Why are body politics important? [Loving Our Bodies, Part 4]

If I had a penny for every time I’ve seen people, both men and women, call issues such as shaving “petty” or otherwise mock them when someone brings up the double standard as an example of why we aren’t equal, I would be a rich, rich woman. But why is something that, on the surface, seems so minor and so tied-in with personal choice a continual talking-point within discussions of equality?

The easy answer is that it’s not about the act of shaving or not shaving, but rather what those personal experiences mean when they are put into the greater context of socialization and gender roles. What does it mean to learn womanhood? What impact does it have on how we view women’s personhood? Continue reading

"If I were [x] I wouldn't do that!" [Loving Our Bodies, Part 3]

It’s summer again in Japan, which means torrential downpours, blisteringly hot days, and enough humidity to make you feel like you need to shower again right after you step out of the house. It is not weather that is conducive to pants and sleeves, but rather one that lends itself better to shorts, skirts, and tank tops.

And this is where we begin this part of the Loving Our Bodies series, because it is where I am confronted with the consequences of my choice not to shave every single time I walk out of the house. But, first, a brief interlude to refresh what brought up this subject, and discuss the pressures that hinder a free choice for a woman when it comes to shaving. Continue reading

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…

Am I the only one bothered by this?

This was supposed to be a rant on a recent NY Times article called To Appeal to Women, Too, Gadgets Go Beyond ‘Cute’ and ‘Pink’ (feel free to bingo it in my stead), but I got to reading a Gizmodo article called NY Times: Smaller, Easier to Use Gadgets Are Made for Women and was distinctly bothered by it.

I was heartened by the unabashed use of “sexist” to describe the NYT article, and the fairly good breakdown of why the stereotypes are insulting and wrong. But three things that showed up soured my reading of the article, to the point where it sticks as a negative in my memory rather than a positive. Three things in particular got me: the accompanying picture and two of the “jokes” that Matt Buchanan, the author of the article, cracked. Continue reading

A deeper look into femininity [The Gaming Beauty Myth, Interlude]

I’m labeling this as an “interlude” because the constructs of femininity I’m about to address don’t all directly intersect with the beauty myth, but the way that they interact with femininity as a whole is a topic that I feel needs to be addressed. I’ve been sitting on this one ever since Shannon over at Egotistical Whining wrote a commentary on the second part of this series.

In life, and especially in male-dominated areas, femininity gets a bad rap. It’s seen as frivolous, as emotional, as irrational, as naive… the list goes on an on. It’s not, however, seen as desirable to possess because it’s somehow lesser than masculine traits.

I’ve tried to dispel that false dichotomy in my series thus far, but it’s hard to see the bigger picture when the topic at hand is the beauty myth, a cultural paradigm that relies on ruthlessly exploiting the negative aspects of femininity in order to maintain the connection between women and sex. So I’m going to try here again to illustrate why, exactly, despite its flaws it’s not in our best interest to throw femininity into the same trash bin as the beauty myth itself. Continue reading

Good Children and Better Women: Lessons Learned from Nanny McPhee

On New Year’s Eve, tekanji and I watched Nanny McPhee, a British fantasy movie for children. In the film, the magical Nanny McPhee comes to the Brown Estate to help Cedric Brown, widower and mortician, manage his seven unruly children, free of charge. Since the death of their mother, the Brown children have driven away seventeen nannies.

Nanny McPhee is a movie that tells both women and children how they ought to be. I want to analyze the messages in this film because I’m interested in the power dynamics between children and adults. Even powerful people were children once. I’ll explore some of the lessons I “learned” from this movie in this post.

Continue reading

Introduction [The Gaming Beauty Myth, Part 1]

cakebite.com picture illustrating the gaming beauty mythThe beauty myth, a term coined by Naomi Wolf in her book of the same name, essentially describes the idea that a woman is viewed first by her sexuality/attractiveness and second by everything else (more information here). When I chose to call this sereies “The Gaming Beauty Myth” it was because I wanted to take Wolf’s ideas and see how they apply to “girl gamer” culture.

Although I have written on my personal experiences as a female gamer as well as referenced female gamers in my posts, I have not as yet done an in-depth look at female gaming culture. One reason is for that is that female gamer culture is as varied and complex as male gaming culture and not an easy subject to tackle in a post, or even a series.

In this series I will be only addressing one specific area of the culture: the way that the beauty myth interacts with the way female gamers are seen, treated, and the way we treat each other.

Sex does not determine racial identity

You know what’s sexist? White guys who see Asian women as exotic sex objects, something they can use in their porn-based fantasies about “sideways” vaginas. Why? Because everything about me is obscured by my sexual utility for them – they are attempting to define my identity through their penis.

You know what’s also sexist? Asian guys who think that Asian women aren’t “Asian” enough if they don’t exclusively date Asian men. Why? Because once again my identity is being defined by a man’s penis.

Take a look at this post by Jenn at Reappropriate, where she criticizes a new webcomic called Single Asian Female. While she mentions the good points about the comic (mostly its good art style), she worries that it attempts to portray the Asian-American women (AAW) experience as centering primarily on sexuality: white guys who try to date them, and the Asian-American men whom they should be dating.

Lo and behold, one of the first comments attempts to discredit Jenn’s perspective through – you guessed it – bringing up her sexuality.

(And again.)

Another comment attacks Jenn for criticizing AAMs – it’s the “What About the Mens?” Phallusy, except in a racialized version. These instances are harder to recognize than most examples of non-racialized (read: white) male privilege, because it’s true that AAMs do face oppression as well. All men of color experience a male privilege that is intertwined with, and undermined by, racial oppression – AAMs in particular are often viewed as feminine and therefore not even ‘male’. They face racism based on both the challenge that their skin color presents to white people in general, and the challenge they present to white men in particular.

However, this fact should not be used to re-direct their animosity toward AAWs, or to obscure the ways in which AAWs face both racism and sexism – and yes, that includes sexism from AAMs. Imposing a ‘duty’ upon AAWs to date AAMs, and criticizing those who don’t, is belittling and disempowering. It minimizes the contributions of AAWs to anti-racist efforts (have these people even read Jenn’s insightful blog?), reducing the importance of AAWs to their bodies and sexuality – to what they do for AAMs. It also treats racial identity and solidarity as something tied to sex – specifically, who the women of color have sex with – instead of theory and activism.

It also reproduces the attitude that caused problems for women of color in the 1970s during the U.S. civil rights movement, when men of color excluded them from political activity and reduced their contributions to producing babies for the sake of the race.

Look. I don’t hold with the fringe view that women can only be feminists if they’re lesbians, as if having sex with other women was the only way to be in solidarity with them. This is because women can have meaningful and supportive relationships with people that aren’t characterized by what goes into their vaginas. Asian-American women can also have meaningful and supportive relationships with people – like AAMs – without having sex with them.

They can also have sex with non-Asian men without being “sell-out AF trash”, because for the love of all that’s holy, a woman’s personhood is not defined by her vagina.

I am not defined by my body, or what goes into it. I am defined by my mind, and what I choose to do with it. I can have meaningful and supportive relationships with people, I can be an anti-oppression theorist, and I can be an anti-oppression activist. And none of that hinges on whether or not I sleep with someone of this or that gender or race.

Get it? What I do, who I am, and what I believe are not determined by whom I choose to fuck.

Oh, wait – that would be who fucks me, because clearly these perspectives treat women as passive sexual receptacles that can only have sex happen to them.

Stop exerting male privilege over me to make yourselves feel more important. Just stop. I don’t care if you’ve got layers of privilege coming out your ass and this is just one more way for you to oppress people; I don’t care if you’re disadvantaged because of your color or class or whatever, and penis-privilege is all you’ve got. You do not have the right to lift yourself up by taking advantage of the power society gives you over me.

I have the right to define my identity in the way that I want. That means who I date, but that’s just a tiny part of it. It also means: who my important relationships are with, how I spend my time, what I learn, how I challenge the power structures around me.

I also have the responsibility to be aware of how my choices about my romantic relationships – among all the millions of other important choices in my life – affect me. That means negotiating the power dynamic of dating someone who holds privilege that I don’t, whether that’s white privilege or gender privilege – or someone who lacks privilege that I have, due to my class or ability. This is not even considering the everyday difficulties of having an intimate relationship, based on the fact that people are complex and inevitably conflict with those who are close to them.

What all this doesn’t mean is doling out my sexuality based on the color of a man’s penis. Or lack of penis. Or anything else.

I am not defined based on which men do what to me. I am defined based on my mind, not random parts of my body. My body is not the important part of me and my activism. MY VAGINA DOES NOT CONTAIN A MAGIC WELLSPRING OF POLITICAL SOLIDARITY, THANK YOU.