Sunday, March 23, 2014

the problem with "Scandal" (as told by a "Girls" fan)

 By Anči

As some of you know, the two most highly contested “feminist” TV shows, at least according to social-media savvy female viewers are “Girls” and “Scandal.” And although they're not remotely similar in theme, tone, or quality, both shows seems to inspire a similar brand of loyalty. (To the point that you’re either Team Olivia or Team Hannah.)

So as a longtime (okay, four month) supporter of Team Hannah,  I decided to check out the rival team’s goods, via Netflix. And so began my two week long affair with Shonda Rhimes’ ethnically diverse political soap opera drama....

Anyway i'll start with the obvious: which is that the most rewarding aspect of an investment in this  roller coaster is getting to stare at the most gorgeous face in the world. Yep it's true: Kerry Washington makes everyone from your girlfriend to Angelina Jolie look like an aging baby in a wig.
is your self-esteem suffering yet? because it should be.

True, she may overact in just about any scene requiring a "grownup" display of emotion:

but she's also given us some of the greatest lines ever:
okay, so she may have backtracked on that position as early as... one episode later, but it was still a memorable moment in TV-feminism

Then there's the extremely annoying matter of writing. What can I say about the dialogue, except that its delivered almost-exclusively in the form of long, eloquent speeches-- the likes of which, even the most brilliantly verbal of English professors couldn't wing--particularly in the midst of an emotionally charged argument.

Consider the following classically off-the-cuff remark made by Olivia. (It's almost as though every character on this show is equipped with their own speech writer:)

 “You have nothing. You have a pile of secrets and lies, and you're calling it love. And in the meantime you're letting your whole life pass you by while they raise children and celebrate anniversaries and grow old together. You're frozen in time. You're holding your breath. You're a statue waiting for something that's never going to happen. Living for stolen moments in hotel hallways and coat closets and you keep telling yourself they all add up to something real because in your mind they have to but they don't. They won't. They never will. Because stolen moments aren't a life. So you have nothing. You have no one. End it now.”

 Seriously, who speaks that well, or for that long without ever backtracking, or getting confused? 
Someone aced the verbal component of  the SATs

Oh yeah, then there is the matter of the deeply abusive, central romance of the series--  (not entirely unlike a number of the dysfunctional duos on Girls, but we'll get to that later.) I am of course speaking of  Olivia Pope, and the President of the United States-- whose long glances, and passionate embraces do little to downplay their violent screaming matches, or his rough rapey handling of her body. (you know, the classic signs of an "Epic Love")
After all, who can forget that beautiful moment, after an angry President corners Olivia into a closet and  forcefully screws her from behind, (despite her visible anguish)... only to zip up his pants, and  sneer: "I may not be able to control my erections around you, but that doesn't mean I want you. We're done." (Remember kids, verbal abuse is acceptable as long as he still loves her on the inside.)

Unfortunately, the show-runners, do little to stress the sick nature of this relationship, while deliberately playing up the romantic angle of two lovers forcefully pulled apart...bla bla bla...So sad, I know.

Then there's the President's whole sad-sack schtick, wherein he tediously insists on guilting the so-called "love-of-his life" for refusing to play grateful-little-side-chick, to his family man routine.
Actually, I hate you for being a gas-lighting, abusive, little bitch with a giant whiteboy chip on his shoulder.

Throughout all of this, Olivia doesn't come off much better- Sure we're eventually provided with some hastily compiled back story about her mysteriously sadistic father... which kinda puts into perspective Miss Pope's  un-gladiatorlike commitment to her controlling commander in chief.... But it still doesn't explain why such a brilliant, beautiful, and highly-in-demand babe would continue to compromise herself for an unavailable guy, year after year. (And don't say it's for dramatic effect. Good drama needs to be compelling and believable. )

I'm not saying TV shouldn't portray intimate partner abuse, or explore what it does to bright, complex women. For example, the first two seasons of Girls did a good job of depicting that dynamic between Hannah and Adam. The difference there was, that the abuse was consistent with the rest of the established character development: Hannah demonstrated low self esteem in every aspect of her life, while Adam was clearly shown to be out of his mind, bonkers. Most importantly, Girls didn't exploit the episodes of mistreatment, as a means of milking an inevitable romantic buildup. If anything, the show was deliberately invested in making its viewers cringe at the unhealthy pairing of Hannah and Adam. (until season three, when Adam finally demonstrates some emotional growth.)

I don't want to suggest that Shonda Rhimes should take a hint from Lena Dunham, because.... that would be offensive. But maybe a more honest committment to character development and storytelling is in order? (and for the love of gods, kill off Huck and Quinn.)

wastes of space

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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Leaning Out - My Brief Response to Sandberg's White Capitalist Feminism

By Ana

As some of you know,  I've been a longtime skeptic of Sheryl Sandberg's magic two-word solution to gender inequality in the workforce. ("Leaning in")

For one thing, Sandberg's an unqualified guru, peddling a pro-capitalist quick fix to a long standing issue of social justice.

Like every symptom of oppression, workplace inequality is inextricably linked to the structural interworkings of gender, class and race... Meanwhile Sandberg's "analyses" only  deals with issues of gender. (It's almost as though class and race were completely irrelevant to a rich white lady...)

And speaking of rich white lady, I also find it off-putting that someone in her position could so confidently walk up to a nation of struggling women, and [all but] declare "I have the answer to your problems!" (Really? because generations of women's studies scholars still haven't come together to make an announcement like that...)

The third reservation I have with Sandberg's purported secret to success is that it basically boils down to "try harder!"

For many women in Sandberg's position, trying harder could easily represent the final key to getting ahead. But to a Latina domestic worker, "leaning in" means absolutely nothing. And how exactly is an underpaid inner city schoolteacher supposed to benefit from a go-getting commitment to getting ahead? (And will this inspiring brand of optimism magically equip her classroom with the textbooks and materials she needs?)

All of this brings me back to that one quote: "My feminism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit."

Because ultimately what Sheryl Sandberg is feeding us, is some white capitalist bullshit.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

A look at Girls' Jessa (and the Manic Pixie Dream Girl)

By Anči

As a fan of the show Girls, I have to say I'm happy with the precarious path that's been laid out for Jessa. It's not that I hate her character or want her to suffer - it's more that I find her fate to be a  refreshing representation of what really goes on inside creatures like her.

Because a long-time pet peeve of feminism's has been film and TVs incessant reliance on the "Manic Pixie Dreamgirl" trope - in place of an actual, fleshed out female character. The manic pixie dreamgirl, for those of you who don't know, is a personality invented by misunderstood male screen writers, as a way to breathe life into the malleable girl of their dreams.

But the reason I stress that she's invented, is because the defining characteristic of an MPDG is her uncomplicated quirkiness unmet by any cares, or concerns that affect real people.  She's funny, and cute, and odd  and innocent - while lacking any real depth or substance - she's also the center of every "indie" romantic comedy starring Zooey Deschanel.

What Girls' does brilliantly is flip the script on on the MPDG in their portrayal of Jessa - a quirky, ethereal, often childishly innocent beauty - with virtually no responsibilities, no sense of urgency, and nothing to tie her down. Her seemingly relaxed approach to relationships is predictably charming to (mostly middle-aged) men, who crave a free spirit to make them feel alive, and have afternoon sex with.


That's where a MPDG normally begins and ends, (with afternoon sex, typically set to the whimsical vibrations of a ukulele... or coldplay.) That is, at least, according to the standard onscreen portrayals of alluringly flighty women. But Girls does us the much-needed service of further exploring this particular variety of babe with questions like (my words) "what the fuck is this floaty fairy princess's problem that she can't ever  take anything seriously?"

After all, how long can a MPDG survive on childish cheer, and peasant skirts alone? Does she ever get lonely, or start craving routine? And what does she look like when people finally grow tired of her act? According to Girls, she looks something like Jessa, whose wild beauty, and  unattainably free-spirited existence, come crashing to the ground, when her quickie marriage falls apart, and then again, when she winds up in rehab.

MPDGs enjoy peeing in public, and wearing wildflowers in their hair.

It's at that point Hannah makes it clear to her friend that she no longer finds her constant disappearing charming, explaining "It [makes] me remember what it was like in college when you'd say, 'Oh, meet me at the Free Palestine party,' then I'd find out you're over at the Israel house. And so I just wish you would get it that this is not ok behavior for a friend."

(Because contrary to MPDG mythology suddenly taking off without a warning or goodbye, isn't as romantic as it's... emotionally callous, and thoughtless.)

And "thoughtless" is exactly how I'd describe most of Jessa's interactions: including the infuriatingly tone-deaf sequence between herself, and a married man whom she carelessly invites to a party one night, only to appear utterly mystified when he makes a pass at her. It was a brilliantly executed scene, that rightfully robbed Jessa of much of her likeability.

Not to mention that whereas a romantic comedy, might have played up her dopey innocence in an attempt to showcase her childish charm (what? you thought we were going to make out? I just wanted to party with you late at night, after months of flirting back and forth! Because whimsy!) Girls managed to make both her and the married man look like insufferable dicks: him, for obvious reasons, and her, for feigning cluelessness of standard social cues, in order to get a kick out of rejecting a man who was obviously crazy about her.

To sum up, Jessa's character is perhaps the most honest response to the decade-long reign of flaky romantic leads, famously (re)conceived by the whiny musings of Zach Braff. (Remember Garden State, where Braff's character falls in love with an adorable pathological liar played by Natalie Portman? And everything turns out perfectly, despite the fact that his girlfriend is a ticking time-bomb of personality disorders??)

Luckily for us, Girls represents a much-needed shift in that male-dominated vision of intriguing women - which will hopefully soon include, a much more ballsy, badass variety of bitch. (Look out, dudes. Your fantasy is about to wake up and set you straight.)

Thursday, March 13, 2014

On Envy

By Anči

Want to hear something embarrassing?

Sometimes I get envious of other women. I know it's not technically a bombshell when every single person on the planet has (on multiple occasions) experienced this brand of booger-hued bitterness, but stay with me:

Because shouldering even the slightest chip of covetousness is an admission that we're  seldom allowed to make - for fear of being labeled pathetic jealous bitches. (You recall that age-old accusation, programmed to beckon from the bowels of any broad, deemed a social threat?)

I mean how many times have you heard someone say "she's just jealous," to temporarily appease some affronted party's ego. (As though the existence of said 'jealousy', would somehow justify any level of needy hostility.)

Another challenge to owning a charged emotion like envy, is that... well, envy's often read as a marker of defeat. Because the only logical grounds for the casting of jaundiced eyeballs must surely be a pathetic, empty existence. Right?

Except envy isn't logical. And it's never directly proportionate to its conjurer's assets. In fact, jealousy is more often a reflection of personal dissatisfaction. (Which even billionaires are subject to.)

Not to mention that it is possible to be self-assured on most fronts, while harboring a healthy dose of self-doubt in others.

So I'll say it again: Sometimes I'm envious of other women, and I'm okay with that. It doesn't keep me awake at night, nor does it give way to personal resentments or rivalries.  Mainly it serves as a reminder, that my life could be more together.

And what is "togetherness" but a glittering tiara?

A few weeks ago, I perceived such a pang while looking through an acquaintance's online album of her new baby. I bring this particular example up, to illustrate one thing: that the target of one's envy doesn't necessarily reflect some futile desperation towards attaining said object. (Like we're shown in movies.) I mean, a bouncing bundle of infant chub of all things, is the least improbable milestone to procure for a 26 year old woman in a relationship. If anything this was a symbolic reminder that I'm not entirely secure with the space I'm taking up right now. (And while I suppose a mean-spirited person could interpret this as proof of failure, or... I dunno, secret infertility,  I like to think of it as proof of vulnerability. That's that thing all human beings are equipped with, to inspire us to share and connect?)

The baby in question was just an echo of that capitalist mantra, etched permanently on my susceptible subconscious, (and presumably in the form of a watchful goat) bleating "achieve achieve, attain, attain." With no obvious end in sight...

behold your god.

Then, a few days later, a significantly older facebook friend shared the news that she was getting published-- and once again, cue the alarms!

The familiar ache of "not there yet" had penetrated the hysterical recesses of my frontal lobes. This time, with the additional component of sulky annoyance (by far, the most dignified of emotional crises.)

The feeling lasted for about ten minutes, while I struggled to break it down, and this is what I came up with: If the ability to magically wish away this other person's well-deserved happiness were presented to me, I wouldn't take it. Never, in a million years, ever. Because this talented, hard-working comrade-in-arms had nothing to do with my own existential uneasiness.

And that's when it hit me:

What I really wanted was the assurance that success wasn't finite-- and that another woman's grasp on it didn't represent my own diminishing prospects for happiness.

Of course, that kind of "us vs. them" thinking originates from a global capitalistic-patriarchal agenda, making it a bit trickier to untangle our personal perceptions from. But the truth is that regardless of any alarmist myths of scarcity we've been made to swallow, there is room for everyone to make it here.

Or, more accurately, we can make room for everyone's success.  Because the more progressive voices there are out there, the better it is for all of us. And also because, it is fully possibly to grow, and gain professional recognition, without impeding another's progress.

And that is why, though I may never fully eradicate my own covetous compulsions, I won't ever actively compete against other women. Professionally, or socially. (I may still sigh inwardly at the sight of a beautifully written sentence; wishing I had been the one to pen it...  but that is to be expected...)

The point is, that as humanity continues to negotiate the demands of collective prosperity, with its personal ambitions,  I'll be in the background doing my part. First of all, by utilizing any unsettling moments of envy as a cue to reevaluate my own commitment towards the dismantling of oppressive constructs like social dominance and obligatory competition.

I'll also continue to speak frankly about my personal and professional setbacks as they come, with the confidence that my community will be there to prop me up as I need it. And lastly, use all of the platforms afforded to me through privilege, and professional advancement, in order to  highlight all the ways we should be lifting each other up.

Because if you haven't figured it out by now, envy isn't a symptom of personal inadequacy, as much as it is of a systematic failing. Particularly for women, who would benefit the most from a worldwide campaign of solidarity.

(Plus it would also look really cute. Check it out.)

Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Problem with your Crush on Lupita Nyong'o

By Ana

I apologize for the deliberately misleading headline. There is nothing wrong with your crush on Lupita Nyong'o. In fact, i'd be pretty suspicious if you weren't captivated (or more likely, discreetly aroused) by the 31 year old Kenyan-Mexican* Oscar winner

Beautiful AND likeable? What sorcery doth this daughter of Eve possess?

There is however,  something erm,  notably unique about the way the media has been treating America's latest sweetheart - particularly in comparison to the treatment of her predecessors. (Jennifer Lawrence comes to mind right now.) It's a kind of reverence that seems exclusively reserved for the (*lowers voice*) model minority.

Yes, I said it. And I think we all know what I mean now, when I refer to our collectively hushed tendency to view gifted people of color as rare exotic birds-- as opposed to the human beings they are.

"What are you saying Ana?" (I imagine some of you protesting) "That we shouldn't treat this exceptional woman with the awe and wonder she clearly deserves?" No, not quite, Eunice. I'm   saying Lupita's... not that exceptional.

aaaand cue the gasps of horror. 

I get where your white outrage is coming from. After all, it's not everyday you  (get to) see such a dignified,  beautiful, African goddess.

But this (clearly disturbing) fact is not due to Lupita's singularity, as much as it's a symptom of a white supremacist value system. Cause the funny thing about a racist power structure is that it seldom affords deserving women of color (like Lupita) with such a prominent platform to shine.

You see now? A sophisticated, talented black woman isn't such a rarity. And by treating Lupita as unusually extraordinary (for a dark skinned Kenyan) we're perpetuating the problematic** perception that qualities such as beauty, and grace are badges of whiteness to be selectively parsed out by powerful Caucasian overlords*** to their pigmented trophies of choice.

And for society to (however subconsciously) support that myth, is well, pretty blatantly racist--given that we live in a world that's virtually overflowing with black and brown talent. (at least at the same rate that it produces white talent.)

The real issue at hand is representation: Because if our culture was designed to accommodate a diverse body of  players; we wouldn't be so collectively taken by yet another beautiful actress.

So no, Lupita's not an exquisite gem. She wasn't forged by Hollywood from some colonized cultural void. More importantly, it's not her duty to successfully charm, and delight her many liberal "backers."

Nay, Lady Lupita is simply one of many gifted, beautiful, thoughtful artists of color. And while she merits respect and recognition, she doesn't deserve the kind of patronizing veneration we've all been showing her.

* She was born in Mexico, so... as far as I'm concern we  get to claim her too.
** I know I said i'd stop using the word "problematic." But it just flows so easily from my fingers.
*** The name of my all-female brass band.

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