The Sliding Scale Of Sexism

Kansas City Star Lifestyle Columnist Jenee Osterheldt isn’t someone I read regularly. I pick up the Star out of the break room here at work and flip through it from time to time, and she’s usually in the back section with the comics, writing about something or other. I tend to skim her columns once I’m done reading the few comics I read anymore, but she doesn’t usually register in my brain. One column of hers did stay with me, though, and it’s tangentially related to today’s article, so I’ll briefly go through it.


Super Princess Peach is a Nintendo DS game that I have to say, up front, that I have not played. It’s a platformer, I’m reasonably certain, with the twist that you play as Princess Peach. Peach has a few tools at her disposal in this adventure, though, and those are “vibes,” which are all based off of emotions. Joy lets her fly, Gloom lets her cry tears that damage enemies and fill up pits, Rage lets her become invincible, and when she Calms down, she restores health.

In this platformer aimed at girls, Princess Peach doesn’t just run and jump off of enemies like Mario, they had to add in a whole separate system about how Peach’s wild mood swings turn her into a caricature of the crazy woman unable to control her emotions, flying off the handle at the drop of a hat, and only when she calms down do things get back to normal.

Because seriously, videogames?

Jenee Osterheldt did a column about this game that I vehemently disagreed with, but I cannot find this article online, and my memory is notoriously bad. My wife tells me that Miss Osterheldt liked the game because it told women that their emotions were not something that would hold them back. My argument against that point of view, if that is indeed what Miss Osterheldt meant, is that it took Princess Peach and made her into a hyper-emotional baby who couldn’t help but to sob her eyes out at the drop of a hat, and the game said this was a good thing. To me, it would be like taking a black character, giving him a comical afro, and have him jump around in the background making funny faces and acting the wacky comic relief whenever the white people were around and actually accomplishing things. And you know, for 40% of the time I liked Sazh in Final Fantasy XIII.

My rage today is because of this article, where Jenee Osterheldt goes to Twin Peaks Restaurant and finds it to be a fun and campy experience. A few quotes, chosen not to represent the article in full, but chosen to point out the things that jumped out at me.

A new sports bar that prides itself on “scenic views”? We’re not talking mountains, rivers or sunsets. We’re talking waitresses dressed lumberjack sexy: teeny-weeny khaki shorts, ab-baring plaid crop tops that display their pushed-up Victoria’s Secret-perfect boobs, and Uggs or something similar with colorful tube socks. And slogans everywhere like “You’re the man!” and “Embracing the outer beauty in all of us”? Please.

Grumpy Diva and I had a hard time not taking in the view but we didn’t want to just stare [at the boobs]. The fellas told us it was all about mastering the distraction. One person talks to the waitress and maintains eye contact while everyone else gets to look.

She told us to stand up. And put our hands behind our backs.

A man yelled, “It’s shot porn.”

Andrea smiled and said with just the right sting of sass, “Now put your lips on the glass and I’m gonna count to three.”

People stand up with their hands held behind their backs, trying to drink shot glasses very quickly, trying to keep all of it in their mouths, while guys stand around and cheer them on, making them the center of attention, making sure everyone is watching them. In this specific case, it was a group of at least two women.

It’s shot porn.

It’s shot porn.

I felt that this article was terrible at best and actively harmful at worst. Here is an establishment founded on the objectification of women, to the point where it invaded every aspect of the business, from the employee attire to the names of the individual food items to the freaking name of the restaurant, and here is someone writing and defending it, saying that it was all in good, campy fun, never mind that her article had her asking the men there how they best stared at cleavage without letting the girls know they were staring at cleavage.

Fortunately, we live in a Twitter world, and it didn’t take me long to track down Jenee Osterheldt on Twitter. I wasn’t just going to get angry, I was going to talk and get some actual answers. It didn’t go well.

Here is as good a link as I can get to the entire conversation. It doesn’t catch everything, but it gets the majority of it.

I do feel like this is harmful. Incredibly so. Miss Osterheldt’s claim that this was an SNL environment doesn’t at all match up with the marketing this place uses. At the time of this writing, their website has seven rotating images, only one of which doesn’t have a scantily-clad women front and center. The button to look at pictures of pretty girls working there is larger than the button for their menu — in fact, there isn’t a button for the menu. That’s up in the top bar, easily overlooked, and certainly not called out. This is a place that serves food and drinks that is presented like this, as spotted on the Huffington Post when I was doing quick research for this post.

It’s objectification. It’s still objectification if the girls are having fun. It’s still objectification if they have sass, if they take no mess, if they smile and laugh when someone catcalls them. It’s objectification if their body is being used to sell food, if their curves are used to hawk calendars and photo galleries on a restaurant’s website. They’re being used, not for their skills, not for their service, and certainly not for who they are, but for their bodies. Twin Peaks founder Randy DeWitt is selling their sex, and that’s not just wrong, that’s fucked up. Places like this exist to tell men that this behavior is okay. That it’s fine to leer at women, that it’s fine to have one guy distract the waitress so everyone else can look at her boobs. It’s fine to reduce a woman to a pair of breasts and a tight ass in little shorts. That the body is always more important than the face. That this kind of thing is expected behavior. That it’s okay to name a restaurant Tits. That the piece of meat serving you food is just as important as the piece of meat on your plate — they’re marketed about the same.

That sexism is okay as long as the girl laughs at the end of it.

It’s not okay. It’s never okay. This kind of thing is never okay.

Goddamnit, this is not okay.


The Hero’s Journey Shouldn’t Discriminate

I like it when I read something that gets me thinking. I like it when I read something that makes me ask questions, even uncomfortable questions.

I like it when I read something that makes me ask uncomfortable questions of myself, even if I wouldn’t qualify that process as enjoyable.

Sady Doyle wrote an article about the JK Rowling series that wasn’t, In Praise Of Joanne Rowling’s Hermione Granger Series. Miss Doyle spends the article praising Joanne Rowling for not writing under an androgynous-at-best penname, for writing a series starring a female protagonist who uses her intelligence and is rewarded for it, who isn’t the Chosen One and isn’t looked down upon or ignored because of it, for writing well-rounded female characters who all stand out without being stereotypes… and you probably get the point. Her followup, The Further Adventures Of Hermione Granger, gets into her reasons for writing this.

I’m a novelist-in-training, let’s say. Popular Anarchy is a book I wrote, stared at, and ultimately shelved for a rewrite. I’m partway through that rewrite, though I would be lying if I said I was proceeding well on it. I have another book that I’m working on in the conceptual stage, somewhere between world design and outline. It’s called The Breakers, and I’m really excited for it; I’ve got a good set of characters, I think the world is interesting, and I’m pulling from different inspirational sources to make sure I don’t write the same thing again. A little more Romance of the Three Kingdom Hearts, let’s call it, instead of The Occurian Candidate.

The Breakers has taken up a lot of my mental energy. I’ve put about twenty thousand words into my outline, and another ten or so into the world design document. Most of it is stream of consciousness rambling, which is how I outline things, so it’s not like I’ve written a short story about my world so I don’t write an actual novel about it. But there’s a bit in that document where I’m figuring out my protagonist, Adam Harper. I like Adam — I think he’s an excellent main character. He’s got flaws, strengths, an interesting set of friends, two of whom are also important characters in this book, and a family that factors heavily into what’s happening here. I’m proud of the work I did on him.

I never even considered making a woman my main character.

I’m mad at myself. In the midst of all this 1reasonwhy stuff that has me so up in arms, in the midst of me playing games ranging from JRPGs to Japanese visual novels/dating sims, in the midst of me raging at gender inequality and outright misogyny, I’m unconsciously enforcing it in my own work. There’s no excuse for this. I had a female character, Mira Jersic, designed long before Adam, but she was a supporting character in Adam’s story. Putting as much work into her design as I did didn’t make up for the fact that she wasn’t as important as Adam. The background work and extensive questionnaire I completed from her point of view didn’t mean anything if I put a ceiling on her level of import for no reason other than “a guy should be the main character.”

I’d like to say that there wasn’t anything sexist in my thinking on it, but honestly, I don’t know. I just looked at these characters I’d already made — two women, one man — and decided I needed a different main character. The character I made was male. Maybe that’s completely innocent. Maybe I was balancing things out. Maybe I was thinking of a specific story that only a guy could tell. But there’s nothing in my outline about that, and there’s nothing in the story I have outlined that is the kind of thing that can only be experienced/told/for a guy.

So I’m changing it. I don’t care if it takes me more time, I don’t care if I have to scrap stuff, and I don’t care if it’s harder. I’m swapping Mira into the lead role and starting over with The Breakers. I don’t know how different it will end up being, but I’ll gladly find out.