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.


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  2. really interesting points. i appreciate a male voice in the conversation because it is an issue that many men (and women for that matter) are blind to (in some cases, refuse to) see. thanks for bringing it up.

    i will come to the night of misogyny if I can sing "boots with the fur (with the fur!), the whole club was lookin at hurrr." it might not qualify as great, or even good. but it thrives on that beat!...wait, what was that about feminism turned sexist objectification? i was too busy bumpin and grindin.

  3. I think it wouldn't be a proper night of misogyny if hip-hop wasn't represented. Shorty Got Low! It definitely needs to make an appearance.

    That bump n' grind! It's infectious, apparently. It always just seemed uncomfortable to me. Like the worst possible kind of PDA. Story time: one time in high school a girl tried to grind with me, but I was confused, and I didn't know what to do with my hands (i was pretty sure hips were out-of-bounds) so i put them on her shoulders. It was sort of more like "the kangaroo shuffle" than "the bump and grind."

    I'm glad you thought my points were interesting. I think it's an incredibly important conversation to have, even when (especially because) people are blind to it, or refuse to see it. That's why i've been trying to think of ideas like this, ways to bring the discussion into those people's lives in ways that it hasn't been approached yet, ways that are provoking and impassioned but not angry or primarily anti-male. Glad to have you on board :)

  4. Hey Luke,

    Female sexuality and feminism gets so incredibly confusing when it goes through the media. Though I have no problem calling myself a feminist (and I'm all for the nice guys not being obliterated :P) I agree with you on all your points. I think that where this problem stems, however, is in our perceptions of sexuality to begin with. In this, I feel the media actually confuses reality because in some cases, it places men and women on the same level of acceptance, when in fact, though we're not living in Jane Austen's world, we're definitely not on equal terms yet.

    For example, I'm not embarrassed to say that one of my favorite TV shows is Sex and the City. It helped me through one of the toughest break ups I've ever been through because it made me feel empowered by my sexuality... but it was a delusion. Sex and the City went through the lives of four successful women, the most financially successful being "Samantha Jones" who also happened to be the most promiscuous. All of the characters had sex with various partners throughout the seasons, they controlled their bodies, and having healthy sex lives did not in any way debase their bodies or characters.

    That kind of sexual acceptance for a woman is simply not true in real life. Having sex out of wedlock may not make you a fallen woman anymore, but being promiscuous will definitely give you a reputation as a "whore." A promiscuous male, on the other hand, is patted on the back and deemed a successful "ladies man" the more notches he has on his bedpost. I can't even think of a derogatory word for a man that is equivalent to "whore."

    So, while the media may turn a woman into a sexual object to up the ratings, can't we also say that in some cases, it's helping that woman by promoting her right to be sexual and express herself in that way?

    Unfortunately, these are just some cases, and I've also seen the media make sexually expressive women out to be whores. So, in answer to your question "how do we reconcile our personal quest for healthy individual sexuality with our culture's sexual media?" I wish I knew, but it sure makes things more difficult when the media sends mixed signals.

  5. I wish I had more time to think about this. Give me a week (til school's out) and I'll write more. I have a few different thoughts involving sexuality and my religious background, but I need to develop them more. I appreciate Esther's comment; I think it stems from our understanding of sexuality. Good post, let's get a good discussion going. Here, everywhere.