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Happy not to be on that team

I can’t help wondering if, after having established his character Dilbert as the office Everyman, Scott Adams has somehow welded himself permanently into that role– in his own perception, at least. That perhaps after such a long time of speaking to the Dilberts of America and the world, Adams has managed to convince himself that he also speaks for them. 


Or maybe not. Maybe it’s just your typical bigot universalism tendency. Maybe that’s what it always has been. Either way, Adams has decided that the Democratic National Convention is very likely lowering the testosterone of American men, and thereby their happiness, on a national scale. 


Why is this? Because the celebration of woman aspiring to positions of power that they have never held throughout the country’s history– specifically, the presidency– makes Adams feel defeated:

I watched singer Alicia Keys perform her song Superwoman at the convention and experienced a sinking feeling. I’m fairly certain my testosterone levels dropped as I watched, and that’s not even a little bit of an exaggeration. Science says men’s testosterone levels rise when they experience victory, and drop when they experience the opposite. I watched Keys tell the world that women are the answer to our problems. True or not, men were probably not feeling successful and victorious during her act. Let me say this again, so you know I’m not kidding. Based on what I know about the human body, and the way our thoughts regulate our hormones, the Democratic National Convention is probably lowering testosterone levels all over the country. Literally, not figuratively. And since testosterone is a feel-good chemical for men, I think the Democratic convention is making men feel less happy. They might not know why they feel less happy, but they will start to associate the low feeling with whatever they are looking at when it happens, i.e. Clinton.

I’m sure that you– but perhaps not Adams– have already heard the aphorism “When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.” Maybe you’ve acknowledged it, though, without trying to stop and consider whether it really feels like oppression.  I can’t actually say, one way or another– I don’t know of any scientific studies that can verify it (though if you do, please let me know).

And Adams is making a scientific statement here. He’s saying that watching and listening to Alicia Keys perform Superwoman made him feel like a loser. That this feeling of non-triumph means lower testosterone, and therefore that this feeling must be spreading across the country and lowering testosterone levels on a national scale.  Wow!

So what if he’s right? Let’s just assume he is, for the sake of argument.

Power can certainly be a zero-sum game– if someone gains it, somebody else is losing it. Adams described the feeling he was having as like losing. Being non-triumphant. I believe him about that. I believe that to someone who sees the world in hierarchical terms and has bought stock in just-world bias, equality feels like losing.

He gets two things wrong about this, though.

First, he thinks that because he feels like a loser, he’s been somehow wronged. “Superwoman” apparently profoundly disturbed his worldview, and rather than question that worldview he blames the song, Alisha Keys, the DNC, Hillary Clinton, or all of the above for harming him. I feel bad, those people made me feel bad, those people are wrong!

Second, he universalizes– he thinks that all American men feel bad, or should feel bad, right along with him. He wants to bring a class-action lawsuit on behalf of all men against feeling bad, without ever checking to see whether everybody else who identifies as male feels like a loser too. Presumably at least some of them don’t– there were men at the DNC, right? A few of them? Was any footage captured of them bending over in agony while Alisha Keys was singing, protecting their genitalia?

That’s a common tendency of bigots– white supremacists assume that all white people are white supremacists, homophobes assume all straight people are homophobes, etc. and that anyone who isn’t is either lying or a traitor. Scott Adams, of course, assumes that all men are as threatened as he is by women in powerful positions.

Thankfully, he’s mistaken about that.

Let me restate that more emphatically– thankfully, Scott Adam is wrong. He does not get to speak for mankind, any more than any other fearful member of the majority gets to speak against a minority.

When I posted about this on Facebook, my friend Ben Pobjie commented:

He assumes that being male is like being on a team, and we all put that team first and identify with other members of that team before all else. I might be threatened by women in powerful positions if I thought I was on the same team as Scott Adams, and that the purpose of life was to be on the winning team.

When you think in those terms, it’s really a choice you make– do you define your “team” based on incidental characteristics and then push for them to win, whatever “winning” is supposed to mean? Or do you choose your team based on what they say and do, regardless of these other differences, and work together for common goals rather than common traits?

I seem to have less and less time, these days, for people who choose the former.

How the toupée fallacy enables judgmental jerks

The toupée fallacy is named for a particular example of the informal fallacy that goes something like this:

All toupées look fake; I’ve never seen one that I couldn’t tell was fake.

Like a lot of fallacies, it’s so painfully obvious when it’s spelled out that you might have a hard time believing that anyone actually entertains this kind of thought. You would immediately respond to a person who said this by replying “Look, genius, you only think that all toupées look fake because the only ones you’ve noticed have been the bad fake ones. The ones that are clearly fake.” They might respond by insisting that they’re very good at detecting the existence of toupées, but that would be beside the point– in fact, it would detract from the point they’re trying to make. If all toupées look fake, then it wouldn’t be necessary to have refined toupée detection skills to detect them.

And of course we wouldn’t care about detecting toupées at all, bad or not, if we weren’t judgmental about the act of wearing a toupée in the first place.  If we didn’t think that being “fake” was wrong, we would not care about “real” vs. “fake.” We most likely wouldn’t have a notion of “fake” in the first place. Instead of Fake Thing vs. Real Thing, there would simply be One Kind of Thing and Another Kind of Thing.

Toupées are kind of an outdated thing to be judgmental about, with the glaring exception of course being Donald Trump. Trump might be single-handedly keeping the toupée fallacy alive specifically regarding toupées. But not in general, because there are so many things people are judgmental about, so many places where people have decided that there’s a “fake” and a “real,” and I’m going to discuss a few.

Cosmetic surgery

The terms “cosmetic surgery” and “plastic surgery” are often used interchangeably, but cosmetic surgery is that brand of plastic surgery performed to enhance a patient’s appearance aesthetically.  The toupée fallacy among people who are judgmental about cosmetic surgery (and gosh, there are a lot of them) occurs because having surgery to improve your appearance is perceived to be wrong. By its own name (“cosmetic”) it’s not medically necessary, therefore it’s not necessary at all. And if you’re one of the people who thinks this way, you have an incentive to believe that cosmetic surgery is obvious– how else would you point out people who have had it and call them out as vain and silly?

But of course, only the obvious cosmetic surgery is obvious. In all other cases the “fake” is indistinguishable from the “real,” unless you happen to have before/after photos of the person in question. If you treat cosmetic surgery as kind of deception committed by a shallow person against the world, this distinction matters.  If you simply see it as a person opting to change his/her appearance for non-medical reasons, it does not. There is no real and fake– there is simply before and after.

No makeup

Wearing makeup is another way in which people– invariably women– are perceive as pulling one over on the world, specifically the heterosexual men of the world. Apparently it’s a crime to make your face look different, even on a temporary basis, because a man could look at it and not realize that you weren’t born looking that way.

The toupée fallacy here takes the form of insisting that women without makeup don’t just look better but are vaguely morally superior (by not taking part in the deception), and of course the person making the judgment can tell perfectly well whether a woman is wearing makeup or not.

Buzzfeed has a list of examples of people praising celebrity women for being “natural” and going without makeup when they are actually wearing minimal makeup or just non-obvious makeup.  If you’ve ever seen a makeup tutorial, you probably know that just as much time and work can go into a non-obvious makeup job as an obvious one.

So much of makeup is corrective– if a person spends an hour hiding her pimples and under-eye circles, and giving herself the appearance of more prominent cheekbones, how is that going to be distinguishable from someone who just has prominent cheekbones, and lacks pimples and under-eye circles?  And what is the moral difference if one of those people is wearing bright orange lipstick while the other is wearing colorless lip balm?

There isn’t one, of course. There are only aesthetic preferences turned normative judgments.

Fake geek girls

The toupée fallacy regarding “fake geek girls,” on the other hand, is not about aesthetic preference– or at least, not just about that. A fake geek girl is a girl who appears to enjoy comics, video games, tabletop games, etc. when she actually doesn’t– or doesn’t enjoy them sufficiently to count. This distinction matters to people who consider themselves gatekeepers of geekdom, and believe that there is an actual problem of girls pretending to be interested in geeky things in order to win the attention and affection of geeky boys.

This kind of person commits the toupée fallacy by assuming that he (generally “he,” but not necessarily) has both the authority and the ability to assess a woman’s actual interest in/knowledge of geeky things and compare it to how much she appears to enjoy these things. Because– again– there is something wrong with appearing to enjoy geeky things more than you actually do. Apparently.

Transmen and transwomen

This is far and away the place where committing the toupée fallacy has the worst consequence– it is literally a matter of life and death.

Transphobia often involves believing that you can tell the difference between trans men and “real” men, between trans women and “real” women, and that this difference matters because being transgender is fundamentally wrong.

Natalie Reed is a trans woman who wrote a blog post specifically about this issue called Passability and the Toupée Fallacy, which discusses the incredible injustice of demanding that trans people “pass” as their claimed gender identity in order to be treated as…well, as people.

To “transition” is to take measures (such as wearing different clothes, getting “top surgery,” hormone replacement therapy, etc.) to change your appearance to more closely match that gender identity, and some trans people transition while others do not. There are various reasons why a trans person might not transition. They might feel more comfortable in their current appearance. They might simply not have the financial ability. For those who do transition, there is a societal expectation that they will or should do so “enough,” if they want to have their identity respected. And in reality, there are people who will never accept that someone’s gender now can differ from the one to which they were assigned at birth. To these people the different gender identity will always be the “fake,” while the previous one was the “real.”

We are moving away from this perception, albeit glacially. It amazes me how strongly society believes that it, not the individual in question, controls their identity.

Because in each of these cases, control is ultimately what we’re talking about. When someone declares they can decide that who you are is “fake,” whereas what you used to be, or what somebody else is, is “real,” they are trying to control you.

They are saying their perception of you matters more than your own of yourself.  They’re saying that even when they can’t tell the difference between the so-called-fake and the so-called-real, this distinction matters, because there’s something wrong with the so-called-fake. Else they wouldn’t consider it fake to begin with.

That’s why this fallacy matters. I wish it only applied to toupées.

DiTHBINAD

Screenshot from Firewatch

Feminist Frequency has begun producing a newsletter called FREQ, and their first edition is an interview with Jane Ng. Ng is a 3D environmental artist who most recently worked on Firewatch, which looks like an amazing game. You can read the interview with her here.

My favorite part about the interview, aside from learning that Ng originally started out studying theater and compares environmental design to scenic design (long ago, I studied theatrical scenic design myself), is this:

 I think games that are trying to appeal to young men can have kind of a macho thing going on, and it can create this culture where even the development team is kind of bro-y. A lot of it is determined by leadership. But with [the game] Spore we had Lucy [Bradshaw, executive producer of Spore] and she wanted the game to appeal to everyone, so the team didn’t have that attitude at all. There were women everywhere. I don’t think I had a single “did that happen because I’m not a dude” moment the entire time I was there. It was just about the work.

“Did that happen because I’m not a dude” is a great turn of phrase.  It’s a question that all kinds of women ask themselves when they suspect that they’ve encountered sexist attitudes in the workplace, because– contrary to popular belief– sexism in the workplace does not generally take the form of a co-worker or boss announcing “You’re a woman, and therefore I think less of you.”

Rather, it can be an environment in which women are treated differently, taken less seriously.  They might be outright harassed, but far more often they might be treated as if their views are less important. They might be interrupted or talked over. They might not be consulted on something they know about, in favor of a male co-worker who has less mastery of the subject.

When things like this happen, that woman’s first thought is likely to be “Did that happen because I’m not a dude?” She will ask herself this, and then maybe ask a co-worker who she trusts. The co-worker will hopefully commiserate, but even if so, there’s really not much the woman can do about this subtle sexism, especially if it comes from above.

So I can imagine what a tremendous relief it must’ve been for Ng to be in a working environment where she didn’t get that DiTHBINAD feeling; an unexpected relief because of the male-dominated industry in which she works.

I suppose a general term for behaviors that stir that DiTHBINAD feeling would be “microaggressions,” but I like the specificity of DiTHBINAD. If a woman in a male-dominated industry says that in a certain working environment she doesn’t get that feeling, we should sit up and take notice– that team, that department, maybe even that company as a whole, is doing something right. They should be recognized for that.

Did Richard Dawkins blame his stroke on feminists?

On Feb. 5th Richard Dawkins experienced a stroke while at home, on the cusp of traveling to New Zealand and Australia for a speaking tour. Fortunately it was a minor stroke, and he was allowed to return home after four days to begin recuperating. He reported later that it was a hemorrhagic stroke in the right basal ganglion, which “affects left-side coordination but does not affect higher cerebral function.”

That update comes from this recording of Dawkins describing what happened. In it he sounds very frail, but not a bit less lucid– quite to the contrary, he takes the opportunity quote both Steven Pinker and his own previous writings on the evolutionary marvel of the human hand. Dawkins’ own left hand’s functioning had been diminished by the stroke to the point that manipulating buttons became difficult. He goes on to reflect that he’d been thought slow as a child for being a late learner of button manipulation as well as shoe-tying, having started life in Africa and not requiring such fastenings on his clothing at the time because of the ambient weather.

And this part of the recording I will simply transcribe, because listeners have reached radically different conclusions about its meaning:

The doctors, obviously, were worried about what caused it. I’d been having blood pressure problems for a while, which the GP and I’d thought were under control, but apparently not. The doctors asked me whether I’d been suffering from stress, and I had to say, yes I had.  They keep advising me not to get involved in controversy, and I’m afraid I had to tell them that controversy– that not getting involved in controversy is not one of the things I’m terribly talented at.

I told them that I’d had a certain amount of controversy and was very distressed, and on the 28th of January I was dis-invited from a conference in America to which I’d previously been asked. This upset me very much. I’m used to getting hate from religious nuts and creationists but when I get hate from what I think of as my own people…the left, liberals, feminists and so on, that directly hurt me. And I might’ve been expected to get a stroke after that, if ever.

But paradoxically, the stroke came after I got a bit of good news. On the morning of February the fifth, I had a very gracious letter from the conference organizers, the committee, graciously apologizing for dis-inviting me and re-inviting me, and I was overjoyed at that. And you might think that’s the last time I’ve have got a stroke, but it was actually the evening of that same day that I got the stroke.

It’s to be assumed that the conference Dawkins is talking about here is NECSS, from which he was dis-invited last month for having approvingly tweeted a video claiming that feminists and Islamists share a commonly ideology.

I did some searching for verification that Dawkins had been re-invited to NECSS, but didn’t find anything. There isn’t any notice of such on their web site— the most recent announcement regarding Dawkins is their declaration to dis-invite him on January 27th called Concerning Richard Dawkins.  I don’t see anything on their Twitter feed, either.  So….who knows?

If I were PolitiFact, I would probably give the claim that Dawkins blamed feminists for his stroke a rating of “half true.” He said that he could’ve been expected to have a stroke, “if ever,” from the “hate” directed toward him by his “own people,” which includes the left, liberals, and feminists.  But in this speculation, he notes that the stroke was more immediately preceded by receiving notification of being re-invited to NECSS.

Matthew Facciani at Patheos wrote a blog post that was originally titled “Dawkins blames feminists for his stroke,” and then changed it after getting some heat from readers.  His post concludes:

I hope Dawkins continues to make a full recovery and I also hope that some of his words from this interview can impact people. 1) It’s another reminder how precious life is and how we should cherish every moment. and 2) It’s also a reminder that we should try to be decent to one another even when we disagree. Perhaps the many Dawkins fans who scoffed at the harassment women face online can take note how serious such behavior can be.

It wasn’t just Dawkins’ fans, but he himself who scoffed at the harassment women face online– and even endorsed such harassment, in the case of Chanty Binx.  I suppose that’s just because he decided that she was “nasty” and therefore “deserves abundant mockery, the more the merrier.”

But here’s the thing– given Dawkins’ comments above, it seems like he needs to make a decision. Either “abundant mockery” can potentially cause a person to have a stroke, or people can “deserve abundant mockery, the more the merrier.”  I suppose a third option could exist– that both are true, and therefore some people deserve to have a stroke caused by abundant mockery– but I don’t want to believe that anyone genuinely thinks that.

It’s common knowledge that there are many feminists, including Chanty Binx, who have become the targets of sustained harassment both on the internet and off because they are well-known feminists. Each of these women has suffered from it. Each has had to make a choice, perhaps repeated choices, about whether to continue speaking out, and to what extent they can handle doing so.  Most of these women do not have anything like the platform and hordes of admirers that Dawkins has, factors that– along with other privileges– have enabled him to have considerable insulation from such ridicule.  It’s a really good thing none of them have had strokes (that we know of) as a result……so far…..isn’t it?

What feminists make noise about

In reply to my previous post, “Jokuvaan” made the following comment:

What you are missing here is the current double standard of european mainstream feminists treating rapes differently depending of the ethnical background of the perpetrators. So far feminists have made more noise about one man comparing women to cars than about taharrush jamai or taharrush gamae in europe. Just recently a all women college in Germany decided to shut down for the time of the carnival so that the students wouldn’t get raped if they left their homes. Some feminists go even as far as victim blaming like women shouldn’t dress so revealingly to agitate the muslim men to rape. No I’m not shitting you. Sure this cartoon is a exaggeration but its not without a hint of truth. Though I’m not blaming you as it seems you are on the other side of the Atlantic and likely have to rely on english news on the subject and frankly most european countries are not native english speaking. 

My reply:

I have a few disparate points to make in response to that so I’m going to just number them for clarity:

  1. Your working definition of “feminist” seems to be “person who makes noise about crimes against women in proportion to what I, Jokuvaan, consider to be their severity.” This is not the definition of feminism. A quick and easy definition of feminism would be “opposition to sexism and enforcement of gender roles.” Being a feminist does not mean one has an obligation to make noise about anything at all, let alone make more noise about some things than others. To say otherwise is to commit a form of moral equivalence fallacy often referred to as “Dear Muslima” after Richard Dawkins famously used those words to commit said fallacy in 2011. You can read more about the fallacy here. You can also read Dawkins’s limp apology for committing it here, though I’d note that he seemed to have forgotten about it completely by the very next day.
  2. Following from #1, a feminist’s failure to “make noise” about something cannot be construed as agreement with it, much less advocacy of it. It’s possible to care about more than one thing at a time, and it’s possible to care about something without “making noise” about it. If you declared yourself to be an animal rights activist, and I noticed that you weren’t protesting the fact that an endangered species of animal is being driven further to the brink of extinction, I don’t get to declare that you share a common ideology with trophy hunters. That would be grossly dishonest of me, especially if I wasn’t an animal rights activist myself. I don’t get to tell you how to do your activism, and I don’t get to claim you side with your enemy because you’re not doing activism in the way I’d prefer.
  3. I cannot verify your claims about what “some feminists” have or haven’t done regarding victim-blaming or reasons for shutting down carnivals, but I do wonder– if it’s the behavior of these feminist that supposedly lends a “hint of truth” to a video which claims that feminism generally has “much in common” with Islamism, isn’t it rather odd that the person chosen to represent feminism in the video is a Canadian feminist? A person who has absolutely nothing to do with any of what you’re talking about? Doesn’t that seem rather odd, that they picked a woman who has been harassed for years for the “crime” of just yelling at some MRAs, rather than one of these people whom you say are engaging in victim-blaming? 

The cartoon is not an exaggeration– it’s a bald-faced lie. It was created by anti-feminists to claim that feminists are just like Islamists if they do not…I don’t know what. Talk about Islamic misogyny all day, every day? Roam the streets trying to attack Muslim men as punishment for Islamic misogyny? Maybe just become anti-Muslim terrorists?

It’s not clear what kind or amount of opposition to Islamic misogyny would convince an anti-feminist that feminists don’t “share essentially the same ideology” as Islamists, and that’s because anti-feminists don’t actually give a shit about Islamic misogyny. They just hate both Muslims and feminists, and so it’s awfully convenient to pretend that two of your enemies are in league with each other so you can swing the same club and hit them both.

In actuality, Islamophobes and Islamic misogynists are both enemies of mine, because I oppose both religion-based and sex-based bigotry. And if you think I’m not shouting about one loudly enough, it doesn’t mean I agree with the other. It means you should do your own shouting.

Dawkins insults feminists, complains when feminists feel insulted

Last Tuesday (Jan. 26th), Richard Dawkins made the following tweet:

Text: “Obviously doesn’t apply to vast majority of feminists, among whom I count myself.
But the minority are pernicious.”

Here’s a summary of what happened next:

Lindy West began a Twitter conversation with Dawkins, informing him that the woman caricatured in the video is a real person called Chanty Binx. Binx was recorded shouting at a group of Mens’ Rights Activists (MRAs) outside of an event at the University of Toronto in 2013, and the video made her the object of ridicule and harassment, including death threats, by anti-feminists who refer to her as “Big Red.”

Dawkins expressed surprise to learn that Binx is a real person and eventually deleted the tweet with the video, stating that death threats are never acceptable—but not before hedging on the deletion and implying that after having watched the original video of Binx, she might’ve deserved them. Even after deleting the tweet, Dawkins affirmed that Binx is “nasty” and “vile,” that she did deserve “ridicule” and “abundant mockery,” suggested that she might be mentally ill, and implied that she made up the threats against her.

The Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism (NECSS) had recently invited Dawkins as a speaker in spite of his known tendency to, as Adam Lee put it, “post a horrible misogynist meme, get called out on it, get defensive, go back and delete tweets, repeat.” However, as a result of this particular Twitter dust-up, the NECSS rethought their decision and uninvited Dawkins on the 27th. Steven Novella, a member of NECSS’s executive committee, made a post on his blog Neurologica yesterday detailing the thinking behind this decision.

Considering that the Center for Inquiry (CFI) made an announcement on the 21st that the skeptic organization would be merging with the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science (RDFRS), Stephanie Zvan wrote an open letter to CFI’s board of directors urging them to reconsider that merger in light of Dawkins “embracing denialism of harassment.”

Dawkins, you will probably not be surprised to hear, still believes he did nothing wrong.

Text: “Now I’ve heard it all. Now I’m the one accused of generalising about ‘all’ feminists!
What can you do?
Text: “Yes, of course many feminists care passionately about Islamic misogyny. They’re
the ones NOT satirised in the ‘offensive’ joke cartoon.”

He apparently believes that because #NotAllFeminists, because he stated in the original tweet that feminists who love Islamists are the “pernicious minority” of feminists, those feminists in the “vast majority” should not be offended by a video which equates feminism with Islamism.

And let’s mince no words—that is absolutely what it does.

It was made by “Sargon of Akkad,” who I’d never heard of before. Rebecca Watson, however, describes him as a “longtime harasser of me and other women” and Zoë Quinn described Dawkins’s tweet as “promoting a guy who built a career of a stalking and harassing my family.”

Here’s a link to the video, but if it you don’t want to watch it I don’t blame you in the slightest. I didn’t want to watch it either, but did so that I could provide this transcript:

The animated video depicts Chanty Binx sitting at a grand piano, playing it. Next to her stands a man with a long nose and a beard, dressed in jeans, a jacket, and a baseball cap with a picture of what looks like an AK-47 on it. Since I don’t know if this man is supposed to represent a real person or not, I will refer to him simply as “Islamist.”

Their singing is done by a man (“Sargon of Akkad,” I assume), using an a vaguely Arabic accent (which later changes to British) for the Islamist and a whining, nasal tone for Chanty Binx.

Islamist: I am an Islamist

Chanty Binx: I am a feminist. You might not think we have very much in common.

Islamist: But we share essentially the same ideology.

Chanty Binx: And Muslims are oppressed just like every woman.

Islamist: I say “haram.”

Chanty Binx: I say “problematic.”

Islamist: You say everything’s “triggering.”

Chanty Binx: And you say everything’s unquaranic cos you are an Islamist.

Islamist: And you are a feminist.

Both: We have so very much in common.

Islamist: I say “Islamophobia.”

Chanty Binx: I say “misogyny.”

Islamist: I blame the Jewish media.

Chanty Binx: And I blame the patriarchy cos I am a feminist.

Islamist: And I am an Islamist.

Both: A whiny pair of little spastics.

Islamist: You know what makes me feel like really marginalized, yeah? Is when ignorant people remind me that the prophet (alayhi as-salām) had sex with a nine year old girl.

Chanty Binx: Mohammed had sex with a child? Oh, that’s awesome! That means that every white sister and heteronormative pedophile here in the West is guilty of cultural appropriation! And that’s the real societal problem!

Islamist: Oh yeah!

Chanty Binx: See? It’s easy when you look at the world through problematic glasses! (laughs)

Islamist: Oh, who would’ve thought that you and me would get along so well?

Chanty Binx: I say “social justice.”

Islamist: I say “jihad.”

Chanty Binx: I say “Slutwalk.”

Islamist: I say “Whore, where is your hijab?” cos I am an Islamist.

Chanty Binx: And I am a feminist.

Both: We have so very much in common.

Islamist: So do you mind if I rape you now?

Chanty Binx: Oh, don’t be silly. It’s not rape when a Muslim does it! (Both laugh)

Islamist: That is a good one!

Lovely, huh?

So here are a couple of obvious things to note, right off the bat:

The video itself clearly does not consider Islamist feminists to be a “pernicious minority.” Chanty Binx is presented as a feminist– she’s intended to represent feminists generally. The Islamist is, likewise, intended to represent Islamists generally– he’s not merely a “pernicious minority” in Islamism. Actually, Islamism would be better described as a pernicious minority within Islam, and if the Islamist in this video had been described instead as “a Muslim,” then Muslims would be legitimately offended at the generalization. Possibly they should be anyway.

The video mocks concepts that are uncontroversial within feminism:

  • Patriarchy is a social system in which men hold primary power (though intersectional feminists refer to interconnecting systems of power and dominance revolving around race, sexual orientation, class, etc. rather than there being just one type of privilege elevating one group over another).
  • Misogyny is hatred of and/or ingrained contempt for women.
  • Social justice is the entire body of effort to create a more equitable society.

The video equates feminist actions and concepts with elements of Muslim extremism that are their exact opposite, such as Slutwalk vs. calling women “whores” because they are not wearing a hijab. Slutwalk is a celebration of womens’ freedom to dress however they choose without being harassed or sexually assaulted, for crying out loud. On what planet does that indicate that the feminist and the Islamist “share essentially the same ideology”?

Likewise “haram” (forbidden) and “problematic” (problematic)?

Likewise “triggering” (eliciting a negative emotional response such as panic or fear) and “unquranic” (apparently “in violation of the Quran”)?

And of course there’s an element of pretty disgusting ableism thrown in (“a whiny pair of little spastics”) so we don’t have to wonder what kind of people this video is made by and for.

Really, based on Dawkins’s previous comments about Muslims on Twitter, including his bizarre tirade against “clock boy” Ahmed Mohamed, it’s easy to see what he was trying to get at– some feminists have the gall to think that there is such a thing as Islamophobia (bigotry against Muslims) and speak out against it, and in Dawkins’s view these feminists are not just wrong but are enabling Islamism. There are even cultural relativist feminists out there who use the term “Islamophobia” to refer to any criticism of Islam in order to stifle it.

I count myself as the former type of feminist– I’ve seen mosques vandalized or destroyed, non-Muslims denying that Islam is even a religion whose practitioners have the equal right to worship as they choose, and worst of all Muslims (and anyone who looks like they could be Muslims, such as Sikhs) being violently attacked by racist and religious bigots.

However, I’m pretty sure of a few things:

  • Islamophobia exists, and it is not criticism of Islam. It’s bigotry against Muslims for being Muslim.
  • Chanty Binx is not known for being an Islamist or agreeing with Islamists.
    And
  • There is not a feminist alive who thinks that rape isn’t rape if it’s committed by a Muslim.

I would imagine that in addition to considering himself a feminist, Richard Dawkins counts himself as a civil rights activist. And yet I’m trying to imagine him tweeting a link to a video created by a white supremacist depicting a black civil rights activist such as Shaun King singing along with an Islamist, laughing about how they “have so much in common,” because there are a “pernicious minority” of civil rights activists who say that some– or even all– criticisms of Islam are racially-based.

Because hey, he’s not talking about all black civil rights activists (even though the video is)! How absurd would it be for black civil rights activists to get upset about this video equating them with violent bigots when clearly it’s “satire”?  When obviously it’s a “joke,” and the joke is not about them? When Dawkins went to the trouble of putting scare quotes around the word “offensive,” to make it clear that only a dimwit would be offended by the comparison?

Dawkins blames Twitter’s “brevity” for the continuing cycle of his stepping in it, over and over again. He says it “forces you straight to the point, which can sound aggressive.”  But his extreme defensiveness for being called out after stepping in it, and apparent eagerness to rush straight back to the cannons to fire another volley of assholery onto the internet before the furor over the last one has died down, give the lie to this claim.

Perhaps he thinks that if you say it on the internet, it doesn’t matter. Perhaps he has too much of an echo chamber– his supporters were in full force while the exchange with Lindy West was going on– to be able to recognize legitimate criticism and learn from it.  I really couldn’t guess.

But I can be grateful to see, with his “de-platforming” from the NECSS, that this behavior at least has consequences.  Finally.

Beyond Boobs n’ Butts

The creator of a fictional character can make that character what the creator wants.  Obvious, right? If you’re an author or an artist (or both), and you invent a character to be in the story you tell, you can make that character look and behave however you see fit. The only limits are in your imagination. That’s an amazing power indeed.

And with great power comes….yeah, yeah, you saw this coming: great responsibility. This power and responsibility have belonged to every storyteller since people started to tell stories, and continue to do so as the methods of storytelling have changed.  It seems like everywhere you look, the conversation is taking place about how women are depicted in the forms of storytelling known as “comics” and “video games,” and this blog is no exception. But I didn’t want to just keep rehashing the point, so after those two posts I pretty much only commented when there was a new development on the subject that I actually knew something about.

Or, in this case, something made the point particularly well. That something is Buzzfeed’s article We Had Women Photoshopped Into Stereotypical Comic Book Poses And It Got Weird, in which female Buzzfeed writers tried to emulate the pose of a female superhero in a specific image, and….failed miserably. And then in an attempt to help them along, their pictures were Photoshopped to make them look like the superheroines.

Here’s the video:

It reminds me of fantasy author Jim C. Hines’ hilarious photo shoots of himself posing as the featured female character on the covers of various fantasy novels.  In addition to just being awesome, those photos were intended to show a) how a man would look adopting the same pose and wearing the same kinds of outfits as the women were, and b) how uncomfortable it would be for him to do so. In case readers dismissed this discomfort based on Hines’ age/gender/non-martial artist nature, he linked to a female martial artist/contortionist who had similar findings.

The Buzzfeed women, on the other hand, were primarily showing how for comic book heroines a) the poses are highly difficult to impossible, and b) the bodies themselves are impossible.  If you’ve ever looked at the Escher Girls blog, you’re very familiar with this.  You might even know that the most popular highly-difficult-to-impossible (hereafter referred to simply as “impossible”) pose is the classic “Boobs and Butt,” in which the female character manages to turn both breasts and her ass to the “camera” simultaneously, often in a way that suggests her spine is made of rubber and/or some or all internal organs have been removed.

Boobs n’ Butt example 1

Kristin, one of the Buzzfeed writers who took part in this horrifying experiment, describes the B&B pose this way:

Unless you completely lack object permanence, you can deal with not seeing both boobs and butt at the same time. Like, give readers some credit: When a character turns around, it’s not like we all go “BUT WHERE DID THE BOOBS GO? ARE THE BOOBS GONE FOREVER? I NEED ASSURANCES THAT THERE ARE STILL BOOBS HERE.” In fact, the only people who actually think this way are real-life babies, and they can’t read comics, anyway!

You know the typical policy of not reading the comments on internet articles?  This is an example of an article for which that is especially the case. Readers accused the women who took part in the creation of this article of having “body issues.” They accused them of trying to “ruin comics.” They claimed that hey, it’s the same for men, man!  They just outright made fun of the Buzzfeed writers’ appearance, calling them fat, ugly, etc.

I don’t seem to recall any of the same crap being directed at Jim C. Hines.

Some of the readers, though, had a slightly different complaint– What’s the point?  What are you trying to prove? they asked.  And I’d like to try and answer that.

I think a general principle can be applied to storytelling, which is that whatever reality your story is set in, if your characters differ from the what is normal for that reality (in terms of abilities, appearance, etc.), you need to account for that difference. It’s sloppy storytelling– or worse, a mistake– to have characters deviate from reality with no apparent purpose or explanation whatsoever.

So, for example, if you make a movie that’s set in downtown Atlanta in 2004, and you have your main characters walking down the street surrounded by people and all of those people are white, you’re deviating from reality in a way that needs an explanation.  Did everyone of a different ethnicity get vaporized by aliens?  Did Georgia experience a holocaust?  If the answer is “We didn’t bother to hire any non-white extras” or “We purposefully didn’t hire any non-white extras,” that’s not going to cut it.  There are really only two possible interpretations for your viewer, and those are:

  • The movie-makers are sloppy story-tellers, or 
  • The movie-makers are making a statement about their preferred reality, and that reality doesn’t include non-white people. In other words, the people who made this movie are probably racist.

Now take that and apply it to comic book women with impossible bodies in impossible poses. That would make sense if, and only if, we’re talking about superheroines whose powers include the ability to morph self. And then, I suppose, there would still be a need to explain why they chose to manifest this ability by doing the Boobs n’ Butt pose…mid-battle, fighting off fearsome enemies.

Boobs n’ Butt example 2

Because you know that, absent an explanation along these lines, the reader is forced to reach his or her own conclusions again. And there are (again) two of those:

  • The comic book artist is a lousy artist. He/she has poor grasp of anatomy and should invest in some manikins ASAP, or
  • The comic book artist deliberately manipulates female forms to exaggerate certain features that are sexually attractive to the artist or his/her audience, or both, at the risk of appearing ridiculous to people who have a good sense of anatomy and/or don’t think Boobs n’ Butt is an acceptable trade-off for realistic-looking human figures.

I think it’s fair to say that an increasing number of us do not find it an acceptable trade-off.  We’d prefer better storytelling than that.

Conservative fantasy vs. reality, pt. 3

I took the “most likely” out, because this is just reality.

Dan Lietha’s comic about Planned Parenthood:

My response:

The facts:

  • Planned Parenthood services help prevent approximately 516,000 unintended pregnancies each year.
  • Planned Parenthood provides nearly 400,000 Pap tests and nearly 500,000 breast exams each year, critical services in detecting cancer.
  • Planned Parenthood provides nearly 4.5 million tests and treatments for sexually transmitted infections, including 700,00 HIV tests.
  • Three percent of all Planned Parenthood health services are abortion services.

This means, I would point out, that Planned Parenthood prevents far, far more abortions than it helps to provide, by preventing so many unwanted pregnancies. But I would also point out that there is no number of abortions that counts as “too many.” Abortion should be safe, legal, and accessible. It’s just so sad, so devastatingly sad, for people to think that they’re curbing unwanted pregnancies by cutting funding to Planned Parenthood. They are not.

I often wonder if people who rail against Planned Parenthood– overwhelmingly male– have ever set foot in one. Have they ever discussed their services, and the experience of receiving them, with a girlfriend, wife, sister, mother, or female friend?

I’ve been to Planned Parenthood many times, in Texas and then in Kansas. I spent a long time without health insurance, and that was the best and easiest way to get the care that I needed. Every woman over 25 should receive a cervical cancer screening, or pap smear, once a year– they’re commonly called a “yearly” for a reason.

Along with a yearly exam you get your blood pressure taken, an STD test if you elect to have one, and a consultation with a doctor about birth control options. Depending on the services offered by the Planned Parenthood you visit, you can walk out with either the birth control itself (priced based on a sliding scale, depending on income) or a referral for where to get it.

I’m watching the second GOP debate while writing this. I’m honestly convinced that no Republican candidate for president gives a damn about any of this. I find it quite easy to believe, in fact, that they don’t care about female reproductive health needs at all, except when it comes to persuading women to have babies.

We are not baby machines.
We are equal.
We deserve autonomy.

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