Monday, January 17, 2011

Adventures in Stupid Speakers

Last week, a friend of mine attended a computer science talk and was faced with the ever-ubiquitous Gratuitous Pr0n* Reference (GPR).  It made me want to FEMINIST HULK smash something to hear of yet another incident of GPR.

I am not a fan of P..n, to say the least.  I find it highly offensive and degrading to women (and to men, as well).  The reasons I believe this are long and complicated, but suffice it to say that this is based upon long hours of thinking, and studying of feminist theory, as well as my own ideas about social justice.  So when I encounter some jerk bringing a GPR into his talk, it makes me angry.  But it also makes me feel small and self-conscious, because I am often only one of a few or even the only woman in the room.  It reminds everyone that in our society, women are there for the pleasure of men, and makes them more conscious of the fact that I am a woman.

But even if you disagree with my assessment of P..n, there are a myriad of other reasons why incorporating a GPR into your talk is inappropriate.  Here are a few:

  • As the number of people in the audience grows, you are likely speaking to more and more survivors of sexual assault.  Survivors of sexual assault are often triggered by GPRs.  Why risk triggering someone's post-traumatic stress disorder for a cheap laugh?  There are plenty of other ways to get your point across.**
  • The best comedians are the ones who talk about humorous situations and use clever wordplay instead of degrading other people.  P..n jokes generally boil down to a joke about exploiting other people, which is not a funny topic.***
  • P..n is a controversial topic.  Since the topic of your presentation is computer science, why mention something that is such a hot button for so many people?  There are plenty of controversial views that I hold, such as my disbelief in a deity, but since I want my audience to learn about my topic and enjoy it as much as I do, I don't make jokes about stupid Christians or whatever.  (Not only for that reason, but also because I don't think Christians are generally stupid -- they're just mistaken about a particular topic -- and I respect believers as fellow human beings so I find jokes insulting others' intelligence disdainful.)
I've often been accused of being "oversensitive."  The problem here is not that I (or my friend) am oversensitive -- it's that others are not sensitive enough.  It would be nice if we could just go to work and be scientists instead of having to endure all this crap.

* This word altered to protect my blog from purveyors of said items.
** If you can't think of alternatives, you are seriously lacking in imagination and I feel quite sorry for you.
*** It is the same reason that jokes about minorities, the disabled, and other marginalized people are not funny.  But somehow, when it's about p..n, this no longer applies in many people's minds.


Jenny F. Scientist, PhD said...

Wow. JERKS!!!!! What? Why why why??? I'd be angry too. I congratulate your restraint in not offering physical violence to them. Or throwing rotten tomatoes.

rachel said...

See, now I'm really curious what was said.

And while I absolutely agree that references to porn have no place in a professional environment, I do question your first principle that if one is a feminist, one can't possibly like porn.

Obviously, there's porn, and there's porn. It's not all created equal, and without question most of it has been exploitative throughout history. I'm sure patriarchal values have something to do with it, but I also suspect that when sexuality (and a normal expression of sexuality, namely that we primates like watching other primates go at it) is demonized, there's nothing else it CAN be but shameful and exploitative. No?

Rebecca said...

Jenny, I have not been subjected to too many of these talks, luckily. The next time I hear that shit, I plan to stand up and very conspicuously walk out. I think if I ever hosted a speaker who did that, I would completely lose my shit and fly into a mad rage.

Rachel, I don't believe I said that if one is a feminist one cannot like porn. What I said was that I am more convinced by the feminist arguments against porn than the (feminist) arguments for it.

Generally, when these d00ds bring up the topic, it's not in some egalitarian way, either. I've mentioned before the canonical image used in testing image processing algorithms -- it's from Playboy, hardly the bastion of egalitarianism. And I don't know what the guy who did this said, but a lot of times in a talk it's something like Girls Gone Wild, a soft-core porn franchise that even sex-positive Greta Christina finds abhorrent.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I think the next time this happens, I will just have you write a guest post on my blog---much better said than I ever could. Thanks!

As I think I mentioned in the original post, it was pretty tame, think GGW/Playboy end of the continuum---I've (sadly and unforuntately) heard much worse before. And. It was so *completely* and *obviously* unrelated to the talk---it was clear that the speaker intended for it to be there and for what intentions he wanted it there. That was equally frustrating to me. Jenny, if I had had some tomatoes handy I think they may have flown towards the stage. :)

Rebecca said...

Amy, thanks! In a way that "soft-core" reference is worse than the really "hard-core" stuff, because you face more people saying you're just being oversensitive.