23 October 2010

Sometimes the Batt is hilariously infuriating...

Like this article about a sophomore football player:
At first glance, Ryan Swope is the atypical Aggie - with shaggy blonde hair [you know, gay] and an Austin background [see? totally gay], he fits the College Station stereotype of Longhorns [Batt writers don't know how college works. Living in Austin makes you a Longhorn! Also having a particular kind of hair.].
Does this newspaper just not have an editor?

11 October 2010

Privileged college students and "hobos": Exactly alike?

So usually the Battalion is boring. But when it decides to spice up the boring with offensive, it goes all-out. One of this week's issues features an opinion piece comparing college students and "hobos." Yes, you read that right. Because privileged college students and homeless people are exactly alike! And comparing them is hi-larious! And "hobo" is a totally not-offensive, not-dehumanizing term!
I was only thinking about how I could eat my lunch and study at the library, but the lack of a home base made me feel like a vagabond. I gave the subject more thought and realized most college students demonstrate the habits of hobos.
Ahahaha! Get it? College students are just like hobos because they lack a "home base." Never mind that they have homes. That's not what being homeless is about! It's about napping outside!
Many off-campus dwellers find themselves in situations similar to this: a full day of classes while running on two hours of sleep simply will not cut it. What's a college student to do? We nap. Anywhere and everywhere we can: outside, inside, on park benches, on the stairs, in class, on couches in the library, on the grassy knoll, in quiet areas or loud. It is possible to find nappers in the most obscure places on campus.
We could debate about whether this author meant something different by using the word "hobo" instead of "homeless." Hobo implies some choice in lifestyle as well as carrying a slightly romantic air. That we've romanticized the "tramp" or "hobo" is in itself problematic; it allows things like this article to imply that homeless people choose to be homeless, or enjoy being homeless. It elides the systemic inequalities in our country that lead to crippling poverty and homelessness. It elides the fact that the vast majority of homeless people are single women with children, by putting forth the image of the "hobo," a carefree, wandering man. And the comparison of the homeless with college students assumes, incorrectly, that there's no such thing as a homeless college student.

What this article actually says is offensive enough, but what it elides makes it reprehensible.
It isn't easy to live the life of a college student, or a hobo, but it will not last forever. Unless you decide to further your education, a job after graduation will give you a bit more stability. The job you so desire will give you a constant influx of cash that will hopefully allow you to keep your cool in the presence of free food, while wearing clean clothes on a regular basis. Rest assured, this lifestyle is temporary.
This conclusion is horrifying. Let's not talk about actual homeless college students, for whom sleeping in the library is not just a convenient alternative to going to your dorm or apartment, but one of very few undesirable options. For whom getting something to eat, a place to shower, or a place to sleep are a struggle, all on top of keeping up with schoolwork and paying for tuition. This could have been a thoughtful article, one that pointed out that joking about being "homeless" because you're broke (not poor) and nap on campus is incredibly insensitive and offensive. It could have motioned toward the fact that A&M likely has its own homeless students, who have few resources in dealing with their struggle. Instead it emphasizes that your own "hobo" lifestyle in college is temporary (and thus humorous!). By celebrating the financial security of the upwardly mobile (and, for the most part, already middle- or upper-middle-class) students of A&M, this piece has a problematic takeaway: Your privilege means you can make jokes about whatever you want, because serious downers like homelessness and poverty don't touch your life. It's not a problem if it's not your problem.

If you're homeless in the Bryan/College Station area, contact Family Promise or Twin City Mission. (Feel free to list other resources in the comments.)

You can contact the opinion editor for the Batt, Ian McPhail, at opinion@thebatt.com, or the general editor, Matt Woolbright, at editor@thebatt.com.

06 October 2010

Connecting with female characters in geek television

Cross-posted at Geek Feminism.

s. e. smith wrote this amazing post a while back at Bitch's Push(back) at the Intersections: "I Just Don't Like That Many Female Characters." And I read it and was like, "OMG GEEK CULTURE." Because, really:
'I just don't really like many female characters, you know?'

I see this coming up again and again in discussions about pop culture; this is an attitude I myself once embraced and espoused, like it was a badge of honor to dislike most female characters. I thought I was being oh-so-edgy and critiquing female characters when really I was engaging in an age-old form of misogyny, where people prove how progressive they are by saying they hate women.

I know, it sounds weird. But there is a thing that happens where some feminists declare themselves firmly to be 'one of the guys.' I'm not sure if it's a defensive tactic, designed to flip some attitudes about feminism and feminists, or if there is a genuine belief that being feminist means 'being one of the guys.' Once you are 'one of the guys,' you of course need to prove it by bashing on women, because this is what 'guys' do, yes? So you say that you don't really 'connect with' or 'like' female characters you encounter in pop culture.
If feminists feel pressure to be accepted as "one of the guys," imagine how geek women feel, particularly early in their lives, when they often feel isolated from one another.
This tendency to dislike female character reminds me of another "being one of the guys" strategy: I often meet women who tell me proudly, "I just don't get along with women.* All of my best friends have been guys." These women also often think that this fact actually makes them progressive (because nothing's more radical than failing to create female-centric relationships!). And most of the women I've known who say this are geeks. It's actually one of the reasons it took so long for me to become friends with geeks, because "I don't get along with women" is dealbreaker for me. Any woman who says this is either a) telling me that I can never expect more than perfunctory friendship with them or b) inviting me to denigrate women as well, as the basis of our friendship. And no thank you.

Which is not, of course, to say that these ladies are horrible people. Women who refuse to connect with other women, fictional or real, are not causing the problem, but perpetuating it, because they've bought patriarchal narratives about women hook, line, and sinker. They seek connections with men, because men are the rational, smarter set, and by doing so they feel required to malign their own genders, because, as smith points out, "bashing on women" is just what dudes do. But loving other women, connecting with other women, is one of the most radical feminist act one can perform. And I think that goes for fictional characters, too, especially since I know that my personal path to feminism would have been greatly hindered if it weren't for Xena and Buffy.

So it hurts my heart when geeks inexplicably "hate" female characters on geek shows. Indeed, the two examples smith uses are actually from geeky/fantasy/SF shows: True Blood and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It seems like misogynist write-offs of female characters are disturbingly prevalent in allegedly progressive fan cultures (like the overtly feminist Buffy), and the ones that have been pissing me off lately are, of course, Doctor Who-related. A sizeable part of DW and Torchwood fandoms has a lot of ire for female characters from these series. The two I want to focus on, in part because hatred of these characters is well-represented in both fan communitities, are Gwen Cooper (from Torchwood) and River Song (from Doctor Who).

[Spoilers for season 5 of Doctor Who and Torchwood: Children of Earth (season 3) below the fold.]

[Trigger warning for imagined violence against female characters, slut-shaming, and other misogynistic language.]

02 October 2010

Learning Curve...

My friend Rena wrote this post recently, about how her recent exposure to feminism has helped her to learn some things about healthy relationships. She's a lovely lady, and I hope you enjoy! (Courtney)

Cross-posted from JMBL.

Having just ended a relationship, I thought it might be a good idea to catalogue what this relationship taught me. Well, I was also partially inspired by another blog post I read.

This relationship taught me a lot about what I like and don't like... and what I want and don't want. Aside from personal preferences though, I also learned a few things about what a good relationship should be.

Relationships are built on trust and communication.

Well, I've always known that, really. It was one of my keywords back when I was 18, before I got married. Yet, I think I didn't pay enough attention to it . This applies really to any relationship: friends, lovers, family... the quality of the relationship will depend on the level of communication and trust.

The confusing part for me this time around was attempting to figure out how to make this work with someone who had some rather fundamental differences in belief. Yes, I believe it's possible for two people to not believe in exactly the same things, or necessarily be passionate about the same things, and still have a healthy relationship. It's something I had no previous experience with though, since my only previous relationship was with someone who shared all of my fundamental beliefs. I think that hesitation and confusion led me to be far more forgiving of some things than I ought to have been.

Warning Sign #1: No respect for Boundaries

One of the things that this experience really drove home for me was that someone who can't respect boundaries is not someone I ever want to be in a relationship with. When they ask me about things that make me cry, and know that this causes me distress, yet continue to ask and to push, that's a sign that they care less about hurting me than about what they want. When they ask me to do something to which I clearly say no, and continue to ask again and again, until I finally say yes, that's a sign that they're going to push for what they want, regardless of what might be best for me. When I clearly state that something is not okay, and they try to do it anyway, then claim they have forgotten... it's more likely a sign that they care more about what they want than about showing me respect.

Warning Sign #2: Reluctance to Clarify

First, a really great quote about how to clarify what you want from someone else before you enter into a non-exclusive relationship (though I think some of these things would be good to talk about before entering into an exclusive relationship also):
I always set down at the outset - what does the other person want to be told, or not, about other partners?  How do we handle mutual friends, and who can get told, or can nobody?  How much notice is needed before showing up?  What things, sexually, are off-limits?  Does the intimacy end at the bedroom door - all affection becomes friendly once outside it - or are we holding hands walking down the street and kissing on street corners?  What labels or answers do we feel comfortable giving when other people ask?  And the biggest agreement, which is if anyone's feelings change, the other person gets told immediately - whether it's growing disinterested or falling in love.  Either one can make everything end badly.
(It's a great post, but please be warned if you go to read it, that some of the content may be triggering for rape victims.) When I read this post, it made me realize that there were several things I hadn't asked that I probably should have. Being in a relationship where the lines are fuzzy and you are often confused is a sign that you need to clarify. Reluctance on the part of the other person to make those clarifications is definitely a warning sign. Asking and receiving no response may be a sign that you need to get out.

Warning Sign #3: No Response to Feedback

With me, I was in a situation very different from any situation I'd ever experienced before. This really drove home the need to be able to give feedback and have that listened to and responded to. Yes, response is crucial. See my last post. Effective communication requires feedback. If I say something and get no response, I don't know if I was clearly understood. Good relationships require you to be able to both give and receive this kind of feedback, because good relationships are all about figuring out what works for all parties involved. There is no generic template here. Each pairing of people entering into relationships have their own unique preferences and issues. When someone cannot, or is not willing to, discuss feedback issues, that's a warning sign that they may not really care about that feedback.

Warning Sign #4: You Can't Take What I Say Literally

Everyone jokes around sometimes and uses sarcasm or irony to mock things. Sometimes. When I find myself needing to reverse the meaning of about half of what someone is saying though, that starts to become a problem. When their manner of joking is to frequently insult me, though they clearly intend it to be taken as a joke, I start to wonder if it's really a joke. And then I found this:
Our culture tells men constantly that women emasculate you, that they're gross and icky, that they ruin everything, that they deserve violence and punishment, thatthey ruin your life once you're married, that they deserve to be hated. And you and your buddies joking about how women are only good for sex and cooking are not fucking helping.
In this post, Courtney links to another post that has much more eloquent things to say about the issue than I ever could. The point though? The point is that just because you didn't really mean it, or just because you intended your words to be taken as a joke - doesn't mean that they were. When someone you're in a relationship with tells you that the solution to this is that you need to lighten up and realize that they are not serious/joking most of the time, that's a warning sign. The real solution? They need to work on clearer communication. Maybe they should learn to say what they actually mean instead of wanting other people to always understand that they do NOT mean what they are actually saying. It might even be a warning sign that they DO mean what they are actually saying, and that calling it a joke, or saying, "I would never actually mean that!" is merely an excuse to cover their butt.

Warning Sign #5: I'm Going to Tell You What I Am; That Makes it Okay.

Here's my last thing to keep in mind for the future. I recently read this article:
This is the “I’m Such A Dick” Gambit. And before we proceed, it is time to discuss. For the “I’m Such a Dick” Gambit, aside from being the world’s Number One Most Popular Rhetorical Device To Open Your Sexist Op-Ed With, is also one of the more fearsome and annoying weapons of psychological warfare in existence.
I really HIGHLY recommend the article. Because here's the thing: When someone tells you that they are a bastard, they're often doing it to manipulate you.
I’m such a dick! Do you not find me charming?

We have already established that this person is an asshole; he admits to it. We’ve also established that being an asshole is funny and cool. Your choices are to laugh along, congratulate him on his discernment — wow, people who aren’t Dick really ARE losers, aren’t they? — or RUIN EVERYTHING FOREVER BECAUSE YOU’RE MEAN AND HATE FUN. Magically, by admitting that he is a total prick sometimes, Dick has managed to leave you, the person who objects to his behavior, holding the bag.
Saying what they are is a ploy to take away our ability to object to their behavior.
(And if the confession is made with any degree of sadness, watch out. Chances are that you are dealing with a Level Two Dick, or “Pity Dick,” who is shielded from critique by his own poor self-esteem, forged from the fires of Hell into an unstoppable weapon that lets him get away with basically anything, because if you’re mean he might cry.)
Our response might even be to defend them: "No, you're not a bastard. You're just human." Now we've just given them permission to continue acting like a bastard. So when someone starts saying something along the lines of, "I'm such a bastard," it may be a warning sign that they actually ARE a bastard. Feeling bad is different from being bad.


I think I still have a lot to learn about how to have a healthy relationship with someone who doesn't share all of my fundamental beliefs. At the very least though, I've learned a lot about what to watch out for, and how to identify behaviors that are not simply differences in belief, but warning signs that this is not a person I can have a healthy relationship with, regardless of beliefs.