Book Review: ‘All the Real Indians Died Off’: And 20 Other Myths About Native Americans, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz & Dina Gilio-Whitaker (2016)

Friday, October 7th, 2016

Belongs in high school libraries everywhere.

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received an electronic ARC for review through Edelweiss.)

Non-Natives thus position themselves, either wittingly or unwittingly, as being the true experts about Indians and their histories—and it happens at all levels of society, from the uneducated all the way up to those with advanced college degrees, and even in the halls of Congress. […]

The result is the perpetual erasure of Indians from the US political and cultural landscape. In short, for five centuries Indians have been disappearing in the collective imagination. They are disappearing in plain sight.

Imagining huge fields of gold, which did not exist, Columbus instituted what later became known as the encomienda system, large estates run on forced labor for the purposes of extracting gold. Las Casas reported that when mining quotas were not met by the Indians excavating the gold, their hands were cut off and they bled to death. When they attempted to flee, they were hunted down with dogs and killed. So little gold existed in Hispaniola that the island turned into a massive killing field.

He [King George] has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare, is undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

—Declaration of Independence

— 4.5 stars —

Native Americans should be honored to have sports teams named after them.

The Indians lost the war, why can’t they move on already?

Indian casinos make everyone rich.

Whether your ancestors were indigenous to North America or not, no doubt you’re familiar with at least a few of these myths about Native Americans. Actually, that’s an understatement, given that our culture – right down to its founding documents – is steeped in such half-truths, contested theories, and outright lies. They’re taught in our high school history books (Columbus discovered America; the convoluted and decontextualized myth of Thanksgiving), trotted out for celebrations (Native American mascots; cultural appropriation in Halloween costumes), and have been used to strip Native tribes of their lands, power, and self-determination (“real” Indians live on reservations/meet blood quantum requirements/belong to a tribe/adhere to certain spiritual practices).

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: City of Savages, Lee Kelly (2015)

Monday, May 4th, 2015

A Wild Ride through Post-Apocalyptic Manhattan

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review from the publisher. Trigger warning for rape and violence.)

Somehow this ruthless city is home to my sister. Where for me, it will never, ever be more than a cage.

If no one’s out there, then what’s keeping us in?

Sisters Skyler and Phoenix Miller were born and raised in Manhattan; from the wild forests of Central Park to the gleaming glass apartments in Battery Park, the island is the only home they’ve ever known. But their home is also their prison. Along with several hundred fellow survivors, Sky and Phee are prisoners of war: World War III, in which the Red Allies (China, North Korea, and Russia) simultaneously attacked New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and San Francisco, with the ultimate goal of conquering the United States. That was more than sixteen years ago, in March of 2016, and still the war rages on.

When Manhattan was first attacked, a lucky few survivors found safety in the subway tunnels – including their mother, Sarah. But as the months dragged on and supplies dwindled, many of the refugees were forced to the surface, to beg the Red Allies for mercy. Though most of the men were shot on sight, the women and children were imprisoned in cages once meant for lions and tigers: the Central Park Zoo, now transformed into an internment camp.

(More below the fold…)

Mini-Review: “Last Woman On Earth,” C.V. Hunt (2013)

Saturday, October 25th, 2014

Perfectly Grim & Melancholic

four out of five stars

(Trigger warning for suicide and allusions to rape.)

“Last Woman On Earth” opens in a most unusual way: that is, with a brief primer on hanging techniques. The narrator is, as far as she can tell, the last woman on earth, and it’s a burden she’s long since tired of shouldering. She aims to kill herself, but not after enjoying one last sunrise and sunset from high atop the Seattle Space Needle.

In this distant future, the apocalypse arrives on the back of science: after generations of “pump[ing] their bodies full of contraceptives,” women’s reproductive systems have evolved into a state of persistent infertility. The declining birth rate affords men yet another excuse to exploit women – women’s bodies being the means of production, the very stuff of life – and women once again become the hunted. Kidnapping, rape, and human trafficking are at best overlooked in the name of saving the latest endangered species – us. So it’s no surprise when, during her final suicide trek to the West Coast, the narrator turns away from the only human she spots on the road – a man. It’s perilous to be a dwindling natural resource, after all.

For such a short story, “Last Woman On Earth” packs quite a punch. My only complaint? The author’s use of “rape” to denote something that is not rape (environmental degradation) – an especially egregious affront considering the theme of the story.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: The Mountaintop School for Dogs and Other Second Chances, Ellen Cooney (2014)

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

Sweet, But Sometimes Problematic

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free ARC for review through Goodreads’ First Reads program.)

Evie. Female. Twenty-four. Petite in stature and preppy in appearance – yet surprisingly strong and resilient. Has low self esteem and abandonment issues due to a divorce in the home. Graduated from college with a degree in literature and an addiction to cocaine; dropped out of graduate school. Neat, organized, and motivated to learn. Can be a self-starter, if given the opportunity. Sometimes too quick to give up. Needs guidance and a sense of belonging.

Lucille. Female. Fifty. Divorced. Will only answer to “Mrs. Auberchon.” Prim, prickly, and slow to disclose personal information (or any information). Does not make friends easily, resulting in a self-perpetuating cycle of loneliness and alienation. When given a job, will take to it fastidiously. Needs a purpose and a nice, cozy role to retire into. Potentially aggressive, occasionally paranoid. Anxiety meds should be considered.

Like so many strays before her – both human and canine – Evie is adrift when she arrives at the Sanctuary. Fresh out of rehab (a little too fresh, some might say), Evie is searching for direction, guidance – a new purpose in life. Though she’s never been interested in dogs – never even been owned by a dog, in point o’ facts – she impulsively answers a dog training ad she spotted while browsing classifieds on the internet. (“Would you like to become a dog ?”) With a little finagling and fudging of the truth, her application is accepted – Evie is headed to the mountaintop school for dogs!

Upon Evie’s arrival, she’s temporarily waylaid at the inn at the base of the mountain. It’s here that her training begins – Evie just doesn’t know it yet. One by one she’s introduced to her future students: Josie, a nippy little lady who lost her longtime home to the new baby. Shadow, who spent most of his life on the end of the chain and is now training (somewhat unsuccessfully) to be a search and rescue dog. Hank, who doesn’t take kindly to wooden objects and can’t stop obsessively pacing back and forth, back and forth. Tasha, a chronically depressed and anxious Rottweiler who was dumped from a car.

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: Saga, Volume 1, Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples (2012)

Monday, June 2nd, 2014

Fragile Things

four out of five stars

“Ideas are fragile things. Most don’t live long outside of the ether from which they were pulled, kicking and screaming. That’s why people create with someone else.”

Marko and Alana are two young soldiers fighting on opposite sides of an ancient and never-ending galactic war. No one remembers why the citizens of Landfall – the largest planet in its galaxy – and Wreath – its only satellite moon – don’t get along. All anyone knows is that the two rocks are mortal enemies, and they must choose sides. (You’re either with us, or you’re against us.) Since the planet and its moon can’t obliterate one without destroying the other, the conflict has long since been outsourced, until it engulfed every world in the galaxy. There’s no escaping it.

A soldier with the Wreath contingent, Marko surrendered to Coalition Forces on the planet of Cleave and swore off violence altogether. Once imprisoned, Alana was assigned to guard him. Instead, they fell in love and ran away together. Three months later, and with their pursuers hot on their trail, baby Hazel is born. All these lovers want to do is raise their young family in peace; but with Prince Robot IV and mercenary “The Will” on their trail, it’s likely that their subversive idea will be snuffed out before it’s able to take root and blossom.

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: We Animals, Jo-Anne McArthur (2013)

Monday, February 17th, 2014

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“It will change the world, for the better, for us all.”

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free pdf copy of this book for review.)

“What you see on these pages may surprise or disturb you. My aim is not to turn you away but to draw you in, bring you closer, make you a participant. I want my photographs to be beautiful and evocative as well as truthful and compelling. I hope you’ll take the time not just to look but to see — if only as a mark of respect for the billions of animals whose lives and deaths we don’t notice. To look at this book is to bear witness with me, which means also that we confront cruelty and our complicity in it. As a species, we have to learn new behaviours and attitudes and unlearn the old ones.” (page 9)

Photojournalist Jo-Anne McArthur has spent the last decade and a half traveling the world – both on her own and in the company of animal activists – documenting our complicated relationships with nonhuman animals. Relationships that so often boil down to objectification, exploitation, and consumption. If you’ve been involved with animal advocacy for any length of time, no doubt you’re familiar with some of McArthur’s images. She’s photographed open rescues conducted by Animal Equality; documented the affecting actions of Toronto Pig Save; and set sail with the crew of the Sea Shepherd. McArthur bears witness through the lens of her camera, exposing atrocities that many of us would prefer remain invisible.

Recently featured in Liz Marshall’s The Ghosts In Our Machine, We Animals features 100 of McArthur’s photos – some taken for the film, others on behalf of various animal advocacy organizations, and the rest during the artist’s travels. The result is a stunning portfolio that’s as beautiful as it is heartbreaking. From the Calgary Stampede to the Tam Dao Bear Sanctuary in Vietnam, McArthur brings us examples of unimaginable cruelty – and selfless compassion.

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: For Every Dog An Angel, Christine Davis (2004)

Friday, November 1st, 2013

For anyone who’s ever loved and lost a canine companion.

five out of five stars

I lost my two oldest dogs, Ralphie and Kaylee, in May of this year. Though I live with five other dogs – nothing to sniff at! – my home feels so unbelievably empty without them here. Ralphie was my first rescue dog; he lived with my husband and me for nearly twelve years before his passing. And Kaylee…well, she was something special. I don’t know if I believe in the idea of one “forever” dog – it’s too depressing to think that I’ll never love another creature the way I did (do!) her – but she was certainly my favorite. Five months later, and not a moment passes in which I don’t miss them both something awful.

Anyway, I was treating myself to a few science fiction books when I stumbled upon For Every Dog An Angel on my Amazon wishlist. It’s been there for years – I think I first heard of author Christine Davis via a Dogs Deserve Better newsletter – but only in my grief did I feel compelled to buy it. I’m so glad I did, too. For such a simple little book, it proved surprisingly cathartic.

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: Stung, Bethany Wiggins (2013)

Wednesday, June 5th, 2013

“Sleeping Beauty” Meets “28 Days Later”

three out of five stars

Trigger alert for discussions of rape; also, minor spoilers ahead!

In an ill-fated attempt to save the world’s endangered bee populations – and prevent the inevitable global famine which would surely follow – the scientists in Bethany Wiggins’s Stung design a new, genetically modified species of “super bees.” Immune to the effects of existing pesticides and fatally aggressive toward their less high-tech honeybee cousins, humanity’s so-called solution causes more problems than it solves: finishing the grim task begun by people, the Frankenbees drive naturally occurring bee species over the brink of extinction. They also turn on their human creators, spreading a deadly “bee flu” that’s ultimately responsible for thousands – if not millions – of human deaths.

After a promising vaccine fails – those given the antivenin develop superhuman strength and go mad – the government falls back on its “last resort”: a new pesticide, specially formulated for use against the GenMod bees. The only downside? It kills pretty much everything in its path: plants, (nonhuman) animals, even some humans.

In the wake of this destruction, the United States dissolves into a collection of city-states. In Denver, Colorado, there is safety behind “the wall” – but only for those citizens privileged enough to buy their way in with money (honey is the prevailing currency) or essential skills. At the age of 15, boys must join the militia, where they are tasked with defending the wall from “beasts” (those who received the vaccine and subsequently turned), “fecs” (refugees living in the sewers, many of them recipients of the vaccine who have yet to turn), and “raiders” (uninfected outlaws who traffic in women and beasts). Girls inside the wall are expected to marry young and have children.

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: Fray, Joss Whedon et al. (2003)

Monday, April 1st, 2013

Girls & Monsters & Flying Cars

five out of five stars

In a world long without magicks and demons, what’s a Slayer to do?

If you’re 19-year-old Melaka Fray, you put your superhuman strength, dexterity, and resilience to use as a professional thief. Or “grabber,” in future slang. That it just so happens to frustrate your estranged big sister, who was recently promoted to sergeant in “the laws,” to no end? Icing on the cake!

Set in New York City hundreds of years in the future, Fray introduces us to a world (mostly) free of vampires. Locked away in another dimension by an unnamed 21st century Slayer, they’ve gradually and inexplicably been resurfacing in Mel’s neighborhood. Seemingly harmless and commonly mistaken for drug addicts or human mutants (which all too common given the regrettable state of the environment), few have paid these “lurkers” any mind. That is, until they begin to plot to open a gate to hell – and the next Slayer is called. Unfortunately, all the Watchers have since been bored into madness, and Mel’s hapless Watcher sets himself on fire at their first meeting. Standing in as Mel’s trainer and mentor is Urkonn, a goat-like demon with a mean punch and a shady agenda.

Though firmly rooted in the Buffyverse, Fray easily stands on its own. (One need not have prior experience with Buffy or Angel to enjoy Fray – though it’s highly recommended!) While the story is familiar – girl meets vampire, girl kills vampire – here it gets a futuristic makeover. Witty like a certain blonde we all know and love, Mel is nonetheless her own Slayer: brash, short-tempered, sticky-fingered, always willing to throw a punch for a friend or fellow “freak.” Juxtaposed with a dreary, dilapidated city landscape, Mel practically jumps off the page in her vivid blues, purples, and greens. The artwork contained within these pages is simply stunning.

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: Wither, Lauren DeStefano (2011)

Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

This is your life, and it’s ending one minute at a time. (*)

four out of five stars

Trigger warning for rape and violence.

At the tender age of sixteen, Rhine Ellery is already well past middle age. Genetic experimentation meant to rid the world of disease and extend the human lifespan has instead had the opposite effect: all women can expect to die in their twentieth year, and men only live to see twenty-five. In a world mostly absent of adults, the streets of New York City are overrun with orphans who beg and steal to get by. Children are sold as guinea pigs, experimented on in hopes of finding an antidote to the unnamed sickness that strikes down young people before their lives have even begun. “Gatherers” in gray coats and dark vans roam the streets, kidnapping girls and young women to sell into sexual slavery or as child brides. Girls deemed “unsellable” are murdered, their bodies discarded along the side of the road like sacks of garbage.

Though their lives are far from ideal, Rhine and her twin brother Rowan are better off than most. They are orphans – but, unlike most orphans, they were lucky enough to know their parents. Members of the “first generation” of genetically modified humans, Mr. and Mrs. Ellery lived long and healthy lives, the sickness that kills young adults only manifesting in their children and grandchildren (and so on down the line). In fact, they probably would have outlived Rhine and Rowan, had they not been murdered by “pro-naturalists” who bombed the lab in which they were employed as geneticists. Rhine and Rowan are relatively well-educated and, while they were forced into the workplace at the age of twelve, they’re lucky enough to have a roof over their heads and food to eat. A meager existence, but one far better than freezing to death on a stranger’s porch, as Rhine finds a homeless girl one winter morning.

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: I Am Number Four, Pittacus Lore (2010)

Friday, July 27th, 2012

Four stars for I Am Number Four

four out of five stars

Not so much a review as a random collection of thoughts, but you get the idea!

  • The basic premise of the Lorien Legacies series is this: we are not alone. Besides Earth, multiple planets capable of sustaining life exist in the universe. Among these are Lorien and Mogadore, whose contrasting pasts and presents reflect two possible futures for Earth.

    Much like Earth today, in its early history Lorien was faced with ecological collapse. Caused by greed and fueled by rapid technological advancements, the Loric people were quickly depleting their planet’s resources, driving it ever closer to ruin. Rather than continue on this self-destructive path, the Loriens chose another way: they simplified their society, living sustainably and in harmony with nature. (Just what this entails isn’t clear. For example, there’s no indication that the Loriens are/were vegans, nor do they seem to have renounced their “ownership” of nonhuman animals.)

    In thanks, the planet endowed the Loriens with special gifts. While all Loriens are stronger, faster, and more powerful than the average human, roughly half of the population have additional, supernatural abilities: Telekinesis. The ability to control the elements. Invisibility. The gift of flight. Imperviousness to fire. They are members of the Garde, the superhuman – or rather super-Lorien – protectors of the planet. Behind the scenes, the Cêpan manage the society and act as mentors to young Gardes who are just discovering their Legacies. At the time of our hereos’ births, Lorien is a veritable Eden, with everyone coexisting in peace and harmony.

    Mogadore offers a terrifying glimpse of the road not taken by Lorien. Faced with a similar fate, the Mogadorians deplete their planet’s resources, turning it into a barren hellscape – and then set out to conquer other planets and plunder their resources as well. The first of these is Lorien, which is caught with its guard down and is taken easily. Save for a lucky few, all of the Loric people are slaughtered. Lorien is laid to waste.

    Obvious moral is obvious, though no less true. We are at a crossroads; will we emulate the peaceable Lorien, or – be it through, antipathy, stubbornness, or privilege – go the way of Mogadore? Human history, rife as it is with genocide, colonization, slavery, and wars of convenience, does not speak well of us.

    (More below the fold…)

  • I thought you were a bitch.

    Friday, June 8th, 2012

    2011-09-21 - Mags is a BITCH! - 0011

    On the season finale of 30 Rock, Kenneth Parcell redefined the term “bitch” in a way that tickled my vegan feminist funny bone. (Yes, vegans and feminists have funny bones too!)

    “And to think I thought Hazel was a bitch. Friendly and loyal, like a well-trained female dog. She isn’t a bitch. She’s a meanie pants.”

    30 Rock, “What Will Happen to the Gang Next Year?” (Season 6, episode 22)

    The part about being “well-trained” aside – ambitious and outspoken, bitches are anything but – I’d say that this is pretty spot on. Given that the observation comes from the “backward hick” character – famous for his nonsensical, fundamentalist Christian / quaint agrarian brand of “wisdom” – I’m not sure whether the audience is supposed agree. Whatever. Some of my best friends are bitches. Exhibit A: Mags, above, sunbathing on a copy of Bitch magazine.

    On related note, this little tidbit from Texts from Last Night – re-purposed for Texts from the X-Files – also made me smile.

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    For those who can’t view the image, it’s still of Dana Scully speaking to another woman; her back is turned to the camera, so I can’t identify her, but she’s a tallish brunette. The texts reads, “(716): I’d call her a cunt, but she doesn’t seem to have the depth or warmth.”

    The moral of the story? Bitches and cunts are awesome.

    Eat your vegetables! (Or not.)

    Thursday, March 29th, 2012

    2012-03-25 - Mission Child - 0002

    Image: A photo of a page from the book Mission Child by Maureen F. McHugh (1998). The pertinent passage reads, “There were places that sold stew and places that sold meat grilled on skewers. One place sold sausage. Another sold fish, but it was meat I really wanted.”

    Thousands of years into the future, after humans have pushed out into the universe to colonize other planets; developed implants which allow the wearer to send a distress signal to those living on other worlds, hibernate for the winter, or channel superhuman bursts of speed and agility; and created tiny discs capable of replicating the pharmaceuticals of your choice … and there’s still some confusion as to whether fishes are plants or animals. Ditto: insects. Groan.

    Still, this is a pretty awesome book, definitely McHugh’s best. You should totally read it, especially if you like your dystopian scifi with a feminist twist. Also, the protagonist? Is transgendered/gender queer. (Born a woman, living largely as a man, Jan/Janna resists efforts to label her as female or male. When asked “what she is,” her answer is “me. Janna.”)

    I feel like maybe someone was asking about ya fiction featuring LGBTQ characters on twitter a few months back, but damned if I can remember who. If you know, point ’em in this direction.

    Everyday Ironies: Equality for…Some

    Friday, August 26th, 2011

    Wyoming State Quarter

    Here we have the Wyoming state quarter, which on the back features its state motto – “The Equality State” – and, to its left, is the silhouette of a “cowboy” riding a bucking horse.

    The website TheUS50 explains:

    The bucking horse and rider symbolize Wyoming’s Wild West heritage. “Buffalo Bill” Cody personified this in his traveling Wild West show. First settled by fur trappers, Fort Laramie, Wyoming, later became a popular destination for pioneers traveling the Oregon Trail.

    Wyoming was nicknamed the “Equality State” because of its historical role in establishing equal voting rights for women. Wyoming was the first territory to grant “female suffrage” and became the first state in the Nation to allow women to vote, serve on juries and hold public office. In 1924, Nellie Tayloe Ross became the first woman elected Governor of Wyoming. In 1933, Ross became the first woman appointed as the Director of the United States Mint.

    As per usual, “equality” by default applies only to human animals; the irony of choosing to feature an image of animal exploitation alongside the state’s nickname was apparently lost on the US Mint. This is hardly surprising, given the speciesist world in which we live. So ubiquitous is our oppression of animals that it’s rendered mostly invisible; like water to a fish. Try as we might, sometimes it can be difficult to recognize it all.

    Although this particular quarter was released in 2007, I didn’t catch on to the irony until last winter.* The husband, having taken the dogs walking in a nearby park, accidentally left the car’s lights on, thus draining the batteries. Long story short, I ended up stuck behind the wheel for a half hour while we jumped the battery. Bored to tears, I started rummaging through the car’s various cubbies and compartments and found a few state quarters. Though I’d probably glanced at a Wyoming state quarter countless times by then, for some reason the contradiction struck me; equality for whom? Certainly not the horses imprisoned, enslaved, raped, abused, maimed and killed in rodeos (not to mention other horse-related industries). But nonhumans – much like women before them – simply aren’t deemed worthy of our consideration. I can only hope that history will once again prove us wrong.

    * Yes, this is on average how long my posts languish in draft purgatory. Bad blogger, bad.

    Cops are not pigs: a handy checklist!

    Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

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    Image: A smiling, curly-tailed, adorable pink cartoon pig looks up at a checklist that reads:

    COPS ARE NOT PIGS

    Pigs are our friends
    Cops are not

    Pigs mind their own business
    Cops do not

    Pigs have curly tails
    Cops have guns

    Pigs defecate freely
    Cops are anal-retentive

    Pigs grunt with joy
    Cops grunt with aggression

    Pigs are highly intelligent
    Cops are mindless clones

    HOW DARE YOU INSULT A PERFECTLY GOOD PIG!

    By way of disclaimer, obviously I don’t think that all cops are mindless, cruel bullies, more interested in asserting (and abusing) their authority than protecting and serving the public. I’d certainly argue that the system – increasingly militarized in nature and always protective of its own – encourages such behavior; however, in spite of this trend, some cops are perfectly nice people, and remain so throughout their careers!

    This graphic simply refers to that subset of cops worthy of insult (and more) – for example, cops who rape vulnerable women and shoot cowering dogs with impunity – with the gentle reminder that such insults must not further marginalize already oppressed groups: animals (pig, cow, rat, jackass, wildebeest, etc.), women (bitch, cunt, pussy, etc.), and people of color (a whole slew of words that I, as person of Italian and German descent, don’t feel comfortable typing here), to name but a few.

    Words are powerful – so use them wisely!

    (More below the fold…)

    Son of a Bieber!*

    Thursday, July 28th, 2011

    Apropos my suggestion to fellow vegans that they come up with their own unique insults, rather than rely on the same tired sexist, racist, speciesist garbage:

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    For those who can’t view the image, it’s a series of four panels, all of which are animated gifs:

    1) A white, blond, bearded man is animatedly addressing the camera: “Instead of deriving ‘bad words’ from sex, we should derive it from bad musicians.”

    2) The same man is shown walking down a hallway and into a living room. Not paying attention to where he’s going, he walks right into a sofa, presumably hurting his leg or otherwise sustaining injury.

    3) Hopping around on one leg, gripping his knee, the man screams out, “NICKELBACK!”

    4) And, grimacing, “THAT HURT LIKE A KATY PERRY SINGLE!”

    Fin.

    Originally spotted on tumblr! I don’t usually take the time to repost stuff from tumblr in this space, but this was just too good not to share! (That’s a not-so-subtle hint that you should follow me on tumblr, people!)

    Added bonus lolz: when the husband and I first started dating, I found a Nickelback CD in his car. Note how I say “found” as though it was some horrific discovery … cause it was. Ten years later and his liking Nickelback enough to shell out $15 for their CD is still a running joke/insult.

    * Credit where credit’s due; I so did not think of this one!

    Book Review: The Sex Doll: A History, Anthony Ferguson (2010)

    Monday, July 11th, 2011

    More accurately titled “The Sex Doll: Its Origins and Functions”

    three out of five stars

    (Full disclosure: I received a free advanced review copy of this book through Library Thing’s Early Reviewer program.)

    Upon requesting this title from Library Thing’s Early Reviewer program, I was nervous that author Anthony Ferguson’s discussion of sex dolls would present a view largely uncritical of these increasingly popular sexual aids and, more importantly, their owners/users. (So much so that I was actually relieved when the first copy was lost in the mail!) Happily, Ferguson (a member of the Australian Horror Writers Association – a detail that seems only slightly less odd in light of chapter eleven, which turns to dolls as a common trope in the horror genre!) manages to outline the potential anti-feminist implications of sex dolls while retaining empathy for (at least some of) their users. All in all, the book manages to find middle ground, even if it is at times shaky.

    THE SEX DOLL: A HISTORY might be more accurately titled “The Sex Doll: Its Origins and Functions,” as there’s more theory than fact in this volume. By Ferguson’s own admission, the history of sex dolls is somewhat sketchy – which is wholly unsurprising given society’s conservative and oftentimes oppressive attitudes toward sex and sexuality. Sex dolls present an added complication, as Western religions have historically regarded lifelike representations of the human form (i.e. dolls) with suspicion and distrust. Thus, Ferguson relies less on the historical record and more on the theories and conjectures of philosophers, psychologists, sociologists and ethicists, seemingly indiscriminately and with mixed results.

    While some of the views represented are intriguing (in particular, I’m keen to read David Levy’s LOVE + SEX WITH ROBOTS after seeing several excerpts in THE SEX DOLL), others are nonsensical, offensive, and downright misogynistic. Colin Wilson, for example, is paraphrased as saying that “a subverted worship of women” drives men to rape (WTF!); elsewhere, Ferguson himself extols the “value of war in pre-technological societies as a means of channeling masculine aggression” (never you mind that physical and sexual violence against women is nearly universal, or that rape is commonly used as a weapon of war; also, gender essentialism much?). Naturally, erstwhile misogynist Sigmund Freud and his sex-obsessed, woman-hating theories litter every chapter.

    Likewise, the words Ferguson chooses are sometimes problematic. For example, he uses the terms “transgender” and “she-male” interchangeably, the latter being widely regarded as a derogatory slur within the trans community. Additionally, instances of rape are often referred to using variations on the phrase “had sex with,” implying consent where there is none. (“With” suggests that the sex is a mutually shared experience, which is not the case in rape. In this vein, it’s erroneous to say that one “has sex with” a sex doll, since a doll as an inanimate object cannot consent to the experience. In this case, “masturbate with” is more accurate.)

    In chapter seven, “Sex Doll Stereotypes,” Ferguson analyzes sex dolls – objectified, silent and subservient (representations of) women, the “perfect” partners, if you will – in relation to their human counterparts, namely sex workers such as prostitutes and pornographic actors, as well as other sexually exploitable women, including mail order brides and mistresses. Since each of these topics could easily fill its own volume, the discussion is necessarily brief and lacking in nuance. Rather than add to my understanding of sex dolls, I found this chapter in particular a distraction.

    Perhaps the greatest missed opportunity comes in chapter eight, “The Vagaries of Masculine Desire,” in which Ferguson lets “doll users speak.” Whereas a demographic/psychological survey of doll users would have been incredibly enlightening – who are these people and why and how do they choose to use sex dolls? – Ferguson instead presents us with a Q&A involving just five respondents. It’s rather obvious that Ferguson hand-picked these individuals in order to represent the spectrum of users: they run the gamut, from a single, older disabled man who’s heavily emotionally invested in his dolls, to a sexually active younger man who regards them as just one of many sexual outlets at his disposal. Curiously, two of the subjects – or a full 40% – of the respondents are women, which must surely be out of whack with the actual statistics. (Although we’ll never know, as Ferguson doesn’t offer any such numbers.) Since women are otherwise absent his discussion (Ferguson almost solely focuses on male users of female dolls), their inclusion here is doubly puzzling.

    Ferguson is at his best when looking at representations of sex dolls in popular culture, as he does in chapters ten and eleven (“Do Androids Dream of Electric Orgasm?” and “Revulsion, Lust and Love,” respectively). His discussion of sex dolls and gynoids (female robots) in literature, film, television, music and art is by far the most engaging section of THE SEX DOLL – although his omission of the Cylons in the BATTLESTAR GALACTICA reboot is disappointing at best. (Particularly since it’s in these chapters that Ferguson introduces the question of human-robot love and marriage. Caprica Six! Athena! Hera!) Additionally, while the Terminator franchise is mentioned in brief, Ferguson fails to examine the evolving representations of the cyborgs in this realm; i.e., the possibility of a romantic and sexual relationship with a terminator is only raised when the female cyborg Cameron is introduced in THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES. This observation might have provided a nice window into the gender dynamics of sex dolls, and how they’re reflected in popular culture.

    Ultimately, THE SEX DOLL concludes that the uses and functions of sex dolls are as varied as are the men who utilize them. For some men, a sex doll represents the “perfect” partner: silent, non-responsive, subservient, powerless, never aging, changing or evolving. For others, a doll is merely a sexual outlet: safe, both physically and psychologically, affordable (perhaps), convenient. It might be just one of many sex toys a man utilizes, or it could be more: a willing companion to socially isolated men. Whatever the case, the fact that feminized sex dolls are visual representations of women – real, flesh and blood women – cannot be escaped:

    “Given that sex dolls are as of now still inanimate objects, they are understandably treated as lacking autonomy, and yet they represent real women and are utilized as substitutes for real women. Despite the fact that some sex doll owners seem to treat their dolls with affection and anthropomorphize them, it is the dolls’ inability to respond, react or reject which most attracts men. This objectification is mirrored historically in the treatment of women, the ‘thing’ most dolls represent.” (Chapter six, page 81, “Consumable Women”)

    (This review was originally published on Amazon and Library Thing, and is also available on Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you think it so!)

    Privileged White Vegetarian Bingo: Loud, Clueless & Proud

    Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

    Some of you may recall the animal rights bingo cards I made last year, namely: Defensive Omnivore Bingo II (inspired by Brian VanderVeen’s Defensive Omnivore Bingo, of course!), as well as the vegan-feminist Speciesist Feminist Bingo and Anti-Feminist Vegetarian Bingo cards. (No? Well, here they are!) Around the same time, I started working on a card dealing with racism and classism in the animal advocacy movement: Privileged White Vegetarian Bingo. A year later, give or take, and I finally filled in the few remaining squares!

    Unlike the other cards, I feel as though PWV Bingo requires more of an introduction – but every time I sit down and put fingers to keys, the words that appear on my computer screen seem trite, inadequate and lacking in eloquence. So rather than keep struggling along, instead I invite you to read this FAQ by Tim Wise, as well as “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack,” by Peggy McIntosh – the first few paragraphs of which I’ve excerpted below:

    Through the work to bring materials from Women’s Studies into the rest of the curriculum, I have often noticed men’s unwillingness to grant that they are over-privileged, even though they may grant that women are disadvantaged. They may say they will work to improve women’s status, in the society, the university, or the curriculum, but they can’t or won’t support the idea of lessening men’s. Denials which amount to taboos surround the subject of advantages which men gain from women’s disadvantages. These denials protect male privilege from being fully acknowledged, lessened or ended.

    Thinking through unacknowledged male privilege as a phenomenon, I realized that since hierarchies in our society are interlocking, there was most likely a phenomenon of white privilege which was similarly denied and protected. As a white person, I realized I had been taught about racism as something which puts others at a disadvantage, but had been taught not to see one of its corollary aspects, white privilege, which puts me at an advantage.

    I think whites are carefully taught not to recognize white privilege, as males are taught not to recognize male privilege. So I have begun in an untutored way to ask what it is like to have white privilege. I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets which I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was ‘meant’ to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless backpack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools and blank checks.

    For me, filling in the 24 squares of the PWV Bingo card was an exercise similar to that performed by McIntosh – that is, recognizing the many ways in which my racial and ethnic makeup help me navigate the world of veganism and animal advocacy, unhindered and unmolested. Whereas – as a woman lacking in gender privilege – I was able to complete the two feminist-themed cards with relative ease, it took me – as a vegan benefiting from race and class privilege – months to finish the PWV Bingo card. In short, it’s much easier for me to identify sexism, misogyny and anti-feminism, since I’m marginalized by them; harder still to identify racism and classism (particularly less overt examples of each), since I’ve been taught to take white privilege for granted – to see right through it, as though it doesn’t even exist. An eye-opening task, and one I highly recommend – no matter the privilege in question: race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, gender identity, nationality, dis/ability…species, even. No, not even – especially.

    Additionally, I should note that while I use the terms “racism” and “classism” in conjunction, this isn’t to suggest that they’re interchangeable. Related, yes – inasmuch as people of color are disproportionately represented among the poor and working-class, and a number of variables, structural and otherwise, work to perpetuate the status quo – but not the same. However, rather than make a card each for racism and classism, I decided to combine the two in one for simplicity’s sake. All forms of oppression are intertwined, and sometimes it can be next-to-impossible to separate all the tangled threads.

    Also, I almost named this card “Cluelessly Privileged White Vegetarian Bingo” – since recognizing one’s privilege doesn’t automagically dispense with it – but decided against it, seeing as “Privileged White Vegetarian Bingo” is already quite the mouthful. I specifically chose not to call it “Racist Vegetarian Bingo,” as labeling one a “racist” tends to shut down civil, productive discourse in a way that “speciesist” (and even, to some extent, “sexist”) does not. Plus, racism isn’t an either/or proposition; as Wise explains, we’re all socialized and/or programmed to be racist – to think in terms of in group/out group membership – to some degree. The challenge, whether you choose to accept it, lies in using our oversized primate brains to overcome these outdated, retrogressive, lazy ways of thinking.

    As with the previous cards, I’ve included a plain-text version of PWV Bingo after the jump. At the time of this writing, most of the squares contain links to refutations and debunkings; for those that don’t, I plan on either finding an appropriate response or writing my own in the (hopefully near) future – so check back often!*

    In addition to the articles by Wise and McIntosh, I also highly recommend that you check out the resources linked to in the plain-text version of the card. Vegans of Color, The Vegan Ideal, The Food Empowerment Project, The Sistah Vegan Project, L.O.V.E. – all have been instrumental in challenging and shaping my views on race and class privilege (etc.), particularly in relation to the animal advocacy movement. Many of the squares were directly inspired by things read and seen on the pages of these blogs and websites.

    Of course, PWV Bingo is equally applicable to vegans as well as vegetarians. Sad but true, people. Sad but true.

    Privileged White Vegetarian Bingo

    (More below the fold…)

    Dear Anna Lappé,

    Thursday, June 17th, 2010

    Diet for a Hot Planet (pp 206-207)

    Pages 206 and 207 of Anna Lappé’s latest book, Diet for a Hot Planet (Bloomsbury, March 2010). Principle #2 in her “Seven Principles of a Climate-Friendly Diet” is “Put Plants on Your Plate.” So far, so good, yes? Not so fast! Under “Resources for Principle 2,” Lappé lists the following bullet points: “Viva veggies”; “Support real meat and dairy farmers”; and “Go for grass fed [beef].” Epic Animal, Vegetable, Mineral FAIL.
    (Click through to enbiggen the image, the most offensive parts of which I have helpfully marked up with my trusty red Photoshop pen.)
    ——————————

    Nonhuman animals (“meat” and “beef”) and their secretions (“milk”) are not plants, mkay? Unlike, say, pinto beans or watermelon, “beef” has a family and friends; can think, feel and suffer; and screams bloody fucking murder when you cut into its her live flesh. While it’s true that I’ve become all too accustomed to raw, shameless speciesism from environmentalists –

    – for example, I just finished reading Eaarth, which was penned by the same stubborn “green” omnivore who penned the intro to your own latest stubbornly non-vegan “green” tome, in which he mentioned vegetarianism but twice (and veganism, not at all), despite a discussion of animal agriculture’s sizable contribution to climate change, i.e., the very focus of his book

    – your recommendation to adopt a plant-heavy diet by consuming animals and animal by-products is beyond mind-boggling; it’s at once factually incorrect and completely lacking in compassion. (Cows as cantaloupes? Hello, objectification!)

    I mean, really – how do you expect me to take the rest of your Diet for a Hot Planet seriously after such a fundamental gaffe?

    Signed,

    x A vegan-feminist environmentalist

    P.S. There is no such thing as “humane meat.” An unnecessary and involuntary death is, by definition, inhumane.

    (More below the fold…)

    "…the true nature of a pigeon shooter."

    Tuesday, May 11th, 2010

    At a February 20, 2010 pigeon shoot at the infamous Philadelphia Gun Club, […] a member of the Club viciously yelled at two female activists saying, “Go fuck yourself you rotten cunt!”

    SHARK discovered that the assailant was Richard Shackleton and that he was town attorney for Long Beach Township, NJ. At the April 9th Long Beach Township committee meeting, we confronted him about what he had done.

    What he said was shocking: “I’m happy to say that, what I said, I meant every word of it.”

    When offered a chance to apologize he said, “Absolutely not.”

    At this point, Shackleton had compounded upon his original insult by taking pride in hurting his victims. And again, during a television newscast, he refused to apologize for his vile comments.

    Referring to his despicable use of the “c” word, Shackleton said: “I think that’s what she is and I think she deserved it.”

    Quite possibly you’ve already heard about Richard Shackleton, a pigeon shooter and solicitor for Long Beach Township, New Jersey, who hurled gendered slurs at two female activists – and then, when confronted by SHARK members at a Long Beach Township committee meeting, refused to apologize for the comments? No? Then keep reading for SHARK’s ongoing reports on the situation, complete with links to recent media coverage and opportunities to take action.

    (More below the fold…)