thinking big: feminism, media, and pop culture

Posts Tagged ‘gender’

Sit Down, Devil’s Advocates: SNL Tries On a New Look

In misogyny, TV on April 4, 2014 at 11:04 am

Sarah T.

Comedians who employ racial stereotypes, homophobic slurs and misogynistic language in service of their jokes often try to deflect criticism by arguing that comedy is about pushing boundaries. But it hardly seems edgy to insist on targeting people who already occupy marginalized positions in American culture—particularly when the person telling the jokes is a straight white guy, as they so often tend to be. I mean, Daniel Tosh can insist that his rape jokes are about breaking cultural taboos all he wants, but it seems obvious that all the man is doing is reinforcing the status quo.

There are, however, plenty of ways to be funny and fresh about race, class, gender and sexuality without making the jokes come at the expense of people that American culture seeks to disempower. This season, several sketches on Saturday Night Live—a show that has plenty of diversity problems of its own—have explored topics like privilege, white guilt and the problems that arise when people outside specific cultural groups try to appropriate insider language.

One recent example is “Dyke and Fats,” a sketch penned by the two Saturday Night Live cast members who star in it: Kate McKinnon, the show’s first openly gay female comedian, and Aidy Bryant, the series’ first plus-size female hire.

The sketch, which unfolds as a promotion for a vintage buddy-cop TV series, incorporates multiple cultural stereotypes about fat people and ladies who like ladies. McKinnon’s character, Les Dykawitz, is an arm-wrestling cop who keeps a scroll of dog photos tucked behind her police badge. Bryant’s character, Chubbina Fatzarelli, has a string of bratwurst under her badge and slips a particularly juicy-looking hamburger her phone number. (A very smooth move, and one that I will certainly emulate when I come across perfectly crisped French fries in the future.) The show-within-the-sketch has obvious affection for the characters as they bust down doors and use each other’s bodies to roundhouse-kick a semi-circle of bad guys. At the same time, it seems straight out of the 1970s exploitation boom.

But the last moments of the sketch reveal that it has no interest in exploiting the characters’–or cast members’–identities. And any viewers who were watching and laughing because the sketch affirmed their prejudiced beliefs have a knock-out punch coming. Read the rest of this entry »

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.

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.

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

GLG Weekly Round-up: Race & the Media

In activism, race, violence, Weekly Round-Up on May 4, 2012 at 10:13 am

It has been a rather quiet week on GLG (mostly because we are having an in-person GLG reunion over here in Oregon) and we shall be back in full force next week. But, in the meantime here are some links on race & the media. Have a great weekend!

From Adrienne K. of Native Appropriations:
http://nativeappropriations.blogspot.com/2012/04/johnny-depp-as-tonto-im-still-not.html

Not from this week, but a great post from Herman Gray on Flow TV on race, space, and the media:
http://flowtv.org/2012/03/gloved-hands-pressed-uniforms/

From Thea Lim at Racialicious:
http://www.racialicious.com/2012/05/02/a-historical-guide-to-hipster-racism/

Also from Racialicious, Arturo Garcia on Ashton Kutcher in brownface (WTF!):
http://www.racialicious.com/2012/05/03/half-baked-popchips-and-ashton-kutchers-brownface-fiasco/#more-22466

From the Nation, a great post on Race, Racism, and Millenials:
http://www.thenation.com/blog/167590/race-millennials-and-reverse-discrimination

Lastly and importantly: race, violence, transphobia, and activism for Cece McDonald.
http://supportcece.wordpress.com/about-2/background/

Rebound: 30 Rock’s Live Show & Why Misogyny is not Funny

In feminism, misogyny, race on April 27, 2012 at 12:10 pm

Phoebe B.

Last night, 30 Rock did a live episode as a shout-out to the pleasures and pitfalls of live TV. As a bit of a TV nerd, I was pretty pumped about this phenomenon—particularly with Amy Poehler’s guest appearance (I love you, Leslie Knope!), Troy from Community as a young Tracy Jordan (Yes!), and Kim Kardashian as, well, Kim Kardashian. But in the first segment of the show and the first flashback to NBC’s early days, 30 Rock did an entire schtick making fun of domestic violence. It seems to me that violence against women, and domestic violence more generally, is simply not funny.

The skit, supposedly a Kraft comedy hour, featured Jack and Liz as a 1950s married couple. Jack comes home from work and starts comically threatening his wife with quick one-liners. Their back-and-forth banter is made up of his threats and her rebuttals. He says that he is going to shoot her in the face and to take her outside and feed her to the dogs—the list goes on. Liz’s character naturally has a comic response to each threat: “That’ll be first time you’ve ever taken me out to dinner,” she responds. While this bit might be a riff on the Honeymooners, it highlights the misogyny of TV past and present but doesn’t really appear to critique it.

A few minutes later, Jenna invokes Roe v. Wade in order to assert her right to choose to have her marriage proposal from Paul on live TV. The joke, at least for me, fell flat in a moment where a woman’s right to choose, and her control over her body, are actually under threat. Other jokes, as Sarah pointed out last week, create humor at Liz’s expense. In the sketch about Jamie Garnett as a reporter, Brian Williams as himself and Jack as a news anchor cannot comprehend that Jamie is indeed a woman reporter. A female reporter, it appears to them, is absurd. They even suggest sending a search party for the missing male Jamie Garnett. Granted, the news was male-dominated for some time and this brand of sexism is likely not too far from the truth. However, once again it seems like Liz is the butt of the joke.

The sexism and racism in much of TV history, and in the present, are the underlying jokes in most of these sketches. But the sketches are not really overtly critical of past, or current, sexism and racism. The jokes, perhaps, aren’t over the top enough. They hit far too close to home. Indeed, they feel plausibly offensive rather than like meta-parodies about how offensive TV history actually is. Perhaps the jokes that tried to point out past misogyny and racism (Jon Hamm’s blackface, for example) needed more of a twist in order to function well as critiques. And Kenneth’s comment that present NBC is a whitewashed landscape was not funny because it’s true (at least for this viewer). I see you pointing at the misogyny and racism of television, 30 Rock, but I feel like you only reiterated it rather than questioning or challenging it.

Read the rest of this entry »

Replay: Iggy Azalea’s “Murda Bizness”

In Uncategorized on April 23, 2012 at 10:14 am

2012 is the year uniquely spelled azalias bloom: namely, Azealia Banks and Iggy Azalea, two young rappers soon to be riding an airwave near you.

But the two women don’t seem to have much in common beyond their names and occupations. In February, Banks criticized Azalea for writing a song that includes the line, “I’m a runaway slave master.” (Azalea has since apologized.) Banks went on to identify elements of appropriation in Azalea’s rise to fame, writing on Twitter:

“Sorry guys. But I’m pro black girl. I’m not anti white girl, but I’m also not here for any1 outside of my culture trying to trivialize very serious aspects of it. In any capacity. *kanye shrug*”

Azalea’s videos for “PU$$Y” and “My World” highlight some of the issues Banks raised. Azalea is the only white woman in those videos; both show her flanked by two black women dressed in matching or nearly-matching outfits. The women are silent while Iggy raps, signaling their support for Azalea by bobbing their heads or mouthing along with her lyrics. The purpose of their presence seems to be to lend Azalea–a white woman from Australia–credibility as a rapper. She appears both accepted by them (her outfits sometimes coordinate with theirs) and distinguished from them, not only by the differences in their appearances but also as the only woman who gets to speak. It’s easy to understand why Banks is doing some Kanye shrugging.

But the video for Azalea’s first single off her upcoming album The New Classic, “Murda Bizness,” seems to be trying to change the conversation. Accompanied by her mentor T.I. and fellow Hustle Gang artist Chip in a simple, pared-down video, Azalea keeps the focus on the music–and on collaboration.

This business of murder, it is infectious, no? But with Azalea’s history, it’s worth approaching “Murda Bizness” with a dose of wariness. With that in mind, a few members of Girls Like Giants got together to try decipher the puzzle that is Iggy A. Read the rest of this entry »

Gender/Play: The Problems, Promise, and Pleasures of Video Game Crossplaying (part 1)

In body politics, gender, race, technology on April 16, 2012 at 7:59 am

brian psi

Check out Part 2 of this series here.

Preface

James Cameron’s monsterpiece Aliens opened in the US in 1986. That same year, in Japan, a playing card company re-establishing itself as a consumer electronics giant released a game for its still new Nintendo Entertainment System called Metroid. The game dropped the next year in the US, at about the same time Aliens gained a larger audience with its release on videocassette. The two are forever intertwined for me, and not just because of how much the atmosphere, music, and creatures of Metroid reminds me of Aliens (not accidentally), or the fact that they were, at the same time, my favorite movie and favorite game.

It’s mostly those characters. By now, the bad-assedness of Private Vasquez (Jenette Goldstein) and Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) is well documented, affirmed, and granted. But the other franchise, as successful in its own way if less mainstream-famous, also featured a resourceful, tough-as-a-railgun protagonist in bounty hunter Samus Aran. Wearing a full suit of power armor, constrained by mid-80’s 8-bit graphics, the fact that Samus is also a woman was not apparent while playing the game. This was not advertised by Nintendo, and the game’s manual used male pronouns, essentially keeping her secret from the game’s (mostly) male players. Tantalizingly, the page where Samus and ‘his’ mission is described concludes by saying Samus’ “true form is shrouded in mystery.”

Defeating Metroid took players dozens of hours, as they were required to find a number of secret weapon stashes and learn the patterns of a handful of difficult boss monsters. But those that learned the tricks and replayed the game (including myself) discovered that Samus’s pre-credits salute to the player changed based on how quickly they were able to finish. Five hours or less, and Samus removed the red space helmet, revealing for the first time that he was… she.

This was groundbreaking. Female game protagonists were largely unknown at this time, mostly relegated to quickie tie-in games designed to capitalize on various girl’s toy crazes, or occasionally feminized versions of male characters like Mrs Pac-Man (1981)—never in a AAA action title marketed on back covers of Uncanny X-Men comics. But then it happened that some players, even more skilled, got ever faster. They learned that if they defeated the game in under an hour, Samus’ armor disappeared altogether. She would stand waving back at her operator… in a pink bikini:

Samus undergoes two transformations. Before she takes off her helmet, she is mostly identity-less, intrinsically identifiable because beneath the helmet ‘he’ is mostly the player’s vague projection. Once she unmasks, this projection is shattered, and the made/male-in-one’s-own image is replaced: the confident and resourceful alien ass-kicker is actually a woman. This is surprising, and for its time, incredibly progressive: Ripley would be proud. But in the second transformation, the player’s projection is replaced with something very different: the ass-kicking heroine becomes the ass-revealing reward for player competence. (Years later, metagame rewards would come to be called achievements or trophies). The dual nature of Samus’ transformation exposes a tension that will run throughout the piece below. Specifically, that ‘crossplaying’ gender too often serves to confirm the same harmful ideologies which reduce the bodies of others to objects of desire (or, sometimes, revulsion). But it also produces potentialities: the promise of surprising, often radical re-imaginings of the ways we understand—and are bound by—concepts like gender, sexuality, and identity. Read the rest of this entry »

The Oikos University Shooting & The Erasure of Misogyny

In gender, news, Rebound, social justice, violence on April 13, 2012 at 9:04 am

Chelsea B.

I am a very casual consumer of news media. Mostly I find it to be boring and upsetting, and I get what I need from my Twitter and Facebook feeds without having to filter through substandard reporting or redundant articles. However, earlier this week an article that I would qualify as “news-y” stood out to me in my internet wanderings as I had yet to see the story mentioned on any of my social media. The article is titled, “What Made One Goh, the Oikos University Shooter, Snap?” and is authored by Dara Kerr of The Daily Beast.

Read the rest of this entry »

Rebound: Katniss & Body Snarking

In body politics, gender, girl culture, Hunger Games on March 27, 2012 at 6:43 pm

Phoebe B.

GLG contributor Brian Psiropoulos recently alerted me to the trend of body snarking Jennifer Lawrence. This Slate article takes on the New York Times and others’ truly destructive and sexist criticism of Lawrence’s body. But I find myself still unsettled even by the Slate response, which argues against the criticism of Lawrence’s body as not skinny enough to play Katniss by asserting that Lawrence is in fact skinny. This assertion, while true, is not the point. Rather, as the Slate article does note, this body snarking is exclusive to Lawrence’s portrayal of Katniss and is not a kind of scrutiny the male actors undergo. Oddly enough, the film version of both Peeta and Gail’s characters did not align with the ways in which I imagined them. But this disjuncture is not reason enough to suggest that their bodies ought be different or would make them more believable. Given that the snarky criticisms about these male characters’ figures are conspicuously absent, it seems that the discussion of Lawrence’s body has everything to do with her being a woman.

Read the rest of this entry »

Interlude: The Bachelor & Weeping Women

In Interlude, The Bachelor on January 9, 2012 at 7:35 pm

Phoebe B.

Last year, I watched The Bachelorette and it was my first foray into any Bachelor-related programming. Truth be told, I loved it and watched the Ashley season religiously. Sometimes I even yelled at the TV, as if I was watching football, when Ashley fell for that terrible Bentley dude or made other odd choices. Plus, Ben F. who proposed to Ashley only to be rejected in favor of J.P (which was seemingly the right choice for her) was totally my favorite: a winemaker from Sonoma, outdoorsy, funny, and adorable. In case you can’t tell, I had a bit of a TV crush on him (in good company with real people like Ben Folds, Shawn Stockman, and David Boreanaz; and characters like Smash Williams and Tim Riggins, and quite a few others). Thus, when I heard that he was the new Bachelor, I thought I would certainly watch his season. And then, I saw this ad.

And I thought maybe not. And then Sarah T. asked me this question: “is it possible that The Bachelor is super-sexist and misogynistic while The Bachelorette is relatively progressive?” And I thought, yes it does seem that way. Although I am not too quick to label The Bachelorette as progressive, in the wake of these ads, The Bachelorette looks more and more like a mini dash of not horribly regressive TV. The thing about The Bachelorette, for me at least, is that it fulfills a certain kind of fantasy in which a bunch of very attractive and reasonably interesting (not all the time) people vie for my, I mean The Bachelorette’s, attention. And at least in Ashley’s season, the drama surrounded the choices she made, rather than drama between the guys (perhaps save for the crazy masked Jeff, remember him?). The show did not rely on the men being mean to each other in order to create the primary drama, nor did the advertisements showcase a guy crying. This choice, it seems, is due to gendered expectations and notions of what The Bachelorette audience might find appealing. Read the rest of this entry »

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