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kottke.org posts about sexism

Dear catcallers, it’s not a compliment

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 05, 2017

To show how routine street harassment is, Noa Jansma took a selfie with every man who catcalled her for a month and posted the photos to Instagram.

Dear Catcallers

It’s fun1 to see how happy and pleased almost all of these men look having harassed this young woman on the street. (thx, joel)

  1. By which I mean the exact opposite of fun.

Born Sexy Yesterday

posted by Jason Kottke   May 08, 2017

The most recent video by The Pop Culture Detective Agency explores a trope in TV and movies they call Born Sexy Yesterday.

It’s a science fiction convention in which the mind of a naive, yet highly skilled, girl is written into the body of a mature sexualized woman. Born Sexy Yesterday is about an unbalanced relationship, but it’s also very much connected to masculinity. The subtext of the trope is rooted in a deep seated male insecurity around experienced women and sexuality.

Note that Born Yesterday isn’t meant literally. Born Sexy Yesterday can be written literally but it doesn’t have to be. If media uses a “fish out of water” plot to frame an adult woman as an inexperience child then it fits the trope.

Examples of this trope can be seen in The Fifth Element, Forbidden Planet, Tron: Legacy, Splash, My Stepmother is an Alien, Japanese anime, and just about any episode of Star Trek where Kirk seduces an alien woman.

Gender inequality and the Supreme Court

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 06, 2017

Tonja Jacobi and Dylan Schweers have published the results of a study they’ve done related to the role of gender in the workings of the Supreme Court. They found that female justices are interrupted much more often by male justices and advocates than male justices are.

Our empirical study examines interruptions among justices, and between the justices and the advocates, during Supreme Court oral arguments. It shows that women still do not have an equal opportunity to be heard on the highest court in the land. In fact, as more women join the court, the reaction of the male justices and the male advocates has been to increase their interruptions of the female justices.

Even in the most powerful courtroom in the world, the women are being verbally dominated.

Even without adjusting for the low representation of women, the effect is stark. On average, women constituted 22 percent of the court, yet 52 percent of interruptions were directed at them. Overwhelmingly, it was men doing the interrupting: Women interrupted only 15 percent of the time and men interrupted 85 percent of the time, more than their 78 percent representation on the court.

Their study shows that seniority can’t explain this effect — “gender is approximately 30 times more influential than seniority” — but some of it can be explained in terms of political ideology: conservative justices interrupt more than liberal justices do.

We found that the power dynamic does not only affect women: In a court that has been dominated by Republican appointees for over half a century, conservative justices have also dominated liberal justices by interrupting them. We expected cross-ideological interruptions to occur more often than interruptions within ideological camps, and this is true: 62 percent of interruptions cross ideological lines, compared to 38 percent within an ideological camp. However, the effect does not go in both directions: 70 percent of interruptions were of liberals, and only 30 percent of conservatives. Once again, advocates display the same tendency. Advocates interrupting the liberal justices account for over ten percent of interruptions, yet advocate interruptions of the conservative justices account for less than three percent of interruptions.

I wonder what the results would look like if Clarence Thomas ever talked in court? (via @caitlin__kelly)

Hidden Figures

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 14, 2017

I finally got the chance to see Hidden Figures the other day. Recommended. It’s a science/space story in the vein of Apollo 13, but the twin engines of the film are the three excellent lead actresses — Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer & Janelle Monáe — and the persistent portrayal of the systemic biases of segregation and sexism. You watch this movie and think, how much higher could the human race have flown if women and people of color had always had the same opportunities as white men?1 How many Katherine Johnsons never got the chance to develop and use their skills in math, science, or technology because of their skin color or gender? Our society wastes so much energy and human lives telling people what they can’t do rather than empowering them to show everyone what they can do.

Hidden Figures was adopted from Margot Lee Shetterly’s book of the same name. The film takes some dramatic license with the timing of certain events but overall is historically accurate.

The film primarily focuses on John Glenn’s 1962 trip around the globe and does add dramatic flourishes that are, well, Hollywood. However, most of the events in the movie are historically accurate. Johnson’s main job in the lead-up and during the mission was to double-check and reverse engineer the newly-installed IBM 7090s trajectory calculations. As it shows, there were very tense moments during the flight that forced the mission to end earlier than expected. And John Glenn did request that Johnson specifically check and confirm trajectories and entry points that the IBM spat out (albeit, perhaps, not at the exact moment that the movie depicts). As Shetterly wrote in her book and explained in a September NPR interview, Glenn did not completely trust the computer. So, he asked the head engineers to “get the girl to check the numbers… If she says the numbers are good… I’m ready to go.”

You can view Johnson’s published reports on NASA’s site, including her initial technical report from 1960 on the Determination of Azimuth Angle at Burnout for Placing a Satellite Over a Selected Earth Position.

  1. I’m using the past tense here, but I am definitely not saying that women and people of color now possess those same opportunities. Take a quick look at the current racial and gender wage gaps in the US and you’ll see that they still do not.

The long fight for a female President

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 10, 2016

All 43 US Presidents up to this point have been men, and now our next President will also be a man. Joss Fong looks at the history of women running for President and the difficulty they face in the political arena.

Women running for office faced a double bind. They had to appear tough enough to lead but if they were too tough or too confident, they violated norms about how women were supposed to behave.

Oh, and how about that Ward Cleaver clip from Leave It To Beaver at ~2:25! [appalled emoji] I watched Leave It To Beaver all the time when I was a kid and never consciously noticed the sexism. Glad it didn’t sink in too deeply.

The NY Times and the truth of profanity

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 09, 2016

When the story about Donald Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women broke, the NY Times took the unusual step of publishing exactly what the presidential candidate said.

In the three-minute recording, which was obtained by The Washington Post, Mr. Trump recounts to the television personality Billy Bush of “Access Hollywood” how he once pursued a married woman and “moved on her like a bitch, but I couldn’t get there,” expressing regret that they did not have sex. But he brags of a special status with women: Because he was “a star,” he says, he could “grab them by the pussy” whenever he wanted.

“You can do anything,” Mr. Trump says.

He also said he was compulsively drawn to kissing beautiful women “like a magnet” — “I don’t even wait” — and talked about plotting to seduce the married woman by taking her furniture shopping. Mr. Trump, who was 59 at the time he made the remarks, went on to disparage the woman, whom he did not name, saying, “I did try and fuck her. She was married,” and saying, “She’s now got the big phony tits and everything.”

It was unusual because of the Times’ policy of not printing profanity, even if the profane words themselves are newsworthy. In this case, the editors felt they had no choice but to print the actual words spoken by Trump.

In piece published earlier the same day the Trump story broke, Blake Eskin, who has been tracking the Times’ non-use of profanity at Fit to Print, highlights the racial and classist implications of the policy.

As I’ve noticed over the years while documenting how the Times writes around profanity, a lot of the expletives the Times avoids come up around race: in stories about hip-hop, professional sports, and police shootings. (I’m getting all the data into a spreadsheet so I can back up this assertion.)

The Times seems compelled both to tell readers that people curse in these contexts and to frown upon it.

It’s as if profanity is like a sack dance or a bat flip, a classless flourish that the archetypal Times reader, who is presumably white, can take vicarious pleasure in without having to perform it himself.

You cannot tell authentic stories about people who are systematically discriminated against in our society without using their actual words and the actual words spoken against them related to that discrimination. Full stop.

Update: Eskin wrote a follow-up about his data analysis of the NY Times profanity avoidance for Quartz.

The “other” category includes faux-folksy formulations such as “a word more pungent than ‘slop,’” and “a stronger version of the phrase ‘gol darn,’” as well as the straightforward, “He swore.” When I began the Fit to Print project, I could enjoy the cleverness of some of these contortions. But after reading through hundreds of examples over several years, expletive avoidance no longer strikes me as an interesting puzzle for a writer to solve. The policy just seems prissy, arbitrary, and delusional.

The more I think about the Times’ policy, the more absurd it becomes. There seems to be a relatively simple solution: if the profanity does work in the service of journalism — particularly if the entire article is about the profanity in question — print it. It is doesn’t, don’t. I mean, are Times editors afraid their reporters will start handing in articles with ledes like “Well, this fucking election is finally winding down, thank Christ.”?

The reason truck commercials don’t have more women in them

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 05, 2016

From a New Zealand sketch comedy show called Funny Girls, a send-up of a typical manly man “built tough” truck commercial. I barely watch any actual TV anymore, but those truck commercials have always been the worst. (thx, sarah)

Hillary Clinton on why she appears aloof and unemotional in public

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 09, 2016

Hillary Clinton

Humans of New York recently caught up with Hillary Clinton and she talked about how her public persona came to be.

I know that I can be perceived as aloof or cold or unemotional. But I had to learn as a young woman to control my emotions. And that’s a hard path to walk. Because you need to protect yourself, you need to keep steady, but at the same time you don’t want to seem ‘walled off.’ And sometimes I think I come across more in the ‘walled off’ arena. And if I create that perception, then I take responsibility. I don’t view myself as cold or unemotional. And neither do my friends. And neither does my family. But if that sometimes is the perception I create, then I can’t blame people for thinking that.

Clinton is just a different type of politician than her husband or Obama, for good reason.

Women are seen through a different lens. It’s not bad. It’s just a fact. It’s really quite funny. I’ll go to these events and there will be men speaking before me, and they’ll be pounding the message, and screaming about how we need to win the election. And people will love it. And I want to do the same thing. Because I care about this stuff. But I’ve learned that I can’t be quite so passionate in my presentation. I love to wave my arms, but apparently that’s a little bit scary to people. And I can’t yell too much. It comes across as ‘too loud’ or ‘too shrill’ or ‘too this’ or ‘too that.’ Which is funny, because I’m always convinced that the people in the front row are loving it.

When she says “it’s not bad,” that’s a perfect illustration of not being able to say exactly what you want how you want. A woman gets excited and she seems deranged or unhinged but a man gets excited and he’s seen as passionate? That seems bad to me.

P.S. Clinton is reading Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels!

“You know what I have started reading and it’s just hypnotic is the Neapolitan novels by Elena Ferrante,” she tells Linsky, commenting on Ferrante’s intoxicating novels about female relationships in Naples, Italy that have an intense cult following. “I had to stop myself so I read the first one. I could not stop reading it or thinking about it.”

They’re the best fiction I’ve read in ages…so sad I’ve finished them all.

Sports Illustrated: “No girls allowed!”

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 14, 2014

Writer Mary Beth Williams tweeted the following this morning:

No actively competitive female sports figures on SI cover since Olympic gymnast team. July 2012.

Intrigued, I went back through Sports Illustrated’s cover archive and counted the number of covers featuring active female athletes. I only needed one hand:

2013: 0
2012: 1 (US Women’s Gymnastics Team)
2011: 1 (Hope Solo)
2010: 3! (Serena Williams, Lindsey Vonn, Julia Mancuso & Vonn)
2009: 0

Pathetic. And ESPN the Magazine isn’t any better…most of the female athletes on their covers over the past five years are naked. Well, except for this one of the incredibly talented skier Lindsey Vonn with her face photoshopped onto Sharon Stone’s body in the leg uncrossing scene from Basic Instinct.

As Williams notes on Twitter, Sports Illustrated “could show women as more than bikinis. As athletes.” and “I want my daughters to read sports magazines & see themselves represented, not Barbie.” Seems like we need a Title IX for sports magazines.

Update: Vonn’s face was not photoshopped onto Stone’s body. Which is…better, I guess? Maybe?

Photographing my catcallers

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 21, 2013

Hannah Price

In her series City of Brother Love, Hannah Price photographs the men who catcall her on the street. A selection of her images and a short interview is available on The Morning News.

Once a guy catcalls me, depending on the situation, I would either candidly take their photograph or walk up to them and ask if I can take their photograph. They usually agree and we talk about our lives as I make their portrait.

An interesting approach to sexist heckling. Here’s another by jogger Anna Hart:

But sometimes, a heckler still makes himself heard, like the wheezing smoker on a park bench who called out to me: “I could give you a better workout, love,” as I ran past him earlier this week.

I suddenly thought of that 16-year-old stuck indoors on the treadmill, and turned around. “You know what I want?” I said, as he shrank back in alarm. “I want you to never, ever speak to another woman or girl like that, you pathetic old fool.” I was very sweaty, very pink and very angry, and he was plainly terrified.

Vintage sexist ads

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 16, 2009

A “blow in her face and she’ll follow you anywhere” ad for Tipalet cigarettes and 11 other vintage sexist ads from Oobject.

The sexing up of the female on-camera

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 20, 2005

The sexing up of the female on-camera meteorologists at the Weather Channel. From a SVP at TWC: “When you compare The Weather Channel women on camera to the weather women on camera around the country, we got the best. I mean, that’s what we set out to do. And damn it, we’ve done a good job.”