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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. “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.


  3. Johnny-Come-Lately: Famous Dudes and Sexism

    July 1, 2012 by Miss Lemonade

    My silence screams ‘ha ha!’/And you call us wrong either way/It ‘just so happens’ to us everyday.  – Le Tigre

    Look, I’m sick of your shit. I don’t care if you’re famous and “erudite” arbitors of geek culture. I don’t care how many hits your articles or comics get, how many people know your name or laugh at your jokes. You have a big fucking problem right now and that problem is shitty behaviour. You’re all up in arms right now because someone called Felicia Day a “booth babe” but you conveniently forget that there are other, more famous Destructoid writers going around harassing women on Twitter and calling them “feminazi c*nts.”

    I see you, Wil Wheaton, who’s mad his friend got shit on and while I don’t want anyone to get harassed, much less Felicia Day, the idea that you’re just noticing and caring about gaming culture being shitty to women NOW? There’s been tons of other less-famous women who’ve been harassed before and no one gives a shit about them. Gaming and nerd culture turning on women didn’t start with Anita Sarkeesian (though that was horrible), and it definitely didn’t even start with the fucking Dickwolves debacle either. It’s always been there and the fact that nerd guys are shuffling uncomfortably and being angry about it now because it involves someone they care about finally makes me feel sick. Where were you guys when Penny Arcade was being shitty for the umpteenth time; what about what THOSE guys? They’ve been just as instrumental in being shitheads as a couple of Destructoid writers.

    If you really want nerd culture to change, you guys have to start being better people. You – the content creators, the talking heads and the guys who have thousands of followers on Twitter. Don’t sit around and huffily shake your fist at a culture you helped create by not giving a shit about this until now. Get rid of sexist language out of your peers, quash your fans going out and attacking objects of your criticism “for you” and definitely stop grandstanding and using  typically masculine arm-flailing when people say mean things about your women friends. Guess what, men have been saying mean things about any woman that dares to exist on the Internet and they aren’t all Felicia Day. There are a lot of non-successful, non-famous women that have to deal with this crap on the regular. Women you don’t have a close personal connection with need protection too.

    Protection from whom? Protection from Jim Sterling, Penny Arcade as much as a bunch of grognard nerd-types attacking via blog comments or @ replies. This is the shit palace you guys built by not smacking your bros for the awful things they say or joke about in a very real, public setting as much as not putting a muzzle on your fans. You’re mad about nerd culture attacking women? Why don’t you actually DO something about it? Women-bashing is everywhere, especially in nerd culture and none of you are doing a lick of work to help get rid of it. I’ve seen more responsible editorial staffs on blogs with a third of your budgets and twice as many women contributors. I’ve read tons of webcomics that don’t hinge on rape jokes or sexism to get their point across. I’ve seen tons of talking heads that don’t make shitty jokes with their male friends on Twitter.

    This shit doesn’t happen overnight and it doesn’t happen because men are threatened by a famous woman. It is because they’re allowed to be shitbags to women for whatever reason they choose. It is because they see us as outsiders, stealing their precious video games and rape jokes, they see us as less. That’s why the insults come out, that is why attack campaigns come out for their amusement, that’s why people are allowed to use anonymity to constantly shit on blogs like this one. It doesn’t help that a lot of them are famous, are well-known and possibly make video games.

    Sexism is coursing through your veins and now that you’ve all become “aware” of it in your precious nerd culture, take the power and privilege you have with all your fancy, angry words and put your vast empires where your mouth is. Realize how hard it is? Now you’ll realize what us nerd women have had to deal with for so long now. It’s not easy. And no one is going to pat you on the back for treating women with respect and watching what you say. This is baseline, basic human stuff here. Caring about others and how you present yourself professionally and publicly requires a much higher regard for your audience than talking amongst friends and you guys, those with so much much pull and reach need to fucking realize that for a second. You have the most responsibility to do the right thing and you need to not run around hoping people praise you for it. You should do it because it is the right thing to do.

    If you got huffy and defensive reading any of this, then you still have a long way to go. Maybe you’ll realize what you need to do now though.

     


  4. How To Talk to Women and Not Be Creepy

    March 20, 2012 by Miss Lemonade

    This originally was posted to my Tumblr. I’ve made slight edits for clarity or grammar where neccessary. I’ve decided to start this as my first post on the blog in dedication to International Anti-Street Harassment Week (March 18th-24th, 2012). – ed.

    I was talking on Twitter about how I was approached tonight when standing with my friend at a bus-stop downtown by a creepy guy. A male acquaintance asked me how he was being creepy, outside of “unreciprocated flirting”, with genuine curiousity. This is the difference between myself and men – I don’t need to explain how someone is creepy to other women. They just know. They know that when I say creepy, I don’t need to spell out what that means. Saying that I’m creeped out is enough, you know?

    So guys, I’m going to do you a solid and lay down some education.

    You don’t realize it but situations you put yourself forth in to a woman can come off really creepy and even scary. You don’t realize this because a woman has to always guess a guy’s motivations if she has no idea who he is and he’s just coming out of nowhere to talk to her. We don’t have the luxury of assuming that he’s harmless. What seems nice to you can be rude, creepy, or even terrifying to someone. This is good advice for anyone, but statistically speaking, women have a lot more problems dealing with this kind of behaviour and I’m also a woman so this is speaking from personal experience. Creepiness in guys makes me go from neutral to “should I be running away right now” mode.

    Now, I’m sure you know a lot of women who aren’t scared of men. How scared a woman is of a random man talking to her is not your business, ever. If she is scared of every guy, that’s her choice. Get over it.

    1.) Pick a good place.

    This means in a situation where socializing usually occurs is a safe bet. People go to places to socialize and be around other people and generally are more pleasant and less threatened by your presence. Bars! Mixers! Coffee houses! Parties! Areas of group activities or events like concerts or sporting matches! These are great places to talk to people.

    Places that you find people to be solitary, lost in thought or generally quiet on the lower end of “good.” Museums, libraries and such are examples of these.

    Places that you are forced to be out of sheer necessity (especially alone) are not ideal, if downright terrible places to approach women randomly. People don’t like you intruding on a place they HAVE to be or NEED to be at because there’s no way to leave or else they have to stop what they need to be doing to avoid you if they feel uncomfortable. Workplaces that are front-facing (interacting with customers or clientele), bus stops, grocery stores, etc. These are bad because not only is a woman usually alone but there’s nothing that predicates a social interaction AT all. Talking to someone or coming up to them and forcing a non-standard interaction with someone working (unlike asking for help or for product information) or breaking them out of a standard errand or routine is not only rude but can be very off-putting or scary. It says you don’t understand social rules very well or their business being there.

    Approaching when she’s all alone somewhere, especially somewhere remote (like a parking garage or sidewalk on an empty street) is a really, really bad idea.

    2.) Pick a good time.

    If a woman is talking with a friend, try to be polite and don’t interrupt her conversation. That’s just good manners, but this goes moreso when she’s in a non-social place (bars and whatnot are hard to NOT interrupt someone talking, or even hear them talking in the first place).

    Time of day is also important. Night-time and not in a social place? I know for me my hackles are raised a lot more. Daytime usually has a lot more people around, alert. It feels safer (which is not necessarily true for everyone) but night time preys on a lot more fears than not in most people. Places are more deserted, things are harder to see. Do the math.

    3.) Watch her body language…

    Don’t be an idiot and assume that just because she’s not telling you to away and splashing her drink into your face that you’re allowed to stick around and talk. Is she smiling genuinely? Is she not making eye contract with you? Body posture, tone and other non-verbal communication is pretty important. She might even give you her name or phone number (sometimes fake, sometimes not) just to get you to leave.

    4.) …and what she says! 

    If she has some excuse to bail, if she asks you to leave, or isn’t really talking to you extensively, just cut your losses and stop talking to her. Especially if she asks you politely to go. Even if she doesn’t ask you politely, leave her alone.

    5.) Have a conversation.

    Assuming you’re keeping said rules above in mind, know that leading off with asking for her number, intimating that you’d like to do something sexual or flirty or you like how she looks without any provocation is kinda creepy and weird. It says to the woman that you don’t really care about how she might feel about that, that your motivations are probably not innocent, pure or even safe. Presenting your thoughts so bluntly and up-front, in an unvarnished way, is demeaning and even a bit predatory.

    DO NOT EVER WHISTLE, CAT-CALL, USE A PET NAME OR SHOUT AT A WOMAN FROM A CAR, STREET CORNER, PLACE OF EMPLOYMENT. THIS IS HARASSMENT. DO NOT USE SLURS IF YOU DON’T GET A POSITIVE RESPONSE.

    6.) Don’t touch her or get up in her space.

    Everyone has different levels of comfort when it comes to touching and personal space invading. Anything more than a handshake (unless she’s already giving off signals that she’d rather stick her hand in a blender) or a shoulder tap is over the line. Being closer than a foot or so, especially if you’re in violation of one of the rules above is no-no. The closer a guy gets to me, the more I become alert and ready to bolt. A lot of men are more physically imposing and you don’t even realize it – sometimes you are taller, sometimes you look scary or have more body mass than us. Sometimes you just smell really bad.

    7.) Being drunk or high makes you forget said points above. 

    If your good judgement goes out the window when you’re drunk or high, maybe skip approaching people regularly. Especially if you get angry easily.

    8.) Enthusiasm is awesome!

    A woman who appears genuinely enthusiastic or welcoming that you are talking is easier to spot than guessing (and guessing wrong). It means she appreciates and welcomes your presence.

    9.) Rethink how you view a woman in general.

    Realize that some of the reasons I had point out said points above are because a woman is not there and does not exist to be asked out, give you her phone number, or need to hear her opinions on how she looks. You are not entitled to these things. You will not die if you don’t get to do these things. Respect a woman’s right (hell,everyone’s right) to privacy, personal space, and mental peace when out and about.

    10.) Don’t tell a woman you don’t know to “smile.”

    I’m not here to look happy all the time, fuck off.

    Now, I know that some of this is hard and some of you are probably angry that it all sounds so complicated and “does this mean I can’t talk to women EVER? GOD!”

    If you can logically work out things in a contextual manner and judge situations for yourself, this should be a piece of cake for you. If someone thinks you are creepy, guess what, deal with it. If being even a tiny bit mindful of what you do is really too hard, then yes, don’t talk to women ever. Please. We thank you in advance.