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 »


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 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 »

September 22, 2008

Headlines that make you go…huh?

Posted in gender, gender stereotypes, sexism, sports at 12:00 pm by LB

“Scary, Isn’t She?”

That’s the September 11, 2008 headline of an article about Jaime Nared, the 12 year-old basketball phenom who, back in May, was curiously kicked off of a previously mixed-gender basketball team (the league citing old rules barring coed teams) after she clearly demonstrated she was “too good” to be on the team–she makes the boys look “bad.”

Scary? The article is about how good she is, what potentiaal she has, and how she struggles to find appropriate peers to play with and against. How about describe her as “amazing”? “Phenomenal”? “Incredible” Why “scary”?

Scary she’s so good…because she’s female? Scary that her talent and physical blessings (she’s 6’1″) threaten a male-dominated sport, that women are rapidly becoming more visible in? How about scary that she seems expected to apologize for her talent, her drive, her interest, her skill, her motivation…

Scary that “female” and “exceptional athleticism” still are assumed to be contradictory terms.

July 4, 2008

More sports and sexism

Posted in body politics, gender, objectification, privacy, sexism, sexual politics, sports at 12:00 pm by LB

I’m starting to wonder if sports has become the “it” terrain for blatant sexism and creating a hostile climate for women.

In the last year…

Sexual Harassment of female fans by male fans at Jets’ games: nothing like a good ol “you don’t belong here until you have something you can give me, like the view of your tits that I’m clearly entitled to due to my possession of a penis.”

The blowup doll incident in the Chicago White Sox locker room welcoming objectification, violence, and sexual violence, while being rather inhospitable to female, and non-sexist male, journalists wanting to do their job. Not to mention any conscionable player being upset by it would have a hard time speaking up, lest he be accused of being gay, as is often the case in locker-room situations: just see the comments on sports columnist Mike Wise’s article against the display (see also Michael Messner‘s excellent work on masculinity, homophobia and sport). The doll and the accompanying baseball bat strategically placed in a certain orifice with the sign “You’ve got to Push” and all its encompassing sexism was intended to “encourage” the team. Great.

Now this…

via Feminocracy

The Morning Joe show on MSNBC this morning retold the story of a man who got a signed baseball for throwing nude pictures of his ex-wife into the bull pen. The pictures got the man a ball signed by everyone in the dugout courtesy of Johnathan Papelbon of the Boston Red Sox […] Nothing is more classy than giving out nude pictures you obtained during the course of a relationship and spreading them around once the relationship is over. Likewise, its very classy to accept random nudes from fans–lovely.

This is absolutely deplorable behavior, on the part of the guy and the players. The Bo-Sox dugout should be ashamed for accepting these images that were made in the context of an intimate relationships that this guy is exploiting for this own profit and without the consent of the woman in the photos. How is this not illegal? Is this not the “sale” of pornography without the consent of the model? Code 2257 anyone?

Combined with the way female athletes are written about in the media, the sports industry is telling me loud and clear where I as a female belong: on the sidelines, displaying my tits.

(cross-posted to The Reaction)

June 16, 2008

Iron Man review

Posted in film, gender stereotypes, sexism at 2:30 pm by LB

I just saw Iron Man today and I wanted to write a mini-review while it was still fresh. Semi-spoilers below.

The Tony Stark character is reprehensible. My stomach was on fire after the 1st 15 minutes; I asked my partner “I sure hope his superhero actions redeem him.” By that, I meant does he see the jerk of a human being that he was? The answer is yes and no.

The beginning sets up the kind of person that Stark is. He a sexist womanizer. He sees every woman as a sexual conquest. He doesn’t know their names and doesn’t care. He treats professional women as nothing serious–only as sex objects.

His views on military weapons comes out when an attractive female reporter questions him about his company’s support of the war industry. His responses were unapologetically pro-weapons and throughout he propositions her to have sex. She continues to stand her ground, ignoring his sexism and asking the tough questions. She’s well spoken and savvy. We find out she’s Brown educated. Then we find her going to bed with him.

The movie is about his change of heart regarding the effect that weapons have on international relations. His creation–Iron Man–is to rectify his participation in the war machine. Which was great: I love the weapons critique aspect of the story. (See this review for good commentary on the “good vs. bad” weapons users and the “us vs. them” dichotomy that I felt in the film but didn’t know quite what I made of it.) I think the movie as a whole is pretty good, with some predictability and far-fetched aspects (i.e. why would the Afghan militia men put Stark, a weapons designer, in a room with tons of weaponry supplies unattended?)

But he never rectifies his sexist approach to women. Read the rest of this entry »

June 12, 2008

What to wear when you’re a feminist ‘fighting injustice’

Posted in feminism, humor, sexism at 2:00 pm by LB

UPDATE: so I see embedding the video didn’t work…blogger was so much easier for this! Anyway, here’s the direct link. Watch it. It rocks.

This was a great clip from last Thursday’s The Daily Show.

Good points about sexism + humor + feminists as superheroes = awesome!

p.s. I want a pair!

June 11, 2008

Great post on sexism and language

Posted in language politics, sexism at 2:00 pm by LB

Those who have been reading for a while know that I have a penchant for language…in that I actually take it seriously.

Please read this excellent post by Shakesville‘s Melissa at Feminism 101.  It’s long but really terrific.

May 15, 2008

Quick note on Obama’s apology

Posted in language politics, news, sexism, U.S. politics at 4:38 pm by LB

As it turns out, Obama personally apologized to the reporter he called ‘sweetie’ yesterday a few hours after the encounter. From his voicemail:

“I’m calling to apologize on two fronts. One was you didn’t get your question answered and I apologize. […] Second apology is for using the word ‘sweetie.’ That’s a bad habit of mine. I do it sometimes with all kinds of people. I mean no disrespect and so I am duly chastened on that front. Feel free to call me back. I expect that my press team will be happy to try to make it up to you whenever we are in Detroit next.” (emphasis mine)

First, I really appreciate and respect that he admitted to being wrong. Though it’s awfully pathetic that I’m actually impressed by this; unfortunately, this is the kind of incident that in our culture would typically elicit the “I’m sorry you’re oversensitive and took it the wrong way” kind of apology. But it seems to me that Obama made a genuine apology and owning up to his “bad habit” using a type of language that perpetuate inequality. Unfortunately, though, this isn’t the first time this “bad habit” has come up.

Second, I like his swift response. I think he had already apologized by the time I had even read about the incident. Which makes him seem more genuine to me–he knew he was wrong and took care it it in a timely manner. He didn’t need to read the public response to his comment to ‘realize’ it.

Third, I have to say that he doesn’t do it with “all kinds of people”…namely, he doesn’t do it with grown, professional men. While I appreciate that he is trying to say he didn’t mean it personally, it isn’t quite accurate to say he says it for anybody. To say “all kinds of people” dismisses the specifically gendered use of the term, which while it may be used as a term of endearment for loved ones, is wholly condescending to use, especially for a professional woman. And as I said above, it’s certainly not the first time Obama has used it to refer to women he doesn’t know. And as it turns out, this woman never got her interview (insult to injury).

I like Obama. I was truly disappointed to hear him refer to a woman in this way. And I can’t ethically loathe the media’s sexism against Clinton without pointing out sexism if Obama does it (and especially with how much I blog about language). But I think his apology was genuine, that he understands he did wrong (rather than that it was merely “taken to wrong way”), and that he desires to do right by people. I just wish that he could have also realized that it wasn’t a generic “bad habit”. And especially with NARAL’s recent endorsement, I do hope to see him recognize the need for our culture to take women seriously.

(Cross-posted to The Reaction)

May 14, 2008

Hey Obama: a female reporter is not ‘sweetie’

Posted in gender, language politics, news, sexism, U.S. politics at 7:53 pm by LB

Um, yeah…this is annoying.

(as I’ve written before)

I posted yesterday about the excellent Huff-Po article about phallocentric masculinity in politics and one of the points was the feminization of Obama. Calling a professional reporter ‘sweetie’? Chalk one up for Obama’s masculinity!

(cross-posted to The Reaction)

April 18, 2008

Fair Pay

Posted in economics, gender, sexism, U.S. politics at 10:37 pm by LB

Today, April 18th, is “Blog for Fair Pay” day, in honor of the fact that today, women will have finally caught up to what men earned income-wise in 2007. Yes, the gendered pay gap means women have to work almost 4 months more to earn what men do. And Angry Black Bitch reminds us it’s even worse for women of color. Designating a day for recognition and advocacy of this is an important tangible reminder of the effects of inequality and sanctioned discrimination.

It kind of reminds me of Tax Freedom Day, the day that the nations has earned enough income to pay our tax bill. Funny, though–(federal) Tax Freedom Day is April 23rd (although this varies by state, mine in New York isn’t until May). That tends to make people pissed–realizing they work 4 months just to pay their government taxes.

But women have to work an extra 4 months to equal what men are paid yearly, which is about the same amount of time “Americans” have to work to pay their tax bill. Thus, , from a conceptual point, the difference in men’s and women’s pay is about the same as the amount of taxes paid by the “average” American. Think about that for a second. Or several.

Then write in your support for the fair pay act, and encourage others to do the same.

cross-posted to The Reaction

April 14, 2008

McCain defends masculinity by resorting to sex-based insults

Posted in gender stereotypes, ideology, language politics, sexism, sexual politics at 8:53 am by LB

OK, so this has been mentioned everywhere, but in The Real McCain by Cliff Schecter, he claims that McCain responded to his wife’s comment about his hair thinning by calling her a ‘cunt.’

From the book, via Feministing:

At one point, Cindy playfully twirled McCain’s hair and said, “You’re getting a little thin up there.” McCain’s face reddened, and he responded, “At least I don’t plaster on the makeup like a trollop, you cunt.” McCain’s excuse was that it had been a long day.

For the record, trollop means “prostitute” or “promiscuous woman.”

(Interestingly, phrases this to imply that a prostitute is a particularly promiscuous woman, as if prostitution as sex work and individual promiscuity for one’s own pleasure -not work- are in fact conceptually related).

See my previous posts on sexed bodies and gendered insults, and on gendered language more generally.

No further comment required.

April 12, 2008

I think rape is funny, and all I get is this lousy t-shirt: WTF

Posted in patriarchy, rape and sexual violence, sexism, WTF at 8:34 am by LB

The Lizard Queen has a good posting, piggybacking of of Cara’s post at The Curvature; they are both worth a read.

They are responding to the awful rape-endorsing t-shirts that are available at CafePress (and no, I’m not going to give them the benefit of linking to them).

While you might be tempted to sidestep the issue by saying that people have a right to print whatever they want on a t-shirt, Lizard’s commenters point out that the “free speech” argument refers to censorship by the government, not by a company.

Further, The Curvature cites CafePress’ own content policy:

General Guidelines for Prohibited Content

  • Content that may infringe on the rights of a third a party.
  • Items that make inappropriate use of Nazi symbols and glamorize the actions of Hitler.
  • Use of marks that signify hate towards another group of people.
  • Hate and/or racist terms.
  • Inappropriate content or nudity that is not artistic in nature.
  • Content that exploits images or the likeness of minors.
  • Obscene and vulgar comments and offensive remarks that harass, threaten, defame or abuse others such as F*** (Ethnic Group).
  • Content that depicts violence, is obscene, abusive, fraudulent or threatening such as an image of a murder victim, morgue shots, promotion of suicide, etc.
  • Content that glamorizes the use of “hard core” illegal substance and drugs such as a person injecting a vial of a substance in their body.
  • Material that is generally offensive or in bad taste, as determined by

The list outlined above should NOT be construed as an exhaustive list of offensive material but rather as a general guideline for you to follow.

Cara says further:

I think that these shirts pretty much have to fall under at least one of these guidelines. Cafe Press says that if something breaks the usage policy to email them at So, below the jump, I’ve compiled a bunch of links for the shirts I found, roughly though hardly scientifically in order of most to least offensive. I suggest sending off an email with these URLs and an explanation as to why they violate the content policy. Trigger warning: all of these shirts are very disturbing and offensive.

(Note: this shirt is particularly offensive as “” redirects to

Lastly, I’d like to note that many of the most offensive shirts (”I put the sensual back in consensual”) can be seen during searches but are no longer available — though I don’t know if it’s because they’re sold out or because Cafe Press removed them. If you do find something that I’ve missed, leave them in the comments. I have no illusions that this will somehow stop rape jokes, but we can at least try to keep fuckers from making a profit off of them.

I’ve emailed CafePress, and I’d encourage you all to do the same. Let’s not let anyone profit off of rape and our culture’s refusal to take it seriously.

UPDATE: Most of the shirts have been removed-yea! Item 8 and 10 are still available. I want to leave my post up though, because we need to be aware that this crap exists and that speaking up works! There is plenty more of this b.s. out there, believe me, so keep your eyes opened and when you see it say something and spread the word.

March 18, 2008

Please help take action against racist advertising campaign

Posted in activism, race and racism, sexism at 2:43 pm by LB

The National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF) is asking folks to take action against the above campaign publicizing a new Asian fusion restaurant owned by Chow Fun Food Group, Inc.

Thankfully, because of the outcry over the ad – it’s been pulled by Chow Fun Food Group owner John Elkhay. But NAPAWF says that’s just the first step.

read the full story and sign the petition at feministing

(NOTE: nothing more after the jump)

February 18, 2008

How sexism works

Posted in epistemology, gender stereotypes, sexism at 3:51 pm by LB

I’ve seen this cartoon in a few places today, but it is very true, and worth a few thoughts.

(’s headline for this was brilliant, “Boys suck at logic, non-sexism.”

Sexism turn attributes of people into attributes of gender. Senator Clinton (I refuse to call her the demeaning “Hillary” as if she were Britney or someone) becomes a poor candidate because she seems like a “bitch” or her expression of emotions are read as “weak” or “manipulative”; if done by a male candidate they would have been read as “caring” (remember Bill Clinton?). Further, the authenticity of her tears was questioned since she, of course, comes off like a cold, hard, bitch.

See a bad driver? When it’s a woman, the comment is often made, “women are such bad drivers.” If the driver is a male do we then say “men are such bad drivers”? Does anyone really keep a tally of the quality of drivers by gender vs. the proportion of the driving population they consist of? And really, does one person’s set of observations really produce a truth?

No it doesn’t-but experiential “evidence” like this is meant to reinforce what we already think about particular identity groups. In the philosophical arena, “direction of fit” is when what we think about the world fits the facts of the world. In the feminist critique of epistemology, we see that this idea doesn’t really happen, because the facts we recognize are those that reinforce what we already think about the world-we see in the world that which confirms what we already believe, and the mere observation of it in the world serves as “proof” of the truth of said belief. Think about it: it is so much easier for people to believe a “scientific study” that confirms “common sense” than one that defies it.

But science has been used for centuries to reinforce ideological views about the inferiority of races (non-white), ethnicities (non-Euro), gender (non-male), and sexualities (non-heteronormative), using their “facts” as “proof” of their discrimination and oppression. Much of the “old” science has been refuted, although many of their claims persist as “common sense.” Indeed, sexist and racist views continue to be circulated in contemporary scientific studies.

Let’s go back to the driving example-all this is to say, have you ever considered that in our society, despite what we think is our “gender equality,” and regardless of whether she holds a paying job (versus the unpaid work of mothering), women disproportionately bear the burden of child-raising and rearing? Thus, if you do happen to notice that women drivers seem to be “bad,” did you ever look to see if there were kids in the car, screaming for her attention? Did you ever think she was trying to make doctor’s appointments and decide what to make for dinner while she’s driving from work to pick the kids up from the sitter’s? IF, and that’s a big IF, women are “worse” drivers, could it actually be because of the prevalence of sexism that causes these things and not because of the “fact” of them being female? This just adds sexism to sexism. Perhaps it is better said that “people with young kids in the car are bad drivers.”

This is the same thing that happens in the math example. IF indeed boys score higher than girls on math exams, it is wrong wrong wrong to say that because we are “gender-equal,” (and that’s up for debate in my book) that means boys are better than girls at math. Don’t blame girls for continued gender discrimination in the classroom, from parents, hell, in the McDonald’s happy meals, where the kinds of play and developments tools we give to kids will highly inform their capacities for certain academic subjects. Of, if a person’s not good at math, maybe they’re just not good at math. Blaming it on their gender is just as logical as blaming it on their eye color.

I think the appropriate saying here is, “you find what you’re looking for.”

And that’s sexism for ya.