Feminist Friday: “Modern Office with Christina Hendricks”

You know what really pisses me off? Stupid “rules” of etiquette that we are socialized to believe are natural laws of propriety. For example, I loathe the fact that it is “impolite to discuss money.” There is no intrinsic nastiness linked to talks about economy, taxes, disposable income and salary. A bunch of assholes a long time ago just decided to compare economic dialogue to bad manners and, voila, asking questions about your earnings was suddenly off-limits.

Here’s the truth: The U.S. is one of the most technologically advanced, rich and innovative countries on the planet. It is also probably the most backwards of all the industrialized nations. That is why there is such a huge disparity between the privileged and the poor, the haves and the have-nots,  the Koch brothers and the voters. From an early age, we are programmed to believe that anyone in our country has the ability to transform from Dick Whitman to Don Draper. But we also learn–in a more implicit manner–that money is something that classy people never talk about.

Look, I’m not saying that you should ask every passer-by in the grocery store what he or she makes in a fiscal year. That’s weird. But I am indicting the idiotic norms that prohibit us from learning about economic inequality and what constitutes an honest day’s wage for an honest day’s work. Being ignorant about how your paycheck stacks up against your counterparts’ is exactly how women still only make about 75% of what men earn. Like Joan Harris and Peggy Olson are our co-workers. We’re so afraid of offending somebody that we unwillingly let ourselves be exploited. If we don’t know the nature of the injustice, there is nothing we can do to rectify it.

In honor of my philosophy, check out this Funny Or Die clip from August 6, 2014:

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Because, really, which is worse? Pointedly asking what your co-workers earn or living like it is still the ’60s? Honestly, if our employers cannot provide us with basic workers’ rights then we should be able to drink on the clock. Sounds like a trade-off to me.

(Image #1 courtesy of funnyordie.com; #2 courtesy of blog.emilyslist.org; #3 courtesy of dailymail.co.uk)

CANADA: LAND OF MISANDRY? NOT ANYMORE

This piece from The Belle Jar relates to my writings on Persepolis, The Eggs and Us: The Abortion Wars Rage On,” and “We Asked 22 Women Why They Take Birth Control And These Are Their Answers”. I’m woefully uninformed when it comes to international politics, so I found this post extremely illuminating and entertaining.

I hope you do too!

The Belle Jar

I think that we can all agree that the main problem with Canadian history is that men are just way too underrepresented. Take our money, for example. I mean, the queen is on all of our coins! What kind of misandry is this? Sure the five dollar bill boasts our old pal Wilfred Laurier, and the ten dollar bill shows everyone’s favourite confederation-loving racist Sir John A. Macdonald, and the fifty dollar bill has séance-holder and dog enthusiast William Lyon Mackenzie King and yeah, fine, the hundred dollar bill is devoted to Nova Scotia’s good ole boy Sir Robert Borden, but I mean, come on. Queen Elizabeth II graces all of our coins and our twenty dollar bill. Every time you open your wallet it’s just ladies ladies everywhere and nary a dick in sight*.

If you’re not seeing the feminist conspiracy that’s clearly at play here, then you must have taken the…

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Feminist Friday: “We Asked 22 Women Why They Take Birth Control And These Are Their Answers”

As I shared with you on the Fourth of July, I am not at all happy with the recent Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision. And, as it turns out, I am not the only one who is pissed off. There have been plenty of articles, op-eds and political analysis about how five old dudes endangered the reproductive rights and freedoms of all American women. But I have found none as poignant, honest and relevant as this piece of photojournalism from BuzzFeed: “We Asked 22 Women Why They Take Birth Control And These Are Their Answers” by Lara Parker, Candace Lowry and Alison Vingiano. The three writers asked 22 of their coworkers why they went on the Pill and took photographs of the women with their written answers.

Here’s mine, just for posterity:

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I really enjoy these photos because they explain this issue in a way that our politicians will not. Deciding to go on the Pill does not necessarily have anything to do with sex. And–to be quite honest–even if it does, that is no reason to treat it as taboo, risque or immoral. In any case, these women demonstrate how that heinous Supreme Court decision does not just pass judgment on the sexual lives of women. It also endangers their health and makes clear that one crazy family’s religious beliefs mean a hell of a lot more than freedom for millions of women.

Check out the piece here: http://www.buzzfeed.com/laraparker/we-asked-women-why-they-take-birth-control-and-these-are 

And here are a few of my favorite answers to the journalists’ question:

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And now, before I say goodbye for today, let me leave you with the wise words from the Women & Women First Bookstore ladies of Portlandia:

“If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.”

(Images 1 and 2 courtesy of yours truly; Images 3,4,5 and 6 courtesy of buzzfeed.com)

The children’s hour

“Instead of making me docile, Lucinda’s curse made a rebel of me. Or perhaps I was that way naturally.”

–from Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

There are several reasons that I am fond of Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted. First, it was one of the first books I read in the wake of my father’s death. Reading was a major way I was able to cope with the loss. The protagonist, Ella, was especially comforting because she knew how it felt to lose a parent; the catalyst of her story is the death of her mother. Disappearing from reality and delving into a good story helped me focus on something other than my grief.

Second, the story is a retelling of the classic Cinderella fairy tale. I don’t know if this type of narrative is a genre, per se, but I adore literary retellings. The process of taking characters and plot lines we’ve known our entire lives, turning them on their head and making them modern and relatable is brilliant. Ella’s curse of obedience is a hell of a lot more intriguing than the damsel in distress-and-rags act that the traditional Cinderella has going on.

Finally, I love this story and find it enjoyable even as an adult because it is an example of the hidden depths children’s literature provides. Yes, Ella’s adventures are an entertaining story for a little girl in the midst of bereavement. But they are also critiques of gender roles, patriarchy and personal autonomy. Not exactly child’s play, is it?

Unlike the Disney version of the fairy tale, Ella is not compliant or accepting of her misfortune. And she damn sure is not sweet in the face of adversity. Instead, baby Ella receives the “gift “of obedience from the fairy Lucinda. As anyone with half a brain would realize, this is not gift at all; it is a terrible curse. Ella has to do as she is told, no matter how humiliating, unethical, silly or just plain evil the command. She has no real free will, choice or personal autonomy. Even her thoughts can be controlled. If someone tells her to be happy, her mood automatically brightens.

Tellingly, Levine often depicts Ella’s forced obedience and actions in terms of gendered behavior and social institutions. For example, after her mother’s funeral, Ella’s father decides that she will attend finishing school. Thanks to the curse, Ella excels in etiquette, because she is literally educated against her will. As Ella recounts, “My progress in all my subjects astounded the mistresses. In my first month I did little right. In my second I did little wrong. And gradually, it all became natural: light steps, small stitches, quiet voice, ramrod-straight back, deep curtsies without creaking knees, no yawns, soup tilted away from me, and no slurping.” 

Yes, on the surface this is a tale about hardship, perseverance and magic. However, if you compare Ella’s newfound skills with the contents of a Women’s Studies textbook, you will discover the real world themes throughout the narrative.  Ella is learning to be a lady, learning how to perform her femininity. In her essay “The Social Construction of Gender,” Judith Lorber argues that gender is learned and “creates the social differences that define ‘woman’ and ‘man’.”  She further describes how “gendered norms and expectations are enforced through informal sanctions of gender-inappropriate behavior by peers and by formal punishment or threat of punishment by those in authority…” 

In this case, Ella’s punishment for deviating from the mistresses’ wishes would be nausea, migraines, dizziness and the inability to breathe. She is physically obligated to obey every command; if she doesn’t, the curse provides consequences. Acting like a socially acceptable “lady” is not something that comes to her naturally; it is something that she is forced to learn. If her story lacked a curse and took place in our world instead of the land of Frell, then Ella would probably shunned, mocked or verbally abused for rejecting the standard gender norms.

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Just as the curse of obedience trains Ella to be someone she is not (and has no wish to be), it also takes away the little power she has under the patriarchal thumb of her father. When Sir Peter makes a bad investment and is forced to auction off all of his belongings, he sees his most valuable asset in his daughter. He tells Ella, “I shall have to sell you, in a manner of speaking. You must marry so that we can be rich again.” Even if this story is meant for children and takes place in a fantasy land, this scenario is completely reality-based. Throughout history–and even in contemporary times–daughters have, in effect, been traded for cash. This is disturbing enough in and of itself, but Sir Peter’s plan is even more sinister because Ella cannot resist. Of course, all the daughters that have been sold have little choice in the matter. If they run away, they could face a life of poverty, social ostracism and violence. Unfortunately, Ella does not even have that dismal option. The curse gives the patriarchy even more influence over her life.

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This is all a really in-depth way of saying that children’s books are not without their own metaphors, messages, social commentary and complexity. Ella Enchanted is a delightful spin on a fairy tale that everyone in the Western world knows by heart. It’s funny, interesting and upbeat. But Gail Carson Levine’s writing style provides so much more than a story about magic, fairies and the power of love. Her prose is also an astute analysis and indictment of the way we train girls to act a certain way and how the institution of marriage still has the potential to be an economical, patriarchal ritual cloaked in the charade of romantic love. After reading between the lines of this particular interpretation of the classic fairy tale, one thing is definitely clear: It puts Disney and that Anne Hathaway piece of crap to shame.

(Image #1 courtesy of goodreads.com; #2 courtesy of gailcarsonlevine.com ; #3 courtesy of paperdollromance.blogspot.com; #4 courtesy of jaime-morrow.com)

Feminist Friday: “The Eggs and Us”

Hello, my fellow patriots! Welcome to Feminist Friday: Independence Day Edition.

This is the time of year we celebrate our country’s revolt and ultimate freedom from England by stuffing our faces with hot dogs and allowing small children to handle flaming sticks. I kid! I kid because I love. As surprising as it might seem to some pundits and various other douchebags, progressives and liberals (like myself) are not automatically anti-America or unpatriotic. On the contrary, I love my country. I’m not pointing out its flaws to be bitchy; that’s just a perk. No, I’m doing it because I want to make my country better, a place that reflects my own values. A place that is safe for women.

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More than anything else, I respect America’s goal to give every citizen freedom. I say “goal” because this principle only works in theory. In practice, women, racial minorities, the LGBTQ community, the working class, students, non-Christians and many others do not have the automatic freedom that our leaders keep harping on about. Usually, I feel somewhat optimistic about all of this. I think Hey, it’s 2014! Sooner or later we will all wake up and demand justice and equality for everyone. Unfortunately, two recent Supreme Court decisions have dampened my faith in America and its dedication to women’s rights and freedom. It’s hard to be all USA! USA! USA! when future employers are completely within their rights to deny coverage for my contraception, and it is possible that going to a Planned Parenthood clinic (for a variety of reasons) would result in verbal and/or physical abuse.

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But just when I am tempted to sit in my room and cry because two major decisions that affect me and every American woman have been disproportionately influenced by five old, saggy white guys, I remember Gail Collins. She is an op-ed columnist for the New York Times and one of the few journalists who balances wit with biting political analysis. She and Nate Silver got me through the last election, but that is neither here nor there. Her June 27, 2014 column is entitled “The Eggs and Us: The Abortion Wars Rage On” and discusses the now-defunct buffer zones and the then-upcoming Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision.

Read it here: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/28/opinion/gail-collins-the-eggs-and-us.html?emc=eta1&_r=0 

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Here are some of the best tidbits if you are too lazy (shame on you) to read the whole thing:

  • “…this [buffer zone] decision came from people who work in a building where the protesters aren’t allowed within 250 feet of the front door.”
  • “…the Greens [of Hobby Lobby] draw the line at anything that they believe might endanger a fertilized egg, like Plan B, or IUDs. Many scientists would disagree with the Greens’ theory about how contraceptives work, but it doesn’t matter. Religion trumps.”
  • “Once again, we are reminded that men do not get pregnant.”

If you are also ready to start picketing the Supreme Court due to their increasingly shitty choices (from 250 feet away, of course), then I highly recommend reading this and all of Collins’ future op-ed writings. She covers current events and contemporary politics in a sensible, funny, never-bitter style. You should also pick up a copy of When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present. It will piss you off, inspire you, and inform you about our women’s amazing strides and devastating failures throughout the past 54 years. It totally changed my life.

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That’s all, folks. I hope you have a wonderful Fourth of July! Appreciate all of the opportunities that the United States has given you. And never stop reaching for the equality and freedom that you were promised and deserve. I’m gonna Google Obvious Child for the twentieth time.

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(Image #1, #2 and #5 courtesy of plannedparenthoodaction.org; #3 courtesy of harvardmagazine.com; #4 courtesy of yorkblog.com)

If it wasn’t for bad, she’d be good

“I’m not as perfectly comfortable with manslaughter as you.”

–Donnie to Alison in Orphan Black

I would say that Serena Pemberton of Ron Rash‘s eponymous novel is cut from the same cloth as Lady MacBeth. But that would be inaccurate, since Lady MacBeth eventually has a change of heart. No, I’d argue that Serena’s closest literary doppelganger is a hybrid of Heinsenberg and his famous blue crystal meth. She is a near-mythological character whose reputation in the book makes a far greater impression than her dialogue or actions ever could.  She is at a such a remove from the events and perspective of Rash’s narrative, that one can almost forget that she is the center of all the chaos. Although Serena appears to be in the background of her own story, her presence–noticeable or not–is what causes the downfall of everyone in her wake.

On the other hand, George Pemberton–Serena’s husband and unaware lackey–is Walter White. He’s a seemingly regular guy whose high tolerance for evil acts remains dormant until he meets his wife. Then he takes to her horrendous agenda in such an enthusiastic way that you know he always had the ability to do terrible things. He just needed the motivation.

This is all a really roundabout way of saying that Outside Girls do not necessarily have to be good people. The women I’ve covered so far are decent for all intents and purposes, even if there is an ethical hiccup now and again. But Serena Pemberton is independent, strong and occasionally sardonic. And, yet, she is the catalyst of this Greek tragedy (complete with a chorus of crewmen and multiple deaths) posing as a Southern Gothic. And she gives Vee of Orange is the New Black fame and Rachel “Pro-Clone” Duncan of Orphan Black considerable competition for Sociopath of the Year Award.

                           

Like Vee and Rachel, Serena initially tricks the reader into thinking that her rejection of rules and norms is just plain bad-ass, not scary or amoral. When I started reading Serena, I was planning on siding with the flawed titular character, just as I rooted for Anna Karenina and Edna Pontellier of The Awakening. In fact, Rash had me at his first description of Serena: “At five-nine, Serena stood taller than either man, but Pemberton knew other aspects of Serena’s appearance helped foster Buchanan and Wilkie’s obvious surprise–pants and boots instead of a dress and cloche hat, sun-bronzed skin that belied Serena’s social class, lips and cheeks untinted by rouge, hair blonde and thick but cut short in a bob, distinctly feminine yet also austere.”

I mean, who wouldn’t love that?

Throw in Serena’s sexual agency in an era where it was unheard of, her ability to grow Pemberton Lumber Company into an empire during the Great Depression, her success in training an eagle to hunt rattlesnakes and the fact that she saves her husband from being killed by a bear, and you’ve got a character that sounds objectively awesome. However, everything that makes Serena seem cool on the surface conceals something darker at her core.

Serena Pemberton’s attributes:

  1. Declaration that her marriage is a partnership; intolerance for cheating or lying
  2. Survival and reinvention after her entire family dies in a flu epidemic
  3. Rescue of a Galloway, a crew member, when he loses a hand
  4. Keen business mind
  5. Lack of concern for what anyone thinks of her
  6. Willingness to stand up for herself

And their troubling counterparts:

  1. Determination to kill her husband’s former lover and his illegitimate child
  2. Inability to feel; comfortable with eliminating anyone she sees as an enemy or traitor
  3. Use of said crew member to do her bidding (violent and otherwise)
  4. Willingness to destroy any available forest; lack of sympathy for anyone she fires or puts out of business
  5. Refusal to listen to reason
  6. Thirst for revenge under the flimsiest of circumstances

I am tempted to say that Serena’s inability to use her strengths for good is a negative thing. Of course, I could just be feeling guilty for rooting for her throughout the first half of the novel.  But I don’t necessarily think that Serena Pemberton’s obvious evil means she is a disappointing literary representation of a woman. After all, there are dozens of beloved male anti-heroes from Alex of A Clockwork Orange to Tony Soprano to Severus Snape to Don Draper to, you guessed it, Walter White. What’s disturbing is the fact that most anti-heroes (male or female) experience some sort of about-face, even if it is only temporary, while Serena never doubts herself or feels a morsel of regret. But, then again, maybe that is what gives Serena her outsider status. It’s not the fact that she is morally bankrupt or selfish or makes Lorne Malvo look downright cuddly. It’s that she is fully committed to being really, really bad and hasn’t the slightest interest in being good.

Who are your go-to anti-heroes? Do you find evil female characters more or less disturbing than their male counterparts? Do you think Serena is morally ambiguous, or just plain villainous? Let me know in the comments!

(Image #1 courtesy of rusoffagency.com; #2 courtesy of zap2it.com; #3 courtesy of eonline.com; #4 courtesy of goodreads.com)

Feminist Friday: The Bechdel Test

In my Communication Research and Methods class, I unwittingly utilized the Bechdel Test. For my final project, I conducted a content analysis of the conversations between the women of Bridesmaids. I was interested in the media’s depiction of female friendships and thought that the dialogue between female characters would be the best indicator of their bonds. (For those of you interested in my amateur study, here it is: my final research paper.)

While my goal was to dissect women’s relationships in film, I actually ended up conducting a category-specific Bechdel Test. For the record, Alison Bechdel–author of Fun Home and Are You My Mother?–first featured the rule of thumb in her long-running comic, Dykes to Watch Out For.

As Mo explains, there are a precious few movies that feature a.) at least two women that b.) talk to each other about c.) something other than a man. They’re three simple guidelines, but you would be shocked at how few texts meet them. And I’m not talking about meeting them throughout the entire movie; sometimes there isn’t even one scene where a couple of ladies talk about politics or books or work or their families. That’s pretty fucking scary.

Even movies that seemingly depict women coming together to rid themselves of patriarchy sometimes reveal themselves to be complete bullshit. Not to rain on everyone’s The Fault in Our Stars parade (okay, maybe I want to), but I have to disagree with non-feminist Shailene Woodley‘s stance on The Other Woman. She says, “[It] looks really good because I think it’s really neat that it shows women coming together and supporting each other and creating a sisterhood of support for one another versus hating each other for something that somebody else created.” Yes, it is so refreshing to see a movie where three blonde, white, privileged women band together to destroy an idiot guy. Especially when taking revenge by, oh, I don’t know, succeeding in life is so boring and sensible.

Even though I am biased because I think that the film looks like total garbage, I do have some evidence to back me up:  “‘The Other Woman’: When Terrible Movies Happen to Funny Actresses” by NPR’s Linda Holmes. Despite Woodley’s assertion (which we should all listen to) that this movie is all about the sisterhood, Holmes found that these three sisters aren’t doing it for themselves; the movie failed the Bechdel Test.

I can’t say it better than Holmes, so I won’t. She writes, “Yyyyyyyup. That’s right. The Other Woman is 109 minutes long, and at no time do any of these women — including Carly and her secretary, who only know each other from work — pause for a discussion, even for a moment, of anything other than a series of dudes: Mark, Kate’s brother, Carly’s father, the secretary’s husband, Carly’s other boyfriends. It is truly, no fooling, all they talk about for 109 minutes.”

Let’s all pause for a moment and weep about the current state of feminism in the media, for Cameron Diaz’s and Leslie Mann’s terrible agents, and for the fact that someone thought it would be okay to let Kate Upton act.

Now, a call to action. Please take some time and watch films or television series where there are two women. Who talk to each other. About something other than a man. We can do it!

Here are a few suggestions:

Have a productive weekend!

(Image #1 courtesy of strategylab.ca; #2 courtesy of rookiemag.com; #3 and #5 courtesy of dykestowatchoutfor.com; #4 courtesy of theotherwomanmovie.com)