Tag Archives: sexism

Wall of Spam, by freezelight on Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

Linkspammmmm (18th May, 2012)

Enjoy!

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on delicious or pinboard.in or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

Learn 2.0 taken by Aaron Schmidt

Why WotC’s Sexism in Gaming Art Article Made Me Happy

Eva Schiffer is a Computer Scientist and a second generation tabletop gamer. This guest post is cross-posted from her blog.

WotC recently published a post titled Sexism in Fantasy that’s caused a lot of mixed reactions. I want to talk about why the article, if not it’s content, made me happy.

I see myself as a feminist. I know by putting that out there at the beginning I’m raising a lot of expectations about what I care about, how I react to things, and what I’m likely to defend. I’m also a relatively laid back person, despite some of my blog rants, and I’ve been through a long journey trying to understand sexism and feminism. For me this journey was many small cycles of “not getting it” punctuated by bursts of insight as I incorporated new ideas into my worldview. I grew up in the gaming world and for a long time I was so used to how things are that the roots and implications of the many traditions were invisible to me.

I’ve also watched many of my friends go through various cycles of getting and not getting aspects of sexism, racism, and other -isms. I’m not going to claim to be super enlightened… I mess up on ableism issues all the time… but I’ve reached a point where that cycle is familiar to me.

When I read WotC’s article what I saw was Jon Schindehette going through one of the early cycles of trying to understand sexism. He was “not quite getting it” and honestly if he’s just starting to struggle with these issues, I can’t blame him for not understanding them all at once. I’ve been there and I’ve fallen in the same pitfalls. I wish he had gotten further along before he wrote a public article… but he has my empathy as to why getting there takes time.

Jon tried to approach the problem logically and understand what sexism is and what it’s doing to gaming. He fell short on three fronts. One is that he didn’t do enough research on discussion that’s already taking place in the online community. Blogs like Go Make Me a Sandwich contain lots of resources that include frank discussion of the sort he’s trying to elicit. Tumblrs like Women Fighters In Reasonable Armor include loads of beautiful examples of art that’s attractive and pretty while presenting characters who look like people rather than toys. The fact that Jon didn’t bring up any of these resources makes me suspicious that he didn’t do this kind of research. He tried to start from square one by himself and he suffered for it. It’s a lot easier if you build on the work others have already done. ;)

The second problem Jon ran into was that he got into his logical investigation and backed off when he was starting to get somewhere. The definition of sexism he found, which seems quite reasonable to me, was, “Sexism is defined as having an attitude, condition, or behavior that promotes stereotyping of social roles based upon one’s gender.” That’s a good start. After talking about it for a bit he failed to take the next step and investigate gender roles.

To start understanding how sexism could promote stereotyping, you need to ask: “what gender roles might we be perpetuating?” Wikipedia has a good overview of historical gender roles. However, in the last 30 years, gender roles have changed. The “perfect submissive wife” ideal is not what our societal norms think women should be anymore. Unfortunately, there are still some very damaging gender roles out there for men and women.

One of the ones that hurts women the most is the idea that they must always be physically attractive and sexually available for men. This is sometimes called the Beauty Myth, and it’s the big problem one Jon missed. The Beauty Myth says a woman can be a brilliant rocket scientist, but if she isn’t also pretty, she’s not really worthwhile as a woman and no one will love her.

One of the roles that hurts men the most is the idea that they can only succeed financially and aren’t particularly physically attractive to women. This is also called the Success Myth. This is rather insidious because the Success Myth says that an average man needs to find a high paying job if he wants any hope of attracting a woman. If he suffers setbacks in his career or prefers to do something that is low paying, then he’s worthless and no one will love him.

Here’s a good summary of these two roles and how they hurt us from a male perspective.

The twin roles define a lot of our popular culture and they bleed into our fantasy as well. The Beauty Myth is why people fixate on making female characters beautiful even when “beautiful” crosses the line into impractical and unrealistic. The Success Myth is why we’re still unbelievably stuck on the “guy succeeds and then guy gets the girl” story plot.

Back to Jon… the third thing that I think went wrong for him is that he stumbled into some very basic fallacies talking about an -ism. This is a pretty common mistake and while embarrassing, isn’t all that surprising. Fallacy one is to assume that whatever went before is ok by virtue of being tradition. This was mostly justified by “market forces” in the article. If all tradition was free of -isms life would be sunshine and kittens and I wouldn’t have to write any blog posts in the ‘feminism’ category. :)

More seriously, a lot of people think “feminism happened, sexism is done now, right?” and sadly the answer is no. It takes a long time to change culture and there’s a lot of momentum. That’s not to say we need to flip out and throw all of our traditions out the window tomorrow. We can start by calmly taking a step back and making a few rational changes at a time towards a better, less -ism filled world.

The second fallacy Jon made was while talking about his three images. He got a bit muddy because he couldn’t see the modern roles affecting them and drifted into the “it’s really all opinion, anyway” argument. There is some opinion in everything, I agree. Sadly the existence of a systemic problem in media and in gaming media specifically isn’t really up for debate. It’s been discussed at length by a lot of people, especially authors. You can’t use the fact that some people can’t identify prejudice to justify prejudice not existing at all… that’s downright Paranoia levels of circular logic.

I want to be clear: being a bit blind to sexism doesn’t mean you’re some sort of horrible misogynistic asshole who’s running around saying terrible things all the time, it just means you haven’t quite figured out how to see sexism hidden in the world around you. All of us have been there, you don’t need to be ashamed of it, just do your best to keep an open mind and learn. :)

The final fallacy that Jon fell into was the “a few people complained, but lots of people like it, so everything must be great!” The argument “lots of people agree with me, therefore I’m right!” is not meaningful, especially when you’re talking about -isms. It’s an appeal to base social pressure and has no bearing on the correctness of your argument.

I suppose at this point you’re probably wondering how I’m going to justify the title of this post. Well, to be totally honest, as much as parts of the article irritated me, Jon redeemed himself in my eyes by taking the initiative to write about something as scary as sexism in the first place, making an honest (if flawed) attempt to learn, and asking for our input.

I can remember the first time that I tried to write up a post on a feminist topic. I think my hand was actually shaking when I pressed the “Publish” button. It’s scary putting yourself out there to talk about any issue of prejudice, because we all know our culture is so ready to throw a firestorm back in your face if you get anything “wrong.” I appreciate and respect that Jon was willing to try and that WotC was willing to let him.

When I reached the end of his article I was overjoyed that he openly solicited our feedback and I was presented with a comment box to put my thoughts into. Wow, was I happy. I didn’t even realize how happy I was until I’d spent an hour skimming and “liking” other people’s comments. I wanted a chance to speak to WotC directly and he gave that to me, which I’m deeply grateful for. The number of people who posted ernest, well thought out comments, some with great links to resources, made me feel better about the community. It made me feel like other people believe I belong here. :)

A lot of the commenters were talking to Jon too and most were very civil. Some offered him links to resources (like some of the ones I posted above) and encouragement. I’m hoping he’s taken some of those links and moved forward on his own path to understanding.

So, thank you, Jon, and thank you, WotC. It had some issues, but I appreciated the outreach and the effort that went into it. Please keep learning and write more about sexism and other -isms in gaming in the future. :)

A photograph of luridly lit bookshelves surrounding a table and chairs

When your misdeeds are archived

This is an Ask a Geek Feminist question for our readers. It’s the last for this round.

This one is actually from me, it’s related to some questions I’ve been asked by various people who will remain anonymous (and who didn’t formally write to Ask a Geek Feminist). I have my own thoughts on this, and I also think it can vary (helpful!)

What do you think people and groups should do about sexism in their “archives”? By this, I mean for example, older stuff on their blog, or Facebook postings from years ago, or similar? A lot of people have sexism in their past, varying from “I used to be a pretty committed sexist actually” to “um, I didn’t really think about it, and I wanted to fit in, and I went through a ‘Your Mom’ phase for a while there”. Things you do on the Internet are pretty long-lived now, and your sexism sticks to your name while it remains visible.

Assuming someone or someones have control of their content, and they have sexism they don’t like in there, and they have reason to think it’s going to hurt someone. Should they remove the content? Should they edit it with warnings and apologies?

Have you seen this in a real situation? What did they do? How did it work for them and for women near them/involved in their community?

At least for systemic stuff, I tend to be on the ‘edit’ side of the fence. There are a few reasons for this:

  1. even if you’ve totally changed and are ashamed and sorry, being a reformed sexist is something that may make people, women in particular, cautious about you. Living with that is part of the deal. You don’t get to get access to Has Always Been The Best Person Ever cred because you weren’t.
  2. it also serves as a guide to How To Do It, for other reforming sexists (or How Not To Do It, if you apologise but don’t actually change)

And while writing an apology that is short and not self-serving is a challenge, but that doesn’t mean one shouldn’t try.

On the other hand, I, in general, do wish that much informal discussion on the Internet yellowed and started to curl at the edges and be difficult to read as time passed, sometimes. I realise that the invention of writing was some considerable time ago now, but even so, having to stand by your casual thoughts for years is a big ask. I can’t see that one should make a special effort to preserve evidence of one’s sexism if that same set of archives is going to disappear in its entirety.

Closeup of a slide staged on a microscope stand

“Does sex sell?” is an empirical question

This is an Ask a Geek Feminist question for our readers:

We keep hearing the old chestnut “sex sells”, and we hear it most especially when we complain about how some item of geek culture is sexist – video game bosoms or ridiculous outfits on superheroines, for example – as if that was some kind of excuse for objectification.

Does sex sell? Does sexism sell? Where’s the evidence for this? I’ve got moderately good Google-fu but haven’t been easily able to turn up much in the way of useful information or anything more rigorous than blog rants and newspaper opinion pieces. Can anyone answer this one, or point me to some useful resources? Where is the real, empirical evidence for this? Are advertisers and content providers (comic artists, game producers etc.) operating on an outdated or scientifically unjustified model?

I’ve read quite a lot of your basic feminist literature. I’d like some science, or at least some vaguely scientific numbers. Can anyone help?

What do you think?

Multiple small broken window panes, through which greenery outside can be seen.

Does the sexism in CS ever get better?

This is an Ask a Geek Feminist question for our readers:

Dear Geek Feminists:
I have a little story for you, and then a group of related questions. About two years ago, I was miserable, isolated, and overwhelmed in my undergraduate computer science (CS) program at a male-dominated polytechnic institute. I went to my advisor, an accomplished woman professor who had taught and studied computer science at quite a few schools, and asked her if she had any advice about dealing with sexism in our discipline.

“It never gets better. Either you learn to deal with it, or you leave,” she said. I was crushed by this, and I believe her fatalistic assessment contributed to my failing out of that school in that semester.

My question, then, is in several parts.
1) If you’re a woman in CS, does it ever get better? If it got better for you, where and how did that happen?
2) If you’ve learned to deal with it, how?
3) If you left – as I left, as Skud left – would you go back? Did you go back?
4) If being ostracized and viewed as gross and weird for being feminist and female “never gets better,” why stay in CS?

What do you think?

Angry woman covered in dark paint, wearing a shirt reading 'freedom'

Re-post: “How could they not have known?!”

During the December/January slowdown, Geek Feminism is re-publishing some of our highlights from last year. This post originally appeared on February 16, 2011.

[Trigger Warning: this post discusses trolling behaviour. Many links contain screenshots of threats, insults, sexual harassment and general profanity.]

From the Frag Dolls blog:

Less than a month ago, FatUglyorSlutty.com was just a twinkle in our #fragdolls IRC. […] The concept seemed simple enough. They wanted to make an easy image+caption blog dedicated to publicizing (and laughing at) the hilarious/disturbing messages that many female gamers receive while playing online games. The attention their site has gotten in the past week (including a front page on reddit.com, a feature on Kotaku, numerous blogs mentions, and hefty comment threads) proves that they created something more. Gaming culture at large is taking note, expressing appropriate shock and dismay. But I, in turn, am shocked by their reactions. I am fundamentally surprised that this is news. I keep asking myself “How could they not have known?!”

I first hit that question many years ago as a teenager on IRC. One of my male friends logged in on his mother’s account, and was horrified to discover the messages that “Sheila” was getting from complete strangers and mentioned so on our channel. The women of the channel shrugged: it was always like that for us. The men were horrified to know that under the surface, we’d been quietly ignoring pick up lines and harassment and just not mentioning it all this time. It’s not like we were intentionally hiding it, it’s more that it happened so often that it wasn’t worth mentioning.

I’ve been asking people “how could you not know?” a lot lately, too. I was sharing some of the choice comments I’d gotten on a recent geek feminism post at work, and my coworkers were totally appalled even though we were laughing over how appalling it was. They were horrified to hear that I still get this stuff fairly frequently while gaming, when writing online, while maintaining mailing lists or writing code. I’ve long since learned that it’s much more fun to treat them as hilarious and share them around for mockery, so that’s what we did, but I didn’t expect it to be such an educational moment for them.

Courtney Stanton took this to a new level when she gave an ignite talk about visualizing her troll data. Some of her insights are quite interesting. For example, 67% of comments were replies to other comments, but only 17% of troll comments were replies to others. And many people here who bemoan our commenting policies might be interested in one of her conclusions:

And so I have found that simultaneously allowing dissent while denying trolls an audience has led to more engagement. I’ve had multiple commenters say that they are not commenting anymore and in 24 hours they are back and generating more comments for people to respond to.

So stopping trolls (but not dissent) leads to some great discussion, but removing the troll commentary means that people don’t realise what’s going on under the surface, be it in games or in online discourse or wikipedia.

Geek Feminism isn’t a stranger to the “How could they not have known?!” problem: consider the Timeline of Incidents on the wiki. Mary blogged about why we document and one non-trivial reason is that people just aren’t aware, and don’t want to recognize this as a common occurrence without evidence. (Note that I can think of one recent debacle that isn’t yet on that timeline, if anyone’s got an itch to do some wiki editing…)

I expect it’s hard for someone not in the thick of things to know what’s going on. My coworkers don’t get the same comments I do, my male gamer buddies don’t have people freaking out or getting, er, excited when they speak on voice chat, my pure white friends don’t get told to go back to their home country (it’s this one, thanks) and we tend edit all the intentionally hurtful stuff we can out of our public environments so as not to give the hurtful folk the satisfaction of public attention but at the same time we render the problem invisible to outsiders. And then when we do talk about it, we’re met at first with incredulity because, well, how could they have known?

Despite the fact that women are much more visible in many geeky communities, there still seems to be an undercurrent of hatred from a small but loud segment of population. I wish I could suggest a solution that doesn’t winding up with just a set of variations on the unicorn law where it’s always up to women in the communities to bring this stuff up (and face the backlash from people who didn’t know and don’t want to believe). Perhaps the better question here is what advice can we suggest for potential allies who’ve just gotten broadsided by this and really could not have known? How can allies be better prepared for problems when they occur, and more aware of the undercurrents before something happens?

I’ll leave these as “ask a geek feminist” style questions for our commenters.

Angry Mob by Robert Couse-Baker

Yes, “Hate *Atheists*”

This is a guest post by Stephanie Zvan. It is cross-posted from her blog, Almost Diamonds.

So, Rebecca Watson once again pointed out what should be a no-brainer–only to have her point ignored by people who want to quibble with her wording. “Oh, noes! Rebecca titled her post, “Reddit Makes Me Hate Atheists“! Oh, noes! But this isn’t about atheists!”

Actually, yes, it is. Rebecca already made the connection in her post, in case you need reminding:

Why would she ever want to be a part of any atheist community, if that’s how she’s treated? The next time you look around your atheist events and wonder where all the women are, think of this and know that there are at least some of us who aren’t willing to just accept this culture without trying to change it.

Here’s the thing, boys and girls: I don’t get this crap anywhere else I choose to invest my time. I don’t get it from my friends, because those people don’t get the privilege of remaining my friend. I don’t get it at work, where they’ve gone well beyond the basic legal requirements in order to make it a place where women also have rewarding work and an opportunity for advancement. As a result, I’m surrounded by smart, confident people of various genders who take everybody seriously. There is the very rare sexist idiot, but the conspiracies we create to work around these people are open and supportive.

I don’t even get it in those legendary bastions of “social ineptitude,” fantasy and science fiction fandom and conventions. Don’t get me wrong. There are definitely still problems, but predators and discriminatory publishing practices are considered problems of the community, and the institutions that support the problems are rightly pressured (and aided) to fix themselves. This “we’re so helpless in the face of a few bad actors” nonsense doesn’t fly.

This is very much about atheism. It’s also about the more general skeptical community, of course, but atheism is a big part of that and getting bigger.

No, this is the community in which I get, “We have this female guest we’d like to have on the show. Would you care to interview her?” This is the community in which we get high-profile writers saying, “Piffle. I have no need to condemn the bad behavior of those people I was just joking around with.” This is the community in which a leader of an organization goes around telling people (all women that I’ve seen so far), “Oh, he’s a friend of mine. He’s a nice guy. I’m sure you’re just misinterpreting what he said,” or liking it on Facebook when someone complains that skeptical woman is being all emotional over a scientific issue. This is the community in which Rebecca’s cheerful acknowledging of a mistake is used to suggest her worth as a skeptic is zilch, while Brian Dunning’s stubborn embrace of DDT disinformation costs him nothing.

I write in this community about rape and issues of consent. I get MRAs in my comments, but they’re no big deal. Everyone can see them. I also get commenters who say, “Well, yes, MRA = bad. However, he had a point about this tricky legal question.” They get all butthurt when I say, “It’s nothing like tricky if it never happens. If you’re not sure you have consent, don’t have sex–unless you’re willing to be a rapist.” They’re just there for an intellectual conversation in which potential sexual partners have all the humanity of chess pieces. And people tell me I should be nicer to them.

I get links to those posts from skeptic and atheist forums, where someone is using them to try to counteract the victim blaming and doubting in the latest high-profile rape accusation. That means I get to see them completely ignored as our oh-so-rational friends pull hypotheticals out of their asses and cite the Duke Lacrosse team as though it were a legal precedent in order to make the case that the accuser is probably lying her pathetic little ass off. These are our forums, people. That’s what they look like.

I write about IQ and bad science. I’ve got a university professor, the guy who is best known in atheist circles for having his MySpace atheist group discriminated against, who shows up on every one of these posts to suggest I really shouldn’t be writing about the topic without more expertise. He can’t actually find anything wrong with what I write, but he knows these researchers are nice guys, and he, personally, finds their conclusions reasonable despite lousy methodology. So I need more expertise. Guess how many times he’s done the same thing to a guy–or been called on that bullshit.

Same guy, Bryan Pesta for the record, is the fellow who followed a link from one of my blog posts to someone outside this community. She was complaining about a guy who ignored her repeated insistence that she wasn’t online to get hit on. Bryan’s response? I paraphrase: “Now that you’ve dumped him, how about you and me? Huh?” When I asked him whether he also sexually harassed his students, his response was legalistic. The response of other commenters was to suggest he was joking. No shit, he was joking. He just found it perfectly acceptable to make her the target of his joke, and these other commenters apparently couldn’t figure out why this was a problem.

In addition to writing, I also do this little skeptical convention experience called Skepchickcon. That would be where I was in July, on my way to a panel in a room so full of F&SF geeks hungry for skepticism and science programming that there wasn’t even standing room left, when I heard about Dawkins comments about someone who “calls herself Skep’chick.'” I’d already noted, after another conference in January brought it up, that I can write those science posts or solid atheist reasoning and rabble-rousing posts like yesterday’s response to Massimo Pigliucci. I can do those conventions and reach the audiences we say we want to reach. But I really only get seen when I talk about “women’s issues,” and when I do, I now know the leaders and icons of the movement I’m working for have already decided I’m whining about trivialities.

Many people have also decided that when I’m writing about this bullshit, I’m only in it for the clicks. That reasoning, for the record, is about as sound as that of the people who say atheists aren’t responsible for the sexism Rebecca talked about in her post because the young woman in question made the front page of Reddit–after the pretty girl was voted up that far by atheists. These posts don’t get more clicks. My other posts on more traditionally male subject matter get fewer. If people clicked on those more, where would be the incentive to write about sexism?

Oh, right. I’m still a part of this community. I’m still volunteering my time, energy, and yes, expertise to this movement. And doing that–and making a difference–I still have to put up with all this crap. Rebecca is entirely right. I don’t have to like y’all in order to do it, just think it’s important. And right now, yes, I’m rather hating atheists. However, it’s only because you’re awful.

Facepalm: person clutching their face

Wednesday Geek Woman: unnamed complainant at JavaOne

This is a guest post by Laura James, an engineer based in Cambridge UK, and the founder of Makespace, a non-profit building a community workshop where you’ll be able to build or fix almost anything. This post appeared on her blog for Ada Lovelace Day 2011.

This year, I’m going with a topical woman in technology from the lovely DevChix community. I’m not sure if she’d want to be named; but she stood up and asked for an apology after a male speaker made a sexist joke at a major tech conference (JavaOne) recently. She also made sure the organisers heard about it, and they apologised and will follow up with the speaker’s company.  But in some quarters she’s been criticised for making men in the audience uncomfortable – but she’s still an inspiration.

It’s depressing that these things are still happening (and that the joke reportedly got a good laugh). But raising awareness helps others understand that such incidents are offputting to women in technology The lovely ladies at GeekFeminism provide great resources – they too should be celebrated today.

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Want to highlight a geek woman? Submissions are currently open for Wednesday Geek Woman posts.

Wall of Spam, by freezelight on Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

Rising above our sordid linkspamming nature (9th September, 2011)

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on delicious, freelish.us or pinboard.in or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

Wall of Spam, by freezelight on Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

The performer formerly known as Linkspam (31st August, 2011)

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on delicious, freelish.us or pinboard.in or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.