Monday, May 30, 2011

Men Only

This weekend I was taken to a trout club in Vermont, and while I was able to get a little hiking and kayaking in, there was one big damper on the whole getaway, and it wasn't the rain: the club, in 2011, will not let women join. Well, let me clarify, some women have been able to join, but women aren't allowed to become voting members. Why? Oh, well same reason they don't allow electronics, they just want to maintain tradition.

Now, I get that it's a private club, and they don't HAVE to change their rules. They have a right to bar whoever they want from joining or voting, be those people women, Jewish people, African Americans, gay people, or atheists. But let's not kid ourselves, just because a club has a right to do something doesn't mean it's an okay thing to do. Discrimination is NEVER okay.

It also bothers me that the members are allowing this to happen. Too many of the voting members are conservative, I get that, but I was under the impression that even Republicans supported women's suffrage in this day and age. It baffles me how okay people are with that rule. According to my host, some people didn't like the rule, but I don't really get the sense that anyone's putting up a fuss about it, they're silent in their dissent. Silence. Gets. Us. Nowhere. And the men don't seem to be speaking up. I'd like to think that some men would refuse to join, or even go, to a club that would withhold power from their wives and daughters, but that doesn't seem to be the case. In fact, the atmosphere seemed fairly anti-woman. Not only were most of the people there die-hard Republicans, a party that routinely votes against women's rights, but a few of the guys I was with kept cracking crude, sexist jokes.

Yes, one of the few female members has a lot of "sway" over the men who can vote, but that's only a real-life example of the maddening sitcom stereotype of women having no "real" power, but getting what they want through nagging and annoying the hell out of the men who actually make decisions. And yes, women are allowed to be at the club, but only as long as they're affiliated with a member - usually their father, husband, uncle, or in my case a male friend. This may lessen the impact the rule has on women, but it keeps women in a somewhat dependent role.

If I'd known about the rule ahead of time, I wouldn't have gone, solely on principle. I would have gone on my school's outdoors club's trip to Acadia instead - a club that I'm assuming does allow women to join, vote, and hold office despite the fact that women supposedly "aren't into that sort of thing." OR I would have stayed on campus and studied for tomorrow's exam like a good student. But I didn't learn the sexist rule until Saturday night dinner where, upon discovering the rule, I was surprised I wasn't required to wear a skirt and gloves to the meal. At that point I was furious that my host hadn't told me - he figured I wouldn't like the rule but didn't anticipate me to get pissed off. I know I should have been gracious and grateful that I was even there, but it's hard to be grateful for a club that practices institutional discrimination against anyone.

Finally, let me clarify that this is not the same as having a women's only club, school, self-defense class, etc. Institutions set up exclusively for groups that have been routinely discriminated against in mainstream society aren't discriminatory themselves, they are as redemptive spaces, or safe havens. Such spaces are still necessary for women, members of the LGBT communities, and various religious and ethnic groups. Men-only clubs, however, are not.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Partner Consent Laws

I'm tired of hearing people complain that women shouldn't be allowed to "go behind their boyfriends' backs" and get abortions without telling them. I get it, men should have a say in the decision, and for the most part there is a conversation before a woman gets an abortion. That is, in healthy relationships.

The problem with partner consent laws is that they compel women to get the consent of their partners regardless of who they actually are - whether that partner is a long-term boyfriend, a one night stand she may not be able to contact, an abusive partner, or a rapist. There are plenty of cases where getting that consent is either impossible, causes emotional hardship, or puts the woman in physical danger.

Yes, you can argue that those women can go before a judge to get the requirement waved, but that takes time. Getting an abortion is a time sensitive issue, women generally only have a window of a couple months between finding out they're pregnant and the 12 week cutoff point. First a woman finds out she's pregnant, at which point she may be 2 weeks along, 4 weeks, maybe even 6 weeks. Then she has to see a doctor, which may mean waiting a few days, maybe more than a few depending on where she lives, and she has to take time off work and in rural areas she may need to travel hours by car and get a hotel room just for the clinic consultation. Then, once a doctor has confirmed she is pregnant and she's talked to a clinic about getting the procedure, she has to wait - most states, even the most liberal ones, have a waiting period of two days. Getting to a judge adds more time onto this, time she may not necessarily have. In fact, having to track down her partner and get his written consent for the procedure can be time consuming as well.

Besides, if she has to go before a judge, plenty of people will be concerned about women lying just to get around the system. Then she may have to prove to a doubtful judge that abuse has, in fact, occurred.

It needs to be assumed that in a healthy relationship, a woman would tell her partner she's pregnant, and would listen to what he has to say about the issue. That's not to say a good woman does whatever he thinks is best, of course, but that she would at least take his thoughts on the matter into consideration. It also needs to be assumed that if a woman does not tell her partner, she has a legitimate reason why not. Either way, we need to trust women more, instead of demonize them to the point where we feel the law needs to step in in order to force them to be rational, moral actors in society.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Playing in the Boys' Club: Women in Nerd Culture

A few years ago I realized something about anime clubs: they don't like showing anime aimed at women. It's assumed that all the members will enjoy something made for men, such as the Gundam animes and anything with big boobs and lots of pantyshots. But god forbid we watch Pani Poni Dash, or anything where the protagonist and most of the leading cast is female - because the guys won't want to watch that. Or in one case, there's one guy who does, but we don't want to "give him power" so regardless of how many women want to watch it, we need to keep it out of the lineup just to spite that one guy.

First of all, it's just not true. Look at Miyazaki's famous movies, such as Spirited Away, Ponyo, and Howl's Moving Castle. Yes, most of his movies show a man being in power over the protagonist, but the protagonist in those movies above is female, and those are just three examples. Not to mention, my club watched Angelic Layer last summer, which is a pretty female dominated series with a few guys in the supporting cast, and the president did acknowledge that people enjoyed it. So now that he's acknowledged that, I have to wonder if he'll consider more series aimed at women.

The problem is that female nerds are assumed, if not outright expected, to be tomboys. We're supposed to like guys' anime, we're supposed to think giant robots and gratuitous violence are awesome, we're supposed to think pantyshots and tentacle rape are hilarious. For a female nerd to be accepted into the social realm of nerd culture, she needs to be one of the guys. If you're feminine, you may enter the group as a girlfriend, but be prepared to lose that status and any friends that came with it when the relationship is over, especially if you're unable to just laugh off a devastating breakup and move on the next day.

Raunch culture does run rampant within nerd culture, and the easiest way for female nerds to gain power and respect is to act like guys. Why? Because acting like a guy is empowering, while acting like a woman is degrading - because merely being a woman means having less power.
That's not to say some femininity isn't appreciated. If a female anime nerd cleans up well for formal events, bakes cookies, or can sew a good cosplay, she's definitely praised. And it helps to be pretty - just not too conventionally gorgeous. The problem is that if a girl is too feminine, she isn't taken seriously as a "real nerd," because being feminine and being nerdy are believed by many to be mutually exclusive.

The fact is, nerd culture is a boys' club. Anime conventions provide a slew of sexual programming, which is dominated by degrading sexual acts, if not outright rape (it may be animated, but it's still telling when a room full of people, men and women, roar with laughter as a high school girl is raped by her math teacher). Female gamers are still harassed in live gaming situations; to many of them, being ordered to "go back to the kitchen" is a common occurrence, and one she had better either find hilarious or stop playing. Female gamers often choose to play as guys to avoid the harassment. Men still dominate science, engineering, and computer-related majors in most colleges, and the few women with the guts to pursue such subjects often feel uncomfortable in the classroom, surrounded by men, practically hearing them wonder if she's in the right place.

Does anyone wonder why women are vastly outnumbered by their male peers in anime clubs and nerd conventions? Nerd culture is, for the most part, still a hostile environment for many women who'd rather stay home and watch anime, play video games offline, or remain in the server room about their nerd status.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Generic Gender Presents

We've all done this, probably many times. Mother's Day, Mom's birthday, or Christmas comes up, and our first instinct is to get mommy some fancy bath stuff, or a foot massager, a nice robe, maybe some slippers, a new makeup kit, something sparkly - in other words, something a woman would want. A generic lady present.

We often do the same thing with our dads: we decide that the best gift is a tie, or a new tool kit, maybe a shaving kit if he's into that sorta thing (but that's pushing it a little). Something a man could use.

It's what we turn to when we don't know the person enough to know what they really want: reduce them to their gender, and go from there. I've had aunts just go into a store, say "I need a present for a teenage girl," and get whatever the saleslady picks out. Right, because it would be so hard to call my parents and actually ask what my interests are. As I've become more and more feminist, I'd get really pissed off if someone just gave me something any 'ol young woman would want - you know, because clearly we're all the same. I've thought of this recently, about all the gift bundles from bath and body stores I've given my mom, and about the tools I've given my dad. I didn't really know any better, I guess. Nowadays, I try to stick to books as gifts - ever since working at Borders, I've realized how easy it is to find a book tailored to someone's interests, and no matter what I've been into growing up, a Barnes and Noble gift card was always a sure bet.

Now, my rule is simple: try to look beyond the gender, and if you can't think of anything beyond a generic gender-related gift, just give them a gift card.

Feminist Dating Advice #2

This is regarding social networking profile pictures and instant messaging avatars:

I advise against using pictures of you and your significant other as your profile picture. The ideal picture if one of you, just you, and no one else. For obvious reasons, you want people looking at it to be sure which one is you. The less obvious reason is that by using a picture with other people in it, you're letting those people define you - and that's not good when that other person defining you is your significant other. A solo picture says "I may have friends, I may be dating someone, but I'm still my own person."

If you must use a picture with you and your boyfriend or girlfriend, follow these guidelines:

1) No kissing pictures. It's like a permanent PDA, and people can only see half your face.

2) Don't pick one where your S.O. is overpowering you. A lot of girls seem to choose a picture where he takes up most of the picture, and she's this little thing in the background you can barely see. Don't do that.

3) Center yourself. Crop the picture so you're in the center of the shot, and make sure the same rings true for your thumbnail picture. The thumbnail picture is small enough, you want to take up as much of it as you can.

Remember, it's your profile, and the picture should be of you! You can put all the couple pictures and makeout shots in albums or even post them directly to your wall. And certainly never make your profile picture as a couple shot just to impress the one you're dating, and they shouldn't expect you to do so. It's a nice gesture, but it's unnecessary in a healthy relationship.

And remember that you should never make your relationship your whole life. Let your significant other into your life, but a healthy relationship is just one small part of a well-rounded, fulfilled life.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Slut Shaming on "Beyond Scared Straight"

Just as I was going to go to bed last night, a show caught my eye: Beyond Scared Straight. Intrigued, I tuned in. And it was a great show, about at-risk teenage girls shown the horrors of prison life. But one thing turned me off: they lumped "having sex" into the list of things the girls were doing wrong.

I get that stealing is illegal, doing drugs is illegal, vandalism is illegal, but sex is LEGAL, so why did it matter if they were having it? They didn't specify that the girls were having sex with lots of guys, or older men, and they certainly weren't having sex for money. A teenage girl having sex isn't necessarily out of control. What was worse was that the girls were yelled at for having sex, one girl was told, as she was trying to cover her bra straps "you wanna act like a slut? if you come in here, I'll make you my slut!" To me, that was going just a little too far.

We need to stop equating teen sex with illegal activity, or some gateway activity that leads girls to do bad things, or as some inherent "out of control" behavior that only bad girls do.