December 9, 2008

Subtle sexism: analyzing The Witcher

Posted in entertainment, entitlement, gaming, gender, heteronormative, objectification, phallocentrism, representation, sexism, sexual politics at 8:00 pm by LB

This post is about the PC game The Witcher, which someone I know has just started playing. But this post is less about the game and more about cultural representations and assumptions about gender and sexuality. He and I had a conversation around it today, which got me thinking a lot about female sexuality, male entitlement, and homophobia in our culture. So please bear through my discussion of the game to get the “big picture” analysis.

In browsing around the internets and reading people’s discussions around gender and sexuality in the game, I very often read these reasons for why the game isn’t “that bad” vis-a-vis women and (women’s) sexuality: the sex scenes are well done (they are in fact pretty tasteful) and the women aren’t represented as all dumb bimbos (as if commodifying women’s sexuality is only sexist if the women are represented as idiots.) My friend mentioned that in reading reviews, many women said the sex in the game wasn’t “that bad.” But in the game, it’s not really the sex that’s the problem.

At first, I thought that gender and sexuality in the game wasn’t so bad, but the more I was told the more troubled I became. Originally, I thought the sex in the game was just optional, with no reward attached, and the sex scenes aren’t gratuitous or very objectifying. Point one for the game?

Well, that’s not exactly it. Read the rest of this entry »

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November 25, 2008

Commercial Critique: Guitar Hero World Tour

Posted in advertising, body politics, Commercial Critique, double standards, gaming, gender, objectification, representation, sexism, television at 10:00 am by LB

I was originally pretty pleased at the Guitar Hero World Tour commercials. I liked that the first one, at least, showed a group of guys hanging out in comfy, even kinda sexy, clothing, rocking out like dorks. Typically representations of masculinity perform “boundary maintenance” (see “Fraternal Bonding”, which interestingly enough specifically talks about athletes), which is about displaying masculinity through sexism and homophobia; so often in commercials, the “cool guys” are the womanizing-objectifying type (not that the first GH didn’t have at least one of those in there), not the male bonding through semi-sexy fun type. So the initial commercial, at least, thwarted my expectation by not giving into the the sexist-homophobic construction of masculinity typically seen. The first one featured several male athletes (Plelps, A-Rod, Tony Hawk, Kobe Bryant) rocking it out in someone’s living room a la Risky Business, and several more have followed including American Idol stars David Archuleta and David Cook, High School Musical actor/singer Corbin Blue, and most recently model Heidi Klum. Except they’re not really a la Risky Business.

In Risky Business, Cruise dances around the living room in a long-sleeved button-down t-shirt, barely long enough to cover his ass, and nothing else is visible until the end when you see he has skimpy tighty whities on. In the GH commercials, the guys are dancing around in replica dress shirts and long, white boxers. Not 100% authentic, but I didn’t think anything of it because it’s a daytime commercial, and I figured they probably didn’t want it too seductive. That logic only held until I saw the Klum ad, where she wears (big surprise!) only the barely long enough dress shirt–no white shorts.

Why the discrepancy? Does this go back to the idea that sexualizing women’s bodies is acceptable for general consumption, but men’s bodies are (generally) off limits? What’s especially interesting to me here is that the original context of the parody was the sexual one–it’s not like they changed the commercial to make the one with the woman more sexual; rather they specifically desexualized the men’s commercials, and in doing so, deviated from its original context. It doesn’t bother me that they deviated; it’s that they deviated from, and desexualized, only the ones with the men.

But wait–it gets better. Because they actually did make the women’s one more sexual. The version of Klum’s commercial aired during Monday Night Football featured Klum with the button-down shirt unbuttoned, displaying black lingerie underneath. During her GH “performance”, she strips her shirt off, gyrating around, shakes her boobs while leaning back–all very stripper-like moves; again, this version is way off from the original they are supposed to be parodying. Celebrity Smack has this characterization of the commercial:

Close-ups of her ass and her boobs come next, followed by Heidi jumping down on the couch and holding the guitar between her legs as though it were a 2-foot long sex toy.

It is indeed a very sexualized commercial, Klum is turned into a quasi-porn star and the guitar seems more like a phallus than a fake guitar. This still is particularly telling:

Before anyone points out that “it’s not that bad”, the point is that for a series of commercials that are supposed to be citing a famous film scene, the ad makers go out of their way to increase the sexualization of the one commercial featuring a woman, and decrease the sexualization of the many commercials featuring a man or men. The only ad they made that is an accurate representation of the film is the “family-friendly” Klum ad. And until now, I haven’t even pointed out the 3:1 male:female ratio of the ads, nor the vocations of the genders represented (athletes and musicians: supermodel, how original!).

Let me point out, that there have been more “successful” replications of the Risky Business scene. Exhibit A: one of my favorite shows, Scrubs, had a JD fantasy sequence with the guys imitating Cruise. Now they don’t go through and dance–the fantasy is cut short–and the scene is much more goofy than sexy, but there we had 4 guys on non-cable TV early prime-time (and syndicated now during the day) with the same shirt some Cruise-like much skimpier undies. No reason GH couldn’t follow suit.

But maybe our only women’s-bodies-should-be-objectified/men-looking-at-men’s-bodies-makes-you-gay society can’t handle the swooning that would ensue if we were able to see as much of A-Rod, Phelps, and Kobe’s athletic physiques as we see of JD, Turk, Dr. Cox, and The Todd. For a game that appeals quite equally to female as well as male players, GH sure didn’t aim to give men and women equal ad time and representation.

(For other posts in this series, click here)

November 21, 2008

Two standards of “sexy”

Posted in beauty culture, Celebritocracy, double standards, gender, hot lists, objectification, representation, sexual politics, sexy at 9:10 pm by LB

From the world of “top lists”:

via Yahoo!’s OMG! department, that gives me pop culture news when I’m trying to access my e-mail via the Yahoo! homepage that I’d really rather not know about, comes 2 male “hot lists” that I find rather interesting.  First, People magazine name Hugh Jackman the sexiest man alive.  Nothing new here: People’s “sexiest man” regularly is permitted to be and look much older than “sexiest women” are (the last 3 were Damon @ 37, Clooney @ 45, and McConaughey @ 36; Maxim’s ’08 “Hot 100” #1 is 30, and the last 3 were 21, 31, and 30).  

No, what I found interesting was the accompanying pictorial on the sexiest fathers in Hollywood.  

  1. The photos used were shots of the fathers in action, playing with their kids.  So lovely and sweet, but not quite the MILF-esque treatment given to editorials about “sexy moms.”  Sidenote: I do think that “sexy parent” editorials are horrible:  I’d rather read about good parents period, sexy or not.  To me, that makes as much logical sense as having a pictorial about the best brunette parents–hair color has about as much to do with being a parent as being sexy does.  But if they’re going to have the them at all, they should focus both kinds of editorials on their parenting creds (since all it takes is a personal trainer, a stylist, and a decent photographer to be sexy in Hollywood).  But even still, if they’re going to take the MILF angle (ugh, I shudder each time I even type that), can we at least evaluate the dads and the moms in the same sexified manner?  FILFs, anyone?  
  2. It seems that what counts as being a sexy mother is having the expendable time, money, and energy to put the work into getting your body back to a pre-pregnancy state, tasks that become so much easier with hired help–nannies, personal trainers, stylists, makeup artists, post-pregnancy photo shoots with favorable lighting, etc.  But what counts for being a sexy dad is in spending time with your kids, which I suppose is either an expected given for mothers or is irrelevant to their sexiness.  Hmmm…women judged on how they look, men judged on what they do…where have I heard that before??

 So the second thing I saw was again from OMG! breaking news about the 25 Hottest Hunks in Hollywood.  Again, we see the age discrepancy here, with is nothing new to celebrity men’s and women’s hot and sexy status.  Looking at the photos, I just want to know: why do they have so much clothes on?  How can we call them “hot” when men’s clothing gives us little indication of what’s underneath?  There seems to not be enough information to evaluate these men by…. yes, I’m joking but also not.  I’d say, if we saw a Hot list of women with so much clothing on, I think there’d be rioting in the streets.

November 17, 2008

Contemplating the significance of Playgirl’s end

Posted in double standards, entertainment, gender, phallocentrism, pornography, power hierarchy, representation, sex work, sexism at 10:00 am by LB

There was an article today in the New York Times about the recent end to Playgirl magazine.  Recently it’s publisher cancelled the magazine’s distribution.  I pulled out a few things from the article that I felt were very telling:*

 
So [in trying to rebrand Playgirl after the emphasis on gay imagery by previous ownership and editors] she and her fellow editors, all women in their 20s and all relative neophytes to the world of magazines — and pornography — resolved to fill Playgirl with something different. They aspired to bring Playgirl back to its roots, back to a time when the magazine covered issues like abortion and equal rights, interspersing sexy shots of men with work from writers like Raymond Carverand Joyce Carol Oates.

All the while, the editors juggled the demands of the publisher, Blue Horizon Media, which they said pushed to fill Playgirl with even more nudes and fewer words.

[…]

“I’m not a publishing expert, but it seems to me like it would be impossible to sustain a magazine on the quantity of ads Playgirl sold,” Ms. Collins said.

Although the Playgirl Web site is still running, the graphic content is geared more toward gay men. None of the magazine’s editors are involved.

Ms. Caldwell [one of only 3 editors] said Playgirl magazine suffered from the twin malaises of rising costs and declining sales.

[…]

Playgirl was started 35 years ago as a feminist response to Playboy and Penthouse. (Playboy sued Playgirl in 1973 for trademark infringement; the suit was settled amicably.) Over the years, the magazine changed ownership, began catering more to gay men, and whittled its operations down. Still, the magazine drew an avid readership, Ms. Caldwell said, selling 600,000 copies per issue in more than three dozen countries.

[…]

“For better or worse, this was a real blow for feminism. We were the only magazine that offered naked men to women.”

In the end, Playgirl was run by a skeleton crew of these three editors, along with what Ms. Caldwell described as “a whole horde of eager unpaid interns.”

[…]

The magazine had no marketing or public relations budget, so its editors sought to revive the Playgirl brand themselves, throwing parties at a Lower East Side bar. After Blue Horizon denied a request to finance a blog, Ms. Collins built one herself, starting it on WordPress, a free platform.

Their efforts, the women said, got virtually no support; indeed, their higher-ups, all of them men, usually resisted their push to give the magazine editorial heft.

Early in 2008, warning signs surfaced. While newsstands sales were up, Ms. Caldwell said, so were production costs. 

[…]

The magazine’s editors said they were never told why the magazine was shut down. But, they said, they were always struck by the paucity of ads.

 

I quote these segments, because I can see the writing on the wall: Read the rest of this entry »

August 20, 2008

Theorizing privacy and copyright: addressing “fair use”

Posted in activism, empowerment, entitlement, ideology, objectification, representation, sexual politics, Sexuality Blogs and Resources, victim-blaming at 12:00 pm by LB

For those of you who have missed it, I blog fast and furiously on women’s privacy in public places and online, and am very concerned with the lack of control women have over the use of their images. Of course, women don’t have any less control than men do, but in my previous posting, I have stated why I think this is more of a problem for women–including that in a culture that has historically deemed women’s bodies as for public consumption, there is much less respect for a woman’s privacy period, much less if she dresses/acts in a “certain way” or appears in a “certain place”.

The crux of my concern is: How can we really experience sexual liberation (that I maintain has not been accomplished yet) if we, as women, cannot control the terms by which we are turned into public sexual objects?

The most recent example of this is, of course, is with Olympic gymnast Alicia Sacramone. Several others have posted very nicely on this, and I was a bit bust this weekend, so please read their excellent posts. Let’s hope there’s no repeating last summer’s experience of a track athlete.

One issue I have had is, aside from changing cultural attitudes–the ultimate problem-solver–how do we go about making any practical change? Until I started reading online more this past fall, I honestly had no clue that guys would peruse Myspace and Flickr pages, looking for women to ogle, objectify, call names, produce fantasies of, etc. on their own sites, denying these women the right to just live their life. As a reasonable human being, it never dawned on me that someone would feel so entitled to photographs of a birthday night-out with friends that I needed to protect myself. And it’s not like I exactly live under a rock–I have done Myspace and Facebook, use Youtube sometimes (usually to find something specific, not to check out the most recent and ridiculous videos). But I haven’t altered my life all that much around the internet, so it is more of a resource for me, and not where I live my life. And since I don’t do Google searches for “sexist asshats displaying male entitlement to women’s sexuality,” I hadn’t stumbled on this phenomenon until I began reading more and more online in the past 9 months or so. And now that I see this happen regularly, each time breaking my heart, this is something I can’t not comment on, and something I’m determined to work on in activism.

So getting to the point of this post: I was on the Creative Commons website, and I noticed that you can copyright your images and prevent downloads on a site like Flickr, a perhaps little-know fact which is blog-worthy all in itself. So I did a little more digging.

From The Creative Commons website:

Creative Commons licenses give you the ability to dictate how others may exercise your copyright rights—such as the right of others to copy your work, make derivative works or adaptations of your work, to distribute your work and/or make money from your work. They do not give you the ability to restrict anything that is otherwise permitted by exceptions or limitations to copyright—including, importantly, fair use or fair dealing—nor do they give you the ability to control anything that is not protected by copyright law, such as facts and ideas.

Creative Commons licenses attach to the work and authorize everyone who comes in contact with the work to use it consistent with the license.

If such photos were subject to “fair use” by these asshats, their being under copyright makes me think their source would need to be cited. Would it really be so hard to have web software require to link to a source in order to upload photos? (which would only mean your own photos would have to be hosted on a photo sharing site first). I use WordPress for my blog, and whenever someone links to me, it shows up in part of the admin functions. Would it really be that hard to require photo-sharing services such as Flikr, Picasa, etc. to offer that feature as well? With requiring links and providing notification of linking back (“trackbacks”), this would at least give people the power to know where their images are showing up and help stop their unauthorized usage, even if it can’t be prevented.

But what is “fair use” even? From the U.S. Copyright Office: Read the rest of this entry »

August 12, 2008

“A movie people didn’t know they wanted to see”

Posted in film, representation at 12:00 pm by LB

Just read a great post at the Halthor Legacy that connected so well to an earlier post of mine, where I wrote

Bottom line: what we “choose” is not always what we want. It’s just what we have to choose from. And what we want for the most part comes from somewhere-it is shaped by what’s available.

Halthor Legacy writes

The reason why big shots would fear people finding out that “nobody knows anything” is simple: financiers pour millions into every movie that gets made […] Investors like to hear what sounds like convincing evidence a movie they’re backing will make them money.

The age-old example here is the original Star Wars. It wasn’t supposed to make more than a modest profit (and that, only because it was so low budget). Fox thought it was crap. To their amazement, it lined people up around the block on the first day […] All because – despite being a rip-off of any number of artistically superior movies – it wasn’t quite like anything anyone had seen before.

Lucas had made a movie people didn’t know they wanted to see. If you’d polled them, they wouldn’t have promised to see it. (emphasis mine)

[…] Everybody knows at the end of the day no stock expert can guarantee you the right investments – no movie is guaranteed, either. But when a movie succeeds inexplicably, potential investors start to wonder if you really know what the audience wants to see.

You handle this by sticking to the formula and memorizing a lot of excuses that always back the formula.

Read the whole thing here.

July 29, 2008

Some thoughts and findings from investigating my obsession with ‘privacy’

Posted in privacy, representation at 2:00 pm by LB

I’m trying to get a better handle on what laws are in existence regarding photographic representations and personal privacy, and I have been blogging about regularly. I’m just doing some web searching now, but I found some items of interest.

For example, in the USA, almost everything created privately and originally after April 1, 1989 is copyrighted and protected whether it has a notice or not. The default you should assume for other people’s works is that they are copyrighted and may not be copied unless you know otherwise.

[…]

Nothing modern and creative is in the public domain anymore unless the owner explicitly puts it in the public domain(*). Explicitly, as in you have a note from the author/owner saying, “I grant this to the public domain.” Those exact words or words very much like them. Some argue that posting to Usenet implicitly grants permission to everybody to copy the posting within fairly wide bounds, and others feel that Usenet is an automatic store and forward network where all the thousands of copies made are done at the command (rather than the consent) of the poster. This is a matter of some debate, but even if the former is true (and in this writer’s opinion we should all pray it isn’t true) it simply would suggest posters are implicitly granting permissions “for the sort of copying one might expect when one posts to Usenet” and in no case is this a placement of material into the public domain. It is important to remember that when it comes to the law, computers never make copies, only human beings make copies. Computers are given commands, not permission. Only people can be given permission. Furthermore it is very difficult for an implicit licence to supersede an explicitly stated licence that the copier was aware of.

Note that all this assumes the poster had the right to post the item in the first place. If the poster didn’t, then all the copies are pirated, and no implied licence or theoretical reduction of the copyright can take place.

This bit of info applies to the violations involving the circulation of images lifted from personal webpages as I wrote about here.

  • If we thought of representing the body as a thing of art, then one’s representation would be copyrighted. What would that mean philosophically if we viewed one’s representation that way? In an authored work, there is the author’s original work, possibly based on the use of facts. Facts are not themselves copyrighted. What counts as “the facts” of the body? I don’t think one’s representation is.
  • There is a “fair use” exception to copyright, that is done case-by case and could be used to exempt artists, journalists, etc. if we did begin to think about the body as copyrighted.
  • In reading about copyright, I was reminded that “public domain” is the other of “copyright”. Makes my t-shirt that much awesomer!
  • Photographing someone publicly is not a legal right if you profit from it.

    The right of publicity gives an individual a legal claim against one who uses the individual’s name, face, image, or voice for commercial benefit without obtaining permission.

    Just think of all the photos lifted of women or taken publicly of women that get posted on blogs with ad revenue…and they’re all illegal.

  • Also, does anyone know any attorneys who specialize in defamation law? Or the public realm? I’m dying to get some activism started on this. Leave a comment or email me.

July 25, 2008

I kissed a girl…but don’t worry, I’m not gay

Posted in heteronormative, lesbian, music, queer, representation, sexual politics at 12:00 pm by LB

Ever since I heard Katy Perry’s song, I’ve been critical and annoyed. I intended to write about it but so many others have already done so, and their views pretty much align with mine, so I thought I’d make a few comments and link to other awesome posts critiquing the song.

I, like many others, see this song as a representation of the casual, non-threatening, “girl-on-girl” performative play that dominates the representations of women’s same-sex attraction or desire. It plays on the exact stereotypes about bi or same-sex female desire that I discussed in my recent post about Tequila’s Shot at Love. The song’s message is that after a little alcohol, I can make out with another female; I may have liked it for a woman’s softness, scent, and feel, but don’t worry, I don’t plan on dating one. Kissing a girl is something “fun” to do, not anything serious that my boyfriend would be worried about–it’s all fun and games and something to do when you’re drunk at the bar.

On many blogs people ask if this is a remake of Jill Sobule’s song from the 90’s, that was very transgressive at the time. It’s not–it’s nowhere near close. Consider:

Sobule:

I kissed a girl, won’t change the world
But I’m so glad I kissed a girl

And we laughed at the world
They can have their diamonds
And we’ll have our pearls
I kissed a girl

For the first time
I kissed a girl
And I may do it again

Perry:

Us girls we are so magical
Soft skin, red lips, so kissable
Hard to resist so touchable
Too good to deny it
Ain’t no big deal, it’s innocent

I kissed a girl and I liked it
The taste of her cherry chapstick
I kissed a girl just to try it
I hope my boyfriend don’t mind it
It felt so wrong
It felt so right
Don’t mean I’m in love tonight

I’m pretty frustrated that this song is so popular. Its message is not at all daring, and really isn’t at all queer-positive, but instead actually reinforces the status quo vis-a-vis female sexuality (performing as lesbian for male desire, that it’s “hot” for women to casually play around with chicks, but don’t worry, they’ll always come back for a Man), and it is actually a dangerous co-opting and erasure of queer female sexuality.

I was even more annoyed that this song was played at Saturday’s Gay Pride celebration here in Rochester, NY. One interesting thing: almost all the people I saw singing along were…men.

Other Smart posts about this song:

Fatemeh @ Feministe

landslide1 @ feministing community

Cortney @ Feminism/Popular Culture

Laura @ The F Word

…7/29: I just stumbled on this one I had bookmarked a while ago from show me your wits!

July 24, 2008

Quick Hit: Check out Halthor Legacy!

Posted in feminism, film, gender, mass media, recommended reading, representation at 10:15 am by LB

I recently found this blog through another blog, I can’t event remember which, but it’s really great!

Hathor isn’t a review site. Nor is it a fan site. It was started in 2005 by Betacandy to demonstrate that there are people who don’t like how women and gender roles are presented in movies and TV because she was sick of hearing from film execs that the audience only wants white men in lead roles.

Very cool! And check out these posts especially:

Why discriminate if it doesn’t profit?

The question this brings to mind is: why would they discriminate against a group when there’s more profit to be made by doing the right thing? That’s a good question, and one that deserves an answer.

Some answers provided: ego and laziness.

Why film schools teach screenwriters not to pass the Bechdel test

To pass it your movie must have the following:

1) there are at least two named female characters, who

2) talk to each other about

3) something other than a man.

So simple, and yet as you go through all your favorite movies (and most of your favorite TV shows, though there’s a little more variety in TV), you find very few movies pass this test.

July 22, 2008

I write more imaginary letters

Posted in beauty culture, gender, hot lists, letters, representation, sexy at 12:00 pm by LB

Dear Maxim, Playboy, FHM, Stuff, any other female-objectifying, list-making website or mag, that either masquerades as “entertainment news” or [hetero, natch] “men’s interest”:

This is what a “hot 100” [sic] list looks like. As a ‘women we love’ list. And ‘in no particular order.’ And in relevant and humanizing apparel.

This is what it looks like to appreciate smart, talented, beautiful, and sexy women for real.

Sincerely,

Women

July 16, 2008

Fleshbot: where men are for ‘gays,’ lesbians are for ‘straights,’ and the viewer is MALE

Posted in double standards, heteronormative, phallocentrism, pornography, representation, sexual politics at 12:00 pm by LB

I was reading a post on Violet Blue’s blog (NSFW) and she mentioned that Fleshbot (Gawker’s Sex and Porn blog) was doing a series on requests for sexual material that the readers want to see. I thought “cool” and checked it out, only to disappointedly discover the series has only been of women bodies. Sure, they had redheads or small-breasted women, but considering how hard impossible it is to find decent quality free pics of het guys for het women, I would have expected some of that.

But, as I would soon find out, my expectations were based on faulty assumptions. Because curiously, the tabs at the top of the main page say “gay” and “straight.” Guess what images are in the “gay” section? Naked men. And to their credit, just glancing down the 1st few archived pages, it seems like most of them are either actually gay or at least do gay male porn. The images in the “straight” section? Glancing at the first few archived pages, all women. One het couple, that was clearly focusing on the woman’s dirty bits. And several female couples or groups.

Silly me. Why should I have expected that “reader requests” would include het men on a site where gay=male viewer and straight=male viewer, and where lesbian imagery is classified as straight, not gay, just like the malestream Adult Video Awards. If my math is right, when men are shown in the “gay” section and women are shown in the “straight” section, that means that the assumed Fleshbot viewer=male, even thought their tagline, “Since 2003: where sex, porn, and the web collide,” doesn’t specify: mostly for if you’re a dude or a chick who only likes mainstream porn made for dudes. I mean, kudos (I suppose) for having a site with both gay and straight porn; if only your definitions of gay and straight weren’t so, well, male-centered.

I’m so f-ing sick of the blatant ignorance and erasure of female desire (het or queer) when it doesn’t comply with the “liberated girls [sic] take off their clothes!” and “liberated het chicks [sic] think other chicks are hot!” bullshit. Not that those aren’t/can’t be true. But there’s much more to women’s sexuality than what appeals to het men’s sexuality. And I find the refusal to allow het guys for het women to mingle in the “straight” section with all the stuff made for men, lest the het men might get threatened, or even worse, turned on! Heaven forbid a guy might actually have to look at a sexualized man’s body, or find out he might actually admire another guy’s sexuality. Or have to deal with his female significant other looking at porn focused on or equally focused on guy parts and not just lady parts. Cuz I guess it’s hot when your het girlfriend recognizes a woman as sexy but gross! gay! if a het guy does. Oh the double standards! Oh the repressive legacy of a half-assed sexual revolution that masquerades as “liberated”!

How about this radical idea, Fleshbot? How about divide your categories by content, i.e. solo male, solo female, group male, group female, and not by subject position, then viewers of whatever gender or sexuality can decide what content suits their desires instead of you heteronormatively and sexistly (yeah, I made that word up) deciding it for them, K?

July 9, 2008

Once a stripper, always a stripper

Posted in news, representation, sex work, sexual politics at 3:42 am by LB

This kind of bullshit phrasing happens all the time.

Headline:

“Ex-Stripper Claims Affair With Alex Rodriguez, Calls Cindy ‘Smart'”

She’s not just a woman; she is was a stripper!

a) Does it really matter? Is cheating with a stripper somehow “worse” than with a “regular woman” (because see, strippers aren’t just regular women who have a job to pay the bills, they’re some sort of non-human exotic sex-being!) Would a headline similarly read “Accountant Claims Affair with A-Rod”? I think not.

b) She was a stripper. She is no longer. Why must women who are sex workers always and forever be accompanied with the adjective “ex-[insert sex industry job here]”?

Of course I know the answers to my own questions. It’s still utter bullshit.

(And this comes from our ever-“progressive” news source Huff-Po…ya know, the ones who recently celebrated Independence Day with a pictorial of women and men in flag-inspired bathing suits “hottie” female celebs in flag-printed bikinis.)

Not to mention that A-Rod’s marriage is none of our damn business and is nowhere near newsworthy.

(Cross-posted to The Reaction)

July 3, 2008

AT & T and gender: commercial critique part 1

Posted in advertising, beauty culture, Commercial Critique, gender roles, gender stereotypes, kyriarchy, representation, television at 11:09 pm by LB

Is anyone besides me really annoyed by the latest AT & T Wireless commercial campaign? They sure say a lot about gender expectations and values vis-a-vis gender and behavior.

The “alter ego” commercials (or so they are dubbed on youTube) have one version of the commercial’s subject talking to the camera and one acting out a scene in the background. The person talking to the camera is saying how someone doesn’t have AT &T, therefore they have no reception, therefore something awful is happening to them, represented by the storyline being acted out in the background.

“Kelly’s Dad” was the first one I saw that I really didn’t like. Like most other annoying representation of stereotyped assumptions, I rolled my eyes and said “great.” But after several more commercials from AT & T that feed unhealthy gender assumptions and values, a pattern has emerged. Read the rest of this entry »

June 28, 2008

Entertainment and ‘choice’

Posted in entertainment, gender, gender stereotypes, ideology, myths, race and racism, representation, Sexuality Blogs and Resources at 8:01 pm by LB

A recent thought I had on entertainment and choosing:

We all like (need?) to be entertained: all genders, sexualities, races, etc.

The sad truth is, we have to choose from what is out there. Sometimes people of progressive sensibilities have to “overlook” things in entertainment that are problematic in order to be able to relax and, well, be entertained.

This is why I am really sick of the following defense/excuse for systematic problematic representations and constructions of “otherness” (non-white/male/middle-class/heterosexual) in entertainment or simply of certain titles in entertainment:

“[insert marginalized group here] watch it/play it/buy it/read it therefore:

  • there’s no problem with the ideology perpetuated
  • it accurately represents what said people want
  • said people enjoy it every aspect of the entertainment”

The bottom line is that we can only be entertained from what’s out there, and what we like and want is heavily informed by what already exists. If every movie I saw was problem-free, I would rarely go to the movies. Just because people consume entertainment doesn’t absolve their -Isms.** I often decline from supporting and entertainment that is even a bit sexist/heterosexist/racist, etc., and I am fine with giving it up but many other people don’t make that sacrifice and that is 100% their prerogative. But that cannot be interpreted to mean that all entertainment consumed by marginalized individuals is not in any way offensive or problematic. Not to mention that oftentimes the problematic nature of some entertainment isn’t known until after spending the $$; thus, when commercial success=implied condoning, the damage is often already done, which makes public critique our primary way of making our disgust known.

Example: this, for me, especially applies to hetero women and porn, of women having resources for sexualized men. women want erotic imagery but the vast majority of images and films are targeted for heterosexual men, and often involve ideologies that progressive women find objectionable. More and more there are non-sexist, non-racist material available, but they are often hard-to-find and are almost never “free” (whereas men wanting “traditional” material have very easy and free access to material that is quite suitable for them). Therefore, many women (or prog-men), who want to satisfy their desire for erotic material, “settle” for traditional material and try to “look over” the deficiencies. Or many cope by occupying the male observer’s standpoint, and sexualize the female involved, thus they may be consuming and enjoying mainstream erotic imagery, but are deprived sexualized male bodies. In other words: when it comes to porn, women who want and enjoy porn as a category have to simply choose between the options they are given, which may or may not actually be 100% what they want. It’s just what’s easily (or freely) available.

Back to entertainment “in general”: These assumptions are further problematic:

  • Sexism/racism/homophobia/xenophobia/heteronormativity in entertainment is appropriate because it simply reflects the “truth” of what an identity group “wants” (i.e. sexism is ok because these games are “for men.”): -Isms are not just a “personal preference.
  • “Got a problem with it? Don’t buy it/play it/watch it!”: see above and also **above.
  • These are the kinds of entertainment that sell: ever think to question how much money and other resources goes into developing entertainment that is non sexist/racist/heteronormative etc? Or how such entertainment is marketed?

Entertainment for guys (read: straight guys) is only defined as such because of the sexism/heterosexism involved. There is no reason why women and gay men can’t enjoy certain entertainment, and they shouldn’t have to put up with BS hetero/sexism to do so. Take games for example. Games that would appeal to guys do not need objectification and homophobia. That is not the reason why guys play these games. Instead, they function to outline the proper audience for these games and to reaffirm hetero-masculine identity. And the fact that women play these games serves as “evidence” that women don’t mind or that women enjoy the roles they are given in these games. As I’ve been trying to show in this post, these are misguided conclusions/assumptions. But since women do choose to play these games (since there are little if any sexism-free equivalent alternatives) there is no incentive to make their games differently since it clearly isn’t affecting their bottom line. But women and queer gamers do voice their dissatisfaction. And the solution is not to make some second-class, underdeveloped alternatives that rely on pathetic tropes and stereotypical marketing (see this Broadsheet article that in part prompted me to write this post today). For example: if women only have the choice between lame-assed girl-games and more complex and interesting games with implicit or overt sexism, women choosing the former does not necessarily mean that’s what “women want” (they may in fact be so sick of the sexism in most games) or that their choosing the latter means that the sexism is acceptable to them.

Bottom line: what we “choose” is not always what we want. It’s just what we have to choose from. And what we want for the most part comes from somewhere-it is shaped by what’s available.

On a related note, keep an eye out next week for a guest post on current issues in gaming!

(cross-posted to The Reaction)

June 13, 2008

Owning our bodies’ representation

Posted in body politics, double standards, exnomination, objectification, phallocentrism, privacy, representation, sexual politics at 12:00 pm by LB

This post from Ms. Naughty (blog NSFW) got me thinking. She wrote a post about the Topfree Equal Rights Association, and their argument that it should be legal for women to bare their breasts in public since men can: that not being able to amounts to discrimination since it’s the “same” body part. Ms. Naughty quotes this bit from Topfree’s website, which struck me:

“This is a rebellion against a woman’s body being considered everywhere and always a sex object. As women we want the right for ourselves to decide when our breasts are sexual. That isn’t going to be in a swimming facility, and therefore they must not have to be covered. We want permission to bathe topfree, as men do.”

I’m really seduced by the idea of women being able to assert when our bodies are and are not sexual. This is something that has bothered me for some time, and was a large part of what I have written previously: that representations of women’s bodies are usurped and posited as sexual/sex objects despite what the woman herself desires. Women’s bodies seem to be by default sexual. They are subject to sexualization and sexual (or “beauty”) evaluation simply by existing. So I really like the theoretical argument presented here about women being able to own the sexualization of their body.

But while the argument is seductive, I’m not sure that it’s practical. Because the cultural reality is that women don’t own our sexualization. We are constantly evaluated and sexualized. We are catcalled; we are told to put clothes on. Celebrity women are subject to Hot Lists and 25 Unsexiest Women Lists. We do not exist publicly as people, but rather as women. And I don’t think that women baring their breasts publicly will radically change the way that our culture perceives women and their bodies.

I’m actually afraid it might do the opposite. Read the rest of this entry »

June 11, 2008

More queer invisibility

Posted in heteronormative, identity, lesbian, representation, Sexuality Blogs and Resources at 12:00 pm by LB

This Boston Herald headline refers to a lesbian couple as “galpals.”

The article refers to their being lesbians, and that they are in fact a couple, but I’m not sure how being lesbians get equated to being just friends in the headline.  Way to make their sexuality invisible.

This on the back of the obscenity of lesbians kissing.

via feministing

June 6, 2008

A lesson in heteronormativity

Posted in double standards, heteronormative, lesbian, news, queer, representation, sexual politics, Sexuality Blogs and Resources at 1:00 pm by LB

from CNN.com (not to mention a slew of radio talk shows!):

Lesbian kisses at game ignite Seattle debate
The usher, Guerrero said, told them he had received a complaint from a woman nearby who said that there were kids in the crowd of nearly 36,000 and that parents would have to explain why two women were kissing […] The code of conduct — announced before each game — specifically mentions public displays of affection that are “not appropriate in a public, family setting.” Hale said those standards are based on what a “reasonable person” would find inappropriate […] “I would be uncomfortable” seeing public displays of affection between lesbians or gay men, said Jim Ridneour, a 54-year-old taxi driver. “I don’t think it’s right seeing women kissing in public. If I had my family there, I’d have to explain what’s going on.”

This is the very definition of heteronormativity. This is the kind of thing Queer Nation used its performances/demonstrations to point out. This kind of thing is not just a double standard but it’s evidence that “acceptance” of queer people does not mean social equality and does not mean that we have by any means had any sort of self-reflexive pondering of what sexuality means and about assumptions about sex, gender, and sexuality.

Why do we have to “explain” queer sexuality? Shouldn’t we need to “explain” any sexuality? Is it really time to pull out the Heterosexual Questionnaire to point out the lunacy of Jim Ridneour’s statement? Read the rest of this entry »

June 3, 2008

More than the sum of her parts: AfterEllen’s ‘Hot 100’ list

Posted in beauty culture, Celebritocracy, lesbian, mass media, queer, representation, Sexuality Blogs and Resources, sexy at 6:55 pm by LB

I hate ‘Hot Lists.’ I hate the idea of them. Someday I will rant on them. Not today.

AfterEllen.com, a website about lesbian and bisexual women in entertainment, publishes an annual Hot List. When I first started reading their site, I had noticed they had one. I checked it out, hoping that it would not just be a replication of the uni-dimensional hot-at-the-moment-until-they’re-prego-or-passe’ of most Hot Lists. It was not. I was pleased.

So let me qualify my first sentence:

I hate (most) Hot Lists, especially the one’s put out by lad-mags and their ilk. I hate the idea of them, which not only sees ‘hot’ in the narrowest of senses, but also they’re ‘hot’ because these women are overwhelmingly (with token exceptions) the flavor of the moment, and it also seems to favor women who participate in the culture of ‘posing.’

(Not for nothing, but the exposure-no pun intended-that women with little professional accomplishment are able to garner in the media by simply being young and pretty and thin is incredible! They are paraded around for having a nice face and/or body-and being willing to display it-but having little talent. This happens in a way completely unlike men who are in the same position-those small time accomplishments or poor acting ability but are incredibly good looking. Men definitely have it harder in this way. But women pay for our quick and easy value as eye candy with appallingly few strong female roles, and with the near-impossible task of being a successful actress or performer without participating in posing culture. I couldn’t even make a men’s parallel list to Maxim‘s 100 even if I tried!)

So AfterEllen just released their Hot 100 of 2008.

A few non-surprises? The woman who made Maxim’s 100th spot, Tila Tequila, wasn’t even close to making our list, and their number-one choice, swimsuit model Marisa Miller, barely received any votes from AfterEllen.com readers. In fact, just like last year, only two of Maxim’s top 10 showed up anywhere on our list.
[…]
Other stats about this year’s list? There are 18 women of color — a definite improvement over last year — and 21 openly gay/bi women on the list (seven of whom are AfterEllen.com vloggers), which is more than double the number on last year’s list.
[…]
Our list includes women from all over the world — from countries as diverse as Canada, England, France, India, Mexico, Norway, and Spain — and women who vary in age from 18 to 57 years old. Although the vast majority of women on the list are actors or TV personalities, there are some musicians this year, as well as a few writers, a chef, and an athlete.

Diversity is valued, age isn’t a barrier, and when you look at the kind of women that queer women find hot, you’ll quickly understand why there are few cross-overs with the lad-mags. Queer women clearly value flat, physical beauty (although their idea of beauty is not the narrow version purported by most lad-mags). But they also value talent, wit, humor, intelligence, success, not as separate from but as part of what makes women hot. It’s a little different from another counter-hot list: the excellent non-celebrity The Real Hot 100, where smart=hot and physical beauty has nothing to do with it. AfterEllen’s list seems to embrace physical beauty, alongside and equal to other aspects of women’s personhood. Beauty is part of being human, but unlike other Hot Lists, AfterEllen readers seem less apt to value women who are only beautiful but as people seem less-than-interesting. And I find this really fascinating.

I also love the photos they use to illustrate their list-no lingerie here!

And I love this part:

The following pages provide photos for all 100 women in ascending order according to your votes, with some further details provided about the first 25. We’ve also linked each woman’s name to other articles about her on AfterEllen.com, in case you want to do some more reading about them, and we’ve listed each woman’s rank on the 2007 list below her name.

Imagine that?! ‘Hot’ women aren’t just for looking at-their ‘hotness’ isn’t simply based on their measurements, so they’re actually people you would want to read up on!

The thing is, I think beauty is wonderful. But a hell of a lot of women are beautiful, celebrities and peers alike. Honestly, I don’t think beauty alone is all that ‘special.’ Put most of the women I know on the cover of a magazine with the kind of lights, makeup, and photoshopping that goes into a celeb or model photo shoot (and especially add in personal training and wealth needed for complicated beauty regiments), and they’re just as ‘hot’ as the women on there each month. Hot lists that are only about physical hotness are pointless and are more about selling magazines by reiterating the importance of the people (well, really women)-of-the moment.

AfterEllen’s list? There’s more going on here and I’m liking their idea of ‘hot’ and the context they view it in.

May 20, 2008

“Open Season” for ‘Peeping Toms’; or, musings on “privacy”

Posted in heteronormative, news, objectification, patriarchy, privacy, representation, sexual exploitation, sexual politics, victim-blaming, WTF at 3:02 am by LB

This post has been a long time coming, but this recent news put me over the edge: Remember back in March when I wrote about the Oklahoma Peeping Tom? He took cel phone photos up a minor’s skirt while shopping at Target; the charges were dropped because their Peeping Tom law only applies to situations where privacy is expected, and according to the ruling, privacy cannot be expected in public.

Well, it happened again. Via feministing, a Florida court dropped charges against a man for using a mirror to look up a woman’s skirt at a Barnes and Noble.

The key in these cases is “a reasonable expectation of privacy.” We ladies should be getting the message loud and clear now: we cannot expect bodily privacy in public. We cannot merely exist in public. In public, our bodies are subject to public ownership. We can only expect privacy in our homes. And in a marriage situation, some people don’t even think we should have that.

Twice now in the courts, and resonant with a culture that sees catcalling as a compliment or that thinks women like Uma Thurman should be flattered at stalking and unwanted sexual advances (because I s’ppose we should be thankful we’re oh so irresistable?!), it is becoming more and more clear that women appearing in public are open for the business of sexual consumption via harassment and now even more violations of physical privacy and integrity. The assumption is that any woman who is attractive or dresses sexy desires ogling…otherwise she wouldn’t dress that way, or wear a skirt short enough to photograph up it. (Gee, isn’t this all starting to sound an awful lot like most rape apologists?) And that women who dare to exist in public or online or anywhere where they can be viewed by someone are fair game for subsequent sexual remarks, objectification, physical criticism, circulation of images…

Because apparently:

  • all women are heterosexual (since they dress “like that” for male attention)
  • all women dress themselves according to how and when they want their physical appearance to be evaluated
  • all women’s public existence is primarily and ultimately for the benefit of men

I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently, mostly regarding how people seem to lose all personal privacy upon public existence. In a culture like ours that sees women primarily as sexual objects, that any woman becomes subject to harsh criticism or objectification regarding their appearance (regardless of its relevance), this is becoming a huge problem for women. Pragmatically, we seem to have very little expectation of consent to our images being taken, and also taken out of context.

For example, if a woman signs a model release for nude artistic photography, she is consenting to a particular context of the images. The images cannot then be sold as pornography, or she would have grounds to sue. This type of consent does not seem to operate in the real world in the age of the internet. And if it does, considering the vastness of the internet, it seems hard to keep tabs on.

Let me provide some actual examples that have gotten me pissed off: Read the rest of this entry »

May 11, 2008

Recent sports articles remind us that female athletes are (sexual and maternal) women first

Posted in beauty culture, body politics, exnomination, feminism, gender, gender stereotypes, mass media, objectification, representation, sexual politics, sports at 1:00 pm by LB

First, from Feministing:

The Chicago Tribune online story with this headline:

“WNBA offers advice to rookies: Trying to expand fan base by marketing its players, the WNBA for the first time offers rookies lessons in fashion and makeup”

Yes, you read that right. According to the story, one-third of the WNBA rookie orientation offered makeup and fashion tips. Other seminars included “financial advice, media training and fitness and nutrition”.

“I think it’s very important,” said Candace Parker, the Naperville product who was the league’s No. 1 draft pick out of Tennessee. “I’m the type who likes to put on basketball shorts and a white T, but I love to dress up and wear makeup. But as time goes on, I think [looks] will be less and less important.”

[…]

NBA rookies go through a similar orientation, although their off-court conduct is stressed far more than their wardrobe or physical appearance.

What’s unfortunate is it’s true. Female athletes are not only judged as athletes but are also judged for their adherence to conventional “femininity” (as I’ve written about elsewhere). Some of this happens in the way women’s sports is reported and discussed, and some of it is brought on by the ad campaigns female athletes participate in. While part of their participation in objectifying ads is likely for the income opportunity, I think part of it too is as a way for female athletes to “prove” (via social validation) that despite their physical strength and athletic bodies, they are still “sexy” and “feminine”. Since, of course, being sexually desirable according to socially prescribed standards is the ultimate standard of a woman’s worth.

From the Tribune:

Susan Ziegler, a Cleveland State professor of sports psychology, said disparity in wages and media coverage between male and female athletes, along with a battle against perceived negative stereotypes, are factors in marketing female sports figures for their physicality rather than their athletic assets.

Need examples? Read the rest of this entry »

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