Wednesday, February 19, 2014

On Why Many So-Called "Microaggressions" Are Politically Correct Bullshit (And We Should Stop Believing They Are Offensive)

Dangerous Idea #3: The rising attention given to so-called "microaggressions," usually directed toward racial or sexual minorities, is misguided and wrong-headed; many microaggressions are nothing more than over-the-top political correctness that are made out to be subtle forms of discriminatory or prejudiced behavior.

I recently saw this Buzzfeed article posted on Facebook, titled "19 LGBT Microaggressions You Hear On A Daily Basis." I opened the article fully expecting to find some pretty hurtful things being said about LGBT people and then liking the post on Facebook. However, I was surprised to discover how truly ridiculous some of these so-called "microaggressions" were. I had always scoffed at the mention of microaggressions, which only seemed to buzz among the extremely liberal and gender studies folk, both of whom are generally up in arms about nothing, really, or about good science that they perceive as antithetical to their goals (maybe I just committed a microaggression against them by saying that). But I never really knew what was meant by microaggressions, so I thought I would give the benefit of the doubt. Surely, subtle discrimination must exist, and I would believe it to be important that people are aware. Indeed, the definition of microaggressions as given in the Buzzfeed article is "[t]he everyday encounters of subtle discrimination that people of various marginalized groups experience throughout their lives." Then I read the article, and what I found pissed me off in a way I was not expecting: in many cases, I was offended by the fact that these people were claiming a microaggression, not by the supposedly discriminatory things said to them. the following examples, which I've also scattered throughout this article as images. First, #3: "Are you a man or a woman?" In principle, I think that it is ridiculous to be offended by that question; if you genuinely don't know the gender of the person or even the preferred gender identity, then how will you address that person or talk about him/her? That being said, I do think it's an awkward question to ask and can definitely be asked in a way that is rude or even discriminatory. However, innocuously asking someone who is extremely androgynous-looking (this would have to be by choice, as people who look naturally androgynous can wear gender-typed clothing, hair, or makeup that signal their gender, and so can trans people) to clarify that person's gender is by no means a microaggression or even remotely prejudiced. It's a completely legitimate question to ask when it is necessary to know the person's gender. Generally, you would be better off not asking it and remaining confused about the person's gender if you don't need to know it, as asking the question could be awkward or considered insulting, as I said before. However, at face value, it shouldn't be taken as such, and it is by no means discriminatory or coming from a bad place unless people are asking in such a way. At that point, they probably aren't really asking that question more than they are being prejudiced assholes, and I don't think that's a microaggression.

But wait, you might be thinking that I missed what the microaggression really is in that last example. However, I've read enough gender studies (for better or worse, but probably better just to know what some people out there really believe) to know that you might think that the microaggression in asking "Are you a man or a woman?" is really about the idea that there are only two categories of gender, male and female, or man and woman. In fact, Facebook has recently added around 50 other options in choosing your gender besides "male" and "female," which include "transgender," "cisgender," and "gender fluid." While I think that's too far in the right direction, that's beside the point; people should be able to choose their gender identity, that's for sure. However, we shouldn't be punished or seen as committing a microaggression for asking "Are you a man or a woman?" to someone when you need to know that person's gender in a world where the overwhelming majority of people are male or female and identify as one of those two. At the same time, it is true that when you are dealing with someone who is purposefully androgynous-looking, that person might identify with much less common labels such as gender fluid, etc. Perhaps it would be safer and more polite to ask "What is your gender?" rather than "Are you a man or a woman?", as you might assume it is less likely that they will identify strictly as male or female. Again, though, there is no microaggression here; human nature is such that there are two genders, male or female, and even if you believe that gender is not binary, the fact remains that the majority of people are male or female and identify as such. Thus, asking "Are you a man or a woman?" is more than reasonable, although again, it can be awkward and taken poorly. A more astute and less naive person might ask "What is your gender?", but that has less to do with avoiding a "microaggression" than it is being especially nice in assuming the person you're asking is not as likely to say they are a man or a woman as a person who presents unambiguously as a man or a woman.
Facebook adds new gender options

Similarly, I don't get offended when people ask me "Are you Chinese, Japanese, or Korean?", as I look like any of these three ethnicities, and they are far more represented in the U.S. than other East Asian ethnicities like Mongolian (but then I tell them I'm Taiwanese, which is not really ethnically distinct from Chinese). However, "What ethnicity are you?" or a variation on that is more polite and  appreciated. theme of things being passed off ridiculously as microaggressions comes up in 11, 12, and 14. #11: "Where are your wife and kids?" #12: "Why are you not married yet? Where is your boyfriend?" and #14: "Dear Dr. and Mrs. Rivera..." Again, we live in a world in which most people are not LGBT but heterosexual and cisgender. Depending on your age, you are likely to be married and have kids, although perhaps this trend is on the decline and will not be so likely in the future. Nonetheless, I think it is ridiculous that we can't make assumptions about people that are more than reasonable and ask them questions based on these assumptions. I find it overly politically correct and unnecessary that we should modify commonplace language and phrases that work for well over 90% of the English-speaking world. In other words, without some evidence or signs to the contrary, why can't we assume a person is straight and if older, married and with kids? If it's true for most people and is the norm, I don't see how it is a microaggression to ask questions such as 11, 12, and 14 unless there is reason to believe the people being asked are not part of the norm (for instance, you're talking to a very flamboyant gay man or someone who has already made it clear in one way or another that they don't fit your assumption). I seriously doubt there will ever be a time when LGBT people will not be vastly outnumbered by straight, cisgender people, and if so, that is probably the result of extreme liberalism and political correctness. Pending such a disaster, I don't see the need for changing our assumptions about people being straight and cisgender and asking questions that reflect these assumptions, as long as we also have analogous and respectful language to talk about LGBT people when those assumptions are challenged. I think it is most important that we are aware of the deviations from the norm (e.g., LGBT people) and be respectful and mindful of them, but I think it's going way overboard in PC nonsense and confusion to always ask questions that will be sensitive to LGBT people when they are a small minority of the population. When you are talking to someone clearly LGBT, that is the time to adjust your language and the way you ask your questions; otherwise, I don't see any microaggressions in assuming the norm.

The increased public discourse surrounding "microaggressions" has been spurred primarily by ideas from the radical left and feminism. However, these so-called microaggressions are little more than political correctness and being oversensitive, to put it bluntly. We live in a world that is overwhelmingly not LGBT, and to assume people are straight and cisgender in the way we ask questions should be perfectly acceptable and reasonable except in cases when we have the evidence that they aren't. That being said, a few of the examples in the Buzzfeed article do seem like microaggressions according to the definition given; for instance, #6: "That's totally cool with me as long as I can watch." The others just seem to reflect ignorance and naivety more than hurtfulness and subtle discrimination (e.g., #18: "You're bisexual? Doesn't that make your partner feel insecure?"). Instead of rallying public outrage and calling out these so-called microaggressions on the part of the ignorant person, I think a better use of everyone's time is to correct the person. More than likely, if these people are decent (and I think the point of the whole microaggressions movement is that they are committed by otherwise decent people), they will apologize for their misconception and gain a better understanding. If not, then they're probably just an asshole and a bigot to begin with, and the focus shouldn't be on changing their "microaggressions" more than their core beliefs. As a final note, I didn't really talk about racial microaggressions, but I did look through the other Buzzfeed article pertaining to them. In it, I see similar themes of being too politically correct, but there were more of them being on the ignorant or naive side and even just outright racist (e.g., #21: "Can you see as much as white people? You know, because of your EYES...?" If these are considered microaggressions rather than outright racism because they're supposed to be said in a joking manner, then they're jokes, not microaggressions, unless they really are coming from a place of prejudice. To assess that can sometimes be a judgment call depending on how well you know the person, and from my experience, it makes a difference in whether I should be offended. For instance, my very pro-LGBT friend sometimes says "EW, THAT'S LIKE GAY!" in an obviously joking manner to mock bigots who say that and mean it in a prejudiced way. When I hear him say it, I find it funny, but when I hear it from another of my friends who is very Christian, conservative, and not clearly pro-LGBT, I feel uncomfortable.

Going back to race, my friends and I use racial humor a lot, especially about ourselves, not because we are being discriminatory or prejudiced or self-deprecatory, but because making humor out of our differences is a good way to counteract and even put a positive twist on the way people use our differences to be hateful and discriminatory. It's almost like the idea that taking something originally meant to be used in a hateful or discriminatory way (e.g., the "N" word) and owning it and using it ourselves will lead to positive change and agency in the matter. Either way, I'd much rather turn racism and discrimination around on their heads into humor than bitch about them, but to each their own. I see a lot of what we call microaggressions, however, as a slippery slope that will ultimately lead to confusing, unnecessary PC language and sensitivity in a world that shouldn't have to operate that way.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

On Why We Should Not Boycott Chick-Fil-A (or anything, for that matter)

Dangerous Idea #2: We should not have to boycott Chick-Fil-A or give up eating there even if we disagree with the company's anti-gay stance against same-sex marriage and its funding toward organizations supporting such legislation.

I consider myself pro-LGBT, though I sometimes do not seem it. This incident is one such instance in which my pro-LGBT friends, who are more activist anyway, and me differ. The gist is that Chick-Fil-A CEO Dan Cathy, son of founder Truett Cathy, recently confirmed the company's support in favor of  "the traditional family," which entails marriage strictly between a man and a woman. Cathy writes:

"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...we know that it might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord, we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles."

On top of this clear anti-gay stance on the part of the CEO, the Chick-Fil-A franchise has been donating large sums of money toward organizations such as Marriage & Family Foundation ($1,188,380), Exodus International ($1,000) and the Family Research Council $1,000), all of which support legislation such as the Defense of Marriage Act that will deny the much deserved rights of gay and lesbian (perhaps even bisexual) couples to get married the same way that heterosexual couples can with all the same benefits. I was and still am in agreement with my pro-LGBT peers that this is awful of Chick-Fil-A.

Many others seem to agree. In particular, some prominent figures such as Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and the Jim Henson Company have gone so far as to publicly come forward against Chick-Fil-A, the former to prevent its opening in Boston and the latter to break ties in a partnership that would have involved kids' toys at Chick-Fil-A. While I believe their efforts are valiant and their beliefs to be the most morally sound, I do not think we as consumers should boycott Chick-Fil-A or give up making (very delicious) purchases there.

Why should we not boycott Chick-Fil-A so that we prevent them from doing well and being able to donate revenue to anti-gay organizations? I will not make the typical conservative response that is usually laced with homophobia and a clear attempt at excusing one's unethical beliefs. Such a response reprimands the critics who have a problem with an anti-gay stance by saying they are being hypocritical and that everyone has a right to their own beliefs. In essence, we pro-LGBT people who embrace diversity and the right of everyone to be the way they are are in fact hypocrites in condemning, and in this case, boycotting those with different beliefs (those who do not believe in same-sex marriage or gay rights). The problem with this argument is that their beliefs are inherently immoral and posit denying equal and necessary legal and social rights to the LGBT population. They cannot claim the same with regard to our beliefs that their beliefs are wrong and should be suppressed because indeed, they are harmful, especially when they spread through families, religious doctrine, public figures, media, etc. Theirs is a straw man argument, and it is not the one I am taking to say that we do not need to boycott Chick-Fil-A and that not doing so will not make us any less pro-LGBT.

My argument to why we should continue to eat at Chick-Fil-A, assuming we were and assuming we are pro-LGBT, is that we need not change our lifestyle to fit our core beliefs, especially when the aspect of the lifestyle to be changed is engrained and the actual opposition to our beliefs, no matter how dear they are to us, is more than a few degrees of separation away to the point where we are not even truly involved. Let's take this piecemeal:

Say Chick-Fil-A is a big deal to you. It sort of is to me, and it has a special (and unhealthy) place in my (soon-to-be failing) heart. It has to be one of my favorite fast food joints. I grew up in the South, believe it or not, where there were plenty of Chick-Fil-As around. I looked forward to eating there and still do when I visit my hometown. I just really love their chicken, especially the Chicken Sandwich. So when we decide we are craving Chick-Fil-A or simply want to dine there if we see it, should we turn the other cheek because the company officially is anti-gay? No. It is a change in lifestyle, granted a minute one, but still a change we must make on our part to eat elsewhere and eat another kind of food (because nowhere else makes this kind of chicken, let's face it) when we would have just eaten at Chick-Fil-A. Is an individual's having to make a small change in lifestyle enough justification to not actively boycott a corporate giant that is against gay rights? Perhaps not, but it is definitely a reason, and it factors in along with the others that I will give.

Degrees of separation. How is my giving Chick-Fil-A money because they provide good service and good food unethical or make me suddenly against gay rights and not pro-LGBT? As far as I'm concerned, I'm paying for the food and the friendly employees, not for the support of anti-gay organizations. While I can't control what the company does with the money, I would hope that what I paid the store would be used to continue providing the same quality of food and service that I receive. I am baffled by the fact that buying a Chick-Fil-A sandwich because I want to eat the tasty sandwich is somehow equivalent to denying gay people their rights, which is what people are up in arms about. Since when does what we purchase represent our belief systems? I am paying for the chicken sandwich, and nothing more. The cogs that decide to use any sum of that money to fund anti-gay organizations are beyond my control, my knowledge, my time, etc. To say I am helping Chick-Fil-A in their agenda against same-sex marriage is as ludicrous as saying the cash I spend at 7-Eleven for a Slurpee gets turned around to someone else as change, and because that person then decided to use that money to fund Marriage & Family Foundation, I am somehow complicit in their agenda and their beliefs. Of course, because the CEO came out (ironic use of the phrase) as donating to such causes, it is far more likely that my money at Chick-Fil-A will end up at Marriage & Family than the money at 7-Eleven, but my point is that we pay for what we get, and anything else is decided by higher-ups and is beyond our purview and our control. I will humor you more with the next reason we should not boycott Chick-Fil-A.

If you say that by continuing to dine at Chick-Fil-A and giving them our money, we are helping them fund the anti-gay organizations, I counter with this: You are hitting the CEO and the higher-ups who do make decisions about funding and who do assuredly have anti-gay stances much less than you are the employees who work in the stores, giving you friendly and fast service and cooking you delicious food. Some of those employees may not agree with Chick-Fil-A's official position on same-sex marriage or the way it uses its money. Some of those employees may very well be gay themselves. But they are working there because like most workers in fast food places, they need to make a living somehow. You are hurting those employees by choosing not to dine there as you normally would. If you turn around and say our not dining there and not giving them money makes no difference in the grand scheme of things, then I turn back around and say if we make no difference, why not continue to buy their food then? The vicious cycle of that argument continues.

To summarize, these are three reasons, the second being the most important in my argument, as to why we should not boycott Chick-Fil-A and perhaps anything else, as I believe they can be applied liberally to all sorts of companies in all sorts of causes:

1. It can be anything from a minor to a major lifestyle change when you actively boycott.
2. The reasons you would boycott are so far removed from the actual purchases you make or services you receive, which do not speak to your beliefs or theirs (a chicken sandwich does not represent anti-gay, and buying and eating one does not make you anti-gay).
3. Boycotting to hurt the cause of a company may actually hurt the employees more, who are more than likely not involved in whatever cause you are opposing.

I am not looking to change anyone's minds about their decision to boycott or not to boycott Chick-Fil-A. I just hope that this is some reasonable justification on my part for why I am choosing not to boycott this fast food restaurant and that people will come to understand and respect it. If there are any serious loopholes in my argument, feel free to point them out. I'm open to change.

This all being said, I certainly do not want people to start eating at Chick-Fil-A more often. That is actually very bad, whereas boycotting seems to really just be a neutral, personal preference thing that, as I have voiced in this post, is not necessary even if you are pro-LGBT. Apparently, the more "traditional" families to which Cathy refers (codeword for diehard Christians) are planning to go there even more to support the company's stance on marriage that is unfairly being "vitriolically attacked." Well, maybe if they weren't vitriolically attacking the rights of gay and lesbian people to get married...

Signing off.

UPDATE: Looks like good old Chicago is pulling its own boycott as well. I guess they sort of have to if this is what the people want...

UPDATE 2: Antoine Dodson (aka the Bed Intruder) has got the right idea. Also, he follows up.

UPDATE 3: Chick-Fil-A manager on Reddit says we're hurting the employees over the one company head's opinion and decisions, as I was saying.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

On Why We Should Not Condemn Rule 34, Pony Porn, and Cloppers (But We Should Condemn Horsef***ers)

Dangerous Idea #1: Cloppers are a legitimate part of the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fandom, commonly known as bronies, and they have every right to continue to do what they do.

A couple of days ago, I watched a video on Howard Stern talking about bronies and commenting on interviews that he collected at BronyCon. To sum up the content, he basically goes on a rant about how all bronies are turned on by the ponies in the show and insults them in various ways, at one point saying "You know how Comic-Con is sort of for losers? Comic-Con people are winners, compared to BronyCon." Throughout all of this, he plays some interviews of guests at BronyCon with obviously leading questions to try to get them to admit to clopping (masturbating to pornography featuring the animated ponies from the show) or other potentially embarrassing or stereotypically "loser" situations, like living at home or not having a job.

But putting Howard Stern's intentions to exploit and demonize the brony community aside, we need more bronies like these interviewed. All we hear are happy-go-lucky bronies who mix well with the fandom and lead rich and fulfilling, often ponified, lives. We never hear about the cloppers, the shut-ins, the ones who are still in the closet (or stable, to use brony vernacular), or the ones struggling with the fact that they like the show. I am not claiming these people to be a majority of the community, but they're certainly bronies, and they certainly deserve to be heard... just not from this guy, and not like this.

I then scrolled down to the comments section, despite my better judgments. Of course, there is a giant flame war that still continues at this very second, averaging one new comment or reply every thirty seconds, with up to 7,716 comments at the time of my writing this. Most of them are likely trolls meant to piss off bronies while others seem genuinely hateful toward bronies for liking a show "meant for little girls" and immediately condemning them all as disgusting, sometimes buying into the misconception that they all do in fact masturbate to pony porn.

My problem lies not with the haters, although they are at best annoying and at worst represent, although not as harsh or inflammatory in language, the general sentiment of the public that misunderstands bronies. No, my problem lies with the bronies, the community to which I belong and am resentful toward due to its current attitudes. Take, for instance, a sample of many comments like these, decidedly made by bronies (based on their viewing activity and video playlists) in defense of their precious community:

"clopping bronies aren't really what i want to call a true brony. they're more over furries because they're in it for the fact of sexual content. I'm ashamed to call myself a brony because I'm now just identified as nothing but a perv and pedo by anyone who isn't a good friend of mine from before. Rule 34 has f*&^ed up. this is the one thing I was praying be sacred and stay innocent with it's jokes about alcohol and mental breakdowns. It was meant to be clean comedy now the internet made it dirty."

"O god This is why i hate cloppers they make the whole fandom look bad. god really why you have to be so nasty cloppers why?"

"So what if we enjoy a show marketed for little girls? SO WHAT?! Not all of us are cloppers, some of us enjoy the show for the sake of enjoying it. Haters shouldn't assume we're all sexual deviants because we're not. We like the show because it's fun. Haters shouldn't judge us if they haven't seen the show either. If they don't like the show that's fine, whatever tickles your fancy."

"Cloppers are not true bronies."

To the last comment, I responded: "Do you think gay people are not true humans? It is somewhat ironic that a community that suffers tremendous stigma affords the same to people within its community with alternative sexual preferences. Then again, it makes sense, because we're trying to seem as normal as possible, right?'"

To which he responded: "cloppers are disgusting and perverted, and discriminating against someone who is perverted is not a bad thing."

Both sides of the flame war are wrong. On one side, you have anti-bronies calling us all disgusting and awful for being cloppers and indulging in Rule 34 (If it exists, there is porn of it. In this case, My Little Pony porn). On the other side, we have bronies saying the cloppers are a small minority and don't represent us, and they're the "evil" part of the fandom that the actual fandom shuns rightfully. I believe everyone has a right to watch what they want AND masturbate to what they want. It is unfortunate that both the anti-bronies AND bronies continue to be Puritan and sex-negative.

Clopping should be defended. I assure you that I am not a clopper, nor do I enjoy simulated pornography of any kind, but I do have alternative (or in more non-PC language, deviant) sexual interests and can empathize with those who do clop. With respect to that, I cannot see anything inherently or morally wrong with masturbating to fan-drawn pictures of ponies in the privacy of one's own home. The same goes with most Rule 34. It has the knee-jerk reaction of being disgusting and off-color, but that is all. It harms no one. Obviously, bronies are already having a hard time defending their love for the show without that additional stigma, but in my opinion, we are only going making ourselves to be less tolerant and more elitist by denying that part of the fandom. To that end, I think that the community could do more in terms of accepting the "darker" side of the fandom or at least being more open to hearing them out rather than hearing the word "clop" and running for the hills or completely shutting a person out as being "not one of us."

However, in the middle of the entire flame war, there is some hope within the brony community:

"The ONLY thing I like about this video is the honesty and the courage of the Bronies answering all of these ridiculous questions. It's not a question of Bronies being naive to interviews, I think its a statement that through love and tolerance we're not afraid to talk to one another about sexuality or unemployment or depression. We've built an amazing community that accepts each of us for who we are. This is powerful, and awesome, and this why the creators of the show support us. /)"

"They [Cloppers] are bronies, despite what you might think.
This shouldn't be such a controversy, rule 34 of MLP is to bronies like what hentai is to anime fans.
people are going to be into it, one way or another, it shouldn't be of anyone else's concern."

"Well it shouldn't matter what it is, as long as no one else is being harmed, and no one is being harmed when people look at pony pictures. Even with pedophile, as long as they aren't harming actual children I don't see a problem in letting a pedophile think and look at whatever he wants in his free time, assuming no one else is being affected."

I wish more people shared their sentiments. Pedophiles have an unfortunate aspect of their sexuality to deal with, and I have the utmost sympathy for them in terms of being misunderstood as all being child molesters and monsters. With regard to cloppers, there is not even the potential for harm. People just have the knee-jerk reaction of it being "wrong" or "disgusting" with no actual reasoning to back up its supposed immorality. In contrast, I do think that beastiality and actual "horsef***ing," which haters have lodged as insults toward us, are reaching the unethical territory simply by merit of the fact that animals cannot consent to sexual acts of any kind, at least not at the level that we can as humans.

Despite these few gems in the rough, I doubt their attitudes will carry through to the average brony looking for acceptance and normalcy in something that we all know is not normal but try to pin onto it all sorts of reasons as to why we like the show, like the excellent writing, characters, and animation. They may be legitimate reasons, but lots of shows have these same characteristics, and lots of people like these characteristics in the shows they watch. What distinguishes the average man who would choose to turn away from this show as opposed to a brony who would choose to embrace it? Stigma because it's a "girl's show?" The storylines? The color scheme? The innocent messages about friendship and love? All of the above? Even if it's mostly the first, why do we bronies choose to defy the stigma and watch and enjoy the show anyway? I will discuss my thoughts and possible theories as to why we enjoy the show in another post, but for now, I'm done ranting. On this subject, I find this post by the .MOV series creator himself to be particularly illuminating.

Good night.