Category Archives: Feminism

New Horizons

Hey, is anyone as excited about New Horizons as I am? It’s a supplement for Spirit of the Century, and aims “to show some of the real failings of the pulp era when it comes to fairness and justice in order to provide rich and vibrant new possibilities for adventure roleplaying in a bygone era.”

Until recently it seemed like a cool project that wasn’t really going anywhere, but the author has been writing a bunch of production notes on his blag, and the Evil Hat folks are on board too. This look like it’s going to not only be a real, live product but also be the sort of professional, good-looking product we have learned to expect from Evil Hat Productions.

Check this summary out:

She is the strongest human being alive, her muscles super-charged by her own scientific processes. She’s fought dinosaurs barehanded and lived to tell the tale. But she can’t join any professional society for engineers, or even hold the patents for her inventions in her own name.

He is a supernaturally good poet. He can smell truth and lies from across the street. He’s saved the life of one president, two prime ministers, and a future pope. But if he goes out for a gourmet meal with friends, managers will insist he go in through the servants’ entrance.

Two men share a mystical union, pooling their health, knowledge, and magical essence. They bind demons and champion the falsely accused in courts on three continents. But if they ever once acknowledge the love they share along with their power, they’ll be disbarred and shunned by decent people everywhere.

The band of five fought in two wars for liberty, first against invading armies and then against tyrants at home. They free serfs, fight the architects of murder, and have twice stopped mad schemes of genocide. But they’re communists, and can’t even get visas to visit other heroes and scholars in the US.

Brother and sister are heirs to a millennia-old family tradition of serving justice and knowledge. Their ancestors commanded armies, delved into ancient tombs to lay ghosts—and worse things—to rest, taught the founders of new schools of philosophy and military strategy. But in the New World, he’s barely tolerated as a ditch digger—and she’ll be deported if she teaches English to other immigrants.

These are the other heroes, the ones who must fight for their dignity and liberty just as fiercely as they take on the challenges all pulp heroes face.

New Horizons is a new supplement for Spirit of the Century. Each chapter addresses a marginalized group from the pulps, kept outside by their sex, their race, their lifestyle, or their beliefs. In New Horizons you’ll find information about real-life heroic individuals and teams, the challenges they face and some of the solutions they find to the problems of dealing with 1920s society. You’ll also find heroes and villains ready for use, plot hooks, and ties to the mysteries around the Century Club. The life of heroes outside the mainstream may seem as strange as the secret language of Atlantis, but can be as exciting and powerful in play as a zeppelin armada.

RFC: Feminists

[crossposted to Feminist Allies]

So for some reason my friend Jen decided to randomly ask me a question about the intersection of feminism and queer visibility. I know I didn’t cover all the bases here, but given that I hacked this together in a few minutes while at work I think it’s a pretty good basis for further examination. What do you think? What would you add? What would you change?

Reposted with permission (unabridged), from a chat with a friend:

[2007-07-10 11:20] jen: jen has started a chat with you
[2007-07-10 11:20] da5id: oh hai
[2007-07-10 11:20] jen: why is women’s empowerment/strength associated with sexually ambivalent behaviour (drag, androgyny, bisexuality) ?
[2007-07-10 11:20] jen: hello :)
[2007-07-10 11:22] da5id: Because all of those things challenge people to consider the meaning of gender. If one denies the socially constructed nature of gender one cannot work to break down its socially rooted injustices.
[2007-07-10 11:23] da5id: And, um… “ambivalent”?
[2007-07-10 11:23] jen: my professor’s phrasing
[2007-07-10 11:23] jen: not mine
[2007-07-10 11:23] jen: what do you mean, by the way
[2007-07-10 11:24] jen: if you’re busy, it’s cool
[2007-07-10 11:24] da5id: Give your professor this link:
[2007-07-10 11:24] jen: will do
[2007-07-10 11:38] da5id: In order to address women’s equality issues (which drive the empowerment/strength stuff), one must first accept that such issues exist. In order to do so, one must ditch essentialism and recognize that gender is a social construct. A great way to do so is to break out of the man/woman binary and show that lines, if they exist at all, are blurry as all hell.
So: person X is bisexual, and this is accepted rather than treated as aberrant. Ergo, bisexuality is an acceptable and natural state. Ergo, there is no strict duality of MSW/WSM, nor is there even a duality of hetero/homo. Things are fluid, and it becomes a whole lot more difficult to pigeon-hole people based on sex and gender.
Also: person Y is a transvestite, and this is accepted rather than treated as aberrant. Ergo, clothing that is commonly seen as either feminine or masculine cannot be strictly associated with one sex. Gender constraints are eroded, forcing observers to relax or even abandon their notion of gender. This means gender is not an absolute. Ergo, it is a social construction. Ergo, it can be changed. Then we are drawn to examine it and ask how it can be changed for the better, leading us back to issues of female empowerment.
[2007-07-10 12:07] jen: sorry i was in a meeting – also, i am in love with you
[2007-07-10 12:07] jen: thank-you for the help
[2007-07-10 12:10] : jen has left the chat.
[2007-07-10 12:16] da5id: No problem.
[2007-07-10 12:17] da5id: Hey, is it okay for me to post this conversation on my blog?
[2007-07-10 12:17] jen: sure
[2007-07-10 12:17] jen: thanks for asking
[2007-07-10 12:17] jen: permission
[2007-07-10 12:18] jen: off to lunch and take care
[2007-07-10 12:19] : jen has left the chat.

On Ogling and Appreciation

[This is crossposted to Feminist Allies]

There was an article today in the Toronto Star about Hollaback Canada, and about the wider issue of when it is and is not appropriate to ogle people on the street1. The article was titled “When does looking become a leer?”, and touches on something I started writing months ago, and never finished. First, though, if you are a woman in Canada, I would recommend that you bookmark Hollaback Canada, and next time you’re sexually harassed send in a submission to shame your harasser. If you’re in New York City, visit Hollaback NYC, and if you’re elsewhere look for a Hollaback site linked from there. If there is no Hollaback site for your city or region, start your own!

One of the difficulties many men have with feminism seems to be a perceived attack on their sexuality. For instance, men who consider pornography an intrinsic part of male sexuality are likely to get pissed off when someone asserts that porn is wrong as a rule. On an even more extreme angle, some believe that fantasies involving rape, pedophilia or bestiality are perfectly okay, and that anyone who tries to suppress these “perfectly normal” urges is denying them an essential part of their sexuality.

What I want to examine is a milder, but similar, issue. The question I want to ask is: where is the line between sexual objectification and aesthetic appreciation? Somewhere along the continuum from sexual repression to sexual overtness, I feel, there must be an acceptable middle ground. It should be obvious that, at one extreme, externalizing every little sexual impulse we have by yelling “hey baby” at women we pass on the street is wrong. At the other extreme, completely denying our own sexualities2 by refusing to look directly at women is unhealthy. Is there some middle ground where we can acknowledge our own sexualities without contributing to the environment of oppression and abuse of women that we live in? Is this continuum perhaps flawed in some meaningful way?

Here’s where I’m coming from: I am sexually active, in a committed relationship, and I enjoy looking at people I consider beautiful. However, I have a great dislike of making others uncomfortable, and I know that being checked out by a stranger does make many people uncomfortable. When I do look at someone in a sexual way I don’t (I think) do it in an objectifying way: I take care to not look at them as a sexual object, there for my enjoyment, but I do take advantage of the fact that they have certain sexual characteristics that happen to be where I can (visually) enjoy them.

So whenever I do feel like taking an eyeful of someone I am conscious not only of how I look at them and what I am thinking, but also of how I might be making them feel. I generally wait until they will not notice me looking, or else look away quickly. I also make an effort to keep other people in the area from feeling uncomfortable at having an ogler in their midst: I don’t want someone to think “ugh, that creep is staring at that person over there — will he be staring at me if I turn my back?”

So I go to all this trouble to reassure myself that my looking at someone isn’t misinterpreted as lechery and objectification. One might ask: is it really wrong to look at someone one finds attractive, intriguing or whatever? Well, yes and no. Or rather, it can be. The important thing is, as it often is, to take into account the feelings and reactions of everyone involved and to remember that, as in any social interaction, both parties are participating.

I spend a fair amount of time watching people watching people3, and a few things occur to me as ways to differentiate looking and leering, ogling and appreciation. I find it least offensive when the observer:

  1. engages the other person. Rather than staring at a woman’s chest or rear as she walks by, it can be less threatening — and certainly less gross — when a guy looks her in the eyes and smiles a bit. This acknowledges her part as a conscious participant in the interaction (note that saying or doing something for the sole purpose of getting a reaction is not engaging someone meaningfully). Where this gets a little creepy is if the smile is too intense, or lasts too long (see point 2). The observer has to use his discretion and remain aware that the other person has feelings about the interaction, too.
  2. doesn’t linger. Without reciprocation, a short glance is about the limit of respectfulness in most of North America. Beyond that we’re in the realm of staring, which is not only rude, but can send an “I might be dangerous” signal. I’ve seen people give a quick little smile, and I’ve seen people grin uncontrolledly. The second is creepy. The first can be kinda hot.
  3. makes no imposition. In general, any speech falls into the category of imposition. Really, there’s no way to verbalize “I find you attractive” to a stranger that doesn’t come across as creepy or worse. This is doubly true of actions such as standing in someone’s way and forcing them to walk around you, and actually having the nerve to touch them is right off the chart.
  4. has no expectations. Here’s the punchline, which a lot of people seem to ignore. Nobody is going to sleep with you because you looked them up and down on the street. No woman has ever been suddenly filled with a desire to sleep with a man who leaned out of his car and yelled something incoherent at her. And, perhaps barring the stupidest of the stupid, no man has ever thought she would. When it comes down to it, this sort of behaviour is not an expression of sexual desire, but of dominance. The only times I’ve seen people act respectfully while looking at others like this is when there is no implied expectation that something more might, or ought to, happen.

It is true that when someone gets dressed up to look nice, they are often pleased when they get some attention in exchange. Even if they haven’t put any effort into it (or perhaps especially so!) it can be nice to notice that someone has checked you out. But at some point when the checking out is persistent, lewd or otherwise inappropriate, it crosses the line to harassment.

So here’s where I’d like to hear from people. What, to you, is the line between looking and leering? What should one bear in mind, what should one take into consideration?

1 Thanks to HBCanada for the tip-off. You can also read some asshole’s response, sent anonymously from a throwaway Hotmail account. I really don’t feel like going through this email line by line and pointing out exactly what’s wrong with its “if women don’t want to be harassed they shouldn’t dress like sluts” rape-apologist reasoning. Perhaps another time.

2 Note that here I am specifically referring to men who are sexually attracted to women; the dynamics of objectification among gay men are very different.

3 I used to like sitting in public places and watching people go by. At some point I discovered that it could be much more amusing to watch other people as they watch people go by.

Three Short Descriptions of Gender

Something light to get me back into the swing of serious blogging: I was tasked to write a half-page on the following question:

According to [Hilde] Lindemann and other feminist philosophers, “gender” is not just a case of biological characteristics. Briefly explain three other factors related to “gender”

Gender establishes an identity we can claim as our own to guide our interactions with others and with society. It establishes certain norms that we can try to live up to in order to fill our niche: certain descriptors such as “wears frilly clothes” or “has calloused hands” we can take to sketch out an identity.

Gender gives us a way of classifying others. If we accept that gender parallels sex exactly, and that sex is easily identifiable, we can assume a wide range of characteristics for someone as soon as we meet them. Whether they actually possess any of the qualities we ascribe them is secondary: gender gives us a framework for knowing things about people.

Gender provides socially defined and acceptable ways of interacting. If we accept gender as a useful thing it is possible to interact, even with strangers, in complex and socially useful1 ways by following the scripts and guidelines gender lays out for us.

So how would you characterize gender? How would you describe, in a couple of sentences, what it is and what it does?

This is cross-posted to Feminist Allies. If you wish to leave a comment, please do it there.

1 Thanks to Jake for the phrase “socially useful”.

On Victims and Victimizers

There is a discussion in the comment thread on a recent Feminist Allies post about discussion of men as victimizers (in violent situations) without acknowledging that men are victims too, Daran makes the point that there is a lot of talk of men-as-victims with an addendum of “but they’re men, so they’re also perpetrators,” with the implication that male victims of violence are somehow less harmed than female victims because of the latter group’s lower tendency for violence. I don’t know that this argument is especially common, but I have seen it made, or at least implied. Building a dichotomy of aggressors-vs-victims suffers from a glaring flaw: in fact only a very small proportion of the whole population of our societies is made up of people who are only perpetrators of injustice, or only victims, or neither: a patriarchical society maintains state because both women and men support and perpetuate it.

There have been discussions in various feminist spaces of “patriarchy hurts men too,” but this is a difficult subject to deal with seriously because it is so often used by MRAs, rape apologists and other distasteful characters to justify the status quo, attack people trying to address real wrongs, or undermine female victims of violence, especially sexual assault and rape. Still, there is a lot of good argument to be made in “PHMT” discussions, such as the idea that part of the reason there is so much violence around is that violence is built into the societal male ideal, and that gender roles are set up such that much of this violence is directed at other males. So I want to make clear before going any further that in discussing male victims of male-perpetrated violence and the harm that patriarchy does to men I do not aim to belittle female victims or imply that the fact that men are harmed somehow reduces the harm done to women. If anything I say comes across that way, please point it out to me.
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I Oppress Women.

crossposted from feministallies

This post was going to be a response to nobadges in this thread, but it grew into its own post.

I wrote:

I would look at the [patriarchy] not only as [a system] that places men on top of a hierarchy, but as one that encourages men to oppress women.

nobadges wrote:

I agree that individual men do oppress individual women through the current system. Of course, individual women also oppress individual women, and every other iteration you can think of.

nobadges misunderstood me here. I didn’t mean “there are some individual men who oppress women.” I meant that all men, in being men, oppress women.

This is not to say that every man is a rapist, nor that there aren’t any men who treat women as equals. Thing is, though, by living in a sexist society men do things every day that oppress women — sometimes things that can’t be avoided even if we are aware of them.

For instance, let’s say I go into a bank with my female partner to get a mortgage. The person we’re speaking to might defer to me more than to the woman with me, asking me all the relevant questions. The assumption (perhaps unconsciously, perhaps not) is that I am the one in charge. So who is to blame for this? Well, certainly the bank employee takes some blame, and society in general is to blame for creating and maintaining a situation where the banker is likely to behave that way. I do not necessarily hold any of the blame in this situation, but my presence caused the oppression of my partner.

This is not a great example, but it shows the insidiousness of privilege. I don’t even have to be in the same room as a woman to cause her oppression: if I am one of two equally-qualified candidates for a job, and the other is a woman, I am more likely to be hired. The blame here is not mine unless I played up my maleness in the interview or something, but because my privilege caused me to gain to the detriment of the female candidate I am in a way taking her job opportunity away from her without ever meeting her.

So I as a man, I as a white person, I as a non-poor person, I as an able person and so on through all the privileged classes I am a member of, I contribute to oppression of oppressed classes simply by being who I am. I can’t or won’t change who I am, so instead I try to change in whatever way I can the structures that cause me to be an oppressor. Yes, it’s rather a sisyphean undertaking, but it is the right thing to do.

Comments are closed for this repost. If you would like to comment on this post, please do it here.

Lost, politically

Lost is one of the best shows on television right now. The writing is exquisite, and just about every character is interesting. Even without the occasional cliffhanger, it is torture to have to wait between shows to find out what happens next.

It occurred to me that there are a few things of note, to do with the demographics and general politics of the show. If you haven’t seen any of it don’t worry — nothing I say here will ruin any surprises. Also, some of what I say here changes through the series. I don’t mention what to avoid spoilers. To see the spoilers (please only do this if you’re up to date!) see this post.

The show has deviated from regular TV fare in several ways, and makes the same old mistakes in several others. I have attempted to present as much coverage here as I could think of. If you see a flaw in my reasoning, or if you disagree, or if you see something I have omitted, please do comment at the bottom and let me know.
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