Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Hateful comments about Chaz Bono on Dancing with the Stars

All of my friends are liberal supporters of LGBT people, so sometimes I forget just how hateful and uneducated many people in the world are about understanding and compassion towards transgender individuals.  The latest freakout about Chaz Bono (Sonny and Cher's FTM son) on ABC's Dancing with the Stars is an example of just how much education the rest of the world really needs.

According to this article on Jezebel, supporters of DwtS have taken to posting on the ABC message boards about how disgusted they are with the network for including a transgender person on the show.  They claim that it is destroying the family nature of the show, that it is flaunting 'confused people' in their face, showing too much 'homosexual lust' and destroying Christian values.  The comments are hateful and judgmental, considering trans people to be freaks and outcasts who shouldn't be depicted as normal.  It's a sad look into the reality that many people see to be true.

All of these comments are exactly why Chaz Bono should be on the show.  Despite the fact that he isn't truly a 'star' for anything other than being the child of Sonny and Cher, Chaz is proving to be a great representative for the FTM community, a population that is all but invisible in the public eye. Showing that his gender identity will have absolutely nothing to do with his performance on the show or his dancing, and that he certainly isn't 'flaunting' anything simply by just being himself.  He is an opportunity to teach young people about the female-to-male transition (if parents choose to do so) and shows that transgender individuals are people.

I don't watch DwtS and I'm not going to start now, but I'm happy that ABC are giving Chaz Bono a chance to raise awareness about trans men. We clearly have a LOT of work to do in raising tolerance and acceptance for transgender people, and comments like these make me realize how far off we really are.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Oh, you're not gay? On my invisible pansexuality

My sexuality is fluid and I consider myself pansexual. I am still queer-identified though I have been in a straight appearing relationship with a man for almost four years. Outwardly, we look straight and people make the assumption that I am straight. I wear a rainbow colored bracelet around my wrist for a few reasons -- mostly because I just like rainbow colors, but also because I enjoy having the solidarity with my queer identity. It's like wearing a wedding ring to signal that you're married, I wear my rainbow bracelet to show that I'm queer. It doesn't make me love my boyfriend any less or wish I was dating anyone else. I just really don't care about gender, that's not why I love him.

I was getting my hair done in the Mission area of San Francisco last week, and I was casually making awkward conversation with my stylist to pass the time. I mentioned my boyfriend in passing, and she interrupted me and said "Wait, your boyfriend? I thought you were gay!" and pointed to my bracelet. I replied with, "I'm queer, but yes, I have a boyfriend." She kind of stayed quiet after that and I could see her kind of pondering how that could be possible. It was complete blindness to the concept of a bisexual orientation (or the possibility that I or my partner are transgender). Even though I don't consider myself bi, sometimes I will tell people that I'm bi just to save the inevitable conversation where I explain to them what pansexuality is. I should take the time to educate people, but it can be kind of awkward when I don't know the person.

This is just one example about how queer identities that aren't strictly same-sex can be stigmatized or erased. If other people see me walking down the street with Mr. Boyfriend, they assume we're straight. There is no possible way I could have a boyfriend and be anything BUT straight. Bisexuality isn't really seen as a queer identity, it's just something that you do while drunk. It's not really a Big Deal(tm) that people don't see me as queer when we're together -- being pansexual isn't something I necessarily want everyone to see in passing while they walk by. But assumptions like the one at the hair salon happen all the time. I've had it mentioned in gay clubs before - "why are you here? You're straight!" or from other gay people - "You wouldn't understand because you're straight."

Sometimes, wearing that bracelet helps other LGBT people know they can connect with me. At the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco this year, I was wearing my bracelet. Someone in the game industry who I didn't know walked up to me and asked if I was going to go to the LGBT Game Developers roundtable. I didn't even know that mixer existed, and if this person hadn't spotted my rainbow bracelet and saw me as a potential attendee, I wouldn't have gone to what was a very interesting event. I've struck up conversation with people at coffee shops about local queer-geared events. Sometimes having my visible 'proof' has been a good way to meet people and find conversation about similar interests.

I own up to my privilege. I know that I'm a middle class white cis woman who is able bodied (at least for now) and has had a lot of opportunities that others don't have. But people can be privileged in some regards and marginalized in others. I don't think it's fair that I have to answer to straight privilege when I am not straight. This is why there should be more careful discussions around privilege when it's not necessarily clear how people themselves are marginalized. I don't know people's income levels, their sexuality, or their mental health status just by looking at them. We love to bucket people into clearly divided groups based on affordances, but we should be mindful that we're not making assumptions about people based on our own stereotypical preconceived notions of what marginalized people look like.

Adventures in Minnesota

I am in Minnesota for a whole week, and it's been a rather eye-opening experience.  I was born and raised here for 23 years and I am an only child, so when I come home to visit it is just to spend a bit of time with my parents and the few friends that I have kept in contact with since moving to California four years ago.  This visit was carefully scheduled to coincide with the MN State Fair, a food extravaganza unlike any other.  It's pretty ridiculous how much fried food this fair has.  If you think your fair compares, you really have no idea. The MN State Fair is absolutely enormous. 

While here, I've been noticing just how much I don't fit in here.  Not just within the state culture, but also within my own family.  My mom and dad are both very much consumed by alcoholism.  Their only hobbies include drinking - such as going to the bar with their friends, going to car shows, and playing darts/beanbags at bars.  They both come home from work and begin drinking immediately and continue until bedtime, knocking back 6 beers each easily, sometimes more.  My mom becomes incoherent and insufferable while she's drunk to the point where I don't want to be anywhere near her.  Before I moved away, this was a major source of contention between us.  She always feels like I am judging her, and I always feel like she puts her addictions ahead of her family.  It's hard to tell who she really is anymore -- the alcoholism and her escalating and untreated mental health issues have consumed her and drowned out the personality that I used to know.  And my dad, well, he's always been a conservative white dude.  Since being here three days he has railed against fat people, against blacks, against people who ride bicycles, and against poor people.  He's only 50 too, so it's not like he's an 80 year old man stuck in his ways.

I can't deny that I have changed.  Since moving to CA, I found feminism, grew up a lot and became independent, started to become a fierce ally for LGBT issues, realized that I am pansexual, and started to live the diversity of culture.  While I'm here, I feel like I don't fit in.  I notice just how white the MN State Fair is and what a monoculture it is. Minneapolis was recently heralded for beating out San Francisco as the gayest city in the United States, but there is a definite divide between the two Twin Cities.  St. Paul is a more conservative and traditional city, and of course it's where my parents live.

I really love California.  It's not perfect, and it's certainly a hell of a lot more expensive, but I feel like it's worth it just for the diversity and the culture that is missing here in Minnesota.  I have 4 more days to try to get along with my parents.  I hope I make it!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Halfway through The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid's Tale has been on my Goodreads "to read" list for months, maybe even a year. It is Margaret Atwood's dystopian novel about what would happen if the U.S. government was overthrown and women were used as nothing but vehicles for baby creation. It's a chilling science fiction book that reeks of hints of truth and moments of absolute parallel to the world we live in. I'm halfway through the book and I can't put it down -- it's riveting and scary and emotional and everything I love books to be. Every feminist should read this book.

*Spoilers below*

In this book, the protagonist "Offred" is a Handmaid who has been pulled apart from her husband and her child and placed inside a rigid society where her being is completely defined by shame, ritual, religion, and reproduction. She is not allowed to read or talk to other women, she has been stripped of her name and her identity and is placed in a room on her own with the mirrors removed. She has to lay there and be fucked by the Commander of her house while his wife lays behind her, and if she happens to be lucky enough to get pregnant she will hand the child off to the wife after he/she has been born. If she isn't so lucky, she will be cast away as an Unwoman.

Handmaids are mentored by Aunts who attempt to convince them that they were being sluts and shameful terrible women back in the former world, and that absolving themselves by giving themselves entirely to this new society is the way for redemption. These Aunts use manipulative language and religious quotes to convince Handmaids that what they are doing now is honorable, safe, and better than life used to be.

This book looks at class, race, gender, and occupation in a way that they haven't been looked at before. Pardon me, while I get back to reading it....

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Educating fledgling feminists

When I was first discovering what "feminism" really meant and trying to learn as much as I could, I struggled to understand.  It wasn't because of an inability to grasp the basic concepts, it was because the learning curve is very steep and many feminist bloggers have done all of the educating for one lifetime that they plan on doing. I don't blame them -- it's hard work to educate people about Feminist 101 concepts, especially when there are many sites that exist solely to do just that.

However, at times I felt like it slowed my learning down -- or that my knowledge was dependent upon finding the right sources when I researched concepts.  I didn't know about ableist language (and calling something "lame" or "crazy" was a part of my daily repertoire) and I didn't know about many things that could be considered classist, cissexist or heteronormative.  I knew that I reeked of privilege but didn't know how to own that privilege.  

One thing that I loved is how Melissa at Shakesville has been keeping a Feminist 101 guide in which she links to previous posts so that other people can find them.  That way, if I want to know what rape culture is I can find her corresponding explanation.  I'd like to say that I want to do this too, but I'm not sure I'm the right one to put that information out there.  I'm still learning.  But I do think there is value in my trying to explain feminist concepts -- because I think the nature of my fledgdom could result in lower level basic information that might be easier for newbies to grasp.  However, I might get things wrong.  I'm going to try to do it though. 

I know there are more people like that, people that could be fierce allies to the feminist movement and culture who don't even realize what feminism is all about.  How do we find those people?  How do I find more fledglings?

Monday, August 22, 2011

How I Learned I was a Feminist

Hey everyone! Tami somehow roped me into contributing here, and since I'm going to make an effort to do that on a somewhat regular basis, I figured I should introduce myself. My name is Caitlin, I'm 26, and I live in Tami's backyard (it's a long story). Here is my feminist click moment!

This whole world of feminism is all very new to me. I know almost absolutely nothing about it, yet I think I am one. And I think I SHOULD be one. But am I any good at it? Probably not yet, but that is why I am learning!

It was not very long ago that a friend of mine (who shall remain nameless, though I’m sure you could guess) started becoming interested in this strange concept called “feminism.” She started scolding me for using words like “bitch” or “slut.” She started pointing out and getting offended by sexist comments and jokes that she heard. She started going on slightly “holier-than-thou” tirades about women, equality, sexism, blah, blah, blah… I had NO idea where all this was coming from.

Here is a brief summary of several conversations we’ve had.

“WTF is up with all this feminism nonsense?” I ask.

“It’s not nonsense and I can guarantee you that you are already a feminist,” she tells me.

For some reason feminism was a scary word, a label that I didn’t quite like the feel of when it rolled off her tongue. In fact, it is something that I am still getting used to. If I had to describe myself in 3 words, I do not think feminist would make the list.

Anyway, I replied with a “How am I a feminist?”

“You believe that women and men should be paid equally for the same jobs, right?” And I of course said yes. “Well then, you’re a feminist” she tells me.

What? ME? A crazy femi-nazi? I don’t think so, that’s not feminism, that’s just wanting equality!

She asks me, “What do you think feminism IS exactly?”

[Insert all sorts of stereotypes about feminism]

To all of which she replied “Um, no. Here, read this book.”

And she handed me Full Frontal Feminism by Jessica Valenti.

I read it and I found it interesting. I read it and I found I agreed with things. I read it and I disagreed with things. I read it and found some things hard to swallow. I read it and got SO PISSED OFF about things. I think I may have even teared up a bit here or there. But seriously, it got me thinking.

Why do I feel that feminism is a four letter word?

Why do I want to lose weight, wear make-up, etc? Is it ok that I still enjoy reading Cosmo (because I do)?

Why do I feel the need to call women bitches or sluts? Do I really mean what I’m saying? What AM I saying exactly?

Seriously, my brain was freaking out for a while. In fact, I am still sorting this entire thing out.

So, here goes. Feminism noob takes on the world!

I'm going back to college, college, college!

I've been toying with the idea of "going back to school" for quite some time now. (Backstory: In Minnesota I was 3/4 done with a degree in nursing when I was recruited to come to San Diego and work on video games for a living. I dropped the degree, huzzah!) I'm pretty damn successful in my career now, and I don't actually *need* any sort of degree. I'm a video game producer, and a few project management classes here or there would come in handy, but unless I want to become a CEO I'm probably safe from needing an MBA. But, I still want a degree. So if I don't need a degree for my career, why don't I get a degree in something I'm passionate about and very interested in? Women's Studies is the #1 contender.

I don't have the time to actually GO to the classes, which is a bummer but it's real life. I need to do these classes online, which severely limits my choices.

So I've been looking at my options in the Bay Area. There are some interesting programs here. City College has a Women's Studies program and an LGBT Studies program (the first in the nation) but they are both only AA degrees and neither are available online. They don't have any sort of agreement with 4-year institutions for guaranteed admissions, so that's a fail. Of course Berkeley has a Gender and Women's Studies program, but I'm not getting into THAT anytime soon (nor is it online). San Francisco State University has a program as well, but it too is not online. And Cal State East Bay has an online Women's Studies BA with an asterisk by it. When I called them they told me that the curriculum is all set and ready to go, but that they don't have the funding to actually launch the program. They're speculating it won't be available until 2012, perhaps later (if not at all). This could work out for me, because I have probably two years of generals to complete first. Finally, UMass Dartmouth has a BA Women's Studies major that is entirely online, but it is expensive.

The good thing is that California has pretty good articulation agreements between local community colleges and the large universities. I can attend the College of San Mateo and complete the transfer requirements for any of the universities (except Berkeley) and get a guaranteed admission provided my GPA is good. So my plan of attack is to attend community college, finish up all the general requirements for admission to Cal State East Bay or SFSU, and see what happens in two years. I start with an admissions test tomorrow to see what Math/English I fall into. I'm not looking forward to taking math, especially in an online format where it will likely be harder to learn. I'm excited though, and hoping I'm not biting off more than I can chew!

Anyone else have a Women's Studies degree, and do you regret it in any way?

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Beating women and dead children: Why I am boycotting Reddit

*Serious trigger warning for violence against women and dead children. Please take this trigger warning seriously.*

I've been using Reddit for a few months now, mostly because I've enjoyed the analysis of Game of Thrones, the local Bay Area Reddit for staying on top of the happenings, and the IamA Reddit for learning about interesting people. Despite the frequent misogynistic and offensive commenter, there was usually plenty to be entertained by on Reddit. It wasn't until this post that highlighted two absolutely terrible Reddits that I decided to quit Reddit for good.

For those not familiar with Reddit, here is a quick explanation of what the website is. Reddit is basically a list of forum topics that can be created by anyone with commentary on each. Sometimes the post is just a link to something (like a web article or a photo), and sometimes it is a more longform 'blog post' style forum post. Anyone can create a "subreddit" around any particular topic they are interested in (for example r/feminisms or r/gaming) and people can subscribe to those subreddits to add them to their front page stream. Subreddits each have moderators, which default to the creator of the subreddit.

For the most part, Reddit administrators have taken an 'anything goes' kind of approach to subreddits, so long as the content isn't illegal. However, this is a fairly grey line as you will see below. There are at least two very inappropriate subreddits that have been going on for quite some time.

The first is the r/picsofdeadkids subreddit, which I will not do the favor of linking here. The origin of this subreddit comes from r/jailbait, which is now closed down but was a place for linking pictures of little girls. The picsofdeadkids reddit posts pictures of dead babies and children that are pulled from police records or other shady sources. It is graphic, triggering to an extreme, and absolutely inappropriate. However, because it isn't technically 'illegal', it's allowed to flourish on Reddit and has 397 readers/subscribers (which doesn't count anyone who just goes to Reddit to read that subreddit without registering for an account).

The second one (take this trigger warning VERY seriously) is the r/beatingwoman subreddit. I probably don't have to go into details on this one. This is quite possibly one of the worst things I have ever seen on the internet. There are photos of bruised women with the caption reading 'if your girl doesn't look like this, you're doing it wrong'. There are stories linked of Islamic women who are tortured to death with cheers of support from the Reddit readers. There are personal stories about how these guys have beaten women with tips from the 'pros'. One such tip was to aim for the head/hair, because the woman will not shave her head in order to report it. That tip was followed up by a score of congratulations from the readers, affirming the terrible actions that this person may or may not have actually done.

There is page after page of awful pictures and videos and stories of women being beaten or killed. It is heartwrenching. It is impossible to know what is a joke and what isn't. If this subreddit were to fall into the wrong hands, anyone could take the 'guides to abusing women' to heart and act upon them. It is absolutely terrible. Yet, this isn't illegal by Reddit's standards. These people aren't releasing personal information of women, they're not actually killing women. Therefore this subreddit continues to pull in thousands of visits a day.

Attempts to bring this subreddit down have been replied to with comments stating that freedom of speech should allow them to continue to post there. Some responses claim that it's okay because one of the founders is a woman herself (someone who says that "her gender doesn't realize the difference between having a pussy and being one").

Whether or not these subreddits are jokes, they are very easy to take seriously. Every single post was triggering for me in the r/beatingwomen subreddit. To those who refute with "If you don't like it, don't go there": you can shove that up your ass. There is such a thing as Google searches, and I fear for those who find this subreddit who actually want to use it maliciously. For all you know, some of the contributors might be committing actual illegal acts. The fact that the Reddit administration allow parts of their site to house such terrible information and pictures makes me believe that Reddit doesn't give two shits about how that content might affect people who stumble upon the site after Googling how to beat their wives without getting caught.

The official response from Reddit General Manager, Erik Martin?

"We are a free speech site," Erik says. "We don't want to be in a position of deciding what is and isn't offensive, nor would we be capable of deciding what's offensive and what's not."
You are not CAPABLE of decide whether or not posting pictures of abused and beaten women is offensive?! Or dead children? What the hell kind of world are the Reddit administrators living in? This couldn't be a worst response in my opinion.

I will not be using Reddit anymore, and I encourage you to spread the word about this before it falls into the wrong hands.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

I'm a feminist, but I'm on a diet

*Trigger warning for topics of diet and weight loss*

Since August 1st, I've been on a diet. Yes, I know that is basically a feminist 101 no-no, dieting and talking about it on the internet. But you'll have to deal with it for at least this one little post.

I try not to talk about my diet much, because I'm sensitive to the fact that people are triggered by topics of eating, dieting, and weight loss. However, I do want people to know that I'm not dieting because I'm unhappy with myself. I am very much a fat positive person and I love the way my body looks. I have been fat my whole life and it has become part of who I am. I am fine with that. However, I have some health reasons that need to be addressed.

The first is that I've been gaining weight over the last year at a rapid speed and while there is nothing inherently wrong with that, it has caused some side issues for me. The first is that I am tired all of the time and have little motivation, which affects my productivity at home and at work, in addition to my mental health. I don't want to clean my house, I don't want to do anything but sit down and play video games or watch TV. It's a real problem for me, because I am normally an active person who loves to be going out and doing things constantly. When I am lighter and exercising more, I feel better mentally. That's of course, just me. I don't believe that being fat necessarily comes with mental health issues.

The other thing is that I have plantar fasciitis, and it gets worse the heavier I get. I know that the more weight my feet have to bear, the more it hurts when I walk in the morning or when I try to walk to the train. It makes it so I can't wear any of the shoes I like to wear. It's rather debilitating, in fact. I know that not every health problem can be attributed to weight, I believe in health at every size. However I do know that is the way it works for me. It has cut into the things I want to do in the past.

The other fact is that my clothes are no longer fitting me. I only have one or two pairs of pants that fit me, and most of my shirts aren't fitting me anymore. I really can't afford to go out and buy a new wardrobe when I have tons of expensive clothes already that I don't fit into. Some people choose to lose weight for financial reasons.

I definitely believe in a woman's right to choose what is good for her. I don't necessarily think that wanting to lose weight automatically means that someone is not happy with themselves. I feel that feminism as a movement has moved away from topics of eating and weight loss but has abandoned the idea of 'choice'. It's now taboo for feminists to want to lose weight, and any articles about losing weight are deemed anti-feminist. I don't believe in that. I definitely don't believe in fat shaming and body snarking, but I think there is nothing wrong with someone wanting to cut back on sugar, only eat raw/natural food, stop eating meat, start eating meat, stop drinking caffeine and soda, track their calories, etc.

I think part of having a healthy relationship with your body is knowing what you put inside it. Many people avoid topics of food and nutrition because every article out there is like "this is bad for you, that is bad for you". I don't want someone telling me what I should and should not eat. However, I do like to know what the things I'm eating are made of. I like having the knowledge, even if I choose to ignore it. I like knowing how my body is breaking down the various types of food I ingest. Other people might not, but I certainly do. I don't think I'm being anti-feminist by changing up my food choices.

How have you personally dealt with the feminist backlash while you were trying to lose weight?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Is Katy Perry and Kanye West's E.T. about rape?

*Trigger Warning for discussions of non-consensual sex and abduction*

I'm not a huge fan of Katy Perry's music typically, and I don't really enjoy her voice. However, I have to admit that she has some catchy songs. One of them being E.T. (as in extraterrestrial). The basic premise of the song is that Katy has some kind of obsession over being abducted by an alien life form and basically having sex with it. Um, okay. Somehow, when I stopped to listen to the lyrics I became a little uncomfortable with the words.

In the beginning, Kanye West comes in and starts talking about how he is such a badass with a dirty mind who 'gets ass' all the time. Nice guy. He talks about how he wants to 'bathe his ape in her Milky Way', obviously referring to putting his African American penis inside her Caucasian vagina. He calls himself a legend and tells her that she's in the 'danger zone'. Seems like a totally classy guy that anyone would want to get to know. However, his disgusting personality manages to win over Katy Perry who quickly becomes 'hypnotized' and mesmerized by him.

Take me, t-take me
Wanna be a victim
Ready for abduction

Now, you could read into this as being a statement about BDSM, a culture that I am not too familiar with and am still learning about. However, the definition of 'abduction' is to take someone away against their will. In BDSM, consent is a very important concept. Granted, Katy Perry does say she 'wants' to be a victim, which could imply consent. However, I found the desire to be a victim and wanting this domineering alien man to take her away without her permission as not being a very empowering message. Not to mention the similarities between the things Kanye West was saying and what a sexual predator would say to 'groom' someone into trusting them (or at least letting something happen they wouldn't normally allow).

Then Kanye West comes in at the end and starts rapping again:

Tell me what's next, alien sex
I'ma disrobe you, than I'mma probe you
See I abducted you, so I tell ya what to do
I tell ya what to do, what to do, what to do

HE is going to strip her down and get her naked and then tell her what to do because HE abducted her. The controlling nature of this entire song is all about Kanye using his power and control to manipulate Katy into becoming hypnotized and obsessed with him so that she wants him to touch her all over. If that isn't a bit rape-y I don't know what is.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

My Click Moment: How I Discovered Feminism

How silly of me, this blog has been up and running for half a week now and I haven't wrote about my feminist click moment yet. Here's the anticlimactic way I discovered that I was a feminist.

I moved to San Diego from Minnesota in 2007, and was absolutely thrilled when we overturned the ban against gay marriage. I went down to the predominantly gay neighborhood Hillcrest and joined the massive celebration. I watched couples holdings hands and looking so relieved and so in love. Then, I found out about the proposition 8 that would eliminate the right for same sex couples to marry in California. I was disgusted by the proposition, but figured that there was no way it would pass. After all, we're in California -- it's all liberal here, right?

Near the end of the campaign against Prop 8, I began to notice that the pro-Prop 8 movement was gaining traction. I started joining in on the protests and the marches in the city. I figured that there was still no way it would pass, but wanted to show that I was standing in solidarity with the gay rights movement in San Diego. The night of the vote, I sat glued to the television. I saw the results and how close they were all the way to the end, and my heart felt like a huge lump in my chest. When the victory was declared for the pro-Prop 8 movement, I cried. I was heartbroken and absolutely shocked that something like this could happen. Taking the step to grant rights to gay people to marry is a huge progressive step for any state, but taking it away? That's cruel, unjust, and was not what I thought California was about.

Throughout the movement, I spent a lot of time reading blogs and news sites that were liberal and feminist. The majority of sites covering the CA Proposition 8 news were feminist, or at least allies. Just by adding these RSS feeds to my reader, I was exposed to a world that I never knew existed. I learned about feminist concepts I'd never heard of, read about stereotypes against Muslim women, about sex and fat positivity, about the word 'slut' and what it meant or didn't mean, about sexism in media and advertising, about domestic violence, rape culture, wage disparities, and more. I learned about the world that is out there and all of the systematic and cultural things that are wrong with it. I owe a lot to sites like Shakesville, Jezebel, Feministe, Feministing, thisaintlivin, and Womanist Musings, among others.

I thought to myself - "how is it possible that I can be ONLY advocating for equality for LGBT people when all of these things are so closely intertwined?" I started to ravenously devour anything I could about feminism. I started to see things in movies and games and on TV that I never saw before. I started to notice things in my everyday life and conversations that I would never have noticed. Things about the way people treat each other, about their stereotypes and the culture that we are all blind to because we live in it. I had a lot of help in helping me navigate my way into feminist thought from great women like TiredFairy and Brinstar. I thank them for helping to educate me.

I'm still very new to all this. It's been over a year that I've started calling myself a feminist, but I'm still learning. I'm still making mistakes and still trying to fix them. We still have a huge uphill battle for marriage equality in CA and the United States, but it's not the only battle out there to fight. It's impossible to ignore the blatant issues that plague women and other marginalized groups in our society. So that's my click story.

What makes a woman a bro?

My best friend was telling me a story about how one of her male co-workers told her that she was "more of a bro".  I'm not sure if this was in relation to other women at her company, or if it meant that she was more of a 'bro' than she was a woman.  Meaning aside, I know that in the past I too have been touted as "one of the guys" and less feminine than other girls.  

I've spent some time thinking about what it is that makes men perceive a woman to be a bro, to be more like a man than a woman.  "Bro" typically means a male friend, someone that they identify with on a closer level than the standard male-female relationship.  My friend is an outspoken, rather boisterous person (in the best way possible, of course) and she has a very strong personality.  She makes a lot of jokes and has a great sense of humor, laughing along with other people's jokes.  I have a lot of those same qualities; I tend to speak up louder than everyone else, I laugh at everyone else's jokes, and I think I have a rather dominant personality.  It's interesting to me that those qualities are so often perceived as masculine.

It makes total sense though.  The stereotypical female personality is meek, in need of protection, quiet, passive, and needing direction.  Our culture dictates that men are domineering, that they take control of situations and 'handle things'.  When a woman is assertive in her personality and puts herself on the same level as the men she is around, they immediately view her as "one of the guys" in order to stay comfortable with their preconceived notions about what women are.  I can see why my friend was labeled a bro by those societal standards, but she certainly is 100% woman as far as I'm concerned.  

My friend also doesn't dress in high heels and dresses, get her nails done, and wear makeup every day.  She works in a casual office where jeans and t-shirts are allowed (and pretty much the norm).  It's possible that because she's not wearing upscale business attire that he thought she was more of a bro.  However, I'm sure there are plenty of women in the office who wear jeans and tennis shoes to work.  Are they bros? 

Another cross-section of female personality traits that are often referred to as "bro-ish" are when women validate men's inherent misogyny.  Such examples include joining in on their catcalling of women, laughing at their sexist jokes, and making internalized sexist statements like "I don't like other women".  This isn't my friend, at least I don't think it is.  I've personally been guilty of saying in the past that I don't identify with other women, that I'm better at being friends with guys.  I realize now that what I was actually seeing was that I personally viewed myself on the same level playing field as men.  I work in an industry (video games) that is nearly dominated by men, and I have always had to stand up for myself and speak toe-to-toe with men who make more money and have more seniority than me.  I think my "one of the guys" mentality was actually a strong "I'm equal to these guys" personal mission.  I'm glad that I discovered that now and have shifted my way of thinking.

I think men are uncomfortable with having women as platonic friends unless they make a mental association between them and their male friends.  As if it doesn't feel right to put women on friend level unless they seek out their masculine traits and validate their reasoning for being friends against those traits.  

What do you think it is about men's perceptions of women that makes them label them as "bros" or "one of the guys"?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Sims Social debuts and requires thin avatars

I've always enjoyed the Sims franchise, but not the point where I buy all the expansion packs. The Sims on Facebook seemed like a perfect combination to me, and I knew it would consume many hours of my day once it launched. Today, The Sims Social is now live to the public. I've played it for about an hour now, and I think it is a very well done Facebook game. It manages to combine many of the core driving social game mechanics along with the heart and soul of the original Sims games.

When I play games like the Sims, with an avatar, I like the avatar to be a representation of self. The Sims Social does fairly well in terms of skin color variation, clothing, and hair styles (for female gender anyway, I didn't look at the options for male characters). Absent, however, is the ability to adjust the weight of your avatar. I understand why this was done from a technical standpoint. In a 2D game, you would need to make assets for every single wearable item in all the different avatar sizes - which would increase the load time of the game exponentially and hurt the performance of the game. I understand that. However, it still makes me sad that I'm going about my business in the game as a close proximation to myself, however I'm much much thinner than I am in real life.

I'm not so disappointed that there isn't a slider for weight or multiple weight options. What I'm disappointed about is that skinny is always the default for avatars. No mainstream game has ever ONLY had plus size avatars. Could you imagine the backlash from all the players who are forced to be fat when they're not in real life? It would be staggering. But no one thinks twice about the fact that default avatars are thin in the majority of games. That's the norm. To deviate from that and use fat avatars would be a progressive bold move that most game companies aren't willing to chance. I'm sad that it takes this much effort to be inclusive of different body types in games.

It's a good game though, try it out.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Startups don't need diversity, they need misogyny?

There is an article up on some website called BNET, which is the CBS Interactive Business Network apparently, declaring that startups don't need diversity. The post is written by Penelope Trunk, who earned herself the coveted position of tech feminist enemy number one when she wrote on TechCrunch that women don't want to do startups because they want children. Penelope says:

I have done three startups and each time it has been with a male co-founder. And each time, the fact that I am female has been a distraction to us. It has been a source of friction. When I was young, people thought my co-founder and I were a couple. (This is not surprising. The majority of male-female co-founder situations for a funded startup have a sex component.)

The problem is that men and women are different at work, and the intensity of a startup magnifies these differences ten-fold. In my last company, Brazen Careerist, I had two male co-founders. Sometimes I’d cry. Or throw a fit. And the guys would say I was so difficult. I am a woman who has been in tech startups for 15 years. I thought, if anyone can deal with men, it’s me. And still, I was too emotional for these guys. You know what? Most women cry at work. And most guys throw a fit.

The point of her post is to tell male tech startup founders exactly why they shouldn't co-found a company with women, why they shouldn't hire women for their principal team. She claims that men cannot handle the emotions in the workplace, that women cause drama and are distractions from the task of growing a business. Sounds like a load of "blame the women" to me.

I've worked for two different startups, one that was co-founded by two men and one that was co-founded by a woman and a man. Both of them operated well, both of them ended up in being sold to large companies for a great exit. There was never too much creativity or emotion, or too much diversity. The fact that we had a co-founder who was a woman did nothing but enrich and broaden the perspectives behind the company - something that helped us make wonderful products that pleased our customers (and our investors).

Forming a company should be about passion for creating great products and services for your customers. It should be about being entrepreneurs, finding success, growing and mentoring a team, finding great talent, becoming profitable. If having a woman around hinders this process, than no one was really focused on making a successful company. They probably shouldn't be in the business of starting companies.

I can only think that Penelope has had bad experiences at mixed gender startups because of bad management and bad business skills, perhaps bad interpersonal communication skills. I think she's assigning blame on gender because it's a controversial topic that will get her hits on the internet. I think she's taking an easy way out, making herself more attractive in the eyes of potential investors who don't want to deal with enormous pains in the ass (eyeroll) like workforce diversity.

Once again, we have an ignorant woman hating on her own gender writing as if her opinion represents all women. It doesn't. I'd be honored to co-found a startup someday with someone talented and business-savvy, as long as they're not promoting misogynist ideals like Penelope. It seems as if her lack of success in business has been probably due to her attention-seeking and has little to do with the fact that she's a woman.