Saturday, October 29, 2011

Dark Angel and Disability

I really like science fiction, you guys. And, fortunately, there's a lot of kick-ass science fiction out there. I've never been much of a Trekkie (or Trekker), but Firefly and Battlestar Galactica are two of the best shows EVER.

When it comes to TV shows in particular, I get really attached. Following plot arcs and character development for a couple of years induces a raging sense of entitlement in me, I must confess. So that when BSG is like, "Hey, angels!," I'm all, "HOW COULD YOU DO THIS TO ME." It's ... disproportionate.

Sometimes, though, I feel my rage is justified! Like with Dark Angel. I'm not even going to talk about the second season. I'm going to pretend that doesn't exist. No, I'm gonna carp about the first season, Logan Cale, and the depiction of disability. There will be some minor spoilers.

In the pilot episode, Logan gets shot trying to help someone (dude is seriously into being the White Knight/hero type) and it puts him in a wheelchair. Also in the pilot episode, it is clear that the show is going for a romance between Logan and the female superhero. And they made the injury permanent enough, and the romance compelling enough, that I got hopeful. I thought we might actually get to see two characters have a steamy, sex-having romance punctuated by the fighting of crime and corruption whilst one of them is in a wheelchair. Wouldn't that be nice, to acknowledge that differently-abled folk, too, engage in exciting sex and topple corrupt dystopian governments.

And for a while, it seemed like that might happen. Granted, Logan was rather preoccupied with regaining the use of his legs, but, you know, big shift in life circumstances, a struggle to adjust is a (but not the only) realistic reaction. He was also hesitant to pursue the heroine sexually while wheelchair-bound, but people can be insecure for all sorts of reasons, so again, realistic. But, unfortunately, the show was also obsessed with "curing" Logan, and threw robotic legs and temporary miracle cures his way until I was ready to scream.

The result was that paraplegia was treated as a temporary problem rather than a permanent feature of a person's life. And a good opportunity to feature a disabled character in TV storytelling and to quash some myths (like that people in wheelchairs never get any) was squandered. Science fiction, I expect better of you.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Disney: Teaching Girls To Live With Violence Since 1923

A buddy of mine sent me a message with this picture, put together by the incomparable George Takei. Take a minute, read the captions, and then let's talk about this stuff.

I live two hours north of Disney World in Florida. I've been there a couple times as an adult, and went a few times as a little kid. There's something about Disney World that can be kind of intoxicating at first - the way every detail is considered, the fun roller coasters, the quick availability of ice cream - but I've come to see it as essentially a giant mall. Disney World exists to sell Disney products, and Disney movies are basically commercials for toys at this point, even if they didn't start out that way. I'm uncomfortable with that consumerism aspect. It's not just a general anti-capitalism thing for me, it's also about how we're training kids to think that they can introduce magic and fantasy into their lives through buying plush toys. The "magic of Disney" is really "the magic of thinking we can buy our way to a better life."

But Disney isn't just selling Lady and the Tramp dolls. It's also selling gender norms that fit right into the patriarchal power structure, as the picture above illustrates. Instead of elaborating on the captions in that picture, because they speak for themselves, I'd like to spend a minute focusing specifically on the relationship of women and violence in these films.

Beauty and the Beast is an easy starting point. Belle is in an abusive relationship. The Beast is terrifying and violent, and is very much of the "If you don't burn my waffles I won't hit you" line of thinking that many of us have encountered far too often in our lives. But the audience is meant to be rooting for her to win him over, and if she can do so convincingly, he will turn into a handsome prince and they will live happily ever after. She just has to figure out how to change him, is all! No big deal, guys!

But in real life, abusers like him can't be changed like that, no matter how perfect/beautiful/charming their victim. Any change they can manage has to be done on their own, internally, and probably with the help of a good therapist. Being a better victim is not going to end the abuse you're suffering.

The Little Mermaid deals with another kind of violence: the destruction of one's own identity in order to better fit into the mold that mainstream white culture tells us laydeez will land us some menfolk.* Ariel literally loses her voice. She loses her identity - as a mermaid, as a beautiful singer, as someone interested in collection random crap - in order to be something this man wants. And he is captivated by her, and intrigued by her voicelessness. It's working for him until he's put under the spell of a witch. Not only did Ariel lose her voice, she lost what made her a mermaid: her tail, her swimming ability, the capacity to live underwater. She distanced herself from her friends (a classic sign of abuse, by the way). This is a violence that is just as terrifying and real as the kind that was enacted on Belle, and in both cases, the women in question were forced to sacrifice themselves in order to get a guy. And I, at least, was never sure why even Prince Eric was worth attaining (The Beast is a clear loser). He was handsome? Rich? Is that what we're supposed to be telling our daughters is more important than their ability to express themselves in even the most basic ways?

Sleeping Beauty and Snow White both show the ways that violence can work on [conventionally attractive] women who then need to be rescued by [conventionally attractive and also void of personality] men. These women are considered worthy of rescuing because they are not challenging hegemonic femininity in any way, although their persecutors often are. Be thin, clear-skinned, [usually] white, vulnerable, and gentle, and some dude will come fix your shit up for you. So, we have men as the causes or perpetrators of violence as well as the protectors from violence. Not good.

Our kids, regardless of gender, are being sold these messages in big bad ways. This is education in consumerism, in gender, in body image, in relationships, and in power. The men have the power, the women just have to be worthy of having it used in their favor instead of against them. It's in considering things like this that I become enormously relieved that I am unlikely to have small kids of my own, because I'm not sure I could stomach dealing with their inevitable interactions with Disney. I know some of you are parents: how do you deal with this stuff?

*And of course, a significant number of us aren't at all interested in landing menfolk anyway.

Friday, October 21, 2011

A Small Blow Against Rape Culture

Good news, everyone! The FBI has updated its woefully archaic definition of rape ("the carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will") to something a little more realistic:

Penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.

This is good news for a bunch of reasons:

  • The FBI now recognizes that men can be raped.
  • "Carnal knowledge" was a bit ambiguous, and could be interpreted to mean vaginal rape only. This new definition explicitly recognizes anal and oral rape.
  • Most importantly (in my opinion), this new definition identifies the absence of consent as the key element in rape rather than force. Now victims who were drugged, blackmailed, threatened, or otherwise coerced are also recognized by the FBI as rape victims.

While this update in definition is a huge step forward for the reasons I cited above, it is not without some remaining problems. The most glaring issue is that this definition only recognizes penetrative rape. If an aggressor envelopes the penis of an unconscious person with their vagina, that would not be considered rape under the above definition. There are a number of other non-penetrative sexual acts that should be considered rape when perpetrated on a non-consenting individual, none of which will be recognized by the FBI's new definition.

So, good on you, FBI, for recognizing that it's consent that matters. Now let's work on recognizing non-consensual, non-penetrative sexual acts as rape, too.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Knowing When to Shut Up

I've been in a lot of spaces and meetings lately that are meant to talk about issues like privilege and queerness and that sort of thing. Inevitably, these gatherings draw a mixed crowd: Queer people, people of color, all kinds of gender identities and occupations and education levels. It's one of the best things about them. But there always seem to be people who have no idea what privilege means, even if they're talking about it.

A few weeks ago, Nic and I went to the TransCon Justice Summit in Miami. I would say that overall it was a good experience, and I met some pretty amazing people there. But there were also some folks who weren't so awesome. For instance, one cis straight-identified woman seemed to want a cookie for being able to be in a space with so many queer people and not freak out. She seemed quite invested in the idea that we'd all love her, but she struck me as disingenuous - as though she cared more that everyone thought she was a hero than about learning from the people around her. At one point, she and I were in a small group with a few other people and she, the only straight person in the group, immediately took it over and started planning our presentation. When other people spoke up, she was quite dismissive. It was gross. She had no idea that she is precisely the type of person who doesn't have to struggle to have her voice heard, in comparison with everyone else in the group, and she deliberately silenced the very people the conference was for.

So when I read this in the Bilerico Project, I was especially excited by this quote:

With a proper amount of decolinization, [sic] these two [straight white men] would have shut the hell up at some point and allowed someone else to speak. We cannot demand that others (Republicans, Tea Party peeps or whoever the "big bad" is this week) treat us with respect and then refuse to look at how race/class/gender privilege derails even the most progressive and well meaning attempts to institute change and determines whose voice gets to be heard.

Yes. This. One thousand times this. I have seen this happen so many times: in a critical pedagogy class this summer, which I helped facilitate and which focused on critical race theory and queer theory, the straight white people were either bent on talking about how they are oppressed, or actually pointed to the queer people and people of color in the room and accused us of oppressing them when we spoke our truths. I have rarely been so angry in an academic setting. Academia encourages this, though, and rewards the straight white people for talking about the experiences of marginalized people through the lens of peer-reviewed articles on oppression, in abstract academic language, and then telling the people who live the experiences that they're wrong, or not thinking about it the right way.

Another example: the head of Save Dade, an LGBTQ rights organization in South Florida, is a cis straight man. I've met him, and he's perfectly lovely. But I am unconvinced that having a straight person as the head of a queer advocacy group is a great idea. While I grasp the concept of straight people who are interested in seeing systematic oppression of queer people end, I'm not sure why any of them would think they have the right to be the head of a group for a community they are not part of.* Furthermore, it contributes to the problem of queer invisibility. We need more, not fewer, opportunities for queer people to be vocal. And it reinforces the idea that queer people are unacceptable to the mainstream and so we need straight people to speak for us. Fuck that. I'm way too radical to go along with that idea (although, to be frank, I don't really care if the mainstream accepts me).

So: Straight people, when you're in a queer space, let the queer people do the talking, okay? And when I, as a white person, am in a place with people of color in which we are talking about racial oppression, I'm not going to speak much unless specifically asked for my opinion. I think that if we can be aware of our own privilege and not wield it over other people in spaces that aren't ours, we'll actually be doing something to resist oppression. This is a step I believe we can take.

* Kyrie is extraordinarily sensitive about this, by the way. I would be interested in reading more about their feelings about these issues if they ever feel like sharing.

Monday, October 17, 2011

A Review of Drive: UGH

Drive currently has 93% on the tomatometer, you guys. And I have no idea why. Spoilers ahead: skip to the second set of asterisks if you don't want the spoilers.

*** begin spoilers ***

It is just full of senseless violence. And I mean that like, the violence makes no sense. Now, I am not categorically opposed to violent movies. I enjoyed Kill Bill. I thought A History of Violence was pretty interesting. But this movie ... okay, look, the main character at one point states that he doesn't use guns. You might have a character do this because they are reluctant to kill, or because the find a knife quieter or more humane, or something like that. But in this case it's simply an excuse to have him kill people in grisly, hands-on ways. It's gross and disturbing. And you're supposed to kind of like this character, I guess because he's played by Ryan Gosling?

The utterly bizarre violence is not confined to the titular driver, though. Another character, who is supposed to be a ruthless businessman type, stabs his victim in the eye with a fork before cutting his throat. WHY MOVIE WHY THIS MAKES NO SENSE. Is it easier to cut someone's throat while they're thrashing around in agony? My guess is no.

*** end spoilers ***

Oh, and this movie has the least character development of possibly any movie I've ever seen.

But there's one scene in the movie that absolutely made me blind with rage (don't worry, this isn't too spoiler-y.) Blah blah, tough guys confronting each other in their places of business. One such place is a strip club, surprise, surprise. Which is, of course, an excuse to have a violent confrontation framed by a background of bare boobs. ARGHWOMENSBODIESARENOTPROPS!!! >:( :( The actresses playing the strippers just sit there completely motionless, expressionless, and reactionless. Now, I'm sure some will argue that the characters do so to show that they are used to seeing such things and that they stay still out of wariness. But you guys. Subtle facial expressions and some eye movement would convey this very well. This would, however, involve giving the actresses some direction other than, "just pretend to be statues," and would be more effective if you did a close up of one of the women's faces. You know, the face, Hollywood. That part of a woman's body that is sans boobs but shows expression? You know? No?

Seriously, don't bother with this movie. It's terrible on many levels.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Misogyny in a Can

It's been a long time since I was a regular consumer of soda, and now I can barely stand the idea of drinking it. I used to be kind of addicted, and I don't like being addicted to things, so I quit. I was a real bitch for a couple of weeks, I'm sure.

For some reason - and I'm sure someone out there has done an analysis of this - soda companies seem to be marketing diet sodas to men more. Pepsi One started it off, taking the word "diet" out of the name - diets are for ladies, after all - presumably to attract a wider customer base. We can't have men feeling emasculated by their beverages, after all.

Now Dr. Pepper is in the game, with this ten-calorie can of soda that we all need to be aware contains BOLD FLAVORS. No wussy flavors for dudes. On the Facebook fan page, you can - if you want to add the app - learn what the Ten MANMENTS are. I did not do this. I cannot handle giving my information to Dr. Pepper, but Google helped:

Dr Pepper’s 10 Man’Ments

1. Thou shalt not OMG. If it’s not exploding, it’s not exciting.

2. Thou shalt not pucker up. Kissy faces are never manly.

3. Thou shalt not post pics of your outfit. Unless it’s battle armor and you have a giant sword and/or small bazooka.

4. Thou shalt not post furry animal videos. Exceptions made for beasts fighting to the death and bears destroying idyllic picnic scenes.

5. Thou shalt not make a “man-gagement” album. That is all.

6. Thou shalt not share your horoscope. Daily.

7. Thou shalt not Instagram your lunch. Real men each lunch, not tweet it.

8. Thou shalt not untag unflattering pics. We know you were there.

9. Thou shalt not end a comment with a =).

10. Thou shalt not make a Facbeook profile for your pet, baby and/or imaginary friend.

So... men - the men Dr. Pepper wants to market to - have no feelings, have a really conflicted relationship with photography, and only like animals if they're destroying each other. Sounds healthy!

We already know how much I hate this prescriptive bullshit. It's coaching men to be more "masculine," and in the process commenting on what women can and should be. It is also putting femininity down as clearly inferior. It's gross.

As Nic Bravo said, "Don't forget to never drink this again."

Friday, October 7, 2011

Again with the Pronouns

I've written several posts already about pronouns. Obviously it's a subject I care a lot about. In fact, I've written so much on the topic that one might expect me to have thought about what pronoun I prefer people to use to refer to me. And yet, when asked in a group setting last week this very question (it was one of those introduce-yourself things), I was uncertain enough to avoid the question.

I was near the end of the group, so I had a few minutes to think about it. But I kept thinking, "If I got to choose ... wait, don't I get to choose?" Hence, confusion.

I have since decided two things: I like the singular "they" for myself. So if you want to be fancy, go ahead and use that for me. But here's the second thing: I just don't care all that much. Call me "she" all you want, too. Heck, call me "he" if you want; I get sirred all the time what with the short hair, and it does not bother me one whit.

I think pronoun preference and degree of caring about that preference are two orthogonal quantities, and I end up in the "whatever" zone. (Though I care a lot about calling other people by their preferred pronoun!)

How about you, dear readers? Ever been called upon to pick a pronoun?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Femininity and Masculinity in Television

Linda Holmes at NPR's Monkey See is pretty brilliant, y'all. I've said it before and I'll say it again: I totally have a crush on her. Call me, Linda.

The story that prompted this particular outburst of hearts is her dissection of masculinity in television. While allowing for the idea that there are extremely problematic representations of women and femininity on television, she argues that the current crop of television sitcoms might be even worse for men. She discusses How To Be A Gentleman, Last Man Standing, Man Up, and Work It in particular.

Sarah Haskins, the brilliant person who brought us Target Women, has pointed this out before in her skit on doofy husbands.

Holmes makes a whole bunch of good points, and you should just go read her column. I'll wait!

Back? Okay. So one of the things Holmes talks about here is the concept of "realness." These horrid new shows are talking about what it means to be a "real" man. It's my sense that we've been in a crisis-of-masculinity moment for awhile now. If not, we wouldn't be panicking about a mom painting her very young son's toenails pink in a J. Crew ad. We wouldn't have to be aware that Tim Allen still exists. So these shows seem to be about showing their male characters how to be Men. And, because I'm an educator and think everything has pedagogical implications, they're probably teaching American men how to be "real," too. But they're not looking at masculinity through any kind of queer lens, so they have a defined vision of manhood that is based in a straight and cis view of it. Best not be too dapper, or one might be associated with femininity (which is bad) (I mean, duh).

So, the fact that women might be getting better representation on the screen doesn't strike me as a triumph of feminism. I'm thinking that instead of the power dynamic shifting in women's favor, there's a (perhaps subconscious) attempt at asking for a reassertion of the culture of masculinity, which is defined in clearly specific ways. Now, I don't think that all the men involved in these shows behave in the way men are portrayed on screen, and I think that a lot of the times they're probably saying something about how idiotic these men are. But there's something going on, and I don't think they shows are trying to make a point about how we've been too rigid about gender norms in our cultural history. You know?

Here's the thing: Even if the people involved in the show aren't endorsing this view of masculinity, they're still putting it out there, and there are going to be plenty of people who watch it and laugh knowingly and incorporate it - again, perhaps subconsciously - in their ideas about gender and how to properly perform it.

I don't think I can even get into how repulsive I find the concept of Work It, the show in which men dress in drag because they feel it is the only way to get ahead in the work force. I'll just say this: It's a fucking disaster. I know they're not presenting as trans people, they're dressing in drag, but in real life people who crossdress or are known to be drag performers often face a certain amount of revulsion from their bigoted cis straight colleagues. And I've talked about it before, but it bears repeating: trans people are underprivileged in the work force, get mistreated by the police, and generally have a harder time dealing with institutions like the health care industry than cis people do. To say that men should just "dress like women" and then they'll get ahead in the work force is to erase any discussion of trans issues. It's also making a pointed case for the fact that men feel so very disadvantaged that they'll do something horrifyingly misogynistic just to get a job they seem to feel entitled to. Which they are not.

These shows leave no room for a discussion of queerness, or the idea that being a feminine man (regardless of sexual orientation or trans status) is awesome. They are making life harder for people with non-normative expression because they are reifying gender normativity. Trans people, gender queer people, butch lesbians, etc., are also harmed by this. If there is a limited idea of what is acceptable for a man, it also limits what is acceptable for a woman, because if women are masculine, then what happens to masculine men? They can't stake out their ground on a constantly shifting landscape.

These television shows are being gender police, is what I'm saying. I advise against watching them. Does anyone have any shows they'd like to suggest as having less problematic views of gender, for those of us who do occasionally enjoy watching the teevee?