Tag Archives: misogyny

True Detective and the Male Gaze (Alternate Title: It’s No Fun to Be a Killjoy)

true-detective1This is a post about True Detective. There will be no spoilers.

You know…when I finished the final episode of True Detective, HBO’s bromance about a pair of mismatched Louisiana cops investigating the ritualistic cult killings that have long been buried by Bayou water and Spanish moss, I didn’t know what I thought. I knew that Matthew McConaughey acted the shit out of that part, and so did his ponytail. I knew that I admired the show’s gorgeous cinematography, great soundtrack, and brilliant pacing. I appreciated the creative timelines and complex, layered storytelling of the editing team. I know that this show was well made.

But the more I tried to articulate to other people what I liked and disliked, the more I realized that everything I liked was shiny surface crap, and everything I disliked was meaty substance. I read a lot of internet commentary, some that declared it a masterpiece, and some, like Emily Nussbaum’s New Yorker essay, that pointed out how shallow these eight episodes really were.

Let’s start with the “woman question.” Why? Because this is a blog about feminism and gender and media. Duh. Don’t like it? Leave.

The ratio of real female characters with feelings/opinions/emotions to naked prostitutes/strippers/floozies with no feelings/opinions/emotions is 1 to about a billion. Even the director, Cary Fukunaga, answered the woman question similarly in a NYMag:

“I mean, it’s true: the show wouldn’t pass the Bechdel test. That’s not necessarily a factor by which we should measure everything. It’s a story about two guys and that’s what it focuses on. It certainly does not focus on the women characters other than what it needs to to service the Hart story line.”

[As a reminder; the Bechdel Test isn't a test of quality (good movies fail it, bad movies pass it). It is merely a test to see whether there are women of substance in a piece of media who exist as three-dimensional, autonomous characters who act with agency.]

Now, does everything have to pass the Bechdel Test? No. There is a place for bromances and buddy comedies and bachelor party narratives and war stories and sports tales and all of the other types of male-centric content. Those are good stories to tell. Remember Rescue Me? I loved that show. Ender’s Game barely passes it and that’s one of my favorite pieces of writing ever.

The problem is most of the stories that get told fail the Bechdel test, especially the “prestige” stories, the well-funded stories, and the oft-cited-as-art stories. So yes, it’s okay that True Detective, specificallydoesn’t pass Bechdel, but no, it’s not okay that so much of what is viewed as quality misses this most basic of thresholds.

Moving on. So, if I’m okay with the lack of substantive female characters on TD, where does that leave us? Male gaze. Sigh. Man, do I hate this one.

As a refresher, when we refer to “the male gaze,” we mean media that is created from a uniquely male point of view that typically uses aesthetic strategies that objectify women, reducing them to body parts and/or exaggerating sexuality, beauty, and femininity over a comprehensive set of human traits. It can be as simple as a camera shot that lingers on the breasts of an actress. It can be the ratio of male to female nudity (ahem, Game of Thrones). It can be anything that stylistically indicates that this content was made by men, for men, to the detriment of women.

Think about how we meet Maggie, Marty’s wife (played by Michelle Monaghan) in the very first episode of TD. She’s lying in bed on her side, facing away from the camera, butt exposed. We literally see her semi-naked body before we see her face, hear her voice, or know her name. Similarly, the first dead victim we meet is naked, which is crucial to the plot,  but the camera lingers on her ass, panning up and down her body. It is gratuitous as hell, unless you enjoy seeing naked female butts.

As Emily Nussbaum puts it, “TD was about the evil of men who treat women as lurid props, but the show treated women as lurid props.” Or, as I put it to a friend via gchat today, “it’s like… you don’t get props for being like RAPISTS ARE EVIL if in your very structure and dialogue and character, you are contributing to the culture that objectifies women and enables rape culture.”

You are either part of the solution or you are part of the problem. There is no neutrality, no “I’m just making a bromance cop show! This has nothing to do with gender politics!” I mark that position invalid; if you think you are contributing to the TV canon of greatness, then you don’t get to opt out of this conversation.  You will be judged on how you portray women and girls, as you should be. We are half of the goddamn population. That doesn’t mean you need to portray us as saints or angels, only that a show that visually treats women like objects doesn’t get to play the anti-rape culture card. Even if you catch the “bad guys” in the end.

Related Post: The Game of Thrones rape scene

Related Post: Strong female characters? No thanks.

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Making a Scene Has Gotten a Bad Rap

I’m not talking about making a scene because your pasta wasn’t as al dente as you had requested, or because someone took your favorite spot in the yoga studio (don’t they know it’s yours!?) or because your bagel was improperly creamcheesed. I’m talking about making a scene because injustice is occurring. Because racism is occurring. Because sexism, misogyny, discrimination, are occurring.

Good girls are not supposed to make scenes. We are supposed to be polite, courteous, vaguely deferential to the needs of others. By all means, consider the needs of others, but for the love of Gloria consider your own need to be respected and treated fairly.

If it seems like I’m on a bit of a rant, it’s because I am. In writing an essay about “making a scene” for Role/Reboot this week, I was thinking a lot about Anitathe new documentary about Anita Hill, and The Good Girls Revolt about the 1970 discrimination case brought by the researchers at Newsweek. I was thinking about my contemporaries–Anita Sarkeesian, Adria Richards, Lindy West–who “make scenes” over injustice and sexism and routinely get told to go back to the kitchen/lay back and enjoy it/shut their mouths/remember their place.

But someone must make a scene, because these scenes need to be made. These issues need to be raised (and fixed), these conversations need to be had, these inequalities need to be addressed.

So… it might as well be you.

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Related Post: Happy 80th to Gloria!

Related Post: The personal is political.

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Porn Studies Hits Newstands

Well, not newsstands so much, since academic journals rarely find shelfspace next to Newsweek or Cosmo. Wait, does Newsweek still exist? I can’t keep it straight anymore which of the old school pubs have folded.

Porn Studies is a new academic journal about porn [NSFW if having "porn" spelled out in giant letters on your screen is NSFW]. It’s mindblowing that such a thing didn’t exist until now, right? Porn is soooooo fascinating! This week for Role/Reboot I wrote about the new journal and why I think we need more porn-talk, not less.

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The ethics of porn-making and porn-consuming have been front and center lately when the “real” identity of porn star Belle Knox was revealed by a fellow student at Duke. She’s done a pretty solid job of reclaiming the momentum of the story by speaking out about feminism, privacy, misogyny, and double-standards, though she’s also been put through the ringer of woman-hating bullshit that we put women through when they speak things that make us uncomfortable.

If you are a porn-consumer (and most people are), then you should be thinking critically about how your porn is made, who stars in it, who profits from it, and what compromises are made along the way. I’m not saying you should stop watching (I won’t), but you should start asking why we hold only the woman on screen accountable for the content, and not her porn-consuming classmates who enjoy it, or the porn-producers behind the camera who make it.

Related Post: Why we need more sex on TV

Related Post: Why is oral sex so frequently uni-directional?

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Thanks, Critics

This week for Role/Reboot, I’ve been thinking about why I keep writing in that community, why I’m such a “sharer” (as opposed to, say, a diary keeper). One of the things I’ve landed on is gratitude for my critics. If you read this post about blackface back in October, you’ll be familiar with this theme, but I decided to elaborate with a thank you note to my harshest critics:

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Related Post: When commenters help parse my thoughts about Beyonce

Related Post: How I feel when I write outside my wheelhouse

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Gavin McInnes and the Myth of “Real Masculinity”

Have you guys seen the Gavin McInnes video on HuffPo Live yet? The co-founder of Vice let loose during a panel on masculinity with a petulant, aggressive, woefully misinformed tirade about how:

a) Feminism makes women sad

b) Women are trying to be like men

c) Women who work and men who take care of kids are working “against the natural order”

It was baaaad. The other panelists responded well, especially Professor Mary Anne Franks, but McInnes’ volume and tone (he calls Franks a “fucking idiot”) make a rational conversation really, really difficult. I’m reminded of an unrelated line in a Slate piece about Ender’s Game author Orson Scott Card: “There are those who think that the failure of the world to agree with them, and their embrace of violence as a solution, somehow makes them the strong ones and the world the weak ones. But violence is such an easy solution, the emotional coward’s way out of actually dealing with the existence of those who disagree as legitimate equals.”

There is so much in his position to argue against (Um, what about gay folks? Um, working outside the home doesn’t necessarily mean working all night like a crazy person. Um, yes, childcare is exceptionally important, why would we deprive dads of participating? Um, since when has a “natural order” ever led us towards anything but discrimination and prejudice?) but I am mostly just sad for him. He clearly believes in what he’s spouting, that this ambitious, aggressive, chest-pumping version of masculinity is the only way to be a “real man.”

Here’s my piece about McInnes’ outburst, feminism, and all of the work we still have to do:

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Related Post: Ta-Nehisi Coates, street harassment, and being a “real man.”

Related Post: Hey guys, women are not a different species

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5 Myths (and now a 6th!)

For my new piece on Role/Reboot, I listed five of the most common responses I hear from street harassment defenders.

“It’s because you’re pretty” (plus obvious wardrobe corollary, “It’s because you’re wearing _______”)

“It’s just a compliment!”

“We can’t help ourselves!”

“It’s the only way to get your attention”

“It’s harmless” 

Since I posted the piece on Facebook, another great one has surfaced, “Some women like it!” UGH, such a good addition to this list!

Thought experiment! Since blatant racism is, in most circles, tolerated less than blatant sexism, I think it can sometimes be useful to switch out sexist language for racist language to test our own boundaries. (NOTE: By no means am I equating sexism and racism. Different issues, sometimes related, sometimes not). 

So, to the guy who responded on FB “Whenever I witness it – which admittedly is pretty rare – ladies seem to enjoy the attention half the time,” let’s imagine this is about race, not gender. Let’s say that about half the time, black people you know don’t mind when you use the N-word colloquially. But, the other half of the time when you try to use it, you trigger for your listeners extreme emotional trauma. Would you use it because “half the time” some people might not mind? Would your verbal “freedom” be worth the pain you would cause people to exercise it? And since you wouldn’t know from looking at your audience whether they were black people who don’t mind or ones who d0, you would just not use the word, right? At least, that’s what any person of reasonable empathy would do.

So, even if some women don’t mind, or even appreciate cat calling (and I’m not disputing the fact that some women do), to others, you are causing extreme emotional trauma. You are making them feel unsafe. You are making them feel objectified. You are making them feel uncomfortable. So…. stop. As another commenter put it in response to this dude,

“Women are telling you they do not like this. It makes them uncomfortable. It make them feel like they can’t just go about their day in a way that is totally reasonable to expect without having unwanted attention from strangers. Regardless of the cat-callers’ motivations, or what you might like or how you think you see women reacting. There are women right here telling you it’s not cool. Period. Even if you don’t agree with the gender analysis or the power-play patriarchy stuff. Fine. You don’t have to. It kind of comes down to basic politeness and that should really be the end of it.”

Anyway, read on for more on my original Five Myths About Street Harassment. Can you think of any others?

5myths

Related Post: A letter to the guy who harassed me on the street

Related Post: On Ta-Nehisi Coates and street harassment

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Filed under Gender, Republished!

Married and Sexist

Inspired by Pax Dickinson’s horrendous NYMag interview about his sexist Twitter history and Robin Thicke’s GQ interview about the “Blurred Lines” video, I wrote about the venn diagram of being married and being sexist:

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After extensive research, I have concluded that you can, in fact, be both married and sexist. For more on that, check out my essay at Role/Reboot.

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Related Post: On marriage and skepticism

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Pack it up, Pax

Another week, another kerfuffle over the tech industry’s ongoing hostility towards women.

a_560x375Overview: This one began when Pax Dickinson, the Chief Technical Officer for Business Insider was fired after his disgusting twitter feed, rife with classist, racist, sexist, and homophobic sentiments was re-discovered. Example:

In The Passion Of The Christ 2, Jesus gets raped by a pack of niggers. It’s his own fault for dressing like a whore though.

Other examples are not as egregious in language choice, but are equally insensitive: aw, you can’t feed your family on minimum wage? well who told you to start a fucking family when your skills are only worth minimum wage? 

Or, the classic anti-feminist haterade: feminism in tech remains the champion topic for my block list. my finger is getting tired. 

It would’ve been just another brogramming asshole on Twitter, worthy of an eyeroll and nothing more, except that he happened to be extremely high up in a organization that writes, on a regular basis, about the ongoing effort to support the inclusion of women in tech.

ANYWAY. He was interviewed this week in NYMag and his interview is basically a list of politcally incorrect, poorly thought-out no-nos diguised as general apathy for what other people think of him. So, let’s take this piece by piece:

*       *       *      *       *

“I regret some of the tweets. Some of them — they were taken out of context.” There is no context, bro. The fact that you tweeted horrendous shit that coinincided with the release of Passion of the Christ doesn’t make it any less horrendous. More importantly, this is classic White Dude Privilege Syndrome, as articulated so well by David Roberts at Grist.  One of the most subtle-but-powerful forms of privilege is the assumption that the way you intend yourself to be interpreted is the way you will be interpreted. Imagine if a black teenager was like, “Yo, I didn’t mean to look threatening to you! You took my hoodie out of context!” As Roberts put it, “We privileged dudes have trouble accepting that language is a social phenomenon, a social act.” Read closely, Pax.

“But I still — I still think it was funny, so I don’t apologize that much. It was a funny joke, sorry!” Ohhhh, as long as you think it’s funny to make rape jokes (Who has more dedication, ambition, and drive? Kobe only raped one girl, Lebron raped an entire city. +1 for Lebron”) and belittle the struggle of LGBTQ folks to live with the openness you enjoy (“at least if we end up getting into a nuclear standoff with Russia over gay rights we’ll know this universe is just a satirical simulation”) then it’s all good. We didn’t know you were trying to be funny! If we had known that…. JK, it’s still fucking offensive. You know, “you can’t take a joke” is the oldest excuse in the book. If you can’t tell a joke without shitting on black people, women, poor people, and gays, then damn, son, you can’t tell a joke.

“I think the tech world is just kind of — it doesn’t have a woman problem. Women in tech are great. There’s just not that many of them because tech is just a kind of thing that a lot of women aren’t that interested in, I think.” Yeah…. wow. This is just about the least nuanced view of a very complicated issue that I’ve seen in a while. There are a lot of reasons that there aren’t as many women in tech as men, not the least of which is your attitude, as expressed on Twitter, would make it very unlikely that any women would want to work for you. Nobody likes to force themselves into a party to which they’re not invited, and your tweets are part of the hostility (along with Titstare, etc) that make it appear to the outside that tech has a No Girls Allowed sign. What’s more, the idea that STEM is not for women is pushed onto girls at a very young age (“Too pretty for math” t-shirts, for example). We’re not born with a distaste for computers; in China, 40% of engineers are female. This shit is culturally created, and you’re contributing.

“The freewheeling nature of it is what leads to innovation. And my fear is that if we’re all going to police what we say, maybe we lose that innovation.” You can be freewheeling without being offensive. It’s possible, I promise, it just takes a little more effort than you’re willing to put in. Take comedy, for example, only the laziest comedians think that the only way to get a laugh is with a “Let me tell you something about women… ” joke. The smart ones, the Louis CKs and the Rob Delaneys, know that you don’t have to make people with fewer opportunities than you the punchline. You’ve been living in a No Girls Allowed treehouse for the last twenty years, and we’re knocking on the door saying that bro-time is now over. Get with it. Being professional doesn’t mean boring, but it does that you must treat people with respect and promote equality in your workplace, especially when you’re the boss.

“Real misogyny is, you know, hatred of women and violence against women and all that. Those are terrible things, but let’s not devalue those things, let’s not make those things, let’s not trivialize them by using the same words for things like Titstare. I mean, Titstare is harmless. It’s crass, but it’s harmless.” It’s absolutely 100% not harmless. It is the opposite of harmless, it is full of harm. Titstare is about objectifying women, as in… viewing women as objects. Violence against women, what you call “real misogyny,” springs directly from that same belief. When you think that women exist for your pleasure, to look at or touch or fuck, then it is easy for you to treat them disposably, violently, disrespectfully. When you believe women are some sort of “other” category of sort-of humans, you are beginning to create the justification that people use all the time to prevent women from voting, driving, governing. It is from that same place of othering that domestic abuse, sexual assault, and rape come from.

“I work in New York City, you know, diversity capital of the world. I don’t have any problems with anybody. My career would never have gotten to this point — the point I was at, before — if I was that kind of person.” Could you be any more delusional? You think that sexist, racist, homophobic white guys don’t make it to the top every single day? You know who hires them, mentors them, promotes them? Other sexist, racist, homophobic white guys. Or, rather than implicating every single person that has ever hired or promoted you, let’s say that straight, rich, white dudes (the type that have probably hired you many times over) are not known for being especially perceptive towards issues of privilege and inequality.

“My wife thinks it’s bullshit! She knows me, this is ridiculous. The worst part about it is, for me, the people who love me are very upset.” We’ll address this one tomorrow. Stay tuned.

*       *       *      *       *

My god… I could go on and on. His interview is basically every issue I’ve ever written about all at once, rolled up tightly in a gross little package of misguided, delusional horseshit. What did I miss?

Related Post: On brogramming

Related Post: An example of sexism in tech!

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“White Liberal Dude Privilege Syndrome”

Yup, bet this is a really hard time for YOU, bro

Yup, bet this is a really hard time for YOU, bro

My favorite thing I’ve read this week is the apology letter from David Roberts at Grist after he referred to a former Anthony Weiner intern as a “hobag” on Twitter. Read the whole thing, please, but highlights:

“This is the key first step in a bout of White Dude Privilege Syndrome, especially the specific variant of White Liberal Dude Privilege Syndrome (WLDPS). Very few bouts begin with deliberate sexism or racism or heteronormativity. We are not thinking sexist thoughts! Our intentions are pure! We love women! Some of our best friends are black! We are good people, dammit!”

“The first step in WLDPS therapy is for the sufferer to acknowledge that it does not matter what was or was not in his head, or what he “really” meant. Part of privilege is the deep conviction that one is the absolute authority on one’s own mental states and thus the dictator of one’s own meanings — no one can tell you what they are, what you think, who you are, man. You don’t know me! We privileged dudes have trouble accepting that language is a social phenomenon, a social act, and meaning is created collectively, in the spaces between and among people. When you use language that is freighted with social meaning, you are responsible for that meaning, even if you did not “intend” it.”

Man, it’s so fucking smart. When we talk about privilege, we are often referring to the very tangible–wealth, stuff–or the slightly less tangible–sense of security, education. What Roberts is pointing out is that the underlying girders of privilege are not external, but rather deeply personal, “the conviction that one is the absolute authority on one’s own mental states and thus the dictator’s of one’s own meanings.”

I'm sure this is a really tough time, Bob

I’m sure this is a really tough time, Bob

What do we mean by that? Take the case of currently beleaguered mayor of San Diego, Bob Filner. Filner’s been accused by nine women of sexual harassment and is clearly struggling with the discrepancy between how he viewed his actions (“behavior that would have been tolerated in the past”) and how they are perceived by others (inappropriate, illegal, gross.) See Stephen Colbert’s excellent “Oppressed White Male Alert.”

Similarly, Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper is trying to recover from an ugly incident in which, agitated, he yelled at a Kenny Chesney concert, “I will jump that fence and fight every n***** here, bro” [Note: Cooper is white]. His response to the appalled and upset reactions of his fans and teammates suggest that, like Filner, he’s having trouble reconciling what he knows about himself and how his actions are being received. “I’m hoping we can rally around this and my teammates will be behind me and I’ll get through this,” he said. “This is not the type of person I want to be portrayed as. This isn’t the type of person I am. I’m extremely sorry,” he added. He does not consider himself to be racist and this may be the first time in his life where his internal monologue about who Riley Cooper is is being questioned by the public. He found the edge of his privilege, and it is apparently at a gate outside a Kenny Chesney show.

As Roberts said, “When you use language that is freighted with social meaning, you are responsible for that meaning, even if you did not ‘intend’ it.”

Related Post: Do I have privilege? You bet.

Related Post: There is a hierarchy of feminist privilege

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Filed under Gender, Media, Politics, Really Good Writing by Other People, Sports

Sunday Scraps 107

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1. GENDER: Dude writes for Quartz about adding a Mr. to his gender-neutral name and suddenly having doors open. Kind of a duh piece, but reassuring nonetheless.

2. BOOKS: Highly useful and equally addictive tool that recommends books based on other things you’ve read.

3. INTERWEBZ: Fun game from MIT where you map all of your email over all time and see how you email the most.

4. MERMAIDS: Excellent NYT essay from the excellent Virginia Sole-Smith on mermaid shows.

5. ART: Amanda Palmer of the Dresden Dolls is awesome in her musical rebuttal to the idiotic Daily Mail who ragged on her for an exposed breast (NSFW).

6. MILLENNIALS: CNN.com comic by Matt Bors about why ripping on millennials is a) old news and b) boring.

Related Post: Sunday 106: Dustin Hoffman, Sex Ed, and Roxane Gay on a race-based VIDA test

Related Post: Sunday 105: Bodies that matter, isolated islands, literacy tests, etc.

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