No, You Will Not Die From Wearing Jeans (Of Shame or Otherwise)

Oh, my lord. Women and our clothes. Jessica Valenti is sad that skinny jeans and high heels and purses pose a danger to her health, and wishes that she can wear comfortable clothes, like her child. But she can’t, because otherwise she’d… well, something bad would happen. So she’ll just keep wearing these clothes and probably die of some sort of jeans-related aneurysm.

Before you freak out, I’m here to tell you that none of these items of clothing are looming threats to your health. If you go to your doctor and ask her what you can do to improve your well-being, the last thing she’s going to tell you is to stop wearing skinny jeans. The clothes that Valenti describes aren’t even particularly uncomfortable, excepting certain types of high heels.*

I’m almost certain that anyone who reads this page will about this type of jeans, but just in case you’ve never put a pair of dangerous skinny jeans onto your own trembling legs, I’ll explain them to you. Maybe really expensive jeans are sewn onto the wearer’s body along with diamonds and pearls, but most jeans brands add some stretchy substance to the denim weave, so the jeans cling to the body (the “skinny” look). They’re pretty comfortable and they’re not especially heavy compared to other denim, which is part of why they’ve stuck around for the last 15 years despite not being universally flattering. Granted, if the jeans are too tight, they can cut into your skin, but that’s not some sort of fashion trend, it means that you bought the wrong size. You cannot injure yourself wearing a pair of jeans unless you deliberately make yourself into a human sausage.

You also cannot injure yourself by wearing a purse, because a purse is literally a container with a fastener on it. I mean, you can injure yourself by carrying too much in your purse, or wearing one with an uncomfortable strap, or by buying a purse with spikes on it. But nobody’s going to come up to you and say, “Woman, if you don’t injure yourself by carrying a purse with spikes stuck on, you are no longer a female but some sort of neuter beast. Begone!” It’s a tool to carry your personal belongings. I don’t know, if you’re a guy, maybe someone will injure your sense of masculinity by calling your purse a “murse” or a “man bag.” Oh, it’s a messenger bag, all right then.

High heels are actually dangerous, if you wear them constantly and if the heels are too high or thin. You also need to practice walking in them at first or if you haven’t worn them for a while. However, if you want some extra height, there are short heels and chunky heels and wedges, so you don’t absolutely have to wear shoes that are difficult to walk in. Or, you know, you can just wear flats. It’s not like the choice is between platform stilettos and Crocs.

OK, OK, I’m taking this too seriously. I get it–constructing your appearance is important, especially for women. The process of making one’s self up is fascinating to study, if it’s slightly less fun to actually live out. (Taken to the extreme it becomes blackly hilarious—“Ladies, you may be dying of cancer, but why can’t you put on some makeup? It’ll make you feel better!” Yeah, I’ll use it to cover up my suppurating tumor, jackass.) Wearing certain outfits sends out certain signals–you have more money, more access to knowledge, an allegiance to this or that community. Add that personal preferences to that—favorite colors, fabrics, and so on—and it gets pretty complicated. I care about this myself, I want to project a certain image and I definitely change it according to my surroundings.

I think what gets me is just how prim Valenti is. She thinks that her clothes will harm her body and yet she still wears them! What would happen to her if she wore flats instead of heels? What would the terrible consequences be? Would her friends and family desert her? I mean, what would happen if Valenti took a backpack to work, instead of a purse? Would her boss come in and say, “You know, you write a good feminist line, but that knapsack makes me despise you as a person. You’re fired!” Would that really happen? I don’t think so (and not just because Valenti probably works from home).

I mean, it’s not like Valenti has to wear some sort of professional uniform, official or understood. She’s not a Hooters waitress or a McDonald’s cashier or a courtroom lawyer. Valenti is a professional feminist at the Guardian, for Christ’s sake. Her entire career as a third-wave feminist is based on promoting the personal freedoms of women and she still can’t wear a pair of flats because making that choice would destroy too much of her worth as a person. What hope is there for the rest of us poor saps?

* You know what item of clothing is dangerous? The thong. What’s the point? Oh, I don’t want people to know I’m wearing underwear, because that’s slutty, but I don’t want to not wear underwear, because that’s slutty too! I’ll compromise and wear a tiny strip of fabric that is designed to irritate every single part of my genitals. Oh, and because the thong’s so tight, it transports all the bacteria from my poop into my abraded vagina! Yay, vaginal pain and yeast infections!

** The skinny jean trend finally seems to be ending—flares are coming back in, which no doubt will lead to tales of women who trip on the hems and die. Overalls are also on trend, deliberately marketed as a grown woman’s version of the comfortable children’s classic.

Bears, Beets, Battlestar Galactica Rage (Six Years On)

A friend and I have been watching Battlestar Galactica for years now, a few episodes every few weeks or months, and it’s finally built up and I need to vent before the pressure makes me explode like a spaceship in a season finale. It’s a tough process—I suppose without the weekly suspense, you have time to think out the plot holes (although Abigail Nussbaum found them in her perceptive essays on the show, penned while the show was still airing). The journey to Earth/wherever has become a frustrating slog, and I suppose we’re still watching it because of the sunk cost fallacy.

Let me give you an example of what I’m dealing with here. Continue reading →

Oh, for goodness’s sake…

It’s super right-on of online magazine the Offing to care about the differences between exposure and support…. except the Offing expects aspiring authors to pay $3 per submission. Yes, people are now paying to enter the slush pile! Madness.

Lest we get too upset with the Offing, they may have been suckered as well–they’re paying at least $319 a year for the submission system that collects their fees. There’s no way to do it through Paypal Accounts or Google Pay or some other free system? I suppose it’s cheaper than an employee, though, and it makes the swindle easier.

(What disgusts me about submission fees–besides the devaluing of work, and the bizarre idea that they somehow help the marginalized, in this case–is that they’re so easy to make extremely predatory, extremely quickly. The Offing is an online offshoot of Los Angeles Review of Books, and LARB’s reputation is presumably why someone would bother paying to take a shot at publication. Well, what if I start a site that’s “associated” with a better-known publication, or if I promise that fans will have their submissions read by a big-name writer to encourage them to pay a bigger fee, or [the most obvious swindle] if I promise that writers who pay or who pay more have a better chance of publication, and so on and so on… there are a thousand ways to make this a totally unethical process.)

For more on this ouroborous, a conversation between the Offing and Nick Mamatas at Storify, where I found out about this in the first place.

I Watched This for Free on the Internet: Forbidden Lie$

Documentary Forbidden Lie$ is based on the story of bestselling book Forbidden Love. Forbidden Love (published in the United States as Honor Lost) is the autobiography of Norma Khouri, a Jordanian woman who started a unisex hair salon with her best friend, Dalia. Dalia fell in love with a Christian customer, and Khouri helped her arrange clandestine meeting. When Dalia’s family discovered that she had a boyfriend, they killed Dalia, and Khouri fled Jordan in fear for her life, eventually ending up in Australia and writing her memoir.

Or so the story went until a 2004 article in the Sydney Morning Herald revealed that Khouri had never lived in Jordan in her adult life, having immigrated to the United States when she was only three years old. Furthermore, Khouri hadn’t fled to Australia to escape her vengeful family—instead, she had run away from Chicago, where the police were after Khouri for swindling a sick old lady out of her house and savings bonds. The supposedly single Khouri also had a husband and two kids in tow (she claimed that the husband was her American rescuer and that their children together were strictly his).

The heart of Forbidden Lie$ is filmmaker Anna Broinowski’s journey to Jordan with Khouri to find the truth behind Khouri’s story. Broinowski begins with the assumption that “Dalia” was real in some form, even if the exact details didn’t hold up. Was “Dalia” really Khouri’s cousin? Was “Dalia” a pseudonym for honor killing victim Ghada Abed? Is Dalia a representation of Khouri herself? Khouri was involved in a child abuse case during her teens, alleging that her father sexually abused her. Khouri’s father pled guilty, although he now says that he did so only to keep the family from further scandal. Was Khouri retelling her own story of abuse in a more dramatic, money-making form?

We never quite find out. However, the “truth” is less interesting that the sheer volume of the lies. Khouri is a wonderful personality to watch from the safety of the couch–I got the feeling that she’s completely convinced that whatever she does is right, and that anyone who dares question her motives isn’t just morally deficient, they’re deluded about the actual evidence. Of course, Broinowski catches her out multiple times, and each time Khouri has another excuse or another detail to reveal. She’s charming, but she’s dangerous to deal with–especially if you let her get near your money!

This raises the question–why would anybody would want to attempt to vindicate Khouri in the first place? I can understand why someone who was directly swindled by Khouri would want to believe in Khouri’s inherent goodness, if only to save face, but why would anyone get involved secondhand?

The attitude seems to be that, even if Khouri is lying, she’s lying for a good cause–even the journalist who originally exposed Khouri, Malcolm Knox, says that “her heart was in the right place.” The reader who picks up Forbidden Love/Honor Lost probably sympathizes with Khouri when she says that

politicians [lie] all the time and the Jordanian government has been doing it for 200 years […] I lied for a reason. It wasn’t fame and fortune I was after, not at all. It was about the issue. And I apologise to you for lying. I justified it in my head as the ends justifying the means. I hated lying to anyone about anything.

Well, Khouri did get a hefty advance and a lot of interviews, but really, who is the Western reader going to side with, Khouri or some nasty, woman-killing Sheik of Araby, who is presumably twirling his mustache as we speak? (The women and men who work against honor crimes in their own countries never come into it, of course.)

There’s a whole genre of these books about abused Muslim women, many of which have been debunked. But even though the details are incorrect, sometimes flagrantly so (Khouri stated that the Jordan River ran through Amman; in another “memoir,” Burned Alive, victim “Souad” manages to survive horrific burns while starving in a filthy Palestinian hospital), readers are sure that something in the books is true. I suppose that these books create a sort of false dichotomy–by reading them, you show solidarity, and by doubting them, you further oppress these poor women!

Forbidden Lie$ is available on YouTube in a slightly cut form here and in parts beginning here.

Perdido Street Station and the oppressed of the fantasy worlds

Am reading what must by now be “fantasy classic” Perdido Street Station and I just want to mention what a great relief it is to read a story that isn’t about kings, queens, emperors, el presidentes* or any other type of monarch or strongman. Is it that China Miéville is a Marxist? Perhaps in the socialist utopia, you don’t have to write about 15-year-old princes and princesses anymore.

* Fantasy has a distinct lack of dictators, though, doesn’t it? Or rather, there are a lot of dictators, but they all have some sort of magic jewel or sword that allows them to unleash terrible violence and prove their worth to rule over everybody else, so they’re not evil dictators somehow. And usually that magic macguffin can only be used by members of a certain family–basically monarchy propped up forever by extreme genetic power. Like Hapsburg Spain with psychic nuclear bombs. That actually sounds like hell on earth, I wonder why the “anointed leader” fantasy is still so popular?

On elections

Hearing post-election sadness from across the waters. Many people really thought that Labour would have made a difference. I half believe them, but really? What on earth does Labour do that the Tories don’t?

Privatization is a trend that continues regardless of which party is in power. Labour began the process of privatizing the NHS; Labour introduced PFIs; Labour introduced the academy system. Most of the current Conservative policies are continuations of Labour policies.

And neither party has any particular respect for the poor. I was around when Gordon Brown eliminated the 10p tax band and was surprised that this supposed social democrat, who wasn’t like Blair, who really wanted a fairer society for everyone, was trying to squeeze the last penny out of the poor. If he needed more money, why couldn’t he tax the rich?

Of course, there’s the practical problem: You can’t tax rich people because they can afford lawyers and newspapers. But really, the revelation was that for all his son-of-the-manse act, Brown was a neoliberal thinker, just like the rest of us, more or less. And the first tenet of that sort of thinking is that rich people are better than poor people.

You can see that sort of thinking reflected in party members’ statements after Ed Miliband’s resignation:

“The issue of aspiration in people’s lives; we can no longer relate to them as a party of aspiration. And that was one of the big successes that won us three elections.”

“People want a fairer, better Britain, but they also need to have confidence in the ability of a government to manage the economy competently. We need our party and next leader to celebrate our entrepreneurs and wealth creators and not leave the impression they are part of the problem.”

Well, that’s the kind of talk that makes me believe that Labour was going to roll back all those Tory cuts. These are party members reacting against a party manifesto that, on the intro page, highlights that “A Labour government will cut the deficit every year” and mentions benefits mainly in terms of caps and workfare. (There’s a vague promise to reform the Work Capability Assessment, but mainly in terms of how to get the disabled back into work.) It’s not exactly bleeding-heart. Yet it’s still not enough for half of Labour, it concentrates too much on depressing, less worthy people.

Let’s be honest. If you’re poor, or you’re sick, or you’re not aspiring in exactly the correct manner, Labour doesn’t really have time for you. If you’re not, Labour has time for you as a voter; if you’re not and you’re rich, Labour has all the time in the world for you. It’s not wickedness, per se; it’s just the overall neoliberal system that Labour is part and parcel of.

Why would anybody vote for Labour? Is the hope that Labour would be slightly less flagrant about things? Or that the attitude would be different? I guess the Tories really hate the poor and ill, exploiting them with visceral glee: “I’m going to choke one out to my bank statement whilst snorting cocaine through a gold straw!” Whereas the Labour party merely treat them as embarrassing failures, narcissistic wounds in New Labour’s side: “Why couldn’t you have helped me by all becoming stockbroker success stories from the ghetto? I hope you know that this hurts me more than it hurts you.”


(Addendum: I’m still not angry at Ed Miliband, for some reason I like that guy and am glad that he doesn’t have to deal with Ed Balls for years on fucking end. See, politics are not always a rational choice.)

Let’s Read Queen of the Tearling: Chapter 10

I’ve put it off for as long as I can, but let’s get back to the Tearling.

Javel, the gate guard who was hanging out with evil Arlen Thorne earlier, is now doing some more evil conspiracy shit. Unsurprisingly, not everyone is happy with Kelsea’s plan to stop the slave shipments—nobles who run toll roads and made regular money from slave convoys, people who are scared of war with the vastly more powerful Mort. This would be an interesting look at the opposition to Kelsea’s reforms if the people involved weren’t described in sub-David Eddings terms, so everyone is ugly, fat, drunk, and weaselly. I mean, the gang includes an evil priest and a rapist gate guard. Can’t thin, ordinary-looking people be morally wrong? Without being grimdark wrong? Continue reading →