Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween

If you celebrate it.  The festival used to be for older children and pre-teens in the US.  That might be the only group which isn't that keen on Halloween these days.  Or so I judge on the basis of my social media surfing, where dogs, cats, adults and tiny babies wear Halloween costumes.

Speaking of social media, Twitter and the like, it might be worth confessing on this BOO! day that using logic, looking at the evidence and treating everyone with preliminary respect (as a possible human being, goddess. god, elf or whatever) is not the way to win hearts and minds in politics, be they the traditional type or sexual or gender politics.  You need something different.

Chews on a piece of straw while meditating on that.

You need to appeal to emotions, you need to  show only the data which supports your argument, even if it is the only study in the whole wide world which does so (looking at you, David Brooks), you need to look at only the extreme opposite ends of distributions (like compare Mother Theresa with Hitler or Einstein with Paris Hilton in gender analysis) or simplify complex evidence in weird ways (add apples to oranges, divide by lemons and get bananas), and when someone points that out to you, you need to move the focus of the argument to something quite different (you know how this is done).

Or just blow your stack (how DARE you analyze data!).  That always works wonders.

The other stream of stuff I'm unhappy with is the Twitter phenomenon of talking about the way we talk about what we talk about.  The circles go on forever.  It's not that linguistic analysis, including linguistic power analysis, wouldn't be useful.  But the infinite circles are not useful, and they never lead to any concrete resolutions or practical policies.  For that we need to look at the infrastructure:  health care, education, housing, jobs, utilities, clean air, voting rights, honest electoral politics, properly regulated markets and so on.

That was today's rant.

For its exact opposite (and anti-Halloween) here's Hildegard von Bingen:

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Wolf Whistles, Cat Calls And The Gauntlet of Compliments

By now you may have watched this video:

Hollaback, an organization that wants to stamp out street harassment and intimidation (a.k.a. catcalls), produced a video in which it videotaped a young woman walking around Manhattan for 10 hours this past August. A hidden video camera was placed in the backpack of a man walking in front of her, catching every catcall, whistle, and even one persistent character who walked alongside the woman for five minutes.
The results are startling. According to Hollaback, there were over 100 instances of verbal harassment in that 10-hour walk, not including winks and whistles. In the video, the woman remains silent. She is dressed in a T-shirt and jeans.

The responses to the video range from one extreme to the other.  If you feel masochistic today, spend some time (which might feel like an eternity) reading the comments at the YouTube site (or probably the comments attached to any article about the video).  

I looked in, rather quickly, about four million views ago, and found the debate raging, with all the usual fronts covered:  Those who were shocked to find that this happens (including the new "of course I hate all feminists but" gang!), those who argued that the woman was rude in not responding to the compliments, those who wanted the video to be about hunger and war peace, those who stated that they were women and loved getting wolf whistles and compliments and of course large numbers of women who pointed out that this happens a lot and it gets pretty wearisome after a while.

I didn't come across the rape threats that supposedly were deleted from the YouTube site.  But then YouTube comments about anything having to do with women usually have something of that sort so they may not have registered in my hardened mind.

Two responses arguing back at the video stuck to my mind.  The first one was a comment in the long thread at the YouTube where someone asked how he was going to find pu**y if not by complimenting strangers  who are walking to work or to school or to the dentist or to the grocery store.  That one was funny.  I immediately imagined that the pu**y harvesting time is now and the way to harvest it is by approaching total strangers happening to be walking somewhere.

The second one is a tweet by a conservative:

That's a funny one because a) it assumes (rather than proves) that no woman walking alone in Victorian NYC would have been harassed (hah!  middle-and-upper class women were not supposed to go out alone ever, poorer women might have told about worse than harassment),  b) it offers women the choices of submission or harassment and, c) it hints at something rather nasty behind that veil of "enforced chivalry."

Then to the boring-but-necessary extra analysis: 

First, street harassment does vary by city and between countries and probably by the streets in individual cities.  It depends largely on local culture.  So what we see in the video may not apply to other places on this earth.  In some she might not have been addressed at all, in others she might have suffered much worse. 

Those cultural variations suggest that we can change street harassment.

Second, those cultural variations also mean that only some men engage in these practices.  That's worth pointing out.  What is going on in the sub-cultures which condone or support harassing behavior and how can it be changed.

Third, what about the idea that all the woman received, ultimately, were compliments (well, what with a little bit of gentle stalking).  What's so bad about getting compliments?  Why couldn't the b**ch thank for them or at least smile?

Sorry, that last sentence was influenced by a few of the comments I read.  More seriously, the statements in the video are a lot milder than some of the stuff I have experienced in my past.  Much milder.  But here's the dilemma one faces when receiving such compliments:

What to do next?  The person has not asked you if you want to talk or whatever, but has simply decreed that this exchange will now take place. 

And the only choice you have is how to respond.  If you smile or say thank you or even nod your head, will that person accelerate the attempt at a connection?  What then?  If you ignore the attempt, will you get by safely or will something worse follow?  

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Halloween Approaches

And I noticed how glum I have been on the blog during the last few months, and if not glum then overly neutral.  The reason, my friends, is in the stars. *

Well, not in the stars as such, but partly in what's happening  (ISIL!  Ebola!  Climate Change!), partly in my own battle fatigue  (as in: "haven't I already written about this struggle some time during the last eleven years?", and: "did it make any f***ing difference at all?").   Yes, Virginia, sometimes I'm a pretty egoistic goddess, hoping that what I do matters more than a hill of beans in this crazy world.

To return the ball to the home plate (I'm trying to cram this post full of incomplete quotes, bad similes and so on), I can't think of anything to write about the politics of Halloween costumes that I haven't already written.
*And also "Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall"  because I've been coping with some family health problems which are finally clearing.

Added later:  Something completely new for Halloween

It's About Ethics In Game Journalism. A Parable.

Some hardcore Gamergate supporters*  gathered for a party at a strip club.  Because the movement has been accused of sexism and misogyny, they made an effort to point out that ladies were present, and not just those ladies who offered lap dances or table dances for a fee, but female Gamergate supporters:

The 8channers gathered at the club moved their chairs into a ragged line and gawked for a few obligatory minutes as a compact Asian dancer extricated herself acrobatically from a fishnet body suit, before forming into tight-knit clusters around small round tables. They were overwhelmingly young white men in their early to mid 20s. An enormous bald man named Hans, an 8channer who had flown from Texas for the party, pointed out three women in attendance, two bona-fide female 8channers, and one girlfriend, a model and actress with a neat Suicide Girl look who was the only partygoer dressed more for the club than Comic Con. “Naturally, accusations of misogyny are thrown around, but as evidenced by the presence of women, of which there are a few, it is a diverse group.” Hans paused, then winked. “By the way, table dances are $10 and lap dances are $75, if you’re interested. May I recommend Ms. Rain?”

Suddenly Brennan zoomed into the apartment, sparking applause. Someone wheeled in a suitcase full of cheap booze to even more applause. A MacBook was set up to live-stream the party and Brennan posted a link from 8chan’s official Twitter account. He read a message from an 8chan user. “They said, ‘Where are the girls? You said there would be girls.'” Everyone laughed, and Sarah and Brooke waved at the camera.

Fascinating.  This story is a parable for the Gamergate, implicitly defining the rules for women's participation in a particular type of world.  The party is at a strip club, aimed to please heterosexual men with its services.  Girl gamers can be present, too!  But it must feel awkward for them.  A little like being an honorary chicken guest at the foxes' annual chicken dinner celebration.**

*This post gives a short summary of the issues.  Gamergaters argue that the movement is about ethics in gaming journalism, their critics argue that the movement looks to be largely about misogyny.  Data tends to support the latter rather than the former argument.

Oh, and the title is because there's an Internet meme using "it's about ethics in gaming journalism" applied to all sorts of utterly unrelated things, to demonstrate how unlikely it is as an explanation.

**There's much more to that story than the parable I pulled out.  We could peel the onion of ideas much deeper to try to understand why one of the gamers present felt this:

...but a skinny guy named Mike, who had flown out to California to help Brennan with the move, became increasingly agitated. SJWs were trying to take away one of his last bastions of freedom and he felt personally under attack. “They think everything we have is shit, and they want to change it!” he shouted. “This is all we’ve had — for years!”
I wish the writer of the article had asked Mike more questions about what he would want to have, in the meatspace world, and why certain aspects of the games are so important for him.  Is this about someone whom life has treated especially harshly?  Or is this about someone who would like the reality to be like the most misogynistic games out there?  How much is entitlement and how much is pain?   And why must a game be a certain way to be exciting for him?


Monday, October 27, 2014

On Ebola Panic And Bitches

Via ql at Eschaton, this CNN tweet about NJ Ebola quarantine got 37 responses:

Out of those 37 responses five used the term "bitch," as in "quit bitching bitch" or "fuck that bitch" or "no bitch youre a walking plague" or "she needs to relax holy shit it's one thing criticizing but now she's sounding like a bitch" or "it's bigger then u .... BITCH."

One tweet just stated "fucking women" and was favorited 43 times.

This example is interesting because it is about something where the hind-brain takes over and tells people to panic, especially if those people lack the necessary information.  And because it's the hind-brain, out comes that misogyny, in the sense that women should shut up.

But it's also crucial to understand that the tweet itself got favorited 900 times, that the responses above are a small minority and that we shouldn't draw inferences about the general population of Twitter users from those responses.  Nevertheless, anger and fear are clearly infused with sexism in this example.