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New crossposted blog post in which I rant about alchemy, gender, and the representation of women's perspectives in historical fiction.

I fear I'm becoming predictable.

Cheers!
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I often brag about the brilliance of [livejournal.com profile] maladaptive, but now I'm going to prove it. Instead of ranting about the stupidity of the current kerfuffle over the sexuality of love interests available in Mass Effect 3, she wrote a story emphasizing the stupidity. And it is a little piece of awesome.

Don't let the gay get on you! You'll never get it out!

And may I just add... which is more implausible? That a love interest will be attracted to Shepard no matter if she's male or female? Or that  love interest will be attracted to Shepard no matter if she's a xenophiliac do-gooder or a deeply racist asshole?
teleidoplex: (Default)
So, a friend of mine posted an encounter she had with a guy who has (and has demonstrated in the past) sexist-asshole behavior.  F-locked, or I'd link it.  I'm posting my response (expanded upon a bit :) ), because it sparked an idea for a project that I think would be kinda cool:

"This is one of the socialization/language traps (in the Deborah Tannen sense) that I still fall into and wish I could train myself out of: that urge in the moment to be conciliating and non-confrontational. 

This circumstance is at its most annoying when I point out to someone what I'm doing, and they're all: "No, guys do that too.  That's just how people are."  And I'm like... no.  You don't get it. My inital urge is to placate out of a fear of sexualized abuse and/or gendered social wrongdoing.  And it's only when I have a few moments to process after that urge that I can throw off those coded behaviors.

The issue is not even what I'm doing so much as why I'm doing it.  Fairy tales still hold sway over me.  I'm supposed to speak softly, be yielding, have no voice, have no hands.  When an abuser abuses me, I'm supposed to sneak off after they're done.  Salvation lies in silent flight, not in confrontation.

God, wouldn't it be great to go through and rewrite the entire Grimm catalogue with combatting those behaviors and offering alternatives as the defining rubric?  That'd be a cool project.

Cause all I need is more cool projects.  Maybe I can make it a community effort?"

Heh.  So... anyone want in?  Grab yourself a Grimm and let's get cracking!
teleidoplex: (Default)
Wow. A livejournal. I'd forgotten I had one of these things. Wonder if it still works.

*rattle, rattle. Tink, tink, tink*

Hmm. Seems to be in working order. Amazing how technology holds up these days.

So, ruminations on Wiscon. I went. It was good. I came back.

Therein lies the problem.

I don't know what I was expecting before I went, but I had a lot of powerful realizations while I was there. I lied. It wasn't good. It was great. Cathartic. Revelatory (and revealatory). Somewhat expiating.

And I really didn't want to come home.

It has to do with the way the space at Wiscon was constructed. Some spaces have a strongly masculine construction (i.e., certain kinds of sports events), some a strongly feminine one (i.e., certain kinds of beauty/fashion events). Most spaces I frequent are genderless, but almost every space (even the "feminine") is dominated by a "masculine" gaze.

This is where terminology is inadequate and misleading. Most people who know me know that I am not particularly invested in the categories of masculinity or femininity, at least not as essential things. I freely admit, however, that there are socially constructed categories of masculinity and femininity that we all participate in, and that inform how we make and interpret meaning.

A "masculine" gaze is something that all of us are subject to most of the time, and something we all participate in perpetuating against others and ourselves. It is a gaze that judges people according to arbitrary standards, be it of beauty, success, intelligence, etc., and places them in a hierarchy of some people being prettier/better/more valuable than others based on those judgments and standards. The object of a masculine gaze will never be as good as the one who arbitrates the standards, because the arbiter gets to set the standards according to their biases. Since there is no *single* arbiter, but rather a de-centered social apparatus that works in concert to create ever-more-impossible standards, we are *all* -- male and female, white and black, old and young -- rendered less powerful by this gaze, even as we perpetuate it on ourselves and others.

Calling it a "masculine" gaze, therefore, is misleading, because both males and females are implicated in the construction and enforcement of those standards. Moreover, calling it that tends to alienate a large portion of the population that self-identifies as masculine and therefore feels that defending masculinity and the "masculine" gaze is self-defense.

It is not. It is self-defeating.

The reasons for calling it a "masculine" gaze are socio-historical, because in most societies (both currently and in the past), the people who have the most power to determine these standards of judgment are or have been gendered male. That is not to claim that all males have had this power, or that all males would consciously choose to deploy it. As indicated above, males, even males in positions of power, are just as subject to being judged by these arbitrary standards as anyone else (although, the people in power tend to come out ahead, since they participated in setting the standards in the first place). I also want to emphasize that females are just as implicated in this process, especially through deploying the judging gaze and enforcing the arbitrary standards. As most anthropologists will attest, females more often tend to be the bearers and distributors of culture, and women's roles are more often involved in policing norms and standards than male roles.

I wish I could find better terminology that communicates all these nuances. I'm left with "masculine" gaze because that is the term that has been developed through decades of discourse on this topic amongst activists and people in gender studies. People familiar with the discourse know what I'm talking about when I refer to a "masculine" gaze, to the point where I'm probably preaching to the choir. People unfamiliar with the discourse are often alienated, even if they would agree with the concept if they could get past the term and into the meat of the issue. Hence the long description, which really only touches the surface of these issues.

So, what does all of this have to do with Wiscon?

For the first time in my conscious experience, I found myself in an un-gendered space that was mediated by what I could only call (for lack of a better term) a "feminine" gaze.

I did not feel like I was being judged against arbitrary standards that I could never measure up to. I was comfortable in my body (and gods, hasn't it been ages since I experienced that!) and confident about the unique and interesting perspectives I had to offer. I felt free to be myself without judgments laid upon me, even if that self was very different from the various normative tendencies that are inevitable in any large gathering of people (yes, we are all snowflakes, but the more people you have, the more patterns tend to emerge). I felt this, and even more impressively, I felt the way that everyone around me was feeling it too. It meant that I could begin the process of changing the perspective of the worst perpetrator of the "masculine" gaze in my life: myself.

It was hard to give as good as I got, and I didn't succeed above half the time. Even though I try not to participate in the imposition of the "masculine" gaze in my day-to-day life (both towards myself and others), I fail a lot more often than I succeed, to the point where I'm not even aware of the ways I'm still heavily implicated in the process. It was only on the last day of the conference, as I was preparing to leave, that I even became consciously aware of this phenomenon.

I thought about it all the way home. And what I realized was, I didn't want to come back. When I expressed these feelings to my partner, I nearly cried. I didn't because I was in a McDonalds. It would have been inappropriate. Insert eyebrow lift and sardonically tilted smile here.

I'm tired -- bone tired, heart tired, soul tired -- of living a life subject to the "masculine" gaze. I hate it, and most people I know feel similarly. I crave experiences like the one I had this weekend, and yet I don't know how to even begin to push against the overwhelming tide of social forces that are looking at me, judging me, arbiting me, and always pressuring me to turn a "masculine" gaze upon myself. It's so overwhelming, I can't even begin to imagine what a first step would look like.

Although, it seems to me that developing better, more inclusive and less judgmental terminology for both gazes could be a good start. Any suggestions?

Cheers.
teleidoplex: (Abominations)
This was originally written in response to a conversation on [livejournal.com profile] tooth_and_claw's lj, but as usual, I'm too long-winded. Since it stands alone, I'm posting it here.

I've had a trifecta of experiences recently that have put gender issues and representation in the forefront of my thoughts. The first is the MJ marquette that [livejournal.com profile] tooth_and_claw linked to. The second is a dream I had and a story I'm going to write about identity. The third is the recent reports of the upsurge of ritual stonings of women in Iraq since our invasion -- what is being called by some news sources the Talibanization of Iraq.

For me, all of these situations are related to my own personal gender crusade. As people who know me know, I actively resent and work against having a gender identity imposed on me. I am a much more complicated being than a pair of breasts or a cunt or a womb or whatever other biological markers people use to impose a female identity on me. I am a much more complicated being than any of the stereotyped behaviors associated with female-ness can account for.

Fiction, whether it be comics or literature or film, actively constructs the identities that then get imposed upon us because of biological or cultural markers. It is not the only place where such identities are constructed, but it is a prevalent and powerful one. The elites (who are currently and historically marked -- both biologically and culturally -- as white males) have control of this medium and the construction of these identities.

Take, for example, the person in comics known as Mary Jane, or MJ. Rather than assuming her as a being with certain essential characteristics, lets imagine her as a constructed entity. What are the foundations she's been built on? The basic blocks that differentiate her from, say, Gwen Stacey? Well, She's female. She's married to (or will be married to, or has been married to) Peter Parker. She grew up next door to him. She has red hair. She calls him 'tiger'. She's a model/actress.

Now, what do any of those things mean? How are they represented? There's a lot of space here for constructing that meaning. MJ can be represented as a traditional damsel-in-distress (the way she is in the movies), an individual with moxy (as JMS and Bendis tend to do in the comics), or as a cheesecake, wankeriffic wifey-poo (as in the marquette). All of those representations are choices, and influence the way we the audience perceive the iconic building blocks of MJ. What does it mean to be a woman? What does it mean to be married? To be married to a powerful man? To be beautiful? To be the girl-next-door? Even what it means to have red hair.

That is why I take issue with the marquette. Rather than choosing to use their power to construct the iconic imaginary of MJ as a symbolic representation of empowered and self-determined and -defined femininity, the individuals responsible for that marquette chose to construct MJ as an object to be ogled and consumed (and wanked over, in both senses of the term). That this was done to a character who is associated (through marriage) with the mantra "With great power comes great responsibility" is doubly ironic.

As an aside, the above issue is why I vehemently disagree with [livejournal.com profile] drydem over the casting of Jessica Alba as Sue Storm. While I had many problems with the first F4 movie, I liked that Sue was represented in a more interesting way than just the white, blonde, mother-figure of the F4. I felt they kept to the basic tenets of the character, while at the same time moving her beyond some of the more problematic aspects of those basics (except for the Dr. Doom stuff, but I blame Julian McMahon's lousy acting for that).

One thing that I feel is important to point out is that while I hold the individuals who construct these identities responsible for their constructions, and while those responsible tend to be white and male, this does not mean that all those individuals who are marked as white or male are evil or wrong or even culpable. The meanings associated with whiteness and maleness are also constructed -- it just happens that those constructions are often associated with self-determination and power, whether or not everyone marked white and male enjoys such personal sovereignty.

From my perspective, *anyone* who resents having an identity (and associated expectations) imposed on them should take exception to such disempowering constructions, no matter what form they take, if only because of enlightened self-interest. Unfortunately, part of the white male identity construction that white males often embrace is that the (women, blacks, muslims, infidels, what-have-you) are storming the gates of power and want to turn the tables. Contemporary constructions have those marked as white and male on the defensive, but what is less-often discussed is that what is being defended is the very system of identity construction, representation and imposition that disempowers most individuals in the first place.

The process of stereotyping is the process of dehumanization. It is how we construct individuals as less-than-human so that we can justify enacting violence against them. Everyone is culpable in it, and everyone is susceptible to it. If we want to construct a world where the violence of having an identity imposed upon us is not acceptable, then it behooves anyone with melanin in their skin, or testosterone and estrogen in their systems, or belief in their hearts, to rail against such impositions, and to demand the right to self-determination.

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