Being three years out of college, I’m at that point where all of my friends are getting married. Too bad I’m also at the point where my first marriage has ended, but whatevs. In any case, I’ve been immersed in wedding talk – invitations, dress fittings, vows… A lot of the chatter around me has been about how to have an alternative ceremony that doesn’t bend to the patriarchal traditions of such things as “giving the bride away.” I have friends who had a commitment ceremony instead of a legal wedding, I also have friends who had a Quaker ceremony (which was one of the most beautiful events I’ve had the honor of witnessing), and still another couple of friends had a song by the White Stripes (“We Are Gonna Be Friends”) as their processional.

So far, none of my friends have done this. Though I wouldn’t put it past any of them.

Yes, this week’s Cat and Girl is just like grocery shopping with me. Click on the comic for a larger easier-to-read image.

Class Issues in Prison Break.

November 26, 2007

NOTE: I am watching the first season of Prison Break on Netflix. Please consider any comments carefully to AVOID SPOILERS.

The television drama Prison Break is set up on the premise of a successful engineer (Michael Scofield) who commits a crime to end up in prison and assist his death-row inmate brother (Lincoln Burrows) (1) escape. I was hesitant to watch this show as my thoughts tend to run along the lines of “So, then what’s going to happen when they actually escape? Is that going to be the end of the show? And if they don’t escape? What’s the point of that?” But then again, I am a big fan of Lost, which also can not go on forever, so I stepped up to the plate and swallowed my disbelief. (2)

One issue that comes up over and over again in the first season is the disbelief of the secondary characters that someone like Michael would end up in prison in the first place. What would trigger an engineer with a clean record to commit a violent crime? (3) In the world where crimes are not committed to aid in getting one’s brother out of jail and one does not get blueprints of state penitentiaries tattooed all over one’s torso to aid in this scheme, engineers with clean criminal records and no history of mental illness are not at all likely to commit violent crime, and what’s more is that if they do, they are not likely to serve hard time in prison.

Howard Zinn writes a concise summary of the American prison system in A People’s History of the United States (4):

The prisons in the United States had long been an extreme reflection of the American system itself: the stark life differences between rich and poor, the racism, the use of victims against one another, the lack of resources of the underclass to speak out, the endless “reforms” that changed little. Dostoevski once said: “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.”

It had long been true, and prisoners knew this better than anyone, that the poorer you were the more likely you were to end up in jail. This was not just because the poor committed more crimes. In fact, they did. The rich did not have to commit crimes to get what they wanted; the laws were on their side. But when the rich did commit crimes, they often were not prosecuted, and if they were they could get out on bail, hire clever lawyers, get better treatment from judges. Somehow, the jails ended up full of poor black people.

Not only did Michael Scofield not fit the class profile of someone who committed a violent crime, but he certainly did not fit the profile of someone who ended up in prison for said crime. He certainly had a “clever lawyer” in Veronica Donovan, he could afford whatever fines were placed on him, and certainly, a judge would be predisposed by his previous clean record to offer him lighter sentencing than that which is advised. He wasn’t only the type of person who wouldn’t normally end up in prison, but as Michel Foucault (5) argues, he isn’t the type of person for whom prisons are designed in the first place. As he puts it, prisons are built by the bourgeoisie to separate the lower class “other” in incrementally more isolating mechanisms depending on the severity of the infraction: mere displacement from society for minor offenses, solitary confinement for more serious crimes, and the ultimate punishment – destruction of the individual for those offenses that are totally egregious.

So called “White collar” criminals don’t end up in prison merely because their crimes are non-violent, but because the prison system was designed to keep the rich, white elements on the outside and the poor, non-white elements on the inside. Scofield, as a rich white man, had no business being in prison and in a non-television drama, his place in society would have probably kept him from serving any time for a failed bank robbery in which no one was injured. He would have faced probation and some serious fines, but those elaborate tattoos would likely have been for naught.

NOTES

1) It is explained somewhere mid-season that the two characters who are biologically full-brothers have different last names because their father left while Michael was still in utero and in light of this, their mother chose to give him her maiden name, thus conveniently setting up a scenario in which the criminal justice system would neglect to realize that these two inmates were of relation.

2) Actually, I started watching it because my boyfriend got it on Netflix. But that’s not really as impressive sounding.

3) He robbed a bank and discharged a gun. No one was hurt, but the firing of the weapon classified the crime as “violent” on which basis the judge – an older African-American woman, just to continue the world of statistically unlikely occupations – made the ruling that she felt “incumbent that [he] see the inside of a prison cell,” which is a pretty awesome sentence. Not often do you find “incumbent” cropping up in an sentence.

4) My current bed-time reading. See what college does to you? Beware kids, you too will be reading serious social criticism for fun.

5) Yes, I’ve read Foucault. In my spare time. In French. This is what college does to you! I’m telling you, it’s dangerous!

Dinosaurs for Social Change.

November 26, 2007

Browsing the archives of Dinosaur Comics, I found this and nearly laughed my pants off because I myself have this same train of thought on a near daily basis. Enjoy!

Black Friday.

November 21, 2007

Thanksgiving is this week, which means that we are also rapidly coming up on Black Friday. I don’t know which I hate more, the meaningless holiday based on genocide and lying to children about how g-ddamn friendly the Pilgrims and the Indians were to each other(I actually have more beef with Thanksgiving than with Columbus Day on this front because no little kids are acting out plays in which Columbus and some Indians with feathers on their heads sit down and enjoy a turkey), or the day after – the biggest holiday in retail.

Black Friday may not be the biggest day in the shopping year in terms of sales, but it is the day with the greatest amount of foot traffic. And it’s certainly the day that retail stores put the most attention to. Opening as early as 4 in the morning, advertising one-day-only sales, or in some cases, sales that end by noon. This year, Wal-Mart (the US’s greatest retailer of gifts) has gone so far as to suppress any advance information regarding their sales. Not only are the sales themselves all about the hype, but to go so far as to say that your sales are so awesome that you can’t possibly allow competitors to gain advance knowledge of them creates meta-hype. This is really pretty great PR for Wal-Mart.

Which is what the whole thing is about anyway, it’s all PR. It’s all hype. Sure, you might save $20 on a DVD player. You feel like you’re getting such a good deal, like you’re beating the system and hey! You’re being rewarded for it. So, what do you do? You buy a sweater.

This is how sales work, people. It’s all pyschological. It’s all for effect! Yes, you may save an amount of money. That is, if you go into a store looking for one specific item that you know in advance will be on sale and walk out with that item and that item alone. Yes, then you have saved money. But, having worked in retail, and having watched the American consumer in its natural habitat, I can tell you that this is not usually how it works. Usually, you browse. You find the thing that you were looking for. Let’s use the example of a book, since I worked in a bookstore. What’dya know? Who Moved My Cheese? is on the 3 for 2 table! So, you figure, if you buy Tuesdays With Morrie then you can get The DaVinci Code “free!” WHAT A DEAL!

Do you see the fallacy here? If you went in to buy Who Moved My Cheese? and walked out of the store paying for two books instead of one, it doesn’t matter how many books you got for “free” on top of that – you just spent more money. You did not save a dime. Now, if you really needed all three of these tomes, then yes, you have found yourself a sweet deal. But how many of us really actually need another shirt from the “Buy one get one half off” rack? If you go into a store to buy one item and go out paying for more than one item, you have been suckered by the magic of retail. It’s a powerful, powerful force. Until I really realized how it worked – from the business end of things, going through meetings that detailed selling strategies such as the placement of sales stickers to draw maximum attention – I was suckered by it many a time myself, I’ll admit.

This is why you won’t find me lining up in front of Wal-Mart on Black Friday. I want my gifts to be about what inspires me about my loved ones. I don’t want my Christmas shopping to be all about trying to save $5 on a toaster. I’m also really, really broke. I’m also buying handmade this year because I’m a hippie like that and prefer to support the counter-culture rather than the mainstream soul-sucking retail giants. Five AM, day after Thanksgiving, I will be blissfully asleep.

Dear TWoP Viewers:

My blog stats reveal that there are quite a number of you flowing over here from the Hannah Montana forums (which, for some reason, I am not authorized to reply to, hence this extraneous blog post) in which my Gender & Hannah Montana post is cited as an “article.”

I suppose I need to make it clear that this blog is a joke. That post was originally written as a birthday “gift” to a friend.  While you can agree or disagree with the main points that I’m making, as an “article” there’s nothing really to “get” because it’s not at all serious.  I just think about these issues a lot, whether I want to or not, as a sort of reflex from my very Liberal Liberal Arts education.  And hey! Writing stuff is fun! 🙂

That said, I hope you enjoy the blog, but don’t worry yourselves on trying to grok what’s going on here. It’s just a bit of nerdy fun.

Skin Deep.

November 13, 2007

On the Season 2 episode of House, M.D. (1) entitled “Skin Deep“, Dr. Gregory House (2) treats a teenage super-model who presents with the symptoms of sudden rage, nausea, intermittent short-term memory problems, and convulsions. House suspects cancer, but is unable to find the source – until an MRI reveals that the individual who presents as female possesses undescended testicles (easily mistaken for under-developed ovaries on an ultrasound, but properly identifiable on MRI), and furthermore, that there is a tumor on the left testicle.

When House presents the news to the patient and hir (3) father, he characteristically does so in a brusque manner, indicating that the patient formerly known as “she” has cancer on “his” left testicle. While it is the norm to reduce biological sex to an either-or position of XY or XX chromosomes (4), the fact of the matter is that it is not always that simple. There are many variations, such as XXY (5), which may go unnoticed until puberty – and in some cases, never noticed at all. In the case of this intersexual (6), ze did not have a chromosomal abnormality, but rather suffered from androgen insensitivity – in which the fetus is immune to testosterone in the womb and continues to develop as female, despite having XY chromosomes. It is simply incorrect to refer to this female-bodied and female-socialized (7) individual as “he” as hir chromosomes do not have any bearing on hir identity.

I could go on a very long digression about how pronoun usage in general is a rather clumsy thing as it is up to the individual hirself to define hir own gender identity and the pronoun that ze chooses to use to match, but I’ll just leave it at that. Identity and pronoun usage can not simply be reduced to biological sex, especially when biological sex itself can not simply be reduced to either/or.

Also used in this episode as an example of how tricky biological sex can be is Couvades Syndrome in which some expectant fathers exhibit “sympathetic pregnancies.” Their bodies become flooded with estrogen, perhaps from inhaling the estrogen fumes of their pregnant partners, and this causes the body to react. Male and female bodies respond the same way to estrogen: developing breasts, increased fatty tissue in the midsection, the typical “womanly-ass.” The differentiation in the sexes comes from the male-body’s ability to process testosterone, which, when lacking, instead produces an individual of – in House’s words – “pure estrogen.” House points out that in this case, the result is the “perfect woman.” He goes so far as to say “The perfect woman, is a man.”

In the right context, this statement could be an affirmation for transgender MTF women. However, in this case, it is just problematic. Neither of these individuals is a perfect woman – the man’s male identity is not sublimated just because he has developed breasts (8). Nor is the intersexed model a perfect woman, despite her admittedly perfect secondary sex characteristics (9), as hir body is anatomically different from that of your typical woman, meaning that ze will never experience the typically female events of menstruation or pregnancy (10).

In the end, there is no perfect woman, or perfect man. Even the typically sexed XX woman is going to watch football at some point in her life. Rumor has it that some XY men have even been known to cry, though possibly also related to football. Gregory House might be as close to the perfect man as they come, but even he doesn’t know everything.

CITED

1) The Best TV Show In The Entire World. 2004-2007.

2) AKA, The love of my life. You Can’t Have Him, He’s Mine, 2004-2007.

3) Ze/Hir – Gender Neutral Pronouns, championed by Leslie Feinberg. See also, hi, I found this MetaFilter comment that *I* made while Googling for this. Sheesh. Continual Struggle for Alternative Gender Acceptance – Dawn of time through Present.

4) The fancy word for chromosomal sex is “Karyotype.” Everybody, et al. Wikipedia, 2007.

5) Klinefelter’s Syndrome. Everybody, et al. Wikipedia, 2007.

6) That’s Right, I Just Made That Word Up. No One Else Had A Better One. C’mon, People, Get On It. 2007.

7) Socialization, AKA That’s Right, Gender is a Social Construct. Everybody, et al. Wikipedia, 2007.

8 ) Though I Doubt He Would Agree With Me On This. I’m Talking Out of My Ass, 2007.

9) She Really Does Have a Nice Rack. I Dare You Not To Notice, 2007.

10) Some Women Are Envious Of This. We Really Hate Having Cramps. Dawn of Time – Present.