So this week I've spent a fair wad of time and energy doing battle over on the Feministing thread of doom. Meloukhia's open letter kicked up a storm of articulate anger, frustration and indignation, perhaps a tipping point in the long history of resistance from people like Anna, Annaham (who I think actually has another home on the intertubes, but I've lost track of it!), Amandaw, Chally and a fair few others. I've cosigned the letter over there, and am hoping to find time for a post about it...

But for now, I wanted to gesture towards some of the vitriol that gets directed at those PWD who expect to be treated as, y'know, actual hoooman beings. Amandaw's post about what she expected from Feministing, about what would be 'enough', about the fact that a pat on the head was not going to be enough, got responded to by someone with just enough philosophical knowledge to display her incredible ignorance and hatred. Oh, and btw, it's not just PWD who get this treatment, but 'ugly lesbians' too. Stop resenting, everyone! Be nice! Be good! Be virtuous as fuck! Don't resist, be submissive! Be quarantined til you die (no exagerration, she said that). Be *pretty*! Oh, and don't be relativist, even when the history of beauty indicates that the concept has *always* been relative... [snort]

You know it. I commented. Here's what I said, because I have a funny feeling that she's not going to approve me, and because Amandaw was curious:

"Wow. This is so extremely offensive.

You know what? For the most part, PWD *are* quarantined. They are excluded from much of the possibility of a social life. They are excluded from the possibility of participating in politics. They are killed, raped, beaten and abused in an extraordinary variety of ways. You just contributed to that world, and suggested that the expectation that PWD don’t get killed, raped, beaten and abused is asking too much of people. Nice one.

Do you even get how utterly, utterly unbelievably unjust it is to reduce rebellion against oppression to ressentiment? You also might want to spend some time with some more contemporary critiques of concepts of ressentiment. I recommend Wendy Brown for some eye-opening."

I've been contemplating writing a piece about Caster Semenya, or, more specifically, not least because the poor woman has had her body made the speculative material of hundreds of journalists, about the astonishing sense of entitlement that is displayed in the media's coverage of her. A sense of entitlement to say what she is, to discuss her genitals, to unsex her, to pass judgement on 'what she really is'. It's incredible. I feel like saying to all of these people: seriously, how would you feel? How would you feel if people started speculating about what was hidden inside your pants, and based on what they assumed to know, claimed that you weren't the sex you had always been? How would you feel if people started claiming that you were a 'false man' or a 'false woman'? How would you feel if journalists the world over were commenting about whether or not you should be allowed to do the thing you had worked so hard at making your best skill? But I'm ambivalent about posting about this (especially over at Hoyden about Town, where there's a much larger community and the possibility of a pick-up) at the moment, precisely because of this furore and speculation - and it is speculation - that must be so very hard for Semenya to be managing, let alone if she's negotiating with the discovery that she is intersexed at the moment.

And all of that crap from the media is before we even get to the terminology business. The term 'hermaphrodite' is massively outdated, and refers to an earlier medical taxonomy which based the determination of sex on gonadal tissue. A 'true hermaphrodite' was someone with both testicular and ovarian tissue (or ovotesticular tissue, also known as 'streaks'), whilst a 'pseudohermaphrodite,' as the term in this context suggests, was someone whose gonadal tissue was either ovarian or testicular, but whose phenotypical characteristics (the look of their genitals) didn't seem to match. Nonetheless, at this point is time, the gonads determined all. If testes were found, that person was required to live as a man. Times have changed, of course, and now we have a far more complex taxonomy of sex, in which genes, chromosomes, hormones, primary and secondary sex characteristics and gender identity all, officially, play a role. (Though, as I discuss here, primary concern seems to be about visible genitalia, which in turn appears to be an anxiety about the appearance of the genitalia producing gender, so that to be a 'proper' boy, you need a 'proper' penis.) We don't really know how to deal if any one of these is out of line with what we assume it's meant to be. Well, officially we don't know.

Unofficially, or officially enough for the MSM, but departing fairly radically from anything vaguely resembling nuance, Semenya is being deemed to be 'not really a man.' This is evocation of a 'true woman,' a standard to which Semenya allegedly does not live up, seems to be everywhere. In fact, I heard a sports scientist on Radio National (I complained to them about their coverage, because it was truly just so appallingly bad) claim that she really 'ought' to begin living as a man, and that she certainly wouldn't be able to race other women because she was not a 'true woman'. The very thought had me gaping, and in fact there was a suggestion - a laughing, isn't-this-ludicrous suggestion - that they create special sports for a 'third sex'. The whole thing was built on a poke-poke-poke-at-the-freak, a prod-prod-prod-isn't-it-racy-and-titillating? fascination with the other who makes me oh-so-grateful to be simply sexed. Cis privilege simply reeked off the whole discussion, and sadly, it seems pretty consistent in the various media I've seen covering it.

More when I feel it might be okay to do so...

I've been thinking a lot of late about how childhood is thought about in contemporary culture. My thoughts go in a thousand directions, including the erasure of childhood sexuality (and the parallels between the discursive construction of child sex abuse and rape of women, but that's a story for another time), the use made of the 'purity' of childhood in contemporary politics, and, related to all of these, the way that parenting is 'supposed' to work, these days.

I've been reading, most recently, Jo Tamar's take on perceptions of medical risk and birth, as well as Helen's consideration of risks men take and risks women take, as well as Lauredhel's interesting analysis of the obscuring of the safety of home birth in stats. But what I wanted to talk about here was the bizarre way that normalcy and good parenting go together. And all of this is of course related to Ariane's comment on my post over here, which I've been turning over and over in my head, trying to work out how to express my position.

Moar here! )

Another, more casual space to blog in. What have I done?

Actually, I have to confess that the disastrous 'neuroscience of fandom' survey, and the wildly smart and incisive responses to it have made me think I'm missing out on a very fun corner of the intertubes, so here I am... able to indulge my fandom whims at will, and maybe even (gasp!) participate, somewhere along the line!



October 2009



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