Monday, June 7, 2010


Saturday night my friend Bekah and I got to see Taylor Swift.

I've got some mad love for Taylor. I think she's a really impressive person. And, seeing her at Gillette Stadium only made me more impressed. Playing for 55,000 people at age 20? That's kind of a big deal. Also being the first female performer to headline a show at Gillette--let alone a SOLD OUT show--is also mad impressive.

I will concede--a lot of her songs are about love. OK. That's nothing new. But I appreciate that they are the age-appropriate small-love kinds of songs. It's not like 15 year old Demi Lovato singing "Get Back" (which vocally, is awesome)... Taylor's songs are actually about real experiences. And her bitter, you're-going-to-pay-for-this songs are some of my faves.

In general, it was a night of a whole lotta girl-power. Bekah and I were among the older demographic attending... the median age was around 12-14, but there were also plenty of 5 year olds. In between elaborate performances of her most popular songs, Taylor spoke to the audience (all 55,000 of us) and said that anyone can achieve their dreams--a couple years ago she was a girl singing songs to herself on the floor of her bedroom. And now she's a record-breaking pop-country artist.

One of my favorite songs of hers is "Fifteen," a song about her and her best friend looking back and realizing that things that seemed like a big deal then actually aren't. I'm really glad for this song and I think it's somewhat landmark in that it's a pop(-country) song about girls learning to slow down in trying to grow up and is frank advice coming from someone who is relatively young saying that girls should be themselves and have bigger dreams than dating football players. It's not that complicated, but it's hard to find that message anywhere in the media these days. Even Disney Channel shows are super focused kids to dating each other and acting older than they really are. What kind of a message is that? But "Fifteen" gives that common-sense mom-ish advice... without it actually coming from a mom. (Because who at 15 really wants to listen to their mothers? They want to listen to people slightly older and cooler than they are.)

Anyway, congrats, Taylor on finishing your 15-month Fearless Tour. Keep it up.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Movie Time: Gracie

Despite the fact that I have the athletic ability (and interest in althetics) of a lampshade, I do for some reason love the happy-ending, inspirational sports movies. God, I love all of them. It really doesn't matter what sport--if it's about people over coming odds to win a game, especially when based on a true story, I'll love it!

So tonight, after Netflix told me I should watch Gracie on instant watch (my favorite thing in the world), my sister and I crowded around the laptop to watch the based-on-a-true-story, inspirational sports flick.

Gracie is based on Elizabeth Shue's (who plays Gracie's mother in the movie! Cool, right?) experiences advocating for women's sports as a teenager! Even after Title IX, in 1978, Gracie runs up against a wall when trying to get onto the boys' soccer team (there is no girls' team). However, with lots of training, some inspirational music, and a happy predictable ending, Gracie proves all the sexist losers wrong.

So... I mean, the movie's ending is pretty obvious from the opening scene of the movie. However, I was expecting a clean-cut Disney production-esque movie (Carly Schroeder WAS Melina from "Lizzie McGuire...") , but I was pleasantly surprised in how realistic it seemed. There's some mild swearing, drinking, and hooking up, and the acting is actually pretty good! I enjoyed it.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Us Sistas Gotta Stick Togetha

Okay, so I got some mad love for Glee. I will acknowledge, that the show's female characters are not the strongest ladies on television... but hello... they're teenagers. This seems obvious.

Tonight's episode featured the Glee kids trying to funkify their act. Mercedes tells the group that she's got it in the bag, and Quinn protests. Mercedes accuses Quinn of only having white people pain, Quinn, the disgruntled pregnant teen, comes in and sings "It's a Man's Man's World" with the rest of the unwed mother's club of McKinley High.

Afterward, Mercedes finds Quinn and gives her the sista talk: she underestimated Quinn's empathy for how Mercedes, as a black woman in Ohio, has faced discrimination all her life, and that she wants Quinn to move out of her baby daddy's house and live with her. "Us sistas gotta stick together," she says.

There have been a few heartfelt conversations between Quinn and Mercedes throughout the second half of the season, and I think they are great, this one especially. Girls are so socialized to work against each other; to scheme, to gossip, to lie, to backstab... I mean, you've seen "Mean Girls." This is a problem.

However, the healthy, friendly, even "sisterly" kind of communication that sets a good example for behavior (male or female) is hard to come by in the media. In the past couple years, boys have probably made more progress than girls in having realistic models of healthy, realistic male friendship portrayed in the media. Pop culture takes girls for granted: it has long been the model that girls will watch shows (and movies) about boys, but boys will not watch shows (and movies) about girls. Ergo, shows and movies featuring male characters are the money makers, able to reach a larger audience. It wasn't until 1995's Clueless that the big wigs started paying attention to how much of a money maker girls on their own were. After Clueless, the Chick Flick was spawned. Whether the Chick Flick is a positive or negative thing for women is a topic for another post, but Clueless was somewhat remarkable in 1995 for having 3 female characters who were not only the stars, but were funny and engaging, and occasionally didn't talk about guys.

Back to Glee. Mercedes' and Quinns' little chat tonight represents more of what we need on TV: female characters who are portrayed learning from their mistakes and bonding in a meaningful way with one another. And at the same time, Mercedes' and Quinns' honesty about their hurt, frustration, and understanding regarding each other's situations does the audience a world of good. Now, I don't think TV shows should turn into one giant PSA (that would make it like Canada's Degrassi... which I watched 6 episodes of earlier today...), but media does have a HUGE HUGE HUGE influence on popular opinion. Showing girls who are not pulling each other's hair out or banging pots at each other or stabbing each other's metaphorical backs (God, reality TV kills me!), who are actually friends, actually talking to each other, actually ACTIVELY trying to have empathy for one another... that's going to make a difference! And I didn't feel like I was watching a PSA while watching their scene, I just felt glad that Glee wasn't perpetuating negative stereotypes not only about women, but about black women and pregnant teenagers.

Most girls have other friends who are girls, and have really important friendships with them! If they exist, shouldn't the media show that kind of stuff?

Again, pop culture is making progress, albeit slowly. It's our job, as pop culture consumers, to support that which we like and agree with. It just makes sense!

Witches as a Symbol of Female Empowerment

I was talking to my mom last week about the Bechdel Test for the presence of women in television and movies.
1. Are there two or more women in it who have names?
2. Do they talk to each other?
3. Do they talk to each other about something other than a man?

If "yes" to all of these questions, there is simply a female presence in that form of media. That doesn't mean that it is significant or meaningful or feminist... just that women are there. The video explains it pretty well. I looked through my personal DVD collection and found that 25 of my DVDs passed (some barely passed), while 30 failed. So, that's a pretty close to a 50-50 split, but bear in mind, I'm a feministy kind of person and have an interest in watching movies with significant female presence. All my action/horror/comic book hero movies failed the test.

Anyway, when I was talking to my mom about the Bechdel Test, she said, "Witches! The only women who talk to each other on TV are witches!"
And I think that's true to some degree. For about as long as ideas about witches have existed, they have served as a sort of symbol of female empowerment.

Of course, this symbol has been misused. Throughout the history of persecution of "witches," women who stand out have been dismissed and persecuted by being called "witches." This isn't even a dead practice. The late Reverend Jerry Falwell, the controversial, conservative, Evangelical behemoth, called NOW, the National Organization of Women, the "National Organization of Witches" in 2004.

When people are threatened or angered by female empowerment, or simply signs that women are a little more involved in society than simply being homemakers, they are equated to witches. Why? Because witches, both positively and negatively (depending on your opinion), represent women who have more than just natural abilities--they are supernatural. This kind of power is something that has to be tapped into; it is something learned, cultivated, and has the potential to increase over time. (Couldn't that kind of power serve as a metaphor for feminist-inspired female empowerment? I think so.)

And it seems like TV and movies have a hard time letting women be powerful, independent, and quirky without making them witches. Because naturally, if a woman (or girl) is powerful, independent, and quirky, that must mean she's a witch, right?

Alex (played by Selena Gomez) on Witches of Waverly Place is only the newest addition to TV's long tradition of powerful TV witch ladies. When I was growing up, I watched Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and when my mom was growing up, she watched Bewitched.
Okay, so I'm not going to come down too hard on shows featuring witches because frankly, I like them (and spent a good portion of 2nd grade pretending I was a witch...), but I will raise the question: can we have regular powerful, independent, and quirky female characters? The witch thing is all well and good, but it is possible for a girl to be empowered without having supernatural powers. Making powerful girls and women is a comfortable way of saying, "She's a powerful woman, which is kind of not really normal."
Few people these days (who are smart) want to admit that they think strong women are intimidating or abnormal. Making these kinds of women witches in popular media is one way to make that strength and independence in women into something recognizable and acceptable.
Well, I think that we should be happy that we have these symbols of female empowerment and feminism, and realize that they keep being used over and over means that people do admire strong women and that there is a market for them. However, when there are shows/movies that not only pass the Bechdel Test, but also serve as good representations of strong, independent women, we should celebrate and support them in the hopes that more people in the media will catch on to what we already know: strong, independent and quirky women and girls are the best!