Whose line is it?

Over the last few weeks I’ve spoken to a number of reporters about reporting outside of their neighborhoods or experience.  One common theme that I’ve heard is the importance of using people’s own language to describe places and institutions in their communities.  Patrick Barry, a senior scribe working with LISC/Chicago, said journalists documenting community development projects had to rethink their use of language when reporting on the low-to-middle-income communities that were the focus of the organization’s New Communities Program.  Even if a reporter’s impression of a neighborhood was that it was a “bombed out ghetto,” Barry said, they needed to be aware that neighborhood residents didn’t use that language to describe their neighborhood and didn’t necessarily think of their community with such an exclusively negative framing.  “We have learned a lot from neighborhood people about how to talk about places,” Barry said.

The New York Times Magazine recently ran a story about New Orleans rappers Big Freedia and Katey Red.  The print version of the story about Freedia ran under the clever headline like “Neither Straight Nor Out of Compton” (I can’t find my copy of the magazine to confirm the exact title).   However, the web version uses the (apparently) search-engine-optimized title “Sissy Bounce, New Orleans’ Gender-Bending Rap” in the title of the web page (the text that shows at the top of one’s browser window) and “New Orleans’ Gender-Bending Rap” on the page itself.  These different versions of the title reflect, perhaps, reflect the contentious use of the term “sissy bounce” to describe the music of Big Freedia and other gay, transgender, lesbian or bisexual rappers who perform New Orleans’ signature hip-hop style of “bounce.”

Jonathan Dee, the story’s author describes bounce like this:

Bounce itself has been around for about 20 years. Like most hip-hop varietals, it’s rap delivered over a sampled dance beat, but it has a few characteristics that give it a distinctively regional sound: it’s strictly party music, its beat is relentlessly fast and its rap quotient tends much less toward introspection or pure braggadocio than toward a call-and-response relationship with its audience, a dynamic borrowed in equal measure from Mardi Gras Indian chants and from the dawn of hip-hop itself. Many, if not most, bounce records announce their allegiance by sampling from one of just two sources: either Derek B.’s “Rock the Beat” or an infectious hook known as the “Triggaman,” from a 1986 Showboys record called “Drag Rap.” (That’s “drag” not as in cross-dressing but as in the theme to the old TV show “Dragnet.”)

Katey Red is quick to point out that LGBT artists in New Orleans are part of the larger bounce music culture, not a separate genre.  “Ain’t no such thing as ‘sissy bounce,’ ” she said. “It’s bounce music. It’s just sissies that are doing it.”  In this video interview from Fader Magazine, Freedia expresses a similar sentiment:

Bounce music generally is just bounce music in New Orleans and you may have a gay rapper that does bounce music and you have straight rappers as well.  So I just really want to clarify that bounce music is not sissy bounce it’s bounce generally and you have some sissies that represent bounce music, you know, like myself, Sissy Nobby, Katey Red .  You know, there’s a few more.  It’s not called sissy bounce at home, it’s called bounce music.

The story does explain that most artists object to the phrase.  “They have no desire to be typed within, or set apart from, bounce culture; and indeed, within New Orleans itself, they mostly are not,” Dee wrote.  And it also explains the origin of the label “sissy bounce,” New Orleans music writer Alison Fensterstock.  Still, the nuanced perspective of how the artists view gender and sexuality as part of their identities and the identity of their musical community falls under a web page title that acknowledges “their bookings elsewhere in the country are founded increasingly on the novelty of their sexual identities.”  Even if the artists eschew the term “sissy bounce,” the Times seems aware that people may search for information about this music using this term, and they want to make sure that people can find the article.

This forefronts a challenge for journalists when choosing words in their stories – should one use the language of those most involved in or affected by a story or terminology that may be more widely used?  Does using the popular language for something legitimize language that doesn’t accurately frame an idea?    The best approach is probably the one Dee took in the story about New Orleans rap, to explain disputed language, its origins and how it reflects the nuance of the subject.  This is possible, and even adds depth to a longer article, but can a writer do the same thing in a daily news article?

Being aware of and taking the time to explain complicated stories behind language are important obligations for journalists that will only become more difficult in the age of online news.  As more and more people seek news and information on the web and find it through search rather than visiting the news organization’s web site directly, there is greater pressure for journalists to include widely-used language in stories to make the stories discoverable.  One solution may be to link phrases in the story to pages that describe the origin of the phrases.  The New York Times website already allows users to access definitions of words in articles by clicking on the word.  Linking such functionality to user-contributed content, like urban dictionary, may give added insight into the origin of language used in stories, though it could make it more convoluted.

Photo by Incase via Flickr. It’s captioned as a photo of Big Freedia, but the performer more closely resembles Katey Red.

Girls, gaming, and gender: summit looks at closing gaming participation gap

Female scholars, game designers, new media artists and 50 teenage girls from around Chicago plan to connect and collaborate in August at an event focusing on interactive gaming and gender.

A summit organizer said the goal was to “have a safe space where girls can talk about their relationship with games and technology with a really powerful role model and then begin to prototype something that would be a game that they would want to play.”

The public program of the event, called3G Summit: The Future of Girls, Gaming and Gender, is set to begin with a discussion and presentations featuring female scholars, designers and artists working in interactive game production and theory.

Throughout the summit, the Chicago-area girls will participate in a workshop during which they will collaborate with each other and experienced design mentors to create a prototype for a new digital game.

The game prototypes developed by the girls will be presented at a public exposition, where they will be critiqued by representatives from the gaming industry before being voted on by the public.

The winning game design will be produced into a fully-playable game by Columbia College students.

Mindy Faber, academic manager at Columbia’s Department of Interactive Arts and Media and an organizer of the summit, said that the majority of developers and designers in both Columbia’s game program and industry as a whole are men.

This gender imbalance affects the content of games, Faber said. “The themes and the stereotypes and the values that are embedded into the game mechanics themselves have become very identified with a kind of hyper-male culture.”

While there is a push to increase the participation of girls in gaming and technology, Faber said, many efforts are based on stereotypes about girls’ interests in gaming, such as the assumption that girls prefer not to play competitive games.

“We have so many assumptions and so many stereotypes about what girls like to play, but we never bother to stop and ask them, ‘What do you like to play best, and why?’”

Faber said the goal of the summit was to “have a safe space where girls can talk about their relationship with games and technology with a really powerful role model and then begin to prototype something that would be a game that they would want to play.”

Robyn Fleming, former senior editor of Cerise Magazine, a publication of an online network for women gamers, said that discussions of gender and gaming at conferences and symposia are typically small parts of a larger whole.

Fleming said such discussions also tend to address gender disparities in gaming by focusing on the idea that “a certain kind of game is going to appeal more to girls and that we should make those in order to attract girls.”

She said it is also important to address gaming culture and hostility or narrow constraints to female participation. “That’s something that you can’t address through creating a game.”

Five community youth media organizations and schools will each select 10 girls to participate in the summit, Faber said.

She said she plans to continue working with the youth participants after the summit. The partner community organizations and schools will receive a stipend to run after-school gaming clubs for girls supported by Columbia faculty.

The school will also teach the girls skills to create a citywide online social network to attempt to maintain connections between the girls and create a culture that supports girls and technology.

“We’re interested in trying to see if we work with them all three years and keep their club and social network going, if they end up choosing technology-rich careers or college options,” Faber said.

The summit is scheduled for Aug. 12-15 at Columbia’s Department of Interactive Arts and Media, 916 S. Wabash Ave., except for the panel discussion, which is scheduled to take place at Ferguson Auditorium, 600 S. Michigan Ave.

Related Links

Games for Change

Many of the ideas for the 3G summit come from last summer’s Games for Change workshops conducted by Columbia College Chicago’s Interactive Arts and Media Department as part of classes for high school students.  The multiweek class took a unique approach to share programming and game design skills to make games relevant to the experiences of the youth. See photos of workshop activities or play games produced by the youth.

This was originally published as Gaming summit aims to encourage girls in technology on the Medill Reports Chicago site.


One of the interesting things about the technological world is that new, precise terminology develops really quickly. This can be confusing and a barrier to understanding things, but when it bleeds over into culture surrounding technology (e.g. newsgroups back in the day and social networking sites now), there’s great jargon that really captures cultural phenomenon.  Today, I learned the term “mansplain” through meta-comments about a blog post.  Urban Dictionary defines “mainsplain” as:

To explain in a patronizing manner, assuming total ignorance on the part of those listening. The mansplainer is often shocked and hurt when their mansplanation is not taken as absolute fact, criticized or even rejected altogether.

I’ve definitely been guilty of this.  The example that weighs heavily in my memory happened on a trip back home during my freshman year of college.  I had just participated in reading Naomi Wolf’s “The Beauty Myth” as part of a university-wide reading program.  It was really an eye-opening book for me because it described cultural pressures and beauty standards that, as a man, I really didn’t have to think about or deal with.  I was excited by my new-found consciousness and filled with moral outrage about the injustice of gendered beauty standards.  On my trip back, I went with my family to one of my brother’s quiz bowl competitions.  In talking with one of his female teammates, the subject shifted to gender and appearance.  I began to describe “The Beauty Myth” and how culture and mass media oppressed women and suggested that she read the book.  My brother’s teammate cut me off.  “I don’t read that dykey stuff,” she replied shortly.

Until recently, this story sat in my mind as an example of how ideas that restrict someone can be internalized, but now I see it as a possible response to my mansplaining.  Surely, a young woman participating in an intellectual competition, thick with geeky connotations, where women were definitely in the minority didn’t need to have gendered double standards explained to her.  This kind of mansplaining seems particularly problematic because it’s pedantically clobbering someone about issues of gender.  This is easy for me, and likely other men, to do because part of male privilege and the expectations and behaviors that perpetuate it is that men aren’t supposed to think about how our lives are mediataed by gender.  So, it’s a lot easier to try to front with presumed expertise when we learn about how gender works in our society from books or descriptions of other people’s experience than to describe and analyze our own experiences with gender.

What is the remedy?  It seems so difficult when I feel conditioned to mansplained. The familiar elementary school report is just one example of how our culture values singular expertise on a subject and assumes that the non-expert doesn’t have anything to contribute to the teaching or learning process.  I feel like I get most of my validation from the things that I do that are perceived as having the most exclusive knowledge.  Do I get validation because I enjoy writing computer programs or do I write computer programs because it’s something that is culturally perceived as challenging and talent-requiring?  What can individuals do with skills or knowledge other than demonstrate their expertise?

I can answer the last question at least.  We can do stuff.  And one thing that is incredibly helpful to me is to do things where I am most definitely and perpetually not expert.  It forces me to appreciate the abilities or knowledge of others and learn from them.  Playing music is one of those things and playing soccer is another.  When I think about gender, it’s hard not to think about soccer because playing it, for me, has always involved playing with women, but the institution has also seemed so male dominated.  It’s easy for me to fetishize women who play on otherwise all-boys high school teams, or who are the sole lady at the pick-up game, and it’s compelling to say, “I know what you’re facing, I can see how the pressures and expectations of gender are playing themselves out on this field.”  But, really, we know these things because we live them, on one side of the gender divide or the other, and we can do our best to make these spaces in our lives more gender equal.  Finally, I rely on soccer as an example of personal changes in gendered interactions because it’s so obvious that what, beyond “teaching” someone skills or pointing out their minority status in the game, what will really benefit women playing in mostly-male soccer games benefits most men too.  It doesn’t elevate the game when any player makes assumptions about the skills of their teammates.  It’s not fun for everyone when two dudes start yelling at each other over some foul.  And it doesn’t make anyone more skillful when a handful of skilled players hog the ball and are oblivious to their teammates.  It’s pretty clear in this example, but generally true, I think.  While gendered expectations benefit men in a lot of ways, they also restrict us.

Masculinity and Sexual Assault Awareness Month

This is a first draft of an op-ed for a group called ManUp! that I’m working with in Bloomington.  I’d appreciate any comments or feedback:

April, sexual assault awareness month makes me tired.  I am tired of seeing women that I respect and care about exhausted as they do the challenging, important, but also extremely difficult work of supporting survivors of rape, sexual assault, and domestic violence and working to raise consciousness which might prevent future violence.  Many of these remarkable friends have experienced violence in their lives and started doing the work that they do because of the lack of support that they experienced.  Their efforts are remarkable and brave yet ultimately they shoulder the weight of their pasts as well as the weight of the survivors that they support and the confused, indifferent, or even hostile voices they encounter doing prevention work.

I am tired of feeling trapped in the same tired discussion in the rare cases that men’s violence and men’s violence against women comes to the surface, whether it is in the lives of celebrities such as Chris Brown or the lives of men in my social circles.  I can try to excuse the violence, weakly dismissing it as stress or substance abuse or as an isolated incident.  Or, I can pat myself on the back, satisfied that at least I am not one of “those men” who chooses to be violent, to harass and intimidate those passing by on the street, who touches someone’s body without their permission, who pressures someone to consume too much alcohol or drugs in the hope of getting lucky, or who seeks to belittle and control intimate partners. In either case, I can’t find the imagination to think of a world where perpetrating and experiencing violence is not a part of manhood – mine, my friends, or Chris Brown’s.

I am tired of a man’s strength being defined by his ability to suppress painful experiences and to downplay the experiences of others rather than crying out and reaching out and working in the hopes that others might be spared those painful experiences.   I am tired of the gentleman’s agreement that we will not speak of our fear of violence from other men or the fear of the violence we have committed or might commit.

Finally, I am tired of the myth that violence against women doesn’t matter to men and that it is not men’s work to end this violence.  It is a myth that I have found comfort in because it excuses my own inaction.  If this myth rings true to me or other men, I fear it is only because we have spent so much energy convincing ourselves that it is true.   When I think of all the effort spent changing the subject to avoid seeming vulnerable, laughing along or remaining silent when a friend tells a cruel, demeaning joke, or convincing myself that it’s not my place to say or do something when I witness or hear about violence it seems like such a waste.  All that energy could have gone into dealing with the violence that men have witnessed or experienced in our lives to make sure that we don’t repeat it.  It could go to defining manhood by our best, most noble qualities instead of the worst of our choices.  It could go towards working earnestly as allies with women to prevent violence that hurts us all.  Sexual assault awareness month is not just a chance to be aware that violence is terrible, that it happens too frequently, or even that it hurts both women and men.  It is also an opportunity to be aware that we can make a different, less violent world.

gender roles in phishing e-mails

I found this spam in my Inbox.  Since starting to co-present the Building Healthy Relationships workshops and listening to Chiara’s stories about this I ‘ve become more conscious about the gender messages that mediate our day-to-day lives.

From the e-mail:

My name is Tessy, It is my pleasure writing you this mail as I saw your mail, I believe that we can be good friends partners or more in life I wish you can write an email through my email address then  tell me about you below is my email address for further comunications.

But in this part of my life I would like to be the woman in general. This may not be modern thinking but I am not a modern thinking feminist woman. In fact my dream is to be a wife spare her energy during the day so when a husband comes home at night he would feed off that energy. I do not believe this can be done
when both are tired from working all day.

And nothing brings a man home faster from work than the thought of his beautiful, sexy and rested wife waiting for him at home filled with romance and passion.

Single gender classrooms

This article came across my feed reader.  From the article: “The practice of separating girls from boys in the classroom was the norm decades ago. Now, it seems to be something of a new trend.”

A few thoughts … I read a book on gender and computing that said that while girls do better in single gender classrooms (I think this was specifically wrt math/science) boys do better in mixed-gender classrooms.  This article mentions that in one school, classes are multi-gender for things like gym and computer lab time which seems strange since the aforemetioned book identifies computer education as one of the areas where learning is most gender-mediated (and gym just intuitively seems terribly gender-mediated).  Finally, I would really like to know if anyone has tried to have single gender sessions a few times a week, then merging for classes.  Would this allow different learning strategies to emerge and solidify in the gender-specific classes and then, when shared in the mixed-gender session, students of all genders could pick the strategy that worked best.  Would this not work because students would judge strategies as “girl” or “boy” strategies rather than evaluatng them on their effectiveness or creativity?  Would the confidence in the strategies that might be built from the single-gender classrooms allow people to advocate for their approaches in a way that would convince their classmates despite gender prejudice?

V Week events I’m stoked about

These are part of the V Week of Events. There’s lots more, but these were the ones that caught my eye.

2/6 Friday — Critical Mass & Speak Out
–Take to the streets in a critical mass bike ride to raise awareness of violence against women.

2/11 Wednesday — Film Screening & Teach-In, The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo @ 7:30PM
–Join us to view and discuss the documentary film that explores the violence faced daily by the girls and women of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

If you say it enough times …

From my pretty removed perspective, I know that there is homophobia in some Black communities.  This dynamic has been getting a lot of attention lately due to reports, which I wrote about earlier, that Black voters in California were instrumental in the state’s electorate passing Proposition 8.  While I believe that homophobia is a complicated problem, one that draws on competing narratives of sexuality, gender, and yes, race; and that all kinds of people suffer from and perpetuate homophobia, I didn’t really question the reports of the role of Black people and the success of proposition 8.

Luckily, some did, including this statistical analysis of voting demographics and proposition 8 which comes to the conclusion that “There Were So Many More White, Latino and Asian Votes in Favor of Proposition 8 That Blaming Black Folks is Both Bad Math and Racist Scapegoating of the Highest Order”.  Ultimately, though, the point isn’t who is responsible for Prop 8’s success, it’s the fact that it passed in the first place.  Reporting that simplifies incredibly nuanced issues and the scapegoating that follows masks the fact that there is so much that we all need to do, whether it’s addressing homophobia in the Black community, or in the culture at large, or racism within mainstream queer political groups or racism in the culture at large.

Today, as I was driving to work, I heard a crazy advertisement for a Burger King chicken sandwich on te radio.  The story in the advertisement was a conversation between two construction workers.  The younger worker whistled or said “hey baby” or something like that.  He was reprimanded by the older worker because he wasn’t hollering at a woman.  The younger worker replied that he was hollering at the chicken sandwich because it was so hot.  The older construction worker corrected him, telling him in the future, that he should only make catcalls at women and not sandwiches because construction workers “have a reputation to uphold”.

So this is one of those jaw droppers where you can’t even begin to pick it apart and you’re just kind of in this “damn, that’s sexist” stupor.   What really bothers me about the commercial is that it makes street harassment something that construction workers do instead of something that happens throughout our culture.

If you look through websites like Holla Back NYC that document street harassment, you’ll find plenty of reports of being harassed by construction workers.  I worry that, even in doing the important work of problematizing street harassment, we end up problematizing it only in the context of something construction workers do.  This is certainly easier, because we can just add sexism to all the other race and class stereotypes that are easy to apply to certain types of workers.  But, does it change anything?  Even if, by some statistical analsysis, we were able to determine that construction workers harass people on the street more than other groups of people, it’s not just something that happens.  Street harassment, as is the case with other assertions of or attacks on gender, is affected by forces that span our culture and history, and that affects us all.   Affirming, “construction workers harass women”, doesn’t do very much to change these cultural forces.

Growing up in a, at least supericially, politicaly conservative, monoculural place, sexism and homphobia weren’t abstract, but imagining the realities for women and queer people, if you weren’t either, was incredibly difficult.  Still, I knew many men and straight people who lived differently from the sexism and homophobia that could have easily been considered the norm, whether they had the benefit of a culture that made them critical thinkers or not.  The danger of the media analysis of Black people and Prop 8 or ads featuring sexist construction workers is that it makes it so much more difficult for people who defy the stereotypes.  If you’ve never really thought about it, it’s just so much easier to go along with the expectation that people of your racial group are homophobic or that people who do your kind of work holler at women, then trying to think about these things criically from multiple directions.  If you already have to confront so many stereotypes, it seems like it would suck to have to prove that you’re not homophobic or not sexist instead of just being an ally to queer folks and women.

Ultimately, I’m disappointed that we find it so easy to find a scapegoat instead of starting to do the work, and having the conversations, that need to happen now, as much as ever.

Bill O’Reilly reality check


If I ever need to check my tendency towards being a know-it-all or talking over people, I’m just going to watch this video.

The gender dynamic is insane as well.  I can’t imagine getting talked down to in this way by a colleague, especially when I was well researched, seemed to share the same political stance, and was, umm, correct.  Re-reading the sentence that I just wrote, the fact that I can’t imagine this is pretty telling as I’m sure it’s a reality that many women face on a daily basis, and not just at FOX News.  Frankly, it’s embarrassing to think about all the times I felt like I had to assert myself as an authority, even when I didn’t know what I was talking about and the mildly conflicting point of view was articulated politely and clearly.   I take this as proof that the cultural expectancies that tie gender to authority, and intelligence and the ways one can express them are making us all less intelligent.