#GamerGate, Non Gamers, and Bad Reputations

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If you have any connections whatsoever to video games or the gaming world, or even if you have none of those but have been on the internet at all in the last month or so, you’ve probably heard about GamerGate. The underlying sexism in the gaming world has been bubbling up and coming out in the form of a lot of disgruntled menfolks harassing women for being involved in gaming, all under the guise of “journalistic ethics”.

I have very little to say about the particulars of this situation that haven’t already been said, as I am not a gamer and I know almost nothing about the gaming industry. Miri has a great round up post of articles written about the incident, which are more thorough than I could ever be. So why am I writing a blog post about this? Because so far all of the voices I have heard have been from within the gaming community, and as someone on the outside it’s very clear to me that Gamergaters are doing themselves no favors right now. Here’s the truth gaming community: every time I hear about GamerGate I want less and less to do with you. Despite having many gamer friends, an active interest in nerd culture, and the beginnings of an interest in gaming, I am now 100% not interested in being actively involved in the gaming community and it is entirely because of the harassment that women have received.

There are lots and lots of people out there who are getting their first picture of gaming and the type of people who game (beyond the stereotypes of movies  and media) from GamerGate and the incidents surrounding Zoe Quinn, Anita Sarkeesian and Brianna Wu. There are lots and lots of people who don’t do much gaming, don’t follow the media around gaming, and really haven’t given it a whole lot of thought…until now, when they’re reading articles about it, seeing vitriol posted on their social media, and hearing these names pop up again and again. You can bet that many people who wouldn’t have given gaming a second thought before now are going to be forming opinions about gamers due to this controversy.

This might be what you were looking for. Maybe you wanted the attention. Maybe you are still mentally five year olds who are convinced that any attention is good attention. If that’s the case, I want you to know something: Gamergaters are not coming off like the heroes here.

Throughout the articles that I’ve read about GamerGate, one of the common threads has been that gamers feel like victims: no one likes them, they’re stereotyped as lazy, fat, losers who live in their parents basements and eat Doritos all day, and the only place that they can be safe is in the gaming community. They cry out again and again that they just want the safe haven of games to be free from developers who get good reviews by sleeping with reviewers, from journalists who take sides or push “social justice” agendas on them, from women who want to criticize their games into nonexistence. Society has rejected them, and they just want their community to be their own.

Somewhere, buried in the confusion about purpose, GamerGate appears to be about the desire to be respected as a community. Update from the rest of the world: if you want society to treat you better and respect your community as a legitimate space for art, self-expression, and decent relationships, the way to do that is not by making rape and death threats to anyone who criticizes you. That actually makes you look even worse than the previous stereotypes, and will probably end with you feeling even more victimized because you’ve managed to earn the derision of society at large through horrible, abusive behavior. If you do want the respect of the world at large, you might have to act like adults, engage critically with other people, and be willing to talk through differences of opinion. Until you do that, gaming will continue to be stigmatized as childish and silly.

So if Gamergaters think that they’re improving their community or making headway into society by using their current tactics, they are dead wrong. What they’re actually doing is gaining themselves a fairly horrible reputation with everyone who wasn’t already a part of the community.

It’s quite possible that GamerGate had to happen, that this is the growing pains of a space that previously had been the haven for those who were hurt and lonely. It’s quite possible that the gaming community will come out of this much better, and will draw in new voices and perspectives, and gain respect. It’s possible. But from the outside it looks like the temper tantrum of a bunch of overgrown children who don’t want to let other people play in their sandbox, and if this outsider is anything like other outsiders, it is not endearing you to society at large. You thought you had a bad reputation before? You have made it so much worse for yourselves. Sometimes bad reputations are deserved, and right now you are making it clear to the world that yours definitely is. If what you want is respect, then you better start earning it.

Yours truly,

Everyone else

Orphan Black: Who Owns the Clones?

OrphanBlackBBCAmericaScience

I have a new TV obsession and I’ve got it BAD. Orphan Black is a new show on BBC America that just finished up its first season, and I’m already ripping my hair out waiting for the next one (which doesn’t come out until next spring. Uncool BBC, uncool). If you aren’t watching it, then a.SPOILER ALERT and b.start watching it. Right now. Go to your TV/computer, find it and watch it. Back? Ok. Good.

 

The most fascinating things to me about Orphan Black are the themes of owning your body, identity, and patent law. Today I’d like to explore some of the themes about ownership of body, and how the show provides some extremely interesting and insightful commentary on women’s bodies and liberation. The whole premise of the show is that there are a handful (possibly more?) of women who find out that their bodies and their lives are not what they think: they are actually clones who are being monitored by a scientific project. All of these clones are female, and over the course of the first season they begin to come together and find ways to fight back against whatever forces are trying to influence their lives or take ownership over them. There are clearly parallels between this clearly sci fi world and some of the forces that women feel in their lives every day. I’d like to explore how women’s experiences of becoming self-aware of oppression and then fighting back against that oppression parallel the experiences of the clones.

 

1.Our lives are not our own: we’re viewed as property even when we don’t know it.

There is a parallel between the existence of the clones, and the everyday existence of women. We are viewed as property and treated as property even when we don’t know it. The clones are watched and used by scientists as test subjects, as objects to understand. Similarly, many women today are watched and used by men or corporations or other sexist and oppressive forces. They are the subject of the male gaze, which reduces them to a sexual object rather than a scientific one. However in both cases, our bodies are being used for something without our consent, and often without our knowledge.

 

2.We often don’t understand how we could be property, and try to act as if we are not.

Very often it seems like a foreign concept to us that someone could own us or have power over our bodies that we don’t. It seems unfathomable that we wouldn’t know everything about who owns our bodies. But we are rarely the ones who hold the power or the knowledge, and are often left trying to make the best decision possible in bad circumstances.

 

In the case of the clones, they had no idea that there could be a patent written into their genes: this seems impossible. And so they made their choices as if the option to walk away and ignore Leaky actually existed. When they finally discover that they don’t have the autonomy they thought they did, they have to try to come to grips with the limited choices they have, and they do their best to create new options that allow them more freedom.

 

In a similar way, I think that few women grow up fully aware of the sexist culture that we live in. Girls may grow up not knowing that their father thinks of them as a possession, or they may have a boyfriend and not realize that the boyfriend is possessive. Many times women and girls simply take it for granted that they’re expected to care for others without much in return. They don’t realize the danger we all live in of having our bodies violated, abused, or possessed in ways we don’t like.

 

When someone becomes aware of these dangers, of the way that women’s bodies are rarely their own, the way that they’re expected to be beautiful for public viewing, conform to certain stereotypes, be available for sex in the appropriate fashion, etc. it can be a jarring and painful experience. Sometimes it comes in the circumstance of rape or other violence. And when this becomes part of one’s awareness, you have to try to build new choices that create autonomy for you, just as the clones did. Discussing ownership of women’s bodies head on often gets dismissed as “overreacting” or the “feminazis”. It’s hard for many people to accept that we don’t have full ownership over our bodies. However Orphan Black takes a more subtle approach and decides to act out a kind of thought experiment on what it might literally be like to not own your body. Through this lens, it can explore the reactions and defense mechanisms of the women involved. Hopefully it will help some people take feelings of disenfranchisement more seriously.

 

3.This show illustrates clearly how a “feminine” impulse towards nurturing or family can be channeled into strength and identity, as well as how it can be used to try to subvert those forces that might push us into societally defined identities.

An interesting element of this show is that while it looks at how women’s bodies are used for purposes that aren’t their own, it seems to pinpoint reproductive freedom as the base of Sarah’s independence (and in some ways as Allison’s motivations for trying to get her life back). Kira is her rock, her reason for living, the thing that was all hers until she found out about the patent. In many ways this seems to be metaphorical for how women’s reproductive systems are co-opted for purposes they don’t want (e.g. lack of access to abortion/being forced to carry baby of rapist), when in reality it should be the thing that we are most in control over. However even while it mirrors that lack of power that women have, it also illustrates how the maternal impulse, and some of the “feminine” traits of the women portrayed can be the most powerful and give the most strength.

 

It shows that when women want to take control of their bodies, that often means taking control of their families as well, and that this means cutting themselves off from toxic people (Vic) and taking independent control of their lives. Interestingly, it also means deciding where they want to build their family: for Sarah this involves trusting Felix, and for Allison this involves trusting Donnie. When you take back some power over your body, you seem to gain the power to decide for yourself who you want in your life, where you want to be, and who you want to be around. You may still make mistakes in trusting the wrong people (like Allison), but at least you are consciously making decisions about what’s best for you. Allison took steps to protect herself and her family, and while they were wrong because more information had been kept from her, her children and her family were her motivation, and her self-awareness made her able to stand up.

 

This show illustrates the power of bringing together a variety of traits and reclaiming things that may traditionally have been “feminine” or weak to fight against things that are harming you, as well as how the bonds of a mother to a child can be powerful. I’m uncertain as to whether this enforces a kind of gender essentialism, but we’ll see how it plays out.

 

4.The best part of this show is how the women whose identities are not their own come together to understand their situation and to take steps to rectify it.

The clones rely on each other, the people who are in the same oppressive situation that they are to build clearer identities and to take control of their situation. The most strength that the clones have is when they come together. Each one has a variety of talents and insights, and they contribute to each other’s well being. Interesting, Helena is the most destructive force in the show yet, illustrating that a break in the solidarity can absolutely destroy a coalition. Because each of these women are going through similar experiences, by talking to each other they begin to understand who they are. They don’t get much help from those who aren’t clones, not even those who supposedly have the “answers”. Those people who have experienced either being clones or giving birth to clones seem to have the best understanding of who each clone is. In the real life of women, it’s often important to talk to someone else with similar experiences to your own. Men can obviously help form solidarity and help you understand your identity, but there is something about being around those coming from a similar place and experiencing the same things that can be extremely beneficial to understanding those experiences. People who are living oppressed lives, banding together that creates more strength than anything else I can imagine. This show in my mind embodies some of the ideal ways of fighting oppression.

 

5.Unfortunately at the end of the day, no matter what they do, the game is rigged.

The big reveal at the end of season 1 shows that their DNA is patented: everything they do, their offspring, all of it belongs to someone else. Metaphorically, this speaks strongly to the state of women today, particularly the idea that a woman’s children don’t belong to her and that her body does not belong to her. Our game is rigged. No matter how talented we are, how intelligent we are, how independent we are, in all likelihood we will have far more difficulties succeeding than men will, and someone will want to put us in our place. There is a high likelihood that we will face sexual assault. There is a high likelihood that our ability to have children will be held against us in the workplace, and that our choice to have a family may be held against us. Again, we may feel that we have choices, but our choices are constrained.

 

6.The surrogate mothers are an interesting element as well and one that I would like to see more of: their bodies were used to perpetrate a kind of violence on others (the lives of the clones and their status as property is a kind of violence in my mind), and their “children” were taken away from them without their consent. They didn’t have the choice to continue or end the pregnancy or of what to do with the children afterwards. In many ways, women in this world have no choice but to bring their children into a world of violence and oppression. Especially with baby girls, when the girl is born she begins to become public property. She doesn’t belong to the mother, or to herself. Society takes ownership of her body. The pain that Amelia felt, and her desperation to protect her children appear to be similar to what many women feel when they bring their children into a world where their bodies may be used or objectified.

 

If you’ve been watching Orphan Black what are your thoughts? How do you see the interplay of gender, identity, and ownership?

Sexism is Not Exciting

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Something that we’ve known for ages and ages and ages is that women in advertising are more often than not portrayed sexually and are portrayed as objects. Sex sells ya know? People have talked about how it contributes to rape culture and how sexist it is, they’ve attacked everything from Abercrombie and Fitch to American Apparel, and yet I’m still left with one gigantic question:

Why do advertisers keep doing the same thing over and over again, and then labeling it as edgy or raw or cutting edge? Some of the big goals of advertising are to be fresh, to do the unexpected, to stand out from the crowd. For some reason these rules get tossed out the window when it comes to sexism and the objectification of women. The same tactics of using women as objects or goals in order to sell products has been around for decades, and let’s be perfectly honest here: it’s getting boring. We’ve seen it before. We’ve seen it in every damn mask it could possibly take. We’ve seen it sideways and upside down. A fair number of consumers have made it clear that they think it’s bullshit. There is absolutely nothing raw or edgy about it, as it’s using the same tired stereotypes, images, and constructs that have been around since we’ve had the means to document them. I for one would be happy if I never saw a commercial with a woman trying to make sexy lips ever again.

It makes absolutely no sense in terms of traditional marketing knowledge to keep using this. I suppose you could take the approach that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and argue that it’s been an effective marketing strategy for years and years. It’s the best way to make people insecure and thus WANT more to bring them a better sense of security. It’s the best way to bring in men who are really the most important consumers after all. It seems to me that the continue reliance of the advertising industry on sad stereotypes is a sign of a really broken capitalistic system that will go to any lengths to make money and to keep those in power at the top. It’s stagnating, and if I have any hope for all the new forms of media it would be that they could break the stranglehold of these old, tired media on our lives.

What do you think? Why does marketing keep using the same images over and over?

Pinups and Pecs

“If you want to write something, or need a(nother) topic, I keep having discussions about if guys can do “sexy” and “pin up” photos like girls seem to be able to do. Proceed. I feel like you might enjoy that topic, somehow. I might be nuts. I probably am.”

 

So a friend of mine posted this on facebook as a suggestion of something to write about and it struck my fancy. I feel like there’s a lot to unpack in this discussion. So first of all, why do girls “get” to do pin up and sexy photos? Is that really ok? I’ve had discussions about this with others who are worried that even enlightened women trying to take back this trend may be contributing to objectification, or perpetuation a lot of old images of women. I think that that’s a danger, definitely. I think that if and when a woman chooses to do a pin up type photo, she should try to be subversive about it; in traditional pinups, women look submissive, domestic: they’re often shown doing cleaning, or in traditionally “female” settings. I feel a lot better about pinup calendars or pictures if the woman in it is being sexy in an assertive way, is actually looking the viewer in the face, is in a different type of environment than the traditional pinup.

 

And the thing is that I actually LOVE the idea of pinup type pictures. Because very rarely does the average woman get to do something that celebrates her body, her beauty, and her sexuality. I love that different body types can be celebrated in pinup pictures. I love the idea of something like suicide girls. I do wish that more types of women were celebrated in these pictures: I wish more women of color, trans/genderqueer women, overweight, older…all kinds of women got roped in when we choose to a pinup calendar or photo session.

 

But they aren’t. And I worry that’s because as hard as we try to do pinups for ourselves, to celebrate ourselves, and to be subversive, as woman showing off our bodies we cannot help but be subject to the male gaze. It’s just there. And no matter what we do about it, there will be men objectifying us. To me that’s just a really shitty thing that rains on my body positive parade, and it makes me really scared to promote or participate in pinup pictures because I don’t want to perpetuate objectification by using “the master’s tools” as it were.

 

So what about guys? I think that guys are in a really unique position when it comes to pinup pictures. Men really aren’t very traditionally in pinup pictures. There is the classic sexy firemen calendar, but those aren’t nearly as ubiquitous and don’t have the same vintage thing going where anyone can replicate the feel. You kind of have to be a fireman (or have a bunch of oversized hoses lying around) to do the sexy fireman calendar. So there is a blank slate when it comes to men doing pinup pictures. There’s no history of objectification (as far as I’m aware at least…anyone in comments feel free to disagree) that would put a historical lens on the pictures and make them problematic. And very, very rarely are male bodies put on display in a sexual way. Rarely are men told to celebrate being beautiful, being sexy, being hot. I think pinup calendars could be a GREAT opportunity for men to make body positivity part of the male conversation, and I think that particularly it could be incredibly beneficial to make it part of the straight male conversation, because generally flaunting your body is considered gay. Only effeminate men let people look at them and do any sort of objectifying apparently, because it’s a woman thing to be the object. But here’s the thing: BECAUSE men are not considered the object, because they are assumed to have autonomy and assumed to be an equal in any relationship (even the relationship between subject and viewer in a photograph), they can bend the traditional notion of pinup to be one that asks us to reconsider how we view women in pictures, how we view sexuality, and how much autonomy we grant those women we see in sexy pictures.

 

And just as I mentioned with women, this is a WONDERFUL time for different types of male bodies to be on display, to be celebrated, to be considered beautiful. Perhaps even more than women, men have a single body type that is ever shown as the pinup (mostly because all women’s bodies are more objectified), and so seeing more men as attractive and sexy and proud and embodied is a beautiful idea to me. Maybe I should go join a nudist’s colony. But it would also help young women to start to see a variety of body types and begin to understand the different bodies they might  encounter. More exposure to real bodies is the healthiest way to build attraction, sexuality, and honesty

 

I personally think that men in pinups is exactly the wonderful kind of subversive parody that Judith Butler would promote and love, but I think it’s even more active than a parody because it’s a challenge, and active question to the viewer about how they see the picture. If it was a genderbent pinup, then all the better (men in maids outfits anyone?). I don’t think that I want to see men be objectified the same way women have been, but I also don’t think that ever WILL happen. I think what IS important is to allow the power that a man’s body has to infiltrate the submissive space traditionally occupied by women, and to rebuild that space in such a way that says the space doesn’t have to be submissive or objectified. This is a place where I believe men can do far more for feminism and women than women can, because of the privilege that men already have.

 

So I personally think that male pinups are a great idea. I don’t think it’s an infringement on a female space, I think it’s a reimagining of a traditionally oppressive space, and I really don’t see how it would lead to the objectification of men since men are nearly always assumed to be the subject and have autonomy, complexity and thoughts. Very rarely are they reduced to a body alone.

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“Because it’s so GREAT and ENVIABLE to have your womanhood validated by straight men’s demeaning cat-calls. Because, in some fucking alternate world I’ve never had the luxury of visiting, being deemed sexually attractive by the standards of our culture means no longer being subject to body-policing (seriously… in what fucking world?!?). Etc.”

I recently ran into this quote on Natalie Reed’s blog (hurry up and get over there, she’s leaving soon and the archives will disappear. You’ll miss out on LOTS if you don’t read some of her stuff) about “passing” in trans* culture, and how for many people, passing is the gold standard of “trans-ness” (I’m really bad with this language because these issues really aren’t my personal ones and I’m still educating myself so please forgive any offensive or inappropriate language, I am trying my best and if you see something that’s wrong feel free to comment and let me know). It’s in response to the idea that as a trans woman, being found attractive by straight men is wonderful.

What really stood out to me was the last sentence: “In some fucking alternative world I’ve never had the luxury of visiting, being deemed sexually attractive by the standards of our culture means no longer being subject to body-policing”. OH MY GOD YES. This is something that has driven me crazy for ages. The dialogue about bodies and body shaming right now very much centers around fat, fat phobia, fat acceptance. That’s fine. Those are obviously the bodies that get the most shaming and policing. But there’s something far more insidious that goes on, even with bodies deemed “attractive”. And that goes beyond fat shaming, and into straight up sexism.

I have always been relatively conventionally attractive. I’m white, I’m slim, I’m tall. I personally don’t think I’m all that much to look at, but in general I fit into the basic demographic categories that should make me “attractive”. That doesn’t mean that I escape from body policing or body shaming. While I obviously agree that a dialogue around fatness and the cruelty people bring to fat individuals is important, I also think it’s important to point out instances in which EVERYONE is body policed, and to recognize those as instances in which female bodies are viewed as public property.

As a skinny individual, I have had people tell me that I need to eat more. That I look unhealthy. People have congratulated me when I eat unhealthy foods. I have had friends tell me I should wear more revealing clothing to show off my assets, and I have had boyfriends tell me to wear less revealing clothing because they didn’t want guys staring at my body. I have been told that I can firm up my fat into muscle if I exercise more, I’ve been told I’m too pudgy, I’ve been told my boobs are too small. Yeah, I’ve been cat-called. Starting when I was 13. I’ve been told my skirt is too short, that I should get contacts, that I should cut my hair or grow out my hair or wear my hear up or wear my hair down.

While many people who are fat think that they are the only people who get this type of interaction, the interaction that says “oh your body would look better if only…”, that is simply not true. They may think that other people pay no attention to how skinny people eat. Again, not true. All of these are marks of the way that many people feel as if they have a right to others’ bodies, or a right to some measure of attractiveness from the bodies around them. Most often this is in relation to women, which is why it appears to be a sign of sexism to me. More often than not, I get these kinds of comments from strangers or bare acquaintances, who feel that it is their business or duty to tell me how to look attractive or what to do with my body, although in some cases it’s someone who’s very close who feels that my body belongs to them. Most often it’s males, but sometimes it’s females who think they’re “doing me a favor”. I believe that on some level, the societal belief that they’re entitle to fat people’s bodies might be related to sexism. Often we see overweight men emasculated: the first derogatory term I think of when I think of an obese man is “manboobs”. Masculinity is supposed to be associated with strength, with physical ability, with virility, with power. These are not things we associate with the overweight, and I think that for many, being overweight is emasculating. This seems to allow other men to feel they have a right to criticize or control that body.

What all these ideas do is tell me and others that we need to be attractive (or masculine and fit). That that’s the rent I owe for taking up the space I’m in. That it is other people’s business how I look and what I do with my body. In reality, it should not affect anyone around me if I went out wearing a burlap sack, because what I do with my body and my clothes is my business, and I owe no one “cuteness”. And in high school when I was told over and over that my skirt had to be a certain length, or my shirt had to buttoned up so high, they perpetuated the idea that my body was dangerous, that boys would do bad things or be distracted or that it was simply WRONG if I let people see my body. And that my body had to be arranged in the appropriate way for those around me, both looking good (shirt had to be tucked in, right color shirt and shoes, no hair over eyes), and not showing too much to cause a ruckus.

Perhaps it should be time to start leaving other people’s bodies alone. Someone’s body is an intimate part of their self, and as a society we have cut ourselves off from that. We have decided that bodies are vessels that we need to perfect, and when we’ve perfected them then we’ll be free from any of this policing. But that’s not how it works. Bodies are an integral part of how we experience the world and ourselves, and our physical reactions to things make up a huge part of our identity. That is not something to perfect, but something to embrace. And no matter how “perfect” we become, if we view our bodies mechanically, we will always see how we could get better and continue to rip each other apart, because why would you keep something that is subpar? Our bodies don’t owe anyone else anything. Not attractiveness, not skinniness, not whiteness, not femininity or masculinity, nothing. We don’t have to earn our space or our bodies.

Body Policing and Attractiveness: They Can Live Together