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It’s the Patriarchy, Stupid!: Orphan Black and the Mainstreaming of Feminism

In body politics, feminism, gender, spoilers, Television, TV, Women's health on August 21, 2014 at 8:05 am

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Sarah S.

The Canadian television series Orphan Black begs the question, what if the future really is now? Its central protagonist is Sarah Manning, a British ex-pat, orphan, and grifter whose life changes forever when she sees a woman commit suicide in the subway. The catch? The woman turns out to be Beth Childs, a New York City police detective who looks exactly like Sarah. Given their shared appearance, Sarah decides to assume Beth’s identity and discovers in the process that Beth is not a long lost sister or cousin but that Beth and Sarah are two of several clones. A group of them is only just discovering this truth about themselves, or to use the parlance of the scientists who created them, becoming “self-aware.” The plot thickens as Sarah learns that Beth is under review by her department for shooting a civilian and someone is systematically murdering the clones. In short, Sarah’s life gets very, very complicated very, very quickly.

In many ways, Orphan Black seems like a classic science fiction plot—science is run amok, humans pay the consequences. But wrapped inside this broad perspective is a representation of patriarchy’s effects on women’s lives. Despite their shared genetics, Orphan Black emphasizes the personality differences between the clones, from uptight soccer mom Alison, to brilliant scientist Cosima, to mad, traumatized Helena. (I should note here the mesmerizing performance of Tatiana Maslany, who plays all the clones; she makes you believe each one is a distinct person.) Despite the characters’s individuality, they find themselves equally subject to exterior forces that deem them less than human and therefore able to be owned, manipulated, and objectified.

Two social institutions vie for control of the clones: corporate science and religion. Specifically, the Dyad institute, who took over the clone research and monitors the women in secret, and the Proletheans, a zealot sect that believes the clones flout God’s creative power. For both of these organizations, the clones exist to be controlled and forced to adhere to each group’s worldview. But by emphasizing the humanity and individuality of these women, Orphan Black makes viewers emotionally reject this premise, siding with the clones over the forces that seek to control them. Thus Orphan Black sets up Dyad and the Proletheans as metaphorical stand-ins for the patriarchy, blindly pursuing its own power at the expense of women’s independence and self-actualization.

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Marriage Woes: “House of Cards” and Critiquing Marriage

In gender, House of Cards, Marriage, TV on April 14, 2014 at 7:00 am

Phoebe B.

house-of-cards-season-2-full-trailer-poster-revealed

I got engaged about a month ago. Around the same time, we started watching House of Cards. This is perhaps not the most romantic of gestures, since the relationship between Frank and Claire is hardly the most fairytale-like of marriages. Their connection is one forged on the battleground of politics and power. The show offers up their partnership as a testament to what two people so committed to each other can accomplish. On the flip side–and here is what I’m most interested in–it is also a truly dystopic portrait of marriage.

As individuals, Claire and Frank are powerful; they are equals in intelligence, strength, and determination and most importantly, here, mostly equal partners in their relationship. Thus, each of them is quite possibly the only character who could ruin the other. Together they are vicious, ruthless even, and seemingly unstoppable.

Frank and Claire accept each other in their most savage forms. Is that perhaps what marriage is really about? To find love and be loved even in darkness and in the most unlikely of places, when our makeup and protective gear are off.

But their complete acceptance of and devotion to one another creates an us-against-the-world mentality that allows them to hurt others who get in their way. Everyone else–from the President of the United States to political aides, journalists and many others–winds up as collateral damage in their meteoric rise to power.

For instance, Frank helps a congressman, Peter Russo, get sober, mount a semi-successful governor’s race, only to orchestrate his downfall, help Peter return to drinking, and ultimately Frank kills him, staging his death as a suicide. This pattern of manipulation repeats itself throughout the series, as Frank and Claire help their marks rise in the ranks and then, inevitably crush their hopes and dreams, rendering each victim desperate and dependent on the Underwoods.

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True-er Detectives: “The Bletchley Circle,” Lady Sleuths, and Friendship

In feminism, gender, girl culture, TV on March 11, 2014 at 9:06 am

Phoebe B.

THE BLETCHLEY CIRCLE S1

I sit on the floor with my legs crossed, just a foot from the television, enraptured. I watch The Bletchley Circle alone, almost as if sharing the show with anyone else will change the way I feel when I’m watching it, interrupt my complete and utter devotion to the mystery.

Susan utters, “When this is over, we’ll have to be ordinary.” What she means is, We will have to pretend that we’re not brilliant. We will have to pretend we’re ordinary because we are women and smile politely at others’ accomplishments. It’s only been two minutes, but I am already devoted. I fear ordinary too. I fear boredom and expectations of marriage, children, home-owning. A life that is not your own.

I can feel my mouth forming a smile as Ted walks into the room to ask what I’m up to. I don’t want to answer and I don’t want to pause the show, because I’m worried that I might lose this feeling. But I do, and I do. Luckily, I don’t.

***

The Bletchley Circle tells the story of four former World War II code-breakers who happen to be women. The mystery at the center of the show is amazing; the characters who solve it, even more so. The series is about power in the face of powerlessness, determination and solidarity and what four brilliant women can do together. Read the rest of this entry »

On Patsey and the Amazing Lupita Nyong’o

In adaptation, fashion, Film, gender, race, violence on November 19, 2013 at 7:43 am

Sarah S.

I recently saw 12 Years a Slave and it’s phenomenal in all the ways you’ve heard. The movie focuses on Solomon Northrup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a musician and family man kidnapped and sold into slavery. But it also lends its precise gaze to others, including the white slaveowners—male and female—corrupted by the act of owning human beings, and the enslaved women, often forced to endure unique losses and abuses.

This particular brand of horror is most visible in Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o), who works alongside Solomon on the plantation of the sadistic, perhaps even mad Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender).

Solomon’s tale contains evils enough but it was the powerlessness of Patsey, selected for extra abuse without rhyme or reason, that most touched me.

She spends her days picking more cotton than any of her counterparts, then endures confused, cruel rape by her master at night. She is systematically raped by Epps, who is violently obsessed with her. His obsession with Patsey is at the very core of his cruelty to her and the horrors to which he subjects her to.

She then suffers extra abuse from Mistress Epps (Sarah Paulsen), jealous of her husband’s infatuation. Here the white woman is not only complicit in the violence against Patsey, but actively perpetuates and embraces it.

Patsey begs Solomon to do the human mercy of helping her to kill yourself, only to have him refuse on principle. She is trapped in that—believing in Christian doctrine—she cannot kill herself, but insists that were Solomon to kill her it would be a mercy killing, an act of valor. For Patsey, death is the only foreseeable freedom from the violence of the plantation.

She sneaks away to get soap since Mistress Epps will not give her any, only to return and be whipped to unconsciousness—an act in which Solomon must partake (emphasizing not only Patsey’s abuse but the emasculation through forced complicity and inability to protect that Solomon experiences).

These are just a few of the inescapable horrors she suffers within a system that denies her humanity and subjects her to consistent and ongoing violence. In sum, the ongoing victim of a chattel system forces her to be the screen on which both the Epps project their irrational jealousies.

Switching gears a bit, I just wanted to end on how fantastic Lupita Nyong’o is as Patsey. A few notes then on Nyong’o’s break-out role:

-She is entirely accomplished and worldly. Nyong’o studied in Yale’s acting program and has lived in Mexico, Kenya, and the US. Oh, and she made a documentary about albinism in Kenya.

-She rocks the red carpet. During the film, I kept feeling as if I’d seen Nyong’o somewhere before. Then I realized it had been on the fashion commentary blog Go Fug Yourself, where the Fug Girls have described her as “nailing it.” Thrust onto the circuit by the success of 12 Years a Slave, Nyong’o has been making an impressive debut.

-She works alongside some of the finest actors today and more than holds her own. In addition to the mesmerizing Ejiofor, 12 Years boasts Fassbender, Paulsen, Michael K. Williams, Benedict Cumberbatch, Alfre Woodard, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Quvenzhané Wallis, and Brad Pitt. Most of these performances, big and small, are excellent examples of acting in an excellent film. But as Patsey, newcomer Nyong’o carries one of the biggest roles and gives her character impressive depths and nuances.

(With thanks to Phoebe for feedback and edits!)

An Open Letter to Amber Riley

In body politics, Dancing With the Stars, gender on September 26, 2013 at 11:13 am

Dear Amber Riley,

I have loved you since the first episode of Glee. Your talent, your presence, and your charisma–and Mercedes’ compassion–have long made Mercedes one of my favorite characters on Glee. Then, I watched the opening episode of Dancing With the Stars, Season 17 and realized that you are more amazing that I even knew (and check out the Langston Hughes reference in the video. The best.).

Firstly, your dance. Hot. I aspire to move with that kind of agility, presence, and general panache. You looked like you have been dancing your whole life. You are, it turns out, a triple threat–even though Mercedes needed dance boot camp on Glee, you clearly do not.

Secondly–and really most importantly–thank you for not telling America that you were dancing to lose weight. When plus-size ladies from Kirstie Alley to Ricki Lake have gone on Dancing With the Stars, their narratives have primarily centered on weight loss. Winning the mirrorball trophy often seems secondary to slimming down. Losing weight, according to the show, is key to feeling sexy again, reminding people watching at home that only people who look a certain way are supposed to feel attractive.

That’s why it was so refreshing when you looked into the camera and said you were here to show girls like you how to move and be healthy and beautiful just as you are.

You’ve said something similar before in Marie Claire, talking about your character on Glee: “I also never had her insecurities about weight [...] but I love that now I get to show girls how to be comfortable with their bodies.” Thanks for saying it then and saying it now.

Thirdly, your victory dance after you got your scores during week one. Do it all the time. I am rooting for you.

A huge fan!

Phoebe B.

PS I loved your jive and your chemistry with Derek is amazing.

Quiet Times: Ladies, Friendship, and “The Good Wife”

In CBS, gender, The Good Wife on September 18, 2013 at 5:42 am

Phoebe B.

On The Good Wife, female friendships–especially Alicia and Kalinda’s–and relationships between women are, I think, the driving force of the show. Yet, these relationships are inevitably strained, often silent, and above all else complicated. Near the middle of the show’s fourth season, Alicia and Kalinda sit quietly in a hotel room, drinking red wine. Each woman is atop a separate bed, so that they face out toward the camera. When they speak, their conversations are stilted–filled with one-word answers, long pauses, and minimal eye contact. Adding to the strangeness of the scene is the hunting-themed wood lodge where they’re spending the night, a setting where they are both–with their very nice clothes and red wine–out of place.

Watching Alicia and Kalinda interact this way is an uncomfortable experience for me as a viewer. In fact, seemingly strained silences often make me uncomfortable. Yet the discomfort is wholly my own. The characters themselves are actually quite comfortable; this image of the two of them–together yet distinctly separate–perhaps defines their friendship. And that’s one of the things I love most about The Good Wife: the show challenges my expectations of how female characters are supposed to behave and interact with one another on television.

kalinda-and-alicia

***

The first time I watched Pretty Little Liars was on Super Bowl Sunday about three years ago. At the time, I was living in a cute, though small, house in Eugene, Oregon, which conveniently had a lofted attic. While my boyfriend and two of his guy friends gathered downstairs to watch the football festivities, I holed myself away in the attic with an air mattress, a space heater, and some blankets.

I wandered downstairs midway through binge-watching the show, hungry and hoping to catch the Super Bowl halftime show—truly the only part I ever want to watch. (One word: Beyonce). Sitting on the couch, watching television together but barely speaking or making eye contact, were the three guys. On instinct, I began to talk to fill the space. Their silence made me nervous. The Jewish grandmother in me worried that they weren’t happy, or that they were hungry, or needed more beer. The list, as any goes on. Mostly, I just worried that their silence indicated they were having no fun at all.

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I Don’t Like Skyler White. And That’s Okay.

In class, feminism, gender, misogyny, Television, TV villains, violence on September 2, 2013 at 1:00 am

Sarah S.

Alright, “don’t like” might be a bit strong but I definitely feel conflicted about her. Shortly before this whole conversation blew up about Breaking Bad‘s Skyler I tweeted the question: do people find Skyler White sympathetic? I wondered if others felt confused about her waffling, her semi-dubious claiming of the high ground, her own forays into unethical and even criminal activity. Were her reactions to these circumstances believable? Does the plot justify the battling loyalty, loathing, and fear she heaps upon Walt (her chemistry-teacher-turned-meth-dealer husband)?

In case you missed it, a lot of people hate Skyler, and I mean HATE, given the number of Facebook pages and websites dedicated to loathing her. In a response, JOS of feministing.com blames sexism for society’s inability to accept a complex female character. The actress who plays Skyler, Anna Gunn, even wrote an op-ed for the New York Times titled “I Have a Character Issue.” She describes getting death threats because of how people feel about the character she portrays. Similarly to JOS, Gunn argues that Skyler “has become a flash point for many people’s feelings about strong, nonsubmissive, ill-treated women.” This description makes it sound as if dislike for Skyler stems purely from misogyny but is Skyler really so uncompromised as Gunn and others make her sound?

***mild spoilers***

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Why We Should All Be Making a Fuss about Miley’s VMA Moves

In activism, gender, race on August 27, 2013 at 3:03 pm

Phoebe B.

Since the infamous Miley twerking incident at the VMAs, I’ve spent the last couple days following Facebook conversations—mostly by white liberals, of which I am one myself—on Miley’s performance. For the most part, white liberals have spent these threads arguing over whether or not to pay attention to this particular media event and if it really even matters. A few comments have suggested that “well-intentioned white liberals” are overreacting to Miley’s appropriation of black ratchet culture. This brand of dismissal is not only wrong on many counts, but also, I think, a big part of the problem.

Many of the conversations I have been following miss several truly important points about the history of white appropriation of black culture—and erase the participation of black voices from the discussion to boot.

UGH.

UGH.

As Dodai Stewart writes on Jezebel,

“basically, she, as a rich white woman, is “playing” at being a minority specifically from a lower socio-economic level. Along with the gold grill and some hand gestures, Miley straight-up appropriates the accoutrements associated with certain black people on the fringes of society.”

Miley is just one in a long line of stars who have appropriated parts of black culture for their own financial and image-remaking advantage. Indeed, Miley adopts this persona for power and profit, both of which are her reward for said appropriation. In her re-making of herself from Hannah Montana to … well, something else, she unapologetically uses black culture—and a specific vision and part of black culture—as a way to make her appear cool, hard-core, and badass. This brand of appropriation reinforces problematic and harmful stereotypes about black culture and reiterates that it is a-okay for a rich white girl to steal, use, and abuse any part of black culture that she sees fit (as she also de-historicizes and de-politicizes ratchet culture).

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A Survivor is (re-) Born, Or, Playing Tomb Raider after Anita Sarkeesian.

In feminism, Film, games, gender, misogyny, Uncategorized on June 26, 2013 at 7:36 am

brian psi

In 1985, Alison Bechdel’s Dykes to Watch Out For inaugurated what has come to be known as The Bechdel Test, a three-point checklist for evaluating how a film represents women. Does it have at least two? Do they have a scene together? Do they talk about something other than men? The fact that so few films pass all of these—even 30 years later—means that many filmgoers keep this checklist in the front of our minds, as part of the internal HUDs that we screen all of our media through.

It is difficult now, at least for me, to play a game without my own internal interface simultaneously replaying bits of Anita Sarkeesian’s ongoing series of videos for Feminist Frequency, “Tropes vs. Women.” The first three (two of which are complete) are about the ‘damsel in distress’ trope. In part 1, she lays out the history of the trope, and some of its earlier incarnations; in the second part she demonstrates how it has been used more recently, including such horrifying variations as the ‘damsel in the refrigerator,’ the ‘disposable’ damsel, and the ‘euthanized’ damsel. The collection of cutscenes and gameplay clips she has amassed in support of these classifications is staggering and frankly, not seriously refutable. So it would not be at all surprising if, in the not too distant future, players and critics evaluate their games by some kind of Sarkeesian test, which might get at whether there are women present in the game, and importantly, whether they are protagonists or allies rather than prisoners or corpses used to drive the stories of stubble-sporting, dark-haired white dudes.

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How Great is Gatsby? The Sarahs Respond

In adaptation, books, class, Film, gender, race on May 15, 2013 at 5:30 am

I love The Great Gatsby. It took several readings for me to appreciate its strange genius but now I’m hooked. It’s so rich and weird one can read it again and again and find a different perspective on the characters or an exquisitely beautiful passage. But it’s not a book that would seem to transfer well to film. But then again, nobody factored in Baz Luhrmann, who seemed a great choice to make an adaptation of Fitzgerald’s masterwork because you knew that’s what he would do—an adaptation—some heady filmic rendering of the novel, rather than an attempt to re-create the novel on screen. So how did Baz do? GLG’s Sarahs gathered their word-nerdery, film hats, and finest furs to find out.

***

Sarah S: I thought the movie was pretty interesting on both class and gender, albeit perhaps subtly enough that the average viewer might miss it. I also found any notion that it idealized that world sans critique completely stupid. I have more detailed thoughts but I’ll add them based on what you  think. What say you, Sarah T?

Sarah T: Yes I agree with you on both counts! On the gender front: People tend to hate Daisy because they think she’s just a blonde, glamorous, blank projection of men’s dreams. And she is a projection, but not just a projection. The problem isn’t that she has no personality, it’s that nobody sees Daisy–not Gatsby, not Tom, not even Nick, who prides himself on being observant. They’re all too busy being dazzled by that voice that sounds like money. (Good voice choice by Mulligan, by the way—low, musical, lilting, balmy as a summer day in Louisville.)

But as both Fitzgerald and this movie make clear, Daisy’s actually pretty complex. For one thing, she’s got this sly wit that she gets no credit for at all. (“Tom is getting very profound,” she says dryly after Tom goes on a ridiculous, racist rant. “He reads deep books with long words in them.”) And I loved that scene in the sweltering hotel room where we see how Daisy’s being ripped apart by two men who are each trying to control her, though Tom far more brutishly than Gatsby. I also like the image of the three-strand pearl necklaces that Tom gives to both Daisy and, later, to Myrtle–a handy symbol of the wealth and power that he uses to lure and trap women. That’s why Daisy tears them off when she tries to break off their engagement. Though it turns out that Gatsby is just as determined to use money to get to the girl of his dreams, too.

I also loved Jordan in this movie–so skeptical and breezy but with a new undercurrent of kindness that the book doesn’t give her. She came across as loyal to Daisy, compassionate toward Gatsby. And it’s clear how frustrated she is by Nick’s passivity, which is his greatest flaw, so good lookin’ out, Jordan.

Sarah S: There were a couple lovely scenes with Daisy when she realizes that Gatsby sees her as something to possess, a status symbol, just as Tom does. Gatsby might be nicer but that doesn’t change the essential fact. We see this when Daisy asks to go away and Gatsby insists they live out this public display of a fairytale. And then, as you mention, the room in the hotel when Daisy is literally repeating Gatsby’s words at his command (until she stops). (This scene is performed almost exactly as written in the novel.) The audience has this impression confirmed, too, when Gatsby watches Daisy prancing up his grand staircase and comments to Nick how glamorous she makes his house look. It’s almost as if she’s The Dude’s rug in that she “really ties the room together.” I found this a perfectly plausible way to represent Daisy based on the book and a nice way to push past Nick’s dismissal of her as vain and shallow. We still don’t have much access to Daisy but this twist, combined with Mulligan’s performance, gives us tantalizing glimpses, as if glimpsed through billowing curtains.

As to class, I felt that Luhrmann did an excellent job showing the crassness of Gatsby’s display of wealth, a poor boy’s excessive fantasy of how the wealthy live. When Tom taunts him that he’ll never belong, it’s true, and we know it’s true. When Nick tells Gatsby that “they’re a rotten crowd,” he’s right and, again, Gatsby will never belong with them. Depending on how you think about it, it’s a rather pathetic consolation prize, their rottenness. I also thought the film nailed the “valley of ashes” and the desperate, awful lives of Myrtle and George. No wonder Myrtle embraces an exciting affair with a rich brute (rich being the only part she’s not used to); no wonder George wants to sell that coupé and head west.

One other small thing that struck me was how often intimate conversations went on with servants still in the room–and how uncomfortable this made me, the grossness of ignoring the other humans in the room. In Downton Abbey and the like the family don’t have serious conversations in front of “the help.” So this detail seemed like a really subtle way to drive home the class distinction.

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Drawing Beauty: Limits and Surfaces in Dove’s Social Experiment

In advertising, body politics, feminism, gender, girl culture, race, Television, Women's health on April 18, 2013 at 9:06 am

Chelsea H.

By now, you’ve probably seen that Dove “social experiment” that’s going around, but just in case you’re as behind as I am, here it is:

The premise here is simple and, if I’m honest, well-meaning: many women, as evidenced by the way they describe themselves, don’t recognize – or are reluctant to acknowledge – their own beauty.  Any flaws they have in appearance are magnified when they view themselves; every crease set by joy and laughter is a “crow’s foot.”  Every tiny, cinnamon-dust dot is a big ugly freckle.  Chins protrude invasively.  Cheeks that don’t have flesh-slicing angular edges are chubby.  These flaws are captured when they describe themselves, all unseen, to a trained forensic artist who draws their portraits to match their descriptions.  And really, this shouldn’t be terrifically surprising.  Women are hard on themselves.  We’ve been taught to be.  Lines, wrinkles, creases – these are harbingers of mortality.  Any freckle, any spot, even the hopefully named “beauty mark” is looked upon as a flaw.

But then the tables are turned: earlier on the day of the experiment, each woman met and chatted with another participant.  Each is asked to describe the other person, and again the sketch artist draws the face that is described.  Results are, as you might expect, startlingly different: faces described by their owners as fat are simply pleasantly oval in shape.  Chins that are claimed to protrude are “nice” and “thin.”  Noses are “short and cute.”  Each woman is then shown the two portraits: one “drawn” by her own eyes, one by the eyes of a stranger.

Most of the women stand in stunned silence.  Some tear up.  Some smile ruefully, and some seem – not ashamed – but a bit bashful at their own perception of themselves.  The one older participant, Florence, who is given a lot of face time, says “I should be more grateful of my natural beauty.  It impacts the choices in the friends that we make, the jobs we apply for, how we treat our children, it impacts everything.  It couldn’t be more critical to your happiness.”  The images of the women standing in an otherwise empty gallery gazing on the sketches send a powerful message, the tagline of the whole campaign: you are more beautiful than you think.

At first viewing, my impulse was that this video rocked.  I got a little teary.  I said some affirming things to myself.

But then I watched it again, and I started asking questions.  Yes, the message is good: women should celebrate their beauty, but what is really being said about beauty in this depiction?

As blogger Jazz has said perhaps more eloquently than I can, there is a disparity in the types of woman being represented here.  Most are white – and not just white, but blonde.  Most are young.  All are thin-to-average in weight and build.  The women of color who are shown are featured less – say less and receive less screen time – than their Caucasian counterparts.  The one Asian woman represented, as Jazz points out, says nothing at all.  Beauty is, then, a young, thin, white woman.

Bitch Magazine has also picked up this issue and paraphrases it perfectly: “The hearts of conventionally beautiful women can grow a little warmer today.”  And really, isn’t that what’s being shown here?  While Florence is a bit older than the other participants, she barely tips the scales at middle aged.  She talks about her wrinkles and crow’s feet, but she’s barely got any to worry about.  All the women featured have feminine hairstyles, all wear make-up, all are dressed in casually stylish but unremarkable ensembles.  Women should consider themselves beautiful, then, but the depiction of beauty we are told should be celebrated fits within a stiff, traditional mold.

Dove, I commend you for selling us a vision of much needed self-affirmation.  I commend you for acknowledging this tendency in women and encouraging a move away from it.  I commend you for resisting the urge to sell us your skin care in a promise to enhance the beauty we already having.  As Bitch notes, there is no product schilling in this ad, and that’s nice.  But this video does sell us something.  It sells us a standard: while telling us to celebrate ourselves – we are more beautiful than we think – it sells us what beauty means, and what we should do with it.

What beauty means here, beyond an image of a thin, fair-skinned, young woman, is a physical appearance.  There is no acknowledgment of personality.  There is no discussion of inner strength or kindness or courage or wisdom.  We see chins and cheeks and eyes and hair.  We see surface.  What is revealed about these women’s thoughts is appearance-based as well: each woman is made to think, and think deeply, but her thoughts are all – every one of them – about how she looks.  Everything is about the surface.

So beauty means what someone looks like on the outside.  And knowing our surfaces meet a standard makes us feel good which, as self-affirming messages go, is bad enough already: the right kind of beauty = happiness!  Let’s look again at Florence’s conclusions: “I should be more grateful of my natural beauty.  It impacts the choices in the friends that we make, the jobs we apply for, how we treat our children, it impacts everything.  It couldn’t be more critical to your happiness.”

Do I really want to live in a world where my physical appearance and how I interpret it impacts what choices I make when I seek friends?  Friends, I can tell you with certainty that neither my looks nor your looks were what drove me to desire your friendship.  Are my own looks really going to impact how I treat my children?  My wrinkles and laugh-lines, as they develop, will somehow influence the way I love?  Beauty as Dove defines it – how I look on the outside – is not, and should not, be what is most critical to my own happiness as a person.

But that’s not all.  In the final scene of the ad, one of the women’s voices tells us “We spend a lot of time, as women, analyzing and trying to fix the things that aren’t quite right, and we should spend more time appreciating the things we do like.” As she speaks, the scene changes from a reflective moment in the gallery of portraits to an outdoor setting.  Against a bright beam of sunlight, she is suddenly enfolded in the arms of – judging from what we can see of him – a young, conventionally attractive, well-dressed man.

So, it’s not just that women should celebrate their own beauty, it’s not just that the women in this video are what beauty looks like, but part of the message is also about heteronormativity.  That’s disappointing, even though it’s not strange.  But what really bothers me here is that even as we are told that women should stop worrying so much about how they perceive themselves and concentrate on more important things, we are told exactly what those more important things are.  The couple depicted here at the end of the video embrace each other, her hand grasps at the bottom of his jean jacket as they walk, and the video closes with this image of her tucked under his arm, almost disappearing against his body – providing a clear interpretation of what it is that we should “spend more time appreciating” and what it is that, at least in her case, “we do like.”

What we get here, then, is suggestive.  Beauty suddenly isn’t an idea in itself; we are shown what appreciating our own beauty does for us.  When we aren’t so worried about our fat cheeks and pokey chins and gross freckles, we can devote our time not to building our self-confidence or learning new things or celebrating our independence, but to hooking, hanging onto, and demurely all but fading into the protection and strength of a man.

Now that’s a message I want to send to my friends and my children…

In the Sky, Lord, in the Sky: Historical Guilt and Bioshock Infinite

In class, dystopian literature, games, gender, race, spoilers, technology, time travel, Uncategorized, violence on April 4, 2013 at 9:30 am

brian psi

Irrational Games’ latest opus, Bioshock Infinite, was released last week, to universal acclaim. Creative director Ken Levine has been making the kind of upscale promotional rounds usually frequented by novelists or filmmakers—rare air for someone who has just made an ultraviolent first person shooter, the most reviled (and most lucrative) subgenre of the most debased popular art form. Like other games of its type, the new Bioshock features plenty of gunplay and gruesome melee finishers; unlike other games in any genre, Infinite’s storytelling, setting and themes explore the most troubling aspects of American history, providing a fairly scathing commentary on the interplay of American exceptionalism, racism, religion and labor exploitation. What really struck me is the way that the game evokes—in its narrative and mechanics—two very different responses to historical guilt, responses which make the game’s politics both fascinating and contemporary.

WARNING: massive spoilers below, including major plot twists and ending!

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The Days Are Gods: Interview with Liz Stephens

In books, environment, gender, race, Uncategorized on February 25, 2013 at 5:00 am

Sarah S.

Liz Stephens needed to get out of Los Angeles so she packed up her husband and her dogs and moved to…Wellsville, UT. She moved ostensibly for grad school but found she learned as much from diving into local history, her Mormon neighbors, the animals she raised and gave away and the ones who died, as she learned in books and classes. In her lovely, meditative memoir, The Days Are Gods, Stephens tells about white teenagers dressed up as Indians, a French kid who spends his summer on a Dude Ranch, surprise goats, and discovering how going to a non-trivially alien place helped her discover (or become or transition or whatever) into her adult self.

Stephens received her PhD in creative nonfiction from Ohio University. Her work has been featured in Brevity, South Dakota Review, Western American Literature, and Fourth Genre. She received the Western Literature Association’s Frederick Manfred Award and was a finalist for the Annie Dillard Creative Nonfiction Award. She’s equally talented at making a cup of earl grey tea and a mean mint julep. She will stop to ogle or coo over any animal in the vicinity, especially dogs. She can parallel park like a boss.

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You can buy The Days Are Gods from University of Nebraska Press or from Amazon. You can also find out more about Liz Stephens and her work on her website, thedaysaregods.com. After you finish reading this interview and buy her book, be sure to read her devastating essay “Ten Years I’ll Never Get Back.”

***

SS: Okay, let’s just start out with a big one: At one point you write about the sight of a grey barn on a mountainside: “I’ve seen that movie, the one with the barn in the mountains. I’ve read that book, the one with the treacherous winter. And now I am really there.” Now that you’ve lived in Utah and returned for visits, spent 4+ years in Ohio, and returned to Los Angeles (not to mention written and re-written this book), is there an essentiality to “the West” or is it—always and forever—artifice? Or narrative? Or dream?

LS: I think the West is like a celebrity who when interviewed says, “You know, there’s me, and then there’s capital letter Brad Pitt”—or whoever—the distinction of course being that from inside one experience you know a thing, and then culturally there is this mystical entity fed by a whole culture’s desires. Cultural values I wanted to attribute to the West exclusively were demonstrably true of Ohio as well: tractor derbies are good fun, and you should keep your business at the local feed shop or they will close and you will be screwed some day in the future when you need them. Neighbors are, like fences, worth investing time in. Being a college professor living in the country is not the same as being a grounds keeper at the campus and driving in to work, and none of you are going to be able to pretend it is. It’s a wise idea, that you suggest in your own question that the West may be a narrative. It is. If you tell your life in a big epic way, those are the features you feature in your surroundings, no matter who you are or your line of work. If you keep stories small and close to the home, you value that in your narrative of your own life. You describe your region in which that life plays out accordingly. Sometimes the West is simply the line of box stores you are most familiar with, with a really long snowy season.

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How To Be Awesome Like Claire Underwood

In adaptation, DNC, feminism, gender, How to be Awesome Like, Netflix, parenthood, reproductive health, spoilers, Television, TV villains on February 19, 2013 at 12:08 pm

Sarah S.

In the first episode of Netflix’s House of Cards, one recognizes immediately that Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) is Lady Macbeth to devious congressman Frank Underwood’s (Kevin Spacey) Macbeth/Richard III hybrid. But despite her overt support of villainy, Claire is easily one of the most fascinating women in a current series. Here’s how to be awesome like Claire Underwood.

-Marry not because you’ll be “happy” or “stable” or have a passel of children. Marry because your Intended promises you’ll never be bored.

-Know what you want and go after it.

-Look your age but with an unwavering running schedule, an amazing haircut, and a wardrobe of dresses to die for. (I love how this show plays off Wright’s star text by hearkening back to Princess Buttercup and her being the “most beautiful woman in the world.”)

claire2

-Have a hot, art photographer ex-lover in Manhattan on speed dial for whenever you’re feeling a little bit down and/or your husband is being an unsupportive ass.

-Have a true companionate marriage based on absolute honesty and respect and so

-Be pissed as hell when your husband begins to sacrifice your career for his and asks you to make compromises he’d never ask of himself.

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-Be part of an interesting experiment in the evolution of “television.” House of Cards, Netflix’s foray into series making, has flaws but it’s super interesting on multiple levels nevertheless. If nothing else, am I irritated that Claire’s sense that her life is missing something is manifesting in her wondering if she should have had (and should pursue having) children? Absolutely. Because it’s boring and cliché and so obnoxiously obvious and typical—e.g. not like Claire at all. (Related, I also hate that in her discussion with her doctor we receive two pieces of medical misinformation: first, that despite what she’s heard her age is no impediment to a healthy pregnancy; second, that her uncomplicated abortions might have negatively affected her fertility.) However, perhaps we are supposed to think that this newfound desire is misplaced, given what we know of both Underwoods. Only time will tell if Claire will be crushed by the inevitable tumbling of this House of Cards.

Pretty Little Liars Recap, “She’s Better Now” (Season 3, Episode 14)

In 2012 election, gender, race on January 11, 2013 at 6:27 am

In “She’s Better Now,” Mona adopted a fun retro-preppy look for her return to Rosewood High, Meredith taught Civics not-so-civilly and then got exploded (probably by Mona), and Jason and Mona are Rosewood’s newest Nefarious Power Couple. In non-Mona news… practically nothing. This was an all Mona all the time episode! Just giving the people what they want, ay show.

Pretty Little Liars 3x14 She's Better Now

Why is Aria’s dad so horrible and creepy?

Sarah T: I know! He sleeps with his students, he has under-handed psycho dealings with Aria’s teenage friends, he stares insanely at his daughter while she stares intently at necklaces and then accuses her and her friends of blowing up Meredith based on nothing. (Except, granted, a history of blowing up Jenna. BUT THAT WAS A LONG TIME AGO.) The man makes Spencer’s dad look like Father of the Year.

Phoebe B: So true … By comparison, Spencer’s dad is looking amazing. Also, Emily’s dad is the BEST of all the dads by far (that security system on the house was crazy!). But Aria’s dad is freaking me out so much. That moment when he stares creepily at Aria plus him eavesdropping outside her door when she’s on the phone were SO scary and why on earth does he think the PLLs blew up Meredith. Why would he not suspect Mona, who just got back from being extra evil? And the Jenna thing was totally Ali (right?!). Also, Ali was scary in this episode … scarier than normal I thought as she blackmailed Aria’s dad.

Mona is back. What’s she got up her sleeve this time–was she behind the brain in the locker incident and/or blowing up Meredith?

Sarah T: I’m gonna guess that she was the mastermind behind both incidents. She put the brain in her own locker as part one of the Mona: Sympathy for the Devil campaign, and she blew up Meredith either because warped logic led her to believe that it would help her prove herself to the Liars or because of A team reasons, which are always mysterious.

Phoebe B: I will second you on all counts. I definitely think Mona is working in cahoots with the janitor (who is now on the A team?) and definitely running an intense Sympathy for the Devil campaign. Also, Mona walking down the hall with that knife. Amazing. And scary too. I agreed with Hanna’s grandma wholeheartedly (also, I was so glad she was back! But where was Hanna’s mom?), who said that Mona was trying way too hard. Lastly, speaking of Hanna’s grandma, do you think there was a reason she sang so much at the beginning of the race? Like was she trying to distract folks from something? Or was it just for comic value?

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The Dating Obsession

In books, fashion, feminism, gender, reality TV, Television on January 9, 2013 at 1:42 pm

Chelsea H.

The summer before my junior year of college, I worked at a family-owned business that sold paint, spas, and above ground pools.  Strange combination, I know.  The owner of the store and I got along  well: he was a good boss, he and his wife paid well, and sometimes he shared a beer or two in the back with his employees after closing.  It was a great summer job.  But it, like my then-single situation, wasn’t to last.  My boss, for one, was determined to change the latter.  He told me once that I was “too great a person to be alone.”  He then advocated that, if I wasn’t finding men to date in my classes at school, I should look elsewhere.  I pointed out that the bar scene was not really my thing.  He asked “don’t you buy food?  There are men at the grocery store.  Don’t you do laundry?  There are men at laundrymats!”  I noted, always the pragmatist, that with laundry machines in my garage, I wasn’t about to sacrifice my quarters just to find a boyfriend.  I would rather save them for a soda machine.  Quarters, that is, not a boyfriend.

But his comments made me think.  Yes, I was single.  Yes, admittedly, I was lonely.  But why did being a great person mean I ought to be half of a couple?  Couldn’t I be just as great being just me?  And why is it “just” me?

Why not – me – ?

That fall, I met the man who became my husband.  And I have to admit, I can’t imagine being alone again.  I love our partnership.  I would feel lost without him.  But that’s because we’ve grown together and learned to rely on each other in a way that makes both of us more, not collapses us into co-dependent halves.  I accept, but do not love, when people ask me where my “other half” is.  I love living with, spending time with, and traveling with this man, but that doesn’t mean I have to be with him constantly, and his is not the only relationship I feel desirous of cultivating.  As society would see me, I’m ridiculously heteronormative.  And that makes me fit in perfectly.  Because society demands perfectly paired coupledom.  And though I recognize that this is not the only state of being in which individual human beings can be content, it is the most accepted, the most belabored, and the most advertised.  And I think this is a problematic, stagnant way of thought that stigmatizes and discriminates.  It’s a too-expected, too-relied upon binary we need to break.  I don’t want to sound like a hypocrite being in a happy relationship saying coupledom is a bad thing.  It’s not a bad thing.  It’s just not the only thing.

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GLG Year-End Picks: Brian’s Games of 2012

In games, gender, Uncategorized, violence on December 28, 2012 at 7:17 am

brian psi

2012 was the year that the sexual harassment endemic to many online gaming communities finally started to receive mainstream media attention. While there had long been sites dedicated to documenting it (see also Fat, Ugly, or Slutty and Not In the Kitchen Anymore) it was the backlash to Anita Sarkeesian’s Kickstarter for her “Tropes Vs. Women in Video Games” doc that really set off the community’s vile and vocal undermind. Sarkeesian documented the responses she received including rape and death threats, the vandalizing of her Wikipedia page, and one guy even coded a game, the object of which was to beat up a virtual version of Sarkeesian until she was left bruised and bloody. This, people, is why the world is awful. Thankfully, Sarkeesian also received considerable support, her kickstarter hit its goal many times, over, and she recently appeared on TEDx to give the full rundown.

Relatedly, #1reasonwhy trended on Twitter after a designer asked his followers why there were ‘so few lady game designers.’ A number of industry women replied to share their stories, some of which are depressing, others hopeful, but every one eye -opening.

The Year in Games Writing

On GLG this year, Allison Bray wrote about bodies and corpses in DayZ, and I wrote about the promising/troubling phenomenon of crossplaying gender.

Elsewhere, Tom Bissell’s ostensible review of Spec Ops: The Line is actually, Benjamin-like, some theses on the philosophy of the first person shooter. Bissell asks why we enjoy video game violence, a theme newly re-relevant post-Newtown. I’ve read this piece at least ten times, and now I’m reading it again. You should, too.

Patricia Hernandez talks Gears of War and the internalization of rape culture in competitive multiplayer. And it is devastating, the saddest thing I’ve read all year.

Games Played

FTL: Faster Than Light

A kickstarter-funded independent, FTL looks and plays like a fancy German board game. You are the captain of a starship pursued by evil rebel scum. Your fragile ship will be torpedoed, boarded by killer robots, pelted by asteroids, is subjected to internal fires and will occasionally experience explosive decompression. Your few crew members must make repairs, pilot the ship, and basically keep it all together while you order them to trade for parts, explore strange nebulae, and upgrade your ship with meaner lasers and death-dealing drones. Random star maps and events means your intrepid crew will die in different, horrifying ways every time. Fun for fans of Star Trek, strategy games, and those with malevolent God complexes, FTL is less than ten bucks on Steam. Read the rest of this entry »

GLG Weekly Round-Up

In #Kasandra Michelle Perkins, gender, race on December 7, 2012 at 10:13 am

On remembering Kassandra Michelle Perkins, from the Feminist Wire:

“Each time we say her name we remember her life and her tragic murder.  Each time we say Kasandra Michelle Perkins, we remember her 4-month old daughter who lost her mom and her dad on December 2, 2012.  Each time we say her name we push back at the privileging of celebrity-life  over her death.  Each time we say her name we are hopefully reminded of the ubiquity of domestic/partner murder.  Each time we say her name, we refuse the silence and erasure of domestic violence and intimate partner murder, particularly when the victims are women of color.  Each time we say her name we refuse the racism and sexism that obscures the humanity of those lives lost.  We challenge the discomfort that compels silence and erasure.”

Jada Pinkett Smith on Willow’s new hair, from the Feminist Griote:

” I made a promise to endow my little girl with the power to always know that her body, spirit and her mind are HER domain. Willow cut her hair because her beauty, her value, her worth is not measured by the length of her hair. It’s also a statement that claims that even little girls have the RIGHT to own themselves and should not be a slave to even their mother’s deepest insecurities, hopes and desires. Even little girls should not be a slave to the preconceived ideas of what a culture believes a little girl should be.”

Fit and Feminist tackles a crazy kickstarter campaign and body size:

“Respect is not a zero-sum game, y’all.  Recognizing the humanity of one group of people and treating them with respect and dignity does not suddenly mean we have to treat another group of people like shit.  There’s plenty of respect and dignity to go around.”

Lit mag The Destroyer let GLG’s Sarah T.  talk about Lana Del Rey, Santigold, race, and American nostalgia:

“Nostalgia lays present-day fantasies over the past like an automatic filter. It’s also a luxury available mostly to the privileged: the people who get moony-eyed about the past while ignoring its injustices tend to be the ones who have it pretty easy in the present.”

Rookie magazine hosts an honest, open, and very multifaceted roundtable on cultural appropriation:

“I’m not saying, ‘Burn all of your turbans/bindis/feathered headdresses/face paint/kimonos/etc.!’ I’m just saying learn about why, even if you don’t feel like you are oppressing someone, you may be participating in an act that has played an important part in oppressing/silencing/shaming other cultures.”

Sady Doyle questions why she uses theory in non-academic contexts and wonders who she’s writing for; Kara Jesella responds.

“As much as I would love to have a specific sort of audience, the sort of people who are just dazzlingly literate and cool and have a lot of feelings about Big Star and would dissolve into bubbling goo like the Wicked Witch of the West if Coors Light passed through their lips, I’m not sure that I write for them any more.”

AND

“to reiterate: i love theory, i have always loved theory, except for when i hate it, but, like, i can avoid zizek. and it probably hasn’t really gotten me much except a lot of debt.”

The End of Men: And the Rise of Intense Conversation

In books, class, feminism, gender, misogyny, Uncategorized on November 19, 2012 at 6:18 am

Sarah S.

Men are over. O-V-E-R. Or so says Hanna Rosin—journalist, author, founder of Slate’s woman-centric blog “Double X,” and mother to a son she worries about and a daughter that thrives. In The End of Men: And the Rise of Women, Rosin claims that patriarchy is deader than J.R. Women have won, men are in decline, and the only reason we (women, men, Americans, global citizens, etc.) don’t recognize this fact is because the reality is far from the egalitarian utopia our second-wave foremothers promised.

Rosin’s premise incited quite the conversation among feminists, including Stephanie Coontz, who takes umbrage at the notion that women’s successes equal men’s decline, and Emily Blazelon and Liz Schwartz, who defend Rosin’s premise and methodology. Regardless of where one falls on this issue (or one’s gender), it’s an important conversation to have for several reasons.

One, it makes feminists quite uncomfortable; if women have actually “won,” and the world is still a cultural cesspool riddled with inequality, then are women just replacing their male overlords? Is a matriarchy doomed to be just as distasteful as a patriarchy?

Second, if newly dominant women dislike the world we see, what do we do about it? How can we take this newfound power out for a spin and see what it can do for universal equality and global improvement? If nothing else, how can we avoid turning the men that we love—husbands, sons, partners, brothers, gay boyfriends—into a new underclass?

Third, are Rosin and her ilk dead wrong? Does Rosin selectively order information in such a way as to make her case while not accounting for real and ongoing gender inequality? Further, does she account enough for race, ethnicity, class, and sexuality in her assessment?

These and other questions are so important that I was excited to have a conversation with members of Girls Like Giants about the book. Alas, most of our crew were too busy dominating the world to read and respond to the book in a timely manner. So the weighty task of leading this discussion fell to me—your humble narrator and hopeful guide.

I would have liked to have had that conversation in order to get into the nuances of Rosin’s argument. Are her uses of individual stories distractingly manipulative or competent ways to humanize the discussion? How about examples from her own biography—honest or smug? And why oh why did she allow a desire to provoke controversy overcrow arguments against such an inflammatory, ultimately lousy title? But beyond these rhetorical choices, Rosin’s main point matters to any thinking person as she articulates a profound, unshakeable shift in the makeup of our world.

However, I don’t want to just review the book or to give a rundown of my thoughts on it. If nothing else, I’m too conflicted by the argument, and frustrated by Rosin’s way of making it, to venture an objective opinion. I thought that, instead, I would briefly summarize each chapter of the book and then open it up for discussion. I’ve also included a series of links at the bottom that highlight some of the conversation that’s gone on surrounding Rosin’s work. After reading the following, what say you? Have we really reached “the end of men”?

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Brave New World: Skyfall

In body politics, Film, gender, spoilers, Uncategorized on November 12, 2012 at 10:58 am

Bob Mondello at NPR opens his review of Skyfall with an important point about these newest editions to the James Bond franchise. Any Jason Bourne can engage in stunningly athletic chases and fist fights. But only Bond will use a backhoe to open the roof of a train car, jump in, and…check his cufflinks before continuing the pursuit. Mondello’s key argument is that the people behind Daniel Craig’s star turn as the quintessential super spy get it, that magic that makes Bond Bond and not Bourne.

But having said that, this is not your father’s or your grandmother’s James Bond. From the “beginning,” with Casino Royale, this Bond seemed grittier, younger, able to kill a man with his bare hands and then visibly squelch his emotions. It helped that the folks behind the reboot hired quality actors and turned the focus off of gadgets and onto characters while maintaining Bond’s swagger and style. But a focus on characters forces another change, pushing our hero and those who surround him into something like actual humans in this modern world. These creators embrace a female “M,” using the talented Judy Dench as a believable figure not a politically correct giggle. Skyfall builds on this trend, proving this character-driven Bond is not a fluke. And while Skyfall does interesting things with its women, particularly M, it is in the redefinition of modern masculinity that the reboot makes it greatest contribution.

***Spoilers after the jump***

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GLG Weekly Round-Up

In election, election 2012, gender, music videos, race on October 26, 2012 at 11:51 am

Nico Lang breaks down why The New Normal’s ironic racism is neither funny nor progressive in “‘Gaycism’ and The New Normal“, at The HuffPo:

“Remember hipster racism? This is that turned up to 11, like Murphy throwing a big blackface party on TV and saying its okay because it’s “ironic.” However, the biggest problem with pointing this out is that people often don’t realize that ironic racism is still just racism. And what actually makes the show’s racism so doubly troubling is that the act of being systemically oppressed should make people more aware of the ways in which they have the ability to marginalize others, because they have experienced the same thing themselves. The New Normal is even ABOUT that marginalization, specifically the discrimination Bryan and David (or “Bravid”) face for being two men who want to raise a child.”

Check out “An Open Letter to Abigail Fisher,” via Clutch Magazine.

“You are insisting that the University of Texas at Austin denied your application for undergraduate admission because they were required to fulfill a federal diversity quota, which subjected you to bias. In blaming affirmative action for that denial letter, you are disregarding your responsibility as a college applicant. It is much easier to fault affirmative action than to hold up a mirror and see that you just weren’t qualified.”

Scott Nagakagawa talks race and voting rights over at Race Files:

“I grew up in the 1960s and 70s, back when that La Choy commercial was considered about as offensive as selling water softener as an “ancient Chinese secret.” That was a much more naive time for whites. That naivete was rooted in the unquestioned dominance of whiteness. In fact, so dominant were whites that American was synonymous with Caucasian. But the racial equity movements of my childhood would soon shatter that naivete, pulling whites into a struggle to maintain their cultural dominance that made the contours and vulnerabilities of whiteness visible to whites, perhaps for the first time. Until then, being the assumed racial and cultural norm of America was fundamental to white identity and to the ethos of American exceptionalism.”

Lastly, a few fun videos from this week:

Watch Tina Fey’s excellent, rousing speech about how sick she is of “grey-faced men with $2 haircuts” telling women what to think about rape.

Check out Lena Dunham for Obama. And Slate talks about the conservative response to her video.

And if you are missing summer and “Call Me Maybe” then check out Carly Rae Jepsen’s new, perfect pop song: “Your Heart Is a Muscle.”

“Nashville”: This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Both of Them. Or Is It?

In class, gender, Nashville, The South on October 15, 2012 at 9:46 am

Firstly, welcome back Tami Taylor! I mean, Connie Britton! You are the best. Secondly, Nashville premiered this week on ABC–a show we at GLG have been super-excited about since the upfronts came out. So we wanted to take a little time to ponder the new series, its leading ladies, and its representation of the South.

What did you think about the Nashville pilot?

Phoebe B: I enjoyed it in part because I sort of love country music and really adore Connie Britton. I am also intrigued by the politics side of things, which appear ridden with mystery and corruption and family drama. I also was intrigued by what seem to be a criticism of youth culture in the music industry and the ways in which female musicians, for example Rayna (Connie Britton), are pushed out in favor of autotune and youth. I also worry, however, about the women in competition with each other aspect but also the show seems to figure that competition as perpetuated by the men of the music industry. Basically, I am excited for more Nashville but also wary of certain aspects of it.

Sarah T: As a fellow lover of Connie Britton and of Nashville (pretty much my entire paternal side of the family lives there), I’m rooting for this show to knock my cowboy boots off. So far I like, but do not love it — but hey, it’s only one episode! The show’s original music is great, and I’m excited to see the relationship and rivalry between the two female leads develop. I am also somewhat confused about whether or not Nashville owes Country Strong a cut of its royalties, since it has the exact same plot minus the older star’s alcoholism. And there are no baby birds in boxes. YET.

Chelsea B: Like both of you, I mostly watched because I adore Connie Britton and had my fingers crossed that her Nashville character would just be Tami Taylor in sequins and with a slightly different drawl. Rayna wasn’t quite that, but she also wasn’t a total disappointment. I also am bummed that the central storyline revolves around building competition between two female leads. I comfort myself (as a long-professed Taylor Swift anti-fan) by imagining that Hayden Panettiere’s character, Juliette Barnes, is actually a direct portrayal of Taylor Swift, despite claims to the contrary. I’m also into the political intrigue, even though Rayna’s daddy issues driving a lot of that conflict are already a bit wearisome. And I’m totally with you on the Country Strong comparison, ST! Leighton Meester could only have improved this show.

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A Thursday Survey: What Gives, Girls?

In feminism, gender, girl culture, Girls, music videos on September 20, 2012 at 8:46 am

Chelsea H.

Yesterday as I drove into the parking lot at work, Pat Benatar’s growly, joyfully combative “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” was playing on my Subaru’s radio. I sang along, rejoicing in her toughness, knowing this comes out of a tiny, petite woman whose lungs must take up 45% of her insides, until I got to this line: “Before I put another notch in my lipstick case / You better make sure you put me in my place / Hit me with your best shot…” I stopped singing. Here I was, barely conscious of my feeling that this was a female emancipation kind of song, and then this line. And I know, she’s being facetious – she really thinks his best shot is going to miss, or deflect off of her amazing woman armor – but it still bothered me. “Try your best to make me act like the demure, fragile, modest little woman your interpretation of society demands I be.” What kind of message is that?!

Crimes of Passion Album Cover, courtesy of Wikipedia

I turned off the radio. Somehow, for all the years I’d been listening to that song, I hadn’t thought about the fact that it was about a woman’s relationship with a man. As I’d applied it to my own life, singing along, I had been sing/yelling to job interviews, to tough days looming before me, to challenging classes, to physical labor, but never to a man. It bothered me that this powerful voice was consumed by her relationship: not only “Hit Me,” but “Love is a Battlefield,” “Heartbreaker,” and “We Belong.”

As the day progressed, I found myself continually coming back to this dilemma: I can instantly call up dozens of songs sung by men which are NOT about their romantic relationships: songs by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Green Day, Michael Jackson, Boston, Chicago, Blitzen Trapper, Steve Miller Band, Audioslave, Nirvana, the Monkees, Journey, Pearl Jam, Johnny Cash, Guns ‘N Roses, Billy Joel, even Neil Diamond, amidst “Sweet Caroline,” “Desiree” and “Cracklin’ Rosie,” has “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show.”

But when I tried to do the same for women, I could only come up with a few (apologies for the ads that lead into some of these videos):

Amy Winehouse’s brilliant, stubborn throwback anthem “Rehab,”

Carole King’s “Smackwater Jack,”

maybe Carrie Underwood’s “Jesus Take the Wheel” which, though it’s not about a romantic relationship, is a story of a woman dependent upon a male figure (no offense meant, of course, I’m certainly not critiquing having a relationship with God, only pointing out how prevalent this theme is).

Four Non Blonde’s “What’s Up,” which was always one of my favorites in high school, seems to fit this short list (also, how awesome and 90s are their outfits?!) .

Of course there are also the smaller number of songs by women about women, like Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl” and, though it’s not terrifically explicit (and though it admittedly deals with deeper, more complex issues), Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car,” but these still fall into the theme of women singing about their relationships.

And I’m not saying this trope doesn’t appear in songs by men. There are plenty of male singers whose songs tell the story of relationships with women. It’s just that there are so many that don’t.

So here are my two questions:

  1. Ladies, why do we do this? Don’t we have other, equally important things to sing about? Why are we so focused, as musical artists, on the men in, out, and around our lives? Is it that women are singing songs written by men, or is it that women’s songs about men sell better? Is it that these are “safe” subject matter and therefore more playable? Why aren’t we singing about the other parts of our lives – the parts that are not longing for, begging for, dependent on, or grieving over men?
  2. I’m sure I’m missing some – after all, I’ve only thought about this for a day or two – and I want to be wrong about this. What other songs are out there sung by women (and not just covers of songs originally sung by men) that are not about their relationships with men? Let’s make a list. Let’s make a big list, if we can, and prove me wrong.

Catwoman has Boneitis: Comics, Bodies, and Form

In body politics, gender on July 17, 2012 at 8:49 am

brian psi

Last year, DC Comics relaunched its entire line of superheroes in an event they titled The New 52. Aimed at luring new readers, the initiative sought to wipe away decades of confusing and conflicting continuity and to present the most authentic, essential versions of their popular characters (including Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and others). Costumes were redesigned, creative teams shifted, and backstories simplified or altered. 52 was by most accounts a commercial and artistic success. But despite the lip service that DC editorial has paid to bringing in new creators and readers, especially more women, they somehow still allowed a lot of crap to happen.

I do not want to rehash Red Hood and the Outlaws, Wonder Woman, or Catwoman here; even though last month’s Catwoman #0 is obviously the principle motivator of this post. Others have already written on these, and I encourage anyone interested enough to have gotten thus far to click on the links embedded in the titles above for some excellent commentary on the issues with those specific works.

Catwoman #0, cover by Guillem March

Instead, I want to tackle a very specific argument that some creators and fans have raised in defense of the sexualization of women within the pages and on the covers of these comics. Let’s call it the ‘other mediums do it too!’ defense (AKA the ‘books/films/games/etc., are just as bad!’ defense). Put aside the fact that this defense, more of an excuse, is incredibly juvenile: if a novel jumped off a bridge, would you? It also conveniently elides the greatest formal difference between comics and other media: comic book characters are drawn, inked, and colored—wholly produced—by people. This seems rather obvious, I know. But it has enormous ramifications for the ways that the human form is represented, and how that representation is understood, consumed, and/or identified with by the comic’s audience. So, when I argue that representations of women in comics generally are worse than those in other media, it is not because I am a snob or self-hating comics fan (well, maybe sometimes), nor is it because there are some objective criteria by which we can measure this phenomenon. Nor do I believe that comics artists and writers and editorial boards are evil or are actively trying to ‘keep women down’ somehow–although at times (see examples above) one has to wonder. Rather, it is because in comics, unlike in prose or film, the creator or creative team exercises absolute control over the bodies it aims to represent. Read the rest of this entry »

Wizarding Squibbs Have More Magic than “Magic Mike”

In feminism, Film, gender, Uncategorized on July 10, 2012 at 9:02 am

Sarah S.

Magic Mike may be the first mainstream (and critically-acclaimed, no less) movie about male strippers (of the Chippendales variety) but this is a story you’ve seen before. However, last time you saw it the protagonist was female. You know the kind: small town, down-on-her-luck girl gets seduced by the glamor and easy money of [insert your disreputable activity here] only to crash into its seedy underbelly and either escape her problematic position to pursue her “real” dream (acting, singing, marriage+babies, etc.) or b. serve as a cautionary tale as she falls into her doom (i.e. see Burlesque [2011] and Showgirls [1995]).

*spoilers warning* (And no, I don’t mean that there’s lots of abs. You already knew that).

Magic Mike shares many features of this plot. First, we have  the “dream” component; Mike, played by Channing Tatum, tells everyone he meets that he’s an “entrepreneur” because he ultimately wants to be a furniture designer. Second, there is the older, world-weary, semi-reputable mentor, in this case played by Matthew McConaughey as Dallas, the owner of the club where Mike works. Third, we have the oft-seen love triangle between a creep who fails to respect (an important point) the protagonist and the “tough love” person the protagonist is clearly meant to be with; Mike has a casual relationship with a bisexual psychology student (Olivia Munn) but discovers that she only wants him for his body and has no interest in him as a person. When Mike discovers she has a fiancé, he becomes open to the possibility of a relationship with no nonsense Brooke (Cody Horn). Last, we have both of this plot’s endings represented, first in Mike—who escapes the club world, regains his self-respect, and gets the girl—and “the Kid” (Alex Pettyfer)—who Mike brings into the world of stripping and who falls down the rabbit hole of promiscuity, drugs, and easy money.  See what I’m saying? You’ve seen this movie before.

Perhaps the most interesting part of Magic Mike—certainly more than the shirtlessness or even the plot itself—is the switching of this generic plot from a female protagonist to a male one. We’ve seen this done the other way around. Sigourney Weaver usurps the action hero’s place in the Alien franchise and Thelma and Louise and Boys on the Side riff on the buddy travel flick. But it’s less common to see a male protagonist inserted (ahem) into the female plot. Thus, even though Magic Mike is entirely generic in all but its dancing scenes it still feels significant in the history of cinema.

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GLG Weekly Round-Up

In activism, gender, race, Weekly Round-Up on June 15, 2012 at 9:38 am

Here are some fun and interesting things the GLG folks read this week. What did you read this week? Let us know in the comments!

From the Racialicious Tumblr, debunking the Kumbaya myth.

Check out the awesome trailer for the upcoming Dear White People movie here and their Tumblr here.

What pop culture items do academics study most? Buffy? The Matrix? Find out the answer this week at Slate.

A recap of the misogynistic backlash to Anita Sarkeesian’s Kickstarted project about video games and misogyny, on Feminist Philosophers. And another post from Slate on this same topic.

Lastly: Going on a date this weekend? And looking for a perfume? Smell like Labyrinth! Check out Labyrinth-inspired perfumes over at Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab.

Post- “Dance Academy” Reflections on Teaching, from a Former Gymnast

In Dance Academy, gender, Teaching, teen soaps, Television on May 14, 2012 at 10:54 am

Phoebe B.

I am a teacher, and I have just about always known that I wanted to be one. I have selfish reasons aplenty for why I love to teach, and there are just as many political reasons why I think teaching is important. But this post is about more than just my teaching experience or thoughts on teaching, rather it’s about teaching style and the teachers we see represented and reflected in popular culture. That said, my own experiences as a teacher and a student certainly provide the lens through which I understand and negotiate teaching. I am, as described by my students at various points, fun and funny, awkward, difficult and rigorous with high expectations, goofy, helpful, young-seeming, and tough. I’m sure there are many more adjectives that might describe my teaching, from my students’ perspectives or even mine for that matter, but I want to stick, at least for the moment, on the descriptions of difficult, rigorous, and tough.

I grew up doing competitive gymnastics, a sport I began at 3 or 4 and left at 17, right before my junior prom (the prom pictures still reveal quite a few left-over, and impressive, gymnastics muscles). Gymnastics, from the time I was in third grade through the time I left at 17, was my whole life or at least a giant part of it. In that sport, you learn to push yourself all the time. Your harshest critics are your biggest fans, your coaches push you beyond your perceived limits to find new limits, they spot you until they trust you can do it on your own, and they sometimes cause you pain to push you further that you thought possible or even productive. The gym was a space where all the girls on my team both suffered and triumphed together: there were tears, frustrated storming out, yelling, time outs, extra strength exercises because you talked back, and hugs and congratulations when you stuck your landing.

I was never the best gymnast or best gymnastics student, nor was I the best school student. I didn’t stand out a particular amount, but I worked really hard, often surrounded by people that were better than me. This continually pushed me to be better–to be more like them. But the tough coaches were also crucial, although it has taken me quite some years to realize and appreciate this fact. They treated us like family, we were like their kids. When we traveled together, they set our bed times, made sure that we ate enough when we went out to eat, set rules and regulations for acceptable forms of behavior and instilled in us the idea that we were responsible for ourselves, our success, and our failures.

These coaches were, and probably still are, really demanding. But their toughness made me strong and responsible and sometimes even resilient. And I would venture to say that this is true of just about all the gymnastics girls I grew up with. They were the kinds of teachers whose methods I did not always like, but whose lessons have stuck with me. They were the teachers, along with some crucial writing teachers in high school, that influenced my own teaching. They are the teachers that lead my students to label me as tough, rigorous, and demanding. But that rigor, those rules, that discipline, also allowed crucial space for fun, for experimentation, for creativity, and for self-expression.

The Dance Academy crew

This phenomenon, the tough yet caring teacher, is not one I often find reflected in pop culture. But then there was Dance Academy, the marvelous Australian TV show available on Netflix. As GLG co-founder and partner in crime Sarah T. will tell you (she is the one that convinced me to watch it), Dance Academy is amazing. And it is amazing for SO many reasons. But for now I’ll just stick to one, which is the relationship between students and teachers at the Australian National Dance Academy. There is one teacher (and by the second season she is the principal of the school), Miss Raine, who particularly strikes my fancy.

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An Ideological Mess or: How I Learned to Not Stop Worrying and Still Love Rock Climbing

In class, gender, race, Rock Climbing on May 11, 2012 at 6:54 am

Guest Contributor Narinda Heng

Iíve been climbing fences, balconies, and trees for years, but it wasnít until January of 2011, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, that I went rock climbing for the first time at Malibu Creek State Park. It’s funny that instead of participating in a Day of Service, I went rock climbing. I guess that could be seen as one of the very first moments when I had to grapple with feeling a contradiction between pursuing rock climbing and the many other ideals and identities that I hold dear. And now here I am–here we are– discussing race, gender, and class in rock climbing.

And it feels good. Really good. Even though it’s uncomfortable and difficult. Because I don’t feel like I need to ignore or hide the fact that I think about and experience these contradictions, and what’s more, I’m seeing that there are so many people out there who are supportive of talking about it. And my partner, who has been climbing and dealing with this for much longer than I have, gets to heal a bit from her earlier discouragement with discussions like this in the online climbing community.

I submitted the link to Melissa Sexton’s article Ashima and Obe: Should We See Race/Class/Gender on the Rock?”  to Climbing Narc because recent discussions made me feel like there were people in the climbing community who were ready and willing to talk about it. I was also ready to see people be defensive and assert that there’s no race/gender/class on the rock, and I actually agree with that–those delicious moments of just climbing are part of why I love it. So I understand why Guidoprincess said this:

I think the reason many people, including myself, find this offensive is that we turn to climbing exactly to avoid worthless BS like this. While many other public forums are full of this ìracial landscape navigationî nonsense, climbing is a pure activity where everyone can just chill the f*ck out.

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Rebound: Being Unique on “Glee”

In gender, girl culture, Glee on April 25, 2012 at 5:11 pm

Phoebe B.

Lena Dunham’s hotly anticipated Girls is still the topic of the week, with bad and good reviews in every major and minor news outlet. In all the hubbub, I worry that we might have missed what was (for me at least) the most exciting moment of television in some time. Last week, Glee addressed being gender non-conforming through high school student and Vocal Adrenaline member Wade/Unique. Wade feels more at home when expressing his gender as feminine and the amazing Unique is definitely not the kind of girl who gets included in Girls.

Unique is played by Alex Newell, from last year’s Glee Project. Alex regularly performed in drag during the show. For example, he once wowed Ryan Murphy by singing “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” from Dreamgirls as Effie White, which may or may not have brought me to tears (I love that song!). He is truly talented and I loved him on the Glee Project (and on Glee for that matter). Sadly, he didn’t win the Glee Project, but I am grateful that Ryan Murphy saw his talent and cast him anyway—and I would LOVE to see more of him.

So here’s what happened on Glee last week: Wade asked Kurt and Mercedes whether he should perform as Unique in a Vocal Adrenaline show. The duo dissuades him from doing so, then persuades him (per Sue’s evil-ish influence), and then attempts to dissuade him again. The final dissuading, however, is unsuccessful, and Wade goes on to perform as Unique and wow the crowd. She sings, following the Disco themed episode, “Put on My Boogie Shoes.”

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“Are you ready to go back to Titanic?”

In Film, gender, Melodrama, Oscars, Uncategorized on April 18, 2012 at 2:55 pm

Sarah S.

Confession: When Titanic first came out I saw it 8 times in the theater. I had a poster on my wall. I not only listened the soundtrack but I bought the album of Gaelic Storm, the band playing at the film’s third class after-party. I was 18 years old and I loooooved it. And I never fully rejected it as the years passed. When friends made fun of my affection, I noted that I had the weight of the Academy behind me. (Titanic was nominated for 14 Oscars, tying All About Eve, and won 11, tying Ben Hur and getting tied itself by LOTR: The Return of the King.) I also found Titanic-hating passé; one didn’t have to love it to acknowledged its solid acting, gorgeous sets and costumes, and stunning effects.

Age certainly tempered my enthusiasm, so I met with trepidation the news that not only was director James Cameron re-releasing the movie (15 years after its debut and right before the 100th anniversary of the ship’s sinking) but also that it was going to be coming right at you in 3-D. I tend to be as blasé about 3-D as Rose Dewitt Bukater is about the ship Titanic, so I fully expected to roll my eyes at this pointless spectacle. Well, I went, I saw, and I’m here to report back not only how Titanic holds up under 3-D technology, but also how my perspective on the underlying symbolism of the story has significantly shifted.

First off, the good: 3-D and Titanic actually work together. Cameron’s obsessive attention to set design and historical detail fit well with the layered look of 3-D cinema. 3-D often lessens lushness but in Titanic it works to emphasize the impressive look of the thing. Speaking of that obsessive attention to detail, the film’s one changed scene, courtesy of Neil deGrasse Tyson, diverges from its predecessor in its emphasis of the milky-way if nothing else. And the things you liked about the movie beyond its beauty, namely the acting and the romance between Rose (Kate Winslet) and Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) hold up.

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