21 January 2010

A brief treatise on wanking

Some readers may recall that Melissa McEwan recently broke the stunning news that John Edwards is a wanker. But enough about Mr. Edwards, I'm interested in wanking. Not just generally, but also strictly for reals linguistically. Several folks in that thread asserted that “wanker” was a gendered insult. My initial reaction was also that, yeah, when guys are insulted by the implication that they'd rather masterbate than, say, talk honestly with loved ones about important matters, they are in fact wankers. When women do the same, they're, er..... and then nothin'.

I'm not that interested in building a strawwang here, so I'd like to point out that Liss, deeky, Merriam and/or Webster have already put forth that wankers (and wanking) are gender neutral. Good for them. But I digress. I can find less reputable dictionaries written by uninformed Americans that say otherwise. And in the end, isn't that what really matters?

Here are a few questions for y'all to discuss:
Is wanking a gendered term (in your estimation)?
What gender(s) of people do you hear referred to as wankers?
What's the frequency?

More importantly:
Are the terms that you can think of for masturbation typically gender-specific?
If so, are there more terms alloted to any particular gender?
Is there any gender that you hear more typically insult by implied masturbatory exploits?

And best of all:
What's the origin of these terms?
Are they descriptive?
When we say a masturbational term is gender-neutral, is it because the term has gender neutral roots, or is it a term that refers to one gender (e.g. guys) that people frequently expand to include references to folks outside of that gender?

I've always had the impression that there's a lot more talk about masturbation in males than in the rest of us, regardless of whether insult is implied. This also makes me think that there's a larger culturally understood vocabulary for male masturbation than for female masturbation. Both of these hypotheses may also explain why many of us perceive wanker as a gendered term.

My minimal research hasn't been of much use. I'm not the type of person to suggest that my partner pose such questions to women she meets at a gay bar. Regardless of what certain folks in the Psychology department at Northwestern think, this isn't a valid methodology for scientific research, so I'd never post the results here :cough: weird looks :cough:. A brief survey of fiction in our household yielded similarly tangential results. Maybe we should be reading Philip Roth. In any case, I thank the internets for turning smut into work. (If there are any academics out there that write off erotica on their tax returns, do let me know.)

To wrap up, academic jibberish, cultural erasure of female sexual agency and vague references to how testosterone and Darwin totally make for teh horny (for reals, in * totes objective science reality * ) explain all.

Most comments that refrain from mentioning Inuit people and snow are encouraged at this point.

08 January 2010

I make everything not about Mary Daly

My heartfelt condolences to friends of Mary Daly, and to the women everywhere who her work touched in a positive way.

I don't have a lot to say about Daly, but rather the reaction to it in the feminist blogosphere. Her work and its legacy is continuing source of harm to a lot of transsexual people, notably transsexual women. Daly's brand of feminism didn't take into account the realities of people of color, or heterosexual women, or a lot of people, really. Yet, she was an extraordinarily important figure in 20
th century feminism and inspired countless women to fight for social justice.

Various bloggers (as is not uncommon, I'm crushing on Sady at Tiger Beatdown) have framed Daly's legacy as a complicated and not entirely positive one. What's depressingly unsurprising is the amount and nature of the acrimony I've seen. Some commenters attacked Melissa McEwan for, well, I'm not exactly sure what, but their point seems to be that she wasn't being mean enough to Daly. Oh! Is anyone in the mood for transphobia? I've seen folks use Daly's passing as an opening to give their opinions about what's wrong with transsexual women (e.g., why Daly was right), tell us what to do with our bodies, imply that we don't know how to read, rehash what they think is wrong with the term “cis.” Also, you may have never heard that Leslie Feinberg makes stuff up (I don't get it, but I hear that a lot from folks who tend not to like trans people). And there were these trans people once who were really mean, so you know, all trans people are.... Bingo!!!!! Speaking of not racist, did you know that Audre Lorde was on the drugs?

Historiann makes a lot of really good points about the blogosphere's limitations, although I have to disagree with what I see as her implication that transsexual women are some sort of fringe group, and that we can't please all the people all the time, and.... Anyhow, the thread on that post contains a subset of the nasty things I mentioned above, verifying some of the issues that Historiann sees with discourse on internet.

So, like any good blogger, I'm going to discuss Mary Daly by changing the subject to something entirely different. Germaine Greer, goddess be praised, is still with us. She's also written some incredibly hateful things about transsexual women. I'm not talking about “back in the day”, either. As late as 2009, she's been publicly railing against us-- there's simply no way one can talk about Greer's transphobia as a historical phenomenon that contrasts with her recent private views. As the whole Rachel Padman outing shows, Greer hasn't just been interested in saying mean things about trans women-- she's actually had the follow through to actively hurt specific trans women. All of this, I don't like so much.

Speaking of which, last year I was exploring programs to involve the public in urban ecology and insect conservation. I occasionally do this sort of thing, on account of how it's somewhat related to my job, and my Ph. D. research, and I find it interesting and worthwhile. It turns out that there's this great group out in the UK, Buglife, that does really great things. I was impressed, and spend some time poking around their website. Eventually, Germaine Greer's name turned up. Multiple times. On account of how she's the president of the organization.

In my mind, Germaine Greer has done some things that are, well, I don't like the word unforgivable, and I'm not sure if it applies here, but it's certainly close. She's also done (and is doing) some really laudable things. Oh! Here's the kicker-- devil Greer and angel Greer are like, totally the same person! What do you do with a person like that? I've often wondered what would happen if I met Greer for cookies and tea. I mean, wow... what would we talk about? Would we be able to talk? Anyhow, we're not exactly neighbors, so that's an unlikely scenario.

Mary Daly and Germaine Greer symbolize a much larger issue that I face as a transsexual woman-- that of a world of people, including fundamentally good people (which frankly, is most of them) that say or do (or don't do) certain things that offend me. I know plenty of people who say great things about Daly or Greer, do I cut them out of my life for siding with “the enemy”? Should I stop listening to Le Tigre on account of the band's mention of Greer in Hot Topic? Do I owe Kathleen Hanna a letter?

This isn't just about famous feminists or the lineup at the Michigan Women's Music Festival. Literally every day, I find myself interacting with people, friends even, who are blinded by cissexual privilege. And yes, I am using the words literally, every, and day correctly-- heads it's salad for for dinner, tails you've said or done something that I've found deeply hurtful. Sometimes comments come out from people who don't know that I'm trans. Other times, acquaintances know that I'm trans, but say things about trans people that they don't intend to apply to me on account of how I'm totally not like other trans people. Every single day of my life I need to deal with people who I have a complicated relationship with-- including friends and loved ones who are really, truly, awesome people, yet don't entirely get the trans thing. Transphobia-- our society is soaking in it, and I can't simply choose to live in a alternate universe where this isn't the case. People are complicated. Life is complicated.

Which brings me back to Mary Daly, who as C. L. Minou points out in something she posted while I was working on this, is a complicated woman. Wave-particle duality comes to mind. Discussing Daly's life isn't just a matter of choosing between black or white. Daly doesn't simply present as a shade of gray. Her legacy can be both black and white. How one chooses to eulogize Daly depends on where one is coming from. While am I resolute in my conviction that it's important to acknowledge all of the harm Daly did to my community, I also respect that this does not prevent her from being a “good person”.

Discussing complicated people is difficult. However, if I can find I way to navigate society, and if physicists can find a way to explain light, I'd like to think we can have a respectful conversation about the legacy of Mary Daly. Thank you to each and every one of you who has attempted to make that conversation a reality.