Ironic sexism is so passe

27 May

by Laura

The blogosphere

Okay, look, if all we do here on BBH is support the continued writerly existence of Tavi, I will feel we have done good in the world. Because seriously, just look at how this girl writes. She makes me proud of all girls, in a Willow-slayerizes-all-the-potentials* way.

Also, Terry Richardson: total dickbag. He is The Biggest Loser of fashion: pretending to be ironically commenting on cultural norms when he is in fact simply perpetuating them in the clearest way possible.

As Tavi notes:

I’m not writing all this because I want to embarrass him in an immature, spiteful, gym locker room prank kind of way. I’m writing it because it has to be written about and I want other people to write about it because he has to know that next time he tries anything along those lines, people will write about it. Then maybe he will stop doing it.

Who needs Slayers when we’ve got Tavi?



How answers ruined Lost

24 May

by Jess

All the smart people I’ve talked to who liked the Lost finale have said the same thing: “It was emotionally satisfying.” No argument there. Everyone coming together, becoming enlightened about their importance to each other, seeing each other again after all their trials and in some cases long stretches of separation we never got to see — it’s not only what you want emotionally for characters you’re invested in, it’s also what you want for yourself and everyone you know. It’s the reconciliation scene, the love scene, the triumph over death, the final moment in the movie where everyone stands up one by one and slowly starts to applaud, all rolled into one.

I’m willing to allow a lot of space for the importance of emotional catharsis, which the Lost finale had in spades. I thought, for instance, that the historical absurdities of “Inglourious Basterds” were entirely justified by the way that the film provided illusory catharsis for something that, in real life, can never be exorcised. But I admit I’m hugely frustrated by the way that Lost presented itself as something that would be intellectually satisfying as well as emotionally — a much more difficult and rarer feat — and not only failed to pull it off but failed spectacularly. My sense, from the proliferation of “questions we need answered!” posts leading up to the finale and “questions we still have!” postmortems today, is that most intellectually dissatisfied Lost fans blame the failure on the writers not providing enough answers. I think it’s because they tried to have too many.

For a show like this to be intellectually satisfying requires a finicky balancing act, avoiding both deflationary answers and complete abdication of sense-making. The writers must show glimpses of patterns that hang together and suggest other patterns even larger and more luminous, but resist  spelling out what those patterns mean — implying wheels within wheels without showing the clockwork. TV usually can’t do it. Novels can — but novels also don’t have to deal with fan message boards shouting instructions between chapters, or characters getting booked by other novels and having to be killed off. Given the intense fan scrutiny and the vicissitudes of TV specifically and the serial format in general, it’s not a surprise that writers who have expertly layered five seasons worth of questions get panicky when faced with the need to start handing out answers. They perceive a demand — and no doubt it’s real — to provide answers that are not only concrete but significant, showing some kind of insight into the nature of the reality they’ve created and the reality within which they created it. It’s a lot to undertake.

But maybe they don’t have to. For my money, there’s not a single mystery that was explicitly answered on Lost that wasn’t more interesting when it was open-ended. It’s like Schrodinger’s cat, or the particles it’s meant to represent — until observed and pinned down, they exist in every possible state, but observation collapses those potentialities into a single certainty. When it was piling mystery on mystery, Lost was a mesh of patterns and possibilities, as strange events overlapped and resonated and made each other clearer or murkier depending on the interaction. But each explicit answer collapsed the wave form, knocking the wind out of a hundred furiously debated and rewritten theories. The creepy vertigo we got when we heard the Whispers wasn’t just from the eerie sound and camera work — it was also from our sense of the nearly limitless possibilities of what we were hearing. Were they ghosts? Time echoes? Some supernatural force controlled or projected by the Others? How did they relate to the manifestations and monsters and other mysteries of the Island? Turns out: they’re trapped spirits who did something bad and then died. Oh.

There is a way to provide answers that don’t fully collapse the wave form, but just direct and add savor to the questions. When we first heard the Monster described as “a security system,” the possibilities were fascinating. Was it animal or machine, or a little of both? Why did it look into your mind and then present itself as images from your past? I thought of Solaris, Stanislaw Lem’s novel about a planet that protects itself from human intervention by manifesting potential intruders’ deepest guilts and fears. Could the Island be manifesting the black smoke as a sort of immune response, an extremely sophisticated way of destroying invaders through psychological pain? Or was it more like a guard dog? And what was it guarding? Or was it trying to help them, not destroy them, as when one manifestation led Jack to water? When it was Yemi or Christian or Alex or the horse, that was clearly for some specific character’s benefit or possibly detriment — what, then, did it mean by becoming John Locke? The complexity of that web of patterns, questions, and suppositions touched off by this one hint is not done justice by the later, more specific answer (“Titus Welliver went down a log flume and came out as evil smoke”).

Attempts to offer answers — concrete answers, finished answers, answers that let you know in no uncertain terms what’s been going on all this time — always seem to end up as variations on “it was all a dream” or “God did it.” That’s what happened, famously, to St. Elsewhere. It’s also what happened to Battlestar Galactica and (to a disappointing degree) to Carnivale, which pulled off a masterful layering of clues and mysteries for more than a season before starting to lose the courage of its convictions. It didn’t happen to Twin Peaks, but it might have if the show had gotten its anticipated third season. (Maybe not — David Lynch is unapologetic about not offering recognizable answers, but he wasn’t the only person involved.) As it is, Twin Peaks is a nice example of what can happen when the show’s mysteries remain in a superposition, when the waveform isn’t collapsed by the weight of the answer obligation. Sure, the show managed to wreck itself in several ways in season two — the less said about James’ bike adventure, the better — but they never got a chance to take the wind out of our lofty theories about what it all means, and now they never will.

The trick when crafting a mysterious fiction (she said, having absolutely no expertise in fiction-making whatsoever and just being a pushy and opinionated consumer) is not trying to hand out satisfying answers but satisfying questions. But answers are what people clamor for, and the Lost writers, faced with that answer-lust, seem to have panicked. What they offered up was a pat bit of exposition that functions, insofar as it functions, only to explain the brand-new mysteries set up in the final season, shrugging off the earlier questions on which fans had built their beautiful network of theories. I’m grateful, at least, that they left those alone — it allows the uncertain story, the superposition story, to maintain a kind of independence and dignity. But the rush for a resolution — especially the resolution they chose — still feels like an act of desperation, introducing and immediately solving new mysteries in order to provide people with some kind of answer. If they couldn’t truly illuminate us, if they never really had a plan — and nobody seriously believed they did — the least they could have done was trust us to do some of the brain work, tracing connections and spinning out theories. A light touch instead of a heavy hand.

Noel Murray at the AV Club, who is a real TV critic unlike me (and who is less begrudging than I am about still loving Lost despite its many flaws), put it better than I could:

I like that Lost has dropped enough clues to its minor mysteries—just about anything to do with DHARMA, for example—that viewers can interpret them however they’d like. Why couldn’t women give birth? What was the deal with the statue? Those kind of questions are answerable, with a little viewer imagination and the details already provided. When the show spelled out its answers, it became painfully prosaic. When it was focused on keeping viewers stimulated and disoriented, it worked much better.

I’m not leaving last night’s episode saying “what about all the things they didn’t explain?” I’m wondering, what about all the things they didn’t need to? And will there ever be a TV show with the guts to refuse us final answers, and thereby let all the final answers be true?

Burdens of proof

21 May

by Laura

For concern trolls only

So this thing happened on the sometimes informative, sometimes super-annoying community site Metafilter, in which a user asked for help keeping two friends away from a situation that sounded suspiciously like a human trafficking setup. (Two young Russian women with questionable English skills come to DC on an “exchange” program, only to find that instead of normal jobs they’re asked to hoof it to NYC for a midnight meeting with a stranger at a sometimes strip club.) The hivemind responded admirably and quickly, sending the OP information about charities, government agencies, and individuals who could help his Russian friends, offering places for them (and the OP) to stay in various cities, donating money to make sure they could buy meals. A user who claims to work in the anti-trafficking world helped get the wheels turning, and in the end, these young women ended up doing the tourists’ version of NYC with friendly people instead of going to middle of the night meetings with sketchy “cultural exchange” agents. Huzzah, internet!

Of course, there’s not really a way for any of us who read the thread ex post facto to verify what happened. Metafilter seems to be a tight community, but a huge one; I’m sure some of the people on there know each other’s real names and phone numbers and trust each other implicitly. I don’t. It’s possible that this is a grand exercise in collaborative fiction, and that none of the events described happened in the offline world. It’s hard for me to imagine what kind of person would orchestrate such a thing, but that doesn’t mean it’s not possible. I’d rather believe that it’s not a hoax that people helped each other, but then, I’d *more* rather believe that two young women weren’t in danger of being abducted by sex traffickers. Whatever the truth is, I am relieved that the scenario is described as having ended as it did, rather than with two (real or fictional) women harmed.

On the relevant MetaTalk page, where community users can go to debrief and chat about the original post, a few dissidents are crashingly insistent that this may be a big fake lie, guys. One user in particular, who goes by the name bingo, is really really concerned that people might spread the “Internet thwarts sex traffickers!!!!!” story all over the tubes. Here’s one particularly delightful instance of his or her concern:

The resolution, it seems to me, also relies mostly on this collectively imagined narrative. There’s a lot of “everything turned out okay” going on here, but the truth is that we don’t know whether that’s true at all. We don’t know whether there was even a problem to begin with, we don’t know if the Lux Lounge deserves all this smearing, and we don’t even know whether the girls will be allowed to remain in the US.

I don’t claim to have magical powers of perception that allow me to be sure that a story I’m hearing doesn’t reflect the whole truth, or that a specific business isn’t a front for a human trafficking ring. But to suppose that this means anything of substance is to buy into a witch hunt mentality. The burden of proof should not fall on the person who is merely suggesting that the conspiracy may not exist.

An elaborate tale has been woven between these two threads, with very little to support it beyond fear, speculation, anger, and hope. These are valid things to feel, but they do not in themselves prove anything. I think that when some time has passed and the air has cleared, at least some of you will read back over this discussion and realize that it sounds an awful lot like Congress’ deliberations over whether to invade Iraq in the wake of 9/11.

Y’all, there were no WMD in the strip club! You have all fallen victim of mass hysteria in your terrible desire to not watch two women be harmed! Bingo and his or her fans is really concerned about a “witch hunt mentality” in this situation — far more concerned for the potential traffickers, in fact, than the potential traffickees.*

This incredibly deeply wrought concern for imagined men is a common trope when it comes to discussing violence against women. When Shapely Prose ran the celebrated/infamous post on Schrodinger’s Rapist, about how men can respect women who have learned to be suspicious of their motives, self-identified male commenters came out of the woodworks to express their great concern that some woman, somewhere, might have the wrong idea about a perfectly innocent, well-intentioned man who just thinks she’s pretty. When I read bingo’s deep worry about the Bush-invading-Iraq nature of the “let’s save these Russian women” thread, I was reminded of the point that escaped many of the defensive Schrodinger commenters: you can never prove that you’re not a rapist. You can only prove that you are one, by raping someone. Bingo and his or her fellow travelers are skeptical and seem to enjoy raining on a parade; that’s fine. But the “proof” that the women in question are a) real and b) really in danger would be the proof that two young women are in terrible danger. To prove definitively that they were being abducted by sex traffickers, they would have to be abducted by sex traffickers. And then skeptics could sit back and sigh and congratulate themselves on their wonderfully sharp and perceptive minds as two young women lose their passports, their freedom, and their bodily integrity.

I’m a fan of logic, skepticism, and rationality. But I’m also a fan of women not being exploited. If this Metafilter story is a big hoax, the worst that happens is that some internet users get to feel like heroes for a day and some people give some hard-earned money to fake emergency funds (while some give money to real anti-trafficking charities). If this Metafilter story is not a hoax, the worst that happens is two young women who thought they would be tasting the American dream barely escaped ending up as sex slaves and never seeing their loved ones again.

Personally, I’m more concerned about the safety of maybe imaginary women than about the gullibility of actual internet users, at least in this case — just as I’m a lot more concerned about the woman who wants to ride the subway without fear of harassment than I am about the man who just wants to tell her she’s pretty. And that, to me, is a logically and emotionally grounded stance. The two are not mutually exclusive.

*I made that word up, yes I did

What’s the condom too small for: your dick, or your ego?

21 May

by Jess

This guy's head is tiny!

The Washington Post had a story today on how District youth are complaining that the city’s free condoms are a) not Trojans and b) too small, because apparently they have a) brand loyalty and b) delusions. In response, officials have decided to stock up on Trojan Magnums, the kids’ status rubber of choice. The calculation, it seems, is that it is in the long run a better public health decision to give kids more expensive condoms they might actually use, instead of cheaper condoms they won’t.

That’s sound logic, as far as it goes, and there’s a lot of value (and a lot of challenges) to making safer sex the cool option. But is it really a good idea to give students the big condoms just to, you know, make them feel big? Because here’s the thing about condoms: they have two main characteristics, which are that they are a) not the most comfortable garment you’ll ever wear and b) REALLY STRETCHY. We’re not talking about penis Spanx here. You can roll a regular-size condom over your entire forearm. I sincerely doubt the condom itself is genuinely too small for a significant percentage of DC youth, though granted it’s tighter than wearing nothing. It’s the text on the label they’re worried about.

My guess is that their brand loyalty isn’t to the word “Trojan,” but the word “Magnum.” That’s a well-known, instantly recognizable big-size option, pretty much the only one that’s reliably available in drugstores. If Durex (the cheaper brand currently offered for free in DC) made a condom with “ENORMOUS COCK” printed on the wrapper, I’m sure the kids would forget about their Trojan preference. Because seriously, Trojans smell like a traffic accident. They’re awful. In fact, the one dude I know who genuinely has to use Magnums bitches about it, because they are frankly gross. They’re just the thing he’s stuck using if he has to buy condoms at the last minute and cannot get finely tailored cocksheaths from France or whatever you do when you need special sizes and don’t want to be stuck with the smell of screeching tires.

As an analogy: I wear an F cup right now, which means it is flamboyantly difficult to find bras that are even a little bit cute. If enormous beige armored granny brassieres became status symbols because they’re the thing that people with huge breasts wear, and all the little high school girls were going around in putty-colored boulder-holders because the coyly peeking-out industrial-strength strap advertised their nonexistent knockers, those would still be TERRIBLE BRAS. And I would still be stuck with them, because I actually DO wear a big cup size, and I would realize that only the people who have never actually needed those bras would be willing to put up with their total wretchedness just to send a signal that they’re well-endowed. And no matter how cool they became, it wouldn’t change the fact that they DON’T FIT MOST PEOPLE, who should be glad about that, because it means they have a choice about whether to wear awful bras.

Only, in this scenario, imagine that if you have insufficient breast support, SOMEONE GETS PREGNANT. Because actually, there are consequences to wearing a too-big condom, beyond just feeling roomy latex billow loosely on your genitals like Lawrence of Arabia’s robes. Namely, too-big condoms FALL OFF. (Granted, too-small condoms are more likely to break, which is why good sex education involves telling kids how to tell whether condoms are too small FOR THEIR PENISES instead of just too small for their social status.)

Sorry to get so cappy, but I find it profoundly frustrating that the cult of the big dick is so ingrained that it leads kids to request — and officials to grant, apparently — special accommodation they almost certainly don’t need. Obviously people should not have to wear condoms that pain them or risk breakage because they’re so snug, and it’s important for the health department to keep some larger sizes on hand so that people with non-standard bodies aren’t penalized (hee). But I’m very doubtful that a majority of DC young people are in desperate pain from having to wrap their genitals in something that YOU CAN PUT OVER YOUR HEAD AND INFLATE WITH YOUR NOSE.

A few months ago, Amanda Hess and I went to see a play called “Deez Nutz,” which was a collection of monologues and poetry intended to convey the experience of being a young black man in the District. It was very interesting, but to me the most interesting part was that every performer started his scene by taking off his shirt and doing 50 push-ups. Even in a context designed to interrogate masculinity and the demands it puts on young men in urban areas, each man established his strength and virility before (and, often, during) a performance that delved into the reality of his experience. It was like a charm against showing vulnerability. That’s what I see happening with the Magnum demand. It’s very unlikely that a significant percentage of young men in this city genuinely cannot use regular-size Durex condoms, either because of extreme pain or risk of breakage. It’s very likely that they have a lot invested in presenting themselves as Magnum Men.

That’s dangerous on its face — because too-big condoms really aren’t as safe, although it’s certainly true that they’re safer than condoms that get thrown out because they’re not manly enough — and it’s also dangerous in its implications, since the manly-man pose has all kinds of implications for violence and subjugation of women and other men (this week’s Sexist Beatdown gets into this in a brilliant way that I will hopefully write more on another time). The need for young men to present an almost outlandishly masculine face is something the DC health department should be addressing, not enabling. In the meantime, may I suggest that the city invest instead in custom wrappers reading “I’m Studly” or “Observe My Dominant Genitalia” or something?

The eye of the beholder

17 May

by Laura

This woman is not beautiful. I mean, obviously.

Clearly a loser in the game of beauty

That’s what Fox News says! Rima Fakih (aka Miss USA 2010) is the beneficiary of “the whole PC society” that has promoted a Muslim American in a bikini at the expense of nice white ladies in bikinis. Apparently the crowning of a Muslim Miss USA is a sign of the end times to some conservatives; our all-American beauty pageants are promoting a pernicious form of affirmative action that says that women of color can be just as pretty as white women. What nonsense, am I right?

Even queer women who vote in polls on the internet know that very thin white women with long hair and slightly open mouths are the sine qua non of beauty. Especially if they are wearing no pants.

Obviously, this post has so far been a petty exercise in sarcasm. There’s something profoundly absurd in complaining that your meaningless contest to rank women according to extremely strict patriarchal beauty standards failed because it didn’t pick your idea of the prettiest woman. Clearly. But the idea that a woman who looks like Rima Fakih needs any extra help winning a beauty contest is even more astonishing. It reveals, to quote the brilliant Silvana, that

we were all the victims of a sick joke. A despicable charade where so much is demanded of women, so much compliance and poking and prodding, so much effort to make ourselves beautiful and radiant and perfect, so much forcing of square pegs into round holes, just so we could meet it all, do it all, get close to the apex of perfection and still be worth nothing.

Apparently Rima Fakih is also suspect because she once won a faux stripping contest in which she wore substantially more clothing than she does in the above photo, which is officially commissioned by the pageant. In other words, here is a woman who has devoted herself to the male gaze so effectively that she is both a prize fake stripper and Miss USA — but in so doing, she has revealed too much of her own effort, since the only way you win at the beauty game is to hide all the effort you put into it. As a woman of color, Fakih’s effort is always visible, because current beauty ideals are racialized. Thus we get notable minds such as Fox’s Gretchen Carlson (herself a former beauty queen) complaining that the Miss USA contest is rigged. Rigged, I tell you!

Look: there are no contests that are not rigged for somebody or other. And most of them are rigged in favor of people who are already winning. The world of official beauty is so damnably narrow that Rima Fakih is seen as an obvious outlier by some people, who either don’t realize or don’t care that they are revealing themselves as stone cold racists. And it’s so damnably narrow that I’m tempted to celebrate Fakih’s win as a thumb in the eye of the beauty standards, even though she looks like she stepped right out of a Victoria’s Secret catalog.

You might have heard of the current MoMA exhibit of performance artist Marina Abramovic — and if you haven’t, bear with me for a sec. I haven’t seen this exhibit in person (though Jess has!), but it has resulted in a photo gallery of many, many people gazing enraptured at Abramovic’s face. When I first saw some of these photos online, I was mesmerized, too, because I had forgotten that faces could be so different. Of course I see people in my everyday life who look very different from movie stars and models, but I’ve been trained — and you have too — not to look at them too long, not to spend time gazing at their not so beautiful faces. Abramovic’s work, by contrast, features a concentrated gaze that is available to anyone who wants it (and for some, that is apparently an intensely emotional experience). And it turns out that people are really wonderfully diverse in their beauty, not because of some affirmative action of sentiment but because that’s what people look like.

Holding contests to rank women on an absolute scale of beauty is an absurd exercise, the sole purpose of which is to enforce a certain ideology of beauty. Of course, for the Rima Fakih haters, that’s not a surprise, but rather the acknowledged goal, and that’s why to them crowning a Muslim woman as Miss USA, no matter how nubile and light-skinned she may be, is an outrageous and obvious offense. If white people can’t even win beauty pageants hands down, then how can they keep convincing themselves of their natural superiority to all people of color?


How Sassy didn’t change my life

13 May

by Jess
A couple of years ago, Shapely Prose did a thread about “what would you tell your 14-year-old self?” I didn’t contribute at the time; I was probably choosing between hoary sentiments like “it’s not that important to convince boys to kiss you,” “it’s all right to be smart and all right not to show it in the expected ways,” and “for fuck’s sake you look FINE.” Now I know there was a shorthand: “Read Sassy.”

It’s not like I wasn’t aware of Sassy. I actually have an old picture of Laura, mugging it up with a cheeky expression and brand-new bright red streaks in her hair, that I captioned “Laura’s Sassy cover shot.” But really, I’m pretty sure I plucked that name out of the “generic teen magazine” slot in my brain just because she was being sassy at the time. I didn’t realize Sassy was actually the magazine that made girls like we used to be grow up into women like us.

There is of course a book called How Sassy Changed My Life, and because it is a book and I am a self-recrimination machine I am of course down on myself that I didn’t write it, but that is clearly just dumb mental habit because Sassy didn’t change my life. I wish it had. It probably would have, if I’d read it. But I wasn’t even fully aware of how different it was from YM or Seventeen until a few weeks ago, when someone sent thoroughly amazing mini-blogger Tavi Gevinson a bushel of back issues.

Tavi, who as far as I can tell is the only 14-year-old whose future self is not going to wish she could go back in time and give herself a good shaking, posted some scans and they are tremendous. The fashion is described as “anti-priss” and incorporates multiple non-mainstream forms of expression. The poses are self-consciously dopey. (In college, Laura and I would take pictures of our friend Lynne posing like that and say she was being a Delia’s model — little did we know Sassy had beaten us to the ironic-modeling punch by like six years!) The phrase “misogynist propaganda” is used. There is offhanded, no-big-deal feminist cultural critique and acknowledgment of white privilege. Daniel Clowes cartoon! Shitty poetry! DIY! And tell me you didn’t need to read this article when you were 14, and I will call you a damn liar.

I genuinely have no idea how I grew up to be the person I am without having read this magazine. I read YM, for chrissakes! I was desperately trying to figure out how to fit in, like all of us at that age, and I picked a magazine at random, and as it happened it was the “how my period leaked through my white skirt in front of a total hottie at the mall” one and not the “I performed an awesome poetry slam piece about my period at the coffee shop ” one. (Here’s Sassy mercilessly taking the piss out of YM. I cheered.)

And then six months later I didn’t read YM either, because I had decided that attempting to fit in was too bruising to my fragile self-regard, and instead I was going to feel very superior to anyone who even tried and especially anyone who succeeded. Imagine if I’d slipped off my high horse and fallen on a Sassy! Its driving principles — that there are important issues in the world that you should know about but clothes are fun too, that the need to impress boys is culturally constructed and not divinely mandated, that biting humor can be wielded more like a pen than a sword, that you can define yourself without accepting or rejecting everything the people around you value — were things I had to piece together clumsily over the next decade or so. I’m not saying I would have been like Tavi by the age of 14 or anything, but might I have gotten a head start? Missed out on some really epic missteps? Believed in myself more? At the very least, discovered feminism earlier?

I just realized that this is my second post for this blog where I wonder how my life would have differed if I’d had the right light to guide me. I guess I’m 30 and maudlin and wishing I could have my youth back to do it right this time. (I really thought this bit wasn’t supposed to kick in until menopause.) The truth is, though, that the self-centered version of the question — how could Sassy have changed my life? — is beside the point. The point is more about how the agents of change and the engines of oppression can look very much alike. The brilliance of Sassy wasn’t just that it was a delivery mechanism for stealth social justice ideals, but that it was also packaged as a teen magazine. In the confused kid’s identity production toolbox, magazines are the hammer — they literally tell you how to dress, what to value, who to woo and how. Sassy actually told you how to deconstruct the teen magazine, but did so while presenting itself in a familiar guise as a teen magazine — it was the anti-YM in YM clothing. This is actually, now that I think of it, a lot like what I was saying about the Beyonce video! I guess I am very impressed when feminism is a Master of Disguise.

So I guess the real question is, what’s doing that for girls now? (Come to think of it, it might be Tavi.) And how do we make sure it hits its mark?

Smile, you have always been on Candid Camera

12 May

by Laura

Even bananas are in on it

Thank god Amanda reads Christopher Hitchens so I don’t have to. Jess and I found out a while back that Hitchens is friends with Martin Amis and Ian McEwan, and we fervently hope that all their nights out at the pub end with Amis and McEwan gutpunching Hitchens. Normally I don’t advocate violence, like, at all, but since Hitchens volunteered for waterboarding I think he can take a friendly British dude punch.

Anyway, Christopher Hitchens apparently thinks he has a right to see your pretty face without a veil, cupcake, because there lies the way of freedom. This reminds of Amanda of the Smile, Baby Guy (familiar to all women who have ever scowled, or just looked neutral, in public), who is possibly my least favorite version of John Q Public apart from actual assaulters.

I got “Smile, baby”ed a couple weeks ago; not surprising, as I am a lady and I walk a lot. But on this particular walk I was thinking a lot about my mom and how much I miss her, when this guy who was sitting on a bench at least 20 feet away from me hollered, “Smile, lady! It’s not the end of the world!” I was ready to yell “Fuck you” back at him, but there was no one else within, say, half a block, and I was worried he might come after me if I yelled. (Or, I suppose, just shoot me.) So I just looked at him with my eyebrows raised — decidedly not a smile — and he yelled, “That’s it! Not so hard!” I would describe my expression more as a bare-teeth grimace than anything resembling a smile. As always, he was not interested in making the world a happier place, but making a woman obey/pay attention to him.

The amount of self-control it took not to tell him to fuck off almost ruined my night–as of course did the internal monologue of “It’s not the end of the world but my mom just died so fuck you and your fucking fuckhead face, you fuck, fuck yourself sideways and also can you bring my mom back from the dead while you’re at it.”

Moral: Men, ordering a strange woman to smile for you is patronizing and demeaning. We are not your fucking pets. You do not have a right to see or control our faces. And Hitch, that goes double for you. If I saw you, I would put on a veil and then punch you in the gut and then ask Ian McEwan to explain why Atonement wasn’t as good as everyone said.