Your Faves are Problematic: The Billboard Incident

Mystique

Here’s a message to the fandom communities: Your imagery can be integral to the story and still problematic. This message is brought to you today by Fox’s Mystique V. Apocalypse billboard. Yes, it is the hero being attacked by the villain but it also a woman being attacked by a man and unless you’re familiar with the story and plot, you wouldn’t really know the first part.

By accepting that it was problematic you are not denouncing the story, the comic, the creators. You are not claiming that film promotes violence against women. You can still enjoy this media while at the same time admitting that this particular billboard was not the best choice for advertisement.

Not everyone follows the films or reads the comics. Not every person is going to know who the people on the advert are or the full story of what is happening. But every person who sees that can tell that it is a woman being attacked by a man.

When we display violent media it helps to normalize those things in society. This billboard is not promoting violence against women but it is sharing imagery that may help to normalize it. Is it DIRECTLY causing harm, no, not in so much but it is not helping to stop harm.

We can do better and it starts with members of the fandom accepting that their faves are problematic and calling for them to do better. You can STILL have all the content you love but that doesn’t mean that you can’t call them out when they’ve done something that wasn’t cool.

To The Brock Turners, It Really Is Just 20 Minutes Of Action

Court House

By now, you’ve likely heard of the Brock Turner, the rapist, and of the joke that is his six-month sentence for the OBVIOUS and CONVICTED rape of a UNCONSCIOUS woman. I’m not going to talk about that. I’m going to talk about his dad who wrote a letter about how hard his rapist son now has it. I’m actually a little glad that his father sat down and took the time to write this little missive that reduces a brutal rape to “20 minutes of action” because it perfectly illustrates how and why the Brock Turners of the world keep happening.

It’s not because they’re horrible people, the Brock Tuners. They are usually special and accomplished and the people around them treat them as if that somehow gives them a pass because they are so special and the things they do are so amazing that even the most horrible acts they commit shouldn’t tarnish that.

That’s the message they get their entire lives, that’s the bubble they live in. So why should they stop and think that maybe, that other person has a life and a body that matters. The world is THEIR oyster, it exists for their pleasure and enjoyment, as a stage for their greatness. They don’t think about consequences because in their world there are none.

That’s why Brock’s dad could write a letter that equates rape with a quickie and help get his son’s sentence reduced to a laughable amount. That’s why whole town’s worth of people rally behind football players who rape people in the bathroom and at parties.

Because they are special and talented and more worthy of a future than the people they violated and that idea is supported by their parents, their communities, the legal system. Everywhere. And we’re going to keep seeing them as long we live in a society that supports the idea that if you can throw a ball or swim really well or just have more money then you can do anything you want.

Brock Turners aren’t monsters born into the world from voids. They are cultivated by people like Brock Turner’s dad and the judge that didn’t want to ruin his life. Brock Turners are manufactured. If you want to see less Brock Turners in the world, then you have to shut down the factories that keep pumping them out. Stop telling the special and talented boys of the world that it’s ok to trample over the lives of others. And when your dad writes a letter that refers to rape as 20 minutes of action, he’s saying that it’s ok.

The Truth About Tone Policing

black-and-white-africa-animals-wilderness

There’s this old saying, “You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar,” which is to say that you can win more people to your side by being nice than being salty. People try to use this line as a reason to tone police others especially those that are speaking out against matters that end in any sort of -ism. The thing is though, in those cases, tone policing has nothing to do with being polite and everything to do with continuing to silence a marginalized group.

Tone policing is done by and large by the privileged group. Whether that group be white, male, cis, abled body or any combination of privilege, they are generally the ones that are first to point out that some point wasn’t made nicely enough. Be it a discussion on racist housing practices or sexism in the workplace, if the marginalized person that is speaking out against it in any way, shape, or form can be read as being “hostile” or “emotional”, then that privileged person feels justified in pointing out that they’re not being nice. Which is generally shortly followed up with something akin to “That’s why no one is listening to you.”

There are two things deeply wrong with this.

One, no one is or should be required to be polite or be concerned with the feelings of the privileged masses when they are speaking from a place of marginalization. If you are causing someone harm, you should not be concerned with their tone when they are telling you to stop. If you are more concerned that someone approach you nicely when informing you of issues that negatively affect them of which you may be contributing unknowingly to, you are definitely part of the problem.

Policing someone’s tone is a not so subtle way of saying that the privileged person’s comfort is MORE IMPORTANT than the marginalized person’s life.

The second issue is that it asserts the privileged person has having authority over the marginalized group. It is as if the marginalized person is a child asking their caretaker if they can have a cookie and getting the response of “Only if you ask nicely.”

Members of the privileged group don’t really have the authority to say that. It is only through systematic forms of oppression that they are in the position of power, not because they have any right to be there.

The real thing about tone policing is that most of the time, especially in online venues, there is absolutely nothing wrong with anyone’s tone. Being online, it lacks all nonverbal communication and you can read a message for the most part any way you want. The problem is though that when you are talking with privileged people who are used to feeling like they are in power, anything less than total submission is aggression.

The mere act of speaking for yourself, of saying, “This is a problem and I will not stand for it any longer,” is read as aggressive and it likely does not matter how nicely the marginalized person says it, just by speaking out, by calling into question the society that created the issue and continues to support it, that marginalized person has spoken aggressively.

Tone policing is always a way to silence a marginalized voice. It is not about being polite or civil or anything else. Is about dismissing someone or “putting them in their place”. If people have to say things nicely for you to listen, then you’re the one with the problem.

Unconscious Bias: Why You Need to Be Aware

bwstripes

When people in a position of privilege, ie cis, White, male for example say that they have been judged for their cis/White/maleness they are mainly speaking of the times that someone has verbally or otherwise acted in a very overt negative fashion because of their cis/White/maleness. Which is to say that they know why it happened. What they are not speaking of is the unconscious bias that marginalized groups deal with constantly. Probably because that bias generally works out in their favor.

Unconscious bias is a bias that people are unaware of and stems from the person’s background or the culture they live in. For example, if you were nipped by a dog when you were young, you may grow up to not like dogs very much even if you never think of that incident at all.

Similarly, the culture we live in supports an unconscious bias that is favorable privileged groups (white, cis, male, etc) while it supports a negative unconscious bias for marginalized groups (people of color, females, queer, etc).

Hiring managers aren’t, for the most part, sitting at desks thinking, “No darkies in my office!” any more than doctors are thinking, “Man, women are just hypochondriacs!” However, both of these groups still deal with their unconscious bias that lay the groundwork for them to look more favorably upon white applicants or to take a woman’s health complaints less seriously.

This is important because when we talk about the act of judgement to be equally as awful, we’re very much speaking about those “vocal” judgements which is to say, we’re really saying, don’t say mean things to other people (which is a good life lesson). This reaction doesn’t deal with those unconscious biases and once you take that into consideration, the scales tip firmly in one direction as far as awfulness goes.

Dealing with unconscious bias is really difficult because there is no hard evidence for the times that it happens. As a woman of color, I can never be sure that I didn’t get a job because there was a better applicant or if it was because I was too brown. No one is going to tell me that they didn’t hire me because of my race or gender (we have laws against that) but that doesn’t mean that it didn’t factor in to their ultimate choice.

Solving this problem takes a lot of active thought. It forces people to look at why they’re making choices, acting in certain ways towards people etc. in order to be sure that they aren’t fueled by these biases. People will shout that they don’t hold biases but the thing is, the person may not be racist/sexist/homophobic but the culture that we all live in very much is and we are all influenced by it.

Defeating it means confronting it. If you come from a privileged group, it means questioning not only how you handle others but how you have been handled. It means questioning how you’ve benefited from these biases and how you may have caused harm with your own. Ignoring it will not make it go away because chances are, you’re not even aware of it.

You’re Not Oppressed, You’re Just Having A Bad Time

PrivOpr

Bad things can happen to anyone and it’s not OK. No one wants to be hurt, belittled, or insulted. It doesn’t feel good. However, if a bad thing happens to you and you happen to come from a privileged group, that doesn’t mean that you are oppressed. It just means that something bad happened to you.

Privilege in a social justice context does not mean that bad things don’t happen to you. It doesn’t mean that you will never feel sad or hurt or that someone will never act in violence against you. It just means that if/when these things happen it is not because of oppression. It’s because you had very bad luck.

It’s hard for people to understand that. When we engage in conversations regarding the ways oppression affects marginalized groups in specifically, for example, violence against female bodies, the privileged group feels left out and that their needs aren’t being met.

On the one hand they’re right because that particular discussion ISN’T about them but more importantly even if a man has experienced violence at the hands of a woman (which is a problem) that does not make it a cultural norm.

If you are skinny and can’t find clothes in a store that isn’t because skinny people have it just as bad as fat people.

If someone makes fun of you for being white that doesn’t mean you are a victim of racism.

Just because you are having a bad time does not mean you are a victim of systematic oppression.

Similarly, just because you are a member of the oppressed group and are having a good time at life it doesn’t mean that oppression isn’t real. If you are black and have never been called a nigger, it doesn’t mean racism is over.

If you are a woman who has never been paid less than a man that doesn’t mean sexism isn’t real.

If you’re fat and your wardrobe is awesome that doesn’t mean fat shaming isn’t real.

It just means that that person is having a good time. Their success does not mean that the greater group is no longer oppressed any more than a privileged person’s struggle mean that that group is suddenly oppressed.

On a micro, person to person level, we all have problems. Everyone has problems. But on a macro level, on a society level, these things play out differently. When we talk about privilege and oppression we’re talking about the macro level and how it effects our micro interactions.

So if you’re in an privileged group, the next time you see someone who is speaking from a place of marginalization and your reaction is to tell a story about something similar that happened to you, stop. Think about your experience. Before you open your mouth, question whether or not most people in your station, be it thin, male, white, educated, etc has had a similar experience.

If the answer is no, then you are not oppressed. You are just having a bad time. Don’t take up space with your story. Sit down, listen, and support.

Brown Girls Need Heroes Too

Jasin Boland, Warner Bros. Pictures

Jasin Boland, Warner Bros. Pictures

Mad Max: Fury Road came out last year and changed the face of action movies forever. The female protagonist made shock waves, not only for the fact that she was a badass with a vagina but also an amputee who was out in the waste showing everyone everywhere that girls can go just as hard as boys. The movie was great and although I enjoyed Furiosa’s character, my level of excitement wasn’t quite as high.

The reason is simple. I don’t get amped for magical white girls. Sorry. Not sorry.

Representation is huge. It’s not enough to just see another female bodied person on the screen and call it fair. There needs to be nonwhite women for all the little girls of color to look up to as well. Which is why, as excited as I was for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I was disappointed to see that Lupita’s character was completely CGI.

Rey was GREAT. Very strong, capable female character that ran circles around the boys. Awesome. General Leia was GREAT. Strong, in charge. Awesome. But where was the hero that looked like my daughters? Where was the hero that looked like me?

This is an area that is still really lacking especially in the world of science fiction and fantasy. As we’re getting more and more female heroes (thank you YA lit!) we’re still greatly lacking in representations of color when it comes to women.

Yes, Katniss is out there shooting down the oppressive government. Rey is wielding a lightsaber like it’s nobody’s business. Black Widow is saving Captian America’s butt constantly. Furiosa is using Mad Max to steady her gun and all those things are great but where are all the brown girls doing things?

In the worlds of fantasy and science fiction, we don’t exist as much more than sidekicks. Backup for the main character is not representation. Covering us with CGI and paint is not representation. So yes, it is exciting to see a woman on the big screen doing the things usually reserved for the male hero but that doesn’t mean that overall battle for representation is over. While you’re cheering for her, don’t forget there are little geeky brown girls watching and they need heroes too.

Activist Advertising: Monetizing Outrage in the Internet Age

 

Black girl talking

Hasbro announced that they would be releasing Rey figures for their Star Wars line after much hullabaloo was raised when the main character was missing from a variety of toy lines. Rightfully fans pointed out that it was insane that the main character from the biggest film of all time was missing from the merchandise. The company apologized for their “oversight” much to fans delight. But I imagine that the company is even more delighted. They will profit from the outrage that was generated. The internet culture of outrage has been successfully monetized.

This isn’t to say that the company shouldn’t have been questioned as to the lack of representation in their toys and merchandise. That is a HUGE problem in the world of geek which despite having been proved to have a dearth of female consumers still panders to the cis White male audience and the trappings of Western society’s gender beliefs. This is something that needs to be called out and pushed back against.

Still, that doesn’t mean that those same companies haven’t found a way to profit off of that pushback. There’s a saying that all press is good press and that’s not true in every situation but in a situation where the damaging effects can be mitigated? Free publicity.

For those issues that cannot be corrected, think Pan, the movie that bombed months before it was released due in large part to the issues it had with it’s terrible casting choices, obviously, the press it received killed the film. There was no way to recover. But for other situations where a shirt could be removed or a few toys added, how much are all of those thought pieces worth?

This fiasco with the Star Wars franchise is just one example in a long list of times that activist have spoken out against companies and although they at times had offensive clothing removed, websites re-branded, etc, they also have driven a ton of traffic to those businesses.

The reverse works too. When people petitioned to (rightfully) have the confederate flag removed from government buildings, There was a huge spike in sales of confederate merchandise. Although no one group (unless you count Amazon) really profited from that, it’s clear that the new found buying power of the symbol came in part due to the storm of internet outrage that surrounded the event.

When we vocally complain about something, it creates a lot of buzz around the product. It causes people to write think pieces, news outlets to pick up the story, conversation. It puts the issue on people’s minds. This is good, there’s nothing wrong with that.

It also creates free advertisements as people double check, follow links and the like. Which large companies want.

This shouldn’t stop people from calling out issues when they find them. What should happen is critically looking at the companies and to determine whether or not they are truly in the wrong or if they are using activism as a way to generate free advertisement.

This may be an unavoidable side effect of operating on an internet platform where all of our thoughts, feelings, and viewpoints are in the public eye freely shared far and wide. However, being aware of a system doesn’t mean you have to be completely complacent in it. Certainly, question practices that continue to exclude women and people of color from pop culture but also question whether or not you’re unwittingly part of a profit building venture.