Tag Archives: Role/Reboot

On that Jezebel–>Gawker memo

This week, the staffers at Jezebel published an open letter to their parent company, Gawker Media, taking them to task for failing to protect the employees and readers from violent, rape-themed imagery posted by a rogue commenter. By failing to take the technological steps to prevent this from continuing, or changing the commenting policy site-wide, Gawker has created a hostile work environment for Jezebel staffers. As they say in their letter, if this happened anywhere else, they’d report on it, so why would their own organization be immune?

For Role/Reboot I wrote a bit about company values and that tricky space where the rubber meets the road, i.e. when resources are required to make values-on-paper values-in-reality:

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Related Post: Criticizing Jezebel’s unscientific science writing.

Related Post: A few times I’ve been on Jezebel

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“Wingman”

wingmanPeople love to ask me if I think X is sexist.

Generally, if you have to ask, if not outright sexist, it’s probably inadvisable, tasteless, or easily misinterpreted. Sometimes something–an item, promotion, label, campaign–isn’t sexist when taken on its own, but contributes (often by accident) to reinforcing stereotypes or perpetuating inequality.

“Is ‘wingman’ a sexist term?”

Thus began this week’s trip down the Urban Dictionary wormhole that finished in my essay for Role/Reboot about the cult of the wingman, the origin of the term, and whether we can salvage it from the pick-up artist misogynists.Screenshot_7_30_14_3_49_PM

 

Related Post: Dating while feminist

Related Post:  Dating should not be a meal ticket

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The ESPN Body Issue & #HuskyTwitter

Last week for Role/Reboot I wrote about the annual ESPN The Magazine’s “Body Issue”, which features naked portraits of lots of people who can do some crazy powerful/graceful/coordinated shit with their bodies. The cover star, baseball player Prince Fielding, is an atypical choice for ESPN and quickly launched the #HuskyTwitter hashtag in celebration of a different kind of athletic body.

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I’m all for celebrating different kinds of athletic bodies, but I’m still dismayed to see that the women featured in the Body Issue generally don’t get to break the mold of traditional “athletic” the way that Fielder does. Where are the husky female athletes? A sleuthing reader dug back through the archives and found this 2009 entry with shotputter Michelle Carter.

Screenshot_7_14_14_11_07_AM-2He also pointed out that there aren’t as many sports that allow for husky women to excel; they don’t get funneled into linebacker positions on the football team or heavy wrestling weightclasses. Sure, maybe, but it’s also about whose bodies we are comfortable celebrating as “Bodies We Want,” which is what ESPN titles the series. We don’t see Taylor Townsend, Holley Mangold, Rebecca Adlington or other, phenomenally gifted female athletes as possessing desirable bodies because they don’t fit the only mold we’ve been taught is desirable.

Prince Fielder is certainly a deviation from the normal ab-fest we expect to see in these stories, and that’s a great start. Men need variation in “Bodies We Want,” too. But let’s not forget the ladies as we break body barriers and celebrate the husky athletes. We’re here too!

Related Post: Is it objectifying to ogle World Cup soccer players?

Related Post: 1 in 4 women don’t exercise because they don’t like the way they look

 

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Why a Single-Sex Media Diet is a Bad Idea

These OkCupid guys…. I mean really. It’s one thing to mention that your favorite author is Faulkner. Cool, I dig it. Or Hemingway, or whomever. It’s even NBD to list a couple of books you like that happen to be written by men. BUT, when you go to the trouble of listing 40+ books you love because YOU JUST CAN’T DECIDE, and literally all 42 are by guys… for real?

They probably don’t even notice. If that’s the case, this is highly fixable. If they notice and don’t care/don’t think it’s weird/don’t think women have interesting opinions or stories…. well, that shit is beyond repair. Or rather, it is a problem to large for me to fix with a snarky message or internet essay.

But the fixable ones, the ones who are oblivious but open-minded, these are the ones I write to today, in my new piece for Role/Reboot:

Screenshot_7_3_14_11_54_AM-3Related Post: The last book I loved, The Flamethrowers

Related Post: Breaking down the gender of the authors I read last year

 

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The 17 Hottest World Cup Players with Freckles*

*This is not a list of sexy soccer players.

Half of you are very disappointed that there is not actually a gallery of freckled soccer stars, and the other half of you read the title and were like… is she for real? No, I am not for real.

This week’s Role/Reboot piece is on the ubiquitous World Cup Hot List… hottest thighs, hottest abs, hottest butts, etc. etc. etc. and man I’ve been getting feedback in all kinds of directions. Half of you seem to think I’m going too hard on the lists, and that there’s nothing wrong with appreciating some chiseled pectorals in list format on Buzzfeed. The other half of you think I’ve overstated what I believe are the differences in how we view male and female bodies, and that men actually have it much harder than I’m giving them credit for. Can’t win ‘em all.

Later this week, with permission, I’ll post some of the feedback, but in the meantime I would like to draw a distinction between two questions that I think are markedly different:

1. Is it, in general, okay to lust after (and document your lust for) attractive bodies, male or female? In other words, is there anything wrong with appreciating the human form in the first place? This is a HUGE question, with many pieces (short answer: no, long answer: it matters a lot what you do with that attraction and how you express it), that I’m not really prepared to answer right now. Similarly, the individual case of being attracted to someone is a lot less interesting to me than the macro trends on how we, collectively, as a society, treat bodies and beauty.

2. If you object to “Hottest Asses of the U.S. Women’s Ski Team” on the pages of Esquire or Vice because you find it reductive, demeaning, hypersexualizing, or reinforcing of problematic views about bodies, is it hypocritical to not object to the “Hottest Thighs of the Australian Men’s Soccer Team”? I think it is. I don’t think I can claim the first is an issue and the second isn’t, even though I absolutly believe that the media coverage of female bodies is markedly different than male bodies. The problem is not the same, but it is related.

Anyway, more an all of that and much talk of “shit buckets” of body coverage here:

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Related Post: I  love the Olympics

Related Post: On Olympian Holley Mangold vs. Conan

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Obvious Child and the Plight of the Abortion Story

When I started thinking about this week’s Role/Reboot essay on Obvious Childthe “abortion rom com” starring comedian Jenny Slate, I started out by trying to come up with a list of contemporary mainstream abortion stories from TV or movies. Without googling or wikipedia-ing, or weighing in on the quality of these stories, here’s what I came up with:

1. Parenthood (Drew’s girlfriend Amy)

2. Grey’s Anatomy (Cristina Yang)

3. Friday Night Lights (Becky Sproles)

4. House of Cards (Claire Underwood)

…. what else have you got?

I watch a ridiculous amount of TV, so the fact that I can only come up with four…. well, that leads me to the point of my essay. For a thing that is extraordinarily common and affects literally millions of women (and also their partners), we have sooooo few examples in mainstream pop culture exploring these decisions. Obvious Child is a good step, but it’s only one story, and it’s the easiest story to get pushed through the pinhole that is a Hollywood approval process: it’s about a pretty, upper-middle class white woman. Valid story? Absolutely. The only story? The most common story? Absolutely not.

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Related Post: Abortion stories

Related Post: Huffington Post and the changing iconography of the abortion debate

 

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But What About Vivian Maier?

My post this week for Role/Reboot about not taking pictures of strangers is getting some traction. I’m always grateful for that kind of attention not only because it stokes my ego (stoked!) but because the more people who read something, the more likely it is that I get asked some tough, interesting questions. Shocking, I know, that I didn’t think of everything.

To refresh your memory, on the off chance that my words are not indelibly etched in your brain, I argued that the modern habit of snapping photos of strangers in public (at the beach, on the train, behaving badly, etc) and posting them online to mock is tantamount to bullying. I hinged my argument on permission (as always, consent is sexy), suggesting that if what you’re doing is complimentary (i.e. street style galleries, etc), you’d be comfortable asking permission of your subject. If you wouldn’t be comfortable asking, you’re probably being a creep. Note: Not a criminal, but a creep; this is an ethical argument, not a legal one.

So what’s the counter argument?

BUT WHAT ABOUT ART????? 

1954, New York, NYWhat about art? What about photography like that of Vivian Maier, the little known, recently discovered photographer who left her nannying job in Oak Park every weekend to come into the city and take photographs? Many of her photos are of average citizens waiting for stoplights, smoking on corners, or, like Instagrams of today, dozing on  buses. Some are head-on portraits that imply willing participation of her subjects, but many are clearly not.

December 2, 1954, New York, NY

Why is Vivian Maier’s “art” more valid than the ‘grammer on the train capturing the guy picking his nose and hashtagging it #digdeep? Can we call one nonconsensual stranger photo art and another harassment? Aren’t both equal invasions of privacy? Our modern age gives us tools to share our invasive “art”, whereas Vivian’s photography lay dormant in boxes for decades. But don’t we think that had Vivian been alive in 2014, she’d be Instagramming along with the rest of us?

In my post, I made a blanket rule “Don’t take pictures of strangers without their permission,” and many people pushed back that, if obeyed, my rule would eliminate the work of artists like Maier.

Yes, it might.

April 7, 1960. FloridaBefore we continue down this path, let’s weed out the dickwads who are straight-up bullying on purpose; we can all agree that their intent is to mock.

But many of us fancy ourselves capturers of beauty or longing or the human experience or whatever; we don’t think we’re bullies, we think we’re artists. The only way to justify our invasion of someone else’s space is to convince ourselves that the thing we’re producing is more valuable than that person’s comfort.

Let me give you an example: I just got back from Chile. In the many hundreds of photos I took, there are a few in which I am intentionally taking pictures of strangers without their permission. A handful are of performers, people on stages or performing in parades; though I’m still a little uncomfortable with that, let’s even discount those as potentially justifiable. But what about this one:

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This guy is just hanging out, watching the parade from his house. He didn’t wave at me, we didn’t acknowledge each other, he in no way, shape, or form gave an OK for me to take his photo, much less post it on FB*. Which I did. Without even thinking twice. Am I mocking? Teasing? Shaming? Not intentionally, no. But, as we discuss all the time, I don’t get to decideMy intention taking this photo is not what makes it ethically sound or not; his perception of me is. Does he feel like the gringa is abusing her privilege? Does he feel patronized or reduced or mocked? Does he feel like he’s being treated as a Chilean prop I’m using to commemorate my travels? I don’t know, I didn’t ask. Although I didn’t intend the photo to be any of those things, in this case I’m equivalent to the cat-caller/harasser/privacy-invader/slur-slinger who “didn’t mean it that way.”

So what now? Let’s say you believe that the world is better with Vivian Maier’s photography in it. I sure appreciate it. I’m pretty uncomfortable with how we got it, but let’s say there actually is small portion of art for which we are willing to make ethical compromises. We do it all the time, right R. Kelly fans?  Picasso fans? Hemingway fans? Roman Polanski fans? We separate our appreciation for art from how it was made or the crimes of the people who made it, especially when those crimes contribute to how it was made (you think when R. Kelly sings about panties and pussy he’s always talking about women over 18? Really?).

What percent of nonconsensual pictures of strangers are worth the ethical compromise? A very, very, very, almost microscopically small percentage. Which ones? Whose bar are we using? Well, obviously, I don’t get to decide, and neither do you. The question is, is the photo you’re about to take one of them? Is the photo I took of the Chilean man in that microscopically small slice of pictures worth the queasy feeling that someone’s privacy is being invaded? Hell no.

The question is, do you think you’re Vivian Maier? If not, then knock it off.

*I’ve since taken it down, ditto any other non-performance pictures of strangers. 

Related Post: My memoir will be called “Is My Optimism Really Just White Privilege?”

Related Post: When you’re feeling attacked, you’re probably just having your privilege challenged.

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Stranger Pics & The Pope

Contrary to the title of this post, this is not an essay about stranger pictures and the Pope, but rather two separate essays for Role/Reboot. This week, I wrote about the first rule of fight club: don’t take pictures of strangers without their permission. Very obvious corrollary: Don’t post pictures of strangers that you took without their permission.

On rare occasions, stranger pics are meant to celebrate and compliment, in which case, ask permission before snapping and sharing. The rest of the time, when we are taking photos of strangers with the intent to mock, we are actively contributing to a culture of bullying. We all do embarrassing things, accidentally wearing a shirt inside out (a stranger photo recently seen on Twitter), or trying to surreptitiously pick a wedgie (Instagram). If you would like your moments of private shame or your brief lapses in fashion judgment generously overlooked by the Internet, you have to give people the same courtesy. “Being in public” is not equivalent to “giving permission to be photographed and/or mocked/idolized/lusted after/bullied/captioned/edited”. Maybe legally it is, I have no idea, I’m not a lawyer, but ethically it is not.

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Last week, after the Pope commented that married couples without children will find bitterness and loneliness, I wrote about what he calls “the culture of well being”, and why wanting to be a parent is the best possible reason to become one, and not wanting to be one is a pretty damn good reason to not.

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Related Post: Stranger pic example, hot girls of Occupy Wallstreet.

Related Post: “Don’t take my picture,” “Come on! You’re at the beach!”

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Moms on the Tube

“I don’t really watch TV.”

THIS BAFFLES ME. I mean, obviously, to each his or her own, but I just love television so much that when I hear this declaration (less and less frequently, according to my unscientific and entirely anecdotal experience) I’m as shocked as I’d be if someone said, “I don’t really eat cheese.”

Wait, what? Some people don’t eat cheese?

I kid. But in all seriousness, deciding to give up cheese or TV would be a fucking heartbreaker of a Sophie’s Choice in my world. But in the end, the cheese would have to go, because the satisfaction of a hunk of brie is temporary,  but the joy of a ten-year relationship with my shows (or 8-episode relationship for these new miniseries deals) gives me stuff to chew over for weeks and months to come.

This week for Role/Reboot, in honor of Mother’s Day, I wrote about the range and variety of TV moms. June Cleaver is out, Cersei Lannister is in. Is that a good thing? Read on!

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Related Post: Moms and body image, from Mika Brzezinski to Jennifer Weiner

Related Post: True Detective and the male gaze.

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Three for the Price of One

Through some combination of laziness and distractedness, I neglected to post three of my most recent Role/Reboot essays. I would write you a long apology letter, but I’m pretty sure none of y’all are holding your breaths. Which is a good thing… this is just the internet and I really hope you have more important shit going on.

But, if you’re curious, here’s what I’ve been up to the last few weeks over at R/R.

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Note: In rereading this one, there’s a glaring correction I feel the need to issue post-publish. I hope that I conveyed, but fear that I did not, that I definitely do not think teachers (or nurses, or vets, or non-profit starters) aren’t making an impact on the universe. Duh, they obviously are. Rather, there’s a very specific kind of corporate leadership (think Fortune 500 companies) that is still super-male and super white and still, unfortunately, super powerful. If I think it’s important that business leadership be diverse (which I do), how do I reconcile the fact that I have the tools (i.e. education/access/resources) to be the diversifying agent with the fact that I don’t want to?

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