Finance Friday: Six Month Check In

Good morning! With July on the horizon, I thought it might be fun to share a six month check in. This check-in is based on our budget, track and spend spreadsheet, which you can download for free and use yourself!

Our sheet has several major categories for spend tracking. We deduct as we spend from each category’s assigned value. The biggest category is just called “Stuff.” From here we deduct, say, spending at the comic book store; gifts; hotel stays; pretty much all the stuff of everyday life. We gave this category $5k for the year, and we’re not yet at the halfway point. Woohoo!

Home/Oil

This category includes any spending on home repairs/home needs. We allocated only $2k, since we’re not renovating anything, and we’ve spent most of it already. The purchase of new dressers for our bedroom last winter is the culprit. I got them on super clearance and they’re nice hardwood bureaus, but still, money’s money. We may well go over our budgeted amount, depending on oil prices in the fall. We’ll see.

Cats

One category we’ve overspent dramatically in is pet-based. This is a sad story, though; we’d budgeted enough for food and cat insurance (yeah, I know) and some vet appointments, but had no way of anticipating how the spring would go. We’d tried to add a third cat to our clan. This went horribly, and put one of our cats in the vet’s office for several hundred dollars’ worth of services; the organization we’d worked with didn’t even offer to refund the fee we’d paid for the new cat. Then our injured cat suddenly died a month later, and we had him cremated and returned to us. His passing then led to a very thorough checkup for cat #1. The overage here is pretty much meaningless to me, given that it was born of so much sorrow.

Other Annual Categories

We’ve barely used our clothing allowance–we’ve spent about $500 this year and probably won’t spend too much more. We keep a running tally of work expenses for deductions next spring, so we don’t worry too much about that area. We’re just about at our usual charitable giving threshold because of the fee paid to adopt the cat that didn’t work, so we’ll likely end up over the top in that area too.

Monthly Categories

Dining Out and Groceries are our major monthly categories. They get a designated amount and we spend that amount down. And down. and into the next month. We’re bad at these categories.

Together, dining out and groceries get about $800. I’m thinking that if I’m honest, I need to budget more here, at least for the summer. Mr. Tenacious and I are both home during the summer, and occasionally we have days where we need to get out of the house as the proverbial walls close in. We have more outings with friends, too. We have no willpower to say, “nope, we’ve hit our threshold” on those days–in the dining category, we just deduct the overage from the next month, and the next month, and so on until we probably won’t have any dining dollars for December. Mr. Tenacious also isn’t as keen on saving so much for saving’s sake as I am, and I don’t like to argue about it at this point. So, um, this area may need some attention.

So there you have it–the Tenacious household’s six month accountability check-in. The good news is that these categories are built for post-saving spending–we automatically deposit into our savings account and 401k, and the extra money I get from work for a program I run during the summer offset the impact of suddenly paying off the mister’s student loans. The only loan we have remaining (besides mortgage) is my car, and at a 3.5% interest rate, I don’t worry too much about it.

So let’s hear your six month check in! How are you doing at mid-year? Are you saving and spending where you hoped to be? What’s gotten in your way?

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Ten Things Feminism Isn’t, Part 2

ten things feminism isn't, part 2

We’re back with round 2 of Ten Things Feminism Isn’t, numbers 6-10. Here we address issues beyond the stereotypes of feminism included in numbers 1-5, getting into more complex issues. If you missed round one, you can find it here.

6. Supportive of women candidates just because they’re women.

This is a tough issue. Feminism believes all women have a right to equity, bodily autonomy, and so forth, including women who speak against it (point 4 on the original list), but that does not mean we support women who run for office and the like just because they’re women. It doesn’t mean we publicly support all women just because they’re women. Women who campaign on principles aligning with racism, sexism and homophobia have a right to what feminism represents, but will (generally) not be supported by feminists. See, for example, the recent Georgia run-off race. Had I been a resident in that part of Georgia, I’d vote Jon Ossoff in a heartbeat over Karen Handel, as he is far more representative of my beliefs in a safe equitable world for all people than Handel, whose platform was homophobic and the like. Assuming women feminists vote for other women just because they’re women is biologically essentialist and insulting.

7. Globally focused on primarily American values.

I’ve talked about this before on Tenacious Feminist—what we call colonial feminism. Feminisms are varied, and particularly varied by geography and culture. Feminism here in the states has an ethos and goals particular to our location. Several other feminisms share elements of it. But we as American feminists should never assume our goals are the be-all-end-all of all feminisms, and let feminists in other places determine their feminism. This approach is particularly problematic when American feminists assume, for example, that women in predominantly-Muslim countries feel religiously oppressed, and then give advice accordingly. That’s not feminism—that’s colonialism.

8. Unwelcoming to nonbinary and trans folk.

This can’t be further from the truth, though I suspect theory and practice are two different things. It’s not an experience I can personally speak to or presume to speak to, but feminism as a movement has a vanguard that tends to be much better at merging practice and theory, and others who tend to be, um, slower. For example, well known global feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Nigerian author, made the following comment: “When people talk about, ‘Are trans women women?’ my feeling is that trans women are trans women. … If you’ve lived in the world as a man with the privileges that the world accords to men, and then sort of changed, switched gender, it’s difficult for me to accept that then we can equate your experience with the experience of a woman who has lived from the beginning in the world as a woman, and who has not been accorded those privileges that men are.”

Adichie justly faced a tremendous response, as her comments implied trans women aren’t women; her comments also suggested that growing up desiring to change genders still placed those boys in a privileged category, which denies all the pain and challenge those boys faced as gender dysmorphic. In any case, her clarification of her remarks insisted this was an argument about language; trans women and allies felt otherwise. Adichie might be a very well-known and articulate feminist, but she’s not at the vanguard on gender issues at all. As Teen Vogue author Morgan Jenkins in a stellar response piece noted, “Despite her international literary acclaim, her knowledge, just like everyone else’s, has its limits; she may be an incredibly accomplished woman whose work speaks for itself, but she is human and will fail, just like the rest of us.”

9. Unnecessary.

I’ve heard this one a lot, particularly from younger women who—mercifully—have grown up without overt harassment. But the problems feminism addresses—patriarchy, inequity, pay disparity, health care disparities, rape culture, and so on—are all systemic. One can indeed get through life without experiencing catcalling, though I’ve yet to meet that woman; but one who grows up in America is in the American system, and patriarchy is pervasive in our economics and culture. When I start drawing this stuff out with young women, they often begin to see their own experiences differently. In some cases, they experienced catcalling as complimentary; over time they come to see it as part of a structure that gives men power over public spaces. We all need feminism.

10. Full of cat ladies.
jane cat
My girl Jane, destroyer of the patriarchy.

Actually, that’s probably true, though we love dog people, too.

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Finance Friday: All the Frustration

Hi all. I was going to write a standard Finance Friday post for today, either about Ibotta or a mid-year “how’s that budget?” check-in. But I am not feeling it. I’m not feeling like much. Current events have me beyond frustration.

I suspect to a large part I’m preaching to the choir here. If you’re interested in feminism, you probably care about people, and you probably care that the state not work in ways that deliberately hurt people. So you’re probably just as frustrated as I am with the senate bill (I don’t think we can call it a health care bill).

While we don’t have the CBO score yet, it’s pretty clear that the ramifications of the bill will be to limit people’s access to and ability to afford health care. As a nation, that’s pretty much saying that residents don’t have a right to be healthy, an idea most western democracies did away with decades ago. This bill will disproportionately harm those who are not wealthy. It will likely disproportionately harm women, since Maternity Care need not be included as mandatory provision of insurance policies. And god help you if you’re just a middle class male–one bout with cancer or other serious illness, as proposed “lifetime limit” caps mean that you’ll be SOL when the insurance you buy won’t pay for rudimentary stuff after you’re better, because they’ve already spent what they’re going to on you.

Imagine what that would mean for a child with cancer: a whole uninsured life.

Now this whole shebang is supposed to make health care cheaper, but it won’t. It won’t for most people, and it won’t for all of us when emergency rooms become the choice for care again–something we all pay for eventually.

This is a bill, in the guise of a libertarian passion for what government should and should not do, that will lead to harm for many, many Americans, and really only benefit the most wealthy among us. That it was negotiated in secret and a full version not released tells you that even those who are writing it know it will be hated. So then you have to ask: why do it? Is it just a racist response to the last administration? Do they think Americans are dumb enough to say, well, we wanted it repealed, and now we have even less than prior to the ACA, yay!

The ACA has its problems, absolutely. But this is not a solution. It’s nowhere close. It’s a bill written out of spite and designed to grease the palms of people and companies who donate huge sums to campaigns for guys like these, so that they might benefit (there are some nice charts circulating to that end). It’s the work of greedy, horrible people akin to 19th century assholes who saw anyone as less robustly wealthy as themselves as some kind of moral inferior who deserved penury.

I don’t even have the words for the despair this makes me feel. And I don’t know what kind of financial thinking any of us can even do with this. Can one, even with a 99% savings rate, ever be financially independent if they’re one disease away from uninsurability in a country that evidently sees illness as a moral failure?

America was once better. Only eight months ago, really. “MAGA” should become our slogan for the pre-45 era.
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Political Roundup

Tenacious Feminist: political roundup with comfort kittens

Morning, all. There’s an awful lot going down this week and it’s only Tuesday morning. I’m going to give you all a quick roundup of current political fires and their implications. Pardon the swears.

Georgia Election

Today’s the runoff election in Georgia between Jon Ossoff (D) and Karen Handel (R). Now we’re all for supporting other women, but we’re not about supporting women who would oppress other women. Handel is a nightmare for civil rights, who sees her Christianity as a reason to oppress gay people (see video here where she condescendingly avoids a question about Georgia protections for LGBTQ people, and here’s a Slate piece on her opposition to gay adoptions). Ossoff, on the other hand, has spoken about his support for LGBTQ issues. It’s a major stakes election with serious implications for the national arena. Godspeed, Jon Ossoff.

Gerrymandering
orange kitty
Sleepy orange cat knows gerrymandering is garbage.

The supreme court decided yesterday to take up a case regarding gerrymandering, the heinous practice of reorganizing voting districts to benefit one particular political party. Gerrymandering has been used to dilute, for example, the voting strength of certain areas. A neighborhood whose demographics and voting history might suggest leaning Dem can be split, its parts then added to larger areas that lean Republican, drowning the Dem voice. Gerrymandering, regardless of who it benefits, is just wrong and linked to oppression of women and minoritized voters. To quote the Washington Post, “The court accepted a case from Wisconsin, where a divided panel of three federal judges last year ruled that the state’s Republican leadership in 2011 pushed through a redistricting plan so partisan that it violated the Constitution’s First Amendment and equal rights protections.”  Here’s hoping.

Islamaphobia in Virginia

A young woman in Virginia, Nabra Hassanen, was kidnapped and murdered on her way to her mosque after getting some middle-of-the-night snacks with a group of friends. Virginia is currently not going to prosecute the case as a hate crime but as an incident of road rage. The murderer came upon Hassanen and a bunch of her friends in the street, got into an argument with them. As the kids dispersed, he caught Hassanen and beat her with a bat. Her body was found in a pond.

Let’s not kid ourselves: even if Hassanen’s murderer did not intend his “road rage” to be a hate crime, his victim was a Muslim woman. She wore a headscarf, so both her gender and relgious identities were visibly performed. The crime belies the US’s (and the west’s more generally) growing problem with Islamaphobia and its ongoing problems with violent misogyny. Few consider yet where the two intersect.

And in the UK

Similarly, a British man drove his car into a group of Muslims, killing one and injuring several, in the UK. The UK, for all of its many problems, is at least wise enough to consider this attack a form of terrorism, unlike the US where ‘terrorism’ is a term that only applies to people of color.

Domestic Violence
gray kitten
Angry gray kitten is fed up with this trash.

Last week’s shooting at a baseball practice in Virginia by a man who had volunteered for Bernie Sanders has led in totally expected directions. The right claims the left supports such action (they seem to forget they’ve labeled the left as gun-taking, so, uh) and leaves out altogether that this jackass had a record of…wait for it…violent misogyny! We know that domestic violence often portends still further violence, but the way the right has dropped that bit of information suggests that they don’t consider domestic violence a problem or a harbinger of anything.

But of course, these are the same people who encourage curtailing the Violence Against Women Act (45 has big plans to gut related budgets and his minion, Sessions, is no fan of it). I think you could make a pretty good case that America’s lack of f**ks given about women has dramatically increased at the federal level since January, not that it was ever spectacular to begin with. This country pretty much accepts violence against women as a given. Such violence can be both blatant, as in the case of husbands hitting wives, and subtle, as in the fallout from medicine-related decisions.

The Senate “Health Care” Act
kittens
These kittens likely get better maternity and neonatal care than most Americans and are sorely disappointed in us.

Which gets us to point 6, the nefarious plotting of the “health care” act by the Senate. In case you haven’t followed that story, there are 13 people planning a replacement act for the ACA behind closed doors in the Senate with the intention of ramming the bill through with only a few moments of debate or time for senators to read it. The plotters are all white. They’re all men. They’re all conservative.

Such actions, besides being in violation of basic precepts of American democratic functioning, yet again speak to the ways in which the system gives no f**ks about women and people of color, nevermind when these pieces intersect. This is a bill that’s going to be awful for most Americans. Its construction and framing suggest a particular “f**k you” for anyone outside white maleness. And white maleness is a political identity–it’s only normative because we have accepted it as so. When we fight against “normativity,” resistance follows from more than just the white men themselves.

Call It What It Is.

To that end, the WaPo had a pictorial essay last week that got on my nerves. “New poll of rural Americans shows deep cultural divide with urban residents” offered more fodder for the “it was economic anxiety” explanation of the last election while leaving largely unexplored the implications within the piece about race. More rural people see limited opportunities, it essentially says at one point; more rural people blame immigrants, it says at another. Most rural people are white, it goes on. Further, it claims, “the largest fissures between Americans living in large cities and those in less-dense areas are rooted in misgivings about the country’s changing demographics and resentment about perceived biases in federal assistance.”

Connect the dots, people. What the WaPo outlines is indeed economic anxiety, but we can’t untether that anxiety from racial animosity. People often deeply internalize such sentiment regardless of no validation via experience or evidence. This sh*t is getting so old. (full disclaimer: I grew up in a rural area, albeit in a wealthy, northern state.)

And to wrap it up…
disbelieving cat
This cat just can’t even believe it.

In case you missed it, Bill Cosby, despite admitting he drugged women, and the cop who murdered Philando Castile, as video so clearly shows, are both going free. The layers here of fame/race/misogyny are deep and troubling.

And that’s your political roundup, folks. While a lot of progressive change is happening, the regression is fierce. We’re going to have to resist over the very long haul and do what we can to be educators for change. I find this a challenge, myself, but it’s the responsibility of all of us who believe in equity, freedom from violence, and civil rights to keep going.

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Finance Friday: Smarter Spending with Ebates

On this Finance Friday I’d like to introduce you to Ebates, one of my favorite little shopping gadgets on the interwebs. Ebates is essentially a nearly-instant rebate program which mostly awards percentages of the purchase back to the buyer. Those percentages can add up pretty quickly, especially when Ebates features sites offering double percentages. They deposit the money (what they call the “big fat check”) to your paypal account quarterly. Currently I’ve earned $127.51 in a couple of years, and there’s nearly $20 in my account ready for the next deposit. If you’re going to spend money, I figure, opt for smarter spending.

Here’s the way it works:

First, set up your Ebates account and navigate to the site where you’d like to shop from their website or through their app. I’ve learned the hard way they won’t otherwise reward you. You can’t say “rats, I forgot to go to your site first!” and expect they’ll pay you (I tried). I have a handy Chrome extension, though, that lets me know whenever I’m on a site if there’s an Ebate for it–that way I’m far less likely to forget to get my cash back.

Ebates Enables My Laziness

My favorite way to use Ebates is to use it with stores’ order-and-pick-up services. This week, I’ve done that twice. Once, I used it to order a grill part at our local Ace Hardware–I received an 81 cent Ebate and only had to pop over to the Ace counter to pick it up. I also use Ebates for pickup at Target–it’s a paltry 1% Ebate, but hey, 1% is 1%! Once again, I order online and go to Target’s service counter for pickup. I use my Target RedCard, too, to save another 5%. Saving money on necessities (better a $25 regulator than a new grill!) makes me happy.

And let’s be honest: in many households, women are the ones who take care of making sure to stock necessities. (We could probably make a case for the feminist use of Ebates, but I think it might be a stretch.) Sometimes, because I am the one who does the purchasing and puts the effort into making sure we use services like Ebates, I stash that money for use on something fun for me. (Cough, Sephora, cough.) I end up with a nice little sum after Christmas shopping, for example, so I’ll take that and combine it with gift cards to splurge on something I might not otherwise purchase. Now *that* feels like smarter spending.

My other favorite Ebates use is for work travel. I book on my own flights and hotels and whatnot for work travel to be reimbursed later. Ebates partners with Expedia, so I use that service to get all my travel needs met in one place. When I booked a trip for myself and two students this year–about a $2k adventure–by clicking through Ebates first, I received about $35 of free money!

I wouldn’t recommend Ebates if I wasn’t a huge fan.

I love Ebates because I love free money. If you’d like to try it out for yourself, you can follow any of the links herein. They’re affiliate links, and I’ll get a little something-something when you make a purchase. Everybody wins!

Ebates Coupons and Cash Back


*Post contains affiliate links.

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The Fight Against Chub Rub: Part 1

get itOne of the side effects of being a great Quadzilla, particularly if your quads are shaped like mine (hugely expansive at the top with muscle when standing, but squishy when seated), is chub rub. Partly this is genetic—even when I was 110 pounds I didn’t have a thigh gap of any sort—but my leg growth has led to leg chafe. If I wear a skirt without any kind of tights or hose I end up with angry red rashes. And because of my leg shape, even shorts can repeatedly ride up, leading to the same problem. It’s irritating on multiple levels.

Since I’m not about to stop working out for the sake of a little chafing, this year I need to find a solution. I’ll include you in that process. I’ve tried two solutions so far, and no dice.

Solution 1: Deodorant.

This would have been a nice way to ease chub rub since I already have deodorant. I tried it on a not-so-hot day, and got not-so-hot results. It worked well for the first fifteen minutes, but once my legs rubbed together much more than that, it wore off. You’d have to reapply all day long.

Solution 2: Slip shorts.

I had really high expectations for these, not just because I spent $12 on them at Target. Y’all know I hate spending money unless it’s on fun things like happy hour. This felt like an investment, and women I’d polled on the Girls Gone Strong facebook group recommended them highly. But because of my leg shape/movement, they didn’t work well. They’d start out fine, but after standing and sitting a couple of times they just rolled up. I made the mistake of buying the one with a top smoother as well (I figured I might as well get more bang for my buck since I was going to wear it under a fitted dress) and the top just rolled down, too. This left me with two bulges where the rolls were and chafed legs. Rats.

legs
Legs. I have them.

So, I’m about to start round 3, also recommended by the Girls Gone Strong crew: Monistat Complete Care Chafing Gel.* I have decided not to think about what it’s intended for (chafing labia? God that sounds awful) and will let you know how a test run of the stuff works out. If that doesn’t work, I might have to splurge on some Bandelettes.* I will solve this chub rub.

As an aside…

While women generally are built with wider thighs than men and more fleshiness there, we aren’t the only ones who have them. When I googled “stock photo thighs” for an image to add to this piece, the photos that came up were abhorrent. Now, half of them were chicken thighs, which is funny. But most of them featured women measuring or grabbing their thighs. One theme that was particularly awful is when the thighs are marked up for surgery (or, like a butcher diagram, if you will) reducing the already-small thighs beyond what’s probably the width of the bone.

Now there are a couple featuring women who aren’t small, but they’re rare and still feature squeezing. The entirety of thigh-related stock photos implies women’s inferiority–or reasons why women “should” feel insecure and inferior.

If you look up quadriceps, there’s far more variety in imagery, and images include men.

Thighs=bad  quads=good? Food for thought, as these photos turn up everywhere across the internet.


*This post contains Amazon affiliate links. Purchase this book from them, and I get some money to put towards hosting fees. Thanks!

AMAZON AND THE AMAZON LOGO ARE TRADEMARKS OF AMAZON.COM, INC. OR ITS AFFILIATES.

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June Giveaway: Postcards and a Sticker!

june giveaway Tenacious Feminist’s following is growing as we pass our first month’s birthday. (ok, we’re late–the date was May 24th–but a belated birthday is better than no birthday!) To celebrate, we’re having our June giveaway featuring a TF sticker and a dozen “Hear Our Voice” postcards.

The cards were created by a friend featuring the women’s march logo and are a tad belated–they were intended for use during the first 100 days of 45’s administration. But I don’t think a little delay should matter; much of tremendous importance is still at risk, and will be, I suspect, for some time to come. So why not use some postcards to express your opinions? Send them to your Senators, or maybe just your best pal–everyone likes mail.

back of postcards
better late than never.

Help us grow AND get your hands on some sweet gear by sharing our content on Facebook or Twitter. Tag us when you do so. You get two entries per platform. I’ll keep track of who does and next Monday I’ll use a random number generator to determine a winner, whom I’ll contact through the platform they used. Let’s spread the Tenacious word!

The winner of the May giveaway was Cheryl Jackson, who shared TF via Facebook. Thanks, Cheryl!

PS:

(if you’d rather buy stickers, that’d be grand, as well–25% of purchases are sent to Planned Parenthood and the rest offsets hosting costs and other overhead. $2, first-class mail)

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On My Nightstand: Books, June 11*

Ruskovich, Idaho
Random House cover art via Amazon

In this week’s reading, a new book, Idaho by Emily Ruskovich. I picked this one up on the recommendation of writer Leigh Stein, who spoke at a Thursday evening author reading I attended. It’s intriguing so far. I wouldn’t call Idaho a mystery, but there’s a mystery at its center, one full of heartbreak and confusion. I got the last copy at my local library but will probably have it back by Tuesday. There’s nothing like summer for novel reading!

FYI: I skipped posting last week as I finished Chris Bohjalian’s amazing Midwives. It’s worth a read if you haven’t read it already.

*As always, this post contains Amazon affiliate links. Purchase this book from them, and I get some money to put towards hosting fees. Thanks!

AMAZON AND THE AMAZON LOGO ARE TRADEMARKS OF AMAZON.COM, INC. OR ITS AFFILIATES.

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.
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Finance Friday: Do You Shop Your Ethics?

Recently I was having a perfectly lovely conversation about eyeglasses that ended on a weird note about ethics and money. I was at the largest conference in my field (the history of women), where I gave a paper and tried not to fangirl over historians I deeply admire. I was there by myself—no cadre of buddies—and spent one evening chatting with friends of a friend, which was when this conversation came up.

Class Stratification in Full-Time Academia

Academia (the phrase refers to all colleges and universities, collectively) is a funny place. A chunk of its denizens are people like me, who—through a combination of hard work and good luck—overcame the odds against being there. I don’t teach at a prestigious university; I went to a really good college, and a good graduate school, but I’m not from Harvard. Other people, um, are. And while I can’t and shouldn’t generalize about Harvardians, I’d hazard a guess that there’s a class element there—its own website notes only 16% of students have Pell grants, and 20% have family incomes of less than $65,000. Many Harvard grads, particularly from their grad programs, go on to teach at R1 institutions—that is, universities that focus on faculty research more than faculty teaching. While I would much rather teach 3 to 4 classes a term than write frequent books, those R1 universities (1-2 classes per term) tend to pay faculty far more than small universities like my own. Thus there’s class stratification among even full time academics—and this doesn’t get us started on the problem of contingent labor.

In any case, I was at this conference, chatting with some very nice Harvardians, when I complimented one of them on her glasses. “Thanks!” she said, “I like yours, too.” And we got talking about the challenge and cost of finding interesting frames I said, “Yeah, I couldn’t justify spending the $400+ on new frames for fashion reasons, so I just got these on Zenni optical for a song.” She replied, “Because of my ethics, I don’t shop there.”

Oh. Well.

The conversation pretty much stopped cold and I stood there feeling like a poor at a rich people’s party. Perhaps she didn’t realize that by implication, she suggested I didn’t have ethics, or that leaving hers unsaid put me in a super awkward position of stammering that glasses were expensive, dammit. Maybe she thought they were made with child labor, whereas I didn’t; maybe she was all about supporting a local economy. We’ll never know. I got another glass of wine and ran off to get snacks in my awkwardness.

The whole situation was further uncomfortable because it was a conversation among women. Women are notoriously underpaid in academia; those who are full time tend to be chastised for having kids whereas men are complimented, as having kids has implications for the “tenure clock.” Both of these issues have serious financial and class implications we should be working to eradicate through understanding and respecting each other, rather than, however unintentionally, undercutting each other.

I am a firm believer in shopping your ethics when you can…

but I am also keenly aware that my class position and geographic location allows me to do so. It’s also an exchange—I’ll spend more on things that are ethically satisfying to me, but consequently spend less on other things, like fancy new specs. For example, I do not set foot in Walmart. I find what Walmart has done to small towns (I lived in one and watched this happen) in terms of decimating small shops on main street, and then paying people so little that they can only afford to shop at Walmart, is terrible. I avoid it whenever possible. But I live in a suburb with lots of options; I have the disposable income to make other choices.

Similarly, I try not to buy factory-farmed meat. I strongly disagree with our current agricultural system and what it does to animals; I have a local Whole Foods, so I buy most of our meat there or from the organic department at Costco. I can do so because of my privileged class and geographic position. It’s the same reason I can support our local hardware or paint stores rather than Home Depot whenever possible.

I do, however, still buy my clothes at Old Navy. I buy my glasses online. I’m not a purist, and I realize there are ethical implications to these choices. But I am also hardly so wealthy or, frankly, so motivated that all of our purchases can be sustainably, ethically sourced. I think it’s important to support your values when you can (hello, recycled printer paper!) but it takes a certain kind of gall to speak of those ethics as though they are a given for all, or as though they do not come with enabling or limiting conditions. I might, for example, seek to support women business owners in my neighborhood, but am also aware that I can’t and shouldn’t keep visiting the home décor shops on that principle alone. Or the bakery. Good god, those cakes are delicious.

How do you feel about these issues?

Do you shop your ethics, and do you find your ability to do so both enabled and limited by your situation(s)? How do you navigate social class in your world?

 

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How To Build Robots and Alienate People

how to build robots and alienate people

According to some technology news sources, the day of sex robots is upon us. I for one, do not welcome our silicon soulmates.

I consider myself an ardent futurist, the rare modern-day believer in the power of technology and the potential of progress. I am not the sort who fears artificial intelligence and robotics. I look forward to a utopian future full of human/machine interaction. However, there is one way that I feel that humans should not be interacting with robots, and that is as a replacement sexual partner. Rather than humanizing machines, this technological development will mechanize and degrade humans in the eyes of users. The interest of heterosexual males in sex robots is a symptom of a patriarchal society and rape culture and is a serious concern for women and modern feminism.

Born Sexy Yesterday

The trope ‘Born Sexy Yesterday’ is a theme, prevalent especially in fantasy and science fiction, in which a female protagonist enters a story in an adult, sexualized physical form, but with the brain of a child. The ignorant woman drops into some manner of conflict in a confusing, chaotic setting, and the male protagonist of the story rescues the naif, educates her, and brings her up to speed. Of course, in the process, the young woman and the heroic father(ish) figure fall in love (and have sex, onscreen or off). Leeloo, the orange-haired female lead of The Fifth Element, and Quorra from TRON: Legacy are just two of many examples.

At first this seemed to me a corollary to the fairy tale princess, or even the ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl’ trope, penchant for oddly colored hair included, but upon further examination, it is something more sinister. The dream girl in this case is a COMPLETELY blank slate. Everything this woman knows, or at least the important stuff, is provided by the male hero. Every step in the education of our sexy newborn is a series of unlockable achievements that culminate in her ultimate status as a sex partner. It is a video game in which the ‘win screen’ is male sexual fulfillment.  

Enter the Sex Robots
Samantha
Samantha, from Digital Trends

Sex robots are the exact sort of ‘gamification’ of the quest for sex illustrated in the ‘Born Sexy Yesterday’ theme. Rather than a fully passive object, the ‘bot requires a series of interactions or steps for ‘activation’ but not truly for the purposes of teaching it, or actually interacting with it in a meaningful way. Instead, it  is rather for the purpose of ‘unlocking’ intercourse. These are simple devices, more machines than robots, so the ‘game’ is rather easy to ‘win’  

“Samantha” will allow sexual activity only after a kiss and a few other physical interactions registered by pressure sensors. “Harmony” can hold a superficial ‘conversation’ before sex and can simulate orgasm “on command”. This is not even treated like a Non-Player Character goal in a well-designed video game, where the ‘needs’ of others factor into the gameplay. The user need not complete any task other than “command” simulated female sexual response. There is no alternate goal, all paths lead to sex with a semi-animate humanoid for the satisfaction of a user.  

It is a Nintendo with Benefits

If this particular type of human/machine interaction continued indefinitely in an isolated ‘couple’, it would likely be harmless to the society at large.  One could argue that a sex bot may even be helpful for people who don’t interact well with others. However, no human exists in such complete isolation. The person who has sex with a robot/thing will eventually interact with another person.  Being habituated to the program of the type described, in which the interaction with a sex robot by definition always resulted in the end game of sex, bodes ill for the relationships of the user with actual women, whom he may see similarly as objects for sexual consumption. Young users would be particularly susceptible. Youth access to sex robots is not unimaginable in a world where the average age of first exposure to pornography is 11. ‘Sex-gamers’ may have difficulty realizing that the real world and the world they inhabit are not a game.  

A Step Closer to Black Mirror Territory

We already live in a world where some men view women as little more than sex objects. Such objectification runs rampant in the male-dominated online communities of gamers and trolls.  What then of a future in which an actual ‘sex object’ designed to look like a woman exists? It seems entirely possible that, consciously, unconsciously, or in some combination of the two, the sex-robot user, would come to see women in a similar way, as a game in which the objective is to ‘unlock’ sex by going through superficial motions. It is troubling that someone would view another person in this way. It is also troubling that the sex-robot user would likely be in for a rather rude awakening. What then would be the result?  What would be the outcome of being confronted with the truth that women are not simply programmed to be the recipients of hetero-male sexual attention?

Men whose primary social interaction is of the digital variety have committed violent acts, claiming lack of sexual attention as their motive. In an online video, Santa Barbara mass-shooter Elliot Roger’s claimed he wanted to punish women for rejecting him and as part of his spree, opened fire on a sorority. He was a member of a misogynistic online group for the purposes of picking up women, and other members of his virtual community mirrored his violent ideas. Other mass shooters in recent memory have blamed their violent deeds on not having a girlfriend or even “the growing power of women”. They invariably post their misogynist manifestos to sympathetic online onlookers.

Men who believe they deserve access to sex often perpetuate sexual abuse of women. The seamier areas of the net abound with this type of thinking. Misogyny abounds in the online ‘troll’ community: trolls threaten women who have ideas they dislike, or who have ideas at all, with violence and sexual assault. The crowd-sourced, voyeuristic dating service created by Jon Hamm’s character in the “White Christmas” episode of Black Mirror is not too far from today’s dark internet underbelly. It is not unbelievable to think that further acts could be committed by frustrated men with an oversimplistic, oversexualized view of women, further amplified by the availability of always-‘willing’ sex toys.

Building a Better Geek-Trap

Further adding to the potential creepy Black Mirror-ness of all sex robots is that they can be designed to user specifications. Appearances are exaggerated to the point of fetish.  Impossibly large breasts, anime eyes, MPDG hair colors, and other options can be customized and ordered. Once again, this warped view of female perfection based on an immature, fantasy-based hetero-male ‘ideal’ is unrealistic and contributes to a view of women as sex objects that must conform, in this case physically, to the desires of others. These unrealistic female proportions abound in anime, video games, and science fiction/fantasy entertainment. This is not to say these genres and misogyny are inexorably linked. In fact, the best of this genre is in fact highly progressive and even empowering of women, but there is a trend towards viewing women unrealistically in these media outlets.

Did Scar-Jo Ok This?

Finally, what are the likeness or intellectual property rights related to sex robots?  An episode of the animated program Futurama lightheartedly tackled the issue of illegal downloading when the main character Fry downloaded the likeness and personality of actress Lucy Liu into a generic robot body, much to the chagrin of the real Lucy Liu, or at least her head.

Dude.
Scarlett Johansson robot, Wired

An experimenter recently created an interactive automaton of actress Scarlett Johansson, allegedly to ‘fulfill a childhood dream’.  What then, are the rights of the real Johansson? What say does she have regarding the robot’s likeness? It is an extension of stalking, and one that is entirely without legal protection for the victim. It is also telling that Johansson has roles in many recent films popular with that may in fact be the prime sex-robot audience. She plays Black Widow in Marvel superhero films, which have been criticized for their marginalization and objectification of female characters.  Black Widow is excluded from the toy line and the tee-shirts, but gets a bootleg sex robot? Go figure. Geek culture does not have to be antifeminist, but often is so, and recently seems to be taken a sharp turn in that direction. It is also linked with the online community and its less-than-progressive elements.

No Ghost in the Machine

In addition to all of the above concerns, what of the actual emotional needs and psychological growth of the gamer? The argument that this interaction is harmless and merely a different type of relationship is incorrect. Any relationship with a sex robot is merely an echo chamber, worse than the most insular online communities.  It is a singular voice, mirrored and parroted back. The interaction is narcissistic to the extreme, and will merely reinforce ideas of the user, even dangerous or counterproductive ones such as I earlier noted.  

In a real relationship between humans, both parties synthesize new ideas which enter the conversation. The parties can dissolve the relationship if new ideas prove too difficult to accept or incorporate. With sex robots, there is no introduction of new ideas.  What can be provided by a subhuman intelligence programmed to fulfill orders, and which cannot even leave the bedroom under its own power? There is no ‘relationship’ with a sex robot.  There is a static interaction, from which one party is incapable of leaving. The worst elements of a socially marginalized male with unrealistic, fantasy-based views of women and a fragile sense of his own masculinity could be frighteningly amplified in this situation.

Feminism, Humanism, and Sex Robots

The ramifications of a world in which sex robots exist is a feminist issue, and as such it is inherently a humanist issue. Objectification and oversexualization of women is an issue in today’s world which has the potential to be exacerbated by use and misuse of technology. We cannot afford to be push it off until the late stages of development, as early adopters and adapters are already on the scene.  The future is now, and the future, like it or not, will involve human interaction with robots. It may begin by having some rather strange conversations. Not having these conversations would be a mistake. We must lay down guidelines for the future development of human/machine interaction, not only for the development of devices, but for the retention of our humanity. We are on the verge of a great technological change for our species, but we will have to pay serious attention to the best of what makes us human.

Today’s guest contributor prefers to remain anonymous. His professional work is firmly grounded in science and he has a decades-long love for the possibilities of science fiction as science reality. Except for sex robots. 

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