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?

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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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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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