Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Who's to blame?

So you know how when you go to college and they do the safety/sexual assault talk, they're always basically talking to the girls? There are all of these tips that they give women to reduce the likelihood that they'll be assaulted or raped. They run the gamut from common sense to rather insulting, and some ideas are the kind that seem like innocuous safety givens but actually do set up the victims to be blamed for their assaults.

We're told not to walk alone at night, not to ever put our drinks down, not to drink too much in general, not to wear clothes that are too revealing, not to have a lot of [consensual] sex (because then people will think you're a slut who secretly wanted it), the list goes on and on. We hear some of these things so much that as advice it becomes second nature, and we never really stop to ask ourselves why we are responsible for preventing rape or assault against ourselves, when the whole point of something like rape or assault is that it is non-consensual -- if there was some kind of fail-safe method of blocking a victim from an attacker, EVERYONE would employ it. But there isn't.

So imagine my joy when I found this great list of "Sexual Assault Prevention Tips Guaranteed to Work!" (reprinted from No Not You blog):

1. Don’t put drugs in people’s drinks in order to control their behavior.
2. When you see someone walking by themselves, leave them alone!
3. If you pull over to help someone with car problems, remember not to assault them!
4. NEVER open an unlocked door or window uninvited.
5. If you are in an elevator and someone else gets in, DON’T ASSAULT THEM!
6. Remember, people go to laundry to do their laundry, do not attempt to molest someone who is alone in a laundry room.
7. USE THE BUDDY SYSTEM! If you are not able to stop yourself from assaulting people, ask a friend to stay with you while you are in public.
8. Always be honest with people! Don’t pretend to be a caring friend in order to gain the trust of someone you want to assault. Consider telling them you plan to assault them. If you don’t communicate your intentions, the other person may take that as a sign that you do not plan to rape them.
9. Don’t forget: you can’t have sex with someone unless they are awake!
10. Carry a whistle! If you are worried you might assault someone “on accident” you can hand it to the person you are with, so they can blow it if you do.

And, ALWAYS REMEMBER: if you didn’t ask permission and then respect the answer the first time, you are committing a crime- no matter how “into it” others appear to be.

Good stuff, right? If you made it this far, let me make it perfectly clear that I understand that in this day and age there isn't the right kind of attention focused on the actions of the actual attacker (rather than the extensive list of things the victim supposedly "did wrong" that left her vulnerable to attack) so I would never advise AGAINST basic safety tips. In my mind, I think everyone - men and women - could benefit from the buddy system at night, and I always guard my drinks carefully so that I don't run the risk of getting drugged. But I'll be damned before I re-evaluate an outfit or my alcohol intake specifically because of the concern that it will be my fault that some poor boy just won't be able to handle himself and he'll feel compelled to take advantage of me. That's bullshit.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Going backward in time

My favorite movies include a weird mix of extremely violent fare, a broad spectrum of comedy, and some kids' movies.

Whether it's because of nostalgia over movies I enjoyed as an actual kid, or the catharsis of feeling innocent and/or youthful for a few hours and laughing at very silly moments, I really appreciate well-done kids' movies. And I think that some of the most poignant stories told in recent years have been done in the animated medium and at a G or PG rating.

In this category of awesome falls nearly everything Pixar has ever done, my particular favorites being Wall-E(96% on the tomatometer) and UP (97%). It's kind of cliche at this point to drool over Pixar, but I truly do think it's a wonderful thing to accomplish what they do - create films that nearly anyone from any background or age could enjoy.

When I was a legit kid, I was pretty well-satisfied with most of the Disney Princesses collection of movies, but there are a couple of animated movies that I still get a kick out of watching for one reason or another. The entries in the "pure and simple nostalgia" category include Mulan (87%), The Little Mermaid (90%), and Sleeping Beauty (90%). When I've watched those recently I've kind of relaxed back into a heightened stage of appreciation for 2D hand-drawn style animation with a goofy "Awww" expression on my face most likely for the duration of the movie. Another movie that I loved so much I actually wrote a paper on it in high school (and still adore) is Chicken Run (98%). I actually argued that this movie was a model for Joesph Campbell's "Hero's Journey" and that each of the twelve stages was apparently visible in the movie. Not to mention the fact that it's got some great lines that I still quote in my head, if not out loud, mostly because I feel that most people wouldn't remember the reference.

Over the weekend I saw Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (85%). First of all - best animated 3D movie ever. Second, I thought there were a lot of really cool messages in the movie for kids and adults alike, but they weren't played in an overly schmaltzy way that would make me want to vomit my popcorn and Icee on the family in front of me. Not to mention it was actually really funny! There were some obvious laughs, but a lot of random subtle things that you had to pay attention to see that were also very funny. I'd really recommend it to anyone looking for a bit of weekend escapism and reclamation of childlike glee.

And as if that weren't enough looking back fondly for the weekend, I went back to the Gamma Phi house for the last day of rush (admittedly rush not always such a fond memory) to see my sister at Preference morning. She'd been rushing all week and giving me updates every night about how things were going, and it was like vicariously being back in college for a week and experiencing the madness. (In case you haven't noticed, even though I'm still a student I'm really yearning for undergrad back big time.) It was really precious to see my little sis Hyter preffing my actual younger sister Shannon/Punk, and it made me really appreciate how far Gamma Phi came in the years that I was there.

And afterward, Punk took me on a date to Covel for dorm brunch omelets. Sweet.


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Septemberfest and other indiscretions

On Saturday I attended the madness that was Septemberfest, a little beer fiesta on the Paramount lot in Hollywood. It was an interesting sight to see, beer-bellied folk sipping tasty brews pinkys-up out of tiny beer mugs. When we first roll up to the entrance, a tiny unassuming door guarded by just one security person, we're kind of wondering if we're at the right place. [Roxy's] Christopher, from the passenger's seat, rolls down the window as we're doing our snail's-pace driveby, and inquires: "Beerfest?"

A simple nod from the security guard, with arms still crossed, and the affirmative "Beerfest." We were in the right place.

The inside was a bit overwhelming. Not as crowded as I expected with people, but I just didn't know where to begin with all of the breweries, not to mention that most breweries were offering more than one selection of beer. I haven't been through enough beer-sampling training to know how to actually pack away large volumes of it (or any other liquid for that matter, my stomach gets cranky and my bladder full rather easily) so I was frequently taking breaks from pounding - both to rest my stomach and, well, the toilet. The bathroom situation at Septemberfest was woefully inadequate: 2 bathrooms, but only one inside the actual perimeter, and the one inside the perimeter had TWO STALLS. Are you people kidding me? Supplying drunkards with copious amounts of beer and only two stalls per gendered bathroom to deal with the aftermath.

And then, the amazing happened.

That, my friends, is Monty Python's Holy Grail Ale. All I can say is, WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN ALL OF MY LIFE YOU SCRUMPTIOUS AND ALSO HUMOROUS BEER. I am still overjoyed. And probably will be as long as I keep up hope that I'll be able to find it in stores. Ok, so it really wasn't the *Best* beer there, but I found it to be quite delightful, and with a name like that I just can't resist. Also, it's brewed by the Black Sheep Brewery in the UK, which those of you in GPhi will understand also has special significance to me.


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

What is "authentic?"

Punk Says the Darndest Things:
"You know what's weird about computers? They're just bits of metal and plastic, and how can you program metal and plastic to not do something? Sometimes I think computers only work because I think they do in my mind."

So I was browsing Yelp and I keep noticing that such a common point to be made (and a concept I have indeed discussed myself in my reviews) when discussing some variety of "ethnic" food is how "authentic" it is. People get all up in arms about authenticity of the food served at X restaurant and don't leave much room to critique the taste and quality of the food itself, or the service of the restaurant, or any number of other things that could be discussed in a review.

Now, don't get me wrong right off the bat, I think it is important to acknowledge that certain cultures have long standing food traditions that are important to continue. I absolutely think that "authentic" cuisine from these cultures should be available. But I'm just starting to wonder what "authentic" is, who is the best judge of what it is, and why it is so important that every single "ethnic" restaurant subscribes to the highest level of authenticity?

In LA, I see this kind of scrutiny particularly over sushi restaurants and Mexican restaurants. One star - "This is not authentic Japanese food! Try XX restaurant instead!" The thing is... that doesn't actually tell me anything. Is it good? Are the servers nice? Is it clean? Two stars - "The burrito was tasty but REAL Mexicans laugh at this place. This isn't real Mexican food." At least I know the burrito is good. But I mean, I get that you're Mexican and have the right to be picky, but the owner and head chef of the restaurant is also Mexican. And he's serving family recipes. They're sure authentic to him - maybe your parents just served different styles and kinds of Mexican food?

It gets especially confusing when you have some people complaining about the authenticity and others boasting about how all of the hole-in-the-wall Mexican joints or sushi cafes in LA that they've tried, this is by far one of the most authentic experiences around. Then inevitably someone comes in and makes the "The people saying this place is authentic are obviously white people who have never been to Japan and therefore have no idea what real sushi is like" comment.

Which brings me to my next point. Isn't it kind of maybe ok that when your [insert culture here] family brings your culture's food to America and opens a restaurant, that it adapts? Isn't that kind of the point of a country filled with so many ethnicities? I understand that people don't like seeing their food being bastardized, and maybe I just don't understand because the food of my heritage isn't ubiquitous enough to have been bastardized -- deep fried pierogi? bacon-wrapped kielbasa? (Actually sounds pretty good, but whatever.) But I do kind of feel like it's ok for these places to cater to their customers, which in this case are multi-cultural Americans. And if I want REAL Mexican food, I can go eat at my Mexican friend's parents' house; if I want REAL sushi, I can go to Japan someday and try it out.

Which even then, I need to acknowledge that there is no universal "Mexican" standard, and my friend's parents being from a certain part of Mexico won't cook the same food as someone's parents from another part of Mexico. The same goes for Japan, I'm sure. I mean, just look at the difference between Southern cooking and "California" cuisine. Which of these styles is more "authentic" American when you're eating it in another country? I couldn't tell you.


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Boys Gone Wild

...doesn't exist.

Unless, of course, it's boys not being able to handle rejection.

I already wrote briefly on my feelings about George Sodini, the murderer who opened fire on women in a gym. Here's another story about a young man who didn't like being told "no":

Daniel Floyd Williams, 18, has been charged with second-degree murder. After Bayshore [High School]'s football game Friday, Thompson and three other girls were in a car when Williams approached them, asked for sex, walked away, waved a gun and fired, hitting Thompson, deputies said.

It really upsets me that this is the world we live in, where women are killed because men think they're entitled to sex. Re-reading that, it seems too fantastical, like I just made that up. Women are killed because they reject men's sexual advances. And this is in the United States, a country that is supposedly eons ahead of -- for instance -- countries governed by fundamentalist Arabic ideals in women's rights.

I used to have the same neutral-at-best mentality that most women in the US seem to have toward feminism, the f-word. In an effort to not be lumped into a category of shrill, hairy, man-hating harpies, a lot of us remain willfully ignorant of the ways that we still truly are treated as the inferior gender, nearly a century after gaining the right to vote and decades after the second wave of feminists tried to fight the obvious oppression women experienced (see Mad Men for a pretty realistic portrayal.) In the past few years I've opened my eyes and realized that a lot of the discomfort, unfairness, and anger I felt in certain situations wasn't always just the result of general awkwardness or random hindrances -- a lot of my feelings were rooted in straight up, good old-fashioned sexism.

No one really claims that they are sexist, just like no one really claims that they are racist. But a lot of people fail to recognize sexism -- even really obvious examples -- and even worse, many people get defensive when sexism is pointed out to them. That's what's tricky about feminism. It's really easy for everyone to say, "Yes, absolutely I agree that men and women should be treated as equals in all aspects of life." It's not so easy for people to hear that something they say, do, or are involved in, is a little bit sexist. I think that's a big part of why people don't like feminists: they don't like being criticized. So feminists have to endure the criticism that they are too easily offended, humorless, and sexist against men.

If any part of this post confused or angered you, but you're still curious about what I'm trying to say, I highly encourage reading this post. It's a bit long, but I think that a lot of women can identify with something written in that article, even if they haven't previously identified as feminist.

There is ... the obdurate refusal to believe, to internalize, that my outrage is not manufactured and my injure not make-believe—an inflexible rejection of the possibility that my pain is authentic, in favor of the consolatory belief that I am angry because I'm a feminist (rather than the truth: that I'm a feminist because I'm angry).

Women -- when those guys in the bar won't leave you alone, even after you've said no? That's objectification, power play... that's sexism. When certain activities (shopping, spa treatments, et) are relegated almost exclusively to women and thereafter considered to be frivolous and generally stupid, while other things (barbecuing, interest in sports, outdoor activities) that are generally considered masculine are usually painted as "better"? That's sexism. It doesn't matter that tons of women may love doing those "manly" things - it doesn't change those activities' profiles to be non-preferentially considered by both genders; it just makes the (vast number of) women participants less of "girly girls." (And that one's a two-fer because it demeans men that are interested in traditionally "feminine" activities and robs them of their "manliness.") When representations of your gender in the movies are usually one-dimensional, and generally never truly happy until they have a handsome man in their lives? That's sexism too. When your merit as a mother is called into question because you spend a lot of time working, but the father never receives the same kind of scrutiny? I think you know what I'm going to say.


Sunday, September 6, 2009

Musings over beef and Blackboard

So I should stop being intimidated of the professors in grad school. In our program meeting on Friday, the director asked who among us had started contacting their professors and informing them we were interested in working in their labs. Slightly more than half of the students raised their hands.

The rest of us glanced sheepishly around at each other, feeling pound-for-pound like the goobers that we are.

Once I get in a lab working on a project, I'm motivated. I like it a lot. I'm interested in the work. It's the reason I went to grad school. But as of right now, I'm feeling years behind everyone else because it only halfway occurred to me that I should talk to profs before getting sorted into lab rotations, and then once it did occur to me I halfway dismissed the thought out of intimidation. Then, goldfish memory that I have, I promptly forgot all about that notion until Friday.

So now I'm scrambling to contact professors, hoping that they won't have already spoken with other students and verbally committed to them. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

So few things are better than a delicious steak:

Casper and I tried out Jar Restaurant, owned by Suzanne Tracht of Top Chef Masters. I got the sirloin chop with a fried egg on top (how could I resist??) and Casper got the skirt steak. His was better than mine, but mine was also delicious. And for all of the apprehensiveness about the price, it's still cheaper than Ruth's Chris, which serves a scrumptious steak but most reasonably sized cuts are upwards of $40. At Jar, all but one of the steak selections were under that benchmark, so I'd definitely want to go back and try a different cut. Yum!

Punk Says the Darndest Things
"Last night, I had a dream that baby kittens were attacking my feet. And I was trying to shake them off, but they just kept biting me harder. And it wasn't a cute attack, it was actually really mean!"


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Close my eyes... ignore the smoke?

I feel kind of sick because I see the fire as some kind of interesting spectacle. I like looking at it night by night and seeing how the flame patterns grow and change along the mountain range. I tried to take pictures but my point-and-shoot was kind of too crappy to handle distance shooting in the dark. I genuinely feel for the people that it's affected, but for me it's something mesmerizing to watch. It's fascinating to me that for nearly a week now it's had the strength to cast a smoky, ashy cloud over all of the east SFV. It's got its own Wikipedia page and is apparently the largest California wildfire of the last 100 years. It's a beast. I'm in awe of it.

I wonder sometimes if I'm not as thick-skinned as I may let on. I'm pretty good at separating obvious sarcasm and joking put-downs from actual insults, but there are times when people straddle the line, or I know they mean whatever they're saying, and it really affects me. That's where my weakness comes in. I should be better at accepting criticism, and/or better at deflecting and ignoring mean-spirited comments. My mom gets legitimately mad at me when I make comments about my appearance being kind of manly because according to her she doesn't see how I could possibly have that opinion of myself. The truth is, I'm still thinking about some comments that were written about me on JuicyCampus a year ago (which in and of themselves dredged up some lame memories of being teased in middle school - see how farked up this gets?). I should be able to put those demons to rest by now, but for some reason I have still got issues.

On a lighter note, I've been downloading a lot of awesome new (not all of it actually new, just new to me) music lately and I'm pretty stoked about that. Maybe soon enough it will be making its way into the shuffle playlists :) Speaking of which, anyone who cares to comment: do any of ya'll actually care about the playlists still? I mean, I enjoy putting them together but I don't want to feel all pretentious and assume that anyone gives a fiddler's fart about my songs...