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Posts Tagged ‘sexism’

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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Jen McCreight, an atheist blogger and author of Blag Hag, has had enough of the harassment and abuse she receives from atheists as a person who writes for atheists about problems within atheism movement. She has quit. Hopefully just for a while, and definitely not as a leader/contributor/participant, and I’m sure the break will be good for her and I’m glad she’s put herself first.

She is not the one being divisive. The atheists who have been harassing and abusing her were being divisive. And for all of you out there clamoring (unreasonably) for “data,” here’s another real-life data point for your collection, which falls right in line with predictions.

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I’m fond of starting my posts with a hypothetical scenario for demonstration purposes, so let’s have another one here.

Short Version
Woman: I am making a complaint about sexism and misogyny in skepticism.
Man: I am making a disproportionate response.

Long Version
I am noticing more and more often in reading the blogs (and probably in following the videos, although I don’t generally participate in the videosphere but have heard plenty about it) that whenever a woman makes a pretty straightforward point about sexism, there are predictably people–usually men, but not always–who show up to shut her down by flooding her with words. Written words, spoken words, short statements by lots of other people saying the same kind of thing… you’ve seen it. A woman makes a point that is met with a disproportionate response so often that you can almost bank on the inverse relationship between worthiness of the response and its word count. It’s like some sort of Feminist Godwin’s Law without Nazis: The longer the blog comment, the less likely the commenter has anything productive to contribute or is even directly engaging in the point.

Let’s get the exception out of the way so we don’t have to play gotcha in the comments section. Here is an example of a proportionate response:

Woman: I am writing a 1500-word blog post about sexism I have experienced.
Man: I am writing a 1500-word blog post in response to your blog post about sexism you have experienced.

But that’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about protesting too much, which takes many forms:

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I’m certainly not the first person to suggest that perhaps all this sturm und drang regarding the proper place of feminist ideals within the skeptical movement is just the rabble-rousing of an angry fringe. It’s not really insightful to suggest that the bulk of skeptics–the true skeptics, who are very concerned with accomplishing skeptical goals–find the all the hullabaloo about “calling out” sexism and “hijacking the movement” with “personal grudges” and generally “behaving like spoiled children who don’t know how good they have it in this world” to be a huge distraction–HUGE!–that prevents them from getting their skeptical work done. It’s definitely been suggested explicitly to me that I’m making mountains out of molehills, and I don’t speak for all women in the skeptical movement and that my Handy Guide isn’t very applicable to the skeptical community because it presents my specific beefs about what I personally don’t like as universal issues, and that the best thing for skeptics to do is let me ramble on without engaging me until I wear myself out, and then just sweep it all into the dustbin.

These arguments could be making some very good points. It is entirely possible that my quirky sense of injustice is unique to me and has no bearing on anything else. I’m just finding trouble where I want to, out of boredom or delusion or a highly Westernized sense of middle class woman entitlement or plain old cantankerousness, and if there are so many fewer active women in the skeptical movement than men, it’s for reasons entirely different than the ones I give that require solutions entirely different than the ones I suggest. Such as Ladybrains! and Who cares what the gender balance is? I care about ideas!

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This post was inspired by something I read that I cannot track down exactly, but got close. I am almost certain I read it at the A Radical Transfeminist blog, and this blog post here comes pretty close, so I’m sticking with it for now. If I stumble across what I am imagining I read before, again I’ll update the link.

For some reason, which could be related to the insidious pervasiveness of the patriarchy if you are feminist/political minded or could be related to the purported benevolent cluelessness and social awkwardness that seems to plague so many members of the skeptical community, women’s failure to provide consent is often perceived as confusing. A woman’s “no” is considered more of a negotiation point than a refusal or as inauthentic or as irrelevant, in a wide variety of contexts (and I’ve expanded on this point previously and do not feel like recapping here).

Gaining consent from a woman is also a point of confusion that frequently becomes a point of contention down the line. Consent for Behavior A or Context A is treated like Consent for All Future Behaviors or All Contexts, and the fact that a woman has provided consent in one situation seems to override all subsequent failures to provide consent, and the situation reverts to No Doesn’t Mean No (see above). What is not understood is that consent is temporary and highly context specific, and must be gained each time you want a woman to do something. Let’s run some scenarios to better make this point.

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Let’s go from the specific to the universal today.

The Skeptics Guide to the Universe is a podcast and panel of skeptics “dedicated to promoting critical thinking, reason, and the public understanding of science through online and other media.” I don’t know about the demographics of the listening audience, but a cursory stroll through the discussion board audience via threads on the forum reveals that by far the majority of posters are men. A stroll through the blogosphere reveals that there are far more skeptics who are men than women, to the point that the conversation frequently revolves around how to involve more women. (Hence this blog.) A recent uproar reveals that it is such a point of concern that too few women have registered for The Amazing Meeting 2012 that the president of the hosting organization (James Randi Educational Foundation) attributed this decline to women bloggers discussing the unfriendly environment women encounter in real-life and online communities. In fact, one specific woman blogger, Rebecca Watson–SGU panelist and podcaster–was named as especially responsible and she has decided to sit out this event to make a point.

Because it must be the women warning other women about potential opportunities for personal and online harassment who scare the women away (and maybe it is) and not at all the fault of the people (usually men) harassing women in person and online. Or the behavior of skeptical leaders big and small that sets the tone for what kind of behaviors general members can engage in, how they will be tolerated, and what women can expect.

For example, the moderators of the SGU Forums feel free to fight against the women who are trying to make skepticism a more welcoming place for women, and so the forum itself has become a place where people can go to fight women who are trying to reduce misogyny and sexism in the skeptical community. And you get gems of threads like this one…

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