A ranty, funny, dead-serious intersectional feminist blog.

Archive for December, 2014

Choosing My Words and Introducing Rosie’s Phenomenal Insult Machine!

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BULLSHITwordshurtbr

Trigger warning for discussion of multiple potentially difficult topics.

Sticks and stones may break my bones,
But words can never hurt me.

A few years ago, I posted to my Facebook page a wish that parents would stop (or at least stop and think before) repeating this to their children. Words can and do hurt, I pointed out, and parents argued, “Yes, but this is a tool that maybe empowers them. Something they can say back to a bully.”

Ok, but it seems to me that two things happen when we give them this “tool” to wield: 1. We lie to them (because those words do hurt!) and tell them to go forth and lie some more. 2. We we tell them that their feelings are invalid or abnormal or both, and that they should hide those feelings from others. So the “tool” is a weapon to help them feel/seem stronger and they must hide the hurt lest they be seen as (or heaven forbid feel) weak.

This doesn’t seem healthy to me. The people my age who grew up using this “tool” became adults who often believe that words don’t have power and that people who claim to be hurt by them are either attention-seekers or whiners or both. In other words, the people who claim harm are either lying (because words don’t hurt!) or they’re weak. But…

Words hurt.  

privilege (1)Another symptom of this belief that words are “just words” is the fact that the idea of using “politically correct” language is a Bad Thing even among some progressives. While the term itself was coined as a jab, the “PC” movement was really just an attempt to create awareness of the harm some words do to people on the margins of society. I remember people joking years ago after making an off-color comment that it wasn’t “PC,” half-heartedly apologizing for the potential offense while effectively dismissing any criticism preemptively. Now there seems to be a culture of intolerance of tolerance itself which has spawned (or partly spawned by?) a misguided backlash against a misunderstood idea. Whereas the point was to remind people who gave a shit how simple (if not always easy) it is to choose words that don’t cause harm, the people who complain about it the most are ones who seem to feel persecuted because they have to worry that if they say something people don’t like then consequences might result.

Dude, it doesn’t affect you, so you don’t give a shit. We get it. But crying “WORD POLICE!” and “FREE SPEECH!” every time someone calls you out just makes you look like a jackass (and kind of a whiny one, at that). Because this is Earth and on Earth (say it with me now)…

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As an activist, I have learned to choose my words more carefully partly because I have listened to marginalized people who express how though it might seem like a small thing to someone who doesn’t deal with it regularly, a single dehumanizing word is a drop in a bucket that collects those drops all day every day until that person feels like they are drowning in them. Recently a commenter on my Facebook page (one of the many dudes who stop by to tell me I’m doing my feminism wrong) said that focusing on microagressions like this is somehow detracting from work done in other areas. Yeah, no. Like drops in the bucket, these microaggressions become a part of a storm that beats people down until depression, anxiety, even PTSD result. When you consider that you could be a part of that storm or not, well…I’d rather not.

So many words we (we as individuals with varying levels of privilege and power, we as a society) use casually reinforce stereotypes or make insults of things that shouldn’t be insulting or trivialize things that are not trivial…the words we use to tell boys not to ever get caught behaving like girls and to practice strict masculinity at all costs (words which also tell all the girls who hear them that to be a girl is to be less-than); the words we use to tell girls and women that we are, as a group, unstable and prone to hysteria, not credible as witnesses to our own lives; the words we—cisbodied people—use to tell trans and nonbinary people that we don’t view them as quite “real” and that their role is comic relief, and the ones straight people use to tell gay people that who they love makes them abnormal; the words we—able-bodied and/or neurotypical people—use to dehumanize people with mental and physical differences, that paint them as everything from inspirational tragedies to animals to jokes; the words we—white people—use remind Black people that it is our privilege to go from birth to death with zero understanding of their experiences; the words we use to tell victims of sexual assault that if their attacker didn’t come out of a dark alley or if they drank or wore a short skirt, we will not believe them.

alisonrowan.com

alisonrowan.com

Words matter.

And so I am trying to be conscious of the words I choose and yes, it’s sometimes uncomfortable. Learning is hard. Growing pains. What’s the alternative? Ignorance. Stagnation. Regression. No thank you.

Still with me? Good. This is the fun part.

As a woman who is a feminist who is also on the Internet, words hurt me more than I let on, partly because of my social training and partly because I would rather laugh than rage or cry. So, as often as possible, I find a way to laugh or otherwise release some stress. Sometimes I make comics. Sometimes I write angry blog posts.

And sometimes (like since the baby anti-feminists found my Facebook page) I find that I need (ok, want—ok, no, need) to employ an insult in response to or about someone who is wrong on the Internet (usually some antifeminist with the privilege of being utterly unaware of their own privilege or a company or organization or website or…). When I do, I want that insult to hit only one target with zero collateral damage. I want an insult that sums up the problem behavior/person without participating in the dehumanization of marginalized people or perpetuating oppressive systems in any way.

In other words, I want a precision strike.

That’s why I created Rosie’s Phenomenal Precision Insult Machine. Behold:

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RPPIM takes terms from two columns and randomly combines them into one insult. You can choose how many insults to display in the upper right where it says “Amount.” Click “DO IT!” or refresh to generate new insults. I made this a while ago using RandomGen by Orteil and have shared it a few times, and friends have helpfully suggested additions. (If you’d like to do the same, use the comments or hit me up on Twitter.) It was mostly just a way to blow off steam and also a reminder that there are SO MANY alternatives to some of our go-to words and phrases. I love the fact that the people who tried it said it made them laugh and that they couldn’t stop clicking.

DO IT!

DO IT!

Words can do harm. But we’re not going to stop using them to describe bad behavior and the people doing bad things. So as long as that’s true, I’m going to make it a point to use fewer words that contribute to the problems in the world in the ways that contribute to those problems.

And I’m going to keep finding ways to laugh.


Note: As is often the case, I have made some post-publication edits for clarity.

PSA: Abusive commenters will be deleted and banned, so kindly piss off in advance. (Comment Policy)


Make Me a Sammich: The Comic #4 – Cubs at the Door

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Yep, they’ve found me. Tiny MRA larvae. They’re not nearly as cute as baby slugs. ;)


My Birthday Wish

Screen Shot 2014-12-16 at 11.57.25 AMIn a few days, I will celebrate my 50th year on this planet. I haven’t done as much as I guess I hoped I would by now. I have, on the other hand, survived a lot. And that’s why it’s especially important to me to make a big deal out of this nice, round number. It reminds me that I’ve reached an age my depression and anxiety made me fear I’d never see. It is a way of giving myself some credit for making it through and not giving up—for continuing to strive for wellness and to reach for a place where I will once again feel satisfaction with the way I am using the days I have on the earth. I’m not there yet, but I know that I deserve that, so I’m celebrating the fact that I can celebrate myself. And not insignificantly, I’m celebrating the fact that two years after a major trauma, I am able to celebrate my birthday again. This time of year will likely carry some weight of grief for some years, but I am taking this day back.

My birthday wish is honestly too big for words to encompass. The only word that remotely comes close to the thing I would most like to see in this world is LOVE. I have no wish for romantic love in my life—another thing to celebrate, I suppose, since every year up until age 41, I wished for that on every star and birthday candle and dandelion seed and though it was trauma that brought me to this place, I can focus my wishes elsewhere. The love I’m talking about is a more universal thing: THE thing that so many prophets and philosophers and poets have been trying to tell us all along. The thing that is very likely our only hope.

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Big, right? It feels unattainable, but I don’t think it is. I believe that if we keep this word in our minds like a mantra, then it can’t help but make bad situations better. So my wish is that everyone reading this remember that word when anger and frustration flares up, not as a reminder to love your enemies necessarily, just as a reminder of what’s inside you that needs expressing out into the world and of what’s important—really important.

This is not the post I set out to write. I came here (inspired by a friend—thanks Britni!) to tell you about a few people and organizations I care about and suggest that you consider them in your holiday giving. But I asked myself what I truly wished for and wanted to answer authentically, so here we are, as close as I could come to putting my wish in a word: LOVE. A big wish, but a small ask. Keep it in your mind and in your heart.

AND if you could show some love to these people and organizations, I would be grateful. Let me know in the comments or on Facebook or Twitter, and I’ll thank you publicly. (Do let me know if you don’t want that!) Give whatever you can afford, though I do like the numbers $5 and $50, for some reason. And if you can’t give, please consider sharing this post.

egarnerfamilyEric Garner Family

Eric Garner’s family lost a father and a husband when a police officer used an illegal chokehold, killing Garner on video as he told officers again and again, “I can’t breathe.” The Garner family’s lives have been shattered.  You can help ease the financial burden on the family by donating to this fundraiser (I have committed to $5 a month for 2015):

Donate to Eric Garner Family


Ferguson Organizers Johnetta Elzie & DeRay McKesson

Johnetta and DeRay are Ferguson organizers, publishers of the Ferguson newsletter, and all-around badasses. You can help them stay fed and housed and support the work they do by donating to their PayPal account.

Donate to Ferguson Organizers


Brianna Wu is Making Games

Screen Shot 2014-12-19 at 9.28.42 AMBrianna Wu is one of several women in the video games industry that has been targeted for relentless harassment by the scum that is GamerGate (all together now: “Actually, it’s about ethics in video games journalism!”). From her Patreon page:

I got into videogames to make video games – but right now the majority of my workweek is wasted on fending off BS from people harassing me.

Wu goes on to describe some of this harassment, which continues to be brutal. These people used her dead dog as a prop with which to torture her and her husband, Frank Wu. Brianna Wu is asking for help:

If you appreciate what I do, please chip in so I can hire some help with the Women in Tech advocacy I do. I need someone to help me with the medial parts of dealing with my attackers so I can focus on my work, making and shipping games.

Donate to Brianna Wu


Joyful Heart Foundation

*Trigger Warning for discussion of rape and sexual assault*

As some of you know, I’m pursuing closure in a thirty-year-old rape case. I have contacted a number of organizations that purport to help people like me, and Joyful Heart Foundation is the only one that reached out and offered to speak with me, hear my story, and provide knowledge and assistance as I navigate the legal system. I’m so grateful for that support.

Joyful Heart began as a dream of helping sexual assault survivors heal and reclaim a sense of hope, possibility and joy in their lives. We have evolved into a national organization that is paving the way for integrating holistic approaches in treating trauma, transforming the way people think about, talk about and behave around the issues of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse, and advancing public policies to ensure justice for survivors.”

Donate to Joyful Heart Foundation


Thanks for reading and helping me celebrate my 50th birthday.

Love,

Rosie


Dear John: My 20-Year Grudge Against TMBG’s John Flansburgh

Aw, but he likes cats...

Aw, but he likes cats… 

Dear John,

It was 1994 or so, spring maybe, and I was on my way to work at Electronic Arts in San Mateo, CA. I must have been listening to the rock station rather than my usual NPR, because the dude on the radio announced that They Might Be Giants—one of my very favorite bands of all time—was giving a free concert that day in Golden Gate Park in nearby San Francisco.

It wasn’t even a question. I got to work, made my apologies, and drove to my ten-year-old daughter’s school, signing her out for the day so she could see TMBG live.

Arriving at the park, we spotted you, Big John—John Flansburgh—right away. You stood a few yards away from a rope line near the stage talking with some guy. My daughter was utterly beside herself. She stood at that rope line waving, hoping to catch your eye. She waved and waved and I stood there with her watching as you finally…well, “condescended” is a kind word. You…condescended to wave to her, which sent her over the moon. She loved the concert. She had a great day.

Here’s what I saw: My little girl standing there waving, smiling, thrilled to see you and you, John, turning to us with a look on your face that said, “I can’t fucking BELIEVE I have to do this,” an eye-roll that most certainly offered you a view of your own BRAIN, and a wave that couldn’t have been more exaggerated if you’d thrown your shoulder out of socket and could not possibly have communicated more disdain for this tiny fan.

My daughter turns 33 next year. She rolls her eyes at me when I tell this story. She was thrilled that you waved at her. She was too young then to understand that you were not saying hello but saying, “Jesus, kid, would you fuck off, already?” And so, it didn’t hurt her the way it hurt me.

20 years later, telling this story to someone I know, I realize that it still hurts a lot.

I have friends who tease me about my “grudge.” But dude, you were mean to a kid. My kid. That’s not the kind of thing a mother gets over. And also? I loved your fucking band. I bought every album and went to every show I could. I took my child out of school to see you that day because she loved you, too, and I thought it would be a good experience for her. Thankfully, it was. Thankfully, she wasn’t hurt by your behavior. But she could have been, and I think about other kids who came to see you. Were you mean to them, too?

I like to think that this was a one-time thing. I like to think that you later realized what a jackass you’d been and felt so guilty that you started making kids’ records to atone for your behavior that day. I know that’s ridiculous, but that little fantasy has given me some measure of comfort.

The more likely truth is that you were probably just exactly the egotistical jackass you seemed to be. I wonder if you still are.

My daughter’s love for music, partly fueled by listening to your records, grew into a talent. She’s an amazing singer and songwriter, and she and I were in a band together for a few years. This month we’ll sing together at my 50th birthday party.

Though you kinda broke my heart that day in 1994, I’m just glad you didn’t break hers.

All of this illustrates a few things: my ability to hold a grudge for 20 years; your capacity for being an utter dickwad to fans; the fallibility of our heroes and our tendency to put humans on pedestals…but I guess more than anything it’s about a mother’s love for her child.

You don’t fucking mess with my kid.

I have failed her in so many ways, so maybe telling stories like this one (you’re not the only person I’m still angry with over their treatment of her, in case that makes you feel any better) is just my way of proving to myself that despite all of my failures as a mother, I am a mother who loves her child fiercely.

Dear John: you owe my daughter an apology. I owe her a few, too, but that’s between us. If you and I ever meet, I’ll tell you this story and ask you to extend that apology. I don’t really expect that you’ll comply, but I’d do anything for my kid. Even write a silly blog post about a grudge I’ve been holding for two decades.


Make Me a Sammich: The Comic #3 – Content Creation with Clymer

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