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If Anyone Needs Me, I'll Be in the Angry Dome

The internet has decided to conspire to make my angry the last few days. I suspect an actual, coordinated conspiracy because everyone is trying to make my angry in roughly the same way.

Quite a bit of background is necessary. So: In the beginning, there was this article by Kate Hymowitz in the Dallas Morning News. She argues that men today remain immature and irresponsible far later into life than they did in previous generations. They marry later, become financially independent later, etc. They also play more video games. The article is interesting for painting a picture of the average young man in the world in 1965 and comparing him to the average young man today. Today's man has fewer commitments, less responsibility, more money, and has the opportunity to enjoy this state of being far longer than the average man forty years ago. Most sensible readers would probably think this is a good thing; men aren't taking on responsibility until they feel they can handle it, and they get more years to enjoy themselves more fully. This thought doesn't even enter into the Hymowitz piece. Men becoming responsible later is aweful. First, it's a harbinger of the doom of civilization; after all, things used to be another way, yet now things are this way! Clearly a sign the world is going to hell in a handbasket. Moving beyond question-begging arguments (Why is it bad that they're less mature? Because they are less mature, and being less mature is bad!), Hymowitz comes to the problem of gender relations. Women (apparently) are just as mature as ever at young ages (an assumption that Hymowitz never confirms). Thus: Women's demand for mature men in their 20s-30s is at 1960s levels, yet the supply of mature men in their 20s-30s is too low! Men need to mature so that women can marry them, thereby achieving the first, last, and only goal of a woman's life.

This, needless to say, is nonsense. It was roundly critiqued in the feminist blogosphere, and rightly so.

A lot of non-feminist gamers were also compelled to critique the article. The trouble is that many of them operated under the mistaken belief that Hymowitz was attacking men from a feminist perspective. You can see some of that in the comments at Kotaku, and in this comment on's boards by Catherine G., highlighted in a news article on 1up's front page:

Is it just me, or does all the feminist crap being spouted in both of these feel completely trite? These two are basically sitting here blaming men for the fact that millions of 30-something women are sitting alone, waiting for the fun-having non-committers to call and, eventually, knock them up. Is it just me? Or does that put feminism back a good 40 years or so?

Clearly, it's not just Catherine G.; the article does set the place of women back 40 years. But then, it isn't a feminist article. This is endlessly annoying. It's hard enough to be a feminist without having the opinions of anti-feminists ascribed to you because they happen to involve a critique of some men. So now feminist gamers are fighting back against the anti-feminist backlash caused by the negative reaction to an anti-feminist article. For more of that, see Mighty Ponygirl.

This has all gotten me very upset. But it was cooling down. And then today I went to Pandagon and found this. An attack on the book Skinny Bitch. Skinny Bitch is a book that uses guilt and shame to try and force the readers (presumably women) to lose weight. Now, ordinarily I wouldn't mind attacking such a book. I have no love for fat-shaming. And the thrust of the Pandagon post is spot-on; this is the kind of thing that exacerbates eating disorders to no positive ends and perpetuates the oppressive beauty culture.

The problem is that Skinny Bitch's schtick is that it commands the reader to adopt a vegan diet and mixes all the moral philosophy surrounding veganism with its fat-shaming. And, rather than taking the opportunity to disentangle the veganism from the fat-shaming, Amanda runs with it and takes the opportunity to get in a few whacks at vegans. There are a variety of clasic anti-vegan tropes on display here, let's see... "Vegans think they're better than you!", "Vegans are just like evangelical Christians!", "Veganism is a cover for eating disorders!", "Veganism is a cult!" and, of course, "I may be a (pesco)(ovo)(lacto)(whatever)vegitarian/flexitarian/whatever, but I'm not like one of them weird vegan extremists!" I can't even bring myself to read the inevitable anti-vegan pile-on that happens in every Pandagon thread that addresses food issues, though someone who has assures me it is, indeed, a mighty pile.

We find the same thing going on in the Pandagon post that's happening in the non-feminist blogosphere. "Look, somebody expressing an idiotic, repugnant idea, who's also a (feminist/vegan)! That means all (feminists/vegans) are morally repugnant!" In the case of the vegan pile-on it happens that the author actually is vegan, which makes it ever so slightly less frustrating. But that's more than overbalanced by the fact that you would think a feminist would freaking know better and would think harder before she decided to attack a whole group on the basis of the opinions of one member of that group. I'm glad to see that the asshole techniques used to attack feminists are now being used (by one person) in support of feminism.


There's a fascinating article in the LA Times (registration possibly required) today by Megan K. Stack discussing her time spent reporting in Saudi Arabia and what it's like to be a western woman in a profoundly anti-woman culture.

A few excerpts:

I spent my days in Saudi Arabia struggling unhappily between a lifetime of being taught to respect foreign cultures and the realization that this culture judged me a lesser being. I tried to draw parallels: If I went to South Africa during apartheid, would I feel compelled to be polite?

. . .

The rules are different here. The same U.S. government that heightened public outrage against the Taliban by decrying the mistreatment of Afghan women prizes the oil-slicked Saudi friendship and even offers wan praise for Saudi elections in which women are banned from voting. All U.S. fast-food franchises operating here, not just Starbucks, make women stand in separate lines. U.S.-owned hotels don't let women check in without a letter from a company vouching for her ability to pay; women checking into hotels alone have long been regarded as prostitutes.

. . .

Early in 2005, I covered the kingdom's much-touted municipal elections, which excluded women not only from running for office, but also from voting. True to their tribal roots, candidates pitched tents in vacant lots and played host to voters for long nights of coffee, bull sessions and poetry recitations. I accepted an invitation to visit one of the tents, but the sight of a woman in their midst so badly ruffled the would-be voters that the campaign manager hustled over and asked me, with lavish apologies, to make myself scarce before I cost his man the election.

The article touches on the fundamental, perplexing problem of being a western, multiculturalist liberal and at the same time wishing you could do something about a profoundly misogynist foreign culture. On the one hand there are cries for help, as from a Saudi economist:

He told me that both he and his wife hoped, desperately, that social and political reform would finally dawn in the kingdom. He thought foreign academics were too easy on Saudi Arabia, that they urged only minor changes instead of all-out democracy because they secretly regarded Saudis as "savages" incapable of handling too much freedom.

"I call them propaganda papers," he said of the foreign analysis. "They come up with all these lame excuses."

Yet on the other hand, Stack has "met many Saudi women. Some are rebels; some are proudly defensive of Saudi ways, convinced that any discussion of women's rights is a disguised attack on Islam from a hostile Westerner." As an outsider, you can't attack the misogyny without at least creating the appearance of attacking the culture at large, and worse, forcing your own culture upon them. At the same time, it feels somewhat callous to therefore wash your hands of the situation and say "Well! I suppose any change will have to come entirely from within, from an oppressed and politically powerless segment of the population." Any support one gives to native movements will taint them with western imperialism, but, frankly, they'll probably be considered to be tainted with western imperialism no matter what.

I was also interested in a conversation Stein had with a young Saudi woman:

One afternoon, a candidate invited me to meet his daughter. She spoke fluent English and was not much younger than me. I cannot remember whether she was wearing hijab, the Islamic head scarf, inside her home, but I have a memory of pink. I asked her about the elections.

"Very good," she said.

So you really think so, I said gently, even though you can't vote?

"Of course," she said. "Why do I need to vote?"

Her father chimed in. He urged her, speaking English for my benefit, to speak candidly. But she insisted: What good was voting? She looked at me as if she felt sorry for me, a woman cast adrift on the rough seas of the world, no male protector in sight.

"Maybe you don't want to vote," I said. "But wouldn't you like to make that choice yourself?"

"I don't need to," she said calmly, blinking slowly and deliberately. "If I have a father or a husband, why do I need to vote? Why should I need to work? They will take care of everything."

I found this interesting because it echoes some of what you hear from anti-feminist women in the US. Why should women have the right to a late-term abortion when I don't, personally, foresee myself needing one?

I would highly recommend reading the entire article.

Cerise, a project of The Iris Network, recently launched with its May 2007 issue. Its goal is to be a semi-scholarly publication for articles that address the intersection of gender and gaming, encompassing video games, board games, and role playing games.

The debut issue has some articles to recommend it. There's an interesting piece on the history of the Girls' Games Movement of the mid-90s written by Lindsey Galloway, a more general discussion of the problems of male-centric gamer culture by Natalie Hill, and a fun piece on crafting your own tabletop miniatures using polymer clay by Robyn Fleming. It's a bit light on content, but a big part of that is that the call for submissions only went out about a week or two ago. And, to be fair, some of the articles aren't as strong as others. Still, it's a very solid first effort and I look forward to seeing it develop in future months.

Today Kotaku, one of the internet's largest video game news aggregator blogs, linked to the first issue. The post, and ensuing comments, can be found here. There's a lot of bad blood between the folks who run Kotaku and the folks who run Iris and Cerise. Several months back Kotaku's founder Brian Crecente wrote a post complaining about the lack of prominent women bloggers. He apparently decided that Kotaku needed a woman writer, examined the existing woman video game bloggers, and found them lacking. Feminist video game blogger Andrea Rubenstein took issue with this. The Kotaku post, and subsequent uproar in the female video game blogging community, provided the backdrop for her to launch the Iris Network, a feminist video game resource that she had been working on for several years. Which, naturally, led Brian Crecente to take credit for inspiring her and the others involved to create the project.

This history is somewhat alluded to in the post linking to Cerise's first issue by Michael McWhertor. To his credit, the post itself isn't particularly hostile. That's saved for the comment section.

The comments to that post are a wonderful microcosm of the entire debate on women and video games that occurs on mainstream websites. About half of the posts are people complaining that they don't see why women need a special, separate community and they should be integrating, not segregating. The other half are commenters remarking on the sexual desirability of the woman pictured on Cerise's title page, or other similarly denigrating comments (My favorite, this charming contribution from Lixie: "A new mag for when they're on the rag"). A lot of the commenters seem confused about what Cerise is; they seem to be operating under the belief that it's a new print magazine, ala Electronics Gaming Monthly or GamePro, targeted at women, rather than a monthly on-line journal. This is probably symptomatic of the fact that the commenters in question are shooting their mouths off about what's wrong with Cerise and why It Should Not Be based on three brief paragraphs of description by McWhertor coupled with the memory of arguments made in flame wars past, with minds uncluttered by the potential bias and dilution of their points that would result if they actually clicked the link and read the magazine.

A couple of things stood out to me. My favorite "Careful! Your bias is showing!" slip comes from the second commenter, KidNicky, when he remarks that "but in their introduction article,they rattled off a few names that are "household words" to the average gamer,and OH NOES THEY ALL MEN." This is interesting because there is no introductory article. There's a from the editors section, which doesn't contain the aforementioned list. There's a mission statement linked from the masthead, again without that list. The list can be found, though; it's in the article "Girls Don't Play Video Games," the last article before the review section and the only article written by a man. It's also the article that gets the most attention in comments (though part of that is because of people responding to and buildin off of KidNicky's early comment). It was probably a mistake on KidNicky's part, but I find it interesting that the single article with a male author gets elevated to Introductory, such that the one man who writes for the mag is made the de facto spokesman for the enterprise. Sort of like how women gamers wouldn't exist had Brian Crecente not willed them into being.

There aren't a lot of defenders for Cerise in those comments, as of this writing, which isn't at all surprising. Kotaku's commenting environment is utterly toxic, as demonstrated in part by this very thread. Feminists and others who don't believe that Women Need to Shut Up are quickly shouted down when they voice an opinion not in line with that of the average Kotaku commenter. Thus, Kotaku has become a place where everyone is free to comment, provided they don't think that women need their own space to discuss video games. The dissonance is delightful. If you express feminist opinions at Kotaku, you are told to shut up and take your arguments elsewhere. If you build your own site to have those arguments, Kotaku links to the site and commenters tell you that you don't need your own site and if you want to stop being second-class citizens you should be commenting at Kotaku. If you are a feminist, then, Kotaku commenters are not particularly pleased with you expressing your opinion anywhere. Which, I suppose, is the whole point of the endeavor.

I also find the whole Shutupicrat philosophy that underlies most of the comments fascinating. Until I got onto the internet I had never met somebody who gets actually angry about the fact that some people care about things that he or she doesn't. It would be sort of interesting to meet some of these people in real life:

"Excuse me, but why in the hell are we learning German? I don't want to speak German, and I don't see why anyone else should. Can't we all just speak English and shut up about stupid foreign languages I don't care about?"

"If you don't want to take German, why are you enrolled in this class?"

"I'm not; I was just looking on a bulletin board and noticed that German was being taught, and since I don't think German is interesting I felt I should come here and let everyone know that they're being stupid and wasting their time."

"Why do you serve blueberry pancakes? I hate blueberries, and I don't really like pancakes that much, either. If people would just shut up about their blueberry pancakes I could get back to ordering waffles in peace."

I do somewhat see the argument for the anti-segregationist build-a-better-culture-from-within perspective. The problem is that I think it's a false choice; it isn't either be a part of the larger gaming community or be a part of the female/feminist gaming community, it's both be a part of the larger gaming community and be a part of the female/feminist gaming community. Moreover, I don't think the problem of women gamers being isolated from the gaming community writ large is as big a problem as the one of women gamers being alienated from the gaming community in general as a result of overt and subrosa hostility to women in gaming.

Sub-Rosa Catholicism

Via Feministe, I've just come across this article in the Journal of Higher Education. If the article presents a fair depiction of Georgetown's present public interest funding policy, and it seems likely that it does given that the author was able to interview both Dean Aleinikoff and the Associate Dean for Clinical Programs and Public Interest, I am now very glad that I chose not to go to Georgetown Law.

Georgetown, like most top law schools, offers funding for students to pursue unpaid internships in public interest fields during the summer. It's thanks to such a funding program at Columbia that I was able to work last summer for Project Renewal on housing issues for the homeless and mentally ill in New York City. Georgetown is apparently more selective than Columbia in distributing public interest monies, which isn't surprising given Georgetown's large student body. Nonetheless, to every appearance Georgetown has not in the past engaged in subject matter-based discrimination in its funding of internships. This has now changed.

In years past Georgetown has funded public interest fellowships with Planned Parenthood and other organizations that work for abortion rights. That policy, apparently, is no longer operative. This year at least one first-year student was told that Georgetown would not provide her with funding for the summer because the institution could not provide funds for abortion-rights advocacy. The university told her this in April, as finals approached, after she had already accepted an internship with Planned Parenthood, and with about a month left before her internship was to begin. Georgetown justifies the policy on the grounds that it is a Jesuit institution and, as such, cannot fund abortion rights advocacy since abortion is contrary to Catholic Church doctrine.

I don't dispute that Georgetown is within its rights to do this. My problem is that Georgetown Law takes every measure possible to hide the Catholic affiliation that it is now using to justify this move. If this had happened at Notre Dame Law, I would have shrugged and said, "That's unfortunate, but not really unexpected," because Notre Dame is up-front about its catholicism start to finish. It's in every piece of recruiting literature they send out. Students who attend Notre Dame are put on notice that the school's role as a Catholic institution will be a major factor in all aspects of education there.

Georgetown, by contrast, is circumspect about their Jesuit nature. Like most top law schools, Georgetown has been trying for years to eliminate any perceptual barriers to entry among potential students. Law schools want the best students they can get, not the best Catholic students they can get, or the best in-state students they can get. That's why the big state law schools have slowly been eliminating admissions preferences for in-state students and that's why parochial schools emphasize the religious diversity of their student-body. It's why Georgetown trumpets in their admissions brochures the existence of the J. Reuben Clark Society (LDS Law Students), the Georgetown Jewish Law Student Association, and the Muslim Law Student Association among its officialy sanctioned student groups.

I applied to Georgetown Law and very nearly went there; it was between it and Columbia at the very end. In the entire recruiting process I had only the vaguest awareness that Georgetown Law was Jesuit. At the time I was obsessed with the admissions process; I read every scrap of paper and pamphlet sent to me by every school I was interested in, and I spent every moment of break reading the various schools's web sites. The only time the term Jesuit was mentioned was in brief descriptions of the school's history ("Georgetown was founded as the first Jesuit school in the nation. Today, it is a diverse community etc. etc.") and as justification for Georgetown's commitment to public service. Georgetown Law does everything it can to tell students "Technically, we're Catholic, but that won't have any impact whatsoever on your legal education here."

By amending its summer funding policy, Georgetown appears to be taking affirmative measures to turn itself into an institution that only supports students whose political positions agree with those of the Catholic Church. They're free to do that, but they have to accept the consequences of that and advertise the fact to prospective students. If I had known then where Georgetown was and where it was heading, my decision on where to attend law school would have been a lot easier.

There's an interesting article in the New York Times right now: Equal Cheers for Boys and Girls Draw Some Boos. The story concerns the fallout from a recent ruling by the New York State Education Department interpreting Title IX to require that women's sports receive the same cheerleading support that men's sports receive. The story follows the typical pattern for Title IX stories: Things used to be great, then nosy feminists got involved and sued everyone, and now everything's gone topsy-turvy and nobody's happy.

The story is this: It used to be that the cheerleading squads in New York State high schools only cheered men's sports. Then the mother of a girl who plays high school basketball sued the school district alleging Title IX violations, since it's only fair that cheerleaders be present at women's sporting events as well. The New York State Education Department agreed. Now, schools are required to provide equal cheerleading support to men's and women's sports; if the cheer squad cheers at a men's basketball game, they have to cheer at a women's basketball game. Given that this doubles the number of games that require cheerleading, the schools have responded by cutting in half the number of men's games at which cheerleaders are present. Thus, now cheerleaders cheer at all the men's and women's basketball home games and none of the away games, where they once cheered at all of the men's home and away games and no women's games whatsoever.

The tone of the article is that this is an utterly untenable state of affairs. The author can barely rustle up one quote in support of the scheme, from the woman who sued in the first place. That's a shame, because there appears to be a whole second level to the story that the author only hints at. Most of the two-and-a-half page of the story is spent discussing the loss of away-game cheerleading. This, it is argued, is a huge loss for the cheerleaders. Away-games are exciting and give them an opportunity to see how other cheer squads operate (since every school in the district has cut away games, cheer squad now no longer run into each other). The away-game issue appears to be the major argument for why the Education Department's ruling has so thoroughly destroyed the world of high school cheerleading.

This is interesting, because the away-game issue is pretty clearly easy to solve within the parameters set by the ruling. The ruling only states that cheer support has to be given equally to men's and women's sports; it says nothing about that support having to be given at home-games. The school could just as easily have cheerleaders at nothing but away-games. Or they could arrange it so that half of their games in a season are away games and half home games, while still making it so that half are for men's basketball and the other half for women's basketball. I realize that this would require slightly more effort than just scheduling them in for only home games, but it still shouldn't take somebody with an calendar and the two teams's schedules more than about half an hour to arrange.

What I think has actually happened here is that the schools found a way to save on their cheerleading budgets while blaming feminists and Title IX. It's a lot cheaper to send the cheerleaders to 16 home games than it is to send them to 8 home games and 8 away games. Note the mention in the article of the school that cut its cheerleading squad entirely due to budget constraints in 2002, then only now reinstituted it. The article manages to frame this as the squad being devastated because lousy feminists will only let them chear at home games. If, indeed, the students at the school actually have been convinced that the Title IX ruling is responsible for the school cutting away games, rather than a miserly school board, I have to give the school credit for doing a masterful PR job.

The article also mentions a fairly useless anecdote about one time when a school's cheerleaders cheered at a women's basketball game (because the men's game was cancelled) and the women's basketball players found it disruptive and didn't appreciate it. Well, yeah, of course they did. If you're used to playing without cheerleading and then, without warning, you have cheerleaders, of course you'll find it distracting. As the article mentions at the very end, now that cheerleaders are a regular part of home games the women's basketball players have gotten used to it and are enjoying their presence more.

What's hinted at in the article, but never discussed in full, is that a lot of the cheerleaders don't like the new rule because they just plain aren't interested in cheering on girls. I don't know a huge amount about the debate over the place of cheerleading in the modern high school, but the general sense I get is that there's a struggle between those who think that it's a sexist throwback and demeaning to women and those who feel that it's a genuine sport with athletic merit. Within the context of that discussion, I would argue that if one's desire to engage in an activity significantly declines when one discovers that one's audience will be members of the same sex, then that would constitute evidence in favor of the "sexist throwback" school of thought.

I'm pretty much 100% supportive of the Title IX ruling. When I was in high school I was on the Speech and Debate Team and the Academic League. We had home meets and away meets. We represented the school in intra-league, state-wide, and nation-wide competitions. I believe in my four years at high school, the extent of the school's support for both teams was one (1) poorly-made banner in a back corner of the school, wishing us luck at a speech tournament. The poster 1. wished us luck at a tournament that had already occurred, 2. got the location of the tournament wrong, and 3. managed to misspell "Speech and Debate." We paid for our own buses and judges, and where most coaches received a stipend from the school for their services ours coached us gratis. I found it immensely disheartening to represent a school that took pains to remind us constantly that they really didn't care one way or another how we performed because we weren't the basketball team of the football team. Obviously sending the cheer squad to Academic League meets would have been inappropriate, but the clear message at my high school was that they really cared about athletics and didn't much care about academics.

Along those lines, setting the system up so that the official cheer squad only cheers at men's basketball games, when there's no real reason why they couldn't cheer at women's basketball games, is pretty clearly saying that the school considers men's sports importants and women's sports unimportant. Given the goal of Title IX of forcing federally funded schools to provide the same support and recognition to female athletes that they provide to male athletes, I think it's entirely appropriate that cheerleaders either be provided equally to men's and women's sports or not be provided at all.

The Greasy Pole

This is a fun article from the Daily Mail, a British Newspaper. Apparently Tesco, a department store in the UK, was selling the Peekaboo Pole Dancer Kit in the children's toys section of their website. Outrage ensued. In fact, according to Dr. Adrian Rogers of the Family Focus campaign, doing this will "destroy children's lives".

The story's written for shock value, so I have a tough time figuring out what really went on here from Tesco's side. It seems as though the Peekabook Pole Dancer Kit might be a sex toy or some sort of off-beat workout gear, as the Tesco spokesperson claims. At the same time, it does look very child-oriented. The kit consists of a telescoping 8 1/2 foot pole, a CD of stripping music, a garter, and play money to stuff into said garter. The play money makes me suspicious that this might actually be marketed at a younger audience; if it's a work-out kit, why bother with money at all? If it's a sex toy, can't you just get your partner to use real money? It just seems a little goofy to set everything up, put on stripper money, then run over and say, "Here's some play money to stuff in my garter when I come over to give you a lap dance!"

More on Dr. Rogers, the Family Focus campaigner. He helpfully informs us that poles are "interpreted in the adult world as a phallic symbol." I don't want to give Michel Foucault short shrift, but I'd have to argue that, among the veritable plethora, the virtual cornucopia of arguments available to Dr. Rogers about why marketing pole dancer kits to children is a bad idea, the phallic symbolism involved is quite possibly the weakest. After all, you can find phallic symbols everywhere. For instance, horseraddish:

My favorite Rogersism of the article, though, comes half-way through, when he says "It ought to be stopped, it really requires the intervention of members of Parliament. This should only be available to the most depraved people who want to corrupt their children." I completely agree, if only for the comedic potential. I feel Parliament absolutely should require a Depravity License, Ministry of the Interior form ZZ-9-Plural-Z-Alpha. You should have to fill out a lengthy application and wait six months while government depravity experts certify that you are, indeed, depraved enough to purchase this toy for your children. In fact, I'm not certain this level of depravity can probably be assessed without a timed multiple-choice examination.

And the second part of his statement is equally vital: that it should only be made available to parents "who want to corrupt their children." There should be an airport check-in style question when you buy this kit.

"Sir, do you have any children for whom you are purchasing this kit?"


"Do you intend to use this kit in order to corrupt said children?"

"Yes, I do."

"Very well. Cash or charge?"

I am also a fan of the photo of the Gallimore family. "Alright, everyone, we're condemning Tesco, so everyone put on your grimmest condemnation faces!"

As for the substantive issue involved here, um... Here, let met get a coin. I think the fact that Tesco sold this product is... a good thing, morally virtuous, they're champions of... I dunno, free market capitalism and empowerment and stuff.

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