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Monday, January 30, 2012

Tony Perkins fears the crossing of light sabers

"Give yourself to the Dark Side...yes,
your thoughts betray you."
From Opposing Views:
On his daily radio broadcast, Family Research Council president Tony Perkins attacked the video game 'Star Wars: The Old Republic' for allowing same-sex relationships: "In a new Star Wars game, the biggest threat to the empire may be homosexual activists!" 
Stephen Reid of Bioware, the game maker, recently announced that players could have “same gender romances with companion characters” as part of “a post-launch feature.”
Nothing in this story is shocking. It's not shocking that SW:TOR is allowing for romantic relationships between your character and same-sex NPCs (non-player characters) because this is Bioware. The same or similar options were available in Mass Effect 2 and 3 and Dragon Age 1 and 2, so if they didn't have it in SW:TOR it would be a surprise.

Similarly, there's nothing shocking about Tony Perkins predicting that homosexuality will be the End of All Things, though he might want to know that in this game (as in the films), the empire are...well, the bad guys. So in a world of ruthless bounty hunters and a rigidly controlling organization intent on dominating the universe, the ultimate threat is a group of people who want to live in same-sex relationships, and those who support their right to do so.

Hmm, that must be how people like Perkins perceive the real world every day. 

Jay Leno vs. some angry Sikhs

From BBC News:
A Leno skit showed the temple as the summer home of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. 
Mr Romney has faced taxation questions over his huge wealth and many Sikhs are angry the temple has been depicted as a place for the rich. 
The Sikh community has launched an online petition and an Indian minister called the comments "objectionable". 
Overseas Indian Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi told reporters: "It is quite unfortunate and quite objectionable that such a comment has been made after showing the Golden Temple." 
Mr Ravi said the Indian embassy would take up the matter with the US state department, the Press Trust of India reported. 
He said: "The Golden Temple is the Sikh community's most sacred place... The American government should also look at this kind of thing. 
"Freedom does not mean hurting the sentiments of others... This is not acceptable to us and we take a very strong objection for such a display."
The Golden Temple is....well, it is what you might expect: an enormous building, literally covered in gold. Harmandir Sahib in Amritsar, Punjab, India looks like a monument to ostentatiousness. Leno's writers could have done a GIS for "fancy building" and picked the most impressive one that showed up, but part of the joke  I'm guessing in choosing to use the Golden Temple as Romney's summer home is to suggest that he is obscenely wealthy. Not just well off, not just private jet rich, but affluent to the extent that it seems offensive. Profane. You know, like the kind of guy who would live in a monument to someone else's religion if he found it sumptuous enough. Here's the bit:



You have to admit, in comparison with the preceding photos of quite nice but not crazily impressive homes belonging to Gingrich and Paul, respectively (which I assume are their actual residences), following it up with what appears to be the fanciest building ever to exist and calling it Romney's "summer" home is pretty funny. It's funny in part because it doesn't remotely even look like a home. Victoria Nuland, spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department, pointed out in a statement that Leno's use of the photo is both a) Constitutionally-protected and b) obviously satire. And it was satire of Romney, not of Sikhs. But even if it was making fun of Sikhs, it's still protected. That is because freedom of speech does, in fact, include "hurting the sentiments of others." If it doesn't, well...that hurts my sentiments. Further appreciation to Nuland for saying that the United States government respects India and its citizenry without saying that the it respects Sikhism.
The online petition organised by members of the US Sikh community says Leno has been guilty of derogatory comments on Sikhs before. It adds that "Jay Leno's racist comments need to be stopped right here". 
Petition signatory Simran Kaur says: "Jay Leno must apologise and promise not to make any direct or oblique references to Sikhs or their places of worship." 
Leno has not yet commented on the matter.
Not being familiar with Leno's show, I have no idea what "derogatory comments" this refers to. But if it's simply making references to Sikhs or their places of worship, acknowledging that they exist, my question would be...why? Surely it would be worse to have your existence ignored?

I also don't know what "objectionable comment has been made after showing the Golden Temple," because so far as I can tell there was no comment after showing it-- simply depicting it was the gag. I can't help but wonder if Ravi and the community who organized this petition actually saw the bit in question and understand it.

ETA: From Ken at Popehat:
First up, we have Dr. Randeep Dhillon! Dr. Dhillon is suing Jay Leno. Is he suing Jay Leno for being a trite, phone-it-in placeholder? NO! There's no California cause of action for that! SAG would never allow it! No, Randeep Dhillon is suing Jay Leno for a lame joke about Mitt Romney suggesting that his vacation home was the Golden Temple of Amritsar, a holy site for Sikhs! Dr. Dhillon says that by making this joke, Leno "exposes plaintiff, other sikhs and their religion to hatred, contempt, ridicule and obloquy because it falsely portrays the holiest place in the Sikh religion as a vacation resort owned by a non-Sikh." He's backed up by an Indian foreign affairs minister who says "freedom does not mean hurting the sentiments of others." 
Congrats, Dr. Dhillon! You win a date with California's robust anti-SLAPP statute! You're going to pay Jay Leno's attorney fees in this case, which I will estimate to be $50,000! And because some people will generalize about Sikhs based on the act of one asshole — you — you've just done more to expose Sikhs to hatred, contempt, ridicule, and obloquy than that threadbare hack Leno ever could! Way to go!

Not rape

A trigger warning is a notice posted at the top of an article that indicates that the subject matter may be disturbing, especially because it may describe abuse, molestation, and/or rape and people who have been victims of such may not want to read or to read with caution, in a place where they won't have to worry about their emotions betraying them.

The Not Rape Epidemic is an article for which trigger warnings might as well have been invented. I don't normally feel as though I need them, but it strikes me as a piece for which pretty much every woman might need one, and not a few men. That makes it important, because it doesn't disturb for kicks but to discuss something painful yet common, and all too real: a pervasive, passively-accepted environment of sexual harassment that might not be rape (hence the title), but certainly marches right up to it and shakes hands.

I dislike the term "rape culture," because I think it connotes a culture in which rape is openly accepted and rampant, which brings to mind Somalia. That's a rape culture, if anything is. But I understand the desire to have a word for both the physical and cultural environment which lends credence to victim-blaming, sexual threats as a particular means of punishing women for disliked behavior or speech, and disdain for or dismissal of anyone who broaches the subject of such as a need for concern. Someone who threatens to rape someone on the internet because of what she had to say may not be a rapist, but they are (obviously) part of "the problem." And the problem has many names. I'm going to stick with "sexism," because it's simple and encompasses a lot of things.

Anyway, go read the piece. If you're feeling stable, and are in a place where it's okay not to be if such a need arises. It aroused a lot of uncomfortable memories for me, and might for you as well. The comments are full of people sharing theirs.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Weekend web readin'

Female Gaming Characters: Why I Won't Be Playing League of Legends
Money quote:
This only becomes increasingly farcical, with pity being shed on the designers for us pesky feminists wanting to “suppress artists and design content for gender equality”, a seemingly worthless pursuit. Since when was there a suppression here? Implying that your right to see overly-pornified female characters surpasses the needed inclusion of more women in gaming is ridiculous, and suggesting that the designers would be at a loss with their skills if they could not do so is incredibly patronizing and places little faith in their skills, ignoring the intricate and beautiful designs of armour for the ladies in games elsewhere.
Acupuncturist Claims Cervical Cancer is For Prostitutes
Money quote:
Does cervical cancer only happen to certain types of people? 
Cervical cancer only affects people who have cervices, so I suppose that’s a type.
What is implied by the “certain type” comment, however, is the association of cervical cancer with infection by sexually transmitted human papilloma virus (HPV). Some types of HPV can infect the cells of the cervix and can cause the cells to behave oddly, which can send them down the path to becoming dysplastic or even cancerous. Of course, only promiscuous women and prostitutes get HPV, right? 
Well, barring the outrageous slut shaming which I cannot even begin to discuss here, it’s important to note that 70% of all sexually active Canadians will exposed to HPV over a lifetime. 70%! Even condoms are not fully protective since HPV can spread via any skin-to-skin contact. Plus, HPV infection is almost entirely asymptomatic, and there is no general screening test to look for it. In other words, for most people, until you are diagnosed with cervical cancer, you have absolutely no way of knowing if you or your partner are positive for HPV. Only in a world of strict, puritanical monogamy is this a disease for prostitutes and the promiscuous, and given that 70% of women are exposed, I think it’s fair to say that such an expectation is profoundly unrealistic. Either that, or 70% of Canadian women are whores! What a charming sentiment.
Ahlquist in the NYT
Money quote:
They say that the truth always comes after the “but”.  To illustrate that point, here’s a Cranston West senior…
Pat McAssey, a senior who is president of the student council, said the threats were “completely inexcusable”…
But…?
…but added that Jessica had upset some of her classmates by mocking religion online.
“Their frustration kind of came from that,” he said.
Yes, her classmates may have been upset by Jessica mocking religion.  So what?  Pat should have stopped at calling the threats inexcusable.  Frustration is “Awwwwwww, I’m offended.”  It’s not “let’s beat her up!”
The Caging of America
Money quote(s):
For most privileged, professional people, the experience of confinement is a mere brush, encountered after a kid’s arrest, say. For a great many poor people in America, particularly poor black men, prison is a destination that braids through an ordinary life, much as high school and college do for rich white ones. More than half of all black men without a high-school diploma go to prison at some time in their lives. Mass incarceration on a scale almost unexampled in human history is a fundamental fact of our country today—perhaps the fundamental fact, as slavery was the fundamental fact of 1850. In truth, there are more black men in the grip of the criminal-justice system—in prison, on probation, or on parole—than were in slavery then. Over all, there are now more people under “correctional supervision” in America—more than six million—than were in the Gulag Archipelago under Stalin at its height. That city of the confined and the controlled, Lockuptown, is now the second largest in the United States. . .  
The scale and the brutality of our prisons are the moral scandal of American life. Every day, at least fifty thousand men—a full house at Yankee Stadium—wake in solitary confinement, often in “supermax” prisons or prison wings, in which men are locked in small cells, where they see no one, cannot freely read and write, and are allowed out just once a day for an hour’s solo “exercise.” (Lock yourself in your bathroom and then imagine you have to stay there for the next ten years, and you will have some sense of the experience.) Prison rape is so endemic—more than seventy thousand prisoners are raped each year—that it is routinely held out as a threat, part of the punishment to be expected. The subject is standard fodder for comedy, and an uncoƶperative suspect being threatened with rape in prison is now represented, every night on television, as an ordinary and rather lovable bit of policing. The normalization of prison rape—like eighteenth-century japery about watching men struggle as they die on the gallows—will surely strike our descendants as chillingly sadistic, incomprehensible on the part of people who thought themselves civilized. Though we avoid looking directly at prisons, they seep obliquely into our fashions and manners. Wealthy white teen-agers in baggy jeans and laceless shoes and multiple tattoos show, unconsciously, the reality of incarceration that acts as a hidden foundation for the country.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Why serial cheating beats open marriage

...according to Newt Gingrich: because anything other than one man and one woman is pagan.

Seriously:
It's pretty simple: marriage is between a man and a woman. This is a historic doctrine driven deep into the Bible, both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament, and it's a perfect example of what I mean by the rise of paganism. The effort to create alternatives to marriage between a man and a woman are perfectly natural pagan behaviors, but they are a fundamental violation of our civilization.
This man is a historian. But he doesn't know that....

1. There are multiple instances in the Bible of men having more than one wife-- at a time, even-- without any mention of it being wrong.
2. Monogamous relationships between one man and one woman were not invented in the Bible, and certainly existed outside of the historical and geographic contexts it describes.
3. When Jesus addressed the issue, he specially mentioned divorce in order to condemn it.

Wait, who am I kidding? He knows these things. A person could never have read a page of the Bible and known-- or at least, have been able to make an educated guess-- about all of them.  There is no coherent sense in which opposite sex monogamous marriage can be described as belonging to the Bible, or to Christianity, and not to "pagans" (whatever Newt imagines those to be), certainly without also such description being compelled to drag along behind it, like a ball on a chain, the fact that Newt's own behavior has been condemned just as explicitly as any other deviation from that standard.

This sin-- the sin of repeated infidelity and divorce, followed by remarriage-- is one to which Newt and his kind are susceptible, so it is ignored. Other sins, the ones that represent minor or no temptation at all, can safely be vilified as pagan, criminal, unAmerican. That's how scoundrels manage to wave Bibles-- by carefully expunging the parts that condemn their own behavior as much as anyone else's.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Gingrich's serial cheating would make him a strong president...wait, what?

Cheating for America-- not on it! 
The fact that Newt Gingrich is running for president, and actually has supporters for that position, makes my brain hurt and my heart sink. It inspires a despondence that I don't care to dwell in, frankly. But I have to admit that the whole discussion about whether he asked his second wife (whom he married after cheating on the first) for an open marriage before leaving her and marrying the woman he was cheating with who became wife #3-- gosh, it's kind of hard to write that out-- is fascinating to me. Apparently the serial cheating is bad, but not as bad as the notion of his having asked for an "open marriage." And let's be clear, if what former wife Marianne says is true, what Gingrich did wasn't asking for an open marriage exactly. The words "open marriage" might have come out of his mouth, but what he was really asking for was to continue cheating with impunity. Reading those words, I could feel the collective cringing of Americans who are actually in open marriages-- a consenting arrangement in which a couple decides together that each of them may have another partner or partners, with explicit permission-- as their lifestyle's reputation went further down the drain.

Newt has, of course, vehemently denied that he did any such thing. He has complained bitterly about the indignity of even being questioned on the subject, as if he wasn't the same man who found it appropriate to lead impeachment proceedings against Clinton for lying about an affair. As if he isn't the same man, running for the nomination of the same party, which trumpets family values as a reason to deny rights to gays. Apparently those family values allow room for serial cheating, divorce, and re-marriage, but not for things like consenting open relationships or affirmation of government-awarded rights and privileges for relationships between two people of the same sex. I admire the intentions of this suggestion on Yahoo! News that Gingrich could become an unwitting argument for gay marriage if elected president by being the living antithesis of family values, but that would both require Gingrich supporters and other opponents of gay marriage to acknowledge their inconsistency and further entrench the notion of gay marriage as somehow being equivalent to serial infidelity. The former is unlikely; the latter undesirable. And anyway, there are plenty of things that make Gingrich an extremely poor choice for president apart from that. Dan Savage-- sex columnist/podcaster, influential gay rights advocate-- has been having a field day with this issue. On Friday he wrote:
Let me be quite clear: Newt wasn't claiming that the story about his six-year affair with a congressional staffer twenty years his junior was false—the third Mrs. Gingrich was there last night—just the story about Newt asking his ex-wife to agree to an open marriage. That was false. (Callista "Devout Catholic" Gingrich was down with the open marriage: "Callista doesn't care what I do," Newt allegedly told his ex-wife.) 
So... Newt Swingrich got a huge round of applause from a GOP debate audience packed with God-fearin', traditional-marriage-lovin', gay-marriage-hatin' social conservatives... for insisting that he cheated on his second ex-wife for six years like a good Christian. He did not ask his second ex-wife for an open marriage. An honest open relationship was never on the table. Newt and Callista's adulterous relationship was grounded in lies and deceit and betrayal from the start and Newt never wavered from that path. Newt never tried to negotiate an agreement—not even a retroactive one—that would have allowed him to sleep around and remain married. Newt did not ask his most recent ex-wife for an open marriage and he won't ask any of his future ex-wives for an open marriage. 
Because that would be wrong. 
Clap clap clap. 
(Who are these friends who knew Newt and his second ex-wife and can "prove" her story is false? Were they present during these conversations between Newt and his second ex-wife?)
...which makes me very curious to hear what Savage thinks about this commentary by a psychiatrist, Dr. Keith Ablow, who insists that the "psychological data" of Newt's infidelities would make him a strong president. Seriously. Yes, it's on Fox News...of course. If you don't want to go there, I'll just quote some juicy bits for you:
As I have written before for Fox News Opinion, I don’t think voters belong in a candidate’s bedroom. But the media can’t seem to help itself from trying to castrate candidates for the prurient pleasure of the public.
Yeah, it's the media's fault. For reporting what people (rightly or wrongly) want to hear about, just as they did when it was Clinton's cheating that made headlines. For informing the public, including Ablow, about the thing which Ablow is now going to say presents a good reason to support Gingrich as president.
I will tell you what Mr. Gingrich’s personal history actually means for those of us who want to right the economy, see our neighbors and friends go back to work, promote freedom here and abroad and defeat the growing threat posed by Iran and other evil regimes. 
First, one note on what Mr. Gingrich’s married life, including his history of infidelity does not mean: It does not mean that Mr. Gingrich would be unfaithful to the United States of America or the Constitution of the United States. 
You can take any moral position you like about men and women who cheat while married, but there simply is no correlation, whatsoever—from a psychological perspective—between whether they can remain true to their wedding vows and whether they can remain true to the Oath of Office.
...whatever "remaining true to the Oath of Office" means. It sure doesn't mean invading Iran, so far as I can tell. I agree that from a psychological perspective-- from any perspective-- cheating on one's spouse doesn't mean that one would be a bad president.  It doesn't render a person incapable of working to create jobs, protect freedoms, decrease the deficit, or, you know, legalize gay marriage. Just saying.
I want to be coldly analytical, not moralize, here. I want to tell you what Mr. Gingrich’s behavior could mean for the country, not for the future of his current marriage. So, here’s what one interested in making America stronger can reasonably conclude—psychologically—from Mr. Gingrich’s behavior during his three marriages: 
1) Three women have met Mr. Gingrich and been so moved by his emotional energy and intellect that they decided they wanted to spend the rest of their lives with him. 
2) Two of these women felt this way even though Mr. Gingrich was already married. 
 3 ) One of them felt this way even though Mr. Gingrich was already married for the second time, was not exactly her equal in the looks department and had a wife (Marianne) who wanted to make his life without her as painful as possible.  
Conclusion: When three women want to sign on for life with a man who is now running for president, I worry more about whether we’ll be clamoring for a third Gingrich term, not whether we’ll want to let him go after one.
My conclusion: Okay, so by that logic Richard Ramirez should be president. The "Night Stalker" who killed thirteen people in 1985 in a campaign of murder, rape, and eye-gouging should be campaigning for president instead, since he receives bags full of mail including marriage proposals at San Quentin where he's been imprisoned for 23 years. Countless women want to "sign on for life" with a serial killer. I'm sure at least some of them are attractive, though I'm not sure why that matters. Ablow seems to think it important. Kissinger famously said that power is the ultimate aphrodisiac, and that most likely applies to the power to slaughter a dozen or so people with your own hands as well as to (potentially) do so to endless more as president. I'm guessing Ablow is one of those people who likes to complain that "chicks dig jerks" while simultaneously evaluating the worth of every man by the appearance of the women he manages to attract.
4) Two women—Mr. Gingrich’s first two wives—have sat down with him while he delivered to them incredibly painful truths: that he no longer loved them as he did before, that he had fallen in love with other women and that he needed to follow his heart, despite the great price he would pay financially and the risk he would be taking with his reputation. 
Conclusion:I can only hope Mr. Gingrich will be as direct and unsparing with the Congress, the American people and our allies. If this nation must now move with conviction in the direction of its heart, Newt Gingrich is obviously no stranger to that journey.
My conclusion: Okay, I suppose lying in a hospital bed counts as "sitting down." But what about the whole part where he wasn't direct and unsparing up until he was? You know, the cheating part? Should we welcome a president who is lying to us up until he tells the truth, because he finally has concluded that he needs to "follow his heart"?  Gee, Congress, you know...I guess there aren't any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. And I knew that all along. But I needed to follow my heart, and tell you the truth. I hope you can understand.
5) Mr. Gingrich’s daughters from his first marriage are among his most vigorous supporters. They obviously adore him and respect him and feel grateful for the kind of father he was. 
When I want to know who in a marriage (or, for that matter, a series of marriages) is the one who actually was aligned with their best interests, I never dismiss evidence of who the children gravitate toward and admire. In this case, they have judged the father who left their family, then remarried twice. And they judge him 10 out of 10. I only hope my own children love me and respect me as much when they are adults.
They probably will, because they're your children. But they might not back you politically, because despite loving you and being directly related, they can see a distinction between respecting you and supporting you for public office. They might be more like John Huntsman's daughters, or more like Rick Santorum's nephew. They might speak out against you or not, depending on a multitude of convoluted factors beyond how they much they care for you. In short, like every other voter, their decisions are their own and there's no particular reason that anyone else should agree with them.
So, as far as I can tell, judging from the psychological data, we have only one real risk to America from his marital history if Newt Gingrich were to become president: We would need to worry that another nation, perhaps a little younger than ours, would be so taken by Mr. Gingrich that it would seduce him into marrying it and becoming its president. And I think that is exceedingly unlikely.
*blurk* 

Yes, I get that that was supposed to be a joke. It earns the envy of lead balloons.

Dr. Keith Ablow, you will not be at all reassured to know, is a forensic, adult, and adolescent psychiatrist as well as head of Dr. Keith Ablow Life Coaching as of May, 2011. One can't help but wonder how successful and happy are the marriages of the people whose lives he coaches, as well as whether Mrs. Ablow does a lot of looking over her shoulder.

ETA: I love this exchange on Dispatches:
Tabby Lavalamp: Shouldn’t Ablow be concerned that during a possible term of President of the United States, Gingrich might want to resign to become President of Paraguay?
eric:  Why, does the US have cancer? 
Randomfactor: Paraguay is nowhere near pretty enough.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

No True Feminist

Disbelieving Tankard Reist is disbelieving
...is not my favorite game. I really dislike playing it, and not just because it's a variation on an informal fallacy. I'm fully aware that groups need labels, and for the purposes of distinction we need some labels to fit some groups, and other labels to fit other groups. I just don't like arguing about who fits in the Feminist group, because it's not like it's going to stop anyone from calling themselves feminists if they want to.

What am I talking about? The question of whether someone who is pro-life can legitimately be called a feminist. That's what Anne Summers asks in The Age-- or rather what she answers, since she comes down firmly on the side of "No":
Maybe this is a strange question to be asking when we are supposedly living in a post-feminist era, when feminism is still mocked and trivialised by the media and (no coincidence) when young women famously assert, ''I'm not a feminist, but …'', meaning: I want the equality but not the label. 
But the question has come up recently in two very different examples. Meryl Streep said on 7.30 recently that former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, who she plays so brilliantly in The Iron Lady, ''was a feminist whether she likes it or not''.

You could almost hear the shrieks of disavowal around the Western world: No! No! she's not one of us. 
Then last week we had the brouhaha around Melinda Tankard Reist, the Canberra-based campaigner against porn and the sexualisation of girls, who has threatened to sue for defamation a blogger who commented on Tankard Reist's failure to disclose her Christian beliefs in a recent magazine profile. The same article described Tankard Reist as one of several high-profile women who are ''redefining feminism - and making enemies in the process''. Sarah Palin was named as another. What these women have in common is their self-identification as ''pro-life feminists''. They are against abortion.
What makes Summers' argument not actually fallacious in the discussion which follows is that she articulates exactly what constitutes feminism, in her mind: supporting women's ability to be independent. There are two fundamental preconditions of this, she continues, and those are financial security and control over one's fertility. Therefore, women should have the ability to regulate both for themselves:
Some women might choose periods of dependence on a husband or someone else while they raise children or write a book or whatever, but the key is that this is a voluntary state. Some women may abhor abortion and never choose that option themselves but they cannot deny the choice to other women. 
On these criteria, Thatcher is a feminist while Tankard Reist is not. 
Thatcher supported abortion rights (including, according to Streep, attacking president Ronald Reagan for using abortion as a political tool) and while she never identified with the women's movement, nor it with her, she championed women's economic independence, scorning the idea of women as mere washers of teacups. 
Tankard Reist, on the other hand, rails against the abuse of women and girls' bodies through pornography but then sanctions the ultimate assault on a woman's body: requiring her to carry a child she has decided she cannot have.
This is an individualist position based entirely on autonomy, and therefore one I support wholeheartedly. You will not get an argument from me that anything can be more feminist than supporting women's individual freedoms.

The thing is, feminism is also about how women are viewed in society, including how women view themselves.  Someone who is passionate about eliminating racism is not just concerned about things like overtly racist laws and disproportionate numbers of minority races being imprisoned, but also whether minorities appear in media and how they are presented when they do. How advertising catering to them depicts and treats them. What people are saying about them, and their role in society. The same is true of people who are passionate about eliminating sexism-- they want to convince the world, either by argument or by ordinance or both, not to be sexist. Tankard Reist no doubt believes that pornography makes the world more sexist, and therefore she is opposed to it. I don't, and even if I did I wouldn't want to fight such a thing using law because that would limit the autonomy of women as well as men. Like Summers, I believe that individual freedom is foundational to feminism. I think that the freedom to both be in and consume porn are part of a woman's autonomy, her ability to be financially secure and retain control over her fertility. Summers may not agree, so I don't want to put words in her mouth. But the point is that individual freedom trumps social perception, a position that Tankard Reist, anti-porn advocate, does not share.

Tankard Reist also does not share the position that abortion is an individual freedom. Or does she? According to another recent article in The Age,

Tankard believes that abortion is a form of "violence against women", one that many find traumatic and laden with regret. 
"Abortion is often an excuse not to deal with the structural conditions that compel women to have abortions," she told One Plus One. She draws the line at government regulation, she says, preferring to focus "on those women who would rather not choose abortion. What can we do to make it easier for women who would prefer to make another choice?" (In the '90s, she co-founded Karinya House, an organisation providing support for pregnant women "in crisis".)
But Melbourne-based ethicist and regular sparring partner Leslie Cannold is sceptical. "To get the wide reach she does, she is absolutely dependent on us not knowing the full extent of what she's done in the past," says Cannold. 
Tankard Reist worked as a media and bioethics adviser for former Tasmanian senator Brian Harradine for 12 years, during which time he successfully blocked and continued to campaign against the abortion drug RU486. She also personally opposed changes to legislation that would have required pro-life pregnancy-counselling services to disclose their affiliations in their advertising. 
For others, the discomfort is more philosophical. As high-profile second-waver Eva Cox puts it, it's about the difference between "a view of feminism in which choices and opportunities are not determined by gender" (a group in which Cox includes herself) and "one that wants to protect women, whether it be from men, from sexuality or something else" – the world view Cox suspects Tankard Reist subscribes to.
Tankard Reist's political activity is the practical manifestation of this difference in philosophy. It takes a paternal, protective disposition to work to ban a product or practice because you don't trust people to choose it for themselves and use it responsibly.  I would say the notion that abortion is always foisted on women against their will rather than having been chosen of their own volition is delusional, but then people say the same thing about being in porn. No doubt Tankard Reist is one of them.

But it doesn't seem that she opposes abortion on the grounds that a fetus is a person, which is what pro-life women generally bring up first when they want to claim both the label "pro-life" and "feminist," or what anyone who is pro-life tends to bring up first when charged with sexism. This might be a cultural difference-- Americans are powerfully swayed by the idea of people having rights, dammit, and if a fetus is a person then it stands to reason that it has rights. On the other hand, the idea that abortion (or pornography) is somehow an offense against women which subordinates them seems more likely to carry in Australia, forcing women who want abortions (or porn) to assert that they are capable of handling it.

There is a certain amount of "poor women aren't able to make the decision to have an abortion; they're pressured into it" mentality in American pro-lifers, but their paternalism is firmly right-wing. I doubt Sarah Palin cares a great deal about being considered a feminist, because here it seems like right-wingers of any kind are extremely reluctant to claim that label-- that it belongs to the left. I don't know for certain, but am guessing that in Australia the term "feminist" is rarely used as an epithet. In America, feminists of Tankard Reist's brand and conservatives have banded together in fighting pornography, as noted in Pornography Makes For Strange Bedfellows:

But in the late 70's, some radical feminists, lead by writer Andrea Dworkin and law professor Catherine MacKinnon, began to see pornography not as obscene or immoral but as a means of subordinating women and keeping gender inequality intact. This shall be referred to as the second wave of feminist critiques or the "radical feminist" critique. Moreover, they view pornography as a form of sexual violence, not just the cause of it. They do not make a distinction between erotica and pornography or even art for that matter. They accordingly support the suppression of these works as a way of dissolving gender inequality in society. 
The third wave of feminist critiques are a defense of pornography on free speech grounds in response to the preceding two waves of criticism. This diverse group of women contains every one from pioneering feminist Betty Friedan to ACLU president Nadine Strossen to syndicated columnist Molly Ivins to former porn star Annie Sprinkle. What they have in common is their support of pornography as protected speech. These "free expression" feminists don't all agree on the value or harm of pornography to society but they do agree on the harm to free expression that the suppression of pornography would cause. . .
Do the feminist anti-pornography critiques offer something new to the discussion of pornography as protected speech? Or are their arguments a reworking of previous arguments but with feminist terminology? The answer to both of these questions is "yes." 
First, let us examine the first question: do the feminist anti-pornography critiques offer something new to the discussion of pornography as protected speech? The advent of the feminist voice to all discussion has been very healthy to the exchange of ideas in this country. The first and second wave anti-pornography feminists have brought a fresh critical eye to the examination of pornography as a social phenomenon. They ask who does the First Amendment protect? Pornographers? But what about the climate pornography fosters for women in our country? Isn't pornography a form of group defamation towards women? Does it not teach men that women are sexual objects who enjoy being the object through which men get their sexual satisfaction. 
Second, let us examine the other question: are their arguments a reworking of previous arguments but with feminist terminology? Their criticism of pornography is interesting and healthy for the exchange of ideas but their remedies for it in the case of the second wave, suppression of it, presents more harms than the ones they are seeking to just. 
It seems contradictory that the same structures the radical feminists are trying to tear down are the same ones they are seeking to use to attack pornography. The Indianapolis Ordinance for example, a collaboration between conservatives and anti- pornography feminists, would have allowed people who are harmed by pornography to seek civil damages from the distributors and makers of it. But the American Booksellers Association filed a suit against it because its members feared that since they could not review every book they ordered they would have to not sell any books that relate to sexual matters for fee of violating the ordinance. The ordinance was found to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in a summary statement that agreed with lower court decisions.
I'm conflicted in applying this same sort of thinking to Tankard Reist's stance on abortion. On the one hand, it seems that in saying she doesn't deserve to call herself a feminist, Summers is saying that only (what in America would be called) leftists can be feminists, and Tankard Reist's reasoning for being pro-life conforms very much to Dworkin/MacKinnon-style feminism which was leftist. On the other hand, Tankard Reist's reasoning in opposing both pornography and abortion is clearly protection-focused over autonomy-focused, and that undermines what Summers and many other third-wave "sex positive" feminists see as foundational to feminism itself.

So I guess my conclusion is...Tankard Reist is a feminist, as much as Dworkin and MacKinnon were. Protective, paternal (maternal, I suppose), and ultimately so concerned with the representation of women in society that protecting women from themselves seems/seemed like the responsible, pro-woman thing to do.  That doesn't mean that autonomy-focused third-wave feminists like Summers (and myself) need to approve of her thinking or what she stands for. We're free to continue pointing out that treating women like children doesn't amount to supporting them, and that the most important thing is to allow them to make their own choices even if they are wrong-headed, self-damaging, or even influenced by nefarious outside sources. In other words, that feminism might just be more about intentions than outcomes.  And that's okay.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Nothing is worse than a princess who wants to hang out with you

On the "women in video games" front, science fiction author John Scalzi retweeted the following comment today:

Naturally, I was curious. So I tweeted back to Valente, who is herself a fantasy/science fiction author, asking for some elaboration. And she linked me to this.

Excerpt:
Zelda cracked me up hardcore, because I, like many of you, I think, remember the Legend of Zelda animated TV show. In which, at the end of every adventure, Link tried to get Princess Zelda to kiss him and Zelda was so not into it. Not so this time! Girls are miserable harpies now, no one wants to kiss them! Ahahaha, ew. 
Link has his revenge in Skyward Sword! Link wakes up on the morning of his coming of age ritual (AGAIN) and a letter from Zelda arrives (AGAIN) reminding him that he has to fly his big bird thing in the ritual today, and that he promised to meet her on the roof beforehand. Link makes this face like OH MY GOD YOU GUYS NOTHING IS WORSE THAN A PRINCESS WHO WANTS TO HANG OUT WITH YOU. 
At which point he dicks around for awhile before going to the roof and meeting up with Zelda, who is naturally concerned because Link is a lazy shit who hasn’t practiced flying his giant bird even though he has a SUPER SPECIAL ONE and has known he’d have to do this bird flying ritual test for a long time. Zelda tells her father that Link is definitely going to die because he sucks at flying. This is a valid concern! Her father goes on this weird rant about Link’s SPECIAL BIRD ZOMG and how Zelda was so jealous when Link and the bird bonded! LOLZ. He clearly means that Zelda wanted to “bond” with Link, though I prefer to think Zelda was jealous because shitty lazy Link got an AWESOME RED GIANT BIRD and she was stuck with the magical psychic aviary equivalent of a Dodge Dart.
Awesome. Go read the whole thing.

How not to get raped: Always victim-blaming?

Zerlina Maxwell, writing for Ebony magazine, thinks so. In the bluntly titled "Stop Telling Women How Not To Get Raped," she says:
New rule for 2012: No more ad campaigns and public service announcements targeted at women to teach them how to avoid rape.  It’s not effective, it’s offensive, and it’s also a lie. Telling women that they can behave in a certain way to avoid rape creates a false sense of security and it isn’t the most effective way to lower the horrible statistics which show that 1 in 5 women will become victims of a completed or attempted rape in their lifetime.  The numbers for African American women are even higher at nearly 1 in 4. 
We need anti-rape campaigns that target young men and boys.  Campaigns that teach them from a young age how to respect women, and ultimately themselves, and to never ever be rapists.  In addition, we should implore our men and boys to call out their friends, relatives, and classmates for inappropriate behavior and create systems of accountability amongst them. 
There are a number of men who do not understand what constitutes a “rape”, which is a consequence of the “stranger in the alley” falsehood presented in movies and popular culture.  You don’t need a mask and a gun to sexually violate a woman. The truth is that rape can happen with a woman you are dating whom you’ve had sex with previously, in a monogamous relationship, and even in marriage.  If one party withdraws consent at any time then it’s rape.  Consent can be withdrawn by the words “no “or “stop” and in many states, a woman doesn’t have to say no at all.  Consumption of alcohol can prevent a woman from being able to legally offer consent. Therefore, it is important for men and women alike to be very clear about their intentions and prioritize consent over the excitement of getting some. 
Our community, much like society-at-large, needs a paradigm shift as it relates to our sexual assault prevention efforts.  For so long all of our energy has been directed at women, teaching them to be more “ladylike” and to not be “promiscuous” to not drink too much or to not wear a skirt. Newsflash: men don’t decide to become rapists because they spot a woman dressed like a video vixen or because a girl has been sexually assertive. 
How about we teach young men when a woman says stop, they stop? How about we teach young men that when a woman has too much to drink that they should not have sex with her, if for no other reason but to protect themselves from being accused of a crime? How about we teach young men that when they see their friends doing something inappropriate to intervene or to stop being friends?  The culture that allows men to violate women will continue to flourish so long as there is no great social consequence for men who do so. And while many men punished for sexual assaults each year, countless others are able to commit rape and other crimes against women because we so often blame the victim instead of the guilty party.
Here's where I agree: a lot of men and boys do not know what rape is, if they think it's all about strangers in back alleys leaping on unsuspecting women. They do not know what rape is, if they think it can't happen within a marriage or established relationship. They do not know what rape is, if they think it has to involve violence. Or if they think that it's not rape if the word "No" or "Stop" hasn't been spoken aloud. They need to learn. They need to be told by women, and also other men so that it doesn't seem like women are the only people who are of an accord about preventing rape from happening.

Here's where I disagree: teaching men not to rape and women how to avoid being raped are not mutually exclusive, and the fact that most rape is of the acquaintance variety does not mean that suggestions about how to protect oneself are absolutely useless and/or only amount to suggesting that a woman is responsible for her own rape if she doesn't employ them. I think we can recognize that there is no fail-safe way to prevent oneself from being raped while simultaneously living a free, un-sheltered adult life, but also that it's a good idea for somebody to know when and where you're going on a date. That it might not be the best idea to bring a date home or go to his home, if you don't know each other very well. That if you're out drinking, it's probably a good idea to keep an eye on your drink at all times and make sure you have a safe way of getting home.  A person can recognize value in these precautions without any transference of blame whatsoever.

So yes, let's absolutely hold rapists accountable and tell men and boys (and women and girls!) what rape is in addition to how wrong it is. But I don't think that equates to a moratorium on making suggestions for women on how to be safe. Victim-blaming is absolutely a problem and it needs to stop, but I'm not convinced that refusing to encourage caution is the way to do it.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Booth babes

Gizmodo takes 'em on:
At CES last week, in addition to all the gear and gadgets, there was something else on display: women. As with many trade shows—especially ones aimed at a male audience—CES was rife with booth babes. 
Yet when the BBC ran a story on the practice of hiring scantily-clad models to stand around booths and draw stares from wandering men, it found an interesting defender: Consumer Electronics Association president and CEO Gary Shapiro, the guy who puts on the biggest electronics trade show in the USA. 
"Well, sometimes it is a little old school, but it does work," Shapiro tells the BBC. "People naturally want to go towards what they consider pretty. So your effort to try to get a story based on booth babes, which is decreasing rather rapidly in the industry, and say that it's somehow sexism imbalancing, it's cute but it's frankly irrelevant in my view." 
Cute? Irrelevant? "Imbalancing?" (Is that even a word?) I'm sorry. Would you care to try again, Gary? 
The reason his answer is so bothersome is because as the head of the CEA he is, in a very real sense, speaking for all of us in the technology industry. And that Mad Men bullshit doesn't represent who we are as an industry anymore, and it certainly doesn't represent what we should aspire to. Technology is about the future, and this attitude is from the past. 
Shapiro needs to retract those dismissive remarks. And if he's smart, he'll do more than simply that. He'll get ahead of it. He'll become the example of what to do, rather than what not. 
There are two issus at play here. First, there's the gender issue. Women are under-represented in the tech sector. And while there are a thousand theories why that is, the one thing that is clear is that they aren't underrepresented in society, and by extension, the marketplace. 
The argument that says CES should be geared towards men because men buy the most electronics ignores that women like gadgets too. If the industry keeps ignoring women in order to market towards men, it's going to lose sales. If you can create a gadget that women like just as much as men (hello, iPhone) you have a hit on your hands. 
So why would you want to do anything that might discourage women from showing up? (And it's abundantly clear that some women certainly are off-put by booth babes.) Why wouldn't you want to know what a key demographic thinks of your product before it goes on sale? 
But the second issue is arguably more important. It's the cluelessness. To demean the concerns about booth babes as "cute" and "irrelevant" shows a huge disconnect with, I dunno... this century. The drumbeat against booth babes grows louder every year. It isn't going away, and will only get bigger. Other trade shows are at least addressing it, and the CEA should do the same before it finds 60 Minutes shoving a camera in Shapiro's mug.
And this is right on the heels of a stereotype-debunking study that suggests women are more avid consumers of technology than men:
Women are more likely than men to purchase tabletslaptops and smartphones – three out of the four top consumer electronics categories, according to a new study.
Parks Associates asked 2,000 consumers, ages 18 and older about their buying habits in the consumer tech space. The study, which was conducted in late 2011, asked men and women which products they intend to buy before January 1, 2012. Retailer HSN announced the findings on Monday at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show. 
Women expressed more interest in tablets (18%), laptops (20%) and smartphones (20%). Only 15% of men planned to buy a tablet, while 14% sought a laptop and 17% intended to buy a smartphone. 
The only category in which men surpassed female interest was flat screen LCD TVs, with men (19%) favoring the sets over women (17%). 
“The tech industry has long been dominated by men — even at CES — but women are really the powerhouse in the household driving purchase decisions,” Jill Braff, executive VP of digital commerce for HSN, told Mashable. “Women are highly engaged with the latest and greatest gadgets and technology.”
PAX, the convention organized by Penny Arcade....founders? Authors? Guys? Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik, banned booth babes in 2010, while E3 (Electronics Entertainment Expo) appears to celebrate them.

Just speaking for myself...there might be more efficient ways to drive me away from wanting to learn more about and possibly buy a product than to have a "spokesmodel" promoting it, but that's surely near the top.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The internet is a sad place, take 2,001

Tracy Clark-Flory at Salon writes about what she calls "Slut-shaming 2.0," web sites that exist for the sole purpose of identifying and shaming (mostly) women for their sexual behavior:
The content is submitted by scorned exes, former friends and total strangers. A typical post calls out a woman, using her full name and at least one photo, for either having too much sex or for being unattractive. A recent post headlined, “[Redacted] Should Think About Her Decisions In Life,” featured a semi-nude photo of the woman in question, along with this user-submitted gem:
This B*tch right here is [redacted], of Reno. She has been with 7 different guys in the past 2 week and I could not tell you what her total number is. She constantly brags about how drunk she gets a parties and how she sleeps with all these hot guys.
It goes on, but you get the idea. 
Some posts name and shame women for allegedly being escorts – or, in the site’s charming vernacular, “porta potties.” Usually, Nik Richie, who runs the site, weighs in with a one-liner pointing out a highly specific physical imperfection — like, “muscular back thighs,” “sperm eyebrows” or “wrinkles in her wrists.” He has zero tolerance for knobby knees, round cheeks or – the horror! — thighs that touch.
She concludes "These are the new slut-shamers of the Internet. What’s most remarkable is that they manage to be both prudish and NSFW, all at once."

I suppose it's remarkable, if the hypocrisy of American prudishness is remarkable. But that hypocrisy is the very thing that makes slut-shaming possible in the first place. It's kind of like being surprised that the girl who has sex in the first part of a horror film is also the first one to die.

Structurally unsound: video game women

I had a post started about a month ago about women in video games, but never finished so I'm going to revamp it now. I've been a gamer practically since birth, starting with a family-owned Atari 2600 (favorite game: Adventure) and continuing to present day (PC and Xbox). As with comic books, table-top games, and science fiction and fantasy in general (AKA geek culture), the video game genre has been largely produced by and for heterosexual men since...well, forever. There have always been some women involved on both ends and that number is ever-increasing, however. This means that the questions of how women should create games, how they should be presented in them, and how female gamers should be perceived and treated is being debated more and more. As are, in turn, the same questions about queer players of all kinds.

Straight male privilege in video games takes many forms. If you play a specific humanoid character, it will usually be a male and rippling with muscles. If you play a female, she will usually be curvaceous (sometimes impossibly so-- we'll get to that in a minute) and wearing revealing, impractical clothes. Any females depicted, for that matter, will most likely fit that standard. If the game offers opportunities to form relationships with NPCs (non-player characters), they will generally be heterosexual. If the game is online and offers the opportunity for players to chat, the chat will contain sexist innuendo, people calling each other "fag," describing beating an opponent particularly badly as "raping" them, and either fawning over or harassing players discovered to be female. I am not saying these things are ubiquitous-- I'm saying they are general trends that female players must tolerate if they want to play. They can complain, but they will meet resistance from the majority every time. That doesn't mean complaining is futile, just that effecting any change means having to wade through a lot of bullshit along the way. Privilege is, after all, unacknowledged by its nature. The advice blog Dr. Nerdlove observes
Y’see, one of the issues of male privilege as it applies to fandom is the instinctive defensive reaction to any criticism that maybe, just maybe, shit’s a little fucked up, yo.  Nobody wants to acknowledge that a one-sided (and one-dimensional) portrayal of women is the dominant paradigm in gaming; the vast majority of female characters are sexual objects. If a girl wants to see herself represented in video games, she better get used to the idea of being the prize at the bottom of the cereal box. If she wants to see herself as a main character, then it’s time to get ready for a parade of candyfloss costumes where nipple slips are only prevented by violating the laws of physics. The number of games with competent female protagonists who wear more than the Victoria’s Secret Angels are few and far between. 
The idea that perhaps the way women are portrayed in fandom is a leetle sexist is regularly met with denials, justifications and outright dismissal of the issue. So regularly, in fact, that there’s a Bingo card covering the most common responses. Part of the notion of male privilege in fandom is that nothing is wrong with fandom and that suggestions that it might benefit from some diversity  is treated as a threat.
In that post, Dr. Nerdlove goes on to analyze some of the characters in Batman: Arkham City. Here are some other places to see analysis of female characters in video games and video game art:

Escher Girls -- Addresses physically impossible body types and poses depicted
Boobs Don't Work That Way -- Self-explanatory
Women Fighters in Reasonable Armor -- Show examples of female characters in attire that makes sense

Ryan at Mad Art Lab was inspired by the latter blog to make his own post with suggestions about how to dress female fighter characters called Fantasy Armor and Lady Bits, and then another post which was what actually stimulated me to revive and continue this one: Rubber Spines and Bent Space. In it he delves into a possible biological reason why people find images of humans with impossible proportions and posed in impossible (or very unlikely) positions not only comprehensible but attractive. The most important part of the explanation to me is this, which I'll quote at length because frankly he nails it:
2: Supernormal Stimulus
Why is it that artists are consistently and purposefully going to extra effort to put biologically unlikely characters in physically improbable positions? Well, because it’s effective.
I have heard rather a lot of women and a few men say with conviction that these images are not attractive. I will hereby declare that they are incorrect, at least partly. They are wrong, because they are attractive to me. They are attractive to all of the young men that I know who have purchased / sought out these images simply for their titillating qualities. I will concede, though, that them being attractive doesn’t make good rational sense. That is because they’re not appealing to a rational sense.
The poses and figures of women in things like this: 
Soulfire, Volume 2, Aspen MLT Inc.
are deliberately attempting to exaggerate the sexual characteristics of the character to elicit a reaction beyond what should be possible with a real human. This effect is called supornormal stimulus. In short, it plays on what we find attractive and then extrapolates beyond what is physically possible. Apparently, you can get geese really excited about volleyballs painted like their eggs because that must be the biggest, healthiest egg that was ever laid. The same thing works for sexual characteristics. We like large perky breasts, so make them defy gravity. We like large eyes, make them too big to fit inside a skull. A narrow waist and round hips are appealing, so remove some of that lower intestine and kidneys and shave off some of that pelvic bone. An arched back is a signal of sexual readiness, so a very arched back must indicate an unprecedented level of randiness. Moreover, given the fact that we will fixate on certain details and happily ignore gaps, they can show all of these features at the same time. If you twist a body in such a way as to show off the eyes, legs, waist, hips, breasts, shoulders and butt, you can get hit all of the arousal points simultaneously. 
A human being can’t accomplish these things, of course. Physics and biology put some limits on these attributes so that they never get beyond a certain point. Partly because of that, we’re not trained to easily recognize when they’ve gone beyond the “healthy, youthful” look into the “structurally unsound” area. However, artists are not bound by the constraints of reality and can therefore abuse them for market appeal. 
He goes on to describe what he sees as the ramifications:
3: Unforeseen Consequences 
What’s the harm in producing these images? The artists are producing something that people are buying. It excites the audience and everyone knows that it’s not real. So is there a problem? I argue that there are a couple of problems. 
3.1 Desensitization
As with any stimulus, too much of it and you will numb to the effect somewhat. It’s like walking by a Cinnabon: If you only do it on occasion, the smell is intoxicating. If you do it regularly, you find it satisfying. If you work there, you barely notice it. So too with imagery. The first time you see something erotic, it makes your brain leak out your ears. In order to keep that level of arousal up, the stimulus needs to vary or increase. Anything less will seem bland in comparisson.
So an occasional glimpse at this sort of thing wouldn’t be bad. It would be like an occasional guilty pleasure, like a fine wine or chocolate. But if you’re surrounded by it, then it becomes routine. The supernormal stimulus can become the baseline. 
3.2 Personal Image
Humans can’t be comic book characters. However, those characters are presented as an ideal. They’re more human than human, better in every way. However, unlike a well-toned athlete or the hottest kid in school, they’re an impossible goal. Some people will strive to look like those cartoons and that isn’t healthy. 
3.3 The Feedback Loop
We are attracted to what we’re used to seeing. We generally like partners who are similar to what we were raised with. Media reacts to that demand and provides it in an exaggerated state to get us interested. When we begin to expect the exaggeration, they have to push beyond that to keep our attention.  This push-pull effect can drag the expected, default image of women in impossible directions over time. Troublesome, no?
Video games which allow you to customize your character, usually RPGs (role-playing games) often don't even make it possible to play a female character with a realistic body. And if they do, they also provide options which are so off the charts in terms of supernormal stimulus that they make the more realistic options appear chunky and ugly by comparison. It has been my experience that female gamers typically want to play a character which is attractive. But what happens when they are presented with options including character that are impossibly attractive? They want to play those as well, both because we are of course also susceptible to supernormal stimulus, and because choosing a more realistic option can actually earn negative attention.

Character options for RPGs typically include the chance to choose your class (the kind of powers your character will have) and your race. The former will most likely determine how you dress (melee fighters need armor, of course, whereas magic-wielders can get away with wearing fabrics only and will likely be restricted to such) but the latter will determine your appearance, including body type. In some cases it is literally impossible to make your female character fat and/or small-breasted, not that most people would choose to play such an option. What's interesting though is if you get as close enough to that as possible, achieving a body that would be at least average in real life, females of the race you're playing will be called ugly. If the body of the race you've chosen is muscular rather than slight, females of the race you're playing will be called ugly. Never mind how bizarre would be for someone with a body like Gisele Bundchen (5'11", 125 lbs) to swing an axe with enough force to decapitate a minotaur.
Gamer evaluation: "Nice for a barbarian, I suppose,
but can you make her breasts bigger?"
This creates an interesting quandary for game designers. Male gamers want to be able to play characters who are big and strong. A slight build is acceptable for a mage, but if you're going to play a fighter than piling on the muscles to the point of absurdity is just fine. But for every race, there have to be both male and female counterparts, so there has to be a female option for every barbarian/orc/troll/demon/brute-type creature. Even if no one's going to play her, because nobody wants play a woman who looks large, lumbering and muscle-bound compared to the more dainty-but-physically-impossible options. "Nobody" is of course an exaggeration-- there are some people who are quite happy to do so. They're a distinct minority, and require a thick skin to deal with the ribbing they'll get from other players both in-game and in conversation about the game elsewhere.

My suggestion would be, then, to avoid the supernormal stimulus. Of course if you're going to have distinct races in a game they should differ physically, but please don't give us an option to play Barbie-like characters who literally could not function if they manifested in real life, because that means we're less likely to be penalized for not choosing to play them.  That doesn't mean characters can't be sexy-- the real world, after all, is full of people with real-life sexy bodies. Maybe Gisele couldn't battle a yeti, but I bet Gabrielle Reece or Venus Williams could do some damage. Beautiful women who are not, to use Ryan's awesome term, structurally unsound. 

Another issue is attire-- please don't dress my badass hunter who needs to scramble through dungeon tunnels, leap over barricades, engage in melee combat, and sneak down hallways in a bustier, thigh-highs, and five inch heels. She doesn't need these things in order to be attractive, and putting them on her anyway makes her ridiculous. Plenty of games either force your character to start out in his/her underwear before acquiring armor or at least make it possible to strip down to that state, but the underwear doesn't need to be Victoria's Secret. It doesn't need to take the form of garments that have the primary purpose of being impractical. Yes, a video game is a fictional world, and a fictional world of supermodels fighting evil would be pretty amusing. Just, you know, call it that. Let us acknowledge that that's what it is, and laugh, and not pretend it's anything else. 

I referred to actual behavior between players in-game toward the beginning, but discussion of that will have to wait for other posts. Women in video games is an enormous topic, so this one will have To Be Continued.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Slut-shaming 101

...as explained quite eloquently by a thirteen-year-old girl. My friend Nick shared this with me, and I'm sharing it with you:

Slut-shaming takes away feminist cred (duh)

I'm in love with this post by Amanda Marcotte: Smart Girls Wear Short Skirts, Too, or "Why Lisa Belkin is wrong to condemn college girls for dressing sexy." In it, Marcotte agrees wholeheartedly with some of the concerns Belkin voices in a New York Times article titled "After Class, Skimpy Equality." Specifically, about the social environment in college: campus rape, the apparently real perception of some students that female students have too much power because they can legally refuse sex (!), and disappointment in some really disturbing behavior by fraternity members that has been in the news lately. But that's where the agreement ends. "I have one strong desire that carries through life," Marcotte begins her post, "which is that I never become one of those women who self-identifies as a feminist while conflating the problem of inequality with the non-problem of young women being sexual. Should I ever start assuming that young women who have sex are being had, or if I start hyperventilating about young women wearing miniskirts, I hope I at least have the good sense to give up the writing thing and go into real estate."

I share this desire. However concerned feminists may legitimately be about the image of women in society, when it turns into slut-shaming it veers sharply toward the Dark Side. I know this is not a completely black and white issue, but condemning individual women for how they dress and behave sexually (with consenting adults), suggesting that they are somehow bad people and/or that they deserve to be sexually attacked or harassed is the antithesis of feminism. No ifs, ands, or buts about that. Marcotte continues:
Even more distressingly, Belkin conflates the problem of campus rape with the fact that young women like to look sexy, saying that the young women who wore sexy Halloween costumes to a Duke fraternity party "had mothers who attended more than one Take Back the Night March in their college days," as if being opposed to campus rape and being willing to wear sexy clothes are in opposition to each other.  But as the organizers of Slutwalk know, that's absolutely false.  In fact, you can and should argue that men can look at a woman wearing sexy clothes and think, "She wants to look sexy," and not, "She's asking to be violently assaulted."  
To Belkin, the fact that women dance in their underwear at parties is part of the same pattern that caused a fraternity to circulate an email explaining that women aren't actually people, as if women could get their people status back by putting more clothes on.  But I think that men are perfectly capable of being turned on by a woman dancing in her underwear while never forgetting that said woman has a family that loves her, a mind of her own, and ambitions that are equal to his.  We don't allow men's sexuality to dehumanize them in our eyes.  If a young man spends his weekends partying and flirting with women, and spends his time in the classroom pulling down As, we don't see that as a contradiction. The belief that female sexual expression is uniquely dehumanizing is a double standard, no matter how much you dress it up in feminist language.  Instead of condemning young women for the length of their skirts, why not use that energy for condemning anyone who would think that a woman is lesser-than because she wears a miniskirt?  
Emphasis mine. I think the thing most commonly misunderstood about Slutwalk is that it is essentially a freedom of expression movement. The point was that women should be able to dress and behave as they wish (both means of expression) without being attacked, even if that includes dressing and behaving in ways that some would label as "slutty." Whether or not you think the word "slut" can be reclaimed, or whether you think there's a reason to try, is really beside the issue. I vacillate on that, myself, but it doesn't affect the essential point that the epithet "slut" says nothing about a woman's worth or her right to express herself, sexually or otherwise, in public or private however she chooses if it brings harm to no one. "Slut" was the epithet of choice a Haredi man recently hurled at a young female soldier who chose to sit at the front of the bus in Jerusalem. It was, at its very essence, a word used to degrade a woman for not behaving as though she is inferior.

Sexual attractiveness, performance, and reproduction are functions of women. Reducing women to those functions is what misogynists do, and a collection of functions is not a person. Certainly not in comparison to someone who is capable of all of those but also of things like creativity, invention, logical analysis, will, bravery, authority, athleticism, wit, and eloquence-- traits that are generally admired but whose existence is sometimes denied or ignored in females altogether. Objectification is the act of setting aside those things in order to appreciate appearance or behavior alone, and I don't think it's fundamentally a bad thing. Indeed, I think that people who claim to never objectify others are either lying or lacking in self-awareness. But there's a difference between appreciating those aspects about someone and treating her as though that's all she is, or that that's all women in general are good for. Partial people. Inferiors. It's no accident that an insult with a typically sexual connotation would be used for any woman who acts as though she is worth more than that short list of functions. As Marcotte says, we don't treat men that way no matter how "slutty" they are. To close, she says
 Asking something of men seems to be the big taboo in our culture, even sometimes among feminists. In contrast, scolding women about what they wear is easy, even if it's a red herring.
I often think about how counter-productive it is, from the perspective of a straight male who wants women to display their bodies and be available for sex, to punish them for doing so via shame, intimidation, and even outright attack. In reality, "modesty" is often a euphemism for plain old fear. Fear of being judged, by men and women alike. Fear of being treated as though allowing people to see your parts should remove any expectation of being seen as more than the sum of them. Fear of being penalized for acting in ways that no man would be penalized for. Women sometimes show themselves off and act sexually open out of perceived necessity or insecurity, yes....but they also do it when they feel safe. Why would anyone not want women to feel safe? Especially someone who thinks of him/herself as a feminist? And if you want them to feel safe, why not go after the ones shaming and attacking them, rather than the women themselves?