Thursday, October 29, 2015

"Mansplaining" Mansplained

I like thinking about 'mansplaining' because it's not that I could go either way on it, so much as I go both ways on it.

And it bothers a lot of men, though I don't know why it should. I can sympathise but not empathise.

Fact is, mansplaining is good or bad in my view, based on context. Good as a consciousness raising exercise/feedback exercise to make somebody aware of their own hubris, often subconscious, habitual behavior.

Specifically when 'mansplaining' is used in reference to a man explaining to a woman what it's like to be a woman, or a feminist, what feminism is. More generally there's a faux pah whenever a non-expert presumes to explain to an expert the experts domain of expertise, either relatively or absolutely.

I'm absolutely pro-that usage of mansplaining, negative reinforcement evoking embarassment. Though in my limited experience of the general phenomena (I once had new recruit I had to train up to take over my old job, and he had this almost pathological habit of trying to teach me what I was needing to teach him) The act is committed as a result of obliviousness. It can be hard to interrupt a man on a roll. 

And here is my limited sympathy: having been a member of my high-school debating team, I've personally experienced being lauded and applauded for making shit up and sounding authoritative about it. MBAs at Harvard have 'air-time' as an assessment criteria (how much attention a student in class can command for themselves) and I'm sure with everything I know of business school, if the Harvard MBA is doing it, it will trickle down in some form to a condoned behavior in every business class and culture. 

I still have bad habits from my own education, the lazy shorthand of making arguments pre-faced by 'research shows...' there's no research, none I would ever bother to verify. It's just a dick move to try and sound convincing, or present opinion as fact.

The thing is, there's so much positive reinforcement of this behavior out there. That's the limits of my sympathy towards men who find themselves getting bitten suddenly in a context that every other time they've been getting a pat on the head for it. That and those TV adds where a family has a doofus know it all dad, but everyone else humors him, leaving him oblivious to the fact that mum or kids are really running things. That cliche isn't based on nothing, I've witnessed the family hostage to a doofus playing the traditional role.

The plain and simple fact is that mansplaining is bad, experts should not have to take lessons from non-experts. That's the wrong way round, the flow has to go from expert to non-expert. Informed opinions to the uninformed. 

Ironically, I've experienced the inversion of mansplaining, often in feminist blog content. Specifically reading original research that explains to me what it is to be a man. This doesn't make it equivalent, it just suggests that the error of assymetrical insight is common to just about everyone. Mansplaining to me should be a matter as banal to deal with as when right wingers try to explain the arguments of left wingers and vice versa. The only complication is that given the narrow political spectrum available to most voters, left and right wingers are kind of equal, where men and women are not.

There are many ways though, down in the detail of what it means to be human and genetics and all that shit that men and women are equal. And as men and women are equal in intelligence, so too are they in stupidity. 

It's just a fact, a bunch of people aren't good at arguing, just as a bunch of people are pretty worthless at the martial arts (or other martial arts). 

And mansplaining gets misused as something to throw at a man asserting any argument, whether it be within his domain of expertise or not. A tit-for-tat tactic in effect if not intention, resulting in men feeling dismissed and getting pissed off and dismissive as a result. And if the patriarchy is the one enjoying all the privelege, any tactic that results in dismissing feminist voices is a bad one.

At best, you wind up with men being selective about the feminist voices they listen too, and that is not ideal. Particularly if they select out any voices that use or refer to mansplaining, because mansplaining has good and instructive uses.

But as a man explained "If you want to gather the honey, don't kick over the beehive" the man being Dale Carnegie and his expertise being 'how to win friends and influence people' which really isn't gendered at all. 

I would speculate that a rich source of progress for feminism and equality is getting the patriarchy to create feminist spaces within its territory, mainly the collective mindset of men. And I suspect it's probably easier than anticipated because most men don't identify as misogynists, and the advantage of privilege being invisible to those who possess it, is that we don't realise and aren't invested in our oppressive behaviors. 

Until you consciously characterise somebody as an oppressor, where people often live down to your expectations. But there's a counterpoint, and hence why I go both ways. I've never had to fight oppression myself, and thus I don't get to say how. So if you want to overuse mansplaining, use it as a weapon rather than a tool of instruction, knock yourself out.

The empiric method really only gets to say whether you should or shouldn't do so. 

Sunday, October 25, 2015

"At Least You're Aware..."

I have a very simple approach to ethics, good or bad whatever I discover about myself I have to own it and be transparent.

In my own shorthand I call it 'ethics of the devil' being that the devil is not really a problem in most anecdotes no matter how evil he be, so long as he identify as the devil. He's a known quantity, literally associated in all cultures with being evil and bad.

But it's not for everyone, and I'm not even sure if it stands as good ethics. I just find it practical, as in, I'd rather be known as honest than good. Because if a person finds anything objectionable about me, like my lack of caring for the plight of domesticated farm animals being exploited, then people can treat me as a known quantity, and freely associate with me or not.

What troubles me though, is how many people don't take the obvious objection to my honest stances and choose instead not to object. To apologise for me instead - and what I've heard on more than one occassion is 'at least you're aware of it...' 

And I understand where it comes from, for example there's a lot of white guys whom are not aware of their biases, and their subconscious racism and misogyny that manifests in them hiring, training, developing and promoting guys just like them in their job and industry. These guys aren't aware of their privilege and probably think of themselves as educated and progressive.

Even when criticised for the lack of diversity in their organisations or even in their produce, these guys will be taken aback under the impression that they've fostered whatever they control as a product of merit not privilege.

And hence, I get a 'at least you're aware...' that I'm in the above category in terms of biases and privileges, and yeah, those biases can be subconscious and broadly speaking and particularly in the instant I have no control of it. 

But that I'm aware of it, is little consolation, I suspect it to be the kind of rationalization or halo effect when people want to like me and can't accept the elements of my personality that are distasteful. I have a taste for confronting the distasteful in myself, but I suspect others don't neither in themselves or people they want to be friends with.

Awareness is only redeeming if followed by action. And for the most part when I become aware that I'm less perfect than I presumed, my response is relaxing, rather than acting. 

I shrug this shit off. Much as when I see a photo of myself that I don't like or find unflattering I generally respond with 'oh well, that's what I look like.'

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

I'm a comic artist again

I've been telling people I want to be a comic artist for years. I've written at least 3 scripts for comic projects I've wanted to draw and ultimately had to abort.

But now I've got an indefinitely ongoing one up and running. It's a steep learning curve and I at least am noticing the improvement in each chapter as I move from unconscious incompetence through to conscious incompetence to at this stage conscious competence. 

So while scrappy, I'm quite proud of it. My creative process has long since consisted really of stripping back an idea in ambition until it's something I can do. But as such I'm always producing at the limits of my ambition and comfort. I hope to get at least 15-20 chapters out of this project and currently am sitting on 3. 

So check it out, because I can finally tell people I meet at parties that I'm a comic artist again:

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Naught for Nothing

There's this scene in My Name is Earl somewhere... where it is revealed Earl is afraid of flying, and his brother Randy asks Catalina if she's afraid of anything and she says 'snakes and rape.'

We used to live in a world where there were real things to be afraid of. Furthermore, there was some point in our youths where we learned a bunch of names for phobias, meaning that we talked about fears not anxieties.

Not to trivialise anxiety, nor add to its stigma. I've had one anxiety attack and it was highly unpleasant. I've been afraid many more times in my life, innumerable times. Just today I was reminiscing about a sand dune I climbed in my youth, that being a sand dune created an artificial horizon once you had climbed it, and heading back down had me irrationally afraid of it becoming a cliff. Fortunately a younger kid in our group voiced his fear and spared me the ridicule, but as an adult I realise it was tricking out the automatic devices in my mind hooked up to my eyes and giving me a sense of vertigo about approaching the edge.

I presume this very device has kept many of my ancient ancestors from falling off cliffs and precipices and crumbling rock walls, allowing them to live and reproduce so I can be their ancestor.

Irrational though it was that a mound of sand would suddenly erode away into a sheer cliff face, that fear was most definitely not like my one and only ever anxiety attack. More akin to that were the dreams I had about running, where I would get stressed by the physical sensation of paralysis that occurs in REM phases, as the Victorian High School cross country meets played out in my mind.

I'm wondering though, if I now live in a world where I am surrounded by people who have a reverse ratio to me. Who've experienced anxiety innumerate times and fear once to never. I mean all of us experience anxiety, it's within the normal spectrum of human emotion.

But I seem to, and to be honest, resent living in a world where people are afraid of feeling 'awkward' or 'weird' a perpetual high-school where life's objective is to avoid humiliation.

I feel like I live in a world where dismounting from the uneven-bars induces in me a fear of breaking my ankle, and landing awkwardly, san broken ankles is a good outcome for me. I really don't give a shit about my grace in sticking a landing, just that I stick the landing. Everyone else, someway somehow is operating on a level where the worst possible outcome is that they stumble, ever so slightly.

I suspect some technologist built the world around me, and probably less recently than I imagine (I imagine back to the 80s, but it could have been some disciple of the Buddha) felt like it was possible through modern innovation to remove all human suffering.

Obviously, that hasn't succeeded, but it hasn't stopped a bunch of people from trying. Nassim Taleb has this beautiful derogatory term 'fragilista' to describe entities like Alan Greenspan and Gordon Brown whom set about trying to remove economic recessions from the economic cycle forever, resulting in the current state of the world economy. But that kind of digresses from the point.

Consider that if you are reading this, it's highly likely you have never in your life needed to actually contemplate a concept like 'food security' which refers to your access to basic calories of food intake. You've probably stressed more in your life over the excess of calories you consume and probably even expend money and/or energy trying to compensate for just how much food you eat. Even while complaining about being broke.

Whereas large chunks of the world's population do worry about food security, and I don't know, but I strongly suspect, they don't much worry about social anxiety. The populations that hike miles for clean drinking water, I also suspect don't have bullying epidemics driving up youth suicide rates.

This may seem to be straying far from what my seeming problem with people devoting energy to avoiding weirdness and awkwardness is, but I see them as related.

I suspect a lot of people now live under a credo where for various reasons, they think it is possible to get things without giving anything. Buy a house and your capital will appreciate without you doing anything to earn it (although, plenty of people think renovating a property before flipping it does something, I strongly suspect the time you spend renovating before flipping the property contributes more to the appreciation than the renovations themselves.) or that by racking up enough degrees somebody will just pay you to do your dream job. Or that by swiping right on an app your soulmate is going to find you.

And perhaps being able to steal intellectual property, virtually consequence free for almost 2 decades and a booming (at least still in Australia) property bubble have helped seed a mindset that thinks you can get something for nothing, take no personal risk. I went to private school and that certainly drummed in that if you just worked hard at memorising the limited sets of problems you are tested on, then you can pretty much just pick your career.

Give me the society where senior high school students have to bet their futures on a stud-poker match. Where luck plays a visible role and from an early age kids have to accept that sometimes you lose, sometimes you fail and sometimes you just have setbacks.

I suspect some of the worst treatment I receive is a product of a golden rule for this era of extreme risk-aversion, failure aversion. If I apply to a job, where my resume is being reviewed by a person who grew up fearing rejection, that person is likely to not want to subject me to a rejection letter, so they just don't call. Of course, in our current job market where 100 applicants swarm over one position, it's more likely that it simply isn't feasible to contact all the unsuccessful applicants. But say I ask somebody out who could never bring themselves to do so, I am beginning to suspect this is the driver beyond the modern phenomena of simply not answering - particularly as Aziz Ansari pointed out in an increasingly text based communication culture.

Most practically frustrating for me, is trying to draw audiences to an art show from people that would never do what I do. Are studying their hardest so they don't have to. But somebody has to, that's the catch. These are what employers are, the risk takers or descendents of risk takers that gambled big to command the resources.

I'm gambling my future on selling pretty pictures. I'm trying to sell it to people that don't even use their real names on facebook, that don't click 'like' on statuses they like. People that won't answer a question unless it has a clear criteria for success outlined by some academic.

These people understand me as little as I understand them. And yet I have to work with them, convey to them somehow, that because they'd never exhibit their own art in a show, it still means something to me for them to turn up to my show and look at my pieces, and judge them. Yes, I want them to do to me, the very thing they are most terrified of being subjected to themselves.

How do you sell that?

Sunday, October 11, 2015


Of which I'm sure I've called a post before. Homosocial refers broadly to societies/cultures where social activities are carried out in gender groups, or to inversely define it - men and women don't socialise together.

Homosocial cultures bring about all kinds of problems, but it was only while doing a recent run of Inktember (Inktober brought forward a month) that I had the epiphany that these problems aren't distributed equally.

Specifically, I was waxing speculative on the 'mysterious loner' appeal, that is portrayed in pop culture and literature (Bronte sisters etc.) where women become fascinated with a loner, and ultimately attracted to him.

Because I didn't know if this was a real life phenomena, or a bi-product of giving male protagonists a love interest (ie, a protagonist serves a function, particularly in fiction of giving us a relatively normal character to identify with in that world, that is a proxy tourist often meeting and interacting with characters far more interesting than them, like Luke Skywalker, Mad Max etc. this means they are often like the audience themselves out of their depth and in foreign territory, so they don't accept or act in accordance with the norms - giving these characters a love interest helps fulful audience fantasies vicariously - so maybe loner appeal is reverse engineered from this, and is no more real in reality than becoming a Jedi Knight is.)

Anyways, point is, I don't know. It could be a real thing or not, but instead I wrote at length about my experience with being ostracised from a female social circle, where likewise, I didn't actually know what I was supposed to do because I've never been a teenage girl. What was weird was that when I asked my female friends for advice, though almost all had experienced it - nobody told me, or seemed to know, what you are supposed to do.

This article established that it was a real thing though:

And they seem to link to actual research, which I never checked out.

Generalsing of course, observing female social dynamics in highschool exile/ostracism is a form of violence employed by women - social violence if you will. Whereas in male social dynamics physical violence can resolve and relieve social tension (by clearing up ambiguity in a vertical hierarchy) or if the ambiguity remains - exile/ostracism is a form of avoiding violence - two boys agree to disagree and stop associating with each other.

Here an asymmetry arrises. If you are angry at one of your girlfriends, and you have the social clout, kicking her out of your group can feel like a death sentence to her and she can come and beg and scrape and claw her way back in, resulting basically in conformity behavior. Try it on your boyfriend and you may overhear him saying 'I don't know what her problem is.'

This is but one asymmetry though, what got me thinking though, was that a woman who climbs the top of a female hierarchy dominating those in her social circle, could prove almost completely ineffective once engaging a male hierarchy. Which is a problem if you are seeking real power, rather than obtaining it via proxy by becoming the mate of a dominant male who possesses real power.

Here's where it's tricky, I recently heard a female colleague site the old 'boys do better in coed schools where girls do better at all-girls schools' dilemma. You can't enact a top-down educational system that ensures the best performance for everyone. I don't know how widely known this sentence is, but evidently parents still send their kids to coed schools, and parents still send boys to all-boy schools. So there's a persistent difference of opinion.

The trouble is that I've never had it defined for me as exactly what 'do better' means. If we are talking academically, then this finding isn't worth the energy burnt to illuminate the pixels on your screen. If it is more holistic, taking into account in particular mental health/life satisfaction outcomes and actual non-academic career outcomes then it is worth paying attention to.

I'm not a parent but I speculate that regardless of the genders of my children, I'd send them both to coed schools in any circumstance. I see it as an extension of my preference for dealing with what is.

But I'm not consistent on this principle. In economics I'm all for segregating an economy so you can actually operate things like decent labor practices without having to worry about what the most populous nations of Earth are doing with theirs. I could rationalize that acknowledging that an economy like Australia is not going to have much sway over Chinese labor practices and subsequently throwing up some barriers to trade (particularly in the labor market) is a way of strategically dealing with this ''what is' but then I'd have to say, removing men from salience in the minds of female students would be dealing with 'what is' in the exact same way.

And furthermore, I'd be the first to agree that not just women, but any in-group needs safe and exclusive forums within which they can discuss and understand the world in which they live. In the same way that the House of Commons needs parliamentary privilege so they have a safe place to criticise their head of state.

The trouble is when you become homosocial, which needn't apply only to genders, it arises quite commonly and naturally in one form or another - when you socialise exclusively with people who think like you do.

And the big problem is the asymmetry, if rich people of influence only associate with rich people of influence, that's a much bigger problem for the poor and under-represented in society than it is for the privileged elite. Likewise, if feminists just operate in their safe spaces for women, engaging by and large exclusively with other feminists and industry continues to be dominated by a patriarchy, that plays right into the patriarchy's hands, and is a problem for feminists.

One of the wanky things I've heard said about artists was 'artists move freely through society' but it is one I would concede to be true. I socialise with bankers down to drug addicts, and for some reason dress codes and even enclothed cognition don't seem to apply to me. Last year I had a Friday evening Christmas party with fellow deadbeat artists, the next night I was at Christmas drinks with Cardiologists. I like it, and I actually don't feel much ingroup-outgroup dynamics.

Artists can certainly get cliquey, and this generally results in those artists being shit. It's a long time since the impressionists formed their own Salon, and people popped their monocles in reaction to any art. But I know in my prior life as a Sales Support worker for a power equipment importer, that in the three years I worked in that department, I saw the world through a prism that greatly overvalued the importance of things like rainfall, exchange rates and demographic shifts power tool usage.

Or as Malcolm Gladwell loves to quote 'To a worm in horseradish the world is horseradish.'

There's a delicate and dangerous balance between creating a safe place for like minded people to gather and discuss ideas, and forming a homosocial clique. Fortunately, I am a white straight male born into middle to upper class Australia. If I screw up and live in a homosocial culture, my advantage is most likely going to compound. If you don't belong automatically to an absolutely priveleged outgroup, ie a disadvantaged outgroup, you can stuff up, and stuff up badly.

Strangely, disability advocacy groups seem to understand this, even as they naturally employ many people with disadvantages internally - their mission is almost always about raising awareness and fostering opportunities for inclusion. But disadvantages along the lines of gender or race feel to me, far more prone to playing into an us-them dynamic, ostensibly wanting inclusion but focusing on their own and the outgroups relative otherness.

I could be wrong, but I look to Japan where homosocial culture is actually a big problem. Women only train carriages being a testimony to how unsafe a place is for women rather than a triumphant safe place for women. Then there's the national crisis of plummeting birth rates (preceded by plummeting marriage rates), and the ageing population. Japan appears to be the first nation where women and men are losing interest in each other. For some reason I expect it will be rougher on the women than the men though.