Category Archives: Gender Stereotypes

Saudi Cleric: Driving Harms Women’s Ovaries, Pelvis

In Saudi Arabia, women are banned from driving and according, to news reports, thousands have signed a declaration urging women to drive in protect on October 26.

Sheikh Saleh bin Saad al-Lohaidan, a judicial adviser to an association of Gulf psychologists, recently told a Saudi website that “If a woman drives a car, not out of pure necessity, that could have negative physiological impacts as functional and physiological medical studies show that it automatically affects the ovaries and pushes the pelvis upwards. That is why we find those who regularly drive have children with clinical problems of varying degrees.”

It seems he might be confused about the definition of “drive,” and “medical study,” but regardless, the sheikh’s comments point to a major point of tension in Saudi Arabia today: Women aren’t allowed to drive, and many of them desperately want to.

It seems like a bizarre limitation: Unlike in Afghanistan under the Taliban, for example, Saudi women aren’t prohibited from getting educated or even working. And women are allowed to drive in other, conservative Islamic societies such as Iran.

So of all things, why can’t Saudi women drive?

The Kingdom has long adhered to a particularly strict brand of Sunni Islam known as Wahhabism, which insists on segregation of the sexes and the veiling of women. In 1990, Saudi women began demanding social reforms, including the right to drive, but instead the religious police cracked down harder, formalizing a driving ban that had previously been unofficial.

“The incident catalyzed a moral campaign meant to reinforce the feminine ideal of a pious secluded wife and mother,” Jaime Kucinskas, who teaches a course on religion and society at Indiana University, told me in an email. “The state-funded media released a television program showing little girls singing how they were women and did not drive cars.”

Today, not only are the country’s women prohibited from chauffeuring themselves around, they’re also discouraged from traveling alone or using public transportation. Driver’s licenses are issued only to men.

Women’s-rights groups have staged several small demonstrations to push for driving rights in recent years, but they’ve so far made little headway. The newest campaign calls for women to drive on October 26 in protest, but the Saudi government shut down the campaign’s website.

More broadly, there is strong resistance to Saudi women participating in public life, including working jobs that would put them in contact with men. At least 34 percent of Saudi women who say they want to work are unemployed, a rate that’s just 7 percent for the country’s job-seeking men.

This is in spite of the country’s opening dozens of new colleges in the past decade and providing scholarships for thousands of Saudi women to travel overseas to study.

Once these women return home, they face a severely restrictive environment. In many families, women are not able to leave home without a male guardian or to mingle casually with the opposite sex.

Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah promoted some reforms in the country in 2009, appointing a female deputy minister and opening a mixed-sex university. However, the country’s clerics decried his actions as too progressive.

Sheikh Salman al-Duwaysh said women had “abandoned their basic duties such as housekeeping, bringing up children … and replaced this by beautifying themselves and wantonness,” to name just one example uncovered by Wikileaks.

Some women-only businesses that don’t involve direct customer contact have since been created, and in a first, the Kingdom licensed its first four female lawyers yesterday. Still, it’s rare to see women working in public, and many stores and restaurants are divided by sex.

Women are expected to have the consent of their guardian (a husband usually, or otherwise a father or close male relative) for virtually every activity—including work, school, and travel.

Driving is a direct extension of this type of religion-based segregation. As one Saudi man explained to a Christian Science Monitor reporter, “What would happen if a woman got in a car accident? Then she would be forced to deal with the male driver of the other car, a stranger, with no oversight.”

“The ideal of feminine piety is associated with home, the need for protection and subsequent seclusion,” Kucinskas said. “Driving symbolizes the opposite: freedom in the public sphere.”

Furthermore, even some women endorse the ban as a way of differentiating the Kingdom from more liberal nations and possibly even of staving off Western influence. According to a 2007 Gallup poll, only 66 percent of Saudi women and 55 percent of Saudi men said women should be allowed to drive a car by themselves, far fewer than the numbers who said women should be able to work outside the home (82 and 75 percent, respectively). As the Washington Post reported in 2006:

Faiza al-Obaidi, a biology professor, says she thinks the attempts at Western-style female emancipation are part of a religious war being waged by the United States, “an intellectual rather than physical colonization.” Sitting at the food court at the Basateen Mall in the coastal city of Jiddah one weekend, lifting her veil to take bites from a tuna sandwich, she said the West was targeting women, the core of society, as a means of eventually controlling the whole country. “They fear Islam, and we are the world’s foremost Islamic nation,” she said.”

In response to the pro-driving campaigners, one woman even started a counter-movement called “My Guardian Knows What’s Best for Me,” as the New York Times reported:

Within two months, they had collected more than 5,400 signatures on a petition “rejecting the ignorant requests of those inciting liberty” and demanding “punishments for those who call for equality between men and women, mingling between men and women in mixed environments, and other unacceptable behaviors.”

Part of the reason the ban has proven so hard to overturn is that it’s so deeply rooted in not only religion but in the country’s uniqueness.

“The public separation of men and women is a particular element of Saudi national identity,” Kucinskas said, “and is seen by Saudis as a trademark of why their particular society is superior to both Western countries and other predominantly Muslim nations.”


British Politician Calls Female Activists “Sluts”

Controversial Ukip politician Godfrey Bloom is at the centre of another row after hitting a journalist round the head with a brochure and joking that a room debating women in politics was “full of sluts”

Godfrey Bloom

Ukip’s Godfrey Bloom sparks row after ‘joke’ branding women ‘sluts’

Matthew Holehouse


Godfrey Bloom, a Yorkshireman who has enjoyed the limelight generated by a string of forthright outbursts, directed the comment at a former Ukip candidate at a conference fringe event hosted to underline the importance of women to the Euro-sceptic party.

He has had the whip withdrawn, pending an investigation.

Mr Farage, who hours earlier had told members party members of his determination to win the 2014 European elections by turning the vote into an early referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU, said Bloom had been “selfish” and had overshadowed “all the good things” that the conference had achieved.

“There is no media coverage of this conference. It’s gone, it’s dead, it’s all about Godfrey hitting a journalist and using an unpleasant four-letter word,” Mr Farage said.

“The trouble with Godfrey is that, he is not a racist, he’s not an extremist or any of those things and he’s not even anti-women, but he has a sort of rather old fashioned Territorial Army sense of humour which does not translate very well in modern Britain.

“We can’t have any one individual, however fun or flamboyant or entertaining or amusing they are, destroying Ukip’s national conference and that is what he’s done today,” Mr Farage told members. “I’m sad about that but we can’t tolerate this.”

The announcement was met with gasps and applause from delegates.

The incident, which was witnessed by Mr Farage’s wife, Kirsten, occurred after Mr Bloom was challenged at a women’s fringe event by Jane Collins, a former by-election candidate, who told him: “I have never cleaned behind my fridge”.

Mr Bloom replied: “This place is full of sluts.”

Challenged about the incident afterwards, Mr Bloom said: “We all had a jolly good laugh. Everybody in the room thought it was funny.”

Mr Bloom was then asked why, of the 300 faces on the front of the Ukip conference brochure, all are white.

Mr Bloom said the question, posed by Channel 4’s Michael Crick, was “racist” and struck Mr Crick on the head with the brochure. “You’re picking people out for the colour of their skin! You disgust me! Get out of my way!” he said before hailing a cab. Footage of the incident was shortly appearing on rolling news channels.

He later told Allegra Stratton, the BBC Newsnight reporter, the term refers to an untidy person, adding: “Did your mother never call you a slut?”

Annabelle Fuller, a Ukip press aide, tried to defend the comment, saying: “I think people don’t understand the difference between “slut” and “slag”. Do you know what the word “slut” means?”

It is the latest in a series of risqué remarks by Mr Bloom, a former fund manager and Territorial Army soldier who serves as MEP for Yorkshire and Humber.

On being appointed to the European Parliament’s women’s rights committee in 2004, he told reporters: “I am here to represent Yorkshire women who always have dinner on the table when you get home. I am going to promote men’s rights.”

He has described some of Ukip’s female members as “s— hot” and claimed his wife is jealous of Gigi Ferrari, his French secretary.

He has admitted visiting brothels in Hong Kong, adding that most prostitutes enjoy their work. On one occasion he reportedly had to be assisted from the chamber of the European Parliament after apparently making a speech after drinking excessively.

Last month he was criticised after saying Britain should stop providing aid to “Bongo Bongo Land” because its recipients spend the money on sports cars and designer sunglasses.

Yet Mr Bloom’s colleagues said they were “shocked and surprised” by Mr Bloom’s behaviour on the day of Mr Farage’s keynote speech.

“He is an intelligent man. But he gets drunk on his own rhetoric. He thinks he is funnier than he is and he plays to the gallery,” a source said.

The row came hours after Mr Farage’s keynote speech, in which he urged the party to attract “normal, decent” people who inhabit the political centre ground.

Mr Farage warned party activists that their rivals would fight a “rough, tough game” and would seize on offensive comments made by candidates.

He later said Ukip could win seats at Westminster and hold the balance of power after the next general election.

The conference included addresses on energy policy, the economy and foreign affairs included appearances from Digby Jones, the former head of the CBI, Mark Littlewood, the head of the Institute for Economic Affairs, and Michael Nazir-Ali, the former Bishop of Rochester.

Mr Farage is trying to find a balance between encouraging candidates to speak their minds, which he believes voters find attractive, while presenting an increasingly professional face.

Mr Farage had earlier told the conference that he had “blistering rows” with Mr Bloom, but Ukip’s success depended on championing free speech and rejecting “political correctness”. Voters are repelled by “cardboard cut-out politicians” in Westminster, Mr Farage said, but a string of racist outbursts by candidates on social media had created “difficulties”.

“The essence of our recent success is our ability to push the boundaries of debate,” he said.

“It would be tragic if we lost our rough edge – it is part of who we are,” said a Ukip source. “However, we have to recognise that we live in a modern, inclusive society and we could help mould the future of that society. We have to recognise certain ways of thinking and speaking have changed.”

Mr Farage’s bid to modernise the party has found support among members. One motion presented to conference today calls on the leadership to curtail their expenses claims in order to protect the party’s image.

Delegates have also proposed updating the party emblem, removing the pound symbol to reflect the fact it is no longer a single-issue group.

Separately, a man has been charged with three counts of common assault after allegedly striking three partygoers at a ball hosted by Young Independence, Ukip’s youth wing.


PAX Comments Expose Rape Culture In Game Industry

Mike Krahulik pictured at PAX Prime 2013 (William Pio/Flickr)

Mike Krahulik pictured at PAX Prime 2013 (William Pio/Flickr)

Will Federman

When conference doors closed to the ninth annual PAX convention in Seattle, the discussion on gender inequality and rape culture swung wide open after inflammatory remarks were made by one of the show’s co-founders.

PAX (short for Penny Arcade eXpo) is the brainchild of Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik, co-founders of the incredibly successful online comic strip, Penny Arcade. The enormously popular convention is now the largest venue of its kind in North America for an industry that generates over $20 billion a year. The Seattle event has spawned three other similar conventions as Holkins and Krahulik have built up their web-based empire.

The Seattle-based event began life as an alternative to E3 and other corporate venues, but has quickly grown into a commercial enterprise that annually draws crowds of over 70,000.

At a Q&A panel over Labor Day weekend, a male-dominated crowd applauded when Kraulik admitted that he regretted pulling merchandise designed to incense readers offended by anonline comic strip joking about rape.

Krahulik’s outburst is just a few months removed from the infamous rape joke at Microsoft’s E3 press conference. Women are now mobilizing against an industry that they see as activelypromoting misogyny at best and condoning rape culture at worst.

Christine Love, an award-winning game developer and beloved industry personality, attended PAX last weekend to promote her latest work, Hate Plus, at the Indie MEGABOOTH. Initially overjoyed to attend the gaming convention, she soured the moment Krahulik resurrected a three-year-old controversy centered on his ill-fated attempt to monetize off readers’ disgust with the incendiary comic strip.

In an open letter to Jerry Holkins, Love stated her discomfort with not only the fact that Krahulik’s comments were incredibly insensitive, but also “when they said those things on a public stage, an entire auditorium full of men cheered loudly.”

“Like, literally an entire giant auditorium of men got excited at the idea of making rape survivors feel uncomfortable,” Love wrote on her site for Love Conquers All Games.

Love’s open letter was joined by a chorus of other professionals who voiced similar concerns about the poisonous environment at PAX.

Wired’s Rachel Edidin vowed to no longer attend the event.

Krahulik has developed a history of insensitive comments, most recently culminating in awidely disseminated Twitter spat that critics cited as transphobic. The cartoonist’s impetuous behavior became so toxic that The Fullbright Company pulled its highly-anticipated game,Gone Home, out of PAX entirely – months before Krahulik’s latest outburst.

Co-founder Steve Gaynor wrote back in June that, “We believe that agreeing to pay the organizers of PAX over $1,000 for booth space, and to present our game on their showfloor for four days, provides explicit support for and tacit approval of their publicly demonstrated positions on these subjects.”

When asked about the decision to pull the video game Gone Home from PAX in light of Krahulik’s latest comments, Gaynor told Neon Tommy via email that “… if anything it reinforces our position.”

“We didn’t pull out of PAX because of an isolated incident,” Gaynor responded, “but because there was a well established pattern that clearly wasn’t going to change.”

Gone Home has been met with widespread critical acclaim since its launch last month. Gaynor acknowledges that “there haven’t been negative consequences for [The Fullbright Company]” and “we don’t regret our decision.”

The Fullbright Company, however, was the beneficiary of incredible press after the four-person team made its stand against PAX. Love does not have the same luxury; the Canadian-based developer relies on events like PAX for media exposure, despite the hostile atmosphere.

It is a source of contention that 24-year-old Lauren Lewis, an Interactive Media and Games MFA major in the USC School of Cinematic Arts, recognizes is a distinct reality for women in the industry.

“Particularly for indie developers, showing at PAX can make or break their chance of success, both critical and financial. Though it may seem like hyperbole, I do believe that for some developers the choice whether to show at PAX can come down to the choice between standing up for your convictions and putting food on the table.”

Lewis told Neon Tommy, “I have never attended PAX and I will never attend PAX, specifically because of issues I have with its owners,” but that decision carries real consequences.

“Deciding never to attend PAX is a decision I fully expect to have professional repercussions,” she added.

By mid-week, industry chatter reached a boiling point and the outcry over Krahulik’s behavior pointed to a larger issue of an industry beset with an image problem.

Krahulik did not respond to requests from Neon Tommy for comment.

In an email to Neon Tommy, Lewis recalled a job offer sheet in which a “fellow professional … patronizingly warned me to be careful not to ‘distract’ their all-male workplace.”

Her story is not an isolated incident for female professionals, especially in an industry where leaders like Krahulik are able to flourish.

Dimitri Williams is an associate professor at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, one who has published compelling research on online video game communities and gender stereotypes. Despite the ever growing presence of women in the industry, Williams said that the fact is the video game industry is still struggling with a very male-oriented perspective.

“The game industry has made big strides in bringing more women into positions of consequence, but it’s still heavily male,” said Williams via email, “Creatives make products that they enjoy, so males make games for males, and they often forget the female perspective. The result on the business side is missed opportunity, which many lately are catching on to – witness phenomena like Candy Crush or Farmville. The result on the social side ranges from ignorance to misogyny.”

For his part, Krahulik finally addressed the growing furor with a tepid public apology on Thursday. Critics of Krahulik’s behavior largely dismissed his remorse as empty.

“I think it’s a good apology,” Love said. “And frankly, given that he writes sincere-sounding apologies every month, I’d sure hope he’s good at it by now. I’m sure next month’s sincere-sounding apology will sound good, too.”

Love contends the issue at hand is a lack of accountability. “The problem is, he keeps apologizing, but then does nothing to indicate he’s actually learned anything.”

It’s a sentiment that Lewis echoes in her own critique of Krahulik’s apology.

“He doesn’t take a lot of personal responsibility,” Lewis replied, “He plays the victim, and he places the decision to make the strip, escalate the conflict from the strip, and the only decision made to attempt to ameliorate the harm caused by the strip, as morally equivalent. This is absurd on its face.”

Gaynor, co-founder of The Fullbright Company, had a far stronger rebuke of Krahulik’s statement: “I’ve read his last couple apologies, so I skipped this one. We haven’t shown at PAX in the past, and aren’t planning to do so in the future.”

As Love moves past the incident, the acclaimed writer said reactions to her open letter have “been mostly positive,” although Love disclosed that she has received her “first rape threat as a result of posting it.”

Neither Holkins nor Krahulik have contacted her.

Despite such animosity, for the first time, Love feels understood. “I’ve heard from people that they now understand why I feel uncomfortable at PAX when they didn’t understand before,” Love remarked, “which I’m really happy about.”

Love is hopeful that the more people are aware of how marginalized women are within the industry, the more people are apt to change and the less socially acceptable Krahulik’s comments will become. It’s an attitude that Lewis is still somewhat skeptical about.

“Even if the industry is starting to acknowledge the problem, it’s incredibly far from being solved,” wrote Lewis via email.

Williams acknowledges the struggle women face even as there are “more female voices joining the conversation via blogs and social media.” The astute researcher doesn’t reject the obvious:

“They have an uphill climb.”

Yet, Williams is optimistic. He can also see a future in which men in the video game industry will have to be accountable to the women in their personal lives.

“Having said that,” Williams declared, “the game industry is largely populated by very good people, and unlike the earliest days, their leaders are also husbands with wives and fathers of daughters, not just some young guys in a dorm.”