Accurate Portrayals of Women in Fiction

I really, really hate The Red Pony. It rubbed me the wrong way from the moment I first laid my teenaged eyes on the very first words on the very first page. It was the only novel we were compelled to read in high school that I had any trouble finishing, despite its brevity — and I was normally the read-ahead student who had to remember not to spoil my classmates. I didn’t loathe Of Mice and Men but it did traumatize me; I read it too young because I saw it on my college-aged cousin’s shelf and mistook its slimness for age-appropriateness.

Needless to say, I am not a Steinbeck fan for various reasons.

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Accurate Portrayals of Women in Fiction
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A Black Mirror Into the Sexism of Sci-Fi

Fair Warning: This piece is more cranky and less careful than my usual because I spent the better part of last night watching Black Mirror Season 1 and raging about how awful it was at whomever would listen. Content Notice for spoilers, discussions of misogyny, domestic violence, bestiality, coerced sex work, and lots of other awful things.

I usually expect any media I might consume to be problematic. What I don’t expect is that a show that is praised without caveat in my circle of rather well-curated, social-justice-aware friends ends up being as bad as Black Mirror. The British cult favorite falls into the same technophobic and misogynistic traps that can readily be found in the science fiction I’ve been consuming since I was a teenager.

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A Black Mirror Into the Sexism of Sci-Fi

An Ex-Muslim’s Quest for Pigs (Hold the Sexism)

I’ll mince no words here: the premise contained in the title of Sam Harris’s response to #EstrogenVibe (you can easily find his piece if you want to read it) doesn’t offend me — it disgusts me to my core. As it’s on his personal site, the title can’t be blamed on a clickbait-hungry editor or website, either. He defensively chose to claim that atheist feminists like me are constantly and eagerly looking for a sexist pig to chide.

Speaking personally, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

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An Ex-Muslim’s Quest for Pigs (Hold the Sexism)

4 Reasons Why She’s Not Too Good for You (& You’re Being Sexist)

It’s a trope as old as remembered time: The relatable protagonist sees a woman, assesses her based on some criteria that we the audience are presumed to intrinsically understand, and sighs some version of “She’s too good for me.” This is intended to relay a fear of inadequacy on the part of the protagonist (one that he is probably going to overcome with her help, natch).

Despite its transmission of insecure feelings, saying “She’s too good for me” is paternalistic, patronizing, and rather patriarchal.

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4 Reasons Why She’s Not Too Good for You (& You’re Being Sexist)

Throwback Thursday: Stop Telling Me to Stop Saying “I Have a Boyfriend”

This Throwback Thursday entry is brought to you by the fact that the original article to which it was responding, Stop Saying “I Have a Boyfriend”, has been making the rounds again. The original title for this piece is I’ll Stop Citing a Boyfriend When My Consent Starts Mattering; it was published on September 10, 2013. I have shortened it and added in the sentence about cause and effect.

Before I started dating, I listened to a lot of men. One of their biggest complaints was that women aren’t straightforward enough. “Why don’t women just say no?” they lamented. “I waste all this time pursuing women because I don’t know for sure that they don’t want me.”

I have always believed in honesty and directness, so it seemed absurd to me that all these women weren’t just saying “no” when “no” was what they meant. Sentiments like those found in this article could’ve been snatched from my lips in those days.

I think the solution is simple — we simply stop using excuses. If a man is coming on to you […], respond with something like this: “I’m not interested.” Don’t apologize and don’t excuse yourself. If they question your response (which is likely), persist — “No, I said I’m not interested.”

Just be honest and all will work out, right?

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Throwback Thursday: Stop Telling Me to Stop Saying “I Have a Boyfriend”

Stop Asking “What Did You Expect?”

Many a non-activist has wondered what can be done at the layperson’s level to help in the quest to make the world a better place. One answer — to raise your everyday, expressed expectations — may sound like a platitude, but it isn’t. It’s not overly idealistic to believe that raising expectations can change at least the part of the world that exists around you. By making it harder for any oppressive types to be oppressive around you, you limit their scope of influence and thus directly reduce their potential to harm.

What helps oppression, on the other hand, isn’t limited to direct support. There is an insidious form of support that comes by way of often well-meaning people attempting to alleviate perceived distress or dispel perceived ignorance. I’m talking about those whose response to call-outs is a jaded “welp, what did you expect?”

Take the conversation around cis male behavior, for instance. While the “What did you expect from him?” sentiment is usually uttered with the intention of only excusing one cis man’s behavior, the thought behind it is echoed in the cliches that are often misconstrued as feminist thanks to unsavory stereotypes.

a billboard reading "men stink"

Men are all pigs who want just one thing. Men just aren’t as evolved as women. Men are big babies. Typical of men, amirite? What did you expect?

The sentiment behind commercials that portray them as bumbling does not lead to cis men being banned from, say, entering china shops. The notion that they will have sex with anything and everything has not led to mandatory chastity belts for cis men. As seemingly anti-male notions do not lead them to be stripped of their power, agency, and authority across society, they don’t represent oppression — but they do have an effect. The liberation of lowered expectations is a not-insignificant part of male privilege. Think of a father being praised for taking his child out for an ice cream cone where a mother would have been shamed for having fed her child unhealthy desserts, the group of men chatting in the living room after dinner while the two women who happen to be present clear away the dishes, the career woman told that her lack of high heels is “unprofessional” while men’s formal shoes remain not physically debilitating in the long term.

To all those whose gut reaction to someone pointing out injustice in the world is to ask “What did you expect?”, I ask them the same. Should we be expecting so much of women and so little of men? More broadly, do you expect for the horribleness of the world to continue unchecked and unaddressed?

I know that people are terrible and/or thoughtless and that the world is unfair; I suspect that most people calling out injustice know all that, too. We also know that most people are going to behave because there are consequences for not behaving rather than out of the goodness of their hearts. Our outrage is not necessarily, always, or even often an expression of startled inexperience — it represents our effort to raise the social cost of bad behavior.

Answering those who express raised expectations with a “Well, what did you expect?” isn’t a helpful or, often, even a neutral act. It harms the effort to raise the standards for human decency in society by excusing bad behavior as well as condescending to those who are striving for better. Those who don’t want to express raised expectations are free to refrain from doing so. Treating those who call out as if we were expressing naive incredulity, however? It should surprise no one when the question is treated for what it is: a call to succumb to the defeatist attitude that favors silent acquiescence.

Stop Asking “What Did You Expect?”

Breaking News: Saudi Arabia is a Thing

No really. It’s a thing. I had no idea.

Never mind that I’ve been to Saudi Arabia. That, even though I should have been way too young to understand, I picked up on the fact that my mother was being treated like a piece of meat by Saudi men for daring to expose her face while accompanied only by my younger sister and me (i.e. not a man). That, recently, I refused a free trip to that particular Gulf nation because I knew that going there would essentially make me legal property of my father, not to mention would put into harm’s way as an apostate. That I not only know what Wahhabism is, but that it touched and warped my upbringing.

It's actually just for men. Women aren't allowed to be out alone.
It’s actually just for men. Women aren’t allowed to be out alone.

Nope. I, like all the other privileged Western feminists, used to walk around wholly unaware that there is mistreatment of women in Saudi Arabia. Thanks to a truly brave hero at CONvergence this past weekend, this grand oversight has been fully rectified. I now am fully cognizant of the fact that bad things happen to women in Saudi Arabia (though I’m still not sure what a defeated Mormon presidential candidate has to do with it).

Now that I know that women in Saudi Arabia have it bad, what am I supposed to do about it? Again, I look to only the bravest of the brave heroes to tell me exactly what I am supposed to do about the fact that women are mistreated in Saudi Arabia. I thought that I would hear more about what I could do for those poor Saudi women if I kept up my disguise as an ignorant, whiny, Westernized feminist. I mean, they wouldn’t just mention Saudi Arabia to feminists for no reason, right? There must be some purpose.

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As it turns out, they mention Saudi Arabia as a counterpoint to the criticisms of sexism in the United States. I was mistaken — it isn’t about helping out women worldwide, it’s about making us uppity Western feminists realize that our concerns are trivial and meaningless compared to those of women in Saudi Arabia.

Consider this my official thank you to Western men for not behaving as badly as they tend to in Saudi Arabia. I am incredibly grateful that you choose to so mercifully allow me to do things like drive and walk around showing my face. I should really count my blessings and not expect any more or better out of you. My mistake for assuming that you were capable of more above and beyond simply not treating me the way women are treated in Saudi Arabia.

Breaking News: Saudi Arabia is a Thing

Please Don’t Try Again Later

TW for Sexual Assault & Sexual Coercion

If you haven’t yet heard, Kickstarter was used as a platform to launch a so-called “seduction guide.” Not long before the Kickstarter ended (and funded well above and beyond its goal, to boot) some of us started to notice that there was something very, very wrong with what was being said by the author of the work. The feminist blogosphere blew up with posts on the matter and outrage pervaded, especially as the project ended. While the calls to Kickstarter to cancel the project were not heeded in time to prevent the project from funding, Kickstarter issued one heck of an apology.

The book is happening, which is what the author and his defenders want, but Kickstarter made steps towards bettering itself as a platform, which is what the pro-consent side wants. As an added bonus, he’s working with anti-rape orgs to ensure that his book is less rape-y than his posts made it sound. That’s that, right?

Wrong.

Apparently, the idea of grabbing someone’s hand and placing them to your genitals is perfectly okay “in context.” Furthermore, some people started to defend him against charges of writing a rape manual thanks to this gem:

If at any point a girl wants you to stop, she will let you know. If she says “STOP,” or “GET AWAY FROM ME,” or shoves you away, you know she is not interested. It happens. Stop escalating immediately and say this line:
“No problem. I don’t want you to do anything you aren’t comfortable with.”

 

Memorize that line. It is your go-to when faced with resistance. Say it genuinely, without presumption. All master seducers are also masters at making women feel comfortable. You’ll be no different. If a woman isn’t comfortable, take a break and try again later.

 

All that matters is that you continue to try to escalate physically until she makes it genuinely clear that it’s not happening. She wants to be desired, but the circumstances need to be right. With some experience, you will learn to differentiate the “No, we can’t… my parents are in the next room… OMG FUCK ME FUCK ME HARD” from the “SERIOUSLY GET THE FUCK OFF OF ME, YOU CREEP” variety of resistance.

 

Of course if you’re really unclear, back off. Better safe than sorry.

Hold the fucking phones. This, to me, is way worse than advocating the moving of a hand to a dick (in almost any context), since it’s an obvious ploy. This was someone straight-up advocating trying again after being very clearly rejected, i.e. not leaving someone alone who had just told him to do so. When I talked about how appalling the Kickstarter was, I was most focused on that notion, not the hand-on-dick line. It plays into the woman-as-other narrative that poisons male-female relations and leads to pick-up artistry as a phenomenon on the first place. Women are mysterious bizarre creatures who lie and deceive so men have to figure out formulas and tricks and coercive strategies to make sense of them, dontchaknow.

it's not like they have facial expressions or distinct features or anything
it’s not like they have facial expressions or distinct features or anything

Except I don’t. What I do know is that enough men don’t take no for an answer that many women I know completely ignore or shut out most men who attempt to make any kind of contact with them because they fear that a “no” or any other kind of resistance will be read as a challenge. Better to give no response, they reason, than any that might be used against them. PuA guides like this one prove their point: any kind of interaction with a man is apparently fair game for him to try all kinds of non-consensual things.

It’s hard to say “yes” to anything at all when you know that a single “yes” you issue can be taken to be a “yes” to anything and everything at all. More frighteningly, it’s hard to say yes when you know that any “no” you issue, even one as dramatic and clear as a “STOP”, “GET AWAY FROM ME,” or a shove, would be taken seriously. That’s the world in which we live and it sucks. It sucks for women and for men. I’d like to imagine we can build a better world than one where straight men and straight women are pitted against each other in some kind of epic battle where one side thinks the other doesn’t want them while the other feels it has to constantly fend off unwanted advances.

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So yes, Esther Tung, I did read the actual posts on Reddit. They disgusted and appalled me far more than the hand-on-dick thing. I’m just glad that, despite having so many defenders, this guy is revising his wording and the strategies he advocates. As cliche as it had become now, it bears repeating: yes means yes and no means no.

Please Don’t Try Again Later

Thanks for the Feminism, Nice Guys!

I grew up in the girl power 90s; my motto was “Anything you can do, I can do better.” I thought the need for feminism was over.

Of my nearly two dozen first cousins, the boys were closest to me in age. As the girls were teenagers too cool to willingly deal with a grubby-fingered tomboy, I spent most of my childhood playtime with three of my boy cousins. They taught me about soccer, the Ninja Turtles and Power Rangers, and Nintendo. Later, we spent our joint time collaborating on creating Choose-Your-Own-Adventure-style QBasic programs and 3D Movie Maker films as well as on perfecting our Force-moving and lightsaber dueling skills. Though it meant that many of the delicate young ladies at school refused to accept me, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

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So I was more than fine with the Internet being a male-dominated space. It didn’t bother me. I was one of the boys, right? It would be fine. I didn’t need special treatment like those other women, whether they were prisses or feminists.

Then, the Nice Guys came along, both online and as friends of my teenage self. At first, all I learned from them was that I wasn’t woman enough. I lacked all the hallmarks of the basic level of attractiveness as per their comments: small, pink, upturned nipples; a small mons with tiny bubblegum-hued labia (as they called it, “tight pussy”); hairlessness; large and “natural” (i.e. non-surgically-enhanced) yet very pert breasts; and overall thinness, perhaps with some ass (hips were acceptable only to the more adventurous and kinky men). Fair enough, I thought. I was a chubby, grubby-fingered tomboy, not exactly some kind of desirable woman.

prettywoman
Google search results for “pretty”

Who would want to be a desirable woman, anyway? I knew what those women were like.  The Nice Guys told me all about their wives and their girlfriends and their female “friends” (as in women they secretly wanted to have sex with, which, they strongly implied, meant that they weren’t actually friends). Women, as per them, are obnoxious creatures only worth putting up with for the sex. They take too long to orgasm, annoy men with their requests for cunnilingus and cuddling, friend-zone nice guys while dating and sexing up jerks, waste men’s time by never giving an straightforward “no,” can get sex whenever and with whomever they want, stop giving blowjobs and get fat after marriage, demand free meals and drinks but still won’t have sex, and are fussy and high-maintenance.

The Nice Guys were wrong on both counts.

There were men out there who found me to be desirable — not as an attainable consolation prize or a symbol of “settling,” but actually desirable. And, because they saw me the way that the Nice Guys saw those more conventionally-attractive women, i.e. as an object of sexual desire, I was subjected to the same judgments and accusations. More importantly, I learned, in short, that there’s a reason the women at whom I scoffed act the way that they did. There’s always another way to look at it.

Taking too long to orgasm? The mainstream heterosexual script for intercourse often de-prioritizes pleasurable activities associated with cis female pleasure — like non-genital touch and cunnilingus.

Friend-zoning? Some straight men seem to believe that they are entitled to love and/or sex, sometimes without ever having even asked for it.

Not giving a straightforward no? Being a woman means that responding to certain men overtures at all is an invitation for rebuttals, while ignoring them doesn’t give them the opportunity to engage further. In addition, there’s the issue of female socialization where women know that they will be seen as rude or mean for issuing outright refusals.

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Sex on demand? Only if they’re willing to lower our standards (and men could probably have sex as frequently as women if they did so as well).

Fat and frigid? Men are, on average, fatter (not that it should even matter), and women’s sex drives aren’t exactly as frigid as they are rumored to be.

Demanding of free stuff? All those free drinks don’t exactly rectify the wage gap. When it comes to fat women, we both earn even less than our thinner counterparts and aren’t exactly bombarded with free drinks at Ladies Night (if we’re even allowed in). Plus, women generally have to put much more in the way of time and resources into our appearances in order to be seen as even baseline presentable. And then, of course, we’re berated for being high-maintenance for maintaining the accepted standard for female appearance.

It was through all those realizations that I began to question exactly why women are so widely reviled and wonder if it wasn’t that there is something especially wrong with women but that women are held to impossible standards. I fell down the questioning-the-status-quo rabbithole and ended up a feminist.

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So thank you, Nice Guys. You turned one of you into one of them with your bile. May your thinly-veiled misogyny lead legions of other women to freedom from internalized self-hatred.

Thanks for the Feminism, Nice Guys!