Wednesday, August 30, 2006

A confused nude walks in to a bar...

On a personal note, all of that heated discussion of pornography and sexual desire has made it clear to me that I'm not merely a "consensus seeker who dislikes conflict." It turns out I'm terrified of conflict, and of being in the thick of it.

It's weird because it really doesn't bother me if people disagree with me or dislike me. When I hear of people talking about me behind my back, I usually just think it's cool: it means that whatever else you can say about me, at least I'm not boring... ;-)

But for some reason open conflict where people are angry at me completely unnerves me; I can't handle it.

So maybe my usual attitude of "You believe what you believe, I'll believe what I believe, and let's not fight about it," isn't really motivated by rational detachment as much as it is motivated by some sort of neurosis.

Over the weekend I was worrying about whether I should go through with the amusing follow-up I'd planned for my posts Yes means yes and A feminist in favor of porn?:

I have a nude photo of myself from when I was twenty. I don't know if it's erotic -- it's a tasteful, partially-obscured, back view nude in the woods, probably less sexy (or maybe less revealing?) than my bikini photo (taken during my recent vacation that inspired my discussion of going topless on the beach, nude sunbathing, etc.), and I was thinking of posting the nude picture to my blog.

(Not as an inline photo -- I would upload it elsewhere and link to it like I did with my Naked People at Rutgers comics.)

The funny thing is that I've posted this nude photo to the Internet more than once just for fun, yet I hesitate to post it as a political statement about women and erotica. I'm not sure why, but I have this inexplicable feeling that something bad will happen.

Of course maybe something bad really would happen, like blogger deleting my blog. Which is why in the end I've decided to hold off on this proposed bit of performance art until I get my own separate website -- one where I'm more confident my writings won't go the way of JLO's...

The other funny thing is that for weeks I've been planning a post about why I love the Internet, and one of the points I was going to highlight was how much more confident and assertive I am because of my experience with Internet forums and blogging. But maybe I haven't really changed that much since the days when I felt traumatized by people jeering me at a political rally.

I know this whole post is a bunch of silly navel-gazing, but like La and so many others, I'm in this blogging thing for the self-discovery. :D

So if anyone's looking for me, tell them I'm off somewhere calmly re-reading Susie Sexpert's Lesbian Sex World.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

A creation myth by Nicolas

My four-year-old son Nicolas was telling me about sharks the other day, and when I said something about sharks living in water, he said "No, sharks don't live in water, they live in the sea."

me: But the sea is made of water, right?

Nico: (after thinking about it a bit) Yes... There was a great big water bottle, and it spilled on the sand and made the sea!

So there you have it. And that's why the sea is made of water. ;^)

Okay, one more cute kid story:

My little Nico usually only speaks to me in English, but every now and then he'll learn something at school or from his French grandma and not know the corresponding words in English to talk about it. When that happens, and Nico wants to tell me about something he can only describe in French, he switches the language of the conversation as follows:

Nico: Maman ? (French for Mommy)

me: Yes?

Nico: Non, tu dis "Oui". [No, you say "Oui".]

me: Oui ?

Then he launches into his story in French.

(He's curious to know how to say the same thing in English, so I generally translate the things he tells me into English for him.)

Okay, one last one:

Recently Nico wanted a particular toy that was at a toystore on the other side of town. So we walked over there, and on the way back, when we were almost home, Nicolas started getting tired. He then made the following observation:

"If the store is far away from home, that means home is far away from the store."

The kid's a genius -- already formulating his own reciprocity theorems!! He's sure to be a great Mathematician one day!!! :D

Thursday, August 24, 2006

A feminist in favor of porn? Is that possible?

When I finished writing my earlier piece on porn (Yes means yes), I looked at the statement "I am in favor of porn" and thought: "Gosh, that's an awfully strong statement -- maybe I should change it to 'I am not opposed to porn.'"

After all, take a look at the "Playboy attitude" that tells men that the good life is to be part of a boys' club that doesn't treat women as equals. Isn't it obvious that that's degrading to women?

But not all porn has the same theme and style. If you don't like the attitude of Playboy for example, it's not as if Hugh Hefner invented porn.

Yet, if some porn promotes a negative attitude towards women, why favor porn? Why not just be indifferent towards it?

Because looking at the evidence, I am absolutely convinced that porn decreases hostility towards women, increases acceptance of women's sexual autonomy, and makes ordinary women safer.

Here's a simple example that you have seen in your own lifetime.

Since the appearance of the Internet, there has been a massive increase in porn consumption in the US. There has been a phenomenal explosion not only in the amount of porn consumed but also in the proportion of the population that consumes porn regularly. Now where is the corresponding increase in the number of rapes? There is none. Indeed, rape has decreased significantly in the US over the same period. So even though this isn't proof that porn prevents rape, it certainly demonstrates that porn does not cause rape. It shows that increased availability of pornography doesn't lead to more danger for the average woman on the street.

I lifted that example from this article where the author showed that rape decreased the most -- by a wide margin -- in places with the most Internet access. And we all know what's on the Internet. (Note that the Feminist Law Profs have provided a critique of this argument.)

It's just a correlation, but this inverse correlation between porn and rape is strong enough that it's worth at least asking ourselves if maybe there's something to it. At the very least, it's compelling enough that -- if our real goal here is for women to be safer -- it warrants seriously re-analyzing the current feminist orthodoxy on the relationship between pornography and rape.

And really, I think it's perfectly reasonable to expect that porn consumption would decrease a man's inclination to commit rape for one big reason:

Positive erotic materials train males to make a strong distinction between wanted and unwanted sexual contact.

Traditional religious training teaches young men the following: that acting on their sexual impulses is bad in all circumstances (until marriage at some distant, indefinite point in the future). Indeed, even having such urges is a moral failing. No woman worth having wants to have sex -- those who consent are worthless trash.

The resulting sexual frustration can lead to feelings of shame, anger, and hostility, often directed at women in general as they are the focus of the thwarted desire. This mindset can lead to rape and other abuses.

(Note, I'm just talking about straight males here -- gay male sexuality is a completely different discussion.)

This model creates a climate where sexual release is always bad -- the woman's consent (or lack thereof) is irrelevant.

In theory, if males could be trained to completely suppress their sexual urges and feel aroused only on cue, that would solve the problem. However that is quite impossible. Aiming for that ideal creates a situation where occasionally the dam is going to break, and when it does, the stage is already set to interpret a lack of an explicit "no" as a "yes" and to see an explicit "no" as unimportant.

A constructive alternative is to provide a positive message about sex. Spread the word that sexual desires are not inherently bad or wrong. There exist harmless ways of enjoying your sexuality, in particular fantasy and masturbation, possibly in conjunction with published erotic materials.

Pornography (with masturbation) gives strong positive reinforcement for the idea that there exist women who consent to sexual expression and circumstances where sexual release is harmless and good.

And why be a monster when you're given the opportunity to be a lover instead?

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

More Star Trek!!!

Unfortunately my brother hasn't posted any more episodes from our community-cable series since the last time I posted about Me, on Star Trek!!!. It's too bad because some of the later ones were really cool, especially the ones where we used cheesy split-screen and blue-screen effects so I could play my own evil twin who is a Romulan...

He seems to have redirected his Star-Trek-related energy into where we have this cool story going here. I'm "Dr. Shareb" and I'm serving aboard the Starship Concordiat. It's great fun -- in our first adventure our Starship was vandalized by some peacenik space-hippies and we went and chased them through space...

That's actually the closest thing I'm doing to fiction writing exercises at the moment. I know I signed up for Scrambled Sage on Toast and I haven't been doing the homework (because I'm very, very naughty). (And my dog ate it?) It's not that I think I'm above workshop exercises -- quite the opposite -- it's just that I know I don't have time to put serious thought into fiction exercises right now, and I don't want to do a half-assed job of it.

Now you're probably thinking: "But Chanson, you seem to have an awful lot of time lately for writing a bunch of controversial-yet-boring political theory..."

I don't know what's up with that. I seem to be having some sort of brain-dump about politics lately. I think it's just because I see blogging as an extension of conversation -- and one where I'm surrounded by intelligent people -- so I like to spend some time chatting about life and light fun stuff and some time discussing and exchanging ideas.

Or more likely it's because I see blogging as this endlessly fascinating experiment, and I'm curious to see what kinds of reactions I'll get from writing different types of things.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Yes means yes

Because I'm such a dedicated blogger, I spent a good part of my Saturday googling things like "pornography rape correlate" so that I could write you all a blog entry about porn as promised.

Does porn cause rape?

This is a fundamental question to ask when deciding whether porn is good or bad.

My impression from reading the various articles I found is that there is a lot of very solid evidence that if any correlation between availability of porn and incidence of rape exists at all, it is a negative one (i.e. more porn = less rape).

Rather than give you a bunch of links and my reactions, I encourage you to consult your favorite search engine and see for yourself. You'll see plenty of articles arguing both sides (some saying pornography causes rape, some saying pornography prevents rape), and it's instructive to look at them side-by-side and compare them.

In the interest of full disclosure, I'll tell you my bias: I am a feminist, and I am in favor of porn. (Consenting adults only, and in an appropriate time and place.)

I am in favor of porn because I am a feminist. My right to my own body and to my sexuality is a huge part of feminism for me. It's not the only facet of my feminism, but the idea that I can feel good about myself as a woman and as a sexual person at the same time is one of the aspects of feminism that I feel most passionate about.

Because of the feminist claim that pornography causes rape, the correlation between these two items in particular gets a lot of attention (as opposed to a lot of other stray statistical differences one could explore between a more open society and a more repressive society).

It's not certain, but maybe there is a cause-and-effect relationship. The theory seems to be that the frustrated guy who might otherwise be out making trouble for all of the many women who don't want to have sex with him is instead sitting at home at his computer masturbating after having looked at a few nudie pics and having IM cybersex with an old granny far away who gets off on pretending to be a dirty-talking twenty-year-old online...

However, I think it's likely that the availibility of porn and the prevalence of rape are also both tied to something else, namely how permissive a culture is towards consensual sex. A huge factor a lot of porn/rape correlation articles neglected to mention is the ability to give meaningful consent and refusal.

I agree with most feminists that getting out the message that "No means no" is of vital importance for preventing sexual assault. And that's is why it's critical that both options exist -- yes as well as no -- in a meaningful way.

In a repressive society, some women want sex. Yet no women are allowed to want sex. So you get a situation where the women who really mean no say no and the women who don't mean no also say no.

See the problem here?

In a society where sexual expression is less stigmatized, men know that the women who want to have sex with them will feel perfectly comfortable and confident saying so. So when a guy meets up with a woman who says to him "No, I don't want to have sex with you," there is no confusion about it. The guy is less likely to doubt or try to second-guess her.

That's why it's so important to allow women to feel like it's okay for them to consent to sexual expression -- including producing and consuming erotic materials -- if that's what they actually want.

Do you really want no to mean no? Then don't force a yes to be a no.

Friday, August 18, 2006

At-home-vacation Travelogue

This past vacation was kind of a "vacation-lite" since I came up a little too short on vacation days and money to fly the family to the US for a visit this year.

So we decided to spend my work-free week-and-a-half on the ever-economical "at-home vacation."

Really we could have gone somewhere, but we decided it might be fun instead to just rent a car and take a series of day-trips in the area.

The thing is that since we don't have a car and since there are so many fun things to do in town, we end up hardly ever leaving the city limits of Bordeaux. Then when people come to our house on vacation (in their cars), a lot of times they ask us to suggest some interesting places to visit in the surrounding area, and we don't know any.

Of course I'm exaggerating a bit. We're always happy to suggest to people that they might take a tour of the many wine-producing chateaux in the region (in hopes they might bring us back a few bottles for our wine cellar). p.s. that is indeed a hint for anyone reading this who was planning a visit. Our poor, sad little wine-cellar has only a few bottles in it... :^(

This time we decided we would be the ones to get out and see the sights for once.

First of all, we took the kids to some medieval castles. I couldn't help but feel like this outing would have gone better if we'd brought Mike & John with us to tell us some interesting historical tidbits about the castles and such, since they know a lot about history. Left to our own devices, we were basically like "Hmmm, look at that -- a castle from the middle ages. Isn't that interesting?" Sure, we could have looked up stuff about these castles on our own before visiting them, but hey, we're on vacation!!

Aside from that, we mostly just ended up going to the beach since that's what the kids wanted to do. You probably think I'm just saying that because I wanted to go to the beach -- and it's true that I did want to go myself -- but it's also true that the kids were really psyched about the whole beach thing. My husband recently got them that Finding Nemo movie, so now everything at our house is coming up Nemo, and going for a swim in the ocean with our many toy fishies fit right in with our current theme.

Oh yeah, we also ended up taking them to a planes, trains, and automobiles museum, which was fun.

I like to call this one "Kids, will you hold still for one second? We're trying to take a picture!!!"

Despite having a car all week, we still did a bunch of stuff in town. This is partially because we live in a town where it's more convenient to walk places than to drive, but also because we're set in our ways.

One day I took Nico to our usual toy store and picked out a cuddly, stuffed "Lightning McQueen" and "Sally" from the movie Cars. (Yes, we have entirely given in to the lure of Disney, we don't even try to fight it.) When we got them home, we found that the stuffed toy cars cry out in pain when you crash them in to things. I was feeling like maybe this was a bit of an ill-advised toy as I watched my sweet little boys laughing their heads off while smacking their stuffed cars and listening to the cars screaming. But they got bored of that pretty quickly and now just like to cuddle their cars.

Then -- like all vacations -- it ended all too soon!!!

Now it's back to work...

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

My Ex is Having Sex with Rex!!!

Best. Title. Ever.

Don't you think so?

Hey Mo-Lit fans!!! I just finished reading Jennifer Lee's brand-new memoir My Ex is Having Sex with Rex, ($12.99, Matching Jackets Publishing).

This is the poignant-yet-hopeful tale of a single mom on the dating scene again with three kids in tow after she and her gay husband of sixteen years finally accept that his orientation makes it impossible for them to truly be romantic partners and soul-mates.

Jennifer describes in entertaining detail her adventures in discovering anew what straight men are like. For example, she gets the fun of having two different guys in a row try to charm the pants off her with a clever line about how ordering french fries is "sooooo sexy!" lol

Jennifer gets the excitement of dating some guys who above all just want from her a night of hot passion by contrast with the familiar situation of the guy who above all wanted from her the domestic comforts of home and family. In some ways she finds this a welcome change, but -- combined with the frustration of also dating some guys with serious social problems and the frustration of failing to find a complete, fulfilling romantic relationship -- she practically ends up asking herself if her new situation is better or worse.

Even though Jennifer is incredibly positive about pro-actively getting her own life in order and about giving number one top priority to her kids' well-being above all else, this book obviously ends up being a strong cautionary tale about why -- if you are a straight person -- you should not marry a gay person, imagining that somehow against all odds you'll find a way to make it work. And even more than that, it's a cautionary tale for gay people of what you're really choosing to do to the life of another human when you decide to try to cure yourself by building a family with an unsuspecting straight person.

Jennifer's situation is somewhat unusual among gay-man-straight-woman marriages in that she didn't have any idea that her husband might be gay until four years into the marriage (after they'd had one kid).

It's easy to see how this can happen -- her ex-husband was one of those gay guys who didn't blatantly fit the stereotypes, plus he was sexual enough to be willing to have plenty of sex with her despite his orientation. And notably -- even though he'd had sex with men and knew he was struggling with same-sex attraction before the marriage -- he didn't tell her.

Given the situation, it's astonishing how little anger Jennifer expresses. However, it's understandable that she's willing to forgive her ex because it's clear from the story that he didn't set out wanting to deceive and use her. He wasn't just thinking of his own need for a "normal" life and family in callous disregard for her needs. He believed and had internalized the disgusting lie that his attraction to men was just a disorder -- one that could be completely cured and one that was too shameful to even mention. They convinced him that he would be capable of giving his wife a relationship that was as sexually and emotionally complete as the type of relationship that a straight man could offer her.

So really, the liar in this story is the LDS church.

Jennifer makes it clear, however, that she doesn't feel anger towards the church any more than she feels anger towards her ex-husband. Her detachment is amazing, yet not so mysterious. The thing is that she places an admirably high priority on honoring the family they built together and the good memories of the years they spent together. She doesn't regret the years and the life that she gave him and she doesn't want to regret them. What's more, she doesn't want him to regret their relationship. If she were to feel a visceral anger at the church for telling him he could change and for pressuring him to do so, it would in a sense be equivalent to being viscerally angry that they had ever been married at all.

Tellingly, she spends almost as much time discussing whether she should be angry at "homosexuality" as she spends discussing whether she should be angry at the church. It's clear that while a new relationship would be great, she would just as soon have back the father of her children, only not gay -- if that were somehow possible.

(Note that she does blame his secrecy for causing her pain, and strongly advocates allowing and encouraging gay people to marry each other instead of marrying straight people.)

Jennifer includes an interview with her ex-husband in order to allow him to give his side of the story. For his part, he seems a lot more willing to feel anger towards the LDS church -- not because he regrets their family together, but rather because the church not only pressured him to deny a fundamental part of himself but also convinced him to make promises to a person he cared deeply about, promises that were ultimately impossible for him to keep. And obviously in the face of his new-found joy and happiness at truly finding himself and finding his soul-mate (Rex), he doesn't want to feel like he's left Jennifer high and dry.

I'm not sure whether all of my armchair psychoanalysis here makes for a good book review or not, but it's hard for the reader to avoid trying to make some sense of this difficult situation.

The book is definitely worth reading for its own sake as a story as well as for the insight it gives into the perspective of a straight woman who has the misfortune of finding out that her husband is gay.

Holly wrote an excellent series of articles here, here, and here about straight women in romantic relationships with gay men, and in particular discussed here how the women's perspective in such a situation is often ignored. Hopefully Jennifer's book will be a voice to counteract the invisibility of women caught in such marriages.

So, congratulations Jennifer on your excellent work of writing and publishing your story, and here's hoping the publicity and sales phase will be a huge success!!! :D

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Confessions of a former Nader voter, part 2

Continued from here.

Long after the 2000 election fiasco, I was talking about this with a good friend of mine (who had supported Nader in Florida, no less...) and she explained that we made this miscalculation because we were too young when Reagan was first elected. We were just little kids at the time, so we weren't politically aware enough to have learned anything from it.

But while that whole mess of sorting out the results in Florida was still going on, I didn't know what to think. So I followed the story on the news to try to figure it out.

Of course Nader was in the national spotlight because if not for him, Gore would easily have won. (Also, without the electoral college and other amusing quirks of the US presidential election system, Gore would have won.)

I don't remember what Nader said. It was probably something about building a viable progressive third party -- not necessarily objectionable on principle, but inappropriate in the face of the surrounding disaster.

All I remember is that he didn't say the one thing I wanted to hear him say:

"This is a travesty. Is this really the United States of America? Here we see election 'irregularities' to rival any banana republic, and the election has totally failed to express the will of the people. This election demonstrates that urgent need for a constitutional amendment for election reform now."

If he had said that, I would almost have felt vindicated, like "Okay, this is very bad, but the country has learned a valuable lesson from it, so we're closer to finally solving the problem." Instead I felt like "Boy, was I ever stupid!!!"

Between the election and the moment when Bush Jr. took office, my husband and I packed our bags and moved to France. It wasn't because of the election -- we'd been planning the move for more than a year -- but it probably looked bad. Like I was saying to my countrymen "Oops!! Sorry about that, guys. Umm... bye!"

Over the next few years, as news from the US rolled in off the Internet, I became increasingly convinced that the country had learned absolutely nothing from the election and that nothing good would ever come of my having shunned the Democrats as being equivalent to the Republicans.

After all my years of complaining about Clinton -- that he wasn't quite good enough -- once I got to see how very much worse it is possible for a president to be, I changed my tune and was begging to have Clinton back. After this perspective realignment, I started wistfully thinking "Clinton, now there was a truly great president. What skill at diplomacy!!! And talk about fiscal responsibility!!! To think, in those days we were concerned with how best to use the surplus!!! Ah, those bonny bygone days..."

Now I imagine this blog entry is going to earn me some hate mail telling me that I'm a traitor for thinking that "W" is incompetent (and a criminal), and probably some people will want to tell me that all the godless liberals should follow my lead and move to Europe.

Let me just tell you in advance that I am quite aware of this perspective, so I'll ask you kindly not to trouble yourself by sending me a personal message to this effect or even a personal love message telling me about how you'll be praying for my (damned) soul. There are plenty of god-free and/or liberal people out there who enjoy debating and would appreciate your message more than I would.

By the time the 2004 election rolled around, I had completely repented of my earlier Naderism and was ready to go on the campaign trail for Kerry. Through the Internet, I encouraged people back home to support Kerry, and I made sure that all three of the US citizens working in my office here in France were registered to vote via absentee ballot.

I know lots of people said stuff like "Kerry is just politics as usual," but given the choice between that and the worst president in the history of the United States, I think I'd like to have "politics as usual" back, please.

Plus I read a bunch of stuff about him in the Internet and in The New Yorker, and he seemed fine to me. For instance, he was brave enough to actually enlist when he favored war and he learned some serious lessons from what happened "over there," plus he was hilarious in that "Jib-Jab" song...

The election result was a huge disappointment. It was terrible for me to see that after four years of real experience seeing what "W" was made of, my countrymen actively chose to elect him for four more years.

Before that point, if people weren't happy about the fact that Bush basically told everyone that as the "world's policeman" he's allowed to invade any country he pleases, and if the rest of the world has anything to say about it, they can just kiss his ass, at least I could say to them "It's just Bush -- not the American people. He wasn't even really elected!!!"

Not anymore.

After the election, I wore black for three days in mourning for my beautiful yet foolish homeland. My colleagues were pretty kind and understanding. I remember friendly calls of "Courage, Carole !" ;-)

Will W's administration cause more Americans to wake up and maybe reassess their politics a little? I hope so.

We'll see...

Saturday, August 12, 2006

People from Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania,

Please have a look at a blog I've recently found: Baltic Voice. It's a blog where people of Baltic origin are encouraged to discuss issues that concern their home countries.

Yes, after joking around about Estonia here and here, I finally got some feedback from a real Estonian!!! And not just an Estonian, but an Estonian exmo!!!

(Actually Canadian, but Estonian-Canadian...)

Wild, huh? I didn't even know there were any Estonian exmos.

This is what I love about the Internet. Even if I focus on an absurdly homogeneous category such as exmormons, I still end up interacting with an incredibly diverse group of people that I never would have met otherwise. And without even taking my butt out of the comfort of my computer chair -- just by blogging -- I get to not only learn more about far away places like Estonia, but I actually get to interact directly with people of such diverse backgrounds. It's truly a fantastic tool for helping people all over the world to understand each other better.

So everyone please welcome "Baltic Lass" to Outer Blogness!!! :D

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Topless on the beach...

During my vacation, I decided not to go topless on the beach, even though I could have if I'd wanted to.

How common is it for female beach-goers here in France to go topless?

I don't know if you're actually curious about this question or not, but since I'm not sure whether National Geographic has explored this fascinating indigenous local custom with photo spread, I've decided to do some of my own investigative reporting about it.

I've been to the beach along the Mediterranean (in Marseille) and in Brittany and now in the Aquitaine and once in a place in Africa where there were a lot of French tourists, and these beaches were all about the same in terms of what proportion of the women chose to go topless, which I would guesstimate at around ten percent, maybe less.

Now you may be wondering if these are these the same people that you would like to see with their shirts off, orientation permitting.

To me it seems to be more or less a cross-section. The decision to bear half seems to be more a function of the woman's own comfort level than of her hotness-or-notness. (Okay, I know that's not really a word, but you understood it, didn't you? So let's go with it.)

The next thing you're probably wondering is "Chanson, did you really look at all of these women (in a polite, discrete, and non-staring manner) so that you could discuss your impressions with everyone?"

The answer is that indeed I did. As an expat, I have an important role of cultural exchange to carry out, and I take that role very seriously.

(Well, "seriously" is maybe the wrong word here, but I think you know what I mean.)

In my case, when I chose to wear the top half of my bikini, I took my own comfort level into account, and I took my husband's comfort level into account as well. He's happy to see me dress in an attractive manner, even sexy, but within some limits (in public).

This isn't a big deal to me. If it were, I could always have stuck with my first husband, who was willing to go along with me when I decided I wanted to try going to the nude beach. When I started my relationship with my only true husband (sorry, no offense previous husband!), he wasn't quite as game for the whole nude beach thing. We joked around about the possibility a bit, but it was pretty clear that he was not into it. That's okay -- it was fun, but not incredibly important.

If any feminists have actually read all the way to this point, you might be thinking it's bad -- or at least questionable -- that I would admit to dressing for a man's comfort as much as for my own. However, by agreeing to be monogamous, I'm in a sense allowing a man to control my sexuality. So if you're okay with monogamy and know anything about how relationships work in practice, you know there's some gray area that a couple has to deal with regarding what both partners are comfortable doing with other people. And the way people dress (especially women) naturally has sexual connotations.

It's kind of unfortunate that men typically get to dress for their own comfort whereas women generally end up dressing for the comfort of men, whether they're actively dressing "modestly" (to avoid making males feel uncomfortable about their own sexual feelings and judging women accordingly) or whether they're dressing provocatively (in order to attract).

Part of the reason men don't have to take the female gaze into account when they dress is that women aren't really looking at them, at least not nearly so much and not in the same way.

My older brother (who is gay) has argued that one reason straight men are so sloppy is because straight women aren't picky enough about a man's look, and straight guys would clean up their act if it made any real difference in their romantic and sexual prospects. Maybe that's true, but maybe straight women and gay men aren't really attracted to the same sorts of things, or maybe gay men are just naturally more fabulous on average than straight men. It's hard to say.

Anyway, it probably seems pretty absurd for me to be talking about "modesty" in terms of whether to wear a bikini or just the bottom half of a bikini. It's not like I'm being asked to wear a burqa or something. But it's interesting how the concept of "modesty" isn't really absolute -- it's relative to culture and cultural norms.

And it's always entertaining to watch what happens in places where cultures mix. I remember one time I saw a woman sunbathing topless along the side of the Seine right in the middle of Paris. The funny part was all of the (young male) foreign tourists interested in getting a look and taking pictures. This is the main reason I would not sunbathe topless in the middle of Paris. As much as I like to support the French tourism industry, I'm not sure I want to be one of the colorful local sights people are excitedly writing home about.

So, in case you missed it (being distracted by thoughts of naked people), the hidden discussion topic (for feminists) is the following:

"Modesty": is it all about dressing for the comfort of males, and hence just the flip side of deliberately dressing sexy for men's sake? Discuss!

Either that or else please recount your own entertaining experiences on nude or topless beaches. :D

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Confessions of a former Nader voter, part 1

The first presidential election I was old enough to vote in was in 1992. I probably would have voted for Clinton if I had voted, but I had just moved to New Jersey to start grad school, and my passion for politics at the time wasn't quite sufficient to motivate me to figure out how to register in time.

I was raised a Reaganite, and when I rejected my parents' religion, I questioned their politics as well, but I hadn't gotten around to thinking hard about it yet. Four years in academia later, I was radicalized to the point of being beyond Clinton.

Sure Clinton wasn't so bad, but I felt like we could do better.

First he caved in to the right with that bizarre "don't ask, don't tell" policy for gays in the military, then caved to the medical insurance industry and dropped the ball on universal health care. He seemed as quick as any hawk to find military solutions to problems abroad rather than making a serious effort to look for alternatives, and seemed as beholden to wealthy and powerful corporations as any politician.

So I read a few green party articles that talked about how politicians always end up compromising like that, so whichever of the two major parties you choose, you get the same thing -- a politician in the pocket of the powerful, who does both good things and bad according to political expediency. They backed this up with some examples of very progressive measures and appointments under Reagan and Nixon. And comparing Clinton with Bush Sr., it looked like maybe they had a point. Most of my friends agreed with me that Nader was looking like a good choice.

However, while chatting with some friends just before the 1996 elections, I learned that one of my fellow inmates of the ivory tower was planning on voting for Clinton instead of Nader.

His reason?

"I'm not convinced that Nader would make a good president."

I was surprised by this argument. I paused to think about it for a second, blinked at my fellow student a couple of times in incomprehension, and said to him "Well, he's not going to win!" Duh!!! Hello?

Then I wondered if maybe I was being foolish to cast my vote for a candidate without even having considered the question of whether or not he would make a good president.

But, nonetheless, I cast my symbolic vote for Nader, and Clinton won, and we all continued on our merry way.

Over the next couple of years I moved further to the left, and went so far as to help organize a protest of Clinton's military actions in the Persian Gulf.

This should surprise anyone who knows me because I'm one of the most consensus-seeking, mild-mannered, non-confrontational people you will ever meet. Unsurprisingly, I was pretty upset by the incredibly negative reaction our tiny little campus rally generated even within the university community at Rutgers. That, combined with some ugly infighting among the various groups involved in organizing the thing -- plus the general weirdness of some of the Communist groups involved -- made the whole experience, well, traumatic is the only good word I can come up with for it.

It left me with a strong sense that political activism is vital to a functioning democracy, however I personally will never participate in it ever again.

The next election rolled around in 2000, and I didn't know much about Gore except that he appeared to be as much of a hawk as Clinton, if not more so. Continuing to support Nader seemed like a good way to push for radical change while (sort of) working within the system.

My number one issue was promoting a constitutional amendment for election reform. I'm not totally certain any of the candidates were on program with me, but Nader seemed to be the closest.

The framers of the constitution never meant for the president to be chosen in a national popular election. However, more than two hundred years of precedent have shown that essentially nobody agrees with the founding fathers on this point, so maybe -- just maybe, mind you -- it might be a good idea to take a critical look at the system they designed to prevent and replace the popular presidential election, namely the electoral college.

The state-by-state winner-take-all system (as opposed to, say, a general instant-runoff election) guarantees that for a big part of the population a vote for your favorite (third-party) candidate is essentially equivalent to a vote for your least-favorite (major-party) candidate. And what kind of democracy is that? Election reform is critical in order to allow alternative voices to organize and bring issues to the public stage without having to spend all of their time fighting the (accurate) accusation that they're kind of helping their worst enemies...

And while we're at it, why not throw in some campaign finance reform, just for fun?

At that point, I'd finished my Ph.D. but hadn't quite left academia -- I was living in university housing in Princeton. As I cast my vote for Nader, I knew there was essentially no chance that Gore would lose New Jersey. But as the results started coming in, I was astonished that Bush Jr. had made any kind of good showing at all anywhere.

I remembered Dan Quayle testing the waters of candidacy, and -- as far as I could tell -- he had been laughed off the stage for his ridiculous gaffes. Since Bush Jr. had demonstrated himself to be (if anything) even stupider, I figured he didn't have a snowball's chance in hell of getting elected. After all, I reasoned, even stupid people will say "Maybe for our leader we should choose someone who's not an idiot..."

Clearly I was spending way too much time in my ivory tower when I should have been taking a page from P. T. Barnum.

To be continued...

I need a vacation!!!

Lucky thing I'm on vacation!!! Hehe!!!

I've been in a funk lately, and this blog has been altogether too wholesome. I need to write some posts about sex and politics to shake things up.

Maybe I'll write a series of blog entries about porn. That would amuse me...

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Don't know much about the Middle East...

But I can't be accused of not trying to make an effort to learn, in my own way.

Here's my one story about it, which I posted to exmo-social in February of 2005:

It was 1996. Rabin had recently been assinated and hardliner Netanyahu had just been elected in Israel. I was a grad student at Rutgers.

One night I went out drinking and partying with two of my girlfriends, both Jewish, in the Arab quarter of New Brunswick, as we loved to do!! Those were the days!!!

It was an interesting experience for me to participate in a discussion of the recent Israeli election with these Jewish girls and their Arab (Lebanese Christian) boyfriends. We were all disappointed about recent events because of course we all wanted peace, and it looked like things were going in the wrong direction.

At one point one of the guys said something negative that to me seemed mild (I don't remember what it was), but one of my two girlfriends took offense and belligerently said "It's attitudes like those that make me glad he got elected!"

I remember thinking "OMG, I don't think you want to be saying that here..." It was night and we were in a closed cafe, just us three girls and the cafe's owners and their friends (all Arab guys) and we were all drunk!!!

My other girlfriend -- the one who was a grad student in Mathematics like me -- smoothed things over. She talked about how Jews and Arabs are really the same people, and should work together rather than letting the west gain advantage by playing them off each other. We all agreed with that, and peace was once again restored to our little microcosm.

Then we talked about something else!!!

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

I'm on the Mommy track!!!

On Sunday I saw a movie in the movie theater for the first time in five years. We took the boys to a matinee of Disney/Pixar's Cars.

I feel like some sort of crazy hermit for going so long without going out to a movie, but the thing is that since we don't have relatives in town, it's a big deal for my husband and me to free up an evening. Hiring a babysitter for the evening always seems like an extravagance that should be reserved for something important, like going out to a dinner party. And on those occasions when we're visiting our respective parents and get an evening of free babysitting, I always feel like I'd rather take the opportunity to go to dinner in a nice restaurant to have a conversation with my husband, instead of watching a movie with him.

I know that seems pretty boring since I see him all the time, but he's more cute and charming while having a relaxing dinner in a nice restaurant away from the daily grind. I suppose other parents have noticed a similar effect...

We picked Cars because the kids somehow already had all of the merchandising for this movie (books, toys, etc.) -- even though they'd never seen it -- and they were all excited about the characters and story. So we figured maybe they were finally old enough to behave themselves for the duration of a matinee, and we were right. Nico gave perhaps a little more running commentary on the film than would have been optimal, and Leo fell asleep before the end, but they did pretty well for their first try, and a great time was had by all. :D

It's kind of a cute movie, and the car racing scenes on the big screen were pretty exciting. I guess that's the new thing with all of the computer-generated movies these days -- the roller-coaster ride effect.

On a related note, we've got big changes in store for our little household in September.

Leo starts school this year (here in France, kids get three years of kindergarten, called the maternelle, starting at age three), which means that we no longer need a nanny during the day while we're at work.

It'll be sad for our kids to say goodbye to the nanny who has taken care of them for four years, but it's an inevitable step and better sooner than later since we really can't afford to keep this up. We're not quite in the same category as the people Rebecca works for, who are (to put it bluntly) loaded, and can afford to fly a nanny out to interview, etc. ;^)

At the same time, I'm going to have almost as big a change as Leo. Since little kids in France don't have school on Wednesdays, I've requested to cut back my hours to four days a week so I can do what a lot of French moms do and spend Wednesdays at home with my kids. So I'll continue to be a "Senior Software Engineer" (a.k.a code monkey) on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, and I'll be a homemaker on Wednesdays.

My additional plan is to try to write a Java blog on Wednesdays with the intention of getting a new edition of my Java book written. I signed the kids up for two hours of art and music classes on Wednesday mornings so I'd have time for my Java book, plus time to plan and prepare for fun afternoon activities with the kids, plus some time to do some minor home repairs to try to turn around the massive entropy we've got going on around here.

(Just the other day the kids managed to pull a toy-shelf off of the wall of their room. No matter how many times we told them not to pull and climb on it, they wouldn't believe us it was precarious until the finally succeeded in breaking it. These kids seem to believe that they're monkeys -- we really need to set up a jungle-gym for them or something...)

In keeping with my new intended focus on Java writing and mommying, I'm thinking of trying to cut back my regular blogging to one long piece per week and two or three short ones. We'll see how that goes.

I was telling my mom about my new schedule the other day, and she said that this homemaking day will fill up so quickly I won't know how I ever did without it. I replied that I already don't know how I'm doing without it -- I sincerely have no idea how other families with small kids where both parents work full-time keep their house from slowly (but surely) disintegrating...

Hopefully my new homemaking day will help.

Wish me luck in my new endeavor!!!