Category Archives: Media

On Being an Ice Bucket Challenge Party Pooper

There’s a reason it’s taken me seven days to write about why I didn’t (and won’t) participate in the Ice Bucket Challenge that has raised a buttload of money for the ALS Association

[Note: If you are not familiar, ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease, is a hideous neurodegenerative disease that paralyzes and kills within a very short time. It is one of the conditions often cited by advocates of doctor-assisted suicide. That's how bad it is.]

When I was nominated for the viral challenge by mother, I knew I wasn’t going to do it, but I couldn’t figure out exactly why. My instinct was that peer-pressure and popularity are not the reasons I want to participate in philanthropy, but it’s taken me a week and half a dozen  conversations to articulate my thinking.

So here’s where I landed:

Screenshot_8_28_14_2_04_PM-2From the reactions I’m seeing on Facebook and Twitter, I wasn’t the only one struggling to find the words on this one.

Related Post: So What Do You Do Exactly? An interview with a social worker friend.

Related Post: Complicated feelings about India, terrorism, harassment, gender etc.

 

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On that Jezebel–>Gawker memo

This week, the staffers at Jezebel published an open letter to their parent company, Gawker Media, taking them to task for failing to protect the employees and readers from violent, rape-themed imagery posted by a rogue commenter. By failing to take the technological steps to prevent this from continuing, or changing the commenting policy site-wide, Gawker has created a hostile work environment for Jezebel staffers. As they say in their letter, if this happened anywhere else, they’d report on it, so why would their own organization be immune?

For Role/Reboot I wrote a bit about company values and that tricky space where the rubber meets the road, i.e. when resources are required to make values-on-paper values-in-reality:

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Related Post: Criticizing Jezebel’s unscientific science writing.

Related Post: A few times I’ve been on Jezebel

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The ESPN Body Issue & #HuskyTwitter

Last week for Role/Reboot I wrote about the annual ESPN The Magazine’s “Body Issue”, which features naked portraits of lots of people who can do some crazy powerful/graceful/coordinated shit with their bodies. The cover star, baseball player Prince Fielding, is an atypical choice for ESPN and quickly launched the #HuskyTwitter hashtag in celebration of a different kind of athletic body.

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I’m all for celebrating different kinds of athletic bodies, but I’m still dismayed to see that the women featured in the Body Issue generally don’t get to break the mold of traditional “athletic” the way that Fielder does. Where are the husky female athletes? A sleuthing reader dug back through the archives and found this 2009 entry with shotputter Michelle Carter.

Screenshot_7_14_14_11_07_AM-2He also pointed out that there aren’t as many sports that allow for husky women to excel; they don’t get funneled into linebacker positions on the football team or heavy wrestling weightclasses. Sure, maybe, but it’s also about whose bodies we are comfortable celebrating as “Bodies We Want,” which is what ESPN titles the series. We don’t see Taylor Townsend, Holley Mangold, Rebecca Adlington or other, phenomenally gifted female athletes as possessing desirable bodies because they don’t fit the only mold we’ve been taught is desirable.

Prince Fielder is certainly a deviation from the normal ab-fest we expect to see in these stories, and that’s a great start. Men need variation in “Bodies We Want,” too. But let’s not forget the ladies as we break body barriers and celebrate the husky athletes. We’re here too!

Related Post: Is it objectifying to ogle World Cup soccer players?

Related Post: 1 in 4 women don’t exercise because they don’t like the way they look

 

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Why a Single-Sex Media Diet is a Bad Idea

These OkCupid guys…. I mean really. It’s one thing to mention that your favorite author is Faulkner. Cool, I dig it. Or Hemingway, or whomever. It’s even NBD to list a couple of books you like that happen to be written by men. BUT, when you go to the trouble of listing 40+ books you love because YOU JUST CAN’T DECIDE, and literally all 42 are by guys… for real?

They probably don’t even notice. If that’s the case, this is highly fixable. If they notice and don’t care/don’t think it’s weird/don’t think women have interesting opinions or stories…. well, that shit is beyond repair. Or rather, it is a problem to large for me to fix with a snarky message or internet essay.

But the fixable ones, the ones who are oblivious but open-minded, these are the ones I write to today, in my new piece for Role/Reboot:

Screenshot_7_3_14_11_54_AM-3Related Post: The last book I loved, The Flamethrowers

Related Post: Breaking down the gender of the authors I read last year

 

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Feedback on Sexy-Soccer-Player Debate

Last week I wrote about the Sexist Thighs genre of World Cup listicles, the ones that zoom in on rippling muscles and rank the “best” of the body parts. In my essay, I tried to walk the fine line between acknowledging the problematic double standard of sexualizing female athletes (which I frown upon) and male athletes (which some people say is A-Ok because it’s only every four years and guys don’t get this all the time and blah blah blah…), while simultaneously arguing that contextual differences around male and female bodies mean we can’t measure objectification from an even playing field, because there isn’t one.

I wanted to share some feedback I got from all directions, because I think the complexities of this issue are many and there’s plenty of stereotype to go around.

From A, who felt generally in agreement, but took issue with my characterization of how much easier men have it in the media landscape:

“Young men are constantly bombarded with images of what a “sexy” and “successful” man looks like. Society has also conflated sexiness and career/financial success. Those who are good looking are successful in their careers and vice versa. This ultimately stems from a standard of beauty put on young men by fashion outlets (Abercrombie), TV (Don Draper), politics (Aaron Shock), and sports (Tom Brady). Just like it is somewhat easier for you wonderful, smart women to be successful despite certain gender stereotypes there are men who struggle against the “watch sports, let women cook, go into finance drive fancy cars blah blah blah” measure of success that is put upon up.”
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From C., who felt that the athleticism displayed by world class athletes (male and female) makes for healthier idolization than, say, regular old hot people:
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“The world cup is THE global sporting event. The men who compete in it are incredibly talented athletes and have the bodies to match. It’s not just that they have great thighs but that they are strong and coordinated. Also, part of what has been great about those lists is how diverse they are compared to the average “hot celebrity” compilation…But let’s flip it. Say there’s a women’s sporting event big enough that lists are being made about hottest female athletes (I’m sure this happened in the Olympics). I’m actually not upset about a slideshow that draws attention to the bodies of female athletes who are strong and capable…I don’t think you need to defend men from pictures of world-class male athletes any more than you need to defend women from pictures of world-class female athletes. These are people in the best shape of their lives who have worked really hard to get that way, and that’s a thing to admire.”

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C’s point is very interesting, and in general I’m much more in favor of fawning over what bodies can do vs. how they look, even though those two things are very related. I used to have this amazing coffee table book of photography of athletes with lineups of champions illustrating the range of physiques that can accomplish crazy feats:

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If that’s what we were talking about when we talk about “athletic physiques” then I’m all for it, because it truly prioritizes achievement over aesthetics, but that’s almost never what we’re talking about. Just as we don’t celebrate the physiques of weightlifting women in mainstream media, we don’t celebrate the 114lb, 5’2″ physiques of male marathoners either. They may be champions, but they don’t fit the “hot body” model we’ve come to expect.

Even when we talk athletic excellence, we are usually limiting our body worship to bodies that fit within the cutout of what we are already told is attractive. It doesn’t matter that Taylor Townsend is a tennis star, her body doesn’t look the way we think “fit” looks, and her sponsorship options already reflect how “confusing” people find that gap.

All of that is to say, soccer players are an interesting test case because they are athletically gifted and also perfect fits for what we have already deemed the “ideal physique.” I’m not sure we can separate those things and say that our adulation is about fitness rather than abdominal definition. And if it is about abdominal definition, then we have to own that, and we have to defend that, which personally, I’m not prepared to do.

Related Post: But what if you don’t look like a runner?

Related Post: How Title IX changed my life

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Obvious Child and the Plight of the Abortion Story

When I started thinking about this week’s Role/Reboot essay on Obvious Childthe “abortion rom com” starring comedian Jenny Slate, I started out by trying to come up with a list of contemporary mainstream abortion stories from TV or movies. Without googling or wikipedia-ing, or weighing in on the quality of these stories, here’s what I came up with:

1. Parenthood (Drew’s girlfriend Amy)

2. Grey’s Anatomy (Cristina Yang)

3. Friday Night Lights (Becky Sproles)

4. House of Cards (Claire Underwood)

…. what else have you got?

I watch a ridiculous amount of TV, so the fact that I can only come up with four…. well, that leads me to the point of my essay. For a thing that is extraordinarily common and affects literally millions of women (and also their partners), we have sooooo few examples in mainstream pop culture exploring these decisions. Obvious Child is a good step, but it’s only one story, and it’s the easiest story to get pushed through the pinhole that is a Hollywood approval process: it’s about a pretty, upper-middle class white woman. Valid story? Absolutely. The only story? The most common story? Absolutely not.

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Related Post: Abortion stories

Related Post: Huffington Post and the changing iconography of the abortion debate

 

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But What About Vivian Maier?

My post this week for Role/Reboot about not taking pictures of strangers is getting some traction. I’m always grateful for that kind of attention not only because it stokes my ego (stoked!) but because the more people who read something, the more likely it is that I get asked some tough, interesting questions. Shocking, I know, that I didn’t think of everything.

To refresh your memory, on the off chance that my words are not indelibly etched in your brain, I argued that the modern habit of snapping photos of strangers in public (at the beach, on the train, behaving badly, etc) and posting them online to mock is tantamount to bullying. I hinged my argument on permission (as always, consent is sexy), suggesting that if what you’re doing is complimentary (i.e. street style galleries, etc), you’d be comfortable asking permission of your subject. If you wouldn’t be comfortable asking, you’re probably being a creep. Note: Not a criminal, but a creep; this is an ethical argument, not a legal one.

So what’s the counter argument?

BUT WHAT ABOUT ART????? 

1954, New York, NYWhat about art? What about photography like that of Vivian Maier, the little known, recently discovered photographer who left her nannying job in Oak Park every weekend to come into the city and take photographs? Many of her photos are of average citizens waiting for stoplights, smoking on corners, or, like Instagrams of today, dozing on  buses. Some are head-on portraits that imply willing participation of her subjects, but many are clearly not.

December 2, 1954, New York, NY

Why is Vivian Maier’s “art” more valid than the ‘grammer on the train capturing the guy picking his nose and hashtagging it #digdeep? Can we call one nonconsensual stranger photo art and another harassment? Aren’t both equal invasions of privacy? Our modern age gives us tools to share our invasive “art”, whereas Vivian’s photography lay dormant in boxes for decades. But don’t we think that had Vivian been alive in 2014, she’d be Instagramming along with the rest of us?

In my post, I made a blanket rule “Don’t take pictures of strangers without their permission,” and many people pushed back that, if obeyed, my rule would eliminate the work of artists like Maier.

Yes, it might.

April 7, 1960. FloridaBefore we continue down this path, let’s weed out the dickwads who are straight-up bullying on purpose; we can all agree that their intent is to mock.

But many of us fancy ourselves capturers of beauty or longing or the human experience or whatever; we don’t think we’re bullies, we think we’re artists. The only way to justify our invasion of someone else’s space is to convince ourselves that the thing we’re producing is more valuable than that person’s comfort.

Let me give you an example: I just got back from Chile. In the many hundreds of photos I took, there are a few in which I am intentionally taking pictures of strangers without their permission. A handful are of performers, people on stages or performing in parades; though I’m still a little uncomfortable with that, let’s even discount those as potentially justifiable. But what about this one:

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This guy is just hanging out, watching the parade from his house. He didn’t wave at me, we didn’t acknowledge each other, he in no way, shape, or form gave an OK for me to take his photo, much less post it on FB*. Which I did. Without even thinking twice. Am I mocking? Teasing? Shaming? Not intentionally, no. But, as we discuss all the time, I don’t get to decideMy intention taking this photo is not what makes it ethically sound or not; his perception of me is. Does he feel like the gringa is abusing her privilege? Does he feel patronized or reduced or mocked? Does he feel like he’s being treated as a Chilean prop I’m using to commemorate my travels? I don’t know, I didn’t ask. Although I didn’t intend the photo to be any of those things, in this case I’m equivalent to the cat-caller/harasser/privacy-invader/slur-slinger who “didn’t mean it that way.”

So what now? Let’s say you believe that the world is better with Vivian Maier’s photography in it. I sure appreciate it. I’m pretty uncomfortable with how we got it, but let’s say there actually is small portion of art for which we are willing to make ethical compromises. We do it all the time, right R. Kelly fans?  Picasso fans? Hemingway fans? Roman Polanski fans? We separate our appreciation for art from how it was made or the crimes of the people who made it, especially when those crimes contribute to how it was made (you think when R. Kelly sings about panties and pussy he’s always talking about women over 18? Really?).

What percent of nonconsensual pictures of strangers are worth the ethical compromise? A very, very, very, almost microscopically small percentage. Which ones? Whose bar are we using? Well, obviously, I don’t get to decide, and neither do you. The question is, is the photo you’re about to take one of them? Is the photo I took of the Chilean man in that microscopically small slice of pictures worth the queasy feeling that someone’s privacy is being invaded? Hell no.

The question is, do you think you’re Vivian Maier? If not, then knock it off.

*I’ve since taken it down, ditto any other non-performance pictures of strangers. 

Related Post: My memoir will be called “Is My Optimism Really Just White Privilege?”

Related Post: When you’re feeling attacked, you’re probably just having your privilege challenged.

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