Tag Archives: LGBTQ

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)

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A case of blue

“Oh you’re in my blood like holy wine/You taste so bitter and so sweet/Oh I could drink a case of you darling/Still I’d be on my feet/Oh I would still be on my feet”

“A Case of You” by Joni Mitchell

Yes, we are talking about that movie. But before delving into what makes Adele of Blue is the Warmest Color an Outside Girl, let me preface this post with this disclaimer: The film is one minute shy of three hours and–at most–devotes only 15 minutes to scenes of explicit coupling. This movie features sex, but is also about a lot more than that. Okay, the lecture is over now.

Believe it or not, I’m more interested in how this incredible film depicts everyone’s favorite subject: love. For those of you unaware of Blue, here is the rundown: It is very loosely based on Julie Maroh‘s awesome graphic novel, Blue Angel. In addition, it explores the years-long relationship between two women (one is older, cultured and experienced; the other is younger, working class and green) from when their paths first cross to when their paths permanently diverge. It is fantastic. Especially because director Abdellatif Kechiche decides to acknowledge that romance is just as likely to destroy a person as it is to build her up. You see, as high school aged Adele becomes more and more wrapped up in college student Emma, the more she cuts herself off from everything else in her own world.

It is no revelation when I say that individuals can lose their own sense of self when they become part of a couple. A colleague of mine (thinking himself very wise) once said when you are in a relationship, your status shifts from “me-dom to we-dom.” Violations of the English language aside, the core of his sentiment does have some bearing on reality. We have all had friends who become so dedicated to their romance that they have little time for anything else. Scholar Caroline E. Jones recently studied the way burgeoning female sexuality and first sexual experiences are presented on television. She argues that the female protagonist often “constructs a social or public identity that reveals, complements, or masks her personal or private identity; the double-process of self-perception and self-construction helps her frame…her emerging sense of herself as sexually active.”

For the record, Jones only applies her claim to Buffy Summers, Veronica Mars and Rory Gilmore and analyzes how their initial sexual experiences shaped their characters. However, the stance Jones takes is extremely relevant to Adele and her head-over-heels fall for Emma. Adele is not ashamed of her sexuality, exactly. But she is very private about her feelings and her relationship. For example, both women meets the other’s parents. Emma’s parents know who Adele really is, but Adele’s parents are under the impression that Emma tutors Adele in philosophy. As the commitment between these two women intensifies, the less Adele has to do with her own individual life. When the two first meet, Adele has a large circle of friends, a boyfriend and spends time with her parents every day. By the time the two move in together, Adele only socializes with Emma’s colleagues and friends. It is almost as if Adele has no sense of herself without Emma. It’s like her previous life never even existed.

To be clear, Jones does not argue that Buffy, Veronica and Rory all lose their individuality once they embark on a sexual relationship. But there is a perceivable shift in the way they see themselves and their lovers. Adele goes through this transformation too, even if it is more extreme than Jones documents in her study. Many critics have argued that economic status is what eventually drives these two women apart.  A.O. Scott notes that the “subtle, unmistakable class difference” is punctuated by the aforementioned dinner scenes. Emma’s parents serve oysters; Adele’s family serves spaghetti. It’s true that the differing class status puts strains on their romance, but I would argue that their respective sense of self is the ultimate catalyst for their breakup. As Scott describes, “Emma is proudly out. Adele is, somewhat defiantly, closeted.”

Revealing one’s sexuality is an inherently personal decision. Just as I believe that no one should be attacked or discriminated against based on his or her sexual orientation, I don’t automatically think anyone should be pressured to divulge something that he or she is not ready to share. In my opinion, Adele has every right to keep her sexuality private, but I can also understand how it fractures her relationship with Emma. Adele’s isolation is her own unconscious construction. She is so in love and is so hesitant to publicly discuss it that her lover eventually becomes her entire world.

That puts a lot of pressure on Emma and would be too much for many people to handle. During their devastating breakup scene, Adele confesses to cheating on Emma and tells her, “I felt so alone.” She is alone, even when she is deliriously happy in her relationship. For all of their intense chemistry and genuine affection for each other, these two women come from completely different worlds. Shy Adele, who aspires to be a teacher, will never really fit with Emma, an artist whose emotions are just as visible as her electric-blue hair. Adele does not understand this until it is too late. From the moment she sees Emma, she barrels forward and sacrifices everything so she can be with her. The cruel irony of this beautiful film is that Adele’s willingness to give up everything for love is exactly why she loses it.

(Image #1 courtesy of aceshowbiz.com; #2 courtesy of teatopour.blogspot.com; #3 courtesy of athenacinema.com; #4 courtesy of galleryhip.com)

This is Janis. She’s almost too cool to function.

“Boys fuck things up. Girls are fucked up.”

–Louis C.K. 

Get in, losers! We’re going to discuss Mean Girls!

In honor of this genius movie’s upcoming 10th anniversary, I am going to analyze an Outside Girl that is so obvious that she is actually easy to overlook: Janis Ian. This character was created by the amazing Tina Fey and portrayed by the equally inimitable Lizzy Caplan. I’ve watched Mean Girls at least once a year since I saw it on its opening weekend (at the probably-too-young age of 12), and I cannot believe that Janis was not my favorite character from the beginning. Because she is definitely the smartest, funniest and most powerful character in a movie with a bunch of strong, funny, intelligent women. Hell, it was even written by one. I mean, just consider the line “You smell like a baby prostitute.” It’s brutally honest, unnecessarily graphic and is aimed to deflate someone’s super-sized ego. What’s not to love?

If you are not (and never have been) a teenage girl, let me clue you in on something that should not be a secret: it sucks. Speaking your mind marks you as crazy, bitchy or, my personal favorite, “someone who can’t take a joke.” It doesn’t matter how smart, athletic, creative, nice or otherwise gifted you are; if you are not pretty by conventional standards, your romantic stock automatically plummets, along with your self-esteem. Oh, and your “best friends forever” often turn out to be your worst enemies. With all of this information, it is a mystery to me why there are always reporters with extensive research stories with the same, groundbreaking conclusion: aggression is not an exclusively male trait.

Although Mean Girls ends with a funny and disturbing physical fight/riot among all the female junior class members, most of the movie portrays what psychologists and sociologists call “relational aggression.” This is how you work out your issues in ways that slowly destroy your friendships instead of openly expressing your emotions. The more acceptable definition, according to Dawn H. Currie and Deirdre M. Kelly in Girlhood: Redefining the Limits, is “related to indirect aggression that includes covert behaviour…that allows the perpetrator to avoid confronting her target, and to social aggression as behaviour that intends to damage self-esteem or social status within a group…” Instead of just coming out and saying what they want, girls often resort to underhanded methods to work out their social problems. Our culture’s version of femininity “emphasizes the importance of relationships in women’s lives,” so actually having it out with a friend seems much less appealing than bitching about her behind her back and solving virtually nothing. And the sick thing is that we know we are being passive aggressive, but it physically feels like we have no other option.

The reason I consider Janis an Outside Girl is not just because she understands that clique culture and Girl World both are really, really messed up.  Instead, I like her because she is the only teen girl in this movie that strays from relational aggression without being instructed to do so. Ms. Norbury leads a workshop to try and build up the high school girls’ self-esteem and strengthen their communication skills and mutual trust. Unsurprisingly, Janis steals the show. (“It’s probably because I’ve got a big, lesbian ca-rush on you! Suck on that!”) Her honesty and willingness to verbally express her grievances separate her from the crowd in a healthy way. Often, being an Outside Girl means being lonely and feeling misunderstood. In Janis’ case, her outsider status could save her thousands of dollars in therapy bills. Because there is no way Regina, Gretchen or Cady will grow up to be well-adjusted. Karen won’t grow up to be well-adjusted either, but she is too stupid to notice. So I’m gonna call that one a draw.

I also like the character of Janis (and I could go on about this forever) because of her relationship to the LGBTQ community. Janis’ best friend and confidant is Damian, who is openly and proudly gay. Janis is not a lesbian, but her peers mock her as butchy because of the way she dresses, her friendship with Damian and because she takes female friendship very seriously. This is another super fun aspect of being a teenage girl. If you are independent , don’t smile constantly, publicly identify yourself as a feminist or have a close female confidant then, duh, you’re gay! In the eighth grade, a hurt Janis confronted Regina about her friend’s neglect and how she felt like she came in second to Regina’s new boyfriend. And Regina, being a relational aggressive, told Janis that she could not come to her pool party because girls would be there. In their swimsuits. It would have been pandemonium, obviously.

In any case, Janis is on the outside because of her clear, assertive communication skills, her willingness to align herself with other outcasts, and because she deviates from accepted gender norms and cannot prove she is not a lesbian. But I don’t think it matters too much to her. She realizes that the Plastics are psychotic Barbies. Like I said before, she is the best character in this amazing movie. And she is the one who really wins in the end:

Do you have any favorite Janis moments? Which Mean Girls line do you use on a daily basis? It would be so fetch if you left your opinions in the comments!

(Image #1 courtesy of scriptsit.tumblr.com; #2 courtesy of rottentomatoes.com; #3 courtesy of wemediacritics.blogspot.com; #4 courtesy of rottentomatoes.com)

What’s in a name? Quite a lot.

“Imagine being born with a name like Miles Davis. You’ve already got it made.”

–from Trumpet by Jackie Kay

During my second year of college, I went to Ireland for spring break. I returned with a souvenir pin bearing my mother’s maiden name.  According to the back of this pin, her former surname is Gaelic for “troublesome” or “light-haired.” Coming from a family of sarcastic blondes, I was delighted to learn that little fun fact. Really, it shouldn’t matter to me one way or another. It isn’t my last name and I could just as easily be a pleasant (ha!) brunette. But our names–whether we acknowledge it or not–influence our identities and even our dispositions. In short, our names are more than something listed on our birth certificates.

Alike of the film Pariah (which you need to see) knows something about the complexity of identity. She is a seventeen-year-old poet and Brooklynite who also happens to be a lesbian. Her sexuality is never really the driving conflict of the film. Alike knows who she is and accepts it. The problem is that her parents refuse to see or support her sexuality. Her constant shift from the person she wants to be (complete with a girlfriend and masculine clothing) to the person her parents expect her to be (complete with a pink, clinging shirt) is the movie’s main source of tension.  Like so many other girls on this blog, Alike is caught between her parents’ ideologies and her own evolution.

I could go on and on about how Alike’s constant clothing changes symbolize her struggle, but I would probably bore you. Anyways, everything you need to know about the protagonist’s journey can be found in her first name. It is pronounced ah-LEE-kay, but is also visually semantic. For all you English majors out there, the OED defines alike as “Of two or more things: like one another, similar, of identical form or character.” Alike’s gruff-but-loving father and her flinty, worried mother have certain standards. They want Alike to adhere to the strict gender code that other teen girls seemingly follow without issue. Arthur and Audrey  see that Alike is physically uncomfortable in frilly clothes. They sense that her friendship with another girl from their church congregation is more than platonic. But they simply cannot handle it. Despite alike‘s coded meaning for conformity, their individual daughter will never act exactly as they planned.

For she is Alike with a better, bolder pronunciation. She deals with heartbreak, isolation and insensitivity from her parents, but you can’t help but feel happy for Alike throughout the movie. Even though she has to hide herself from her parents, Alike is decidedly living on her own terms. After an intense verbal fight between Alike, Arthur and Audrey, Alike decides to move out and attend a prestigious writing program on the other side of the country. Film critic Stephen Holden argues that “Alike does a better job than many young women of negotiating life…while protecting herself until it is time to break free.” That is true–to an extent. I am just as excited for Alike as Holden is, but her identity is not as simple as free/not free. Like her name, Alike’s role as an Outside Girl is up for multiple readings and interpretations.

Yes, Alike’s decision to break away from her family is agentic, independent and the best decision for her. But I have to mention that her otherness is not fully self-inflicted. Most of the other girls I have discussed on this blog are white and upper middle class. They have the freedom to buck tradition for awhile and can return to the status quo if they ever need to. However, Alike’s outsider status is threefold and the most complex: she is black, she is gay, and she needs to get away from her family’s constraints and gender policing. Yes, her family is middle class, but there is a distinct urgency to the way her parents behave. Arthur perceives Alike as “Daddy’s little girl,” but her burgeoning masculinity is a threat to his own. Audrey is so afraid of what other people will think that she sees Alike’s sexuality as a personal affront. How can she build a happy life for Alike when her daughter insists on wearing butch clothes and actively “turning into a man?”

I don’t say any of this to undermine Alike’s journey. The truth is that choosing to walk away from your social circle (with the full knowledge you can waltz right back) is another unfair privilege of being white or having money. Alike is a great character who decides to leave her community instead of waiting around to be pushed away. If I was in her position, I would do the same. But it is important to note that this isn’t just another case of getting bored and making a change in your life. This is a case of leaving everything you love behind and knowing full-well that it is for good. Director Dee Rees might have named the film after a social outcast, but I probably would label Alike “Brave as Hell.” Then again, her awesome name already says it all.

(Image #1 courtesy of en.wikipedia.org; #2 accessatlanta.com; #3 courtesy of usatoday.com)

The cat’s in the cradle and the (antique) silver spoon

“Not only were we inverts. We were inversions of one another. While I was trying to compensate for something unmanly in him…he was attempting to express something feminine through me.”

-Alison Bechdel in Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic

A few examples of the inverted nature between Alison and her father, Bruce:

As we have previously discussed, Outside Girls often reject the ideology of their class and peers. When I think about the women I’ve written about thus far–like Lindsay, Angela, Daria, and Jessica–I think about how they also write off their parents as clueless and hopelessly unaware of what it’s like. What is “it,” you ask? Everything. In. Life.

As much as I love all these characters and the texts they come from, it’s sad that  I, as the reader, never find out whether they ever end up giving their parents the benefit of the doubt. With Fun Home, I found out. Bechdel’s memoir tells the story of her childhood growing up in a funeral home, but it is from an adult’s vantage point. Years after her coming out and her father’s suicide, Bechdel looks back and attempts to make sense of her family. This hindsight gives her a deeper understanding of the volatile, closeted Bruce and her own coming of age.

Alison and Bruce are frequently at odds with one another in the text, but there is an underlying mutual understanding and affection. Bruce recognizes Alison’s sexuality will be a site of struggle in their small town world; he’s lived with this struggle all his life. In fact, I think he knows she will be an Outside Girl before she does, and his constant criticism and insults are his way of protecting both of them. As scholar Robin Lydenberg points out, “their common struggle over gender identity puts father and daughter alternately in conflict and in cahoots.” As cruel as he can be, Bruce considers gender policing the sole way to prevent his daughter from future pain, even as it repeats patterns he must have experienced from his own parents.

Unsurprisingly, this plan does not work. It further drives apart the father and daughter and results in even more familial isolation:

As the home gets less and less fun, the Bechdels become increasingly interested in their solitary artistic pursuits. Bruce’s love of antiquing, restoring furniture and decorating is his way of curbing his desires, while Alison’s drawing is her way of surviving until she is able to leave. Likewise, her mother’s music and brothers’ respective guitar and model airplanes are the only way they are able to find pleasure in the fun(eral) home. On top of this self-induced quarantine, Alison and her family are trapped in a house that her mother describes as “a tinderbox.” Alison herself sees it as something akin to the Addams Family‘s home with its “dark, lofty ceilings, peeling wallpaper, and menacing horsehair furnishings.”

Is it any wonder that Alison chooses to walk away?*

In college, Alison finds a way to embrace her sexuality, is passionate about learning, and manages to reject the repressed, desperate parts of her childhood. And her acceptance of who she is–as something different from her family and the rest of Beech Creek, Pa.–is when she finally sees her father for who he is.

Like so many solid relationships, Bruce and Alison find a way to connect through their mutual love of literature. In fact, Alison takes a suggestion from her father to read Colette‘s autobiography. He appears to recommend it because he wants his daughter to “learn about Paris in the twenties. That whole scene,” but I’m sure the book’s lesbian presence is no coincidence. At this point, I believe Bruce accepts that Alison has chosen to live the way she wants: out of the closet and in exploration of her own sexuality and identity. As Lydenberg opines, Bechdel “is able to cross boundaries her father never dared to transgress.” Bruce recognizes that Alison’s life will be quite different from his and I think this actually gives him joy. Bruce can’t protect her from the inevitable ignorance and intolerance she will face, but he can enjoy the fact that her life as a gay women coming out in the 1970’s will be easier than his life as a gay man who dared not express himself in the 40’s and 50’s.

After her father is hit by a bread truck, Alison and her girlfriend attend his funeral in Beech Creek. As the mourners try to comfort the bereaved family, Alison thinks what she cannot say: “I’d kill myself too if I had to live here.” This is the most memorable part of the story for me. Not only does Bechdel pinpoint the raw honesty that plagues a grieving family, she highlights why she is an Outside Girl. In Beech Creek, she would suffer and could end up just like her father. But she decided to leave all of that shame and repression behind and is the happier for it. I won’t say that Bruce Bechdel was a good father. I will say that Fun Home suggests that he was miserable in his life but was relieved his daughter wouldn’t be miserable in hers. As Alison explains in the narrative’s conclusion, her father “was there to catch me when I leapt.”

*Be advised: I am not saying that Alison chose her sexuality. That is something she was born with, explored, and embraced. Alison’s choice was to extricate herself from a life and community where her sexuality  and identity would not be tolerated.

(Image #1 courtesy of funhomememoir.blogspot.com; #2 courtesy of tcj.com; #3 courtesy of dykestowatchoutfor.com; #4 courtesy of cognitivedissident.org)

In every generation, one girl is chosen to fight the forces of darkness…and piss off her predecessors

 

“Individuals must now choose the kind of life they want to live.”

Angela McRobbie

In my admittedly limited studies of feminism, gender and sexuality*, there are a few patterns I see over and over. One of these is the conflict between older feminists and younger feminists.  Generally, second wave feminists (those who fought for the ERA, reproductive rights, equal pay, etc.)…

…do not get along with third wave feminists (younger feminists who include sex-positive, global, or LGBTQ activists in their fight).

Why is that? Third wavers sometimes view their founding mothers as stodgy, racist and elitist. Conversely, second wavers sometimes think of their daughters’ generations as spoiled, slutty, lazy and ungrateful. Since I think of myself as a blend between these two groups, I just want to say that both the Betty Friedans and the Tavi Gevinsons of the world have good points and glaring blind spots. But I digress…

I think McRobbie is one of the few feminist scholars who sees these tensions but does not outright attack either group (although there is a slant towards the second wave).  She describes that the media, peer pressure and ideological institutions all “invoke hostility to assumed feminist positions from the past, in order to endorse a new regime of sexual meanings based on female consent, equality, participation and pleasure.” As McRobbie sees it, the world is training us to see the second wavers as man-hating lesbians and to believe that Lady Gaga and her sparkling lady parts are the height of female empowerment. Really, this means that pseudo-feminism and the third wave have become intertwined and blurred. The older generations recognize this, but still feel that sexual agency might be a teensy bit indecent for ladies. And younger generations wish their moms and grandmas would just leave them alone so they can read Gossip Girl in peace.

Whoosh. Did you get all that? To bring it back to the quote at the beginning of this post, young women (like myself) need to find what makes them uniquely happy and liberated and go for it, traditional feminism be damned. Since, as McRobbie claims, “young womanhood currently exists within the realm of public debate,” there is a lot of pressure and opinions swirling around our heads. Can we be political while still being likable? Is it okay to wear clothes that accentuate our hips and breasts? How can we be taken seriously? Am I allowed to think about relationships constantly if I still get a 4.0? Am I selling out if I love Hillary Clinton but still sing along to Katy Perry in my car?

No matter what you do, somebody gets pissed off.

Which brings me to my petite, blonde hero: hail Buffy Summers, the slayer of vampires.

After watching all seven seasons of this show, I have come to the conclusion that Buffy’s character inhabits the tensions and pressures of young feminists. First, Buffy clashes with the Council, Giles (her Watcher), and another slayer, Kendra. Apparently there is some ancient rule book on how to turn bloodsuckers into ashes. You are not supposed to tell anyone your secret; social lives are off limits; you can’t date, marry or have kids; you aren’t allowed to let anyone help you fight the good fight; etc. etc. etc..

Buffy considers that path for about one episode and then just does whatever feels right to her.  She and her fellow Scoobies work together, contribute different skills and create their own family. Willow brings the smarts and the witchcraft; Xander brings the comic relief; Angel brings the brooding sex appeal; Spike*brings the hilarious bitchery; Cordelia brings the fashion; Giles brings the bespectacled, British common sense.  Together, as Milly Williamson points out, they embrace their “socially marginal identities, speaking from and for the experience of outsiderdom.”

You see, Buffy is an Outside Girl because of her vocation and because she doesn’t fit neatly with second or third wavers. She just does what makes her comfortable. Buffy fights demons in halter tops, has sexual relationships with two different vampires, and shares the weight of the world with her friends and mother. Even when they try, no one can tell her what kind of slayer–or feminist–she is allowed to be. Buffy might be “chosen,” but she is  also an individual.

*American Women’s History class; Introduction to Women’s Studies class; Gail Collins’ book; Jezebel; Leslie Knope; Tina Fey; Joss Whedon’s awesomeness

**Nice Segue: I can’t decide which evil, bitchy pop culture villain I love more, Loki or Spike. Please feel free to discuss in the comments.

(Image #1 courtesy of ew.com; #2 courtesy of thegreatkh.blogspot.com; #3 courtesy of the-unpopular-opinions.tumblr.com)