Vocal Fry is Not a Crime

Once upon a time there was a new feature in language called vocal fry. It sounded a little like a cracking or growling sound and was generally an unconscious way of speaking. For some odd and utterly non factual reason, this feature of language became associated with young women, which meant that everyone and their brother and their uncle and their dog felt the need to comment and inform young women that it was bad, hurting them, and making them less hireable.

No one knows why the way young women talk is such a big deal to so many people (in particular old, male type people). Especially since vocal fry is also common among young men, actually causes no damage to the vocal chords, and has been around for quite some time, and is actually a totally normal feature of speech that most people use on a regular basis. So why the hate on women for using the speech pattern?

Well as with many things, this is another trend that you can add to “things we hate young, mostly upward mobile women for” because it seems that the only reason people dislike it is because it’s associated with the ladies (and a side helping of misunderstanding the nature of language change. Language changes. That doesn’t mean it’s bad. Move on). Everything from leggings (sluts without pants!) to uptalk (why do you talk like you’re so uncertain you stupid girl!? Oh wait, most British people also use uptalk? Ignore that, it’s bad when you do it) to feather tattoos on your ribcage (trashy! so trashy!) is deemed horrible when young women do it. And yet there are all sorts of other people who engage in these same behaviors that don’t receive the same repercussions. In fact, there’s little evidence that any of these things cause any actual harm or problems to anyone (except that some people keep bitching and whining about them).

I’m really over the concern trolling of people who want to tell young women what to do, who say they’re just looking out for the well being of teens and young adults. Nope, sorry. There is absolutely nothing wrong about behaviors that you find kinda annoying because they’re different. And the oh so weird coincidence that many of those behaviors are associated with teen girls? Huh…might just say something about you.

So get over it. I’m vocal fryin’ dawgs.

#GamerGate, Non Gamers, and Bad Reputations

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

Marriage Is What Brings Us Together Today

It’s that time of life where everyone is getting married. My brother has had a wedding to attend nearly every weekend since summer began, and even my not-so-interested-in-marriage friends are starting to get engaged. And so comes the phenomenon of name changes, and with it the anxiety that I get when I see my friends choosing to give up an identity marker as part of their relationship. While conversation about name changing has died off somewhat in the feminist movement, it’s still easy to find articles arguing both sides of the issue: women should be allowed to have the choice, it’s not unfeminist to do what you want to, women need to demand that men change their names, what on earth do gay and lesbian marriages bring to this debate, and why is it that 90% of the country still thinks that women should change their names upon marriage?

There’s a lot of deeper issues that names tap into. In literature, philosophy, sociology, and politics, names have importance. They help us define something, give it identity, allow it a place in the world. Names ground things in history, they give us a shorthand way of understanding what something is (this is particularly true of minority identities: having a name for your identity goes a long way towards making you feel part of a community or towards having legitimacy). So while many people might say that a last name just isn’t that important, that’s simply not true. Practically speaking, changing your name requires rebuilding your name if you have a career or contacts, changing a whole lot of official forms and documents (passports, driver’s license, etc), and changing even the way you think of yourself. It takes work, and that work far too often becomes the woman’s work.

Mary Elizabeth Williams argues that she doesn’t think most of her friends who changed their names are “pawns of the patriarchy” or that they’ve given up something by changing their names. It’s true that there are absolutely circumstances where a name change can be an act of liberation (e.g. changing the last name given to you by an abusive father), but for most people who choose to do it simply to please their partner/family/society, it might be time to get a little more critical. I doubt anyone is suggesting that women shouldn’t be allowed to change their names, simply that there’s a place in the conversation to ask why it’s always women and to challenge women to question. Choice feminism is great, but even freely chosen actions can contribute to an overall milieu of sexism.

What strikes me most about these conversations is the fact that every reason to change your name feels like an excuse. Every reason or situation could be solved in some other fashion that doesn’t require a woman to join her identity to her husband’s but not the other way around. If a woman doesn’t like her last name or has uncomfortable memories with it, she doesn’t have to wait around for a marriage to change it: you can change your name at any point in time. In fact one of my close friends just recently did this, and she’s all the happier for it because it was a choice of her own identity rather than a switch away from a painful identity into another person’s identity. If you want a unified family, hyphenate or make a new last name. The only honest to god reason for wanting a woman to change her last name but not a man is sexism, whether it’s in the form of a man feeling a woman needs to commit or a family wanting to carry on their name or some other variation thereof.

Spoiler alert: nothing about a title or name should change how you feel about someone or your commitment to them. While names do have power, they don’t make or break a relationship. My mother didn’t change her maiden name. My parents have been together for ??? years, through some incredibly rough times. No one could ever accuse my mother of not being committed to her marriage and her family (and if you do I will personally rip you a new one). The only confusion that ever happened was that one of my Spanish teachers thought my parents were divorced. We all got a hearty laugh over that one. Sometimes my friends don’t know what to call her. It’s real tough for her to tell them “Kathleen”.

Stop expecting women to bear the burden of accomodation. I’ve heard a fair number of men say that it was important to them, to the integrity of the relationship, or to carrying on their family name for their wife to change her name.  Can I just suggest that if your husband has cited any of these reasons you question your choice of spouse since that’s a whole pile of double standard he’s throwing all over you? Anything that says “women should do this, but men don’t need to,” is pretty textbook sexism. It doesn’t mean that you’re wrong for wanting to do it or a bad person. It means you’re participating in a sexist system and that we all need to learn how to question it. If you honestly feel that your marriage will be better because your wife changes something about herself, question that. If you feel pressured to change your name in order to be a good wife, question that.

There is absolutely no objective reason that a woman should be expected to behave differently when adjusting to married life than a man should, so let’s stop pretending it’s all for family unity and get to the heart of the issue: sexism. I don’t think every woman who takes her husband’s name is deeply hurt or oppressed by that decision. But I do think letting lots of little things slide reminds us over and over that we’re in a culture that values men and men’s identities over women’s, and that I have a problem with.

 

I Am Out Of Fucks To Give About Teenage Girls

I’m going to list a few things and I want you to think about how you feel about those things. Twilight. The word “like”. Moscato. Constantly being on a smartphone. Frappuccinos. Rom coms. Excessive eye shadow. Crushes. Gossip. Queen bees. Valley girl voices. YA fiction.

If you’re like many people you probably rolled your eyes at a number of these things. They might have come across as juvenile or vapid. Excessive. Unnecessary. Self centered. Stupid. This was a list of things that I associate with teenaged girls. It’s not uncommon for teenage girls to be a stand in for all that we dislike about the world. We use them as shorthand for immaturity or self centeredness or an obsession with looks and popularity. Most particularly when we want to imply that someone is attention seeking, we tend to associate them with teen girls (either directly or by saying they’re acting “high school”, which really tends to mean “high school girl”).

Now to some extent we brush off all teenaged experiences. Teen boys tend to get pigeonholed as lusty sex addicts, and when we want to talk about stupid choices it’s a go to to mention the teenage years. But there’s a special derision in American culture for the teen girl, that chattering, high pitched voice, bleached blonde and straightened hair, and the uniform of Uggs and leggings for pants.

Teen girls are considered far more youthful than boys, more frivolous. Where boys are sexual and/or aggressive, girls are air headed. And yet teen girls are considered the epitome of femininity: once you hit about 21 you’re starting to get past your prime as a woman. We idealize young women’s bodies and then dismiss all their preferences, abilities and thoughts, so that the best thing a woman can be is at a stage in her life when we don’t take her seriously in any way.

It’s far too easy to veil our sexism under the guise of criticizing teen culture. It’s far too easy to say that Twilight is stupid without thinking about why young women are interested in it, what it does for them, or how it interacts with larger culture. It’s too easy to dismiss vocal affectations as annoying, obnoxious, or stupid sounding when there is nothing inherently worse about them than any other vocal pattern (ask a linguist!). Let’s stop and think for a moment: what’s actually wrong with wearing leggings for pants (and cut the slut shaming before you answer)? What about speaking with a high pitched voice? Bleaching your hair? Reading about romance? Of course the answer to all of these questions is a resounding nothing. Sure, some of these things might be affectations or putting on airs as a way to fit in, but if high school is not the period during which you experiment with different versions of self, then what is?

As Dianna Anderson points out, many times we act as if we’re criticizing things for being youthful or overly simple (in this case YA fiction), but that oftentimes the things we criticize have as much variety and depth as any supposedly “adult” version (e.g. sweet wines or internet speak). Further, she notes that oftentimes there is a huge category that gets lumped into one negative stereotype because it is associated with women (in this case, YA fiction encompasses a huge number of books in a wide variety of genres and styles, but because it tends to have more female authors and to be geared towards women, it is dismissed).

Sure there are things that deserve our criticism that happen to be marketed towards young women (see the aforementioned Twilight series). But too often we just criticize things because they are for young women, as if it’s a crime for teenage girls to have tastes that aren’t All Serious All The Time. And beyond simply being unnecessary criticism, it also plays into sexist notions of women as vapid, bubble-headed, juvenile, and stupid. It tells us yet again that women have to perform femininity but when they do they’re not as good as men.

Screw that. Young ladies? Like what you like. Go drink a damn frappuccino, giggle a lot, paint your nails in bright colors, and read whatever the hell you want. There is nothing wrong with being young and female.

 

It’s Just So Real! The Appeal of Orange is the New Black

The new season of Orange is the New Black is out, which means that everyone I know is talking about it on all the social media because let’s be honest, it’s that good. One of the articles that made the rounds recently was an ex-con watching OITNB and talking about whether or not it’s realistic. Spoiler alert: it’s not. Prison is not like TV prison. And yet one of the things that people often applaud OITNB for is the fact that it’s “realistic”. I have this feeling that most of us are aware that prison is not in fact full of ladies fisting in the chapel and yet we continue to talk about how real the show feels (I have even been guilty of saying this myself).

So what on earth are we talking about when we say it’s so real? Why do we all get so drawn into this show if we know that it’s painting a nonrealistic picture of prison?

What sticks out to me when I identify OITNB as an amazing show is not the realistic portrayal of prison, but rather the realistic portrayal of human beings. Perhaps this is not how human beings actually act in prison, but it is how a lot of the human beings that I know act. It’s how they look. It’s how they talk (ok, maybe a bit snappier than my friends, but basically the same). It’s how they fight (a bit bloodier, but about the same things). It’s how they fall in love. It’s how they fall out of love. It’s how they make stupid mistakes. It’s a little bit like high school but with higher stakes, which essentially is real life.

The thing that people love about OITNB is that they can see people who look and act and talk like they do, people who aren’t used as the butt of a joke (not even Suzanne, who started off as a joke and now is really coming into her own), people who are trying to survive. There is an open trans woman (PLAYED BY A FOR REAL TRANS WOMAN HOLY SHIT), there are people of color, there are people of all body shapes and sizes. There’s people who aren’t fit, there’s people who are gay, there’s people who aren’t sure if they’re gay. There’s people who are all about sex all the time, and people who really couldn’t give less of a shit about people. There’s honest to god old people who have real personalities. There’s people who are/were teen moms and that is not the defining characteristic of their lives. There are so many women, all kinds of women, women talking to each other and women having problems and women thinking about women.

These things should not be revolutionary or amazing, but they are. It seems to be a decent indicator how ravenously hungry the public is for TV shows that focus on the perspectives of people who are not often represented. And what’s real about this show is that when we see someone like Red, we all know people like that (a momma bear who will rip you a new one if you fuck with her). When we see Soso being an obnoxious social justice pain in the ass, we’ve all known someone who did that crap, and we get both where she’s coming from and how flipping annoying it is to be around her. We look at Alex and Piper’s relationship and dear sweet lord we’ve all known that couple.

The point of OITNB is not really being in prison. Prison happened to be a convenient place to throw together this disparate array of people and let them get down to the business of being people. It introduced some power dynamics and some limitations on behavior that are interesting. But at the end of the day, what drives the show is the characters (and the writing through the characters). And while it’s a good idea to point out the ways the show gets prison wrong (because honest conversations about prison are also few and far between), continuing to praise the show for realistic portrayal of human beings is also a pretty good plan.

It’s important when we use adjectives that we’re clear about what noun we’ve attached that noun to. Especially when it’s a piece of media, it’s better to be specific about what is realistic or what is sexy or what is dehumanizing or what is sexist. Because media is complicated and can have good and bad parts (gasp). Being able to have a complicated handle on media is really incredibly important if we want to have real and good criticisms of media.

So yes, OITNB is both realistic and not. And I’m ok with that.

Overt and Covert Power

This morning I was at an event put on by BePollen that focused on women in the workplace, particularly how they can influence others. One of the themes throughout the morning was the idea that influence is most powerful when it’s subtle. Speakers called out administrative assistants and secretaries as the silent power in many organizations, told stories of how they took bad situations and found ways to create influence and power, and pointed towards gatekeepers as a source of power.

It’s absolutely true that subtle influence can be immensely powerful. If you can get someone to do what you’d like them to do without them even realizing that you’re influencing them, you do have a lot of power. And taking a position that isn’t inherently influential and finding subtle ways to use it to influence others is a great skill, especially as a woman who may have a harder time reaching the top echelons of most organizations. Of course subtle power has its place, and flying under the radar can give you a lot more freedom than being in the public eye.

And yet this focus on “subtle influence” started to drive me a bit crazy after a while. One other theme that cropped up repeatedly was impostor syndrome. The question was asked over and over how we can fight against it, how we can keep other high achieving women from feeling like impostors, how we can continue to achieve while feeling as if we don’t belong. Something that wasn’t mentioned as part of this discussion is the fact that the face of power and achievement is still white and it’s still male. Of the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies only 24 are women. No female presidents yet. Women only hold 18% of the seats in Congress.

Women don’t see other women in positions of power, so it’s no wonder that when they begin to achieve things themselves they start to question whether they truly belong or are simply faking it. They don’t recognize themselves as among the set of people who could have influence.

So when a group of women gets together to talk about influence, it makes me sad that we talk about subtle influence, about being behind the scenes, about being the power behind the throne. Why are we so afraid of openly saying and acting as if we have power and deserve power? A huge part of being influential is being visible. Sometimes simply existing in a space that is designated as “powerful” is a huge influence and shows young women that they can be in those spaces and have that power as well. A great way to fight impostor syndrome is to keep young girls from feeling as if there are certain spaces and ways that they should live in and act. It’s showing them a wide variety of choices so that no matter where they end up it seems appropriate for a woman.

Another element of this is that subtle power doesn’t garner respect in quite the same way that open power does. A big part of influence and power is having a platform. Unfortunately, the way the world is set up is such that more people listen to someone with a title. Having that clear and open title that says “I have power and I have influence” actually heightens one’s ability to do work. It comes with resources, it comes with respect, and it comes with an equal footing to others that you may want to influence.

I’m afraid that when we say how powerful secretaries and admin assistants are, we’re doing more than recognizing the seriously important work they do. We’re also reinforcing what kind of power is appropriate for women. We’re giving ourselves a consolation prize because we still don’t feel that we can be on equal footing with men as CEOs or presidents. We’re telling ourselves that we have the same amount of influence that men do, but if that were the case then why would we be having a meeting to discuss how to encourage women to embrace their ability to influence?

I don’t want to have to sneak in sideways to influence people. I would like to be able to equally and calmly express my opinion, own my power, and have others respect that. If I want influence, I want it to be the influence of running an organization, or influencing policy through my work, or writing a book that changes the way people think.

Perhaps it’s naive. Perhaps that’s not the way that power works. But when men talk about influence, they don’t have to couch it in terms of being subtle, of taking notes in meetings, of being a secretary who can gatekeep for the person who has the real power. They talk about running for office or starting a company. Why are women afraid to have that same kind of power?

There is a time and a place for subtle influence. But there is also a time for overt influence, for standing up and saying that we deserve respect, we deserve the attention of others, and we deserve our power. When did this go missing?

Why I Hate the Phrase “Start a Family”

It’s not uncommon for a young couple to mention that they’re looking to “start a family” or for someone who is looking for a spouse to say that part of what they want is to be able to “have a family”. We all know what people mean when they say this: they mean that they want to have kids. As someone who has no interest whatsoever in having children, this phrase implies many things that seem unhelpful and backwards to me.

First, it limits what a family can be, and it almost always means heterosexual, monogamous, cis partners with children. It cuts out any other family structure, even those that may include children. Generally the implication is that if you are not biologically related to the children, you don’t have a family. Adoption is placed on a lower tier, poly families make NO SENSE AT ALL, and GLBT families are utterly excluded (despite the fact that they can and do have kids).

But what really rubs me the wrong way about this is the idea that children are what make a family. Families are the people who are closest to us, who support us, who care for us, who we include in our most intimate decisions. They are not defined exclusively by blood: you can marry into a family, adopt into a family, or even (if you so choose) include certain friends or partners as part of your family. Each different way that we bring people into our lives in an intimate way is important and valid. Every formation of family improves our lives by giving us a support system and people who care for us (I am not referring to abusive structures here, but rather just different ways of setting up healthy relationships). And without these adult, caring, supportive, interdependent relationships, we cannot be healthy people.

So why is it that children are what defines “starting a family”? Didn’t all of us start our families the moment we had an intimate relationship, a close friend, a good relationship with our parents or our siblings, or provided support and care for our extended family? What does it say about how we value adult to adult relationships if a family only counts when we have kids?

This devaluing of adult to adult relationships has some serious consequences. It means that adults are pressured not to take time to connect with their friends, their siblings, their spouse or partners, or their mentors. When adults don’t take the time to establish healthy family networks of all types, that means they don’t have support and care when they need it. They don’t have someone they can ask to babysit or help out if they’re called in to work last minute. They don’t have other role models and mentors for their kids. They don’t have people who can support them if they lose a job or need health care. They don’t have people who can talk to them and support their emotional and mental needs. It means we have adults who don’t learn how to do the appropriate self-care of having a support network and taking time to be with other adults.

It also devalues the lives, accomplishments, and relationships of those who can’t or choose not to have children. The implication when someone says “start a family” to mean having a child is that those who don’t have children will never have families. It once again sends the message (especially to women) that their lives will be empty and alone if they don’t have kids. It says that they can’t possibly be getting the same kind of fulfillment and joy out of the relationships that they do have because they don’t “have a family”. Who on earth would want to refrain from having children? They won’t have a family!

All of this plays into the pressure to build your family in a certain way. It plays into the idea that unless you’re married or blood related, your relationship isn’t as important (which disproportionately affects people who are already oppressed). And this means legal rights, like right of attorney and inheritance. It means that I would not be able to visit the person I’ve lived with for the last 2 years if she were in the hospital simply because she’s “just a friend”.

It also means that children who have abusive or cruel parents are pressured to continue to interact with them, honor them, and respect them simply because of biology. It artificially divides relationships into “important, family” and “not important, other” through biology and the parent/child relationship.

This may seem like an unimportant phrase that comes from another time when families were all built a certain way. But the phrase implies that families look one way and there is one time when you begin to build your family. That’s simply not true and the consequences are that people are left more divided and more alone than they need to be.

I’m not playing by those rules anymore. I started a family ages ago. I started when I decided I wanted to put in the work to have a good relationship with my parents. I started when I decided to reach out to my brother. I started when I chose to reach out to new people and tell them that I care for them and wanted them in my life. I have a family. I don’t need to start one.