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Women and ‘geek culture’ August 14, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Feminism.
22 comments

As noted last week, the Incomparable is an excellent, albeit niche, podcast, and one that for all its focus on popular culture has been aware of issues of gender and representation. A particularly interesting example was The Incomparable 198, “A Critical Mass of Lady Geeks” which explored the experience of Lisa Schmeiser, Erika Ensign and Brianna Wu, all of whom are involved in gaming, development and commentary and are also into SF and Fantasy and how isolated they felt in their interest and how marginalised they were sometimes made to feel was dispiriting. Of course ‘geek culture’ is – if one looks at it in its broadest sense, an area where sexism is often manifest.

As one contributor, I think of Brianna Wu of the all woman Giant Spacekat developers team, noted, ‘I definitely think it’s become more accepted but I also think there are all kinds of things around geek culture that are real no girls allowed signs that are really invisible to guys – they don’t understand it, and it’s sometimes in big ways you know like a Comicon will have a girl with her chest hanging out on one of the advertisements, in ways SF tends to typically sexualise the lead female characters – Star Trek has been tremendously guilty of that – it’s all these things about the culture, that it’s a thousand little things but at the end of the day it’s men standing there saying this is our space, this is our culture and it pushes you away and I think the women that push back and stay in the field and stand up to their interest and I think we kind of develop thick skin necessarily.’

This is what really irritates me about the response from those who see red at the very mention of the word ‘feminism’, a sort of willing blindness (as it were) on their part and an inability to recognise how heavily stacked the structures are against women in not necessarily obvious ways, and how when combined all too often operate as barriers against them. And this is in what is meant to be a reasonably relaxed space, an informal shared interest sort of area of ‘geek culture’, which merely underlines how bad things can be elsewhere in the society.

One contributor noted the performative ‘alpha male’ aspect of parts of geek culture, which genuinely shocked her, hoping for something better (I’ve seen that in political activity too – no doubt many others have as well – and it shocked me too).

She continued talking about how – and again I could identify strongly with this – SF had attracted her because it was all thought experiments, how would different societies operate if definitions of majorities were flipped or whatever, ‘and I had assumed that there was this questioning of current societal mores and this reexamination of social interactions was something that everyone shared in fandom. I hadn’t realised that everyone brought in these external expectations about gender roles or what women could or shouldn’t do…it was a huge shock to me…’

I had a not entirely dissimilar experience when getting involved at a very low level with some SF organisations and coming to the rapid conclusion that being an SF fan didn’t mean in the slightest necessarily that one had any particularly openness to radicalism of any sort, that the imaginative and in parts progressive aspects of it simply didn’t seem to translate into an appreciation of radicalism or progressivism in a concrete form whether socialist, feminist, lgbt, ecological or whatever – indeed for some those elements just sailed right over their heads.

Anyhow, disappointment apart, there’s a fascinating discussion about geek culture and how this all functions commercially, how SF toys – for example – are pushed into the boys toys sections in toy shops… and as one contributor noted ‘this is incredibly dangerous’ when they’re so gendered, so determining of future roles.

They discussed for example how at young kids outings happy meals for boys have one sort of toy – say a Spiderman tie-in something active, and the girls one’s are ‘notebooks’, the obvious message being that boys ‘do something’ and girls ‘sit’ (yeah, yeah, I know, it’s follows the tropes of Spiderman, but… fundamentally that is the dynamic beneath it). I’ve seen precisely that dynamic at work in the last number of years and it’s again dispiriting.

But that aside, this is well worth a listen. And one concluding thought from a contributor, just on toys and tie-ins with films…

It’s not just the gendered aspect, it’s this message that women are inculcated even before women can think straight [due to their being very young] that keeps us out of geek culture.

And so many other parts of the society.

Ultimate role? July 31, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Feminism, The Left.
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This piece here from a short while back on the differing trajectories of LGBTQ and women’s rights on Slate caught my attention. Stern argues that the perception is now that the former is/are a ‘dignity’ issue(s), and therefore has greater traction while the latter is ‘all about sex’. I’m still thinking about that contention and whether I tend to agree (even taking into account the differences between different states globally). As a preliminary I think the broader and local contexts are significantly different for a variety of reasons so the trajectories will almost inevitably differ, but any and all other thoughts gratefully accepted – though important to note that Stern couches his analysis in a belief that these are not competing but complementary rights.

But there’s one quote that really stands out:

[US Supreme Court Justice Anthony] Kennedy, like a plurality of Americans, clearly views abortion as morally wrong. In one horrifyingly condescending passage from Gonzales v. Carhart, Kennedy infamously wrote that abortion must sometimes be banned to help women understand their “ultimate” role as a mother.

I find that a remarkable statement, whether contextualised with abortion or not. How does it work?
That the only valid purpose in a woman’s life is to be a mother, or that it is the only significant purpose, or that it outweighs all others? All women? Some women?

And what about men, how are they to be led to understand their presumably ‘ultimate’ role as fathers, and if that’s not their ‘ultimate’ role why is it not, and what is?

Gender roles and children’s films… July 30, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Feminism.
16 comments

Mentioned on The Incomparable podcast recently was an interesting analysis by Lili Loofbourow of the New Inquiry about Brave from a while back which I find very persuasive, not least in its description of just how alienating viewing films can be for women and girls given very constrained gender roles.

I’ve a daughter and she’s of an age where she’s going through this. It’s striking to me how – for example – she doesn’t want to admit to boys that she likes the animated series Ben 10 (an excellent SF show in its own right in my view) which she does and wasn’t led to by me, even though that has a very strong central female character. And why? Because it is regarded as ‘for boys’ and admitting to like it is in some sense not right. Don’t get me started on the princess thing either – which irritates me from the point of view of constrained gender roles, political ideology and aesthetics. Simply put it’s startling how much of that trope there is directed at children.

A point that was somewhat depressing in the Incomparable podcast was the admission by all the men involved in that particular podcast that they had daughters. It does make me wonder what about those who don’t, are they quite as aware of the societal pressures at work here?

And it’s not just about princesses, though we could make a start there… July 30, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Feminism.
2 comments


And given what was posted earlier, here’s a piece on Slate that argues that women (and it’s women it’s arguing about) should stop being ‘tortured about pink and princesses’.

It is a given that if you are a mildly feminist mother (or father, but more mother), you are going to do everything within your power to steer your daughters away from anything that has the stink of “girly” on it. I shudder to think how many pink ruffled onesies, gifts from less enlightened relatives and sexist friends, have gone unworn because America’s feminist mothers could not stand to dress their 3-week-olds in the color of oppression.

I don’t know. Again as the father of a daughter there’s a bit of me inside that finds the massive emphasis on pink and princesses depressing (and indeed the massive emphasis on blue and black for boys equally so). I’m not against ‘girly’ though that’s a term whose meaning and application we can parse out in multiple ways.

And as was put to me the other day, it’s amazing how even the overt political connotations of kings and queens and princes and princesses is problematic in relation to y’know, the small fact we live in a democracy – however imperfect. Problematic? Sure, if only because of the massive simplification that that then engenders in the understanding of political processes at an early age, one which depends on hierarchical structures. You think I’m exaggerating? Recently my daughter when asked who she thought the Taoiseach was replied ‘the ruler’. Fine, she’s five going on six – that is a logical extension of how she understands power is exercised – but how does that feed into understandings of the world around her?

The article continues:

Why is it any likelier that your daughter is going to end up thinking that a prince will save her than it is that my son will think he should kill bad guys? Why is one of those fantasies considered harmless and the other damaging?

I’m not convinced. Let’s put the political to one side. There’s further problems ahead. Consider the issues about the nature of princesses (certain more recent Disney one’s excepted), and hitherto issues as regards passivity, expectations as regards princes and completion and so on.

And that point about Disney underlines how these issues are actually so problematic that in Tangled and Frozen the tropes are taken out, examined and reworked to some considerable degree.

But those go only half the way, in almost a parallel of how where there’s a nod towards girls, as with versions of Nerf guns directed towards them – perhaps a sort of echo of the influence of the Hunger Games – it’s amazing how pink steals in in the designs. And sometimes that obliterates all else. Lego Friendz, pink and purple and lilac coloured lego ‘for’ girls is a perfect example. Almost parodically there’s this, where the girls are working or what have you and the male figure is lounging outside their ‘house’.

Granted I’m not wading in to prevent my daughter from dressing up or playing with My Little Pony though you might be surprised how often spaceships and aliens figure in a sort of genre shifting where and when its possible. And while not much of a fan of Peter Jackson’s curious reworking of The Hobbit I find myself applauding the creation of a female elf – not least because although neither of the films has had a showing in the house for the daughter that caught her eye in the trailers and the absence of female elf warrior was a source of disappointment to her in the original text when read to her over the past month or so.

In a way this is about choices, about expanding the role and scope of play so that it isn’t channelled into constrained and constraining expectations as to what gender roles are or should be. Or as a comment under the Slate piece puts it – and in doing so gets to the heart of it for me:

Because things are sold to kids as the “normal” , ie “boy’s” version, and the pink girls version. 

And that’s the problem.

Fixing it? Well, I’d hesitantly suggest it’s not about preventing the manifestation of princesses – that’s a given for quite some while to come short of a fundamental rearrangement of the society. But it seems to me that it is about not being tied to the expectation that a girl shouldn’t want to kill the bad guys, or at least – this being U rated, lock them up. Or to put it another way, that she should be encouraged at all times to understand she has choice both to have and exercise agency.

Republicanism and agency April 22, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Feminism, Irish Politics, Republicanism, The Left.
8 comments

An…erm… bracing review in the Irish Times of a new book that seeks to give an overview of Irish political and social thought from the 17th century onwards. This is from Bryan Fanning and Tom Garvin and entitled ‘The Books That Define Ireland’. The review is by Nicholas Allen and in the course of dissecting the 29 essays on 27 individual books he argues that the authors have produced:

…an uneven collection that starts slowly and generates interest only when the two authors begin to introduce personal experience into passages of otherwise pedestrian critique.

But Allen’s critique is intriguing too for the angle taken:

The essays are dense with biography, history and textual summary. Together they form the catechism of an Ireland whose imaginative cartography is strangely alien. I was left with the impression that the two greatest historical threats to the island’s survival were masturbation and the IRA.

For…

This is in part because the two shadows that reach longest over the books that Fanning and Garvin read are religion and statehood, a condition sometimes mistaken for nationality.

Which is a most interesting point. But Allen goes further…

…a persistent antagonism to later forms of republicanism in Ireland sours the tone of the accompanying essay. Thinking of the sorrow of starvation in Skibbereen, Garvin concludes that “the entire IRA tradition feeds off enduring memories of British indifference to the suffering of their putative ancestors, and many an atrocity has been justified by reference to ‘Black ’47’ “. This is a claim absurd in its imprecision.

Or how about this?

It is one of a series that mars the book. Another such is the unlikely suggestion that “much of the pseudo-history of traditionalist outfits like the IRA is directly or indirectly inspired by Geoffrey Keating”. Another records Fanning’s disappointment that Patrick Pearse and “romantic nationalists like him … successfully co-opted the real Wolfe Tone”.

But we’re only getting started really:

Garvin suggests there that the dual traditions of civil disobedience and of military struggle against British rule have metastasised post-independence into a disregard for the State and its authority. The argument is worth discussion. Garvin’s conclusions are not. “It would be interesting,” he writes, “to see how many people involved in the recent wave of public scandals have Northern or Border backgrounds and close or distant IRA connections.” If there is some genius in the ability to be so vaguely offensive, there is little compelling in the argument, even if we take the North to begin somewhere on a line between south Dublin and Co Offaly.

There does seem to be some truth in the idea that there is in some quarters a curious exaggeration of the degree of agency republicanism (and PIRA in particular, though not just or only them) have had. In a strong form that can be seen in the strictures recommended (and imposed) by those like Conor Cruise O’Brien, a sort of belief in an innate credulity on the part of the inhabitants of this island (or some significant portion of same) to anything wrapped in a tricolour and referencing 1916. This persists in the curious attitudes of Harris et al (I was entertained by his thoughts this weekend as to a kinder gentler independence struggle run along essentially pacifist lines – something that seems bizarrely partitionist and also underestimating of the nature of the British state during that period). I guess the weak form is seen in various manifestations both at state and other levels – perhaps the current issue over the participation of British royalty at the 1916 commemorations is of a piece with that.

Of course one has to admit that there was some agency – and at times a considerable degree of agency. And no state(s) are comfortable with the prospect of paramilitarism, for obvious reasons. And yet, the near existential nature of the threat as posited by those mentioned above, always seemed to me to be overblown. Where was the evidence of parallel structures that could supplant those of the Republic, let alone a genuine and long-lasting public enthusiasm for same? And what of the institutions of state which – and perhaps the current period of economic crisis underlines this perfectly – if anything appear to be deep rooted and, for all the rhetoric, continuing to retain democratic legitimation in the eyes of those who afford that legitimation. And all this before we arrive at the arms of that state and how they would respond to any genuine internal threat to their position. But perhaps these are discussions for another day.

Allen makes a range of other useful points…

The Ireland that this book defines is an oddity already. The first woman author appears in Chapter Twenty One; the Celtic Tiger has been relegated already to the category of shameful secret; and the span of nearly 400 years in what the authors call historical and social literature makes for often dry reading (both authors admit they are untrained in advanced literary study; perhaps their work’s greatest achievement is to prove the value of such scholarship)

And yet, it does make me curious to actually read the book.

Women employees ‘accepting’ less remuneration than men for the same roles? April 15, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Feminism, Gender Issues, Workers Rights.
4 comments

Ignore the fluff in much of this report and check this out, from the Irish Times, in relation to a Employment Market Monitor from CPl.

The survey also found that 40 per cent of employers said that women generally accept less remuneration than men for equal roles, particularly in the tech sector, while the monitor points to a strong first quarter for job listings, with the level of jobs posted in the science, engineering & supply chain segment showing the strongest growth since early 2013.

What, one wonders, is the definition of ‘accept’ used in that statement?

Everyday sexism… April 5, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Feminism.
2 comments

…did this as reported in the Guardian. It’s a powerful inversion of an embedded dynamic. The comments section in the Guardian underneath it is a sight to behold with a lot of complaints that those who are targeted in this are effectively (my word, not theirs) ‘innocent’. Yeah, that’s sort of the point.

“Radical feminism which is actually communism…” April 1, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Feminism.
5 comments

Okay, and we’re back, and I’ve got to be honest, even joking it was kind of creepy.

Meanwhile, listening to Today with Sean O’Rourke this morning was a strange experience. Why so? Well, the lineup was:

Sean was joined in studio now by a number of women with views on this – they are Roisin O’Hara, who juggles work with having four small children; Evanna Boyle, also a mum of four who gave up work as a solicitor to mind her kids; Independent Senator Jillian Van Turnhout and Theresa Heaney, Chairperson of the Mothers’ Alliance Ireland.

Some curiously conservative lines pushed in relation to children in creches and supposed negative outcomes. Ms. Heaney came out with the line (at 19.18 minutes) … in relation to mothers working outside the home that:

….the governments are implementing an agenda which is actually radical feminism which is actually communism because if you look into the principles of communism it is to separate out separate husband from wife, babies from mothers and to take control of the children… I’m not making this up… if you actually read Marx and Engels, Firestone the feminist [that'd be Shulamith Firestone I presume - wbs], they lay down very clearly how they want to achieve their goals, and part of this is to get the children into childcare…

Remarkable. It is perhaps to the credit of the other contributor…

Also on the phone, was David Quinn of the Iona Institute.

…that he actually pointed out it was ‘captains of industry’ and ‘capitalism’ who ‘also wanted to get mothers out of the home’. Perhaps to his credit, though almost needless to say he was quick enough with his own anti-statist line in relation to childcare and what appeared to be the assumption that the mother should really, y’know really, be in the home.

A strange mixture with two profoundly conservative participants in a panel of five.

Hard to tell if Sean O’Rourke was being ironic when he noted that ‘there must be a lot of dysfunctional adults around’ who had been deprived of ‘three years parenting from their mother’ while in creches. I think he was, but it was one of those radio shows where you just wouldn’t know.

Rebranding feminism? Part 1 March 29, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Feminism.
5 comments

There’s an image in this piece on designtaxi from late last year which really resonates with me. The piece notes that:

For the November issue of women’s magazine ELLE UK, agency W+K London teamed up with feminist cofounders of Vagenda, Holly Baxter and Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett, to rebrand feminism.

And that’s an interesting project in itself which raises many issues – does feminism need to be rebranded, what would such an exercise actually constitute or achieve and of course certain contradictions, not least the use of corporate media, advertising and so on in relation to advancing feminism. One commentor in comments beneath the piece noted some of the materials produced are great, but pink as a colour in one piece (and more on that issue again)?

And the image from the piece that resonated? Here it is.

4

The sign on the right brings back an experience from last Summer in the UK.

Sitting in a restaurant/bar a male waiter/manager commented negatively on a woman in the group I was in for having a pint instead of a glass (or ‘half’), something along the lines of ‘a glass of wine for the lady'; ‘no thanks, I’ll have a beer'; ‘I’ll bring a half over'; ‘No thanks, I’ll have a pint’… cue an expression of obvious disdain bordering on distaste and a muttered comment. Add to that at the end of the meal the term ‘we know who is wearing the trousers’ in relation to a brief discussion as to who was paying a bill and it surely underscores what the expectations of some men are.

Perhaps that was unusual, perhaps my experience – and that of those I was with – is atypical, but having been in a number of places in England and Wales across that period I’m not so confident about that.

A long way to go.

Rhetoric and reality March 27, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Feminism, Irish Politics, The Left.
2 comments

There were some very valid criticisms as regards this post here on the ramifications of the political aftermath of the Nulty resignation made by beibhinn47. In focussing on the latter it had the appearance of ignoring the events that occurred and the impacts on those women affected by such communications. The sense and actuality of such a breach of trust is obvious – and more on that thought below. But it goes beyond reprehensible (and it appears that there is more to be revealed).

It does once again demonstrate pernicious behaviours that manifest both on and off line in power relationships, and most particularly in recent times on parts of the left both here and abroad in gendered power relationships. And we’ve seen those both on the left and far beyond it.

Elsewhere some in comments have argued that these communications we have read about don’t really represent an abuse of power. It is an argument that is impossible to sustain because the disparity in the balance of power between a TD in their constituency office (or the Dáil) and a constituent is self-evident. The constituent is seeking advice or aid or support from the TD. If the TD then introduces any elements at all that distort that communication (and anything that is overly familiar or makes requests of those seeking the assistance is just such a distortion) is simply wrong, and making ‘personal’ contacts using what is confidential information about addresses and contact numbers supplied in what should be a neutral context defies belief, not least because they imply at the least the expectation of some sort of quid pro quo from the person making the initial contact.

Just to be clear my intention wasn’t to minimise the issue of the social media interactions or indeed to suggest that social media as such were responsible for those interactions. It seems to me that social media make the gap between thought and deed smaller erasing for some a very necessary critical space but lest that seem like an excuse for wrong actions – and it isn’t intended to be because that critical space should for leftists whatever about anyone else be so automatically infused with an understanding of what is appropriate or not, what is right and what is wrong in respect of gendered and other power relationships – they also seem to more clearly amplify or enable already existing patterns of thought and behaviour and in that they are revealing.

For the abuse on such media points up an underlying truth, the reality that such patterns of thought exist. And as has just been demonstrated, they persist amongst those we would have had every reasonable expectation to think they would not.

Indeed perhaps the most disturbing aspect in regard to that last is how self-proclaimed progressives – and again we’ve had more than one example of this in recent times from the left here and slightly further afield – can act in ways which utterly void the ideas of equality, feminism and what might be termed a sense of genuine community and solidarity, that they outwardly profess. Is it that that rhetoric just doesn’t connect, that it is an outward show of adherence to words that have no real meaning for those uttering them? Or is it simply that for some attaining positions of seeming power or authority means they believe they can act unchecked and linked to that that what appears to be an internalisation of misogynistic approaches to women that in a given context where there is that seeming power or authority manifest themselves.

I don’t want to say that this is a problem exclusive to the left, and of course it isn’t. But simply to state that underscores just how problematic, how pernicious, this is because in various forms these sorts of behaviours are found across the society. But that it happens on the left should cause deep and serious concerns.

How extensive is this Janus-like approach? It’s a question well worth asking (it’s also worth considering how the issue of feminism is dealt with in some supposedly progressive quarters). And what are the mechanisms extant for bringing examples of this to the fore and, as importantly, dealing with them so they do not recur? It would be interesting to hear any thoughts on that.

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