Monthly Archives: May 2009

Prop 8 ruling and Supreme Court Nominee on Same Day?

I was happy to hear that Obama has nominated Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, but I find it difficult to believe that his announcement of his choice today, the day that the California Supreme Court issued their Prop 8 ruling, was a coincidence.  Californians remember Obama’s tepid lack of endorsement for Prop 8 with bitterness, as it was so thin his position was used to encourage yes on 8 voters, and continues to be trotted out by homophobes, such as Miss California, as justification for their hateful views.  I didn’t see Obama field any questions about Prop 8 today, and presidential media attention seemed focused distinctly on Sotomayor, and her great story of uplift, Obama and his own wonderful story polished once again in Sotomayor’s reflected glow.  (Ah, how wonderfully just and democratic America is, if you work hard, and marry the oppoiste sex!).  But then again, I did spend most of the day taking pictures of same-sex couples weeping over their marriage licenses and interfaith clregy being arrested for civil disobedience, so I may have missed the questions about why Obama is such a PAMF on gay rights.

A Pro-Gay Rights Minister Offers Married Couple Comfort

A Pro-Gay Rights Minister Offers Married Couple Comfort

Interfaith Clergy Arrested at Prop 8 Protest

Interfaith Clergy Arrested at Prop 8 Protest

So I”l say it myself: I know you know better than to think that this is right, Barack Obama, and today I am ashamed that you are my president.

htg03

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Retro Creepiness

The return of leggings, asymmetrical haircuts, and the donning of the keffiyeh as fashion and not Palestinian solidarity—ah, the 1980s are back and show no signs of abating (at least on this side of the pond in London’s East End and Topshop). I won’t be caught dead revisiting my ’80s hairdo (a juicy jheri curl for the early 80s, if you must know), but 1980s music is the music of my youth and I refuse to forsake it.

But, then, forsaking is entirely different from revisiting some tunes, singing along, and then <<screeech of brake>> WTF?!

Herewith, a 1980s pre-feminist awareness trip down memory lane. Or more like a tiptoe down creepy Memory Alley.

Oingo Boingo, “Little Girls”

In all honesty, I’d never blocked out this song by Oingo Boingo. It’s (gross) meaning was clear and Danny Elfman’s nauseating leer skitters through my brain like a crab whenever I encounter someone with that certain…erm…pedo-vibe. I think Oingo Boingo was supposed to be punk, but their consistent presence on MTV would indicate that they were merely trying to provoke-for-profit.


Grown women dressed as schoolgirls had a history in Britain before Britney’s “Hit Me Baby One More Time.”  “School Disco” is an unfortunate, persistent theme night for parties and bars.

Rick Springfield, “Don’t Talk to Strangers”

This one may seem like the ultimate betrayal to anyone who knew me as a teen when I inserted Rick’s last name into mine with some clever parentheses (“Spring(field)er”—postmodern at 13!) and had a football jersey printed with “Springfied” on the back in Rick’s favorite color (purple, duh).

However, the fatted calf must be slain. Upon reflection, most of Rick’s songs have a stalker edge to them, but “Don’t Talk to Strangers” wins hands down. The admonishment not to talk to strangers shifts from urgings to preserve one’s sexy ladyness for the ex-boyfriend mooching around the shadows to menacing invitations to bed en Francais. The stalker element is in full force in the video.

The end of the video’s police cars and flashing lights would seem to indicate that either a) Rick committed a crime against fashion with all those ring-pull zippers on his jumpsuit (!) or b) Stalker Rick killed Effette French Girlfriend Stealer. Whatever the case, while my teen self might’ve boasted that, “Rick so fine I creamed my jeans,” older feminist self says, “Teen self, your language is foul, you don’t even know what “creamed your jeans” means, and you’re pining for a reprobate.”

While we’re on stalker songs, and before I get overwhelmed with the urge to hear Synchronicity, The Police’s “Every Breath You Take” is surely a picking-through-your-garbage, steal-your-password-and-check-your-email ode to relationship dysfunction. And, yet, it gets played at weddings and included on many a mellow love songs station playlist.

My final ’80s ick also involves Sting. I’m pretty sure this was in his hot, rising star phase and not his competing with Bono for the crown of thorns self-righteousness bid. In the Dennis Potter television play, Brimstone & Treacle, Sting plays a young man who ingratiates himself with a couple whose daughter lies on the sofa, having been paralyzed in a hit-and-run accident. The parents, exhausted from caring for their invalid daughter, let this seemingly charming man into their lives and he soon rapes their paralyzed daughter. Ick. Double ick. The BBC banned the Potter TV version in 1976, but somehow the 1982 film with Sting made its way to Michigan on VHS.

Sting’s character, Martin, has got all kinds of sinister overtones and breaking of the fourth wall that lead the audience to believe that he’s the devil incarnate. Nonetheless, to my chagrin, I recall whole packs of us Michigan girls watching the film and oohing and ahhing over Sting’s “strong” performance and thespian creds. Did we just ignore the rape? Were were turned on by it? Disturbed by it? Diary excavation must ensue.

On the one hand, there’s a lot of be ashamed of about the 1980s, such as sartorial choices like legwarmers and Units. And, yes, there’re probably many more examples of music that was sexist, homophobic, and racist. But rather than being a misery guts about it I wanted to remind myself, when I question young sisters’ sanity for enjoying music that degrades them, that I know from whence they came. With any luck, they’ll find feminism or feminism will find them, and they’ll create their own beats to dance to.

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Filed under feminism, girls, music, sexism, sexuality, women

Classy (Black) Ladies: Why Some People Are Hating on Wanda Sykes

I came across this cartoon while reading the New York Times’ Week in Review this morning.

Cartoon by Steve Kelley The Times-Picayune

Cartoon by Steve Kelley The Times-Picayune

This cartoon put me into a momentary rage for a number of reasons.

First of all, Wanda Sykes was just down-right funny at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner.

Secondly, I am tired of the silent conversation we are having about race, class, gender and Michelle Obama. I’ve been traveling a good deal lately and have overheard more than my fair share of these conversations in cramped airplanes and somewhat less cramped airport bars. They go a little something like this: “…and how about that Michelle Obama. She is just so (a pause to search for the right word)…classy.”

Now, I’m a big Michelle Obama fan too. I love her style and her arms. But I don’t love how the the word “classy” is silently standing in for a a host of other words often used to describe the type of Black woman that Michelle Obama is not i.e. the term used with alarming frequency at the moment: ghetto. In short, Michelle Obama is not a “ghetto chick” (or any other equally derogatory term used to describe poor, Black women) and that’s why so many ladies (and men) –white and Black–love her.

It is the casual illustration of this hierarchy of Black femininity that put me into my momentary rage. Sykes is a comedian. Her jokes, like those of Stephen Colbert, who provided an expert performance at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner during the Bush Administration years, are open to criticism. But to say that she has no class is to critique her performance as a particular type of Black woman. To dismiss her in this way is to say that the loud, aggressive, (lesbian) Sykes is somehow less of a respectable woman than the reserved, resilient, and appropriately ladylike Michelle Obama. It is to say that Michelle Obama is “good” and Wanda Sykes is “ghetto.”

And that is not funny at all.

blfmstprof

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Filed under African Americans, feminism, race, Uncategorized, women

Feminist books you’ve lied about reading

Ha! I found Farai Chideya. Okay, she wasn’t lost, but since wack-ass NPR cancelled the only show featuring black folks, the former host is doing her thing hither and yon. She was guest host for WYNC’s Takeaway and had an interesting discussion on books that people lie about reading.

Tolstoy’s War & Peace came up a lot. Why? Because it’s the thicketst book people can think of? Is the advent of the e-reader going to change the terms of the books we lie about reading if we don’t have a physical text as our prop?

More importantly to this blog: hit us up in the comments with the feminist book you’ve lied about reading. Go on, you naughty mix, fess up!

4everuppity: Is it a lie if everyone just assumes you’ve read it? Or if you can’t remember reading it, but swear you must have because you had to take qualifying exams on it? Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex.

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Miss California Keeps Her Crown

Donald Trump, typically unintentionally hilarious at a press conference this morning, announced that this is the 21st century now, and Prejean is free to show her boobs. How forward thinking of him.

images

Don’t be so prudish, people. Unless you are talking about gay sex. Then by all means, shrivel up into a small mean ball of hatred.

Prejean followed Trump, claiming that she was under fire for exercising her right to free speech.

Should we be surprised that she doesn’t know what free speech means? That it doesn’t mean that you can say whatever you want wherever you want with no consequences?

I guess they don’t teach with that level of nuance at the Orange County christian college she attends.  Though she seems to be well prepared to attend Regent Law School.

htg

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Why I Love Black Women

Two words: Wanda Sykes.

If you haven’t seen Wanda Sykes at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner take a moment and check it out. The only disappointment: no riffs on Obama’s weak public stance on gay marriage.

blfmstprof

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Filed under African Americans, marriage, Proposition 8, TV, Uncategorized, women

Did female action heroes matter?

I saw the Star Trek movie last night. Don’t worry–I’m not planning on disclosing any spoilers, unless you count the information that there are two women in a cast of about 20 central characters, and neither of them does anything even slightly beyond the bounds of gender-stereotyped behavior: in the high-tech future as imaged by Star Trek, girls are good at nurturing and languages and boys are good at fighting and science, and while men are captaining space ships, women are usually having babies. Actually, that did pretty much spoil the movie for me, all the glowing reviews out there notwithstanding. Sure, I realize the movie has to work with the template of the original series, which was hardly feminist. But isn’t that part of the point of nostalgia trips like Mad Men and Swingtown? They make it safe again to represent a world where men go to work and women chat as they push their carts around the grocery store.

The retrograde gender politics of Star Trek, combined with the equally retrograde (and totally terrible) Wolverine, which I saw last weekend, started me wondering, what happened to the female action hero in the last decade? The 1980s and 1990s brought us Ripley, Sarah Connor, and Trinity–not to mention Xena and Buffy. Now, from the Bourne series to Spiderman to Batman, we seem to have gone right back to the realm of Big Strong Men and the Little Women Who Love Them–women whose role is roughly indistinguishable from that of Fay Wray: squeal, get rescued and/or die. Although the ass-kicking female hero survives on TV, particularly in SF vehicles like Battlestar Gallactica, her presence in the movies seems to have reached almost zero.

I could write an entire post about how sad this is, and how much I miss the rough-and-ready women of the 1990s, but, the fact of the matter is, the all-too-easy erasure of these women has lead me to wonder, did they really make a difference in the first place? Did the presence of female action heroes signal anything beyond an increased ability on the part of feminists to enjoy a mainstream Hollywood movie? Obviously, it’s better to have empowered rather than disempowered female heroes; I would never argue otherwise. But the total prominence of the female action hero in the 1980s and 1990s, followed by her total erasure in the last ten years, makes her look like just another fad–something that was fun in the 1990s, like grunge, raves and Seinfeld. And if we could just consume her and then throw her away, like every other female type in the media, maybe she wasn’t all that tough in the first place.

When I was thinking about this blog post, I kept being reminded of a passage from The Feminist Memoir Project collection, in which Barbara Smith critiques a feminism that protests a film about Larry Flint but remains silent about the real-life torture of Haitian immigrant Abner Louima by the NYPD. The connection is the overvaluing of the media as a source of either uplift (Yay, Buffy!) or oppression (Boo, Star Trek!). So much of feminism, particularly in the blogosphere, is media critique–and on this blog, I am probably the biggest offender. I’m not saying thinking and writing about culture is pointless; if it is, I’ve wasted the last twelve years of my life, not to mention $74,000 in student loans. But the erasure of the female action hero without so much as a blip is a good reminder that changes in culture are meaningless if they’re not accompanied by changes in our material status–and that both can be undone in a heartbeat.

jke

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Filed under feminism, film, mainstream media, sexism, TV