Tuesday, December 23, 2008

continue / exit

Three quick gamer links here, because I hope to get my groove back (though, as followers of my deadjournal may have noticed, I am slightly obsessed with a certain videogame right now, so who knows?):

a) From VorpalBunnyRanch, a great look at how the nature of violence in videogames is skewed by the protagonist's gender. In a brief follow-up it's noted how survival horror breaks the general rules regarding women and violence/action - this genre also stands out among films, something noted by Randall Monroe here in Two Female Leads.

Perhaps the more a story blurs the lines between violent heroes (or villains) and victims of violence, the more likely it is to have active female characters? I am, inevitably, thinking about how that works in Metal Gear, a game series in which women frequently commit acts of violence, but generally bloodlessly, or from a distance - with the exception of that one group of villain/victims/survival horror exhibits in MGS4. *le sigh*

b) From the Beeb, a survey of MMO players; 40% are female, they're more likely to put hardcore time into it than male gamers are, and - get this - female gamers are 5x more likely to be bisexual than the general population. (My guess: bisexuality is massively underreported in the 'general population', and if you did something as simple as matching gamers with non-gamers by age and perhaps social class, the difference would close significantly. Another possible explanation is that game design is inimical to straight female desires and makes straight women slightly less likely to play MMOs than gay women - gee, I wonder how that might have happened?)

[addendum:: see also some scepticism from Kotaku: "...these are the results of a voluntary study in which participants received a free in-game item for participating, so I can't really see how they can even begin to pretend that they tallied accurate results. If I was told to complete a study in order to receive a free in-game item, I'd complete that puppy so fast that I might have wound up one of those hardcore bisexual raider women. Think about that before you start fantasizing about that hot wood elf you saw running about Qeynos."]

c) Merry Christmas from VGCats!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

squees, lies, videogames.

Erm, okay, I may have lied about no more election stuff. I was seduced into giving more election links by this amazing photo-series. Just keep hitting 'show more images', it's lovely. But I have gamer-girl stuff to share too, I promise!

A little over eight months ago, Michelle Obama said to a crowd of her husband's supporters, "For the first time in my adult life, I am really proud of my country." She took a lot of flak for that statement, and was called unpatriotic, 'ungrateful', and generally accused of being a nasty strident Sapphire who didn't know her place. Yesterday two good friends of mine each said pretty well exactly that, a third (who lives abroad) said that she no longer feels ashamed when people realise she's American, and Kyrias, a long-standing US resident, is considering filing for citizenship. A lot of people at Feministe are also echoing Michelle's remarks.

With provisional and absentee ballots to sort, the last calls are still being made; Georgia was finally settled for McCain earlier today, but I'm not sure if the Senate call (it will be a runoff election, because the Libertarians prevented anyone getting 50% of the vote) has been formalised. North Carolina went for Obama by 14000 votes, again due to those pesky Libertarians; Missouri is likely McCain but still to be called - on Super Tuesday it was prematurely called for Clinton but the final count flipped it to Obama, so I guess they're trying not to make a mistake again this time. The only other outstanding presidential count is in the city of Omaha, custodian of one of Nebraska's five votes; they're busy opening the last 15000 ballots, and it's relatively likely that Obama will eke out a tiny win. This would be the first time either of the splitting states - Maine and Nebraska - have actually split their votes; personally I think it would be more fun, and lead to more engagement, if all states split their votes by congressional district.

They're also still counting in the Alaska senate race, where seven-times felon Ted Stevens has probably pulled out a win. (Nate has a post about how Alaska skewed dramatically away from pre-election opinion polls, with the Republicans overperforming by +12% in all election races, not just the Senate). If so, he will be thrown out of the Senate and Alaska will join Georgia in having a December 2nd special; I fear the seat is Ms Hun's if she wants it. It's a shame because this was the one real chance of getting a left-wing Alaskan into the Senate. :/ The Oregon Senate race has been belatedly called for the Democrats, but Minnesota is in the throes of a full recount.

Saxby Chambliss, btw, did manage to find time to get even lower and shittier right before the election. Also, I am linking this just for one great sentence: "Nate Silver taught numbers how to fuck."

Now, gamer shit: if there's one videogame movie the world really doesn't need, it's this one.

This blog post contains a PDF file of the best gaming article I've ever read. It's about people who still play Pac-Man and other old arcade games competitively, and it contains the phrases 'meditative states' and 'gamer ontologies'. I thought I was the only person in the world who cared about gamer ontologies and I am so not. That article is very long but it made me so very happy.

The one thing I found off about it is that it framed classic gaming as being so completely a matter of male homosociality. This puzzles me because one of my housemates is a classic gamer - an obsessive Dr Mario player - and I often find myself sat drinking coffee while hypnotised by her arrays of primary-coloured pills. She is not an 'adept', and rarely squeaks past level 23, and is not part of any gamer club that I know of. And I like watching people play games, even ones I suck at (especially ones I suck at). I also know a person with a basement full of consoles from long ago - Ataris and the like. Yep, she's a chick. I don't know any men who still play classic games, only these two women. The article only mentions one woman among the many gamers it discusses, adepts and audience members both, and prefers to put women in the background caring for the gamers in their lives but not partaking. I suspect that this is an old idea at work - that what men do with their free time is serious, worthy, even sacred, but women have only their tasks and their fripperies. It's not true IRL obv, only in the media.

And here at Vorpal Bunny Ranch (which truly is the best-named website ever) is another wonderful article marred by the assumption of male homosociality. It's about the role of the dandy as a male stereotype in videogames, and it has Balthier in it just to make me happy:
It is a common stereotype that we have come to expect--if a man is not muscular and cannot save the day through his forceful body or strength, then he has to be crafty, making him either a man of questionable morals or a villain himself.

... You cannot trust the man who does not use his hands for physical labor and counts on magic and deceit to achieve his goals--how loathsome.

Is it that surprising that this happens in videogames? Not at all. Consider that, in general, the dandy is a male who is considered feminized by his opposition to the male principle of power through strength.

That post makes some great points but I think it's slightly crippled by comparing men only to other men, when electric culture is really way more level about gender; it talks about Balthier as a dandy, and yes he does have a claymore-swinging foil whose story is about grappling with the male principle of power through strength...and that person is Ashe, a chick, so there you go.

Also speaking of chicks, Nintendo have been surveying DS players in Osaka. The biggest user block of all is boys aged 10-12, but the second biggest is women in their early 30s. At most ages, women are more likely than men to use a DS.

Did any of you hear about the Little Big Planet recall? A classic case of oversensitivity at work; songwriter Toumani Diabate, a Malian Muslim, included two lines from the Koran in a song he wrote for the game - something that's apparently common in Mali's music culture. When Sony realised this they went apeshit and recalled the game. M. Zuhdi Jasser, head of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, has no idea what their fucking problem was: "The fact that the music writer is a devout Muslim should highlight that at the core of this issue is not about offending 'all Muslims', but only about freedom of expression and the free market." Tycho, meanwhile, points out that Little Big Planet is a game centred on user-generated content, which - as I said re. the Hot Coffee mod a while ago - is inevitably going to cross every line the designers, censors and raters attempt to draw. It's the end user who chooses the content, not you.
No matter what this song contained, rated by some universal standard for blasphemy, the things you could do with the included toolset would make any scholar of Islam beg for the days when the holy scriptures were merely set to a jaunty beat. [...]

No-one was watching when modding became something like a gamer's right. Now, the mainstream perches in every high corner, shifting its weight like Poe's raven, positively starved for evidence that this incredible medium bears within it the dissolution of a generation.

This is why Microsoft doesn't want to get within ten miles of this shit.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

a quick note before bedtime:

CNN and other press agencies called Georgia for McCain at about 11pm; the Associated Press and Georgia's local press organs did not do so. Now we know why: roughly 600 000 early votes cast in the Atlanta area were not included in that initial count.

Whether McCain really won GA or not doesn't matter so much, but this is likely to push Saxby Chambliss into a Senate runoff or even out of the Senate entirely.


Thursday, October 23, 2008

For Every Five Tanks: an election link post

[Or, as one FiveThirtyEight commenter said a couple of days ago, 'We are all Fake Virginians now.']

I've been collecting shiny things to share with you all - expect another post soon, because this one is a special place for any and all election crap. I want this election over already; we already know who's won, so it's just another couple of weeks of unnecessary ugly.

First, the obvious: do you see the BotherVoting banner in my sidebar? Yeah? You can probably do it already - just google 'early voting [your home state]' and you should find out where and when it's available. Here's all the early voting info for GA. You can go vote right now if you live in Georgia - and next week, from Monday til Friday, the polls are open until 7pm. Whoever you're voting for, early votes benefit your candidate because the more people in your area have voted already, the less resources they'll need to put into it on November 4th.

Is Georgia a safe state for the Republicans? They think so - so much so that they're running their GA campaign out of an office in freaking Tallahassee and local Republican chairmen are accusing the campaign of 'leaving it to chance'. Nate isn't quite so sure. The answer is 'probably'. But that doesn't matter because Saxby Chambliss - the US Senate's gaping asshole - is up for reelection, and your vote against him most assuredly matters. Whoever you're supporting for the presidency - Obama, McCain, a third-party (both the Greens and Libertarians are running native Georgians this year - have they forgotten who the last Georgian president was?) or a write-in candidate - please get rid of Chambliss. His opponent, Jim Martin, even has virtues beyond not being Saxby Chambliss.

Wherever you are in the USA, if you have any trouble at the polls you can contact the Voter Protection Center at 1-866-OUR-VOTE. Look at the Incident Tracker at Voter Suppression Wiki to check problem reports in your area, so you know what to look out for. Robert F Kennedy's written an article about voter suppression here.

Now the fun stuff: Obama bought advertising in an Xbox 360 game, Burnout Paradise. A pretty shallow move, but a smart one; it's unlikely that any frat boys are going to abruptly hit pause and run out and early-vote solely on the strength of this one banner in this one game - but the magpies in the news media all go OOH OMGZ SHINY TECH and spend five minutes of our lives expounding on this sentiment. I don't know what an in-game banner ad costs, but I'm betting it's less than five minutes of primetime. (I'm against in-game ads - once you've bought something as expensive as a game console and something to play on it, it's irritating to have people trying to eke more money out of your gaming on top of that - but hey, that's why I don't play Xbox crap). It gets game culture talking too, not that they didn't already love Obama simply for not being Hillary Clinton - here's a collection of fan-made mockups of Obama in-game ads. Portal, oh my! (And the Metal Gear one is totally an unintended and unfortunate Dar Williams injoke. God, I love Metal Gear.)

Onto the Shiny Things: Losers Edition, starting with this: The Front-Runner’s Fall, or, Joshua Green's write-up of a batch of emails, memos and minutes he was given by staffers from the Clinton campaign following that campaign's decease. He's made a good story out of it, and the material itself is online for your perusal. Much of it is unintentionally hilarious in retrospect, not least the March 2007 memo in which Mark Penn wrote, "The right knows Obama is unelectable except perhaps against Attila the Hun," a statement that perhaps McCain should have noted before selecting Ms Hun to be his running mate.

[One quick aside about Ms Hun, while I'm here: all the blithering yak recorded here at the Beeb about her freaking $150000 fashion budget is positioning her in the same frame as Cindy and Michelle rather than John, Joe and Barack. For the love of god, why? She's being interviewed for the same job as Joe, right?]

Also about Clinton; it's months old now, but I only just read Sean Quinn's piece about how he'd flipped during the primaries from admiring and defending Clinton to feeling completely alienated by her - and how she might yet win him back. The apology he hoped for never happened, but personally I don't think it matters - Clinton's presidential ambitions were already over anyway, and I suspect they would've been either way; an apology would've been way too much ammo. Also, Quinn mentions the Jack Thompson pontificating!

Here, if you like that sort of thing, is an incredibly classy and meticulously annotated torrid rant, hosted at FuckJohnMcCain.com:

...Does it worry anyone else that every right-wing debacle in the last fifty years involves the same twelve assholes? Need another example? Remember the fuckwads who put out a push-poll claiming McCain had an illegitimate black child back in 2000? The same guys McCain said had a "special place in hell"? Hell, apparently, is the McCain campaign, cause he fucking hired them.

Which I guess isn't that surprising, since McCain has changed positions more times than Jenna Jameson in a double feature. But not on important issues. Just stuff like privatizing Social Security, the Bush tax cuts, coastal drilling, ethanol, gay adoption, affirmative action, the estate tax, torture and negotiating with Cuba, Hamas, and Syria.

Okay okay, here's some genuine class from John Perry Barlow, hosted here, and yes, it too has naughty words in it. (h/t Daisy). The thrust of the piece is echoing something Sean Quinn said (implicitly) in his piece about Clinton - the internet lets you look at this sodding horserace in a close and on-the-spot way, and if you're looking through that lens you wind up liking Obama more and his opponents much, much less:

However, since God is merciful, McCain probably doesn't know what I'm talking about. He's watching the campaign on television where he's presented with an edit of reality that is far less damning to him and his campaign than the one I've been watching on the Internet. John McCain is blessed indeed to be spared the online version of himself.


If he watched the much more elaborate coverage of the campaign on the Internet, even McCain would have to be in awe of the fact that Senator Obama has shown almost superhuman dignity, humor (as opposed to sarcasm), and that quality that Hemingway defined as courage, "grace under pressure" even while being carpet-bombed, first by the Clintons and now the McCain/Palin Golem, with six months of sucker punches, lies, trivialities, the guilt of distant or even non-existent associations (often involving black people behaving ungracefully), and now, finally, the direct incitement of murderous intent in crowds spiked with many people who are insane with racial hatred, well-armed, and trained by their government in the accurate use of long-range weapons.

He would have seen the look of enlightened acceptance on Obama's face tonight when McCain fiercely declared his pride in the people who attended his rallies, including, presumably, the ones who shout "kill him" and "off with his head."

If you've time, be sure to watch the six-minute video Barlow points out - the original dialogue between Obama and Joe The Plumber. 'You will see a presidential candidate stop and take the time to explain more and in more respectful detail about his tax program to a single plumber from Ohio than McCain has ever explained anything - besides misrepresentations of Obama's resume - to the entire American public during the length of this campaign.' I think that it shows the flipside of the yay-internets line Barlow's pushing here; an intelligent, nuanced policy explanation, given entirely off the (rolled-up) cuff there, got edited into a ridiculous bogeyman about socialism. These powers can be used for both good and evil, and we should not take them for granted.

Any and all McCain rants draw from the original and greatest, that one Rolling Stone knifing. Very long and, if there's one thing the last fucking year has proved it's that you can write a thorough character assassination on anyone. Just read those 2007 Penn memos about Obama. But hey.

(It remains strange that McCain hasn't pressed what is, in pure common-sense terms, Obama's one great policy weakness - the ethanol subsidies. Dear gods, are you trying to cook our seas and starve us all to death? Are Iowa's seven EVs worth that much to you? *le sigh* I guess this is what happens when you keep having to cast votes for politicians but, as Ford Prefect said, 'if they didn’t vote for a lizard, the wrong lizard might get in.')

Finally, here's that one photograph Colin Powell was so touched by. Take a look.

Monday, October 13, 2008

when he said 'rely on' he meant 'totally f*ing ignore'

I want this election to be over. It seems like the far-right limbo bar is dropping by the day; how low can they go, I ask? Did they reach their limit yesterday? No, they did not! How much further? They have, what, another three weeks in which to remain in the hole and keep digging.

So let me regale you with a quickly-buried weekend news incident, one which sank almost as fast as the Troopergate report. Its timeline goes something like this:

August 15th: in those Rick Warren religious-test-for-public-office interviews of McCain and Obama, McCain and Obama are both asked 'Who are the three wisest people that you know, that you would rely on heavily in an administration?'

McCain names General David Petraeus, John Lewis and Meg Whitman.

October 11th: John Lewis releases this statement:

As one who was a victim of violence and hate during the height of the Civil Rights Movement, I am deeply disturbed by the negative tone of the McCain-Palin campaign. What I am seeing reminds me too much of another destructive period in American history. Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin are sowing the seeds of hatred and division, and there is no need for this hostility in our political discourse.

During another period, in the not too distant past, there was a governor of the state of Alabama named George Wallace who also became a presidential candidate. George Wallace never threw a bomb. He never fired a gun, but he created the climate and the conditions that encouraged vicious attacks against innocent Americans who were simply trying to exercise their constitutional rights. Because of this atmosphere of hate, four little girls were killed on Sunday morning when a church was bombed in Birmingham, Alabama.

As public figures with the power to influence and persuade, Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin are playing with fire, and if they are not careful, that fire will consume us all. They are playing a very dangerous game that disregards the value of the political process and cheapens our entire democracy. We can do better. The American people deserve better.

Here's the McCain response:

Congressman John Lewis’ comments represent a character attack against Governor Sarah Palin and me that is shocking and beyond the pale. The notion that legitimate criticism of Senator Obama’s record and positions could be compared to Governor George Wallace, his segregationist policies and the violence he provoked is unacceptable and has no place in this campaign. I am saddened that John Lewis, a man I’ve always admired, would make such a brazen and baseless attack on my character and the character of the thousands of hardworking Americans who come to our events to cheer for the kind of reform that will put America on the right track.

"I call on Senator Obama to immediately and personally repudiate these outrageous and divisive comments that are so clearly designed to shut down debate 24 days before the election. Our country must return to the important debate about the path forward for America."

And the Obama campaign's response to the McCain response:

Sen. Obama does not believe that John McCain or his policy criticism is in any way comparable to George Wallace or his segregationist policies.

But John Lewis was right to condemn some of the hateful rhetoric that John McCain himself personally rebuked just last night, as well as the baseless and profoundly irresponsible charges from his own running mate that the Democratic nominee for president of the United States 'pals around with terrorists.' As Barack Obama has said himself, the last thing we need from either party is the kind of angry, divisive rhetoric that tears us apart at a time of crisis when we desperately need to come together. That is the kind of campaign Sen. Obama will continue to run in the weeks ahead.

I first read about this on this 538 thread. Several older commenters there said they believed that the comparison between Palin's rallies and Wallace's rallies was a valid one.

Friday, October 03, 2008

good news for geeks

Jack Thompson has been permanently disbarred from practising law in the state of Florida, and I gather that means he'll have a hard time lawyering anywhere else either. To which the world says: about damn time. Thompson described himself in his most recent news release as "nationally and internationally known by virtue of his effective and successful opposition over the last 20 years to the broadcast, marketing, and sale of adult-rated entertainment to children". He also calls himself a 'faith-based activist' and 'Christian lawyer'. (The National Institute on Media and the Family, however, which normally loves this stuff, have told him to please stop mentioning them because he has a 'negative influence' on their reputation and work).

an aside for non-gamers who read here: this is why Hillary Clinton has such a fuck-awful reputation among gamers. There are many gamers who hold as that their one voting metric Anyone But Hillary. I mention this because I've recently seen this universal antipathy gamers have to Clinton cited as evidence of misogyny in gamer culture - ffs, if you want evidence of misogyny in gaming, there is no shortage of it to be found, but a desperate wish for your special lady to never be president ever is not it. To someone who plays a lot of games and doesn't care too much for politics, a desperate wish for your special lady to never be president is a perfectly logical opinion, and telling them they should believe otherwise because she's such a nice woman will just cause them to file you in the 'stupid' folder.

Thompson's got cosy with a fair few politicians over the years, including Rick Santorum and Joe Lieberman, but it's Clinton who fell for it the hardest. It was Clinton who he sucked in to the ridiculous Hot Coffee drama, somehow making her forget that the average gamer is well above voting age and would regard her as absurd for grandstanding over something so petty, and of incredibly poor judgement for listening to Thompson at all.

We can't know what drove Clinton to listen to Thompson. A bit of background vetting alone would've showed him to be way lacking in the reasonable human being department. There is so much batshit it's hard to know where to start, but these three fantastic paragraphs from (yes!) Wikipedia convey the flavour of the man, at least:

In October 2007, Chief U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno sealed court documents submitted by Thompson in the Florida Bar case that depicted "gay sex acts." Thompson's submission prompted U.S. District Judge Adalberto Jordan on to order Thompson to show cause why his actions should not be filed as a grievance with the court's Ad Hoc Committee on Attorney Admissions, Peer Review and Attorney Grievance, but the order was dismissed after Thompson promised not to file any more pornography. [...]

In February 2008, The Florida Supreme Court ordered Thompson to show cause as to why it should not reject future court filings from him unless they are signed by another Florida Bar member. The Florida Supreme Court described his filings as "repetitive, frivolous and insult[ing to] the integrity of the court," particularly one in which Thompson, claiming concern about "the court's inability to comprehend his arguments," filed a motion including images of "swastikas, kangaroos in court, a reproduced dollar bill, cartoon squirrels, Paul Simon, Paul Newman, Ray Charles, a handprint with the word 'slap' written under it, Bar Governor Benedict P. Kuehne, a baby, Ed Bradley, Jack Nicholson, Justice Clarence Thomas, Julius Caesar, monkeys, [and] a house of cards." Thompson claimed that the order "wildly infringes" on his constitutional rights and was "a brazen attempt" to repeal the First Amendment right to petition the government to redress grievances. In response, he sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey, referring to the show-cause order as a criminal act done in retaliation for his seeking relief with the court.

On March 20, 2008, the Florida Supreme Court imposed sanctions on Thompson, requiring that any of his future filings in the court be signed by a member of The Florida Bar other than himself. The court noted that Thompson had responded to the show cause order with multiple "rambling, argumentative, and contemptuous" responses that characterized the show cause order as "bizarre" and "idiotic."

But his best moments have been his infamous altercations with Gabe. First, the famous phone call, then the $10000 pwning and subsequent allegation of 'criminal harassment' (second post onward), and finally he accused Penny Arcade of 'collaborating to commit racketeering' with several other gaming websites.

[edit: I totally missed this before, but Thompson's disbarment occurred on Gabe's birthday. Aaaaw.]

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

1s, 0s, Xs, Ys

Drama tiem: truly epic internets delivered by the central clique of Wikipedia. If you want a cosier telling of the story, one of the chief victims of the associated flamewars tells their story here.

Short version: 19 different Wikipedians, including several moderators and administrators at several different Wikipedia-related projects (Wikiquote, Wikisource, Wikinfo, Wikipedia Review), turn out to be all the same person [link goes to ED, you know it's not worksafe, or any other sort of safe]. Yay sockpuppeting, and added drama because;
a) the most major sock wrote on a lot of sex-related topics, and was heavily involved in 'Wipipedia', a fetish wiki I'd never heard of before now;
b) many of the socks used photographs of very attractive, often scantily-clad, women to represent their identity, something which had apparently bought favour in previous edit wars;
c) the IRLer who runs these socks presents as a cisgender guy. His sockpuppets got caught out due to complaints from the partner of one of the women whose photos he was using.

h/t Seth Finkelstein.

What Seth sees as the key thing here is the collision between the perceived significance of the work the Wikipedia social circle is doing - the Shiny Happy Website - and the very human drama it's spawned. The same applies to a lot of online enterprises, especially the ones which make embarrassingly large stacks of money from human beings socialising with other human beings; they give us a place to put words, and we use words to build places, homes, stages for ourselves, and these places are not reliably honest, they are fragile to destruction from a large number of threats, and are never owned and governed as common public spaces. (People on Brad Hicks's site are talking lately about how MMOs are starting to dispense with public forums, which makes it hard for users to pass on complaints and suggestions. I am sure they do this because people are impossible).

But, couple of other things jumped out of me:

Gender variance is, as ever, being punished. It's that image of gender as being some mile-high wall that must be patrolled rigorously because for someone to walk straight through it as if it's not really there would be simply the most awful thing ever. It's the idea of gender variance as being an act of 'deception'. [edit: Lisa Harney, in comments, points out that I am conflating trans people with gender-variant people in this post, when IRL the two are different categories. I suck at framing things about how much other people make sucky assumptions.]

The person who instigated this drama lives a day-to-day life as a man, but usually presented on the internet as a woman. To be misled, especially by someone you've personally placed an emotional stake in and supported in times of trouble when you would not have done if you'd known more, is very hurtful. But that's not what happened on the Wikipedia Review site. I am so not linking, but I read a few pages of their reaction to all this, and they are referring to this person as 'thing' and 'it'. I've heard this one before. It's not genuine upset, it's personal embarrassment (and I don't even get why it's embarrassing, but hey, I bat for both sides so what would I know?) of a form which we know can be easily turned into murderous hatred, and which is already speaking the language of that hatred. It is transphobia.

Back when I first blogged a bit about anonymity and identities on the internet I mentioned The Strange Case Of The Electronic Lover. This was another instance of someone who lived as a man presenting online as a woman, and engaging in flirtatious and sexual behaviour online before being 'found out'. Joan/Alex, unlike the socks in the Wikipedia drama, sought out women as partners rather than men. There is a temptation to regard the upset of the people who believed they were building a sexual connection online with a cisgendered woman differently when they're women to when they're men. Partly it's because of the whiny strictures of 'masculinity'; the twinned homophobia & transphobia, the bullshit insistence that sexual contact with something other than a cis woman is a breaking of those strictures, makes a man weak, a target for ridicule - that's the supposed reason that wall between genders must be maintained.

And partly it's because women are accustomed to fearing sexual assault by men.

At Wikipedia Review, there is some talk of the 'real victims' - the women whose intimate photos the sock made use of. Nothing has been heard from them personally about how they feel about this violation. There's a wonderful recent Shameless post called Private Parts vs Private Places that notes that the dangers you attract when you put personal information on the internet are framed as threats of theft and trespass if you're a man, threats of beatings and sexual assaults if you're a woman.

This is crappy media framing. Most media trepidations about the truths we tell on the internet are. The real dangers on the internet are the same as the real dangers IRL - you can waste your time, break your heart, lose your soul, hit a rut, meet God amid the ones and zeroes, quit caring, or move on. In a purely physical sense it's safer than IRL. And yet, that media bias Shameless is writing about is also reflective of the way women really are treated on the internet. Like these women whose bodies were appropriated by this mad puppeteer. Shit, back when I was a bbs mod we once had to deal with a stalker who was posting topless photographs of one of our female members.

Then there's this, which happened to me about a year ago (click image to see it in a readable size):

Perhaps I've been lucky, but it was only time this has happened to me since I was a 15-year-old AOLer. I'd say it's not so much down to chance as architecture - I shared the lulz with some other folks online, and one (a straight cis guy...as far as I know) said that he'd been hassled for netsex by men on Limewire; perhaps filesharing and chatrooming lend themselves to solicitation more than other forms of online communication. Soulseek's profile settings serve to make it chattier than other such programs; the twunt originally said he'd IMed me because I'd listed the Nine Inch Nails under 'I like'. (I deleted that immediately after).

I reacted to all this in a predictable fashion; became both pissed-off and very amused, and sought Revenge. I screencapped the lulz; I banned him from downloading from me; and I went to Soulseek's FAQ to see if there was any comment on how to report abuse and annoyance. There wasn't. Sure, each internet banana republic creates its own standards, but having no harassment policy is the sort of oversight that may not be so common if they weren't all run by guys. It's due to Wikipedia's poor response to abuse reports that it took two years from the first complaint about that sock's use of intimate pictures of unconsenting women until this ban, now; they simply have no system in place to respond to this problem.

Friday, September 26, 2008

FMT: an intriguing new fail.

As I've already said, at great length, I take great exception to the way male sf/f/h writers get so hung up on sex work. And if most or all of the women in their story are sex workers, that's a really bad sign. But this, this is interesting, I dare say not good, but at least original in the realms of failure.

[Both the links in the next paragraph rate a warning for talk about rape/SA in abstract & imaginary situations.]

io9.com has this piece up on what it describes as 'zombie feminism'. Basically it's a horror movie trend that's very like r&r in 80s fantasy fiction. They've written about three zombie films with unusual implications for women, but it's the second that pinged the FMT radar - Zombie Strippers:

This flick features porn star Jenna Jameson as a stripper bitten by a zombie infected by a government drug to keep soldiers fighting after they die. The more zombie-fied she gets, the more the clientele goes crazy for her. Even when she drags men into the back room and rips their throats out and bites their dicks off. Soon, the other strippers are begging to be infected too, so they can make more in tips.

Before long, nearly all the strippers are infected, and they've got a giant basement room full of all the reanimated, mutilated men they've been gnawing on. None of these strippers are being raped or murdered by men — they're just dealing with standard-issue stuff like objectification and the dangers of working in the sex industry. And yet it's hard not to see their undeaths as a kind of revenge on men who treat women like objects. These guys come to the strip club to "get some meat," and then they're turned into meat themselves.

The problem here is that the men actually like it. Their favorite strippers are the zombies, and the women have gained "power" only by becoming monsters. Just as our girl in Deadgirl can only fight back because she's a monster. So is the message of zombie feminism that a strong women is always a monster? That she must die and return as a ghoul in order to fight back against rape and less violent forms of sexism?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Everything I Just Said, But Better

...was put online by David Wong, like, the day after I posted my version. The complete title of Wong's piece is 6 Brainwashing Techniques They're Using On You Right Now [mildly NSFW] - here are the relevant bits.

#4. Controlling What You Watch and Read:
Studies show the brain is wired to get a quick high from reading things that agree with our point of view. The same studies proved that, strangely, we also get a rush from intentionally dismissing information that disagrees, no matter how well supported it is. Yes, our brain rewards us for being closed-minded dicks.

So with a little prodding, the followers will happily close themselves in the same echo chamber of talk radio, blogs and cable news outlets that give them that little "They agree with ME!" high.

This wouldn't have been possible even 20 years ago. I grew up in the 80s, in a house with three TV stations. Three. We got one newspaper, the local one. You didn't get to pick from the conservative news or liberal news, back in my day you took what you got and you were thankful for what you had, dammit.

Today, I go through that many outlets a day just to get my freaking video game news.

And now, that explosion of the 24-hour cable news stations and, later, the web and blogosphere, has created these parallel universes of Right vs. Left media outlets, complete with their own publishing arms.

And for each, their favorite topic of discussion is how corrupt and ridiculous the other side's media is. They each even have "watchdog" groups that exist purely for the reason of hammering away at each other (the left has FAIR and MediaMatters, the right has the Media Research Center).

Recently Seen:
When an MSNBC interview with candidate John McCain got tense, he responded to the question by openly accusing the reporter of being an operative for the other side:

Just days later the campaign called The New York Times "a pro-Obama advocacy organization."

This technique is relatively new, but you'll see a lot more of it in future elections. The candidate will talk right past the reporter asking the questions and says to his supporters, "These guys work for the enemy, don't believe a word they say. Their lies will only poison your mind."

#1. "Us vs. Them"
...we're hard-wired by evolution to form tribes. The more stress we feel, the more we feel love and attachment to those who look and sound the same as us, and the more we feel hatred to those who don't. It's just an old survival mechanism, since the ancient guys who didn't show that kind of blind loyalty were killed off by the fierce tribes formed by the ones who did.

So today we get that petty dehumanization of everybody outside of our group ("hippies," "rednecks," "fundies," "geeks," "douchebags," "libs", "cons," "fags," "breeders," "infidels," "towel-heads," "honkies," "darkies," "players", "haters").

They can play on those old, primal urges for even the most retarded of results, such as fierce brand loyalty (the PS3 vs. 360 vs. Wii flame wars will make you claw your eyes out).

But to really make this one work, They can't just define your group, but have to define your group as the elite group, a shining beacon in a world full of weak-minded walking turds. The items on this list work best in combination, and you'll see in that the element of mockery and insulation from opposing viewpoints we talked about earlier (why listen to the viewpoints of those lesser sheeple?). Often this is combined with siege terminology ("The whole country has gone to hell, but we've got to stand up for common sense, folks! It's us against the world!")

Recently Seen:

Watch five seconds of an election stump speech. Every side does it.

In Sarah Palin's convention speech she talked about how people from small towns are totally the best ("We grow good people in our small towns, with honesty, sincerity, and dignity"). Earlier in the primaries the Clinton campaign did the same thing, talking about small towns as being the backbone of America where real, honest people are found. Always there is the unspoken reminder that these honest rural folk are under siege from those scary, phony freaks in the city.

When speaking to those city folk, on the other hand, Barack Obama made the infamous reference to those same small town types clinging to guns and religion, talking about them like they were savages to be studied through binoculars from a tower, with some peasant disease that needs cured by the enlightened.

Not only is "Us vs Them" the first and most important one on the list, it's the culmination and end goal of all the others. Drawing you into the right tribe is what They want most, because they can accomplish nothing without tribesmen.

(One thing Wong missed is that the 'small towns' line isn't original to Palin, but is a quotation from a long-dead American facist, Westbrook Pegler. Robert F Kennedy Jr wrote about this on HuffPo. Pelger was talking pretty explicitly about the whiteness of small towns, as opposed to cities inhabited by black Americans, by Jews and by other immigrant groups that were considered less than white at the time he was writing).

Saturday, September 20, 2008

the divided states.

So. A few months ago I found that my USian family thought it highly socially inappropriate to talk about atheism. There being variety in the family between the devout and the rest of us, one that was upsetting to one of the Catholic children, meant the best course was for the non-Catholics to not speak of it and to distract non-Catholic young'uns if they tried to bring up the subject right before lunch.

It probably shouldn't've taken me so long, but it took the Palin trainwreck to show me that yes, really, this is how America works: you don't talk to people about your religious and political differences. Shortly after the Palin selection, a family member and I were talking to a family friend, someone who naturally she knew way better than I did. I said something about been creeped-out by Palin asking Alaskans to pray for a $30 billion gas pipeline. Caesar. God. It's creepy, that.

Family member says to me, warningly "He's a Republican."

Um, and...?

If I'm telling someone that I think a politician has said something obnoxious, why would it matter what their partisan views are? I mean, isn't that how you have conversations rather than echo chambers? Maybe there's some sort of upside to praying for gas pipelines that I hadn't seen but Republican Guy would know about and could tell me of. I got a conversation; he said that he thought Palin would make a good advocate for disabled people in the Whitehouse, and that's something he really cares about. I asked if he knew her record in that regard - none of us did, at the time - and suggested he check up on it, just because records are firmer than narrative guesswork. (Thanks partly to Kyrias, I later did, and guess what, she halved educational funds for disabled children in Alaska).

A few weeks on, and the trainwreck has seemingly run its course; lots of flying emotions and everyone's made their mind up - her favourability has fallen to near-zero.

Last night M watched Bill Maher's TV show and I saw a little of it too. I had never seen it before. There's no analogue to the US political media in Britain (reason #3515 why everyone hates the film version of V For Vendetta, that); the best comparison I could think of was if Private Eye was a TV show rather than a magazine. Or it's a bit like Newsnight but intentionally both partisan and humorous, rather than merely misanthropic. (I have a habit of describing US TV hosts entirely in terms of how they differ from Jeremy Paxman [vid, first 20 seconds contain NSFW language]. In that regard, watching Jon Stewart softball Tony Blair on Thursday night was quite painful).

Maher, to great applause, announced that many Americans support Palin because they are too stupid.

Two bloggers I read who've posted a lot of election stuff lately are saying the following:

The frightening part of this is that everyone thinks she’s so great, so much so that it seems like more people support SP than support McCain.

For crying out loud, she’s, if not a total psychopath who is incapable of speaking the truth, a total fake. She is not compassionate, the girl next door, or someone who will look out for the average citizen.

And for those people who posted on Salon.com saying that they’re going to vote for her because her husband is hot and because she proves that women can have it all…I think you should all be taken out of the gene pool, pronto.

from Kyrias. (Admittedly Kyrias is a permanent resident of the USA rather than a US citizen. It is kinda funny that we talk about this crap so much when neither of us can vote here).

Well you know what America? You get what you deserve. I hope that when you're all cowering down in your fallout shelters after the nuclear exchange with the Russians, I hope then that you take a moment to question what your fault in all this is. I hope you ask for forgiveness.

from Combat Queer.

None of these were talking about extreme factions in the US, but about an alternate mainstream that really isn't much different in calibre from their own mainstream. As I said to Kyrias over IM later, some people have dumb reasons for voting for Obama too, such as the fact that everyone on his ticket is be-penised. Or that they believe some conspiracy theory about the US right. There are bad reasons on both sides.

So I. Do Not. Get It.

I don't get how you can assume that no one in your entire nation honestly disagrees with you - that no one simply has different priorities to you, or different feelings, that aren't any the less of yours. That their reasoning can be as good as yours and yet add up to a different result. That it's worth your time to degrade people, but not to engage with them.

It's the nonengagement that spooks me. Funny, I expect it on the internet, where everyone filters themselves via the path of least resistance into groups that are supportive and productive for them, where you don't have to constantly justify your 101s. I can understand nonengagement as a consequence of social behaviour. What I don't understand is why USians seem to hold it as an end goal of social behaviour. Why other views must be dismissed, shunned, or simply avoided just because discussion would be bad.

(Nora and Kyrias say there is no culture war. I can take their point on definitions, but what the hell is this, then?)

I got on this train of thought because of exchanging comments on my last post with Daisy, about the lack of deference for religion in the UK, and the expectation that such things are private. Yet in spite of that, it feels like crossing the floor to talk about God is far more common in the UK than the USA. Maybe the lack of deference means that no one is expected to be defensive about their personal opinions. (As ever, politically secular countries can be more religiously fervent and deferential than those which have established churches. The US and France have that in common).

And politics? People disagree. People are apathetic. There are partisan splits between rural areas and cities, between the English and the rest of 'em, between the rich and the poor. Some people pick a side and keep to it, others don't. There is a dinky yellow safety valve for when your side pisses you off. But everyone is equally subject to question, and all politicians are equally targets for mockery, having their record examined, and Jeremy Paxman. Brad Hicks thinks that there is some fundamental difference in terms of how moral codes are applied between the US right and the US left. I can't imagine such an idea being voiced in the UK.

And the idea, the one that Bill Maher was applauded for on the TV, that the people in your country who don't vote the way you think they should are just inferior to you? It's just plain ugly. What's really crazy there is how the US is so up its own ass about patriotism, and yet wont to applaud the degradation of half its people. Either half, any half, depending on the situation.

[fact: I totally did not understand some of the attitudes about presidents and the presidency in the USA until I read something, perhaps on CiF - CiF! - that said it's easier if you pretend that Obama and McCain are competing to become the Queen. That works. Totally. In a 'this place is on crack' way. It explains why no one pied the Shrub when he went to the Olympics, for instance. And maybe why Stewart wimped out on Blair.]

Finally, a few words I read on LJ earlier, related to that study that said that people disagree with each other because of their PHYSIOLOGIES, ohnoez!:

A moment to rant, because I'll never let something like this go by without a comment:

When you are part Cherokee Indian, and have German Jews in your bloodline, you get a bit sensitive when people start tossing about studies that show a genetic difference, an inferiority, in the people that they don't like.It's been used too many times to justify genocide. I don't buy the excuse, that it's a REAL study, with REAL results, or that you were doing it in all innocence. People have been known to FIND whatever they are looking for, if they skew the results enough.

[Kracken, qwp.]

Saturday, September 13, 2008

a pile of things:

So, Bridge Troll was fired by Cardone Industries UK Ltd for making a blog post that mentioned the company's religious workplace policies, and his atheistic response to same. He's put the whole story on Lj for the world to see, along with some thoughts about increasingly controlling relationships between employers and employees.

Ben Goldacre is no longer being sued by Matthias Rath, an HIV denialist in the vitamin pill industry. Goldacre's article covers the weakness of evidence used to make claims in the supplements industry as compared with other medical research, and the readiness of people in that industry to shut down debate by means of lawsuit. The Grauniad has more details about Rath's activities in South Africa, where he took out newspaper advertisements claiming that people with HIV do not need ARVs.

Kyrias is investigating Landmark Education, an organisation some describe as a psychotherapy cult. (I believe that much of psychotherapy is more of the occult than the scientific - and I value the occult highly, you know? - but these guys sound truly special).

Aishwarya is all in favour of book burning. The blonde one thinks there's nothing 'ironic' about loving knitting and baking. And Kiya is on the warpath, with love.

Friday, September 12, 2008

that campaign finance graph in full:

The Beeb has all the numbers, but the key facts are:

a) Obama has raised over twice as much as McCain; $401 million to $171 million. It's very rare for a campaign to lose with such a huge funding disparity, though it has happened - the UK election in 1997 is an example, but it's notable that the rich losers in that election were long-term incumbents.

b) almost half of Obama's funds came in small packages, under $200. McCain raised only $50 million in that smallest category of donations and a comparable $50 million in the largest, $2000-and-over; at $75 mil, Obama's proportional gains from this group are notably smaller.

c) Obviously Obama far outstrips McCain in most professional categories, because he has twice as much money. This is not true of retired people, the oil/gas industry, the insurance industry, real estate or 'misc finance' (and he's only just ahead in 'misc business' and 'commercial banks'). The truly vast gaps in Obama's favour are among medics, educators, the entertainment and tech industries, and lawyers. Yep, lawyers. There's a detailed Black Agenda Report article expressing bad feeling about this, which is interesting but includes a lot of weasel words and no mention of the fact that the same people are McCain's second biggest donors (the retired are by far the biggest, and are narrowly Obama's second biggest).

d) In spite of lots of recent wittering about the real, 'small-town America', the non-coastal states are not actually giving McCain a lot of money. Even Texas is even-handed in its donations. (538's state profiles mention fundraising, and they've covered four so far where McCain has raised more money than Obama, but these are usually tiny margins and they just aren't giving nearly enough to add colour to the Beeb map. Incidentally, 538 disagree with the Beeb about Florida being a 'key battleground'; see their 'Tipping Point' list).

[addendum: I've just discovered OpenSecrets, which has some wonderful break-downs of data. If you love graphs as much as I do, check out their donor demographic and industries/selected sector breakdowns.]

I've not seen a whole lot of public politics in GA. The day we drove to South Carolina we saw an abundance of signboards, I guess because they had a lot of local election stuff going on at the time. I've seen no signs in our neighbourhood, though there's someone up the road who has a Gavel bumper sticker; one home on the route between here and the nearby highway has a McCain sign, and no one has driven over it yet. We laugh when we pass Ron Paul signs. There are some Senate and Congress signs by the highways, but not a vast number (that the Democrats only picked a Senate candidate a couple of weeks ago might be part of the reason for that). Disturbingly, I've seen more ageing Bush/Cheney04 bumper stickers lately than ones relating to the current election. (Still not many though. The most common political identity emblems you see on cars in GA are firstly the icthos, secondly the Confederate flag).

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

on privacy: a comment I made elsewhere.

[Elsewhere being Alas, specifically. I'd wondered about making a post about the whole Palin circus, leaned towards 'no' simply because I believe that Bristol Palin, though she is breathing for two, is not a valid recipient of media oxygen other than when the McCain campaign decides to start lighting matches, which I am sure it will. But then Mandolin posted that roundup about privacy and its connection (or lack thereof) to reproductive rights, and I found it a good topic for some thinking out loud.]

One thing I’d say is that Bristol Palin’s privacy is not a reproductive rights issue; she deserves privacy because she’s a young woman who has never asked for the world’s media to be on her doorstep. She deserves privacy for the exact same reason all the other candidates’ children deserve privacy. We do not need to interrogate Bristol Palin, ever. Whenever the McCain campaign makes propaganda use of her, talks about what a wonderful choice she made, we need to interrogate the McCain campaign and slam them for their hypocrisy and their inhuman anti-choice values.

It is interesting to see who gets the privacy and who does not, though. The Obama daughters have been regularly paraded on stage because so many people in the media, and allegedly in the US at large, had a nervy, perverse fascination with the idea of a black first family, and the Obama campaign felt forced to respond to that. Because America is a racially unequal society those young black girls don’t get the right to privacy.

And now there’s a young mother-to-be in the spotlight; I don’t know about you, but I haven’t heard the name of her fiancĂ©, nor read anything related to him. I also don’t know the names of any male children of anyone involved in this election. That Obama and Clinton don’t have any skews that, I’m sure - but I don’t even know if McCain, or Edwards, or most of the VP-possibles have children at all. The only people whose children have been talked about are Obama, Palin, and (to a much lesser extent) single father Biden (and there’s Chelsea Clinton, who was known to us from her father’s time in office. Quick, Britons, what’s the fastest rail route between Bristol and Chelsea?). I haven’t heard the names of Biden’s children. I don’t know anything about McCain’s children, not even how many he has, other than that he has at least one adopted child.

In other words, if you’re a white guy, your family gets more privacy. (Barring extremely odd circumstances like Biden’s - and if I may make an aside, I feel that the single father family I grew up in got too much privacy rather than too little; as Amanda wrote, privacy can be a shield for abuse, and also just for plain poor parenting. Single father families are far interrogated far less than single mother families, even given that they outnumber us by 10 to 1).

Saturday, August 16, 2008

more about the olympics

I think what really got the goat this time was the story about the switch-up between the two girls for the opening ceremony. Supposedly Lin Miaoke was more attractive than Yan Peiyi, so Lin Miaoke mimed the song “ode to the motherland” for the opening ceremony whilst the real singing voice was recorded by Yang Peiyi.

[...] What I think is truly despicable about the whole thing, regardless of how Yang Peiyi feels about it — is that this makes a farce of the modern concept of the Olympics.

Athletes gathered here from around the world to participate in competitions to see who is the best. This is a gathering designed, not only to see who is the best, but to give recognition to the best.

For me, the idea of not giving due recognition to someone at the Olympics just goes against the grain.

Kyrias, as promised.

Recently our expectations of coverage of women have been lowered, nullified; we have become used to seeing that strange category - celebrity women - pictured constantly, relentlessly, their image before us for no other reason than that they happen to have headed out for a pint of milk with their makeup on skew-whiff. At Beijing we have seen the antithesis of that - we have been treated to the sight of ordinary women reaching extraordinary heights. The women we have been thrilling to aren't in our eyeline because they happen to be the offspring of some 1970s rocker, or because they've bagged a multimillionaire boyfriend. They aren't on screen because they have starved themselves to a size zero - instead, their bodies are a celebration of strength.

From the Grauniad - h/t to the red one: it's a great article, one that meanders through sport and media and celebrity culture, and you all should go read. Viv.id disagrees:

A couple of years ago, Tigtog posted about athletlcs uniforms and the trend toward sexified, midriff-baring, underwear-style women’s uniforms. ...Minute increases in performance cannot account for this difference, otherwise the men would be in skintight clothing also.

No. It’s not about faster, higher, stronger. Women in sports are promoted as sexualised bodies for ogling; men are promoted as performers.
Viv.id have comparison photos of male and female team costumes for various sports - and prove that the difference was not marked in the 1980s. h/t to a comment at Shameless. (false advertising: that Shameless post is totally not shameless. But thanks for that photo!)

Also, Ren brings the boycandy.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

on presentational devices at your precious non-politicised Olympic Games

Feng Silu, another volunteer, says they have gone through rigid training to achieve perfection. During the training sessions, they have to stand in five to six-inch heels with their jaws tucked in while balancing a 16-page book on their head and keeping a sheet of paper between their knees, for at least an hour at a time. If either object fell or slipped from place, they would have to start the exercise all over again.

"We only take a few minutes' rest every a couple of hours. You know, we need to adjust our pace and stride constantly to achieve perfection. When it was break time, even bending my legs hurt. And as we have our stockings on during training, we may wear out two or three pairs each day."

From CRIEnglish. (h/t Kyrias, who has promised a post on this in the near future. [edit: It's here.]

Wearing a red dress and pigtails, Lin Miaoke charmed a worldwide audience with a rendition of "Ode to the Motherland".

But the singer was Yang Peiyi, who was not allowed to appear because she is not as "flawless" as nine-year-old Lin.

The show's musical director said Lin was used because it was in the best interests of the country.

From the Beeb, with pictures of the two children.

Marina Hyde, for the most part, wrote the Olympics post I didn't want to:

Amazingly, it's not even the IOC's most unedifying moment of the past fortnight. That honour belongs to their decision to suspend the entire Iraqi Olympic team on the basis that the country's National Olympic Committee had not been properly recognised by the IOC. Clearly, Iraq's real crime was not having the right paperwork, though before rescinding the ban on some (but not all) of the athletes, the IOC chuntered that it was because of suspicions of "political interference in the Olympic movement".

Last week I asked them to clarify why they had never suspected political interference when one Uday Hussein was chairman of the NOC. Unfortunately, they were far too grand to comment, but having since read senior IOC member Dick Pound's book, I discover that they couldn't be sure that Uday was a political placeman. Thank God they didn't put two and two together and make five.

Instead, they focus on issuing directives forbidding athletes from making any political statements. Surely it's time the IOC re-examined their definition of what it means to be political. It seems entirely acceptable for states to politicise the games by using them as propaganda, and for corporations to do the same (22 years of McDonald's sponsorship feels faintly agenda-driven). Only the athletes are warned not to step out of line.

Priorities being what they are, the IOC did not bother to issue similar directives instructing China not to bulldoze homes to make way for the new Beijing. And yet they must have known this would happen, as so many games have been preceded by what we might euphemistically describe as a tidying away of humans who don't match the decor. Consider Mexico City, where police opened fire and killed hundreds of student protesters; or Atlanta, where the organising committee actually built the jail to which many people who committed new offences on the city statute book - like lying down in the street - were dispatched.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Does Equality Pay Its Bills?

Big question. When you pass by equality trainwrecks on the internets, you sometimes see a blind faith in the free market to solve all our problems. I mean, the free market (which exists, honest) being the bastion of efficiency it is, if a problem still exists it must be because there's an economic upside to it, right? If action films with female leads were profitable, there'd be tons of them, but there aren't because it's just not profitable. If women's work was really as valuable as men's work, employers wouldn't discriminate against women, would they?

This faith seems to underlie a lot of the outright disbelief you sometimes meet when you talk to people about equal pay or media sexism. It's basically saying that the desire to make a profit is so great it must override the desire to be sexist, so sexism can't be occurring at the expense of profit, and any further attempts to fight sexism will cause economic harm.

FSF recently linked to a series of articles by Jennifer Kesler about how this blind faith applies wrt the Bechdel Test. One of these directly asks Why Discriminate If It Doesn't Profit?
What tipped me off was that whenever film students pointed out how movies/shows for, by or about women had indeed profited, film professionals wouldn’t hear it. Those movies/shows were exceptions! Or it was really the alien/Terminator/Hannibal Lechter people wanted to see, not Ripley, Connor or Starling. Etc. It couldn’t be that people were actually happy to see movies/shows for, by or about women, because that was impossible - end of argument.

...people who claim to worship profit above all else sometimes actually worship what they want to believe is profitable.

Looking at the inflation-adjusted all-time box office, many of the top names are films that had a specific appeal to female audiences; Gone With The Wind, Titanic, The Sound Of Music, Doctor Zhivago. Three of these four were made a rather long time ago.

I'm not sold on Kelsey's reasoning simply because it relies on pathologising individuals; see her earlier post, Why Film Schools Teach Screenwriters Not To Pass The Bechdel Test:
I concluded Hollywood was was dominated by perpetual pre-adolescent boys making the movies they wanted to see, and using the “target audience” - a construct based on partial truths and twisted math - to perpetuate their own desires.

I find it hard to believe that mere individuals can keep that shit running as long as they do, but does anyone have a better theory? It's important, this. Because the phenomenon goes beyond Hollywood and infests the real world.

Last year, Slate's Ray Fishman declared 'It Takes a Village...to fail to thank its female leader, no matter how good she is':
Rural Indians are learning firsthand what it's like to live under female leadership as a result of a 1991 law that restricted one-third of village council elections to female candidates. The villagers' experiences are analyzed by economists Esther Duflo and Petia Topalova in a recent unpublished study. Using opinion surveys and data on local "public goods"—like schools, roads, and water pumps—Duflo and Topalova find that the villages headed by women invested in more services that benefited the entire community than did those with gender-neutral elections, nearly all of which were won by men. But as the opinion polls showed, for all their effectiveness, the women's governance was literally a thankless effort, with the new leaders getting lower approval ratings than their male counterparts.

[...] They were also less corrupt—villagers with female-headed councils were 25 percent less likely to report having to pay bribes to access basic services like getting ration cards or receiving medical attention.

It's like Hollywood; however well the women perform, it doesn't register with the people who care. (Except that US cinema audiences seem to approve plenty). This really is sexism as a quantifiable pathology, and it merrily flies in the face of any desire for material gain; women suck, no matter how much they've improved your local governance.

Then there's a straightforward headline from workforce.com: Firms With More Women on Boards Perform Better Than Those That Don’t.
During the four-year span of the reporting for the study, Fortune 500 companies with the highest percentage of women on their boards saw equity returns that were 53 percent higher than those companies with the fewest number of women on their boards.

I strongly doubt that either this or the India survey demonstrate any female superiority when it comes to governance; rather, they represent the replacing of mediocre men with brilliant women who in other circumstances are locked out of high places. But the question's still there - if female board members have such a marked effect on profits, why are there so few of them?

If hiring women is basically a way of getting free money, why are so many companies scared of the idea?

When talking about the pay gap, I tend to link to this: the story of the UK's largest ever equal pay settlement:
Early last year, 1,600 women, all of them health workers at two Cumbrian hospitals, won the biggest ever equal pay deal: a total of £300m. At a time when the pay gap between men and women is actually growing, the settlement should have sparked a clamour for equality. Instead, there has since been an eerie silence. The story of how the women, underpaid for years, spurned an offer of £1.5m compensation and achieved £300m, all from one health authority, has been mysteriously buried, as if it were an embarrassment. They sense a fear of "mutually assured destruction" wafting around the headquarters of their union, Unison, which represents more than a million public service workers: a feeling that the settlement was too huge, and the ramifications of it just too enormous - what would happen if it triggered equal pay claims across the whole of the public sector?

[...] The claim was possible because of "equal value", a concept contained in a European directive announced during a late sitting in the Commons 20 years ago by a reluctant, and drunk, employment minister, Alan Clark. It allows different jobs to be compared for skill, complexity and responsibility; it focuses on the work, not the job. In detail, the claim translated the gothic arithmetic and arcane patois of industrial relations into the everyday life of men and women: everything, from bonus, to pension, to the length of the working week, to a working life. "It took a while to convince some of them that what they did was not only of equal value to a man, but more important," says Doyle.

A job evaluation expert, Sue Hastings, assessed the Cumbria dossier and reported that the cases were a golden equal pay opportunity for "exactly the people who ought to get it" - nurses who had been undergraded for decades, cleaners, telephonists and sterile services staff, who prepare instruments for surgery and who had been stuck on the same grade as washers-up since the health service was founded. Doyle had found men willing to stand as comparators: a wall-washer earning £3,000 a year more - and working 104 fewer hours a year - than a seamstress and sterile services staff; a plumber earning more than a nurse; a specialised nurse on a cancer ward, at the top of her scale, earning £8,000 a year less than a plant maintenance man; a nurse on £9,000 less than an engineer.

My suspicion is that the fear of equal pay claims - as in Hollywood - is entirely real; equal pay for equal work means that men will have to take home less, one way or another. Councils in the UK - who finally implemented their equal pay agreements in 2006 - complained that they need central government assistance in order to pay women what their work was really worth. Boo fucking hoo; progressive taxation (as if that existed) passes money from wealthier men to poorer women, cry me a river. Hollywood? Would probably get more money overall if it stopped failing so often. But less of it would go to men. And that would somehow be so threatening it's worth paying to make it go away.

How far does the threat go? Well, the NYT is calling bullshit on the different ways we frame men at home vs. women at home here:

But when men in their prime working years drop out of the workforce we don’t say they’ve gone home to be with their kids.

We say they’re unemployed.

It goes back to families and parenting. It usually does.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

a meme of linklove

[something is up with my last post; I can choose between either having it appear on the front page twice (but with the same article address, and the same comments page, appearing both times), or having a comments page that fails to work at all. Sorries.]

Daisy gave me a Brilliante Weblog badge. Here it is:

Unfortunately it comes with RULES. Rules:

1. Put the logo on your blog.
2. Add a link to the person who awarded it to you. (Daisy!)
3. Nominate at least 7 other blogs.
4. Add links to these blogs on your blog.
5. Leave a message for your nominee on their blog.

Yey chain mail. Except, these are lovely blogs that everyone should read, and I have recently had a giant traffic spike (due to that post, no surprises there), and I want to share the clicky, clicky love:

Combat Queer is my newest blogcrush. She updates more or less daily - about being trans in the US military, about her Christianity, about the election, and about anything else that's crossed her path.

V at learnalilgivinanlovin needs to update more. >: She's a doctoral student in clinical psych and writes about mental health and about race in Australia, about her upcoming marriage and many other things.

Kyrias/Kyraninse/she of many names at Acceptable Hypocrisy is another daily updater. She hops about from food, to tech, to race and gender issues, to day-to-day thrills and spills.

Dw3t-Hthr at Letters From Gehenna, I dunno where to begin summing up. It is all one thing, and it winds through feminism, Kemetism and Feri, BDSM, mental health and her experience of feeling 'alien'. It's a very close-to-the-bone blog, and her voice is stronger than most.

Radical Masculinity is another that does not update enough :( but when it does, it is good, very much so. Gauge writes about gender theory on the F2M spectrum, and about what feminism looks like from a masculine/genderqueer perspective.

I love Kaleidoglide. Not just for the cute pictures of men.

And a seventh? I could tag Daisy again but that would SO be cheating. I could gesticulate wildly at the blue person's cute pictures of Scotland and other places he is going. I could also demand that the green person updates her blog. :O

But no: the seventh shall be Alis Dee, who writes lots of smart tech and pop-culture stuffs, and also has the best del.ico.us/Twitter LJ feed ever. Mentioning those others was just me cheating.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

that one non-post about Wimbledon

Sometimes when you're writing blog post drafts, you realise they're just burying other drafts. This one I abandoned due to pure derailment (more on that in a moment), but I think it deserves to live.

Coverage of women's sport does, as with most coverage of women's anything, suck. Most often it's not there much at all, but then you get blessed lovely Wimbledon, in which it is there and is often cringe-worthy. Last year the blue person (with a wee bit of help from me) made a beautiful collection of the worst of the worst Wimbledon online news (locked away on Livejournal, gah [edit: It's here, so go read]), and I intended to reprise that this year.

a) many news sites were so turned on by gorgeous, fabulous Rafa that they reverted to Option 1 - not covering the women's game so much.
b) it was genuinely better. For real. I think this is partly because the worst reporting last year was about Marion Bartoli, who had the gall to play in the final in spite of not being thin. This wasn't just mean-spirited of her, but actually affronting to the laws of nature and acres of newsprint were devoted to the question of how it had happened and how it could be prevented in the future.
c) I was derailed by the discovery that by far the most stupid thing said all fortnight was by one of the female players.

Friends, I give you Sveltlana Kuznetsova, the dimmest bulb in the entire box.

...behind her on the players' terrace there is a commotion, as a posse of photographers cluster around Serena Williams. I have heard that she and Serena are good friends, I say. “Yes, we text. We go out sometimes. I have big respect for African (-American) people. I think I was black in a past life, because I feel so much for African culture. I tell Serena that I want her hair, to have corn rows like her. She laughs at me. She says we all wish for what we don't have. But she teaches me some slang, and shows me dance moves.” A delighted laugh. “I can't shake my body like African people.”


For what it's worth, here's a few more:

At The Independent, Paul Newmanat has made his tennis article contain as little tennis as possible. Instead, he faithfully regales us with Venus Williams's comments about...get this...food and babies. They are not even comments about eating babies, which would at least have been more entertaining than this trash.

And the Indy crowns itself as my new least favourite sports site with this from Tim Glover:
Equal pay isn't fair play [...] yesterday's winner in the family affair that was Williams v Williams walked away with prize money of £750,000, the sum that will be earned – really earned – by the men's singles champion today. Parity? It's nice work if you can get it, although for most of the time it can hardly be described in the women's game as work.

At The Times, the women's game is 'tame' and Venus and Serena Williams only reached the final because other players 'the top seeds at Wimbledon capitulated one by one and handed the trophy and the prizemoney to the Williams sisters'. [Fact: black women never deserve anything they've fought for. MOW keeps pointing this meme out.] Fortunately two commenters call Nick Pitt on his bullshit; 'didnt the same two guys play the final before. Didn't the women have upsets all through the two weeks. When this happens to the men it's exciting.'; 'Djokovic and Roddick lost early too. Does that mean men's tennis is in "trouble" ? Serve and volley? Few men play it anymore either.'

Over at the Daily Telegraph, Venus Williams is no longer a woman:
Venus' serve alone would have blown a few hats off in the Royal Box, and it was almost like watching the men's final on a Saturday. Not for nothing are they sometimes referred to as the Williams brothers.

More wow.

The Guardian's David Mitchell is brutally honest about the sexualisation of women's tennis, but is oblivious to the crap behind it:

Ana Ivanovic caused quite a stir at Wimbledon before being knocked out, largely because she's pretty. This has a particularly amusing effect on the BBC's ageing male commentators, who struggle to find a way to refer to the fact without saying anything sleazy. Their discomfort is palpable as they struggle with phrases like "very mobile and athletic", "nice dress", "young lady" and even "lights up the court". They're like tremulous uncles, weary and nervous of their own arousal.

They know they've got to mention it, you see - it's good for the business that is women's tennis. So they've got to say something but they know it mustn't be "I, for one, would like to bang her!" or "What's great about a player like Ivanovic is that she attracts a lot of teenage wankers as well as the tennis fans". They don't want metaphorical jizz on everyone's mental centre court but, at the same time, they know that, if the internet's taught us anything, it's not to underestimate the masturbatory pound.

Did you hear that subtext? Yes, yes, straight women don't masturbate. I guess Sue Barker's constant drooling over Roger Federer is representative of some phenomenon unknown to science.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

on dickwads:

I'm a bit late on this one, but Ren and Belle are spreading word about Kyle Payne, who is a blogger - a man who both blogs and does IRL conference stuff against pornography - who has pleaded guilty to breaking into a woman's bedroom, assaulting her and taking nude photographs of her in her sleep. He is still merrily blogging away, and presumably will continue to do so until he gets put away. What. As Belle reports, he is facing an open sentencing at Buena Vista County Courthouse, Storm Lake, Iowa on August 11th. If you live nearby, you might want to show up and have your word on that.

Someone else is being a dickwad lately: Obama and a supporter of his, comedian Bernie Mac. Lisa K is just plain mad about this. Gina brings the context:
Most Black women know that the standard fare for African American comedians is anti-Black woman attacks. It is always acceptable to make us the butt of their jokes. They usually get a pass however by the Black community, because the people they are insulting are Black women and nobody really cares about us anyway. No Black woman is immune from the anti-Black woman musing of these Black comedians, not even a potential Black First Lady, afterall, she’s a Black woman, and nobody really cares about us anyway. The only people that get into hot water for disparaging Black women are White people.

[...]Let’s be clear, Bernie Mac didn’t get shouted down because of his sexism, he got shouted down because he embarrassed Barack Obama. Sexism and misogyny by Black entertainers is permitted and even rewarded. It was refreshing to see someone confront it, whatever the reason. They were right, implying that Black women are inherently unsuitable to serve as First Lady of the United States of America is not funny to me.

I am avoiding most threads about this one; my fee-fees, they are slighted. (Yeah, pass me a hanky). But ultimately I'm reminded of Obama's early ties to gay-bashing preachers - something that put me off a lot at the time but later became a 'teachable moment', and also a tool with which to extract promises and declarations of tolerance. (Promises. Declarations. Yeah.)

My fee-fees. But get down to blood and bone and there's something that matters far more; Iraq, and the continuing and consistent commitment to getting out. A commitment to not continuing, or repeating, such massive bloodshed and extortion. I'm going to c/p from a MoveOn mailing here, even though I hate their tone, because it has all the important bits in it:

Iraqis want U.S. Troops out. No one was expecting Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to speak up in favor of withdrawal—after all, he's close with the Bush administration. But with elections in Iraq coming up, and a great majority of Iraqis opposed to a prolonged U.S. occupation, Maliki can't afford to toe the Bush line. So he's surprised everyone by standing up this week for a timetable for troop withdrawals and a date certain to end the war. The LA Times headline reads, "Iraqi prime minister advocates withdrawal timeline."

As a result, the "endless war agreement" Bush has been pushing fell through. Since January, hundreds of thousands of us pushed Congress to stand up to President Bush's proposed treaty with Iraq, which would have tied the next President's hands and made it much harder to get out. This week, the Washington Post reported that that agreement has fallen through—Iraqi leaders are putting their feet down and demanding a much shorter agreement.

And now even the Pentagon is considering faster timelines. According to reporter Michael Hirsh at Newsweek, "a forthcoming Pentagon-sponsored report" will recommend a big drawdown of troops—suggesting "that U.S. forces be reduced to as few as 50,000 by the spring of 2009, down from about 150,000 now."

In other words, it's now clear: Most Americans are for a timeline, and so are most Iraqis. And even experts in the Pentagon agree.

For his part, Barack Obama is using these developments to hammer home the point that John McCain and President Bush are now isolated in their resistance to any kind of timeline for withdrawal. He wrote an Op-Ed in the New York Times yesterday that reaffirmed his commitment to a timeline that would have all combat troops out of Iraq in 16 months.

It concludes, "Unlike Senator McCain, I would make it absolutely clear that we seek no presence in Iraq similar to our permanent bases in South Korea. . . [F]or far too long, those responsible for the greatest strategic blunder in the recent history of American foreign policy have ignored useful debate in favor of making false charges about flip-flops and surrender. It's not going to work this time. It's time to end this war."

They added a thing Obama said today:

George Bush and John McCain don't have a strategy for success in Iraq—they have a strategy for staying in Iraq. They said we couldn't leave when violence was up, they say we can't leave when violence is down. They refuse to press the Iraqis to make tough choices, and they label any timetable to redeploy our troops "surrender," even though we would be turning Iraq over to a sovereign Iraqi government—not to a terrorist enemy. Theirs is an endless focus on tactics inside Iraq, with no consideration of our strategy to face threats beyond Iraq's borders.