Shame on you, BBC

The BBC has chosen to defend some transphobic comments made by a gay comedian whose show they sponsor. In this clip where he’s talking about Thomas Beatie, he says: “If he hasn’t had genital surgery surely that just makes him a lesbian” and “that thing is still a woman”.

Here’s an excerpt from the response to Selina’s complaint:

I understand that you were unhappy because you felt that the presenter made offensive comments about Thomas Beatie.

I can assure you that no offence was intended. ‘The Graham Norton Show’ features trademark Norton comedy monologues, celebrity chat, eccentric stories and characters, and home-grown weirdness from the great British viewing public. The show provides him with a comedy vehicle to extract humour from people and events that interest him and his audience.

We try to ensure that post-watershed, anarchic comedy series are well signposted. As the BBC is a public service financed by the licence fee it must provide programmes which cater for the whole range of tastes in humour. We believe that there is no single set of standards in this area on which the whole of society can agree, and it is inevitable that programmes which are acceptable to some will occasionally strike others as distasteful. The only realistic and fair approach for us is to ensure that the range of comedy is broad enough for all viewers to feel that they are catered for at least some of the time.

There are so many things wrong with that response that I can’t even begin to address them. All I can think is, “WTF? Why is it that the dehumanization of a person/group of people is still considered funny?”

You can read more at Transphobia on Graham Norton and Graham Norton.

The double standard: "Doesn't that perpetuate sexism?"

How it Works (xkcd comic)

So, I’ve been quiet mostly because I need to find an apartment before April and so that’s been keeping me busy. Last weekend I went to Osaka to check out some potentials and my friend went with me. The day was going fine (if a bit long); we met up with the agent who was helping me, we had seen several apartments, etc, etc. Then, as we were being driven to one of the places, my friend looked over and saw a woman putting on makeup while driving.

In the ensuing conversation she asked something to the effect of, “Don’t you think that doing that perpetuates the sexist stereotype?”

This is a hot button for me, because I’ve been accused of doing a similar thing for daring to mention to a male (now ex-)friend of mine that my cramps were acting up. His reasoning was that if any woman ever mentioned her period in the presence of men then that was a carte blanche invitation for them to make sexist jokes about PMS.

What this is doing is applying a sexist double standard to women, in which the actions of an individual are held up as being representative for the entire group (this happens to not just women, but all non-privileged groups and is one of the defining factors of being the Other). It’s the same idea behind the xkcd comic above, wherein when a man is bad at math it is understood that he is the one bad at math, but when a woman is bad at math it is understood that women as a group are bad at math.

Returning to the first example, was the woman putting on makeup being incredibly stupid and driving recklessly? Of course. If I was a cop I would have pulled her over and ticketed her, just like any other reckless driver. But she, and she alone, is responsible for her actions. If it were a man driving recklessly, it wouldn’t be used to “prove” that men as a group are reckless. Yet, put a woman in the same position — or, worse yet, have her doing an activity that is considered feminine as part of the reckless driving — and suddenly she’s the poster child for Why Women Are Bad Drivers (a stereotype obviously not supported by the facts).

The thing is, we can’t help other people’s selection bias. People choose to believe in stereotypes. When they do so to the point of having tunnel vision when it comes to seeing the one person who fits the stereotype and ignoring the thousands of others that they see every day that don’t, then there’s nothing that an individual who belongs to that non-privileged group can do. Even if all the individuals in the world tried to change themselves to not fit that stereotype it wouldn’t help, because those people who believe the stereotype have chosen to believe it and the choice to give up that belief in favor of the truth has to come from within.

Who's the butt of the joke?

On the over-the-top offensiveness of God Hand (the game the above clip comes from), pat of Token Minorities says:

I don’t think this is accidental. I think this says something about us, as the kinds of people who enjoyed and got used to playing games like Final Fight, where we fed the machine quarters and yelled “Oh yeah?! I’m going to beat your ass!” during every boss fight and punched punk stripper transsexuals all day and didn’t give a fuck. God Hand is laughing at you because you love it, because it has translated all the gendered and racialized images of our games of yesteryear into actual goddamn dialogue and you still don’t really notice it. It’s bringing us back to the Old School, complete with everything that was kind of messed up about the Old School, and so I propose that perhaps God Hand’s inclusion of blatantly Bad Things is actually so pronounced and over-the-top that it actually has a point, a thought-provoking point, and not merely gratuitous, sensational stupidity. Maybe it’s gotten a few people to idly ponder the games they played when they were young, and what they learned from it. It’s messed up, but it’s closer to the Chappelle’s Show end of the spectrum (thought-provoking and possibly educational) than Indigo Prophecy (which is basically ignorant) or Border Patrol (which is actively messed up).

I’m not sure that I agree with him (and would have to play the game to fully form an opinion), but it’s something to think about.

The problem with feminism lite

I apologize for rehashing an old debate, but I came across a Facebook cause yesterday called Forward Feminism. Their tagline states “Bring back the true values of Feminism” and they say that they are “[b]ased off the book Full Frontal Feminism”.

Full Frontal Feminism is what I’m going to call “feminism lite” (BetaCandy calls it Spice Girls Feminism). To my knowledge, the book is aimed at being a non-threatening introduction to feminism for those “I’m not a feminist, but” types. I can understand the logic and I can’t say that I wholly disagree. But at the same time this feminism lite gets marketed as the feminism (not always intentionally, but often through poor wording choices or just because the book becomes popular).

This is especially problematic when the rhetoric is targeted at highly privileged audiences, like FFF was. Many aspects of this have already been covered, especially the white and class privilege aspects (link roundup), but I’d like to address the underlying culture of privilege that feminism lite is a part of and perpetuates, using the Facebook cause that started this post off. Continue reading

An argument for feminism

I just had an attack of the 500-line comment, so I decided to turn it into a blog post instead. On her blog, Angry Black Woman has a post up called On Feminism, part 1 where she quotes from Why I am Not a Feminist, or “My Anti-Feminist Manifesto”. The author hits on many of the problems that have plagued the feminist movement since its birth. Namely, she takes issue with the rampant white, middle-class, Western privilege that exists in many parts of the movement.

She isn’t wrong.

I’m only a fledgling when it comes to participation in feminist activism, and I have a whole heaping of privilege to boot, but I’ve seen the issues that she points out crop up more than once in the feminist blogsphere. My “Check my what?” post isn’t just for non-feminists, but it’s also there to try to help feminists, who already understand gender oppression, understand how to acknowledge and deal with their other privileges. So, yes, I understand (insofar as I can) her choice.

But, I can’t help but wonder why feminism has to be defined by the privileged. There are plenty of strands of feminism that I vehemently disagree with (most of them having to do with feminists who want their gender-based oppression acknowledged but refuse to acknowledge their white, class, cisgendered, etc privilege), but I don’t let them define feminism. And if I did — if I refused to call myself feminist because there are people out there too busy naval gazing to see the big picture — then who will be there to show others that there is a different side to the movement? Who would be there to further my particular interests?

As someone who has a whole heaping of privilege — white privilege, class privileged, able-bodied privilege, and cisgendered privilege in particular — I am in no position to pass judgment on women who feel the movement has failed them. Mainstream feminism has a long, long way to go in recognizing and redressing the rampant unacknowledged privilege, and I can’t blame someone for not wanting to walk into that battlefield. But at the same time there is a part of me who sees the, “I’m not a feminist, but…” argument that has done so much to keep us from forming solid relationships with each other. Every time a feminist woman — especially when she has very good reasons — says that she doesn’t use the feminist label, I feel it as a loss.

Which, I guess, brings me back to my first question: why do we have to define ourselves based on what other feminists think? Why can’t feminism be about connecting with other women and discussing the subjects that matter to us (talking about our own issues; listening to the issues of others)? Why can’t feminism take care not to engage in the deplorable behaviour that has been outlined in the Manifesto?

In the end, the only thing I can do is to be the one working towards building a feminism that people like Ms. Hernández would be proud to be a part of. I know that I, alone, don’t have that kind of power, but I know that I’m not the only ally. I’m not the only feminist working towards a feminism that understands that women come in all shapes, sizes, colours, religions, from all different cultures. And I can only hope that one day it will be enough. That one day when people think “feminist” it will conjure up a positive image of women coming together to fight for diversity, rather than the negative one of an elitist movement of middle-class white women.

Continuing the cultural appropriation discussion

So, a bunch of thoughts have been percolating in my mind since the last discussion on cultural appropriation. Specifically pertaining to two discussions about costumes.

The first comes from one brown woman of woman of (an)other color blog: Halloween: Day of Dead, Day of Red.

The second costume I want to talk about is one that I seem to have seen a lot on websites and over the weekend: the Pocahontas/ stereotypical Native American costume. With regards to the argument “Pochontas is from Disney and I was dressing up as a Disney character” my response is that Disney has racially problematic representations of individuals and helps to perpetuate many stereotypes about particular groups of people. So hiding behind Disney isn’t really going to help justify your costume.

And then from Sara of Sara Speaking: costume appropriation

Since she’s covered in blue paint I can’t say with certainty that this is an example of white privilege, but I definitely think it falls under a more generalised Western privilege, that is, the privilege that says we can pick and choose from the cultures and religions of these other peoples of the world without regard for how the practitioners of those religions and inhabitants of those cultures feel about that appropriation.

All of which furthered my thinking on cosplay, art, and the fine line between homage and appropriation.

And it is with that in mind that I want to talk about cake.

“Cake?!” you say, unable to fathom what my sweet tooth has to do with discussions of cultural appropriation. Yes, dear readers, I want to talk about cake, and I promise to you that it is very relevant to this discussion. Pictures and discussion after the cut. Continue reading

Feminists: answering sexism with sexism? So not cool.

So Jill has a post up defending Ann Coulter because Maxim decided that the best way to “zing” her for her anti-Semitism would be to call her, in so many words, an ugly tranny. First off, good on Jill and the other posters who are calling that crap out as not cool.

But, for those of you who think it’s “fair game” to use those misogynist and transphobic insults on Coulter because she spouts sexism and misogyny? Shame on you. The “she started it” line didn’t work in kindergarten and most certainly doesn’t work within feminism.

sophonisba points out exactly why it’s wrong to use bigotry against a person, no matter who it is:

Really. I will spell it out, then. You can’t use misogynist premises (women shouldn’t have human faces, human throats, or human hands–all those things are for boys only) against an individual women without using it on all women. Answering sexism with sexism? Well, see, that’s bad, because sexism is bad. Not bad unless we use it on someone we hate. Just, you know, bad. In itself.

Think, if you will, of what it would mean if someone responded to Coulter’s “perfected Jews” spiel with remarks about she has a pretty Jewy-looking nose herself.

I also threw my own clarification into the mix:

The point is that we, as feminists working to end oppression, have an obligation to ourselves and other women to speak out against sexism no matter who that sexism is directed against. I definitely do think that it’s worth pointing out, as you did, that the attack on Coulter is a logical product of the kind of world she’s working to create, but that does not mean that we, in turn, should endorse that result, even if that endorsement is simply silence on the matter. Sexism is sexism, even if the person who is being hurt by said sexism has endorsed it. And I think that one thing that we, as feminists, can agree on is that sexism is wrong and should be combated.

As feminists fighting for the end of oppression, we don’t have the luxury to avert our eyes because the target of sexism is someone morally repugnant to us. We don’t have the luxury to pick and choose who is “worth” defending and who isn’t. If we are truly committed to ending oppression, then it is our responsibility to fight bigotry wherever it rears its ugly head. Even if it means standing up, in a limited capacity, for someone who is actively working against us. Because saying “what they did to her was wrong, sexist, and should not be tolerated” is different than saying “what she does is right”.

More on harassment on the internet

So, the Angry Black Woman posts about an experience she had with a troll who, when banned, continued to harass her. The post itself is worth a read, but (oh so predictably) another troll shows up in her comments to start telling her how bad and wrong she was for informing the guy’s company of his actions online.

Now, I’m not here to talk about that, but rather to highlight two of the comments that came out of it because I think that they make very important points about the kind of harassment that occurs on anti-oppression blogs and why it’s important to not lie down and accept it in the name of “free speech” or “tolerance” that shouldn’t be just a footnote of another post.

The first one is by Nora about the difference between a normal troll and the racist, sexist, etc trolls that come to harass us:

Here is the crux of the issue: I just don’t think that initiating arguments with a troll is actually helping the social problems-
Wait, wait, wait. ABW does not go to these people’s blogs and make anti-racism speeches. They come here and start shit. So please remember — she’s not “initiating arguments” by any means.

The thing you need to remember is that this blog does not operate in a vacuum. Look at the links along the right side sometime. ABW is part of a vast and growing network of anti-sexism, anti-racism, anti-other-oppression blog sites, and she’s only the latest in a long line of textual crusaders. There have been many others since the internet was popularized. Quite a few of the pioneering sites have died — enough that we’ve learned a few things about the tactics of racists on the ‘net. For example,
a) Racists are not ordinary trollers, any more than stalkers are ordinary annoyances. Racists aren’t just out to have some fun by pissing people off; harassment is not an end in itself for them. They’re trying to disempower others, using harassment as a weapon. This distinction is important, because it gives them great incentive to persist long past the time when a troll would’ve gotten bored and moved on.
b) Like harassment, persistence is also a racist weapon. Racists do not go away. When they realize they have free reign, they usually take encouragement from the silence. There are never as many of them as they want you to believe, but to make up for their small numbers, they never shut the fuck up.

c) Racists act out of fear. They fear the loss of their power; some fear the loss of their “racial purity”, some just fear change. Regardless, frightened people are irrational people, and irrational people are dangerous. Would you ignore an irrational person who was coming after you over and over again, and getting worse each time? I don’t care how Zen you are; that’s not smart.
d) All this has the side-effect of silencing the non-racists, who get tired/frightened by the ugliness.
And of course, d) is what kills blogs.

Then there’s ABW’s response, which talks about why taking steps to stop harassment is, you know, a good thing not a bad one:

One of the things we learn as children is that actions have consequences. the fewer consequences a child is subjected to in their early years, the more they get the impression that they can do whatever they want. Same works for adults. If a person spends their day being a racist troll and nothing comes of it, they learn that being a racist troll has no consequences and continue doing so. For minor trolls, the mere act of banning them is consequence enough. They go “Oh, no one likes it when I do that. Ah well, I’ll go away.” Hopefully they go away to be a better person, but my instinct says they go away to be a racist troll somewhere else. If so, my hope is that others will ban them and, finally, the consequences will mount up and either change that behavior or drive them into a small hole where they have no one to talk to but other racist assholes.

The bigger the entitlement, the harsher consequences must be. The guy who replied to my banning him with “I’ll just keep trying to harass her until I get to do it again” was obviously in need of harsher consequences. because he believed it was his right to continue being an asshole on my blog. Well, it wasn’t. This is why I took things to another level. not because I enjoy calling people’s workplaces and informing on them, but because otherwise, they won’t get the message that what they are doing is not okay. Consequences are important.
Sometimes the mere threat of consequences is enough to make people realize where they are in the wrong. or, at least, get them to back off. Michael sent me a note very soon after this post went up to say that he would not darken our doorstep again. He tried his own version of consequences by implying that I had threatened to expose his name and daughter’s name and address publicly (which I did not). He wanted me to take this post down. Maybe he was afraid his employers would see it. He was definitely afraid of me going to his HR department, that was clear.
In the end, I didn’t have to do any such thing. I just had to let him know that I meant business. Hopefully this post will serve as a similar deterrent to others. Now that they know the consequences, they won’t be so quick to think “I can just keep on doing what I’m doing.” That’s the problem with Internet trolling. people think they can do it without any consequences. I’m here to say: you can’t.

Not Michael, this may offend your Zen sensibilities and I’m sorry for that. But it’s not as if I’ve actually physically hurt someone here. Also, even MLK and Ghandi brought consequences. they didn’t just stand around and yell that they wanted equal rights or a free India. they *did* something about it. that something was not war, that something was not physically fighting, but that something was NOT just turning the other cheek. It was refusing to meet violence with violence but instead with protecting one’s self and showing the futility of violence.
I could respond to trolls by just being nasty back at them and that would be the equivalent of meeting violence with violence. Instead, I show them the consequences of their actions. for MLK, it was to bring hundreds or thousands of people to the government’s workplace and to show them that injustice would NOT be met with silence and would NOT be patiently endured. That they were prepared to take action 9though that action would not have been violent). I’m doing the same (though not comparing myself to MLK or anything). Harassment will NOT be met with silence. I won’t come to your house and beat you up or anything, but I will use the resources available to me.

If you’re expecting some deep and thoughtful commentary, I’ll have to disappoint. I’m still technically on blog break. But, really, I think the comments above speak for themselves. Harassment is not okay, and cyberstalking — what Micheal was starting to do — is a crime, people. You don’t have the right to systematically harass another human being, whether offline or on. One would think that this would be common sense, but the 84 responses that the original thread has gotten would say otherwise.

So, in summary, stay in school and don’t harass people because there will one day be consequences that you probably won’t like.