Poem: State of Injustice

State of Injustice

Is a human life, after all, irreducible value
As you have claimed, or do you trade

As an acceptable price–for your power,
For your segregated neighborhood,

For your sundown paranoia indulged,
For your generations of looted labor,

For the lawless laws
That serve not justice, but power–

That now and then a white man
With a gun, acting under the full authroity

Of this State of Injustice–call him a policeman–
Will shoot down dead an unarmed black boy

And leave his body in the street
Like a wound in the earth?

I wrote this poem in response to the police murder of Michael Brown, after reading Open Letter to White Poets from Danez Smith. I could not have written it without first digesting Tressie McMillan Cottom’s essay Riots and Reason.

I Speak To Women; Men May Listen In

While I find it somewhat tedious to explain feminist politics to men, I am happy to have men listen in on some of my conversations with women. One of the first lessons a privileged person can learn is to listen in on a conversation that’s not centered on them.

By refusing to explain basic feminism to men I am teaching the first lesson in feminism. Maybe the hardest one: It’s not about you.

And if a dude is bummed out by the idea of a whole area of discourse and practice that’s not centered on his dudely needs and experiences, that’s a good lesson too! Imagine if the whole world felt like this, instead of just a couple of small areas of it.

In my experience, having public or semi-public conversations about feminism with women that de-center men has done more to move men in my circle of acquaintance towards feminist practice than all the previous 10 years of hand-holding and 101 explaining did. It has pissed some people off, of course, but not really more than when I was trying to be the nice.

A Short Post on Postmodernism

I like postmodernism both as a mode of criticism and as a movement in art and literature. Postmodernism cracked open the literary canon. It rejected the big, universal narrative. Postmodernism gave us Pynchon.Though maybe it’s better to say Pynchon gave us the postmodern novel.

Postmodernism defied the notion of culture as rarefied. It gave us permission to critically engage with low culture.

Postmodernism ate its own young — the white dude-o-centric canon — and that’s a good thing.

This shit you all like so much, where you take high culture and use it in whimsical, unexpected ways — that’s postmodernism at play. Postmodernism is playful. It’s the whimsical younger sister of totalitizing modernism.

Modernism is what happened after the death of God. Death of God being the end of an imposted outside idea/ideal. People were so used to meaning coming from the divine though that they desperately tried to remake another total narrative, without God. Postmodernism is what happens after the death of the death of God.

The Difficult Pleasures of Noise Music

I prefer noise music live. Part of the experience is feeling the sound in your whole body so recordings only give you a very small part of it. Once I went to a drone noise show that was inside a giant corrugated metal half pipe set in the middle of some kind of industrial park in Oakland. The vibrations were incredible. Sometimes it’s so loud and chaotic it can make you feel nauseated. Sometimes it can make your skin tremble.

Part of the experience is being in a room full of other people who are weird enough to willingly subject themselves to this stuff.

Finally, it’s being in a place where it’s too loud to think, listening to sounds that are somewhat painful, or at least not advertised as fun, and the only way to not experience it as pain is to be very present or to drift into a trance state, both of which are things I enjoy.

It’s not for everybody. I’ve always been xenophilic, so if something was weird I had to try it, especially music.

I got into noise music via industrial, which can get pretty noisy, but I felt betrayed that most industrial was not industrial noises at all. Someone suggested that if I wanted real noise I should listen to Merzbow. I was living in NYC at the time so I went to Generation Records or Other Music and got whatever they had at the store, which happened to be Mort Aux Vaches: Locomotive Breath.

I used to listen to it when I couldn’t get to sleep. It hurt less than my thoughts.

The world was so overwhelming, and you can’t turn NYC off, and I couldn’t turn my brain off, so I found something louder than either.



New Warcraft Human Female Model: Does She Even Lift?

Alright, here’s my official weight lifter perspective on the new Human Female model in World of Warcraft.

Human Female Revamp World of Warcraft
Human Female revamp preview released on January 23, 2014

The muscles of the arms and shoulders look nice. Biceps, triceps, and delts are all a nice size and well-defined. However as an adventuring hero to build that kind of muscle you’d not be doing a targeted bodybuilding workout and therefore you’d build up the surrounding, bigger muscles too. Human Female needs bigger trapezius muscles.

Right now she has arms like Sarah Connor in Terminator 2 while her neck and traps look like a runway model. That doesn’t match.

Arms like this:

Sarah Connor in Terminator 2
Sarah Connor looking badass and inspiring a generation of women to hit the gym.

Neck like this:

A runway model
A runway model is a very specific kind of beautiful

Human Female has rather nice, distinct calves of the sort many a bodybuilder would envy however as an adventuring hero rather than a bodybuilder doing infinite calf raises, she would build up the surrounding muscles more. Therefore, she would have bigger glutes (that’s butt in normal talk) and possibly bigger quads, though her quads aren’t bad.


Not only does Human Female lift, she appears to lift in a very targeted, body-builder style, deliberately avoiding some key muscle groups.

I like the new Human Female, but I would like her to change to a more balanced workout to prepare for the adventuring life.

Powerful Outside Incentives for Sexy Cosplay

This blog post is adapted from a forum conversation I had recently. I play the part of feminist Socrates. Glaucon plays the part of everyone else.

Glaucon: O feminist Socrates, is it not true that many of the costumes women wear at comics, gaming, and scifi conventions are rather sexualized?

Feminist Socrates: It’s true, friend Glaucon, but where do you think the inspiration for those costumes comes from?

Glaucon: Obviously it comes from the comic books, games, and scifi in a variety of media that the women consume. Yet I can’t help but see how male-gazey, sexist, and sometimes downright misogynist most of those depictions of women are. Why would women choose to dress up in a costume based on a character whose depiction is sexist?

Feminist Socrates: O Glaucon, there are many reasons why a woman might choose to dress up in sexy cosplay. Aside from whatever personal reasons she might have for enjoying the character or the act of costuming, there are powerful external incentives for women to dress up in sexy cosplay. What Gloria Steinem pointed out about the Miss America contest is paralleled in the microcosm of the nerd-o-sphere.

Glaucon: Powerful external incentives? Surely you can’t mean money, Feminist Socrates. I may be your naive foil in this dialogue, but I wasn’t born yesterday, and I know that there is no money in cosplay. In fact it’s definitely a big money and time sink, like most hobbies.

Feminist Socrates: You are right, O Glaucon, I am not referring to pecuniary remuneration, although I should note as an aside that some costumers are professionals who are paid to create costumes and appear in them at events. I am referring to other powerful external incentives, rewards of things that humans find very compelling, sometimes even more than money.

Glaucon: I can’t see what those incentives might be, Feminist Socrates, for my sight is clouded by the limits of my experience. Could you lay them out for me in a clear way, perhaps in a numbered list?

Feminist Socrates: I will explain it for you. Let’s start with the what Gloria Steinem said about Miss America:

“I wish we didn’t have to be nude to be noticed … But given the game as it exists, women make decisions. For instance, the Miss America contest is in all of its states … the single greatest source of scholarship money for women in the United States[1]. If a contest based only on appearance was the single greatest source of scholarship money for men, we would be saying, “This is why China wins.” You know? It’s ridiculous. But that’s the way the culture is. I think that we need to change the culture, not blame the people that are playing the only game that exists.”Gloria Steinem

To me the parallel between these two shitty systems and the incentives to participate in them are obvious. But I have found that what I consider obvious is radical and weird to people sometimes, so I’ll make some quick notes over breakfast.

While the incentive for cosplay is not directly economic, it does provide many of the things humans rather like (and sometimes it can be an economic boon, though not to the level of Miss America scholarships).

1. Cosplay, specifically sexy cosplay, is a way to get something that feels a lot like nerd acceptance. For all that we focus a lot on the shitty way people treat sexy cosplayers, most of their experience is positive. I’ve done some pretty risqué costuming at sci-fi conventions and the experience was mostly positive. A lot of people talked to me about my costume, invited me to parties, took pictures, were friendly. I don’t even remember there being anything creepy at all. It sure was a lot of glowing, wonderful, accepting nerdy attention to 19 year old me at DragonCon, though. When I talk to current cosplayers they experience these positives as well.

2. Cosplay is a way to get attention as a nerd that is normally denied a woman. Again, despite the backlash against cosplay lately from nerds who want to keep comics and scifi a pure sausagefest unsullied by boobs and high pitched voices, women who cosplay get a lot of positive attention. Sexy women in sexy costumes get a lot more attention. If a woman wants to get interviewed at a convention to voice her views on something or other, being in costume is probably the fastest path to that. Not that most cosplayers want that. Wanting attention is not negative (I claim), especially when the default state for a person of your gender is to be rendered invisible by your culture. Cosplay forces others to see you, to acknowledge that you exist. It’s hard to understand the importance of that until you have been made to feel invisible and silent.

3. Cosplay is a way for women to reconcile their femininity and their societally gendered as male nerdy interests. Women nerds are in the double bind of having to prove they are really nerds while at the same time performing femininity. Since nerdy activities are considered masculine, to prove the they are still women and not man hating freaks or neutered weirdo beasts women have to take action to assert their femininity. The need to be feminine and the need to have nerd cred pull in opposite directions. Cosplay is one of the few places (the only one I can think of) where the two directives meet. As an aside, I see the same thing in other activities that are gendered as male where women do things to assert that nonetheless they are still feminine–look at the colorful socks that women powerlifters and women in Crossfit wear for example, or the whole odious campaign to assert that weight lifting is sexy as though something needs to be sexy for women to be able to participate.

So to restate my three assertions again in one short list, the powerful outside incentives for women to participate in sexy cosplay are:
1. To gain acceptance as a nerd among nerds
2. To gain visibility and attention instead of being ignored
3. To reconcile the demands of femininity and nerd cred

There are of course interior reasons such as loving a particular character to pieces and enjoying making costumes, but those aren’t in parallel to the outside incentive argument.

Hat-tip to the participants AJB Feminism thread.


[1] “The Miss America Organization is one of the nation’s leading achievement programs and the world’s largest provider of scholarship assistance for young women.” source: MissAmerica.org Scholarships page Date retrieved: Oct 24, 2013

Blog Returns, Now with Comments

I’m implementing comments on the blog. To be able to comment on the blog, you will have to create an account, have it approved by me, comment, and have each comment approved.

In other words:
1. Submit application for registration
a) Click comment
b) Click register
c) Enter a name and valid email address
2. Application for registration gets approved by me
3. Submit a comment
4. Comment gets approved by me

I will be extremely picky about whom I allow to register. I want the comments to be like a discussion among a panel of experts rather than like an open Q&A.

To make it more likely that I’ll approve you, use your twitter name or some other name that I already know you by or can find a long track record of online.

Comments should strive to further the cause of women’s liberation from the patriarchy and add philosophical value to the conversation. Comments should strive, in as much as it is possible since we are all embroiled in a fucked up system, to avoid further oppressing already oppressed groups such as (but not limited to) women, people of color; transgender people; people with disabilities; gay, lesbian, and bisexual people; poor people. Comments should be as succinct as possible.

Only comments that meet my philosophical, ethical, and aesthetic standards will be approved.

Why Women Need Iron

Women need iron. Not the vitamin. The barbell.

We are trained by the world around us to have fucked up ideas about our bodies; iron unfucks them.

We are supposed to be as thin as possible, as small as possible, perhaps until we disappear; iron teaches us to take up space.

We are taught that the only good direction for the scale to go is down, and to agonize ritualistically when it goes up. Iron teaches us the power of gaining weight for strength and gives us another weight to care about – the weight we are lifting.

We are taught to eat small amounts daintily and treat food as sin and pleasure. Iron teaches us to eat heartily, to see food as fuel for life, and to seek out nutritious food rather than avoiding sinful food.

We are taught to think of our bodies as decorative, an object to be looked at; iron teaches us to think of our bodies as functional, our own active selves, not passive objects for another’s regard.

Whole industries exist to profit by removing from us our confidence and selling it back as external objects. Iron gives us confidence from within through progressive training and measurable achievements.

We are taught to be gentle and hide our strength or even to cultivate charming physical weakness until we start to believe our bodies are weak. Iron teaches us how strong we can be.

In Defense of Humorless Feminists

Jokes and humor defuse tense situations. If you want to put your audience at ease, you make a light joke. What if you don’t want to put your audience at ease? What if unease and discomfort are specifically your aims? What if your goal is precisely to reframe something that’s normally dismissed as trivial?

Since women are expected to do the emotional work of making our interlocutors feel comfortable, when we fail to do it, our refusal seems particularly stark. When we care more about communicating our message clearly than communicating it comfortably, our refusal is part of the message.

When our interlocutors accuse us of being humorless, what they are saying is that their comfort is more important than our message.

Facing Fear at the Barbell and in the Thunderdome

I noticed the blood when I reached into my chalk bag before the big deadlift work set.  I was already intimidated by the weight I had put on the bar, 150 pounds, something I’d never done before. Seeing blood seeping from my pinkie nail bed and smeared on the finger turned anxiety into terror. It didn’t hurt, you see. I licked the blood, like a berserker tastes blood to run fearless into battle. It didn’t make me fearless. 

I gripped the bar and pulled. It went up. I made the lift. It went down. The released breath I’d held in the Vaslava maneuver came out as a whispered “Jesus Christ”. For all my recent Mars worship, I still revert to ancestral forms of blasphemy in times of stress. I thought about taking the weight down back down to what I’d pulled comfortably last week. My finger was bleeding and I didn’t feel it. What other important pain was adrenaline hiding from me? 

I almost didn’t finish that set at 150. Between almost didn’t and almost did there is no space at all in the bleeding moment, but afterwards, there is a chasm. 

It was not easier the second time I pulled. When the weight went down I felt a little light headed. There was a tension like tears at the back of my throat. The third time was not easier, either. While I’d done the lift twice already, I also knew I’d be getting exhausted with each repetition. It only got easier on the last rep, because I wanted to check 150 off in the logbook, to say to myself and to others, I did it. 

I didn’t laugh at the end of the set like I normally do when I set a new personal record. I racked my weights. I put the bar away. I stripped. I rushed to the shower. I did these things because these are the things one does. I felt no pain. 

The water ran over me. I haven’t felt this beat up since I got the shit kicked out of me in the Thunderdome in 2007, I thought. Even my hands shook in the same exhausted way.

* * *

“Does it hurt?” he asked.

“I feel no pain,” I said to the gloved medic examining my bloody nose after my five minutes in the Thunderdome. In as far as these things can be calculated, I had lost. It was only once I was on the ground, off the bungee cables, that I realized the crowd was deafening. It had been, a friend later told me, incredibly loud the whole time. They really like to see women fight. They really liked it when the other woman grabbed my braids.

“I feel no pain all. Nothing hurts,” I added. He sent me to the medical tent.

I nearly cried on my walk there, not because I was in pain, and not even really because I had found out that in the heat of battle I have hangups about playing dirty against someone else who plays dirty, but because I felt lonely. I am not the person I imagined myself to be before I entered the Thunderome. I am not a fighter. I am not vicious. I wanted so much to be vicious. I wanted to prove that in battle, even sort of a fake battle, a secret self, a fighter, would emerge from my quiet, cheerful self. I wanted someone else to tell me: you are badass.

* * *

The barbell lets me practice fear. I train my muscles and I train my mind. It has not yet gotten easier. Any time it gets easier, I add more weight.

The barbell gives me something the Thunderdome could not: an objective measure. Either I pick up the weight, or I don’t pick up the weight. The weight moves or the weight does not move. That’s it. 

It doesn’t matter how I feel about it. There is a checkmark in my logbook. Next time I face the weights, I will have that knowledge to arm me. I won’t fear them any less, but I will have the capacity to hold more fear and pull anyway.