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  1. What Makes a Slut? Oppression.

    June 25, 2014 by Miss Lemonade

    It is far too early to be awake but I am too annoyed to stay curled up in my blankets no matter how tempting more sleep sounds.

    Someone I follow on Twitter linked Jessica Valenti’s piece from the Guardian on Twitter with the usual caveat about not reading the comments (which I thought was a maxim for the Internet at this point) so I just had to read it, it had “slut” in the title and I am a terrible glutton for punishment. What followed was a maybe slightly more verbose piece that I’m sure I’ve read a bunch of times before – what does “slut” really mean? There was at least a passing mention as to why WoC don’t want to reclaim the term this time around but the rest of it was more of the same. There feels like this incessant need in mainstream feminism to constantly hash out these basics as if they matter versus asking the tough questions or making statements from a place of truth and knowledge.

    A little bit of background on my feelings on slut, because I feel it is relevant: I hate the word. I think hate is one of those starting point terms for me. I loathe it. It’s like hearing nails scrape across a cardboard. It produces a mental effect similar to having my teeth drilled. At one point, it was so triggering to me that I couldn’t even handle people talking about it. Being called it every day for nearly four years has that Pavlovian effect after a while. I go so far as to think that it shouldn’t be reclaimed, it should cease to exist. It is not a word that should have meaning.

    This is why I find Valenti’s piece confounding and fairly facile. “Slut” is the spun-sugar construction of sexism and misogyny. It’s undefinable because it has no definition. The shape of the concept is a shadow. It’s something that haunts you and sticks around and follows you because men feel it should. It has taken many forms – legislation, scarlet As, but for most of us it is nothing but a meaningless excuse for violence towards us. This is what galls me about certain pockets of feminism, that there is need to constantly wonder about what our oppressors really mean when in our hearts we already know. We need to stop framing the discussion as leaping into the hearts and minds of what Sexism feels about us and we need to continue standing here defining it by our feelings. I know what it means. It’s hate. It’s violence. It’s oppression. It’s a tool of the patriarchy to corral us like cattle. To shame us into silence. To make us dirty so no one will touch us. As soon as we let the air out of that particular balloon, it will cease to have a shape.

    When someone has their boot to your neck, do you need to inquire as to why? You know why, or you don’t care. It loses material value. If you accept that slut is a sexist term, and you know what sexism is (and you do, you do know what it is, you’ve seen its face) then you don’t need to ask. Stop calling it slut-shaming, stop calling them Slutwalks. Stop letting that word having a place in our lives. Let it go die under a porch and kick the stinking corpse into a dumpster. I will not ask what a slut is, I will say it: no one is a slut.

    No one.

  2. On Twitter Toxicity And White Feminists

    January 30, 2014 by Miss Lemonade

    When I was a feckless youth in college, I had a job briefly for a group that billed itself as a public advocacy group. In less fancy-talk, it mean that they were a grassroots lobbying group. Our job as peons was to go door-to-door knocking and asking people for donations to help us in our fight cleaning up the Superfund sites across NY. Superfund sites are places that the government have earmarked as places of high amounts of toxic waste and waste dumping that need to get cleaned up because they are imminently damaging the lives of people who live near them. It struck me very early on that most of the people donating were doing so under the impression that we were working with the EPA to actually physically clean up these sites, but the truth of the matter was that we were soliciting the money so that the group could continue to go lobby in our state capital.

    This is a much harder thing to deal with when you are talking to a mother whose child has a birth defect because they live near one. I felt disgusting and disingenuous. I quit that job very soon after.

    I mention this because I see a rise in articles, seemingly from all pretty well-connected white women at mainstream feminist blogs decrying how toxic Twitter is, and by extension, the feminists that are on there. Feminism, from their perspective, is seemingly being torn apart by women fighting each other with Mean Girl-style tactics and being vicious, so much so that people are feeling shouted over or scared. The only problem is that these articles still only seem to be pointing at groups most often affected by how toxic Twitter can be, that is to say women of color, trans women and and throwing them under a bus for being “too angry” and not actually addressing the moments when Twitter can truly be a toxic place.

    The point I tried to make (and failed pretty spectacularly at) yesterday was that when it comes to having the discussions about Twitter being a hazardous place for feminists, the people running that discussion have been, and should be, women who are disproportionately affected by the fights and harassment that seem to crop up whenever they dare to talk about anything. Most of the time when a well-connected white feminist steps up to her microphone to write a pitched piece, it glosses over those narratives and simply skips to going on about “those angry people” who consistently get over fights about “unimportant things” like “cis” or “race relations.”  Very often, it seems like the authors of the pieces are frequently coming off a bout of being criticized themselves for marginalizing other feminists.

    So in this way, the problem consistently seems that the people most often making Twitter (and other forms of social media) places of hazardous, neglectful discourse are the same people who feel like they are most affected, and in turn, should be the ones to drive the discussion and look to save feminism from it’s nasty clutches. But are they really going to save anything? At most, it feels like they want to collect the attention, care and most notably, monetary rewards from being an outspoken advocate against it but not really reflect on how the mess got there in the first place or their role in not helping clean it up. It is a dishonest thing to shit up a place you don’t necessarily need to espouse your opinions and tell everyone who relies on it for activism, group consciousness-raising, and networking (or fun things like having friends) to leave because it’s disgusting.

    I do believe we need to have this conversation about Twitter fighting but one only needs to look so far to people like Flavia Dzodan (@redlightvoices), Mikki Kendall (@karnythia), or Sydette Harry (@blackamazon) to see that this has been going on a long time already. (It is almost as if following many different women on Twitter has been influential to forming opinions on how social media is used! Shock!) When I say “we” I do mean other white feminists. Because our complicity in this is often times more the reason social media is so aggressive and toxic, why the responses are vitriolic and why fighting happens so frequently – we say shitty, oppressive things while being feminists and refuse to listen to criticism about it and label the participants as unjustifiably angry. While I do believe that there are moments on social media when things can get “too heated” or nasty, I’ve had the privilege to only have those moments with other white feminists. Being criticized while online does not fall under “nasty” for me, especially if I say something terrible from my position of being a white lady.

    So when I remarked kinda off-the-cuff about “not being scared of other feminists”, it was my attempt to reflect on that idea. I recognize that too often people feel like they can’t truly dissent or express their opinion within feminism for fear of reprisal. But I feel like someone like me stands a far better chance of getting away with saying literally anything and getting away with it just because of my position in the community. The distance between myself and someone like Michelle Goldberg could easily be a one-way ticket back to Brooklyn and a couple of book deals. I’d be a terrible mouthpiece for why Twitter is so toxic within feminism, and why it’s problematic on a structural level to have only white feminists being the ones to have neglectful and downright dog-whistle-y conversations about what the “real dangers” of social media are within the feminist community. Even in writing this article, I am taking a big leap of authority to tell other white feminists who might want to sign on wholesale with the notions of Twitter toxicity and not look often at what is being said and who the fingers are being pointed at rather than letting people better suited for this discussion to really lead the charge (as they have been doing for some time.)

    Like I said before, it is dishonest to talk about the mess when you had a hand in it, and it’s unfair to work from a place where you can neglect an outlet so many of us use as feminist networking and socializing to tell us how terrible it is. Wanting to solicit support from the people who have been left holding the bag of our mistakes while simultaneously blaming them for the failures of feminism on social media is not only disingenuous but outright supremacist in its approach. We need to reflect on how this toxicity came about, recognizing that anger and criticism for our neglect and shitty behavior is warranted and working the hardest on making social media better for everyone.

    Follow-up: Suey Park knocks it out of the park with this takedown of “toxicity” from white feminists but also in support of Twitter feminism.



  3. Hard Out Here for Critical Feminists

    November 13, 2013 by Miss Lemonade

    Am I using hotel wifi to maybe bang out a post on pop music? You betcha.

    While I was tiredly idling on my laptop last night, someone in a feminist thread that I maintain on a private forum linked the newest Lily Allen video. He was excited because it was really good, apparently, so I watched it as I’ve been a fan of Allen’s older stuff.

    What followed was all the rap video shenanigans and pop-py satire that the song seems to evoke. If I had just listened to the lyrics, I could have gotten behind the message of the song, but the video wrecks it entirely. (Upon closer listening to the lyrics, I notice there’s some really gross positioning of women who are skinny vs. fat, shake their ass vs. being smart which is just giant NO! all around. Same goes for the cissexism with the whole “Forget your balls and grow a pair of tits”)

    It doesn’t take much of a hard look to be completely disgusted by what’s going on in the video – it’s Lily Allen surrounded by twerking and objectified women of color, particularly black women. Whether it’s a send up of “rap video girls” or some sort of demented Miley Cyrus satire (hey, white ladies, you can’t satirize from a position of power), it is still just using black women’s bodies as props and riding them as “different” from pure White Feminism and Sexist Critique.

    The reason that this is so problematic is due to racial politics – white people, including white women, have been using black cool and bodies to launch their own careers and success while simultaneously denigrating it. When we talk sideways about rap videos being misogynistic, we tend to still trample over black women’s voices discussing how this misogyny actually affects them and we fail, as white women, to note how white dude music across the ages has done a very spectacular job at putting its glam boot on our necks. Our music is not different from black music except for that fact that it’s lauded, praised, held up as the standard and frequently steals from black musicians and their culture. We love to go to town on Lil’ Wayne but seem to even forget about Eminem. It falls back heavily on the idea that black people are stupid, especially when they mimic the wealth, power and dynamics of white musicians, without reflecting upon our own pop culture misdeeds.

    So in short, Lily Allen’s video is once again stepping on the shoulders of black women, their work, and people are saying she’s a feminist giant. Like the song if you’d like, but don’t you dare not look at it with the same amount of criticism that you’d toss at anyone else. If it was me, I could have done a treatment of that video that was a montage of every drippy emo rock band or champagne-spraying hair metal group. The fact that this wasn’t the first choice here shows that we are still not looking at the right people.

    Your move, guys.


  4. Press Button, Receive Pain: Twitter Implementing Report Abuse Feature

    July 29, 2013 by Miss Lemonade

    If anyone hasn’t been following the story lately, Jane Austen recently was announced as going to go onto the 10 pound note in the UK. What does this have to do with Twitter? Apparently a lot of people were mad at the woman who petitioned it, Caroline Criado-Perez and flooded Twitter to send her rape threats.  Seems like a normal day in the life for a feminist with a social  media presence but due to the news profile that getting a woman on money got, the wave of threats and general shitbaggery was quite a lot more voluminous.

    So much in fact that Criado-Perez turned around and petitioned Twitter to implement a Report Abuse feature. Now, several days later, Twitter has already responded that they will be implementing it.  Seems like a good thing right? Well the problem is that many people over the weekend raised their legitimate concerns with why adding a Report Abuse feature to Twitter won’t really make the problem of threats or abuse go away, and might even hurt those it is supposed to protect.

    The problem is that Twitter, for being a free service (Caitlin Moran, shut the fuck up), doesn’t do much to aid those who use the service when it comes to potential violations of not only their Terms of Service but actual statues regarding internet harassment. Their website does have ways to report abuse right now, but nothing terribly convenient and many people, including even high-profile Twitter feminists like Feminist Frequency are given boilerplate answers that rape threats do not constitute “abuse.” It seems like Twitter has a support staff for these things but largely has a laissez-faire “everything is covered by free speech, we don’t step into disputes” attitude, even when someone is legitimately the subject of a one-sided hate campaign.

    How do I know this? Well, like so many other people on Twitter who were protesting the efficacy of this feature, I was a victim of Twitter saying one thing and doing nothing. Over the course of four years, I had a stalker who was dedicated in making most of my waking hours a torturous hell. Once he found out that I had a Twitter account, a prolonged daily attack of hundreds of Twitter accounts tweeting at me was my life for 2 years. He would Tweet at me innocuous but hurtful things about my appearance, post pictures of me but it soon escalated on most days up to and including threats on my life, that he was going to rape me, and posted my phone number, address (or enough to scare me once I got the cops involved.) He also would like to threaten me with literal genital mutilation, posting pictures and threats about what he was going to do. He’d tweet sexually harassing things as well. There wasn’t anything vile that he didn’t stoop to, including harassing people through me – my friends, especially other women. Twitter on multiple occasions either didn’t respond to me trying to keep up with the dozens of new accounts per day, or gave me the same answer – that it doesn’t violate their policies. It made me think, “What does violate?” Apparently spamming does.

    People have used the “Report Spam” button to either toss a bad person in the trash but also to get rid of  critical Twitter accounts if they have enough support. Anti-Racism Dog has repeatedly gotten the Report Spam treatment despite being a Twitter account that does nothing but tweet at racists on Twitter with barking noises. This is definitely not giving me a good feeling that implementing a Report Abuse feature is going to be used the same way.

    No one is going to be protected when Twitter puts this in on all their various apps or website because Twitter simply doesn’t have the moderation, concern or staff to make sure that anything that is reported is vetted for content. It shows that even when the content passes muster for 90 percent of humanity as abusive, that it doesn’t violate their rules. At best, what a Report Abuse button is going to do is nothing. At worst, abusers and other oppressive people who are upset that someone is justifiably mad at them (very often marginalized populations on Twitter – transfolk, WoC) are going to use it to further silence those people who already can’t fight back. Where are the celeb supporters for them? Petitions? Were they hiding around a corner somewhere while the rest of us were dealing with this?

    Stuff like this needs to come with not just an assurance of being created but actually enacted in a way that requires way more human interaction, time and concern for their users than Twitter has at the moment. Twitter has a responsibility, even as a free service, to do more to protect people from whatever the Internet decides to throw up on them in 140 characters or less. It is one of the juggernauts of the social media world and like Facebook, has really done very little to do this. It makes me exceptionally bitter that people who had been disenfranchised by Twitter and abused repeatedly were not given any audience in this discussion between one high-profile white feminist and Twitter as a corporate entity – well, except on their Twitter accounts of course. It is because Twitter is where all the actual good discussion happens.

    Imagine if all that good discussion starts getting snuffed out because detractors, abusers, and misogynists start abusing the Report Abuse button and Twitter continues the hands-off policy. It will be a sad day for the service indeed but more for the fact that Twitter has routinely been one of the few places online, harassment be damned, to actually interact with people in a way that isn’t moderated by oppressive policies. But in doing so, Twitter has also created a perfect place for abuse to go unabated, and this just seems like  more of the same.


  5. “It’s Just a Joke” – Upholding the Status Quo with Comedy

    December 20, 2012 by Miss Lemonade

    Trigger Warnings: Discussion of comedy relating to rape/sexual assault and other gross behavior.

    I’m sure you’ve been here before. Someone tells a crappy joke about something that makes you feel gross. You make the mistake of telling the person how you feel.

    “It’s just a joke, god, stop taking it so seriously.”

    Comedy is one of the oldest and most potent forms of narrative and can be endlessly complex. It’s just as capable at diminishing societal structures as it is upholding them; lately it feels like comedy has done a better job propping them up than not. This topic has circulated quite a few times around individual incidents and the discussion about the incident in particular tends to bar a larger conversation about why this occurs at all, ever. But why do people (particularly men) make these jokes at all?  To me, it is privilege acting in place of reality. Now, granted, comedy happens in many different forms and in many different ways and a lot of what we find funny differs from culture to culture, or what kind of comedy you’ve been exposed to. However, our comedy has been dominated by the same patriarchal norms as everything else, so I feel a lot of what people find funny is entrenched in the same bullshit that’s been around everything else. Hence, shitty comedy and shitty jokes. But what constitutes to “good” and what constitutes “shitty”? Here’s some of my loose guidelines for comedy that have served me pretty well:

    1. Comedy subverts the audience’s expectations.
    2. Satire kicks up, not down.
    3. Don’t make jokes about an intrinsic facet of someone.
    4. Don’t mock awful things that haven’t happened to you.
    5. Know your audience and don’t joke about things that you have no way of knowing about them.
    6. If you make a joke that hurts someone, fucking apologize.


    (I can already hear cries of people not understanding how you can be funny adhering to most of those rules, in the distance.)

    Privilege and patriarchy in Western society (which is what I’m addressing) often makes people not follow a great portion of these rules from the outset and keep reinforcing this nonsense. I believe this is because the expectations (and by nature, reality even) comedians or other joke-tellers work to” subvert” are vastly different than the people they are squashing down with their jokes.

    It should stand to reason that a lot the problematic comedy that upholds this latticework of oppressive norms comes from men. Not only is the comedy rife with -ist behavior  but a lot of how men react to being told their jokes are problematic is something that begs to be looked at. I believe so many jokes that tumble out of dude’s mouths are there because we’re still soaked in a culture that reinforces one idea but is incredibly different from a lot of people’s lived experiences. Hence, why some jokes a dude makes (particularly if he’s also white, cisgendered, able, or heterosexual, et al) tend to only be funny to other dudes. They predicate on subverting the expectations of a reality that they’ve inhabited their entire lives, one that that hasn’t been examined, and blinds them to other people’s. They make fun of groups of people they have had power over all their lives, they diminish experiences they’ve never lived in fear of or had happen to them, and they use painful subjects as fodder for punchlines because they’ve never been stung by them.

    How are people even hurt by jokes, I seem to hear a lot. People who tell shitty jokes don’t even realize that they are shitty to someone, mostly going back to this idea that it is a reality that they don’t inhabit. And quite often the defense is that it is merely a joke and meant to be “funny.” The problem with this line of thinking is that jokes can fail. They can fail spectacularly and cause emotional distress for people if you choose to make a joke about something serious. I mean, just like you have eaten shitty versions of your favorite food, a joke is not going to be successful or worthy of a laugh every time you make it. The idea that a joke begs laughter by the virtue of being a joke, or your dazzling comedic taste, is faulty. It goes back to this egotistical idea of men being centered in this idea that everything they say, including jokes, is valuable. When they are criticized, rightfully so, they double down and refuse to acknowledge other’s feelings or that it failed. To do so would mean thinking about what their words mean, or that they somehow weren’t right about this reality they are fixated on.

    This kind of egoism and defensiveness over criticism seems to occur a lot when I see call-outs happen from people who were hurt or upset by comedy. It is this conflict again between the reality that makes these jokes seem reasonable and people who are actually hurt by these topics in real life. Men who grab for rape as a punchline get salty because they want the freedom to really make that edgy joke, to really go THAT far to prove a point or elicit a joke, regardless of who is hurt by it. Jokes are more important than someone’s feelings. Especially in the case of where these men make money off doing jokes like this, whether it is a stand-up, or a webcomic, they feel that their job and cash flow is at stake if they can’t make any joke or content that they want. It is the terror that lurks in the dark for them – the idea that their freedom and livelihood is going to be gobbled up by some straw feminists telling them what to do. In reality, a lot of it comes down to content creators being aware that their audience makes their livelihoods possible and hurting people with jokes is a pretty terrible thing to do. It doesn’t take much to earn goodwill back with your supporters if you really listen and look at the criticism. Accept that people could be hurt, and just apologize. I don’t know why this is such a hard thing to do, but given that we’re dealing with privilege and years of ingrained beliefs, digging in your heels seems to be the thing shitty joke-makers like to do the most.

    Now, despite the fact that there’s been some egregious examples of this shitty joke problem out there, what really kicked off this conversation that’s been happening in my brain over the past year was actually something that happened on Twitter.

    Twitter has been really interesting to watch over the years that I’ve been participating in it; the idea of it having a unique brand of comedy that exists in 140 characters is pretty neat. A lot of it focuses on hyper-fast jokes that setup and hit the punchline in a couple words, other times it undermines normalcy with absurdist or even Dada-esque flights. Some people make jokes as part of their normal minutiae and others tend to make it the focus of their Twitter persona. While Twitter has an extremely high quotient of funny ladies, the problems I’ve had recently have fallen squarely on the shoulders of male-dominated discourse and joke-telling. Despite it being a brave new medium for expression, I find that a lot of it still supports an ultimately male-envisioned reality. Jokes that routinely focus on casting the dude in question as the gross, macabre or ultimately “weird”  can be funny but fall along the same lines despite being anti-egotistical. There’s nothing funny about jokes that cast you as a sexual predator, and there’s nothing subversive about your boners, dudes. I got mad at two of my friends for doing weird jokes about flashing people at a fairground and masturbating on public buses. Two things similar to this have happened to me in my life and both times it wasn’t hilarious or “weird,” it was scary and upsetting. This is the largest and most confusing example of “people making gross jokes living in a reality remarkably different than their audience” being that they use situations that alienate a lot of us (particularly women) as fodder for self-deprecating humor rather than remarking on why these things are a problem. The problem with a lot of it that focus on sexual situations in particular is that history has long been about men being amused by their sexuality, their aggressiveness and their own folly. However, it is the mark of privilege to suggest that it is hilarious to any of us on the receiving end have found it laughable this entire time.

    So, what can we ultimately do about this? Keep saying something. Keep speaking up. Deconstructing humor, having discussions about why these kinds of jokes are not okay and most importantly, people looking into their privilege and the criticism and not being giant douchebags about it. Take your audience seriously. Examine your situation and how it differs from other people’s. Stop trying to do satire when you are the dominant ruling party.  Stop trying to hide behind irony – there’s nothing ironic about ape-ing the prevailing culture. And most importantly, learn how to listen and apologize sincerely when you fuck up. Because at some point, you probably will. Apologies will go a long way – it might not be very funny, but sometimes things aren’t.

  6. Winners of the League of Legends RP Card and Skin Contest

    November 28, 2012 by Miss Lemonade

    Last week we had a contest promoting the awesome company behavior that Riot has displaying with how they handle abusive players in their game, League of Legends.

    The prizes, generously furnished by Zaralynda, are:

    One NA* player will be receiving a $10 RP card for whatever they want to spend it on!

    One EU/E* player will be receiving the Legend of Legends PAX Sivir skin!

    One EU/W* player will be receiving the Legend of Legends PAX Sivir skin!


    NA, $10 RP Card: Muscratt

    EU/E,  PAX Sivir Skin: Roman

    EU/W, PAX Sivir Skin: Littlepulco

    We will be contacting you guys at your e-mails shortly to verify that you guys are actually real humans. In the absence of a reply, we will give the prize to another winner.

    Watch this blog tomorrow as I will be running another contest!

  7. League of Legends RP Card and Skin Contest

    November 20, 2012 by Miss Lemonade

    League of Legends Sivir Pax Skin official art

    Whoa, hey there. I haven’t written anything in a while but I am coming back from the dead with a really exciting League of Legends contest for you guys. Provided by an awesome benefactor Zaralynda, we have a prize for both NA (North America) and EU (European)* players. The purpose of the contest is not only to give back to the League of Legends community but also thank Riot for doing a really awesome job at enforcing player’s language and behavior via their Tribunal as well as their stated terms of service. Riot has made quite a commitment to ensuring the safety and wellness of their players, and so this contest is to show appreciation for that!

    One NA* player will be receiving a $10 RP card for whatever they want to spend it on!

    One EU/E* player will be receiving the Legend of Legends PAX Sivir skin!

    One EU/W* player will be receiving the Legend of Legends PAX Sivir skin!

    Nifty as hell, eh?

    To enter all you need to do is leave a comment by Tuesday, November 27th at 12 PM CST (6:00 PM GMT) that states your favorite champion from League of Legends and your region (US/EUE/EUW). You cannot enter this contest twice. The winner will be announced Wednesday, November 28th.

    Good luck to all and spread the word!

    *Codes work on these servers only even if you do not live in these regions. However, this contest is unfortunately not open to other regions as we have no prizes for them. I am very sorry!


  8. The “Girlfriend Mode” Experience

    August 13, 2012 by Miss Lemonade

    The hubbub this morning is over how Eurogamer basically broke that John Hemingway, lead developer for Borderlands 2, referred to their new mechromancer character as having a “girlfriend mode.” This colloquial reference (presumably a joke) is for the “Best Friends Forever” mode that the mechromancer has that allows people who are not “good at shooters” to play and still be entertained.

    “The design team was looking at the concept art and thought, you know what, this is actually the cutest character we’ve ever had. I want to make, for the lack of a better term, the girlfriend skill tree. This is, I love Borderlands and I want to share it with someone, but they suck at first-person shooters. Can we make a skill tree that actually allows them to understand the game and to play the game? That’s what our attempt with the Best Friends Forever skill tree is.”

    One of the first skills available in the BFF tree is called Close Enough. This means your bullets that hit walls or other objects, that is, miss their target, have a chance to ricochet off towards the enemy.

    “Can’t aim? That’s not a problem,” Hemingway said.

    It’s 2012 and gaming companies are still letting their lead developers go in front of journalists without an ounce of PR training to say stuff like this, let alone actually hiring people within the industry that aren’t designing games with this ridiculous “boys club” mentality behind the things they put so much work into. Hilarious to treat a mode to make the game wildly easier as a joke on women, right?

    This sort of stuff bothers me on a lot of levels because it still reflects how far down this idea of women being shitty at video games penetrates even if it isn’t glaringly on the surface. The nature of jokes, internal builds (see Dead Island’sfeminist whore” stuff. Warning: That is a Kotaku link.) and presumably what devs talk about in private still floats to the surface because companies don’t inherently see this as a problem and neither does the “community.” Girlfriend mode is going to stick because it’s always been there. It is in the sexist Jungian shared consciousness that gamer culture is built upon.

    If male gamers wanted to pay money to experience the real “Girlfriend Mode” they’d be in for a wild shock. It’d be a woman character that would be given a random level of ability and you’d have to attempt to quest and shoot bad guys while dodging epithets, jokes at your expense and commentary on your body, your skills and your gender as a whole. You’d be reduced to an attachment to whatever male protagonist is on the front of the box or featured in the story.  You wouldn’t have any independent desires, motivations or intrinsic characteristics outside of what hobbies your male paramour wheedled you into accepting. Getting top medals or ranks would earn you a “Good Enough!” achievement, or perhaps commentary about how you’re decent “for a woman.” Anything less than perfect would just get you laughed at and NPCs would pat you on the head to give you the beginning tutorials again. Your character’s life would close at the end of the game with you being married or pregnant.

    Coming as someone who would be termed a very “casual gamer” just on the dint that I’m a) female b) heavily play World of Warcraft, I find it really galling that all women are shrunk down to being brought into games as part of a (presumably heterosexual) relationship because being good at games is a male pursuit. I didn’t get into gaming because of a boyfriend. I wanted to play with my friends. My casual nature with gaming historically has almost nothing to do with the fact that I couldn’t “grasp” games but more to the fact that I never owned a console and couldn’t really afford to game most of my life.

    Men do not need a spouse or a partner to get them into gaming because it is already marketed at them. They also are given wide berth on how good their skills are because men are already seen as baseline “decent” at gaming due to the fact that it is their hobby. This kind of presumption has been pounded into stone and still is the foundation for a lot of shittiness that we see around gamer culture today. Women can never get into gaming, especially the shooter genre, on their own, never be good at it, because well, it’s not for them. We have to be lead into it with sugar cubes like some irascible horse that needs breaking in. Once we’re in, our natural inability to hold electronics or jump into pipes will hold us back and you’ll never be able to play with us without bringing deep shame on the house of Gaming.

    See how fucking ridiculous that shit is?

    We need to stop letting male gamers get away with this pervasive attitude that women don’t get gaming, aren’t interested in it and definitely aren’t GOOD at it despite the fact that the gaming industry has been telling us this for years. If I could even take this a step further, I’d say that we need to stop caring whether people are good at video games or not like it fucking matters. Because it doesn’t. Everyone should have the ability to be good or not and break down this uber-masculine need for levels of playing ability determine how much fun someone can have playing a video game. Being bad at a video game isn’t the end of the world, nerds, and it isn’t a solely feminine thing.

    Gearbox, like so many other gaming companies, needs to start making their games equitable to everyone, regardless of gender, and not just for the consumer, but for the people who work on the games as well. If I was a woman working for Gearbox, I’d be fucking flipping out if a lead developer made a joke like that in front of reporters. How do you feel good about yourself working on a project when someone that notable on your team says shit like that?

    Clean it up, dudes.

    Related Links:

  9. Reader Mail: Female Sexuality

    July 18, 2012 by Miss Lemonade

    The other night I got a glowing e-mail from two of my readers (hi Kaeli and Candace!) who follow me on Twitter. It was really amazing to read someone’s heartfelt expressions of gratitude, but most of the letter that quite a few questions for me. My answer, in my mind, was a little too big, so I decided to answer it here instead of privately. Here is the e-mail, slightly edited to take out the effusive praise, since I’m already blushing:


    I’m a seventeen-year-old female from Canada, and I have a question for you, which I will get around to asking eventually. I actually stumbled across your blog and Twitter account while educating myself on feminism in March. Up until a few months ago, the word ‘feminist’ conjured up an image of an emotionally unstable, man-hating woman that would assign sexist undertones to issues that didn’t even exist in the first place. I thought it was more than obvious that women were just being irrational. I thought it was more than obvious that sexism hasn’t existed for decades and anyone who said that it was institutionalized in our society was ignorant and delusional. I thought a lot of ridiculous things, which I now realize was only indicative of how I was the one being irrational, ignorant, and delusional.

    [snip praise here]

    Now that I’ve expressed my admiration for you, I can get into the meat of this topic: the concept of raunch culture and how it affects the expression of female sexuality. This is something that has been on my mind since reading your blog post about male validation. I have held the belief that women should not be defined by or condemned for their sexuality. If a woman wants to wear make-up because it’s what she wants to do for herself, she should be able to without being demonized for it. If a woman wants to wear a short skirt because it’s what she wants to do for herself, she should be able to without being demonized for it. If a woman wants to be open about her sexuality for herself, she should be able to without being demonized for it. The issue that I am presenting to you is: are women really doing it for themselves? Has the seeking of male validation and the male gaze become so ingrained in women and internalized by them, that though they think performances of sexuality are empowering, they are actually only doing it for the approval of men?

    I was thinking that female sexuality is only portrayed by the media in a very specific (and possibly skewed) manner that is meant to appeal only to heterosexual men, yet it is still repressed in a way. As an example, I feel that when men are shown frontally nude in mainstream movies, it is for comedic effect, but the depiction of a nude female is something that is usually erotically charged to fulfill male desire. However, I feel like female genitalia is rarely shown in mainstream movies, which is maybe telling of how female sexuality is actually repressed to a certain degree. I feel like this issue can be applied to pornographic movies as well. I have been pro-pornography despite having issues with how very performative it is on the part of women as it dictates a stifling standard of what is sexy and what is not. I feel like heterosexual porn is usually focused on the woman performing and acting “sexy” in that very specific way for the satisfaction of a heterosexual male viewer; girl-on-girl porn is fetishized and equally as performative on part of the women involved, again, for the satisfaction of a heterosexual male viewer, while porn involving only men is looked down upon because it does not satisfy a heterosexual male viewer. After deciding to research this idea further, I stumbled across a book that addresses this issue called Female Chauvinist Pigs (you have likely heard of it because u r supr smrt, but I will briefly explain it just in case you haven’t). I read a synopsis of it because I am too poor to afford the paperback (lmao), but it argues that “many women engage in performances of sexuality that are not expressions of their individual sexuality, but are designed for the pleasure of the male observer(s)”. I feel like maybe it’s an issue of the oppressed trying to please their oppressors in a feeble attempt to avoid discrimination; in this case, women sexually objectifying themselves to attain an equal status to men by making themselves sexual playthings and basically the embodiment of white, heterosexual male desire. 

    This has left me questioning my own sexuality and how I express it, and whether I am doing it for personal liberation or if I am unintentionally perpetuating stereotypes of what female sexuality is. Now, I am a white, heterosexual female and I have a white, heterosexual, cisgendered boyfriend who is twenty-years-old. I know that seeking male validation is something that is so deeply entrenched in me and I want to continue to distance myself from it. I know that sexual acts with somebody should be fulfilling for yourself, as well as pleasing for the other person regardless of their gender or sex. I am worried that my boyfriend’s expectations for what constitutes “being sexy” are these terribly performance-based acts, and that I possibly am only doing things for his satisfaction. When I buy “sexy” underwear, maybe it only makes me feel confident because I receive approval from a man for following these arbitrary standards for what “sexy” is. When I do my makeup before my boyfriend comes over, maybe it only makes me feel confident because I am conforming to the conventional standards of beauty, which my boyfriend might approve of. When I have sex with my boyfriend, maybe I mostly enjoy it because I am pleasing a man by objectifying myself in a manner that satisfies the male gaze.

    These are all only ideas that I am throwing around as I am unsure of how I feel, so I am wondering what you think of the issues that I’ve presented to you, and the ideology explained in Female Chauvinist Pigs. What is your opinion on pornography, the portrayal of female sexuality, and where the line is drawn between obtaining personal fulfillment and seeking male approval? I am dying of anxiousness to hear your response, be it over e-mail or through a blog post. Please keep in mind that I turned seventeen in December and that I still don’t have anywhere near a full grasp on any of these issues. I apologize for the long (and likely convoluted) e-mail.


    There’s a lot of stuff to break down here. Female sexuality is one of those giant, looming topics that feminism always struggles to talk about from a myriad of angles. Where a feminist falls in her beliefs about those facets tends to fall around some pretty weighty questions:

    1. How is female sexuality being performed? 
    2. Who is this performance for?
    3. How is it being received?

    The answers that feminists struggle with, even within themselves as sexual beings, has given rise to quite a few schools of thought and I definitely have a lot of feelings on the matter.

    I too feel that women should not be defined or condemned for their sexuality. The reason for this is because sexual performances from a woman are just as valid as a man’s. Women’s sexuality and sexual acts have long been regarded as dirty or should be kept secret, or only for men. This is extremely erroneous and definitely comes from patriarchal culture. Removing stigma from women acting in a sexual way that is for themselves is a big part of that. Accepting that sexual performances are for the person performing them and her intended sexual audience (which very often does not include men, see: queer women) is pretty key  here.

    But herein lies the problem, and you addressed this with your question: are women doing it for themselves?

    This is a question that even I ask myself on a regular basis. It’s exceptionally hard to point at any one woman acting sexually and make that judgement, especially as other women. But if we look at the culture at large, it becomes pretty obvious to us that a lot of sexual performances seem to be done for and designed with a male audience in mind. This is what is referred to in media criticism as the “male gaze.” It assumes that the person viewing a woman behaving sexually in popular media is always a heterosexual man. How heterosexual men have defined women’s sexuality is fairly narrow and centered on themselves, and thus these performances are rigid and ties into a lot more sinister ideas about a woman’s consent, her autonomy as a person, her body being public property and sex being violent. So, seemingly, in media especially, women are not performing sexually for themselves. But it’s very hard to point at a particular woman and say that. We have to look at these issues in a larger fashion lest we get caught up in focusing on women and not what women have been oppressed by.

    A lot of this comes back to your points about choice – women make choices. Choice feminism itself revolves around that idea, that women have a variety of paths they can create for themselves. Third wave feminism largely is about that; what it means to be a “woman” is everything and how a woman defines it. My criticism of choice feminism in general though, as well as just the whole “I want to do this” is when we don’t look hard at why we are making those choices. A lot of times, they might not really be a choice at all. A choice insinuates making conscious decisions between a multitude of options. The things we do as women, as feminists, are not inherently feminist or for ourselves by the mere act itself because a lot of our motivations are so thoroughly ingrained in what male-driven culture expects of us. Our so-called “options” are limited. This is what I was trying to clarify in my last blog post. The things I do, despite identifying as feminist, may not always be feminist. This comes sharply into focus when the subject is female sexuality. We as women need to identify the structures of patriarchy that define us and try to reject them. We need to examine our own motivations and performances for things that might not be our authentic selves. The depressing part is that there might not be a way of completely unburdening yourself from these pressures; it might be just things you are not comfortable with doing (like say, keeping body hair) or it might be harmful for you to do so (there are legitimately dangerous downsides to some women not behaving “properly” around men). But what I urge you, and any other woman to do, is just look at where the choices you make come from. No one should fault you for performing in a way that plays well with male-driven sexuality but it is something to look at critically. This is why it is so hard sometimes to not feel guilty or ashamed, even if you are a feminist, because you feel like everything you do is under a microscope, especially if you predominantly interact with men in a sexual way. I’m a queer woman and I still feel the sting of this. Even women who identify as lesbian/queer can still feel the problematic glare of what women are expected to enjoy or look like in the bedroom. A lot of feminists have asserted that it’s very hard to act as a sexual being completely free from the desires of patriarchy at all. Dworkin herself even said that consent (which is whole other facet of sexual performance, especially with regards to rape culture) is meaningless in our society. It gives you a lot to think about.

    Pornography, by that line of thinking, is one of the hottest spots of debate within feminism especially when it comes to choice, pervasive male culture and sex performance. On the surface, it seems like it should exist. I believe that, ideally, women can be a part of this media or create this media themselves for their sexual appetites and entertainment. This is an extremely idealistic and surface view. The problem that so many feminists, as well as myself, have with pornography (rather than women who participate in it), is that it was created and is shaped by quite a few rigid and dangerous views of sexuality. It is a fairly exploitative industry and peddles a lot of disgusting, dangerous views about women’s bodies, sexuality and sexual autonomy. A lot of women who are involved in pornography make the choice to be there, but a lot of them are coerced or pressured due to financial concerns. Sex workers in general need our regard, rather our scorn. A lot of the practices and business involved in sex work are corrupt, involve themselves blindly or knowingly in human trafficking or “softer” means of involving women in porn, prostitution or stripping. Pornography is a huge business that makes a lot of money off exploiting the performances of women. These performances, especially in mainstream porn made for men and by men, reinforce a lot of problematic ideas. Not all pornography is bad, truly, but the idea and the presentation of so much of it is legitimately harmful as well as harmful to the women who participate. This is largely why it is such a contentious topic. My feelings on the matter is that we should abolish pornography as a media form dominated by men, upheld by coercive and inhumane practices and promoting unhealthy attitudes towards sex. Pornography in a lot of ways is an extension of our culture’s views on women’s place in sex and her performances therein. Creating porn that embodies healthy attitudes, non-coercive behaviour, and treats its participants fairly and equitably is what I’d love to see in the future but that seems like an unrealistic goal at this time. However, at this present moment, we need to save our regard and criticism for the culture and industry and not shame sex work participants.

    In that vein, I can see where the confusion comes from how you personally express yourself as a sexual being. So much of the lessons we are taught as women is that there is very strict consequences for not obliging a man’s sexual desires. That our sexuality is tied into acting one way, looking a certain way. It loops back and conflicts with itself because it is a design not of our own making. It doesn’t respect us as individuals, only as things to be consumed and molded. Women are objectified to the extreme and we are no more than dolls, it seems. How are you supposed to feel sexy when we’re constantly surrounded by stuff like this? This is a question I’ve struggled to answer all my life and I’m still not sure myself. Having feminism at your back helps, but you still feel beholden to what culture believes about us sexually. Understanding where sexual culture comes from and how you fit into it helps. Knowing where your choices comes from also helps. But holding yourself up to a ridiculously impossible standard when it comes to “pleasing men” will probably be hard. No one is perfect, especially if you interact sexually with men, and as I mentioned before, there isn’t always a safe way to express yourself completely. Making sure you are safe and content is the best you can do sometimes, and if that means a pair of panties, then you go right ahead. The problem a lot of women don’t recognize about ourselves is that we’re not the ones “making mistakes” when we fail to live outside pervasive sexual culture. We’re not the ones who created the so-called “gilded cage” we find ourselves locked up in. Women perform sexually in regards to men because it is how you make it in our society some days.  It is all part of our terrible bargain that we’ve struck, being born into a world that doesn’t treat us as equals. But it means that if we want to navigate safely through it, we have to do things we might not want to, and it doesn’t mean you’re failing as a person and especially not as a woman or feminist.

    To Kaeli and Candace: I know it’s super hard sometimes. These are questions we all wrestle with as women, especially as feminists. How do we make choices like this, especially when they never feel like choices at all? How do we deal with the things we do and how do we make ourselves happy? To me, the key to that is constantly learning and growing, fighting. I wish I had known these things at your age, as it has taken me years of shame, struggle and danger to get where I am now at 30 years old. You guys seem like very self-aware, intelligent women and the idea that you’re going to navigate your adult years armed with more information and reflection than I did at that age makes me feel gladdened. This is why I do the things I do, to make sure that people see what I learned the hard way and spared that. I’m glad you guys wrote me. There is intense, immense strength in reaching out to other women with these questions and that’s ultimately why feminism is so important. Asking the tough things of yourself and others, and being unafraid to reach out for help and discussion is what props you up on the days when shit gets you down. Read all you can, talk to as many women as you can, fill your head with knowledge, criticism and love.

    Thank you for writing, I hope I answered you guys satisfactorily.





  10. The Problematic Fix: Addicted to Male Validation and Female Competitiveness

    July 12, 2012 by Miss Lemonade

    It’s really no surprise to anyone that I spend a lot of time reading and Twitter and blogs; what really catches me off guard is when something current puts a fine point on things that I’m wrestling with inside of my head. The combination usually results in a torrent of tweets on the subject for 140-character consumption or, in this instance, a complete blog post. I won’t say that this is the most cohesive of topics I’ve ever covered, but I definitely have a lot of things to say.

    Take the Sociological Images post written by Caroline Heldman that lit a fire under my ass this week; it’s a 3-part series on Sexual Objectification and Women. Part 3 specifically pertains to how we as women can help break the habits that we participate in when it comes to being beholden to the male gaze and more-over, male validation of our sexual identities. The language in the post has a definitely “mental health” nuance to it that wasn’t lost on me. A lot of my therapy visits lately have focused very strongly on the idea that my self-worth and anxiety problems have ties to how I seek attention and meet expectations from the men in my life. This is not just something that is unique to me or a function of my brain chemisty, this is due to how women in general are socialized.

    Wakin’ Up

    Do you drink coffee? Do you drink it a lot? Imagine how hard it is to wake up in the morning if you don’t get a cup of coffee into you. You feel sluggish. You get headaches. Overall you feel gross and weird. When you actually get some into you, you feel alive and awake again. This is what male validation does to me and what I’m working on undoing. We are trained from birth to think of ourselves in relation to how men view us: aesthetically, sexually and even personally. We struggle to mold ourselves into what the men in our lives, in our society want us to be. It’s pretty easy to see then, why this has a hold on some people. I get a little jolt when I seem attractive or pleasing to men. Brains love stuff like this and thrive on it, and while I’m not a psychologist, in the slightest, it means that working yourself out of this kind of Pavlovian response is beyond difficult. But it is necessary for continued mental and personal health. I can’t live like this, especially when it runs in such deep conflict with my particular identities as a sexual woman and a feminist.

    Looking back on my life, especially in light of this revelation, I see what I’ve been grappling with as the source to many of my unanswered anxieties. The intersection of needing male validation with my status as a queer woman, as well as a trauma/abuse survivor makes all of this intensely problematic. How am I supposed to fully express myself in a sexual way towards all gender expressions when so much of my time and attention is tied up in pleasing only men? Why am I seeking so much praise and love from the same group of people who have routinely hurt me in my life? It is stuff like this that makes unwinding the tangle of emotions, questions and mental health concerns so difficult. When I find myself so wrapped up in a break-up that I carry feelings of worthlessness and suicidal ideation for years, I know I have to change. It’s not fair to me, it’s not fair to my lovers and friends. It’s like living half a life. Up until this point, though, I’ve just been too scared to “get myself off” of that male attention, literal or socially abstract. Even after my transformation into an aware feminist, it’s still so much a part of my everyday life that I find myself unable to know a starting point.

    This is where I feel the the SI article had some good tips, even if I didn’t agree with all of them. (Don’t hassle retail employees, they are just trying to do their jobs!) But it at least gave me a place to start really undoing some of the basement-level (as I like to call it) drives for male attention and respect. Much like how I was taught in therapy to sit down and work through what causes my anxiety and “undo the chain” of catastrophizing and fixation, I feel the same needs to be done with problematic elements of socialization. The article addresses this in a lot of very common sense ways that might seem hard at first, but are definitely do-able.

    The biggest part of this is just saying, “I don’t need you” to the idea of men’s attention. I know it seems extreme: don’t we want the men we DO care about to pay attention to us, to care? Well, yes. But that’s because they are important to us. But their ideas about us should not supersede our own ideas about ourselves. Do you see the distinction?  You don’t even have to believe that phrase at first. A big part of breaking through anxiety for me was the whole “fake it until you make it” mentality. I don’t believe I’m really okay at first, but repeating it enough until I am at least helps the process along.  The process is as such:

    • Identify why male validation and gaze exists, why we are trained to find it important and how it is expressed.
    • Reject it from the outset, in both mindset, word and deed.
    • Discredit their validation and how important it actually is.

    Over time, it should cause us to see our opinions of ourselves and actions relating to that as being healthy, important and the determining factor for how we conduct ourselves. But don’t get mad if you can’t “get this” immediately. Much like anxiety, breaking stuff like this that is so deeply ingrained is so hard. When it permeates the culture, our media and our personal lives, don’t be frustrated if you fall back into it without even thinking. It takes a concerted effort and a lot of vigilance. But hopefully for my sake, and our sake, we can accomplish this.

    One morning, we might just wake up and not need that cup of coffee to jolt us.

    Smokin’ Hot and Unable to Be Friends

    One of the biggest problems that the list illuminated was not only how pervasive male validation is but how much it keeps us women apart from eachother:

    The rules of the society we were born into require us to compete with other women for our own self-esteem. The game is simple. The “prize” is male attention, which we perceive of as finite, so when other girls/women get attention, we lose. This game causes many of us to reflexively see other women as “natural” competitors, and we feel bad when we encounter women who garner more male attention, as though it takes away from our worth. We walk into parties and see where we fit in the “pretty girl pecking order.” We secretly feel happy when our female friends gain weight. We criticize other women’s hair, clothing, and other appearance choices. We flirt with other women’s boyfriends to get attention, even if we’re not romantically interested in them.

    This is something I’ve been struggling with for most of my adult life. In middle school and high school I had no problems at all being friends with women and accepting them into my life, even as a burgeoning baby-queer, but as soon as I got to college, most of the brainwashing had already taken place. I was a viciously jealous and territorial lady who found herself at odds with my darkest desires to be close to women – as friends, partners, etc.  This need for men to want me, to see me as better than other women, to “win” their love and attention was gross and it is completely stemming from how patriarchy structures the focus and attention on men’s desires paramount to everything else. If women don’t compete with each other, if they don’t see the need to compete because men’s views on them aren’t important, it falls apart. But how many years of relationships has it cost me? Why did I need to do that? I don’t WANT TO BE competitive with women in my life ever again. I don’t NEED to be. It’s stupid! It’s childish! Who gives a shit what men think of me, or think of me in relation to others? We’re all different and weird and unique. The idea that someone is prettier or smarter or more “worthy” of a relationship with a particular dude is a really fucked up idea. We’re not animals and we’ve moved past just that need to get our genes out there. Some of us aren’t even interested in procreating.

    Undoing centering men’s opinions about myself will lead to me being able to let women back into my life in a healthy way. I’ve made some really great strides towards this, especially where it regards online spaces: women flourish and we find ourselves seeing strength and beauty in eachother. My World of Warcraft guild is full of women that I consider close friends that I want to know for the rest of my life. This has been a major force in renewing my commitment to my own place in the world of women as it doesn’t relate to men. It’s kept at least a part of my life, particularly one that had been so bad about it before, off of needing men to constrain and support my identity and worth. We as women game together and provide attention that isn’t weighted down by societal expectations.

    The downside to this is whenever a woman who still buys into this comes into the mix. Am I strong enough to resist the temptation of bad habits? Like an ex-smoker that sees a group of people puffing away outside, the desire and the weakness always feels like a ghost lurking in the background. Brushes with women like this in the past have made me slide back into those things I hate most about feminine competition: the relentless, exhausting chattiness and “talking up”, preening for men, and aggressively nitpicking myself and the woman in question. Within the confines of a game, where competitiveness is already asserted as a function, it becomes even more noticeable. Group discussions become draining where once they were fun because you’re constantly trying to one-up eachother, trying to look good. Things like dungeons or PVP become intense challenges about who does better “numbers.” And really, it isn’t their fault. I’m not mad at them; I’m really mad at myself for letting it get to me again, to not embrace this woman and get her out of it. Or to remove the problematic male element from the scenario, if there is one. But I’m weak a lot. I know this. What Heldman is asking with the “absolute love and tolerance” feels like too much to ask sometimes. I know I’ve failed in the past to overcome those weak moments, despite my best efforts. The best I can do is try.

    I feel that this series has really underscored a lot of complex feelings I’ve had lately or in the past couple of years as a feminist and a queer woman, especially in my little online world, so I am looking forward to more. I feel like my sanity and my interpersonal behavior will benefit from it.