Friday, January 29, 2010

Sexism didn't disappear in my hiatus: "rock like men" edition.

So I'm back. My hiatus was full to bursting with grad school applications and other sources of personal angst. I pulled through. As the title suggests, though, the forces of sexism took no such hiatus. I wish the nefarious forces of sexism had to write, compile and pay for a few dozen grad school apps. That wouldn't leave much time or money for oppression and discrimination.

When I arrived at work yesterday morning, I asked co-blogger HB if she had read that morning's thought homogenizer (this is what I call Washington Post Express, the free newspaper everyone reads on the metro. oh, excuse me, some people read the ... Examiner? It's barely a real thing). She had, but had avoided the article that drew my ire, because when she saw that there was a writeup on a female-fronted rock band, she feared the worst. HB was correct. This article is THE WORST. Particularly the last few paragraphs. Here they are, courtesy of writer Nathan Martin (extra points for two dude-names!!)

The fast-driving music, irreverent humor and whiskey-fueled live shows might earn Those Darlins fans, but being a band fronted by females still comes with a predictable price.

"We're treated pretty much like you'd expect a female band to be treated: People call us an all-girl band when we're not," said Kvarnes, referring to drummer Linwood Regensberg. "Who gives a [expletive] if we're girls? We're not singing about feminist subjects; we're just a bunch of goofy people who like to have a good time and play fun music."

But even Darlins can dish out sarcastic sass when provoked.

"We get the fratty dudes being, like, 'Oh, great — a girl band. I bet they're going to sing about their periods or something, but you guys were actually good,' and I'm like, 'Oh, we were actually good. Thanks a lot, you ..." We had to delete the rest, in case there's any doubt a trio with a cuddly name can fight — and rock — like men.

Alright, my problems with this are numerous. First there's the old "but we're not feminists!!" canard. Ok, sure, you're making music that you feel is broadly relatable and not alienating to people who do not identify as feminists. But the very act of getting up, playing music and telling the stories of three young women from the point of view of said young women (and in the process illustrating that you're "just a bunch of goofy people" and not necessarily defined by your sex/gender)? Yep, that's a feminist act. And you should be thanking your feminist forebears on all places of the radical-ness spectrum for the fact that you have the ability to do it.

I'll cut the quoted musicians a small amount of slack because they didn't get to choose which quotes were used and one of them took the swipe at the casual misogyny of "fratty" dudes. The writer slips in a doozy of his own, though, in the closing sentence. " case there's any doubt that a trio with a cuddly name can fight -- and rock -- like men." This one really pissed me off. First, it comes directly after a paragraph expressing the anoyance of one of the musicians at being called an all female band, and then does exactly that. They're not a trio with a cuddly name, they're a quartet. The male drummer is a "Darlin'" too. And then the assertion that they fight and rock like men. Well, I bet the drummer, who's a man, is really glad to hear that ...? And I bet that the women in the band -- who categorically do NOT rock like men, by virtue of rocking while women and therefore rocking LIKE women -- are probably relieved to hear that they have, in the opinion of this one dude, exceeded the natural limitations imposed by their ladybits? And I'm sure that Janis Joplin, Grace Slick, Chrissie Hynde, Debbie Harry, Joan Jett, Alanis on that one album (you know which one), Siouxsie Sioux, Kathleen Hannah, and SO MANY OTHERS are glad to hear that it's still only men who rock. To the point that there aren't even any female rockers to make a comparison to.

Meanwhile, the rest of us who aspire to do X (whatever is is that we do, outside of the very narrow prescribed confines of femininity and acceptable female endeavors), are interested to learn that to be taken seriously we will have to do it like men. You know, the default humans.

In other news, Those Darlins are pretty decent. Some of their songs are quite catchy. Here's their website, and the picture that appeared with the article. Apologies to their drummer, who did not make the band photo due to not fitting in with the "all girl bannnddd1!!?!" dog and pony show.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

More of Dear Prudence's Sexist Advice

A particularly obnoxious bit of advice from The Slate's advice columnist was the sexist straw that broke the feminist's back last summer, when I decided to launch this blog to air my grievances with her advice column and any other media I felt compelled to write about, and had time to write about.

You don't have to dig particularly far to expose "Prudie's" slut shaming, heteronormative, woman-hating advice for what it is, but I still read her column most Thursdays for the surprise grand slams. Every once in a while, "Prudie" just drops some bullshit into my lap. It hardly even needs analyzing, it's so preposterous as-is. In today's column, I got lucky.

Dear Prudence,
I'm a new teacher at a private tutoring firm. We give one-on-one lessons to kids ages 13 to 18. I've twice had the experience of sitting at a table with a male student and seeing the student "adjust" himself. Both times, the student actually put his hand down his pants. The first time, I was so shocked I couldn't hide the expression on my face, and the 17-year-old asked what was wrong. I told him firmly but kindly that it was not appropriate to do that in public and that if he was ever uncomfortable, he should use the bathroom. The second time was with a 14-year-old student. I tried not to say anything, but then he started typing on my computer, so I had to say, "It's not appropriate to put your hands down your pants in public." He protested, "Well, it itches!" I replied that scratching there in public, especially going inside the pants, was still inappropriate. When he left, I broke out the Lysol and germ wipes. Did I handle this
in an acceptable manner? What should I do if it happens again? And shouldn't teenage boys already know not to do this?
—Desperate for a Public Service Announcement to Teenage Boys

Dear Desperate,
For insight into "adjustments," I talked to my resident expert on the intricacies of teenage-male behavior, my 14-year-old daughter. She observed: "If boys don't understand something in class, or if during P.E. they need an extra boost of confidence, you can see them putting their hand in their pants. Some of the boys, every time they're going to throw a ball, they put their hand in their pants first! It's so funny. But it's not like they're 26 years old and perverts; they're
just boys. None of the teachers say anything. Sometimes if the girls see them and they're being really gross, we'll say, 'Get your hand out of your pants!' " (My daughter also explained that females have a more socially acceptable outlet: "If you're a girl and you're nervous, you flip your hair.") One-on-one tutoring with an adult woman puts a boy in a high-stress situation, and I'm surprised so few of them have grabbed for some comfort. If you have a student who spends the entire session holding on for dear life, you should have a male co-worker pull him aside for a little chat. But some teenage boys, in need of a brief shot of reassurance, are occasionally going to seek out something handy. Eventually, the taunts from their peers should wean them off this habit—after all, you aren't complaining that your male colleagues are drifting pantsward when they need a lift. Ignore the occasional adjustment, and if supporting the disinfectant industry makes you feel more secure, wipe away.
This exchange left me totally baffled. So first, there's the classic "boys will be boys" excuse for this, admittedly, unhygenic and bizarre behavior. Yes, I'm aware that sometimes adjustment is necessary, but I can't help but think about what would happen if a young woman's hands wandered down her pants or into her bra in public--people wouldn't assume it was for a confidence boost. And since when is one teenager's bizarre interpretation of this phenomena a universal truth? Why would making sure your penis is still intact equate to self-assurance? It's probably partially pleasure-seeking behavior, which is typically acceptable for men and not women. Babies play with their genitals, and young men get a free pass for being immature and inappropriate, while young women do not. Sounds like some sexual privilege to me.

Oh, but then there's the notion that girls also have a universal nervous tick: hair-flipping. I love the very clear distinction between boys' behavior and girls' here, and that the boys' is tied to their physical sex while girls' is tied to the socially constructed gender, and specifically the beauty standard of long, white hair (the better to flip with, my dear!). And the fact is, that's not really comparing apples to apples. That's comparing head-hair to genitals. A real equivalency would be exploring the idea of a social reaction to girls grabbing crotch constantly. But we wouldn't want to make "Prudie" think too hard on sex, would we? Let's just ask the nearest teenager what he or she thinks.

Fellow blogger Liz also points out that the hair-flipping is not only a beauty standard and gender-identity assumption for all females, it's also not a biological response like genital-grabbing. At least we can say that the boys' behavior is well-documented in babies, and thus not necessarily taught and learned, whereas hair-flipping is absolutely a learned behavior associated with flirting. It's another way young girls are supposed to be fun and sexy, but not sexual.

And I always love the "girls have it so much better than boys!"canards that pop up in media. In this case, assuming that all girls flip their hair to ease stress, that's a much more acceptable way of boosting confidence than grabbing one's genitals. Teenage girls are so lucky to have this universally feminine pep-talk-in-a-can. Forget the fact that teen girls' self-confidence takes a much more thorough lashing than boys' at that age, through media and social expectations.