Utterly Gratuitous Sexism, Anyone?

by Belle Waring on June 24, 2009

Much digital ink has been spilled on Ross “I Would Do Anything For Love, But I Won’t” Douthat’s review of Helprin’s “Digital Barbarism”, but no one—except sage Unfogged commenter Witt—has noted what may be the very most annoying part: the insertion of pointless sexism into a fine xkcd cartoon. A cartoon, I might add, that Douthat does not even bother to actually cite by name. Read the comic here. Now feast your eyes:

One of the more trenchant cartoons of the Internet era features a stick-figure man typing furiously at his keyboard. From somewhere beyond the panel floats the irritated voice of his wife.“Are you coming to bed?”
“I can’t,” he replies. “This is important.”
“What?”
“Someone is wrong on the Internet.”

How, might I ask did Douthat know that the voice in question is that of an irritated wife? And what marks the stick figure as that of a man? Oh, right, the unmarked is always male, right? It’s true that xkcd often depicts female stick figures as having longer hair, but this is not invariably so. Verdict: douchebag.

UPDATE: my husband informs me that brilliant unsung CT commenters have been all over this is comments to his post. But the point stands.

{ 96 comments }

1

Jock Bowden 06.24.09 at 11:07 am

Oooh. “Sexism” really is one of those words who utterance makes you feel you’ve wondered into the “Communications Studies” seminar rather than the Classics one. “Sexism” as a useful sociological concept, let alone term of abuse, ended on the opening night of Basic Instinct.

98% of the western world is sooo over “sexism”. Among the other 2% are old lesbians and pencil-necked softer social-studies academics.

In 2009, it’s pretty naff to say “sexism” with a serious face in the company of educated people.

2

Barry 06.24.09 at 11:09 am

Thank you, ‘Jock’, for your beautiful performance as a rightwing dipsh*t. Short, but to the point.

3

conchis 06.24.09 at 11:18 am

@Jock: I am gratified to hear that the western world ‘is over’ the concept of sexism. If only we could get over the practice of it too…

4

Jock Bowden 06.24.09 at 11:25 am

Barry

From that post you have no idea what political policies I endorse, nor what political parties I have voted for, or political movements I have been involved in.

YOU, on the other hand, have totally outed yourself as one who correctly found himself seated in the “Communications Studies” seminar.

5

Peter S 06.24.09 at 11:25 am

That’s a pretty harsh verdict for a relatively minor offense — especially when, as you note, Randall Munroe seems to be Ross’s main accomplice in the crime. Click through 100 random copies of xkcd. The long-hair/no-hair gender marking is a fairly consistent feature of the strip, and it seems a pretty weak rebuttal to say only that “this is not invariably so.” In addition, a great many strips play out a similar dramatic relationship between the long-hair/no-hair couple. Why not trash Munroe for being “wrong on the internet” and replicating the gendered iconography and storyline many times over?

Of course, you could challenge Douthat’s reading of the emotional tenor of the off-panel words? How does he know they are not expressions of concern, as opposed to irritation? But that doesn’t have the same kick.

So I suggest the following. Pause and consider the gendered and sexist implications of using “douchebag” as an insult.

6

Jock Bowden 06.24.09 at 11:28 am

conchis

How old are you? Stop whingeing and blaming others for your life disappointments. Its tedious and boring.

7

A. Y. Mous 06.24.09 at 11:35 am

Women. Not even wrong. Or something equally sexist. But then again, I might be wrong. Is Belle of the non-masculine gender? Given that fact many homosexual couples enagage in healthy masculine/feminine roles, does “my husband” indicate a definitive gender of both parties? Inquiring sexist minds want to know.

8

Eszter 06.24.09 at 11:43 am

“Sexism” really is one of those words who utterance makes you feel you’ve wondered into the “Communications Studies” seminar rather than the Classics one.

Huh? [I realize I bring this up at the risk of feeding a troll.]

The long-hair/no-hair gender marking is a fairly consistent feature of the strip

Given that we don’t see the other character, the person talking could easily be male.

9

dsquared 06.24.09 at 11:47 am

From that post you have no idea what political policies I endorse, nor what political parties I have voted for, or political movements I have been involved in.

if they’re anything other than rightwing and dipshitty, you might have a bit of an image problem.

(separately, why Basic Instinct particularly? “Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot!” was out at around the same time, and arguably gives a more rounded and favourable portrayal of its female characters. Did racism come to an end the following weekend with the closing credits of “White Men Can’t Jump”?)

10

Ray 06.24.09 at 11:54 am

How long after “White Men Can’t Jump” was Obama first elected to political office? There’s probably an argument to be made there somewhere.

Re. xkcd – yes, unmarked characters are male, which is sexist and Munroe’s fault. Assuming that the voice calling from offscreen must be a wife? Speaking an an irritated voice, no less? That’s all Douthat.

11

belle le triste 06.24.09 at 11:54 am

what’s the point of jock bowden? he’s all over half a dozen threads recently, aggressively sneering at everyone while awarding himself medals for not bothering to be informed about his topics of obsession — except as a compendium of uninformed blowhard cliche, his contributions have been null

12

jm 06.24.09 at 11:54 am

What Peter S says. It’s xkcd that overwhelmingly (perhaps exclusively) presents unmarked figures as male, and xkcd that overwhelmingly deals in straight relationships, often drawing on gender stereotypes. Your problem is with them, not Douthat, in this case.

13

Tim Wilkinson 06.24.09 at 11:56 am

There are four – maybe more – possible combinations of the sex of two people, even if they happen to share a bed(room). Even if undrawn hair may without transgression be taken to indicate *, that still doesn’t mean the other voice is a wife or even a female, nor a sexual/romantic partner. So there’s a lot of presumption to be avoided if you want to be utterly unprejudiced.

Still, Andy McNab @1,6: you might be better off sticking to the Daily Mail comments where your brand of pub-sage orthodox-heterodox posturing is admired as hard-, rather than dick-, headed.

_* I’ve started using those as #concept-quotes# (and those are #baptism-quotes#).

14

Tim Wilkinson 06.24.09 at 11:58 am

Oh bollocks, my concept-quotes dont work in inadequately-segregated plain-text/html environments like this. I’ll use ‘%’ instead: so ‘*’ should say ‘%male%*’

15

mpowell 06.24.09 at 12:01 pm

It’s hard to know what Jock is going on about, but it is still pretty weak tea to call sexism here. Sure, there are other possible interpretations of the comic. But Ross undoubtedly has hit on the most likely one. And what patriarchical norm is this reinforcing? That there are many straight couples out there? That sometimes the female partner desires the male partner in bed? If this is sexist than any story which assigns gender, however innocuosly, when it is not strictly necessary is sexist. Seems a tad extreme.

16

Peter S 06.24.09 at 12:05 pm

Eszter,

My point was that xkcd traffics mainly in hetero couples, using standard gendered iconography. It doesn’t seem unwarranted for Douthat to assume that this particular strip participated in that pattern.

Yes, that voice “could easily” belong to a male character, just as the no-hair character (in this instance) “could easily” be female — or that box “could easily” be a TV with rabbit ears or a large microwave oven (making the main character delusional, as well as obsessed).

But the strip as a whole has done little to encourage any of these readings. It seems gratuitous to pretend otherwise.

17

JoB 06.24.09 at 12:08 pm

It’s not hard to know what Jock is on about: Jock is on about Jock.

Other than that, I side with mpowell: a tad extreme. (and if in the excerpt genders were switched and all – would that have been any better? the scene is undertermined – any gender combination would probably fit some stereotype)

18

Jeff 06.24.09 at 12:32 pm

“Oh, right, the unmarked is always male, right? It’s true that xkcd often depicts female stick figures as having longer hair, but this is not invariably so.”

Um, citation please? I read every xkcd comic and it does actually seem to be an invariable theme. The guy at the computer is obviously male, the voice is not identified, but given the “sexist” themes of most of the recent xkcd strips, it’s a pretty good bet that the other character is a female.

19

Zamfir 06.24.09 at 12:34 pm

I always thought that the Xkcd figures are vaguely autobiographical, there is a hairless sick figure who seems to be sort of persona of the author (unlike the guy with the hat for example, or Ron Paul), the long- haired figure who is smarter than the I person is the author’s grilfriend, and comics like these seem to be “things that often happen to me” stories.

20

rea 06.24.09 at 12:38 pm

What–aren’t you people regular xkcd readers? Don’t you recognize that particular stick figure as a regular character? The voice calling him would be the black haired woman, the on-and-off girlfriend . The point being, his stick figures are all distinct and recognizable individuals, and complaining, “unmarked characters are male, which is sexist,” doesn’t take that into account. :)

21

Barry 06.24.09 at 12:55 pm

Jock: [interesting handle, compensating a bit? or was high school football the peak of his life?] “From that post you have no idea what political policies I endorse, nor what political parties I have voted for, or political movements I have been involved in.”

dsquared: “if they’re anything other than rightwing and dipshitty, you might have a bit of an image problem.”

Daniel, if I live in England for a few years, will I get a level in witty comebacks? I was trying to come up with something before I read yours, and didn’t have anything funny enough to post.

22

John Protevi 06.24.09 at 1:03 pm

What’s all this about white men not being able to jump? Tell that to Patrick Sjoberg! Or Dwight Stones, for that matter! (One of the great athletic names of all time if you ask me.)

[ / aggressively missing the point ]

23

b9n10t 06.24.09 at 1:14 pm

Actually the comic, and Douthat’s interpretation, could be sexist in its derogatory depiction of males as emotionally detached partners in an intimate relationship.

But really. Belle Waring has made an insult, not an argument. Whether, behind the insult, there was some reasoned analysis has yet to be demonstrated.

24

alex 06.24.09 at 1:22 pm

Focusing on picking apart our new friend Jock, which is far more interesting than the OP, I believe he has previously outed himself quite effectively as someone who never quite got over the end of an era when it was possible to be both aggressively left wing and aggressively macho, and not be thought a complete wanker.

25

John Protevi 06.24.09 at 1:25 pm

Hmm. I’m wondering if this post hasn’t transgressed a few boundaries on its way towards a transformative termeneutics of Douthat’s sexism.

26

John Protevi 06.24.09 at 1:26 pm

Or even hermeneutics.

27

alex 06.24.09 at 1:32 pm

So close, John, and you have to go spoil it with a tryp..typh..tyop…spelling mistake. The internet’s a bitch [in a completely non-sexist way, of course.]

28

Abelard 06.24.09 at 1:38 pm

Jock’s comments were lmaostronauts and he should be imbued with the privilige of a highlighted post so that all might more easily discover his contributions and procure, for themselves, a not insignificant amount of laughter.

I SUPPORT COCK

I MEAN I SUPPORT JOCK

29

John Protevi 06.24.09 at 1:42 pm

Yeah, I should have just toughed it out with “termeneutics”: the interpretation of terms!

30

qb 06.24.09 at 1:50 pm

Peter @5 is right: calling Douthat a “douchebag” for such a banal, if not tenuous, example of sexism is hypocritical. Besides, by any reasonable standard, his interpretation of the xkcd comic cannot possibly be the “very most annoying part” of the review.

31

Stuart 06.24.09 at 1:57 pm

The offscreen character is female because this is an exchange between the reoccuring main characters of the strip. It is also imputed that the offscreen character is irritated, but there is no clue that this is the case apart from the prejudices of those making that reading of the strip, there are certainly perfectly feasible other readings of the mood of the offscreen character.

32

Stuart 06.24.09 at 2:01 pm

Oh, and a further note that Douthat is factually incorrect when claiming it is his wife talking, it is his girlfriend (as is made clear in numerous strips).

33

PGD 06.24.09 at 2:25 pm

Yeah, I agree Douthat’s assumption was inoccuous. Much ado about not much here.

34

b9n10t 06.24.09 at 2:27 pm

Stuart: if the female isn’t irritated, maybe she’s submissive and needy.

Somehow ” ‘Are you coming to bed’, she asked unconcerned while changing the oil in her rebuilt’75 mustang…” just isn’t as funny.

35

Tim Wilkinson 06.24.09 at 2:41 pm

Douthat is factually incorrect when claiming it is his wife talking
or fictionally incorrect?

36

alex 06.24.09 at 3:00 pm

In Douthat’s world, people are married…

37

dogfacegeorge 06.24.09 at 3:06 pm

Look at this comment thread – no comments from Belle. Now look at any of John’s comment threads and the way he responds compulsively to wayward comments. Can’t you imagine this cartoon playing out in their household for real?

38

Nick 06.24.09 at 3:09 pm

Just for the record, female XKCD characters almost always have hair… it is rather clear that’s a guy at the computer.

39

Glen Tomkins 06.24.09 at 3:17 pm

Douthat has one valid point

He may be wrong in all of his other assumptions, but of course the stick figure at the computer is a guy. People not affected by testosterone poisoning would not embark on the mad project of refuting everyone on the Internet who is wrong, or at least wouldn’t be able to formulate so clearly what they are doing and still go on doing it.

40

JoB 06.24.09 at 3:20 pm

37 – somebody just had to cross over to actual applied sexism, what a shame.

(does John H compulsively respond? only if it’s a very selective compulsion)

41

Mitchell Rowe 06.24.09 at 3:30 pm

Belle, don’t you have anything better to do? There are many good reasons to call Douthat sexist, but this is not one of them. XKCD always uses an unmarked stick figure to represent the male character and a stick figure with long hair to represent his girl friend. I am sure if you asked Randal he would tell you that he did this to make it easy to distinguish his characters. Not because he is a sexist “douchbag”. Sheesh

42

alkali 06.24.09 at 4:07 pm

Douthat and Belle are both wrong. There is no second person in the cartoon, just one person who is a deranged ventriloquist like Anthony Hopkins in the 70s thriller Magic. Also, the computer isn’t even on. I don’t understand why this isn’t clear to everyone.

43

dogfacegeorge 06.24.09 at 4:14 pm

JoB re actual applied sexism.

Gee, I hope not. I think Belle’s real point was that the cartoon, in her interpretation, was making fun of a HUMAN trait – that either men OR women could get so caught up in a flame war that they would rather respond to some unknown crackpot than accept an obviously delightful invitation from their partner to come to bed.

44

dogfacegeorge 06.24.09 at 4:16 pm

JoB -
Sorry, I’ve got to go – my beautiful wife is beckoning.

45

chris y 06.24.09 at 4:26 pm

Ok, this thread is officially insane. Belle’s complaint was not that Douthat had made the assumption that the character off-screen was female (although you would need to be more aware of the internal dynamics of xkcd than he seems to be to make that assumption – people are right that this is probably an exchange between the default characters – m/f, but does Douthat even know that there are such?) Belle’s complaint was the assumption that the person off-screen, whom he assumed to be female even though they might be male, divine, demonic or a talking horse, was irritated. Which is a sexist cliche. That is all.

(Personally, when I first saw the damn cartoon I assumed she was horny.)

46

Fats Durston 06.24.09 at 4:42 pm

This:

So I suggest the following. Pause and consider the gendered and sexist implications of using “douchebag” as an insult.

But what’s funny is that everyone writing here is the character in the frame.

47

qb 06.24.09 at 4:42 pm

Chris, she also complains that Douthat assumes the in-panel stick figure is a man; in light of that, it seems natural to infer that the previous complaint wasn’t just about the “irritated wife” cliché, but the implicit (and at least arguably unjustified) assumption that it would be a woman calling him to bed.

48

Daniel 06.24.09 at 5:02 pm

Belle’s complaint was the assumption that the person off-screen, whom he assumed to be female even though they might be male, divine, demonic or a talking horse, was irritated. Which is a sexist cliche. That is all.

(Personally, when I first saw the damn cartoon I assumed she was horny.)

And that’s the issue. These are stick figures — they’re subject to wide interpretation due to the lack of detail. That the characters are in fact boyfriend and girlfriend is established in the strip. Yes, I’m admittedly making the assumption that Douthat has seen more than one xkcd comic in order to know this, even if he doesn’t attribute the strip.

Its possible that the girlfriend was both horny and irritated that the boyfriend was too busy with a flame war to pay attention to her. I’m also confused at the notion that assuming that assuming that the girlfriend might be irritated by her boyfriend in this situation is, by necessity, a sexist cliche. You can remove any identification of gender and assume the off-panel character was irritated by the viewable character’s apparently misplaced priorities — just as I did. I don’t think I’m a horrible sexist pig for assuming this.

I’m simply not a fan of Douthat’s column, but this post struck me as an attempt to find bad faith in his interpretation of friggen stick-figure cartoon which is, ironically, about someone lingering on an online argument more than necessary. As other posts have shown, there are bigger bones to pick with his columns. Griping about his take on stick figures feels petty.

DU

49

Jake 06.24.09 at 6:03 pm

” It’s true that xkcd often depicts female stick figures as having longer hair, but this is not invariably so.”

Really? I can’t think of any strips that have an unambiguously female character without longer hair—can you find any? See, for example, the preceding comic to the “someone is wrong on the Internet” one: http://xkcd.com/385/ . Notice that the female character has long hair.

Anyway, I like chris y (45)’s comment.

50

Henri Vieuxtemps 06.24.09 at 6:22 pm

Douthat’s probably never seen the cartoon. He just heard about the cartoon, and described it as it was described to him.

51

ripley 06.24.09 at 7:45 pm

for this thread, this might be useful
http://viv.id.au/blog/20070414.431/anti-feminist-bingo-a-master-class-in-sexual-entitlement/

Douthat’s insertion of the term “wife” is doubly annoying.

52

David Wright 06.24.09 at 8:05 pm

That’s really all it takes to be a douchebag in Belle’s eyes?! Describing this cartoon as a guy talking to his wife? I wonder if the reaction would have been equally vitrolic if the offhand description had come from a liberal columnist, say Paul Krugman.

53

Sebastian 06.24.09 at 8:45 pm

“How, might I ask did Douthat know that the voice in question is that of an irritated wife? And what marks the stick figure as that of a man? Oh, right, the unmarked is always male, right? It’s true that xkcd often depicts female stick figures as having longer hair, but this is not invariably so. Verdict: douchebag.”

In the context of the other xkcd comics the stick figure is not only ‘a’ man, but in fact that male character who is the subject of most of the comics. It has nothing to do with the unmarked being male, and everything to do with the context of this particular comic strip. In that context, the voice offscreen is almost certainly the main character’s girlfriend, a person who has her own history (sometimes chiding the main character for being too nerdy as in this frame). Douthat describing the girlfriend as the nerd’s wife doesn’t seem enough for him to be called a douchebag.

Full disclosure, I am a nerd.

54

mds 06.24.09 at 8:50 pm

Ross “I Would Do Anything For Love, But I Won’t” Douthat

Regardless of anything else about the post, the more exposure this gets, the better.

Pause and consider the gendered and sexist implications of using “douchebag” as an insult.

Well, there is a widespread school of thought that holds that douching is a patriarchally-imposed expression of female uncleanness. And I’ve never heard it described as the most delightful of experiences. So perhaps “douchebag” could be considered shorthand for “unpleasant, largely useless example of patriarchal attitudes made manifest”? Because that would seem to describe Douthat rather well.

I agree that this is a straining at a gnat. As others have pointed out, it’s far more significant a “tell” that Douthat implicitly assumes that it’s the visible character’s wife, when this is almost certainly not the case.

55

Tim Wilkinson 06.24.09 at 10:21 pm

mds @53 – isn’t it mainly a prostitution thing? Though that would I suppose make it all the more phallocratic.

56

Aaron 06.24.09 at 11:37 pm

I’ve rarely seen such an infantile discussion/argument over something so completely thrown out of proportion.

57

andthenyoufall 06.24.09 at 11:38 pm

When the revolution comes, people who don’t read xkcd religiously will be the first one sent to re-education camps on the Charles.

58

Tom T. 06.25.09 at 12:26 am

People not affected by testosterone poisoning would not embark on the mad project of refuting everyone on the Internet who is wrong, or at least wouldn’t be able to formulate so clearly what they are doing and still go on doing it.

While there may be truth to this comment in general, attaching it to this particular post strikes me as irony.

59

lemuel pitkin 06.25.09 at 12:29 am

Pause and consider the gendered and sexist implications of using “douchebag” as an insult.

It is possible that Belle was alluding to the semi-famous site “Hot Chicks with Douchebags.”

60

Nick 06.25.09 at 1:15 am

I’ll echo #52 and #56 in wondering why on earth this is a fuss at all.

In what world is it not reasonable to assume that the voice in question is a) slightly irritated (the blunt force of the first question, the incredulity, the blankness of ‘what?’) and b) a woman?

If it is not too much of a stretch to assume that the computer-typing individual is in a relationship (why else would someone be calling him or her to bed?) then surely it is not at all too much to infer, given the individual’s ‘unmarked’ form, that it is a man and his relationship is a heterosexual one?

And surely it is a little harsh to attribute an ‘utterly gratuitous’ sexist motive to this (rather benign) act? (of identifying the person in the comic as a man, and the voice as a woman?) It’s not an attack on the voice/woman, it’s not a subjugation of the voice/woman (or perhaps the voice, being denied a representation in the frame of the comic, is already subjugated to those stick figures lucky enough to be granted a presence? perhaps the blankness of the border outside the comic is the voice/woman’s burqa?)

61

lamont cranston 06.25.09 at 3:02 am

Douches and douchebags are a misogynist and, fortunately, mostly antiquated tradition. Hence, they make lovely insults – sexism is the butt of the slur, not women.

Look at a picture of a douchebag sometime and you’ll see just how lovely.

62

James 06.25.09 at 4:01 am

Did you people even read the alt text?

The character is Munroe (or the Munroe character from his autobiographical strips)! “What do you want me to do? LEAVE? Then they’ll keep being wrong.”

From published details of his personal life, I am fairly certain that Munroe is a) a heterosexual male b) unmarried.

The unwarranted assumption is that it’s his *wife*. The character is a man: Munroe (or the Munroe character). The person calling to him is a female lover, NOT his wife.

And you people are all arguing in vain because you’re too illiterate to read alt text. Sheesh.

63

Stephen Judd 06.25.09 at 4:18 am

I am still searching for the piece, but I clearly recall reading something by Munroe where he bemoans his own inability to come up with a truly ungendered stick figure, and more or less apologises for the whole hair/no-hair thing.

64

jacob 06.25.09 at 4:50 am

I think that I’ve read every xkcd strip, and I don’t think it’s every occurred to me that either the hairless stick-figure or the long-haired stick-figure were continuous characters. I thought the whole point was that they were everymen/everywomen, unmarked (except occasionally in gender) intentionally. The man in Android Boyfriend isn’t the same man as the one in Period, which I know because the one in “Period” doesn’t have an android girlfriend. Moreover, the android girlfriend looks like every other dark-haired woman in the strip, none of whom are androids. Alternatively, look at the recent Voynich Manuscript where the characters described as “500 years ago” look the same as the characters in present day. I think that if you have read the comic as to be about a single person, you have seriously misread the strip.

My objection to the Douthat comment is the assumption that voice coming from the other room is a wife (both for its heteronormativity and assumptions about marriage) and–much worse–the assumption that she’s irritated. It is Douthat’s assumption that she is a nagging, bitchy wife that is misogynist.

65

Jock Bowden 06.25.09 at 5:04 am

Barry

What is really interesting is that:

1. You would be so petty as to try and demean me – rather than my post – by focusing on my “handle”.

2. That you would think my “handle” is an ‘over compensation’, though for what who knows.

3. That you would be so provincial and ethnocentric in your reflexive associaltion of my “handle” to American high school cliques.

4. Not that you should be expected to know, but I was born in Scotland, and my father’s family is from Derbyshire, which is England.

5. God, do you need to live in England for a few years, or at least get out more.

6. You need to sort out your politics.

7. It is clear you are one of the two percent. ;)

As you were.

66

mollymooly 06.25.09 at 5:29 am

Female = (male + stereotypical female features) is standard symbology. Look at a toilet sign and/or South Park.

In my youth, I called Lego figures “Lego men”; mostly they were men. If they had headgear or short hair they were men; If they had pigtails they were women. I think modern Lego figures more facial detail; which makes beards, lipstick, etc. available as alternative cues.

67

Jock Bowden 06.25.09 at 5:50 am

If there is any sexism in this cartoon, it is of the typical misandrist strain. The male is presented as an adolescent – still toy-focused, with a hint of Asperger’s, for which he compensates through late night, stereotypically male, competitive blog flame wars. The underdevelopment of his figure suggests he blogs anonomynously. The emasculation is completed by the privileged voice of his female partner; a privilege amplified by her not even needing any visual presence or depiction for the whipping to be so thorough and complete.

Jeez, haven’t any of you taken Gender Studies courses?

68

chrisare 06.25.09 at 7:13 am

If anything the male is being conveyed in a negative light relative to the female. He’s wasting his time in a pointless cyber argument whereas we learn nothing about her other than that she is interested in spending time with her partner (the horror).

Is this what Belle is trying to bring to our attention?

69

Katherine 06.25.09 at 8:12 am

Shock News! Male comment thread at Crooked Timber decides (a) no sexism here, move along now and (b) doesn’t Belle have anything better to do than complain about common or garden non-sexism. Rinse. Repeat.

70

dan 06.25.09 at 8:16 am

XKCD is a terrible comment.

71

Stuart 06.25.09 at 10:22 am

Shock News! Male comment thread at Crooked Timber decides (a) no sexism here, move along now and (b) doesn’t Belle have anything better to do than complain about common or garden non-sexism. Rinse. Repeat.

If this is the sort of battle that is left over sexism, then I think we can all say “Great job. Sexism is basically solved, and everyone can move onto more important things.”

72

chrisare 06.25.09 at 10:51 am

Shock News! Male comment thread at Crooked Timber decides (a) no sexism here, move along now and (b) doesn’t Belle have anything better to do than complain about common or garden non-sexism. Rinse. Repeat.

In other words, “Male opinion on issues relating to sexism is worthless if it isn’t in agreement with mine”? Quite a convenient rhetorical contraption.

73

JoB 06.25.09 at 10:57 am

Jock, if you say “Jeez” one more time you might self-destruct.

74

Nick Barnes 06.25.09 at 12:31 pm

The underdevelopment of his figure suggests he blogs anonomynously.
An on, an on, an on, an on.
Also, what?!?!

75

Mike C 06.25.09 at 2:41 pm

“If this is the sort of battle that is left over sexism, then I think we can all say “Great job. Sexism is basically solved, and everyone can move onto more important things.”

I’m going to make the understatement of the day and say “no”.

76

mds 06.25.09 at 2:52 pm

If this is the sort of battle that is left over sexism, then I think we can all say “Great job. Sexism is basically solved, and everyone can move onto more important things.”

Well, Ross Douthat is a blatantly misogynistic cobag*, yet has recently become a New York Times columnist. So I don’t think that this particular overblown example is actually the last vestige of sexism in modern society. Sadly, you might have to put up with mere sexism distracting you from the more important things for a little while longer.

And again, “wife” is actually more significant than which stick figures have long hair. In isolation, it’s an understandable assumption based on our cultural defaults. From Douthat, it is all of a piece with his attitudes toward women. The overreaction to his analysis of this particular cartoon is happening in a larger context.

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mds 06.25.09 at 2:53 pm

*Apologies if “cobag” is misconstrued as derogatory to colostomy recipients.

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Ken C. 06.25.09 at 2:55 pm

“Douches and douchebags are a misogynist and, fortunately, mostly antiquated tradition. Hence, they make lovely insults – sexism is the butt of the slur, not women.”

So when you see people use the term, they mean it that way, and it’s got nothing to do with the ickiness of ladyparts? Well, you live in a better world than I do.

Meanwhile, I’m trying to find out if the creator of xkcd shaves his head or not, which has direct implications regarding just now sexist his stick figures are.

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lemuel pitkin 06.25.09 at 3:07 pm

I’m trying to find out if the creator of xkcd shaves his head or not

He doesn’t.

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Justin 06.25.09 at 3:42 pm

1. Munroe didn’t have a girlfriend when I saw him speak last year, and commented on the awkwardness of dating, given the strip that he writes. So we can’t be too literal about “the stick figure is Munroe.”

2. I don’t think you write this comic with stick guy and long hair girl as a representation of your relationship. Just sayin.

3. While we’re considering whether Munroe is doing sexist things with his comics, here’s a wonderful strip that I’ve posted in response to at least ten jerks. And here’s something about female leads in movies. That’s not to say you couldn’t find some sexist elements to xkcd, maybe you could (though I don’t see anyone linking to examples).

4. re: ‘douchebag’, surely it matters that the term is exclusively applied to piggish men?

5. re: ‘douchebag’, youtube doesn’t even have a freaking clip of the kid in wet hot american summer.

Ok, it’s daytime, back to pretending to work.

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Salient 06.25.09 at 3:47 pm

Meanwhile, I’m trying to find out if the creator of xkcd shaves his head or not

Why would a balding/nearly bald guy have to shave his head? (Or were you trying to find a picture of him, to see that he is indeed balding? Check the @Google)

Also, +1 what mds said (for several reasons, including making the exact point that should be made about why this thread exists, and introducing the novel practice of shucking a footnote into the next comment down)

The xkcd analysis-of-inference is kind of fun. From this comic alone it seems reasonable to surmise that “no drawn hair” = “balding or short hair”. Yes, most males in our society/societies tend to wear shorter hair than most females, and so we can make inferences about xkcd characters using that fact. But is the person saying “At last!” male or female? I have no clue. Impossible to tell.

And in this comic a male character (albeit an android) has hair drawn on. As does a character in this comic. We can infer from that character’s behavior and appearance, together with social norms we’re familiar with, maleness — perhaps that’s a reasonable inference. Also see this comic, in which a known-to-be-male character has hair. Why does he have hair drawn in? Well, it’s not exactly short hair…

Pop quiz I: Is the character in this comic who says “damn” male or female?

Pop quiz II: Were all the arrested parties in the Pirate Bay scandal male? Did they all have short hair?

Also, a thread about sexism and xkcd that doesn’t link to this gem is an automatic travesty.

And any thread about hair-drawn-on-xkcd-characters can’t possibly be complete without a link to this comic.

And, um, did nobody realize the “main female character” Megan is literally married to someone else?

As for the eternal Is the author of xkcd sexist or is he trying to explore the contours of sexism in our society or both debate, I suggest reading this blog post by the author, specifically the book recommendation.

OK, that’s all.

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Salient 06.25.09 at 3:57 pm

Gah. While my comment awaits moderation for immoderately many links, let me pre-emptively acknowledge that lemuel has pre-emptively corrected me; Randall is not bald(ing). But he does have very short hair!

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Mike C 06.25.09 at 5:02 pm

Making accusations of any form of discrimination towards media produced in a society where said discrimination exists is like shooting fish in a barrel. Why does he always use a heterosexual couple to talk about “relationships”? Because when people read about a heterosexual relationship, it’s a “relationship joke”, but when they read about a homosexual couple, it’s a “gay joke”. Men on the internet are people in the internet, while women on the internet are women on the internet. Dominant groups in a society are set as the default. He didn’t make it that way, but it’s still the situation in which he is creating.

@Salient:

This isn’t meant to be a snarky comeback, I just am too lazy to search strips: Could you reference another comic that uses the name “Megan” for the recurring girlfriend? I’d always assumed that was just some other girl.

Finally, it’s quite en vogue for balding men to go full shave these days.

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Salient 06.25.09 at 5:08 pm

Could you reference another comic that uses the name “Megan” for the recurring girlfriend?

Can do.

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Katherine 06.25.09 at 5:24 pm

Shock News! Male comment thread at Crooked Timber decides (a) no sexism here, move along now and (b) doesn’t Belle have anything better to do than complain about common or garden non-sexism. Rinse. Repeat.

In other words, “Male opinion on issues relating to sexism is worthless if it isn’t in agreement with mine”? Quite a convenient rhetorical contraption.

You’re putting words in my mouth. I haven’t expressed any opinion on whether I see sexism in this particular case. I am commenting on a recurring theme in CT comments threads that I have observed. Your criticism of a non-existent “rhetorical contraption” provides you with a good excuse to exhibit those characteristics I pointed out though.

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Katherine 06.25.09 at 5:25 pm

Well, that attempt at formatting went wrong – the first two paragraphs a supposed to be in itallics, with the first being my comment and the second being a response from “chrisare” to mine.

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Stuart 06.25.09 at 5:42 pm

While we’re considering whether Munroe is doing sexist things with his comics, here’s a wonderful strip that I’ve posted in response to at least ten jerks.

Are we? I am fairly sure the OP was about Douthat inserting it into his interpretation of an xkcd cartoon, and not the original cartoon.

I’m going to make the understatement of the day and say “no”.

That is why my comment was phrased as a hypothetical.

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Salient 06.25.09 at 5:47 pm

There’s also this not particularly coherent comic, which apparently riffs on the Megan-as-recurrent-character meme.

(Also, after random flip-throughs while procrastinating/avoiding exam-writing duties, I hypothesize it would be possible and not completely unenlightening to find xkcd posts that at least loosely address the issues raised in every CT post going back for at least the past week or so.)

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lemuel pitkin 06.25.09 at 6:50 pm

Male comment thread at Crooked Timber decides (a) no sexism here, move along now

I don’t think we’ve decided that at all.

Meanwhile, Salient (who I assume is male) points us to Munroe’s blog, which documents this remarkable and depressing case of sexism.

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Salient 06.25.09 at 9:57 pm

I don’t think we’ve decided that at all.

We = you and I haven’t, true, but don’t forget about the Jock fellow upthread (for example). I’d agree with Katherine’s point about CT threads when sexism’s mentioned in the OP, and I don’t think she intended to sweep up every last post in her comment.

More disturbingly, I’ve noticed the threads with the most full-on challenges to the original post’s right to exist, like “why did you post this?” or “this whole post is wrong-headed,” tend to be original posts written by the female CT contributors. The question of “how is this worth writing about / how can you justify posting this / this whole post is unfair” seems to come up much much much more often when the post-writer is female. To me this illustrates a nuanced, unconscious, and pervasive sexism — after all, it’s not always the same culprits making such accusation — and it’s depressing and maddening to see evidence of it in the CT commenter community.

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Justin 06.25.09 at 10:50 pm

Somewhere in the thread, someone said xkcd had sexist portrayals of its characters. It may have actually been just one person, but when I wrote my earlier post, I thought multiple people had suggested it. Obviously the strip that I linked to had what you might call a pronounced ‘proto-feminist’ sensibility.

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lemuel pitkin 06.25.09 at 11:34 pm

Salient @90 is correct — I know I’ve been guilty of this myself.

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TW Andrews 06.26.09 at 2:40 am

Douchebag? Really? Over a slightly-inaccurate retelling of an xkcd cartoon? Bit of a hair trigger you’ve got on the douche-gun, don’t you think?

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Martha Bridegam 06.26.09 at 6:57 am

People not affected by testosterone poisoning would not embark on the mad project of refuting everyone on the Internet who is wrong, or at least wouldn’t be able to formulate so clearly what they are doing and still go on doing it.

Oh yeah? (Contemplates last ten years of flame wars. Investigates contents of underwear… Hm…) Someone is distinctly wrong on the Internet.

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JoB 06.26.09 at 7:19 am

94 – now thàt was arousing – investigating underwear, & yep, testosterone poisoning firmly in place ;-)

90-92 – on to something there, hope I didn’t do it but could well have done it so: good point!

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Josh 07.03.09 at 2:32 am

Comment 65, Point 4: So it’s not “jock” as in an American subscriber to the cult of athleticism but “Jock” as in Jocky Wilson? All right then.

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