Improve your lexicon: have some balls

I’m on a never-ending quest to improve my vocabulary – both by expanding it, and by getting rid of some of the more objectionable, oppressive language which we all use without thinking.

But change can be difficult. The best solution I’ve found is to brainstorm alternative words in advance and think good and hard about them. Hence, these posts – as much a tool for me as for anyone else!

This was inspired by a friend on Twitter a while back, who asked if it were “too PC” to object to the term “having balls” as a code for being brave.

Well … it probably is “too PC” to the kinds of people who believe thinking about the words you use and the effects they might have on other people is bad.

It’s simple patriarchal masculine-centric thinking. Your balls, nuts, cojones or stones are the source of bravery and courage; these characteristics are associated with being manly or masculine; in contrast, things coded as womanly or feminine are weak and helpless. I’m not down with that for obvious reasons.

On another level, well, not all men have testicles. Even cisgender men. And not everyone with testicles is a guy.

There’s an argument that “having some balls” – like referring to a mixed-gender group of people as “guys” – has come to mean something neutral, divorced from stereotypes about bodies and the gender attached to them to the mainstream. But there are many people who don’t find it so easy to shrug and ignore the obvious implications of gendered, body-based language. There are many people whose identities and gender and bodies are a significant, front-row part of their daily existence. They might have bodies that don’t fit, and the fact that our language makes casual, “neutral” assumptions about things like dudes-have-balls-and-are-brave is a part of what makes their lives way more difficult than mine.

Besides, as with all judgey oppressive language, there are plenty of alternatives, so why not use those instead?

Alternatives to telling people to “have some balls”:

be brave, be bold, show courage, defend yourself,
show some principle, have some guts, back yourself up,
do better, take a stand, stop being gutless

International (Working) Women’s Day

It’s hard to know what to write on this International (Working) Women’s Day. The issues facing women living under patriarchy remain pretty much what they always are: there’s a basic structural power imbalance, leveraged against women, against people of colour, against people with disabilities, against the working class, against GLBTQ people. This is reflected in how our labour is valued (what jobs we’re allowed to have, how much (less) we’ll be paid, how high we’re allowed to rise), in whether crimes against us are (not) taken seriously, in the fact that people from those groups live life on a higher difficulty setting than others.

The gender pay gap is in the spotlight again, both in terms of blatant women-getting-paid-less-than-men-for-the-same-job discrimination, and also the issue of women’s work, especially “nurturing” care work, being paid less than comparable “men’s” jobs. And when you break gender pay discrimination down by ethnicity, it gets a lot worse if you’re not Pākehā.

The government’s consistent undermining of work rights, refusal to even consider the concept of a living wage,  disprorportionately affects women. The focus by our Ministry of Women’s Affairs (and other groups like the National Council of Women) is still on getting more women onto boards, as though benefiting a few overwhelmingly white, well-off, educated, middle-aged cis women is going to trickle down some equality to the rest of us.

It’s definitely a problem though, given that in a survey of 1,500 large US corporations, there were more CEOs called John – or David – than there were women. With any name.

Women still carry the majority of the burden for housekeeping and child-rearing, which impacts on their careers and financial independence:

About 35 percent of New Zealand women work part-time because they also need to do housework and care for children and other dependents. Even though New Zealand men participate in domestic work more than men in other industrialised countries, women in New Zealand do more than double the unpaid house-work and care.

The issue of our corrections system imprisoning trans women in male prisons has gotten some long-overdue attention – and the violence which is doled out to people who stand against the mainstreaming of once-radical events.

It’s still probably going to take me longer to repay my student loan than my partner – even though his was about double mine when he finished uni.

One could go on and on listing the ways that sexism, and other types of prejudice, impact women’s lives. There’s a concerted campaign online to push women out of gaming and the tech industry. In this year’s Academy Awards there were no women nominated for directing, screenwriting, or cinematography, and no actors of colour. New Zealand’s abortion laws are still stuck in 1977. Our Minister for Women’s Affairs thinks that beauty pageants, which still primarily exist to reinforce narrow stereotypes about women’s value, are great ways to build women’s confidence (presumably so they can get on boards.) Our Prime Minister retracted his promise to apologise to a rape victim after he found out her politics were leftwing.

There has been some progress, absolutely; but there’s still a very long way to go before any of the most damaging effects of patriarchy can be considered cured, or even particularly dented.

Bingo time: being a killjoy feminist thought policewoman

A bingo board of responses to a one-word comment I made on The Standard yesterday, criticising someone’s “joke” about a cis woman’s appearance and comparing her to a trans woman.

(It isn’t nearly as pretty as Waitangi Bingo but I’m an amateur.)

misandry bingo

I especially like the Gerry Brownlee reference, since I’m often one of a very few people on that site who does actually say “let’s stop making fat jokes about Gerry Brownlee (or Paula Bennett, another favourite), there’s plenty of valid things to criticise him/her for.” I usually get much the same dismissive crap for my trouble.

The thing is, I’ve been doing this being-a-woman-who-has-opinions-online thing for a while. And I can already tell you that if I posted this bingo board at a site like The Standard, the responses to it would go along much the same lines, only with a few additions like, “But I never said I hated you for being a woman, so my comments can’t be sexist” or “It’s got nothing to do with the fact you’re a woman, it’s about the fact you’re a nagging/shrill/bitchy/catty/oversensitive/overemotional/PMSing cow.”

Alesha, Who Smiles At Death and smashes geek stereotypes

I’ve started using the word “nerd” to describe myself more and more recently. I used to be firmly a “geek”, because geeks were cool and nerds were those awkward people who just went a little overboard in their geekiness.

But the more and more I think about just how much of a geek I am, the more I realise I’m really just a big ol’ nerd.

So of course I was a Magic: The Gathering player back in the day, spending my intermediate years sitting in the school library at lunchtime with a pretty kickass blue/white deck duelling it out with my nerd peers. I was, it hardly needs saying, the only girl in the group, clumsily figuring out who I was in the grand societal scheme of things and lacking the eloquence to express exactly why I found the boys’ drooling, grunting responses to cards like Sivitri Scarzam so … creepy.

I know the world’s moved on from then – with every birthday it feels more and more like I’m supposed to be a proper grown-up now, but even getting a mortgage didn’t make that sink in – and now we have marriage equality and politicians schmoozing the crowd at the Big Gay Out. But I was still pleasantly surprised to read that MtG now has a trans character. A bona fide, right-there-in-her-back-story-but-not-the-most-important-thing-about-her trans character.

Whenever things like this happen there’s always the objections – but who cares, right? Why should it be important? If you care so much about people’s gender aren’t you just a part of the problem?

And what seems really difficult to get through to my fellow heterosexual cis folk, especially in geek circles, is that it is important, and we do all care – but the reason we can pretend not to is because (to different extents) we get to assume that our media and hobbies contain representations of us. Before Alesha’s backstory was revealed in The Truth Of Names, I would’ve been perfectly free to assume she was a cis woman character. I wouldn’t have needed to ask, I wouldn’t even have really thought about it (and if I had been asked, I would’ve assumed a company like Wizards of the Coast hadn’t even thought about having a trans woman character.) And I would’ve assumed – I still assume because it hasn’t been explicitly spelled out otherwise – that she’s heterosexual.

The irony is that we ask “but why is it important to see someone like you in this game?” when we – hetero cis folk – already get to see heaps of people “like us” in the game. We just never have to think too hard about it. It’s assumed that everyone is like us until stated otherwise.

So having a trans woman character in MtG is a big thing. It says to trans people – hey, you’re as much a part of this wild fantasy world as everyone else. It says to cis people – hey, your assumptions aren’t valid, think about why that is. It says to the geek community – a community which can be so bizarrely exclusionary to people who aren’t straight white dudes – hey, other people count, and we’re not shutting them out for your comfort.

Meanwhile, back in our own world, an openly gay man who happens to be a fantastic defensive player just can’t get a job in the NFL. For every step forward it feels like there’s another two back. But those first steps are still huge.