The Politics of Servicing a Car in a Gendered World

(This article originally appeared on lipmag.com) 
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Before I moved out of home, we would take my car to a local guy to get it serviced, and whenever we’d pick it up, the mechanic would always address my Dad when reporting on his progress with the car that was in my name – that I drove.  This same guy would not let his daughter, who I went to school with, join the family business and become a mechanic, even though that’s what she really wanted to do. So, I have been going to my new mechanics because, although it is apparently more expensive than some other places, the workers (all men) are more approachable and professional (read: not sexist hacks). I got my car serviced, with the outside doorhandle replaced (it’s a long story), a few months ago and it cost me $527. That’s almost two weeks’ wages. As I live entirely on Mi Goreng, a recent study has emerged that has made me question my automotive repair experiences, past and present.

North-Western University’s Kellogg School of Management in the United States has conducted a studythat found that women are more likely to be overcharged, or quoted a higher price for car repairs. The study involved participants contacting 4,603 auto repair shops, asking for a price quote on a radiator replacement for a 2003 Toyota Camry. Initially researching information irregularities and the reasons customers receive different price quotes from mechanics, the customers either indicated that they were familiar with the going rate of such a service, were completely unfamiliar, or were aware of a price that was wrongfully higher than the market rate.

The study found, perhaps unsurprisingly, that if you have a higher price in mind, you’re gonna have a bad time. But there didn’t seem to be any difference whether you had no clue, or if you knew all the things – either way, you got a reasonable quote. That’s if you’re a man. Alternatively, women were more likely to be charged a higher price if they did not indicate prior knowledge about the going rate of the job. According to researcher Meghan Busse, ‘shops believe, rightly or wrongly, that women know less about cars and car repair. In the absence of information to the contrary, they will be offered a higher quote’.
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So the advice, ladies, is to get familiar with your sump plugs and head gaskets (I don’t know what either of these are) and get your pretty little heads around the going rate of a transmission repair and standard oil change, because if you do, you’ll be charged the rightful amount. Just as long as you throw in some of these words and make out you know your stuff. Because, according to this study, it seems that if women have no idea, then they really have No Idea. Whereas when men appear to have no idea about cars, the mechanics just think they’re being strategic about it. Sneaky.

So maybe when I got my big $527 bill I should have questioned it/haggled/batted my eyelashes, because this study also found that when women negotiate prices with mechanics, they are more likely to receive a discount. Is this a good thing? (We’re all street-wise, fast-talkin’ lady-lawyers who run in heels). Or just special treatment? (We’re all delicate lady-flowers who need to be showered with compliments, affection and kittens). So much for gender equality if, as a woman you can basically pull out your lady-concession card and get cheap stuff because you’re pretty/have a vagina/nice smelling hair. Then again, considering the gender wage gap and all, maybe we should just cash in on these things. Hell, buy me that drink, shout me dinner/movie, and fix my car half price. What’s a young feminist to do?

Busse stated that mechanics aren’t a bunch of misogynist pigs that are out to rip women off because patriarchy: ‘It’s easy to imagine employees in male-dominated work environments like car repair shops succumbing to gender stereotypes.’ This is a fair point. We still live in a society where stereotypes about men and women that are long outdated still have paradoxical cultural currency and can have a tangible impact on our daily lives.  Women can’t drive and don’t know anything about cars. Men know all there is to know about cars, mechanics and engineering. They can also read maps while women ask for directions. One thing that can be taken from this study’s findings is that when we prove stereotypes wrong, everyone acts like reasonable human beings and the world becomes a better place. Now, excuse me while I go and Wikipedia sump plugs and head gaskets…
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Virgin’s Mile-High Club

(This Article Originally Appeared On Lipmag.com)

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As a twenty-something self-proclaimed hipster from Tasmania, it might come as a surprise to hear that I have no interest in travel. I didn’t go on a gap year. I didn’t volunteer in Indonesia, teaching dispossessed orangutans to build sustainable housing. Sorry, guys, but I didn’t. But I have been on enough flights to know that they can either be a bit of a drag, or a bit of an adventure. And Virgin America has come up with a great way to make your aeronautical commute just that little bit more of a drag/adventure.

Richard Branson recently unveiled a new ‘in-flight entertainment feature’ in some Virgin America flights: a sassy ‘seat-to-seat delivery’ system where you can buy a drink/meal/snack for that nice looking lady in the third row from the back with the funny jumper. The problem is that what could sound kind of cute has been marketed blatantly as a way to ‘get lucky at 35,000 feet’. Great. Gotta love oh so thinly veiled sexist bravado. Makes you feel glamorous, like you’re on Mad Men. (Seriously, I will quit with the Mad Menreferences soon, I swear). Let’s pour an Old Fashioned and have a look at this.

Elizabeth Plank on PolicyMic called Virgin’s new feature ‘a creepy bar you can’t leave’, but what’s so bad about it? Is it sexist? Well, although Branson throws in the token and obligatory ‘OR HIM’ when explaining buying a treat for ‘the object of your affection’ that you spotted across the heady, dimly lit room A380, it really is implied that it is a service for men to use to act upon women. This is not necessarily bad for all women in all situations. (Look, I did let that creepy, albeit cashed-up, guy buy me a couple of G&Ts at the pub the other weekend because I was broke, ok? I’m not that proud of it.) But this innovation reinforces and replicates broader discourses in our culture that situate men as active and women as passive.

This in-flight get-lucky-machine where you insert money, booze and airplane food and then sex falls out like a treat, encourages a stalky-rapey-pick-up culture designed to benefit men at the expense of women. This isn’t all that great because such behaviours do not need encouragement in our society – they are already happening everywhere, and planes are no exception. The stereotype of the sexy airhostess permeates popular culture, often to the detriment of the experiences of real, live, thinking, feeling womenwho happen to be airhostesses. Meanwhile, countless women are sexually assaulted and harassed while travelling alone on airlines. This can be a particularly harrowing experience of harassment as, unlike a bar or other public place, you cannot leave to avoid the situation. Often, if the plane is full, you can’t even get relocated, causing women to be trapped. In such a situation, a built-in ‘caaanIbuyyoooahhdrrrinnnk??’ application could only make things more awkward.

But it can’t be all bad, right? After all, like aqua-green mold in a share-house, love/lust blossoms in some of the strangest places. With the future increasingly populated with electronic, technological and Internet-y things, perhaps this is just what’s in store for us; the mechanisation of hooking up. We’ve already seen therise of apps such as Grindr and Blendr that act like a social GPS in the chase for tail. So how is this any different? Creepy in-flight crack-ons aside, I find this whole thing a great example of how we use technology, fabricated asexual constructs, to perform our very gendered and sexual selves. Finally, it’s not as though women can’t use the Virgin seat-to-seat delivery to actively seek out man-meat once the seatbelt sign is off. Richard Branson could be talking to us, ladies, when he wishes us ‘good luck up there’ in his institutionalised mile-high club. So go forth and plus one the shit out of the next flight you’re on. The sky’s the limit.

Durex Creates Smart Undies For Cyber Sexy Times

This Article Originally Appeared On Lip Magazine:
(http://lipmag.com/featured/transferring-touch-durex-creates-smart-undies-for-cyber-sexy-times/)
 

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Although pairing technology with sexy times is not new, recent innovations by Durex are being hailed as a ‘world first’ in wearable technology. Durex are currently developing underwear with inbuilt sense actuators that will be connected to a smart phone app, used for long distance transferring of touch. So, the app connects two smart phones through an Amazon server, and then connects to the men’s and women’s underwear. When stroking a picture of lady or man bits on the app, that touch is reproduced through the actuators in the underwear and felt by the wearer, taking cyber sex to a whole new level.

Durex ‘Fundawear’ (yeah, I know, hideous name, right?) is currently an experiment, but may become a reality in the near future. It is important to question whether this technology is entirely positive and what the possible social implications of its development may be. As with any new technology, especially those impacting on human relations, there is a tendency to fear its capabilities of dehumanisation. Will it get to the point where we don’t actually touch each other – we just use the app for that? You can just imagine future married couples in waning and loveless relationships sitting morosely in bed together engaging in ritualistic virtual foreplay instead of the real thing. However, it’s all too easy to lapse into these familiar moral panics around technology, and I like to take a more optimistic approach.

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Clearly the app/undies have obvious benefits for long distance couples and also just look like a lot of fun. Although the marketing is shamelessly heteronormative, with blatant his and hers sections full of pink and blue, not to mention the standard girly lingerie for ladies that just screams Male Gaze/compulsory hyper-femininity, this technology is not limited to heterosexual couples. Unless “his” phone cannot connect to another “his” phone…then there’d be a problem.

There are so many ethical and social questions that rise out of new social media technologies, and Durex Fundawear is no exception. What happens if you loose your phone and someone else uses it to cyber-grope your lover? What about hackers? These issues are not so problematic while the technology is a novelty, but what if the technology is developed to the point where it is normalised and standardised, so every pair of undies you buy are equipped with the Fundawear capability? Will anyone be able to connect with your server, to the point where you could be virtually pinched on the butt by a stranger in the line at K Mart without them physically touching you? It would be like the poke option on Facebook, but you would actually feel it. That could get scary.

I think this potential addition to cyber sex is positive in terms of the use of touch. It seems fairly futuristic to be able to create simulated sensations that are actually being controlled by the person you would like to be physically doing that stuff with, but perhaps can’t for whatever reason. Being able to physically feel even simulated touch could be comforting for those in times of loneliness and isolation. I know there have been times in my life where I would have loved to reach through the computer/phone screen to the person on the other end. There is no denying that simulated touch could never replace real human emotion and sensuality, but it’s better than nothing.

Post-structuralist feminist, Helen Cixious and Iris Marion Young have both argued that touch is an especially empowering and salient sense for women. Sight and visual stimuli have been largely associated with male (hetero)sexuality through the concept of the oppressive Male Gaze, which has been used to objectify women by giving men the power of The Look. A recent example of this at play is that of the scandalous Danish television program which featured naked women being judged by men on the “aesthetics” of their bodies. By introducing virtual touch as a new element of cyber sex, the objectifying power of the Male Gaze will be diluted, resulting in a less oppressive experience for women. Misogynist trolls will be less able to exploit women through things like creep shots and revenge porn if virtual touch becomes a bigger part of online sexual interactions. You can’t save touch and upload it later without someone’s consent. You can’t use virtual touch to slut-shame. When you are touching someone you are also being touched yourself, thus there is less of a power imbalance than being the person who actively looks and the person who is passively looked at.

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In Mad Men Season 1 Peggy tries out the ‘Electrosizer,’ another curious vibrating underwear…

As with any new technology, Durex Fundawear has both positive and negative aspects. Whether or not this technology is for you, it undeniably makes us think about the ways in which technology and the Internet are impacting and shaping the ways in which we create and perform our sexualities.

iDentity: Constructing Gender Through Apps and 4G Technology

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As we perform and construct gender through external costume pieces such as clothing, cosmetics and hairstyles etc, I believe we also portray ourselves as gendered through our material possessions. As we progress further into an information-based society our possessions are increasingly virtual, in the form of applications on smart phones for example. Although we see our use of these technologies as personalised, reflecting our individuality, what we begin to see are new discourses and norms around how to perform gender that reflect the stereotypes of the real world.

I am fundamentally interested as to what extent we are projecting ourselves into and through our online presence and use of Internet technologies. There are times when I have been sitting at my computer, or using my iPhone, when I have almost been entirely unconscious of my physical body. I may be interacting with my wider circle of friends in a legitimate and productive way, and yet I am doing this through an artificial and intangible networking system in which my body does not physically exist. In this situation how is my identity constructed? How do my friends make the conceptual leap from merely seeing a collection of symbols on a screen to actually feeling like they are interacting with the person they know to be me? As in all human creations and interactions, gendered meanings inevitably permeate this discourse even if it is disembodied in cyberspace. 

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I have a hunch that, as we progress into the future, you will be able to tell more and more about a person by their use of internet and smart phone technologies, to the extent that eventually someone’s combination of social networking profiles, photo sharing habits and applications will constitute a large portion of their identity. We can already see this happening in the ways people portray themselves online. What is it about a person’s Facebook page that tells us about their gender? They may have chosen male or female in their information, in congruence with their real life sex. There may be photos of their real world self that we can decode as being a particular gender according to their physical appearance, as we would in daily life. Perhaps they like certain pages, links and other profiles that may give an indication of their gender identity. I also think that the way we photo-share reflects our general worldview, which is profoundly influenced by our gender, and therefore works to construct our online image of ourselves through what we believe is worth sharing.

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I was inspired to write this blog because of my recent discovery of just how gendered many Apps are, and the extent to which we have projected aspects of our selves, our lives and our cultures through this new form of technology. There are copious numbers of pregnancy and menstrual cycle tracker apps for women. These often feature lovely pink backgrounds and graphics with cute little pictures. There are also gendered dating apps such as the infamous ‘OkCupid’ and ‘Grindr,’ which largely reproduce stereotypes and discourses of gender and sexuality in the outside world online.

I was simultaneously intrigued and enraged to discover earlier this week that Android are developing an iPad-like tablet “For Women” which features numerous pre-loaded apps (http://jezebel.com/5990404/tablet-for-women-is-like-a-regular-tablet-but-more-fucking-bullshitty?utm_campaign=socialflow_jezebel_facebook&utm_source=jezebel_facebook&utm_medium=socialflow). This is fine in the case of iPhones/iPads that come with gender-neutral pre-loaded apps like ‘notes’ or ‘calendar’ or ‘maps,’ however, this device’s pre-loaded apps For Women include things like yoga, recipes, fashion, shopping, pregnancy and weight-loss apps… All stereotypical feminine pursuits clearly implying homogenising value judgements about women. As with my problem in my last blog on gendered toys (https://riseofthefembots.wordpress.com/2013/02/26/the-other-50-per-cent-gender-socialisation-through-toys/) I have no issue with these ‘feminine pursuits’ and anyone who does enjoy these things, however, I just think choice for women is integral. Like Lego, the tablet that was seemingly gender-neutral had to be elaborated on For Women, indicating that the original product was for people (read: not women). As we increasingly construct our gendered identities through our use of technology, the danger with such products is that companies can make broad assumptions about what women want and what it means to be a woman and market them as absolute.

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“The Other 50 Per Cent” : Gender socialisation through toys

You can read in many a sociology or women’s studies textbook that gender, unlike sex, is a socially constructed phenomenon. Where sex refers to the physical, biological state of having female or male genitals, hormones etc; gender is much more complex and multifaceted, involving layers upon layers of social norms, regulations, stigma and stereotypes. Gender is a synthesis of social meanings attributed to the state of existing as male or female, resulting in the categories of masculine or feminine, which vary widely depending on culture and historical context. A main aspect of gender is that it is something we learn over time and then perform according the gendered cultural script we have learned. Because gender is something we do, rather than something we innately are, we use things to help us perform and embody our socialized femininity or masculinity. These things include clothes and other bodily adornments, cosmetics and grooming styles and material possessions. Thus, we do our gender with the help of technologies that our culture has produced and imbued with certain gendered meanings and codes that inform both others and ourselves of where we fit in the gender order.

As gender is something we are taught from an incredibly early age, toys play a major role in the gender socialization of children. Traditional sex role theories claim that little boys and little girls learn to emulate the gender roles of their same gendered parent. Thus, little boys are taught to play with cars, trains, guns, action figures and tools, while little girls are taught to play with dolls, stuffed animals, dress ups and home-maker play sets. This sort of early socialization can establish lifelong performances of gender roles that feel like they are ‘natural’ when they are really carefully crafted tactics to uphold the gender regime. I must acknowledge here that individuals are not blind and inactive in their socialization. Boys and girls oscillate between traditional gender stereotypes and there is scope for difference, now more so than in the past. Moreover, toy manufacturing companies do not knowingly perpetuate traditional gender stereotypes with an intention to syphon the submissive pinks from the dominant blues, the individuals involved also exist within a gendered system that they themselves are not consciously aware of.

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I was interested to write this blog because I am constantly frustrated by the ridiculous gender stereotyping (and possible resulting inequality) in toy catalogues. As an adult looking at them as objectively as I can, the ‘Boy’s Toys’ always look far more interesting, developed and complex, with a range of options for different ages and interests. Conversely, the ‘Girl’s Toys’ seem not to differentiate much by the age group and are all fairly similarly themed around fashion, beauty, families/babies, pets and being a princess. My gripe is best personified in the 2012 ‘Lego Friends’ range.

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Lego is an iconic and much loved children’s toy regardless of gender, it helps develop motor skills, problem solving, strategy and creativity through construction. However, it is clear that the majority of Lego is surreptitiously targeted at boys. Friends is Lego’s most recent attempt to “reach the other 50 per cent of the world’s children,” following past sets of ‘girl Lego’ such as ‘Belville’ from the 90’s that never really took off. There are a number of aspects of this new Lego that I find jarring, for example, although extensive market research went into the development of the product, it still came out with a stereotypical and unremarkable girl’s toy. The Friends sets feature pastel colours (pink), unrealistic childlike buildings (in comparison to the City range for the same age bracket for boys), predominantly domestic, beauty or service industry scenes, and bigger doll-like minifigures.Image

The minifigures in the series also have names and qualities attributed to them, not unlike Bratz or other dolls. For example, Olivia is ‘the smart girl’ who likes to create inventions in her workshop. Although I do appreciate this, along with the karate set and the magician set, these just seem like politically correct tokens thrown in to shut the feminists up. “But we have a girl engineer!” I can hear their counter argument to my opinion that these toys merely perpetuate stereotypes of submissive hyper-femininity. Yes, your product is so ground-breakingly progressive and gender atypical, with its Butterfly Beauty Shop.

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I don’t want to sound completely negative: I’m not condemning any young girls who like toys like this to complete pinkified antifeminist stupidity or anything. I fully recognise that some girls just like to be ultra feminine and that’s fine. I just think it would be great to have more choice in mainstream toys, especially considering that we are no longer in a society in which women’s sole existence revolves around domestic, familial and materialistic spheres. I also disagree with the trend in toys like Lego where boy’s toys can claim to be gender neutral, but girls’ toys are only for girls. This system socialises girls into a world where to be a man is the default state of humanity, and being a woman is an exception, or Other.

Masculinity, Bravery and Machines: ‘It’s What Defines Us’

Audi’s 2013 Super bowl ad for the swanky S6 has attracted quite a bit of attention in the last few days with many commenting on its questionable representation of gender relations and possible perpetuation of rape culture. I thought I’d jump on the bandwagon and throw in my two cents worth seeing as the representation of gender in this ad is interestingly linked to our relationship with technology.

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A basic run down of the ad, titled ‘Prom,’ is as follows: Young guy is a bit bummed out because he’s going to his senior high school prom with no date, and gets all emo when his mum tries to comfort him saying that “now days lots of people go by themselves.” He heads for the door, when good ol’ dad throws him the keys to his BRAND NEW AUDI (yeah, right), wishing him a good time. Young dude gets all excited, pulls up at the school in the principal’s parking space, storms into the prom, hunts down the Prom Queen and forcibly kisses her in the middle of the crowd. Then her boyfriend, a big blond jock comes after him and it is implied that he punches him in the face. Then the young guy speeds away in the Audi with a black eye and a hoot of delight. Cut to tag line: “Bravery: It’s what defines us.”

Let’s start on the line. Who is ‘Us’? And what does bravery define them as? I’m going to make the assumption given that all the main characters in the ad are male and the story is focused around masculinity, that ‘Us’ is Men. Bravery has historically been high on the list of masculine alpha-male virtues. Think cavemen, gladiators, soldiers, explorers etc. So it is implied that bravery is something that defines people with male genitals as Men. However, in a twenty-first century urban environment, how do middle-class men, who are increasingly distanced from earthy, bodily masculinity, exhibit traditional bravery and strength? In a postfeminist climate where women are increasingly out-performing men even in traditionally male fields, how do men who do not fit into the traditional category of alpha-male masculinity negotiate their gender? I think this ad reflects a link between disembodied masculinity and the mastery of technology. The car symbolizes a weapon, a phallic symbol of modern man projecting himself into the world, despite his lacking bodily capabilities. So for contemporary masculinity, technology has become incredibly important in the everyday performance of gender.

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In watching this ad, I was surprised that it was so blatantly targeted at men. Why wasn’t a young woman given the keys by her mum? Or her dad? Or why couldn’t the mum have given the young guy the keys? I would argue that any of these other combinations would dilute the clearly patriarchal frame of the ad. It would also dim down the essence of power, prestige and danger that the ad is attempting to evoke. This is an ad about men projecting themselves out into the world, and the gendered message behind it is that women just don’t project themselves in a powerful way like men.  Young girls don’t drive Audi’s to proms to which they have no date. They probably fuck about in their bedroom doing their make-up until their friends all come over, they then would pile into someone’s Hyundai Getz, tootle along listening to Taylor Swift on the way and then swoon happily into the arms of an Audi-driving guy. If a girl was given the keys to the Audi by her dad, it definitely wouldn’t have sent the same message – it would be daddy’s little girl gets to borrow the expensive car to go to the prom, rather than ‘Cool, bro, I got the car.’ If the mum had given the guy the car it would have a similar dire impact of “mummy’s boy,” no masculine power in that. It’s as if the Dad is giving the son the keys in a sign of patriarchal solidarity. Haven’t we come so far?

Although this ad has numerous gendered problems, I like it because it is a clear example of how technology is so significant in how we perform gender. Although we are led to believe that the protagonist is clearly not an alpha-male, he wins out in the end through his technological extension of mastering the Audi, a symbol of established, confident and powerful masculinity. Although he has no date to the prom, the car allows him to confidently project himself as a viable man, and even though the traditional alpha-male enemy physically overpowers him, he still seems to have hero status in the end, because… well, he’s driving an Audi. Something about the unrealistic situation in the ad leads me to believe that it is more about nostalgia than anything. Lets face it, proms are old fashioned and based on hackneyed gender dichotomies and do not comfortably accommodate for non-heteronormative relationships. The ad reads like the middle-age Dad’s dream of what he wished his prom night was like, and in buying this Audi he can live out that fantasy where he wished he pulled up in the principal’s spot, kissed the girl who was out of his league and had a bit of biffo with that guy he hated cause he was better at sport than him (but still a bit of a buffoon). I don’t really think this ad perpetuates rape culture, because it’s not really about the girl, it’s more about the broader essence of attempting to recapture a fantasy hegemonic masculinity in a time where tangible gender identities are fluid and hard to negotiate. Sure, the forcible kiss is a bit horrid (see the way she kind of grimaces away from him?) and it would have been heaps better if she had given him the black eye, rather than the boyfriend, but I think it is just the tip of the iceberg of a representation of contemporary masculinity in crisis. 

I am sharing this clip from the first season of Mad Men because if you tune in at 1:22, Joan unveils Peggy the new secretary’s typewriter and reassures her that the technology is designed (by men) to be simple enough for a woman to use….
A small interlude that speaks volumes about social attitudes towards women and their interactions with technology.