The Stories We Comfort Ourselves With

I was reading Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism by Trungpa Chogam, and a passage of the book has been popping up in my mind ever since.

We would rather hoard and preserve the flavor and beauty of the experience so that, when bad times come, when we are depressed and down, we can bring that memory to mind in order to comfort ourselves, to tell ourselves that we have actually done something worthwhile.

I believe Chogam was talking about the way some people mentally cling to some of their more moving spiritual experiences (frankly, I don’t fully understand a lot of what he’s saying) but it stuck out to me because it seemed to be a more general applicable. Why do people post only their happiest memories on the internet? Why do people create this sanitized, beautified story about their lives? I had always found it somewhat offensive, even though I do it too. But, when I read that line, instead of feeling my normal annoyance at all the people who did this, I felt a sort of sadness – as if I were looking at a bird with with a broken wing trying to fly.

Apparently, the singer Amy Winehouse died alone of alcohol poisoning watching youtube videos of herself. Something about her death struck me as particularly iconic of our times, as if she had given a bolder expression of what so many of us do every day. It’s so easy to get caught in this loop, watching ourselves, and obsessing, trying to see how beautiful we are but never quite seeing it. I’d always thought facebook was a tool to show off to others, but I think actually it’s appeal is that it allows us to show off to ourselves.

When we are forced to see something difficult about ourselves, we can turn to these stories and say “see, this is who I am, the person in these photos!” But, we never actually believe it do we? Because if we did, we wouldn’t need the stories.

Girl’s Toys

I’ve been getting a bunch of articles on gender and toys like this on facebook:

And, you know, despite a lot of the PC and gender neutral phrasing, the takeaway sort of ends up being “we should be getting girls to play with boys toys.” Sure, sure, all the articles will pay lip service to “how boys should be allowed to play with dolls”, etc. But, at the end of the day, we usually see pictures of girls in the articles, not boys. We are usually talking about the negative effect these toyed gender divisions have on girls, not boys.

On an unrelated maybe related note, apparently people are far less empathetic today than they used to be.

So… in a world of reduced empathy, our number one priority is teaching our female children how to be engineers?

I remember when goldie blox was blasted all over the interwebs, to much acclaim.

These are toys aimed at girls to get them excited and into engineering.

But, do we really need more engineers? Why do we want female ones specifically? Why? Do we look at the pie chart of how many women there are in technical fields and say “zomg, this slice is too small! My OCD requires that the male, and female sections are exactly even!”

Wait! But Money! POWER! We need women to have these things just as much as men!

But why? Why do we need this? Our technology has enabled us to build drones that we fly into Afghanistan to kill people. Our technology has trapped us to our computers, desperately posting our lives to facebook to show off to our friends. Our technology has produced millions of useless, time wasting, computer games that we use to numb the permeating dissatisfaction and alienation we feel in our lives.

I don’t want women to become engineers. I want women to save the fucking world.

We are headed for a dark place. We already work longer hours, have fewer vacations, have less time for our loved ones than ever before. Adults have fewer close friendships than they did 20 years ago. Why do we want to send more women into this abyss? I want women to be there to help pull men *out* of it. I want wives to be telling their husbands “your e-commerce site isn’t as important as your son’s first words.” I want women to empathize with families in Iraq, and say “we cannot fight this way anymore, it is wrong.” And, I say this *as* a female engineer.

I remember at my first job, I would go on walks and cry in the bushes. This is where my feminism had led me? To a barren cube in a company full of single morbidly obese men? If I became like them, unhealthy, and unhappy, this would be a success? Because I was one of the few women who “could” do it? It is not enough for women to emulate men, because men have seriously fucked up this world. If we are trying to copy this, the materialism, the selfishness, I can only conclude that most women really lack faith in their own abilities. You think our daughters should aspire to be just as successful as men? As the wall street bankers who stole billions from the working class? As the internet billionaires who are contributing to increasing the income disparity, and pushing down the living standard for the everyone else? These men have failed to be even decent HUMANS, and this is how you want your daughters to turn out? Does money really mean that much?

I think what women really need is respect. Respect for raising kids, for being nurses, for being teachers, for caring. The people who devote their time and energy to taking care of other people, either the young, the old? Those are the ones we should be idolizing. What toys did they play with as a kid?

And, for whatever it’s worth, I was pink-barbie-cabbage patch kidded up to the max as a kid, and I still ended up an engineer. Just, hopefully, one with a perspective on larger society.


I’m More Afraid to Come Out to Gay People than Straight People

Specifically, lesbians. I’m more afraid to come out as bisexual to lesbians than to straight people.

I should note that I live in San Francisco – if I lived in bumblefuck homophobiaville, the story would probably be different. But, here in San Francisco, the land of the gays and politically correct, straight people are way easier to deal with than lesbians. When I come out to a straight person, they will usually say nothing. Sometimes they will talk about how great it it gay marriage passed, (or, back in the day, they’d talk about how they thought gay marriage *should* pass) to indicate how OK they were with it. Sometimes, if I casually mention my girlfriend, they will get this facial expression which I’ve interpreted to mean “I am trying as hard as possible to project that I am totally fine with your having a girlfriend.” It’s a little awkward, but sort of charming. I realize that they’re trying to tell me they accept me, without being unhip enough to project that being queer is a big deal.

On the other hand, I dread mentioning ex boyfriends to lesbians. Usually, gay women meet me in a gay context and assume I am also gay. When I’ve casually mentioned a male ex of mine, I’ve gotten responses like “Oh my god, what?” to which I’m awkwardly like “Uh – yeah, I’m bisexual.”

Check out this video:

I get that people have preferences, but what’s amazing to me is how entitled lesbians seem to feel to be outspoken about it. If you didn’t date black people, would you be willing to have a recording of yourself saying that published to the internet? I imagine most people who secretly felt that would probably keep it quietly to themselves. Of course, sexuality is different from race – but the majority of gay people argue that it wasn’t a choice for them. It’s generally polite not to rail on people for things they can’t help, which would seem to apply to bisexuality in this case.

Even with people who aren’t this outspoken, when I mention to a woman that I’m bisexual, it’s usually a “bad” thing. I’m sure to mention it to any woman I go out with on the first date because I expect it to be a possible reason she wouldn’t want to stay with  me. Conversely, when I date men, I’ll usually bring up that I’m bisexual whenever because I’ve never had a man get upset about it. Sometimes, I’ll get a “zomg, that’s so hot can I watch?” which is irritating, but a lot more welcome than the lesbian “that’s a shame.”

To be fair, not all lesbians are like this (my girlfriend, being one obvious exception.) In fact, possibly even *most* lesbians aren’t like this but enough of them are that make me wonder what is going on with it?

I asked my girlfriend for her take on it.

Me: Why do some lesbians not like bisexuals?

Her: Maybe because they’re insecure about it

Me: Insecure about what?

Her: I don’t know – like how I get insecure cuz you slept with guys.

Me: Why does that make you insecure?

Her: Cuz you slept with them before me.

Me: Why would that matter?

Her: I don’t know, cuz they have something I can’t give you.

Me: Like what?

Her: I don’t know.

Me: Like dick?

Her: *giggles* yeah.

Me: Why do you think I want dick?

Her:  I don’t know.

The cultural power of the dick is pretty impressive. I was hanging out with one of my more dude/bro friends the other day, and he was inquiring that had it really been two years since I’d had “the D” and didn’t I miss it? (“The D” was clearly capitalized, given his tone of voice.) I responded that what I missed about men was nothing so specific – it was more a male “energy” or something. I miss parts of all my lovers when they’re gone because everyone is unique, but that’s just a part of dating. What I miss about men as a whole doesn’t feel terribly different from that.

I think that bi-phobia is really a form of misogyny. The stereotype about bi men is they’re really gay, the stereotype about bi women is they’re really straight. The unifying theme is that people have a hard time believing someone who was attracted to both genders would choose to be with a woman. But, I don’t have trouble believing it because I love being with my girlfriend and I choose to be with her every day.

Femininity Depends on Masculinity Depends on Femininity

I often find lesbian culture to be an interesting place to look at masculinity, because you can isolate being “masculine” from being “male.”

Here’s an interesting thing that happens (or, is part of the gay cultural narrative anyway.) There exist masculine identified lesbians who only want to give sexual pleasure (usually, to feminine identified lesbians.) “Stone butch” is generally what it’s called, and here’s an article by someone who identifies as such. The phrase “stone femme” seems to usually indicate a desire to only receive sexual pleasure. The concept of a feminine person who receives her pleasure from *giving others* pleasure is very unusual.

There are several ways that seem usual for femininity to manifest:

– Recipient of pleasure

– Giver of pleasure for reasons other than sexual gratification (love, fairness, mental imbalance etc.)

– Giver of pain (this is the usual manifestation of female “dominance”)

Conversely, a feminine woman who *enjoys* giving her partner pleasure seems to find herself squarely in the cultural narrative as “slut.” Sure, many things can make someone a “slut” – but, the idea of a horny woman who goes over and blows some guy and heads out? That sounds like exactly like the type of stuff someone would would get the “s” label – usually with the implication there was something “wrong” with that woman. (Clearly, she has daddy issues, is just trying to please a man, etc.) Incidentally, I’m fairly sure many men hire *male* escorts so they can blow the escort – it’s totally cool for gay dudes to be into putting out, just cuz they like putting out.

At first, I had trouble reconciling the idea of “stone butch” with straight masculinity. Straight male masculinity seems very involved with male pleasure, while stone butches clearly are not into receiving physical pleasure. However, what they do both have in common, is the feminine party is supposed to be receiving pleasure from the masculine party. A lot of straight male phobias (am I big enough? can I last long enough?) seem to stem directly from the conflation of “masculinity” with “ability to please a woman.”

Conversely, the narrative of men who like to receive is very difficult. There’s a concept of a man as “rapist,” who will force sex on a woman against her will (so he is clearly not concerned with her pleasure in that case) but there he is still the active party.

One case of male passivity and female action is in the case of BDSM relationships. However, there the woman is usually giving *pain* to the male party, and not pleasure. Another thing I’d like to note is that there are a lot of submissive men who want to be “feminized” – i.e. to be dressed up in feminine clothing. I’ve dated a few guys like that myself, and part of what I think it is is that there’s not an easy way to square “being masculine” with “being receptive” or “being desired” so many of them skip the “being masculine” part in their fantasies.

Ultimately, feminine sexual agency for the pleasure of *another* person still seems troublesome for our society. Many feminists (male and female) seem to identify “sexual reciprocity” as “both parties receive as much pleasure.” However, it’s also sort of “known” that women are harder to bring to orgasm than men.

There’s almost become a new type of chivalry, where a man appreciates he’s going to be doing most of the sexual “work” – an idea which is reflected in areas of lesbian society that mirror traditional gender roles where “butch” lesbians (in theory) provide pleasure to “femme” ones. But, this leaves feminine women who enjoy giving pleasure out in the cold.

It may also be a way of maintaining traditional masculinity over femininity power dynamics. Power generally falls to the person giving the pleasure, the receiver is dependent on the giver. The fact that one of the more comfortable ways a woman can be “dominant” is to “give pain” is to deny her some of the power she’d have if she gave only pleasure. (Fewer people enjoy receiving “pain” than “pleasure,” so she becomes more dependent on her submissive partner than a fellatio expert would be.)

The tying trait, in all of these, seems to be creating structures for the feminine person to become dependent on the masculine person. And yet, femininity stands more clearly *alone* than masculinity does (Dresses? Feminine! Pants? Masculine?). If masculinity is explored by needing a feminine person to please, in a deep sense, masculinity is dependent on femininity. (I’d like to take a moment here to note that masculine gay men are often great at projecting their masculinity probably because they *don’t* rely on femininity to define their masculinity. Few straight men feel comfortable projecting a masculine sexuality to that degree.) This masculine dependence, however, is very uncomfortable for many masculine people – and I am inclined to think it’s a big cultural force for sexism in our society, but I have a client meeting and gotta wrap this post up so that’s a topic for another day.

Feeling Sexy

About 2 minutes of research on google reveals that when straight women say they’re feeling sexy, they mean they think they can turn someone else on. When straight men say they’re feeling sexy, they mean they’re feeling horny.

In the middle of the night, I had this epiphany that I communicated to my friend in gchat in the morning.

Me: Oh my god, I just had an epiphany. So like, I date all these people who express an asexual masculinity who are only able to express their sexuality through attraction to me.

Friend: This is not a coherent epiphany. Learn to write, plz.

Me: Ok. Ok – so, what I mean is, when I date people, I’m responsible for bringing all the sexual energy. Like, I have to look sexual enough to turn *them* on, but also have to be horny enough to be turned on *by* them when they’re not even trying to impress me.


Friend: Also, you are very smart and pretty, and have been looking very in-shape lately.

(May not be transcribed exactly.)

One of the marginally irritating features of my life, at least as a woman in her 20s (soon to be 30s,) is that people *always* perceive me as sexual. I’ve been sick for months, and regularly go out in vomit colored egg sweatshirts, and I still propositioned nearly daily. I have a whole setup of sun glasses and ear phones to block out the world and signal DON’T TALK TO ME when I’m walking down the street because it’s a big problem in my life.

I have talked to some of my male SF programmer friends, and the way they describe walking down the streets is totally different. Words like “ignored” and “lonely” come up a lot. And, that sucks. I can’t even really imagine what it’s like to be honest.

But what happens if I start dating someone who expresses an asexual masculinity (i.e. they’re masculine, but repress aspects of themselves that may be read as sexual – “business casual” male is a key example) is that, for the first time in a long time, they have a place to express their sexuality. But, it’s completely tied to *my* sexuality, it doesn’t stand alone.

(On a side note – I don’t mean to just call out men. I see this sometimes with the dapper/vintage masculine lesbian look. Personally, I find it to be a strangely asexual due to its historical associations, but it could just be me.)

And, on some level, society is hard on men in this way. But, on another level, many men have chosen *respectability* over *sexuality*.  And, that’s fine – but, if you’ve chosen to be respectable rather than sexual, you have to anticipate that this may have an affect on the people you date. Have you heard of the low-libido crisis in American women lately? It’s always blamed on women (they work too much! they’re too tired! birth control!)

But, how many men do you know that put effort into being sexy? Do you think men being completely uninterested in impressing women could be linked to women being uninterested in them? (Or, they want to impress women with their awesome career – the adult version of impressing that popular girl in high school with your good grades.)

Did you know, if you’re a woman, dying your hair blonde can vastly increase the number of responses you get on a dating website?  It’s not because men prefer blondes (or, so I tell myself as a brunette.)  It’s because dying your hair blonde signals something. Something sexual. Similarly, a motorcycle or stupid hat can do the same thing for a guy.

Think about it.

(Don’t actually get that hat.)

When you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you

Friedrich Nietzsche

We live in a time of cancerous technology growth which threatens to leave nothing untouched by its metastatic tendrils. Yet, even as the world overflows with devices numberless devices whose conception was impossible only a decade earlier, our lives have not become comparably filled by a similar abundance of meaning. If anything, they are becoming more empty. Depression has become 10 to 20 times more common in the past 50 years, and antidepressant use has skyrocketed by 400% in the past 20 years. But, I’m not here to bash on technology (maybe another day.)

Instead, I’m more curious about what our technology says *about us*. If we stare into this technological void that we have created, what do we see reflected back at us?

Before leaving school, I had seen videos of horses raping women, videos of people beating homeless men, and received rape threats from people who found various online personas of mine. How could my parents ever prepared  me for such a world? The one they grew up in was nothing like that. I’d seen images of women who stuck beer bottles up their vaginas and getting DPed before I’d had my first kiss. The world was a desperate, angry, horny, vindictive place and I knew no better. I never judged it, or questioned it because I was too young. This is just how people were, and I accepted it.

But, I don’t think this is how people have always seen each other. If I had a read on the generation slightly older than me, the ones who were just old enough not to internalize the “normal-ness” of these internet shenanigans, I think what they feel is a level of resigned disappointment. Their interpretation is something like “the worst people come out on the internet.” My interpretation is closer to, “the internet allows us to show a part of ourselves we keep hidden in the daylight.”

What does it say about us though? That, as soon as we had a platform for major anonymous expression, porn, and blood, and shit, and violence came spewing out in all directions?

You know the cliche about the serial killers? “He seemed so normal, so nice and polite – I would never have guessed?” Well, isn’t that how we all turned out to be?



Death of a High School Classmate

One of my high-school classmates was killed recently in a suicide bombing in the Islamic East. I don’t want to be too specific, because I’d rather not have him be identifiable from this post.

I had to look up photos of him on the internet to be sure I was remembering him right. It was strange, because he looked different – older, adult. Not how I remembered him. I watched a video of him talking, and his accent seemed to have changed – or possibly I’m not remembering it correctly in the first place. His voice was definitely deeper. In high school, he was a somewhat conflicted young man. We went to a very liberal school, but he had conservative and patriotic values. I remember arguing with him about women, something about how we should appreciate more of our female heroes, and he argued that there weren’t that many. I also think he may have gotten in trouble at some point for bringing a confederate flag to school.

My senior year, my gay friend apparently came across him on some sort of gay chat room. My friend confronted him about it, and apparently, my classmate said something to the effect that he was a gay man, and comfortable with his sexuality. I didn’t really hear anything about him after that, but in my mind, I sort of filed him away as one of those strange gay conservatives I hear about.

After looking him up after his death, however, he seems to have become a far more complicated individual. A scholar of some renown, (although, obviously still quite young) he had become a governmental advisor, travelled the world, and written a book. His ideas appeared to be well thought out, and unique. Possibly, some of the complexity of his adolescence led to a more thoroughly thought out intellectual standpoint, I’m not sure.

But, reading through my facebook posts was sort of empty.

This is very sad news.

Our prayers are with his family.

Shocking. Tragic.

They were so void, I’m not even completely sure I was remembering the right person – everything they said was so generic it could have been about anyone. They called him “brave” and “unique,” but whitewashed out some of the more interesting aspects of his personality. As I searched for him on the internet, I desperately wanted an answer to the question who was this person? What were his struggles, and his successes? What took him to the place where he finally died? Did he believe in heaven, hell? Was he afraid of dying? Did he fall in love?

I hope he fell in love.

I haven’t thought of this man in over ten years, and yet now I  desperately want to talk to him. When I was younger, I wanted to be seen. As I get older, and a few have started twinkling out, I’m starting to realize how important it is to see who these people really are while there’s still time. Who am I? Who was he? Who are you? It’s all connected, I think. We can never know the answer to one without knowing the answer to all.

Goodbye, and good luck.

The Terrible Things we do to Boys are Why Women Aren’t Welcome On The Internet

I saw these two articles on facebook yesterday, and they seemed related: why women aren’t welcome on the internet and there’s something absolutely wrong with what we do to boys before they grow into men.

A lot of feminist reading I’ve read has focused primarily on the female experience, which is important. It has been helpful for other women to call out their experiences getting hate mail, getting harassed on the streets, and having it be dismissed as unimportant. It has helped me realize that I’m not alone, and I’m not crazy.

That said, there’s not a lot of discussion about the male experience. Why do some little boys grow up to be so angry at women? How have we produced a world, where for every feminist blogger, there are hundreds of men who want to tell her to go get raped? Many people, male and female, I know would basically just dismiss these men as human scum, but it doesn’t address the problem. Apparently, 6% of college aged men will admit to attempting to force a woman to have sex when he knows she doesn’t want to (but, will decline to call themselves “rapists”.) 6% is pretty high. If you think of 17 men who have been to college, in theory, one of them will admit to attempting to force a woman to have sex with him. And this is just men who come clean about attempting rape – if we include men who didn’t admit it, or behaviors that aren’t rape but are still intimidating to women, the percentages are probably much higher.

In fact, you probably interact fairly regularly with a lot of men who have committed some assalt-type behavior on women. And, you know, they might actually be a pretty nice. The majority of men who send death threats to women on the internet are probably totally capable of interacting with society on an acceptable level in public, but for whatever reason, have a need to vent some anger when they’re alone.

So, what’s going on here?

Why will some men present a politically correct front to the world, while hiding a much more sinister personal view on women?

Male majority sexist conversations I’ve been a part of (which, I’m sure are biassed because I’m a woman) tend to go one of two ways. Either, a group of men goes on to make a bunch of jokes about women unchecked, or one of them will speak up and say something like “not cool, bro.”

But the question “why are you so angry at women?” never goes asked. I don’t even think it can be asked. To ask a man why he feels something in a social situations is inappropriate (dare I say, “emasculating”.) For men to admit that they have emotions, that things might go wrong for them sometimes, can be an admission of failure. (This is not true of *all* men – I have many male friends who are able to articulate the problems they have without shame, but I think it’s true of enough men, particularly in professional settings, to cause problems.)

And, feminist men who speak up on the behalf of women are really great. But, I don’t think they’re gong to change the world.

I think the world is going to change when more men speak up – sexist men, rapist men, angry men, stalker men – and explain what happened to them that made them act the way they did. And, the more we blanket condemn these behaviors without asking *why*, the worse they’re going to get. We can’t arrest half of Reddit.

We can’t stop this by force. That is both the curse and the blessing of the internet.

I’m Jealous of Artists

Sometimes, I read a really good poem or see a really beautiful picture, and I’m touched.

Then, I’m jealous.

I think to myself, “maybe, if I hadn’t spent all those years learning how to program, I could create beautiful art.” Instead, I’m always ashamed of the things I create. My words are always so clunky and labored, my pictures so crude.

I can’t communicate with anything as quickly as I can communicate with a computer. But what is that? It’s not as if it’s ever going to talk back.

When I was younger, I saw this in myself. I was condescending toward other people’s technical abilities, not because I really thought I was better, but because it’s all I had. Sugar said Art isn’t anecdote. It’s the consciousness we bring to bear on our lives. When I look at the work of an artist, I think “Why do you get to bring consciousness to your life, while I have to figure out how to spam people’s facebook walls with messages they don’t want?”

I mean, if I can’t be *better* than artists in some intangible way, then I have to face that what I’m programming is ultimately devoid of anything that actually touches at what it means to be human. Well, I guess I get more money too. Maybe if I spend enough, I can look attractive enough to make other people jealous, and then that would almost be like winning. 

Truth is, deeply, I do believe there is something there to our technology – but what is it? I’ve become so distracted by the mindless repetition of the ideas I’m inundated by that I’ve lost the ability to step back. 

So many people want to “get into” tech, and I desperately want out. Not to stop programming, but to be out of this fucking bubble where programming is valued as somehow elite. People are willing to waste their minds doing meaningless tasks in order to “be technical,” rather than really figure out “is this what I want? is this what we want?”

Why work an 80 hour week to impress people, when you could be – say – living? I have actually blown off dates so i could work until 10 pm before. For what? So people would like me more – or act like they liked me. I’m not sure someone who actually liked me would want me working an 80 hour week, but then again, they may simply have not thought through the repercussions. 

What does it mean that all we can do with our time saving technology is work more? Is this the end game – program more, and teach more people to program, so we can keep programming? 

Or is there something else?


I just finished reading this XKCD,

and – frankly – my views very much fall in line with the man in the hat.

In  fact, I found this whole comic was fairly annoying. The hat man *didn’t* tell the strangers they were “having experiences incorrectly,” he simply stated that he hated how people did that.

I agree – not because people are “living life wrong,” but because I don’t like taking photos. Suddenly, all activities I engage in become “photo” fests, and I have to wait around for my friends to take stupid photos of stupid things, but I don’t like it. What if you didn’t like dancing, but every single event you went to required you danced at the beginning of it? It would totally blow, right?

When the hat man says “documenting your life detracts from living it,” I think what he means is “you documenting your life makes it harder for me to live mine.” Sure, if random strangers are taking photos who cares? But, when it’s people you’re around that you’re forced to engage in  it becomes very frustrating. When I was driving with my parents across iceland, they stopped about every 10 minutes to take photographs. An eight hour drive was turned into a two day drive because of this. It took more than twice as long, and that extra day was a complete waste of my life as far as I’m concerned.

And for what? To cling to some scenery in some images that will never be looked at anyway? To hold on to tangible reminder of a real event, so you can create a fictional story around it and use it to impress other people? Why do we even want photographs in the end? To show off? To forget?

Sure, if the act of taking them is pleasurable, enjoy it. But, if it’s not as pleasurable as – say – something else you could be doing, do that instead.

I fucking hate photographs.