Archive for the 'Feminism' Category

On not being perfect

I. In Girl Power: The Nineties Revolution in Music, Marisa Metzer spends a bit of time talking about the pressure girls feel to be perfect. I liked the book a lot, but this sentence had bells going off for me all over the place: “The desire to be perfect, while not unique to girls, is a persistent hurdle that often stops girls from feeling like they could be legitimate performers.” I’m not a musician and really have no musical aptitude, but this kind of thing doesn’t limit itself to women in music. You start feeling like you could never be perfect, so you don’t even want to try. Metzer cites a study done at Duke University that found that “its own undergraduate women felt the need to be ‘effortlessly perfect,’ combining beauty, intellect, success, style, and a slender body without looking like they were even trying.” She also quotes The Blow’s Khaela Maricich talking about how scary it is to put yourself out there: “My experience of being a girl is that you don’t want to show off in front of people unless you really know what you’re doing. [...] There’s a huge dividing line between girls and boys. Guys just do it without thinking. They’re so balls out, they just keep throwing their shit out there.”

I mean, yeah. This is definitely a dynamic I’ve read about before, but now, maybe because I’m in full-on quarter-life crisis mode, I really feel like this tendency – to not want to put it out there until it’s perfect, and you can never totally be perfect, because no one’s perfect – actually probably affected some of my life decisions. There are a lot of reasons I never really tried to be a writer despite doing the campus paper thing and the having a blog for, like, 8 years now thing, most of them stemming from the fact that I really think the kind of writing I want to do is better suited to grad school than to being a freelancer, but certainly the fear of failure was a big factor.

I’m not saying that my failures to live up to all my childhood ambitions are sexism’s fault, or anything like that, but I do feel like the fear of failing publicly is something that women feel a lot more strongly than men, partly because women are not given a lot of room to have flaws or be wrong in public.1 I don’t know for sure why it is, but I have definitely found that my male peers (in academia) are by and large more comfortable about putting themselves forward for things or advancing risky arguments or generally promoting themselves than the women. I’m not talking sexist dudes here, or dudes who are trying to take space away from worthy ladies, or even dudes who have less than total respect for the intellectual capacities of ladies, just dudes who feel more comfortable taking risks and being ambitious than the ladies do. I think there may be social factors behind that. Maybe it’s just me, and other ladies don’t feel the same discomfort about asking for stuff they deserve and promoting themselves, but it’s not just lack of confidence, it’s also that ladies actually get more shit for putting themselves forward and generally promoting themselves.

How is this something we learn to overcome? Metzer takes heart from the DIY ethos of riot grrrl. The riot grrrls built their own network of girl-togetherness and revolution. Even though it was short-lived, it’s left a powerful stamp. I was too young for riot grrrl in the 90s (though not too young for Lilith Fair!), but I still have Bikini Kill albums and I did get a chance to see Sleater-Kinney in concert before they split up.

II. Emily Gould’s book came out recently. Apparently a lot of the reviews have not been good? I haven’t read the book, but I do want to because I like Gould’s writing and I’ve always been a fan. Her book, and she, relates to the above in that she is about my age but has been in the public internet eye for some time, and she has made some mistakes in public. That’s actually part of why I’m a fan. As much as now she appears to be maintaining an internet presence without blurring lines of appropriateness in a Heartbreak Soup kind of way. But here’s the thing. I used to write vaguely “personal” blog-type-stuff on the the internet. Those posts aren’t on the internet anymore (as much as anything is ever not on the internet anymore) because I stopped being 19 and I was pretty embarrassed by some of the more revealing stuff I’d written. I don’t think Gould isn’t embarrassed about some of the stuff she wrote – she says as much – but she left it all up there.

I like that she’s owning these ugly vulnerable moments. Leaving it up where people can see it says “This happened, I own it, it was a part of my life, and it’s still there.” I really admire that she did that, and I am suggesting that part of the reason she gets the negative attention she does is that she is a woman who has allowed herself to be flawed in public.

III. Everyone sure did freak out about Miley Cyrus’s new video! It’s…not very good, but that’s not why people got freaked out. They were freaking out because Miley is “cage-dancing”! A seventeen-year-old girl is being vaguely sexual! Stop everything. Tiger Beatdown already explained this, so I’m not going to re-explain:

SADY: Yeah. And Thinking Of The Children often seems to involve… not a lot of thinking about how The Children actually tend to behave? Like: My shameful secret is that I actually ENJOY THE HELL out of this video. Not because it’s “empowering,” or because I take ANY of its messages at face value, but because — like Miley herself — it’s so goofy and embarrassing in precisely the ways that 17-year-old-girl rebellion is goofy and embarrassing. [...] SADY: Right! I mean: We talk about growing up in public. But Miley Cyrus, despite (DON’T READ THIS PART, MILEY CYRUS) having released some of my least favorite songs EVER, actually seems to be, like… growing up. In public. With all the associated awkwardness. But that’s the thing, about Thinking About the Children: We have this very idealized normative concept of how a “good” teen behaves and it’s just not in line with these realities. At all! And honestly it is, as you said, just about shoving aside what makes us uncomfortable.

AMANDA: Yeah, and why the fuck are we acting like all our insecurities can be resolved by Miley Cyrus not doing some weird shit in a music video? I’ll also add that Miley’s actually doing pretty fucking awesome at navigating all this stuff. In February, she said this: “My job isn’t to tell your kids how to act or how not to act because I’m still figuring that out for myself. To take that away from me is a bit selfish . . . Your kids are going to make mistakes whether I do or not. That’s just life.” Coming from someone who was EVISCERATED for appearing in a magazine with her back visible, that point is well-taken.

I feel like Miley’s an interesting case of being vulnerable in public, because she doesn’t seem to draw the same kinds of lines between controlled public performances and her “real” emotional life as previous teen idols. My favourite instance of Miley-ness is still the “7 Things” video:

It’s a great video, with Miley and a chorus of teddy-bear-hugging tweens trying to be sassy in the face of heartbreak and crying into the camera. But the real thing in it – she’s wearing Nick Jonas’s dog tags. She flashes a real picture of her and Nick Jonas (with Nick’s face scratched out) at the camera. There’s something so painfully earnest about that, the ultimate teen girl moment. I’m not saying that Miley is just being real with no thought to how she’s perceived here – I am sure that the reason that she did use her real stuff was because the director of the video thought it would endear her to her fellow teenage girls – but nonetheless, she is being real, and in a way that will probably make her cringe in a couple of years.

IV. At some point in writing this, “being flawed” somehow morphed into “being confessional” but I don’t think that’s a coincidence. You don’t have to confess things to take risks, but “confessing” is definitely allowing yourself to be flawed in public. I feel like I’m starting to head towards the part where I conclude that being confessional is brave and “raw”, so this has to be the part where I point out that confessing is always also a performance, even if it’s true. (But what isn’t? Am I right?)

I do think the way we live now, on the web, with the blogs and the facebook and whatnot, has really changed our senses of public and private. It’s easy in the heat of the moment to put stuff up online that you wouldn’t want certain people to see and reason with yourself that they probably won’t see it. (Odds are, when you do this, they probably will.) Everyone has to make their own rules about how much they write about online. I have a lot of them. I never write about work, even on my non-public facebook page, like beyond the fact that I have a job. I don’t write anything that I wouldn’t mind saying to anyone publicly. Because once you put something online, you lose control of it and it is very, very easy for people to see it. You’re exposed. I tend to hold things back until the last minute – not showing anyone drafts until I turn them in, totally isolating my ideas until I’m completely confident with them. Now that I’ve fallen out of practice, I work things over, even blog posts, for weeks until I think they are remotely good enough, I’m so cautious about what I’m doing. One answer would be to just write my ideas down in private, but I don’t think isolating myself is really a solution. Obviously earnest pop culture criticism will never really shake people up like playing punk rock with “slut” written on my stomach – though I do think it’s important. I still think we could all use a little bit of riot grrrl in our lives.

  1. And I feel this way as a woman in the liberal arts! Where women are not even a minority in any way! And the field is replete with successful female and feminist role models! And I have never actually experienced any kind of sexism (though I am sure it happens). 

Taking you there

Americans have decided to be stupid and shallow since 1980. Madonna is like Nero; she marks the turning point.

Joni Mitchell

I think Joni’s probably right about some stuff here; that’s why I’m starting my discussion of Glee’s Madonna episode with a quote from a totally amazing interview that ran two days after it aired. I don’t know that it’s really popular or interesting to say, but something did change around 1980. I wasn’t there, so I don’t exactly know how people felt at Woodstock, but you get the sense that people still really felt like things could change. Things were changing, and there was nowhere to go but up: our institutions would all be remade. Then what really happened is basically every progressive movement and piece of culture either got forgotten or it got co-opted.

I’m not trying to be all boo-hoo death of the 60s here. I can’t really imagine what endless potential could have felt like because I grew up in a world where it was already foreclosed.

Madonna’s a good avatar of a lot of this stuff because of what she’s stood for. She’s a master appropriator, the face of “post-feminism,” and she’s kind of the perfect postmodern pop star in that no one really talks about her talent at singing: it’s all about her persona. (Not to say that she hasn’t produced some amazing music, but that tends to get submerged in the Madonna narrative. She reinvents herself, she makes smart choices, she positions herself.) More importantly, Madonna was one of the first people to basically say that she was going to work the system. She couldn’t sell out, because she’d already bought in. When the Beatles were in a Nike commercial, it was controversial, it was Yoko tarnishing their legacy. When Madonna was a in Pepsi commercial, it was cross-promotion. (Pepsi wound up pulling her ad after two airings because the video for the same song included burning crucifixes, but Madonna was cool with it. She did what she wanted and she got paid.)

That’s why — more than the gay icon thing, which is admittedly a huge part of all of the above, since camp is one of the most powerful weapons we have against the corporate monoculture when it’s deployed right, though you have to be careful, because it’s not immune from being packaged and sold to us — Glee devoted a whole episode to “the power of Madonna” this week. The way they frame Madonna — as an unproblematic feminist icon and force for equality — puts Glee pretty firmly in the pop as liberation camp. Not that there aren’t political positives to the whole hour. A group of seven dudes harmonizing on “What It Feels Like For A Girl” — and realizing that they are kind of responsible in little ways for making the women in their lives feel a bit smaller — is a pretty inspiring and progressive scene to have on TV. Plus the part where America was all really psyched to watch a 50-year-old lesbian reenact the “Vogue” video. Even having a real conversation about how disempowered girls feel seems crazy-progressive these days. Hearing Quinn tell Mr. Schue that women make 70 cents on the dollar, and the implied sense that there’s nothing we can do is heartbreaking.

I want to point out that I really do love Glee since I will be saying some pretty cynical things about it. I think it’s really well done. It’s a musical about high school. And feelings. Its title is even a feeling. It’s also awfully dark and cynical. At its best you get the sense that living in a small town in Middle America is really shitty and singing pop music in glee club is all these people have.

The fact that they sing already-existing pop music is the best part of the show. For me, this makes it really so much about how much we shape our emotional lives to the prepackaged content made available by “the music industry.” It feels more “real” than something like “Fame” where they mostly sang originals because we’ve all probably done the exact same thing. What teenage girl hasn’t sung something like “Take a Bow” into a hairbrush after a breakup?

They do manage to wrench some strongly felt emotion out of stuff like this:

Avril Lavigne has never been so poignant.

But, some people complain, the musical numbers don’t always feel right. Even the New York Times, on what’s maybe Glee’s most awkward scene.

With that, he tears into “(You’re) Having My Baby,” the maudlin 1974 Paul Anka love dollop, saying the words he wasn’t able to without a melody.

In the “Glee” universe, which revolves around the show choir from William McKinley High School in Lima, Ohio, music is a curative, a perfect problem solver. It’s not a job or an obligation or a drag in any way, even when the subject matter is heavy, music is only joy. Finn’s plan ultimately backfires — Quinn’s father, infuriated, throws her out of the house — but by the end of the episode his outburst of song has paid dividends. The couple is together, in love and, for the moment, healed.

But still, that song: lumpy, unsteady, cringe-worthy. “Glee” may love music, but often it abuses it, with performances wholly lacking grit. In each episode a handful of songs receive similar treatment: antiseptically elated, heavily doctored recordings, with no line between the truly affecting and the genuinely off-putting.

It’s not just that the songs are pre-recorded and lipsynched, unless you want to raise that complaint at virtually every movie musical shot in the last 80 years. It’s not just the autotune, though that probably doesn’t help. It’s the subtle disconnect between the “feelings” expressed in “You’re Having My Baby,” and the complex emotions of the actual situation.

This happens to Finn a lot, actually. Possibly because he’s so dumb. Just last week, Mr. Schue gets him to buck up by singing the Doors. It wasn’t really that the song expressed his feelings — it’s more that his feelings get changed by the song. The song is like a magical incantation that changes his feelings at least temporarily. I will at some point quote someone other than Adorno on my blog, but I think he has a totally germane point here, which is essentially that rather than expressing some thing we inherently feel, pop culture introduces us to things that we should be feeling: “The dream industry does not so much fabricate the dreams of the consumers as introduce the dreams of the suppliers among the people.”1

The short version of my point is that Glee is a postmodern musical. Instead of having original songs meant to be perfectly integrated expressions of the characters’ innermost feelings, the characters try (and often fail) to express their feelings using the packaged emotions available to them in pop music. Pop music even drives what they should be feeling, like with Finn, or with the way Madonna’s strong take-charge sexual ethos convinced Rachel and Emma both that they should be ready. Madonna has a positive effect too: Sue learns to love herself by reeanacting the “Vogue” video, and Kurt and Mercedes decide to step outside glee club and be the stars they are in probably the most joyous performance of the night, “Four Minutes.” So, I don’t want to be all-negative about how pop music makes us feel, because it’s really not. As much as it sells us stuff, including itself, pop music also brings us together and it can and does speak to real things we’re feeling.

Ending with “Like a Prayer” makes perfect sense. Though I’ve always maintained that it’s a song about blow jobs (“When you call my name it’s like a little prayer/ down on my knees, I wanna take you there/ In the midnight hour, I can feel your power”), I am willing to consider that it probably has other meanings. The “there” where she wants to take you, where your voice can take her: it’s wherever you want it to be. There is an obvious sexual meaning, but the juxtaposition of the sex with the gospel choir gives the whole thing a sense of a kind of religious ecstasy. On Glee, where religion when it’s mentioned at all is just another form of hypocrisy (the celibacy club, Quinn’s parents who throw her pregnant ass out in a very un-Christ-like manner), letting the choir sing is as close as we get to the sense of community and of touching the numinous that everyone can get. It’s kind of an invocation to pop. For a few minutes, it really seems like we can get there. Does it really matter that the song was first heard in a Pepsi commercial?

I really don’t have an answer to that question. If I did, I would have culture pretty much solved. At its best, like it was this week, Glee makes a strong case that pop’s ability to shape our feelings is full of positive potential: potential to make us more empathetic, stronger, more beautiful, more free. But it also ultimately limits what we can feel: as much as Madonna’s message is equality and strength, it really still does emphasize a certain kind of sexualized “strong woman” who’s okay with the system as long as she gets paid. (Like she did. This week.) This wouldn’t be a problem if there were non-commercial versions of female strength and sexuality available to us — or even if the market allowed for more alternative versions of what that could look like — but that’s not the world we live in. So celebrating the times when something progressive or even subversive breaks through the net is often the best we can do.

  1. Page 93, “The Schema of Mass Culture,” in The Culture Industry

Cherry Bombs

Besides both being movies I saw this weekend, Carrie (Brian De Palma, 1976) and The Runaways (Floria Sigismondi, 2010) have in common that they both open with scenes of a teen girl getting her first period. Carrie is from 1976. That first scene in The Runaways — which actually opens with a shot of blood falling on pavement — is set in 1975. Both of them are about different ways the power of womanhood runs away with the main characters. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Sigismondi chose to start The Runaways with that image, also.

In Carrie, and this has I’m sure been discussed ad nauseum by all the people who’ve seen it in the past 35 years, Carrie’s telekinetic powers first start to manifest when she gets her period. In the beginning, this seems like a good thing. Carrie asserts her own power, telling her mom it’s not the devil, it’s her, and decides to make a cute dress and go to the prom and be happy for a minute without worrying about sin. But of course — this totally backfires. When Carrie gets upset by a cruel high school prank, she loses control and burns down her school gym with everyone in it. Then she kills John Travolta by crashing his car and crucifies her own mom. (Granted, her mom had already stabbed her, but Carrie’s “fling every pointed object in the kitchen into her mom’s torso” method seems excessive.) The takeaway is that menstruation and therefore the female body are scary and monstrous.

Things are different in The Runaways: it’s not a horror movie, it’s a rock n’ roll biopic. But I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it starts with De Palma’s image of female grotesque-ness. In the hands of a lady filmmaker making a movie about lady culture, the period is no longer a source of supernatural horror. It’s just a pain in the ass. But it sets the scene for the story that follows, which is about Cherie Currie having her own form of power – the ability to make herself, to perform, to be fierce, to be Bardot and Bowie – packaged and sold as something she can’t really control. It’s not a coincidence that Cherie’s song is “Cherry Bomb”: “Hello Daddy, hello mom/ I’m your ch-ch-ch-cherry bomb/ Hello world, I’m your wild girl/ I’m your ch-ch-ch-cherry bomb.” She’s offering herself up to you in all her jailbait sexiness, but it is clear that she will blow right up in your face. In the movie, a lot is made of the way Kim Fowley tries to commodify her self-made image and claim it as his own. This is the main source of conflict between her and the other heroine, Joan Jett. Selling yourself like Cherie does is (as countless contemporary female celebrities can tell you) a hard road to walk: it doesn’t take much for things to blow up in Cherie’s face, and she’s left alone, working a menial job in a store.

Cherie’s story is not that much of a different message about teen female sexuality from Carrie’s. But the difference is that The Runaways has two girls in it. Joan Jett’s going through the ups and downs of fame right along with Cherie — but for her it’s never about anything but the music. It’s not a simple good girl/bad girl story: Joan’s complicity in turning Cherie into a Cherry Bomb is pretty clear. She’s seen contributing to the song (and the narrative); her relationship with Cherie is also complicated by lust. Where Cherie (at least in the movie, I know things were different in real life) gets lost, Joan’s able to symbolically cleanse herself through songwriting and emerge with a badass solo album (that she released herself after every label ever turned her down, though we don’t learn that until the end credits). I didn’t love everything about the movie — the bathtub scene where New Joan emerges cleansed of her corporate past was lame, and I wish the rest of the band got more to do since they also seemed interesting — but the core story about Joan and Cherie was really well-done and kind of amazing for a mainstream film.

That said, I’ve been reading Adorno lately, and I think it’s worth pointing out that the “power” that Cherie and even Joan have are limited to their abilities to enter into a male-dominated and corporate-owned milieu. This isn’t women’s lib, it’s selling some records. It’s women being powerful, but they are getting power by imitating culturally provided ways of being powerful and masculine.

That’s a pretty standard “pop culture makes us all zombies” argument — which doesn’t make it not kind of true — but at the same time, what else are girls supposed to do? If we’re stuck in the system, the least we can do is win on its own terms. And maybe blow things up a little.

Twilight may normalize overwrought relationships with vampires, professor says

Screen shot 2009-11-15 at 9.48.38 PM

Real Vancouver Sun story:

VICTORIA — With the second instalment of the Twilight vampire movies about to open, a University of Victoria professor is warning parents and young Twilight fans that the series doesn’t depict healthy relationships between the sexes.

UVic political scientist [italics mine] Janni Aragon says she understands the difference between fact and escapist fiction, but the distinction might be lost on some of the young audience for the book and movie series. “I get that, but does my 11-year-old daughter?”

The article goes on to quote a 12 year-old reader who thinks the way the relationship is portrayed is unrealistic and that Edward is condescending to Bella, and then ends this way:

Aragon said she loved reading the stories: “I could not put these books down. I think it will be interesting to see how Hollywood presents the next book. Ultimately, Bella’s character does become stronger, especially in the last book.”

But she said the danger is that the series will normalize the couple’s relationship for young, impressionable people.

“They need to realize that this is just a movie [about sparkly, baseball-playing vampires], just a book [about sparkly, baseball-playing vampires], and that it’s not the norm.”

Thanks, professor.

Beyoncé’s reversal

I’ve read a ton of very intelligent blog posts about how not-feminist Beyoncé actually is since the release of I Am…Sasha Fierce, with the regressive gender roles imagined in the two lead singles “If I Were a Boy” and “Single Ladies.” Best? Emily Gould’s:

It’s a feminist anthem! Well, sort of. If you want it to be. It’s a classic post-breakup eff you about being “up in the club” and dancing with another guy to make your ex jealous — “I could care less what you think,” ‘Sasha’ sings, which is always a funny kind of line because, hello, you are making it clear that you’re just acting this way for the dude’s benefit. (cf: “You probably think this song is about you” or “Thanks to you, now I get what I want.”)

(Also, I would add: “I could have another you in a minute”.)

I read them all, and I thought, meh. I mean, they’re right, but since when was Beyoncé supposed to be an uncomplicated feminist icon? She’s always been contradictory. This is the woman who gave us “Independent Woman” but she also gave us “Cater To You” and “Upgrade U.” (The latter is a great song that is offensive in at least 2 or 3 different ways, none of which is really negated by B’s adorable Jay-Z impression.)

Anyway, Bitch Magazine pointed me to the video for the track that I thought of every time someone raised the whole issue. I’m not saying it obviates the problems with her other songs, but “Diva” certainly complicates them.

Beyonce – Diva (New)
by Le-Tour-2Lor

Also, I kind of love it. That white dress with the crazy paint stains running down the front is reminiscent of the stuff Gaultier made for Victoria Abril in Kika, which is a pretty hearty fuck-you to notions of woman as nothing but objects of visual pleasure.

As Ehren Gresehover points out, it pretty much visualizes Beyoncé’s claim that “a diva is a female version of a hustla.”

In the video (which dropped just before Christmas), she borrows more than just the figurative swagger of male hip-hop stars for her dance moves, and ends it by literally exploding a metaphor for the way women are usually treated in rap music: a beat up pimpmobile full of female mannequin parts is set ablaze by Beyonce’s cigarette as she turns her back and walks away. It’s not a pretty image, but Beyonce seems to be saying that being a successful woman in the music biz isn’t always about being pretty, either.

But that closing image isn’t just exploding a metaphor, it’s taking back the power Jay-Z had in “Crazy In Love,” the song which launched her solo career.

Beyonce feat. Jay-Z – Crazy In Love
by hushhush112

The visual metaphor here is that Beyoncé’s so crazy in love that Jay-Z lights her car on fire, basically blowing her up. Of course, since music videos don’t have to have narrative logic (thank goodness!) she’s still there to dance in a fur coat and body suit while he raps about how much money he has, so it’s okay.

Who’s blowing up cars and walking away without looking back now? In real life, B married Jay-Z, but Sasha Fierce is doing it all on her own now.

(Bi)Weekly Movies, November 17-30

So for whatever reasons, my weekly movies posts seem to have permanently morphed themselves into biweekly ones. I can’t promise this’ll change — I want to be writing more, but it doesn’t seem to be coming easily. I keep half-writing posts in my head, promising myself I’ll get them done when I get home from work, and then not actually doing it. It kind of defeats the purpose of having a blog if I make a big thing out of posting. Continue Reading »

Weekly Movies, April 21-27

It’s a bit late this week because of school-related exhaustion, and the first two are repeats that I’m kind of written out about.

  1. El Sacerdote (Eloy de la Iglesia, 1978): I’m so in love with this movie, I could talk about it all day. I love how his relationship to Catholic doctrine is borne out on his body, what with the self-flagellation and the increasingly extreme measures of mortification of the flesh.
  2. Dark Habits (Perdo Almodóvar, 1983): This one’s still also amazing. I love the nun-cabaret bit at the end the most.
  3. Padre Padrone (Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, 1977): I actually rented this one by accident. I wouldn’t say that I really enjoyed watching it — it’s kind of the platonic ideal of “Italian art film that won the Palme D’Or” — but it was good at what it was doing. It’s the depressing but kind of inspirational tale of Gavino Leddo this shepherd who’s pulled out of school at a young age to tend sheep all by himself and get beaten by his dad a lot, but eventually becomes a linguist. There’s lots of shots of the unforgiving Sardinian landscape and sounds of harsh winds blowing, and also a lengthy bestiality montage that is intercut with sex with actual women. Which, is as gross but kind of impressive. It’s a seriously good movie, if you enjoy tales of child abuse and hardship; even the “hopeful” ending is kind of brief. It doesn’t really sell that American-style pull yourself out of hardship and everything’s cool Hollywood version of triumph over adversity.
  4. Grand Theft Auto (Ron Howard, 1977): Okay, I never thought I’d recommend a Ron Howard movie, but this was amazing. It’s basically a comedy version of Vanishing Point, with the high-speed car chases and the radio DJ narrating the whole thing, only instead of a dude driving as fast as he can to (basically) his death with no clear motivation, you have a couple racing to Vegas to get married. Like all American comedies, it’s really about class: she borrows her Daddy’s Rolls (and eventually winds up driving it into a demolition derby) and they’re running off to get married because Daddy doesn’t approve of her less-than-rich boyfriend. (At one point he literally yells “Get out of my mansion!” — it’s amazing.) Anyway, all the rich people steal various cars and crash into other cars and offer rewards and there’s a lot of chaos and car crashes that don’t hurt anyone every five minutes; and everyone’s in totally inappropriate cars, like some kind of automotive Bakhtinian carnival. Oh, so they are being chased by: the plutocracy (her rich fake fiance, who doesn’t take off his polo helmet for the whole movie), religious orthodoxy (a greedy Evangelist priest) and the “patriarchy” (her dad, who totally has a CIA-like operation designed to get her back). Awesome. (See also: Arbogast on Film on Grand Theft Auto). Marion Ross Flips a Cop Off And Wins My Heart
  5. 13 Going On 30 (Gary Winick, 2004): I always try to see the good in movies, especially “chick flicks,” because I think that being designed primarily for women doesn’t necessarily make a movie suck. But this movie? I can’t stop thinking about how many different ways this movie bothered me. I started to watch it on TV because I think Jennifer Garner (or as I still call her, “Alias”) is pretty charming and “Female Big! How bad could it be?” The answer: pretty bad. Setting aside the lazy timeline — you have a 13-year-old in 1987 who likes “Jessie’s Girl,” which came out in 1981; has memorized the “Thriller” dance, which came out in 1983; and then later does “Love Is a Battlefield,” which also came out in 1983 — it’s one of those awful “women can have a career or be good and have a boyfriend” movies. At first I thought it was about innocence and choices, because we find out that Jenna (J. Garner’s character) has been transported into her future body at just before the time she started being a kind of a selfish jerk. So she has a chance to see how she’s lost out on love because she’s apparently spent the last years being kind of an asshole while climbing the corporate ladder at a fashion magazine. There’s a whole lot of talk about how you can’t go back and undo your choices. But (and I’m giving away the ending) — of course — the movie ends with her getting to go back and undo her bad choices. Her reward: eating fucking disgusting gum candy and being married to Mark Ruffalo who’s a “cool” photographer. High powered careers that are everything you ever dreamed of are too scary and hard! I found it especially galling that all the things that she and Judy Greer (her magazine frenemy who happens to have been the popular girl in high school) are castigated for were things typically associated with femininity: they’re basically “in trouble” for buying into what the magazine they now work for was selling them when they were kids. Also, the fact that the choice was this zero-sum professional success or true luv thing, is just, no. It’s also, like, not really entertaining: it’s not particularly funny and the love story isn’t particularly convincing, mainly because you have no idea what that dude sees in her, especially given that for most of the story she has the mental and emotional maturity of a THIRTEEN-YEAR-OLD. I’ve been obsessing about how much I hated this movie for days now. The whole thing was just this weird fantasy about getting out of being responsible for your mistakes by reverting to your youth combined with a lot of sad fucked up ideas about where women’s priorities should be. Least Spontaneous Dance Routine Ever

Blog Sadness

I am pretty bummed about brownfemipower’s taking down her blog.

I don’t really want to comment on the actual controversy (which you can read about at this Feministe post and of which something really nice seems to have come of at Shakesville) but I am sad that BFP chose to take down her blog. I learned a lot from her and her writing is one of the things that made me really rethink my stances on a lot of feminist-adjacent issues and my approach to feminism in general.

I’m not writing this to take a side or declare an allegiance, I just wanted to note it here and express regret that I never left a comment to say thanks back when there was somewhere to leave a comment at.

So, thanks.

Wherein I have talked myself into something

So I’m kind of on a “healthy eating initiative in an attempt to effect weight loss,” which is to say I’m on what some people might call a “diet,” but I refuse to do because the whole “diet” concept is toxic and is generally linked to scary moralizing about food wherein eating more is “bad” and eating less is “good” and people’s weights somehow become indicators of their health or work ethic or moral fortitude or attractiveness or whatever, none of which I think is the case, intellectually.

Which is to say, I am on a diet, but I am somewhat ambivalent about it.

Because of my mistrust of diets, and the fact that I didn’t really eat that badly before, I am basically restricting my dietary efforts to eating less cheese, less bread and pasta, less sugar (though not much, because it’s physically impossible), and more vegetables and fish and vegetarian sources of protein (beans, nuts, tofu, etc.). Oh, and I am drinking more water. Ideally I will start doing more exercising at some point in the future, but I don’t want to be all “new regime!” about it because I am pretty sure that putting pressure on myself to make a whole bunch of lifestyle changes at once right now (while I am writing THE THESIS) is a bad idea and will result in me just giving up completely. Plus I am lazy.

My “diet” can be differentiated from a diet without quotes in that I am not actually weighing myself or counting calories and I value enjoying food more than I value getting my dress size back down to the single digits.

Basically what brought this about was talking to my mom, who’s lost a fair amount of weight in the last few years through healthy eating and running half marathons and stuff, and she talked about how she gained her weight gradually over the course of years. A little bit of weight every year doesn’t seem like a big deal, she said, but multiply it by ten. Given my family has a history of cholesterol problems and the fact that if I really just ate whatever I wanted, I would eat pizza for dinner four nights a week, guacamole on the fifth night, and butter chicken on the sixth and seventh, I decided I need to get this shit under control.

I haven’t really been on my “healthy eating initiative” long enough for there to be any effects at all, except that I am constantly thinking about food. That is for sure the worst part because I am finding it hard to gauge if I’m hungry or just thinking about what I should eat when I am.

Princess politics

Last week, Barbara Ehrenreich posts a feminist polemic about Disney princesses. It’s picked up in a couple of places and linked a lot in the “feminist blogosphere.”

This week, this dad named Trey Ellis writes a response. He’s a good feminist dad and his daughter still likes princesses.

Like Ms. Ehrenreich and all good PC parents at first I was terrified. Where had I gone wrong? Why is my little angel (princess?) so obsessed with cuddling her dolly, tea parties and wiping off the dining room table? I knew it was best to let her make her own toy choices but it was hard. It was as if she had been possessed by the Beaver’s mom or Donna Reed. Or maybe she was in long-term training to grow up to become a scullery maid.

Three years later her little brother came along and for a while he delighted in playing dolls with her. Now, however, he is six and has dedicated himself to becoming a ninja.

The more you watch your kids the more you realize that some key gender specifics are as hardwired as hunger and thirst. Most, but not all little girls go through a pink, princessy phase. Most, but not all little boys go through a phase where everything needs to be whacked and/or destroyed.

(Emphasis mine.) How do you know these gender things are hard-wired? Does his daughter have no female peers who like princesses? Watch no TV? Have no contact with women who are traditionally feminine from whom she modeled this behaviour? I find it exceedingly hard to believe that a three year old is actually genetically predisposed to care about painting her nails. I’m not sure what part of the chromosome that’s on.

I honestly don’t think a little girl liking Disney shit is anything to worry about, necessarily; most people aren’t defined by one cultural influence. For example, I loved The Little Mermaid when I was a kid and my parents are fiscal conservatives, but they raised me to think for myself and they valued my intelligence, so I turned out a feminist and somewhat of a commie.

But, like Jezebel points out, grown women are buying tiaras for their weddings. I think the existence of the wedding industry is a pretty good rebuttal to anyone who thinks that the whole princess narrative is something every girl “grows out of.”

I think Ellis really missed the point; he was like “my individual daughter likes princess shit, that doesn’t make me a bad dad.” But Ehrenreich wasn’t talking about him as a dad, she was talking about the princess thing as a cultural and commercial entity, which is some scary shit.

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