Saturday, October 18, 2008

Feminist Anthems: Step Aside

I just couldn't write a music column for very long without mentioning Sleater-Kinney. (They're pretty much my favorite band!)

But the song I want to look at today is unusually interesting: It's essentially a feminist dance song:

I'm going to go out on a limb here, and suggest that this song is perhaps the embodiment of third wave feminism. The Third Wave Feminist Anthem, if you will. Let me explain:

Now, I'm not going to try and define third wave feminism here. For one thing, it would take a whole book. For another, as a quick visit to you local feminist blog will tell you, nobody else really knows what it means either!

For the purpose of this post, though, some attributes of third wave feminism include: A rejection of the narrow focus of the second wave on women's rights to the exclusion of all else, an broader acceptance of sexuality, an emphasis on individuals, and individual action as a means for change, etc.

Back to the song:

It's a dance song. Not a protest song, not a ballad, not a love song, not a song that tells a story. You dance to a dance song. This is interesting. Dancing is a... frivolous activity, and one full of existing societal meaning. It previously wouldn't have presented itself as a feminist activity, but yet, here it is.
why don�t you shake a tail for peace and love
move it up one time for love

And the song is not focused on middle-class, white women, either, and it's about an individual's story:
this mama works till her back is sore
but the baby�s fed and the tunes are pure

And it's about other issues, too:

when violence rules the world outside
and the headlines make me want to cry
it�s not the time to just keep quiet
speak up one time to the beat

But of course, feminism is still about women:

janet, carrie, can you feel it?
(knife through the heart of our exploitation)
ladies one time can you hear it
(disassemble our discrimination)

I'm probably over-thinking this, (it's a pretty simple song, in the end), but hey, it's fun!

Next week, I'm going to try and find the second wave feminist anthem.

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Farewell to Opus

Berkeley Breathed, the Pulizer Prize winning cartoonist responsible for Bloom Country and Opus will be publishing his last Opus cartoon on November 2nd. In his interview with Salon he cautions:
We're not a movie. In most aspects, there's no arc to the human story. Only a line heading upward. For nearly everything. In this case, the coarsening of the National Discourse. We aren't returning someday to any sort of golden era of political civility.[...]It's not so much dark times now, as profane and loud. Satire you'll have, oh dear me, indeedy yes. "Vomitous" and "awash" are two words that come to mind. It used to be that everyone would be famous for 15 minutes. How antediluvian. Rather, everyone will now want a satirical YouTube film with 15 megabytes. Satire we'll have. Rather, the real dearth in our world will be sweetness, comfort, thoughtfulness and civility. If I could do "Peanuts," that's what I'd be doing. Alas, I've tried.

I've included a couple Opus strips as homage below the cut (click to enlarge):

H/T Yoga for Cynics

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Friday, October 17, 2008

More stereotypical characters, please!

How many times have you heard or read these phrase: "<Random strong female character> is a good character because she's strong without giving up her femininity." or maybe, "It's good that <random female character> isn't just a male character in a woman's body, because that is boring and stereotypical."

I can't seem to come up with any links to this kind of thing right now, but I keep hearing this kind of talk, over and over again - especially when I'm discussing something like Buffy with male friends. I just have one question: When has this ever been done? When have we seen a 'male character in a female body', and where can I find it?

Alien? Terminator? Ripley/Sarah Conner are cast in a mother role.

Alice or Jill in the Resident Evil series? Maybe. Some of Elizabeth Moon's characters? I suppose.

I'm sure that there are more examples, but I think that we can agree - such characters are very, very rare.

Now, I love the complex, wonderful characters that are created when strong female characters are 'done right' i.e., not stereotypes. I wouldn't have Buffy, or Ripley, or Xena, or Elizabeth Bennett, or whomever written any other way. Writers should strive to create complex, well-rounded characters of all genders. Sometimes, however, it just doesn't happen. And sometimes, I'm just not up to digesting a complex, realistic character - I just want something simple. And stereotypes, ideals, are important to out cultural mythmaking...

But, where are these stereotypes? It seems like even the toughest female action-oriented characters resort to seduction on a regular basis. (c.f. Max from Dark Angel, Xena) And those that don't are still supposed to be sympathetic to family members, spouses/boyfriends, starving orphans, etc, to a degree unheard of by their male counterparts. We wouldn't want them seeming any less female, now would we? And if they are less female, they're invarabily evil.

So here's what I want:

I want a female western hero, Lone Ranger style. The kind that comes into town on a big white horse, defeats the bad guys, and rides of into the sunset. No weird former relationships, no serious love intrest, no noticeable weaknesses.

I want a female James Bond clone. Not an Alias-type female spy, but the whole masculine-fantasy Bond. Suave, perfect gentleperson, yet an amazing detective and fighter, who has an astonishing sense of luck, inept sidekicks, and who gets all the girls without trying, but who remains cooly detached throughout. For even more bonus points, make her straight and give her feminine, 'woman in a man's body', male love interests.

(Side note: why is it that male characters often have love interests that are weak and girly, but female characters always dispise and reject weak male love interests, only accepting those that are close to their quality?)

I want a female buddy comedy. Baby Mama doesn't count. It couldn't have been made with male characters.

I want a romance movie with the roles reversed. Completely. Enough said.

I could go on and on.

We probably won't ever get any of these things. There's been such a rejection of cliched characters of any gender, that nobody's going to try anything this different, but I can wish! Still...

The male ideal stereotype, the 'White Knight' if you will, is still pervasive in the culture. Even if modern fictional characters tend to be less idealistic, less heroic, the ideal is still there, and the modern characters still approximate it, even if they remain human. By refusing to create female characters who embody the masculine stereotype, even the strongest women will invarabily be compared, not to that stereotype, but to the existing feminine stereotype. This tendancy leads to a rejection of certain roles for women and men in real life. By denying this stereotype, we essentially deny half of human expression for half the human race.

And let's not even start on feminine male characters...

(Crossposted from Constant Thoughts)

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Why girls are important

Two great (though very different) videos about the importance of girls and why we shouldn't underestimate their value. The first is an incredible PSA/ad for The Girl Effect, an organization dedicated to helping educate girls living in poverty on ways to care for themselves, provide for their families and create a brighter future:

(H/T Feministing)

The second is a trailer for what looks like it will be a fun and inspiring new online show, Amy Poehler's "Smart Girls at the Party." We'll keep our eyes peeled for the first episode:

(H/T Fangrrl Magnet)

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Debate Recap

I seriously wish I had just drunk myself into a stupor before the debate. Then maybe I wouldn't have had to fight so hard with myself to not get up and throw my television out the window. I was so infuriated by McCain's eye-rolling and condescension and scoffing and outright lies, that I wanted to scream. Also, does McCain think that constantly interrupting Obama and being a jerk is going to win him points? Really? If so, then that's not the America I want to live in.

MSNBC correspondent Rachel Maddow commented: "McCain grimacing and rolling his eyes and playing eyebrow-hockey is probably going to be a regret for him by the end of the night." She also declared that Obama won. I only hope she's right on both counts.

The debate basically boils down to this: Obama was respectful and collected and cool and McCain returned to his talking points and Joe the Plumber so many times that I thought I might hurl. Want a bit more detail. Here's a summary:

On taxes

MCCAIN: Cut taxes for everyone. Even though we have a huge national debt. No one, even the wealthy and large, rich companies, should have more taxes.

OBAMA: I, personally, would be willing to pay more taxes and huge corporations like Exxon Mobil should have to pay more taxes, too, but 95% of Americans would get tax cuts (like I've said four thousand times before).

MCCAIN: Joe the Plumber. Joe the Plumber. Joe the Plumber.

OBAMA: First of all...

MCCAIN: Joe the Plumber!

OBAMA: Oh, never mind. You're not listening anyway.

On balancing the budget

MCCAIN: I can balance the budget in four years. And now my secret can come out. I'm [drum roll] Iron Man! Oh, and ipso facto I'm not George Bush.

On negative campaigning

MCCAIN: Well, it's been a tough campaign and Obama said he would do more Town Hall style meetings with me and he didn't so we're justified in attacking him.

OBAMA: I'm going to take the high road here. "I think the American people are less interested in our hurt feelings during the course of the campaign than addressing the issues that matter to them so deeply."

MCCAIN: But you are hurting my feelings.

OBAMA: I don't think we should even be talking about this, but, okay, fine. People were yelling "terrorist" and "kill him" at your rallies and "your running mate" didn't stop them.

MCCAIN: "I'm proud of the people that come to our rallies."


MCCAIN: Even though "I don't care about an old washed-up terrorist" like Ayers, what's your relationship with him?

OBAMA: Bill Ayers is a professor. He was a terrorist when I was 8 years old (and you were 33), and he's not involved in my campaign. Why is he important again?

On running mates serving as President

OBAMA: Joe Biden has an incredible amount of experience, his foreign policy credentials are outstanding, he's fought on behalf of the working class, and he supported the Violence Against Women Act.

MCCAIN: Sarah Palin is a good role-model. And she knows how to help children with autism (even though her baby actually has Down's Syndrome, but I can't be expected to remember minor details like that). Her husband's a tough guy, too, because that's important.

On foreign oil

OBAMA: I'm optimistic we can reduce our dependence on foreign oil in ten years, but we need to look into alternative energies: wind, solar, biodiesel and geothermal energy.

MCCAIN: Obama is so eloquent, which is clearly a bad thing. He talks so pretty, he clearly doesn't understand what he's saying.

On health care

MCCAIN: I want to give everyone $5000 because we have so much money lying around in Washington and because I'm sure that will cover everyone's health care costs.

OBAMA: I want everyone to have health insurance. Is that really so hard to understand?

On Roe v. Wade (best question of the night)

OBAMA: I support the decision made with Roe v. Wade, and I think that women are smart enough to make their own choices and it's really none of our business. In other words: "But what ultimately I believe is that women in consultation with their families, their doctors, their religious advisers, are in the best position to make this decision. And I think that the Constitution has a right to privacy in it that shouldn't be subject to state referendum, any more than our First Amendment rights are subject to state referendum, any more than many of the other rights that we have should be subject to popular vote." Also, we have to improve sex education and access to birth control to avoid unwanted pregnancies. And, while we're talking about the Supreme Court, I'll make a quick reference to the Lily Ledbetter case and say that I support equal pay for equal work.

MCCAIN: Obama supports the "health of the mother." That's such an extreme pro-abortion view and can be used to mean almost anything.

OBAMA: I'm going to make a very important distinction here between being pro-choice and being pro-abortion, which are not the same thing, even though you're probably not listening to me.

MCCAIN: Pro-abortion. He wants to kill your babies.

OBAMA: See what I mean.

On education

OBAMA: Children are our future. Everyone who wants to go to college should be able to go to college without being in debt. If we invest in our youth, we invest in all aspects of our country.

MCCAIN: I'll just quibble about vouchers and charter schools here to buy time.

Closing remarks

MCCAIN: My eyes hurt from rolling around in my head all night. Oh, and, er, I'm a veteran. Vote for me.

OBAMA: I haven't broken a sweat. I've got this.

(Needless to say, I'm paraphrasing, though statements in quotes are verbatim as per CNN's transcript.)

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Obeying orders

I went to see a Dar Williams concert last night at the Boulder Theater. She was incredible, as always, and she played her new song "Buzzer," which meditates on Stanley Milgram's Obedience to Authority experiments from the early 1960s.

The song:
(Lyrics here)

For those who don't know, the Milgram experiment was designed to understand how people respond to authority and how far they are willing to go to obey authority figures even if what they're being asked to do is harmful to another human being. Some people aren't convinced that Milgram's experiment was scientifically-viable in terms of the conclusions he drew from the results, but nevertheless the experiment is still relevant.

Milgram advertised the experiment, conducted at Yale University, as learning study in which one person would administer increasingly strong shocks to another person whenever they answered certain questions wrong. The actual experiment--which wasn't shared until after all the results were collected--was seeing how many people would be willing to go to the maximum voltage of shock treatment if they were told to do so by an authority figure (Milgram himself). The results were astounding: most participants went all the way up to the highest voltage even when the person being shocked (who was an actor only pretending to be shocked) screamed in pain and begged them to stop.

In an essay querying, "When is it proper to refuse to obey authority figures, even if they have been democratically chosen for their positions?" a man who took part in the original Milgram experiment explains, "The results of the Milgram experiment should not surprise us. Most people unquestioningly obey orders from authorities, and refusal is unusual. As children, after all, we are taught to obey our parents, teachers, employers and law enforcement officers."

Have times changed? Would most people go into an experiment like this nowadays and blatantly refuse to participate? Last year, ABC News re-created the experiment with similar results (although their testing pool was quite small and, hence, not a scientific cross-section).

Milgram was interested in understanding the cause behind "evil" actions and, in particular, how fascism takes root among "ordinary" citizens. But I don't need to conduct an experiment in order to see that some McCain-Palin supporters, with their racist, scary mob mentality, are running headlong in that direction:

H/T Feministing

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Monday, October 13, 2008

Columbus Day Linkage

Some great posts on what it means to celebrate Columbus Day and why there's really nothing to celebrate:

Día de la Resistencia Indígena, Womanist Musings

A Day that Lives in Infamy, elle, phd

Happy Día de la Raza!, Nezua

Columbus Day Observed, Mamita Mala

Speaking of racism, The Bilerco Project analyzes the McCain campaign's scary race tactics and its effects and Tim Wise weighs in on the cost of silence.

And Cara at The Curvature decries another one of those awful, "provocative" victim-blaming anti-rape PSAs.

On the flip side, on an amusing/day-making note, my hero Tina Fey says she'll leave the planet if McCain-Palin win:
The "SNL" veteran who has come back to play the Republican Vice Presidential candidate (and whose own show, "30 Rock," is still nowhere to be seen), said, "We're gonna take it week by week. If she wins, I'm done. I can't do that for four years. And by 'I'm done,' I mean I'm leaving Earth."

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Sunday, October 12, 2008

The line between sexism and fun

Becky Drysdale (of Time Traveling Lesbian/Big Gay Sketch Show fame) recently made a video entitled "L Word Serenade". It's been around for couple of weeks or so, and it's rather funny:

Ha, ha, silly lesbians watching the L Word for the sex, right? I thought so too, at first. But after watching it several more times, I'm not so sure.

What if the song had been performed by a man, about some other show? My reaction to that would likely be, "Oh, great, another stupid rap about some guy's sexual prowess." I know, I know, it's "just a joke", right? But sometimes it seems like we have a lot more tolerance for objectification if it's being done by a woman.

It seems like there are two way to view objectification:
  1. It's a social construct, and it's a problem because it's pervasive, constant, and nearly completely biased against women - if it was equally distributed and less prevalent, it would be okay. Lots of feminist adjacent men seem to think like this, mostly in terms of "It's okay to objectify someone a little." A number of lesbians seem to agree, cf. Sandy from the Lesbian Mafia, who thinks that porn would be just fine, if only men wouldn't look at it!

  2. It's a moral issue: objectifying someone's body is essentially always wrong. This, curiously enough, is a view held by both right-wing Christians, and by some of the most radical feminists: Andrea Dworkin comes to mind.

I personally tend to float somewhere in between: I think that it's possible to appreciate sexuality without objectifying the person, but I think that it becomes wrong as soon as you actually start treating them only as an object. I'm not always sure where exactly that line is, though. This song, while not offensive per. se., still bothers me somewhat.

Or, perhaps I'm just still mad about the Margeret Cho incident.

What do you think? Does the 'L Word Serenade' offend you, or is it just funny?

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Feminist Flashback #6

Foxy Brown, 1974
(Warning: There's some offensive language and imagery in this trailer, including the use of the "N" word. But it was the best overview of the film I could find. I apologize if it offends anyone.)

A quick caveat for this week's feminist flashback: not everyone would categorize blaxploitation as feminist since it is, by definition, about exploitation of certain racial and gendered tropes. Significantly, blaxploitation is a genre very-much based in the 1970s – urban crime, the war on drugs, post-civil rights. Gary Morris’s article on the genre in Bright Lights Film Journal defines it fairly well:
The plots of most of these films — and they are conventionalized enough to confidently treat them as a group — are pastiches of old Warner Bros. melodramas, with dashes of MGM fashion glamor — via the street — thrown in. Most are gangster melodramas with elements of social protest, dominated by a single (male or female) charismatic personality. They fall loosely into two overlapping categories. First are the stories of the pimp or pusher at a crisis point, caught between the needs of his people (black nationalism) and sellout pressure from The Man. […] The second is the straight-on revenge drama, in which a character — often female, more violent and less conflicted than her male counterpart — single-handedly destroys a white-based power structure that's harmed her, her family, and by extension the black community.

Many people -- particularily reviewers -- found (and find) blaxploitation films to be degrading and unrealistic. However, in a 1977 interview, Pam Grier (star of Foxy Brown, among other things) stated
I feel I portray all images of a woman on all levels because I am product of my environment. As far as people insisting that I have been cast in blaxploitation movies, I don't know what black exploit means. All the roles I have had were reflections of our society. Those were real people from real elements. The heroiness I portrayed always showed concern for the terrifying social conditions and it is only in this area that I feel I meld with the screen characters I depicted.

Even though it's violent, hyper-sexualized and gratuitous, I love Foxy Brown because Pam Grier's character is kick-ass. What do you all think? How do we define feminism in text when so many other factors--violence against women (and men), racist stereotypes, revenge, etc.--seem counter to that ideal?

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