ed_rex: (1980)

Back in grades seven and eight, I was bullied in a pretty big way. Death threats (however rhetorical) were a more or less daily occurrence. Elbows in the hall happened regularly, and actual assaults on school property (inside the school itself, more than once) were, if not frequent, were not exactly rare.

And deciding which route to take home was a matter of balancing my desire to get home quickly vs the odds of being attacked by the thugs who had decided I was the one they would pick on.

Probably my biggest moment of shame and pride happened in (I think) grade eight, when the halls were full with students streaming from one class to another.

I was attacked by three or four guys, who took me to the floor and got in a few shots, then, laughing in triumph, took their leave. At which point I got to my feet and leapt upon the leader — Terry Scovron was his name, I'm pretty sure — and got in a few licks of my own.

Naturally, his thugs came to his aid and I was once again put down, but I felt a certain amount of satisfaction in having gotten in a few of my own.

What rankled, though, was hearing later, that word had gotten 'round that Scovron had beaten me up, no mention of his three or four henchmen.

Anyway, I digress.

I was actually friendly with one member of that gang. He was a nice enough kid, I guess. He hung with the bullies to protect himself, I think. They'd abuse him — mock him and hit him, but not too hard, and in exchange he had their protection and, presumably, some measure of prestige.

Anyway, one day after a test, when we had some free time in the same class-room, I asked him, "Why? Why don't they just leave me alone?"

"They're scared of you," he said. And when, baffled, I asked him how they could possibly be scared of me, he told me that it was because I didn't play their game. I just wanted to be left alone. He said (and I paraphrase; it's been a few years, and he didn't use the kind of vocabulary I'm gifting him with now) if I would just accept their dominance, they'd let me be. But because I kept fighting back, they had to keep putting me down. And because I didn't seem to care about their barnyard strutting, they had to keep putting me down. So that I would care about the grade seven, then eight, pecking order.

(This shit went on for two fucking years; and yes, the constant worry that I might be attacked for no good reason did do some long-term damage. Although, on the other hand, I think it's given me a little more empathy for how women feel when walking a dark street, or navigating a mostly-male workplace, than a lot of men have.)

Anyway, flash-forward to the present. The boss' mother (and titular owner) aside, my workplace is entirely male. Many of them immigrants, almost of us working class. Some, like me, with book-larnin, most without much of it.

I don't have a regular shift there, but get a new schedule every two weeks. And further, if I am going to be driving a crew out of town, I get an email with the specifics of time and (sometimes) of which vehicle I'll be driving.

A few days before Christmas I got one of those emails, with a note about the weather: you'd better come in at least 15 minutes early, so you can scrape the ice off the windows.

I texted back, "Thanks for the heads' up. And if [R] is fretting, tell him I'm already on the bus."

Fretting. I guess I should have known better.

R has made a point of using the word, fretting, every god damned time I've been in the office at the same time as him ever since.

Unlike grade school, it's okay. Instead of punches, my co-workers throw jokes. They tease, "the way men do".

One of the nice things about being a grown up, is that other people (usually) grow up too, at least to some extent. Where once my eccentricities elicited violence, now they are an identifying trait, not a threat. I'm weird, but I'm okay, I'm liked.

Which is a really nice change, even after all these years, let me tell you!

But even so, I think I'm going to get pretty damned sick of the word fretting before too long.

ed_rex: (Default)

The urge to pornography
Thoughts on violence and death in fiction

Pointed threats, they bluff with scorn
Suicide remarks are torn
From the fool’s gold mouthpiece the hollow horn
Plays wasted words, proves to warn
That he not busy being born is busy dying

Bob Dylan, It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)

Like rape, and threat of rape, as a plot device or character's motivation, I've (mostly — there are some brutally delightful exceptions) lost interest in death as a plot-device or, worse, as the solution to a story.

Physical violence has mostly been absent from my work, though not entirely; there's no denying that there is an inherent drama in a fistfight that doesn't exist in a conversation. Not all of us are Jane Austen, capable of keeping a plot moving through a dented feeling or raised eyebrow, so the temptation to stoop to violence and death is one almost impossible to always resist.

But is it really stooping? Always? '24. How willing are you to kill your characters if the plot so demands it? What's the most interesting way you've killed someone?' )

Click to see all the questions )

ed_rex: (Default)
Back in the '70s, when I was 10 or 11 years old, my mother bought into the then-fashionable belief that television was "the plug-in drug", a Destructive Influence that threatened the moral fibre of children exposed to the sex and (especially, to my mother's mind) the violence on offer via the glass teat.

And so it was that my brother and I found ourselves required to plan out our television-watching, limited (I think; and maybe she made an exception for Saturday night hockey) to an hour a day. (As an after-thought, she also made me pack away my comics in the basement, so that the inferior reading material would not be a constant temptation.) And in truth, when she decided to Make Changes, I recall that I was reading a lot less, and watching, a lot more. After we were required to consciously choose what we wanted to watch, rather than vacantly channel-surf through the hours, my reading time did go up.

But I don't recall any change in my propensity towards violence. And neither do I know of any serious studies that ever showed a direct correlation between exposure to violent television and actual violent behaviour, any more than I am aware of any correlation between the current bete noire, violent "first-person shooter"video-games and actual violence.

While it is conceivable that media might encourage anti-social behaviour, as any one who has read about life in, say, 19th century London (England) will know, violent crime goes back far beyond the introduction of mass media to human civilization.

Thebigthreekill's reply to my recent post, in which I berated one of you Gentle Readers for treating "men" as an abstraction rather than as individual human beings, provoked this entry. I thought her response was, if not wrong, at least over-simplistic. But when it came to answering her thoughts, I quickly realized the issue required more space than permitted by LJ's comment character-limit. And so, an entire new entry.

Thebigthreekill said,

The problem isn't men, the problem is mainstream hegemonic ideas and ideals of masculinity. Violent, dominant ideals. Its how being a real man is depicted and how power is achieved.

Its also about the degree to which men and women resist these ideals and come up with their own ideals and their own ways and things to admire in men.:)

I think your first paragraph is chasing a chimera, not too far off the one my mum was chasing 30 years ago.

What are these "hegemonic ideas and ideals of masculinity"? In a world in which the very concept that there is a "popular culture" is questionable, to simply assert that "violent, dominant ideals" are those that drive the behaviour of men seems to me simplistic in the extreme.

In point of fact, in the mainstream (western) world, real power is not achieved through the use of physical violence. It is not even achieved through the display of physical strength. Real power now comes through skills that have often been considered "feminine" traits - through networking and cooperation, not through beating the shit out of a rival.

In the year 2008, successful mainstream North American men are those who don't use their brawn to achieve power, but those who use their brains.

I'm old enough to remember when a female MP brought up the problem of violence against women (I think it was Floral MacDonald, and I think she was talking specifically about spousal rape, but I could be wrong on both counts), only to be loudly heckled by many other "honourable" members, as if the very idea of rape was essentially comical.

That was only 30-odd years ago. Canadian society has changed one hell of a lot since then. Rape is simply not acceptable in mainstream discourse anymore, and that marks a significant change. "If rape is inevitable," goes an old joke, "just lie back and enjoy it." I don't remember who said it, but it was once considered to be a rather witty line.

And yet, rape still occurs. As do milder forms of sexual harrassment, along with assault and murder.

Let's talk about murder. It's the most extreme form of violence, in that it ends with a person's death, and also the one that's least amenable to being played with statistically by changes in definition. After all, a dead body is a dead body.

And in truth, women in Canada are just about safer, statistically-speaking, than women ever have been in the known history of the human species. And so are men, though men are less safe than women.

Allow me to quote again from the Statscan document, Homicide In Canada, 2006: "Almost three-quarters (73%) of homicide victims in 2006 were male."

Granted, that same document shows that 87% of the killers were male, which suggests that inter-personal violence is largely (though far from exclusively!) a problem with (some) men.

Which I think begs the question: what are those factors that lead some people (mostly men) to behave violently, up to and including murder?

To say that it's "the media" or "mainstream hegemonic ideas and ideals" really just puts a label on the problem, but doesn't address it.

What are the real contributing factors towards violence? Which men (and some women) commit rape and murder? Under what circumstances do they do it? Why do some societies have much lower rates of violence than others?

Let me digress a moment.

Contrary to popular belief, 20th century western civilization has in fact been the safest civilization in the known history of the world. As an example, take a look at the following chart, taken from page 56 of Steven Pinker's, book, The Blank Slate.

Chart graphing male deaths caused my warfare, from Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate, page 57.

Note that the final group - the US and Europe over the 20th century includes both world wars (though, admittedly, it doesn't seem to include those killed in the so-called third-world, which might make for a significantly different graph, though I think the rank ordering would remain the same).

So. If this society is safer than any other, what causes the violence that remains and, in particular, the violence that isn't mutual (two drunk guys agreeing to fight), but that that is clearly the violence of a physically stronger individual victimizing an individual who is physically weaker?

It seems to me there are two general classes of people in our society who do this. On the street, it tends to be men (and sometimes women) with very little power, except that which they can enforce through their fists; and at the opposite end of the scale it tends to be men (and sometimes women) who have at their disposal the apparatus of the state.

We're no longer talking (much) about sexism, but about class.

For the moment, I'd like to take the state out of the discussion and talk about men and women here in Canada.

In general, which individual men are most likely to commit assault or murder?

For murder, the answer is clear. Poor and (especially) socio-economically disenfranchised men. In Canada, those men tend to be native and black. I don't think there's any reason to doubt that racism is a factor, though I believe there are many other factors involved, cultural factors in particular.

Here in Toronto, my impression is that most gun crime involves "blacks". And I can certainly say that my ex-girl-friend (who was "black") reported to me that, if she was harrassed on the streetcar, the aggressor was (almost) invariably "black" himself.

You may have noticed the quotation marks around the word, black. There was a reason for it.

My further impression is that, when "blacks" and "gun crimes" are used in the same sentence, the truth is, more often than not, "blacks" means "Jamaican" (immigrants or first generation Canadians).

My ex was roughly as "black" as Barrack Obama. Her mum was an immigrant from Jamaica, her dad from somewhere in Europe. Neither chose to settle into a "ghetto", and they expected from their daughters that they would be fully Canadian.

Laura herself told me that the closest she came to experiencing racism was that she sometimes felt "a little" more watched when she and her friends would invade a store.

I know, it seems as if I digress, but I really am getting to a point.

Physical violence (mostly) comes from a place of psychological weakness and fear, and from a place of confusion, where one doesn't know what it is one's expected behaviour.

Every human being is capable of lashing out violently. There is a reason (hormones) that young men are those most likely to do so. There is a reason (social inequality - ie, perceived poverty) that is those from groups who feel socially disenfranchised are most likely to do so.

And there might be one more reason, which feminists ought to look into, another example of the Law of Unintended Consequences.

The feminists of the 1960s and 1970s won some marvellous victories, which began to take effect in the 1980s. Society as a whole began to recognize that women and, especially, girls had been given a bum deal for decades - hell, for the entire history of the human race.

And society began to change. School curriculums were altered, girls were given extra attention, all with the admirable of levelling the playing field between the sexes. And to a large extent, it's worked. Women now make up half or more of the enrolment in most post-secondary fields of education, sometimes quite a bit beyond the percentage of women in the population.

Referring to my age once again, I was already pushing 20 when it was a rarity to see a female streetcar driver, let alone a female cop or doctor.

I doubt there has been such a vast social change in any society in history. It should come as no surprise that, in that massive shift, some people - some individuals - have been left behind, bobbing like so much flotsom and jetsom in the wake of the good ship Society.

Blaming "men" for society's ills never was intellectually tenable; blaming "men" now is just stupid.

The fact is, "society" is more complex than ever before, because it is still in flux.

None of knows what we are supposed to do in any given situation. Men and women alike, we're making it up as we go along, trying to create a new equilibrium out of chaos. And one of the factors in that chaos are those men whose parents somehow missed out on the change, who have been raised to believe they are still the centre of the universe, when in fact they have been - as men - flung to the periphery.

If the term, feminism, ever meant something more than, "I want my share of the pie", then serious feminists need to start thinking about their sons, as well as their daughters.

Why is there a subset of those sons who think it's a good idea that every woman at a science fiction convention label her breasts as "touch" or "touch not"? How is it they don't understand that women are actually people?

Why is there a sub-set of men who respond to the least slight by pulling out a handgun?

Why is there a sub-set of men who think it's okay to use their greater size and strength to harrass and intimidate women who happen to be passing them by?

Blaming "the patriarchy" or some abstraction we label "hegemonic ideals" might make us feel clever, but it doesn't do anything to deal with problems in life.

And hell, I feel like I've only opened the book of questions. All of what I've tried to say above really demands that we address the question of class, of a society that insists on a steep hierarchy of (mostly) winners and (a very few) winners.

If you live in a society in which a significant percentage of your population consider themselves to be losers, then they will perceive that they have nothing to lose by resorting to violence. They will mostly kill each other, but you (if you're lucky enough to be a winner) won't be safe strolling in the public sphere either.

I guess I'm asking all of us, but in particular those who think of themselves as feminists in particular and progressives in general, to park your easy answers at the door and really think about the big picture. With globalisation and global warming, the next hundred years is going to be a century of unparalleled conflict, a time when one real right will be struggling against the claims of three others. History suggests we're going to see a bloodbath that will make World Wars I and II look like playground brawls, but the trend in history makes it clear it doesn't have to be that way.

But only some very hard thinking is going to see us through this dark patch.
ed_rex: (Default)

New words: 1,255
Total wordcount: 87,392
Deadline: May 1

Seeing as how tomorrow is the first, I'm obviously going to miss the deadline.

Those of you (if any) paying attention will note that I've missed a few days. The novel's been giving me fits and, indeed, I had to force out today's production. Much like my characters, I feel trapped in the middle of nowhere with an uncertain road to the finish. At least, I had been. I thinkhope I've got a handle on it at last. But I seem to recall thinking the same a couple of weeks back, so who the hell knows?

Right now, I'm hating just about every word I type.

* * *

One of the dumber ideas to come down the pipe recently was something called "Open Source Booby" (google it if you want the details; I did and don't want to bother doing so again), which I know that some of you were aware of.

In a nutshell, the idea was hatched at (go figure) a comic or science fiction convention. As I understand it, the women in attendance were to wear little badges, I think there were three variants. One to say, in effect, "Yes, please grope my tits"; another saying, "Ask first"; and the third, "Hands off!"

And a whole whack of presumably desperate nerds all nodded in mutual self-congratulation at what a great idea they had, apparently never stopping to think that the vast majority of women attending an SF or comic convention are there because of their interest in the art and that they might, just maybe, not appreciate having every pimply-faced fan-boy ogling their chests even more than already occurs.

Anyway, like I said, a remarkably dumb idea and one which, as one of you pointed out in your own journal, could have come only "...from someone who doesn't perceive their place of relative power and security."

Unfortunately, to my mind, this person too that male sense of security and entitlement a step too far and also in the wrong direction, conflating statistical facts with and feelings in a destructive alliance. A longer quote is in order.

This whole Austria-incest thing has really got me thinking, and this is the thought: Women aren't safe. We aren't safe from our fathers, brothers, husbands, boyfriends, random acquaintances, strangers. We aren't often particularly safe wrt members of our own sex, either, or gay men, or transgendered people, or anyone. And I think the whole Open Source Boob thing demonstrates, if anything, how the N. American white male dork (I guess that means all white N. American men, sorry) doesn't even remotely get the reality of constant unsafety. You guys are so safe, comparatively. Everyone else is less safe, even if sometimes we think we're safe.

Leaving aside the blanket condemnation of "all white N. American men", the larger statement simply isn't true, at least by some standards. Like being safe from murder.

According to a recent Statistics Canada report, Homicide in Canada, 2006, very nearly three quarters of the murder victims were, er, men. (And, yes, 87% of the accused murderers were also men.)

Now, I'm not (really I'm not), trying to negate the shit that women all too often have to go through while living their lives, but to say simply that "women aren't safe", from their "...fathers, brothers, husbands, boyfriends..." etcetera is simply wrong. The fact is, most fathers, brothers, husbands and boyfriends (&ct) are nothing at all like the Austrian guy who locked up his daughter for 20 years, and fathered (clearly, via rape; there's no question of consent in this one, folks) six or seven children by her to boot. Most men are actually no more and no less than the flawed but basically decent human beings that most women are.

Neither my mother nor my niece is "unsafe" in my presence nor, as a number you, Gentle Readers, can at attest to from personal experience, if only provisionally.

The point being, people aren't statistics. People are individuals. While most murderers are men, in actual fact, most men are not murderers. And most individual fathers and brothers are actually people in whose company most individual daughters and sisters are safe.

The problem with murder is murderers, not men; the problem with rape isn't men, it's men who rape; the problem with the drunken lout who beat the shit out of me a couple of winters ago isn't men, it's that particular drunken lout.

Ultimately, none of us are completely safe. And yes, statistically, a man is more likely to kill you than is a woman. But we are not statistics and neither are the people in our lives. We are individuals and we live and interact with other individuals.

All right. Enough ranting. Onwards.

* * *

Sunday actually saw me out of the house for a change!

I got a call from my brialliant and beautiful ex, Siya, reminding me that Sunday was the last day of Soundeye, an exhibition of film and music she had been involved in organizing.

And so I hoped on my trusty bicycle and navigated the remarkably crowded downtown streets (if any of you drive a car, you should pray to each and every god/goddess you have for The Toronto Transit Commission!) until I reached the University of Toronto's Hart House.

And soon found myself "volunteering" to stick around until 8:00, when a feature film on Chinese rock and roll was to be presented. Without sub-titles.

So I had my first experience as an "interpreter", speaking into a microphone as I tried my best to provide translations for a film I'd never seen.

Now, I don't speak a word of Chinese, Mandarin or the other one, so I was utterly dependent on Siya's laptop, which contained a typescript, along with the number of seconds each section occupied.

But even so ...

Even so, I think I did a decent job, given the circumstances. Towards the end of the first half (there were two of us who had been dragooned into doing it) I was getting fairly good at the timing. But still, "translating" something when you don't actually have any idea of what's been said is not an entirely comfortable experience.

But I'm very glad I did it. I miss hearing my dulcet tones through a microphone.

* * *

What the hell, I'll make it public.

Whoever wins the Democratic nomination in the States (and, until today, I thought Obama had it wrapped up) is going to get creamed by John McCain.

Believe me, it gives me no pleasure to say this, but I think we're looking at a landslide not seen since Nixon's second victory back in 1972. Between the divisive Democratic race and a significant number of voters who, in the secrecy of the ballot booth, won't be able to vote for either a black man or a white woman, I fear it's a lock. Worse, I fear McCain is only just enough smarter than Bush to be able to competently lead the US down the Bush path of bloodshed and economic suicide.

* * *

To comfort myself, I'm going to shortly (as how else?) sack out on the couch and see if Montreal can figure out how to win a fucking hockey game whilst stroking my kitty.

And by "kitty", you pervs, I mean my cat, who deserves no end of praise, come to think of it! I awoke this morning to find a dead mouse by his litter-box. And my father keeps bitching about the feline ...

July 2017

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