Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Stop telling me what to do with my hair

Sometimes I think curly hair is adorable and express interest in curly hair. I'm met with a condescending chuckle or frustrated sigh and someone ranting about how us girls always want what we don't have when it comes to hair. Maybe that's true, but my occasional interest in curls or a demi-permanent shade of red is nothing compared to other people telling me how my hair should look.

Not magazines, mind you. People. People I know. Friends, family, boyfriends, etc.

When I had bangs, people told me I should grow them out. I did eventually grow them out, tired of dealing with them, but a few years after they'd grown out, people started telling me I should get bangs again. Despite me telling them I hate the way I looked with bangs and hated even more the way I looked while growing them out, the encouragement to get bangs was incessant for years.

When I mostly wore my hair down, my friends kept telling me I would look cute with my hair up. I eventually had to do just that for dance and cheerleading, and then got into the habit of frequently putting my hair up. But then, when that became a habit, people were suddenly telling me I would look so much better if I wore my hair down.

When my hair was long, people kept telling me I should get it cut short. Once they shut the hell up about it and I got into Mad Men and retro hair styles, I decided to experiment with short hair. Sure enough, it does look good on me, but I know that within the next two years people will start telling me I would look so much prettier with long hair. I know it'll happen, I can feel it.

There's a reason why I try to refrain from "helpful suggestions" when people don't ask for it. I know that unsolicited advice when it comes to people's appearance is annoying as hell, and for women, it's often incessant. No matter what you look like or how good you look, there's always one change everyone is sure you should make, and it's almost impossible to shut them up without sounding rude or arrogant.

So cut it out. Seriously. I will do with my appearance as I wish. The more you push me to change it, the more I'll resist.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Still Not Ourselves

Almost fifty years after The Feminine Mystique, we still haven't solved women's identity crisis. Today's post by Jessica Valenti reminds us that our identities aren't our own - we are wives, future wives, mothers, girlfriends, daughters, and friends, but we are not ourselves. Who we are is primarily based on our relationships to others. What we do is expected and assumed to be in relation to others - which explains the constant accusations that so-and-so is just doing that for attention, just wearing that to attract men, just claiming to be what she is to impress a guy, just going to see that movie because her boyfriend wants to, etc.

This reminds me of an article I read years ago about how a stay-at-home girlfriend spends her day. I may have written about this before, in fact I'm sure I have. My problem wasn't that she was trying to stay in shape or picking up extra chores around the apartment - what she did could have made sense practically speaking - my problem was that she was doing it all for her boyfriend rather than for herself. Nothing she did, apart from sending out a few resumes in the morning, was for her own benefit, but because her boyfriend deserved it. He deserved to come home to a clean apartment, dinner on the table, and a pretty, energetic girlfriend ready to cater to his every whim. The justification that that should be her attitude all because he was paying the rent is also a reason why I'm not comfortable with men being the sole financial providers in this culture. Whether he's paying for every date or paying all the bills, the one who signs the checks has a lot more power than the person who benefits from it.

But I digress.

I get that our relationships are important, some more than others, and some of us value those relationships more than others. No woman is an island. But when women are expected to sacrifice their selfhood to please and accommodate others, there's a problem. When women feel like they have to prioritize outward appearance over inner wellbeing, there's a problem. When women are told that they are not good unless they are selfless and endlessly giving, there's a problem. When we are made to feel as though our comfort and sense of safety in any given situation comes second to being polite and accessible to others (see: the emergence of so-called "creep shaming"), there's a problem.

Suggested reading material:
"The Feminine Mystique" - Betty Friedan. Dated, of course, but touches on the problems women still face today.
"Reviving Ophelia" - Mary Pipher
"The Curse of the Good Girl" - Rachel Simmons

Monday, August 20, 2012

Why I Don't Like Chivalry

1) It's a one-sided practice that maintains gender roles. He can and must do things for me but I can't reciprocate. I like to be able to do nice things for a guy - open doors for him, pay for dinner, drive, etc. - without him refusing or feeling emasculated.

2) There's usually an expectation that I will reciprocate in some other fashion. I keep hearing that dating is legal prostitution because the guy pays for things and he gets companionship and/or sex in return. Even if the guy doesn't see it that way, there's still an expectation that I will do "girlfriend" things, assuming the "woman's" role in the relationship, since he's assuming the "man's" role.

3) It gets in the way of equality. If I hear one more guy complain that women are hypocrites because they want equality but still expect chivalry I'm going to scream. I highly doubt there are that many women who want both - most women I know are either feminists who don't like chivalry, or anti-feminists who would rather maintain their status in society so men will keep doing things for them.

Which leads me to my 4th issue with chivalry:

4) Chivalry makes women feel okay with inequality. I'm 90% convinced that's part of why it was implemented in society, so women will feel superior, and so women will be okay with how things are. As long as men keep doing nice things for them and treating them like princesses and queens, they will be okay with gender inequality and won't question it, let alone fight it. It's similar to the feminine mystique in the 1950's, make the life of a housewife look charming and irresistible so women will love their status as second class citizens.

5) It's a simplistic approach to dating. We're stuck on this idea that a "good boyfriend" foots the bill and gets the door, rather than setting higher, more complex standards for what makes a good partner. Doing nice things for a girl mean very little if they're done out of obligation. Paying for dinner means nothing if he's condescending towards me during the meal and doesn't listen to what I have to say. Getting the door for me isn't nearly as important as how he treats me when we're inside.

6) It's makes a lot of assumptions. It assumes that every couple has both a cisgendered, heterosexual man and a cisgendered, heterosexual woman. It also assumes that the man has more money, is stronger, and more able-bodied. This doesn't do much for a guy's self-esteem if he can't afford to take a girl out on a date or buy her presents, and it really doesn't help a guy's self-worth if he's handicapped and can't open the door for his date, or if he's vision impaired and can't drive her to the restaurant. I definitely think it's a problem when guys feel emasculated just because they can't do "the man's job" in the relationship.

Now, I have no problem with a guy getting the door if he gets there right before me. It's when he sprints in front of me to get it, holds the door when I'm still fifty feet away, or doesn't let me hold the door for him that I get a little peeved. I have no problem with a guy paying for dinner, or lunch, or breakfast, or whatever, and I may let him pay for most meals if he's making more money than me. I'm not a fan of going Dutch most of the time, usually I'll only go for it if we're just friends. But if he insists on paying for ALL the things and never lets me reciprocate, there's a problem. And yes, I'm aware that some servers will judge a guy if he doesn't foot the bill, I think that's garbage.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

To Men, About Feminism

Men, as much as I encourage you to become feminists or at least support feminism, I do not require it of you. You're allowed to choose not to be a feminist. You are, of course, allowed to join the movement if you want. However, whether you choose to join or not, there are some things you need to know:

1) Don't derail the discussion.
For example, if people are talking about Female Genital Mutilation, do NOT jump in and start ranting about male circumcision. While the two are similar in nature and have some parallels, they have a stark contrast in severity. If people are talking about barriers women face in the workforce, don't start going on about how there are some feminine jobs that men have a hard time entering. If people are talking about one thing, don't try to shift the topic to something pertaining to men's rights. While men's rights are of importance to feminism and do merit mention in some situations, by shifting a conversation to men's rights you are saying that men's rights should come first, and that whatever women's problem they're talking about couldn't possibly be anywhere near as important as men's problems.

And when you do bring up men's rights issues, don't be a jerk. Don't accuse people of being stupid  and misandrist just because they're talking about a problem as it pertains to women, and you really shouldn't insult them and call them gendered slurs such as "bitch" or "cunt."

2) Don't make it about you.
You don't rape women? You don't say sexist things? You're not like that? That's nice, here's a cookie. Just because you don't do something doesn't mean it doesn't happen. Just because you don't think a certain way doesn't mean no one does. Just because you don't know any misogynist people doesn't mean they don't exist. Just because you live in a blissful equality bubble doesn't mean sexism doesn't exist. And when people talk about male privilege, don't write it off just because you don't consider yourself "a sexist." A lot of people have unexamined privilege that they ought to take a look at, and a lot of people have prejudices they may not be aware of. Even women tend to harbor internalized misogyny. So be open the fact that you may be a little bit sexist, and be open to the fact that sexism exists outside your little social bubble.

3) Don't try to take the reigns.
Maybe you have some great ideas as to how feminism can move forward as a social movement and adapt to the changing times. STOP. Especially if you're new or not even a part of the movement. You may make suggestions if you're educated about what feminism actually is and why it operates the way it does. However, outright saying that feminism should change its name, that feminists should adopt a different demeanor, that feminists should shift their focus and prioritize different things, and then getting angry and frustrated when people say "no, we're not gonna do that" is not okay. It may be about equality, but your place is not to lead the movement and make major decisions for all feminists. That's not how it works.

Just because you have a mom and a sister and a girlfriend and some female friends does not mean you are an expert on women's issues or what it means to be a woman. In order to really understand it, LISTEN to women when they talk about what it's like to be a woman, and read books and blogs about feminism. Do not reject ideas just because you don't think they pertain to the women you know. Do not tell women to just suck it up and overcome whatever obstacles are in their path, don't tell them to just "get" some self-esteem or tell them to stop being so weak. You will show your privilege and you will sound ignorant as all hell.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Confession: I Don't Like Superhero Movies

I'm sorry, but I'm not sorry. I just don't like them. Watching The Avengers the other night and realizing that despite how well made it was, or how awesome Joss Whedon is, I just wasn't into it. I tried to figure out why. I came up with some feminist reasons, things that bothered me regarding the tokenism and how Black Widow was so heavily sexualized, but no, that wasn't it. I still can't figure it out, but superhero movies, for the most part, just don't interest me.

That's not to say I hate them. If my family wants to watch it for a family movie night, or a guy I'm seeing wants me to see it with him, or some friends (male or female) invite me to see it with them, I'll probably accept, because then it's social viewing. But I'm usually not one to go "oh my god, I HAVE to see this movie!" and wait in line for hours to see it at midnight.

I don't hate all action movies either. I really liked Kick Ass, I loved Sucker Punch, and I was one of the first people to see The Hunger Games at midnight. I also like some action anime. Not all, mind you, I never got into G Gundam but I really liked Gantz and I've recently got into Blood+ and Corpse Princess. And I am very much into horror movies, the gorier the better. So I don't hate all things masculine.

But I don't like that I don't like superhero movies or comics. They're pretty much the quintessential nerd genre, nerds are expected to like them just as nowadays we're expected to love Star Trek, Game of Thrones, and Dr. Who (especially us girl nerds), and as a self-identified nerd I feel like I'm supposed to like them or I may not be considered a real nerd. And nerd culture aside, I'm afraid if I admit to not liking the genre, my dislike will be attributed to my gender. To others, it may not be purely a matter of taste, but a matter of a woman not liking superhero stuff because she is a woman, and thus has different (read: inferior) taste and doesn't get it. In other words, they'll see me as a (stereo)typical girl. They may chuckle and pat me on the head and say "hehe, it's okay," adding in their head but never saying out loud: "after all, you're just a woman." Worse, I'll reinforce the stereotype that women as a while don't like or "get" superhero stuff, that women are just inherently different after all and thus feminism, as they keep insisting, really is irrelevant; that a woman couldn't possibly be genuinely into superhero movies or be a "real" nerd because nerdy things are for men and women don't like that stuff, so they don't really belong there.

Maybe I'm just paranoid, but I don't want to be seen as the reason, or even part of the reason, why female nerds can't have nice things. So I try to keep my dislike of superhero stuff to myself when around other nerds.

On Dress Codes

I'm bringing this up now because of the recent events in Brooklyn, where high school students protested a dress code that targeted young women's bodies. I've always had an opinion on dress codes. Reasonable ones are okay. For example, disallowing outfits where underwear is purposefully shown makes sense (see-through shirts, pants pulled halfway down the butt, "whale tails," and even bra straps showing is kinda tacky).To an extent, I understand private prep schools wanting students to look a certain, well, preppy way. However, when a dress code targets young women, or when the language is vague but the rules are mostly applied to female students, and the purpose is to make women less distracting, then I have a real problem.

This was a problem in middle school. Our dress code was pretty reasonable and reasonably enforced when we had a female principal. Then, when she left and we got Mr. Sanchioni, everything changed. By the time 8th grade rolled around, us girls couldn't wear tank tops, or anything strapless really (unless the straps were, I think, about an inch thick), short skirts, open toed shoes, or any outfit that showed any skin between the pants and shirt. Now, it's reasonable to ban cropped tops from a middle school, but they didn't even want outfits that showed skin when girls sat down or bent over. And while some teachers didn't care, others were extremely nitpicky and would approach girls at their lockers telling them to cover up. I was barely a teenager and I knew there was something wrong with it.

And why did we have this rule? Because bare skin was distracting to male students. I had to cover my body so the guys could learn. It had nothing to do with my well-being or my ability to learn, this wasn't about making sure young girls weren't overly sexualized, this wasn't even about imposing rules to give me the structure I needed to grow as an adolescent. This was purely about making sure the boys could learn. THAT was unfair. The message was "don't dress like a skank, the boys need to learn."

It didn't occur to them that girls were distracted too. Sometimes it was because of attractive guys, but usually because both guys and girls were being douchebags. I remember being picked on for having unplucked eyebrows, for having clothes that weren't trendy, for having skin that was oily and broken out, for my posture (people kept saying I walked with my chest thrust out, although I never did it on purpose), for my enlarged thyroid gland, for having a (real) boyfriend in Canada, for being half Canadian myself, the list goes on and on. I wonder if the principal cared about the bullying that was going on right under his nose. I also wondered if he was even aware that some girls felt the need to dumb themselves down in class, or that girls who did show their intelligence or actually tried in class were punished by their peers. Finally, it was really distracting to constantly worry if I was showing too much skin, it was distracting to be called out for showing "too much skin" when I sat down. Most of the female students were understandably outraged about the strict dress code, and not just because they wanted to look like they were "at the beach."

Unreasonably strict dress codes that target girls over boys are an unnecessary waste of energy. They distract students and teachers from the learning process by making people overly focused on clothing rather than education. Dress codes also hardly solve the larger problems that distract students from learning, such as bullying and harassment that hardly stem from girls showing their shoulders.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

No, I Don't Think Women Are Weak

I've blogged about this before but it warrants repeating. I, nor any feminist I know personally, thinks that all women are weak and need men to protect them. That's pretty much the opposite of what feminism as a whole believes. HOWEVER, we do acknowledge that women are human, therefore exhibit a range of strength, and some women are weak and vulnerable just like some men are weak and vulnerable. Feminists also acknowledge that this vulnerability is often taken advantage of, and that women are being screwed over in many ways that do warrant legal reform in order to prevent said screwing over.

The goal of feminism is not to turn every woman on the planet into a stoic badass. We do think that's a perfectly okay way to be, and we want to encourage that through empowerment. However, there's nothing wrong with being vulnerable, or sensitive, or emotional, or exhibiting any traits that are considered feminine and thus "weak." Women. Are. Human. And as humans, we are subject to the world around us whether we like it or not - anyone who has ever studied sociology, psychology, or communications will tell you that socialization does affect how a person develops. Looking glass self and all those fancy buzzwords. We shouldn't be surprised when women act the way they've been expected to act their whole lives, and we certainly shouldn't put down that behavior. If a woman chooses to embrace her vulnerability, or whatever other "weak," feminine traits within her, that's her own damn business. Feminism is about choice, remember? And remember that feminists also want men to be allowed to show their vulnerable sides as well.

That said, it's not sexist or somehow bad for women to acknowledge that women are getting the shitty end of the stick. They are being raped and beaten far more often than men, they are being paid less than men, they are still discriminated against. And while women should be empowered to fight that crap, there should be laws in place to protect them from the bullshit. I'm not saying every woman needs a knight in shining armor, but for god's sake, it's the law's JOB to protect people from being hurt and screwed over. It's just an unfortunate coincidence that the police forces and court systems are still dominated by men. That should change too, by the way.

Now, this came up when I posted something on Tumblr saying that if a woman feels uncomfortable in a situation - specifically, if she perceives a guy as "creepy," she should be allowed to trust her instincts and act accordingly. The reaction was that I was assuming women were all weak and needed protecting, and that most women unfairly label men "creepy" when they really should consider why they feel that way. Yes, a woman's perception could be shaped by sexism, ageism, racism, etc., but we shouldn't assume that's always the case. A woman could examine her perception and why she felt unsafe AFTER she has gotten to a safe place or situation. It's about priorities: safety first, then in-depth examinations of privilege. We need to trust that women can make decisions for themselves, especially in regards to safety. This is not about women needing to be protected, it's about women protecting themselves from perceived threats.

Silly me, I thought that women who ignored their instincts and stayed in creepy situations just to be nice and politically correct were the "stupid" ones that needed empowerment. Isn't teaching women how to protect themselves usually considered empowerment?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Race and Nerd Culture

It may not be my place for several reasons to discuss this matter, but I do feel it should be acknowledged. Nerd culture, along with being predominantly male, is overwhelmingly white as well. In fact, nerd culture is strongly associated with whiteness more than it is associated with maleness, as indicated by the song "White 'n' Nerdy" and the commonly phrase "I'm so white" to describe just how nerdy someone is.

Now, I can sort of give anime and Japanese video games a slight pass for having mostly white and Asian characters. There aren't many people of color in Japan, so you can't expect a high level of them in the media. They do exist in anime, of course. There's Anthy from Revolutionary Girl Utena - though I can't shake the fact that she's the most dehumanized character in the entire series, constantly being slapped, literally being treated like a slave and an object, and being extremely passive and allowing herself to be handed from person to person. A better example of women of color in anime is one of the girls in Nana whose name has escaped me since it's been entirely too long since I've watched the anime or read the series and Wikipedia is not helping. I remember her being a much stronger character, but still relatively marginalized. At my panel, a girl mentioned that she understands why there are so few people of color in anime, but she's always thrilled when she comes across them.

The interesting thing when it comes to race and gender in anime is that there are very few protagonists who are women of color. However, in Samurai Champloo one of the male protagonists is dark skinned, and there is of course Afro Samurai, one of the few dubs my anime club agreed to watch due to Samuel L. Jackson's voice acting.

While it's understood why these characters are few and far between, what we need to acknowledge the impact it has on American anime culture. Not only does it perpetuate stereotypes and makes it seem as though anime isn't "for" people of color, it leads to people of color having very few cosplay options if they wish to cosplay within their race - the alternative is to cosplay a white or Asian character, and risk getting some pretty harsh and racist backlash from people at the convention and from commenters on any pictures or videos they appear in. Low representation of a group in any form of media can have a negative impact on that group's psychological well-being and self-esteem, as well as the way they are perceived in the surrounding culture.

What's harder to excuse is the low representation of people of color - as well as Asians - in American comics, video games, webcomics, and science fiction movies, as well as British movies and TV shows commonly associated with nerd culture such as Doctor Who and Harry Potter. These countries have much higher numbers of blacks, Hispanics, and other ethnicities that are barely represented in the media in general. I for one cannot name any black superheros, and while I don't know of every comic ever created, I am fairly familiar with the more mainstream ones. My favorite internet cartoon series, Neurotically Yours, has one black character - a squirrel, naturally, and a very stereotypical black character at that. Not to bash NY too much, I love the series and that flaw isn't really going to change that, but it's a flaw worth pointing out.

I remember watching a friend of mine play a video game with a highly stereotypical black character on it, and when I pointed out the racism he said "nah, he's cool! and it's funny!" Well, easy for white people to find racial stereotypes hilarious, and I'm not saying I don't laugh when black people make fun of white people, but white people are the privileged group, the one in power, so it is different when we laugh at anther race's expense.

Another reason why we see so few people of color participating in nerd culture has to do with the connection between economic status and race. It's not racist to point out the remaining de facto segregation still affecting many African Americans and Hispanics, or the racial gaps in wage, employment, and education. This means that statistically, white people are more likely than black or Hispanic people to be middle and upper class, and that's pretty much the class you need to be in to even partially participate in nerd culture. Being a nerd is expensive! Manga is expensive, anime DVDs are expensive, video games are expensive, going to a convention is really expensive, merchandise is expensive, hell even the cost of comic books can add up. Not to mention, in order to watch anime legally you need to either buy DVDs, get a Netflix account, have cable, or at the very least have an internet connection that supports streaming (it's really frustrating to watch anything on a slow connection) - all of which cost money, though these things are usually taken for granted by most people in my anime club. Schools that have anime clubs are typically the wealthy schools mostly attended by white kids, whereas inner city schools that are predominantly attended by African American and Hispanic kids hardly have the money for after school clubs at all. Get anime from the library? Yeah, a good library in a middle class community perhaps. People in low income communities simply do not have the same access to nerd culture as people in more affluent neighborhoods. Unfortunately, the costs associated with being a nerd can skew the racial makeup of the subculture.

There are multiple systems of privilege that exist in nerd culture as well as American society as a whole. The main difference is that nerd culture prides itself on being so egalitarian and so "past" discrimination that they feel it's okay to engage in "ironic" sexism and racism, and they don't ever feel the need to examine their privileges even for a second, because they're "above" needing to do so. Any hint that this isn't true, that nerds are just as susceptible to discrimination is dismissed at best and met with anger and extreme defensiveness at worst. This, and the fact that I'm becoming increasingly involved with the subculture, is why I am now choosing to focus on the systems of privilege, especially gender dynamics, within it.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

"Housewife" is NOT an Insult!

It really bothers me when someone used the term "housewife" - usually 1950's housewife specifically - to describe someone they believe has little autonomy, self-worth, empowerment, or mind of her own. And it pisses me off.

For one thing, a woman is a housewife for one of two reasons: either she has chosen to do so, or she felt pressure from her social situation to do so. In the former scenario, we shouldn't shame a woman for her choice, even if we don't agree with it. She probably didn't choose it because it was the easy way out, because she had no "real" aspirations or dreams of her own, or because she has little personality and opinions and wants a man to dominate her. She probably did it because she just wanted that lifestyle, and found real fulfillment in homemaking and being with her children. Good for her. It's not for everyone, and it's certainly not feasible for everyone, but good for her all the same. Remember, feminism is about choices, and just as the second wave petitioned for the right to work, so must we defend the social right to stay at home.

In the latter scenario, where the woman felt an immense pressure to be a housewife either for social or religious reasons, we can't shame her for doing what she was socialized to do. It's maddening when this happens in general. Sure, we can encourage women to go against the grain and flip the middle finger to those who control her, but to actually expect women to do so and then shame them for failing to rise above social pressures is unrealistic. Not to mentioned privileged. Most of the people who have told me to "just ignore" social pressures tend to be guys, and while guys certainly feel social pressure, it's not the same as it is for women. Women, especially young women, are given all sorts of messages from the cradle to the grave about what it means to be a "good woman," a "good girl," a nice girl. From my research, I've found that all the pressure young women are under as they grow up can take a really serious toll on them emotionally.

Now, when I explain this to guys, they laugh. They don't see it, they don't experience it, they usually don't inflict it, so they don't see what the big deal it. They may not see it because women aren't supposed to show it, even to each other, leading many of us to feel alone. These guys think that anyone who can't take this pressure in stride must just be a "pussy," because it can't be that hard. OR that anyone who even acknowledges it is sexist against women. Women are strong, they say, women can handle it. At least, empowered women can.

Back to the housewife issue, I can't understand why people shame women for just being what everyone around them expects them to be. They're put in a double bind, either do what her parents and her partner and her church and her social class expect of her, or do what more progressive people want her to do which is rebel - and she can't possibly please everyone. So she could just please herself, but at what cost? Losing the support of those she loves, experiencing great shame from those around her, to name a few. Losing membership of the church she has been otherwise loyal to her whole life. At this point, what does she want? She can't tell. And if she chooses wrong, someone will probably still make assumptions about her motives, especially if her choice isn't what they think is best for her.

The problem is, and this is typically what male privilege prevents guys from understanding, is that even now in the 21st century, women are still being socialized to be pleasers. Please their parents, please their friends, their boyfriends, people on the street, their church - everything they do, they are expected to do with others in mind. They're still expected to be police, nice, and selfless. Even when a woman does do something genuinely for herself, others assume she must be doing something for attention or validation from someone. Living for yourself, for a woman, is seen as a largely selfish act. Don't want to have kids? Selfish. Don't want to stay at home? Selfish. Don't want to work? Selfish. Don't want to put on makeup and look pretty when you go to the mall? Selfish. (yeah, really. I know there are times, like a formal event or job interview, when you need to look nice, but I've gotten some pretty harsh looks for going out in public with just a t-shirt, jeans, loose ponytail, and no makeup. people actually look disgusted and offended that I didn't doll myself up.)

There are two things I'm trying to get at: 1) Do not use the term "housewife" as an insult. The choice to become a housewife is a complex one that has many social and economic factors and the fact that someone is a housewife is not really indicative of her personality or her level of self-worth. 2) Stop shaming women for not rising above the social pressures they've had to deal with their whole lives. Again, it's a complex, social and psychological issue, and just because someone has a hard time rebelling against society doesn't mean they're weak, stupid or immature, and to make those kinds of judgments is hardly fair to that person.

I think I've said this before on my blog, but for the love of god, let women be human. Let us have bad days, moments of weakness, self-doubt, etc. without shaming us for said humanity. I am a person, I should not be expected to "rise above" my gender or its expectations and become this superhero you think a feminist or empowered woman is supposed to be.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Mixed Feelings About Geek Girl Con

I was THRILLED when I heard about Geek Girl Con, really I was. Finally, I thought, a convention addressing female nerds and their interests, rather than catering almost exclusively to guys. I wished I could go, but unfortunately the convention is in Seattle. I do not live in Seattle, nor do I have the means to fly out there, stay in a hotel room for 2-3 nights, and buy food in food courts or restaurants or wherever food is available for that weekend.

Seriously guys, conventions add up, think about it. There's registration, which is obvious, then unless you live next door to the convention center there's usually some travel expense incurred. If you're coming from out of the state or even outside the city you probably need a hotel room unless you have a friend who lives in the area. Then you have to get food for all the days you're there, and chances are the food by the convention center isn't cheap. And of course, most conventions have some consumerism aspect to it, most people buy something in the dealers/expo room, artists alley, whatever is there, it's difficult to resist. If you want to talk about intersectionality in nerd culture, members of marginalized groups such as women and people of color often feel an increased desire to prove their nerdiness in order to compensate for the fact that the way they were born doesn't correlate with the default nerd image (white, male, middle class, etc.), and prove that they belong in the community, and one of the best ways to do this is by buying nerdy things and attending more nerd conventions. The supposed implication is that if they don't buy manga and video games and they don't attend all these conventions, they must not be "real" nerds after all.

So anyway, yeah I can't go to Geek Girl Con unless they expand and do an eastern branch like the Penny Arcade Expo. Probably not likely to happen soon.

Now let me make this clear, I'm all for having spaces for women in nerd culture. As long as we're marginalized it's good to have at least a few spaces for us where that isn't the case and we can focus on OUR perspective on how things are going.

However, the problem is that unless we infiltrate the mainstream nerd culture so to speak, we end up with a bit of gender segregation going on. The spaces for women will remain necessary as the rest of nerd culture remains male-focused. The overall goal should be to change the latter so that clubs, conventions, late night cable lineups, etc. cater to both genders. There should be an effort not just on women's websites and women's conventions to address sexism and nerd culture, that effort should be in regular conventions and websites as well.

My First Panel

Last Sunday I held a panel - well, a one woman panel anyway - on the topic of gender and nerd culture at Anime Boston. Anime Boston, for those unfamiliar, is the biggest anime convention in New England, so it felt like the perfect place to start giving this presentation. It was originally going to be more of a discussion, which is why I requested a small room, but I got carried away with my presentation and it took up the better part of an hour.

Now, the panel was originally waitlisted. The coordinator said it wasn't exactly relevant for an anime and Japanese gaming convention. Fair enough, it does deal with a broad issue of nerd culture in general. And my friends were unconvinced that a lot of people would be interested in a panel like that. But it was accepted on the second and final round, giving me two weeks to prepare. I advertised it to people on my friendlist, and on the convention's form and Facebook page, but only my friends RSVP'd, so when the day finally came I was slightly afraid no one outside my circle of friends would attend.

I filled the room. People came in droves, a staff member had to clear out the people sitting on the floor and there was a line of people waiting to get in during the panel. I should consider asking for a bigger room next time. I was thrilled, and I was also excited that a lot of people seemed genuinely interested in the topic and had questions and comments throughout the presentation. In the future I may ask people to hold questions and comments for the end, but I really like engaging people in what I'm talking about.

I also need to decide whether I want to cut the presentation down to be a little shorter, or ask for more time. My friend insisted that if it was any longer people might be bored, but I'm unconvinced.

Unfortunately I haven't gotten a whole lot of substantial feedback in terms of what I should cover in the future, or maybe some things I should change, so I've mostly been trying to figure that out on my own. For one thing I plan on talking about booth babes in future presentations, as well as common gendered tropes in anime. I will admit I may have made a mistake in assuming that guys like the male fantasy of power that the hypermasculine video game heroes usually represent - some do, but since the panel I've found that many guys actually feel a disconnect between themselves and the super muscular man-apes in video games, hence why so many of them opt for the female playable characters when possible, because they are easier to relate to despite being female.

This seems to be a presentation that grows and evolves with time, but nevertheless something I want to keep doing. I very much enjoyed being up there and talking about the subject. I also didn't mind the applause and the praise I got afterwards, it was pretty rewarding.

You Know What Happens When You Assume

This is a general message, but it's something I really want decision-makers in the nerd community to hear: stop assuming what men and women want. It's getting old.

Game developers assume their audience is mostly white, heterosexual teenage boys, so they cater to what they THINK that demographic wants. Vendors at conventions use booth babes because they assume the (presumably male dominated) audience wants to see. Anime club officers will mostly show anime aimed at men, because they assume that the women won't care if all the club watches is robots and pantyshots and the men won't want to watch anything that remotely appeals to a female audience.

Fact is, men don't necessarily need to see impossibly hot women in impossibly skimpy outfits in order to enjoy a video game. A poll on the PAX website showed that convention attendees preferred to have knowledgeable people working at booths rather than just attractive women who don't know much about the product. Statistics show that many male gamers actually prefer to play as women in games where they can choose to play as a man or woman, because the male option is so hypermasculine that they actually relate to the woman more than the man (not to mention the female avatars tend to look more human than the male options). Plenty of male gamers find it refreshing and therefore interesting when the hero in a game happens to be a woman. Plenty of guys enjoy watching Studio Ghibli movies, many of which feature strong female protagonists. When my anime club watched anime featuring female protagonists, or just had a strong presence of women, they guys didn't run away screaming, their junk didn't fall off, most of them ENJOYED the series.

Now, I wonder what the actual standards are for what constitutes a strong female character. I feels like female protagonists are often under a lot of scrutiny and are expected to be nothing less than superheroes with hearts and minds of steel, with very little femininity to speak of. There's still this femiphobic idea that a woman cannot be both feminine and strong, she has to be one or the other. I also get the feeling that female leads have to be REALLY awesome in order to win the attention of male viewers. BUT the fact remains that men don't have quite the aversion to female characters that a lot of executives seem to think.

Ultimately, decision makers in the nerd community need to do a little more market research before just assuming what their male and female demographics want. Because as it turns out, they're not always correct.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Booth Babes

This past weekend, a scantily clad cosplaying model was asked to leave the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) East, due to complaints that her outfit was too revealing and the staff made the judgment call that she was in violation of their recent "no booth babes" rule. A rule I'm very happy about, really.

Now this is still a fairly vague concept to me because having only attended Anime Boston and ROFLcon I haven't really seen booth babes in action. I just read about them. And I wish I'd thought to mention them in Sunday's panel on gender and nerd culture but I didn't even think about the subject when putting together the presentation. No matter, I'll bring it up next time and in the meantime conduct research on the subject.

And, almost by instinct, this appears to be an intersectionality issue. These women constantly report being sexually harassed and even groped on the job, and what's worse is that people tell them they should expect it because they are scantily clad and attractive. If they don't like it, they are told to just get another job. Because clearly, if you work any job at a convention, your job options are wide open. I've never worked at one personally, but I can tell you that it looks like hell, like it's basically a retail job where the crowds are relentless, and due to the nature of nerd culture, not always the friendliest people. Working as a booth babe looks glamorous to a newcomer, and may be only slightly less awful than, say, working in a fast food restaurant. Even without the harassment, you're on your feet in heels for hours on end, you have to smile all the time and be nice to everyone, even the biggest assholes on the planet. Some might be in it for the modeling aspect, others may choose it because it's a job they happen to be qualified for, and they need the money. They may also appreciate the flexible hours, and the fact that the jobs are mostly on weekends, leaving them the rest of the week to a) work another job or b) take care of their kids. Or perhaps look for a job that doesn't involve as much sexual harassment, but let's face it, many of them do.

In general, telling someone they should just quit their job and get another is incredibly classist. It's also ignorant of the fact that most lower level jobs are just as terrible, and that the devil you know is better than the devil you don't. The crappy job you may be leaving may actually be less crappy than the new one, it's really a gamble. And let's not forget that not everyone can afford to remain unemployed for an indefinite amount of time.

Also, harassment doesn't have to be part of the job. Maybe it is, but it doesn't have to be. You don't have to harass someone just because she's a booth babe, you can just as easily not harass her and your convention experience will be completely unchanged. Wearing a skirt for any reason (other than maybe being an actual sex worker) is not an invitation to treat someone like a sex object; same goes for being nice to someone. Just because I make eye contact with a guy does not mean he's allowed to be creepy toward me.

Yes, these women know they might be harassed if they take the job. They also know if they don't take the job, they might not be able to pay rent.

I also take issue with the gender dynamic at play in general. Here we see another example of women's bodies being used to promote a product. It's been used for a long, long time and in all sorts of media but that doesn't make it okay. Another problem is that by using booth babes, these dealers and in fact the convention itself sends a message that their intended audience is men, they are only interested in investing in men's interests and ultimately only care about their male customers. This message may make the expo scene unappealing to women, who are not comfortable in a room filled with overt sexualization of women, where women's primary role is that of a sex object. PAX may have taken a huge risk in banning the use of booth babes, because they may have angered their male base - the fact that they took that risk earns them major points in my book, and the fact that people aren't really that angry should send a message to the rest of the industry: it might not be a horrible thing if booth babes were a thing of the past. People will still attend the conventions, they'll still buy things, and they'll still have a good time. I'm surprised men aren't offended at the implication they need boobs to entice them into buying something.

Monday, April 9, 2012

My History with Video Games

Growing up in the 1990's, video games always seemed like a "guy thing." I didn't know any girls who played video games, the people I remember playing them were my neighbor and friend's older brother, and some of my male cousins. I can't remember if I wasn't interested because they were a guy thing, or if that perception made me feel like I shouldn't be interested. I think I may have wanted to try but was too afraid to ask. Though oddly enough I did play with some "boy toys" like Legos and Hot Wheels. I don't remember seeing video game commercials on TV growing up, or if I did they did not interest me for a long time.

The first video game I remember playing was Power Pete. It was a game where a toy soldier, very masculine and GI Joe-esque, would battle through several worlds in a toy store to rescue bouncing bunnies. Yeah, really. It was highly addictive though. It came pre-installed on my family's computer, an early Macintosh desktop. I saw my dad playing it once, and eventually decided I wanted to try. I think I remember asking my dad too, though I wonder if he was hesitant at first. Again, I was young, we still lived in the apartment at the time so I couldn't have been older than 7. Most of the games I played had educational purposes: Math Blaster, Treasure Cove, Millie's Math House, stuff like that. But I got into it and boy did I love it! Although I don't think I beat it for a few years. It wasn't exactly easy. God I miss that game.

I didn't know what Zelda was, nor did I know a heck of a lot about Mario other than my cousins in Canada liked to play it and they were often frustrated with the game. Again, it looked like fun but I was afraid to ask if I could try. Never mind learning about games like Silent Hill or Final Fantasy until I was much, much older. Not like I would have been allowed to play them until I was older.

When I was in elementary school, I think third or fourth grade, I finally wanted a Playstation. I think it was the Spice Girls video game that intrigued me. Though I'd seen commercials for the Spyro game and that looked like fun too. I was in forth grade when I got it, and it came with a demo disk that got me hooked on Spyro, Crash Bandicoot Warped, and Medievil (which I pronounded "Medi-evil" for the longest time). I rented a few others too that I don't remember. Of course, with the exception of the Spice Girls game which I hardly count nowadays, all the video games I really liked had male heroes. And I barely noticed it, though I did enjoy the chance to play as Coco Bandicoot in parts of Warped and again in Crash Team Racing where you could choose which character you could drive as. I also found a cheat to turn Spyro pink and used it. I didn't mind that I usually had to play as a male character because the games were fun regardless, although I always relished the opportunity to play a female character when possible.

I remember not being allowed to play Medievil until I was 12, and even then my dad had his hesitations. I think I remember trying to sneak it somehow, maybe I was playing the demo or something, and one of my friends narc'd on me to my dad and I got in trouble. I think that happened anyway . . . ANYWAY that kept me from even touching the other, more violent games. Then again, the horror genre didn't really intrigue me much anyway. Wasn't a horror fan until later in life. And I didn't have gamer friends. I had cousins who were into games but my friends weren't, until I got to 6th grade and a couple kids in my science class also liked Spyro. They seemed to grow out of it after a while.

I remember being very hesitant to try new video games when around male peers, or groups of peers that were predominantly male anyway. In general I have a fear of failing at something and looking stupid, which is why I'm generally uncomfortable with one on one lessons in just about anything, but when it came to video games it wasn't just the fear of failing that kept me away from the controller. I was afraid that I would do poorly and look stupid, and my failure to immediately catch on would be attributed to my gender rather than my rookie status. I figured people would expect me to do poorly because I was a girl, and then laugh when I would inevitably fail. Silly girl, thinking she could play video games, now let the men keep playing. Now, was that a fair assumption? I don't know.

Even now I feel a push to work just as hard to get good at a game so I won't be seen as some silly girl trying to play video games. I'm still afraid to play anything not dance related because I'm afraid that if I fail, or if I don't do a good job, I will be judged not as a bad player, or even a new player still trying to get the hang of a new gameplay style (I'm still awful at first person shooters like Bioshock), but that my poor playing will be tied to my gender. Do not want!

I generally keep my mouth shut when it comes to games. I don't want to admit that I haven't played X game or haven't finished Y game. I don't call myself a gamer because I'm afraid I won't actually fit the criteria and, thanks to the "fake girl geek" stereotype, I will be labeled a poser rather than a newbie who has simply given herself a title she has yet to earn. Kind of like how people called me a poser when I identified as a "punk" while not quite into the right bands to be able to call myself that. Rather than say "I wouldn't call those bands punk, but you're headed in the right direction, here give these bands a listen," they would flatly tell me the bands I liked weren't punk rock and called me a poser behind my back. Not. Helpful. Or when people called me a "fluff bunny" when I claimed to be Wiccan but had only read Silver Ravenwolf and hadn't joined a coven. I still haven't joined a coven, though I've found better authors and websites on the subject - still, I don't call myself a Wiccan, I say I'm Pagan with Wiccan leanings, and I get crap for that too so sometimes, depending on the situation, I don't say anything.

In either case, it would have been awesome if someone had recommended better bands, or books, or whatever, in order to get me further into something I was clearly interested in, rather than immediately call me a poser and shut me out. They didn't have to shut me out.

The fact is, I have game ADD. I get frustrated, I put the game down, and I may or may not ever get back to it. I may find something else and forget about it. I fear asking for help for the same reasons I listed above, I'm afraid of fulfilling the clueless/stupid gamer girl stereotype and having people chuckle at me because, you know, I'm just some girl that can't figure out something so simple. Or someone who hasn't beaten a game that "everyone" has already beaten like ten times. I'm just getting into it now? Psh, kinda late to the game, I must be trying to impress a guy or something.

Yeah, maybe I am. Maybe I'm trying to impress ALL the guys and show them that my uterus doesn't make me incapable of playing/genuinely liking video games.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

"Post-Racial" My Pasty White Butt

First Trayvon Martin, a young African American in Florida, gets shot because he "looked" like he might be a threat. He looked like a threat because he was black and wearing a hoodie, that's it. He wasn't armed, he wasn't "up to no good," he was walking home from the local 7/11. While there was plenty of media outcry against the shooting, some people believe that he was "asking" to be shot simply for "dressing like a thug." Which is weird because white people wear hoodies all the time and aren't called thugs for doing so.

Not too long after this news broke, the Hunger Games came out and people were SHOCKED to see little Rue being played by an African American actress - even though the character in the book is clearly specified as having brown skin. Twitter exploded with people expressing disappointment and even rage that Rue wasn't the innocent, white, blonde girl they imagined, and was instead just "some black girl." Some people actually said it ruined the movie for them. Some were also annoyed that Cinna was also played by an African American, though he was never written as a black man he could have been any race. I think I did, however, picture him as having dark, cinnamon colored skin because of the name. Again, there was disappointment that the two "good characters" in the movie were black.

Why can't the good people be black?

What no one has pointed out yet is that the Twilight movies, particularly the first, had some racial casting as well. None of the characters, to my knowledge, were specified in the book as being non-Caucasian, but in the movie two of Bella's school friends were Asian, and the guy who almost kills her with his van and one of the "bad" vampires are both African American. I'll be honest, these casting choices were certainly unexpected, but they weren't unpleasant surprises, and to my knowledge there was no public outburst of rage regarding these casting choices.

Perhaps the difference, why people were okay with the Twilight guys being black and not Rue, has to do with this still pervasive idea that innocent equals white, and black equals up to no good. Though we don't, or at least shouldn't, equate white with innocence as the real bad guys in Hunger Games are all white and so are the really evil vampires in the Twilight franchise (Laurent does try to kill Bella in one movie, but he's nowhere near as sinister and evil as James and Victoria, and of course all the members of the Volturi are white; the Twilight franchise does, however, have its own racial issues I'm not going to touch in this post). These two recent media explosions regarding race should be an indicator that we're not post racial. We're not all racist, but many people still cling to harmful stereotypes about people of color.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Not a perfect meme, I'm crap at this stuff, but you get the idea. What I'm trying to illustrate, and ideally explain without sounding like a horrible person, is that the expectation to fight every form of oppression is overwhelming as hell. Again, intersectionality is awesome, fighting oppression rocks, but to have this all or nothing approach (either you're in it fully or you don't belong at all) isn't realistic. People should be allowed to pick their battles and prioritize their activism without being made to feel guilty.

Under Pressure in the Feminist Community

Most feminists assert that as long as you believe in gender equality, you are a feminist. They encourage people to take on the feminist identity and wear it with pride. There's certainly no shame in being a feminist. At least, I don't think so, though I have been attacked for being an out and proud feminist by ignorant douchebuckets.

But I've found that while being a feminist is (supposedly) as easy as believing in gender equality, being a part of the feminist community is hard. Online and in club meetings, I'm in almost constant contact with people who believe that if you're a feminist, you should do X, or you shouldn't do Y, or you should also believe Z, etc. There are unofficial rules. Suddenly it's not enough to just believe in gender equality, you have to not only support but be actively involved in every social justice movement currently in existence; every consumer choice must be informed and socially responsible - local, small business, woman owned (ideally), fair trade, organic, vegan, doesn't support violent conflicts overseas or causes counter to the progressive agenda, etc.; donate most of your disposable income to charities, but only really good charities; avoid mainstream media and watch mostly independent movies and listen to independent music, especially stuff performed and produced by women, especially queer women and women of color, absolutely nothing that sexualizes women, or anything violent (violence is inherently counter to social justice, apparently); never support banks, you must keep your money in credit unions; stick to organic cosmetics that don't contain any carcinogens; I can list off all the "rules" I've been exposed to all day, but those are the ones off the top of my head.

There's nothing horrible about these rules, they all act to further important social justice campaigns. It's just really unrealistic to expect one person to adhere to all the rules the feminist community constantly tries to shove down the throats of its members. The model, ideal feminist is just that - ideal. It's hardly achievable. If you're poor, chances are you can't afford to adhere to the "rules" regarding what you should and should not buy, and where you should and should not buy it. Not to mention, poor and even middle class women don't have a lot of free time or resources to participate in social justice as much as the feminist community expects of its members. Third wave feminism may advocate for poor women, but the community itself is still one that poor women cannot participate in without feeling guilty, like they fall short of expectations. The conferences are expensive, the focus on academic theories and constant
examination and analysis of privilege is one that practically requires a college education.

Not to mention, it's counterproductive. Feminism counters the idea that women should live up to this socially constructed "ideal woman," because that impossible ideal is detrimental to women's self-esteem - but the feminist community has itself constructed an ideal feminist that is just as hard to live up to without tremendous sacrifice. The "ideal feminist" leaves little room for individuality. It's hard to be multidimensional and pursue one's unique set of interests if you're giving your whole self to social justice activism. I myself feel guilty for leaving Students for Choice early to attend ballet class.

In my middler year I threw myself into activism. When I wasn't in class or attending activist and political groups on campus, I was going from protest to protest, at each rally learning about upcoming events and going to whatever I could. But in doing so I sacrificed my other interests. Then, I'm ashamed to admit, the pendulum swung the other way when I went back to anime club and almost immediately began dating a guy in the club. Nowadays I try to strike a balance, it's the best thing I can do for myself. But that balance means that I still feel guilty for hearing about a protest or meeting or speakout or rally of some kind that my peers in Students For Choice or the Feminist Student Organization passionately compel each other to attend. I feel like a bad feminist for once again missing the CLPP conference, this year because my ballet recital is that weekend (in past years I've missed because of work - again, the almost inherent classism rears its ugly head, in order to attend CLPP you not only need money and transportation, but the whole weekend off, which isn't doable for people who work part time jobs, many of which not only prefer but require weekend availability).

Maybe I'm being paranoid, maybe it's anxiety, maybe I'm "just crazy" (because y'know, women are all insane), and maybe people aren't judging me as harshly as I think they are. Maybe I'm insecure and too desperate to win the approval of my peers - but isn't it human to want to win over the approval of the community you want to belong to? I can't be the only one internalizing all this pressure from the feminist community. Ultimately, this may do more harm than good. Encouraging each other to take up other causes and be informed consumers is one thing, and an intersectional approach certainly has merit, but the insane pressure to live up to this feminist ideal may be turning people off from the movement. It's the same way I don't identify as Wiccan, and sometimes I'm even hesitant to call myself Pagan because I may not be Pagan "enough," I may not know enough or worship enough or fit the model of a "correct" Pagan to deserve the identity. Sometimes I'm hesitant to even try to become a member of the feminist community because I feel inadequate.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Sex Week at Northeastern

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this post are of a personal nature and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs of modern day feminism. They are not meant to inform anyone of diddly squat, I acknowledge that my perceptions may not be entirely accurate, and I certainly acknowledge that my feelings toward the subject at hand are not 100% feminist, nor do I think this is how a feminist ought to think.

I don't get it. I really don't understand my feelings towards Sex Week at my school. I am a pro-choice, sex-positive feminist, who certainly enjoys sex and has no problem with other people having as much sex as they please. Yet when Sex Week rolls around, my appreciation for the spread of free condoms and sexual health tips is somewhat dulled by a weird, uncomfortable feeling with an unknown source.

Don't ask me why it makes me uncomfortable. I know it shouldn't, I know I should LOVE that week with all my slutty, feminist heart. I really, truly don't know why I don't like it.

Maybe because, to me, it doesn't celebrate all kinds of sexuality. It seems to celebrate one kind of sexuality and rarely seems to explore alternatives. It focuses on people who are having sex and seems to encourage people to open their sexual boundaries just a little more, ignoring people who choose not to be sexual for whatever reason, or people who are somewhat sexual but would rather confine their sex lives to the bedroom. It's mostly heteronormative as well. I dunno, it just seems to alienate certain groups of people.

Maybe I'm the one who feels alienated. Don't ask me why. It just never feels like my thing. I never feel all that compelled to partake in the events, the magazine always feels drab and boring - maybe that's it. Maybe it's boring. No, boring wouldn't make me uncomfortable. So what the hell is it?

Maybe it's because while I'm open about my sexuality in some settings - with friends, in certain club meetings, and at certain feminist events on campus - I'm a little shy about my really rather complicated sexuality when it comes to the general public.

I have no problem going to passion parties, I had no problem attending Oh Megan's event. It could be a "vibe" thing. Those events felt like Bitch magazine while Sex Week feels like the love child of Hustler and Cosmo. The Feminist Student Organization/Students for Choice events felt like Good Vibrations while Sex Week feels distinctly more like Condom World. Honestly, I don't feel comfortable engaging with the programming to fully grasp what it's all about, but I think the fact that there's something about Sex Week that turns me off the second the schedule is released ought to count for something.

The worst part is I feel like a terrible person for feeling this way. I feel as though I ought to embrace it, and that feeling uncomfortable is judgmental and bitchy and I should give the programming my full support. Because a good feminist would, right? Otherwise I may just be some ignorant, pearl-clutching prude.

Or it's possible that I'm entitled to my feelings and I don't have to justify every emotion to myself, let alone the world.

So those are possible reasons why the whole thing makes me want to hide under the covers for a week. Still not sure what the exact reasons are. Maybe it'll become more clear in the coming week or so.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Why I'm Sick of "Crazy"

I'm really, really, REALLY, tired of hearing that all women are crazy. "Bitches be crazy," people say. "Men fuck shit up, women are fucked up," says a famous comedian, and I've heard far too many (male) comedians say similar things, that all women are psycho. Stop it. Seriously, stop it.

How is saying that all women are crazy any less sexist than saying all women are stupid, or all women are weak and helpless, or that all men are jerks, or all men are obsessed with sex? All of those statements are sexist. Any generalization like that, where you say all members of a certain gender have an inherent personality trait, is sexist. Period.

I don't care if you've met women who were a little unhinged. Maybe you even knew of a man being abused by a woman. Maybe YOU were abused by a woman. Maybe you have lots of bad experiences with women, but that it's still completely unfair to say that all women are screwed in the head.

Sexist generalizations aside, it creates a prejudice people have regarding women. If we assume all, or even most, women are crazy, we expect crazy, and then when a woman gives any indication that she may be "crazy," we slap that label on her right away, and suddenly any psychological abnormality or personality quirk is attributed to her being crazy.

There's also a huge double standard in place. In order to call a man crazy, he has to be really unhinged. He has to pull a Charlie Sheen type stunt or have extreme religious views. It doesn't take much to call a woman crazy. All she has to do is get upset with her boyfriend for flirting with another girl right in front of her. She has to get mad at her roommates for not cleaning up after themselves. Just like women get called bitches for behavior that's considered normal or only mildly problematic coming from men.

Throughout history, women have been assumed to be psychologically inferior and unstable. From ancient Greece through the 19th Century, women were commonly diagnosed with "female hysteria." Women were diagnosed with hysteria for really any symptom that couldn't be explained. Doesn't sound too different from today, where women are assumed to be crazy due to any inexplicable abnormality.

Because it's easy to call a woman crazy. Trying to find out what's really bothering her means doing stuff. Asking her how she feels, listening to her talk about her feelings and her concerns. And even if you do that, it's very convenient to say "nope, you're just crazy" rather than take her seriously, especially if you don't agree with her.

Women acting crazy is a source of entertainment for Western society. I'm talking about reality TV that focuses on women's lives. Real Housewives, Toddlers and Tiaras, Dance Moms, and most other reality shows that are about women, are basically showcasing women behaving in ridiculous, outrageous ways - or being "crazy," and we love to watch it and go "haha wow, those women are crazy!" We love to watch them and pass judgment about how "crazy" they are. And of course, these shows reinforce the stereotype that all women are crazy. But while we like to watch women we perceive as crazy, we don't want to associate with them. We like to alienate "crazy" women, for fear that they will erupt and spew molten crazy all over us when we least expect it, ruining our parties and social gatherings, causing trouble in our groups of friends. This is why so many young women avoid other young women altogether, they think all women are crazy drama queens and it's just better to hang out with guys.

It's dismissive. Maybe a woman does have a real problem, maybe she needs help, but even if she is struggling with mental illness, calling her crazy not only reduces her problem, makes it seem as though it's an incurable part of her. "Crazy" has a very negative, judgmental implication to it, often tied to a woman's perceived morality, almost as though being "crazy" is pretty damn close to being evil.

And on a personal note, being called crazy can really hurt.

"Crazy" is usually used as an insult, and usually used against women. We use it to bait women into behaving in a way that we consider acceptable for women, threatening to label any women who takes one step out of line as "crazy." We use it as a scarlet letter to label women we'd rather not associate with, sewing it into a woman's reputation and public identity. We use it as a derogatory term against women, and men to an extent, who struggle with real psychological illnesses. Yes, men are sometimes called crazy too, but nowhere near as often as women are, and the concept of "crazy" is rarely used to control men and dismiss their experiences. This is why I'm really fed up with the word, and why I wish people would stop using it as an insult so frequently.

Affirmative Action vs. Entitled White Kids

Time to step away from feminism for a wee bit and talk about the issue of affirmative action. Because unfortunately white people won't stop whining about it.

I grew up in a white, rich, suburban town, so naturally I was socialized to hate affirmative action from the moment I knew what it was. Racism! Reverse Discrimination! We don't need that stuff, the civil rights movement is over, no one's racist against black people anymore, right? And naturally, most college applicants despise anything that might keep them from getting into their top school, so going into my senior year there was extra adversity towards affirmative action. "You might not get into the school of your dreams because a black kid with a slightly lower GPA might be given your spot." As if we were somehow entitled to college admission.

When I got to college, one of my first classes was Introduction to Law, where everything I thought I knew about affirmative action was turned on its ass. I learned that racial quotas were actually unconstitutional and effectively illegal, and that in order to be considered constitutional an affirmative action admissions system has to consider all pertinent elements of diversity - race being one of them, of course, but also things like overcoming adversity, traveling abroad (something plenty of rich, white kids do), volunteer and work experience - basically, you don't have to be black to benefit from affirmative action. After that course, I had an entirely different perception of affirmative action, and it only evolved from there when I realized the value of cultural diversity in the classroom. Not that my school is extremely diverse, we do have a lot of international students and ethnic minorities but we're still mostly white and middle to upper class (you can't throw a hockey puck without hitting someone wearing a North Face or Ugg boots). Still, during class discussions it's always great to hear from someone with a different cultural perspective in the classroom, especially when they're about social and political issues.

Some may argue that it's racist to even suggest that African American and Hispanics still need a boost to achieve equality in this day and age. While I think the narrative of a white person stepping in and saving the day may be problematic, it's not racist to point out the ways in which we're NOT a post-racial society. It's not racist to point out that de facto segregation still exists, with many low income areas highly populated by ethnic minorities and most wealthy suburbs dominated by white people. It's not racist to point out racial gaps in wage, employment, and education. It's not racist to say that most suburban schools (especially the ones with state-of-the art facilities and some of the best teachers around) are mostly white, while run-down, inner city schools have mostly African American and Hispanic students. It is racist to say that all black people are poor and uneducated and cannot advance themselves, while all white people are wealthy, well educated and capable of succeeding in the professional world, but am I making those kinds of generalizations? No, I don't believe I am. If I did by accident, I apologize, because I swear to god I don't think that way.

So yeah, affirmative action may not be a perfect system, it may mean some really smart, white people don't get into their top schools and have to settle for their second choices (oh no!), but it's also still necessary. I'll be interested to see how the Supreme Court case goes, I'm hoping the ruling will be relatively similar to the last two.

My Experiences with Birth Control

I wanted to go on birth control when I was a teenager. It had very little to do with sex, really. I did want to have sex with my then-boyfriend, but whether I had access to birth control pills or not wasn't really going to impact that decision. I had condoms and, to my under developed teenage brain, that was all we really needed. We never actually had sex, by the way, but that's not really relevant.

I wanted birth control because I had awful cramps. Not cramps that kept me home from school, mind you, but that's mostly because my parents didn't think that was a good enough reason to miss school, so I had to stick a Thermacare heating pad in my underwear and suck it up. But dear god they were awful. Not to mention my other symptoms, and of course my acne, which I didn't have a problem with most of the time in high school, but still, birth control could have helped with that. But my mom was too worried about me having sex to let me get on the pill until I was 18 and about to head off to college.

Honestly, whether someone can get birth control probably won't make or break their decision to have sex. It might for some people, but for most people (I think), if birth control pills are inaccessible they're just going to use condoms. And the only barrier to condoms, other than the fact that they cost money, is that some pharmacies in low income areas keep them under lock and key and you need a sales associate to get them for you, kind of like whitening strips and razor blades. Even if buying them is embarrassing, I have not heard one story of a sales associate saying "sorry, I'm Catholic" and refusing service. I'm sure it's happened somewhere at some point, but clearly it's not all over the internet. The only thing restricting access to birth control does is make sex less safe and unplanned pregnancy more prevalent. I'm not saying that restricting access to birth control isn't a problem, it certainly is, all I'm saying is that restricting it because you think it'll keep people from having sex is flawed logic. So you're limiting reproductive freedom based on flawed logic, not to mention an archaic reason. It's not the government's business, or my employer's business (Catholic or not) whether I have sex.

Okay at this point I'm just covering my bases so no one reads this and says "but you forgot THIS reason why barriers to birth control are bad" or "no no no, that's not THE reason why it's bad," I get that there are several reasons why the government should stay out of my lady business, I just really don't feel like listing all of them here when I really wanted to connect my personal experiences with the larger issue at hand.

Street Harassment as Humor and Entertainment

(DISCLAIMER: I know not all men harass women. I'm not an idiot, nor do I think all men are sketchy douchebags. I'll say it again, I am not accusing the entire male gender of being dicks, I DO NOT mean to insinuate that all men partake in street harassment. I know most don't. So when I say that men do it for X reason, I mean men who DO harass women, not every man alive)

Yesterday it came to me: street harassment serves many functions. Some men who harass women do it to show appreciation for women's bodies, some men do it simply as a means to get a woman's attention, and some guys do it as a joke. It's something I've noticed, mostly among younger men who harass women. They do it simply as a form of entertainment, a way to make their buddies laugh.

Examples: In an earlier post I mentioned an incident where a guy was giving me a hard time on the street- er, sidewalk. I still have no idea what he said but the gestures and facial expressions said it all, it was definitely street harassment. This guy wasn't alone, he was with a friend, who if my memory serves me right, was laughing his ass off at the whole thing. A year ago I was walking across a quad on campus to go to a friend's place, and this group of guys was coming towards me. As they got closer, one decided to get right in my face and make a sudden, loud noise, just to scare and intimidate me. After he did it, he and his friends howled with laughter and ran away. The joke was that they managed to scare a woman. How silly of them.

Now I'm not saying this to excuse street harassment. It's never okay no matter what the reason, and while harassing women for the sheer fun of it may seem less threatening, it's problematic in its own way. It only perpetuates this idea that violence against women is a joke. I don't mean that street harassment is the same thing as rape or beating someone up, but it's a form of verbal abuse, and no matter what its intentions, it makes (most) women feel uncomfortable and often unsafe in the public sphere. It's part of a culture that makes light of gender violence.

I'm really trying to explain this in way that will make everyone happy, trying not to make unintentional generalizations or make it sound like I think talking to a woman is "rape" (I don't know why, but a lot of people assume feminists think that, when we don't, we just think it's a problem when a man acts as though he's entitled to a woman's company for whatever reason). No matter what I say someone's going to say I'm making a big deal of nothing, that I'm humorless and can't take a joke, that I just don't understand some forms of humor, that this is somehow pro-censorship. I'm not trying to ban this way of joking around, I just think it goes against human decency when someone's idea of a "joke" is to make intimidate a woman and make her feel unsafe in public.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Objectification and Girl Hating

The main complaint about the objectification of women is that it leads men to perceive women as objects, causes them to disrespect women, and can encourage rape. We all seem pretty aware that objectification affects the way men view women, but it stands to reason that objectification also harms the way women perceive and relate to each other. It's not just men who objectify women, women objectify other women - just in a different way that's rarely addressed.

Objectification leads women to see other women as objects. As nothing but obstacles to what they want. Admit it, we've all done it at one point or another, see another girl and immediately hate her because we're not just afraid she might get what we want, but that she's after what we want, or what we already have. We assume that that's all she wants, that she was just put on this Earth to get in our way. We're rarely taught to see other women as people with aspirations, interests, intellect, and personal struggles that have nothing to do with us.

It's not our fault! Woman-on-woman misogyny isn't good but it doesn't necessarily make someone an awful person that must be shunned from society, though it does indicate that one may need to examine her attitudes towards other women. It's no secret that the media encourages women to compete like crazy against one another, but the media also often portrays women as either very flat, or exaggerated, stereotypical characters with little depth or personality. There are many advertisements that barely portray women as people at all, but things that exist for men. They exist to pursue men, to please men, to live their lives for men. So while men may internalize this and feel superior to women, or entitled to having women devote insane amounts of time and energy to please them, women may internalize this and not only feel pressure to do this, but may assume that other women do exist for men, and that may feed into the problem of competition, and breed resentment among women.

Is it unhealthy to assume other women are out to get your boyfriend/crush/guy you're dating? Absolutely. It's not good to feel that paranoia, but my fear is more women suffer from it than we know, because no one wants to admit to that.

And obviously, this is not the only source of "girl hate." It's a multi-dimensional problem I could write about for hours, but I can only do so much in any given night. I have homework I need to to get to work on.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

DEFENSE Of Sucker Punch

Back in March I wrote about Sucker Punch as being a feminist movie. Apparently I'm one of the very few people who saw it that way - aside from Zach Snyder, Emily Browning, and of course my friend David. Everyone says it was horrible and most feminists deem it actually ANTI-feminist because of the panty shots and attempted rapes in the movie.

Really, people?

First of all, I'll admit it's not a quality film. I do predict it will be nominated for an Oscar in Visual Effects, but it may not win even that. The plot IS simplistic and lacking in any real depth or complexity, but you can't say it's not there. The plot does exist on a very basic level. The characters aren't all that well developed either, the writing isn't top notch, it's not exactly Avatar or The King's Speech or Black Swan. But I like it, I think it's fun to watch.

Now, to address the anti-feminist things in it. Yes, the girls are sexualized. They have names like Baby Doll and Sweet Pea, they're decked out in skimpy clothes (like every other comic book character out there, mind you), there are panty shots and yes, some girls are almost raped. Those parts are bad. But for the love of God, can we look at these elements in context? Maybe the panty shots are fan service, but all in all, did it cross any of these people's minds that the sexualization of the girls is part of what they're trying to escape? They're being oppressed, and in fact their oppression itself is in Baby Doll's mind, as though it's a metaphor for the male domination she's internalized through recent events in her life - it's a dream world created by her involuntary subconscious rather than a actively manifested fantasy as most people assume. She doesn't want to be in a brothel, what she wants is to escape. Notice that when one of the girls does escape, the first thing that happens is she finds a normal, modest dress and puts it on. Though that's not really emphasized in the original cut, unfortunately. But that right there should illustrate the escape from a sexualizing atmosphere, rather than a transition from voluntary self-sexualization, again, as most people assume.

Now, let's take a step back and look at the bigger picture. The girls are fighting against male oppression. It's the men who put them in that situation, it's the men that tell them what to do, who keep them prisoner, who sexually abuse and exploit them, and in the fantasy sequences, all the enemies are male with the exception of the mother dragon. While the way they're treated isn't feminist, the fact that they're fighting back and reclaiming their freedom from oppressive men IS the main feminist theme of the movie.

I should address the fact that the girls are briefed on their missions by a man. Yes, it's a man giving them instructions. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about it, but my gut says it's not explicitly anti-feminist. I mean, women who have fought for their equality have typically learned what they need to do from men, either sought their advice or literally learned from male teachers and professors, even if they attended women's colleges.

I also noticed recently that with the exception of one, maybe two songs, the entire soundtrack is made up of female artists. They may be doing renditions of songs originally performed by men, but they're the ones singing, and putting their own styles to the songs. And I personally love the covers, especially White Rabbit and Search & Destroy.

Whether it passes the Bechdel Test is sort of up in the air. It depends on whether you can call names like Baby Doll and Sweet Pea "real" names. They're not their real names, but we never learn what the real names are. The only woman with her real name in tact is the Polish therapist. But the women do talk to each other, and about something other than a man, so if their names "count," then yes, it passes. I mean, the movie is about women, so clearly they have a profound presence in the movie, which is what the test is meant to measure. What they're called in the movie doesn't really negate how much the movie revolves around them.

Whether the movie, or any movie, is perceived as feminist relies on a few things. 1) What one considers feminist or empowering; 2) Which theoretical lens(es), if any, one uses to analyze it (I instinctively watched the whole movie through the lens of Marxist Feminism, big surprise there); and 3) whether one sees the big picture or main concept of the movie, and/or whether one looks at the smaller details - ideally, one needs to see both, and look at the smaller details in the context of the bigger picture.