Thursday, March 23, 2006

Female Chauvinist Pigs

Ariel Levy, in her book Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture (Free Press, New York, 2005), looks at the gains of the women's movement from the sixties to the current day with particular attention to the way in which women have become complicit in the (culturally stereotypical) male approach to sexual matters.
When Levy says “The proposition that having the most simplistic, plastic stereotypes of female sexuality constantly reiterated throughout our culture somehow proves that we are sexually liberated and personally empowered has been offered to us, and we have accepted it,” she is not denying the transformative or revolutionary power of sex. Rather, she is arguing that we have settled, that the revolution has been co-opted by Hooters and Playboy and by accepting only one definition of sexual power women—and men—have accepted the easy way out. We have, as a culture, accepted the commodification of sexuality, allowed the most powerful evolutionary force to be drained of life, reduced to a package, and then sold to us in its least interesting form.
This is, of course, the most powerful tool that the power structure has for thwarting the reformist or revolutionary impulse; commodification. The women's movement of the sixties had a truly revolutionary agenda—from Gloria Steinem and Susan Brownmiller pointing out the (fatal?) contradictions of patriarchal society, to Susan Stern and her sisters pointing out that the revolution was not going to be male-dominated (Stern and her fellow Weatherwomen formed an assault unit during the Days of Rage. See her book With the Weathermen). The high water mark for the Women's movement crested and broke years ago, and the few hard-won victories of those years have been under attack since. One need only look at the statistics of women holding real power positions in any industry; the numbers have been stagnant for a decade, and have actually fallen in many areas. Even Roe vs. Wade has faced thirty years of challenges (If not for the underlying strength of the democratic ideal—that every person has rights, that laws support these rights, and that the legal system has primacy over political and cultural systems, Roe vs. Wade would have fallen years ago. Which is why the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is so important—and why the Fascist Right in this country hates it so. Because it means that Parliament is constrained in what laws it may pass, and that the laws it does pass are subject to judicial review. Sure, toss out gay marriage—the Supreme Court will force it back in. Just fucking get used to it assholes...).
How deeply this commodification of sex has penetrated the culture is laid bare in Levy's analysis of Girls Gone Wild and Sex and the City. In GGW, the reducio ad absurdum of existence is to show your tits—to act out, in other words, the most adolescent of concepts of sexual desirability; perpetual availability. But the stereotypes remain: men are perpetually ready/horny, and all that stands between us and paradise is having to convince a woman (any woman) to say yes. After which the woman can disappear until the next time one feels the need for (as Jack Douglas phrased it) “a convenient penis holster.”
Levy interviews women who have internalized this attitude towards sex—becoming, as it were, one of the boys (albeit penis-free). These are women who have bought into raunch culture seemingly whole-heartedly; attending strip clubs or adopting a “fuck 'em and forget 'em” attitude towards sexual encounters. But in discussion with one such woman, Levy finds herself hearing that this woman is not attracted to the men she meets, and doesn't really want to have sex with them. Levy continues; “Think about the underlying logic of that statement: She doesn't know why she doesn't want to have sex with someone she's not really attracted to. To her, this is a puzzle rather than a question answered. What Frailey [the interview subject] is articulating is our baseline assumption that sex is something you should automatically take when you can get it, something akin to, say, money. The more money, the more sex, the better, because these are things you accumulate to increase your status, your wealth of experience. “I want to get more notches on my belt,” as Annie [another interview subject] put it; “I want to get to a hundred.””
Which leads in nicely to Levy's deconstruction—however brief-- of Sex and the City, a show I confess I got hooked on over the last couple of years. Levy says that “little by little, the show became less about women having “sex like men” and more about the characters trying to negotiate their independence as they pursued intimacy with lovers, husbands, children, and each other. That's how the show grew and became so good.” Which would seem axiomatic; a good show is about compelling characters in a narrative arc, but somehow that still seems to be a revelation in entertainment circles....
But Sex and the City also reflected the zeitgeist in other ways, by what did—or, more importantly, by what did not—intrude or impinge on the lives of the characters. The world of Sex and the City is a very insular one; the real world seldom intrudes on it. As Levy puts it: “The ethos of the show was all about women getting themselves the best and the most, sexually and materially. They were unapologetically selfish, and civic-mindedness was scoffed at....The only time in the series Carrie was confronted with the prospect of doing something for charity, she dismissed the idea as ludicrous.”
In the world of Sex and the City, there is no poverty, no war, nothing but the occasional bother from other residents of the city. When Kim Catrall's character Samantha (the one who has most internalized the “male” approach to sex) runs into conflict with a group of trans hookers, it is not their lives that she is affected by, but the noise they make while conducting their business. The pressures that drive the sex workers, their lives, their needs, even the threat to them that Catrall's character presents (the gentrification of the neighbourhood and destruction of the local community), are ignored, and it is only that Samantha sleeps at night while the sex workers are at work outside her window that provides conflict. The politics of the situation are ignored, not dismissed, but don't even make it on to the agenda. And it is this the Amerikan zeitgeist—politics is a sideshow that can be safely ignored, as it doesn't actually impinge on the real world of consumption. Or, as Levy puts it: “In that episode, in many others, acquisition was the ultimate act of independence. One of the reasons the series was such a big hit was that it accurately reflected the vertiginous gobbling—of cocktails, of clothing, of sex—that was the status quo for American women of means by the turn of the millennium.”
But Levy interviews Erica Jong, and Jong says “...I would be happier if my daughter and her friends were crashing through the glass ceiling instead of the sexual ceiling...Being able to have an orgasm with a man you don't love of having Sex and the City on television, that is not liberation. If you start to think about women as if we're all Carrie on Sex and the City, well, the problem is: You're not going to elect Carrie to the Senate or to run your company. Let's see the Senate fifty percent female; let's see women in decision-making positions—that's power. Sexual freedom can be a smokescreen for how far we haven't come.”
The fear, when starting to read Female Chauvinist Pigs, is that this is another book about how porn is bad, sex is bad, fun is bad. It's not. What it is, is a book about how revolutions are co-opted. As Levy herself says; “this is not a book about the sex industry; it is a book about what we have decided the sex industry we have held it up, cleaned it off, and distorted it. How we depend on it to mark us as an erotic and uninhibited culture at a moment when fear and repression are rampant.”
But the final quote should be by Candida Royalle; “We've become a heavily sexualized culture, but it's consumerism and sex rolled into one. Revolutionary movements tend to be co-opted—swallowed up by the mainstream and turned into pop culture. It's a way of neutralizing it, when you think about makes it all safe and palatable, it shuts up the radicals. Once that happens, the real power is pretty much dissipated.”

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

BushWatch: The Saga Continues

Bush gall soared to new heights of impertinence and spelunked new caverns of What-the-Fuckism as Bush held a rare press conference today to announce that there was no civil war in Iraq.
He referred to eventual American troop withdrawl from Iraq as "an" objective. (Presumably there could be other objectives that require American troops to stay. Not that permanent American bases are being built or anything.)
Further, he stated that that decision "...will be decided by future presidents and future governments of Iraq."
In other words, American troops will be in Iraq at least until 2009, and other people will have to clean up his mess.

Petrodollar Warfare: Oil, Iraq, and the future of the Dollar

What drove Amerika into Iraq? William R. Clark, in his book Petrodollar Warfare: Oil, Iraq, and the future of the Dollar (2005, New Society Publishers, Gabriola Island (, suggests (and makes a pretty solid case, too) that Amerikan criminality is based on the fear of losing its pre-eminent status as the world's last remaining superpower. The problem is that the foundation of Amerika's status is merely some awfully thin ice—ice made thinner by the fascists currently in office.
This is about more than oil—although oil is essential to Amerikan hegemony. Oil is bought and paid for in Amerikan dollars, and those Amerikan dollars are the world's currency of last resort. If everything falls apart, the $US is supposed to remain standing, and the Federal Reserve said back in the early eighties that if all else fails, they will just keep printing dollars until everything is paid off—all Amerikan international debt, all debt denominated in Amerikan dollars.
Because right now Amerika is living in a massive debt bubble—China alone holds over $1.7 trillion in Federal debt instruments and could crash the whole system simply by converting the lot over to euros. The dollar has declined over the last four years—seen here in Canada as the rise in the Canadian dollar against the Amerikan, and the euro has strengthened. But worldwide we have far too much productive capability, and not enough ability to consume, and this overhang is starting to scare the crap out of the holders of real money.
The current system is (almost) holding together. Oil sales denominated in Amerikan dollars and held by Amerikan financial institutions have managed to support Amerikan consumption. But then Saddam Hussein gets snarly; under the oil for food program, he requests that payment no longer be made in the dollar of the Great Satan, but be denominated in euros. Turns out to be a great financial idea made for political reasons. By denominating in the euro, Iraq sees a couple of hundred million dollars extra—free money just for using the euro. And don't think this isn't noticed by the rest of the region; the Saudi's know all about this, but have made their own separate peace with the Great Satan, and are funnelling their excess dollars back into the Amerikan economy (70% of Saudi Arabia's petrodollar wealth is invested in the US). But for this and other crimes (like having Amerikan oil inconveniently under their country and making deals to sell it to Russia and European countries rather than the Amerikan ones), the Iranians pay a heavy price; they suffer the extension of Amerikan hegemony.
But Iran notices; they announce a new oil bourse (a stock exchange for securities trading) in 2002 to be up and running by 2005 that will offer an oil marker denominated in euros—just like the $US-denominated marker of West Texas crude. Funny how they are now in the crosshairs, isn't it?
William Clark doesn't claim that what currency petrodollars are denominated in is the sole reason behind the illegal invasion of Iraq; but he does make a strong case that this was a significant reason behind it. Some writers, most recently Gwynne Dyer, don't buy it. A recent Dyer article basically says that this Amerikan administration is simply too stupid to pay attention to esoteric financial concerns, and makes a strong case for this view. But this administration's partners, this cabal of the super-rich, this loose affiliation of millionaires and billionaires that rely on the dominance of the Amerikan dollar, they notice. And they have both a confluence of desire and the world's largest and best equipped mercenary force at their disposal. And what the hell, they've been using it for just this kind of bullshit since forever, so what's one more country destroyed to serve their interests? The rest, we say, is history.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Luna, c.1999 - March 10, 2006

Luna the Killer whale has died.
Luna was just a whale being a whale. We were trespassing on its turf. But again nature has encountered man, nature has lost, and we are all the worse off for it.
Reunite Luna website

American Cetacean Society Luna Page

Fisheries and Oceans Backgrounder

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Want to play?

As part of a class experiment, I have posted a hoax web page (meaningless nondata) at
Using various 'black hat' tricks, my class and I have managed to move it up to #5 out of 9300 Canadian web pages in response to the Google search on "Grammar Checker" (quotes included); and to about #160 spot out of 313,000 on the whole Google WWW. If anyone is included to play, linking to it in your blog (as I have just done here! :-) or webpage will increase Google's ranking of the site. I'm curious to see if I can push it any higher, and how long it will take to sink as the links date....

Is It Too Late Already...?

This BBC story reports that The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will report that only greenhouse gas emissions can explain the worldwide freak weather patterns we are experiencing. Further, the report goes on to state that CO2 emissions will have doubled by the mid part of the century, resulting in a temperature increase of perhaps 4.5c or even higher.
We're fucked, kids. We need rapid change in our industrial habits and our personal lives right now. This, of course, would require leadership and backbone from our leaders like Bush, Blair and Harper.
Ha. Fat chance. They are too busy playing their little war games to notice that the real battle has already passed them by.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The 18% Veep Factor

According to this Washington Post story, Dick Cheney's 18% approval rating makes him less popular than:
- Michael Jackson during his child molestation trial (25% approval);
- O.J. Simpson after his trial for murdering his wife (29%);
- Josef Stalin in a 2003 poll in Russia (20%);
- Spiro Agnew a month before he resigned as Nixon's Vice President and pleaded "no contest" to criminal tax evasion (44%).
Mind you, Cheney is still more popular than Paris Hilton (15%).

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

In Praise of Slow

Just finished Carl Honoré's In Praise of Slow: How a Worldwide Movement is Challenging the Cult of Speed.
I read it in three hours.