Category Archives: work

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.


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.




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

Sotomayor ‘unflappable’? Quelle suprise.

I’ve been feeling for a while that I was going to have to blog about the whole Sotomayor debacle, but I was really hoping I could avoid it. It’s kind of like feeling like you might have to throw up; you know you’ll feel better afterward, but you still would prefer not to. Even thinking about the “She’s not a white man and therefore she can’t be ‘impartial'” line of Republican argument as applied to Sotomayor makes me so furious that I can’t stand to contemplate it for more than about 12 seconds. News flash: white men are still the unchallenged universal, and since they stand for the whole world, there is of course nothing they can do that isn’t “impartial”! Even their most bigoted and wing-nut actions and theories get to stand in as logical assessments for the good of the universe, while Sotomayor’s judgments are the “passionate” acts of a fiery Latina who can only see from her “narrow” perspective (which consists of the desire to punish white men). Coming from money and going to Harvard like your grand-dad apparently gives you unparalleled and uninflected access to all views of all issues–because the view from the projects doesn’t count anyway.

Even the most seemingly positive accounts of Sotomayor’s conduct seem unable to escape falling into this sort of (non)thinking. The New York Times today marveled that Sotomayor left behind her “passion” and remained “unflappable” in the face of small-minded badgering by Republican senators. That she was able to do so seems to be put down to appropriate “coaching”, as if it never would have occurred to her to act this way on her own. Does the NYT seriously think that this is the first time Sotomayor’s had to face this kind of reaction to her accomplishments and ambitions? I would guess that the journey of a Latina from the Bronx to Supreme Court confirmation hearings has been littered with these sorts of slurs–and that she wouldn’t have made it as far as she has had she not found a way not to react “passionately” to everyone who treated her like an undeserving interloper. The audience this time is bigger, but I would bet money that the comments aren’t the worst she’s heard.

If Sotomayor is confirmed, her place on the Court will be celebrated as a sign of the continuing progress of American race, class and gender relations–as if this whole sick drama surrounding her ability to think rather than feel, reason rather than react, didn’t happen. But the real story of American race, class and gender relations is in the drama, the seemingly unavoidable need everyone from the senators to the press has to air their unconscious (or conscious) and abhorrent fantasies about people who deviate from the white-male universal standard and still expect to play a leading role in the government of this country. If anyone ever thought that Obama’s election said anything promising about the decline of that standard–I’m pretty sure I did, for about twenty minutes on election night–this spectacle provides an inescapable corrective.


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Filed under mainstream media, Supreme Court, Uncategorized, women, 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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Filed under feminism, mainstream media, TV, work

Where ‘Choice Feminism’ Has Got Us

Choice feminism, for those of you who haven’t been following along, is the name given to the idea that feminism equals women choosing what sort of life they want. Even if they choose to be a woman who defines herself as a man’s helpmate, they can still call themselves feminists. And by ‘helpmate’, I don’t mean simply women who decide not to work after having children. I mean a woman who thinks that a man’s role is to be in the public sphere and a woman’s is to stay home and help him succeed. Yes, folks, it’s now feminist not just to ‘opt out’ of earning a salary but to argue (and publish a book trying to persuade other women) that women should spend their time helping men get more money and power .

Rather than a platform that says that women should be equal, we’ve wound up with one that argues that women should be equal if they choose to be. And it’s easy to see how it happened. The most powerful argument one can make politically in America is one that protects individual rights from the infringement of the state. That’s how we made abortion and gay sex legal: by arguing that the state should not make decisions that violate the right to privacy–that is, the individual’s right to make determinations that primarily effect his/her own body and life. But the same right to choose that gave us legal abortion is giving us a politics that calls anything a woman wants to do ‘feminist’, even if it involves arguing that men are made for careers and women for domestic nurturing.

But it wasn’t just America’s focus on individual liberties that created this situation. ‘Choice feminism’ is also the natural outcome of a politics centred on women for whom choice is a really significant category–women who can stop working or not, use their Harvard educations or not, pay huge amounts of money for reproductive technology or not. Once you focus on women who have lots of choices–in the old days, we called it ‘privilege’–it’s easy to get hung up on what they decide to do with them.

In all the debates over race and class in feminism over the last thirty years, feminism was usually cast as needing to focus on race and class so that it could be truly just. The idea was that feminism needed to improve so that it would not simply be repeating the discrimination of the world at large.

Choice feminism makes it clear that we missed other half of the story: feminism needs good race and class politics because without them it quickly ceases to exist. It gets reduced to the individual wishes of privileged women, and then, when some of those women decide that equality isn’t really to their liking, feminism finds itself either without a raison d’etre or rendered equivalent to whatever self-deluded lifestyle choice an individual middle-class woman makes.

Choice feminism can only survive in a hothouse world where women can be presented as having all the equality that they want, if they want it. I wouldn’t put it past the likes of Megan Basham or Jessica Valenti to propound their ‘I Choose My Choice‘ version of feminism to a room full of incarcerated women or women on welfare, but I think it’s a safe bet they’d have a harder time selling it there than to the readers of the Guardian, the Atlantic or the New York Times.



Filed under feminism, women, work

Anti-Capitalist Feminist Conference, report back

Valentine’s Day was the perfect day for an anti-capitalist feminist conference held at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). The theme was Gender, Race and Class and there were workshop sessions that addressed these themes with varying degrees of success and abject failure.

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Filed under anti-consumerism, economy, feminism, financial crisis, race, sexism, Social Justice, work

Giddy with Excitement: Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse

dollhouse1I’ve been having some “whither feminism?” blues lately. An anti-Capitalist, feminist conference left me heartened to see young women embracing a resurgence in feminist politics across a range of issues , but witnessing and hearing the same ol’ white privilege claptrap was tiresome (post forthcoming).

So, perhaps I’m drinkin’ the Kool-Aid, but am psyched to see the first episode of Joss Whedon’s new show Dollhouse.

The basic set up: irrationally attractive, young women and men are “Actives” who take on the persona and characteristics required by the clients who hire them. Very much like the geishas alluded to in the first episode, they become what their clients need them to be, but as one character commented, their success is dependent on their flaws. I suspect we’re in for losts of crossed wires and all the malfunctioning that comes along with that pesky thing called human consciousness.  All of the Actives reside in the Dollhouse (think residence hall for Angel’s Wolfram & Hart) and, in addition to a standard British ice-woman, are overseen by Handlers/Watchers. The show features a number of TV faves: Eliza Dushku (Buffy), Harry Lennix (in a lotta stuff all the time), Amy Acker (Angel), Tahmoh Penikett (Battlestar Galactica).

Will Whedon’s new creation bring back some degree of feminism to primetime television? I miss Buffy something fierce and have faith that Joss’ women’s studies background will turn, seemingly, Stepford Wives Revisited into some kickass feminist commentary on human subjectivity, trafficking, consciousness, and destiny to name a few topics that jump out on first viewing. The Dollhouse promo…


Filed under TV, Uncategorized, women, work

Obama’s Rookie Mistake

Note to President Obama: everyone will not like you, and the pursuit of popularity above all else– call it bi-partisanship if you want, but you’re not fooling this feminist– is a losing game. And when the nation’s very future rests in your administration’s hands, this particular fool’s errand is not funny.

You’d think someone who’s been a professor would understand the peculiar machinations of power dynamics. People like you when you give them what they want. But if you give them too much of what they want too quickly, and too freely, they have little respect for you, and managing them becomes unpleasant. Obama should have learned this lesson about likebility long ago; it’s management 101.

Rachel Maddow makes a similar point using an apt comparison between Obama’s behavior and that of women bemused by power dynamics in relationships, explaining that the Republicans Obama seeks to court are “just not that into him”:

In the name of his own likability, Obama is wasting billions of dollars, creating tax cuts with monies that could instead be used to fund infrastructure projects, in the name of courting Republican votes. We live in a crumbling superpower, a testament to the short-sighted stupidity of our previous Republican leaders. Yet Obama is willing to lend them a ready ear in fixing the very problem their ideology created in an absurd bid for a supermajority approval of his stimulus package.

And the Republicans are laughing at him. If zero Republican votes in the House for the stimulus package doesn’t teach Obama that the basic rules of power dynamics cannot be ignored, particularly in a context nakedly ruled by power grabs, then what will?

Who is going to pay the price for Obama’s newbie fumbles? Already, family planning for poor people has been tossed aside in the name of bi-partisanship. And imagine what these wasteful tax cuts might have done for people in need, and states like mine, ground zero for the housing crisis, paying bills with IOUs as the need for social services increases dramatically.



Filed under economy, financial crisis, Social Justice, work