Tuesday, December 21, 2004

On the importance of adhering to gender stereotypes

Or, you go on a date with the gender roles that you have, not the gender roles that you might want or wish to have.

Okay, so every couple of years, a new theory is born on men and women and how they should or should not relate to each other. A few years ago, the big deal was The Rules - quite literally a rulebook for women, an instruction manual to teach them how to take back the power in their interaction with men, pretty much by playing hard-to-get. When to call, when not to call, how far in advance to set dates, how long to wait before sleeping with a guy - Rules. And it was a big deal. And some women thought it was a great idea, and some thought it was a lousy idea, but most people had something to say.

Now, the newest and biggest is He's Just Not That Into You, a phrase which "Sex and the City" viewers will recognize from that show because the book was written by the writers of, well, that show. The idea behind this book is that women always make excuses for guys, why they don't call, why they're inattentive, when, for the most part, he's just not that into her. It's refreshing, really, kind of a strong cup of coffee for women who try to relate to men the way they relate to other women. It doesn't ask anyone to change their ways for someone else; it just requires men to be men and women to accept that. And I can accept that.


Except that men aren't always men. Sometimes, men are just as womany as women are. Despite the fact that men are supposed to be predictably and penis-centric and generally mannish, some men will insist on being multifaceted and multilayered and on playing little mind games. And while everyone has the right to be only as straightforward as they choose to be, it really confuses the hell out of everyone when some crazy rebel man chooses to reject the stereotype and play mind games. Or, for that matter, when a woman chooses to reject the stereotype and be straightforward and upfront (and guys, don't even pretend you don't know what I'm talking about).

So here's my pledge to men: I promise to be the girliest damn girl out there. I promise to never really tell you what's on my mind. I promise that if you ask what's wrong and I say "nothing," there really is something wrong. I promise never to remind you in advance of special occasions, and then to get my feelings hurt when you forget. I promise to take two hours to get ready for a date, to have the chef prepare my entire meal without butter, and to drag you only to movies with a John Williams score and actors far hotter than you. I promise to get offended when you don't call, to smother you with affection in front of your tough-guy friends, and to smack you publicly for checking out a perfectly attractive girl in a short skirt. I promise to push for girlfriend status two weeks into the relationship, to keep a toothbrush at your place, and to give you cutesy stuffed animals at every gift-giving occasion.

In return, I ask you to be mannish. Not manly - mannish. You must always speak your mind, even when tact would tell you to shut up. You must wear jeans to nice restaurants, and ripped jeans on more casual outings. You must ignore me whenever you work on your car - and you must spend at least two hours a day working on your car. You must call me up only when you're looking for tail. You must show affection with a firm slap on the ass, never commit to a date more than two hours in the future, and blow off dinner and a movie if one of your friends just bought a new firearm. You must tell wild stories to your friends about what a firecracker I am in the sack so that they leer at me whenever they see me. When I start talking to you, your eyes must glaze over a minute and a half into the conversation.

It's not pretty, but it's consistent.

Now, you might ask, wouldn't it just be easier to be straightforward? Would the world truly implode if a woman said what was really on her mind, instead of trying to figure out in advance what his reaction might be and adjust her statement accordingly and then complain because he doesn't know the real her and she just isn't being fulfilled? Could the apocalypse really come of a guy telling a girl that he's not interested in her romantically but would love to get a beer sometime - or, alternately, that he's interested in her only sexually and that she should expect attention from him only when he's trying to get some?

Well, uh, yeah.

Friday, December 10, 2004

On going to war with the Army you have

Okay, so Donald Rumsfeld has a message for American troops stationed in Iraq: Go home and die.

Okay, well, not really, but he got pretty close to it in Wednesday's "town hall"-style meeting at Camp Buehring in Kuwait. Spc. Thomas Wilson had the testicular fortitude to stand up at said meeting and ask, "Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to up-armor our vehicles?"

Good question, really. And Rumsfeld's answer, after he hemmed and hawwed and had the question repeated like a contestant in the national spelling bee, came up with a peach of an answer: screw you. "You go to war with the Army you have," he said, "not the Army you might want or wish to have," then went on to explain that "you can have all the armor in the world on a tank and a tank can (still) be blown up."

Wow, that's profound and comforting. And not at all negligent of his responsibilities to the soldiers and Marines that, as Secretary of freaking Defense, he is personally sending into battle. How the man can be so blase about the issue of properly arming and protecting his troops is beyond me. Or maybe it's not. I mean, if you think about it, Rummy isn't in any danger. Outside of his occasional Iraqi field trips, in which he tries to raise troop morale by telling them that he needn't bother arming them 'cause they could just die anyway, he splits his time between the Pentagon and the White House. The man's idea of body armor is having the right kind of cup on when he plays squash on Thursday. The thought of actually having someone shoot anything harder than a marshmallow at him is beyond his ken. Which is why when the troops actually wanted his support, it was "you can have all the armor in the world on a tank and it can still be blown up," but when he needed to save face and look like a team player, "we must prevail" and "we must win."

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I will point out the recent discovery that the National Guardsman posing the question in question was actually coached by a reporter. Embedded reporter Edward Lee Pitts, upon hearing that troops and only troops would be allowed to ask questions at the meeting, got together with a couple of guardsmen beforehand to make sure his question was asked. In a further completely boneheaded move, considering that things like this always come out in the end, Pitts failed to mention his own role in the proceedings when he filed his story that evening.

As a journalist (such as I am), I'm kind of pissed at this guy. With all of the recent controversy over the role of embedded reporters in the War on Terra, this Pitts guy certainly isn't making us look any better. The general sentiment from much of the military is that the media is sneaking around, looking for all kinds of underhanded ways to nail them, and as good as Pitts's intentions might have been, that's kind of what he did here.

None of that, however, changes the question that was asked and the answer that was given. It doesn't change the fact that our troops are scrounging in junkyards to ghetto-rig armor for their Humvees, it doesn't change the fact that families are saving their pennies in order to send body armor to their sons and daughters in Iraq, and it doesn't change the fact that, when faced with all of this head-on, Rummy threw up his hands and said, "Wow, that wacky war! What can you do, huh?" Here's a thought, Rummy: you're driving around downtown D.C. when you hit the brakes, fail to stop and slide right into the back end of a van full of special-needs children on their way to the Washington Zoo. When you hit the OnStar button to chew out Keith on the other end, he's unsympathetic. "Listen, Mr. Rumsfeld," he says, "you drive that Cadillac with the brakes you have, not the brakes you might want to have."

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

On liberals in academia

Okay, so Steven Lubet responds to conservatives who cry discrimination in higher education:
Beyond the ivy walls, there are many professions that are dominated by Republicans. You will find very few Democrats (and still fewer outright liberals) among the ranks of corporate CEOs, military officers or professional football coaches. Yet no one complains about these imbalances, and conservatives will explain that the seeming disparities are the result of market forces.

And they are probably right.

It is entirely rational for conservatives to flock to jobs that reward competition, aggression, self-interest and victory. So it should not be surprising that liberals gravitate to professions - such as academics, journalism, social work and the arts - that emphasize inquiry, objectivity and the free exchange of ideas.

Uh, I'm not sayin'. I'm just sayin'.

Friday, December 03, 2004

On catching up, and on morals

Okay, so in the hustle and bustle of all the hustling and bustling I've had to do lately, I've gotten a little behind in my slinging of snark and airing of the world's dirty laundry. I've got some time to catch up now, and I'll start at the top with the A's: from Atrios comes some interesting news about morals and voters, and who really cares about what. Says Frank Rich of the New York Times:

It's beginning to look a lot like "Groundhog Day." Ever since 22 percent of the country's voters said on Nov. 2 that they cared most about "moral values," opportunistic ayatollahs on the right have been working overtime to inflate this nonmandate into a landslide by ginning up cultural controversies that might induce censorship by a compliant F.C.C. and, failing that, self-censorship by TV networks. Seizing on a single overhyped poll result, they exaggerate their clout, hoping to grab power over the culture.

It took a British publication, The Economist, to point out that the percentage of American voters citing moral and ethical values as their prime concern is actually down from 2000 (35 percent) and 1996 (40 percent).

So let me take a beat to get this entirely straight: in 1996, when 40% of Americans had morals on the brain, they chose to re-elect lyin', cheatin', Big-Mac-eatin', b.j.-in-the-Oval-Office-gettin' President Bill Clinton. Eight years later, Bush gets re-elected with just over half of that "morality vote," just over half of the popular vote, and suddenly he has a mandate. Not to mention the fact that every Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson is now demanding that Bush kowtow to the supposedly ubermoral conservative majority by appointing conservative Supreme Court justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade and pushing for a federal gay marriage amendment.

Now, I actually have conservative friends (as a matter of fact, two out of three conservatives declare me "too cool to be a liberal," which may or may not be a good thing), and none of them are the hyperreligious wingnut types that are currently pushing for the Jesusland concept of America. And they - even the religious ones - all view morals completely differently from the extremist Evangelical Jesus-pimps who are currently taking credit for Bush's slim victory and who won't rest until every school teaches creationist science, every sex education program is abstinence-only, and every single American citizen is as judgmental as they are.

I want to make something clear: I have nothing against Christians. I am one. I like it a lot; it's a good train. I have Evangelical friends and family members who are lovely and loving and generally peachy. But I, as well as the aforementioned religious friends/family, have nothing in common with the Religious Right nutcases who give Christianity a bad name. We're reading the same book and getting two completely different stories. And if that's what it takes to be "moral" in America today, I guess I don't want to be right. But it's sure looking like the numbers are in my favor.

Slightly off-topic: New Practically Harmless hanger-on and conservative bass fisherman Ryan points out that the blog seems to view all Bush voters as naive little toddler types who have been tragically misled by the President of the United States. As a person who watches the news and researches issues thoroughly before taking a political position, he objects to this. Reasonable and open-minded as I am, I agree to make the following concession: While many Bush voters are, in fact, tragically misinformed and led astray by the administration, a good many take a great interest in the issues and voted for Bush with all of the facts firmly in place, which makes them merely stupid.*

Note: This statement was made completely tongue-in-cheek, in a sense of fun and joking. Recent family conflicts and a particular post on GWBWYPGN?! have called attention to the fact that since the election, Democrats have consistently stereotyped Bush voters as stupid for voting as they did. While in some ways, this is only fair, as Republicans consistently stereotype Kerry voters as immoral, it's also a huge and inaccurate generalization. The management of Practically Harmless recognizes that both parties are resplendent with brilliant minds, and that in light of that, those brilliant minds need to get a sense of humor. I kid because I love. So choke on it.

On good deeds

Okay, so many of you have wondered why I haven't been updating in the past couple of weeks. Or, rather, I'm sure you've been wondering, and it's only the fact that you're paralyzed with worry over my wellbeing that has prevented you from at least checking up on me or something.

Anyway. The answer is basically that I've been hella busy with work and whatnot, the majority of the "whatnot" being preparations for the holidays (shopping, decorating, selling my kidneys on E-bay to afford the whole thing). And actually, that's something that you, my darling reader(s), can help me with - I'm looking for charitable swag. Check out Doug's post on the subject at GWBWYPGN?! for the full poop, but basically, we're not doing the usual Christmastime Parade of Useless and Unwanted Crap in the Practically Harmless household this year. Instead, we're taking the money that would have been spent on presents that would, in all likelihood, go unused and/or unappreciated and just take up space in an already cluttered world, and donate that money to a worthy charity.

I'm breaking the rules a litle this year - darling brother pointed out that "don't buy me anything for Christmas" is kind of this family's "please oh please don't throw me in that briar patch," and besides, everyone likes opening up stuff at Christmas, even if it's not a lot of stuff. So here's your assignment: coe up with worthy charities that offer swag. I'm compiling a list of those that I've already found, but as you come across spiffy items whose proceeds go to a charity, throw me a note under Comments, and I'll give you appropriate props. And of course we can't ignore those good causes that don't offer swag - there are multitudes of folks out there who are, in whatever way and for whatever reason, less fortunate than I/you/we are.

Peace. Merry Christmas. Happy Hannukah, joyous Ramadan, perky Kwanzaa.

Charities with merchandise:
Until There's a Cure - $25 gets you a silver-plated cuff bracelet with raised AIDS ribbon; feel free to go crazy and drop $400 on the same in 14k gold. Both fashionable and socially conscious, the bracelets have raised over $6,000,000 for HIV/AIDS charities
America's Second Harvest - $25 buys you a pack of five holiday cards that are, in fact, kind of cute - even to me, and I abhor cuteness. And the money goes to feed the homeless.
Miracle Ties from Jos. A. Bank - $49.50 gets you a silk necktie designed by pediatric oncology patients at Johns Hopkins Children's Center. 100% of the profits go to benefit the Children's Center.

Charities that are way worthy anyway:
Wounded Warrior Project (from Ryan) - $99 will buy a backpack filled with clothes, toiletries and "comfort items" for a soldier wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan. If that's a bit pricey for you, smaller donations are happily accepted.
American Red Cross - Accepts donations of not only money but also stock, spare change, "in-kind" products, and even airline miles.
Books for Soldiers (from B) - Accepts donations of new and used books and DVDs to hand out to bored soldiers - those deployed and those in VA hospitals. B points out that shipping has actually stopped until after the holidays, but I see that as the perfect opportunity to make a rather important point - chartiy doesn't have to stop just because the dried-out carcass of the Christmas tree is sitting on the curb. Poor people are still hungry, homeless people are still cold, shut-ins are still lonely, troops are still bored, and injured people still need blood, even when it's not a holiday. Bookmark this one for future reference.