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For Display Purposes Only

A couple of days ago I was driving in Nelson and I saw this ad in the window of a local coffee house. Not the world’s best photo, but hopefully you get the idea.

Zumo

I made a comment to the man I was with, about how sick I am of these sorts of sexualised, stereotypical, airbrushed images of women being used to sell product.

Presumably feeling personally attacked by my statement, he protested. He said “But I don’t even see the woman. I just see a coffee.” (I guess his point was to argue that she wasn’t that sexualised, because if she was, he would have noticed that. Like this is somehow a worthy counterattack to my point).

I replied: Precisely. That’s the exact problem. You are so used to this sort of image in advertising, you don’t even see the person in it, you just see the product. That’s how socialised this is. That’s how much women have been made into props in order to sell empty ideals to fish eyed consumers.

The “I don’t see it that way” argument is what makes feminism such a constant uphill battle. Responses like:

1. I don’t see the problem

2. I do see the problem, but it’s not me, I’m not like that, I’m different.

3. I’m trying to see the problem from your point of view, but I don’t see why you’re so worked up about it.

When I was in Wellington, I saw this billboard.

LiptonTea

I literally stopped dead in the street in disbelief. I can just imagine the marketer’s thought process, coming up with this one. “Oooh, how edgy! How self-referential! We’re really pushing the boundaries with this one!”

NO. You are fucking not. You are enthusiastically reinforcing all the bullshit women have to deal with every day, the implicit sexualised coding that makes men shrug and say “Don’t see a problem.”

Why would anyone even think that the model was also for sale? Because that’s how advertisers represent women. At best, another product. At worst – and usually – an agreeable, pliable prop to whatever the product actually is.

Not only is this everyday sexism at its finest, every single time a woman is used like this, it recreates and strengthens the existing code of what “a woman” is and makes it even more difficult for people to live outside of that.

Take me, for example. I’m actually amused at the way some people (usually men men in the street), struggle to respond to me. I’m amused because if I don’t laugh about this I will cry.

1. I’m not an agreeable prop. The first thing they always notice about me is my short skirts and high heels. They have a coded response to this.

2. Then they see my cane. This is when I start laughing, because the actual, noticeable doubletakes make their thought process ridiculously obvious. Their first reaction is to look because I’m wearing a short skirt. Their second reaction is their response to the fact that I’m disabled. Many don’t seem to be able to compute that. It doesn’t fit the image they want. They’re uncomfortable with it. Well, sorry and – fuck you.

No, I’m not “for display purposes only” actually. I’m a real person. I’m not “for sale,” either. So next time you look at an ad for a drink (or any other foodstuff) which includes a sexualised, airbrushed woman sucking on a straw or a spoon or making an expression that simulates orgasm (believe me, you’ll see one today) and “don’t see the person” (sure) maybe then is when you could do a doubletake.

How To Not Be Creepy on Twitter

This is my Guide for How To Not Be Creepy on Twitter. It is a response to my own experiences, and includes notes contributed by others. The Guide is mainly aimed at men, but can apply broadly.

I wrote this because, as with most online spaces, Twitter can be a difficult place to feel comfortable and safe. My vulnerability is increased because a) I’m a woman, and b) I share a lot of my personal experiences, both on Twitter and on my blog.

But I don’t want to stop sharing. And I don’t want to feel uncomfortable, unsafe, or abused when I receive what I consider to be a ‘creepy’ response. I make sure I take some responsibility by being as mindful as possible in what I say. However, that need to be mindful is in itself problematic – it hails from the same victim blaming culture as ‘You got raped because you wore a short skirt.’ I’ll give an example later of something I said that did not invite or absolve the response I got.

doing2much-on-twitter

Image from InterruptMag’s version of this post.

I also often don’t want to reactively block the people that make me feel uncomfortable, because many just don’t seem to know they’re doing it. And if I just block them with no explanation, that doesn’t give them the opportunity to learn.

Here’s a relevant precis – ‘Schrodinger’s Rapist‘ or ‘A Guy’s Guide to Approaching a Woman Without Getting Maced.’ Basically it outlines how, as women, we are always on our guard.

This is an extreme, and physical example, but it sets the scene for my Guide I think.

Now, you want to become acquainted with a woman you see in public. The first thing you need to understand is that women are dealing with a set of challenges and concerns that are strange to you, a man. To begin with, we would rather not be killed or otherwise violently assaulted.

“But wait! I don’t want that, either!”

Well, no. But do you think about it all the time? Is preventing violent assault or murder part of your daily routine, rather than merely something you do when you venture into war zones? Because, for women, it is… My activities after dark are curtailed. Unless I am in a densely-occupied, well-lit space, I won’t go out alone. Even then, I prefer to have a friend or two, or my dogs, with me. Do you follow rules like these?

So when you, a stranger, approach me, I have to ask myself: Will this man rape me?

This is a very similar process to the one that happens in my head when somebody I don’t know – usually male – approaches me on Twitter. That may seem extreme, but it’s instinct based on experience. En garde!

How To Not Be Creepy On Twitter. 

1. Before you even send a tweet to someone, consider your relationship with them carefully. This is especially important if it’s a DM, which is immediately more private and personal. Have you met IRL? How long have you followed each other? What sort of things do you discuss? Does she/he actively respond in conversation with you? Is he/she in a different position of power to you (for example, you’re an older man she hasn’t met, and she’s a younger woman?). What dynamics are driving the conversation?

2. People will make comments about their own bodies on Twitter. They will use nice pictures of themselves in their avatars. This is not necessarily an invitation for you to comment on their physical appearance.

Example: One day I tweeted: “I wore short shorts today, and anyone who judged my scars [on my thighs, from self-injury] can kiss my ass.”

I got many male responses regarding my ass, and the act of kissing it.

Creepy. Not OK. NOT the point of the tweet.

3. It’s usually a good rule of thumb to avoid commenting on someone’s physical appearance, unless in response to a direct question – ie ‘Is this dress right for this occasion?’ or ‘What do you think of my new haircut?’ Even then, ask yourself how they might feel about your reply, and if you do choose to comment, focus on the question and be polite.

4. Be considerate of your use of endearments, unless it’s someone you know really well. Again, consider the dynamic. Two women who’ve been tweeting each other for a few months using “hun”? cool. Any other sort of unsolicited over familiarity or affection to someone you don’t know? – NO.

5. If the conversation starts in public, don’t move to DM without checking if that’s ok. In fact, any use of DM needs to be considered very carefully. It’s the equivalent of talking to someone at a party, then moving them into an empty room and closing the door. Do they want you to do this? Are you sure?

6. If you publicly offend someone and they call you out on it – publicly apologise.

7. Replying to things that were tweeted several days ago will indicate to people that you’ve been stalking their timeline. This is probably going to make them feel uncomfortable.

8. Don’t ask for personal details like addresses. You can do this only if you know them well, if you request the information publicly and allow them to reply privately, and if you are happy with the request being turned down.

9. DON’T FAV OR REPLY TO EVERY SINGLE TWEET FROM ONE PERSON. Seriously, it’s not cute, it’s creepy.

10. If you constantly reply to a person, and they constantly do not acknowledge you (particularly if they don’t follow you, either) – that probably means they don’t want to interact with you. Let it go.

11. Don’t ‘White Knight’ if you see a woman having an argument with a man. We’re strong women. Most of us are very well rehearsed in these sorts of conversations. We don’t need you to jump in and save us. (Caveat- see comment below regarding extremely abusive behaviour).

12. There are very, very few situations where it’s going to be ok to proposition someone on Twitter, so you can probably safely assume that your situation is one of the Not Ok ones. Don’t do it.

13. If you don’t know what constitutes creepy, you may not know what constitutes harassment or abuse. In some cases it can be a pretty fine line. Again, think before you tweet. You might not just make someone uncomfortable – you might be seriously crossing that line.

(Please let me know in the comments if you have points you feel could be added to this list.)

Recently I asked Twitter if just plain old platonic friendship between men and women – both online and IRL – is actually possible. The answer is yes, of course, but it comes with caveats. I’ve had men tell me that: almost every man I am friends with will think about having sex with me, regardless of if they actually have any intent on trying to follow through with this or not. This makes me highly uncomfortable. It creates anxiety that results in me being easily easily trigger, and easily creeped out, in both Twitter and IRL interactions.

Despite this, I enjoy being friends with men, in both worlds. I combat the anxiety by always trying to be up front about who I am and where my boundaries are. But sometimes the message doesn’t get through, which is another reason I created this Guide. Because I don’t want to tone my personality down. I shouldn’t have to. I’m warm, and I care deeply about people. I don’t want to stop being that way because I’m afraid – if I do, rape culture wins.

I hope that this Guide can save a few of us from situations that can be avoided – men and women alike. I hope it can, at the very least, act as a divining wand to show where the boundary lines are.

Additional note:

I’m aware that this piece is hetero focussed. As I said, I’m mainly writing from my own experience. I’m bisexual but I just tend not to get creeped out by women. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s gender-based behavioural differences, maybe it’s heteronormative cultural assumptions – and maybe it’s just my own history causing my anxiety about male agendas.

Maybe you all might have some ideas…

Over to you!

– SW

Update:

Interruptmag reposted this piece on their site and they also added some great illustrations, for example:

doing2much-on-twitter

and also:

looking-good-creep

Still my response…. (by @jemyoshioka)

sarah-nope

Conversations with Wolves

Talking to you
is like forcing myself
through a very small hole in a barbed wire fence

with the small brained certainty
that the field on the other side is sweeter

Halfway through and no way back
A final tearing heave is the only way

And then to realise I’ve left behind
strings of soft fleece hooked there in the wind,
and there are
corresponding scars
on my naked belly.

No.

sarah-nope

A couple people tried to tell me today that if I didn’t like something, I don’t have to read it – and that “freedom of speech” gives you a Get Out Of Jail Free card if your words cause offence – or, you know, suicide.

Here is my response, made by the wonderful Jem.

Getting a feminist education

I said I’d do a follow-up to the post about romance novels and feminist porn, so here it is.

Thank you to everyone who took a turn at educating me on this subject! I was delighted to find that, not only does feminist porn exist (of course it does – there’s even Feminist Porn Awards), but there’s a whole lot of articles about it that are written far more eloquently than mine.

Many of you sent me links and recommendations,and I did more of my own research, so here’s a few of the standouts.

First, check this out. (Click for bigger image)

periodictableoffeministporn_thumb (1)How brill is that?!

The website that image comes from, The Feminist Porn Guide, also has a great explanation of what feminist porn is.

Feminist porn is, of course, feminist. While the definition of feminism may vary and mean different things to different people, it’s fair to say that feminist porn seeks to promote equality in the depiction of sex. That equality doesn’t just extend to heterosexual, cisgender women but to all sexualities, genders, classes and races. The feminist philosophy behind it is one that rejects rigid definitions of sexuality and sex roles.

Feminist porn is also part of the wider sex positive movement. Being sex positive is about accepting all aspects of human sexuality with an open and positive mind, embracing sex as a healthy activity and promoting sex education and safe sex.

Some other articles exploring feminism and porn

Feminist porn: sex, consent, and getting off (Feministe)
What makes feminist porn feminist? (Feministing)
First, come to your conclusion (Public Address – Up Front, Emma Hart)
Newsflash – women have eyes (Public Address – Up Front, Emma Hart)

To be honest, in my trawling of the internet, I still didn’t find quite what I, personally, was looking for. I got educated, which is great. But I’m not really a visual person, and actually, I think what I’m really after is books that are plot heavy but also relationship heavy, if you know what I mean. A couple of you recommended authors – Jacquline Carey and Susannah Breslin were two, and the the periodic table includes erotic fiction, so perhaps I need to do some more research…

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