Hello and thank you for attempting to engage in an unsolicited conversation with me! In order to ensure our interaction is productive and enriching for both parties, I invite you to join my Matreon. For just a few dollars a month, you can continue to approach me with whatever the hell is on your mind regardless of context or appropriateness, and I will continue to do the emotional labor required to respond without calling you a privileged, myopic dipshit.
Since you’re obviously the most important person in the universe and everything should cater to your needs, I’ve created a number of exciting options that you can take advantage of. You know, like you take advantage of the way that women are culturally trained to be sweet and helpful when you fart words in their direction.
You know what: there are probably guys who’d pay for this and would then use their doing so as an illustration that women “need men to (financially) support them”.
When we see consent as the sole constraint on OK sex, we are pushed towards a naturalisation of sexual preference in which the rape fantasy becomes a primordial rather than a political fact.
On 23 May 2014, Elliot Rodger, a 22-year-old college dropout, became the world’s most famous ‘incel’ – involuntary celibate. The term can, in theory, be applied to both men and women, but in practice it picks out not sexless men in general, but a certain kind of sexless man: the kind who is convinced he is owed sex, and is enraged by the women who deprive him of it. Rodger stabbed to death his two housemates, Weihan Wang and Cheng Hong, and a friend, George Chen, as they entered his apartment on Seville Road in Isla Vista, California. Three hours later he drove to the Alpha Phi sorority house near the campus of UC Santa Barbara. He shot three women on the lawn, killing two of them, Katherine Cooper and Veronika Weiss. Rodger then went on a drive-by shooting spree through Isla Vista, killing Christopher Michaels-Martinez, also a student at UCSB, with a single bullet to the chest inside a Deli Mart, and wounding 14 others. He eventually crashed his BMW coupé at an intersection. He was found dead by the police, having shot himself in the head.
In the hours between murdering three men in his apartment and driving to Alpha Phi, Rodger went to Starbucks, ordered coffee, and uploaded a video, ‘Elliot Rodger’s Retribution’, to his YouTube channel. He also emailed a 107,000-word memoir-manifesto, ‘My Twisted World: The Story of Elliot Rodger’, to a group of people including his parents, his therapist, former schoolteachers and childhood friends. Together these two documents detail the massacre to come and Rodger’s motivation. ‘All I ever wanted was to fit in and live a happy life,’ he explains at the beginning of ‘My Twisted World’, ‘but I was cast out and rejected, forced to endure an existence of loneliness and insignificance, all because the females of the human species were incapable of seeing the value in me.’
Julianne Aguilar | Longreads | February 2018 | 14 minutes (2,894 words)
Once upon a time, in 1999, when the internet was small, when it came through your phone and not just on your phone, when the first browser war had not yet been won, when you had to teach yourself a few lines of code if you want...
Once upon a time, in 1999, when the internet was small, when it came through your phone and not just on your phone, when the first browser war had not yet been won, when you had to teach yourself a few lines of code if you wanted to exist online, when the idea of broadcasting your real name for anyone to see was unthinkable — in those early days, before Twitter revolutions, before Facebook Live homicides, when the internet was small and most people didn’t understand it, and only the nerds hung out there — even then, it was already happening.
Although there’s a lot of heated discussion around diversity, I feel many of us ignore the elephant in the web development diversity room. We tend to forget about users of older or non-standard devices and browsers, instead focusing on people with modern browsers, which nowadays means the latest versions of Chrome and Safari.
This is nothing new — see “works only in IE” ten years ago, or “works only in Chrome” right now — but as long as we’re addressing other diversity issues in web development we should address this one as well.
Ignoring users of older browsers springs from the same causes as ignoring women, or non-whites, or any other disadvantaged group. Average web developer does not know any non-whites, so he ignores them. Average web developer doesn’t know any people with older devices, so he ignores them. Not ignoring them would be more work, and we’re on a tight deadline with a tight budget, the boss didn’t say we have to pay attention to them, etc. etc. The usual excuses.
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The world is disturbingly comfortable with the fact that women sometimes leave a sexual encounter in tears.
When Babe.net published a pseudonymous woman’s account of a difficult encounter with Aziz Ansari that made her cry, the internet exploded with “takes” arguing that the #MeToo movement had finally gone too far. “Grace,” the 23-year-old woman, was not an employee of Ansari’s, meaning there were no workplace dynamics. Her repeated objections and pleas that they “slow down” were all well and good, but they did not square with the fact that she eventually gave Ansari oral sex. Finally, crucially, she was free to leave.
Why didn’t she just get out of there as soon as she felt uncomfortable? many people explicitly or implicitly asked.
It’s a rich question, and there are plenty of possible answers. But if you’re asking in good faith, if you really want to think through why someone might have acted as she did, the most important one is this: Women are enculturated to be uncomfortable most of the time. And to ignore their discomfort.
This is so baked into our society I feel like we forget it’s there. To steal from David Foster Wallace, this is the water we swim in.
The last six months have been remarkable. At this point, I can simply text the name of a powerful man to a friend, and they know—another has been accused, outed, exposed. The context is so present …
The last six months have been remarkable. At this point, I can simply text the name of a powerful man to a friend, and they know—another has been accused, outed, exposed.
The context is so present in our minds, partly because it always has been, but largely because the public conversation that’s erupted has been so thorough and—for the most part— wonderfully persistent in both condemning predatory behaviour and upholding the testimony of victims. New precedents are being established. Where we would once discuss these crimes with beleaguered resignation about the consequences, we can now be quietly confident that we’re entering a new era. Finally, retribution is being inflicted on the perpetrator and not the victim.
It feels different even from a year ago. Would Casey Affleck have won the Oscar in this climate, we ask? Probably not, we think. I bet he’s relieved, we say. Public opinion has swung: the Weinstein Company didn’t fire Harvey Weinstein because they found out he was a sexual predator, they fired him because we found out. It’s good to see that the house is finally burning down around him and men of his ilk, but we need to talk about that house— who built it, who lived there, and why it was allowed to stand for so long.
In the brutal, self-centered bash-fest that social media often becomes, a moment of simple kindness and connection stands out.
American comedian Sarah Silverman is unapologetically blunt in her fight against misogyny. But Silverman has also made a point of exploring the depths of her own empathy.
“I just keep asking myself, can you love someone who did bad things?” she said, after her dear friend and fellow comedian, Louis CK, was accused of sexual harassment. “I can mull that over later, certainly, because the only people that matter right now are the victims.”
Last week, Silverman demonstrated similar level-headed compassion when subjected to sexism and harassment herself. After tweeting about an article describing her honest attempts to understand Trump supporters, Silverman received a crude response from a Twitter follower:
To pre-empt any gatekeeping bronies in their generally-quite-nice society who want to tell me that I’m no “true” fan: save your breath, I already know. I’m not actually claiming any kinship with the brony community. But what’s certainly true is that I’ve gained a level of appreciation for My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic that certainly goes beyond that of most people who aren’t fans of the show (or else have children who are), and I thought I’d share it with you. (I can’t promise that it’s not just Stockholm syndrome, though…)
Ignoring the fact that I owned, at some point in the early 1980s, a “G1” pony toy (possibly Seashell) from the original, old-school My Little Pony, my first introduction to the modern series came in around 2010 when, hearing about the surprise pop culture appeal of the rebooted franchise, I watched the first two episodes, Friendship is Magic parts one and two: I’m aware that after I mentioned it to Claire, she went on to watch most of the first season (a pegasister in the making, perhaps?). Cool, I thought: this is way better than most of the crap cartoons that were on when I was a kid.
And then… I paid no mind whatsoever to the franchise until our little preschooler came home from the library, early in 2017, with a copy of an early reader/board book called Fluttershy and the Perfect Pet. This turns out to be a re-telling of the season 2 episode May The Best Pet Win!, although of course I only know that with hindsight. I casually mentioned to her that there was a TV series with these characters, too, and she seemed interested in giving it a go. Up until that point her favourite TV shows were probably PAW Patrol and Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends, but these quickly gave way to a new-found fandom of all things MLP.
The bobbin’s now watched all seven seasons of Friendship is Magic plus the movie and so, by proxy – with a few exceptions where for example JTA was watching an episode with her – have I. And it’s these exceptions where I’d “missed” a few episodes that first lead to the discovery that I am, perhaps, a “closet Brony”. It came to me one night at the local pub that JTA and I favour that when we ended up, over our beers, “swapping notes” about the episodes that we’d each seen in order to try to make sense of it all. We’re each routinely roped into playing games for which we’re expected to adopt the role of particular ponies (and dragons, and changelings, and at least one centaur…), but we’d both ended up getting confused as to what we were supposed to be doing at some point or another on account of the episodes of the TV show we’d each “missed”. I’m not sure how we looked to the regulars – two 30-something men sitting by the dartboard discussing the internal politics and friendship dramas of a group of fictional ponies and working out how the plots were interconnected – but if anybody thought anything of it, they didn’t say so.
By the time the movie was due to come out, I was actually a little excited about it, and not even just in a vicarious way (I would soon be disappointed, mind: the movie’s mediocre at best, but at the three-year-old I took to the cinema was impressed, at least, and the “proper” bronies – who brought cupcakes and costumes and sat at the back of the cinema – seemed to enjoy themselves, so maybe I just set my expectations too high). Clearly something in the TV show had sunk its hooks into me, at least in a minor way. It’s not that I’d ever watch an episode without the excuse of looking after a child who wanted to do so… but I also won’t deny that by the end of The Cutie Remark, Part One I wanted to make sure that I was the one to be around when the little ‘un watched the second part! How wouldStarlight Glimmer be defeated?
At least part of the appeal is probably that the show is better than most other contemporary kids’ entertainment, and as anybody with young children knows, you end up exposed to plenty of it. Compare to PAW Patrol (the previous obsession in our household), for example. Here we have two shows that each use six animated animals to promote an ever-expanding toy line. But in Friendship is Magic the ponies are all distinct and (mostly) internally-consistent characters with their own individual identity, history, ambitions, likes and dislikes that build a coherent whole (and that uniquely contributes to the overall identity of the group). In PAW Patrol, the pups are almost-interchangeable in identity (and sometimes purpose), each with personality quirks that conveniently disappear when the plot demands it (Marshall suddenly and without announcement stops being afraid of heights when episodes are released to promote the new “air pup” toys, and Chase’s allergy to cats somehow only manifests itself some of the time and with some cats) and other characteristics that feel decidedly… forced. MLP‘s writing isn’t great by any stretch of the imagination, but compared to the other things I could be watching with the kids it’s spectacular!
And compare the morality of the two shows. Friendship is Magic teaches us the values of friendship (duh), loyalty, trust, kindness, and respect, as well as carrying a strong feminist message that young women can grow up to be whatever the hell they want to be. Conversely, the most-lasting lesson I’ve taken from watching PAW Patrol (and I’ve seen a lot of that, too) is that police and spy agencies are functionally-interchangeable which very-much isn’t the message I want our children to take away from their screen time.
It’s not perfect, of course. The season one episode A Dog And Pony Show‘s enduring moral, in which unicorn pony Rarity is kidnapped by subterranean dogs and made to mine gemstones (she has a magical talent for divining for seams of them), seems to be that the best way for a woman to get her way over men is to make a show of whining incessantly until they submit, and to win arguments by deliberately misunderstanding their statements as something that she can take offence to. That’s not just a bad ethical message, it also reinforces a terrible stereotype and thoroughly undermines Rarity’s character! Thankfully, such issues are few and far between and on the whole the overwhelming message of My Little Pony is one of empowerment, equality, and fairness.
For the most part, Equestria is painted as a place where gender doesn’t and shouldn’t matter, which is fantastic! Compare to the Peppa Pig episode (and accompanying book) called Funfair in which Mummy Pig is goaded into participating in an archery competition by being told that “women are useless” at it, because it’s a “game of skill”. And while Mummy Pig does surprise the stallholder by winning, that’s the only rebuff: it’s still presented as absolutely acceptable to make skill judgements based on gender – all that is taught is that Mummy Pig is an outlier (which is stressed again when she wins at a hammer swing competition, later); no effort is made to show that it’s wrong to express prejudice over stereotypes. Peppa Pig is full of terrible lessons for children even if you choose to ignore the time the show told Australian kids to pick up and play with spiders.
I probably know the words to most of the songs that’ve had album releases (we listen to them in the car a lot; unfortunately a voice from the backseat seems to request the detestable Christmas album more than any of the far-better ones). I’m probably the second-best person in my house at being able to identify characters, episodes, and plotlines from the series. I have… opinions on the portrayal of Twilight Sparkle’s character in the script of the movie.
I don’t describe myself as a Brony (not that there’d be anything wrong if I did!), but I can see how others might. I think I get an exemption for not having been to a convention or read any fanfiction or, y’know, watched any of it without a child present. I think that’s the key.
Do you know a guy who’s rubbish at cleaning or any other kind of domestic chore?
Of course, you do.
It might not be their fault; many men are raised in traditional families where women do all the household tasks, ironing their little prince’s pants and serving up regular, large dishes which his future girlfriend then has to try to replicate.
Male incompetence is tolerated far more than female ineptitude…
There’s a difference between having understanding and compassion for the men who are trapped in the Box and cutting them slack. After all, it isn’t as if the dude in the Box is giving any slack to women, queers, transgender or genderqueer folks, or for that matter, heterosexual cisgender men who refuse to pretend to be Real Men. And cutting men slack is another way of coddling them instead of helping them learn to let go of the Box and discover the freedom that comes from being who you are. Having compassion without coddling people is fierce. It’s powerful. And it requires the ability to hold onto both the fact that the Box hurts us all and that it gives heterosexual cisgender men privilege.
Spoiler alert: this blog post contains significant spoilers about WALL-E, and contains minor spoilers about Salt (although these shouldn’t be spoilers to anybody who’s ever seen an action film before).
The Bechdel Test
I’ve talked to some of you already about my thoughts on the Bechdel Test, which aims to illustrate the under-representation of women in contemporary film. I first became aware of the test when I saw this video by YouTube blogger “feministfrequency”, earlier this year. If you can’t be bothered to watch the video, here’s a summary:
Alison Bechdel is the author of a long-running comic strip, Dykes To Watch Out For. In 1985, one of the characters in the strip states that she only watches a movie if it meets the following requirements:
It has at least two women in it, (some later versions of the test require that the women be named characters)
Who talk to teach other,
About something besides a man.
feministfrequency goes on to show that the problem is endemic by flicking rapidly through a list of films that “fail” the test (she skips over the part of her argument where she demonstrates that this is a problem, presumably because she feels that this is obvious and, besides, YouTube’s consumers will often have too short an attention span to take in a proper argument anyway).
In the snapshot above, we can see her explaining how WALL-E fails the test.
Whoah, hang on a minute. WALL-E? Are we sure?
The Problem with The Bechdel Test
Let’s have a look at WALL-E. Here’s a summary of the plot, in case you’ve been in a coma for the last few years and the first thing you chose to do when you came around was to read my blog:
Runaway consumerism and lack of ecological foresight results in Earth being too polluted to live on.
The humans all evacuate to space, leaving behind an army of trash compactor robots, “Waste Allocation Load Lifter – Earth class”.
After centuries, only one of these survives, and has achieved sentience.
A robotic probe sent down by the humans, an “Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator” (EVE) probe and the surviving WALL-E unit form an emotional bond.
The EVE is called back to the mothership with evidence that Earth is becoming livable again. The WALL-E comes aboard as a stowaway.
Meanwhile, on the spaceship, the human captain (male) is in conflict with the ship’s computer, which hides evidence of Earth’s livability in order to keep the lazy, dis-focused space-dwelling humans under its authority.
Through a series of scrapes and adventures, the WALL-E unit and the EVE manage to survive the ship’s computer’s attempt to kill them and present the evidence that Earth is becoming habitable to the humans, who land the ship.
Finally, in a heartbreaking moment, the WALL-E appears to have been reset to its factory configuration, losing its intelligence and self-awareness, until an electrical spark passed during a “kiss” from the EVE causes the WALL-E to jump-start back into being its usual, quirky, self.
So there’s WALL-E. Does it pass the Bechdel Test? No. Well, I guess I’m wrong, then.
But the problem is: I only feel that a failure to the Bechdel Test is in any way significant if the film would pass its male-centric analog. After all, we can all say that the world is unfair because we haven’t personally passed the “Lottery Jackpot Test” – winning millions of pounds – but if only a handful of people ever do pass that test, then it’s not fair to say that I personally am unlucky: I’m pretty much just as unlucky as everybody else.
I propose a male-centric analog to the Bechdel Test. To pass this test, a film must have at least two male characters (ideally named), who talk to one another about something other than a woman. It may seem like I’m being facetious – after all, virtually all movies will pass this test – but I don’t feel that it’s appropriate to comment on the fact that a movie fails the Bechdel Test unless it also passes the male analog, for the same reason that I don’t feel it’s fair to use the fact that any given person has failed the “Lottery Jackpot Test” as evidence of anything in particular either.
So, here’s my Revised Bechdel Test. To pass this test, a movie must:
It has at least two women in it,
Who talk to teach other,
About something besides a man.
AND it can not fail the test unless it has at least two men in it who talk to one another about something besides a woman.
So does WALL-E fail the Revised Bechdel Test (i.e. fails the Bechdel Test, but passes the male analog): I don’t think it does, but it depends, perhaps, on how you choose to define gender. Many audience members will choose to identify the protagonist WALL-E unit as male, for example, despite the fact that it is clearly a robot manufactured in a way that makes gender irrelevant. They choose to do this because of their conditioning:
Lead characters in films are frequently male, so – in the absence of any evidence to the contrary – an audience will associate masculinity to a genderless character presented to them.
WALL-E units are dirty, engaged in manual labour, and with “rugged” square corners; these are characteristics that audiences will readily assume to be masculine traits because of the stereotypes within our society.
The WALL-E unit engages in a romantic relationship with a robot that – for similar stereotype-based reasons – the audience will often designate as being female. Our culture of heteronormativity means that when we discover that a character of a suspected gender forms a romantic relationship, that the subject of that relationship must be of the opposite gender.
Here are the options, then:
We assume that all robots in the film are genderless. If this is the case, the film fails the Bechdel Test, but passes my Revised Bechdel Test. Note that the same would be true of March Of The Penguins (this also fails the Bechdel Test, but I doubt that any feminist could rightly claim that women are under-represented in it).
We assume that all the robots in the film are of the same gender that their voice actor (please note that I don’t feel that this is a fair way to assign gender to characters: at least six of the recurring male characters in The Simpsons are voiced by voice actress Nancy Cartwright), with the exception of the ship’s computer, which – voiced by a synthetic algorithm called MacInTalk – remains genderless. In this case, the film still fails the Bechdel Test, and still passes my Revised Bechdel Test.
We assign arbitrary genders to the robots in order to make our argument fit. Only in this case can we pass the Bechdel Test or can we fail my Revised Bechdel Test.
The Revised Bechdel Test I propose solves the greatest fundamental problem with the Bechdel Test: that it discriminates unfairly against films where gender is not an issue. In most films involving nonhuman characters, the Bechdel test doesn’t provide sufficient granularity to tell the difference between “women being underrepresented” and “gender being irrelevant to the story”. Note that “nonhuman characters” is still an ambiguous term, for there exist characters with sufficient anthropomorphism that they can be treated as human analogies, like the stars of the original Toy Story, which fails both the Bechdel Test and my revised test, and rightly so.
The Problem with The Revised Bechdel Test
I’m not claiming to have fixed the Bechdel Test completely, though, as a measure of the representation of women in films. Last night, I watched Salt.
I first became aware of this new film when I saw a trailer for it at the cinema when watching Inception (doesn’t pass either the Bechdel Test nor my Revised Bechdel Test, although this isn’t a measure of how good a film is, and Inception is fantastic). Salt is a very typical modern action flick in many ways. Here are some of the common tropes of a modern action film, that Salt also has:
The lead character is a secret agent, spy, assassin, detective, mercenary, or similar “cool” profession that entitles them to carry a gun.
The lead character exhibits an almost-superhuman ability to withstand pain and torture, fight with a variety of weapons or barehand, learn multiple languages, pick locks, hack computers, and so on.
The organisation for which the lead character primarily works is of dubious trustworthiness.
The lead character is betrayed by somebody once trusted to them, and is on at least one occasion described as “rogue”.
A major motivation of the lead character is the liberation of their primary love interest.
The whole movie is full of badass fight scenes and explosions.
From a point of gender equality, this film does a really, really good job. It would be perfectly possible to change the gender of any of the major characters and still have movie which remained perfectly intact. The lead character’s femininity is part of the plot, certainly, but not in a way that makes mockery of it or belittles her for her gender. Not once does the lead female require the lead male to come and “rescue” her, or she is disadvantaged by her gender. Even the scene in which she disguises herself as a man is done not because a man would have been required but because it was the most effective disguise that she could have used, at the time: one that completely changed her appearance.
But guess what: this fantastic (and undeniably-feminist) film… doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test. It doesn’t even pass my Revised Test! Why? Because despite the fact that it represents women equally and counters the culture of male leads to action films (without making a point of doing so – gender is not a factor)… it doesn’t have a second named female character for the lead female to talk to (about something other than a man). Men talk together during the film about something other than a woman (although not much – a lot of their discussion is about the lead female, but they do on occasion talk about other things during the set-up), but it’s somehow a failure in the Bechdel Test simply because the film spends most of the time, without dialogue, watching the protagonist be a awesome gun-toting badass.
The Bechdel Test is too coarse. My Revised Bechdel Test improves its biggest failure, but still fails to detect films like Salt as being a good representation of women in movies. And if anybody’s got any suggestions about how we could refine the test any further, I’d love to hear them.