Sunday, April 25, 2010

Let's have us a conversation! accidental part 2

I wrote this as a comment on the last post, but I got an error from Blogger because it was too long :) so, you'll just get it as a regular contribution to the 'ol blog:

Look at this! What a great conversation :) I'm so happy, reading through all of this. Jessica, take your time.

Esther, you rock. Here are my thoughts after reading your comment:

First, I think the reason I shy away from the 'feminist' label is the same reason I shy away from a 'liberal' label. In reality, I'm both of those things, but I'm more interested in having conversations with conservatives and non-feminists than I am in just talking with people that think the same way as I do. If you sit down at a table with a bunch of conservative thinkers and say, "Hi! I'm a liberal. Let's have a conversation," it's not nearly as productive as just having the conversation without prefacing it with labels or expectations on either side. Lots of my friends are decidedly not feminists, but I want them in on the conversation because they have good, thoughtful minds and I think they could use good conversations like this more than anyone else I know. But once I say 'feminist,' they stop listening.

I love what Esther said about promiscuity and the possibility that media can, in fact, promote healthy sexual expression. Sex in the City is an interesting example too, because none of the characters on the show have really become celebrity sex objects in the way that, say, some of the cast of Desperate Housewives has. I think that's significant.

The only gender-opposite term I can think of for "whore" is "womanizer," and while it's not a positive term, it's significant that the female version isn't "Mananizer." Still, I think the idea that men are all congratulating each other for notches on bedposts doesn't work exactly like it does on TV either. That men care more about physical love than emotional love is just as destructive a blanket-statement as women caring more about emotional love than physical love. They're pseudo-scientific cultural cop-outs that I'm not interested in.

Here's another example to throw in the mix: Victoria's Secret. In theory (rather idealistic theory, yes), lingerie is a product that essentially exists for the purpose of helping women to empower their bodies and get in touch with their sexuality. In a healthy personal relationship, feeling sexy and having physical admiration for your partner is more than important; it's necessary. Physicality is deeply human and exploring our bodies should be celebrated. The problem is, you have to run a successful company in a capitalist economy, and when your product is sexual in nature, how do you advertise it? Their advertisements become primarily directed at the attention of men: Wear this, girls, and you could be as attractive to men as our models are! Correct me if I'm wrong, but I've never talked to a single woman who feels empowered by Victoria's Secret's commercials or magazines. They usually feel inadequate, which unfortunately a pretty powerful way to sell a product. To get you to buy their lingerie, they've taken the route of making you believe they possess a level of sexual capital that you don't.

That's the root of a lot of these problems, I think: when sexuality is culturally understood on a sliding scale, 1-10, as something you can compare from person to person, something that's not innately individual, the whole culture loses a really wonderful, important part of its humanity. Our culture has developed such an innately weird understanding of what we all have to offer as individuals. Have you ever gotten to know somebody that wouldn't have made you do a double-take in the street, but becomes OVERWHELMINGLY physically attractive to you because you connect with them in a powerful way? We have the ability to make connections that are real, and THAT is where deeply human physicality comes in. Evolutionary psychology tries to explain things like modern male fetishization of large breasts as some kind of subconscious disposition towards fertility or nurturing qualities, but I think that's silly. The double-takes in the street aren't deeply human, they're culturally learned, through a lifetime of bombardment from Victoria's Secret advertisements.

Lastly I'm SO glad you're all willing to talk with me about this :) I'm very aware that as much as I can contribute as a male feminist, I'll never really understand it the way you kids can (Inside joke alert: Jessica thinks 'kid' is a primarily male noun, so I'm on a quest to use it for women whenever I can.). So understand that my intentions are usually good, and correct me when I'm wrong, and let's keep talking.

I had to copy and paste this into Word in order to get it here, and as it turns out, it's longer than the essay I'm supposed to be writing. Productivity!

Love, Luke

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

let's have us a conversation!

I've never really talked about my feminism on this blog before, which is interesting. That's probably one of the few times I've ever called it "feminism," which is also interesting. Not sure I like the label and everything it implies.

It's on my mind today for a fairly stupid reason, but one that I'll talk about anyway because I've been reading Antony and Cleopatra for 3 hours and I need a break.

So, anyone else watch Glee? No? The stupid musical TV? Me either. Not after this last episode, anyway. I started watching it because in the first few episodes they took on some really interesting issues: homosexuality, comprehensive sex ed in high schools, etc. The show was surprisingly progressive, delivered in high-school-musical-esque packaging, and that interested me. Plus, in the first episode they covered Don't Stop Believin', which was pretty great. So I proceeded to give Glee the benefit of the doubt, long after I realized the music was going to be awful, long after I stopped being interested in the characters, long after the show's only saving grace (Jane Lynch's character) stopped making me laugh.

Finally, in last week's episode, whatever was keeping me watching the show disintegrated fantastically. All I could do was shake my head at the ridiculous quicksand the show fell into in its attempt to make an episode centered around female empowerment. It's not really Glee's fault - just about every TV show that has ever been touted as a feminist project has at some point walked on the wrong line of the empower-your-sexuality/objectify-your-body conundrum.

Feminist Joss Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer was supposed to be a show that centered around a radical reversal of gender roles: take the voiceless, helpless female character from every horror movie ever and turn her into the only person in the world with the power to stop the bad guys. Problem: as the show gained popularity and Sarah Michelle Gellar became a celebrity, Buffy got skinnier and blonder, and the producers (even Joss Whedon himself) stepped back and amassed their fortunes as she became a sex object. Working within our celebrity/sex driven culture, true feminism doesn't really sell, but objectification sells under a feminist flag, and boy does it sell. As professionals in television, even those with good intentions, I understand why it's an easy precipice to fall over. Glee's infraction, however, seems at least a little more obvious to me. They wanted to make a feminist episode, and they picked Madonna as their epitome of the empowered female musician.

Madonna is a confusing feminist case, much like Buffy. She's a strong woman, with a lot of cultural power, but in the end it's all based around the sexualization of her image. We've been talking about the difference between Elizabeth I and Cleopatra in my Shakespeare class, their different modes of power. Cleopatra sexualized herself and was absolutely worshipped by the whole world for it, whereas Elizabeth I never married, never allowed herself to be sexualized. Cleopatra is, in the end, still sort of a feminist figure, in that she had complete control over her sexuality; the worldwide worship wasn't exactly objectification. I think the difference primarily lies in the mass media we're talking about. Madonna's sexual strength might actually be empowering if it wasn't subjugated by record companies to turn a profit. Some feminists (not myself, thanks. For obvious reasons, I can't support the near-complete obliteration of the male gender) consider lesbian revolution as the ultimate goal, , but even lesbianism is sexually fetishized in our culture, so media that tries to feature lesbians often gets sold in a sexual context. The root of the problem is this: Female sexuality isn't anti-feminist. But female sexuality as media, as an advertising tool, as an image-based way of grabbing our attention, fuels one of the most powerful (and elusive) anti-feminist cultural problems we have; the omnipresence of the male gaze.

So, how do we reconcile our personal quest for healthy individual sexuality with our culture's sexual media? Who knows. Let's figure it out though, okay? I have an idea for starters:

This summer I want to organize a night called "Great Songs of Misogyny: As Performed by Women!" I think it would be an interesting and non-abrasive, plus it's be a fun way to introduce some of my musician friends to each other. And come on, there are just so many songs to choose from :) My only request is that this gem of a song gets played at some point. And that is why I think this is a good idea; I absolutely LOVE that song, even though I understand how ridiculous the lyrics are. Music is about feel, and bad lyrics can rarely overpower an infectiously great piece of music. In the end, it would just be a night of really great music, with a potentially thought-provoking juxtaposition.

Okay, maybe we'll talk about this again at some point. See you!


p.s. One more thing: contrary to you may think after reading this, I don't dislike Joss Whedon, not at all. If you haven't seen Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog or any of his Firefly/Serenity project, you should. He's fantastic.