Posts Tagged ‘equality’

Apparently people should have identical needs

I know I’m a little late to the party on this one, but I usually gloss over headlines like “Home Depot Embraces Sharia Law” and for once actually decided to see what was being blown out of proportion myself. For anyone who hasn’t seen it, one Home Depot in an area with a large Muslim population decided to educate their employees so they could better serve that particular sub-group of customers. One article on it asks if a business shouldn’t be trying to better serve all of its customers. Of course it should–it’s never wise to upset your clientele when they have other options–but that doesn’t mean the best way to serve one customer is the best way to serve every customer.

This is a familiar form of privilege distress, which is often described as being preferential treatment. People often ask why we need a Department of Women’s Health, or a Black History Month, and when we can get a Department of Men’s Health and a White History month. But these things are not an attempt to give preferential treatment to those groups of people, they’re meant to counter the centuries of ignorance that has surrounded them. Women’s health has long been ignored, to the detriment of women being treated by doctors whose knowledge of medicine is based primarily on male physiology. History, it is said, is written by the victors, or perhaps more accurately the ruling class, and that has long meant white men in our part of the world. We don’t need a White History Month because essentially that’s EVERY month. This can be seen over and over again, in virtually every arena where acknowledgements of inequality exists. The privileged group wonders why they don’t get such special treatment without realizing that special treatment towards them is the default mode of operations. Everything is already geared towards what suits them best, but that state of affairs is invisible because it’s the default.

Treating people equally often requires recognizing and accounting for differences. If you randomly started handing out peanut butter sandwiches to strangers, you’d have a number of people grateful for the free sandwich, but others would wind up sick because they’re allergic to peanuts. While the action towards both groups is the same, the results are quite different and certainly cannot be considered equal. Offering those with an allergy a tuna sandwich instead is a different action, but it is more equal than only offering food they can’t eat.

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Women, video games, and sexism. Again.

I really admire Anita Sarkeesian, if for no other reason than that she continues to do what she does after all the crap that gets heaped on her by the gaming community. In today’s episode of Let’s Be Entitled Because We’re Male And Women Don’t Game, Anita posted a tweet noting that every Xbox One game shown off at E3 featured a male protagonist. The reaction was sadly predictable, from calling Anita a cunt and a bitch to asserting that men are the largest demographic (true, but less so than people like this tend to make it sound) to asking if we were expecting games about stereotypically feminine stuff. I’m going to skip over the early ones she posted because they’re mostly just generic sexist name calling and highlight some of the later examples which try to be intelligent but manage to miss the point oh so badly.

#31–Didn’t realise you were entitled to games w/ a female protag. They can make whatever they want. Check your fucking privilege Anita

A man, telling a woman who is noting the lack of female leads in video games, to check her privilege? The irony is so deep you could drown in it. And yes, they can make whatever they want. But generally, what they want is to please gamers so we keep buying their products, making what they want what we want. And some of us want more female leads.

#32–Yeah, the gender of the protagonist really makes or breaks the quality of a video game. Said no one outside of victim culture ever

Oh fun, the victim culture card! I think I just got bingo.

To be fair, he’s right, it doesn’t make or break the experience. But it can make it better or worse. And as a female gamer, playing games that realize I exist is a better experience than playing one clearly aimed at a purely male audience.

#37–Calm your tits! There will be a new Tomb Raider eventually, and a Mass Effect with FemShep. You women are nuts!

Gratuitous reference to female anatomy. Nice touch there. Also a nice touch noting two major franchises that ‘feature’ a female protagonist (I use quotes because Mass Effect gives the option, but you can also play as male). But there aren’t a lot of those around, especially if you’re looking at games that have a set lead, rather than a gender toggle. I doubt this guy would be happy if I told him “Don’t worry, there will be a new Halo game and Saint’s Row with a MaleBoss soon” if the situation was reversed. Women deserve better than a few token options.

#39–Stop being sexist. Dictating to people that a game should have a particular gender lead role is childish. It’s whatever fits the game

Forget bingo, I think I’m going for a blackout. Also, isn’t it interesting how ‘whatever fits the game’ is almost universally male, especially when we’re talking about big titles from major developers? It’s almost like there’s some sort of bias against women going on…

#40–It’s roleplaying, ho cares about the gender of the character who cares about the gender of the character you play as?

Apparently someone does, given how many people flip out when it’s suggested that there be more female leads.

#47–Get over yourself. Women make up a small part of their demographic. Your tastes are obscure and unprofitable. Nothing else to it.

1) We’re not that small of a demographic.

2) Given how most games are designed and marketed with men in mind, it’s not like they’re inviting us to buy their stuff.

3) Unprofitable? See Tomb Raider above.

#48–Almost like they wanted relatable main characters

I want that too. You know what would make them more relatable? If their gender matched mine once in a while.

“Better” requires a “worse”

Some people don’t seem to think through the implications of what they’re saying. Take Maggie Gallagher. Now I understand why she’s saying what she’s saying–anti-marriage-equality folks are trying to make their message more palatable by showing that they don’t have anything against same-sex couples, just that they think their way is better.

Ultimately, though, they can’t.

“It is possible to affirm an ideal without stigmatizing the alternatives — to affirm in the positive without pushing the negative.”

The problem with the new spin people like Gallagher are trying to put on being pro-“traditional”-marriage is that it always comes down to placing opposite-sex relationships as being better than same-sex relationships. It’s relational–the idea isn’t that same-sex relationships are bad, just that opposite-sex ones are better. And when you’re making it relational, there’s no way to push the positive of one without putting a negative connotation on the other. If “traditional” marriage is better, than “non-traditional” marriage has to be, if not bad, at least worse. This is implicit in the messaging, and they can push the positive aspects all they want but they will never be able to avoid the negative messages about non-straight couples and the stigma they create because it’s inherent to the message.

It would be one thing if they were simply trying to say that they thought opposite-sex relationships were good–being in one myself, there’s no way I could argue–because it doesn’t carry the implicit meaning that same-sex relationships are bad (though, to be fair, most people who bother with saying the former DO mean the latter). It’s possible for multiple options to be good. But once you start using words like “ideal” you’ve created a scenario where anything else is at least somewhat negative, and human beings tend to be bad at understanding that “not ideal” isn’t the same as “bad”. So no, Gallagher, you cannot affirm the positive without pushing the negative, because as long as you’re placing one thing as “better” you will equally be saying that any alternative is “worse”. And it’s that last part that people are upset about.

Being a Bad Feminist

Feminism seems to struggle with the difference between individual actions and cultural forces–that is to say, that it has trouble with the difference between tearing down cultural norms that oppress without also tearing down individuals for their choices. Admittedly, the two are not wholly separate. One’s choices are usually influenced to some degree by the biases our culture has instilled in us, and those choices combine with the choices others make to affect the culture we live in. What this means is that often there is pressure–sometimes external, sometimes self-inflicted–to avoid certain things because they reinforce the very things we’re trying to eliminate. Which leads us to things like the parent who won’t let hir daughter play with dolls, the stay-at-home mom who is maligned for not working, and the discussion over whether Slave Leia cosplays are empowering or objectifying.

The other factor that comes into play is the tendency people have to see things in all-or-nothing terms. Criticize something for having objectionable qualities and watch fans come out of the woodwork, howling like you just kicked their puppy. Or you might be criticized yourself for enjoying it. Often it seems like there’s no middle ground–you either like all aspects of something or you avoid it. There’s little room to enjoy something for some qualities while also being aware of places where it could be improved.

As a geek, this leaves a lot of room for me to feel stuck. If I was to avoid everything that was objectionable, I’d have to avoid most of the things I enjoy, because so much of the media and culture is misogynistic or steeped in male privilege. So instead I get to enjoy things that have (sometimes very) problematic aspects to them. Another person might call these ‘guilty pleasures’. I don’t, because frankly I refuse to feel guilty about it–most of the time it even works. The good aspects simply outweigh the bad ones for me, and I’m not going to apologize for liking those good qualities. That doesn’t stop me from being aware of the bad aspects though. It just means they’re not bad enough to turn me off completely.

Maybe this makes me a bad feminist. I don’t know. But I learned years ago that doing things based on what other people tell me to do is a recipe for regret, and whatever that makes me, I plan to own it.

Learning to see

Although I’ve always been a feminist in the broadest sense, it’s only been the last few years that I’ve really thought about it much, or even really read much about it. (As a child I saw feminism as the default, the norm, and was somewhat surprised to find how far from equality we really are). So it’s a fairly regular occurrence that I make a new realization about the sexism endemic in our culture and how it has affected me. The most recent one has been simply how much this stuff bothers me.

One of the most frustrating things about sexism is just how normal it is, which means that all many instances go unnoticed because they’re fairly small (and if they are pointed out someone will say that you’re just looking for reasons to be angry). But even though you don’t notice things, they’re still there and they still affect the way you think. Although I’ve never felt particularly limited by my gender, it was only a couple years ago that I realized that I’ve spent most of my life seeing the male ‘ideal’ as the ultimate goal, for one example. I was still constrained by gender roles, even as I freely explored both sides.

When something is as ubiquitous as sexism, even in small amounts, it wears on you. I’ve spent most of my life reading books about men, watching movies and TV shows about men, and even in instances that feature a woman she is usually surrounded by, surprise, men. (Ghost in the Shell I love you, but you have a real issue with gender balance). I’m constantly told, explicitly or implicitly, that I don’t belong, that I don’t exist, that I’ll never be as ‘good as a man’, that I’m ‘good for a girl’, etc. And as I’ve learned more about the issues and begun to recognize them easier I’m discovering a lot of pain, sadness and anger that I didn’t know was there. Because even while my conscious mind didn’t see most of it, those millions of slights were still out there, each hurting me ever so slightly. It was simply so normal that I didn’t realize things could be any different. Pain and pleasure are largely experienced as relative to one another, and so it wasn’t until I saw how things could be better that I had any way of knowing just how much I was being hurt.

There’s a cultural meme that feminists are angry. Yeah, we are, but not because we’re feminists. We’re angry because we’re women living in a society that is constantly belittling us, and we know we deserve better.

From Equality Sets Us Free to “I wish I didn’t have Aspergers’

Don’t.

Don’t worry about how things could be. Don’t try to change who you are. Don’t wish you were something you’re not. That way lies nothing but pain and sorrow. Because the only thing you can do is fail. Fail at being ‘normal’. Fail at ‘fitting in’ with people who won’t accept you as you are. Fail at being someone that you simply are not.

Things suck. I know. We’re told all the time that we live in a world where everyone is treated equally. We grow up with stories about overcoming, and making friend by being ourselves, and then we find out that the world isn’t really like that and you can’t be accepted for who you are.  And that hurts.

But the problem isn’t you. If it was, then there would be advice I could give you to make things right. And there isn’t. There is nothing you can do by yourself to make things better. You can try, you can learn coping mechanisms, and learn how to act ‘normal’, and it’ll help. But you will always, always fall short. And that’s because we live in a world that simply isn’t accepting of differences. It isn’t enough to ‘pass’, because that means hiding something of who you are, and that does a number on your self-esteem. It’s you living the belief that there is something wrong with you, and how can you ever be truly happy with yourself if you believe that?

We live in a world that is, when not actively hostile, passively resistant to accepting different ways of being. But that can be changed. Autism can’t. And it doesn’t need to be. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, our talents and limitations. There is no reason that some should be ‘okay’ and some should be signs of brokenness. Why is it okay for a person to be bad at doing math, but wrong for them to be bad at understanding body language?

Don’t try to change what cannot be changed. Accept it, understand it, and from that beginning we can work towards making a world where simply being different isn’t a barrier to inclusion.

Why I don’t hate autism (or, it’s Autism Acceptance Day!)

The back-and-forth between autistics and autism parents has been going on for a while now, and has been quite pronounced in recent weeks. The conversations tend to go like this:

Parents: We hate autism.

Autistics: Stop telling your kids you hate them!

Parents: We don’t hate our kids, we just hate their autism.

Autistic: You can’t separate the autism from the person.

There’s also often a tangent about hating autism because it is making their kids miserable. Which I can understand, because we all hate things that make ourselves or our loved ones miserable. For instance:

I hate that we live in a world that preaches tolerance but doesn’t practice it.

I hate that any deviation from ‘normal’ is considered to be ‘lesser’.

I hate that I live in a country where people attempt to encourage independence by tearing down the social supports that allow many people to actually be independent.

I hate that bullying is often dismissed as a ‘rite of passage’ and ‘kids being kids’.

I do not hate autism or being autistic, any more than I hate being female. Both are aspects of who I am, things that have shaped me from birth onwards. I hate that life is often harder for me because of those things, but that is not intrinsic to those aspects of my identity. Rather, it is the society I live in that causes me misery, a society that tries to create one-size-fits-all answers to problems, that tries to force every person into the same narrow mold. And every person who says that zie ‘hates autism’ is reinforcing the very power structures that cause me and thousands of other people needless suffering.

I do not suffer from being autistic. I suffer from living in a society that refuses to let me be anything other than ‘normal’.