Category Archives: privilege

Baking My Own Cake

Today I’m 27 years old.  When I was 19, I was certain, somehow, that 27 was going to be the best year of my life.  I have no idea if that’s going to turn out to be true, but I am looking forward to finding out.

I don’t talk about myself and my personal life here much, mostly because (outside of the context of privilege) it doesn’t matter and I wanted to focus on more “big picture” issues than my personal struggles/triumphs/whatever.  However, I would like to take a brief moment to reflect on some of the things I’ve learned in 27 years that I would like to pass on to other women – younger, in my peer group, older, it doesn’t matter.

1. Bake your own birthday cake.

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No, don’t hermit away just for the sake of making a point, bake your own birthday in a metaphorical sense (or literal, whatever you want to do).  Be the kind of person that you can rely upon – be there for yourself, be self-sufficient, take care of yourself.  The most important thing you can ever realize is that you are a whole person without anyone else – value companionship, treasure healthy and positive relationships with friends, family, and lovers, but never stick something out because you feel you will not be whole without it.  You are.  And if nobody is around to bake you a birthday cake, bake yourself a cake and celebrate you.  Make whatever kind of damn cake you want (might I recommend almond pudding cake with white frosting and toffee bits?  It’s superb).  I know too many women (and men) who are “serial monogamists” – they’re never alone, even when they’re single they’re rapid-fire dating.  There will be times in your life where you should be alone, and you miss out on so much of life being miserable just because there isn’t someone there.  I explained it to a friend once like this, “people who are looking to never be alone never will be, with all the wrong people, for all the wrong reasons.”  The great thing about love is that giving it away doesn’t deplete your stock, so love yourself before you love anyone else.  Love yourself so much it makes you giggle.  Make a vegan cake.  Make a flourless cake.  Make a meat cake.  It doesn’t matter.

2. Speaking of not mattering, Let that which does not matter truly not matter.

Yeah, it’s a line stolen from Fight Club (shamelessly).  Illegitimi non carborundum – don’t let the bastards grind you down (and don’t bother to tell me it’s not real Latin, you’re not going to grind down my fun).  Everything will seem important as it’s happening, which is why it’s best to not make decisions when things are happening.  Give yourself breathing room and distance, you’ll find that most things don’t matter nearly as much as you think they do and the things that do matter, you’ll be able to handle better.  There’s a lot of things you can’t change – the actions of others, for example – and the things you can change you need to be smart about.   You are powerful, you are capable, and you are one in seven billion.  Seven billion people with at least seven billion problems – prioritize what and who gets your time and attention.  Let the little things go.

3. Get a DVR.  Or Netflix.  Install AdBlock.  Get something that lessens the influence of advertising in your life.  Advertising affects everyone, it tunes you in to things companies want you to feel insecure about and reinforces gender roles that hurt and suppress women (and men).  Screw it.  I haven’t seen a commercial (save for ones I’ve looked up on YouTube at the recommendation of friends, like the Interracial family Cheerios ad) in over a year and I can’t even tell you how much better I feel about myself – I don’t see ads telling me I need surgery or pills to “attract the man of my dreams,” I don’t see commercials with ultra-thin women obsessing over their weight, I can’t even remember the last cleaning product ad I saw with a bumbling husband outwardly saying men are incompetent and directly implying women are naturally more suited to household work accordingly.  I just don’t see it, it’s not a part of my life because it was poison and I decided I’d had enough.

4. People can only treat you how you allow them to treat you.  When someone first told me this I mentally kicked back.  “Fuck you, you don’t know anything about the psychology of abuse, nobody is responsible for the actions of others, don’t blame the victim.”  Yes, all of those things are true: I am not saying anyone at any point is ever responsible for being mistreated by another.  That being said, don’t even think you can’t leave, or that you deserve mistreatment, or that things can’t get better because things can always get better.  There will be people in your life that take advantage of your emotions, they will prey on your feelings, and you will think every step of the way you have to stay to “save them,” or that loving someone means sticking with them no matter what.  This is not the truth.  Sometimes the best thing you can do for someone is tell them to fuck off.  It’s almost always the best thing you can do for yourself, and you can’t take care of anyone before you take care of yourself.  That’s why they tell parents to put on their own oxygen mask before helping their children on airplanes – you’re in a shitty position to save someone else if you’re killing yourself to do so.

5. Be grateful.  Be grateful for what you have and what you may have.  This isn’t to say “first world problems *eyeroll*,” but never lose sight of how much you do have.  You can have problems, you can get upset (remember point 2 though), but remember: you have so much.  You will have more; things can always get better.   Write thank-you notes, write letters period.  Donate your spare change to anything – a homeless person, a local scout troop, an advocacy group you support, anything.  Perspective is a powerful thing and using what you have to help others will make you feel as if you have even more.  I don’t make New Years Resolutions, instead every year I set out to be a better person than I was the year before.  There’s no excuse to fail something like that.

6. …but in the path to help others, don’t silence their voices.  This is something, as a feminist, I (and others) need to be aware of.  Too often white middle and upper class feminists with the best of intentions silence poor and minority women…in the name of helping poor and minority women.  Or, more sinister, white feminists outright slam black feminists, or attempt to discredit them, or exhibit transphobia against transwomen (TERFs).  The latter is obviously unacceptable (and seriously, if you do either of those things you should knock it the fuck off), but the former is damaging as well.  Nobody in a position of privilege – any privilege – should be speaking for the oppressed group.  Wealthy women should not speak for poor women.  Straight women should not speak for gay women.  White women should not speak for black women.  US citizens should not speak for immigrants.  Cis women should not speak for transwomen.  What we should all do is A. listen, B. support, and C. use positions of privilege to amplify voices.  One of the biggest criticisms of Jezebel is that, by and large, their pieces are written by white women for white women.  They have one of the largest and most popular sites for feminist news and editorials.  Is the solution for white authors to post about black issues.  No.  They should, as an influential entity, use their position of power to spotlight more diverse viewpoints, and not in a “token” way, in a constant and consistent manner that engages the community.  This is something easy to get caught up in, everyone does it: you get so excited about making a change and helping that you lose focus of the fact that the people you’re trying to help are, in all likelihood, 100% capable of helping themselves and don’t need a savior.  Pippa Biddle had a great post about “Voluntourism,” and the damage of overvaluing your own help.  If you want to help, let the people you’re trying to help tell you what they need, don’t try to tell them what’s good for them.

That’s it for now – let’s see what I learn over, “the best year of my life!”

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Chivalry is Dead; Long Live Courtesy!

#58th Rule Revised

A friend of mine, well meaning but very much still stuck in the idea that men should be gentlemen and women should be ladies recently posted this article.  Never mind the fact that the article itself is rife with errors, I took issue with the concept that somehow, as a gender fighting tooth and nail to be treated equally, women were somehow doing it wrong and that “gentlemen” were missing out on the “ladies” they deserved and wanted so desperately to pamper spun in the direction of “ladies, you deserve better/a guy like me!”

Here’s the thing: “gentlemanly” behavior, as an appreciated standard, hasn’t died: we just call it common courtesy now.  Holding a door for someone?  It’s something women and men do, for women and men, because letting a door slam in someone’s face is rude.  “What happened to paying to take a woman out for a nice meal?”  We now go Dutch or take turns paying – as it should be!  MRAs love to criticize feminism as a have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too movement.  “You want to be equal, buy your own drinks! *smirk*” …Okay.  That’s not a problem, the origins of a man paying for dates goes back to when middle and upper class young women did not commonly work outside of the home (women in the workforce is not new for the impoverished in the United States, but it’s not something you hear about too often in your average history class).  Women do work now; presumably in a couple if one party is not working, the other one pays most of the time.  This isn’t a bad thing and you’d be hard pressed to find an academically respectable feminist that thinks it is a bad thing that women are now increasingly becoming financially independent of men.

Mr. Picciuto argues that, in reference to this so-called “hookup culture,”  “The real problem here is that women, for one reason or another, have become complacent and allowed men to get away with adhering to the bare minimum.”  As linked above, this isn’t the case, but even if it were, why is it so incomprehensible to believe that women, uh, like sex?  “When did it become acceptable to just text a girl, inviting her to come bang? Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining about those instances, I’m just saying, why have we strayed away from what has been established as the norm?… Eventually, I feel that women will wise up and start asking for the things that they deserve, the things used to be automatic and expected of men, like holding a door, pulling out a chair, and paying for dinners.”  I can’t speak for all women, but if a guy walks through a door before me and doesn’t hold it, especially if we’re on a date, I think he’s an ass.  I also think the same of a woman on a date.  And I always hold the door, because I’m not a self-important jerk.

Wait, hang on, “the norm?”  Is he referring to the historical norm wherein politically powerful fathers used their daughter’s virginity for social leverage?  Or the norm outside of the US where young women (and men) are arranged to each other, sometimes at a very young age?   The virginity insurance norm has lived into today thanks to great marketing by jewelry companies.  Maybe he meant the norm where premarital and casual sex happened with the same frequency as it did decades ago with the same number of partners, just by different means (i.e. the internet and texting), but women were shamed for it being publicly known?  There’s no such thing as a “norm” in dating and things like courtesies and the enjoyment of sex becoming a common ground is good for both sides.

You’ll notice non-heterosexual couples don’t have an issue with “chivalry,” because both parties have an expected common ground of courtesy, neutral of gendered expectations.  Why is this such an issue for heterosexuals to get a grasp on?

Oh, right, because being “gentlemanly” gives men a platform for which to criticize women for not being “ladies,” AKA “women who are having more sex than I personally find acceptable at a completely arbitrary level/not with me.”  This isn’t an attitude expressed only by men, women slut shame the shit out of each other under the guise of being more “ladylike” than the women in question.  The great thing about being a woman standing in judgment of the sexual freedom of other women is that the amount and type of sex you’re having is never slutty *eyeroll*!  Which, ultimately, is the point of slut shaming – if someone else is sluttier, and you can make sure everyone knows it, then you’re not a slut, and you’re better marriage material than her.  Gag.

The image at the top of this page is a modified macro from The Rules of a Gentleman circulating on imgur.  Looking through the list and eliminating the weirdly infantilizing ones (“If she can’t sleep, read her a bedtime story.”  Haha, what?), the ones that are date-specific (“Run with her on the beach.”) and the ones that are just plain wrong (“If she slaps you, you probably deserved it.” – No, nope, physical assault is never acceptable. “Never give her a reason to think that she’s the man in the relationship.” What does this even mean, like never let her be in charge?  The hell?), this is a good list…for how to interact with all people in a polite way in society.  We need to let go of this whole chivalry thing because it’s keeping us all down, and we need to actively suppress the idea that the value of women is directly tied to who they do or don’t sleep with.


I’m Not Giving Seth MacFarlane the Benefit of the Doubt

There has been a lot of fallout from the 2013 Oscars ceremony, namely from the jokes presented by the host, Seth MacFarlane.  The articles written in the days after seem to fall on one of two sides: that the ceremony was sexist and racist, or that MacFarlane was hilarious and people needed to lighten up.

There’s serious problems with both of these arguments, but a piece that particularly struck me was Victoria Brownworth’s Op-Ed for Advocate.com, in which she argued that the jokes were a dismantling of the Hollywood hyper-sexed system.  She asks if those calling the jokes sexist and racist were watching the same show as her, to which I have to reply to her, “are you talking about the same Seth MacFarlane?”

Yes, Mr. MacFarlane does advocate for marriage equality and against domestic violence, but I fail to see how in the 21st century it’s even slightly “impressive for a straight male” to do these things.  Are we not in an era where being anti-beating your significant other is somehow unique and worthy of praise?  It’s a moral standard to advocate for those who are taken advantage of.  Yeah, I get it, it’s still somehow acceptable to nominate Chris Brown for Grammys, but by and large society looks down upon abusers.  It’s not special to do so.

I’m extremely hesitant to even consider the idea that Seth MacFarlane doesn’t have serious issues with women and respect and equality given his track record for presenting what he considers to be an ideal role for women in his shows.  I’m not talking about blatantly sexist characters (like Peter Griffin and pretty much any other strong male character in any one of his shows) – those are clearly not written to be identifiable and indeed we are supposed to laugh at their stupidity.  For example, consider Family Guy S2E8, “I Am Peter, Hear Me Roar.”  Peter makes a sexist joke and is forced to attend sexual harassment sensitivity class, where they take away all of his “positive” masculine traits and replace them with emotionally sensitive “feminine” ones.  This is perceived by his wife, Lois, as a negative – she wants her man to act like a man while she acts like a woman.  The dilemma comes to a head when Lois and the feminist lawyer who sent Peter to the class get in a fight over choice feminism and wrestle, inspiring Peter to become aroused and be a man again.  The feminists are portrayed extremely negatively – they demean housewives and hate men – whereas Lois, the “feminine” woman comes to the rescue of traditional gender roles to say it’s more feminist to choose to stay home and have a chauvinist for a husband.

Choice feminism is a topic that literally can encompass entire books, so I won’t go in to it other than to say I have friends who’s job is to be a full-time mom (or dad) and that it is in fact, work.  My issue is with the tone with which MacFarlane approaches feminism and empowered women in the first place, which is my major issue with the Oscars.

I got in a facebook disagreement (I know, I know) with someone on the issue because I said the jokes weren’t funny and he fell back onto the “humor is subjective and who are you to decree what is and is not funny/acceptable humor” argument that literally comes up in 100% of all arguments about subject matter of comedy routines, and that’s not what I was trying to argue at all.  The problem is not boob jokes (though it’s pretty tasteless to include scenes of graphic rape, especially when the film is based on actual real-life accounts), or anorexia jokes, or even jokes poking fun at the future sexuality of a nine year old girl (ugh).  The problem out and out is tone, it’s the execution and the reliance on the idea that “if you don’t laugh at this, the problem is you and it’s you we’re really laughing at” that’s the problem with MacFarlane’s brand of “humor.”  It’s bullying.  Amy Davidson for The New Yorker really hits it dead-on, “Getting Charlize Theron and Naomi Watts to pre-record looks of mortification didn’t help, either. (…) It just seemed like a way for MacFarlane to make fun of viewers for being prudish and not ‘getting it.’ (See, the cool girls think that it’s funny!).”

In an industry where women struggle to be treated with the same respect as men, where to be willing to do a nude scene can be viewed as a make-or-break career decision, having a song where the tone is, “you did this incredibly personal work for your art and ultimately it’s still for our sexual amusement” is really gross.   It’s faux-edginess, it’s offensive for the sake of offensive without any counter-culture goals at all and you’re lying to yourself if you think otherwise.  Seth MacFarlane is not a champion of women’s empowerment or acknowledging the problems actresses uniquely face compared to actors in Hollywood, he’s paid huge sums of money to continue to get cheap, exploitative laughs, and is seemingly eager to do so.

I’m not here to be the morality police and say “certain things aren’t okay to joke about” because context and tone is really everything.  However, we need to be honest with ourselves: the Oscars were an embarrassment.  People who were offended had a right to be so and “comedians” aren’t immune from criticism just by the nature of their art.  Seth MacFarlane may believe he has nothing to apologize for, which is fine, because it’s not like we didn’t already know what kind of a person he was in the first place.


There is no such thing as “The Friendzone”

If you spend (waste) any time on the internet for social activities/entertainment, you’ve probably stumbled upon Reddit or Tumblr at some point.  A tumblr called “NiceGuysof OKCupid” has exploded in popularity recently.  As it turns out this site is comprised almost equally of fakes (unfairly putting quotes from one profile onto the pictures of unsuspecting others) and legitimate (horrifying) pictures with profile quotations such as “No is just a yes in disguise.”  “Always friendzoned because sluts and whores always go for assholes.”

The explosion of online dating has led to a new avenue of risk for women in part because expressing violence and hatred after being denied sex is easy to do online – you don’t have to say anything face to face and risk bystanders and/or law enforcement getting involved.  Tumblr blogger JHameia (linked above) took matters into her own hands, but no doubt countless other harassers continue to degrade their victims until the woman in question deletes her profile and/or changes her email address to avoid being harassed.  Certainly these men don’t behave this way in public during in-person social interactions – they’d have a hard time interacting with anyone with the slew of restraining orders placed on them.  Labeling women as “fat/ugly, sluts, whores, bitches,” because they had the audacity to deny you sex is a particularly perverse privilege to profess (excuse the alliteration).

These sentiments certainly aren’t new, even before online dating the myth of “the friendzone” has been pervasive in young adult dating culture for decades.  How many romantic comedies do you see where the hot, nice girl who’s with a macho asshole boyfriend ends up with the quirky, less attractive, pining “friend” who was right in from of her face all along?  I don’t blame “nice guys” for thinking that “the friendzone” exists, I’m just saying they’re probably not actually nice and not actually friends.

The Friendzone implies several things:

1. That being “nice” is all that should matter in a relationship (male or female).  This simply isn’t the case – being nice is a standard of behavior, and if that’s all you offer to someone then you’re probably not bringing much to the table.

2. That sex is a negotiation wherein friendship can/is traded for physical affection (the “women aren’t just machines you put nice coins into and sex is dispensed” dilemma).  I would argue this is tied in with the myth that men and women can’t be friends without someone wanting sex/falling in love and is the crux of the false friendzone – if you approach a woman with friendship and are disappointed with the result being friendship, then you have come in to the situation with false pretenses, not the woman.

3. That women “always go for assholes/rich guys/jocks/whatever overarching group that doesn’t include the individual in question.”  And that, as a result, these women are all “shallow, whores, sluts, and bitches,” a rather hateful attitude to express towards women as a whole.

4. That all feelings and desires a man directs towards a woman, she should reciprocate.  I think this comes from the kind of entitlement society we live in wherein everyone feels that their voice should be heard and respected no matter what they’re demanding (in this case, sex).  To quote Phaedra Starling, “Women are under no obligation to hear the sales pitch before deciding they are not in the market to buy.”  Being nice to someone doesn’t put them under any obligation to you at all, period.  This goes back to nice being a standard of behavior, it is not exemplary or unique in any way.

5. That, and this is actually kind of scary, men are “owed” sex/a relationship after a certain amount of time spent being nice to a woman.  That “niceness” is a tactic for sex and isn’t genuine at all – that a “nice guy” is nice expressly for the purposes of gaining trust and using that trust to manipulate a woman into intercourse (think about it – if you’re really and truly nice, then you aren’t going to be angry about a friendship).

“These guys are only making themselves look bad/aren’t hurting anybody,” you might be inclined to say.  “Casual misogyny isn’t new and it’s not what’s causing sexual assault.”  Hear me out – this is exactly the kind of attitude that allows rape culture to exist.  When you mix a feeling of being owed sex, an opinion that women are generally stupid/”bitches”/”sluts”, and a facade of kindness, you’re creating a prefect storm for assault.

I’m not saying all “nice guys” are rapists waiting to happen.  Most nice guys are casual misogynists who need some self-reflection and to not be in the kind of echo chamber that Reddit communities and Men’s Rights forums tend to create.  I am saying, however, that they have to potential to be (to borrow again from Phaedra Starling) “Schrödinger’s Rapist,” which is to say if a man isn’t satisfied with “no” in one circumstance (taking a friendship to a next level, for example), he may be more likely to override “no” in a more serious circumstance (and commit rape).

I strive to not crutch my argument on anecdote and I’m opposed to writing about my own personal life and relationship, but it’s particularly pertinent because my boyfriend is exactly the kind of man a “nice guy” would call an asshole – he’s loud, he’s confident and outgoing, he plays a very aggressive sport at a semi-pro level, and by all accounts growing up he would have been grouped in with the “popular jocks.”  He also loves animals, is quite artistic, and (get this), he’s nice to me.   Often the label “asshole” is tacked onto a male that is guilty of nothing more than self-confidence and outgoing personality, which, yeah, is more appealing to more women.  Does that make women “bitches” and those men “assholes?” No.  Women, like men, like different things – some like loud and some like quiet, some like thin and some like fat and some like muscular, some like artistic and some like athletic, et cetera.

Everyone likes kindness, it’s not unique or special to be nice or courteous, you have to be more than that.  A nice guy who expects sex simply for functioning like any socialized human does isn’t nice at all.  A guy who presents friendship only to be angry with getting a friend instead of a girlfriend “deserves” neither.


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.


Culture and Feminism: Where does What Belong in the Discourse?

When I first started this blog I did a post about identifying bias, mostly to be transparent about who I am and what my perspective is, but also to remind myself that I cannot – and should not – ever try to write for or on the behalf of a group I can’t represent.  That being said, someone proposed the question to me and several others recently: who belongs in the feminist discourse, and what roles do radically different, sometimes opposing, groups have?  There seemed to be a few points of contention but they mostly boiled down to culture lines and gender lines.  This post will address the former, a future post will address the latter.

 

A forum I regularly post in has a feminism megathread (amongst hundreds of other political talking points) , and routinely the thread is closed and derailed on rehashed and repeated arguments, one of which is what level of “education” someone posting in the thread should have and why or why not that arbitrary line is fair.  It’s an odd conundrum – nobody wants to explain every page what male privilege is and that yes, it definitely does exist – but at the same time, can anyone rightfully be excluded from the discussion simply on the base of lack of academic feminist knowledge?  Surely saying so implies a rather white, upper-class attitude towards the discourse.

 

One member proposed this: does an educated Western feminist with a degree in women’s studies have more weight in the feminist discourse than an uneducated individual campaigning against female circumcision in his or her small community in Africa?  Is the second, who may or may not have any interest in “women’s rights” in a western sense at all, even really a feminist?

 

No, and yes.  The face of feminism in the US and Europe tends to be a pretty pale one (I would argue due in large to widespread racism when modern feminism was coming to its peak in the 60s and media still preferring to center on white spokespeople in most issues today), but it’s inaccurate and unfair to suggest that women’s issues are a white woman’s affair.  But why, in an era of global communication, is there still this disconnect between voices in the discourse?

 

We have a major cultural gap between priorities.  Not that first world women’s issues aren’t issues (an argument often made by particularly right-wing anti-feminists “you’re not stoned for being raped so you have nothing to complain about!” “your vagina isn’t mutilated so you have nothing to complain about!”) – that white, upper-class women, by and large, have failed to even identify and listen to what issues face other groups of women in the discourse.   So we end up segregated by lack of understanding and communication when we all have a common goal: at the root, everyone in the discourse wants women to have a safer, healthier role in the world they share with men.  An end to patriarchy, even if how they view patriarchy varies wildly.

 

Take body image issues, for example.  The body image issues that face black American women are vastly different from white American women – something I thought I understood – until an exchange and conversation I witnessed and took part in at work one weekend.  One of my coworkers – a married, childless, middle class mid-20s black woman – opted to let her hair grow naturally, no weave, no straightening, just her natural hair.  I remarked that it looked nice and she replied, “black men hate natural hair.”

 

This kind of took me aback for a second.  It’s her natural hair, it’s what her body is genetically conditioned to grow, and it looks lovely, why would anyone dislike it?  “Not all black men I’m sure,” I said, about to eat my own words.

 

A customer came in shortly after, a middle age black man.  “What happened to your hair?”

“I’m letting it grow naturally.”

“You should straighten it.”

“To look more like a white woman?”

“Nappy hair is shameful on a woman.”  I am not making this up or exaggerating, this is exactly what he said.

“You have nappy hair under your hat, why should I have to straighten my hair?”

“You’re a woman.  It’s not ladylike.”

 

My cheeks burned red with embarrassment.  How could I have missed such an obvious cue that she was expressing a real and very legitimate body image problem that is so embedded a complete stranger thought it was appropriate to say her natural hair was shameful?  The next man in line (another middle aged black man) who had heard the exchange assured my coworker that her natural hair was in fact, beautiful, but the damage had already been done – her feeling that “black men hate natural hair” had been validated.  I was stunned, I am still stunned, that the exchange happened.

 

And it’s because I hadn’t listened, I’d heard what she was saying, but I hadn’t listened.  In her saying, “black men hate natural hair,” what I was missing was the “…because black women are socially pressured to have straight hair like a white woman and to reject their own natural appearance.”

 

I realized my own personal error in creating an inclusive environment for feminist discourse, and I realized that my mental lapse is probably representative of a larger issue in the global discourse: we’re just not listening.  Every cultural group has a place in the discourse, every opinion has a place in the discourse, we just need to reach past hearing the words and listen to the heart and soul behind them.


Video Games II: Women and Gaming

The other facet of women in gaming is the real women affiliated with the gaming world: the actual industry professionals, female gamers, and the women commonly referenced as “booth girls” – attractive women hired by game publishers and conventions to pose as gamers (who often are not actually interested in video games).  These women often face exploitation for their gender when they are recognized by the industry and are often otherwise ignored.

While female game designers go all the way back to Atari, there’s one woman designer with media prominence: Jade Raymond, of the team that made Assassin’s Creed.  Now, I don’t know Ms. Raymond, and I’m not saying she isn’t talented.  She didn’t get to her position in the game industry without talent and love of gaming.  However, I am saying the only reason her name rings louder than say, Carol Shaw (one of the earliest game designers) or Kim Swift (creator of the game Portal was based off of, Narbacular Drop, as well as a designer on the Portal team), is because…

1. She is attractive.

2. Her attractiveness was used as a selling point for Assassin’s Creed.

Now, it’s totally reasonable for producers to be public about their game – anyone who’s seen Cliffy B’s twitter feed knows that they’re often overly excited to do so.  It’s great to be proud of your work.  But, I have to question of things like this are really necessary to sell a game:

But you know what?  It worked.  Ubisoft put out Jade as an icon and sold their game by selling her.  This is a woman who by her early thirties had a resume including executive level work at EA and Ubisoft,  something respectable for any woman or man in the field, reduced to shilling her project by taking off her clothes.

Game designers aren’t the only industry women who face marginalization or exploitation for their work.  Game Journalists who happen to be female also face different professional standards.  Kotaku columnist Leigh Alexander had a piece about this recently wherein she argued that despite all of her work in game journalism, all of her articles and interviews, when people discuss her the most important adjective is “female.”  I don’t always agree with Leigh (her opinions on Bayonetta especially) but I respect how hard she works and it’s infuriating to me that her work gets distilled down to “female” with no attention to the actual vastness of her work.

When I think about women in the industry I often come back to this video because it’s something men generally find more palatable than outright feminist thought on the subject, but I have a couple problems with it, most notably the criticism of the aforementioned “booth girls” but also the suggestion that the best way to appeal to women is to make something pink.

The booth girl is not unique to gaming but the game industry in particular is fairly notorious for it and even embraces it.  It’s easy to point the finger and say, “hey, nobody is making these girls do this.  They’re making money by pretending to be gamers so women only have themselves to blame.  Really it’s men who are being tricked, they’re lured into these games by hot women who don’t really share their interests!”  Well, no.  Society is making these girls do this.

As girls (and later as women), we’re taught by our surroundings that our looks are our most important feature (“you can’t see smarts”) and that our sex is a commodity.  Men like to flip it and say that women commoditize sex to “get what they want” but supply doesn’t create demand (when was the last time a parent told his/her daughter her virginity was only as important as she deemed it so and that no decent man would judge her for having casual sex and enjoying intercourse?) and chances are these women didn’t just show up at a gaming convention one year and say, “hey, do you want to pay us to stand here and look hot?”

It’s not just paid models who fall into the “sex sells” role women are wedged into in gaming.  A half dozen sites and services exist to pair up men with women’s gamer tags.  While I’m not against the concept of matchmaking through gaming (I know I only date other gamers), these sites don’t approach it at that angle: the women get paid (per hour largely) and the company takes a cut.  It’s not prostitution by any stretch, but it’s not particularly good for women gamers either (it enforces the idea that women only pretend to game to get men).

So do actual female gamers and developers have an equal place in the game picture?  Is there any avenue for women in gaming that isn’t inherently exploitative?  Can a woman be just a gamer without attracting any undue attention; can an attractive women be a gamer without having more expected from her?  I think so.  I just don’t think we’re there yet.


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