Tag Archives: sexism

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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Making a Scene Has Gotten a Bad Rap

I’m not talking about making a scene because your pasta wasn’t as al dente as you had requested, or because someone took your favorite spot in the yoga studio (don’t they know it’s yours!?) or because your bagel was improperly creamcheesed. I’m talking about making a scene because injustice is occurring. Because racism is occurring. Because sexism, misogyny, discrimination, are occurring.

Good girls are not supposed to make scenes. We are supposed to be polite, courteous, vaguely deferential to the needs of others. By all means, consider the needs of others, but for the love of Gloria consider your own need to be respected and treated fairly.

If it seems like I’m on a bit of a rant, it’s because I am. In writing an essay about “making a scene” for Role/Reboot this week, I was thinking a lot about Anitathe new documentary about Anita Hill, and The Good Girls Revolt about the 1970 discrimination case brought by the researchers at Newsweek. I was thinking about my contemporaries–Anita Sarkeesian, Adria Richards, Lindy West–who “make scenes” over injustice and sexism and routinely get told to go back to the kitchen/lay back and enjoy it/shut their mouths/remember their place.

But someone must make a scene, because these scenes need to be made. These issues need to be raised (and fixed), these conversations need to be had, these inequalities need to be addressed.

So… it might as well be you.

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Related Post: Happy 80th to Gloria!

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Filed under Gender, Politics, Really Good Writing by Other People, Republished!

Porn Studies Hits Newstands

Well, not newsstands so much, since academic journals rarely find shelfspace next to Newsweek or Cosmo. Wait, does Newsweek still exist? I can’t keep it straight anymore which of the old school pubs have folded.

Porn Studies is a new academic journal about porn [NSFW if having "porn" spelled out in giant letters on your screen is NSFW]. It’s mindblowing that such a thing didn’t exist until now, right? Porn is soooooo fascinating! This week for Role/Reboot I wrote about the new journal and why I think we need more porn-talk, not less.

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The ethics of porn-making and porn-consuming have been front and center lately when the “real” identity of porn star Belle Knox was revealed by a fellow student at Duke. She’s done a pretty solid job of reclaiming the momentum of the story by speaking out about feminism, privacy, misogyny, and double-standards, though she’s also been put through the ringer of woman-hating bullshit that we put women through when they speak things that make us uncomfortable.

If you are a porn-consumer (and most people are), then you should be thinking critically about how your porn is made, who stars in it, who profits from it, and what compromises are made along the way. I’m not saying you should stop watching (I won’t), but you should start asking why we hold only the woman on screen accountable for the content, and not her porn-consuming classmates who enjoy it, or the porn-producers behind the camera who make it.

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Gavin McInnes and the Myth of “Real Masculinity”

Have you guys seen the Gavin McInnes video on HuffPo Live yet? The co-founder of Vice let loose during a panel on masculinity with a petulant, aggressive, woefully misinformed tirade about how:

a) Feminism makes women sad

b) Women are trying to be like men

c) Women who work and men who take care of kids are working “against the natural order”

It was baaaad. The other panelists responded well, especially Professor Mary Anne Franks, but McInnes’ volume and tone (he calls Franks a “fucking idiot”) make a rational conversation really, really difficult. I’m reminded of an unrelated line in a Slate piece about Ender’s Game author Orson Scott Card: “There are those who think that the failure of the world to agree with them, and their embrace of violence as a solution, somehow makes them the strong ones and the world the weak ones. But violence is such an easy solution, the emotional coward’s way out of actually dealing with the existence of those who disagree as legitimate equals.”

There is so much in his position to argue against (Um, what about gay folks? Um, working outside the home doesn’t necessarily mean working all night like a crazy person. Um, yes, childcare is exceptionally important, why would we deprive dads of participating? Um, since when has a “natural order” ever led us towards anything but discrimination and prejudice?) but I am mostly just sad for him. He clearly believes in what he’s spouting, that this ambitious, aggressive, chest-pumping version of masculinity is the only way to be a “real man.”

Here’s my piece about McInnes’ outburst, feminism, and all of the work we still have to do:

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Related Post: Ta-Nehisi Coates, street harassment, and being a “real man.”

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5 Myths (and now a 6th!)

For my new piece on Role/Reboot, I listed five of the most common responses I hear from street harassment defenders.

“It’s because you’re pretty” (plus obvious wardrobe corollary, “It’s because you’re wearing _______”)

“It’s just a compliment!”

“We can’t help ourselves!”

“It’s the only way to get your attention”

“It’s harmless” 

Since I posted the piece on Facebook, another great one has surfaced, “Some women like it!” UGH, such a good addition to this list!

Thought experiment! Since blatant racism is, in most circles, tolerated less than blatant sexism, I think it can sometimes be useful to switch out sexist language for racist language to test our own boundaries. (NOTE: By no means am I equating sexism and racism. Different issues, sometimes related, sometimes not). 

So, to the guy who responded on FB “Whenever I witness it – which admittedly is pretty rare – ladies seem to enjoy the attention half the time,” let’s imagine this is about race, not gender. Let’s say that about half the time, black people you know don’t mind when you use the N-word colloquially. But, the other half of the time when you try to use it, you trigger for your listeners extreme emotional trauma. Would you use it because “half the time” some people might not mind? Would your verbal “freedom” be worth the pain you would cause people to exercise it? And since you wouldn’t know from looking at your audience whether they were black people who don’t mind or ones who d0, you would just not use the word, right? At least, that’s what any person of reasonable empathy would do.

So, even if some women don’t mind, or even appreciate cat calling (and I’m not disputing the fact that some women do), to others, you are causing extreme emotional trauma. You are making them feel unsafe. You are making them feel objectified. You are making them feel uncomfortable. So…. stop. As another commenter put it in response to this dude,

“Women are telling you they do not like this. It makes them uncomfortable. It make them feel like they can’t just go about their day in a way that is totally reasonable to expect without having unwanted attention from strangers. Regardless of the cat-callers’ motivations, or what you might like or how you think you see women reacting. There are women right here telling you it’s not cool. Period. Even if you don’t agree with the gender analysis or the power-play patriarchy stuff. Fine. You don’t have to. It kind of comes down to basic politeness and that should really be the end of it.”

Anyway, read on for more on my original Five Myths About Street Harassment. Can you think of any others?

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Filed under Gender, Republished!

Married and Sexist

Inspired by Pax Dickinson’s horrendous NYMag interview about his sexist Twitter history and Robin Thicke’s GQ interview about the “Blurred Lines” video, I wrote about the venn diagram of being married and being sexist:

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After extensive research, I have concluded that you can, in fact, be both married and sexist. For more on that, check out my essay at Role/Reboot.

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Pack it up, Pax

Another week, another kerfuffle over the tech industry’s ongoing hostility towards women.

a_560x375Overview: This one began when Pax Dickinson, the Chief Technical Officer for Business Insider was fired after his disgusting twitter feed, rife with classist, racist, sexist, and homophobic sentiments was re-discovered. Example:

In The Passion Of The Christ 2, Jesus gets raped by a pack of niggers. It’s his own fault for dressing like a whore though.

Other examples are not as egregious in language choice, but are equally insensitive: aw, you can’t feed your family on minimum wage? well who told you to start a fucking family when your skills are only worth minimum wage? 

Or, the classic anti-feminist haterade: feminism in tech remains the champion topic for my block list. my finger is getting tired. 

It would’ve been just another brogramming asshole on Twitter, worthy of an eyeroll and nothing more, except that he happened to be extremely high up in a organization that writes, on a regular basis, about the ongoing effort to support the inclusion of women in tech.

ANYWAY. He was interviewed this week in NYMag and his interview is basically a list of politcally incorrect, poorly thought-out no-nos diguised as general apathy for what other people think of him. So, let’s take this piece by piece:

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“I regret some of the tweets. Some of them — they were taken out of context.” There is no context, bro. The fact that you tweeted horrendous shit that coinincided with the release of Passion of the Christ doesn’t make it any less horrendous. More importantly, this is classic White Dude Privilege Syndrome, as articulated so well by David Roberts at Grist.  One of the most subtle-but-powerful forms of privilege is the assumption that the way you intend yourself to be interpreted is the way you will be interpreted. Imagine if a black teenager was like, “Yo, I didn’t mean to look threatening to you! You took my hoodie out of context!” As Roberts put it, “We privileged dudes have trouble accepting that language is a social phenomenon, a social act.” Read closely, Pax.

“But I still — I still think it was funny, so I don’t apologize that much. It was a funny joke, sorry!” Ohhhh, as long as you think it’s funny to make rape jokes (Who has more dedication, ambition, and drive? Kobe only raped one girl, Lebron raped an entire city. +1 for Lebron”) and belittle the struggle of LGBTQ folks to live with the openness you enjoy (“at least if we end up getting into a nuclear standoff with Russia over gay rights we’ll know this universe is just a satirical simulation”) then it’s all good. We didn’t know you were trying to be funny! If we had known that…. JK, it’s still fucking offensive. You know, “you can’t take a joke” is the oldest excuse in the book. If you can’t tell a joke without shitting on black people, women, poor people, and gays, then damn, son, you can’t tell a joke.

“I think the tech world is just kind of — it doesn’t have a woman problem. Women in tech are great. There’s just not that many of them because tech is just a kind of thing that a lot of women aren’t that interested in, I think.” Yeah…. wow. This is just about the least nuanced view of a very complicated issue that I’ve seen in a while. There are a lot of reasons that there aren’t as many women in tech as men, not the least of which is your attitude, as expressed on Twitter, would make it very unlikely that any women would want to work for you. Nobody likes to force themselves into a party to which they’re not invited, and your tweets are part of the hostility (along with Titstare, etc) that make it appear to the outside that tech has a No Girls Allowed sign. What’s more, the idea that STEM is not for women is pushed onto girls at a very young age (“Too pretty for math” t-shirts, for example). We’re not born with a distaste for computers; in China, 40% of engineers are female. This shit is culturally created, and you’re contributing.

“The freewheeling nature of it is what leads to innovation. And my fear is that if we’re all going to police what we say, maybe we lose that innovation.” You can be freewheeling without being offensive. It’s possible, I promise, it just takes a little more effort than you’re willing to put in. Take comedy, for example, only the laziest comedians think that the only way to get a laugh is with a “Let me tell you something about women… ” joke. The smart ones, the Louis CKs and the Rob Delaneys, know that you don’t have to make people with fewer opportunities than you the punchline. You’ve been living in a No Girls Allowed treehouse for the last twenty years, and we’re knocking on the door saying that bro-time is now over. Get with it. Being professional doesn’t mean boring, but it does that you must treat people with respect and promote equality in your workplace, especially when you’re the boss.

“Real misogyny is, you know, hatred of women and violence against women and all that. Those are terrible things, but let’s not devalue those things, let’s not make those things, let’s not trivialize them by using the same words for things like Titstare. I mean, Titstare is harmless. It’s crass, but it’s harmless.” It’s absolutely 100% not harmless. It is the opposite of harmless, it is full of harm. Titstare is about objectifying women, as in… viewing women as objects. Violence against women, what you call “real misogyny,” springs directly from that same belief. When you think that women exist for your pleasure, to look at or touch or fuck, then it is easy for you to treat them disposably, violently, disrespectfully. When you believe women are some sort of “other” category of sort-of humans, you are beginning to create the justification that people use all the time to prevent women from voting, driving, governing. It is from that same place of othering that domestic abuse, sexual assault, and rape come from.

“I work in New York City, you know, diversity capital of the world. I don’t have any problems with anybody. My career would never have gotten to this point — the point I was at, before — if I was that kind of person.” Could you be any more delusional? You think that sexist, racist, homophobic white guys don’t make it to the top every single day? You know who hires them, mentors them, promotes them? Other sexist, racist, homophobic white guys. Or, rather than implicating every single person that has ever hired or promoted you, let’s say that straight, rich, white dudes (the type that have probably hired you many times over) are not known for being especially perceptive towards issues of privilege and inequality.

“My wife thinks it’s bullshit! She knows me, this is ridiculous. The worst part about it is, for me, the people who love me are very upset.” We’ll address this one tomorrow. Stay tuned.

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My god… I could go on and on. His interview is basically every issue I’ve ever written about all at once, rolled up tightly in a gross little package of misguided, delusional horseshit. What did I miss?

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More on Miley

How many essays have you read about Miley Cyrus today? I think I’m up to 11. It’s like a gender studies bingo card: cultural appropriation, slut-shaming, female chauvinist pigs, shock politics, objectification of self, minstrel performance, etc. etc. etc. It was BAD, you guys, like… really bad.

There’s a lot of angles to take on a performance as awful as that one, and other people have written well about the racism. Some are slut-shaming like cray (looking at you Mika) and entirely missing the point (taking your clothes off is not the issue here… remember this epic performance in minimal clothing? Or this one?) At least, it’s not THE issue.

To me, her act was a naked and unappealing power grab from a young woman who decided to fake dominance by mimicking the least attractive traits of the big boys she envies. What are the hallmarks of male entertainer success? Decorating yourself with women, groping anything you want? An entourage of colorful people as props? To my mind, it was basically a 3 minute infomercial for Female Chauvinist Pigs, Ariel Levy’s stellar exploration of young women’s strange embrace of raunch culture. Thesis: I’d rather be the objectifier than the objectified, and if that’s not an option, I’ll just objectify myself before you do it to me.

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“Strong Female Characters”? No thanks.

NewStatesman piece is going around this week called “I Hate Strong Female Characters,” and it’s actually pretty good. Sophia McDougall makes the not-new but needs-repeating argument that we conflate the presence of “strong female characters” in our media with equality. She points out that a) implying strength as an unusual asset for female characters is belittling (would we crow about a film with strong male characters? HAH) and that b) boxing female characters into narrow tropes of success (she can roundhouse kick!) reduces human complexity and replaces one archetype with another. Putting Scarlet Johnson on the cover of the Avengers does not equality make, even if she can roundhouse.  See Margaret Lyons’ similar argument regarding The Newsroom

Khandi Alexander as LaDonna Baptiste-Williams on Treme

Khandi Alexander as LaDonna Baptiste-Williams on Treme

Though I wouldn’t state my position with quite the extremity McDougall’s essay title suggests (though that’s probably just a smart editor baiting for clicks), I generally feel the same way. The female characters that I am thrilled to see in TV and movies are complicated, multi-faceted, not-always-right, not-always-wrong humans. While there’s an aspirational part of me that will always love CJ Cregg (The Jackal is forever in my heart), CJ is not complicated for me. She is strong and devoted and loyal and smart, but I always agree with her. She never makes mistakes. Never behaves badly, or selfishly, or shows weakness that isn’t also designed to show strength. She is an idealized version of what I want a press secretary to be (Remember “Crackpots and These Women?” Bartlett idealizes her too) and never forces me to confront hard truths or tough ethical dilemmas.

There’s room for the CJs, of course, but it’s also important that we show that women can be messy and difficult (This is the age of the anti-hero, right? How about an anti-heroine?) They can be good people who make mistakes, or bad people who aren’t always bad, or, you know, just people who are hella complicated because they’re humans. Here are a few of the characters that I generally like because they are forceful, ambitious, strong, driven but who are sometimes dishonest, weak, foolish, selfish, conflicted, etc. 

  • Deb Morgan (Dexter)
  • Skyler White (Breaking Bad)
  • Piper Chapman (Orange is the New Black…actually, everyone on Orange is the New Black)
  • Rayna James, Juliette Barnes (Nashville)
  • Jeanette Desautel, LaDonna Baptiste-Williams (Treme)
  • Peggy Olson (Mad Men)
  • Carrie Mathison (Homeland)
  • Claire Underwood (House of Cards)
  • Cersei Lannister (Game of Thrones)
  • Diane Lockhart, Alicia Florrick (The Good Wife)

There’s something to be said for the fact that I could pull this list off the top of my head. I do think things are getting better, with more and more interesting (not “strong,” but interesting) roles for women. So what do we want? I think McDougall sums it up well:

What do I want instead of a Strong Female Character? I want a male:female character ratio of 1:1 instead of 3:1 on our screens. I want a wealth of complex female protagonists who can be either strong or weak or both or neither, because they are more than strength or weakness. Badass gunslingers and martial artists sure, but also interesting women who are shy and quiet and do, sometimes, put up with others’ shit because in real life there’s often no practical alternative. And besides heroines, I want to see women in as many and varied secondary and character roles as men: female sidekicks, mentors, comic relief, rivals, villains.

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Complicated Feelings about Tourism, Harassment, Gender, Other Buzzwords

Screenshot_8_20_13_1_24_PMI have been thinking about this essay [trigger warning] about a white woman traveling in India a lot. Have you read it yet?  It’s making the rounds, but because I share her alma mater, it’s been tearing up my newsfeed. The gist of it is that the author, a college student studying abroad, was traumatized by the culture of sexual harassment, objectification, and assault that she experienced first and secondhand during her travels. She has since been diagnosed with PTSD. A sample:

I covered up, but I did not hide. And so I was taken, by eye after eye, picture after picture. Who knows how many photos there are of me in India, or on the internet: photos of me walking, cursing, flipping people off. Who knows how many strangers have used my image as pornography, and those of my friends. I deleted my fair share, but it was a drop in the ocean– I had no chance of taking back everything they took.

I’m having all kinds of feelings, so let’s do it this way…

On the one hand… This woman is entitled to her experience. I have also traveled in India as a single white female. I had a very different experience than the one she describes. Although I also had my picture taken a million times, had inappropriate questions asked, was stared at, and received two marriage proposals (which I politely declined), I did not experience any physical harassment. I felt that the stares were primarily based in curiosity, at my looks and at the audacity of a woman of my status to travel alone, not objectification.

When I first read this essay, I was tempted to roll my eyes. That’s a lie. I did roll my eyes, and I am now embarrassed that I did so. Part of me wanted to tell her to toughen up, brush it off. I am embarrassed by that response as well. Her experiences were different than mine (as mine are different from yours) and even if they had been similar, she is allowed to feel differently about the experience than I do. This seems obvious as I type it, but as I was reading, I was having an immature, judgmental, condescending reaction to her words.

On the other hand…She’s not a soldier. She’s not an aid worker. She’s a tourist. She can leave, so leave. She has all of the resources to stop the source of her trauma. She doesn’t live in India. She is not a resident who contends with the threat of rape and assault on a daily basis without the benefit of a return flight. Her harassment might be amplified by her red hair, but as recent tragedies would suggest, Indian women and girls are in no way immune from the the treatment she received. She is now back in the United States receiving treatment for PTSD. Her essay doesn’t acknowledge that this is a perpetual state for many; is PTSD even an acknowledged illness in India? She is lucky, as am I. We get to globe-trot, we get to explore, we get to be the solo lady travelers. We live in countries where we can vote and drive and have sex without being stoned and wear what we want and live alone and call the police when we need help and work and so many other things.

On the other hand… Sexual harassment is never okay. When one travels, there are obviously customs that are different in the countries you visit and, within reason, it is healthy and respectful to try to observe them. You should not travel expecting to recreate your experiences at home wherever you go; a Big Mac is not a Big Mac in India, it’s made of chicken and it’s called a Maharaja Mac. There may not be hot water. There might be bugs. It will smell differently, etc. etc. etc. But, sexual harassment and assault are not acceptable, even if they are more common in some parts of the world than others. While a “When in Rome,” attitude is usually a plus, “When I’m in Rome, I’ll get groped on the train,” is not cool.

I’m ashamed that I shrugged at her experience. I almost threw her the most insulting, patronizing response to her trauma, “What did you expect?” WHOA, Emily, NOT OKAY. You’re wearing yoga pants, what did you expect would happen? You’re drinking and dancing, what did you expect? You’re pretty, what did you expect? The “What did you expect” is a close cousin of “You were asking for it,” and we know that you are NEVER asking for it and that that is a line for the weak and the cowardly.

On the next hand… I can’t help but think about my own experience traveling in India and elsewhere. My experience has been overwhelmingly positive with a few blips of shittiness here and there and consequently my instinct is to declare that this makes me a “better” traveler than the author. My second instinct is to call bullshit on myself. Differentiation–”she’s not like me”–is the classic first step in victim blaming. If she’s not like me, then she’s somehow responsible for what happened to her, which would never happen to me,  because we are fundamentally different, and on and on. It’s a common defense mechanism to help calm the fear that it could happen to anyone (because, intellectually, we all know… it could happen to anyone).

There are at least three other hands to consider … (please feel free to add in the comments!), but I’m tired of talking about this. I am sympathetic for her experience. I am irritated at the essay’s “plight of the white woman” vibe. I am even more irritated that I identify with it. I feel pretty helpless in the face of the level of harassment and assault in India. If I’m honest, I feel pretty helpless in the face of harassment and assault here at home too.

So yeah, there’s that. 

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