Posts Tagged ‘stereotypes’

Now, I don’t want to pretend that I’m NOT constantly bickering with TV commercials, like an irate budgie having words with the mirror in his cage, but if there’s an ad that’s really seizing my contraband at the moment, it’s the one for Xbox Kinect’s Your Shape: Fitness Evolved.

Oh, you know the one. Smug girl makes eyes at herself in the mirror*, asks boyfriend-type “Can you tell I’ve been playing on The X Box? Maybe you should play some X Box?”, pronouncing Xbox like it’s part of an elocution exam where mispronunciation of brand names results in waterboarding. This buffoonery-in-diction is entirely deliberate. The Xbox-owner in the ad is barely comfortable with how to pronounce its name, and yet she’s reaping the benefits of her investment! It’s an invitation for non-gamers to spend a zillion euro on kitting out their sitting rooms, a warm hug for clueless types easily convinced that motion-capture technology is the new 100 metre sprint. I get that. I really do. But as a female gamer, I’m very easily offended by the stereotype that women are but airhead nunkies bent on commandeering their boyfriends’ consoles for narcissistic and fluffy purposes. Pah! A pox on your vain stereotypes, Kinect ad execs! I’ll take ye on! I’ll take ye all on!

Look! Tai Chi! Exercise for girls!

The sad truth is that being a gamer who owns rather than covets boobs has turned me into something rather too easily offended. There is no reasonable reason for this. Why should the banal typecasting of fluffy airheads offend me? I don’t get offended on behalf of elderly gamers when cuddly representatives of their generation appear, leppin’ about the place in ads for Nintendo’s Wii. I don’t get offended on behalf of six-year-old Mario Kart veterans when other smallies star in ads for V-Tech toy laptops. But gosh, the depiction of female gamers as fashion-obsessed mouthbreathers really gets on my nerves. “I’d bate their arses in Goldeneye!” I huff, loudly, to anyone in hearing distance, which is a very telling action indeed. If I was truly comfortable with my gaming, I wouldn’t need applause for my gaming, now would I? There’s a bit of the “See how well I’m doing here! Did you know I’m a GIRL?” to the whole thing. It’s a tragic tale of gormless self-mockery, really.

Not so long ago, I went game shopping for a couple of titles I was after. One was for my PS2, the other for my 360. The shop assistant looked concerned and said, “You do realise these are for two different platforms, don’t you?” whereupon I became sorely offended. I don’t remember the exact response I gave, but it was probably something sneery and along the lines of Naaaaaaaaw, I’m that stupid, where’s my GH-fucking-D so I can heat my likkle brain up? Although I knew full well that the clerk was probably pointing out the same thing to many customers buying multiple titles, out of the goodness of his heart, out of nothing but benevolence directed towards confused Irish Mammies buying Grand Theft Auto for their eight-year-old sons. Oh, how I sniped at the poor man! I feel very bad about it – he was but a Good Samaritan after all – but that doesn’t stop me regurgitating the anecdote when I’m banging on about being a gamer and being a girl. “Condescending asshole!” I harrumph, though I’m secretly talking about myself.

It could be that I’m seeking kudos for being a girl gamer because I’m fully aware that there just aren’t as many of us. Out of my own social circle, the majority of the fellas are gamers, either on PC or console. The majority of the girleens don’t play video games at all, and those that do are more likely to have a Nintendo DS to train their brains on than a PS3. When it comes down to it, I don’t actually like the majority of games out there. I can’t stand First-Person Shooters. I can’t stand playing online. No matter how selective it is, I demand congratulations for my habit, all the same. It’s as if I’m standing up for the Little Gal, even though evidence suggests she exists in no great numbers at all.

It’s good to have a hobby.

*Oh no! I mentioned mirrors twice in three sentences! Please don’t tell the Literature Police.

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Geena Davis - Not Just a Pretty face

Actress Geena Davis is perhaps best remembered in the role of poor, put-upon Thelma, sidekick to Susan Sarendon’s sassy Louise, in Ridley Scott’s 1991 groundbreaking road movie, Thelma & Louise. Although still acting, Ms. Davis has increasingly turned her attention to activism for gender equality, initially in sport and laterally in the media. Interestingly her positive action in support of a more balanced reflection of society in the media sprang from fairly innocuous roots. Back in 2004 Davis was watching television with her young daughter when it struck her that there was a noticeable imbalance in the ratio of male to female characters portrayed in programmes aimed at pre-teens. Not only was there a marked numerical imbalance, it also became apparent that the roles open to female actresses fell into a narrow range of stereotypes: generally sexualised eye-candy. These were programmes directed specifically at children aged under-11, many of them – on both the big screen and the small – viewed by our children too.

Davis became convinced that this insidious form of gender bias was feeding into the reality that females are undervalued in society. “The more TV a girl watches,” Davis concluded, “the more limited she believes her opportunities will be.” This observation ultimately led to the establishment of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media and the undertaking of a comprehensive research project looking at gender in children’s entertainment at the Annenberg School for Communication of University of Southern California. This study directed by Dr. Stacy Smith and covering four hundred G, PG, PG-13, and R-Rated movie, concluded that for every one female character portrayed, there are almost three males and that girls are given far less screen time.

“The more TV a girl watches,” Davis concluded, “the more limited she believes her opportunities will be.”

The researchers also linked their findings to a resulting undermining of self-esteem amongst young girls and a consequent sexist bias amongst young boys. In response the institute developed a programme, called SEE JANE that works in collaboration with the entertainment industry using research, education and advocacy to dramatically reduce stereotyping and increase the number of female characters included in children’s entertainment.

The approach taken by Geena Davis in tackling gender equality at this fundamental level in the entertainment industry has been recognised and rewarded. In 2009 she received an honorary Doctorate from Bates College, a private liberal arts college located in Lewiston, Maine. Although tangible changes have been affected by the Institute, their task is far from complete. However, it is truly inspiring to see a woman turn an everyday observation into such a laudable and practical programme of action and to learn of a Hollywood legend using their fame to such commendable ends. After all as Geena so straightforwardly puts it, “Kids need to see entertainment where females are valued as much as males.”

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I had a horrifying brush with misogyny the other day. Out on the town with a group of women I was sharing a friend’s birthday with, I encountered a rush of disdain and disparagement towards my glammed-up companions I was not quite expecting and didn’t know how to handle … because it was coming from me.

I’m not good with the whole Girls’ Night Out thing, generally. I don’t like to categorise my friends by gender, or segregate them in social settings in case De Boys try to mate with De Girls. Just because we share a certain physical blueprint doesn’t mean we have anything at all in common, after all. I find, too, that when there are plans for a Girls Night Out, there is a certain leaning towards inviting along women you wouldn’t usually socialise with, just to make up the numbers – sisters of friends, daughters of neighbours, ex-girlfriends of troublesome future brothers-in-law, all swept into the same cocktail bar in a sort of unintentional, uncomfortable celebration of womanhood that begins and ends with fragile smiles and scornful texts home. There was something of that in my recent night out; the birthday girl had collected quite a hodge-podge of ladies, only two of whom I’d met before (and only one of those I’d had a conversation with). I can be quite the chameleon when I feel like it, though, so I wasn’t too worried about fitting in. There’s always common ground somewhere, and I could always do what I did on the last hen night I was at – inadvertently but mortally insult the groom’s sister and thus become the evening’s entertainment.

But there was no common ground.

Not even lowest-common-denominator ground.

I don’t subscribe to the girly model – rosé, make-up counters, Sex And The City – although some of my close friends do, and we still find plenty to talk about. I’m not gay, into Converse, or hopelessly addicted to reality tv, but I still manage to have a best friend who’s all three. It is an entirely new experience for me to find myself surrounded by aliens, in other words – it’s not like I expect to only get along with people exactly like me in every way – and yet I was, out in the city, with pretty and vivacious sorts who were all around my age, but utterly alone. We were all of the same cultural background – we all watched the same sitcoms growing up, all loved the same 90s bands, all well aware that Deirdre Barlow hadn’t a criminal bone in her body. And yet I couldn’t find a single thing to talk about with my new companions, no gap in their inane codswallop to hitch sense to, and scramble into. In fact, it wasn’t so much lack of common ground. These women were idiots.

I know, Jesus, I know. I shouldn’t call other people idiots; we’re all capable of idiocy, but the odd pratfall into brainlessness doesn’t make you a lost cause. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with wanting to look good, whatever shade of “good” you go for. Being bright orange, wearing a paint pot of mascara on your fake eyelashes, and pumping and trussing your breasts up to your chin doesn’t mean you’re of but modest intelligence, as celebrity glamour models never tire of telling us. Aspiring to nothing but being bright orange, wearing a paint pot of mascara on your fake eyelashes, and pumping and trussing your breasts up to your chin probably does, though; style is an embellishment to a personality, not an alternative to one. And embellishments and improvements to a personality all too deftly hidden were all these girls could talk about – I want my boobs done, I want my arse waxed, I want my nose fixed, I want to meet a footballer in Lanzarote and pose for Maxim and wear a tiara up to the chandeliers when our wedding is covered in Ok! Oh look! My knickers match my dress! I’ve always believed that there must be something ticking away behind the facade of the dolly bird – it takes a healthy bank balance to keep one in designer claws and bottles of WKD, after all – but I honestly could find nothing at all to latch on to with these ladies, no topic of conversation we could all get behind without anyone’s brains leaking out her eye sockets.

The thing that upset me most is that these ladies were of the same social class as myself (how outdated does that sound? Social class!). We were all working class, urban girls … exactly the kind of girls one might expect to act like lipglossed ninnies. It was like coming across a pocket of prejudices in the middle of your PC conscience, or like meeting a tribe of savages on an expedition to save the rainforest. I used to loftily insist that girls like that didn’t exist outside of dance music videos or Big Brother buffoonery, and it was a nasty, unwelcome shock to find them congregating, dim as you like, in the real world. And, like the hitherto optimistic explorer in the jungle paradise, I wanted to run from the savages. What’s the point in trying to woo the headhunters? You’ll only lose your head.

Not having the option of running away, I drank myself stupid instead. Which wasn’t a stereotypically idiotic action to take at all. But what else is there to do when you’ve just choked on your own politics?

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