Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Domestic Violence on an International Flight

I woke up this morning and checked the news right away because we have been having some wicked winter weather here in Chicago. I teach a social justice class one day a week and wanted to see if school would be canceled today.

While perusing the Chicago Tribune site, I came across this story.

Basically a man hit his wife six times, in public, causing injuries to her face and lip. Rather than take responsibility for being abusive, he is suing United Airlines for over-serving him on the plane.
Responded United spokeswoman Jean Medina: "We believe that a lawsuit that suggests that we are somehow responsible for the consequences of a passenger's physical assault on his own wife is without any merit whatsoever."

Airlines are frequently sued for the acts of drunken passengers, typically by flight attendants or other passengers who suffered harm from an unruly traveler during a flight.

What makes this case a rarity, legal experts said, is that it was brought by a person drinking the airline's alcohol. By filing the lawsuit, the Shimamotos also risk having their private lives exposed by the airline's attorneys.

The idea that the server should have stopped serving is often accepted when the injury is to a third person, such as in a drunk-driving situation," Speta said. "Generally, the courts have not been receptive to people saying, 'I asked for the drink and you gave it to me.' "

But crafting United's defense will be tricky, legal experts said, because the case involves conflicting international and state law.

Ayisha Shimamoto's claim that she was harmed as a result of the carrier's negligence, one element of the couple's complaint, would be a likely slam-dunk if United's conduct in question had taken place in a bar, rather than on an international flight, legal experts said.

She was harmed because of the airline's negligence? No, she was harmed because she is a woman married to an abusive man. The scariest part is that the story is framed in such a way as to make it about international law when it is actually about domestic violence.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Graduate School

This website has amused me for hours.
Ugh. Graduate school is sucking my will to live right now.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Feminism in Country Music

Sorry for the lack of regular and relevant posts; I have been working hard on my thesis and finishing up my last year of course work.

But today I want to take a break from Kurt Cobain and write about a topic that has only recently caught my attention: women in country music.

My mother loves country music so I heard a lot of it as a youngster. And, like most things my mother liked, I rebelled strongly against it. I have never been a fan of country music in fact I used to put it on my list of most hated music. Recently, in homesick moments, I really enjoy a nice bluesy country tune. Nothing is better for heartache than country music. No, really. I even think that some female country music singers advocate feminism in their lyrics and lifestyles.

I decided to look up the lyrics of a few tunes that I have been thinking about lately. Each one of these songs has a complicated message about gender roles. I am reminded again of Melissa McEwan's blog post, "Feminism 101: How are we Supposed to Take Feminist Bloggers Seriously if they Post About Shoes?" in which she writes:
"Making the personal public and political is serious business. Because women's stories aren't told, it's incumbent upon female feminists to tell their own stories, to fill that void, to be unrepentant and loquacious raconteurs every chance we get, to talk about our bodies, our struggles, our triumphs, our needs, our lives in every aspect. It's our obligation to create a cacophony with our personal narratives, until there is a constant din that translates into equality, into balance."
This is the basis of standpoint feminist epistemology. Women's lives are not written into the dominant culture the way that men's are, especially women whose oppression is intersectional and complex. This makes some women's narratives feminist action. I don't mean to imply that just because a woman is speaking she is a feminist but I have noticed some distinctly feminist standpoints in country music.

Below are lyrics from several noteworthy tunes followed by my analysis. Enjoy.

"Well I was born a coal miner's daughter in a cabin on a hill in Butcher Holler.
We were poor but we had love
That's the one thing that daddy made sure of
He shoveled coal to make a poor man's dollar.

My daddy worked all night in the van lier coal mines
All day long in a field of whole and corn
Mommy rocked the babies at night and read the bible by the coal lore light
And everything would start all over come break of morning
Daddy loved and raised the kids on a miner's pay
Mommy scrubbed our clothes on a washboard everyday
While I seen her fingers bleed to complain there was no need
She'd smile in mommy's understanding way...
Yeah, I'm proud to be a coal miner's daughter."

"Coal Miner's Daughter" Loretta Lynn
A theme I noticed across this genre is the struggle of the working class and the working poor. This is one of the older songs on my list but Loretta Lynn is a classic country feminist. Here she writes about living in poverty. There isn't much political insight and she does identify herself in terms of her relationship to a man (her father). However, she identifies with his struggles and respects both of her parents for doing the best they could with limited resources. Gender is only one site of oppression, class seems to be more visceral here.
"Well you thought I'd be waitin' up when you came home last night
You'd been out with all the boys and you ended up half tight
But liquor and love that just don't mix leave a bottle or me behind
And don't come home a drinkin' with lovin' on your mind
Just stay out there on the town and see what you can find
Cause if you want that kind of love well you don't need none of mine
So don't come home a drinkin' with lovin' on your mind."

"Don't Come Home A-Drinkin'" Loretta Lynn

"All these years I`ve stayed at home while you had all your fun
And every year that`s gone by another baby`s come
There`s gonna be some changes made right here on Nursery Hill
This old maternity dress I`ve got is going in the garbage
The clothes I`m wearing from now on won`t take up so much yardage
Miniskirts hotpants and a few little fancy frills
Yeah I`m making up for all those years since I've got the pill."

"The Pill" Loretta Lynn
In these two songs Lynn takes on issues of gender. In "Don't Come Home A-Drinkin'" Lynn's lyrics conjure images of domestic violence and sexual assault. Still this song does not paint Lynn as a victim, she uses her voice and her music to tell him that she won't stand for the abuse. Then in "The Pill" Lynn sings about, you guessed it, the pill. I don't know about you, but I haven't heard many songs about birth control. Lynn speaks about how access to birth control empowered her to be more sexually adventurous and less restricted by monogamy. Many of Lynn's songs are about difficult topics like poverty and abuse yet she never seems victimized by these positions but rather uses them to empower herself through her art.
"Daddy said, 'Now come girl, we're headin' down the road to Augusta.'
And faintly through his clenched teeth, he called Mama's name, and then he cussed her
He said, 'Girl, you're young, but some dude has come along and stole your mother.
Ah, but you can't steal a willin' mind 'cause mama's always lookin' for a lover.'

With dusty teardrops on his face, my daddy cried an' big steps he was takin'
And halfway runnin' to keep up, my shorter legs were so tired and shakin.'
'Where did I go wrong, girl? Why would she leave us both this way?'
At times like these, a child of ten never knows exactly what to say

We searched in every bar room, and honky-tonk as well
And finally Daddy found them, and Lord, you know, the rest is hard to tell
He sent me out to wait, but scared, I looked back through the door
And Daddy left them both soakin' up the sawdust on the floor."

"Blood Red and Going Down" Tanya Tucker
I included this tune because I love Tanya Tucker. She also frequently writes about domestic violence and in this tune she implies (though never explicitly says) that her father murdered her mother. What is so interesting is that country music is frequently chastized for being backwards and anti-intellectual. Still, according to, "Women are much more likely than men to be killed by an intimate partner. In 2000, intimate partner homicides accounted for 33.5 percent of the murders of women and less than four percent of the murders of men." Domestic abuse seems to cut across class and race differences. There are, of course, differences but the difference between country music and so-called 'high brow' art is that female country artists speak much more freely about the reality of their private lives. I have included here several more country songs that contain narratives of sexual and domestic violence.
"Well she seemed all right by dawn's early light
Though she looked a little worried and weak
She tried to pretend he wasn't drinkin' again
But daddy left the proof on her cheek
and I was only eight years old that summer
And I always seemed to be in the way
So I took myself down to the fair in town
On Independence Day

Well word gets a round in a small, small town
They said he was a dangerous man
Mama was proud and she stood her ground
But she knew she was on the losin' end
Some folks whispered and some folks talked
But everybody looked the other way
And when time ran out there was no one about
On Independence Day...

Well she lit up the sky that fourth of July
By the time that the firemen come
They just put out the flames
and took down some names
And send me to the county home
Now I ain't sayin' it's right or it's wrong
But maybe it's the only way."

"Independence Day" Martina McBride
Several decades after Loretta Lynn and Tanya Tucker sang about domestic abuse, Martina McBride added her own narrative to the country music archive. "Independence Day" is about the day that the narrator's mother leaves her abusive father which happens to be American Independence Day. I especially love that anti-choice, conservative republican, Sarah Palin's, team used this as her campaign song. Martina McBride went along with it and, in turn, donated all of the royalties to Planned Parenthood. While it is clearly a liberal (as opposed to radical) move, McBride seems like a feminist to me. Another of her tunes, "This One's for the Girls," is a great feminist anthem.
"You've got a thing or two to learn about me baby
'Cause I ain't taking it no more and I don't mean maybe
You don't know right from wrong
Well the love we had is gone
So blame it on your lying, cheating, cold deadbeating,
Two-timing, double dealing
Mean mistreating, loving heart."

"Blame on your Heart" Patty Loveless
I like this song because it demonstrates the complexity of country music. While plenty of women sing about violence and abuse at the hands of their fathers and/or lovers they also sing about desire and pleasure. I think it is important to recognize that pleasure and danger co-exist.
"I didn't know my own strength
'Till I had to pick myself up
And carry on without your love
Oh,I'm gettin' back on my feet
It's been a long hard fall
But I'll make it after all."
"I Didn't Know my Own Strength" Lorrie Morgan
This song has gotten me through some tough times. The message of empowerment through self-reliance seems overtly feminist, though not without problem, to me.
"Phone rings baby cries TV diet guru lies
Good morning honey
Go to work make up try to keep the balance up
Between love and money
She used to tie her hair up in ribbons and bows
Sign her letters with X's and O's
Got a picture of her mama in heels and pearls
She's tryin' to make it in her daddy's world
She's an American girl."

"XXX's and OOO's (An American Girl)" Trisha Yearwood

"Well, I ain't never been the Barbie doll type
No, I can't swig that sweet Champagne, I'd rather drink beer all night
In a tavern or in a honky tonk or on a four-wheel drive tailgate
I've got posters on my wall of Skynyrd, Kid and Strait

Some people look down on me, but I don't give a rip
I'll stand barefooted in my own front yard with a baby on my hip
'Cause I'm a redneck woman
I ain't no high class broad
I'm just a product of my raising
I say, 'hey ya'll' and 'yee-haw'
And I keep my Christmas lights on
On my front porch all year long
And I know all the words to every [Tanya Tucker] song
So here's to all my sisters out there keeping it country."

"Redneck Woman" Gretchen Wilson
Another theme, in these more recent tunes, is that of pride. With all of its problems and complications, being a country women seems to be a source of culture, heritage and pride. Of course, that pride has been interpreted as racist, homophobic and, perhaps, ignorant it is still a unique and valid standpoint. These women seem to have in common an experience of femininity and duty, pleasure and danger, pride and survival.

This is by no means a complete list, these are just some songs I like with some themes I noticed. I think that this would make an interesting study. Perhaps a future research project.

All lyrics from Cowboy Lyrics.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Yes we can!

I just got home from listening to President Elect Barack Obama speak in Grant Park (I was in that crowd somewhere). It was really an amazing experience to be present at such a ground-breaking historical moment. Now I am not one to wax poetic about America or about so-called 'change.' I hope Obama does change America but I tend to believe that our two party political system is really a false binary. Candidates each pick a side on a partisan issue and we all pick our side and forget the myriad other sides and issues that aren't even being considered. I take major issue with American politics. I think that the system is inherently flawed and without radical deconstruction we will never have gender or racial or religious or economic equality.

All of that being said, I was moved to tears tonight when I was amongst a very large group of black people when it was announced that Barack Obama would be our next president. It is truly remarkable to think about the legacy of this country, the economic and political systems that were built on the backs of enslaved peoples. I cannot even imagine how it must feel to know that your family did build this country only to be incredibly marginalized by its systems of power and to now see an amazing black man elected to its highest office.

When I was seventeen years old I worked so hard on Al Gore's campaign. I remember staying up that election night until 4 a.m. waiting for the poll results that never came. Months later Gore was still fighting. That experience of working so hard only to have a stolen election was devastating. Then in 2004 I thought for sure we had had enough, I couldn't believe when Bush won the re-election. Those campaigns really took a lot out of me and that has a lot to do with why this is my first overtly political post about this particular election on this blog.

One of my favorite moments of Obama's speech was when he said: "The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even one term, but America – I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you – we as a people will get there." This was an amazing victory but it is just the first step. Obama has a lot of healing work ahead of him and tonight really demonstrated to me that he is an excellent person for the job.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Selena Gomez's music video

I am not familiar with this artist's music but I came across her music video on AOL. I am curious as to what y'all think about it. Is it resistant to racist and classist ideologies or is she just reproducing tired stereotypes about Latinas and domestic labor?

Monday, September 29, 2008

Sunday, September 21, 2008

AOL "News"

When I am procrastinating doing my homework I occasionally read the AOL homepage. They always have little snippets of intriguing news. Gets me every time. There were a few I wanted to post. Don't have a lot of time for analysis but I really wanted to share.

First, fear not sexist republican voters. Sarah Palin is really just a figurehead. Her husband Todd is actually calling all the shots.

Second, drinking breast milk seems like a fine idea but what are the feminist ethical implications of paying women for their reproductive capacities?

Third, more fun with Photoshopping magazine covers.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Dr. Dominatrix

I had my first class of the quarter last night. Less than five minutes in the professor told us that she is a dominatrix and that she loves nothing more than watching her students suffer. And she was serious. This is going to be a rough quarter.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

On Health Care or Lack Thereof

The health care system in this country is not something that I am extremely well-versed in as a scholar. I understand enough about my own insurance plan (through my father for one more year!) to get by and luckily my parents have been wonderful about picking up the slack while I am still in school. I never really stopped to consider just how very privileged that makes me.

Throughout the past three years I have come to a much more personal and intimate understanding of how this health care system is damaging, destructive, reckless, and just so unfair. I briefly mentioned many months ago that I went through a devastating break up. That break up was caused by my partner's serious and severe mental illness. He had struggled with depression since childhood. At the time we broke up he was twenty seven and had been living without health insurance since he was seventeen. He was bounced around free clinic to free clinic to see therapists and get medications. At least while we were in Milwaukee he saw the same therapist who kept an eye on the medications he was given by different psychiatrists every few months.

When we moved to Chicago the situation became much more precarious. He had no therapist, no way to get his medications and still, no insurance. We were able to get him in to a free clinic that re-filled his prescription for two months and set him up with an appointment to see a psychiatrist in three months! Well, he came down to the end of the prescription, was very busy with school and his part time job and preparing for the holidays (during which his depression always got much worse). This was when the meds ran out and he abruptly stopped taking them. Anyone who knows anything at all about anti-depressants knows that you should never stop taking them abruptly or without the guidance of a physician. Of course, he did not have access to a physician or a psychiatrist and that is why he ran out in the first place.

His behavior that following month can only be described as erratic. He ended our three year partnership, he dropped out of school, left his job, moved to Philadelphia on a whim and abandoned the kitty he had adopted eight years ago. When he finally did managed to see a psychiatrist again and get back on the meds his life was so screwed up that he wasn't able to recover and the anti-depressants made him just not care.

He moved back to Chicago but without proper management of his medication and depression he was unable to hold a job and was quickly evicted. I have been dealing with helping him find resources for the homeless and mentally ill. Last week I had him committed to a state mental institution so that at least he would have a place to stay and someone to assess his situation and (hopefully) medicate him properly.

I have watched a sweet, kind, loving, patient and generally wonderful man reduced to homelessness, debilitating poverty, suicide attempts and general misery for himself and everyone who loves him. And I blame the pathetic excuse for health care we have in this country. If only his five year job had allowed him to work an extra two hours a week so that he could be considered full time so he could be eligible for health benefits, if only the city or state would have some options for people who work $8/hour jobs and can barely pay their rent much less health insurance premiums. If only people understood that depression is cyclical. A person can get too depressed to keep a job and then not have access to the resources necessary to deal with said illness.

It makes me so sad to think of how much different things could be in my own personal life if this system weren't so terribly unfair. I cannot tell you the misery that this had caused me and certainly not the misery it has caused him. Right now it is a fight for survival, two years ago all it needed to be was a monthly appointment with a psychiatrist.

Disembodied Art Courtesy of David Byrne

My roommate is a serious biker. For her job (and anything else she chooses to do) she bikes about fifty miles a day! I, too, love biking but if I hit ten miles a day I'd be amazed.

Anyway, she sent me an e-mail about these new bike racks in New York City. She is excited to see such lively and colorful accoutrements just for bikers.

I wonder why a pornulated female body must be part of the city's art and biking culture? Why choose that particular form out of the thousands if not millions of alternatives? For context purposes please see Melissa McEwan's many posts on disembodied things.

If I had to lock my precious bike to this rack (no pun intended) regularly, all I'd be able to think about is how female bodies are quite literally turned into objects for others' use.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Happy Blogiversary to Me!

I cannot believe I missed it! August 5th was my blogiversary. One year. And a hell of a year it has been. I hope you all have enjoyed reading as much as I have enjoyed writing. I cannot begin to express how amazing and wonderful it is to have a venue outside of the academy through which I can grapple with complex issues of gender representation in mass media. I love being able to have discussions with readers, I love knowing that people other than professors are reading my thoughts, and I especially love that I don't have to be as careful to use the proper academic jargon in my writing here. Don't get me wrong, I love a big ol' hunk of theory as much as the next person but I also love reading the less restrained thoughts of readers and other bloggers. Thank you all and here's to another wonderful year!

Monday, August 4, 2008

Eve and Wall-E

I finally saw Wall-E. I hadn't really planned to see it but so many people I know really liked it and the trailer seemed so adorable... well I just couldn't resist. Before I discuss the movie I'd like to discuss the inaccessibility of feature films. I took a friend to see Wall-E and for the two of us, factoring in my student discount and not purchasing any snacks, it cost over $20! I could have purchased groceries for myself for a week with that. I guess that that is why I don't go to movies very often. I am tired of being criticized for being so out of the loop when I don't know about the recent blockbusters. Seeing movies in the theatre is a privilege that I cannot imagine very many people can afford to indulge in regularly.

Naturally, what I found most interesting about this film was the anthropomorphism and gendering of the robots. How do viewers become aware that Wall-E is supposed to be male? I guess it is never made explicit but I believe it was intended. The name Wally is male. But WALL-E is an acronym for "Waste Allocation Load Lifter- Earth Class." The other major character is Eve or as Walle-E calls her Eva. Eve is obviously a feminine name. I think that viewers are to gather that Wall-E and Eve are a nice heteronormative couple who happen to be genderless, sexless robots.

When Wall-E and Eve are aboard the Axiom we see many other robots some of which are clearly gendered, wearing make-up for example, and many that have no obvious gendered identifiers. I don't want to go into the depiction of humans in this film because many other feminist bloggers did a great job. Please read their interpretations!

Besides the rather odd signifiers of gender in seemingly genderless robots and the heteronormativity implicit in those signifiers, I think that Wall-E also challenges traditional notions of gender. If Wall-E was intended to be male, he behaves in a way that challenges hegemonic masculinity. He is obsessed with the idea of romance and companionship. He watches Hello Dolly and dances. He is very emotional. He takes care of Eve and 'falls in love' with her. He courts her tirelessly despite her seeming indifference to him. At the end he becomes very weak and she saves him! Eve is consistently depicted as the stronger and smarter of the two and at the end, she saves his life. Or as my friend Sophie puts it: Eve is badass. Indeed.

Again we are handed a complicated situation. On the one hand gendering robots so that they might fit into the accepted mold of heteronormative coupling is far from progressive. On the other hand, presenting the 'female' robot as the stronger, sleeker, smarter of the two is pretty progressive for Disney.

I really enjoyed the film, mostly because I thought that Wall-E and Eve were so adorable. I actually cried at the end!

Also, I think that Eve looks like an iPod and Wall-E looks like... a Victrola?

Friday, August 1, 2008

Happy Anniversary!

Happy One Year Anniversary to me and my wonderful city! Though I had some major reservations about moving here, I am quite sure that I made the right decision and I couldn't be happier. I love so many things about Chicago. Here are a few:

*public transit- though it is very far from perfect, it is available and fairly efficient which is more than I can say about other cities in which I have resided

*the gorgeous and accessible lake shore harbors and beaches

*lake shore trail

*bicycle friendliness and Bike Ambassadors (and not just because my roomie is one!)

*Music Box Theatre

*Wishbone Southern Reconstruction Restaurant
*Chicago Diner
*Pick-Me-Up Cafe

*Intelligentsia Coffee

*charter schools

*Boystown and Andersonville

*Drs. Ann Russo, Beth Catlett, Allison McCracken and Francesca Royster

*the history and contemporary art museums- and the fact that all public museums have a free day for residents of the city!


There are so many things but I think the thing I love the most is just the feeling that I have living here. It isn't easy to describe but I feel very independent and comfortable... There isn't a word for how I feel walking down the gorgeous streets of Lakeview at night. I just love it.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Advice Please!

Dear Readers,

I have a task for you. I am considering applying for Ph.D programs for next fall (2009). This is a huge life decision that I am struggling quite a bit with. My family is very opposed to it because it will require a move even further away (right now I am about 200-250 miles away). I am looking at programs in Women's Studies and American Studies right now. I am leaning toward American Studies to make myself more marketable but ideally, I'd like to do both.

My family is also opposed because I haven't had a "real" job and if I do this I won't until I am 30+. I am okay with that but I know it is a gamble. Once I have a Ph.D I will be over-qualified for many jobs and I will be rather old to start a whole new career, which is not something I want to do anyway. Further, getting into those programs could prove difficult. I have never taken the GRE and am not sure I'd do well on it. Has anyone here taken it? Any advice? Based on what you know about me and my writing, would I even do well enough to make it worth the time, energy and money? I am no good at math! Is anyone familiar with programs that do not require GRE scores? What about foreign language proficiency? I have taken high school Spanish and I am taking a beginner course right now but would that be enough? I am in no way bilingual and am pretty sure it'd take years of intensive study for me to become bilingual.

My academic advisor said Ph.D programs typically take about four years and that I'd be a teaching assistant or research assistant during that time. I should be able to get scholarships/fellowships to cover tuition but will likely have to work an additional job to pay the bills. The bills, however, would be much lower living in a place like Ohio or Kentucky... I would have to leave all of my friends and live in a place I am pretty sure I'd hate. And I'd likely have to get a car which is so undesirable.

So those are the cons. The pros list is a bit shorter but the points are much more important. My long-term goal is to be a Women's Studies, American/Cultural Studies and/or Gender Studies professor. I know that I want to teach. I am very certain about that. I also know that I love being a student, I cannot imagine ever not being a student. I know I am a good teacher. I know I am a good student. I have no doubt that I'd be able to write a dissertation. These are things that not only am I capable of but that I'd LOVE to do. Women's Studies is my life, it is my passion. What else would I do?

What types of jobs are available to people with Bachelor's and Master's Degrees in Women's Studies? Could I work at a community college? What am I qualified to teach? I am quite sure I don't want to work in non-profits for very long. I enjoyed teaching high school students but at a college level I'd have more freedom to teach what I am passionate about.

Has anyone taken a break between a Master's and Ph.D? Is this a more desirable way to go? Does experience in the field make or break an applicants candidacy? I have not had a lot of experience working in the field because I am much more interested in the scholarship and theory.

Anyway, these are my questions and concerns. Any advice (seriously, any) would be welcome. Right now I am gathering as many opinions as I can and weighing them. For the record, I have no personal reason to stay in Chicago or even the midwest other than my friends who will likely be moving after graduation as well.


For your enjoyment here is a photo of the love of my life: Jasmine!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

"Men's Rights" on The Dr. Phil Show

I don't want to go too much into this episode of The Dr. Phil Show because it certainly is complicated. A thirty seven year old alcoholic, drug addicted, man had 'sex' with a nineteen year old young woman. A pregnancy ensued. The man proceeded to stalk the young woman until she simply told him she had had an abortion so that he would leave her alone. After the baby was born the young woman placed her for adoption. When the father discovered this he decided that he wanted custody and began a lengthy legal battle for his rights despite a rather odd law that requires fathers to register with the state prior to birth if they wish to have any rights to the child after birth.

I will not suggest that this man doesn't have some rights. My problem with this episode is that the "expert" opinion that Dr. Phil solicited was that of Mel Feit, patriarchy-denier extraordinaire. Feit identifies himself as a Men's Rights Activist. Having recently studied at some length MRA movements I have to concur with one of my favorite feminist scholars, blogger Twisty Faster.

Quoth Twisty:

“Massively [W]rong Assholes, or ‘men’s rights activists’ are patriarchy-deniers. The ideologies of this violent and knobbish subset of the Male Dominion spring from male fear of women’s personal sovereignty, and manifest in practice as active misogyny. Men suffer, O how they suffer, at the hands of subhuman conniving bitches who seek world domination through insane women-are-human propaganda and the misguided attempt to claim their own internal organs as private property. The MRA imagines that women’s interests control and abuse him in an ever more feminized world; he erroneously sees himself as a battered victim of women’s agency, rather than what he actually is: a moron.”

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Problematic Gender Politics of Katy Perry

Because I find most of it nauseating, I tend not to listen to pop music. When I was in grade school, I used to have a little radio that I would secretly plug my headphones into to hear to Top 40 on Sunday nights. My mother did not approve of pop music and it was a major battle between us during my adolescence. I don’t listen to the radio anymore mostly because I don’t drive and because I listen to music on my iPod and/or on my computer. Also, I really like industrial/EBM/synthpop, etc. which they do not play on the radio. Last week I got a ride to Brussels with my cousin and his twelve-year-old daughter. Like I did when I was her age, she really wanted to listen to pop music on the radio. This is when I came across the song “I Kissed a Girl” by Katy Perry.

When I first realized what Perry was saying, I thought ‘how progressive… a lesbian on pop radio and here is my little cousin singing along.’ That is until I listened closer and heard these lyrics:

"This was never the way I planned
Not my intention
I got so brave, drink in hand
Lost my discretion
It's not what, I'm used to
Just wanna try you on
I'm curious for you
Caught my attention

I kissed a girl and I liked it
The taste of her cherry Chapstick
I kissed a girl just to try it
I hope my boyfriend don't mind it
It felt so wrong
It felt so right
Don't mean I'm in love tonight
I kissed a girl and I liked it
I liked it

No, I don't even know your name
It doesn't matter
Your my experimental game
Just human nature
It's not what, good girls do
Not how they should behave
My head gets so confused
Hard to obey

Us girls we are so magical
Soft skin, red lips, so kissable
Hard to resist so touchable
Too good to deny it
Ain't no big deal, it's innocent."

This is one of those backlashy situations where we make a small step forward while simultaneously taking several steps backward. While Perry does say that she enjoyed kissing a 'girl' she says it within the context of a safe heteronormative relationship which is reminiscent of all those drunk college girls who make out with their girlfriends to impress the boys (or was it just my friends...). "I kissed a girl just to try it/I hope my boyfriend don't mind it."
There is no greater capitulation to the patriarchal powers that be than feigning lesbianism for male approval. Perry's song, from the album One of the Boys, was obviously written with a male gaze in mind. Perry sings, "I don't even know your name/It doesn't matter." In her attempt to be "one of the boys" Perry too must objectify the women around her.

In the video for "I Kissed a Girl" there isn't a man in sight. This could be seen as a radical statement of woman-centeredness. However, I see it more as Andrea Dworkin might. Though I don't have the text with me, I am fairly certain that she wrote that girl-on-girl porn does not need a physical man present to be a creation intended for a male gaze. Dismembered female bodies abound in this video. It seems Perry is more concerned with being seen by heterosexual men than about making a radical lesbian political statement. Further, her depiction of femininity consists of fishnet stockings, lacy bustiers, red lipstick and mascara.

Beyond just that one song, lets take a look at Perry's other well-known tune "UR so Gay." Considering the controversy surrounding satire and irony in mainstream media lately, I think it is important to say that the video for this song is obviously a satire. However, the song alone does not immediately come off that way.

"I hope you hang yourself with your H&M scarf
While jacking off listening to Mozart
You bitch and moan about LA
Wishing you were in the rain reading Hemingway
You don’t eat meat
And drive electrical cars
You’re so indie rock it’s almost an art
You need SPF 45 just to stay alive

You’re so gay and you don’t even like boys...

You’re so sad maybe you should buy a happy meal
You’re so skinny you should really Super Size the deal
Secretly you’re so amused
That nobody understands you
I’m so mean cause I cannot get you outta your head
I’m so angry cause you’d rather MySpace instead
I can’t believe I fell in love with someone that wears more makeup than…

You’re so gay and you don’t even like boys...

You walk around like you’re oh so debonair
You pull em' down and there’s really nothing there
I wish you would get a clue that its not all about you

You’re so gay and you don’t even like boys...
No you don’t even like… PENIS"

As far as I can gather, not considering the video, this song does not seem all that ironic. It seems to be about a woman using the term 'gay' to insult her ex-boyfriend who she deemed too effeminate. The themes of homophobia and woman hatred seem to permeate Perry's work. When I consider that many of Perry's listeners are 12-year-olds like my cousin in Freedom, Wisconsin, I am concerned that they aren't in on the 'joke.' And frankly, I am not sure Perry really means it as a joke. Calling someone gay and/or equating him with femininity as an insult AND feigning lesbianism for male sociosexual approval are the furthest thing from progressive.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

More on Feminist Blogging and Response to GTA IV Comments

Another excerpt from my paper about blogging. This is my formal response to all of the awful comments I received from my Grand Theft Auto IV post. I guess, if nothing else, I can thank those commenters for making sure that I have a career in feminist scholarship....


Early in its history cyberfeminists and other social justice activists had high hopes that the Internet would be a great equalizer. Because physical appearances would not be immediately detectable, people could share ideas without concern for race, class, gender or sexual prejudices. In discussing the amazing possibilities offered by blogging as a pedagogical tool and feminist community building it would be irresponsible not to discuss the limitations of blogging and Internet spaces in general. The egalitarian or utopian vision of the Internet has proven itself false. Apparently, people are no more comfortable with ambiguity online than they are in the real world. All of the social ills of the ‘real’ world have come to life online as well.

As of June 11, 2008, this blog has been viewed 13,851 times. With this fairly large amount of traffic comes the possibility for amazing dialogue but also for threats of violence and verbal abuse. On April 30, 2008 I read a post about the video game Grand Theft Auto IV at Feministing. I was inspired to write a post on the topic myself. As it turns out, a blogger at re-posted my post on that site and gamers from all over the world read my post. This cross-posting lead to a hateful anti-feminist backlash that I could not have predicted. To date, that one post has received fifty comments on my blog alone. Over at Game FAQs it received hundreds. Below are a few of the anonymous comments from the post “I Am Angry About Grand Theft Auto IV.”

“Actually I think you'll find if u beat up (or even push women) about in the game men come and help them. Sorry you might have to rethink your jam rag lesbo rantings.”

“Wow, feminists are stupid. Get over yourselves, you pretentious assholes.”

“Go make us some sandwiches.”

“What are you doing out of the kitchen?”

“You really need to get over yourself. People like you suck the joy out of everything because you think you know what is better for people than themselves…. Have fun being the old, lonely, senile cat lady, because most men will not put up with your non-stop bullshit. Feminism is a failed experiment. You wish for equality when it benefits you, but stand up in arms when you don't have doors held open for you. You cannot have it both ways.”

“Shut the fuck up. Bottom line dont bitch about GTA 4 unless you have played it for a minimum of 10 hours and if you are unwilling to do that then go burn your bra and fuck off.”

“Are you really so fucking dense? Of cousre she's not under obligation of discussing it, she only likes to discuss about things that she wants to. Like a little child that only wants to play catch up because it's the only game s/he's good at.”

“Q-What do you tell a woman with two black eyes? A- Nothing. You've already told her twice.”

“get back in the kitchen!”

“you’re a dumb cunt.”

"dumb bitch, fuck feminism and fuck you. I will go home and hit my girlfriend because of you and maker her wash my dishes and clean my clothes, because that is what women do."

Contrary the utopian vision of the Internet, online anonymity seems to allow people to display their hatred and misogyny without fear of social reprisal. Jessica Valenti, co-founder of Feministing has also experienced violence and misogyny online. In her article, “How the Web Became a Sexists’ Paradise,” she writes,

“When women are harassed on the street, it is considered inappropriate. Online, though, sexual harassment is not only tolerated- it’s often lauded. Blog threads or forums where women are attacked attract hundreds of comments, and their traffic rates rocket. Is this what people are really like? … There’s the disturbing possibility that people are creating online environments purely to express the type of racist, homophobic, or sexist speech that is no longer acceptable in public society, at work, or even at home.”

The Game Faqs page on which my blog post was re-posted attracted more comments than any of the other posts on that page. In support of Valenti’s argument, all of the vitriolic woman-hatred on my comments page was posted anonymously.

Just as in the ‘real world’ women who dare to take up space and speak their minds online experience backlash. The Internet, just like the world in which it exists is a patriarchal space. This makes cyberfeminist activism all the more important. The hateful comments on my blog were not responses to what I actually wrote as much as they were personal threats meant to scare me out of posting about video games which largely remain a bastion of unfettered male bonding over violence and misogyny. Whether female bloggers receive more threats than male bloggers is debatable but the sexualized nature of threats against women bloggers is not. I wonder how many male bloggers have been told to ‘get back in the kitchen’ or have been called ‘a dumb cunt,’ a sexualized insult for which there is no male equivalent. Kathy Sierra sums these threats up quite well in Valenti’s article,
“Well-known software programmer and Java expert, Kathy Sierra… thinks that online threats, even if they are coming from a small group of people, have tremendous potential to scare women from fully participating online. ‘How many rape/fantasy threats does it take to make a woman want to lay low? Not many,’ she says.”

While some of the comments I received were valid attempts at dialogue around misogyny and violence in video gaming culture, most were sexist epitaphs with little or no actual mention of the ideas I brought up. I am pretty sure some of the posters were under the impression that I posted a link to my blog on Game FAQs which is simply not true. I had no interest in engaging that community precisely because of the vitriol that I have come to expect from them. If I thought that a reasonable discussion could be had I would be more than happy to engage them but it seems to only prove my point that many gamers are violent and misogynistic and that is why they enjoy violent misogynistic entertainment.

These threats only serve as proof that feminist blogs are necessary forms of cyber activism.

The Feminist Blogosphere is a Site of Resistance

I was so moved by Melissa McEwan's piece about the importance of women bloggers that I wrote my final paper about blogging. The course was called "Women, Gender, Activism and Social Change." Honestly, I am more of a theorist than an activist so this course was a bit of a challenge for me. The most important thing I learned was that theory and writing are, in fact, forms of activism. Anyway, as promised, here is some of the paper. I will post another chunk about violence against feminist bloggers later because I feel the need to address the comments my post about Grand Theft Auto IV received.


America’s history of domination is evident in the media that it produces. The images that media giants perpetuate are intentional; they are chosen in accordance with what will sell the most and support the messages that are favorable to their sponsors, as well as what will maintain their hegemonic position by reproducing only those images that do not challenge the hierarchical structure of power in America. According to early Marxist media critics, especially those who identify with the Franfort School of thought, mass media act as a hypodermic needle injecting the public with ideas that they will blindly accept as truth. Essentially, in order to maintain their position, those in power use socializing institutions to maintain a social order that is favorable to them. Mass media is one such institution.

Cultural theorist Stuart Hall lodges a challenge to the hypodermic needle theory of ideological hegemony. He argues that part of the pleasure of media can be attributed to its polysemic nature. Media texts are encoded with complex meanings that are often contradictory. Because of this consumers can choose texts that adhere to their belief systems or they can read texts subversively or against the grain or they can reject the implied meaning entirely. It is my view that blogging is a tool that can be used to resist dominant ideologies. Blogging literally gives media consumers the opportunity to talk back.

In the early 1990s feminist zines quickly grew in popularity. They gave young women with access to the necessary supplies (arguably, third wave feminists) opportunities to voice their opinions and share their art with a larger community of young women who in turn could create their own zines....

Blogger, Melissa McEwan, also writes about the importance of these informal venues in the creation of feminist consciousness and dissemination of feminist knowledge. With their lack of formal gatekeepers, both zines and blogs have allowed women space to share stories that are not part of dominant culture. These forms of activism are excellent representations of standpoint feminist epistemology or, as feminist theorist Patricia Hill Collins would say, oppositional consciousness. Though she writes more specifically about the standpoint of Black women, the theory applies well to women bloggers who experience multiple oppressions. Many feminist bloggers are careful to locate their own specific standpoints (class, race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnic heritage, etc) precisely because they recognize the benefits and limitations of locating their experiences in their specific realities.

Feminist blogs fill in the gaps left in dominant culture’s version of history, in popular culture, in mainstream news and in a wide variety of other spaces. Every morning I roll out of bed, grab a cup of coffee, wake my computer and look at my RSS feeds. I do not regularly read any mainstream news publications nor do I watch televised news programs. Instead I subscribe to eleven feminist blogs (see blogroll) for my daily news. Each of these blogs offers something different to feminist dialogues and community.

Feministing has nine writers and regularly features guest contributors. The analysis offered by this blog is relatively minimal but the comments section provided after each post allows readers the opportunity to discuss the ideas presented with other readers and with the authors. Many posters are regulars who get to know each other and engage in critical dialogue together. Feministing also offers an extensive blogroll or list of links to other feminist blogs. Readers interested in feminist blogs can easily find a wealth of information and an instant community with other feminists and feminist bloggers across the country.

Another widely read feminist blog is the much more analytical and controversial radical lesbian separatist feminist blog I Blame the Patriarchy. This blog has only one writer who goes by Twisty Faster, it is unclear whether this is her real name or a pseudonym. Twisty is clearly a highly educated woman who intentionally uses language as a barrier to shut down dialogue with people she does not find to be intellectually equal. While I Blame the Patriarchy is sometimes difficult to read, always controversial and is certainly not for everyone, one of the many benefits of reading blogs is that if her style does not appeal to a particular reader s/he can always move on to a different blog. I find her radical perspective very useful when compared to the more liberal feminist style employed by the writers of Feministing.

Finally, I want to look at the objectives of the feminist blog Shakesville. It is a progressive blog with many contributors and topics. Blog founder, Melissa McEwan, uses Shakesville as a combination personal and political blog and community building space. Posts about the minutiae of her own life are littered in with news stories, critical media analysis, and political analysis. Shakesville is a great example of the community built in the blogosphere. The meshing of the personal and political on Shakesville is standpoint feminist epistemology in action.

Each of these blogs and the hundreds of other ones that they link to are pedagogical tools used to advance feminist ideas. As a young feminist I came across Feministing accidentally when I was reading a friend’s Livejournal. All I had to do from there was click on any of the hundreds of links to be connected to an entire online feminist community. The idea that feminist blogs are pedagogical tools stems from the belief that oppressed groups must be engaged in the struggle for their own liberation. The Internet has made this a much easier task for many women who might not have easy access to feminist peers in their communities.

Feminist blogging gives women agency and voice. The Internet is a wide-open space with plenty of room for a vast assortment of ideas and practices. Feminist bloggers educate their readership by raising feminist consciousness, creating a recorded history of women’s lives and experiences outside of the mainstream. By offering an alternative to mainstream media and news, they make the invisible visible. Or as feminist cultural critic bell hooks might say they bring the margins to the center.

Monday, June 23, 2008

National Women's Studies Association Conference

Just got home from Cincinnati. The National Women's Studies Association Conference was wildly successful! I presented my paper "'Money, Cash, Hoes:' A Marxist/Feminist Analysis of Mainstream Hip-Hop Music Videos" in a panel session with two of my peers from DePaul. One of them wrote about Sex and the City as a site of resistance to hegemonic, heteronormative gender and the other woman spoke about Britney Spears and her representation in news media. I am very proud to have worked with both of them. I am also proud that our room was so packed! The panel discussion that I attended the day before, which was lead by my favorite UW-Milwaukee professor, Kathy Miller-Dillon, only had about ten participants. Also, I got some great questions which I fielded quite well and I got great feedback from Women's Studies professors across the country. The heads of three departments asked me for copies of my paper that they could include in their syllabi!

The round table discussion that I moderated was much smaller but it began a very heated discussion amongst the queer women and a woman who rejected the idea of politically correct language. As the moderator I was unsure as to whether I should control the discussion or let them each speak their piece.

One of the other major highlights was that I got to meet and talk with Jessica Valenti of She is a marvelous speaker and she recognized my blog when I told her who I was!

My only problem with her discussion is that her and her peers seem to be much too reliant on the notion of "wave" feminisms. I don't believe that there is a clear distinction between so-called second and third wave feminists. The people in this discussion seemed to believe that the difference was more generational than ideological. I think that we have much better terms for different feminist ideologies like liberal, radical, marxist, socialist, post structural, etc. I don't understand why they are so reluctant to use these feminist theory terms rather than the much more limiting language of 'waves.' Anyway, I am very glad to have met her and Courtney Martin and to hear both of them speak.

I finished my paper about blogging and I am going to post some of my ideas from it later. I just wanted to fill you all in about the conference.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Driving is Political

I try not to watch the national news because it gets my blood boiling like nothing else. Tonight ABC World News covered soaring gas prices ($4.50 in Bucktown). They speculated that prices are raising because of increased demand in China. One reporter exclaimed "More people are driving in China everyday!" Shocking, other people in the world want to live like Americans. How dare they.

I do not own a car. I have not for over five years. Now granted I have lived in fairly large metropolitan areas, but I have not even missed it. I think that Americans rely much too heavily upon personal vehicles and that this privilege has been ideologically constructed as a necessity to increase consumption and make oil companies, and the governments in bed with them, rich. Face it, someone is getting rich off of this, that is how capitalism/neoliberalism work. The news program also alluded to the possibility of recession from these rising costs. It seems to me that if people change their lifestyles these costs wouldn't be so painful.

Frankly, I hope gas prices do keep going up. And I am not saying that because I want anyone to suffer but because I think that only under the most dire circumstances will we as Americans come up with alternatives. Oil is not a sustainable resource, this is not debatable. One day it will be gone and in the meantime it is polluting our environments and making city air almost un-breathable.

I have found biking to be a wonderful alternative. I love the wind blowing through my hair and the breeze on my face. I love cruising past cars stuck in Chicago traffic and getting everywhere faster than I do on public transit or when friends offer rides in their cars. My bike cost $40 at Working Bikes Co-operative and requires minimal maintenance. I have heard every argument in the book for car usage instead of bikes and my best argument is that I have managed for five years without a car with no trouble.

Because I love this blog and because it offers many practical tips for people who wish to reduce dependence upon their cars, I think you all should check out Chicago Bike Blog. A lot of her tips apply to folks in any city. Most importantly, check out 50 Ways to Leave Your Car. Don't let the mega-hetero-patriarchal-white-supremacist-imperialist-corporateocracy drain all of your savings and your health! Ditch your cars because it is a major political statement!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Kurt Cobain's Interrogation of Hegemonic Masculinity

I am taking a course about construction of celebrity in America this quarter and one of the things we were assigned to read was Kurt Cobain's Journals. I had never really thought about Kurt in an academic way but I felt as though I had an intimate relationship with his music in high school. Reading his writing and listening to his music in the context of this course really made me think about the way that he did gender or rather the way that he queered gender and pop music. It is a topic I didn't even realize I was interested in until this course. I wrote a paper about these things and my professor suggested that I think about this as a topic for my thesis especially considering there is so little work to this effect out there. It would be very cutting edge. Or something. Anyway, I thought I'd put the ideas out there and see what others think. Here is a chunk of the paper:

“Yeah, all Isms (sic) feed off one another but at the top of the food chain is still the white, corporate, macho, strong ox male. Not redeemable as far as I’m concerned. I mean, classism is determined by sexism because the male decides whether all other isms still exists (sic). Its up to men. I’m just saying that people can’t deny any ism or think that some are more or less subordinate except for sexism… I still think that in order to expand on all other isms, sexism has to be blown wide open…but there are thousands of green minds, young gullable (sic) 15 year old boys out there just starting to fall into the grain of what they’ve been told of what a man is supposed to be and there are plenty of tools to use. The most effective tool is entertainment” (Cobain, 117).

I am not sure if I started listening to Nirvana when I was a freshman or sophomore in high school but it was somewhere in there. 1999 and 2000 proved to be formative years for me as I had just entered the public school system from a very sheltered home and tiny Catholic school. My body was changing, my friends were changing, I discovered feminism and my relationship with my parents transformed. It seemed that overnight I had gone from their overachieving perfect daughter to an angsty and rebellious teenager. Kurt Cobain’s angst-filled voice, nihilistic lyrics, and grungy guitar appealed to me immediately. To make it even better his appearance and lyrics made my parents and teachers writhe. When I listened to Nirvana in high school it was a purely pleasurable experience. I would drive around my small town with my friends with Nevermind cranked all the way up on the stereo. I had posters of Cobain all over my locker and my bedroom. I thought he was so dreamy…

When I saw that we were studying Nirvana for class this week, I pulled out all of my old albums and listened to them all again. I even found my old posters! Reading Nirvana in a critical academic environment felt like a kind of violation. Listening to this music has been so intensely personal and intimately tied to my budding high school sexuality. Experiencing that music again after so long brought out many of those emotions. I feel that it is important to foreground my own personal experience with Nirvana before attempting an analysis of their work. I am a particular person with a particular experience in a particular time and space.

One thing I certainly never noticed as a teenager that I noticed immediately as a graduate student in Women’s and Gender Studies is that Kurt Cobain had a knack for challenging notions of hegemonic gender. His performance of gender is at least non-normative but I would argue that it is also queer. Cobain’s body was small and not hegemonicly masculine. His ripped up old clothes and occasional ironic cross-dressing posed a challenge to the authoritative heteropatriarchy that rules American culture.

Through his angst-filled, corporeal and occasionally disgusting lyrics and non-normative attire he queered gender and popular music. In his Journals and lyrics, Cobain seems to have an obsession with the physical body and with the disgusting, the unpleasant and the painful. Particularly he writes about gastrointestinal functions and dysfunctions. I remember being very troubled by the lyrics to “Heart Shaped Box.”

“Meat-eating orchids forgive no-one just yet
cut myself on angel hair and babies breath
broken hymen of your highness I’m left black
throw down your umbilical noose so I can climb right back.”

Meat, being a representation of a dead body is juxtaposed with the very genteel and feminine images of orchids, angel’s and babies breath (being both a flower and symbol of femininity and a representation of innocence and beginnings of life). Cobain weaves high culture, transcendental religious spirits (as opposed to bodies) traditional beauty and femininity with the so-called low brow culture, the profane, the guttural, the corporeal. In connecting these seemingly opposite things he poses a challenge to Victorian social order that values masculinity, rationality, objectivity and denial of the body over femininity and being present in one’s body with all of its grossness and potential for failure.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


I am overwhelmed with the amount of research and writing I have to do over the next two weeks. I promise many posts as soon as this quarter is over. Some of the things I am writing about for my finals include:
-feminist blogs as activism and social justice
-dr. phil as a celebrity
-my experiences teaching social justice to tenth graders

I will be sure to post some excerpts from the Dr. Phil paper and possibly from the blog paper here.

I will also be addressing the insidious comments that I received on my Grand Theft Auto posts. Despite their offensiveness and lack of critical consciousness I did allow them past moderation to show the need for feminism in today's world. Anonymity allows for a really terrifying honesty. I will discuss those comments (which I am still getting, btw) in detail when school is done.

Finally, I am thrilled to see that feministing linked to this site on their blog roll! Yay! I am so proud and honored to be recognized by such an amazing group of feminists who are really enacting positive social change through their writing and community building. Thanks!!

Sunday, May 4, 2008

More on Why I am Angry About Grand Theft Auto IV

Though I have made an unofficial rule not to respond to commenters who lodge personal attacks against me, Lost Turntable makes some reasonable arguments. Of course, that does not mean that I agree, but these are criticisms that I anticipated. I was going to just post this as a response in the comments section, but since it is so long and I spent so much time thinking it all out, I am going to post it here along with the original comment. I also hope to generate a larger dialogue.

The Lost Turntable's original comment:

I really wish people would do a little research before criticizing this game, especially since if there is plenty to criticize if they just did a bit of damn research.

First of all, stop calling it a 'game' in quotations. You not liking its subject matter doesn't make it any less of a game. I don't call a movie I hate a 'movie.' It does make you look like a pretentious jerk though.

Now to address your other points one by one:

1. I am angry because this 'game' romanticizes, decontextualizes and glorifies male violence against women and against other men.

Well, at least you mentioned that it has violence against men too.

I think playing up the violence against women aspect is a cheap shot. It romanticizes violence...period. Women are rarely singled out as targets in this game and never because they are women.

2. It portrays women as the sex class (willing and available) and men as autonomous agents with full subjectivity (as long as they are hegemonicly masculine).

This is partially on target. But while women are portrayed in an overly sexual manner, the men are portrayed as overly violent. If you are arguing that the game only views women as women if they are engaging in submissive sex acts, then you must also say that the game says a man must be violent in order to be a real man. Neither are good.

2. I am scared to live in a culture where this is considered a viable form of entertainment.

Don't know what to tell you there. There's worse than GTA out there, sorry to burst your bubble.

3. The protagonist of Grand Theft Auto IV, Niko Bellic, fucks women, seemingly all prostituted women, and then brutally murders them immediately afterward if he so desires.

Enough with the killing prostitutes shtick. Yes, you can have sex with hookers in GTA. You can also murder anyone on the street. Ergo, you can kill hookers. Reading any more into it is kind of silly. Also, whenever you do have sex with a hooker Niko immediately says to himself what a disgusting, worthless scumbag he is. It's not a rewarding experience.

Furthermore, Niko Belic actually goes on several dates in the game, and often they do not end in sex. He never forces himself on anyone and the sex with these women is always consensual. Conversely, if the gamer treats the women like shit they stop talking to you. Saying that Niko only has sex with prostitutes is wrong.

4. Young men all over the country (and beyond) will learn that the value of women is their capacity to provide male orgasm.

Any guy who plays this game and comes to that conclusion is already fucked in the head. If anyone sees the hookers and strippers in GTAIV and is then enticed to pursue them in real life, they're going to be in a for a real letdown when they discover just how gross, sickening and depressing both those worlds usually are. The idea that young men will take away any ideas like this from this game is an insult to the intelligence of the human race.

5. I am angry that abuses of women are not taken seriously; are not seen as major social problems. In this culture of domination the murder of a prostituted/raped woman cannot be taken too seriously. Yet in video game culture it is not seen as a problem. Stamp an "M for Mature" rating on it and move on. Get a grip. Yes, violence against women (or anyone for that matter) is wrong and should be taken seriously. But the idea that this game encourages it or even dismisses violence against women in the real world is about as accurate as saying that it will cause an increase in violence against pigeons (a sidequest in the game is to shoot pigeons, much like a scavenger hunt).

6. It seems worth examining the otherness of Bellic here as well. Admittedly, I am no expert in gaming or gaming culture, I have only played a few in my life and have never been amused by their seeming androcentrism, exclusivity and extraordinary violence...Bellic is depicted as 'foreign' and/or not white. It enables white American men to play the game and distance themselves from the extraordinary violence that they are enacting upon women and other men. "Oh American men do not murder, rape or pay for sex!"

Okay, nearly everything you say here is flat out wrong, and there's so much misinformation and all-out insanity here I don't even know where to begin.

First of all, not all games feature "androcentrism, exclusivity and extraordinary violence." Pick up a game of Sonic The Hedgehog, or better yet the genius Portal (which features a strong, intelligent female protagonist) to see the error in that statement.

As far as the "otherness" of Belic, it's only an issue in that both his past and the fact that he is not familar with America are major story points. The past three GTA games have featured American protagonists who were all just as violent as Niko, and Tommy Vercetti, the main character of GTA: Vice City was more violent, misanthropic and just plain morally repugnant than Niko ever could be. Niko's actually a fairly complex character.

Your argument that the game uses foreign "otherness" as an excuse for violent acts is without base and unequivocally wrong. Like it or not, there's nothing Niko does in this game that is worse than anything the American characters in previous games have done in the past.

It's amazingly obvious that your knowledge of this game, and gaming in general is based almost entirely on what others have told/shown you. Because throughout your poorly written diatribe holier-than-though manifesto you fail to mention the biggest point about the GTA series, which is that they are all broad satires, poking fun at everything from our country's fascination with gangland culture, reality TV and even the music industry. If you took the time out to play the game you might find out that there is some pretty bold pro-feminist commentary in it. For example, there's a radio commercial in GTAIV for a reality show called "America's Next Top Hooker" which brilliantly lambastes our culture's obsession with reality television in a way that also exposes the outright sexism that seems to run rampant in it.

All that being said, there is plenty to dislike about GTAIV. I am uncomfortable with some of the racial stereotypes in the game, and the fact that all the game's homosexual characters seem to be out of a 1970s sitcom also bothers me. However, I am also aware that it is a game. And I don't worry that anyone playing the game will walk away from it more racist or homophobic than they already were. They might actually laugh, see the ridiculousness of the game's stereotypes and walk away from it less prejudiced than they were before. I do hope that in future installments the game continues their critique of cultural stereotypes by turning it on its head (i.e. having a macho gay gangbanger or a female gang leader who takes advantage of her men).

Finally, know that unless you actually sit down and play the game, most gaming fans will refuse to take you seriously.

And rightfully so.

My response:

1. I refer to GTA as a ‘game’ in quotation marks not because I think that it does not possess the inherent qualities of a video game by our cultural definition of that concept but because I am displeased that such a violent, misogynistic activity is considered to be a viable mode of entertainment!
2. I made sure to mention, more than once, that I am not an avid gamer. In fact, I have never actually played GTA IV, though I have played earlier versions.
3. The difference between men and women in a white supremacist, capitalist, imperialist, patriarchy (that you do not seem to see) is that women are valued only for their sex, as the sex class. This makes violence against us more insidious. In the real world women are raped, beaten, assaulted, etc. DAILY. Put in this context, portrayals of violence against women by men is not just a coincidence or accident; it maintains patriarchal domination by convincing men and women that it is normal and inevitable.
4. I think we are wholly in agreement that hegemonic masculinity and its hyper violence and limited options are not good for men or women.
5. I would NEVER argue that GTA is the worst form of violence against women “out there” but that doesn’t make it any less problematic. Isn’t that the whole point of cultural criticism? I am not trying to pick out the worst representation of gender in ALL of mass media but rather to present a rich tapestry of similarities of those myriad representations and their complex relationships with one another.
6. “Enough with the killing prostitutes shtick. Yes, you can have sex with hookers in GTA. You can also murder anyone on the street. Ergo, you can kill hookers. Reading any more into it is kind of silly.”
Again, isn’t that the whole point of cultural criticism? Yes, you can kill prostitutes and I think that that is a huge problem. And it isn’t just me. Murder, assault and violence against women are very serious social problems. I cannot even keep track of the numbers but according to RAINN, nearly 1 in 4 women are sexually assaulted in their lifetimes (the number is no where near that for men). I don’t feel the need to go into the whole significance of cultural context and gender terrorism again. Please, read this post.
Assault and violence against prostituted women is also rampant in the real world. Normalizing it by turning it into entertainment can only add to this problem.
7. If it is true that Bellic does not exclusively have sex with prostituted women, then I gladly retract that statement.
8. “ Get a grip. Yes, violence against women (or anyone for that matter) is wrong and should be taken seriously. But the idea that this game encourages it or even dismisses violence against women in the real world is about as accurate as saying that it will cause an increase in violence against pigeons (a sidequest in the game is to shoot pigeons, much like a scavenger hunt).”
Again, I am not saying that GTA is the cause of all social ills, only that it contributes to them by normalizing the propping up of one category of human at the expense of another (and, apparently, animals). Also, I would argue that not enough people take this violence seriously enough and that is why it is such a social ill and not taking it seriously maintains patriarchal rule by making it appear natural and unchangeable.
9. “First of all, not all games feature ‘androcentrism, exclusivity and extraordinary violence.’ Pick up a game of Sonic The Hedgehog, or better yet the genius Portal (which features a strong, intelligent female protagonist) to see the error in that statement.”
I never said “all games,” only the ones I have played.
10. “The past three GTA games have featured American protagonists who were all just as violent as Niko…Like it or not, there's nothing Niko does in this game that is worse than anything the American characters in previous games have done in the past.”
This only serves to prove my point further. That Bellic is depicted as a non-white man at this particular time in American history when immigration is such a particular issue, especially considering that the other protagonists have been white, seems even less coincidental.
11. “You fail to mention the biggest point about the GTA series, which is that they are all broad satires, poking fun at everything from our country's fascination with gangland culture, reality TV and even the music industry.” I sure hope that all of the teenage boys (and girls) playing this game are hip to the oh-so clever satire of GTA. Though in my experience (which, as a high school teacher, is plenty) this is not the case.
12. “I don't worry that anyone playing the game will walk away from it more racist or homophobic than they already were. They might actually laugh, see the ridiculousness of the game's stereotypes and walk away from it less prejudiced than they were before. I do hope that in future installments the game continues their critique of cultural stereotypes by turning it on its head (i.e. having a macho gay gangbanger or a female gang leader who takes advantage of her men).”
Again, I will concede that I have not played the game and do not know the subtleties. I am always glad to hear about characters that defy stereotype and characterization. I am just concerned that such a sophisticated understanding is beyond a significant portion of the players of this particular game. And again, I understand that I can only speak from my experience.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

"What Do You Call Them?"

Does anyone else think that this Playtex ad campaign is more than a little creepy?

I am particularly unamused by the videos entitled "What do you call them?" I knew it couldn't be long before corporate America reappropriated the feminist rhetoric of The Vagina Monologues, turning it into the same old sexist bullshit, to sell bras to women.

Particularly irritating are these:
"Husband Pleasers." (As if breasts exist solely for the pleasure of men, not for the women or their offspring.)
"Money Makers." (Because women have been taught throughout history that the only way for them to make it in patriarchal economic systems are through their subjugated and sale-able sexuality.)
"Puppies." (Because women are constantly dehumanized by being relegated to status of animals. And we all know how animals are treated in this country.)
"I've been asked to shake the money makers on the subway a few times." (Trivializing the terrorism that is street harassment. I have heard too many stories at the Holla Back Chicago site to think that this is cute. The most recent contribution "I Never Feel Safe" is especially telling.)

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

I Am Angry About Grand Theft Auto IV

I am angry.

I am angry about a 'game' called Grand Theft Auto IV. I am angry because this 'game' romanticizes, decontextualizes and glorifies male violence against women and against other men. It portrays women as the sex class (willing and available) and men as autonomous agents with full subjectivity (as long as they are hegemonicly masculine). I am angry because this is the result of living in a patriarchal, ethnocentric, xenophobic, homophobic and, yes I'll say it, woman hating culture. I cannot understand this 'game' as anything other than that.

I am scared to live in a culture where this is considered a viable form of entertainment. The protagonist of Grand Theft Auto IV, Niko Bellic, fucks women, seemingly all prostituted women, and then brutally murders them immediately afterward if he so desires. Bear in mind, of course, that 'he' is controlled by the player. Young men all over the country (and beyond) will learn that the value of women is their capacity to provide male orgasm. That is all.

I am angry that abuses of women are not taken seriously; are not seen as major social problems. In this culture of domination the murder of a prostituted/raped woman cannot be taken too seriously. Yet in video game culture it is not seen as a problem. Stamp an "M for Mature" rating on it and move on.

It seems worth examining the otherness of Bellic here as well. Admittedly, I am no expert in gaming or gaming culture, I have only played a few in my life and have never been amused by their seeming androcentrism, exclusivity and extraordinary violence. Bellic is a Bosnian immigrant in search of "The American Dream." I think it is relevant that in a game produced and developed by plenty of white men, Bellic is depicted as 'foreign' and/or not white. It enables white American men to play the game and distance themselves from the extraordinary violence that they are enacting upon women and other men. "Oh American men do not murder, rape or pay for sex!"

In a time when immigration is such a heated issue, Grand Theft Auto IV must be placed within its proper cultural context. It is not an accident that Bellic is a violent, over sexed, thuggish immigrant.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

I am Disappointed with Stephen Colbert

Today I am going to wag my finger at Stephen Colbert. Hell, I might even put him on notice.
I love The Colbert Report. I do. It is hilarious and sometimes subversive. It is a wonderful political satire with a progressive edge. But as I have mentioned before, these progressive television personalities are often blinded to their own male privilege. On the April 16th episode, Colbert had the Philadelphia Eagle's Cheerleaders dancing around his stage while he oogled them. Now I understand that his show is a satire but I have to say, I don't see anything funny about women being treated like objects. Especially in light of this post from Shakesville.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Institutionalized Racism and My Very Favorite Show

Image Via

As I have probably mentioned before and almost certainly will mention again, sometimes being a feminist cultural critic means recognizing the sexism/racism/classism/agism/ethnocentrism/etc in the things that you love. I guess I couldn't do what I do if I didn't love popular culture as much as I sometimes hate it.

The X-Files has been my favorite show since I was in seventh grade. I was a devoted fan right until then end. Every so often I have a renaissance and I spend a few weeks re-watching them all. I love the show so much that I have never really been critical of it because it is my private guilty pleasure. I watch it when I am sad or lonely or sick or just procrastinating and I don't want any pesky analysis to get in the way of that pleasure.

All of that being said, I have noticed something very upsetting about the portrayal of non-white people on the show. First of all, most of the characters and certainly all of the main characters are white. When we do see non-white people they are almost always men and they are almost always perpetrators of violence. Most disturbing though is the eerie pan flute music that always seems to be playing when non-white people are on the screen. It is most obvious in episodes about Native Americans but is very clear (at least in the first few seasons) every time a black man is the perpetrator. What is most disturbing about this is that in the episodes "Fearful Symmetry" and "Shapes" (and others I am sure) the same music is played when wild animals, especially dangerous ones like cougars and wolves (or werewolves), are on screen.

Now I am no ethnomusicologist (maybe someday...) but the racism implicit in this portrayal is palatable. This is pretty much the definition of institutionalized racism and dehumanization. It isn't immediately obvious and many media consumers wouldn't think twice about this very clear correlation because it isn't as obvious as a "coloreds only" sign. But it is just as dangerous, if not more so, because it doesn't evoke the passionate response that overt racism does.

Also, OMFG!, in the process of researching this I discovered that an additional X-Files film is in production. I am so there on opening day!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Phone Sex

My roommate and I have the same cell phone. We also have the same problem concentrating on our homework.....

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Tuesday, March 4, 2008


Sorry for the lack of updates lately. I am just getting started on my finals. Graduate school does not leave a lot of time for writing about popular culture here! However, I do get to do just that in my research which is why I am so completely in love with school.

On that note I am wondering if you all can help me with one of my research papers. I am interested in looking at representations of transnational bodies in American mass media. I have written about Gwen Stefani and her Harajuku Girls before but I think it is very relevant to this research. I am curious as to who else you all think might be relevant. I plan to peruse the archives of Racialicious to see what they have written about but I thought I'd open it to my dear readers (like feminist gal and kat) since they have been so helpful in the past!

If the project is a success, I'll post high lights here.

Friday, February 22, 2008

"I'm already pregnant so what other kind of shenanigans can I get into?"

Image Via

I finally saw Juno. I think I am the last feminist alive to see it but I am not a big movie goer. Not really in the mood to go into an analysis of it but I enjoyed it a whole lot. If not for the atrocious indie-gross sound track I'd even go so far as to say I love it. By the end I felt like I was going to puke if I heard one more f-ing mopey guitar riff.

Maybe I'll write more later but for now I'll just say that I LOVE any movie about teenage pregnancy that does not make the young woman look like a victim. Yay!