My Love/Hate for Bill Maher and his Show

I have a love/hate relationship with Real Time with Bill Maher.
(full episodes freely available on HBO and iTunes)

There is much to love; often he has a great combination of people on his panel from both sides of the political aisle, he doesn’t shy away from topics if they are difficult, and often the serious part (with jokes) at the end of his “New Rules” segment closing the show is incredibly well written and brings interesting or clear perspectives to hot-button topics.

For example, on over-arming the police:

Gun rights in America:

Religion and Atheism:

And terrorism/warfare:

And yet… he also annoys the hell out of me more than occasionally. When it comes to science and reason he is a big fan; as long as they unequivocally agree with his perspective. But sometimes when he talks about chemical additives, he gets a little trigger-happy when a guest is trying to make a nuanced argument. Science is sometimes nuanced; sometimes you might be right, but the evidence isn’t in yet… and until the evidence is in, it isn’t science… sorry. Sometimes the evidence might contradict you, and that is tough to swallow, but you cannot sit on a high horse on climate change the one moment, and then be a disbeliever when it turns out that not all chemistry is evil. In for a penny…

The other theme that makes me cringe is when he paints every Republican with the same broad brush. He likes to talk about how he respects serious Republicans, but for some mysterious reason the ones he gets on his show are never those. It reminds me of the West Wing episode where a moderate Republican makes a point (to Josh from memory): if you don’t work with moderates, only radicals will be electable.

I’m as left-leaning as they come… but if you cannot have a respectful disagreement with someone who holds a principled view not your own without yelling at them, I can with 99% accuracy tell you who the radical in the conversation is. Hint: it’s not the person you are yelling at.

That is not what bothered me most in the most recent episode of his show though.

He had a predominantly left-wing panel, with Carly Fiorina the only Republican. She clearly was too careful for this episode. Possibly presidential ambitions have something to do with that. And I know very little about her principled beliefs, so maybe she chose her silence wisely.

One thing I wish she had jumped on more forcefully though was the purposeless sexism at the table at one stage. When presidential candidates came up, Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren were mentioned on the Democratic side, and it somehow segued into a tasteless joke about a double ticket and Bill asking Salman Rushdie “What Happens in your Fantasies?” to which he thankfully said nothing.

She somewhat timidly tried to make the point that she was the only woman around the table trying to point out the obvious, but it seemed that nobody got her hint. I have also noticed that women panelists on his show are much more prone to being talked over than their male counterparts. And political macho-culture is no excuse here, these are not weak or timid women that just allow it to happen. They just get ignored.

This is a popular show.
Predominantly about politics.
Women are in politics.
Sexism is a real problem.

And bad taste is just bad taste. It wasn’t even anywhere near a clever joke.

And then towards the end of the show when Jay Leno decided to hug him and tell Bill everyone loves him… clearly longer than Bill was comfortable with (Bad Jay! No Consent!)… he snapped back with a “Get Off me Homo”… which is not the first time he’s used a slur like that either.

I am conflicted.

I dislike the way he comports himself on a show that is otherwise an interesting exchange of frequently well-informed perspectives. I dislike that when there is so little good political debate available he makes it so hard for me to watch his show without feeling dirty afterwards. But as he says; it is his show, and he doesn’t have to listen if he doesn’t want to.

Most of the time it is no worse than other panel shows.
But when it goes wrong,…
…every once in a while…
…it makes me want to curl in on myself.

I’ll probably keep watching like an addict looking for his next hit… but I will keep a hot shower and a stiff drink on stand-by.

Day 279 – Results May Startle You

87 – 100 Tips To be a Lady

First, let me acknowledge this is a very problematic list.
The tone set by the title is very uncomfortable to start with, and the content doesn’t manage to avoid overt sexism. More on that later.

First…

The Score

Have you tried matching yourself against the list?
I did.
The Results May Startle You!

If I disregard all the questions that have gendered language making me ineligible to say yes, I still score 64%. If I simply gender-flip the gendered questions, my total goes up to 81%! I feel more elegant already; I wonder if I should go buy a black dress?

Logic

A large swathe of the questions are surprisingly easy to answer “yes” to as a man. Many of them make assumption about what the reader wants to do; if I don’t, then the statement is true for me by default. Some examples.

4. Only wear heels if you know how to walk in them.
Because I don’t wear heels, this is automatically true.

7. Never show too much leg or too much cleavage at the same time.
I never show cleavage, so this is also automatically true.

24. Your make up does not have to look natural, but make sure it looks clean.
I never wear make-up, so this is automatically true as well.

Universal

About 37 of the statements are really things everybody should be aspiring to, regardless of any other factors. I have to admit, I cannot actually tick all of them myself, but I’m working on it.

12. Remember birthdays and send thank you notes.
I wish I were better at this, but my memory is shocking. Time runs away with me, and once I catch up it is far too late to do anything about it. But what does this have to do with being a lady exactly?

55. Do not interrupt people speaking to you.
This is much harder than it sounds in theory. It’s hard to listen and not speak to begin with. And every once in a while I find myself in a conversation where I really want to say something, but there are no gaps, so the only way to get in is to crowbar in an interjection.

Sexist

I was hoping to be surprised what I would find at the other end of the link, but sadly I found enough of what I expected.

6. Enjoy the fact that you are a woman and men will enjoy it, too.
I’m not sure what this is supposed to mean.
I know what it sounds like, and it makes my skin crawl.

56. Never ask if you look fat.
90. Exercise and stay fit ! A lady isn’t overweighted.
I don’t even know what to say.
I’ll comment on the atrocious grammar, because it’s easier than saying something coherent about the sentiment.

63. Don’t use fake tears to win something.
I think… I’m going out on a limb here… but I think… most adult women do not in fact do this.
But feel free to propose a few more tips for non-existent problems that make women sound like they’re only two steps away from being spoiled 12-yr-olds.

96. Never let a man define you. Be amazing on your own!
Except, in as much as you should be following these tips to be a lady of course.

Bizarre

And then there is one more that I just couldn’t even wrap my head around.

73. Don’t eat your roll like an apple. The courteous way to dine on bread is to tear off a bite-size piece and pop it in your mouth.
If anyone has ever seen someone eat a roll in the fashion described here, please let me know. Or even better, send a picture!

Link Triage – On Sexism

Some links I had bookmarked are on the topic of sexism. I had planned to build a grand post linking it all together, but I think that is beyond my ability to pull off well enough.

My slightly less ambitious approach below is to just explain the links I collected (and some additions I found specifically for this post) and why I did.

Note that it has been a while I reviewed these links in detail. I will do my best to skim all of them and put warnings where needed before hitting “Publish”, and most of them will have been written by authors careful to put their own warnings on, but a blanket trigger warning might be appropriate here.

In Comics

It must have been a couple of years back that I first saw a post on Boing Boing on this topic. Everyone knows how female super-heroes … let’s say, do not have exactly the same kinds of outfits as the men. The standard counter-argument revolves around how unrealistic the male characters look as well… except they do not get put into over-sexualised poses at the same time.

An Equal Serving: Not so Comfortable
(via: Boing Boing)

It’s funny how images like this elicit “ow my eyes” and “make-it-go-away” style comments from guys that’d otherwise make the exact argument I reference above. Hypocrisy much?

In my efforts to try to re-find this image which I unfortunately hadn’t bookmarked, I came across another few good links on the same topic:

  • The Hawkeye Initiative (trigger warning) – which takes submissions of “fan” art that places Hawkeye in the poses of female characters; I haven’t checked the comments, and I recommend you don’t either
  • The Avengers Re-imagined – perhaps a little over-the-top (I think the artist has something for asses), but the point stands

On the flip-side of this particular coin, there is a Tumblr that specifically has images of Women Fighters in Reasonable Armor. It’s what it says on the packaging. Again, I’d recommend against reading the comments, but the images should be okay.

In Gaming

That last link above belongs in this section as much as the previous one. There is another Tumblr called Repair Her Armor that takes images of skimpily clad female characters and fixes them up. There is one specific post that digs into the dire state of female outfits in most MMORPGs though: Clothes I’m Forced to Wear in the Majority of MMORPGs.

Functional Armor

Now, let’s not get too stuck on clothing… it’s not the only problem surrounding women in gaming by a long shot, but it may well contribute to some of the other problems.

There is a series of very worthwhile videos by Feminist Frequency on YouTube that deal with the Damsel-In-Distress situation in games. It’s more dire and pervasive than you might think:

And let’s be clear, as Anita Sarkeesian herself suggests; there is nothing wrong with enjoying the games. But it’s important to acknowledge the problematic and pervasive dis-empowering stereotypes these games are commonly built upon. I hadn’t realised how common the Damsel-in-Distress is until she put loads of them back-to-back Daily-Show-style.

Then, early last year there was a story surrounding a Capcom fighting competition turned reality show (trigger warning). There is a video that shows how a female member of the team being shown gets harassed. And the story includes gems that equate the fighting game community with sexual harassment. By the coach of one of the teams. It’s stomach-curdling.

Unfortunately this isn’t unique to fighting games.

And it’s also not unique to the players alone. The story of Jennifer Hepler who got stalked and harassed on the Internet (trigger warning) for indicating in an interview that she doesn’t like playing games so much as experiencing the stories they contain. Her job? She’s one of the writers for Dragon Age. The same players that enjoyed her contributions to the story of the game ended up crucifying her over the admission that story matters more to her than play.

In Movies

Ever hear of the Bechdel Test?

It’s a very simple test that requires the following three things from a movie, and these three things alone:

  1. It must have at least two women in it
  2. They must talk to each other
  3. About something other than a man

Surely that cannot be a very difficult bar to clear for a movie? You’d be surprised. Painfully and unpleasantly surprised.

Enjoyable Movie, but Fatally Flawed in One Way

Some recent movies that fail to clear this low bar:

  • The Lone Ranger
  • Monsters University
  • Pacific Rim
  • Star Trek: Into Darkness
  • The Avengers
  • The Hobbit: An Unexpected Adventure
  • Looper
  • Cowboys & Aliens
  • The Muppets
  • Rango
  • Kick-Ass

This is by no means comprehensive, I just picked a few of the most recognisable titles for the list. And all the ones I’ve seen were very entertaining and I would see again. But that doesn’t change how troubling the systemic nature of this fundamental story flaw is. Many more movies that technically pass would fail the test if it required a whopping 60 seconds of conversation fitting the aforementioned requirements, so let’s not even go there.

In Science and Technology

This one I feel least able to be objective about, so instead of doing my own writing I will summarise the links I had bookmarked on this topic. They are all worth a read for what it’s worth.

I haven’t checked every article below in detail, so a general trigger warning applies… and again, don’t read the comments. Never a good idea on these kinds of posts.

Generally Speaking

I’m not sure why this post.

Actually, I am. Going through life as a straight white male is the lowest difficulty setting possible, and sometimes it’s good to remind myself of what a very common higher difficulty setting can look like.