no one thinks it’s him/her – but it could be you

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Anger and frustration are the only two feelings I can put into words regarding the maelstrom surrounding … well, everything – the exhausting everything – around #metoo, sexual harassment/assault, consent, sexism and the whole bubbling stew of every related thing that can be stirred in. It’s too complex and all-encompassing, touching on so many issues, to be able to parse effectively. Even if I could separate all the component parts, I am too indescribably angry and frustrated to do so.

But the thought that keeps coming back to me again and again is this line that people draw (I use the word “people” here because sometimes women are the ‘predators’ and sometimes men are the ‘victims’ – and even these labels are not going to be detailed and inclusive enough – but that isn’t my point): the line where one person stands, on the side of which (s)he (“he” from here on out because it’s usually a “he”) really, truly believes he has never done anything wrong. The “No Man Thinks It’s Him” line. It could be you standing on one side of this line, firm in the belief that you have never assaulted someone, never harassed someone, never pushed someone beyond their comfort zone, never took advantage of a power dynamic that essentially left the other person feeling they had no choice. But you could be on the other side of that line as much as any of these things could have happened to you.

I was more fired up about this particular point many months ago, but never had the time to articulate this. This is always the danger: when you don’t act immediately, the passion behind your motivation dissipates, or fear, or antipathy – any number of things – creep in. You just want to forget. You just want to move on. How many of us have just wanted to move on? We can see how speaking out may get your voice a megaphone (see #metoo), but the results can end up being terrifying (see the Kavanaugh confirmations and Christine Blasey Ford; oh yes, we’ve come so far since the divisive Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill case. No… history repeats and just a lot of noise around something that… goes on being exactly the same).

There are no consequences for those, particularly powerful white men with powerful white male friends, who abuse. Make as much noise as you want – it has not changed the real way in which such cases and complaints are handled, nor how victims are seen and treated. Certainly not in the court of public opinion.

And, as several articles highlighted as the Kavanaugh story got underway: both of them could well be telling the truth. Because in a man like Kavanaugh’s mind he never did anything wrong. This is how the “No Man Thinks It’s Him” line is drawn. All these people (again, primarily men, but I do know women who are wildly inappropriate to near-criminal levels) truly believe they never did anything wrong. Anything that happened was the norm, was expected, was agreed to.

One of the first times I really thought about this was when I stumbled across a video discussion among a group of relatively well-known actors and some lesser-known but still influential entertainment-industry type men called “Man Enough:. Essentially they sit and discuss together in frank terms their own transgressions, acknowledging that they never really saw the extent of the problem but eventually realized that it is also all of their responsibility, i.e., lamenting all the times they never said anything to stop others from behaving badly (which could mean a vast range of things) toward women. They acknowledge that their silence is complicity. But at the same time, while they may have alluded to their own actions (not necessarily treating women with as much respect as they should have), they still perceived themselves as being on “the right side” of this “No Man Thinks It’s Him” line.

But, if I take their discussion to its logical conclusion, it’s every man. No man thinks it’s him, but it is every man. In one way or another. No man in the video acknowledged that he has no way of knowing whether some action he took in the past might have been perceived as taking it too far. Almost no man (particularly those loud, prominent pro-women types) walks away from what he thinks of as a consensual encounter believing he did something wrong (assault, rape) and “got away with it”. It’s the fundamental thinking about these things that’s wrong. It is fundamentally a problem of not just thinking and acting on that sense of entitlement and “societal norm” on which he relies, but firmly and completely believing that whatever he has done has been consensual.

In cases where power dynamics are at work, or women have been cornered and go along with something they don’t want, it is not because they really consented. It is because they took the lesser of what they feared – giving an aggressive, out of control, overpowering man what he wants right now might save her life. Never mind that it will haunt her for life – at least she will still be alive.

But accountability – no. A man who goes through the world in which, if they are not overtly, openly “grabbing women by the pussy” – but are “just grabbing them and kissing them”, is a predator but will never, ever see himself that way.

This also came to light recently in Seattle, where a well-known businessman, David Meinert, was accused repeatedly of a persistent pattern of sexual assault and intimidation – all of which he tried to deny. Early on in the media, he tried to deflect the accusations by asserting his place on the right side of the “No Man Thinks It’s Him” line; he went into damage-control mode, and issued halfhearted apologies that amount to trying to demean and diminish what his victims endured, claiming that he had believed the people in question had wanted everything that they had done (consensually). And he may well have believed this. But the pattern of intimidation, coercion, threats, the power differential, and the sheer shock some victims felt as these events occurred (i.e. “is this really happening?”) is well-established.

The power dynamics and fear dynamics at play are things most men are not going to understand. They will swear up and down that they would never disrespect, much less force or hurt a woman, but do not understand that their insistence and manipulation is already disrespect, force and/or hurt. When forced into a situation where you’re afraid to say no, you are not fully consenting. Your ability to freely consent has already been taken from you.

No one is immune

There are, though, some very blurred lines.

Take for example the very blurry territory of consensual sex that turns into crossing boundaries that turns into assault. I read an article during the height of the #metoo publicity about the challenge of delineating when assault has occurred in a consensual relationship that contains mutually agreed-upon rough sex. The rough sex story hit a nerve because it’s right on that boundary – you have readily consented to have a sexual relationship in which you each agree to a certain kind of sex, which then can be twisted and manipulated and turned into an easy excuse to abuse you and then used against you when you realize you have been abused. I didn’t realize until recently that the discomfort, and unsettled feeling, I had about a former relationship, was largely down to this. And I am 100% certain that the man in question would never, ever imagine that he had abused his power, the very clear power differential (I was very young, he wasn’t) or me. I had consented and agreed – in his mind, I had liked it. Even when it reached the stage that I did not like it, did not agree and did not consent. He held all the cards, and I spent a long time convincing myself that I was agreeing to “exploration” – anything not to confront the reality of what had actually happened.

This line I refer to, the “I’m not that kind of guy”/”No Man Thinks It’s Him” line, isn’t just a line that men cross, as I mentioned earlier. Less blurry, but certainly an area for discussion, of course, is when women assault or abuse men, which can be and often is, coercive and manipulative. (This does not begin to cover the violence, abuse and assault in every demographic, e.g. gay and transgender populations, which is disproportionately high and very important, but not within the scope of this rant.) As a man in my life stated about his own experiences with a woman perpetrator: “If a man were perpetrating these acts on a woman, it would be assault. It would be harassment. It would be rape.” Society isn’t prepared to see woman-on-man acts as something unwelcome or that a man would not be willing to have happen. And yet it happens all the time. With the #metoo movement came a few media stories about similar tales, such as the Asia Argento ‘backlash’ and a story about an NYU female professor accused of sexual harassment by one of her male students. If we want to get to a place (however unlikely that seems at the moment) where women can come forward with what has happened to them, and today we defend women who are not listened to or believed, we have to do the same for men in similar situations.

As I told someone around the time these revelations came out, we have all done things we are not proud of. We should all be reflecting on how our actions will affect other people. It does not need to rise to the level of assault or rape to be questionable and worth self-reflection and/or remorse. A big part of the problem is that so many of the (mostly) men, those on the “right side” of this line I’ve cited, who have been accused still don’t really believe that they perpetrated assault/rape. They genuinely think they used their power to gain consent, and even that coerced consent still equals consent. They will never reflect on their actions and the meaning of those actions to realize, “Wow, I did something wrong. I hurt someone.” If they pretend to reflect at all and apologize it’s never “I am sorry for what I did and that I hurt you” but rather “I am sorry if you think I hurt you”, placing the blame/perception of harm back on the victim.

Lunchtable TV Talk: American Crime, s2

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The first season of American Crime was often hard to watch. It was challenging material, telling intricately interwoven stories that highlighted prejudice and different perspectives. It was good, but I was not sure it could stand for another season.

The second season is an even more tightly woven narrative, with more riveting performances from mostly the same cast and a few new faces (Connor Jessup, best known until now from Falling Skies has been particularly good, which isn’t a surprise when you consider that he was also one of the better parts of Falling Skies). Masterfully done – often employing images disconnected from sound, so you are never sure what has happened until it unfolds moments later. Fluidity, uncertainty, exceptional and brutal storytelling from different perspectives. Are you ever sure what has really happened? No. If anything the story in the second season punches you in the gut with the realization that there are no absolutes, yet we watch all the characters from their very different perspectives grapple with their own “absolutes” and the dissolution of those certainties.

The second season, as I write this, has been over for some time, meaning that I am left with very few details. The important point – and reason why I am writing about this so long after the fact – is that it does punch you in the gut and make you question what is true and real. The story revolved around feeling versus fact.

And, right now, America is faced with a high-stakes election in which “feeling” trumps (no pun intended but apt here) fact. Stephen Colbert revived his Colbert Report character to introduce the term “Trumpiness” and address this topic; John Oliver took it a step further, explaining that the theme of the recent Republican National Convention was “a four-day exercise in emphasizing feelings over facts”.

I highlight these timely things, despite their non-existent connection to American Crime (apart from the tangential Trump & GOP “feeling” that crime in America is out of control and crime rates are on the rise, despite the fact that data doesn’t support this “feeling”) because it is easy to lose sight of the fact that other people have completely different experiences of the world. What one person, irrationally or not, fears, is normal to someone else. American Crime excels at telling a complex story from fragmented viewpoints (in a way that our lacking-in-nuance political system never will).

“How can I move to Canada?”: Innocent question, unintended consequences

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It’s been all over the news – the question (or some variation of it): “How can I move to Canada?”  was one of the most searched Google queries during the US primaries’ Super Tuesday events.  At one point, a Google data editor posted to Twitter that this search query had spiked 350%, which eventually hit a 1,500% spike.

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And who could possibly have predicted that this innocent question, borne of the fear, frustration and panic brought on by the possibility of a Donald Trump (or a Ted Cruz!) presidency, would lead to the Canadian government immigration website being overpowered by traffic spikes? I think a lot about these kinds of unintended and unforeseen consequences – fascinating for sociological as much as technical reasons. I have been a frequent visitor to the site myself as a maniacal citizenship collector and lover of Canada (Canadian friends have even named me an honorary Canadian in the past). I have followed the changes in Canadian immigration laws/rules, which turned more conservative and closed during the Harper years. These will probably be revisited under the liberal Justin Trudeau administration. As I visited and revisited the Canadian immigration site, I hated seeing Canada become, well, less Canadian and less aligned with the values that the whole world associates with Canada.

Anyway in all the time and all the years in which I had visited the site, I had never been greeted by this:

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Every day, it seems, another website falls victim to its own success or demand.But in this case, a little-seen (unless you are trying to move to Canada, which is probably a high enough number but doubtfully website-breaking numbers on normal occasions) government website is not necessarily the kind of site you’d expect to be overpowered by stampedes of would-be Canadians. (Get it, Stampede?)

Sure, many government websites are not the most heavily trafficked web spaces, and an unexpected spike is just that – unexpected. Some such issues are quite predictable (referring here to the US government’s Healthcare.gov debacle, which US President Obama called a “well-documented disaster” that nevertheless led to a better government understanding of how to handle technology). And eventually that disaster was fixed. Big, small or somewhere in between, even public sector entities (in fact, sometimes especially public sector entities) are responsible for fairly high-stakes information – public safety, public health, economic data – you get the picture. For that reason, they should always be prepared. Not every flood of traffic is expected, but when it does happen, you hope – and they hope – the site is ready. I mean, uninsured Americans were required to use Healthcare.gov to sign up for insurance. Yeah – how, if they can’t even get into the site? And you’d really hope that when the time comes to escape the Trump demagoguery, Canada and its government websites will be ready for you!

For now, though, in the heat of the Super Tuesday returns, the Canadian immigration website, apparently not ready for the influx of potential immigrants from the US (or at least not ready for their website visits to the Great White North), struggled to keep up with demand, posting the warning pasted above to all its visitors (and today, several days later, the warning is still there).

Now if only anyone had heeded the months of warnings about Trump/Drumpf.

 

 

 

Sexism, misogyny, racism and inequality in women’s sports

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The tension and irritation has been building up in me for a long time, even though I was unaware of its presence and imperceptible growth. I am not an athlete nor am I someone who has been vocally feminist for much of my life. I had a few conversations with former colleagues – women who were much older than me, who had been through some of the trials of being the only woman working in a completely male-dominated workplace (an air traffic control center). It’s not as though women are not expected somehow – still – to take notes and make the coffee, but back then it was not just understood but was blatantly stated as a requirement and not questioned. Fighting against these slights in daily work life has never been a conscious part of my life. But strides made by women who came before me paved the way for me not to have to think about such things (as well as the installation of automatic coffee machines!).

I believe wholeheartedly in equality for everyone – and I mean everyone – but when I undertook a master’s program in gender studies, the extremes of feminist theory put me off by being so anti-man. I have not personally suffered – to my knowledge – for being a woman, and I am sure that in some measure this is because I am a white woman who, in the Nordic countries where I live, blends into the scenery and enjoys the privilege that comes from so many different aspects of the accident of my birth and the conscious choice of where I live (which is another layer of privilege – having the choice to decide where to live and to go there).

Similarly Scandinavia conscientiously attempts to lead the way on matters of equality. It does not always succeed, sometimes tripping over itself trying to be “too fair” or politically correct and coming out looking foolish. But the thinking is in the right place. I also say that I have not “consciously” suffered because I don’t know that we are always aware of the things we are numb or indoctrinated to. While no man is outwardly making lewd remarks or insisting that I do something degrading or something that is anything other than equal to what he would do, there have probably been times that I was perceived or treated as “lesser than” because I am a woman. I have been blissfully ignorant to this, if and when it did happen, because my life has still been lived on my terms and has been relatively easy to boot.

Revealing this as my backdrop, I can’t really explain what incensed me and pushed me over the edge about sexism, misogyny and racism in women’s athletics. Not even looking at the flat-out stereotypes any longer (as though all women athletes must exist at caricature-like extremes, i.e. either women who appear as masculine, steroid-pumped sportsmen-lesbians from Cold War era East Germany or ultra-feminine, would-be fashion models who look cute in a short skirt). Either direction these stereotypes travel, they smack of objectification and are on display for the criticism and analysis of the world (and it’s not just men engaging in the bitterest criticism). Not because they are athletes in the public eye but because they are women.

We can see this dynamic quite publicly and visibly played out in the form of Bruce Jenner, former Olympic champion, who is now known as Caitlyn Jenner. As Bruce the athlete, no one would have questioned how he looked or would have sexualized his existence to the degree that all women athletes put up with today. And as Caitlyn, she is suddenly subject to this kind of scrutiny. Jon Stewart explained it best in a recent episode of The Daily Show. Now, suddenly, as a woman, Jenner’s worth is all tied up in her “fuckability” and her beauty.

This holds true for women athletes the world over. And when it is not explicitly about their bodies as objects, and how their bodies and fashion sense reflect on their character (!) or deservedness to win (!!) (e.g., when a Wimbledon winner (Marion Bartoli) is ripped to shreds because she is “too ugly and/or too fat” to win), it’s about the invisibility or lack of support for their sports. FIFA‘s (soon-to-be-former president) Sepp Blatter infamously remarked that women’s football might be more popular if they wore tighter/shorter shorts; Al Jazeera reported on the discrimination against female footballers in Brazil while The Atlantic reports that Brazil’s biggest male footballer makes 15 million USD a year, while its biggest female football star cannot find a team to play for. Al Jazeera and more recently John Oliver highlighted the sexist inequality of FIFA insisting that the women’s World Cup be played on artificial turf rather than grass.

All of this is frustrating but not quite the infuriating push I needed to get really angry. Instead, Serena Williams’s win at the French Open this weekend finally made me seethe with rage. Looking at her winning history, she is singularly the greatest female tennis player ever to play the game. Can she be recognized simply for these record-breaking achievements in athleticism and sporting victory? No.

No one is or has been (in recent memory) more susceptible to the powerful and ugly forces of sexism, misogyny, racism and inequality than Serena Williams.

If all female pro-athletes, particularly in a “demure” arena like tennis, are treated like sex objects who should be supermodels, what can we expect? And when the kind of racially charged, barely veiled racist language cues come into play on top of the sexism and objectifying, shouldn’t every woman be angry?

**Edited later to note that The Atlantic published a piece on French Open men’s champion, Stan Wawrinka, which states: “It’s that Wawrinka doesn’t look or comport himself like a Grand Slam champion. From his bright pink “pajama” shorts to his faintly dadboddish physique, the Swiss native looks more like someone you’d find at Home Depot than Roland Garros.” Finally someone jumps on what a man looks like and how he “comports” himself. Equality, right?

Data protection, use, rights and apathy

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Do we have any idea what we are giving up in letting our data run free? Not really.

Watch the frightening documentary Terms and Conditions May Apply and start to get the idea. In our race to have speed, convenience, access and mobility – among other things – we are willing to sign away rights, privacy and protection for ourselves without even knowing it. Or in lacking the attention span or interest to follow things like privacy rights or something like the net neutrality debate in the US, we lose choice and transparency.

As John Oliver explained on his fantastic and revealing weekly HBO program, Last Week Tonight, discussing the net neutrality subterfuge, companies can bury all the information they are required to tell consumers but don’t really want them to read or understand in EULAs. Much of the time, these terms and conditions are innocuous but some are quite malicious, misleading and violate user privacy, leaving most users uninformed and having given blind consent.

At 9:50:

“The cable companies have figured out the great truth of America: if you want to do something evil put it inside something boring. Apple could put the entire text of Mein Kampf inside the iTunes user agreement and you’d just click ‘Agree’.”

It’s one thing to just complain and worry about data collection and use – but what kinds of solutions may exist? Craig Mundie’s piece in Foreign Affairs addressing the issue. “The time has come for a new approach: shifting the focus from limiting the collection and retention of data to controlling data at the most important point — the moment when it is used.”

Some kind of change has to happen because “… there is hardly any part of one’s life that does not emit some sort of “data exhaust” as a byproduct. And it has become virtually impossible for someone to know exactly how much of his data is out there or where it is stored. Meanwhile, ever more powerful processors and servers have made it possible to analyze all this data and to generate new insights and inferences about individual preferences and behavior.”

Interestingly, Mundie cites the introduction and eventual ubiquity of credit cards as the truly disruptive technology that opened the consumer-data floodgates. Did anyone imagine that the truly disruptive technology – well before the internet – was the credit card? They open so much access for financial institutions to create credit reports and scores and to basically control a person’s life based on their spending and saving habits, to keep tabs on her location, habits, tastes, propensities – it’s a gold mine of data that financial institutions could sell to retailers – so much opportunity for consumer exploitation. Consumers, though, have trusted that this would not happen because of data handling and storage regulations.

But once the floodgates were open, and regulations in place – the internet came along. But data privacy and rights have not changed to keep pace with how industry and technology have changed.

The part that is most alarming for me when I think about it is that whole business models and companies are built on this virtually free access to, collection of and manipulation, analysis, sale and packaging of data. How many of us are actually employed in industries whose bread and butter is somehow a link in that data collection and use chain?

Are the trade-offs of allowing all this data collection worth it? The Mundie article cites the public good as one reason not to entirely do away with data collection (but to limit/change it). One example is in a case when vast data sets yielded key findings in medical research, which can benefit society as a whole. But does that supersede the right of the individual not to have their own personal data used in some way to which they have not expressly consented? (Opting into a serpentine user agreement as a layperson does not really signify consent in my mind.)

Solutions that Mundie proposes are interesting but fail to take into account personal laziness. People like talking about having their privacy violated, but if taking control meant, as the writer suggests, “It would also require people to constantly reevaluate what kinds of uses of their personal data they consider acceptable” and one would have to take personal responsibility for context and assessing the value of how their data were used, almost no one would do it.

People do not want to evaluate at all – which is why they just say yes or no in the first place – expedience, convenience. Damn the consequences.

Wasserkocher and Net Neutrality

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Okay so my birthday happens week after next and I just realized I actually need something. My beloved electric kettle just started leaking in a weird way – and now is my chance to replace it with a kettle that matches my other kitchen appliances! I am kind of excited because I did not even know that KitchenAid made kettles. Please someone procure it for me. Hahaha.

KitchenAid kettle to match my kitchen

KitchenAid kettle to match my kitchen

In other news, the HBO show Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Oliver is just getting better and better. The whole program was fantastic (loved the evisceration of Australian PM Tony Abbott), but Oliver’s critical rant of the US net neutrality issue is precisely the kind of thing that illustrates why Oliver deserves his own show.

 

At the Souk – pomegranate molasses

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I have previously written about the Souk Market in Charlottenberg in Sweden – a tiny town with a whole lot of very large supermarkets, mostly catering to Norwegians who cross the border to buy stuff in bulk. I had not been there in a while, but I planned to make a recipe that required pomegranate molasses (Persian pomegranate and lamb meatball soup).

Considering that I can’t find normal molasses most of the time, the idea that pomegranate molasses could be had (with multiple brand and container-sizer options) in the smallest of towns in rural Sweden seemed laughable. But having been to – and been overwhelmed by – the Souk Market before, I knew it represented my best chance. Imagine my delight when I found an entire section of the store filled with different kinds of molasses, including pomegranate as well as carob and grape, among others. Amazing.

pomegranate molasses from the Souk Market

pomegranate molasses from the Souk Market

Check out John Oliver‘s new gig on HBO – in the inaugural episode, he goes on a pomegranate-related tirade.