Thursday, October 1, 2009

Unattended Children are Subject to Violence and Dehumanization

There are a few sites I peruse when I am bored or just in need of mindless entertainment. My favorite is FoodGawker. If you like food blogs you will love this site because it is basically a best of collection from a vast array of food blogs. I waste hours on that blog thinking up great recipe ideas. I also enjoy FailBlog and occasionally PassiveAggressiveNotes.

This particular post at PassiveAgressiveNotes really got me thinking. Now I am not one who wants to have children and when I am around other people's children I am uncomfortable and seldom know how to interact with them. In fact, I have occasionally been heard to utter "I hate children." I suppose it would be better to say, "I don't understand children, I don't particularly like their presence and the less time I spend with them in my day to day life the happier I usually am." The exception, of course, being my amazing 3 year old nephew (funny how that works).

Anyway, that post made me think about our patriarchal culture of domination and the ways in which creatures deemed other, weaker or less than in any way are subject to all sorts of violations, abuses and violence. (Be warned, the comments on that post are pretty atrocious). My usual interest is the way in which women have been historically othered and dehumanized because of it. I have discussed here the connection between domination of land and animals and the domination of women and people of color. The connection seems so obvious once one really examines the evidence.
What I saw when looking at the images I linked to was a similar wanton dehumanization of children at the hands of adults. In this world, adults have total control and power over children. Children have few legal rights of their own and are wholly dependent upon the (however unqualified) adults to whom they were born. Childhood is not the same as race or gender as a unit of analysis but there are certain similarities that it would be irresponsible to overlook. The sheer violence of these signs was horrific. Imagine if it said "unattended women will be sold as slaves" or "unattended black men will be placed on hooks and tortured" or "unattended women will be served as sausage" or "placed in dumpsters."
Stand back and think about that. It is pretty horrific. Why is it even remotely acceptable or funny for that matter, to say these sorts of things even as jokes. (Yes, I get that they are intended to be jokes, please do not comment on how humorless I am.) When you imagine a class of people that are legally dependent and unable to defend themselves because of age and ability, being symbolically violated in this way, it really is not remotely funny. The sign below reminded me of the Hustler Magazine cover that I wrote about for one of my undergrad media studies courses. The image of the obvious female form being pulverized in a meat grinder is perhaps one of the more horrific examples of mass media's symbolic annihilation of women.
In case I have not made my point well enough, I will provide this quote from I Blame the Patriarchy. I think she says it quite well:
"I have stated on numerous occasions (following the materialization in my personal sphere of a pair of nieces), children are an oppressed class. Their universal and legitimately reviled unruliness is not natural. It is a product of neurosis generated by patriarchy’s two main replicatory units: the nuclear family, which directly supports male dominance, and the single mother household, which indirectly supports male dominance a) by acting as an underclass dependent for its survival on paternalism and b) by incubating a ready supply of disadvantaged candidates for membership in the all-important working and military classes."

Friday, September 25, 2009

I Hope They Serve Karma in Hell

I have been meaning to blog about Tucker Max and I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell for quite awhile but every time I try to put pen to paper I am too overwhelmed and horrified to continue. What can I say about someone whose hatred of women and disabled people is so acute and obvious? All I can do is shake my head and mutter about how this proves the need for feminist activism.

After contemplating some quasi-legal anti-IHTSBIH actions, I decided to start a Facebook page with lots of links and information for people who are unfamiliar with the film. I hope we can educate without having to ever pay money to see this film or encouraging anyone else to do so. This film should come with a serious trigger warning. Since it does not, I offer my own for all of the links and videos on my Facebook page and here.

The Facebook page is currently by invite only so feel free to request an invitation if you would like to be a part of this small feminist action.

Here is a link to the trailer from Shakesville.
Here is the Gawker movie review.
There has been some controversy about the I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell ads on CTA buses with slogans like "Deaf girls can't hear you coming" and "Blind girls can't see you coming."
And here is a little culture jamming because we are not without agency here.

So you don't have to subject yourself to the book, blog or movie, here are some of the most telling quotes from Max
On women:
- “She may be a vacuous slut with no taste, but at least she’s not a stripper.”
- “I’d rather mainline Drano than listen to another minute of your whore prattle.”
- “Your gender is hardwired for whoredom.”
- “I don’t like her because she’s a negative fucking bitch, not because she has tits.”
- “Fat girls aren’t real people.”
- “Cum dumpsters.”

On fun:
- “Ready to get shit-faced and grab some titty!?”
- “We can’t all go after the girl with low self-esteem.”

On what women are good for, beyond fucking:
- “I will gut you and grind you into pig fodder.”
- “Get away from me or I’m going to carve a fuck hole in your torso.”
- “I want to shoot every one of these bitches.”
- “The only way I can cut you deep is with a battle axe and a running start.”
- “Rape’s not funny, but murder can be.”

Thursday, September 17, 2009

According to Jim His Wife is His Property

Insomnia is a rotten thing but it did grant me the opportunity to watch a ridiculous show that I otherwise would never have seen. According to Jim is an ABC sitcom that has evidently been on the air for over 8 years. As sitcoms go, it seems pretty typical and unremarkable but the episode that I caught from the first season entitled "Blow Up" seemed a little too familiar for comfort. I realized about halfway through the episode that it was an almost exact copy of the storyline from an episode of Roseanne that aired almost ten years earlier. There were a few little changes to the storyline that made a huge difference in the representation of gender roles.

I think that this summary from Wikipedia really explains the feel of the show pretty well:
"Jim and Cheryl are the perfect middle class American couple. Happily married, living in a suburban house with two adorable (but loud) little girls and a baby boy, they really can't complain much about life – except for those couple fights that neither one can ever let go."

"Blow Up" was about the way that Jim and Cheryl chose to celebrate Valentine's Day. Jim got Cheryl a car safety kit (ever the practical thinker) and Cheryl, at the pushing of her sister, decided to get a sexy photo taken. The fight in this episode (I am going to assume there is one in every episode, as I said, this is not a remarkable sitcom) happened when Jim decided to show his friends, coworkers, and the Kinkos employees the intimate picture, thus humiliating his wife. She tried to explain her humiliation and he just didn't understand. The episode ended hilariously with Jim begging Cheryl to take down the giant portrait of herself that was in the shop window where she had the picture taken. Now that she wanted to show off her body on her own terms he get extremely possessive, even getting down on one knee to beg her to take it down. The show ends with Jim presenting Cheryl with a hilarious sexy portrait of his own.

Before I go into an analysis of why this show was sexist and awful, I'd like to share the synopsis for an episode of Roseanne entitled "It Was 20 Years Ago Today" from season 5. In this episode, Roseanne, at the pushing of her sister, decided to take a sexy photo for Dan for their anniversary. He decides to alter her wedding ring to include all of their childrens' birthstones without telling her. Hilarity ensues as she goes on a mad search for her ring and tries to keep the picture a secret. In the photo shoot, she is shy and embarrassed but realizes that Dan loves her and loves looking at her so she gains the confidence to take the pictures. In the end Dan loves the picture and respectfully keeps it between the two of them. The show ends with a montage of images of Dan's own sexy pictures.

I don't think I need to tell you why I was reminded of this episode of Roseanne after watching According to Jim. What I do want to share is the remarkable difference that a few subtle changes can make in a storyline like this one. The According to Jim episode was about betrayal and objectification. Jim decided that since his wife is his property, there is really no harm in sharing her sexualized body with everyone he knows. He really didn't think that there was one thing wrong with that. When Cheryl expressed her betrayal and feelings of violation, it was all set up for laughs. Because it is hilarious when a woman is stripped of her autonomy and is exposed in a provocative way AGAINST HER WILL. She makes Jim promise not to show the image to anyone else and all is well. Until her brother spots the picture of her blown up and hanging in a window display at the photographer's studio. Cheryl's body is presented in these scenes as being the property first of her brother who hangs his coat over the picture for the entire scene and then of her husband who throws a temper tantrum on the street begging Cheryl to take the picture down. In this scene, Cheryl decides that she kind of likes the picture being out and gains a certain confidence from knowing that other women were inspired by her (that could be another post in and of its self). The only indication of Cheryl owning her own body is undermined by Jim's demand that the picture be removed. Cheryl "teaches him a lesson" by telling him that this is exactly how she felt when he was showing the picture off to their friends. Of course, it is not the same thing because the picture is still one of her.

In the Roseanne episode, the sexy photo is an opportunity for Roseanne to explore her sexuality and to be intimate with her husband. The image is not the focus of the episode, the relationships between Dan and Roseanne and Roseanne and her body are the focus of the episode. There is not one second in this episode in which Roseanne is not in control of her own body or her own sexuality and as pathetic as it might be, that is a pretty remarkable thing to see on broadcast television. Dan and Roseanne, like Jim and Cheryl, have three children, have been married for awhile, and their trials and tribulations are the focus of the episodes. Dan and Roseanne had a fight in "It Was 20 Years Ago Today" and the arc of the stories were really almost identical. Yet those subtle differences go a long way to make a show either a piece of misogynist tripe or a story informed by feminist ideals. (It might also be notable that the Roseanne episode was written by a woman while the According to Jim episode was written and directed by two men.)

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Writer's Block

I have been trying to decide what to write about here for days. I have this amazing space to write about all of the things that amuse, frustrate and interest me and I am sad that I use it so little. Perhaps I have a case of writer's block.

To get back into the swing of it I will write about what has been going on with me. I finished my thesis and defended it on August 18. My defense went very well and I graduated with distinction. I am considering looking for a publisher. A book about Kurt Cobain would be popular what with the new film in the works. It ended up being 84 pages only because I cut out about half of the analysis I had hoped to include. Only trouble is that I have no idea how to find a publisher or self publish or acquire permission to use images or copyrights. Any advice would be welcomed!

Now I am all graduated and looking for full time work. Couldn't be a worse time to be looking for work. I guess I'll be a barista for awhile longer... a very well educated barista.

Here is a list of things I have been thinking about and will probably blog about soon:
-Tucker Max
-Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons
-Confessions of a Shopaholic (book and film)

Friday, August 21, 2009

"The Terrible Bargain"

A few days ago I read Melissa McEwan's piece "The Terrible Bargain We Have Regretfully Struck" over at Shakesville. Like many other readers, this piece struck a chord with me. As I read, I thought about all of the relationships I have had with the men in my life and the ways in which I let things slide or bite my tongue to keep the peace. Those who know me will probably find it unbelievable that I ever bite my tongue, but believe me, if I said it all, I doubt I'd have ever kept a job for more than a week.

At any rate, I recalled an incident about nine months ago with a former co-worker. Lets call co-worker "Tom." Tom seemed nice enough when we first met and we immediately had a flirty little banter going. After a few shifts together, Tom and I got to talking about ourselves and I shared with him that I am a Women's Studies graduate student and an active feminist advocate. This was when our friendly banter turned sour. Tom constantly made terrible, offensive sexist jokes, thinking that I'd find them adorable. He turned everything into some sort of sexist comment just to see what I'd do. When I confronted him, saying it wasn't funny and that it was really offensive, he did the old "you have no sense of humor" schtick.

Alas, working with him became a tiresome chore for me and some of his jokes made me angry for days. I eventually transferred to another location in part to get away from him. After that he texted me a several times to tell me another of his hilarious jokes. I am hoping that my non-responsiveness will give him a hint, since being blunt did not.

As I think about that exchange I think about the endless instances of sexism that we all swallow every day because we want to keep the peace and we want a reprieve. Of course, this is not peace, this is a silent and subtle war to remind women of our place as second class citizens.

Then I get to thinking of my male relatives, including my father, who say some of the most ignorant things I have ever heard and, again, I bite my tongue because when I don't the consequences are devastating.

Men are allowed the easy comfort of their unexamined privilege, but my regard will always be shot through with a steely, anxious bolt of caution.

Then I think about whenever a man at work is really friendly and I thoroughly enjoy our conversation and then he ends it by calling me "little girl." Every time a situation like this arises, I am reminded, like Melissa, of the male privilege that we are all constantly swimming in.

In one of my undergraduate Africology courses, I had developed a wonderful relationship with my professor who was one of the smartest and most compassionate men I had ever met. I shared my undergrad thesis with this man and graciously accepted his comments and criticisms of my writing. And then one day in class he said that in 1865 following the passage of the 15th amendment, "African Americans were granted the right to vote." It felt like I had been slapped in the face, so stunned was I to hear this man whom I had trusted and respected erase the history of black women in America in one sentence.

I hope those men will hear me when I say, again, I do not hate you. I mistrust you. You can tell yourselves that's a problem with me, some inherent flaw, some evidence that I am fucked up and broken and weird; you can choose to believe that the women in your lives are nothing like me.
Or you can be vigilant, can make yourselves trustworthy. Every day.

Like Melissa, it pains me when men call me a feminazi or say that I clearly hate men. I don't hate men. I just don't trust them. Or rather, it takes a lot longer for me to trust them and even then, instances like these put me on the defensive. When I was younger I would say that I hate men after reading Andrea Dworkin's texts or listening to groups of friends tell of their sexual assaults or watching Law and Order SVU. It took me a long time to realize that it wasn't all men and that men swim in the same water of patriarchy and male privilege as the rest of us.

But I hope that they will heed our call to make themselves trustworthy, to examine their privilege and to listen when we say "that is offensive" or "that is painful" or "that is sexist!"

Friday, July 3, 2009


To all of my readers, and I know there are still some out there even though it seems I have fallen off the face of the blogsphere. I assure you, I am here reading Shakesville everyday!

I am very nearly done with graduate school! I finished all of my coursework and even walked in the graduation ceremony. Now I just have to finish that pesky thesis.

So for anyone interested, I am going to post some of my research questions. I'd LOVE to know what people think. My defense is going to be August 12 or 13. After that, you can expect a lot more posts! I promise.

In my research, I pose the question of whether Cobain can be considered a queer subject. In what ways did he perform masculinity and whiteness and why did he portray that particular celebrity image? Did critics and fans understand him to be challenging hegemonic gender norms? How did Cobain’s bodily subjectivity inform his art? Was Cobain’s celebrity a form of resistance and if so how?

Much of the critical work on Cobain’s oeuvre is framed in terms of his authenticity. What is meant by ‘authenticity’ in this context and why are music critics so concerned with this concept? Is Cobain’s music ‘authentic?’ Is this a useful way of understanding his life and work? What is the primary narrative surrounding Kurt Cobain’s life and work and why is that the dominant discourse? Who authors this narrative and what stakes do they have in maintaining a particular image of Cobain?

Finally, I think that it is important to consider Cobain’s feminist attitudes, his interrogation of hegemonic gender, whether he ought even to be considered a feminist under certain theoretical traditions. This question has not been asked in much of the academic and critical work on Kurt Cobain’s celebrity.

So that is what I have been doing.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

A Few Problematic Products

I am in the market for a new digital camera (not that I can afford it since soon I will be + an MA and - a job, but nonetheless, I've never had one and I've always wanted one). Anyway, I have my eye on a nice purple Nikon so when I came across this on Gizmodo, it caught my attention. Who knew that a camera (much less one whose company is headquartered in Japan) could be so "racially insensitive" or as I'd prefer to say, racist. The varied nature of eye shape seems like the kind of thing you would take into consideration when developing technology to eliminate photos of people blinking.

In other product news, I came across this new "candy bar for women." Another subtle way that women are reminded that their personal value and worth comes from how little space they take up. If the candy bar is for women and it is marketed as being low calorie then it speaks volumes about the ways in which women are taught to think about themselves and other people are taught to think about women. And that is not even to mention the 'creepy' sexual inuendo in the advertising.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Whats Wrong With Twitter?

I came across this New York Times op-ed piece by Maureen Dowd and I just had to say a few things about it.

First, I just hate how techno-phobic some people are. New social networking/blogging sites are an excellent way to empower people who otherwise wouldn't have the chance to make their voices heard. We don't all get our 'annoying' musings published by The New York Times, Ms. Dowd. I am sure that, mostly, that is for the best. Still, I love how equalizing the Internet can be if only because it is so easy to access.

Second, even if Twitter is "a toy for bored celebrities and high-school girls," can you please tell me what is wrong with that? I think that giving high-school girls the opportunity to speak to each other and to speak back to media is fabulous. The everyday minutia of girls' lives is forever being trivialized and if Twitter provides another space for girls (and everyone else) to communicate and to articulate their interests and desires then please, please tell me what is so awful about that.

Third, why on earth do you care that people use Twitter to grieve?
"I heard about a woman who tweeted her father’s funeral. Whatever happened to private pain?" Whatever happened to letting people grieve in the way that is most productive for them?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Pee-wee's Playhouse as a Queer Text

I used to watch Pee-wee's Playhouse all the time as a child but I was recently re-introduced to it as an adult and I am totally loving it. Why aren't there more queer, or at least ambiguous, children's television shows available? As a child I never read Pee-wee as anything other than a childlike man in an imaginary world with kooky characters. As an adult I see the queer subtext all over. Whether it be the overdone caricature of femininity that Miss Yvonne performed or the almost maternal male femininity performed by Pee-wee, both provided a critique of hegemonic gender by presenting a parody of it. I know a lot of readers of this blog are children of the 1980s and wonder what you all think?

Also, has anyone heard that Pee-wee's Playhouse is going to be made into a movie to come out in 2011?