Tag Archives: feminism

Uhura Wears Red

Nyota Uhura, Nichelle NicholsIt occurred to me recently that Lieutenant Uhura, the Enterprise’s communications officer, portrayed by the formidable Nichelle Nichols, wears a red uniform. This may not be immediately surprising. Lots of people wear red uniforms in the Original Series. All the nameless “redshirt” security guards, yes, but also the entire engineering department, which naturally raises the question: Which is Uhura? Not security, clearly, which leaves engineering.

This realization struck me because fans seem to have conflated “communications” with linguistics at some point after the original series, largely due to the 1985 novel Uhura’s Song by Janet Kagan. In actual episodes, though, she’s not presented as a linguist but an expert in the sophisticated technology required for the Enterprise’s communications, including long-range with Starfleet, intraship coordination, and interfacing with alien ships’ technologies. She doesn’t pull out a dictionary, she crawls under her station to reconnect wires. She’s in the engineering department, not the humanities.

A few examples: In “Who Mourns for Adonais?”, she pops under her station to “rig up a subspace bypass circuit,” identified as “very delicate work.” Spock comments that no one else is more qualified to do it and leaves her alone. Spock. Spock doesn’t think he himself could do a better job on that circuit. (Nichelle Nichols has also commented that she saw Uhura’s relationship with Spock as one of a student and mentor). Another one, easy to miss, is tossed in at the beginning of “The Gamesters of Triskelion.” The initial goal, before they were waylaid by the gamesters, was a maintenance check on an automated communications outpost, so Uhura is tapped for the landing party.

Uhura and Spock in Who Mourns for Adonais

Uhura is shown speaking Swahili on multiple occasions, it seems to be her first language, and that may be part of the reason her character is nudged that way later. However, it’s generally presented as character backstory and part of an effort to show people of all nationalities on the Enterprise, not connected to her professional qualifications. Think about it: With a universal translator, why would they need a linguist on the bridge? On the ship as a backup, certainly, but not on the bridge.

This matters, not because linguists are dumb — it’s just as valid as any other profession and super interesting! — but because Uhura is not a linguist, yet is continually pushed in that direction, a more “feminine” direction. It matters because we still have so few representations of women in STEM fields, let alone women of color, and one representation makes all the difference. Before 1985, Uhura was a symbol drawing women into NASA and the STEM fields at large, and she deserves a little recognition!

Advertisements

I Can’t Even With Today

So today is one of those days that I just look at the world and go “really, I mean really!!” Early in the morning I got to see all the Facebook posts about the CDC deciding that they needed to make new policies to combat fetal alcohol syndrome. I fully appreciate that this is a serious health issue that can happen to a baby and can be prevented, at the same time there is taking things too far. In a lot of ways the policy reduces every woman down to whether she could potentially get pregnant or not.

Now that is just one ridiculous moment brought to us by a government agency. Then on top of that I got to hear about the most ridiculous men’s rights group and how they are either trying to legitimately argue or satirically writing about how rape should become legal as a way to keep rape from happening. I mean, who could even begin to think that would work or that it is even something to write satire about? Thus: why I am just having a day where I can’t even.

I can't even Continue reading

Rage-Inducing “Soft Sexism” – Feminist Friday

A few months ago I read a Jezebel article about user-contributed experiences of what they termed “soft sexism.” I will admit this is not a concept I had really heard before and looking around I could not find a specific definition, so I came up with the below from the experiences that I read.

Soft Sexism

engrained societal and cultural gender norms that influence behavior

The reason that soft sexism is so problematic is that it can be difficult to tell whether it is just part of the engrained gender paradigm of our current culture and society or whether someone really believes that something is “women’s work” or “men’s work.” At the same time when it does happen it can feel incredibly insulting and yet frustrating because we do not know how insulting it really is. When someone is obviously sexist than we can understandably be pissed and personally I am generally able to just roll my eyes and walk away. I know this does not solve anything, but most of the time I do not feel like smacking my head repeatedly against the wall.

On the other hand when I experience soft sexism I am not quite sure what to think and just end up vaguely frustrated and annoyed.

The Fire

A picture from the beach recreation area we went to.

A picture from the beach recreation area we went to.

This experience had me ranting to David for days and even thinking about it now it still makes me angry. At David’s last job there was a work event that was in an outdoor pavilion. They did potluck style where everyone brought food or drink to share and it was just a come hang out type of event. So we go and are having fun, but it was not the nicest of days and some of us were getting kind of chilly. (I would like to point out that David worked with mostly women and some had invited their boyfriends to the gathering.) Two of the guys had decided instead of building a fire inside the fireplace in the covered pavilion they instead wanted to build it partially out on the beach. Most of the people were under the pavilion cover because it was windy and rainy. So one girl asked if her boyfriend could build a fire inside the pavilion and he said he did not want to.

No one else was stepping up to the plate so I decided that I would just go ahead and get a fire started in the fireplace in the covered pavilion. I did not have the best materials to work with, especially lacking some good kindling, but eventually I got a small fire going. I am tending to it and slowly adding logs to make sure I do not add too much too quickly and snuff out the fire. With the fire going a lot of people start gathering around to be closer to the warmth. A little time later and the two guys who had decided to build their fire out closer to the beach come in and start commenting about what a bad fire it was. Then they proceeded to take over tending the fire.

I was so pissed because while they did not specifically say it, I definitely felt like there was an element of the fire not being good enough because it was built by a girl. At the same time it was not explicitly said so it could have just been that they just might have thought a small fire was not a good fire. Just for clarification a large fire is not necessarily a warm fire. You get better warmth from really hot coals, which do not necessarily require a large fire. If you cannot tell this is still a bit of a sore spot for me because it just felt so insulting – because I know how to build a fire!

This is not the fire I built that day! This is just a tribute! [Tenacious D playing]

This is not the fire I built that day! This is just a tribute! [Tenacious D playing]

Strong Man

The other place that I have definitely experienced this type of soft sexism is when people are surprised when I am able to lift or move something by myself. Now yes, there are plenty of people who are stronger than me, but just because I am a woman does not making me incapable of doing things. Most of the time there is never an actual comment about the fact that I am a woman. More of either a shock that I lifted something myself, or an “are you sure you’ve got that?” I mean I am currently holding it up off the ground and moving it to where it needs to go, so I am pretty sure that I got it… On one level it could just be trying to be polite, but at the same time it just feels off and slightly annoying.

The other problem is that I sometimes wonder whether I am blowing it out of proportion. I know that sometimes I overreact to things, I had a really bad temper as a kid and I learned how to deal with my emotions productively. One of the things that I know I have to do is take a step back and look at a situation a second time. It can be difficult when something is not an obvious sleight, but still feels like a sleight – you wonder, is it just you?

HULK HAVE COFFEE

Because not every guy is the Hulk.

Geek Baby

Now another area where I feel like we experience some of the most sort of soft sexism is with things surrounding our wonderful Geek Baby. Some situations were people simply wondering why we did not have as much pink stuff on our registry when we knew we were having a girl.

Another issue is around the fact that even months later everyone still asks about how the baby is doing or how I am doing, but they seem to forget about David. Even though currently David is the one who is home with her full time on paternity leave. I know that I am the one who went through the pregnancy and labor and all of those shenanigans and that there are things that I could still be dealing with. At the same time as the temporary stay-at-home dad he is still dealing with a lot taking care of our child and it can be incredibly stressful. Yet, the engrained paradigm is that the mom is the one who cares for the child and so is the most consumed by it, but not the father. This is not meant as an insult or necessarily thinking that it is wrong for the dad to stay home. It is just so culturally or socially engrained into us we do not even notice that we are doing it.

Another way you can see this with interactions with children, especially babies and toddlers, is how we sometimes talk to or about them. It was a long time ago, but there was an article that discussed how we talk to girls in particularly. We need to say my smart girl, my beautiful boy, my strong girl, or even just attribute my wild child to any child. (Side note: Geek Baby is definitely going to be a bit of a wild child, I personally call her my little dare devil). If we always call girls pretty princesses and boys strong men what does that do to how they perceive their places in the world around them?

Supergirl and Batgirl onesies

And what was wrong with the characters’ colors for these?

Important

Discussing and confronting soft sexism is important because it is so hard to prove that it is actually sexist. It is not just about confronting what others do to you, but also confronting things that we might do. Part of the problem with soft sexism is that it stems from the paradigm of the culture and society that we live in, which becomes engrained into the way we think and work in the world. Like in an off-hand joke or comment that just gets thrown around a thousand times without anyone questioning whether it might be better to not tell the joke.

I think the other important issue is that if the person is truly sexist then their true colors will show through eventually. In that I mean that I don’t think most people really mean anything by the comments etc. At the same time it does point to a larger social and cultural issue that we need to keep chipping away at.

What do you think? What stories or examples of soft sexism do you have? And how do you deal with it, in yourself or the world around you? Let us know in the comments below!

Genderfication of Color, or Why are All the Baby Clothes Pink?

Pink and purple hanging toy mat

For those of you who do not know David and I recently added an addition to our family in the form of a new Geek Baby, who happens to be a girl. Besides some things to consider when she was born, when changing her, or with the name we gave her there is not much reason that her being a girl matters at this age.

At the same time when it comes to baby clothes it is amazing the difference color schemes that you will find in baby clothes that are designated as “for girls.” The fact that some baby clothes are designated “girl” is kind of ridiculous in my opinion because generally it does not matter. At the same time the thing that I am finding is that the way they designate clothes as “girl” is through the color and it is just ridiculous that we would decide that we need to color things differently based on gender. It does not entirely end there because there are toys and more that also get color coded along the same lines. The interesting thing is definitely that we buy into this delineation literally. Continue reading

Does a Character’s Sex Inherently Matter to the Story?

Recently there has been a lot of discussion around the new all-female led Ghostbusters movie. One of the comments that I have seen from a few people is that they have a problem with switching the characters from male to female because it was not originally intended to be female characters. The problem I have with this mindset is that it seem to say that the sex of a character inherently matters to the story, but this is not always the case. I think there are times where the sex does matter, but a lot of the time whether the character is male or female is not in and of itself important to the story. Some of the problem with this mindset, in my opinion, is that it kind of says there are certain characteristics, roles, and actions that can only be played out by one sex or another. Now, again, this is sometimes true, but for the most part I really don’t think it matters. Continue reading