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So, Love Your Body day is two weeks from now. I continue to have mixed feelings.

Two years ago I posted about my response to the idea of "making peace" with our bodies. It's all still true. And if you're looking for a succinct, well-thought-out, unambiguous statement from me on the subject, go read that post and then stop, because this post is none of those things. This post is about ambivalence, and futility, and feelings of powerlessness and is even more full of commas and question marks than my writing usually is.

I mean, yes, it is important to practice body-acceptance. But really, why aren't we hearing as much about "Hey You, Stop Hating On Bodies Day"? Or maybe even just "Stop Policing Women's Bodies Day"? Sure, Ms. Magazine showcases a dozen offensive ads a year and many of those get pulled due to reader activism, but … seriously, twelve ads a year? Vs. how big the Love Your Body Day campaign is?

I'm not on board with personalizing the political.... )
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(yes, I'm writing about nothing but D&D lately. It's what I've been thinking about.)

Am enjoyably lingering my way through DMG2. Really enjoying myself, for the most part.

However. I just finished the "Skill Challenges" chapter & I'm annoyed.

There are a *bunch* of sample skill challenges. (yay!) Most of them have generic male NPCs where NPCs are called for. (boo.)  The two that have non-generic NPCs with names and movtivations are also the only two with female NPCs. The male NPCs in those skill challenges are all burly military men with strong military fighty goals. The female NPC in each of those skill challenges is a fey wizard (one elf, one half-elf). Sheesh, stereotype much?

On the upside, the DMG2 has, in the 'companion characters' section, a rare gnome defender with a limp.  Looky there! A Small defender/soldier PC-race: how often do you see that? (answer from a recent thread in Astrid's Parlor: rarely, unless it's a swordmage) And with a physical disability that doesn't prevent him from being a defender: yay! Contrast with Dragon & Dungeon magazines, in which the only two characters who limp are both elderly females, both described as having a "pronounced limp." Again, stereotype much?

I'm calling you writers out by name: Richard Baker, Mike Mearls, Robert Donoghue, Ari Marmell, Scott Fitzgerald Grey. I challenge you to create more thoughtful NPCs. Instead of rehashing tired tropes. At least some of you I know are capable of wonderful, creative, insightful work -- Ari & Mike in particular, I've loved a lot of your stuff! Now's your opportunity to extend your talent and creativity to another spot, dearly in need of your input.

This is one of the things that editors should be for. I'm calling a few more people out by name: Steven Winter, editor-in-chief of Dragon & Dungeon magazines. Kim Mohan, managing editor for D&D. PLEASE find whatever box these five disparate writers (and all the rest who are doing the same darn thing) are pulling their stereotypes from and BURN IT.

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As mentioned in a previous post, when I'm having a substantive discussion about race or gender on a game-related discussion board, there's about 50% chance that the moderators will close or delete the thread. I stopped doing my back-up of my posts here because we were getting some really good discussion in, even some of it heated, and I felt safer about the chances of that stuff remaining around at least for awhile. Now we've had our first moderator-visit, and while it was done with a very light touch, it did remind me that I'd been wanting to wrap some of my posts up again.

this is long and not so well edited. )
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Just like the last post, something I wrote on the WotC boards that I want saved here for posterity. The topic, this time, was "where are the women in the podcasts?"

Over and over again, in this forum and elsewhere, I see the same mistake made: when talking about diversity & underrepresentation in the social arena, people tend to mash together the public sphere and the private one. This is a mistake!

Lack of diversity in the public face of gaming is a problem because it creates the impression that RPGs are for white, straight, cisgendered men. This impression fosters an environment that's hostile to people who don't fit the public face. Private gaming groups treat women like interlopers or mythical creatures, instead of just like other gamers. Women at conferences have to fight twice as hard to be heard because half the room assumes they're just there to follow their boyfriend around. Non-gamers think women who are into gaming are especially freakish, because "everybody knows" only men do that sort of thing. And so on.

This continues without regard to the actual representation of women in the private sphere of gaming.

"Tokenism" is the messy middle ground of diversity . It's the process of finding one representative of an under-represented group and setting that person up as the solution to underrepresentation. As such, the token serves instead as a barrier to real diversity, and creates a mindset that ends up getting rid off the first token before welcoming a new one. Tokenism-as-a-process is a trap. Going through a state of having only one representative of a particular group is a phase on the way to being actually welcome to that group. Telling the difference between the two is extremely difficult.

the bits I didn't post, because I didn't want to actually engage the anti-feminist troll on specific points:

"Some groups are all guys" is a red herring when speaking of diversity in the public sphere. Responding to public-sphere criticism with a private-sphere example is a common tactic used by people who are purposely trying to derail real discussions about diversity -- so even if you're not doing it on purpose, by doing so you resemble a group of people who are not operating in good faith, just by using one of their favorite tactics.

There is no such thing as a "self-made" celebrity. Celebrity is something created by the environment. The public face of gaming is currently men. The only way to change that? Put some non-male gamers in the public eye.
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In my experience, when I'm having a substantive discussion about race or gender on a game-related discussion board, there's about 50% chance that the moderators will close or delete the thread. (too bad that the rate of shutting up people who are just being racist or sexist isn't so good!) So, I'm collecting the things I've posted over in a WotC discussion thread over here in case they vanish.

When I'm reading published articles and adventures I want to see fewer mentions of NPCs who are "merchant's wives" and more who are "merchant's husbands. Fewer stories about the female adventurer who had to lose every single person she loved before embarking on a life of adventure. Fewer monsters where the *really* scary version is called "mother." Fewer articles that rate level-of-attractiveness of female NPCs (and only for females).

And, yes, I'd like to see fewer images of leather-armor-clad adventurers with bare bellies, because all I can think of when I see them is those poor adventurers getting their guts sliced out.

And I know that there are some articles, some books, some adventures that don't fall into these traps. They're just too few.

I want to see more NPCs who are male herb-gardeners or female woodcutters. More PC portraits that are something other than light-skinned people with western-european features. More women's names on the bylines of articles and books.

And there are certainly some of those out there. But again, too few. There's just enough so that people who complain get told that there's nothing to complain about. That somehow the tokens are supposed to be enough to settle for. That I'm supposed to be satisfied that the game I've loved for half my life has gone back to treating people of my gender as an afterthought.

The little things bother me, nearly as much as the more-obvious stuff does. Maybe more.

and then, after the conversation got seriously off-track, and somebody objected to my "tone," somebody else posted a link to this discussion of the tone argument, I responded:

oh, nice link. I'd been looking for some kind of 101 on "the tone argument" but they always seem to require so much context, which this post provides. Thanks. This thread has been a fairly extensive example of derailment bingo but I'm glad I learned something from it anyway.

In an attempt to drag it back to something resembling a conversation about D&D: What adventures have you played that have explicitly moved away from the tried-and-true fantasy cliches? My initial post was inspired by yet another mention* of "a merchant prince's wife" in one of the adventures published in Dungeon, contrasted with the book I recently read by Elizabeth Moon called Paksenarrion's Deed, which avoided the fantasy cliches without being terribly obvious about it. I'm looking for D&D adventures that feature more of the latter and less of the former: what have y'all found?

* that mention inspired a survey of 4e Dungeon magazine adventures: when an adventure described both a husband and a wife when describing NPCs, the wife was generally an accessory with little or no role in the adventure, with only a few exceptions: In two cases, they were a husband-and-wife team that shared power. In another three cases, the husband was dead. And in just one case, the wife was an important NPC and the husband was an accessory with little to no role in the adventure.

I'm hoping that after this, I have the sense to just shut up. Because I'm sure that anybody who would have listened has already done so, and I should not argue with idiots.
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Lila has been watching the Sesame Street "getting ready to read" video. There's this one skit, where a boy puppet and a girl puppet go through their "word family song," reading words that rhyme: hop, top, mop. And when they get to "mop," the boy puppet shouts out "hey, that reminds me -- mom wants you to clean up the house! Ha, ha!"

It's a half-hour video and she watches 10 minutes at a time, twice a day, over and over and over again. So I get to hear this skit a little less than once a day, and every time I do I end up with a headache from gritting my teeth.

The patriarchy, it is seeping into my child. One subtle choice at a time.
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To my senators, Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell. I used NOW's email form to send this, and what I sent is similar to their suggested text, but I did customize the text before I hit submit. I may not get around to sending a printed copy of the letter, but I hope to follow up with a phone call.

I am writing to you today as a supporter of women's equality, reproductive rights and health care for all.

I am urging you to oppose any provision in health care reform that would limit inclusion of abortion coverage in insurance policies to be offered in the health insurance exchanges. The House-adopted Stupak-Pitts Amendment is a very harmful provision that will deny tens of millions of women insurance coverage for a legal and safe medical procedure. All women, whether they purchase insurance with their own funds or are receiving federal affordability credits, must have insurance coverage for abortion services.

Specifically, the amendment applies unreasonable barriers for private insurance companies that participate in the new system to offer abortion coverage to women. Insurance industry executives have already confirmed (in interviews with NPR health reporter Julie Rovner) that implementing separate plans or riders for people not participating in the exchange is unreasonable, impractical, and "not likely."

This would have the effect of denying women the right to use their own personal, private funds to purchase an insurance plan that includes abortion coverage in the new health system -- a radical departure from the status quo. Presently, more than 85 percent of private insurance plans cover abortion services.

President Barack Obama promised the public that no one would lose coverage they currently have. The Senate MUST honor that promise. Abortion rights have been a Democratic party plank for a long time. Please don't undermine that pro-choice commitment. Women's votes have been critical to getting democrats elected; please do not sell us out when we've supported you for so long.

Please vote against any further restrictions on access to reproductive health care. I will be watching your vote on this issue of critical importance to women.
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I sent this to Move On while unsubscribing from their newsletter:

A healthcare bill with a huge anti-abortion restriction is 'a big victory on health care'? Do you have mothers, sisters, daughters? The house healthcare bill with the Stupak amendment is no victory. The Stupak amendment CRIPPLES healthcare for women, not just in the public option, but for all insurers who want to participate. You clearly do not have *my* best interests in mind. I'm giving my money and my attention to organizations and candidates who are actually pro-choice. Not just "pro-winning."

EDIT: In retrospect, I should have skipped the ableist slur. Mea culpa. I should know better. If you're swiping this text, try "The Stupak amendment UNDERMINES healthcare for women..."

And I sent this to the JT News, a weekly jewish newspaper in Washington state:

I noticed on the front page of the October 30 JTNews a little note that said, "Celebrate Women! page 12". I turned to page 12 and what I found was: an article about a female singer ejected from the Arts & Entertainment section, surrounded by ads for electrolysis, weight loss, and other cosmetic procedures.

This is not a celebration of women. This is a marginalization. Women are being told to look pretty and stand aside. I'm not putting *this* issue of JT News out where anyone can see it -- I'd be ashamed for people to see it and think I agree with the idea that women be segregated into a women's section (what's next, exclusion from Torah studies?) or valued primarily for our looks.


Oct. 14th, 2009 02:55 pm
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I'm once again very grateful that I had only women teaching me math from fifth grade all the way through the end of high school.

Before all that, there was the male fourth grade teacher who did nothing when I was failing to learn long division. And after all that, there was the male calculus teacher my first year of college, who thoroughly killed my interest in taking any more math classes, despite a lingering interest in math. I got enough math under my belt for my science degree, though. And for that I can thank my teachers Ms. Jaramillo, Ms. Delman, Ms. Williams, Ms. Tom, Ms. Tello, and Ms. Benton.

Thank you for never, ever making me question whether or not I could.

(This post happened because I was reading a comments-thread over at Shapely Prose, on a post that happens to be about math, science, and/or statistics (depending on which way you cut it). And, as is so often the case, what ensued was a whole bunch of women posting their stories about the awful ways they were denied an education in math because of a teacher's assumption that "girls can't do math.")
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So, I make it to the end of Charles Stross's Atrocity Archives. And there's this author's note.

If I'm reading it right, it appears that the relegation of women almost entirely to ineffective middle management or "bimbos", and of people of color to the bad guys, was done intentionally as a foil to play up the "almost perfect photographic negative of the real intelligence agent," the white guy who knows what's going on while everybody else is dumb and evil.

In reality, "Far from being men of action, the majority of intelligence community staff are office workers, a narrow majority of them female .... The picture changes when you contemplate non-Western organizations ..."

I understand why one might want to craft an homage to the great spy and horror novels of yore. But this falls short of pointing out the failings of the genre, and instead lands squarely in the middle of perpetuating them.
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Maybe this is a Monday morning thing. Over the last twelve hours or so, the internet has put a *lot* of good reads on my plate. And now I'm sharing them with you.

If you only read two articles today, read the first two I link to here.

Neesha Meminger writes eloquently about how racism & cultural power imbalance works. "Different things to work on; different lessons to learn."

Fillyjonk writes about the cultural messages about women that we're soaking in. The recent murder of women at that fitness club in LA is used as an example.

If you're more image-minded, Adventures of a Young Feminist points to a political cartoon that makes similar points.

Speaking of shootings, violence against women, and culture of oppression, M. LeBlanc writes about Dr. Tiller's murder and the normalization of anti-choice violence.

Finally, three not-exactly-related posts on money and power:

Clinton Presses Congo on Illicit Minerals -- NYT article discussing Secretary of State Clinton's trip to Congo and the money that comes from ilicit mining that goes to funding armed groups like the ones who are using rape as a weapon of oppression in Goma. Money, violence, oppression of women.

Americans Pay $38 Billion of Bank Overdraft Fees a Year!?. Article in the Atlantic about American banking and ridiculous overdraft fees. Money, no obvious violence, oppression of "the most financially stretched consumers."

Despite Improvements, Rape Kit Billing Problems Persist. Why do people still think it's reasonable to compound injury with insult? Violence against women followed by billing the victim for $1,200.

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ETA: There's more substantive discussion going on over where the original post was, now. (Edited: August 14, 2009)

1. I do think that when white feminists quote other white feminists it's appropriate to mention that the person they're quoting is white. If I have failed to point that out every single time it's come up, that's because I'm human and I only have so many teaspoons. Denormalizing whiteness is something I think every white person should do whenever we can.

2. I do not think that it's at all appropriate to quote a feminist of color and then call it "derailing" when there are responses about race.

3. Requests that people please not whitewash their sources do not equate to a demand that we talk about race and nothing else. It's a request that we please not view the work of feminists of color as "feminist, but with some racial caveats." Welcome to intersectionality! Learn to talk about both race and gender at the same time.

ETA: Just saw Plain(s) Feminist's post about Feminist Mothering on Feministe that does what I'd consider fine job of including the work of Black women in the discussion without appropriating or whitewashing. See also, lauredhel's post on bell hooks on parenting and feminism on Hoyden about Town .

(this has been moved to my own space in an attempt to stop "derailing" the discussion about Audre Lorde over there.)
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In my experience, mainstream liberals can grasp why overt acts of othering are something to be avoided: the tech conference shenanigans that marginalize non-heterosexual non-males, for example.

I want to talk about the covert stuff. The stuff that sounds perfectly *normal* until somebody points it out. And then I want to talk about *why* I think it’s important that we point it out.

There’s a category I’m looking to define, which I call “Casual Othering.” It’s in the caricatures we use as shorthand to refer to whole groups of marginalized people, without ever explicitly saying anything negative about those people. Often without saying anything at all about those people – we’re just using them to make an entirely different point. The pink bow to mean an entire gender, used to suggest that if “you” engage in certain behaviors you’ll attract women. A piece of traditional garb to mean an entire race of people, used to suggest that if “you” go to this place you’ll find tasty food.

By marking the difference, we normalize the unmarked state and dehumanize the other.

By doing so casually, we exclude that group from our audience and we move on with our conversation – not stopping and talking about the exclusion renders the othering invisible and protects the speaker, who can then hide behind intention: but this had nothing to do with any minority group! Except we *made* it have something to do with that minority group by using a reference to the group as a communication tool. We’re casually making fun of a whole group of people in order to make our communication sound edgy.

And why do I think we should not do this, and point it out when other people do it? Because the practice normalizes bias. It makes demarcating and excluding difference just part of the fabric of our conversations. It provides fodder for those who want to respond, “why are you making a big deal out of this little thing?” And it creates fertile ground for the more-obviously-destructive forms of bias, forms of discrimination which require a normalization of othering before they can be enacted.

It’s a teeny-tiny step from using racial references in casual conversation to actual civil rights violations.
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NOW Hails Reintroduction of the Equal Rights Amendment

(Maloney's courting women's votes for her upcoming senate bid, I bet, particularly since she just seriously stumbled regarding race.)
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I initially wrote this in response to a post at Pursuit of Harpyness. It's been lightly adjusted to support moving from that context to this one.

How are we supposed to “make peace” with our bodies when they’re a continual cultural battleground?

This is not hypocrisy. It’s not a flaw. It’s what happens when we set goals like “accept our bodies as they are” in the middle of a culture that will not accept them, and then expect it to work when we, the victims of this broken system, are the only ones actually working on it.

The best we can do is the best we can do. As one of those people who is sometimes Publicly Fat In A Bikini, I freely admit that oftentimes, I’m faking it. It gets easier with practice to stuff those insecurities in a dark hole and go out anyway — but the insecurities haven’t gone away. How could they? The pressures that created them are still happening!

When I’m out there with a size-8 friend who wouldn’t dream of wearing a bikini because she’s too ashamed of *her* body, it’s a little easier to remember that this shame has absolutely nothing to do with my (or anyone else’s) actual fat. And even then, even when I’m explicitly remembering that this twisted culture uses whatever tools it can find to make us all feel ashamed, I still cringe sometimes. We all do. AND IT’S NOT OUR FAULT.

It’s so important that we engage in body-acceptance activism -- because IT’S NOT ENOUGH for just us individuals to try to change the inside of our heads. It is also necessary for the culture to change. So, let's please please please do not beat ourselves up for this phenomenon. (see also: the personal is political, blaming the victim)
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Well, before I really got down to writing my "what about the men?" posts, Feministing started the conversation for me.

And, as usual, it's a theory-heavy discussion about "men" and "feminists", "allies" and "activism". It's absolutely a good read -- there's important stuff in there. But, I think, there's something missing for me in that discussion, as in most discussions about men & feminism (granted, I have not read all the comments to all those posts, so I may have missed where this gets discussed).

But anyway, I sat down to talk about why the theory isn't enough, and what I ended up with was ... pure theory. Oops. Well, I'm going to post it anyway. Right now, I'll talk some talk ... and next time, I hope to actually walk the walk, once this bit of theory is out of my system!

One of the side-effects of privilege is being used to being an individual, rather than a member of a class. That's often a sticking point, I find, in these conversations -- allies want to be treated like individuals, they want a chance to explain themselves, they want their personal snowflake-like eye-opening experience take the center of their conversations about social justice. And people who are in the thick of working for social justice know that if they spend all that time treating each privileged wanna-be ally like the individual they're used to being treated like, they'd never ever get anything else done.

But. For all that I'm impatient with the demands that male allies of the feminist movement get their recognitions as individuals, I can understand it, too. I treasure each and every one of my little "click" moments, where another bit of feminism slips into place for me based on my very own personal experience of the world. But those moments, rooted so deeply in my personal experience, are exactly how my feminism gets de-egoed. They're where my personal experience leads me to understanding the political reality of oppression. This is where the phrase "The personal is political" comes from.

Consciousness Raising groups aren't everybody's thing. But I do think that the process of coming to believe in social justice is one of personal consciousness-raising. Many women talk about coming to feminism via a personal "click" moment of realization. I think it's important to acknowledge that for many people, male and female, those moments can be traumatizing. And someone's personal trauma needs to be addressed, somehow, before that person can really work towards social justice.
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(I have not yet gotten to the 'what about the menz' posts; this is something else entirely.)

Have you called your congresscritter about the Employee Free Choice Act or the Paycheck Fairness Act yet? Yesterday was Fair Pay Day; read about this stuff at a feminist blog near you. Today I read a Feministe repost of an earlier guest post by Sarah Jaffe as well as Sarah's Blog for Equal Pay Day post on her own blog.

And I want my goddamned twelve cents. (that's the conservative number, from the GAO. Yes, the one you get after you control for all the variables; the pervasive myth that controlling for occupation, industry, race, marital status and job tenure wipes out the wage gap is a horseshit excuse to try to avoid social justice, so cut it out.)

I've noticed that support for unions among mainstream liberals decreases as the percentage of women in unions rises. Don't just say "I've got mine! Don't need 'em anymore!" We are here -- with a reasonably-sized workweek, worker protections, maternity leave, minimum wage and on, and on, and on -- because of unions. They're not out-of-usefulness just because the average middle-class worker has most (but not all) of the benefits unions have fought for over the decades.

WE'RE NOT DONE. Corporations still exploit workers for the bottom line; now they just claim they have a right and responsibility "to shareholders" to address "labor costs." I call bullshit. Treating your workers as valuable human beings instead of resources to be exploited has been shown time and again to be *good* for the bottom line (q.v. Riane Eisler's Real Wealth of Nations to name an accessible-to-the-layman text that talks about this. Note that I Am Not An Economist, and I believe neither is she.)

To quote Sarah Jaffe in the Feministe post: "Unions ... do and have done more to improve the living standards of American workers than anything else."

Enough with getting wishy-washy about labor rights, people. We're not done.


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