This is just a quick post to share a bit of info I just came across and thought was interesting.

A while back Richard Dawkins stirred up a bit of controversy when he tweeted, “All the world’s Muslims have fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge. They did great things in the Middle Ages, though.” I originally tried to address that with a bit of humor.

I came across a bit of information, ooh, about five minutes ago, that reminded me of that little brouhaha.

No one, after 12 years of Chinese education, has any chance to receive a Nobel prize, even if he or she went to Harvard, Yale, Oxford or Cambridge for college…. Out of the one billion people who have been educated in Mainland China since 1949, there has been no Nobel prize winner…. This forcefully testifies [to] the power of education in destroying creativity on behalf of the [Chinese] society.

Diane Ravitch quoted Yong Zhao quoting Zheng Yefu in an article currently on the New York Review of Books website, “The Myth of Chinese Super Schools.”

Now, I’m off to visit the Musée de l’Institute du Monde Arab, entirely by coincidence, so I’ll have to leave the editorializing to you.

I just read something that irritated me. The basic thrust of the article, “There’s a Reason Why Your Waiter Hates You,” by Jedediah Purdy, is speculative:

More jobs involve what social theorists call “affective labor,” meaning emotional work—setting up micro-relationships that make customers feel good. It’s true of retail and sales. It’s true of customer service. It’s true of the caregiving professions, such as nursing and home health care. These sectors are growing because they’re hard to mechanize or offshore, unlike doing paperwork and making things, which we mostly leave to algorithms, machines, and faraway people.

He continues:

We’re human, so of course we sometimes want and need to connect, and we can’t always be sincere. The problem comes in when unequal economic power extorts emotional work. There is something indecent in asking people to fake a feeling to make a living.

We are, he says, becoming a nation of phonies, which is especially odd because, according to Purdy, people in the U.S. value authenticity.

In fact, the intrusion is so subtle and so pervasive that it is possible to lose track of whether you’re faking it or not. A job becomes a training, now just in how to be, but in who to be. If it’s indecent to ask employees to fake a feeling, it’s worse to ask them to cultivate a false self.

I’ve worked a lot of those low-level service jobs, and I’m inclined to agree with much of what he says. I do have a few disagreements:

  1.  I worked most of those jobs over twenty years ago, so I’m not sure that this is the new phenomenon he says it is.
  2. He contrasts this “emotional work” with rudeness. There’s quite a range of behavior in between fake friendliness and rudeness, and much service work takes place in a polite, but distant, manner.
  3. The requirement that people lower on a power hierarchy cater to the emotional needs of people higher on the hierarchy, (Put more plainly, you need to dance around the whims of your boss.) occurs very frequently in non-service jobs.
  4. This seems to underestimate how authentic friendliness is in situations among peers.

Overall, though, I agree that the requirement to be someone you are not in a job situation can definitely rise to the level of feeling oppressive. At the same time, I have to say, that I believe this oppressiveness is most objectionable to college graduates who have grown up in a middle class environment who suddenly find themselves working service jobs and occupying a position in the social hierarchy to which they are extremely unaccustomed. Faking friendliness may feel inauthentic to everyone sometimes, but for the progeny of the middle class it can also feel like a slap in the face. They were raised to question authority, not to be obsequious.

However, these are smaller quibbles. I do really feel the need to highlight what’s wrong with the example he uses to introduce the subject: sexual harassment of waitresses.

Ninety percent of women waiters get harassed sexually, according to a recent study. Why is the number so high? Partly because waitstaff depends on tips to raise their wages above the federal minimum wage of $2.13 an hour for “tipped employees.” That means a waiter needs to establish a relationship with each customer: Serving food and drinks isn’t just a job, but a micro-flirtation on very unequal terms. The wage structure of waiting tables is a sexual-harassment machine. (my emphasis)

I take a great exception to this statement. I was sexually harassed as a waitress. I did not flirt with anyone, micro or otherwise. For someone claims to see the negative effects of power differences created by capitalism, Jedidiah Purdy writes about sexual harassment from a surprisingly privileged perspective.

In my last post, I wrote about my experiences dating a radical lesbian feminist separatist. Although, I eventually found their views to be too narrow for me to feel comfortable within that movement, and that eventually lead me to question the ideas on which it was based, I was hanging out with that group in the first place because I was a fairly radical feminist myself. This time included a lot of upheaval in my personal life. I tried dating men again. Got pregnant. Had an abortion. Dropped out of college. All of this happened with the span of perhaps a year. I found myself living with my parents, with my mother thinking the best way of getting me back into college was to be as mean and cold to me as possible. For a time I had my head shaved off on one side and shoulder length on the other. This was considered highly unattractive at that time. I wore loose-fitting jeans with Converse high top sneakers, or loose, baggy, shapeless skirts that came almost to my ankles. Most of my shirts came from second-hand stores. The weirder the better. They amused me for some reason at the time, but when I look back at old photos I can’t remember why. Eventually, I got a crew cut. If the stereotype of the moody alt-chick had existed at the time, I’m sure I would have been put in that box, which probably would have only made me mad and driven me to even more bizarre outfits in a futile attempt to express my “authentic” self.

This was far from the proudest time of my life, in fact it was miserable in every way and everything I did to try to be happy seemed only to make my life worse, but it’s safe to say that, by the time I got a job as a waitress, I was not the sort of person inclined to flirt for a paycheck, nor would most people have looked at me and thought that I was.

So there I was, nineteen years old, reading want ads in the newspaper, with nothing on my resume except baby sitting. In college, I posed for art classes to earn money, but I think I never put that down. Hmmm… wonder why that is? I was qualified to do pretty much nothing. I saw an ad for waitresses at a pancake house a few minutes away. So I went.

I started a couple of days later with five other young women. That the place had such a high turnover rate should have been a warning sign to me, however I was too inexperienced to recognize that fact. The boss said that we could expect men to come onto us. Then he looked at me. “Well, not you,” and he laughed. What he intended as an insult, came to me as a relief. Then he looked at a young woman a couple of inches taller than average with long hair lightened to blond and a push-up bra. “I expect you’re going to have a lot of problems,” he said in a tone that was a problem in and of itself. She didn’t appear to appreciate his concern.

There were some class tensions swirling around me as well because they assumed, with some reason, that I had grown up in a higher class background than they had. A cook intentionally burned me. There were a great many verbal jabs, mostly from the men. The women overall were kind. I lasted only one night.

A couple of men came in at one point. They were the only all male table that night since it was a restaurant that catered to families. They tried to make small talk, but I wasn’t interested. When I brought them the check, they had laid out what looked to be an inappropriately large tip on the table. One of them looked at me and gave me a cocky smile, “What time do you get off?” I put the checked down on the table and walked away. When I returned to wipe off the table shortly after they were gone, so was the “tip” and they had left none at all. If you don’t know, waiters and waitress in the U.S. earn only a very small “base pay.” Most of their income comes from tips. Tipping is not considered optional. It is required. Waiters are taxed with the presumption they are receiving tips and most of that “base pay” is withheld as taxes.

When the night was over, I walked to my car. I found myself feeling weirdly nervous. I was very aware of the fact that I was walking alone in an empty parking lot to my car, which was parked in a far corner as was required of employees, where the light didn’t quite reach. It was my nervousness walking to my car that made me decide it was not worth it. It’s one thing to say that a person should just let comments roll off their back, but they have an effect. You can say, as my psychiatrist and my mother always do, that these people have no credence and what they say should not effect my sense of self. But it does. In duration of one shift, my entire sense of self had changed. It was the weird vulnerability I felt walking to my car, and I didn’t want to feel that scared again and I never went back.

Anecdata, you may say. Just because I didn’t flirt for a tip and was treated poorly anyway doesn’t mean that Purdy is wrong, perhaps other waitresses do open themselves up to sexual harassment by flirting for money. The way his article is phrased, it is unclear, when he quotes the figure that ninety percent of women waiters report sexual harassment and asks “Why is the number so high?” and answers that question by saying that “micro-flirtation” is part of the job, whether that is the conclusion of the study being quoted or his own speculation. The link he provides leads to a New York Times article, “When Living on Tips Means Putting Up With Harassment,” an article with a very different focus. In fact, the article makes no mention of flirting, micro or otherwise.

Ashley Ogogor, a 29-year-old waitress who has lived in the city for a few years and who has become a spokeswoman for the movement, told me that especially in hotel restaurants, where she had once worked and where heavy drinking was commonplace, she had learned to ignore lewd or inappropriate comments because she was so dependent on gratuities. One summer night she had clocked out of a particular restaurant, changed into her regular clothes and was waiting for a meal to take home. While she was doing so she made a phone call to her boyfriend. A customer approached her, grabbed her phone and then started hugging and whispering to her.

The report on which much of the Times article, The Glass Floor: Sexual harassment in the Restaurant Industry, draws is very much focused on the effect of the sub-minimum wage received by restaurant workers and their dependence on tipping. There are a couple mentions of flirting in that report, but they are in the context of managers telling servers to flirt with customers (16% of women) and customers wanting the servers to flirt. Both actions are considered examples of sexual harassment in the report. This does not mean that waitresses never flirt with the hopes of getting larger tips, but it does seem that Purdy’s assertion is unsourced.

This is not a small matter since many times when women complain about sexual harassment or sexual violence it is claimed that they wanted or encouraged such behavior. Also, what the report calls “pressure for dates”, I personally perceived as an offer of money in return for sexual favors, in other words, the suggestion that I prostitute myself.

Purdy is wrong when he says “Americans tend not to talk about the economy as a system of power.” That is exactly what the report is focusing on in its emphasis on the role that tipping and the sub-minimum wage play in sexual harassment. They note that harassment is less severe in states where there is only one minimum wage. The report connects working for tips to economic insecurity and the consequent tendency to put up with sexual harassment in order to not suffer economic consequences. Although women working in the industry reported more harassment from co-workers, they said they felt less bothered by that. As one worker put it:

The one thing that really bothers me, though, is not necessarily co-workers; [in] that interaction I have more freedom to be like, ‘okay, stop it’. But when a guest does it, then I feel a lot more powerless. That’s when I’m like, man, that’s where my money’s coming from…

As the Times phrased it, “the economic structure that turns customers into shadow employers, leaving servers — so often women — vulnerable to the predations anyone picking up the bill might feel entitled to exercise.”

The link in that last quote from the Times takes one to the site of The Gothamist, to the article “A NYC Bartender’s Powerful Open Letter To The Hedge Funder Who Allegedly Grabbed Her Ass.” In New York State, groping someone without his or her consent is a crime. We see the direct relation between tipping and sexual harassment in this story.

Laura Ramadei, an actor who tends bar at Lucky Strike on Grand Street, says that when she asked customer Brian Lederman what he’d like, he immediately groped her. And after she made it clear she wasn’t enamored by his charms, he left her with a shabby tip.

In Ramadei’s own account she adds:

We were in a family-friendly restaurant, around 6:30pm, and I was wearing a loose-fitting, long sleeve shirt, jeans, and no makeup…so I’m not sure where the confusion arose as to what kind of service you were being provided.

Brian Lederman would seem to be bragging about being a serial offender when he says, “I’ve grabbed plenty of girls’ asses in my life.” I hope the next time he grabs someone’s ass, that person calls a cop, or perhaps files a hostile work environment suit. This is criminal behavior. Men who do this in the subway get arrested.

After reading the report The Glass Floor, I understood why I was scared walking to my car that night.

The documented prevalence of sexual harassment is not attributable to a simple desire for sex; rather, it reflects an abuse of power and a structural issue where women’s and trans bodies are viewed as expendable commodities that exist merely for someone else’s pleasure. By devaluing individual human worth and dignity, and by reinforcing a financial power dynamic that renders workers vulnerable, sexual harassment, and the environment that supports it, opens the door to the sexual violence that some workers reported experiencing.

Another low-level job I had that involved being nice to people when I didn’t feel like being nice was when I worked as a receptionist in the Wall Street area, at a company that served the banking industry. One of the firm’s clients made me uncomfortable with propositions. In a notable contrast to the restaurant only a few months earlier, I told my boss and he said he would talk to him about it. It never came up again, so I assume he did. Although I understand much of what Purdy is talking about regarding the need to be falsely ingratiating in many service jobs and I do agree it can be a negative thing, there is a qualitative difference between that and the sort of sexual harassment endured by restaurant workers because the culture of tipping and it helps no one to confuse the two.

As a final note, I was not entirely comfortable with The Glass Floor’s treatment of male victims of sexual harassment, which was a little too cursory. Certainly gender roles do affect sexual harassment, so it is hard to discuss it in a purely gender neutral way, and since women are the primary victims it is not unexpected that more space would be given to their experiences. It was heartening that they did consider the experiences of transgender individuals, but a bit more discussion of experiences of male victims of sexual harassment would have made for a stronger report.

(Important update below.)

I just read about 4chan threatening Emma Watson . To me, this just emphasizes why we need to destigmatize nudity in general and female nudity in particular. Why should the possibility of releasing nude photos even be a threat in the first place? It’s hard to imagine comparable photos of men being used as a threat. If Watson really wanted to strike a blow for women’s equality, she should pull a Dirty Harry and say, “Go ahead. Make my day.”

It’s only our indoctrination that we should be ashamed of our bodies that makes this threat even possible.

Oh, yeah, and I’m speaking as someone who has had naked pictures of her posted on the internet without her permission. Let me tell you, I want copies. I looked damn fine in them!

The fact that women are more ashamed of naked pictures than men are, or at least we’re supposed to be, only serves to highlight society’s double standards regarding sexuality.

There’s not a whole lot to say about this because it’s none too subtle.

Update: Damn, I’m feeling like an idiot now. It turns out that the Emma Watson nude photos was a hoax by a company called Rantic Marketing.

Watson’s face and the countdown clock has been replaced with a banner that says, “#shutdown4chan” and an open letter to President Barack Obama that claims celebrity publicists hired the marketing company to popularize a call for Internet censorship and the end of 4chan.

Although I’m not a fan of 4chan by any means, I don’t support censorship. I would like to see the people who stole the photos prosecuted for the appropriate crimes like theft. Being an advocate for free speech occasionally mans supporting speech you don’t like. I would like to see internet harassment taken more seriously, but as harassment, not as an issue of restricting offensive speech.

Sorry everyone.

(Ah… and I was feeling so proud of myself for not falling for the lady with three breasts hoax. Pride goeth before a fall – or something like that.)

An even better explanation from Business Insider.

About a month or two ago, I was surfing the internet while waiting for my mother to get ready to go with me to the gym. During this brief time, following from one link to another, I came across a shampoo ad that was, according to the post in which it was embedded, getting a lot of attention on the internet. The ad showed women in everyday situations offering apologies that the makers of the video deemed unnecessary. The title card which introduces the video asks “Why are women always apologizing,” which implies that they are doing something that men don’t.

Sitting at my computer, whiling fifteen or twenty minutes waiting for my mother, I was not in an especially critical mindset. If that week’s viral videos had been cute puppies I would have watched cute puppies. I nodded in implied agreement while watching. While I don’t think I have heard about that particular habit before, it did not surprise me. In women’s studies classes that I took in college, I read about similar studies that examined seeming trivial differences in male and female behavior. Although the video doesn’t say so in so many words, the clear implication is that apologizing makes one appear weak. The title of the video is “Shine Strong.”

This video was still fresh in my mind when I arrived at the gym.

I walked in, grabbed a towel and headed up the short flight of half a dozen steps to the weight lifting area. A man rounded the corner and came down the stairs rapidly as I was going up. He stepped backwards saying, “Sorry.”

I stepped to my right saying, “Sorry.”

Another step to the right on my part and we were able to pass each other on the stairs without incident. This is the sort of thing I wouldn’t have even noticed if I hadn’t seen that video. No one was at fault. He couldn’t have predicted my arrival and I couldn’t see him approach, yet we both apologized. Thanks to the video, I noted that he was male and I was female. I also noticed that he was African-American. He was probably about ten years my junior.

(Aside: Do you, too, dislike the false intimacy of WordPress telling you to “Keep on goin’!” or is it just me?)

A little while later, I took a barbell off the rack. Carrying the barbell, which is awkward, I weaved between the benches to find a location to do some curls where I wouldn’t be in anyone’s way but I could see my form in the mirror. A man was coming from the opposite direction, also weaving around equipment. He turned around a bench at the same time I did and we came nose to nose. With the barbell, it was a bit awkward for me to get out of his way, yet he made no move to do so. I backed up a few inches saying, “Sorry.” He moved forward without acknowledging my presence. To say that I felt slighted would have overstated the case, still there was a very slight unpleasant feeling left by this encounter. Normally, I would dismiss it and think that he had something else on his mind. However, since I was now attuned to this issue I realized that he was male and white.

Going to put the barbell back, I had a nearly identical run in with another man. This time, the man said, “Sorry,” I said, “Sorry,” and the man rapidly stepped backward to allow me to pass. This time it was a black man near my age. This was starting to look to me like it wasn’t a coincidence.

Over the next few weeks, I observed people’s behavior. The gym struck me as a prime location for this because as gym members we should all be on terms of equality with one another. Furthermore, the gym is large and appears to have equal numbers of black and white members present. There seem to be more men than women, but it doesn’t feel male dominated. There are all age ranges present. There are relative few Asians or people who appear to be Hispanic, but that is unsurprising given the demographics of Baltimore. Of course, this is still anecdotal evidence even if it’s multiple anecdotes. However, over several visits I couldn’t help notice that black men apologized in the same situations in which I did whereas not a single white man apologized during the same period. I did not have any incidents with either black women or white women but Asian women did apologize to me.

According to an article about the video in FastCompany, “Apologizing unnecessarily puts women in a subservient position and makes people lose respect for them.”

I began to see the question in a new light. Instead of wondering, “Why are women always apologizing,” I started to wonder, “Why don’t white men ever apologize?” However, I didn’t feel respect for those men who didn’t apologize. If I felt anything, it was mild irritation. Meanwhile, the men with whom I had done the sorry-sorry tango left me with mild positive feelings towards them. One of them said “Hello” and smiled every time we encountered each other in the gym after that.

Last year, there was an article on Slate that questioned the conventional wisdom about this. Amanda Hess notes that it is not an established fact that women apologize more frequently than men. She also goes on to say that apologizing is not inherently bad.

And treating others with empathy doesn’t equal devaluing ourselves. Yoko Hosoi, a professor at Tokyo University, describes the “apology-forgiveness culture” among men and women in Japan as “an ingrained cultural heritage, which serves to make a harmonious, peace-oriented society”—not to lay blame or establish hierarchies. Saying “I’m sorry” is a cultural thing. Often, it’s a positive one. And yet when we recognize a trend in the culture of women, our impulse is to say, “Women do X. Men do Y. Therefore, women should stop doing X.” Why don’t we instead think: Perhaps men could be a little bit more like women.

My casual observation would indicate that any further studies would have to take characteristics other than gender into account. Furthermore, the assumption that it’s inherently bad needs to be questioned.

Since moving to New York City, I have had several white men apologize for getting in my way on the sidewalk. So, it seems even one more factor would have to be taken into account.


Sorry, sorry, sorry. Now, with the hashtag #WhyIStayed, suddenly the PC thing is to become collective enablers to abusive relationships. I hope I never have “friends” like that. When my parents found out that my live-in relationship had turned abusive they helped me get out. I was trapped because of money and wouldn’t have been able to get out of the relationship if other people didn’t come to help me. Not only my parents, by platonic male and female friends all reinforced the notion that it was not okay and it was important to leave.

In subsequent years I found myself on the other end that sob story and I told my friends in no uncertain terms, “Get the fuck out!” I remember one conversation where a friend was blubbering, “But I love him.” “Stop being a fucking doormat, ’cause I’m simply not going to listen to this anymore,” sometimes being a real friend can make you feel like a meanie.

Yeah, it’s good to get out of an abusive relationship.

My mother always told me in no uncertain terms that I was to never ever let a man hit me. She drilled that into my head over and over throughout my adolescence. And it goes in reverse as well. Gentlemen, if your girlfriend or wife is hitting you, get the fuck out. There’s no excuse for that.

Normally, I wouldn’t write about this sort of celebrity stupidity. Janay is obviously punch drunk if she married a man who punched her out cold. However, I am concerned about the messages society gives. Young, impressionable girls are reading your pathetic “Why I Stayed” tweets, making it sound so romantic. “Oooh, this is what true love is.” One of my friends’ mother, when I was in high school, used to pull me aside and give me little mini-lectures about how I needed a man who could control me because I was too willful and independent. Let’s not pretend that this isn’t about how some people perceive gender roles.

A cousin of mine once told me that she stayed with her abusive husband because that’s what she saw growing up and she thought it was normal. “I didn’t know it wasn’t okay for a man to hit me.”

The friend’s mother who used to give me lectures? She left her husband when he knocked out her teeth.

I feel very sorry for women who would like to leave but can’t because they don’t have the means, but that isn’t what Janay said,

No one knows the pain that hte media & unwanted options from the public has caused my family. To make us relive a moment in our lives that we regret every day is a horrible thing. To take something away from the man I love that he has worked his ass of for all his life just to gain ratings is horrific.

“THIS IS OUR LIFE! What don’t you all get. If your intentions were to hurt us, embarrass us, make us feel alone, take all happiness away, you’ve succeeded on so many levels. Just know we will continue to grow & show the world what real love is!”

If that’s real love, then I don’t want love. She makes being a human punching bag sound romantic, and that’s worrisome. She should be embarrassed. She married her abuser. It’s sad, pathetic and sick, and little girls growing up today need to know that. This isn’t romantic and it sure as hell isn’t “real love.”

She also said that she’s “feeling like I’m mourning the death of my closest friend,” which I really have to say sticks in my craw. I AM mourning the death of my closest friend. I’ve never stayed in an abusive relationship, but I left one, and I have to say the two things are not alike.

The woman who created the hashtag? Well, one of the reasons why she stayed was:

I stayed because my pastor told me that God hates divorce. It didn’t cross my mind that God might hate abuse, too. #WhyIStayed

God! Why am I unsurprised. How sad to allow yourself be abused in the name of a God that probably doesn’t exist. If this is feminism, then, like love, I don’t want it either. I know that relationships can be complex. I was married and am now divorced. Two other times I’ve tried to live with men. Explaining how I got into such bad relationships requires a blow-by-blow portrayal. What shouldn’t be complex, however, is the message we’re sending to younger women and men. There are some bright shining lines that are easy to see. Physical violence has no place in a relationship. It has no place in a family.

I’m glad my mother gave me a clear message about that. It helped me overcome the more muddled messages given by the rest of society. Why did she feel so strongly about that? Her father abused her mother.

We judge people’s behavior all the time. This is how we work as a society to decide what is moral, to decide what is right and wrong. When Eliot Rodgers shot a bunch of people in Santa Barbara a few months ago, people had no problem judging that behavior. We judge Ray Rice for hitting her and we can judge Janay Rice for staying.

I like to believe that people are redeemable and can be rehabilitated. I’d like to think that both Ray Rice and Janay Rice could somehow go on to have a healthy relationship that doesn’t include violence, though I have my doubts that such a transformation could happen so quickly. However, I don’t have to “respect” her decision. In fact, I don’t respect her. There, I said it. I don’t respect women who stay in abusive relationships. Pity, yes. Respect, no.

#WhyIStayed – I didn’t.

As I said to my cousin, “All men don’t hit. You don’t have to put up with that. It’s not normal and it’s not okay. There are good men out there.”

Yesterday, I came across a blog post in which someone “as a father” wrote that he was disappointed in Nicki Minaj because, by showing the cheeks of her buttocks on the cover of her new single (Do they even have “covers” for “singles” nowadays?) she is a bad role model for little girls like his own.

Nicki Minaj? A role model? Guy, have you been sleeping under a rock? Forget the buttocks, have you heard the lyrics?

Big dope dealer money, he was getting some coins

Was a shooter with the law, but he live in a palace

Bought me Alexander McQueen, he was keeping me stylish

from “Anaconda” by Nicki Minaj

Now, I don’t want to act like I’m a humorless old lady and pretend that I don’t know that this is art, fiction, creative writing and is not meant to encourage young people to become criminals any more than a Jim Thompson novel, and I take it in a similar vein as adult entertainment. Her foul-mouthed persona is nothing new. Unlike some other current musical stars, she was never on a children’s show. She’s more like a classic case of someone who worked hard for years to become an “overnight sensation.” Meanwhile, one of her most innocuous songs, “Starships”, has a repeating line, “We’re higher than a motherfucker.”

Jump in my hooptie hooptie hoop

I own that

And I ain’t paying my rent this month

I owe that

But fuck who you want, and fuck who you like

That’s our life, there’s no end in sight

– from “Starships” by Nicki Minaj

I confess, if I was still in my club hopping days when this song came out, I would have really enjoyed dancing to this. Another one of her more popular songs had the following line:

He just gotta give me that look, when he give me that look

Then the panties comin’ off, off, uh

– from “Super Bass” by Nicki Minaj

(Just spoke to my mother on the phone. “Oh, Nicki Minaj, I like her. She has some dirty lyrics though.”)

I mean, come on folks, we’re talking about someone who’s known for signing her fans’ tits.

Nicki told The Sun: “I think boobs are very empowering – and signing them is even more empowering. I’ve been doing it for years.”

She then added: “Wherever I go, I sign boobs!”

On the subject of being a role model, she said to Ellen DeGeneres, “I’m not their parents.” She also said that she writes for an adult audience. Where did this notion that every actor, singer and rapper has to be a role model? Did anyone worry that Mick Jagger was not a good role model for young people back in his heyday? Or Frank Sinatra for that matter?

So, why do I care? In her new song, “Anaconda,” we hear a female voice, it doesn’t sound like Minaj, but she’s trained as an actor and is known for doing different characters so I can’t be sure. This catty voice with a valley girl accent says, “Oh my God, look at her butt.” I know that tone and I’ve heard those words. I’m also aware that while women are often telling me that my ass is too big, heterosexual men seem to think it’s fine. However, the apparent approval of heterosexual men has never stopped women from being catty to me about my “big butt.”

We talk so much these days about having a positive body image, so why all the body shaming being tossed at Minaj? A few months ago, when I saw an article about Taryn Brumfitt and her desire to make a documentary that changes the way women feel about their bodies, I thought to myself, “That’s nice, but will it work?” We can say all we want that girls should have a positive body image, but what will actually accomplish that? As a woman with a big butt that has been told many times how I should feel ashamed of it, I think Minaj’s song could do more good than all the lectures. Yes, it’s irreverent, and that’s part of the point. Maybe we all need a song that celebrates the body part the media tells us we’re supposed to be ashamed of, whichever one that might be for us.

Large busted women have discussed the stereotypes and insults thrust on them. The ass is considered such a demeaning part of the body, women with “good” asses are not even allowed to discuss it, even though I’ve had strangers in bars think the size and shape of my ass alone is an invitation to give it hard slap. When I was young, this happened so often I never even really gave it much thought. It was just something you accepted as the price of going out.

So, fathers, the thing you really need to worry about is whether or not your daughters will grow up to hate their bodies, a much more common problem than being a sexy rap star.

(I’ll just add a sour note here that Minaj does men no favors with the “Anaconda” reference.)

A painting of a woman from the back.

I can relate.

The other evening, I was walking home from the grocery story and two people were walking at the same pace behind me, allowing me to hear clearly a portion of their conversation. It went like this:

Woman: Did you know that they’re developing a cure for baldness that seems to actually work?

Man: Hmm.

Woman: Only thing is that it uses babies’ foreskins.


Woman: Well, they cut the things off anyway, so they might as well be put to use.

More silence

Somehow, I get the feeling that if a man had been talking so casually about lopped off labia I would have turned into the dreaded salivating bulging-eyed feminist monster of Rush Limbaugh’s nightmares.

I’ve gotten to an age when I can look back and see where ideologies have led me to mistakes and where I’ve gotten things right. One thing I believed when I was younger, and experience has only strengthened that belief, is the importance of bodily integrity or bodily autonomy. For instance, once upon a time I knew even less about trans issues than I do today, but I was probably prevented from doing or saying hurtful things because of a general belief in bodily autonomy coupled with the notion that one person cannot tell another that other person can or should feel.

It seems like a rather banal thing to say, but a man has a right to do as he likes with his own penis. However, it’s quite obvious that many parents, especially in the U.S., don’t feel that way. I’m gratified to see that rates of non-therapeutic circumcision have declined in the U.S., but I would really like to see it become non-normative. I was just really disturbed to hear the blase way this young woman was talking about other people’s bodies.

My sister and I have an ongoing joke. She had been doing a lot work in cooperation with some churches in our area, so I think her mindset was in a particular place when I burst through her door one day, shouting “Have you heard the good news!” She looked at me in shock. Oblivious, I continued, “There’s a sale on shoes! I have new shoes, and they have bows on them!” I cried, pointing my foot and showing off the big bow on my toe.

Now, we have an ongoing joke. When she hears the phrase “the good news” she whispers in my ear, “My shoes have bows!”

Well, there’s more good news these days, and I’m not talking about the metallic gold boots I found deeply discounted at a Zadig et Voltaire outlet. The Atheist Blogroll has recommenced. The Atheist Blogroll is, as you might expect, a listing of blogs hosted by atheists. Some of these deal with atheism directly and frequently while others are only atheist in so far as the blogger is an atheist.

I wasn’t blogging at the time that the Out Campaign first started, and since I’d never hidden the fact that I was an atheist, it might not have mattered anyway. Still, I think it’s useful to acknowledge that I’m an atheist because if one doesn’t say anything, people tend to presume that you are whatever the majority in your area is.

The atheist Out Campaign follows the efforts by gay activists in the late sixties and seventies to encourage homosexuals to come out of the closet. At least according to the movie Milk, a part of the impetus for coming out was that people who knew gays were less likely to vote in favor of limiting their civil rights.

From the movie:

Harvey Milk: We’re going to convince the 90% to give a shit about us 10%. We have to let them know who we are. Everybody has to come out. Across the entire state, no matter where they live. …. Every gay lawyer, teacher, doctor, dog catcher. We have to leave the ghetto. We have to let all those people out there know that they know one of us….
Scott Smith: The whole state isn’t San Francisco, Harvey.
Unknown: Clearly, Scott. Harvey, that could be really, really dangerous. I mean, there’s such a thing as a right to privacy.
Harvey Milk: Privacy. In this movement, at this time, I’m not saying this as a supervisor, privacy is the enemy. And if you want real political power, if that’s what you want, try telling the truth for a change.

My own main reason for being on the Atheist Blogroll is to stand up and be counted. This may, in fact, be more important for atheists that write about a diverse array of topics than for those who write regularly about atheism.

To be clear, the Atheist Blogroll is not connected to the Out Campaign. It’s just linked in my mind because being on the blogroll and having the badge on the sidebar of my blog is a way for me to let people know that I’m an atheist.

Ally Fog recently put up a post about the treatment of male victims of domestic violence that which was especially interesting in light of the last two installments of my memories which dealt with the first time a boyfriend hit me and my violent reaction to being hit.

Fogg’s piece, “Male victims, screening and victim-blaming,” was prompted by a post about male victims of domestic violence which appeared on Crimestoppers, “an official UK central government public information service.” Fogg’s criticism of the Crimestopper’s post centered around the issue of whether or not men accessing services for victims of domestic violence are, in fact, victims or perpetrators. The Crimestopper’s post states:

Another issue some callers bring is the use of violence by both partners – working out who the ‘primary perpetrator/aggressor’ is in these cases and who was genuinely in self-defence is crucial if we want to manage the risk and increase the safety of victims. It is well established by now that some perpetrators approach victim services claiming they are the victim in their relationship. This has important implications for service delivery as perpetrators may be offered support as victims and victims as perpetrators.

About which Fogg comments:

One of the nastiest stereotypes that hovers around male victims of intimate partner violence is that he must have done something to provoke it, to deserve it, or that the abuser must have been defending herself because the man is invariably the violent one.

A report by Abused Men in Scotland about the Men’s Advice Line said

that some men who had called the Men’s Advice Line felt as if they were being themselves ‘screened’ as perpetrators and all but accused of being wife-beaters when they called for help.

Reading Fogg’s piece, it occurred to me that they way we see the words “victim” and “perpetrator” may be itself be problematic. We tend to talk about victims, and even more so about perpetrators, as if these were roles that inheres in the individual rather than being a transitory state that is a function of a given situation or a given action. In the first of my two memories, I was quite clearly the victim while in the second I was the perpetrator.

The desire to assign blame and to punish is often at odds with the desire to help. A few months ago, on Makagutu’s blog, Random Thoughts, there were some exchanges regarding the question of freewill and how that relates to our punishment of crime. Are we seeing perpetrators as immoral individuals who must somehow be redeemed through punishment?

I hope no one misunderstands. I am not trying to minimize or excuse domestic violence. Years after the incident in my adolescence, I would live with a man and, as the relationship deteriorated, he became physically threatening. He started to do things like pushing me up against the wall and yelling in my face. One day he slapped me. Immediately afterward I made plans to leave and was gone within a few days.

A few years after that he phoned me and asked to meet in a Coffee Shop. After I arrived he told me that he wanted to apologize for the behavior he had exhibited towards the end of our relationship. Then he added that he didn’t think it was acceptable for a man to hit a woman and that he wasn’t trying to excuse what he had done but, he added, he felt that the circumstances had contributed. He seemed surprised when I agreed. Indeed, it would take pages upon pages to describe just how unhealthy our relationship had become. To give some slight indication, we both had jobs we hated and were poorly paid, we were always short of cash, we lived in a small basement apartment with no privacy between rooms, there was a leak in the ceiling for over a year that the landlord wouldn’t fix, there was mold growing on the ceiling, I had developed a series of respiratory infections, he couldn’t maintain an erection, he reluctantly agreed to let me sleep with other men but became jealous when I actually did…. I think I was right to leave him because it was the only way to stop the downward spiral, but apportioning blame seems to be beside the point. Most importantly, I have no reason to believe that he hit any other women.

It would have been very nice if some intervention had occurred before it had gotten as bad as it did. It was only after he hit me that other people stepped up to help. Now he was an “abuser” and I was a “victim” and people suddenly knew what to do, which was to help me move out.

Returning to Fogg’s article, which I do recommend reading in its entirety (it’s not long):

Someone who approaches a victim support service – whether a helpline, a refuge or anything else – must be assumed to be in need of support and be offered the help they need. There is a good argument to say that as part of the support process, all victims should somehow be offered help with any violent or aggressive tendencies of their own.



A few years ago, I attempted a career change. After taking classes in a variety of fields, sensible fields where jobs were available, I found that I loved programming and I had a knack for it. When I discovered that I loved programming I was first elated, then deflated. I tried to explain to a friend the discouragement that kicked in. I said, “No one’s going hire a middle-aged, female newbie programmer.”

My tall, wealthy Wasp male friend said to me, “That’s the depression talking.”

I said, “No, that’s just reality. Perhaps ‘no one’ is an exaggeration, but I have a couple of strikes against me in being hired and it would be counter-productive to close my eyes to that.”

Several times in posts I’ve thrown out the line, “Can I have a job?” Like many of my jokes, it’s based in reality. The only part of it that’s a joke is that I don’t actually expect an offer this way. I’ve had jobs, but never one that was the beginning of a career. They were always the dead-end type, data entry clerk, accounts payable clerk, accounts receivable clerk, receptionist, straight hourly wage, no benefits, no paid holidays, no insurance. For many years in my twenties I would regularly go on job interviews, constantly in search of that “entry-level” job. When I complained about my lack of a career, older family friends would say, “You can’t start at the top,” as if I was complaining about not being the CEO. I didn’t want to start at the top, I just wanted to be on the first rung of something that was actually a ladder, not a step-stool. Where does the career path of a receptionist go? Nowhere. There is nothing past receptionist. You don’t work your way up to anything. Sure, the research assistants and editorial assistants in the offices weren’t getting paid any better, but they had a future.

I would apply for those jobs and never get them. Sometimes, I wish I had some insight as to why. Once I applied for the job of editorial assistant, or whatever they called their entry-level position, at Reuters. The woman in the H.R. department who interviewed me looked me up and down. “We have a receptionist position open,” she said brightly. I rose and said thank-you and good-bye and tried to get out of there fast enough so no one would see me cry. Why was I always being pigeon holed into these low-level jobs? More than one person did it, many in fact, so it probably wasn’t a fluke.

Earlier, in school, I had been a good student, the kind who everyone thinks has a bright future ahead of her. My sessions with my guidance counselor generally included him shrugging and saying, “Well, you can do anything you want to do,” or “You can go to any college you want to go to.” I graduated from high school early.

I did drop out of college and finished my degree by going part-time while I worked. Although that definitely got me off the “fast track” I had been on, it shouldn’t have derailed my ability to have any kind of career whatsoever. Furthermore, I’m not convinced that had I graduated on time I wouldn’t have had greater difficulty with HR departments in comparison to my peers.

Over the years, I’ve developed great anxiety at the thought of a job interview. Even those low-level jobs came mostly through acquaintances. I never found a job by applying to an ad in the paper, although I’ve been interviewed for many.

I thought of this after reading an article in the New York Times Magazine about “the marshmallow experiment.”

In a series of famous experiments in the 1960s and ’70s conducted by the Stanford psychologist Walter Mischel, preschoolers were invited to sit alone in a room furnished only with a small desk. On the desk sat two marshmallows (or equivalently tempting treats) and a bell. The researcher told each child that he had to leave, but that when he returned, she could eat both marshmallows. If she wanted one marshmallow before then, however, she could ring the bell and eat one, but not both. Then the researcher shut the door, leaving the child alone with the forbidden marshmallows.

Some children gobbled a marshmallow the minute the door was closed, while others distracted themselves by covering their eyes, singing and kicking the desk. One resourceful child somehow managed to take a nap. But here’s the part that made the experiment famous: In follow-up studies, children who had resisted temptation turned out years later to be not only skinnier and better socially adapted, but they also scored as much as 210 points higher on their SATs than the most impatient children in the studies did.

The writer describes it as a Calvinist fable. At four years old we can determine if we are on of the elect. The irony for me is that I am absolutely certain that as a child I would not have eaten the marshmallow. I know this because for all of my childhood and much of my adult life I’ve had a reputation for having great willpower and being very responsible. In recent years, with the arrival of my depression, those qualities have declined, although they haven’t disappeared altogether.

Just last year, a study by researchers at the University of Rochester called the conclusions of the Stanford experiments into question, showing that some children were more likely to eat the first marshmallow when they had reason to doubt the researcher’s promise to come back with a second one. In the study, published in January 2013 in Cognition under the delectable title “Rational Snacking,” Celeste Kidd, Holly Palmeri and Richard N. Aslin wrote that for a child raised in an unstable environment, “the only guaranteed treats are the ones you have already swallowed,” while a child raised in a more stable environment, in which promises are routinely delivered upon, might be willing to wait a few more minutes, confident that he will get that second treat.

So, I ask myself, how did I go from a marshmallow abstainer to a marshmallow swallower?

My childhood was fairly stable and relatively happy and I’m sure I would have believed any adult who said that I could have two marshmallows in the future. Even throughout most of my high school years, while things became more difficult, there was a high correlation in my case between effort and reward. I did have one high school teacher give me a low grade for rejecting his sexual advances, but the general impression was that this man was a horrible exception. All my other grades were good, my standardized test scores were high, and this person did not impede me in any way.

However, during adulthood, all connection between effort and reward has been severed. For decades, I continued to behave as if the connection was still there. Maybe, I thought, like that high school teacher, I may have had a bit of bad luck, but my general sense that the overall world functioned and was more or less just remained intact. If I kept trying one day my ship would come in.

I no longer believe that. I haven’t yet worked up the heart to actually apply for a programming job. One of the reasons I spent so many years self-employed is that the idea of a job interview now causes me tremendous anxiety. I see job interviews as an elaborate charade at best, and a form of emotional abuse at worst. It’s as if the researcher in the marshmallow test would come in and say to the waiting child. “Ha! Ha! You’re an idiot. No marshmallows for you.” I fear being on an interview for a programming job and having an HR person say to me, “You know, we have a receptionist position open.” If that were to happen again, I wouldn’t be able to control myself before leaving the office and I think I’d start sobbing right then and there.