coverage of Boko Haram.

The story of the approximately 300 girls who were taken from their school in northern Nigeria has finally begun to gain momentum in the global media, after weeks of a relative silence on the crisis.

Al Jazeera’s Listening Post 03/05/14 – first 10 minutes are about media coverage of Boko Haram

The coverage of the crisis, however, especially of Boko Haram, uses familiar tropes and narratives to frame and characterise the situation and its actors, invoking the image of the Chibok girls as ‘bravely going to school despite the danger they face every day’ much like Pakistani teenager and activist Malala Yousafzai. Boko Haram are described as ‘militant Islamists’ or ‘Islamic extremists’ in almost every story about them and while it is hard to deny that the group are indeed militants and that they invoke Islam to justify their actions, this frame is used to other and derealise not just Boko Haram, but also their victims.

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Context: A map of the attacks by Boko Haram in the last 4 years.

Judith Butler, in Precarious Life, discusses the ‘derealisation’ of certain groups of people – specifically of Guantànamo detainees – by defining them as existing outside of the bounds of humanity and what it is to be human. The Gitmo detainees – along with other manifestations of the ‘militant Islamist’  – are “reduced to animal status,” unable to control themselves; their ‘nature’ is to kill and cause suffering to innocents. Of particular relevance to the Boko Haram coverage is Butler’s description of the impact that the use of a ‘mental illness’ frame in relation to Islamic extremists can have on perceptions of Islam as a whole:

…it is not simply selected acts undertaken by Islamic extremists that are considered outside the bounds of rationality as established by a civilizational discourse of the West, but rather any and all beliefs and practices pertaining to Islam that become, effectively, tokens of mental illness to the extent that they depart from the hegemonic norms of Western rationality. 

The belief that violent Islamic groups (and by extension, Islam itself) are ‘insane,’ ‘barbaric’ and ‘villainous’ is one that is perpetuated in global media coverage and is confirmed by the representation of Muslims and specifically Arab peoples (these groups are often conflated) in popular entertainment.

There is no better recent example of this derealisation in action than that provided by the comedian and host of The Daily Show, Jon Stewart, in his segment on Boko Haram:

Jon Stewart on Boko Haram

In the last 30 seconds of this clip, Stewart describes Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau as a ‘demented cartoon villain’ in a sombrely-delivered statement that manages to include almost every major trope that has been employed in the coverage of this story so far:

Compared to a teenager who knows that her desire for an education could get her dragged into a snake-infested jungle to be sold as a bride by some demented, stick-chewing cartoon villain, but still gets up and goes to class every day fully aware of that danger, compared to their courage, I’d say Boko Haram is a bunch of little girls. But you know what? You don’t deserve that compliment.

While Stewart is a comedian who makes no real claims about being a journalist, satirical news shows like The Daily Show, The Colbert Report and the new Last Week Tonight are a significant source of information for American and global audiences and thus play an important role in shaping the way stories are told. Stewart’s characterisation of Boko Haram as ‘cartoonish’ and their victims as ‘daily struggling against insurmountable odds’ (odds which are hugely overblown in Stewart’s assessment of the situation), confirms the derealisation of both groups, ignores the context and complexities of the situation and the impact of the region’s colonial past.

If the abducted girls’ lives were already unliveable and the people responsible are no more threatening than a cartoon character, then what, in fact, is the story?

05.05.14

In reaction to Lorde’s tweets about a scumbag paparazzo, the wonderful Ally Garret wrote this blog which is worth a read. Also from The Wireless is this interesting piece by Scarlett Cayford about ‘selfish politics’ and political apathy.

In nerdy things, tumblr user quantumspork has envisioned a glorious universe in which Natalie Dormer, Eva Green and Rebecca Hall play the Black sisters from Harry Potter and Kristin Scott Thomas plays their mother. I always see gifsets like this and then cry forever that it doesn’t exist in real life. Also Autostraddle is doing a series of posts on how to build a PC, which is so cool and extremely handy, as I am going to have to replace a motherboard with my own hands at some point soon.

Some absolutely glorious musical videos y’all need to see:

2Cellos covering ‘Thunderstruck’ by AC/DC… on cellos.

Postmodern Jukebox’s New Orleans Blues cover of ‘Sweet Child of Mine’ featuring Miche Braden absolutely KILLING IT.

And Katy Perry’s ‘Dark Horse’ sung in 20 different musical styles. Let me tell you, I lost my shit at The Doors.

Fun fact: that is the first time I ever heard Dark Horse. I am super behind on music now I’ve stopped listening to the radio. I hear 100% less bullshit from ridiculously offensive radio hosts, though so it’s worth it.

Judith Butler, one of my favourite thinkers, has given an extremely interesting interview with Transadvocate about her work on gender performativity and how it relates (and hasn’t in the past) to trans people. She admits in this interview that Gender Trouble did not consider trans issues and that this is a failing, while also calling out some well-known feminist thinkers who espouse transphobic rhetoric, which is a great step forward in the quest to make feminism a trans-inclusive movement. This is my favourite bit:

Sometimes there are ways to minimize the importance of gender in life, or to confuse gender categories so that they no longer have descriptive power. But other times gender can be very important to us, and some people really love the gender that they have claimed for themselves. If gender is eradicated, so too is an important domain of pleasure for many people. And others have a strong sense of self bound up with their genders, so to get rid of gender would be to shatter their self-hood. I think we have to accept a wide variety of positions on gender. Some want to be gender-free, but others want to be free really to be a gender that is crucial to who they are.

Judith Butler has also written about the politics of grievability and which casualties get to be named in global conflict and strife, so on that note, I’ll leave you with this: a list of names of the nearly 300 Nigerian girls who are still missing.

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‘Unaccommodated Man’ – categorising and un-categorising people in warfare.

King Lear, Act 3, Scene 4 (1).

King Lear, Act 3, Scene 4.

When King Lear had his famous epiphany upon a heath in the middle of a storm, he was struck by the perceived lack of humanity in the beggar without shelter or garb, without place or purpose; a man stripped to nothing but the bare requirements of living. While the “poor naked wretches”  of his speech were those who lived outside of feudal society, Lear’s description of poor Tom the beggar as barely human is reminiscent of the kinds of normative frameworks used to describe the plight of civilians in warfare, especially during the recent War on Terror.

The original actors in violent conflict, as defined by law, are the combatant and the civilian; clearly defined, demarcated categories with rights and duties associated with them. Since the War on Terror began (and in fact long before that), the labels given to people involved in armed conflict have multiplied. Prisoners of war are now ‘battlefield detainees’, civilians taking part in hostilities are ‘unlawful combatants‘ or, even more emotively – ‘abusive civilians’ . In his discussion of Just War Theory, Alex Bellamy uses the somewhat enigmatical term ‘enemy non-combatants’  ostensibly to describe the civilians of ‘enemy’ states. This term appears to fly in the face of current understandings of the laws and norms of warfare: by virtue of being civilians, these people are not supposed to be considered enemies – they are hors de combat.

Combatants and Civilians

Combatants and Civilians

If the defining actors in conflicts are combatants and civilians, the people designated these labels are the ‘Other’. These Others have been conceptualised in many different ways by scholars preoccupied with the ethics of war. Judith Butler describes them as ‘ungrieveable’ – their lives are already unliveable, they are unreal and dehumanised and because of this their deaths are not deaths at all. Kinsella emphasises their lack of agency, their inability to act as political beings, stemming from traditional norms of civilians as ‘women and children’, in need of protection and incapable of action. Agamben refers to this state of ‘otherness’ as ‘bare life’, human life that is completely politicised and is therefore apolitical.

For Agamben, the concentration camp is a physical ‘state of exception’ – the realm of the apolitical, those things that exist by virtue of not-being.  A slightly easier concept to wrap one’s head around is Ignatieff’s ‘heath’ – the space of madness and chaos that Lear inhabits when he encounters the beggar. This is a space outside of the very ordered society in which Lear lives – here Lear is not a King and Tom is not a beggar, because these categories no longer exist. This metaphorical state of exception only exists because it is excluded from ordered, ‘civilised’ life; it is a physical and ethical space in which bare life exists. A current real world example of this physical space is Syria – often described as ‘war-torn’. Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo Bay is another.

The denizens of these spaces of exception are ‘enemy non-combatant’, the ‘unlawful combatant’ and the ‘abusive civilian’. Civilised wars are defined by their targeting of combatants and their protection of civilians , so these bare lives necessarily have to be defined out of this structure. Even when these Others do count, they are seen merely as potential lives  – lives that will become liveable after the liberating and civilising military actions of the just warrior.

The #NotABugSplat campaign aims to humanise drone victims.

The #NotABugSplat campaign aims to humanise drone victims.

While the state of exception remains unspoken and unexamined, even those attempts to make bare lives count will fail to effectively subvert these normative frameworks. A recent example of an attempt to bring the realities of drone-attacks in Pakistan to international attention reproduces the conceptualisation of Pakistanis as agency-less victims, their lives unbearable and unliveable. We can see their faces, but they remain beyond description, beyond politics; they are ‘the thing itself’.

What should I call my link posts?

I need a snappy name. The first thing that came to mind was ‘Murder on the Links’ but that’s silly and an Agatha Christie reference, so…

Anyway, here are some things you should read.

First: read this post by my friend Di. Then read it again. And again. PLEASE. This debate has been making me want to repeatedly stick forks into my temples and Di’s post is a beautifully well-written and incredibly moving response to all the BLAH. It helped alleviate the forks thing a bit too. This is also a good post on the subject from Queen of Thorns (Edit: also her follow-up post) and if you want to facepalm in a massive way, read Bryce Edwards’ piece. Be warned: it is terrible. I may write something myself on the ‘man ban’, as twitter’s character limit is restrictive to my rage.

More feministy goodness from Coley Tangerina at the Daily Blog here and here (don’t read the comments. Seriously don’t, especially on the abortion piece, they are top-level masterpieces of trolling nonsense).

For some important media critique, head over to Native Appropriations for a review of the hideously appropriative and gross ‘The Lone Ranger’. Adrienne’s post ‘Why Tonto Matters’ is also worth a read.

My favourite recent posts from The Civilian include ‘Labour proposes ban on Trevor Mallard’ (if only),‘‘If you don’t want to be spied on, hide under a blanket,’ says Key’ and ‘Owen Glenn changes mind, decides to support violence against women’. The thing with The Civilian is that sometimes it really could be the truth.

For random fun stuff head over to Twisted Sifter for the 50 Most Perfectly Timed Photos Ever and a collection of genius life hacks and check out this collection of overly honest scientific methods for some laughs.

Paul Henry is an Asshole

Yes indeed. He’s not a good kiwi bloke who just speaks his mind or a hilarious talk show host looking for ratings. He’s not to be ignored or dismissed. He is an asshole who needs to be sacked.

He’s a racist, homophobic, sexist, people-with-disabilities-ist gibbering idiot. And apparently a monarchist, though what that has to do with making racist comments about the Governor General I don’t know.

I’d like Paul Henry to tell me exactly what a New Zealander looks like? Colin Meads? John Key? Some other middle aged/elderly white bloke?

I’d also like the TVNZ spokeswoman who claimed that Paul Henry speaks for me to know that he doesn’t. I don’t find it appropriate to refer to a woman’s physical appearance in order to ridicule her or to imply that there is only one way of ‘looking like’ a New Zealander (besides the fact that Anand Satyanand is a New Zealander, he doesn’t have to ‘look like’ one).

I wouldn’t secretly think that homosexuality is unnatural or that using the word ‘retard’ to describe someone is OK.

And Paul, I am not ‘overly sensitive’ or ‘easily offended.’ I respect people, and that is one of the many differences between you and me.

Actually, there are some people I actively disrespect. Paul Henry, for instance.

Some things I saw today which pissed me off.

A giant Diet Coke ad in the mall with this gross puppet thing with weird Bratz-style proportions proclaiming that “a woman should be two things: fabulous and fabulous.” 

I want to throw up every time I see it. Not really a great strategy for selling diet coke. 

A headline about how Angelina Jolie’s (Angelina is the anti-Christ. And not in a good way) daughter Shiloh is somehow being forced by evil Angelina to be a boy. By dressing up in supposedly masculine clothes. Read: she’s like 5 and she’s not dressing like a skank yet like all the other 5-year-olds therefore must be a lesbian in waiting. ‘Cause it’s horrific to imagine that a girl might not want to dress like Barbie all the time. That’s what’s screwed up, not fact that ads like the diet coke one above which brainwashes women into thinking they have to be skinny and brainless to count (and when I say skinny I mean a corpse. A brainless corpse. They basically want women to be zombies). 

This thing on ‘I am offended because’ about big boobs not ‘counting’ if you’re fat. I really can’t say it any better than she has so check it out. 

A spread in New Weekly (shut up, I read it ’cause it’s there) about Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton kissing and shooting up. The thing that pissed me off was that the picture of the two of them kissing was presented ina way which implied that two adult women kissing each other was more sordid and shocking than heroin. Also it’s Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton, I think we’ve established that they do drugs. 

The fact that I nearly just wrote ‘Li-Lo’ instead of Lindsay Lohan.

When customers lean over the counter and into my personal space in order to check that they have squeezed as much value out of their last ten-cent-piece as they possibly can. While wearing D&G sunglasses and hauling a Louis Vuitton handbag. Fuck off. If you want to see the screen ask me and I’ll swivel it round. Don’t lean into my face with your cloud of white diamonds. 

The fact that the bookstore has had some christmas stuff out since early september. Can’t we have a good even months of respite from christmas please? It starts earlier every year and every time I see it I get a nervous tick and the urge to hack people to death with broken copies of Mariah Carey’s christmas album.

People who get pissed at me for things which I clearly have no control over. Like our product catalogue server going down. Yes I did it on purpose to annoy you. Take your Tag Heuer watch and scruffy fingernails and fuck off. 

But on the bright side, there’s Tank juice. Omnomnomnomnom.

Muslim Barbies: Weird or Cool?

Here they are:

I’m conflicted: I half think ‘sure! Little Muslim girls probably like dolls and it must be nice to have one which isn’t dressed like a pole-dancer and maybe resembles them and their family.’ Then I think ‘Gross! Mattel is exporting commercialised conceptions of beauty (which are sick and wrong to begin with) all around the globe. Now that we’ve brainwashed the western world’s girls that they have to look like barbie in order to matter, we can start on the rest of the world. Also – I’m pretty sure most Muslims aren’t white. These dolls look like your average pasty european fresh from the tanning bed.

I think I’m settling on weird actually.