Don’t Follow Him to the Gym

Fox News’s Men’s Health section has its obligatory misogynist article today, Don’t Bring Her to the Gym. But maybe it would be a more effective article if it were directed to women, a la Cosmopolitan.

RELATIONSHIP MISTAKE YOU WON’T WANT TO MAKE: Ladies, Don’t Follow Your Man to the Gym

The couple that works out together, stays together, you might think. But relationship experts say that while workouts can help you stay physically and emotionally fit, its ugly physicality may make you repulsive to your partner. He might lose his beer belly, but you may also lose the mystique you hold over him when he detects some sweat on you. Remember, being a woman means not being a man: you don’t sweat, don’t pass gas, and don’t know how to use a gym machine. A tough workout can undo these feminine qualities and ruin the sweet intimacy and delicate equilibrium of your relationship. Here’s a list of why the gym date will turn into a disaster:

1. He’ll be checking out the babes. Women at the gym are there to be ogled by your boyfriend. This is the order of things.

2. You’ll ask stupid, compliment-fishing questions that annoy him because all women are hypersensitive, insecure harpies. When you see him checking out other women, your first, natural instinct will be to ask, “Do you think I look as good as her, honey?” We all know that for women, the gym is a beauty pageant. It’s not about the workout, it’s about being judged. For men, however, the gym experience is quite different–though they might look at women on occasion, they are ultimately there to better their bodies and minds. Because men work out to feel good, and women ask obnoxious questions to bolster their self-esteem, the gym will only emphasize these differences and drive you two apart. It’s just not worth it to ask yourself why you might feel this way, find support from friends, or find other outlets for self-confidence.

3. You’ll distract him by asking for help. Even at the gym, women should be seen and not heard.

4. You’ll probably do it wrong anyway. Always. Again and again. No matter what, your form will simply not be good and you’ll embarrass, or worse, frustrate him. Your best bet is to hire a female personal trainer in a women’s gym who will teach you the art behind a screen for privacy, for when your muscles do that gross bulging thing.

5. He’ll see you at your worst. You probably thought “your worst” was when you were hungover on the couch all day eating bonbons. It’s not. Your worst is when you illustrate that you are a breathing, eating, digesting, sweating human being who might get sweat stains. This means sweating at the gym in front of him is a no-no. And while his precious bodily fluids are a sexy, yet smelly, display of his masculine prowess, yours should never be visible. If you sweat like a man, he’ll think you are one.

Sometimes, this advice is conflicting. For example, the other girls at the gym your boyfriend stares at–are they allowed to get sweaty? Or, how do you get a fit, hard body that he’ll find attractive without breaking a sweat? These pesky questions are best dealt with separation: he works out in one place, and you work out somewhere more private.

Exceptions always exist, of course. If your boyfriend respects you as a person, you respect him, and you both have some semblance of communication skills, none of these rules apply. In fact, many men and women might find these presuppositions offensive. But they definitely hold some water for most couples out there. I know this because I go to a gym, and as a woman can speak for all women. The offensive parts of this article don’t matter because really, my simple message is that it’s healthy for your boyfriend to have personal time–but this inoffensive and reasonable point can only be made through perpetuating tired stereotypes of men and women.

Fancy Ladies on Bikes! Thought You Knew

How can I not discuss bicycling on a blog where most of us are in Portland, and ladies? Thought You Knew is a group whose mission is to debunk the stereotype that women can’t cycle. Or we can, but not without sacrificing some sex appeal, or being ignored entirely.
TyK’s awesome pin-up calendar features ladies with bikes. Proceeds go to the Chicago Women’s Health Center, and can be purchased here. It’s a myth you can’t bike in a skirt–though I will admit doing so in a pencil skirt ended up with bad news and a lost shoe for me.

Feminism and Education

This blog isn’t dead!  Even if it means me writing what feels like a response paper!
Unfortunately we’ve all been pretty busy with typical twenty-something lifestyles. This does not mean we don’t talk about feminism in other places, or run into new perspectives we hadn’t considered before. Since a major theme of this blog is “twenty-somethings talk feminism,” today I’m going to indulge in a navel-gazing written exercise about my thoughts on feminism, and how they are constantly changing.
I recently shared with Emily an essay by Audre Lorde, The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House, which I in turn found via a comment on Feministe. The essay is thought-provoking, and gave me some revelations about myself and what many of my feminist peers wish to accomplish.

First, Lorde describes her experience at an academic conference where her voice, as well as that of many other women, are outnumbered or excluded when it comes to panel discussions about topics other than feminist-specific theory. She has an excellent point here–much mainstream theory about the liberal arts is in the ivory towers run by privileged people.

While much of Lorde’s article focuses on the exclusion of voices and the problems of ignoring differences between women, it also touched on something Emily and I have spent countless hours brainstorming and discussing. Emily and I talk about inclusiveness and how to make feminism have more of a mainstream, popular vision. We’ve bounced ideas such as using PR (public relations) tools to make feminism less of an f-word. Making “feminist” an okay and embraceable identity is important to us. I’ve certainly scowled at some notable 2nd generation feminists whose “radical” stances alienated feminism for so many people. As firm believers of being in the system to beat the system, Lorde’s essay left us a bit… struck, to say the least. In particular when she points out the problem of being too much a participant in the “system,” or “house”:

What does it mean when the tools of a racist patriarchy are used to examine the fruits of
that same patriarchy? It means that only the most narrow perimeters of
change are possible and allowable” […] For the master’s tools will
never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat
him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine
change. And this fact is only threatening to those women who still define
the master’s house as their only source of support.

Like an arrow right into the heart. I don’t think about my own privileges enough. In an abstract sense I do, but it’s something that is difficult to grip, because it is indeed invisible as Peggy McIntosh asserted in her amazing essay. Thinking about feminism with Lorde’s and McIntosh’s essays in mind revealed to me my own privileges that I never stopped to consider. It is from a privileged position that I think of social media or writing as modes of expressing feminist ideas and a desire for change. That I think of “the system” as a way to fix the system itself illustrates my own reliance on the privileges this system gave me. While I am still trying to figure out what to make of these problems, I do think her essay will continue to inform what I do choose to write about, and devise ways to mitigate my privilege. I never made the connection between feminism, activism, and privilege until now. The earlier part of Lorde’s essay made me especially rethink education–as a “master’s tool,” or something that can be of use for feminists and others who desire a better society.

A lot of well-educated people never learn feminist theory. Part of this could be because their discipline never quite had the need for it (e.g., a natural or physical science), but a huge part of it is because the bulk of our compulsory education is taught from the perspective of white, heterosexual men. A particularly embarrassing memory comes to mind when my high school English teacher assigned Heart of Darkness. Though my teacher tried to discuss the sexism and racism of the novel, it was rather short-lived. “Well sure it is racist and sexist, but so was everything from back then, what else is there to say?” was the comment that got the most nods, and it upsets me that the class reached this conclusion because we had no other tools to argue or challenge that position. I appreciate that my teacher brought it up, but that discussion could not have ended any other way. The tools to talk about sexism and racism are simply untaught, and feminism becomes a “fringe” discipline. Part of this may be why Lorde and other women like her only get places on certain type of panels, that is, because popular opinion categorizes Women’s Studies and the like as “out there” and irrelevant to other subjects. This brings up another debate–but that is for a different blog post.

What can be done about the lack of feminist theory taught in schools? Or hell, even an alternative perspective to the one we’re taught? I have little connection to a school now, but I’m willing to do the research. But maybe this is one way to start talking about making it more okay to talk about feminist theory–to start at school and focus less on gimmicky campaigns to get attention to the cause.

Don’t Ignore Video Games

The anxieties of technology and representation date back to the 18th century. Since the event of novels in the modern Western tradition, there has been concern about narrative and art’s abilities to persuade the mind away from morality and goodness. Right now, video games are in the spotlight–and they have been for a while. Unlike novels, movies, and other narratives, video games are different because they tell a story through the player’s choices and strategies. Moreover, video games are often all lumped together, and no “classics” exist in the mainstream consciousness, with the exceptions of Pong and the Mario series.

Kotaku’s post on the first video game case going to the Supreme court is a run-down of what’s going on and who’s involved with the case. I gather that what is at stake here is the criminalization of selling violent video games–the big questions here are what constitutes “violence” and who gets to decide that. I bring up hate crimes because the Kotaku post points to a scene from the game Postal 2, which I then looked up on Wikipedia. The wiki article contains this passage:

Homophobia in the shape of an arcade game prop called Fag Hunter. The AWP mod (included in the Fudge Pack release) expands Fag Hunter into a mini-level where the player has to kill 20 stereotyped gay NPCs (depicted as bald, unshaven men wearing pink dresses). link

I can’t think of the appropriate expletive to express my shock and disgust. This passage does, however, highlight an interesting feature of video games that aren’t so vehemently talked about: hate crimes. Banning violent content in video games is too broad to address what I consider to be the most damaging aspect of video game tropes.

Art is mostly interpretation. I accept (to a point) interpretations of Postal 2 that understand the game as an extreme satire. Because of it is over-saturated with violence and ridiculousness, it is possible to see that Postal 2 embodies the worst bits of video games. Furthermore, Postal 2 seems to have some evidence of self-awareness. Mobs that attack the player include book-burners and opponents of video games. Considering its self-consciousness, how does the “fag hunter” mini level fit in? If Postal 2 is in fact commenting on video game violence, why this a part of gameplay? Is it just boasting its own irreverence? What really outrages me is that this is not getting enough press or attention. Video games and their content are too often skimmed over with the general notion that video games are too unimportant or minor to be worth seriously critiquing.

While an overtly homophobic movie or book would be quickly lambasted, it seems that video games get far less attention from the big media. Perhaps it is just that I am reading the wrong group of blogs, but while Jonathan Franzen and The Social Network will make headlines in the more widely-read news blogs, video game coverage and its related social issues come up rarely. When they do, it’s usually within niche circles or about all the blood and gore rather than the message or context. Part of this, I think, is because video games are, by many, not considered real art or narrative.

So what is all this doing on a blog concerning the thoughts of twenty-something feminists, most of whom are not gamers? Firstly, I’m going to say, I don’t think banning violence is the answer here, and honestly, won’t do much. Rather, I think video games have to be accepted as a legitimate art form and treated as such. Before criticizing their content, we need to look at the universe it presents and how we interact with it. Instead of outlawing video game violence, video games deserve the criticisms we give to shows such as Mad Men and movies like The Social Network. Video game content needs discussion and is deserving of critical insight–and this will do far more to understand and attenuate the potentially harmful aspects of video games. Is there homophobia or rampant sexism in a game? We could discuss what game does in addressing that and point out its specific message. Let’s stop giving video games a free pass on real social issues when we say, “well video games are violent and stupid.” Feminist discourse does not have to be opposed to video games. Rather, I think it has the potential to create a demand for video games with more depth and good stories, which is far more effective and does more to challenge its sexism, racism, and other conventions.