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Restoring Sanity in the Blogosphere: Discovering Godwin’s Law

I have never been so excited about writing a blog post as I am right now. You know that feeling you have when you find out that something incredibly bizarre and horribly annoying that you’ve noticed and discussed with people for years is not in your head, and actually has a name, and even its own Wiki?!  A total sanity-validator. More in a moment…

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Yesterday I was reading Women Making Slow, Sure Strides in Science, Math right here on The Huffington Post, and I was aghast at the comments, a large number of which demonized women for this small success, insisted that female achievement takes something away from men, and revealed many incorrect beliefs and misunderstandings of the facts.  The usual gender war had broken out early on in the thread, and the attacks were customarily vicious. Even though there was nothing surprising about this, as I see it every day, I could not help swallowing my usual bitter dose of disillusionment.

I started composing a comment. This was going to be the magnum opus of all flamewar-ending comments. This was going to set everyone straight on the facts. I was going to detail my experiences on the undergraduate admissions committee at MIT, my training as an educational psychologist, and provide links to some of the articles I have written about the gender skewing of college admissions, the history of female underrepresentation in STEM careers, and Why Boys Are Failing in an Educational System Stacked Against Them (written as an advocacy piece for boys right here on HuffPo).

Typing away, I quipped to my husband, “Why do I waste my time? Someone will just call me a feminazi.” And to my great surprise, his reply was, “Yup. Godwin’s Law.”

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Godwin’s Law? What was that? Well, fellow draft dodgers of the eternal flame wars, allow me to tell you. Back in 1990, at the very dawn of the Internet Age, Mike Godwin, an attorney who was one of the early cyber ethicists, observed the following: “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.”

In other words, “Given enough time, in any online discussion—regardless of topic or scope—someone inevitably criticizes some point made in the discussion by comparing it to beliefs held by Hitler and the Nazis.” And once this gun is unholstered, the thread is finished and whoever shot out the Nazi comment has not only lost his or her own credibility, but has ruined the discussion thread for everyone else because the piling on has begun. Once a thread has devolved into this kind of rhetoric, there is no saving the original topic.

Godwin created his Law essentially as a counter-meme. As a frequent contributor to UseNet back in the early days, he was concerned about the casual, hyperbolic, and frequent references to Nazis being not only a distraction and diversion in comment threads, but being actually disrespectful to victims of the Holocaust by trivializing that horror. His idea was to try to cancel out the Nazi meme with one of his own.  Godwin’s Law became a wildly popular citation within comment threads, and, like all good neologisms, quickly morphed into a verb. One could now say, when Nazi-shaming trolls had hijacked his or her article or comment on an article, “I’ve been Godwinned.” Or, the people insisting on their inalienable rights of free speech regarding anything related to the Third Reich could say, upon push-back to their Hitler comparisons, “Don’t Godwin me.” When someone invoked the Law to try to settle down the thread, all bets were off as to whether things would calm down or heat up, but they usually became volcanic. Not much has changed.

One of the funnier offshoots of Godwin’s Law is Bright’s Law, created by some guy named Peter Bright: “If you cannot work out whether someone is trolling or merely stupid, the answer is probably both.”

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As a prolific reader and writer of Internet blogs, hardly a day goes by where I do not see someone stem-winding someone else by calling them a Nazi. These people have no inkling of the depth of their own embarrassment and shame. That seems to be evidence that Godwin’s Law has not “worked” as a counter-meme, but how could it? There is just way too much satisfaction people get from insinuating genocidal mania in other people to bolster their own views. Whether the blog topic is related to gender, politics, or recipes, sooner or later, someone will torpedo the thread with their anger management problems.

When it comes to politics, I notice several prevalent newer memes have popped up amidst the Balkanization of punditry and sound bite wisdom. There is the whole Osama Bin Laden/Muslim/terrorist comment bomb that can be dropped without provocation. Then there is the whole tea bagger/neocom meme so popular in today’s political discourse. But the point is, Godwin’s Law explains all of it!

From now on, I plan to maintain greater composure whenever someone trollishly destroys a thread I’m reading or participating in, or attempts to sabotage an article I have written because—and here’s the key take-away—Godwin’s Law predicts this extremely aggravating phenomenon, allowing me to remain calmer because I anticipate and understand it.

And this is one of those gifts that keeps on giving, so I’m giving it to all of you. March forth into the blogosphere armed with this knowledge, and you, too, can keep your head from exploding every time you think that people cannot get any stupider. They can, they will, and it’s not you, it’s them.

Maybe that could be Day’s Law.

Reprinted with permission from The Huffington Post.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Gender Pendulum: How the Free Market Economy Creates Gender Polarization

This piece is part of a special series on the End of Gender. This series includes bloggers from Role/RebootGood Men ProjectThe Huffington PostSalonHyperVocalMs. MagazineYourTangoPsychology TodayPrincess Free ZoneThe Next Great Generation, and Man-Making.

The day I met Jean Kilbourne I was in Dallas attending the International Boys’ School Coalition’s annual conference. Ms. Kilbourne showed the large international audience of mostly men and a few women her groundbreaking video, “Killing Us Softly,” about advertising’s representation of femininity in mass media, and how damaging it is to the self-esteem of girls and women and to the ways boys and men view them.

I remember sitting in the dark auditorium, feeling awkward amidst my male colleagues, watching the images of dismembered and scantily clad female body parts advertising liquor and cars and possibly orange juice flash across the screen in dizzying succession. Ms. Kilbourne’s voice never rose, remaining coolly descriptive as it explained the relationship between these images and the objectification and ultimate dehumanization of women. There was no need for theatrical rhetoric when pictures spoke so many words.

Is it any wonder that the billboards and magazines that sexualize girls and women—photoshopping them ironically to the brink of anorexic death and the illusion of eternal youth—turn up living and breathing and walking down school hallways in their cheek-bearing cutoff shorts and t-shirts spray painted over push-up bras? Or that 90% of thirteen – fourteen-year-old boys in a Canadian survey admitted to having watched hard core Internet porn, with one-third of those young boys reporting they watched it “too many times to count?” Executive summary: Score one for free speech and deregulation, zero for the human race.

On Halloween, these young unwitting female consumers of craptastic media messages will take to the stage as slutty devils or slutty witches or slutty nurses, competing via self-objectification for the superficial attention of male schoolmates who eagerly anticipate and cheer on the spectacle. And be advised: October 31, National Dress Up As A Hooker Day, is now moving into the elementary schools. It joins fellow new arrivals there that include sexting; the latest growing demographic for lingerie and cosmetic purchases; porn viewing by the under-10 set; and the replacement of dating (which never belonged in elementary school in the first place) by the hook-up culture. I will not try too hard to think of what I’ve left out.

What we are witnessing is the triumph of the free market economy over any iota of concern for the emotional and physical wellbeing of the most vulnerable members of society—our children. Parents are increasingly giving up, resigned that their kids live in a fallen world. Battered and beleaguered educators continue reeling from the inverse relationship between in loco parentis demands placed upon them by bureaucratic legislation, and reduced funding to pay for the execution of said demands.

It is unclear to me who will be the new children whisperers if we can ever wrestle our kids from the clutches of all the purveyors of pop culture who stand to make a buck from exploiting them and pitting them against each other. To everyone who assigns this daunting task to parents, that is analogous to asking them to make sure their children don’t breathe any pollution or get washed away in a flash flood somewhere on this warming planet, because the oil industry and all its pimps and minions are not responsible for these circumstances.

If there is any hope of rescuing the pendulum as it swings into orbit around Mars, caring adults must join together when children are very young to create a new foundation for the future of male-female relationships. As a human society, we need to raise and educate girls and boys with fewer gender-specific limitations and stereotypes, and a greater awareness that life is better for both genders when they can support, rather than exploit, each other’s vulnerabilities.

What would this kind of brave new world look like? For one thing it would look a lot less gender polarized than it does right now, as can be seen in the flaming comment threads on just about any article in the blogosphere related to gender equality or the problems being encountered by either males or females in society today. When does this polarization start? I think it starts from birth, or perhaps as much as four months before, when a baby’s sex can be determined by ultrasound.

From the moment a baby’s genitalia are categorized, everything else in his or her life is also categorized. Suddenly boys are swimming in an ocean of blue, while girls are transported into the Pepto Bismol world of princessified clothes, sparkly toys that don’t do anything, make-up for preschoolers, and extra-special girl Happy Meals. Girls fall down a rabbit hole of beauty propaganda from which they may never emerge, while boys are shepherded down their own toy aisles where the adventure games, science kits, and all the colors of the rainbow except pink have gone to live.  Adults who are naïve to these issues reinforce the cycle that the marketers have set in motion, making sure that they buy “boy” or “girl” clothes and toys. Just so there is no confusion, these are all labeled and occupy separate sections of stores and catalogs. Company profits double, while girls’ possibilities shrink.

Once kids go to school, girls quickly gain advantage. Their learning styles and activity levels are better suited to the design of American public schools and the preferences of predominantly female teachers, and they mature more quickly than boys. Boys start falling behind in multiple ways…for example, their grades are lower, they are less often the leaders of clubs, and they are almost entirely disappearing among high school valedictorians. In college admissions, many schools are seeing an applicant pool that is 40% male and 60% female.

Meanwhile, something else interesting starts to happen. Right around the onset of puberty, the pretty pink princesses morph into pretty-obsessed Lolitas. Competing for the attention of boys pits girls against each other, leading to the “mean girl” phenomenon that, perhaps ultimately, results in some of the difficulties women have supporting each other. It is not hard to see why we have so few female elected officials or CEO’s when women tend to view other successful women as too aggressive and less competent than men, and undermine them rather than help them gain power.

I wonder…is there possibly a relationship between boys being dominated by girls academically, and in turn objectifying them to degrade them and take them down a peg? In the adult world, do men who feel insecure about their roles vis-à-vis women in 2011 have a greater need to pornify them?

If girls have been fed a passive role by adults—the role of being gazed upon and focusing heavily on their looks—while boys have been guided to interact more actively with their environment for their whole childhoods, are they all set up for the polarized, exploitative adult gender behaviors revealed in Jean Kilbourne’s video, and the anger and scorn ­­­spewed out in comment threads on the internet every day?

Men are still the power brokers. Has the exploitation of women grown this exponentially because men are angry with women, and have been messaged to view them as sexual objects? And do women enable their own treatment by men because they are so brainwashed by sexualizing media while young that they objectify themselves as teens and adults, believing their bodies to be their most important assets, trading on the fleeting nonsense of “erotic capital,” and therefore setting themselves up for adult lives of dissatisfaction?

It all comes down to the timeless value of respect…self-respect and respect for others. Lack of respect can be found all the way from the neighborhood playground to Capitol Hill, and the degradation of norms we all hear about is not slowing down. We have to teach young girls and boys media literacy and how to deconstruct the messages the profiteers are sending them. We have to teach them to have authentic agency in their own lives. We absolutely must teach them respect.

Women must learn greater respect for their own talents and abilities, neither of which are best spent chasing youth, thinness, and sexual desirability 24/7. They must become more supportive of each other’s aspirations, and begin to help each other manage the aging process with greater serenity and dignity. Mutual respect among girls and women should be encouraged by adults beginning when girls first snatch the silver tiaras off each other’s heads.

Men must recognize and oppose the damage that is done to women, to themselves, and to their relationships by refusing to participate in the social construct that women are there to be looked at and sexually acquired. Women actually need to hear from men that their faces and bodies are not all that they are, and that they are loved, appreciated and valued for their insides.

We must all band together if we are to rise above the debasement we all suffer by the divisive market-driven world we’ve created.

 This article is reprinted with permission from The Good Men Project and The Huffington Post.

 

Calling All Men: Join the Movement Against the Sexualization of Women and Girls

This article has been co-written with Michele Sinisgalli-Yulo of Princess Free Zone.

It’s hard to admit it, but we need you. We need you to join the effort to end gender stereotypes and the exploitation of women and young girls. They are being sexualized around the globe in alarmingly rising numbers and alarmingly widespread ways. It is alarmingly invisible because it is alarmingly ubiquitous.

In making the case for more male voices, particularly from business leaders, politicians, and thought leaders, there are immediate obstacles:

  • How do women avoid being seen as male bashers, uptight feminists, mommies with too much time on their hands, women with some irrational hatred of pink sparkly things, or all of the above?
  • Is there a way to effectively develop a partnership between women and men within a grassroots movement that is still very much under the radar, despite the hard work of a great many individuals?

“This is often seen as a women’s issue or parenting issue,” says Melissa Wardy, owner of Pigtail Pals – Redefine Girly. “It is an issue of civil rights, as our children are having their childhoods cut short by marketers turning them into lifetime consumers.” So much is at stake, and this is a time for unity, not divisiveness.

It brings to mind a favorite quote of a dear male colleague:

“When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it, but all that had gone before.” ~Jacob August Riis

Each individual can only do what he or she can do, but together, we can make a difference over time, and one never knows which blow of the hammer will split the rock.

Perhaps men (and lots of women, too) simply have not thought these issues all the way through. For example, do we all understand the problems represented by:

  • the “pinkification” of girlhood?
  • the recent study using Rolling Stone magazine covers as a window onto the marked rise in intensely sexualized and objectified images of women?
  • the exploitation of 10-year-old French model Thylane Loubry Blondeau, who was posed in a highly sexualized manner for French Vogue?

We must all push the boundaries of societal messages that tell us certain things are the way they are just because. Because girls like pink and boys like blue (and gender-segmenting the toy and clothing market is doubly profitable). Because women need to be thin and sexy from cradle to grave. Because men need to want women who are thin and sexy. Must the cycle continue?

Now, this being thus far primarily a women’s movement that seeks to change how girls and women are perceived and marketed to, it currently appeals to mostly women. But boys and men are negatively affected too. Sexualization and the princess culture don’t just hurt girls and women; they send the wrong messages to men and boys about the value of the outside over the inside, ultimately harming their relationships. And, when girls and women begin to objectify themselves for men and boys, they benefit from male support to see that this hurts everyone. Beauty Redefined offers some clear and direct action steps men can take who wish to help break this destructive cycle.

Men should be concerned about this—after all, they have daughters, wives, mothers, sisters and female friends. Many men do care—greatly! —as girl empowerment groups like 7Wonderlicious and boy advocacy groups like The Achilles Effect recognize. The Good Men Project understands what’s at stake extremely well, and fortunately there really are a lot of good men out there. We thank them, but we need even more.

The fact remains that money and corporate power still rest largely in the hands of men, so we need to appeal to the consciences and social responsibility of the male power brokers who can create initiatives to curtail the objectification of girls and women in corporate advertising. An article in Forbes Corporate Social Responsibility blog discusses how companies should behave “responsibly and ethically toward society as a whole,” saying, “In a world with a shifting social consciousness and women accounting for 85% of all consumer purchases, it is astounding that such blatant sexism still abounds in the marketplace.” Astounding, indeed. But there is talk of consequences to those who don’t practice what they preach in the form of downgrade to a company’s CRR (Corporate Responsibility Rating). Could this be one possible solution?

As fathers, men have considerable influence over how their daughters’ psyches develop. Even when a father innocently calls his daughter his “little princess,” there are implications. According to Tanith Carey, author of Where Has My Little Girl Gone?, it’s all about helping our girls grow into happy adults who do not judge themselves by looks and sexuality alone.

In her book Our Fathers, OurselvesDr. Peggy Drexler, professor of psychology and psychiatry, provides an in-depth look at father/daughter relationships and the often-tangled outcome when daddy’s little girl grows up: “She may look like a woman, but she’s still his little girl, helpless and vulnerable and in a perpetual need of his savoir faire and protection.”

Men seem almost hardwired to view women as damsels in distress, often with the best intentions. There are some excellent resources in the form of websites and blogs that offer helpful advice from fathers. Joe Kelly’s The Dad Man, which includes a segment called “Dads and Daughters,” is a great place to start for fathers who really want to understand their girls and play a positive role in their development.

It is so important to acknowledge the many men who are in the trenches with women. Stephen Colbert’s recent tirade against Summer’s Eve and those ridiculously sexist and racist commercials comes to mind. In addition to being an extraordinarily funny piece of satire, it also spurred Summer’s Eve to pull the offensive ads. Even one man can be pivotal to bringing about change.

There are other glimmers of hope. The AMA has passed a new policy that limits Photoshopping that deliberately alters female images to unrealistic proportions. A “Got Milk?” ad was pulled for its inappropriate and offensive depiction of PMS. DC and Marvel comics are saying that they need more female writers and characters, which would be very helpful considering the latest graphic depiction of Wonder Woman. While this is all encouraging, so much more is needed.

So, why should men become more involved?

First, because men love their daughters, wives, mothers, sisters, and female friends.

Second, because corporate citizenship has never been more important than it is today.

And finally, for the most important reason of all: because it’s the right thing to do.

Can women achieve the kind of widespread cultural change that is needed without men? We don’t think so. So…

Calling all men: we need you! Come be part of this movement. This is not just a women’s issue or a girls’ issue. It’s an everyone’s issue.

 Republished with permission from The Huffington Post.