Tag Archives: misogyny

New Fiction Review: ‘The Academy: Game On’ by Monica Seles

12 Jun

gameon

Author Monica Seles is a retired tennis champion. She won the French open at sixteen and went on to become the number one ranked woman in tennis, winning a total of nine Grand Slam titles before retiring from the game in 2004. I know this only because I read her biography in the back of ‘The Academy: Game On’, which I won through a Goodreads First Read competition. ‘Game On’ also has another author in very small print on the title page, so I’m guessing it was ghost written – not that it really matters.

It turns out that ‘Game On’ is your typical rags to riches plot, set against the backdrop of a very exclusive sports academy. You know, “17-year-old tennis superstar in the making gets the scholarship of her dreams… and more than she bargained for”. It’s sort of like Mean Girls meets Bend it Like Beckham, with a touch of The OC (‘cause they’re all so super rich).

The girls were fairly interesting, and this novel definitely passes the Bechdel Test with flying colours. There’s the protagonist, Maya, who is fairly likeable, punk Cleo, rising star of the ultra conservative golf scene, Renee, a girl rich enough to buy her way in to the Academy, and Glamazon Nicole, Maya’s heroine – and competition.

‘Game On’ is filled with all the hot guys and frenemies you’d expect. I haven’t read a lot of teen romance, but I imagine the romantic interests are fairly typical of that genre as well (bad boy vs. shallow stud). There are so many twists and changes of heart that my eyes were flicking back and forth across the page like I was witnessing a tennis match. Some of them were predictable, some of them I didn’t see coming and they struck me with the force of a tennis ball hurtled from a malfunctioning ball machine. (Are these tennis metaphors going a bit too far?)

This novel had a slow start but picked up the pace very quickly. It was genuinely funny at times, and although I never found myself laughing aloud I did find myself smiling a lot. The author does have a tendency to spoonfeed the reader a bit with her descriptions and there are a lot of instances of wishing she’d show instead of tell. This sentence on page two we probably could have gleaned for ourselves: “Finally, she had done it. This sixteen-year-old have-not from central New York with absolutely no connections whatsoever had somehow made it into the most exclusive club.”

Some of the description made me wince a little bit, like calling Cleo “an Asian girl with a towel wrapped around her head” the first time we see her, and

“You will be able to pick a Russian from a Belarusian from a Czech at a hundred yards in three seconds flat. Facial features, skin color, clothing, hairstyles […]”

feels borderline racist and wasn’t really necessary to the story or plot at all. ‘Game On’ also has a very “feel sorry for the poor beautiful rich kids” feel. For example, this quote:

“The only things Maya had ever heard about the way she looked were how freakishly tall she was, how creepily blue her eyes were, how plain blonde her hair was.”

Like, you can’t really just add an unflattering adjective to a word and make it so it seems like she doesn’t fit society’s idea of the perfect woman. Come on, Seles!

Also, after a dad says something offhand to his son:

“Jak and Maya found each other’s eyes. The pain was almost physical. Certainly worse than anything the kid he injured was feeling.”

I kind of disagree, considering that the character in question had just broken a fellow football player’s arm so hard that he’d let out a scream which sounded “primal, like a wounded animal”!

The whole novel offers an interesting commentary on class divides. I know it’s never going to happen in a million years, but a spinoff series about Cleo and her life as a Chinese immigrant who is also a lesbian would be A-MA-ZING. I really liked Cleo and it was super inclusive of them to put a lesbian in BFF role, but they really skimmed over her romance with Svetlana. Like we didn’t even meet the girl. I’m hoping to see more of baby dyke Cleo and her radical undercut in the sequel – although, speaking as a queer girl with an undercut, Cleo is pretty misogynistic for a queer girl with an undercut.

I have to admit that I enjoyed this book a lot more than I thought I would. And what I mean by that is that when the sequel comes out, I’m prepared to spent actual, real money on it. Nice serve, Seles.

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The Misogynistic Hashtag

19 Jul

Call me Ishmael, but my problems don't just end with the fail whale

Twitter, I love you. You had @me at #hello. You link me to brilliant news and amazing like-minded people, helped me follow the student protests and today’s Hackgate, and you are one of my all time favourite expressions of narcissism. (Remember that time I was on your front page? That was fun for everyone.)

But Twitter, you can be really, really sexist.

For those of you that may not be familiar with what a trending topic is, it is a way to group certain terms on Twitter, often preceeded by a hash (#) to make them more easily searchable. If enough people are discussing something, these hashtags will become ‘trending topics.’ It can be a pretty cool feature — Doctor Who commentary usually trends, and it sometimes alerts you as to which celebrities are about to appear on talk shows (or which ones have just died…). But the cool thing about these hashtags is also the problem: they are the most popular conversations on the social networking site. And as one blogger points out, “Sometimes when you try to peer into a hive mind, you end up stung by hundreds of misogynist bees.”

Offensive trending topics of the past have included #stopthatthatsgay and #rulesforgirls.

By far the worst I’ve ever seen was last year’s #ItAintRape, which I won’t even dignify with a link. At the time of writing, one of the top hashtags is #youknowuasideline, which looks a little like this:

It’s true that Twitter forces you condense information into 140 characters, but it’s somewhat difficult to defend these with the ‘oh-but-there’s-a-lack-of-contextualisation’ excuse. According to Bad Reputation, “if you ever share a train carriage with a stag party you may well overhear some of the same sentiments.”

The flagrant misogyny of most of these trending topic hashtag tweets makes me furiously angry. But I don’t find them shocking. I think Germaine Greer is wrong on lots of things but right on this one: “Women have very little idea of how much men hate them.” Well, now we have a handy index in our Twitter sidebar

Now, I don’t think that Twitter’s trending topics are reflective of a universal and perpetual ‘hatred’ towards women, but rather an effect of society’s tired old belief that the two binary genders are separate, unequal and cannot be reconciled. However, trying to promote understanding through dialogue usually ends in a #ragequit (for me at least), as people are inherently defensive of what they have been conditioned to believe. It is also close to impossible to have any kind of productive debate in 140-characters or less.

Bad Rep has a pretty decent theory that explains why Twitter’s sexist (-racist-homophobic-ableist-ageist-etc.-etc.) trending topics feel out of place next to your Twitter stream.

Sorry everyone, I know you don’t want to hear this, but Twitter is people with misogynist views, at least if the trending topics are anything to go by. I would hazard that Twitter might feel like a feminist space that has been invaded by these ‘orrible ‘ashtags because you follow feminists. But we’re in the minority, just like in Real Life.

It’s much easier to craft your own media bubble online than offline, but it’s basically the same thing. If you read the Guardian, and hang out with other people who read the Guardian, then Guardian-y sort of opinions are going to appear to be the norm. Whereas the norm, in circulation figures at least, is actually the Sun. And then the Daily Mail.

Also, they have an excellent answer to why Twitter is the way it is: Because the web encourages people to be shitheads. Have you ever been to text-based chat site Omegle? You’d think that, given this amazing tool, which could use anonymity to free users of prejudices like class, race, gender and age, people would finally be able to make some kind of profound, tangible connection to another human being, as equals. Well, no, it seems like they can’t. Because humanity is a dick.

It’s easier to be an asshole to words than to people.” Just look at Facebook’s reaction to Japan winning the women’s World Cup against the US, or take a look at Openbook. That people are bigoted or misogynistic when they have the safety of their monitor to hide behind is no ground-breaking story.

In regards to Twitter, use of the hashtag itself may also encourage cheap shots at minorities. As Bad Rep asserts, “It’s a joke, and there’s an age-old link between cheap gags and crude gender stereotypes.” Through comedy, people often voice more controversial opinions than they might otherwise. When I was featured on the front page of Twitter, it was not for my left-leaning tweets, or my keen observations of the books in or near my house – it was for a joke about hipsters, and one which in some lights belittled the experience of the Chilean miners. (A miner faux pas, you might say… Sorry.)

I actually think that feminists have a strong enough presence on Twitter to dominate conversations like #menmarrywomenwho. But it’s also important to remember that people are no more ignorant on Twitter than they are on any other social media platform, or high street, or train carriage. Flaming everyone who posts a derogatory tweet is a waste of time.

It’s a symptom. You’re treating a symptom, and the disease rages on, consumes the human race. The fish rots from the head, as they say. So my thinking is, why not cut off the head?

Of the human race?

It’s not a perfect metaphor.

…And maybe Doctor Horrible isn’t the perfect mouthpiece to illustrate my point.

Basically, misogyny wasn’t invented by Twitter. It may be perpetuated in that forum, but the real problem is much bigger than that. Sexism is a global problem, not just confined to the Twittersphere. As well as undermining women, it reflects unfairly on men, it divides us, and sadly it’s not going to go away soon.

Just remember folks: you are what you tweet.

What is the real problem with prostitution?

7 Jul

Someone once told me to always open with a joke before getting to the heavy stuff, so here goes! “How do you make a hormone? Tell her a misogynistic joke.”

Basically, Amsterdam was amazing. It was full of canals, cyclists, and coffee shops selling cannabis (or ‘jazz cigarettes’ as my friend Dawn calls them, adorably). And it also boasts the infamous Red Light District, which is one of the main tourist attractions and puts a whole different spin on the idea of window shopping.

Prostitution has enjoyed a long tradition of tolerance in Amsterdam. Like marijuana, the Netherlands’ approach has been to legalise the trade and impose regulations. However, my feelings about the RLD are conflated. Even just putting the human body on par with a product (even cannabis…) is problematic.

In ‘Making Sex Work: A Failed Experiment in Legalized Prostitution,’ Sullivan asserts the liberal feminist stance that sex work has the capacity of reducing women’s bodies to a basic commodity, and unconsciously aids in the institutionalising of the rights of men as purchasers of these bodies. Its normalisation has the potential to gravely undermine the workplace equality many women have strived for, and I can totally see this.

On the other hand, I think we have had more than enough of society policing what women do with their bodies. Here in the UK, Nadine Dorries is pushing for abstinence education for girls only (ugh) in schools, and abortion rights are under attack yet again (there is a pro-choice demo this Saturday though). If you want to make prostitution your chosen career, I don’t see why the hell you shouldn’t.

It is all too common for the media to dehumanise and attack sex workers. Do we all remember that vile Richard Littlejohn piece from way back, on the murder of the five Ipswich women? He argued that in their field of work – their work as“disgusting, drug-addled street whores” – “death by strangulation is an occupational hazard” and “in the scheme of things the deaths of these five women is no great loss.”

That the lives of these women were so one-dimensionally dismissed disgusts me to this day, and it is disgusting, disturbed men like Littlejohn that are the real issue surrounding the sex trade. The problem comes from dehumanising and oppressive societal attitudes and the relentless focus on these women’s trade which dismantles their worth as human beings.

It’s a tricky issue, but Amsterdam and the RLD seem to have prostitution spot on if it’s going to be done at all. Sex workers have their own union, access to police protection, and there is a significantly reduced threat of violence and sexually transmitted diseases.

I don’t think I’ll ever reach a concrete conclusion myself, but Feministissues.com has created a handy chart to show the spectrum of feminist reaction to the sex trade. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts too.