Tag Archives: activism

Genderfail Sucker Punch!

Couple caveats: #1 I don’t know the whole story so I’m sure I left out important bits; and #2 that I don’t blame any individual people for this. It’s societal.

A sucker punch is “an unexpected blow” but to me holds the additional connotation that “you should’ve expected it, sucker!” When I think of a sucker punch, I think of Charlie Brown still trying to kick that football Lucy is holding.

Genderfail is Internet slang for some sort of failure to appropriately address issues of gender. To my mind it’s a sister term to “racefail,” which can be absolutely epic. For an example of racefail: “RaceFail ’09 is one of the names given to a large and tangled snarl of racism, misunderstanding, culture clash, poor behavior, and hurt which consumed several interconnected corners of fandom in early 2009.” (This is from http://fanlore.org/wiki/RaceFail_%2709)

So now I can explain how I’m using these terms in this blog post: a snarl of feminism, misunderstanding, culture clash, poor behavior, and hurt — that came as a surprise blow to me even though I really should have known better.

My suspicion is that any political organization comprising both men and women is going to have a genderfail at some point. I mean, how do you avoid it, really?

So anyway, there was a political organization. I joined it because although it was male-dominated, it had a core of feminists, and I thought that would be enough to bring real change. Then some things happened, and I went inactive. This part wasn’t genderfail, it was just your basic organizational dysfunction. (Note to self: if it takes an organization more than six months to make a new member packet, it’s time to run.) So I was on the listserv but mostly not paying attention.

Another woman went inactive after having a baby.

Meanwhile, the organization kept on doing what it was doing. Let me make a metaphor here. Let’s suppose that you have built a house, and some people have moved in. Then some more people have moved in, and it is determined that the house needs an add-on, which will take about three to six months. People get out of the way to accomodate the add-on. Maybe a couple people take temporary housing (that would be me) whereas others just move out and move on. Suddenly you don’t need the add-on, but you keep going. And it takes a year and a half, by which time other people have left. Meanwhile, next door, there is a high-rise condo going up. It is determined that the community who lives in the house will take part in the building of the high-rise condo, and about half the people go off and do that.

I guess I was waiting for the high-rise condo to be finished so I could move back into the house.

But meanwhile, back at the house, there was some bickering. Which wouldn’t have been so bad, except then the mansplaining set in, and then the resulting concerns were put down to interpersonal conflict, which was true enough, but not nearly as true as that there was a genderfail in the making.

The sucker punch is this: there were four women who could have stepped in to help, but instead, one bore the brunt of it alone.

Here’s the other reason it was a sucker punch: This house was a rebound relationship for me. The last house I was in had more women than men. It still had genderfail, and it still had racefail too.

And here’s why it was a sucker punch for the activist community as a whole: back then, when I related the genderfail to an activist from the 1980s, she nodded her head and said “Of course!”

We’ve come a long way, baby!

(Or not.)

Persuasive Writing for Activists

This was a first attempt to introduce this topic, but I’ve done it better elsewhere. Check out https://kristinking.wordpress.com/2013/04/11/persuasive-writing-for-activists-intro/. I’ll be adding content about once a week. — 4/11/2013.

If you know me, you know that to say I have progressive politics is an understatement. If I see a progressive make an argument I agree with, half of me says, “Right ON!”

And the other half is saying, “Seriously? You expect that to persuade anybody? Preaching to the converted, folks.”

As much as I disagree with the conservative point of view, I have to give conservatives props for effective persuasive writing. And honestly, they get empathy points for at least knowing their audience.

There’s a reason for that. The corporate world teaches persuasive writing. And they teach it well.

How do I know? Back at the beginning of the millenium, I taught business writing at a university. That’s where I learned to do persuasive writing. I keep thinking I should create a document “Persuasive Writing for Activists” or make a Power Point and teach a course. That’s one on my list of several hundred things I wish I had time to do.

But until I get around to it, here’s a teaser: the grading matrix I used for the business writing course. (This was back in 2002, when some people still used memos.)

With an offer of free advice! Progressive activists: if you would like, I will grade your persuasive writing. Post a comment with your writing, or include a link to it. Then tell me who your intended audience is. I’ll tell you where it went wrong and where it went right.

(P.S. I would grade this blog post as follows: Content – 2; Organization – N/A; Tone and style – 2; Layout – 3; Mechanics – ?. We’re not always at our best, are we?)


Stop frothing at the mouth

An open letter to lefties who shout because they don’t think anybody is listening or tell the public to “wake up” because they think it’s asleep.

Dear Lefty,

Please allow me to comment on a major failing of the U.S. Left: its tendency to rant, froth at the mouth, proclaim the end of the world, panic, and generally drown folks in jargon. Activists who talk that way are often seen, and not unreasonably, as deranged.

“But the world’s going to hell in a handbasket!” you might reply. “People have to listen!”

Nope. You have to learn how to communicate.

Until then you are, in effect, building a concrete wall between your issue and the people who might otherwise get involved. You know — those people you call “apolitical.”

Here’s a book to start with. It’s a practical guide for parents: How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. Or you could just read the title and take it to heart. Try not to blow off the second part of that title, the “listening” part.

Here’s a picture of its gorgeous cover, complete with a link to the book on Powell’s. (But if you decide to order it, go to powellsunion instead (type in powellsunion.com or http://www.ilwulocal5.com/support) , because then the union gets cred and a bit of cash.)

Yours truly,


Inanna and Nanshe

I learned about the Greek and Roman gods and goddesses as a child. But the Sumerian ones? Only recently. Here are a few tantalizing details about Inanna (goddess of writing, civilization, war, love, sex changes, and much more) and Nanshe (goddess of social justice).


She’s a major god in the Sumerian pantheon, a direct descendant of Nannu, the primeval mother of heaven and earth. She was worshipped for thousands of years and bears a strong resemblance to other lands’ goddesses, such as Ishtar, Aprhodite, and Venus. Sumerians sang many hymns and told many stories about her.

Enheduanna, the first person ever to sign her name to a work of writing, prayed to Inanna as her personal god.

Inanna is the one who first brought civilization to the people. Sumerians tell of the divine me’s — no translation is possible because they’re laws, events, and qualities; for instance: irrigation, the flood, suffering, joy. Once upon a time, Enki had all the me’s, and Inanna, his daughter, journeyed to visit him. They drank a lot, and then he gave her all the me’s. He later regretted it and sent minions after her to retrieve them, but too late!

In another story, Inanna journeys to the underworld, just because she can. Her sister, who rules the underworld, has her stripped naked and killed, but she gets out again with the help of her faithful assistant. But the underworld demanded somebody in her place, and that somebody turned out to be her faithless husband Dumuzi.

Nanshe is the goddess who looks out for widows, orphans, beggars, the debt-slave — the socially disenfranchised. She’s in charge of making sure that weights and measures are fair and accurate. And boy, does she run her temple like a tight ship. For instance, her temple hymns say:

“If the grain does not suffice for these rites and the vessels are empty and do not pour water, the person in charge of the regular offerings does not receive extra.”

I should think not!

The hymns also specify that priests can be fired or denied rations if they step out of line. People who ate and say they didn’t are also in trouble, as are mothers who deny food to their children.

She’s a powerful goddess, Nanshe, who “cares for all the countries,” who delivers the powerful to the powerless, who “sees into the heart of the Land as if it were a split reed.”

If You Had to Choose
Sumerians worshipped the entire pantheon, but they had one god in particular as their personal god. If you had to choose between these two, which would you serve? This question has special significance to me right now, because with everything going on in Libya, in Wisconsin, etc., it seems like right now is the time for some good social justice action — but what my soul craves is a long bath in the sea of story. I haven’t been writing stories in a year or more, and the lack is painful. Can I do both?

More Goddessy Goodness

For the authentic best-guess translations of Sumerian texts, check out the Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature. That’s where I snagged the quotes about Nanshe (A hymn to Nanshe: translation).

Nanshe, along with Inanna, also appears in Enheduanna’s temple hymns. There’s a lovely PDF of some of the hymns here.

I first met Enheduanna in the book Humming the Blues: Inspired by Nin-Me-Sar-Ra, Enheduanna’s Song to Inanna by Cass Dalglish.

The best place for a retelling of Inanna’s stories is the book Inanna by Kim Echlin and Linda Wofsgruber. It made me want to cry for poor Dumuzi, and for Inanna, who apparently regretted banishing him to the underworld. The somewhat stilted language of the “authentic” translation is made more accessible in this retelling, and the poetic spareness lets the beauty of the story shine through.

Previous Post: Enheduanna and Gilgamesh

Information Overload

Tunisia, Egypt, Wisconsin, Libya.

Governments taking up arms against their citizenry.

We’re in the midst of social change, and the reports are coming instantly.
One Facebook, three blogs, one set of forums, two email accounts, one wiki, one blog reader.

Ten books about Sumer.

Kids off school for the week and myself not writing, to say any of what I am thinking about any of this.
Information overload, and I am not alone in that. It’s hard to write online thoughtfully and especially hard to give the online written word the sustained attention it needs.

On top of this, I have commenced my second weight loss attempt through Weight-Watchers, which I expect to be successful, but which I bitterly resent, especially having recently read somewhere that at any given moment, thirty percent of women are dieting.

For most of human history, though, and in most places in the world, the main struggle for humanity has been to get enough food in our bellies.

Which brings us back to Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. Full circle.

How Gossip Affects Groups

Gossip is usually seen as problematic and wrong, but everyone does it. Why? It’s true it can be very damaging, but does it also serve a productive function? If so, is there a good way for groups to handle it – play with fire, but using tongs?

With no further ado, here are a couple of sociological and anthropological articles to see about the role of gossip as it affects groups.

Gossip and Group Unity

The topic “gossip” in the Encyclopedia of Social and Cultural Anthropology talks about these positive and negative functions of gossip in groups:

  • Helps maintain group unity, morality and history
  • Lets members debate group norms
  • Gives individual members a map of their social environment
  • Enables groups to control cliques
  • Keeps fights within the group to project harmony to the outside world
  • Helps individuals gain power through selective distribution of power

I can see how any of these bullet points could be good or bad, depending on circumstances. But overall, it looks like gossip has an important role in group definition and unity – which is a fundamental need of groups.

Gossip and Power

This article talks about the way gossip, both positive and negative, affects the gossiper’s power over the gossip recipient in a workplace: “Passing the Word”. (Full citation: Passing the word: Toward a model of gossip and power in the workplace by Nancy B Kurlandand Lisa Hope Pelled. Academy of Management. The Academy of Management Review. Apr 2000; 25, 2; ABI/INFORM Global pg. 428)

The main takeaway is that gossip can confer power in an organizational setting.

Positive gossip can make the gossiper seem like an expert, draw others into their social circles, and make the recipient feel like the gossiper might spread positive news about themselves. Negative gossip can also coerce the gossip recipient, by making the recipient think that the gossiper might spread negative news about themselves. And gossip, of course, can backfire and reflect badly on the gossiper.

Gossip and Social Networks

The chapter “Gossip and Network Relationships” talks about how the strength of bonds within a social network can intensify or weaken the power of gossip. (Citation: “Gossip and Network Relationships” by E.K. Foster, R.L. Rosnow in the book Relating Difficulty: The Processes of Constructing and Managing Difficult Interaction.)

Some key concepts:

  • A social network may be dense or sparse in its connections
  • In a dense social network, people have equal access to a map of their social environment
  • The advantage of a dense social network is a) that individuals who are more in line with the group have more influence; and b) people will be more aware of the group’s norms
  • If people can exchange gossip freely, the social network is denser
  • Groups can have gatekeepers, who limit the exchange of information between people and have more power as a result
  • The information provided by gatekeepers can be difficult for group members to verify
  • Dense gossip networks limit the ability of gatekeepers to control information
  • A strategy for limiting the power of gatekeepers is to form social ties around them.
  • The structure of the gossip network can benefit or harm the group. Groups can fracture along gossip lines.

This is also about gossip and power. I was most interested in the information about gatekeeping – how gossip can be used to restrict information by causing mistrust, and also how gossip can be used to get around gatekeepers.

This is what I’m thinking about: Gossip confers power. Gossip affects groups and the individuals within groups in both positive and negative ways. So what happens if a group actually gets together and talks about its gossip – laying out a map of its social networks and gossip networks, and setting ground rules for gossip that reflect the way people actually do it?

Other Gossip Citations

Here are some other articles that might be of interest:

Foster, E.K. and Rosnow, R.L. “Gossip and Network Relationships.” Relating Difficulty: The Processes of Constructing and Managing Difficult Interaction. Kirkpatric, Duc, and Foley. 2006. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Gluckman, M. (1963) ‘Gossip and Scandal’, Current Anthropology 4 (3): 307–15

Haviland, J. (1977) Gossip, Reputation and Knowledge in Zinacantan, Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Heilman, S. (1978) Synagogue Life, Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Paine, R. (1967) ‘What is Gossip About? An Alternative Hypothesis’, Man 2 (2): 272–85

Burned-Out Activists

Last week I went down to the Central library for a meeting with some activists. We did some work and talked about this and that. Then the topic of burnout came up. Somebody or other had put in lots of good work and then left the movement entirely.

“Still, that’s great if somebody can come in and give it their all for a year,” somebody said.

Really? Is that good? To work yourself like a dog for a year and then give up, leaving everybody else in the lurch and needing to work twice as hard because you are gone?

“It would be better if they could put in half that much effort for two years,” I observed.

You know, or a quarter for four years, or whatever.

Lefty activists get to feeling that there’s some crisis that needs their immediate attention, and that most of the world is oblivious to it, and that they are urgently needed because they’re the only ones who can help. Well, yes, the world is in crisis, but the thing is, no one person can fix it.

I take inspiration from the Serenity Prayer, used in AA to help folks chill out: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” (And holy moses, somebody needed it bad enough to tattoo it on their body!)

And the airplane advice: “Put the oxygen mask on yourself first.”

So how can activists prevent burnout?

1. Recognize the signs. If you wake up thinking about your cause every day, you’re in the danger zone.
2. Put in half the effort. Keep your commitments, but make half as many.
3. Take a day of rest. If the Judeo-Christian God did it, so can you.
4. Take a vacation.
5. Curb those messianic thoughts. That’s right, you’re not the Judeo-Christian God.
6. Ask for help.
7. Think ahead two weeks. Are you coming up on anything that’s going to demand huge amounts of effort? If so, consult #6 and #2.
8. Look around you. Is somebody else in your group verging toward burnout? Can you help?
9. Find something you enjoy doing, and then go do it every day.
10. Laugh.

Well, those are some answers. But they lead to a large and important question:

Can I take my own advice?