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. 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. 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 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 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 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 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.