Life as an Extreme Sport

Vigilante Justice and Gender

This is via the LATimes:

Like a character from a graphic novel, he dresses in black, has unusually blond hair ”” and kills bus drivers who sexually assault women.

In a place like Ciudad Juarez, known for its years of brutal killings of women, the story has inexorable appeal. But how much of it is true?

Authorities are taking the reports seriously enough to investigate and have posted undercover cops on buses. Women’s advocates say they wouldn’t be surprised if someone finally had taken long-denied justice into his own hands.

Two bus drivers were slain in the last week, and over the weekend an electronic message claiming responsibility was sent to several news outlets.

“You think because they are women they are weak, and maybe they are,” the message says. “But only to a certain point…. We can no longer remain quiet over these acts that fill us with rage.

“And so, I am an instrument who will take vengeance.”

Signed: David, Hunter of Bus Drivers.

The message says women who work the night shifts in Juarez’s enormous maquiladora industry repeatedly fall prey to the bus drivers on whom they must rely to get home in the dark.

For now, at least, there is no way to verify the veracity of the message, whether it was written by the actual killer or killers of the bus drivers, whether David the Hunter really exists, or even whether he is a he.

Of course, that’s not the actual copy – I’ve gone through and changed gender names and pronouns, to make clear the point that Kate Clancy made to David Dobbs on Twitter:

I find it interesting they question the gender of the killer here. Were it a man, no question.

And she’s right. Take another look at the actual paragraph versus the paragraph I modified:

For now, at least, there is no way to verify the veracity of the message, whether it was written by the actual killer or killers of the bus drivers, whether Diana the Huntress really exists, or even whether she is a she.


For now, at least, there is no way to verify the veracity of the message, whether it was written by the actual killer or killers of the bus drivers, whether David the Hunter really exists, or even whether he is a he.

“Or even whether he is a he” sounds strange to our ears, because we default to a gendered notion of vigilante justice, one rooted in Batman and strong men taking action, rather than the idea of a woman being capable of the violence inherent within the action.

This is the kind of insidious sexism that creeps into even the most progressive or liberal of newsrooms, and is the sort of thing that should be highlighted and pointed out. Those responsible—in this case, Tracy Wilkinson, Cecilia Sanchez, and their editors—should be held accountable for their gendered bias and gendered reporting, in order to move towards the elimination of both.

In Shocking News, People Can Care About More Than One Thing at a Time!

So, I was scolded this afternoon for daring to tweet about Rehtaeh Parsons’ father’s response to her suicide shortly after news broke about the Boston marathon bombing. Apparently the Internet can only care about one thing at a time, and the most important thing was the bombing and all other news, national as well as international, should stop.

Of course, tomorrow there will be another bombing somewhere else – probably not America, but does that matter? There will be another murder spree, somewhere; after all, doesn’t the FBI believe there are something like 30-odd serial killers working in America at any given time? There will be another massive traffic accident, there will be another mass casualty event, another epidemic, another something new and breaking, because in the era of 24 hour news, something is always new, something is always breaking.

So at what point, then, is it okay to make noise about the lack of investigation into a publicized, bragged about, distributed images of, rape of a teenage girl? A rape that was dismissed as a community concern, that wouldn’t be investigated or prosecuted, that led to a young woman’s death? When is it the day we get to talk about that? At what point is this violence against a woman, and the dismal response to it, allowed it’s time in the media sun?

A continued and on-going problem with violence against women is that it is de-prioritized for other news. Women, after all, are always being raped. Always being murdered. Always victims of domestic violence. The bleeding that happens simply isn’t newsworthy enough to lead; it’s too common.

And the only way that changes is to acknowledge that it is, indeed, possible to care about and advocate for and discuss multiple things at once. That a story doesn’t need to be dropped just because a new and shiny one comes along, that it is indeed possible to follow multiple ideas and have many concerns, and that in particular, news of violence and rape and suicide isn’t so low a priority that it cannot even be tweeted until a “more urgent” situation has passed. In fact, I can, as a matter of course, be incredibly worried about friends who were at the race today and yet still care deeply about the mistreatment of Rehtaeh Parsons. I have this ability, and I believe that you do, too.

First the Fake Geek Girl, Now the Philly LadyNerd

Apparently not content to let the fake geek girl meme go unchallenged, Technically Philly lowers the bar today and offers us an infographic on what a Philly LadyNerd looks like. This is apparently in response to “what your average Philly geek dude might look like.” Pay attention to the language: Technically Philly wants to show you what the average Philly geek looks like.

What do we have?

We have a thin white man and woman, each wearing skinny jeans and other fashion accessories that are currently tied to a Brooklyn hipster aesthetic: Etsy, plaid shirts on guys, bright colour-blocks for gals. Hair makes the presumption of normative straight white hair; “soft” bangs for the gal, “no style” mess for the guy. The various accessories are all high end, have particular cultural markers that indicate a specific class and association – the white iphone, the hip places to eat, the music.

As has been quickly pointed out on Twitter, this barely scratches the surface of the nerd/geek culture in Philadelphia, and while it does cross the line into defining what a “real X” is via physical description and assumption of interest (a la the fake geek girl meme), it is, most problematically, painfully and exclusionarily white.

I commented to Polianarchy that I was disappointed to see Technically Philly join in on the defining what a geek/nerd girl looks like and does, even in jest, because there has simply been so much of it lately. One of the co-founders of Technically Philly, Christopher Wink replied: it’s really sexism to playfully share common set of identities? Community happens by shared experiences.

And right there, right there, is the problem. The graphics of the Philly geek dude and LadyNerd are attempting to “playfully share a common set of identities” and “shared experiences” to create community – and in doing that, set up a broad exclusionary criteria. Are you fat? Gutterpunk? A minority? Hate soy lattes? Can’t stand the music being stereotypically associated with nerd-types? Sorry, this community isn’t for you because you don’t share the experience.

Oh sure, people – and I suspect especially Technically Philly – are going to say that I’m overreacting, that the people on Twitter who looked at these graphics and said “uh no, I’m a Philly geek/nerd/techie and I don’t identify with that” are just being sensitive and should have some fun.

You know. The same thing geek girls are told when they object to the fake geek girl meme, or resent being told that they can’t really be a geek for X exclusionary criteria. As Dr. Andrea Letamendi notes, this can be categorized as microaggression.

The theory of microaggressions was developed back in the 70”²s to denote racial stereotyping, but was expanded by psychologist Derald Wing Sue, Ph.D. in 2007 to encompass a wide variety and classifications of these subtle and seemingly harmless expressions that communicate “hostile, derogatory, or negative slights and insults” toward people who aren’t members of the ingroup. These outgroup members might include women, racial/ethnic minorities, LBGT members, and others historically marginalized in our community.

Why are microaggressions harmful? They seem silly, right? But these comments actually communicate messages that exclude, negate, or nullify the psychological thoughts, feelings, or experiential reality of a person. Sure, these incidents typically appear minute, banal and trivial. Sometimes they produce a good laugh. But repeated experiences of receiving them can have a long-term psychological impact. For instance, here are the implied messages about women in the comics community:

  • “You do not belong.”
  • “You are abnormal.”
  • “You are intellectually inferior.”
  • “You cannot be trusted.”
  • “You are all the same.”

These messages can therefore be pervasive and potentially damaging to a large group of people. And the reason they are micro-aggressions, Dr. Sue explains, is that the person delivering them may be well-intentioned and non-threatening in nature, maybe not even aware of their own biases. They, too, are have their own experiences that have shaped their perspectives. In most cases, when confronted, the person will deny that they meant any harm, explain that they were joking, and tell the recipient that she is being too sensitive.

I was over the moon thrilled with how inclusive the Philadelphia Geek Awards were last year; race, gender, sexual identity—everyone seemed included, and it was really wonderful and something that I could be legitimately proud of being a part of.

Unfortunately, Technically Philly’s geek guy/LadyNerd stereotypes today are about the exact opposite of that. We need to do better, as a community, to make sure that the message we send out is one of inclusion. These posts, and the response, fail to be inclusive on multiple fronts, and that’s something we, as Philadelphia techies, geeks, and nerds, should be ashamed of and refuse to embrace.

Novel Therapies Should Be Tortoises, Not Hares

I knew there were going to be a lot of hard things about losing Mom to cancer: holidays and birthdays and events like my sister graduating from medical school. This was almost a given, in those panicked moments after hearing the diagnosis and knowing what it meant, that it was a matter of when and not if. I didn’t realize quite how pervasive it was going to be, though, or that it would create such a strange position to be in every time I read about a new treatment for lung cancer, or I read through for work and see something being tested, or hear about new drug approvals. Each time, I have that brief flash: this existed five years ago. This may have saved Mom.

Early on in treatment, a couple of colleagues pulled me aside and I got one of those lectures. The one that offered whatever help was possible, but – because they were bioethicists – the one that said we should go with established treatment protocols and avoid the clinical trials, especially if it would mean moving Mom out of her home and to somewhere strange. Comfort and palliation were a huge focus, and it’s something I still appreciate, because it did give me a bit of an external rock to lean on when we started getting the “helpful” suggestions. You know, the ones that ranged from legit clinical trials in another state to peach pit essence therapy in Mexico.

And when your mother is dying, you want hope. You will claw desperately for hope, even if it’s in a coffee bean or weed.

So I understand. I understand better than a lot of people when there are complaints about how slowly regulatory agencies move, and that requirements of animal testing slows things down. And I have the education to know that just because a drug works in one animal model doesn’t mean it will be successful in humans. But those regulations are also put in place to protect people, and hearing that researchers in Canada are complaining about stem cell trial regulations does not generate a patient response. In fact, I think my exact words were “you would assume someone who had made it through medical school and become a trial PI would have more patience than a toddler.”

But what really stood out to me was this:

It probably would have delayed the field by another 10 years,said the neurosurgeon. When you think about a condition as serious and life-threatening and damaging as spinal cord injury, is that a reasonable bar, or is that setting the bar at a level that is not appropriate?

Well, personally? I want that bar set high. I want to know that every possible precaution has been taken to make sure that what is being given to the public is safe. Yes, my mother died in part because the bar is set so high on testing novel drug therapies, and she didn’t have access to drugs that are certainly out there and potentially could have saved her life. But I also know that she died from cancer, and not from greed.

And I think that appeal to emotion made by that neurosurgeon is really what irritates me.1 Because that’s getting dangerously close to what the fraud-y stem cell clinics do, and the alternatural therapies – they offer hope and appeal to that emotional “let us skip all the things necessary to prove this is both safe and effective, and instead just jump right to miracles!” When someone advocates stepping outside an established scientific process, it needs to be for a reason that is stronger than “I don’t want to wait.”

Is Apple/Siri anti-choice, or are we seeing behind the curtain of politics & search engines?

There’s been a big fuss this last week over whether or not Apple is showing anti-choice sentiments via Siri’s answers for abortion providers, crisis pregnancy centers, and so forth. Chances are, if you’re reading this, you already are familiar with the debate.

Apple has released a statement saying that no, not so much, not anti-choice, just limited programming.

Do I buy this?



Well, a few reasons. First, and probably foremost, the fun and funny answers that Siri gives are things that are largely connected to geek culture, or flippant responses to basic questions. And as the push to celebrate female geeks in the last year should already tell you, women are still making inroads in being a visible part of geek culture, which is still very male-oriented. Plus, if Siri had a tongue-in-cheek response to an abortion question, well, can you imagine? (Say, offering a coat hanger signed by RK Milholland?)

Okay, well, then why is Siri bringing up crisis pregnancy centers in response to searches for places for abortion? Chances are, it has to do with Siri’s search algorithms, which haven’t been revealed to us. As some bright blogger (who I found via Twitter following the other day, and thus have completely forgotten the name of) pointed out, many Planned Parenthood’s don’t list themselves as abortion providers, but as women’s health services or clinics. CPCs, on the other hand, tend to try to position themselves to come up as high as possible on searches for abortion services (and many do the same for birth control). Siri relies on third-party search services when not defaulting to smartass responses, and in this case I think we’re seeing a glitch, or at least a reveal of the curtain, of what happens when politics meets the world of search engines that aren’t Google.

Apple’s become a bit of a popular target lately, probably because there’s only so much a success story people want to hear before they can get a bit vindictive. A lot of people also want to see the company falter without Jobs, and are looking for signs of it.

But this issue with Siri doesn’t suggest a problem with Apple – or even with the third-party company, SRI, that developed Siri before Apple bought the technology last year. Instead, it suggests to me that we need to take a closer look at how legitimate and valued pro-choice, pro-women companies like Planned Parenthood have been forced to position themselves on the internet and in advertising, and how CPCs take advantage of that to promote their anti-choice agenda.