Category Archives: feminism

Daddy’s Little Girls

TV has located the perfect family structure: apparently, it’s an accomplished, sexy father, and a pert, cute tween or teenage girl.  Ex-wives/mothers can be occasional guest stars, but the focus is on the Dad, who is both virile and understanding, and the daughter, who still needs guidance, but can also help dear old Dad understand the softer side of life by explaining things like emotions to him.   I found this model instantly annoying when I encountered it recently in a show I can’t remember the name of–it was billed as House with lawyers, and focused on a star criminal attorney who decided to become one of the good guys, but it’s much more recent than The Guaridan (if you know the name, please comment!). But I began to get more seriously annoyed when I found it repeated in other up-and-coming money-maker shows, Castle and Lie to Me.  In fact, the tween daughters of Castle (Alexis) and Lie to Me (Emily) look quite a bit alike, except for the striking red hair of Castle’s daughter: they are both notably elfin, with big round anime eyes.

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Emily in Lie to Me

Alexis in Castle

Alexis in Castle

Why does this pattern give me the willies?  First of all, it relies on one of my most hated of cultural tropes, The Enlightened Dad.  I’ve got nothing against dads changing diapers; what I hate is how they are lavished with praise for being even minor participants in child rearing.  A man tenderly dandling a baby makes everyone smile and sigh; a woman doing the same thing is just par for the course.  Both Lie to Me and Castle show their heroes’ softer sides through this sort of nonsense: they can be tough and arrogant, but don’t worry, they will be redeemed through their status as Good Dads!

What’s more troubling, though, is the kind of fantasy family these shows create. In effect, father and daughter replace husband and wife, offering a new couple that gets rids of the sort of things that make trouble in a real heterosexual marriage, particularly in the wake of feminism   Without a female authority figure at home (Mom), we get a family that boils down to the big sexy in-control male figure and amusingly willful yet ultimately sweet subordinate female figure.  No need to worry about who works, since the daughter doesn’t need to earn money; in fact, no need to worry about equality at all, since the roles are polarized by age and family position.  In other words, the father-daughter model recreates the sort of husband-wife family we imagine we used to have before women got all uppity.

Part of the satisfactions of this model are purely Freudian: getting rid of Mom so Dad and Daughter can pursue their own family romance is one of those omnipresent, barely masked cultural fantasies; it’s not for nothing that our fairy tales are filled with evil step mothers who try to keep worthy daughters from marrying the prince.  And certainly this model has a history on TV beyond Disney fairytales (anyone old enough to remember Family Affair?).

But I think the reinvigoration of the Dad-Daughter pattern now has more to tell us about the cultural fantasies of post-feminism than the Freudian fantasies of the family romance.  For one thing, both Lie to Me and Castle belong to a larger pattern of shows that pair men who possess almost supernatural powers with feisty, street-smart professional women who are never quite able to best them.  In Castle, it’s the tough female cop who supervises a team of male detectives.  In Lie to Me it’s the ‘uneducated’ Latina with a raw talent for recognizing micro-expressions.  In Life it’s the Persian-American cop with a history of substance abuse, and the African-American lawyer/ex-Olympian runner.  In Burn Notice, it’s the Irish mercenary with a penchant for violence.

In every case, the women in question are clearly figures of the post-feminist present–that is, they belong to a cultural landscape that assimilated certain palatable aspects of feminism, and jettisoned the rest.   These characters are all  tough professionals who expect equality and have  a kind of sexy swagger that borders on the butch.  And, in every case, they are either overtly mentored by or consistently bested by their borderline-omnipotent male counter part.  In cases like Castle and Lie to Me, proving the woman wrong becomes a key plot point in many episodes. What’s palatable, apparently, is the sexy, savvy woman who can almost beat a man at his own game.  What got jettisoned was the whole equality thing.

That three of these characters are women of color (two in Life, and one in Lie to Me) gives the whole process a sick twist: both shows suggest that their heroes are somehow progressive in pursuing this close relationship with a woman of color, at the same time that they consistently show them up.   That Life gave its hero another tough woman-of-color partner when its lead actress went on maternity leave suggests this pattern is no coincidence.

Once upon a time–I think it was the ’80s–having women characters like this in books and TV shows seemed to mean something was shifting.  Women who were tough, who carried guns, who kicked ass, were certainly a breath of fresh air, a little gust that seemed poised to blow away some elements of the status quo.  But, as it so often does, popular culture found a way to have its cake and eat it too: as shows like Lie to Me, Castle and Life make clear, we can now enjoy the sight of an ass-kicking woman (it helps if she’s beautiful, of course) without there being any real threat to male supremacy.

It makes sense, then, that the father-daughter family occurs in the some of the same shows that feature the tough female mentored and/or topped by the brilliant man: in both cases, we can have all the smarts and savvy we want provided we stay daddy’s little girls.

jke

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Filed under feminism, girls, mainstream media, TV, Uncategorized, work

HBO’s cliched attempt at making pimping cool

Equal opportunity pimpin'?

Equal opportunity pimpin'?

With women being lured to foreign countries for a life of prostitution, children abducted for both sex & labor, and men trafficked for profit, are we really supposed to be buy into HBO’s new show about a white guy who becomes a gigolo?

This latest attempt to use the unlikely-candidate-for-life-of-crime narrative, to me, signals this particular genre jumping the shark. From Breaking Bad to Weeds to Nurse Jackie (Edie Falco is always worth watching, I must admit), this idea that there are some people we don’t expect to commit crimes, but it’s cool when they do, is seriously played out. Double X reviews: I concur.

But to then ask viewers, or web cruisers, to participate in pimping the main character of the HBO show HUNG merely continues the sad recuperation of pimping (i.e. the exploitation of another person for financial gain) evident in pop culture artefacts, such as Pimp My Ride or the hipster valorization of Iceberg Slim novels.

And don’t try to give me that, “Pimping doesn’t mean pimping. Pimping is a way of life.” I barely buy Katt Williams’ definition of pimping and I like him, so don’t even try it. But enjoy a little edumacation from Katt anyway…

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Being cute at trans-expense

Siriano: rebuked and repentant for tranny mess

Siriano: rebuked and repentant for "tranny mess"

We all make excuses for our behavior, particularly if we know we’re being just plain wrong. Whether under the guise of being ironic or sassy, I’ll cop to some jokes that I’d rather not be known as part of my public repertoire (except for anything to do with Sarah Palin because I really do hate that skank). I call it “political backsliding.”

In the church tradition I grew up in and have since renounced, backsliders were those who’d been baptized in the blood of the lamb, but were not being vigilant about how they trod the path to heaven. I think backsliders can always return prodigal-like to the fold. I’ve appropriated the concept and applied it to the discriminatory things I think (often) and say outloud (sometimes and in select company). Initially, I chalked it up to feeling confined by feminism: women, not girls! People of color, not minorities! Oriental is a style of home furnishings, not people! I felt like I was in a straightjacket of propriety, but unwilling to blame political correctness (which I think it an utterly bullshit way people try to continue with foul behavior).

However, it wasn’t feminism that was confining me, but that I was confining feminism and any other political struggle that tried to transform our social and political landscapes. Sure, there are some annoying doctrinaire edicts around language, but I voluntarily signed on to feminist ideology. What I was rebelling against was my own interpretation of feminism and what it should mean for my life.

So, I’m coming back to the fold language-wise and trying to get myself in check.  Sorry to be all “everything I need to know I learned in kindergardten,” but rather than constricting my free speech, I’m actually valuing the fact that my words have power to hurt other people even if “I really don’t mean it” or think I’m being hipster-cool and in-the-know.

This article from Feministe on trans-phobia and non-transpeople using the word “tranny” made me re-think some things. Lengthy for a blog post, but a good reality check. Can I get an amen?

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Filed under feminism, race, Sarah Palin, sexism

Hen Fights at the XX Corral

I tried to like Slate’s new Double X site. For one thing, they got some genuine feminists to write for their inaugural postings, including Latoya Peterson and Linda Hirschmann, and they seemed poised to acknowledge a difference between the sorts of issues that fill up the pages of Ladies’ Home Journal and actual feminist content, a distinction frequently overlooked by those responsible for Salon’s Broadsheet. But alas, this was not to be, and actually the signs were there from the first. The same inaugural post roundup, which asked a group of women writers what is the new ‘problem that has no name’ for feminism, also included the noxious avowed anti-feminist Christina Hoff Sommers and the increasingly inexplicable Terry Castle. (Who is listening to her? Why are they doing so??) Under the guise of earnest debate (What do you really think of late term abortions?), the site strives to stir up cheap controversy, trying to up its hit rates through the spectacle of supposed feminists excoriating each other.

Yes, debate over feminist issues is necessary, particularly among those committed to the cause. But the point of such debate is to locate and/or generate points of consensus around which to organize and plan actions that will meet shared goals. As five minutes spent at Double X makes clear, the site has absolutely no investment in creating that sort of consensus–quite the opposite. If women didn’t get furious with each other and post vengeful screeds in the comments section, there would be no drama, and hence no clicking. A bunch of women agreeing with each other and getting down to business doesn’t sell ad space. Don’t get me wrong–I think the commentators on the site whining ‘Why can’t we all get along?’ are living in a dream world. A feminism worth anything is going to piss people off, even other feminists. But when we get to the point where debates about the status of race politics in feminism are being used to make money for the media giant that owns Newsweek, we’ve definitely made a wrong turn somewhere.

jke, with props to htg for insights about capitalism and the third wave (shared off line).

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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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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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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.

herobeauvoir

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