"I'm cute, not smart", first impressions [Intent versus Message, Part 1]

Cute Not Smart

I would like all of your help on doing an experiment. This will be part of a short series that, among other things, will look at how intent and message interact. But in order to make my arguments, I need input from my readers. Even if you normally don’t comment, even if you don’t consider yourself to be a feminist, please take a couple minutes to participate in this series. It would mean a lot to me.

So, what I want you to do is first to look at the image. Without any context, what does it say to you? Is your impression a positive or negative one?

Now, have some context: this is a shirt design for a gaming site. Does that change your perception at all? If so, is it a positive, negative, or neutral influence? What has changed?

If you want, include whatever about your personality, politics, or anything else that you find to be relevant to your reading of the image.

Within the next few days, I will be posting the “intent” part of this series and I hope that all of you who participate here will add your voice to that post as well, because seeing what changes (and what doesn’t) is an important part of what I’m trying to understand/illustrate.

Edit (2007.07.18): I would appreciate if people could be more sensitive in the way that they phrase their analysis. A real person designed this shirt and there is nothing gained by being insensitive to her feelings while criticizing the image. On that note, I will also not be publishing any more comments that are about the quality of the artwork, unless they are constructive criticism.

X-posted: Iris Forums.

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.

Male normativity in the usage of "homosexual" and "gay"

The terms “gay” and “homosexual” aren’t technically gendered; homosexual women often refer to themselves as gay, and the fact that the previous clause is correct English in itself should be self-evident as to my point. And yet, over and over again I see those two words being used alongside lesbian (like this article which uses the phrase “homosexuals and lesbians”), as if lesbians are some magical creatures apart from the rest of the gay world.

Men, being the default, don’t have a special word for them. But women often have such special status markers as lesbian and Mrs., not to mention that most of the time they are lumped into the markers that carry a male connotation such as gays and guys. Thought not as common, as the newspaper article linked in the first paragraph illustrates, this tendency to construe the male as neutral (and the neutral as male) bleeds into words that, as a clear part of their definition, are gender neutral.

Such male normative language bleeds into male normative thinking, which ends up reinforcing the idea of men as normal and women as Other. If lesbians can’t even be properly included in the term homosexual, then what hope is there for them to be seen as full participants in the queer community?

On women-oriented gaming communities

Zach over at Molten Boron became my hero for the day by posting, Kotaku Commenters Prove the Necessity of a Women’s Gaming Magazine, which debunks much of the misinformation Kotaku continues to spread about Iris and, most recently, our online magazine/journal, Cerise. More important than my squeeing over someone outside of my gaming community who actually gets it, though, the post is worth reading for its excellently made points about the culture of hostility in online gaming communities.

He ends on a note that I have thought about (and one day intend to write on), which is the separatism vs. integration argument:

I do somewhat see the argument for the anti-segregationist build-a-better-culture-from-within perspective. The problem is that I think it’s a false choice; it isn’t either be a part of the larger gaming community or be a part of the female/feminist gaming community, it’s both be a part of the larger gaming community and be a part of the female/feminist gaming community. Moreover, I don’t think the problem of women gamers being isolated from the gaming community writ large is as big a problem as the one of women gamers being alienated from the gaming community in general as a result of overt and subrosa hostility to women in gaming.

Obviously since I’m one of the founders of a feminist and female-oriented community, I ultimately agree with the points he’s making. What it comes down to, I think, is that it’s necessary for change to come both from within and without, and communities such as Iris (and new-to-me, Ludica) there won’t be anyone for women (and men) working from within to use as evidence for their arguments for change. And without that evidence, no matter how loud they try to shout they will continue to be silenced by the privileged majority.

Obesity Moral Panics and the Gendered Presentation of Disordered Eating

The news here recently reported on a new study suggesting that eating disorder rates in Australia have more than doubled in the last decade, and the rates of “regular disordered eating” (that doesn’t necessarily coincide with a diagnosable eating disorder) have nearly tripled.

One of the researchers indicates that the issue spreading to ‘groups not typically affected by weight issues’. Whilst I think it is a problem that the sort of weight-and-food-obsession that drives disordered eating is spreading, what Professor Hay’s comment suggests is that disordered eating and eating disorders aren’t a problem if it only affects those we believe to be ‘typically’ affected – that is, women. Of course, this presentation isn’t only about the researcher’s comments, but how they’re framed in reporting.

Women were five times more likely to have a disorder than men, but the study found a sharp rise in males with the problems, particularly bingeing.

“It’s a clear problem when it’s spreading into groups that weren’t typically affected by weight issues,” Prof Hay said.

Eating disorders double, The Courier-Mail, 29 April 2007

Of course, when you frame ‘groups typically affected’ as women (which, incidentally, obscures the class and race issues that also tend to shape the notion of which women are affected), the idea that “it’s a clear problem when it’s spreading” suggests that it wasn’t a problem before. Which of course is perfect fodder for the idea that eating disorders and disordered eating patterns are just about women being weak and silly.

That said, the study isn’t all bad news. Despite my issues with how it frames the issue in terms of gender, the study does do some good things. I’m not sure precisely how it distinguishes between ‘full blown eating disorders’ and ‘regular disordered eating’, but I suspect that’s largely because I’m not trained in psychology or psychiatric research. And despite my lack of knowledge, my intuition is that the distinction is important (if problematic), because whilst eating disorders are obviously quite serious, I think the prevalence of ‘regular disordered eating’, and the very naming of the phenomenon that way, says a lot about how warped our relationships with food can be, and how normalised that problem can (and has) become.

The researchers also, albeit cautiously, suggest that the rise in eating disorders and disordered eating is at least in part related to the public moral panic about obesity. I’m not going to get into a discussion of whether the obesity epidemic is real or not, because that discussion gets old really quickly, but this research goes some way to pointing out just why panicking about obesity isn’t the way to go about combating the problem if you believe there is one. Making people feel bad about themselves tends to reinforce the bad relationships with food and undermine any solutions to ‘the obesity epidemic’. Those who don’t take heed of these warnings run the risk of looking like they’re more interested in making fat people feel bad about themselves.

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.

"Geek Girl" Stereotype Bingo

Inspired by this post at Feminist Gamers and this post on The IRIS Network forums, I decided to take an old post of mine and turn it into a bingo scorecard.

Stereotype Bingo

Basically the rules are that when you see a media article, blog post, or anything else talking about women in relation to a geeky hobby (gaming, technology, science, etc) you pull out this scorecard and mark down which points the article touches on. If you get three in a row (diagonal counts), you win! If you get blackout, you win even more!

What do you win? Well, the satisfaction of knowing that you have made fun of yet another stupid article on women geeks. You can also link your scorecard (and any post that you made in relation to the bingo — using the scorecard isn’t mandatory, but I think it’s a cute visual) on this thread and, if you do a post, I might just highlight it here or on TIN’s forums.

Just because you can't see it, doesn't mean it's not there

Today’s PiA post comes from the Girl Wonder forums. It is, in part, a reaction to my privilege list, which the poster in question was linked to among other posts.

I have lived my life bullied and dismissed and marginalized and aloof; if there’s a “white male heterosexual privilege”, no one ever told me how to cash it in.

[From Untitled post comment on page 3 by Patrick Gerard]

Gerard’s statement clearly illustrates that privilege isn’t a binary thing. A person does not either have privilege or not, but rather that we all simultaneously benefit from privilege and are the victims of it because of our various circumstances. Gerard here benefits from privileges such as being white, male, and heterosexual (you can add to that ones like being cisgendered and able-bodied), but one of the ways in which he is non-privileged is class. He is neither rich nor middle-class, but rather makes it known that he has never been able to get above the poverty line.

He clearly has seen the discrimination he has faced because of power imbalances such as the one in his class status. In this way I think he’s like most of us: it’s much easier to see the imbalance when we’re the ones getting the short end of the stick. I think it seems so obvious because we’re the ones who are hurt, we’re the ones who are having to overcome hurdles others don’t, and we’re the ones who see others dismiss us without a thought.

And, you know what? That’s exactly what his post did to me. I mean, he may have done it on the Girl Wonder forums and not on this blog, but he basically dismissed the real experiences of myself and many, many others like me (not just women, but all varieties of anti-oppression workers) by calling concepts that I tried very hard to carefully and non-offensively explain “delusional”. I have another comment waiting in moderation that won’t be published because it breaks the golden rule of politeness, not to mention condescension. So, yeah, it really frigging hurts to be dismissed when all it would take is an extra two minutes of thought on how your criticism is worded to change your argument from being a high-class flame to being a critical one that may open up discussion and broaden the knowledge of both parties. You’d better believe that I remember almost all of these instances — everything from, “this chick needs some dick” to long rebuttals which engage with certain points while using turns of phrase that diminish me as an equal member in the discussion — because, well, being dismissed really hurts.

But instances where I benefit from privilege are much harder for me to remember, mostly because I count these things as normal. I am not excluded, therefore I am not hurt or unsatisfied. I will never, say, have a problem going to a public restroom if they are gender segregated. “But,” you may be thinking, “that’s not benefiting from privilege, that’s just using common sense. I mean, you wouldn’t want to share a bathroom with a man, right?” Therein lies the rub: it’s common sense to you and me because we’re cisgendered — meaning our gender identity (our belief that we are male or female) is the same as our expressed sex. What about a transwoman who looks too feminine to go into the man’s washroom without fear of having violence done to her, but looks too masculine to go into the women’s washroom without fear of having security called on her? Such incidents happen, but cisgendered people like you or I take it for granted that we’ll never be barred access or otherwise given trouble for using the bathroom of the gender we identify with.

And that’s just one example of how I, personally, benefit from something in society being made to fit my situation that is exclusive and hurtful to another kind of person. Going back to the original example of Patrick Gerard’s post, Gerard hasn’t ever “cash[ed] in” on privilege because that’s not how privilege works. Cashing in implies that the benefits are waiting there for the right people to take them, but the reality is that privilege is being the beneficiary of unseen benefits that are obscured because they are portrayed as common sense and/or just the way things are done.