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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What if all books were given a chick-lit makeover?

This Blog Originally appeared on Lip Magazine:

(http://lipmag.com/arts/books-arts/what-if-all-book-covers-were-given-a-chick-lit-makeover/)
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As an aspiring Lady Writer (or as feminist writer, Inga Muscio, provocatively calls herself, a ‘Word C*nt’), I was intrigued by author, Maureen Johnson’s Twitter project for her followers to ‘Redesign book covers by Literary Dudes, imagining they have been reclassified as by and for women.’ Johnson’s project, ‘Coverflip,’ shows us how there is a socially constructed perception of lower quality of books written by and for women in mainstream Western culture and this is predominantly established through the gendered framing of a book’s cover.

It is almost comical just how effective Coverflip is in demonstrating the “girl-ification” of adult women’s novels regardless of their actual style and plot. By redesigning the covers of typically masculine crime, thriller and action novels, using pastel colours, romantic airbrushed images and squiggley font, the first impression of the novel’s content and quality dramatically changes. My personal favourite was the redesigned Game of Thrones cover that makes it look like a kids’ adventure tale, full of magic, friendship and wonder.

Speaking of magic, J.K Rowling, a lady writer, decided to go with the gender-neutral initials rather than her first name in fear that if a woman’s name was plastered all across her books, young boys would think theHarry Potter series were “girl books” (the horror!) deterring them from reading the novels. She’s now one of the most successful authors of all time, ever. Would she have got to that point had she remained Joanne? Rowling is just one in a long line of writers who have masked their identity as women behind pseudonyms or acronyms to ensure the success of their work. The Bronte sisters. “George Elliot.” “Miles Franklin.” All indications of how gender (read: femininity) just gets in the way of being a great artist and writer.

The Coverflip project not only shows how women’s literature has been perceived of as having less cultural value, but it also demonstrates how men are disadvantaged by the gendering of book covers too. We unfortunately live in a culture were great social stigma is placed on men and boys if they were to appear in public, perhaps on a train, with a lovely pink copy of Pride and Prejudice. However, no one would bat and eyelid if they saw a woman reading The Iliad. ImageEarlier this year, Penguin released its usually orange classics (you know the ones, they’re toted by every hipster from Fitzroy to Portland,) in pink to support the McGrath Foundation. However, it was only the typically feminine books that where included in this release.The Communist Manifesto was not included. Nor was Nineteen-Eighty-Four. Yet Jane EyreA Room of One’s Own and Pride and Prejudice were pretty in pink. This indicates how books “For Men” are constructed as gender-neutral, whereas books “For Women” are exclusively for women and women only, regardless of the importance and universality of their themes, messages and ideas.

I once discussed Jane Eyre with a hegemonic “Literary Bloke,” as Johnson would say, and his view was that ‘you’ve kinda got to be a chick to get into that love stuff, ya know?’ No, I don’t know. Men fall in love and feel emotions as much and in as complex ways as women do. It is an age-old, stale stereotype to always associate romance with women and femininity. Moreover, women are forced to identify with male protagonists all the time in their reading of The Great Canon of English Literature and we seem to get on fine, so why shouldn’t men be able to appreciate and identify with Kathy’s undying love for Heathcliff?

This feminization of romance as a genre also becomes a problem for women writers who have written works that are not even romantic, however because they are women, this is the way they are presented and sold. The best example of this is the recent 50th anniversary edition of Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jarwhich angered some (myself included) in its reduction of a valuable and powerful work of literature to what appears to be a fluffy, romantic and substance-less chick-lit giggle. 

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I had a similar reaction to a recent edition of Erica Jong’s Fear Of Flying

which depicts a pretty cartoon woman blowing a dandelion fairy with glossy lips, which has no relevance to the plot or themes whatsoever. This is not to say that “chick-lit” is not of value, just that there is a clear, gendered discrepancy in how men’s and women’s experiences and subjectivities are presented and valued in mainstream literature, where women’s voices are positioned as whimsical and chatty, if heard at all.

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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Pretty, Dumb

You may have heard the news (http://jezebel.com/5984756/blonde-self+tanning-essex-teen-girl-has-higher-iq-than-einstein-and-it-sucks-that-everybodys-so-surprised) in the past week that a girl from Essex has tested a higher IQ score than that of Albert Einstein. Shock horror. Laura Marbe, aged 16, is not a likely future Einstein in a culture that assumes attractive heteronormative femininity goes hand-in-manicured-hand with, well, plain idiocy really. Marbe is pictured with blonde hair and make up, aesthetics of typical white Western feminine beauty. Due to her appearance it is assumed that there is no way she could be so intelligent. But why is that? Just because she is a woman and looks a certain way, what does this have to do with her brainpower?

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Women are generally judged more because of their appearances than men, and this especially applies to level of intelligence. Hackneyed stereotypes of attractive women as categorically ‘ditzy’ and intelligent women as frumpy have hung in our gendered social scripts for too long. The widespread astonishment that a sixteen-year-old ‘Essex-Girl’ could be as intelligent as Einstein proves that we still have gendered concepts of intelligence not unlike those from the fifties.

I mentioned Marbe’s achievement to a friend and she was skeptical, wondering how no one already knew Marbe was so intelligent.  In a culture where, for women, being heterosexually attractive still entails a certain level of unintelligence, I think girls like Laura are likely to hide how intelligent they are for fear that it will diminish their erotic capital. Just look into popular culture, we are told over and over again that women are valued for their physical appearance, and that intelligent, outspoken and assertive women are either not to be desired, or to be transformed into docile wives. We are also told that pretty girls are not to be taken seriously if they’re trying to do anything other than get a man. Remember in Legally Blonde (one of my all time favourite movies) how Elle sadly realizes that “Callahan (her professor) never saw me as a lawyer, when he looked at me all he saw was blonde hair and big boobs.” Conversely, intelligent girls are also not to be taken seriously if they are trying to get a man.

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This stereotypical dichotomy of attractive=dumb/intelligent=ugly drives a wedge between women and causes bitchy competition and rivalry that is just what the patriarchy wants to bring us all down. (Urahghghgh! – feminazi rage). Consider the Dunphey sisters on Modern Family: Alex, the smart one, isn’t as pretty and socially popular as Hayley, who is unfortunately shallow and ditzy. This is a similar scenario to that of Daria and her sister, Quin. There is even an episode of Daria called ‘Quin the Brain’ in which it becomes apparent that Quin is actually just as smart as Daria when she achieves a high result in an assignment. Throughout the episode, everyone assumes it is just a façade, Quin can’t possibly be intelligent AND be typically attractive, feminine and socially popular. Moreover, throughout the series Quin is established as the villain because she is stupid and ditzy which is closely linked to her characterization as an attractive ‘normal’ girl, whereas Daria is alternative and intelligent and therefore ugly.

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So what’s so attractive about ditzy women to a twenty-first century man? In a society where there is ample evidence that women are grown up humans who can hold down real world jobs just like men, without breaking down into some animalistic hormonal/menstrual/emotional stupor, why still assume pretty women are stupid? Why still tell us that? What? Are intelligent women unattractive because they have more ability to deduce all the illogical, arbitrary and unnecessary aspects of the gender order’s hyper-femininity that has always been forced upon us? Is Laura Marbe clearly stupid because she outwardly performs a mainstream Western femininity the way it is supposed to be performed? I thought that was something the patriarchal system rewarded? Oh, I guess it is, by the fact that she is ‘attractive’ to men (read: Stupid). But I believe Marbe might be as smart as Einstein if she has managed to buck this Pretty=Dumb/Fugly=Smart dichotomy and make us all go:  Whaa?

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.

Having It All: The Postfeminist Myth

( This article appeared in BettyMag issue 1: Summer 2012)

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If i hear one more person say that “Feminism is Dead” I think I may spontaneously combust. Maybe from a privileged, Western, upper-middle class, tertiary-educated, urban, decaf-organic-fair-trade-soy-latte-sipping perspective, women are in a comfortable position and the earlier feminist movements have done their job. Western women ‘Have It All’. We have burned our bras, replaced them with firm breast implants that we paid for with our own hard earned money, and been liberated by the invention of the pill, the washing machine, the stiletto heel and the Family Law Act. But to say women have it all is a gross-generalisation that only factors in the experience of white, middle-class, able-bodied, educated, heterosexual women.

Rather than fobbing feminism off as a retro ideology, we need to think about how feminism can still benefit twenty-first century women. In order to do so, we must dispel discouraging myths that feminism is a man-hating tirade that encourages women to live in separatist communes in forests and taste their own menstrual blood as an articulation of liberation. Feminism is inclusive; recognising the rights of women in all facets of life. This includes not just individual women, but their families, lovers, children and friends, regardless of sex, sexuality or gender. Feminism, for me, is as relevant to the men in my life as it is to the women, as I fail to see how anyone who has ever had a close relationship with a woman could not identify with its values and aims. 

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In rediscovering the importance of feminism in contemporary Australian society, we must ask who is in most need of advancement and assistance in terms of gender equity? In my research I have found that women with disabilities suffer considerably in a number of ways, due to their biological sex and gender. This can be observed in the topical issue of sterilisation of women with disabilities. 

In Australia, women and girls as young as eight can be lawfully surgically ‘de-sexed’ to supposedly improve their quality of life. This takes the form of irreversible hysterectomies, performed by doctors once a family law court of guardianship board has approved the procedure as in the young girl’s ‘best interests.’ Reasons given for sterilising these young women include preventing unwanted pregnancy, and eliminating the ‘unnecessary’ pain and ‘extra burden’ of menstruation for them and their carers. It is true that women with disabilities are disproportionately more likely to be victims of sexual violence, assault and rape than any other demographic. However, in a similar vein of victim-blaming as the SlutWalk phenomenon, why should the bodies of women and girls with disabilities be surgically altered to reduce risk of rape and unwanted pregnancy when our culture should teach the basic social etiquette lesson of Don’t Rape Disabled Women and Children?

A menstruating and possibly sexually active young woman with a disability is only a conceptual threat and a burden to a culture that does not invest adequate resources and effort into creating a better understanding of women with disabilities, their bodies, their needs and their desires. The non-governmental organisation, Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) is a Tasmania-based advocacy body working towards the betterment of lives of women with disabilities. Sterilisation is an issue high on the agenda for WWDA as they see it as a direct breach of human reproductive rights, a form of gendered violence, and even torture. 

I mention this issue in light of discussion of postfeminism, to illustrate how clearly not all women ‘Have It All’. In fact, some have nothing at all. No Rights. No ability or means to argue about their lack of rights. No ability to give consent. No bodily integrity. Before we make generalisations about how women have it all and how they shouldn’t moan about gender inequality, we must be aware of issues like state sanctioned sterilisation of women with disabilities and the issue’s underpinning assumptions, stereotypes and discourses that are fundamentally sexist. We must ask what feminism can achieve for women with disabilities and what it is currently doing for them. When you reflect upon this, ask yourself, “Do I want to live in a society that de-sexes human beings according to a sexist, ablest agenda?” If the answer is no, then feminism is not dead.