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Archive for February, 2013

I am happy to say that this problem has been resolved to my satisfaction, basically within one day–and on a weekend, too. I am a full-blown, fully licensed user of this service again and glad to still have access to those tools.

Today I am writing as a woman customer of a technical service.

I use an account with Gravity Forms (for a school website) and it comes with a default avatar of this:

Gravity Forms Avatar

It is a picture of a man wearing a tee shirt with the Gravity Forms logo on it, right? So I’m a user, but not a man, and this graphic doesn’t reflect me, so I decide to drop them a note on their customer contact form. My note says this:

I am a member of Gravity Forms for my school organization but I have a personal comment to make, so I am using my regular name. I am disappointed that under my member profile picture space/avatar the default setting is of a man. Men and women are users of this technology, and it’s off-putting to be excluded from the outside by something so easy to change and so visible.

Maybe instead of an icon of a man you could put something a little rocket like the rocket in your logo? Or even just a yellow smiley face? An image along those lines would be much more inclusive, and would send the message that you appreciate the business of the women in the community as much as the business of the men.

Thank you for your consideration.

One day later (today), I get a reply from Kevin at Gravity Forms. He took umbrage with my note. Let’s read his reply together! (Bold and caps text in original.)

Karen,

Thanks for your feedback. I’ll be very frank, I found it somewhat entertaining and then mildly offensive.

I don’t know why you would ASSUME that we appreciate our male customers more than our female customers. You don’t really know us, our beliefs or how we do business so I’m not sure where you came up with that idea but you couldn’t be more wrong.

I personally feel that THIS kind of thinking is what helps to propogate and sustain the notion that women are somehow unequal to men. I’m certain you would disagree but that’s to be expected.

This is the first time ever in several years of business that anyone has ever expressed anything even remotely related to this. We have literally thousands of customers and I would bet most have never even considered the gender of the default user avatar. Many of our users have very generic usernames/email addresses (very much like your own school organization ) and we have absolutely no way to tell their gender. EVERYONE gets equal treatment regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, age, race or nationality. We simply don’t care about those things. If you’ve paid for our product, we will gladly assist you, love and appreciate you as a customer.

Now, The default user avatar you refer to is an intentionally generic, faceless, genderless icon that’s almost globally associated with a “user” or a user profile. Do a quick google search for “user icon” and you’ll see what I mean ( http://bit.ly/XsjwT2 ) Using a rocket or smiley face as you suggest wouldn’t have the same connotation and wouldn’t follow well established user interaction guidelines.

Since you obviously don’t care for the avatar, you’ll be happy to know that’s easy enough to fix. We use the “Gravatar” service to provide custom user avatars in our forums. You can sign up for one for free and then have the new avatar reflected on our site automatically when viewing your profile or posts. Easy peasy.

https://en.gravatar.com/site/signup

I’m sure that my reply hasn’t changed your way of thinking, but please be assured that all of our customers are COMPLETELY EQUAL in our eyes and in terms of how we support our products.

Best Regards,

Kevin

So, I just want to make some points.

1. That’s a genderless icon, my ass.
2. A customer service rep told a customer he was offended by her suggestion.
3. I didn’t ASSUME men were more valued than women–I said I felt excluded and that they could send the message better that they valued everyone.
4. Following the link to the icons brings up women icons, too, which they could have picked from but didn’t.
5. A customer asking for visible representation is what makes women seem lesser, but excluding women from images and chastising them does not. No way.
6. They are officially gender blind and so not causing problems.
7. Despite all this, Gravity Forms loves me as a customer.
8. “Easy peasy” is pretty condescending in this context.
9. He’s correct that my reply hasn’t changed my thinking. It has, however, magnified it, and pissed me off. I can think of so many canned customer service responses that would have indicated a lack of interest in changing the icon without blaming me for the disparity of men and women in technology.

Wow.

So where’s my Likert scale, Gravity Forms? Where’s my Likert scale?

UPDATE: A few hours later, I get an email from Kevin:

Hi Karen,

We’ve chosen to refund your Gravity Forms purchase of $39 USD and cancel your account/license key.

You’re obviously unhappy and you’ve been encouraging people to spam our customer support email address. This would create slow-downs as we try to actually help our clients who have real problems.

I hope you have better luck with other solutions.

Best Regards,

Kevin

I didn’t ask to cancel my account and didn’t actually want to cancel my account, but canceled it was. I did manage to save my data, which maybe I wouldn’t have lost. So that was fun.

What to look for here: The exclusion of sexism from the realm of “real problems.” This is just one in a long line of examples of this separation of sexism from problems that matter. Also, complaining about me from Twitter accounts that identify you as a representatives of the company still count as bad customer service.

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This post has been floating around in my “Drafts” folder for a while, and I’ve been starting and stopping it because I couldn’t really get to a good explanation of what sexual objectification is, but lucky for me the discussion has cropped up elsewhere (Skepchick brought it to my attention) and a TED Talk does the hard work for me about why sexual objectification is a problem.

The Sexy Lie: Caroline Heldman at TEDxYouth@SanDiego

So that’s the resource I am directing you to, and if you have problems with the analysis in this resource, please address them at the YouTube site. I didn’t make the video and don’t want to argue about it. If you think have a better resource for people about sexual objectification, leave a link in the comment section.

But then I hear things like this: “I’m not sexually objectifying her–she’s sexually objectifying herself!” and that’s a misunderstanding I want to clear up. Women do not sexually objectify themselves. Women make choices for themselves that may result in other people sexually objectifying them (homework: read up on the “Patriarchal Bargain”), but that is not their responsibility if someone else sexually objectifies them. The responsibility for sexual objectification falls on the person doing the objectifying. And this is a lot of what feels like talking in circles, so let me try to make it clearer with examples from grammar class and sentence construction.

Remember the lessons about how it’s not a complete sentence if there’s not a subject and a predicate? Well, the subject is the part of the sentence that is doing the action. Objects are the part of speech that have actions performed to them, with no input. The action affects them–they do not affect it.

She (subject) bought (action) the book (object).
The dog (subject) ate (action) his barf (object).
The car (subject) hit (action) the garage wall (object) at what I swear was essentially zero miles per hour.
He (subject) objectified (action) her (object).

But! But! But! they say. But, but, she was in a low-cut blouse! She WANTED to be sexually objectified. I did it, yes, but she did it to herself, first. This is a misunderstanding of what has happened. Once more for emphasis: A woman does not sexually objectify herself. She is the subject of the sentence that is her life, not the object..

She (subject) wore (action) sexy clothes (object).

When a woman is being sexually objectified, someone else’s sexual dreams/goals/desires are being projected onto her. These dreams/goals/desires have everything to do with the subject of that sentence and nothing to do with the woman being gazed at or objectified. It’s all in the subject’s head. All of it. The woman is a stand-in for what he (almost always a he) wants in this (metaphorical) sentence, and her dreams/goals/desires are totally irrelevant. She doesn’t matter beyond the point of what she can deliver to him for is own purposes.

What gets overlooked so often is that the woman has made decisions and has dreams/goals/desires of her own. There is a chance that her dreams/goals/desires overlap with the man objectifying her, but that still doesn’t mean she’s an object. She decided to wear those clothes in order to portray an image that suits her purposes. She has agency. She is acting. She is hoping to gain some personal benefit with her actions, and she has used her brain to think up a strategy that will help her meet her goals.

So this woman wearing sexy clothes to a bar? She is probably seeking a certain kind of attention that she wants (woman as subject). She’s not there to make the bar more fun for you by giving you something to look at (woman as object). This woman working as an underwear model? She is probably trying to earn a living and garner some security using skills and assets she worked hard to gain (woman as subject). She’s not there so you can jerk off to the catalog she appears in (woman as object). You want to have fun by seeing women in sexy clothes or jerk off to pictures of them in their underwear? Fine. Be the subject of your life! But don’t make the HUGE mistake of forgetting that you only have these women around performing these actions that you find personally beneficial because they had something to gain from the interaction. They aren’t there to serve you; they are serving themselves. They don’t dress or undress to make your life better; they are making their own life better.

Women are subjects, not objects. If you forget that… if you forget all that context in which women are making decisions that help them navigate a world that is structured to diminish their agency… if you fail to see them as people doing their best to get by just like you are… if you persist in assuming that women with goals that coincidentally match yours were working to meet your goals and not their own… you are developing bad habits and causing great harm.

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