When you can use offensive terms and not be offensive

If you’re part of a privileged group, when can you use offensive terms without being offensive? Watch the video to find out. Personally, I think the last example using the white person cuts through all the crap about bigoted humour taking the power out of hate speech and highlights the underlying message that is sent when a person from a privilege group uses bigoted slurs from a group they’re not part of.

Via homasse.

Hollywood, please stop shitting on my childhood

While on vacation, I went to see the Fantastic Four movie (the only reason it was worth it was because it was the first move I had seen in theatres in over a year) and had the dubious pleasure to see a preview for the Transformers movie. Now, despite the pretty CG, I knew I wasn’t going to want to see it because the only woman I saw was The Hot Love Interest, and really that’s an archetype that has been done to death and then some.

But I didn’t know how bad it was until reviews started popping up.

On Racism:
Nora on Angry Black Woman wrote More stereotypes than meet the eye (she has the same post up on her LJ) where she talks about the various racial stereotypes used in the film:

So the nostalgia in this version of Transformers seems to have also resurrected some old-school not-so-hidden messages: black women are nagging mammies who deserve the label bitch; black men are thugs, rappers, cowards, or crooks, and are stupid even when they’re supposed to be smart; Latino men are effete idiots; and even alien robots aren’t safe from token black guy syndrome. Oh, and I almost forgot the moronic Indian customer support guy who symbolizes the real dangers of outsourcing — it’s not only bad for our economy, it’s bad for our troops in wartime — and the Arab villagers whose sole purpose in the film is to be rescued by the tough-talking American soldiers. (Also see discussion on the Wiscon panel “What These People Need is a Honky”.)

On Sexism:
After finding out that Arcee wasn’t in the movie because they would have to “explain” her apparent female-ness and they were afraid of being seen as “trying to appease women with a pink Transformer”, Ragnell wrote In case you forgot, I hate everyone.:

Why is being a girl so fucking special? Why is it that every other fucking robot has a male fucking voice and no one questions why they have gender coding but the fucking second you bring in a female voice and god forbid you put it in a feminine color you have to suddenly explain why everyone has gender?

Oh, I know. We automatically assume everything is male. Male is the default. Male is neutral and being a girl is some sort of freakishness that can only be explained as thrown in their to try and appease the women.

Ariel wrote about the problematic handling of The Hot Love Interest, Mikaela, in the post Transformers: Sexism in Disguise:

I started off with a sour taste for Mikaela. During the first hour, she does two cool things: she knows how to fix Sam’s car and she walks away from her boyfriend (for good) when he calls her his little bunny. But also within that hour, the film establishes that Mikaela is oblivious to Sam is despite being his schoolmate for years, dates jerks because she likes guys with big arms and tight abs, admits she hides her knowledge about cars from guys so they’ll like her, with a vacant facial expression asks Sam if he thinks she is shallow, and is called a jock concubine and hoe by Sam’s friend. It’s a nice guy trope: nerdy but deserving Sam is overlooked because girls are shallow. The traits don’t especially set her up sympathetically unless we’re supposed to desire her for her body and Sam’s unsettling infatuation.

And in Transformers Skye wrote about her decidedly mixed feelings regarding the character:

I’d also rather see a movie where we don’t have to go through the “I’d do her” phase with a female character before accepting her as a person. Granted, this was from the point of view of the horny boy who saves the world and may have been correct characterization for him, but I don’t give out stars for that. Finally, I’d like to have seen more women in speaking roles. We get one who’s beautiful and one who’s brainy (but also beautiful), and that’s it.

So, yeah. Not planning on seeing that movie, unless it’s on cable TV when I happen to be in North America and I have an urge to write a scathing movie review. I can’t say I’m surprised that the movie seems to have exceeded even my expectations of awfulness, as I agree with Nora’s assessment of Hollywood in the second to last paragraph of her post (you did read it, right?), although I would add that it obviously extends to gender issues and other anti-oppression issues as well.

But, still, as my standards for entertainment go up and the quality of available entertainment goes down, it’s becoming harder and harder to find ways to escape from the hurts, injustices, and annoyances of real life. As hard as it might be for some people to grasp, there are times when I just want to watch mechs destroy each other without having to sit through “plot” that reminds me of how bigoted the world really is.

Sigh. I just know that at the ripe old age of 25 (my birthday is only 9 days away! well, 9 days if you live in Japan, anyway) I’m going to become one of those crotchety old people whose sole entertainment is reading books and complains about how these newfangled inventions like the tee-vee are ruining civilization…

Something to think about

Trying to help clear out some backlog for Jade Reporting (we’re looking for volunteers, by the way), I came across these recent titles from articles on Destructoid:

New Destructoid wallpapers are hotter than your best friend’s mom
Sexy No More Heroes footage makes me feel special inside of myself
Auto Assault shuttered, ruining future for “Autoerotic Assault” jokes
Dragon Quest Swords TV ad; why is there no Sexy Slime?
WoW pedophemale fails in her quest to get a 17 year old knobbing

Not all of these are sexist; they are just the ones that jumped out at me that had unnecessary or inappropriate references to sex in the titles. Also, I don’t mean to single out Destructoid with this little exercise; it was just their bloglines that I was reading, and I know for a fact that Kotaku is worse.

But, really, with Destructoid being one of the major players in video game news and entertainment, what kind of message to titles of those send out? That the gaming industry and community is mature and worthy of respect? Please. It says to the world that gamers are immature, horny little nerd boys who are so sex starved that they have to talk about it even when it isn’t remotely relevant, and jazz it up even when it is.

Sick of the stereotypes, boys? So am I.

If you want gaming to have a better image (and from the articles, I know you do), then it all starts with you. Stop putting “humour” above clarity, and stop trying to insert sex references where they obviously don’t belong. It’s childish. It’s stupid. And it makes gamers look bad. It’s really not that hard to show a little professionalism in one’s journalism. Seriously.

On air Privilege in Action

Maybe it’s a little unfair to be using FoxNews as the subject of a PiA post, since that station seems to go out of its way to defend and perpetuate bigotry, but the methodology is exactly the same as people with good intentions use, so I decided that it was worth using the material.

The Hannity and Colmes section starts out with Alan Colmes giving an overview of the issue and asking president of the Organization of Chinese Americans in New York, Vicki Shu Smolin, some questions about why the Asian American community feels that the Doghouse jocks and the show’s producers should be fired. Despite the biased slant on the questions, Colmes only interrupts Smolin once, and it is during a pause in the sentence and for the purpose of segueing into the Q&A with Michael Harrison, the editor of Talkers magazine. During this part of the show, Sean Hannity takes over the role of questioner.

Privilege #1: The Right to Offend

Hannity: Michael, I’m getting concerned here… like for example, both of my parents came from Ireland. If someone tells an Irish joke, am I supposed to get offended? Are we at the point where we can’t–this isn’t my type of humor, but I’m getting very nervous about the type of environment that’s being created here.

What Hannity here is concerned about is that free speech will be curbed if we put social pressure on comedians and other well-known personalities to practice self-censorship in terms of bigotry. This is actually a common argument, and the reason I put it in with “privilege” is because in this case “free speech” is being used to mean the right to insult, a “right” that is exercised disproportionately on non-privileged groups and with a disproportionately heavy impact.

When people try to use the “free speech” argument to caution against groups calling for action when they are the victims of racism, sexism, or other forms of bigotry, it’s not just about potentially curbing one’s ability to speak one’s true mind, but the collateral damage is that it implies that one should not be held accountable for one’s words. As earlbeck says, “But freedom of speech is not freedom from criticism, and freedom of speech is also responsibility for the words that one uses… People need to take responsibility for their actions, and that includes their words.”

What groups like the Organization of Chinese Americans are doing isn’t asking for these men or companies to be thrown in jail for what they’ve said, but rather making a statement that they, and all Asian Americans, have been subjected to racism (as all women have been subjected to sexism) by the show’s content, and that the show is responsible for its content and that it must face the consequences of its free speech.

But Hannity is skillfully using a rhetoric that erases that responsibility, a usage enabled by privilege. Privilege is being able to be free from responsibility in many encounters that involve a non-privileged group. Especially in cases like these, where the offense is “minimal” — meaning it was “only” words, or some other non-violent incident — the personal responsibility we have for our own words, and the corporate responsibility that companies have for the content of their shows, can be neatly swept under the rug of “free speech”, because no one wants to “walk on eggshells” or worry that maybe sometime, somewhere, they will face real consequences for a casually bigoted thing that they have said.

Privilege #2: My experience speaks for all

Harrison responds in agreement to what was said about the restrictive environment, then Hannity cuts him off to say the following:

Hannity: Anyone can make fun of me, I don’t care. By the way, Michael, as you know–we’ve been friends a long time– they do.

I hear this one a lot in real life. “People make fun of me all the time,” say the wealthy, white, heterosexual men in my family, in my school, and online. As if their experiences are universal. Privilege is assuming that your experiences give you the authority, and the knowledge, to rightfully speak for the experiences of others.

I have no doubt that Hannity is made fun of. I also have no doubt that there is some pretty vile stuff about him said in person, in the internet, through letters, and any other medium that people can communicate through. He’s a TV personality, and one on FoxNews at that. But three things are going on: 1) he’s implicitly conflating good-natured teasing (through his nod to Michael as a longtime friend) with actual verbal attacks on his person; 2) he’s erasing the distinction between receiving jokes as a person in power versus receiving jokes from a person in power when you are a person/group without power; and 3) he’s assuming that his potential feelings on this matter are the only valid ones.

Those three tactics both minimize the acknowledgment of the damage of racism, sexism, and other bigotry, while providing Hannity with a safe cocoon of rationalization in which to feel justified about his stance. The root of his argument is, of course, that he (and others) should be allowed to say whatever bigoted things that they want without being censured, but if he were to state it like that, then he would be called a racist, a sexist, and an all-around bigot.

By playing it up in the, “Well, that kind of stuff happens to me, too, and I don’t react so strongly!” He paints himself and his argument as rational, logical and correct and the non-privileged group’s reaction as emotional, illogical, and wrong. This is probably not even cold calculation on his part, but rather an honest attempt to understand the issue through his own experiences. But, when you are the one with power, you cannot assume that the situations you’ve faced are comparable to similar ones that people without power face. This is because, as I’ve stated above, the power dynamics are completely different and therefore, even taking out the differences between individuals, the situations, though similar on the surface, are in fact fundamentally different.

Endnotes: Bigotry in Action

This has already turned into a long post, but I would like to point out one thing. There is a point where Hannity’s privilege turns into actual bigotry when he addresses Smolin for the last time. Now, keep in mind, Hannity interrupted Harrison once, and that was about the time when he segued to his thoughts on the issue and began, well, the way it came across to me as a viewer, was that he began lecturing Smolin.

He interrupted her no less than three times, all of them when she was in mid-sentence, trying to answer his questions and assertions. He talked over her twice, one time of which she refused to stop what she was saying and kept talking until he gave her the floor, the other time she let him interrupt her. I can’t speak for the racism aspect (although I would suspect that it’s similar), but I know that men have a habit of interrupting women and women have a habit of letting them. I, myself, have been in a couple situations where I have literally said, “Let me finish,” and “You’ve interrupted me,” to a man and had him not let me finish what I was saying.

While this does stem from the privilege of feeling that you have the right to be heard anytime, anywhere, what Hannity did — and what was done to me, and continues to be done to countless other women — is sexist. It doesn’t matter that, since it stemmed from privilege, he probably wasn’t aware of it. It doesn’t matter that he probably intended to treat Smolin with the same courtesy as Harrison. The facts are that he blatantly and obviously silenced a woman and that passes privilege and goes straight into sexism.

The reason I bring it up here, beyond the fact that I think it needs to be discussed, is because this is a perfect example of how privilege enables bigoted behaviours to escalate. If Hannity didn’t have the privilege of speaking up anytime and anywhere nursed by our society — as a white person, a man, a TV personality, etc — then he would have a harder time casually silencing another human being.

I write this series to bring more awareness about what privilege is and why it’s important to understand the kinds of privilege that we have. I have not even touched on all of the elements of privilege that were displayed in that 6:12 minute news spot, and this one instance is only a drop in the bucket of the kinds of privileges we take for granted in our own lives. People — real people — have been hurt by not only the likes of Don Imus and the Doghouse DJs, but by the sheer number of people who have rationalized the behaviour as normal an harmless while pathologizing the responses by the non-privileged communities and their allies as anti-free speech, censorship, and emotional and therefore wrong and dangerous. And, well, if that’s not Privilege in Action, then I don’t know what is.

Via reappropriate.

More real world Privilege in Action: Casual heterosexism

I wrote about my language school for another PiA post here, but I’d like to bring it up again today. My topic here is heterosexism and it’s in similar vein to the first post and, again, about a reoccurring pattern.

We were going over a compound verb today with three different meanings: to signify a longstanding friendship, to signify a romantic attachment, and to ask to do an action together (yeah, the last one seems a little bit out of place, but that’s Japanese for you). My teacher — a very sweet and contentious woman, if a bit more conservative than I — talked about how the first meaning was between friends and wrote the word for “friend” on the board next to the example sentence. The third one was similar, although the explanation was too complex to sum up in a word so she left the right part of the example sentence blank. When she got to the second, however, I expected her to write the word for significant other (ie. the frequently used gender-neutral word for boyfriend/girlfriend) but she talked about “relationships between men and women” and then wrote the heterosexual specific word for male/female relations.

When I had an opening, I was like, “Um, sensei, wouldn’t [gender-neutral word] be a better choice? I mean, not all relationships are between a man and a woman…”

She looked at me and blinked for a split second, and then it was like a light bulb went off in her head. “Of course, of course!” she said abashedly, “[Gender-neutral word] is much better!” And she promptly changed the word on the board.

My teacher obviously wasn’t intending to exclude those of us in the class who were queer. In fact, I would wager that she never even thought that the language she was using — typical language, I believe, for adults to use in regards to relationships — could be exclusive. But, that’s just it. Privilege is having the dominant discourse be tailored to your group, to the point that you often don’t notice how certain words are exclusive of other groups.

The “normal” discourse all too often erases the experiences of groups outside what’s seen as “normal”, making it easier to ignore, minimize, and otherwise ignore/forget the existence of those groups. It’s not that most people do this intentionally; far from it. People use words which are exclusive (boyfriend/girlfriend in the context of assuming heterosexuality, mankind instead of humankind, etc) all the time, but because of privilege, these words are in such common usage that we use them as if they are all encompassing when the reality is that they are not.

For most people, when it’s pointed out to them is when they change it. This is not a terrible reaction; and most certainly is better than insisting that there’s nothing wrong with a word that has been pointed out to be exclusionary. However, in this case the best response is for us to be aware of our language as best we can, and choose the egalitarian version of a term whenever possible. Many people put down this kind of idea as being the “thought/word police” or the “PC gestapo” or somesuch, but the truth is that it’s just about using language that acknowledges and respects the basic humanity of others.

Campus Violence is Institutionalized

Folks talk about campus violence like it’s perpetuated by a few bad apples, tgise disenfranchised men and boys who play too many violent video games. What the mainstream doesn’t talk about is campus violence like violence against women or police brutality by campus police. Why? Because these forms of violence are institutionalized, and unfairly biased against people because they are women and people of color.

Professor Angela Davis spoke on my campus yesterday about the Prison Industrial Complex and prison abolition, and at a question and answer with students she talked about yesterday’s shooting. I’ll share a bit here, typed from what I took on my digital recorder.

I’ve always been interested in what I call circuits of violence, the ways in which certain modes of violence feed into and reproduce other modes of violence. We like to think of domestic violence and intimate violence separately from military violence, or separately from state violence. I think it’s really important to think of these forms of violence together and ask how they mutually reinforce each other and how the individual agent of violence, situated in a larger context where violence is so easily used by the state, has a certain level of comfort, a certain level of feeling that this is the way things are supposed to be done.

It is a tragedy anytime anyone is murdered. I don’t know what experiences fueled Cho Seung-Hui yesterday at Virgina Tech, but he was an immigrant and a person of color living in a country where those communities are routinely victims of institutionalized violence. That doesn’t justify killing, but I don’t think we can understand one form of violence without looking at the greater culture and institutions that normalize and perpetuate it.

Harassment, silencing, and gaming communities: follow-up

I just wanted to do a quick follow-up on my Harassment, silencing, and gaming communities, posting some relevant links.

First up is Lake Desire with her thoughts on my piece. My favourite part is where she says this:

I want to be able to speak up in mainstream places without being ignored, having my character attacked, or called names. But I’m not willing to grow a thicker skin, to censor myself, to have to constantly, preemptively watch my back. I’m not asking for special treatment, just to be treated with respect owed to all human beings. Until the mainstream is ready for that, I’ll continue to blog from the margins where I can call some shots.

Next is something not related to gaming, but related to the incident that spawned my post. Apparently my reference to Something Awful was closer to the truth than I knew. Richie over at Criticisms has the scoop on Lowtax’s misogynistic and downright hateful response to the Kathy Sierra incident (warning: reading through that entire thread is downright depressing).

And so as not to end on too much of a downer, I just wanted to highlight a post by m of my grown-up life, i love being a woman, to remind us why it’s so darn important to not let women’s voices be silenced:

and in the end, i am happy to be a woman. i’m happy to know women who are happy being women. i’m happy to know men who really love women. but most of all, i’m happy that there are folks out there with voices, who can teach girls and women of all ages, my little girl included, that it is a beautiful thing to be born without a y chromosome.

The impossibility of dialogue

[Happy one two year birthday to the Official Shrub.com Blog! I’m very grateful that Andrea gave me the opportunity to join her site, and I’m glad she’s here doing all the work that she does. Here’s to many more years.]

As I mentioned in my previous post, I recently took a class on racism and white privilege. My professor was unflinching in his recognition that some things about anti-oppression work are “impossible.” And while this sounds like a pessimistic view of things, I think it was very important that he acknowledged this concept and repeatedly brought it to our attention.

I chose to write about this subject for the one two-year anniversary of the Official Shrub.com Blog because of that importance, despite the fact that it also sounds pretty dreary. I mean, it is a bit disheartening to commemorate the birth of an anti-oppression blog by talking about everything it can’t do.

But recognizing difficulties can always do two different things: it can bring you down, and it can also help you clarify your path to better accomplish your goals. As you can guess, I hope to do the latter.

One of the “impossibilities” that my professor discussed was about the process of dialogue. Our classroom was multiracial – both white students and people of color, and within the latter group there were black, Asian, Latino, and Native students. And while a multiracial demographic can be very beneficial, it also raises a fundamental question: what was this class for?

I’ll explain what I mean with an example. One of the early and enduring issues raised in the class was the idea of safety. And by “safety,” I mean the safety of the white students – whether they felt like they could safely enter the discussion without being judged, and make mistakes without being punished.

This is an important issue for white people talking about anti-racism, and the perceived absence of safety can be a deal breaker for discussion. I expect that most if not all white people who begin anti-racist work feel a strong concern for this kind of safety.

However, this is not a new issue for people of color. On the one hand, those of us who have spent any amount of time trying to talk to white people about racism have run into this issue time and time again. On the other hand, a lack of “safety” isn’t news to us. It’s a given. People of color go around their entire lives without the assumption of safety – from racism. Whether the threat is immediate and physical, or long-term and mental or emotional, we already know that we can’t expect safety from this world. There are ways of feeling safer – being around certain people we can trust, for instance – but there is never a point at which we can say, Okay, no threat from racism here. Being constrained by white people’s fear about losing the safety they never have to question can undermine our own feeling of safety.

This is the kind of “impossibility” that my professor identified in the class. There was simply no way for him, or us, to address the needs of both groups of students at the same time. If we were to make the white students feel safe, we would have had to hold back on criticisms and make sure to keep at the level of Racism 101. If we were to concern ourselves with the students of color, we would have had to leave many of the white students behind, because they would have felt ignored or insulted.

This is specific example of a wider problem that Shrub, as well as other anti-oppression blogs, run into all the time – the question of Who is this dialogue for?

Addressed with this question, my professor would have called it impossible. There is no good answer to this. As stated above, choosing one party compromises the interests of the other in some way. At the same time, it is vitally necessary that both parties be present. If people of color are the only ones talking about racism, it will result in a lot of knowledge – but the work will be hindered if no white people join in the effort. If white people talk on their own, it spares the people of color from enduring further privileged ignorance – but there is the risk that no one will be there to hold the white people accountable, and keep their learning grounded in the real experiences of people of color.

This blog is for anti-oppression, but not necessarily only for the oppressed. (For one thing, there are hardly any people who only fall into one of the “oppressed” or “oppressor” classifications when all aspects of their social situation are taken into account.) We provide support to those who bear the weight of sexism, racism, and other forms of oppression. Still, we hope to teach and reach out to people on the other side of the privilege divide in the hopes of gaining more allies.

One solution (of the many that are necessary) is simply to have multiple sites for dialogue. Finally, a Feminism 101 Blog and Feminist Allies are two sites that are geared more towards men and/or non-feminists, whereas I Blame The Patriarchy is intended for, in Twisty’s own words, “advanced patriarchy-blamers.” Yet even if both groups of sites did their intended work perfectly, there would still be the problems mentioned above. A blog dedicated to “Feminism 101” would, obviously, not graduate towards more rigorous analyses as it focused on educating the (endless supply of) ignorant people. The “advanced” blogs would make entrance into feminism difficult for those with little knowledge or experience.

One of the reasons that I enjoy blogging here so much is that Andrea’s work occurs in a sort of middle ground, engaging in outreach with those who are respectful and willing to learn, yet not sacrificing the needs of those in the non-privileged groups. This middle ground, however, is constantly in flux, and must be re-negotiated to stay on target.

Sites like Shrub are best aided, not by being told what to do or how to do it better, but by those who are willing to join in the work. That doesn’t mean that these combined efforts will fix the impossibility of dialogue between privileged and non-privileged groups, but they will help the multiple attempts at dialogue be sustained.

Kotaku Wants Women Bloggers

Well, it’s official, Kotaku blogger Crecente has done his homework and decided that women just don’t blog about video games! This, of course, on the wake of Kotaku link blogging Guilded Lily’s post on covers she wants to see without giving any sort of nod to the meme that inspired it, or the other female video game bloggers who participated. Guilded Lily was not one of the women video game bloggers mentioned, by the way.

Of course, when Kotaku regularly inserts sexist turns of phrase into their posts, especially in ones that have little or nothing to do with gender, I am not exactly at a loss for an explanation as to why they would overlook resources like Women Gamers (the first hit when you google “women gamers”, just so you know) or Killer Betties. But, I mean, it’s us “gamer chicks” who have the “treat me better because I am a girl gamer attitude” according to one Kotaku commenter.

Let me put it another way. When bloggers like Faith, who put up with a lot of sexist shit being flung at them every time they post, say you’ve gone too far, your chances for getting a woman to blog for you, even if you find them with your severely lacking internet searching skills, is probably pretty low.

You want diversity at Kotaku? You want to add a woman to your staff? Then take down your damn “White Boys Only” sign and, at the very least, stop shoving your contempt for women down our throats in any post that even remotely can relate to women.

We are not your “whores”.

We are not your “bitches”.

And we are not going to sit down and kiss your feet for your half-assed attempts at including us.