Maya Angelou Was A Sex Worker

One of America’s greatest poets was a prostitute at one point in her life.  She herself was unashamed by it.  I had not heard of that.
My hope is that, reading that, a lot of people will realize they have some pretty negative stereotypes about sex work.
My fear is that rather than reconsidering their opinions on prostitution, people will reflexively lower their opinion of Maya Angelou.  And that would be a goddamned shame.

Why I Think The Men's Rights Activists Are Wrong: A (Lack Of) Manifesto

An interesting thread broke out in one of my entries the other day, as they are wont to do, and this one was about the problems that these Men’s Rights Activists are actually attempting to solve.  And the listed problems were:

  • Boys are doing worse at school than women in almost all subjects.
  • Men are attending college at lower rates than women, and graduating even less.
  • Men commit suicide at a much greater rate than women. In the UK at least, men’s suicide rates have remained steady from 1981 to 2012, while women’s suicide has dropped significantly.
  • Men are more likely to be the victims of street crime, and specifically are more likely to be murdered.
  • Men receive harsher sentences for the same crimes as women, being more likely to be imprisoned and for longer.

Now, obviously this isn’t a comprehensive list of all Men’s Rights problems, nor was it intended to be; this is the Whitman’s Sampler, as it were.  But those last three items on suicide, street crime, and punishment, in particular, struck me as being pretty serious goddamned problems.
They also struck me as being a direct problem with traditional masculinity.
Are guys more likely to kill themselves?  Yes, absolutely.  But I see that because men are traditionally expected to not discuss emotions, keeping all that pent up, lest they be perceived as “weak” and perhaps even incompetent.  Their friendships tend to be shallower, as they share activities but not necessarily problems, and even if they did feel comfortable sharing problems safely, they may be emotionally incoherent because they haven’t been trained to investigate their own feelings.
So a lot of them, feeling like failures for even having emotions and no friends they feel comfortable talking to, eat their guns.
Likewise, I think men are more likely to be murdered because traditionally-masculinized men are generally trained to be confrontational.  If someone disrespects you, you can’t just let it slide or you’re a wimp; you have to call the other person out, just to let them know that you’re not that kind of man. There’s status on the line, the danger that someone might perceive you as someone to be taken advantage of.  So they’re far more likely to put themselves in danger needlessly.
Likewise, men receive harsher sentences partially because men are perceived as being more dangerous, but also because – and again, there’s that “traditional” masculinity thing popping up – I think those kinds of guys are way less likely to show remorse, because in the competitive world of dudes, apologizing is seen as a status demotion.
And you know what I don’t see the solution to that as?
A movement where guys get together and divide themselves thoroughly into “alpha” and “beta” males, structuring themselves into hierarchies where by acting up in increasingly bold ways they get status, and are encouraged to think about all the things that they’re owed due to their machismo ideas but not getting.
Shit, it’s tough to be a guy in this society.  There’s a lot of pressures placed on you to succeed, to be seen as succeeding, to win the prizes that society has said that you should have: the girl, the good career, the house, all that.  And that shit warps you severely, should you buy into it.  It makes you act in ways that actually kinda harm you.
Society does not train men to actually listen to the feedback that would make them better.  To me, that’s a serious problem.  And if you want to fix that, I’ll applaud.
But fixing that by focusing more on the dysfunctional elements that got you into this mess is just… suboptimal, to be kind.  Very kind.  Acting as though the solution to fix all of these woes is to double down on the stratification, to double down on the expectation that if you do all these things in the right order then a beautiful girl will magically drop out of the skies as your reward?
What I’m seeing in the Men’s Rights Activists movement is actually an intensification of all the terrible shit that’s gotten guys into trouble in the first place.  The biggest problem with traditional masculinity is that it’s decoupled from feedback – think about all those movies where the hero, ignoring the female’s wailing, mutters, “A guy’s gotta do what a guy’s gotta do” and goes and does the manly thing even if nobody in the world wants him to do it.
In fact, the hero gets brownie points because nobody else in the world wants him to do it.
And what that masculinity does, is it alienates.  You wind up with some doofy dude following a script, hauling “helpless” women across the street whether they want to be helped or not, whether he actually wants to do it or not, because This Is What Men Do.  And he’s taught by movies that if he does this in the proper way, then John McClane (who has alienated his wife by being emotionally distant and unsupportive) will win his beautiful bride back.
That doesn’t really work.  What usually happens is that you have a guy eating all his emotions, not getting closer to his wife but in fact pushing her away (unless she’s eaten the same dosage of traditional masculinity and expects her husband to act this way), slowly finding that this script actually does not provide him with magical results.  But he looks around with envy, because other people seem to have all the shit that he doesn’t have (even if it’s because everyone else is putting on appearances because they’re following the script), and he feels this deep envy and despair because he’s doing what he’s supposed to and why aren’t the magical rewards raining from the heavens?
And what I see in the Men’s Rights Activists are guys who are doubling down on the script.
The script is the problem.
I don’t see any good solution to this knot of defensive expectations that involves telling guys, “Hey, if you’re just better than the other guys then life will be awesome.”  What I see a solution is as saying, “There is no script.  There is no guarantee in life.  But if you want X thing, then you must be prepared to honestly ask, ‘So why am I not getting it?’ and interrogate yourself boldly to see what you’d need to do to get it – whether that’s money, companionship, love, beauty, fresh pancakes – and then do that.”
Instead, what I see is a script: “Just become the alpha male, and had rock-chiseled abs and a white smile, and you will have the world of your dreams.”  No.  No.  Some of those women don’t want rock-chiseled abs.  Some of those women don’t want irritating douches who override all their needs with theirs.  Some of those women may want irritating douches who override all their needs with theirs, but something else about you isn’t compatible with them.
You are not guaranteed success.  At anything.
Anything that implies that there’s a script to be followed that invariably leads to success is always, always toxic.
So yeah.  Why are boys doing worse in school?  I don’t know.  I’ve been told that it’s because boys are more prone to acting out, and we’re no longer shrugging that off with “Boys will be boys.”  Maybe that’s a sign that boys are trained to not respect the rules, maybe it’s a sign that boys are more naturally boisterous and we need to adapt to them.  I don’t know.
But to me, the solution the Men’s Rights Activists are proposing seems mighty similar to “Because women want to weaken us.”  And in that, I disagree.  I think what weakens us is this ludicrous broken Script of Manliness that sort-of limped along back when everyone in society agreed that yeah, this is the way men are supposed to act, so we’ll all squint very hard to overlook the problems and pretend this is awesome.
But society’s too diverse for that to work.  Some philosophies are like Tinkerbell: they only work if everyone in the audience claps their goddamned hands.  And I think traditional masculinity falls apart when you don’t have all your neighbors going, “Yes, your husband’s a solitary misanthrope who dismisses your very existence and emotional needs, but you totally need to stay there for Reasons.”
That broke.  The next script, whatever it is, will also break.  What we need is not a script, but a training of flexibility so we can say to men, “Hey, you know how to get what you want?  It varies.  You’re not guaranteed to get it, and that kinda sucks.  But here’s your best chance.”
Really, everyone should be taught that.  Men or women.  Or whatever gender you wanna call yourself.

The Hierarchy Of Assumptions: Why All Generalizations Are Not Equal

Getting some righteous pushback on my piece about Men’s Rights Advocates, because I accused them of generalizations while generalizing myself.  A valid critique.  Generalizations are generally bad.
There’s a distinct difference between “Generalizing 50% of our species” and “Generalizing a subculture composed of comparatively few people.”
If I say, “All people love Shaun of the Dead,” then chances of me picking a person at random from the seven billion humans who populate this planet who has even seen Shaun of the Dead: Pretty slim.
If I say, “All women love Shaun of the Dead,” then chances of me picking a woman at random from the three-point-five billion women who’s seen it: Also pretty slim.
If I say, “All liberals love Shaun of the Dead,” then I’ve at least chosen a group of people who have, to some extent, self-defined themselves.  But the concept of what a “liberal” is is pretty ill-defined, and even if I did, the chances that one of the millions of liberal-minded people around the world love Shaun of the Dead?  The odds are better than “All Women” or “All People,” but still kinda sketchy.
If I said “All moviegoers love Shaun of the Dead,” well, again – we’re at least generalizing by an activity that people have chosen to do, and a very well-defined one, which considerably ups the chance that they would have at least seen Shaun of the Dead.  And that they liked it.  But it’s probably not all that accurate a generalization even then.  Yet it’s definitely more of a defensible generalization than the first three.
If I said, “All cinema nerds love Shaun of the Dead,” then we have narrowed the range considerably: not just people who go to the movies, but people who have chosen to be nerdy (and probably somewhat obsessive) about movies.  Chances of my picking a cinema nerd at random (however one reasonably defines it) who has both seen Shaun of the Dead and likes it are approaching maybe one in four, or maybe one in three.
If I said, “All zombie movie fans love Shaun of the Dead,” well, now we’re talking.  That’s still a generalization, but people who have self-identified as zombie movie lovers have a better-than-even chance of having seen Shaun of the Dead, a high-profile zombie movie.  But even then, a fair number of them have seen it and found its comedy dissatisfying, or just haven’t gotten around to it.
If I said, “Everyone who watches movies at Gini and Ferrett’s house loves Shaun of the Dead,” well, you’d be batting about 66%.  And there’s a reasonable statement to make – not true in a perfect sense (I wouldn’t use it as an algorithm) but true in the sense that if you picked someone at random you’d have a good chance of being correct.
My point of this ludicrous thought-exercise is that when I say, “All Men’s Rights Advocates, a very narrow subculture on the Internet who have chosen to self-identify with a set of beliefs about the damaging things women are doing to men” act this way, it’s not entirely correct.  (Even if every dude I’ve encountered who identified as an MRA did act that way, I’m certainly not going to assume that every one is.)  But it’s definitely more correct as a generalization that says “All women act this way,” which a very significant number of Men’s Rights Advocates do say, repeatedly, in essays.
So yeah.  Am I right to make that generalization?  Not entirely.  But not all generalization is bad.  If I say, “Tea Partiers are against taxes,” well, there’s doubtlessly Phyllis the Tax-Lovin’ Republican, but if I picked a Tea Partier at random I’d probably be in the ballpark.  Likewise, if I said, “All of the active LiveJournal bloggers are Russian,” well, it’s not entirely true – the top 10 are English – but LiveJournal is certainly way more popular in Russia than here, these days, so it’s not an entirely inaccurate statement.
When I generalize about MRA dudes, I’m generalizing about a movement that has self-chosen certain beliefs.  Maybe not all MRA guys.
But quite potentially enough.

The Hypocrisy of "Not All Men"

There’s a lot of controversy these days over the dudes interrupting women’s complaints about guy behavior to interject, “Not All Men!” Which, you know, it’s true – not all men do these creepy-ass things, but so many men do it that all women are affected by it.  Hence the rise of the much-needed #YesAllWomen hashtag.
And I have some sympathy for some of the dudes who interject, “Not all men!” because frankly, some significant percentage of these dudes are simply clueless and in need of some education.  I know if someone made a comment about the stupid things that writers or polyamorous people do, I’d probably say “Not all of us!” reflexively, just because yeah, there’s a gut-feel to respond that way even if it utterly doesn’t fix the problem that those writers/polyamorous people/men are doing fucking awful things.
(Which is why the #YesAllWomen idea was brilliant, sparking just how our society’s permeated with anti-women problems.  As a guy, I’ve never had to worry about being sexually assaulted once; I literally do not know of a woman I’ve been close to who hasn’t.)
But you know who pisses me off?  The Men’s Rights Advocates who whine, “Not all men do that!  How dare you assume we’re rapists or abusers?”
Dudes, you fucking say “All women do this” all the fucking time.
The women who say “I’m afraid of men,” well, most of them seem to grok that some percentage of men are okay, but enough of them are a danger that it’s hard to trust.  (As has been noted on the Internet, “10% of these M&Ms are poisoned.  Eat a handful.  Tell me, ‘Not all M&Ms.'”)
But the MRA idiots I’ve run into talk about all women, and seem to mean it.  All women just wanna use men.  All women want a certain kind of man, the alpha male, with chiseled abs and money and the ability to lead a conversation.  All women want to transform society into some emotional tear-zone where women’s rights are privileged merely by dint of their sheer womanhood.
They’re furious at women because all women require them to act in absurd and ridiculous ways to get laid, and my God they are so bitter at all women because all women did that to them.
Clueless guys, I can maybe excuse.  But you?  Shit, all you do is get on the Internet all day and go, “Women are this, women are that”… and then you have the balls to get annoyed when someone makes a generalization about men?
Christ, you have the least right to complain, given that your entire philosophy is a shitty generalization.
And you know, I’m kinda sympathetic that you can’t get a partner to cuddle – human companionship is a fundamental need of mankind, and if there’s a phrase I’d feel comfortable applying to “all people” it would be “people don’t like to feel alone.” I myself spent years locked in my room as a teenager, with no friends, seriously facing down a future where no woman would touch me ever, and I still have flashbacks to those days.  So I understand that being lonely is a terrible thing that can leave deep scars, even if you’re lonely because you’re a complete and utter asshole.
But women?  Are more likely to be killed by men than heart attacks.  Abusive men are, quite literally, their number-one danger right through middle age.
And when I compare your “I’m lonely” or “I bought her an iPhone and she didn’t even sleep with me” to their “I got raped and murdered,” I kiiiiinda have to prioritize their needs over yours, you know?  Especially when you can actually be less lonely by giving up your expectation that women are some sort of slot machine where you keep putting in affection until the pussy spills out, and she has no realistic way of avoiding dudes creeping on her except maybe by living as a hermit in the woods.
So yeah.   Maybe it’s not all men.  But those men who do affect about as close to “all women” as you can get.  And of all the people who get to bitch about generalizations, you will not be one of them, Mister MRA, until you back off mainlining that outrage about what “all women” do.

I Could Use A Little More Of Joe's Honesty: On Dead People And Costs

So Joe the Plumber, that conservative footnote to the 2008 election, had this to say about the latest shooting spree:

I am sorry you lost your child. I myself have a son and daughter and the one thing I never want to go through, is what you are going through now. But:
As harsh as this sounds – your dead kids don’t trump my Constitutional rights.

And I read that and went, “Fuck yeah, Joe, thanks for being honest.”
Because Joe, at least, is looking those dead kids in the eye and saying, “I’ve done the math, and I find this level of killing and pain to be acceptable for the greater good.”  And he’s getting pilloried on the Internet, but really, Joe is the only pro-gun guy having an honest conversation with the media about guns right now.
You don’t like what Joe has to say?  Well, how do you like Obama?
Because the drones Obama is so fond of using, as it turns out, target on potentially-erroneous metadata.  The terrorists have figured out that the NSA tracks cell phones, so they swap SIMs all the time, hand their phones off to different people – and we occasionally just blow up a phone in the hopes that we hit the right guy.
And here’s what Obama is saying, but not out loud:

I’m sorry I blew up your family.  I myself have a son and daughter and the one thing I never want to go through, is what you are going through now: everyone you love being destroyed accidentally because someone handed your kid the wrong cell phone.
But as harsh as this sounds – your dead kids don’t trump our right to safety.

And if you don’t think Obama isn’t saying, “Incinerating a few innocents is worth keeping terrorists down,” well, you’re not looking at it honestly.  He’s done the calculations.  He knows there are no clean wars with no collateral damage or accidents.
He’s just not saying it, because if we presented the choice in that way, we wouldn’t actually make that choice.
Here’s another fun thing Obama doesn’t say:

I’m sorry that one out of every twenty black men are in jail right now, as we speak.  I’m sorry that roughly one out of every three black guys will go to jail in their lifetime.  I myself have a son and daughter, and I’d be distraught if they got a twenty-year sentence for holding a dime bag.  It’s not fun keeping one out of every hundred people in America locked in prison – in fact, it’s expensive, cruel, and costly in more ways than just funding.
But as harsh as this sounds – this is better than legalizing drugs.

These are three things I believe should be dismissed, of course – I dislike drone strikes, I dislike drug sentences, I dislike the gun laws we have.  But the thing that’s absent in all of these discussions is that we all just sort of sidewalk past the costs, not wanting to look at the trail of wrecked and burned bodies to ask, “Is this worth it?”
And we should ask that question.  The ugly truth is that America is sufficiently large a country that almost any decision we make is going to crush someone innocent underfoot.  If we react to the MRA shooter by saying, “We need better mental health laws, and more proactive targeting to put these people away before they can harm people!” then we’ll probably lock away some potential shooters – but we’ll also have a nonzero number of troublesome-but-not-harmful weirdos locked away for the crime of “his neighbors found him creepy.”
What’s the real cost?  Can we stop pretending that nobody would ever dies or get hurt if only we just got our way, and be honest about the sadly imperfect solutions we have at our fingertips?  Can we say, “Look, bureaucratic screwups and funding shortages are going to kill a lot of people, no matter what kind of health care system we have.  Maybe we should stop pretending that ‘death panels’ are a failure state of a callous system and are, rather, an unavoidable part of having non-infinite resources to help people… and instead of acting as though we can prevent every death, start investigating which methodologies are least unfair in terms of picking the people we decide to let die.”
Obama doesn’t say how many innocents he thinks are worth killing thanks to bad cell phone data, but that’s because America is very fucked up about how we think things should be.  We don’t want to think that any innocents are worth killing – which is laudable in theory, but lacking perfect data, the only way to do that is to not ever shoot any terrorist at all.  And maybe not shooting those terrorists, and letting them kill innocents, would lead to even more deaths.
The point I’m making is that we’re gonna have blood on our hands.  And yet if we ask, “Well, how do we minimize the number of accidental victims?” then we fucking flip out because this is America, and we don’t do that.
Except it may be unavoidable.
And keep in mind, I’m not saying that I know how many bad drone strikes are worth it.  I’m against drone strikes in principle.  But then again, we’ve never really had an open debate in this country about what we perceive are the dangers of inaction vs. the dangers of action-with-inevitable-error-margins, so I can’t actually say.  My gut says, “Don’t kill anyone ever if there’s any chance,” but I fully acknowledge that’s my natural denial of I Don’t Want Anything Bad To Happen Ever kicking in, along with an unhealthy side order of It’s Those Guys Far Away So I Don’t Have To Look At What Happens.  I can say “no drone strikes,” but then again I’m not an Afghan girl risking having acid thrown at her just for the crime of going to school.
So rather than yelling at Joe for being an asshole, I’d rather applaud him.  What he said is harsh, but it’s also accurate.  And while I don’t think he’s correct, at least he’s not shying away from the very real calculations that we should be doing about “How many dead kids are worth a cause?”
We don’t do enough of that in America.  We really don’t.