Tag Archives: sexism

Female Audiences and the Male Universal

I am immensely excited to see Gravity tomorrow night, the new science fiction movie by Alfonso Cuarón of Children of Men fame. Sandra Bullock plays the lead role in this picture, alongside George Clooney, and I am thrilled to see another sci-fi production featuring a female lead in an otherwise male-dominated genre. According to the director, however, not everyone was this excited about the prospect as I am. During a press conference in July he indicated that producers were pushing for a male lead instead, as “science fiction is a male-dominated genre, with a male audience that wants to relate to a male lead.”

image via shakesville

image via shakesville

This is funny, because the majority of Hollywood productions features male leads, and in my over twenty years of moviegoer experience as a woman I still managed to enjoy myself quite often. My preferences didn’t really matter; I had to relate to a male lead and managed to do so, sometimes more, sometimes less successfully. Though apparently this is an impossible exercise for some… Continue reading

Blachman – The Most Revealing Show on TV

I, like most people, love a good scandal, especially when it involves the media, but here is a headline I never expected to read: Is the Danish TV show Blachman the most sexist show ever? Well, I’ve had a brief look, and the answer is: No, but it certainly is revealing. Continue reading

The (Female) Artist is Present – Marina Abramovic vs. Maeve Binchy

clearly not an icon: marina abramovic for v magazine

I am not very familiar with Abramovic’s art. I came across her work a few times at art exhibitions and, most recently, in a news article which stated that she does not identify as a feminist, because she never felt she had to struggle more being a woman. Yet this afternoon, as part of the Meltdown Festival in London, she gave a lecture to a women-only audience at the Southbank Centre. Considering her previous comments, I can only assume that this decision came from artistic rather than political motivations. I wasn’t sure what to make of it, but in any case, I was intrigued. Continue reading

The drop in the ocean, or the drop that wears away the stone? Street Harassment

I have been very conflicted about this topic for a while. Mostly, because I wasn’t sure of how significant it was in comparison to other issues, and whether this significance merited  the amount of feminist responses, initiatives and organisations that have developed over the years (Hollaback, Stop Street Harassment, Pro Change, to name a few).

Obviously, this is a problem that concerns all women, whether cis or trans, femme or butch, coloured of colour or white, or androgynous looking (even “feminine” looking men)… The list goes on. So the many responses are justified by the amount of people involved and interested in them. Clearly, we have a problem here! I guess, my hesitancy can be explained  by a perception of normalcy of the problem, resulting in more or less callous acceptance. Come to think of it, what a terrible way to live!

I am 25 years old. One can rightfully assume that I have been subjected to street harassment for over ten to fifteen years. Needless to say, it has become a part of my every-day life, a constant variable in the way I behave in public. For more than ten years I have been exposed to comments, leering, catcalling and groping, and I have learned to deal with that. I had to. Now, at 25 years old, I have graduated with honours in the art of making myself invisible in public (if I want to), but there are no rewards. The bullying continues, only now I am better at looking away, leaving, pretending to ignore it, but it has never stopped to bother me and it seldomly fails to lead to its most devious effect: I want to make myself smaller, hide inside myself, run away.

Normally, I would consider myself a strong, independent woman. I am an outspoken feminist. I never hide my political convictions. If justified, I talk back to my employers at work. I often call out people for misbehaving or making stupid remarks. And no, I am also not afraid to yell back at catcallers, when I feel safe enough. It makes me feel better about the situation, but there is nothing empowering about it. I still feel angry and humiliated, uncomfortable and exposed, and sadly, my body language in public has incorporated these fears.

On the train, I am often crouched in the corner of the seat, my legs and arms crossed, looking away. I don’t like waiting on the street; if I am early I prefer to go for a walk or “look busy” by playing games on my mobile phone. Hanging around unattended on the street is a surefire way of being approached by someone uncalled-for. I avoid making eye contact with men in public, and I try not to touch them accidentally. When men offer me anything in the street (a product, help) or want to ask me something, my initial reaction is to refuse. Immediately, my heart starts beating faster. When I go outside wearing short dresses or skirts, I prepare myself for unwanted attention.  At night, I change the side of the street in order not to run into approaching groups of men, or I avoid certain areas altogether. In my day to day life, I don’t think about the reasons for this behaviour and I don’t analyze its impact. It’s my life, my naturalized means for navigating public spaces with the least risk potential. It has become what the German blog High on Clichés calls a “second skin”.

Naturally, we all guard ourselves in public. It is the space in which we’re most vulnerable. But do men prepare themselves in this way, at every hour, every single day? (That’s not a rhetorical question; I’d really like to know.) How can it be that mere words can have such a violent impact on large amounts of people, yet there is rarely any backing from the public when incidents of sexual harassment occur (at least that’s my experience)?

The worst thing anyone can say about this issue is: “Men simply can’t help it.” It makes me feel so much more unsafe, having to accept that men are completely volatile predators. Fortunately, I know that this is untrue. Most men actually don’t harass women in the street, the same way as I don’t harass men. It would never occur to them; just like it doesn’t occur to me to yell “nice ass” at a guy with a nice ass. That doesn’t mean men aren’t allowed to look, and can’t enjoy a nice cleavage every once in a while, but there is such a thing as subtlety and simple human decency. It is something we all learn eventually, being social beings and all, some perhaps more so than others. But I believe there is a difference in how men take up public space as a matter of course, whereas women are often in a constant state of tension. I could go into the wider implications of this, but I suppose you all agree that this is a huge problem that needs to be addressed.

Nowadays, I feel like I can handle most forms of sexual harassment without being too shaken by it. But just because human beings are able to adapt themselves to most circumstances, it doesn’t mean they’re acceptable. Knowing that this behaviour is wrong and harmful is the first step to generate a culture that refuses to participate and citizens that will stand up to this injustice publicly. That this hasn’t happened yet is an outrage, but at least it’s better to be angry than scared.

Feel free to leave your thoughts and experiences in the comments below, but not without checking out this awesome Street Harassment Bullshit Bingo, created by High on Clichés (translation mine):

original via high on clichés

Slutwalk Paris – 1 October 2011

They couldn’t have picked a better day: sunshine, 28 degrees, a gentle breeze. Everyone would be outside on this last weekend of summer, so why not walk through the city and make a statement?

Having missed out on this summer’s Slutwalk in Berlin, which drew a large amount of people and even more media attention, I was excited to find out that Paris would have its own Slutwalk and that I would be able to participate. I was curious to see how it would turn out, what impact it would have in the city where Second Wave feminism originated in Europe.

all photographs taken by clemens porikys

Unfortunately, my first impression was disappointing. Not many people had shown up (sixty to eighty perhaps, not counting the press(wo)men) and the gathering of young women in short skirts wearing heart-shaped balloons resembled more a birthday party than a group of militant activists. It stood very much in contrast to my memory of the protest against the media response to the DSK affair, which had been a lot more energetic, unifying and angry, though not aggressive. The cause had been quite similar: fighting sexism and violence towards women, stop blaming victims and trivializing rape. So what went wrong?

I certainly appreciate and applaud everyone taking on the responsibility of organizing such an event, but in the case of Slutwalk Paris it could have been executed a bit more cleverly. What struck me as particularly odd was that hardly any of the well-known and well-organized feminist associations in Paris seemed to be present. Ni Putes Ni Soumises had sent some delegates; others such as Osez le Feminisme and La Barbe did either not know about it or ignored it deliberately…(?) The inclusion of these as well as other activist groups would certainly have been beneficial, not just regarding the number of participants but also to their diversity. The homogeneity of the protesters (most of them young, white, slim and able-bodied, myself included) does not represent the vast majority of victims of sexual violence, which subtracted from its potential significance.

But there we walked, down Boulevard Montparnasse and Boulevard St. Michel, where we did get some attention from pedestrians, including spontaneous participation. When a middle-aged woman asked about the motive for this demonstration and it was explained to her, she immediately expressed her support. Those were the highlights of a protest, that could have benefited from a couple of inspiring speeches to create the passion and energy needed to really get the movement started here in France.

Overall, the atmosphere was good and everyone seemed to have good time, even though I am not sure that that is the desired effect of a protest. In the end, everyone let go of their balloons in an attempt of symbolism, satisfying both the photographers and curious tourists. In any case, there is room for improvement and I hope that next time I can contribute more than just post-event criticism.

Facebook = Facepalm? In search of a culture of accountability

I’ve never been a fan of joining Facebook groups with titles such as I got so drunk, I did something extremely stupid and ridiculous and now you can see the evidence on Facebook etc. I think they are a waste of time, they make people look like idiots and no one really cares anyway. But then again, it is not my problem if people like to make fools of themselves; it doesn’t physically or psychologically harm me and I can quite easily ignore the existence of such groups.

You know what I can’t ignore and what does harm me? Sexism and the glorification of violence towards women. But there is a group on Facebook promoting just that, in fact there are several, and they are out there for everyone to see, to join, to “like”. This page in particular has sparked controversy: You know shes [sic] playing hard to get when your [sic] chasing her down an alleyway. The page currently has 176,884 people “liking” it, with the numbers growing steadily. While the title and picture may just be “suggestive” (even though they’re pretty obvious to me), it is the comments of the “fans” that make the page what it is: a place for rape jokes, rape apologia and the trivialization and extenuation of violence towards women. Some of the worst comments apparently have already been taken down but many are still bad enough, with more showing up every minute.

Attempts have been made to get Facebook to take down the page in question, as it quite obviously seems to violate Facebook’s terms of service. However, the reply from Facebook seems to suggest that they find it adequate to compare rape jokes and content promoting sexual violence to mere “pub jokes”. You can read the full statement here.

Apparently, reporting this page seems to lead to nothing. I myself have reported it for suggesting graphic violence, my reason being not to widen their scope of unacceptable content, but to make them aware of their own hypocrisy. It is well known that Facebook likes to take down other content, for example artistic representations of nudity and pictures of breast-feeding mothers. So nude women are obscene and offensive, but making jokes about violating them is not?

I am a little conflicted about this issue. Part of me, a big part, wants this page to be removed, because it is disgusting, because it is hypocritical of Facebook to not do so, and because Facebook’s nonchalant reply furthers the trivialization of rape culture. But another part of me wants this page to stay online, just as I accept pages of far right-wing and islamophobic organisations to exist. To me, this has to do with freedom of speech but only a little. I do not wish for these opinions and thoughts to exist, but unfortunately they do and I would much rather have them out in the open and visible. I want to be aware of my enemies; I want to know who they are and what they’re up to. And I want people to know that I am not fighting windmills.

In the case of the page mentioned above we are probably not dealing with actual rapists. For the most part, the people commenting seem to be adolescents, tardily pubescent boys and girls(!) with bad grammar and spelling skills, who think they’re being oh so provocative. I’m not sure if by removing this page and others like it we might actually push rape – the conversation about it, not the act – back into taboo territory, where joking about it won’t just be an infantile act of rebellion which can be exposed easily. But I’m also worried about more mature and deliberate rape apologists getting into these stupid kids’ heads. That’s why I am pleading for a Facebook culture of accountability.

We need to show that certain kinds of rhetoric and behavior are simply not welcome in a just and inclusive society. Critical comments of random strangers simply won’t do. In some cases they might even encourage the haters to defend their stupidity even more vehemently. What is needed are concrete real-life consequences. Most of us have hundreds of “friends” on Facebook, some real friends, girl- and boyfriends, parents, siblings and colleagues. We need to make sure we hold these people accountable for their actions online and offline, and vice versa. I would like to see a Facebook culture where a high school girl will say to her buddy: “I really didn’t like that comment you posted the other day and I can’t be friends with you until you apologize and remove the comment.” Or someone saying to her colleague: “I don’t think I will go out for a beer with you. I saw you join this group on Facebook which is degrading to women and I really don’t want to be associated with someone who thinks that way.”

I may sound naive with this proposition, and I am quite aware that in many situations like the ones I just mentioned the wrong people, the critical ones, may end up being isolated and shunned. Nevertheless I would like to encourage everyone to just have a little bit more integrity and to look more closely at their so-called “friends” on Facebook. If you can’t stand for what they post on Facebook, chances are you won’t tolerate what they say and do in “real life”, so why would you want to be friends with them? I advocate radical “unfriending” as a political act!

would you want to be friends with these guys?

Daily Discoveries

Apparently you can’t find any doctors, police officers, taxi drivers, or administrative officials in Paris who are female…

"renseignements et services de votre arrondissement" ("information and services for your department")

Or perhaps I got it all wrong and this is in fact an ad for a French version of the Village People…