Tag Archives: sexism

Shithead Bingo

3 Jun

NB: no reflection on my current, or recent, workplaces. Job From Hell was a few years ago. 

Shithead Bingo

“This is so shit, you can tell a woman designed it”
“That is SO GAY”
“I’m not being racist, right, but”

Shithead Bingo:
A game for hostile work environments

Step one:
Create your Shithead Bingo card.

Select your targets
From stereotypes and disadvantaged groups:

  • The elderly
  • Sex workers
  • Ethnic minorities
  • Fat people
  • Thin people
  • People on benefits
  • Women with small tits
  • Female drivers
  • Child abuse survivors

This is your Shithead Bingo Card.

Create this card in your head.
You don’t want a post-it note lying around

That looks like the Brixton Bomber’s
To-do list.

Pick nine squares each week for the starter game
Or twenty five if you’re playing Pro.
You are now ready to play Shithead Bingo. Continue reading


Book Review: The Satanic Witch

1 Apr

Tired Pervy Unenlightened 1960s Cliches

The Satanic Witch by Anton LaVey

Book cover of The Satanic Witch by Anton LaVeyI read this shortly after finishing The Satanic Bible because I was a teenage prat and still wanted to shock the people sat opposite me on public transport. For these purposes this book doesn’t work as well as The Satanic Bible. Though it still has the inverted pentacle on the cover, the friendly pink colour lowers the impact.

As for contents: Ha! Holy shit it’s terrible. The ‘magic’ referred to is all about seduction – this whole book is basically an egotistical straight man’s ideas for what women should do to pick up guys. It’s The Game but written for women in the less-slick 1960’s.

Its advice goes from the neanderthal: ‘don’t wash – pheromones are your body’s natural magic’ to atrocious deception based on cod-psychology. Apparently all men and women have a ‘demon’ self which is the opposite of their outer self, and it’s the ‘demon’ self you have to pitch yourself to. So if he’s macho on the outside he’s whimpering on the inside, and so as to not scare off the whimpering ‘demon self’ you’ve decided he has, you should make yourself as soft and gentle as possible, even perhaps giving yourself a softer, gentler-sounding name. If he seems really straight-laced perhaps affect an exotic accent to appeal to the opposite him.

Genius. What could go wrong? (Except for that little awkward patch when he realises you’re not Sabrina from Paris but Gertrude from Scunthorpe and he thinks you’re a derranged ’cause you’ve been lying about everything…)

The whole book is basically advice for a woman on how to get a one night stand. If she wants anything more she’s a bit screwed once all the deception comes out, surely?

(Also: if you’re a straight woman who wants some no-strings sex – correct me if I’m wrong – but isn’t that the kind of thing it’s incredibly easy to get? Try saying to a dude in a bar “would you like to have some no-strings sex?”)

As well as recommending lying wherever possible to get laid, LaVey is also apparently a big fan of gender binaries. He advises women should be as curvy and distinctively feminised as possible – don’t go for any of this unsexy jeans rubbish – and men should be butch. In this way each gender plays up their own ‘natural magic’ as much as possible.

So: be smelly, lie a lot, put on pantomime shows of gendered behaviours…You know, even reading this as an inept and slightly confused virgin – I still knew this was a load of bull.

Book Review: The Satanic Bible

30 Mar

Relies on Shock Value, then De-Mystifies All Shock Value

The Satanic Bible by Anton LaVey

The Satanic Bible by Anton Szandor LaVeySo, I read this when I was about sixteen and liked to see the looks on people’s faces when they saw me reading it. Look at that big inverted pentacle. OoooOOOooooh. It wasn’t completely without merit as I then went out and read its even more tired sister book The Satanic Witch, but the fact that I was reading a book called The Satanic Bible – and pissing off people around me as I read it on public transport – was worth far more to me than anything I was actually reading in it.

The one bit I found interesting was about ‘psychic vampires’ also known as people who use you up. This phrase does seem to have been adopted more widely. One point to Mr. LaVey.

However, for the majority, this book is part gibberish, part self-aggrandisement and part nihilism. Takeaway morals were pretty much ‘do what you want, but don’t be an idiot: the police will still come after you if you do a murder.’ It’s also disappointingly thin on magic. It claims pheromones are magic, acting sexy is magic, ‘psychodrama’ is magic, and that any kind of big satanic ritual thing has power if the people involved are getting off on it – but that’s where it begins and ends. So… no magic then?

While this is probably true, if you’re sceptical about the existence of any occult powers then why bother with all the occult imagery? If you don’t believe Satan even exists then why call yourselves ‘Satanists’? It’s some unpleasant philosophy paired up with some shock value images and a smugness that anyone who is shocked just doesn’t understand you ’cause they were too stoooopid to read the disclaimer.

Mazel tov, you little scamps. And what will you be doing for your A-levels?

Meh. If you’re a teenager in the suburbs then by all means consider having this on your bookshelf to shock & annoy, but for the intellectually curious there are better books you could read on just about any topic this touches on: philosophy, sociology, psychology, the history of the occult, magic, Christ – even read Marilyn Manson’s autobiography if you have to.

This book is the textual equivalent of those 1950s B-movie posters that promised so much and delivered so little.

Cruel Comedy: A Lower Low

21 Apr

This article originally appeared in Bad Reputation – a feminist pop-culture adventure on 21 April 2011.

Q: How many feminists does it take to change a light bulb?

I love live comedy, honest I do. I spent two weeks at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival last year and I’ll be there for the full three weeks this year. Some of my best friends are (very good) comedians. However, as a scene: live comedy has a problem. I haven’t been an aficionado for many years, so maybe it was always there – but if recent articles are anything to go by; it seems to be growing. Increasingly, the search for ‘edgy’ material is translating into a scene where the recoil laugh – the I-can’t-believe-you-just-said-that laugh – is the only one aimed for. The targets are ‘soft’ – minorities and marginalized groups – and the jokes prod at the same old prejudices. The numbers of times I come home from a comedy gig wanting to dry-clean my brain is rising.

teethMy hackles were finally raised enough to write this article after an especially bad gig I went to recently. A sketch group of white, able-bodied young men performed a series of female grotesques which were so consistently unpleasant that – though cheerily presented – the unmistakable undercurrent to the evening was ‘we really don’t like women much.’ Most sketches involved a member of the group donning a plastic wig to ‘be a girl’ – and every female character was a Lolita, a whore, a woman giving birth or a mother who hated her children. The punchlines ranged from coat hanger abortions to incest to rape to paedophilia. At my table, from about halfway through, we didn’t laugh so much as look to each other for reaction shots and a reality check. Had there not been other people on the bill who I really wanted to see, I would have just walked out.

The problem is more widespread than just one shit comedy troupe. People more eloquent than myself have pointed out this return to the bad old days. It seems like the decades of hard-earned progress, a basic standard of ‘don’t be a shit to the marginalised’, is being discarded because now it’s apparently ironic. Sexism is increasingly tolerated (after all, everything’s sorted and equal now, so just lighten up, bitch) and other kinds of prejudice are also creeping back, too. ‘It’s not racist, it’s just un-PC, and no one likes political correctness. So, while we’re at it, what about those immigrants, homos, and the disabled, aye?’

Increasingly comedians who get pulled up for saying genuinely unpleasant things (I’m looking at you, Frankie Boyle) have taken this to be their selling point and then upped the ante in general douchery. While Jordan, the gossip-magazines’ favourite glamour model, might seem a fair target, when exactly did her disabled son become fair game, too? Let alone in a joke about incest and rape. I’ll repeat that: an incest-rape joke about a disabled eight-year-old child.

While I’m sure there has always been some truly unpleasant comedy around, its apparent mainstream acceptance is a new trend. The Frankie Boyle joke aired on Channel 4. This worries me because our words do carry a power – they reflect how we see the world, but they also set our standards for what is normal, acceptable, okay. The trickle-down effect has real-world consequences. The rise of the rape joke can be a horrific trigger for those who have experienced it. In increments, these themes – packaged as entertainment – normalise these horrors and dismiss their seriousness.

This is not an argument for censorship – I had fervent arguments a few years ago with Daily Fail-reading colleagues about whether Jerry Springer: the Opera should be shown on TV (yes, yes, a thousand times yes!) – but there is a huge middle ground between Mary Whitehouse prudery and comedy which is getting pretty close to hatespeech. Please, guys: self-regulate a little by engaging the brain.

Microphone - copyright Brian CrotazSome would argue that if I don’t like this brand of comedy, I just shouldn’t watch it. To some extent they’re right, and I do try. When I saw a poster in Edinburgh for a standup show called ‘The Lying Bitch and the Wardrobe’ (I see what you did there) I had a pretty strong inkling that this wouldn’t be my kind of thing and I didn’t go. But on a mixed bill (as almost all small live comedy gigs are) there’s rarely any warning what each person will do – so while you might have gone along because you recognise one name that you like, there is no disclosure until you’re hearing it that the third act, Joe Bloggs, will be your prejudiced asshat for the evening, berating you all with a microphone for at least ten minutes.

Oh, and you paid to see this.

I don’t think anything should be off-limits – but some topics are so unpleasant (not to mention increasingly over-mined) that if a comedian wants to tackle them they will need to be so damn funny, so ingenious, original, tactful – that 80% of comedians just shouldn’t bother. Needless to say, the 80% that aren’t up to speed don’t get this, and the 20% that can do it well often have better things to do than prod triggertastic subjects and tired old clichés with a great big stick. They’re off crafting material that makes you belly-laugh (and think) rather than just titter nervously in disbelief.

From a purely technical standpoint, shock humour suffers acutely from a law of diminishing returns: the audience build up a resistance to it, and that alone would be good reason to limit its use.

Fat Kitten Improv

Fat Kitten Improv – wonderful and non-bigoted

I think the thing which is missing (besides originality) is a measure of basic empathy. In the increasingly desperate search for ‘dark’ and ‘cutting edge’ material, comedians forget that a lot of their lazily-picked targets are people. Real people. People with feelings and also (self-interest alert, guys:) people who go to comedy gigs.

The rising amount of ‘ironic’ misogyny is not creating a particularly friendly environment for a certain 50% of punters. Last year I went to the Comedy Store to see twelve different comedians being filmed for The World Stands Up. I wasn’t entirely sure if the person who’d invited me along had intended the evening as a date or not, so it was potentially awkward already. Then, as the evening unfolded, four out of twelve comedians used ‘bad fellatio’ as the bedrock of their sets. One standup spent his whole set mocking his wife for not pleasuring him correctly. In the narratives that we heard that night, women’s main role was as dispensers of sexual favours – and we couldn’t even do that right. Thanks, guys. I haven’t been back to the Comedy Store since.

For another example, I was once out with a group for a friend’s birthday when a standup did a set about making a mess in the disabled toilet and blaming it on a disabled person. While he wasn’t to know that birthday girl, sat in the front row, had cerebral palsy – why did he think this would be a good topic in the first place? How many times has he encouraged the able-bodied to laugh at this disadvantaged minority’s expense?

Catherine Semark

Catherine Semark – smart, funny, feminist

One piece of etiquette that people seem to be riding roughshod over is whether you have a ‘claim’ to your material. While there aren’t (and shouldn’t be) any rules about who is allowed to talk about what, whether or not you’re on the receiving end of a prejudice can make a huge difference to whether or not you have the empathy, warmth, and originality to do it well. Richard Pryor, Omid Djalili, Sarah Silverman, or Goodness Gracious Me on race: usually very good. Jim Davidson on race: enough said.

This isn’t an argument for ‘nice’ comedy. Some of my favourite comedians are pretty darn dark and twisted – Bill Hicks, Dylan Moran, and I heartily recommend Loretta Maine and The Beta Males – but the ‘type’ of twisted is crucial. Jokes are about status – people use them every day to agree boundaries of what’s acceptable, and with that comes a certain amount of responsibility. When activist comedians such as Mark Thomas or Kate Smurthwaite use humour to mock people in power for making bad decisions, that’s something very different to a middle class standup laying into ‘chavs’ for talking funny and drinking cheap booze.

Anger and humour are very often interlinked, but where you aim that anger makes all the difference. Aim it ‘up’ at deserving, more powerful targets and it’s subversive, it can hold people to account – satire has a long and proud tradition. Aim that anger ‘down’ at the underdog and it’s tired, old and – frankly – it’s bullying.

Review of Delusions of Gender: Here Comes the Science Bit

17 Nov

This article originally appeared in Fat Quarter on 16 November 2010.

Delusions of Gender

Cover of Delusions of Gender

I’d only read the introduction to Dr Cordelia Fine’s book Delusions of Gender (Icon) when I found myself listing people I wanted to make read it at gunpoint: the list began with two exes, and the boss that wouldn’t shake hands with women, but within a few minutes included “every teacher, policymaker and year 10 child in the country”.

This is a book with such a large scope that it’s near-impossible to overestimate its importance. Much like The Spirit Level did for socio-economics, this book ropes together decades’ worth of studies on gender differences and casts a cool, calm eye (and an arched brow) over them all.

Fine (daughter of Bill’s New Frock author Anne Fine) begins by framing her argument within the historiography of accepted scientific truths: she quotes some now-hilarious Victorian pronouncements on the innate weakness of women’s charmingly delicate minds and bodies to point out just how easily dated most ‘common sense’ assumptions can be.

Then she points out just how deeply flawed the methods of many gender difference studies have been. Though she does take some obvious, Bad Science-esque pleasure in debunking such studies, you’d be hard-pushed not to smirk too at the news that, though one study appeared to show women’s brains reacted more than men’s when shown images likely to trigger empathy – another scientist found much the same result when they ran the same MRI scan on a dead salmon.

Once a lot of the ‘science’ has been debunked, the most vocal ‘experts’ on gender differences appear almost as dubious as creationist scientists. It would be hilarious except that some of these people campaign, off the back of these studies, that these ‘innate’ and ‘scientifically proven’ differences mean the genders should be educated separately and differently.

The book also explains the concept of the ‘stereotype threat’ – an impressive array of studies demonstrate that once you have been told you will not be as good at something, your performance suffers. Differences as subtle as ticking a box to indicate your sex at the beginning of the maths test, or gendered décor in the exam room, were shown to have a small-yet-palpable effect on performance when people felt they were up against a negative gender stereotype. If you add up a lifetime of such instances the lack of women in traditionally ‘male’ jobs and vice versa becomes pretty obvious.

Another welcome addition to my vocabulary was the ‘gender fallback’ argument – “when things are so equal now, it must be innate that my little girl loves pink.” However, as Fine argues, with wit and warmth, children are very good at picking up what they ‘should’ do – whether they were instructed deliberately or unconsciously. Studies have shown mothers often overestimate their male toddlers’ physical abilities while underestimating their girls’ – so how can we possibly assume the differences we see are set in stone rather than self-fulfilling societal prophesies?

This book will cast a light on gender assumptions you didn’t know you had, and it’s hilarious – with chapter titles such as ‘We Think, Therefore You Are’ and ‘Sex and Premature Speculation’ Dr Fine is a brilliant tour guide – making light, fun and engaging work of the research. By debunking the rubbish, this book opens up possibilities for a (slightly) clearer vision of the future. Not to be missed.