Friday, November 30, 2007

Is it just me...

Or is there a lot of tension around the blogosphere today?

It seems like it, to me, at least.

So, I just thought I'd share a couple of my favorite webcomics to lighten the mood a little bit.

Cat and Girl is almost pure awesome. It's got pop-culture criticism, a philosophical bent, and a slightly twisted sense of humor, and the source for one of my favorite t-shirts. Great stuff.

I'm also a big fan of xkcd, a very geek-oriented comic that plays around with computers, math, video-games, and general weirdness as well. Also: Bill Nye

So, enjoy!

And feel free to make some suggestions if you've got a webcomic you read, too.

Breaking News...

A man has taken hostages from a Clinton campaign center in NH.

There's very information about what he wants, or how many hostages he's got. Every time I hear someone complaining about how "savage" people in places like Sudan are, I want to shake them and point at things like this. Bad shit happens everywhere.

I only hope that, whatever else happens, the hostages leave physically unharmed.

I've said it all along: Iron Man is an ass.

You'd think that I'd love Iron Man. He's a rich guy with health problems who built himself a robotic exoskeleton with which he fights crime and saves the day. I think I should like Iron Man, anyway. My love of robots frequently extends to things that are robot-like. Robocop? Not a robot, but I love him.

Iron Man, though. Well, he's a jerk (I keep wanting to say "Iron Man is a dick" but I'm trying to get away from gendered insults. It's very difficult.). He's always such an arrogant snot, and the recent events in Marvel's Civil War didn't exactly endear him to me, either. When he's written like a far-right military-industrialist facist who wants to erode personal rights and liberties... he's not very likable.

Still, every so often, I think to myself "Self, maybe I should give Iron Man another chance." The Iron Man annual came out recently, and there was a time when annuals were a big deal- they were pure awesome. Given how infrequently I buy individual issues, though, it's not a surprise that I didn't end up picking up Iron Man's. And, thanks to Rachelle, over at Living Between Wednesdays, I can be glad for that fact.

I'm afraid I can't do justice to the insanity that is Iron Man's annual. He's the director of the most powerful security agency on the planet- like the United Nations if the United Nations had overarching military authority across the globe. He's surrounded by capable, intelligent, well trained soldiers and secret agents.

And apparently the mission requires that they all wear tiny bikinis, lavish him with attention, and visit a strip club?


The panel that takes the cake, though? During a fight, one of his agents gets burned on the sternum by the bad guy. That leads to this lovely exchange:


I don't even know what to make of that.

Seriously: I get that it's supposed to be some kind of play on the Charlie's Angels thing. Rich playboy super-hero/secret agent (How, exactly he's a "secret" agent, I'm not clear. I stopped keeping track of how many times Tony Stark has had his identity as Iron Man outed) surrounded by stereotypical scantily clad spy-chicks. It's really not very clever, though. It's not clever, and it's been done before, and, quite frankly, it doesn't do anything to change the perception that Iron Man is a huge asshole who treats women like crap. It was bad enough when they had him rubbing the former director of SHIELD's face in her demotion by telling her to get him a cup of coffee, but now he's treating women with PhDs like playthings, making them dress up in bathing suits and rub oil on him? Ugh.

And yes, I'm sure that the story has some bullshit justification for the cheesecake factor- but you know what? Somebody wrote it, and somebody okayed it, and then somebody ended up drawing that woman saying that she doesn't have the rack for a low-cut dress. In the end, I'm sticking by my feeling glad to not have given them my money. You're a jerk, Iron Man.

I'm sticking with Batman. Sure, he's a jerk, too, but he doesn't make the women in his books wear lingerie for battle gear.

Thankfully, all is not terribly in the world of comics. For every (10? 20?) Iron Asshole: Director of Shields out there, there are things like Gail Simone's awesome debut on Wonder Woman, or writers/artists out there willing to suggest that maybe that Mary-Jane thing wasn't so tasteful after all.

What would you do...

I just finished reading this story. Angela Leet was making a purchase at a gas station and passed a note to the clerk when she signed the receipt that said "If I need help, be a witness." Eight minutes later she was brutally murdered by her husband, who shot her in the driveway of their home.

Now, the clerk said that sie could tell that something was wrong, and asked her if she need help. Leet seems to have indicated that something was wrong, and showed the clerk her black eye, but signed the receipt and got back in the car and drove away.

I'm not sure what the clerk did after that.

I hope that the clerk called the police, but the article doesn't mention that. If I were still working retail and a customer did those things, I think I'd do my best to try to stall them in the store, while I called 911. She was clearly in some kind of trouble, and, from the clerk's description, afraid of getting back in the car. At the very least, I'd think you'd call 911 and say "Hey, this woman was just in here, and I think she's being assaulted or kidnapped, here's the note she left on the receipt."

I assume that most of us have never been in a situation quite like this, but what about you? Have you ever stepped in to prevent some kind of spousal/partner abuse? Have you ever called the police when you suspected something violent was happening? Have you ever failed to intervene and wished you had?

There was a situation in a building I lived in where a woman and her boyfriend were living together, and had a really messy breakup. The entire time I lived there, they fought constantly. Most of the time it was just annoying and loud and I wished they'd shut up or break up, but after they broke up, he came into the building and was pounding on her door and they were fighting. They eventually got back together, and, as far as I know, he never assaulted her, but, to this day, I feel guilty for not calling the police.

He didn't belong there, and he was pounding on her door and making a scene. I should have called, and I didn't. I can only imagine how I'd feel if he had done something. At the time, I was terrified that if I did something, it would come back to me, and he'd retaliate. I was afraid to go into the hallway and make sure everything was okay, because he was there, and he was bigger than me. I was afraid to call the police because... well... I'm not exactly sure why. I guess part of it was that I was afraid I'd call the police and he'd already be gone, or he'd know it was me that called or they'd say that nothing was wrong, and the police would be upset with me.

All of which I realize are ridiculous.

Anyway, if I had it to do over again, I'd call the police. Whatever weird hangups I'm having are nothing compared to the actual threat to someone, and the risk that that person could be physically harmed. My weird emotional/mental hangups about calling the police aren't worth risking another person's safety over. I'm glad nothing happened in that case, but my lack of action and the potential for much worse outcomes still bothers me and disappoints me to this day. And stories like this just reinforce to me how important taking action is.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

This headline pisses me off... -or- Porn stars are people, too.

So, I was browsing the local paper, and I came across this headline: Missing college student led a double life as online porn star. The story is about Emily Sander, a woman who went missing last weekend, and is, at this point, assumed dead. Police are searching for a man named Israel Mireles, since he was the last person seen with her. They searched his hotel, and found "a large quantity of blood".

Now, read the first line of that article: "A missing Kansas college student believed to be the victim of foul play apparently led a double life as an Internet porn star by the name of Zoey Zane."

What, exactly, does this have to do with anything?

At this point? Nothing. The police are looking into it, but so far there's no reason to believe that her posting pictures on the internet had anything to do with whatever happened to her. According to a close friend of the missing woman, Sander had just recently signed a contract for the work, and had told her parents, but didn't want people to know. So what does ABC news do?

Oh, they go and ask her grandparents about it. Nice.

Ultimately, this sort of thing pisses me off. It's not enough that this woman is missing and presumed dead, or that the primary suspect is likely making a run for the border with his pregnant 16 year-old girlfriend? They have to publicize her private activities? They have to confront her grandmother with this?

And the comments are worse. The very first comment to the article? "So where are the photo's Freep?" Lovely. Because, yeah, that's classy- this woman is probably dead, and you want to ogle her naked pictures. Ass. Over on this story the comments aren't any better:

"Missing Student May Have Been Porn Star"...That headline is taken from an headline...Does anyone know if it is true? If it is true, it would represent and sad and disgusting turn in this case. Therefore, we may all have been wrong thinking that this missing person story was as tragic as the other stories listed the ABC news site because there is no evidence they engaged in reckless and dangerous activities.

I know that other blogs have covered this before, in relation to judges treating sex-workers like shit, but, Christ on a cracker, this woman is missing and presumed dead, and the fact that she posted some pornographic pictures on the web represents a sad and disgusting turn in the case? Really? It wasn't sad and disgusting when it was thought that a random guy murdered her? And the story is less tragic because she may have done porn? Posting pictures of herself was a reckless and dangerous activity? Fuck you.

It doesn't matter what her professional occupation was- she's still a human being, and still deserving of respect and sympathy. Why does the fact that she's done some internet porn matter one iota? Why should it be less tragic? That she did internet porn doesn't make her more deserving of violence. That she did internet porn doesn't make the fact that she's missing and presumed dead less painful to her family and friends. If it turns out that she has been murdered, it doesn't make the murderer less sick, or the crime less heinous and deplorable.

The attitude that women who work in porn are less valuable as human beings or that terrible things that happen to them aren't as bad as if they happened to someone else is what is really disgusting here. I left a comment to that article saying as much. It's not enough to be angry and say these things on my own space, where the asshole who made the statement isn't likely to see it.

In which my brain makes connections that may or may not exist...

I'm coming to the table late, but for those who don't know, we're four days into the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence. I've been rather lax in blogging (which happens sometimes), but I'd be remiss if I didn't mention it, and point to a few of the really great articles out there you should be reading.

First of all, Cara has a really amazing post about promoting rape that you should be checking out.

Holly, guest blogging at feministe, has a really powerful story up about Transgender Day of Remembrance, and her feelings on it, as well as what happened this year. It's a really heartbreaking story, and it's hard to read it without getting angry but also severely saddened. Check it out.

Baby221 is royally pissed off about the Megan Meier case. It is, as she points out, some fucked up shit.

What do these stories have in common? They're just a few of the many faces that violence against women take. When we think of violence against women, it's almost always in two contexts: spousal/partner abuse, or rape. But, the reality is that violence against women takes dozens and dozens of forms. As Cara points out, those products promote violence against women- by minimizing and mocking the seriousness of rape, and by presenting it as something funny. Violence against transgendered women is still violence against women, and we ought to care about it more than one day a year. And yet, even as they're facing the threat of transphobic violence at the hands of the authorities and random people on the street, trans-women face violence from within the feminist community, too. The suicide, and the contributing factors leading up to it, of Megan Meier is a terrible tragedy. She was a young girl who was, by most accounts, facing a lot of social pressures and was really unhappy. An adult used her fears against her, and betrayed her trust.

And, of course, Holly's post and baby221's post aren't what we typically think of when we think of violence against women, and there are factors that were "more important" to the situations than their statuses as women, but it seems to me that there's overlap there. I think that their femaleness isn't irrelevent to the situations being described. Certainly, Heart's reaction to trans-women is very much about the status of women. And most of the stories I've read about the Meier case talk about the social factors that she was facing, which have been described in very gendered terms. If being a woman wasn't the primary factor in the actual violence, it was almost certainly a factor in the ways that people treated them, and in the events leading up to the violence.

Or maybe I'm over-analyzing and seeing connections where they don't exist? I suppose that's a possibility. Regardless, read the stories. They're important.

Monday, November 26, 2007

More on Sex(ism) in Video Games

Back when I worked at Ye Olde Book Shoppe, we used to stock a full assortment of Adult Magazines, most of which seemed to be aimed at either straight or gay men. Despite having to deal with the sale, ordering, and placement of magazines like Playboy for several years, I'd pretty much forgotten about this (nsfw) intersection of pornography and games). I had completely forgotten that Playboy runs an issue every year that features the "girls of gaming".

Who, exactly, thinks that something like this is a good idea?

I'm sure that all of the people who were slamming Jade Raymond and Ubisoft are all over this story, right? Right?

Alright, maybe not. Sure, there are a couple of comments along the lines of "Wow, this is pretty blatant" but there are a lot of comments more along the lines of "Why didn't they get hotter characters that we know?"

And then there's this wonderful piece of advertising criticism.

Now, as the comments there show, this sort of advertising is really transparent. We're not stupid- we know when you're trying to use nudity to get us to buy your game, and if it's a shitty game, we're not going to fall for it. And yet, we keep seeing crap like this. From Kane and Lynch's Playboy contest, to that Need For Speed ad, to the Playboy pictorials, to promo material for the new Soul Calibur game, there's a sense that gamers only care about one thing as much or more than games... breasts. Of course, recent events have done little to counteract that impression.

These are instances are a company that is exploiting women for the sake a few dollars. When they do things like this, they contribute to the generally culture of sexism that gaming is currently saturated with. These sorts of things encourage pretty shitty attitudes towards women, and are one of the things that lead to gamers treating women who game like their sole purpose is to expose themselves for male gratification. Ads like this display the attitude that gaming is a male hobby, and encourage "men's club" attitudes. After all, gamers can say, "video gaming is a guy thing, if women want to get invovled, they need to expect it."

Prior to the Playboy debacle, I was interested in Kane and Lynch, so this doesn't really change my feelings there. But, I was interested in Conan, Tabula Rasa sounded interesting, and Jericho has been getting decent reviews. Now, I'll be putting my money elsewhere.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Wednesday Randomness...

Did you know that Wednesday is named after Woden/Odin? Or that, according to wiki, it's "popular tradition" to wear sweater vests to work on Wednesdays? Does anyone do that? I've never noticed it, for sure.

I also didn't know that the line "Wednesday's child is full of woe" was the inspiration for Wednesday Adams. That makes sense, though.

I did know that Solomon Grundy (born on a Monday) was married on a Wednesday. It's a shame he died on Saturday.

Of course, that led me to discover that the name "Solmon Grundy" was most probably derived from the dish salmagundi, which, quite frankly, sounds awesome.

Which is to say that this post is just a little random weirdness and (I hope) fun stuff to get you through the middle of the week. Because, can't we all use a little bit of silliness in our lives?

Take, for example: The Superest! If you're like me, you've often pondered the imponderable ponders- could Batman really beat Captain America in a fight (Survey says "no", according to these fans)? Could Wonder Woman take down Tony Stark? Scarlet Witch or Zatanna? Well, you won't find your answers at here, but you will find a battle of super powers being played out to determine who is the superest.

Basically, it's a game being played out where each player tries to come up with a character that counteracts the abilities of the character before it. One of my favorites is Magma Carta, who limits the rights of the monarchy, while instantly vaporizing plastic (it vanquished Queen Zip of the Loch, a character who heavily taxed plastic bags). Sadly, my beloved Magma Carta was defeated by the cold jaws of the Iron Cabinet (who files documents away... forever!).

But, can anything really defeat the glory that is Poachbot 12-p6? It's the deadliest mechanical-monster-poaching poaching-mechanical-monster known to all of mechanical-monsterkind.

You know what else is awesome? Spot the differences. I know, I know. We used to do this silly things on the backs of the magazines in the doctor's office, right? Well, these are flash-based, and they've got some really cool designs.

Speaking of Flash: if you loath the undead as much as I do, you might want to take a glance at Herbert West: De-Animator- a Flash game by Bum Lee (and a sort of spoof on the Lovecraft story "Herbert West: Re-Animator"). It's pretty simple stuff, but I've killed more than a little time shooting zombies on it, I have to admit.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Character Assassin's Creed... More Misogyny in Gaming

I really want to post something good about gaming.

I really do.

Instead, I'm forced to keep pointing out the failings of games and gaming culture. The problem is that, despite my love for games, gaming culture remains a pretty awful place in a lot of ways. It's bad enough that gaming itself is treated like male hobby, despite the many, many, many examples to the contrary. But, when I read a story like this one, from feministe, it's enough to make me scream.

I admit that I might be late on this one- much of my online time is spent at work, and I don't read much gaming news (if they've even touched this story), but for those even more behind than I am: Jade Raymond is a producer for Ubisoft, and her latest game, Assassin's Creed, came out recently. By most counts, it's supposed to be a pretty awesome game. You'd think this is good news, right?

Not so much.

See, there are two problems.
1. Raymond has a vagina.
2. Raymond works in a field that is seen as male territory. She makes products typically made by and for men.

Now, really, neither of these are actually the problem. The real problem is that there are some assholes out there who see the fact that they find her attractive or that she's a woman in a "male field" to be justification for treating her like shit.

It started with comments about hot she is on sites like Kotaku and in other gaming publications. Who cares that she's working on one of the hottest games of the year, a title that people have been clamoring for since the first video trailers were shown, a title that's graced magazine covers and had gamers drooling for months and months now... she's hot, and that's all that matters. It's much more important to hear about how fuckable she is, or how much people wish they could meet her or find a "girl" as hot as her.

And the really sad thing is that these sorts of comments? They barely register anymore. They're so common in the gaming world- the constant objectification of women associated with gaming- that they're easy to miss. They don't even appear as blips on the radar to most people. It'd almost be more noteworthy if the forums and boards weren't filled with sexist bile. I can't speak for my fellow bloggers, but on the rare occasions that I do go onto a non-feminist gaming site looking for news or information, I know that I can't stay too long or pay too much attention, because the level of sexism and misogyny tends towards "extreme".

If it had stopped with mouth-breathing knuckle-draggers lamenting how they wish they could touch her and how hawt she is, most nongamers probably wouldn't be reading about Raymond, because... well... that's status quo. We're at a state right now where about the best you can expect is that any woman associated with gaming is going to be put on display and talked about like she's a piece of meat. Gamer forums are going to be filled with disgusting posts about her body. If woman plays or makes games, she's seen as public property on gaming forums, and they'll endlessly debate how hot she is.

And the fact that I've come to expect that level of misogyny makes me beyond sad.

But, of course, it didn't stop there. It didn't stop with those types of comments and it didn't stop with hoax postings about her posing for Maxim. Instead, World Class Asshole and All Around Class Act Dave Cheung decided to up the ante and created a pornographic comic depicticting Raymond as a bikini-wearing idiot who services fan-boys.


Nevermind that this is one of the major creative forces behind Assassin's Creed. Nevermind her degree in computer science. Nevermind all the hard work she's put in. Because a bunch of gamers have decided she's the hotness, she's depicted as a fan-servicing moron who can't even pronounce "creative".

As Holly points out, the typical sexist apologism has already started and is in full swing:

People can say whatever they want because of free speech! (Wow, congratulations on being lucky enough to have rights. Now stop using them to be an asshole, why don’t you.) It’s all Ubisoft’s fault for exploiting her as a poster girl! (Which is why it’s OK to treat her, personally, that way? Also, it’s part of her job.) Who does she think she is, wearing a cute top like that and standing in front of the other Assassin’s Creed developers? (Serious shades of Sweatergate right there.) It’s not her game and I bet she didn’t even do any of the real development!

Raymond and Ubisoft have been fighting back- a cease and desist letter was sent to Something Awful, and while I fully support her fighting to get the comic removed, I recognize how hard that's going to be- these things tend to become viral very quickly, and it's going to be hard, if not impossible, to find all of the comics and remove them. And, of course, even as she fights to assert her rights, she's demonized for it. The creator of the comic is taking her fighting back as a sign of "victory" of a sort- he's put a "Made Jade Cry" notice on his site. Classy, right?

This is exactly the sort of thing that I'm going to be talking about at WAM!

This is just one of many reasons why women end up feeling threatened and intimidated by traditional "male" careers and industries. You read stories like this, or the Kathy Sierra story, and you have to ask yourself, "if I knew going into my career that people were going to try to humiliate me and harass me and post disgusting, potentially threatening comments about the things they'd like to do to me, just because of my gonads, would I still want to get involved in that career?"

I wouldn't.

And if you show even an ounce of compassion, prepare to hear at least a few people comment about how she deserved it in some way:

Poor taste, but then Ubisoft must be fairly naive if they think they can capitalise on a hot woman in front of a bunch of undersexed geeks and get away with it. - fire&wings

The same stupid argument has been trotted out over in the thread on feministe, too. How dare Ubisoft present the producer of the game as the public face for inteviews! It's simply outragious! And obviously unheard of!

Because, clearly, nobody else gives interviews about the games they're making, right? Certainly, there are no men who capitalize on fame within the gaming industry. Miyamoto who? Hideo Kojima? Never heard of him. American McWhosit? Civ Meier? Williams somebody? Will right? Tommy "I'm a Huge Tool Who Reinforces Everything Bad About Gaming" Tallarico? Nope, clearly, Raymond is the only person who has been presented as a public face for gaming. Nobody else has ever been as much or more in the spotlight than the games they were involved in making.

And, really, I want to know how, exactly, Ubisoft was exploiting her to market the game. I've seen dozens of ads and videos for this game, and until yesterday I had no idea what Raymond looked like, at all. The ads have largely focused on the gameworld and the innovative control scheme (I haven't played it, but that's what the marketing has been about). Interviews? I knew she was giving them- but, again, that's her job- I expect the producer of a game to give interviews- particularly on a game as highly anticipated as Assassin's Creed was.

The interest in Raymond came from sites like Kotaku and from game forums and blogs and the rumor mill. It came from people completely unassociated with Ubisoft who were more interested, or at least as interested, in talking about Raymond's body than in talking about Assassin's Creed. The blame for Raymond being the focus of some sites coverage of AC doesn't lie with her or with Ubisoft, but with the sites themselves. Ubisoft can't force Kotaku to publish intelligent articles. That's up to the writers there.

Apparently, the creator of the comic released this statement:

Hoo boy. Who’d have thought 2 hours of messing around in Photoshop due to random boredom one night could result in so much DRAMA! Actually, it was probably inevetiable since the internet is full of morons who think they know everything (myself included).

So, to dispel some misunderstandings caused by up-their-own-arse moralistic faggots, here’s a “Buy Jade’s Game” MORAL-O-FAQ!

Q: Did you Buy Jade’s Game?
A: As a matter of fact, I did. I’ve had it pre-orderded since before I knew of poor Jade’s existence, since it looked quite nifty. Sadly, despite being promising in many areas, it gets very boring rather quickly, and has the most ridiculous plot since Star Ocean 3 (This is Jade’s game… with a Sci-fi/Horror twist). Oh well.

Q: Why do you hate Jade? Leave Jade alone!
A: Personally, I have nothing against her. I just found the entire situation of HER being more heavily marketed and gaining more “press” (and I use the term loosely) coverage, than THE GAME to be somewhat amusing. In fact, fair do’s to her working her way to a cushy position like “Executive Producer”, it really is the ideal job; since all you do is sit around doing nothing and get paid for it. RESULT!
But I digress, this has nothing to do the matter at hand.

Q: What statement are you trying to make with the Jade Comic?
A: If you would take some time to read the links I originally posted along with the comic, you see that the primary reason for it’s existence is the “Jade Hype” on videogame forums, blogs and “news” sites like Kotaku (lolz). Although Ubi-Soft UNDOUBTEDLY whored Jade out to an extent, it really wasn’t any more than how say, Cliffy B whore’s HIMSELF out. The difference is, forum nerds, bloggers and Kotaku (lolz) got rather more hot and bothered for Jade than they would for old Cliffy.
So, I suppose Jade could be classed as “Collateral Damage”, which may not be very fair, but honestly, if you really care about something as trivial as a comic, you’re a collossal faggot (that goes for you ladies too). A joke is a joke, and is only as harmful to you as you let it be.
When someone makes a joke about you, it is YOU who chooses whether or not it becomes EPIC BUTTHURT, not the other way around.

Q: What if Ubi-Soft sue you?
A: They won’t, because they don’t have a case. As obviously tastless and unsubtle as the comic may be, it is no different to (for example) Dave Chappele dressing up as R.Kelly and pretending to pee in someone’s mouth or cartoons in newspapers showing George Bush as the devil. It is merely bullying tactics, and would reflect more badly on them than anyone else.

Q: What is a “moralfag”?
A: A moralfag is a person who’s principals are so far wedged up their own backside that they believe that any any remotely derogatory commentary made on anyone else is unnaceptable, unfounded, sexist, racist and, possibly, EVIL. That is, of course, unless they are the ones doing it. Moralfags are also utterly convinced that their view of morality is the ONLY view, and anyone who disagrees can GTFOTHX!
In summary, a moralfag is 99% of DeviantArt users. OH SHIT!

Q: Are you a moralfag?
A: No, I’m just a self-satisfied cunt.

Have fun flaming, arse-lickers!

Well, there you have it.
These are the words of a person who considers himself a "liberally minded person".

And that is what we're up against. Even the guy who made the comic admits that the bulk of Raymond's publicity came from blogs and forums, not from any official source, and that she's "Collateral Damage", but, hey, it's fine, because, you know, it's just a joke!.

Har. Har.

At this point, I almost worry that I'm becoming a broken record. How many times do we have to point out "It doesn't matter what she looks like"? "It doesn't matter if you think she's hot- her attractiveness doesn't have anything to do with what she's doing"? "Judge her actions, not her appearence"? If the game is good (and it's been getting generally positive reviews, not that that means much), who cares whether the producer is attractive or not? It's still a good game. And, if the game sucks, why would it matter whether the producer was hot or not? Whatever she looks like doesn't change how good or bad the game is.

So, how do we get that across? How do we fight this kind of thing?

For me, one of the things that I do is, when I hear about a story like this, I make sure that I talk about it with as many of my gaming friends as I can, and I explain why I'm outraged and I explain why this is a problem. My hope is that I get across how important events like this are- how much it hurts women, how much it reinforces stupid stereotypes about gamers, and how bad it makes gaming culture look. My hope is that they'll talk to their friends about it, too, and that it'll spread over time.

That, and I post long, angry diatribes about how pissed off and sickened I am by things like this.

-edited: 2:11 PM EST-

More thoughts that I forgot to include...

I love how Ubisoft is getting slammed for "using Jade" to push the game (again, despite the fact that it's the producer's job to give interviews and raise interest), but these same people have been strangely silent about, say, the use of Playboy to push a game. Last time I heard, Kane & Lynch still wasn't about Playmates, so, there still isn't any reason for Playboy to be the major advertising push.

Anybody want to bet that these are the same people that complain that we're too sensitive about things like the Resident Evil controversy?

And yet, these people are apparently outraged, outraged that Ubisoft would let Raymond give interviews. I know, I know, none of that actually proves anything. Maybe I'm wrong, and these people are equally outraged about the Playboy thing, but, still...

You know, about one of the most highly anticipated games of the year. The only games that I can think of that might have more anticipation were Halo 3 and Bioshock. So, you know, this game was kind of a big deal.

Anyway, I also meant to mention that Luke, over at Shrub has a post up about this, too, and it's well worth reading.

Other related posts:
The Angry Pixel says "We Heart Jade Raymond".
Broken Toys nails it with "Clearly We Do Not Deserve Nice Things And/Or People.
Game Girl Advance reminds that Jade Raymond is for Real.
Shameless: For Girls Who Get It explain why you should care, even if you're not a gamer.
Rabid Space Dog laments that we have such a long way to go.
Elaine over at explains the problem with the "It's Ubisoft's fault!" arguments

Monday, November 19, 2007

Breaking News: Men Don't Think...

Or, at least, that's what this book review would have me believe.

Author Stephen Fried has a new book out, apparently, called Husbandry: Sex, Love & Dirty Laundry -- Inside the Minds of Married Men. If you're feeling really interested to know the mind of the married man, you can read an excerpt. I can save you the trouble: Think of the stereotypes associated with being "a guy" and being married, and you're pretty much all set. You'll gain such wisdom as "Men don't really remember, or care, about putting laundry in the basket" and "Men don't like to do the dishes" topped off with a healthy and humorous! dose of "Women think emotionally, but men don't."

To the credit of the paper, they've apparently picked exactly the right person to review the work, because the only person that I imagine would enjoy this book would be the sort of person who can read a review that opens with "We wives recognize that even the best husbands still suffer from that pesky Y chromosome: They have sex on the brain, they don't listen to what we're telling them and they suck at housework." and not want to scream.

I'm so glad to have my entire sex summed up thusly: we have sex on the brain, don't listen, and suck at housework. Oh, and did I mention that we men have the attention spans of gnats?

Like the comic I pointed out earlier, this book appears to be little more than a series of "here's a tired sexist stereotype that I'm going to reinforce with a humorous story from my personal life." Why is this shit funny to people? Oh, haha! He's a man and he hogs the remote, channel surfs, and doesn't want to talk to anyone while he's watching the show! That's so funny!

It's so very clever.

Only, you know, not.

If I ever start waxing nostalgic about how funny it is that *insert stupid sexist stereotype here* is so true!, please, someone, shoot me.

Monday Quick Hits: Comics and Christmas...

Good morning readers! It's the Monday before Thanksgiving (in the United States), and I just got back from a great trip to Boston. The weather there was beautiful, and Walden Pond was peaceful and relaxing. Now, unlike the Pirates Who Can't Do Anything, I can't say that I've never been to Boston in the fall. (Yes, that was, in fact, a Veggie Tales reference. I can't help it- that particular song tickles my funny bone every time. I'd say that I'm sorry, but... well... I'm kinda not. It's funny stuff!)

Anyway, it's amazing how, after a perfectly lovely weekend, fate the internet can conspire to ruin a good mood. To wit: this comic (the Oct. 1st issue of They'll Do It Every Time). I shouldn't be surprised, really. This type of comic- the "take a stupid stereotype and reinforce it for laughs" type- is depressingly common. This isn't exactly brilliant material- it's the print equivalent of telling an "Airplane food, am I right?" joke. And yet, this thing has been running for eight decades, and is in distribution in 100 papers today?

The entire joke is "your wife is an annoying nag who'll dish out unwanted advice inappropriately, but won't take your advice when she should!" Hell, her name is Annoyia. I glanced through the other strips, and they're not much better in terms of humor (Why is it that the neighbor who can cook well brings over tiny bits to sample, but the one that can't cook at all always brings over gallons? Did you ever notice that grandparents bring over gifts that need to be assembled, and leave dad to put them together?), but this one took the cake in the sexism department. I guess I should consider myself lucky that this thing doesn't run in my local paper. Ugh.

(For more regular analysis of sexism and stereotypes in comics, check out Feminist Allies- it's a regular feature over there)

And, of course, nothing brings out the gender essentialism quite like Christmas, right? Girls want Barbie, but boys go high-tech? Really? Let's look at the number one toy on each list. Girls... Barbie. Boys... Transformers.

In other words, the top toy for each sex? Dolls.

Look, I love Transformers. I really do. I still have a bunch, sitting on a shelf at home. They're great. But, well, aside from the fact that they turn into cars, they're not that different from any other doll/action figure. They're just highly gendered dolls.

There are a number of things that I found annoying about this article (even beyond the failure to capitalize "Autobots"- it's a proper noun, Reuters! A proper noun!), but the main thing is how misleading it is. If all you read was page one and the headline, you get the impression that boys are going high-tech, while girls are just asking for dolls. And yet, when you look at the actual lists, you find that, shock of shocks, girls want video games too! Coming in at number 7, we find that girls want Nintendo Wii, and at 8, they want Webkinz- which are an online "pet". Also known as... *drum roll* a video game.

So, sure, there are more tech toys on the boys' lists than the girls', but it's not like all girls are asking for are Barbie dolls and My Little Pony or all the boys want are tech toys- hell, if you count remote control cars as "high tech", the boys' lists only include 4 tech toys to girls 2. Of course, besides the misleading headline, there are other problems. We don't know a damn thing about how the survey was done, or to what age group. Were people given limited choices? How old were the children in question? How many of each sex were polled?

And, really, some of the things listed are so generic that it's impossible to know what they're really asking for. The girls' list has "Hannah Montana" on it. The cd? The video? Are there dolls? The game? If they're asking for a game or a video, does that count as high-tech? Same thing with Dora the Explorer- there are dozens of video games and learning modules for computer systems out under the Dora brand. How do we know?

And, ultimately, there's absolutely no analysis here- Reuters just says "hey, boys like tech stuff, girls like dolls" as though that's the whole story. There's no attempt to understand why girls' lists include the things they do, or why it might be that the lists are so very gendered (the only cross-over are the Wii and Elmo). I guess I shouldn't expect much of that kind of analysis from Reuters, but, really, without any analysis, what's the point?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Someone needs to ask: What Would Buffy Do?

When you're a television actor on a really popular show, there's always that possibility, I suspect, that you'll become primarily identified with the character you played. To some degree, I imagine it's hard for Sarah Michelle Gellar to break out of that role. I haven't seen much of the works she's done since then, but the popular opinion seems to be that it's not good.

And I know that Gellar doesn't identify as a feminist, but it's hard, sometimes, to see an episode of Buffy and not start to identify Gellar with Buffy. That happens.

So, it's with a grim face and heavy heart that I discover two stories involving Gellar- now Prinze- doing things that I find, from a feminist standpoint, problematic.

First of all, she's jumped on the name-change train. Apparently, as a gift for her husband, she's adopted the Prinze last name. As. A. Gift. *gag* And if that weren't enough, she's posing for Maxim, too. Because, uh... she's playing a porn star in a movie, so she has to pose for Maxim... I guess? Like Jess, my reaction was pretty much the same as Dorothy Snarker's.
Double-you, tee, eff.

The intersection of Racism, Sexism, and Commerce...

Lauren, of Faux Real Tho, had an... interesting experience at a gas station recently. This post reminded me of some of my own experiences living and working in a college town.

I used to work retail at one of the largest bookstore chains in the United States. No, I won't mention names on here. *cough, cough* Excuse, me. Anyway, over the course of my time working at the bookstore, and living near two major colleges, I found myself in situations not entirely unlike the one Lauren describes.

It's interesting to me, because the attendant was treating Lauren the way that I expect most sexist asshole clerks treat other men. This is how it usually went for me: I'm standing in line waiting to make a purchase, and the woman in front of me catches the clerk's attention. He watches her as she leaves, and I'm waiting to make my purchase. Clerk takes my purchase and rings it through and starts talking to me like we're old friends- "Daaamn, she was hot. (insert comment about her chest or ass). I'd totally hit that in a heartbeat, right?" The exact words change, but the idea remains the same- the clerk thinks that the customer is hot, and wants to make it clear to me. And, of course, because I'm a guy, he expects that I'll agree with and appreciate the remark.

I suspect that a lot of other men have been there.

Of course, it's not just register jockeys that make grossly inappropriate, sexist, racist remarks. When I was working at the bookstore, the customers would frequently make horrible comments to me, both about other customers and about my fellow employees. Even if you take the blatantly creepy people out of the equation- the guy who would position himself so that he could see up women's skirts when they rode the escalator, the guy who'd take pornography into the children's section and leave it there, etc- there were plenty of people who were just huge assholes.

Two incidents stick out at me. The first was a group of teenage boys who were hanging out in our store all day. They were annoying, but not really doing anything particularly troublesome, until they discovered that they could look down women's shirts if they leaned over the railing looking down into the middle of the store (where the escalators were). I realized this is what they were doing when they began making very loud comments about a woman's chest and cat-calling her.

In the middle of my store.
At 4:30 in the afternoon.
On a weekend.

Before I could get to them, another employee (Hi, Nat!) dressed them down and, I believe, kicked them out. But, this is a busy store at one of the busiest times of the week, and these guys didn't think they were doing anything wrong by sexually harassing our customers. That's a big problem.

The other incident was a case of racism. I was covering the music department for a break, and we were listening to something- Shivaree, maybe? I don't remember now- but something like that. A customer came back, and asked what cd was in, and I figured he was thinking about buying it (whatever it was, I thought it was listenable), so I told him and started to tell him what I knew about whatever group it was. He cut me off with something like "well, it's really terrible. It's just awful. The worst thing you've ever played in here, hands down." Then he walked away.

Ten minutes or so later, another employee came back and we were going over a display chart, when this same guy comes back over. "I just wanted to let you know again, this is the worst thing you've played in here" he says. I look at him and tell him that I'll let my manager know, and before I can say anything else, and to my shock, he says "It sounds like one of those Jap groups or something. They'd play them when I was over in Vietnam last year, and they all sound the same- singing in Japanese or Chinese or whatever crazy language they speak over there."

It went downhill from there.

I got lucky, and a manager was nearby, so I called her over and told her she needed to deal with him, because if I had to listen to him anymore, I was going to say something that would get me fired, and she ended up asking him to leave.

Moments like that leave me feeling both dirty and confused. I feel like there's something really wrong when people can say and do things like that without hesitation. It's bad enough that they're sexist, racist assholes, but that they don't even feel like there's anything wrong with what they're doing is just mind-blowing. Is there so little social sanction against these things that someone feels completely comfortable saying and doing these things in a busy retail establishment?

The other problem is, of course, how to respond. It's a question I've asked about other things, too- how do you respond to someone who says or does something like that. Particularly, if you're the employee in the situation, what do you do? If you're the customer, you can tell the clerk where to shove it, and take your business away, or get a manager and complain. As an employee, though, you're more limited (unless you don't care about losing your job, of course).

Anyone else want to share a weird/creepy/troubling experience they had, and how they handled it?

Fetishization of Asian Women (link round-up)

Over at Sara Speaking, there's a very interesting post called things that are hard for me to hear, talking about some of the reasons why baby221 finds conversations about "Asian fetish" so frustrating.

There's also the posts that inspired baby221. Over at Feministing, there's Samhita's post Asian fetishes and the myths that perpetuate them. Over at Racialicious, Carmen Van Kerchhove did a brief write-up: Jezebel: Asian women are hot, smart, thin and tell you your skin is bad.

And, of course, both of those posts were responding to an article, too. Moe, from Jezebel, wrote a piece, Are Asian fetishes a myth? We're gonna have to go with "no".

Amanda Marcotte, from Pandagon, tackles the subject, too, with Nor can you generalize all hamburgers from MacDonald's. There's 150 comments (and growing) at this thread, and the conversation, as always, takes some interesting turns.

There's also this really great article by Vickie Chang from the Village Voice, called Yellow Fever: They got it bad, and that ain't good. The page title is "Your Asian Fetish, My Life" (which, honestly, I think is a better title, but whatever). That article is from last year, but it's a good read, and related to the conversation.

Over at Color Q World, D.M. has an article that addresses some of the difficulties of talking about the fetishization of Asian women in a post called Deconstructing 'Asian fetis' - the appeal of physical appearance and/or cultural traits. In it, the author touches on something that makes this conversation so difficult for some of us, but which often seems to go unsaid: the difference between being attracted to physical traits that are common within some racial or ethnic types and being attracted to the cultural stereotypes associated with people of a certain race or ethnicity. In other words: there are some people who might find some of the physical traits common in women of Asian ancestry attractive, while someone else might find the stereotype of Asian women as submissive and docile attractive, even though both might say that they're attracted to Asian women.

This paper, Made in the USA: Rewriting Images of the Asian Fetish, by Maggie Chang of the University of Pennsylvania, is also pretty interesting. This project was undertaken as part of her undergrad work.

If anyone has links to some other posts/articles/papers about the fetishization of Asian women, feel free to link in the comments.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

WAM! 2k8, Coming Soon...

Remember how the Center for New Words put out a call for proposals to WAM!2008?

Well, yours truly submitted a proposal, and it was accepted!

So, if you're going to be attending WAM! this year, and you're interested in the intersection of feminism and video games, I'd love to see you there. I'm going to be leading a discussion of sexism and video games with the goal of helping non-gamers and gamers understand the unique challanges that we face with regards to gaming. We're going to be talking about everything from the representation of women in games, to harassment issues women face when the play online games, to which games seem to get things right.

I think it's going to be a really interesting conversation, and I'm hoping that people will leave with a better understanding of why it's important for us to care, and why we need to move beyond the common misconceptions and stereotypes associated with gaming.

Hope to see you all there!

Friday, November 09, 2007

Buying feminist (or feminist friendly) toys...

This post, and the comments in it, combined with the unusually large number of birthdays that I purchase gifts for in November and December have reminded me that it's about time to start my annual holiday buying. I imagine that there are others who, like me, have young children that they buy gifts for. Buying gifts for children can be really tough (even when you're not worried about lead paint and GBL!), especially if you want to provide a positive influence, or are trying to subvert, shall we say, stereotypical programming.

I have a young niece that I'm buying gifts for. Every time I purchase gifts for her, I have to weigh a bunch of conflicting issues. How cool do I think the toy is? How much does it oppose or reinforce traditional gender stereotypes? How likely are her parents to object to the gift? How much is she going to like it? How quickly will it break or will she get tired of it? How much does it cost?

Ideally, I want to be able to supply her with toys that her mother won't just throw away, that she'll find interesting and fun, that won't break right away, and that subvert (or at least don't reinforce) what I think are harmful gender stereotypes. I refuse to buy things like fake kitchen stuff, or toy vaccuum cleaners, etc. I refuse to buy princess themed stuff.

Instead of buying her traditionally "girl" things, I try to find toys that are as gender-neutral as possible, or that are traditionally "boy" toys. It can be surprisingly difficult to find gender-neutral toys, though. It used to be that most Lego sets were fairly neutral, but looking through the toy aisle recently, I was struck by how completely gendered they've become. Gone are most of the city themed sets that included both male and female figures. Instead, there are dozens of sets featuring huge robots and skeletons fighting dragons and Star Wars stuff. Almost every figure in the sets are men. Weird. Still, she's a little young for Lego right now, so that's not a problem yet.

Right now, she's on a kick where she loves robots. As a big robot fan myself, I'm okay with that. I think I did okay last year- I got her a log cabin building kit (Lincoln logs, basically) that came with a little train and some farm animals. I got her a Mr. Potatohead with extra themed pieces... a princess, a mermaid, and a fashion model (gender bending potatohead was a big hit), and a bunch of Winnie the Pooh figures, among other things.

Still, she's getting older and she's eventually going to start being interested in things like Bratz dolls and Barbie and pink stuff. So, here's where you, gentle reader, come in. What can I do when that happens? What kinds of things do other people get for their children, or their nieces/nephews, etc? What kinds of gifts do you give to the young people in your life? What kinds of positive role-models are there for young girls?

As it stands, I'm going to go look for some awesome robots for us her to play with.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

You've got time for Big Moves...

(via Jaclyn)
Time for a commercial interlude: a little shout out to Big Moves: I've talked about them before, but in case you don't know, they're awesome. This is their first time making a calendar, it's all kinds of amazing. It's thirteen months of full color photographs and bits of wisdom from the Big Moves cast and crew, all put together by the one and only Jaclyn Friedman, and it goes to a great cause- namely, helping fund Big Moves performances so they can keep bringing the best of body positive dance and theater to audiences. If you haven't had a chance to check them out, or if you're a longtime fan, this is a perfect opportunity to show support.

From the press release:

Need a big gift for someone special in your life?

Want to widen your body confidence in 2008?

Look no further: the 2008 Big Moves Wall Calendar has arrived!

Each month of this full-color, 13-month wall calendar features an up-close and personal portrait of a member of the East Coast Big Moves cast & crew like you've never seen them before. Plus, a new quote or quip each month to help you or someone you love get through the tight spots in your year. Click here to see a sample for yourself.

Plus -- every calendar you buy is a big support to Big Moves 2008 touring productions, spreading body-positive performance on thick from Montreal to Philadelphia!

Click here to buy yours TODAY!

Orders received by December 16 for delivery in the continental US will be mailed by December 17, and should be received in time for Christmas wrapping (but we cannot make guarantees for USPS deliveries). Please contact us at admin(at)bigmoves(dot)org for international or expedited shipping options. Order now for fastest delivery!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Pop Culture Lesbians...

Joanna Whitehead has a really great article up at The F-Word, that I strongly urge everyone to read. It's a great piece about the ways that the marketing industry uses lesbian identities, and how that colors the social perception of lesbians and women involved in same-sex relationships. It's interesting that I came across this yesterday, because I'd been talking about a very similar topic with a good friend of mine over the weekend.

I have a friend that I've known for years who dates women and identifies as lesbian. Several of the issues that Whitehead talks about are things that my friend and I have also discussed- the ways that other people within the homosexual community view her, as well as the ways that men in public spaces view her.

There's little doubt that lesbianism is often treated, at least in popular entertainment media, as something that is done for the sake of the male viewer. Movie after movie, show after show, we get treated to the same sorts of things- women making out with and having sex with other women for the benefit of the men watching. It's sort of a faux-lesbianism- there's an implication that the women might be making out with or even having sex with other women, but what they're really doing is trying to excite, and maybe even find, the right man. This is a pretty common theme in pornography, too- women fucking women until a guy discovers them, at which time they suddenly realize how much fun it is to fuck men, instead.

Even when the women involved don't end up having sex with a guy, there's a sense that the exhibition is for the benefit of male viewers- it's "fan service". It's about showing lots of skin and showing two (or more, I suppose) stereotypically hot women getting it on without any threatening penises in the way, maybe? This kind of thing is, as Whitehead points out, ever present in softcore pornography like Playboy. After all, one hot woman is okay, but two hot women? Even better! And if they're making out and touching each other? Instant win.

Lesbianism has attained a weird position in our society- it's considered different, for some reason, from male homosexuality (I'd suggest that this is largely because sex tends to be marketed towards the male gaze, and heterosexual men in particular, and that male-on-male homosexuality is assumed to be threatening to straight men). Go to a college campus and attend a large frat party, and you're almost sure to find women making out to the cheers of drunken men. It's become a staple of many movies and television shows, as well. There's, at the very least, the perception that these sorts of exhibitions are done for the sake of attracting men. Lesbians or faux-lesbians inhabit our video games, movies, television shows, and comics. If you're an attractive woman making out with an attractive woman, you're probably marketing gold.

Of course, if the media has taught me anything, it's that lesbians come in exactly two flavors- they're either hot model types making out with other hot model types, or they're super butch. They've probably got close cropped hair, leather jackets, and combat boots. They're the "I'll kick in your teeth" types. If one type of lesbian is meant to titilate men, the butch-dyke is meant to terrify us.

This is the lesbian stereotype that's meant to represent a threat to men- they show us how dropping traditionally gendered things makes women into men. Not only do they start to date other women, but they don't even look hot anymore. This type is usually presented as hyper-aggressive, in-your-face, etc.

How does this relate to Whitehead's experiences, or my friend's experiences? Easy. We can look at the ways that the media presents images of a group and compare them to the ways that members of these groups are treated by society, and see how that pans out. In this case, we've got two predominant images of lesbianism: one intended to arrouse men, and the other intended to intimidate or anger them.

These messages are everywhere, and they're picked up by the public. Think about women who present in a "masculine" fashion- maybe they've got short hair and don't wear particularly "girly" clothes. No make-up, even. A woman like that is very likely to be perceived as lesbian, regardless of what she actually identifies as, in the same way that men who are seen as presenting as "feminine" are frequently judged as homosexual. On the other hand, Whitehead and my friend have the opposite experience. Because they do or have presented in a way that people see as particularly feminine, they're assumed to be straight. And, when they do exhibit something that would suggest "lesbian", it's treated like it's part of a show. It's not "authentic".

Whitehead talks about how her relationship suffers because people assume that her relationship with her girlfriend is "part-performance, part experimentation", and my friend has indicated have similar experiences. If you can't even hold your girlfriend's hand in public without having men coming up to you and making lewd remarks, or catcalling and whistling... well, it's easy to see how that could make even the most vanilla of public displays extremely uncomfortable. The idea that any physical affection that two attractive women show each other is really for the benefit of the men around them is really pervassive. Unfortunately, I'm not sure what the solution there is, because the media promotes this idea so intensively.

And, unfortunately, these sorts of attitudes aren't limited to knuckle-dragging men, either. These sorts of attitudes aren't completely absent even within the homosexual community. During one relationship, my friend told me that her girlfriend's friends didn't believe that she (my friend) was "really a lesbian." They were convinced that she was just experimenting. This, despite the fact that my friend had been openly gay for longer than her girlfriend had even been dating people. Are her experiences common for other lesbians like her? I can't say for sure, but hers isn't the only story like that I've heard.

I wouldn't be surprised to find out that it was a common experience amongst more femme lesbians, and even Whitehead hints at it:
I'm increasingly confronted by educated colleagues, friends and acquaintances in their 20s, whose faces glaze over with a 'brain-cannot-compute' expression that belies their high-pitched, hurried words of acceptance. The unspoken message here seems to be that if you are gay, play by the rules. Don't fuck with our heads by dressing 'femme'. We need to know where we stand, goddamnit - stop being so inconsiderate! To me, such responses are a direct result of the mainstream media's omnipresent messaging that dictates how we should look and what we should think.

So, while she doesn't specifically mention, in that passage, the reactions that she and her girlfriend get from other members of the homosexual community, the attitude seems similar, to me. The reaction that my friend seems to get sounds similar, at least- if she's going to identify as a lesbian, she needs to do so in an obvious way- a way that is comfortable to other people.

In some ways, this ties into larger conversations about the ways that the media promotes and reinforces stereotypical gender representations, but it sounds like it's an issue of its own, too. These representations, and the ways that society as a whole buys into them, are really harmful to people in their practical, everyday lives. Someone who seems to fall between the lines, like Whitehead and my friend do, faces the problem of being alienated from the communities that she might otherwise get support from.

On the one hand, pop-culture treats women like them as public property- any outward expression of homosexuality by a woman that doesn't look like a stereotypical lesbian is going to be treated like an attempt to get male attention. Where straight couples can walk down the street arm in arm, these women often still face strong homophobic reactions- instead of getting "bashed", though, they get hit on, whistled at, catcalled, or, sometimes, groped, or worse. On the other hand, these women are sometimes treated as outcasts by other members of the LGBTQ community- there's the concern that they're just experimenting or that they're not really homosexual.

I have to admit that I haven't really heard of homosexual men experiencing anything quite like this. Part of that almost certainly comes from the differences in the ways that male bodies and female bodies are used in entertainment. Given that women's bodies are so frequently conflated with "sex", while men's bodies are not, it's easy to understand why there might be less a sense of ownership over men's bodies in the public sphere. I do wonder, though, do men who don't present in a way that society deems homosexual get the same reactions that these women do from within the LGBTQ community? That is: is there concern that they're not really gay?

I'm also curious about the experiences of people who are perceived as homosexual, but might identify as straight. Certainly there are strangers who will harass someone just based on the perception that another person might be gay- I know that I've been verbally harassed on the street by other men who, for whatever reason, thought I was gay (or, who were using it as an insult in an attempt to get a rise out of me).

All of which is tied into this idea that our sexuality is really important to other people. There's a sense that we owe it to society at large to make it clear which way/s we swing. Poeple get really disturbed and/or offended by what they see as unclear gender presentation (or it becomes the subject of SNL skits. Har. Har.), and just as disturbed and/or offended if they can't tell whether you date men or women. I'm not really clear where that sense of entitlement comes from- why do we think we have a right to know who other people are interested in knocking boots with? And, really, what will it take to convince people that not everything that women do is for the sake of men?

I'm sort of meandering at this point, so I open the floor to all of you. What do you think? Does this strike a chord with you? Have you personally witnessed this sort of thing- been subject too it?

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

SEX! (that get your attention?)

Nothing stirs up a conversation around the blogosphere quite like the issue of sex, does it?

It's an interesting conversation, I think. The issue of how important sex is within a relationship is a difficult thing to tackle. It's sort of surprising, to me, that it doesn't get brought up more often, because, really, how often are we lucky enough to find ourselves dating someone who has exactly the same sex-drive as we do? I've been on both sides of this particular conversation. I've dated women who had sex drives that were significantly lower than my own, and I've dated women who had sex drives that were significantly higher than my own (don't tell Popular Wisdom- I'm pretty sure it says that I, as a man, must have a higher sex drive than all but the most deviant of women).

And, yeah, honestly, it makes things difficult at times.

Sex is a pretty important part of a relationship. Our culture has so many screwed up notions surrounding sex that I guess I shouldn't be surprised that we're not more open to conversations about sex drive, but the fact of the matter is that a major difference in sex drives can really hurt a relationship. So... what do you do about that?

It's like a minefield- it's very hard to navigate. It's so easy to fall into traps. If you're the partner who has the higher sex drive, it's easy to feel like you're constantly nagging the other person for sex, and to start to resent the lack of attention you're getting. It's really easy to start to feel like there's something wrong with you, or like the other person doesn't find you attractive, too. And it's not easy to get out of the mindset once you're there. If you're the one who is always initiating and pursuing the physical aspects of the relationship, and you're spending a lot of time getting rejected, it can create a really nasty headspace.

On the other hand, it's not fun for the person with the lower sex drive, either. Nobody wants to feel like they're obligated to have sex, but it can start to feel that way. You can start to resent the other person for exactly the opposite reason that the other person is resenting you- you can start to feel like there's this huge issue looming over you, all the time- like the other person is constantly demanding sex. You can start to feel like it's always hanging over you, and like you're constantly being judged for not being more interested in sex- like there's something wrong with you.

And, of course, both sides end up in a vicious circle. For the high sex drive person, the less sex you get, the more desperately you want to jump on anything that seems like it might lead to sex. The more that happens, the more the low sex drive person feels pressured for sex. If you're the low sex drive person, you're feeling all that pressure, and it's stressful. Being constantly stressed out makes you less likely to want or initiate sex, which leads you to rebufff these advances, and we're back to the begining again.

Ultimately, I think there does have to be some compromise- it's not about having sex as a chore, or lying there counting the tiles- it's about finding some middle ground, breaking out of the circle, and finding ways that both people can get their sexual needs met. That means that the low sex drive person might need to make a concentrated effort to help the high sex drive person get off, even when the low drive person isn't specifically feeling hot and bothered. The high drive person has to accept that sex isn't going to happen as often as that person would like.

With any luck, both people find that their sex lives are better for it. The high drive person is having sex more regularly or, at least, is finding that there are other ways of getting off that work, and the low drive person isn't feeling pressured to have sex. I think that being creative with how you express your sexuality probably helps, too. It's not always easy, but I think that, rather than having sex like it's a chore, the low drive person can find other ways of expressing sexual interest that help.

Apparently, some people have suggested that the low drive person can just give oral sex or hand jobs to the high drive person instead of having sex- which is certainly possible- but I think that it can sometimes involve sending a dirty text message to the high drive person, instead. Or leaving notes, or talking about what you'd like to do the next time you have sex, even if you're not particularly in the mood to have sex at that moment. These sorts of things help your partner get off in a healthy way, and in a way that involves both of you, which is sort of the point, I think. None of us want a partner who is going to just lie there and let us fuck them- we want the other person to be involved with us and reciprocate the feelings we're having, and to be an active part of our own sexual experiences. The compromise isn't about having sex when you're not in the mood- it's about finding other ways of having sex that are good for both of you.

Monday, November 05, 2007

The nightmare is over...

And I have emerged victorious.

Verbal - 710
Quantitative - 630

That is all.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Friday Ten...

I do these rather infrequently, but I'm in need of a break right now, so here it is- my Friday ten...

Ten Random Tracks From My "Women Rock" Mix

1. The Breeders - "Huffer"
2. The Gossip - "Fire/Sign"
3. Shivaree - "Goodnight Moon"
4. Rilo Kiley - "A Man, Me, Then Jim"
5. Enon - "Knock That Door"
6. Robots in Disguise - "DIY"
7. Frogpond - "How Would You Know"
8. Aimee Mann - "Ghost World"
9. Skunk Anansie - "Hedonism"
10. Concrete Blonde - "Bloodletting"

If anyone wants to suggest some must-have tracks for a kick-ass mix cd, or just feels like adding their own random ten, I'm always interested.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

*grumble grumble*

You what I hate?
The GRE.

I'm hoping against hopes that my essay topic includes "the GRE is an idiotic test that doesn't actually measure anything useful" because I've got a lot to say on that particular subject.

That is all.

Haunted Houses, Slasher Flicks and Gentrification...

I got an e-mail late last night pointing me to this article: "Haunted House Films Are Really About the Nightmares of Gentrification", with the question "What do you think?" It's an interesting article if you've got an interest in horror flicks and/or gentrification, but, I have to admit, I remain largely unconvinced. By which, I mean that I disagree with many of the things he's saying.

The basic premise is that haunted house films- a subgenre of horror- are really about gentrification. In particular, they're about people believing that their homes have been gained through violence, and will be taken back the same way, and that, since audiences are assumed to be white, and the victims of gentrification are generally communities of color, the monsters in these film are representative of racial minorities. Under this model, and according to the author, horror films serve as escapist entertainment that allows us to avoid the "truth" that we participate in the displacement of others, and that we are vulnerable to displacement, ourselves.

It's an interesting idea, and I can think of a few films where it's probably applicable, but that doesn't make it applicable to all horror. The problem is that Miller, the author, seems to want to take what is an interesting theory about some haunted house films, and shoehorn it onto horror in general, while ignoring the historic context of horror in film and literature.

Now, there are definitely films that I think you can legitimately argue draw inspiration from or can be tied into gentrification in some way. Generally, these types of films are the "rich folks sticking their noses where they don't belong" type. You take a group of rich or middle class people from "the city" and have them head out into the country, where they stumble upon some dangerous local color. It almost always involves having the city folk looking down on the locals as uneducated hicks... until the country folk turn out to be homocidal maniacs.

There's definitely some class issues at play in those kinds of stories, but it's sort of hard to know which way to take it. We're usually presented with a bunch of a spoiled, ignorant city folk who get their just deserts at the hands of insane, homicidal poor people. Think: The Hills Have Eyes or Texas Chainsaw Massacre (neither of which, it should be noted, are haunted house movies). Of course, it's never quite that simple, either. While The Hills Have Eyes is certainly about a bunch of spoiled lazy city folk, it's also shows how thin the facade of civilization is- in the right circumstances, even a "normal" middle class family can become violent, brutal, and savage. And neither of them are haunted house films.

Even if we accept that some films involve themes dealing with gentrification, does it makes sense to claim that all films are about gentrification? Miller points out that a lot of modern haunted house films are about "fictional families [that] move into spaces from which others have been violently displaced" and then "suffer for that violence even if they themselves have done nothing wrong."

I'm willing to accept that a large number of haunted house movies rely on some variation on this theme, but I think that the conclusion Miller draws from this fact is questionable: "This thriving subgenre depends upon the audience believing, on some level, that what 'we' have was attained by violence, and the fear that it will be taken by violence."

My question here is... why? In what way does this subgenre depend on this fact? Many haunted house movies depend, not upon this idea that we believe what we have was gained through and will be lost through violence, but, rather, on the notion that evil acts can stain reality. They can be about the fear of losing things to violence- and, certainly, the fear is about loss (of life) to violence- but I'm not sure that it's the case that it's always about a fear of losing your home. It's often more about the fear of the unknown, or, another cliche that Miller seems to ignore: the fear of an evil that never dies.

Movies like Halloween, Friday the 13th, and Nightmare on Elmstreet are practically the gold standard for this cliche- no matter how hard you try, you just can't kill evil. The main antagonist of Halloween- Michael Myers- is shot repeatedly, stabbed, hit by cars, thrown out of windows, tossed down a well, blown up... and he just keeps coming back for more. One of the protagonists in the first film states it rather explicitely very early in the film- Myers is evil personified.

But, those are slasher films- what about haunted houses? Consider The Grudge, which Miller specifically points to. Miller asks "is it possible to imagine The Grudge in an economic structure where housing is guaranteed -- however problematically -- and where people have extremely limited freedom to choose their own housing?"

I argue, yes, in fact, it is. Nothing that happens in The Grudge relies on the people involved choosing the house. The Grudge is a film about the ways that evil acts leave a stain- a curse- on the things around them. The film could just as easily have taken place in some kind of forced housing situation. The haunting is about the evilness of murdering your family, and the stain that it leaves.

Miller's premise, however interesting, is significantly harmed by poor justification, and what appears to be a serious lack of understanding about some pretty important aspects of horror. Horror, in both film and literature, has a long history of beening very subversive. It's often used to criticize social norms and culture, and as a means of making people uncomfortable with things they take for granted- it's generally not used to make audiences feel good about bad things.

This problem becomes really evident starting at paragraph six, when he suggests "The biggest cliche in the modern haunted house film is that of the Indian Burial Ground. In Pet Semetary, The Shining, and The Amityville Horror, the source of the problem is that the real estate parcel in question has desecrated sacred ground."

First of all, three movies does not "the biggest cliche" make. Second, the most recent of those three movies was Pet Sematary, which was released almost twenty years ago. Hell, Amityville Horror was released in 1979, almost three decades ago. In other words, this "cliche" isn't nearly as ubiquitous as Miller suggests.

There are a lot of cliches in modern haunted house films, but "Indian burial ground" isn't really one of them. More common is the "ghost of a murderer/murder victim/suicide" (in other words: ghost of a person who causes or is the victim of a tragic death)trope from films like 13 Ghosts, House on Haunted Hill, The Grudge, The Others, Rose Red, Stir of Echoes... Hell, horror movies involving demons or the devil coming to torment or possess people are more common than the Indian burial ground.

And, ultimately, Miller's argument isn't just about haunted house films, either. After his comment about Indian burial grounds, he mentions the father of all zombie films, Night of the Living Dead: "That's one of the main ways the horror genre, on its surface so apolitical, connects to the United States' histories of genocide. How far a leap is it from the menacing ex-slaves in Birth of a Nation to the zombies in Night of the Living Dead?" and:

The spate of slow-moving zombie films that followed in the wake of "Night of the Living Dead" represent a capitalist nightmare of communist revolution: the brain-dead bloodthirsty working class, desiring nothing but our destruction, rises us up to besiege "us" in our comfortable homes, our malls, our military bases.

This is probably the most blatant example of Miller misreading/misunderstanding/misrepresenting a work of a horror. How far is the leap from menacing ex-slaves in Birth of a Nation to the zombies in Night of the Living Dead, Miller asks us, and I'm happy to answer: huge.

In Birth of a Nation, Gus is presented as a monster- an animal. He is murderous, and attempts to rape an innocent woman. When he is lynched, the audience is supposed to be glad, because he "got what was coming to him". Night of the Living Dead, on the other hand, is strongly critical of racism in America. The death of Ben in Night of the Living Dead is important- Ben, the only black character, is a strong, smart character who does his best to help save everyone in the house, and is able to survive the night until "help" arrives in the form of a posse of gun-toting white folks, who then shoot him. The audience is supposed to be shocked and outraged by Ben's death, and the casual racism of those who murder him without a second thought.

Further, Miller's interpretation of the zombie film as a genre is seriously flawed. I'd certainly agree that zombie films generally represent a "capitalist nightmare", but it's sure as hell not one "of communist revolution: the brain-dead bloodthirsty working class, desiring nothing but our destruction, rises us up to besiege "us" in our comfortable homes, our malls, our military bases."

The horror of the zombie film is that we are the zombies, not communists. The zombie film is critical of the mindlessness of capitalist consumption, of the herd mentality of people who buy into consumer culture and flock like herd animals to malls and subdivisions. The horror isn't about losing your possessions. Zombies don't care about your things, they want to make you just like them. The horror of a zombie is the horror of never-ending consumption- of a hunger that never ends, and can never be filled.

Middle class America are the zombies. It's never really been a very subtle metaphor.

Dawn of the Dead is a scathing criticism of American culture- from the casual racism of the police slaughtering immigrants during a raid on a tenement and the bloodlust/thrill of violence that leads to Roger getting bit, to the dangers of greed that unbridled capitalism perpetuates.

The characters in Dawn of the Dead think they've found a paradise when they come across a mall to make their home. They've got everything they ever wanted- nice clothes, jewelry, entertainment... everything that we're told makes for happiness. And yet, they eventually realize that these things don't make them happy- they're prisoners. And when a group of bikers break into the mall, it's in an effort to loot and plunder- another capitalist pursuit.

It's no coincidence that many zombie movies show how the greatest danger to us during a zombie uprising isn't the undead, but other living humans. Greed, anger, and distrust are frequently shown as being at least as dangerous as the zombies are.

Don't get me wrong, horror films are not perfect, and many of them do reinforce some pretty terrible social stereotypes. You don't have to look far to see, for example, a lot of really sexist stuff in horror movies, and the slasher flick, in particular, is notorious for exploiting puritanical notions of sex. Essentially, having it leads to destruction.

Ultimately, I just can't agree with Miller's argument. Even if we narrow the argument down to just haunted house movies (despite the fact that he goes off to argue that all kinds of slasher films, zombie films, etc are also about gentrification), there are simply too many cases where that argument doesn't makes sense- e.g. Dark Water, where a poor single woman moves into a cheap apartment in a rundown area is about gentrification? What about a haunted house film where the house is a former asylum? etc.

A better argument could be made that many haunted house films work well as illustrations of the class or race struggles that gentrification leads to. In other words, horror movies aren't necessarily about gentrification, but can be used to illustrate the problems with it. Instead, Miller came up with an interesting theory about a couple of movies, and attempted to shoehorn it onto an entire genre of films, and is forced to use examples that don't make sense.

And I really disagree with this bit:

These days, the two most popular plotlines in the dozens of scary movies that come out each year are: (1) A middle class family or group of teenagers wanders into the wilderness and the clutches of a depraved monstrous lumpenproletariate ("The Hills Have Eyes," "Wolf Creek," "The Descent," "Wrong Turn," "Cabin Fever," "Chainsaw Massacre," "Silent Hill"); or: 2) A similar configuration of victims menaced on their own luxurious turf by monsters who symbolize "our" paranoid fantasies of the violent, dispossessed working class, even if they do not actually come from it ("When A Stranger Calls," "Cry Wolf," "Cursed," "Scream," all the slasher films that do not fall under the first category).

I'll grant that there are some serious similarities between The Hills Have Eyes, Wrong Turn, Wolf Creek, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and that there are some pretty obvious issues at play in the conflict there: middle-class educated people who are afraid of and terrorized by depraved, uneducated, poor people. I disagree with including films like Silent Hill or The Descent with those, though- the themes are radically different.

Silent Hill isn't about a class battle, it's about religious persecution. The evil, there, comes from a religious cult that burns an innocent child alive, and, in her pain, she makes a deal with the devil to get revenge. The Descent isn't about class warfare, either- the monsters in it aren't human, nor are they stand-ins for humans. The story is really about two women, and their reliationship to each other- it's about trust, family, love, and honesty, and how we deal with betrayal. The monsters are incidental, and are just a tool used to create conflict and force the women to undergo change.

The idea that all horror is necessarily about class conflict and monsters "who symbolize 'our' paranoid fantasies of the violent, dispossessed working class" just seems really forced and reductive, and, like I said, it seems to intentionally ignore the history of horror as a means of social criticism.

Still, I really liked the last paragraph:

The haunted house film makes assumptions that are worth questioning: Who are "we" as an audience? To whom do these films address themselves? Who haunts "our" homes? Whose homes do "we" haunt? But it also contains the seeds of a real dialogue concerning the human costs of the housing crisis, and our responsibility and our power to do something about it.

Obnoxious scare-quotes aside, those are all valid questions. You don't have to think that all horror is about gentrification to address them, either.

Extra reading:
Even when I think that Miller is on to something, I feel like he takes it the wrong direction. Consider his remarks about Native Americans with regards to The Shining. Miller says:

Guilt over the North American genocide persists, in spite of centuries of racist history that have clouded the general public's grasp on the extremity of violence perpetrated against the Native Americans -- the broken treaties, the Indian Removal Act, the smallpox blankets. With the death of the Western as a film genre and the success of the Civil Rights Movement in challenging the blatancy of racism in mainstream culture, the Indian-as-bloodthirsty-savage was transformed into the Indian-as-murderous-ghost.

This is interesting, to me, precisely because there's plenty of evidence that The Shining is a criticism of the way that White America ignores and overlooks the poor treatment of other races (particularly Native Americans), as this author suggests. The Shining isn't about "Indian-as-bloodthirsty-savage... transformed into the Indian-as-murderous-ghost" at all. There's no evidence that it's ghosts of Native Americans creating the problem- rather, it's the evil of our own actions coming back to haunt us. The ghosts in the hotel in The Shining are the spirits of white men, not Native Americans, and the victims in the story are all minorities- a black man, children, a woman- not Nicholson's character. Nicholson represents the evilness of the hotel, and the history of racism that it represents.