On the continued theme of make-up and geeks, a few of my friends on twitter noticed that Geek Chic Cosmetics had a lip gloss with a ‘charming’ name, and emailed in to protest about the propagation of rape culture. Some engaged with the company over twitter, and then also sent emails in. They decided to respond in a very snide and dismissive manner. I am even less impressed with this response than I was with finding out the original name. I’ve not ordered anything from the company, as me wearing makeup is a pretty rare event.
Plus I don’t really see the point in wearing make-up that is pretty much the same as any other vegan make up out there, just with some ‘geek’ names and themes and extra costs through customs. However I am a talkative geek who happens to be a woman on the internets, and is otherwise relatively feminine in my tastes so seeing a company that aligns itself with ‘geek’ and ‘women’ behave this way is very much a facepalm moment.
Trying to please everyone
So what is a tiny 3 person operation to do? The same thing we do every night, Pinky. Try to please as many people as we can, as often as we can. It’s entirely possible that we have lost more potential happy customers to this accidental offense. While we don’t share the displeasure reported over the name of the item, we don’t have to in order to be sensitive and adjust, if it’s called for.
I’d like to point out that removing references to ‘joke rape’ from products marketed mainly to women is not about ‘pleasing everyone’. Leaving the reference in is hurtful to women. In some cases it might be an out and out trigger (which is not the same as finding a topic distasteful, so please don’t accuse people of pearl clutching.) Taking the bad pun out hurts no one. Leaving it in is somewhat alienating and dismissive. Disappointing a few customers who like a pun is not the same as being respectful of your customer base at large and the issues that face women everywhere.
Understanding rape culture
Finally, like we have to say it, the assertion that we condone rape or belong to the “rape culture” is absolutely untrue. We can’t address an issue that you don’t voice. Geek Chic Cosmetics is not a faceless, nameless, corporate entity. It’s a small business run by those three very human beings above. To reiterate our open door policy, email us first, give us a day before you unleash the hounds on us. We’re here for you.
You’re not faceless, but you’re reacting in a way that completely misunderstands the criticisms and issues surrounding rape culture. By keeping such a name in the product line, Geek Chic Cosmetics is participating in rape culture – even though of course the individuals involved wouldn’t condone the trivialisation of rape. That casual parody and normalisation of rape is exactly what ‘rape culture’ is, just as beauty standards in the media make idealised bodies the new ‘normal’.
A lot of this stuff is internalised. I really wish companies would not underestimate this.
The privilege of politeness and professionalism
As a professional I am not obliged to put up with abuse from companies, but when a customer (potential or otherwise) is legitimately angry about something I’d probably be expected to suck it up and handle it as professional as possible at my end of things. If a contact is that angry about something, I’m not allow to be snarky or anything back. We’d all appreciate it if all contact with us was civil manner, but asking for professionalism from non-professionals is a bit snide in a retail environment.
In an ideal world we wouldn’t react to things that matter to us with strong emotions. Oh wait. Rape and discussion of rape culture is likely to invoke strong emotions. Think about how it feels to be ‘accused’ of participating in rape culture; it shouldn’t be hard to extrapolate a little empathy for the feelings of your critics from that, should it? Casting a customer (potential or otherwise) who has a strong reaction to the marketing of one of your products as the straw-woman Angry Feminist Mob is a silencing tactic, plain and simple.
Plus, when it’s only one tweet, and not from the original tweeter/person who raised the query, it looks a little facetious ask for professionalism as part of a general public post that is supposedly addressing the concerns raised. You’re trivialising those who are made uncomfortable by the product name from the outset.
Don’t patronise your customers
Explaining the source of hentai and the original pun to your geek customers is just going to make you look like you’re patronising. If you want to engage with your customers, a little more research than a quote from cosplaydeviants would be good for starters. While I completely agree that equating the virtual and the real is not right, saying that the virtual exists in a vacuum is a little naive.
I’m well aware what the pun refers to, of the historical context. The context doesn’t obscure or render it neutral and harmless. Removing the name hurts no one – it’s not like the Geek Chic website will lose it’s multitude of fun, geeky, snarky comments that help to give the brand it’s personality by removing one name. And if it makes even 1 woman less uncomfortable, then that’s a good thing.
Marketing your geek products should be as much about managing your brand as ‘pleasing’ individual customers. Right now the picture is of an independent company that lacks sensitivity when dealing with complaints that touch on issues important to a core customer base. Reacting defensively to angry customers is inevitably a misstep, and kinda, yanno, looks like you’re defending your participation in rape culture out of ignorance. It is possible to respond better.
And inviting a vote with unmoderated comments? Oh dear. Some of the casual misogyny going on in that thread, in a space condoned by Geek Chic Cosmetics, is just as bad. So. Um. Trigger warning for the comments there. Internalised misogyny, how does it work.
- Original tumblr post
- Follow up tumblr post
- Rape Culture @ Geek Feminism Wiki
- Silencing Tactics @ Geek Feminism Wiki
- Chad Whitacre responding to criticism over the naming of an open source project and the follow up to the follow up. This is seriously a great example of how to engage. While not precisely the same, this is a case of a geek responding to criticism of a ‘punny’ name.
As of the evening of 9th April, GCC added the following edit to their original public response.
Edit: Hey guys! I just wanted to thank you all for your input. We are taking this issue very seriously, and considering all feedback. We’ve made mistakes, and we will learn from this in the future. We’re an ever-evolving company that deeply cares about the opinion of our customer. There is no way to please all people, but we’re taking it all in and figuring out where to go from here. Just remember – be excellent to each other. Lots of differing opinions on this subject, we welcome all views. We are listening.