A Softer World xkcd parody

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Re: A Softer World xkcd parody

Postby athelas » Fri Aug 15, 2008 7:03 pm UTC

All controversy aside, the paradox is easy to resolve.

1. Among nerds and xkcders, acts of intellectual prowess are admired.

2. These acts are highly g-loaded; that is, IQ is highly correlated with said prowess.

3. But women have a lower variance in IQ, and thus are underrepresented among both the brilliant and the idiotic.

4. Thus, it is objectively more surprising when girls perform acts described in (1)

5. Throw romantic attraction into the mix, and (assuming, as is evident, that males are more likely to be nerds) the effect is magnified.

That said, I didn't find the comic that funny. It seemed more bitter than witty, and could have been more concise. But ASW does tend to be more bitter and witty than xkcd in general.

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Re: A Softer World xkcd parody

Postby athelas » Fri Aug 15, 2008 7:05 pm UTC

athelas wrote:All controversy aside, the paradox is easy to resolve.

1. Among nerds and xkcders, acts of intellectual prowess are admired.

2. These acts are highly g-loaded; that is, IQ is highly correlated with said prowess.

3. But women have a lower variance in IQ, and thus are underrepresented among both the brilliant and the idiotic.

4. Thus, it is objectively more surprising when girls perform acts described in (1)

5. Throw romantic attraction into the mix, and (assuming, as is evident, that males are more likely to be nerds) the effect is magnified.

(In fact, even if we ignore the IQ distribution, the observation that there are more male than female nerds leads to (5) by itself, though less strongly)

That said, I didn't find the comic that funny. It seemed more bitter than witty, and could have been more concise. But ASW does tend to be more bitter and witty than xkcd in general.

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Re: A Softer World xkcd parody

Postby Quixotess » Sat Aug 16, 2008 5:02 am UTC

Is it a bit cooler in here now? Maybe? Okay.

Meaux_Pas wrote:
Quixotess wrote:But saying "He's a guy, how is he supposed to see women in any other context than sexual?" which appears to be y'all's assertion, is not true, and actually goes far beyond the comic's failings.

*facepalm* that's actually not what we're saying at all.

Okay. Replace "see" with "depict" and "sexual" with "romantic." I picked up from the argumentation here that because Randall is a straight dude, it is only natural that most women depicted in his comic strip would be portrayed in a romantic context. Would you agree with this assertion?

1. When you read a book about a man, and he has a love interest that is female, or a female supporting character, does that make it a sexist book? No? Well that's what you've just done here.

No, it isn't. I'm pointing out a pattern, which is that in xkcd characters tend to default to male, and women tend to be brought in when a romantic context is called for.

And I find your use of the term 'receptacle' kind of offensive. She's a supporting character.

Characters are active. These women might as well have been furniture for all the effect they had on the strip, except maybe for 260. I stand by what I said. It's exactly like Droceiomimus.

289 is a woman doing neat mathy things in a way that earns her male approval.

No, it's about finding someone who understands you, from a male mathy nerd point of view.

The comic contains both of these things. That it shows a guy finding someone who understands him does not negate that it shows a woman who does neat mathy things in a way that earns her male approval. Extrapolate as necessary for some of your other points.

The comic is mostly featuring men because a man writes it.

Error: The conclusion does not follow from the premise.

Good writers write what they know.

In how many of the comics in the first category I provided, the one where the comics had only men, would the content have had to be changed in the slightest if it featured women? Most of them are about just a random, one-off act of geekery. Not character-based humor.

Women are shown in the context most often of romance or sex, because that's one of the things XKCD is about- ROMANCE.

The comic is also about math and language and science. Why are women not more often shown in those contexts as well? Again, much of xkcd isn't character-based humor and any hat or hairstyle would suffice for the characters in most of the comics.

Female geekery is often shown as something that male geeks idolize, because they do. That's not something Randy did, that's the state of the world.

Female geekery is also important in other ways, yet it is rarely shown in those other ways.

Even if it's for some reason natural for a male geek to show it mostly in this context, there's no point in denying that it does, or that by doing so it contributes to a larger societal pattern of perceiving women's accomplishments, qualities, and character as most important in the ways that they affect men.

The parody was pointing that out, and it did a damn good job of it. But I think you're reading a lot into all of these comics that just was not intended to be there.

Intentions, besides being impossible to determine, are worthless for determining anything other than how sexist Randall Munroe is. And I'm not critiquing Randall Munroe. I'm critiquing xkcd. Regardless of his intentions, the comics still contain the characteristics I have pointed out and are open to criticism for it. I'll say here again that I really, really like xkcd and believe that it is one of the most woman-positive comics out there. I just don't see any point in ignoring the problems that I see with it.

A crowd of stick figures in which one of three has long hair is not really sexist, it's just background.

Leaving aside the questionability of the phrase "not really sexist," repeatedly being presented with the opportunity to portray either men or women and choosing to portray only or mostly men does contribute to a larger societal perception of men as "normal" and women as "other." Can it be justified in several individual instances? Yes, of course. No use denying that it contributes to the perception, though.

If I were to go stand in my kitchen right now, I'd be the one with boobs and long hair standing there while Nougat and his other male friends play Magic: The Gathering. Does that make my kitchen a male-dominated society? Not really, it just means that me and the other chick in the house don't really play Magic.

Come now. Real life is real life. It isn't designed. It isn't created. Every aspect of xkcd is under the creative control of one person, and every time he draws a character he chooses what to portray. I wouldn't go up to a happy, financially independent U.S. prostitute with access to health care, contraceptives, and supportive law enforcement, and tell her that she isn't happy or that she doesn't exist. Like, duh. But I would criticize a work that portrayed US prostitutes as generally being in such a situation, because said situation is atypical and such a portrayal whitewashes the institution.
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Re: A Softer World xkcd parody

Postby GhostWolfe » Sat Aug 16, 2008 5:23 am UTC

Quixotess wrote:Every aspect of xkcd is under the creative control of one person, and every time he draws a character he chooses what to portray.
The idea that Randall should feel compelled that every time he draws a comic, to ensure that there is an equal number of women as there are men, or that if am man is standing there with his SO, she damn well better have some lines to say is absurd.

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Re: A Softer World xkcd parody

Postby (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻ » Sat Aug 16, 2008 5:25 am UTC

Well, on that note, I'm just going to slam my head into my desk a few times now.
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Re: A Softer World xkcd parody

Postby Malice » Sat Aug 16, 2008 5:30 am UTC

GhostWolfe wrote:
Quixotess wrote:Every aspect of xkcd is under the creative control of one person, and every time he draws a character he chooses what to portray.
The idea that Randall should feel compelled that every time he draws a comic, to ensure that there is an equal number of women as there are men, or that if am man is standing there with his SO, she damn well better have some lines to say is absurd.

/angell


Equally absurd is the idea that we should just ignore the fact that Randall doesn't do that. There's a difference between pointing out the male gaze and demanding the artist correct it. The latter is wrong; the former is, arguably, our duty.
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Re: A Softer World xkcd parody

Postby (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻ » Sat Aug 16, 2008 5:38 am UTC

Does that not negate the whole idea of art? who the fuck are we to tell an artist what to do?

You don't like the art, make your own.
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Re: A Softer World xkcd parody

Postby Shro » Sat Aug 16, 2008 5:50 am UTC

Speaking as a painfully geeky girl, the treatment of females in xkcd has been pretty awesome. After ages and ages of media portraying females as being attractive only if they fit a certain mold, and not particularly that intelligent, xkcd treats females with intelligence as something to be desired. Not objectified. Desired. Wanted. Jonesed after (Can I use jonesed in that tense?). This is kind of the point. For me, knowing that someone, somewhere pens a wildy popular comic where females of intelligence and geekery are treated as on the level with guys is amazing and not sexist at all. I consider it encouraging really. I never became a geeky girl by virtue of trying to get guys to like me or be attracted to me, but knowing that they're out there and they like the person that I am anyway, the person I don't have to try and be, the person I just am, naturally, is refreshing.

Does it bother me sometimes that there aren't more girls? Nah, not really. This comic tries to stay true to the times, and if that means that most of the kids in the computer lab are guys, well, that's pretty accurate. Sad, but accurate.
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Re: A Softer World xkcd parody

Postby Jesse » Sat Aug 16, 2008 7:09 am UTC

Meaux_Pas wrote:Does that not negate the whole idea of art? who the fuck are we to tell an artist what to do?

You don't like the art, make your own.

Malice wrote:Equally absurd is the idea that we should just ignore the fact that Randall doesn't do that. There's a difference between pointing out the male gaze and demanding the artist correct it. The latter is wrong; the former is, arguably, our duty.


Ergo, Meaux, they are saying that this exists, not that Randall needs to change it; not even saying they don't enjoy the comic because of it.

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Re: A Softer World xkcd parody

Postby Quixotess » Sat Aug 16, 2008 7:17 am UTC

Malice wrote:
GhostWolfe wrote:
Quixotess wrote:Every aspect of xkcd is under the creative control of one person, and every time he draws a character he chooses what to portray.
The idea that Randall should feel compelled that every time he draws a comic, to ensure that there is an equal number of women as there are men, or that if am man is standing there with his SO, she damn well better have some lines to say is absurd.

/angell


Equally absurd is the idea that we should just ignore the fact that Randall doesn't do that. There's a difference between pointing out the male gaze and demanding the artist correct it. The latter is wrong; the former is, arguably, our duty.

*vigorous nodding*

Meaux_Pas wrote:Does that not negate the whole idea of art? who the fuck are we to tell an artist what to do?

You don't like the art, make your own.

Whose head is banging on the desk again?
Quixotess in my very last post what you just said was intellectually dishonest wrote:I'll say here again that I really, really like xkcd and believe that it is one of the most woman-positive comics out there.

So I like the comic and enjoy the comic. But it does some problematic shit. Now, I understand that there is a time and a place, and people have used the "if-I-went-to-the-movies-with-Ebert-and-all-he-did-was-criticize-the-direction" argument on me before. But when the thread concerns xkcd and its treatment of women, then some discussion on that point is only to be expected (like, duh) and some of that discussion is going to include criticism. Shutting down criticisms of the comic, as you do above, is counterproductive at best. I'm no Ebert, but you wouldn't tell him to just go make his own movies. I hope.

Additionally, there has been no "telling an artist what to do." Randy isn't here. We're not discussing Randy. We're discussing xkcd. I'm saying, "xkcd has a problem." Why is that so difficult to hear, and how does it imply "I don't like xkcd" or "Randall Munroe must change xkcd"? It's about acknowledging the problem so it doesn't affect us as much.

argyl3 wrote:Does it bother me sometimes that there aren't more girls? Nah, not really.

That's fine. "I am not bothered by this problem" is a reasonable assertion, though it bears little relation to "there is no problem."

argyl3 wrote:xkcd treats females with intelligence as something to be desired. Not objectified.

Well, the word "something" as used to refer to women is somewhat ironic in this context, but nevermind. Yeah, objectification is bad. Portraying (aspects of) women as valuable insofar as they are desirable to men is also sort of a problem even in an individual case where it might be relevant because it plays into a larger pattern of same.
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Re: A Softer World xkcd parody

Postby Malice » Sat Aug 16, 2008 9:20 am UTC

argyl3 wrote:Speaking as a painfully geeky girl, the treatment of females in xkcd has been pretty awesome. After ages and ages of media portraying females as being attractive only if they fit a certain mold, and not particularly that intelligent, xkcd treats females with intelligence as something to be desired. Not objectified. Desired. Wanted. Jonesed after (Can I use jonesed in that tense?). This is kind of the point. For me, knowing that someone, somewhere pens a wildy popular comic where females of intelligence and geekery are treated as on the level with guys is amazing and not sexist at all.


Bolded is the key point. It's true that XKCD represents a non-majority point of view, ie., that intelligence in women is actually a very attractive characteristic. It is, at least, an improvement. However, I feel that the comic's point of view is, for all that, as rigid, objectifying, and sexist as the mainstream idea of what constitutes attractiveness in a female. It's admirable to prize intelligence in women; but only, I stress, because it is admirable to prize intelligence in anyone. But more often than not, this is as one-sided in the comic as it is in real life--albeit the opposite side. Men in the comic aren't generally lauded for their brilliance or geeky obsessions; in fact, they're generally portrayed as a neurotic bunch, humorously fixated on the minutiae of technology, life, and popular and internet culture. They're portrayed as immature (constant "your mom" jokes, for instance) people trapped in their meaningless day to day lives, longing impotently for freedom and excitement.

(It's self-deprecating, yes, but it's still there.)

Said freedom and excitement, then, is usually personified as the geek girl, who shares the man's interests in small matters while exposing the connections between such patterns and the wider, adult world of love, sex, nature, God, and fantasy. She can be seen (if you want to get all literary, and I do!) as a kind of guiding influence bringing the male to maturity (even if it's a maturity defined differently from the mainstream view). The problem, then, is that this male perspective tends to fetishize this personage, to objectify her as an answer to his life, as the Holy Grail, as a dream, as... well, anything but a person in her own right.

What appears to have happened is, in attempting to subvert the male gaze, Randall has only succeeded in reversing it, putting strong females as the end-all, be-all of enlightenment for obsessive, neurotic, antisocial, impotent, juvenile males.

So the problem, then, is that we still have a double-standard, except that it has been switched around. And a double-standard does a disservice to both sides.
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Re: A Softer World xkcd parody

Postby Shro » Mon Aug 18, 2008 1:25 am UTC

This personifying women happens in media ALL THE TIME. I think the antithesis of this is best explained in Eternal Sunshine:
"Too many guys think I'm a concept, or I complete them, or I'm gonna make them alive. But I'm just a fucked-up girl who's lookin' for my own peace of mind; don't assign me yours."

I don't think females are portrayed as the end-all be-all of enlightenment in the comic. They share the same traits as the males, and the meetings between them are more of a meeting of kindred spirits than feeling like the girl is going to change the guy's life.
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Re: A Softer World xkcd parody

Postby Hackfleischkannibale » Mon Aug 18, 2008 9:12 pm UTC

Malice wrote:What appears to have happened is, in attempting to subvert the male gaze, Randall has only succeeded in reversing it, putting strong females as the end-all, be-all of enlightenment for obsessive, neurotic, antisocial, impotent, juvenile males.

While I find most of your post pretty impressive and you make a lot of good points, I guess the first part of this argumentation (in attempting to...) never happened.

Do you guys&gals really think there are complex motives behind depicting girls/boys like this or that? I'd guess it's just an easy pattern to getting or completing ideas.

Disclaimer: I do not want to discourage criticism of the comic. Easy patterns are probably still unhelpful (or not, whatever. I'm not much of an art critic).
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Re: A Softer World xkcd parody

Postby Princess Marzipan » Mon Aug 18, 2008 9:45 pm UTC

I'm relatively certain the comic is for entertainment purposes only and that there is no grand scheme to shift the heteronormative paradigm in either direction.
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Re: A Softer World xkcd parody

Postby (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻ » Mon Aug 18, 2008 9:57 pm UTC

Nougatrocity wrote:I'm relatively certain the comic is for entertainment purposes only and that there is no grand scheme to shift the heteronormative paradigm in either direction.


You're a boy whose every accessory is Hello Kitty related. You don't even exist in this universe.
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Re: A Softer World xkcd parody

Postby Okita » Mon Aug 18, 2008 10:29 pm UTC

Meaux_Pas wrote:
Nougatrocity wrote:I'm relatively certain the comic is for entertainment purposes only and that there is no grand scheme to shift the heteronormative paradigm in either direction.


You're a boy whose every accessory is Hello Kitty related. You don't even exist in this universe.


Besides, I suspect the whole argument is that even though there's no intent behind the comic to shift the heteronormative paradigm, it's all actually subconscious based upon a combination of subliminal and social patterns that result in the continuation of those same social and subliminal patterns which culminates on the continued oppression of women to varying degrees depending on your point of view.

Hmm... that gives me an idea. The hello-kitty grenade. It explodes into millions of hello kitty accessories, thus eliminating the male from existence.
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Re: A Softer World xkcd parody

Postby H.E.L.e.N. » Mon Aug 18, 2008 10:33 pm UTC

Nougatrocity wrote:I'm relatively certain the comic is for entertainment purposes only and that there is no grand scheme to shift the heteronormative paradigm in either direction.


from these blag comments:

# xkcd Says:
April 10th, 2008 at 9:26 am

> Most XKCDs are from a male perspective (a heteronormative one, at that), not necessarily because you set out to do so, but because that’s who you are.

I’m emphasizing the creation of characters here because when I start talking about gender, it hits too close to home and I have trouble being funny.

But a bigger problem is that xkcd is so minimal that everything I put in there has a point. Sometimes I cringe a little when I make a pair of characters male/female, but I can’t think of a way to do anything else without grabbing the reader’s attention away from the punchline and ruining the joke — and the joke is tantamount. There’s so little context in the strip that people make huge assumptions based on small cues, and I’ve never been able to find a way to introduce gayness as a background to the strip without making it a focus. And then I run into the problem that I largely have trouble making the jokes themselves about gay issues without getting preachy, or without worrying too much about what readers from different backgrounds will understand what I’m talking about. There’s a big overlap between a lot of areas of nerd culture, but the xkcd readership will be coming from wildly different areas when it comes to gender and sexuality. This makes it hard to transition over to talking about gay stuff, because I have to talk to so many different viewpoints that it’s hard to get the familiarity needed for a joke to work — hence, it ends up being ineffective and merely preachy. This has been one of my biggest frustrations with xkcd — that it has ended up as hetero-focused as it is.


That stuck in my memory, because I super-appreciate the thought/effort.

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Re: A Softer World xkcd parody

Postby Random832 » Mon Aug 18, 2008 10:46 pm UTC

http://xkcd.com/17/ was the first strip in which a couple was depicted as one stick figure with short/no hair and one stick figure with long hair.

(incidentally) http://xkcd.com/19/ stick figure with hair, specific male celebrity.

http://xkcd.com/24/ another couple with no-hair/hair

http://xkcd.com/38/ was the first strip in which a bald stick figure was explicitly identified as male.

http://xkcd.com/44/ another couple

http://xkcd.com/48/ and another - at this point it's become a theme that a "stick-normative couple" consists of one person with hair and one person without.

http://xkcd.com/49/ another bald stick figure - not identified as male, but either male or a lesbian.

http://xkcd.com/57/ another (ex-)couple, the bald figure clearly identifies as a heterosexual or bisexual male (the person he cheated on the other figure with is female and they were able to have a child). It is therefore strongly likely that the haired figure shown is female.

http://xkcd.com/58/ another couple

http://xkcd.com/59/ first explicit on-screen identification of a stick-figure with hair as female.

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Re: A Softer World xkcd parody

Postby Princess Marzipan » Tue Aug 19, 2008 2:41 am UTC

helen wrote:
blag quote

That stuck in my memory, because I super-appreciate the thought/effort.


Seems I'm wrong. (Keyword "relatively" certain. =P )
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Re: A Softer World xkcd parody

Postby Will » Tue Aug 19, 2008 4:23 pm UTC

Quixotess wrote:
Meaux_Pas wrote:
Quixotess wrote:But saying "He's a guy, how is he supposed to see women in any other context than sexual?" which appears to be y'all's assertion, is not true, and actually goes far beyond the comic's failings.

*facepalm* that's actually not what we're saying at all.

Okay. Replace "see" with "depict" and "sexual" with "romantic." I picked up from the argumentation here that because Randall is a straight dude, it is only natural that most women depicted in his comic strip would be portrayed in a romantic context. Would you agree with this assertion?


No. This was not even remotely my point. In no way are we asserting that (straight) men are *only* capable of thinking of women in a sexual/romantic context. It is, however, one facet of how we interact with women, and it's significant because that facet is not present when dealing with men.

Also, I notice you've conveniently ignored the l33t saga, which not only stars a girl, but whose only significant male characters are real-world figures. Or How it Works.
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Re: A Softer World xkcd parody

Postby Princess Marzipan » Tue Aug 19, 2008 7:38 pm UTC

Will wrote:Also, I notice you've conveniently ignored the l33t saga, which not only stars a girl, but whose only significant male characters are real-world figures. Or How it Works.


She did mention the girl from the l337 saga, at least originally. As an aside.
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Re: A Softer World xkcd parody

Postby notmyopinion » Sat Sep 06, 2008 3:51 am UTC

Malice wrote:
GhostWolfe wrote:
Quixotess wrote:Every aspect of xkcd is under the creative control of one person, and every time he draws a character he chooses what to portray.
The idea that Randall should feel compelled that every time he draws a comic, to ensure that there is an equal number of women as there are men, or that if am man is standing there with his SO, she damn well better have some lines to say is absurd.

/angell

Equally absurd is the idea that we should just ignore the fact that Randall doesn't do that. There's a difference between pointing out the male gaze and demanding the artist correct it. The latter is wrong; the former is, arguably, our duty.

Sure we can point it out if he doesn't, for example, draw as many men as women. But that doesn't mean that the inferences we draw from such an observation are necessarily valid.

A preponderence of men could be a consequence of the balance in the geek world and the effect that balance has on the author. Even less problematically (from the perspective of whether the comic, as opposed to life, is sexist), it could be a realistic depiction of the geek world. Imbalance of emphasis need not imply sexism either in the comic as a work, or in the author's act of depiction - even if there is sexism in the world being depicted.

Moreover, to suggest that depictions ought to be equitable in some sense, or to assert that this should be an interpretive priority in a comic is to ignore the realities of the medium. It's a comic. As Randall said, the joke is paramount. If it's not funny, it's not working. Sometimes there is no space in a few panels of stick figures for a nuanced view of the politics of multiple genders and orientations.

Nor can you ignore the audience: while it might be nice and all to leaven all that heterosexuality with alternate forms of coupledom (or even poly-wotsitry) - for most readers, you'd simply be losing the "romantic" overtones of the scenario being depicted - in a way that you mightn't with a less heterosexual audience. You would have a cartoon that would be "read" very differently. You can argue that writing for an audience taints you with their presuppositions - but I'm not sure it does.

Besides, he does critique unequal perceptions of women. Consider http://xkcd.com/385/ - "you suck at maths / girls suck at maths". I know that hardly proves his universal non-sexism - but it's relevant.


Quixotess wrote:
A crowd of stick figures in which one of three has long hair is not really sexist, it's just background.

Leaving aside the questionability of the phrase "not really sexist," repeatedly being presented with the opportunity to portray either men or women and choosing to portray only or mostly men does contribute to a larger societal perception of men as "normal" and women as "other." Can it be justified in several individual instances? Yes, of course. No use denying that it contributes to the perception, though.

Thing is, in the geek culture you can argue that the 'perception of men as "normal" and women as "other" ' is in fact the reality. Maybe it would be less loaded to say women geeks are the exception? On this basis, should we be surprised to see more men portrayed? Is the sexism (if it exists at all) in XKCD, in geek society, or in the women who chose not to enter this society?


Quixotess wrote:
argyl3 wrote:xkcd treats females with intelligence as something to be desired. Not objectified.

Well, the word "something" as used to refer to women is somewhat ironic in this context, but nevermind. Yeah, objectification is bad. Portraying (aspects of) women as valuable insofar as they are desirable to men is also sort of a problem even in an individual case where it might be relevant because it plays into a larger pattern of same.

Well see, I don't think this is what's happening here.

There is a world of difference between saying that something is valuable because this guy finds it desirable, and saying it is valued by the individual being depicted because he finds it desirable.

One is an absolute value judgement.

The other is a comment on the values of the man.

You may say the cartoon bears unwitting testimony to the former - but that's an inference which needs to be justified, rather than assumed.


Clearly male geeks often find intelligence desirable in potential partners. But that doesn't mean that this is the only reason they value intelligence - either in the abstract, or in the potential partner. The female's intelligence may be valuable in itself as something cool, and for what it enables her to do, and for the possibilities of a common bond or interest, and as an evolutionary or genetically desirable trait, and because she herself values it. Or any combination. Or for other reasons. So why would that be sexist?

Nor does it mean this is the only reason the male geek would value the potential partner. Attraction is a little more complex than that.

A story: A Naval officer I knew exclaimed, "I've found a girl I like - and she Burps!" He didn't value her because of her burping. He valued her because he valued her. The rare, shared interest in eructation was just the icing on the cake. So, often, with geeks and intelligence.


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