Why I am not watching Mad Men, and what I wish I could watch instead

I keep hearing from various people whose opinions I respect that Mad Men is really good and I should watch it, so I checked into it a little further. Mad Men is a serial drama set in the 60s and heavily about people’s personal issues. This sounds awesome, right? Period drama from the 60s where the women are real characters? Yeah, it sounds awesome. Until I found out that the show is all about white people’s sexual repression issues, and overwhelmingly about straight people.

So I’m going to pass on watching Mad Men. I’m not saying other people shouldn’t, and by all accounts the writing is fantastic so if you’re up for a show about white straight people’s sexual repression issues in the 60s, this is totally the show for you.

For me, though, I heard it was a 60s period piece full of relationship and workplace drama, and I came up with a bunch of ideas for what kind of show with that description I’d want to see before finding out that it was yet another show that just happened to focus on white heterosexuals.

I’d love to see a show about women in the workplace with a heavy focus on the feminist movement of that time, playing out some of the conflicts between straight feminists and lesbian feminists in their lives and relationships, and at work with the difficulties of women entering typically male-dominated professions in contrast with women entering more traditional fields, and the kinds of pressures in each. This would be best if there was also a critique about race and class issues in feminism.

Or a show about African-American gays and lesbians in the Civil Rights Movement. Do I need to say more about how cool this would be?

Or a show about Asian Americans, getting into the conflicts between different groups of Asian Americans versus the outside view of Asian Americans as one cohesive group. I think this could be a fantastic drama, especially if it got into generational issues around assimilation.

Or a show about American Indians, some living in the city and some on the reservation. I’d want to see this in the context of dealing with the ongoing effects of colonization and the ways that history is re-written to suit the victors. I’d also want this set maybe a little later, mid to late 60s, to coincide with the rise of the American Indian Movement.

No one’s making me these shows, though. Just the show about white people’s sexual repression issues, because that’s the big thing that was going on in the 60s.


the inadequacy of acceptance

I’ve been out for a long time and had many people identify themselves as my allies, which is very nice in some ways, and then typically they follow that up by going back to watching TV and eating chips, and I have to say it leaves me somewhat confused. It’s great to be an ally and the realization that there is a problem is a vital first step, but without followup and subsequent action it’s a mere gesture.

I find that too often others’ acceptance does not rise beyond this level: they accept me, but take no actions and don’t see why they should be involved as it isn’t their issue.

It’s total bullshit to hear about how equal people think you are while at the same time they brush off the issues you bring to them from your daily life, while they pretend that their acceptance of you overcomes their dismissiveness of your reality, their refusal to engage, their willful blindness to the facts of your inequality so they can feel okay about doing nothing.

Stop pretending your mere acceptance is adequate.

Stop accepting the status quo.

If the realities of inequality do not make you burn to right them, then your acceptance of others is limited at best. This is especially so in an age when a great deal of activism can be carried out by doing nothing more grueling than what you are doing right now: poking around with a computer.

It’s true that no one can do everything, but this is not an excuse for doing nothing.

a short critique of the use of violence to create change

I have recently heard a number of people that I generally consider my allies conclude that violence is, if not exactly desirable, then an expression of freedom and power and an effective way to fight back against oppression in general and the horrors of police abuse in particular. I certainly have some sympathy for this. I am in no way opposed to self-defense and I accept that there are situations where peaceful change has been made impossible. However, I must remain critical of the use of violence in any situation where there is another real choice.

I do not think that violence will best construct the future I want to build, and with increasingly rare exceptions I think it is counterproductive.

Propagating violence does not make real change, it makes more victims. If you make enough victims, you get to run the show for a bit, and maybe if you make the right victims, people will like you. Promising to victimize certain groups of people is often a successful campaign strategy, but that does not make it a strategy that creates a better world. It creates a system where people want the bully they like to be in charge.

Use of violence buys into a mentality where certain levels or types of violence are okay and where the impacts on the victims are dismissed as insignificant. Even beyond my unwillingness to tolerate violence toward people and animals, I will not condone property destruction or statements that “oh what are a few broken windows compared to police abuse” because the issue is not whether the police are brutes. We already know they’re brutes. The issue is not merely scoring lower on the scale of general destructiveness than the police and how we compare to them. The issue is who we want to be and what kind of future we want to create for ourselves.

We live in a world that is all about the soundbite, the short clip, the 140 character tweet. Public image and mediagenics are in many ways everything. Presenting well to the world makes all the difference when you only get that ten second clip, so make it a good one that encapsulates what you are trying to say. The medium is at some level the message. The ends and means are not separable. If you use violence to attain your goal, violence necessarily becomes a part of your goal, an acceptable behavior, part of the greater picture of acceptable tools and methods. No matter what your reason for violence is, what you display to the world is not your ideological message but your violent actions, and what people who see the clip of you will see is not any message you’re trying to convey but the horror of violence and your willingness to engage in violence.

Responding to violence with violence reinforces the mindset of the existing power structure. When we use it we become more like what we are working to change, more subject to the current system’s corruptions and self-justifications and less sympathetic to people who have been oppressed or victimized, who have had their lives changed by violence. Violence does not build, it only tears down. Existing corrupt power structures have been tearing us all down for years. Instead of tearing them down, let’s build something beautiful and make them obsolete. I’m not coming to the violent revolution. I’m coming to the one with the potluck and the all night dance party and the workshops on community gardening. The use of force does not win the hearts and minds of anyone who wants a world built on something other than the use of force. I don’t want to live in a world where people use violence to solve problems, and it’s not effective to fight to end violence by using more violence. It’s like having an all-night beer party to celebrate your sobriety: it undermines the entire point.

For the most part I think that it is easy to advocate violence when you imagine that you will be the perpetrator rather than the victim and that your behavior is somehow justified and ultimately positive. You may feel powerful and effective when you engage in violence. And then some of the rest of us get to spend the remainder of our lives dealing with the aftereffects of violence, the scars and the fear and the other post-traumatic issues, and the difficulty of sitting through it when people discuss violence as a tactic as though it’s some abstract thing.

I think it is better to seek alternatives and move forward without violence, without the use of force whenever possible. Rise above the cops. Rise above police violence and systemic abuse and implement creative solutions. To build something better we must use better tools. When we have the choice, we must choose non-violent means.

it gets better when you make it better

I’ve recently been having a few conversations with various people about what my life as a homo has been like in contrast to the ignorant bliss of heteronormativity, and it’s making me curious as to how all y’all with kids are handling the possible non-heterosexuality of your kids or their buddies, whose parents may not turn out to be as cool as you are.

Let me write briefly of some of the things I am thinking of.

First and most obviously, the sex talk. No one likes the sex talk. Every parent I’ve talked to says it is a horrible, uncomfortable experience on that side of it as well as being the child getting the sex talk. The sex talk is no fun. However, the purpose of the sex talk is to convey useful information about sex and possibly sexuality, and hopefully something along the lines of that your child can talk to you. My intention in writing this is not to make it all about me, but I can only write what I know. I got the sex talk when I was about 9. It was, as is typical, unpleasant. It was also, as is typical, exclusively heterosexually focused. I went on to sex ed in school, which I sat through 6 times, in grades 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 11, and learned a fair bit about birth control in addition to some of the things to expect from the horrors of puberty. The focus early on was dual, traditional heterosexual reproduction and how to prevent it with various devices on the one hand and basic puberty warnings such as that shortly I would start bleeding out my vag every month but should not regard this as a medical emergency.

The focus was exclusively heterosexual other than the stuff about your skin breaking out. There was no acknowledgement that people other than heterosexuals existed. I never received in any class information about gay sex, gay issues, coming out of the closet, or figuring out who you were, much less any information about entering a community space that your family is not a part of or how to deal with the differences in legal status or what changes in family pressure may look like. I never encountered a teacher who said anything along the lines of that there was help for students who could not come out to their families. I have never had a doctor ask if I were closeted, or address the issues around the kinds of isolation we often face.

I have had doctors tell me that it was probably a phase and I’d get over it, or just gone in for a sinus infection and had the temperature in the room drop when they got to that part of my basic health background questionnaire. Most of my gynecologists do not seem to have any understanding of sex between women, so instead of the generalized talk about birth control there is silence. I have had to worry that I would not get the same care as other people. This is a hard thing to worry about when there is a speculum involved.

I was out in school fairly quickly since being in the closet sucks, and I got harassed non-stop by other students. I had trouble with teachers patronizing me over it, showing discomfort and tacitly okaying the harassment, quiet homophobes who didn’t want class disrupted but would never say a word to actually stop my classmates’ behavior.

There was, as mentioned, no material taught on LGBT issues. No gay literature, no mention of our treatment in World War II or other parts of history, nothing in current events. There was a mention of an article on gay youth in my 11th grade health class. That was it.

I’d been a subject of the article.

I have also had issues with strangers who felt it was okay to come up and tell me off for holding hands with my girlfriend in public because she didn’t want her son seeing that, who felt entitled to bother us because we were two women, who hit on me or my girlfriend like we weren’t out on a date but were looking for men.

Not just once, but over and over. This is to say nothing about the ways things have changed as I’ve gotten older, workplace issues, the social pressures of compulsory heterosexuality.

Nothing anyone ever told me prepared me to handle any of this at all, and although it’s true that you can’t prepare for everything, I feel that some of these things are things that someone could have helped me with so I felt like less of a freak and maybe had some guidance instead of struggling through coming out alone and having to hit the library for any information that was there. Gay kids are good at using the library, or we were. Now we’re probably good at using the internet. I wish I’d had the internet back then and maybe I could have talked to people. The isolation was getting to me.

Part of what I am concerned with here is how often I hear “What? Is that a real thing?” when I mention things about my life that I thought were commonly understood, to people that I generally consider enlightened and accepting.

And so my question to all of you who have or want children is, how are you handling this? How are you doing with it at home? How are you making sure you cover gay issues in the sex talk? What are you doing to ensure that real sex ed, sex ed that includes non-heterosexuals, is taught at school? What are you doing to change things rather than joining the ranks of legions of parents who respond to coming out with tolerance but no information, no understanding of what this means for their children? How will you help them navigate a community you are not a part of? How will you improve the future for LGBT kids?

the excuse of great achievements

I’ve been following news around Sandusky, the Penn State football coach who was recently busted for raping children, and the various officials who knew and covered it up because he was just so darned good at football.

Penn State students have rioted, overturning cars and smashing things. Not because Penn State quietly condoned this monstrous behavior in the name of football, but because Penn State has wised up and fired him. As is typical for police, they’re too busy going after peaceful protesters to be bothered about an actual riot. Free speech is for sports fans.

This is all an exceptionally disgusting statement about our culture, but what I am reminded of with this outpouring of support for Jerry Sandusky is the last two times I recall that rape became a major media event with the cases of Roman Polanski and Julian Assange, and how so many people were quick to jump to excuse what is a truly terrible crime on the grounds that these people have achieved amazing things.

Achieving amazing things is not a license to violate other people’s bodily autonomy. There is not some kind of system in place where you earn points for achievements and after you tip over into “amazing” you are allowed to rape people. Rape is not ever okay, no matter what other awesome things you have done.

No matter how many football games you win.

No matter how many brilliant movies you make.

No matter your contributions to open governance. And to hit this in particular, there is a terrible irony to working for a more open and accountable world while violating others’ autonomy in this manner.

Being human is not a binary experience. People are not “good” or “evil” with no middle ground, no squiggly line racing between extremes. It is possible for someone to achieve great things and also do things that are truly terrible, and this is a hard thing for the rest of us to deal with because it makes processing our relationships to these wonderful things that we love very difficult, and it makes our relationships with the people who do these things complex. Do I respect Julian Assange for working for open government, or do I hate him for serial date rape? Both. Do I admire Polanski’s films and feel terrible for his experience of having his partner murdered, or do I hate him for drugging and raping a junior high girl? Both. I don’t actually care about football, but the same principle holds – Jerry Sandusky was a great coach, but also raped children.

And this is where I differ from everyone who has defended these men from rape charges on the basis of their contributions in other areas: a person’s contributions to the arts, sports, or open governance are not relevant to whether they have also committed rape, and are not a defense. “I made something great” is not an answer to accusations of rape any more than it would be an answer to say “I am a faithful Catholic” or “I am a solid democrat” or “I like orange juice”. It is not relevant. It is a non sequitur. It has nothing to do with the accusations made.

Terminator and the future of feminist film

I’ve been rewatching the Terminator movies recently and I’ve come to a conclusion about this series and the portrayals of women in film. I’ve always loved the Terminator movies because if you’re me there’s nothing better than a movie about killer robots traveling back in time from a dark future.

Unless you also get awesome female characters.

I love pretty much everything Terminator has to offer and could go on for hours about the co-optation of institutions of authority, the genius of filming the movies some years apart, or the robopocalypse. Instead, I’m going to talk about only one thing: the awesome women of Terminator.

Sarah Connor is 18 or 19 in the first Terminator movie. She has a shitty waitressing job, an apartment with her best friend, and fabulous 80s hair. She’s looking for love and not having luck. She drives a scooter. I’m not going to go on about how this is the most amazing character writing ever, but she’s a well-drawn character. When she hooks up with Kyle, it makes sense in the larger plot.

In the second movie, she has decent character development and is not just there to be The Mom who worries excessively while failing to understand what’s up. She’s a badass bodybuilder who escapes from a high-security facility, shows off all the skills she’s acquired, and takes initiative in fighting Cyberdyne.

In the third movie, we have Kate Brewster, John Connor’s future wife. She has a job she’s very serious about, a boyfriend she’s getting engaged to, and a family history that advances the plot and justifies her skill sets. She is more central to the movie than John, and if the movie has a thesis statement other than Robopocalypse!!! it’s Kate Brewster is awesome. Also, the other terminator here is primarily female-bodied, which is nice.

In the fourth movie things are really focused on John Connor and his dad, Kyle Reese, and there’s this whole awkward plotline with the terminators that could have been developed better. There aren’t a lot of primary women characters, but Kate Brewster is hanging out being awesome and Kyle’s sidekick, Star, is a little girl who manages to be fantastic despite not talking and the women of the robopocalypse generally are just as badass as the men.

I’m not going to make an argument that the Terminator series is great feminist film. The first three movies pass the Bechdel test. I’m not sure about the fourth, although that’s harder to evaluate when Star interacts with people significantly but does not speak. What I am going to say is that the women are solid characters. They’re as well drawn as the men are. They’re not objects. They’re not there to be The Mom or The Girlfriend. It actually matters to the plot that Sarah and Kyle are attracted to each other rather than having this be so you know that the movie is appropriately heterosexual.

I feel that this should be the minimum standard for women in movies: do as well as Terminator. Write women with real plotlines, real backgrounds, real lives. Don’t drop women in as the awkwardly placed love interest with two lines who’s really there to keep the two dudes who are totally obsessed with each other from seeming too gay – write a real part for the woman or skip her entirely and give me some hot man on man action. That’s probably a second rant. Anyway, write real parts for women, like we’re real people or something. Give women real things to do, goals and lives and interests. I’m holding up as the positive example here an Arnold Schwarzeneggar action movie about killer robots traveling back in time from the robopocalypse. This is not something I should have to do and indicates to me that possibly the machines have won and I’m living in some bizarre dystopia that can’t offer me anything better than Sex and the City.

Write real women.

Do as well as Terminator.

A follow up on Florida governor Rick Scott’s drug testing of welfare applicants

As a followup to my previous post on why drug testing people who are applying for assistance is a bad idea, I’m paying attention to what happens with the fallout since a few people have asked me about the legality of the situation.

On Mother Jones, an article by Adam Weinstein titled Rick Scott’s Pee Test Fails a Court Test reports that a federal judge ruled that the tests are an unreasonable search in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

Also, Rick Scott himself has taken to backsliding about the whole thing and saying it was never about the money. Apparently it’s about children! Because if your parents have substance abuse issues you magically just don’t need to eat.