Warning: Colin Craig.
“Secondly, the trend may shift from only sexualising females. Anyone see the new Bond, Skyfall? The first scene with the villain includes a very camp Javier Bardem feeling up an uncomfortable Daniel Craig. Would this scene have EVER been put in Sean Connery’s films all those years ago? Nope. In the changing word today, gay marriage is being legalised, there are homosexual leads – it’s being accepted. Quite frankly, the only reason only females are sexualised in games is because there is a stigma against homosexual male characters! But if games are heading the way of the movies, and with more story-driven gameplay, they most certainly are, then it is not unfathomable to think in the next few years we could see EVERYONE getting sexualised!”
(from a comment on this article)
This paragraph is sort of strange, and it reminds me of an anecdote I read on an author’s blog once. She came across a negative review of her book on a site that expressed distaste at the way the book “promoted homosexuality”. Baffled, because there was no such content in the book, she got in touch with the writer of the comment to discuss his view. The conversation eventually revealed that the concept of the female gaze was so foreign to him that when a male was described in sexual, or even sensual, terms, his automatic assumption was that there was something gay going on. Apparently the writer of this comment suffers from the same problem. You see, even though far more straightwomen than gay men play video games, we can’t possibly have a male character be sexualised unless it’s for the appreciation of gay male gamers. Because it’s more socially acceptable to market to the horniness of gay men than for straight women, or something.*
On a note that may be related only by virtue of also being discussed in that article in the comments, I’m not really sure that “offensive” is the right word to describe my feelings about the prevalence of sexual assault in not just video games, but pop culture in general as well. As a mostly female-perceived person it definitely makes me uncomfortable. As a writer and a reader it’s sometimes just plain boring. It’s a lazy shorthand to show or prove that a character is evil. Rape is bad = only bad people rape = this character is bad, so he should try to rape someone. But there are plenty of other, and often better, ways to show that. Hell, you can have a “bad” character who refuses to sully himself by touching a member of some outside group in that manner (for characters in cults or racial gangs, etc) – it’s still misogynistic, but on a different level to the casual assumption that if there’s a bad guy around, women gonna get raped. It’s individualised misogyny, the idea of this character that an “outsider” woman has the ability to dirty him – not an idea shared by everyone playing the game or watching the movie. Or you could have a character more into psychological shit who prefers to leave his captives waiting and imagining what might happen to them. Or maybe, harming the captives just isn’t part of the plan. They’re there for a reason – ransom, to prevent them from taking action against the villains, to coerce them into performing some particular task, etc – and pointless violence against them risks retaliatory violence on a larger scale from their allies which the villains have decided is better to avoid.
And that’s just in games that take place in a semi-realistic world where, yes, rape and sexual assault are pretty much endemic. In games in other genres, though, they don’t have to be. You’re making up a world with, I don’t know, magic and dinosaurs and different political systems, but it’s just too much work to imagine a different dynamic between the sexes than the one you were brought up with? Yeah, I’m calling bullshit on the idea that it’s “just realism” there, bud. That’s not realism, that’s laziness and the inability to think about the world from a point of view that isn’t mired in rape culture and male dominance.
*Note: I’m not explicitly including bisexual peeps since they’re, in the minds of people who think the treatment of women in video games is universally regarded as sexual, already catered for in some way.
So the newest beneficiary bash involves extending legal responsibility for relationship fraud to the partner. So there’s been some discussion of abusive relationships, and in Question Time today Jacinda Ardern (I think?) asked about whether women in abusive relationships would have that taken into account.
In response, we were told that “an abusive relationship is not a relationship in the nature of marriage”.
This is an interesting position to take. There’s no specification of whether this means just for the purposes of this policy or in general, and if the latter, I would be extremely worried. In New Zealand de facto relationships have the same benefits as those who are legally married, for example, and especially regarding divorce and separation, many of the legislations set up were about protecting the partner who has been financially disadvantaged, usually the woman – especially in an abusive relationship. If abusive relationships hold a special category where they’re NOT regarded as similar to a marriage, does that leave grounds for someone to claim they don’t have to pay alimony? Particularly if the victim/survivor does not wish to lay charges, or if the abuse does not involve physical violence (or very little) – though I’m not confident about the government’s willingness to recognise the existence of emotional abuse – it seems like the main thing stopping people from doing this would be the implicit admission of abuse, but in my experience abusers are willing to do all sorts of seemingly self-destructive things purely out of bitterness if their victim finds a way to get away from them.
ETA: Further questions:
Does this mean that if someone is in an abusive relationship, they are allowed to tell WINZ they’re single?
What does this mean for the legal validity of abusive marriages? Does it render a divorce unnecessary?*
*This is clearly in a hypothetical world where an answer in Question Time is an accepted method of law interpretation rather than judges’ decisions.
Science reporting is shit.
This isn’t really a controversial statement. Basically everyone knows science reporting is shit. Journalists who don’t usually have a background in science are writing for generic media consumers who probably don’t have a background in science either, and when you add in personal or corporate bias and other such things, the chances of having any given mass media news article about a scientific topic accurately reflect the findings decreases dramatically.
So, I really don’t think that the people behind this study on PMS ever tried to imply that doesn’t exist, however much the chosen quotes seem to support the idea that it’s virtually non-existent. Hell, the article even says that 15% of studies have found a link.
I’ve seen quite a few people reacting as though it did, though, and even a few sneering comments directed at Dr Sarah Romans for having the presumed temerity not to experience any menstrual symptoms.
At this point I sort of have to question exactly what PMS is, exactly. To my mind it’s largely hormonal mood swings, though the bullet list at the bottom of the article notes that there are over 100 symptoms that “may be” due to PMS, including things that I would really consider mere correlation such as breast tenderness. Are physical symptoms like that annoying? Definitely. Do they make people grumpy? Hell yes. Are they PMS? Well…. I don’t know. Tiredness, poor concentration, irritability, and even headaches I do agree with though. Determining how many cis women (and trans guys/genderqueer) experience PMS seems to be down to how you define it though, and clearly that’s going to account for the difference between the 15% of studies that found a link between negative moods and the pre-menstrual stage and the 90% of female-bodied people who “get advance warning” of a period.
There’s a lot of misogyny tied up with menstruation. A lot. The idea that women on their periods are unclean, the idea that they can’t run anything of importance because of their mood swings, the assumption that any time a woman expresses frustration she must be “on the rag” and, on the flip side, the idea that some women simply use PMS as an excuse to be a ravening harpy. Attacking a woman for daring to publish a study exploring the idea that not everyone experiences PMS veers a little too close to that kind of misogyny for my liking. I know too many people who don’t get PMS and are constantly being invalidated because of it to be comfortable with that line of conversation. Some people seem to be really invested in the idea that part of being a woman is suffering, and that’s understandable in some ways, but it doesn’t make it okay to piss on anyone who doesn’t.
Comparison, allegory and metaphor are important tools for communication. When someone doesn’t understand something they can be used to link the subject to something they can relate to and empathise with. So it’s understandable that in many discussions of rape someone will try to come up with a narrative that those who don’t live with the constant threat of sexual assault can understand. Unfortunately, there are very few things that are comparable. One of the most common narratives that floats around is the equivalence between rape and being mugged – both potentially traumatic and violating experiences, yes, but still qualitatively and inherently different. To use this comparison to make people understand you not only have to get them to imagine being mugged, you have to make them imagine a whole alternate reality where there is a huge amount of baggage and shame that simply can’t be conveyed in a transcript of a police officer questioning whether the victim was at fault. Mugging is also primarily a crime committed by strangers, while rape is the opposite, so you also have to find another way to convey the loss of trust, the affect on ability to create and maintain intimate relationships, and the potential damage to a survivor’s future sex life. Most mugging victims don’t have to overcome trauma each time they later donate to charity.
Looping back to the present, Culture Map has an article up titled ‘The best response we’ve heard to Daniel Tosh’s “misquoted” rape joke‘. Read that and return.
I have problems with this piece. For starters, it implies that only women get raped (or at least, only people with vaginas). Also that all men have dicks. Further, while rape is a horrible, horrible thing, and this sentence should do nothing to belittle that, one of the insidious things about it is that there is no visible injury that comes about from rape itself. If there were, it would perhaps receive more sympathy than it does. Instead, victims/survivors are expected to simply get over it. And some can – maybe not fully, but over time they can take on the trauma and beat it into submission, which is why many people prefer the term survivors to victims in the first place. A victim is often read as helpless, someone who needs an external agent to save them. A survivor saves themselves (though perhaps with the help of a good support system). However, the article’s comparison of rape to castration fails to convey any of these subtleties. Someone who’s been castrated is visibly injured, and disabled, for life, and is no longer able to engage in the penetrative sex that is most likely to be what they consider the norm. No one reasonable would argue that one in five [people possessing dicks] wanted to be castrated, whereas sex is generally supposed to be pleasurable, leading to the overwhelming incidence of dismissing rape reports as morning after regret. Because people are expected to want to have sex. They’re not expected to want to have parts of their body chopped off.
As for the visible injury, another characteristic of rape survivors is that it’s not something you can discern by looking at someone. The statistics tell us that pretty much everyone probably knows someone who’s been either raped or sexually assaulted in some way – but because we don’t talk about it, most cis men in particular don’t know that. Now obviously since we don’t walk around naked, castration isn’t immediately obvious, but it’s not something you can hide from an intimate partner, and could cause problems in places like gym or swimming pool changing rooms if you didn’t want anyone to know. It would also affect the fit of pants, though that could be corrected by packing. So in this alternate reality presented, women would not find it as easy to be completely unaware of the issue as men do in our world.
The thing is, you don’t actually even really need to create these convoluted metaphors. Men do get raped in real life, and even moreso than women it’s presented as comedic, because men are supposed to want sex all the time and be strong enough that you can’t overpower them, so being raped is ridiculous, like if they were a woman or something! Hilarious, I guess. The line of reasoning applies whether the rapist is male or female, though obviously there’s also a lot of homophobia tied up in it when both parties are male. So instead of trying to walk men through a complete re-imagining of the world, it seems like it would be easier to ask them to imagine that they had been raped. I can guarantee they’re aware of the social attitudes towards male rape victims. And while they don’t have the burden of having to be always aware of the possibility, the impossible rules that women have to follow in order to not be blamed for someone else’s crime and the knowledge that even your own friends cannot be trusted not to turn on you, that’s a much smaller gap in understanding than any of the comparison scenarios I’ve seen provide.
Personally when it comes to articles about the issue of rape jokes in stand up, I prefer this one from a guy who used to make rape jokes himself. (Though I admit I’m leery of using a cis man as an authoritative figure on a subject that disproportionately affects women and trans folk.)
Always interesting to see people’s reactions to a protest, depending on where the protest happens. There seems to be a huge NIMBY trend: if you protest overseas, good for you. If you protest in the commentator’s country or neighbourhood, you’re a whining whiner who probably doesn’t even care about the issue. In this case I’ve seen people wondering, for example, how many of those protesting are “actually students” and how many are “rent-a-commies”, which makes me wonder if they really think that no one who isn’t currently a student can care about the dangerous changes to tertiary education.
Something else which is slightly less universal, but still distressingly common, is criticism towards the protest organisers for their decisions regarding the safety of less privileged groups. I say distressingly common not to cast disapproval on the criticism, but on the need for it. There is a group heavily involved in today’s protest, as well as the previous one, that includes at least one cis guy who I’m told by several people is a serial sexual predator with a history in both Auckland and Wellington. Whether this is true (incredibly likely) or not (I suppose it’s possible there’s been some kind of conspiracy targeting him), it’s something that happens far too often in circles dominated by (as Octavia put it) Important Liberal Dudes, especially but not always white ones (and here I’m pretty sure the guy in question isn’t white, but probably several of his supporters are). It’s really easy for liberals to fall into this trend where, well, they’re liberal. You can’t go around accusing them of shit, they’re so much better than those rich conservatives that are the real problem! Or the idea that a liberal guy would never do something like that, so any accusations must be coming from a screeching harpie who just hates men, or whatever. At the kindest, there was just some kind of miscommunication. (Over and over and over.)
It’s pretty easy to see the result. Despite the fact that socially-focused non-profit work is overwhelmingly dominated by women (except in leadership positions), protests attract fewer women. Protests on women’s issues attract fewer women of colour. Protests on queer issues attract fewer lesbians, bi women (and while the issues aren’t always the same here with regards to personal safety and sexual assault, there is still quite a bit of misogyny in LGB circles) and trans people.
Does that matter? Do we need those less privileged voices? Well, yeah. You’re protesting something that negatively affects you. It negatively affects them, too, probably even moreso. Adding their voices shows the breadth of the problem, adds credibility and makes the whole group stronger. Adding diversity means adding people who might be able to see solutions or partial solutions that others would miss. Adding people who don’t look like you makes other people who don’t look like you pay more attention. But that’s never going to happen if you can’t be fucked making an effort to make things safe and welcoming for people who don’t look like you, even if that means kicking out the douchebag friend who’s making you all look like shitstains who don’t care about anyone but themselves.
One of the new welfare reforms that’s been announced is particularly troubling: free birth control for beneficiaries.
Not all beneficiaries, mind: just women. HBC, IUDs, etc, will be “offered” to, first, teenage mothers, then all women on benefits and their teenage daughters (16-19). While the language is all about it being voluntary, there’s an inherent power imbalance between a woman desperately trying to get into work and their case manager, and believe me, I have experience with how pushy case managers can be.
Some people may not be aware of exactly why this is so troubling. Aside from the focus on women (vasectomies are, as far as I know, both cheaper and with less side effects than IUDs), offering long term birth control to low income populations has a History. The one I know most about is the US in the early 20th century, when eugenics was a very popular scientific stance. Native Americans, the poor and the “insane” (and remember, in the 1920s insane was a very wibbly word which could include anything from actually medically insane people to those who didn’t fit into the social mores of the time) were targeted for sterilisation, something which caused long term trauma among the groups affected. Possibly even worse, whole tribes of Native Americans were driven underground to avoid being targeted, and now cannot receive any of the paltry benefits available because to be recognised as a tribe an unbroken history of a certain length is required. The US eugenics movement is not widely taught partly because it was one of the inspirations for Hitler’s policies, something they understandably would like swept under the rug.
The fact that this is targeted specifically at beneficiaries is worrying. While free or low cost contraception is a good thing, it needs to be universal or means tested, not based on arbitrary qualifications such as whether you’re receiving a benefit and your sex. Low income women who are in shitty jobs, or those who are unemployed but don’t qualify for welfare, may well equally want to take advantage of such a program, but they’re left out. Men are left out en masse. Such an initiative needs to be available to everyone, and it needs to be strictly opt-in – advertise it, sure. Print brochures and supply them to WINZ offices, GPs, libraries, community centres and sliding scale health clinics like the old 198 Youth Health Centre on Hereford (if any still exist). But identifying a target group encourages pressure on that target group, and reproductive coercion is never the role of the state. As inconvenient as it is for a right wing government, children are not a privilege for the upper class to enjoy, and neither is sex. Taking a fundamental part of humanity away from an already stigmatised group, making it shameful, unwanted, labeling it selfish, results only in further beaten down women with low self-esteem, emotional problems, and the knowledge that no matter what they do, they are not wanted by society. This is not a good message to send. If we tell people that they do not get to enjoy the benefits of society simply due to their beneficiary status, and if we make it nigh impossible to get off the benefit, we risk creating an underclass that no longer believes it has to follow its part of the social contract. We only have to look at the riots in the UK last year to see the results of that.
It’s no secret that when it comes to the stories told in books, the narratives are overwhelmingly those of straight white people. So much so that it seems the industry doesn’t entirely know what to do with characters of colour – from the “Caucasian only” casting call for Katniss to putting white girls on the covers of books about black girls, like Liar (that one, at least, was fixed after an outcry, and by the way I recommend it, it’s a great YA unreliable narrator story). And while I’m no expert on everything that’s coming out, it seems like the stories about queer characters often still revolve around the fact that they are queer, though this is starting to change, particularly on tv. One thing I’ve seen very, very little of, though, is trans stories, or much gender diversity at all outside of sci fi. People are willing to play with ideas like entire races of androgynous aliens (hell, there was even one of those in Star Trek: The Next Generation, though it was not done very well at all and ended up being a default heterosexual story), and there are characters like Madame Lefoux in Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate, who never says how she identifies but is evidently a cross-dressing lesbian, and of course there are stories about being trans like Boys Don’t Cry (which is often included in lists of lesbian movies).
I’m not sure, either, how YA compares to adult fiction in this respect, and also at some point I’d like to sit down and try to unpack while YA is often such an attractive genre for adults. But I’ve seen discussions about female characters in fantasies and dystopias and how, particularly in the former, they seem to have pretty charmed lives, because the world presented very often rests upon astoundingly sexist values, but the treatment of the sexism is generally quite shallow. I tried to find the post I’d most recently read on this but failed, which is a pity because I don’t know exactly how to summarise it without double-checking what it said and how it presented its case, but the thrust of it was that the heroines tend to escape the worst potential consequences, and while they’re occasionally touched on, more often they’re ignored. The heroes are progressive, the heroines think nothing of that, and while there’s certainly unpleasantness, they’re still in a position of privilege. You can read about war and teenagers killing each other for sport, but Alanna the Lioness was never put in a sexually vulnerable position and it was pretty much a given that the good guys were progressive enough not to have many hangups to overcome in accepting her, and that was just to be expected.
Which makes me kind of want to write a story about a (to avoid being overly ambitious) trans guy in a fantasy setting where the problems he’s facing aren’t “but I don’t want an arranged marriage, so I have to get myself to a position where I can avoid that aspect of female life in this society” or “my intellect is going to waste, I want to study and learn even though that’s a thing for boys” but “but why do I feel like I’m not even a girl, am I just chafing against society’s expectations, am I going crazy, how the hell do I deal with all this shit that’s coming up as I reach adulthood when it’s all so overwhelming and I don’t even understand who I am?” Because that’s a story I never stumbled across in my school library and I think that’s a big part of how it took me until 26 to figure out who I am and how it takes some people even longer.
So the last few days there’s been a couple of conversations on Twitter about movies – favourite movies, last time we went to the movies, movies that are out or out soon that are worth watching. Inevitably there’s been a bit of discussion about The Hunger Games, and since Kobo was offering me some discounts I got the first two books for my ereader to see what they were like.
Apparently fandom is freaking out that Rue is black. Also two other characters, but especially Rue. For those who haven’t read the books, Rue is a twelve year old girl, the youngest age that the teenagers forced to participate in the games can be, from an agricultural district where the Peacekeepers are very harsh and often whip people for the slightest infraction. The main character teams up with her during the games until she’s killed, partly because she reminds her of her younger sister Prim who’s also twelve.
In the book, Rue is described as having “dark brown skin”. Wanna see a pic of the actress? She’s pretty cute. My main complaint is that she’s too pale, because that’s clearly not dark brown skin there. I admit I didn’t specifically read her as black, but I did read her as a POC of the darker variety, and when I saw her ethnicity linked to the plantation-esque nature of District 11 it was a rather “oh, duh” moment.
Mind you, the main character is described as having olive skin and dark brown hair, and she’s played by… Jennifer Lawrence! Considering the book makes quite a point of saying there are two different ethnic looks in District 12 where Katniss is from, the middle class townfolk who are paler and blonde and the Seam folk who mostly work in the mines who are darker, it definitely makes me raise an eyebrow to see a blonde girl cast in this role. At the very least they have darkened her hair for the movie but she’s still very, very white when by the text she should be a darker-than-white biracial girl.
The sad thing is, neither the casting nor the really ugly reactions in that very first link are a surprise to me. Some of the tweets are very educational though – you can see people specifically putting “black” and “frail and innocent” in opposing categories, like little black girls can’t possibly be either of those things. That sort of framing demonstrates very clearly why it’s hard for black families to find justice for murdered children, because if Amandla Stenberg is too black for people to sympathise with, too black to be cute, too black to stir people’s protective instincts, so black that there are people who feel furious and betrayed because they cried over a white girl’s death, black enough to be called the n-word and a “little black b—-” for daring to be cast as Rue, is it any surprise that they think the same things about other black kids like Trayvon Martin, Aiyana Jones, Mya Lyons or Alexis Glover? Movies are a wonderful world of escapism where the audience is asked – and able – to connect and relate to aliens, anthropomorphic animals, robots, cars, toy action figures – but only if they’re white.
The Dominion Post featured two articles on the Stuff website today about overnight assaults, both of which occurred at 2.30 am to an individual walking alone. (Click on the images to magnify them.)
I don’t think I need to take a copy of any of the 59 comments on the first article. If you’ve read one comment section about a woman being attacked while walking at night, you’ve read them all. As you can see I also haven’t voted in the poll, so I have no idea what the general public thinks on that question and suspect I don’t care to.
If you’re wondering, I did ask where the poll was for the male victim – and what he was wearing at the time.
(Interestingly in this case, too, the woman’s brother was across the road, so she wasn’t entirely alone. The article doesn’t say but presumably he’d either walked her part way or she’d only just left somewhere.)