MCMAYHEM

The Mister and I went to a couples’ workshop recently, which I may or may not expound upon later (I haven’t decided if it’s worth it, because while it was interesting, it wasn’t mind-blowing), during which we were asked to have an honest conversation about our goals for ourselves.  One of mine was that I wanted to feel like my new band is respected as musicians, full stop- no qualifiers.  Not good for girls, not just a good novelty act.  Good at playing our instruments, period.

“Maybe you shouldn’t focus so much on it being all girls, then,” he said.

Huh.

This comment has stuck with me ever since.  I think of it often when I see the description of the band on our promo material: all female Soundgarden tribute.  Is he right?  Does the focus on the female part mean that we’re exploiting our gender such that people won’t be able to see past the novelty of the act to the fact that we’re actually good?  This brings me back to my feminist-bashing highschool days, where my take on gender inequality was that if you focus on it, it only brings that problem to the forefront and creates a bigger division.  You want equality?  Then blend in with the status quo and prove you can hang!  Quit making such a big deal about how girls can do it too, and just do it.

The problem with this is that the status quo, particularly when it comes to heavy music, is almost entirely a male-created and male-driven proposition, so blending in requires adopting some rather paternalistic mores.  The Riot Grrl movement got it right in creating space for women in music where they were explicitly rejecting the misogyny of mainstream rock and creating visibility for women in music.  They created a new breed of women for girls to look up to and use as role models in building a musical career. 

The problem with Riot Grrl was, for me, I didn’t like any of the music they were creating, so their politics were likewise ignored.  In retrospect I wish I’d given it more of a chance and considered the message despite the medium- but no use crying over the Lactaid on the floor.  At the time, the only female I knew of playing the music I liked was Sean Yseult, and there were no overtly political messages being issued from her camp, so I doddered along with the non-boy-threatening position that there is no place in heavy music for being all feministy playing bass while in possession of ladybusiness.  Now Sean has a book out where she talks about how being the only girl could get uncomfortable and how the gender imbalance affected her, but in 1993 I didn’t have that insight to apply to my own experience.

Later on, I began seeing the error in this methodology and how it isn’t so successful in infiltrating and subverting that proverbial dominant paradigm from the inside so much as it just helps perpetuate the existing order.  There are concessions you make to be on the inside in the first place (“Well, I guess I can put up with that one totally gross naked blond poster in the corner of the practice room, as long as they don’t think of ME that way…”) that once you’re in you find yourself identifying with a little too much, until you don’t want to speak out at all anymore lest it jeopardize your place in this world in which you want so badly to prove your worth.  And you have no examples of how to handle this identity schism gracefully, or address the fact that things seem psychically skewed against your favor, and you start to see how it might be nice to have other women around to work with to counter the hyper-masculinity and (hopefully) back you up when you object to the naked blond poster.  I wish I’d had some kind of roadmap for how to be a woman in that world.

So this is where I’m at with putting any kind of focus on us being an all-female band.  I think it’s an important distinction to make, not because we’re playing off our sexuality, but because I want to send the message to girls that YOU CAN DO THIS TOO.  I want to be explicit about it, because women are still so underrepresented in rock, and I think bringing our gender to the forefront helps normalize us being part of that world.

In an ideal world, calling that out would have no bearing on our ability as musicians; it would simply be a statement of identity that could allow other women to identify and feel like there’s a place for them.  As it is, I know that this particular identity carries the insidious value assumption, however unconscious, that we’re not as good as guys, and that making it an integral part of the band identity and brand practically invites the “you’re good for girls” comments.  On the other hand, it could strike some as so unexpected that we’re perceived as super-good for doing something guys would be ignored for, which is insulting in its own right since its predicated on the assumption that it takes more work for us to accomplish the same thing.  It’s like the Great Dad fallacy, where men are seen as FANTASTIC dads for simply changing a diaper, but when a woman does it it’s no big deal because it’s expected of her.  It’s an interesting line to walk, and either way it’s irrevocably colored by gender.

But I think this is the muck we have to trudge through to achieve the goal of being inspirational to other women and to change the gender landscape.  There will be people who take our gender as a novelty; who wouldn’t think twice about a Soundgarden tribute except for DUDE, HOT CHICKS!!!  And to them, I say: Thank you for your money.  Because of the way women are experienced in our culture, there’s going to be an overlay of sexuality when we make a point of our gender; I acknowledge that- and in the business of entertainment, whether male or female, sexy gives you an advantage.  But personally, I’m not pushing the female thing because of the sexy factor.  For me, it’s about expanding the cultural consciousness of what women are capable of.  It’s about making a point that we can do this without being part of the boys’ club (at least on a small scale; we’re still operating within a larger context of the ‘local music scene’ which is still largely male-driven). 

Putting our gender on display will no doubt function as a way to be dismissed as a novelty to some, but if it can make some women feel that playing and enjoying heavy music is more accessible to them, I’ll take a few bogans along the way.  We’re not going to make progress by directly changing mens’ minds anyway; we’re going to do it by getting more women involved and altering the makeup of the community.

So, no.  I’m not going to take the focus off of us being an all-female band.  It may compromise the perception of our abilities among the less enlightened, but ultimately the politics of it are more important to me than compliments.  Although I wish that we were at a place in society where it didn’t make any difference, I think that as of right now- when “all-female” IS still rare enough that it’s a novelty- ignoring that fact does a disservice to other women who could gain inspiration from seeing us out there.  And anyway it would feel disingenuous, conceding that we won’t get respect unless we downplay the fact that we’re all women.  On the contrary, that kind of visibility is what’s needed to keep building up the female contingent.

Adventures in Heteronormativity

February 28th, 2012

I have such conflicted feelings about the Mister’s ability to do and solve everything.  On the one hand, it’s awesome to live with someone who has the know-how to at least trace household problems to their source and, if not fix them, at least be able to speak intelligently to the professionals about them.  If I were inclined toward letting other people do everything for me, I might enjoy this even more.  BUT.

I have this other hand, and on it I hate not feeling that I’m equally as capable.  Especially when it turns out that he doesn’t actually know what he’s doing either, like when our roof started leaking last week.  I stood in the living room for a good while, staring at the bubbled up paint, poking at it, and wondering what a body is supposed to do when the weather starts happening indoors.  Is there anything I can do?  Should I just call a roofer?  The internets would probably know, but I didn’t get that far- the Mister came home early from work to climb up there and see what he could see.  I said, “I would’ve gotten up there myself, but I don’t know what I’d be looking for.”

“You think I know what I ‘m looking for?” he asked. 

Oh.  I guess we were starting from the same place there; the difference is that he goes ahead and tries to solve the problem instead of assuming he won’t be able to do anything about it and calling the pros, like I would.  Maybe the lesson here is that the way to fix things is to throw myself at them with abandon and full confidence…instead of being cowed by the thought that something like a fundamental lack of knowledge is going to stand between me and the solution.  Although I think he does have a greater knowledge of, for example, electricity and wiring, and I think this is at least in part attributable to the culture of men being more apt to explain such things to other men.  With the exception of my dad, who’s happy to teach me what’s what, I find that it’s generally assumed that I’ll obviously not be helping with or need to know any such thing, and so am excluded from the conversation.  Last time I tried to help out with some DIY house stuff, I felt like I had to forcibly insert myself into the process.  It gets tiring trying to learn something that you feel like people aren’t happy to teach you.  Perhaps it’s folly to assume that this is because I am in possession of breasts, but there’s really nothing else that materially separates me from the people who are invited to help with these projects and then thanked for their help.

However.  There are a couple of non-breast-related things I know that I know some shit about, one of which is my bass gear.  Which is why, when the Mister stood in front of me the other night telling his friend what he would like to do with my new speaker cabinet, I found it more than a tad off-putting.  It’s not that he’d do anything I didn’t agree to, or that he assumes I’m feckless and unable to make any decisions about it myself.  But there is a tendency for him to perceive he has ownership of all objects in our house that have a power cord, even the things that I feel I rightly have exclusive jurisdiction over.  I know that he’s just trying to help and feels his knowledge will be useful- and it usually is- but fuck me if I’m going to end up with a setup that someone else put together based on THEIR specifications.  Even if it’s top-notch.  I’m much less concerned about it being an expensive and fancy setup than I am feeling like it’s exactly what I want, based on the research that I did, and the preferences that I have.

They stood there flappin’ their jaws for awhile about the amp his friend has available and how great it’d be for this cab before the Mister thought to ask whether or not I’d be interested in it.  THANK YOU FOR FINALLY INCLUDING ME IN THE DECISION-MAKING PROCESS ABOUT MY OWN STUFF.

Also, while I’m at it, I’m pissed that nobody got me the model V8 engine kit I asked for for xmas.

I like to think I’m old enough to let potential Facebook flame wars lie, but that doesn’t mean I can’t at least think about what I would’ve said if I wanted to waste energy being a dick.

Case in point: someone posted about how ridiculous it is that some Republican lawmaker in Indiana was trying to reframe the pro-choice position as “pro-abortion,” as though the right to choose also means “the right to force others to end their pregnancy.”  Which, duh, is the complete opposite of what it actually means.

Anyway, a couple people commented about how yes, that’s stupid of them, and then someone jumped on and hijacked it with a screed about how wrong abortion is.  Because yes, it’s a CHOICE, but you could also make a CHOICE to rob a bank and kill the teller.  And in each instance, it’s the same thing: taking a human life.  (Incidentally, in my head the commenter’s voice sounded like Kristen Wiig doing her Elizabeth Hasselbeck impersonation.)

And then a collective eye roll from those of us who had already commented was heard as we walked away and left the issue-baiter wondering why she was all of a sudden alone.

So my first reaction was how stupid the argument was, because unless after choosing not to kill the bank teller he implants himself in my uterus for another 7 months, after which I have to squeeze him out of my ladybusiness, then the things are not the same.  And in all the examples of not killing a bank teller that I’ve bore witness to, this is not what happens.  Your mileage may vary, especially if you live in Texas.

But what really irked me more than that is that this person seemed to think they were going to come on there and change some minds with a response to a FB post.  I dunno, maybe they haven’t been on the interwebs long enough yet, but it’s pretty clear to me that this is not how opinions are dislodged, especially when you come at it with some self-righteous attitude about a notoriously divisive issue that’s far from black & white.  And I wonder if this person has any idea how futile and in fact self-defeating their attempt at “debate” was, or if to see that they need something like:

“Anne (or whatever her name was), you are so right!  Those two things are absolutely the same, and I’m so glad you brought that up.  Your argument is really compelling; I hadn’t ever thought about it like that before.  I guess that all along I’ve just been regurgitating the liberal party line without really taking into account what the logical conclusions are in this emotionally-charged debate.  I’m not sure that I even realized there WAS another side to things until you brought this up!  So weird, right?  Because you’d think that with the question of abortion being as complex as it is, a person would’ve at least considered what an opposing viewpoint might be before making up their mind about which side of the issue they were on.  Ha!  Guess we all make mistakes!  Thank goodness I happened to come across you here and had it explained to me in one pithy paragraph exactly where it was that I went wrong.  Your hard-driving statement about what I mistook to be a nuanced issue have completely changed my viewpoint on it.  There sure is egg on my face!  Also, go to hell.”

No More Mr. Nice Girl

February 22nd, 2012

Last night at the grocery store, a man approached me as I was picking out ice cream.

“Excuse me, ma’am?”

“Yeah?”

“Do you drive a Challenger?”

“Yep.”

“Do the lights…turn off automatically?”

“Oh, yeah, they do.”

“Okay, I just…saw them on, and…”

“Yeah, it takes awhile for them to turn off.  Thank you!”

He walked away and I felt all good about myself for not being a total cud to a stranger, which is my usual M.O. as it tends to keep the riff-raff away.  My mom always says people are just trying to be nice, though, and look!  This guy really was just trying to be nice.  She was right.

I finished shopping and took my stuff (sans ice cream; none of the flavors struck a chord with me last night) to one of the self-serve checkouts, where you don’t have to exchange empty niceties with the checker.  The thoughtful stranger appeared and started using the machine next to mine.

“So how’s that thing with gas mileage?” he asked.

“Not so great, but it’s worth it,” I said.  (Yes, I am a total asshole about this, and I’m aware of this being a liberal failing on my part.  It’s not that I don’t believe in the impact cars have on climate change, or think that getting oil from the Middle East is a problem, but you will have to pry my cold, dead ass out of the driver’s seat of my precious fuel-guzzling muscle cars.  We all have our faults.)

We chatted a bit more about how his daughter wanted one and was trying to decide between that and a BMW, yadda yadda.  I finished up, wished him a good evening, and started to get on my way.

As I walked past, he said:

“I wish I could marry you.  I like you, you’re pretty.”

“Uh…thanks,” I said, scurrying out to the car that he clearly knew I was driving, and hustling to get it out of the parking lot before he could follow me out there and tail me home, because in my mind that’s what someone who says weird things like that does.

So there you go, mom.  There’s what being nice gets you: inappropriate marriage proposals and fear for your own safety.  Dad was right after all: men are pigs.

No progress yet on finding other girls to play Kyuss with.  Today I posted my ad for the third time- the only interest I’ve generated so far is from a dude.  I’m not against playing with dudes, but I’ve got puh-lenty of those already.  So a-posting I will continue, with the hope that either someone new will see it, or the repeated viewings will encourage someone on the fence to take a chance.

In the meantime, I found some girls who need a Ben Shepherd for their Soundgarden cover band- sounds interesting, but I’m hesitant about it because they practice farther away than I really want to go.  I’m also unsure about how many times I could play Black Hole Sun without wanting to kill myself.  Gonna look into it more anyhow- can’t hurt to try out.

And I found someone RIGHT HERE IN TOWN who wants to do an acoustic guitar duo project, which is awesome because I’ve been working on guitar lately and want people to practice with.  She hasn’t done any performing, so providing she’s a not-terrible person (she can spell, so she’s got that going for her), I think we’ll be able to help each other out a lot. 

Been doing some piano stuff at the open mic nights at the Red Dog under the Cobra Belly moniker- stuff out of my Heavy Metal Ballads book.  Motley Crue, Whitesnake, Scorpions.  Fun and good practice, but disappointingly weak through my keyboard as compared to when I play them on a real piano at home.  They just don’t carry the same weight through my little Yamaha.

A bunch of us went to see Fu Manchu the other night- great show, although too light on the Daredevil material for my taste.  But then the point of the show was that they were playing “In Search Of…” in its entirety, so there wasn’t much room for other stuff.  I hear they’re doing the same thing with “Action is Go” next year, which is more up my alley.  Witchburn opened and I started wondering exactly how hard their stuff is on guitar, so I came home and figured some of it out.  Turns out: not that hard.  Maybe I should be looking for bass & drums for my new project instead of guitar & drums.  In any case, I’m keeping an eye out for a cheap SG on Craigslist.  It’s about time I have my own guitar.

Saw Jesse Sykes & The Sweet Hereafter last night at Neumo’s.  I’m a bad fan for having taken this long to get around to that, since they’re from here and have played many local shows in the years I’ve been listening to them that I just haven’t made it to.  So glad I finally made a point of going, though- they were pretty amazing live.  Their music has this gripping melancholia that my depressive side loves to wallow in.  It’s may not be particularly happy music, but it’s evocative and beautiful, from her almost-lisping voice (I had to get used to it, but now it’s the epitome of smoky to me) to the sparse and maudlin wails of the guitar, to the very structure of the songs. 

They had a different bassist last night, who was awesome and commanded that goddamn thing like he was creating the notes instead of playing them.  He was a lot of fun to watch, because I wondered what some of the basslines on their newest album must be like to play, as they’re a little more complex and jammy than they’ve done before (answer: they look as difficult to play as they sound to be).  What impressed me most, though, was the band’s ability to reproduce the vocals from their albums so faithfully- and I don’t just mean the leads, although those were great.  Their songs have got some odd, high harmonies- one song even starts with acapella harmonies, fer chrissakes- but despite Jesse claiming laryngitis, they were spot on every time.

Anyway, here’s a performance they did at KEXP a coupla months ago.  The bass is unfortunately low in the mix, but this song has a great chord progression that recalls Lazy Susan for me- and appropriately so; once I heard Kim Virant introduce a song as having been inspired by sitting around talking with her friend Jesse Sykes. 

 

There’s this “10 Scary Celebrity Closeups” listicle going around that I saw the other day, looked through with requisite horror, and forgot about.   Then today mention of it popped up on a blog I was passing through; their take on it was much different than my own.  They criticized the list for only including one man (true, I did notice that imbalance), but moreover were pissed that the intent of the list seemed to be to expressing disgust that hot celebrity women are too human and flawed when you’re faced with them being actual people; that it’s not fair for your fantasy of them to be interrupted by the reality of them being flesh and blood and maybe having pimples.

I had thought, actually, that the pictures were scary not because they showcased the humanity of the people, but because they demonstrated how much gunk and goo these people had to slather on in order to sufficiently fulfill their role of celebrity fantasy-maker.  That is, in order to HIDE their humanity.  They’re scary because they don’t look like normal people.  Whether or not the person under all that spackle is naturally attractive or not, that’s immaterial- for me, this was exposing just how much work goes into creating what serves as an impossible beauty standard from afar- or on camera- but which, in real life, just makes the person look like they had their features spray-painted on.

The blog post I read argued that these are beautiful people!  How dare you say they’re scary up close!  Well, from where I’m sitting, the only one who doesn’t fit the header of “scary” is Jada Pinkett- girl looks amazing, and not overdone at all.  On other other hand, the youngest ones on the list are the ones with the most plaster to scrape off at the end of the night: Zooey Deschanel, Taylor Momsen, and Katy Perry.  They all have fucking masks on.  I’d like to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume it’s a practical measure because they’re stage performers and need that to be seen at the back of the arena under the stage lights, but I don’t know under what circumstances these pictures were taken. 

If you want to be mad about something, don’t be mad that people think these women’s “humanity” makes them less fuckable and therefore the butt of cruel jokes.  Be mad that they, or their handlers, insist on layering on product up to the point where they don’t look human up close anymore, because that’s how you get good red carpet shots.  Be mad at Hollywood for creating an environment where these people have to put their faces on before going out, lest they get caught in an unflattering light.  Hell, be mad at those “scary celebrities WITHOUT makeup!” lists- those are the ones that unfairly hold famous women to a ridiculous double standard.  But this one, where the makeup itself is what makes the people look creepy?  I’m okay with that.  Let’s tear down that façade and show how much artifice goes into making someone look good on camera.

Incidentally, it was actually the one man on the list- Iggy Pop- who I found the most repulsive, in all his un-made-up glory.  It was the nosehair that did it.  So sue me; I can hold men to a standard of beauty too.  That standard includes a distinct lack of nostril-bristles.

She’s a Mexican in disguise

December 2nd, 2011

This ad on Facebook gave me pause…why’s a white chick modeling it?  Was there fear that having a Latina chick wearing it would reinforce the racial overtones (read: entire content) of it too much?

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Maybe it’s designed to make me question my assumptions, since little do I know that this girl is, in fact, Mexican.  Those Mexicans with transparent skin and red hair, they can never catch a break when it comes to racial profiling.

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This is for reals.

I have to wonder if the marketers here have a motivation that goes beyond revenue in promoting the idea that women handle thinner objects better.

The family and I kind of got into it on Thanksgiving over the concept of BMI (body mass index).  The Mister recently lost somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 pounds through the painstaking process of replacing his morning Mountain Dews with protein shakes and taking some regimen of expensive vitamins.

Last week he noted that his blood pressure had gone down since losing the weight.  Also, his BMI is now lower (I don’t know how this was measured).  I noted, in return, that fantastic as the lower blood pressure was, BMI is bullshit and not a great way to measure fat, let alone overall health.

Bullshit!  He says.  Why is it bullshit? 

Because 1. the measurement guidelines are inaccurate.  By the NIH‘s BMI standards, I’m obese, which, have you seen me?  That’s a joke, and 2. it doesn’t even measure what it claims to measure.

It IS a good way to measure fat, though, he insisted, and less fat = healthier.  Obviously!  His blood pressure was lower because of having less fat.

Maybe, I says.  But there are a lot of other things that figure into blood pressure.  You’ve been eating food that’s better for you.  Less sodium and less caffeine.

(Thank you, Dr. Little, stats prof extraordinaire, for drilling that critical notion of “correlation does not equal causation” into my undergrad head.  It has served me well in parsing junk from real science in the years since I’ve known you.) 

The Mister started getting that look of bewilderment that one gets when a core tenet, one whose self-evidence makes it unnecessary to ever reevaluate, has been called into question.  I might as well have just told him I joined up with the Flat Earth Society, or discovered that global warming is a hoax.

It’s pretty straightforward, he says.  My body doesn’t have to work as hard to pump blood when there’s less body to get it to. 

I remember clinging to that one once.  It’s just simple science!  Less body mass, better health!  Your heart doesn’t have to work as hard; duh!  As though I had any clue what I was talking about and wasn’t just pulling conjecture out of my skinny ass.  I may not be an expert now either, but at least I’ve done a little reading up on how wrong I was, which is more work than I can say went into supporting my previous stance.

Are you really saying you don’t think fat is an indication of someone’s health?  he asked.

I think it is, my mom volunteered.

No.  I do not, I said.  I think there are plenty of people who eat well and work out and are still perfectly healthy.  I don’t think fat necessarily figures into it.

But it’s a simple equation of calories in, calories out.  How do you know those people are healthy if they’re overweight? 

Ah!  Another old favorite of mine.  Calories in, calories out.  It’s easy!  If I can do it, why can’t everyone?  Would that it really were that straightforward for everyone, regardless of any medication or congenital issue that impacts their metabolism.  But all bodies are not alike.  You don’t need to look any further than my immediate family to see evidence of this: I got my dad’s metabolism.  I have never struggled with my weight, and when I feel like my pants are getting a little too tight, it doesn’t take much work to get rid of my excess.  My sister, on the other hand, while far from overweight, has had to work considerably harder to maintain a weight she’s comfortable with.  Her body’s been that way ever since we were little.  This persists in the face of all other variables being the same: we were both very physically active and eating essentially the same things, since my mom was making us breakfast, packing our lunches, and fixing us dinner. 

So to get back to his question: just because my sister had more fat on her, was she less healthy?  If that’s not an accurate measure of health, how else could you measure it?

Blood pressure.  Cholesterol.  Any of the same methods you’d use to determine if an “average”-sized person is healthy, instead of just assuming they are because they aren’t fat.  It’s not actually a calories in, calories out deal.  Yes, one person’s relative BMI might tell you something about their eating habits or how much exercise they’re getting, but on an absolute level I think it’s useless.  It certainly doesn’t give any indication of health in and of itself.

I think it can be used as a tool, my mom says.

Yeah, says the Mister.  If you can’t measure fat by BMI, how would you propose we measure it?

There are several more effective measures of adipose tissue measurement (waist circumference is one), but actually, except in extreme cases, I propose that fat itself isn’t the issue.  Except in relative terms for each individual, it alone provides no useful metric- but even then, it’s more an indication of something else than a problem unto itself.  Obesity is a risk factor for a number of things, but it’s not a guarantee of developing them.  You can take care of yourself and still be fat without ever developing diabeetus.

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This can be hard to wrap one’s head around.  Fat = unhealthy has been part of our cultural  shorthand for a long damn time, but as science evolves and we learn to question previously-held beliefs that are based on shit like BMI, we often start to see that the relationships between cause & effect that we always took as gospel are not nearly that simple. 

We ended on kind of an “agree to disagree” note, and I have no closing comments.  It’s just been rattling around in my head annoying me, and I needed to write it all down to get over it.

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