Episode 36: Carolyn Petit from “Feminist Frequency”/Discrimination and Masculinity in Video Game Media

Today we’re going to continue our exploration of things “nerdy.”  by talking about video games. And to help us, I invited Carolyn Petit who is the managing editor for Feminist Frequency. Now you might have heard of Feminist Frequency because of it’s executive director Anita Sarkeesan who was a prominent player in Gamergate. But besides this whole mess, I was more interested in how an almost male dominated platform as video games has effects in masculinity.

How we see ourselves in this monster of a medium, in which many boys partake in, and how we can work to show a more wholesome narrative. Carolyn not only has experience in critique of these platforms, she’s also worked at GameSpot.com and is herself a transgendered woman. And we get a chance to talk about all of this.

You can find Carolyn and Feminist Frequency here:

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The music for this episode is by:

“Deconstructing the Clubhouse” by Brandon Schatz and Danica LeBlanc

**In the last episode of Modern Manhood, we talked to Brandon about why there is a gate keeping attitude within the comic industry. Little did I know that Brandon has talked about this before and at length, and because I think a lot of people might want to hear the full story, I asked if we could reproduce this piece here on the webiste. So this is Reproduced with permission from Danica and Brandon*

When we decided to start Variant Edition, we were very mindful about how owners of small businesses often curate the experience of being in the store – especially in a store’s infancy. When it comes to places that cater to perceived niche markets, that curation can often become intentionally (or unintentionally) exclusionary, with the culture edging towards the strict confines of audiences such as they’ve existed for years. This quickly becomes problematic when you’re attempting to work within an industry that was formed with a largely white male audience in mind.

When dealing with entertainment media in general, the content has always skewed heavily male – and lately, there’s (finally) been some pushback against this culture. People are starting to question why there’s a need to quantify the difference between the concepts of “comics” and “comics for women” – and they’re following that line of questioning to a natural conclusion: why that qualification effectively “others” an entire gender.

This isn’t anything that’s limited to gender either. The late, great Dwayne McDuffie famously spoke of a “Rule of Three” – which plied to comic industry’s quickness to label a comic as “black” if there were more than three black characters on a team, or in the story. McDuffie noted that this wasn’t always a malicious label, but one that people ascribed to books without much thought. The majority of the book’s cast could still be white, but for the larger public, it would be something different, something other. The same occurs with books or movies with largely female casts, or forms of media that feature anyone other than a white male as the lead. Suddenly, it’s not a comic, it’s something outside of an actively accepted norm.

This “othering” can get a lot harsher within the comic book industry because of the way it has evolved. When the medium first formed, it was found everywhere – the funny pages in newspapers, on newsstands, easily accessible for the masses. For a time, this public accessibility made for an environment where there were comics for absolutely everyone – although given the prejudices of the time, comics for women were largely about teen feelings, romance, or domestic life – and comics for non-white people were fairly ghettoized altogether. As the industry evolved over the years, various content restrictions and societal pressures whittled the core audience into a niche. When fears that adult comics would make their way into the hands of children caused a crackdown on content, the entire medium took on the roll of a childish sibling to that of television, books and movies. It’s a connotation that remains today, and has often been applied to those who would read comics – a childish medium for childish people.

Much of this started to change with the emergence of specialty comic shops and the direct market in the 70s and 80s. Despite the childish connotations, groups of people (rightfully) found entertainment within the pages of comics that bloomed far into adulthood. With disposable income in hand, many sought to collect comics, and the industry adapted to this audience, first building spaces for them to find products, and then building products to suit this more adult audience. For the comic industry, this was both a boon, and a curse. While it did offer the medium a lucrative stream of money in the face of the rising costs of production, it was also the moment that literal walls were put in place. A core audience entrenched themselves inside the walls of comic stores. Outside, they were ridiculed for enjoying a childish medium. Inside, they were accepted.

The danger in this should be very clear – when society attempts to other a specific group, the reaction is often (and rightfully) fierce. If you read comics past a certain age, or spent a second too long indulging in the medium, you weren’t perceived as normal. When this happens, supports are formed as coping mechanisms. In this case, comic shops started to take the form of clubhouses, and those within started to become the arbiters. This naturally collided with the patriarchal structure of the medium. The overwhelmingly white male lead series begot an overwhelmingly white male audience who identified with the characters. Attempts to push out of this realm were either largely tone-deaf, or designed to also appeal to the already existing base. This would lead to product that didn’t seem to connect with the audience, the core rejecting something they didn’t connect with, and anyone outside the core lacking the content or the means to connect. This would in turn lead comic publishers to focus on the existing audience with their product line, which would lead to the further entrenching of this specific audience.

Of course, since the formation of the direct market, things changed again. The digital age once again brought about wider access to the medium through web comics and digital copies. With the structure in place to work around walled off comic shops, you now find an increased focus on reaching the audiences who were excluded from the old clubhouse structure. With the means to reach a wider audience in place, projects that appeal to the audience outside of the old structure have started to get traction, and the medium has been reacting to that – though not without severe growing pains.

Having spent years talking about how the medium needs more respect, the existing clubhouse structure is bristling at the ways in which that respect is being earned. As more diverse characters are introduced to the fictional landscape, the core is clawing at what was once only theirs. Some of the uglier bits of this community have gone so far to ply the terms “feminizing” and “blackwashing”, illustrating clearly how out of depth they are in dealing with othering. While women and people of different races or sexual orientations have been treated as others in ways that more often than not affect their basic human rights, white males have had very little experience with not always having what they have been basically given – and the reaction can often be childish.

That’s not to say that the entire core audience is like this – for the most part, most individuals are open to listen and grow and change, while a select few bristle and dig in their heels while making a lot of noise. It’s not so much about the individual, but the built structure as a whole. While open to change, many people are afraid of it, and when dealing with a structure that’s supporting an entire medium, change can be slow moving or stagnant. It’s easy to see where we need to be, but there will always be those who stop and wonder if everything might fall apart trying to get there. Fear takes over, and the gears gum up. People start yelling their opinions about what direction to go, or whether things need to be going in any direction at all. That’s always going to be the case – but as always, there’s things that can be done by individuals that can help.

Almost everyone wants people to like the things that they do. It’s part of the human condition. We like comics. When we find other people who enjoy comics, that makes us happy. We can talk with them and connect. When othering occurs during this process of connection – when it becomes an “us vs. them” thing – that’s when everything breaks down. Pointing fingers and digging trenches does nothing to further a cause. Nobody has been swayed to the other side of an argument when their opinions or feelings aren’t at least treated with a modicum of respect.

Working on the business has provided us with a deeper understanding of this point. While we always believed that comics can and should be for everyone, it became swiftly apparent that action was needed, in addition to words. With the structure still taking baby steps outwards to accommodate a larger audience, it doesn’t serve to be complacent. Ordering can’t occur without thought. When we go through the order book, and when we put together events, we try to do so mindful of what those orders and events say. For example, if there’s a company that produces books that almost exclusively feature women contorted into nightmarish “sexy” poses, there’s a high chance we will not be hand selling those comics. We will order them for anyone who wishes to read them, because we respect everyone’s right to their own opinion and taste, but actively stocking those books on the shelf or talking customers into buying those books enforces old, outdated structures.

In being mindful of the product that we offer, and the way in which we offer it, we’re hoping to do our part in getting this medium into the hands of as many people as possible. It can be done without shaming, and should be done without shaming. Your taste is as valid as someone else’s, and that simple statement of fact and purpose allows for mediums and stories you love and enjoy to be experienced by more and more people without unconsciously building walls and limitations – and while there will always be those who will kick and fight and froth for their right to keep their precious things to themselves, they will inevitably be left behind, stuck to the ground while the structure, slow moving as it can be, leaves them behind.

by Brandon Schatz and Danica LeBlanc

Ep 29: Joseph Gelfer/Moving beyond “Toxic Masculinities”

Today I’m very excited to talk to Dr. Joseph Gelfer who is the founding editor of Journal of Men, Masculinities and Spirituality,  and the creator of the Future Masculinity online course and Director of Masculinity Research.

He also created the Five Stages of Masculinity model, which is used to view a person’s understandings of masculinity. This model is the basis of the Masculinity Research organization directed by Joseph Gelfer which offers ” insight into men and masculinity in three key areas: Market research for products and services, Social research for non-profit and governmental policymakers [and] People and culture development for businesses and organizations.”

The five stages, which you can find here, are briefly described as such: The stages are 1: Unconscious Masculinity

1: Unconscious Masculinity

2: Conscious Masculinity

3: Critical Masculinities

4: Multiple Masculinities

5: Beyond Masculinities

And to learn these would be an important primer to the conversation that we’ll be talking about today, which delves a lot into how we as people who talk about masculinities. We talk about the current problems of the discourse involving masculinities and how we can move beyond just talking about the opposite of “toxic masculinities” and how we as a society are stuck in stage 3 of masculinites.

Dr. Gelfer has written these books:

  • Numen, Old Men: Contemporary Masculine Spiritualities and the Problem of Patriarchy (Equinox Publishers, 2009)
  • The Best of Journal of Men, Masculinities and Spirituality (Gorgias Press, 2010)
  • The Masculinity Conspiracy (Online, 2010). This is a free ebook.
  • 2012: Decoding the Countercultural Apocalypse (Equinox Publishers, 2011)
  • Masculinities in a Global Era (Springer, 2013)

And currently, writes for many publications including The Good Men Project

The Dates for Northwestfest’s “LunchPods” which are available for anyone who has a Northwestfest pass are:

The Barrier of Men as Allies

**This article also ran in The Good Men Project, which you can find here**

“Paradoxically, those most likely to be shamed by this kind of Feminism were not the boorish, violent and openly prejudiced members of society; but rather many more mild-tempered characters who were very keen not to offend, and yet could see that some of their impulses might, if admitted to freely, cause sudden unwitting offense to the people whose friendships and respect they sought.”

On my last post I promised that I would talk about concepts and strategy instead of rhetoric and sensationalism. This is my attempt to fulfill that promise, because what the quote above me explains is the trap that most men fall into.

I found the clearest explanation through the Book of Life’s article  Beyond Feminism (where all the quotes come from). A lot of men, as allies, as friends, and as lovers of women want to embrace the call of Feminism and empower the females in our lives. Yet when we do, the many theories, and think pieces lay the blame squarely at our feet.

The first time this blame shift happens, as an allied male it can feel a bit annoying and a little patronizing. Maybe you think about it for a bit in a little bubble of grief, or you want to speak out with sentences that begin with “But…” or “What if…” The rationale being that  you want to help, you’re not the one oppressing women. Not only that, you want to empathize with women’s struggles with our pain, forgetting that we have never really felt a women’s true pain. So women tell you this when you bring up male related issues, and in many cases you feel silenced. This can feel infuriating.  Now if you don’t follow the next few steps, this might get a lot harder for you, and maybe you’ll fall into the clutches of Men Rights Activist groups which in my eyes fall in the same spectrum as the All Lives Matter people. The me-first ideals that is reactionary to social movement.

(Remember, no one started All Lives Matter before Black Lives Matter. No one started MRA groups before modern feminism came along. This is all reactionary and amoral).

The barrier becomes, how do we separate our feelings of guilt, blame, and selfishness to help the women that are around us? How do we remove that part inside of you taking it personal, and be an energy of positivity? How do we stop this anger brewing at the people that are blaming you? You, of all people who want to help.

The first step is to be thankful.

The work that wonderful women and the people who support them have done since the 60’s and even before that has given males a sliver of release of the masculine strangle hold that has be prevalent for a long, long time. Because of feminism, we’re now allowed to think about our masculinity, and question it. The concept that men have to be providers-the bacon bringers, muscular, confident, silent, stiff upper lip person lest someone thinks you’re a woman or a homosexual (That masculinity also taught us to think that women and homosexuals were something less that males). The man who only cries when his father dies, or because his favorite sports team lost. The man who teaches his son to be dominant in the playground, lest he be mistaken for a weakling. The man who was told that sex and relationships are two different things, and something not be talked about in a meaningful way. Those concepts of manliness are all being taken to task.

Even though, a lot of people want some so called manly values back, in half-hearted ways to reach back to our primitive selves.

(I believe it’s to mainly want their beards and their leather, and their outdoors back. Listen, I like all those things too. Raw denim jeans, plaid, outdoorsy hiking, with the whiskey, and the craft beer. Getting dirty, and building something with your bare hands. All those things appeal to me. But are they purely manly things?)

It is a good time to say “That’s not me, and I’m fine with that.” Feminism allowed that. Be thankful.

I understand the part of taking offense, I was there too. I had conversations with many people complaining that I don’t feel included in the conversation. Even though I want to be. My advice is don’t take it personal and don’t interject. Women don’t need to hear your thoughts, yet. Not yet. Wait til they ask for it. The reason why this is a tough pill to swallow is because as men we’re not used to this. Masculinity has told us to be confident men with all the answers. Answers that should be given without hesitation, lest other men think you don’t know anything. Men though, should be able to talk about what they know, the problem is that we don’t know about our concept of manhood, so this is a good time to reflect and think about your own concept of what being a man is like, for you.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Why do you do certain ‘manly’ things? (eg. sports, drink, fight etc.)
  • Who told you to do that?
  • Who allowed you to be a ‘man’?
  • Who in your life was allowed to be angry?
  • What do other males do that make you upset? And why?

One of the main concepts of Feminism is that it’s not JUST about the advancement of women in modern society. It’s about everyone being KIND to each other. Kindness is the key.

“Though it may seem as if its concerns have been the rights and the position of women, Feminism has in its very essence arguably always been focused on a prior and much grander goal: Kindness.”

How does Feminism accomplish this? Understand and recognize that we haven’t been so kind to women in a long, long, time. Therefore we haven’t been kind to each other, including other males. Women are the teachers of feminism and the men are the ones been given the lesson and to spread it to other males. A flip of what is the traditional norm, which makes a lot of males uncomfortable, hence why you see the backlash. But know that it’s not the most important facet of feminism. Kindness is, and in all forms. That is the goal.

Trust me, it takes time and meditation, and self-care. I know I have work to do myself on this, but maybe we can chat about it. I’m all ears.

 

Information v/s Preaching (Including an announcement!)

I have to confess something, along with all my experience being a person in the human service field, I only know a small percentage of everything human service related. Now while reading that last statement, it might sound like a humble brag, “yes of course you don’t know anything, but you’re just striving to be the best, and blah blah blah.” When I hear this it sounds disingenuous and something you might have heard a lot of other people in the know (of any know) to say. But in this case, it’s totally real and not for lack of trying. In the case of masculinity, there’s not a lot out there. What has been said has been regurgitated in so many different forms and blog posts (including this one), that it’s becoming tiring.

If you’re a reader of healthy masculinity, then you’ve most likely encountered the same type of ideas

If you’re a reader of healthy masculinity, then you’ve most likely encountered the same type of ideas:

  • The social construct has allowed males to act in a way in which they feel owed,
  • This social construct has made it so rape culture is a prevalent norm,
  • That the most important thing males can do is to call each other out when we’re engaging in toxic masculinity.

There’s only been a handful of posts that I have found something different that moved me. What annoys me (and sometimes I see it in myself) is that these type of talks and these type of posts there is a prevalent air of superiority, and simple mindedness. The feeling that once these ideas are out in the world, people can just take them and run with it. This allows the helpers to pat themselves on the back and say “There, I have solved the world of toxic masculinity! Yay!”

I have witnessed this type of superiority in many conferences and panels. People who are much smarter than me have ideas but no approach. Allowed to get an applause for saying things like “we need to call males out more often” but not realize or understand how tough that might be in a social construct where that form of talk is abnormal. Therefore, this turns into preaching.

Realize or understand how tough that might be in a social construct where that form of talk is abnormal.

One of the main reasons why I started this podcast was to help other males have a conversation for themselves about their manhood, and what that really means. The approach part: how to have those conversations is just as important. The questions of why is it difficult, what are the barriers, what are the struggles are valid and allowed to take shape. Because it’s not easy, especially now in a world full of rhetoric and sensationalism. I know that I don’t know the answer and I want to be humble enough to say that there isn’t one main answer. That’s why I bring men of all types to have that conversation, and I hope when you hear the podcast to understand that there isn’t one solid unified answer. I don’t think there ever will be.

The other aspect to this, is the lack of research revolving around male gender studies. There is a lot of research about female genders and the struggles they endure, as well as the LGBTQ community, and there should be; It’s been high time where we pay attention to those communities and how to help them. But the problem of toxic masculinity which has a lot of roots in feminist theory and queer studies, is barely represented. As a person heavily involved in this, I don’t want to do anymore preaching. This allows the people who are on the fringes to fall to the toxic side, to be defensive, and to lose their empathy for the side that’s hurting. I’m going to do my best in bringing the most accurate and important information I have during the podcast without judgement, and with more of an approach level. My goal is to have the show go weekly instead of bi-weekly, and for the shows in between the interviews are information based.  This will include the best people that I know, telling you things that hopefully you don’t know, or if you do, then enhance your view. This will also allow people of all genders to participate in the program.

[Preaching] allows the people who are on the fringes to fall to the toxic side, to be defensive, and to lose their empathy for the side that’s hurting.

Instagram

My wonderful friend Megan has a blog about health, and as the awesome millennial she is, has a very cool Instagram account. I thought before about adding an Instagram for the pod, and at the start it didn’t make sense to me, “how can I put a visual to something that is mostly audio?” Megan showed me that it’s all about inspiration and hashtags. In the Instagram account, the purpose will be vision quests in your journey to a healthy manhood. Hopefully this will bring more people to subscribe to the pod, be part of the show, or just think and live their own healthy manhood. Ideas and inspiration, and the people that bring them.

Join me through Instagram @modernmanpod, on Twitter @modernmanpod, or on Facebook @modernmanpod.

Easy peasy, right?