Martin Harty: Productivity Does Not Excuse Evil

March 13, 2011 § 3 Comments

by ADI

Update: Harty has resigned!

[TW for eliminationism, disablism]

It came out a few days ago, but this has still been eating at me. Apparently one of the Republican state representatives in New Hampshire has advocated shipping “defective people” like the homeless and “the crazy people” to Siberia (or the freezing-and-dying equivalent thereof in America) in order to combat “overpopulation.” The Huffington Post and a few other places have reported on it, but relatively few people seem to be calling him out on it, and the Republican House Speaker William O’Brian has gone on the record saying that although he should have chosen his words more carefully, the 91-year-old has basically earned the right to say what he wants.

Well, not really. Martin Harty, the representative in question, does not deny saying that “I wish we had a Siberia so we could ship them all off to freeze to death and die and clean up the population.” I don’t care if you’ve fought Nazis–the enemy of my enemy is not my friend if they espouse basically the same beliefs (as well as those of Stalin, ironically enough.) The fact that you can say this without being immediately asked to resign is disgraceful.

I was thinking of writing a letter — a real, pen-and-paper letter — to this man. It was going to try to touch on all the basic measures of humanity–compassion, empathy, kindness. But honestly, I’m not sure it’s worth it. Harty hasn’t shown an iota of these things, and it would be a waste of my time to attempt to reach the humanity of someone who doesn’t have any. Harty has every right to his hateful and frankly evil beliefs, and I doubt a heartfelt letter from anyone is going to change them. Harty is the real-life equivalent of the trolls who go on autism support boards and tell people to kill themselves. Engaging them on a personal level does nothing but give them the satisfaction of knowing that they’ve hurt you. Don’t feed the troll.

If we want any results, we’re going to have to go over his head. There’s a petition circulating right now to ask for his resignation — I don’t know how much difference an out-of-state signature like mine will make, but it can’t hurt to go sign it here. It might also be worth an email or letter to part of the Republican Party of New Hampshire, which can be reached at this page.

What’s strange to me, though, is that we’ve more or less begun advocating a kind of utilitarian works-righteousness in our measures of who does and does not deserve to live. Here’s the response from the other party in that conversation, Sharon Omand.

“[The mentally ill] are productive people,” she said. “You can’t throw them away.”

Omand runs a community mental health program, and I have nothing but respect for what she’s doing. But this response strikes me as playing by Harty’s rules–acknowledging that the only people who deserve to be supported are those who can pull themselves up by their bootstraps, who can be “productive people.” This is the logic of the jungle, the Hobbesian state of nature. It’s not the logic of a country that has made a commitment to “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness” for everyone–mentally ill or not. If we judge people only by their “productivity” (which, in this man’s terms, is dictated by how much money they’ve made), then what’s a social contract for?

What’s more, by doing so we accept the logic of people who have been defending him: If you make enough money, if you’re self-supporting enough, if you join the military, you have a free license to support any monstrous cause you wish. This is “might makes right” at its most basic level, and it’s loathsome. Productivity does not excuse evil.

A last note: Harty drags Isaac Asimov into this, claiming that he’s been influenced by his work on population explosion. Leaving aside the fact that this makes no sense — the American homeless and mentally ill are a laughably small part of the world population — it’s interesting to note that Asimov had a special note for people who believed in culling: Anyone who advocates a plague or other way of killing people to solve overpopulation, he said, must be the first to volunteer.

HR3 and the Pre-Voting Activist

February 2, 2011 § 1 Comment

by ADI

(Trigger warning for mentions of sexual assault.)

If you’ve been spending any time on the feminist Internet lately, you’ve likely read about HR3, the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act. Besides codifying the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits almost all federal funding for abortion and vastly limits the access of low-income women to this procedure, the bill would all but remove the current exceptions for rape and incest. Even more problematically, it does so by redefining the only “acceptable” rape as “forcible” rape, something which would effectively bar the majority of rape survivors from receiving help aborting their rapist’s child.

When we talk about the “pro-rape lobby,” this is what we mean. It’s not enough for women who have been raped by a partner, acquaintance, or even stranger in a way that doesn’t comply with this laughably limited definition of rape (while, say, unconscious, drugged, or held down by someone much stronger) to be told that they should have fought back harder, should have watched their drink better, shouldn’t have gone out at all or let their guard down around their closest friends. It’s now going to be enshrined in law. I didn’t think there could be anything more outright evil than denying medical procedures to survivors of sexual assault, but this is almost it: They’re effectively telling people that they do provide funds for survivors, but you weren’t raped.

There are a lot of other reasons why this bill is terrible, many of which have been laid out over at Tiger Beatdown, where Sady is running her wonderful #DearJohn campaign. So what do we do about it now?

Really, in a liberal democracy, there are about four things we can do. The first, obviously, is vote. The nearest election might not be near enough, however, and since this is a blog for young feminists, many of us can’t vote, or at least can’t vote yet. So what do we do? The other three things.

The second is to contact your elected officials. If you’re in the US, find your representative and write them. Call them. Do both. Don’t threaten — we’re better than that. Just explain why the bill hurts women and rape survivors, and why the issue matters to you. Even if you can’t vote yet, let them know that you will be in the closest election.

The third is to make yourself heard. Minority groups like the Tea Party can dominate the national discussion through violent rhetoric and hate — but we can amplify our own voices as well. Follow this guide to joining the #DearJohn campaign — it’s a first step to aggregating the opinions of all the people against HR3. Find your local newspaper and write a letter to the editor — a real, physical letter. If you have access to readers through a blog, post on it. Most importantly, talk to the people you know about the resolution. You don’t have to start an argument or take on a group of people you know are vehemently anti-choice (unless you want to), but make sure that even the pro-choice people you know are aware of the implications of the resolution and why they should be against it.

The last is to consider donating some money to a pro-choice campaign or access fund. Even if we win on this, there are still many women who desperately want abortions — but can’t get the money for them. Try searching for your state’s abortion access fund — many, including DC and New York, have them. Donate to Planned Parenthood or NARAL. Even if you can’t give much, every little bit can help someone in need.

Speak out with Virginia Pro-Choice Coalition on Reproductive Freedom

January 15, 2011 § 4 Comments

by ADI

In addition to the constant calls for an end to comprehensive sex education and restrictions on birth control, conservative protesters in my neighbor state of Virginia have been pushing legislators to adopt tougher rules for abortion providers, something that could reportedly shut down up to 17 of the state’s 21 clinics. But the Virginia Pro-Choice coalition is pushing back. Come join them on Thursday, January 27, and let our officials know that reproductive freedom is not up for debate!

Pro-Choice Lobby Day will run on January 27, 2011 from 8am to 2pm at the Richmond General Assembly, and will feature pro-choice speakers, break-out sessions, and opportunities to tell your elected officials the importance of protecting reproductive choice in the Commonwealth. If you’re interested, you can register here with pro-choice coalition partners Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia; bus tickets from different parts of the state (as well as subsidies for those who might not be able to attend) are available during the registration process. More information for Pro-Choice Lobby Day is below; questions can be sent to Joseph Richards at 202.530.4168 or joey@naralva.org.

Pro-Choice Lobby Day
Date:
Thursday, January 27, 2011
Time: 8 a.m.-2 p.m.
Address: General Assembly
9th Street & Broad Street
Richmond, Virginia

Women are Gamers; Casual Games are Games

September 12, 2010 § 5 Comments

by ADI

For those who don’t follow that strange beast that is video game journalism, the last couple weeks have been full of surprises. Among those: 1990s throwback Duke Nukem is (theoretically) actually getting released, and tons of games news has gotten unveiled at the booth-babe-free Penny Arcade exposition. And serious business not-lady gaming is coming to mobile phones.

I’m talking about the Unreal Engine, which was unveiled last week for the iPhone, a console which has already been derided as too feminine by marketers for competing phones. In an interview with gaming site Gamasutra, Epic Games head Mike Capps talks about his vision of “core games” for the iPhone. What are “core gamer” games? Well, the kind played by men:

Gamasutra: [iPhone game Broken Sword is] definitely a high-power, high-3D kind of experience.

Capps: Yeah. It’s a game for guys. Or folks who enjoy it.

G: People who like Xbox.

C: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, it’s a core gamer game, right?

I don’t mean to excoriate Capps unduly about this. It’s not a large part of the interview, and I don’t think his intent was to deride female gamers or to imply that women are less capable of playing “core” games than men are. But it’s part of a larger trope, one about the femininity and dispensability of casual games, and now I’m in a bind. « Read the rest of this entry »

Is Net Neutrality a Feminist Issue?

August 20, 2010 § Leave a comment

by ADI

You may have heard that Google and Verizon have released a “policy statement” about the future of the Internet, urging people to accept the creation of new, “differentiated” services (they suggest health care monitoring, gaming and entertainment services, and advanced educational options) for which they would be charged more than traditional Internet access prices. It’s been generating controversy because it may violate what’s known as “network neutrality,” a commitment to delivering all Internet content for the same price and at the same speed. But what does this mean for feminists?

For me, this is worrying from a purely self-oriented standpoint: I don’t want to end up paying more to access certain parts of the Internet. For lots of people, however, this wouldn’t be an extra inconvenience, but rather a major barrier to accessing parts of the Internet. Right now, this isn’t likely to affect us much, but imagine that the next major Internet breakthrough–the next Wikipedia, the next health care system, the next Twitter—gets put on the “premium” Internet and you have something of an idea where this might be going.

So as a feminist and generally concerned person, I’m worried about what this means to people for whom the Internet is already an unaffordable or unavailable luxury. I definitely have problems with the effects that my technology has on others, from the way Apple products generate waste to the exploitatively-mined rare metals in most electronics. However, cell phones and the Internet have also been great levelers. Cell phones have given people in rural areas the ability to connect with the world, improving their work and their lives (take, for example, this remote control device for farmers). And the Internet has given people a way to get free online courses from schools like MIT, read articles about virtually anything, and make their voices heard on blogs like this.

At the same time, the Internet has also become as much a necessity as the telephone, making things even more difficult for the 34% of Americans who don’t have broadband Internet, or the roughly 25-30% who have no home Internet access at all. Finding a job, registering your children for school, or even keeping in touch with relatives becomes more and more difficult as a steady Internet connection becomes taken for granted.

Many of these people already rely on schools, libraries and other public places to access basic services like email or job boards; are these places going to be able to pay extra to get whatever premium services are offered through Verizon? It might not matter if, as Verizon and Google say, they’re only putting a few high-content video streaming services up on a for-pay basis, but many things, including those job boards and email systems, can be “differentiated” from the normal Internet, and the more barriers get put up between poor communities and job, education, or health care opportunities, the more we’re moving into a system where class mobility is a pleasant fiction.

Life is Narrative

August 12, 2010 § 4 Comments

by ADI

One of my favorite comics is the Sandman series by Neil Gaiman, partially because it’s about the importance of stories. There’s a part in the sixth book where Despair, one of the godlike personifications of human beliefs known as the Endless, mocks protagonist Dream for only being able to give stories and ideas. To prove his point, Dream takes a man who has lost everything and gives him a dream in which he is Emperor. With only the idea to guide him, the man lives the rest of his days in happiness.

An archetype, of course, but it’s also a metaphor for how we use fiction to describe and create meaning in our own lives. This is one of the reasons I see it as so important to have a diversity in our fiction that begins to approach the diversity in real life, and to have fiction that tells stories that don’t simply reinforce stereotypes.

One example, from my own life: When I was in my early teens, I loved post-apocalyptic fiction. I loved the idea of self-sufficiency, of rebuilding a world, of trying to piece together history from the remnants of a society. However, as I read more, I started to realize that the stories I was reading rarely featured women in any more than peripheral roles, and, in fact, seemed to be all about how there wasn’t even a place for me in this world.

For me, it all came together when I read Stephen King’s The Stand and came across this bit:

[T]he Women’s Credo, which should have been hung in the offices of Ms. magazine, preferably in needlepoint, was just this: Thank you, Men, for the railroads. Thank you, Men, for the automobile and killing the red Indians, who thought it might be nice to hold on to America for a while longer, since they were here first. Thank you, Men, for the hospitals, the police, the schools. Now I’d like to vote, please, and have the right to set my own course and make my own destiny… And what was there to say? Nothing… Now all that had changed, in a matter of weeks it had changed — how much only time would tell. But lying here in the night, she knew that she needed a man. Oh God, she badly needed a man.

Wow, I thought. I really don’t stand a chance. And all my self-confidence, all my cocky willingness to take on a lawless society, started to go the way of the wife in The Road, who kills herself rather than face a world that’s (naturally, McCarthy imagines) for men. It wasn’t just that King shouldn’t have written what he did (although as I recall he’s admitted that he has problems writing female characters); it was also that there were virtually no counterexamples. Every story I read was about the same men facing the same world.

This is why these things matter, and not just for women. Every time a trans character is featured only as a joke, or characters of color are relegated to the sidelines while the white lead gets the love interest and the good lines, somebody is getting the message that in an ideal world, they’d obligingly cease to exist.

At this point, somebody usually cries censorship, which isn’t the right idea at all. It’s not about trying to legally or coercively stop people from creating stories with the same leads and stereotypes as always, it’s about trying to convince people that they can do better, and that the stories we tell, or the lack thereof, have consequences.

Most of all, it’s about telling people that they shouldn’t have to try to write the same characters as John Updike or Cormac McCarthy in order to be taken as writers of “universal” stories.

In a writing class I took in college, I went about halfway through the course before realizing that all the men were writing exclusively male characters, and I was nearly the only woman writing mostly female ones. There are a lot of potential reasons for this, but the consequence was that, as a whole, we were perpetuating the same stories we’d grown up with, the ones with women as objects of desire at best, invisible at worst.

And so, as a final exhortation: While the last generation of writers and editors might have already set their preferences (not that there aren’t already some great examples of both who are working against those), we’re the next generation, and we’ve got the choice to start fresh. There are a lot of societal factors working against us, but if we start writing (and keep writing) people as people, with cis white men as only a subset of the whole of human experience, we’ll get somewhere.

Because stories matter.

And what matters more is that we’re the ones writing them.

Welcome, new contributors! (Part Two)

August 8, 2010 § 1 Comment

by MIRANDA

Part One.

I hope everyone has been enjoying the works of Chad, Elena, and Katie E. as much as I have these past weeks. It’s time to introduce the other three new contributors. Here’s the second wave…

Sarah:

Hello! My name is Sarah Rosengarten, I was born and raised in New York City, and will be a freshman at Oberlin College in the fall. My personal heroes are Rachel Maddow, Kathleen Hanna, and Daria Morgendorffer. I love to knit, run, watch Ingmar Bergman movies, and defend The Communist Manifesto to the misinformed masses. I’m thrilled to join Women’s Glib and can’t wait to unleash my feminazi fury to the internet.

Kitti:

Hello! My name is Kitti Asztalos.

I am a 17-year-old, Hungarian student. I study at a bilingual (English-Hungarian) high school, I will be a 12th grader next semester (I am not a senior yet, I still have a 13th year. Long story short: the education system is different). I have been studying English since the tender age of 5, I have also started studying French 3 years ago because my form mistress made my class (it took me 2 years and 3 trips to France to help me get over my hatred of the language). My hobbies are (but not limited to) biking (on almost a religious level), playing and writing music, providing unrequited commentary on movies for my friends and pretty much anyone, creating ensembles that remind me of a movie character and socializing.

I am very interested in popular culture (especially American and European), Generation Y and obviously feminism. However, in Hungary feminism is not very wide-spread, in fact, most girls of my age do not know anything about it, nor are they interested in it.

If my opinions freak you out a bit, I apologize in advance but that’s sort of my intention. I would like you, dearest readers to consider different cultural factors. That’s what I’m bringing. Plus a little bit of sexy back.

Adi:

Hi, all!

My name’s Adi, and I’ve been interested in feminist blogging for the past few years. I became a self-identified feminist (as opposed to subscribing to the tenets but not calling myself one) a few years ago, and the feminist blogosphere provided the resources for me to learn and contribute.

Outside of being a feminist, I’m a huge nerd, and I like to read — I just graduated from college, where I procrastinated on all of my actual work in China Studies by taking classes in deconstructive critical theory and creative writing. I’ve always straddled a weird divide between two fairly gender-imbalanced fields: Literature and politics, where women do most of the legwork but get few of the awards, and technology, where no matter how many women there are, we’re still seen as an elusive endangered species. I thoroughly enjoy both, but feminism has let me put a name to a lot of the problems I’ve seen in them, and convinced me to try to make them better.

I’m hoping to write about feminist/female authors, theory, and the intersection between gender politics and technology policy (Why, for example, is network neutrality a feminist issue? What about Apple’s factory policies?) I’m always looking for open dialogue with people, so please let me know if you have a different perspective on something I’ve said.

Hooray! You can learn more about these fine, smart young people on our Current Contributors page.

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