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By now I imagine most people who are interested in what I write about have seen Clay Shirky’s recent blog post, A Rant About Women. While the title of the blog entry itself is a bit of a misnomer (I don’t think Shirky is really ranting about women so much as he is ranting about femininity) it’s also a bit of a hot-button topic for a lot of people. I’ve read several smart critiques of the general thesis, but I haven’t seen a critique from the specific angle I would like to tackle. The assumptions that Shirky makes about the way society should be are a little bit frightening, but I’ve been thinking more and more about where these ideas come from, and some of them are more well-formulated than others, but I’m going to give it a go.

The one thing I’ve not been seeing explicitly is the idea that Shirky is taking issue with femininity. In her book Whipping Girl, Julia Serano discusses how our entire society — many feminists included — treat femininity as something to avoid. This is manifested in many ways. Consider how it’s generally okay for little girls to play with action figures, but when a little boy wants to play with a baby doll, suddenly red lights go off in his parents’ heads and the boy is punished. Or consider that when women were first allowed to enter the working world they were expected to assimilate with men. Or consider that because I’m a trans man I get certain privileges over trans women, like acceptance in more cis queer circles or the freedom to not worry about violence constantly.

What Shirky completely misses in his post is that he’s becoming part of this problem — the oppression women (all women) face in our society is not just income ceilings (or being locked out of employment altogether) or socialization into subservient roles, but that anybody who conforms in any way to that notion of femininity is viewed as weak, inferior, and, often, problematic. By saying that it doesn’t matter that his blog post asks women to be more like men, Shirky is essentially cosigning the erasure of feminine identities, which is completely and utterly unacceptable.

I think danah boyd raises a great point, too, when she points out that diversity isn’t just about arranging “diverse-looking” people in a room and calling it a job well done. (Also if we were all self-aggrandizing jerks nothing would ever get done! Too much infighting!)

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I haven’t blogged in a while because I’ve been lost behind the Golden Shield — that is, the Great Firewall — and haven’t had time to investigate setting up anonymizing tools so I can get around it. I’ve installed and am running Tor to anonymize my surfing. So far, so good — I’m pretty happy with it. It’s fairly easy to use, I recommend at least checking it out.

As you might expect, WordPress is blocked in China. Things have been interesting here, and though I don’t have the energy to relate them all at the moment, if you click over to my Ego blog, there are a few entries there that I managed to crank out. The interface ain’t no WordPress, but it worked while I was away. I’ll be returning to Hong Kong soon and things will be back to normal. The nice thing about Tor though, it keeps people from snooping into your business while you use the internet. Very important not just in China, but also in the States, where someone is watching your every digital move.

Speaking of watching your every move, Naomi Klein had an article published in a recent issue of Rolling Stone about the state of surveillance in China…er…state surveillance in China? (The state of state surveillance.) It made checking back into the five-star Wenjin a bittersweet activity. Interestingly enough, it turns out the police do do random searches of foreigners here, and it happened to someone on my trip. Conveniently enough, the day we moved out of the youth hostel, one of my tripmates had her passport taken during a police search of her hostel room. You need to show a passport to check into hotels here. They scan your bioinfo page and your visa page, and according to some sources (including Ms. Klein) they send that data to the police. Luckily my tripmate got her passport back, but it was definitely a sober reminder that we are in China.

One of the things that always surprises me here is how readily both Chinese and Westerners equate economic freedoms — property ownership, freedom to start enterprises, and the ability to make money, for example — with political freedoms, like freedom of speech, of assembly, and of the press. I’m guessing that for my dad’s generation, the economic freedoms are enough. He was five when the People’s Republic of China was founded, and so the ability to change one’s economic status is probably one hell of a thrill. However, the fact that people still need to use proxies to access some sites on the internet — and the fact that Shenzen has 2 million CCTV cameras for a little over 12 million residents, as an example — doesn’t seem to wig people out.

Maybe this’ll come with time. I’ve been reading Clay Shirky’s book Here Comes Everybody and I am trying to fathom how to apply these sorts of things to Chinese situations, especially since the internet is so restricted. Caroline Watson from Hua Dan also pointed out to me that anyone who is not a member of the rising middle class or above doesn’t have access to computers and the internet. They do, however, have mobile phones, and that seems to me to be an untapped resource. People are starting to normalize this technology in their lives. The next step is coming up with an innovative use for it…and in my experience, the people of China are very innovative. I’m interested to see what comes of it.

On the flip side, the Chinese government is pretty ace at packaging even the stuff that leaks out on the internet — look at what happened earlier this year in Tibet. Most of the information that came out of the Lhasa riots was disseminated by the Chinese state media. The few citizens, journalists and bloggers who were able to get information out don’t seem to be recognized by the mainstream media, and it’s really hard to read who’s being serious about what. What does a technologically-savvy Chinese population have to do to break this trend?

I think a major reason the Chinese government was able to spin these protests was the fact that by and large there were not all that many people posting images to the internet. I wonder if many more people began posting images and even tweeting from their mobiles (Twitter, by the way, is not blocked by the Great Firewall), the government might have a harder time sweeping up after itself.

By and large people seem to keep in line here. There is no violence to speak of in this city, which is amazing, but certainly a result of the fact that the government is so stringent about its rules. But as the country gets more economically liberal, will people begin demanding further political liberalization?

Today in a last-ditch desperate bid to get out of the house I had my mom take me to downtown Birmingham while she went and saw a movie with her friend. I haven’t really been out of the house — except to see doctors — since last Friday, when I was in the car accident. I also haven’t hung out in downtown Birmingham, outside of the 24-hour coffee joint, since I was probably a freshman in high school. The 24-hour coffee joint is gone now, by the way, it was first bought out by some people who made it into this weird hybrid cell phone store and coffee shop (not open 24 hours), and now the storefront is covered with brown paper. I’m pretty sure Forte bought it out and is going be expanding into it. As if we need any more high-class restuarant frontage in that town. Where are the hip kids and outcast high schoolers going to go to scorn their yuppie brethren? Yeah, I don’t know either. All that’s left in that wasteland are the Corporates: Starbucks, Cosi, and Caribou. The choices for free wireless have really gone downhill. Ech.

Chagrinned, I headed over to the terrifyingly giant Borders Books & Music in hopes of finding free wireless and to pick up Clay Shirky’s new book, Here Comes Everybody. T-Mobile HotSpot. You’ve got to be kidding me! $6 for an hour of internet access is complete highway robbery. I couldn’t quite get connected to the Wireless Oakland network, either. Madness, I tell you!

I had my damn latte anyway, and polished off another couple pages of a paper on Hume that was due sometime last week. I wouldn’t exactly say I enjoyed the people-watching, but it did remind me how good I have it in Ann Arbor. With the exception of one head-turner, the hipsters in this town are just trying too hard. In fact, there was this prepubescent skater kid’s mom who was hipper than the hipsters. Everyone else looks a little stretched thin. And I had the only Macintosh. You know a place is strange and depraved when you’re the only Apple machine in a large coffee shop.

But more than that, it made me wonder how I got out of here okay. The people here are awfully self-obsessed (although you could say the same of me) and simultaneously have horrible taste. They’re largely trying very hard to be well-dressed, but for some reason failing — ill-fitting clothing seems to be the major factor. They eat. A lot. Or not at all, and read books on Buddhism lite. I suppose that many of the denizens of Ann Arbor are much the same, but you know what? Better there than here. At least in Ann Arbor there’s free wireless and indie coffee joints around, and at least in Ann Arbor the intellectuals are sometimes actually intellectuals, not flakes with big vocabularies. Oh, and I’ve never seen bright pink dreadlocks in Ann Arbor. Shudder. Maybe this is why I’m going to lock myself away in academia for the rest of my days.

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