Team Valkyrie FTW

Critically thinking about geek culture and sometimes other places. Questions will be answered. Hate mail will be graded.
shorter robert kirkman (of walking dead)
"I don’t mean to sound sexist, but as far as women have come over the last 40 years, you don’t really see a lot of women hunters. They’re still in the minority in the military, and there’s not a lot of female construction workers. I hope that’s not taken the wrong way. I think women are as smart, resourceful, and capable in most things as any man could be … but they are generally physically weaker. That’s science."

shorter robert kirkman (of walking dead)

"I don’t mean to sound sexist, but as far as women have come over the last 40 years, you don’t really see a lot of women hunters. They’re still in the minority in the military, and there’s not a lot of female construction workers. I hope that’s not taken the wrong way. I think women are as smart, resourceful, and capable in most things as any man could be … but they are generally physically weaker. That’s science."

Overthinking It: The Necessity of Specific Examples

How often has this happened to you? You’re having a conversation about some specific incident as it relates to feminist issues. Some new study revealing the violence inherent in the system. Some specific, particular issue that serves to be a bullet point in the ever-expanding list of incidents. You’re having that conversation. You’re exploring it, discussing it, discussing how to identify it, adding your own personal experiences.

When suddenly someone jumps in saying “Why are you picking at this specific example? Don’t you realize this problem is so much bigger than this tiny thing you’re picking at?!”

Girlfriend Mode: Just Another Straw

If you’re a gamer, you’ve been there: you want to share a game so desperately with someone else, you want to play together, to enjoy it together, but they just suck. Maybe it’s just this game, maybe it’s most games, but you want to play this awesome title and you want to share this with them, and they just can’t keep up. And sometimes maybe you wish there was a way for them to be able to play this game without either of you throwing the controller in rage. If only there was a setting or a mode for that…

Quoth John Hemingway:

I want to make, for the lack of a better term, the girlfriend skill tree. This is, I love Borderlands and I want to share it with someone, but they suck at first-person shooters.

You may be expecting me to rail against Hemingway on this point, to call him out on flagrant sexism, to perhaps throw rocks at the BLT team. But I’m not going to do that, because honestly, that’s not the problem, and that’s not the point.

Instead I want to focus on a very telling bit of wording in that quote: “for the lack of a better term.”

Gaming and geek culture in general has a specific self-identity, that it is largely comprised of white, straight dudes who behave in stereotypical male ways. Challenge instead of acceptance. Confrontation instead of cooperation. Domination instead of community. This is celebrated as what is Good and True about gaming, and others need not apply. This may not be the dominant part of the community — it’s certainly not in the people I hang out with, though I have met these assholes before — but it’s an image which is there, and which has stuck.

What comes along with this a casual misogyny, revealed by the constant derision of things which are more stereotypically feminine, by the assumption that women cannot bring as much to the table as men can when it comes to gaming. It is revealed by phrases like “girlfriend mode.” It is revealed by the fact that (a) everybody understands what is meant by that phrase, and (b) the developer can’t seem to think of a better way to communicate the idea. There is an implication here that women don’t play games, and when they do, they are the girlfriend of a man who does.

Daniel Nye Griffiths described this very succinctly by saying, “‘girlfriend mode’ is just another note in an unwelcoming chorus.” It’s another straw being delicately placed across the camel’s back, nestled into the ever-growing pile of casual insults which only serve to remind women that while they are welcome, they will never be truly welcome.

Can’t think of a better term to describe making a game less difficult? How about “Easy Mode”? Is that a completely new phrase to gaming? Howsabout “Newbie Mode”? Or maybe “Freshman Mode”?

I could do this all day. There are tonnes of ways to indicate a lack of skill that don’t imply gender.

The point is, it’s so ingrained in gaming culture that women are only present as significant others, and when they are present they are never going to be as good as and certainly never better than the men they are with, that this is the kind of phrase that gets tossed around. Is “girlfriend mode” an explosive phrase all on its own? Not really. But it’s just one more way in which men show women what they truly think of us. It’s a symptom of a bigger disease.

Yes it’s a casual slip, but that fact is important. This is what happens when barriers are down, and language goes unscreened. This shit is so ingrained, so ever-present, that it becomes inescapable.

Zero-Tolerance Except if Sowwies, aka That Noise Happening with ReaderCon

ReaderCon — a convention in Cambridge, Massachusetts centered around readers and authors and how great books are — has recently found itself in the center of a bit of a storm involving harassment of one of its attendees. The results and their response are… disappointing, to say the least. Which I won’t. Say the least, that is. I’m going to say a fair bit.

So let’s start with a summary of what happened, in case this is the first you’ve heard about it.

ReaderCon has a stated Zero Tolerance policy when it comes to harassment:

Harassment

Readercon has always had a zero-tolerance harassment policy.

Harassment of any kind — including physical assault, battery, deliberate intimidation, stalking, or unwelcome physical attentions — will not be tolerated at Readercon and will result in permanent suspension of membership.

As always, Readercon reserves the right to strip membership at its discretion.

Ponder what zero-tolerance means. Keep it at the forefront of your thoughts.

The story first broke on Genevieve Valentine’s blog, when she wrote about what happened to her:

My boundaries were violated physically, verbally, and in terms of my right to feel personally secure. In addition, within minutes of meeting him, I was told to stop saying things, because it made him somehow unable to control his thoughts, which is bog-standard thought policing. And I was subjected to not one, not two, but THREE instances of the man in question hovering near me because he wanted to apologize, and he wasn’t going to stop until he had had his say.

At ReaderCon, Valentine felt threatened. This man subjected Valentine to not only the initial harassment (telling her to stop making him have “bad thoughts”?! ew), but then continued the harassment because he felt bad and it was important he be forgiven. His feelings about being heard and being forgiven mattered more than her feelings about wanting to be safe.

Hang on to that. That feelings thing. That’s a theme here.

In this instance, she was able to go to the ReaderCon board and lodge a formal complaint, with corroborating witnesses. This is a process she is not unfamiliar with. In 2008, Veronica Schanoes found herself in a similar situation, being harassed by another con-goer, and Valentine encouraged her to come forward and acted as a witness.

Schanoes’ situation was, from what I have read, well-handled. Investigation happend, witness statements taken, and in the face of undeniable evidence, the ReaderCon board ruled in a way that was in line with their policy. Aaron Agassi was banned from ReaderCon for life.

It’s later been mentioned that Agassi has some form of mental illness (I’ve heard several different illnesses described, and I’m not sure which might be true). He is also not particularly known in the fandom. I say these things because these things are important.

Return to present day. Valentine has lodged her complaint. Several witnesses have come forward. We have arrived at the point where there is incontrovertible proof that Valentine was being harassed by a man named Rene Walling. He is apparently a chair member of WorldCon, and is something of a BNF.

The ReaderCon board has banned Rene Walling. For two years.

How interesting. Aaron Agassi, unknown person and mentally ill, is banned for life. Rene Walling, secret master of fandom, gets a slap on the wrist.

I’m not saying, I’m just saying.

There’s a very obvious problem here, and it goes beyond what looks to be, on the surface, favoritism and politics as usual in the SFF fandom. It is that ReaderCon has gone on record claiming a zero-tolerance policy, and then have shown they cannot keep to their word. This means that anybody at the convention who once felt safe is no longer able to feel that way. This also means that if you have enough sway in fandom, you can get away with it.

The verdict drew a lot of ire from the Internet. I mean, a lot. To the point where the ReaderCon board finally felt the need to announce the decision on their own terms, and explain the reasoning behind it.

Hang on to your hats, folks.

During the course of our conversation with Rene it became immediately apparent that he realized what he had done and was sincerely regretful of his actions. It was that recognition and regret that influenced our decision, not his status in the community.

Remember that thing I said earlier? About feelings? About it being a theme?

Feelings matter, you see. Specifically, Walling’s feelings matter. Not Valentine’s, though. Well, a little, maybe. I mean, Walling is going to miss two years of ReaderCon. So her feelings matter enough for that.

Valentine feels threatened, unsafe. Walling feels sowwies. There is no question whether or not a crime happened: it did. The board has acknowledged it. But they have gone around their own stated policy and ignored the reality of what has happened because Walling feels bad.

Pictured: Walling’s Feelings

So, hang on, I guess a couple things are happening here.

One: Walling’s feelings matter more than Valentine’s. This is a clear, unequivocal message the ReaderCon board is sending. An attacker’s feelings matter more than the victim’s. This means ReaderCon is no longer a safe space, and apparently never was.

Two: ReaderCon had a posted Zero-Tolerance policy on harassment that was kind of a shiny thing that a lot of people held up as an awesome example of how cons should handle harassment. Then they went and pulled this shit. Once again, no longer a safe space, never was to begin with.

Three: Men with power get away with crimes because reasons. This is a thing that happens, and fandom suffers from it too. Great job, guys.

Four: This is kind of Harasser 101 shit here. Walling was sorry? Of course he was sorry. But was he sorry for what he did, or sorry he was caught? Most harassers/attackers are able to express remorse, sincere or otherwise, and yet they continue to commit the same crimes. And when there is no real punishment, there is no incentive to change their behaviour.

Five: Okay some people out there are claiming that oh what if he’s Aspie and doesn’t know any better which is such bullshit and I’ll let Rose Lemberg tell you why because she nailed it.

This all… I just…

It’s kind of disgusting, what happened here. Women were harassed. The harassment was found to be a real and valid thing. And yet, the perpetrator gets away with it, with just a slap on the wrist, circumventing stated zero-tolerance policies. Making that zero-tolerance policy worth less than the paper it was printed on. And I don’t know that anybody ever printed it out.

I’ve never been to ReaderCon, but I’d heard stories of how great it is, and I figured it was a fun and happy place worth going to. Apparently not. Unless something changes, I’m likely to never go to ReaderCon. And many others have stated the same.

Honestly, I don’t even know what action the ReaderCon board can take at this point to make it all right. There is currently a letter/petition to the ReaderCon board suggesting corrective action, written by Schanoes and undersigned by many others. But, I don’t know, reverting their decision and perma-banning Walling feels like that same tune of bowing to pressure; instead of pressure from a BNF’s reputation and his fauxpology, now it’s pressure from the Internet. If ReaderCon were to take these corrective steps, would it be true change, or would it simply be second verse, same as the first? Would they understand what they had done, or would they simply be sowwies? I’m not sure.

Regardless, ReaderCon has fucked up pretty badly. Let’s see if they can recover. I feel like they will have a hard time with it.

ETA: It appears that Rene Walling’s name is being removed from the Kansas City World Con bid comittee.

ETA 2, The Editing

The entire board is stepping down, and the perpetrator has been banned. I must say, I’m incredibly surprised, and impressed with this response. It is an even and unequivocal apology for what has happened. Read the official ReaderCon statement here.

Objectification, or You are Really Bad at Root Cause Analysis

Caveat: This post is discussing sexism. It’s going to use a lot of gender-binary language. I’m sorry about that, but I have a distinct point I’m trying to prove, and the statistics gathered which support this are all in terms of men-v-women, and well. Also this is focused on the United States, because that’s the context that I can speak from, confidently. And while this post is going to focus primarily on sexism, please understand that it can translate just as easily to any other -ism we see. You can replace the statistics, but the core point holds.

Normally I try to keep it geeky here, but this came at a personal request, so sure. It’s an important topic, and something a lot of people Don’t Get.

Here’s an argument I hear a lot: “Sexism doesn’t really exist. It’s about people being awful to other people. That’s the real problem.”

I’m going to be up front: if you think the “real problem” is people universally being horrible to one another, and don’t understand the underlying problems of sexism/racism/etc-ism, you are really shitty at root-cause analysis.

So I’m an engineer by trade. This is what I am paid to do. I write software all day, erryday. One of the skills I posses is a certain tenacity when it comes to bug-fixing, where I refuse to stop at a band-aid, where I will dig into the architecture until I find the source issue, and fix it in such a way that I resolve the core issue and do not break other things in the process. Related to this is my ability to observe and analyze whole systems, to understand the interactions between them, and to spot potential problems in those interactions, all while keeping a clear idea of the end goal, of making the system useful, of making things clear for the user.

Being an engineer, I look at the world with an engineering mindset. The world we live in is not a collection of discrete, independent components. Everything relies on everything else. And because the world we live in is so incredibly complex, it can be challenging to see how anything impacts anything else, and to understand the real problems we face.

So let’s talk about real problems.

1 in 6 women in the United States is a survivor of sexual assault. Contrast this to the statistics for men: 1 in 33. Only 3% of rapists will ever spend a single day in prison. (RAINN)

Women earn less than men, across the board. Whether the stat you get is 77 cents to every dollar or 81 cents to every dollar, it doesn’t matter, there is a wage gap based on gender. (wiki) And those stats get worse when you consider race: black women earn 69 cents to the dollar, and Hispanic women earn 59 cents to the dollar. (infoplease)

"But although women make up over half of America’s labor force, as of 2009, only 12 Fortune 500 companies and 25 Fortune 1000 companies have women CEOs or presidents." (infoplease)

Women are sexually assaulted at significantly higher rates than men are. Women are paid less (despite currently being the percentage-majority graduating from higher education). Women struggle to reach positions of power in the professional and political world. I could keep going, but I feel like this gives you an idea of real, actual problems.

You may be wondering how this could possibly relate to objectification. These are real-world problems with gender lines, but none of them appear to have anything to do with treating another human being as a sex object, except maybe the rape one, right?

To which I will say: you suck at understanding system interactions.

Imagine we live in a world where the above problems don’t exist. There is no significant divide between men and women in terms of sexual assault, of leadership, of wages earned, of media representation, anything. Your CEO is just as likely to be a man as a woman. Women earn the same as men, on average. Women are no more likely to be the victim of sexual assault than men are. Let’s pretend this is the world we live in.

If this were the world, then objectification would be the same, both ways. It would be just as dehumanizing to objectify men as it is to objectify women, because men and women are coming at the problem on equal footing. There is no inherent power balance going on here.

However, this is not the world we live in. And everything has context.

There is a pervasive thrum in media of women as an object to behold. Women are used to sell products to other women as well as men. Women are “booth babes,” not men. Women are the prize for men at the end of the film. They are to be seen, and not heard, and certainly not followed or respected.

A woman is something to be possessed, to be claimed as a prize at the end of the journey. She is an object, a reward, and little else. Why pay her more? She’s just there to look pretty. She can’t do the same work as a man, and whatever, she’s probably just going to get pregnant and quit anyway. And don’t even think about putting her in power, she doesn’t belong there, what would she even do with it. And if you want to have sex with her, well damn, go have sex with her, that’s your right. If she doesn’t want it, well, get her a little drunk, get the bitch to loosen up, amirite? All she’s good for.

These aren’t conscious thoughts most people have. These are unconscious biases. And this is, in fact, the world we live in. Women being objectified so pervasively translates to unconscious bias, which translates to real-world bias. Sexism’s language has become more coded and less obvious, but it’s still there. You just need to dig at the root cause.

When a man objectifies a woman, he does it in the context of being more financially secure than her, of being in professional and political power over her, of being statistically more likely to perpetrate sexual violence against her. When a man looks at a woman as an object and not a person, he is coming from a position where this is an actionable perspective. If a woman is not human, she doesn’t deserve to be treated as one.

When a woman objectifies a man, she does it in the context of being less financially secure, of having less power, of being more likely to be victimized. It isn’t necessarily “all right” for a woman to objectify a man, but there are not real-world ramifications for men as there are for women.

It is not the same. It is not “people being horrible to people.” Not when the results are this imbalanced.

To the people who claim that sexism isn’t the real problem, it’s just people being awful: when you see this, when you see these problems, when you see that women are paid less, treated as less, respected less, that there are fewer women are in power, in leadership roles, when you see this world we live in with its very real problems, this long history of abuse, erasure, imbalance, all this inescapable context… how can you think anything divided on gender lines is going to be equal?

What about this do you not understand?

DC Announces Alan Scott Has Been A “Major Character” The Whole Time

Comics publisher DC had said several weeks ago that it was going to reveal one of its major characters as gay. They then announced it was Alan Scott. I’m a fan of Alan Scott, he’s my favorite Green Lantern, with that love of a character comes the knowledge that he is not a major character. Even amongst many Green Lantern fans I know, he is a “Who?” when they ask me who my favorite Lantern is. In general, I can’t say “Alan Scott is one of my favorite characters” without having to explain who he is. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound like a major character to me. They also say he’s iconic, with which I say, Green Lantern is iconic; Alan Scott isn’t.

Again, this is coming from a super-fan of the character, there is a difference between a “major character is now gay” and “a character is now gay and we’re now making him a major character”. I remember the rumors buzzing around with people thinking it would be one of the Robins, Tim Drake being the common idea. Robin and Tim Drake are major characters, even if Tim Drake is now Red Robin, most people who know comics vaguely can admit that he’s still a major character. Alan Scott was in no one’s running for it, even Alan Scott fans, because we know he isn’t a major character.

Alan Scott is on so few people’s radars that he’s only become a major character to the general audience due to this change. I’m alright with Alan being gay now, what I’m not for is the erasing of his kids, especially of his son, Obsidian. You see, Obsidian is/was gay and now no longer exists due to de-aging Alan Scott. DC has literally replaced one gay character with another. Worse, they totally wiped the slate of Obsidian, it’s worse than if they’d killed him, at least there he’d still have had an effect on his father, sister and friends; now he’s nothing and we only have this trade off.

This isn’t progress, this feels like they are filling a quota and that is not right. You make a character gay, alright cool but why did you have to get rid of another? Is Obsidian ever going to come back and will he still be gay or are there too many gay people for you now? I highly doubt it was your intention to come off this way DC, you can’t be that stupid and bigoted, but it can sure as hell be read that way when you hear “DC is making one character gay and got rid of another gay character by doing so”. That’s what happened, and it sounds vile when you see it put in the most clear cut way.

I was originally just going to write how DC had gotten everyone’s hopes up by saying a major character was going to be announced as gay and how they pulled the rug out from under us by making it be a minor, if beloved by what fans he has, character. That was a sneaky thing to do, but then to also state they had to get rid of his children, one being gay himself, is just terrible. It reads more as a publicity stunt than Marvel marrying Northstar. I say this since this comes from a company that thought Spider-Man being married was boring; so what’s that going to say about Northstar who isn’t a big league character like Spidey?

The big two publishers want to be seen as progressive but not doing any real work at attaining progression. They just want people to look at the surface and hope that’s good enough. Except they expect people to stick around and read what’s inside so they can get more of their money, but then the audience realizes what they are getting is half-hearted.

Flight of Valkryies at SDCC?

So both Dr and I are going to be at SDCC this year, and we were wondering… are any of you out there who read this blog going to be there too?

Should we, perhaps, arrange a luncheon hangout in the park?

This post is to gauge interest. Please to comment if you would like such a thing, and we’ll figure out what works best for schedules.

And because it’s not a TeamV post without a reaction gif: