“Blurred Lines” and why your anti-sexist rants are getting awfully sexist, ladies.

Every summer we get to indulge ourselves in dozens of new, sparkly pop songs. They dash up and down the charts, their videos and melodies pervade our radios, newsfeeds, and televisions all in the hope of being the big hit of the summer. The song we’ll all remember.

Perhaps the song that’s stirred up the most controversy this year (and by that measure beat the controversial competition, sorry Miley) is “Blurred Lines.” “Blurred Lines” is an oddly languid pop song with barely discernible lyrics by Robin Thicke, featuring T.I. and Pharrell Williams. However, upon some investigation and help from the video, it becomes apparent that it’s a song about a man speaking to a woman who has previously not been encouraged to express her sexuality or desire. The speaker urges the girl toward her desires, and generally encourages her to go with her instincts, which presumably will result in him getting laid. The song repeats references to these “blurred lines,” but it’s unclear what that is exactly referring to. Don’t get me wrong, this song is in no way feminist, it’s a pretty typical, fantasy-driven pop song.  There are certainly things to find irritating about it (who does this guy think he is? Why does he get to do the liberating?) but it’s not worthy of all-out feminist frenzy.

Today I had the good fortune of reading a “feminist take down” of the song and anyone who would dare enjoy it by Elizabeth Plank at Policymic.  While the article was logical, it was also predictably belligerent. Ms. Plank takes great offense to the assumption on the part of a male speaker that he might know what a woman wants, even if that assumption is liberating. Further, the video is offensive because the women (models) are partially clothed while the performers are fully clothed, also the women engage in overt, objectifying behaviors.

She heavily cites an interview with Robin Thicke where he (somewhat misguidedly) confirms that the video is degrading to women, and maintains it was “making fun” of something. Perhaps Robin Thicke doesn’t have the delicate hand to negotiate unspoken humor about the objectification women in 2013. She further cites comments make by the video director,  Diane Martel, a woman, who denied that there was an issue. Of course, as far as Ms. Plank and the feminist take down is concerned this woman’s opinion is irrelevant, despite actually producing the material. Diane Martel is, after all, only a woman working in music industry, can’t imagine what she would know about sexism!  Finally, the article references comments made by one of models in the video, Emily Ratajkowski, who expresses her ideas that women’s bodies on screen can be empowering, that the video was playful, and that she thought it was confidence-inspiring. It’s a fine example of post-postmodern feminism illustrating that some women’s opinions are valuable, some clearly aren’t. In this case, the women who produced the object do not have valuable opinions about it.

The introduction of the model is particularly interesting. When she’s introduced into the article, this parenthetical comment appears: “Emily Ratajkowski (who I wouldn’t recommend looking at unless you’re ready for a dramatic drop in your own self-esteem.)” Wow. I think it’s really crucial, while discussing how visible women’s bodies are being leveraged in a sexist way in a pop video, to emphasize that people should not look at Ratajkowski because she’s so pretty she’ll destroy your selfconfidence. Don’t even look at beautiful girls. Their existance in your field of vision is sexist, and they’re going to make you feel more insecure. One comment that boils a woman down to her appearance alone is all it takes to devalue an entire position.

Effectively, what is emerging from a lot of criticism of the song and video in various places is a total inability to grasp satire. The video involves a stuffed dog corpse, T.I. brushing someone’s hair, Robin Thicke sexily eating an ice cream cone. It involves a lot of silly dancing and not a lot of sexy touching. No actual nudity, no simulated sex acts, no grinding, there’s alcohol – but no women consume it, no violence, even playful, toward the women, while Thicke gets slapped at one point. There are nun-chucks and string of sausages though, clearly a piece of cultural commentary to be taken very seriously. The lyrics voice a little more violence; some hair pulling, and rough sex. At one point T.I. says: “I’ll give you something big enough to tear your ass in two” which is a pretty brazen thing to say unless he’s referring to an enormous dildo, and yes, it’s questionable, but it’s not enough for this outrage.

In thinking about what the “blurred lines” refer to, the general consensus seems to be that dangerous area where men have a hard time extracting consent (awful), but could also refer to the “blurred lines” between the “domesticated”, “good girl” the woman in the song is expected to be, and the “animal” she could be in the speaker’s fantasy.

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Good Girl Gina, I like where your head is at…

As I was making my usual rounds down my Facebook newsfeed today, I noticed that several of my friends had posted or linked to this article on Jezebel. It’s listed in the sub-section, “Sexism” and is titled: “Good Girl Gina Loves Anal, Cooking Pot Roasts, and Watching Her Man Play Video Games.” It’s about the feminine version of Good Guy Greg (in which a cheery looking fellow is praised for doing nice things) known as Good Girl Gina. The article addresses some dubious “research,” in which a redditor decided to gather the quickmeme reddit outpours of Good Girl Gina and examine just how terribly offensive they are, and then Jezebel used that to make some sweet, sweeping generalizations about men.

Now, I’m pretty much grossly offended by Jezebel daily (between the hyperbole, the defensive attitude, the inconsistency (“we’re so much better than everyone else, look at us fawn of consumerist celebrity culture”), and the fucking terrible writing…) so all I know is that this article means that it’s a day of the week ending in y. However, this one struck a chord.

A few issues:

1. Reddit? Really, reddit? I always like to make my social observations in a room full of bored teenage boys. That’s a really amazing space to gather social research with which to condemn men and their clearly articulated desires. Y’know, Jezebel, use reddit to determine what ‘men’ are like, and then get yourself over to CraigsList and see what ‘women’ are like…oh, no, wait. You wouldn’t do that because CraigsList makes all women out to be easy, vapid whores and we don’t make generalizations about what women are like.

2. Let’s break down this title, shall we?

“Good Girl Gina Loves Anal” – Why, o’ website so centered on female agency, is this bad? Why is anal sex a marker of a woman being “basically being a Real Doll, but alive”? What’s more interesting is the comment where Good Girl Gina’s desire for sex (and I assume this is unromantic sex) is mentioned first in the listings of offensiveness. As if to say that heterosexual women are allowed to desire  sex, perform non-reproductive sexual acts, and articulate their desires aggressively (I am unclear if Jezebel thinks this, everything seems to point to women desiring sex being fuck-puppets for sexist men.) but men are not allowed to find that attractive. Ok. It’s like the gals at Jezebel want to feel the agency of desire, they want their desire for sex to pushed against, they want men to want them to be wives and mothers – they want “slutty behavior” (like enjoying anal sex?) to be condemned in order to be angry about that.

“Good Girl Gina Loves Cooking Pot Roasts” – I don’t know why any man would be particularly invested in the pot roast, but I also don’t dig this idea that women who enjoy cooking are demonstrating their oppression. I feel like cooking is really even between the sexes at this moment in our culture. I understand that once upon a time women cooked in the home, and men cooked in the expensive restaurant, however, we now live in the Age of The Food Network (do not even get me started on how I feel about “food porn”) where men and women cook publicly and passionately. What’s interesting is that Good Girl Gina’s Man isn’t mentioned in her love of cooking pot roasts, it’s not “loves cooking men pot roasts.” But I guess the damage of the past is such that women desiring to perform tasks once confined to our gender in a sexist fashion cannot be undone. Pardon me, while I torch all this yarn…

“Good Girl Gina Loves Watching Her Man Play Video Games” – This is where it becomes readily apparent that Jezebel somehow selected these three terrible, sexist behaviors for Good Girl Gina to perform. Whether the cultural iconoclasts of reddit think women should enjoy watching men play video games or perhaps play with them or just be able to not be doing something together all the time is unclear. What is clear is that Jezebel thinks a woman who would love watching ‘her man’ (some possessive language here…) play video games is indicative of her failure as a feminist, I just don’t feel like I can buy that.

3. I’m going to come full circle here, and look at the “more than depressing” findings from reddit.  Some of these entries are concerned with things that just don’t make sense: for years feminists have rallied on about how terrible it is that men condemn women who desire sex, “slut shaming”. Good Girl Gina clearly is a bit of a slut, she’s having anal sex, oral sex, she’s doing it without being asked, she’s very sexually self-possessed. She’s the kind of woman who would usually be condemned as being ungirlfriendable, a whore, cheap – but she’s not, she’s incredibly desirable. And my favorite of these is “She Isn’t A Stereotype” – part of the problem with this is men articulating desire for women who violate their own previous sexist constructions about what women are like?

I understand that some of these are deplorable, but this is the Internet, not an even sample. Frankly, the condemnation of Good Girl Gina memes makes little sense.

Finally, the summation of all this is the tongue-in-cheek conclusion; “”So what can we glean from all this? If someone wants to be a Good Girl, then reddit already has it figured out. A Good Girl is an object to be lusted after. A Good Girl makes sure you’re sexually satisfied, either by her or someone else,” LaTex_fetish added. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go barf.” It’s all in the language, I’m clearly reading these results very differently:

It seems to me that Good Girl Gina is a “good girl” not because she’s “an object to be lusted after” but because she’s possessed of clear sexual desire and able to articulate it without feeling shameful. Not because she makes sure  “you’re sexually satisfied, either by her or someone else” but because sex is a two way street for her, and god forbid, she might want to engage in non-normative activities like group sex or anal sex.

Your negativity is a self-defeating mess, Jezebel.

 

 

 

 

Hostel and Feminism

I am currently watching the direct-to-DVD third installment in the “Hostel” franchise. I didn’t even know there was a “Hostel: Part III” and I think of this as a major failing on my part as I am serious advocate of the “Hostel” films (says the girl who spent hours and pages working on a creative-meets-analytical writing exercise on a scene from the first one.)

Now, I am more than certain that plenty of people have plenty of less than favorable things to say about these films. Eli Roth’s “Hostel” redefined horror and peaked on a completely new wave of the genre, made changes that horror will never recover from. And rightly so. Yes, it’s wildly violent, utterly grotesque, filthy, gritty and leaves you feeling sick to your stomach, and not because of the drilling, hacking and gouging but because of the clever, unsettling construction of the film and more so the grim reflection it casts on our own nature.

Many a critic would point to the dismal things this indicates not only about our selves but also the state of the horror industry. I naturally think they are wrong and that “Hostel” (and even it’s low-fi follow-up) is a neat, sharp, troubling bit of cinema and deserves praise, I would also like to point to a little oddity that really pulls this particular franchise from the abyss.

The classic and acknowledged world of horror is one of institutionalized racism, misogyny and searing patriarchy. In horror movies, non-white characters die first and in stupid ways, women who have sex are done for, men who are vain never last, and the invariable survivor is a doe-eyed ‘final girl’. A sweet, virginal thing, with good morals and a good heart – she is the epicenter of Western virtue, and we know only she can beat evil.

Not “Hostel”. Interestingly, the first and third films focus on the capture and torture of men rather than women. (Because “torture porn” is dominated by “Saw” it seems like an equal-opportunity subgenre, but in reality the majority of torture films which are not “Saw” are about watching beautiful women suffer.) I will note that the second “Hostel” film is about women being tortured, but I get the sense this is to pull in audience, and it’s the only thing beyond coming up with new and gruesome ways to use power tools, that changes it from the first film.

The conceit of “Hostel” is that young men seeking sex and deviant good times are captured and subjected to various forms of gross bodily damage to the benefit of paying clients (in the film, and yes, you, paying audience.) What makes this interesting is that these men are lured into these situations by female sex workers. Prostitutes, escorts, strippers – these lascivious ladies of the night are usually the sort of characters who get popped off almost instantly in a horror. But not here, in fact, here, the men who so enthusiastically seek to treat these women like objects, to engage in the institutionalized abuse of women who don’t matter because of their relationships to sex are punished.

Not only are they punished, but the women are not. They are neither compliant or active, they simply have the opportunity to deliver the nice, white bread men into the clutches of evil. It doesn’t seem fair, until one stops and thinks about the way nice, white bread men are allowed to treat strippers, prostitutes and even any other women in film. As the women lure the men in they are beautiful, porn-staresque babes, flowing locks and perfectly glossy pouts, and once the men are in the facility and facing their torturous deaths, we see the women unmade up. Because they are real people, not just agents of destruction.

My Favorite Place On The Internet

It’s a well known fact that I am in love with the Internet. However, beyond and over all places, I love one website most. I love it more than Facebook, Pinterest, Netflix, or Etsy. More than Vogue.com, The New York Times, Gilt Groupe or Twitter, I love it even more than the website where I play hours of Tetris.

I love Chubby Bunnies best.

Chubby Bunnies is a body positive Tumblr blog run and administered by a woman named Bec who lives in Australia. Bec is the kind of warm, supportive person who reaches out, offers comfort and advice, she’s non-judging, caring and smart. Her personal blog, and Chubby Bunnies are opinionated, well-informed, and welcoming. She’s the kind of person one aspires to be, someone who offers a kind of real love to people for no reason except that it’s right.

Chubby Bunnies is part of an ever-growing network of body positive Tumblrs and websites. As the name would suggest, Chubby Bunnies is fat positive. Striving to create a safe space for fat people, particularly fat girls (there is a Chubby Bunny Boys blog too.) to express themselves, articulate their struggles, their happiness, and in many cases the sexuality that fat people are denied.

It runs on submissions, thousands of women from all over the world submit pictures. Faces, bums, boobs, tummies, and often personally ground-breaking full body shots. Pictures of girls in every state and style of clothing to complete undress. Each picture tells a story, each one, with or without commentary offers a window into the personal life of someone living in a body that they are told to hate every single day, and yet refuse to.

It’s an incredibly inspiring place. Firstly, because Bec doesn’t hesitate to reblog important content, regarding sex advocacy, women’s rights, queer and gender issues, and human rights. Secondly, because every single person I’ve seen on the blog is beautiful. Every photograph is an exercise in bravery, in confidence, in standing up for something. Chubby Bunnies is a space where the fat woman’s body becomes political. What aesthetically, society demands be hidden, the sexuality it pretends does not exist, the confidence that, frankly, scares everyone else flows forth freely and powerfully.

We spend a lot of our lives looking at images of women. For a fat girl these images can be incredibly painful; models, actresses, diagrams in textbooks which look nothing like us. A skinny, slim ideal held up as the only way to be healthy, sexy, desirable, confident, even acceptable. I’ve spent a lot of my life looking at other fat women I see around, trying to look at their bodies and rationalize my own. Chubby Bunnies allows this, it allows me to look at bodies like mine, girls of similar shapes, with similar thighs, rolls, and tubby little knees and see myself reflected. It’s not the reflection we’re lead to believe looks back at a fat person; these women are not disgusting, lazy, dirty or gross. They’re beautiful, powerful, individual and sexy. Their bodies are appealing, the wide hips, soft stomaches and arms, all speak to an aesthetic we are culturally denied.

Frequently, girls write in on their pictures that the blog has improves their self-confidence. It’s unsurprising, seeing something we’ve never been allowed to look at changes the way we feel, changes the way we feel about ourselves. It’s remarkable, profound and important. So, if you’re game for seeing some beautiful, awesome, empowered fat girls this is the place to go.

And that is why, Chubby Bunnies is my favorite place on the Internet.

 

Marilyn Manson.

In the past couple of days I’ve been quite accidentally reminded of Marilyn Manson. It’s not as if I forget Marilyn Manson, a figure that serves as one of the undeniable influences of my life, but he’s not as front and center as he was in my teenage years.

The first instance was in a post on a tumblr, it was a series of comments of people reflecting on how they will one day feel when Marilyn Manson inevitably dies. Immediately I realized that it will probably be devastating for me, in terms of celebrity/entertainer deaths.

The second instance was in using Amazon to search for books about pain and culture, as one does, and encountering this. I was perfectly aware of Manson’s art, but not aware of the title of the book, “Genealogies of Pain”. It sounds like a title I would give a paper, or a section of a paper.

The realization that throughout my life Manson has provided not only a consistent soundtrack to my existence (I continue to buy albums long after it seems the general public has lost interest, download short film-esque music videos, read his writing etc with some fervor.) but also a consistent aesthetic element is remarkable. I realize that I can undoubtedly credit his developing style throughout my life with the development, not only of my intellectual interests, but the style with which I’ve approached them.

The rational which emerged in my teenage years to explain the often idiosyncratic combination of extremities that (still) characterize me, morbid darkness with day-glo, glitter was as if Marilyn Manson and the Spice Girls had a child (this is still very much true, though other influences have gotten themselves involved.)

I remember vividly my first exposure to Manson, the song was Dope Show it was reviewed (Why? I don’t know.) in an English teen girl magazine I’d occasionally get in Lusaka. It was 1998, I was 13, an impressionable age. Granted, I’d been exposed to far more shocking media before Manson arrived in my world. I asked my father to buy me one of Manson’s CDs the next time he went to South Africa for business (media was very limited in Zambia in the 90s, due to demand.) My father got me “Portrait of an American Family” (Because who wouldn’t let their 13 year old listen to this…thanks, Dad!), an album that was almost excruciating for me to listen to at first, I was so used to the bubblegum pop I’d been consuming since 1996. I kept trying, the late 90s was a time of incredible fame for Manson, and his cultural value as the most shocking, rebellious, confusing thing going was too good to resist. Seemingly overnight I moved from a distinctly Spice Girls influenced aesthetic to something much darker. I was neither alienated, miserable, or depressed, but something about his man, I was instantly able to identify with.

It was only a few years later when I read his autobiography, “Long Hard Road Out of Hell” (the book was released in 1998, I didn’t see it until 2002 (media is like that in Africa) that I really began to understand the connection, by which point my aesthetics, ideologies, and interests had already really firmed up with his music (among others, I should give ample credit to Rob Zombie, Korn, Rammstein and Cradle of Filth – all of whom I appreciated the highly aesthetic style of.) Manson’s rejection of normative religion, dislike of convention and insistence on doing whatever he wanted really resonated with me as a mildly grumpy 17 year old. I really wasn’t a sad or angry teenager, mostly concerned with how my behavior affected people around me, I have always enjoyed raising some eyebrows and provoking a reaction.

I always have and do to this day feel very unalone because of Marilyn Manson, very comforted. As if even when I’ve felt completely at odds with everything around me, entirely unsure of how express what I want or define who I want to be, that there is at least one person I would have no trouble explaining myself to. I suppose this is the true value of influence, the artists who allow the listener/reader/viewer to feel connected, to feel as if their work is valuable. I’ve always felt like Manson was somehow useful to me. Now, in the face of my own work, negotiating bodies, violence, gore, torture, pain and the aesthetic pleasure of it all, I know with complete certainty that his ongoing aesthetic projects are useful. It’s a chicken/egg argument, I don’t know if it all makes sense and ties together nicely because I grew up listening to this stuff, with his continuous experimentation directing my own development, or whether I’ve simply grown into an adult insistent on not “out growing her childhood” (This is a whole other topic, I don’t “outgrow” things, I make them useful in different ways.) and as result have found ways to keep his work relevant to me. Either way, I find myself endlessly inspired, amused, delighted by the on-going changes and shifts of his, seemingly endless, career.

 

 

 

The End of the End

First up, I realize I’m in Zambia and so all I should have to write about is Zambia, but quite frankly, I lived here for most of my life, I’ve thought a lot of deep thoughts about Zambia, and while in my 2.5 years of absence both it and I have changed considerably, I don’t feel all that motivated to write about it.

However, it is important to emphasize that I AM here, and being in Lusaka (now, even, despite the wireless in my parents house and zippy Internet) I am way on the other side of the world. I am in a very different timezone and effectively, find myself somewhat isolated. I don’t really mind this. Usually being in Lusaka serves as a time for me to withdraw from the world and deal with things. I graduated from Georgetown about a month ago, and it has been one of the most tulmultuous months in a long time. I supposed I’d be well served to take this time to disappear.

I’ll get back in mid-July. Specifically, I’ll be back just in time to see the new (and last) Harry Potter movie on July 15. (This was the one request I made of my father, yes, I shall spend 1 month in Lusaka, on this one peculiar condition.) While, like millions of other people my age, I am totally excited about Harry Potter. I am also incredibly nervous. This is the end. (Granted, I’m aware of Pottermore and waiting with baited breath.) However, for all intensive purposes Harry Potter has been *the* dominant cultural narrative of my life.

In 1997 when “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” came out, I was 12. Granted, I did not become invested in the series until about 2 years later, when I was 14. I will turn 26 this year, Harry Potter has played a huge role in my life for 12 years. I became invested in it because Nicole moved to Lusaka and had been very engaged by it, and wanted to have someone to engage with about it. (Boy oh boy, did we get involved.)

Since the age of 14, which, let’s be honest is an impressionable time of a child’s life, Harry Potter has been a highly influential aesthetic object. Waiting for books have marked events in my life, through high school and college, the films provided a visual actualization which I was desperately motivated by. The thought that there will simply be no more makes me feel incredibly lost.

I just don’t think any of us expected this story to become so much a part of us. I know I didn’t. The characters became so important, mirrors and reflections of our own growing up. I’m nervous about the end, just thinking about it makes me want to cry.

With that, I leave you with the final trailer for “Deathly Hallows: Part 2”.

The Twilight Hours

I am currently in the twilight hours of my time at Georgetown. I am writing the last paper I have before graduation. While I am excited about finishing, there is no real sense of finality: this might be my last paper with CCT, but in reality, it’s one of the first papers of my career. That’s right, at 25, with no “real” work experience, I have a career.

When I graduated from George Mason with an English BA in 2008, I could not find a job. I wasn’t even able to find work in retail, not even selling coffee or books. It was an incredibly depressing year, and the worst part: it was just a stepping stone between BA and MA. Getting into Georgetown was an absolute dream come true, getting to go back to school was all I wanted. Just before Fall 2009, and during my first semester at CCT there were voices of dissent, that what I was doing was some kind of joke, not “real”, that graduate school was a cop out, that it was easy and unimportant, that it indicated some immature, incapable element in my character.

Graduate school is no fucking joke.

On the 20th, I’ll graduate with 80-some other CCT students who have done incredibly interesting, innovative, important and difficult work for their degrees. I’ll graduate without ever having having had a full-time job, health benefits, and never having seen a cubicle or 9 to 5. I will however, graduate with a career, a 122 page thesis, innumerable papers, 3 conferences, a TA position, a personal archive, a vocabulary (which enables me to actually speak a secret language) that you would not believe and the knowledge that there really are 21 functional hours in a day, everyday. I will graduate having thought about and written about difficult, complicated things, things which are playful, powerful and yes, have stakes. Most importantly, I’ll graduate knowing what I’m capable of.

I cannot truly express how impressed I’ve been by the people I’ve worked with in graduate school, how much respect I have for people who take on academic work. Everyday of the last two years I’ve watched my peers and professors take on things which do not even touch the lives of most people, things which require a level of devotion and focus, thought and intensity most people will never see. Some of my CCT class will go onto jobs, some to Phd’s, and some to an indeterminate future (I am in that third group for the moment.)

What matters, though, is that I’ll graduate with a pretty good idea of what I want from my life, and while there is no promise of a job, and the security it brings, there is the promise that I found a place to belong, a space to work. I’ll take my year off, and have a look at “real” life and then I’ll go back to where I belong –

As far as everyone who before I began, and while I was in graduate school, raised their eyebrows, and treated me like a child playing a meaningless game because I didn’t participate in the “real world”: my world is very “Real”, in fact, I question your ability to even conceptualize notions of the Real to a degree which would allow you to question what I have done, and quite frankly, I do not care what you think, and I never will.

I have learned so much from my classes, and more so from the people I’ve interacted with at Georgetown. On the 20th, we can graduate knowing we’ve achieved something important, personally and beyond ourselves. We have every reason to be proud of ourselves, in fact, we have every reason to be smug.

So, on the 21st, I encourage you all to take a deep breath, and then to look around you and try not to panic as you are confronted with a “weekend”. This thing is called a “Saturday”, and as I understand it, people in the “real world” get it “off”. Just slip some Deleuze (or whatever you poison/security blanket might be) into your bag and keep your head about you as you take all that you have learned into the world.