Monthly Archives: August 2012

“The Women’s Olympics”…well, not really.

From George Takei’s Facebook, comment if you know root source

I, like most other women tuning in to the Olympics this year, was so excited to learn that every country had sent at least one female athlete to compete in London.  “The Women’s Olympics!” the media was quick to dub it.

And that was about the last positive thing any major media outlet (or social media) had to do with women’s sports in the games.

We’re all well aware women’s sports doesn’t get the kind of respect that men’s sports does.  The fact that Title IX even had to be mandated illustrates as much.  But the coverage of women athletes in the 2012 Olympics was, well, embarrassing.  Let’s start out from the beginning, the title of “Women’s Olympics.”

It’s a crock.  The two Saudi women who competed were only covered by one news outlet in their home country, an English language paper, had a public shame campaign launched against them on Twitter, and oh yeah, were likely only added at the last minute to avoid a ban from future games.  It’s great that these women competed, it really is, but to act like it’s a step towards Women’s Rights is dishonest.

And while women from every nation competed, which women were given any (positive) attention was quite limited.  Before the game even started some athletes were attacked for not being skinny enough.  Yes, at an event where the very best athletes from around the world come to compete, what these women’s physical appearance is was more important than their athletic ability.  You don’t see male weightlifters being called fat, but there you go.

If not “fat,” how about “ugly, masculine, and dyke(ish)?”  That’s what British weightlifter Zoe Smith was subjected to after a documentary about women weightlifters in Britain aired.  Don’t worry about Zoe though, she got the last laugh (and seriously, great job Zoe!).

With the close of the games tomorrow, it’s important for us to look back with pride at what women around the world have accomplished, but also necessary to examine how we watched these women compete.  Was it really necessary to identify volleyballers by their asses?  Did we need a slow motion montage of unidentified, exclusively attractive athletes?  Did one of the woman athletes who had no chance of medaling need as much coverage as she got just because she was labeled, “the hottest Olympian?”  Was it appropriate to call women Olympians “Gold Diggers?”  We’ve come a long way, ladies, but until our athletes are honored for their abilities and not their bodies we will not ever have a “Women’s Olympics.”

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What Role do Men have in the Feminist Discourse?

A few months ago a friend of mine who is male and a freelance writer and I got into a discussion about video games and comics and how women are portrayed.  He was working on a piece concerning how certain female superheroes were being revamped and asked me, in my opinion, could a man really effectively write on a feminist issue?

 

My first instinct was to say, yeah, of course, but after some additional thought I wasn’t totally sure.  Could a man really write on a feminist issue? A man can’t remove his male privilege any better than I could remove my class or white privilege, and I don’t feel as if I can responsibly write on issues that face poor or women of another race.  Is being aware of privilege, is being against privilege enough?  Well in this case…maybe.

 

First and foremost I do believe that men have a role in the feminist discourse.  When you consider men like Bill Baird, who stood up for abortion rights years before Planned Parenthood and dedicated his life to women’s reproductive rights, it’s unfair and disingenuous to suggest that some men aren’t involved and in fact, some men give up and risk a great deal for women’s rights.  So men do have a role, men definitely do have a role, but I think what men and what role is where things get a little shaky.

 

For example, women in geek culture seems to be a hot feminist topic in which men seem to try and fit their viewpoints in to some pretty disastrous results (from a  feminist standpoint).  This video, while aiming to illustrate how impractical and sexist women in video games are dressed, falls into the trap of blaming women for thriving in the only area of gaming that they’ve been welcomed into by the male dominated industry: “booth babes.”  Or this article, which while pointing out that sometimes attractive women are unfairly characterized as “fakers” in the geek realm and that women are treated pretty horribly in online gaming environments, primarily rails against “booth babe” types and cosplayers that aren’t perceived as being actual fans of the realm they’re promoting with super sexualized outfits.

 

Look.  Both of these men aren’t women-haters, they’re not anti-feminist, but their posts are seeping with privilege.  I already had an article about this, but my point on the women in geekdom stands: it’s not fair to point the finger and say “these women are taking advantage of geek men” when they have been encouraged and embraced into the role and often times are shunned, ridiculed, and harassed for not fitting into it.  If you’re a girl gamer and you’re attractive, you’ll be expected to play it up and “show your tits,” and if you’re not attractive, expect to be called fat or ugly or a dyke or whatever because your looks are paramount to your actual gaming ability.  I’m not exactly sure how you can tell if someone’s a “real fan” or not from looking at them anyway, but that’s the problem – when you have a man writing about a feminist issue without a frame of privilege, things like a misplaced persecution complex rears its head.  You think these women are faking it for attention and money?  Maybe the problem is they live in an environment where their worth structure and acceptance into a group is entirely dependent on their looks.

 

Let’s go back to Bill Baird.  In the 1970s Baird was accused of being a CIA plant, being an embarrassment to the movement, and worked only to “make women appear easier.”  These accusations didn’t come from the far right, they came from feminists and Planned Parenthood.  A man who spent time in jail, a man who lost his family, a man who was nearly murdered multiple times by radical pro-lifers was shunned from the very movement he gave everything to protect.

 

So you can ask me if I think men can write about feminist issues, you can ask me if men have a place in the discourse, and I will tell you yes.  But, I will hope that by saying yes it encourages responsible writing and dialog with a certain level of care and attention given to the privileges held by the men holding the pens and striking the keys.


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