Tag Archives: movies

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

“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

Related Post: Quadrant games!

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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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Update on the Re-education Project

The view from the Sixth Floor Museum, in Dallas. See those green signs? That's about where Kennedy's car was when he was shot.

The view from the Sixth Floor Museum, in Dallas. See those green signs? That’s about where Kennedy’s car was when he was shot.

Apologies for the radio silence, mi amors. I’ve been in Texas complaining about the weather (I was cheated out of my 75 and sunny!), eating, and weeping at the Sixth Floor Museum (in the building from which Kennedy was shot).

You guys are seriously the best. Last week, I put out the call for movie/TV suggestions to help launch my “re-education project”  in which I try to round out my knowledge of historical on-screen portrayals of the ladies. The suggestions were fantastic and I’m just about ready to quit my job and sit in front of netflix all day. Later this week, I’ll list out all of the suggestions in case you want to undertake your own watch-a-thon.

Let’s talk about Waitress. This wasn’t even supposed to be an official part of the project; I had it filed away in my head as cutesy romance about a pregnant pie maker and her OB. Wow was I wrong. I mean, I’m not entirely wrong, that is what it’s about, but it’s about so much more! This is a feminist movie. About pie. And pregnancy. And romance. This proves, once again, that feminism is not about shitting on pies or babies, but is instead about thinking critically about what choices we afford people, what assumptions we make, and how gendered expectations can limit opportunity.

Waitress, if you don’t know, was a film written and directed by Adrienne Shelly (who was murdered in 2006), about a small-town diner waitress, Jenna, stuck in an abusive marriage. It could have been a heavy-handed film about domestic violence, capital D, capital V. Instead, it’s a sweet, silly, beautiful movie that also happens to capture some truths about domestic abuse that we are all very good at ignoring.

I happened to spend my Texas weekend with a friend who is a domestic violence counselor and she agreed that Waitress, through it’s humor and likability, is able to get at some of the insidious, less acknowledged components of abusive relationships. So many people say to her, why don’t these women just leave? Money is often the culprit, as it is with Jenna, who addresses “how lonely it is to be so poor and so afraid.”

waitressHer husband, Earl, is also not the caricature of an abuser we often see. He is not outright mean and aggressive, but controls Jenna through manipulation and subtle threats. He keeps her money so she won’t have other options. He undermines her confidence with casual insults. He tells her exactly what to say, and how to say it, forcing her to repeat to him the words he wants to hear. He also cries against her pregnant belly. He is weak and insecure, and he hides his insecurity behind faux swagger. He says things like:

“After everything I’ve done for you…”

“I provide for you. I put the clothes on your back, the roof over your head.”

“You’re the only thing I’ve ever loved.”

“You belong to me.”

“Ask me how was my day. Ask me like you mean it.”

Not all abuse looks like a black eye. Waitress also acknowledges the extremely precarious position Jenna’s pregnancy forces her into. Take Jenna’s observation about her unborn baby:

It’s an alien and a parasite. It makes me tired and weak. It complicates my whole life. I resent it. I don’t know how to take care of it.

It’s frank, it’s candid. She later says to her friend, “Not everybody wants to be a mama, Dawn, that doesn’t make me a bad person.” These are poor women. They are uneducated women. They are diner waitresses who expect to be diner waitresses forever, because there are no other choices. The ending of the movie (Spoiler Alert) also reinforces how trapped they are. Jenna is given a whopping financial gift from a dying customer and is able to rescue herself and her baby from her situation. It’s a fairytale, but through the transparent rosy glow of Jenna’s happy ending, it’s all the more evident how few happy endings real women in her position would have.

So yeah, it’s a movie about pie. There are lots of pastel colors, and Cheryl Hines cracking jokes, and Nathan Fillion looking dashing. But really, it’s a movie about what happens when you’re trapped and how hard we’ve made it to rescue yourself.

Related Post: Another great feminist movie, For a Good Time Call…

Related Post: Beasts of the Southern Wild

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Bechdel 101

alisonanddrawingI was out to dinner last week with two new friends who are awesome, smart, talented, progressive in-the-know feminist ladies. Like seriously, they are rock stars. We were talking politics and media, gender studies and feminism (you know, the $1 taco usual), and I mentioned the Bechdel Test. In response, I got blank stares. It was a great reminder that even in a community where we know our values align so well, there are often tools and memes, instruments and concepts that don’t permeate from group to group.

I’ve written about the Bechdel Test before, but I think it’s worth recapping in honor of the upcoming Oscars. This is one of those “lightbulb” moments in my own education, one of those ideas that, once it had been gifted to me, permanently colored everything I watch. For you visual learners, Anita Sarkeesian at Feminist Frequency has a great overview, but here’s mine:

History Lesson: From 1983 to 2008 Alison Bechdel wrote a comic strip called Dykes to Watch Out For that followed an array of queer characters through twenty-five years of relationship drama, parenting, and political upheaval. In one panel of a 1985 DTWOF, a character created a “rule” to gauge gender bias in movies. The rule has three parts:

1. There have to be two female characters with names

2. They have to talk to each other…

3. About something other than a man.

That is an offensively low bar. It doesn’t say anything about how women are portrayed in film, it just tests the most basic presence of ladies on screen. Are they there? Do they have a teensy, tiny bit of substance (i.e. names?). Do they have some non-man related agency? The bar is so low, we should all be shocked when a film doesn’t pass it, and yet, here are a few 2012 movies that don’t pass: Battleship, The Avengers, The Campaign, The Dark Knight Rises, The Hobbit, Jack Reacher, Life of Pi…

Putting It Into Practice: Take Lincoln, for example. The only conversation between women in this movie is a brief comment by Mary Todd Lincoln to her companion Elizabeth Keckley, but the comment is only about Representative Stevens’ speech. In other words, they’re talking about a man.

Another Oscar nominee, Django Unchained, also fails the test. The primary female character, Kerry Washington, never speaks substantially with any of the other minor female characters.

Remember, the point with the Bechdel Test is not to create some sort of false parity just for the sake of parity. Lincoln and Django are both set in male-dominated environments (Congress and the American West, respectively). You don’t fake female Congresswomen or add a token lady bounty hunter, that’s not the point. The point is that the female characters are not decoration, are not foils or objects. They have agency, autonomy, and lives that clearly exist independently from the male characters on screen. When the women exist only as backboards for male characters to react to, use, rescue, lust after, or discuss, they are not real characters; they are props.

The Bechdel Test doesn’t check for feminism in movies, or equality, or progressive values. It doesn’t ensure that women are treated well, or fairly, only that they are treated as human at all. Why is this important? Half of humankind is female, but the stories that get told (the movies that get made, etc) are overwhelmingly male in both subject and execution. There is nothing wrong with male-dominated movies (many of them are great films), but there is something wrong with a pattern of creative output that ignores female stories or female voices.

Want to try? Start applying the Bechdel Test to everything you watch (television and movies). You may find some things that pass on a technicality, but the exercise of asking yourself these questions is valuable in and of itself.

Related Post: Does Parks and Rec out feminist The Good Wife?

Related Post: Is Parks and Rec the most feminist show on television?

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Sunday Scraps 90

sunday90

1. HOLLYWOOD: It’s the piece everyone was talking about this week, so if you missed it, play catch-up with the Lindsay Lohan/James Deen/Bret Easton Ellis/”The Canyons” how-the-sausage-is-made essay.

2. INDEX: This is Indexed blogger/writer/drawer Jessica Hagy is interviewed for Fast Company about how she found her 3×5 sized internet niche.

3. WRITERS: The Rumpus interviews Zadie Smith about her novel NW, and why she doesn’t write autobiographically.

4. TINA + AMY: How pumped are you for tonight’s Golden Globes hosting-duo? Not enough? Get more so with NYMag’s recap of their friendship.

5. INDIA: I can’t even begin to describe how dead-on this opinion piece by Sohaila Abdulali is, so I’m just going to quote it: “Rape is horrible. But it is not horrible for all the reasons that have been drilled into the heads of Indian women. It is horrible because you are violated, you are scared, someone else takes control of your body and hurts you in the most intimate way. It is not horrible because you lose your “virtue.” It is not horrible because your father and your brother are dishonored. I reject the notion that my virtue is located in my vagina, just as I reject the notion that men’s brains are in their genitals.”

6. FRIDA: A closet full of Frida Kahlo’s personal items has been locked and guarded for 85 years and has just now been opened and explored.

Related Post: Sunday 89: Avalanches, Mr. Wright, pickpockets and Matt + Ben Forever.

Related Post: Sunday 88: Russian gymnasts, the Rockaways, origins of “doubt”, Moloch

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