Archive for February, 2010

UPDATE TO THIS ENTRY: The professor in question responded to my e-mail and did so in a very thoughtful, well-reasoned way. I am quite pleased with his response, and feel the issue has more-or-less been satisfactorily resolved. I am leaving the original text of this blog entry below, though, for posterity.


That was the phrase a professor (not the sociology one I last blogged about) used in his feedback on an assignment I did for his class. (A one-page paper as a followup to a group presentation on a play). The full relevant quote is “I am fascinated by your obsession with ‘offense’. I think it’s a little dangerous”.


Well then. I found this statement of his disconcerting! So, after stewing over it for a few days, I just sent him an e-mail. I think I did a good job of articulating the problems I had with his statement, so I am reproducing the text beneath the jump.


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Lists lists lists! Having been listening to pretty much nothing except for Joanna Newsom’s Have One On Me for the past five days, I’m pretty sure I’ve settled on my five favourite songs. So now, I share them with you!

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Those of you who have me on Twitter or Tumblr have heard me complain about my sociology professor, who is the inspiration behind this post. But for those of you who do not, allow me to bring you up to speed:

SHE IS SO TERRIBLE OH MY GOD. Why do I say this? Allow me to review–in list format! (Here is where I cut, because this entry is going to be long, vertically speaking.)

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Last night I was talking to a friend, someone I love and trust, about the Amanda Palmer d├ębacle. And he said something that, frankly, floored me. He said we (those offended) were oversensitive. He continued, later on, by saying that I myself, specifically, was “very sensitive” and that it was something I should “work on [changing]”. I did not expect to hear that from him, and I found it really jarring.

But I don’t want, right now, to talk about the larger social implications of that comment. Many people have talked about its use as a silencing technique before. [for one example of many, check this excellent post by Melissa on Shakesville. UPDATE: for another example, look at Derailing For Dummies] I’m not saying that discussion is not a HUGELY IMPORTANT one to have–it is. But it’s not one I feel I can meaningfully contribute to at the moment.

So instead, let’s take it to a more personal level. (Ha. All of my posts end up on a personal level, I know, I know). There are two things I see rolled up into that little statement he made. These two things are (a) that I tend to assume the worst when faced with something ambiguous, and (b) that I take offense easily.

And you know what? Both of these are true. Let’s take a look at the reasons for that, shall we? (We shall).

The first. The idea that when confronted with something ambiguous, my mind jumps to the worst-case scenario. This does happen. I wish it didn’t, but it does, and the reason is in two parts. The first part is that I–find a lot of things ambiguous that other people don’t necessarily. Sometimes I can’t read tone well, which leads to me not knowing whether someone meant something in an innocuous way or as an attack. Like, I literally can’t tell. That wouldn’t be an issue–I’d just have to ask for clarification–except that, due to my upbringing, I am rather quick to assume that people are mad at me.

My mom spent so much of my childhood engaging in guilt tactics with me. I have recovered a lot since I stopped living with her, and even more since I stopped talking to her. But that legacy remains, and, now, whenever I’m in an altercation or something that seems like it might become one, my first instinct, my first fear, is that I’ve done something wrong. That I’ve crossed a line. That I need to apologize, because people are mad at me. I’m a timid person. And in that respect, yes, I am indeed very sensitive. Here I agree, it’s something I’d like to change.

But what of the other part? The idea that I’m easily offended?

Well, you know what? That’s kind of true as well. There is a lot I see in this world that offends me. But here’s where he and I part ways, because I don’t see that as a bad thing. A difficult thing? Yes, sure. But a bad one? No. On the contrary, it took a long time to get to the point where I can pretty consistently spot problematic stuff [note that I don’t say always. I probably miss a lot, actually, because I’m human and still learning, as is everyone]. It took me even longer to get to the point where, upon spotting problematic stuff, I talk about it. To get to the point where I’m willing to make a fuss when I feel something isn’t right.

It was hard work. It, in fact, continues to be hard work, precisely because of the reactions I get. Because people tell me, yes, that I’m oversensitive. That caring about these things, enough to–sometimes–actually be hurt by them, is a bad thing.

But I wouldn’t give it up for the world. I think it’s important, the things that we ‘sensitive’ people do. I think it’s important to talk about problematic things, even if no-one else seems to see the issue. I think it’s valuable to feel strongly enough about something to have an emotional reaction, even if that reaction hurts, even if the something is a thing you could safely ignore at little personal cost.

I think it’s valuable to care.

So, yes. I’m sensitive. I’m even very sensitive, as he said. But oversensitive? Not that. Never that.

If anything, I’m not sensitive enough. There’s always farther to go, more to learn. And I plan to continue making that journey, regardless of what gets thrown my way.

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Dear Amanda Palmer,

Hi. I’m someone who was only very recently exposed to your music (in the form of “Who Killed Amanda Palmer”, on the recommendation of several friends). I liked the album a lot, and it was actually kind of taking over my listening rotation for a while there.

Unfortunately, then came this Evelyn Evelyn thing. And now I am, quite frankly, a little uncomfortable about supporting you. (I was leery about the Katy Perry thing a while back, but I–foolishly, perhaps–thought it may have been a one-off miscalculation on your part).

First thing’s first. Evelyn Evelyn is definitely an ableist project. I know you’ve heard that from a million people already and seem to have been able to dismiss it, but on the off chance I might get through, I’ll reiterate: Evelyn Evelyn is you and Jason Webley appropriating the lived experience of people with disabilities. It is you exploiting tropes of PWD as childlike or alien. It is you making light of childhood sexual assault, by including it as incidental detail in a backstory, without (it appears to me) any effort to actually engage with the larger issues surrounding it. All of this is problematic.

But you know? Maybe I could have still liked your music. The death knell for me wasn’t the ableism (although that was a huge blow). It was how you responded to criticism of the same. Look, we all make mistakes–I’ve fucked up in some pretty ableist ways, and I’m pretty sure everyone else on the planet has too, including people with disabilities. We’re only human.

But you know what you do when you make a mistake? You own up to it. You say “something I did hurt people, and I need to set that right”, and you actually make an effort to do so.

You do not ignore your critics. You do not make light of their lived experience. You especially do not do these things and then turn around and say you “love thoughtful criticism“, because that is exactly what a great number of people have been offering, and what you have refused to respect.

Yes, some of those people have been angry. But you know what? They have a right to be. You have made a big mistake, and you have refused to own up to that fact. Their anger does not dismiss the validity of their arguments, which is significant. Perhaps some people are “screaming ‘FUCK YOU’ on repeat“, as you accuse us all of doing. But that’s not what I’ve seen. I’ve seen justifiably angry people objecting to something they feel is wrong, clearly and articulately. Many of these people are or were fans of yours, and you’ve let them down. Not by the Evelyn Evelyn project itself–it is your right to create the art you wish to create, regardless of what other people say–but by your refusal to engage with legitimate criticisms of it. These criticisms are offered by people who respect(ed) you. And they don’t deserve to be shoved aside.

Yours Sincerely,

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It’s Reading Week at my school. For those who don’t know, RW is essentially spring break, but in February. A lot of people really look forward to it–this tends to be the time of year when people are feeling the homework crunch, and they’re excited for a chance to take a break and go home to their families or whatever (or even if they’re staying here, the lack of classes excites them).

I’m a bit different. To put it bluntly (because why not, really?), Reading Week freaks me right the fuck out. I am immensely uncomfortable and, frankly, a little scared at the thought of all the empty time that is stretching out before me.

I am a person who needs structure. I need things to do at specific times. I need classes to go to, errands to run–things to fill my day, essentially. They have to be imposed from outside–I’m no good at enforcing schedules on myself. Reading Week? Takes that away from me. It removes my safety net and leaves me plummeting, basically.

The thought of today in particular terrifies me. Every time I try and think about what I’ll be able to do today, my mind kind of locks up. There’s all this blank space and nothing to fill it with. Even though I love the computer, it can only go so far, and staying online all day is a little much for me. Today is also a statutory holiday in Canada, which means a number of the things I could do on another day can’t be done, because stores are closed. Food places are closed. Everything is closed, pretty much.

I’m alone. And unguided. And scared. And that’s why I hate Reading Week.

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Because I am still suffering from a woefully intense case of writer’s block, have Joanna Newsom singing “Inflammatory Writ”, a song about writing.

Lyrics are here.

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