Tag Archives: privilege

Clothes and geek feminism

I’ve been chewing over various things about clothing and geek feminism since our recent posts about clothing and grooming (Kylie’s, Terri’s first, Terri’s second). I still think I can’t address it satisfactorily, but I thought I’d lay out various angles in which we might think of clothing and grooming in geek feminism.

Notes:

  • I refer to “geek women” a lot in this essay. All of these considerations apply to other people too in varying degrees, and sometimes more acutely. But given the nature of this blog I am focussing on geek women’s interests, and pressures on them.
  • This is not intended to be a comprehensive list of factors that figure into geek women’s grooming: it’s meant to be long enough to demonstrate that a lot of us have to care about it. Undoubtedly it is a somewhat privileged list too. You are welcome to raise additions in comments.

Clothing as labour. The vast majority of the clothing the vast majority of people reading this wear is made in factories in the developing world, by people working in dangerous and exploitative positions.

Grooming as make-work. Naomi Wolf, for one, made this argument in The Beauty Myth, that consuming women with endless grooming related chores and insecurities is a method of oppression. (I am barely read in feminist or cultural theory, undoubtedly hundreds of names could be listed here as having addressed aspects of this.) laughingrat raised this in our comments.

Clothing and grooming as geek interest. Some geeks take a geek-style (intense, analytical, open-ended, consuming) interest in various aspects of clothing and grooming. As examples of how you might do this, there are a lot of knitting geeks; there are historical recreation geeks who make and wear period clothing using period technology; there are people who study the semiotics and sociology of fashion.

Clothing as geek in-group marker and grooming as rejection of the mainstream. John writes in Terri’s comments that someone well-groomed in mainstream corporate style can be assumed to [be] trying to cover for a lack of competence in technical matters — or really want to be a suit. You often can’t, in this framing, be a geek and a suit both. You have to choose, and advertise this with your grooming.

Within geekdom, clothing is sometimes a pretty unsubtle marker of your allegiances. What cons do you go to? What programming languages do you prefer? What comics do you read? You wear shirts that allow this to be determined on first acquaintance. (This isn’t unique to geekdom of course, see also fashion labels and band t-shirts.)

Avoiding overtly female-marked grooming. Women in male-dominated workplaces often desperately want to avoid anything that might cause them to be (even more) othered because of their gender, especially since caring about grooming is frequently trivialised.

This may need to be balanced by expectations in some groups these same women move in by choice or necessity in which interest in grooming is required.

Grooming in order to own/celebrate your gender. This is important to many trans people. Conversely to the above about avoiding overt gender marking, quite a few geek women also choose to do this in order to point out that there are women RIGHT HERE in geekdom who can bring the geek.

Grooming as a marker of striving to “fit in” generally. If you have unusual grooming, or grooming that is marked as “other” or of a lesser group, people with power over you will read this as likely to be trouble or not one of us. Conversely, dressing like those people, or like their other subordinates, signals will do what it takes to fit in, won’t make waves.

Unusual grooming as marker of power. Alternatively, if you have power over other people, you can mark this by unusual grooming, or grooming usually disdained. Ingrid Jakobsen raised this in comments.

Grooming as marker of a ‘healthy, competent’ woman. For women especially, being groomed and striving to meet beauty standards is considered an informal indicator of mental health. Being considered poorly groomed or lazy about grooming can invite assumptions about being depressed or similar. (This is especially othering of women who do have mental illnesses, who continually receive the message that they shouldn’t have them, mustn’t display them, and will be in big trouble if they do, all while they quite probably have less energy to deal with the whole mess.)

And of course, a privileged woman might get annoying concerned questions, whereas a less privileged women might find, for example, that assumptions about her mental health play into questions about her ‘fitness’ have access to society, to care for her children and so on.

Grooming for self-esteem. Partly due to internalisation of the above, many women in particular feel happier, more confident and more powerful when they’re “well groomed” by mainstream standards.

Grooming which others female bodies. See the thing about conference t-shirts. Many don’t cater for curvy bodies. If they do, they often cater only for small curvy bodies. And they almost always assume a gender binary of curvy women who want curvy shirts, and square men who want square shirts.

Sexualised grooming. Women are expected to present their bodies in such a way as to be conventionally attractive.

Overly sexual grooming. At the same time as needing to be attractive, women are expected to present their bodies in such a way as not to be “asking for it”. (There is, of course, no middle-ground, see Rape Culture 101.)

Grooming for fun. Geek women may enjoy applying shiny, bright, matching, creative or cherished clothes and decoration to their bodies.

Grooming to get things done. Geek women may need to lift things, fit clothing to a prosthetic or mobility assistance device, run, avoid having a baby pull painfully at their hair, all kinds of stuff.

There are a great many intersectional things I have not addressed here, as a white, wealthy, abled cis-woman. A very very incomplete list would be: considerations about grooming to match your gender identity, considerations about grooming to satisfy people policing your gender identity, minimising grooming in order to preserve your spoons, grooming to honour and be part of your ethnic identity, grooming to meet beauty standards designed for white bodies and white faces, trying to find cheap clothes that won’t be judged in job interviews.

This huge list is just a set of things you could possibly be trying to signal or adhere to or avoid with your grooming. Hopefully this illustrates some of the tensions for geek women: for example, they are called upon to dress in both the feminine, careful style that signals “healthy and competent” but also in the masculine-coded casual style coded as “knows what the hell she’s talking about when it comes to [say] science” and also in something that won’t get them hassled as being unattractive in the street but also not hassled as too attractive…

I hope this has helped break down grooming and clothing as a geek feminist issue, or rather, massively multidimensional tightrope, a bit more. When women, and members of other marginalised and othered groups, consider their appearance, these are the kind of factors that go into it. Of course, in order to be accepted as geeks, we’re supposed to do all that and not care about clothes, right?

The wicked step-linkspammer (11th June, 2010)

  • tigtog highlights editorials and articles in Nature questioning sex bias in medical testing, particularly the exclusion of pregnant subjects.
  • harpers_child is angry: Batman fans asked DC Comics for a in-comic memorial for Stephanie Brown, a female Robin. And one of the DC Comics writers comes out with threats of violence over it.
  • Shelby Knox asks What Does a Feminist Wear?: So, what do you/would you wear to represent your feminism? Do you consciously choose your outfits before you go out to commit public acts of feminism? What are the fashion stereotypes of feminists that you would like to see shattered and are there some visual signifiers you’d like to keep around?
  • Hardcore Maleness: Let’s cut through the crap, shall we? The terms casual and hardcore are codes… Hardcore equals masculine. Casual equals feminine. It’s just that simple, and all the marketing-speak about core gamers won’t change that.
  • FEMINIST HULK has a big following on Twitter, now there’s more from the big green patriarchy-smashing machine: FEMINIST HULK SMASH EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH MS.!. Comics Alliance also introduces other feminist comic heroes on Twitter.
  • Alisa Krasnostein writes about The Invisibility of Women in Science Fiction about two recent attempts to highlight Big Names, which of all possible women candidates, included only Ursula Le Guin and Mary Shelley.
  • Moose J. Finklestein notes that despite an explicit comments policy against sexism, Comsumerist.com is unwilling to act when it happens.
  • Naomi Baker writes about how women in developing countries can be severely restricted by lack of access to menstrual products in High Cotton.
  • Kimli posts as part of a Twitter discussion of children at the Northern Voice social media conference: … it’s up to the parents to arrange something; not the Northern Voice organizers… but this year, no one arranged anything. People brought their children, and there was nowhere to put them.
  • Sumana Harihareswara interviews Elizabeth Smith, maintainer of PHP-GTK, for GNOME journal.

If you have links of interest, please share them in comments here, or if you’re a delicious user, tag them “geekfeminism†to bring them to our attention. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links in comments and on delicious.

The linkspam your mothers marched in the street for (10th June, 2010)

  • Get ready to PITCH: Women 2.0 Startup Competition: it’s open to entrants around the world, and entries close October 1.
  • Lisa Crispin writes What Gender Diversity Means to Me: Jon Bach asked me a good question… The group was nicely balanced with as many women as men. Jon asked me what advantages I felt this gave the conference. He found my reply helpful and encouraged me to share it here.
  • Penny Arcade Expo fans come out against booth babes: … 60 percent of respondents either lik[ed] or lov[ed] the ban on booth babes. Only 12 percent of respondents hated the ban, putting public opinion firmly in the anti-babe area. The major addition to the policy stipulates that the models need to be educated about the product, and partial nudity has been banned. Models can dress up like characters from games and wear revealing clothing, as long as it’s true to the original character.
  • cme writes In which everything takes rather longer than I thought: When I get to this point, people often say that the Open Source movement has a history of being hostile to all new people (true), so it’s not a big deal and certainly doesn’t mean they are anti-woman (false)… it *does* mean that their attitude has the effect of being anti-woman (really, it has the effect of being anti-everyone-who’s-not-a-white-straight-cis-ablebodied-man). Because any barrier will affect people more who have more barriers to hurdle. The less privilege you have, the more any particular barrier will set you back.
  • Alana Kumbier analyses Jessica Floeh’s line of insulin pump accessories: Insulin-Pump Accessories And Cyborg Embodiment
  • Kamvar, Schiavoni: Techies with a Cause: [Sep] Kamvar and his wife, Angie Schiavoni, recently launched CodeEd, a pilot program to introduce fifth-grade girls to computer science. Funded with $20,000 donated by the couple, it’s the only such program in the U.S. geared to underprivileged preteen girls.
  • In Mary Anne Mohanraj’s WisCon 34 Guest of Honor Speech she issues a call: I’m asking you to take up that flaming sword, because it is here; I am standing on your doorstep, and I am calling you. You can be brave enough, you can be a hero.
  • Jill Psmith is a radical feminist who doesn’t think science is bad: The argument has been made that intuition is superior to science because it is somehow free of the oppressive misogynist entanglements that encumber its dude-dominated counterpart. A spin-off of this argument says that, because academia has traditionally given (and continues to give) women the stink-eyed bum’s rush, science is antifeminist and, presumably, must be shunned in favor of this women-centric intuition dealio… Unfortunately, it is not possible for any concept, process, person, or cognitive function to exist outside of patriarchy. (See also PZ Myers, Stereotyping women right out of science)
  • Standard Operating Procedure: tech vendor VersionOne is using gender stereotypes in their promotions. But it’s a joke! Nothing to see here!

If you have links of interest, please share them in comments here, or if you’re a delicious user, tag them “geekfeminism†to bring them to our attention. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links in comments and on delicious.

Death by a thousand links (20th April, 2010)

If you have links of interest, please share them in comments here, or if you’re a delicious user, tag them “geekfeminism†to bring them to our attention. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links in comments and on delicious.

Quick Hit: The “you smelt it, you dealt it” card

I’ve just had a conversation with an acquaintance in which he proudly showed off a PSA-style advertisement that a friend of his made. The advertisement makes play on a very real and very problematic trope to get its point across, but I’m not going to say which as it’s not entirely a feminist issue and it is the response I wish to discuss here.

The ad was trying to be cute, and since it used adorable fluffy animals doing people things, it was. In that regard, it was cute. However, despite the pets-as-people gimmick, the toxic trope got in the way. It killed what I assume would otherwise have been enjoyment of the clip. Killed it dead.

See, the advertisement didn’t just use animals as faux-people; it equated a whole socially disadvantaged-by-circumstances section of society as animals, and did so in a really negative way.

The group to which this ad clip was displayed were, I guess, supposed to squee. We were supposed to adore the cuteness that the advertisement was using. But we couldn’t. I mentioned to some of the group elsewhere that I was choking on the trope. Some of those people also noticed it also, and mentioned it outright to the guy. He wasn’t impressed.

“It’s satire! It’s on broadcast TV!” he cried, as though satire makes everything ok. Or maybe it’s because typical everyday mass-media advertising morality is like totally awesomely awesome.

Then came the best part. Out he came with “You are the one who noticed it, not I, ergo you are the who thinks of those people that way, not I!”. Yep, you can mark that one off on the bingo board.

When have you, dear readers, had this one thrown back at you? How did you respond?

Linkspam hangover (4th January, 2010)

If you have links of interest, please share them in comments here, or if you’re a delicious user, tag them “geekfeminism†to bring them to our attention. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links in comments and on delicious.

A linkspam standing on its hind legs (9th October, 2009)

If you have links of interest, please share them in comments here, or if you’re a delicious user, tag them “geekfeminism†to bring them to our attention. Thanks to everyone who suggested links in comments and on delicious.I hope it’s OK not to credit the sources individually: a large number of links here are now coming in from readers.