Saturday, December 01, 2018

I'm tired of sexism ruining my enjoyment of media

As I get older I'm finding there are more and more things, usually related to how women and girls are portrayed or treated, that bother me when I encounter them in media I'm consuming and pull me out of the experience of enjoying said media. It happens with books, movies and tv, music, etc, and each time, it sucks. Some random examples include:

  • one day while driving I decide to break out a bunch of old favorites of mine from the 90s and 2000s, including Fall Out Boy, Death Cab for Cutie, and BareNaked Ladies. I felt that nostalic joy of belting out the lyrics I still remembered so well, quickly followed by the realization that a lot of the songs are actually pretty creepy and stalkerish.  
  • I won't even go into the experience of revisiting old favorites like Sixteen Candles and Grease, and the disillusionment of realizing how rapey and awful they were in this department... 
  • I recently decide to stop bothering reading classic literature by men as it's just too disappointing. I re/read books like Fahrenheit 451 and 1984 in the past couple years, and each time I had a hard time focusing on or enjoying the story because it is so clear that the authors have such an utter disdain for women and view all women as vapid idiots. 
  • Even in progressive shows this shit creeps up... take a show like Firefly which does have some awesome women in it and has some fun flipping stereotypes around on their heads. And then there's every interaction Mal has with Inara, where he is constantly insulting her (it's even grosser that it's supposedly in the name of being in love with her). He even almost dies "defending her honor" meanwhile he calls her a whore every 5 seconds. (And then there's this episode idea which thankfully never got made bc holy whoa) 
  • And it happens with new stuff, too... I've watched Solo several times now, most recently when I showed it to my youngest a few weeks ago. Each time I watch it I realize how much I like the male characters... and how disappointed I am by how the women were written. There's Val, who was great for the 5 minutes of screentime they gave her before they killed her off (seriously?); then L3-37, who I adored but who is also apparently viewed by many as a parody of a SJW, and whom no one takes seriously they just roll their eyes at her "antics" (oh and she also dies after way too little screen time); even Qi'ra, the best of the bunch, got sadeled with the "I'm so damaged, I've done TERRIBLE things, I'm unlovable!" trope. (part of what made this especially disappointing is that Star Wars has otherwise been kicking ass in writing good storylines for women, so it felt out of place for Solo to do so poorly, for its female characters to feel like checkboxes to be marked off and then disposed of)

Sometimes I'm able to ignore this stuff when it comes up (I won't try to rationalize why I can watch Game of Thrones), but sometimes I just can't stomach it... or at the very least, it taints the show or book, or like with Solo or Firefly it dampens down what would otherwise be unbridled enthusiasm for the work. 

Maybe that's why I'm so overjoyed when I watch shows like Crazy Ex-Girlfriend or the new She-Ra, media that is created by women and shows such a breadth of awesome women and femme characters to enjoy and revel in. They also show that it can be done.

And I can hear people saying that I'm the problem, that people like me should just ignore this stuff and not be so sensitive and touchy ("snowflakes!!"). But why should I (and any/all women or just non-male people) have to "put up with" media that writes or treats us so badly? How hard is it to have good representation and writing of and around women characters?  

I feel like I've heard enough from old white men, and am focusing on media created by everyone else. 

Monday, October 29, 2018

Acknowledging Joy Among the Dumpsterfires

This weekend I flew to Seattle along with a friend and my sister to go to GeekGirlCon, a convention dedicated to celebrating the contributions of women in the arts, literature, science, tech, gaming, etc, and being an inclusive place for people of all genders, backgrounds, abilities, to come together and share joy over our various fandoms. It was a super fun time with great panels, great people, amazing costumes. This was my second time attending GeekGirl, and I was once again blown away by the creativity of attendees (all the amazing costumes!) and the artists in the exhibition hall (just take all my money!!). I loved seeing everyone from little girls dressed as Squirrel Girl and Te Ka, to older women dressed as General Leia Organa, and everyone inbetween. The atmosphere felt supportive, inclusive, and just overall fun and joyful. It felt like a beautiful place to be.

Last night while sitting on the plane waiting to head back to the bay area, I checked into the news-- I hadn't really been online all weekend, except for instagram-- and heard about the shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh.

It is a weird, weird thing to be sending messages to friends with pictures of cosplay and congratulating each other's costumes, then switching over to Facebook and reading friends' heartbroken posts about their community, people they know, being actively attacked. There's an emotional whiplash. It feels wrong to feel joy while others feel so much pain.

I felt guilty, and I felt angry, and I felt tired. I'm tired of checking out from the world for a day or two, to do something fun or just for a needed self-care break, and the inevitable punch in the gut of catching up on the shitty things that happened while I wasn't paying attention, be it mass shootings or bomb threats or our govt pushing legislation that's intended to further harm marginalized lives etc etc etc. The never-ending barrage of scandals, shitty legislation, hateful quotes from our country's "leaders," it's all exhausting and demoralizing and draining.

While browsing an airport bookshop in Seattle and I saw a table of recently published nonfiction. There was a book about Trump and Putin, and right next to it was a book about finding joy in the small things in life and celebrating them. I don't know if that placement was intentional or not, but it struck me as significant and symbolic. We can't be solely focused on the horrible things happening. We need to also look for and embrace the joy that still exists around us.

This is what I'm striving for but struggling with... Knowing that it's ok, or even necessary, to feel joy amidst utter bullshit. To be ok feeling happy even while horrible things happen. And yes It's important to not turn a blind eye, to not turn away for too long, to still keep fighting against oppression and hatred and bigotry. There's a fine line, sometimes, (and that line is different for everyone) between escaping for self-care, and digging our head in the sand and ignoring reality because reality is too painful to bear. But perhaps the only way we can survive the pain is to embrace the joy when it comes. Maybe otherwise we just become puddles of despair, unable to cope with the horrors of the world let alone to do anything to change them.

I got home last night and read Laurie Penny's latest Patreon essay, and apparently she has impeccable timing because she said a lot of what I needed to read in that moment. Go to her Patreon and sign up to read her content, but the last paragraph of her essay goes like this:
"Simone Weil says that attention is a form of prayer. I think the key to making things while the world is on fire is to take as much as possible of the attention you currently give to the relentless catastrophe pageant - not all of it, but as much as possible - to give it to your own work, whatever it is. Attention is prayer. Do not pray at those dark altars. Work as if you lived in the early days of a better nation."
Maybe taking part in an event that is unapologetically diverse and supportive of people of color and lgbtq+ people, is itself a form of resistance. I spent my weekend putting my attention and my money towards supporting the kind of world I want to see. Maybe that is one way to push back against a system that seeks to erase those populations. It's not enough, of course. It often feels like nothing is. But, it's one thing.

Check here for a list of ways to help the victims of the Pittsburgh shooting.

Thursday, September 06, 2018

Judging "Screentime"

A couple weeks ago our internet was out for close to two days. It started I think sunday afternoon, and when we still didn't have home internet on Monday morning I suggested that we get lunch at Panera and bring our laptop and ipad for a wifi hangout. 

So there we were at our local Panera, D watching youtube on his laptop and Q watching a show on the ipad. I had my kindle reader. And I kinda smirked to myself, wondering how many of the people in that restaurant were looking at our table and clutching their pearls-- I could just hear the complaints, about how these kids are ALWAYS on their screens, and look at that family IGNORING each other because of their addictive screens!! 

What they couldn't know is that both my guys spent a solid 3 hours that morning running around playing games at a park. Yes, shockingly, they love youtube AND the outdoors! Also, the ways that we connect over the content they love so much, watching shows together or talking about their favorite games. It seems a shame to me how people assume "screens" are isolating, not seeing the many ways they can bring people together. 

I recently heard a group of parents lamenting the "screens addiction" in kids today. One complained of a teenage nephew who was glued to their phone for the entirely of a family reunion. I instantly remembered what it's like to be the awkward 13 year old among your aunts and uncles, and how much time I spent hiding/escaping behind a book rather than having to answer the same set of small talk questions about school and whatnot (remember when it was books that we demonized instead of screens?). I also wondered if anyone had really shown genuine interest in that 13 year old nephew-- asked them about what they like to do, what they were doing on their phone, and really listened vs judging or making condescending remarks about screens rotting their brains? I know my introverted and video-game-enthusiast 10yo kiddo will happily put down his phone and talk your ear off if you ask him about his favorite games and really, truly listen (perhaps that will change in a few years).

Maybe next time you see a kid on their phone or ipad, instead of rolling your eyes and judging them, maybe you could give them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they don't spend every waking moment on that device (how realistic even is that?). Maybe, just maybe, you are only witnessing a few minutes of their day, which may not be representative of their entire lives. Maybe even dare to ask them about what they're doing, not out of condescension, but muster up some real interest and you might be surprised to see their response. Connection, after all, stems from sharing your interests with others, and why would that not also apply to the things we do on screens? 

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

On Ninja and Sexism in Gaming and Streaming

This morning I saw a facebook post about a popular streaming gamer called Ninja saying he doesn't do streaming videos with female gamers because, in his own words, "If I have one conversation with one female streamer where we’re playing with one another, and even if there’s a hint of flirting, that is going to be taken and going to be put on every single video and be clickbait forever."

You can probably imagine the feminist ragefit this threw me into.

I have a particular [what's the rage equivalent of a soft spot? a rage spot?] for the idea that men and women can't possibly socialize without it being about sex, or leading to sex, or implying sex, etc. It's sexist and tired and limiting and dehumanizes women, making us out to be nothing more than vapid temptresses trying to lure men into affairs, with no possible actual personalities or talents or anything that could ever be useful to anyone else.

It's limiting on a social/personal level-- many of my husband's closest friends have been women; my BFF of the past several years is a dude; I can't imagine either of our lives without these people in them.  It's also incredibly, infuriatingly limited on a professional level, given that if men truly feel they can't be around women without risk of having or being suspected of an affair, that basically means they can't have women in their spaces which often includes things like jobs. Especially any of the high paying ones.

This is incredibly worrisome when you realize powerful people like our country's Vice-President thinks this way. Two men socializing together after work raises no eyebrows. Considering how much of networking occurs during those "off" hours, think of how frequently women get cut off from forming important relationships and advancing their careers simply because being alone with a man who isn't her husband is "taboo."

This line of thinking also smacks of "benevolent sexism," which claims to be about "respecting" women and holding us up on some pedestal when really, if you peek back behind the curtains a bit, it reveals an opinion of women that can't possibly include us being legitimately talented in any real capacity aside from luring men into our beds.

(And don't even get me started on the idea that men must avoid women for fear of being accused of rape... Like, if that's the only action you can think of that will protect you from rape accusations, perhaps it is you who needs to hide away from society and not be near, well, anyone)

(Also, it's super heteronormative and ignores the existence of gay or bisexual people or anyone else who doesn't fit neatly into the heterosexual male/female binary)

Clearly, this is a loaded issue.

I spent more of the day reading into this, seeing arguments from various angles, including that especially on sites like Twitch apparently viewers are incredibly prone to harassing gamers especially when gamers of different genders play together. In a later tweet, Ninja attempted to clarify his statement and say that this was more about shining a light on online harassment, and trying to shield himself and his family from it as much as possible. And so this brings up a whole slew of other issues. What does it mean to be a prominent gamer? How much harassment are you expected to put up with? Even if you disagree with the way something is done, how much of an obligation do you have to push back against it, and how much are you expected to risk to that end? As Meghan Farokhmanesh wrote in her Vice article:

The circumstances surrounding Blevins’ stance are sticky. As the foremost Fortnitestreamer, Blevins has the power to take a stance against the sort of harassment he’s speaking of. Twitch is notoriously thorny for women. Some female streamers are stamped as “Twitch thots,” harassed, and doxxed. Sidelining women only alienates them further. It perpetuates a system in which they are denied the same opportunities as male streamers simply because of their gender. Blevins doesn’t have to stream with anyone — but by declaring that playing with women is “just not worth it,” he’s contributing to false narratives that men and women can’t coexist in non-sexual relationships.
Blevins’ fear of harassment cannot be ignored or underplayed, either. Online celebrities are entitled to their privacy, even when part of their job requires them to let viewers in. Creators facing blowback from fans over feelings of ownership or entitlement is, sadly, a well-documented occurrence: viewers who consider themselves privy to the relationships and personal lives of their favorite stars, whether it’s women on TwitchYouTube power couples, or live vloggers.

As a prominent gamer, one could say that Ninja has an opportunity, even an obligation, to push back against the current environment and take a stand with female gamers rather than fall prey to the mob rule of harassers. Is it fair to put that load on his shoulders? On the flip side, how shitty is it to come out and admit that women gamers face particularly difficult harassment, and instead of doing anything to help change that, say you're just washing your hands of the whole thing?

I am not a gamer. However, I am the mother of two young boys who are avid young gamers. They love video games, they love watching others play video games. We have not ventured into the world of Twitch yet, but their list of youtube subscriptions is long. A lot of my feelings about this ordeal are tied to knowing that this is the world my kids are heading towards, and wow it's fucked up. I hope they can be part of the change against this sort of shit.

I do think, as a bottom line, that someone who is so well known and has a following like Ninja does,  has a duty to be careful about how he talks about these things and handles them. If he's going to make a statement about not playing with female gamers, that should be followed up with a specific discussion as to why, and what could be done about this kind of harassment so that these sorts of limitations aren't something anyone has to seriously consider. Whether he likes it or not, whether he accepts it or not, he is an influencer-- people will listen to him, and what he says can either reinforce or push back against certain types of thinking.

Something else I came across a lot while reading comments about this was people who insisted that he didn't mean anything sexist by his statement, therefore we shouldn't take them (or him) as being sexist. But that's flat-out wrong. We like to think that sexist, racism, etc have to be blatant and intentional in order to be harmful, but some of the worst infractions are often the ones where there is no conscious malicious intent behind them (indeed, this is what makes these -isms so insidious and damaging). He may not intend to harm women by saying he won't stream with them, but it very much does have consequences, especially when it legitimizes that as a choice for other prominent male gamers, and further marginalizes female ones.

Our words, our actions, have consequences, and hiding your head in the sand about them doesn't make them go away.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

facing my uncomfortable truths

I recently came across an article by Laurie Penny called The Queer Art of Failing Better, about the show Queer Eye, and I read it because I recently fell head over heels for Queer Eye. As I read, the article kinda took my breath away-- it says many of the things I felt about the show, but also touches on so many aspects of patriarchy and masculinity in our culture and comfort zones and honestly it was one of the best things I feel I have read this year.

I was not familiar with Laurie Penny before this, and immediately knew I had to seek out her other writings.

So I checked out Bitch Doctrine, her book of essays, from the library. The first few essays cover the 2016 election and were in many ways cathartic to read. And then, came this essay, where she recommends that women should probably just be single in our 20s. Reading it reminded me of how I felt when reading A Room of One's Own... and I don't know that I can articulate the feelings properly, but it's like a mix of recognition, discomfort, and guilt, maybe? Of the things that Might Have Been, in another lifetime.

Zach and I got married when we were 23 years old. We had our first kid at 27. I, clearly, was very much not single in my 20s. Now, I want to be clear here-- I don't want to imply in any way that I regret any of those choices we made-- I love the life we have built, and my family, and what we have. I am grateful for the privilege of being able to make this choice for ourselves. I believe strongly in the freedom for women and mothers (and parents of all genders) to opt to stay home with the kids, and that caregiving work is work and worthwhile and valuable and needed, and should be valued as much as any other kind of work. 

And yet there is also a part of me that feels a bit uncomfortable with being so beholden, financially, to my husband, regardless of how enlightened and supportive he may be. It feels like a betrayal of sorts, like I'm a fraud of a feminist. A small part of me wonders what I would have done with my life had I not devoted the vast majority of my time and energy these past ten-plus years to my husband and children. And there's the uncomfortable truth that it might not have been much-- I've never been a super driven or ambitious person. I never had big dreams for myself or a fancy career or whatever. Honestly, I'm kinda lazy.

The other uncomfortable truth is that a part of me has been more than happy to be the at-home parent, and simply follow along on my husband's adventures as we moved across state and international lines for his career, because it meant I didn't have to make hard choices for myself. That's the part that makes me feel the most like a fraud of a feminist.

I sometimes feel like my entire identity is tied to my husband and children, and I wonder, what am I aside from my relationship to them? What is there that is just my own, who would I be without them? Would I have ever opened up my own Montessori school, a life goal I once entertained? Would I have become a prominent feminist activist writer? I would like to think so (one of my prominent thoughts while reading Penny's writings is "I kinda wanna be her when I grow up"). But then again, couldn't I be that now? What's stopping me? I feel like I have a lot I could write but don't. I comfort myself by listing all the reasons why I don't get around to writing more, from it being difficult to focus on writing when my attention is constantly being diverted by people big and small in my household (I'm trying to write this in the middle of the day, while the words are fresh in my mind, and I've had my kids come and ask me for something-or-other at least 3 times since I sat down) to my own insecurities about whether what I have to say is at all interesting or worthy of anyone's attention.

Then I hear the voice of my best friend who, when I once listed out these reasons to him, looked at me and said, "Marce, those are all really dumb reasons not to write." He's right, of course. As usual.

So, I'm trying. It sometimes feels like I'm stuck. The comfort of our "normal" keeps pulling me back, because making any sort of meaningful changes is uncomfortable. Writing a vulnerable post like this one is uncomfortable (I'm hoping to finish and hit "publish" before I lose my nerve). Trying to set actual, concrete goals is scary as shit. I have vague ideas of goals I want to achieve or explore, but need to carve out some space to be able to sort through them and allow those ideas to take on a more solid form.  I'm starting to feel like a broken record because I've written echoes of this post a few times over the years. So maybe it's time to finally get my shit together. 


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