Friday, August 31, 2012

Feminist Rap Friday: Deconstructing "Bad Bitch"

Lupe Fiasco's song "Bitch Bad" has been out for a couple months, but the video has just been released, which has reopened the floor to criticism.

The song follows two narratives, one of a girl who grows up watching video girls and is conditioned to emulate them herself. The other is a boy who grows up watching his mother sing along to songs about "bad bitches," so he grows up to associate that with power (and his mother). When the two meet later in life, the boy doesn't see the girl as emulating the good parts of "bitch" that he's grown up with, he just sees a BAD bitch.

As many critics have said, it's a really simplistic view of gender and of the construction of the word, "bitch," and ultimately blames women for not respecting themselves.  Akiba Solomon over at Colorlines has a great response in her August 30th article on the subject:

I say this as a black woman who has been called a bitch by men who look like me in the streets; had dudes who look like me throw juice and 40 bottles at me for ignoring their advances; had a man twice my age who looked like me call me a trick-ass ho for daring to hail a cab rather than riding with a stranger; had a classmate who looked like me shove me into a cafeteria conveyor belt because I wasn’t tactful enough when I told him I didn’t want his number; and had another one who looked like me call me an ugly black bitch with no ass just for averting my eyes. That kind of verbal abuse from people you’ve been raised to call “brother” has a cumulative effect. So if Lupe Fiasco or any other black male hip-hop artist takes the time out to say STOP!, I’ll ride for that effort and hope that the fair criticism propels him to another level the next time around. 

I'm not a huge fan of this song, but I think Fiasco is trying to come from a good place, and the subject definitely is prime for more discussion in hip hop. I am conflicted about my own uses of the word "bitch." It is a word that I think, I use too often. Usually it's just plain derogatory, which I know, but yet it still comes out of my mouth. Recently while hanging out with several of my feminist guy friends, I noticed that they unconsciously said "bitch" a lot.
"Ugh, look at that bitch," they would say.
"Yes, that FEMALE CHARACTER is being unpleasant," I would respond.
When asked to clarify my views on the word, I didn't really have a good response. I don't think the word should totally be eradicated from our lexicons but I also couldn't offer clear guidelines on when I thought the word was appropriate and inappropriate.

Honestly, country and hip hop are two genres that I listen to a lot of, but not so much with male artists.  Do you guys have any suggestions for actually feminist rap songs from male artists?

And additionally, do you use the word "bitch?" Why or why not? And do you think that there are appropriate and inappropriate uses of the word?

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Call Me Maybe Parody of the Day

Cooch Watch is a sweet group in Virginia that is shaking things up since Virginia tends to be on the offensive for vagina freedom. They're going to be posting another music video soon, but this one is fabulous and hilarious ("Call Me Maybe" does NOT get old for me, literally every manifestation and parody of it I LOVE) so enjoy!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Rape is Rape.

"The views expressed were offensive. Rape is rape. And the idea that we should be parsing and qualifying and slicing what types of rape we are talking about doesn't make sense to the American people and certainly doesn't make sense to me. So what I think these comments do underscore is why we shouldn't have a bunch of politicians, a majority of whom are men, making health care decisions on behalf of women."
-President Obama, after Rep Todd Akin's (R-Mo) comment about "legitimate rape" and abortion that has seemingly blown up his campaign.

 One article I read (I think on Jezebel) pointed out that the "shock" over Akin's comments is misplaced. Shock is stupid. We know that politicians have ridiculously archaic views on women's health, that the past two years have been banner years in the US for horrifying statements about rape and personal integrity and personhood of women. Shock is over. It's just time to be mad.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Problems, Problems, Problems. The Conundrum of Rape Revenge Movies.

As someone who dithered away her liberal arts degree by taking as many film classes as possible (not my major... or either of my minors...), I took a special interest in the representation of women in horror movies, particularly slashers, and the connection between representation in movies and the actual political climate of the decade the movie was produced in.

In the process, I read a lot about women in horror, and something that came up again and again was the controversy over rape-revenge films, like I Spit on Your Grave (1978 and its 2010 remake) or The Last House on the Left (1972 with a 2009 remake). There are maaany more, but those two films mark the real beginning of this trend in horror, which had its real heyday in the 70s (not coincidentally, the same time that 2nd Wave Feminism made its mark). Rape-revenge films seem to be making somewhat of a come back though. I Spit on Your Grave and the Last House on the Left both had recent remakes, and movies like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Hard Candy, Kill Bill vol. 1, and Teeth can certainly be counted among those ranks. I Spit on Your Grave has the distinction of being the most well-known rape-revenge film, so I watched the remake the other night to try to finally put together some thoughts on a genre that I have, for the most part, tried to avoid.

The argument for rape-revenge films is that it is a fantasy of empowerment for women. This is basically the same argument for the Final Girl in slasher movies, except that the Final Girl's motivation for life comes after all her friends are brutally murdered by a psychopathic stalker, and the revenge-taker in rape-revenge films derives her motivation from earth-shattering, gratuitously violent rape or gang rape. The tables turn, and the rape-survivor goes on to meticulously murder and torture her rapists until she finally has her revenge. The director of the original ISOYG, Meir Zarchi, said that inspiration from the movie came from a time when he and his daughter came across a bleeding woman in Central Park, who had just been brutally assaulted. The girl was mistreated at the police station and never received justice. Zarchi wrote the movie as a re-imagining of the process, one in which the rape survivor gets her revenge.

I Spit on Your Grave is horrifying. The basic premise is that a novelist, Jennifer Hills, goes out to a cabin to write her novel in the woods. A band of hillbilly locals, aided by the local sheriff, disgruntled by her stuck-up city ways (aka existing), decide to rape her.

What is striking about the first assault, and then first rape scene is that Jennifer Hills does everything that women are told to do. She does it "right." I have taken a self-defense class and what she does during her assault is exactly what we're told to do in the case of rape. She asks them nicely to leave, she uses alternative distractions ("my boyfriend is coming," "I'll have a drink with you, and then please leave"), yells, screams, says "No," and eventually physically fights back. When made to perform fellatio on a bottle of vodka, she uses an opening when her assailant is distracted to hit him in the knees and run away.

When she's captured again and raped, she breaks free from being restrained and punches the rapist in the face. Later on, weakened from being raped several times, and tortured, Jennifer still tries to reach for a gun before it's kicked away. I haven't seen the original (which apparently holds or held a record for the longest rape scene in a movie), but I was not incredibly disturbed by the rape scenes, probably more of a testament to my own desensitization than anything else, but they were not any more scandalous or graphic or horrifying than rape scenes I have seen in other movies (I think the one in Girl with the Dragon Tattoo takes the cake for me). Ultimately, I think the rape scenes were unpleasant to watch, and for most people, I would bet that they'd feel the same way. The rapes are portrayed as awful, the rapists despicable, and are shot in a way that does not overtly sexualize the assaults.

Although in his 1980 review of the original, Roger Ebert shared this from his experience watching the movie in theaters:
How did the audience react to all of this? Those who were vocal seemed to be eating it up. The middle-aged, white-haired man two seats down from me, for example, talked aloud, After the first rape: "That was a good one!" After the second: "That'll show her!" After the third: "I've seen some good ones, but this is the best." When the tables turned and the woman started her killing spree, a woman in the back row shouted: "Cut him up, sister!" In several scenes, the other three men tried to force the retarded man to attack the girl. This inspired a lot of laughter and encouragement from the audience.

I wanted to turn to the man next to me and tell him his remarks were disgusting, but I did not. To hold his opinions at his age, he must already have suffered a fundamental loss of decent human feelings. I would have liked to talk with the woman in the back row, the one with the feminist solidarity for the movie's heroine. I wanted to ask If she'd been appalled by the movie's hour of rape scenes. As it was, at the film's end I walked out of the theater quickly, feeling unclean, ashamed and depressed.
As always, well-said, Ebert. 

Thought to be drowned in the river, Jennifer comes back and violently murders each of her rapists. These scenes were actually the most unpleasant to watch for me, because the torture is truly horrifying. While I did not feel sympathy for the characters being tortured, I really just felt uncomfortable watching the torture in the first place. I have avoided the "gore-porn" genre of horror movies completely (for example, Saw and all of its sequels) because that level of grossness, even knowing that it is simulated, is not something I want to watch. I closed my eyes several times during this last half of the movie, too disgusted to watch Jennifer enact her revenge.

I think the most upsetting thing about rape-revenge movies, for me (*and I have never been assaulted), is the idea that the fantasy of torturing and murdering rapists is an empowering fantasy. In this political climate, I think this is just an offensive notion. If we are counting movies like I Spit on Your Grave as empowering because the girl who gets brutally gang raped gets brutal revenge on all her rapists then this is some seriously messed up stuff.

When Enough (2002) came out, the same debate happened, albeit on a smaller scale. Jennifer Lopez's character, Slim, escapes an abusive relationship and goes on the run with her daughter. When Slim's "freedom" is threatened by her ex's psychopathic stalking, she goes on the offensive and Batman's her way to revenge. (Yeah, I used Batman as a verb.) The final showdown feature's Slim's careful planning, using technology and martial arts skills to get her true revenge on her ex-husband. This movie too, is sometimes described as an empowering depiction of a woman escaping domestic abuse to achieve her ultimate revenge fantasy.

The real "empowering fantasy" that we should see as a response to rape or domestic abuse is an actual appropriate response to violence. When rape survivors are still interrogated on their use of alcohol or drugs, or on the skimpiness of their clothes, or on the "legitimacy" of their rape, the fantasy we should imagine, and fight for, is a society that does not treat rape survivors with suspicion. When rape survivors in college are presented with a variable labyrinth of bureaucracy to file complaints against their rapists, get their cases lost, or Native American rape survivors find it nearly impossible to prosecute non-Native rapists, this improbable murder-revenge rampage isn't empowering. When the Violence Against Women Act is constantly under threat of being amended to be less effective, or eliminated altogether, these are the real struggles that victims of rape and abuse face. Rape-revenge films and domestic violence-revenge films accept the status quo, that the system doesn't work, and present women with the fantasy of murder following their traumatic experience. While certainly some survivors probably wish their assailants dead or maimed or diseased or something, rape-revenge films disguise the real problem, that violent, gender-based violence is common and ostensibly legal.

(**And this doesn't even begin to cover the issues surrounding male survivors of sexual abuse or rape, or trans*, LGBT, or gender non-conforming survivors either.)

Monday, August 20, 2012

How to Turn on a Feminist Part II

A little over a year ago I wrote a short and handy (satirical) guide to getting with a feminist. It's really just the basics on how to be a decent human, with special respect towards that hottie feminist you want in your life. But as one reader aptly pointed out... what about US FEMINISTS?!

Hi Liz!

Guess what? It turns out that I am one of the beings who are led to your site after searching 'turn on feminist'. But since you seem to be an inquiring mind (as I am) who likes to take a look at things like search term data, I thought I would explain: I'm a young woman (who considers herself a feminist), wishing to have a good time, but against the rights abuses and negative imagery of the conventional sources of inspiration (aka the porn industry). Where does a rights- and media-conscious chick go on the internet to get sexily inspired? That was the question that led me here: and I am glad to have met a new blog! But the question remains...

New data for the set.


Thanks for the question, K! This question has plagued many a google-friendly feminist for years. How can you look up some good ole orgasm inspiration and avoid the plethora of sneaky surprise one-armed alien and a blonde chick fisting sites that are SO MUCH MORE COMMON than porn that is woman friendly?

1. First of all, if you're not totally opposed to porn, there is porn out there that is woman friendly. Basically, the porn industry is the Black Eyed Peas of porn. This is industry stuff, it's popular, it makes a lot of money, but it's kind of soulless and really painful. And besides the Black Eyed Peas of porn, there's also the NICKLEBACK of porn. And KID ROCK of porn. And for like, sane people, that's just unbearable. You're withering and dying in this void of horrible, horrible, industry options. BUT WAIT! Just like the music industry, there's independent stuff! There are the riot grrrl rebels who cast off tradition! There are the Mandy Moores who come back after their sugary pop phase and do their own thing! THERE IS GOOD STUFF AVAILABLE! Feministe has this helpful guide to resources for such porn (the post itself is SFW but the links are NSFW). There's even an annual Feminist Porn Awards, which has been around since 2006. Many people have said this, from pornstar Annie Sprinkle to author and journalist Caitlin Moran, but the answer to bad porn is not LESS porn, it's better porn! You might have to peep around and see what kind of stuff you like best, but having a starting point is so much better than the prospect of having to wade through the muck of terrible porn to find those feminist gems.

2. Porn is also basically everything. We are a world so saturated with porn, that everything from burger ads to PG-13 movies is all porned out. While there are negatives to this, the positive side is this: if you are not really into porn because of the low production quality and you know... other stuff, there are other sexxxy scenes. And those are in movies. And many of those are on youtube. My friend once spent half an hour on youtube, looking for the scene in My Best Friend's Wedding when Dermot Mulroney takes the ring off Julia Robert's finger with his teeth to prove to me that it was "the sexiest scene ever." Another one of my friends is obsessed with the episode 3.12 of Weeds when Nancy and Conrad finally hook up. Sexy scenes in regular old movies and TV shows can be potent stuff, and the graceful thing about the internet is that almost everything is available to you. And it's probably likely that you have some favorite scenes of your own, whether they're as tame as ring-removing via teeth, that racy Ryan Gosling/Michelle Williams cunnilingus scene (NSFW!) from Blue Valentine, or that scene in Ghost where Patrick Swayze seduces Demi Moore in the clay studio, these things are readily available... Thank you, youtube. Personally, I was so impressed by the upside down rain kiss in Spiderman  when I saw it back in the day (and thanks, The O.C., for your episode 2.14 recognition of this being the best ever), that years later when I had my first boyfriend I convinced him that it was something that we should try. So, with some creative couch maneuvering, we tried it, not quite the same as the movie, but I thought it was kind of cool. His comment, "I couldn't really breathe."

3. Feminist erotica! If the only erotica you know about is the stuff that gets published in the back of Cosmo or 50 Shades of Grey, you don't know erotica. Bitch Magazine has some great recommendations in this post, and many people have commented with their own favorites. If you're skeptical of the whole lack-of-actual-visuals thing, I recommend you read Caitlin Moran's glowing recommendation for erotica in her book How to be a Woman. Basically, dirty library books fueled this woman's sexual awakening. Once you read that, you may be more open to reading as a sexy pastime.

Anyone have recommendations of your own? I've posed the questions to my fellow bloggers on Foxjuice so we've all got our thinking caps on and will probably be posting something about this in the next few days. I'll be sure to link it here when that happens, but also if you haven't been reading Foxjuice... you should start!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

More than Just a Character

Check out this piece on Think Progress on the Influence of  Parks and Recreation.
 Here's a standout section:

But Leslie isn’t just likable—she stands for ideas more specific than the archetypes represented by Regan’s working mother [of Up All Night], Whitney’s committmentphobe [of Whitney], or Jess’s lovable kook [of New Girl]. That may be a limitation on the show’s ultimate audience, though I do wonder if a less surreal take on small-town public service could capture a wider viewership. But the point remains that Leslie has some problems that are inflected by gender, but the bigger idea she represents isn’t solely bounded by her sex. More lady shows could stand to have big ideas where the program’s perspective on it is tied to a main character’s gender, but not solely defined by the fact that she’s a woman. I’m all for explorations of femininity and what it means to be a woman, and I wish more male audiences were interested in those kinds of shows, or that the entertainment industry trusted them to be. But not everything every woman does is about gender and gender roles.
This is such a perfect sentiment. In this sense, Leslie Knope is a much more whole character than most other leads in comedy. Other sitcoms, like Up All Night, Whitney, and New Girl, are much more oriented toward pushing the light-comedy aspect of the show than anything else. Parks and Recreation, despite its broader context, is not outside of this sitcom norm. The MOON joined Model UN. Tom Haverford started an entirely ridiculous company, which bankrupts. Gay penguins got married. And this scene (linked because I'm not allowed to embed), in which Leslie and her crew walk across ice during a campaign rally might actually be one of the funniest physical comedy scenes written in the last decade. P&R is just as ridiculous when it comes to the funniness of sitcoms, but it also stands for something, and Leslie Knope is one of the most human characters, male or female, on television. It certainly helps that Amy Poehler is one of the most vocal comedians and feminists out there, but there are a lot of things involved in creating a show that is so fantastic.

Like Leslie, Tami Taylor (Connie Britton) of Friday Night Lights had a similar role. While the show centered on a high school football team, and ostensibly, Coach Taylor, Tami's husband, she is a shining star throughout all five seasons. While she certainly could have remained in the background and just been support to her husband, Tami gets a job as the school counselor at East Dillon, and isn't afraid to butt heads with her husband over issues that the students are facing. She's a vocal advocate for students' needs, especially for troubled teenager Tyra Collette, who emerges as an independent and strong character of her own. Tami later becomes the Principal of East Dillon, and when her husband whines that he misses "the coach's wife," she snaps, "I'm still waiting for the principal's husband," and he apologizes. (BTW their marriage... fictional marriage... is perfect.) When a student from West Dillon comes to her for advice on an unwanted pregnancy, Tami discusses the girl's options honestly and openly, including abortion. After it comes out that Tami spoke to the girl before she got the abortion, a few parents lead a crusade to get Tami fired. Instead of resigning or backing down, she negotiates her way into becoming the guidance counselor at West Dillon high school. At the end of the series, Tami has been hired as the Dean of Students at a prestigious school in Philadelphia (filmed at Temple University HEYO), and after discussing with her husband, they decide that it's her turn for her career to be the dominant one. The Taylors represent the best of what Friday Nights is about, which is about strong advocacy for the high school students on the show. Each of them, Coach Eric Taylor and Tami Taylor have their niche students (Coach Taylor even helps a female student become an assistant coach in the last season... tears to my eyes) and abilities, but the fact that they have interests and abilities beyond the basics of their characters makes the show interesting and inspiring to watch. Characters that stand for something make for great television.

Also... just check out how endearing Tami Taylor is.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Bring It.

My friend Julie and I were at a concert a couple days ago, and walking past the ATM line heard the following exchange:

Guy 1: [To a female friend] Bitch, come this way.
Guy 2: Yo, you don't need to call her a bitch!

Julie and I obviously high-fived this hero.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Hell yeah, Gabby Douglas

"I’m going to wear my hair like this during beam and bar finals. You might as well just stop talking about it."
-Gabby Douglas.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Why Contraceptive Use Matters

Via the Guttmacher Institute

A great break down of the necessity of family planning.

Choice Matters!


Pathfinder International (a global leader in sexual and reproductive health!) has just released this video for their #ChoiceMatters campaign.

Share the video and go to Pathfinder International's website to learn more about the issue of reproductive and sexual health around the world. Hint: it's even crazier than in the US. Tweet your thoughts with the #ChoiceMatters hashtag and join the conversation to break down barriers to women's reproductive health and freedom worldwide.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

It is time that we realise that feminists come in all shapes and sizes. Some may wear heels and make-up; some feminists may not wear bras. The physical package of a woman is not what makes a feminist, but rather a commitment to gender equality and celebrating diversity amongst women.
Meghan Lewis