In response … Stream of Consciousness Solutions to the Candyfloss Costume Problem

Ah, Facebook. The generator of …. deep, potentially volatile, conversation?

Yep. Sometimes.

So this week on Facebook, the old-ish article ‘Nerds and Male Privilege’ has been re-winging its way around my feed. I will totally admit that I posted it on my own page quite some time ago, as it’s something I want to keep forever and ever and hug it and squeeze it and name it George. Dr. NerdLove’s blog is one that I find to be a good read, in fact – and this particular article is well written as well as (in my opinion) pretty much spot on. Especially telling is that the response – on my page as well as on the pages of others has basically been something like this:

Girls: “YES. YES, a thousand time, YES. THIS IS SO TOTALLY IT.”

Guys: “Um… well… yeah, I guess? Maybe? Though not really…”

(Right, loves – that’s a generalisation. I admit it. But that is basically it.)

It’s exactly the reaction – especially from the guys – that Dr. N-L talks about. It’s only, like, four paragraphs before he says exactly this, and repeats it through the article. And still, there are those guys who say, “Eh…but what about….?” What about what, mansplaining? Urg.

Yet a question, and a reasonable one, was posed by my indomitable friend Sean: What’s the solution? He even admits that he is part of the problem, but still asks, what do we do that will result in change?

Well, in light of things like the so-called GamerGate ‘movement’, and both certainly as well as likely correlated events that left some game reviewers feeling so threatened that they left their homes, or a transgender developer’s apparent suicide, I feel like I needed to try and answer this. The underlying attempt to suppress diversity in the gaming community that so-called movement, and the pervasive attitude that discourages some, especially women, from participating and contributing to the industry, is … well, it’s a Thing. It’s a big Thing that reflects not only the state of gaming, but also social media’s affect on culture and the polarising trend in politics, the legal issues and complications surrounding cyber-bullying, and a whole lot of other stuff.

(BeeTeeDubs, I recommend reading Brianna Wu’s personal account of the ways in which the GamerGate movement has affected her. Not only is it a Thing in and of itself, but it includes a number of additional links for reading if you’re interested.)

So I started thinking. Then I tried to write my response in a Facebook comment, but (not shockingly, if you know me… or you’ve read this far already) it became too long. I decided to put it here, on my blog (plus, I can use italics in WordPress)… so this is it, in all its ‘DISCLAIMER: I say what I’m thinking and that’s sometimes harsh and/or unreasonable’ glory.

Just note two things: One, part of my job as an editor is within the gaming and comic industries, and two, this is a response to a comment in a long thread, so there is context that you’re missing. I’m not going to repost any of the thread because I don’t have the permission of all the people involved.

— 

What can one do differently? Sean, you’ve admitted you’re part of the problem. Well, one of things that can be done differently is for you — the predominately male collection of writers and produces and etc of geek publications/media/etc — to stop being a part of the problem. Someone has to go first. That is the way that change happens, and in this industry, it’s overwhelming the fact that those who are in the position of privilege are the ones who are going to have to do it, because there simply aren’t enough women in the industry to do it themselves. I know it’s an extreme illustration and not actually a correlation, but you could think of it this way: someone had to keep her seat on the bus before others started to sit in before others marched on Washington. They got fucked for a while, but eventually that hardship paid off and there was change. If you prefer, look at the Occupy Wall Street folks. Or at the Arab Spring. This is nearly always how change happens.

So yes, you may take a hit in the pocketbook for some period of time, but consider the fact that the more that we (females) can look to a culture we are a part of and want to find ourselves represented in and actually find ourselves represented in some way other than the candyfloss costumes and the ‘oh, God, come save me’ complexes (most of which aren’t representative of us, or aren’t how we want to be), the more we will be willing to put our money into that culture. The female geek population is an almost entirely untapped resource — some of us get involved because our boy/guy-friends buy us a comic in the hope that we might like it, or we buy a few because we know that they will. Some of us stumble into it. But rarely are we directly marketed to. Sometimes we stick to a video game or a graphic novel, but over all? There’s very little to make us want to stay and keep pouring our money into something that only perpetuates the stereotype that we must all be tiny, sexy, dressed in barely anything and either a crazy murder-tastic bitch or a damsel in need of saving, and absolutely nothing else.

Something else you could do? Listen to us. Almost every single girl I know who has read the Dr. NerdLove article has said something to the tune of “Yeeeeep. This is how it is.” But most men have said something like, “Weeeeeell…I can kinda see some of this, but it’s not /really/ that bad.” Or, they point of the one thing that isn’t exactly copacetic, using that to devalue the entirety of the rest of the article. Or, even better yet, they say something like, “Yeah, it’s a problem, but /I/ don’t do it. And you shouldn’t suggest that I do!” These are indications of Not Listening. Look at what almost every woman has said about this article. WE’RE TELLING YOU THAT THIS IS A PROBLEM. HAVE THE GUTS TO LISTEN AND TO ACCEPT THAT SIMPLY BY BEING A MAN, YOU ARE A PART OF THE PROBLEM.

(Sean, my dove, I hope you realise that really, I am no longer talking at you, but just talking in general.)

But before you get your boxers all in a bunch, please understand that this thing about male privilege is not an attack. LISTEN: Male privilege is a societal construct. It’s a part of sexism, just as racism, classicism, or any other type of discrimination is a construct of society. The responses (and, I think, the concern that you are being attacked) come from these constructs. You can’t help that you’re a part of the “dominant group” when you’re a white (in many cases single, in some cases Christian, and generally straight) male. You can’t help that society, very simply, favours you – you can’t help that effectively, your white male forefathers built it that way. Those of us who are aware of the reality of the world know that. But you also need to understand that when you continue to watch, and even laugh at, that Subway commercial where the girl uses her looks to get the slightly nerdy male co-worker to give her his sub, you’re perpetuating the construct. When you write a comic where the woman has no depth, and her only role is to be captured and rescued, and/or draw her in an entirely sexualised manner doing whatever it is she’s doing, you’re perpetuating the construct. When you admire and praise all those girls at the ComicCon in their skimpy anime outfits, but forget that the girls in the jeans and the sweatshirts exists, you’re perpetuating the construct. Even when you simply say or do nothing, you are perpetuating the construct, and are therefore a part of the problem. It’s not your fault, exactly – it’s just the way things are. 

And that’s why we girls say what we say, and why we’d like to see some change. It’s why we’d like for you to do some things differently.

And yes – those (sometimes) tragic girls in their skimpy anime outfits looking for the praise and attention are, in different ways, a part of the problem, too. But it is an entirely different part of the problem. And it is still a problem. Let me show you something — another illustration, of the formation of racial identity.

Seriously. Click this shit right here.

Take a look both pages. These are written in reference to racism, but they apply to sexism as well (since intersectionality is a thing). The first page of the racial idenity illustration, in this case, would be for women, the second page for men. Just read it – and think about what you see from both women and men in geek culture. Does this help illustrate some of the reasons behind the discomfort from men — and some of the behaviours of women? (I’m hoping so — because it seriously helped me get what I was seeing, when I was introduced to it. And as a note, scholars say that most people exist somewhere between the first two or the second and third stages – and that the last stage is by far the most difficult. They also say that people fluctuate between one stage and another, because of the discomfort and the challenges from society.)

How to change, in relation to identity development, comes down to this (which is also written in reference to racism, but is still applicable):

  • Racist/sexist: To be a racist or sexist is to oppose, belittle, or denigrate members of a particular racial or ethnic group or gender in speech, action or belief.
  • Non-racist/Non-sexist: To be a non-racist or a non-sexist is to acknowledge that racism and sexism exist and occur but to not actively confront or challenge the racism or sexism that you hear about or witness. Your silence and non-action implies acceptance and allows racism and sexism to continue.
  • Anti-racist/ Anti-sexist: To be an anti-racist or anti-sexist is to oppose, confront, and challenge statements, actions, and beliefs that belittle, stereotype and demean the other.

(from — http://www.diversitycelebration.com/models-of-racial-identity/)

The fact is, there is SO MUCH that could be done that throwing out one suggestion is like tossing the needle into the haystack.

I like throwin’ shit, though.

When women are represented in the ranks of creative directors, editors, marketers and so on, when their opinions are not just heard but accepted and implemented, giving the chance for trial and error and learning, then maybe there will be some noticeable change. When women are drawn like real women in actual clothes, when XBox bans users who verbally abuse female players, when dudes at the bar no longer decide to demean a girl as a slut or a bitch because she knows more about the football teams playing than they do (alright – that’s not geekdom, but still – it totally happens), then we will start seeing some change. But when men are the ones who challenge and oppose the treatment of women in the genre, and the behaviors of both men and women – like the white folks who sat in at lunch counters, next to black folk and for the same reasons – that is when we will see the most potent change.

Or so I believe.

(You could also market the Lantern series like you do the Harry Potter books. That would also be some genius.)

Why – In the End – I Am OK With Days Of Future Past

So another comic book movie with a whole lotta dudes (13, if you’re really only counting the main mutants and your “antagonist”) and (in this case) four chicks. Four chicks. Most of whom never speak to one another.

Here there be spoilers. Ish. And Feminism. Proceed with caution.

 

It was during the opening credits, which had literally no people in them, when I realised that I may never really be able to turn my feminist brain off and “just enjoy” a movie or a song again – not without cringing at those stereotypes that perpetuate douchebro culture, or vapid sex object culture, and sexism, or racist stereotypes, or whatever. For a moment, I was confused – I’m watching a wonky DNA helix, not a Bud commercial. Why am I freaking out at DNA? But then I thought back to the Bud commercial they’d shown just before the previews started. The commercials and the trailers did me in before we’d even gotten to the credits. I’m gonna watch Kingsmen; The Secret Service – because Colin Firth – but I will be annoyed because there appears to be only one fucking woman in a secret agent hero movie. Again. Filling the ice-queen-bad-ass-bitch trope. Again.

I tried, though, to turn off the Feminist Brain for Days of Future Past. (Failed, but I did try.) I tried to say to myself, you can watch this movie once without picking shit apart. When you watch it the second time – and you will, because you really do watch everything that has James McAvoy in it over and over and over again – then, you can pick shit apart and cringe and be sad about the failed Bechdel test you already know will happen.

Like I said, I failed to turn off the Feminist Brain.

But I did not hate this movie.

Yes, having only four major (I use that word loosely) female characters was irritating in a cast with 13+ major (still using the term loosely) male characters. Note, I’m counting Blink, Kitty Pryde, Storm and Mystique here as the females: Charles and Professor X, Magneto and Eric, Wolver-‘uckin’-ine, Colossus, Iceman, Hank/Beast, Trask, Bishop, Quicksilver, Sunspot, and Warpath as the males.

It was nice that they gave Kitty some phasic powers (that even almost make sense for her to have) to place her as integral to the plot, and didn’t then later sacrifice her for the sake of Logan or Bobby, or even Professor X – though they could have, given Logan’s freak outs. It was less nice that Blink had, like, zero lines … but I can get over that, because she is hardly known and Bishop, Sunspot and Colossus had like zero lines, too. (That Storm had actual lines made me sad, but that’s because I’ve never been a fan of Halle Berry as Storm. I just haven’t.)

But then it looked like they were kinda gonna make the movie about Wolverine being That Guy Who Will Muddle Along To Fix Everything. Yes, you needed to redeem him after X-Men Origins. I get it. But … well. I guess, as much as it is clear to me that Hugh Jackman’s acting chops have, in fact, gotten stronger, I am not that much in love with Wolverine.

So here I am, watching the Wolverine Makes Everyone Hug It Out show, enjoying for the sake of it the scenes between younger Charles and Eric though feeling like there’s not quiiiiiiite enough time taken for that tension. (I should note right here: I love Fassbender and McAvoy. I love them so hard, and I hope that, in 40 years, they are as super adorbs as Stewart and McKellan are together, and that they do Rep theatre of Oscar Wilde and Molière on Future-Broadway that I will totter – or hover in a future-time no-wheels-chair – to NYC to see.) There are little interludes of what’s happening in the future, as well as what Mystique is up to, and what Trask is up to – but it’s mostly about this Wolverine-Charles-Eric-and-oh-yeah-Hank’s-here-too party.

And I found myself sad. Not super, super sad … but a little sad. And wondering at the pacing, which was kinda slow for a comic book movie. Not hatefully slow, just unexpectedly slow, and also a bit disappointing. Until the scene in the airport, where Charles tries to convince Raven to leave off her murderous mission – and says the absolute wrong thing.

I realised – this movie literally hinges on Mystique’s choices. Hell, it literally hinges on Mystique herself. Both her choices and her actual physical self are the key to everything that is happening. Everything that the other characters are doing, they are doing to try and change one woman’s mind – or to stop that woman from falling into the wrong hands, depending on whether they are ultimately “good” (Charles) or ultimately “bad” (Eric). And the thing that caps that choice is Charles, in the crux moment, saying to her that all her life, he’d been trying to control her – and that trying to control her is shitty, because he can’t and he shouldn’t, so he’s going to stop. There are other men (Hank, at this particular time) telling him to use his power to shut her down, but he refuses. He’s leaving the literal future of the entire world up to her.

It’s set up rather beautifully – in the scene earlier that I mentioned, in the airport, where Charles tries to convince Raven – his Raven, he says, not Eric’s Mystique – to come home so that they can fix this big, world-ending problem. But what he says is, “You have to come home.” And Raven looks at the projection of Charles and is like, dude, I am DONE with you telling me what I have to do. I know what I have to do, and it is pretty much not the shit you’ve decided I have to do. His words suggested that she had no choice, and she wasn’t having that. This woman was going to do what she wanted, not what Charles wanted.

And she does. Whoa, she does. I didn’t think about it until after, but literally every thing that Mystique does in this movie she makes her own choice to do. She is solo, and brutally effective, through almost all of her storyline. She doesn’t even let Eric get into her head, though he makes an argument she clearly feels is – ahem – compelling, because while she agrees that sometimes you gotta break and egg or two to make an omelet, she is not all about Eric’s desire to break all the eggs and all the skulls and really all the things ever as long as it makes his point. (Really, Eric? You needed an entire baseball stadium plus all the sentinels plus ripping metal boxes up outta the White House? REALLY? That dude is seriously melodramatic, y’all.)

Sure. You could argue that Charles is saying what he says in the end to manipulate Mystique – but I think it’s been pretty well established by this point in the movie that it’s not Charles who is actively manipulative – it’s Eric. Charles is capable of using his powers to change minds, but he is far less capable of just using his words to do so. In the way that the movie illustrates the concept of manipulation between Eric and Charlies, Charles doesn’t actually seem to have the confidence to do it – he thinks that he needs his powers for that kind of manipulation. When he tells Mystique it’s up to her, he means it. And when he tells her that he’s going to stop trying to control her, he’s going to stop telling her what her choices should be, he means it.

I admit – I almost wanted her to shoot Trask anyway. It is correct that she didn’t, because HOORAY X3 CAN TECHNICALLY NO LONGER EXIST!!!, but I appreciated the idea that her agency could end in violence.

Which, in a way, is a subject for another blog post. That I’ll prolly never get around to.

 

Why it’s OK that chivalry is dead.

So before I get started, there’re some things I should say first: kinda like a disclaimer.

I say a lot of crazy stuff. I generally don’t care what people think of the crazy stuff that I say. I also don’t generally care if it’s “accurate” – I write (or speak) based on my own impressions and feelings about something. I don’t usually look things up. You might need all your opinions to be completely supported by concrete facts – I don’t. Because there are so many things that are based as much in perception as they are supported by ‘science.’

That’s just how I am.

I expect that means that only people who are my friends will read this stuff, since if they didn’t appreciate – or at least accept – the way I conduct my thinking, they would (I’d hope) stop being my friends. I’m alright with that. All I ask of friends is that they remember that I’m not trying to tell you what the truth is. I’m just here telling you my truth.

So, chivalry.

Today I ended up in a totally-not-serious quippy discussion on Facebook. A friend, in mock despair, asked why he should be denied a shield maiden. He wants an Eowyn. I suggested that maybe it’s because there are few maidens in the world, and maybe he could adjust for a shield matron. (What was in my mind, by the by, is that generally a maiden is expected to be virginal. Certainly there’s the expectation in the Lord of the Rings series that Eowyn is a virgin, as is appropriate for that kind of setting.) A friend of his whom I don’t know suggested its because he’d only ignore her, like all kings of Gondor (more LotR), in favour of a doomed love. That same friend then responds to me, saying that, “the blessing of chivalry is that, to us, all ladies are maidens.”

Ah, chivalry. Pigeonholing women since the middle ages. Maybe. If legends are to be believed. Tales of heroism and romance and knights and damsels in towers and quests and ….

Yeah.

This is where I had to remind myself that this is Facebook, this not a serious discussion, and I don’t know this chivalrous dude.

And this is where my friend said, “And he stole my line!”

And this is where I facepalmed.

What makes someone think that every woman wants to be thought of as a “maiden?” I realize that this was I no way the point of the conversation but really? I was annoyed. Why can’t I be a shield matron? Why can’t I be a shield woman? A shield chick? Some women might want to be maidenly. Not me.

And let’s then discuss how chivalrous Eragorn not only preferred his doomed love with the willowy elven damsel, but how he, and King Whasssisface, both chivalrously denied Eowyn’s wish to do battle? Chivalry doesn’t actually encourage women to be Eowyns. Chivalry wants for damsels tossing kerchiefs as knights ride off to war.

Well, you may object – I mean modern chivalry then. Oh you do? No you don’t. Or every lady wouldn’t have to be a maiden. She could be a ride or die bitch, instead.