No Mic Chat For You

Gaming culture is steeped in misogyny. Really steeped. ‘Are you ever going to drink that tea or just stare at it’ steeped. Female-presenting players are bombarded with constant harassment in-game, and outside of games are harassed and assaulted by other gamers. Memes about femgamers attack them as false/non-gamers, bad gamers, and “attention whores.” MyBrainLies’ video below discusses a typical experience of women gamers across genres, across platforms, and across years.

Video by MyBrainLies

Within games, women characters are relegated to support roles. They are the princess that needs saving, or a healer. Even when they are playable combatants, they are given abilities styled around being physically weaker than their main characters; they are casters, or use ranged weapons, or are hybrid fighter-healers. When I played WarRock (an online FPS), the medics were the only female avatars. Occasionally, other players would insult people playing medic, not for the medic’s abilities, but for using a female avatar.

This intensely misogynistic environment is poisonous. The harassment is so intense that some women gamers are forced to stop playing certain games. For gamers who remain, exposure to the misogyny forces the groups it attacks—both female-gendered and, in offline or voice-augmented online games, female-bodied people—to either develop a resistance to the miasma or join the disease.

Some women gamers develop internalized misogyny, leading to the girl gamer/gamer girl divide. “Girl gamers” are gamers who happen to identify as women, and “gamer girls” are women who identify as gamers but are denied the title. No, it doesn’t make sense. Yes, some women have internalized enough misogyny to buy into it.

Though gamer culture and the gamers compose it are sexist, some are fighting for better treatment of women in gamer culture. Gamers create, run, and participate in women-only clans.  They call out sexist gamers in-game—though this seems to be met with much more success when a masculine voice comes over the headsets than a feminine one—and online.

Gamers fight for more even representation in game development, to bring the 4% of industry employees closer to the 42% of industry consumers. Gamers deconstruct the pervasive sexism of gamer culture, and some are so wonderful at it that they end up giving a TED talk. That everyone should watch.

Space on the Bus

Video belongs to TotallyBiased

Street harassment is not flattering. It is annoying and gross and even terrifying, and it happens all the time. This is how it feels.

A group of men in team jerseys sit in the back, catcalling up the aisle as women board. A group of men in suits tell a woman to sit by them, then laugh and yell insults when she ignores them. A man sits behind me, then again when I switch seats. Another man sits across from me, and follows me off onto a deserted street. They are all old enough to be my father.

Can’t we get some space on the bus?

One bus driver smirks at me when I board. He ignores my stop request, even as I stand at the front of the aisle and point out his mistake. He only pulls over to pick up a new passenger, two stops later.  I take the bus at a different time. When I see That Passenger, I am glad my haircut renders me unrecognizable. Instead of rambling about virginity again, both flirting with and infantilizing me, he barely glances up.

Can’t we get some space on the bus?

People don’t sit next to me as often when I wear my baggiest hoodie. One man jumps when he sees my skirt, and changes course to sit next to instead of across from me. I dress to pass as male. It works. I get some space on the bus.

Men stare at me one the bus and subway. I watch their reflections in the dark windows. They never look above my shoulders. I turn around. They refuse eye contact. Their reflections continue to dart glances at my legs, my butt. I plan escape routes in case one follows me again.

A cab driver at a red light honks as I pass him. A teenage boy smacks my butt as he runs past. Young men elbow each other as I walk past and stare at me as they discuss the various merits of my body. Older men leaning against walls tell me to smile. I walk quickly so they won’t bother talking to me. I practice expressions in the mirror until I find the most intimidating one that isn’t actively threatening. I consider buying mace.

Home is sanctuary, and outside that cage is the zoo. Can’t we leave home without being put on exhibit? Can’t we exist in public as humans with things to do instead of objects of amusement?

Can’t we get some space on the bus?

Stop the Fairy Tale Kiss

Photo by TaniaSaiz

When explaining asexuality to friends, the greatest hurdle I usually face is conveying the disconnect between sexual and romantic attraction. Sexual romantics quickly accept that sexual attraction does not require romantic attraction; they’ve giggled over strangers passing store windows and ogled pictures of celebrities without wanting to date either.  The trouble is in explaining that the inverse is true. Romantic asexuality exists, because romantic attraction occurs separate from sexual attraction. Eventually, the conversation leads to: if romantic asexual aren’t doing anything sexual with their partners, what do they do? (They never listen when I explain that asking the aromantic is not the best idea.)

But that’s far from the only misconception about sexuality and romance engrained in our culture. From the time we hear the tale of two true loves who kissed and “lived happily ever after,” we are taught that sexual attraction and romantic attraction are one in the same, that adults and their relationships don’t change, and that attraction is only experienced to one person at a time—if they’re the right person, all time. This is not how many people feel.

Romantic asexuality—hetero- homo- bi- pan- poly-romantic asexuality and others—is well within the human experience, but the romance our children see in media is all about ‘love at first sight’ and ‘true love’s first kiss.’ By the time we reach adulthood, almost nobody knows asexuality exists, and that can be dangerous. The idea that sex is needed for romantic relationships is so ingrained in my generation’s culture that this article, screencapped with a response declaring the sexual boyfriend ‘friend zoned,’ became a meme.

The refusal to acknowledge that people and their relationships change over time, especially in something as serious and long-term as marriage, also leads to people shaming divorce. Divorce happens, but unhappy people lie to themselves to avoid divorce happening to them. One of my uncles is his wife’s second husband. My aunt’s parents barely saw her between when she divorced and when her first husband died, because they did not want their neighbors to know she was divorce. When her first husband died, they promptly went around their neighborhood announcing that their daughter was a widow. Another aunt-uncle pair refuse to divorce, though they dislike each other and live in separate states.

Not everyone who experiences romantic attraction experiences sexual attraction. People who love each other at one point in their lives may not at another point. Can we show children more that represents that?

Sexy Sexy Breast Cancer

The breast cancer awareness movement: pink ribbon, pink ribbon, pink label, stress on the importance of self-exams, pink label, Facebook game, pink label, pink t-

Wait. What was that?

Male privilege is the sexualization of Breast Cancer awareness.

Photo from aboutmaleprivilege

People are sexualizing breast cancer (in a very gendered way). The use of “save the tatas/boobies/second base/etc.” as slogans for breast cancer awareness are problematic in two ways: they devalue the victims attached to cancerous breasts, and they assign priority to saving breast tissue. Instead of designing campaigns that might discover the causes of breast cancer, or research more effective  treatments, or shift the average stage of discovery/diagnosis closer to the less-fatal stage one, the ‘Let’s sexualize a common and serious illness’ campaigns focus on increasing profits. I heard more than one conversation on campus in October about students supporting breast cancer awareness—by watching porn. One porn site capitalized on ad revenue by declaring its intent to donate $0.01 to breast cancer research for each view of a breast-related video.

Women—because the “save second base” campaign focuses on women’s breasts and their appeal to heterosexual men—are worth more than how sexually attractive men find them. Breast cancer kills. Devaluing the lives lost or permanently altered by breast cancer is not funny or cute, and it doesn’t encourage people to take their risk for developing BC seriously. It fails its purpose as an awareness campaign, and all that is left is objectification.

But “save second base” doesn’t stop at devaluing the person second base is attached to. It emphasizes the value of breasts, even when they might kill the person they are attached to. Treatments designed to save breast tissue are drawn out, with significant health impacts, and not always possible. Sometimes, mastectomies are better than radiation, and the criteria for deciding whether they are is for the patient to decide. The loss of a body part, especially one so visible in the mirror, is a difficult experience. “Save second base” and pink t-shirts declaring “I heart boobies” attack people who have undergone mastectomies.

Randall Munroe says it best. “[These campaigns] get it exactly backward. Often, the point of breast cancer treatment is to destroy some or all of the boobies in order to save the woman.”

Hair: the Fetish Idealized, the Fetish Denied

Photo by drothamel

Let’s talk about hair.

I (used to) have long, straight, blonde hair. Friends and acquaintances cooed over how soft it was, how it caught the light, how it moved in the breeze. They played with it in class and while we were hanging out.

They never asked permission.

Strangers also loved my hair. They petted it in hallways and on the train. While I was in highschool, one older student took to running his hand through my hair as we passed in the stairwell. I did not know him. At a concert, I tried to escape from a rough mosh only to have my head jerked back; another stranger had clenched his fists around my ponytail, and clutched my hair like the only lifeline in a sea of bodies.

And that’s how women’s hair is treated when it matches cultural ideals.

As Jamie Keiles put it, “Hair represents beauty. It represents power.” It is a battleground for our bodies. Society’s treatment of hair is part of the system of heteronormativity, misogyny, and racism. People are harassed for having hair that’s the wrong length, or is too styled, because their hair defies cisgender norms. Men whose hair is too styled are looked down on as effeminate, and women whose hair isn’t soft/shiny/thick/long/straight enough are declared unattractive slobs.

Hair that doesn’t meet racist cultural standards of straightness and malleability—Black hair—is degraded as “nappy” hair. Black hair—and Black women—are so hated that, if a Black woman wears her hair natural, or doesn’t do enough to make it match white ideals, her alleged laziness and unprofessionalism overshadows her accomplishments.

Hair—gendered, racialized hair—is treated as a public commodity. Strangers dictate how an individual’s hair should look, and grab women’s hair without permission.  If an individual refuses to participate in this system, they are met with censure (as with Gabby Douglas) or even violence (as with the student Mitt Romney assaulted). The ever-present eyes of society, the omniopticon, force individuals to police their own bodies and conform to societal ideals, at the cost of their health and a lot of money. Even then, women are rewarded with the grabby hands of physical harassment.

There is no escape.

Photo by caffeina

Hunter’s Third Gender Neutral Bathroom (Doesn’t Exist)

Photo by Wayan Vota

Painters swept through Hunter recently. Their first stop was the bathroom in the northern half of the third floor of Thomas Hunter. This is, officially, a woman’s bathroom. It is also the bathroom closet to the QSU(Queer Student Union), where many transgender students gather. Trans students need bathrooms, and the QSU unnoficially claimed this one.

Before the painters arrived, a group of cis-women wrote aggressive messages on the door in red marker, scribbling out “Gender-Neutral” and replacing it with “Women only!” Transfolk responded—also in marker—and the door became the battlefield for a flamewar.

It ended when someone reiterated the bathroom’s gender-neutral status and dared “If you have a problem, take it up with Hunter.”

Red marker: “We will!”

This bathroom has no urinals, only closed-door stalls. If anyone sees someone else’s genitals in this bathroom, one of them is doing something wrong.

Photo by Jeferonix

Still, the only official gender-neutral bathrooms on the entire campus (of 22,000+ students) are the two single-person bathrooms on the second floor of the North building. This policy ignores New York City laws, which ban gender discrimination in bathrooms—but I don’t see many public restrooms that don’t come in pairs, the door to each wearing a stylized silhouette of a human either with or without a dress.

The QSU’s push to have the bathroom officially recognized as gender neutral has been unsuccessful. After the painters covered the hate speech, the QSU started a petition to have the campus declare the gender-neutral bathroom official. Nothing yet. We expect the push to be hard, though. QSU officers waited two weeks after requesting the graffiti be removed before the painters arrived, and when the painters did they stuck two temporary “WOMEN” signs to the wall near the bathroom.

The city has clear laws against gender discrimination in its bathrooms, and Hunter is a City University of New York. But, the university officially designates all but two toilets on the main campus as for men or for women. It is illegal to physically bar anyone from entering an NYC bathroom, based on their gender, but the QSU created plastic cards quoting these laws because members of another club did exactly that last year. Though Hunter keeps and enforces non-discrimination laws for cis-gendered students, transgendered students are ignored.

Hunter allows us to use the “men” and “women” bathrooms—at least, the one by the QSU—but is slow to remove hate speech and continues to put up signs gendering its bathrooms. It does not violate non-discrimination laws, but it does little to promote them, either.

Any students who want to help, drop by the QSU room (Thomas Hunter, third floor, in an alcove at the north end of the hall) to sign the petition.

The Invisible Asexual

Asexuals.

Moss on the wall, Kildale

Photo by Miss Steel

Hold up, wrong image.

Photo by trollhare

That’s better.

I grew up under the assumption that, at some point in my teen years, the heterosexuality fairy would gift me with the desire for candlelit dinners and ravenous sex. Days after a terribly awkward prom night, I discovered AVEN, and the existence of asexuality and aromanticism. The internet continues to be the only place I have met anyone else (openly) asexual.

When I first came out to my mother, she said I hadn’t found the right person yet, and promptly forgot the entire conversation. The second time I came out, she asked me what asexuality is. One stranger, whose advances I rejected by declaring my general lack of sexual attraction, purred, “You never know.” Among the people who immediately accepted the legitimacy of my sexual orientation, only a few members of the campus Queer Student Union didn’t need me to define it. Even in the QSU, one person asked, “Those actually exist?” He then mentioned the other possible asexual he knew—with the disclaimer that “maybe there’s just something wrong with her .” Assumptions that asexuality is an illness, or the result of some childhood trauma, are not uncommon. The DSM—apparently having not learned from its mistakes with homosexuality—continues to list asexuality as a psychological illness. Why is asexuality so invisible that even asexual people go decades unaware they aren’t alone?

Our society demands heterosexuality. Men must be openly, even aggressively, heterosexual, or homophobic men—a large and politically powerful group in the US—grow uncomfortable sharing bathrooms and locker facilities with them. On the other hand, women must be receptive to men’s sexual advances, or risk being branded “frigid,” “teases,” and/or “man-haters.” “Man-hater” in particular is associated with cis-men declaring women and passing-women lesbians, regardless of how the women identify themselves. I am unsure how society views non-passing transfolk’s sexualities.

If a cis-person is not overtly heterosexual, they are labeled homosexual. If they are sexually active across genders, or declare their orientations, they may be acknowledged as bi- or pan-sexual.  However, the celibate are not assumed to be asexual. Even when asexual people declare themselves as such, they are met with skepticism, or diagnosed. Sexuality is so prevalent in our culture, from our music to our television to our sense of humor that some people have difficulty comprehending not relating to that culture. In a culture as sex-obsessed as ours, asexuality is too alien to understand, so it is flippantly brushed aside as a mere lie or childish confusion.

Asexuality is gaining recognition, thanks largely to AVEN and asexuals’ ability to spread information and connect with each other over the internet. Only eighteen months ago, the front page of the AVEN forums were filled with members who lived for decades, thinking of themselves as monstrous and broken, before learning about asexuality. Now, the front page is filled with teenagers and young adults who, finding themselves out of place among their hormone-riddled peers, confidently adopt the title “asexual.”