All posts by rae1992

Rebecca of sunny West Covina

“…if you used to be truly happy, and now you’re not, then you should go back to the way it was when you were happy.”

–Dr. Molly Clock on the oft-overlooked Scrubs

My dad used to call me “grunky.” I was always a moody kid and he had a penchant for making up words and phrases on the spot. I can only assume “grunky” is some weird hybrid of a grumpy person and someone in a funk. In any case, it was his way of affectionately teasing me and trying to get me to laugh when I was in a bad mood.

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I didn’t realize it until well into adolescence but there is a medical explanation for my grunkiness: I’m a depressive. This means different things for different people. For me, it means I’m often irritable, stressed, frustrated, tired and weepy–sometimes all at once. Without medication, debilitatingly so. For the most part, my depression is manageable and doesn’t really affect my everyday life one way or another. But there have been times when it’s been completely disruptive. I was sad all the time, for no reason. I was crying multiple times a day at inopportune moments like, say, at work. It was hard for me to get out of bed and even harder to fall asleep. Doing laundry felt like it took every ounce of strength of my body. I had no appetite. I was scared of the way I felt all the time. Luckily, the worst parts of this illness have been alleviated with anti-depressants and I’m able to be a normal (albeit pessimistic) person.

But I don’t fool myself. I’ll probably struggle with depression to some degree all my life. I just have to hope that means I’ll be periodically grunky and not emotionally wrecked for months at a time. I know that depression is extremely common and mental health issues run in my family. But I feel incredibly weak when I’m down. That’s why it is heartening to see mental illness–depression in particular–get the attention it deserves in the media. In the last five years or so, TV shows have featured more and more characters dealing with mental illness:

Of course, some do a better job of it than others. Carrie Mathison’s bipolar disorder leans more towards manic than depressive. Conversely, Gretchen’s dance party on YTW–her attempt to physically shake off the impending sadness–is spot-on. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, a musical with a tongue-in-cheek title, takes place in a heightened version of our reality. But I think Rebecca Bunch’s character arc is one of the best depictions of depression and the desperate, desperate need to feel better I’ve ever seen.

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Crazy Ex-Girlfriend begins about ten years ago as a teenage Rebecca is dumped by Josh Chan at the end of musical-theatre camp. She is crushed and the audience is led to believe this is where a lot of things went wrong in her life. Her romantic illusions are shattered. Instead of pursuing music as a passion, Bex caves to her mother’s will and focuses on the law as a career path. To describe this in Simone de Beauvoir‘s terms, this is Rebecca’s turning point. Teenage Rebecca “buries her childhood” of drama, music, grand gestures, and singing her feelings and “enters adult existence submissively.” When Rebecca and Josh meet again in 2015, she realizes her time with him (and, importantly, her time putting on musicals 24/7) was the last time she was genuinely happy. You know, per the butter ad.

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Right before she runs into Josh again, Rebecca is trying to stave off a panic attack. She has just been offered a partner position at her law firm but feels more burdened than excited. When laid-back, content Josh mentions that he is moving back to his hometown in suburban California, Rebecca impulsively decides to follow him there. On the surface, Rebecca is chasing a dude she dated in high school because she’s convinced herself he is the long-lost love of her life. And that’s definitely a part of it, don’t get me wrong. But she’s also chasing the happiness that has eluded her since theatre camp. And, eventually, she tells Josh that part of the story: “The truth is I was miserable in New York. I was so depressed. And all I did was-was work. I had no life. The world was just, like, gray. And then I ran into you, Josh. And-and you told me about West Covina, and-and you kept using the word ‘happy.’ And I hadn’t, like, thought about that word in so long and-and it just, like, reverberated within me. And so that day, I-I made the decision that I had to be where the happiness was.

Predictably, things do not go quite so smoothly for Bex. Despite the weather patterns, California is not a panacea. Her problems do not magically disappear and she still has a lot to learn: Josh is in a relationship; it’s hard making friends as an adult; putting all your meds down the garbage disposal will have ramifications; and–as My Best Friend’s Wedding taught us all–conniving to break up your “true love” and his partner is not cute. It’s bananas.

Since this is a musical, a lot of Rebecca’s self-discovery manifests itself in song. There are several instances when she and the show directly acknowledge her questionable behavior and mental health struggles. Here’s a sampling of these fourth-wall cracking numbers:

  • “Sexy French Depression”–Rebecca gives in to her gloom and systematically skewers Hollywood’s version of melancholia (i.e. wandering around in Paris, pouting in a push-up bra).
  • “You Stupid Bitch”–An anthem for all of us who regularly humiliate ourselves and fuck up. Rebecca belts out this “self-indulgent song about self-loathing” after Josh catches her in one of her web of lies.
  • “I’m the Villain In My Own Story”–In a rare moment of real self-awareness, Bex realizes her various ploys to steal Josh from his girlfriend Valencia are Wicked Witch-esque. She’s not just the Big Bad in Valencia’s story, she’s kind of a shitty person.
  • “I Have Friends”–Present-day Rebecca and pre-teen Rebecca desperately try to convince themselves that they are totally popular as they hand out invitations to their respective parties. Although the tempo is upbeat and both Rebeccas have huge smiles, this might be the saddest ditty of them all.

As these song titles suggest, there is no simple solution to Rebecca Bunch’s problems. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is brave and groundbreaking because it’s an honest depiction of mental illness and its ramifications. Let’s say that most characters’ overall development looks like this:

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A character with mental health struggles’ development would look something like this:

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Rebecca’s growth happens in fits and starts; she routinely makes progress and promptly backslides. She will probably be “crazy” to some extent for her entire life, and that’s okay. She’s still a successful lawyer, a supportive friend and a hilarious protagonist. Not to mention the fact that she is constantly trying. Trying to be happier, healthier, better. Rebecca might be the villain in her own story, but she’s a fully-formed person who just happens to have a chemical imbalance. That makes her a hero in mine.

(Image #1 courtesy of pinterest.com; #2 courtesy of subscene.com; #3 courtesy of piedpopper.wordpress.com; #4 courtesy of cdixon.org; #5 courtesy of betterexplained.com)

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Rewriting Ophelia

I loved Ophelia: forty thousand brothers/Could not, with all their quantity of love/Make up my sum.”

Hamlet‘s eponymous protagonist

Yeah, but that didn’t really save her, did it Ham?

If memory serves, I read the YA novel Ophelia before getting to the Bard’s account of the Danish Prince–hell, it might have even been before I watched Slings & Arrows. In Lisa Klein’s version of what exactly was rotten in Denmark, Ophelia has her own story, her own motivations, opinions, fears, and sexuality. As much as I revere Hamlet, Ophelia isn’t given nearly as much to do in Shakespeare’s original text. She is manipulated, berated, and slut-shamed; she cries, goes insane, and dies. Game, set, match.

As Slings & Arrows‘ Geoffrey aptly summarizes, “Ophelia is a child. She has been dominated by powerful men all of her life and suddenly they all disappear. Her brother goes to France. Her father is murdered by her boyfriend and he is shipped off to England. She is alone for the first time, grieving and heartbroken and guilty because–as far as she’s concerned–it’s all her fault. She ignored her brother’s advice and fell in love with Hamlet and now her father is dead all because of her. And the pain and the loss and the shame and the guilt, all of this is gnawing away inside this little child’s mind…”

Alongside Hamlet, there are plenty of narratives about great, powerful, morally-ambiguous assholes and the women they abuse, ruin, and sometimes reduce to little girls. You can find many of them in Golden Age television series. You have Walt & Skyler White, Jess Mariano & Rory Gilmore, Jax Teller & Tara Knowles, Tony & Carmela Soprano, Don & Betty Draper, Don & Megan Draper, etc. Like Ophelia, these women end up dead, miserable, and/or royally fucked. They are interesting (or, in Tara’s case, I’m told they’re interesting–I don’t have the time or stomach for SOA) but their stories are entirely dictated by their anti-heroes.*

Which is why I–like her fellow characters, tons of cultural critics, and dozens of viewers–fell in love with The Americans‘ Nina Sergeevna Krilova.

As played by Annet Mahendru–who really, really needs to play the titular character in a Russian-language Anna Karenina miniseries–Nina is a KGB agent working at the American Rezidentura in Washington, D.C. in the early 1980s. Over her three season and four episode arc, Nina transforms herself from just another Ophelia to an autonomous, agentic, and three-dimensional character. Like her Danish counterpart, she is relentlessly used and manipulated by the men in her life. I’ve been re-watching The Americans recently and images of chess pieces flash in my head and the word “pawn” echoes in my ears every time Nina is onscreen. To be clear, Nina isn’t perfect. The catalyst for her eventual downfall and death is theft–she steals from her government and sends the extra money home to her family. An FBI agent finds out and blackmails her into becoming an asset. As soon as she chooses that path instead of a decade in a labor camp, her fate is sealed.

What follows is the aforementioned men using her for their own personal gain; if the Soviet Union and the United States are in a game of tug-of-war, Nina is the rope. In a particularly captivating plot in the second season, Nina is a triple agent, displaying very different sides of herself to very different men. To Agent Stan Beeman, Nina is his damsel in distress, just another victim of Communism that needs Western intervention. To Soviet Rezident Arkady, Nina is traitorous, cunning, and smart; she needs to use those skills to square herself with Russia and turn Beeman against the US. To colleague Oleg, Nina is a comrade who is sacrificing her body and soul to Beeman for the greater good. Arkady loves her like a daughter, while Oleg and Beeman are in love with her. Or so they say. Their affection doesn’t stop them from selling her down the river as soon as she’s out of effective intel and cards to play.

To bring it all back to Hamlet, each of these three men force Nina into a role, harm her. and then deign to act devastated when she is hurt. As of writing this, Stan, Oleg, and Arkady do not know Nina is dead. I can only imagine how they will make it about them when they finally hear the news.

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But here is where The Americans’ superior treatment of female characters comes to pass. When Stan refuses to work with the KGB and Nina is sent to a Moscow gulag to pay for her betrayal, she doesn’t lose her mind or fall into a pit of despair. On the contrary, at first she keeps up her mind games and manages to leverage her cellmate’s trust for a mere 10 years’ incarceration (as opposed to a life sentence or execution). But on her last mission, she manages to transcend every role forced upon her. Tasked with working Anton Baklanov for information, she instead develops a genuine friendship with him. Both prisoners are collateral damage in the Cold War and are treated as objects, not people. Nina has and had real feelings for Arkady, Stan, and Oleg; she definitely enjoyed her sexual relationships with Stan and Oleg. But the power dynamics in each relationship are far from equal. Nina is always at the mercy of the man; she and he both know it.

At the end of the third season, she confesses to Anton: “I–I can’t keep doing this. Buying back my life. It’s not–I don’t know if it’s worth it.” This is Nina’s moment of clarity. She can’t keep lying to herself and others, especially if her actions are controlled by someone else. No matter what her handlers promise, Nina will never truly be free. She has been pulled in so many directions, has withstood so much pressure and stress that she no longer has any sense of self. This is the scene where Nina makes her choice to stop being manipulated and manipulating in turn. She has real, undeniable fondness for Anton and, listening only to herself, acts on it. So she defies Soviet law and her lawyer’s recommendation and tries to help Anton send a letter home to his son. This selfless act is her ultimate undoing and triumph. Nina betrays her country once more by pledging her loyalty to her friend. What’s more, her motivation for doing so is completely her own.

At that moment, Nina breaks the molds her men have forced her into and simultaneously shatters the tragic Ophelian trope. When Nina is executed for her betrayal, she dies free from anyone else’s influence and agenda. Nina–and The Americans by extension–rewrite Ophelia as a doomed woman who only answers to herself.

*Yes, yes, I know Rory is the exception that proves the rule. Don’t yell at me.

(Image #1 courtesy of creepypasta.wikia.com; #2 courtesy of theguardian.com; #3 courtesy of http://tvmagazine-351227-yahoopartner.tumblr.com; #4 courtesy of tvatemywardrobe.com; #5 courtesy of starpulse.com)

Fast times at Agrabah

“Let’s duet in ways that make us feel good”

–from “Let’s Duet” in Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story

Al, I’m loving the peacock feather. Does it symbolize anything? And, Jasmine, that flower is so pristine and rare. But why don’t you have it later in the movie?

On one non-eventful day in high school, I was driving around with friends E and L. As per usual, I was doing the actual driving and E was in control of the music. On this particular occasion she picked “A Whole New World” from Aladdin. While E, L and I were chatting and singing along, I listened closely to the lyrics for probably the first time. After a couple of minutes, I had an (at the time) earth-shattering epiphany: this song is all about sex. Aladdin is making the case for going to Pound Town in a way only bested by Billy Joel’s pleading to Virginia in “Only the Good Die Young.”

So, dear reader, I will share my findings with you within the lyrics below. Aladdin’s verses are in blue, Jasmine’s are in red, the couple’s duets are in purple and my commentary is in italicized black. I know a rhetorical criticism of a beloved, innuendo-laden song is quite a break from my normal musings on the Outside Girls and women’s issues. Well, this song is surprisingly sex-positive for a 1992 children’s movie. Plus, I’ve been watching a lot of Inside Amy Schumer and Broad City and am ready to flex my dirty joke muscles. Amy, Abbi, Ilana: please take note.

Look, I also know this movie and song are 23 years old and there’s a solid chance some smarter, quicker writer has already covered this topic. Guess what? I don’t care. These are still my thoughts and ideas. I am ready (better late than never) to share it with the whole new world:

I can show you the world → He’s starting out confident and cocksure. Tee-hee.
Shining, shimmering, splendid  Much better than anything you’ve ever felt before
Tell me, princess, now when did
You last let your heart decide?  And by heart, I mean your hormones. And…other                                                                                        stuff.

I can open your eyes → I mean, unless you want to keep them closed
Take you wonder by wonder → And he’s not talking about Stonehenge. Also, he’s gonna                                                                        take her.
Over, sideways and under → Someone’s been brushing up on the Kama Sutra
On a magic carpet ride → I don’t need to tell you what carpet means, do I? At least he                                                                  compliments it, I guess.

A whole new world
A new fantastic point of view → Dude, I am the king
No one to tell us no or where to go → AKA no parents to lecture us about STDs/pregnancy                                                                                or stopping us from going for it in the house
Or say we’re only dreaming → Because our love is REAL! That’s what you want to hear,                                                                          right?

A whole new world
A dazzling place I never knew → Because you sure are more experienced than me!
But when I’m way up here, it’s crystal clear → Hold up. Is Jasmine having an out of body                                                                                                   experience? Or is she just on top?
That now I’m in a whole new world with you → Aw, they’re sharing this adventure. Just like                                                                                                   Romeo and Juliet.
(Now I’m in a whole new world with you)

Unbelievable sights → The male anatomy!
Indescribable feelings → O! O! O! How do you like me? How do you like me?
Soaring, tumbling, freewheeling → Roll, roll, roll in the hay
Through an endless diamond sky → Someone call Rihanna, because Jasmine sure is                                                                                        shining bright

A whole new world
(Don’t you dare close your eyes) → Al’s giving Jasmine some pointers here
A hundred thousand things to see → And to do!
(Hold your breath, it gets better)  → Jesus, someone sure thinks he’s God’s gift

I’m like a shooting star → Because she feels release, get it?
I’ve come so far → She’s come a long way, baby. Ahem.
I can’t go back
To where I used to be → No she cannot. At least that’s what I learned in my abstinence-                                                           only health class.

A whole new world
Every turn a surprise → This gift just keeps on giving

With new horizons to pursue
Every moment gets better → Aladdin was right, man!

I’ll chase them anywhere
There’s time to spare → Who’s up for Round Two?
Let me share this whole new world with you → For tonight

A whole new world → Of sex
A whole new world → Of sex
That’s where we’ll be → Well, maybe not “we,” per se. But definitely someone and me.
That’s where we’ll be → Because I’m sure I’ll feel this way about him forever
A thrilling chase → Right into bed
A wondrous place → For the body and the mind
For you and me → And they bring it right back to love. It is Disney, after all.

Birds do it, bees do it 

(Image #1 courtesy of confusedmatthew.com; #2 courtesy of ishareimage.com)

Dude thinks like a lady

“Why is it scientifically impossible for a man to put himself in a woman’s shoes, even for one second?”

–Jane in Masters of Sex

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Buffy Summers. Enid Coleslaw. Frances Halladay. Claire Fisher. Serena Pemberton. April Ludgate.

Question: What do all of these ladies have in common? (Besides the fact that I’ve written posts about all of them.)

Answer: They were all created by men.

Lana Winters, the de facto protagonist of American Horror Story: Asylum, is another member of this club. She is the only character to survive the entire season in Asylum (quite a feat in the AHS franchise) and is, without question, the strongest female character to appear on the Ryan Murphy/Brad Falchuk production, not to mention the rest of television. Here’s the rundown on the horrors Lana overcomes in a mere 13 episodes:

  • She’s a lesbian in the early sixties, which is tantamount to being crazy. So she is held against her will at the Briarcliff asylum to be treated for her homosexual predilections
  • Her lover (along with many others) is killed by a psycho dubbed “Bloody Face”
  • This same person captures Lana, keeps her hostage, rapes her and gets her pregnant in the process
  • Lana kills Bloody Face in the most epic scene of the series
  • Lana cannot bear to have an abortion, but also cannot bear to keep the child, so she puts him up for adoption
  • Said child develops an abandonment/mother complex and grows up to be Bloody Face II and makes it his personal mission to kill Lana
  • She is forced to choose between giving her son the one thing he wants and letting another maniac live; Bloody Face II is killed at the same hands as his father

So there are several ways to process this information:

  • Murphy and Falchuk created one of the most badass women ever!
  • Murphy and Falchuk maybe have a mother complex of their own and are a little too interested in depicting a woman going through psychological and physical torture
  • This is just another example of how men control everything. Lana might be “strong,” but her very existence is still at the hands of two dudes. Women can’t even tell their own stories about rape, abortion, childbearing, sexuality and defying gender roles
  • We’re in a society that is questioning the very distinction of gender more and more. Does it even matter that two men created Lana? At the end of the day, we’re all just people
  • What, men can’t write about women? You’re being a sexist! Michelle Ashford is telling the story of William Masters and Virginia Johnson and no one is questioning whether she is doing the male sex justice. You call yourself a feminist?!
  • Rachel’s really into bullets today

As much as I consider myself to be a bullshit detector and somebody who is just right all of the time, I’ve got to say that I don’t know what the correct reaction is. I think all of those points are valid; I think that they’re all broad generalizations. I will say that I think it is an issue that there so few female directors and television showrunners. No matter how well-meaning or feminist male artists are, their version of women will always be skewed, if not completely inaccurate. I guess more than anything else I think that women need to be consulted in these cases, if only for research purposes. But I also respect men who make it their goal to present three-dimensional female characters with their own agency and perspective. Those are the kind of men I’d like to hang out with. But I’d probably be working for them, not with them.

I’m not really shedding any helpful light on this, am I? I guess that’s the point.

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Let’s turn to Roxane Gay–author of Bad FeministOutlander fan; my personal nominee for Time Person of the Year–sees this issue as starkly black and white (in contrast to my gray bulleted list). As Gay argues in “Beyond the Measure of Men,” if Lana’s story was a female creation, it would be taken less seriously solely because it came from a woman’s brain. As Gay explains, “Narratives about certain experiences are somehow legitimized when mediated through a man’s perspective. Consider the work of John Updike and Richard Yates. Most of their fiction is grounded in domestic themes that, in the hands of a woman, would render the work ‘women’s fiction.’…These books are allowed to be more than what they are by virtue of the writer’s gender, while similar books by women are forced to be less than what they are…”

To sum it up neatly: “When did men become the measure?…Excellence should be the measure” 

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As Gay sees it, the reason Lana’s story is told by men is because they are the only people our society deems fit to tell anyone’s story. I’m inclined to agree with Gay that this is why the Buffys, Enids, Aprils and Lanas are products of the male imagination. But I don’t know if it necessarily lessens any of those characters or what they try to accomplish. I suppose this particular post asks more questions than it answers, but that could be alright. I think it is better to think about these matters and discuss them than to never give them a second glance. What I can tell you definitively is that Lana Winters is one of the best female television characters in recent history and is definitely the best character (of any gender) in AHS‘s universe. That means something, no matter who created her.


(Images #1 courtesy of tumblr.com; #2 courtesy of americanhorrorstory.wikia.com; #3 courtesy of fanpop.com; #4 courtesy of weheartit.com; #5 courtesy of artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com)

Feminist Friday: Emma Watson, HeForShe and the UN

It’s really, really nice when women my age publicly refer to themselves as feminists.

I don’t know about the other millennials out there, but my peer group seems to be plagued with apathy posing as nonconformity. People my age refuse to call themselves liberal or conservative; Democrat or Republican; political or non-political. I guess they are under the impression that not taking sides is noble and enlightened, instead of uninformed and cowardly. I think my generation is either afraid of offending somebody or is simply convinced that speaking up really doesn’t matter. I, for one, know that my so-called feminist rants and liberal agenda can be off-putting. Occasionally, I do try to reign it in. But most of the time I just go for it. As Emma Watson recently asked, “If not me, who? If not now, when?”

As you can see from the preceding clip, Emma Watson of Wingardium Leviosa fame addressed the United Nations earlier this week. She was speaking on behalf of a new campaign that is striving for gender equality: HeForShe. There is so much I love about her speech. The way her voice quivers and wavers, so you know she is nervous and actually gives a shit. Her personal examples of the way gender has repeatedly hindered her and her friends. Her self-deprecating manner as she implores her audience to take her seriously, even if she is only the “Harry Potter girl.” But–more than anything else–I appreciate how she argues that women and men will never really be equal if they do not work together.

I include myself when I say that many feminists and gender activists often ignore or forget men. In my case, it is so easy to only hear the Todd Akins, Mitt Romneys and Rush Limbaughs of the world, that writing off all male input seems to be the best way to preserve my sanity. But that is not right. Because, to paraphrase Gloria Steinem, gender is a prison for women and men. Just like it is unfair to govern a woman’s body and to pay her only 75% of what she should be earning, it is unfair for men to be embarrassed for being their children’s primary caregivers or for wearing something “feminine.” Especially if it is this guy. HeForShe is laudable because it recognizes both sexes as valuable assets for feminism.

And, even though it should not have to be said, Watson and her cause make plain that feminism is NOT anti-men. Giving women power is not the same as stripping men of theirs. I want to say thank you to Emma Watson for being the rare young person to take a stand.  And I’m a little bit in love with her for being the rare young woman who knows what feminism means and is more than happy to give it her support.

(Images #1 and #2 courtesy of facebook.com) 

The ‘Strong Woman’ Myth Can Be Destructive

Erin Matson

The mythology of the strong woman is fairly epic, considering that women are supposed to be weak-willed ornaments or maids that make it through every indignity — depending on how those women score on other scales of the privilege lottery. A system of male domination is not supposed to allow for strong women, except that it really does and in a way that reinforces the ongoing subjugation of women as a gender, and as individuals. While of course it feels good to be identified as a ‘strong woman,’ the reality is that this myth is a mixed bag. Strangely enough it can be destructive.

It’s important to note that the moniker “strong woman” is a compliment. But its status as a compliment actually depends on drawing a contrast between you and other women, as if those other women are weak. As if being a woman makes you inherently weak. As if you are…

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Hoop dreams

Please! You jump in some guy’s face, you talk smack and you get a pat on your ass. But, because I’m a female, I get told to calm down and act like a lady. I’m a ball player, okay?”

Monica to Quincy in Love & Basketball

This may surprise you, but I am not athletically gifted. (Well, that’s not totally accurate. I love to swim and I’m more-than-competent at yoga and Pilates. But, like Mia Thermopolis, “my hand-eye coordination is zero.”) As you can imagine, this made gym class super fun for me throughout my pre-college years. On one memorable occasion in my physical education I was hit in the face twice–TWICE!–with a volleyball. Lacking Marcia Brady’s natural beauty and popularity, nobody gave a shit about the giant welt(s) on my forehead except me. That is, I’m the only one who thought the incident was not funny.

Despite my apparent allergy to contact sports and anything that requires a “team player,” I am and always will be an advocate for women’s rights and thought-provoking art. And I can think of no better way to discuss the intersection of art, sports and feminism than Gina Prince-Bythewood‘s Love & Basketball.

I first discovered this film in its heavily-edited and watered-down state on ABC Family. At that point, I only really cared about the romance between Monica Wright and Quincy McCall because I was 10 or 11 and had not yet learned how to scoff. I saw it again–unedited this time–my second year of college and loved it even more. The amazing dialogue, the jokes I hadn’t picked up on before, and the fact that Sanaa Lathan is a phenomenal actress were way more interesting to me than the love story. But what else is new?

Monica and Quincy’s relationship could be the reason that this film continues to resonate with so many different audiences, but the movie’s subtle politics are also eerily contemporary.  Both of the main characters dream about being professional athletes, but the secondary and tertiary characters assume that only Quincy will make it. They don’t have such lofty aspirations for Monica; they just hope she will eventually grow out of her “tomboy” phase. Similarly, Quincy’s high school games are packed with fans, parents and cheerleaders, while Monica plays in front of half-filled bleachers. Quincy’s college basketball team draws ESPN’s attention and is his stepping-stone to the NBA. Monica’s only professional basketball opportunity is in Spain. And, as this post’s epigraph suggests, Quincy is allowed to have an attitude on the court. Meanwhile, Monica is benched and scolded for the same behavior. Despite their equal love for the game, the way they are allowed to play could not be more different.

Underneath the romantic surface, Prince-Bythewood’s film analyzes the gendered aspects of sports post-Title IX. William H. Chafe‘s The Paradox of Change explains that Title IX “barred sex discrimination of any kind by colleges and universities receiving federal aid.” Easier said than done.

As Susan M. Shaw and Janet Lee attest in Women’s Voices, Feminist Visions, “athletics ha[ve] traditionally been male dominated. Men’s sports are more highly valued than women’s sports and are a major focus for sports entertainment. Compared to men’s professional sports, women’s are grossly underrepresented.” Title IX forever changed the legal aspect of women’s sports and gave many women the chance to practice sports firmly associated with men. However, ideological attitudes about gender still prevent this provision of the Educational Amendments Act  from truly making sports a level playing field for everyone. This dynamic is one of the more understated conflicts that unfolds in Love & Basketball.

Because of Title IX:

  • Monica and Quincy both have the opportunity to play high school and college basketball
  • There is no apparent discrepancy in the funding of their respective teams (uniforms, equipment, playing space, etc. are equal)
  • Scholarship money aids both characters as they pursue their basketball careers/educations
  • University of Southern California athletic scouts notice both characters’ talents and recruit them

In spite of Title IX:

  • The support and fandom for Quincy’s skills/men’s basketball consistently overshadow Monica’s talents/women’s basketball
  • The McCalls are aware of Quincy’s passion for the game and believe he can go pro; the Wrights advise Monica to try something else
  • Both Quincy and Monica are arrogant on the court, but Monica is the one who must change her behavior in order to be a starting player in college
  • In the movie’s pre-WNBA setting, Quincy dreams of playing in the NBA and Monica dreams of being the first girl in the NBA
  • Quincy (and every other character) cannot grasp why basketball is Monica’s first priority
  • No one questions Quincy’s sexuality because he loves the game; the same cannot be said of Monica

In the movie’s “First Quarter,” Monica claims she does not care that she is different than other girls. I don’t know if any adolescent girl is completely unconcerned about how others see her, but Monica still repeatedly refuses to let anyone’s opinion cloud her judgment or hinder her plans. It’s the same story for the ever-present sexism in sports. She might have to work harder than Quincy to earn the same amount of respect, but that is something Monica is willing to do and does throughout the entire movie. Despite the tensions between the legal and ideological arguments about a woman’s place in basketball, Monica knows she is just as good as any male player. She also knows that her talent will set her apart from other girls, from her family and even from Quincy. But she accepts that and ultimately makes it to the WNBA, vindicating all of the sacrifices she made throughout the four quarters of her simultaneous romances with Quincy and the game. After all, all’s fair in love and basketball.

(Image #1 courtesy of imdb.com; #2 courtesy of silveremulsion.com; #3 courtesy of madamenoire.com)