No, Virginia, Fangirl/boy are not gender neutral!

Sorry for the slew of short posts, but I’m trying to juggle a thousand things at once. Even so, Ragnell has this amazing post looking at the gender differences between “fangirl” and “fanboy” called Fan-What? Given my recent post on a Wii gift guide that used the term “fanboy,” I think it’s pretty relevant. And interesting!

Here’s an excerpt:

This reminded me of a conversation Kalinara and I had yesterday that has me musing on the term “fangirl” today. It’s a linguistic issue, mainly. In theory, Fanboy and Fangirl are simply gendered terms to differentiate a male fan and a female fan. In practical use, they have not only a different gender but an entirely different meaning.


Fanboy is a “Blue” term, as in “Blue is for Boys.” Whereas, Fangirl is a “Pink” term, as in “Pink is for Girls.” There is nothing inherently wrong with blue or pink. Both are fine colors, moods, acceptable lifestyles. But these colors represent traditional gender roles. The pink term of Fangirl embraces traditionally feminine traits like emotional/romantic thinking, pastel colors, cutesy things, and an audible high-pitched squeal associated with hearing about an opportunity to meet David Cassidy. The blue term of Fanboy embraces traditionally masculine traits like logical/statistical thinking, primary colors, blood and gore, and manly grunting/deep voiced “oh yeah”s.

Now go read the rest!

Harlan Ellison's "Apology": Sorry I Rubbed You the Wrong Way

(I’ll be away for the next few days at Fan Expo Canada in Toronto. If anyone else will be there and wants to meet up, drop me a line. As far as I know, Harlan Ellison won’t be there.)

Dora has written a great post on the subject of Ellison’s behavior at the Hugo Awards. If you haven’t read it already, stop reading this and go read that one first.

She linked to Ellison’s apology, which was the sort of non-apology I’ve gotten used to hearing from public figures when they don’t understand that they did anything wrong.

Would you believe that, having left the Hugo ceremonies immediately after my part in it, while it was still in progress … and having left the hall entirely … yet having been around later that night for Keith Kato’s traditional chili party … and having taken off next morning for return home … and not having the internet facility to open “journalfen” (or whatever it is), I was unaware of any problem proceeding from my intendedly-childlike grabbing of Connie Willis’s left breast, as she was exhorting me to behave.

Shorter HE: the opinion of you peons doesn’t count.

Note the introductory phrase, “Would you believe…,” suggesting that the reasonable reader would be surprised that he hadn’t heard about it. I believe this is being used ironically – i.e., that he thinks it’s eminently believable that one could avoid hearing about this because the complainers are out on the fringe. I can understand alternative interpretations here, though.

Note , however, the name-dropping (though I hadn’t heard of Keith Kato before, a quick Google suggests that he hosts invitation-only afterparties at a lot of conventions. In other words, to be at that party is to be important. Further note Ellison’s putting JournalFen in scare quotes and follows it a dismissive parenthetical. And finally, note that Ellison attributes the “problem” to a single source (JournalFen – i.e., Fandom Wank, which I hadn’t actually checked to find out about this).

Finally, there’s the contextualizing of the incident as a joke. Because Willis was telling him to “behave,” he groped her. Of course, the age old rule about jokes applies: if you have to explain ’em, they ain’t funny.

Nonetheless, despite my only becoming aware of this brouhaha right this moment (12 noon LA time, Tuesday the 29th), three days after the digital spasm that seems to be in uproar …YOU ARE ABSOLUTELY RIGHT!!!

Emphasis, despite the capslock abuse, still seems to be on how long it took him to find out about it. Absolutely right about what? He hasn’t said yet.

IT IS UNCONSCIONABLE FOR A MAN TO GRAB A WOMAN’S BREAST WITHOUT HER EXPLICIT PERMISSION. To do otherwise is to go ‘way over the line in terms of invasion of someone’s personal space. It is crude behavior at best, and actionable behavior at worst. When George W. Bush massaged the back of the neck of that female foreign dignitary, we were all justly appalled.

What’s interesting here is not that he “gets it,” to the extent he does (though his reasons seem very male-centric – it’s bad because the behavior is crude, or because you can be sued for it); what’s interesting is that he’s talking in generalities, and when he brings up an example it’s someone else (and the woman is reduced to “female foreign dignitary”).

Finally, he gets around to talking about the incident:

For me to grab Connie’s breast is inexcusable, indefensible, gauche, and properly offensive to any observers or those who heard of it later.

I agree wholeheartedly.

“Gauche”? He didn’t break wind on stage, he groped somebody. That’s like slugging somebody and then apologizing for your bad manners.

I’ve called Connie. Haven’t heard back from her yet. Maybe I never will.

Implication: If Connie Willis doesn’t complain, neither should you.

This doesn’t work for me for a few reasons. For one, this wasn’t private behavior; it was on stage. More importantly, Ms. Willis is situated differently from other people commenting on the issue; she potentially has more to lose from a backlash from Harlan’s fans than a random blogger like me does. (Though on the other hand, I could use the publicity if I ever finish my novel.)

So. What now, folks?

Implication: it’s your problem, not mine.

It’s not as if I haven’t been a politically incorrect creature in the past. But apparently, Lynne, my 72 years of indefensible, gauche (yet for the most part classy), horrifying, jaw-dropping, sophomoric, sometimes imbecile behavior hasn’t–till now–reached your level of outrage.

Shorter HE: What are you, retarded? I’m the goddamn Harlan. And if you haven’t complained before, you can’t now.

I tend not to bother paying much attention to the personal lives of writers, so I’m not sure what else he’s been up to. I’ve heard about the Penny Arcade kerfuffle; I’m sure there are other incidents where he pissed people off, and it seems from this “apology” that he regards this as merely another of those times. This is orders of magnitude larger than that, and invokes privilege and institutional power in ways that other arguments don’t.

I’m glad, at last, to have transcended your expectations. I stand naked and defenseless before your absolutely correct chiding.

Shorter HE: I’m an asshole; what are you going to do about it?

The “I’m an asshole” defense, though, isn’t one. Never has been. It’s simultaneously an assertion of power (“I can act like this, and you still have to deal with me”) and a desertion of responsibility (“I’m just this way. Can’t be helped”).

With genuine thanks for the post, and celestial affection, I remain, puckishly,

Yr. pal, Harlan

Shorter HE: Ain’t I a stinker?

Funny, while I remember Puck (both the Shakespearean version and the Gargoyles version) being a trickster, I don’t remember him sexually assaulting anybody.

P.S. You have my permission to repost this reply anywhere you choose, on journalfen, at SFWA, on every blog in the universe, and even as graffiti on the Great Wall of China.

Implication: it doesn’t matter what you do; it can’t affect me.

The Harlan Ellison Incident

A few days ago at the Hugo Awards ceremony at Worldcon, Harlan Ellison groped Connie Willis on stage. The primary source of the news is Patrick Nielsen Hayden, though Ellison himself confirmed it in the (ostensible) apology on his message board. (Text provided here by Elizabeth Bear. Also see her post on the original incident.)

He wrote the “apology” yesterday, even though the event occurred a couple of days ago, because he had no idea that there was a problem until he saw the reaction online. In other words, he didn’t know it was wrong until someone else told him. This is the kind of behavior that you would expect out of children developing their sense of politeness and ethics, not a grown man (especially one with as inflated a sense of self as Ellison apparently has).

Connie Willis is one of the most respected science fiction authors writing today – certainly one of the most well-known women in the field. She did not invite the groping, nor did she give him permission. Ellison calls it “intendedly-childlike,” and supposedly it came as part of a comedic schtick. However, Willis was not previously informed about his intention, and since she immediately removed his hand and continued on without comment, it’s obvious that she didn’t feel inclined to join in on the “comedy.”

His behavior – the fact that he even thought that this was an acceptable action (or at least funny, maybe “cheeky little bastard,” but not reprehensibly sexist), and furthermore, had to be told that it wasn’t – speaks to a deep disrespect for women. A disrespect that, really, isn’t all that uncommon.

An opening caveat

First, let’s be clear about what I’m not saying:
-Ellison is the oppressor of all women
-Ellison is the personal cause of oppression for Willis
-all men are horribly sexist
-touching = the root of sexist oppression

So anyone freaking out about how I’m attacking Ellison/blowing the situation out of proportion/hating on teh menz can calm down. Okay? Okay.

The acceptance of sexual harassment

This is what Ellison did: he invaded a woman’s personal space, and furthermore, touched a private body part (at least, it’s private in Western society since we sexualize and obsessively cover up women’s breasts). He did something similar to another woman at the same convention. Groping Willis was not a freak incident, but an indication of his disregard for personal space – the personal space, it appears, of women.

I’m not saying that Ellison took a moment, thought, “Boy, I disrespect Connie Willis! Let me show her who’s boss!” and grabbed her breast out of malice. The point is he didn’t have to stop and think. He simply assumed that it would be all right to grab a woman’s private body part without her prior permission, on a stage in front of a massive audience.

That’s the whole point. That assumption. The general attitude that makes people believe, without consciously thinking about it, that it’s okay to touch a woman without asking. (See George Bush’s invasion of German chancellor Angela Merkel’s personal space at the G-8 Summit.) The assumption that goes along with that belief is that, somehow, women just don’t get as much say over what people do to their personal space. Over who touches their bodies.

How many times have you seen a man touch a woman without asking: pat her head, pet her hair, grab her arm, put a hand on her waist? How many times have you been that woman? Both men and women do it – both genders absorb the idea that it’s somehow okay to do it. Women are expected to put up with it – to speak up and refuse a touch would be considered rude, heaven forbid. We’re expected to allow our personal boundaries to be blurred on a normal basis. This is one of the reasons why it’s so goddamned hard to recognize and react to sexual harassment. You don’t want to be the rude/uppity/bitchy one who says no; you think this kind of behavior is normal; you don’t know where to draw the line, how to tell when someone is trying to mask sexual invasion under acceptable “polite” behavior.

On the other hand, you very rarely see men being the receiver of this kind of unwanted contact. Especially from other men. (“Oh, but that’s different!” people say. “That would be weird and gay.” Well, if men touching men without asking is a sexualized violation, what does that make men touching women without asking?)

People don’t actively think this, think “touching women is okay!” when they do it. Of course not. You don’t have to. It’s just assumed.

When good authors suck as people

One thing I’m (shallowly) glad of is that I never read any of Ellison’s work. It’s frustrating and disappointing when I find out that authors I like are actually jerks.

But, you know, it is possible. The seriousness of this incident doesn’t negate the fact that Ellison is a well-known author of many admired works. You can be a good writer and still a social jackass – I greatly admire Margaret Atwood’s writing, but I hear she’s a very unpleasant person (which I can neither confirm nor deny, not having met her, but I am open to the possibility). Despite the horror stories I hear about Anne McCaffrey’s treatment of fans, I still look back on her books with affectionate nostalgia. And Anne Rice – well, okay, Anne Rice apparently fails at both literary and social skills, but whatever. XD;;

Beyond his writing skills, these incidents don’t even negate the fact that Ellison could be an otherwise good person – as I like to emphasize, you can be a good person and still be sexist/racist/whatever. But in many ways, your goodness is irrelevant. You still have to own up to the *ist behavior. If you’re a good person who’s also sexist, you’re just as sexist as the irredeemable asshole who’s also sexist.

Which is why it pisses me off to see that Stephen Brust decided that now was the time to post a paean to Ellison’s virtues and discourage attention to the groping incident. Now? Before most people in the SFF community have even heard what happened? Before (to my knowledge) there has been any sort of official response? Before we’ve even heard from Willis herself?

It smacks of trying to wriggle out of dealing with the incident, of trying to calm the rocking boat without even seeing what huge-ass boulder fell into the water in the first place. It also strikes me as a small – very small – version of the “but he was always such a good boy” defense of rapists, in that the perpetrator’s previous good behavior is used in an attempt to gloss over the objectionable action. Brust isn’t trying to deny what happened – there’s a large audience of witnesses and Ellison’s own admission, all in addition to what Willis says – but he is trying to minimize the censure directed toward Ellison, to hurry us on ahead by (ironically) emphasizing Ellison’s past good deeds.

Easy for you to say, Stephen Brust, a man who’s never been a recipient of male-on-female sexual harassment within a society that largely normatizes the behavior. (Now, I’ve actually read his stuff – but only one novel, and I didn’t like it that much, so that makes me less disappointed.) Something tells me his reaction wouldn’t be quite so detached if circumstances were different – maybe he can’t ever be a woman who’s harassed by a man, but he could know one. What if Ellison’s victim had been a relation to Brust, his wife, mother, daughter, sister? Would he be saying the same thing? My guess is, even if he still didn’t abandon Ellison, at least he wouldn’t be saying, “Sure, this was bad, but let’s make sure we remember the good that Ellison has done.” Instead, it would be more like, “Sure, Ellison has done good, but let’s make sure we acknowledge how bad this was.” In other words, the emphasis wouldn’t be on sweeping the incident under the rug.

In conclusion: Ellison is not an evil man. But.

As I said, I don’t find that Ellison is an anomaly – his action might have been outrageous, but his attitude is one that’s largely accepted. I’m not going to call him an evil sexist monster any more that I would call every man (and woman) that who shares his attitude toward women’s personal space. The point of my criticism, of all feminist criticism, is not to point fingers and declare this or that person evil, or to target someone for attack. The point is to reveal sexist attitudes and beliefs – attitudes and beliefs that we all fall prey to, to some degree – so that people can refuse to accept them.

But Ellison’s actions do need to be recognized – and criticized. (Especially since I find his “apology” lacking; you can read it and judge for yourself, but I get the impression he’s more enamored of his literary cleverness and bad-boy image than what Willis feels.) A lack of response to this incident – by fans, authors, and perhaps officials from Worldcon itself – would only reinforce the “boys’ club” impression of SFF.

Immature side note

Now I’m doubly amused by his run-in with the Penny Arcade folks last year.

Sexism on a Plate (Classism, too)

“I’ve had it with this m*****f***ing sexism on my m*****f***ing plate!”

Over on Feministing, Sailorman recently commented about an entry on The New York Times “Dining & Wine” blog concerning the increasingly infrequent practice of giving menus without prices to some patrons at restaurants. (Feministe has commented on this as well.)

The actual practices described varied from automatically giving a woman a menu “sans prix” when she dined with a man, to providing price-free menus only on request for people who wanted to treat a family member or business client.

I was most surprised at the comments to the blog entry, which had a surprising number of people bemoaning the loss of “class,” “chivalry” and “old world style” involved with this practice.

So sad to see yet another tradition dying out. I don’t see how the practice is insulting at all. I remember being taken to Le Bernadin to celebrate a special occasion, and being given a menu without prices. I thought it was a very chivalrous gesture; and on a day-to-day basis we all split enough bills in the name of equality and fairness that I can’t see how one old-fashioned gesture once in a while is something to decry.

Most restaurants I’ve met in Europe follow this practice (no menu prices for the guests), and I like it. Here in Florida, no such luck. I am often frustrated when taking my poor Depression-era mother to dinner and she goes into shock, ordering the meanest, cheapest salad instead of a meal. Absolutely no class throughout the state (but the winter weather’s nice).

Oh come on! Can’t you see the charm in it? It has a hint of old world class. It takes us back to a time when men took pains to put a lady at ease.

Doesn’t this make you long for the days when men still stood when a lady entered the room?

Here’s what I find wrong with price-free menus:

They Confuse the Customers

One recurring theme throught the comments to the post was that, despite protests that everybody knew more or less which entrees would be expensive (“chicken costs less than lobster”), many people whose menus didn’t contain prices made expensive mistakes as a result:

As he had prices, and I did not, I was unaware that I had ordered a $75 salad–I don’t remember for sure, but I think it was more expensive than our wine.

Then, after the meal, she asked for a copy of the menu, to remember the meal by. It came, autographed by the chef. She almost fell off the chair. She had assumed, not seeing prices on her menu, that we had a set prix fix meal with several courses, and naturally she wanted to taste all of them.

The most expensive meal I ever ate was at a restaurant where I — known to be the penny-pincher in the relationship and completely unaware that unpriced menus existed — assumed my price-less menue meant it was a prix fixe meal. My husband, shocked and happy, thought I was just caving in to the beauty of the experience. Well, hello! I’d never have spent that much money on a meal, and never have again. Though I sure did enjoy it, until the bill came.

The problem here is that these mistakes usually benefit the restaurant, which means there’s little incentive not to offer the menus, especially if they can play into class anxiety by doing so:

It seems the worst thing one can be called today is “cheap”. It is the most cutting insult of all. Liar, cheat, thief, addict, scoundrel, even racist or slut – these are forgiven and in some cases even admired. But “cheap”… cheap is the lowest.

But “cheap” is often nothing more than a ploy by others to manipulate one to spend more. Once labeled as cheap, the only defense is to go further into opulence. Typically the accuser is the benficiary.

I think it’s telling that the most common use of the price-free menu was traditionally during a date, where there can be even more pressure not to appear “cheap.”

They Make the “Guest” Uncomfortable

I see a lot of talk about “I’m the host and price-free menus are what *I* want!” but I don’t see very much talk about what the guests want.

The idea behind the price-free menu is to put the “guest” (i.e., the person who’s not buying) at ease by letting him or her choose her courses without being influenced by price. Of course, that doesn’t always work:

If I were handed a host who insisted on price-free menus, my anxiety would go through the roof. I would worry and try to guess what was a “safe” choice. When I eschewed the chicken in favor of salad and then found, to my horror, that the salad was $75, I would be mortified.

I’ve been a guest and received a menu without prices. I don’t care for it because, frankly, I’m not always sure what I want to order and use the prices to decide whether I really want the lobster if it costs $150. No matter how much money I have, certain things just aren’t worth the money…no matter who’s paying for it. It’s not a matter of being cheap…more a matter of using the price to assist me in a sometimes difficult decision.

When I was treated to that ilk of restaurant by my father years ago, not seeing the menu with prices left me the task of guessing which might be the modest choices. It therefore brought more frustration than ease.

I have seen it cause distress with some guests who REALLY need to know what the prices are and are then made more uncomfortable by the lack of that knowledge.

The idea that less information will put someone at ease doesn’t make much sense to me. If I’m being treated by someone I care about, the price is going to matter as much to me as it does to them, because their comfort is important to me. If I’m worried it’ll be a problem; it’s going to worry me as much, if not more, if I don’t know how much of a bill I’m racking up. If I know it’s not a problem, I’ll get what I want regardless. If I’m not sure if it’s all right, I’ll ask. (I’ll probably ask anyway, because I’m used to everyone sampling each other’s courses at restaurants.)

Besides, as one waiter points out:

It never works.

The other guest(s) always excuse themselves at some point and ask to see a menu with prices outside the watch of their host. I rarely sense they feel this was any sort of compliment to their company and it usually signals a first and last date.

It’s Sexist as Practiced

Quite obviously the practice of assuming that a man will pay for a woman’s meal is a sexist one, whether that assumption takes the form of handing the check to a man, or giving a woman a menu without prices. (Many commenters also pointed out that the assumptions get even more muddled when dealing with non-heterosexual couples.)

This is one of those things that straddles the border between chivalrous and “look how hard I’m trying to impress you, I must really, really need to get laid.”

If my attempt to pay for my meal is refused within a dating context, I want to feel less beholden than more, so again, not seeing the prices is an annoyance rather than a luxury.

May I also add that this is not sweetness or chivalry – this is taking the chattle out for a little treat, and since she can’t earn money (or drive, or vote, or think) why should she see the prices?

Another comment shows how this sexism intersects with other forms (in this case, emphasizing the cultural narrative of the date as an exchange of dinner for sexual favors):

How about this…I invited my husband and another couple for a wonderful steak dinner at La Queu de Cheval in Montreal. I was appropriately presented the bill but when I casually turned it over there was a quote imprinted, which equated something like “a good steak is like a good woman, juicy in all the right places”. This is not a verbatim quote since it was years ago and I have never been back.

However, I don’t think the sexism entirely goes away when the policy is made facially neutral (though you’re less likely to find such an offensive quote on the check), such as the proposed practice of asking who the host is. It’s akin to citing “asker pays” as a non-sexist alternative – while facially neutral, it’s not actually equal outside of a culture in which the idea of “asker” is not gendered.

It’s Classist

Throughout the comments, there’s a strong element of “it doesn’t matter,” with an implied accusation of cheapness on the part of the people who do complain.

if I am inviting guests to a meal at a restaurant, I greatly appreciate the option of being able to set aside the vulgarity of money, and enjoy each others’ company for its own sake.

If you find money so vulgar, how about letting those of us who don’t find it so relieve you of that burden?

Other commenters agree that being focused on money – i.e., not being sufficiently rich – is bad manners:

To me, it clearly [shows] the decline of proper etiquette and good manners.

Why must it be so hard to just be a guest and leave it at that? If you think your host can’t afford it then suggest someplace else. Jeesh this is not rocket science it’s called civilization.

Some commenters go so far as to insinuate that the riff-raff should know their place and stop trying to dine at “high class” restaurants:

It always strikes me as tacky / low rent when a server in an otherwise good restaurant is quoting prices for the specials. Turns any fine dining experience into a “my God, do they think we are at TGI Friday’s?” moment.

I agree with the post above that asks why you would go to a restaurant you could not afford in the first place?!?! If the $600 check is going to make you gag, then you should have gone to the Shake Shack with grandma!

Fuck you both, and the luxury cars you rode in on. I routinely go to restaurants (even that bastion of plebeianism, TGI Friday’s) with the assumption that I’m not going to get the high-priced items on the menu (if I did, I couldn’t dine there routinely).

As for the comment ‘if you can’t afford it, don’t go,’ well, there’s more than one problem with that. Firstly, there’s often a considerable price range on the menu. Just because you can’t afford the most expensive items doesn’t mean you shouldn’t eat there! Myself and a traveling partner have several times ’saved up’ for a meal at a nice restaurant at the end of a trip. We always chose nice places, even if we could only afford a glass of wine and mid-priced entree, because it was a ‘treat’ as much for the ambience as the quality of the food.

I think a lot of the classist “if you have to ask, you can’t afford it” folks underestimate the difference between low-priced and high-priced entrees. Even taking extreme outliers like lobster off the list, it’s not uncommon for the high-priced entrees to be over twice the cost of lower-priced ones, which can be a very big deal when you’re eating at a restaurant where even the low-priced courses will stretch your budget.

If a slice of pie is going to be $8, then we’d like to know before we order it. If that makes us classless and vulgar, well, we didn’t inherit our money – we earned it. It took a long time, a lot of care, and more than a few coupons. I guess that makes for vulgar people who like to know the price of things before buying! 🙂

Damn right.

Fighting Words

[Hey everyone! My name is Dora/Sigel Phoenix and Tekanji recently invited me over here to guest blog. I have a personal/political blog on LiveJournal. I’m a college student majoring in English and Women Studies, and my interests include gender, race, and all things geeky. Nice to meet you all!]

I’m lucky in the people I geek out with, because it’s a mixed-gender group, mostly socially aware, and made up of generally good people. I don’t have to worry about guys telling me I can’t play something because I’m female, or looking down on what I’m interested in.

But I never hear the word “bitch” so often as in the middle of a tense battle in a game.

I hardly have the worst gaming experience, I know. Even the language I hear isn’t the worst – it’s nothing like the “cocksucking whores” or “stupid cunts” I’ve heard, and heard about, in the more anonymous forum of online gaming (yes, Counter-Strike, I’m looking at you). And most of the people I encounter while gaming actually try to not be sexist.

But there’s something about gaming that inspires honesty. I’d guess it has something to do with adrenaline, stress, and excitement – triggered by things like a major boss fight when you forgot to save, or that moment when you really really need to roll a 20. In any case, gaming tends to make us drop our pretenses – to help us shed our social niceties and polite talk. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t engaged in some violent smack talk during particularly exciting battles, never mind how you normally speak. I hear it in groups of any size, whether the medium is tabletop or electronic, an FPS or an RPG. And in such a fast-paced and high-stress environment, people often resort to the lowest common denominator in language, words that are fast and simple in getting your meaning across.

So when I hear people use “female” insults like this – words that refer specifically to women or characteristics of women – I can’t believe that they’re “just” words. Saying a word means that you believe something about it – something about what it means, and what a listener will understand through its usage. That’s why we usually don’t swear in the workplace, or reference inside jokes with people we don’t know; why we make our vocabulary more or less complex depending on what we’re trying to do (make an argument versus giving directions, etc.). I wouldn’t use “geek” with mundanes – at least, not in the same sense as I do with my friends – because it means different things to different groups of people.

So when we use words like “pussy” or “cocksucker” to describe the on-screen boss or our opponent in a fighting game, what do we mean? What do we believe the words mean? What kind of impression are we trying to give a listener?

I can tell you one thing: we mean something different than when we use non-gendered or even “male” insults. Sure, “asshole” and “dick” are often insults. But I often hear these words used in a light-hearted manner to describe people of any gender. That’s because the connotations of these words are somewhat positive – being a dick means that you’re rude and inconsiderate, but that’s because you’re assertive, you take no shit, you’re “ballsy.” And those characteristics are good. People will call themselves these terms – shrugging, maybe sheepish but usually laughing, admitting their own insolence and boorishness with little remorse.

In contrast, take a look at the tone of “female” insults. What makes someone a “pussy” or a “bitch,” or any other similar terms? Acting scared, or maybe being sneaky and cheating. Being underhanded instead of confronting something face-to-face “like a man.” In another sense of “bitch,” it’s being “hysterical” (which is another gendered insult, though less easy to recognize) and “overreacting,” usually because of “hormones.” Or it could mean that you were made into someone’s “bitch” because you got beaten in the game. In all senses: it’s about being weak.

How many people do you know who let others call them these words? Who consider these a source of pride? (The reclamatory usage of “bitch” is something different, and doesn’t count here.) I certainly don’t know any. I especially don’t know any men who would accept them. That’s because these identities lack the desirable characteristics of, say, an asshole. “Asshole” is almost a title, because of the way we revere aggressive (read: manly) behavior. It can indicate respect, or inclusion when it’s used among a group of peers. But “pussy”? That’s not a title; it’s a label. It’s a way of subordinating someone and showing your disdain.

Yes, this is misogynist. Even though these terms are used on people of any gender – often by people of any gender – there is a real, sexist power dynamic at work. Regardless of who says the words, the message that everyone gets is that it’s bad to be called them – and because these words are associated with female characteristics, it’s bad to be like a woman. These insults are simply shorthand versions of the common admonishments, “Don’t be such a girl” or, “Take it like a man.” Both versions maintain the old hierarchy of manly = good, girly = bad, which go beyond the game or whatever social situation in which they’re used.

The damage isn’t equal between men and women. Certainly these insults can hurt men, especially when they’re used as a method of social ostracization – something which geeks are all too familiar with. The message to men is: You’re acting like a woman, and that makes you bad. To women, however, the message is: It doesn’t matter how you act, what you are is bad. For women, these words tap into deeper and longer-standing rejection, degradation, and humiliation – into a sexism that spans social status, that spans history.

It doesn’t matter how many men are also insulted in this way. Under the current system, in which men and masculinity are valued more than women and femininity, “equal” treatment in this arena hits women harder. Would you bet the other two Little Pigs went to Mr. Brick House and said, “Oh, it’s okay, the Big Bad Wolf is blowing just as hard on your house as on ours”? Nah, it was more like, “I’m tired of vulnerability, and I want in on that protection!”

Maybe people who use these words don’t think about all of this. Certainly they don’t go through a detailed analysis like this one, every time they throw out a word. To bring it back to gaming, I know that people focusing on a video game aren’t taking the time to dissect the meaning of their language. However, like I said, people in these situations are looking for fast and simple – what will express their thoughts quickly and easily to whoever’s listening. So when we use these words, we know full well what they mean, and how other people will hear them. We’re searching for an insult, and we know exactly where to look. We can’t pretend ignorance. We can only profess conformity to the status quo, and what it says about gender and power.

So what’s left for us to use? What do we say when we’re gaming and we want to express frustration or anger?

Well, we have to say what we mean. We can’t resort to the easy shorthand when it’s destructive like this. Yeah, it’s hard; we might have to pause and think, or even (gasp!) use more words. But there’s no point in whining how difficult political correctness makes life. It’s always harder to think and break out of society’s ingrained biases. In this case, all we have to do is drop a few terms from our vocabulary. In doing so, we might start to make the point to those around us that we don’t care for the sexist value judgments that try to insinuate themselves into everything we do.

Gunning Down Romance

[Quick intro in lieu of the full introduction I haven’t bothered to write yet: tekanji invited me to guest-blog here a few days ago. I don’t currently maintain a blog, but I moderate the Gender Roles and Patriarchy Hurts Men Too communities on LiveJournal, the latter of which I’ve crossposted this article to. Like the other bloggers here, I’m especially interested in the intersection of feminism and popular culture.]

There have been quite a few discussions lately – on Hugo Schwyzer’s blog, at Punk Ass Blog, and at Pandagon (also this post), Saucebox and Neurath’s Boat – about young men who think that feminism and heterosexual male sexuality are incompatible. Which is even more interesting given the discussions here and Putting the “Fist” in “Pacifist” about how most men aren’t feminist *enough* to be worth getting involved with.

I originally started this post as a “how-to guide” for these (presumably) sincere but frustrated nice guy types (I’m probably giving their professed sincerity more credence than it deserves, but the ones who are just the larval form of MRAs don’t really deserve much mention – I’m talking more about the ones Protagoras calls “Shy Feminist Men”), but was quickly overwhelmed by how much “how to” would be needed, and it was increasingly obvious what was fueling these misconceptions.

I. Patriarchy and the Single “Nice Guy”

I think the main problem this sort of “nice guy” has is that, while he tries to meet a few feminist standards (no means no, don’t harass, etc.), he still buys into a lot of patriarchal bullshit, namely:

  • Sex and desire are inherently dirty, shameful, and degrading;
  • Being attracted to someone entitles you to their time, attention, affection, body, whatever;
  • Women are less interested in sex than men (and consequently use it as a means to achieve other ends);
  • Women are less attracted to “visual” characteristics than men – so if she’s not attracted to you, it’s because (a) you did or said the wrong thing; (b) there’s something wrong with her standards (she only likes “jerks, “she’s a “gold-digger,” etc.); or (c) she’s a lesbian.
  • To not have your attraction reciprocated is a serious insult, or a statement about your worth as a person;
  • Heterosexual “courtship” consists of an active man approaching a passive woman, and her acceptance or rejection of his “offer”;
  • Any interaction that doesn’t ultimately lead to sex is a failure;
  • A conventionally attractive partner is a symbol of status and a panacea for depression;

And so on. But because the feminist imperatives are explicitly expressed while the patriarchal ones are harder to dig out, feminism gets all the blame for the conflict, and the “nice guys” conclude that feminism is something for when they’re older, but not now when it would involve work or sacrifice.

II. And Everything You Thought Was Just So Important Doesn’t Matter

About this point, I realized that there were going to be far too many of these patriarchal assumptions to go into detail about all of them, other people had already begun to do this, and besides, they could be summed up in a single sentence:

“Everything you’ve heard about relationships is wrong.”

III. Shoehorning Life Into Glass Slippers

The reason why our model is so erroneous, I think, is because of the essentially private nature of most relationships, which means none of us have much in the way of direct observation to rely on – and observations of any relationships other than our own are likely to be incomplete (i.e., we see them as they are in public, but not as they are by themselves). What fills the gaps in our knowledge are “cultural narratives” – ideas about how the world works that we’re generally familiar with and sound plausible enough. When it comes to (heterosexual) relationships, the cultural narrative is one of “storybook romance,” and it’s one that’s fundamentally flawed.

The problem with “storybook romance” is that life isn’t a storybook, and attempts to force experience into a narrative structure are not only prone to getting it wrong, they’re prone to getting it wrong in systematic ways, and those ways promote harmful misunderstandings.

IV. And There’s Gonna Be A Happy Ending, But That’s Only the Beginning

The first way that the cultural romance narrative gets human relationships wrong is by assigning a beginning, middle and end to them – and by encouraging us to look at relationships this way while they’re in progress. This gives us expectations that our relationships will take these forms – most notably:

  • That a nonreciprocated attraction is merely a relationship in the “beginning” stage;
  • There’s a “middle stage” with easily identifiable and understandable conflicts; and
  • If those conflicts are successfully resolved, there’s a “happily ever after” stage in which the relationship has no more major problems.

Though I’ve been using the phrase “storybook romance” to describe this cultural narrative, even something as conventionally “unromantic” as a one-night casual fling can get mapped onto this structure (meet, flirt, go off together; beginning, middle, end), with the same harmful assumptions (if she’s not into you, flirt more; once you’ve left together it’s smooth sailing, etc.)

V. What’s Montage? It Is Nor Hand, Nor Foot, Nor Arm, Nor Face…

The second way that “storybook romance” as a cultural narrative lies in the necessity to compress the relationship (and the character introduction) into 90 minutes of film, or 400 pages, or a three-minute song, or whatever the medium dictates. So we usually get, instead of a real incipient relationship, a quick montage of “fun dates” (usually culminating in a scene on a playground) without problems, “downtime,” or any concerns whatsoever, either within or without the relationship.

VI. Attack Of the B-Plots

“Storybook romance” is also problematic because of our insistence in including it at every opportunity. I can’t remember the last CRPG I played that didn’t have a romantic subplot (probably one of the NES Final Fantasies); hell, I’ve even seen sports games that had a rudimentary dating sim tacked on. And pretty much any random movie is going to pair off the leading man and leading woman by the end of the film. In a patriarchal movie culture where “lead actor” and “leading man” are virtual synonyms (with the exception of movies where the romance is the main plot), this has the effect of making leading women into love interests first and characters second.

VII. But I Like Those Stories!

I’m not advocating that we do away with romantic plots and subplots, any more than I’d advocate that we chuck high fantasy because the magic described therein isn’t real. I’ve enjoyed plenty of stories in each genre – and that’s pretty much what this romance narrative is, even when it’s not published by Harlequin: a genre with its own conventions and expectations, that’s there to make it easier for the audience. It’s just that when it comes to fantasy, we don’t expect the conventions of the genre to accurately reflect our own experience, and we don’t demand that every story include elements of the genre.

Conclusion: What Now?

“Everything you’ve heard about relationships is wrong.”

So what do we do? At this point, where all we know is our own ignorance, we’re all pretty much without a net, which can be both liberating (I don’t have to play this role that isn’t me!) and terrifying (so what do I do instead?).

What’s needed, I think, is a way to get these patriarchal assumptions, and real-life counterexamples, out into the open, so that we can develop a more authentic understanding of what a truly feminist form of initiating heterosexual relationships would belike. (You’d think with all the time abstinence-only sex ed frees up, there’d be plenty of time to talk about relationship stereotypes…) Heterosexual feminist/pro-feminist men, in particular, need to combat the assumption that this patriarchal model of “romance” is the only reliable one for relationships.

Feminist Dating Woes

Over at her blog, Mary has a rant about being a heterosexual feminist in a world where men just don’t get it:

So yeah, it sucks and it’s hard blah blah blah fishcakes. And I’ll never be the girl who does anything for a man, and I’ll never be that girl who thinks her man can Do No Wrong, for He Is Man. That’ll suck some of the (twisted, unhealthy, movie-style) “romance” out of your life. And maybe I’m worse off for not being able to feel that way, for not being able to “love” in that sense. Except I’m not. I expect more from my partner, and he will give it to me, or I will walk away. I expect respect and consideration, and he will give it to me, or I will walk away. I expect thoughtfulness, and he will give it to me, or I will walk away. I expect a man to have as much anger at the patriarchy as I do, and he will show it to me, or I will walk away. He will prove to me that he IS the exception, or–you guessed it–I will walk away.

Since I’m mostly confined to looking at men as potential parnters at the moment, I am really feeling her pain. I’ve never been the “normal” kind of girl. Even when I believed in the concept of “true love”, I was never into that romantic bullshit. I always thought it was off, and when I was with my first boyfriend I finally understood why: because it’s about abuse and control, not love and partnership. Even when I find a guy who genuinely likes women — a rarity among heterosexual men, unfortunately — that doesn’t mean he likes a girl like me.

It’s annoying, but at least I have a great life going for me. A partner would be an addition, not the thing that makes or breaks my happiness. Yay feminism.

Today is Blog Against Heteronormativity Day

Blog Against Heteronormativity Day badgeToday is “Blog Against Heteronormativity Day” (April 22).

Instigated and hosted by Nubian at Blac(k)ademic, this blogging event aims to raise awareness about heteronormativity.

If you’re participating, or if you just want to show your support, you can pick up a full-sized version of this ice cream badge at Blac(k)ademic and stick it on your blog or website.

For further details, see Blac(k)ademic, “blogging against heteronormativity“.

"Girl" Gamers Not Welcome [Gaming Communities, Part 2]

I have been a gamer almost all of my life. I was 4, maybe 5, when a cousin who was staying with us introduced me to Dragon Warrior. I could barely get my character around the world, but I was in love. I played with my mom, I played with my best friend, I got calls from the elder brother of a family friend when he and his friends were stuck in games like Zelda. When I was old enough, I started playing them by myself. I bonded with many of my friends over my Nintendo, or Genesis, and later my SNES.

It wasn’t until high school, though, that I realized I wasn’t quite welcome in the greater gaming community. I would be at a party held by my male gamer friends and they would all gather around the N64 and play Goldeneye or Mario Party and I wouldn’t be welcome. It’s not like they said, “No, Andrea, you can’t play this,” but if I tried, they’d do little things like forget my turn, or gang up on me first, etc. I don’t think they meant to do it, but they still did. So I started just playing games alone. If I got to the parties early enough, I could hog the big TV and play Space Channel Five or whatever, but if not then I was stuck in another room playing whatever PSX game was available. Unless people were in there trying to play Marvel vs. Capcom or Street Fighter or something. Then I just sat around and watched. Which suited everyone just fine. Everyone, except me. Fighting and shooting games are probably the most shitass boring things to watch.

It wasn’t all bad. In university there was a year in which a group of us would head down to an internet cafe every friday and play Counter Strike with each other. I would play games like Resident Evil and Tales of Symphonia with my cousin. Although he was just a casual gamer, John (he was my boyfriend for two years) and I would play things like Half-life and Alice together. During those times, I didn’t feel excluded, or ignored, or not welcome.

Not long after John and I broke up, I brought an acquaintence of mine into the friend group. We had known each other for a while, but for various reasons we would only really see each other in school and at parties. It seemed like a good idea at the time: he liked to game, we liked to game, he was nice, we were nice… he seemed like he would fit in. And, really, he did. He fit in so well that the whole community I had created changed. He liked to play things like Smash Brothers, and he brought in a few (male, of course) friends of his who felt the same. Suddenly it was High School all over again. At first it was just something little, something stupid. He invited my cousin to his birthday party, but not me. I confronted him, he said it was an honest mistake, and things seemed better for a while.

Then the guy and I entered into a “friends with benefits” style relationship, which meant that I saw more of him, and I realized that it hadn’t actually gotten better. They had just gotten better at excluding me without my knowledge. Now, if I wanted to spend Friday nights with my cousin, I’d have to put up with them, too. And they would get vicious when we played games. So vicious it would make me vicious, and I’d end up feeling shitty afterward. It was like playing Carcazzone and getting into Sheep Wars with another friend of mine. It made the game not fun anymore. All of this, plus other personal shit, led to a spectacular blowup between me and this guy. That fed into a blowup with my cousin.

Suddenly I didn’t have a gamer community anymore. I still don’t. I’ve actually met a few geeks since coming to Japan, so I’m hopeful, but all of them are men. And I’m afraid of getting back into the pattern. Afraid that, even if I’m the one creating the group, that ultimately I won’t be welcome because I’m just not like them. I am, after all, a woman.

Introduction [Gaming Communities, Part 1]

This is a subject that is very personal for me. So personal, in fact, that my original introduction was too bitter, too angry, and not productive enough to be considered suitable for this blog. I posted it in feminist_gamers instead. The incident that lead to all this, in which some feminist gamers blogged about their disappointment with Oblivion and male gamers got nasty about it, made me think, yet again, about my own experiences in the gaming community. About the arguments about “female gaming” sites. About how “gaming site” is synonymous with “male gaming site”, even if it has female subscribers. And it made me sad. No, worse, it made me sick. This is my life. This is what I put up with day after day.

All I want is to have communities available to me that aren’t exclusively for women. I want to be able to be seen as an equal — not a “gamer-lite”, not a potential date, not a Second Class Geek — in gamer groups that include men in them. I want to be able to talk about the issues I see in a game without male gamers dismissing the concerns as “ridiculous” or making “jokes” about panty fights (what the hell is a panty fight, anyway?) and making dinner and whatever. I want to be taken seriously, as a serious gamer, and a serious human being. And I want to finally have a gaming community that accepts me, not despite of who I am, but because of it.

I have written in the past about gaming communities from the perspective of examining what, exactly, defines a community. In revisiting this subject, I would like to focus on gender issues in the communities. The first post will be on my personal experiences being a woman trying to find gaming communities throughout my life. The second will be on how general gaming communities are “boy’s clubs,” with a look a recent kerfluffle more-or-less started by a popular gaming site, Kotaku. I’m going to leave the series open ended for now, since I may want to write more on it in the future.