Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Josh Eastman arrested for paying child to recite racial slurs on YouTube video

Racism has flourished on the Internet. YouTube is particularly infested with this form of oppression where videos like "sparkling wiggles" present blatant racism and viral videos like Antoine Dodson smack of cultural tourism. These videos do not only perpetuate and nurture racism in humor - they encourage others to seek fame through active oppression. One such candidate for hateful celebrity, Josh Eastman of Bridgeport, CT, went so far as to actively indoctrinate a neighboring child into racism - and he's not the only one.

Eastman recorded and posted a video called "Swearing Kid" in which an eight-year-old boy swears and hurls racial slurs while being coached from off-camera. When the boy's mother caught wind of this video, she was appropriately horrified by this apparently uncharacteristic behavior from her son, who claims that Eastman paid him $1 for his grim performance. She called the police, who picked Eastman up and held him on an $2,500 bond on charges of impairing the morals of a child. Eastman said:
"If they didn't like the video they could have just asked me nicely to take it off, and I would have taken it off. They didn't have to go call the police and have me arrested for it."
Eastman felt comfortable paying their child to spew hate and promote it to the general public without asking, but he apparently expects the consideration and courtesy of a polite phone call when the offense is against him. Nice.

Racism is evil regardless of context, but training and tutoring the next generation of racists takes especial involvement in the kyriarchy. It communicates to both the children starring and the white viewers of these awful videos that they are entitled to spread racial hatred around; it harms the people of color they will interact with in childhood, adolescence and adulthood.

Eastman didn't see the problem with this; he claims that the child was known for such language, and describe the video as "fun and funny". But even if Eastman didn't teach him those slurs, even if he didn't pay him a dollar - such a small sum, representing his valuation of people of color - even if he didn't indoctrinate this child into the gleeful use of racist language, Eastman was teaching the child that racism is funny, that hatred is worth reward, attention, and praise.

Though Eastman will likely stop his practice of this particular brand of hatred, this video was not an isolated incident. While searching for this and the "sparkling wiggles" referenced above, I found a huge number of other children being encouraged to say racist things by friends, family, whomever. Many of these videos, including Eastman's, are taken down by YouTube administrators, but more simply pop up in their place.

The children in these videos are not learning the ideals of the postracist society the US sometimes brags of; instead, these young people, the douchebags like Eastman capturing their learning experience, and the people who watch, enjoy, and send on these videos are actively promoting and perpetuating white supremacy.

source: one two three four five six seven

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Pledge drive update and top content of August 2010

A thermometer, or vial or whatever, showing monetary donations in the amount of $100, $200, $300, $400, and $500. It is filled up with red ink to roughly $425.

First off, pledge drive status! I've gotten donations from 22 people ranging from $3 to $100 thus far, and at $423 I'm over 80% of the way there! $77 more dollars, and I will quit bugging y'all about it. Click here to donate, or click on the button below:

Help me out, donate a bitraw url: https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=7218870
Thanks to everyone who has donated so far. I'm feeling quite positive about the state and direction of the blog in large part knowing y'all value my content enough to support the blog.

As with 2009, August 2010 has been a huge month for Deeply Problematic! Hits this month were twice that of July, and up a good deal from this time last year. Thanks for reading, twittering, tumbling, and linking it up in various places.

Top posts:

1. 17-month-old Roy Jones brutally murdered for acting like a girl
2. Domino's Pizza delivered with racial attack on Carla Robinson
3. Women and bodily functions: poop
4. Women in Questionable Content: Women-run businesses and Bechdel-passing friendships
5. Why I use that word that I use: Kyriarchy, kyriarchal, and why not patriarchy

Most commented:

1. Why I use that word that I use: Cis, cissupremacy, cissexism and Women and bodily functions: poop - 16 comments each
2. Fat is an adjective, not an attack and Domino's Pizza delivered with racial attack on Carla Robinson - 12 comments each
3. Women in Questionable Content: Women-run businesses and Bechdel-passing friendships - 10 comments
4. 17-month-old Roy Jones brutally murdered for acting like a girl - 9 comments
5. Women in Questionable Content: sexuality and identity - 8 comments

Unlike last year, I do not seem to be burning out! Instead, I'm looking forward to a fruitful and productive September. Thanks for reading.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Faye's history of lady instrumentalists [part five: Skin, Jenny Lewis, Alison Mosshart, Meg White]

Hi everyone! Faye, popping in, with your weekly boost of female instrumentalists.

Have you not been getting your recommended supply of awesome ladies? Catch up: (1, 2,) 1, 2, 3, 4!

So, today's blog is slightly abridged as I am dealing with some pain issues. This might turn out to be a blessing in disguise, though, since I don't have to write as much and you guys get less rambling AND two blogs for the price of one! So bear with me :)

The first artist I wanted to talk about, Skin, is actually way better known for her talents as a vocalist, but she also plays guitar (not frequently on tour, however). She's probably best known for her work with band Skunk Anansie, which she dubbed a "clit-rock" band (a take off on their "britrock" designation), diving into feminist/socio-political topics lyrically with a punk and metal musical background. The band was together from 1994-2001. Skunk Anansie got back together starting around 2009, touring and releasing a greatest-hits album and are now set to release a new album, Wonderlustre, on Sep. 13, 2010. In the interim, Skin worked as a solo artist, releasing Fleshwounds and Fake Chemical State. Her solo work was slightly more starker and more introspective, and received a lukewarm reception from longtime fans -- however, in my opinion it's still awesome.

On that front, I've chosen one of her solo pieces to embed, but I encourage you to check out Skunk Anansie's music if you haven't heard of them before.

Lyrics Excerpt: Plain devil | Be careful | I can spit on your charm | Silly baby | Stone crazy | Can't you hear the alarm

Jenny Lewis is amazingly multifaceted: she started out a child/teen actress, and then formed the band Rilo Kiley with friends in 1998. (She is also known primarily as a vocalist, but plays keyboards, guitars, harmonica and bass on various projects.) Rilo Kiley began with a folk-country sound and moved toward a more indie rock sound on later records, which also emphasized Lewis' voice and presence more. They hit major success in 2004 and were picked up by a major label in 2005, opening for acts such as Coldplay. She also has a very prolific solo career: in 2004 Lewis was invited to cut a record for Conor Oberst's independent label Team Love, and, with The Watson Twins, subsequently released Rabbit Fur Coat, which had more of a soul edge to it. She also put out an album (on her own) called Acid Tongue and has a side project with her boyfriend Johnathan Rice called Jenny and Johnny which plans to release an album in 2010. Throughout her career she's also guested on a somewhat astonishing list of other bands' albums.

Lyrics Excerpt: There's blood in my mouth 'cause I've been biting my tongue all week | I keep on talkin' trash but I never say anything | And the talkin' leads to touchin' | and the touchin' leads to sex | and then there is no mystery left

Alison Mosshart is best known for singing lead vocals -- is there a weird trend today?? -- in The Kills (where she was known as VV) and The Dead Weather. She also plays acoustic guitar as well as percussion at times in The Dead Weather, and has played keyboard. She started her career in 1995 in the punk rock band Discount and formed The Kills in 2000; after meeting Jack White and Jack Lawrence through The Raconteurs, she joined their budding supergroup The Dead Weather in late 2008. (Like Jenny Lewis, she's sung with a lot of other bands, from Arctic Monkeys to Placebo.) She's sort of a perfect blend of our first two women of the morning - prolific, connected, and hardcore.

The vid I chose isn't a fantastic one in terms of quality, but it is one of the best that shows her as a guitarist. However, if you'd like to see an awesome medley of over 10 years of her influence and involvement in punk/alt rock, allow me to point you here.

Lyrics Excerpt: You know I look like a woman, but I | Cut like a buffalo | Stand up like a tower | But I fall | Just like a domino

Last but most certainly not least - and a good segue from Alison Mosshart - is Meg White of White Stripes fame. Meg plays drums! While she has sung once or twice, and plays timpani, guitar and organ as well, she is most memorable as a drummer. She began playing with Jack around 1997, while they were still married (he took her last name) and they started the band shortly thereafter.

Here's where I go on a small rant: I actually get very frustrated sometimes on Meg White's behalf. A lot of people don't understand that just because her drumming is simplistic and "primal", it doesn't mean she lacks talent as a drummer. Her role in the White Stripes is to keep the beat, to frame the melody, and to set the standard for the sound. This is true whether that framework is a simple metronomic one-two-one-two pound that might as well be on a pot, a marching war-like drumroll on snare, or a complex beat that slowly increases in speed (all of these are present in various White Stripes songs). And this is what she does! In a band like The White Stripes that not only conceptually (by examining innocence, simplicity, family, nostalgia, and to some degree storytelling and ritual) but musically (blues and punk) places value on a lack of pretention, her performance is exactly what is called for. But as she puts it, "That is my strength. A lot of drummers would feel weird about being that simplistic."

Lyrics Excerpt: I had an opinion that didn't matter | I had a brain that felt like pancake batter | I got a backyard with nothing in it | Except a stick, a dog | And a box with something in it

Next week, we'll be wrapping up this series with -- women who play more instruments than seems remotely plausible! A dischordant yet melodic, networking indie-folk extravaganza! And more things that sound like they're pulled from sideshow headlines!

I am VERY open to suggestion -- and continued posting, let's face it, I like this series! -- so if there's anyone you'd like to see PLEASE don't hesitate to let me know. :D

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Friday, August 27, 2010

Awesome alert: Liu Wei plays piano with his toes in China's Got Talent

Liu Wei, photographed from above, playing an upright piano.
Awesome Alert is a regular feature in which I feature awesome stories of marginalized folks that come to my attention through Google Alerts.

Liu Wei is a Chinese pianist and composer competing in China's Got Talent. Wei, whose arms were amputated after electrocution at age ten, plays the piano beautifully with his toes. He forgoes prosthetics, and says that the only thing he cannot do that he would like to is drive. "For people like me, there were only two options. One was to abandon all dreams, which would lead to a quick, hopeless death. The other was to struggle without arms to live an outstanding life," Liu said to the judges last week on America's Got Talent.

In the video below, Liu Wei goes through his day, brushing his teeth, eating, and surfing, sometimes using his toes. After the video, he talks to the China's Got Talent judges and plays Mariage D'amour to great applause:

There's a lot to critique about how the media and show portray his accomplishments; many of the articles I consulted for this post framed it in terms of a "heartening [tale] of overcoming adversity" and a "sob story". This trope takes the focus off the accomplishments and talent of folks with disability like Wei. Wei's not there to compete and accomplish something, but in these stories, he's there primarily to move the audience to tears.

And there's something of that to the clip from China's Got Talent - one of the judges suggests that there's nothing he has to say because Wei's so inspiring. That's not the reason Wei should be getting acclaim - he should be praised because he's a good goddamn pianist. China's Got Talent apparently regularly features performers with disabilities, and that's to be commended, but I wonder how many of the performers are framed in a condescending or exceptionalizing way.'

In any case, Wei is an excellent pianist who hopefully has many years of continued success and accomplishment to look forward to.

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Women in Questionable Content: size and bodily functions

Faye, in comic 1562, with her hand on her hip and a jaunty expression on her face. She is wearing a pink shirt that says "PRETTY PRETTY PRETTY".
It should be clear, at this point in my review of lady characters in the long-running webcomic Questionable Content (QC) that I am, with some exceptions, a fan of how Jeph Jacques approaches his women characters. Faye, Dora, Hannelore, Tai and Marigold are particularly thought-out and relateable characters depicted with respect, attention, and interest. Jacques' approach to fatness and bodily functions is equally refreshing. While QC's portrayal of different sized bodies is in many ways narrow, it is in other ways full and realistic: these women poop and fart with the best of them, and their level of fatness does not correspond to their level of health or percieved beauty.

Body size and shape is a major focal point in the world of Questionable Content; more specifically, Faye's body is of particular concern to pretty much every character heavily involved in the universe. She is explicitly fat, according to herself and others (though the phrase retains much of its stigma in Jacques' use). She is also the central point of romantic and sexual attraction for most lady-loving characters; Marten, Sven, Dora, Tai, and Angus have all repeatedly expressed admiration of her plump pulchritude, and she too seems to like her body as it is. Both Faye and the other fat character, the recently-introduced Marigold, reflect a realistic level of insecurity about their size, but such comments are usually countered - not with denials that they're fat, but with denials that they are anything less than lovely.

Faye's physical health, while not a locus, is not assumed to be terrible because of her fatness. When thin Penelope tricks her and Dora into going to the gym (a problematic move that I read as a reflection of Penelope's proselytizing qualities than of any messages the comic is trying to send), it's suggested more for her mental health rather than her weight - ableism is no better than sizism, but it is different. At the gym, Faye bests skinny Dora in a run-off, subverting the trope that skinny people are automatically healthier than fat people (though there's some ageism later in the strip). Later, Faye eats ice cream, says she doesn't care about losing weigh, and explicitly praises her own size. Fat is not moralized in QC; it's not ascribed to anything in particular except body shape.

Reinforcing the transgressive aspects of size in QC are constant denials that Faye is actually fat. Because she is seen as attractive and because she is on the smaller end of fat, reviewers frequently dismiss or claim not to see her fatness. Faye does tend to fluctuate in size, as most people do, but that's more a signal of the evolution of Jacques' drawing style than of weight loss. As usual, fat is not seen as a descriptive term but rather a negation of any healthy or negative qualities.

But while I generally take a favorable view of size in QC, it is not without its problems. Fat in the QC universe is definitely on the small end of the spectrum; RJ of Riot Nrrd Comics characterized it in our interview as "like the Dove real beauty stuff, where it's good to be chubby! But only chubby enough." For a comic that is often known for its portrayal of diverse body types, the standards of what constitutes attractive is pretty narrow, and not just on the axis of size; this is, as I've discussed in the past, completely about cis people, and it is, as I plan to discuss soon, almost completely about white people.

Jacques' focus on Faye and Marigold's breasts is also a little disconcerting. The size, quality, and loveliness of their mammaries is constantly remarked-upon. Breasts are a constantly sexualized quality in all women, but particularly in fat women, and Jacques falls into a trope by strongly associating Marigold and Faye's beauty with their breast size.

The depiction of fatness in QC has what I believe to be a net positive impact. But what I really like about Jacques' handling of female bodies is the fullness of their functioning. The women in Questionable Content, without exception, talk without shame and positively about their experiences of pooping and farting and burping and menstruating. From the fourth comic on, women use bodily functions as a source of humor and conversational fodder. Most male authors fetishize women's bodily processes, but Jacques handles it with humor and honesty.

Faye is a central figure (once again) in most discussions of the digestive system. She likes to poop and she likes to talk about it. Her frankness about her functions is both familiar - she talks a lot like me and my friends talk about such matters - and strange - few fictional females talk discuss such things. She is also the emblem for frequent farts and burping as communication. While Faye is the most enthusiastic potty mouth, she is far from the only one - Tai, Dora, and Hannelore have all been involved in toilet related gags.

While pooping is not the only function discussed in QC, it is the most prominent, and that brand o function discussion sometimes excludes processes usually identified with women. Pooping and farting so dominate the body humor that periods rarely get any airtime. Periods, of course, are not uniquely feminine and they are not universal to all women. And it is occasionally mentioned in strip dialogue. But the cis women in QC, so given to discussing the messy workings of their body, would likely discuss menstruation a little more often than they do.

Jacques' depiction of women of size as attractive is neither singular nor revolutionary. And his focus on bodily processes may be a little bit juvenile. But in the media of a kyriarchy, there are still stiflingly few representations of fat women as beautiful, and the inner workings of women's bodies are oppressed. Faye, Marigold, and the other women centralized in QC are full-sized and fully-realized, and while this is far from unique, it's still quite rare, and a treat to watch as they develop.

This is the last post in a series on women in Questionable Content. Part one and two are here. I've also written on disability in QC. I'm planning on writing on race and QC at some point in the near future - though not for a couple weeks at least, these are always surprisingly exhausting. (A special welcome to people from the QC forums! Y'all have been my second-biggest link provider of this month, so thanks!) Check back next weekish for a review of my other favorite webcomic, Achewood.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

TelevIsm at Bitch Magazine: Farewell, or, I don't respond to things I don't respond to.

An illustration of a smiling television against a pink background, with hearts above it. From Robert Couse-Baker on Flickr
Critique is an act of love and admiration for a show: it says that I think it's good enough to champion, strong enough to withstand critique, deep enough to dissect. Other viewers who enjoy these shows notice these things too, and want a space to consider and discuss them. My enjoyment of these shows often reflects my privilege—I can watch cissexist, racist, heterosexist, sizist, classist humor without feeling personally threatened, and often without even noticing it. Unpacking what is wrong with these shows helps me unpack my own privilege.
 Read the rest here.

Today concludes the biggest chapter in my writing career thus far: my final post for Bitch. Writing there has been so wonderful, and I'm sad to see it draw to a close (which is why I put it off so long!). Bitch is, like everything else, not without its problems, but I've had a fantastic experience there on just about every level.

The full archive of my posts are here.

Vote for RMJ's SXSW presentation!

Hey y'all, sorry about the lack of analytic content in the last couple of days. I am getting a couple of new pieces ready for later today.

I know I've been asking for a lot of help lately, and y'all have REALLY, like REALLY, come through - more on that tomorrow. But today, I'd like to ask you for a little more help in another arena. My presentation,"Dealing with Feminist Drama in Internet Discourse", is currently up as a part of SXSW's PanelPicker process, and voting ends tomorrow. If you could take a few minutes to do the following, I would really appreciate it.

Step One: Register for SXSW or sign in.

Step Two: Give my panel a thumbs up.

Thanks so much! Also be sure to check out and vote for these awesome panels recommended by the fabulous Racialicious.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

10 reasons to donate $10 to Deeply Problematic

A thermometer, or vial or whatever, showing monetary donations in the amount of $100, $200, $300, $400, and $500. It is filled up with red ink to roughly $150.
Last Monday, I asked for donations to help support my work here at Deeply Problematic. And I've been quite pleased with the response! A lot of readers have shown me that they think my work is worth compensating, both by donating and by retweeting, reblogging, and sharing. Thank you to everyone who has helped me so far - your encouragement means a great deal.

But I am still many many dollars short of earning my rent and other bills. So I'm setting the bar high, and pushing on with my donation drive until I reach my goal: $500.

$500 is a lot. It's a huge amount to me. $500 basically takes care of my living expenses - my share of the rent, electric, Internet, and insurance. If I know that I can come to y'all in times of need, $500 will get me through rough spots that come with the flexible career that allow me to spend so much time here and keep my sanity.

$500 is a lot, but it's also not too much. I have, according to my sources, hundreds of regular readers. 50 readers contributing $10 would get me to my goal. Eight wonderful individuals have contributed already, in sums larger and smaller, totaling $145. If another 36 contribute just $10, I will be easily be able to pay my rent at the quickly-approaching end of the month.

This is not just a short term investment in keeping my lights on. It's a long term investment in Deeply Problematic: it ensures that I won't be tempted to quit when the going gets rough again. And most of the money you donate will go towards making this a better blog - paying writers, getting a new design, new commenting, donating to other blogs, etc.

Click here to donate, or click on the button below:

Help me out, donate a bit

Still not convinced? Here are ten solid reasons to donate ten dollars to Deeply Problematic today:

10. Because we need a new commenting system. Blogger comments ain't cutting it.

9. Because you want to see more exclusive guest posts like Garland Grey's. And maybe, possibly, regular contributors to this blog that are not RMJ.

8. Because we need a new site design.

7. Because I've put a lot of money and time into this. Deeply Problematic did not just happen, and it's not just a labor of my love. The design, site URL, and moderation and maintenance all cost money. But it's also a labor of love: in the 10 months I've actively spent writing at Deeply Problematic, I've spent conservatively 25-30 hours a week on writing and maintaining this blog.

6. Because you need more posts, more often. If I know people are paying for this, I'm going to put a lot more time into this.

5. Because work by women often goes unpaid, and women are expected to be grateful just for the attention. I do appreciate the attention, but we all have to get paid somehow.

4. Because at Deeply Problematic, I focus not just on language, and media, but real people facing the consequences of the kyriarchy.

3. Because I'm so damn good at illuminating problems in language and offer productive solutions to your word dilemmas.

2. Because I offer a unique point of view on the media images we are all fed on a daily basis.

1. Because you think my voice and my words are worthwhile, and you want to strengthen that voice and keep me writing here.

Convinced? If you have a little spare cash, whether it's $10, $5, or $100 (sigh!), please give a little and help a blogger out:

Help me out, donate a bit

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Thank you for your time and monetary and non-monetary support.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Domino's Pizza delivered with racial attack on Carla Robinson

Stacks of red and blue Domino's Pizza boxes. On the side of these boxes are the words "Take A Fresh Look". From Wikipedia.
Trigger warning for description of race-based harrassment.

Ordering a pizza should be a pretty uncomplicated and stress-free occasion. That's the point of delivery pizza: not having to cook, having it hot and ready for you when you want it. And most consumers can expect that their relatively low-maintenance meals will be free from the stress and degradation of harassment on the basis of race.

But for Carla Robinson, that was apparently too much too ask. On Friday, she ordered two large pizzas for delivery from her local Domino's in Apex, NC. After the driver left, her ten-year-old niece brought the receipt to her attention. The receipt read "N*GGERS DON'T TIP".

On its own, this would be reprehensible and disgusting, particularly considering that a young child was exposed to such vile and hateful language. But what happened to Robinson after the initial attack compounded the atrocity.

Robinson promptly reported this action to the manager, who was responsible enough to fire the culpable employee. Instead of accepting fault for their actions and moving on, the former employees continued their campaign of hatred by calling Robinson to further demean and intimidate her:
“They were saying basically the same stuff that was on the receipt. They were saying 'N-this, you got me fired, you did this, you did that,' just being real ugly to me, just being real mean,” Robinson said. “I’m thinking it is 2010, it's never good to do that. You can't do stuff like that anymore.”
Domino's is not exactly the organization to blame here; this is the act of one racist individual and it seems that the organization responded promptly and appropriately, accepting fault and offering an apology for their employee's actions. But though this is the act of one lone individual projecting their racism rather than systematic racism affecting millions, it is still very indicative of the racism that white America thrives on.

When social justice writers talk about how our kyriarchal society is far from post-racial, we often point to less obvious manifestations of white people continuing to get the edge over people of color: through housing policies, through standardized tests, through drug law. Racism is often presented as below the surface for many well-meaning white people, something we just don't think about because of our privilege, something we have to look hard to see in our actions and in the actions of others.

But this is very far from reality, both in acts unconscious and conscious. Individual acts of terrorism through blatant racism, as Robinson experienced, are a clear indication of the devaluation of non-white people in the US. People of color do not only experience institutional and systematic racism: they experience targeted attacks and harassment based specifically on their race. Robinson's supposition that in 2010, people will have the good sense to not attack others based on their race is not unreasonable, but sadly, it is too optimistic.

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Trigger warning for comments.

Why I use that word that I use: Kyriarchy, kyriarchal, and why not patriarchy

A cartoon speech bubble with a question mark in quotation marks inside it.
Kyriarchy and kyriarchal are handy words in intersectional feminist and social justice language. They define the uneven distribution of basic rights broadly; they show that privilege and power injustices do not only exist in the case of men benefiting at the expense of women. Kyriarchy goes beyond patriarchy to recognize the way systems of inequality work together to hurt everyone.

Kyriarchy are the structures of domination working together as a network - not just one group dominating another. Its branches include but are not limited to racism, sexism, cissexism, heterosexism, ageism, and ableism. In a kyriarchy, our kyriarchy, this kyriarchy, different forms of supremacy on different axes are independent and interdependent.

Kyriarchy gets at the nastiness of privilege by implicating all of it: Almost everyone holds unfair advantages and disadvantages granted by the kyriarchy based just on who they are.

Kyriarchal describes actions that promote the kyriarchy. It is the adjective form of kyriarchy; it describes actions (and other nouns - words, attitudes, habits) that back up, reflect, or otherwise contribute to existing power structures. It can refer to an individual exercise of privilege, or it can refer to actions that reinforce an intersection of oppression.

If you're not familiar with kyriarchy, you may know the second-wave word it modifies, patriarchy. Patriarchy and patriarchal are staples of feminist lingo; it's a common way to refer to sexist actions and systems.

So why do I prefer kyriarchy to patriarchy?

Patriarchy is a strictly defined term: it's just about sexism. And that has its uses. But focusing on only sexism can undermine our understanding of how colossal and all-encompassing the functions of privilege are. Feminism is not just about sexism, because women as a group are not solely oppressed on the axis of sex. Used overbroadly, patriarchy defines social power as belonging to only men, and denies the oppressive advantages that women can hold.

Kyriarchy is more descriptive of the approach I try to take to feminism. The word considers all parts of the oppressive structure we live in evenly - no one oppression is worse or better or more important than another. We are all subject to kyriarchy, and we all benefit from kyriarchy; we all share the burden and the blame in different measures and proportions. (The previous statement may not be universal, but it's close.) But with patriarchy, only men are profiting and only women are subjugated; only women are acquitted of responsibility and only men are admonished.

In intersectional discussions, patriarchy is usually too narrow: patriarchy puts the emphasis on solely sexism and erases other experiences of injustice (particularly the various oppressions men bear). Kyriarchy allows for the complexity of abuse that this world can bring down on al l bodies; it allows for both how we suffer from and participate in its tyranny.


Kyriarchy is not my word; it was coined by radical feminist theologian Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza. In her book, Wisdom Ways: Introducing Feminist Biblical Interpretation (published by Orbis Books in New York in 2001), Schussler Fiorenza defined kyriarchy as:
Kyriarchy – a neologism coined by Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza and derived from the Greek words for “lord” or “master” (kyrios) and “to rule or dominate” (archein) which seeks to redefine the analytic category of patriarchy in terms of multiplicative intersecting structures of domination…Kyriarchy is best theorized as a complex pyramidal system of intersecting multiplicative social structures of superordination and subordination, of ruling and oppression.
The best explanation of kyriarchy I've read comes from Lisa Factora-Borchers of My Ecdysis, who studied with Schussler Fiorenza. In her post, Factora-Borchers writes:
When people talk about patriarchy and then it divulges into a complex conversation about the shifting circles of privilege, power, and domination -- they're talking about kyriarchy. When you talk about power assertion of a White woman over a Brown man, that's kyriarchy. When you talk about a Black man dominating a Brown womyn, that's kyriarchy. It's about the human tendency for everyone trying to take the role of lord/master within a pyramid. At it best heights, studying kyriarchy displays that it's more than just rich, white Christian men at the tip top and, personally, they're not the ones I find most dangerous. There's a helluva lot more people a few levels down the pyramid who are more interested in keeping their place in the structure than to turning the pyramid upside down... So when we talk about woman asserting power over other womyn, we're talking kyriarchy. When you witness woman trying to dominate, define, outline the "movement" or even what an ally should be - that's the kyriarchal ethos strong at work.
Did you like this post? Want to see more simple, straightforward definitions of complicated social justice lingo like kyriarchy and cis? Donate to Deeply Problematic, or find other ways to support this site.

This and other "Why I use that word that I use" posts are a 101 space - if there's something that you're not getting, you have greater room than usual to ask basic questions.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Faye's history of lady instrumentalists [part four: L7, Kittie, Emilie Autumn, MSI, Cobra Starship, Neon Trees]

Hi! Faye here, your friendly neighborhood Spiderman co-mod! I've been doing a series on female instrumentalists for the past several weeks over here at Deeply Problematic. Missed a few? Catch up: [part one, part two, part three] -- or, see where this whole thing started!

L7 is a really important female band; I think of them as alternative metal, but they're as much associated with the grunge scene. A heavy guitar 'grind' and bold riffs form the basis of much of their sound. They were formed in 1985 by Donita Sparks and Suzi Gardner, who shared electric guitar and vocals, and were joined by Jennifer Finch and Dee Plakas on bass and drums respectively. (Greta Brinkman, Gail Greenwood, and Janis Tanaka have also played bass for them.) At the 1992 Reading Festival, Sparks, in response to the crowd slinging mud at the band, removed her tampon on stage and threw it back at them. On the other end of the spectrum (or not, possibly), the band formed Rock for Choice, a pro-choice group which still organizes benefit concerts. Their songs have been on at least twenty compilation records, and soundtracks including Natural Born Killers, Foxfire, and Tank Girl. For all practical purposes the band is defunct, but they definitely left a lasting impression while they were around.

Lyrics Excerpt: We turn the tables with our unity| They're neither moral nor majority. | Wake up and smell the coffee | Or just say no to individuality.

Kittie is an awesome heavy metal band. To be honest, metal isn't really my thing, but I'm always impressed when I listen to Kittie. The band formed in 1996 when Mercedes Lander (drums) and Fallon Bowman (guitar), were respectively 12 and 14 years old. Lander's sister Morgan joined as lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist, and bassist Tanya Candler played with them as well until leaving in 1999 to finish high school. The band has gone through several lineup changes since then (their longest-lasting members have been Talena Atfield and Jennifer Arroyo on bass, and Tara McLeod replacing Bowman on guitar). They've enjoyed major success since their first album, Spit, debuted in 1999. The band has five albums out and continues to headline tours today.

Lyrics Excerpt: She's led to believe, that it be ok| Look at your face, scarred in dismay| But times have changed, and so have you| I think I'd rather crucify then learn

Emilie Autumn is a wonderful violinist, pianist, harpsichordist and singer. She identifies as asexual (though not aromantic), has bipolar disorder, and is a survivor of sexual assault and abuse and speaks out on these subjects. Her music ranges from fantastical to deeply personal in theme, and her style has also varied - symphonic ballads, jazz-infused piano/cabaret, gritty industrial goth-rock, all with an amazing amount of skill. Unhappy with her experiences and the loss of integrity she was expected to endure when breaking into the industry, she created her own record label, Traitor Records. She has also written an creative autobiography, worked in costuming and all manner of other artistic endeavors.

(Electric violin solo - original composition)

Mindless Self Indulgence (or MSI) is a band that describes itself affectionately as Industrial Jungle Pussy Punk (they have no real genre; it might be synthpunk and has influences from dance to ska to reggae to punk). Their musical creations are fairly tongue in cheek, ironic and usually blatantly offensive in some way. Kitty (Jennifer Dunn) is their drummer and was webmistress/designer for the band. Their first bassist, Vanessa Y.T., is strangely unmentioned in histories of the band, but obv. important to early recordings. Their second bassist, Lyn-Z (Lindsey Way, nee Ballato) is a fan favorite because of her crazy onstage antics. During her audition for the band - after having just learned bass and knowing she couldn't ace it on musical talent alone - she downed a hidden vial of Bacardi, lit a match off a friction strip glued to her bass, and breathed fire all over the ceiling. It worked! And the rest was history. (Media moment: here's a great interview with her in which she talks about what it's like being a woman in the industry.)

Lyrics Excerpt: All the problems |Make me wanna go | Like a bad girl | Straight to video | Little darling | Welcome to the show | You're a failure | Played in stereo

Cobra Starship has had two female keytarists. They started out a very odd supergroup, and their first keytarist, Elisa Schwartz, was with them for their first single, the theme song for Snakes on A Plane (which might tell you something about how seriously this group takes itself...) However, while they kept their sense of irony and tongue-in-cheek playfulness - their stated goal is to "make hipsters learn to dance" - they became a legitimate pop-punk/dance-pop band and continued to make music, and Schwartz was replaced by Victoria "Vicky T" Asher on keytar. She's pretty awesome: she was a film major at NYU, has worked with Terry Gilliam and Michel Gondry, directed commercials and music videos (for CS and others), as well as working as a solo musical artist and in other bands.

Lyrics Excerpt: Hey Mr. DJ | You gotta put a record on, yeah | We're gonna bury this town tonight | We're gonna dance all night

The band Neon Trees is an AMAZING synthpop band out of Provo, UT. Although they've been big for some time in that scene (they were named Band of the Year in SLC in 2009) they got exposure first touring with The Killers in 2008 and then with 30 Seconds To Mars this past spring, around the time their album Habits dropped. Their show is energetic and upbeat, inspiring dancing and clapping, with influences from new wave and electronica all the way to arena rock and MoTown. Handling the drums with gusto is the talented Elaine Bradley, who does some of the backing vocals as well. Unfortunately, because they're so new, there isn't a lot of info on her: I can tell you that she lived in Chicago at one time (presumably not when she joined the band), has an amazing military jacket that tends to reappear in videos, nearly always wears something sparkly and is a HELLA good drummer.

Lyrics Excerpt: Here we go again | We're sick like animals | We play pretend | You're just a cannibal | And I'm afraid I won't get out alive | I won't sleep tonight

Next time: we take it down a notch - or do we really? - with some of the women from the contemporary indie/folkrock/blues/what century is this, again?/twee/acoustic rock scene.

Do you like these posts? Is there anything you'd like to be seeing? Please comment! We love to hear from you! And please, please consider helping keep Deeply Problematic on the web with a greatly appreciated donation, if you can!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Ferocious links

RMJ has a not particularly feminist piece on Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift over at Overthinking It: Blonde Luck: Statements Through Hairstyle
The shelf life of a blonde pop star can vary wildly. Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga are already seeing new competition crop up from the likes of dirty blond Ke$ha. Lady Gaga has proven adept at changing her hair style and color to keep up her fan’s attention-deficient interest, but her flashy hair might change too often to make a lasting impact. Taylor Swift’s safe, consistent beauty and unchallenging songs have won her fans, but will her fans be as loyal to her as she is to her curls?
Joshua Holland: Immigrant Detainees Sexually Assaulted
The American Civil Liberties Union is investigating allegations that female inmates at the T. Don Hutto immigration detention facility -- a for-profit prison in Taylor, Texas, operated by the Corrections Corporation of America -- have been sexually abused.
Tasha Fierce: Size Matters: Bigotry's Last Stand?
Many times I've heard fat cisgendered women, mainly fat white cisgendered women, suggest that fatphobia is the "last acceptable form of bigotry." For women without multiple oppressions, I suppose that statement could be correct. But for those who are living at the intersections of many marginalized identities, nothing could be further from the truth.
Kinsey Hope: It's so strange...
Sometimes I fall back on my bed and stare at the ceiling and go, “wow, I’m a girl.”
Joan McCarter: Hundreds of Iraq Vets Misdiagnosed, Left Hanging
At the height of the Iraq war, the Army routinely fired hundreds of soldiers for having a personality disorder when they were more likely suffering from the traumatic stresses of war, discharge data suggests.
Renee Martin: Racism Masquerading as Comedy at David Hasselhoff's Roast
There is a large difference between the jokes that men like Mooney make and these White comedians using Blackness as an insult. Just because Black comedians joke about the Blacks and the Black community, does not give White comedians the right to take the same or similar tone and claim that is is all comedy and in good fun. You cannot erase race, it is omnipresent. Comedy used like this is nothing more than an excuse for people to engage in racist behaviour.
Please leave your links in the comments!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Google Doodles omit the 19th amendment, and other women-focused anniversaries.

Google is pretty powerful. I spend approximately all of my waking hours under its watchful eye; it records my searches, my emails, my working documents, my Facebook alerts, my life, basically.

Sure, there are pieces of it I resist: Google Desktop will not leave me the hell alone no matter how many times I click "cancel", and I never got into that creepy Buzz thing. But it's always open, always there, and I'm very far from the only one. Google is the information station for most of the world, and it has a heavy role in shaping our view of the world.

One small way in which it wields its influence is through Google Doodles, the alternate logos on the search homepage that celebrate anniversaries, holidays, and birthdays of famous and influential individuals. And when it celebrates those individuals, they are overwhelmingly male. Shelby Knox wrote on this at Feministe earlier this summer:
Because we’ve lived with the myth that men created the world and everything good in it for long enough. As long as men get to designate who and what in history is important, young women will continue to learn that all their sex has contributed throughout all of history is their wombs. If we can’t see ourselves as the inventors, artists, revolutionaries and creators that came before, how the hell are we supposed to fashion ourselves into the modern versions? Schools certainly aren’t doing a very good job in this department and since it processes over a billion searches a day, Google plays an increasingly important role in how and what young people learn.
As you probably heard, there was a pretty big anniversary on Wednesday: the 90th anniversary of the 19th amendment granting women in the US the right to vote. This victory was not for all women, as many writers noted - many if not most black women could not vote. But it was certainly a landmark event in women's rights.

How did Google commemorate this landmark event?

The Google homepage. At the bottom is a small checkmark reading: 90th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment

Now, perhaps this is not something that needs its own logo. I think it does, but that's just my value system.

But looking at the pattern of the anniversaries Google has commemorated, it's clear why they didn't consider it worthy of a logo.

Google has had 29 logos celebrating anniversaries of non-birth events - you can see the list I compiled in the comment section. The doodles that commemorate anniversaries and event are less specifically celebrating men than the birthdays that Shelby Knox deftly deconstructed above. But they are in almost every case celebrating accomplishments of men: lunar landings, telescopes, works of art and entertainment, architectural innovations.

I should note that many if not most of these anniversaries are not US-centered. But many are, and there's no reason not to celebrate a woman focused achievement with a US Doodle.

But still, while they're not all about the US, none are about celebrating an event or accomplishment identified with women. Nor are other stigmatized classes celebrated - these are also mostly focused on cis, heterosexual, upperclass, white accomplishments (I am not a history expert, so please correct me if I'm overreaching here).

There's no anniversary of the birth control pill, or of Stonewall, or of the Million Man March. Google focuses on celebrating events that are uncontroversial, that everyone can agree are important. And "everyone", as usual, means people of great privilege, and importance is measured by kyriarchal values.

Is this omission of a logo, by itself, a big deal? Not really. Is this, in and of itself, an indication of the HORRIBLE SEXISM OF GOOGLE OMG? No.

But taken in context of Google's history of highlighting male achievements, its larger kyriarchal point of view in choosing doodles, and its politics, its minimization of this very recent important landmark in women's rights is another indication of Google's disregard for women and other marginalized folks.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Dangerous Lives of Sissies: How RDCA’s Ad Campaign Hurts Gender Fluid Children

This is a guest post from Garland Grey. Garland Grey is a writer from Texas, a contributor to Tiger Beatdown, and the owner of garlandgrey.com.

Throughout childhood, you do things to seek your parent’s approval and avoid their disapproval. But when you are a gender noncomforming child growing up in a hetero and cis normative household, their disapproval is not about the things you have done but about what you are. My brother once flooded the downstairs bathroom by stuffing rags into the sink and turning on the taps. He caught hell, he was punished, he cried, tensions ran high, he apologized, and was welcomed back into the fold. He was still a valued member of the team, his input was still appreciated, operators were still. standing. by.

But not me. My sin was too great. I couldn’t apologize for being queer. I couldn’t promise not to do it again. And the entire landscape of childhood seemed treacherously constructed to march me through a series a manhood tests which I would fail. Skinning a deer? No thank you. Playing football? Yeah, if I had been coordinated and the other boys didn’t always aim for my head. Picking out clothes? “What do you mean they don’t have it in turquoise? We’re going to need to talk to someone about this.” My mother wanted me to pick out clothes from Bugle Boy: dull, uninspired shirts with Dragons or Ray Guns or Racecars on them. These clothes were perfect for the boys in the Sunday circular, who stood in several dynamic action poses to communicate that they were active boys. Holding a piece of sports equipment they seemed to stare off panel, deciding which of the dainty girls in This Summer’s Hottest Fashions they would take as their future bride.

I wasn’t anything like these boys, and I was punished for it. I could be scolded for crying, which I did “at the drop of a hat.” I could be yelled at for dressing the way I wanted. For dyeing my hair hot pink. I catalogued expressions of distaste and disgust: the slight downward moue of irritation, the head shake meant to convey how much wasted space I was by volume, the animated features yelling at me for one thing but saying it was about another. Once one of my mother’s tubes of lipstick went missing for a week and I was harangued and interrogated to the point of exhaustion - I would have preferred to skip that.

All of this makes me lucky. I survived. Not all of us do. Some of take our own lives. Some of us develop dangerous coping mechanism that lead us into adulthood. Some of us are murdered. Like Lawrence King, who was shot by another classmate for having a crush. Or Roy Jones, the 17-month-old that was beaten to death in an attempt to “make him act like a boy instead of a little girl.” 17 months old. Roy Jones had 17 months on this earth before it was decided he should die for not being masculine enough.

This is my past, but also my present. So when I see posters like this I experience a molten rage that flows under the surface of my skin.

In the picture, a small boy stands in a pair of red high heels. At the bottom left is a stylized pictograph of a person doing a high kick, the name of the company, and the little boy’s sentence: Karate lessons. Which he has earned for playing in his mother’s shoes. Which is something most boys do at one point. He looks like he is having a grand old time, experiencing the unsophisticated pleasure of breaking boundaries. Hearing the satisfying thwack thwack of a shoe that is far too big for his feet hitting the floor.

What he is doing is making him happy and harming no one. The trains will run on time, water will continue to be wet and fat free, the pillars of society will hold. He is only daring to try on a different gender role, he is deprioritizing his masculinity. But modern masculinity is something which must be constantly reinforced, reasserted, proven. By stepping into a woman’s shoes, he risks seeing his gender as not something to be defended, but something he can create himself. With a pair of shoes. Or a bracelet. Or a tube of his mother’s lipstick, which, in all fairness, didn’t go with any of her outfits.

But what really angers me is that a series of people looked at this photo: a photographer, a graphic artist, marketing teams, the owners of the Karate School, and they all thought the same thing: this will scare men into enrolling their children in Karate. Am I against martial arts? Not in the least. My friend Harold was in Taekwondo in middle school, and I really wanted to join. But as it happens martial arts is expensive. There are costumes to buy, appointments, enrollment fees - it wasn’t possible for me. And that hasn’t changed. Martial arts is still expensive. So some of the fathers with gender noncomforming children will not be able to send them to martial arts lessons as a form of gender boot camp. But they will turn the page of a magazine and see something that makes them more hostile to their child. Whose life is already to the saturation point with gender policing.

The lives of gender noncomforming children are dangerous. And because of a Miami advertising agency named “Zubi” and RDCA in Key Biscayne, those lives have become more endangered.

Did you know that Deeply Problematic pays guest posters like Garland Grey? Consider throwing a couple bucks our way.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Women in Questionable Content: sexuality and identity

Dora hugs Tai. From Questionable Content #1596, by Jeph Jacques
Questionable Content, the long-running webcomic by Jeph Jacques, is pretty hetero-centric. It puts consistent emphasis on relationships between cis men and cis women - I would list all of the pairings of this description in the comic if it wouldn't double the length of this piece. But it is not heteronormative; though Jacques' focus is on typical heterosexual romantic drama, he makes an effort not to erase other sexualities. Though it has major flaws, Questionable Content (QC) is generally very considerate of different sexualities and identities in developing its universe.

While the central relationship of Dora and Marten is heterosexual, not all members of said relationship are quite so straight. Dora is openly bisexual - a fact that has long been established in the script. She talks about being attracted to women, including, uh, Marten’s mom, (a sex worker) and her friends (which gets a little creepy sometimes). Her identification is presented completely with stigma or marginalization; her relationship with Marten does not make her bisexuality less real, and her attraction to women does not negate her partnership with Marten. Furthermore, their relationship also brings them in contact with Marten’s dad, who is getting married to a nice younger man. It would have been nice to see Dora actively pursuing or dating women, but that’s partially a comment on the male-centric world of the first 600 strips, before their relationship began.

The other major non-hetero character in QC is Tai, Marten’s lesbian boss who goes to “Smif”. Tai is a petite young woman with a lot of energy. Her characterization as a young lesbian at a cis* women’s college rings true to me: she is having a LOT of fun and going through a LOT of drama. (She’s also the only major character that can be read as non-white, but I'm planning another post on that in the future.) Like Dora, her sexuality is mostly treated in a matter-of-fact, everyday manner. Her love of women is not her only interest: she is also a lover of crappy romances, a deejay, a Harry Potter nerd.

But her interactions with other characters are often very centered around her sexuality - her ongoing flirtation with Dora, her discussion of her polyamory, her bonding sessions with her subordinate employee Marten. Dora's bisexuality is truly a detail that, in proportion to her appearances in the strip, is not mentioned all that often, whereas Tai's presence usually (though not always) comes with an allusion to her sexuality.While this is understandable in a comic about romance, there is an element of tokenization to her character - like she is the character’s out there wacky queer friend. This is particularly underscored by her lack of a last name, something only one other (white, hetero, male) character lacks.

Tai is one of two promiscuous female characters in the main cast, the other being Raven (who is not featured much these days but could always return). In portraying sex work and promiscuity, Jacques takes a no-shame, sex-positive approach to open sexuality - while still depicting internalized and externalized slutphobia.. Though Raven is occasionally slut-shamed by the acerbic Faye, she is generally quite happy and proud of her life; in responding to Faye's guilt over her commitment-free sex with Sven, Raven once quipped, "I just realized fucking is fun and it's stupid to feel bad about it!"

Jacques does not, however, show all sexual relationships to be healthy or good. His portrayal of Tai's polyamory was seen as flippant by some, though Jacques made a strong effort to temper his portrayal and apologize. There’s a strong degree of judgement in his writing of Sven, Dora’s brother and a lady-magnet singer songwriter who has a rather disastrous friends with benefits relationship with Faye. Jacques’ gender switch in moralizing promiscuity is somewhat transgressive: Sven is shown to be hurting himself and others with his libido, whereas Raven and Tai are basically having fun.

Less active sexuality is usually validated as well. Hannelore exists completely outside of the romantic interactions of the rest of the cast. She is sexual to an extent - mentioning attractions to men - but it’s not something she particularly wants to act upon. Marigold is similarly inexperienced, but it’s a comment on her lack of self-esteem rather than her worth. Additionally, validation of her attractiveness and social worth usually comes from her female friends rather than male interests. As I discussed in my analysis of disability in QC, Faye’s reticence to get involved romantically is framed as a valid choice, and one that she is, in her own way, moving out of.

Cis characters completely dominate the QC landscape, but Jacques' mentions of trans people vary from decent to very flawed. In one strip, Marten asks respectful questions about Tai’s gender identity, to ensure that he is not being disrespectful and uses the right pronouns. The strip is careful and considerate without being heavy-handed. It would be nice if Jacques depicted a trans person instead of just having cis characters talk about trans issues. And there is some broken language, though this strip was written when "MTF and FTM" were still considered politically correct terms. But there is not much cissexist about this particular strip, which is pretty rare for media about trans identities written by a cis person.

Ryan, a trans man and longtime QC reader who lives in the area fictionalized in QC, said that strip was true to his experiences: “A lot of people who met me right when I had started T used female pronouns and I was too shy/polite to correct them, but immediately switched when my voice started cracking because they picked up on [my transition.] At work, everyone who can see my schedule knows that I am trans, but not one person has ever said anything disrespectful to me. I am respected more in the back room of a grocery store versus [a civil rights organization] in Virginia.”

But some other mentions of trans folks have been less respectful; in other strips, trans identities are reduced to punchlines. In one strip directly after Faye begins seeing Sven after a long period of sexual inactivity, Dora comments: “Two weeks later, Faye’s fucked all the straight men in town and has moved on to the transsexuals.” This construction excludes heterosexual trans male identities - in Dora's framing, there are straight men and then there are trans men, who cannot be heterosexual. Ryan took a kinder view of this, saying that the comic had "context specific humor...the idea of Faye sleeping with a trans man in Northampton is not that far fetched at all and probably very likely if she started sleeping with a lot of men.".

But the reader can't really tell if it's intended to refer to trans men, because trans people here are robbed of their sex. They are not trans men or trans women or non-binary people - they are "transsexuals", and as far as Dora's concerned, that's all they are. Transsexual, an adjective, has been turned into a noun that completely erases their gender and personhood.

This is not the only instance in which Dora marginalizes trans identities - though she's well-meaning, cissexism seems to be a realistic part of her characterization. In one strip, she demonstrates jealousy by worriying that Marten wants "a girl with a penis". While I think there are some not-awful aspects of this ("girl" and "penis" are not framed as mutually exclusive) this is not a positive depiction. It's still exoticising and othering trans identities. Marten's flippant "with the right hormones..." joke is also not the worst joke that's ever been made about trans people, but it conflates trans masculine and trans feminine identities, and thus undermines them.

Questionable Content is a very well-meaning comic - it is clear that Jeph Jacques does not actively want to hurt, exclude or marginalize people in his depiction of sexuality and gender. In contrast with other big comics such as Achewood or Penny Arcade, Jacques gives a shit about not hurting people. And though his portrayal of diverse sexualities is pretty successful, his depiction of trans identities is mixed - he is sometimes considerate and sometimes harmful.

Related reading:

Women in Questionable Content: Women-run businesses and Bechdel-passing friendships
Disability and Comics: How Questionable Content's Faye and Hannelore normalize disability
Interview with RJ of Riot Nrrd Comics, in which QC and Jacques are discussed
Comics and disability: XKCD and dyslexia, Natalie Dee and Tourette's syndrome

Check in later this week for yet another post on women in Questionable Content. The next post will focus on body and bodily functions.

Why I use that word that I use: Cis, cissupremacy, cissexism

A question mark in quotation marks in a speech bubble.
Cis, cissupremacy, and cissexism are words I use a lot when I'm discussing trans people - people whose gender or sex does not match the gender or sex forced upon them by their doctors and parents at birth. Cis and related terms are newish, and they are not very familiar terms to many, so I am offering a simple definition of these three terms and an explanation of why I use them.

Cis means that someone is not trans. It is a neutral way to say that someone's gender or sex is the same as the gender or sex their doctors and parents assigned them at birth. It is an adjective or prefix attached to a noun. Most of the population is cis, and receive certain rights and privileges that trans people do not simply because they are cis.

Cissexism is the positioning of cis identities as better or more real than trans identites. Cis does not refer strictly to gender performance, but gender identity. There are a wide range of cis identities, some traditional and some not traditional, and while cis people often experience sexism or heterosexism based on their performance, their identity still privileges them over trans people.

Cissupremacy refers to the system of oppressing trans people and privileging cis people. Trans people often challenge assumptions about gender and sex just by existing, and thus face a lot of discrimination from cis people who want to make sure that trans identities continue to be seen as lesser. Cissupremacy ensures that trans people face harassment, discrimination, and violence in social, domestic, professional, legal, educational, and cultural spaces (to name only a few) simply for being trans. Cissupremacy also ensures that cis people do not face this brand of hatred; cissupremacy often gives cis people full reign to enforce their prejudice against trans people without punishment.

I say "cis" instead of saying "not trans" because I want to show readers that cis people have gender identity, too. If you self-identify with the gender or sex you were assigned at birth, you are on the cis spectrum and receive cis privilege. Trans identities are marked, and marking trans but not cis identities is a way of othering trans people and showing that they are not right. If I call cis women just "women" or "normal women" and always call trans women "trans women", that says that trans women are not real, regular, or normal women. Cis identities are no more or less legitimate than trans identities, and referring to them as cis reinforces that idea.

Cis is not a word I made up, nor is it an academic word. It was first used in 1995 in Internet communities by trans man Carl Buijs. Julia Serano popularized the term in her book Whipping Girl. She writes:
"[A]s a scientist (where the prefixes “trans” and “cis” are routinely used), this terminology seems fairly obvious in retrospect. “Trans” means “across” or “on the opposite side of,” whereas “cis” means “on the same side of.” So if someone who was assigned one sex at birth, but comes to identify and live as a member of the other sex, is called a “transsexual” (because they have crossed from one sex to the other), then the someone who lives and identifies as the sex they were assigned at birth is called a “cissexual. "
Serano learned this word from Emi Koyama of eminism.org. She writes:
"By using the term "cissexual" and "cisgender," they de-centralize the dominant group, exposing it as merely one possible alternative rather than the "norm" against which trans people are defined. I don't expect the word to come into common usage anytime soon, but I felt it was an interesting concept - a feminist one, in fact - which is why I am using it".
Lisa Harney has written extensively on language and cissexism, and Questioning Transphobia is an excellent resource if you're new to words like this. In a post entitled "How to Check Your Cis Privilege", she wrote:
Many people who are known for expressing the most transphobic views in public, react very badly to the term “cisgender,” claim that it is a slur, that it is imposing gender on them. It’s none of these things – it simply means “someone who is not a transgender person.” ... This is an othering tactic – by claiming that “cisgender”, “cissexual”, or “cis” is an offensive slur, you’re saying outright that you’re unwilling to allow trans people to stand on equal footing with you. That you’re normal and they’re deviant. That you require the right to name trans people as other, but that trans people have no right to name you as privileged and oppressor. That it is normal to assume that not being transgender is the natural way to be, in the same way that not being gay or lesbian is assumed in straight society."
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This and other "Why I use that word that I use" posts are a 101 space - if there's something that you're not getting, you have greater room than usual to ask basic questions.

ETA: Check out the comments for some necessary expansion and critique from Sunset and pokemontaco.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Court order restoring trans woman Christine Ehlers to her job ignored

Vandy Beth Glenn has been valiently fighting a battle for her job over here in the States, but over in South Africa, Christine Ehlers is fighting a battle against work-related cissexist discrimination. Ehlers was a saleswoman at a South African steel plant, Bohler Udderholm. She was fired explicitly because of her trans status:
“It was also determined in discussion with management that the position is distinctly for a male employee and the applicant (Ehlers) [has] already got distinct female features that create a difficult situation…. In the end, the employer has to protect its business and may demand a certain standard of acceptability from its representatives in relation to its customers.”
How, exactly, is any job specifically for male employees in 2010? This isn't about Ehlers' competence at her job; it's about using sexism (only men can do this sales job!) to enforce what's actually cissexism (trans identities make cis people uncomfortable). They go on to say that they "feared" her and provided some slim anecdotal evidence of her personality missteps that sound to me like reasonable reactions to harassment and misgendering. Their fear was based not on some threat posed by Ehlers but instead their hatred and distaste for her trans status.

Judge Ellen Francis reacted completely appropriately to this disgusting act of discrimination by ordering Bohler Udderholm to give Ehlers her job back with back pay and benefits. But her estwhile employer is apparently passionate enough about preserving cissupremacy that they've decided to ignore the order of the court just to keep a trans woman from coming into their environment:
"I arrived at 8am and they made me wait until 9am before they saw me. They gave me a letter saying that they had not received a copy of the judgment and until the board has seen it I cannot return to work. I am feeling deflated and totally dejected," Ehlers said.
This is patently ridiculous; I don't believe for a second that they were unaware of the widely reported ruling. Furthermore, Ehlers' lawyer says that Bohler Udderholm's lawyers were with him when he got the verdict. Bohler Udderholm is so committed to devaluing trans identities that it's facing contempt of court.

The workplace is a fraught place for trans people; the harrassment and prejudice they face on a daily basis is particularly harmful because it's often backed up by the courts. But even in the rare event that the judicial system is actually able to do its job and prevent (rather than enforce) discrimination, systematic cissexism still runs rampant.

sources: one, two, three

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