Archive for July, 2010

Facebook: More qualified to confirm relationships than you

July 29, 2010

While making the rounds of telling my close friends that I was officially in a new relationship, almost all of them questioned what I meant by “official” — they did this by asking, “Facebook official?” I didn’t exactly know what to make of the constant question — part of me totally understood what they meant, and part of me thought, “Wait, do you not believe me? Or will you not take the new relationship seriously until it’s on Facebook?”

The fact that being “Facebook official” is the signal that things are serious is a true testament to how central it is in young people’s lives — it used to be that telling your parents about a new relationship was the signal that it was serious, and now Facebook is like the third parent that needs to know about changing relationship statuses in order for them to be legit.

But I will say that the constant questions about Facebook kept lingering in my head, as if not putting it on Facebook was equivalent to not wanting to tell people or wanting to keep it a secret — it’s like merely having a Facebook account implies you want to share all your personal information with everyone, so when you omit something or don’t put it on there, people infer you are trying to hide it. So by not putting the relationship status on Facebook, it seemed like the “officialness” of the relationship lost some credability.

Once the relationship status was on Facebook (not because of peer pressure), the responses were even more enthusiastic. Perhaps in a world — especially in the world of young people — in which there are lots of different classifications and descriptions for relationships of sorts (e.g. hooking up; seeing each other; dating; hanging out), the Facebook status update is the clearest way to dig through the muck and the adjectives to just say, “Yes, we are in a relationship.”

And young people also date for various amounts of time, and friends tend to grow desensitized to hearing about so-and-so “seeing someone” or “dating someone,” not knowing whether to get very excited about two people “officially dating” because the relationship might fizzle in a week. If you go to the trouble of changing the relationship status on Facebook and therefore telling every single family member, friend, and acquaintance on Facebook — which is likely hundreds of people — then your friends know that it probably isn’t a fling.

Being “Facebook official” does make a statement, and people’s asking about it is likely just a symptom of the breadth of social networking. But, it’s still concerning how much a website can come to define how others perceive your life — sure they believed me (allegedly) when I said it was official, but I’m pretty sure they believed Facebook more when it said things were official.

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Teen Mom: Taking breaks, staying together, and moving out

July 28, 2010

Last night’s episode of Teen Mom was full of drama — Maci wanting to move out, Farrah wanting to move out, Catelynn lying about sleeping with her ex three years ago — and nothing tops the relationship problems that Amber and Gary were having. These problems raised a couple interesting questions.

1. Does asking for a break count as cheating?

Gary met a girl at Walmart, and he wanted to see if there was something there. So he asked Amber to take a “four-day break” in order to figure things out and see if he wanted to be with this new girl or stay with Amber. Amber’s reply, to her daughter Leah, was, “Daddy’s a cheater!” So does asking for a break count as cheating? 

First we have to define the difference between “taking a break” and “breaking up.” The line between the two is a bit blurry, but I’d say the difference is that with “taking a break,” you have some interest in coming back and reevaluating the relationship — with breaking up, you don’t want to give things a second chance, and you just want the relationship to be over. Gary wanted a break so he could test the waters with this new girl and figure out whether he wanted to stay with Amber or not.

The person who is being told about the break needs to evaluate whether s/he can, after the person explores and sees other people, continue to be in a relationship if the person comes back, which is implicit in “taking a break.” Amber ended up giving Gary a one-day pass with this girl, who he went on a date with and decided wasn’t worth breaking up his family. But something tells me the one-day pass will linger and keep causing problems between them.

Technically, if you haven’t done anything else prior, it’s not cheating to ask for a break. It is a guilt-free way to be with someone else though, like Nikkole’s (from 16 and Pregnant) on-again, off-again boyfriend Josh, who really does just break up with her so he can hook-up with other girls, and then he asks to date her again when he’s done with those pursuits. My friend Jonny said it best when it comes to asking for a break to see other people: “I mean, that’s not cheating, that’s just being a douchebag.”

Taking a break is the loophole around cheating, though some might argue that merely having the thoughts of wanting to be with someone else is a form of cheating. Gary had feelings for her, said they “somehow exchanged numbers,” and was texting her while still with Amber, which is cheating territory in my book — he didn’t do anything physically, but he was going behind Amber’s back to keep in touch with her.

2. Should you stay together for the kids?

My friend and fellow Teen Mom enthusiast Emily brought up a good point while we were discussing the show last night — should you stay together for the kid, even if you as parents are unhappy with each other? Amber and Gary also dealt with this, as they were obviously at each other’s throats but trying to make it work for Leah’s sake. Does Leah benefit from having them together physically even if they aren’t together emotionally?

I don’t think so. We saw with Maci and Ryan that trying to force something — e.g. almost getting married — just so two parents can live and raise the baby together is not healthy. Kids are intuitive — they aren’t going to be fooled by the fact that, despite that their parents live in the same house, they constantly fight and show no love for each other. I wouldn’t want my child to use that as a model for a healthy relationship.

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Aside from Amber and Gary’s problems, we saw that trust can be broken even years later, as Tyler was beyond angry to learn that Catelynn had lied to him three years ago about hooking up with her ex. We also saw how important a support system is, as Farrah loses hers because of the domestic violence incident with her mom and is left to fend for herself in taking care of Sophia.

On the Farrah note, it was also interesting to see her struggle to find an apartment — it illustrates how difficult it really is to be young and on your own, when landlords want you to have a certain credit score/be a certain age/make a certain amount of money. Similarly, it was tough for Maci to find an apartment, not because of finances, but because of Bentley — it was the same situation Farrah had last season when she was apartment-hunting and found that none of the roommate living situations was conducive to raising a child.

Jury validates ‘Girls Gone Wild’ disgusting consent policy

July 27, 2010

Girls Gone Wild is disgusting. And the recent ruling that affirmed the company’s weak views on consent is equally disgusting.

A St. Louis woman sued the Girls Gone Wild company for damaging her reputation by showing her tank top being pulled down by someone else in one of their videos. The jury ruled in favor of the company, saying that her merely being in the bar and dancing around — with her clothes on — was her way of consenting to be on film, regardless of the fact that she didn’t ask to have her shirt pulled down.

C.L. Minou at Tiger Beatdown says it best when she talks about “implied consent” and the slippery slope it creates:

I mean, seriously: just how far does this go? Had GGW showed up to, oh, say, Le Bernardin, and some trashed suit was spending his bailout money on adult entertainers, and somehow a primly dressed female patron walked into the shot and had her dress ripped off…is that implied consent? Does a $180 prix fixe somehow mitigate the implications of consent in the way that a $3 PBR doesn’t? Because to be honest, what is the difference? Why should it matter if you dance or you don’t, if your skirt is shorter than your belt or brushes your ankles? How in the hell can clothing or location or body movements override a direct refusal to consent?

It doesn’t matter what you’re wearing, what bar you’re in, or how you’re dancing — when you say, “No,” that’s more crystal clear than any vague signals that you might allegedly be sending in your clothes or body language. Those things can be misread, because what you think of them is an assumption and an implication — someone saying “No” is a direct statement. But it’s just one example of the Girls Gone Wild bizarre theory of consent.

I’ve actually watched a Girls Gone Wild tape, and it was horrifying. And not just because of what you see on the infomercials, but because of the more graphic and intimate scenes where the producers coerce the girls on camera to take off their clothes, touch themselves, or touch their friends. Some of the girls are quite willing, and others are visibly distraught, uncomfortable, and obviously pressured.

Watching the scenes with the intense coercion is sickening — these producers use the alcohol in these girls’ systems to their advantage, and it’s not like these girls are playfully being coy — the looks on their faces scream, “I do not want to be here.” But there is a camera in their face, men standing around urging them to touch themselves or touch their friends, and the pressure to do what everyone else wants always seems to win.

What kind of consent is that? Sure, the girl eventually and reluctantly agrees, but she agrees to do things that she wouldn’t have done on her own, and that she wouldn’t have done without several people repeatedly and incessantly urging her to do. But this is technically consent, and it’s how Girls Gone Wild gets many girls to do things on-camera that they likely don’t feel comfortable doing.

The new ruling just adds to this disturbed view of consent — not only is it OK for these producers to coerce intoxicated women into sexual acts on-camera, but it’s also OK for them to show video of someone being sexually assaulted. Someone pulling down your shirt and exposing your breasts without your permission? Yeah, that’s sexual assault. So can producers either encourage others or themselves go around to bars and pull clothes off women, simply because their presence at the bar somehow implies they want to get naked for the camera?

Or what about going further? Can they further sexually assault these women, because their dancing around/revealing clothing/alcohol drinking is an implication that they want to have sex? This ruling is completely ridiculous and also very dangerous, because it gives people the right to violate women simply on the pretense of, “Well, she was asking for it.” I guess not only do women need to stop walking around alone at night because that’s asking to get assaulted, but now women can’t go to bars or clubs anymore because that’s inviting assault, too.

Teen Mom: Violence, child support, cohabitation, more babies

July 21, 2010

Last night was the season premiere of Teen Mom, and it started with a lot of drama. From family violence and child support to cohabitation and pregnancy scares, the episode was chock full of intense and shocking moments.

1. Family Violence

The episode began with a phone call from Farrah to the police, telling the police that she had been punched in the face by her mom. This isn’t the first time Farrah’s mom became violent, but it’s the worst incident that has been on the show. Farrah might have an attitude problem, but nothing gives her mom the right to punch her in the face.

Parent to child domestic violence is often overshadowed, as it isn’t as common as spouse to spouse domestic violence or other types of family violence. Whereas spousal violence accounts for nearly half of family violence incidents, parent to child violence accounts for 10.5 percent, according to the Justice Department. But like any type of family violence, Farrah’s circumstances make legal action or staying away from the offender difficult.

Because Farrah was living with her mom, she had to drop the protection order against her mom to be able to get into the house. I’m not sure what would have happened if they didn’t have a guest house where Farrah could stay, because her mom and baby Sophia couldn’t be under the same roof without an adult aside from Farrah there. Because Farrah is relying so heavily on her mom, she can’t get away from the violent behavior — this dependence is an unfortunate theme throughout domestic violence.

The state is pressing charges against Farrah’s mom, who on the night of the attack was almost shot by police because she was allegedly holding knives and not cooperating with officers to put them down. Domestic violence is typically about power, and here Farrah’s mom wielded a lot of power — Farrah relies on her mom for shelter, food, and childcare, so it would have been just as easy for Farrah not to report the incident for fear of losing a place to live.

2. Child Support

Maci tried to deal with child support outside of court, but Ryan told her that she’d have to take him to court for the money. This is either because Ryan is unemployed and doesn’t have money to give, or because he’s an immature douche who doesn’t think he should have to contribute financially to raising his child — probably a bit of both.

Maci’s meeting with the lawyer answered some questions that I hope other parents will take to heart if they are having trouble with child support — mainly that (1) even if the person isn’t employed, that person is still required to pay child support, which will be adjusted accordingly to the fact the person doesn’t have a job (Ryan was told to pay $80 or so each week); and (2) you don’t have to worry about finding the person and serving papers, the court will do that for you (you don’t have to worry about tracking them down or having to deal with them in person).

Child support can be a mess when the other parent is being uncooperative or can’t afford to make the payments. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, not even half (46.8 percent) the parents due to receive child support in 2007 got the full amount they were owed, with 29.5 percent getting a portion and 23.7 percent getting no child support at all. Both parties are responsible for creating the baby and should be responsible for taking care of the baby, but that philosophy doesn’t always play out in reality.

3. Cohabitation

Until now, Catelynn and Tyler had been the dream couple — never fought, always happy together, and Dr. Drew just loved them on his season-end reunion specials because he could use them as an example of how putting your baby up for adoption makes your life so much better; after all, Catelynn and Tyler were just peachy and all these other teen moms were having relationship problems.

Last night, however, we saw that living together can affect even the most disgustingly cute couples. Catelynn was living with Tyler and his mom because her own mom had moved an hour away — living with Tyler and his mom allowed her to stay in the same school district and see Tyler on a regular basis, not to mention her relationship with her mom had been strained since she gave baby Carly up for adoption.

“I don’t think couples should be together 24/7 anyway, it’s not healthy,” Tyler told his mom on last night’s episode. He was lamenting how he just wanted time to himself, but living with Catelynn provided no time for that and they were getting on each other’s nerves by seeing each other so much. Catelynn had overstayed her welcome, and Tyler’s mom asked her to move back home.

Living together is tough — I’m a firm believer in cohabitation before marriage, because I think no matter how well you think you know someone, you don’t know them until you’ve lived with them. Those daily habits, their cleanliness level, certain lifestyle quirks — you won’t see those until you live together, and you won’t know if you can stand being around each other a lot unless you give it a trial run.

Catelynn and Tyler’s trial run was slightly different, though, because they were living with his mom and were not even done with high school. High school relationships are difficult enough — you’re still maturing, changing as a person, etc. — without having to actually live with that person. At that age, you need lots of (your own) room to grow.

4. Pregnancy Scares  

 
Catelynn started off last season with a pregnancy scare, and this season it was Amber. She was feeling sick and her body felt the same as it did when she was first pregnant with Leah — with both her and her boyfriend Gary being unemployed and constantly having relationship problems, another baby was the furthest thing from what they had in mind.

“We should have learned the first time, right?” Amber nervously asked the doctor before she took a pregnancy test and later learned it was negative. She explained that it was a heat of the moment thing, and only in that one instance did her and Gary not use a condom. Her friend reminded her that those “heat of the moment” instances are what lead to pregnancy — and at least two of the four teen moms continued to have unprotected sex despite already having one child as a result of unprotected sex.

This pattern of unprotected sex — one study found that nearly one-quarter of young women were pregnant multiple times in their teens — makes one wonder how to prevent unplanned pregnancies if even having an unplanned pregnancy isn’t enough to prevent “heat of the moment” unprotected sex from happening again. It might have something to do with what happens in your brain during sex, but I’m sure if I try Googling that at work, I’ll get some NSFW websites … so I’ll do that research later.

Don’t get a tattoo of your significant other’s name … ever

July 19, 2010

As an addendum to the Baby High post, one thing that I must stress after watching the special is this: Never, ever, in a million years, get your significant other’s name tattooed on your body. Never do it. Don’t even try to think of instances when it would be appropriate.

LaKrista, one of the girls documented on the special, showed off her new “Broderick” tattoo, and at first I thought it was like Catelynn and Tyler’s “Carly” tattoos from the first season of Teen Mom, which were reflections of their daughter. “Oh, Broderick, she got a giant front shoulder tattoo of her baby’s name, that’s cute,” I thought. The tattoo was very pretty, so I thought it was a nice sentiment — then LaKrista explained that Broderick was her on-again, off-again boyfriend and the father of their daughter.

Although the fact that he is the father will always provide a connection between the two of them, that’s no reason to get his name tattooed on your body — especially a gigantic, highly visible tattoo that would be nearly impossible to hide in the event that he becomes “off-again.” Far too often people get tattoos to show their commitment, in hopes that the tattoo will keep the significant other around because it’s a symbol of how serious the person is about the relationship — as if the tattoo will change everything. Or maybe they simply get it as a sign of affection when the relationship is going really well — either way, it’s never a good idea.

There are far too many cases of people inking themselves permanently with the name of a significant other — ask Angelina Jolie, Johnny Depp, or Amy Winehouse, to name a few — and then having the relationship end, leaving them with a permanent tattoo that reminds them of a failed relationship (though Winehouse and Blake are on-again, off-again). Jolie and Depp both had part of their tattoos removed (the part that identifies someone’s name), though another option is to have a new tattoo done on top of the old one. Typically, though, the new tattoo will have to be somewhat bigger.

In fact, there’s an episode of True Life, “I Hate My Tattoos,” in which one of the people documented has her ex-boyfriend’s name tattooed on her forearm. She covered her forearm with a large sweatband so she isn’t reminded of the guy — who cleared out her bank account — but the tattoo also keeps her convinced that she should try to make things work this guy, who is a douchebag. The tattoo breeds an unhealthy desire to make the relationship work so she doesn’t have to change the tattoo and admit it was a huge mistake, giving her an excuse to try to reconcile what seems to be an abusive relationship.

The significant other tattoo breeds a lot of things in a relationship that are unhealthy — people use it to try to keep their partner around and to keep the relationship together, as if the permanance of the ink will transcend to the relationship. Or even if it’s just a sign of affection, it can psychologically mess with the inked person and make them pursue an unhealthy, abusive relationship simply because they already have the tattoo, or it simply acts as a reminder of bad memories that the inked person likely doesn’t want to relive.

Yes, people can get whatever tattoo they want. I’m not about stifling creativity, and people are free to ink themselves with whatever they want. But, I think if you want a tattoo or especially if want to fix your relationship, the significant other tattoo is a path that mostly leads to regret, tattoo removal, and people staying in unhealthy and/or abusive relationships.

High school for teen moms doesn’t encourage pregnancy

July 19, 2010

I’m not sure if the MTV special Baby High was indeed just a one-time special or a possible series, but it provided a lot of interesting commentary about teen pregnancy, education, and relationships. And it premiered just a few days before the season premiere of Teen Mom (July 20, aka Tuesday, be there).

Baby  High documented a handful of teenage girls who attend Westport T.A.P.P. in Louisville, Ky. Westport “is designed to prevent school dropout due to teen pregnancy and parenting,” offering daycare, buses equipped with car seats, and other services that make it easier for teens who are either pregnant or have children to complete their education and care for their children.

One of the things that irked me about this special is when one of the documented students said that some people in the community think Westport encourages pregnancy because it offers pregnant teens or teens with children a chance to finish their education. These people think Wesport is enabling because pregnancy should be punished, and one way to punish teen parents is to make them struggle as much as possible to see the error of their ways, as if roadblocking them at every turn is some kind of penance.

This is ridiculous for a number of reasons: (1) even with Westport, these teens do not have it easy — it’s not like finishing high school is the only thing these girls deal with as teenage mothers. They deal with trying to get child support from the fathers, who often drag out having to pay by demanding paternity tests and court proceedings; they deal with working to pay for their kids’ necessities, even in addition to parents who are supportive and provide shelter or a bit of financial means; they all want to go to college but have to figure out a way to finance it; they are often the main caregiver and sacrifice being a teenager so they can take care of their children — being able to finish school isn’t letting them “get away” with having premarital sex.

And (2), these same critics likely would complain if these girls needed to rely on government assistance because they couldn’t support their children alone with less than a high school education. So they want to punish them for being sinful and irresponsible by taking away their education — the one thing that can help them move forward, become self-sufficient, and not need to rely on the government — and then complain when they can’t make it on minimum wage jobs.

These teenagers don’t think, “Oh man, there’s totally a school for pregnant teens, I’m going to have unprotected sex just because I know I can get an education afterward at this special school.” Critics want to project the blame at places like this that provide opportunity to teenage mothers instead of, say, the state of sex education in the school system. Kentucky ranks eighth among state teen pregnancy rates, with legislation in the state’s House of Representatives that would make sex ed mandatory.

It’s not like building a jail leads people to commit a crime — the jail is built in response to some need in society, not as something that encourages a certain type of behavior. It reminds me of the White Stripes song “Cause and Effect,” to which Jack White sings “You just can’t take the effect and make it the cause,” which is what critics of programs that try to help people in less-than-stellar circumstances try to do, especially if they got themselves in those circumstances — you make one mistake, and you get no second chance to redeem yourself, no forgiveness! And I’m sure many of these critics are also religious, making their anti-forgiveness views even more contradictory.

Schools like Westport are actually really great — they aren’t the reason that teens get pregnant, but they are the reason that many teenage mothers can get a fulfilling education and go to college. Instead of promoting the idea that pregnancy is an excuse to fail, the school’s motto is that pregnancy is a reason to succeed, which is the message society needs to be sending instead of trying to stigmatize and eternally prevent teen parents from opportunity and success.

Discouraging condoms to discourage sex is unsafe, misguided

July 13, 2010

Some people think that eliminating condoms will eliminate sex. Abstinence-only sex education advocates think that teaching about condoms — or worse, providing condoms — is what inspires teens to have sex (not hormones or sex drives or curiosity or anything like that), so removing the condoms from the curriculum will remove the sex as well. It seems some cities are adopting this misguided philosophy when it comes to buckling down on prostitution, too.

In D.C., New York, and San Francisco, having condoms has “been used as evidence contributing to arrest and prosecution for intent to commit prostitution.” In D.C. specifically, carrying three or more condoms can be used as a factor in an arrest for intent to commit prostution, according to the Women’s Rights arm of change.org (though Amanda Hess from Washington City Paper’s The Sexist couldn’t find evidence of a specific “three-condom” rule).

Again, in this instance, the mentality is that discouraging people from using condoms will somehow discourage them from having sex — an argument that is both flawed and dangerous. In fact, Hess references a report (executive summary here, although the website with the full report isn’t working) that found “plenty of evidence of police officers confiscating or destroying sex workers’ contraception,” with 8.6 percent of sex workers saying that police officers had taken “safe sex supplies” from them.

Eventually, people will have to realize that taking away condoms doesn’t take away sex — it does take away the protection from sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy. Especially in a city like D.C., where at least 3 percent of the population has HIV or AIDS (which exceeds the 1 percent criterion for an epidemic and rivals the HIV rates of some West African countries), what purpose does discouraging condom use serve? It’s not a solution to anything — sex workers are still going to have sex, except it will be unprotected.

Also, it creates an unwarranted negative stigma around condoms — condoms are a good thing! They protect against sexually transmitted infections and unplanned pregnancy — associating having multiple condoms with commiting a crime discourages people not from having sex, but from having safe sex. You can take away someone’s seat belt or bike helmet, but most people will still take the risk and try to drive and bike anyway — it will just be exponentially less safe.  

In the end, the change.org article says it best when it adds that criminalizing condom use or even sex work isn’t the right solution:

If you want to criminalize something, stick to pimping — after all, many of these women have been trafficked unwillingly and subjected to violence. If they weren’t so afraid of being arrested for stepping forward to condemn their pimps, we’d have a better chance of finding the true criminals in this situation.

BP isn’t the only culprit in oil spill

July 13, 2010

This article from The Washington Post is a must-read, as it details why the gulf oil spill isn’t generating a lot of environmental activism and outrage from the public — mainly because the anger isn’t at the oil industry as a whole, the unsustainable demand for oil, or the obvious negative consequences of offshore drilling — rather, the anger is at BP for not taking the proper safety precautions and stopping the spill fast enough:

It’s that much of the reaction has focused on preventing accidents — on tighter scrutiny of rigs and mines — rather than broader changes in the use of oil and coal.

The article details how most environmental disasters come with some positive environmental response, whether in the form of legislation or increased environmental activism. Instead, the public’s demand for oil — which leads oil companies to drill deep offshore to find usable oil — is not seen as the problem; BP’s lack of preparedness and the government’s lax oversight of BP’s response are given the blame.

But, our response is part of the problem. It’s never easy to point the finger at yourself (especially when it’s much easier to point it at BP), but more than simply not pumping at BP, people need to drive less and the government needs to focus on fuel efficiency. Kate Sheppard discussed this in a great article about offshore drilling and how better efficiency will save tons of oil (perhaps not needing to drill offshore for 85 years):

The other [efficiency] ideas aren’t all that radical: educating people about keeping their tires inflated, improving urban planning, encouraging telecommuting. They’re sure a lot less complicated than plugging an oil gusher a mile below the gulf has turned out to be.

One reason that people aren’t jumping to be more efficient is briefly mentioned in the first-mentioned Post article, which is climate change skepticism. A huge pet peeve of mine is when climate change is billed as the only concern of environmentalists, and anti-environmentalists simply use the climate change e-mails (the climate change scientists involved were recently exonerated) or other skeptical information to try to discredit environmentalism in its entirety.

To this, I would say there are countless detrimental effects of oil production/consumption/spills in that have nothing to do with carbon, which include hurting ecosystems and wildlife (e.g. in the gulf oil spill, the oil killing the plankton has rippling effects throughout the entire food chain); water and soil pollution (more detailed information here about toxic chemicals, runoff, ruined vegetation is here; obviously the gulf oil spill is contaminating the ocean, wildlife, and the shore), deforestation, and car exhaust leading to air pollution and reduced air quality, which can lead to cancer, heart disease, respiratory problems, neurological problems, blood problems, and even skin problems. There’s also smog, noise pollution, and traffic — they all contribute to a lower quality of life.

But anyway, we need to take this tragic event — the oil is still spilling into the ocean — and learn from our mistakes. The biggest mistake wasn’t that BP couldn’t fix the leak or that the safety regulations were too lax; it is that our oil dependency is so strong that it leads to safety oversights, lax regulations, and eventual catastrophes.

Regarding the original sentiment that the spill isn’t producing any new activism, you can show your activism by driving less, biking more, walking more, carpooling more, mowing the lawn less, using less fertilizer, buying locally, and sending an e-mail or a letter to your senator or representative about better infrastructure planning and energy efficiency. Our goal should be to reduce oil consumption, not just shift it to a new oil company.

I’ll take ‘Potpourri’ for $1800, Alex

July 8, 2010

This is long overdue, and I’ve been compiling it for a few days, but better late than never.

1. WTFood: McNuggets have a little too much in common with Silly Putty, via Grist

What do McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets and Silly Putty have in common? One of their ingredients, of course! Mmm:

As it turns out, these two amorphous items share the yummy-sounding chemical ingredient, dimethylpolysiloxane, which acts as an “anti-foaming agent.”

Why does your chicken need an anti-foaming agent? To keep all that delicious deep-frying oil from getting too frothy, of course!

Keep that in mind before you order that 10-piece.

2. Is it cheaper to just let the planet heat?, via The Washington Post

Ezra Klein makes the point that, whatever the state of affairs on the planet in 100 years, ignoring environmental problems and global warming now is a bad choice because it will only become more difficult to reverse as the years go on. And despite the fact that we won’t likely be around after the 100-year scope we have, our children will. But many just hope technology will have solved the problem by then:

If you bet on technology and you’re wrong, it’s not like we’ve got another of these planets waiting in the back somewhere.

This isn’t the first place I’ve read this sentiment, which is critical of relying on technology that hasn’t even been developed to solve our problems, both current and future. If technology develops properly, especially in the realm of energy efficiency, then yes, technological breakthroughs will be a savior for the environment — but we can’t ignore problems in hopes, fingers crossed, that eventually someone else will think of an idea to fix everything.

3. Obama: Our first female president, via The Washington Post

If you haven’t read this piece from Pulitzer-prize winning (uh …) writer Kathleen Parker yet, well, read it, and then read this analysis from Rose at Feministing. Can’t stress enough that you need to read both, as Rose describes how Parker’s comparison of Obama to a woman “is more of a slight against women in leadership than it is of the President.”

And Kathleen Parker, in response to your reference that Obama’s response to the oil spill is indicative of his female nature because it wasn’t “immediate” and “commanding” enough, I will just say that I don’t know of anyone who called President Bush lady-like because of his lackluster response to Hurricane Katrina. You can just say someone didn’t show great leadership without associating bad leadership with women.

4. Mel Gibson: Bonafide Abusive Asshole, via Feministing

Samhita from Feministing says it all — boycott Mel Gibson, don’t give him a dime of your money, because he is a violent and disgusting person. The link provides you with his two most recent quotes, both of which will make your blood boil. I love What Women Want, but I’m never watching it again.

And, in case you’re curious, Maureen at Gawker has compiled a list of all the racist, sexist, violent, anti-Semitic things Mel Gibson has said (on record) over the years. Warning: they are offensive.

5. Is the EPA Afraid to Piss off King Coal?, via The Huffington Post

Rainforest Alliance Network Executive Director Rebecca Tarbotton writes about the EPA approving a mountaintop removal mining permit (without publicly announcing it), which is a big deal because (1) the permit would allow for three miles of clean streams and more than 700 acres of forest to be destroyed, and (2) the permit process has been slowed down and more highly scrutinized by the EPA in the last months. Tarbotton makes a lot of great points, and I highly suggest reading it:

Essentially, everyone from federal regulators to Appalachian residents (everyone except King Coal and some very loud coal state representatives, that is) has acknowledged the devastating impact that this mining practice is having on mountains, drinking water and communities. At issue is not whether mountaintop mining is bad for the environment or human health, because we know it is and the EPA has said it is. At issue is whether President Obama’s EPA will take the gloves off and do something about it.

The science is there. The EPA has agreed with the science. As Tarbotton explains, “A paper released in January 2009 by a dozen leading scientists in the journal Science concluded that mountaintop coal mining is so destructive that the government should stop giving out new permits all together.” Tarbotton says we, the public, are just as much a force to reckon with as the coal industry that the EPA is afraid to anger.

‘Playboy’ part two: common comment themes

July 8, 2010

Last week, I wrote about how Playboy, despite a contract to the contrary, repeatedly tried to coerce Olivia Munn into getting naked for her photoshoot in the magazine. After getting picked up on open.salon.com (where I dual-post blogs), it got a decent amount of comments, which provided some insight into how some people view Playboy, the media industry, and “deserving” certain treatment.

Here, I’ll highlight some of the common themes and why they are problematic.

1. It’s Playboy — what do you expect?

Some of the commenters said that Munn is solely culpable because she agreed to do a photoshoot with Playboy — because of Playboy‘s reputation, she shouldn’t have been surprised they tried to get her naked:

“I agree that Playboy is sleazy but anyone who shows up thinking they’re going to be photographed wearing their business suit is either very naive or very stupid.”

or:

“Should Munn have gone into the shoot expecting that nude is normal in the Playboy world. Yes, she should have, and as a result, she shouldn’t be surprised when a Playboy photographer expects her to get nude.”

or:

“It’s Playboy for Chrissake. Don’t be so naive.”

This theme was the most common, and it was also really concerning. It reminded me of a lot of other arguments that victim-blame and qualify reprehensible behavior: “Sure she was sexually assaulted, but did you see what she was wearing?” or “Sure she was sexually assaulted, but she went to a frat party and got super drunk, what did she expect?” There shouldn’t be a “but …” anything in these instances.

Yes, it’s Playboy, and yes, nude women are in there — but that doesn’t make its coercion tactics OK. Why should a business get a free pass to bully women and make/break agreements simply because they are powerful and have a certain reputation? Sure you can call Munn or Kardashian naive, but their naivity doesn’t leave Playboy off the hook. It’s the same, “Yes, women, you should be living in constant fear” tactic that blames women if they are assaulted while walking alone at night, wearing “revealing” clothing, etc.

Playboy is a magazine with articles and pictures of women, typically naked, but not always completely naked. It’s not farfetched for someone to think that, after signing a contract not to be nude, the magazine will honor the contract because Munn likely isn’t the first person to not be totally naked in the magazine. But we say, “It’s Playboy, of course it exploits women,” instead of saying, “Wait, isn’t it bad to condone something that’s always happened simply because it’s always been that way, instead of looking at whether it should always be done that way?”

2. Why didn’t Munn just walk off the set?

Another common theme is commenters asking why Munn didn’t just walk off the set and sue, instead of staying and continuing to take pictures and harassment:

“What was stopping her from walking out of the studio, NOTHING!”

or:

“Yeah, obviously these broads could have walked out if they were THAT upset……but look at how much more publicity they’re getting whining about being pressured to show their girl parts.”

or:

“I wonder, why she didn’t walk out. No doubt they would’ve played it like she ‘couldn’t cut it’ but they wouldn’t have been able to sell her coercion pictures.”

Initially when I hear this question I think, “That’s not the point!”, because instead of focusing on the coercion that was rampant on the set, they just shrug and wonder why she didn’t just walk away. Aside from my initial knee-jerk reaction, the question is valid: Why stay and keep being harassed?

A few reasons: as one commenter pointed out, “That would place her in breach of that same contract. Further, it would give Playboy the opportunity to publicly disparage her as a pretentious bitch.” I don’t know the logistics, but I’m sure there’d be reason for Playboy, with its bigshot lawyers, to find fault with Munn for walking out on the set if it’s a he said/she said argument about what happened on set. Playboy‘s people say she wasn’t pressured, Munn’s people say she was, and maybe in the legal world she runs into the same “Well what did you expect?” attitude and Playboy is seen to be the victim.

That’s one possible scenario, and the other, as the commenter said, is the bad publicity that might come from it. Whether she made a poor choice to pose for Playboy is irrelevant because she is already on set, and she has to decide whether she tries to keep her cool and continue with the photo shoot because it’s good publicity, or leave the set and be seen as “storming out” or whatever else they’d say.

3. She made the choice to do this

A few people, kind of tying into the first theme, commented that it was her choice to do the photoshoot, and she has the right to choose to do whatever she wants but therefore must balance the implications and consequences of those choices and decisions:

“As a feminist I support the decisions women make. She’s an adult who chose to do something fully knowing the implications. She knew she was working with playboy – she could have just left the shoot. I’d be far more compassionate if this story was about someone who couldn’t make an educated decision. She could. She did. She chose.”

or:

“Women have fought long and hard to own the right to choose how they live their lives. Choosing to be photographed for Playboy Magazine is the choice to display your body.”

Yes, Munn did make this choice. She made the choice to be in Playboy — but not to be nude in it. Her choice was made with stipulations and those stipulations were thrown to the wind once she got on set. In her defense, I’d say she probably did think she was making an educated decision — get to be in Playboy but don’t have to be completely naked — a win-win decision.

As Munn said recently in a Salon interview, she did know the choice that she was making, but the choice wasn’t just about taking her clothes off and getting publicity — it was also about being on the cover of a magazine that is typically advertising only a certain type of beauty:

It did mean something for me to be on the cover. There’s such an image of what beauty is: Women get their lips done, and their boobs done. But I’m multiethnic. I’ve got smaller boobs. I’m 5-foot-4. If they’re saying that’s what sexy is, then I think it’s a better image to perpetuate than the stuff that still influences me to the point that I wonder: Should I get my lips done?

Basically, it’s telling that people are quick to blame Munn instead of Playboy, especially considering Munn’s admission that she did want to be on the cover because she wanted to bring a different type of beauty to the table. She was willing to deal with a certain amount of the “reputation,” but that doesn’t make their additional pressure or their routine pressure any less inappropriate.