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Tag: feminism

Always the Object

There’s an intriguing subreddit called /r/trashyboners. (Today you should assume that every link is NSFW.) The tagline is “Maybe a true hot mess?” and the featured content is basically what you’d expect it to be: photos and videos of attractive women who are considered trashy. Think of the stereotypes evoked by the terms “trailer trash” and “white trash” (although women of color do show up occasionally) with a splash of “party girl.”

The sub is classist by default — “trashy” connotes undignified poverty — and often exploitative. You see girls who are passed-out drunk or out of their minds on drugs. You might see a police officer displaying a woman’s genitals under unclear circumstances. (The only reportage on that incident comes from the untrustworthy Daily Mail.) Power imbalances abound.

Interestingly, some readers will defend the women they ogle. In early May there was a topic titled “nasty whores drinking beer off each other.” The commenters complained about this derogatory phrasing. One person wrote, “We know nothing of their background, can’t we just enjoy without the shit talk?”

Not long ago I posted an Instagram snapshot of Bella Hadid and the readers downvoted me for saying that her outfit was trashy. They disapproved because I was perceived as puritanical. Overall, more comments than you might expect are about whether the woman in a given photo actually is trashy. (Here’s an example from a recent post.) It’s an inherently subjective judgment, of course.

By contrast, here’s another thread where the woman in the photo faces constant derision, this time with no protest from the readers. I’m not sure what determines which reaction will dominate. It may be that young, conventionally attractive women are more likely to be championed, but I’m not positive about that being a meaningful trend. There is also a “walking the fine line” element that’s very difficult to articulate. When is skimpy clothing just skimpy, and when is it trashy? It’s the kind of nuance that you can only intuit, not teach.

Either way, /r/trashyboners is a good companion to the Slate Star Codex essay about how class is just as cultural as it is financial. Consider:

[S]uppose a lady comes in with really over-permed dyed curly hair wearing several rings, bracelets, and necklaces. Her name is Sherri and she calls you “darling”; she’s also carrying her lunch, which is KFC plus a Big Gulp. Without knowing anything else about her, you can peg her as working class. Maybe she won the lottery ten years ago and is now the richest person in your state. It doesn’t matter. She’s still working class.

Or suppose a thin 25-year-old man comes in wearing glasses, a small close-cropped beard, and a Led Zeppelin t-shirt. His name is Alex and he apologizes for being three minutes late. This guy is probably middle-to-upper-middle-class and college educated, maybe not a great college but still college-educated. And maybe he’s fallen on hard times and doesn’t have a dollar to his name. It still doesn’t matter. He’s still middle-to-upper-middle class.

/r/trashyboners is dedicated to both shaming and celebrating the slutty versions of Sherri.

I’m some flavor of feminist, so you might expect me to be opposed to this subreddit. I have mixed feelings about it. The content is aesthetically fascinating — it’s an inversion of crazy girl chic. And I find the community puzzling, as you may have gathered. I’m not above participating. My opinion isn’t settled yet, I suppose. What do you think?

Header photo by MarkScottAustinTX.

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The Downsides of Femme Finance

Yesterday a friend showed me Ellevest, which bills itself as an investing service for women. Their tagline:

Ellevest tagline

Thank goodness! The scourge of mansplaining in automated investing will be vanquished!

I find this extremely disturbing, because it’s pure pandering. As far as I can tell, Ellevest is just a fee-charging software layer on top of a basket of Vanguard ETFs. The terms and conditions explain that Ellevest pulls their recommendations from Morningstar. I’m sure Ellevest itself does something, but I’m very skeptical of whether the something it does is valuable.

They claim on the homepage, “We’re not just ‘shrinking and pinking’ an old investment model. We’ve built a whole new approach.” No, you haven’t! You’re just Vanguard with better UX and cynical marketing!

Look, I’m a woman. I believe misogyny exists and I agree that it’s fucked up for finance to be overwhelmingly dominated by men. I consider myself a feminist. I could get behind an investing service that was ethically women-oriented, like a version of faith-based investing.

But that’s not what Ellevest is. Ellevest is normal investing with a ladylike veneer. (Notice all the curly fonts?) Sure, I bet they employ more women than the average fintech company. But they also exploit a historically disadvantaged group, one that’s low on financial literacy, in order to offer a return to their own VCs.

I’ve talked before about how I love the internet’s ability to serve every niche. This is not what I meant.

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Biomorphic Extremism: Gynoids & Terminators

Male cyborgs are for warfare and female cyborgs are for sex. I’m not kidding — think about all the movies and books that feature human-seeming machines, especially commercial ones. What are they produced and used for? The male ones are fighters and the females are — I must use the uncouth term — fuckers. (There are exceptions, of course, like Gigolo Joe in AI and Ghost in the Shell‘s Motoko Kusanagi.) Female cyborgs often serve the manic-pixie-dream-girl role for a male protagonist, for example in Ex Machina and to a certain extent also Her.

Some of DeviantArt's "Popular All Time" search results for the term "cyborg".

Some of DeviantArt’s “Popular All Time” search results for the term “cyborg”.

I don’t think the gender binary is good or immutable. It’s interesting, and disappointing, to note how it plays out in future-oriented media. Our ideas about new bodies and new souls are strictly bounded by the currently acceptable kinds of identities. I wrote about this topic before back in early January:

“What will our avatars look like in a hundred years? Post-gender and post-form, or exactly like the musclebound hunks and bit-titted blondes that titillate today’s Second Life denizens? We mustn’t forget the furries and weaboos, already a significant contingent of any visually oriented social network (which is all of them) (especially 4chan) (maybe they don’t haunt Instagram? idk).”

The response to that piece on Facebook was basically, “Nah, I’d look like myself but with more muscles.”

For contrast, a recent sci-fi story on Vice’s Motherboard is a strange and provocative exploration of alien bodies, described by the author as “vespo-sapphic pesticidepunk”. It’s an interactive game-like experience built with Twine, and well worth your time. I usually hate interactive features because they rarely add anything to the narrative, but this was beautiful and horrifying and oozy. Reading it made me feel like I was crazy.

All of this is on my mind because tonight I watched Natural City, an excellent Korean B-movie described thus in Wikipedia:

Two cops, R and Noma, hunt down renegade cyborgs. The cyborgs serve a number of duties, ranging from military commandos to “dolls”, engineered for companionship. [In this case, “companionship” is a euphemism for sex — amusingly, the wiki link led to the page for “sex worker”.] They have a limited 3-year lifespan, although black market technology has been developed to transfer a cyborg’s artificial intelligence into the brain of a human host.

This breakthrough compels R into finding Cyon, an orphaned prostitute, who may serve as the host for the mind of his doll Ria. He has fallen deeply in love with his doll and she has only a few days left to live.

Eventually, R must make a decision between leaving the colony with Ria to spend her last days with him on a paradise-like planet or save his friends when a renegade combat cyborg takes over the police headquarters.

Highly recommended.

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