Asses in Advertising

So, I had intended earlier to write quickly about Boobs on Bikes, but got distracted from it by a lot of other news and responsibilities. Now that they’ve got their ruling, (and are apparently coming to Wellington later) it seems like a good time to comment.

The judgement allowing the “parade” to go ahead is both good and bad. Bad because it encourages women essentially sell their bodies for public viewing. Good because it establishes that if there are enough of us, we can potentially define the standard of decency for ourselves despite minority reports.

The problem in my mind with this event has always been that it involves paying women to exhibit themselves, and that it is doing so to advertise “adult entertainment”, which is a silly euphemism for pornography. I have no problem with anyone choosing of their own will, without inducement, to go naked or semi-naked, even if it shocks the “decent” community of prudes and the sexually repressive. But I do have a problem with the idea that people’s bodies are for sale- especially so in the case of women, who have traditionally been objectified in this fashion much more than men. I don’t see why we shouldn’t attack Steve Crowe’s “right” to pay people to do this rather than the right of people to go topless, which is perfectly lawful in New Zealand, regardless of whether you happen to be male or female.

And to anyone having doubts that this event is sexist: If you see any topless men riding on motorbikes, I’ll be very surprised.

We’re not that different.

As an issue close to my heart, Gender Essentialism is something I’ve had plenty of time to think about, and it’s one of the most notable areas in which women’s rights and men’s rights converge.

Gender Essentialism is that assumption that being male or female necessarily implies certain qualities- the most common example is that being male gives you an affinity for the colour blue, and female an affinity for the colour pink.1 Now, while that sounds relatively unobnoxious when you think of factoids such as innate hormone differences and differences in brain and body shape between the sexes, gender essentialism doesn’t necessitate a “different but equal” arrangement in any way, which can lead to some irritating assumptions.

The worst of these consequences come about from the fact that assumptions of gender essentialism creep. While it strikes me as true that women and men generally have some slightly different inclinations before socialisation is taken into account, it’s hard to acknowledge that fact in casual conversation without it being conflated with the idea that men and women are different to the point of practically being two species and that all our socialised ideas about men and women are legitimate, and all women should be mothers that stay at home caring for babies and that feminist careerism is destroying the fabric of our society. Or something.

But to make clear the real failing of gender essentialism, we should look at the physical differences between the sexes that informs the opinion of essentialists. One fact is that, on average, women are shorter than men, given similar contributing factors like quality and type of diet. For example, in 1993, the average height of women in New Zealand was estimated at 165cm, while the average height of men was estimated at 177cm. This gives us an average deviation in height between the sexes of about 12cm, which would seem relatively significant.

However, we haven’t yet put that in perspective. Let’s take a group- say, 19-yearolds, who are likely to have a distribution of height relatively close to the normal amount for adults. Now let’s compare some of the outliers of that group- say, the 15th and 85th percentiles. Relatively tall and short people, but not extremely so. Among US men aged 19, there was a 15.6cm difference in height2. Among women, there was a 15.1cm difference in height3. Notice that even when we’re not taking the real extremes into account, the between a tall person and a short person is much more significant than the difference between a man and a woman.

What consequences should this then have for the argument that social behaviour is influenced by the physical difference between the sexes? Simply this: Even if we accept the conclusion that women might on average have, say, hormones balances that make them less prone to aggression4– it’s still very likely that a very badly annoyed woman is going to be much more pissed off than a man who’s made a very sexist comment. 😉

1 The Hand Mirror had either an article or a link to an article a while ago (That I’m not going to dig to find.) that commented that this trend actually underwent a reversal relatively recently, and that historically pink was regarded as a more virile, masculine colour, while blue was considered passive and feminine. Strange how fashions changed.
2 168.4cm vs 184cm.
3 155.4cm vs 170.5cm.
4 This is a very tame example as far as gender essentialism goes. Far more often it’s used to argue for traditional gender roles of passive supportive woman and active breadwinner man.

You may have some sexist baggage if…

So, one of the complaints I often get when I inform people they’re being sexist is that they can’t tell why. (Which betrays male privilege, because it implies that you haven’t bothered trying to learn)

Please note that these items may make you sexist. Some of these will not always be sexist. Some of these will always be sexist, but can be made worse or better depending on the context. Some of the sexism is stuff society just takes for granted, and people will try to fob off with “but nobody really cares about that.” Yes, they do. They just don’t always tell you they care, or they aren’t around because you behave that way.

Please also note that some of these overlap insensitivity to racism, homophobia, gender variance, etc… That’s just because you can’t seperate out all of the -isms very easily. 🙂

  • You say anything about a woman that you would be embarrassed or reluctant to say about a man- or vice-versa.
  • You seriously believe you’re “gender-blind”, or that “gender doesn’t matter”.
  • You have to back up a statement with “…and I’d still say that if she was a man” or a similar tag line. If it sounds sexist without the tag line, it’s still sexist with it.
  • You imply that just because a woman is being emotional, she is having her period. Or the other way around. Bonus demerit points if you don’t even know the woman in question.
  • You imply that because a woman is being emotional, she is also being irrational.
  • You imply that because a man is being calm, that he’s being rational.
  • You imply that when woman complain they are “whining” or “nagging”, especially if the complaint is about something that’s not acceptable in the first place.
  • You imply that when a man complains he is offering legitimate criticism, even if he clearly has no justification.
  • You call a woman a “bitch”, a “slut”, a “whore”, a “cunt”, a “tart”, a “trollop”, or one of the many other nasty words aimed explicitly at making women seem disgusting.
  • You imply that you can ignore a woman because she has sexual habits you disapprove of.
  • You imply that women having sexual habits at all is morally damaging.
  • You imply that unwanted sexual attention or harassment is okay because it is intended as a compliment. (Or you actually DO harass someone)
  • You imply that women dressed “provocatively” are “asking for it”, regardless of what the “it” you’re referring to actually is.
  • You imply that you can always approach women in public purely because you find them attractive.
  • You imply that objectifying men is an acceptable turnaround to objectifying women.
  • You imply that faking rape is any more likely than faking victimhood of any other crime, subject to the same penalties for allegations that can be proven blatantly false.
  • You complain about false rape convictions when discussing rape despite rape being estimated at having a 6% conviction rate.
  • You use terminology from consensual sex to describe rape.
  • You use rape as a joke.
  • You avoid using the word “rape”.
  • You avoid using the word “abuse”.
  • You imply that men-only or women-only environments are okay, rather than using the more inclusive idea of “safe spaces”.
  • You imply that there are not already “male spaces” in society.
  • You attack the idea of “female spaces”.
  • You imply that “female spaces” aren’t welcoming to men.
  • You imply that it’s not okay for men to be emotional or supportive.
  • You imply that it’s not okay (or not possible) for women to be tough or strong.
  • You assume that men make better leaders.
  • You call men “girls” as an insult.
  • You treat men interested in girly things differently from “tomboys”.
  • You imply that men who are similar to women are gay.
  • You use male-exclusive terms to address a mixed group- eg. “guys”, “men” instead of “people”, etc…
  • You use gender-specific terms when there is no need to- eg. “actress”, “fireman”.
  • You assume gender-neutral terms apply to men.
  • You expect names that could be either male or female to apply to men. (Alex, Toni/Tony, Jamie, etc…)
  • You let someone else say something sexist without challenging it.
  • You let someone ignore a colleague/a friend/your partner because she’s a woman.
  • All of the musicians/scientists/sportspeople/leaders/other role models you look up to are male.
  • All of your friends that weren’t introduced to you by someone else are male.
  • You use “he” when “you” or “they” would be more appropriate.
  • You assume a Dr. with an ambiguous name is a man.
  • You assume people with unfamiliar/non-english names are men.
  • You assume women should change their name at marriage.

This is merely a checklist of things to watch out for, and not an exhaustive list, but it covers some of the most stupid mistakes. I’ve done several of these at some point in my life, and I’m looking out for them. My brother tears through this list all the time, even though he respects women. Imagine how many people do when they don’t have an idea of what might be sexist? Imagine how many people tear through when they are deliberately sexist?

(Do not) speak out about sexism

For those of you who missed it, No Right Turn covers a study into sexism among physicists, and the results that it had for the woman who published it. Given that there’s been yet another incident… now is probably a good time to speak out about speaking out.

Is the fact that they tracked down her home address scary? Yes, but not shocking. Call me burnt out, but this is what happens when people challenge sexist assumptions in semi-anonymous venues. Women have had to deal with it all the time: When there is an assumption that a pursuit is a “male space”, for instance in certain sports, in online gaming, in science, and in mathematics, (not to mention in the business world) women not only have to work much harder to be successful, and get passed over for promotions and other similar privileges, but if they draw attention to this sort of behaviour without significant backup, (like lawyers, online moderators, organised feminist backup, or male allies) they get intimidated, harassed, or even assualted. This is not by any means the first time I’ve seen a woman’s real life details dug up when they say something that a man doesn’t like- it happens semi-frequently online, and people bother to look up personal details for women in situations where they’d only leave an angry reply for men.

Having been a forum moderator for a reasonably popular online game that was relatively friendly to women, I can say that even in female-friendly parts of the web, people still try to pull this sort of thing off. The difference is that we actually track through and delete that sort of thing after a couple of hours or days. You can do everything right to protect yourself and people can still pull strings and bring up your details online. (And that’s ignoring the reality of what can happen out on the street…)

There seems to be the assumption that women who will stand up for the small things are somehow dangerous. The assumption that there’s not enough success or dignity in the world to share by merit. The assumption that every woman except your daughter/wife/mother is (The) Other, and that if she steps out of line- either by sexualising herself independently, or by questioning male authority, she is to be attacked and put back into her place.

What’s the best way to deal with that? It’s simple, if not easy. Stop staying silent. Don’t let them bully women. Turn the mob against them, as it’s their only protection.

Better a quitter or a loser?

The Dominion Post is catching up with news from America. Specifically, the controversy over Hillary’s comments to her aides that she’s not going to give in just because the big boys are applying pressure. Personally speaking, I have no issue with the comment- look what people are asking her daughter, for instance, and you’ll see the level the campaign has degraded to.

Of course, given the current political climate there, everyone immediately piled on to these comments and started accusing Hillary of playing the race card. Oops, sorry, I mean the gender card. Apparently soon we’ll be through the whole deck of ridiculous discriminatory terms for refusing to kowtow to “the man”. Continue reading

A tip o’ the hat

Time for some blog pimping. 😉

The ladies at The Hand Mirror continue to be awesome and insightful. I’d like to quickly plug the ex-expat again, for her wonderful post that gives a balanced account of her experience with her father as primary parent, and her regret that his choice is marginalised in society. Any woman who supports better recognition of fatherhood- no matter what type- is onto a good thing in my book.

The institutional discrimination in demographics that she points out has also been blogged by Idiot/Savant of No Right Turn. He also has a great discussion of the Kingmaker Debate which I blogged about below. Really neat comments.

You’re not funny, you’re a jerk.

So, you’ve heard something that you think is hilariously funny. Maybe you were introduced to the idea of front-bums, or someone lamented the growing dykocracy in New Zealand. Maybe someone accused the government of being a nanny state, or perhaps you called your mate a girl, or you describe anything unfavourable as being so gay.

Now, I like to laugh as much as the next guy. That’s part of why I can still stand to comment and debate on the internet- because they’re a certain serendipity to extreme stupidity that wraps it around to be funny again. That’s why George W. Bush has been the greatest thing for comedy since the Germans invented Schadenfreude. Continue reading