Archive for March, 2009

31
Mar
09

Humour and Feminism in the Same Sentence

There have been a couple really awesome posts lately on the subject of humour and feminism:

TIGER BEATDOWN FOR DUDES PRESENTS: That’s not funny, no, seriously, Dude, it’s not

OMG! Boys! They are so adorable, right? For example, here is an adorable thing boys like to do: sort of deny or dance around the presence of misogyny, no matter how blatant it happens to be, when it comes from somebody they want to like!

Oh, wait, that’s not adorable. That is some lily-livered bullshit. Yet people do it, particularly when they’re boys: name a famous misogynist (Updike, Roth, Tarantino, Polanski, Apatow, LaBute, etc.) and I’ll name you an article or appraisal that contains some cowardly, passive-voiced admission that “some have called his work misogynist.” Um, some? Who are these “some?” What were their grounds for leveling this criticism? Can you, the professional critic, give us a well-reasoned argument for or against? Oh, never mind, that sentence is totally over and we’re back to talking about how this dude is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Because misogyny, whether or not it exists, is not a serious issue, because women aren’t important. Gotcha.

Go read the rest. NOW.

We also have the wonderful Feminism 101: On Language and the Commodification of Sex Via Humor from Shakesville:

“Geez, can’t you take a joke?” That’s all it takes—the implication that the woman who objects to public expressions of misogyny, who doesn’t find funny the means of her own subjugation, or doesn’t find amusing being triggered by careless “jokes” about a brutal event she has experienced, is humorless. Uncool. Oversensitive. Weak. (As though standing up to bigotry is the easy way out, and laughing along is somehow strong.)

Again, get with the reading of the rest. What are you waiting for?

These posts both touch on a subject dear to my heart: humour. I’ve always loved comedy, one of the many things I wanted to be growing up was a stand-up comic. I was raised on Monty Python and Mel Brooks, it was one of the things my father and I shared and share.

But it is well-known that feminism and humour cannot exist in the same fragile human form. Why is that?

Well, if I had to guess (and for purposes of this blog, I do) I would suggest that a great deal of humour (especially the varieties discussed in the above articles) relies on misogyny and hate, and no, I don’t find those funny. And once you start separating the comedic wheat from the chaff, yeah, I find a lot of stuff a lot less funny than I used to.

Do I wish I could shut off the awareness? Sometimes, when it seems as though nothing I encounter isn’t somehow going to piss me off by treating women or others as subhuman.

I try to think of it as improving my sense of humour, for not letting anyone get away with the “easy” jokes. Because when you can’t rely on rape-is-funny, men-and-women-are-different, oh-those-women-are-wacky-and-wow-they-like-shopping, you have to work a lot harder. And that’s no bad thing.

I just wish more comedy would try harder. Because it’s harder, and not because it’s “politically correct.”

Y’know, the problem with political correctness isn’t the one most people suggest. The problem is that it seemed to falsely expect that by simply making it clear you couldn’t be overtly assholish about a minority/any non-white-males, the actual problems of people being covertly assholish and bigoted would go away too. I am a great believer in making it clear that we as a society don’t condone some crap. We shouldn’t. But too many people seemed to assume that removing certain words removed the ideas and prejudices that went with them. And then others got upset that their God-Given Right to mock others who were different was being interfered with.

Seriously, if the worst problem you have in your day is whether or not the joke you’re about to tell might insult someone, you’re having a damn good day.

Also seriously, what the hell is wrong, exactly, with having to worry that you might offend someone? That you should be expected to treat everyone else as full human beings?

And if you can’t be funny without doing so, you’re not that funny in the first place.

20
Mar
09

A Couple of Not-so Happy Thoughts on Blogging

One (just one) of the reasons I’d not started a blog in the past is that, well, I’ve read a lot of comment threads. And for every reasonable comment that relates to the post and furthers the discussion, there are ten that are idiotic and missing the point and five that are blatantly hateful. (I am totally making up all of these numbers to make a point. And no, the point is not that I am bad at math.)

And these numbers were on some of the more progressive blogs. I don’t even try reading the comments thread of major newspapers or some of the really big blogs (Broadsheet, for example), because I know they’ll just be full of hate and vitriol and trolls.

I’m one of those people who, if I feel insulted or slandered or wronged, will spend a few hours afterward coming up with a footnoted list of why what they said was wrong and what I should have said in response to show them the error of their ways. All in my head, of course. So yeah, I’m not as good as I could be with disagreement/criticism anyway. (As someone who has endured years of collegiate-level training in art, including an advisor who sincerely believes that “provoking” people is a teaching style, you’d think I’d have skin tough enough to season brushes. Alas.)

So the idea of exposing myself to the criticisms of the interwebs, especially people who will randomly insult or threaten me, let alone people who won’t engage honestly with me, is more than a little terrifying.

And then there’s that “girl” thing. Or as I like to call it, “Blogging While Female.”

Below are two articles discussing sexism online in the context of their own personal experiences as well as those of Kathy Sierra. Sierra, a software programmer who blogs about technology, had started receiving increasingly harassing comments in her blogs. These escalated to a posting of her home address online, threats of rape and death, and images of her photoshopped/manipulated to be threatening and insulting, like one of her with a noose around her neck. She notified the police, and ended up closing her blog down and cancelling at least one public appearance at the ETech Conference in San Diego.

Men who hate women on the Web is by Joan Walsh of Salon and Broadsheet, and
How the web became a sexists’ paradise by Jessica Valenti, one of the founders of Feministing.com

One particularly interesting passage from Walsh’s article:

Attitudes toward women have improved dramatically just in my lifetime, but still the world has too many misogynists, and the Web has given them a microphone that lets them turn up the volume on their quavering selves, their self-righteous fury, their self-loathing expressed as hatred of women. And yet, mostly, women on the Web just have to ignore it. If you show it bothers you, you’ve given them pleasure. Life is too short to think about Broadsheet trolls.

But it coarsens you to look away, and to tell others to do the same. I’ve grown a thicker skin. I didn’t want skin this thick. And what does it mean that women writers have to drag around this anchor every time they start to write — that we reflexively compose our own hate mail, and sometimes type and retype to try to avoid it? I can honestly say it’s probably made me more precise and less glib. That’s good. But it’s also, for now, made me too cautious. I write less than I would if I wasn’t thinking these thoughts. I think that’s bad. I think Web misogyny puts women writers at a disadvantage, and as someone who’s worked for women’s advancement in the workplace, and the world, that saddens me.

The scary part of the Sierra incident as far as other female bloggers is concerned is twofold:
1. Some people think that once you are online, everything is fair game: that your looks, marital status, education, history, gender, weight, age, religion, sexual history, family, job, ethnicity are all “open” to attack, no matter what you are posting about. These people also feel that it is okay to threaten you, your family, dig up your personal information and post that, photomanip threatening images, insult you in any variety of hateful ways, attack you for any aspect of your life and generally behave in a way would be perceived as endangering your immediate physical safety if it happened offline.

2. Other people think this is not actually a big deal. There was actually a backlash against Sierra for failing to have thicker skin, for attacking free speech, for making such a big deal out of it… I mean, who takes death threats seriously? You wusses.

Which is scarier? The threats, or the fact that you’re crying wolf if you’re threatened by the threats?

More from the department of No, We’re Not Imagining It: A study by the University of Maryland’s A. James Clark School of Engineering found that chat room participants with female usernames received 25 times more threatening and/or sexually explicit private messages than those with male or ambiguous usernames.

I have one big quibble with the above study: ” ‘Parents should consider alerting their children to these risks, and advising young people to create gender-free or ambiguous usernames. Kids can still exercise plenty of creativity and self-expression without divulging their gender,’ Cukier says.” When he says “without divulging their gender” he means “without saying they are female,” since the threat is specifically directed at participants who are identified as female. So he means girls, specifically, should hide that they are girls. And while I am completely 100% for kids having a safe online experience, I find the idea that females should have to hide their gender as a safety precaution to be deeply disturbing. Because that is so very easily extrapolated to adult bloggers being safer if no one knows they’re women.

Because I have no actual solutions, just thoughts, I leave you with a couple more links:

Here’s a guide to kill-filing abusive commentors on your blog.

And here is a transcript of a “Fighting Miscogeny Online” panel at SXSWi, featuring panelists Cecily Walker (Cecily.info), Ann Friedman (Feministing), Amanda Marcotte (Pandagon.net), Samhita Mukhopadhyay (Feministing.com).

19
Mar
09

Blog Rationale

“Go on then, justify yourself.”

As a white, heterosexual, middle-class, cisgendered female, I’m not exactly breaking new ground in the feminist blogosphere. And as a compulsive reader of so many other blogs, it’s hard to think of areas of interest that aren’t already being covered/dealt/with/discussed/explored/pilloried/mocked by someone a great deal more eloquent (and with a larger readership) than myself.

So why blog?

The very short answer is because I’d really like a good grade in this class. (Hi Dr. J!)

The serious answer is that while I’m not a unique snowflake, I still have a unique voice. I still feel like I have something to add to the discussion, if only because I do read so many other blogs/media/bulletin boards.

Blogs have done more to teach me about feminism than any book on theory.  Blogs have helped me “get” my white privilege in a way that classes didn’t.  They’ve made me realise the depth and breadth of the Patriarchy in our culture and why it matters.  I know why “colour blindness” is bullshit.  I’ve learned about Health At Every Size and how we’re taught to hate our bodies and fear fat.  I understand why rape jokes are problematic.  I can get the perspectives of people of colour, men and women, gays, lesbians, Muslims, transgender individuals… people who fall into all sorts of overlapping categories of kyriarchy.  Even one very liberal Evangelical Christian.

I’ve been able to unpack a great deal of my subconscious biases and hold them up to the light for examination. I like to think it’s made me a better person.  I know it’s made me a more aware one.

Blogs gave me a language to express the vague concerns I’d always had but lacked the ability to articulate.  (And yes, if you know me in person, you’d be astonished to believe there’s anything I think I can’t articulate.)

Maybe now I can return the favour.

This blog will deal primarily with feminism, because it is the area I am most familiar with.  I will make a sincere effort, though, to not ignore issues that are of concern to nonwhite, noncisgendered nonheteronormative nonmiddle-class feminists.  Feel free to call me out if I make mistakes, I likely will.

I’m especially interested in the generally unexamined, under-the-radar sexism so common in our culture, especially pop culture, as well as the general societal pressure to conform to certain ideals of femininity/gender roles, especially as they manifest in expectations of appearance and in fat hatred.  It is the quotidian bullshit of everyday existence in a Patriarchy that really wears you down, and I think that’s worth a much closer look.

Of course, if something really pisses me the hell off or makes me deliriously happy, it’ll probably show up here too.

Also, LOLcats.

18
Mar
09

Dear Pope: WTF?

I am not, nor have I ever been, Catholic. I am, however, the descendant of (mostly lapsed) Catholics and attended years of Catholic parochial school where I did have to attend/pass courses on the teachings. I even sang during the masses. This, plus my affection for the quirkier side of the religion (he lived on a pole for twenty years, so we made him a saint! Here’s his actual spleen!) has always left a special place in my heart for the church. I think of it as sort of like a crazy great uncle that you don’t talk to much, but who is guaranteed to enliven family picnics. (Just don’t try the potato salad.)

Of course, that’s because I don’t take the church seriously. Millions of people do. And lately, they’ve been getting some pretty horrific messages from the Holy See.

One of these headlines is from the Onion, one is a real headline. Can you tell the difference?

A. Starving Third World Masses Warned Against Evils of Contraception

B. Pope Benedict XVI: condoms make Aids crisis worse

Scroll down for the answer.

If you guessed that A was false and B was true, give yourself a pat on the back. And weep for humanity.

And, as a bonus,
Church excommunicates mother of 9-year-old rape victim – but not accused rapist

The nine year old girl apparently became pregnant with twins after repeated sexual abuse/assault/rape by her stepfather, which began when she was six. The doctors feared that her tiny body would not be able to stand the pressure of giving birth to twins.

The Catholic Church has apparently argued that she should just have a C-Section. Because we should always take the medical advice of a religious authority with an agenda over the actual medical professionals involved in the case. Remember the Terry Schiavo case, where Senator Bill Frist argued, based only on some videotape he’d spent “an hour or so” watching that she was not, in fact, brain-dead and should thus not be taken off life support? An autopsy later proved he was completely wrong.

Now, clearly the fact that the Catholic Church was prepared to make an armchair diagnosis of a life-or-death medical emergency is the least of the problematic aspects of this case, but it is worth highlighting as additional evidence that the welfare of the child is the furthest thing from their minds.

What does it mean to a child, to be told that God is more accepting of the stepfather who has raped you for three years than He is of the mother and doctors trying to save your life?

Now, just recently the Vatican lifted the excommunication on a bishop who happened to be a Holocaust denier.
So remember, kids, rape= okay, denying Holocaust= okay, saving the life of a nine-year old victim of repeated sexual assault= A very public excommunication.

…but wait, there’s more!!

As a special surprise on International Women’s Day, the official Vatican paper released an article claiming that the real vehicle for Women’s Lib was not, oh, the Pill, or the ability to work outside the home. Nope. It was the washing machine.
Vatican: Washing Machine More Liberating Than The Pill

If I were given the choice between the Pill and a washing machine, I’d learn to handwash very quickly. Of course, the real problem is that they’re trying to reframe the women’s lib movement as something housewives had time to do because their household chores were getting done faster. Liberation, to the Vatican, is having just that much more time around the house in between being a full-time wife and mother a la Donna Reed. It is not a surprise that a church still unwilling to admit the full equality of males and females (still no female priests) should be so strict about its gender roles.

Speaking of gender roles, in yet another gem from Benedict (last one, I promise) he attacked the blurring of gender roles during his 2008 year-end speech. Me wearing a tie (let alone wanting equal rights) is apparently as much a threat to the world as climate change. And as for GLBT individuals… every single one is like several acres of rainforest subjected to slash and burn agriculture.

I want that on a t-shirt now. “Slash and burn gender roles!”

Remember, every time you’re gay, the polar icecaps melt just a little more.

17
Mar
09

This Week in Blogging

Here are just a few of the very interesting articles currently floating about the feminist blogosphere.

BitchPhD discusses the evil yet seemingly ubiquitous Salad Police
http://bitchphd.blogspot.com/2009/03/salad-police.html

In China, the gentle Grass-Mud horses fight the vicious River Crab. And, oh, it’s all secretly a metaphor for Chinese internet censorship featuring a lot of phonetic cursing.
http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2009/03/ng-tze-wei-innocent-ditty-pokes-fun-at-net-crackdown-childish-grass-mud-horse-song-lampoons-official-censors/

A woman who gave her child up for adoption gives the perspective of a birth mother on her experience
http://shakespearessister.blogspot.com/2009/03/breaking-silence-on-living-pro-lifers.html

A white feminist calls upon other white feminists to “start stepping up to the plate on racism and white privilege.”
http://www.thefword.org.uk/features/2009/03/piercing_the_wh

And, from Hoyden About Town, a video of kitties being AWESOME
http://viv.id.au/blog/20090318.4173/kitties/

14
Mar
09

Deconstructing Left Behind, or Why Pop Culture *is* Culture

Every Friday, a man named Fred undertakes a new portion of the Herculean task he has set himself. His goal is to deconstruct, step by agonizing step, the whole of the Left Behind series of novels, a gigantic work of Evangelical Christian Rapture-porn known to Fred’s community of readers as The Worst Books Ever Written. He has been doing this since October of 2003, and has only just started the second novel, Tribulation Force.

Fred does not do this because he likes these books. He despises them enough to title his very first post “Left Behind is Evil.” But he perseveres, through years of bad theology, unsympathetic characters, blatant miscogyny, and just plain hate-filled bad writing. He does this because he worries about the effects of Left Behind and the belief system it propagates on the larger culture. Because millions of people read these books, and many of them probably didn’t realize exactly how problematic they are, and because he believes that a careful reading will reveal not just what the authors want you to think/believe, but what these unfortunately influential persons really think.

And that, at its core, is why analysis of pop culture is important. Not because all of it is bad. Much of it is, but Sturgeon’s Law says that 90% of anything is crap. But because, at its heart, pop culture is culture as it is currently experienced. It is our shared vocabulary, our greater mythology. And neither it nor we exist in a vacuum. I have heard discussions about whether or not 24′s cavalier treatment of torture rendered it more acceptable to the public when done by the Bush administration. Fred worries that believing in the repugnant theology of the LB series explains some of the more callous and horrific decisions and opinions held by the Religious Right.

When I complain about yet another ridiculous, gender-stereotype-reinforcing romantic comedy, or a new racist ad campaign, I am often told “but it’s just a movie/an ad/a tv show/a magazine/pop culture. Why does it matter?”

Pop culture shapes us, and you can tell a great deal about a society, a group, or an individual by the stories they choose to tell. Isn’t that worth analyzing and thinking about?

You can watch the deconstruction every Friday at Slacktivist.

14
Mar
09

Target Women: Barbie

The latest Target:Women from Sarah Haskins is out. Check it out here:

http://current.com/items/89883966/sarah_haskins_in_target_women_barbie.htm