Thursday, July 28, 2011

Why Feminism Anyway?

This post is a part of my “Out of the Kitchen” weekly column at The Progressive Playbook in which various news and pop culture items will be examined through a feminist lens.
Sometimes I live in a bubble. It’s a bubble I think we all frequently create for ourselves, where we’re surrounded by people who think like us and are open to our thoughts. The upside is that this bubble is safe, comfortable, and friendly. The downside is that our bubbles don’t often challenge us and that comfort can turn into complacency.
In the interest of avoiding complacency, when I meet people who don’t initially seem on board with feminism or who are actively against the label, I do like to engage in an occasional discussion. Frequently this issue arises, “I’m on board with equality and all that, but I just don’t like the term ‘feminism’. It’s so angry (militant, man-hating, self-righteous etc.)” Or, in other friendly discussions I’ll hear “I’m not a feminist but…” (In fact, celebrities even promote this idea, which I’ve written about a bit before.)
What it drills down to is that many people have a problem with the term, not the actual theory behind feminism. Studies substantiate this claim. Even though a majority of people understand gender bias exists, they can’t imagine referring to themselves as feminists. Of course, there are extremists who actually don’t believe in equality between men and women, but for the most part the general public’s objection to feminism is based upon its bad reputation and not its actual theory. In these discussions, after someone has stated their discomfort with feminism and I’ve explained what it’s really all about (the end to sexist oppression) the next question is always, “So why not go for a different term? ‘Feminism’ has such a bad connotation.” Some of my friends and acquaintances even go as far as to identify as equalists.
But this is where I simply must stand firm. For me, part of sexism is the systematic devaluation of everything associated with women; feminism included. For me to identify as a feminist is key to my work as someone who rejects sexism (and all the other –isms for that matter.) Giving up the term would be like a small symbol of giving into the idea that to stand up for women is the same as being an angry man-hater. Clearly, being pro-girl is not the same thing as being anti-boy. Feminism really is for everybody (thanks bell hooks!)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Tim Gunn, You've Got to be Kidding Me

Oh hey, Hillary. How are you? Are you sure you're ok? You don't look ok. You look kind of mad.

Oh, what's that? Yet another person, this time Tim Gunn, is critiquing your looks/clothes and not focusing on your policies, accomplishments, or the actual purpose of your career? In fact, he went as far as to say you're confused about your gender because he doesn't like your pants suits!?

Yeah, I'd be pissed off too! I am pissed off too!

Do I really have to go over this? Hasn't it all been said before?

Let me make this crystal clear: The way that female politicians are treated regarding their looks and clothes is sexist.

We virtually never hear anything about Obama's or Boehner's clothing or hair choices. And even when we do hear something about about a male politician's appearance, the stories are frequently framed by emphasizing the femininity of the man involved, as a means of painting them as ridiculous. For example, when it was discovered what John Edwards spent on a haircut, Fox News ran this line, "Edwards also availed himself of $250 in services from a trendy salon and spa in Dubuque, Iowa, and $225 in services from the Pink Sapphire in Manchester, N.H., which is described on its Web site as 'a unique boutique for the mind, body and face' that caters mostly to women."

HAHA! GET IT!? Edwards is such a little girl...but back to the matter at hand.

Tim Gunn--I get that your thing IS fashion, and that's great. However, our politicians are not supposed to be sex or fashion symbols. The undue attention to Hillary's clothing, "cankles," and gender identity is both tired and harmful. Not only does it unfairly distract from the actual purpose of politicians' work, but it also perpetuates the myth that women are necessarily supposed to care about their looks above all else. I know being catty about these things is sort of what you're know for, but perhaps save the snark for a less obviously sexist discussion.

And now for some resources on the topic...for a nuanced analysis of gender in our last presidential election, check out Big Girls Don't Cry by Rebecca Traister. I also think that the movie Miss Representation has a great message on this, but I haven't yet seen it (I'm hoping it comes my way!)

Friday, July 22, 2011

Will Gluck, Feminist Director?

I've written before about the feminism of Easy A. The film's director, Will Gluck, has released a new film, Friends with Benefits starring Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake (who have accidentally become a trend on here...) Friends with Benefits suffers from a very distinct was released just months after a movie of the exact same subject, No Strings Attached. I haven't seen No Strings Attached but I did get to see Friends with Benefits for free at an early screening, as Mr. Nerdy Feminist writes for a movie review blog. I went into the movie with pretty low expectations, simply because I'm NOT a romantic comedy type gal.

Honestly, it was a pretty "blah" movie. Nothing like Easy A, which I loved. It was at least less cliche than the typical romcom, meaning I didn't feel nauseous with the story line. What really stuck out to me was Mila Kunis' character, Jamie. She was pretty refreshing. She did claimed to want a prince charming to come sweep her off her feet, yet she was smart, independent, career driven, and not in a stereotypical field. At one point in the film, Jamie's mom basically called her out on her prince charming dream, saying something to the effect of, "You don't want someone to rescue you; you want someone to be an equal partner to you in life." The message was clear: once Jamie's mom helped her realize what she really needed, she was able to pursue a positive relationship.

Sure, the movie wasn't perfectly feminist. (Spoiler) It is Jamie, not Dylan (Timberlake) who first decides casual sex isn't possible after all. But in combination with Easy A, it made me Will Gluck a feminist? Sure, he is the producer/director and not the writer of these films, but if he is taking on projects with pretty clear themes of gender equality, anti-slut shaming, and challenging the status quo, that's got to mean something, yes? All in all, while I was mildly disappointed that Friends with Benefits didn't have the freshness, hilarity, or entertainment value of Easy A, it still was better than most other romcoms out there. That's gotta count for something.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Age IS More Than a Number; It’s Often Power

This post is a part of my “Out of the Kitchen” weekly column over at The Progressive Playbook in which various news and pop culture items will be examined through a feminist lens.

In Hollywood, partners who are several years older or younger than one another are as common as washed up C list celebrities. However, extreme cases do raise eyebrows. Last month news broke that actor Doug Hutchison, 51, married a 16-year-old girl, Courtney Alexis Stodden. Not much was known about the young woman and their relationship, but this week, they’ve been making the media rounds and there’s even talk of a reality show.

In general, when it comes to choices as personal as romantic partners, the feminist consensus is “live and let live.” The looks, gender, race, physical ability, and other attributes of one’s dates are deeply personal and therefore up to the individual. Statements of non-judgement regarding partner choice frequently begin with “So long as everyone is consenting adults…” Undoubtedly, situations like that of Stodden and Hutchison call into question issues of both consent and adulthood, and are therefore important to examine. Read more...

Monday, July 18, 2011

Epically Bad Advertisement

This is all around the single stupidest advertisement I've ever seen...and vaginal products have notoriously bad advertising.

In case you need a full explanation why this is a horrifically bad ad, check out the post on Jezebel where I found this.

Dios mio.

UPDATE! Check out more from their horrible new *line* of ads!

Inappropriate "Friends"

Check out this post over at Captain Awkward. Feministe's Jill offers advice to a young women about her totally inappropriate male "friend." As the question asker writes:

He is constantly making comments about our asses or tits, or how we should fuck him–as in asking literally every two minutes “wanna have sex? how about now? and now?” This would be extremely annoying and offensive, but harmless on its own; however, he is also innapropriately physical. Past incidents have included: jumping on top of me when I am lying on the couch, flipping my dress in public so everyone can see my underwear ALL AFTERNOON LONG, letting his hands slide down my friend’s back, grabbing her crotch … You get the picture. I have had to knee him in the balls on multiple occasions to get him off of me, yet somehow that doesn’t stop him the next time around. My girlfriends and I have all talked about this and we all acknowledged to each other that we are constantly on alert and uncomfortable whenever he is around. Even a friendly hug from him feels threatening at this point.

Jill's advice is great, and if anyone is in need of similar help, I suggest checking it out. She basically lays out a plan to give him the benefit of the doubt and, in many more words, ask him to stop being a jackass or find new friends.

What struck me about this question and inspired me to write about it is that, while I haven't experienced anything quite so extreme as the young woman who wrote in, I do know the feelings she's describing.

As a side note, these experiences were limited to time in high school. As I went to college, expanded and refined my social circle, I found myself more and more surrounded by like-minded people. Or at least people who respected the physical and emotional boundaries of others. In fact, Mr. NerdyFeminist, Ronald, is pretty damn good at finding guy friends who are kind, respectful men. (Despite the raunchy jokes you'll hear in their company...the inappropriateness stops there.) This experience with cool guys who are not grope-y dudebros has made me forget what it's like to have the friend (or several friends) who think that their female friends' bodies are public domain.

In my pre- "oh hey! I'm a feminist!" days I remember thinking that this type of negative attention from guys was normal, but having very mix feelings. On one hand, I was weirded out and often out right annoyed. On the other hand, I got a bit starry eyed here and there thinking that "oh gee...maybe so-and-so actually likes me." (Spoiler alert: all of THOSE guys actually didn't.)

The teen years are a complex time in general and understanding your own boundaries vs. your budding sexuality is all around confusing. Our society doesn't help us through this process much, as most American sexual education focuses too much on "Don't have sex, because you will get pregnant and die" and way too little on developing actually healthy sexual identities. Far too often the girls around me (and including me) tolerated inappropriate behavior from our male peers. This is in no way to blame us. As I mentioned, we were confused and lacking proper guidance surrounding boundary setting. We weren't taught to understand how to navigate unwelcome vs. welcome sexual attention. And we were socialized, as girls are, to be very, very nice. However, in many cases, these guys involved weren't outright sleaze bags. They, too, were trying to figure it all out and were in SEVERE need of boundary setting assistance as well.

Had we received a truly comprehensive sexual education, including discussions of healthy vs. unhealthy relationships, these incidents would have been much less frequent. This is one thing I am proud of in my work with girls. I can say that several of our topics help girls understand their own boundaries and that these boundaries are as personal and individualized
as our fingerprints. We help them see that they have a right to listen to their gut and call someone out. However, that's only really half of the equation, isn't it? Someone's got to say the same stuff to the boys.

Regardless of this all, I ended up with a boy from that very high school. But he could not have respected everyone's boundaries more. (Ronald's mom gets a million kudos in my book for raising a feminist man.) As I mentioned, my social circle has changed drastically since those experiences. But I can't help but wonder if those guys who made us feel gross in high school have gotten even worse and are now like the man described above...At best this type of behavior is wildly inappropriate. At worst, it's the precursor to sexual assault. In either case, that shit's just got to stop.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A Vote for One Woman is not Necessarily a Vote for All Women

This post is a part of my “Out of the Kitchen” weekly column at The Progressive Playbook in which various news and pop culture items will be examined through a feminist lens.

In the 2008 election season, the American public became painfully aware of a new type of political woman: Sarah Palin. For those of us involved deeply in discussions of gender and feminism, it was a little heartbreaking. Here was this politician, only the second woman in American history to be the Vice President nominee of a major party, and her views were decidedly anti-woman. (Even though she co-opted our label.)

According to Ann Friedman and many other feminists, Palin’s role in the 2008 election became a symbol of the right’s tokenism. The message from the McCain campaign was patronizing at best, sexist at worst. It appeared that they felt they could appeal to women voters simply by adding a woman to the ticket, and seemingly any woman would do. It didn’t matter that Palin was inexperienced, uninformed, or extreme.


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Mila Kunis' Trip to the Marine Corps Ball

Recently, Sargent Scott Moore posted a YouTube video asking Mila Kunis to attend the Marine Corps Ball with him. Mila accepted, and the news is all a buzz about this.

I'm divided...on one hand, I get that this is really cool of her. A man who serves our country wants to hang with her, asked her on a total whim, and probably didn't expect this level of attention. On the other hand, these kind of things sort of creep me out.

I can't help but feel that she was mildly coerced into this. I mean, a number of the stories are reporting that Justin Timberlake pressured her to say yes, insisting that, "You need to do it for your country."

Hold up, let's clear one thing up right now. The sacrifices that our armed forces make to serve our country are enormous. They deserve a number of benefits in our society, but having an A list actress as your date to the Marine Ball is not one of them. This has nothing to do with Kunis, "doing it for her country" but rather, doing it for one dude who thought, "Hey I'll ask that hot chick and see what happens!" Service members don't get a free pass on the autonomy of the rest of us. That's not how it works.

Now, if Kunis has decided to do this because she thinks it will be fun, or she is touched by the request, or even if she feels it will be an amazing publicity stunt for her image and her career, then that's great. But it doesn't appear that she made the decision with free will, and that's troubling.

I guess all I can do is hold out hope that this is what she wants to do and the "pressuring" was all just a part of the stunt.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Horrible Bosses...Wasn't Horrible...?

So I don't have a long, elaborate and fancy analysis of Horrible Bosses. However, I did want to get it out there that it actually wasn't the worst thing I've ever seen in my life, which from the previews, I thought it would be.

The premise is that these three guys have (you guessed it!) Horrible Bosses, who they want killed to make their lives better. Dark. But what made me extremely uncomfortable in the previews is Jennifer Aniston's character (a dentist) who is MAJORLY sexually harassing and assaulting Charlie Day (her dental hygienist, Dale.) The other main characters, Jason Sudeikis and Jason Bateman, think that what Dale is going through is no big deal and he should actually enjoy it. *Eye roll* Get it? Guys can't be raped. Never heard that before.

Anyway, I went into it thinking that this offensiveness would translate into me not enjoying the movie. However, I was pleasantly surprised.

I laughed. A lot--let it never be said that this feminist is humorless!

Make no mistake, it is offensive. The gender situation of the movie overall is gruesome. The women are woefully underdeveloped. What we do see of them is silly, aggressive, or immoral. The depiction of race is just as grim. And the Aniston/Day story line is absolutely cringe worthy...but for some reason I left the theater feeling pretty positive about the experience in general. Maybe it's because Dale emphatically insisted that what was happening to him was wrong, despite anyone's doubts. Or maybe it's because I was able to turn my brain off for a couple of hours.

I guess I just agree with the analysis over at Salon that basically...Horrible Bosses is "surprisingly likable." And I didn't want to like it.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Announcing...Out of the Kitchen!

Just a quick note...I am excited to officially announce that I will be writing for the new website, The Progressive Playbook!

I will be writing a weekly column called "Out of the Kitchen" in which various news and pop culture items will be examined through a feminist lens. My first post is up!

Weekly, I'll be posting teaser here, for you to click through and get the full deets. Check it out!

"Bridesmaids" Continues to Quietly Challenge Conventional Wisdom

News recently broke that “Bridesmaids” has become not only the top grossing R rated female comedy, but also Judd Apatow’s top grossing film.

The initial reaction is to shrug it off and wonder, “Who cares?” However, the fact of the matter is that there is a reason that this statistic is making news. Right under our noses, “Bridesmaids” is challenging much of the conventional wisdom surrounding popular cinema. Read more...

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Tired Weight Related Nonsense

Once you become someone who believes in body acceptance and health at every size, you start to notice just how infused our society is with weight charged statements. And you begin to find these weight charged statements utterly eye roll inducing. They've become cliches. It's boring. It's tired. It's helping no one. So I advocate for a few of these particularly annoying statements to just end. Here's my short list:

1) "Skinny bitch," or any other disparaging statement about thin women, which I wrote about in great detail before.

2) Baby bodies--these statements are the ones which hit at any of the weight related impacts that pregnancy has had or will potentially have on your body. Being someone who has not yet had kids, I know that I'm chastising others for something I haven't directly experienced, but hear me out. It's often in the context of, "Pregnancy made my _____ (examples: hips wider, stomach fat, skin stretch marked). If I wouldn't have been pregnant I'd probably still ______ (examples: fit a size 0, be able to see my abs)." As someone who's pre-baby body already has wide hips and a non flat stomach, I experience these statements as: "Your body sucks. I'm not supposed to have this body. It's not my fault." Another context that I hear the baby bodies statements goes a little something like this, "My body's the best right now it will ever be. In 5 (10, 15, what have you) years when I have a couple of kids it will never be like this again!"

The critical issue in each of these cases is the disparagement of a certain type of body. The relationship to the pregnancy is just incidental. See, if we accepted all bodies, then there wouldn't be the same level of hatred directed at post-pregnancy bodies. It's also a perspective which is overly focused on the aesthetic/sexuality of the female body and ignores the amazing function of bringing babies into the world. (Not to say that's its only purpose, of course!) I mean, can't we just take a minute to appreciate that those changes are the byproducts of a pretty damn impressive process?

3) "I can't eat like that." This statement is usually directed at a thin person who tends to eat non nutritious foods but not gain weight, the idea being "YOU can eat like that, but I can't." It's closely related to the skinny bitch stuff and falsely promotes the idea that health and weight are the same thing. Other statements like this include, "If I eat ____ (fill in fatty food) it will go straight to my hips."

The truth is that no one "can eat like that." It has nothing to do with your weight. If you eat really crappy foods (high in saturated fats, sugars, and salts and low in nutritional value) it will eventually catch up to you (heart problems, high blood pressure, etc) regardless of your weight.

So please, next time you are tempted to make one of these tired weight related comments, I beg you to reconsider. Not only because body acceptance is such a happier way to live, but also because that other stuff's not even clever, new, or interesting. Seriously.