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The Oatmeal’s Hits and Misses November 1, 2010

Posted by Jarrah H in feminism, Pop Culture.
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Even if you don’t check it regularly, you’ve probably seen one of the comics from Seattle-resident Matthew Inman’s The Oatmeal. Covering a variety of odd topics like “The Crap We Put Up With Getting On and Off an Airplane” and “10 Reasons it Would Rule to Date a Unicorn”, The Oatmeal is occasionally hilarious, always wacky, and usually pretty smart. But going through the archives, I found a few examples of really sexist/homophobic comics, which surprised me because they didn’t seem to fit with the other clever and creative things Inman’s written. So without further ado, here is the best and worst of The Oatmeal.

Hit: “What it Means When You Say ‘Literally'”

In the vein of the now inactive blog, Literally, A Web Log, Inman takes on people who use the word “literally” when they mean “figuratively”. Nerdy humour? Check. Making fun of the ridiculousness of Jerry Falwell? Check.

Miss: “5 Super Neat Ways to Use a Hooker”

Ok, this comic strip might be totally over-the-top ridiculous but it doesn’t make it much less insulting. Suggestions for what you can do with a hooker instead of having sex with them include using them as bird feeders and jousting, with the prostitutes as the horses. The whole thing left a bad taste in my mouth.

Hit: “17 Things Worth Knowing About Your Cat”

While all The Oatmeal’s cat comics are pretty awesome, this one is my favourite for the interesting cat factoids (did you know cats purr at the same frequency as an idling diesel engine?) and the interesting layout.

Miss: “4 Reasons to Carry a Shovel at All Times”

This is a really big miss, with yet more sex worker-bashing, this time suggesting a funny use for a shovel is digging a grave for a dead prostitute. I get that the other 3 reasons for using a shovel are really ridiculous and it’s clear he’s not actually suggesting going out and killing people, but given the rates of violence against sex workers, that example hits way too close to home.  

Hit: “8 Ways to Tell if Your Loved Ones Plan to Eat You”

This one’s silly, imaginative, and harmless. Just so you know, watch out if your family is sneaking vegetables into the bathtub, watch out!

Miss: “Women with Mustaches”

Inman gets called out on this comic and includes the complaint in his also offensive “Retarded Emails” section, seemingly shocked that anyone could find calling women with slight facial hair “what nightmares are made of” sexist. I think this is the worst of the bunch because it attacks pictures of real people instead of using cartoon representations, and because it manages to be sexist, homophobic, and transphobic by attacking women with masculine features and by criticizing Orlando Bloom for being effeminate. It’s also kind of racist, using racial modifiers in the captions, like “Dueling Asian Mustaches”. Overall, I don’t think publicly shaming real people who aren’t conforming to an ideal of femininity is that hilarious.

So come on, The Oatmeal. Look at all the clever, quirky, satirical, and even educational stuff you’ve come up with. You don’t need to use violence against sex workers as a joke. You don’t need to humiliate real women for looking natural. You’re better than that.






Can Fraternities Change? October 28, 2010

Posted by Jarrah H in Can-Con, feminism, LGBT, racism.
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Fraternities have been in the news a lot recently, publicized for promoting sexist chants and racist parties. College and University campuses should be safe places for students, regardless of gender, race, or sexual orientation, but some people feel frats inherently compromise campus safety. University of Victoria students recently upheld their campus ban on fraternities and sororities, with 63% of over 500 students voting against frats. Arguing against frats, organizer Jaraad Marani said they’re “counter productive to the university’s mandate and the University of Victoria Student Society’s mandate on creating inclusive and safe spaces.”

I went to school at UBC, which has fraternities and sororities. When a student club I belonged to wanted to hold an event in a frat house, I objected, arguing frat houses don’t constitute safe spaces for women. Historian Nicholas L. Syrett estimates that as many as 70 to 90 percent of reported campus rapes are committed by fraternity members. My argument didn’t get a lot of support in the club and I ended up sitting out the event, but the more I read the more I believe it’s no coincidence we’ve seen the following reports associated with frats (not even close to an exhaustive list):

1. In 1988 an 18-year-old freshman at Florida State University was gang-raped by three frat members who scrawled fraternity symbols on her thighs and left her unconscious in a hallway.

2. In 2001, an edition of Dartmouth’s Zeta Psi newsletter promised: “Next week: [Brother X’s] patented date raping techniques!”

3. In 2007 a Texas State University frat’s MLK party on Martin Luther King Jr. Day devolved into a celebration of racist stereotypes with “some fraternity members and others eating fried chicken, drinking malt liquor from bottles wrapped in brown paper bags and dressed in faux gang apparel.”

4. This September, two women reported being date raped in two weeks at a University of Minnesota frat house, with one 20-year-old woman being trapped in a bathroom by a male frat member. The following weekend a 19-year-old also reported being raped at a different U of M frat party.

5. Earlier this month Yale’s Delta Kappa Epsilon frat became infamous as videos went viral of frat members marching while chanting, “No Means Yes! Yes Means Anal!”

6. Two weeks ago a Harvard Sigma Chi “Conquistabros and Navajos” party drew criticism for romanticizing genocide of North American Aboriginal peoples, forcing an apology from the frat.

7. In March 2010 a 19-year-old University of Kentucky student was charged after wrapping a frat pledge in toilet paper and lighting him on fire.

8. The University of Alberta suspended one fraternity chapter this week after hazing allegations surfaced, with frat members accused of forcing pledges to eat their own vomit and confining them to plywood boxes.

9. This month the University of Kansas suspended a fraternity’s rights after allegations of hazing, including forcing pledges to wear women’s costumes such as “Fairy Godmother” in order to embarass them.

Fraternities have been plagued with these types of news stories because they tend to promote a vision of elitist hypermasculinity that has to be constantly proven through rituals that reinforce the exclusion of “others”, usually women, gay and trans men, and non-whites. Even though these are extreme cases, they’re just magnifications of the types of things that go on every day on North American campuses. I remember at UBC being told that one of the big Greek fundraisers for the year was a musical revue put on by the sororities and judged by the fraternities. “So we basically just fight to see who can come up with the sluttiest number,” a friend in one of the sororities told me.

At the University of Michigan, student groups complained about fraternity shirts picturing sperm racing toward an egg with the slogan “Only the Strong Survive” and banners with Playboy bunny logos on them. Syrett’s research also found homophobia ubiquitous in fraternity culture, despite a seemingly contradictory level of homoeroticism in many frat rituals.

But some people think fraternities can change to become safe and inclusive spaces. If society gains greater acceptance for racial, gender, and LGBT equality, will frats begin to mirror that acceptance? Amanda Hess has reported on frat boys at George Washington University taking steps to eliminate rituals associated with aggressive masculinity and eject members who spread homophobia and sexism.

I’m sure there are other fraternities attempting to take similar steps and I applaud them, but I’m skeptical about the possibility of meaningful change. Fraternities are, by nature, gender-segregated. To some extent, you can’t maintain that segregation without policing the masculinity of participants. Historically, fraternities have also been white organizations, and the continuing examples of racist frat parties shows fraternities are still having trouble shaking their legacy of racial exclusion. Why would they have any more luck with their gender issues?


Halloween Costumes for Feminists October 21, 2010

Posted by Jarrah H in feminism, Pop Culture, racism.
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I was so close to not writing another Halloween costume post this year because the problems I talked about last year with racist and sexist costumes haven’t changed a bit.  Saw this “Cheyenne Wig” at Value Village the other week and yesterday I noticed a “Chinese Lady” wig, which looked an awful lot like generic “Geisha” wigs, at London Drugs.  It’s gross. In addition to the fact that I’m assuming most actual Cheyenne wouldn’t appreciate being told they all have hair like Morticia Addams, appropriating the identities of racial minorities and perpetuating stereotyping isn’t cool at Halloween or any other time.

And we’re still seeing women’s costumes hypersexualized. Yes,  dressing up in a sexy costume can be fun, but it’s not a pre-requisite for a good time. And the trend seems to be pushing the envelope to apply to younger and younger girls. For  one costume with both sexist and racist yuck factors, check out this “Harem Girl” costume for kids profiled at the Ms. Blog.

The new weird thing I noticed this year was quite a few people being directed to my blog by Googling how to dress “homeless” for Halloween. Here’s someone’s actual question on Yahoo Questions:

Im going to be a homeless person for Halloween. Any Suggestions on my Poster? Okay, So i have decided to be a homeless person for Halloween. I’m going to get a shopping cart and funny props for it, including a cardboard sign. (you know how hobos stand on the side of the road asking for money with a cardboard sign?) …And im trying to think of sayings to put on it. I would like something common that homeless people say, but also a funny one.

Dressing “homeless” is in really poor taste (as one responder points out before she quickly gets over it and suggests a “Will Work for Treats” sign as a prop). Homelessness isn’t a joke and trivializing the issue and trying to make it funny does absolutely nothing to help stigma against people living in extreme poverty.

Luckily one thing that has changed this year is I’m hearing a lot more good costume ideas for feminists and other people who don’t think that wearing a costume has to reinforce social inequalities. Here are some of the best suggestions I’ve seen this year. Leave yours in the comments below!

1. Member of the Rockford Peaches

Honour the history of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League by dressing up as one of the members of the 1943 Rockford Peaches, as profiled in the movie A League of Their Own.

2. Group idea: Beekeepers and Bees

Yesterday at the weekly Twitter She Party (Wednesdays from 3-6 Eastern, hosted by the Women’s Media Center) someone mentioned she and her spouse were going as beekeepers and their kids were dressing up like bees. I thought the idea was really cute and you can find instructions for DIY beekeeper costumes here.

3. “Sexy Nurse”

I read a comment on another blog by a woman who’s an actual nurse planning to go out in scrubs and sneakers with a large name tag reading “Sexy Nurse”.

4. Ellen Ripley from the Alien Movies

From the list of suggestions at Bitch.

My Sculpey tooth necklace

5. Tooth Fairy/Evil Tooth Fairy

This is going to be my costume this year. I made teeth out of polymer clay to make a necklace and headband and will match those with a white shirt, tutu and tights, white store-bought wings and a black wig. To make it an evil tooth fairy costume, make the tooth jewelry more disgusting and slap on some gory makeup. It also might be cool to carry around a pair of large pliers.

6. Add “zombie” in front of any of the following:

Suggestions: Zombie Sarah Palin, Zombie Suffragette, Zombie Margaret Atwood, Zombie Jane Austen character, Zombie Pundit of your Choice.

7. Your Google Alter-Ego

Use Google or Facebook to find someone with the same name as you and dress as them. I borrowed this idea from feminist blogger Shelby Knox, who suggested she might go as Shelby Knox the cheerleader.  This works best if you look completely different from the person your imitating. The best would be if you could get them to dress as you too.

8. Safe-Sex Pusher

This is from NOW’s list of feminist costume ideas. Wear sunglasses and a trenchcoat lined with condoms and birth control packets.

9. Carmen Sandiego

Because she’s a woman of mystery.

10. Women’s firefighter costume that includes pants and flat shoes.

I’m talking firefighter hat, jacket and pants with reflective strips. Because, let’s face it, it’s really, really dumb to run into a burning building in fishnet stockings, a miniskirt, and stilettos.

Just a quick follow-up on yesterday’s post about the Canadian Blog Awards. The CBAs have belatedly decided to add the category of Best Feminist Blog just for the final round of voting and we’re nominated with some other fantastic Canadian feminist blogs. You can vote in the Best Feminist Blog category here and remember you can still vote for us in the Culture and Literature category. You can vote once every 24 hours until Tuesday, October 26. Then I will at least temporarily stop annoying you all.


FFFF: Wanda Sykes August 26, 2010

Posted by Jarrah H in feminism, FFFF, Pop Culture.
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Bringin’ you your Friday Feminist Funny Film on Thursday night, hoping the earliness might make up for the fact that I failed to post one last week.

Some language NSFW

The Round-Up: June 30, 2010 June 30, 2010

Posted by Jarrah H in feminism, Politics, Pop Culture.
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Happy Wednesday!


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Ouch: My First Encounter with the Glass Ceiling June 29, 2010

Posted by Jarrah H in Can-Con, feminism, Pop Culture.
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I’m very pleased to introduce guest blogger Hanna! Hanna is a freelance and copywriter in the Pacific Northwest, as well as an active blogger and vinyl-collector. She likes used dresses, deconstructing popular culture, watching old police dramas and running up and down stairs with her little dog. You may check out her website or follow her on Twitter.

It took me about a month into my first “real” job to realize that I was being treated like a working skirt.

My twelve-year-old-pro-choice-New-Moon-reading-self would have been aghast at how long it took to notice, but the fact is this: when you’ve never experienced chauvinism on a real, corporate, institutional level, you don’t know it when it bites you on the back of your semi-ironic pencil-skirt. It can happen to anyone, and it starts innocently.

You’re fresh out of your liberal-arts college, stoked to be out the service industry (where gender-bias is expected, but can be met with a middle-finger or a swift 86) and feeling like hot, pragmatic, educated stuff. You know you beat out a ton of other people for the gig. You get hired for a legit-sounding position, like “client development” or “project management.” They were so nice in the interview, and there were promises of upward mobility. But then it begins.

Ever feel like you're in an episode of Mad Men?

In my case, I was hire to be a ‘Client Services Associate,’ providing editorial, social media, and technical consult and education at a small startup. The boss was an ex-lawyer. An interrupter and arguer by nature, he’d be difficult to deal with regardless of my gender. But at least he was casual. We all got to wear jeans, but I liked to class it up anyway. Fortunately for me, this was not an office where sexual harassment was an issue.

However, it wasn’t long before the gender imbalances began to come out. Within a short period after my hiring, I realized that I was not only responsible for client care, I was also in charge of answering the main phone line, taking notes, and making appointments. This was not what I was hired for.

And then there were the subtle differences which, alone, didn’t mean much. But the more that they piled up, the more clear the real picture became.

When a mistake was made, it was seen to be made by our entirely-female department. We were told that we needed more “coaching” and that we had to be “tougher” and “more business-minded” (read: more male.) We were put in “triage” mode, (which allowed us to be compared to nurses), which meant every one of our projects or client issues now had to be given the CEO’s stamp of approval. This level of micromanagement was not only absurd, it was also extremely insulting and demeaning.

During meetings, ideas by my female superior were usually passed over, interrupted, or negated altogether. The male intern, however, was humored no matter how off-base his suggestions. On conference calls, when the present company was introduced, the women were explained by their titles. The men were extolled for their experiences, or the value that they’d be bringing to the call. My co-worker, who admitted to be “no feminist, that’s for sure” (really!) noted that she felt like she was being treated like a child. And she wasn’t alone.

And then there was the new hire. Although he was at least ten years my senior and had an MBA, “the ladies” were told that he was going to be lateral with us; doing the same work, answering the same phones, receiving the same training. All very equal. But naturally, this is not what happened.

Instead, on his first day, he went out to corporate lunch with the CEO and the EVP. Then, he sat in on development and management meetings “to learn.” Then, he was introduced to clients that no one else was able to touch with a javelin. He was clearly a man’s-man.

The new hire had moved to town to work for us. When he finally told us about his brand-new apartment, we looked at each other suspiciously.  The rest of us lived in dingy studios and stole internet from our neighbors; this guy’s new place cost at least four months of student loans. We theorized about how much they must be paying him. When our department was called in to CEO meetings, they slowly deteriorated in a jockular conversation between the new hire and the CEO, while the rest of us (females) sat with our arms crossed.

During this time, I applied for and accepted another job with more responsibility and a much better wage. It was a job based on my talents, not on my ability to operate a telephone. It was a job where I might actually be promoted, not passed over for raises and opportunities.

Reflecting on it now, it surprises me that I allowed myself to be treated like this for as long as I did. Me, who can’t help but point out gender inequality in every aspect of my life. Me, who reads dozens of blogs and writes articles of my own, usually with a thick feminist lens. Me, raised by a woman who would never have let a man raise his voice to her, let alone his hand. And me, sitting with my arms cross, shutting up in meetings because my opinion and my ovaries weren’t welcome at the table.

Unfortunately, it seems that as much as we may love to watch Mad Men and scowl about the Don Drapers that used to run the world and smirk at how far we’ve come, it’s just not true. It’s simply more covert. And while equal-opportunity employment is mandated by most standards, equal-opportunity employers are much harder to come by. You may have the same title as a man, and come close to the same salary as a man, but it seems that, despite what your college professors told you, you may still not be an equal in the workplace.

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Can’t Help Hatin’ That Song May 30, 2010

Posted by Jarrah H in feminism, Pop Culture.
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Last night I took my dad to see The Manhattan Transfer play at the Centre for Performing Arts in Vancouver. It was awesome and they brought the house down. For the record, there was co-ordinated snapping but no flashy 80’s pants – their style as well as their music has adapted well to changing times.

At least most of it.

The one point I felt kind of uncomfortable was during Tim Hauser’s solo rendition of the jazz standard “She’s Funny that Way.” The song was first released in 1929 and has been re-recorded several times since, notably by Frank Sinatra. Here are the lyrics that gave me pause:

Though she’d love to work and slave for me every day
She’d be so much better off if I went away…

When I hurt her feelings once in a while
Her only answer is one little smile
I got a woman, crazy for me
She’s funny that way

I’m going to choose to interpret that as funny-bizarre more than funny-ha-ha.

K.J. McElrath at Jazzstandards.com guesses the song was partially inspired by the similarly-themed “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” by Jerome Kern from Show Boat. And there are a bunch of other jazz standards, especially from that era, that present a similar story: a lazy and selfish man in a relationship with (read: in possession of) an endlessly patient, self-sacrificing woman. (In the case of “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man”, the song has an additional undercurrent of racism that has led to several rewordings over the years.)

Ava Gardner in the movie of Show Boat

Some other examples: “I Enjoy Being a Girl”, “Black Coffee”, “I Got a Woman”, “My Man”, and “Girls Were Made to Take Care of Boys”.

These songs are heteronormative and are most obviously sexist towards women, implying women should subordinate their own needs to their husbands’. But they don’t exactly present a flattering view of masculinity, either. In these songs, men are thoughtless louts.

Just as it sucks for women to get the message that they have to put up with crap in a relationship, I’d imagine it would suck for some guys to receive the societal message that they’re not expected to be competent or emotionally intelligent.

Even in the present day there are similar narrative in sitcoms like My Name is Earl, Family Guy, and King of Queens, where guys are portrayed as incompetent, lazy bunglers compared to their smart, attractive wives.

The messages are still around, so when I heard Tim Hauser sing “She’s Funny that Way” I had no idea it was written in the 1920s. Granted, I was one of the few people in the audience under fifty, so that could be generational.

So here’s what I’m wondering: are these songs merely a product of their times and thus nothing to worry about? Or is there something damaging about recording and performing these types of songs outside of historical context? In a contemporary setting are these songs value-neutral or do they sentimentalize sexism and unequal gender relations?


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