Filtering by Category: feminism

The Misogyny of “Brony”

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Brony (n): A name typically given to the male viewers/fans of the My Little Pony show or franchise. They typically do not give in to the hype that males aren't allowed to enjoy things that may be intended for females. – Urban Dictionary

I'm pissed off about the word “Brony”. Specifically the existence of the word. There are many reasons to dislike those that self-apply the name, not least because they have fetishised and pornified a children's cartoon to the point that I have to supervise my daughter searching for desktop wallpaper, but I'm cross that the word itself exists.

A portmanteau of “bro” and “pony” (and, oh, do I hate bro-culture), its very existence says that these people need to set themselves apart from the target demographic viewers of My Little Pony. That target demographic is, of course, girls. This need to self-apply a special label, for fear they may be associated with anything female focused, is an example of how society deems women and girls as second class. 

“I can't just like My Little Pony, that's what girls do. Oh no, I'm a brony, I'm a whole different thing. I appreciate it for it's animation and character driven story lines.”

As opposed to girls who, presumably, like it for the shiny colours and sparkles?

Fuck. Off.

You're terrified that liking something that primarily targets girls makes you “girly”, which patriarchy has deemed man's greatest embarrassment. So you invent a meaningless term to avoid that stigma.

My Little Pony *is* a good show. The characters *are* great. The story lines are warm and funny and full of decent lessons for our children. It's a great show for girls, because it doesn't talk down to them, and teaches them that excitement and adventure are not the sole domain of male characters. It's a great show for boys too, *for exactly the same reasons*.

If you want to enjoy My Little Pony, do it. But inventing a label just makes you look like a misogynistic prick.

And definitely stop with the porn.

My Daughter writes to Lego

Sakura (nearly 10) has been incensed that the Lego Club has started sending gender discriminatory magazines (on top of their “girls” Lego sets), so we explained to her she could write to them to let them know. The following is her letter to the Lego Club, written entirely without help (except proof read for spelling). Very proud of her.

Dear Lego Club Magazine,

I have been getting the Lego Club Magazine for a few years now, and I think it’s wrong you have started sending boys and girls different magazines. Yes, I know when Lego Friends was invented it was geared towards girls, but that does not mean that all girls in the Lego Club will instantly love it and want to get a whole magazine about it every month. My little brother gets his magazine every month and I enjoy the content in his magazine much more than the “girls” content.

Some of my favourite Lego sets are: Star Wars, Harry Potter, Hero Factory and Lego City. I am also asking for Lego Mindstorms for Christmas. My interests in Lego are not just in Lego Friends. I’m not just talking about girls, some boys (including my brother) love Lego Friends and may love to read about Lego Friends.

I think that you should give every member a choice, or, even simpler, just print one magazine with both things in it. If I had a choice, I would pick the one you’re sending to boys in a heartbeat.

Yours Faithfully,

Sakura Gibson

You're Right, Victoria Coren, Rapists are People Too

Yesterday, Victoria Coren published an article on The Guardian's website entitled “Roman Polanski and the Sin of Simplification”, looking at the case of the celebrated rapist and filmmaker. In 1977, Polanski drugged and anally raped thirteen year old Samantha Geimer and has subsequently spent decades avoiding answering for his crime. Coren does not dispute this and admits to thoughts of violence and anger when thinking about the heinous act. Then, in a somewhat bizarre twist, she starts into a series of non-sequiturs to help us see that Polanski was so much more than a rapist.

Coren recounts the tragedies of his life; Polanski's mother died in Auschwitz, his pregnant wife Sharon Tate was murdered by the Manson family. Then she speaks of “a second complicating factor”, being that Polanski's work is “filled with beauty and humanity”.

The point she is trying to make is the importance of avoiding reductive simplification, that we should look at both Geimer and Polanski as nuanced people, not just a child and her rapist. Unfortunately, she does such a spectacularly poor job of explaining this point, she just comes across as an apologist for Polanski. When you start an article describing, in relatively clear detail, the rape of a thirteen year old girl, that is how you frame the rest of what you will write. So once you start talking about “complicating factors”, don't be surprised when people take it to mean you think these factors should be taken into consideration when examining the rape.

Furthermore, to choose this particular example to make the point is so spectacularly egregious that it is insulting in itself. Polanski has spent nearly four decades continuing and being celebrated for his work, enjoying what can only be described as a free and pleasant life in France and Switzerland, whilst being defended on all sides by Hollywood friends who think he has suffered enough. With the exception of being unable to travel to America without fear of being arrested, his life has been unaffected by his crime. There has been no reductive simplification. He hasn't been vilified because of it, he has been celebrated despite it.

Personally, I believe that the biggest legacy Polanski has is that he drugged and raped a thirteen year old girl and not only got away with it, but had people defending him over it. No beautiful works will surpass that. No nuance to his character changes that. I can feel great sorrow for the man for the horrific things that happened in his life, I can love the work he produced, but it in no way changes what I consider to be the defining act of his existence.

There is a kernel of truth to this article though. An important one, far beyond the pseudo-intellectual, liberal naval-gazing Coren descends into. It recognises that rapists are real people, with real lives. Casting them as monsters and strangers in dark alleys allows us to marginalise them, pretend they could never be people we know, people we respect, perhaps even like. When over 90% of rapes are committed by someone known to the victim, we must face the fact that they are real people with real lives. Recognising this to be the case, we can start to challenge our preconceptions of what a rapist looks like. Too often, we hear “he couldn’t be a rapist, he’s too nice” and from that flows a river of victim blaming and marginalising. We claim that there was a “misunderstanding” or even worse that the claims are false, all because we are too uncomfortable to face the truth that the real men in our lives are the ones who rape women. There is no nuance required.

Feminism: Being Male and Being a Good Ally

Depending on personal definitions of feminism, as a male you can be either a feminist directly, or a feminist ally. But, as someone who has lived in a male body and presents (for the most part) as male-gendered, I've found it can be very easy to really cock things up, often unintentionally. These are a few things I try to keep in mind. I appreciate critical feedback and further suggestions.

You're not special

You might think you're an enlightened, 21st century guy, sensitive to the problems women face and all in favour of equality. But so what? Do you really think that not oppressing people is something laudable? That not being an asshole is praiseworthy? Being a feminist should be the default position for all decent people, so don't think that coming along with a feminist attitude will get you showered with goodwill, because it's the absolute least you can do.

The problem is bigger than you think

Start appreciating just how bad it is for women every single day. When you look at some of what would be regarded as the “big” problems, rape, sexual assault, domestic violence, you'll go cold when you first read the numbers:

  • 70,000 women raped
  • 400,000 women sexually assaulted
  • 1.2 million women suffered domestic abuse

That's just in the UK. Those numbers are for a single year. One. That's almost 200 rapes every day. Home Office: Ending violence against women and girls in the UK. March 2013

That's before you even begin trying to count the hundreds of thousands of cases that go unreported.

Then look at the casual (and not so casual) sexism that women and girls are subjected to every single day just going about their business. Follow @everydaysexism on Twitter. Have it coming into your timeline for a week and realise that far from being a rare occurrence, the abuse suffered is relentless, dehumanising and demoralising. And it's not just some “trolls” on the Internet (I've already said this is not trolling), this is real people, face to face, in the real world.

You do not and cannot know what it's like

Don't think that reading what happens, or even seeing a catcalling builder shout at someone to “get your tits out” in any way allows you to know what it is like. Recognise that you have not lived with this, or anything like it, for your entire life and that you simply cannot begin to appreciate the effect it has on a person. The best you can do is listen to women speak of the effect, and try to empathise. But also realise that at any stage, you could stop worrying about it and it no longer affects you. For a woman, that is not an option.

Recognise your privilege

As a man (and even more so if you're a white, straight man), you occupy the highest rung on the social ladder. You can't even begin to believe how easy the world makes things for you. You are the oppressor, which means you can't be oppressed. There is no such thing as societal misandry, fuck your “men's rights” and fuck your complaining when some little thing doesn't land in your lap like you've been used to. You come from thousands of years of history that have set you up in a position of power. Now stop whining about it.

Shut the fuck up

Yes, we all realise that you're used to flexing your privilege to make sure the whole world listens to you, but there's more than just a passing chance that your cute little theories and insights into feminism are bullshit. So why not park your ass over there, open your ears, and actually listen to people?

Read

And when you're done sitting there listening, open a book. You can never live through the abuse and oppression that women face, but you can at least know the history and the political and philosophical arguments that underlie feminist theory. My Goodreads shelf has a good selection of feminist works (and thank you to all the wonderful women who helped compile it). Reading them is a humbling experience and will at least allow you to be vaguely knowledgable if you do get into a philosophical discussion.

Stop being self-satisfied

Remember how you're not special? Well sitting there being proud of yourself helps no one. You're all for equality, great, but are you actually taking any positive action? Are you standing up to misogyny you witness? In work? Down the pub? Or do you just let it slide, preferring the ease of ignorance to the friction of confrontation? It doesn't take long in an all male group for casual misogyny to appear. Ignoring it is giving it tacit approval. Are you prepared to take a stand, even if it means your friends start complaining at you “going on” all the time? If not, you need to ask if you really are in support of equality or just want to pay it lip service.

Always be listening

Once you start listening out for the casual, every day misogyny that permeates society, you will be shocked at just how prevalent it is. If you can become attuned to it, you'll realise that not only is it a problem, but that many people don't even realise they're doing it. It will help you become better at avoiding it, but it might start making you sad after a while (and boo-hoo, it's not even directed at you).

Don't derail

For every argument, you can almost certainly come up with some edge case to disprove the point, or a fictional legal circumstance to blur the lines, or a reversed situation that shows it's not all one direction. That is not helpful. Learn to recognise that your cute little hypotheticals are so rare that they are a statistical anomaly. The problems you have some deep philosophical musing about are actually real problems that millions of woman face every single day, so forgive them if they're not that interested in your sophistry.

Be humble, your opinion should always be secondary

No matter how much your brain screams that someone is wrong, you need to bite your tongue and realise that you do not have the insight they do. As a male, you cannot tell a women is doing feminism wrong, because you don't get a say in the right or wrong way to do it. Remember we talked about listening? Well, you mansplaining your way all over a conversation will only make you look like an asshole. Don't do it.

Recognise your own misogyny

With thousands of years of patriarchy behind you, it is easy to accidentally be misogynistic without even thinking about it. If you are, and you get called out on it, you have a chance to take the high ground, apologise, admit you made a mistake and try to be better in the future. Even if you don't think you were, you're not in a position to make that judgement.

Also, try to catch yourself playing into the patriarchal role. Did you have a brief smirk at some casually sexist joke or comment, even an involuntary one? Internalise that, realise that you have been conditioned to react that way and try to train your brain to react with revulsion. Hey, no one said this would be easy.

Don't expect to be welcomed

As a male, you represent the entire history of oppression of women. Deal with it, it is the one piece of baggage that comes along with your lineage. Even if you yourself, in your enlightened, equality-loving way, would never oppress anyone, the fact you represent that oppression means some people will never accept you as part of the feminist movement, nor will they ever trust you. Recognise that many people have very good reasons for this, often horrific reasons. If you take offence that you, representing the oppressor, are not universally loved, you are just exercising your male privilege again.

Stop thinking with your dick

Seriously, it's liberating. When you view women as people, not potential sexual partners, you remove a lot of baggage from yourself when talking to them. You can engage your higher brain functions, converse with them like *gasp* real people, and generally have a much more fulfilling life. Ideally, men should grow out of this naturally as they leave puberty, but all evidence suggests that the vast majority don't. Why not make a conscious effort to start thinking about all people like people?

“Don't Feed the Trolls” and Other Stupid Advice

Back in the good old days of the Internet, when all this were geeks as far as the eye could see, there was a relatively harmless pastime called “Trolling”. Generally, this involved saying something outrageous in an attempt to get people arguing amongst themselves (a flamewar) while the troll ran off into the distance, giggling at their mischief. Typically, the topics were things like people's choice of operating system or programming language. Childish, but no-one really got hurt and typically those rising to the bait were frequently much worse than the original protagonist (because if there's one thing geeks love, it's to argue about inconsequential things). From this, the phrase “Don't feed the trolls” was born, suggesting that the best way to deal with people wanting to cause trouble was to ignore them as they'd soon get bored and go away. That phrase has now entered Internet lore as received wisdom. This is important. “Don't feed the trolls” became the easy reply to anyone who responded to antagonistic behaviour online.

Then the Internet got popular. All sorts of people were frequenting first newsgroups and forums and then, increasingly, social media networks. Normal, everyday people who were here for the content, not for the technology that made it work. And when everyone is on the Internet, the worst people are there too. People who hide behind the anonymity of their keyboard and spread their vile prejudices, hatred and intolerance with little to no fear of recrimination.

Recently, these people were thrust into the media limelight with abusive attacks on Caroline Criado-Perez (@CCriadoPerez), who campaigned to have the Bank of England feature women on UK banknotes. One would hope that most people would see this as a positive step, helping address the sexual inequality that is still so prevalent in our society, or at least something so inconsequential as to be not worthy of their attention. Instead, it resulted in a relentless, inhuman attack from literally hundreds of anonymous Twitter users, threatening rape, violent sexual assault and murder. An attack that is, while diminished from its height, continuing still. I recommend you read Caroline's August 2013 speech to Women's Aid (serious TW) to get an idea of how horrific this abuse was. At its height, hundreds of abusive and threatening tweets were being directed at Caroline per hour.

While there were many, many people offering support, responding to the abusers and calling upon Twitter to take more action to prevent the abuse (in line with their policies), there were an almost equally vocal number trying to explain that “ignore and block” was the way to go. That responding only encouraged them. To make her account private. And what was the phrase that kept cropping up? “Don't feed the trolls.”

Caroline has already done an incredible and much better job than I could ever do of explaining why ignore and block isn't a valid option when under an onslaught such as that she experienced. She also addressed why expecting the recipient of an attack to bear the responsibility of changing their behaviour is victim blaming and how ignoring or blocking doesn't prevent you from reading the abuse in the first place. The human brain doesn't erase the words retrospectively.

But there's another issue. Naming this behaviour as “trolling” implies that it isn't serious. That it's just “teenagers having fun”. (In actuality, the arrests made in the Criado-Perez case were men in their 20s and 30s, far from the “stupid teenagers” the apologists were so keen to label them.) It deflects from what this really is, misogynistic, obscene, and, in many cases, illegal abuse designed to cause fear, to perpetuate gender stereotypes and to silence people with the audacity to speak out against the status quo. This isn't trolling, this is abuse. This is a symptom of the violent, rape culture society that most people would rather not admit to existing.

They do this by claiming it's “not people like me”, that it's “only trolling”, that the Internet “isn't real life”. Anything to avoid the real problem or to have to take any responsibility in making this behaviour unacceptable. To ensure those who practise it are rightfully pilloried by society and their peers in the cases of “minor” infractions, or to demand that the appropriate legal action be taken (and taken seriously) when it reaches levels such as that experienced by Caroline.

Ignoring an uncomfortable truth is much easier than taking action. Enough is enough. A decent person will not stand idly by watching fellow humans be abused. We are all responsible to help stop it. It starts with basic empathy, recognising a problem exists and to stop telling people you know better than they how to deal with it.

No More Page 3 — My letter to David Dinsmore, editor of The Sun

David, David, David.

Where do we start? I mean, you've had thousands of letters by now asking you to drop the Page 3 girls, so it's not like you don't realise the number of people who are not just ambivalent to the feature, but actively opposed to the message it sends. And it's not just those feminist activists you love bantering with on Twitter, it's people from all walks of life, up and down the country.

How did we get here? It's 2013, for goodness sake, are we really still portraying woman in the mainstream press as nothing more than eye-candy for men to ogle? Do we really think that is what they have to offer society? Do we really think men can't get four pages into a daily newspaper without some titillation? It does a great disservice to both men and women that you continue with what was already a dubious practise. Perhaps you are afraid that The Sun is actually being kept in business by bared breasts? Perhaps you lack the conviction in your editorial team to produce something people would read on a daily basis without a bit of softcore pornography thrown in? And let's be clear, this is pornography. It is not newsworthy, it is not being presented as art, it is clearly intended to arouse. Despite this, you continue to claim The Sun is a “family newspaper”. Perhaps you had a much more liberal upbringing than I did, but pornography has never been wholesome entertainment for children to enjoy with their parents as far as I am concerned.

Yet, so pervasive is The Sun, that many children know about Page 3 girls many years before they learn what pornography is. I remember pages with topless girls being laid out on tables in school when we were painting, before the teacher quickly turned them over. As a child, I didn't understand why there were naked girls in the newspaper (and back then they really were girls, as young as 16), but I knew it made me feel uncomfortable. I dread to think what effect it had on the girls in my class, being taught at eight or nine that their bodies exist to be flaunted for the pleasure of others. And I know you know about these effects. You've had the letters from women, from teenagers, from children, who have had Page 3 used to diminish their status, to objectify them, to make them feel like they were pieces of meat. How can you read those and claim with a straight face that it's “just a bit of fun”?

So why are you so intent on keeping them? Does it come down to something as simple as you just love breasts so much you think pictures of them need distributed 2½ million times a day? What possible contribution can it have other than to reinforce that women exist purely for the pleasure of men? To normalise the objectification of woman in society. To teach children growing up that this is acceptable? The only reason it is still accepted in our society is 40 years of your paper continuing to present it. If it were announced now as a feature it would quickly make a pariah of the publication and be withdrawn.

I'm not going to pretend I read The Sun, or that I would start reading it were the pornography removed, but as the most widely read newspaper in the country, you are in a unique position to send a message that woman are more than mere objects, that you respect them as people, not just a “great pair of knockers”. That you recognise that society is moving on from its patriarchal roots to one of inclusiveness and mutual respect. Will removing Page 3 solve the problems of misogyny and hatred millions of women face every day? Of course not. But it will help. It will make a difference. Why would you rather chase the tails of the direction society is moving rather than leading the vanguard? The voices speaking against you are growing in number, not diminishing, it would be a fool that ignores the change.

Please, no more Page 3.

Stuart