Tag Archives: language

The Perils of Bad Titles (and poorly thought out analogies)

I take full responsibility for the kerfuffle I caused last week with my Role/Reboot latest. It was not my most sensitive or thoughtful work and I did some harm where I meant to only raise questions.

I often think that flipping pronouns is a useful way of analyzing the role that gender is playing in media coverage. We’ve looked at examples before, like coverage of Marissa Mayer or a story about a teenage heart throb’s virginity.

Last week, fed up with the excessive victim blaming that goes into coverage of high-profile sexual assault cases, like the recent piece on Hobart Williams and Smith, or Steubenville, I wrote an essay exploring what happens when we flip pronouns on the victims and imagine these cases if young men were raped instead of young women. Would we still say an 11-year-old boy “lured” men like a “spider,” as we did in Cleveland, TX? Would the “Princeton Mom” still say it’s “all on him” if a male college student was too drunk to prevent his rape? I don’t think we would, and I still think that there’s value in exploring how language can expose bias.


But, I made a few mistakes. The biggest one was the title, which I suggested and my editor confirmed: “If Straight Men Were Raped: How Pronouns Change the Conversation About Victim Blaming.*” Do you see the problem? I kind of can’t believe I missed it. Of course straight men are raped. This is not a hypothetical, fantastical suggestion; straight men are raped by other men. In fact, as was pointed out by several readers, although women are assaulted far more frequently, one of the key reasons male victims don’t come forward (i.e. one of the reasons we have so many fewer media examples to refer to), is precisely because the stigmas on male victims are unique.

I did not intend to write an essay on those particular stigmas, as I don’t feel equipped or educated enough to do so. But I also did not intend to belittle or shame straight men that have been raped, nor to downplay the equally-horrible but differently-shaped reactions that those survivors get. Here are a few responses that better articulate the issue:

“A LOT of rape of men by men is disregarded because people think he must’ve given off some sort of “gay” thing that made him seem to want it. There are different ways in which male survivors have their rapes and SAs denied, mostly via homophobia. And god help you find support if you actually are GBT or Q. Obviously we know there are serious issues with GBTQ men who are sexually assaulted. I’d bet pretty much nobody is marginalized when it comes to sexual assault more than LGBTQ populations in general.” – from Joanna Schroeder, Good Men Project

“But where you say that you are merely trying to highlight inappropriate use of gendered language around victims, I contend that you are doing to male victims the very thing you are fighting against – namely grossly distorting and dismissing the realities that we live under. In effect, you are throwing male victims under the bus in order to make a point about female victims that no one in their right mind would argue against.” – From Chris Anderson, MaleSurvivors.org

I hope that the content of the article makes clear that I believe all victims deserve respect and that no one, of any gender or sexual orientation, should be shamed, stigmatized, ostracized, or blamed, for their assault. I also hope that Chris and Joanna’s responses help illuminate some subtleties that I missed in my first pass.


*We changed the title later to “If Straight Men Were Raped As Often As Women….” – Better, but not great.

Related Post: “After donation regret” and other rape analogies

Related Post: Using pronoun-flipping on Serena Williams’ Steubenville comments.



Filed under Gender, Media, Republished!


wingmanPeople love to ask me if I think X is sexist.

Generally, if you have to ask, if not outright sexist, it’s probably inadvisable, tasteless, or easily misinterpreted. Sometimes something–an item, promotion, label, campaign–isn’t sexist when taken on its own, but contributes (often by accident) to reinforcing stereotypes or perpetuating inequality.

“Is ‘wingman’ a sexist term?”

Thus began this week’s trip down the Urban Dictionary wormhole that finished in my essay for Role/Reboot about the cult of the wingman, the origin of the term, and whether we can salvage it from the pick-up artist misogynists.Screenshot_7_30_14_3_49_PM


Related Post: Dating while feminist

Related Post:  Dating should not be a meal ticket

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Filed under Advertising, Gender, Republished!

“White Liberal Dude Privilege Syndrome”

Yup, bet this is a really hard time for YOU, bro

Yup, bet this is a really hard time for YOU, bro

My favorite thing I’ve read this week is the apology letter from David Roberts at Grist after he referred to a former Anthony Weiner intern as a “hobag” on Twitter. Read the whole thing, please, but highlights:

“This is the key first step in a bout of White Dude Privilege Syndrome, especially the specific variant of White Liberal Dude Privilege Syndrome (WLDPS). Very few bouts begin with deliberate sexism or racism or heteronormativity. We are not thinking sexist thoughts! Our intentions are pure! We love women! Some of our best friends are black! We are good people, dammit!”

“The first step in WLDPS therapy is for the sufferer to acknowledge that it does not matter what was or was not in his head, or what he “really” meant. Part of privilege is the deep conviction that one is the absolute authority on one’s own mental states and thus the dictator of one’s own meanings — no one can tell you what they are, what you think, who you are, man. You don’t know me! We privileged dudes have trouble accepting that language is a social phenomenon, a social act, and meaning is created collectively, in the spaces between and among people. When you use language that is freighted with social meaning, you are responsible for that meaning, even if you did not “intend” it.”

Man, it’s so fucking smart. When we talk about privilege, we are often referring to the very tangible–wealth, stuff–or the slightly less tangible–sense of security, education. What Roberts is pointing out is that the underlying girders of privilege are not external, but rather deeply personal, “the conviction that one is the absolute authority on one’s own mental states and thus the dictator’s of one’s own meanings.”

I'm sure this is a really tough time, Bob

I’m sure this is a really tough time, Bob

What do we mean by that? Take the case of currently beleaguered mayor of San Diego, Bob Filner. Filner’s been accused by nine women of sexual harassment and is clearly struggling with the discrepancy between how he viewed his actions (“behavior that would have been tolerated in the past”) and how they are perceived by others (inappropriate, illegal, gross.) See Stephen Colbert’s excellent “Oppressed White Male Alert.”

Similarly, Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper is trying to recover from an ugly incident in which, agitated, he yelled at a Kenny Chesney concert, “I will jump that fence and fight every n***** here, bro” [Note: Cooper is white]. His response to the appalled and upset reactions of his fans and teammates suggest that, like Filner, he’s having trouble reconciling what he knows about himself and how his actions are being received. “I’m hoping we can rally around this and my teammates will be behind me and I’ll get through this,” he said. “This is not the type of person I want to be portrayed as. This isn’t the type of person I am. I’m extremely sorry,” he added. He does not consider himself to be racist and this may be the first time in his life where his internal monologue about who Riley Cooper is is being questioned by the public. He found the edge of his privilege, and it is apparently at a gate outside a Kenny Chesney show.

As Roberts said, “When you use language that is freighted with social meaning, you are responsible for that meaning, even if you did not ‘intend’ it.”

Related Post: Do I have privilege? You bet.

Related Post: There is a hierarchy of feminist privilege


Filed under Gender, Media, Politics, Really Good Writing by Other People, Sports

Bitch and the Problem with Identity-Insults

This week for Role/Reboot I wrote about the problem with identity-based insults. When you try to denigrate someone, the most powerful thing you can do is to tie your dislike for their behavior to something intrinsic to themselves. It’s the reason that “Jerk” or “Jackass” doesn’t feel very strong; it’s surface deep. “Bitch,” on the other hand, like the N-word or the F-word (Not that F-word, the one idiots use for gay people) carries such power is because it adds an identity tag. “You suck… and you’re a woman!” “I don’t like you… and you’re gay!”

I’m aware of the reclamation projects around most of these words (see The Vagina Monologues’ Cunt” poem), but I would suggest that the use of them as an insult is always based in identity politics not new appreciation for cultural or biological ownership. In other words, whether you’ve reclaimed the word “cunt” for yourself is irrelevant when someone levels it at you. They don’t mean it in that third-wave this-is-my-word-now! way… they are using it to cut you down to size, and they’re using that specific word because you’re female. Not okay.



Related Post: When I wrote about insults for dudes…

Related Post: How my teenage cousins talk to each other on Facebook…

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Sunday Scraps 88


1. SANDY: Great longform essay in the NYT, about how a private apartment complex in the Rockaways, called the Sand Castle, fared during Sandy.

2. CRAY: If you watch one video this holiday season, make it this one, of a trio of Russian gymnasts defying all laws of physics and biology.

3. GAMING: ChartPorn has a graphic illustrating the evolution of video games by both genre (check out the fall of arcade-style) and by platform.

4. NEWTOWN: I had to look up “Moloch” to get this Garry Willis piece for New York Review of Booksand I will let you enjoy the same wikipedia adventure, but once I did, totally worth it.

5. LANGUAGE: Why does “doubt” have a “B” in it? Don’t you just want a TED Talk on this exact subject?

6. BOOBS: I’m a little late on the uptake with Anna March’s Salon piece, “My Shazam Boobs“, but it is as good as everyone said it was. What are boobs for, exactly? And how does that change, psychologically, as we age and combat illness or the threat of it?

Related Post: Sunday 87: Deb Perelman, Amy Hempel, Pinterest for cops?

Related Post: Sunday 86The Rumpus, Anita Sarkeesian, Emily McCombs for XOJane.


Filed under Art, Body Image, Gender, Media, Politics, Sports

Monday Scraps 83

1. GIFTS: After Romney’s post-election definition-of-a-sore-loser quotes about the “gifts” the President gave young people and minorities (Did you know you can buy a 24-year-old’s vote for a couple of months of contraception. TRUE FACT), Jon Stewart shared a few other “gifts.”

2. MORMON: Super excellent piece by McKay Coppins for BuzzFeed on being the sole Mormon reporter on the Romney press bus.

3. MEXICO: What happens to journalism when bribery, threats, and frequent spates of violence directed specifically at the press plague your country? Just ask reporters covering Mexico’s drug wars (NYT Book Review).

4. LANGUAGE: Which words does the NYT use too often? A new internal tool lets the paper (and curious spectators) explore the patterns of language perpetuated and created.

5. HILLARY: Gail Collins + Hillary Clinton = excellent reading. What will Hillary do next? Sleep, aparently, and exercise.

6. DENVER: This is from 2007, but I’m kind of obsessed with Katherine Boo this week, so I’m sharing it anyway. For the New Yorker, she covers the story of Denver’s superintendent and the journey of one turnaround school that couldn’t quite turnaround.

Related Post: Sunday 82: Kevin Durant and the OKC, Rachel Maddow nails it, cute MD photos

Related Post: Sunday 81: Callie Khouri, Anita Sarkeesian, sex surrogacy


Filed under Education, Media, Politics, Really Good Writing by Other People

So What Do You Do Exactly? Mishmash Edition

This is kind of an unconventional addition to the So What Do You Do Exactly? interview project. Normally, I focus on the tangible content of “work” that people do, but in Leslie’s case, I think her career path is where the real meat is. From Chile to China and back, I think she epitomizes the very millennial idea of stitching together a “job” out of a wide range of passions and skills.
Leslie lives in Santiago, Chile where she splits her time between a variety of teaching, translation, and entrepreneurial projects:
What are you working on these days? Which pots do you have fingers in? These days, I’m teaching a social entrepreneurship course at a Chilean university, teaching English to environmental attorneys, doing some website and training projects for a consultancy in the north of Chile, and doing pitch and presentation training for a Chilean biotech startup.
I’ve also created a free online course called How to Create Your International Career and am thinking about writing a book on this topic in the future. The mix of projects shifts around from month to month, and (as you can probably tell) I’ve been really busy lately!
How did you decide you wanted to live and work abroad? I always knew I wanted to study abroad. My mom studied in Germany and my dad studied in Brazil. One of the reasons I chose UC Berkeley was because of its study abroad programs. I studied here in Santiago, Chile for all of 2005. This was half of my junior year and half my senior year, The history, business, and mountaineering classes I took all counted towards my degree in Latin American Studies.
When I graduated in 2006, I didn’t know what to do. About a week after graduation, I pored through my well-worn copy of Colleen Kinder’s Delaying the Real World. This book lists about 1000 ideas of things to do after college, all of which don’t involve law school or cubicles. A section on teaching English overseas mentioned CIEE Teach in China. The program required being a native speaker with a college degree, and the deadline was one week later. I began contacting program alums who were listed as references. And a few days later I FedEx’d in my passport and application.
I’d never studied Chinese, never visited China, and never been particularly interested in mooncakes or Mao Zedong. So I spent the summer volunteering in ESL classes and studying basic Mandarin with a listen-and-repeat Pimsleur Language Program. Less than three months later, I was on a plane to China.
What did you do in China? At first I taught English at a university about an hour from Shanghai. Then I interned at the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai. After a year and a half in China, I got homesick and decided to go back to San Francisco.
I had major culture shock. (I found myself saying things like, “Wow, there’s free coffee at Bank of America, and you can understand exactly what I need and help me in five minutes! I fully expected to be here all afternoon” and “Wow, Trader Joe’s has so many choices. And I can read *all* the labels!”) Soon I found a job at a startup in SF and settled in. But six months later, the financial crisis hit, the company went under, and I decided to move back to China, this time to Beijing.
In Beijing I worked in a number of fields — advertising, consulting, non-profits, etc. — and studied Chinese with a wonderful tutor and in small classes with trailing spouses from France, Thailand, and other countries. I eventually got burned out, and left China in June of 2011. I explained this decision in more detail in this letter :Dear China: It’s Not You, It’s Me. Let’s Be Friends Forever.
What brought you back to Chile, so many years after studying there? I came to Chile as part of Start-Up Chile, a program of the Chilean government to attract world-class early-stage entrepreneurs to bootstrap their businesses in Chile. A woman I’d met when I was in Chile in 2005 emailed me in early 2011 to invite me to join her visionary solar energy project. I arrived in July. Start-Up Chile brought me in to contact with dozens of entrepreneurs from all over the world, and soon I was invited to freelance on several other projects. I did Spanish-English and Spanish-Chinese translation for meetings about iron ore investment. I did writing and editing work for a handful of startups.
These days I’m part of a co-working space that’s filled with mostly Chilean entrepreneurs, and these friends and colleagues have given me countless opportunities to get involved in cool projects.
How do you actually spend your time? Is there such thing as an average day?
8:00:Get up, get dressed, make tea.

9:00-10:00: Teach an English class to an environmental attorney. Normally there are three but only one shows up. We talk about the many definitions of “file” and how to use the subjunctive.
After class I go back to my apartment to make brunch and respond to a bunch of emails. Then, I take the metro and then a micro (local bus) to the university where I teach social entrepreneurship.
2:30-4:30: My students give midterm presentations about how a social enterprise called Living Goods can partner with Nestlé or Unilever to sell healthcare products door-to-door in Uganda using the “Avon Lady” model. Half the students are business majors from Chile and the other half are exchange students from Europe. The presentations are awesome! I wish the companies were there to see it.
6:00-9:00: I meet with a biotech startup to coach them on their pitch for the upcoming Start-Up Chile demo day. The product is a film about the amniotic membrane that can regenerate eye tissue. We revise the presentation. The new version starts with a before-and-after story of a middle-aged man named José. Before, he couldn’t see much. After his surgery, he could see kids’ faces, and even drive. I coach the team on how to explain this clearly in English, to deliver maximum impact in a 3-minute presentation. The guys order sushi. We eat together.
10:00: I get home. Exhausted. My boyfriend made macaroni and cheese! There’s some left for me. I feel like the luckiest girl in the world.
Related Post: So What Do You Do Exactly?: Model UN Edition
Related Post: So What Do You Do Exactly? Turkey Edition

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