Reed’s Law

A long, tedious forum conversation about sexism this week made me invent Reed’s Law: “Any conversation in which a specific type of men’s sexist behavior is discussed will have men come in and perform the sexist behavior that is being discussed.”

It’s a kind of very, very specific application of Lewis’ Law, “Comments on any article about feminism justify feminism.”

Monday Recs

  • My priestess gave me a baggie of lavender for my birthday to help me sleep, and I stuck it next to my CPAP’s intake filter. I highly recommend the “put something that smells good and calming next to your intake” method of making sleep better with a CPAP. I’m guessing the thing I did where I tape it on there might be a bad idea if you’re at one of the higher pressures, since it might make it unable to get enough air, but since I’m only at a 7, it works well for me.
  • Kiva Bay draws pictures of feminists and they are wonderful. She’s working on a feminist magic deck. Her work is really sweet and fun and it’s really nice to see someone making something lovely and encouraging and energizing while all the #GamerGate shit seems to show little sign of ever stopping. I follow her on Twitter and she brings me joy.
  • Spellcaster by Claudia Gray is a really fun little YA Urban Fantasy series. It focuses really heavily on friendship and family and one of the protagonists has two dads, which is a nice alternative to the standard Gay-Best-Friend-Who-Angsts trope that so many novels seem to have picked up recently. It’s got a nice small town feel, sort of Sunnydale meets Star’s Hollow. It’s not something I’d recommend to people who don’t devour lots of YA Urban Fantasy stuff anyway, but if that genre’s your cup of tea, it’s fun. Kristine Hvam, narrator of one of my all-time favorites (Daughter of Smoke and Bone), does this trilogy and her voice is beautiful, soothing, and engaging; she really pulls you into the world.
  • Claudia Gray’s dimension-hopping A Thousand Pieces Of You is also a fun read with some really rich and beautiful worldbuilding.
  • I’ve been using Scribd to listen to audiobooks and it’s pretty good. The app doesn’t always work well– it’s not nearly as good as Audible’s– but the selection for both audiobooks and book-books is pretty good; it’s far superior to Amazon Unlimited, where I went through pretty much everything I was interested in listening to in the free trial month. (I get free membership if you sign up using my link, but so do you, and it helps get me access to the giant pile of books I talk about here, so it’s a good deal on all sides.)

In my own news, I made a single-serve website to show what #GamerGate is ruining at any given moment. (If they’re ruining something new and I haven’t noticed, message me on Twitter so I can update it.) I also set up a Patreon in case any of you want to help me figure out how to get paid for this kind of writing, which would be aces; I also have a tip jar.

some similarities between #GamerGate and the “War on Christmas”

There’s probably a name for the thing where a bunch of members of a sociological majority group develops a weird persecution complex over attempts to:

  • recognize existing diversity and be more inclusive
  • be less socially harmful by promoting marginalizing narratives
  • make more money by expanding your demographic to include marginalized people who might want to see characters like themselves
  • recognize an existing demographic that already is consuming your product and try to make it more friendly to them
  • otherwise not be so much of a misogynist/racist/religiously bigoted/transphobic/ethnocentric/etc dickbag

but dang does this happen a lot.

I’ve been thinking about the thing that Fox News types do every year where they flip their shit over the “war on Christmas”, as if attempting to be religiously inclusive is an attack on them. It’s this weird thing majority groups do where they co-opt a bit of social justice stuff and act like not being the only group being catered to is an attempt to persecute that group. I’m pretty sure it’s disingenuous; the alternative is that it’s just plain ignorant.

Anyway, if you hadn’t figured it out, I’m talking about how #GamerGate and its ilk react to cultural criticism of video games and video game companies choosing to make more diverse games. They do it a bit differently than the War on Christmas types, who lose their shit in somewhat different ways, but it’s a very similar conservative backlash. The War on Christmas people claim that they’re being religiously oppressed because their faith isn’t catered directly to; the #GamerGaters claim that they’re being oppressed by female characters who don’t all have improbably large breasts without support. War on Christmas people pretend that calls for inclusive language are government censorship; #GamerGate does the same thing.

It’s possible that #GamerGate is better at harassing its ideological opponents (IE, people who are reasonable and think that their terrible opinions are awful) and threatening them into silence, but I’m not sure exactly what the backlash ends up being on people who get called out on Fox News by one of their popular pundits than what happens when TotalBiscuit or Adam Baldwin does the same thing on Twitter; the bigot backlash is clearer on Twitter since the hatemongers and their mobs are using the same medium as their targets, and they’re able to coordinate more effectively. But it’s still a pretty similar type of conservative backlash that happens when people have their privilege challenged, and it’s depressing that it manages to claim so many adherents who fuck up so many lives.

“Intimates”, sexualization and actual intimacy

Sociological Images has done good writing before on how when companies make gendered versions of a product, that is, one for men and one for women, they tend to assume the male version is functional but the women’s version is sexual. A friend of mine pointed out today that the women’s underwear at Target is listed as “intimates”; they were looking for underwear and felt uncomfortable with the idea that underwear has to be “intimate”: maybe they didn’t want to do anything sexual in their underwear, or maybe they just wanted functional underclothes.

target

“Intimates”, of course, also includes teddies and a handful of bustiers and corsets, a sort of sexy middle ground between sleepwear and underwear, clothes that are really only meant to be sexual. (In fact, the “unsexy” underwear, such as sports bras, gets relegated to the “athletic wear” section.) This doesn’t exist for men except in a few specific concepts, many of which are coded as gay, and none of which are sold at Target.

The idea that all of womens’ underwear is “intimate” leads to some practical problems– the fact that one can’t find a multipack of breathable cotton underpants in black that won’t visibly stain if your tampon or pad leaks is one of them. Another is the prevalence of “sexy” unbreathable underwear that can lead to yeast infections.

The big thing I’m thinking about here, though, is socialization, and the word “intimates” being a descriptor for all of women’s underwear sexualizes the female body; it implies that our underwear is primarily there to be titillating (presumably for men), not to, you know, cover our butts/pelvis and/or stabilize our breasts. But the word “intimate” being used for a sexualized consumer product is also a part the way we socially construct relationships; “intimate” can mean a lot of different kinds of closeness but this connects it specifically to romantic or sexual relationships.

This societal prioritization of sexual and romantic relationships, and the presumption of heterosexuality in them, can really skew our priorities It ends up looking “weird” when people choose to have their most important relationships be with friends or family members and not romantic and sexual partners. It marginalizes asexuals and aromantics. It exacerbates societal problems that already exist around friendships, especially among men.

I’m obviously not saying that Target has some hidden agenda in calling women’s underwear “intimate”, but the social narrative that defaults the word “intimacy” to “sex” is one that dismisses other kinds of intimacy, and the coding of all womens’ underwear as titillating or sexual not only makes it harder to find more functional underwear but also contributes to the sexualization and objectification of all womens’ bodies; it would never explicitly put a sign on a woman that says “this, too, is for consumption”, but it helps people come to that conclusion on their own.

“That’s my secret, Cap. I’m always angry.”

I’ve been invoking the iconic “I’m always angry” Hulk line from Avengers a lot lately.

Part of it is me being ironic, because of how bad Avengers was, feminism-wise, and how Joss Whedon is a shitty feminist; I have a lot of really complicated feelings about Marvel and the Marvel Cinematic Universe that currently are taking the form of several unreadable word garbage messes in my Drafts folder, but damn, that line.

I spend a lot of time angry because I live in a demonstratively shitty society that is set up to fuck over a lot of people. I’m relatively privileged; I only check a handful of the marginalization boxes, but it’s enough to have me pissed as hell, and I still want to bring attention to the stuff that isn’t in my marginalization bailiwick because I think that’s the decent thing to do.

I don’t have anyone guiding me on how to use it, so I’m figuring it out myself. A lot of people take issue with a woman speaking loudly and swearing a lot and being willing to call bullshit; tone policing is a classic misogynistic tactic, and attacking people who are angry is a pretty easy way to attempt to preserve the status quo, since it tends to be the people who are being fucked over who are interested in changing it. (I’m one of the fairly privileged ones on this issue: there are some really vicious, awful racial stereotypes regarding the anger of people of color, especially women, additionally, many women of many racial/ethnic backgrounds who are less gender conforming than me also face both invalidation of their anger and their identity is used as an attack against women who express anger, as in the case of the “feminists are all angry lesbians” trope.)

A lot of what living under patriarchy is, for me, is dealing with “I’m always angry”; it’s learning how and when to express that anger and how to deal with it being compounded by misogynists who can’t deal with how I express it. It’s dealing with being told I’m overly angry, harsh, or uncivil; it’s learning how to write productively when I’m seeing red.

It’s always a bit of a relief, for me, to see other women unapologetically displaying anger, especially feminist anger, because the constant invalidation of it that I get from society is really damaging. (Jennifer Walters/She-Hulk is actually way better about this than Bruce Banner is, though going into the details of why is another blog post.) It takes a lot of strength and energy to plow through the society-wide gaslighting that displays itself in ways that vary from the “crazy ex-girlfriend” to the “man-hating angry feminist”. I’m trying to do some of that work, display some of that, and use the energy that I’m getting from it to do something positive, or at least something that might make another pissed off woman somewhere feel less alone; a lot of my interaction online so far has been pointing at things and saying “this is bullshit, and you aren’t the only person who recognizes that it’s bullshit”.

So that’s one of the things I’m hoping to do on barrl, and on the other places you see me online: point out bullshit, laugh at it, rage at it, and avoid the abusive clichés about menstruation, hysteria and mental health. I get the reasons other women have tried to claim “bitch” as a positive thing, but that’s not something that feels right to me, personally. But “I’m always angry” comes a bit closer to expressing a part of my feminism that’s not always easy to explain and that I seem to take a lot of heat for.

 

Tumblr is great

Every few days, I see something on Tumblr that fills my heart with joy.

People get really caught up in making fun of Tumblr culture, as if a bunch of harmless 13 year olds figuring out their gender identity in ways that wouldn’t even be possible a generation ago is some kind of terrible thing. And don’t get me wrong, there are some problematic things about Tumblr as a system– it’s bad at dealing with abuse in the same way Twitter is and it allows a lot of really hateful blogs (stuff by neo-nazis, etc) to stick around– and the community has many of the flaws that social justice focused communities with an overwhelming amount of young white people have, especially with race.

But it seems like there are constantly great things coming up there, both in social justice contexts and other ones. People racebending and creating diverse fancasts (fan-made ideas of which actors would do well playing fictional characters onscreen, such as Gina Torres as Wonder Woman), high school kids talking about sexism, rape culture and dress codes, a 90,000 word Steve/Bucky alternate universe story taking place in a suburban high school and based loosely on George Eliot’s Middlemarch, warnings about the safety hazards of official 50 Shades of Grey merchandise, etc.

There are entire communities, which I won’t link to here, dedicated to, at best, making fun of “Tumblr culture” and, at worst, organizing harassment and doxxing of its users; it’s not at GamerGate levels right now but it can still be pretty bad. Additionally, there’s an attitude I’ve seen on many websites full of people who should know actually unironically use terms like “Social Justice Warrior”, a derogatory term made up by anti-Social Justice people that we managed to co-opt pretty quickly with “Social Justice Rogue”, “Social Justice Paladin” and other RPG class based jokes (there’s even a Greenlit game on Steam).

I think it’s important to recognize problematic aspects of your favorite things (doing what Tumblr would call “your fave is problematic”), but I think that the garbage people are eager to heap on Tumblr is rarely because of its problematic aspects, and tends to be one of the many ways that people are eager to shit on the hobbies of women and girls. It’s the same narrative that devalues work that’s seen as “feminine”, but applied to the hobby sphere.