Thursday, 27 June 2013

Letter to a Dudely Nation

Dear Dudes,

I present a list of grievances regarding the treatment I have experienced at your hands.

You say my feminism bores you. You say you agree with me when I point out yet another example of sexism, so why do I belabor the point?

You say I should focus on making a difference myself, because you're just one person and you can't change the status quo. When I identify the things you could be doing, you say I'm inconveniencing you and nitpicking.

You say other women don't complain, so why am I making such a fuss? You think all women must agree on the exact nature of their oppression for it to be real, just as all marginalized communities must reach consensus before their complaints are taken seriously.

You say you don't support the oppression of women, yet you participate in events like stag parties, which fuel the trafficking industry. If you don't, you cite your personal distaste for such affairs, rather than their inherent degradation of women.

You say your personal prejudices are nonexistent or unimportant. You think your use of gender-based stereotypes isn't reflective of any implicit bias, or if it is, that there is nothing you can do to change it.

You think words exist in a vacuum, and that you can redefine them to suit your own ends. You call women 'bitches', then act surprised when I protest the use of an insult that is based solely on gender.

You think you should get a say in what I do with my body after you've used it, so you say abortion should be restricted, regulated, or banned.

You say we all have the chance to succeed in life, and if I can't succeed, that's the result of my personal failures rather than having the deck stacked against me. You think I should find some bootstraps because gender isn't a hindrance, yet you simultaneously say that lower-class people don't have as many opportunities as the rich.

You call women's rights, women's work. You put the weight of making changes on my shoulders, and refuse to take responsibility for the things you do every day to perpetuate the patriarchy.

You say I am responsible for my own rights, but I must never forget that you think we are equally oppressed. You say that since I'm fighting for self determination for myself, I should be campaigning to make your life easier, too.

You say I should wait patiently for my turn, because change happens slowly and you cannot accommodate my desire for full humanity right now. When I speak up and try to make myself heard, you accuse me of insubordination and a lack of solidarity.

You insist I always mention we all suffer under the patriarchy even if I'm not talking about your problems. Yet you also claim there are essential, unavoidable differences between our bodies that justify our different positions in society, despite the fact that science has proved we are much more alike than we are different.

You scoff at the evidence I present when I humbly petition to be considered your equal. But you also say I'm so well-read on these subjects, so why can't I answer all your probing questions? You think I should enjoy educating you, and I should make it as easy for you as possible, because you certainly cannot be bothered to pick up a book yourself.

You take your privilege for granted, and throw it in my face when I try to point out why the playing field is not equal, and never has been. You refuse to examine or acknowledge the benefits you get simply for being yourself, claiming that the rights women have never had aren't rights at all but responsibilities, duties and burdens.

You say you're not sexist, so why am I bothering you?

You say you didn't put the patriarchy in place, so why do I expect you to tear it down?

You think the gender-based oppression of half of the human race is not worth your time or attention.

You think I am not worth your time or attention.

If you disregard my complaints, I will not shut up. I will not be silent, and I will not let you treat me as your personal tutor, punching bag, and domestic servant.

I do not need your permission or approval to exist as a full human being

Monday, 27 May 2013

The Worst Thing You'll Read Today: Nick Ross, rape apologist

[CN: rape, victim-blaming]

Former Crimewatch presenter Nick Ross has defended statements he made in his book ‘Crime’ in an article published by the Daily Mail.

He says:

“We have come to acknowledge it is foolish to leave laptops on the back seat of a car. We would laugh at a bank that stored sacks of cash by the front door. We would be aghast if an airport badly skimped on its security measures. 
Our forebears might be astonished at how safe women are today given what throughout history would have been regarded as incitement. Not even in the licentious days of Charles II in the 17th Century was it acceptable for women to dress as provocatively as they have done in Western culture since the 1960s. 
Equally they would be baffled that girls are mostly unescorted, stay out late, often get profoundly drunk and sometimes openly kiss, grope or go to bed with one-night stands.”

Sarah Ditum at The Guardian kindly tried to set Ross straight with a short piece contrasting laptops and women. The comments under her article are the typical morass of misogyny and victim-blaming, albeit with a few brave people calling bullshit.

It’s unfortunate that hardly any people seem to have realised the main problem with Ross’s remarks. His claims are a tangle of misogynistic beliefs, but underpinning all that is something very simple. Ross seems to think women’s bodies are property.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Richard Dawkins is...

[ETA: inspired by Ana Mardoll's post from yesterday]

There is a growing list of adjectives I routinely use to describe Richard Dawkins.

Sexist, Islamophobic, anti-feminist, xenophobic, a terrible scientist, a radical atheist (in the sense that he ascribes to the worst parts of the movement), and generally an insufferably smug and self-congratulating ass. He also doesn't seem to understand what racism means, and has a history of using it to mean 'religious person', specifically, Muslim.

To that list, I am officially adding the following: privileged dipshit.

Now, it was pretty obvious before that Dawkins thinks 'check your privilege' is a ridiculous notion, probably ascribing it to PC gone awry (go here for my previous take on privilege). But thus far, at least to my knowledge, he's had the good grace not to speak too loudly about it.

As of today, we no longer have to remain unaware of the precise extent of Dawkins' ignorance. He has graciously told all on his Twitter feed. Storify and analysis below the jump.

On gender essentialism: ‘Delusions of Gender’ by Cordelia Fine

I’ve been reading ‘Delusions of Gender’ by Cordelia Fine recently, and it’s turned out to be absolutely brilliant.

Her writing style is extremely readable. Having had to force myself to read various academic, jargon-filled articles on similar subjects in the past, I really appreciate the effort she must have put into this book. It deals with a fairly complex subject – cognitive neuroscience – but Fine manages to make her point clear and accessible to people who may not be familiar with the discipline.

It’s also a great resource. Most of us have probably been exposed to people claiming gender inequality is based on real, hard-wired differences in male and female biology. Hell, I’ve been guilty of saying things like that myself.

Fine destroys all those myths of women being more attuned to emotions, men having better ‘spatial awareness’ (insert joke about women’s crappy parallel parking here), and hormonally-influenced differences in behaviour, such as infant girls being more interested in faces than infant boys. She does this ruthlessly, exposing the methodological problems of (pretty much every) study that has ‘proven’ innate gender differences.

The studies that claim foetal testosterone is positively correlated with better mathematical or scientific ability? They neglect to mention that we don’t actually have a good way of measuring foetal testosterone, so many of these studies end up measuring the ratio of index and ring-finger length (higher levels of foetal testosterone are meant to cause a longer ring finger). Which would be fine, except that no-one has ever proven that ratio is in any way related to testosterone levels; hell, my ring finger is longer than my index one. So there goes that idea.*

Studies that show young male humans and primates are more interested in ‘boy’ toys, while young female humans and primates are drawn to ‘girl’ toys? Badly designed and riddled with flawed procedures. One study ignored the potential for ‘experimenter expectancy’ effects, and allowed the experimenter to ascertain an infant’s gender before beginning the test (in this case, the study was attempting to find out how much attention infant boys and girls paid to a mobile versus a human face). The experimenters also presented the stimuli separately, despite the well-known (to experts) fact that infants have extremely short attention spans and therefore stimuli are generally presented simultaneously. Otherwise the researchers cannot tell if a lack of attention is due to lack of interest, or because it’s time for a nap.**

Certain studies have shown that male and female rats have (literally) different brains, and that this is due to different amounts of androgens – giving newborn female rats androgens makes a certain region bigger, and castrating newborn male rats makes it smaller. This sounds like the holy grail of gender essentialising scientists everywhere.

Only, the picture isn’t quite that clear. For one, scientists still don’t know what that region of the brain (the preoptic nucleus) actually does. They’ve been studying it for more than a decade, and have absolutely no clue. Secondly, rats and humans aren’t actually that similar. Quelle surprise. Scaling up the penis works fine (-ish), after all, it serves basically the same purpose in the two species. But scale up a rat’s brain, and the differences become rather obvious. Moreover, the differences in size of the preoptic nucleus are not only due to different amount of androgens in rat pups, but also to maternal treatment after birth (they lick male pups’ genital regions more frequently than female pups’, which increases the size of the preoptic nucleus).

So, fine, studying rats doesn’t tell us anything useful about humans. But surely primates can give us some clues? Everyone knows that gender roles in primate societies are rigid; it must be due to biological differences!

It turns out gender norms (who does what based on gender) are different across, and within, primate species. Some Japanese macaque males are extremely hands-on with infants, while in other groups of the same species males show no interest in paternal care. Another species of macaques, in Gibraltar, finds male care of infants so important that females are kept away from their infants so that young males may practice ‘babysitting’. Male care in the same species in Morocco is much less significant.

The takeaway from Fine’s book seems to be this: gender roles are not set in stone, and humans are not ‘programmed’ in the womb to act out specific male or female roles. Rather, children have a strong drive to self-socialise into gender roles. Even absent any parental urging, they are attracted to items associated with their sex.

This offers a very optimistic look at the future. If gender roles are not biologically determined, insofar as foetal androgens do not determine how likely a child is to be interested in a toy truck versus a doll, then they can be changed. Perhaps in the future we won’t have to fight the common belief that men and women are ‘simply different’.

I can only hope.

In the meantime, I highly recommend buying ‘Delusions of Gender’ and keeping it in an easily-accessible place just in case. When faced with gender essentialising statements, find the relevant page and chuck at the speaker.


*Insert crude joke about butch, hairy-legged feminist here.

** It’s quite an entertaining read, actually, because a side effect of her approach is to expose scientists (who tend to cling to their precious ‘objectivity’) as no less affected by mainstream cultural narratives than the rest of us.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Male privilege redux

"For a bloke, putting on a half-decent suit and shaving with a new razor is enough to count as “making an effort”. For women, it’s an expensive, time consuming and painful rigamarole of cutting, bleaching, dyeing, shaving, plucking, starving, exercising and picking out clothes that send the right message without making you look like a shop-window dress-up dolly." Source.

Personal hygiene and clothing may not be the most egregious examples of male privilege, but they're probably ones that most people find easy to understand. So here goes.

As a woman, I face daily pressure to dress in certain ways. I have to consider each item of clothing and what it says about me- is it too 'slutty'? too unfeminine? too drab? too colorful? Most men's clothes do not send messages about the wearer's morality; rather, a man can be a 'goth', 'hipster', or 'shabby', all of which are simple physical descriptions. Women, on the other hand, are judged to be 'slutty' or 'prudish' or 'prim'.

Men's clothing tends to be value-neutral like this, because they are seen as the default gender. They're generally judged on their actions rather than what they're wearing. Obviously, there are exceptions. Women can wear a wider range of clothing (all of it sending certain messages about their sexuality), whereas men are somewhat more restricted; for instance, they cannot wear dresses without being harassed. But the fact remains that within the confines of gender-appropriate clothing, women's attire is viewed as a reflection of their integrity and virtue and men's clothing is not.

[In fact, I would argue that the wide range of appropriate clothing for women works to our disadvantage. Since we do not have a standard office 'uniform', for instance (slacks, dress shirt, jacket, tie), anything we wear is seen as a deviation from the male norm, inviting judgment. Plus, trouser suits are sometimes prohibited for women, adding even more worry. Note that I'm not saying women should be required to wear dresses/skirts.]

Moreover, men's clothing is also less expensive. They also don't have to get it tailored as often, as it's generally easier to find things off the rack that fit. I, on the other hand, have yet to find a pair of professional trousers that are small enough for my waist and large enough for my bum, and aren't five inches too long. In this regard, I'm actually being fleeced twice- even really expensive clothing rarely fits me well, so I still have to have bits taken in or let out. Or I can do it myself, because tailoring is fucking expensive, and then wonder whether my terrible sewing job is going to fail in the middle of an interview.

Men's clothing is also of higher quality than the female equivalent. The fabric used for my shirts is noticeably thinner than that used for for equivalent men's shirts.

In addition to clothing, I am also expected to spend a ridiculous amount of time on grooming in the morning. For now, I don't have to worry about it too much- I'm still a student, and my current part-time job is thankfully fairly relaxed. But I'll be starting an office job in September, and my morning routine (wash my face, slap on some moisturizer, put hair up) will not be nearly enough. I'll probably have to fork out a huge sum to have my hair cut. I also have awful bags under my eyes on a daily basis, so I'll have to use makeup to cover those up, or else risk looking 'unprofessional'.

Does all this mean that I would rather be a man? Hell no. I like my body, thank you very much. I just wish the beauty industry wasn't so intent on making liking myself such a subsersive act.

Monday, 6 May 2013

The Worst Thing You'll Read Today

Lauren Chief Elk writes an open letter to Eve Ensler. For everyone out there who likes the Vagina Monologues and looks up to its creator, this is a wake-up call.

This is not the first time Ensler has demonstrated her colonialist tendencies, and probably not the last. For all the good she has done for (white, Western, affluent) women, she is heir to the worst of second-wave feminism, and it's bigoted, transphobic, exclusionary, and patronizing approaches.

Women are not a monolith. We do not all have the same needs, and we cannot speak for each other. Ensler refuses to understand this and continues to appropriate indigenous symbols and history without giving due credit. She claims to be saving "vanishing" indigenous women, without even bothering to find out what the subjects of her actions think. She denies them the very thing feminism claims to be fighting for: agency.

In fact, it wouldn't surprise me in the slightest to find out that Femen are either affiliated with Ensler, or have put her on a pedestal. Their tactics, nudity aside, are quite similar: choose a non-white group of women, speak on their behalf, and when they inevitably protest at being silenced, claim you're merely "liberating" them. Bonus points for saying that despite their protests, "their eyes cry out for help".

I enjoyed "The Vagina Monologues", very much so. But that enjoyment has been overshadowed by what Ensler has gone on to do with her fame, and her insistence on invisibilizing and silencing women based on the color of their skin or their place of residence.

The text of the letter is below the jump.

Sunday, 5 May 2013


Hosted by (belated) springtime in Edinburgh. Source.

Cliff: What I Mean When I Say I'm Sex-Positive on how being sex-positive is misconstrued and why one-size-does-not-fit-all.

Maya and Alexandra: Kitty Pryde takes on rape culture and Danny Brown’s on-stage blow job is a discussion about the recent on-stage sexual assault of rapper Danny Brown by a female fan. (TL;DR sexual assault is bad regardless of the victim's gender).

Jessica Valenti: From Soy to Sex: Why 'Natural' Often Means Bad for Women on why "natural" isn't always good, and how it is used to support discrimination and oppression.

Can Be Bitter: Relationship Phrases We Should Probably Retire talks about "wearing the pants", being "whipped" (and more!) and why we shouldn't be using them anymore.

Allama: I wasn't talking to you on why feminists don't have to use small words. I've posted this before, but re-read it today and fell in love all over again.

ETA: Cratesandribbons: The Empowerment Project – Combating the Representation of Women in the Media on the objectification of women in the media, its harmful effects, and the docu-series that is trying to change the status quo.