30 April 2010

Virginity! Turns out, it's an utterly stupid way to conceptualize sex. Who knew?

Disclaimer: This post is about sex. Specifically, my own sexual experiences. If you know me and don't want to read about that, no more reading for you.

Amanda and Sady had a conversation about virginity over at The Sexist today, and it illustrated how very useless the concept of virginity is in describing how sex is actually experienced by actual young women:
AMANDA: Oh wonderful! Well I’m personally excited to commence Rethinking Virginity … out of existence! For it has never really worked for me.

SADY: Oh, no? Please do detail the manner in which it failed to work!

AMANDA: “Failed to work” may actually be the operative term here? Because if someone were to ask me When I Lost My Virginity, they would then be subjected to a series of stories about Those Times It Almost Went In, But Didn’t. I tried REALLY HARD to lose my virginity! I was like, Out, Out, Damned Virginity! But it just … it just didn’t work. Physically. For a long time. And now I don’t fucking know/remember when it happened. It was late.

SADY: Right. The definitive moment at which you become an Anti-Virgin is hard to peg! In fact! And, honestly, gives too much credit to the first person to definitively Stick It In. Like, it’s not like no-one has visited these territories before! Those dudes are like Christopher Columbus. They, like, Claim This Land for Spain, but fail to notice all the people who were already there. Uh. Sort of.
FRIENDS. I have had this experience before: Person X asks me at what age I Lost My Virginity. I ask what they mean by that. They answer, when you First Had Sex, of course. I ask what they mean by sex. They get irritated with me, because the type of person to ask you when you Lost Your Virginity is the kind of person who thinks that the process is simple and straightforward, like getting your driver's license. And it may have been simple and straightforward for some ladies, but it was not for me. I could honestly answer 15, 16, and 19 to that question. But, as Amanda points out, when your experiences don't match up with the traditional Virgin to Not-Virgin narrative, you tend to just make up an answer to those sorts of questions:
AMANDA: RIGHT. (?) And everyone pretends it’s this really objective moment that’s defined from the outside, but I’ve found for most people you just have to Decide when it is, and pretend that that time syncs up with whatever everyone else is talking about. I count myself as lucky to not have a very intimate relationship with Virginity and Non-Virginity, though. Fuck that noise.
There's something kind of attractive in Deciding your own answer to those questions, like you have a say in deciding what Virginity means. But as Amanda makes clear, Deciding also means "pretend[ing] that that time syncs up with whatever everyone else is talking about." Which means that if I answer any age (even one I just make up, or the age at which I thought I knew what I was doing sex-wise, or one at which I felt comfortable with having sex, or whatever) to the When Did You Go From Virgin to Not-Virgin question, I'm still participating in the creation of a narrative that has nothing to do with my own experience of sex. Excessively long quote time!
Sady: [...]But what I had NEVER been taught, apparently, was how to respect what I wanted, and to ask for it, and how to say “no” if I did NOT want something he wanted. I mean, I didn’t even know how to say “ow” or “yikes.” My impression was that one could Have Sex or Not Have Sex, and so my first few experiences were like, “oh, so apparently sex is AWFUL? It seems weird that people are so into it! But, OK! I am Having Sex!”


Amanda: Right. And I think it goes back to what we were talking about before, which is: Sex being defined as this very heterosexual experience of having a Penile Apparatus stuck into our Vaginal Apparatus in an Act That Could Potentially Produce Offspring (if you don’t make his weiner wear an outfit, or whatever). Like, OK: There are a lot of things that are pretty darn sexual, which this description of Sex does not cover! And I am struggling to say this without sounding like some kind of creepy Tantric sex instructor, but: If you’re like, “OK. So somebody is going to stick that into the other thing, and then you will Have Had Sex,” you’re missing out on (a) much of what makes sex fun or enjoyable, (b) much of the potential complications, and (c) the fact that sex, ideally, should not be some sort of terrifying Bene Gesserit test of fortitude? Like, that thing where they stick Kyle McLachlan’s hand in the box and are like, “WITHSTAND THE PAIN OR DIE” so he can’t take his hand out or the space nun will kill him instantly: Sex should, ideally, have little or nothing in common with this experience. Why can’t we all just enjoy ourselves? By, like, respecting what feels good and what doesn’t?

AMANDA: Right! And I’ll add that making the definition of “sex” “Penile Apparatus stuck into our Vaginal Apparatus in an Act That Could Potentially Produce Offspring” also includes “rape” as a thing that is “sex,” and so perhaps we should move toward a definition that includes shit that people want to do, and also expels the word Virginity from existence, because it doesn’t mean anything and it’s stupid.


SADY: [...] I mean, I would classify several of my experiences, especially early experiences, in the “consensual but not okay” zone of sexual activity. Not to make this a big downer of a chat. But, the idea of Sex or Not Sex means that sometimes you don’t say “no” because you don’t totally have it in your mind that you CAN say “no,” because you don’t have any idea in your mind that Sex is not just one big package that you are either OK or not OK with. So, like: You go along with it, and you even say “yes,” so there is consent although it’s not enthusiastic, but that is in large part because Boundaries are not really a part of the understanding you have of Sex. Or maybe that is just me! Maybe I am just a people-pleaser! But I don’t think I am! Because I please very few people, really, on a daily basis.
THIS. This so much. The problem with the concept of Virginity is that it proceeds from this very heterosexist, limited definition of Sex, a definition that not only covers rape, but doesn't match up to how actual people experience actual sex. Even for heterosexual people, Sex includes more than just "insert penis in vagina." And when we use this definition to say Don't Have Sex, we're being neglectful. People need to be encouraged to to be okay with saying "ow" or "yikes" or "I'm not comfortable with this thing we're doing, how about we try something else?" in addition to just plain "no." And people need to be encouraged to accept and respond appropriately to those things from their partners. Because, when I was in high school (where my school apparently solved the sex ed problem by not having it at all), there was this understanding that if you consented to some things (beyond a certain point), you consented to all things. If you said to your boyfriend, for example, that you wanted to Have Sex, that meant you didn't get to pick and choose what parts of Sex you wanted to do. Well, you could, but he might get all pissy with you, like you lied or something. Which leads dangerously into the "consensual but not okay" territory, or even rape territory.

The slow process that I went through tended to be less traumatic than my friends' experiences of Sex in high school. My boyfriend was non-communicative about sex, but totally intimidated by me, so while I still had the "consensual but not okay" experience, I at least didn't feel like consenting to some Sex things meant consenting to all Sex things. Which is not to say that my first sexual experiences were great or even pleasurable, just that they WEREN'T AWFUL. And I count myself lucky that they weren't awful. Which is fucked up? Is awful really an ideal baseline for first sexual encounters? We should expect women to enjoy sex. And the only way to do that is to value female pleasure and emphasize consent in sex education (and in everything else).

Tomorrow: Doctor Who and cosplay and race! Because this is the blog where we TALK ABOUT DOCTOR WHO ALL THE TIME.

26 April 2010

How depressing is my career choice?

REALLY FUCKING DEPRESSING, GUYS. Via Sociological Images (which, by the way, you need to be following, because it's badass), there's a fun little graph outlining how unlikely it is that I will ever get a job and/or graduate in some reasonable time frame.

9 YEARS on average. On. Average. It's a little weird to me that the "hard" sciences get their grad students in and out so fast. Maybe it's because they make less money, and thus have less money to spend on grad students taking the long route. Although it could also be that the job market for Ph.D.s in the sciences isn't so discouraging; when you're fairly certain you won't get a job after graduating, why wouldn't you take a few extra years to do so? Grad school is miserable, sometimes, sure, but it's also kind of comfy. You can count on fellowships/assistantships (to an extent), health insurance, some amount of security, as long as you're willing to live below the poverty line (I'm certainly used to that).

Over a third of Ph.D. holders in the humanities don't have jobs. And most of them don't get jobs outside of academia, probably because outside of academia, a Ph.D. is a liability. It makes you overqualified for, like, everything.

Oh, we English folks are totally screwed. It's actually really interesting talking to people in our department about this; we all know that the job market is horrifying, and won't be getting any better. But none of us are planning on dropping out or anything. It's a little deliberate self-deception, but it's mostly just that our love for school, or literature, is blinding. Which sounds corny, because it is.

23 April 2010

Conclusion: Sady Doyle and Amanda Hess are the loveliest ladies on the internet.

Adrienne and I both have been sort of obsessively checking the comments here lately, me with a certain kind of dread and her with a little glee. It's crunch time in the semester, so really, I'm sort of just cranky, and also, my criticism of Doctor Who fan culture has brought several angry men out of the woodwork in order to PROVE ME RIGHT in my sense of not feeling welcome in the community. (Not just here. I have also gotten emails.) Luckily, I have also received some nice emails and comments telling me thank you or assuring me that they are lady-friendly DW fans who think I'm pretty awesome. The encouraging-to-discouraging ratio has been pretty even, which is wonderful. This may be because I won't go near the DWO Whocast forums (Paul told me they've been getting some feedback, and I imagine most of it is there), because frankly, I only have so much stomach for personal insults and anti-feminist tirades. And since people have felt so strongly about it that they needed to email me or come over here and comment, I can't imagine that to be a non-occurrence on their forum (particularly since Paul made a point of being anti-"censorship.").

Anyway, I have yet to receive much internet harassment. However, as these two posts on Amy Pond alone have received more comments than the entirety of my blog before them put together, I am reeling a bit.(There was also Andrew, who felt the need to BOTHER ME ON TWITTER. It is apparently so goddamn terrible that I OPEN MY MOUTH ON THE INTERNET that he has to try and muzzle me everywhere. He also called me a pseudo-feminist, which may be the biggest compliment I have ever received from an anti-feminist.) So reading this post about the internet harassment of feminist women bloggers made me a happy lady. Also, I am glad that I have not gotten this amount of vitriol. Maybe it is because I am mean, like Sady, and also definitely because I'm not a well-read blog. (Apparently, a sign of your popularity is receiving gendered insults, or told you want to be/should be/are too fat or ugly to be raped. That is the world we live in.) A sample:
SADY: Hello! And, in related news, I hate you! Because we are on the Internet. Where ladies are hated abundantly!

AMANDA: With much vigor and from many angles! I really, really identified with Annaham’s post, mostly about how shit on the Internet does affect me, but I’m not allowed to talk about it because “it’s the Internet.” But there. I said it, it does.

SADY: INDEED IT DOES! I once spoke to someone who was like, “all you ever talk about is who hates you on the Internet today. And why are you letting it get under your skin?” And I was like, “Because they hate me! I don’t care where they are! Being on the Internet makes it WORSE, because I can SEE them hating me, FROM MY BEDROOM!” “I have a phone with e-mail on it! I can see people hating me WHEREVER I AM IN THE WORLD!”

AMANDA: Yeah, or from my office? For my career is located on the Internet.

SADY: PRECISELY. And, I mean, I really identified with Annaham’s piece too. It said stuff I had been struggling to say, for like the LONGEST time, but in an actually sensical way that could potentially persuade people. Rather than me being like, “AND ALSO, in the SUBWAY, people are mean!”

AMANDA: For me, it wasn’t so much that I couldn’t figure out how to say it—though she said it very, very well—but that I didn’t want to, because I don’t want to tip my hand toward awful, anonymous commenters, or show any weakness, or risk being eviscerated for acting like a victim. It’s not that I feel that I’ve been victimized. I just want to be able to talk about this shit, basically, and there’s no space for that. So she’s very brave, is what I’m saying.

SADY: Exactly. Because, the thing is, when you talk about Dicks On The Internet Getting You Down—or, worse, snap at one of them—people think you are just hypersensitive, and a whiner, and petty, and whatever. They think it’s a personal problem. Whereas, me, I’ve talked to a lot of ladies who are on the Internet. I’m really into building Internet Lady Community, because it’s not so easy. And here is the one way I have learned that you can start a passionate conversation with a lady who works on the Internet: MENTION MEAN COMMENTERS. Because we all get it! In super-intense ways! And at high volume! Every single lady on the Internet gets this thing!

AMANDA: Oh yeah. None of us is immune. And it’s not subtle, either. It’s obviously—just obviously—targeted at shutting us up.

SADY: Yes. It is not personal, it affects ladies qua ladies, it hurts and saddens, and I believe in ye olden tymes we would refer to this as a “Really Fucking Obvious Feminist Issue.”


AMANDA: I can’t wait to hear the troll perspective on this. Oh please! Yes. Explain the various ways that voluntarily reading and commenting on my blog oppresses you! Go on! Or perhaps you’d like to argue as to why you are doing me a service, and why I ought to be praising you for your volunteer work in the comments section? I am interested in considering all of these possibilities.

SADY: “One time I was on the Internet, and someone disagreed with me! I politely explained why she was a stupid little girl, and then, she YELLED at me. My oppression, it is intense at times. And yet, I soldier on!” — A Commenter.

AMANDA: In conclusion, BONERS.

SADY: It is a regular BONER PARTY, out there on the Internet. And it makes my lady boners wither away in despair. Though not really! Because also, I keep blogging. At this point, mainly just to piss them off. Do you hear that, Feminist-Blog-Hating Internet? YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR FEMINIST BLOGGING!

AMANDA: The world will never shrink this feminist boner!
"The world will never shrink this feminist boner" may be the best rallying cry ever. If ever this blog makes me sad again, I will just read Sady and Amanda and remember that mean and anti-feminist commenters can go suck it. Thanks, ladies!

UPDATE: About two minutes after publishing this, I read Kate Harding's piece about the subversive act of being a woman who thinks she's awesome in public, referencing Sady Doyle's unbelievably bad-ass "fuck you" to her troll Freddie. It's good, you should read it. And now my good mood is now going to last all fucking day.

20 April 2010

Amy Pond and the Male Gaze

There seems to be some misunderstanding about the male gaze and why Amy Pond's objectification is a problem. This comment showed up in my follow-up Amy Pond post anonymously:
I understand where you are coming from. However, I did notice that you didn't seem to have a problem with Amy Pond staring lustily at the Doctor while he undressed to put on his new clothes in "The Eleventh Hour". To be fair, in this day and age, women are not the only ones who are being objectified. It is quite prevalent in the opposite direction as well.
As Adrienne pointed out in a response to Tex's mansplanation about how objectification isn't that bad on my original Amy Pond post, male objectification IS becoming a problem. Increased rates of male anorexia, anxiety disorders, rape of men, etc. are all signs that this is increasingly affecting men negatively the way that objectification of women has negatively affected women for...well, for forever. And that is not a good thing. I am unequivocally against male objectification. But it is not as ubiquitous as female objectification, which is why I didn't mention it in my interview. In the scene you mentioned, we significantly don't see the Doctor's body. Because the camera is operating as the MALE GAZE. Instead, we see Amy, because that's who we're supposed to find attractive, and her obviously healthy libido in this scene is supposed to be desirable to the audience (because male heterosexual desire is figured in most film and television as a universal), as well as humorous. The shot isn't set up to objectify the Doctor's body (although it opens space for that), but to show us Amy's reaction, to articulate HER desires in the context of the audience's desire for her. Which isn't to say that the scene isn't entirely unproblematic in relation to the Doctor, but it's not the same as Amy Pond running around in a tight ass miniskirt (that she has to pull down like 10 times during the episode!) for an hour, and it doesn't mimic the way that the camera focuses on Amy's legs for good chunks of episode. They are not equal, though your point is well taken.

If you're interested in what exactly objectification is or why it's a problem, there's a good post about fantasies and female objectification over at Finally, a Feminism 101 Blog. And Dinosaur Comics has an entertaining and informative introduction to the male gaze:

UPDATE: In the interest of stealing Adrienne's patient 101-ing, from her comment to mansplaining Tex in this comment thread:
"'male gaze' is not objectification"

You do realize that male gaze isn't just a term that means the gaze that a male has, right? Male gaze is a very specific and theoretical concept popularized by Laura Mulvey in her article "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" and while objectification and male gaze can't be used interchangably... the male gaze is a fetishistic and voyeuristic thing. Very negative. Was then. Is now. While the debate after this article has primarily been about how much the male gaze dominates visual culture and how things can get more complicated than just the male gaze... theorists working with gender studies don't really disagree that the male gaze as defined is bad. Bad. And really really part and parcel of a lot of gender problems. Very linked to objectification.

19 April 2010

Quick hits, only vaguely related

Both of these seemed relevant to some of the things I've been talking about here lately.

First, Ophelia Benson talks about a recent NPR piece about the proponderance of men-folk as experts or analysts in the media (a poorly-planned NPR piece, by the way, since it's all, "Let's talk about how important it is to include women's voices!" without including actual, you know, WOMEN in the conversation). Clay Shirky is kind of an obnoxious asshole sometimes, but he also sometimes gets it. The quote Ophelia pulls is particularly smart:
BROOKE GLADSTONE: In your view, what is the impact of having so many more male voices as experts and sources than women?
CLAY SHIRKY: I think one of the big impacts is that the male voice is what expertise comes to sound like. And so, even from someone who doesn’t go in with a formally sexist bias about whether men are more expert than women in general, you may just unconsciously flip through to those parts of the rolodex.
Someone somewhere has to say, we have to change the fact of the representation before we change people’s mental model of what expertise sounds like because if we just wait, we will always lag the cultural change rather than leading it.
I wonder if there are many studies about this sort of thing. Do people tend to believe facts stated by men more than women? I imagine so, particularly since it seems to be the experience of most women that men just don't listen to women, completely discount their experiences, and need multiple women to say a thing before they'll even consider its validity. (A great example: this response to Zuska's compulsory smiling post.)

Second, MY HERO, Sady Doyle, and her musings with Amanda Hess about rock music and ladies. I'm not a big rock person, but this bit stuck in my heart:
SADY: Oh, man! And, yes: I think we even did a Ye Olde Sexist Beatdowne, about this, in Oldyn Tymes! My experience of lady-nerds is that they tend to be huge and fairly hardcore feminists. And I was like, “that’s funny, I never thought of feminism as a particularly nerdy thing,” but then I realized (a) I was on the Internet, and (b) male nerd subculture tends to be like INTENSE in its misogyny! Lady-nerds seriously grab on to feminism like it is a buoy and they are drowning, because it is! And they sort of are! And women in music sometimes do the same thing, see: Riot Grrrl, duh. Formed in reaction to dudes with floppy Kurt Cobain haircuts, at least one of whom was ACTUALLY KURT COBAIN. (Though he was a huge feminist, God bless.)

AMANDA: Yeah. It’s not that I don’t appreciate and understand men who are alternative in appearance or interest or values or whatever needing a space that’s outside the mainstream that’s their own.

SADY: Maybe they could all become Male Studies Majors?

AMANDA: BUT. I wonder if some of the disconnect here is in these guys thinking that their asymmetrical haircut or interest in Magic: The Gathering is like the most intensely othering experience that a human can have? And are unaware that there are some other people around who may have that experience of being othered no matter which subculture they attempt to access.
THIS. Feminism has been for me, as a person who only entered geek subcultures as an adult, a lifeline. A buoy that reminds me that I AM NOT A CRAZY PERSON. Well, I am a bit of a crazy person, but not because I feel unmoored in most geek spaces. Anyway, Sady and Amanda, I love you.

18 April 2010

Meta-blogging: And now I get to delete assholes!

Remember when I said my blog isn't popular enough for people to be complete and total dickheads in the comments? Not true anymore! So I have turned on comment moderation, and below is a general reasoning for that as well as general guidelines for commenting here.

This is the direct result of my interview with Whocast. I've had about 50 or so hits from it already, and a couple cranky comments from one Andrew Littler. Both have been deleted, but for context, I'll let you see the most objectionable one:
Thank you for doing your feminist duties and pointing out things about female characters that only your sort can manage to pick apart as much as you do.

What voices are being privileged? What duty does the fan base of any particular show have to advertise how apparently open they are supposed to be? Would not calling out for female input then be discriminating against a male audience?

But then, I forgot what feminism really is. Not about female equality, but about female superiority. Sorry, I must have missed that part.

Ps: the mislabeled 'irony' in your third paragraph had no actually associated 'example'. It is not ironic that you are whining about attractive women in a gay dudes show, that is what we call 'annoying' and 'stereotypical'.

You do not understand sci-fi because you are a female, but because you are a fucking idiot.
[N.B. The fact that DW is a "gay dudes show" (sic) makes the objectification of Amy Pond even more disturbing. The heterosexual male gaze is so normalized that it even finds its way into a show where most of the viewers are gay men or women? How is that okay?]

Now, I didn't delete this because he called me a "fucking idiot." I deleted it because it argued that reaching out to female fans is sexist (!) and that feminists really just want female superiority. Not only is he full of shit and in no way looking for a debate, since he's already decided that nothing I have to say is worthy of consideration, he's a fucking mansplainer who thinks that he knows better than feminists what feminism is about.

When Paul from Whocast emailed me to let me know they've been getting lots of feedback about it, I told him I'd already received a cranky comment on my blog, but I deleted it, because it's my blog and I can do that. His response is illustrative, I think, of how privilege works on the internet:
I think anything that is put out for public consumption should be able to stand up to any sort of critique; if it can't then the analysis of that will show it to be false. However, that isn't to say that it should be removed when found to be invalid -- a comment that doesn't gel with our own thoughts doesn't make it invalid, just different. I think rather than removing comments, the intelligent thing to do is to address the comments in a thought out way or confront them.

Your posting about me and other male podcasters is a classic example, you had something to say and in one context perfectly valid; personal insults aside, I read it with an open mind and felt the best way to respond was to speak to you directly and let you have your say. In doing so, some contexts were changed and some of the thought processes were changed. This indeed, does not invalidate your first posting at all; I still think a lot of assumptions were made that were unfair, but I think they (for the most part) have been resolved.

So, all I am saying is, censorship is not a male v female thing, it just is. EVERYONE should be allowed to voice their views, no matter how distasteful and it is the intelligent people of this world's duty to ensure they comment and discredit, or support and push (depending on the view being placed).

Free and open conversation should always be encouraged, but censorship stifles that (in my opinion).
I find the claim that arguments like the above are not "invalid, just different" to be a dangerous form of relativism. Littler's arguments--that feminists want female superiority and that attempting to bring more diverse voices into the fore of the DW fan community is discriminatory--are absolutely invalid. They are wrong, and they are obviously wrong to anyone with a dash of critical thinking skills. They are the arguments of a privileged individual who doesn't want his privilege acknowledged, examined, or threatened. And this guy doesn't want a debate. He has already decided that my voice doesn't matter, that my feminist-y ways make me incapable of being right, of having anything worth saying. If I were to engage with him, it would degenerate very quickly into the sort of gendered violence and insults that I don't want on this blog.

I do, however, understand where Paul is coming from, but as I said to him, the internet is a different place for him than for me. The idea that the internet is a free market of ideas, in which intelligent debate sorts out the valid from the invalid, is an idea you can only hold true if you're in a position of privilege or you only go to certain (moderated) places on the internet. (It is also an idea you can only have if you've never ventured into unmoderated comment spaces, like the comment sections of big news networks.) When I made the argument on the Gally forum that we should be responsible for the things we say, and recognize that even jokes have consequences on other peoples' lives, I was literally considered crazy, hysterical, and over-emotional. It was a gendered attack, and a (very) effective strategy for silencing and marginalizing women since the beginning of Western civilization. I didn't win that argument, and it would be impossible for anyone to read it and decide that it's because we had a fair debate in which I lost. My experiences meant nothing to those people, and neither did the experiences of any other marginalized population. So, yes, it is a male v. female thing, as well as a white v. non-white thing, an abled v. disabled thing, a cis- v. transgendered thing. It is all of those things, because when you self-identify as one of those marginalized populations (or even just argue that we should rectify our discriminations against those populations), the internet is a different place. A meaner place. A more threatening place. And the fact that my identity is no secret on this blog means that I am in a more precarious position, one in which gendered threats on the internet have more purchase in my life. And that affects what I will and will not put up with in the comments. It is not my duty to debate with every misogynistic anti-feminist asshole on the internet. It is not my duty to debate with every misogynistic anti-feminist asshole on this blog. Because, frankly, this is the ONE PLACE on the internet where I can determine how upset my commenters make me. The ONE PLACE where I don't have to react to gendered attacks or sexist arguments.

I've always liked this bit from Shakesville's comment policy:
This blog is meant to be a refuge from the entire rest of the world where people who deviate in some way from arbitrary norms are ridiculed, marginalized, turned into punchlines, silenced, targeted, treated as less than, made to feel not good enough, put at real risk of physical harm, and denied rights, opportunities, access, equal pay, friendships, votes, equality.
Basically, I think it's unfair to expect all bloggers everywhere to engage with bigoted and trolling arguments. That is an unfair burden. I shouldn't have to tell Littler that no, feminists don't want female superiority, just an end to all forms of hierarchy-based dominance. That reaching out to more diverse fan voices is necessary only because certain voices are already privileged, because fan communities can be unsafe spaces for certain people. Do you really think he'd actually listen to me? He's already made up his mind. So unless I leave him up to be mocked by me and other commenters, his comment serves no purpose but to give me a headache. And I think we all deserve ONE PLACE in our lives where we don't have to listen to and engage with bigotry and douchebaggery. ONE PLACE where we can either respond with sarcasm and rudeness (an unsafe response in the real world) or where we can literally delete them (an impossible response in the real world). This blog is my place, and I hope it can be that place for other people, too. And in the context of my life, the argument against "censorship" just holds little purchase. I'm not violating anyone's rights here. I am not representative of the government, and if I tell you to shut up or fuck off, I am not infringing on your Constitutional rights. What I am trying to do here is create a safe space for constructive discussion (I think sarcasm and rudeness can be strategic and constructive.), and allowing trolling assholes to run wild is not going to contribute to either of those goals.

I will not allow bullying here. I will not allow people to engage in sexist, ableist, homophobic, racist, sizeist, transphobic arguments here. And I will not allow douchebag trolls like Littler to completely sidetrack the entire conversation by arguing against gender tolerance and feminism altogether. If he wants to argue that, I'm not stopping him. He just can't argue it here. It is counter-productive and makes my blog a place where I don't feel comfortable. And if I don't feel comfortable, how can I expect other people, people with far less privilege than me, to find my blog a safe space?

So you don't have to be polite to me. You don't have to agree with me. But this is a feminist blog. It is intended as a safe space. It is not a place where we put down women, people of color, GLBTQI people, fat people, disabled people, old people. It is not a place where we engage with stupid and ultimately bigoted arguments--like the argument that reaching out to women is discriminatory to men or that affirmative action is racist. It is not a place where we make threats or engage in linguistic or epistemological violence. Because I get enough of all that in life and in other places on the internet, and so does everyone else.

In all fairness, you're allowed to do what I do. Most comment policies say things like, "avoid personal insults or ad hominem attacks." I don't. You can be rude, you can swear, and you can mock. I didn't delete Littler's comment because he called me a fucking idiot. I deleted him because his comment detracts from constructive conversation, because I judged him to be trolling douchehound. If anyone has a problem with this policy, go elsewhere. The internet is a big place, full of blogs that aren't feminist.

17 April 2010

Sexism, Amy Pond, and the kindness of podcasters

UDATE: The podcast is up! My interview is first if you don't want spoilers for the newest episode.

Part one, in which I take podcasters in particular to task for the objectification of Amy Pond.

So, when Paul called me up (man, accents are hard to translate on cell phones!) he explained: "I don't know if this is true in the U.S., but in the U.K. most Doctor Who fans are gay." Which of course makes the whole conversation about Amy Pond take a different tone. A much more ironic tone, for example? So I do take back my ire at Paul, who is not an asshole, and a very friendly person.

We're all, by the way, lucky I didn't swear. It took concentration not to do that.

N.B.: Paul was asking me for solutions, and I was probably coming off a little vague. That's because 1) I am 23 and don't have all the feminist answers yet and 2) the privileging of male voices in DW fandom is part and parcel of (not separate from) Western patriarchy, and that's not exactly an easy problem to fix. It's complicated. I mentioned making fan spaces safer and more welcoming for women. Practical applications of that are a bit easier, things like not objectifying female characters in those spaces, calling out sexism in those spaces, supporting women when they do face sexism in those spaces. This is the job of individual female-friendly fans who occupy those spaces. This means not only moderating (i.e. deleting overtly violent or hateful misogyny, homophobia, racism, transphobia, etc.) but also just calling it out when it isn't ban-worthy. Tell people, for example, who post on the Gally forum that "girls don't get sci fi" that they are sexist assholes who can take their sexist assholery elsewhere. That might not make them leave, but if enough men (and women! Women can be complicit in this as well.) call it out, more women are going to feel like the forum is a safe space for them, a space where they don't have to face inevitable misogyny on their own, but are supported by their fellow fans. And because male voices are privileged in fan spaces (except in certain places, like Livejournal), it means that men who ARE those privileged voices need to make a concerted effort to include more diverse voices (not just women, but people of color, trans, genderqueer, etc.). They have to reach out and invite us into the conversation. Paul's contacting me is a great example of this. We're out here, talking about Doctor Who and what it means to us and what it's like to be ourselves in this community. You have to reach out, you have to make us feel welcome. Because otherwise, it's easy to assume that you're perfectly happy with the way it is, where every review episode of every DW podcast is a string of men talking to each other.

As for how to evaluate Amy, it IS possible to be sex-positive and not objectify her. For some interesting discussion on this, see the Feminism 101 thread on feminist porn. It's important to recognize the male gaze and subvert it. I do think we can talk about Amy Pond as a sexual character, as a character who is promiscuous, without objectifying her, without talking about her body as though it were public. We need to acknowledge not only how we look at her, but how the camera looks at her. This is not an easy conversation to have, and I have no pat answers or easy solutions. But as long as we're having a critical conversation about it, and are willing to take criticism and responsibility for the things that we say, we're on the right track. There's not exactly a whole lot of precedent for talking about sexual women in a way that doesn't 1) slut-shame or 2) objectify. Or even 3) both. So we have to make this conversation up as we go along, and that means screwing up every once in a while. It also means considering criticism of our discourse carefully and remembering all the while that real women and their bodies are at stake in that conversation.

Part of the reason that there seems to be a contradiction between allowing Amy to celebrate her own sexuality onscreen and not objectifying her is that we have screwed up definitions of women's sexuality. There is no contradiction once we define Amy sexuality by her own desires, not by the display and consumption of her body by heterosexual male viewers. When we allow "Amy reveling in her own sexuality" to be "Amy partaking of and enjoying her own desires," female sexuality is not spectacle, with all the power dynamics inherent in that model, but a model of autonomy and subjectivity, in which women articulate and fulfill their desires in whatever way makes them most happy. We need to stop defining sex by a heteronormative and patriarchal standard in order to resolve the contradiction between viewing Amy as (heteronormative) sex object and giving the character space to celebrate her sexuality.

Thanks, Paul, for inviting me on the show! It was lovely and I hope some good comes of it.

15 April 2010

Am I going to have to listen to sexist nonsense about Karen Gillan for the next year?

UPDATE: In response to this post, DWO Whocast invited me to speak on their show! Apparently, there was quite a bit lost in cultural translation, but Paul was very nice about it and said that he still thinks my point is valid. So I have a new post up explaining that mis-translation (Sorry, by the way, Paul, for calling you an asshole.) and clearing up a few points more elegantly than I did in the interview. I'll also link to the podcast once it's up.

That question is rhetorical. Because the answer is, unless Doctor Who podcasters get their heads out of their asses: YES.

This started at the Gallifrey forum, where I saw a lots of posts from men being gross about Karen Gillan, who plays Amy Pond, the Doctor's newest companion. I think the men felt more comfortable doing this with Amy than they had with other companions because Karen Gillan used to be a model. So, there are pictures. Which I won't link here, but you can google it if you don't know what I mean. Anyway, that is no excuse for leering at her and treating her like her body is public fucking property. Which shouldn't need saying. There were also a few posts by women protesting this, particularly since Tennant fangirls were teased, if not outright rejected, because they liked DW "for the wrong reasons," and because DW isn't "about that." But as soon as Karen Gillan steps on the scene, male fans are allowed to put on their misogynist hats and gush about how! damn! hot! she is. Which isn't to say that objectifying Tennant was okay or anything, but Tennant fangirl-ism starts (most of the time) with how wonderful of an actor he is, how well he plays the Doctor and how convincingly, and ends with how attractive he is. I say this as a Tennant fangirl myself. Yes, he's gorgeous, but his attractiveness is a result of his general awesomeness as the Doctor, not his body or his hair. (He does have great hair.)

Anyway, I don't go on DW forums anymore. But, I do listen to the podcasts. I still want to be a part of the fan culture, and have my ear to the ground, so this is how I do it. I listen to the four most popular DW podcasts: DWO Whocast, Doctor Who Podshock, Radio Free Skaro, and The Doctor Who Podcast, as well as a couple outliers: Sonic Newsdriver and Tardis Tavern.

SO. I listen to a lot of podcasts. Enough for this to be surprising: there are no women on any of them. You read that right. NOT ONE. And these aren't one-man podcasts. All except Sonic Newsdriver have two hosts, and many have three. Why are there no women? I honestly don't know. Maybe men don't think women watch Doctor Who. Or they don't think women have opinions about Doctor Who. Opinions worth listening to, anyway. When I first listened to the podcasts I'm about to talk about, I twittered this:
Oh for crissake, am I really going to have to listen for the rest of Amy Pond's reign about how she's beautiful first and good actress 1/2
Second? YOU HAVE FEMALE LISTENERS Doctor Who podcasts! Women who would like to be treated like people! Craziness. 2/2
Most of the DW podcasts follow you if you follow them, so I got this response from Tardis Tavern:
@cnstoker I have to admit I'm surprised at the amount of feedback we get from female listeners! But that is DW for you! :-)
Which pissed me off a little. You are surprised? Why? Doctor Who has a huge female fan base. This is NOT NEWS. Are you surprised they want to listen to podcasts? Do women not do that or something? Or are you surprised that women are fans in the same way that men are fans, meaning that they want to engage with the show beyond just watching it and having sex fantasies about Matt Smith? I mean, we all know women do cosplay and silly things like that, but LISTENING to ANALYSES of the show? Did you think their TINY BRAINS might explode from the ANALYTICAL GENIUS of the DW podcast world? (As a literary critic, let me just point out: no, they would not, even if women had the tiniest of brains, because the analysis of the podcasters is usually barely above surface level.) Anyway, I didn't write that response, because I don't want to discourage them reaching out to female listeners. Instead I wrote something like this:
1/2 @tardistavern I wonder if their reasoning is anything like mine, which is going to make me sound like a grump: no matter how many times
2/2 @tardistavern the podcasts talk about Amy like that, they will never be as sexist as the forums. Maybe I need to try Livejournal.
@tardistavern Which is all to say: good for you for noticing! Ladies and DW are a natural fit. :)
Needless to say, I was so proud of myself for how nice I was. As we all know, I am a grump. And DW podcasters acting SURPRISED at having female listeners makes me grumpy. But not, friends, as grumpy as listening to podcasters make disgusting comments about Amy Pond/Karen Gillan does. Not even close.

It all stared with Podshock, episode 190. Which went well. They brought on a bunch of guests to talk about the first episode of the new season, The Eleventh Hour (unsurprisingly, no lady guests). Lots of enthusiasm and excitement and love. Then came Darth Skeptical, who said this about 30 minutes in:
Certainly nothing wrong with Karen Gillan, occasional moments where I think she overacts slightly, but…who cares because she’s gorgeous and because most of the time she hits the right notes anyway.(emphasis mine)
I rewound to make sure I heard that right. Oh, I did. I sent Podshock an angry response on their voicemail feedback number, but so far nothing. Here's the deal: no one said anything about this. None of the hosts, none of the guests, because no one seemed to find anything wrong with it. If Darth had said this about Tennant or Smith, had said something like "Sometimes I think Tennant/Smith overacts a bit, but who cares because he's gorgeous/he has great hair/he looks hot in that suit and most of the time he hits the right note anyway," SURELY someone would have interrupted him. SURELY someone would have said, "Gee, Darth, wait a minute. Tennant's hair doesn't have anything to do with his performance. Smith's gorgeous face isn't really relevant in this conversation." But Darth wouldn't have said that, because it sounds ridiculous when you say something like that about a man. We're all used to hearing about women as though their attractiveness comes first and any talent they have a distant second, but even with all of Darth's qualifiers, THIS IS NOT OKAY. If Karen Gillan is a good Amy Pond (and I think she is), she is so because she's a great actress, because she has good chemistry with the Doctor. Not because she looks good in a miniskirt.

Darth's comment was more or less innocuous, and picking it out of his commentary could be construed as nit-picking. Which is what Doctor Who fans do, but whatever. I'm over it. Until I listen to the DWO Podcast a little later, and here this horrifying conversation from episode 5.2, starting about 18 minutes in (my comments in parentheses):
Paul: I want to quickly talk about Amy, because isn't she gorgeous?
(The tone of this is: Well, now let's talk about the important things, like how hot Amy is.)

Seb: Yeah, yeah. And a fantastic actress as well.
(You can tell he's a bit taken aback by this turn in direction.)

Paul: Yeah, absolutely.
(This tone is the most telling; he says, "yeah, absolutely" in a sort of "well, sure, but that's not really the point, is it?" way.) But, um, you know her running around in her, her nightdress and uh (both laugh)I wonder...

Seb: Get, getting wet.

(Both laugh)

Paul: I wonder how many men tried to, uh, look up her, look up her nightdress (Seb laughing) as she's (Seb interrupts, difficult to interpret)

Seb: Quickly finish that sentence.

Paul:(laughs) Come on, I reckon there's a lot of men out there who tried look at her knickers up that little dress there.

Seb:(laughing)Oh dear. You, you went exactly where I didn't want you to. (both laughing)

Paul: They wouldn't have put it in if, if, if they hadn't wanted something along those lines. Let's face it, you know, she's a "kiss-o-gram," in quotes, and that, in another language, means she's a stripper. I mean, it...I've got no doubt in my mind about that. The other thing is, you know, uh. Uh, about little Amy is, I absolutely adore her.

Seb: Yeah, the other thing about her is she's a very good foil for the Doctor.

Paul: Oh yeah. (continues talking about things that aren't Amy's body, apparently getting the fucking point)
In Seb's defense, he tried to shut down the conversation early. He laughed and everything, but you could tell from the beginning that this was not how he wanted to conversation to go. I don't know what his motivations for that were, because it could have just been because of podcast content and not his own respect for women, but I'd like to give him the benefit of the doubt, since I don't have much evidence either way. Even given that, however, he should have spoken up more forcefully, made it clear that the things Paul was saying were NOT OKAY. You don't help women when you let people like Paul think that it's normal to talk like this.

But Paul. CHRIST, Paul. What the hell happened there? You decided that treating a woman like a person was just TOO FUCKING HARD, so instead of doing that you're going to tell everyone about how you were DESPERATELY trying to upskirt Karen Gillan while watching Doctor Who? Seriously, WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU? This is Feminism 101 stuff: Don't treat women like public property. Don't insinuate that it's okay to treat women like public property if they're in sex work. Don't call grown women "little Amy." Don't act like your gross-ass sexual appropriation of said grown woman's body is appropriately labelled "adoration."

Here's the deal with Amy: she is an openly sexual character. With which I have no problem. Women should be promiscuous as they like with no judgment from anyone. But promiscuous women should not be subject to men thinking that their promiscuity gives those men the right to TRY TO LOOK UP THEIR SKIRTS. And, frankly, when normatively attractive women are on television, and written as promiscuous, it's very likely that the people creating the show had something like that "in mind," because the objectification and appropriation of women's bodies is a real, terrible thing in the world. But that doesn't excuse Paul, because he should be fucking aware of the fact that Karen Gillan is a REAL PERSON. And he has no right. None.

The kiss-o-gram = stripper comment was particularly telling, as well. Paul knows, on some level, that this would be an inappropriate conversation to have about NORMAL women, but he thinks that sex workers ARE public property, and thus he can safely talk about Amy like this if he can establish that she is in the same class as a sex worker. Aside from the fact that this argument makes no goddamn sense on its face (a kiss-o-gram is NOT a euphemism for "stripper," but an entirely different occupation), Paul is tipping his asshole hand here rather clearly. So, Paul, in case no one else tells you: Trying to look up the skirt of a stripper, unless she is clearly and enthusiastically inviting you to do so, is NOT OKAY. You have to get consent, even from strippers. Even (take a deep breath) PROSTITUTES reserve the right to tell you no. Or fuck off, if they're feeling cheeky.

So, one more time with feeling: Women's bodies are not public property, or there for your judgment and approval. Not even Karen Gillan's. So cut it the fuck out, DW podcasts.

11 April 2010

Apologies, (maybe empty) promises, and the BWWC

It's getting to be that time of the semester when I see how many weeks I have left before seminar papers are due and panic a little. For example, I have a ten-page gender essay due Thursday and only a vague idea of a thesis. So.

I also have a folder fucking bursting with recent things about sexism and geek culture (read part one here), which I've been adding to almost every day. Which is awesome, because it means I have lots to choose from, but also that it's going to take forever to sift through it. Especially if I keep adding to it, which I probably will, since my Google Reader has about twenty or so geeky blogs and comics on it. So, I ask patience and promise that I will begin writing that post this week, and hopefully will have another post about Victorian sex (!) up by the end of the week. I hate people who write posts like this, but if I don't promise you publicly, I'll disappear for a month with only lingering guilt.

In other, more positive sci fi news, I just got Chicks Dig Time Lords in the mail, which I'm enjoying so much right now. I'll be writing a review for my Doctor Who readers.

Meanwhile, back at the farm, I just attended the 18th and 19th Century British Women Writers Conference to present my paper on Jane Austen's Mansfield Park and the Oriental woman's haunting of the novel. It went really well! I got all the first questions, which all started with how awesome I am, and some really great comments and suggestions for furthering the project. So yay!

Also, my blog got outed to some current professors. Welcome, ladies!

And it's always great when women you admire so very much seem to be talking about you and telling good things about you, which was what I kept hearing, including a humorous "I heard you had strong opinions" after a comment I made. But I'm all a-glow, and feel incredibly lucky to have so many smart, wonderful, and supportive women counted among my friends and mentors.

So, I'm done gushing. Go about your regular business.