Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Dear Consumers

Dear Consumers,

While many people are choosing to boycott Chick-fil-A and object to their proud homophobia, and others are choosing to celebrate Chick-fil-A in their own nasty ways, some of you are making apathetic comments.  You seem to think that we shouldn't care, that it doesn't matter where we eat, that it doesn't matter what a fast food company owner thinks politically.

If I want to buy a new shirt, maybe there are only three stores in town.  Store X sells great-looking shirts and makes it a point to hire only part-time employees so it won't have to extend benefits.  Store Y sells shirts that always fit me really well and dyes its clothing with some pigment found in rocks dug up by abused children in a foreign country.  Store Z sells shirts which aren't as fashionable but treats its employees fairly well.

The money I spend on that shirt helps to keep that store open and fund those business practices.

Other people will see me in that shirt, so I'm providing advertising for its company.

Other people will see my car in the parking lot and will see me in the store, so my very presence demonstrates to others that this is a good place to shop.  If they had qualms about the company's business practices, they can assuage their guilt by noticing that they're not alone there; other people shop there, too, so it must not be all that bad.

You're voting with your wallet.  When you spend money with someone, you're saying, "Hey, I support what you're doing here."  You're supporting the product and the company behind it.

Music fans will make it a point to go out and buy a favorite musician's album as opposed to downloading it illegally because they understand that sales make a difference.  When gamers don't like a new feature of World of Warcraft, they cancel their subscriptions in protest.  When a big national chain comes into town, some people boycott it and deliberately choose to spend their money with small, local stores to keep those local owners in business.

Why does it matter that the people behind Chick-fil-A are homophobic?  For one, corporate culture.  If the people at the top are homophobic, they're likely to be homophobic in their hiring practices, in their corporate policies, and so on.  For another, they actively support homophobic organizations.  They've donated millions of dollars to anti-equality groups.  They're fighting against equal rights for all citizens, and you're cheerfully supporting them because you think their chicken is tasty?

Civil rights < chicken?

Maybe civil rights < pizza for you, too.  Papa John himself donates millions to Republican campaigns and hosted an exclusive fundraiser for Mitt Romney.  Maybe you're a Romney-loving Republican, too.  Or maybe you just like that little tub of sauce you get in the pizza box.

Sometimes the decision of where to spend your money is complex.  One company funds homophobic campaigns, another exploits its workers, and another does shady things abroad.  You start to wonder if you can safely spend your money anywhere.  Maybe you'd love to spend your money with one company, but you can only afford the one with terrible practices.

Just as it's up to you to be a responsible citizen, it's up to you to be a responsible consumer.  Maybe you didn't know that Chick-fil-A was best friends with Focus on the Family, but now that you do, you can make an informed decision.  Maybe you can't afford to shop at an expensive but worker-friendly store, but you can make your opinions known to the terrible store you can afford, and you can continue to vote and agitate for better policies.

I don't care about Papa John's sexuality and I'm not interested in his private life.  I do like knowing that the Chick-fil-A family works so hard to entrench homophobia and fight against equality, because I don't want to support that kind of harmful hate.  It matters to me because human rights matter to me.  I'm not going to giggle over jokes about how no one cares what the Burger King does in bed, because that's not the point and you're well aware of that.  I'm not going to throw up my hands and say, "Eh, all corporations are evil to some extent, what can you do!"  I expect more.

I hope that someday you do, too.

With love,
Frank Lee

Monday, July 30, 2012

Dear Blizzard

Have Group, Will Travel
Summons all raid or party members to the caster's current location. Cannot be used while in combat, and can only be cast while in the outdoor world or near the entrance of a dungeon or raid.
-Guild perk in
World of Warcraft
Q: Are you happy with how guild perks worked in Cataclysm? Can you give us an example of what new content guilds should expect? New perks? Is the level cap going to be increased?

A: We are happy with some of them, but others of them went too far in some ways or were just not cool enough in other ways. My overall view of it is somewhat mixed. We do expect to introduce some new perks, even if it is just to swap out some of the ones we feel didn't work out as well. The Have Group, Will Travel was popular because it is one more thing that shrinks the world and allows players to avoid being out in the world. We are trying to put more of an emphasis on players going out into the world to do stuff, so that is one of the ones that we are going to replace with something else.
-Tom Chilton, Blizzard press tour
Dear Blizzard,

You've heard from me on this subject before, but let's go over it again.

Your perception of "Have Group, Will Travel" (HGWT) betrays a profound misunderstanding of how your players actually use this perk.

Overall, it's very useful.  If I need help, my friend can come right to me; if she needs help, I can go right to her.  Want to show someone something cool?  Need help killing something?  Need a guide?  Your friend is right there beside you in a moment.  Maybe I want a friend to help me farm old content or go on a transmog run or show me a new mount.  One summons and there she is.

My friend might want to hang out with me but might not want to take a tram and a flightpath and a mount ride the whole way out to wherever I am.  Maybe she's lazy.  Maybe she knows that the trip will take too long and someone else will get to the rare spawn first if she can't get there instantly.  Maybe her computer's old and she really wants to get to me but can't risk disconnecting.  WOW is a very social game and HGWT allows us to spend time with each other, not time checking off flight paths.

You say that it shrinks the world.  For me, it's broadened the world.  It's opened up Azeroth and allowed me to be in places I otherwise wouldn't be with people I otherwise wouldn't spend time with.

I'm an RPer and I can say with confidence that HGWT has revolutionized RP.  It's brought a lot of energy and fun to the game.

It encourages us to RP in new locations.  If I want to RP in the middle of the forest somewhere, before HGWT I would've gotten a lot of "where is it" and "how do I get there," and people would spend time deciding whether the trip's worth it or not.  Now, I can summon everyone and get the fun going in an instant.  People like convenience, and if the RP spot is one too many flight paths away or in an unfamiliar destination, apathy sets in and they won't bother.  You've made it easy to get anywhere in the world, and now we're RPing all over, everywhere, anywhere we can think of.

Sometimes people log in later than expected or don't get the news in time and want to join in an RP event already in progress.  If they have to travel the whole way there, they think that they'll be too late and end up not going at all.  If they can be summoned in as soon as they want to join us, they can catch up more quickly.

It opens up RP for low-level toons in a new way.  A lot of players might say that the real game starts at end cap, but I've never believed that and it's especially true for RPers right now.  If I'm on a low-level toon and the RP spot is in a quiet corner of a higher-level zone, my friends can HGWT me right in and I can RP along.  My low-level characters can join in RP all over Azeroth and beyond thanks to HGWT.

Not all toons can fly in Azeroth, but HGWT makes the world accessible to everyone.  Several times RP events have included stops on mountaintops we can't get to on foot or ground mount, so those who can fly summon us up.

With HGWT, I've been able to visit places and RP in spots I've never enjoyed before.  It makes the world fun and accessible for everyone.  Without it, I can see the world becoming smaller again and low-level toons being shut out again.

You want players to travel more and get out in the world again.  We are out in the world.  We RP all over Azeroth.  We might not use traditional flight paths to get there, but we're there, having a great time, arguing and laughing and dancing and fighting.  While you're making plans for new features and future expansions, please keep us in mind.  You may think that RPers are a small minority in your MMORPG, but the more accessible RP is, the more RPers there are.  With HGWT, I saw a rise in RP attendance.  I hope for more great RP in the future, but will the bulk of it be in Stormwind and other easy, obvious places?  Will the bulk of it be among level-capped characters with flying mounts, leaving new RPers behind?  As a member of the community, I take some level of responsibility for fostering accessible RP, but it gets harder to do as you remove our resources.

See you in Pandaland!

With love,
Frank Lee

Dear ABC

Homophobia and racism to follow.

Dear ABC,

I enjoy lighthearted physical challenge shows.  When a friend and I were looking for amusement, we came across "Wipeout" and gave it a shot.

I've only seen one episode and a part of another, but I came away with no desire to watch any of it ever again.  What I saw raised a lot of questions and put me on edge.

A twenty-year-old contestant on a "blind date" episode introduced himself by saying, "I became a man when I was thirteen when I had my bar mitzvah."  Your hosts almost immediately began to call him a man-child and continued to make "man-child" comments throughout the show.

A contestant on another episode introduced himself as a karate instructor.  Your hosts suggested that he had a "rainbow belt" from the "Bob Fosse dojo."

I understand that you have a lot of contestants and a casual audience, so you want to create narratives around the contestants to make them easily memorable so that watchers will follow along more readily.  A woman says that she's descended from samurai and a man says that he wants to be a ninja, so you create a narrative about them being a samurai-ninja couple.  However, since the friend I was watching with missed that couple's introduction, when you spent the entire episode referring to the Asian couple with stereotypically Asian terms, she thought that you were being racist.  You were feeding right into a racist narrative.

Do you really need to refer to Zachary Botterman as "Man-child" throughout the episode as if that's his name?  Do you think that we'll pay better attention or care more that way?  To be entirely frank, your commentary came across as anti-Semitic because it played right into anti-Semitic narratives.  It was also gender-policing and body-policing.

The main hosts in the booth are two white men with nearly identical body types named John Something-son.  Vanessa Lachey is in the "on the field" role, interacting directly with the contestants.  On one hand, it's great that of your three hosts, one is a woman of color.  On the other hand, the entire show is based around two white men standing to one side spouting running commentary on women and people of color and other contestants at their expense.  It's like an unending series of micro-aggressions.  As I watched, I kept wanting to give you the benefit of the doubt.  After all, if she says that she's descended from samurai and he says that he wants to be a ninja, how accountable should I hold you for playing into a racist narrative?  They brought it up themselves, right?  If the woman portrayed as sex-hungry and desperate for a hot guy just happens to be the thickest of the women there, that's just a coincidence, right?  You're not making her say those things.

But you're the one editing.  You're the one deciding what to air.  You put together the commentary.  You decide which narrative to push.  You know which stereotypes you're perpetuating.  So I end up watching a show with two white guys observing the action and telling me all about the Asian samurai-ninja couple, the man-hungry woman who just so happens to be not very skinny, the Jewish man-child, and so on.  When I tried another episode and got to the gay "joke" mentioned above, I had to stop watching.

In the future, try to come up with narratives that don't reinforce racist stereotypes or other nasty themes.  Or don't come up with narratives at all.  Let your contestants simply be contestants with their own names.  Use team colors or team names to identify them.  Maybe find more interesting, witty hosts, as well.  There are very funny people in this world who would love the job.

With love,
Frank Lee

Dear First Baptist Church of Crystal Springs

Dear First Baptist Church of Crystal Springs,

I've heard that you recently coerced your pastor not to perform a wedding in your church because the bride and groom were black.  The couple in question, Charles and Te'Andrea Wilson, attended your church regularly and had already finalized plans with the pastor, but you didn't want a black couple's wedding to be performed at your church so the pastor performed the ceremony in another church instead.

As you can imagine, I find your racism to be absolutely disgusting.

The Wilsons have attended your church.  You'll share the Word and break bread with them, but you won't allow them to get married in your church?  Some churches don't perform the ceremony for non-members, but that doesn't seem to be the case here.  Your specific problem seems to be that the Wilsons are black.  And you were willing to eject your pastor from the church entirely to get what you wanted.
"The church congregation had decided no black could be married at that church, and that if he went on to marry her, then they would vote [the pastor] out the church," said Charles Wilson.
I've been made to understand that, within the bounds of Christianity, marriage is a sacred covenant with God.  It's certainly touted as a wholesome and beautiful sacrament.  Why would you not want this good, Christian ceremony to be performed within your church?  Presumably you permit white people to wed there.  So it's only for people of color that this becomes an issue.  Such a grave issue, in fact, that you'd fire your pastor over it.

I would assume that, as Christians, you believe a Christian marriage to be a good thing.  But it's not a good thing when black people do it.  It's such an intolerable abomination that it must not come to pass before your altar, certainly.  I wonder if you realize how intensely hateful you're being or what a hideously racist message you're sending.  No matter how Christian they consider themselves, black people aren't Christian enough to get married at your church.  Generally, the task of Christians is to evangelize, to bring more people to God, to spread the Word, to share the good news of Jesus Christ and His message for us.  Instead, you're turning people away.  Shoving them aside, rejecting them and anyone who supports them.  You're treating them as inherently not good enough to be Christian, too sinful to be cleansed.  Their skin is too dark for you.  Their souls are too dirty for Jesus.

Denying someone's God's love is about as hateful as a Christian can get.

I hope that you come to understand exactly how atrocious your behavior is and exactly how damaging your mindset is.  I hope that you learn to accept all of God's children into your church.  I hope that you learn to love.

I hope that the Wilsons enjoy a very happy marriage.

With love,
Frank Lee

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Dear Readers

Dear Readers,

How embarrassing.  I seem to have misspelled Chick-fil-A in two recent posts.  I'm not interested in apologizing to Chick-fil-A, since I don't care about the company, but I do want to extend my apologies to you for my oversight.

I'll endeavor to be more careful in the future.

Thanks for reading!

With love,
Frank Lee

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Dear Gun Enthusiasts

Discussion of guns and sexual assault ahead.

Dear Gun Enthusiasts,

Many of you seem fond of the notion that arming potential victims is the way to go.  Whenever there's a mass shooting, you pipe up eagerly to say something like, "If those people had been armed, they could've shot the shooter and ended the whole thing!"  Whenever there's a discussion of rape, you're quick to suggest that we all arm ourselves to ward off future rapists.

It is true that some people feel safer with guns.  It is also true that some people don't.

It is true that in some situations, if you brandish a weapon, a rapist might back off of you.  It is also true that in some situations, a rapist might escalate.

With that said, let's look at five reasons rape victims and survivors might not want or have guns:

1.) Many people who are preyed upon are minors.  At age five, or eight, or thirteen, a kid might not have a gun in her backpack ready for brandishing when her teacher starts crossing boundaries.

2.) Many people are assaulted in times and places a weapon isn't handy.  You keep a gun locked up for safety, and you're raped in your own bed.  You keep a gun under your pillow, and you're raped in the kitchen.  You keep a gun at your house, and you're raped at a party at your friend's house.  Do you take your gun to work?  Do you leave it in your purse?  Do you keep it on your hip at all times, even during a pool party?

3.) Many people are assaulted by close friends and family.  Many people are assaulted by people they aren't prepared to shoot.  How many people do you know who are genuinely, willing to shoot their own grandfather?  Their own mother?  Their own boyfriend?

4.) If sexual predators become aware that more people carry guns and more potential victims are armed, won't the sexual predators themselves be armed in preparation?  An arms race between predators and potential victims might lead to a lot of dead rapists.  It also might lead to a lot of dead victims.

5.) The prosecution rate for rape is dismal.  Right now we're seeing survivors prosecuted for all sorts of offenses.  If I can't prove that someone raped me, but he can prove that I shot him, who's going to jail?

"If only you'd had a gun, this wouldn't have happened" sounds too much like "if only you'd dressed differently," "if only you'd stayed home," "if only you made better friends," "if only you weren't so flirtatious," "if only you were a better judge of character," "if only you'd fought back harder," "if only you'd taken that self-defense class," "if only you'd been more careful."  Yeah, if only.  If only that asshole hadn't been a fucking rapist.

The hyper-vigilance demanded of people (usually women) to guard themselves against rape is brutal.  Now you want to add
1.) get a gun
2.) become an expert shooter
3.) know how to shoot to injure/maim
4.) be willing to shoot to kill
5.) have the gun with you at all times and in all places no matter what
to the list.


If some people choose to live that way or feel that they have to live that way, that's their decision.  But you cannot expect it and it's victim-blaming bullshit to ask it.

Melissa McEwan has said all of this before and very well, so I'll go dig up a few links and add them at the bottom.

We have too many guns around already.  Too.  Goddamned.  Many.  The solution to violence is not more violence, it's stopping the violence to begin with.  Instead of focusing on what the victims can and should and might do, let's focus on fighting rape culture and teaching men not to be rapists in the first place.

Thanks for your help.

With love,
Frank Lee

P.S. Here is Melissa McEwan's must-read post on Rape Culture 101.

P.P.S. Either this is a coincidence or my subconscious is working overtime, but here is Melissa McEwan's post on self-defense.

Dear Chik-fil-A

“We are very much supportive of the family – the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that.”
-Dan Cathy, founder, Chik-fil-A
Dear Chik-fil-A,

Glad to hear that you're so happy in your marriages.

I'm puzzled by your recent homophobic statement about "the biblical definition of the family unit."  What exactly do you think that the Bible's definition of "family" is?

Of all of the books of the Bible, I didn't notice Dictionary being one of them.  When I did a search for the word "family" in general, I got 205 results.  Try it for yourself!

Aside from the typical stuff about someone wiping out an entire family because God desired it, I found some interesting, sometimes conflicting information.

For one thing, people seem very concerned with building a family
Genesis 16:2
New International Version (NIV)
2 so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.”

Abram agreed to what Sarai said.

Genesis 30:3
New International Version (NIV)
3 Then she said, “Here is Bilhah, my servant. Sleep with her so that she can bear children for me and I too can build a family through her.”
 and preserving the family line
Genesis 19:32
New International Version (NIV)
32 Let’s get our father to drink wine and then sleep with him and preserve our family line through our father.”

Genesis 19:34
New International Version (NIV)
34 The next day the older daughter said to the younger, “Last night I slept with my father. Let’s get him to drink wine again tonight, and you go in and sleep with him so we can preserve our family line through our father.”
at all costs.

Here's a note on familial duty:
Deuteronomy 25:5
New International Version (NIV)
5 If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. Her husband’s brother shall take her and marry her and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her.
Who, exactly, is a member of the family?
Judges 11:2
New International Version (NIV)
2 Gilead’s wife also bore him sons, and when they were grown up, they drove Jephthah away. “You are not going to get any inheritance in our family,” they said, “because you are the son of another woman.”

Proverbs 17:2
New International Version (NIV)
2 A prudent servant will rule over a disgraceful son
    and will share the inheritance as one of the family.

John 8:35
New International Version (NIV)
35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever.
Are women, wives, daughters, important members of the family?
Jeremiah 35:3
New International Version (NIV)
3 So I went to get Jaazaniah son of Jeremiah, the son of Habazziniah, and his brothers and all his sons—the whole family of the Rekabites.
How large is a typical family?  How many wives do you have?
1 Chronicles 7:4
New International Version (NIV)
4 According to their family genealogy, they had 36,000 men ready for battle, for they had many wives and children.
I don't know.  I don't see a definition of family here, but I do see a lot of signs that you should do anything and everything to procreate wildly.  It's great that you're still married to your first wives, but you might want to add in at least a second and third if you really want to be biblical about it.

With love,
Frank Lee

Edited to add: click here, please.

Dear Muppets

Dear Muppets,

I heard recently that the people who run your careers over at the Jim Henson Company ended their dealings with Chik-fil-A.  The executives at Chik-fil-A have proven themselves to be proudly homophobic, so the Jim Henson Company made the smart, considerate move of severing ties.

In Chik-fil-A's version of events, they ended things first.  I don't really care, but I'm less inclined to believe them than I am to believe your people, partly because I love all of you so much and partly because the Jim Henson Company's statement included this line:
donate the payment we received from Chick-Fil-A to GLAAD
How great is that?

I'm sorry that your toys won't be available through Chik-fil-A, but you have to be careful who you become friends with and who you make deals with and who you throw your support behind.  What I've learned from all of this is a very good lesson: better to ally myself with a furry monster than with a homophobe.

With love,
Frank Lee

Edited to add: click here, please.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Dear Pranksters

Dear Pranksters,

Let's talk about pranks.

Here's an easy one.  Let's say that Jane is sensitive to cold and Lisa is sensitive to heat.  They sit together at a table on a hot day in August.  Lisa gets up to add ice to her drink.  Knowing that Jane is unsuspecting, she waits until her hand is chilly from the ice, then plants her hand on the back of Jane's neck.

Jane, surprised, gasps and jerks away in distress.

Lisa laughs.

This is a prank.

Pranksters consider themselves to be funny people out for a laugh.

Who's laughing in this situation?  Lisa.

What is she laughing at?  Jane's distress.  Her own cleverness in taking advantage of Jane.  "Ha ha, I really got you!"

Maybe Beth was at the table, watching.  Maybe she laughs, too.  This makes it even funnier for Lisa, who has a witness to her antics.  This also means that Beth saw Lisa sneaking up on Jane and, instead of warning Jane of Lisa's intentions or warning Lisa away, sat in silent complicity or egged Lisa on.

Maybe Jane is a close friend and loves pranks.  Maybe Jane is a common target, someone Lisa and Beth have been bullying for months.  Maybe Jane enjoyed the prank and laughed along.  Maybe Jane laughed because she was startled, because she was nervous, because she's been socialized to play along and not ruin everyone else's fun.

If you take advantage of me and prey upon me and then laugh, you're not being funny, you're being an asshole.  Pranks are designed to startle people, to scare them, to upset them, to hurt them.  "Ha ha, you're in pain!"  That's not hilarious, that's sadistic.

If you're genuinely a funny person, you'll be able to find other ways to enjoy a good laugh without pranking someone.

If you have fun with pranks, give careful thought to who your victims are and what sorts of pranks you enjoy.  There is a line between shared jokes and bullying.  Please don't cross it.  A lot of people laugh along with pranks because we're socialized to do so whether we genuinely enjoy the "joke" or not.

With love,
Frank Lee

Dear Mitt Romney

In remarks that may prompt accusations of racial insensitivity, one suggested that Mr Romney was better placed to understand the depth of ties between the two countries than Mr Obama, whose father was from Africa.

“We are part of an Anglo-Saxon heritage, and he feels that the special relationship is special,” the adviser said of Mr Romney, adding: “The White House didn’t fully appreciate the shared history we have”.
Dear Mitt Romney,

You're running for President of the United States of America.  This would be a good time to put your best foot forward.  You're under a lot of scrutiny.  We're paying attention not only to what you say and do but who you surround yourself with.

The people speaking in that linked article seem to be members of your foreign policy advisory team.  Other countries, you know, are full of "foreigners" and, in many cases, people who aren't as white as you are.  Being advised on foreign policy by racist assholes might lead to racist foreign policy ideas and decisions.  That's not a good thing.

There are many, many foreign policy experts you could've brought onto your team.  You chose this one.  You let him (encouraged him) to speak to the press.  He's speaking for your campaign, speaking for you.

I want to suggest that you surround yourself with better people, because I believe that if you're around better people you might become a better person, too.  On the other hand, if you continue to surround yourself with douchebags, maybe voters will be disgusted and vote for Obama instead, which would be great.

Even if you're happy with their racism, you should replace your foreign policy advisers on the basis of their bad ideas.  Basing foreign policy decisions on shared ethnicity seems like a bad way to go.  Isn't that one of the reasons that the president must be a natural-born citizen?  So that President Schwarzenegger doesn't base foreign policy on what benefits Austria instead of what's best for the USA?  It seems as if foreign policy decisions are already fraught with all sorts of racism and other biases, and it's hard enough to make sound, rational decisions without adding in some wink-wink nudge-nudge you know I'm on your side because WASPs rule, right?

Do you remember how people were worried about voting for Kennedy because he was Catholic and might make decisions based on what the Vatican wanted?  Are you aware that people have similar concerns about your Mormonism?  Do you really want to make it so clear that you'll steer the nation according to your personal affiliations?

Please work on your racism and your boys' club tendencies.  You're running for POTUS.  This would be a good time to strive to be a fair, ethical person.

With love,
Frank Lee

P.S. He feels that the special relationship is special?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Dear Boy Scouts of America

Dear Boy Scouts of America,

Congratulations to your super-secret committee on deciding to confirm how homophobic your organization is.  Your "no gay folks allowed!" sign looks great with that fresh coat of paint.

Here's my problem.  Your organization is homophobic.  To me, your hateful bullshit and exclusive policy are so disgusting that your decision communicates "we're homophobic assholes and proud of it!"

But other people love the Boy Scouts of America.  There are adults who gained a lot from their experience with you.  There are adults who contribute a lot to your organization now.  There are kids who build friendships and confidence with you.  To them, the BSA is great!

If the BSA is great, and the BSA is homophobic, then homophobia might be great, too.  You wouldn't discriminate without reason.  You're keeping those gay people away with good cause, right?  There must be something wrong with them.  Being gay must be a bad thing.

Will kids become homophobic solely because of your super-secret committee's decision?  Probably not.  But you don't operate in a vacuum.  Homophobia's all around them, sometimes from shady sources, sometimes from trusted sources.  We live in a homophobic society, and it takes progressive activism from the people around us to teach us not to be homophobic jerks.  It takes critical self-examination to uproot homophobic ideas.  What you're doing is reinforcing that garbage and encouraging hostility.
The Boy Scouts of America is one of the nation's largest and most prominent values-based youth development organizations. The BSA provides a program for young people that builds character, trains them in the responsibilities of participating citizenship, and develops personal fitness.  For over a century, the BSA has helped build the future leaders of this country by combining educational activities and lifelong values with fun. The Boy Scouts of America believes — and, through over a century of experience, knows — that helping youth is a key to building a more conscientious, responsible, and productive society.
Homophobia is responsible citizenship?  Rejecting gay people is a step to building a productive society?  Oh, you're not kicking them out of society, are you, just out of your organization.  No gay people here!  No gay leaders.  No gay scouts.  No lesbian den mothers.  If gay kids want to participate, they'd better deny who they are, repress themselves, remain closeted lest anyone find out.  Sure, that's how to build character and help youth.
“The vast majority of the parents of youth we serve value their right to address issues of same-sex orientation within their family, with spiritual advisers, and at the appropriate time and in the right setting,” said Bob Mazzuca, Chief Scout Executive, Boy Scouts of America.
I wonder what these "issues of same-sex orientation" are which need to be addressed.  Do you know what I think that the Boy Scouts need to teach kids about gay people?  That gay people exist.  That gay people are anywhere and everywhere, responsible citizens of our "conscientious, responsible, and productive society."

With love,
Frank Lee

With thanks to Pam's House Blend.

Dear Entertainment Industry

Dear Entertainment Industry,

We have a problem.

You've known about this problem for a long time, but let's go over it again.

People spend a lot of time watching TV.  They also spend a lot of time playing videogames.

TV, movies, and games show us a wide variety of white men and boys.  White men and boys are portrayed as heroes, villains, hotshots, nerds, athletes, homebodies, wealthy, impoverished, and on, and on, and on.  If you're a white guy, you're going to see a lot of other white guys onscreen who might look and act similarly to you, and a lot of white guys onscreen with enviable lives you wish you had.  Because white guys are often in major roles, they have more fully developed characters, so you'll see more white guys as fully rounded people.

For women and for guys of color, not so much.  They're not as often the protagonist.  Sometimes they're an obvious token character; sometimes they're nowhere to be seen.  Without as many fleshed-out roles, they're easily pigeonholed.  Women are hangers-on, love interests, eye candy, worthless if not sexually appealing.  Black men are thugs.  People of color who aren't black are adrift in a sea of whiteness.

This is not good for anyone.
If you are a white girl, a black girl or a black boy, exposure to today's electronic media in the long run tends to make you feel worse about yourself. If you're a white boy, you'll feel better, according to a new study led by an Indiana University professor.
Boys of color and all girls watch TV and play videogames and learn to feel like crap about themselves.  They're seeing images and watching stories which portray them as less-than, pigeonholed, stereotyped.

At least we can feel good about the white boys, right?  They feel great about themselves!

But how do they feel about everyone else?  They're watching the same shows as the girls, as the boys of color.  They're hearing and seeing the same messages, that girls are less-than, that boys of color fall into various stereotypes.  They're pulling in the same sexist, racist ideas.

You're making white boys feel great!  At the expense of everyone else.  Why not make everyone feel great?  Why not portray a rich array of all people?  Let's see more interesting, witty, heroic women.  More confident, intelligent, well-rounded people of color.  Let's give these boys and girls (and men and women) characters they can identify with and aspire to be.
An earlier study co-authored by her and Harrison suggests that video games "are the worst offenders when it comes to representation of ethnicity and gender."
Gaming companies, come on.  Get your shit together.  You can do better than this.  "Kids playing games" is an idea we like to associate with happy, fun times, fond memories, laughter.  Give them a good time that everyone can enjoy, not just the white guys.

With love,
Frank Lee

With thanks to Racebending.com.

Dear WOW Players

Dear WOW Players,

Sometimes you say great stuff on the general forums.  Sometimes you say insightful, witty stuff about the game.  Sometimes you say absolute garbage.

"Why can't they make female orcs sexy?" is light, as far as your usual harmful nonsense goes, but as it's part of a larger pattern, I thought that I'd address it.

This question assumes that the orc women already in the game aren't sexy.  Perhaps you're unaware that different people find different traits sexy.  Orc women are sexy, to some people.  Maybe not to you, but since WOW is an MMORPG with millions of players and not a porn video shot exclusively for you, what you find sexy is, to be honest, irrelevant.

Why are you asking about orc women?  Are orc men already as sexy as they could be?  When you look at Thrall, do you admire how hot he is?  Do you think that Blizzard should come up with a new character model for Garrosh and prove who puts the G in g-string?

There's an idea that women should be sexually appealing at all times.  There's an idea that women are decorative.  There's an idea that women's worth is tied up in their appeal to men.  Those ideas are destructive, misogynistic bullshit, and furthering them makes you sound like a harmful ass.

I understand that you like to look at women you find sexy.  You might enjoy playing orc women more if you found them hot.  It would be great, though, if you could relax and enjoy playing your characters as they are.  You can play a tauren man you don't find sexy, and you can play a tauren woman you don't find sexy, and you can have equal amounts of fun with each.

WOW is an RPG, so think of your characters as bold and brave or smart and witty or foolish and forgetful.  Think of your characters as sexy or boastful or prim.  Like men, women don't have to be sexually appealing to be interesting or fun or worthwhile, inside or outside of the game.

See you in Pandaland!

With love,
Frank Lee

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Dear Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Dear Joseph Gordon-Levitt,

Congratulations on your latest movie!

You said something really stupid recently.

"Pretty girls aren't usually funny."

I wonder how you expected Emily Blunt, the "pretty girl" in question, to reply to that.  Your comment was intended as a compliment, I assume.  Did you want her to laugh?  To thank you?

What you told Emily Blunt is, "I'm surprised that you're so funny!  I really expected you to be humorless, witless, and dull, like most good-looking women, but you actually have a sense of humor!  Wow, you're really different from other pretty girls.  It must be great to be so special!"

This is not a genuine compliment.  It's an insult.  A compliment would be, "You're very funny."  Or, "You're very pretty."  Or, "You're funny and pretty."  If you said it in a way that makes being pretty a good thing, and being funny a good thing, independent of each other and not in relation to anyone else, that would be best.

If it's rare for a woman to be both pretty and funny, what does that mean?

If we define pretty as "equipped with a set of natural features aesthetically pleasing to the current culture," then that's genetics.  You're saying that people with a certain set of natural, physical traits share a certain personality trait.  That's usually a bad road to travel.  See racism for many egregious examples.

If we define pretty as "well-groomed and hip to current aesthetic trends," then that's a matter of taking care with her appearance and following fashion.  People who put effort into their appearance tend not to be funny?  Because they're so busy checking up on style trends that they aren't interested in honing their wit?  Is this true only of "pretty girls" or of other kinds of people as well, like men?

Good-looking people are dull?  Boring?  Assholes?  Pretty girls look great but have no personality to speak of?  Pretty girls are decorative?  Self-absorbed?

Being pretty takes a lot of work.  More for some than for others, but there's a lot of cost and effort and knowledge which goes into it.  It can be absorbing, and because all of that energy goes into one's own appearance, it comes across as self-absorbing.  Why would women go to all of that trouble?  Why would women put so much energy into their appearance?  Perhaps because the patriarchy demands it of them and punishes them if they don't.

And so they do it.  And get called self-absorbed, self-centered, vapid, dull, witless, humorless, lacking in personality.  Pretty girls aren't usually funny.

Pretty girls lack personality.  Do you know what women with "too much" personality are called?  Bitches.  Do you know what ugly women are called?  Cows, dogs, ugly bitches.  Do you know what funny women are called?  Nonexistent.  Article after article, male comedian after male comedian, will tell you that women aren't funny.  Women aren't naturally funny.  Women are lousy comedians.

Funny women are exceptions to the rule.  Exceptional women.  Like pretty-and-funny girls, they're the special exceptions which prove the rule.

When you compliment an exceptional woman, you're putting down all other women.  You're saying something rude and noxious about all other women.  And you expect her to nod and smile and agree that she's not like those other women, those petty or mean or stupid or vapid or humorless or slutty or prudish or terrible other women.

That's a lousy thing to ask of someone.  That's a lousy view to hold of an entire half of humanity.  That's misogynistic bullshit.  Don't say that shit and expect us all to laugh and smile and enjoy the compliment.  It's not a compliment, it's a goddamned insult to all of the women she knows, all of the women in the room, all of the women in the world.

What was your point?  That ugly women are funny?  That funny women are ugly?  That no women are funny?

For the record, Emily Blunt is 29.  She's not a "girl."

Please understand that someone's appearance and someone's personality are separate, independent things.  People can be pretty and funny, or pretty and dull, or ugly and funny, or ugly and dull, or handsome and compassionate, or lovely and mean, or any combination of traits.  This is true of all people, and so it is true of women.  It is also true of girls, because women and girls are people, and people come in many, many varieties.

Good luck in your career, and please be more aware of the many attractive, funny women around you.  There are a lot of them.

With love,
Frank Lee

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Dear Louis C.K.

Discussion ahead of the rape culture.

Dear Louis C.K.,

Let's try this again.

You were on "The Daily Show" last night.  I don't watch that show anymore, since I get enough fauxgressive "both sides are just as bad" fat-hating content elsewhere in life, but I did catch video of your interview on-line.

It was really very gross.

You're playing the role of the reasonable sexist.  The approachable misogynist.  Your message seems to be, "Hey, let's all have a good time here, I don't mean any harm, don't take me too seriously, I'm just polishing the patriarchy to keep it nice and shiny!"  It's either a case of "everything works in my favor, so I find it hard to understand that it doesn't work that way for everyone else, too," or a case of, "hey, I had some hard times, we all have it rough, no special treatment for you!"  I'm not sure, since I don't know much about you.  And maybe I'm wrong.  Hey, there's something you might want to try!  Admitting when you're wrong!

Your explanation of your "I <3 Daniel Tosh" tweet is that it was only a coincidence.  You say that you were on vacation, you had no idea that anything else was going on, and you simply sent out a tweet to let him know how much you enjoy his show.

Then this is all a misunderstanding.  Here you are, innocently tossing a frivolous nod to a colleague, and people interpret that as: "Louis C.K. is a rape apologist!"

Do you know what I didn't hear in your interview?

"I'm not a rape apologist."  "I never would have said that if I'd known the context."  "I'd never knowingly defend that kind of behavior."  "What he said was completely out of line."  "If I knew then what I know now, I wouldn't have said that."

Do you know what else I didn't hear?

"I can see why they took it that way."  "Ugh, my timing sure was lousy, I understand why they made that assumption."

No, you called comedians and bloggers uneducated.  You talked about how they trade in "hyperbole" and "garbage."  Basically, we took your tweet entirely out of context, and how dare we, untrustworthy scoundrels that we are.  Although, since you enjoy rape jokes, it's sort of easy to see how we could have assumed that you were defending Daniel Tosh.  Especially since you didn't bother to say anything about him in your interview besides talking about how funny he is and how much you enjoy his show.

This interview came across as you taking advantage of a national platform to clear up any misconceptions.  But if the misconception was "Louis C.K. is a rape apologist," and your message was "I enjoy rape jokes" and "feminists are humorless," that's not really clearing up a misconception so much as clarifying an already existing message.

You think that comedians are "unfettered" and say whatever pops into their heads without thinking.  Is that a good thing?  Maybe that's something to work on.  Maybe putting more thought into it would make for some better comedy.  Sure, there's a lot of humor in raw response, but "I'm a comedian so I don't think before I speak" isn't a great defense when you're tossing out hateful *ist bullshit.

You also said that feminists and comedians are natural enemies, "stereotypically speaking."  Is that a good way to speak?  Is that a smart, insightful way to think?  It sounds like a built-in defense mechanism.  When someone accuses you of being sexist, you can simply reply, "I said stereotypically!  I didn't mean all feminists!"  Is that supposed to be clever?

"Any joke about anything bad is great."  No.  No, it's not.  Any joke?  About anything bad?  All racist jokes are great.  All Holocaust jokes are great.  All dead sex workers jokes are great.  All transphobic jokes are great.  That is a ridiculous thing to say.  It's a ridiculous thing for a comedian to say, because a comedian should understand the art of comedy and how much effort it takes to hone true wit.

There was so much hateful, sexist blather in this interview that I stopped taking notes.  Melissa McEwan covers most of it well.

I'm only an uneducated blogger of garbage and hyperbole, so I assume that you won't take me very seriously.

Unfortunately, I have to take you seriously, because you have a national platform and a certain amount of influence.  And you used that platform to tell everyone, literally, "I can still enjoy a good rape joke."

You've said that you've learned more about the rape culture since this bullshit came to light.  I hope that you continue to learn.  Please keep listening to feminists and bloggers.  Despite our humorlessness and our hyperbole, we're fighting for a better world.  One where we can all laugh at your jokes, instead of some of us laughing and some of us flinching away in terror.

With love,
Frank Lee

Monday, July 16, 2012

Dear Blizzard

Dear Blizzard,

As always, thanks for WOW.

Most of us care what our characters look like.  It's nice if their armor is a matching set and not a mismatched clown suit.  Since this is an RPG, we tend to have personalities and histories for our toons, and the armor they wear can hint at that.  Now that you've introduced transmogging (thanks!), we spend even more time and effort on our gear.

We can agree that armor's important.

I haven't been playing since 2004, so some of this is guesswork on my part.  It seems to me as if early in the game, you decided to design risque armor sets for women.  I say "for women" because I'm referring to the gear which looks like a bikini bottom on women characters and like long pants on men.  The very same piece of gear can look like a midriff-baring halter top on women and like a long shirt on men.

Either you decided to make a change on your own, or you listened to complaints from players, because there seems to be less of it than there was.  WOTLK gear, for example, doesn't seem (as far as I can tell) to have the same number of gender-based pieces.

Still, the problem persists.  The double standard is complete crap.  You're treating men like fully geared heroes and women like eye candy.  The men can run off and save the day, secure in the knowledge that their armor can actually protect them, while the women can stride around looking sexy, well aware that their armor is purely decorative and serves no practical function whatsoever.

It's not always an issue of the women looking sexier.  Consider the difference in priest tier 13 gear for men and for women, for example.  On one, the mask covers the man's face completely, leaving him looking very mysterious, even menacing and creepy.  On the other, the mask leaves half of the woman's face bare, which makes her look as if she's wearing a much more simple disguise.  The half-mask isn't as mysterious and the look isn't as effective.  Why not cover both men and women's faces entirely?  Why make the women's mask smaller?  Is this an issue of stereotypical sexist nonsense about women's vanity?  Is this an issue of liking powerful men but preferring your women to be weaker?

Peruse all of your relevant armor sets and decide whether you prefer the half-naked look or the fully-covered look.  Then tackle the work of redesigning it so that it appears the same on men and on women.  If it shows a lot of thigh, it should show a lot of thigh on both men and women.  If it leaves the back exposed, it should leave both men and women's spines vulnerable, not just the women's.  If it leaves men fully covered, it should leave women fully covered as well.

Some women want to show off their flesh.  Some women don't.  Some men do.  Some men don't.  Give us the tools to dress our characters how we prefer.  Broaden our choices and make full-coverage and skimpy sets for everyone.  If you want to make some half-naked gear, fine, then make it half-naked on all toons.  And fix tier 13 gear so that women get the full mask, too, please.  That mysterious chess piece look is terrific!

With love,
Frank Lee

Dear Penn State

Brief discussion of sexual predation ahead.

Dear Penn State,

You're dealing with a lot right now.  I don't want to take up too much of your time when people far more eloquent than I am are trying to get your attention.  I'll confine myself to remarking on what Melissa McEwan describes:
There is much more at the link, including the report that, after Sandusky sexually abused a 10-year-old boy in the shower at the football facility, the university's president, Graham Spanier, and athletic director, Tim Curley, decided that "the 'humane' thing to do would be to speak to Sandusky and warn him not to bring children on campus any longer."
The message here wasn't "stop assaulting children."  It was "stop assaulting children on-campus.  Stop assaulting children on our turf."

This sounds oddly similar to a boss saying, "Don't use your work e-mail account for personal messages.  Don't use your work computer to make LOLcats."  As if the problem is misuse of company property.  Do it on your own time!

Do you see the problem there?

As necessary dialogue continues over how universities and other groups should handle reports of sexual assault, I hope that everyone comes to understand that misuse of company property isn't the problem, and that the "humane" thing to do is to protect children from sexual predators.

Maybe this will come in handy next time:

Things it's understandable that you'd care about protecting: your reputation, an institution which is meaningful to you, colleagues

Things you should prioritize over items in the first list: the health, well-being, and safety of children who are being abused, violated, and preyed upon

I hope that in the future, victims of sexual assault receive help from people at Penn State.  Admonishing sexual predators to keep their predation more secret and less public isn't actually helpful to the victims, and they're who we should all put first.  I hope that you come to agree with me on that.

With love,
Frank Lee

Dear Readers of Feminist Blogs

Dear Readers of Feminist Blogs,

Hi!  Feminist blogs are great!  I'm glad that you read and enjoy them, and I hope that you continue to learn and comment and support feminism.

I've been reading feminist blogs for years now, long enough to feel confident commenting on certain recurring themes.

Sometimes a post receives some criticism.
Example #1: Your language here is pretty transphobic.  Here's a link to some educational material.

Example #2: I don't come here for this bullshit transphobic garbage.

Example #3: You're a terrible human being and I wish violence upon you.

Example #4: [slur] [slur] [threat of physical harm] [slur] [threat of sexual assault]
If you've been around feminist blogs long enough, you've seen a blogger post something *ist.  Some people point it out in the comments.  Other people comment in her defense.  Eventually someone comes along and says something to the effect of, "You're all mean and hateful!  This is why people are afraid to post around here!  This is why we can't have nice things!"
Here are a few of the problems with that.

1.) You're treating having your sexism pointed out to you as worse than having said something sexist.  The blogger said something sexist, people pointed that out, and now you're criticizing them as if they're the problematic element here.

2.) You're generalizing as if all critics are equal.  Even if it's not your intention, it sounds as if you're lumping the person in example #1 with the person in example #4.

3.) You usually make it sound as if the commenters find some joy in pointing these problems out.  You often make it sound as if feminists derive some sort of pleasure in attacking each other.

This isn't Heathers or Mean Girls or Jawbreaker or why in the world have I seen so many similar movies?  This is real life.  Picture it: the USA, 2012.  A tired woman comes home at the end of a long day.  Maybe she has dinner to make or kids to tend to or a dog to walk.  Worn out from another day dealing with the racist asshats at work, she sits down for a moment to drink tea and catch up on her favorite feminist blogs.  Ah, feminist blogs.  Sometimes she learns from them and broadens her perspective, gaining new insight and greater empathy.  Sometimes she laughs and nods and cries in solidarity with her fellow feminists.  Sometimes she feels a spark of fury and is moved to fire off a nasty letter to whichever treacherous douchebag has proven anti-feminist lately.

But what's this?  Instead of a post she can learn from or challenge herself with or recognize herself in, she finds the same bullshit racism she's been dealing with all week at work!  The same fatphobia she contends with every time her friends get together.  The same homophobia which keeps her away from family get-togethers.  What the hell?

Maybe she posts some kind, polite comment to nudge the blogger in the right direction.  (Example #1.)

Maybe she's fed up and impatient.  Maybe she's genuinely angry or hurt or disgusted.  Maybe she posts something a little less kind and a little less polite.  (Example #2.)

Those are both valid responses.  If a blogger has legitimately pissed her off and said something harmful, she has the right to express her disgust.

I don't for a second defend threats, violent imagery, or slurs.  And there's something to be said for reading and commenting in good faith.  If you've been reading a blogger for a while and think that you know her stance, and then she surprises you with something *ist, try asking her what she meant by that or saying "Here's how this comes across to me" to give her a chance to explain.  If you're new to a blogger, you could take the time to familiarize yourself with her material before commenting, "First-time reader here, I'm not sure that I get what you mean by [phrase]."

Bloggers make mistakes all of the time.  We're all working on bettering ourselves.  We're all at different places on our feminist journeys, so we'll naturally have some friction as people ahead on one path urge the rest to catch up.  But when we insult each other, even unintentionally, we have to give each other room to react to that insult.

"You're all being mean" often comes across as a tone argument, as if someone said something *ist and we simply weren't polite enough in pointing it out.  You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar!  Great, I'll take that advice the next time I'm trying to catch flies.  I'm not here for fly-catching, I'm here for feminist politics and solidarity and teaspoons and photos of cute pets.  I'm here to learn and grow and challenge myself and become a better person and improve people's lives.  We're gathering together to accomplish something, and promoting *ist ideas works against our goals.  Yes, that makes us impatient.  It's bad enough to have to deal with that shit in the rest of our lives, but I would hope that I can come to a feminist community and not be confronted with it.  At least when I am confronted with it, I should be able to point it out without being criticized.

I don't point that shit out for my own amusement.  I don't point it out to score points.  I point it out so that the blogger can work on whatever oppressive, prejudiced, hateful notions she's internalized.  I point it out because I know that there are people watching in silence, because I know that someone's already closed the browser and walked away, because I know that shit like that alienates people.  I point it out because if no one speaks up, the people watching in silence think that no one knows and no one cares.  I know.  I care.  I point it out so that you understand that when I fuck up, I want you to point it out to me, too.  I want to work on myself and challenge myself to be a better person.  Don't you want that, too?  Isn't that what we're here for?

If I say something *ist, I want you to tell me, so that I know to work on it.  If you let it slide, I'll end up saying it again, and I'll keep hurting people, and I don't want to do that.  I like to think that other feminists feel the same way.

The next time you see feminist commenters pointing out a blogger's *ist language, stop to consider why they're pointing it out.  What do they object to?  If they think that the post is *ist and you don't, what's different about your experiences and theirs that might make you disagree?  If you think that the blogger has a history of being great about *ist issues and this is post is an aberration, point it out in a "my history with this blogger leads me to give her the benefit of the doubt" way, not a "how dare you be so mean, her post was perfect and you're destroying feminism" way.

If you think that people are going overboard, be specific.  "I agree that the post is questionable, but threatening sexual assault is completely out of line" is a good way to start.  When your complaint is too general, you're lumping example #1 in with example #4, which makes it seem as if anyone who spoke up in any way is an abusive asshat.

It can be hard to speak up.  It can be hard to point out anyone's problematic wording.  It can be hard to speak out on a well-known blogger's home turf.  It can be hard to find the right words to criticize someone who's supposed to be on your side.  Pointing this stuff out semi-anonymously on-line can give us the tools we need to confront assholes in real life.  Sometimes it's easier to close the browser and walk away.  We're tired and we're aggravated and we deal with enough of this shit.  If I want someone to stop being *ist, it's because I still have hope that she can change.  Some people no longer have that hope at all.

I try to give my fellow feminists the benefit of the doubt.  I try to trust that they mean well, they want to improve, and they would rather have an inclusive community than an exclusive one.  I hope that you'll believe the same of me in return.

With love,
Frank Lee

TL;DR When commenters point out a blogger's mistakes, responding with "you're all being mean!" is a tone argument and fails to address the problem of harmful, alienating language. If you want commenters to extend the benefit of the doubt to bloggers, you should extend that to the commenters as well and understand why they're so fed up.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Dear Viacom

Note for promotion and description of unwanted touching, rape culture, hostility to consent, and utter garbage.
Before we go, I'm excited to introduce to you a new segment called "Lightly Touching Women's Stomachs While They're Sitting Down." [laughter] Okay, it's not what you think—this is where you sneak up behind women who are sitting down and lightly put your hand on their stomach. [laughter] Make sure she's aware that you are in fact feeling a roll. [cut to video clip montage of Daniel Tosh sneaking up on three young, conventionally attractive women and feeling their stomachs before walking away, grinning; the first woman looks super uncomfortable; the second woman laughs uncomfortably; the third woman covers her belly and asks plaintively: "Why are you touching my tummy? Don't ever touch my tummy!"] Okay, guys—during our break, I need you to film yourself lighting touching women's stomachs while they're sitting down. But be careful! Because they like to pretend like they don't love it!
-Melissa McEwan's transcript of a segment from "Tosh.0"
Dear Viacom,

Not only did you think that it was okay to air this on television, you thought that it was such a great, funny clip that you posted it on-line to draw people into the show.

I'm not even going to bother to explain what's wrong with this clip (both the idea itself and the way it's discussed), because you know what's wrong with it.  I refuse to pretend that you're genuinely ignorant.

Your malicious hostility to consent and your promotion of misogyny have been duly noted.  Congratulations, this is completely vile.

Ordinarily I try to ask for reform, but this is so disgusting that I'm asking for punishment, too.  Whoever is in charge of giving that hateful dreck the okay needs a change of career, because that person's judgment is horribly, dangerously off.

Better programming, please.  And soon.  I love to watch TV and I love good comedy, but I can't watch any of your programming while you continue to promote this garbage.

With love,
Frank Lee

Dear Readers

Dear Readers,

Now for something much more fun to read!
A 12 year-old Norwegian boy saved his sister and himself from a moose attack using skills he picked up in the online role playing game 'World of Warcraft.' Hans Jurgen Olsen and his sister got into a spot of trouble when they encroached on the territory of one of these antlered cold weather staples (otherwise known as a moose). When the beast went on the offensive, Hans knew the first thing he had to do was taunt it so that it would leave his sister alone and she could run to safety. "Taunting" is a move one uses in World of Warcraft to get monsters off of the less-well-armored team members.

Once he was a target, Hans remember another skill he'd picked up at level 30 in 'World of Warcraft' -- he feigned death. The moose lost interest in the inanimate Hans and wandered off into the woods. When he was safely alone Hans ran back home to share his tale of video game-inspired survival.
World of Warcraft: teaching moose safety since 2004.

With love,
Frank Lee

Dear Bloggers

Dear Bloggers,


You work hard.  You put a lot of time and care into your posts.

Well, some of you do, anyway.  Some of you are a little slapdash about the whole thing.

But most of the bloggers I read are compassionate, thoughtful people who have interesting, important ideas to communicate.  You put effort into your posts.

Once in a while, someone will point out a flaw.  You'll edit your post.  Everyone continues on merrily.

But you don't leave a note.  You don't say, "Oh, thanks, got it," in comments.  You don't add an "edited for [reason]" to the post.  You don't strike through the part meant for removal.  Not that you have to do all of that every time, but any of that would be helpful.

Here's why.

Scenario one: typos.

Your sentence: Rescue dogs are some best pets.

My comment: Thanks for a great post!  Minor note, but I think that you left "of the" out of your line about rescue dogs?

You edit your post: Rescue dogs are some of the best pets.

You leave no "thanks" or "got it" in comments.  You leave no "edited to add words I left out" or "edited for clarity" in the post.

You're busy.  You're not thrilled to have made a mistake.  I get that.  I see it as an issue of common courtesy.  Basic politeness.  Someone helps you out, you acknowledge it.

Here's something you may not have considered.  Your post had a simple error, a misspelling, an odd glitch in structure.  Someone gave you a hand and helped you to improve it for better readability.  (I'm assuming here that these are polite corrections made in a kind effort to help you out and not coming from jackasses priding themselves on being pedantic.  Go with me.)  Then you made the change and left them hanging.  Now their comment is sitting out there for everyone to read, but the problem's been fixed and their comment left unacknowledged.  Now they look foolish; the post is fine!  What are they even talking about?  People coming along behind them start to question that commenter's reading comprehension.

Do you see where I'm going with this?  She helps you out and you leave her hanging in return.  If nothing else, throw a quick "got it" in comments or "edited for clarity" to the post.

Scenario two: genuine fuck-ups

Your sentences: Which is stupid, right, because everyone knows that only women can wear pink!  So I told Steve, "No way, bro!"

My comment: What's with the gender essentialism here?  Only women can wear pink?

You edit your post: Which is stupid, right?  So I told Steve, "No way, bro!"

You leave no acknowledgement in comments.  You leave no acknowledgement in the post.  You edit that shit out like a ninja and keep going like nothing happened.

First, as above, that leaves me hanging.  Now people come along post-edit and wonder what the hell I'm even talking about.  They get confused.  They turn on me for harassing you about gender essentialism when your post is fine.  Now I have to defend myself and explain, and the conversation becomes even more about your wording than it would have if you'd just acknowledged the problem in the first place.

Second, when you won't acknowledge that you've messed up it seems like you want to pretend the whole thing never happened.  Nothing to see here, folks!  But something did happen.  You furthered a harmful idea.  You promoted the patriarchy's very hurtful agenda.  You made an otherwise ordinary post into a hostile space.  Whoever commented on it, and whoever read it before you got around to editing it, had to deal with that.  We had to trip over your bullshit and figure out what to do with it.  Some of us commented on it, some of us tried our best to ignore it, some of us closed the browser and cried or yelled or let it roll around in our thoughts all day.  You're responsible for that.  The least you can do is acknowledge it.

I'm not demanding abject apologies.  I'm asking for a note: "Edited for gender essentialist wording."  Strike through the offending part and add in a better explanation.

If you think that you've done nothing wrong and the people pointing it out are pedantic, demanding jackasses, leave the post as it is.  Post in comments, "The post stands, I don't care about gender essentialism, I'm not interested in making this an inclusive community."  Let us know where you stand.

Watching your language can be annoying.  Sometimes you have a great, descriptive phrase in mind and you realize that it's ableist and you think, "Ugh, come on, it's just this once!  Everyone says it!  Any other wording will be too awkward!"  Well, too bad.  Being considerate with your language and not alienating readers with your ableist terminology is more important than coming up with a nifty metaphor.  Is being a good writer important to me?  Absolutely.  Is being a good person important to me?  Yes, even more.

Does a "good writer" rely on ableist phrases and sexist turns of phrase and racist slurs?  I would spend more time on that thought, but I'm drifting from my topic!

Stealth-editing your sexism away indicates that you want to pretend it was never there in the first place.  Which leads me to believe that you'd rather sweep it under the rug than actually work on it.  Which makes me wary.  We're all sexist to one degree or another, because we all live in a sexist culture.  We're steeped in sexism throughout our lives.  That's why we have to examine our ideas and consider our words and at least try not to make it worse.  Maybe we can even make it better.

Sometimes you don't want to do your self-exam in public.  I get that.  But you fucked up in public.

Admitting that you messed up isn't fun.  Admitting that you hurt or disgusted or angered someone is hard, especially when you didn't mean to do it.  But please make the effort.  In the long run, it builds a better community, and that's what we all want.

With love,
Frank Lee

P.S. Trying to turn it around and blame the commenters for pointing out your shit is not the way to go.  If they approached the issue bluntly or impatiently instead of sweetly, there's good reason for that.  As I've said before, some commenters are assholes.  Some commenters are great people who don’t have a lot of patience for someone thoughtlessly tossing out sexist remarks.

Dear Jonnie Marbles

Discussions of rape and rape culture ahead.
What made me stop telling rape jokes? [...] Perhaps it was the jaw locking, knuckle clenching effect these jokes were having on the friends I brought along to shows. I'd sit next to them in the audience, see their discomfort, their disgust and realise I was doing the exact same thing up there, whether I knew it or not. Perhaps it was realising just how rarely rape is reported, and how making fun of it makes that less likely still. A lot of comedians say you can make a joke out of anything - and I believe that's true. But when you joke about your grandfather's cancer or the riots, it's a public airing of laundry. It brings some collective fear out into the sunlight to be mocked and defanged. Perhaps I stopped because, in all but a few cases, joking about rape doesn't do that. Instead, when we joke about someone else's secret fear, it drives it deeper into the dark cracks of our national consciousness, only to be spoken of in brutal jest. Whatever the reason, I stopped.
-Jonnie Marbles, "Dear Comedians, And People Like Me Who Think They're Comedians: Please Stop"
Dear Jonnie Marbles,

Thank you.

With love,
Frank Lee

Dear Louis C.K.

Discussion of rape culture, rape threats, and what an asshole Daniel Tosh is.
@danieltosh your show makes me laugh every time I watch it. And you have pretty eyes.-Louis C.K. on Twitter
 Dear Louis C.K.,

I believe in standing up for what you believe is right.  I believe in speaking up.  I believe in standing in solidarity with someone.  That's what this blog is all about.

But when you do it to side with someone making rape threats in the guise of a joke?  When the problematic element you're pushing back against is women pointing out the problems with rape culture?  You're being a complete jackass, to put it lightly.

If you want to commiserate privately with Daniel Tosh over how great he is and how misunderstood he is and how funny he is and how those mean, humorless feminists just don't get it, do your thing.  You can call him, text him, e-mail him, send him a telegram, whatever you like.

But you chose a very public method of communication.  This isn't only a message to Daniel Tosh, this is a message to all of us.  You just told everyone Twitter reaches that you're choosing to stand in solidarity with someone who makes rape threats.

Maybe you don't see it as rape culture versus feminists.  Maybe you see it as comedians versus censorship or some other such nonsense.  I don't know what your intentions or motivations are.  I only know what you say and what it means to me.  And what you said to me was, "Daniel Tosh's show makes me laugh every time I watch it.  When he's up there making rape jokes, I sit back and laugh.  I could've been in that audience that night, laughing right along and enjoying a good show while he threatened that woman.  Good times, good times."

Maybe that's not what you meant.  Maybe it is.

I really enjoyed your work on "Parks and Recreation."  Your character was one of my favorite elements of the show for a while.  Unfortunately, I've now lost all interest in your career.  Where I formerly thought of you fondly as the cop who almost ended up with Leslie, I'll now think of you as someone who deliberately supports the rape culture instead of empathizing with survivors.

You sent that tweet to Daniel Tosh.  The rest of us heard you loud and clear.

Melissa McEwan sees a lot of promise in you.  I hope that she's right.  I hope to hear this story from you, too, someday.

With love,
Frank Lee

Dear Domino's

Discussions of the rape culture and gendered slurs ahead.

Dear Domino's,

I like pizza.  I enjoy a good slice of pizza.  Warm and cheesy with a nice, thick crust, mmm.  Great stuff!

Unfortunately, I'll no longer be purchasing any of your pizza or patronizing any of your establishments.  You don't seem to want me as a customer, so I'll be spending my pizza dollars elsewhere.

Why do I believe that you no longer want my money?  Your charming new ad campaign told me all about it!

It's based around the slogan "No Is the New Yes."

Let's put that idea in the context of our larger society.  There's a phrase a lot of feminists and other people battling the rape culture have made well-known: no means no.  This phrase (and notions of enthusiastic consent) are important because we live in a culture of rape which is hostile to consent.

That hostility to consent manifests in people not taking no for an answer.

Your mouth says no but your body says yes.

Come on, I know you really want it.

Women feel like they have to say no to keep their dignity, so you'll respect them and know they're not sluts, but they really want it, so you just have to keep going until they give in.

One person says no.  The other person ignores it entirely or chooses to interpret it as "yes" or "more" or "please" or "keep going, I'll 'give in' eventually."  Where "give in" might mean "stop fighting back."

You've illustrated the problem very nicely there in your new slogan.  Except that it isn't new.  "No Is Yes According to Rape Culture" doesn't make as catchy of a phrase, though, does it?

You're advertising pizza, rape, and hostility to consent all at once.  But I don't want to promote rape or buy hostility to consent.  I only want pizza.  So I'll buy it from someone else.

Why would I want to pay you to promote the rape culture, anyway, when I get so much of it for free?

Please drop your ad campaign and reconsider your relationship with whoever came up with it.  It's time to go back to the drawing board.  Oh, and donating to a survivors' group is always a good move.

With love,
Frank Lee

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Dear Daniel Tosh

This letter contains references to the rape culture.  The quotation and link include threats of rape.
After I called out to him, Tosh paused for a moment. Then, he says, “Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by like, 5 guys right now? Like right now? What if a bunch of guys just raped her…”
Dear Daniel Tosh,

This is completely fucking atrocious.  What the hell is wrong with you?  Are you genuinely so entrenched in the patriarchy's beloved rape culture that you find the prospect of publicly humiliating and sexually threatening a woman funny?  Or were you so embarrassed to have the repulsiveness of your "jokes" pointed out that you were eager to turn on her in the most vicious way you could think of, and are only hiding behind the veneer of "humor" as a means of defense?

Did it not occur to you that there could be rapists in your audience?  That there could be survivors of rape in your audience?  Do you think that these people are mythical creatures or that they never come to comedy shows?

Actually, that's an interesting point.  You see, rapists might be more likely to come to your shows in particular, since you're so rape-friendly.  And rape survivors, well, comedians in general are so hostile to them that you'd think they'd all have learned to stay far, far away, right?  But rape survivors, like anyone else, enjoy a good laugh, a fun night out.  So there they are, in the audience, ready to enjoy a great time and some happy chuckles.  And then you come onstage.

Melissa McEwan says it well:
And while I'm bothered by the fact that the jokes normalize and effectively minimize the severity of rape and thus perpetuate the rape culture, I'm more bothered by the thought of a woman who's recently been raped, who's just experienced what may be the worst thing that will ever happen to her, and goes to the site of her favorite webcomic, or turns on the telly, or goes to the cinema, or a comedy club, to have a much-needed laugh—only to see that horrible, life-changing thing used as the butt of a joke.

I don't understand—and I don't believe I ever will—why anyone wants to be the person who sends that shiver down her spine, who makes her eyes burn hot with tears at an unwanted memory while everyone else laughs and laughs.
So, yeah.  You're an asshole.  And rape jokes aren't funny.  Rape threats that rapists can laugh along with?  Repeat after me: not funny.  Besides which, from a professional standpoint, rape jokes all very tired and very old and have been done a million times before.  Falling back onto rape jokes only proves how uncreative and unfunny you truly are.

Too bad you humiliated yourself like that.

Public apologies, a donation to a survivors' group, and a commitment to better comedy would be great.  Barring that, at least please stop being such an asshole.

With love,
Frank Lee

Dear Danielle

I hardly ever speak to my family, and it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
-Danielle, "Cutting the Ties That Bind"
Dear Danielle,

Thank you for this article.

While it would be terrific if all families were made up of caring, understanding, loyal individuals who loved and supported each other, that's not the case.  Many of us have that ideal somewhere in our minds, so when someone says "I haven't spoken to my brother in twenty years" or "Don't answer the phone, I never pick up for my father" or "My mom was a terrible mother," sometimes there's a lot of push-back.  Some people don't understand or can't accept that not all family members are good for each other.  They'll insist that you should reach out!  Patch things up!  He's your only brother!  Reconnect now before it's too late!  You'll live to regret it!

The example a friend of mine always brings up is Eminem.  He's said some terrible things about his mother, and there have been a lot of responses like: "You can't say that about your own mother!  What kind of awful human being says something like that about his own mother!"  As if despite the various problems he's mentioned (Munchausen by proxy, for starters), speaking ill of one's own mother is an unspeakable transgression.

There's a lot tied up in that.  The reverence our society claims to have for motherhood (when it's convenient).  The idea that we owe our parents something (everything) for conceiving us in the first place.  I think that a lot of people in the USA feel the need to cling to family especially because of our lack of a robust social safety net.  If we're cut loose from family, who else will take care of us?

Many families are great to each other, and that's a beautiful thing.  Other families are pretty good to each other, or at least can get along when necessary.  And then there are families where the bad outweighs the good, at least between some members.

Everyone has her own point where the balance tips.  Everyone can only take so much.  Sometimes you arrive at the moment when you realize that it's not worth it anymore.  You're not getting enough out of this relationship to make the pain and frustration and trauma worth it.

When people hear "I haven't spoken with my father in 15 years" and reply "That's a shame," yes.  Yes it is.  It's a shame that he's such a terrible father.  It's a shame that he's such a terrible person.  It's a shame that he'll never get to understand or appreciate what a fun, smart, compassionate person I am.  But I am not going to keep going back, trying to create a relationship with someone who isn't interested in having one with me.  I'm not going to keep throwing my time, energy, and emotion into a void based on a notion of "fatherhood" that's barely applicable anyway.

Insisting on some abstract notion of "sisterhood" based on mere biology is kind of rude to all of the people who genuinely work on their relationships and are good sisters to each other.  Insisting that the mere fact of biological fatherhood is owed some great loyalty is kind of rude to all of the people who put genuine effort into being good parents or caretakers or guardians.  A man ejaculates once, shows up a time or two after that, and isn't heard from in twenty years, but when he finally pops up, "You owe it to yourself to reach out to him!  You'll regret it if you don't!  He's your father!"  Never mind the stepfather (or single mother or foster parents or grandmother) who actually reared you with love and care.

As I said, everyone has her own point where the balance tips.  Different people have different levels of emotional energy and emotional resiliency.  Different people are more or less forgiving, empathetic, and tolerant.

If someone makes a decision to break ties with her family, that's up to her.

Let's stop paying lip service to the idea of motherhood and fatherhood and all of the rest of it.  Let's stop forcing people to honor destructive relationships just because we like to believe that there's some magical binding element in biology which makes blood ties intrinsically superior.  The reproductive process in and of itself does not make someone a good mother.  One particular moment of ejaculation will not make a man a good father; all of the rest didn't, did they?  The fact that two people share a common parent doesn't give them some sparkly blood link which unites them forever against all odds.

You know how feminists often explain that intent isn't magic?  Biology isn't, either.  It's just a matter of science and chromosomes and reproductive cycles.  That doesn't make up the social unit we call "family."  Love and loyalty and support and compassion and forgiveness and a lot of other sometimes pretty complicated things do.  And when those things aren't there, why stay in a relationship with someone who doesn't like you, doesn't want to understand you, treats you like shit, abuses you, and only deals with you because, technically, there's some biological link?

If it's not worth it to you, then it's just not worth it.

It's a shame that they'll never understand or appreciate what a great person you are.  I hope that there are other people in your life who do.

With love,
Frank Lee

P.S. This letter seems to have developed into something for everyone in general, not only you, Danielle.  Sorry about that!  I got carried away.

P.P.S. None of the examples above apply to me in particular.

Dear Allies

Dear Allies,

Thank you!

Thank you for speaking up.  Thank you for fighting back.  Thank you for doing your part.

People oppressed by the patriarchy deal with a lot of shit, from violent trauma to micro-aggressions.  Allies don't leave the social justice work to them.  Allies don't sit back while they do all of the heavy lifting.  Allies step up.

Sometimes someone makes a nasty comment and I think, "Ugh, what an ass!  But this isn't a safe space, and I'm not sure that I want to speak up right now.  Maybe I should just let that one go."  But if it isn't a safe space for me, how much less safe is it for others?  If I'm cringing at that nasty comment, who else might have heard it, and what might they think?

I was about to go off on a tangent about speaking up!  I'll save that one for later, or we'll be here all day.

For now, let me reaffirm my commitment.  I'll keep striving to be a better ally.  I'll keep my progressive goals in mind.  I'll continue to think of the people I'm fighting for.  I'll continue to think of everyone negatively affected by all of this bullshit and how much better all lives will be with each step of progress.

Thank you, allies.  Keep fighting.  There's a lot of work to be done, and the more of us there are to carry the burden, the lighter the load will feel.

In solidarity,
with love,
Frank Lee

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Dear Book Readers

Dear Book Readers,

I love books!  Books are the best!  They're full of knowledge and ideas and people and interesting stories and lots of other goodness to read.

I've always loved fiction.  Now that I'm older, I'm more interested in non-fiction than I used to be, but I love to get my hands on good fiction.

The problem is, I'm a more demanding reader than ever, and it's hard for me to find something I like.  Most of the books I pick up are poorly written even if they're not full of racist, sexist, homophobic trash.

Maybe you can make some recommendations?

The authors I find most reliable are Agatha Christie, Sara Paretsky, and Anne Tyler.  Obviously, there's a lot to discuss in that short list (do we need to get into And Then There Were None?), but at this point, those three are all that I have, so I'm clinging to them.

I used to love Madeleine L'Engle.  I've read a few books by Toni Morrison and Margaret Atwood, but I should probably delve into their works more deeply.  Which authors do you turn to?  Which writers have a solid body of work which makes you happy to find anything with their name on it?

With love,
Frank Lee

Dear Viewers

Dear Viewers,

I used to have a list of my favorite TV shows.  I lost it.  If I had it, this post would be more useful.  I'm going to wing it anyway and hope for the best.  Wish me luck!

I'll admit that I watch a lot of shows I wouldn't recommend.  I watch some shows out of habit ("The Office"), some shows with the hope that someday they'll improve ("Community"), and some shows for reasons I should probably examine more closely ("Toddlers and Tiaras," anything with Gordon Ramsay).

Here are the shows I'm willing to recommend.  All of them are (or were) available on Hulu and/or Netflix and/or DVD.
"Golden Girls"
"Murder, She Wrote"
"Cagney and Lacey"
"Rosemary and Thyme"
"Parks and Recreation"
Cons of the shows listed above: They're very white.  They're crowded with straight, cis, able-bodied people.  I am absolutely sure that you'll find a lot of problems with those shows.

Pros: I love seeing women onscreen, women as protagonists, women who are fleshed-out characters, and the above shows give me that.  It's also nice to see women onscreen as major characters who fall outside of the patriarchy-approved, Maxim-fueled eye candy guidelines.  For starters, most of them are over 40.

I'm also really enjoying "Happy Endings."  To put it simply, it's sort of like a more diverse version of "Friends" but way easier to watch than the other variations (like "Traffic Light," which kept making me cringe).  My favorite part of the show is Jane and Brad's relationship.  They're an interracial married couple, and there are a million opportunities for the writers to make sexist, racist jokes (you know the ones: She's controlling, ha ha!  He's black, ha ha!  She's domineering, ha ha!  Did we mention that he's black?!), but every time I expect those tired old themes, I'm relieved.  The show has fun with the characters, not at their expense.  They're a fun, loving couple and obviously enjoy each other a great deal.  I do wish that the show did more with Max, the gay sixth of the group, and I hope that his character advances as the seasons continue.

Which shows do you recommend?  Where do you find shows which tell the stories of women and/or people of color and/or people with disabilities and/or QUILTBAG people?

With love,
Frank Lee

P.S. I also like "Flashpoint."  Very male, very white cast, but I enjoy the teamwork-oriented themes.