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Posts tagged: feminism

Mindful Cyborgs: A Look Back at 2013

Klint Finley

For our New Years special episode, our new co-host Alex Williams joined Chris Dancy and me for a reflection on our most popular episodes of 2013. Here we are talking about episode 12, our interview with feminist activist Shanley:

CD: Klint, did you … we had Shanley on. She’s one of the shows we’re going to talk about in a bit but you saw some of the things that happened at conferences. Defrag opened up their conference with a whole section on there will be no talk of this and there will be no [00:08:05]. Conferences with disclaimers, there’s a O’Reilly conference coming up called Solid and when you apply one of the things they ask you is are you gay, black or are you one of these things that we don’t normally have on stage because we’re going to instantly give you more credit in consideration.

When I filled out the Solid to speak at Solid, I thought to myself wow, this is kind of crazy. What did they call it back in the 60s and 70s when they moved people through government ranks because they were minorities? Affirmative action. There’s digital or affirmative action happening. It’s just really strange.

AW: Digital affirmative action, yeah.

KF: Yeah. It feel like it’s really late for it to be happening. When you said affirmative action happen everywhere else decades ago, there’s also an argument to be made that things are actually -

CD: Worse.

KF: – worse outside of the tech industry but I’m glad that all these things are getting more attention. I don’t know how it’s all going to play out but there’s definitely a strong reaction against all of it as well. The more women that speak out the more just misogynistic douchebag guys also like react to it and actually kind of double down on being pricks and I don’t know where it’s all going to end up. I don’t know if there’s a better way of addressing the issues.

I think that a lot of times people get carried away with attacking individuals over tweets rather than thinking more about the big picture but at the same time usually people need to be called out on for what they say. So, I don’t know

Download and Full Transcript: Mindful Cyborgs: The Beginning — A Look Back at 2013

Since recording the show, Shanley has launched her own tech publication Model View Culture. You can read an interview with her about the new endeavor here.

On Race and Sexual Violence in the Works of Alan Moore

Let’s get something out of the way upfront: I don’t think Alan Moore is a racist, homophobe or misogynist. But some of his works — particularly League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Neonomicon — have issues. Although it might seem silly to go after Moore when there are much worse offenders both in comics and other media (not to mention actual rapists), Moore’s work is a good case study of how even the most well intentioned, progressive writers can screw-up matters of race, gender and sexuality. And because he is perhaps the most highly regarded writer in comics, there’s a trickle down effect from his work. Moore refuses to listen to his critics, but maybe other writers can learn from his mistakes.

Last week Pádraig Ó Méalóid published an interview with Alan Moore in which he asked a few questions about sexual assault in his comics in general and specifically about his inclusion of Golliwog in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier.

Moore’s response is long and vitriolic, and misses the point entirely.

I can understand why Moore is so bothered by accusations of racism and sexism. He’s an old hippie who has put more consideration to identity politics and representation into his work than most comic writers of his or any other generation. He’s taken other creators to task for their sexism and homophobia. But even though he’s written some strong women and minority characters, he can and does get it wrong sometimes, and his reaction here is disappointing — not least of all because of the rhetorical style he employs.

As Marc Singer puts it, Moore “doggedly lays into rank after rank of straw men while refusing to acknowledge the real reasons Brooker and other readers have criticized his comics.”

Further, Moore tries to tries to discredit his critics by casting them as either fanboys offended by his recently published comments about The Avengers, over-sensitive and uninformed fans who just don’t understand his work, and/or people with an axe to grind.

For example: “As I understand the course of events unfolding after the launch, there had been someone in the audience, whose name escapes me but who is evidently pleased to identify himself as a Batman scholar, who had been offended by Act of Faith and, as people in this branch of scholarship presumably do, he had advertised this fact on social media.”

That “Batman scholar” wasn’t just a fan who rants about comics on the internet. It wasWill Brooker, a professor of film and cultural studies at Kingston University, who expanded his PhD thesis on Batman into a book published by Continuum.

Moore also references an African American woman who asked League artist Kevin O’Neill about Golliwog. “In Kevin’s account as I remember it he’d done his best to explain but was left feeling that he may have done an inadequate job, and that the woman hadn’t seemed to be interested in his account of Florence Upton’s original creation, or in the context within which we’d come to our decision,” Moore wrote.

That women is Pam Noles, a Clarion Workshop alum who has been published by Warner Books, Dark Horse Comics and the Los Angeles Times. Noles didn’t just ask O’Neil a few questions at a conference. She wrote a detailed series of essays about why she found the creators’ use of the character problematic. Far from being the uninformed and/or overly sensitive fan that Moore makes her out to be, she knows quite a bit about the character’s history.

Perhaps Moore didn’t know where the criticisms were coming from. He’s pretty open about the fact that he doesn’t use the internet, so he wouldn’t have come across Noles’ essays on his own. I don’t know if Méalóid sent over any additional context, such as Noles’ essays. So maybe Moore really did think that these criticisms are coming from uninformed, uncredentialed and easily-offended losers. But really: should it matter who raised the issues? Moore himself is an autodidact and champion of self-publishing. The substance of the critiques are what matters, not who is making them.

Anyway, Méalóid asked: “How do you respond to the contention that it is not the place of two white men to try to ‘reclaim’ a character like the golliwogg?” and Moore went on at length about why he didn’t think the character should be off limits and why he thinks white men should be allowed to write about people who are different from them.

But neither Brooker nor Noles suggested that it would be impossible to use the character well, let alone that white men shouldn’t write black characters. Actually, Noles suggested a few possible ideas for ways to tell a story about Golliwog in her essays.

Brooker’s tweets, which seem to be reason for the interview, only questioned whether four white men should be the judge of whether Moore succeeded making Golliwog a “strong black character.” Which is a fair point. Did Moore actually run the Golliwog idea by any people of color? His entire defense is based on his personal reading of the original Golliwog books — not any feedback he’s received from actual black people.

Noles writes at length about why Moore did such as poor job with the character, but the most concise explanation I’ve found of what’s wrong with Moore take comes from an anonymous writer Pop Culture Purge (emphasis mine):

From what I’ve read of the initial Golliwog book, there’s nothing particularly racist in his portrayal–the story is about toys having adventures and the Golliwog is representative of one type of toy from the period. But, that type of toy is inexorably wrapped up in racist practices–it has a history (For an excellent in depth look at that history go here).

To a certain point, I can conceptually follow Moore’s use of the Golliwogg’s in the league–I can see where it makes sense in terms of Black Dossier because of the theme of British childhood. I can also see why Moore disassociated the Golliwogg from the racist origins: as a character he simply had no background at all, so Moore gave him one. Alright, but … .Once Moore has one of the Dutch Dolls make a comment about the Golliwogg’s large manhood, well, we’re right into racial stereotypes and the whole racist history of the Golliwogg comes bubbling up–Moore did it to himself.

Noles goes into much more detail in her essay series, and makes the case that the Upton’s original stories are more racist than Moore admits. Specifically, she points out that minstrel shows were popular in both the U.S. and Britain at the time, so even the original books would have been racially charged. Part 2Part 3 and Part 5.1 are, I think, the most important essays in the series.

Moore’s tone deafness on the issue is astounding, but as Noles wrote in 5.1 of her essay series, Moore has written strong black characters in the past. As far as I know, Moore hasn’t been criticized for his portrayal of race in any of his other books, so it may seem a little silly to fixate on one character out of the many that Moore has written over the years. But Moore’s treatment of women in his comics is more complex, and it’s an issue that spans his entire career.

His defenses on this issue are even worse though. For example: “While discussing this latest highlight of my continuing presence in the comic field and my present perceived persona as a rape-fixated racist with my wife (and let me just repeat that to underline the seriousness of what I’m trying to get across here: WITH – MY – WIFE).” (Emphasis in original)

Is Moore seriously trying to imply that he can’t be sexist or racist… because he has a wife? By that standard wouldn’t that make Warren Jeffs like the least misogynist person ever since he has hundreds of wives?

Most of Moore’s defense focuses on the question of whether men — or anyone else for that matter — should be allowed to write about rape at all. Moore mostly seems to be responding to a Grant Morrison quote from Rolling Stone: “We know Alan Moore isn’t a misogynist but fuck, he’s obsessed with rape.”

That does sound petty coming from Morrison, who was just trying to turn the conversation away from misogyny in contemporary comics published by DC. And there are people online who have claimed that Moore shouldn’t write about rape at all, or at least not depict the action of rape. But other critics have made more nuanced critiques, and they did so long before Moore’s Avengers movie interview, so I think we can rule out the idea that everyone who has ever pointed out that Moore writes a lot of rape scenes is an Avengers fan with an axe to grind.

It’s hard now, however, to find critiques of Moore’s treatment of rape since Google is filled with page after page of listings for blog posts that reference either the Last Interview or the Morrison Rolling Stone interview. But here’s a good one:

In each of these cases Moore seems on a facile level to be trying to challenge views of rape and misogynistic attitudes. Perhaps this feminist pose would be convincing if Moore didn’t “explore” rape with such obsessive regularity paired with such lack of any real message beyond “rape is ugly” (though the message “James Bond was a rapist”, reminiscent of MDC’s song “John Wayne was a Nazi”, is intriguing). In each case, moreover, rape is used as a plot device to justify some extremely gory revenge scene.

So, with resounding echoes of the worse aspects of Tarantino, the reader and the writer indulge in a good rape scene; pat each other on the back for disapproving of rape; and go on to indulge in a revenge scene which has been very comfortingly justified. As with many action movies that try to assume an “edgy” tone, the author adopts a fake “hardened” view of the world. Pretending to a grim, hardcore realism, the author loses himself in brutal fantasies. Utter infantile macho self-indulgence so often and so easily poses as “progressive” and “subversive”.

Of course not everyone agrees. There’s a whole book on sexuality in Moore’s work. I haven’t read it do I don’t know what sorts of conclusions the writers draw, but at least one writer from the anthology — feminist scholar Zoë Brigley — defends Moore’s work: “The work of Alan Moore is no exception in presenting violence against women as an routine event. Moore, however, probes for the causes of physical, psychological, and sexual violence against women, from the perspective of both male perpetrators and female survivors.”

And of course there’s room for positions between “Moore always handles rape poorly” and “Moore always does a good job of writing about rape.” Comics journalist and PhD student Laura Sneddon (more on her later) was troubled by the 10 page rape scene inNeonomicon, but not by the use of attempted rape in WatchmenShe wrote:

Thanks to rape culture and the institutional sexism of our society, rape remains an issue that will always be read very differently by women readers. Should it not be talked about? Of course not. Should it be depicted in comics? When it doesn’t address the fallout and impact of the act, I think the negatives of portraying the act far outweigh any positives. Other crimes don’t carry the same emotional trigger that rape does – not only can it pull you out of the story, it can consign the entire book to the bin.

But even Watchmen isn’t free from criticism. Comics writer Gail Simone — one of theleading voices against the status quo of violence against women in comics — has criticized the book. (For the record I agree with most of her points.)

Few of Moore’s critics suggest that men should never write about rape, or that Moore personally is a misogynist. “I’m also not saying you can’t use rape in comics, or talk about it in fiction, or anything like that,” Simone wrote. “I’m just saying it can be done well, or it can be done horribly, like anything.”

Noles focuses mostly on Golliwog in her essays, but Part 5.1 covers sexuality in theLeague series and makes the case that Moore does a pretty good job of satirizing Victorian attitudes about women’s sexuality, but does a poor job of dealing with homosexual male sexuality in the series. As Noles points out, Moore published AARGH (Artists Against Rampant Government Homophobia). But that doesn’t mean everything he ever writes on homosexuality will be well handled. I think the first time I saw a critique of Moore’s writing about rape, it was an essay by a gay man about why Moore’s use of anal sex as a form of punishment — Hyde raping the Invisible Man to death, for example — was troubling. Unfortunately I can’t find it at the moment. I’d love to link to it, and to read nuanced writings on Moore’s treatment of sexuality.

I would have loved to hear Moore address some of this. Maybe he has a good response. Instead we get more accusations that his critics have ulterior motives. In the case of Sneddon, he suggests that she’s only criticizing him because he and his wife refuse to be interviewed by her following a couple incidents described in the interview. “It seems to me that what has quite possibly happened here has nothing whatsoever to do with whatever opinions she professes to hold with regard to feminism or to violence against women,” Moore wrote. Given that Sneddon wrote her Neonomicon review back in 2011, before she interviewed Moore for The Independent and before Moore’s wife, comics artist Melinda Gebbie, declined to be interviewed by Sneddon, I can’t help but call bullshit on the “she’s only criticizing my work because she has an axe to grind” line.

Moore does make one good point: “In fact it’s something of a puzzle as to why none of the many reputable journalists of either gender who’ve interviewed me during my thirty-something year career have possessed Ms. Sneddon and Grant Morrison’s penetrating insight or earnest concern for womankind.”

Good question. According to Noles: “I could give you names of the comics scholars and so-called journalists who have told me directly they are too afraid to bring it up because they don’t want to lose access or they just don’t want him mad at them.”

Given Moore’s stated to refusal to ever be interviewed by either Sneddon or any “publication or institution with which she claims to be associated” ever again, those fears don’t seem unfounded. I’ve never tried to interview Moore because I didn’t think I had anything original to ask him. But now I wish I’d thought to try to interview him on this subject. The time is long overdue for a more critical examination of his work. For my part, I’m adding the articles linked in this post to the Alan Moore dossier, along with a few others.

This is getting terribly long, so let me reiterate before signing off: I don’t think Moore is personally a sexist, a homophobe or a racist, but some of his work is, as the academics say, problematic. I’ve learned a fair amount from reading the criticisms of his work. It’s helping me understand why a domestic violence scene in something I’m writing doesn’t work. I hope that even if Moore doesn’t care to engage in these critiques, other writers can learn from his mistakes.

P.S. I don’t want to go into the Grant Morrison feud, but a lot of people have been confused by this line: “I announce Lost Girls, a lengthy erotic work involving characters from fiction, and within a few months he has somehow managed to conceptualise a Vertigo mini-series along exactly those lines.” To my knowledge no one has figured out which of Morrison’s works Moore is referring to. My thought: is it possible that it was a proposal that was never finished/published? Update: None of the projects from thethis guide to unpublished Grant Morrison projects seems to fit the bill. In 1988, Morrison told an interviewer he was working on “a biography of Shelley (it’s set in a bizarre cross between early 19th century and today, and has Shelley and Byron as comic strip writers).” That sounds like the closest thing to what Moore is describing, and may have been related to the Bizarre Boys series that never ended up happening. When did Moore first announce Lost Girls?

Late update: There’s some discussion in the comments about what prompted the interview, and about a roundtable discussion that happened between Will Brooker, Pam Noles, Laura Sneddon, and Pádraig Ó Méalóid prior to the interview. It remains unclear whether Moore had a copy of the e-mail round-table. Brooker has been kind enough to explain the situation and gave me permission to reproduce his e-mail here:

Magic Words: An Evening With Alan Moore was an event at the Prince Charles Cinema, London, on the evening of Tuesday 26 November. I attended, as did Moore’s recent biographer Lance Parkin (who chaired the discussion), Kevin O’Neill, Melinda Gebbie and Pádraig Ó Méalóid.

What began as a very positive and enjoyable event became increasingly uncomfortable for me – I believe I was very much in the minority – and I left before the end. I tweeted several comments about my disappointment.

Some discussion followed from my tweets that evening, which led me to talk online and by email to Pam Noles, whose website And We Shall March had already engaged critically with the ‘Golliwog’ character. I also entered into discussion about the evening on the Facebook Alan Moore fan page, and from there I began talking to Laura Sneddon, who had expressed some reservations in an earlier review about Moore’s depiction of rape inNeonomicon.

Pam, Laura and I agreed that it would be interesting to hold a roundtable discussion by email about the issues we found problematic in some of Moore’s work, and Laura approached Heidi MacDonald of The Beat with the idea of developing an article from it. Pádraig Ó Méalóid was approached and invited to join the discussion as someone who remained an unequivocal fan and friend of Moore and his work.

The email discussion during December 2013 was an attempt to engage with key issues in Alan Moore’s work as a whole, prompted by the evening event. To publish it now would position it as a ‘reply’ to Moore’s recent interview – a reply that doesn’t even answer anything specific that he says, because it was written before his latest conversation with Pádraig. To reply directly to Moore’s interview would mean compromising and sacrificing elements of the discussion, and responding to his agenda rather than publishing the conversation we actually had in December.

This isn’t ‘feminism’. It’s Islamophobia

Klint Finley

Laurie Penny writes:

I am not writing here on behalf of Muslim women, who can and do speak for themselves, and not all in one voice. I am writing this as a white feminist infuriated by white men using dog-whistle Islamophobia to derail any discussion of structural sexism; as someone who has heard too many reactionaries tell me to shut up about rape culture and the pay gap and just be grateful I’m not in Saudi Arabia; as someone angered that so many Muslim feminists fighting for gender justice are forced to watch their truth, to paraphrase that fusty old racist Rudyard Kipling, “twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools”.

We are the fools, if we believe that accepting aggressive distinctions between nice, safe western sexism and scary, heathen Muslim sexism is going to serve the interests of women. The people making these arguments don’t care about women. They care about stoking controversy, attacking Muslims and shouting down feminists of all stripes.

For decades, western men have hijacked the language of women’s liberation to justify their Islamophobia. If we care about the future of feminism, we cannot let them set the agenda.

Full Story: The Guardian: This isn’t ‘feminism’. It’s Islamophobia

I dislike the term “Islamophobia,” but lacking a better term, I can’t help but agree — even though of I’ve been guilty of this in the past.

This form of hijacking is especially common in the atheist community, with the likes of Richard Dawkins and Pat Condell using it to dodge criticism of the community’s own treatment of women.

See also: American Muslims Have Mainstream Values and Honor killings and “crimes of passion”.

Mindful Cyborgs: Power and Privilege in the New Working Order

Klint Finley

This week Chris Dancy and I talked to Shanely, a tech product manager and feminist in the Bay Area, about sexism and micro-aggression in the work place.

KF: How can people be more aware of what’s going on there? I mean, one of the things I was wondering about when I read it is how often managers are really intentionally doing this because I imagine there’s some element of desire to be the boss and express power in those ways but I’m guessing actually that there’s a fair amount that’s completely subconscious and that if managers were more aware of they actually would perhaps not do these things.

First of all, do you agree that some of it is unintentional and secondly like how can people become more aware of this stuff?

CD: One of the things I heard Shanley you say was when I become or when we become managers the things we observe so I think to Klint’s question is some of this just kind of picked up like lint on your mind because you’ve watched people manage?

SK: Yes absolutely. I think we tend to emulate what we see around us, we tend to try to emulate and live up to the mythologies around us. I think that most this type of behavior is not conscious at all. No one is sitting there thinking how can I make my team feel bad, how can I make them feel inferior, how can I make them feel less than … but there’s something amazing about that realization because it starts with this realization that like managers have a profound impact on the lives and experiences of their teams.

We know this is true because when you ask people about bad managers that they’ve had you see the tremendous negative impact that managers can have and not just affecting you as an individual but ask someone’s partner, their friends about the bad managers they’ve had and they’ll give you an earful too. And then you talk with managers and they have this really strong desire to really help their team but there’s a disconnect going on there. When you can sort of star in this shared position of being like okay, like this is a really powerful space, the space of interaction is really powerful. It’s something that sometimes goes horribly wrong but no one wants it to you and how can we sort of start from that position of like good intention but more awareness and honesty.

As always, you can find it on Soundcloud, iTunes or Stitcher, or download it directly.

Show notes and transcript are here.

  • Buddhist Geeks Life Retreat — Quantified Mindfulness
  • Shanley’s tech background in API infrastructure, open source and distributed databases large scale application hosting.
  • Cultural and activist background in cultural studies, gender studies, semiotics, linguistics, propaganda.
  • Why are we not talking more about gender?
  • “Normative gender presentations… are so ingrained in our culture and our perception of the world that they almost become invisible.”
  • Are women’s issues the same as gender issues?
  • Gender = complex intersection.
  • Power dynamics, microaggression, and non-verbal cues in the workplace.
  • The Mythology of Management.
  • Perks in the workplace–then and now.
  • Class dimensions of those that provide perks of service vs those receiving?
  • “Shuttled from their nice houses to their nice, space camp-esque place [of work] and never actually engage in a meaningful way with the community”
  • What is privilege? How can people learn more about their own and help others learn without making them irate?
  • “All of us both occupy positions of oppression and positions of privelege”
  • Who are you following on Twitter? Nothing but straight white guys?
  • “Lifting the curtain” of white privilege
  • NEWS:  Nathan Jurgenson hating on Medium
  • “People wouldn’t blame Twitter because people tweet horrible things…”
  • Paid to write for Medium?
  • Too Tired to Hustle by Nicole Matos.  A community college professor noticing even young, precarious students feel requirement to be super competitive.
  • Sheryl Sandberg Lean In.  Problematic to tell marginalized people that they just need to “lean in” to oppression and work harder?
  • Why aren’t there more openly gay guys?
  • “Partners” vs gendered words for significant other.
  • “Tim Cook runs Apple. Yo Tim–mention the fact you have a husband once on stage!  Once, Tim.”
OPRAH MOMENT:

None

WORD OF THE WEEK:

Microaggression – the idea that specific interactions between those of different races, cultures, or genders can be interpreted as small acts of mostly non-physical aggression.

TWEET OF THE WEEK:

None

EVENTS:

  • Defrag – November 4-6, 2013 Broomfield, CO http://defragcon.com/2013/ (SEE KLINT AND CHRIS PRESENT)
  • SXSW  - March 7-16, 2014 Austin, TX http://sxsw.com/ (POSSIBLY SEE KLINT AND CHRIS PRESENT)
  • Buddhist Geeks – Contemplative Tech Conference, April 11-13, 2014 San Francisco
  • Cyborg Camp – MIT Media Lab – August 2014 – Boston, MA

THANK YOU / FIND US

TRANSCRIPTION:

Mindful Cyborgs – Contemplative living in the age of quantification, augmentation and acceleration, with your hosts, Chris Dancy and Klint Finley.

CD: Welcome to Mindful Cyborgs Episode 12. Hey, Klint.

KF: Hey, how’s it going?

CD: Klint I’m actually a Buddhist Geeks life retreat right now. Part of the life retreat is you have to meditate for X amount of hours a day and part of that, because it is a life retreat you’re doing with other people, you have to prove you did it. So, all that crazy quantification I do, guess what, came in handy.

KF: All right. Quantified mindfulness.

CD: If anyone ever wants to prove that I’m sleeping on the job, I literally can prove that I’m not doing anything now except being in present. Klint, someone that you introduced me to and I’m a big fan of Peter Kretzman and someone who I’m now obsessed with is with us today. Hello, Shanley.

SK: Hi, Klint. Hi, Chris. Nice to meet you both.

CD: I don’t even know how to get started. What can you tell us about Shanley because people will go, you’re all Mindful Cyborgs or they might go, oh my gosh, you’ve got Shanley! I’m thinking I’ll do the latter, so. Tell us a little bit about you.

SK: I work in the tech industry. I’ve spent my career sort of bouncing around some related species. I spent bunch of my early career in the API infrastructure space which I’m sure is relevant to the program. I’ve also worked a bunch in open source and distributed databases and currently I work around large scale application hosting. That’s sort of my work life and then as far as my background and some of the things that I write about a lot of my educational background and my activist background is in cultural studies, gender studies, semiotics, linguistics and then [00:02:16] propaganda. I bring that background both into my work practice but also into my work and writing and the community.

CD: All right. So, I’m going to ask the first question. I’m going to let Klint and we’ll go back and forth like ping pong, how’s that?

SK: Okay. Sounds good.

CD: I don’t know how this show’s going to end up, but my first question to you is you talked about gender studies. As a queer 44-year-old man and just starting to explore the full range of gender, because someone who recently did the genderbread person about three years ago, explained a lot to me. Why don’t we talk about gender more in our world? Why do I not see more on gender? Am I not looking in the right places? It seems to me absolutely vacant and I can’t find anybody in my community talking about it.

SK: The question of why we don’t talk more about gender is a great question. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that the normative gender presentations that we see all around us and by that I mean the typical normal representations of masculinity and femininity that we see in the media and TV and our day to day lives, they’re so expected and they’re so normalized and they’re so engrained in our culture and our perception of the world that they almost become invisible.

I think our sort of binary ideas about gender even prevent us from seeing and experiencing gender identities and presentations that fall outside of these very narrow boundaries. Our expectations and our experience of gender and what it means and how it works are just things that we take for granted especially people in positions of privilege whose gender identity and presentation falls within the established norms, so we don’t necessarily have to face these issues critically in their personal identities.

We’ve been taught men are supposed to present themselves in a particular way, women are supposed to present in a particular way and be a certain way. There’s this very narrow range of gender identity expression that we consider normal or acceptable and because that’s so normalized most people don’t really think to critique how gender identity and gender expression are created or moderated and the culture and the problems with that and we don’t think about how people may be able or unable to express their gender identities and their presentations.

And then you have all of these sort of well-intentioned but horribly misguided ideas like we’re in this post sexism or post gender age and that’s totally inaccurate but the perception that these are social issues of the past contributes to making gender invisible as well and of course there’s just a ton of consequences for people who talk about gender especially critiquing it, analyzing it in a critical way or talking about gender in a way that goes against the established white male patriarchic community, extremely dangerous for people in their community is their jobs even their relationships.

So, a combination of these factors I think is just sort of an overall silencing and invisibility in many communities about gender.

CD: One sub-question: do you consider women’s issues the same as gender issues?

SK: No. Gender is absolutely a much broader thing.

CD: I’m trying to help some of our listeners who might have never seen or really even explored the word gender. Like I said, for me, when someone showed me this genderbread person – I don’t even know if it’s accurate – I never considered gender. I never considered gender identity to be separate than gender expression which was different than biological sex which was different than attracted to.

As a forty-four-year-old gay guy I just knew what I was attracted to, but it kind of explains now why I have the mannerisms I do because of gender expression and some of my thoughts because of gender identity, but I never knew that until I had this chart. Could you give us like the quick version of gender in your mind or how you would explain it to a layman?

SK: Yes, absolutely. I did speaking specifically about women because that’s a major area of my practice, so when we talk about gender we’re actually talking about complex intersection of things ranging from the way that we perceive gender, the way we react to it, our concepts of masculinity, of femininity, of androgyny, how people choose to present along those lines, how that affects their interactions and their position in sort of the social space. It’s a very complex media topic that’s a combination of personal expression and sort how society creates that gender rules and what those are supposed to mean.

CD: Interesting.

KF: One of the reasons I wanted to have you on was to talk about an article that you wrote called microaggression and management and in that article you talk a lot about body language and touching. Are there non-verbal cues that managers use to control and manipulate employees even though I think in some ways that’s probably a stronger statement than I want to make about what’s happening, but in some cases those non-verbal cues are more negative, they’re aggressive. It’s stuff I’d never really thought about before. Once I read it, I realized that I had seen some of that sort of thing.

I remember somebody pointing out one day like this just really incongruous couple at a coffee shop and my friend pointed out there has to be a job interview because there was a guy and he was just kind of like floppy looking and slouched and completely relaxed, his shirt was untucked and then there was a woman who was dressed neat, tidily, professional just perfect posture, really attentive. After I saw that I had noticed that managers kind of being as you say overly casual with their employees and I hadn’t really fully grasped like the power dynamic there where the manager can do that because they’re not the ones that’s liable to get in trouble for not being professional enough, for being too casual.

I was wondering if you could talk a little bit more about some of the observations you made in that article and about the field of microaggression in general.

SK: Yes, absolutely. I always like to start all conversations about micro management with sort of talk about what our mythology of management is and the things that we believe about management and that’s when we become managers that we try to represent so often times the mythology about management is that managers are better or more confident that employees, that they always know what’s best, that they need to be in control, that they really need to like be the boss, they need to have power and they need to be right and they need to be more right than the people around them.

When you become a manager in that sort of the mythology of managers, you are feeling the need to crew out this mythology all of the time and when that mythology is based in power dynamics and negative power dynamics, then you get situations where managers are doing all of these microaggressive acts. There are a bunch of different categories and you mentioned body language and touching so there is a ton of sort of physical cues that we give each other about who’s in power and who’s not are really example I think as this concept of management by walking around.

I think what’s really interesting is that was really held up as a positive and beneficial practice in the workplace but what does it mean when you have a manager who can just walk around into everyone’s space and sort of have a full view and then a symmetrical view into employees and what they’re doing. There are some power dynamics that are around sort of space and body language but there are other ones around the way that managers talk to their employees, the way that they characterize their employees and so on.

KF: How can people be more aware of what’s going on there? I mean, one of the things I was wondering about when I read it is how often managers are really intentionally doing this because I imagine there’s some element of desire to be the boss and express power in those ways but I’m guessing actually that there’s a fair amount that’s completely subconscious and that if managers were more aware of they actually would perhaps not do these things.

First of all, do you agree that some of it is unintentional and secondly like how can people become more aware of this stuff?

CD: One of the things I heard Shanley you say was when I become or when we become managers the things we observe so I think to Klint’s question is some of this just kind of picked up like lint on your mind because you’ve watched people manage?

SK: Yes absolutely. I think we tend to emulate what we see around us, we tend to try to emulate and live up to the mythologies around us. I think that most this type of behavior is not conscious at all. No one is sitting there thinking how can I make my team feel bad, how can I make them feel inferior, how can I make them feel less than … but there’s something amazing about that realization because it starts with this realization that like managers have a profound impact on the lives and experiences of their teams.

We know this is true because when you ask people about bad managers that they’ve had you see the tremendous negative impact that managers can have and not just affecting you as an individual but ask someone’s partner, their friends about the bad managers they’ve had and they’ll give you an earful too. And then you talk with managers and they have this really strong desire to really help their team but there’s a disconnect going on there. When you can sort of star in this shared position of being like okay, like this is a really powerful space, the space of interaction is really powerful. It’s something that sometimes goes horribly wrong but no one wants it to you and how can we sort of start from that position of like good intention but more awareness and honesty.

KF: If you then kind of tie that back to the original purpose of that article specifically point out male/female power imbalance in the workplace. So, I’m wondering what is to be done about that. I know that’s a huge question but beyond just being aware when it’s happening what kinds of things can people do to change that dynamic.

SK: I just wanted to go back really quickly. I do talk a lot about the sort of that women are just proportionately affected by these sort of power dynamic but I also think it’s really important to point out all marginalized people in fact experience this type of thing so men who don’t present in the traditional sort of masculine sense experience this more. Women who don’t perform femininity in the way that they’re expected to in the workplace experience this more. People of color experience this more. So, this is really an intersectional power dynamic issue.

But going into how we fix it and when you start to address this and I don’t want to take the easy way out but most people have no idea what’s going on in their workplace like people don’t understand the complex dynamics that are involved in what seems like simple sort of everyday thing.

CD: In that way though, if I can just stop you there, let’s explore that a little bit. I completely agree with you most people are literally unaware of what’s going on in their workplace but I think they double down on damaging when they start to then analyze it with some semblance of assumed awareness.

SK: I don’t think I followed.

CD: I’ve been practicing on being aware and being present and listening to people kind of make the mindful part of the cyborg show and what I’ve noticed and what’s difficult for me is as you become aware and we’re talking about people being aware of what’s going on in their workplace, either you quiet down or you become more vocal, one of the other goes that way but what I find is a lot of people in the workplace – and I’ve had a lot of jobs over my tenure so I’m sure you can relate to what I’ve been to – I think they do themselves a damage because they then just make a lot of assumptions without actually ever taking time to be aware of the workplace and then they take those assumptions without any actual awareness and you study any type of actual conversations with people to understand how the people are feeling or observing them and they double down on it dangerous by then saying this person is this way because of this and if they would actually look at all the pieces involved they’d find out their managers are slightly intimidating.

The person they used to work with is still sending them emails that make them feel awkward. When they go to the lounge, the person they go to lounge with them is gossiping with them and then they come out and make these profound kind of our company’s culture’s all messed up because of my manager and it’s really all three things but they only see their manager. Is that clear a little bit more?

SK: Yes, I absolutely see what you’re saying. I totally agree and I think it’s very easy especially when you look at sort of the overall industry context of potential tension between labor and capital, between managers and subordinates it is easy to sort of focus on that particular dynamic rather than other ones, but I think obviously equally important to the manager relationship with employees is employees relationship with others in other sort of structures in the workplace. I think one of the things that I really try to do in my practice is give people tools to actually understand what’s going on in their workplace multiple dimensions.

A really awesome example of this that helps people unpack it is when we talk about perks in the workplace because Google has a laundry list of perks that they provide.

CD: They’re also doing something to help people live forever if you’re a certain level of [00:18:17] some crazy article I saw. Immortality is now a perk at Google. I was blown away.

SK: Oh, wow! There are startups and tech companies all sort of along that spectrum range in from just like you [00:18:31] like we can potentially make you immortal, but when you can look at perks and start to analyze them across sort of different analytical tools like if you look on the history and what’s sort of the history around perks, well it started out in America in large part during the industrial age where there was a great deal of labor capital attention.

They hired a bunch of welfare workers to try to make the work environment better as a way of sort of soothing these conflicts and the welfare workers really modeled their practice after the Victorian family which set up the sort of workplaces the masculine sort of father figure and then the people in the workplace that were providing these perks as sort of the Victorian mother. You can see interesting things about perks in the dimension of history. You look at psychology and you start thinking about like reciprocity and sales techniques and like when you’re giving people lots of food and like free massages all these other perks what sort of dynamics, so that’s another dimension and then you look at gender like who is providing, what is the gender identity of the people in the workplace who are providing these services, what the class dimensions like is that all women serving a predominantly male workplace, and then you look at things like space and one of the major problems in our industry is that we have startup employees that are even engaging in the community.

They’re basically shuttled from their nice [00:20:15] houses to like their nice space camp-esque place and they never actually engage in a meaningful way with the community. So, that was like we just covered like five different disciplines that show five different things that are going on in the workplace. So, I think when you can start to get people those tools is when you can really affect meaningful change.

KF: I think we’re going to need to go in some news before too long, so I’m just trying to figure out the most economical way to work in some of the other topics I wanted to talk about a little bit and one of those is the notion of privilege which to go back to sort of awareness and what Chris said at the beginning about not really even seeing gender issues discussed much something that I’ve occasionally come to realize is that not everyone knows what that term means in this context and then some people who do know don’t believe that it actually exists which is kind of a whole another ball of wax but I’m wondering if maybe you could talk a little bit about what privilege is and how people can become both more aware of their own privilege and help other people become aware of it without making them irate.

There’s kind of a knee jerk reaction on people’s part to being told well actually you have these advantages because everyone at heart really wants to believe that they’re a good person and that they’ve gotten where they are on the basis of their hard work.

SK: Yes, absolutely. When we talk about privilege we’re talking about like very intersecting system by which some people have access to more opportunities, more education, more economic security and more upward mobility, more safety than other people. I think you’re starting just really examining yourself when I look at my background and when people look at their individual backgrounds and realizing that privilege is an intersecting system in the sense that all of us both occupy positions of oppression and positions of privilege.

CD: I think you should say that one more time. I think it’s so important people really slow down and listen to what you said about everyone occupies a position as the oppressor because I don’t think everyone understands that. I was homophobic long before I was actually homosexual and I don’t think most people really see themselves as an aggressor or an oppressor as being able to dualistically both. Like Klint said, I do a really good job so there’s no way I’m this person but you really are going to put that we sit at both intersections on that regardless of what we believe.

SK: Yes, and that’s so powerful and so important to realize and confront in ourselves. Just an example you ask me about gender studies and I immediately started about just women and raised like a lot of issues around gender. We are all occupying positions where we both have privilege and where we are oppressed and where we are oppressing other people. I mean, you look at your own background we grew up clear, we grew up as women, we grew up not white but maybe we had a computer, maybe we had a certain kind of appearance, maybe we went to a certain kind of school system, maybe we had access to certain opportunities that others didn’t.

Privilege is intersectional, and when you start to realize oh, like there are lot of ways in my life that I’ve been privileged but there are also lot of ways that I’ve been oppressed. That’s a level of critical consciousness that’s really needed in order to have useful conversations about it.

CD: I love that.

SK: My advice for sort of trying to become more aware of your privileges, sit down with a notebook and look through your own personal background and just write down like all the things where you didn’t have opportunities that other people had and times when you did have opportunities that other people didn’t just really started with self-reflection but also start to me read and interact with more diverse people.

There are less women, there are less people who identify as trends or [00:25:12], there are less people of color and technology but we’re definitely out there. Find them, talk to them, go to diverse places. Something as simple as like who are you following on Twitter. I remember one moment where I was following on Twitter and I was like I’m following nothing but straight white guys like this is a problem. You need to change who you are interacting with.

CD: I had that problem in my 20s. That’s a whole another show. You’re absolutely right. I mean, I’m friends with a few analysts and people that I work with but they’re all African-American or whatever the right term is now. I’m never really good at this sort of thing. But it’s funny as soon as I started like hanging out with them a lot I was very able to see white privilege as if a curtain had been lifted off me because just the act of hanging out you see it. You see how they’re treated different. You see how people look at them different but you have to make the effort to be in the same room. Not to have a casual conversation and walk away be with them.

SK: Yes, absolutely. One issue that gets talked about a lot in the feminist and anti-racist community is it runs like oh, where are the women, where are this group of people and it’s kind of like well, we’re right here, we’re around you but like we just don’t seem important to you or we don’t seem relevant to you or you don’t see us. So, reflecting on sort of how your own mental filter makes different groups invisible is super important too.

KF: Chris, would we move on to the news?

CD: News. Shanley, can you hang out and if we have a story that interests you, just blast us your opinion, do you mind?

SK: Yes, absolutely.

CD: [00:27:06] had not really a news topic but it’s tied to news. I’m probably a fan boy officially for Nathan Jurgenson and he has just been hating on Medium. He’s either saying it’s not a good platform or people who publish there shouldn’t publish there and then there’s Shanley I think your Medium. One of the things that he recently shared that he despised most – I don’t remember how he put it. I don’t want to misquote him but he was not happy with what the Medium says how many minutes a story is going to take to read.

He’s kind of got a point. It’s making a lot of assumptions about your education and I would dare say you’re privileged to say this article will take you five minutes to read.

Klint, have you thought about Medium or seen any of this kind of Medium backlash? You have an opinion about kind of algorithmically it trying to tell you how long it will take to read stuff?

KF: I’ve been thinking a lot about Medium and actually Shanley’s articles there and the two articles that I wanted to talk about if we have time are both on Medium. It seems like actually it’s occupying a lot more of my mental space lately and part that is just because I have a number of friends who write for it but it’s definitely a mixed bag. When I look at the front page of Medium, it’s a lot of the sort of TED light kind of new age, feel good, silly, self-helpness is up there; a lot of the stuff that Nathan talks about.

As for the assumptions about how long it’s going to take to read an article I have no idea because I don’t know how much if it’s acclimating to the individual user at all like if it’s trying to get a sense of your reading speed in any way and I think it is. I think Evan Williams said that it is in a recent interview on TechCrunch. Yes, it’s definitely part of how it’s doing its recommendations is based on how much time people spend.

CD: Reasoning in this Medium backlash or weirdness?

KF: Medium backlash – yes, I think the Medium backlash is largely a result of just having a really large number of silly articles and especially, when it started out there was a lot of really privileged white guys from the tech industry who knew the founders already and that’s starting to change. I don’t know how much.

It reminds me a lot of the early days of Blogger and Twitter though. The early days of blogging people would say oh, blogging is just a bunch of navel-gazers just posting crap on the internet that nobody cares about and that all the serious writers are working for real magazines or something and with Twitter it’s just a bunch of people talking about their food. The same founder at Medium as this first year, so it’s kind of hard for me to dismiss it out of hand that way and that I think a backlash is to be expected which isn’t say I don’t have issues with the Medium business model or potentially their curation but most of the criticisms kind of fall short for me.

SK: Yes, I find it interesting how critical people are of the content on Medium because it really is just a publishing platform. People wouldn’t blame Twitter because people tweet horrible things on there but interestingly people are very upset with Medium because people are publishing crap on Medium and that’s kind of like well have you met people of course or publishing horrible things that are wrong.

It’s kind of someone’s wrong on the internet thing but people are sort of over generalizing it on to the tool instead of the people. I mean, the culture that’s being reflected.

KF: It has been pointed out that Medium does pay some of its contributors so it’s kind of trying to straddle this line between being just a platform and being an actual publication and that’s actually I think that’s going to be an ongoing issue for them until they – I don’t know – kind of choose one side or the other or until people just get used to that as the new status quo but that’s actually part of why I don’t really want to write for them is that they’re both a technology company and a publisher and I feel like if I were to write for them for money, I haven’t been offered any work from them so it’s hypothetical but I wouldn’t really want to take money from them to write for them because then I think it would be a conflict of interest for me as a technology journalist writing about them anywhere in the future.

SK: Yes, that makes sense. I don’t get paid by Medium but if they want to send me a check I’ll give them my address.

CD: Love that.

KF: What about you, Chris? Are you experiencing any backlash or what do you think about Medium?

CD: Probably, like a lot of people I try to consume what I can. You and I had a really good two double episode about information and reading it. I noticed for whatever reason the last 6 months and I don’t know much about the history of Medium but a lot of the people I like are publishing that Medium which so obviously that’s where I found out about it but that’s when I saw this backlash. Now, I just want to be very clear again. One of the things that I do notice about all the people who complaining about Medium at least the ones I follow they’re all highly academic. I mean, they have PhDs and they teach.

I don’t know if it’s an academic backlash or general backlash. I don’t have any opinion but I know because Shanley publishes there and just when Nathan said something like that, it’s just like I thought okay, I could really think about why is he upset that it shows how much time it could take to read an article. In some ways I kind of like that but in other ways I don’t because one of the things I used to say at conferences two years ago was what’s the first thing you look at when you go to a website? The headline. What’s the second thing you look at? How long is it. So, if the headline’s okay and it’s not too long, you’ll read it, but there’s one thing that breaks that rule, is it older than a week. If it’s older than a week, you actually throw up the headline no matter how short it is you’re not going to read it because it’s a week old.

If you look at the front page of Medium, there is no this article was published on this day and when I look at Shanley’s stuff, I actually had to really look. I never really looked for publish date Medium.

KF: Yes, it’s hard to find.

CD: Yes. So, I think there was a weird temporal thing.

KF: And that’s part of the philosophy of it is that they’re actually trying to get content that -

CD: Timeless.

KF: It’s evergreen content instead of a low quality click hit news type of stuff. It used to be and in some ways still is my job to produce. So, actually, that is something I like about what medium does and on the topic of privilege this is something Shanley told me before and it was actually was going to be in an article I wrote but I think this specific line got cut but there’s a certain amount of privilege that goes into the required, I guess, in order to create your own blog or set up your own website to host your own articles.

CD: Or podcast.

KF: Something like Medium can help flatten that particular barrier to entry at least once it becomes open to everybody but right now it’s invite only so it’s a different type of privilege altogether that you need to get an invite to write there.

SK: I’m assuming at some point it will be much more open.

KF: Yes, I think it’s supposed to be in like beta right now. Whether people are actually getting on the front page or getting featured in collections that people look at that will be a whole another power dynamic that gets created and who gets paid and who doesn’t get paid that sort of thing.

CD: So, you said you had another story we could try to squeeze in. I mean, you sent me that piece on who will prosper in the new world and I about melted. Literally, highlighting sections. I printed it out to underline sections.

KF: Oh, wow!

CD: Yes. This is amazing but what did you have because you had two from Medium you wanted to shout about.

KF: We’re really certain to run low on time so I’ll just mention them. One is called “Too Tired to Hustle”. It’s written by a woman named Nicole Matos who’s a teacher at a community college. We’ve talked about this idea of the precarious class and how there’s this requirement to hustle, this requirement to just always be super competitive and that work is just being divvy down into these tiny like bite-size chunks and it’s unreliable. Increasingly people are expected not to know how much money they’re going to make in a given month, etc. etc.

She’s just kind of seeing how even young students, people who are new to the workforce are already being ground down by this new world. It’s fairly depressing and then you two can both comment on either one. It’s called “Six Radical Life Extension Technologies for Transhumanist Consideration”. Instead of the sort of things that you would normally expect from like a singularatan or transhumanist point of view we’re talking about life extension and immortality and all that. The list is clean water, urban sanitation, smokeless cooking facilities, free access to healthcare, guaranteed minimum income, good free education. A lot of the things that are missing in the developing world and actually in some cases in the developed world.

SK: Yes, absolutely. I would comment on the first one. What’s the name of the piece?

KF: Too tired to hustle.

SK: Too tired to hustle. Sort of a meta conversation that’s happening in the feminist community and in other communities that deal with these issues. What happens now that feminism is like Sheryl Sandberg feminism.

CD: I would love to know just in one sentence how you feel about Lean In.

SK: Lean In is a metaphor. It comes from a stance that you should take when you’re getting punched which I think kind of says everything about it that you need to know. I think it’s very problematic that you’re telling marginalized people who are not treated well in work, who aren’t paid enough, who are dealing with all of the oppressions in the industry that they just need to lean in and work a little bit harder and I would also say that I think some of the most meaningful work from people outside of the establishment in tech is happening outside of the workplace. I guess, that would be my perspective on that. I think it’s absolutely problematic to tell marginalized people to just lean in.

CD: Yes, it’s hard. I just forget that thin line. It’s hard because a lot of the people that I know who are very, very powerful, who are female either by birth or by gender think this Lean In is really the recipe for why [00:39:59] and the workplace when it comes to women.

KF: I think it speaks to what we talked about at the very beginning of why more women don’t talk about gender issues in the workplace is that it can be seen as whining or complaining or playing the victim card and so the lean in thing is kind of the opposite of that. It’s kind of to me like saying lean in just as like you saying shut up. Just pretend nothing’s wrong and just work your ass off.

CD: One of the things I remember was this: you tell a little girl who is very opinionated; you tell her she’s bossy. This is like this thing that keeps showing on interview clips all the time. She’s not bossy. She’s a leader. I don’t think in either case that’s really culturally leadership whether you’re talking too much. What do you call a girl who listens too much? She’s patient. It goes back to that word again where we started. Our assumed roles and perceptions around gender and it sometimes frustrates me. Again, this is the show where I’m talking about me being gay all the time, but as a gay guy why aren’t there more openly gay guys?

Tim Cook runs Apple. Yo Tim, mention the fact you have a husband once on stage, once Tim. Really. You want to innovate. Don’t reskin the phone. Tell people you’re queer, Tim.

KF: That’s another really subtle warm of privilege is I can just mention that I have a wife in any conversation and it’s no big deal. I can talk about my family in that way, but for gay people when you type to mention I have a boyfriend, I have a girlfriend, I have a husband, I have a wife for them it has a completely different meaning. So, there are just things that you’re not allowed to talk about in your personal life.

CD: Or you’re forcing the same partner. I shouldn’t have to say partner and I don’t. It’s awkward. What really drives me a little bit crazy, and I’m sure you both have experienced this, you meet a heterosexual who refers to their heterosexual spouse as partner and people assume they’re gay – again, this kind of weird stuff where we kind of brainwash people into just acting differently than they need.

Shanley, where can people find you if we should want to find you because I think we would? You are the mono name now.

SK: Yes. You can find on Twitter @Shanley and that’s also my handle on Medium.

CD: Very cool. Klint, thank you for getting Shanley for us. It’s been amazing. I had a really good time, Shanley.

SK: Thank you.

CD: Coming up we got crazy stuff. We’ve got the Quantified Self-Conference if you’re going to be there and we got Defrag and I think Klint here speaking at Defrag in November.

KF: Yep, I’m speaking there.

CD: And a bunch of other fun stuff and then we don’t know maybe South by Southwest coming up, Shanley, if you ever go. If you don’t go, I’d love to see you there.

SK: Yes.

CD: Yes, that’d be really cool. I’d like to thank Aaron Jasinski for the artwork for Mindful Cyborgs. Ross Nelson Brown Hound Sound Media. You can find us on all those social media stuff. Thank you so much, guys. It’s been a real pleasure this week.

KF: Thank you. Bye-bye.

The Problem with “Strong Female Characters”

Klint Finley

Sophia McDougall writes:

Sherlock Holmes gets to be brilliant, solitary, abrasive, Bohemian, whimsical, brave, sad, manipulative, neurotic, vain, untidy, fastidious, artistic, courteous, rude, a polymath genius. Female characters get to be Strong. […]

Chuck Wendig argues here that we shouldn’t understand “strong” as meaning, well, “strong”, but rather as something like “well-written”. But I simply don’t think it’s true that the majority of writers or readers are reading the term that way. How else to explain the fact that when the screenwriters of The Lord of the Rings decided to (clumsily) expand Arwen’s role from the books, they had her wander on screen, put a sword to her boyfriend’s throat and boast about how she’d sneaked up on him? (It took Liv Tyler to realise later “you don’t have to put a sword in her hand to make her strong”). Why else did Paul Feig, as Carina Chicano notes here, have to justify the fact that Bridesmaids hinges on a complex, interesting female character who appeared rather weak?

And even if this less limiting understanding of “strong female character” were the common reading, doesn’t it then become even sadder and even more incomprehensible that where the characterisation of half the world’s population is concerned, writing well is treated as a kind of impressive but unnecessary optional extra?

Full Story: New Statesman: I hate Strong Female Characters

It probably goes without saying, but part of the problem here is that “strong” almost always equates to a certain set of characteristics we problematically associate with maleness: physical strength, aggression, competitiveness. Maybe raw intellect, if the character is a detective or scientist. Women get to be “strong” only by exhibiting these trains, not traits labeled “feminine,” like empathy, expressing emotion. This leaves us not only with one-dimensional “strong female characters,” but also reinforces unhealthy expectations that being strong or “tough” means suppressing emotion and winning in fights. This is understandable to some extent — action movies are about violence, not nurture. But there are writers who pull it off. Fringe‘s Olivia Dunham is tough and smart, but also involves her emotions with her work, which, as she points out on the show, actually makes her a better detective.

Compassionate Takedown of Pickup Artististry

Klint Finley

Glenn Fleishman explains the “pickup artist” (PUA) community, and the recent controversy about a PUA book on Kickstarter that advocated sexual assault:

PUAs aren’t typically an overlap with the frat-boy stereotype of athletes and aggression. Rather, PUAs are social misfits who appear to be incapable of reading and responding to social signals. Just as the Ana subculture arose on the Internet extolling anorexia, which is medically and socially unacceptable even as the body image associated is perpetuated through media, the PUA subculture seems to thrive because it’s found a home in which such discussions are encouraged and cultivated.

And it is undeniable to these men that women meet other men and then, immediately or after a number of dates, engage in sexual concourse with them. Why not them? It must not be their personality, pheromones, conversational style, or appearance. There must be a secret that some men have that they have missed, and thus a culture of tips, tricks, and strategies develops. […]

Mutually consensual behavior initiated by either party isn’t assault, of course, nor does it have to be spoken aloud. But it requires the ability to read signals and respond to them to know whether consent exists, and to stop — not “escalate” — when there’s ambiguity. This category of book provides the excuse for consent to men who can’t read signals. The book is advising sexual assault under the guise of something the woman wants but can’t ask for. That’s not consent.

Full Story: Boing Boing: Kickstop: how a sleazebag slipped through Kickstarter’s cracks

Something that’s bothered me lately about many critiques of internet subculture I’ve read recently. For example, Stephen Bond ‘s rants about skeptics and the Less Wrong community. He wrote about skeptics: “You’ll quickly find that the majority of visitors are not drawn there by concern for the victims of irrationality, but by contempt. They’re there to laugh at idiots.” And: “The average skeptic has little time for spreading the word of reason to the educationally or intellectually lacking. His superior reason is what separates him from the chumps around him, and he has no interest in closing the gap.” But Bond seems to fall quickly into a similar trap: he bashes skeptics and Bayesians, decrying their lack of ethics and implying his own moral superiority (someone on Metafilter suggested that Bond did this on purpose to parody those communities). There’s no compassion, no insight into why someone might become swept up in these communities other than “because they’re assholes.”

It’s a hard impulse to shake. It’s easy to get so angry at someone — internet scammers, religious people, pickup artists, libertarians, whoever — and end up seeing them as something less than human. I’ve done it many times right here on this blog. It’s hard to be compassionate or to see what attracted someone to this point of view. But that’s incredibly important not just to help win people over — which is very hard — but to help others understand the culture that you’re critiquing and why they are wrong. “They do these things because they’re assholes, and they’re wrong because they just are” isn’t a compelling argument. I think it’s why so many people have trouble with Evgeny Morozov’s work. Morozov doesn’t, at least in what I’ve read of his work, ever stop to ask why someone might believe what they do. He takes it for granted that everyone he criticizes is either a fool or a charlatan or both. It wears thin quickly, not just because it’s mean spirited but because it doesn’t read as a well-rounded critique. It reads as a rant meant solely for those who already agree with him, as a chance to make fun of the chumps who have bought into the “solutionist” ideology.

Fleishman doesn’t go easy on the PUAs, but he does explain why what they do is wrong, why someone might try it anyway, and why the people involved in it don’t realize what they’re doing is wrong. That makes it a far more powerful critique than most of what I’ve been reading lately.

If you want more info on the PUA culture and methodologies: The Observer’s review of Neil Strass’ book on pickup artistry and Jeff Diehl’s article on “speed seduction.”

New Study Exposes Gender Bias In Tech Job Listings

Klint Finley

Help Wanted

I wrote for Wired:

Only 11 percent of all engineers in the U.S. are women, according to Department of Labor. The situation is a bit better among computer programmers, but not much. Women account for only 26 percent of all American coders.

There are any number of reason for this, but we may have overlooked one. According to a paper recently published in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, there could be a subtle gender bias in the way companies word job listings in such fields as engineering and programming. Although the Civil Rights Act effectively bans companies from explicitly requesting workers of a particular gender, the language in these listings may discourage many women from applying.

The paper — which details a series of five studies conducted by researchers at the University of Waterloo and Duke University — found that job listings for positions in engineering and other male-dominated professions used more masculine words, such as “leader,” “competitive” and “dominant.” Listings for jobs in female dominated professions — such as office administration and human resources — did not include such words.

A listing that seeks someone who can “analyze markets to determine appropriate selling prices,” the paper says, may attract more men than a list that seeks someone who can “understand markets to establish appropriate selling prices.” The difference may seem small, but according to the paper, it could be enough to tilt the balance. The paper found that the mere presence of “masculine words” in job listings made women less interested in applying — even if they thought they were qualified for the position.

Shanley Kane, a software product manager in the Bay Area, says these subtleties should not be overlooked. “It’s worth paying special attention to how the ‘masculine-themed’ words they tested for — competitive, dominate, leader — denote power inequalities,” she explains. “A leader has followers. A superior has an inferior.”

Full Story: Wired Enterprise: New Study Exposes Gender Bias In Tech Job Listings

On King City’s Portrayal Of Women

Klint Finley

King City

And for all Brandon Graham seems like an intelligent guy who really thinks about the portrayal of women in comics he’s still made a book that’s male gazey as hell. An important quote from the interview:

“Yeah I think that’s the big problem. It’s like, ok dudes, we’ve tended to your boners since the dawn of time. Can someone else have a turn?”

And it’s ace that he’s noticed things shouldn’t mainly be aimed at straight males. It makes me feel a bit bad for being all “ooh look at the objectification” as he comes across as a definite Force For Good in interviews but, well, the women in this comic still are totally aimed at that straight, male audience, aren’t they?

It’s an extension of that whole aspect of illustration that you see constantly on yr Tumblrs and Deviantarts and in grafitti and on music posters and such: young, straight men like drawing ‘badass’ idealised women in the kind of clothing they find attractive on a person. It’s for the male gaze and it’s not really subversive or new. Yeah, the line between ‘sexy’ and ‘sexist’ is a fine one, but I think this comic steps over the line?

Full Story: The Slow Bullet: Brandon Graham’s King City: My Continuing Adventures in being No Fun

(via Graham himself, who tweeted: “Here’s a article criticizing (in a lot of valid ways) the ladies of King city. I do still stand by the soap opera joke… Warheads is in a lot of ways me trying to grow past some of what I did in KC. I’m still cool with that stuff it’s just not where Im at now” [1] [2])