Fame and the New Society

We are beginning to live in a world where fame is starting to become more important than money. We’re not there yet, but we’re getting there. Several factors, I assume, made this possible – not least of which is food security. The world creates 1.5 times as much food is needed for the human population, although many people are malnourished due to distribution problems (see here.) Still, for many people in the West, the needs of *survival* have been met, so different needs begin to take priority.

There are a lot of irritating side effects of fame becoming the new source of currency, in particular, an increasing amount of noise as people cry out for attention. However I think it is also the beginning of the next phase of human existence (not to get too sci fi on you.)


Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – food supply is “Physiological” aka the red block.

We have solved problems that have been defining humanity for millennia, so now nearly all of American society is operating within the top 4 needs. “Safety” is still an unmet need for many Americans, particularly the homeless, but an ever increasing percentage of the population is primarily concerned with the “Social” and “Esteem” levels of need, which is exactly where fame lies. I expect, and hope, this obsession with fame will spread as increasing numbers of the world population have their physiological and safety needs met.

If fame becomes a big enough, money may become a thing of the past. Eventually. We’re a long way off, but people already work for free – on wikipedia, in open source, and contributing articles for journals. I write this blog for free, for the benefit of both my readers. Working for money has ceased to be a way to generate respect in the community. The richest people in the US are beginning to be resented by the population, and historically, high levels of resentment have not been sustainable. In the past, they led to revolution and revolt – but there is no need for things to get so violent in this technological age.

We have non-violent means of shaming people at our disposal, which are used regularly. With the rise of fame comes the rise of image, and maintenance of that image. If it becomes shameful to be rich, it will be a complete game changer for American society. I doubt, however, our consumer mindset will disappear. At its heart, American consumerism is really about purchasing social status. The marketing of objects is usually the marketing of identity -“buy this, and you can be that.”

We seem to be drifting toward an online identity, where the actual objects we possess are less important than the image we broadcast via the web. One the one hand, it seems more artificial, but on the other hand, it frees us of many of our material ties. If you could be a rich nobody, or a poor yet well respected celebrity, which one would you pick? (You can’t pick both.)

Back in the day, wealth and fame went together, but that link is being broken. The internet is essentially the exultation of the every-person so no longer will you have to be rich to get famous, and fame is no promise of wealth. This is one short step from money being de coupled from power, which would be astounding.

Sure, rich corporations can buy congress – but at the end of the day, congress relies on elections, and fame has the ability to trump cash. Right now, money is often used to *buy* fame, but someone who already had fame wouldn’t need it necessarily.

We may actually be at the start of a culture transcending money in many ways, yet it is unlikely to produce a utopian paradise. Resource scarcity will be replaced by attention scarcity, where we battle each other for the spotlight. Our physical manifestations will become less important as we build up these hollow online personas, and yet it is still a step forward – but toward what? What is our ultimate self-actualization as a society? I can’t answer that, but I do have faith in it.

I Talk About Myself A Lot

An old friend of mine, let’s call him “Sam” was visiting town and one of my local friends, let’s call him “Butthead,” was letting him stay at his place. Butthead told Sam, “I’ll bet the first thing Emma does when she sees you is talk about herself, before she asks how you are doing.”

I then proceeded to do just that. Butthead later repeated the story to me, saying that he believed part of the reason I was so unhappy was that I talked about myself too much, I was not able to focus on other people. (For the record, I am not unhappy.)

I did this same thing on my first date with my girlfriend. We met on OKCupid, and as soon as we had our first real world encounter, I went off on a long monologue about whatever various things were in my head. Months later, my girlfriend told me that the first thought she had was “oh good, she talks.” You see, my girlfriend is a little bit shy. Sometimes, when she goes on dates with other people who are a little bit shy, they sit there with a lot of silence going on and it’s uncomfortable.

I never have this problem. In fact, out of about 20+ OK Cupid dates I’ve had, I’ve only ever once encountered a person who didn’t want to go on a second date with me. Sure, these budding relationships frequently fall apart after my terrible personality becomes more apparent, but I am *killer* at first dates. I never get nervous about talking to people one on one. Often, I get nervous at parties where I’ll have to break into a group conversation, but once I get into a one on one conversation, I’m golden. I’m good at job interviews, and I am *great* with shy people. The reason is, I talk about myself.

I used to be very shy, painfully shy, when I was in grade school. Once, on the schoolbus, I was watching this girl who was more popular than me who was able to talk to everyone and I thought to myself “how does she always have something to talk about?” Then, I noticed – she talked about herself, and no one seemed to mind. If anything, they seemed to enjoy it.

Thing is, many people are shy, and for many shy people the #1 concern they have is in conversation is “is the other person judging me?” In fact, I’d guess most people – shy or not – secretly wonder this. And sure, I may be self centered, and this popular girl may have been self centered, but we’re always having fun in our conversations and we’re generally not judging the other person. By taking the focus off the other person, at least initially, this gives someone – especially a shy someone – space to be comfortable, space to be themselves.

Of course, my friend Butthead is not shy and he no longer worries about if I’m judging him, so he finds my self centered talk annoying (because, I’m talking about *me* and not *him*.) Yet, the fact that I like to talk about myself doesn’t mean I can’t listen to other people. In fact, it’s relevant to point out that he made this complaint over a dinner where we’d gotten together *specifically* to talk about his relationship issues. Despite my self centered ways, I have historically been the #1 person he has come to with all of his problems. Many of my friends come to me with their problems, actually, and every single person I’ve had a long term relationship with since I’ve turned 20 has told me they’ve found me to be very easy to open up to.

I am genuinely interested in people, and love to hear them talk about themselves too. I find talking about myself easy, and I find listening to other people easy. I asked my girlfriend if she’d felt comfortable talking about herself on our first date, and she said yes – more so than she’d felt on most of her other dates. She also made the comment “you remember things about me I don’t even remember telling you.”

I remember a lot about my first date with my girlfriend. I remember the clothes she was wearing, the expression on her face the first time I saw her (I thought it was bored, but later realized it was nervous,) how we sat down on a bench but we were both shivering, how she stiffened when I asked her if she was American, how emotionless she was when I told her I was bisexual (although, I realized she must know it because we met on OKC), how she laughed so openly at dinner and I could tell she liked me, how we had both bet on the super bowl (which was going on at the time) but just because of work,  how she wanted to take me to the Lex afterward with her friends but I declined, how she walked me home with a cocky implication that I may be more threatened by the people on the street because I was femme, how she insisted on having me use her gloves, and how happy she looked after we kissed goodnight. She just couldn’t stop smiling.

Thing is, these things go together. I’m interested in people! I’m interested in me! I’m interested in others! These things are not mutually exclusive. It reminds me, actually, of how selfish lovers are better in bed. Because, here’s the thing – most people are selfish on some level. When you’re with me, you don’t have to hide your selfish side. I’m certainly not hiding mine. We can just get real about who we are, and if you’re my friend, I’m probably genuinely interested in *who you are*, not this idealized person you pretend to be.

But, don’t complain to me that I talk about myself. If you’re not also interested in who I am, go get yourself a new friend.

White People, Stop Making Fun of White People!

Did you ever read the blog stuff white people like? Or, have you seen this article recently 36 white people who need to be stopped? Or, possibly this video, 10 things I hate about white people? What is interesting about all this interweb stuff is that it was all created by white people.

So, if people of color want to hate on white people – if this is part of their healing process for being in a society that marginalizes them – I can tolerate that. I don’t like it, and nothing anyone ever says will ever make me *enjoy* hearing my race ridiculed, but it’s fine. I’ll work under the assumption that the healing generated from such comments outstrips my own irritation, and I’ll suck it up.

But, I cannot *stand* hearing this shit from white people.

News flash: making fun of white people doesn’t make you any less white. It doesn’t make you any more literate in issues that people of color have (in fact, I’d argue just the opposite – time spent making fun of white people is time focused *on* white people, not on other races. ) It doesn’t make you any cooler, or more interesting, or more relatable. Instead, it strikes me as a narcissistic way to appear politically correct. “Look at me, I’m not racist, I’m not like *those* white people.”

But, you know, most white people – are – sort of like “those” white people. White people who are focusing their energy on how “fucked up” white people are without any real suggestion for improvement are part of the problem. Mocking your own race in an effort to distance yourself from the atrocities committed by people who are the same color as you is cowardly. It doesn’t stop you from perpetuating the injustice, it doesn’t heal any of the past crimes, it doesn’t provide any sort of improvement in any way – it’s just attempt to reinforce your own ego as “not racist.”

Admitting your own racism is a lot harder, a lot braver, and a lot more useful than mocking other white people.

So, stop mocking white people white people! You’re not fooling anyone.

Why Did White People Have Black Slaves?

I was reading James Baldwin’s Everybody’s Protest Novel, in which Baldwin roasts Uncle Tom’s Cabin (an anti-slavery novel written by a white woman, Harriet Beecher Stowe) and, he raises what – for me – is *the* problem with pop discussion on privilege today.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin is a very bad novel, having, in its self-righteous, virtuous sentimentality, much in common with Little Women. Sentimentality, the ostentatious parading of excessive and spurious emotion, is the mark of dishonesty, the inability to feel; the wet eyes of the sentimentalist betray his aversion to experience, his fear of life, his arid heart; and it is always, therefore, the signal of secret and violent inhumanity, the mask of cruelty. Uncle tom’s Cabin like its multitudinous, hard-boiled descendants — is a catalogue of violence. This is explained by the nature of Mrs. Stowe’s subject matter, her laudable determination to flinch from nothing in presenting the complete picture; an explanation which falters only if we pause to ask whether or not her picture is indeed complete; and what constriction of failure of perception forced her to so depend on the description of brutality — unmotivated, senseless — and to leave unanswered and unnoticed the only important question: what it was, after all, that motivated her people to such deeds.

When I read that paragraph for the first time, I felt like Baldwin had shined a light into a part of me that was screaming. In fact, that paragraph is so good, I’m going to quote from it again.

Sentimentality, the ostentatious parading of excessive and spurious emotion, is the mark of dishonesty, the inability to feel; the wet eyes of the sentimentalist betray his aversion to experience, his fear of life, his arid heart; and it is always, therefore, the signal of secret and violent inhumanity, the mask of cruelty.

Sentimentality is the mark of dishonesty. How true that reads, and how relevant. That thought extends outward beyond race, beyond oppression even, to hit at something deeply out of line in our culture. Why is it that 28% of “young adult” novels are purchased by people between 30 and 44? Why do so many of the videos that pop up in my facebook feed contain the message “try to watch this about crying?” Why do we want to watch deaf women hearing music for the first time, or cats reunited with their owners, why do straight people get group-think obsessed with gay marriage?

the wet eyes of the sentimentalist betray his aversion to experience, his fear of life, his arid heart

Where, along the way, did we lose our ability to fully feel our ordinary lives? Why do we seek out extreme stories of emotion, to compensate for the deadness that has entered our hearts?

it is always, therefore, the signal of secret and violent inhumanity, the mask of cruelty.

What is acting as a signal of secret and violent inhumanity? James Baldwin saw this inhumanity in the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and now I see it everywhere. In particular, I see it in the discussion of privilege. So, if the “underprivileged” want to call out other people’s “privilege” – like, that’s fine and possibly even healthy. What pisses me off, however, is the way privileged people tend to “own” their privilege, how they attempt to construct a more flattering self identity by being “allies” of less privileged classes. Ultimately, however, it’s not *really* in their best interest to improve the state of these less privileged classes, because these “allies” need less fortunate people to perpetuate their own identity as an “ally.”

Or, another way to put it, is if there was no injustice in the world, there would be no liberals. Liberals feed off injustice, their identity, their purpose in the world is to fight injustice. And, I say this as a liberal white woman – a liberal white woman who wonders, “who will I be when we achieve equality?”

It is notable that Harriet Beecher Stowe campaigned for the expansion of women’s rights after the civil war, not to improve the lives of the recently emancipated slaves who she had so passionately argued for before abolition. What she seemed more interested in, and what James Baldwin called our out on, was *injustice* rather than *people*, or *slavery* rather than *slaves*. Discussions on privilege usually focus on the institution, and seem rooted in identity and narcissism rather than a desire for connection. Louis CK “checks his privilege” in a recent video about fat women, but the video isn’t about fat women, it’s about men. The fat woman’s rant starts with “it really sucks to be a fat girl,” but then launches into the issues *men* have that makes them not want to date fat women. “You think your dick is going to fall off if you hold hands with a fat girl?” the fat woman asks. Good question – but, we can’t ignore the fact that this is Louis CK’s show, that the space he made to discuss what fat girls feel was dominated by what *men* feel to be *with* a fat girl – coming from the mouth of a fat girl. He used her to ask questions he didn’t dare about himself, but he didn’t really shed much more light on what it was like to *be* her.

So, still – with all this discussion – the biggest questions are left untouched. As Baldwin pointed out, Stowe left unanswered the most important question of all – “what it was, after all, that motivated her people to such deeds”?

How could white slave owners get up every day and brutalize other people? How could this happen? How were they not driven to despair, or depression, or in any other way motivated to stop? How could they have desired their own prosperity at such a sharp cost?

I can’t answer that question right now, but it’s a question that needs answering and requires attention. Instead, I’ll ask another question which is more relevant to today.

How is it that we accept the mass incarceration of black and latino men? How are we ok with having nearly 60% of the prison system being filled with racial demographics that only make up 1/4 of the US population? How are we ok with the fact that one in six black men has been incarcerated at some point in their lives? (See source.)

Do you believe that one in six black men deserves to have been in prison at some point? To put someone in prison is to rob them of their life in the most straightforward way. As a country, we are committing a mass theft of life from men of color. How do we accept this?

If you’re like me, you may not have even thought about it for a long time. I’m nearly 30, and I didn’t really think of these issues until very recently, but I have known since middle school that black people went to prison more than white people. What was that knowledge accompanied by?

Honestly, fear. I am afraid of black men. Not the ones I know, but strangers – and, definitely the ones in prison. If you conjure up the image of a black inmate, you have conjured up someone I am afraid of, and this fear blocks my empathy. I’ve never heard another white person admit they are afraid of black men, and I’m ashamed to admit it on my blog, but it’s true. It’s true, and I know many other white people must also be afraid of black men, and this fear is keeping black men in prison. Liberal, “privilege owning” white people won’t say this out loud, and will probably condemn me as a racist for admitting it myself, but by not admitting it I would only be protecting my image at the cost of ever figuring out what is actually happening.

So, should I just get over this? Well, I’ve tried, actually, and there’s one problem. The men who shout sexual slurs at me in the street are overwhelmingly black and latino men, and my lizard brain can’t help but notice this fact. When I walk by a black man in the street, I tense up, because part of me thinks he’s more likely to shout at me than a white man is. Now, there are some exceptions here – a black man in glasses? A black man in a suit? I don’t fear these men. But, a black man in torn clothes who is clearly unbathed? I am afraid of him.

We can’t address white racial bias without addressing the long term affects of discrimination. If black men are more likely to go to prison, they’re probably also more likely not to really give a shit about violating the social norms that sent them there. White men don’t say bullshit to me in the street because they’re afraid of what other people around them will think, and because they benefit from playing by conventional rules (when it’s anonymous on the internet though, all bets are off.) My own fears and biasses interact with reality, interact with how people who have absorbed a lifetime of oppression actually behave in the real world.

So, why do we accept the number of black men in prison? Because we have made too many of them criminals, and by making them criminals once, we have given them an incentive to *keep* being criminals. Now, our biases that “black men are dangerous” seem justified, and polite society won’t openly admit this bias which only makes it even harder to fix.

To go back to slavery, I still can’t answer this question as to what made white people do it – but, I’ll take a stab at why they accepted it. Slaves lacked education, they had absorbed more physical and mental trauma than most people today can even conceive of, they were mourning from a loss of their own culture, and so they acted differently from white people, and differently from free people. Instead of seeing this behavioral difference as being directly caused by their actions, white people read this behavior to be an indicator of innate differences between the races that justified slavery.

Yet, white people must have seen that only because the *wanted* to see that. Why did white people want to see black people as slaves? Why did they want to see other cultures as inferior? I believe the answer to that question goes deeper than the material benefit they gained, that maybe it ties back to Baldwin’s point about excessive sentimentality and a fear of really living, but I’m not quite sure how.

How Ideas About Privilege Reinforce Racism

One of my internet crushes is whatever asshole writes the last psychiatrist, and one of his (I think it’s a man) themes is that the system defends against change.

Recently, I’ve been reading the word “privilege” everywhere in the media – often in conjunction with race, but not always. (This theory also applies to gender, sexuality, etc. – but, I’m going to talk about the race for right now.) Check your privilege! You know you’ve heard it.

Anyway – let’s say you agree with the idea that “the system defends against change.” (In this case “the system” can be thought of as “the media.”)

– The system defends against change

– The system is racist

– The system has completely embraced the concept of privilege

– Therefore, the concept of privilege is being used to inhibit useful change that would actually lessen racism.

Ok – so, to back up – what is racism? I’m sure there are many answers to that, but I’m going to go with “when members of one race are forced to absorb behavior against them that is detrimental to their mental or physical wellbeing because members of larger society choose to ignore these injustices.” This is systematic racism I’m talking about, not individual racism. Notably, I believe it is possible for members of one race to be racist against *their own* race – if, as part of larger society, they do not support actions to protect other members of their race. This happens sometimes, I think, because individuals expect they will benefit more personally than they will be injured by the actions that are harmful for individuals of their race as a whole. One of my other internet crushes, @dexdigi, writes about that here.

So, how does the concept of privilege solidify racism?

First of all, it sets up the frame of reference to be from the point of view of the white person. It’s “Check your privilege!” not “Check my injustice!” I can see why it took off this way – the media tends to favor the white point of view. White people have more trouble empathizing with minorities than minorities do empathizing with them. It’s telling, that even in our discussion of racism, we’re still parsing the discussion through the eyes of of white people. To *really* loosen racism, white people are going to have to learn to project themselves into the bodies of people of color. White people are going to have to *feel* a little part of what people of color *feel*. By keeping this discussion focused on what is happening inside the white body, we are preventing this empathy from developing. For white people to make this transition, they’re going to need to keep reading stories from the point of view of people of color.  Even just hearing a language change (Check my injustice!) would be an improvement, because it would invite the reader – for a split second – imagine what it’s like to be someone else.

The concept of “privilege” also implies a fix to something that’s not the problem. Many people with privilege recoil from wanting to talk about privilege, and in my opinion, justifiably so – they don’t want to lose it! For instance, sometimes feminists say men are “privileged” not to know what it’s like be scared walking home at night. This is dumb – I don’t want men to be scared walking home at night, I want women to feel safe. I don’t want it to be harder for white people to get jobs, I want it to be easier for black people to get jobs. These things shouldn’t be *privileges* they should be *normal*, and not having them should be called *injustice*.  The fact that the system has called it “privilege” makes it sound like some people are benefitting from the system being a certain way. Men don’t actually benefit from women being scared to walk home late at night, but by saying they have “privilege” sort of makes it sound like they do. This sets them up to defend it, no one wants to give up their “better” position, but they don’t actually benefit from this arrangement. Their wives and daughters could get stabbed. Similarly, black people having trouble getting hired doesn’t actually benefit white people overall, it just makes the economy smaller, and in the meantime we have to do something with all those people who can’t get jobs. (Prison, anyone?)

Lastly, the concept of privilege leads to a politically correct laziness. “Checking” your privilege is very easy – you just say “I acknowledge my position as a privileged white person” then don’t actually change any of your behavior. It has provided a code for people to project the image that they want (nice! liberal!) without actually changing the more destructive aspects of their behavior. It provides a way of objectifying people (“if I say all the right things, then I can’t get yelled at by minorities.”) As Lupita said, you can’t eat words (or beauty, works both ways.) Words are meaningless, if they don’t touch something deeper.

So, what do you actually do?

Anytime you want to “acknowledge your privilege” – flip it, at least in your head. Put yourself in the opposite point of view and imagine what it would be like to not have that “privilege.” Start with the assumption people who are complaining have a legitimate grievance, and try to understand it.

The deeper fix is to loosen the sytem’s grip on you. This is hard. I can’t tell you how to do this, cuz I haven’t done it yet. Check back later!

White People Gotta Write About Being White

You know, how sometimes people of color write about their experience being a person of color in American society, or whatever society they live in? (I live in the US, so it’s usually America.) White people gotta do that, but with respect to being white in American society. Or Peruvian society, or Somalian society, or whatever.

Now, whenever I say that to my friends, I often get the response “But, most writing is written by white people. We already have too much writing written from the white perspective – why add to it?” to which I have TWO retorts.

1) Most writing written by white people is written with the *assumption* of white ubiquity – aka, most white writers think that their experiences with respect to race are *everyone’s* experiences with respect to race. (This is a big problem right now in feminist circles, for instance – or so I hear, I’m not in those circles.) Or, perhaps more accurately, white authors don’t even *think* about race because it’s not usually causing them the type of problems it’s causing people of color. Calling out an experience as a *white* experience, it is actually *less* racist than writing from a “universal” perspective when the author is white. White people don’t have a universal perspective, they have a white perspective. Let’s be honest about it.

2) There hasn’t been a lot of thought, at least that I’ve come across, about what it’s like to *be white.* According to Louis Ck, it’s great, but I think that our culture has currently caught a PC Privilege-owning mind worm where you can’t admit there is ANYTHING wrong with being white because zomg, it’s clearly SO MUCH WORSE to be NOT WHITE. You can only say, “I admit my privilege” as you keep sipping your caramel macchiato. But, like – that’s wrong. I hope when we get racial equality, everyone doesn’t end up living the current “white” experience. And, the things that suck about being white are *totally different* from the things that suck about being black.

Would you like to be a slave owner?

I’m guessing 99.9% of people reading that said no, and the other 0.1% are into BDSM. That means, on some level, it sucked to be a slave owner. BUT BEING A SLAVE WAS WORSE! I’m sure it was.

The point is not to say who is the biggest victim, the point is to end slavery. To end slavery, you need to know why some people choose to have slaves.

When black slaves were emancipated in America, what was their model of success? White slave owners. It proved *very difficult* to end slavery, and we still really haven’t, we’ve just replaced it with different types of servitude. Better types! But, on some level, we still view a person’s success as proportional to the number of people he or she can control. CEOs, for instance, are right at the top. College students with 100k of debt they need to pay back? They’re the new serfs. We may not be as awful as we once were, but we have a lot of room for improvement. To understand this hierarchical mindset, we need to understand slavery – both, from the slave’s and the slave owner’s perspective.

Anyway, back to the contemporary experience of being white. A little while ago, I wrote about Asian fetish. I *totally* missed the boat on cultural appropriation. I assumed it was just a *physical* preference, but talking to a few of my Asian female friends revealed a lot more going on. Often, white men make assumptions – and feel entitled to explicitly articulate those assumptions – about Asian women’s personalities, or tastes. There was added complexity around a woman’s specific cultural heritage, and one of my friends who is an immigrant from China said she believed that she was subjected to a different beauty standard than her culture’s, and found it offensive that other races set the standard for Asian beauty. On the one hand, I wasn’t really qualified to write about that topic, but on the other hand, I’m glad I did because I got to talk to people about their experiences.

One thing that was interesting, however, is that a lot of my white female friends liked my post. I had written something that had reached them – and, I think what it was, was the discussion of how critique of beauty culture often implicitly reinforces typical beauty culture. Slim, white women are sometimes seen as status objects, and this position as a “status object” is often read as a form of privilege when in fact it is much more complicated than that. Without confronting the true complexity behind this privilege, a white woman cannot hope to truly understand herself.

More generally, I would argue that the entire concept of white privilege is complicated in a similar way. What is it that the white race is most privileged to do? Oppress other races. Is this a form of privilege everyone else really wants? Are we lucky to have that?

Even more importantly, how are white people dehumanized by this privilege? White women have access to some amount of power through exhibiting conventional beauty – as do conventionally attractive women of other races. However, these women exercise this power at the cost to their own humanity; to get any amount of money or control they must allow someone to objectify them.

What is the cost white people pay for oppressing other races? To eliminate racism, white people will *need* to understand that cost. When people like Louis CK talk about how great it is to be white, they pander to a politically correct audience, however, they also reinforce the notion that white people benefit from racism. It’s time to move beyond that.

The Easy Questions

My senior year in high school, I was taking linear algebra and multivariable calculus – the most advanced math class that my school offered – and I had a teacher who would ask me all the easy questions. I usually got them wrong.

I could tell he was asking me the easy questions, that he didn’t think I was very smart, and I felt nervous. So, I’d fuck up. Fortunately, because it was my class senior year, my grades didn’t matter. I still remember the look of surprise on his face when I told him I’d gotten into MIT, a sort of polite incredulity.  But, I  can remember that feeling – that feeling of just *knowing* you can do something, but being unable to execute on it.

I’ve been getting it recently with my newest client.  It’s a remote gig, and they have a slightly unique system setup – nothing over the top, but something I’d need a little help to getting going. Unfortunately, I never really got setup correctly, and I’m only on it like 10/15 hours a week, so I don’t really have the time to fully figure it out. So, I ask a lot of questions. Anyway, I just feel – dumb – and it gets to me. It’s a Ruby on Rails project, and I have years of experience with Rails. Like, 6 years of experience. And, I find myself just fucking up things I already know.

My other client is working on a Python project. I didn’t know Python at all before starting the project, it was a totally new language and a totally new framework. But the clients *trusted* me, and when they trusted me, I trusted myself. Somehow I could just get everything working. When something doesn’t work with this client, they’ll email me and say “we couldn’t get this going, so we’re just going to wait for you to come in and fix it.” Sometimes, when they want to work on something they’re unsure about, they’ll say “can you just sit with me while I work through this, in case I get it wrong?” Can I? I’d be happy to!

When people treat me as competent, I find myself becoming competent. When people don’t trust me, I lose trust in myself.

This isn’t a reflection on my new client. I’ve never worked on a remote job before, so it’s natural that I would feel a little bit shakier about it, but it is a reflection on how my awareness of other people’s perception of my shapes my own behavior. With my old client, I know they trust me, so I take risks. If I tell them I’ve pulled down staging for 2 days because something went wrong, they’ll say “oh wow, that must have been a really difficult problem.” With my new client, if I pull down staging for two days, they’ll say “oh my god, this new hire is an idiot.” Because of that, I’m much quicker to ask for help when anything goes wrong with my new client, and I haven’t gained the confidence of being able to solve problems myself when I’m working on their system.

Anyway, this trust – this given trust – I think is a major problem for women and racial minorities. Women, for instance, are generally rated as less confident in male dominated fields (and, interestingly enough, men tend to be rated as less competent in female dominated fields like nursing.) What that means, is it takes people a little longer to trust women, and they don’t build up this competence as quickly, if at all. I can only assume the same thing happens to racial minorities.

Actually, I remember one time one of my black coworkers made a fairly large mistake which ended up deleting about weeks worth everyone’s of work. All my white coworkers were really nice about it, “it could have been any of us,” kind of thing, but I always sort of wondered if that was an ignorant approach. Part of getting the easy questions is that everyone is nice when you fuck up because they sort of expect you to fuck up. Like, his mistake in no way got expelled from his system – he was forced to internalize it. If it had been two white dudes, I’m *sure* some shit would have flown. At least a “dude, that was fucking dumb” would have been said.

What I think actually should have happened, is our CTO should have taken him aside and said “Drew, that was a pretty big fuckup. I know you’re better than this, so why did it happen? Why didn’t you ask for help? We’re trusting you with the most important parts of our website, and no one person can know everything, so I need to know my team members will ask for assistance when they are in an area out of their expertise.”

Children don’t get in trouble for their mistakes, adults do. Competent people do, it’s part of being competent – when you fuck up, it matters. I think when someone makes a mistake, you should either fire them, or  discipline them *while reassuring them of your trust in them*. Never hire someone you don’t trust, get rid of them. It’s bad for you, it’s bad for them.

At the end of the day, that is really my main worry with this client, “are they so desperate for developers, they’re going to keep me around even though they don’t trust me?” Women and minorities think a similar thing, “are they just keeping me around for diversity reasons?” These questions are no good.

So, what to do? I was talking to my friend, and he (no joke) suggested reading lean in. To try to learn techniques to help women seem more credible in the workplace, and that’s fine, but I’ve been down this path before. I’m sick of looking outside myself for confidence.

Right now, I have one client that thinks I’m awesome, and a waiting list of about 3 more clients. I’m done trying to prove my worth with gimmicks like not sitting on my feat when I code. My contract is up with my first client, so I’ll probably have an honesty moment – why not? Either I’ll get my shit fixed, or my contract won’t get renewed, and I’ll get to try again with a new client.

I Fucking Hate this Video


And, I don’t hate it because of what it shows about humanity or some such bullshit like that.

I hate this video, and all other similar videos/essays/etc. which “bring awareness” to a problem without any proposed solution, or even an in depth understanding of what the problem actually is. I hate videos which use musical scores to “go for the onion,” as my dad would say. (Going for the onion means using some gimmick as a means to generate an artificial emotional response, similar to how cutting onions makes you cry in a situation where you wouldn’t normally feel sad.) And, I fucking HATE videos which lead me to feeling guilty and sad, but any expression of this in liberal culture would lead to some smug, white, liberal dmfb telling me to “sit” with my emotions. My Zen instructors and my therapist are allowed to tell me to sit with my emotions, everyone else can go get lost.

So, here’s the big question which was not addressed in this video. Why didn’t those people stop? That’s the problem that needs fixing.

I know why those people didn’t stop, because I am often one of those people. I have walked by homeless people who have fallen down, people on the ground coughing and in pain, and not stopped to help. Why did I do this?

Backing up a few years, I moved to downtown San Francisco which is basically homeless person capital of the USA. I knew I would be living in very close proximity to a large number of homeless people – I am on the same block as multiple temporary housing establishments for people who don’t have permanent residences. When I moved in, I don’t know exactly what I expected to see, but that somehow the naturally open and generous nature of my spirit would cary me through my interactions.

What I actually saw was fear.

I used to talk to homeless people more. I remember reading once that one of the most painful things about being homeless was that people just ignored you, so I always made it a point to look one of them in the eyes and say “I’m sorry, not today,” if I didn’t have any money to give them. Soon, I started specifically *not* carrying money because I would give it all away too quickly, and often tried to avoid eye contact. And, soon after that, I started wearing headphones and sunglasses so they wouldn’t know I was ignoring them. I started resenting them for their demands on my attention, and I started dehumanizing them in my mind by seeing obstacles not people.

When I walk by a homeless person on the ground, I look for blood. But, I try not to look too long because often they are just sleeping, and some of them don’t like to be stared at. Once, when I was looking at a sleeping man, a friend of his started bitching me out for being a judgmental white woman. “Bitch, thinks it couldn’t happen to her, who’s she to judge?”

Once, a friend and I actually saw blood. We stood there talking about what to do, should we call an ambulance? He almost definitely didn’t have insurance, and we weren’t sure what would become of him in the hospital. In the end, we did call the ambulance, and they took him away – but, we were uneasy about it. We weren’t sure we’d done the right thing. If I’d been fairly sure he would have survived without the ambulance, I wouldn’t have called it.

I’ve also seen many homeless people passed out, drugged out, who have ended up being ok. About one night a week, the entrance to my building shelters a passed out person, smoking up god knows what. I will literally step over unconscious bodies to get inside. Sometimes, the person apologizes in a half-awake way and I’ll say “Don’t worry about it.” They’re always gone by morning, and there’s never been a fuss, so I assume none of them have actually died. I’m not quite sure what happens when a homeless person dies, but I imagine it takes some amount of effort to remove them – enough, that I’d notice if it was happening regularly outside my building.

I have *never* seen a businessman pass out in the street. Not once, not even a drunk one.

Additionally, often when I *do* stop to talk to homeless people, I don’t know any reasonable action to take. I have tried to buy food for people who were unable to articulate what type of food they wanted. I have talked to people, who wanted to keep hugging me over and over – to the point that I felt uncomfortable. Sometimes, when I try to be friendly, I am met with sexually aggressive behavior. I rarely stop for young, male homeless men unless they immediately demonstrate a strong understanding of boundaries (demonstrated with phrases like “Excuse me, miss,” or “Do you have a minute?”) These polite, young men are not usually the ones passed out. It’s usually the ones muttering nonsense, often with some substance. The type of people who remind me of the man who punched my friend, the type of people who I’m worried might try to punch me.

So, to summarize, why don’t I stop for trampy looking people? Because, I see them in pain all the time, but I have never seen one die. Because I don’t know what to do – who to call? The police, the hospital? Because I am afraid for myself, for my own boundaries, my own sexuality, and my own safety.

What are actual steps we could take to fix this?

– Have a resource in mind to call when worried about someone’s safety. (Actually, I’m going to contact my Zen instructor and ask if she has any ideas about this one because she works with homeless people.)

– If you are with a group, make more of an effort to stop, because people may be too afraid if they are alone.

That’s all I got. Like I said, I said, I don’t know how to solve this, and I struggle with it *every day* and this video gave me absolutely *no tools* to help.

I fucking hated that video.

Asian Fetish

Apparently, on OKCupid Asian Women get the most messages. This preference is true for men of all races except, strangely, Asian men. Interesting! I’m sort of jealous, but also having a little bit of schadenfreude at the same time. Cuz, you know, us white women hear a lot about how Western beauty standards damage the self esteem of women in other races.

But, you can’t blame us anymore! Western beauty isn’t where it’s at, it’s passé, old news! So, I hereby bequeath all of our liberal white woman beauty guilt to Asian women (and, Middle Eastern women who apparently also get a lot of responses.) Next time someone goes on about how our beauty standard is whitewashed, you can be all “what are you, stuck in 1950?” So, for realzies, white women may still be over-represented in magazines, but that’s just a holdover – it’s on the way out, as the racist old men who control the media slowly die. Also, are we even sure all those women are being “whitewashed?” Seems to me some of them could be being “Asian-washed.” As a very white English woman, I can testify that my particular very-pale skin tone is usually not in fashion unless some Winona Ryder renaissance is happening.

However, the way liberal discourse responds to white women being desired as opposed to Asian women being desired is very different. When white women are “what’s hot” it’s an example of an oppressive beauty system that is degrading to other races. BUT, when Asian women are “what’s hot” it’s an example of Asian fetish, which is degrading to Asians.

So – to simplify:

White women hot? Seen as privileging white women.

Asian women hot? Seen as dis-empowering Asian women.

It is worth noting, that according to Wikipedia Asian Fetish supposedly doesn’t exist, and even on OKCupid white men responded to Asian women and white women a similar amount. Yes, it’s true *some* white men say some really terrible things to Asian women (and, there’s a tumblr about that) but I’d suggest that it’s more that the race difference opens up opportunities for a *particular set* of vile things to be said.

This difference in how we read preference for white women vs Asian women reminds me of how we read preference for thin bodies as opposed to a preference for heavier bodies. Many heavier women complain that they are de-sexualized, and also that the only people who sexualize them are fetishists. But, what they fail to see, is that thin bodied women are also frequently fetishized – in that, many people who date thin women are not interested in their sparkling personalities, but have an obsessive attraction to a particular body type. Many heavier women won’t see this as a similar thing, but this is because of the ways that heavy women *themselves* are privileging thin bodies. On some level, men who are attracted to heavier women are seen as “fetishists” because we view it as abnormal to be attracted to fat women. Men who behave the same way toward thin women aren’t viewed as “fetishists” because we see that as normal. So – again, attraction to fat women is phrased in a way to disempower fat women, whereas attraction to thin women is phrased in a way to empower thin women.

Similarly, we have normalized attraction to white women so we see attraction to Asian women as fetishized. If you believe it is fetishizing to be attracted to Asian women because of typically Asian physical traits, but it is not fetishizing to be attracted to white women because of typically white traits, then you have brought into the idea that the white appearance is the default, and you may want to introspect a little on that. (I’m not calling you racist, but… well, think about it.)

I’m not saying that Asian women don’t face racism, or that heavy women don’t face size-discrimination. In fact, I’m saying the opposite of that – that racism and sizism are so prevalent that they they have infiltrated liberal discourse such that Asian women and heavy women are seen as being *disempowered* by things that would be seen as *empowering* white or slim women. We are denying the Asian/fat groups access to the power that we would grant the white/slim groups (and, yes, I hope women get power outside of their physical appeal – my point is Asian and fat women don’t even get *that.*) And, the problem isn’t with the fetishists – the problem is with is the liberals whose critiques of beauty culture end up implicitly reinforcing the prejudices they are attempting to denounce.

The trap is a trap, watch out for it.

Bisexual Performance – or – Girls Who Pretend to be Bisexual

Nothing is better than a good, fake bisexual roasting. Fucking straight female attention seekers, co-opting queerness to enhance their heteronormative sex appeal. We should have a pussy eating entrance exam for bi women! With judges – make me one! Amirite?

(Hint: I am not right)

Do you remember that song, I Kissed a Girl by Katie Perry? (Yeah, I know it’s been a while.) It’s about… a girl, kissing another girl – and liking it! But, you know – it was sanitized. No one was eye-deep in pussy, Perry had a boyfriend, and it was just an experiment (a “naughty” one at that.) And some queers cried “appropriation” and I get it, but, on another level it actually reminded me of my very early experiences with women from a time when, well, we just assumed everyone was straight.

Many of my first experiences with girls were essentially bisexual performances for men, and before you cry “hetronormative appropriation of queer culture” you should know I was 12. Or 13, but young anyway. I didn’t know myself, I didn’t know my sexuality, and I certainly had no idea how it related to other people or the queer community as a whole. It didn’t stop me being attracted to women when men weren’t around. It didn’t stop me casually dating women in my 20s. It didn’t stop me from eventually falling in love the woman I now call my girlfriend. But, yeah, when I was young I used to kiss girls to turn men on. It’s not PC, but it’s true.

Most of the criticism for this phenomenon falls to the girls themselves – like from this bisexual woman who doesn’t want to think of herself as one of those bisexuals (aka, a bisexual performing straight woman.) One of the most common questions I got when coming out as bisexual was was I a “real” bisexual (aka, how much pussy have you eaten?) starting from when I was outed at 13. I went from being a fairly nerdy, anonymous middle school girl to someone who was immediately hypersexualized, and I did not have the emotional maturity to deal with it.

On a related note, check out this graph:


It’s from a study that documents the higher rate of sexual abuse among bisexual women than among any other sexual orientation (see here.) In this study, 46% of bisexual women had experienced a rape (as opposed to 13% of lesbians, and 15% of straight women.) You can also see most of these rapes were happening during the ages of 11-17 (at every other age, straight women are more likely to be raped.) Bisexual women are vulnerable to being raped right around the age they are likely to be discovering their sexuality and coming out. This is also the age we tend to see a lot of “fake” bisexuals, who are forced to absorb a lot of cultural expectations about their sexuality.

I don’t want to read too much into this study, since the sample size of bisexual women was small, but it fits with my own experience. At the time when I was most vulnerable, I was also exposed to a blast of criticism and doubt about my sexuality, as well as a blast of hypersexualization. And, I *was* attracted to men, I *did* want to impress them, and I didn’t fully understand the negative repercussions of bisexual performance. By the time I was in high school, I’d figured it out and avoided it, but I also had a heavy feminist influence in my life. I can understand it would take some women a little longer to come to sort through this mess, especially since many bisexual women lack support from their queer community (I feel uncomfortable attending events for “lesbians” because I have been explicitly un-included before. This is an annoyance at 29, but probably has much sharper repercussions at 19 – “sharper” repercussions being sexual abuse because the only people you can find to support you also hypersexualize you.)

There is a much deeper message, however, to all of this that I – and probably many other bisexual women – have absorbed. And, that message is “your sexuality is not determined by how you feel, but rather how others judge you to be.” I have often felt the obligation to *prove* my bisexuality, even to people who were supposed to accept me. For instance, I used to see a gay therapist who specialized in issues of sexuality. He once, explicitly, asked me if I was really bisexual or if I was just attached to the identity. I was so shaken by his question that for about a month I identified as straight, but felt so sad I eventually decided I’d rather be a happy “fake” bisexual than a sad “real” straight person. But, if I’d kept that identity, I would never have fallen in love with my girlfriend. My life would have been less in ways I can’t even begin to describe.

Perhaps a deeper question is, why do we resent these young, “fake” bisexual women? Unfortunately, I’m too drunk and it’s too late to answer that question. Another day, perhaps.