This is why I hardly read blogs anymore

In the past year the amount of (feminist) blogs that I read regularly, or even on an occasional basis, has shrunk to fit on one hand. Literally, aside from keeping up with Iris, the only blogs I regularly read are Hoyden About Town, The Border House, Geek Feminism, Sociological Images, and Shakesville. That’s it. There are a few more that I’ll browse when I’ve already read everything on the above blogs.

Until today, Tiger Beatdown was on the latter list. Now, the writing style of the blog has always rubbed me a bit the wrong way because of how easy it is to cross the line from pointed sarcastic critique to being just plain mean. The posts I had read had seemed to be careful to keep it pointedly sarcastic, though, so I figured I’d stick to a casual readership until I had reason not to. Continue reading

New post at Better by Design

Just posting here to let everyone know that I’ve written a post about sexism in Stardock’s new game Elemental: War of Magic over at Better by Design: Stardock’s Elemental and what it says about the state of games

Here’s an excerpt:

The Unit Design chooses facial features (eyes, face shape, skin color, etc) randomly, but allows you to customize unit weapons, armor, equipment, clothing, and hair… but not sex. Yes, you heard me: the Unit Design function does not enable you to choose the sex of your units. At least not by default. It turns out that only races who choose the Egalitarian bonus (at the cost of one point) are able to have both male and female units. The campaign faction is not egalitarian; in fact, only the Kingdom of Tarth is. So, breaking down the makeup of the default factions: only 1 out of 10 of the factions (10% of the total factions) allows for the creation of female units, while 90% (9 factions) force male unit creation, and 0% (0 factions) force female unit creation.

Amazon censors women and queer people

So, I’m sure everyone has heard by now, but Amazon has recently made the decision to remove the sales rankings of so-called “adult” books in order to ensure that they don’t show up in some searches (like the default search) and bestseller lists.

Their rationale? The censoring books primarily written by and for queer people (and, in the case of erotica, some non-queer women as well) was done “[i]n consideration of our entire customer base”:

“In consideration of our entire customer base, we exclude “adult” material from appearing in some searches and best seller lists. Since these lists are generated using sales ranks, adult materials must also be excluded from that feature.”

Just to be clear, the criteria for the “adult” material that they’re using is pretty damn sketchy:

But as an online petition points out the following publications remain on the sales ranking system:

-Playboy: The Complete Centerfolds by Chronicle Books (pictures of over 600 naked women)
–Rosemary Rogers’ Sweet Savage Love” (explicit heterosexual romance);
–Kathleen Woodiwiss’ The Wolf and the Dove (explicit heterosexual romance);
–Bertrice Smal’s Skye o’Malley which are all explicit heterosexual romances
–and Alan Moore’s Lost Girls (which is a very explicit sexual graphic novel)

while the following LGBT books have been removed:

–Radclyffe Hill’s classic novel about lesbians in Victorian times, The Well of Loneliness, and which contains not one sentence of sexual description;
–Mark R Probst’s YA novel The Filly about a young man in the wild West discovering that he’s gay (gay romance, no sex);
–Charlie Cochrane’s Lessons in Love (gay romance with no sex);
–The Dictionary of Homophobia: A Global History of Gay & Lesbian Experience, edited by Louis-George Tin (non-fiction, history and social issues);
–and Homophobia: A History by Bryan Fone (non-fiction, focus on history and the forms prejudice against homosexuality has taken over the years).

There’s already a push to google bomb them by creating the phrase “amazon rank” as a synonym for being censored in regards to queer and/or erotic material (with careful attention to inconsistent logic). It’s made at least one newspaper, a letter writing campaign, and there’s even an online petition.

Here’s the letter I wrote to their customer service:

To whom it may concern,

I am one of the many who was shocked and disappointed by Amazon’s recent decision to remove the sales rankings of certain books in order to keep them from showing up on most searches and bestseller lists. As I am sure many others have said, the criteria for “adult” that the company has chosen to apply is inconsistent and ill-thought-out. Regardless of intention, the result of this decision was to further marginalize already marginalized groups such as women and queer people while leaving the explicit material of privileged groups such as men and heterosexuals largely untouched.

I find this level of lack of foresight and competence in a company unacceptable. For a web-based company, the decision to change even one part of the fundamental structure of its website is something that needs to be undertaken with great caution, thought, and care. In this case, before anything was done those in charge needed to clearly define the criteria for labeling a product “adult”, doing everything possible to ensure that said definition was as internally consistent and free of bias as possible.

By focusing on queer books (regardless of actual explicit content) and erotica (a genre with primarily female authors) while leaving clearly explicit but more normalized versions of “adult” material intact, Amazon has created an image for itself as a company that supports homophobia and sexism. I may be only one person, but I am still part of Amazon’s “entire customer base” and I do not feel that Amazon took my interests into “consideration” at all when the decision was made to make it harder for me to find books on queer theory, DVDs about the queer experience, and depictions of romance and sex written by women for women.

Before this happened I had intended to make a sizable purchase of various books, DVDs, and games from your site, but I cannot in good conscience support your site while this policy is in effect. I hope that this decision will be rescinded quickly with a full public apology given to the authors whose sales you have hurt and the customers who you have inconvenienced, and that any further consideration into the separation of adult material from non-adult material will be undertaken with much more deliberation and care than was taken with the current policy.

Andrea Rubenstein

Amazon’s doing this has, obviously, pissed me off. Even more so because, living in Japan, I don’t have easy access to the kinds of English books and DVDs that I consume on a regular basis and therefore was gearing up to do a major purchase so my dad could bring it to me when he comes to visit. Now I need to take my shopping elsewhere, which will create more hassle for me than working with a company that already has my information on file. But, really, when the decision comes down to hassle versus supporting a company that obviously disdains me and my interests I’ll take the former any day.

For those of you interested in knowing more, here’s a link farm.

Via Tamora Pierce.

All the RE5 discussion needed was a Nice White Gamer

Dear Nice White Gamers,

I am glad that you, unlike the Not Nice Gamers, understand that we don’t live in a post-racial world. It’s nice that you’re able to see the the word “racism” in the same paragraph as “video games” and not launch into the “it’s just a game!”-type knee-jerk reactions that can be summed up as, “”Gamers want games to be taken seriously until they’re taken seriously, and then they don’t want them taken seriously” (hat-tip: Kieron Gillen via Brinstar).

But, Nice White Gamers, you do not deserve the plate of cookies you’re passing around. And, even if you did deserve those cookies, you should not be passing them around. This is because (among other reasons) white people patting other white people on the back for being aware of racism is, in itself, kind of racist.

If a post, written by a Nice White Gamer over a year after the first criticism (made by a POC 1 I might add) was linked in the gaming blogsphere, that offers a shallow interpretation and no links to the more in-depth criticism that has been posted is “the first time I’ve read people actually thoughtfully examine the perception problems of RE5”, you need to stop and think about why it is that you are ignorant of the plethora of writings made by POC (especially when a simple google search of “racism” and “Resident Evil 5” will at least give you a starting point). I’ll give you a hint, it’s something referred to in anti-oppression circles as privilege.

On that subject, it is a Nice Person fallacy that “considerate” conversation is praiseworthy in every situation. Yes, I know we’re taught the whole “you’ll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar” line, but “politeness” isn’t a neutral concept. Praising someone who said something bigoted for phrasing it and/or the ensuing discussion “politely” privileges politeness over not saying something bigoted. It puts you on their side instead of the side of the non-privileged individual/group that was targeted by the bigoted remark.

Let me give you a tip, from one Nice White Gamer to another: you aren’t as nice as you think you are. Being one small step above the Not Nice Gamers, who are blatantly racist and/or deny that racism is still a problem, is not praiseworthy; it’s the bare minimum. And, as long as you continue to be satisfied with having only the bare minimum level of awareness, your continued cluelessness regarding oppression and how it operates (and how you, as a white person, benefit from racist systems) will continue to perpetuate harm on POC. In the grand scheme of things, that puts you not on the side of anti-racism, but rather on the same side as the Not Nice Gamers.

For those of you who want to raise the bar and confront your own racism and privilege (in the process hopefully becoming an ally), I’ll give you some advice. Take a breather from posting your thoughts on racism and start doing some reading on the subject. Lurk in forums that regularly have discussions on race, racism, (and for bonus marks, other issues such as gender and sexuality), but don’t participate in those discussions until you have at least a base level understanding of how racism/oppression works and how people (including you) wittingly and unwittingly contribute to it.

Even if you aren’t interested in raising the bar, for the love of little green apples, at least have the decency to keep your thoughts (as they are on something you know very little about) to yourself. If you think a discussion on racism is something you want to post about on your blog, then link what other people (preferably POC) have said on the issue. But don’t act as an authority on the issue (or allow yourself to be praised as one) and don’t act as if your thoughts are new or revolutionary when they’re not (hint: linking other people who have said similar things avoids this misconception).


A Pissed off Anti-oppression Activist Gamer Nice White Lady

1 POC stands for Person/People Of Color; it is the current standard in most anti-oppression movements for referencing anyone who isn’t white. Sometimes, especially in feminist spaces, you will see the term WOC, Woman/Women of Color. Note to Nice White People: know these terms, use these terms.

* My title is a reference to the “What These People Need Is a Honky” trope, which can be summed up as:

White guy flees from his own culture for personal reasons (to set him up as different from those with white privilege). White guy meets natives. Natives educate white guy. White guy learns the way of natives, possibly also converting a native person who was originally doubtful of him, thereby proving white guy’s worthiness. White guy fights for naties. White guy makes dramatic escape while the native guy dies, possibly trying to help the white guy. The movie then ends with a dramatic coda and captions that inform the audience that despite white guy’s triumph, the Situation Remains Dire.

The key to all this is that the entire movie is about the white guy’s personal growth and realization and that people of color serve only to further the white guy’s epiphanies.

I leave it to you, Nice White Gamers, to figure out the connection between that and my open letter.

This is as serene as I get

I have been a semi-regular reader of the blog Feminist Gamers since its conception, but after reading this post I don’t think I’m going to be going back there anytime soon. I admire that Mighty Ponygirl wants to foster a stronger bond between feminists (don’t we all?) but I disagree with her chosen methodology.

If we’re being perfectly honest here, I have to admit that I take her words personally because I’m pretty sure that I was one of those “internet feminists” she was chiding. I say this because she and I exchanged words on a post where I said that I was strongly considering dropping the “feminist” label because I feel that a failure to address privilege in all of its forms is fundamentally incompatible with the feminist quest for equality. If you notice, she pretty clearly references the term “retard”, which was also referenced in the ableism discussion.

Mighty Ponygirl’s attitude is actually a pretty good example of what frustrates me about the mainstream feminist movement. Over the past few months, I would say that the Feminist Gamers blog has become the representative feminist gamer blog to the greater gaming culture. As such, MP has the unique power to influence (to a certain extent) mainstream gamers’ opinions of feminists and female gamers in general. As I see it, she is the gamer version of famous internet feminists such as Amanda Marcotte and Jessica Valenti. Like them, her success is owed to various factors such as being intelligent and witty, passionate, knowledgeable about her subject matter, dedicated to regular/semi-regular posting, and — of course — that ever present element of luck.

However, I would also argue that part of what makes her popular is that she’s a more palatable version of a feminist than, say, I am. As much as I would like to believe myself to be a middle-of-the-road type, I know that I get placed firmly in the “hardcore”/”militant” category because of my steadfast insistence that, while focusing on gender equality is a good thing, it’s not good enough if we don’t also acknowledge and incorporate other anti-oppression movements into our theories and actions. Simply put, someone like me is too scary to be the face of feminism.

Sure, there are times when Mighty Ponygirl can be scary (like when she’s ripping a troll a new one), but that’s a kind of scary that gamers can relate to. The way that she’s scary is the way that they’re scary: ready and willing to lob snark at people who earn their ire. In a lot of ways, she fits in with gamer culture. This is, of course, a good thing; she fits in so people like her, when people like her they listen to her, when they listen to her they begin to understand the fundamentals of feminist thought, and when that happens for enough people feminist thought begins to be normalized.

But when it comes down to it, part of why she’s palatable is because her message doesn’t rock the boat too hard. Although she does help familiarize gamers with the fundamentals of feminist critique (thus giving them the tools to better understand misogyny and sexism and how they operate in gamer culture), ultimately she is asking more for the inclusion of a certain group of women into the clubhouse rather than for gamers to understand oppression and how they (wittingly and unwittingly) contribute to it.

Despite all the words about unity and understanding in the second paragraph of her post, the first paragraph is basically saying that those of us who believe in anti-oppression activism aren’t allowed to express our anger/disappointment over mainstream feminism’s seemingly inability to recognize that women come in more combinations than just straight, white, able-bodied, middle- to upper-class (etc etc). According to her, we should just STFU and accept that some people are assholes and some feminists will only see feminism as a fight for gender equality (which somehow doesn’t include groups like women of color or women with disabilities).

But, you know? I can’t do that. I don’t sit down and shut up like a good little girl when some jackass is spewing misogynist shit in my face, and I’m damned well not going to do it when I see someone who’s supposed to be a feminist contributing to the image of feminism being for rich, cissexual, straight white women only. Women of color? Women. Telling them to take race out of the oppression equation and only focus on gender is like telling them to pretend that they are white and that their experiences as women of color are the same as those of white women (hint: they’re not). Transwomen? Women. Are you really going to tell them that they should keep quiet when some asshole feminist says they shouldn’t be allowed in women’s spaces because they’re really men? What about the woman with a mental disability who has to deal with taunts of “retard”? You gonna tell her that when internet feminist #49058 called an ideological opponent a “retard” it had nothing to do with her?

If it were just one or two assholes, then maybe I could follow MP’s advice. But it’s not. It’s Seal Press and Michfest and how it feels like every month there’s another woman of color being trampled on by some well meaning white feminist who can’t bloody get over her damn self and admit that maybe she was acting from a position of privilege. As long as feminism is “just about gender equality” it will be hurting women. I took on the feminist label to help women, not just to further my own equality.

Maybe I’m just not a very good feminist. But, then, isn’t that the problem?

Debunking the "profits come first" myth

If you have ever criticized an ad campaign, commercial, or anything that’s even remotely related to marketing for pushing a bigoted viewpoint, you will undoubtedly have come up against the argument that of course the reason the product is being marketed that way is because it’s more profitable. A company would never do anything to compromise its profits!

Which is, of course, bullshit. Many people have demonstrated how such campaigns hurt profit margins, rather than help them. The response is, of course, “but it doesn’t make sense for companies to put bigoted agendas over profits (and therefore they must have some secret knowledge about why it’s more profitable to discriminate against non-privileged groups)”. Before now I had never really had a good response to that argument (I was too busy being shocked at the leap of faith required to continue to believe that marketing is doing the best thing in the face of pretty damning evidence). But, thankfully, BetaCandy has recently blogged about her experiences learning to be a screenwriter, which has given rise to a discussion about how a non-profitable system perpetuates itself among industries that are supposed to be driven by profit.

In her post Why discriminate if it doesn’t profit?, she takes on the mindset that explains why the “profits come first” argument is, in fact, a myth:

The question this brings to mind is: why would they discriminate against a group when there’s more profit to be made by doing the right thing? That’s a good question, and one that deserves an answer.

n comments on the above-linked entry, I explained that I think it boils down to ego. Even greed is fueled by ego – it’s the ego that wants more than enough so it feels safe or better than its neighbors. It’s the ego that wants to feel important, unique, successful. Eliminating entire clumps of humanity from the “race” your ego thinks it’s in is a quick way to get rid of competition. It’s the same question you have to ask about store owners and restaurateurs who refused to serve African-American patrons whose money was as green as everyone else’s. They sacrificed profit, and for what? Ego.

But that’s not necessarily the only answer. Laziness is also a factor.

I would highly recommend reading the full post.

No, I don't deserve that cookie

The response that I’ve gotten to this post has been overwhelming (yes, 28 comments on a blog that typically gets 0-5 is overwhelming). Most of it is praise. Heck, I’ve even got an e-mail or two thanking me for writing the post.

If I said I wasn’t happy to get the praise, I’d be lying. But it also makes me uncomfortable, because I feel like I’m getting a cookie for reiterating what feminists with disabilities have been saying forever. I am happy that my post has reached people. I hope that it helps to cause a change for the better in the more mainstream movement. But I was just doing my duty as an ally and calling out others in my group.

What I did wasn’t revolutionary. It wasn’t exceptional. Heck, what I did wasn’t even particularly brave. As an able-bodied person, the risk I was taking was that of being dismissed or called names. Not fun, but also not something I don’t have experience dealing with. It was what every person who believes that people with disabilities deserve equal treatment should do. If anyone deserves praise, it should be all those disability activists out there who write, blog, and otherwise speak out against ableism. They’re the ones who are doing the real work.

And, while we’re on the subject of cookies, guess what group is not on my sidebar? Yup. That would be Feminist blogs that focus on disability activism. I intend to rectify that oversight ASAP, but I need to think of a name for the link category. It needs to be short, so right now I’m thinking, “Disability Activist Feminists”, but if y’all can suggest something shorter that doesn’t sound as awkward I would be much obliged.

Feminists are fine with being bigots if it's just ableism

This is a subject that’s been sticking in my craw for a long time now, ever since it became an issue on Iris’ forums over a year ago. It was from the conflicts that arose there that I realized that most feminists — even ones who are aware of intersections such as racism and homophobia — are steeped quite deeply (and happily) in their able-bodied privilege. A rundown of what happened on Iris’ forums can be found in my Ableism thread, but suffice it to say that it prompted me to create other posts to help promote a better understanding of ableism: Yes, it is offensive to the targeted group and Guides to using non-bigoted language.

However, I haven’t really talked about ableism on this blog or elsewhere. Except for sometimes linking the above threads to some of my LJ friends who have used “crazy” or “retard” or whatnot, I have generally avoided calling people out because, well, it’s harder to deal with people’s able-bodied privilege in another person’s space, especially because I am able-bodied myself.

But today I broke with that pattern. Jill of Feministe, a blogger I very much respect, used ableist slurs such as “crazy” and “nutbag” in a post about an anti-choice leader named Jill Stanek’s bizarre, inflammatory, and racist language. Since I respect Jill, and know that she understands that fighting bigotry with other kinds of bigotry is bad, I made the following comment:

I agree that what Stanek said was both ridiculous and vile, but the sheer number of times you casually threw around ableist slurs like “crazy” and “nutbag” really doesn’t sit right with me. Whether or not Stanek actually has a mental illness, it’s still not cool to use slurs degrading people with mental illnesses to attack her. I would recommend reading the quotes and visiting the links in this post: Yes, it is offensive to the targeted group

Jill replied graciously with, “Thanks for pointing that out, Tekanji. I will check that in the future.” However, the other replies I’ve received so far were not so encouraging.

A commenter named “ThickRedGlasses” quoted most of what I wrote and then added:

Are you confessing something here?

Although I’m not entirely sure what was meant by the comment, I am confident that it wasn’t an agreement or show of support, but more likely intended as an insult or a way to invalidate/discredit what I was saying.

“Dana” took the standard approach of denial:

Wow, that woman is insane. And yes, while I hate the word retarded I don’t see “crazy” or “insane” as ableist. Maybe I should, but I really don’t see people using “insane” or “nutbag” for that matter to insult people with actual mental illnesses. Whereas retard is a bloody hideous word that is used as a weapon against disabled people. That’s the difference in my head.

Her reply makes me wonder if she followed the link I gave, which specifically cites the people who are actually directly affected by ableist rhetoric explaining why slurs such as “crazy” and “nutbag” are, indeed, harmful to people with mental disabilities.

As of yet, no one else has directly responded to my comment. Maybe no one will. But commenters continue to attack Stanek by conflating her illogical and inflammatory arguments with being mentally ill (in addition to the words used in the original post, another commenter added “lunacy” to the mix). I have to say that the unwillingness of many feminists to address their privilege — especially when the type of privilege is not one usually discussed, even in feminist circles where intersectionality is valued — continues to disappoint me.

I believe in feminism. I respect the history of the movement and am grateful for all the hard work that feminists have, and continue to, put in to the struggle for equality.

But it’s getting harder and harder for me to identify and ally myself with feminism when so many feminists don’t fucking care about any oppression but their own. It’s not just all the casual ableism that hardly ever gets called out, or that feminists like Linda Hirshman get paid by well-known newspapers to revel in their privilege. It’s everything.

I feel like I spend more time trying to educate other feminists than anything else. How can I in good conscience continue to ally myself with people who are so fucking selfish that they are more than happy to let other groups get run over as long as their own issues are addressed?

Maybe it’s time to stop trying to work from the inside; maybe I need to just drop the “feminist” label and declare myself an anti-oppression activist and nothing else. It’s not an ideal solution, but it’s looking more and more to be the only acceptable one.

Because the only women who matter are white ones

Linda Hirshman — who, on top of thinking of herself as the matriarch of all women/feminists is responsible for making up the term “choice feminist” so she could have a convenient strawfeminist to attack — thinks she knows what’s causing division among feminists. And, unfortunately, what she sees isn’t people like her.

No, what Hirshman thinks is hurting feminism is any anti-oppression activism that acknowledges that gender is only one of the factors that affect women. Jill summarizes Hirshman’s argument as:

Linda seems to be arguing that feminism has lost focus by way of intersectionality — because we’re so busy looking at things like race and class, we’ve forgotten about women.

I can’t bring myself to quote Hirshman’s actual arguments because I feel like displaying such words from someone who calls herself, and is regarded as, a feminist would dirty this blog. If you can stomach long quotes full of racist, classist and other bigotry, Jill’s takedown is probably worth a read. I would say “definitely”, but I wasn’t able to read it myself because I got as far as the first paragraph of the first quote and had to leave the page. If you’re like me and can’t tackle this subject without the filter of someone else who has graciously read through the shit, I would highly recommend BfP’s post on the issue.

There are people trying so fucking hard to create a semblance of unity within a diverse movement and it’s people like her who get to be the well-known feminists. What. The. Fuck.

No, Ms. Hirshman. Just… no. Get off of my side because you’re making my side look like a bunch of bigots.