Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Fuzz Therapy

I am leaving for Michigan tomorrow morning (seeing family and attending my cousin's wedding, followed by the drunken celebration of my stepdad's birthday) and won't be blogging, so I'll leave you with a dose of Fuzz Therapy until I return.

My Princess has a number of hobbies that include


exposing her pink belly to the world

and sleeping in adorably impractical ways.
I hope everyone has a great weekend. I'll try to moderate any comments when I can get to a computer. Normal pissed off posts should return next Monday.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Language: Today's word is "Retarded"

Yesterday after work, I was doing some shopping (I work retail). One of my co-workers was (supposed to be) working in the mens' department, where I was looking for a birthday present for my stepdad. This co-worker is a couple of years younger than me. He alternates between being my buddy and bossing me around--the latter I found myself ignoring since he has no real authority over me. He's one of those young guys that likes his own self-appointed importance, and I'm one of those young women that resents being told what to do. Anyway, I had punched out. I had my jacket on, my purse on my shoulder, coffee cup in hand--I was ready to get out of there. He stopped his work to ask my advice on some pairs of shorts--which struck me as odd because I'm not particularly friendly to him in a way that would warrant my fashion advice. I told him they both looked stupid (they really did, but what do I know of teenage fashion--I mostly wanted him to let me shop in peace).

Well, then he replied, "I just want to know if they look retarded."

To which, I said, "Excuse me?"

"Do these shorts look retarded?"

I just stared at him. It should be mentioned that I resent my job. While the people are nice, I'm in a great amount of debt since I earned my Bachelor of Fine Arts in Literature, and in this economy the only job I could apparently find is one working in retail (and not even the cool retail at upscale malls--it's minimum wage hell--it's a fucking joke). It's frustrating to me that I am bossed around by "quiet racists," people too ignorant to know what they say is offensive. I've heard the use of the word "ghetto" by my co-workers, as an adjective, one time being the response of someone breaking their shoelaces, and lacing the boot halfway up and taping it down.

So I suppose I wasn't all that surprised when this kid was using "retarded" as an adjective. He probably also says things are "gay," as many teenagers are likely to do, rather than say something is stupid. I called him out on this, asking if he really was using "retarded" to describe the shorts. He asked if "ridiculous" was better, to which I replied, "Well, it's certainly less offensive." But still, ableism seemed to come to him unthinkingly until I corrected it.

I'm sure that when I go to work later today, I'm going to here some nonsense about me being too sensitive and weak, though it would have been weak to ignore the comment. Defensiveness and projecting are the usual responses I get in these situations. Luckily I don't care what those people think of me.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Bea Arthur, you will be missed

In case you had not heard, Bea Arthur passed away today. I just found out. I'm very sad, since she was wonderful. So, to honor her, I share some funny Golden Girls moments:

(2:07 is my favorite)

I've been watching Golden Girls reruns since I can remember, and I've not tired of them yet. Actually, I didn't really understand a lot of the jokes until I was older. Almost all the sex jokes went over my head, and until I was old enough to really understand sarcasm I thought that Blanche really was forty-something (HA!).

Dorothy was always my favorite character because of her sarcastic wit. Plus her character was grumpy, like me, so I felt a deep connection. I will miss Bea Arthur terribly...

Friday, April 24, 2009

Fuzz Therapy

Here's yet another edition of Fuzz Therapy, with my beloved Princess. She sports a massive amount of fur (which I've decided to let her keep this summer, provided she lets me groom her without bloodshed--unlikely). She enjoys sprawling on the furniture. Check out her coy upside-down look.


I have mixed feelings about this new movie. It's interesting that a white woman is cast as the seductive "other" woman, trying to break apart the happy marriage of a black couple. But then it also reinforces the "crazy bitch" thing, where some women are just "omg fucking crazy azz bitchez!" It also means that Beyonce's character must have a showdown with her opponent, since it's clear her husband won't. So now we have a sexy cat-fight! There you have it guys--psuedo-porn for the price of a movie ticket! Tell me it doesn't appeal to the male gaze: it is referred to as the "sexiest thriller yet."

For me, this only reaffirms that women are each other's enemies. You have to guard your man, or some other woman will come and sex him away from you. There's an interesting post on women bullying other women over at "Oh, You're a FEMINIST?!" Basically this movie is just another example of how women view other women as competition, and underscores the "necessity" to undermine other women in what appears as (and is) pettiness. This movie makes it extreme.

I don't know. I certainly don't see it as empowering. It's not any different than the hundreds of Lifetime movies with the same premise.

I dedicate my 50th post to Hillary Clinton

Mainly because she fucking rocks.

"Keeping women and men in ignorance and denied the access to services actually increases the rate of abortion." (Best quote ever).

We have found again and again that the best way to reduce teen pregnancy is a good education on safe sexual practices. The truth is teens are going to be engaging in sexual activities. Abstinence only education has failed failed failed. Yet millions of dollars fund this ignorant excuse for an "education." There is a great quote from Renee over at Womanist Musings that I think is highly appropriate:

I have said quite openly that when my child turns 12, I will buy his first box of condoms for him, with the understanding that I don’t want him participating in sex however; if he must act against my wishes I want him to be safe. I would much rather him have safe sex than to bury him at an early age because he has contracted HIV/AIDS. I love him enough to understand that my moral position on teenagers engaging in sex is not worth his life.
Everyone should have the right to an education that will prepare them for the responsibility of having sex, and teach them the risks and proper precautions associated with it. Keeping kids and teenagers in the dark about sex and how to protect themselves does more harm than anything. If we truly value the lives of others, and the well-being and reproductive health for women, then we will put millions of dollars into education and family planning. Abstinence-only education only reaffirms patriarchal control over women's bodies, and reinforces slut-shaming as a sort of fear tool to keep women's sexuality in check.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Remember Angie

In case you had not heard, the murderer of Angie Zapata, Allen Andrade, has been sentenced to life in prison.

This is a bittersweet victory, since it cannot bring back Angie, and her family is still devastated that she was taken from them when she was only 18.

Angie Zapata was a beautiful young transwoman, who was murdered. The defense in the trial was filled with trans hate, attempting to spur transpanic in the jury, referring to Angie as "it" and "he," admitting to Andrade's guilt by basically saying, "Sure, he murdered someone, but that's because that person lied about really being a man!" But she wasn't a man. She was a woman.

Please take the time to remember Angie, and remember also that although Adrade was brought to justice, there are still hundreds more who are not. Violence against transmen and transwomen is committed frequently, and does not receive much media attention.

For more on Angie and the verdict, read these:
Transgriot: Reaction to Andrade Trial
Shakesville: Andrade: Guilty
Transgriot: Guilty!
Transgriot: Andrade Trial--Opening Impressions

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

On my own whiteness

I thought I'd write something a little more personal today.

Certain things I say unthinkingly to others makes them pause; I say these things to make people reflect inward, but instead, their first reaction is to question me further, point out the obvious to me as if it had escaped my notice every day looking in the mirror and seeing pale freckled skin, blonde hair and green eyes.

I know I'm white.

The things I say are all pretty standard, taken from my list of "Things I hate about whiteness." Examples are "I hate rock shows because white people won't dance--they punch each other," "White people piss me off because they have no idea they're so privileged." Or sometimes it will be just a comment on a movie where I point out something is racist, and I hate that white people just ignore it or wallow blissfully in their own ignorance by not recognizing what's racist. And every time I call out racism that white people are doing, that I hate white people some intelligent motherfucker will inevitably say "But you're white." OMG REALLY?? I had absolutely no fucking idea until you graciously pointed that out to me.

Just because I'm white, doesn't mean that gives people a pass to say racist things to me because they feel safe in an all-white setting. Just because I'm white doesn't mean I won't call out other white people on racism. And I certainly don't need you to point out, that I too, am white.

A lot of the people pointing out the obvious just stop thinking right there; they would rather write me off as some weirdo "disgracing my race" (yes, I've heard that one before) than look inward and find and question the racist beliefs they have.

I admit, I once bought into racism--basically believing certain stereotypes without realizing they're racist--I wondered how something could be racist if lots of people engage in it. I hung out with kids in high school who were racist, and I didn't even realize it. It wasn't until I was in college where I began questioning every thing, began cutting myself off from friends who held onto their hate so strongly that they'd rather lose a friend that accept that people are equal. I spent lots of time with my dad's side of the family after my mom divorced him and weekends were alternated--this being what I refer to as "the racist side." But just because part of my family taught that hating was okay didn't mean I couldn't remove myself from that thinking.

It had been quiet racism--they never used the n-word at least (even then I knew that was absolutely not okay). But then I brought over my first boyfriend, and it was AWKWARD. My dad took me outside on the patio, while my then-boyfriend sat in the living room with my grandparents--he was a very outgoing guy and could keep a conversation going in just about any situation. My dad then told me that he was uncomfortable. He gave the inevitable "I'm not racist but" then followed it with "I would prefer if you dated someone of your own race."

Then I knew. I started reflecting on everything he said, and realized just how deep his and his parents' racism was. My own dad wouldn't look at my prom pictures because my date was black. Even now my brother will not bring his girlfriend to visit or meet them because of their racism (even though he's been dating her for two years).

My fiance is white, and in the four years we've been together I have only subjected him to my dad's side four times. The moment they met him they loved him. I thought back to when they met my first boyfriend, how my dad gave the "you hurt my daughter, I hurt you" speech--for a half hour. When he first met my white boyfriend, that same speech was less than five minutes--and a lot less threatening.

It's disturbing to me that the people I'm related to have hatred for other human beings, and I do my best to speak against it, though I know it does little good. Some days I just tell myself they're set in their ways and their thinking--not to justify it, but to tell myself it's not my responsibility to remove their hate: it's theirs.

So, yes, I am white. But me being white doesn't mean I have to let other white people tell me racist things. Because I'm white doesn't mean I don't have to learn from other people. Because I'm white doesn't make hushed racism among whites okay. Because I'm white doesn't mean I can't be offended by racism and hatred and bigotry.

I still learn from others. I realize that my perspective is limiting. I spend large amounts of my time reading other blogs, trying to absorb as much as I can that will help me in how I interact with others.

And I reflect.

Language of Racism: Today's word is "terrorist"

Something strange has happened since 2001. I first noticed it in my own family, in their quiet racism where they gather and feel safe among other white people and spout hateful things about an entire group of people. This strange thing is that the word "terrorist" became associated with a race, a certain scary kind of brown people that made white people freak out. I am not trying to explain away what happened at 9/11, but pinning the crimes of a few people on not only an entire nation, but an entire people who have similar skin-tones is racist.

Anyway, my point in this post is that there is a certain denotation for the word "terrorist" but the connotations mean that Americans associate a label that can apply to anyone who uses fear and violence to achieve an end. But it's become completely associated with people from the Middle-East. If not, why is this headline so surprising: "FBI's newest 'Most Wanted' terrorist is American."

In the last few years, "terrorist" has become synonymous with "Islam," and so this most viewed story from Yahoo is surprising to many people. Americans terrorists?? How can that be?

Well, our definition of "terrorist" has become entangled in our racism despite terrorist acts being committed quite often in our own border. Why don't we call people who bomb abortion clinics terrorists? Don't they use threats, fear, and violence to coerce people? There's a long history of attacks on abortion clinics, but not one use of the word "terrorist." Why is that? What about all the other acts of violence happening here? Is "terrorist" just another "other" word?

I think how we use language is important and being aware of its use is imperative in how we relate to one another. Share your thoughts in the comments.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Legacy of Poe: Return to the House of Usher

Note: As with all my literary analysis, there is a heavy SPOILER ALERT. While I do not give any explicit plot summaries, many of the things I discuss may reveal the plots, so if this happens to be a book sitting on your shelf you've been meaning to read, please read it first and come back. I'd hate to ruin it for you.

Return to the House of Usher
by Robert Poe was given to me by the professors of the English Department at my college, chosen by the professor which I was fortunate enough to do a one on one study of The Flowers of Evil. Fitting, since Baudelaire was a fan of Poe's, this new novel being a sort of sequel written by E. A.'s descendant. The events of the novel take place in little over a week, during a hurricane that, at first, is assumed to not come so far inland. The worsening weather provides a climactic backdrop for the story leading up to the second destruction of the famous house, now a Sanatorium founded by the new Roderick and Madeleine (who are twins).

This was a captivating novel, in that there was a drunk main character (and narrator), his best friend whose sanity slips because he is haunted by Edgar Allan Poe's story involving his ancestors, and both are involved in a sort of mystery involving a few awful secrets.

As usual, I interpreted this novel through my feminist lens.


I certainly hope it was intended that I hate the main character, though as many of you know intent does not always equal the result. As I have not met Mr. Robert Poe, nor have I read anything else by him (and I admit I don't even know if he has written anything else, though I could easily check), I do not assume that these ideas are indicative of him as a body existing outside the novel--as I safely assume the sexism of David Eddings based on the fact that I've read just about everything he's written, and the same sexist attitudes are present IN ALL OF THEM.

That being said, I hated the main character.

John Charles is a worthless drunk. He is a writer for the small newspaper in the fictional town of Crowley Creek. He has unresolved issues with his father--at some points he gets drunk and wallows in self-pity as he reflects on his poor relationship with his father, who is dead. He treats women poorly, and is guilty of the insulting objectification of them, and also of comparing cars to women.

With the three women characters provided,* we are presented with three versions of womanness.

In the first mention of Marilyn, we learn that she is "the town's sexiest woman" (31). She works as a hairstylist, and John Charles provides us with a colorful description of her:

Marilyn herself was a small, curvaceous blonde, whose ornate mop of curls would have made Dolly Parton stand up and take notice. I had always assumed her hair was a kind of professional advertisement. It had a sort of bedroom look that gave a man ideas (37).
Marilyn is presented as a woman whose main concern is her appearance, and she measures her looks off of other women. She's highly aware that she's beautiful, and finds that it is her duty to be as beautiful as she can so that men find her attractive:
Only one thing disappointed her: the hairstyles of the other women. "I don't know who they think they're kidding, John Charles," she told me as the waiter poured our wine, "but there's not a woman in the world who doesn't look better with big hair. Now look at the gal over there," she pointed to a plain-looking blonde in a black dress, dining with an older gentleman at a far table. "She's got a big rock on her wedding ring finger, so they can't be hurting for bucks, but she's done herself up dull as a dishwasher. With her money, she could have some decent highlights, get a little sex appeal, know what I mean? That guys she's with's been givin' me the eye for the last half hour. She's prob'ly boring him to death" (122).
Marilyn blames the man getting the "wandering eye" on the other woman's lack of superficial effort. Basically, if a woman isn't pretty enough, it's her fault her man fucks someone else.

But John Charles is one of those simple-minded menz:
She wore glittery blue stuff on her eyelids, which gave her brown eyes a sparkle, and a dark-red dress cut so low in front that I found it hard to concentrate on what she was saying whenever she leaned over to reach for the breadbasket. No question of my getting bored (123).
She probably wasn't saying anything important anyways.

We are introduced to Edith in the same scene we meet Marilyn. Her description sharply contrasts that of Marilyn, effectively creating two converse images of femininity:
An elegant-looking woman of an indeterminate age, her face seemed drawn and sad. She was looking into the mirror with an expression that seemed to suggest that whatever she saw there was not going to be sufficient to solve her current problems (37-8).
When John Charles speaks of Marilyn, age is never discussed--she's just attractive. With Edith, there's always a mention of her being older than he is. The word "elegant" also connotes a certain image associated with age, leading us to assume that Edith is not "young."

But Edith is not just some older woman that finds herself involved in a mystery surrounding the Usher place, aiding John Charles to figure out why Mayor Winsome, Mrs. Boynton, and Mr. Prynne are after the property. She's an intelligent woman, and also a motherly figure. Where Marilyn is single-minded and pretty, Edith is deep and nurturing. Her husband has just left her for his (supposedly younger and prettier) secretary (38), leaving her to care for their two teenage boys. Not only is this sudden situation difficult for her, but her ex has been telling the boys it's all her fault he's not around any more, turning them against her. She's constantly worrying about her children, since the man is known to have a temper (144-5, 232).

Mrs. Boynton
Completing the women and age spectrum, is the editor of the Crowley Sentinel. John Charles describes her as
a stout woman in her middle sixties, the epitome of a certain kind of Southern womanhood. Tough as nails, she ruled her domain with an iron hand and brooked no resistance from anyone. But underneath, she couldn't resist a little flattery and she had a vast and cynical understanding of human nature, which could always be appealed to in a pinch (61).
Boynton is also in on the deal to procure Usher's property, part of the bullying scheme to sell the land and house for less than it's worth. Basically, the impression we get of Boynton is that of a greedy old bitch. Which works, since this underscores the image of her being an old shrew.

John Charles
The entire novel is told from John Charles' point of view, and as such the women are filtered through his manly biases. His attitudes toward women are somewhat frustrating, when he tells the reader such things as "loud women's voices assailed my ears" (37) and "Sometime I'd like to be a fly on the wall when two women are talking. I've always wondered how they can go on for hours and hours and never once touch on anything important, like, say, cars, hunting or sports" (164); basically, typical manly things.

John Charles is particularly lovable when he helps his co-worker get his car out of the mud:
Back, sweet as a caress on a lady's soft skin, then put her in gear so gently and just slide her out of that sucking pothole[...]and she shot out like a greased pig. Damn, it felt good! (135-6).
Interesting how driving a car is synonymous with fucking a woman.

Chapter Seven is perhaps the best example of John Charles' despicability. He visits the town bar for (yet another) drink, and Marilyn joins him. How he treats her in this scene illustrates how he thinks of her as disposable:
I hadn't asked her to join me. I just wanted to get quietly drunk all by myself[...]
Marilyn looked at me. "I think maybe you should ease off a bit, John Charles. You have to drive home in the storm and I wouldn't want anything to happen to you."
It was none of her business[...]
I had forgotten she was there. I felt annoyed. Couldn't she see I was trying to concentrate. "I need to concentrate," I said to her.
"Well, thanks a lot!" she said.
I could see she was upset. One bad thing about women. They don't understand when a man needs to concentrate[...]
"Well, let me tell you one thing, Mr. Poe. I've had it up to here with hard-drinking men and I don't intend to have any more of 'em. You can't handle the whiskey, you can't handle me, you get my drift?"[...]
She got up and I watched her good-looking ass, in those tight jeans, sashay out of there. Quite a few other men watched it too. It's unfair, the way women do that. They always get the last word even when they don't say anything (184-7).
Revoltingly peppered throughout John Charles' sexism, is his insistence of his own Nice Guy-ness:
Why had she married him in the first place? I never get why smart, pretty women seem to go for the wild, irresponsible guys--the losers. The nicest guys I know seem to have no luck at all with women (144).
So nice of John Charles to pity Edith, while simultaneously engaging in victim-blaming.
He also admits:
It kind of makes my blood boil when a man takes off on a woman like that, after she's raised his kids and all. And it was not as if Edith Dunn had let herself go. For her age, she was a truly fine-looking woman (39).
Before he really gets to know her, he already has made assumptions about her regarding her roles as mother and wife--the first being that he assumes as a mother she is nurturing, and as a wife, she's a trophy (for her age).

As for John Charles and his being a man, there's an interesting scene in the novel that reeks of a masculinity struggle, between John Charles, and the New York mobster, Aldo Marco, who comes to Crowley Creek to get the Usher property. The hurricane reaches the town, and causes flood damage. As a result, a large crack appears from the foundation of the Usher house, splitting one wing of the house open. The two men exchange threats, John Charles telling Marco to back off and stop bullying the already unstable Roderick, and Marco hinting at causing harm to Edith if John Charles prevents Usher from selling the land (213-15).

So, to be clear, to John Charles, women are supposed to keep him interested, so they must be beautiful; they talk about nonsensical things; and even the "smartest" women are stupid because they fall for losers. Got it.

Oh, and he's also racist. The only black character in the entire novel doesn't even have a name (23). Here, a standard has been created in the novel, because the only time the race of a person is mentioned is with the black man, the "other." The rest of the characters have assumed whiteness.

Within the novel there is great use of metaphor and symbolism, which I'm sure was intended to echo the original story by Edgar Allan Poe. The storm itself is a symbol of destruction, its worsening effects foreshadowing the inevitable destruction of the House of Usher. Certainly it is not mere coincidence that the eye of the storm passes over the House of Usher when Edith and John Charles find Roderick after he'd been missing three days.

Similarly, the two peach trees mirror the illicit relationship between Roderick Usher and his twin sister, Madeleine, the "female" tree being the one that was ripped up in the storm, taking the entwined branches of the "male" tree with it (236), like Madeleine's threat to leave, and her death, did to Rod (258-59).


John Charles is an interesting character to read, since he's a self-centered sexist racist drunk. I think if I ever reread this novel I will take note of each time he drinks some whiskey--at least twice a chapter, I think. The final chapter is quite indicative about what really matters to John Charles in what he doesn't mention. For instance, what happened to Buzz, Aldo Marco's cousin who worked with John Charles at the Crowley Sentinel? After John Charles gets his car out of the mud, we don't see him again; we don't know if he survived the storm.

Similarly, we don't know what happened to the "ghosts," people supposed to be dead that Usher keeps locked in a room, hiding them from the state (and is thus the leverage that Marco uses to blackmail Usher into considering his property deal). But at the end, when John Charles is reflecting on everything that happened to Rod, Edith, the Mayor, Prynne, and Boynton, there is no mention of the old people--they're really alive, so where did they go? Who's caring for them now that they've been exposed to be alive? Clearly, these poor people are not worth an extra thought from John Charles. In the last chapter, he tells about the scars on his hands, mourns the loss of "the most beautiful trees," casualties of the storm (279), and even tells of how the tarn on the Usher property has polluted the land, condemning it. But nothing of the people that Rod Usher hid away and treated like prisoners.
*I chose not to include Madeleine in this analysis, since she's only alive for a few pages. She is certainly gendered. We first see her gathering daisies, and even her "ghost" carries a basket of dried daisies--certainly there is gendering involved when Roderick dresses up as her, haunting the grounds: everyone is fooled into thinking it's really Madeleine's ghost.

Works Cited
Poe, Robert. Return to the House of Usher. New York: Forge, 1996.

I think the world needs some fuzz therapy

It's been one of those disheartening days where I am just overwhelmed by the amount of hate and dehumanization in the world. To perk myself up I like to put my face in my Princess' fluff, of which she has an abundance. So I thought I'd share a recent pick of my fluffball.
Ah--a beautiful kitty circle. There is still good in the world...

Happy 4/20!

Sadly, I am unable to celebrate this year, but hopefully everyone else with the hookup is having fun. Anyway, here's some 4/20 fun to check out.

Pot vs. Alcohol

Origins of 420
Legalize this shit already!

Seriously, given all the facts about it, why isn't it legal? I should be able to go to the grocery store and pick up a bag 0' weed with my Cap'n Crunch. As it stands right now, I work at a store that required drug testing before I got hired (which is bullshit because it's none of their business what I do when I'm not at work--and I get paid such a piddly amount that they should be required to give me weed with my paycheck so I at least have a way to ignore the fact that my job is stupid and unrewarding despite how hard I have to work), and I don't know a guy who knows a guy. I will now present a clip from Family Guy as further evidence:

A great post on "sexting"

While doing my usual drink green-tea and catch up on blogs morning ritual, I came across a guest post over at Shakesville that I strongly recommend. It's about this new issue of teens "sexting," but the best part is it's written by a teenage feminist--the one perspective the media isn't considering. She also offers great insight in how we view sexuality. I recommend reading the whole post, but here's an excerpt which I found to be highly significant:

Young people are simultaneously not allowed to be sexual and pushed to conform to a hypersexualized, stereotypical idea of what it means to be desired. We're told that engaging in any sexual act sex is a dirty, dirrrty decision, despite the widely accepted fact that the vast majority of adults are doing it in some form or another. From there, we've got three basic paths to navigate—and I'll tell you right now that none of them end well:

a) If we don't have The Sex, we're prudes, geeks, goody-goodys. We're abnormal and utterly devoid of passion. We're the four-eyed nerd, not the bikini-sporting cheerleader. We're pathetic.

b) If we do but fail to use the right precautions—which is hardly surprising, given the ghastly prevalence of health curricula that 1) omit lessons on preventing pregnancy and STIs; 2) rely on blatantly sexist stereotypes and even flat-out lies about the purpose and efficacy of condoms and contraception; 3) fail to address the very real sexual health concerns of folks who are getting down with a partner of the same sex; and/or 4) skip right over the Sex chapter in the manual—we "should have known better."

c) If we do and use the right precautions WE GET SUSPENDED.

What the fuck?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Adam Lambert: nail polish and eye liner is for girls

No, I'm not telling him this--but a conversation with one of my co-workers made me realize there are plenty of people who are. I love how inanimate things such as make-up become so entangled in our ideas of gender, that if someone outside of that gender identity uses said things, some people have a complete freak out.

Society has labeled certain things as strictly for boys or for girls. When I told my co-worker that I'm rooting for Adam, she said she was not. When I asked why, she said it is because he wears eyeliner (no, I will not be referring to it as "guyliner" because it's an already ungendered thing, which means men can wear it without me changing its name, which some people think makes it okay at that point--it was okay to begin with) and nail polish. Note that this judgment has absolutely nothing to do with his talent as a singer, which I thought American Idol was about (though I will admit appearance is taken into account when we're talking about women).

At any rate, I don't buy into this is a girl thing, this is a boy thing kind of rationale, since it's all bullshit anyway. I wanted to ask my co-worker if what really bothers her is not only does he wear so-called girl things, but also that he kisses boys, since she's a fan of rock and roll, and Adam Lambert is not the first to utilize eyeliner in the genre.

On the left here, is Freddy Mercury of Queen prepping for a show. While searching for more pictures of rock stars sporting make up (of which there is an astounding abundance) I stumbled upon this post over at jotiumich regarding glam rock:

"Glam established the idea that identity was fluid and malleable, and was certainly not predetermined. In this definition of identity, glam included gender and sexuality. Whether David Bowie was performing as a man, a woman, or a bisexual space alien, his identity was part of his creative expression of self. Through this belief, glam rock was able to challenge repressive social constructs of gender and sexual identity."
Adam Lambert is just a modern-day rocker, whose self-expression on stage, and in real life includes the use of eyeliner. By this he, like others before him, is breaking down gender barriers and illustrating the fluidity of identity. I suppose it doesn't help when people like Bill O'Reilley treat Adam's kiss pictures like pornography, making an issue of his sexuality while simultaneously censoring it, basically illustrating that this is dirty and unacceptable (though I can't imagine why--I mean, really, is there anything hotter than two dudes kissing?? I say, HELL NO!!).

So I say, good for Adam, and a big STFU to everyone criticizing what he chooses to wear. It's perceived as attractive when a woman wears makeup; how is it any less attractive for a man to spruce himself up a bit? More people should be willing to challenge these gender barriers, because there are many forms of beauty. That being said, I'll leave you with Johnny Depp in drag (which is seriously the hottest thing I've ever seen).

A quick post about email-circulated racism

So, I received this email yesterday, and it troubled me. For one, it was sent to me by someone I knew from my high school. He used to work in the library, and we've stayed in touch since I've graduated. The subject of the email was "Inner City Math Quiz." My high school, which was in Southfield, a city right next to Detroit, was (and probably still is--I've moved since graduating six years ago) predominately comprised of black students. So perhaps you can understand my surprise at receiving an email from a white guy who used to work with these students--my friends and peers.

I'm not going to reproduce the email entirely, so here's an excerpt:

Schools are finally starting to teach practical math that these kids can use in real-world situations! It's about time!

1. Ramon has an AK-47 with a 200-round clip. He usually misses 6 of every 10 shots and he uses 13 rounds per drive-by shootin. How many mofos can Ramon ice on a drive-by before he gotta reload?

2. Leroy has 2 ounces of cocaine. If he sells an 8 ball to Antonio for $320 and 2 grams to Juan for $85 per gram, what be the street value of the rest of his shit?

3. Dwayne pimps 3 ho's. If the price is $85 per trick, how many tricks per day must each ho turn to support Dwayne's $800 per day Crack habit?

4. Raul wants to cut the pound of cocaine he bought for $40,000 to make 20% profit. How many ounce bags will he need to make to gets the 20% upside?

5. Desmond gets $2000 for a stolen BMW, $1500 for stealing a Corvette, and $1000 for a 4 x 4. If he steals 1 BMW, 2 Corvettes and 3 4x4's, how many more Corvettes must he steal to make the 10k for his brother's bail?

6. Pedro got 6 years for murder. He also got $10,000 for the hit. If his common-law wife spends $100 of his hit money per month, how much money will be left when he gets out?
It did not escape my notice that none of the subjects in these "math" problems have names like "David," "Jeff," or "Doug." Which makes it racist, since it assumes that there are no white kids attending inner-city schools, and also assumes that none of these crimes could be committed by a white person.

Also, the language itself is problematic. Not only is the "math" supposed to be "practical," but the language used is written in a "dumbed-down" sort of way--as if this is the only way to speak to POC in inner cities, otherwise you might as well be speaking another language. So now we're being racist and condescending. Great.

What really bothers me is that this is supposed to be funny because we think there's truth in that--this is what we expect poor POC to engage in. See? It's practical because we think that young POC will only amount to thugs, pimps, and hookers. If they're committing crimes, they might as well be good at math, right? This is just perpetuating negative images on youth. Instead of investing in education in poor areas, we make it a joke because we have this stupid ideal that we are all presented with the same opportunities and expectations, and if someone doesn't pick him or herself up by his or her bootstraps, then that's their problem that they've become an email joke. Ha ha ha.

This is just another one of those things that white people send to each other, feeling safe to express what I think is muted racism--something that is thought to be a joke, but is really just racist. I'm bothered that someone sent it to me, thinking that I, as a fellow white person, would find it as hilarious as they did. I did not.


This dude is so cool for trying to educate the masses. This warrants further spreading. Pass it on:

Thursday, April 16, 2009

New Look

Well, if you're a regular here, you may have noticed that I've decided to try a new look for the site. And, as you may know, I have a certain affinity for the brooding poet, Baudelaire, and since my site is named for his poetry, well, I thought it fitting to have him leering at you while you read my rants.

I was bored earlier tonight, since my fiance enjoys watching hockey playoffs and I hate sports of all kind, so I got out my paper and charcoal and started scribbling. I hope everyone likes it. I feel like it has a more honest look in relation to this site, since Baudelaire is one of my greatest influences. I also wanted to be yet another person to honor Baudelaire's creepy visage through art. His is a face of shadows.

Also, I'm writing a new essay on a book I just finished, which is based on Edgar Allan Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher," another fitting notion, since Baudelaire loved Poe's works. Hopefully that will be up soon, as well as some other things I've been meaning to write.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Gender and Sexuality, Identity, and Duality in China Mieville's Iron Council (Part Three)

Note: Though I do not give a full summary, please be aware that some of the discussions inevitably mean that there are spoilers. Also, I've broken up my essay so it's easier on the eyes. You can read the first two parts of my essay here and here.

Identity and Duality

In the novel, we are presented with several dualities, opposing labels or ideas that alter perceptions of identities. For instance, the Iron Councillors being “sisters” feminizes the runaway train. Conversely, there are two groups in New Crobuzon: the Toroans, and Runagate Rampant. Though the Toroans are active and violent (masculine) and Runagate Rampant, is passive (well, passive in the sense that they aren’t out riling up crowds and murdering political figures—they’re just publishing revolutionary ideas) Runagate Rampant does have some masculine attribute at least. The members are all referred to as “Jack,” in honor of Jack Half-a-Prayer—a Remade man uplifted as a symbol for freedom. The use of the moniker “Jack” masculinizes Runagate Rampant. That these groups are led by their respective sexes (Ann-Hari leading the Iron Council—although they are a Council, Ann-Hari’s daring persuasion means she gets what she wants, and is thus the leader) further illustrates the gendering of these groups—and further, how these groups are fluidly gendered: Toro later being revealed to be a woman, the titles used by the Council and Runagate, and Runagate being led first by a man named Curdin, until he is captured and sentenced to Remaking, and later is led by Madeleina. The use of the name “Jack” to refer to all members is supposed to protect their identities from militia intervention. Basically, even the groups are simultaneously something else.

There’s also this duality concerning the Remade and the “free and whole.” These identities are clearly defined, as “whole and Remade could not fraternize” in certain areas of the city (323), and in fact Remade are treated as slaves, especially by the TRT. Remade cannot be made whole again—they were created in the punishment factories, condemned to have their bodies refashioned, parts added or subtracted as retribution for some crime. It is only a one way journey, since Remade are made from whole, and the procedures are irreversible (or at least there are laws against reversibility).

The character of Toro presents us with interesting notions of identity. First, Toro is the leader of a violent revolutionary gang in New Crobuzon, but this identity shifts to another body when the Toroans execute a plot to kill Mayor Stem-Fulcher. When Toro removes her helmet, what ensues is a moment of disconnect—her real identity is revealed:

Something went out of the air as Toro pulled the helmet away and broke a thaumaturgic current. Toro lifted the metal off, like a diver removing the heavy brass helmet. Toro shook out her sweaty hair (392).

When Toro the Remade woman remains behind (and presumably dies) Ori must escape using the Toro-helmet to push through reality. His learning to use the helmet is his first moment of accepting the Toro identity (397). Ori, defeated at finding out he was used, uses the Toro identity. Toro “was a dog now, a stupid and brutalized dog following a master it hated, unable to stop” (454). This new “Ori, Toro” (454) identity is mostly explored in Chapter Twenty-Seven, where Ori, Toro travels through the seams in reality. Ori is just Ori during the day, only using the bull helmet “to walk at night, and he did not know why” (456).

The Toro identity is a tool, dependent on the user:

Toro could have been a fighter for the Collective. Toro could have stood on the barricades, run boulevards between bomb-denuded trees and gored militia.

Ori did not[…] He was deadened by failure (456).

Toro is a transferable identity, a symbol of revolution, action, change. Toro is a Remade woman’s mask, which she uses for her own agenda. Toro’s identity merges with Ori’s, at some points separate identities, at others, merged identities. Ori “would rise and, as Toro” would travel, hunting his enemy using the thaumaturgy in the helmet. Ori is defeated, and thus, so is Toro. Toro “stalked at night” while Ori remains “unseen in his bull-head” (457).

In the world that Miéville has created, everything is something else. There are different aspects of everyone, everything may not be as it seems, and like in real life the reader has no way to guess how the story will turn out (unlike an Eddings’ novel where we know the good guy always wins—take that!). Even the crazy old man, Spiral Jacobs, isn’t just a crazy old man: “Spiral Jacobs was drunk. He was a real vagrant. He was just something else as well” (458). Even his “freedom spirals” (430) are simultaneously symbols for freedom, but later revealed to be the city’s doom if Spiral Jacobs is not stopped—in his madness, the old man wanders the city tracing spirals on buildings in preparation to unleash a hex that would destroy the whole city (and the interesting thing, if you’re familiar with Miéville’s work, is that you believe that the city could be destroyed. We have no reason to trust the narrator, or to trust that any plan will be successful—this is real; plans and people fail, and Miéville captures this perfectly).


Iron Council presents certain ideas of gender and sexuality, identity, duality, and a sense of realness. There is greatness in this sort of writing which combats the usual fantasy formula of good vs. evil, and the process of good always triumphing. The realness in Miéville’s novels and his excellent mastery of language makes his works incomparable. That being said, I am counting down until The City and the City is released.

Friday, April 10, 2009

"Soft pillows of flesh tucked unseen..."

Note: This is a sonnet I wrote to my vagina, a response to my previous sonnet honoring a penis. I thought it only fair to similarly honor my lady parts. Again, this is meant to be funny, and, again, I use archetypical language describing my vagina deliberately. I also acknowledge that my referencing a famous white American artist holds connotations of it's own, but please realize that her paintings are well-known for their vagina imagery.

Soft pillows of flesh tucked unseen
Blossoming petals, blooms uncurl
From a center of pleasure wrapped between
Minora, majora, a delicate pearl.
A brilliant structure, support of lattice,
Of Nature, reflecting the natural,
An arch, an arbor--a trellis,
Echoing the seasons, it epitomizes cycle.
Flourished paint strokes, slick with color
It arouses inspiration and greatness
In artists mimicking the gossamer,
And in others, simply faintness.
So superb a chalice, and rose motif
Is exemplified best by Georgia O'Keefe.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Happy Birthday Charlie!

Today marks the birth of Charles Baudelaire, the famous French Symbolist poet, whose greatest work, The Flowers of Evil, still intrigues scholars today. His life is as captivating as his poetry. His father died when he was six, and he never did get along with his step-father, and thus had a rough relationship with his mother. Baudelaire always had trouble with money, and he had a guardian to watch over his finances. This only caused more problems between him and his family.

The Flowers of Evil, his great work, also caused him much grief, when it was charged with indecency. A legal battle ensued, and finally it was published with the omission of six poems, which were banned.

Charles Baudelaire also wrote a series of prose poems known as Paris Spleen, a novella called La Fanfarlo, and numerous essays and critiques on art and artists. He also translated many of Edgar Allan Poe's works into French.

He was never married, and never had children. His most famous of lovers, Jeanne Duval, refused to marry him, and for years their relationship was on and off. Baudelaire died in 1867 due to the latter effects of syphilis. It was not until nearly a hundred years later that the Paris Appeals Court lifted the conviction on Baudelaire and his publisher for the charge against the banned poems.

And since I'm tired, I'll leave you with one of my favorite lines from one of his prose poems, a line which I plan to take to heart pretty soon here:

Always be drunk. That's it! The great imperative! In order not to feel Time's horrid fardel bruise your shoulders, grinding you into the earth, get drunk and stay that way.
On what? Wine, poetry, virtue, whatever. But get drunk.
Everyone have a drink honoring Charlie! Or read The Flowers of Evil. Or read it anyway, cuz it's amazing!

Works Cited: Baudelaire, Charles. "Get Drunk." The Flowers of Evil and Paris Spleen. Trans. William H. Crosby. Rocchester, New York: BOA Editions, Ltd., 1991. 423.

Works Consulted: McGowan, James. Charles Baudelaire The Flowers of Evil.
Oxford: Oxford UP, 1993.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

"You'd entertain the universe..."

This is in honor of my man, Baudelaire. It's an early "Happy Birthday" to him, since it officially starts tomorrow, but my place of business doesn't care about poet's birthdays, so I'll celebrate tonight, and tomorrow night. So, to start, here's the poem from which I've taken my internet name. I think it's appropriate, since I identify as a feminist.

You'd entertain the universe in bed,
Foul woman; ennui makes you mean of soul.
To exercise your jaws at this strange sport
Each day you work a heart between your teeth.
Your eyes, illuminated like boutiques
Or blazing stanchions at a public fair,
Use haughtily a power not their own,
With no awareness of their beauty's law.

Blind, deaf machine, fertile in cruelties!
Valuable tool, that drinks to whole world's blood,
Why are you not ashamed, how have you not
In mirrors seen your many charms turn pale?
The magnitude of all your evil schemes,
Has this, then, never shrunk your heart with fear,
When Nature, mighty in her secret plans,
Makes use of you, o woman! queen of sins!
--Of you, vile beast--to mould a genius?

O filthy grandeur! o sublime disgrace!

Works Cited: Baudelaire, Charles. "You'd entertain the universe..." Charles Baudelaire The Flowers of Evil. Trans. James McGowen. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1993. 53-4.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Poppa and Sidewinder

Note: I wrote this more than two years ago, based on an experience that I estimate happened when I was in middle school. My paternal grandfather has always been somewhat of a mystery to me, and I thought I would write a story about him and the anomaly of Sidewinder. My grandpa is currently undergoing some health problems due to complications of a fall down the stairs about two years ago, where he cracked his head on the concrete floor at the bottom. I've never shown him this story, and am not sure I intend to. But I wanted to share it.

I can think of a mangled old squirrel and smile. The more I read that sentence to myself the more ridiculous it sounds, yet there isn't any falsity in it. I did indeed know of a squirrel whose body was so misshapen that he (I'm assuming gender here) couldn't scamper like others. His fur was forced to grow around the lengthwise gash down his back, and somehow the squirrel's mangled frame did not completely fail him, for he was able to pay a visit to Poppa every afternoon.

I don't remember when I decided Grandpa was to be called "Poppa," since I was said to have named him before I was capable of remembering, but he's always been Poppa to me, and when my brother was able to speak he also used that name. Even our childhood friends called him "Poppa" when they'd visit. Now that I"m older, I think perhaps I knew Poppa needed a special name. Or maybe "Poppa" was easier to say. I'm willing to admit to both.

I can't assume to know what Poppa went through in his lifetime. One of my earliest memories of him is where he told me how he was in the Korean War.

He lifted his shirt to show me the scars on his belly. The scar had usurped the belly button's place in the center of the abdomen, having long ago shoved it an inch to the left. He told me how after he had been hit by a mortar shell, he was thrown on the dead wagon, and only discovered to be alive when he moaned. That is all he ever talked about in regards to the war. Just being mistaken for dead--the origin of his scars.

Most of my memories of Poppa are of him sitting on the patio on his plastic green lawn chair near the barbecue, a Miller High Life in hand, saying few words. Those he did say usually ended with an abrupt "I'm shuttin' up," a closing statement jabbed at Grandma. Most of my memories of her involve her controlling conversations and silencing Poppa even was he wasn't speaking to her.

There was one thing Grandma couldn't control: to whom Sidewinder attached himself.

Named for his sideways gait, likened to the species of snake of the same name, Sidewinder moved forward one side following the other. The left side always followed the right. His twisted body was like if I shifted my right shoulder and hip forward to lurch rather than walk. To walk a straight path, he pointed his body sideways.

I'm not sure when Sidewinder became a regular visitor to the patio, but Poppa began buying peanuts by the pound so he'd have a treat for the squirrel, who soon began to hobble right up to Poppa and take the peanuts from his hand. I don't know how Sidewinder survived with his disabilities. He wasn't a fast creature--certainly he couldn't outrun a cat. He could climb fences and trees, but with difficulty. Finding food must have been difficult, since other able-bodied squirrels meant competition. Perhaps this is why he befriended my Poppa, in the urgency that is self-preservation.

Sidewinder's trust for my grandpa grew so great that he would paw at Poppa's knee to get his attention, even climbing up his leg to sit on his lap while he sat in that lawn chair, until at last Poppa would ease to his feet and with Sidewinder trailing him, he made his way to the garage, opened the old popcorn tin containing the peanuts, and presented the little squirrel with as many peanuts as he could eat.

It became such a routine that the squirrel would return at the same time each afternoon, and Poppa would wait for him outside, even in the winter.

I regret I never thought to take a picture of Poppa and Sidewinder, because one day Sidewinder didn't sidle up the walk onto the patio, and my heart brok with Poppa's, though he never said a word--at least not to me. But that was the way with Poppa. Not saying anything usually saved him an argument in a house where hating loved ones was normalcy (and in a way, still is). Only those who knew him could read beyond the stoic expression, read the loss he kept hidden.

I know what it is to bribe an animal to love you, and loving it brings something one may not have achieved with people. We can speak to animals and feel the release of imprisoned words, letting them flee without impediment, and for a while, at least, we can forget that interruptions by loved ones exist. I know that world, and its comfort.

I still think of that squirrel, and how odd it seemed, but I remember the look on that war veteran's face when Sidewinder appeared, and then how that look slowly dissolved and died when one day he did not.

Friday, April 3, 2009

"There never was a member so defined..."

Note: this is a sonnet I wrote for my fiance, or rather, his penis. I decided to post it because of a recent article posted by Renee over at Womanist Musings, about being a dickist. The sonnet is basically a joke, my take on a famous form of poetry that was mostly written by men urging women to have sex with them, and is meant to be funny. I intentionally utilized archetypical images of maleness, so don't lecture me about it--I'm fully aware.

There never was a member so defined
By manliness manifested by so great a spear,
Which enraptures all, and weakens minds
In its skill and evocation of fear.
So great it is, both in length and power
That one falls prey to its thrust;
And what can it be called short of "spectacular,"
But one finds there are no words so just.
So praise unto this wonderful cock,
Which elicits pleasure and desire;
Where others can pityingly mock,
This magnificent one never tires.
So masculine, Herculean, and hard,
It is luscious, lavish, and unmarred.

Upcoming: Baudelaire Day

On April 9, I will be observing the birth of Charles Baudelaire (in case you haven't noticed, I'm sort of in love with this man). And so, to honor him the whole day will be devoted to sharing his poetry (with my commentary, of course), sharing his story, and sharing what his work has meant to me as a writer.

Is there anything better than a creepy 19th century French poet? If there is, I don't want it.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Gender and Sexuality, Identity, and Duality in China Mieville's Iron Council (Part Two)

Note: Though I do not give a full summary, please be aware that some of the discussions inevitably mean that there are spoilers. Also, I've broken up my essay so it's easier on the eyes. Feel free to comment--however if you want to refute any of my points please wait until the final posting. This is the continued discussion from Gender and Sexuality (Part One).

Gender and Sexuality (Part Two)

We learn of Judah’s relationship with Ann-Hari in the same instance that we learn about her own sexuality. She is a woman whom Judah

finds[…]when she is flushed by the road, and she takes him and discards her virginity with eagerness he knows has little to do with him. For the few days that she is only his he tries to make it as much as he can; he tries to give the arc of a life’s love. It is not an affectation but a role; he gives himself over. She is looking over his shoulder while she straddles him, for something else—not even something better, but else, more. She makes friends. She comes to him in the villages smelling of other men’s sex (194).

But Ann-Hari, and the other women peasants cause problems in the camp:

The whores who have dutifully followed these men, splitting from the perpetual train to work with these mountain diggers, are affronted by their new rural rivals, these farmgirls who expect no pay. Some of the workers themselves are threatened by these newly voracious young women who do not sell or even give sex but take it (195).

Ann-Hari and the other peasants have sex at will, and Ann-Hari particularly seems to be a wild spirit, and sexually liberated individual. But she seems silly at times, as when Judah shows her his golems; she is “entertained but no more than by a thousand other things” (195).

She also seems to use sex as needed. After the whores attack the farmgirls, she goes to Judah, and together escape to New Crobuzon. She explores the city, ignorantly curious, eager to learn everything about the city. Some nights she does not return, and when she “is with Judah she sleeps with him and takes money from him” (198). It is her treatment of Judah that allows us to assume that she has found other men to spend time with, to take sex and money from, though she does always return to Judah (until she leaves New Crobuzon for good, taking more money from Judah without bothering to say good-bye to him first (206)).

Judah finds Ann-Hari again later in what’s known as Fucktown near the rails (I don’t think I have to spell out for you what happens there), and she is the Madame of the other prostitutes (224). She seems to have changed in their time apart; her matronly role over the prostitutes puts her in a leadership position. Similarly, her relationship with Judah seems to have changed as well:

Ann-Hari does not lie with him, though she will kiss him, for long breathless moments, which she does not do with anyone else. But when he wants more she charges with a principled resolution that disturbs him.

— I ain’t a client, he tells her. She shrugs. He can see it is not venality that motivates her (225).

Though she insists that Judah pay her, he knows that she doesn’t care about the money. But Ann-Hari is a mystery to us as readers because we are never privy to her inner thoughts—all our experience with her and her behaviors and sexuality are filtered to us through Judah’s experience with her, and since he offers no speculation, we must infer.

What is not represented in this novel is lesbianism, or at least a woman who identifies as bisexual. There’s plenty of guy-on-guy action, and heterosexual sex, but there are no women who have sex with women. That’s not to say they don’t exist, but no narrator ever mentions them. Madeleina, the future leader of Runagate Rampant, doesn’t seem to have sex with anyone (though she’s human, so it can be assumed she at some point has). Some of the whores in Fucktown could have identified as lesbians, even Ann-Hari, but since the novel is all (and I mean all) in male perspective, lesbianism simply does not exist as far as the novel is concerned.

There are clear gender roles throughout the novel, but there are women who engage in fighting later on. In Judah’s story, prior to the forming of Iron Council, men work on the rails, clearing the land. The women follow the men, working in the sex trade. The gender roles are challenged, however, in a few circumstances:

A strong accomplished man drives a spike down in three strikes. Many men take four swings; cactacae and the most augmented steam-strong Remade two. There are three prodigious and respected cactus-men who can push a spike home in one blow. There is one Remade woman who can do this, too, but in her the ability is judged grotesque (223).

While strong men are admired for their ability to drive spikes, a similarly strong (Remade) woman is disgusting. Admittedly, Remade are supposed to be disgusting, since their remaking is supposed to be the result of some crime, warranting the reshaping of their bodies into some grotesquery; but there are other Remade (men) that do not elicit such disgust as they work.

Despite these gender roles, it is the whores’ strike that spurs the rebellion that forms Iron Council. They refuse to sell sex to the men (236), and the men are angered. The women chant “No pay no lay no pay no lay” (236), refusing to give the men sex on credit. But the men haven’t been paid either—they’ve been working for free, and they want sex. Ann-Hari bands the women together, protecting them from violence and rape:

The women defend Fucktown. They have patrols with sticks and stilettos; there is a frontline[…]

That night a group of men try with something between light-heartedness and anger to push their way past the picket, but the women block them and beat them hard and the men retreat holding split heads and screaming in astonishment as much as pain[…]

They do not let the men touch them the next day and there is no longer novelty or near-humour to the situation. A man takes out his cock, shakes it at them. —Want payment? he shouts. — I’ll give you payment. Eat this you fucking dirty moneygrab sluts. There are those in the crowd of men who have enough affection for the women they have traveled with that they do not like that, and they hush him, but there are others who applaud[…]

There is another attempt on their camp[…] It is a rape squad intent on punishment. But there is an alarm, a panic from Remade women sent to clean clothes near the Fucktown tents. They see the men creeping and yell, and the men are on them quickly and attacking to silence them (236-7).

What the men’s response to the prostitutes’ protest demonstrates is this belief that they have an inherent right to the women’s bodies. Paying for sex previously commodified the women’s bodies; when the men could not pay and the women thus refused them sex for free, the commodification is gone—yet still the men feel—no, believe—they have privilege over the women, and can thus use their bodies as they wish. That they are angered to the point of forming a rape squad illustrates their indignation of being denied what they believe is their right, thus then deciding to regain control over the errant bodies with intention to steal.

The men then take the women’s strike and make it their own, spreading the word with Runagate Rampants circulating the camp: “No pay no lay they tell us, and that can be our slogan too. We will not lay another tie, another rail, until the money promise is ours. They say it, and we say it too. We say: No pay no lay!” (239). The women’s and men’s strikes combine, uniting against the TRT, resulting from the women not fucking for free, and defending their right to do so. However, the men taking their slogan strikes me as the men legitimizing the women’s protest—almost like giving them permission to do so, thus conforming to the men as active, the women as passive pleasure holes.

Ann-Hari is charismatic, forcing her way into the men’s council and demanding that the women have a say because they fought too, they’re workers too. The men call each other “brother,” (253) and only after Ann-Hari convinces the council to make the train move, to steal the train and flee (and one woman objects to the use of “brother”), does one man concede, “All right bloody hell sisters then” (265). Later even the men are referred to as “sisters.” I would like to point out this doesn’t make up for previous affronts to the women, but it’s a nice little step toward equality in the novel.

Meanwhile, back in New Crobuzon, there are revolutionary groups forming, meeting in secret to plan. Runagate Rampant is quite passive, members meeting and publishing the secret newspaper of the same name. Conversely, there is a group referred to as the Toroans, led by Toro, a revolutionary leader of the gang (an active, violent gang). Ori, first a member of Runagate Rampant, finds Toro inspiring because “ ‘he’s changing something’ ” (76). These two groups are gendered in the archetypical sense as one is passive, the other active (I’m sure you can guess which is thereby masculine and which is feminine—if not I will then wish to know why you’re reading this).

As is the group itself, (the first) Toro is gendered. Though Miéville is careful to not use any pronouns to indicate Toro’s sex (from the narrator), Ori uses male pronouns when speaking of Toro (76), and thus the reader (consciously or unconsciously) picks up on this. Thus, the revelation of Toro being a (Remade) woman is somewhat of a surprise. Except for Ori attributing a definitive maleness in Toro, there is no other indication of that supposed maleness. Even descriptions of Toro are filtered to us through Ori, as in when Ori first meets the famed leader:

Toro moved like a mime, an exaggerated padding so unbullish Ori almost laughed. Toro was slighter than he, shorter, almost like a child, but walked with a precision that said I am something to fear. The thin figure was surmounted with a massive headpiece, a great bulk of iron and brass that looked too heavy to be carried by such tight little muscles, but Toro did not totter (303).

Or perhaps it is Toro’s helmet itself which causes the reader to assume maleness; after all, a bull is itself a male, and (for a time at least) the only visage the reader has to associate with Toro is the helmet:

Stylized, made from knots of metalwork, gnarled by the residue of fights. The myth, that helmet. More than dumb metal[…]The horns were ivory or bone. The snout ended in a grille mimicking teeth; the exhaust pipe was a nose ring. The eyes were perfect, round, tiny portholes in tempered glass that flowed white—whether backlit or hexed, Ori could not see. He could not see human eyes behind them (303).

Once Toro’s sex is revealed to us, there is almost no hesitation to gender her. She is a Remade woman, which does not surprise Ori, admittedly he “had not felt capable of surprise for a long time” (393). Toro’s crime is sported upon her head:

A child’s arms emerged from her. One from each side of her face. One over each brow. A baby’s arms that moved listlessly, tangling and untangling in her lank hair. They had been stretched out, one inside each horn, in the helmet (393).

Toro killed her child, seemingly by mistake (she states that she shook her baby to quiet her, but she can’t really remember (394)). She was sentenced to Remaking by Magister Legus (coincidentally Mayor Stem-Fulcher’s lover). What’s particularly striking about Toro’s gendering is her justification for assuming the Toro-identity and using it to kill the Magister, her aims boiled down to being “an old grudge” (395), and I can’t help but wonder: what if Toro was a man? Everything else would be the same, except instead of a mother killing her daughter and thereafter being punished for it, it is a father killing his daughter, a father wearing his daughter’s arms to remind him of his crime. With this in mind, I ask: would Toro’s targeting the Magister be a mere “grudge”? I cannot help but wonder if Toro’s goal would be referred to with a more substantial term, such as “revenge,” if Toro were instead a father. I wonder at this link to motherhood, wearing her child’s arms—as many of us know the mother identity overtakes other identities for women, but when a man is a father, this identity does not overshadow his identity as a man. If it were a man wearing his child’s arms, would it be the same link to parenthood as it is for a woman? I wonder also if Ori’s despair is attributed to Toro’s womanly grudge, and if Toro were a man, would he have felt so used? There is no denying that the woman used the Toroans to get to the Magister, but they did in fact accomplish the death of the Mayor, which was what the Toroans wanted (but which ended up having no effect in the end anyway). The Toro character is thus problematic, because prior to her revealing herself she is perceived as male, yet everything she was while wearing that helmet shatters with her crime, her “grudge.”