The not-entirely-random thoughts of Chris Brecheen about writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Friday, November 21, 2014

Well Deserved

Several of you have noticed that I've been a little on fire this week. Entries (like Tuedsay) were supposed to be short and sweet were quite long and savory....uh.....or something, and even Wednesday's usual jazz hands were a little less jazz handsy. Yesterday's article on Shritstorm was five thousand words social justice bardery. That's about ten times longer than a typical Thursday post and even two or three times longer than my usual "big" articles.

So today, I'm going to have a floofy drink....with an umbrella....and a cherry and put my feet up.

Of course when I say "have a floofy drink," what I mean is write some fiction. And when I say "with an umbrella," what I mean is read for the first time in two days for more than a half an hour including a friend's interactive game because the feedback is needed by today at the latest. And when I say "cherry" I mean write some fiction and work on this weekend's articles because I've done nothing of the sort yet. And by "put my feet up" I mean do like five loads of dishes.

Because when my writing is a little on fire, it usually means the kitchen is too.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

20 Shirtstorm Narratives and What's Wrong With Them

In the Maltese Falcon, Dashiell Hammett's characters wage an intricate game, ostensibly about the Maltese Falcon, but that turns out to be a MacGuffin. The truth is that they are struggling to control the narrative (and if I had an extra five pages of your attention span, I could make a pretty good case that they were doing so in an analogy of the attempts to frame World War I as Good vs. Evil, but maybe another time). They are struggling to be the story that frames what is really going on. Whoever among them ends up controlling the story gets to decide whose motivations and intentions are noble and whose are nefarious. By the end Sam Spade has all the power–multiple times–to decide literally who lives and dies by which story he chooses to go with.

Similarly Skyrim has several themes that involve controlling the narrative, including plot lines that are about which side of a story to accept and even one Bard's quest that is literally about changing the text of a story to alter political reality to the benefit of the Bard's Guild.

The word "narrative" might feel like one of those overused, overwrought, chic, cliché catchphrases that show up too often when third rate bloggers are trying to put contemporary social issues into their writing blogs, but "narrative" isn't fucking around. Controlling the narrative means getting to say who is right, who is wrong, and who is batshit crazy for even trying to explain their point of view. Narrative power is the closest thing we get to absolute social control. It is no coincidence that the political campaigns for the most powerful offices on Earth are won or lost by their "war chest," which amounts to little more than funding for their advertising campaigns–that is their ability to reach voters early and often and control the way they think about issues.

Controlling the narrative is power. Never make a single mistake about it. It is why people work so hard to get their side of the story told in any conflict, it's why divorcees say things like "I want to get my point of view on record," to mutual friends, it's why many work very, VERY hard to marginalize and silence stories that don't agree, and why those who have different experiences are so threatening to the power dynamics of the status quo. It's why allowing white, cis, able, heterosexual men to dictate what isn't offensive or harmful instead of listening to other's stories is such a crucial component of modern social justice and understanding social issues.

This is about power, and who has it. It's about people who control the narrative feeling entitled to go right on controlling it. They are upset that their hegemony is being challenged. Don't ever, ever forget that.

As usual, I'm swinging the bat after the ball is already in the catcher's mitt. Shirtstorm outrage is fading on the blogs and FB posts of my socially conscious friends. This joins a Lynn Shepherd rebuke and a Gamergate analysis that showed up to the party long after the pizza and cake were gone and the only soda left was flat generic brand diet orange. Still, it lets me be a little bit more comprehensive.

If you don't know what Shirtstorm (#shirtstorm) is, I highly recommend the Slate article because it properly frames the actual succession of events and where the vitriol really came from. The short version is that a scientist named Matt Taylor working with the Rosetta Project landed a probe on a comet for the first time in ever. During the press conference he wore a shirt with pin up girls in bondage gear all over it. The next day he apologized for causing unintended offense. That's when legions of entitled sphincters went to work. They claimed that Feminists and Social Justice Warriors* (SJWs) had ruined everything.

For the record, I am not a social justice warrior. I am a social justice BARD.

Let's examine some of their most popular narratives and why they don't actually hold much water.

1. Narrative: It's no big deal./Nobody really cares./It's just a shirt.

Problem: Awwww. If only you got to tell other people what they found important, this might actually be a good narrative.

If there could be a better illustration that it's not "just a shirt" than a weeks long social media explosion called Shirtstorm, I don't know what that might be. Maybe something involving lava or rocket propelled grenades?

I'm sure whatever they're on about is no big deal.
It clearly is a big deal. We're fifty-three million blog posts and six hundred gagillion tweets into Shirtstorm, and the only reason feminists are moving on is because a) there are already all new stories of casual sexism to talk about and b) Richard Dawkins opened his mouth again.

What is happening here is that you want it to be no big deal. You want it to go away because you've declared it beneath you and dismissal of an issue is the easiest way to control the narrative. The trouble is that nothing about the actual events that have unfolded would support such a claim.

And while nothing says "I don't care about your incredibly trivial opinion that makes absolutely no difference to me....really," quite like thousands of people screaming so at the top of their lungs, in this particular case it's becoming apparent that perhaps people do care, it is a big deal, and it's not going to be so easily dismissed.

2. Narrative: Taylor didn't do anything wrong.

Problem: Everyone pretty much agrees that Taylor never did anything intentionally hurtful, but then again only a few people ever suggested that he did. The shirt thing wasn't really even that big a deal. It was a thoughtless doof move not unlike running into someone when you're not watching where you're going. Nobody thinks you're evil, but an apology might be in order. He apologized. That would have been the end of it.

We pointed it out because it was a very visible example of casual sexism–the kind of casual sexism endemic in STEM fields. It's kind of like how people always explain that even Star Wars fails the Bechdel test. It's not that Star Wars is the worst, most sexist movie ever. Han isn't a raging misogynist. Luke never says "Step back Leia, a lightsaber is a man's weapon." There isn't a planet of delectable whores. It's just that everyone has seen Star Wars. It's a good frame of reference.

Hey she has like five lines.
AND her death makes Luke get his ass whup on.
What more do you Berkenstock-wearing feminazis want???

Taylor shows up on his most public day ever in front of half the world, and it's a great place for women in STEM fields to say "This is exactly what I'm talking about." The shirt by itself is not next level misogyny and his comment about the comet being easy wasn't either (and no one really said they were), but they do make for great illustrations of the "background radiation" that exists.

3. Narrative: The shirt was not really that problematic.

Problem: Oh come ON! What the actual fuck? Are you trying to use the Jedi mind trick or something? This is so fucking ridiculous.

You think you could wear that shirt to your work? Better yet, do you think you could wear that shirt at an internationally televised press conference where you are representing your company and your boss (and then describe your job through a slut shaming sex metaphor)? Or do you suppose that someone might mention it? That someone might have the foresight to imagine that there would be objections?

If you think there's no problem with what's on that shirt, try having women wear one of the outfits displayed therein to work on the day that they will be representing their boss on international an television broadcast about a scientific achievement. That shouldn't be a problem, right?

This is one of the absolutely MOST absurd narratives out there because it's spectacularly 100%, non-debatable exactly why a shirt like this would be objectionable to 99.999% of employers. Take a look around.

Shirtstorm is what is known in the biz as "a PR nightmare." It's exactly the sort of reason most jobs have policies about wardrobes and/or sexual harassment, and most bosses would tell you to change–especially before an internationally broadcast press conference. Pretending that anyone can wear anything to jobs where they face the public goes beyond disingenuous into willfully obtuse.

Even the damned AAS weighed in on this (which actually includes their support to those who brought it up and then dealt with backlash).  Get over your fantasy where you WANT this not to be problematic. It was. Let's move on.

4. Narrative: Not that many people really care.

Problem: You know how you can tell it's not just "a few" offended people acting on behalf of the lunatic fringe of some over-sensitive group?

When it's international news.

When literally thousands of people are weighing in.

When it goes on for days in the media and the blogosphere explodes.

When there's a New York Times piece about it.

I don't know when social justice crosses the rubicon between the lands of, "catering to every easily offended person in the world" and becomes, "marginalizing a group by suggesting their feelings are completely irrelevant." I think the exact point is a personal decision for most people. But in this case, it's pretty easy to see that point is in the rear view mirror.

5. Narrative: This doesn't matter to women in STEM fields./It's just a few hysterical women.

Problem: This one boggles me because it was women in STEM fields who pointed it out and who have largely been the voices to object to the shirt in the first place. The lists of people with a problem include other top scientists of both genders.

Feminists/SJWs: "This shirt kind of shows what the problem is in STEM fields."

Shirt Defenders: "Women are welcome in stem fields because it's about *accomplishments* not clothes. We judge people by their brains not their outer trappings. If they're worried about clothes instead of the quality of someone's mind, they don't even belong. Women's opinions and input are highly valued. Because this isn't about sexism at all. We respect them and everything they have to contribute. We really, really care what women think about us.

Women in STEM fields: "Actually we do kind of have a problem with it."

ESs: "Shut up you hysterical bitches."

We only want you in STEM fields if you're one of the guys.

6. Narrative: Women need to toughen up. If all it takes is a shirt to upset them, they don't belong in STEM.

Problem: You mean tough like being able to handle some snarky Tweets? Or are we talking even tougher than that?

There are two problems with this narrative, and they both very clearly illustrate the power dynamic in play. The first is that it ignores the idea of "death by 1000 cuts." I've read a lot on this topic and not one person has said that this shirt upset them so much that they are leaving STEM fields.

Not. One. Person.

Know what else no one said? "This is the first and worst misogynist thing to ever happen in a STEM field."

The, "It's just a..." argument is always predicated on willfully ignoring that it isn't just anything. It's not just a shirt, just a comic, just a joke, just a casual comment, just a slip up, just a webpage, just a commercial, just a show, just a character, just a compliment, just a, just a just a.... It's that all these things add up to an environment. Any time someone calls out the environment an example is demanded; any time someone calls out an example it is just a shirt.

It's not just a shirt.

The alternative way this narrative fails is that if it is just a shirt, it shouldn't be that big a deal to just change it to foster greater inclusivity. Right? No big deal. Accept the apology, don't do that again. Grow as a people. No one is going to turn this into the next feminism vs. anti-feminism battleground if it's not worth the struggle, right?

But, in fact, Taylor got more hostile tweets about his apology than he ever did about his shirt. (ETA: I appear to have closed the browser on my source on this, so if anyone knows where I can find a new source link, please let me know.)

7. Narrative: His shirt was given to him by a woman. So clearly it's okay.

Problem: Oh well shit. If a woman gave him the shirt I guess that means there's no possible context (ever) in which it could be inappropriate to wear that shirt. I have a Black friend who said I could use the N word, so I'm headed down to east Oakland to try that shit out on some strangers. Better yet, I once was given a copy of Couples Seduce Teens by a woman (that's two-girls/one-guy threesome milf/teen porn for the two of you who aren't just pretending you've never heard of it), so obviously I can screen it for my class next week since there's no possible context in which something given to me by a woman could be considered sexist or unprofessional.

If only there were some sort of name for assuming the actions of one person in a group was tacit sanction for that behavior among the whole group.

Maybe this guy knows.

Context is the key here. The woman even wrote her own blog about making the shirt and how she was thrilled he wore it. If she were the only one watching that press conference, it would have been awesome. A few others were too. No one said this shirt wouldn't have been great for the after-party or down in the lab (although you'll have to ask his colleagues about that). But representing his mission and company on international TV...maybe not so much.

8. Narrative: This doesn't make women in STEM fields feel unwelcome.

Problem: One of these days you're going to learn how truly, epically stupid, unempathetic, and just plain arrogant it makes you look to tell other people how they feel. Especially when they're standing there contradicting you.

Never mind for the moment that you would have to literally ignore all the women in STEM fields who have stepped up to point out that this shirt is part of the reason they feel unwelcome, but you would have to be blithely unaware the current statistics about women's resilience in STEM jobs and the reasons they cite for leaving and generally unaware of the problem STEM has attracting and keeping women overall.

When you could double all but one and STILL not have equality,
you don't get to say there isn't a problem.

9. Narrative: He got completely buried in rage./ Feminists went crazy.

Problem: Gee whiz, Sport, how did he get completely buried if "no one really cares"? You need to get your story straight.

This narrative is fun to repeat to your Reddit and 4chan friends if you hate feminists and think those uppity Bs should have a tall glass of shut the fuck up instead of saying words that you haven't told them are okay, but it doesn't match the timeline, and it doesn't match the facts.

Feminists and SJWs didn't "fly off the rails"–they pointed out something problematic (most of them while hailing the success of the mission–a few even explicitly saying "I am more critical of the things I love."). They pointed at his shirt and said,  "No wonder stem fields can feel a little hostile."

Twitter can make things feel like a dog pile--especially when someone does something that, you know, THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE HAVE A VISCERAL REACTION TO. Unfortunately in media where things are open and equal (like the intertubes) you don't get to control how people react to something. I recommend you avoid this by setting Twitter not to send you e-mails and ignoring the internet for a couple of days. That is something that people suffering from actual oppression can't do.

Honestly though, very few tweets were hyperbolic or mean. Where the real dog and pony show started was the backlash.

10. Narrative: Feminism and SJW's made a huge deal out of it.

Problem: Yes, snark and hyperbole on social media. I can't remember the last time I saw anything so unexpectedly horrible.

If by "huge deal" you mean they pointed it out, yes they did. Some were even mean, but not actually very many.  Most were pretty reasonable. Pretty measured. Maybe mentioned kids watching or that it was a bit on the unprofessional side.  Only a couple of tweets were a big deal.

Are we going to start judging whole groups by the actions of a very few now, because if we are, I'd like to talk about the woman who got doxxed for saying the shirt was inappropriate, and a few of the Tweets that came out about Taylor's apology.

Or do you suddenly appreciate the nuance that not everyone is part of a Borg hive mind when it comes only to your side? Because folks who show up and get "feminism" mixed up with "this one feminist" pretty much show up every issue to try and tell us that this time we really have gone off the rails and we need to shut up. It's not like this is...ya know...new territory for us.

Casual sexism exists. It just does. Get over it. We're not past all that. The world isn't egalitarian yet. Cope. And some people live their lives under the ethos of calling that sort of thing out. Still, most people aren't evil bigots, they just don't realize what they're doing is reinforcing a status quo. Equality dies by a thousand cuts, not by some evil a-hole's coup-de-grace.

However, if you pay careful attention, you can see the power dynamics at work. You can watch which voices are dismissed as insignificant and which ring loud from every mountaintop and media locus. These power dynamics are always there, working underneath the surface to silence anyone who dares to points out casual sexism, to deny that it exists, to tell people that they have no right to their feelings. They manifest in a backlash that considers any reaction an overreaction. They call being called out a "huge deal."

The real shitstorm NEVER comes from people calling out casual sexism (or racism or ableism or heteronormativity or...).

It ALWAYS comes from the backlash. The people who feel entitled to do whatever they want no matter who it hurts and who are offended that anyone had the temerity to point out that their intentions and their effect were not aligned.

11. Narrative: He should be judged by his accomplishments, not his shirt.

Problem: Oh that's rich! Especially given how women's fashion choices are policed to death–doubly so if they are on camera. A woman with large breasts can't even wear comfortable clothing without being told she is unprofessional. Women of color are told their natural hair is too political. And if a sexy picture is found (even from before they worked at a job in the context of their private lives) they can be fired.

People get judged by their clothing all the time. I had a boss who would send me home if my pants were too wrinkled, and I never even appeared on camera. This is just a stupid narrative. If he's some brilliant Dr. House maverick type who is so. fucking. GOOD! at science that he gets to wear anything he wants, then stick someone else in front of the camera for your international press conference.

If he's going to be on camera, we assume he can handle some scrutiny.

11.5 Narrative: Well in that case, isn't this what feminists want? People shouldn't be objectified by their clothes. This is SJW/feminazi hypocrisy. Checkmate bitches!

Problem: Taylor wasn't being objectified. That word obviously doesn't mean what you think it does. Nobody talked about his glasses, his beard, his weight, his tattooed arms or even the way his shirt failed to bring out his eyes. Nobody hyper-focused on his attractiveness and most of the people who said anything at all still lauded his accomplishments.

His fuckability was not what was getting him judged, and this narrative is just false equivalence.

12. Narrative: What crazed feminists did was a witch hunt/lynch mob/gang bang/abuse/rape.

The problem: Really? Do you really see no problem with those particular terms. As the group who has historically done the witch hunts, lynch mobs, abuse, etc using those terms against the groups who have typically suffered them....literally. And you're using them to characterize what? Some social media sarcasm? A nasty blog post? A little bit of a dog pile that lasted a couple of days?

That's beyond douchey. It's extra douchey with douche sauce. It's like a German arian telling a Jew that the Jew is "exterminating" them every time their antisemitism is called out. ("Quit putting me in these 'concentration camps' of your Twitter censure to 'ethnically cleanse' me of my opinion.")

Lynch mobs were actual things that happened in some people's living memory. Witch hunts were actual ways that women were killed (usually for being the "feminists" of their day). Abuse and rape actually happen and they have nothing–NOTHING–in common with a spate of uncomfortable tweets.

Even if you're the biggest fan of hyperbole and figurative language in the universe, you make yourself look so egregiously insensitive and like such a total raging asshole to turn around and use the language of actual oppression when characterizing those who are calling out the very "isms" that have led to these things.

Assuming that it's far far too much for you to spend an hour on Google grasping the complexity of the idea that calling out oppression is never as "mean" as the oppression itself, I'll just say this: if you want to use "bullied," I think it's kind of an insult to every kid who ever got the crap physically kicked out of them or the parents of kids who were harassed so savagely on social media that they eventually took their own lives, but at least that word doesn't have the breathtakingly insensitive connotations of being the violent legacy of oppression to the very movements you are opposing.

What with twitter being mandatory reading and all,
I can't imagine women and POC won't appreciate this metaphor.

13. Narrative: Not getting to wear his shirt is censorship.

Problem: There seems to be some pretty powerful confusion in the "I-just-got-called-out-for-something-racist/sexist/homophobic/ableist/transphobic-I-just-said" camp about what the word censorship means. They appear to have conflated an absence of absolute freedom from any and all consequence or reaction with jack booted government officials threatening to throw them in jail for their words.

I know the difference is subtle, but if you really think about it, you can figure it out. I just know it!

Someone telling you that you said or did something that hurts and offends them is not censorship. But for ten points, see if you can spot the irony in trying to silence their criticism by saying that it is.

13.5. Narrative: Well it may not be censorship, but it does have a chilling effect on the discourse.

Problem: It does? Where?

Let's pretend for a moment that social media is a monocle and brandy sort of environment where you can tell people who are angry to settle down and it won't make them more upset. (Are we pretending? Good.) I still think you're mistaking "someone said something to me that was in any way critical and has made me feel bad" with "chilling effect" because it's pretty fucking clear that not too many people are having a whole hell of a lot of trouble speaking their minds.

If anything, anytime someone gets called out for hurtful remarks, there is a doubling down and their faction gets louder and more obnoxious. There are like a gillion tweets and articles complaining about SJWs and feminists over every issue they ever bring up EVER. I'd hate to see what you assholes would be like if there weren't a chilling effect. Every time we try to correct one mischaracterization, ten more articles come out comparing us to the social Gestapo.

If what you actually mean by this is: "The next time I get ready to say something that might hurt or offend people, I think back to the last time someone called me out, and I am less likely to say this thing in a hurtful and/or offensive way," well then....good. If empathy can't move you to give a shit about how you make others feel, then perhaps the thought of all that horrible sarcasm on Twitter will just have to do.

And by the way, just so you know....you all look like the biggest entitled lot of fucking hypocrite crusty anal sphincters every time you wail about the "chilling effect" (or whatever) of angry words on "the discourse" but are conspicuously quiet when it runs the other way, or when it crosses into abuse, or when people get death and rape threats. When you only police one group's tone....well, they sort of have a word for that.

14. Narrative: This ruined his great day in science./No one should have their shirt criticized on the day they land a probe on a comet.

Problem: I honestly can't figure out what is worse about this narrative: that it is trying to give someone carte blanche because they [WERE PART OF A TEAM WHO] landed a probe on a comet, and there are presumed to be some things that are so cool they automatically make you above reproach, or that it attempts to deny the fact that humans have multitudes and can do complicated mental gymnastics like saying "Awesome landing dude!!! What's up with that shirt?"

If his shirt were covered with pedophilia or images of ISIS beheading Christians we wouldn't even be having this conversation, so can we please agree that there is no moral "get out of jail free" card for landing a probe on a comet and move on to the fact that the people who are advancing this narrative are entirely made up of those who aren't offended.

15. Narrative: Feminists are anti-sex and here they go again with their sex hating nonsense.

Problem: Wait, I thought all these guy feminists were just trying to get laid. How does that work if all the women are prudes?

Look, I don't mean this to sound belittling. (Okay, maybe I do.) But seriously, I'm not even kidding, if you tell me that feminists are sex hating prudes, you have ONLY informed me of the fact that you've probably never actually met very many feminists.

Like...at all.

That is seriously all you just communicated to me with that sentiment.

You're literally talking about the vanguard of the sexual revolution, and the first people in and the last ones out when it comes to questioning traditional gender roles, sex negative attitudes, and even monogamy. They are the ones who want reproductive control because sex is good and pleasure feels awesome. They are the ones who want to smash the ideas of slut shaming because women shouldn't feel bad about having as many partners as men. They are the ones who want your laws out of their bedroom so they can get next level freaky in there without worrying about it. They're some of the most sex positive, freakiest, sluttiest (reclaimed, not shaming), go-after-what-I-wantiest, sure-I'll-try-that-iest, people in the room. Half the feminists I know would take Taylor's shirt and sex toy to bed if their booty call didn't pick up the phone that night.

They just want consent first.

16. Narrative: His apology was forced.

Problem: I love how we are reminded that we can't know that sexism was in his mind when he picked his shirt, but when it comes to his apology, suddenly everyone's a fucking telepath.

The good news is I have perfected telepathy.
Unfortunately, it only works when I'm exonerating cis, het, white men from being called out.

Taylor had the empathy to realize he had offended people, the integrity to care that he had, and the class to apologize. Anyone assuming Taylor's words were fraudlent (probably because deep down they really want them to be) most likley doesn't even comprehend how breathtakingly that assertion serves only to reinforce just how much this really is about those who feel entitled to their sexist, status quo double standards.

This narrative has the fingerprints of oppressive power dynamics all over it.

It's not simply that their world view cannot fathom a person realizing they offended others accidentally and apologizing it. No, it goes beyond a lack of empathy. Not only do they not care that they offended people, but they're actually going to get pissed off at anyone who does. Taylor recieved more hostile tweets about his apology than he did his shirt.

17. Narrative: Feminists are out of control and this is one more unreasonable argument.

The problem with the "unreasonable argument" gambit is that the reasonable arguments are already out there.

They exist.

They have erudite points in high language and even tons of citations for the academics. They are soft and reasonable and not too uppity. They make thoughtful points filled with inscrutable rationality and eloquence. The reason they didn't grab anyone's attention is because they're politely tucked away in reasonable places, and very few people actually care about or pay them any attention. No one noticed them (they were so convenient to ignore) precisely BECAUSE they were not up in people's fucking face.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but if "reasonable" arguments actually swayed people, things like Shirtstorm wouldn't be happening.

Plus....dude....if you're on Twitter to get reasonable, that was your first mistake.

18. Feminists have gone too far/Feminism has jumped the shark/They won't get what they want this way.

Right, they'll get what they want by being quiet and waiting until there's no comet landings or other things you consider important going on. Plus they have to wait for everyone who "has it worse" to be taken care of. Then, if they mind their tone, you can pencil them in.

Wait....hang on...that might be unfair of me. Do you know how feminists can get what they want because of your long and illustrious struggles within social justice movements? Because if you do, I owe you an apology.

You're still not getting the concept that the entire idea that you get to decide what other groups ought to find important is predicated on an unequal power dynamic–one that favors you. As long as you're sitting on your lofty throne saying "Yes, I deem this reasonable." "Yes I deem this reasonable, but there was some overreach. I'm going to give it too you because I'm benevolent." "No, I'm sorry, you didn't reign in the responses of your every member. I'm afraid your petition is denied and your movement invalidated." You are still playing the position of power.

Everyone at the top of power hierarchies always wants to be petitioned for redress politely and properly. They want to be begged for their nod and they get infuriated at the people who have the gall to care about what they've decreed trivial or not ask for it like proper doting serfs. The problem no one should have to ask for things like equality.

Controlling the rules of discourse is just another kind of control. It advances the narrative that people who are angry shouldn't be listened to and can therefore be dismissed.

But just for shits and giggles, I have compiled an extensive and exhaustive list of groups throughout the entire arc of human history who have gained equality by calmly discussing their grievances in a way that bothered no one. Each of these groups were so reasonable that those who stood to lose power never characterized the aggrieved status as "an overreaction." None on this list have EVER heard the suggestion that they would get what they want if they would just calm down and wait for the right time.


19. Feminists and SJWs turn every little thing into a major issue./Feminism is toxic./Blah blah blah.

Damn, isn't it frustrating not to be able to dictate to marginalized groups what are "little things" and what are "major issues." It seems like they should just take your fucking word for it that they're not actually upset. God those pesky people insist on not letting you tell them how they feel.

Oppression is toxic. Thinking that you might get an angry tweet is not. I know that's tough to understand when you only experience one of them, but try hard.

Let me make this clear if I haven't already about seven times. Even if somehow you got to decide what matters and what doesn't to other people (you don't), the shit-storm came from entitlement, not "crazed feminazis." The shit-storm came from telling women that sexism gets a pass when someone is accomplished or that they were wrong about feeling offended or that no one really cared. The shit-storm came when they arbitrated how a marginalized group ought to feel–telling women (women in STEM fields who have said this is exactly why the atmosphere is so toxic) that they were wrong. The shit-storm came when entitled sphincters got mad at Taylor for having the temerity to apologize.

If there IS to be one more battlefield in the culture war between a "We're past all that" status quo, and those SJW "bullies" with their insufferable caring about others and their incessent questioning of the assumptions that have created a status quo in which we are not equal, it didn't happen because nothing was amiss. It didn't happen because Taylor doubled down or defended his shirt. It didn't happen because it was pointed out. It didn't happen because a few individuals mistook fucking foul language and the meanest hyperbole ever in the history of time as being a good argument.

It happened because the people who felt entitled to wear whatever they want, whenever they want, no matter who it offends, with no criticism of any kind, and by God, their word should be the end of all discussion....

THOSE people took to the fields.

20. Narrative: Feminists are making themselves look bad to turn this into an issue.

Who turned it into an issue?

I don't care what your opinion is (well, I do, but you're entitled to it) but at least get your timeline facts straight. Because if it had gone: Call out--->apology that would have been the end of it for 99% of us and it would have been over days ago. In fact most of "us" have moved on. Except for the occasional behind the curve, two-bit blog, the vast majority of Shirtstorm's ongoing momentum comes from people who are still upset that Taylor was "forced" to apologize or that anyone ever had the audacity to say anything at all.

What feminists are "wound up" about is the backlash to this event. That is, they are reacting to the claims that Taylor did nothing wrong, that his apology was forced, that their concerns were "hysterical"....all the earlier things in this article actually. It is emblematic of the way people higher up the cultural hierarchy react to being told they are doing something that hurts others–the first move is always, ALWAYS to attempt to control the narrative by marginalizing the voices of those who disagree.

Feminists are not wound up. Feminists are simply not backing down. There's a big difference.

Let me make this clear: this narrative control thing isn't some new phenomenon. No one in social justice was at all surprised at the reaction of those who wanted to defend the shirt. If anything we rolled our eyes at how predictable it's been. "Yes yes call it trivial, then call everybody oversenstive, then say that it's been blown out of proportion by the other guys, then try to reverse some arguments with false equivalence. ~yawn~ Call me if something interesting happens, okay."

This playbook is as old as dirt. This play is trying to bury feminist voices.

The backlash is where the real vitriol is because entitlement means thinking any reaction (at all) is an overreaction. It is the backlash that belittles the people who mentioned the shirt or continue to speak out about it, who call it a fringe minority even though it's in the mainstream news and millions of people are talking about it, who insist that if no harm was intended, none was done even as the people affected say otherwise, who attack the people who dare to speak out, who create toxic environments for those expressing their opinions (with actual abuse, not just harsh words and dreaded sarcasm), who turn to arguments they don't even realize are spectacularly ironic, and who even turn to the language of real, actual oppression ("lynch mob," "witch hunt," "abuse") to describe nothing more than social media rebuke. It is the backlash that has decided that someone who apologized for causing offense has been unduly harmed and needs to be bought a watch. This entire display has really been entitlement 101.

And the reason every single issue is "blown up" lately is because entitlement 101 isn't working.

The difference here is that for the first time since women's suffrage, feminism has voice, power and allies and can't be quietly marginalized into the background with tone policing or silencing tactics. Feminism gets to decide for itself which issues are important because it doesn't have to run them past the patriarchy for approval. Equality is a nice thing to talk about when you control the narrative. But having your version of any given story challenged is what actual equality is about. The difference is this is the sting of losing that narrative hegemony, and it's got them very, VERY upset.

So feminists continue to repeat the same points over and over again to an increasingly apoplectic group of entitled fuckwits who can't figure out why, for the first time in their generation, the social issues they have declared to be beneath their consideration are not simply going away.

And that is really okay.

[A reminder to newcomers that comments on this blog are moderated.]

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Social Justice Bard

The whole range of social justice shirts is available. 
Once upon a time a bunch of sexist racist homophobic dillholes (and even a few status-quo loving n00bs) tried to insult people who cared about social justice by calling them "Social Justice Warriors."

Not since William Wallace's body parts were sent to the four corners of the British Isles did something so thoroughly NOT have the intended effect.

Realizing that not only was "social justice warrior" not a particularly insulting insult, but, in fact, it was basically the highest form of compliment, most of those who heard the term applied to them (even though it was intended as a disparagement) immediately fell in love. Our eyes lit up more than Han when Leia called him a scoundrel.

In fact, the whole range of social justice classes soon came in demand. Social justice warriors were only the beginning. Some people soothe the hearts of those on the front line. Some people hold their tongue until the perfect moment to say something really, really snarky. Some people work their critical thinking magic to get folks around them to understand things from a different point of view. Soon the cry came up for social justice clerics, social justice mages, and social justice rogues.

Of course, I don't have enough hit points or sheer striking power to be a warrior.. I can scrap with dillholes a little, but not as much as some of the true fighters around me. I can occasionally work some point-of-view magic--though nothing like what the true social justice thinkers are capable of. I employ a host of less reputable skills to get what I want. And I'm a vibrant artist type who is very very interested in telling stories. I've even been known to sing a little.

That's right. I'm a social justice bard.

So while I work on one of my latest social justice articles about Shirtstorm (hopefully for tomorrow, but possibly for Friday), just know that your critically low charisma bard is here, fighting the good fight.

Or at least talking about it a lot.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Sans Love of Writing

Should I Bother to Keep Writing?  

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer each Monday.  I will use your first name ONLY unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous.  My comment policy also may mean one of your comments ends up in the mailbox, but likely only if you ask a question. Long questions will be answered in two parts, and the second part will be whenever I damn well feel like it.] 

Return to Part 1 (in which I answered the first part of this question)

Jennifer asks:

Also, you've talked about talent, and about a love of writing, and that neither of these matter unless you combine them with a work ethic. Do you think it's possible to be seriously lacking in the first two but will yourself to do the work anyway? Or that if you're having a hard time willing yourself to work, that perhaps it's because you're completely lacking the first two things and maybe you shouldn't bother? Like maybe you're more in love with the idea of being a writer than actually writing, so maybe you should just stop deluding yourself and stop pretending that maybe someday you're going to finally write that novel. I mean, chances are, if you're not writing now, you're not going to be writing at some undetermined point in the future, right?

My reply: 

~in my best Matrix oracle voice~ Oh, what's really going to bake your noodle, Jennifer, is how close this question actually is to the one I answered yesterday–or at least the answers are almost identical.

First of all, let's torpedo this idea of "talent." In fact, let's order Mr. Worf to do a full photon torpedo spread. I've already grudgingly admitted that I know talent is a thing. Some people just have to work harder. (I'm one of them. I spend HOURS working on things, and I've seen people sit down and write stuff just as good–if not better–in twenty minutes.)

However, the number of people who love to read and love to write and try to write, but who have absolutely no talent for writing is infinitesimal compared to the number of people who have no talent for writing, and also have no interest in writing. Most people who want to be writers are already self-selected for the "talent" they're so damned worried about. All they need to do is get off their ass–or in this case ON it. Sure, every once in a while someone thinks writing is the path to glory that will be easier than sports legend or movie star, but I'm guessing that your question isn't really asking me if you're a poseur.

Now I'm going to jump to the last part first because I want to come to the heart of your question at the end. Would you have written your novel by now if you were ever going to write it? No. No no no no nononononono! A thousand times no. NO!! NOOOOOOOOOOO!


I hope you're getting the point here, Jennifer.

There are tons of writers who don't even begin their writing careers until they're in their sixties or seventies. Perhaps the best well known is Laura Ingalls Wilder who worked as a columnist, but didn't even start her fiction (the Little House series) until she was in her sixties. Mary Fontenot wrote her first book at 51 and then wrote thirty more just to make sure no one gave her any shit about it being a fluke. Kenneth Grahame waited until he had retired to write The Wind in the Willows. You might have heard of that one.  Now I don't know for sure, but I bet a lot of those people wanted to write before they became writers. I don't know exactly why they waited (family, work, motivation?), but if any of them had said "Fuck it. I will NEVER be a writer," the world of words would have been diminished.

Love of writing...that's a tough one. Not only is it almost impossible to be a writer without a love of writing, but it's also very foolish. This would like playing video games as a hobby, dreaming of becoming a professional video game player some day, but NOT LIKING video games. It's absolute madness. We might as well wear our underwear on the outside and plant our young in the ground in the hopes of making baby trees. The effort that goes into something like writing a novel (even if it doesn't get published, but especially if it does) is absolutely insane. Compared to the payout for all but the most upper echelon writers and meteoric success stories, it is outrageous. If you clear a fraction of minimum wage with pay divided by hours, you are doing really well. So there is no reason to do it except for love alone.

In Becoming A Writer, Dorothea Brande offers up some harsh advice when she talks about sitting down to do one half hour of writing at a time that floats around through the day. She says that if you can't even do this much, if your excuses win out against sitting down every time, then give up. She says that if this happens then your desire not to write is stronger than your desire to write, and you should stop torturing yourself. If that is the case, write when the muse moves you, and don't worry about all the times that it doesn't.

Thus if you simply always have an excuse for not writing, then yes, maybe you are fooling yourself that the glam life of a writer can be yours without doing the work. Maybe you like the idea of being a writer more than writing itself. Or maybe your muse is so capricious that it simply will never ever be tamed.

This was me, by the way. About ten years ago. Looking into the mirror and saying, "Who do you even think you are fooling?"

Don't worry Jennifer, I would never end it there. The fact that I'm still writing is just proof that questioning whether you might not be a writer is never the end. Quick! To the Hopemobile!

I can't tell you if you really love writing or not because I'm fresh out of mind reading soul beams. (I used my last one to find out if the Starbucks barista was just being aloof or had a particular problem with me ordering a large instead of "venti".)  Based on the first part of your question I suspect you do love writing, but you're having some blocks lately and it's got you questioning the whole thing. You have tricked yourself into NOT writing because you love it so much that you want to get it right on the first shot and what you really don't like is the thought that you might screw it up. That's the brain's "nuclear option" for trying to keep you from turning creative impulse into work; to convince you that you're not a "real artist" so why bother. In a way you have to admire it. It's like Donald Trump running a casino into the ground to get rid of the roaches in the kitchen.

This is where I bake your noodle, by the way. Buckle up.

The answer to both parts of your question is to give yourself permission to suck. Return to the well of writing without all the baggage about being perfect or if your book is going to sell or how much you ought to have written by now if you were a "real writer."

Forget all that bullshit. Just write. Write because it feels good to write.

Remember when you discovered reading? That moment when you realized that written words were honest to goodness magic. Using just paper and a little bit of ink you could transfer whole worlds and complex ideas to another across space and time. And then you realized that not only was it magic, but you could cast spells too. You could do the magic. And you picked up a pen or a pencil and the universe was infinite with possibility and wonder. Someone ten thousand years from now, maybe even on another world, might understand what you're thinking about better than a person across the room. You can send them any message you want about the unfathomable complexity and depth of the imaginative life that lives inside your head.

Or that moment where you looked at a sheaf of blank papers, empty with limitless possibility, and the promise of so much potential felt like it was lifting you out of your chair without ever moving. The paper was practically begging you to write on it.

Or that instant you siezed a pen or a pencil and thought, "I have something to say."

Or that moment when you were writing and you realized that you had just discovered something about yourself that you never knew.

Return to the font of that passion, the well of words where you discovered that magic is a real thing. It's still there. It's waiting for you behind all that performance anxiety and expectation and baggage. When you clear out all that junk and show up, it's going to say, "Where have you been, Jennifer. I have been waiting this whole time."


So that's fine and well in theory but how dow you actually do it?

Just a little image to help this article not seem so long. Carry on.
Take it slow. Don't try to sit down and write a novel. Try to sit down and write for ten minutes. Make your starting goals comically, almost insultingly, small. (Increasing in increments is much easier than burning out.) Write anything you want for now. Write about your day or a book you read that you liked or dirty limericks. But don't write about anything that feels like an obligation. The next day–at the EXACT SAME TIME–sit down and see if you can go for fifteen minutes. If it's a stretch, stick there for a while. If that's easy, try twenty the next day. Don't pressure yourself to be good. Just enjoy the writing itself.

I think you'll find that after ROUGHLY two weeks (maybe a little longer or shorter depending) you will start to want to write again. The hour before you sit down, you'll find words jumping into your head as your brain kicks off the party before you. You will be DYING to sit down and write before the time it rolls around. (Don't start early!) You will start to miss writing when you're not doing it and feel at home only when you're watching your own thoughts spring to life on the page in front of you.

Keep this up for a couple of weeks, and try to push the time you can easily write. For some they will find that number is an hour. For other's it's twelve hours. (I clock in at about four unless I'm really in the zone, then it's about eight to ten). Don't keep writing after it becomes tedious, and don't write anything you don't feel like writing. Keep it whimsical for now. This is like dating. You can figure out who's going to clean the liter boxes later.

Things like worrying about what to write and how many words or hours per day will get that novel written (or whatever), will never ever be as important as falling back in love with writing, and remembering all those reasons you fell in love in the first place.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Overcoming Inertia (Mailbox)

How do you overcome inertia?  

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer each Friday.  I will use your first name ONLY unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous.  My comment policy also may mean one of your comments ends up in the mailbox, but likely only if you ask a question. Try to limit me to one opus at a time.] 

Jennifer asks:

So I won't even go into the do I really have to write everyday? whine because I do believe you have amply covered that question. However, could you get into the specifics of how you write every day? And I think it's not so much about finding time, because I know that checking Facebook like my fridge to see if anything new has magically appeared for the umpteenth time is not how I should be spending my evening. I'm talking more along the lines of how you get over that inertia and procrastination and fear of I can't do this because it's going to suck, and I'd rather numb myself with social media than expose myself to that kind of vulnerability.

Also, you've talked about talent, and about a love of writing, and that neither of these matter unless you combine them with a work ethic. Do you think it's possible to be seriously lacking in the first two but will yourself to do the work anyway? Or that if you're having a hard time willing yourself to work, that perhaps it's because you're completely lacking the first two things and maybe you shouldn't bother? Like maybe you're more in love with the idea of being a writer than actually writing, so maybe you should just stop deluding yourself and stop pretending that maybe someday you're going to finally write that novel. I mean, chances are, if you're not writing now, you're not going to be writing at some undetermined point in the future, right?

My reply:

Boy you never pull your punches do you Jennifer? Two biggies to unpack, so I'm going to answer the first part today and finish up the second tomorrow. Otherwise I'd probably be hitting "Publish" at 9pm and unable to uncross my eyes enough to see that my post is riddled with grammar errors, missing words, and ee cummings punctuation.

Stephen King has a canned response to, "How do you do it?" kinds of questions.

"One word at a time."

It's flip. It's trite. It's also perfect.

So you know you have to write every day.  You have to set aside time, turn off Facebook, and stop making trips to the fridge. That's great. Knowing that I promise you're already half a dozen public service announcements ahead of the rest of the pack.

Kid one: Hey everyone, let's write a bestselling novel.

Other kids: Yay!

Kid one: I don't understand. Nothing is happening. I want to be a writer. I've even shared writing memes on Facebook. Why am I not a novelist yet?

Kid two: I dunno. Want another snack? I'm going to the kitchen.

Lance McBuffpecks: You have to stop procrastinating and actually write.

All kids: Lance McBuffpecks!

Lance: Writing takes time and effort, kids. You have to set aside a couple of hours to write every day and not do other things that distract you during that time like Facebook, cleaning the house, or constantly going to get snacks. That novel just won't write itself.

Kid one: Now we know.

Lance: And knowing is...well it's not as important as superior firepower from an elevated position, air superiority, and good morale, but it's okay.

The rest of this, Jennifer, is happening....well, I don't want to say the feelings aren't real because they obviously are, but logically your brain is playing some tricks on you. It's trying to get you to not write. Writing is work. Brains don't like work if they can avoid it. So creativity is all fine and well until you try to sit down and create something with actual effort.

Basically, imagine that your brain is Donald Trump. It has a huge opinion of itself. It feels entitled to your time and attention and wants you to worship it, but it doesn't want to spend a single day doing actual work. It's kind of a lazy asshole.

Your brain fails at most things it tries but never stops looking smug.
Let me break down the logic problem here. You don't want to write because you would suck and you would feel vulnerable. But that's not a reason not to write. That's a reason not to publish.

Of course if you think about it, you'll realize the following:

1) You're not writing directly into a medium that will be read. It's not as if your words will instantly appear in a book that someone is reading or are immediately printed on the scrolling marquee of Times Square. You have all the time you want to revise and make your words exactly what you want them to be. Or you could write and never publish, skipping the vulnerability altogether. 

2) When you're writing the first words, they're supposed to suck. (I'm assuming the word choice of "inertia" means you're having trouble even getting started.) A rough draft is rough. It's supposed to be awful. That's what revision is for.

This is just a variation of the "Why bother?" gambit, which brains often pull before major undertakings in order to avoid the work. By convincing yourself of troublesome aspects of the writing process that are far, far down the road (and probably exaggerated) you can avoid doing all that actual work of writing. 

If it helps you to know this, most writers block comes from performance anxiety and that idea that (despite logic) the words have to be absolutely perfect the first time they are written. So you're in good company.

However, imagine the guy who considers going to college. But the reason he doesn't is because he thinks he''s probably going to end up breaking up with his girlfriend during his last semester, so why bother. Even though there are a dozen things that could change in 3 1/2 years he fixates on the bad one he's convinced himself is going to happen. And if you met this clown, you would be right to tell him that he's probably just trying to rationalize not going to college.

Here is my suggestion, Jennifer. Imagine instead that you are just going to write your book (or whatever it is). And you don't have to publish it if you don't want to. Ever. You never have to feel vulnerable if you do not choose to. You just have to write it for yourself. After all, that's the real reason to do any art, right? You can finish it, give yourself a proud nod for having accomplished something spectacular, and then tuck it into a drawer for the rest of your life.

Give yourself permission to write a shitty first draft. Just accept that it's going to be terrible. If you want to publish it, maybe we cross that bridge when we come to it, but for now, just keep in mind  that you don't have to.

Write it. Revise. Revise again. Clean it up. See how you feel. Chances are, you'll actually probably be pretty proud of what you've created. (And while some certainly do tinker their work endlessly instead of publishing and moving on, you are probably more likely to go the other way and want to show it off before it's quite ready.) And if you choose to, but only if you choose to, you can think about publication and vulnerability. But for now let's just write it. No pressure.

If that doesn't help, you might be really stuck.

I've written another post about how to overcome inertia even when sometimes it's so bad you just sit and stare at the screen. So if you're really stuck, I recommend you take a long look at that post even though it got pretty wordy. But the quick and dirty version is to do some writing exercises each day where you write things you're NEVER going to publish until you get into the habit of writing every day, intentionally try to write the worst stories you can just to practice starting a project and seeing it through to the end without the pressure of performance anxiety, and if you're really really stuck start typing something straight out of another book until you have some creative impetus to diverge (because our brains think faster than we can possibly write). 

Thanks Lance McBuffpecks!

No problem kids! Don't forget to tell your single mom parents that Lance loves threesomes. Threesomes are half the battle!