Sunday, August 06, 2006

aesthetics and hateration

When you hate on a woman for her pointy-toed shoes, skinniness, hairstyle, cheerleaderiness... you are participating in a misogynist system just as if you hated on her for being fat and not shaving her legs. You're trying to comment on patriarchy, but on the way, you're doing some woman hating. I'm hearing and reading it all week from 25 year old women on myspace, tech guys, radical feminists, friends, and my own brain.

Fembots and 'basement cupcakes' - - - model-thin, dressed wrong, identical - - It's equally hateration whether it comes out of the mouth of a man or a woman.

Everyone loves hating on the Bejanes. Again, if you've been doing this and that was your first reaction, I'm not pointing and yelling "You're sexist!" We're all sexist. Look at your gut reaction of hate towards the outfits, chirpy voices, "identicalness", hair, and shoes of the two women on stage, and think about why that reaction is so violent and powerful. What are you hating? Why did it come out in that kind of language that dehumanizes the two women from Microsoft? Sit with that for a while. Who else is "like that"? I would even challenge you to free associate a list of similarly hateable qualities.

Mixed in with the misogyny there is some fine criticism of Microsoft and of the very idea of the commercial break.

All anyone has to do is describe these women physically (very thin) and maybe say the word "fembot" and "we" think we know what's being talked about. We hear a type - not a person. We hear qualities of femininity, which of course are understood to be despised. If we're women talking this hate talk, we're saying "I am not that." If we're men, we're also delineating, "I am not that."

This kind of talk is why I play with femininity at all. I am that. And I'm still your sister and I still have a brain. I am not a fembot. Talk to me like I'm a human being. Respect, y'all.

You know how people were making fun of some of us for worrying about "what to wear to BlogHer"? This is why. A good bit of the criticism directed at Microsoft drives home that where they erred is in sending women who wore the wrong thing.

I want people to dig around in their minds for a while and think about why that's fundamentally messed up. You can be wrong. It's okay. I think we all have internalized sexism, racism, classism - it is called hegemony. Pointing it out is not divisive - it's helpful, and gets that stuff out into the open so we can give it a little analysis.

If you are a woman hating on another woman for big hair, makeup, pointy toed high heels, and chirpiness, and being thin, you are hating her for what you perceive as her buying into the system of patriarchal aesthetics. It signifies that she is willing to give a significant amount of her time and energy to men. We think that fembot, consciously or unconsciouly is sucking up to The Man, and getting privilege for it. That perception of privilege (which I'd argue is largely wrong) creates a lot of divisive resentment. That's why we think we can talk smack about "plastic actresses with boob jobs in Los Angeles" and think that it's okay to dehumanize them in our thoughts and language. It's not right to hate a Bejane or an Uncle Tom. Isn't bejaning yourself presented to us women as a survival skill? Isn't it the way to be loved? To be non threatening? Then why is it also a ticket to hate? Because - coding yourself with feminine qualities is a way to signify inferiority. So we bitterly hate the ones who can and do code themselves extremely well according to patriarchal standards.

I don't accept that entire system although I live in it and it is more powerful than I am as an individual. I see no escape from it, and so I play with it. I have the luxury of my sense of self worth, my job, my relationships, not depending on my conforming to feminine requirements.

Oh, and p.s. Yes - I do feel annoyed and uncomfortable at condescending men in hardware stores, whether I'm in a dress or in jeans and work boots. Yes I can go buy a hammer, but I still notice the sexism. The sexism is worse if I'm in a dress and it's especially worse if I'm in a sexy feminine dress. Because I have a lot of privilege, I can mostly ignore that sexism. Many women don't have the kind of privilege I enjoy.

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13 comments:

Debbie said...

Superb and dead on target (as usual). If we hate femminess, we hate women. If we hate the things that women get paid to do, we need to be hating the corporations that pay them/us to do those things.

Another way to think about this, she said, treading into even more dangerous territory, is to think about punishing the prostitute and leaving the john unscathed.

Frank said...

Some of my best friends are fembots. I'm sure you recognize the irony...

As a man criticizing women, I'm in an awkward spot, but of course there were plenty of women who criticized this particular constellation of work, corporate intrusion, and role play, so I don't feel entirely out on a limb.

Regarding my use of "fembots," I'll just qualify it by repeating a self-serving comment I made down-stream: "The sprue still shows where they were busted out of the plastic compression mold. In fairness, they are simply people with a job to do. I’d rather scrub toilets for a living, but I understand that these folks are simply doing a wage slave job for massa Bill."

I'll let Alan speak for himself on why he called them "basement cupcakes." I know another dehumanizing label that may be out of currency now, but when I used to do trade shows, some of the women who had booth duty referred to the role as "Demo Dolly."

As contracted staff, I've been referred to as "Analyst in a box" and of course heads down programmers on a deadline driven project have been called "raw meat men" (lock them in a room and throw raw meat over the transom until the job is done).

I am the father of identical twin boys. The strange performance I witnessed at BlogHer by the BeJanes abraded my particular sensitivity and concern for individuation in twins. I don't think my expressed discomfort had much to do with the performers' gender except in an allusive (Austin Powers, plastic icon of the sixties and his antagonists, the Fembots) and descriptive sense. We could get down into the signification of the Powers thing. At root it's pretty dumb, about like clowns slapping each other with pig's bladders dramatically, but it's also pretty sexist. In fact, it is so sexist as to carry it's own message regarding sexism, I think.

While I resented Microsoft's waste of our time, I think it would be more informative to hear from the BeJanes about how they felt about their performance. I think they did a good job, but it was a tough room to work.

And at the bottom of it all, and perhaps the motivation for this lengthy comment, is my rejection of your assertion that my criticism is founded in hatred. Hatred is some evil shit and that's not where I'm coming from, my profound antipathy and animosity regarding corporate culture notwithstanding.

ElisaC said...

am glad you wrote this. This has been bothering me tremendously, which I wrote about in my BlogHer recap over on my personal blog. What I said there was that it's not OK to degrade them for their appearance any more than it would be OK to degrade me for my (very different) appearance. And it's not OK to do if you're a woman either.

Liz said...

Hey Frank. You weren't the only person to talk about identicalness. I am also not trying to pick on your friend who passed on the "cupcakes" label - again, I am interested to know that label exists and only ask "why do we think we know what that means" -- why do we know what "booth babes" means and are eager to put people in that category.

I would even argue that it was inevitable that someone would get scapegoated for being the femmiest and most annoying at Blogher and everyone would race to distance themselves from that contaminating femminess by mocking it. If it weren't for the women from Be Jane, it would have been someone else. Perhaps that is also true of "most annoying guy". In my experience with communities there will be some scapegoating behavior. And it helps combat it to be aware of the ways that that dynamic begin to form. Whatever anxiety is most present will displace itself through a sort of collective movement until it collects into a group or a person.

Whoops, that did not really answer what you were saying, but it was an interesting tangent anyway.

Frank said...

It's easy to scapegoat the vendors' reopresentatives since they are among us but not of us. And Microsoft as a vendor was using women playing women to sell to a crowd that was sure to reject their interpretation of the scripted role.

Ide Cyan said...

I wrote something about that earlier this year:

http://community.livejournal.com/strawfeminists/1384.html

bellatrys said...

By using the very word "femminess" you're buying into the patriarchy. You're accepting the role that has been created for you. Why do you identify those things - hair care, skin care, makeup, jewelry, stylish clothes - as "Feminine" ? Because you've been brainwashed and are ignorant of history You can't even think about them objectively, let alone subvert any paradigms or stand up for women.

Liz said...

Hey bellatrys! I read your LJ blog and enjoy it. I get your point about gender binaries being patriarchally defined. I often feel like it would be more subversive to opt out of femmey/butchy stuff instead of doing what I do, which is mixing stuff up. And yet that play is maybe only the illusion of control and is kind of a waste of time.

I think I should have linked more heavily to the huge number of posts about this - to all the women who were at (or weren't at) Blogher who were describing the two women from Microsoft in really negative ways. I didn't have a good way to talk about the talk without talking about femminess and people's perceptions of it.

I don't think that a person is more or less feminine or female or good or bad or whatever because of her body or clothes.

If you can point out terminology or arguments in my attempt at diplomatic criticism of about a zillion different communities.... I would like it & appreciate it. So, how to approach this ?

Like, if you were in some situation that was women's space, and then you heard/read 700 women were talking about their anxiety about dress and what to wear and what everyone was going to wear and how they were too fat? It didn't make the anxieties go away to say "Well, worrying about bodies and clothes is this patriarchal thing and it's unproductive, so stop it." That, while quite true, doesn't get across and it dismisses the damage done (by patriarchy).

So, my response in general is to say "To hell with it all. I'm taking off my clothes along with Naked Jen -- for body image pride not for girls gone wild purposes. Who cares what our bodies look like, take a good look at my round belly, there it is. I shall also wear a fairy princess ball gown and tiara and then jump into the pool in it as my fuck-you to all anxiety about princessitude." Yes, I feel trapped in many ways... in the ways you describe. So that no matter what I wear, it feels like drag, like a costume, like I'm conscious of it.

Bellatrys does that make me sound even more of an ignorant brainwashateria? Did you miss (or completely disagree with) the whole "genderfuck" thing or glam rock in the 70s, & ideas about performativity & art... Isn't that also part of history? Perhaps a sadly misguided one - it is certainly open to question.

shuna fish lydon said...

What a gorgeous post this is. Thank you.

As a politicized person I know this information, but it's always good to hear again and again, especially as the years progress.

There was a peculiar irony for me at BlogHer. As a queer person I have been drawn to events/protests/marches etc. solely for my purported gender.

But at the conference I thought how strange it must have been for women, especially those who blog in what must feel like a vaccuum, to have found that their voices matter and are important, and have thus placed themselves at a hotel with over 500 people like themselves.

Especially those women who don't know that their society has brought them up to view other female born people as the enemy.

I think, too, there is another layer of mysogyny. Jealousy/Envy. Which indeed might be tied into hate, but comes from a more vulnerable place.

Because, as a close friend of mine recently made the point of: it's easier to get to a place of mad than the real place of sad.

ps did you read the rhubarb article yet? (in the free Edible San Francisco magazine I gave you)

Michelle said...

I am really glad to see this conversation, because i was appalled at how mean everyone was to them. But the most disturbing thing, is that EVERYONE has been so distracted by what they looked like and what they wore and by judging them, that it's apparent that NO ONE listened to what they said or took the time to do a simple search on them. If anyone had, you'd know they don't work for Microsoft. They have their own company that they started to help women do home improvement and are a partner of Microsoft. It's sad to me that two women who probably thought they were speaking to like minded independent women have been judged solely on what they wore rather than what they've done. They seem to be doing very well as a company and it's a big win for a small woman owned company to have a partnership with Microsoft.

Anonymous said...

Hi! My name is Bernadette Aguilar and I am the photographer who took this photo on your blog. I just wanted to let you know, as stated in my flickr.com site, that all rights are reserved on my photos, as well as copyrighted. So the next time, if any, that you use my photos, I would have to be notified prior to. THANKS!

LIz said...

Hey, sorry about that, fotoFANATIK! I thought that if the "blog this" button was on the photo then it was okay to use it... and that photos with stricter rights wouldn't have the button... clearly I need to go read the rules again. I'll take down the photo and will also email you... My mistake and I apologize!

- Liz

Susan Kitchens said...

Liz,

I don't think I saw this post of yours, post-BlogHer. I came here as a link-or-two removed from the Kathy Sierra controversy and your latest post that links to this post.

Good points re: the feelings and attitudes that stand behind terms like "fembots." Since I wrote about BeJanes after the fact, I re-read what I said about my reaction to BeJane, to see if my critique smacked of any "high heels! eek!" thoughts. Several months removed, I'm glad to report that my BeJane parse passed that test.

Now, if we were to get into a "Marketese-Bot" smackdown, I wouldn't come out with such flying colors. ;)