Hipster Misogyny

I was having a little chit-chat last weekend on teh twitterz (the same conversation wherein I was introduced to the epic awesomeness that is Fuck Yeah Disingenuous Liberal) in which somehow or another I ended up being reminded of the fact that throughout my life, some of the most macho, sexist, patronizing, gender-binarist, insecure men I ever knew were poets, artists and hipsters.

Thinking about that, and looking back on all of it I was exposed to (with no small amount of guilt at recognition that I’d participated in a good deal of hipster sexism myself), I found myself getting increasingly angry. I’m not entirely sure why… I guess perhaps because of how limited our conceptions of the danger of these concepts and attitudes can be. It seems like we’re so eager to rest sexism at the feet of “them”- the republicans, the religious, the frat boys, the sciences- that we end up allowing it to thrive relatively unabated in those corners of our culture that maintain an adequate veneer of “enlightened” principles. Like liberals, artists, poets, musicians, the humanities, writers, anarchists, marxists, and so on. And kids who shop at Urban Outfitters.

Certainly a lot of those areas have levels of internal debate on matters of gender, or other issues pertinent to identity and social justice, but on the outside, collectively, we sort of shrug them off as “not the problem” and not “the sexists”. Trouble is, as I’ve said a squizillion times, there really isn’t any such thing as “sexists”, “transphobes”, “racists”, etc. There are only actions, statements and beliefs that are sexist, transphobic, racist, etc. And we’re all susceptible to them.

Likewise, sexism is not a social problem that can be located, isolated, quarantined and then eliminated. It is an emergent system of attitudes about sex and gender that derives its power from the bottom up, from all corners of our culture. And it is enacted in the poetry reading every bit as much as it is enacted in the halls of parliament (and lord is it ever enacted in the poetry reading… I will die a happy woman if I never hear another statement about “female poetics” being “rooted in the body”).

Skepticism has of late finally begun the process of confronting the issue of sexism in STEM fields. But being scientifically tilted as we are, we’ve somewhat neglected looking at how similar processes play out in the humanities. For one thing, the student population in the humanities is generally primarily female. This leads us to the (correct) conclusion that more women enter the humanities than STEM, but what it can distract from is that academic positions in the humanities are still disproportionately controlled by men (especially true the higher up the chain you go- department chairs, deans, etc.), and that processes of subconscious bias and stereotype threat and harassment and all the other issues do run through those disciplines and enact their costs all the same. Shitty as it may be to be a woman entering mathematics, it is also shitty to be a woman attempting to be taken seriously in philosophy, literary theory, visual art, and the rest. I’ve got many lovely stories from friends having men steal and take credit for their work and theories, students being coerced into sexual relationships with professors, rampant sexual harassment in classrooms, sexist and essentializing theories about “female nature” tossed casually around as factual certainties during lectures on female poets, and many many more.

The important thing about recognizing how sexism emerges in these kinds of situations just as it does in STEM is that sexism isn’t somehow emergent from STEM being a more “objective” or “rationalist” field, or being more about “male” ways of thinking. Even in the most stereotypically “feminine”, “sensitive”, “creative” and “emotional” academic disciplines, sexism emerges. The point being: trying to explain sexism by looking to sexist and essentialist dichotomies won’t get us very far. We need to look at the actual cognitive processes, social processes, power dynamics and cultural attitudes in play. You know, real world things rather than make-believe “maleness” and “femaleness”. And that grouping that world into “sexist” fields or groups or whatever and “not sexist” ones doesn’t quite work. No one is exempt from those processes. Thinking anyone or anything is somehow inherently not sexist, or even just inherently less sexist, is dangerous and allows for the cognitive distortions that allow it.

Examining the issue of sexism in the entirety of the humanities and arts is NOT something I can do in a single post. That is something it takes a whole sub-movement to accomplish. But the issue of nobody being exempt and the illusion of non-sexist “types” of people brings me around to what I really want to look at in this post, being what I’ll tentatively call “Hipster Misogyny”.

Hipster Misogyny is connected strongly to Hipster Racism. What is hipster racism? I can’t believe you don’t know! You’re dumb as an overheated negro! LOLZ! That was ironic. See, like, I’m so obviously not racist (I mean, how can I be? I have a ODB tattoo and totally love James Brown, Brenda Holloway and Mos Def! And I, like, totally have read Langston Hughes, bell hooks and Angela Davis ), and so obviously I didn’t really mean it. See I’m not making fun of black people, I’m making fun of racism. Who even says “negro” anymore? It’s old-timey, so it’s funny. I mean, c’mon, you must be really retarded to not realize all that! What? Retarded isn’t able-ist, yeesh! God, I’m totally not against retards. I’m just making fun of the fact that making fun of retards is funny. Wow, you’re lame. I’m going to go listen to Bad Brains to show how non-racist I am. What, you’re mad that they’re violent homophobes?! Yeah, but I enjoy their raging hatred of gay men ironically. Obviously I’m cool with gay people. I mean, I totally love The Scissor Sisters and I read Savage Love every week. And I kissed a dude once at a party when I was drunk, and I even go to gay bars like, all the time. And remember how much I love Langston Hughes? And yeah, I’m down with trannies, too. I’ve seen two whole seasons of Ru Paul’s Drag Race, and I own that album by Antony & The Johnsons!  And I love Joy Division’s cover of “Sister Ray”. Wait, you’re mad that I said “trannies”? But I’m reclaiming it, just like Ru Paul does. *eyeroll*

That is hipster racism. I mean, it’s more than that, and so is hipster misogyny, but that’s a good place to start. Basically the supposition is that because you’re not “a racist”, not one of the bad guys, that you’ve divorced from yourself and shirked responsibility onto (in this magical world racism is something bad only done by the racists, who are bad people who live off in scary red states, and vote republican… the rest of us are “not racists”), you are therefore exempt from racism. The pseudo-logic goes like this: Racism is bad things done by racists who totally hate different races, and I don’t hate different races, therefore I’m not a racist, therefore whatever I do isn’t racism. Presto! It’s “ironic” or “reclaiming” or “making fun of racism”, and anyone who can’t tell that, and are accusing me of racism, must obviously be wrong or hyper-sensitive or something, because as logic totally proves, I’m not a racist and don’t hate any races, therefore nothing I do can be racist.

You find the same sort of thing happening all the time in regards to sexism and misogyny. Amongst hipsters, indie rockers, punks, metalheads, etc. you’ll hear all kinds of “ironic” horrendously sexist shit (“bitches be crazy”, “stop being such a pussy bitch”, “haha Cheryl is such a cunt”, “what are you, on your period or something?”, “how about I shut you up by shoving my dick in your mouth”, “make me a sandwich LOL”, “man, Ellen Page is hot! I would totally rape her in a bathroom!”, “Ann Coulter looks like a fucking tranny”) or see all kinds of horrendously sexist behaviour, (“hold my jacket while I mosh”, blatant sexual harassment, sexual objectification of any and all female musicians or artists or members of a scene, evaluating them all on the basis of appearance first, implying that women can’t possibly do certain things right like audio engineering or DJing a party, sexual assault and date rape, talking over and interrupting women, repeating a woman’s idea and taking credit for it, talking down to women, gender segregating conversational spaces, paying lip service to feminism while only actively supporting ideologies that allow them to get away with not directly confronting any actual issues of gender, allowing the “leaders” of a scene or movement to be completely dominated by men without noticing or questioning it, etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc.)

And if you really want to see how incredibly deep this goes? Read any indie-zine’s review of Joanna Newsom, ever. Her music is always described as “fey”, “precious”, “wild”, “ethereal”, “otherworldly”, “fairy-tale”, “intuitive”, “child-like” and 133 other code-words for “female” or “feminine”. The intellectual intricacy, maturity and careful composition behind it is NEVER acknowledged, instead imagining it emerged as supernatural “inspiration” which she picked up by using her women’s intuition to tune her uterus into a magical antenna. Then, of course, credit for all the “fine-tuning” and production and engineering and structuring of her wild female energies, and actually bottling her strange, ethereal magic to be fit for consumption goes to her male collaborators and partners, like Jim O’Rourke, Devendra Banhart, Bill Callahan, Andy Samberg, etc. And the reviews will always find time to speculate about her as some kind of fae-folk pixie wild woman from the ramshackle house of dreams.

Honestly, I have never, ever, EVER encountered sexism and gender-essentialism as thick and blissfully hapless as what I’ve found in reviews of female musicians by sophomoric male would-be Lester Bangses.

… but the men involved “aren’t sexists”. They’re cool. They’re totally down with feminism. That stuff about Newsom? That because they “respect her as a female artist”. And when they say things like wanting to rape Ellen Page, they mean it “ironically”. They’re “making fun of sexism”. They can do, say, believe or think all the sexist shit they want, because as long as they’re not “them”, “the sexists” (who vote republican and stuff), they’re exempt from criticism. And if you do criticize them? Well that’s because you’re hypersensitive, or sex-negative, or have no sense of humour, or don’t understand nuance, or are just being a drama queen, or a petty bitch, or you’re on your period, or you have some kind of personal issue, or you’re trying to co-opt the conversation, or you’re disrespecting cultural differences, or you just don’t “get” the issue or what someone meant and what’s really going on, or it’s “art” and you’re trying to “censor” it, or you’re being too politically didactic / too politically correct, or there’s a worse problem somewhere else which makes this complaint irrelevant, or “first world problems!”, or blah blah blah. Because if sexism is only done by sexists, who explicitly think men and women shouldn’t be equal, and I don’t explicitly think that, then I’m not a sexist, so I can’t be being sexist, so therefore whatever stupid cunt is saying I’m being sexist MUST be wrong. QED, bitch!

This is further complicated by the superficial lip-service paid to feminism. One of the definitive features of “hipster” culture is the appropriation of various de-toothed versions of minority cultural artifacts and styles. Some black culture here, a bit of gay culture there. A dash of trans and genderfuck (little mustache tattoo on your index finger). A sprinkle of addiction (“junkie” style skinny jeans). Garnish with some working class (cheap cans of beer) and rural Americana (t-shirt with Johnny Cash giving the finger). All the outward semblance of marginalization and outcast identities, the superficial approximation of cultural identities born in oppression and the need to survive, but all without the actual threat to status quo, without the anger or depth, without the actual meaning, without the underlying critique of our culture itself (rather than just a lethargic critique of some abstracted “mainstream culture”).

Meanwhile they themselves are operating as the advance, front-line shock-troops in gentrification processes and the assimilation of challenging identities and cultural rebellion into “safe” marketable, consumable versions for the privileged (like your “Queer Eye For The Straight Guy” version of gay men).

Feminism is not exempt from this process of picking the superficial pieces of legitimate cultural critique and assembling a safe “outsider” costume from it. You’ll have people adopt the pose of feminism, the ability to drop the right names, know the right terms, know how to talk the talk… but without walking the walk, without actually engaging in the reading and intellectual heavy lifting, without committing to the ongoing lifetime’s worth of questioning and thinking and rethinking and examining your biases and working against them and perpetually always being willing to shut the fuck up and listen, learn. Not at all dissimilar from the skeptics and atheists who correctly figure out the basics (there’s no God or Bigfoot and homeopathy doesn’t do anything), then declare themselves “rational” and “skeptics” and don’t bother going beyond that, or challenging any of the beliefs they find most comfortable, or developing the skills to question their biases and assumptions, or recognize their own cognitive distortions. A hipster misogynist can read one or two feminist texts, buy a pin, declare themselves feminist, and then excuse themselves from ever again having to accept the fact that they might be influenced by prejudicial attitudes and assumptions about gender.

In this collage of de-toothed cultural critique, self-congratulatory poses of social awareness, “ironic” whatever, “reclamation”, faux-solidarity, appropriation, “not giving a fuck what other people think” and mock-up “marginalization”, something truly terrifying is born. A human being who has given hirself permission to do, say or think whatever they want, on any basis, regardless of thought, consequences or external perceptions, and have an excuse or rationalization (or two or three) for every possible criticism. A situation where critical inquiry into one’s views or actions is rendered unimportant and unnecessary, and able to be completely turned off at a whim. No thought needed, because the conclusion has already been reached: “I’m an ally!”

After all, I have the uniform.

And pushing it from terrifying into painful to endure, you have good ol’ Dunning-Kruger playing its role, where they aren’t actually conscious of the fact that the superficial trappings of social awareness are only superficial, and believe they really are able to expertly opine on matters of gender, race, queer theory, and so on. Not only will they hold themselves as being immune to sexism, they’ll actually tell you all about how actually, what they’re doing is feminist! You know… “I don’t want to be condescending”, “I’m reclaiming”, “Gender is not big deal really, it’s just a social construct”, “Infighting over minor issues like this is only hurting the larger cause”,  “I don’t see why we have to get so hung up on labels”, “well I think it’s harmful to offer special treatment to women”, “I think we need to break down gender roles, not enforce them by treating women differently”, “But I’m a nice guy… I think you’re hurting yourself dating those other jerks”, “I think embracing sexuality is important”, “Lots of other women I know are fine with that, and I think it’s sort of messed up for you to be speaking for all women”, “I think you’ve got an oversimplified view of this”, “really, the whole world operates on masculine and feminine dialectics”, “I object to the word ‘cis’. I find it offensive and othering” etc. (always, of course, not in the contexts where these would be even remotely justifiable statements).

Sadly, Dunning-Kruger operates just as well in terms of social awareness as it does in terms of anything else. The more socially aware we become, the more we understand how bigoted we’re capable of being, and how far we have to go to be able to consider ourselves anywhere near past it. But when you know just enough to fancy yourself more aware than others, and fancy yourself incapable of fucking up, but not enough to understand just how incredibly capable you actually are of fucking up, you become even more of a problem than the totally ignorant.

The fight towards genuine cultural change begins with recognition of the problem. In order to do that, we can’t shuffle it aside or say it’s someone else’s problem. We can’t let ourselves get away with just adopting the exterior trappings of awareness and advocacy. We can’t just learn the bare bones and use that to extrapolate the sense of ourselves being one of the “good guys”. We can’t pretend that intent is a magic bullet, or that “ironic” and “self-aware” sexism (or any other form of discrimination) is functionally any different than the “real” kind.

Instead, we need to be able to accept our capacity for sexism. We need to be able to recognize our capacity to fall into the same cognitive traps. We need to recognize our own role in helping foster the system of sexism, misogyny and gendered privilege. We need to be able to admit that under the right circumstances, something we do, say or think can be every bit as sexist as something a right wing religious fundie does, says or thinks. We need to be able to drop the flattering postures, and allow ourselves to look like an idiot every now and then. That’s the only way we can learn not to be.



  1. says

    Now, here I was, having a nice breakfast and feeling all smug and privileged, and you gotta go ruinin’ it by making me think and stuff.

    (Thanks, though – as someone who still has a lot to learn outside of the privileged life I lead, checks like this blog post kind of help me from getting too comfortable. Because when I get comfortable, I find myself unconsciously taking many of these positions. And that’s only when I’m able to realize I’m being racist/sexist/insert -ist here…so I know that what I see is only scratching the surface. Thanks for giving me a spade so I can dig a little deeper.)

  2. Marty says

    Found this a really interesting read, and to a certain extent something that I still catch myself on (generally on the language side more than the sentiments hopefully).

    May be slightly off topic, but you mention a few times about looking at our own actions and language and their effects – it’s something that I’ve found quite easy to do with feminism (helps being female I suppose), but still struggle with when dealing with LGBT issues (not helped by not being LGBT myself). It seems that it is quite easy to fall into that “Well I’m not homophobic so obviously it doesn’t mean anything” trap just subconciously, even if you would never claim or defend that position.

    Thanks for the great blog, much food for thought!

    • McKenzie says

      I’ll drink to that.
      It wasn’t particularly long ago that I came across the idea of privilege (I obviously knew about discrimination before that) and when I sat down and actually looked at it I realised how fucked up some of the things I said regularly were, but before then I’d fallen into the trap of “oh I’m not a sexist/ableist/racist/transphobe/homophobe so I’m okay”.

      I wonder if having separate words might help. Like, I feel more comfortable calling people out on terrible things that they say if those things are transphobic or homophobic which is probably partly due to the fact I’m much more knowledgable about those groups, but also because Xphobic isn’t a noun, so I feel it’s a bit easier to avoid the idea that you’re personally attacking someone since if you were criticising the person you’d use different words. Probably wouldn’t help very much to be honest.

  3. karmakin says

    Very good article.

    Generally I see sexism/racism/etc. (For the purposes of this comment I will be using the term “Othering”) as being tools. That is, they’re generally used for one of two purposes, either to sustain and prop up existing power structures, or to create social cohesion among a group. Most of the time, acts of Othering generally fall into one of those two groups. Doesn’t make it right, of course, and the harm is definitely more than any perceived benefits, but that is generally the attitude I have towards it.

    That’s why it infiltrates everywhere…and I do mean everywhere, where there are existing power structures and/or people who desire greater social cohesion. This is why I generally disagree with statements like group X has a sexism problem. It implies there are groups out there that do not.

    Now people can and do make the argument that for sub-groups, using these same tools of Othering can actually be positive as they allow us to actually do a better job of combating existing power structures. I don’t disagree with this. But still, in terms of the link to said Disingenuous Liberal, that’s the danger. People get so used to Othering say…Conservatives, that when it seems “appropriate” they start using the same tools on women, different races, transexuals, etc.

    I really don’t know what the answer is, to be honest. It seems like a knot that we’re going to be constantly trying to untie.

    • Movius says

      I was going to dispute this article but now i feel like an idiot so I’ll just agree with this post. It’s more accurate and less pedantic than what I would say.

      • karmakin says

        Definitely not what you’re thinking of, but in terms of humor, the best way I’ve heard it stated is from Jon Stewart. Basically it’s all about punching up/punching down. Things are a lot funnier and acceptable (as they should be) when you’re punching against targets bigger than you. It’s when you’re punching down, against targets smaller than you when it gets problematic.

        That said, it still, for better or for worse normalizes this sort of “punching”. The question is if it’s worth the cost.

        • says

          Heh. I used that same definition in an e-mail to one of the Green Light Show guys today when he was talking about “the right to satire”. I replied:

          “I don’t think you quite understand the difference between satire and bullying.

          Satire = Punching up
          Bullying = Punching down

          Sort of like the difference between punching a cop and punching a small child”

          • karmakin says

            What Gra-Gra said. And that’s the tough part. Not trying to defend them of course, but I have no doubt that most of the various misogynists that you see around these parts really do believe that they’re punching up. Not like that changes anything however. They’re still just wrong (usually at a fractal level).

            The hard part is the ability to go outside of oneself and recognize if it’s satire or if it’s just bullying. It’s next to impossible. Then you get to the Daily Show syndrome….what the hell do you do with people with illusions of grandeur?

            Reminds me of one of my favorite songs, Space by James. (To be honest it’s kind of a personal anthem)

  4. says

    I deal with the Hipster Misogynist/Racist/Whatever “but it’s art! you can’t censor art!!” excuse all the time. And it is wrong for all the reasons you outlined, but it also bothers me in particular because art has always been a way for repressed groups to speak out. And the problem with censoring art has been that it has invariably been used by governments to suppress these persecuted communities. So now a lot of artists have a knee-jerk reaction against censoring, so when a Hipster Misogynist says “but it’s art!” a lot of artists will, understandably, react immediately by supporting the artist. But they shouldn’t, because the two cases: censorship of art produced by persecuted minorities, censorship of hipster art appropriating narratives of persecuted minorities, are completely different.

    Anyway, to wrap up, I really love the term Hipster Misogynist. It describes this phenomena so perfectly.

    • Sas says

      I agree and I think it also often involves a misunderstanding of what censorship is. A lot of artists (particularly my fellow Americans I’ve noticed) get so enamored of the idea of free speech that they believe any opposition to speech or a work of art is censorship. They cry “It’s freedom of speech” and then when confronted with “well, it’s our freedom of speech to speak out against it!” they come back with the claim that if you disagree with a work of art, you should just shut up and ignore it, and not speak against it. It’s ridiculous and stunts discourse.

      • Anat says

        Can anyone claim that speaking against this particular work of art is an art-form in itself? What about art criticism – is that no longer allowed?

  5. says

    Awesome post.

    In a way, this reminds me of a conversation I had today (or rather, yesterday, I really shouldn’t still be awake), wherein my friend told me how he really doesn’t like feminism, because dividing everyone into groups creates more problems, and that we should all care about everyone’s issues, and not just focus on those facing our own group…

    I wasn’t quite sure what to say to this, other than, no many people will fight hard, or being willing to make sacrifices, over issues that effect them not at all, and that if we don’t fight for ourselves, not a whole lot of people will. He still wasn’t particularly convinced, and gave me a vague “well, I don’t like it, all this fighting, it pushes people apart”…


    I don’t know, but it may be relevant to also mention in passing that this friend just happens to be a 31 year old, straight, white, able-bodied, neuro-typical, (lower) middle class, cis male…

  6. says

    I definitely think that Joanna Newsom is one of the most gifted and intelligent musicians working today, inside or out of the academy. (And I have some fancy paper to validate my opinions!).

    To be fair, I think some of those comments about fey or ethereal sound come from the album cover from Ys, which sends out a lot of neo-pagan, woman-energy kinds of vibes, even if that representation is not really appropriate for most of her music. A lot of people (in the academy and in the popular press), often and perhaps subconsciously find themselves unduly influenced by album covers when evaluating performers.

    As an interesting sidenote, a major theme in Queer Musicology is that modern perception by queer subjects can validate claims about music in the past, even without much concrete evidence evidence in its favour (this is, for example, the main argument for “Schubert is gay and you can totes hear it!”).

    JN is a good counterexample for using reception to make historical claims about composers. I myself got a very queer vibe from her music, and was honestly very surprised to learn she is in a relationship with Andy Samberg. And here there are no cultural or temporal distances to contend with, unlike claims about, say, Baroque Opera!

    Now, the question of why certain music seems to have a queer vibe for contemporary listeners could be an interesting one, but as of yet no one has really succeeded in addressing it (presumably because it is too difficult), usually focusing instead on how a given work or composer sets off a kind of “spidey sense” in a queer subject (nearly always the author), and proceeding from there into either unsupported claims or extended navel-gazing. Another reason I was skeptical of post-modern scholarship for a long time.

  7. Sour Tomato Sand says

    I said a few posts back that a lot of what you write ties into social psychology, and as someone who’s majoring in that, I find that to be awesome. This all ties into Milgram, and Asch, and Zimbardo, in that it shows that evil isn’t done by evil people, or fanatics, or psychopaths. Evil is done by everyone when conditions allow them to get away with it, or allow them to believe it’s normal. I think this applies to all levels of anti-human behavior, which most definitely includes misogyny, transphobia and homophobia. And everything on Fuck Yeah Disingenuous Liberal.

  8. Anders says

    I know fuckall about this, but that has never stopped me in the past, has it?

    First of all, I’m definitely too old for this culture. Mosh? (Yeah, I looked it up.)

    karmakin is absolutely right, this is a form of creating social cohesion, of maintaining an in-group/out-group mentality. The really bad people are people like “fundies”. We don’t like them so we tell them to bugger off. Then there are those who need our help. And we will gladly extend it to them, but we don’t want them to actually join the party, so to speak. They probably smell. But we’re glad to help them up a notch – makes us feel useful – as long as we don’t accidentally propel them to our own level. And to make sure they understand that, and don’t come claiming actual equality we put them down with ironic jokes. And so we get to create a climate where they don’t feel welcome while at the same time we’re maintaining the illusion that we’re really on the side of the “fundies”. Who says you can’t eat your cake and have it to?

    One more thing. If you could repeat the sentence “I will not put in abbreviations without explaining them the first time I use them) 50 times before you go to sleep every night I’d be a happier man.

    • Sebor says

      I don’t think it has that much to do with age. I’m not much younger than Natalie and I have ZERO clue what she’s talking about. Or rather, I understand the general idea, but I have never heard of the people she mentions. Except Joy Division of course. And on second reading, ODB probably does not mean OpenDocumentDatabase in this context, can anybody enlighten me?

      • says

        Ol’ Dirty Bastard, from Wu Tang Clan. Hip hop MC. Enjoyed by stoned semi-educated white college kids everywhere.

        This one kind of has a bit of a North American / Pacific Northwest indie culture tilt, yeah. Ummm… Ellen Page is the young actress from Nova Scotia who was in Juno. Antony is a transgender (but not transsexual) singer from New York who does these really gloomy ballads. Joanna Newsom is a classically trained harpist with an…unusual…voice who writes really intricate, ornate, poetic lyrics and loooong classically-infused arrangements. Scissor Sisters are a pop group led by a gay singer and gay multi-instrumentalist who draw heavily from dance music and Elton John, and became huge in the UK for a little while but are still sort of fringe-ish in North America. I can’t remember who else I mentioned?

        • Sebor says

          Thanks for the info, looks like I’ll spent the rest of the evening on youtube trying to bridge the cultural gaps.
          Most of my stoner friends are into french rap and that’s pretty much all the contact I had with that kind of music.
          And I make it a point to avoid hipsters or everything marketed as indie. Maybe I’m missing out, but sifting through pretentious mediocrity and pop bias seems like a lot of effort.

          • Sebor says

            I’m always curious about music, though I have to admit that Joanna Newsom’s voice is a bit too special for my taste.
            But re-reading your article I would really like to hear what those indie-reviewers would have to say about Darkened Nocturn Slaughtercult, “wild”, “ethereal” and “otherworldly” all could apply, the rest not so much.

        • SallyStrange: bottom-feeding, work-shy peasant says

          I, um, got ALL of those references. Does that qualify me for citizenship in Vancouver? (Please say yes.)

    • Sour Tomato Sand says

      Assuming you mean initialisms,

      ODB: Old Dirty Bastard
      STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics
      QED: Quod Erat Demonstrandum

      Did I miss any?

      • says

        Well, Ol’ Dirty Bastard.

        I think interrupting that to condescendingly clarify it’s “Old Dirty Bastard” would actually heighten the absurdity of the paragraph, actually.

        • Sour Tomato Sand says

          You know, I never actually saw it written down before. The auto-correct built into my head automatically assumed that every time someone said it, they were just running the words together.

          But yeah… really “Old Dirty Bastard” evokes a much different image in one’s head…

  9. Rasmus says

    I think the amount of stupid I espouse has really gone down since I began to apply the rule that my opinion are likely to be no better than my knowledge about the subject…

    Dunning-Kruger is a complication of course.

    I also think that having people say stupid stuff can be good if you have time to discuss it. As long as the one saying the stupid stuff doesn’t think he’s a fucking renegade world-leading expert on the subject who would be a professor by now if he wasn’t too awesome for that…

    Dunning-Krueger again.

  10. MichaelD says

    The paragraph of hipster racism hurt my brain. O.o Are there actually people who say that? (since it has come to my attention that I’m not clear on these things I’ll point out that this is a rhetorical question yes there really are people who say that stuff)

    • ischemgeek says

      Yes, yes there is. There are people who say Stuff like that about women too.

      Sorry for the random capitalizations, and the occasional words that make no sense. I hurt my wrist, and using speech recognition .

    • Rasmus says

      Oh yes.

      I let people call me a sissy and a fag. When you’re someone who lets people call you a sissy and a fag, it’s okay to say negro. It’s not racist.

      Loosely quoted and translated. Said on TV by a white man.

      • says

        Wow. This is somewhat stupider than the time my brother told me straight-faced that if a black person uses “nigger”, or a gay man uses “faggot”, or I use “tranny”, that he free to do the same with impunity. I’m not quite sure how some people manage to get through the day with such limited cognitive capacities…

    • Anders says

      I thought I’d make a Canadian joke instead. Something about how they all have hockeysticks and are trained to use them from an early age.

      • MichaelD says

        Well we need to know how to use a hockey stick if you want to be able to chase the penguins out of your igloo.

        • Anders says

          I also found a site with “Top 10 reasons to live in British Columbia”. I think three or four of them were about smoking weed. Apparently Vancouver is the marijuana capital of Canada. The things you learn while surfing on the net. 🙂

        • says

          Need to completely reword this joke and maybe hire an editor for future blog posts.

          Having family that lives or has lived in bc the marijuana revelation is less surprising to me 😛

        • StevoR says

          [Zoological pedant] Pretty sure penguins are limited to the Antartic ie. southern hemispere with the most northern penguin species being found onthe Galapagos islands.

          I could perhaps be mistaken but.. [/zoological pedant.]

        • Lenoxus says

          Is that an example of punching up, down, or sideways?

          Seriously, this is exactly the type of joke that I might try to avoid, having read the original blog post. The problem is not that Canadians are an underprivliged group, but that “piling on stereotypes to the point of ridiculousness is acceptable because lol irony” is somethign I want to train my brain out of, in all contexts. Either the sterotype will be something I intend or it will not, end of story. And brain-training is an important part of the fight, methinks.

  11. movablebooklady says


    I’ve been in a state of low-grade rage most of my life (I’m 68 white female) because of just the kinds of things you just neatly encapsulated. I’ve been working on my own biases all my life because I know I have them — we all do. But the lack of progress or thinking in others makes it so hard to put up with other people. I do what I can, one on one, but it’s a never-ending process.


  12. says

    I have a friend who is very active in the activist community (he gets paid to be an activist), primarily dealing with poverty, but some overlap with queer issues and racism, as he is a gay man of colour, and I’m learning that no matter how much good someone can do in some areas, we can all still have huge blind spots. An example for this guy is that when it’s just “us guys” he likes to make jokes about “diddling (his) clit” and other commentary using gendered language quite aggressively. At first I thought that hey, he’s just using these terms with us close friends, probably ironically and/or to challenge our own assumptions about gender, so, that’s fine.

    But as I’ve spent more time with him, I’ve realized that he actually isn’t doing that. He appears to have no concern about any women who might be in the room and their feelings about the language and attitudes he has. He’s making these jokes because people laugh, and then he laughs, and everyone has a good time (except for the one or two women who suddenly have this guy joking about female anatomy NON STOP, including their particular anatomy, even though he’s basically a stranger to them). I’ve started to try challenging him on this, but I’ve discovered I have to be subtle, because he is 100% sure that he is a feminist and doesn’t see anything at all problematic about some of his behaviours.

    Then I found out that he had no idea that the TV show Walking Dead had some issues with sexism. Apparently when the apocalypse happens, its natural for women to assume women’s work and be protected by men, because, you know, apocalypse. And upper body strength. Or something, something.

    I’ve made this an unofficial project of mine, because he’s a great guy but MAN is he clueless. And actually, it’s led to some interesting discussions in my primarily gay white male social group about gender and feminism, so it’s not all bad….

    • Sour Tomato Sand says

      ARGH, The Walking Dead! I love that show and am constantly annoyed by the sexism, but I try to put it out of my head by reminding myself that it takes place in rural Georgia, and, yeah, that’s probably an accurate portrayal of the culture.

      • says

        I love zombies and so will watch the show until it’s off the air, and frankly, the zombie genre as a whole has a whole nest of problematic assumptions. The “it’s Georgia” excuse doesn’t quite wash for me though….I’m perfectly fine with sexist -characters-. In fact, I’m all for it, it’s real…sexism exists, and should be seen in fiction at least sometimes. It’s when the fictional -world- is sexist, like when a woman wants to have a gun, despite all the guys saying she shouldn’t have one (for her safety, of course), then she finally gets one and what happens? She almost shoots a member of their group.

        Or, a woman who is pregnant and so is clearly riddled with hormones (because that’s how hormones work, right?), gets it into her head to go and find her husband, even though all the men tell her to calm down and stay put…she gets in a car accident. Too many times when a character tries to step out of their gender roles, something happens to “punish” them as a consequence. It isn’t that the characters are sexist, it’s that the WORLD is.

        • Sour Tomato Sand says

          Yeah, that’s why I was saying it still bothers me. Probably the one female character in it who wasn’t just there to serve as an example of masculine superiority was Maggie, but even that didn’t last very long (the attack in the pharmacy with Glenn, for example).

          Also, the first season was like a billion times better. Stupid farm.

        • Leni says

          Walking dead spoiler alert! ***

          Agreed about the Walking Dead. Even though I love that show. (But I hate zombies. I watch it as a sort of “immersion therapy”. And end up fast-forwarding through a lot of the zombie scenes lol.)

          But Lori’s lecture to Andrea about how she spends too much time working on her tan and not enough doing laundry made me want to throw something at the TV. And when she told Maggie to tell Glenn to “man-up”. Grrrrr. And then when she did that “But Shane says you can’t protect us” thing to Rick I wanted to projectile barf.

          She quickly went to my “I’m kinda hoping they get you next” list.

          But Shane beat up the wife-beater that once. So hey. Feminist.

          And whenever Darryl yells at Carol we’re supposed to know it’s because he’s sad he couldn’t save the little girl.

          Ugh, it really is annoying.

          • Leni says

            PS And you notice how T-dog hardly has any lines? And how his name is T-Dog?

            It’s like they’ve set him up to be a red shirt for 3 whole seasons! No character development. He isn’t even really friends with anyone.

            I’m kind of starting to hate this show :/

          • Sour Tomato Sand says


            Darryl is my favorite character too, but I feel like they’re uining it. I liked how he was all white-supremacist, isolationist and whatnot but was starting to make friends with Dale. And then they killed Dale and made Darryl into a douche.

            Dammit, I’m staring to hate this show the more I talk about it. 🙁

          • Sour Tomato Sand says

            Addendum, because that sounds odd (more spoilers):

            I liked that he WAS at first really gross and racist and that he was sort of opening up and changing, and getting away from the indoctrination his brother seemed to have forced him through.

  13. Senta P says

    This reminds me of the women radicals in the 60’s, who expecting to be treated as equals with their fellow activists, found themselves being pushed to the sidelines to cook dinner, have sex and do housework for the Menz.
    Some of the biggest feminists/GLBT inclusive men I know are (straight)working class joes.

  14. sc_297e1e3152b776f2d4951eb41696b531 says

    Wow. I think you are may new favourite blogger! I don’t very often find people thinking like I do about society as an emergence in this way, or describing this mindset and behaviour so eloquently and thoroughly. I have also felt like a lone voice regarding criticism of the anti-emotional nature of skeptical culture, and its tendency to assume rationality by association and absorption through identity.

    I see you have a huge blogroll, but I wonder if you would consider adding mine as well. I’ll add yours regardless, if you don’t mind that is.

  15. says


    Empathy is about seeing things from another person’s perspective, not imagining yourself in somebody else’s situation. The former is the first step to understanding others; the latter is a kind of naive narcissism that does more harm than good.

    From Tim Widowfield over on Vrider.

    • says

      It’s anyone (not just guys) who has a reductive binary understanding of gender. “Male” / “female”, nothing in-between, each with a particular role, as mutually exclusive “opposites”.

      • says

        My sister, who has spent her life in the women’s health world, suggests there are eleven sexes, depending on genes, placental hormone levels and endogenous chemical insults during pregancy.

  16. Emily Somers says

    I would also point out, if I may, that American counter-culture has had this unacknowledged problem for ages. The hippie sixties were overwhelmingly heterosexual, despite America’s hoi polloi associations of long hair/flowers with effiminacy. Bohemia has never been hospitable to creative, energised women and their ambitions (look at what Janis Joplin had to go through in terms of how her femininity was ‘read’.) And the hippies also had their in-built patriarchalism — where women went bare foot and flour dusted, baking the bread and caring for the children, while the heroic men folk went out to tan and cultivate the marijuana fields.

  17. says

    This may be sort of a distant connection, but it reminds me of the recent American Atheist billboard that quoted the Bible, “Slaves, obey your masters.” You can’t pull that stuff. You can’t be sarcastic or ironic or joking about racism when your sensitivity to race is something that is very much in question. The fact that AA seems unaware that they have any issues is one of the issues.

  18. deus_otiosus says

    Though my days of doing so are coming to a close, I watch a certain Minecraft series on YouTube. After over 400 episodes, at least half of them have featured a player whose penchant for trolling has her spouting bigoted crap constantly. It’s claimed to be ironic and meant to get a rise out of others, the gay jokes for example being deemed ‘okay’ because said troll is a lesbian. Sorry, when you do that so often, your claims of irony aren’t believable anymore. Sadly, most of the players take part. One of the Jewish players has even been openly upset about the so-called humor aimed at her heritage.

  19. says

    I think this may be misreading the mentality that goes into at least some hipster racism. I suspect different people do it for different reasons.

    My younger brother is a good example. He makes racist and sexist jokes frequently, but is quite aware that people who don’t know him won’t understand what he means, so won’t do it around strangers. He gets really pissed off when he hears anyone being racist if it seems like they mean it. He won’t even speak to several of my cousins anymore over some things they said. He also gets very upset over the term “oreo.” His best friend in high school was black, but lived with a rich white lady. This friend seems to have been a big influence on his sense of humor, in fact. He gets that no matter how “white” a cultural context a black person is raised in, they look black and certain white people will never let them forget it. His friend gets pulled over all the time for driving to drive home in his rich white neighborhood because he’s a young black guy in a fancy car.

    His motivation really is to mock racists. He’s quite clear than racism isn’t funny; racists are because they’re so ridiculous. You see this in stand-up as well. (My brother is in fact an aspiring comedy writer.) For instance, is Sarah Silverman a hipster racist?

    Not that all hipster racists are sincere about this. I’ve seen way more who seem to think racism itself is funny, because it’s the sort of thing low-class white people do and they’re appropriating it like they would any other cultural element without understanding the cultural context. I’m just say some people really do get it.

    BTW, Urban Dictionary defines hipster racism as prejudice against hipsters. That sounds like a hipster wrote the entry.

    • says

      Making fun of racism / racists isn’t “hipster racism”. Using that as an EXCUSE for making racist jokes is.

      Like if we go to a meta level… let’s consider the fact that I myself used the terms “negro” and “retarded” in that paragraph. That paragraph was a joke, and I WAS being ironic, adopting the persona of a hipster racist in order to make fun of hipster racism (while explaining what it is). So was I simply mocking hipster racism, or was I actually engaging in it?

      • says

        Once you layer up enough irony, it can be hard to tell. (Which is the main reason Dave Chappelle walked off his show.) To give an example I did, my friend Heina writes for Skepchick and was soliciting stories about sexism at atheist conferences. I posted, “These things aren’t sexist. Also, they’re no big deal. (Or am I supposed to wait to see what the stories are first?)” I’m saying context can make what would normally be prejudiced statements be clearly ironic. Of course “context” can also be an excuse when some thinks you’re prejudiced. What is it with liberalism making us think about stuff rather than just using a checklist to decide whether to be offended?

      • Steve Schuler says

        Hey Natalie!

        Everything’s cool. Uber Hipsters have license to mock lower echelon hipsters, so everthing’s copasetic.

  20. says

    This gives me an idea for a business:selling indulgences. For $20, you can get a card from a black guy that says he understands you aren’t racist and you’re just joking and everybody needs to chill. Similar cards would be offered from Asians, gays, lesbians, women and various disabilities. For an extra fee, you could get a phone number on the card where anyone who claims offense can call a black guy or whatever and they’ll explain they thought your joke was funny. I know some people who could make a mint.

  21. smrnda says

    I think the prevalence of sexually predatory male hipsters gets underrated because the belief is that rapists all are frat boys, young Republicans or business majors and that rapists can’t POSSIBLY be guys who are into ‘hip’ music or movies or who are liberal.

    I wonder sometimes if the whole ‘hipster’ thing is just a pose that one adopts to get a certain degree of privilege. If you’re a sexist ass or an overt sexual predator, you can probably do more damage as a ‘hipster’ whose occasional misogynistic comments can get construed as ‘ironic.’

    And the whole hipster-ironic thing. I find that hipsters these days have this weird exoticism fetish with white, rural working class American culture, though they also consider it to be possibly the most ignorant demographic on the planet. I’ve heard it ‘explained’ to me as ‘ironic’ or even ‘in solidarity’ but it seems to be either privileged kids engaging in mockery or less privilege people (however ignorant, I regard that ignorance as a symptom and not a cause) or else the whole quest for a more authentic, natural “Other” to be fascinated with. It kind of reminds me of beatnik fascination with Black culture or the phenomenon of Orientalism among Western artists and intellectuals.

    But yeah, hipsters tend to give themselves this get out of jail free card for anything offensive said just by alleging it was ‘ironic.’ In that sense, some of them aren’t too different from ultra-conservative Rush Limbaugh, where if anyone is offended they just didn’t get the joke.

    It’s also odd that at hipster parties you frequently just get a circle of people where the same three guys or so take turns dominating the conversation and interrupting anyone – particulary women – who happen to try to talk.

    • says

      Absolutely totally in agreement with this. All of that are phenomena I’ve observed in that scene as well, totally.

      I think the rural american working class thing… part of that I feel is connected to this weird tension regarding “authenticity” in the hipster/indie culture. As much as some of them happily play the “irony” card, others flip the other direction and whole-heartedly pursue the semblance of “authenticity”. Nobody sneers as much at hipster pretension and irony as much as other hipsters. It’s like they’ve ended up with that de-toothed collage identity I mentioned, made of little superficial fragments of genuine sub-cultures and marginalized group identities, and on a certain level they’re aware of that, or aware of how superficial and posed it is. And in a way, the whole motive towards assembling that collage in the first place is partially from a sort of ennui and alienation from one’s own culture. There’s exoticism, sure, but they’ve grown up in a privileged identity and culture that gets treated as “default” and “normal” to such an extent that they become BORED with it, and view it as a sort of non-culture. And so they pursue cultural identities that feel real and meaningful and that have substance, but in pursuing them they end up having to confront their own posture and inauthenticity. Which then creates a sort of fetishization of the “authentic” and “real”, which they obsessively pursue. So they’ll drink their cheap beer and shop at thrift stores and wear flannel and grow beards all in this desperate, doomed, self-defeating effort to adopt a pose of non-pose. A style of non-style. An inauthentic, superficial veneer of being authentic and deep.

      Ugh… headache. Teal deer? Hipsterism is WEIRD.

      • Sebor says

        Hipsterism IS weird. What I find fascinating about it is this obvious yearning for authenticity paired with the reluctance to actually stand for something. This paradox makes it impossible for them to embrace anything unironically, so they keep reaching for things to appropriate.

        I recently tried reading a Hipster Black Metal Manifesto, and my brain still hurts. But it makes for an entertaining read sometimes and an insight into the hipster mindset from a perspective that I can relate to (would be a lot more difficult for me to find the gaps and errors in a hipster country manifesto).
        Interestingly enough, while they seem fine with adopting racism/sexism/*-ism, they shy away from adopting the misanthropy and general nihilism of black metal.
        Apparently, you cannot hate everyone (including yourself) ironically or ironically stand for believing in nothing.
        Though one has to wonder if ironically being a nihilist would be more nihilistic than genuine nihilism.
        Wow, the last sentence really hurt, I think something in my brain just hanged itself.

    • says

      Yep. In fact, I’m pretty sure hipster misogyny, homophobia and racism are largely a result of them playing out their perceptions of what working-class whites are like.

      • says

        No, I don’t think so. I think they genuinely fancy themselves as NOT engaging in the racism, misogyny, and homophobia of working-class white culture, and “above” that. Like as though they’re everything great about “down to earth” working-class folk, but without everything bad. The trouble comes from thinking that what they’re doing ISN’T misogyny / racism / homophobia / cissexism / etc.

        • says

          I’m not sure where we disagree. I’ve seen plenty of guys put on a mesh trucker hat, then immediately starting joking about beating their girlfriends, chewing tobacco and watching NASCAR. I don’t think there’s really a cohesive reason for why hipsters appropriate things.

        • says

          I should give a more concrete example. The standard defense of call white tank-tops “wife beaters” goes something like this: “I don’t think beating your wife is cool. It’s that the people who typically wear these (working class) like to get drunk, then come home and beat their wives because dinner is cold. I’m making fun of that.”

    • Sas says

      I think the prevalence of sexually predatory male hipsters gets underrated because the belief is that rapists all are frat boys, young Republicans or business majors and that rapists can’t POSSIBLY be guys who are into ‘hip’ music or movies or who are liberal.

      YES THIS.

      Two of most misogynist womanizing assholes I’ve ever known: First was a proto-hipster gothy harpist who traded on his “artistic, sensitive” persona to manipulate girls, and the second was a hipster guy who (among other things) proudly related how when he worked at a clothing store he pretended to be gay so that girls would let him watch them change clothes.

      Conversely, the two nicest, most loyal, feminist guys I’ve known included a huge intimidating biker guy and a bodybuilding jock-type.

  22. says

    I think some people fall into the trap of thinking that they’re too smart to believe it’s true, so they can say shocking stuff ironically, thinking they are taking the piss out of people who do believe it.

    Unfortunately, this can be misinterpreted as validation by people who really do take that shit seriously. Which makes it dangerous. Because, even if you didn’t really mean what you said, you’re going to offend somebody sooner or later. And while you’re trying to apologise for crossing the line and laugh it off because there’s no way you really believe it, real people are really getting beaten, raped and killed, in real life. (I was going to add “for no reason”; but honestly, there is by definition no reason to do those things.)

    Off-colour humour is like making a hoax call to the fire brigade, sending them on a useless errand while a real building burns down, or you get run over by the fire engine; or carrying a replica weapon in a public place, causing armed police to attend and an innocent bystander to be shot (or you to be shot yourself). It’s cheap and ultimately not even very funny.

    We do not need petty squabbles and in-fighting — that is doing our enemies’ work for them. Acting in a way that provokes internal hostility, whether intentionally or otherwise, is divisive and counter-productive. Please, guys, try and hold your tongues a bit. The benefit of the doubt is in short supply these days — the kinds of people you wouldn’t want to be mistaken for, sadly aren’t.

    • StevoR says

      ^ This! Well said & seconded by me. Ironic “pretend” racists / sexists / homophobes /transphobes make it easier for teh real ones to hide and get away with it and there’s more than enough of tehreal ones out there without adding to them. Not that I’m perfect myself. In many ways almost all of us are messed up and have messed up over time on these issues me among them, mea culpa. So, yeah.

    • Eric O says

      Thank you for spelling it out. I’ve been trying to put into words why I hate it when I see comments like “shut up and make me a sandwich” directed towards women (aside from the fact that it’s a lame and overused “joke”, that is).

  23. Anders says

    I don’t know… humor is such a complex subject. What about humor as a way of coping? I like my humor black, as I’ve stated before. There are jokes that I tell with my friends – rape jokes or incest jokes for instance – that I would never tell in a million years when around someone who has actually been there. I tell them as a means of coping with the dark side of the world. Because if I didn’t laugh I would have to cry, and that doesn’t lead to anywhere good.

    Humor can be used to trivialize a subject, yes. But it can be done in two ways. One is to trivialize it in the sense of “I don’t have to worry about it because I don’t have to deal with it.” That’s bad. The other way is in the sense of “I have to deal with this, so let’s reduce it to a manageable size. Show that I’m still in control.” I don’t know, it sounds like I’m repeating myself. Haven’t had any caffeine this morning. 🙂

  24. says

    Natalie, you hit the nail right on the head.

    In all of the environments I’ve worked in, probably the one where I experienced the most sexism was when I worked in the music industry. And the primary culprits were artists and creative types.

    In a sense, it was a bit of a ‘role reversal’ in that a big part of my job was as an audio engineer, and so I was the one with the ‘technical’ job while the artists (i.e. the bands I was recording or doing live sound for) were mostly men. I suspect it was their discomfort with this – their feeling emasculated by it – that caused them to make sexist comments towards me. Similarly, when I was regularly DJing, all kinds of hipsters (but always men) would just waltz into the DJ both and start looking through my music collection in order to pick out songs they thought I should play. I never, ever saw anyone do this to a male DJ.

    I now work for a peacebuilding organisation, and my colleagues are largely left-wing, well-educated and well-travelled (but mostly white and mostly male, at least in the part of the organisation I work in). So everyone pretty much considers themselves to be “one of the good guys” (though some people have a bit more awareness of their privilege than others). Yet I hear sexist comments flying around the office on a regular basis, in an “ironic” way of course. If I challenge it then I am the PC brigade, and in fact quite often people make such comments purely to get a rise out of me.

    • julian says

      Sorry, about your coworkers. You’d think basic professionalism and respect for one another would be enough to remind them not to act like that.

      It seems assholes are the only bipartisan thing in this world.

  25. StevoR says

    Great post as always Natalie – thanks.

    I’m curious though about where do you stand on “reclaiming words” and taking them back for group X -can it be done and is it advisable sometimes?

    • says

      Yes, can be done. “Queer” is an excellent example.

      But the key point is that it’s only “reclaiming” if YOU actually belong to the SPECIFIC identity targeted by the slur. Hence a gay man can’t “reclaim” tranny any more than I can “reclaim” dyke or spic or whatever.

  26. fran says

    Things don’t seem to have changed much. There weren’t any hipsters when I was in college in the early 90s, but we had a joke about the equivalent, that went “Of course I support feminism, darling, now get your kit off”.

    • says

      It’s just a sort of condensed little metonymy of how women are sometimes treated in the punk scence as subservient to the men who are the “real” punks and do the proper punk stuff. The girls are there just to look hot and help them be punk. Stand around on the fringes holding his jacket.

      • says

        Oh okay, thanks for clarifying. I was confused because I usually ask my husband to hold my jacket, at shows and elsewhere. Granted, I’ve never really considered myself part of any scene, and am not terribly observant, so I hadn’t noticed any gendered trends associated with jacket-holding.

    • davegeek says

      It’s a continuation of the machismo that permeated the HC scene especially as it went along (thinking of the SE/Youth Crew scene in particular). The pit was “for men”, women were there to hold their boyfriend’s jacket. It’s a issue that got addressed by bands like Tribe 8 and 7 Seconds yet continued to exist and probably still persists (it’s been a while since I went to a show).

  27. says

    A fascinating, excellently written article that really pegs a lot of what I despise about hipsterism. I am not a hipster, but I am a metalhead, and I can testify that many people in the network of metalheads with whom I am aware are similarly engrained, though without the pretend to irony, at least towards sexism, though not nearly most or all of those people.

    Hipsters seem to completely, totally isolate their actions from reality, and I think you did such a great job of highlighting it.

  28. davegeek says

    Excellent article and one that has given me, as someone who frequently engages in intentional/”ironic” stupidity, some major food for thought. And you had to mention the Bad Brains didn’t you? *sigh* Such amazing early work. My guilty pleasure in music.

  29. smrnda says

    As for reclaiming words, I think that there’s a big difference between say, a woman reclaiming a word like ‘slut’ (like with the SlutWalk events) or an actual GLBTQ person using the word ‘queer’ than some privilege white guy doing it.

    Hipsterism is essentially inauthentic. Everybody is looking for the next thing that will make them ‘hip’ and they are, of course, looking over their shoulder to make sure that they’re going to get everybody’s approval.

  30. says

    “I object to the word ‘cis’. I find it offensive and othering”

    Wait, people actually say this? That has got to be the most unaware statement I have ever heard, and hopefully it’s the most unaware statement possible because I think my head almost exploded reading that.

    I mean, what the fuck do they want people to say? “Normal”? Yeah, because *that* sure doesn’t promote any bigotry…

    On the main topic, however, I must confess that this is something I was guilty of until very recently, specifically hipster racism. Once I saw people using my own hipster racism as an excuse for their hipster misogyny, I realized the whole thing was wrong. Thank you for writing this post, which far more eloquently explains this.

    • Pen says

      Well, in the line of it being more respectful to let people define themselves, and how name-reclaiming is only to be done by people who own the name, consider this:

      – here is a name: cis-woman I just discovered a few weeks ago has been assigned to people like me. I’m not sure who came up with it, and I’ve already forgotten what it stands for even though Nathalie mentioned it some time ago. I’m uncertain of what exactly it means in the mind of the user but I guess I’ll find out in due course. I certainly don’t own it, so I’m not the one defining it.

      All in all, it’s pretty clear that I’m being subject to definition and analysis by someone who doesn’t share my identity or my view about my identity. This is ‘othering’ in a neutral sense of the word if you can imagine that. One of the features of being privileged is having less experience of this happening to you. Many people, privileged or otherwise, find it uncomfortable, but it needn’t always be a bad thing and it is necessary that we should be able to talk about each other as well as about ourselves.

      On the other hand, it is a risky business talking about other people, and if Nathalie were not careful in her choice of words it could look as though she has claimed the right to tell me who I am. If she were a less careful person she could be using an identity definition she has created for me as a foil for the construction of her own self-identity. In the context of a lifetime of being intensely aware of the fact that not much that has ever been said about gender has been anything I can personally relate to, I suppose that would just be more of the same.

      • says

        Ummmm… not really. Cis is not a labeling really. It is, if anything, a non-label, simply saying “you aren’t really part of this other identity over here”. After all, it simply means “not trans”. It has the purpose of eliminating cissexist implications to describing such people as “normal men/women” or “real men/women” or “biological men/women”, or whatever. It does not function even remotely like a slur does.

        • Pen says

          I would be more comfortable if the world had decided to say ‘non-trans’. So, without going into the reasons or how much I care (or don’t), I was really raising the issue of self-definition and choice in how we are named. If I or someone else expresses this preference, is that to be dismissed? On what grounds, when we are asked, legitimately I think, to be respectful of the preferences of trans people and others?

          • says

            Using “non-trans” would be inherently cisnormative, privileging cisness as “default” and trans as the “other” status that requires clarification. I strongly disagree with you on this, and feel you’re allowing privilege to colour your perceptions. a) Not all instances of offense or objection to a term are justified and legitimate, and b) This is not purely a case of “self-definition” because it inherently involves defining US as well.

          • says

            for one, “cis” is pretty much literally means “not trans” in a binary definition; two, we aren’t really dealing with a binary here, so there are people who are “not-trans”, but not “cis” either; three, comparing what happens to a dominant group with what happens to an oppressed group is a False Equivalence because of the power gradients involved.

  31. Alex says


    1. I’m pretty much falling in love with everything you write, so thank you, thank you.

    2. You forgot, “But I’m gay, how can I be sexist/racist/ableist!” (yes, I’ve been guilty of that one)

  32. says

    With every post you make, you keep making this blog my go-to “here, just read this, because she says it better than I can” over and over and over again.

    Thank you for making me think, for challenging me, and I really hope you can make it to CONvergence this summer so I can tell you personally 🙂

  33. Pen says

    Using “non-trans” would be inherently cisnormative, privileging cisness as “default” and trans as the “other” status that requires clarification. I strongly disagree with you on this, and feel you’re allowing privilege to colour your perceptions. a) Not all instances of offense or objection to a term are justified and legitimate, and b) This is not purely a case of “self-definition” because it inherently involves defining US as well.

    I disagree that non-trans is normative and believe it is a term that acknowledges the potential plurality of the ‘others’ in this situation. I kind of string along with the comment made by drdrave @21 that there are 11 (or some other large number) of sexes, and don’t think cis-woman refers to a group who necessarily share much in terms of gender identity apart from not being trans. Perhaps you have a different belief about whether the outgroup in this case is a plurality or not?

    A similar question arises with race. Recently a speaker on British tv was trying to say ‘everyone except white people’. He homed in on ‘coloured’ which caused much offense. It seems the British consensus is that ‘non-white’ is the most acceptable way talk about everyone who is not white. Perhaps my expectations are affected by cultural norms about how to refer to pluralistic outgroups?

  34. says

    Actually, I take back all three comments in response to Pen back, on account of having screwed up by taking the meaning of trans too literally. cis = not trans, and trans = not cis, both literally and in the way they’re supposed to be used. I think I was right though that “cis woman” only refers to a AFAB person who isn’t actually intersex and whose gender identity is female, not to any other combinations.

    and i’m certain that the parallel to non-white would be non-cis, and I suspect neither is a very good idea

    • says

      Regardless, a lot of this comment illustrates my point about how cis people are defined is not simply “self-definition”. It is inherently defined in relation to trans people, by definition, since the conceptual category itself is defined in relation to the conceptual category of trans-ness. So it ISN’T about how cis people define themselves, because any such definition will inherently be equally about defining trans people. For instance, if cis people define themselves as “biological” or “natal”, it defines trans as “non-biological”, “non-natal”, which is (obviously) problematic. Defining it as “non-trans” asserts a semantic inequality, such that the “non-trans” identity is so normative that it doesn’t even require a name. It’s a question of how we define one another, and define the relationship, and primarily about the definition of the “salient” identity- trans. Effectively, “cis” isn’t about trans people choosing the terms of identification for cis people. Cis people DON’T have to worry about their identification of their gender identity. That’s part of privilege. Unless entering into a trans-related conversation, there’s never a need for a cis person to describe themselves as cis at all, or even really think about it. Cis people have the luxury of forgetting they have a position along this axis of identity. So what this is really about is, as said, not trans people picking terms for cis people, but trans people picking the terms that are used to articulate trans-ness (including its boundaries). It’s OUR self-definition. “Cis” is simply the aspect of our self-definition that articulates what’s outside or apart from it.

  35. Dendritic Trees says

    I like the term ‘cis’ for reasons that have nothing to do with its actual function.

    I’ve only recently had any real exposure to issues of gender identity, transgenderism etc. I’ve managed from viewing myself as not-transphobic, but making unintentional cis-privileged insulting comments to still doing that, but knowing that I probably am (in fact, I may well be doing it now, so if so, I’m very sorry I really hope I’m not causing anyone any grief, please correct me).

    On of the difficulties I’ve been having is that I go to read things written by people like Natalie who know what they are talking about and I cannot understand them because I just don’t understand the terminology. I literally do not know which groups or actions or ideas are being referred to sometimes.

    Cis however, makes perfect sense because I know basic chemistry. You use it, I can infer what you mean with a relatively high rate of accuracy.

  36. t harding says

    the foolish mileau. Seemingly critical and so, ultra-self-aware, forging beliefs, making strides to future points that the flatland virtues spare. Meaning why?, to me, can a posture held for centuries and shown as wrong, then be evidenced for mercy by a sad and wholly unthinking throng. Feminism stands the ground we walk with fumes of disgust and hate, only due to years mistrusting, bashing, blame, and even rape — yet to unlearn of the frail planks and nail alloyed girders into place? [Seems a fabric stained as a garment worn may never lose its face]

  37. Lenoxus says

    Does anyone have any advice as to the best way to call people on this? It just seems so fucking prevalent in my own subgroup that I feel like if I said something negative every time this came up, I’d practically have to get new friends. (Note: possible exaggeration.) And if I did, who would they be? Does any subculture actually pull off true anti-bigotry? Until I’d read this piece I’d thought the hipster types and their cousins, whom hipsters seem to have absorbed by now, were basically the lesser evil. Now I have to assume there’s some sort of alternative, but… what is it? (Note: I’m specifically talking about subcultures and not other areas of self-identity. “Feminist” doesn’t feel like a subculture to me, but I could be wrong.)

    • says

      You don’t need to belong to a sub-culture to have friends, not do you need to limit your friends to a specific sub-culture. You can just, you know, make friends. Keep the ones who are good people, ditch the ones that aren’t, and don’t worry too much about what sub-culture they happen to belong to.

      It can help a lot to involve yourself in more than one community. Cultivate several hobbies and interests and stuff through which you can meet people. That way you can not only befriend the best from each group, but also expose yourself to a more diverse range of ideas and perspectives.

    • says

      if some of these hobbies Natalie suggests involve social justice in any way, the likelihood for dumbfuckery on at least a couple axes of oppression is greatly reduced, and so may be the chances of not losing friends if you call them out on the remaining dumbfuckery. YMMV (especially if you’re an extrovert who needs a lot of friends), but that’s my experience

    • Rasmus says

      You can’t really call out people unless they’ve made some kind of commitment. Or you can, but that can sound mastering and condescending. Real life is not FtB.

      I try to state my opinion whenever I feel up to it. “There’s nothing wrong about [group of people]. I like [group of people].”

      If your friend becomes defensive, you can say that it’s just your opinion and then (if you feel up to it) you can go on and explain why you have that opinion.

      It doesn’t necessarily take actual argumentation and/or lecturing to change a friend’s opinion if it’s shallowly held.

    • Lenoxus says

      Thanks for the responses! Those all sound like useful ways to thiink about this.

      When I first read this article, it was a relief to see someone articulate what I’d been feeling privately. I tend to get defensive of “hipsters” for a number of reasons, mostly because I don’t like it when any group of people becomes percieved as being made out of stereotypes (and so many of the stereotypes are cliches at this point), and the ultimate effect is a sort of culturally-created bogeyman that Everyone Loves to Hate. Usually, the existence of “acceptable targets” is a bad precedent; the only exception I can think of is when the group in question really should, well, cease to exist by means of mass exodus, eg, Republicans.

      But this was spot on. Whenever someone makes a dumb joke about hipsters, I want to raise this issue and say “This is what you should be targeting!”

      As it happens, there’s a similar phenomenon with the world of geeks, a world to which I more-or-less proudly belong. I’m sure you’ve read about it – high-school jealousy over The Jocks Dating The Cheerleaders morphing into a weird resentment if women. Blech.

      I wonder how much of this Ironic Bigotry stuff connects to the decades of demonization of “political correctness” as so much oversensitivity. In addition to the usual “irony as an excuse to covertly excercise my privlige” stuff, I think there’s also an element of “Look how tough I am; I take it, I dish it out, I just don’t give a shit!” Which, of course, makes it tricky to respond negatively without protraying oneself as being low-status, and yikes, no one wants to do that.

      I’ve come up with a response of sorts to the classic defense of “What I said was just a joke“. I say, “Yes, ‘joke’ is indeed the correct genre of the racist thing you said. If it were a poem, you could truthfully say ‘It’s just a poem’. Care to explain how that’s relevant?”

  38. DLC says

    I am not hip. I’m not perfect either. I don’t have issues, I have a subscription. But, I do try to not fling gendered or racist insults. yes,I sometimes fail and call someone a bitch. I’m human, and I make mistakes. But I make the conscious effort to avoid such things, and more to the point to avoid or stop myself from thinking along such lines. I liked the work, Natalie, and will recommend it to others. Thanks.

  39. Rip Steakface says

    You’ve gotta be kidding me. One of the few racially diverse punk bands is violently homophobic? Fucking hell. I feel terrible for not knowing… probably because I don’t know much of their work.

  40. twooffour says

    Basically the supposition is that because you’re not “a racist”, not one of the bad guys, that you’ve divorced from yourself and shirked responsibility onto (in this magical world racism is something bad only done by the racists, who are bad people who live off in scary red states, and vote republican… the rest of us are “not racists”

    What a horribly superficial way of addressing this issue.

    All that stuff you’ve listed, the “ironic” bigotry or “reclaiming” terms, is valid.
    It’s possible to tell racist jokes while making “fun of racism” and not be a racist in any way, or shape or form, inside or on the outside, as well as not causing any damage.

    Instead of taking humorous tropes and labelling them all as “hipster bigotry”, it would make sense to address all the ways such seemingly harmless irony can GO WRONG:

    If you keep making it in front of a public, people or in a community you don’t trust to get it the right way, due to their own (actual or potential) bigotry or just plain stupidity and malleability – i.e. “the Spongebob squirrel effect” – … or, people that don’t know YOU or YOUR CULTURE enough in order to be secure about your motivations.

    You don’t want someone to actually adopt the racist attitudes contained in your “jokes”, or decide that things like this can be made light of at any time, you don’t want people in your vicinity that are actually affected and not willing to take jokes about it to get offended, and you don’t want to come off as a racist yourself, or as someone that creepily, ambiguously might be one, or might be an idiot unaware of boundaries.

    On the other side of the coin, you have to be confident in your own mind not to get “poisoned” by the constant frivolity to the extent that YOU might start somehow believing it.
    When other people engage in this kind of hipster bigotry, there’s always a possibility that they seek to hurt and unsettle others under the guise of humor – so you should be vigilant when other people do it, and be aware enough not to come off as one yourself.

    This is well summed up in the familiar saying, “intent isn’t magic”. Just because a certain attitude is in your head doesn’t mean it’ll magically interpret everything you do and say to your surroundings.
    But there are ways to ensure (to an acceptable degree) that your intent isn’t conveyed by “magic” but sensible and responsible behavior – by being “edgy” if you have to, but only at the right place at the right time.

    The kind of people you cite, that would immediately drop whiny labels on you for voicing any kind of criticism of their “jokes” and protect their “right” to have “fun” at any time, any place, are indeed nothing but adolescent oblivious morons and are as condemnable and damaging as your article states it to be.

    The main problem being that they don’t understand the things *I’ve* just listed, rather than that “ironic bigotry is bad, because” as your article seems to suggest 😉

    But other than that, the point that we easily tend to hind behind our noble labels while doing tons of stupid shit, is more than valid and I completely agree.

    Something that may be important to add here: the farther a society (or subculture) is removed from actual serious bigotry, the more acceptable jokes about it are. That’s just how it is.

    Francophobic jokes are mostly acceptable today without raising an eyebrow, because while people used to hate the French for invading Europe and in the context of past wars, such notions are mostly a thing of the past now and the most vicious “frog eaters sod off” joke will come off as acceptable because no one takes it seriously, or expects it to be meant seriously.
    You shouldn’t make them in front of the French exchange students you’ve just made, but when people say “I can make vicious jokes about the French because I’m not a Francophobe”, that’s what they’re referring to, and it’s not the logical fallacy you’re making it out to be.
    Obviously, though, racism and misogyny haven’t ANYWHERE reached that status, which is why those topics warrant a much higher degree or respect and responsibility. Replace the French in Blackadder with Africans, and see just how far you’ll get.

    Read any indie-zine’s review of Joanna Newsom, ever. Her music is always described as “fey”, “precious”, “wild”, “ethereal”, “otherworldly”, “fairy-tale”, “intuitive”, “child-like” and 133 other code-words for “female” or “feminine”. The intellectual intricacy, maturity and careful composition behind it is NEVER acknowledged, instead imagining it emerged as supernatural “inspiration” which she picked up by using her women’s intuition to tune her uterus into a magical antenna.

    I may lack certain specific context here. Sure, if female artists predominantly get this treatment while male artists are treated with more seriousness, then it’s a problem.

    But from my experience, this kind of woolly language is typical of all art reviewing and discussion, and has nothing to do with gender.
    Artistry is virtually inseparable from claims of “supernatural inspiration”, you’ll find it with the male artists of past centuries, and, uh, the male artists of today.

    Music listeners and reviewers very often focus on the emotional and associative components rather than “intellectual crafting intricacies”, describing the fiery landscapes arising in their minds, visual and emotional associations, and, of course, the artist’s personality, charisma and stage presence.

    Is it bad? No, as long as it doesn’t generally outweigh the cerebral side too much.

    “”wild”, “ethereal”, “otherworldly”, “fairy-tale”, “intuitive”, “child-like” and 133 other code-words for “female” or “feminine””

    NONE of the terms above in any way stand for “feminine” or “female”, they’re constantly used as general descriptions for any kind of music as longs as it conveys such impressions – including instrumental music written by male composers 3 centuries ago.

    In terms of notions of “femininity” or “masculinity”, the same thing applies – if too much fuss is made about femininity while men get treated seriously, it’s a problem.
    As long as that’s not the case (not necessarily in a whole country, but a specific subculture or social circle maybe), there’s nothing wrong with pointing out someone’s “feminine charisma”.

    Sure, you can argue about the terms and that just because a certain mannerism pattern is typical of women you can’t call it “feminine” as it could lead to generalizations (what if 95% percent of men started acting “effeminately”, wouldn’t that mean it’s the typically male thing to do?)… but, you also can roll with these notions and there’s nothing wrong with that as long as there’s no gender bias.

  41. says

    Hello Natalie,

    Fun reading this entry (shared by Prof C Heldman).

    I guess I’m not surprised that a group so tribally identified as “Hipsters”, with all the group identifiers that you so vividly paint, would be shot through with biases, sexism and even racism. I mean, if you hang out with people whose major identity is a tribe of some sort, wouldn’t you expect them to view the world in terms of in-groups, out-groups, this tribe, that tribe, etc.? Maybe not hanging out with folks who spend so much energy on defining themselves in opposition to others would help…

    Anyway, thanks for the writing energy!



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