Saturday, January 30, 2010

On Comments

Hello my lovelies,

The topic of comment moderation has come up in a recent comment thread and we here at the Barn have been having moonlit sessions to discuss how we feel about the comments we have gathered so far.

The consensus we have arrived at is that the take-down of comments can be instructive to some readers of the blog (and we want to make clear that we are engaging trolls to further our agenda, and not to feed them). Until the volume of troll-type comments becomes overwhelming, we will continue to let certain distasteful comments stand (with take-downs from us, natch), with a few exceptions that may or may not receive 'special' treatment from us. Namely:
(1)Victim-blaming will not be tolerated,

(2) There are no circumstances under which exploitation/oppression of any form is OK. Not even when it's done to a majority group. Do not try and explain why *this* time is different,

(3) If you're here to tell us that we live in a post-feminist/racist/ablist/enter-oppression-here world, you will suffer the wrath of a deleted comment and the collective hooves, nails, beaks and teeth of all the animals here at the Barn,

(4) Mansplaining stuff to our poor femininny minds, especially to suggest that our emotions are either misplaced, or should be quelled, will not be well received.
This is a blog, not a free-for-all. Don't come to us whining about your right to free speech if your comment is deleted for the above, or other reasons. Hateful and/or demeaning speech is not entitled to expression on this platform.

We basically recognise and respect that all contributors of the Barn have their personal threshold of tolerance and refined rules of engagement. Ultimately, the individual writer has every right to exercise executive power to respond and/or moderate how ever zie deems fit for hir respective posts.

Please let us know in comments how you feel about this stand and what you would like us to do differently (if there are things you would like us to do differently). We aim to make this an enjoyable place where sparkling discussions can occur and consciousnesses can be raised, and you, dear readers and commenters, are the only way through which we can achieve that. So your input truly is valuable to us.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

This does not help

In fact, it's downright oppressive:
A French parliamentary committee has recommended a partial ban on women wearing Islamic face veils.

The committee's near 200-page report has proposed a ban in hospitals, schools, government offices and on public transport.

It also recommends that anyone showing visible signs of "radical religious practice" should be refused residence cards and citizenship.
This is allegedly in the service of gender equality, but in reality it's simple xenophobia on the part of the French non-Muslim majority.

Don't get me wrong. The social dictate that women must cover their entire bodies and faces, lest a glimpse of their earlobes inflame uncontrollable male lust, is absurd, oppressive, and insulting to women and men both. But the same is true of the social dictate that women must wear make-up or high heels to be presentable, and nobody for a moment entertains the idea that banning their use in public would further gender equality.

If women are being coerced by family members to wear the veil, this ban is simply further limiting the ability of these women to enjoy any independent public existence. Worse, it could be an excuse for those same family members to place even more severe restrictions on their freedom of movement.

If women are choosing to wear the veil because they personally subscribe to the belief that their bodies must not be exposed, such a ban is tantamount to punishing women for observing her own conscientiously chosen form of religious dress. Absent clear danger to others (for example, if the clothing in question required knives to be carried), an individual's choice to observe their religious beliefs through their clothing is not a matter for state interference.

All kinds of people express all kinds of contempt for women. Some of them even get to write in national newspapers or be celebrated statesmen. If the veil is also often used to express contempt for women, the solution isn't to punish the very women on whom the main burden of that contempt falls.

This proposed ban doesn't promote gender equality. It really isn't about women's well-being at all. It's about using Muslim women as pawns to express hostility to Islam.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

What's shit for the goose

Some anti-feminists like to point out bad things that happen to men, in service of the delusion that this invalidates the feminist contention that women should be treated like human beings.

This is a profoundly stupid argument. If you'll excuse my fowl mouth: what's shit for the goose is also shit for the gander. If certain gender norms currently lead to acid being thrown on women's faces, the cause of equality is not served by throwing acid on men's faces. Likewise, being a jerk to women who are sexually assaulted does not suddenly become acceptable behaviour if you decide to be a jerk to men who are sexually assaulted, too.

Feminists present analysis in gendered terms because at the moment, many people invoke "because she is a woman" or "because he is a man" as a justification for the ill-treatment of human beings. Since this invocation is so widespread, and so commonly accepted, it stands to reason that attacking this bullshit gendered reasoning helps to undercut the social illusions that sustain social environments friendly to ill-treatment.

But there are kinds of ill-treatment that are all too ready to find all kinds of homes. When society hurts men in a way that it more typically reserves for hurting women, that doesn't make the wrong against women any better. It just means more people are getting hurt.

And given how lucrative it can be for companies to promote insecurity so as to peddle fake and possibly dangerous "cures" to non-existent "problems", it should be no surprise that men are increasingly being taught to hate their bodies in a way traditionally reserved primarily for women.

Make no mistake about it, men, sexual objectification shouldn't be seen as pro-you but anti-women. Objectification hurts everyone. It's pro-nastiness and anti-human. We should rejoice about the extent to which you escape it, and work to extend that comfort and confidence to women too.

The sad example of Franklin Heng, who died after undergoing liposuction, is one particularly graphic example of what can be at stake.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Blog For Choice: Trust Women

I remember being about seven and asking my mum if abortion counted as murder. I don't know where I had first heard the word abortion and was probably really fuzzy about the concept (as you would imagine a seven year old to be) but I know the question was sparked due to a Sunday School lesson on the Ten Commandments. The Sunday school teacher was trying to impress upon us that even if we didn't think we were sinning, we well could be. She used the typical examples of a white lie, she asked if we ever wanted a friend's stickers (OMG guys, do you remember sticker books in primary school? No? Just me?) really badly, she even asked what we did with the rest of our Sundays once we got home from church (although she never really explained what keeping the Sabbath holy entailed...just implied heavily that watching TV wasn't part of the deal).

So it got me thinking. Which other commandments could be violated by otherwise well-meaning people? What about the one about not killing - does it extend to animals? Does it extend to plants? I started thinking about whether it was ambiguous when it came to people, and that must be how I chanced upon abortion.

My mother lit up like a tree on Christmas and enthusiastically took the opportunity to explain that yes, abortion is murder. That god (it was capital-G God back then) was clear on not killing people, and babies even in the mother's womb were people. Not satisfied that her answer was comprehensive enough, she then started telling me about the IUD and how it prevents tiny babies from holding on to the mother's womb (no, seriously, she even mimed grippy motions with her hands at this point) and how that was abortion too. She told me that there was a couple at church (a well-respected couple that I admired quite a bit at the time) who used the device, and that's why their only son was in a wheelchair - as punishment for all the little babies they killed with the IUD.

I'm gonna pause here for a bit so you can appreciate just how fucked up that was.

As amazingly ableist and scientifically inaccurate that was, it was my first introduction to abortion (and contraception, really). I understood that it was wrong, and that there were no circumstances under which it was ok. My mom took the opportunity over the years to use abortion as a method of slut shaming. She told me about how my dad's colleague's wife procured an abortion because the due date conflicted with a planned trip to Japan (and why those godless people were cursed with only one child). She told me tales of classmates who had abortions every other month while bitterly discussing how they were popular anyway and were quite mean to her. She told me these stories with an aim to impress upon me how the world has a dirty, unseemly underbelly, how even people who appear good HAVE ABORTIONS and therefore ARE MURDERERS. Sort of like this:

Slowly, after each of these narratives, after each consequence and moral was revealed, I began to realize that underpinning all of these fables was the throbbing drumbeat that to be a good woman all the choices you make must be externally transparent - that onlookers will be judging you for what you do and blaming your misfortunes on your transgressions. And the worst, the absolute worst action you can do is to kill your "baby" because there is nothing in the world that can justify MURDER. Because there is no one in the world who would give you the benefit of the doubt, who trusts you to make the right decision for yourself and your family. Because if you have an abortion, you are automatically discredited as an active, responsible agent.

Because the world at large does not trust women.

I trust women. I trust that decisions are not made lightly. I trust that women are the only people who can know everything about their individual circumstance and with the information they have can be trusted to make the best call for their lives at the time they have to make it. I trust women and that's why despite my mother's best efforts, I am pro-choice.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The revolution will not apologise

With apologies to Gil Scott-Heron.

So Dana Lam, President of AWARE, has written to the Straits Times to address the fetid boghole of misogyny that is the OverEasy drinks-for-breasts promotion.

Quoth Ms Lam:
There is nothing free about letting a room of people gawk at your breasts. Even if a woman is willing to pay the personal price of loss of dignity, there is still a cost suffered by other women.

The women who participated have contributed to the objectification of women, to reducing a woman's value to her breast size, and have helped reinforce the belief among men that this is not only acceptable, but welcome. Staging this event in itself is extremely distasteful.

Just because sexism is profitable does not make it right. For the organisers to say the event was merely for 'good fun and not sexist or sleazy' is insincere. The indignity is suffered only by one gender.

It is unfortunate there are women willing to make this choice so light-heartedly. The individual woman may view her participation as an act of empowerment. Perhaps she feels she should use whatever assets she has to secure favours for herself. In our sex- and youth-obsessed culture, it is not surprising some women would grow to be so cynical.

Yes, women have the right to choose, but individual choices are made in a social context. And in our current social context, women have a much harder time to be esteemed as individuals above and beyond their value as sex objects.

This event perpetuates the notion of women as sex objects and makes it that much more difficult for each woman who wants to be valued for her character and contribution, rather than how she stacks up to a distorted image of the ideal body.

The personal choice (of the participants) and the private choice (of the corporation) has had a detrimental social impact.

Choice works both ways. The organisers may have packed their venue that evening, but they may well have lost future business at OverEasy and their sister establishments.
I have no Magical bone to pick with Ms Lam's letter, but something that it reflects has got me rubbing my wattle with worry.

To wit: so much of the conversation going on here is about the women who may obtain a drink at OverEasy, and whether they are harming or "denigrating" themselves or other women. Ms Lam has clearly - correctly - intuited that defenders of misogyny will fall over themselves to sound the battlecry of Choice, and has made a strategic decision to pre-emptively focus attention on this argument.

Your resident feathered friend is in full agreement that women may participate in promoting misogyny, and that misogyny should be criticised regardless of from whom it issues. I recognise, you will recall, that anyone living in a misogynist society, which is to say all of us, will participate in promoting misogyny, with varying levels of frequency and wilfulness.

But. Quiz time! Which of these is a shittier thing to do, and by how much?

A. Staging an event to financially profit off promoting the idea that women, and our breasts, exist to be Sexxxay for the sexual titillation of others.

B. Responding to a lifetime of being told "Be Sexxxay or you're worth nothing - less than nothing, you're a waste of space" by... well, surprise, being Sexxxay, and getting a free drink to boot.

It is a sad indictment of Singapore's attitudes to women that so much of Ms Lam's letter has to focus on item B, and seems almost to frame them as equal.

By objectifying women for a buck (and let's face it, probably also because they rather enjoy treating women as playthings), OverEasy are assholes. The minor fact that some handful of women will overlook their assholedom to get a free drink is of so little relevance that I'm surprised it hasn't upped and moved to Antarctica already, to spend several lonely decades contemplating my penguin cousins. The sooner we can unapologetically critique assholes who hurt women, without taking seriously any excuse that women are "asking for it", the better.

The fallacy of scoffing at first steps

Some days it seems that either the Straits Times has a schizophrenic editorial policy, or there are internal conflicts going on in the newsroom. Today's paper contained one opinion column defending the preservation of race categories in Singapore, and a news item reporting a study which noted a decline in discriminatory job advertisements.

A bit of background on race categories in Singapore. All Singapore citizens and permanent residents are assigned a race on their national identity card which falls into one of the discrete groups: Chinese, Malay, Indian, Eurasian or Other. These categories are used to administer state policies such as racial quotas in public housing, ostensibly to "promote the mixing of households of different races and income groups in our estates" (source) but which some people reckon are to prevent the formation of racially-aligned voting blocs.

Recently it was announced that the government would allow parents who are themselves assigned different race categories to choose a double-barrelled race category for their children. However, Andy Ho seems to think that
Because there are no legal categories of race in Brazil, there are also no laws to combat racial discrimination which undeniably exists. By contrast, official practice in Singapore leads to bright-lines among the races. But the very same laws that inscribe these lines also make it possible to recognise and address racially discriminatory practices.

In this way, having legal categories of race may not be so pernicious after all.
Note that the new policy merely allows parents to append one additional race category in their children's statutory documents. It does not refine the existing category to include other choices, nor does it abolish the categories altogether. This first policy change in many years has generated quite a lot of discussion about race in Singapore, during which abolition of race categories has been mooted. But Andy Ho seems to think such talk is hopelessly naive, and that the fact that race as a social construct will always exist in our minds is a reason to not even bother with trying to make the first baby steps towards abolishing categories that are often inaccurate, divisive or irrelevant.

A few pages further into the paper, in the Home section, Rachel Chang reports that the Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices (Tafep), has found that 'only 1 per cent specified race, age, gender or other preferred characteristics, without explaining why these were necessary for the job', down from 19.7% in 2006. Tafep attributes this to "heightened awareness among employers of the need to recruit on a fair, meritorious basis" and "newspapers which run the classified ads agree[ing] to vet them according to Tafep guidelines." Tafep co-chairman Halimah Yacob also noted that "most complaints over unfair treatment continue to be from [older workers]."

Perhaps this is what Andy Ho is referring to when he extols race categories that "make it possible to recognise and address racially discriminatory practices"? Unfortunately, Singapore has no workplace discrimination laws. Tafep only issues guidelines, not gazetted regulations. When Tafep is notified of unfair employment practices, it can only "approach the employer to assist them in their adoption of fair employment practices especially if it concerns discrimination based on age, race, gender, religion, family status or disability." (Source here, emboldening mine.) Even if recruitment ads are nominally non-specific about race, age, gender or other characteristics, discrimination still rears its head during the interview process, in the course of work, during salary reviews, and even in the decision to fire someone.

But I'm falling into the same trap as Andy Ho. The law is not perfect, but Tafep does important work in acknowledging that workplace discrimination exists, that we should be aware of it, and that both employers and employees should have help and resources to combat it.

The abolition of categories on paper does not automatically and magically lead to the abolition of discriminatory practices and behaviour. But it's a first step, and we should not scoff at that.


If you feel that you have experienced discrimination at work in Singapore, you can contact Tafep at 6838 0969 or e-mail The Tafep website also has some resources published in English and Chinese.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Skin Lightening Creams Work - But They Also Cause Permanent Damage

Pam Spaulding from Pandagon has a piece up that delves deeply into the phenomenon of skin-lightening creams, the racial politics behind it and the quite terrible consequences for long-term users of such products. A quote:
This whole melanin thing is quite complicated, and cultures around the world are obsessed with it, as human beings follow natural inclinations to categorize and organize things, including people. The assignment of other humans into easy visual cubbyholes by those in dominant cultures makes it infinitely easier to give political and economic power to (or withhold from) whole classes of people. It all spirals down into a pitiful morass of bigotry and insane systems of repression that are also accepted and perpetuated within those populations deemed racially "inferior."
Her jumping off point is a New York Times article that is also well worth a read. We have discussed this here before in a piece by the Poultrygeist wherein a reader asks about the efficacy of such creams (qualifying zirself for my patented missing the point award, but that's a story for another day).

Saturday, January 16, 2010

OverEasy: "Let's reduce women to their body parts"

I am late in putting this up, but our sharp reader, Dysgrace, wrote in to highlight a rather questionable event organised by a popular (so I hear) watering hole occurring this evening:

(For a larger version, see the original, or our copy.)
Dysgrace puts it to us simply:
feast your eyes on this brilliant idea from OverEasy. it's one of those 'let's reduce women to their body parts, objectify them, and then compare them while pretending to celebrate all body types' things. hah. in one's cups. more like poisoned chalice, can?
The animals on this farm are undecided on what sorts of action can be taken against OverEasy for their lousy marketing. While the common vote is to boycott the establishment, Angry Alpaca keenly reminds everyone that OverEasy is linked to a whole chain of other joints, such as The Loof, Timbre chain, Butter Factory Club, etc, so if we wish to hurt them monetarily, alcoholics out there may not have many popular options to quench their thirst.

So I recommend Cat in the Cream's strategy instead: bring your double-d friends there, and drink them out of profiteering. Building on that, you can also give them a good earful AFTER you get your bottle. Please feel free to puke all over the establishment as well.

(H/T Dysgrace.)

ETA - Complaining Cow informs me that I got it wrong. Lo and Behold Group runs OverEasy, and they're primarily in charge of Loof, OverEasy (in partnership with Butter Factory), White Rabbit and The Shack (previously KM8). (More info here.) I apologise for any confusion caused. (Sorry, Timbre!)

Friday, January 15, 2010

Do something: Earthquake Haiti

(Via MrBrown)

Seriously, Singapore government, I know you've had a tough year in 2009, what with dipping into the reserves and everything. But a sum of US$50,000 for Haiti and the victims of the earthquake?


As MrBrown succinctly puts it:

100,000 estimated deaths. US$50,000 from our generous government. That's 50 cents for every dead soul. US currency, ok? So it is almost a dollar Singapore money for the Haitians.

Why ah? GIC lost too many hundreds of millions in that Manhattan project ah?

I have two words for you, Singapore Gahmen: Cheap Bastards.

So to make up for our government's pitiful donation, please donate donate donate. (And preferably something more than our government's 'generous' donation of S$1 per person.)

One of the channels to do so is through the Singapore Red Cross, which has said that it will channel any donations made to help the quake victims in Haiti to the International Federation of Red Cross Red Crescent Societies.

According to their website, donations can be made via:

1) Cheque donations
Donations via cheque can be sent to the Singapore Red Cross @ 15 Penang Lane, Singapore 238486. Please include name, contact details and “Earthquake Haiti” at the back of the cheque.

2) Walk-in donations
Donors may make their cash/cheque donations at the Singapore Red Cross @ 15 Penang Lane (near Dhoby Gaut MRT Station) during its office hours, Mondays to Fridays from 9am to 5.30pm.

For more information on the IFRC relief operation on Earthquake Haiti, please visit or the SRC at

(If you have more information on other charities that are working in Haiti now, please post it in the comments below and I will update it on the blog.)

And here's a song about Haiti by the awesum Arcade Fire. Régine Chassagne, who sings in this song, has roots in Haiti as her family migrated to Canada during the dictatorship of Jean-Claude Duvalier.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

"the world becomes a nastier place for women"

In case you missed the memo, a Straits Times journalist wrote a damn fine piece the other day about the horrendous New Year's Eve party assault case that was caught on video and spread virally. There's not much else I wish to add to the piece substantively, but here's the important part: (read the whole piece after the cut; emboldening mine)
Then there are the comments on the video. I will paraphrase the remarks because some of the comments do not bear repeating in a family paper. They are along the lines of 'She deserved it', 'She was drunk' and 'She was wearing so little, she was asking for it'.

Worst of all: 'She looked like she was enjoying it.'

I thought I was living in a civilised and enlightened society which, by and large, respects women, and that such ludicrous reasoning was behind us. Clearly not.

A woman wearing a halter top and a short skirt walking down a dark street gets molested. Was she foolish? Maybe. Did she lack awareness? Yes. Did she deserve to be molested or raped? No.

Just suppose a man wearing a flashy watch is robbed while walking down a dark street. Would people say that he deserved his comeuppance?

No one deserves to be assaulted, sexually or otherwise.

The victim has been accused of being an attention-seeker. Deejay Daniel Ong, who was hosting the party, was quoted as saying that she mooned the crowd by showing her buttocks and dirty-danced with someone.

The implication, again, is that she was asking for it. She was a slut. Good girls do not dance like that. Good girls stay home.

Those who blame the victim are putting forth a poor argument that is dressed up with huge lashings of misogyny.

No, she was not asking for it. She was clubbing and she might have been behaving provocatively, but she was a human being with rights that need to be respected.


Each time somebody says a woman behaves like a whore and, hence, deserves something bad to happen to her, we take a step backwards. And the world becomes a nastier place for women.
It was a real pity that the editor decided to solicit at the end of the article if readers felt that the woman deserves it.


And there's also the question of why this article appeared in the Life! section of the papers--am I supposed to understand this to be casually entertaining? A piece on Avatar's White Messiah syndrome appeared day before yesterday in the main section of the newspaper, but a discussion on sexual assault gets lifestyle, entertainment and the arts treatment.


And before anyone starts that 'no, she's (maybe) a trans-woman', well, here's a dude, definitiv with an awesome response to that--yeah, sexual assault prevention doesn't reside only in the domain of family-busting feminists and cis-people, yo:
I am still angry after 2 days!!! Who cares about her sexuality, or what race the molesters are!!! Fucking STOMP is spilling over with uneducated, illogical boors. She doesn't deserve jackshit, and molesters are molesters, what ever their race. Transsexuals have feelings. My blue balls might disagree vehemently and hurt me in the process, but I've had chicks say "stop" after hot and heavy foreplay, and every time with much reluctance I relent and go sulk in a corner. It's not even about the fear of rape accusations!!! Don't people have respect for each other any more??? Even if she was a cockteaser when girls say stop, STOP!!! (Sauce.)
I'm too angry (and late for barn duties) to issue Awesome Possum awards, but much thanks to Adeline Chia and definitiv (of course, Molly Meek too) for lending some much needed light on this.

(Thanks to reader Beka for highlighting the matter.)


Saturday, January 9, 2010

2010 Asia Internet MSM Sex Survey

2010 Asia Internet MSM Sex Survey.

Survey closes: 28 February 2010.

Dr Stuart Koe of is now conducting an internet survey on sexual behaviour of gay men (or any man who has sex with other men), transgender and intersex people in Asia. The study seeks to uncover a a better understanding of "social and behavioral factors with regards to HIV knowledge, attitudes, prevention, testing, care and support", which is essential to better address the spread of HIV and other STIs.

The test is available in various languages (English, 简体中文, 台灣繁體, 香港繁體, Tagalog, ภาษาไทย, Bahasa Indonesia, Bahasa Malaysia, 日本語, हिन्दी).

This badly drawn gay pig has already taken the test, and I can assure everyone that it's painless. (And unsurprisingly fast for me because I don't really get out of the barn at all to meet other pigs.) And the results of the survey can be availed to you if you sign up for them.

Do pass this along to your friends who fit the sample descriptives.

Public service announcement from AWARE: "It's your space!"

(AWARE ZoCard, circa 2002.)
It's your space!

Public contact cannot be avoided but sometimes you may feel someone has come too close and made you angry, or upset you by saying something about your body or touching you without permission. It's a criminal act that only you can stop.

[On the back of the card] If you have been a victim of sexual harassment, or you know someone who may be a victim, we're here to help. You have the right to say no. Call us at 1800 774 5935. [Phone number still functional.]
It's 2010! It's real shitty that any of this has to be repeated at all, or even ever to begin with.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Free Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga

In Malawi, Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga are being held in custody and face criminal charges for having the temerity to celebrate their engagement to each other.

It's a little unclear to me why this is being widely reported as a gay marriage when one news source quotes Chimbalanga as saying "I am a woman". But whether this is simply regular flavour homophobia (prosecuting two men for a relationship with each other) or a transphobia-homophobia double-whammy (wrongly gendering a trans woman as a man, and then prosecuting her and her male partner for engaging in a "gay" relationship with each other), it's completely unjustifiable. They should both be freed at once.

British campaigner Peter Tatchell comments:
"Malawi's anti-gay laws were not devised by Malawians. They were devised in London in the nineteenth century and imposed on the people of Malawi by the British colonisers and their army of occupation. Before the British came and conquered Malawi, there were no laws against homosexuality. These laws are a foreign imposition. They are not African laws," said Mr Tatchell.
Sounds familiar.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010



Yeah, okay, the CGI was amazing, and on the whole it was entertaining enough.

But now that we've got that out of the way...

Much of the film was distractingly silly, in a way that relates directly to its political failings. A great deal has been said, very masterfully (especially by Annalee Newitz), about the problematic colonial 'saviour' fantasy playing out in Avatar, so I went into the cinema with probing Magical beak at the ready.

(To dispose of this objection quickly: the film features human beings from a corporation backed by armed might who seek, out of a profit motive, to relocate a racially distinct indigenous population with cultural features strongly recalling stereotypical representations of native Americans, namely war paint, 'feathered' clothing, and bows and arrows. If anyone still wishes to argue the film-makers don't specifically invoke colonialism - an intertwined complex of racism, militarism and capitalism - please do so elsewhere.)

The weakest aspect of the story is that Jake Sully, who initially comes as part of the invading force, is apparently divinely ordained as The One who will lead the indigenous people, the Na'vi, to success in their struggle against humanity. Two issues with his portrayal really leap off the screen.

One is the astounding, untenable ignorance with which he approaches the Na'vi and their planet, Pandora. This just defies belief: he goes wandering into a completely alien forest, in a completely alien body, without the faintest clue about the completely alien perils he might face. He wanders off mid-mission to poke completely alien plants that - for all he knows - might eat or poison him; and when faced with gargantuan and dangerous animals he hasn't the foggiest how he ought to respond to them, so he shoots randomly. Despite the enormous expense they have incurred to transport him to Pandora and kit him out in this new blue body, none of his employers sees fit to ground him in even the most basic facts about the hostile environment in which they want him to operate, nor does he - apparently entirely lacking in curiosity - ask.

This is the guy your amazing life-force-embodying-tree-goddess, allegedly calling upon the cumulative wisdom of thousands of sentient beings of times past, chooses to lead the people? ...and specifically, this guy is chosen over the careful, respectful, interested scientist Grace Augustine, for inclusion in the Na'vi community?

Second, the inevitable counterpart to Jake Sully's ignorance is the collapse of the Na'vi into a cartoonish bunch of mystics. There's a lot to be said for the attractiveness of their culture, like the respect for life and biodiversity, but it all becomes undermined by the film-maker's Super Duper Top Priority, i.e. that Jake Sully must be the one to lead them to victory. Quite aside from the fact that at the time of his selection by the floating seeds he appears to be totally, wilfully clueless, there's also the manner in which his eventual leadership is established. Are the film-makers genuinely telling us that in a society where mastering the flying Toruk brings pre-eminence, no one for generations other than this n00b has successfully completed the relatively simple task of flying above it and dropping onto its back? Moreover, the story implies that the Na'vi are so utterly simple-minded that they'll immediately accept not just the help but the leadership of a traitor whose deception and betrayal have just destroyed their sacred home, just so long as he turns up on the back of this red dragon.

This ridiculousness, again, has its source in the imperative that this member of the colonising force must be the one who leads the oppressed people to victory. The film-makers are simply more interested in the colonisers than the colonised, and this ideological perspective warps an otherwise promising story. It's also for this reason that the audience never gets to meet Na'vi who aren't members of the royal family, or to witness any complex dynamics within Na'vi society (by contrast to tensions within the human camp). Heroism is not available to the oppressed group.

All of this makes the movie less believeable, less interesting and less meaningful than it could have been. In other words, it's not critics of Avatar's approach to colonialism and racism who are spoiling the story with their politics. The film-makers have been more than adequate at doing that themselves.


I am indebted to conversation with Badly Drawn Pig, who astutely points out that this problem may inhere in the very concept of "The One" to begin with, especially when "The One has traditionally always been a dude ... here to save all us sissies".

A break from regular programming

Some of my fellow Goats haven't been having such a splendid start to 2010, so all the !new year! new decade! optimism has been a tad lost on me. There's just so much fuckery everywhere one looks, and frankly, it's hard to feel optimistic.

Then I read this:

Later, another child approached Judah and asked in a worried voice, “Your daddy died?”

Judah nodded.

“Does that mean he’s not coming back?”

Judah put his hand on the other child’s shoulder. “Yes, but it’s O.K.,” he said. “I’m alive. You’re alive. Want to play?”

Out of the mouths of babes, my friends. "It's OK. You're alive. I'm alive. Let's play."

Here's wishing good humour, good friends and a good dose of perspective to everyone this year.

Could I Forgive Him One Last Time? [NY Times]

[Link through Jezebel]

Monday, January 4, 2010

Put a ring on it

Here is Lee Kuan Yew talking to Mark Jacobson of National Geographic, in an interview which showcases a wide array of Lee Kuan Yew's characteristically bizarre opinions. (Special mention must go to the persistent spectre of the "disloyal" Muslim Singaporean, and to the idea that citizens are workhorses who need "spurs" to be put to their "hides".) But what particularly caught my Magical eye is how Lee Kuan Yew channels Beyonce.
All the single ladies, all the single ladies...
If you liked it then you shoulda put a ring on it.
He really can't stand the fact that there are single women running around out there, doing their thing and living their lives without official state assignation to a man. It gets his goat something awful. The idea that a woman might have plans for her life that are more important to her is besides the point: indeed, it's a nuisance. She can't be trusted to know what's good for her.
I’m undergoing physiotherapy because I had a fall on the bicycle, so I’m stuck there for one hour talking to the physiotherapist [...] she was 32-years-old. I said are you married. She said no. I said you shouldn’t leave it too late. She said well, I haven’t found the right person. I said how is that? you are meeting fellow nurses, you better join, you have got a social development unit where you meet men above board, they are looking for spouses, you are looking for spouses and you meet in groups, unless you decide we are friends, and you want to cultivate a closer relation, and she said no, no, no, I'm a Christian, that limits my choice to 20 per cent of the population and we meet in Church.
If someone hasn't found the right person to marry, then they shouldn't be married. It's not a crime, it's not a failing, it's not a problem. It's just what happens. It's also none of your business.
Once the women are educated, they have equal job opportunities, some of them earning as much if not more than men, there is a certain independence of choice. I mean they say what’s the hurry? Singlehood is no burden, my daughter is 55, unmarried, mother has been nagging her when she was in her 30s, she's quite happy. [...] I've got two boys who have got grandchildren but I feel sad for her. Because when my wife is gone and I'm gone, this hotel which keeps her going. She will have to manage it.
She's independent. She's a hugely successful doctor! She's - in his own words - happy! But he has to "feel sad for her" because it's not her - the person - and what she wants out of life that matter: it's whether she fulfils Lee Kuan Yew's master plan for the destiny of female reproductive units.
We can't undo women's education, equal job opportunities. But the whole problem springs as I was talking to this physiotherapist, I said suppose you were not educated to a point where you are independent, your mother and father would have got you matched off. [...] Father and mother will look for another father and mother with an appropriate background, no inherited diseases and similar social affluence and then they marry them off, they get them together and meet and no objections and then you are married. Then you love the man, or you love the woman you marry. But she's educated and she's thinking of a degree in physiotherapy and upgrading herself and so...
As a matter of fact, women don't yet have equal opportunities for social and economic participation (see here and here for starters). But even to the extent we do: these opportunities are part of the basic requirements for humane society. They aren't optional and you shouldn't lament being unable to "undo" them.

You'll note, for example, that he doesn't for a moment speculate about denying all men education and career opportunities so that they might be required to stay at home and bring up the kids of their financially successful wives - even though that might also bring birth rates up. The suggestion that we should solve any problem by deliberately sequestering men at home is ludicrous and unacceptable on its face - and it should be equally so when it applies to women.

When you characterise women's education as some kind of unfortunate historical residue...

When you daydream wistfully about starting over again without it...

When you talk of putting women on conveyor belts heading into arranged marriage and complete financial dependence, and expect the woman you address (who has already stated her desire to choose her own partner and further her career) to respond to this with anything other than complete rejection...

When you do these things, your fantasies are grounded in seeing women as subhuman.

This fetishisation of marriage is degrading enough even before you consider that the state he exalts is one of permanent rapeability for women (to say nothing of society's failure to take seriously other forms of domestic abuse).

Single ladies don't like it. Put a sock in it.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

2010 New Year's Resolution: Stop pitting body shapes against each other!

More British women say they would prefer to look like curvy Kate Winslet than skinny Victoria Beckham.

According to Jezebel, in a poll of 2,000 British women commissioned by weight-loss company Slimming World, Kate Winslet came out on top as the star whose figure was "most desired". She got 16% of the vote, closely followed by TV presenter Kelly Brook with 15% and Halle Berry with 12%. Bringing up the rear were Kate Moss, Posh, and Jordan, with 1% each.

Slimming World also released a statement that said:
It shows a positive shift that women are more likely to see Kate Winslet and Kelly Brook as the ideal body shape rather than Kate Moss or Victoria Beckham.

It perhaps suggests that it is not being "skinny" that is most important to them anymore, it is being healthy.
Here's a resolution for the new year -- How about we stop holding up one body shape, whether it be a curvy or skinny one, as the one and only "standard ideal". How about acknowledging the fact that human bodies come in a variety of shapes and sizes. How about we ensure that no one should feel like they should work towards attaining another celebrity's body shape/size, simply because they are two distinct individuals with two different bodies!?

For the love of 2010, please stop this shit.

But happy new year anyway!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

People we love: Ms Tania De Rozario for "Avoid being judgmental with children"

ST Forum publishes something actually REALLY AWESOME. In her response to a recent series (still on-going, I believe) on apparent teenage delinquency, Ms Tania De Rozario writes to dispel the loose and stereotypical correlation of cause and effects.

I wish I'd written it myself: (emphasis mine)
Jan 2, 2010
Avoid being judgmental with children

I REFER to Tuesday's reports, 'Errant parenting helps breed teenage crime' and 'Divorce is start of downward spiral for duo'. As someone from a background of divorced parents, I find the association of teen crimes with divorce offensive.

The reason children from 'broken' homes feel 'broken' is that they have been sold the idea there is only one type of home or family structure worth having and anything different is, well, broken.

I have friends who are the products of a variety of family structures: happily married, unhappily married, divorced, separated and so on. None is a criminal.

Many teen criminals come from what you may call 'wholesome' families.

From my observations, if parents want to keep lines of communication open with their children, they must realise their children have a different understanding of the world they inhabit and not be judgemental about things that are essentially non-consequential: the way they dress, the colour they dye their hair, the tattoos and piercings they want.

Is a teenager supposed to be responsible for the fact that in his parents' time, getting a tattoo meant one was a criminal?

If parents don't want their children to deviate, then don't make them feel deviant. No child will drift away from you because you teach him that stealing or killing is wrong.

Children drift away from you when you make them feel like louts for expressing themselves or liking the things they like.

Another fast way to alienate your children is to demonise the company they keep. If you catch a glimpse of your child's friends and become paranoid that he is moving with unwelcome company, invite the friends to dinner. I can tell you as someone deemed a 'weirdo' by many a 'proper' adult - because of my bald head and piercings - that many have found me pleasantly surprising. And those who treated me fairly have been rewarded with respect and a strengthened loyalty to my friends.

Parents should also watch against demonising everything from sex to drinking to smoking. Instead of condemning them as signs of immorality and bad company, they should focus on the harm they can cause the human body. Let your child know you don't want him to suffer pain.

Tania De Rozario (Ms)

On the point of sex and safety, I just want to point to something else I read that I hope prompts sex educators, concerned friends and family to re-situate their advice should they aim to be in the least relevant to anyone who really needs the info:
Worse yet, today's sex education still bears the scars of abstinence-only. So it's not like we've provided our young with advice they can trust or embrace when they are naked and alone together. Instead of offering a genuine interest in their sexual enjoyment, we begrudgingly acknowledge their sexuality by insisting they put gross-looking and strange-feeling latex galoshes on their penises. (Sauce.)
She sports a "bald head and piercings" (so what?) and she gets it. For that Ms De Rosario is welcome to come play with us and share our delicious treats here at the barn. ^^

2010, so far so good!

Friday, January 1, 2010

Public Consensus Does Not a Fact Make

In the new year (HAPPY 2010 EVERYONE!) let's try to remember that despite all the wishy-washyness of the past decade that there are things that are right and there are things that are wrong and that we have the tools to distinguish between them.

From the blog Bioephemera comes a lovely reminder that science is not a democracy and that the wisdom of uneducated hordes can and does wreak havoc on real people. A related point is that the status quo as determined by those who buy into oppressive stereotypes too leads to real world harm.

It's a brand spanking new year, and for those who are miscounting, a brand new decade. Take care out there and be nice to each other ok?