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The internet is no meritocracy

with 8 comments

Meritocracy, noun, “a system in which the talented are chosen and moved ahead on the basis of their achievement.” — Merriam Websters.

The internet is not an equal playground. I thought this is obvious to all but I was wrong. Many think that as long as you’re online, you are just a line of text. And that your awesome content, eg, will rise to the top. This thinking claims that we cease to exist as men and women, white and black, African and American; we become citizens of the net. And that we can all be achievers, if we’re good enough.That’s what the Internet Founding Fathers thought back in the beginning.

But that isn’t true. There is plenty of misogyny online; POC bloggers are still left behind or shunted off to virtual reserves; and expensive bandwidth still prohibits many people all over the world from becoming active on the internet. It helps to be a white man in a white collar job who has access to fast broadband that doesn’t switch off every half an hour or so. It really does.

So please do not think the internet is the Great Big Hope. Yes, sure, we can’t see that someone is fat but when you write a fat acceptance blog or when you write a personal blog that upset people — for whatever reason — you do put your safety at risk. Even  software programmers can receive death threats.

This myth of meritocracy is so entrenched that very few are aware of it. Similar to fish swimming in water. Or the Matrix. And everyone has been born into this prison for the mind.

Racism on the internet

Blogging While Brown isn’t always fun. Whenever someone at a newspaper or an online media house makes a list of the top blogs, chances are that the list will feature very few POC bloggers. Gina McCauley, a WOC blogger,  said that

“Black bloggers link to other black bloggers, and progressive white bloggers link to other white progressive bloggers,”

There are few such studies on this subject, and David Sasaki’s blog post caused a big fuss in SA last year. But it’s true that white bloggers have mostly white blogging friends to whom they link. Either that or they just tend to read blogs that other white people write. There’s no branching out to read voices other than theirs, with experiences that differ to theirs. These apologists will claim that they read the best of what the web has to offer, regardless of who the author is. And they’ll probably also use the all-too-familiar catchphrase to ensure that we know they aren’t racist — “My best friend is black, ya know?”.

Sexism and the internet

Women are slut-shamed for the tiniest thing. Many comment threads — on blogs and on forums — start off  civil but  descend into chaos. Few of the tops users of any social community are women. Why? Could it perhaps be that men still have greater access to technology and that they still have more free time than women do? Women still do most of the household work and this means they have little time left for themselves, never mind editing Wikipedia.  But, I forget — “There are no women on the internet.” And the few women who are on the internet — who aren’t men with boobs, or boys — tend to get demotivated when they constantly observe how male-centric, ie,  old boys club,  the intertubes is.

And yes, social conditioning is also at play here. How often do young girls not feel that they aren’t qualified to speak or write about a topic? I see it in myself, too. I’d far rather edit a Wikipedia article than post a new one. Unless it is client related, of course. And most of the time I would only correct the grammar, not the facts. So perhaps it is based on personality and on gender. Not sex. Gender constructs shape our world and we all have to dance along; gender is a performance. And the perfect version of female gender — as per 1950s magazines and books — is unfortunately passive, coy, intellectually dull, and sexless.

Internet economics

Bandwidth isn’t cheap in most developing countries, some websites are considering limiting content to developing countries, and sometimes that interesting video you want to watch isn’t available or can not be viewed in your region. Other sites that restrict access based on geographics are Hulu, Pandora and Spotify. Techcrunch did a great article on how to get around these restrictions; however, the people who read Techcrunch are still an elite minority.

Lo-fi sites and broadband access

Computers are as big an indicator of economic success: not everyone can afford a Mac; fewer still can afford or be bothered to get proper software.

So yes, our hypothetical internet user has a 3G-enabled cellphone on which to use the internet. But the screen is tiny and the keyboard is as tiny; 2 things that might deter them from commenting on blogs or writing their own blog to promote their brand. Yes, they benefit by being on the internet already but very many things deter their full enjoyment of what the internet can offer: Flash websites, web browser compatibility, censorship, broadband cost.

Mobile web browsers are far more advanced than they had been 2 years ago. But they’re still getting a couple of things wrong. And the general public does not know that these browsers exist. Especially not with companies building  ‘lo’ versions of their sites. These versions are supposed to bring the internet to the masses. Um, OK.  How will that happen when the masses can only access a ‘lo’ version of a news site?

Internet reception is one of the biggest factors that limit uptake. South Africans get different signals, depending on where they are. The signal could change from 3G to EDGE by just moving the cellphone around a bit. That messes with the user experience and could lead to frustration aka ‘watching paint dry’. A few European countries — France, Switzerland, and Finland — have either declared internet access a ‘human right’ or have declared it a ‘legal right’. Other countries that have short-term and long-term broadband speed plans are Japan, South Korea, Sweden, Denmark and Taiwan. And the UK government has a 245-page pdf available on their Digital Britain initiative, which aims to introduce a universal 2 Megabit/s line internet access by 2012. And the Federal Communications Commission — US-based — released a 168-page report on how to get all American citizens wired up, and by when.

I’m not even going to contrast this to South Africa — with promises of broadband for the masses; however, there are a few private initiatives that wants the South African government to adopt a broadband strategy.

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Written by Joy-Mari Cloete

October 29th, 2009 at 2:28 pm

Now they’re using breasts to market to women?

with 10 comments

Um, yeah, I’m not lying.

It’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month yet again and everything’s awash with pink. Eew. Listen, I heart pink but too much of a pink thing is not as awesome as it may appear at first.

Innoxa ad

I’ve been seeing these pictures all over the place for months. And I’ve been fuming. But I never did anything about it. Until today. Today I’ve reached my tipping point — I saw the ad in two different women’s magazines: Fairlady and Marie Claire.  So I wrote to Innoxa. They have a contact form on their website; however, you can also write to them at care@incolabs.co.za as well as P.O. Box 71535, Bryanston,  2021 or, if you’re in the area, go say ‘Hi’ — 3 Muswell Road South Bryanston. This is what I sent to them:

I’m offended by your ‘You’ll want to show it off campaign’. You’re reducing women’s breasts to something that they should expose — literally! — to others. And the ‘others’ are probably cis men, though I could be wrong. I don’t know who came up with this campaign but it’s a slap in the face of any woman who has had, or who is struggling with breast cancer right now. I saw the ad in Marie Claire as well as in Fairlady and you advertised your wares with the obligatory pink ribbon for Breast cancer awareness month. Even when you don’t tie the product in with breast cancer awareness, it is still just another ad that relies on breasts.

Please reconsider using this campaign.

I should’ve added something like this:

Isn’t there’s an element of cruelty whenever a fundraising campaign uses mostly sexualized images of healthy breasts to “sell” breast cancer as a cause?

They try to justify their campaign in the press release. I don’t buy it. So what if a female creative team created this ad? That doesn’t make it less offensive. Their justification for using breasts falls flat on its face, too:

Just as you show a beautiful face when selling face cream – we felt it necessary to show off the part of the body that our product targets.

So would it be OK to show genitalia in ads that promote the specific products  associated with them? Why is it OK to show breasts in advertising? Are we not already inundated with too much nudity? Especially in ‘art’. Walk into any exhibition and you’ll probably see a naked woman. Because women’s bodies are beautiful. Funny, that. I find men’s bodies as beautiful but you rarely see a naked man in advertising.

Sex doesn’t sell; women’s naked bodies do.

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Written by Joy-Mari Cloete

October 28th, 2009 at 12:37 pm

Women: the patriarchy needs YOUR support!

with 7 comments

Men aren’t the only ones involved in the patriarchy; women, too, are involved. Women need to be involved in patriarchy, otherwise the power structure will collapse.

The system needs women to demean other women for being ‘slutty’, ‘easy’, or a ‘bitch’. The system needs women to believe they are ‘less than’ men on so many levels. The system needs women to demand they be given sole custodianship of their children after a divorce. The system needs women to demand they be given half their spouse’s assets after a divorce. The system needs women to demand goods in exchange for sex. The system needs women to pretend it doesn’t exist. The system needs women to objectify themselves to ‘boost the team’s morale’, or for ‘good times’.The system needs women to claim that sexist, racist, ableist, or classist jokes do not offend them. The system needs women to be very, very afraid of those humourless feminists with their massive vaginas and unshaven pussies. The system needs women to be afraid of being called a ‘lesbo’ or ‘dyke’. The system needs women to be obsessed with make-up, hair care, shiny objects, and above all, shoes. The system needs women to believe they’re incomplete without children. The system needs women to believe that all they need – all they really want! – is a nice juicy cock.

The system needs women to revere femininity. The system needs women to appreciate, and seek out, masculinity in a man. The system needs women to be highly sexualised playthings of men, whether they be young or old, rich or poor. The system needs women to believe that rape is their fucking fault for being so fucking sexy, bitch! The system needs women to believe that sexual harassment is a compliment. The system needs women to believe they’re so much better than those disgusting menz or that they’re dirty, dirty, dirty. The system needs women to accept glittery jewellery after an argument with their spouse. The system needs women to believe they deserve an abusive spouse. The system needs women to blame themselves for failing. The system needs women to think of themselves as individuals only sometimes; nearly always as part of a homogenous group. The system needs women to believe. The system needs women to believe in its god, God or gods of choice. The system needs women to believe that they are the Second Sex. The system needs women to believe that they are mysterious creatures. The system needs women to believe that they are fragile and in need of looking after. The system needs non-black women to believe that black men are brutes and white men are their saviours. The system needs women to believe that they can’t travel alone. The system needs women to believe that housework is part of a woman’s job description. The system needs women to indulge men. The system needs women to excuse men’s bad behaviour with boys will be boys and oy, the menz are a st00pid bunch, eh?

The system needs women to be happy wearing bikinis, high heels, and make-up. The system needs women to be content with unstimulating careers. The system needs women to enjoy being passive, coy and ‘nice’. The system needs women to dislike sex and to be asexual. The system needs women to be a whore in bed, a lady in the street and a chef in the kitchen . The system needs women to aspire to one day be a MILF or a cougar. The system needs women to downplay their intelligence. The system needs women to submit to their husband, their father land and to their God. The system needs women to breed strong babies who can die while performing nationalism and democracy in Iraq. The system needs women to sacrifice their goals, feelings, ambitions, time, love, bodies, and self-esteem in order that the system can survive. The system needs women to rely on men for money, love, shelter, food, children, approval, jobs, dignity, intimacy, entertainment, education, health, and to fight their battles for them. The system needs women as a scapegoat. The system needs women to berate men for not performing chivalry. The system needs women to be good little consumers. The system needs women to stay at home, barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. The system needs women to diet. The system needs women to read fluffy magazines that teach them nothing about nothing. The system needs women to shut the fuck up, ho!

The system needs women to apologise for having ideas, for having feelings, for having period cramps, for being a woman, for not being a man, for being short, for being fat, for being too intelligent, for beating a guy at chess, for wanting link juice for her blog, for wanting a relationship, for only wanting SEX, for complaining at all, for killing their children, for holding their own in a debate, for living in their own flat, for not wearing high heels, for wearing ‘hooker heels’, for reading illicit romances, for reading feminist tracts, for eating too much,for eating too little, for being sad, for being bi-polar, for being sluts, for being nuns, for outperforming men in the workplace, for being the cause of the downfall of the menz in general, for not being on the internet, for not fucking potential rapists/serial killers and therefore sending tipping over the edge, ie, they go on a shooting/raping fest, for being all over the internet, for scouting for misogyny, for not caring enough, for being a humourless-man-hating-Birkenstock-wearing-Gloria Steinem-reading-kinky haired-fat-black lesbian, for being poor, for being wealthy, for living in the Southern Hemisphere, for drinking wine on Sundays, for being unfeminine, for having an unattractive body, for believing in the wrong god/God, for not believing in any god/God, for having abortions, for having 8 babies all at once, for having curly hair, for having kroes hair, for having flat feet, for having thick ankles, for having cellulite, for having stretch marks, for having the audacity to demand change, for having the gall to refuse a white man a seat, for being a bad mother, for not being there when she was supposed to be there because her child had the nerve to fall ill yet again!, for spending too much on that ill-begotten credit card that she only took out because the nice man said she deserves to spoil herself every now and again, for dreaming about a comfortable life once in a while, for daring to think she deserves an education, for being cheeky enough to tell the teacher their calculations are wrong,”here’s my calculation”, for being herself, for not being good enough.

The system needs women to believe they don’t belong on the internet. The system needs women, women like you and me, to not do anything about other women’s oppression. The system needs women to believe they shouldn’t worry their pretty little heads about politics, economics, power disparities, gender equality, big companies creating havoc, corruption, or the darn lawnmower that’s being difficult. The system needs women to support their man in more feminine fashion, ie, fundraising when he’s running for office; prancing around in high heels to boost his flagging libido; bake cookies for the children so that he can watch television in peace after a long day’s struggle at the office; and to not ever refuse him sex. The system needs women to hate their curly hair. The system needs women to hate their straight hair. The system needs women to hate their kinky hair. The system needs women to want bigger breasts. The system needs women to want smaller breasts. The system needs women to want designer vaginas. The system needs women to believe that feminism in this day and age is pathetic.

Written by Joy-Mari Cloete

October 22nd, 2009 at 11:10 am

Does my anger offend you?

with 2 comments

On 5 April I posted

It’s good to be angry. Anger get shit done.

Shalil responded that yes, anger does help to get things done. Let’s name a few angry people: Martin Luther King (both of ‘em), Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, Germaine Greer, Nelson Mandela., Mary Shelley Wollstonecraft, Harriet Beecher Stowe.

I doubt that all [WOC] activists are social butterflies. These women are often three things that the patriarchy detests: young, female, and black. They aren’t afraid to speak up about the issues that affect their communities and this is something that most members of the patriarchy just isn’t used to.

We’re used to women being docile, servile and quiet. And WOC especially so. So when they aren’t as castrated as we would prefer them to be, we get scared. We’re scared that these WOC will overthrow everything we had worked for. We’re scared to confront the possibility that we might be racist, sexist and homophobic.

And we aren’t, are we? We are good people. We look after our spouses’ parents . We pay our taxes and we attend church services. So no, we are neither racist nor sexist.

We’re also afraid that WOC will attack us. We imagine their anger is directed at us and our shortcomings, not at the patriarchy and its shortcomings. We’re afraid of offending; many things offend POC  and we’re afraid others will think we’re  ignorant.

And yet we do not realise that WOC are not angry at individuals; WOC are angry at the system that allows the privileged few to control the majority. So speak your mind and when we call bullshit, know that we are not saying “Fuck you”; we are saying “Fuck the system”.

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Written by Joy-Mari Cloete

June 1st, 2009 at 11:54 am

Dear Jaywalkers

with one comment

Dear Jaywalkers,

Stay out of the fucking road. And please stay as far away from my scooter as you can. It is not funny when I have to yell at you. I get upset and it ruins my morning. But crashing into you could kill us both.

All I want is a bit of respect. All I want is that you respect yourself and use a pedestrian crossing. Or at least look to the left, then to the right, and then to the left again before you cross a road. Especially when there are cars, cyclists, scooter drivers and people on fucking superbikes. Those superbikes are far worse than my little Vuka Scuta.

So yeah. Let’s be friends and stay the fuck away from me.

Yours sincerely,

Joy-Mari Cloete

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Written by Joy-Mari Cloete

May 22nd, 2009 at 12:29 pm

Things that upset me

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Someone who sprays deodorant near me.

Someone who bumps into me. And doesn’t apologise.

Someone uses hateful and ableist language. The p-word, the s-word, the c-word, all of ‘em.

People who block my exiting an elevator.

Someone who says “Myself and Carl

People who use managerese.

Randoms who tell me to smile or ask me why I look angry. I won’t smile for you, arsehole.

Friends who cancel a meeting — at the last minute.

Someone who asks me whether I am crazy. I normally say “Yes, I am”.

Sms-speak in correspondence. Yes, even in sms messages.

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Written by Joy-Mari Cloete

April 30th, 2009 at 12:29 pm

Would overtipping waiters prevent bad service?

with 11 comments

If you follow me on Twitter — @joycloete — you’ll know that customer service is something I tweet about often. It could be because I used to be in some sort of customer service job for more than 6 years. Or it could be because of that R10 000 chip on my shoulder. I have been in search of that perfect shot of espresso or — if I can find it — ristretto since the beginning of last year.

So I go everywhere: restaurants, coffee shops, hotels. And I sit down, hoping to get good bean juice. And sometimes I’ll get it, too. Good bean juice. But what I get most often is indifference from the waiter. And that’s on a good day. A bad day could mean not getting a ‘Hi’; it could mean getting a table tucked away from the rest of the diners; it could even mean being called ‘dear’.

True, these aren’t all signs of racism. But when all of them apply to a single dining experience you start to wonder “is it cause I’m coloured?”. And then you wonder whether it would help to enlighten the waiter or the manager. It’s often the small things you notice: not getting as much attention as the rest of the diners; a frown on the waiter’s forehead when you order or ask for anything; and not being offered bread or given a menu.

I’m a single POC woman, which means I dine alone. Mostly. I could spout many statistics to show that waiters and retailers do not care much for my group. Come on, we eat alone, which means the bill won’t be high. We’ll probably sit there for more than an hour reading the newspaper or posting updates to Twitter. And — stereotype alert — we’re not great tippers (this is true for most of us, btw). We’re difficult, too: we’re angry coloured women.

So I’ve been trying to dispel this stereotype. I’m not overly pleasant but I’m possibly one of the better customers your brand can have — I know what I want and I’m not afraid to ask for it. Mediocre service gets 5% – 10% –  if that much — and a love letter about why I had given that little. I know how waiters moan when they get pathetic tips; I used to be one. Good service gets 15% – 20% and excellent service gets anything from 25% – 40%, depending on the size of the bill. On a few occasions I have even tipped the waiter more than 100% on a small bill.

Now, see, 25% – 40% is waaaaay above the average. Hell, most waiters would be happy with a 15% tip. But I somehow got it into me that tipping more than the average would get me better service. Wrong. It doesn’t. Whoever told you that is a fool. Or the person who told you that is white and has probably never had to deal with stealth racism.

POC should really up the amount they tip for good service. Come now, people. There’s no need to go overboard. Just tip decently so that we can get rid of these stereotypes. And then we can finally enjoy an espresso at the fancy restaurant and not  demand to see the manager.

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Written by Joy-Mari Cloete

January 7th, 2009 at 9:47 am

Why R50 off vouchers mean nothing

with 4 comments

Two things prompted me to use the Carlucci’s voucher:

  1. I had a less-than-stellar Friday evening. I thought that I’ll be attending a symphony concert at the City Hall on 21 November; however, when I got there I realised the concert took place the previous evening. And yes, the ticket has been paid for.
  2. It’s the weekend before payday, which means I need to find as many free things as possible. This includes all my yearly memberships: Aquarium, South African Gallery, Iziko Museums. And it might be a good idea to get that free facial or make-over at Edgars Red Square.

I also wanted to see whether I’m one of the lucky people to have Google SearchWiki added to my account. So I got hold of my laptop and went to the Carlucci’s Wine website after checking all my vitals. I bought Wine Magazine on Tuesday partly because of the R50 Carlucci’s Wine voucher. I figured it’ll be good to get some vino for the weekend: I only have a bottle of MCC in the fridge.

So I browse through the site and settle on a R49.50 bottle of L’Avenir Chardonnay 2006. It’s not that I’m cheap; this is my broke weekend — it’s the weekend that I can’t afford to shop at Woolworths.

I add the bottle to my shopping cart and am bemused at the error message:You cannot continue the checkout procedure. Please select a minimum of 12 bottles and click “Update Cart”

Um, is this normal for wine websites? To have a minimum order of 12 bottles? Nowhere on their site do they mention the minimum order. The R50 off voucher makes much of their free delivery nationwide but doesn’t warn about the minimum order.

I then checked with GetWine, which is another online wine retailer. Same story: minimum order of 12 bottles. Of the same wine. Isn’t this blasphemous? To force us to get 11 bottles more than what we want? I’m a fan of online shopping, hell, I used to work at Inthebag back in the day. And even wif all their problems, they’re still a reliable option.

Online shopping can only mature if the website and the company makes it as easy as possible for everyone to shop. Not just the techno-savvy Ted.com and 27Dinner geeks. And it shouldn’t be limited to the upper middle class, either. I consider myself middle class but there’s no way I’ll pay for 12 bottles of wine when I only want one.

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Written by Joy-Mari Cloete

November 22nd, 2008 at 11:18 am