Tag Archives: media

On Wrinkles and Love Your Body Day

Today is National Love Your Body Day, which is fitting because I was going to write about wrinkles anyway! Hoorah for convergence! Use the hashtag #lybd on Twitter to participate in the conversation.

Last week, Sociological Images pulled an awesome example of “wrinkle washing” of female celebrities:

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Smooth vs. wrinkly, right? I think it’s particularly stark when you annotate like this:

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SocImages pairs this image with an excellent Susan Sontag quote:

The great advantage men have is that our culture allows two standards of male beauty: the boy and the man. The beauty of a boy resembles the beauty of a girl. In both sexes it is a fragile kind of beauty and flourishes naturally only in the early part of the life-cycle. Happily, men are able to accept themselves under another standard of good looks — heavier, rougher, more thickly built…

There is no equivalent of this second standard for women. The single standard of beauty for women dictates that they must go on having clear skin. Every wrinkle, every line, every gray hair, is a defeat.

A few other examples:

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That is not to say you shouldn’t attempt to take care of your skin. For the love of God please wear sun block. Moisturize. Drink a lot of water. But, you know, but don’t let a laugh line or crow’s foot be a defeat. The men certainly don’t. On the other hand, it’s not just a question of internally changing perceptions of self, is it? Here’s something by Gloria Steinem re miley Cyrus that seems relevant:

“I wish we didn’t have to be nude to be noticed … But given the game as it exists, women make decisions. For instance, the Miss America contest is in all of its states … the single greatest source of scholarship money for women in the United States. If a contest based only on appearance was the single greatest source of scholarship money for men, we would be saying, “This is why China wins.” You know? It’s ridiculous. But that’s the way the culture is. I think that we need to change the culture, not blame the people that are playing the only game that exists.”

This stuff is damaging for so many reasons. The pursuit of youth (and beauty, if you’re already young) is distracting us, literally, from all the other things we could be doing with our minds and hearts. It’s part of the reason that we’re behind, because “they” (and by “they,” I mean the “industry,” the advertisers, the media, our friends and family too, sometimes) have convinced us that how we look is related to what we can do. And to Ms. Steinem’s point, playing along isn’t weakness or vanity; in its own way, it’s smart. The appearance game is the only game in town so what the fuck else are we supposed to do?

So… yeah… sorry for the bummer, but it’s a bummer kind of day. Go do something nice for yourself. Buy a book. Take a walk. Eat something delicious. Call someone you love. Write a nice note. Make plans to look forward to. Listen to good music. Look at yourself in the mirror and be like, Yeah, it’s pretty cool that I get to have this body, because this body enables me to do all this other stuff that makes being human pretty fucking cool.

Related Post: Love Your Body Day in years past

Related Post: Why I will not be joining your gym

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Filed under Body Image, Hollywood, Media

Why We Need More Sex on TV*

*Well, a certain kind of sex. Or rather, certain kinds of sex. We do not need more scantily clad women. We do not need more blowjob jokes. We do not need more titstaring. We need more variety. That goes for sexual preference (and we’re getting there, slowly), and it goes for sex acts, fetishes, and preferences. We need more female pleasure. We need more honest conversation. We nee more intimacy. We need more consent. We need more reciprocity.

It’s impossible for me to imagine a future in which there is less sex on TV than there is today. Go ahead, try it. Do you really see the world getting less explicit? Less raunchy? I cannot. If, then, we take as the baseline assumption that sex on TV will exist in the same quantities as it does now, if not more, then the question of what kind of sex is shown becomes really, really important. This week on Role/Reboot, I wrote specifically about cunnilingus on TV and why we need more of it.

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I believe that the only way (only feasible way, anyhow) to respond to hypersexualized content is to contextualize it. In a perfect world, I wish kids wouldn’t see porn until they’ve had a chance to develop their own imaginations and sexual styles. But, given that they will and there’s not much I can do to stop it, context is key. They need to know that it isn’t real, that it’s not what they should expect when they actually get naked with someone. It’s a performance, just like Pirates of the Caribbean. There’s a director, lighting technicians, a script, and extreme stunts. Will this conversation be hella awkward? Yup.

I feel similarly about non-pornographic television. If our average programming is going to be hypersexual (which it is, because it sells), then let’s democratize it. Let’s show adult sexuality that is based on equality, consent, pleasure and respect. And that includes cunnilingus!

Related Post: Why is going down so frequently a one way street? 

Related Post: The best two minutes of TV about oral sex (Louie CK)

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Filed under Body Image, Gender, Hollywood, Media, Republished!, Sex

“Strong Female Characters”? No thanks.

NewStatesman piece is going around this week called “I Hate Strong Female Characters,” and it’s actually pretty good. Sophia McDougall makes the not-new but needs-repeating argument that we conflate the presence of “strong female characters” in our media with equality. She points out that a) implying strength as an unusual asset for female characters is belittling (would we crow about a film with strong male characters? HAH) and that b) boxing female characters into narrow tropes of success (she can roundhouse kick!) reduces human complexity and replaces one archetype with another. Putting Scarlet Johnson on the cover of the Avengers does not equality make, even if she can roundhouse.  See Margaret Lyons’ similar argument regarding The Newsroom

Khandi Alexander as LaDonna Baptiste-Williams on Treme

Khandi Alexander as LaDonna Baptiste-Williams on Treme

Though I wouldn’t state my position with quite the extremity McDougall’s essay title suggests (though that’s probably just a smart editor baiting for clicks), I generally feel the same way. The female characters that I am thrilled to see in TV and movies are complicated, multi-faceted, not-always-right, not-always-wrong humans. While there’s an aspirational part of me that will always love CJ Cregg (The Jackal is forever in my heart), CJ is not complicated for me. She is strong and devoted and loyal and smart, but I always agree with her. She never makes mistakes. Never behaves badly, or selfishly, or shows weakness that isn’t also designed to show strength. She is an idealized version of what I want a press secretary to be (Remember “Crackpots and These Women?” Bartlett idealizes her too) and never forces me to confront hard truths or tough ethical dilemmas.

There’s room for the CJs, of course, but it’s also important that we show that women can be messy and difficult (This is the age of the anti-hero, right? How about an anti-heroine?) They can be good people who make mistakes, or bad people who aren’t always bad, or, you know, just people who are hella complicated because they’re humans. Here are a few of the characters that I generally like because they are forceful, ambitious, strong, driven but who are sometimes dishonest, weak, foolish, selfish, conflicted, etc. 

  • Deb Morgan (Dexter)
  • Skyler White (Breaking Bad)
  • Piper Chapman (Orange is the New Black…actually, everyone on Orange is the New Black)
  • Rayna James, Juliette Barnes (Nashville)
  • Jeanette Desautel, LaDonna Baptiste-Williams (Treme)
  • Peggy Olson (Mad Men)
  • Carrie Mathison (Homeland)
  • Claire Underwood (House of Cards)
  • Cersei Lannister (Game of Thrones)
  • Diane Lockhart, Alicia Florrick (The Good Wife)

There’s something to be said for the fact that I could pull this list off the top of my head. I do think things are getting better, with more and more interesting (not “strong,” but interesting) roles for women. So what do we want? I think McDougall sums it up well:

What do I want instead of a Strong Female Character? I want a male:female character ratio of 1:1 instead of 3:1 on our screens. I want a wealth of complex female protagonists who can be either strong or weak or both or neither, because they are more than strength or weakness. Badass gunslingers and martial artists sure, but also interesting women who are shy and quiet and do, sometimes, put up with others’ shit because in real life there’s often no practical alternative. And besides heroines, I want to see women in as many and varied secondary and character roles as men: female sidekicks, mentors, comic relief, rivals, villains.

Related Post: Things that are not the opposite of misogyny

Related Post: The best two minutes on TV about sex ever. 

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Filed under Gender, Hollywood, Really Good Writing by Other People

Everything is About Everything: New Media + Old Media

For book club, we recently read Robin Sloan’s Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, a modern, bromantic, technologically-obsessed, Google-worshipping fantasy adventure in which millennial heroes and heroines are obsessed with the idea of Old Knowledge (aka OK). I’m kind of obsessed with Old Media (OM?), specifically it’s intersection with New Media (NM), and TBD Media (TBDM). I think this is a fascinating question:

OM + NM + TBDM = ?????

The combination of Old Media and New Media happens to be in vogue right now. If OM = books, TV, movies, music and NW = Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Blogging, etc., we already have lots of neat examples of these things working together. I’m having fun with mind-mapping right now, so….

mind map

Click to Enlarge

  • The Bling Ring - Sofia Coppola’s strange new movie about a band of overprivileged teenagers who break into celebrity homes uses screenshots of Facebook, sequences devoted to the taking of selfies, and texting as avenues to explore the meta “Pics or it didn’t happen” mentality of the youth (self included).
  • House of Cards - Netflix’ original (and now Emmy-nominated) political intrigue-a-thon incorporates on-screen text messages over images of characters in their own locales. Old school political mastermind Frank Underwood uses new school journalist Zoe Barnes to channel her demographic access into viral and conniving campaign messages.
  • Americanah – The new novel from Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie  is about a young Nigerian couple who follow separate paths (her to America, him to the UK) before reuniting in Lagos decades later. The protagonist, Ifemelu, writes a blog about race from the perspective of a non-African-American black person that becomes famous. Excerpts from her blog are incorporated into the book, and her online presence is treated as a fundamental piece of identity (as many of us now consider it to be).

The real interesting question, of course, is what happens when OM meets NM meets TBDM. What is TBDM anyway? Well, it’s obviously things we haven’t even created yet. Will our media become more multi-sensory? Will we control the stories we watch or be actors in them? Will the idea of created media devolve so heavily that we’ll all just read/watch real life as it happens a la Truman Show? What do you think?

Related Post: Past experiments with mind mapping

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Filed under Books, Hollywood, Media

What Would Happen If They Raised Their Hands?

This week’s New York Times Room for Debate section asked what would happen if more women who had had abortions shared their experiences. The responses are predictably varied, but I like Sonya Renee’s:

The lives of actual women are so often invisible in this debate as to make one wonder who is actually having abortions. We are reduced to statistics, politicizing a profoundly personal issue. But when women speak out about our experiences, as I finally chose to do, we erase the political narrative. We remind people of the truth. We are mothers, students, lawyers, teens, humans making decisions about autonomy, family and self-determination.

I don’t believe there’s a right or wrong reaction to having an abortion. I wouldn’t invalidate the experiences of women who regret their choices just as I wouldn’t invalidate the experiences of women who found the decision easy and painless. I do, however, think there’s a lot of value in speaking up, of reclaiming the narrative from crusty old dudes. One in three women will have an abortion before they turn forty. This is not an uncommon American experience. This is not an uncommon female experience. When we treat the seekers of abortion (and their supporters) as pariahs, we are not acknowledging this reality of 21st century America.

I wrote some more on this subject and about the first person I ever knew who had sought an abortion for Role/Reboot:

roe

Related Post: Ever wonder about the experience of an abortion provider?

Related Post: How to celebrate Roe’s 40th anniversary

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Filed under Gender, Media, Republished!

Wendy Davis and Her Pink Shoes

Wendy DavisThe list of things I could write about today is endless, but the nice part of having your own blog is that you only write what you’re moved to write. And Wendy Davis, man, that woman moved me! Leticia Van de Putte moved me! I never would have guessed that watching 15 minutes of a crowd screaming would move me like that, but there I was, bawling like a baby! If you didn’t watch Wendy Davis,  you missed out (but the Texas Tribune has great recaps). Unlike Davis, I barely lasted for an hour, and I was asleep before the final verdict had been called: the vote happened too late, the bill did not pass, hoorah for all!.

Disclaimer for the rest of this post: I’m going to do some nitpicking. Why? Because it’s what I do, y’all. Because I don’t know how to turn it off. Because I think it still matters how we tell the story even when we win the battle. Ignore me if you’re trying to make your good vibes last for a while. If you want to pick apart media coverage some more, read on.

So this morning, I get up to read the coverage of the epic legislative battle, and the first thing I read is the NYT piece that describes Davis, “a petite Fort Worth Democrat in pink sneakers staged a 10-hour-plus filibuster marathon in which she never sat down.” My Moran-sexism-censors start flashing (Caitlin Moran, author of How to Be a Woman says the simplest way to know if something is sexist is to ask, do men put up with this B.S.?) Normally, we don’t include clothing choices or bodily descriptions when we talk about male politicians. I posted on Facebook that a gender-flip of this would seem unlikely: “A husky/tall/lanky Fort Worth Democrat in red trainers….”

My gut reaction was that describing Davis’ body and wardrobe were not relevant to her actions on the Senate floor last night, and consequently those comments are a rather benign but contributing part of the overwhelming pattern of objectifying female leaders and reinforcing a culture where attractiveness is a primary component of how we measure female worth. I may be overstating it. Some friends on Facebook certainly thought I was, which is why I’m eternally grateful for all the smart friends I’ve got on Facebook.

Rather than paraphrase, here are a few of their counter arguments:

From Lily:  Well, the description of her frame makes me want to vomit, but I think the sneakers bit could have been framed in a way that would be perfectly relevant to describing either a man or woman staging a filibuster (I mean, here, if someone’s wearing sneakers in a setting where you’d normally wear formal shoes, then you know they’re armed to the teeth and preparing for a long battle).

From Christian:  Pink sneakers are definitely an anomaly for state reps to wear – it tends to be a more formal setting, and pink could either be coincidental or a deliberate choice (given the profile, I am going with deliberate though). They make her memorable for a news story. While I agree that a description of her frame is out of line, I think pink sneakers are at least marginally (and possibly more than marginally) relevant.

From Brie: I think she wore [the shoes] on purpose, but journo should have discussed (however briefly) the REASON why she wore them, rather than just implying ‘isn’t she just the cutest little thing?’ A simple “Sen. Davis drew attention her effort by wearing pink sneakers throughout her 13-hour filibuster.” Acknowledging that she makes choices, rather than is just a woman to be impassively described. Male gaze, etc. etc.

From RyanI’m gonna call reach, although, of course, you’re entitled to your opinion. Wendy Davis is a political unknown; people don’t know her and the media tends to describe people physically when no one knows who they are. Also, she wore sneakers instead of traditional formal footwear because she was standing for 10 hours! That seems totally in-bounds to me. Even so, as a man, my body isn’t subjected to the daily scrutiny that a woman must endure.

From Michele: I get this point in general. That said, I distinctly remember, in childhood, appreciating the descriptions of (mostly male) scientists that opened most Discover magazine articles. We’re visual people, and it does mean something to say that X is sun-tanned, Y has wiry hair, Z is wearing a blue shirt. It humanizes people who belong to segments of society (science, the Senate) that can seem super-unapproachable.

From Dan: The color “pink” is also reasonably notable. It’s a bright color and carries a generally unprofessional tone, as would neon green, bright yellow, or Giants orange tennies. If her shoes were black tennies, I doubt any mention would have occurred. In that narrow context, she willingly stepped into territory for which anyone–male or female–would be criticized.

What I love is that nobody pulled the “You bitchy feminists hate beautiful women, the color pink, shaved legs, bras, penises, etc!” card or assumed I was just being obnoxiously critical for the sake of being obnoxiously critical. Everyone responded thoughtfully and for that, I am so, so grateful. I think Brie’s comment resonates the most with me, but everyone’s notes have shifted my perspective on this a little bit.

So where do I net out? I think, like the Supreme Court, we have to apply an extra level of scrutiny to descriptions of women’s bodies and clothing in the media, especially powerful women whose influence is often undermined by objectifying coverage. There are certainly valid reasons to describe clothing and bodies (of both men and women). In this case, her sneakers served a practical purpose (she was standing for 10+ hours) and were relevant to the uber-important political action she was taking. The fact that they were pink seems superfluous to me, but I’ll allow it based on the argument that the color is significant politically (indicating a commitment to women’s issues).

The “petite” is where I really get tripped up. This was a news article, not a New Yorker profile. Per Michele’s point above, we humans do love to know what people look like, and I don’t think there’s harm in sketching a more complete picture of a public figure. That said, I’ve been clicking on random other news articles today to see if any other political figures have physical descriptors attached to their introductions. Haven’t found one yet (though send me some if you do!). There is a long history of excessively discussing female politicians’ sartorial choices (see pantsuits, scrunchies, make-up, running shorts, etc) in lieu of covering their policies or accomplishments. It is an overal damaging trend that reduces the scope of female accomplishment to that which is accompanied by pretty clothes, a trim figure, or perfectly styled hair.

Does “petite” contribue to that culture? Yeah, I think it does. I think it was unnecessary and detracts from her actions, which certainly speak loud enough. Do I think it was malicious? No. Do I think it’s the most awful thing I’ve read this week? Hell to the no, not by a long shot. That prize goes to Scalia or Jodie Laubenberg, who put forth SB5.

Related Post: Notes on 40 Years of Roe

Related Post: HuffPo and the Changing Iconography of the Abortion Debate

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Filed under Gender, Media, Politics

Celebs, Jerry Lewis, Roman Polanski and Me

In case you missed it, on The Morning AMp this morning the Council on Feminist Thought discussed many important things including Jerry Lewis’ idiocy over female comedians (do you remember Tina Fey’s response? “We don’t fucking care if you like it.”), Roman Polanski’s moronic comments about birth control, and more on celebrity overshares vs. megashares.

Sidenote: Council on Feminist Thought is a badass name. Wish I had come up with that.

Related Post: The last time I was on the radio, we talked about Sheryl Sandberg

Related Post: I wrote for The Nashville Scene about Battlestar Galactica and feminism

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Filed under Gender, Media

Recommended Viewing

By request, here’s the complete list of recommended movies and television for the Re-Education Project. Just a reminder, these are not endorsements, or even necessarily “great” movies. I asked the Internet (well, my Internet) for recommendations of movies and TV that are defining, genre-challenging, game-changing, emblematic, problematic, or representative of depictions of women/gender/feminism/sex. I want to contextualize what I currently see and watch with some of their important predecessors, and these were your suggestions. Thank you!

Anything with an asterisk is on Netflix Watch Instant!

Television:

  • Ozzie and Harriet (1952)
  • The Jackie Gleason Show (1952)
  • Father Knows Best (1954)
  • Leave it to Beaver (1957)*
  •  that girlThat Girl (1966)
  • Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970)
  • All in the Family (1971)
  • Maude (1972)
  • The Jeffersons (1975)
  • Laverne and Shirley (1976)
  • The Cosby Show (1984)
  • Golden Girls (1985)
  • Roseanne (1988)
  • Murphy Brown (1988)
  • Prime Suspect (1991)*
  • Living Single (1993)
  • X-Files (1993)*
  • Xena  (1995)*
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997)*buffy
  • Farscape (1999)
  • Girlfriends (2000)
  • Alias (2001)*
  • Ellen (not the talk-show) (2001)
  • Firefly (2002)*
  • The L Word (2004)*
  • Veronica Mars (2004)
  • Damages (2007)*
  • Dollhouse (2009)*
  • Lost Girl (2010)*

Movies:

  • Morocco (1930)
  • Sylvia Scarlett (1935)
  • Streetcar Named Desire (1951)streetcar
  • Calamity Jane (1953)
  • Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)
  • Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)*
  • Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967)
  • The Taming of the Shrew (1967)
  • The Stepford Wives (1975)
  • Looking for Mr. Goodbar (1977)
  • I Spit on Your Grave (1978)*
  • Norma Rae (1979)
  • 9 to 5 (1980)*
  • Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980)
  • The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982)*
  • Tootsie (1982)
  • Silkwood (1983)
  • Yentl (1983)
  • The Color Purple (1985)
  • Aliens (1986)
  • Fatal Attraction (1987)
  • Baby Boom (1987)
  • Big Business (1988)
  • Working Girl (1988)working girl
  • Bull Durham (1988)
  • Steel Magnolias (1989)*
  • When Harry Met Sally (1989)
  • Thelma and Louise (1991)
  • Fried Green Tomatoes (1991)
  • A League of Their Own (1992)*
  • Sleepless in Seattle (1993)*
  • Natural Born Killers (1994)
  • Boys on the Side (1995)
  • The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996)
  • Jackie Brown (1997)*jackie
  • Elizabeth (1998)
  • All I Wanna Do (1998)
  • 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
  • Introducing Dorothy Dandridge (1999)
  • But I’m a Cheerleader! (1999)
  • Erin Brockovich (2000)
  • Chocolat (2000)
  • Riding in Cars with Boys (2001)
  • Anita and Me (2002)
  • Bend it Like Beckham (2002)
  • Whale Rider (2002)
  • Mona Lisa Smile (2003)*
  • House of Flying Daggers (2004)
  • Brick Lane (2007)
  • Becoming Jane (2007)
  • Caramel (2007)
  • Persepolis (2007)
  • Juno (2007)
  • The Duchess (2008)
  • I Spit on Your Grave (2010)
  • Easy A (2010)

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Filed under Gender, Hollywood

The Re-education Project (aka How Have I Never Seen Thelma and Louise?)

I would like to attempt something. Consider it a belated New Year’s Resolution, or an ongoing project in self-improvement and continuing education. I’m a feminist. Duh. You’d have to have been skipping the content of this blog and only looking at the dazzling photos to have missed that (Unrelatedly: Sorry for all the stock photography, that’s not really my thing).

I took a bazillion gender studies classes in college. I’ve read a lot, from Mary Wollstonecraft to Ariel Levy, Betty Friedan to Andrea Dworkin, Alix Kates Shulman to Adrienne Rich. I am well versed in the theories of the various waves, and I know where I stand on most of the issues, give or take a few of the finer points. And, of course, I’m always looking to broaden/deepen/complicate my own understanding.

But if you’re going to publicly comment on media and gender, as I do, reading is not enough. Watching and listening has to be part of the education process, and this is where I’ve started to find some serious holes in my own mental map of gender studies and women’s history. While my formal education required that I go back and read the sacred texts, I don’t feel like I truly have a handle on other forms of influential media.

thelma

How have I never seen Thelma and Louise?

I recently watched an excellent documentary on the evolution of Wonder Woman (if it’s in your city, go see it), and how her character changed in both comic books and on screen to match the flavors of feminism (or backlash to feminism) over the decades. One reference included Thelma and Louise, and I realized that I’d never seen it. A few weeks ago, I watch the PBS documentary Makers about the history of the women’s movement (streaming online, go watch it right this second). It also featured clips from other television shows and movies that I’d missed along the way, like Murphy Brown and The Mary Tyler Moore show. Obviously, most of this content was before my time, but given that I take great pride in being media literate and well-versed in this particular history, it seems I have some catching up to do.

I spend a serious amount of time keeping up on what we’re talking about now, but I want to contextualize the present by rounding out my knowledge of the past. If Girls wouldn’t have been possible without Sex and the City, and Sex and the City wouldn’t have been possible without Golden Girls, then I need to have seen Golden Girls to really understand how far we’ve come? How does the groundwork laid by Murphy Brown add depth to the current conversation we’re having about Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” philosophy? How does Tina Fey follow in the tradition of Mary Tyler Moore, or not? 

So, I need your help. If my goal were to fill out my understanding of “women in the media” over the last few decades, especially as it pertains to gender roles, feminism, sexism, etc., what do I need to go back and watch? I can’t watch everything, so what are the moments in media history that are influential, pot-stirring, game-changing? Here’s what I’ve got so far:

Thelma and Louise 

Golden Girls

The Mary Tyler Moore Show

Murphy Brown 

Nine to Five 

Maude 

What else? Post in the comments or tweet at me, @rosiesaysblog!

Related Post: The week in feminism

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Filed under Gender, Hollywood, Media

Bright Spot?

Warning: The bright spot referenced in the title of this post will not be arriving for several paragraphs. First, you have to go some dark places with me.

I do not hold grudges well. I am also generally incapable of going to sleep upset, of keeping my feelings to myself, or otherwise letting emotions incubate for reasonable lengths of time. When I feel shitty, whether for external or internal reasons, the shittiness sits front and center in my brain. I can’t think about other things, I can’t distract myself, and I can’t just let bad vibes dissipate at their natural pace; I have to force them out.

One of the ways I do this by dumping them on someone else. I never mean to dump, it just kind of happens, and then it takes the stricken look of a coworker caught off guard for me to really realize what  a lunatic I sound like.

Take Wednesday for example. Every piece of news I consumed (and I consume a lot of news) was horrifying. Not like, oh man, the CTA is raising their prices (which does suck,) but like legitimately filling me with actual horror/fear/desperation. And once that horror snowball starts, I can never seem to stop it. It started with the story about the rape case in Cleveland, TX, where the 11-year-old was raped by 20+ boys and men. Is this story in and of itself horrifying? Yes, but it is unfortunately old and faded news. The latest development is that the defense attorney described the 11-year-old girl as a “spider” who “lured” men into her “web.”

So I stared at that for a while, frothing at the mouth, and then shifted my gaze to my email, where my daily Chicagoist updates had arrived, leading with, of course, a horrifying story about a high school coach who condoned (maybe facilitated?) heinous sexual assault on a boys soccer team under the auspices of “hazing”. Does it ever end?

And then, when it seems like it will never end, I stumble on this ad for toy computers in which the boy computer (blue, obviously) has 50 functions and the girl computer (guess what color?) has 25 functions. And this, of course, is the least horrifying thing I’ve seen so far today, but I am already so worked up that this idiotic ad, this thoughtless, sexist, horrible dumb ad, is the thing that tips me over the edge.

My friend senses my consternation, likely because I am at this point moaning into my hand and rocking back and forth (I exaggerate, only slightly), and I unleash on her an incomprehensible torrent of angst, DID YOU SEE TEXAS, CLEVLELAND RAPE CASE DEFENSE ATTORNEY SAYS SHE’S A SPIDER SHE’S A CHILD WHY WHY WHY NO ONE UNDERSTANDS WHAT IS WRONG WITH THE WORLD AND CHIAGOIST SOCCER TEAM HAZING WHAT???? EVERYONE SUCKS I HATE IT ALL COMPUTERS FOR BOYS? WHO APPROVES THIS SHIT? I AM NEVER HAVING CHILDREN. And she just stares back at me, waiting for the steam to cool. I immediately felt better. What had been bottling up all day was at least released, the pressure was gone.

And then she did a cool thing, and sent me something to brighten my otherwise gloomy day. It was the reactions of Jada and Will smith to the criticism of their daughter Willow’s hair (she recently shaved her head). Jada wrote this:

willowThe question is why I would LET Willow cut her hair. First the LET must be challenged. This is a world where women, girls are constantly reminded that they don’t belong to themselves; that their bodies are not their own, nor their power or self determination. 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.”

And I’m fist-pumping, I’m hollering, I’m jamming out in my chair like this is the best, most joyous song I have ever been privileged enough to hear. And then there’s Will:

We let Willow cut her hair. When you have a little girl, it’s like how can you teach her that you’re in control of her body? If I teach her that I’m in charge of whether or not she can touch her hair, she’s going to replace me with some other man when she goes out in the world. She can’t cut my hair but that’s her hair. She has got to have command of her body. So when she goes out into the world, she’s going out with a command that it is hers. She is used to making those decisions herself

And I’m like… Fresh Prince, I knew you had it in you. You tell ‘em! And so the cloud passes, because although the world is most definitely not an okay place right now, we have allies, and the arc of the universe is long and it bends toward justice, and because some people speak up, and because we are not alone. 

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