Saturday, August 12, 2006

Blue lily: The pity "conundrum," part two

Coturnix claims that the symbol and the reality of Hooters are different from one another, creating the possibility that the actual restaurants are not mysogynistic and demeaning to women. But the problem is that the Hooters symbol is not the logo or the costumes or the restaurants themselves, but the breasts of women. Objectifying women's bodies to create an environment for the dominant male heterosexual gaze, women's breasts themselves become the symbol for the restaurant. It was easy for the chain to establish this connection in a culture where women's bodies are symbolically colonized for the male sexual gaze everywhere you look. But detaching the symbol from the cultural meaning is more complicated then Coturnix suggests when women's breasts/bodies come to represent women themselves.

The telethon symbol.

Just as Hooters is one "genre" of women's objectified bodies serving as entertainment that includes strip clubs and The Rockettes, the MDA Telethon is one "genre" of how disabled people's bodies are culturally used to define normality, safety, and bodily superiority of the nondisabled. Beth Haller explains the cultural place of telethons and the effect of opposition to them:
Culturally, the disability activism against the telethon has real ramifications for the ideology surrounding disability in U.S. society. Marilynn Phillips* calls a telethon an "occasion of ideology," rather than an "occasion of social reality" in U.S. culture. Occasions of ideology invoke pity and charity in belief of a cure, whereas occasions of social reality summon feelings of resentment and confusion over the "abnormality" of people with disabilities. During occasions of ideology, discourse focuses on the "defect" of the person, and disabled persons are homogenized as one. Phillips says, "primarily, these are events which define culturally appropriate handicapped behavior (being a good cripple), and which serve to demonstrate predictable interactions between nondisabled and disabled persons."
With the MDA Telethon and the rhetoric Jerry Lewis insists on using to beg for money (and he does actually use the word "beg"), the symbol of the MDA and it's telethon is bodies in wheelchairs. Or, the wheelchair, if you like, though if a body uses a wheelchair the symbolism pushed by Lewis conflates the meaning of one with the other. Haller, on the body the MDA Telethon symbolizes (I've left her references in this excerpt intact):
Their bodies are seen as inferior in their physical functioning when compared with people who do not have muscular dystrophy. When the body becomes the focus of humanness, this inferiority of body means the people become inferior as social beings as well (Liachowitz). David Hevey explains how charities use bodies for the visual associations needed for awareness among the public:
The task for the (charity) agency is to find an image which gives the impairment and its effects a symbolic but social identity. Since the impairment has to be the site of disablement, it follows that the body of the person with an impairment will be constructed as both the essence and symbol of disablement. Their body becomes fragmented and refocuses on the major fragment--the impairment. The object of this first stage, then, is to place the symbol of the impairment into social orbit but labelled as the property or concern of the affiliated charity. (34)
With this in mind, people with muscular dystrophy are therefore constituted as inferior or subordinate to people without muscular dystrophy.
Lewis goes out of his way during the MDA Telethons to emphasize the difference between his nondisabled self and the disabled bodies he invites on the show. And they are bodies he invites, not individuals, as assured by the way he interacts with them. Haller's paper includes a fascinating analysis of the spatial structure of Lewis' interview with a disabled man during the 1992 Telethon. Here's a taste:
In an interview sequence between Lewis and Matt Schuman, a former poster child who works as a sports reporter for the Greeley (Colo.) Tribune, Lewis always stands. In the first shot of Lewis and Schuman together, Schuman's face is covered by the two lines of call-in numbers at the bottom of the television screen. The spatial difference exists because Schuman is seated in a wheelchair and Lewis, who is tall, is standing. This causes Schuman's presence in the shot to be negated because the call-in numbers cover his face part of the time and because only his head and shoulders are visible in the bottom left corner of the TV screen at other times. All attention is directed toward Lewis because he is standing. These spatial relations exist not just with Schuman but are repeated throughout the telethon whenever Jerry Lewis interacts with someone who uses a wheelchair. One way to diminish this superior-inferior special structure would have been to have an interview comer in which Lewis sits to talk to people who use wheelchairs. But instead Lewis stands throughout the days of the telethon.
Throughout the telethon, he hugs and caresses the children and adults with muscular dystrophy, all of whom he calls his "kids." When Schuman completes his short speech, Lewis rubs and pats the back of Schuman's head. It is not a "good job" touch from one adult to another, as a pat on the back or a shake of the hand might be. It is a parent patting the head of a child to indicate the child has pleased him. In reality, Schuman is a working adult who happens to have a physical disability.
Lewis infantilizes disabled adults he interviews, assuring the audience that bodies in wheelchairs are inferior, need pity and that the nondisabled should contribute money for research to avoid the gruesome fate themselves.

The persistent reality.

With Lewis insisting the objects of his charitable works either accept pity or "stay in your house," disabled people beginning to organize and fight for access to public buildings, transportation, employment, and general civil rights were responded to with sentiments like those to the blog post about protestors at an event of Lewis':
"I agree that more could be done to ensure more accessability for those that still have the ability to remain independent (ramps, parking, etc.), but money also needs to be raised so that future generations won't needlessly remain at a disadvantage, and nothing brings in donors like pity."
"I can't believe you attack him just because he doesn't do it the way YOU think is the right way. Get a life."
"It's sad that those poor unfortunate persons with disabilities hate the man who tries to help them."
"If you keep pushing people away because you can't agree with everything they say or how they do things, don't be surprised when people stop working to raise more than $100,000,000 a YEAR to help people in your situation."
Disabled protestors are repeatedly established as inferior, and disable people generally are told to keep their place and accept what charity they can get instead of the access they desire. It should be noted that people who argue that financial help for the disabled should come solely from private charities rather than government funding would lock disabled people into the pity rhetoric and out of a position where they're worthy of civil rights.

Finally, the conundrum, again.

For disability activists protesting the MDA Telethon and Jerry Lewis, the money raised is too high a price to be paid for personhood. The argument that money should be raised (and accepted by the disabled) by Lewis' methods because it's for a good cause -- a cure -- becomes meaningless when disabled bodies are so culturally devalued that life until the elusive cure locks them into the role of pitied victim instead of active member of society.

Of course, not all disabled people or people with muscular dystrophies agree with Jerry's Orphans and other Telethon protestors. Some are so focused on a cure that like Chris Reeve said in his early years of paralysis, he didn't really care about disability politics and access. Years later, as he continued to wait for that cure, Reeve acknowledged that he'd like more curb cuts in the meantime, though this was not publicized by mainstream media.

Is it possible to raise money through a telethon without demeaning disabled people? Telethons following 9/11 and Katrina did not categorize the people the money was being raised for as inferior in order to elicit compassion and donations. Disabled protestors insist on at least that level of respect. On activism and better alternatives, from Disability World:
Don't watch the telethon. Tell your local station ahead of time why you won't. Give directly to the MDA and not during telethon time. Tell them why you are choosing to do that. Also tell the MDA that Jerry Lewis has got to go. He has had years to change the message and has chosen not to do so. Their mailing address and phone number are at their website. (
Look up the Muscular Dystrophy Association of Canada (MDAC) and see how fundraising can be successfully done without pity.
Check out the Muscular Dystrophy Family Foundation (MDFF). It was founded by people with MD and their families. They provide the same kinds of services as the MDA. Their pitch is based on empowerment. ( Their spokepeople are rock musicians who have had MD since childhood.
Compare Lewis' MDA pity pitch to that of Easter Seals with their focus on discrimination and architectural barriers; United Cerebral Palsy with their emphasis on careers, education and family; and the United Negro College Fund with its focus on the wrongness of wasted human resources. Tell other people about your conclusions.
And a final note on Hooters: Because Hooters objectifies women and women's breasts, it is part of the societal force that determines preferred or "normal" bodies from "abnormal" or flawed bodies. As a disabled feminist, I find Hooters objectionable on two levels -- for the patriarchal contribution it makes to the objectified "perfect" female form and for the corresponding impact those standards have on disabled bodies. None of this will ever change if the structures reinforcing cultural standards are supported, for whatever reasons. My answer is no.

Crossposted at The Gimp Parade

* Marilynn J. "Damaged Goods: The Oral Narratives of the Experience of Disability in American Culture." Social Science & Medicine 30.8 (1990): 849-57.

Blue lily: The pity "conundrum," part one

This is a really long post, so I've divided it into two entries and added subtitles. Part one includes some history you could skip if you know the facts, but the basic knowledge is important for making my point, which is in part two.

Coturnix, another guest blogger for Echidne, writes about "The Hooters Conundrum" and poses the question originally offered by Pharmboy:
Can Hooters support the fight against breast cancer all without being perceived as capitalistic, misogynistic, or otherwise demeaning to women?
Much simplified,
Coturnix argues that the symbolic Hooters sells sex (though not hardcore like at strip clubs), but the reality of Hooters is that many franchises are family friendly and money for cancer is good so the source doesn't matter so much. Also, the waitresses he's met were all smart, going to college, and had never ever worked as strippers. Some even had small boobs.

Responding to disagreeing feminists, Coturnix suggests that "the symbolic Hooters" is part of the past and society is evolving beyond any need to see the women wearing Hooters tank tops as sex objects. Besides, the women make more in tips than elsewhere and, with perverts, they "fully enjoy their power" to "
put the guy in his place with a smile and still part him from his money." Ahhh, family fun.

Obviously, I disagree, but what does this have to do with blogging about disability issues? The above question Coturnix poses is strikingly familiar to one that can be asked each Labor Day (Monday, September4, this year, for non-Americans) when the MDA Telethon relentlessly rolls around:
Can the Muscular Dystrophy Association Telethon and Jerry Lewis support people with muscular dystrophy without being perceived as paternalistic, pitying, and demeaning of disabled people?
First, some history.

The first MDA Telethon in 1966 was hosted by Lewis and covered by a single New York City television station. As the main fundraising event for the organization, the Telethon uses "poster children"-- now called "goodwill ambassadors"-- to advertise the diseases of MD, their effect on families, and the need for money for medical research.

Evan Kemp, who worked hard for the passage of the ADA and served as Director of the EEOC under Daddy Bush, wrote an opinion piece published in The New York Times in September, 1981. Ragged Edge reported on what Kemp said:

Society, Kemp charged, saw disabled people as "childlike, helpless, hopeless, nonfunctioning and noncontributing members of society." And, he charged, "the Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Association Telethon with its pity approach to fund raising, has contributed to these prejudices."

Kemp contended that such prejudices "create vast frustration and anger" among disabled Americans, then numbered at 36 million. Kemp charged that disabled people suffered far more from lack of jobs, housing -- lack of access to society -- than from the diseases MDA sought to cure. He accused the Telethon's "pity approach . . . with its emphasis on ('poster children' and 'Jerry's Kids' " -- of creating prejudice. He called upon the Telethon to reform; to portray disabled people "in the light of our very real accomplishments, capabilities and rights." The Telethon, he insisted, "must inform the public of the great waste of money and human life that comes from policies promoting dependence rather than independence."

Not much happened for about a decade. Except that the MDA tried to get Daddy Bush to fire Kemp and other charity telethons modified their approach a bit. Then in 1990, the Sunday Parade Magazine's Labor Day edition included it's annual plug for the MDA Telethon and Jerry Lewis writing as if he were a child with MD. Lewis wrote:
"I realize my life is half, so I must learn to do things halfway. I just have to learn to try to be good at being half a person. I may be a full human being in my heart and soul, yet I am still half a person."
Irate former poster children nationwide began to speak up that their roles as children had been demeaning belittling experiences, that Lewis perpetuates the disabled person as pitiful and childlike, and that the charity mentality directly undermines the empowerment and equality the disability rights movement works toward. Cris Matthews and Mike Ervin, brother and sister and former poster children in Chicago, formed a group called Jerry's Orphan's. Matthews wrote to the MDA:
"Much attention is given to the kids who may not live to adulthood, but for those of us who do live on, not one word or one dime is devoted to the concept of independence.... No one is negating research or the individual's desire to be cured... [just] the attitude that stresses that, no matter what one does, life is meaningless in a wheelchair."
Ervin (of whom I am a huge fan) wrote that Jerry Lewis must go, and other good stuff. Again, see Ragged Edge for greater detail on all this. Laura Hershey in Denver, yet another former poster child, organized one of several 1991 Telethon protests and after a radio show received much hate mail labelling her as "selfish," "bitter," and "ungrateful." After each of these activists spoke publically, they received quite a bit of bullying from the MDA.

In one case, Hershey responded:
"If your attitude is representative of the Muscular Dystrophy Association as a whole, then I must conclude that the Association's problems go much deeper than just the offensiveness of the Telethon.... It seems to me that MDA has condoned, and even participated in, the widespread institutionalization of people with disabilities in this nation. . . . MDA, with its medical-model approach, has done little to provide independent living services and supports or to free its clients from the confinement of nursing homes."
The battle has continued, with the MDA and Jerry Lewis staunchly refusing to give the former poster children the credit of speaking from their experiences. In 2001, Lewis stated:
"Pity. You don't want to be pitied because you're a cripple in a wheelchair, stay in your house."
Just last year.

At an appearance in Chicago last November, audience protestors disrupted Lewis onstage. A fan of Lewis' who attended the event writes that after calling for security, Lewis ranted:
"All right, let me try to get through to the regular people." Applause. "For all of the 54 years that I've raised over $2 billion for children that needed it" -- applause, cheers -- "only in Chicago does this happen." He referred to the protestors "sitting in the chairs that I provided, but they want me to stop the telethon because I make them look pitiful. What is more pitiful than this?"
In the comments to that blog post (along with some support for the protestors) are these responses, typical of what you might find anywhere this dispute is discussed:
"I don't believe Jerry Lewis would go to such lengths to raise money for research if he truly had a disdainful attitude for the disabled. I think his intent is one out of goodness and caring, despite perhaps a lack of personal insight into actually living as a disabled person. I agree that more could be done to ensure more accessability for those that still have the ability to remain independent (ramps, parking, etc.), but money also needs to be raised so that future generations won't needlessly remain at a disadvantage, and nothing brings in donors like pity."
"You guys are making a mountain out of a molehill. So what if he said they are half a person. He did say the have the heart and brains of a whole person. I hate to break it to you, but it is true - physically.... I guess you want Jerry Lewis to be a little more Politically Correct? I can't believe you attack him just because he doesn't do it the way YOU think is the right way. Get a life. I bet you would bite someones head off if they opened the door for you wouldn't you? You would yell 'I don't need your pity!', when all they would be doing was helping someone in need."
"It's sad that those poor unfortunate persons with disabilities hate the man who tries to help them. True, he's made mistakes. True, he can be an ass at times. True, he's the only person in the world who is NOT perfect. lol It must be hard to be spiritually disabled and bitter on top of being physically disabled. I have a wheelchair-bound son-in-law. He hasn't let his disability turn him into a hateful ingrate. I pity you poor souls."
and (italics on this one are mine)
"These protesters should be ashamed of themselves! While some of Jerry's comments could certainly be construed as insensitive, at least he tries to help people. And I don't mean he helps people with M.D., I mean gets out and contributes in some way to trying to make life better for ANY of his fellow human beings. So many people today do NOTHING charitable, NOTHING to help ANYONE. However misguided or naive his attempts to put himself in the place of someone with M.D., he HAS spent over 40 years working to help people....

"If you don't want pity, don't be in a wheelchair.
I will always pity people who cannot run and jump like I can, who can't play frisbee or hike or ride a motorcycle like I can. I'm sorry if this compassion is truly a character flaw of mine, but I will always feel pity for those I perceive as having less than me, whether they are crippled, poor, or just mentally incompetent. This compassion and sympathy is what drives people to do things like, I dunno, make transportation wheelchair accessible and work to unsure that the disabled have the same employment opportunities as the rest of us.

"Perhaps we should just drop that pity and say "Screw you, you'll just have to figure out a way to get that wheelchair up the stairs. It's your problem, not mine."

"If you keep pushing people away because you can't agree with everything they say or how they do things, don't be surprised when people stop working to raise more than $100,000,000 a YEAR to help people in your situation.

"But rest assured, the people who would fight Jerry Lewis because they don't like they WAY he works to raise so much money for a charity get no pity from me. They deserve only my disgust."
Equating pity with compassion, the choice becomes either to be looked down upon as a lesser being or to be ignored completely. The pitiful people in wheelchairs are cast as receivers of help who must simply sit and let others help them, if they're nice and deserving. The idea of empowerment and access to participate in one's own well-being isn't recognized as an option.

Back to the conundrum.

So, much like the Hooters question, we have a group of people who may benefit from funding for research and assistance programs offered by an organization -- plus a famous spokesperson -- that have a long history of not treating these people (and their larger identity group) with respect. If you have a problem with the idea of "respect" here, think of "disrespect" as objectification.

Next I'll explain why I believe the answer to this question:
Can the Muscular Dystrophy Association Telethon and Jerry Lewis support people with muscular dystrophy without being perceived as paternalistic, pitying, and demeaning of disabled people?
is no -- not with the organization as it is, and never for Jerry Lewis. He's the Hooters of disabled people and Coturnix's distinction between the symbol and the reality is flawed.

I should reveal at this point that I apparently have an extremely rare disease that falls under the umbrella of dystrophies the MDA serves. And I've received some funding from them as a child and sought medical advice from their clinics in Minneapolis, Chicago and Phoenix in the past. I was never a poster child, but I'm just like Jerry's Orphans in these details.

Crossposted at The Gimp Parade

Coturnix on Politics, part I - an overview

A busy day Friday, so the next post is still in the making. So, to hold you over until then, let me cross-post something I wrote on my blog very recently, with just slight edits:

It's been a while since I've written anything about one of my pet topics - the way the changes in the society are resulting in the change in attitudes towards sex and gender, and the change in the institution of marriage, and how it all relates to politics of the moment.

The rates of social change are high at the moment, but they are unequally distributed (geographically) resulting in a widening chasm between urban and rural, between modern and pre-modern, between liberal and conservative. On my old blog, and to a lesser extent on my new Seed blog, I've been hammering the notion that attitudes toward sex are at the core of Culture Wars, and determine how one side and the other make decisions on everything - from economy to foreign policy, from race relations to gender relations, from religion to evolution, from science to education.

How do one's attitudes about sex, gender and marriage develop? It's not in the genes, but it is a developmental result of the interplay between the growing child and its environment. That environment consists of peers, neighbors, teachers, priests, the mass media, all of which exert an influence, but the major early influence are parents and it is the parenting style that appears to have the most important effect.

The fact that ideologically similar people tend to geographically group together - liberals in urban and college-town centers, conservatives in exurbs and rural areas - means that most of one's childhood environment is filled with people belonging to the same ideology and applying the same childrearing philosophy to their own as well as their neighbors' children. Thus, it is easy to raise a liberal in a liberal community and it is easy to raise a conservative in a conservative community. The oddballs, e.g., liberals living in a predominantly conservative community, are likely to hide their liberalism in the public square and to be less of an influence on local kids than the majority.

A growing body of research suggests that harsh, Dobsonian childrearing leads to psychological traits that are not adaptive for the modern society (though they may have worked great in some places at some times in the past).

What appears to be happening is the arresting of development before the mind reaches a stage at which it can comprehend complex, interactionist systems. The worldview, thus, remains hierarchical: action leads to reaction, every phenomenon must have a cause (and a Causer), every thing must have a creation (and a Creator), and people and things move up and down the ladder (Great Chain Of Being or Great Chain Of Financial Success, depending on the context). There are always winners and losers - it is imposible for all to be winners.

Thus, the world is perceived as extremely competitive, thus dangerous, thus scary, and all the other people are automatically viewed with suspicion, as potential enemies or competitors, to be fought down the ladder if possible. So, this kind of upbringing results in a worldview in which people are believed to be born bad and the world is a dangerous place. Also, because people are competing against each other, there is no possibility of a common action that can result in making the world a less dangerous place. If nothing else, the world is getting scarier and scarier due to technological advances (science, beware), global communication and transportation, and the growing number of those weirdos who are not scared enough to lash out at any and every threat, real or perceived - the wussy liberals.

Another reason for such fear and insecurity is the fact that harsh parenting, intent on instilling discipline, prevents the normal development of the Internal Focus (or Locus) of Moral Authority. Internal Focus of Moral Authrotiy means that you do not do bad things because it never crosses your mind - there is no motivation to do bad stuff, no wish to even try. People without it, people with External Focus of Moral Authority, rely on fear from outside forces to prevent them from doing bad things. They really want to steal, kill, rape, have sex with animals, etc., but they do not do it (most of the time) because they are afraid of the consequences - being excommunicated from their community (worse than death in a small place), being arrested by the police, or being smitten by God's wreath. That is why an angry God - and religion as a whole - is such an important element of the perpetuation of this ideology from one generation to the next.

One of the most unfortunate consequences of this style of childrearing is the effect on one's relationship to sex, gender and marriage. In a world in which everyone is your competitor and potential enemy, aggression is an extremely important trait. You deter competitiors by signaling aggression through posturing, loud behavior and undertaking dangerous activities. This is called machismo. It is essential to cover up internal insecurities which come out of the lack of Internal Focus of Moral Authority. There is nothing worse for a man than to be perceived by other men as less than manly. This is called 'femiphobia'.

This automatically degrades women - after all, if you are not manly you are what? Womanly? In a world of fear-induced aggression, being "womanly" is bad. Thus, women who behave like men, by, for instance having an opinion and telling it out loud, are a threat. Thus, men who behave like women, perhaps due to being gay, are a threat to one's masculinity. Not to mention that being "in control of one's woman" is an important factor in achieving status among male friends. And that is all there is to being a Wingnut - male insecurity, leading to everything else that, sorry to rile you all up, constitutes being a conservative.

Many self-described conservatives are actually not so. Using the term is always a peril because of historically contingent uses of the term. Unfortunately, there is no other term, so just keep in mind that I am using the word only in its psychological sense and not in any sense related to political parties of today and the past, particular people who wrote conservative founding documents, etc. Not GOP or Reagan or Buckley or neocons or Bush or Genghis Khan or Osama bin-Laden or Stalin. Just what is in one's mind.

This is just a brief summary - the links provided throughout the text lead to more thorough explanations so please check them out. And I'll go off on one of the tangents and post the result of it here soon.

Update: Amanda has some excellent additional points. Also, I should mention (I linked it from my own blog but forgot to do it here), that you should check the two-part post on this topic by Sara Robinson, guest-blogging on Orcinus: Cracks In The Wall, Part I: Defining the Authoritarian Personality and Cracks In The Wall, Part II: Listening to the Leavers , which gives rise to some small tentative optimism as well.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Friday Night Poem

TITLE divine is mine
The Wife without
The Sign.
Acute degree
Conferred on me—
Empress of Calvary.
Royal all but the
Betrothed, without the swoon
God gives us women
When two hold
Garnet to garnet,
Gold to gold—
In a day
“My Husband”
Women say
Stroking the melody,
Is this the way?

Emily Dickinson

Guest Post by Hybrid: Friday Finch Blogging

I'm having a busier Friday than anticipated, so I can't do justice to any serious topics at the moment. So since it's a Friday tradition to post about pets, I thought I would post this action shot of a couple of my zebras:

Enjoying a brief rest during a romp outside their cage, that's Bowser on the left (you can just see the white bar at the bottom of his wing) and Squeaky on the right. I have two other finches, the Twins, that didn't make it into the photo.

What you can't appreciate in photo form is the amount of noise that these little birds can make. Bowser and the Twins all came from a friend's flock, so their songs sound alike. (These finches have a pretty similar sound.) Squeaky, who grew up in a pet shop surrounded by canaries, has a much sweeter, higher-pitched song, so he's always easy to identify. It took some getting used to, but now the house sounds eerily quiet without their constant chirping. :^D

Happy Friday!

Guest post by Skylanda: Fat - The new sin tax?

The idea of a "fat tax" - putting a tariff on high-calorie/low-nutritional value foods - is nothing new. Since the 1980s, self-appointed armchair health advocates and budget-wary politicians alike have suggest that forcing the price on fattening foods upward would help stem the rising tide of obesity. Basic economic theory suggests that if you put a higher price on undesirable items, people will tend to consume less of them; whether this approach actually leads to the secondary aim of reducing the average body weight remains to be seen.

Recently though, this reasonably well-intentioned idea has morphed into a push not for a tax on fattening foods, but a tariff on fat people themselves. After all - goes some twisted reasoning - if all these fat people are costing the health care system so much cash, they should have to take on their fair share of the financial burden. Once you hit a certain threshold, you gotta kick down the cash to cover the increased cost of your health care and other sundry services that you will surely suck out of society like a vampire bat at a bloody feast. Say, once you hit the 400-pound mark, you gotta dump an extra 10% of your earnings into the government pot. Sounds fair, right?

Not so fast. And definitely not so fair.

A simple calculation might tell you that more money from those who are draining the most out of the system would solve the problem - it would give incentive to lose weight, and it would add to the pool of public money we have to cover people's health care costs (especially Medicare, which kicks in around the age that obesity-related diseases take their greatest toll). But this simplistic model falls prey to a logical twist, a little something that public health wonks like to call the "prevention paradox." The prevention paradox posits that interventions that widely benefit society as a whole rarely offer profound benefit any one individual, who gets only a fractional improvement which, when added up over millions of people, has a profound impact. In other words, if everyone who falls into the arbitrary "obese" category lost ten pounds, that would have a profound impact on the national state of health - but that would not profoundly change the look of any one American, including the morbidly (or "malignantly") obese. As an offshoot of this, epidemiologists have noted that those whose risk factors are highest - in this case, the most obese, with the most co-morbid conditions - do not often comprise the demographic group who suck the most services out of a system. That is because there are usually very few people who belong to the extremely high risk group (say, in this case, those who weigh over 500 pounds), while millions and millions of people hover around the more middling weights (say, 200-250 on a five-eight frame), where risks for health complications from excessive weight are lower but not negligible. In other words, it matters very little what the few people people who weigh 500+ pounds use up in resources per capita; but it matters very much what the millions of us carrying just enough extra weight around use up in a knee surgery here and a couple decades of blood pressure medications there. And once you start talking in those numbers, you'll quickly find that the pool of people willing to cough up extra bucks for their own extra ten pounds drops through the floor, even though this is the group most likely to bust the health-care budget over the years.

But there's a more personal, individualized story too. Recently, after fifteen years of uncontrolled pain, a merciful neurologist evaluated my case and handed me a prescription. Within a few weeks, I went from a condition very aptly described as "chronic daily headache/mixed migraine type" to a couple of bad headaches a month with many pain-free days in between. I stopped buying ibuprofen in bulk orders and started going out of the house without double-checking my emergency drug supply to combat the headaches that barreled at me like an oncoming train wreck with no rhyme or reason. But the drug has some less than pleasant side effects, things like dry mouth, excessive sweating, and weight gain. Within a couple months, I regained the ten pounds I recently lost and put on another fifteen to boot; for the first time in my life, my weight started to push that arbitrary but ever-so-important border between "overweight" and "obese." (Please note that I'm far from an unusual case; just ask anyone who's been on the steroid drug prednisone, or any number of psychiatric drugs, for any length of time.)

So I have a choice. I can quit the medication and lose extra pounds. And if I do that, I will go back to having debilitating headaches that threaten my ability to finish graduate school. Or I can stay on the drug, finish graduate school, get my overeducated self into the productive workforce, and be content with that ever-progressing nudge over the BMI limit into the world of obesity. So do I "deserve" to be labelled obese, a burden on society, a drain on our precious public resources? After all, it's not my unchanged eating habits or my exercise regime, which had previously kept me in the lower ranges of the BMI; it's the drug, one might proclaim.

That remains to be an arguable question, but what does emerge from it is that this word "deserve" is a tricky one. It brings to mind connotations of old English Poor Laws - and that implicit (and often explicit) division between the "deserving poor" (women widowed with children, disabled war veterans) and "undeserving poor" (women with children out of wedlock, alcoholics, and the like). And that point so clearly underlines the crassly moralistic yardstick we descendants of the Puritans like to inflict on our fellow Americans, which is so apparent in this proposed "fat tax": if you are the deserving fat, you get some consideration of mercy; if you are the undeserving fat, you're not just on your own, you should be forced to pay for the wages of your gluttonous sins. Or maybe we should just throw all us fatties, from a BMI of 24.9 to a scale-busting 500+ pounds in the same category: we are all bad, bad, bad, undisciplined, lazy, gluttonous sloths (have I missed any relevant cardinal sins here?) who all deserve to be charged financially for gross negligence of our personal health.

The problem with this puritanical elitism (aside from the fact that there's no talk of charging wealthy people for high-risk recreational activities like downhill skiing and white-water kayaking) is that it solves none of the problems that push the trend toward sedentary lifestyles and the health problems that go along with them. It punishes without offering alternatives; it takes from those who are most likely to be experiencing weight-related disabilities and all it does in return is lend an air of self-righteousness to those who happen to have been born with the right genes, or blessed to have the pocket cash to pay for a gym membership, or lucky enough not to depend on a whole host of obesity-inducing medications. It does no service to tax the few extremes, unless satisfying a sanctimonious sort of fat lust could be considered in the best interests of the public's health.

Posted by Skylanda.

Moral Aphorisms As The Bombs Fall and The War Spreads

or Deep Thought

In the latest Israeli-Lebanese war a lot of revolting things have been said. The most disgusting have been the refusals by the Bush administration and others to try to stop the killing from the lofty heights of principle.

Ah, principle. Ideals. So like their deceptive and slippery academic cousin, theory, but so much more deadly in the hands of someone who wants to use them for gain. I come by my suspicion of theory quite honestly, having spent untold hours in sterile labor bringing forth useless harmonizations of figured base lines from Piston’s Harmony - on paper*. The best that can be said is that no one had to hear them.

Unfortunately the same can’t be said of the principles and ideals of the politicians, the only ones who have it in their hands to act to get a cease-fire agreement. The various pitch lines that Condoleeza Rice and her titular boss use to prevent peace so that principle might live on are a good opportunity to look at what happens when abstraction is placed over the blood and lives of real people. We haven’t had such a good current events illustration of the problem since Kissinger used the shape of the “peace” table to prolong the war in Vietnam for political advantage. That was the first nail in the coffin of principle, for me.

The principle at stake in a cease-fire in Lebanon is that of endurance. Only a lasting peace that is guaranteed to endure through the ages is worth Condi’s time. Having, with only spotty success, pointed out for the past four years that Condoleeza must have been using quite a lot of that time practicing piano, I’ll let that pass for now. That such an eternal peace has eluded all but the dead in the Middle East for the past sixty years, doesn’t deter our Secretary of State from mouthing the empty words.

Why does anyone accept such a lame excuse to allow killing to go on in a clear attempt to cover up the disaster in Iraq? Why is anyone listening to their prissy statements of principle when it is growing ever clearer that these criminals are trying to expand the war into Syria and Iran? These people are criminally insane. You might as well get your ethics from a freelance knee-capper you meet in your local dive. He’ll have less blood on his hands.

Why is it when a politician or their hired hacks use the word “principle” that a curtain falls on reality? Not that our media has been focused on reality since Bush took office. His selection really did have an effect on American morality, bringing a massive revival of this kind of principle. Seldom have we been more principled. To death, even.

There might be principles and ideals that are worth dying for, I am less confident that there is a single one that is worth killing for. Theories, principles, ideals, these are all abstractions, they aren’t a substitute for life. Professional thinkers and those who are supposed to be thinkers are in the habit of talking and acting as if their ideas were superior to real life, the Platonic ideal. Unfortunately no tally of their accuracy is kept, you are more likely to find yourself out of a job for getting it inconveniently right than profitably wrong. In the distant future a lot of these catch phrases will look exactly like what they are, self-serving fantasies and even more self-serving lies.

Our media, ever star struck by those with a reputation for being smart, are impressed. Such deep thinking has largely replaced mere reporting in our “news”. In one of the supreme ironies of the age, deep thought is the daily bread of the cabloids, a fact alone that should impeach its worth. You would think that the pictures of peoples’ bodies and the screams of the wounded and surviving would break through the lyin’ curtain but they don’t very often. Not often enough to make much of a difference.

* If any of you are aspiring musicians, I beg you, spend your time studying harmony at the keyboard or your guitar. If you can’t hear it, you won’t learn from it. It’s just a penmanship exercise without the sound.
For scientists who might object. I’m not using the word “theory” as real science uses it but as non-scientific disciplines use the term. In my field, music, almost all theory is a waste of time better spent on dealing with and producing actual music. “Theory is slovenly,” Roger Sessions said. And in music, it is.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The Eternal Boy

In the carefully promoted backlash against feminism more than progress in equal rights has been lost. Before Hoff Sommers leaves another gooey scribble blaming it all on feminists, let me point out that adult men aren’t just endangered, they’re almost extinct.

Today’s idealized male image mostly comes from fascist-chic movies of the Reagan years and those of Clint Eastwood, at least those from before old age came on him with all it many qualms. What doesn't, comes from Porkey’s or other frat fantasies. None of the boys in these guy flicks are what you'd call grownup and the role play provided by video games is infinitely worse. Our popular entertainment doesn't much do grown up men anymore. There might be a few shows or movies that depict a decent, intelligent man but they’re often not what they seem. You see nice guys in movies, you're just waiting for them to be revealed to have secret lives as cannibals or worse.

The roles for males encouraged in pop culture are brainless studs, rapists, sadistic killers, enthusiastic tools of fascism. You know this. It isn't asked often enough why this trend started or grew. I think the oligarchy wanted cannon fodder for its wars of conquest and operators for its computerized machine, the sex is just the draw. Most of all they want males who either won’t vote or who vote reflexively for the “masculine” option of Republican. Grown ups tend towards unprofitable attachment to reality and reality doesn’t favor conservatives.

What else is behind this? As anyone who attended jr. high knows, hyper-masculinity has always been a too-much protesting demonstration that a male wasn’t gay. That is the first and most violent manifestation of it in most cultures*. Straight, male gender anxiety is the basis of it and that fact has been put to most effective use by the political right. Violence and a willful refusal to face reality fits into their economic plans. The only real strength required of most of these tools is to follow orders and to resist reflection.

Least you think that I’m saying they are entirely without discipline let me reassure you. Most conservative men have proven to be rocks of self denial in one respect, depriving themselves the ultimate "male" experience of putting their own sweet fat on the line in combat. But these boys of the ruling class have been provided with a form of cultural consolation. The absurdly mythic image of entrepreneurs has been so calculatedly conflated with sexual potency and the assertion of The Will that business attire has attained the unlikely status of a sexual fetish. No accounting, huh? And if you've seen accountants ..... please, don't tell me.

On the Ursatz level, the role requires, in accordance with the needs of an imperial capitalist system, that the real man treats people as property. Children, women, weaker men are objects that are his to own, his to exploit or there to be trashed, especially if not in his possession. The real man sees all things in terms of his own utilization like a pre-socialized toddler, mitigated only by what he can't get away with. Respect for the rights of other people or for sympathetic understanding are a compromise of the masculine imperative, a willful and shameful relinquishing of the male identity. Even the biosphere he, himself, requires to live is to be used up if he so wills it, And a real man will will it. Real men laugh at giga-death, sustainability is for sissies. It can't be a coincidence that it was the refusal of a zoning permit that motivated Clint Eastwood’s political career.

The detailed implications of cartoon masculinity for gay men, such as myself, are probably for another time. But I will tell you that the stridently defensive reaction on various blogs to my condemnation of the homicidal, objectifying hatred expressed in Tom of Finland’s gay S&M smut proves that fascistic machismo isn’t the cootie shot against being gay that the straight boys think it is.

Adults being sales resistant, the things that define an adult, reasoning, forebearing, self-sacrifice, basic decency and fairness are not encouraged in our commercial culture. When coupled with the traditional male persona their absence is deadly. Their opposites show up in violence directed against girls, women and other people, in our voting patterns and in our politics. They define our foreign policy, where unimpeded exploitation used to be quarantined, but we should anticipate its further expansion into domestic life. **

The "endangered boys" hucksters won't consider why boys are really endangered, the toxic male role models that oligarchic culture presents to them. Neither will they reflect on why so few boys seem to be in any danger of growing up no matter how old they get. But I rather like decent adults and believe every child should aspire to become one. “I won’t grow up,” is an option that should disappear at the age of 14. Yes, for boys too.

* Look at the stream of word play in which Mercutio taunts Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet. More double entendre in one scene than in Mae West's entire filmography. I don't think anyone but a gay man could have depicted someone so obviously obsessed with gay sex during that period.

* *In case you think I'm exaggerating, John Podhoretz is afraid that we're getting too nice to have an effective imperial policy. Makes you realize that the body count can't get too high to discourage them from their piracy.

Blue lily: Terrorism, airport security and the disabled

I haven't flown anywhere since before 9/11 and I've never flown internationally, but I suspect air travel for the disabled using power chairs (and ventilators) is much more complicated now than it ever was before. Especially today with the security crackdown due to information in the UK of a terror plot.

Currently, no carry-on luggage is being allowed except a single clear plastic bag per passenger. According to the BBC, this is what's allowed in that plastic bag:
  • Pocket-size wallets and pocket-size purses plus contents (for example money, credit cards, identity cards etc (not handbags
  • Travel documents essential for the journey (for example passports and travel tickets)

  • Prescription medicines and medical items sufficient and essential for the flight (eg, diabetic kit), except in liquid form unless verified as authentic

  • Spectacles and sunglasses, without cases

  • Contact lens holders, without bottles of solution

  • For those travelling with an infant: baby food, milk (the contents of each bottle must be tasted by the accompanying passenger) and sanitary items sufficient and essential for the flight (nappies, wipes, creams and nappy disposal bags)

  • Female sanitary items sufficient and essential for the flight, if unboxed (eg tampons, pads, towels and wipes)

  • Tissues (unboxed) and/or handkerchiefs

  • Keys (but no electrical key fobs). All passengers must be hand searched, and their footwear and all the items they are carrying must be X-ray screened.

  • Pushchairs and walking aids must be X-ray screened, and only airport-provided wheelchairs may pass through the screening point.

    In addition to the above, all passengers boarding flights to the USA and all the items they are carrying, including those acquired after the central screening point, must be subjected to secondary search at the boarding gate.

    Did you catch the likely problems for various disabled folks? Liquid medications must be "verified as authentic." "Walking aids must be screened." "Only airport-provided wheelchairs may pass through the screening point."

    It's always smart to travel with prescriptions as evidence for medication and other medical concerns, but if mothers are being asked to taste their babies' bottled milk at screening points what are diabetics being asked to do with their insulin vials? How does this authentication take place and how consistently are the least... invasive procedures being used?

    Since prosthetic legs are walking aids and have been subject to security search since 9/11, it's likely amputees are required to remove them today as well. Are other limbs searched too? Are travelers given a little privacy for this or does it occur in the hallway right at the checkpoint with a line of people staring? Are airport-provided wheelchairs x-rayed too? Are those using them given an adequate and safe place to sit while the equipment is taken and checked? Can an x-ray machine even distinguish the aluminum and steel of canes, walkers and chairs from anything suspicious? My understanding was that they could not, and this was why I was always directed around the walk-through devices at checkpoints and searched with a pat-down, a mirror-on-a-stick, and a handheld scanner.

    What happens to the travelers who must surrender their power wheelchairs and scooters? They might have been fully capable of traveling alone without these surprise restrictions, so are they provided with appropriate assistance for whatever they need between the checkpoint and the plane seat? Like a last chance to use the restroom? I can't imagine the airlines have the staff for this, so likely these folks are simply unable to pee until they reach their destination (How many hours for a flight from Britain to the U.S.?) Pee on the plane? Surely you jest. You've been in those little closet-like restrooms, right? Accessibility of airplane bathrooms is largely a joke -- a big bladder-filled knee-slapper. Luckily carry-on liquids are banned too, though any knowledgeable gimp traveler is on a self-imposed liquid fast already.

    Never in my many pre-9/11 airport experiences did I see an airport-provided wheelchair with a headrest. (And the newer aisle chairs lack them too.) If these don't exist now, there are folks like me who literally may not be able to sit in these loaner chairs without serious risk of injury. How is this handled? Are these people given a pass to keep their power chairs until the gate? (Unlikely.) And are power chair users really surrendering their $5,000 - $10,000 machines at checkpoints with a prayer they show up at their destination unharmed and useable? (As it is, it's incredibly common to get off a plane and find equipment so damaged it's unusable with hundreds of dollars of repair needed -- and never any reimbursement, btw.)

    What about gel-cell batteries that power these machines? The list of banned materials includes wet-cell batteries and all explosives, but laws for disabled access have always allowed gel-cell batteries that will not spill. Since today's restrictions specifically ban "liquids and gels" from carry-on, I expect there's some confusion about gel-cell batteries today. There was confusion throughout the 1990s when I flew, so why should this new stressful situation bring clarity to that? I was constantly defending my batteries, arguing to keep them, keep them with my chair, label them as mine before they disappeared forever from me.

    None of these concerns trumps the security of not being blown to bits while over the Atlantic, I know. Disabled folks want to make it to their destinations in one piece just like everyone else. But they do want to make it to their destinations. And they want to get there without humiliation or harm. If heightened security is the price we pay for living in today's world, which of these safety measures will only be temporary? Is education on treating the disabled with respect when working airport checkpoints part of security training?

    What level of discomfort or humiliation is the proper price for safety on airplanes? That question isn't any easier to answer than the question of how much freedom of speech or privacy we should relinquish for national security, but it does impact disabled folks more. And it's worth everyone's consideration.

    Posted by Blue Lily and crossposted at The Gimp Parade

    Coturnix on Sex, part II - The Hooters Conundrum

    Purposefully written to provoke.

    Abel PharmBoy of Terra Sigillata asked:
    Can Hooters support the fight against breast cancer all without being perceived as capitalistic, misogynistic, or otherwise demeaning to women?
    You need to read his whole post to see the context, i.e., exactly what kind of sponsorhip for exactly what kind of breast-cancer research. Definitely something that could be, if done carefully, be done in good taste, with the cancer folks dictating, for instance, exactly how the sponsorship would be done, the slogans, images, etc.

    PZ Myers is, essentially endorsing any means of getting more money into research, with some caveats:
    I'm of the opinion that we ought to get every penny we can from them, but stop short of giving any hint that we actually endorse their business…although I'd wonder if even asking them for their assistance is granting them respectability, or if acknowledging the assistance of Hooters would turn a serious event into a joke.
    On the other hand, Shelley Batts is firmly against:
    I'm of the opinion there is no way to turn Hooters into a charity bastion. I completely expect them to turn breast cancer awareness into a "Save the Whales" level fiasco, prompting wealthy men to save the endangered Great Tit. I can envision the t-shirt campaign now: a tight white middrift with the word "Save Me" in a thought bubble eminating from the bosoms. Hellz no.
    There's more. This was just the most colorful paragraph.

    All three bloggers received quite a lot of comments, quite interesting in their own right, leading to many interpersonal misunderstandings. After musing about this for a couple of days, I think I figured out the source of such misunderstandings: different people were talking about different aspects of Hooters.

    Some were talking about the corporation, some about a particular franchise, some about management, some about employees, some about customers, and some, importantly, about the symbolism of the word "Hooters" in today's landscape of cultural discourse, i.e., the "code word", what Hooters is supposed to represent even if it is not spelled out in detail in a conversation.

    Let's look at each of those separately, before putting them all back together again.

    The Hooters corporation

    This is a big chain of restaurants. It operates just like any other business. They found a niche, they have a product to sell to that niche, and they use every corporate trick on (and off) the books to minimize expense and maximize profits. They peddle food, beer and the allure of sex. They are quite open about it. Once in a lawsuit, they used the "hooters refers to an owl" defense, not because they thought anyone would believe it, but because the law is often based on literal reading (you all remember the definition of 'is') so they tried to get off on technicality. It's just a lawyers' game, not in any way an attempt to hide that they sell sex - they are ah-so-open about it.

    Halliburton sells death.

    Also, the Hooters-style sale of sex occupies a very specific niche. They do not want to compete against strip clubs, or pornography, or prostitutes. They are not keeping their waitresses dressed because they are afraid to make them take the tops off. The type of sex they are selling is exactly the type of sex they want to sell - that is their niche and they have cornered the market there - the "cheerleader" allure. Not all sex is hardcore.

    Phillip Morris sells death.

    The individual Hooters franchises

    Every franchise owner is different. Every town is different. The surrounding culture is different. It is to be expected that every Hooters franchise is different - some much more raunchy than others. The menu, the beer, the music, the "look" of the waitresses, the strictness to which they adhere to the famous handbook ...all that will be different between a Hooters in rural Alabama, a Hooters in Portland, OR, and a Hooters in Japan. Which one have YOU been to? How does that color your perceptions of the establishment?

    The management and the employees

    As with the franchises, they will reflect the local situation.

    The customers

    Again, it will vary, but not everyone coming in is a lecher, or a frat-boy, drooling at the sight of a female form.

    The Symbol

    This is what many commenters - especially those who attacked Hooters and were against its sponsorship of cancer research - were refering to. In many ways, "Hooters" has become a symbol of the patriarchy, of a particular way of demeaning women. The symbolism is in many ways deserved. That is exactly what they are selling. Quite openly. But, as it often happens, the complete story is not so black and white.

    It appears to me that none of the commenters who attacked the Symbol ever set a foot inside a Hooters restaurant to see for themselves. They attacked a Symbol ferociously. One commenter (who was actually all for taking their money for research) even thought that the waitresses there were topless! No, they are not.

    Let me backtrack a little and put in a few cents of personal experience. For a couple of years, a Hooters restaurant was the only food establishment within miles of where I was teaching. On some days, after four hours of talking energetically (and, being a perfectionist, not being able to eat before class out of apprehension), I was just too hungry to make it home to eat. So, not being able to stomach Taco Bell food (the only other food in the vicinity), I went to Hooters. Trust me, the first time around I was quite nervous about it, not knowing what to expect and fearing the worst, mainly because all I knew about Hooters was the Symbol.

    Anyway, for a couple of years, I'd make it there perhaps twice a month or so, sometimes more often, sometimes not going in for months - but often enough to be recognized as a "regular". It was usually at an odd time (like 3pm) on an odd day (e.g., Monday or weekend), so it was never very crowded, which means that I perhaps never saw how rowdy the place may get at night.

    I thought I'd use the opportunity to learn more and to do a little informal study of the culture of the place. I asked the same set of questions of every waitress that ever served me a meal. And I observed the people around me. What did I find?

    A couple of times I walked around the parking lot and counted bumper stickers, always getting roughly the equal number of Bush and Kerry sticker-counts.

    The restaurant was mostly populated with families with children, couples, and small groups of soldiers. There were a couple of sleazy-looking guys (usually quite old) sitting at the bar as well, but I never saw one do anything bad. In other words, it looked just like any other restaurant-bar. And the same kind of music.

    And the same kind of food - not better not worse, not more or less expensive. The wings are far too greasy for my taste, but philly, burger, grouper and quasedilla are quite OK. When I actively seek a place to eat well instead of being stranded in the middle of nowhere, I am not going to start looking for Hooters, of course, but it is not as bad as some people say (again, I believe they never ate there, they just heard the gossip that the food there is bad) and in a pinch, it will do quite fine.

    Only very few of the waitresses conformed to the Hooters stereotype - the thin, athletic build with big boobs. Some were fat, some were super-skinny, most just normal. Many were flat-chested. All too young to be seriously attractive to me.

    Most of the waitresses were students, majoring in everything form nursing to zoology, and one even double-majoring in chemistry and biochemistry. They are smart women.

    A few are young (married, unmarried or single) mothers, who, after wild teenage years decided to take control of their lives and work their way through community college.

    As far as I could figure out, not a single one of them was an ex-stripper (I know a much nicer restaurant in town which employed several ex-strippers) - another stereotype held by people without first-hand knowledge.

    About a third of the waitresses were Democrats, a third Republicans, and a third did not care about politics at all. About half are religious, about half do not care about religion at all.

    I asked them about the atmosphere there and the potential problems. They work there because they get twice as big tips as anywhere else. After a day or two on the job, they completely forget to be aware of eyes trained on their asses. They say that most customers are really totally normal and cool. They feel as part of a team, working together to feed the customers and earn their tips, and at the same time conspiring to milk the occasional pervert out of his money and laugh afterwards.

    If a customer gets too offensive, the waitresses may switch tables amongs themselves - a younger, more timid waitress gets replaced by a more experienced one who knows how to put the guy in his place with a smile and still part him from his money. Sometimes they work in pairs and put the guy through the machine. And they fully enjoy their power. If nothing else works, they tell the manager who gives the guy a spiel and, if neccessary, escorts him out of the establishment. Again, a scene that can happen at any bar.

    What did I do while there? Watch tits and asses? I usually read the newspaper, ate and left.

    Of course, this may be a relatively nice and tame franchise. I heard that the other Hooters across town has events, like bikini carwashes, beauty contests and mud wrestling. Perhaps that other one is much more rowdier. Perhaps that owner picks girls that do look like a stereotypical Hooters waitress. I don't know.

    Certainly this frenchise owner in Alabama is a scumbag (and the manager and the waitress he fired are NOT). So, your experience may differ.

    In any case, as a whole, as much as Hooters brand is about selling sex, from what I could see first-hand, neither managers, nor waitresses, nor most of the customers really bought into it - they treated is as any other family restaurant. A place in a good spot where there is no other food around. I feel more comfortable there than in some more hyped establishments in town (I mean restaurants - I have not visited a strip club and do not intend to ever, so I can retain my own biases and stereotypes about strip clubs and can yell in blog comments against them).

    So, yes, the corporate idea is to sell sex. Like Maxim. It may work in some places, but in others, it is just another restaurant. It makes money for the company, so the bosses do not care how it does so. It is in a way a spoof and a put-down of misogyny - "we get money out of suckers" - and the waitresses are in on that plan, not the slaves of it.

    So, I'd say - get their money for cancer research. They have given for it before.

    Now let me hear the feminists in the comments....

    (Cross-posted on A Blog Around The Clock - go check the comments)

    Coturnix on Sex, part I - Blogging in the nude

    I did not know that Dr.B is just a little bit younger than me. Her wisdom makes me feel like a child.

    Usually when I see that a post already has 170 comments I don't even start reading them, but the comments on this recent post of hers are worth your while (as well as people who commented on their own blogs and spawned their own comment threads, e.g., . Aunt B, Brooklynite and Steinn).

    While the post is primarily about bringing a young son into the female locker-room to change, it is really about several topics, and commenters sensed it and responded accordingly. It is about nudity in the locker-room, at the pool, at the beach and in public, it is about shyness about our own bodies, and it is about societal attitudes towards the naked body. It was also a challenge to male bloggers to write about sex.

    Attitude Towards Nudity

    The commenters brought out in sharp relief two interesting phenomena - the differences in attitudes towards nudity in space and in time. First, in space, there are apparently differences between acceptance of nudity - public or locker-room - between East Coast and West Coast, as well as between both coasts and the middle of the country. Even greater is the difference between the States and the rest of the world (excluding the Middle East). For instance, Sister_luck wrote (and read the comments there as well):

    There seems to be a big difference between Europe and the United States in how the naked body is perceived and how much of it is permitted to be shown. I couldn't understand the fuss about Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction - you didn't even get to see a nipple! Then there was the brouhaha in the livejournal community about banning default userpics showing breastfeeding. Generally speaking, in Germany and other parts of Europe, we tend to see more completely naked people on tv or in magazines and full-frontal male nudity is shown, too.

    Part of this might have to do with the fact that we don't automatically connect the nude body with sexuality and see it more as a 'natural state' of the human being. Even if the nudity is shown in a sexual context there is less censorship involved - it's quite interesting to compare the age restrictions of movies - in Germany, violence is more often the reason for restricting the audience of a film and films that feature full frontal nudity here can be seen by a twelve-year-old or even by a six-year-old if there is no strong sexual content.

    I've also noticed how for some Americans being in your underwear already equals being naked which I think goes a bit far! But there are also women who'd say that they feel naked without their make-up on.

    I grew up in a pseudo-hippy family, so running around naked at home isn't a big deal for me. Going to the nudist beach with my family was okay, but puberty made me slightly more ashamed (though I must say that swimming in the nude is much nicer than in a bathing suit) and I stopped going with them. Today, I'm still quite comfortable in my skin, but have started worrying about silly stuff like showing bodyhair etc.
    That is certainly my experience. Growing up in Belgrade, I certainly saw a lot of nudity on TV, in magazines and elsewhere. Two large rivers pass through Belgrade and there is a large island on one of them. On one side of the island, the river was dammed to form a lake (in which the water is cleaner than in the river itself). The beach of that lake is a couple of miles long and is a favourite place for Belgraders to go on a hot summer day (on some days literally half of Belgrade - that is half of 2,000.000 people - showed up there!).

    The nearest end of the beach, perhaps the first couple of hundreds of yards, is informally designated as "family" or "textile". The last couple of hundred yards are a nudist beach (there is no fence in between - the actual length of this portion depends on the number of people on it on any given day). Everything in between is "top-optional" where perhaps half of the women (of all ages) wear the top and the other half do not. Some people swim, some people play sports, some hide in one of the restaurants to eat and drink, while some go into the woods and have sex. Big deal! Nobody ever cared.

    Spending summers on the Adriatic sea every summer also made me aware that there are nudist beaches there everywhere! Skinny-dipping is fun! You should try it one day if you have not already. And nobody cares, nobody is "titillated" by all that naked flesh around them.

    We had swimming classes in Kindergarten, boys and girls together, all naked. It was just the way the world was. And as for locker-rooms, both in school and in my karate practices, walking around nude was no big deal. It was almost like a primate colony, baboons walking around with hard-ons to assert social dominance, and others joking with them to put them back into the equality of the group - we were all on the same team.

    Apart from differences in attitides across space, there were also a couple of comments on Dr.B's thread indicating the differences across class lines - the upper classes being more comfortable with nudity, as long as the proles are not around to watch.

    But, what was really interesting was an oft-repeated observation that the attitudes have changed over time - not in the expected direction towards more freedom, but the opposite, becoming more and more repressed and self-consciouss. I am wondering if that is a part and parcel of the society (in the States, at least) going through its conservative phase.

    I have no idea if Europe has gone back any. I do not even know if it is happening in Serbia, after a decade of grief, economic woes, bombing and losing at least half a million of its best and brightest (the liberal, educated people who could pursue careers abroad) and replacing them with some of the poorest and least educated people who arrived as refugees from Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo. I am assuming that general zeitgeist there is much more conservative now than it was when I left in 1991, but I do not know if such conservatism also brought back the ideas of puritan shame and the need to cover up again, or is that an element only of the American-brand conservatism.

    So, is this a part of a see-saw of attitudes over time? If conservatism is now in shambles politically, does it immediately reflect itself in the societal norms, as in norms of public nudity? Lance Mannion thinks so:

    An odd, and probably too self-revealing an aside: the bikini seems to have made a big comeback. I don't remember seeing so many the past few vacations.
    Then Lance points out another thing that changes over time - the age of people, i.e., the age-cohorts present at the beach:
    My first thought was that a sizeable cohort of teenagers made the jump from little girls to young women over the winter and so there were just more bikini wearers everywhere I looked. This was unsettling, because I try very hard not to ogle anyone who is not old enough to serve in the United States Senate. Not because I'm so mature or such a gentleman. It's just too embarrassing to be caught looking at a 16 year old even if she does have the body of a centerfold and is not dressing to disguise the fact.

    But there were plenty of their mothers in bikinis to distract me. Now another odd fact. I am ambivalent about the idea of women in their 30s and 40s and up wearing bikinis, no matter how good they look in them. I can't get over the idea that for older women wearing a bikini is as appropriate as wearing a pinafore and patent leather shoes.

    I think that's cultural conditioning on my part. Too many Beach Boys tunes in my youth plus the fact that one piece bathing suits were the fashion for the last twenty odd years and I learned to appreciate the middle aged female form in a tank suit.
    Yup, it is cultural conditioning. One-pieces, in my European eyes are for swimming competitions only. Lance continues:
    I'm against men wearing bikinis too. No man of any age, no matter in how good a shape he's in, should wear a Speedo unless he's on his high school, college, or Olympic swim team and actually competing at the moment.
    I had to buy a non-Speedo when I first arrived in the USA. Back home, boxers were worn only by Gypsies (some kind of ethnic identification symbol?). But then, there's not that many fat people there.... Again, obviously a cultural difference across space, but I am really interested in the changes over time (as well as between classes) as a possible indicator of ideological/political shifts in the society at large.

    Body self-perception

    People have worn clothes for thousands of years now and shyness is a normal part of every pesrons emotinal make-up. But where does it come from? Certainly not from our naked ancestors, so it must be a culturally induced emotion. If it is a culturally induced emotion, then it is to be expected that it takes different forms and different intensities in different cultures, as well as that it changes over time as other social norm change over time.

    One can think of it this way, perhaps: The form and intensity of shyness in any goven society is a result of that society's social norms and, as such, is the best adapted form and intensity for life and survival in that society. In a society of prudes, it is advantageous to be prudish yourself, and in a society in which nudity is no big deal, it may be counter-adaptive to be too shy about one's body.

    So, in that perspective, whatever the social norm of shyness is at any given place and time is the best. But is it? Here's Lance again:
    Much has been written and said about how the Media's constant exploitation of a certain standard of female beauty to sell stuff creates anxiety and self-loathing in young women in respect to their bodies. Presented with an impossible ideal, they learn to hate their own looks and long for an alternative self-image that of course they can't achieve, leading to more anxiety and self-loathing, but which they spend inordinate amounts of time and money on trying to attain anyway.

    But I think that there's another, equally damaging effect.

    The constant fetishization and eroticization of female beauty in magazines and on TV teaches many young women to eroticize and fetishize their own bodies.

    I don't think it's too much to say that they fall in love with their own reflections.

    I wouldn't go as far as blaming the whole Girls Gone Wild phenomenon on a generation of narcissists falling in love with their own reflections. But I do think there are probably more women, young and middle-aged, who learned to admire themselves as objects of desire and who need to have eyes upon them to know they exist. They need the camera's gaze, not simply the male gaze.

    They need to see themselves reflected in order to see their own reflections.

    The problem, of course, with falling in love with a body, your own or anyone else's, that's 15, 16, 17 years old is that you won't have it to admire for long. A teenage body, even a 20 year old body, is an unfinished body in the process of finishing itself in a hurry.

    Bones keep growing into your thirties, which means that no matter how hard they resist it, through dieting, excercise, and surgery, young women get bigger as they advance towards middle-age.

    The result of this for a lot of them is that they get ugly in their own eyes.

    I think this explains why so many of the professionally narcissistic---young actressess---have taken to starving themselves. They are trying to maintain the adolescent body shape they fell in love with in the mirror (the mirrors in their bedrooms and the mirrors in magazines and on TV), a body shape they only approximate through an excessive thinness that very few straight men respond to.
    So, both Dr.B and Lance are noticing, and certainly not lamenting, that bodies change over time. Lance prefers a more mature form. Dr.B, on the other hand, feels comfortable in her own skin today, but still thinks that her younger self was hotter. An important point of Dr.B's post is that aging bodies are not as hot as they used to be and that we need to learn to live with that.

    Of course, some commenters immediatelly jumped in (on both blogs), pointing out that many young women are not happy with their bodies even when they are young, way before age takes an additional toll. Some may hate themselves for that reason, but many cope differently - by joining Goth, athletic, nerd or art cliques in their schools, for instance, and despising the pretty girls from there. Surrounded by like-minded people, they are now judged not by how hot they are but by how cool they are (or how good at something). While this limits the options, i.e., narrows the potential breeding pool, it is limited in a good way - those who show interest are those who are seeing beyond T&A, thus they deserve reciprocating. The shallow, body-focused guys selected themselves out. It almost makes dating game easier.

    It worked for me. I was always extremely skinny as well as geeky (though riding horses, which outside the USA is not considered gay, as well as having a black belt in karate, added some athleticism to my image). Thus, I could never do what my loudmoth, muscular friends did - walk into a bar and find a girl for the night. But I never wanted a girl for the night. So, although I could not date a lot of girls, I dated the good ones - those who knew me well and saw something in me they liked. They were smart girls. The smartest of them all, in the end, got my ring.

    And, some of those girls I dated were not 'hot' in a conventional sense. Yet, I loved their bodies because they were theirs, not because of some waste-hip ratio or cup-size. An ass attached to an interesting, intelligent woman is a hot ass.

    If her opening gambit is "I bet you are a Libra", the date is, for all purposes, over. It happened to me once. Two most boring hours of my life! In the beginning, being young and horny and hoping to get some of that smoking hot body, I smiled and nodded, but as the day wore on, a diatrabe on fine points of astrology (yes, that is all she talked about for two hours and there was no way I could, no matter how much I tried, to change the topic) gradually changed my perception of her body - thos tits and ass were not so hot any more because they were attached to a silly head. In the end I told her that I did not believe in any of that and that, I am really sorry, but I did not think there was any future in our relationship. She was pissed - she was very openly and aggressively pursuing me for six month prior to that and then she blew it on that one date I agreed to in the end....

    So, the beauty is in the eye of the beholder. If you are interested in the mind, the body looks hot. If you are interested in the body, who cares what she is thinking as long as she is keeping her mouth shut! I have posited several times (e.g., here), that the distinction between the two is, roughly, the distinction between - the conservative ideology based on the hierarchical moral order, and liberal ideology based on interactions between equal players (at least one post on this topic is forthcoming this week to clear all this up).

    Thus, the angst by a woman about her body is a response to the conservative social norms. She is trying to be pretty in order to attract the conservative guys who are attracted to T&A, not understanding that, once she gets one of them, she is supposed to sit still, be quiet, look pretty for his friends to see, and raise her legs on command - in short, be abused.

    And if she, then, bumps into a guy who wants to actually talk to her and is interested in her as a person, she is confused and weirded out. That is not the game she was trained to play. What's wrong with him, after all? Can't he pay attention to her cleavage and not ask her to exert herself with all that mental stuff and reveal her general confusion about the world, life and everything else? What did she work so hard on her body for if he is not paying attention and wants to probe her untrained mind instead? That must be initially flattering but ultimately scary!

    Lance wrote:
    A middle-aged man has only to pick up a hammer and start banging to fool himself into thinking he's young, virile, and sexy. A middle-aged woman is still required to stand still and pose.
    Yes, she is required to stand still and pose because voicing her opinion is a threat to his masculinity and her beauty is, after all, meant not for him but for his friends in order to raise him in the male social hierarchy. That is what psychiatrists call "placing on a pedestal".

    The top guy is the one who managed to snag the hottest girl. The top girl (and yes, they have hierarchies, too - have you been in high school lately?) is the one who manages to snag the top guy. So, if the "topness" in the hierarchy is defined by the standing in the hierarchy of your partner, who decides who is hot?

    Well, the broader societal stereotypes - thin girls with big tits and muscular, rich guys (and the media and business realized that, are using that for profit, and are perpetuating it for future profit).

    So, they each try to attain that ideal. Girls get diet pills although they are ineffective and harmful, and pay big money for boob-jobs (and nose-jobs and other stuff needed for absolute perfection). Guys lift weights and wear/drive obvious signs of wealth (Rolex/Ferrarri) even if they have to sell their grandmothers to get them. It's all about rising in the hierarchy and has nothing to do with aesthetics.

    The only way to succeed is to climb up the ladder and the only way to climb the ladder is if you push someone else down. This cruel competitiveness is the essence of conservative ideology, one on which they base everything, from economic ideas, to foreign policy, to environmental policy. Everyone is a competitor and a potential enemy. In order to survive, you have to throw the other guy down. Do it fast. Do it ferociously so others don't dare challenge you in the future. Be a man if you want to be respected by other men!

    It sounds quaint, but that is how they operate. That is why they are all fucked up about gender relationships and about sex. They would not know how to deal with a woman who has an opinion and speaks her mind and refuses to be put down. That is why gays scare them - people who are happy despite opting out of macho competition. Thus, they should be made miserable again.

    And they get that way through upbringing, both by their parents and the broader community (read that link for more).

    Is that also changing as the society as a whole is slowly loosening the medieval shackles of conservatism? Lance, again, thinks so:
    I think that's changing. As women become more active, not simply in their professional lives, but as they play more sports and exercise more and take on more formerly male-only tasks, like picking up hammers and wrenches, they are beginning to redefine female beauty as an active ideal too.

    The female ideal of beauty will become like the male ideal a body in motion.

    Dr B probably didn't intend this response on my part, but I'm sorry, I can't help myself, and I hope, if she reads this, she won't mind. The most atttractive aspect of her nude self-portrait is that she describes herself always as a body in motion.
    Do you agree? How's the dating game in liberal areas these days?

    Sex Blogging By Men

    In response to Dr.Bs call for men to blog about sex more, PZ Myers wrote an excellent response (you will have to find the comment yourself, it is in the first 20-30 or so on Dr.B's post). After all these years, I am still waiting for the day when I vehemently disagree with anything PZ writes.

    But Figleaf goes further:
    To be honest I'm not sure why more men don't blog about sex. Or, more accurately, why more don't blog non-pornographically about sex.


    [click on the link for some steamy prose here]

    I *love* writing about that!

    But while those sorts of things are probably the most *fun* part of sexuality, it's not always the most *important* part. Sometimes it's just as important to talk about the obstacles to sexuality -- our conflations of virginity and commodity; our false dichotomy of reproductive penis and imperial phallus which overlooks the cock as the only human organ evolved expressly to caress; and extensive catalogings of good vs. immoral sex acts while stinting again and again the taxonomies of consent, alienation, and commitment.

    And while those are the fun parts and the important parts of sexuality it's *also* important to talk about the *realities* of sexuality. The times -- days, sometimes months, weeks, sometimes years -- we spend grinding under deadline, under class schedules, under childrearing, under threat of war or poverty or illness or age, where sexuality is honored (if it's remembered at all) in the breach rather than the commission.
    So, for the reasons PZ stated, I do not and will not write erotica on my blog (not even start an anonymous one on another platform). But, many of those other aspects of sex - from science and medicine, to culture and politics - are covered by male bloggers. Off the top of my head - Chris Clarke and Hugo Schwyzer and many more men occasionally. Or Bill, from a completely different angle.

    Or me, for that matter (even more accumulated on my old blog).

    Or this post which, I think, is now finally finished.

    (Cross-posted on A Blog Around The Clock, go check my commenters...)