Archive | May, 2014

It’s only “mature” because you made it that way

31 May

(Note: this post contains mild spoilers for Long Live The Queen. Some possible in-game events are revealed; how to make these events happen is not.)

So Brother 1 is getting married this weekend, which means that I and all my immediate family are currently in California, where the wedding is to be held. There’s a fair amount of downtime to be filled, some of which Brother 3 has spent playing Long Live The Queen on my laptop.* Which got me slightly into trouble the other night, when my parents found out that his character, Crown Princess Elodie, had conducted a lesbian romance. A very-briefly-depicted lesbian romance, consisting of one love letter and one decision to return the other girl’s affections, all conveyed via textual description. This is, apparently, “mature content” that makes the game “unsuitable” for my 12-year-old brother.

Elodie also forced another character to marry against her will, hired a spy, risked her life (and someone else’s) in the pursuit of glory, let another person damage her castle & kill her guards so she could get something she wanted, and ordered the assassination of a relative. No word yet on how these events affect the game’s suitability. But a lesbian relationship, that’s clearly unacceptable.

The game doesn’t even let you marry her.

And maybe that’s part of the problem. Because Brother 3 understands the concept of two people getting married, and there’s absolutely nothing “mature” about that concept. We talk about Brother 1’s wedding in terms of the love between him & his fiancée and their desire to share a future, not in terms of the sex life they’re going to have. But remove the marriage option, and how do you explain it to a child? I don’t mean “explain that these two people who love each other are of the same gender”, I mean “explain that these two people who love each other aren’t allowed to form the same commitment that Brother 1 and his fiancée can”.

This, of course, is arguing in favour of marriage equality, not in favour of denying the existence of gay relationships. But we’re currently in a place where that battle’s already been fought, and won. Once we leave California, we’re going home to another place where same-gender marriages are already happening. These things are – thankfully – part of the world now, and it’s fruitless trying to hide that fact.

What, then, is so different about a relationship between two people of the same gender? What makes it so much more “mature” than any other romantic pairing? How do you explain the fact that some people are still opposed to the marriages resulting from such relationships?

I’ve heard the argument that marriage is all about childrearing; that gay relationships are inferior because they can’t result in babies. It strikes me as a ridiculously reductive view of marriage: taking the entirety of the experiences that comprise a life together and boiling them down to one act of procreation. It also sets up a false dichotomy when it contrasts the baby-making straight couples with the non-baby-making gay couples. Some opposite-gender couples cannot have children: infertile people exist. Some same-gender couples can: trans* people exist too.

There’s another problem with focusing on the procreation. As I’ve already stated, we can talk about love and relationships without going into the mature content stuff. Disney does it all the time. But as soon as we turn the spotlight onto the question of “can they have babies?”, we force discussion to centre on the sexual act. We take something that really doesn’t need to be a “mature” topic and we turn it into one.

The other main “argument” I’ve heard is the one which doesn’t even seek to justify itself, simply points to the word “religion” and acts as though that’s sufficient explanation. The other night this took the somewhat-surprising form of my atheist father arguing that “various world religions are against it, so there must be something wrong with it”. Let’s leave aside for the moment the fact that various world religions have in the past been used to justify everything from slavery to anti-Semitism to racial segregation, and have mostly managed to move on from those deplorable positions without losing all their adherents. Let’s consider only the question of what religion has to say today, on this one issue.** And let’s consider it thoroughly and fully, because I’m sick of this conversation being dominated by the homophobic religious voices. Sick of people envisaging a spectrum with “God hates fags” at one end, and “there’s no problem with gay people, as long as they never act on it” at the other. The spectrum goes so much further than that. Into the realms of people who take St Paul seriously when he talks about how all are equal in the eyes of Christ. Who are willing not only to endorse gay marriages, but to fight for their right to do so – believing that not being allowed to endorse these marriages restricts their freedom of religion. So when we talk about the religious perspective on homosexuality, please, let’s bear in mind the full diversity of religious voices on this subject.

But what about the Bible, I hear you say. Doesn’t the Bible say that gay relationships are wrong? Well, no. Not exactly. Every Bible passage that deals with homosexuality talks about it in terms of the sexual act. Every. Single. One. Possibly the best-known “anti-gay” Bible story, that of Sodom and Gomorrah (where we get the word “sodomy” from, for goodness sake), is about an attempted gang rape. I hope you don’t need me to clarify that gang rape is bad regardless of the genders of those involved. The Bible also contains scenes where a gang of men rape a woman, and where these men are punished, yet nobody uses these scenes to argue that heterosexual couples are sinful. Nobody takes the many Bible passages that prohibit some sexual act between a man and a woman and uses them as “evidence” against the very concept of heterosexual relationships. Because when it comes to heterosexual relationships, people accept that there’s a lot more to it than what a couple might or might not do in bed. But gay couples somehow don’t get afforded the same consideration. Time and again, people choose to focus in on their sex lives and only their sex lives.

So maybe teaching my brother about the existence of gay relationships is “inappropriate” after all. I mean, if everyone’s so determined to equate gay relationships with gay sex, it leaves far fewer options for teaching children about the former without also invoking the latter. But why must we equate the two? I suspect it’s mainly the doing of people who want an excuse not to acknowledge gay relationships. If you forcibly sexualise something, you can then avoid talking about it by claiming that it’s inappropriate subject matter. But it’s only inappropriate because you made it that way. And you do not get to control the conversation. Let’s leave aside the sex for a minute, and talk about love.

 


* Plug goes here: I love this game. I love the depth of the worldbuilding and the fact that replay after replay, more of the story is revealed. I love the way there are multiple valid approaches to navigating nearly every in-game challenge. I love the flawed characters and the way everyone is up to something. And I love the fact that I can have interesting, thoughtful conversations with Brother 3 about the game’s contents – those sort of conversations are normally far too rare where he’s concerned.

** I’m going to be talking mainly about Christianity, simply because it’s the religion I’m most acquainted with. As far as I’m aware, most of the general points apply in a large number of religions beyond Christianity, although the specific examples I’m giving will be Christian ones.

This, too, is a feminist act

29 May

(Content notes for rape and rape culture, gendered violence, all sorts of fun examples of patriarchy at its worst. Yeah, sorry. Hopefully I’ll have a lighter, fluffier post soon, but first allow me to talk about why the light-and-fluffy posts matter…)

“What happened to your blog?” my mother asks me. “I used to enjoy reading it.”
“Really?” I say. “I thought it would be too feminist for your tastes.”
“I didn’t think it was feminist,” she replies. “Well, I suppose there was that one post about that woman in Texas….

For the record, “that woman in Texas” would be gubernatorial candidate and filibustering hero Wendy Davis. She definitely qualifies for the title “Feminist Icon”, and the post I wrote about her centred around the need for safe, legal, accessible abortion. This is, to state the blindingly obvious, something of a major feminist issue. We’re talking about a situation where women’s lives hang in the balance.

But you know what? Something doesn’t have to be a literal manner of life or death before it becomes a feminist issue. It just has to involve a situation wherein some people have more unearned privilege than others. When we’re talking about issues that can cause death and debilitation – things like unsafe abortions, or domestic violence, or FGM – that privilege disparity is not only vital to address, it also tends to be a lot simpler to spot. It’s easy to find someone who agrees that these things are terrible and should be stopped. It’s somewhat harder to find this agreement when talking about the context in which these things occur.

Because these horrors do not exist in a vacuum. Nor is there a dichotomy between the “real” feminist issues like these, and “distractions” like examining gender sterotyping in videogames, or picking apart the problematic messages in a well-known book series, or pointing out how rape jokes permeate our culture, because these things are not distractions at all. They’re important parts of the picture.* The jokes which are the tip of the rape culture iceberg, normalising an act of horrendous brutality and twisting our perceptions of it until it’s seen as just a bit of fun, a crime so easily dismissed with boys-will-be-boys and she-wanted-it-really arguments. Easy even to erase the victim entirely, her pain irrelevant in comparison with the perpetrator’s gratification: take the ex-coworker of mine whose response to news of a potential rape was not “was she okay?” but “was she hot?” The games that reinforce the idea of women as trophies to be won. The character design choices that present “female” as a complete personality, as though that’s all there is to a woman. As though we’re all interchangeable – an attitude I’ve sadly encountered in real life, where the flaws of Stereotypical Woman are assumed to be flaws shared by all womankind. All women are bossy, so their requests should be treated as onerous.** Women never say what they mean, so when she tells you to stop, she really wants you to carry on.*** Women are irrational and need a nice logical man (or several) to make their decisions for them. Like a room full of men voting on a woman’s right to bodily autonomy. Like a woman’s male partner demanding that he be allowed to control her finances, her clothing, how and with whom she spends her time… and be allowed to dole out punishment if she disobeys.

I’m not saying that any one sexist comment, or story, or game, directly causes rape or violence against women or anything like that. But they are both symptoms and reinforcers of the culture in which these things occur. Even if they seem harmless in isolation: the reality is that nothing exists in isolation, and we need to look at the bigger picture. No single drop of water causes the devastating flood, but they all play a part.

So when I talk about pink covers with headless girls on them, I’m talking about one example of a much wider system that pressurises people of all genders to stay within their rigidly-defined Gender Boxes. When I talk about hunting for protagonists outside the “straight white male” demographic, I’m talking about one example of a culture in which the experiences of straight white men are seen as more worthy of attention and accolades. When I talk about the team behind Doctor Who casting yet another white man as their title character, I’m talking about one example of a world that affords fewer opportunities to women and people of colour. All of these add up to the necessary-and-sufficient condition for “feminist issue” which I mentioned above: an imbalance of unearned privilege.**** And when I point out this imbalance, or go up to publishing industry professionals and question the segregation of “girl books”, or make sure my brother has access to stories of people less privileged than him, those are feminist acts.

So let me be entirely clear on what I’m doing here. I’m talking about matters of disparity. I’m talking about action taken to redress these matters. These things might not always be of the same magnitude as the obvious “big feminist issues”, but that doesn’t change the fact that they exist on the same spectrum. So yes, this blog is feminist. And I’m proud of that fact.

 


* And the content creators I just linked to all have my deepest respect. If I can grow up to be half as awesome as these women, I’ll be very satisfied.

** Happened to me several times. The example that most sticks out in my memory was probably a work situation in which a male co-worker asked me to make him some tea, then accused me of being “bossy” when I pointed out that I was in the middle of an important task and he was capable of making it himself.

*** Also happened to me, although it could have been much worse. He listened to “stop” the second time (and expressed surprise when I realised I actually meant it). I’m aware there are men out there who don’t. I was lucky.

**** You may note that I don’t say anything about this imbalance necessarily aligning with gender, and that several of my examples include race as a factor, while the posts I’ve linked to also touch on weight, disability status and sexuality, to name a few. Once again, examining the wider picture is important here: the disadvantages affecting women do not exist in isolation from those affecting other groups, a fact which becomes particularly obvious when you consider that these other groups also contain women. Therefore, now and always, My Feminism Will Be Intersectional Or It Will Be Bullshit.