thinking big: feminism, media, and pop culture

Archive for December, 2011|Monthly archive page

The Wonderful Women of Friday Night Lights

In gender on December 30, 2011 at 10:05 am

Phoebe B.

Of late, I am watching a lot of Friday Night Lights (it is all on Netflix streaming!) and I just finished seasons 1, 2, and 3 and now am swiftly moving into season 4 (I have big plans to watch the whole series over Christmas Break, so we shall see how that goes). Many things strike me about this show as a first time viewer, including its candid, important, and often uncomfortable discussions of race and racism, including but not limited to interracial dating, in a network landscape currently dominated by problematic post-racial fantasies. But the topic of this post is another phenomenal facet of FNL, which is the wonderful, nuanced, complicated, and dynamic female characters. I am blown away by the women of FNL, whom I did not expect to encounter in a show dedicated to the male-driven world of Texas football. For example, Tami Taylor, Corrina Williams, Tyra, Mrs. Saracen, Waverly, Julie, Devon, and even Lila, to just name a few. Recently, Sarah T. posted a wonderfully detailed account of Tami Taylor’s awesomeness on GLG, but I want to highlight and celebrate my other favorite FNL lady characters, who are by no means perfect but strong and complicated women, the likes of which are rarely seen on network television. So here I want to highlight why Tyra, Waverly, Mrs. Saracen, and Corrina Williams (my favorite) are a particularly refreshing escape from a network landscape too oft-populated by post-racial fantasies and one-dimensional women.


Tyra (on the right) with her mom and sister on her sis' wedding day

Landry and Tyra (Adrianne Palicki) have a heart to heart

Tyra suffers consistently from her class position as much of the town reads her as ‘white trash’ and she is plagued by other people’s conceptions of her as such. However, we see her strength when she stands up for her mother against her abusive boyfriend, and she even stands up to her mother for her mother’s own sake. In season one, Tyra convinces her mother to attempt life on her own after an affair with the town’s resident football lover and car dealership owner, Buddy Garrity, leaves her jobless and angry. It is in these rare moments early on that we see Tyra’s strength and her potential—something Tami Taylor (Guidance counselor extraordinaire, Principal, and wife of football coach Eric Taylor) also realizes. Throughout the show, we see Tyra struggle as she falls in love with Landry, the most wonderful and smart and awkward kid in school (who, not to give too much away, also saves her life). Landry functions, for me, as a means of viewing Tyra outside the town’s perspective and judgment. Landry sees that she is is strong, smart, and capable in a way that she does not see or value. However, at times she is selfish and frustrating, but that is part of what makes her great (which Landry points out to her). What makes Tyra wonderful is that she makes bad and good decisions, and she must be forced to take herself seriously (instead of skating by on her good looks), which in and of itself is a struggle.

Read the rest of this entry »


What it Takes to Come Alive OR What’s so Wrong About Rihanna?

In Uncategorized on December 28, 2011 at 12:45 pm

Melissa Sexton

Somehow, my year-end wrap-up list overlooked Rihanna’s “We Found Love.”  Maybe it was all the one-liners I saw on blogs and Facebook posts about raves, drugs, and typical Rihanna-video-scandal that scared me off; I hadn’t seen the video until a couple of days ago.  But, in my usual way, I wandered to YouTube a few nights ago after hearing “We Found Love” at least three times on the drive from the Seattle-Tacoma airport to my sister’s house. I couldn’t get the simple hook of the chorus out of my head; once I watched the video, I also couldn’t get it out of my mind.

Apparently, a variety of feminists and Christian pastors, as well as the French government, couldn’t get the video out of their heads either, though they weren’t celebrating, putting the video on constant repeat, and dancing around the living room.  France banned any playing of the video before 10 pm, claiming that it was too sexually provocative and promoted self-destructive behavior. Rape Crisis Center’s Eileen Kelly calls the video a “disgrace” since it shows Rihanna making herself a possession for men. Meanwhile, a number of pastors have claimed that the video promotes unhealthy attitudes about women and sexuality, teaching women that they should make themselves sexual objects to please men. Read the rest of this entry »

Unshelved: The Secret Garden

In Uncategorized on December 26, 2011 at 11:04 pm

Young adult books through regular adult eyes.

Sarah Todd

Based on knowledge gleaned from heart-warming turn-of-the-century classics like The Secret Garden and Anne of Green Gables, as well as even earlier Victorian works such as Jane Eyre, it is safe to assume that historically, in the British Empire, it was a common custom for people to tell young girls how unattractive they were. “Hey, lookin’ weird!” various guardians, family members, classmates, mentors, friends, and co-workers tell poor orphaned Jane Eyre as she silently tries to blend into the curtains. But of course she looks kind of pale and twitchy and bug-eyed. She’s constantly getting insulted by strangers and close friends! Every day of her life is like, Will this person hire me as a governess, or will they call me a goblin? Probably both!  This seems nerve-wracking.

Meanwhile, Anne gets mad attitude for her red hair from the denizens of Prince Edward Island, who are tragically unaware that future Rita Hayworths, Julianne Moores, Joan Holloways, et al. will conclusively prove that red hair is always, always what’s up. (Gilbert Blythe knows the score.)

And then there’s Mary Lennox, the heroine of The Secret Garden, who has jaundiced skin, “a little thin face and a little thin body, thin light hair and a sour expression.” When Mary’s parents die of cholera in India, she is sent to live with her uncle Archibald Craven—a recluse with a hunchback—in a mansion on the English moors. As soon as she sets foot on English soil, people begin proclaiming that she is an unusually ugly ten-year-old girl. Read the rest of this entry »

Girls Like Giants Presents: Our 2011 Preferences (Melissa Part 2 – Music Video Redux)

In Uncategorized on December 19, 2011 at 7:52 am

Melissa Sexton

My spare evenings are spent making people watch music videos that I love. My rewards for work assignments are revisiting old videos that are good friends. And songs that I love deeply often become even dearer to me if they’re attached to a great video. The following videos were ones by women that shaped my 2011 year. (Hilariously, many of the songs I picked also appear in Rolling Stone’s 2011 In Review list of Top Singles. Great list – check it out).

(in no particular order)

1. Adele, “Rolling in the Deep”

Rolling Stone called this song the “Single of the Year,” and the video is certainly its equal in terms of artistic awesomeness. The song eats into your bones with its relentless bass line, its soul-ly echoing chorus, and the heart-tearing breaks at the edge of Adele’s raw-like-honey voice. The video gnaws similarly with its evocative, unclearly metaphorical house.  Yes.  Heartbreak does feel like a whole floor full of trembling water glasses. Like a faceless dancer swirling through smoky clouds of debris. Like dishes smashing against a wall in time to a constant beat. Like a half-finished room full of sheeted furniture. Like a perfect paper city that goes up in beautiful, heartbreaking flames. Just watching the swirling motions of the dancer could speak to my heartbreak for years. An amazing video that is symbolic without going over-the-top-arthouse and that beautifully showcases Adele’s physical, evocative singing.

(The video came out November 2010, but its 2011 reign made it seem like fair game). Read the rest of this entry »

Girls Like Giants Presents: Our 2011 Preferences (Melissa Part 1 – Film Characters)

In Uncategorized on December 19, 2011 at 7:51 am

Melissa Sexton

I like lists.  Perhaps far too much, as my expansive contributions below demonstrate. I’ve even split these posts up – this one will just be my film lists, and I have a whole extra one for music videos.  What can I say?  Enjoy?

Top Five Girl Heroes

Without getting too middle-school Honors English on you, I want to reflect on what makes a hero: confronting incredible odds and conflicts; demonstrating courage, determination, and strength; having to make sacrifices and hard decisions. In the 2011 pop cultural universe, there have been a surprising number of admirable girl heroes – not just females that do battle, but specifically young girls that face complex ethical and moral struggles that demand as much fortitude and ferocity as Frodo Baggins or Harry Potter ever had to show.  I specifically call them heroes because I think “heroine” can have certain quasi-romantic overtones…These five girls (and yes, I say girls deliberately, because all of them were teenagers!) were my favorites:

1. Katniss Everdeen, The Hunger Games

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss!

Me as Katniss!

In the post-apocalyptic world of Panem, starvation is a constant threat and survival is the only goal. Even before the narrative of The Hunger Games starts, Katniss is a hero for learning to hunt (illegally) and thereby rescuing her mother and sister from death in District 12. And when Katniss replaces her younger sister as District 12 tribute in the Hunger Games – a gladiatorial wilderness battle between adolescents from across the nation – her heroism grows. In the Games, Katniss weighs loyalty against survival; her emergence as one of the strongest contestants in the Games, armed with her remarkable capacity as an archer, is a breathtaking portrayal of a woman for whom physical prowess and an incredible capacity for empathy emerge simultaneously. Women in this world can fight for themselves, their friends, and their family all at once, and Katniss does. While the books have been out for a while, 2011 saw the release of the film trailer and Katniss’s emergence into wider pop-cultural discussion. Read the rest of this entry »

Girls Like Giants Presents: Our 2011 Preferences (Sarah T)

In Uncategorized on December 19, 2011 at 7:48 am

Sarah Todd

I’m not very hip. For that reason, I’m a huge fan of year-end lists: in one shot, I get to find out about all kinds of albums and writers and films that were off my cultural radar. Otherwise I generally find out about cool new music on about a six-month-to-a-year delay, and I don’t see that many movies either. I watch a fair amount of TV, but truthfully like half that amount is just Parks and Recreation on repeat in the background while I’m paying bills and writing emails.

What, you might reasonably wonder, am I doing with my time? Heaven knows. Making a bunch of hard-boiled eggs and moving to different places, if the last year is any indication.

Would you like an egg?

Unfortunately, I can’t give you one. I’m far away, or you are, depending on the perspective we’re talking about. But consider the lists below little baskets of pop-culture eggs, painted with stars and gold medals and exclamation points. These lists are by no means comprehensive, because I don’t hear about a lot of things. But of the things I did hear about this year, here are the ones I liked best.

Presented in no particular order:

Best Songs By New-to-Me Lady Musicians

Azealia Banks, “212”

Rapper Azealia Banks has got swagger to burn and an unpredictable delivery that keeps your ears perked. Read the rest of this entry »

Girls Like Giants Presents: Our 2011 Preferences (Phoebe)

In Uncategorized on December 19, 2011 at 7:45 am
Phoebe Bronstein

My 2011 top 5 media hodgepodge:

1) My #1 spot is devoted to some of my favorite things written by women bloggers this year about the media. So including:

This wonderful piece from theadbared by minh-ha t. pham.

This post from Heart, Mind, and Seoul on talking about race.

Also, perhaps at my number one for sheer ridiculousness = Lady Gaga’s Thanksgiving Special.

2) Beyonce at the VMAs and her pregnancy reveal after an amazing performance of “Love on Top.” Plus Jay Z’s amazing and awesome reaction. Need I say more?

3) Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” video AND Glee‘s “Rumor Has It” mash-up. I just love the “Rolling in the Deep” video as I think she is beautiful and the video is also beautiful and heart-breaking but also the hard beat makes it so powerful. And the recent Glee mash-up of “Rumor Has It/Someone Like You” featuring Mercedes and Santana just blew my mind. They are just so good!

4) Pretty Little Liars (season 2). I just love this show and it keeps me on the edge of my seat, which is one of my favorite things in a TV show. And CW’s new teen show, Secret Circle, might come in second for the my number 4 slot. I just can’t get enough of supernatural and mystery teen shows.

5) The bad-ass ladies of the last Harry Potter. I was pleasantly surprised in the last Harry Potter as I watched Hermione and Luna and Molly Weasley and McGonagall and Ginny be amazing and empowered and forces to be reckoned with. And now I await the lady-powered Hunger Games with baited breath.

Girls Like Giants Presents: Our 2011 Preferences (Chelsea H.)

In Uncategorized on December 19, 2011 at 7:42 am

Chelsea H.

In dissertation-land, I don’t even have enough free time or brain power to blog regularly, much less remember all of 2011 enough to make this list truly comprehensive.  So what you’re getting here is my favorite in each of five random girl/pop culture related categories.  It’s a bit of “me on a plate,” if you will.  Enjoy!

1.)   Best album: “Ceremonials” – Florence and the Machine 

I love a strong female vocalist, and Florence Welch is no exception.  The soaring vocals and the addictive rhythms of this album give me chills and make me want to sing, even though I don’t know all the words yet.  This is music for a road trip, for a dance party, for a steamy encounter, for a manic writing session.  It pounds, it thrills, it aches, and I move in and out of wanting to cry at the beauty of Florence’s rich, deep voice and raspy throaty warblings.  Also, Florence herself is (in my opinion) numbingly beautiful and has a really interesting fashion sense (she has appeared as both a fug and a fab on  But okay, to be honest, mostly as a fug).

2.)   Best novel: The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins

This series has received a lot of hype this year, but I must admit I think most of it is well deserved.  Collins has a wonderful, disturbing, dark and brilliant imagination, and her character Katniss is like my sister, my daughter, my best friend, and that wonder-girl I want to hate but just can’t.  She is admirable, she is clever, she is selfish, she is frustrating, she is glorious.  She’s a real person but marks the reasonable physical limits of what human beings can endure.  While I found the whole series entertaining, the first book is my favorite.  I sucked this book down with a desperation I couldn’t believe.  The book began with my husband reading a chapter aloud each night before bed.  That worked for approximately a week.  Then I couldn’t stand it anymore: reading aloud meant reading slowly enough for the mouth to pronounce the words.  My brain needed it faster.  I swiped the book away like a naughty child and chewed through the rest of it in the space of an hour or two.  From me, that’s a high recommendation. Read the rest of this entry »

Girls Like Giants Presents: Our 2011 Preferences (Sarah S.)

In Uncategorized on December 19, 2011 at 7:41 am

Sarah S.

My tops of 2011:

TV Shows
Mad Men

Season four of Mad Men really brought the show into the 1960s, seeing the newly-established Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Pryce established in a new, modern office and struggling to make their business survive in the midst of ongoing existential crises. Amongst my favorite developments was seeing one Ms. Peggy Olson come into her own. In this clip, she calls a lazy, porn-obsessed artist out on his claims that he’s a free spirit and she’s repressed.

True Blood

The smartest trash on TV. Season 3 brought us the long awaited hook-up of Sookie and Eric Northman and made Bill much more interesting by making him much more ambiguous morally. In this clip, the ever malevolent Pam, Eric’s “progeny,” completely loses it as she faces losing Eric. Read the rest of this entry »

Girls Like Giants Presents: Our 2011 Preferences (Chelsea B.)

In Uncategorized on December 19, 2011 at 7:39 am

Chelsea’s 2011 Favorites 



The Hairpin

The Frenemy


The Crunk Feminist Collective

Into the Gloss

Swagger: New York

Fashion for Writers

Mimi Smartypants


New-to-me band with a lady lead: The Alabama Shakes

Lady extraordinarie: Rye-Rye

Album most frequently on repeat: Watch the Throne

Today’s favorite Christmas album: Snow Angels

Favorite (non-Watch the Throne) single: Martin Solveig & Dragonettes, “Hello”

Most fun self-produced single: Dai Burger’s “Wild Thing”


Jersey Shore

Real Housewives of Atlanta


Gossip Girl

30 Rock (I’m like a million years late, I know, but still.)


Keeping Up with the Kardashians Read the rest of this entry »

Avast! A Shark!

In Uncategorized on December 14, 2011 at 12:23 pm

Sarah S.

My last (and first, ha!) post was on the women of Sons of Anarchy, and how the show seems uncertain how to handle strong, non-stereotypical female characters and so, by season four, they were beginning to dissolve. In terms of Gemma and Tara, the show gave us an uptick of interesting behavior, plot twists, and potentials at the end of the season but the season itself ended with much ridiculous, silly, semi-coherence. Alas, I fear that SOA may have jumped the shark.

Pondering the possibility of shark jumpage led me to another question, a serious question that I ask here to serious watchers of media: Has a show ever jumped the shark but recovered? Put another way: Is jumping the shark forever or can it just be a blip? Any examples of shows that did jump but then still stayed aboard their water skis? Or do we need another term for shows that seem as if they’re going off the rails (to mix metaphors) but then recover like “Mad Men dodged the bullet”?





A Ghost of Herself: Supernatural Femininity on “Being Human,” Season 1

In gender, race, Uncategorized on December 13, 2011 at 8:33 pm

Sarah Todd

One day, I hope, I’ll get the chance to sit down and chat with a supernatural character from popular culture. Maybe  Angel and I will toast Guinnesses at a local Irish pub and we can laugh about his fake accent. Maybe I’ll trick Edward into inviting me into his bizarre bed-less Neomodern home where he still lives with his parents even though he’s a hundred years old, the weirdo. Regardless of how these talks happen, I’ll ask them all the same question: What’s the big deal about being human? Read the rest of this entry »

GLG Weekly Round-up

In gender, Weekly Round-Up on December 12, 2011 at 9:11 am

From last week, just a few posts from xoJane, Crunk Feminist Collective, and Tiger Beatdown that were pretty great.

s.e. smith on blogging threats and breaking the silence on blogging threats and breaking the silence on Tiger Beatdown

And xoJane asks Maragaret Cho some questions wherein she confesses to online shopping without buying (also, one of my favorite online activities).

More from xoJane on FDA and recent contraceptives ruling

Ending fall term with a great post on teaching & accountability from Crunk Feminist Collective. And another great post from CFC on a new film: It Gest Messy in Here

And lastly, as it is the season for gift giving, a few thoughts from CFC on different kinds of gifts

How to be awesome like…Olivia Benson.

In gender on December 8, 2011 at 2:44 am

Melissa Sexton

So, I promised myself that I wasn’t going to write about anymore “bad-ass” chicks – I was going to try and branch out, embracing the lessons I taught myself in writing about Bella: women don’t have to be armed to be awesome.  I even made a good-faith effort and started writing about my favorite rom-com heroines, and how many of them dismantle stereotypes without a crossbow or combat boot in sight. But then I was watching Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, my favorite background show for busy work or mentally unplugging when I’ve become totally brain-dead. I’m a sucker for a good crime procedural. While I know the formula and can usually predict the outcome, I find something soothing in the repetition. But SVU remains my favorite of all the crime procedurals, and I know it’s because of the characters. There is a high energy connection between the chief, Captain Cragen (Dann Florek), his two primary detectives, Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) and Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni), and the rest of the crew – including my favorites, the psychiatrist Dr. Huang (B.D. Wong) and the medical examiner Dr. Warner (Tamara Tunie). The show may be often unrealistic (if anywhere NEAR that many attacks occurred in holding cells and precinct offices, the police would stop being a viable association), but the relationships between the characters are incredibly realistic.  And Olivia Benson is a wonderful, complex, grown-up, messed-up, and admirable character that I love as I love few other primetime TV characters.

Beautiful eyes, but a gaze of steel.

So what is it that separates Olivia Benson from all the other sexy female cops out there?  I’ll tell you by suggesting how you can be as awesome as she is.

Read the rest of this entry »

GLG Weekly Roundup, Better late than never

In Uncategorized on December 4, 2011 at 8:00 pm

A bad week (or a few) in public higher education … As a graduate of a public university, a current student and teacher at yet another public university, and as someone intent on working in education (and higher ed if possible), I have been following the news from Davis and Berkeley to UO and now the CUNY system. And it has been a pretty terrible, disheartening, and upsetting couple of weeks. But they say that things have to get better before they get worse. So here’s hoping things get better.

This week’s weekly round-up (shorter than normal given that it is the end of term in Oregon) is devoted to the unusual and upsetting firing of the UO President and the subsequent campus protests; follow-ups on violence at UC Davis; and fee hikes at CUNY (and subsequent protests); and a final post just to keep things in perspective.

We Love our Pres blog detailing ongoings at the University of Oregon

Even the NYT picked up the story

Down South in California, continuing coverage from the Huffington Post on the UC Davis incidents

And on the East Coast, Protests Against Fee Hikes at CUNY Schools

And finally, just to keep some perspective: a post from the Root on OWS, police violence, and race.