Tag Archives: feminism

The Rape of Sookie Stackhouse (Redux)

5 Sep

This post was originally published at Orange the Brave.

Trigger warning for descriptions of fictional rape.  Spoiler warning… for spoilers.

A portrait of Anna Paquin; text reads "What will become of me?"

via perezhilton.com

A few days ago, Eld and I had a Tumblr exchange about bad books we feel compelled to finish, even though they’re bad, which was precipitated by my stating that I found the most recent installment in the Sookie Stackhouse series of novels by Charlaine Harris to be unforgivably awful.  The book, Dead Reckoning, had no discernible plot, completely dropped the ball on what should have been a HUGE DEAL, and it just felt like it was unenthusiastic about slogging through yet another formula Southern Vampire book (it would be unfair to call it a mystery – there was little to no sleuthing).  This is how the books work: Sookie cleans her house, Sookie finds out there are even more supernatural creatures that we didn’t know about (seriously, as the books progress, it gets kind of ridiculous – vampires, shapeshifters, werewolves, werepanthers, fairies, demons, maenads, men who are not rapists – just kidding!  all men are rapists in the Sookie Stackhouse novels!), Sookie has violent sex after which she is obligated to ice her pussy, horribly gruesome violence porn in which at least ten minor characters are slaughtered and/or dismembered, the end.

And I can say “the end” because I finished reading it.  I finished reading it, even though it was horrible.  I finished reading all of them, even though they were horrible (though not so horrible as the latest one).  Part of the reason is that I have this sick compulsion to finish reading terrible books, and I am in fact more likely to finish a terrible book than I am to finish one that I’m legitimately enjoying (I mean, I finish the vast majority of books I read, but I can think of a few occasions where I put a good book down and just never picked it up again, and zero occasions in which I’ve put a bad book down).  And another reason that I’m hooked on these books is that I just cannot believe some of the horseshit that goes down in them.

A while ago, I had this other blog that kind of stalled out and was eventually deleted, but one of my projects there was to recap and analyze each of the Sookie Stackhouse books.  So I’m going to try to condense all of that down into one blog post about how rape-y these books are.  Because they’re super rape-y.

Unlike some feminist critics out there, I don’t have a problem with portrayals of rape.  I don’t necessarily believe that if an author writes about rape, ze is necessarily condoning it.  Vladimir Nabokov wrote about a pedophile – in the first person, no less! – and I really, really don’t think anyone would dare argue that Lolita gives child molestation the thumbs-up.  But the Sookie Stackhouse novels are not like that – not at all.  While I wouldn’t argue that they condone rape, they certainly engage in some pretty heinous rape apologism – and that’s what we’re going to delve into.

The first thing you need to know about the Sookie Stackhouse books is that the vampires are scary, and they have fangs (unlike some other vampire fiction we know).  They are ruthless, untrustworthy, passionate, and they fuck.  In fact, it’s observed many times throughout the course of the novels that blood and sex are deeply intertwined, and that for vampires, one rarely comes without the other.

The second thing you need to know… is a brief plot synopsis.  In the world of the Southern Vampire Mysteries, vampires have “come out of the coffin” after the invention of synthetic blood – which obviously means that they don’t need to prey on humans to sustain “life” (they don’t need to, which doesn’t mean that they don’t).  The first novel,Dead Until Dark, is set in the fictional Bon Temps, Louisiana, two years after vampires have made their existence known to the world.  This is where we meet Sookie Stackhouse, a waitress and telepath, who gets all gooey in the groin over the first vampire she meets.  His name is Bill Compton, and he just happens to live in the house across the cemetery.  AND THIS IS WHERE ALL OF THE TROUBLE BEGINS.

Right out of the gate it’s established that in these books, rape and sexual assault are the weapons of choice.  Whether she’s forced to watch sex acts against her will (on page 57, we’re introduced to a group of vampires considerably more frightening than Bill, and the way that threat is established is through a lot of heavy petting and one of them receiving fellatio while Sookie, too frightened to run away, watches), or the local detective is trying to bait her telepathy by imagining her fucking her brother (Dead Until Dark, 104), it seems that the best way to scare Sookie is to put her into extremely uncomfortable sexual situations.

And because it wouldn’t be good, trashy genre fiction without it, “forced seduction” and the threat thereof plays a large role in the steamy scenes as well.  Take, for example, this scene which occurs on page 101 in Dead Until Dark:

Oh boy, could he kiss.  We might have problems communicating on some levels, but this wasn’t one of them.  We had a great time for maybe five minutes.  I felt all the right things moving through my body in waves.  Despite the awkwardness of being in the front seat of a car, I managed to be comfortable, mostly because he was so strong and considerate.  I nipped his skin with my teeth.  He made a sound like a growl.

“Sookie!”  His voice was ragged.

I moved away from him, maybe half an inch.

“If you do that anymore, I’ll have you whether you want to be had or not,” he said, and I could tell he meant it.

“You don’t want to,” I said finally, trying not to make it a question.

Okay, here is where we have to draw some lines between real life, and the conventions of fiction.  In real life, if someone told me that they’d “have” me, whether I wanted it or not, I really, really doubt I’d find it sexy (unless it was something my partner and I had previously negotiated, of course) – in fact, I’d probably be scared shitless.  In this book, and in other literature – especially romances – we don’t read this situation as a rape threat because it’s been previously established that Sookie is game, and we know she is game because she is narrating, and we know what she is thinking.  We also know that Bill and Sookie would have been humping a long time ago were it not for some strategically placed barriers, like social taboos and miscommunications (because it’s not romantic if two people meet, decide they want to fuck, and then fuck – no, no, there has to be anobstacle).  There’s been a considerable amount of research and speculation as to why we’re okay with rape in genre fiction (here is one that I like in particular, and here’s another).

But see, that isn’t the big problem.  The big problem occurs in book three, when I guess someone decided that all of those rape threats were no good unless they were actually carried out.  At the end of book three, which is called Club Dead (I know), Sookie ends up rescuing a half-starved Bill from where he’s being held captive by the vampire king of Mississippi (I KNOW), and then some bitch locks her in a trunk with him, where he rapes her.

I mean, he really rapes her.  I KNOW!!!

Thankfully, Sookie terminates the relationship after that point (though they were honestly on the rocks before that), but remains reluctant to really place any blame on Bill for what happened.  It’s argued first that Bill, starving as he was, couldn’t help it or wasn’t aware that he was even doing it.  It’s then argued that the blame lies with the woman who pushed Sookie into the trunk, and this isn’t just Sookie trying to rationalize what happened – other characters also say it’s the woman’s fault (her name is Debbie Pelt, FWIW).  It isn’t even until book five or six that Sookie even calls what happened in the trunk a “rape.”  Bill is never held accountable for his actions (except that he loses Sookie as his girlfriend), and Sookie even becomes friendly with him again after a little time has passed.

Where Harris really fails is that she puts forth a situation – Sookie’s rape – and then refuses to really deal with it.  I’d never argue that an author can’t allow hir main character to be sexually assaulted – but if you’re going to have that happen, you must treat it with the gravity it deserves.  For example, don’t have another one of your characters say this to the woman who was raped a few hours after it happened:

“Had it occurred to you,” he said, after we’d rolled out of the city’s center, “that you tend to walk away when things between you and Bill become rocky?  Not that I mind, necessarily, since I would be glad for you two to sever your association.  But if this is a pattern you follow in your romantic attachments, I want to know now.” (Club Dead, 215)

Hey Sookie – this dude just raped you, and I feel like I should probably shame you a little bit for not sticking around to work it out with him, and I also want to know if it’s your wont to run away from your rapist, in case you and I get into a relationship with one another and I rape you.  I mean, running away from your rapist – is that a pattern?

And this is typical of the way this rape is treated moving forward in the series – and it’s something I was never able to forgive Harris for.  It’s one of the reasons, I imagine, that True Blood changed this scene up so that Bill simply drank from Sookie – almost to the point of killing her – and did not rape her.  Because when you allow one of your characters to get raped, you have to deal with it – you can’t treat it like he farted in bed or forgot to bring milk home, or even like he cheated.

It’s a real shame.  While these books are certainly not masterpieces, they are fairly progressive in their cavalier attitude toward homosexuality, bisexuality, and gender expression.  It’s just too bad that all of that got ruined when Harris refused to acknowledge that she allowed one of her characters to get raped.  I guess I’ve never forgiven her for it.

And yet… I’ll be reading the next one when it comes out – you can be sure of it.  And I’ll hate it all the way through.

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PRINT SOURCES

Harris, Charlaine.  Dead Until Dark.  New York: Penguin, 2001.

Harris, Charlaine.  Club Dead.  New York: Penguin, 2003.

Addendum to Yesterday’s Post

20 Aug

Yesterday, I wrote that I have little tolerance for Christians who feel “unwelcome” in certain circles – be they writers, scientists, or academics.  I received a little pushback on Google+ from a good friend of mine, which made me think a little bit about what I wrote.

I maintain my point, but perhaps I should express it better.  Certainly, there are spaces in the U.S. where Christians might feel unwelcome.  I used to be a member of an online forum that was like that.  So religious folks might experience some condescension and asshole-ish behavior from non-religious folks, but I still don’t think that there is really anything in the U.S. that would prevent a Christian from doing what ze wants to do – whether ze wants to be a writer or an evolutionary biologist.

A panel from a rather famous comic by Gabby about discussing sexism online

via Gabby's Playhouse

Let’s make a feminism analogy – even though I said this wasn’t about feminism.  In the comic to the left, which has gotten a lot of notoriety since it was initially published at Gabby’s Playhouse (make sure you click the link to go see the whole thing – this is only one part of several), Gabby pokes some fun at the way some men tend to steal focus away from women on the internet.

You see, sometimes, dudes go into a feminist space, and sometimes they say something sexist, and then sometimes they get butthurt because they feel like everyone’s ganging up on them.  Social justice advocates and people who are versed in talking about such things might tell you that part of the reason a dude may feel shitty in a situation like that is because dudes are so used to operating in systems where their voices are privileged over everyone else’s, and so it feels uncomfortable for them to step into a space where that is not the case.

I’d argue similarly that when Christians get into spaces that aren’t Christian-dominated, they might feel a little uncomfortable.  I mean, after all, Christians make up a vast majority of the population – close to 80%.  So, the logic that many activists would use tells us that some of that belly-aching about feeling unwelcome in academia or art might be attributable to the fact that everything else in U.S. society is framed for Christians, and that discomfort is actually just the experience of things not being Christian-centric.

I recognize that that is extremely simplistic and does not account for asshole atheists.  I’m getting there.

Seriously guys – there are atheists who are assholes.  There are also Christians who are assholes, but nobody deludes themselves into thinking that just because some Christians do super asshole-y stuff that all Christians are assholes.  Are there some atheists out there who are self-righteous snobs?  Of course.  Assholes span all races, classes, and systems of belief, guys.  For serious.  THEY’RE EVERYWHERE.

But when we are talking about actual persecution and oppression, assholes have nothing to do with it.  Well, they often have something to do with it, but it has more to do with who holds power in a larger system.  So maybe a dude wanders into a feminist space and feels persecuted there (we don’t need to get into the reasons why – maybe he’s just being a baby, or maybe the ladies are actually being super mean to him) – that does not change the fact that we live in a society that systematically oppresses women.  And I’m not kidding – there are men out there* who really believe that just because some feminists have been mean to them, that men are an actual oppressed group in the U.S. (never mind the fact that women still tend to make roughly 25% less than men do when performing the same job, and never mind that most film, television, and literature is male-centric, and never mind… oh, whatever).

We also live in a society where atheists almost never achieve public office, where our currency says “God” on it, and where our president mentions “non-believers” in his inaugural speech, and Fox News throws a shit-fit about it.  Our federal holidays not only celebrate significant dates in American history, but also Christian holidays.  Our work week is designed to accommodate Christians.  I think I can pretty confidently say no one is oppressing a Christian in the United States based on hir religion.

Whether some people are mean to Christians… well, that’s a completely different discussion.  Maybe if all non-Christians made an agreement to not be assholes for a day, we could help disentangle the oppressors from the jerks.

[Image Source]

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*This is not to say that there isn’t a place for men’s activism and that Men’s Rights groups have absolutely no grounds for their movements.  But when you encourage people to play “Feminazi Monopoly,” you have to wonder what the motivation is here – is it actually dealing with real issues that really affect men, or is it pushback against women’s rights movements?  You tell me.

Links: Zombie Feminism Edition

10 Aug

So!  Welcome to another weekly thing I decided I’m going to do!  I read a lot of blogs, and I bookmark some of the articles I consider noteworthy on Delicious, so you can always check out that stuff.  But then I decided I can do more, and even further highlight a couple of the truly awesome things in a blog post.

Now, I generally don’t really read links roundups when I’m going through my Google Reader, so that’s why I’m only going to pick a few of them, and they are going to be accompanied by summaries and block quotes and awesome things like that.  Because I went to the trouble of reading them!!!  FOR YOU!!!!

Okay, without further ado…

Flavia Dzodan for Tiger Beatdown: Al Jazeera shocked because female politicians in Latin America do not identify as feminists. Here’s some context

First of all, Flavia Dzodan is someone you should pay attention to, regardless of what she writes.  In the feminist blogosphere, there isn’t exactly a dearth of young, white, middle class women getting their say (I am two out of three of those things!).  I will never forget the first time I read about womanism, and had to face the hard truth that feminism probably feels so amazing to me because of the privileges I have.  Flavia is originally from South America and her perspective is, sadly, pretty rare.

Second, she’s a fantastic writer, she’s really nice, and I admire the crap out of her.

This article does a really fantastic job of explaining why feminism can be exclusionary.  It’s thoughtful and measured and reasonable, and it’s well worth a read if you’ve ever wondered why all of the famous feminists you know are white USian women.  From the piece:

In Latin America, or at least in many parts of Latin America, feminism is a very disliked topic and, not for the reasons people might believe. It is not frowned upon because of machismo (ah yes, a word so many love to throw around uncritically when referring to Latin America) or because “Latinas are tools of the patriarchy“, but because feminism, at least the Western conception of feminism, is perceived by many, as inherently oppressive of minorities. Many Western feminists have gone to Latin America and have attempted to narrate Latin America’s history and realities with a lens that didn’t take into account the many vectors of violence affecting local women. Indigenous women, mestizas, women from rural areas, migrant women, etc, etc, all have been subject to gender violence that is pretty unique to our continent and when reading this violence, the Western feminist paradigm of non intersectional gender oppression does not necessarily apply.

Read the rest of this article here.

Hugo Schwyzer for The Good Men Project: Men and the Sexualization of Young Girls

Okay, this is a piece from several months ago, but the Good Men Project is a recent discovery of mine, and I love it.  Now, I experience a little anxiety surrounding the tendency to pat men on the back for agreeing with some of the main tenets of feminism (I, and others too, worry that this shifts focus off women – and feminism is about women, after all), but it’s also just so friggin’ awesome when dudes don’t say shitty shit.  Because dudes say shitty shit sometimes – shitty shit that makes you want to stop being their friend.  Shitty shit about how women are culpable in their own rapes if they were stupid enough to go out in public dressed like a slut.  Shitty shit like that.

So I’ll indulge myself in feelings of hallelujah when I read stuff like this:

More and more experts recognize that “princess culture” does great harm to girls. I don’t know how many GMPM readers also read Redbook, but it’s worth checking out this story: “Little Girls Gone Wild: Why Daughters Are Acting Too Sexy, Too Soon.” In it, Peggy Orenstein (the author of the new and important Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture), makes the case that a lot of the prematurely sexy behavior and dress we’ve all noticed is actually rooted in something we think is very innocent: the world of princesses.

Yeah, all of that stuff about “shitty shit” was kind of silly and tongue-in-cheek, because the real fact of the matter is that I don’t think I’ve ever read anything as concise and clear on sexualization and objectification than this article.  It’s well worth a read here.

Terrence Rafferty for NYTimes.com: The State of Zombie Literature: An Autopsy

I like books and I like zombies, and I like the way smart people like Rafferty link trends in horror (or any other genre fiction) to the anxiety du jour.  This is an excellent article in that respect.

In the case of zombie fiction, you have to wonder whether our 21st-century fascination with these hungry hordes has something to do with a general anxiety, particularly in the West, about the planet’s dwindling resources: a sense that there are too many people out there, with too many urgent needs, and that eventually these encroaching masses, dimly understood but somehow ominous in their collective appetites, will simply consume us. At this awful, pinched moment of history we look into the future and see a tsunami of want bearing down on us, darkening the sky. The zombie is clearly the right monster for this glum mood, but it’s a little disturbing to think that these nonhuman creatures, with their slack, gaping maws, might be serving as metaphors for actual people — undocumented immigrants, say, or the entire populations of developing nations — whose only offense, in most cases, is that their mouths and bellies demand to be filled.

Yeah, this kind of critical analysis turns my crank.  Read the full story here.

Be sure to leave your links to noteworthy articles (and also to stuff you’ve written) in the comments!

That Pesky Milk Board

6 Aug

I mentioned earlier this week at the end of a post that the Everything I Do Is Wrong campaign – remember, the one targeted toward guys that encouraged them to force-feed their girlfriends dairy products to quell the tides of period-related mondo bitch-ism – has been… replaced.  It’s been replaced by a new website, which is called “Got Discussion?” and does that typical non-apology thing where it says that while some people were offended by the ad campaign, other people thought it was hilarious.

The funny thing about this new “Got Discussion?” bullshit is that it spins the controversy in such a way that it makes the milk people kind of look like the facilitators of an important dialogue.  Scroll down on the page, and you’ll find a bunch of quotes from various media sources, which also makes it look like the Milk Board gave us some food for thought, rather than propagated a totally sexist ad campaign.  I mean, the quote it pulled from Jezebel goes like this:

Telling men they’re victims of PMS sure is an interesting way to sell milk.

Yeah.  If a visitor to gotdiscussion.org bothered to click through and read the piece that this quote was mined from, they’d also see this:

The same people that brought you “Got milk?” are now trying to sell milk to men by telling them that it’s linked, loosely, to alleviating PMS. According to The New York Times, “To make it seem as if the campaign is offering a public service to the men affected by PMS, the Web site’s address ends with “dot-org” rather than “dot-com.”

So clearly, calling the campaign “interesting” was thinly veiled sarcasm, as the piece actually goes on to accuse the campaign of being misleading, manipulative, and, of course, sexist.  But you know… out of context, it looks like Jezebel – arguably the most popular feminist website on the internet – was intrigued by Everything I Do Is Wrong.

In a nutshell, those milk fools are assholes.

Well!  I was feeling like I needed a laugh this morning, and so I decided to watch some Target Women (omg, I miss Target Women, y’all).  And I came across this one, which reminded me that the Milk Board has made this same claim before:

Now, this is less blatantly offensive than Everything I Do Is Wrong – mostly because it is talking to women about managing their own periods, rather than to guys about managing their girlfriends’ periods for them – but it’s still kind of fucked up.  The implication of the ad, as Sarah Haskins puts it (at about 3:00), is, “Milk will […] bring sunshine to a land devastated by your period tears.”

Fuck you, dairy.

I Heart Tiger Beatdown. I Hate Your Hashtag.

2 Aug

In this post, which is not a post proper, two things are going to become dreadfully clear to you, dear reader.  First, you will learn that Twitter and I?  We are not good friends.  It’s not that I have a problem with Twitter – we just don’t understand each other.  I was going to link to a post on Tits and Sass where a writer says she pities people who don’t get Twitter, but then I remembered that it was this piece, which is horribly disableist, and I don’t want to open that can of worms right now (hint – if you want an A+ example of the way disability is often cast as a punishment, click that link – dare ya).

The other thing that will become clear to you is that I have a lady crush on Sady Doyle.  Sometimes, it’s an unpopular opinion.  Sometimes, I get mad at Sady, too.  But sometimes – okay, most of the time – she tickles me fucking pink.  Today, I am positively rosy.

Over the weekend, says Sady, there was a trending topic on Twitter (if you’re Twitter-pated – HA! – like I am, trending topics have to do with hashtags, which are those things that start with the pound symbol, which is this: #) that was all HAHA about violence towards women.  I don’t know – maybe I’ve grown too “politically correct” (I’m totally air-quoting right now) in my old age, but this trend toward ironic offensiveness doesn’t really tickle my funny bone.  Like, ooh, it’s so edgy to spew hateful, racist, sexist shit – we don’t actually mean it or anything!  Come on!  What, do you have sand in your vagina?  Get that sand out of your vagina, lady!  Drink some milk* to manage that PMS, for fuck’s sake, amirite????

So this trending topic happened, and I was oblivious to it, because Twitter for me is more of a chore than a fun exercise in internet funness, so I’ll trust Sady with it, especially given her smashing work on #mooreandme.  And also because she makes me laugh.  Case in point:

Ladies! Are you single? Don’t be silly, of course you are. Why else are you reading the Internet, and not lying in a field of wildflowers, gently running your fingers through your man’s hair? (Yes, he would be a man. Yes, he would be, SHUT UP.) Well, ladies, before the loneliness consumes your very entrails and leaves you a bitter shell (a gradual, medically documented process that I must warn you has probably already set in, what with you reading the feminist blogs and all) I would like to extend a helping hand to you. For, you see, I have read on numerous occasions, in numerous publications for the womenfolk, that people are actually meeting their sex partners and/or reasons to live… on the very Internet itself!

Oh, Sady Doyle.  You are an amazing lady.

Basically, what happened is that a bunch of dudes got on Twitter, and thought it was fucking HILARIOUS to tweet “good” reasons to beat your girlfriend.

COOL!

And because Sady is so often my hero, she gives us a rundown of what happened by framing it as a dating service for lonely ladies reading feminism on the internet.

This was an awfully long post for what I was really trying to accomplish – I really just want you to go read Sady’s piece.

[Image Source]

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*I was going to link you to the Everything I Do Is Wrong campaign, but the folks over at Got Milk? realized that they fucked up, and now are trying to facilitate discussions about why they’re misogynists or some shit.  They’re calling this campaign, “Got Discussion?” which is just lazy, in my opinion.

They’ll Use Violence to Sell You Ideologies, Too

1 Aug

So here I am, happily reading the Ms. Magazine Blog like a good feminist, when I come across this article called “Balancing the Budget on the Backs of Women” by Susan F. Feiner, and it’s got this fantastic picture of John Boehner up at the top, and I’m like, yeah Washington – what the hell is wrong with you guys?

Until I read this:

Watch out, women.  Lock the doors and pull the shades.  Congress, using the debt ceiling crisis manufactured by Tea Party radicals, has declared war on American women.

And I’m like… huh.  That’s kind of weird.  And then it gets weirder:

The looming possibility of the first-ever U.S. government default – a “crisis” that was deliberately created by the Republicans – has morphed into a bipartisan carte blanche to commit gender violence.

Look, I know that it’s common practice for activists to appropriate violent rhetoric to impress upon the public how serious their respective issues are.  This is not a new phenomenon.  However, it’s somewhat of a different story when we’re talking about “an assault on the environment” (for example), because that’s figurative – that statement personifies “the environment” and makes it something capable of being assaulted.  When you’re talking about figurative “gender violence” – well, that’s something that really happens.  This is a much, much different dynamic.

Furthermore, the fear-mongering tactic used in the first quote I pulled is the same advertising ploy used to get women to buy home security systems, as demonstrated (hilariously) by Sarah Haskins on Current TV’s Target Women:

Fear is an effective advertising tactic, but it’s especially effective – and insidious – when used against women.  Consider the following LifeAlert ad from 1988:

Is it any coincidence that the seniors in the commercial are women?  Of course not.  According to G. Sakeld, et al (2000) in their study examining quality of life and hip injuries in older Americans, “[O]lder women place a very high marginal value on their health. […] The single most important factor (threat) seems to be the loss of independence, dignity, and possessions that accompanies the move from living in their own homes to living in a nursing home.”  Not only is that LifeAlert commercial tapping into older women’s fear of falling and breaking a hip, but also into the fear of losing their independence.  And because LifeAlert wants to continue to sell those little remotes, it continues to use women in its advertisements.

So why is Feiner employing this violent rhetoric to make her point?  If it’s meant to be parody, it falls kind of flat for me.  More likely, Ms. Feiner is using violent rhetoric to frighten and intimidate women into caring about the U.S. credit crisis.  But like, that actually happens.  In real life and stuff.  The National Organization for Women states that “women experience about 4.8 million intimate partner-related physical assaults and rapes every year.”

This is more than a rhetorical flourish – this is the intentional utilization of legitimate fears that women have been taught to internalize over years of socialization to trick them into buying into an ideology.  It is little different from what Broadview Security and LifeAlert do.

I think you can do better, Ms.

Your Daily Sexism Digest: For God’s Sake, GET MILK!!!!!

14 Jul

And I thought PETA was bad…

According to this NPR article by Scott Hensley, the folks responsible for the Got Milk? campaign (which was often super sexist, by the way) are at it again, and are promoting force-feeding your girlfriend milk and dairy products so she won’t be such an intolerable harpy bitch when she’s on her period.

The ad campaign’s website (“cleverly” titled everythingidoiswrong.org) is geared toward “humorously” teaching men how to predict and deal with the raging bitch ladies in their lives, and includes such helpful information as a “Key PMS Indicators Index,” a “Sensitivity Vocabulator” (which tells you to call your PMS-ing lady “passionate” rather than “irrational”), and a fake poll that suggests that menstrual women consider milk chocolate to be a color.

I could not make this shit up if I tried.

Okay, so the NPR article was largely concerned with whether or not the campaign’s claims were true, which pissed me off until I got to the end of the piece, where Hensley says:

I did my own research in the NPR newsroom and got eye rolls and worse from all the women in I asked to look at the site. “This is so wrong,” said one female colleague. “Good lord!” another one gasped as it loaded on her screen.

Right???

I really hope I don’t need to tell you how fucking sexist and offensive this is to both women and men.  I mean… seriously.

I’m thinking I should start a website that makes some sort of far-fetched claim about something or other, and then just build it all around a weak joke about how men suck at picking up after themselves, or are big babies when they’re sick, or are too stupid to rinse a plate before leaving it in the sink to get all dry and crusty, or um… I don’t know… build sexist websites.

The Obligatory Post About Rape Culture

12 Jul

I’ll guess we’ll mark this one down on the long list of lady things that dudes hate, right after menstrual blood and paper doilies.  Rape culture is one of the things I hear a lot of pushback against as I’m tottering through my feminist life – and the resistance I hear isn’t necessarily coming from anti-feminists.  In fact, it never is, because I’m lucky enough to have a core group of supportive friends who are excellent allies.

But the rape culture thing – well, it has a hard time gelling, and I think part of that is related to the fact that there are some misconceptions about what rape culture actually is.  I rather like Wikipedia’s definition, which states that rape culture:

… is a term which originated in women’s studies and feminist theory, describing a culture in which rape and sexual violence against women are common and in which prevalent attitudes, norms, practices, and media condone, normalize, excuse, or tolerate sexual violence against women.

Taken alone, I doubt anyone would take much issue with this definition, especially given the fact that rape has kind of been all over the news in the past few months, what with legislators pushing abortion bills with no exceptions for rape, the Julian Assange media frenzy, and now the Strauss-Kahn debacle, and in past months there have been a couple of gruesome assault cases in Texas that especially highlight the problem our culture has with victim-blaming.

One of these instances sparked an uproar in March, when the New York Times reported on the gang rape of an 11-year-old girl by 18 men and boys in Cleveland, Texas.  From the article:

The case has rocked this East Texas community to its core and left many residents in the working-class neighborhood where the attack took place with unanswered questions. Among them is, if the allegations are proved, how could their young men have been drawn into such an act?

“It’s just destroyed our community,” said Sheila Harrison, 48, a hospital worker who says she knows several of the defendants. “These boys have to live with this the rest of their lives.”

Notice the framing of the issue here.  If it’s not blaming the victim, it is certainly suggesting that those who perpetrated the act were not responsible for what they did.  The article asks how they were “drawn into” raping that child, implying that the rapists were, in fact, the ones being victimized.  Furthermore, Sheila Harrison as quoted expresses her concern for the welfare of the 18 men – EIGHTEEN! – and completely ignores the fact that a child was abducted and brutally raped over and over again.

Later in the article:

Residents in the neighborhood where the abandoned trailer stands — known as the Quarters — said the victim had been visiting various friends there for months. They said she dressed older than her age, wearing makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s. She would hang out with teenage boys at a playground, some said.

“Where was her mother? What was her mother thinking?” said Ms. Harrison, one of a handful of neighbors who would speak on the record. “How can you have an 11-year-old child missing down in the Quarters?”

Here is a prime example of victim-blaming behavior.  The mere mention that this child was hanging out in a dangerous place, was dressing older than her age, and was fraternizing with teenage boys suggests that by engaging in these behaviors, this girl was at least somewhat responsible for what happened to her – and as a reminder, this was an 11-year-old child who was gang raped by 18 men.  Harrison, the same woman quoted above, also suggests that the girl’s mother might be to blame.

This is an argument used all the time – and I’m really not sure if people really and truly understand how fucked up it is.  So many of us might look at a situation like that and think, this is something that could have been prevented.  If only she’d been more careful; if only her mother had been paying more attention.  I’ve seen the analogy made that if a guy doesn’t want his wallet stolen, he shouldn’t walk through a shitty neighborhood fanning himself with his cash.  This does not change the fact that mugging someone is illegal – it’s just as illegal if someone steals your cash while you’re waving it around as it would be if you were clutching it for dear life.  Rape is rape, regardless of where the victim is hanging out, what zie is wearing, and with whom zie associates.

Let’s reiterate what we just read, shall we?  This was an article from the New York Times reporting on the gang rape of an 11-year-old child.  It is suggested by the author of the piece – not by the woman quoted – that the perpetrators were “drawn into” raping this girl, and that the victim was behaving in a way that essentially tells us that she was asking for it – or at least that we shouldn’t be surprised or horrified that something like this happened.  This was not a simple case of a reporter telling it like it is – if this were truly an unbiased article, these sentiments would have come with an attribution.  So either this was a case of seriously sloppy reporting, or a journalist – who is supposed to be unbiased – inserted his own insidious opinion that, somehow, this child brought what happened to her upon herself.

And the sad thing about that is that I doubt he even realized what he was doing.

In another case (highlighted today on Sociological Images), a cheerleader raped by football player in Silsbee, Texas had her entire town turning against her, even though the evidence couldn’t have been more clear that she was raped.  And yet, she was ostracized, and kicked off her cheerleading squad when she refused to cheer for her rapist.  The article on Sociological Images highlights another example of biased media coverage of rape cases:

The local paper, The Silsbee Bee, favorably covered the accused, even publishing an article titled, “Sexual Assault Prosecutions Cost County Nearly $20,000.” It was hard to miss the implication that this was money ill spent.

To anyone who doubts the rape culture, this is what it is.  It’s not some militant feminist theory that seeks to turn men into second-class citizens.  It’s the real, documented culture in which we don’t even think twice about making excuses for rapists, or blaming a victim for what happened to hir, or coming up with any excuse whatsoever to not hold a rapist accountable for hir crime.

[Image Source]

More 60s Nostalgia Planned for Fall Network Lineup

6 Jul
I stopped reading the New York Times online when they implemented their subscription policy (another story for another day), so it’s no wonder that I missed this article, which claims that the networks are striving for “fresh” this coming fall.  What really caught my attention when I was reading was just a brief mention of “Pan Am,” a show planned for ABC’s fall lineup about, what else?–Pan Am airlines.

From the accompanying graphic featuring stewardesses in white gloves and pillbox hats, it should be obvious that the creators of “Pan Am” have observed the success of AMC’s “Mad Men” and are seeking to capitalize on the 60s nostalgia that made the show about the golden age of advertising a hit.

I’m not much of a television person, and I don’t watch “Mad Men” (though I have been informed that I ought to make a point of doing so – we’ll put it on my to do list).  However, I am vaguely aware of the fact that the show deals intimately with high-power “boys’ clubs,” smoking, highball glasses, fantastic costuming and hairstyles, and pretty people.  Sounds like a good time to me, and to the like, thirty or forty people who watch it.

Even though I don’t watch “Mad Men,” I can imagine that it makes for interesting television.  The early 1960s were a pretty fascinating time in American history, if one is interested in social trends.  After ten years of “I like Ike” and the nation’s “return to normalcy” following World War II, the early 60s existed in a state of tension and identity crisis.  It was sandwiched right between the idyllic 50s (or seemingly idyllic) and the protest culture of the late 60s and early 70s.  With social upheaval hovering threateningly on the horizon, anything set in the early 60s is going to be dripping with dramatic irony.  The audience knows, though the characters don’t, that their worlds are going to change, even as the privileged classes cling so desperately to their rigid gender roles and their cigarettes.  If only they could have seen what was coming…

It’s because of this dynamic that I think a show like “Pan Am” has some serious potential.  Not only that, but the American sentiment for commercial airlines has been steadily decreasing for years, and I’d argue even more dramatically in the past ten.  Increased security measures, new charges for checked (and carry-on) luggage, the Kevin Smith vs. Southwest debacle, the “enhanced patdown” – I’d imagine that any show about an airline would capture our attention, especially one that would obviously be steeped in nostalgia about when flying was an event, not an agonizing, and sometimes traumatic, chore.

The promotional image featuring the snappily-dressed stewardesses indicates to me, at least, that this show is going to deal with gender.  Now, I’m all about smart television that deals with issues (and in fact, the aforementioned article also highlights another 60s nostalgia show about the Playboy empire in Chicago, which no doubt, will also deal intimately with gender and boys’ clubs), but I have to wonder if these nostalgia shows don’t allow us to make excuses?  What I mean is, I wonder if by highlighting sexism or racism in a television series that takes place 50 years ago, we feel justified in patting ourselves on the backs and saying, “Wow, they were all so sexist/racist/whatever back then!  Isn’t it great that we’re not like that now?”  In the Stuff White People Like entry on “Mad Men,” Christian Lander humorously gives the following advice to any Person of Color hosting a “Mad Men” party:

The party should essentially run itself, however, you can severely curtail the amount of fun by saying: “I’m glad this isn’t really 1960 or else I’d be serving all of you.”

White people often find truth to be very depressing at theme parties.

If, indeed, “Pan Am” intends to delve into the social issues surrounding 1960s air travel (as it seems only logical that it will do), I wonder if it will spawn a “Pan Am” theme party trend, and I wonder if any women will show up dressed as pilots?  Because it was so silly back then, that only sexy young women could be flight attendants, and that whole pilot boys’ club was ridiculous!  Aren’t you glad it’s not like that anymore?

I’m sure you know where I’m going with this (definitely NSFW).

The boys’ club is alive and well in the airline industry.  Only 6% of commercial airline pilots are women [H/T].  Do you suppose that by the time “Pan Am” premieres this fall, we will have all forgotten about this?  Will it affect the way we view the show, knowing that there is no possible way anyone could grin and say, “Thank goodness it’s not like that anymore?”  Because clearly, it’s still like that.  It’s still very much like that.

[Image Source]

Writing Female Characters: Damned If You Do

13 Jun

I have not been writing much, clearly.  I think the reason is that I’ve become a little bit fed up with feminism these days.  It happens from time to time, but this time, it’s been a bit harder to shake.  Am I still a feminist?  Absolutely.  But sometimes, I get a little weary with the in-fighting and the nit-picking.  Even the most well-intentioned parts of the internet have the tendency to devolve into… well, this.

But during my absence from online feminism, I’ve been watching HBO’s series Game of Thrones with a friend of mine, and I’m sure he won’t mind me saying that we had a bit of a spirited discussion regarding female characters in the show.  My complaint was that most of the female characters only exist in relation to their husbands – while the men sit around talking politics, the women sit around talking about their men.  My friend brought up the character Arya – a classic tomboy – to counter my argument, which then got me thinking about the way a character like Arya’s might be deconstructed from a feminist perspective.

It seems that, when writing female characters, you’re often damned if you try anything at all.  At first glance, Arya truly bucks the social norms established in the show.  She wears trousers, she fights, she’s good with a bow and arrow, she’s loud and willful, and she kicks ass.  However, I can predict that many critics would argue that she’s not feminist at all.  There is a school of thought that says that female characters who conform to the gender expectations of men rather than women only serve to reinforce a culture in which “girl things” suck, and “boy things” rule.  Conversely, female characters who conform to female gender norms don’t tend to wow anyone, either.

So how on earth do you please the feminists, ye writers of fiction who want to give the ladies a fair shake?  If the girls do girl things, they’re pissed.  If the girls don’t do girl things, they’re pissed.  What’s a writer to do?  Luckily, I’ve put together a list of handy-dandy tips that I’m sure no one will reference ever.  Aren’t we all fortunate?

1.  You can’t please everyone, so stop trying.

The thing about criticism is that I think the vast majority of people don’t understand what its purpose is, and that includes the people who receive it as well as those who dole it out.  When we subject television shows or books or movies to feminist criticism, what we’re really doing is analyzing it from a feminist perspective.  Some seem to think that if a piece of media doesn’t meet their feminist standards that there’s something wrong with it.  That’s not true – it just doesn’t meet their feminist standards.  Perhaps if feminism wasn’t such a passionate world view for so many people, we wouldn’t get so confused.  I’ve done a lot of criticism from a Freudian or psychoanalytic perspective, and I’d guess that you’d be hard-pressed to argue that if something doesn’t conform to Freud’s psychosexual stages of development, it’s just shit.

This is not to say that one shouldn’t try to write good female characters.  My point is that getting bogged down in what’s going to pass the “feminist test” (as if there was one!) is just likely to drive you up the wall.

2.  Play the gender bender game.

I am a fan of writing exercises.  Anyone who has ever taken a creative writing course has probably been challenged to write a scene, and then rewrite it from someone else’s perspective.  Often, changing perspective allows writers to gain insight into their characters, and often, they’ll find that they’ve been focusing on the wrong character.  Similarly, I’d challenge you to write a scene, and then change one or more of your male characters to female characters.  How does it affect the story?  Maybe you’ll notice that some of your “action characters” – which are typically male – can work just as well if they’re women.  A huge problem in media is that male characters are the ones who typically drive the action of a story.  I might be idealistic, but I’m of the opinion that most of the time, writers don’t do this intentionally.  We, like anyone else, are affected by societal norms, and sometimes we write males as “action characters” simply because it feels right.  Playing the gender game and switching gender up while you’re in your workshopping stage might lead you somewhere unexpected.

3.  Subject your work to the Bechdel test.

Let’s make this clear – the Bechdel test is highly unscientific.  It doesn’t tell us anything substantial about a work, but it can be useful to use as a critical tool to diagnose the strength of female characters.  The Bechdel test originally appeared in a comic by Alison Bechdel, in which a character asserts that she only sees movies that meet the following criteria: 1.) there must be two female characters, 2.) who talk to each other, 3.) for longer than a minute, 4.) about anything other than a man.  Clearly, this is not a scientific test, but it is pretty funny to consider how many films don’t meet this criteria.  Passing the Bechdel test does not mean that a movie gets an automatic feminist stamp of approval, but it’s pretty telling, especially when we consider how many movies there are in which two men have a minute-long conversation about something other than a woman.

I’d advise writers to subject their work to a modified version of the Bechdel test.  Again, if your work has good reason not to pass, your work has good reason not to pass – and even if it does pass, two female characters having a long drool-fest about shoes is not likely to win you any favor with feminists.  The underlying idea, however, is that a good female character is not a token (therefore, there’s probably more than one woman), and she does not exist solely in relation to male characters (hence, she would have conversations about something other than the male characters).

4.  Read awesome female characters.

Reading is good advice for any writer.  The more you read, the better you write.  It stands to reason that the more awesome female characters you read about, the more awesome your female characters are going to be.  Off the top of my head, Lyra from the His Dark Materials series is complex, drives the action of the story, and isn’t easily stereotyped (in fact, the villain in those books, Mrs. Coulter, is a pretty interesting female character, too).  Margaret Atwood and Joyce Carol Oates both write fantastic female characters.  If you’re into alternative fiction, Tom Robbins writes mostly female protagonists.  And of course, I’m open to any and all suggestions in the comments section.

Overall, ye writers of fiction, write female characters not because you want to avoid the wrath of internet feminists, but write them because they are interesting.  Write them because women’s stories are different from men’s stories, and nothing is better in fiction than telling new stories.  Write them because half of your potential audience are women.  Write them even if it feels like you’re damned if you do.