Misogyny: Every Little Bit Matters

Interesting post about misogyny in the gaming industry and how women and men are perceived differently. Misogyny cannot be allowed to become this normalised.

The Melissaverse

I have been forced, through sheer volume of Twitter exposure, to learn what #Gamergate is.

I’m not a gamer. Never have been. I have no reason to take any interest at all in the internal politics of the gaming community. But there’s this stupid hashtag peppering my Twitter feed, compelling me to find out what the hell it means.

Well, sort of. I know what some of its proponents say it means and I know what basically all of its opponents say it means. To be frank, I don’t care how it started (actually, given that the term was coined by Adam Baldwin, I’m actively bummed to know how it started) or whether the original accusation of bias has any merit (seems like it doesn’t, but I’m not going to do enough research to be able to speak with any authority on that). Here’s what I care about: Gamergate…

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Maybe she’s Born with it…

How society influences our gender identity is a provocative topic and ideas of boy and girl seem have become cemented in our worldviews. No longer do prospective parents even need to just tell people what the sex of their baby is anymore; now they can do it with cake! Which does sound more fun, and delicious. Such is the rigidity of the blue/pink assignment to the sexes that just a glance at a bit of dough will tell us what we have (probably not) all been waiting to find out about this soon-to-be person. Frankly, boy or girl, I will already like them more than most people on account of their existence meaning I get cake. But are we conforming too much to these gender rules? It’s as if they have been around since the dawn of time, and not because we came up with them ourselves with the encouragement of marketing companies.

He or She

 I often find it mildly entertaining when, for example, a colour other than pink is chosen for the outdoor outfits of a baby girl – and a small minority of people slightly lose their shit (The poor child! How are people supposed to know what it is?!) I mean, don’t get me wrong, I understand the mortification of getting a baby’s sex wrong in front of its parents as  much as the next person, but I find there are more ways around it than the binary colour-coding of infants. Some trusty examples to have at hand when you come across a baby (hopefully accompanied by one or both of its parents) and are frantically scanning the area for that pink bow or a tiny pair of blue converse would be simply “Isn’t your baby just lovely”, or “What a cute little baby”, you could even direct it at the baby: “aren’t you just gorgeous?!” always works a treat. Maybe you’d even like to try “I’m glad you’ve decided against colour coding your offspring according to its socially assigned gender category, what a lucky baby”. If you have a go at that last one, please do let me know how you get on.

Don’t get me wrong, I do see the utility in the blue-boy/pink-girl thing. It keeps things simple and I don’t think there’s any harm in it, in itself. However, we know it doesn’t end there. Much debate has arisen around whether there are things that boys and girls are innately drawn towards, or whether the differences are social. I have heard many anecdotes from parents with all the best intentions striving to make sure their children are free to make up their own minds when it comes to play, only to find the grip of their little girl’s hands around a doll so monumentally tight that it would take a strong (and brave) person to take it from her. So it is understandable that the common perception is that this is the natural way of things, we’re born this way. However, recent psychological research has shown us that the picture is more complex. More and more we are recognising the immense ability of the infant brain to be influenced by its environment and social surrounding at younger and younger stages of development. According to attachment theory for example, the attention and emotional response of parents towards their infants can predict the security the child will go on to feel in their adult relationships. In terms of gender identity, we now know that without realising, parents will send out reinforcing messages of approval when their infants choose to play with items that are traditional to their sex. Adults have also been found to play with their children differently according to their own gender, which has in turn been influenced by the society that has shaped their own identities. For example, some studies have found that men engage in more rough and tumble play with sons, women engage in more inside play with daughters. Girls are prepared for caring roles and domesticity, and boys for adventure, exploration, and physicality. In just a snapshot of this research, it is already easy to see that rather than being born with a penchant for Polly Pocket or Hot Wheels (yes, it has been a while since I bought a toy…or had a Happy Meal), our young minds are recognising our assignment to a particular gender and all that it entails, before you can say “I just ate a crayon…a blue one”.

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 So what’s the problem? So what if society influences boys to play with “masculine” things and girls to play with “feminine” things, both types of traditional play supports children’s development, it also gives enjoyment and pleasure. Of course, there is nothing wrong with any of these things. However, I would argue that those who follow these gender boundaries rigidly, and forbid the crossing of them are at risk of contributing to longer-term effects. The lessons children have learned from what toys are acceptable for them to play with don’t end when they grow out of the sand pit. It is more acceptable to let a girl play with traditional masculine things, because as a society, we award them more value.  Traditionally “girly” toys are associated with domesticity, caring, household – the types of roles associated with adult occupations that often pay the least, if anything. But what about boys who want to engage in traditional feminine play? It is often seen as a weakness, a character flaw, and something that has to be addressed. It is as if allowing boys to cross that particular gender boundary is in some way doing them a disservice; why would they want to enter the undervalued feminine realm when there is so much more waiting for them in the masculine one?

gorgeous, clever

Now that we are becoming more aware of how much we influence young minds, important questions arise about what message we are sending our sons when we make fun, or chastise them for playing with dolls, or wanting to play dress-up. My optimistic side would hope that the fear of homosexuality caused by something pink touching the man-child is no longer very prevalent; although realistically I know that this is still the case in many households (my optimistic side isn’t that big). So what does that teach a developing young male mind about how to see their female counterparts? How much value and credibility will they award females and the things associated with their gender in the future? If someone was warning me so strongly against playing with a yo-yo, or nervously laughing at me when I did after a quiet word with my parents, I would probably start to think there was seriously something wrong with the yo-yo, and by association, with the people who are allowed to play with yo-yos all the time. This type of adherence to gender rules is what damages individuality, creativity, exploration and the development of children who are secure in their own identities. It teaches boys that something is wrong with them if they want to play with traditionally female oriented toys, and it encourages undervaluing of girls.

 The popular recent news story of the 9- year old boy in the US who was told by teachers to change his “My Little Pony” lunch bag, lest incur the wrath of bullies, shows us that there are people who endorse conservative gender boundaries so much that they would validate the behaviour of children who bully whilst crushing another’s confidence, individuality, and self-esteem. The debate between nature versus nurture is no longer relevant, we know we are shaped by both biology and environment, and we also know that the two work together to make us what we are. But it is worth remembering that sex is biological, gender is social. The rules have been socially constructed, they have been created by us, they are changeable, and we are not born with them.

 

Ched Evans and the Rapist Fallacy

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The media furore surrounding the release of convicted rapist and former professional footballer Ched Evans has highlighted frighteningly pervasive attitudes surrounding sexual violence. If, like me, you occasionally put yourself through the torture of reading the comments section under articles which discuss gender issues, abortion, domestic violence, rape, pay inequality, music videos, video games, or anything which in any way attempts to report or otherwise comment on issues which highlight disparities between the male and female spheres, you’ll understand the blood boiling frustration of reading the sheer ignorance of quite a significant amount of people. I don’t even mean the types of tabloid rags where you would expect to find blatant misogyny (I may read the comments sections but I am not a total glutton for punishment), but on any forum where such an article is published, there will always follow comments which make you want to rub the screen to make sure it’s actually a real post, then throw something at it when you realise it is.

Unfortunately, this high profile case has brought more rape apologists out of the woodwork than usual. Namely Evan’s family, girlfriend, fans, and Judy Finnegan (obviously). Recently, we have been lucky enough to have been bestowed with the upside-down wisdom of one half of TV presenting duo Richard and Judy. To make matters worse, she’s not even the most annoying half. When discussing Evan’s potential return to his career in professional football on Loose Women recently, Judy decided to take the opportunity to fight poor Ched’s corner. According to Judy, while rape which is indeed an “unpleasant” affair, it isn’t actually a violent crime. That’s right folks, we have been looking at this all wrong this whole time; rape isn’t actually a physically violent crime. I know, I know, you may be thinking that someone physically using your body for their own sexual gratification (i.e. penetrating it with a part of their own body) without your consent, is in fact a bit of a humdinger when it comes to being physically violated. Alas, you would be wrong according to Finnegan, who also took great pains to emphasise that the girl had “far too much to drink”, with no other explanation about the relevance of the alcohol situation than that, as if that was enough. Because we all know what she meant didn’t we? That when you are female, and you have had too much to drink, you are complicit in your own inevitable rape. To be fair to Judy, she’s not the first person to come out with such medieval sentiments. Unfortunately, due to the limited airtime of Loose Woman, Judy didn’t get a chance to teach us all about how the girl’s outfit that night, number of previous sexual partners, socioeconomic status, or flirtatious personality were also reasons why she got raped. I assume it will all be explained, along with guidelines on how much you are actually allowed to drink before getting yourself raped, in her new upcoming book “Misogyny in Practice: A Beginners Guide”. Give me the comments sections any day…

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To be clear, the main problem with Judy’s opinion was not that she was advocating that a person who has served their sentence for a crime should be allowed their job back. On the surface this seems like a reasonable thing to assume. I believe in rehabilitation, I believe that people who come out of prison should be supported in gaining employment so that they can contribute to society. But essentially, rehabilitation must involve acceptance of the wrong you have done, admittance of the crime you have committed, the hurt you have caused, and potentially, the life you have destroyed. Evans has never admitted to his crime, he continues to protest his innocence, and his friends and family continue to portray him as a victim, most recently of “feminism” apparently. That ideology arguing that women should be afforded equal opportunities to men, that one, seriously? Ok then, if you mean that your son has fallen victim to the idea the some people believe that women should have the same opportunities to men so much that they are prepared to imprison people found guilty of raping them, then yes, yes your son is a victim of feminism. As well as some pretty horrific parenting.

As an intelligent, rational person, I am aware that the criminal justice system is not infallible. I am aware that there exist instances of wrongful conviction. I am also aware that there are processes which attempt to address this, such as an appeals process. Just like the appeal Evan’s case was subjected to and subsequently failed at the hands of not one, not two, but three judges. This, after a unanimous guilty verdict was previously delivered by a jury. Could it be that Evans is one of a small percentage of people who have actually been wrongfully accused of rape? This seems unlikely as he wasn’t just accused, he was charged after an investigation, the case was put to a fair trial and he was convicted by a unanimous verdict.

If you’ve ever watched TV or read the Daily Mail, some of you may at this point be thinking “But people get falsely accused of rape all the time!” And you would be wrong. According to Rape Crisis, incidences of false accusations of rape are fortunately really rather low. Couple this with the knowledge that the majority of rapes are not even reported at all, and you find yourself with a number of false accusations of rape equivalent to the number of times Judy will be asked to volunteer for a Rape Crisis helpline. To be clear, false accusations of rape do happen, they are wrong and extremely damaging to the person accused, and to the many real victims of this crime, but it is a fallacy to believe that they are a common occurrence.

Ched Evans protests his innocence. He recently published a video of himself talking of regret for his actions, but no apology to his victim. Which makes one wonder what it is he regrets? Does he think he was in prison just for cheating on his girlfriend? I do not doubt that Ched Evans may actually believe he is innocent. Not because he actually is, but more likely because he is amongst a shockingly high percentage of people who believe seriously damaging myths surrounding rape and sexual violence. According to a recent Home Office survey, 36% of people who were included thought that a woman should be held wholly or partly responsible for being sexually assaulted or raped if she was drunk. According to a survey by Rape Crisis Scotland, 18% of people who were included thought that a woman was wholly or partly responsible for her own rape if she had a lot of previous sexual partners. So even after a unanimous guilty verdict by a jury, a failed appeal, and over two years in prison, Evan’s beliefs that he has done nothing wrong are maintained because of these commonly held myths and because of a society that allows misconceptions surrounding women as distrustful, sneaky, inferior, and ultimately up-for-grabs to perpetuate, and because of people like Judy bloody Finnegan.

Evan’s may be one of many who cling to the notion that rapists are criminally insane, big ugly men who skulk around alleyways late at night and wait for their unsuspecting female victims walking by to sexually attack. Rapes have indeed occurred in alleyways at night, but not nearly as often as they have happened in a house, in halls of residence, in a hotel, where the victim lives, and at the hands of someone they know. The opportunistic young man who has sex with his classmate who got drunk and fell asleep after a fresher’s party, the husband whose wife is saying no but has said yes a thousand times before, the man who has treated a date to an expensive night out so he feels entitled to sex – these men might not look in the mirror and see a rapist, but that is the name given to someone who has sex with another person without their consent. It is time we started recognising them. It is time they started recognising themselves.

There is no law against Sheffield United hiring Ched Evans as a professional footballer in their club. He would not be only footballer on the pitch to have been found guilty of a crime. But it is time for those with a voice to debunk myths surrounding sexual violence and rape, and to send out a message that this is a serious crime in which the victim is in no way culpable. Young people who follow football need to be shown that rape is not a minor offence with few consequences. They deserve much better role models than this. There has been much discussion of what the club says, what the fans think, what Evans’ friends and family spew, but what of the victim? Now that those who would protest Evan’s innocence have thrice broken the law to publish her identity and whereabouts online, why doesn’t somebody just ask her? She is the only victim in this case. There has been too much focus on this man and how his life will now pan out, as if he has been the unlucky victim of a provocative female, a tired fallacy we too often are subjected to. What of the future for his victim and the thousands of other survivors of sexual violence and rape who find the courage to report their crime only to find themselves vilified in a society which goes to great lengths to rationalise this most heinous and barbaric of crimes. It is the responsibility of those who now have the chance, to send a clear message that sexual violence will not be tolerated under any circumstances. The devil has enough advocates.


 

Now you see it…

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I always thought of myself as a very moral child, aware of sexism and what it meant and when to call it out. I knew it was bad. I was brought up with a keen social awareness and equipped with the encouragement that I could do anything I wanted, and no one could tell me I couldn’t. My little mind was shaped with the help of ‘Girl Power’ and that girls were just as good as boys – better even. However, like a lot of children (and many adults), I now realise that my world view was slightly confused when it came to gender and sexism. While I was told girls could do anything, I witnessed a lot of criticism of them on TV, in the media, in magazines, in the street, especially pretty ones who wore short skirts with a lot of make-up and had no interest in sports. So I fell into a common trap of developing the perspective that these women were somehow “less”. They were stupid, ditsy, Clueless. They were stamping all over my naive attempts to show everyone that girls are just as good as boys. In my young mind, the types of girls who were as good as boys were the ones who were just like boys. The girls who screamed like a girl when the football flew past them on the playground were just ruining it for everyone. They were giving girls a bad name. They weren’t doing enough to show that they could be as good as boys. It was infuriating.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved dolls and all things pink as a younger child, and I also loved football and playing it. Imagine my delight we I got to fight the establishment in my epic struggle to make it onto the football team in my primary school. Unfortunately, it was a battle I was destined to lose when I was denied the chance to even try out (because of my stud earrings apparently, not because of my lack of skill). Far be it from me to question the logic of why it is safe for a 10 year old boy with one fashionable hoop earring to play football and not for a 10 year old girl with two small studs. So you can start to see where this confusion around gender identity came from. I liked things that were traditionally feminine, but as an older child felt ashamed of this. Girl’s things are for girls, boy’s things are for boys. But girls are just as good as boys, but girl things are not as good as boy things. Girl things are stupid, boy things are cool.

Perhaps this rather complex minefield is summed up nicely in the Pink song “Stupid Girls”, in my opinion one of the most horribly sexist pop videos ever (and I’ve seen ‘Blurred Lines’). In the video Pink, a seemingly strong role model for young women, sings about how girls who play with dolls, and wear high heels, and talk on their mobile phones while driving (a wholly female behaviour, apparently), are in fact, really stupid. The video even portrays a young girl as she navigates the internal struggle between choosing to play with a doll or an American football. Finally, after seemingly not wanting to be “stupid” (who does?) she prevails against the seductive luring of the she-devil on her shoulder with her silly dolly temptations and courageously opts for the football. Everybody wins! I assume the song and video were supposed to be somehow “empowering”, teaching girls that they don’t have to play with typically “girly” things; they can play with “boy” things (better things). In actual fact all the video did was add to the criticism of young girls and that everything they like is shit, and they are stupid. Because you can’t play with dolls and be intelligent at the same time, obviously.

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So my confusion was a bit like that. I think I managed to keep a fairly clear perspective, though I often fell into the trap of holding women to a different standard than men. In my teenage years, I admit to chats with friends which often involved the sexual exploits of girls we knew in a less than positive light. Conversations we didn’t often have about the boys we knew. The words like “slut” and “tramp” might even had cropped up to describe girls we didn’t like, who we were jealous of, and especially who we felt (shock horror!) might threaten our young budding romances. I have to point out, this was not a regular occurrence, and I hope I managed to refrain from misogyny most of the time. But the fact remains that I, like a lot of people, internalised the sexism around me in the world and sometimes thinly veiled it as concern. Ultimately to my own detriment.

I’m not sure when I started to realise that I had been tricked. Duped by society into perpetuating a warped view of men and women. These are the perspectives we are shown when we open a magazine, or watch a certain music video, or follow a particular storyline, or absorb events in the news when they are portrayed to us in their skewed way. Whatever it was, I started to realise that the inferiority of women has become so normalised and ingrained in society that members of both sexes perpetuate it. Now I saw it. And it was everywhere.

If you’ve ever been lucky enough to swim in the sea, you may recall the nice, calm feelings of carefree weightlessness (you might not, you might hate the sea, but stick with me). I remember times when I’ve been enjoying a nice paddle or, less frequently, a swim in some of the lovely spots around my local coastline. The water is calm and seemingly empty of threat. Then you see one, in the distance, just one almost transparent jellyfish. Panic. So you try to get out of the water (because you hate jellyfish, obviously), and in doing so you realise there’s one right beside you. Shit. Finally, as you start to focus, you see that the bloody things are everywhere, all over the place and they have been this whole time. And then you realise that you’ve been stung.

The Jellyfish Effect

Welcome to my new blog! I decided to start writing recently to express some of my opinions and thoughts on society and how we operate within it (and mostly because I kept crossing the limit of what I felt was an acceptable Facebook status length!)

I hope some people identify with my perspective and enjoy reading my posts. Some of what I write may include some of my own experiences of writing and other ponderings, I may even attempt to be funny from time to time, and for that, I apologise.