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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Every time I think I'm out...

I really like the first X-Men movie. It had problems (not just Halle Berry and her accent, though...yeah), but it was enjoyable, the relationship between Wolverine and Rogue was compelling, and Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen really classed the joint up. I thought that X2 was better paced, but less emotionally compelling, though still very enjoyable. Best not to speak much of X-Men: The Last Stand, so I'll just point out that, even in that mess, Stewart and McKellen remain great; Jackman has some really good moments (including one in which James Marsden briefly overcomes the Scott Summers effect); and Berry even acts past her accent long enough for a really compelling scene. "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" was disappointing, despite good performances from Hugh Jackman and Liev Schreiber. Jackman continues to be good enough as Wolverine that I will go to see "The Wolverine" when it comes out. "X-Men: First Class" was two movies: a bad one (starring James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, January Jones, and Nicholas Hoult) and a good one (starring James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender), so, I haven't been getting my hopes up for "X-Men: Days of Future Past." Oh, I was always planning to go see it -- I knew Bryan Singer was coming back to the franchise, and I knew McAvoy and Fassbender would be there, so I wasn't going to skip it. But I haven't been getting my hopes up. Yeah, I know it's based on a popular storyline from the comics. I (mostly) didn't read the comics, but know about the story from the loose adaptation done for the 90s cartoon, which I did watch, and which I loved. The bits of it that I remember most fondly? The Phoenix Saga, the Nightcrawler episode, and -- you guessed it -- the Days of Future Past arc. And Gambit. I'm still mad about Gambit being wasted in "Wolverine."

Anyway, I've been doing a good job of not getting my hopes up about "Days of Future Past," despite its potential to be good. Then, this morning, Rowles at Pajiba went and got all giddy about the latest casting news, which I was behind on (because I didn't want to get my hopes up), and now I know that it will also involve Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen (new to me), and maybe even Jackman (news). Even this, I might have been able to resist getting excited about, but then I saw the projected release date:

July 18th, 2014.

Happy belated future birthday to me! I mean...surely the magic of my birthday will increase the film's overall fantasticness, right? No, seriously -- the first one was released a couple of days before my birthday and, while it definitely had problems, it was also kind of awesome! Remember how good Wolverine and Rogue's relationship was? Remember the cage fight? Remember...sorry, I got distracted by remembering the cage fight. What was I saying? Oh, yeah -- my point is that it is now impossible for me not to get excited about this movie. (Singer + 2 Professor Xs + 2 Magnetos + Wolverine) x My Birthday = AWESOME. Birthday "X-Men" was great, and maybe birthday "Days of Future Past" will be, too! And, maybe they can even rehabilitate Gambit. I mean, Sabretooth started out as one of the problems in "X-Men," and ended up one of best parts of "Wolverine." If they recast him and...

*Sigh* If I'm lucky, I'll forget this excitement and lower my expectations by the time the movie actually comes out. In the meantime, I obviously need to watch old-school X-Men cartoons while I pack.

eta: Patrick Stewart says, "Slow your roll." Well, not in those words, but...

Monday, November 26, 2012

And now for something completely different

I'm on the lookout for free boxes, so that I can begin the process of packing up my life and moving. Again, already, and not at all the way I'd hoped to -- but I digress.

Just a few minutes ago, Craigslist told me that there were free boxes to be had, right around the corner from where I live. I figured they'd be gone, since the posting was a few hours old, but the address was so close by that I had to go and check. Lo and behold, the boxes were still there! As I began packing them into one of the ginormous bag/backpacks I got from last year's ComiCon (this one), a woman pulled over in the street, right near where I was working. I'd greeted her, on her way out of the apartment building in front of which the boxes had been left, just a minute before. "If you want more boxes," she said, "there are a couple more just ahead with the recycling -- they've got packing paper in them, so they might be harder to carry, but the paper would probably be good to reuse as well. Someone's moving in here, so they've just been left today -- still clean!" I thanked her, and did, in fact, check out the boxes she'd pointed out.

In addition to the small, flattened ones I'd stuffed into my bag, there were two medium sized ones, still in full box form: one had been full of the boxes now on my back, while the other was full of packing paper. As I gauged whether I could carry them both without breaking down the empty one, another woman pulled up, just at the curb. "Did you get all of the boxes?" I told her that I had, but asked when she was moving -- I thought we could split them if she was also going soon. "Not until January," she said, so I kept all but the empty one, and told her that she should take it, especially since she was in a car, and would have a much easier time getting it home. She asked where I lived, and offered carry it to my place, instead. I declined the offer -- it really was just around the corner, and I'd already gotten quite a haul. She thanked me for the box, and was considering the remaining packing materials when I started off for my place.

While the larger box was ungainly, it wasn't at all heavy, so was fine for such a short distance. As I turned down my street, though, I paused to give my arms a quick break, and to readjust it all for the last few yards. As I put everything down, a third woman pulled over and honked her horn, waving as I turned towards her. I smiled, presuming she was there to pick up someone in the building I'd stopped in front of, and had just been giving me a polite wave. As I began gather the things I'd set down for the moment, she came around the back of her car, paused her phone conversation and asked where I was going with the box, and whether I needed a ride. I thanked her, and assured her that I was almost there. As I walked up the steps to my building, I saw her go by, continuing on to wherever she was headed -- she hadn't been going to that building, after all, and had only stopped to offer me a lift.

I rarely miss a chance to complain about how crappy people can be. Since people can be awfully crappy, they give me plenty to complain about. But, sometimes it's nice to point out that the opposite is also true: people can be quite kind. Given how many have been kind to me, I should probably say so more often.

And now I'm off to fill those free boxes with things.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Representation, objectification, and the necessary restatement of the obvious

Still thinking about women, the way that we are represented, and the ways that we (re)present ourselves. This time, it starts with an article on the portrayal of women in the media.

HuffPo Women reported yesterday on a study conducted by USC Annenberg and the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, which analyzed female characters on prime time and children's TV shows, as well as in films rated G, PG, and PG-13. This study showed that female characters were, across the board, less likely to speak than their male counterparts, less likely to be gainfully employed, and more likely to be shown weary sexy or revealing clothing

In a summary of the study's findings, the researchers reported that they found a lack of aspirational female role models in all three media categories, and cited five main observations: female characters are sidelined, women are stereotyped and sexualized, a clear employment imbalance exists, women on TV come up against a glass ceiling, and there are not enough female characters working in STEM fields.

I'm obviously behind attempts to call attention to the problem, and I think it's great to be able to point to data collected through culturally validated channels in discussing what the problem is, and why it's a problem. But, I also think the problem is really obvious. I really believe that, if you've ever watched a TV show, or gone to a movie, you know this, even if you are unable, or more likely unwilling, to consider what it means. Without lessening the importance of the conversation, I sometimes feel the need, once in a while, to point out that this would all be much easier if people would remove head from ass and pay attention.

Deep breath.

So, when I saw this article last night, and I shared a link to it on FB, the commentary I added was a moment of feeling overwhelmed by the feeling that people are missing (or ignoring) something really, really obvious, and really obviously a problem.  The responses I got reminded me, quite rightfully, that we're not all "feminist media literacy advocates" (I love that phrase, and intend to steal it from you, J.), and that we sometimes need to "prime the arena for intervention" (truth, M., and well put). Another friend spoke to a different aspect of the issue, which is the frustration of seeing women perpetuate their own objectification. This is the thing that got me thinking this morning, because I share that frustration -- put some damn clothes on, half-naked woman on the bus, and stop dressing your prepubescent daughter like a miniature version of a woman I'd want to wrap in a blanket and send home to try again! But also worry about how we respond to that behavior.

My problem is that, while I think the most visceral response is often, "ugh, stop making things worse," I also think that there are reasons that people perpetuate systems that do not benefit them, and that those behaviors are hard to change in ways that makes simple censure feel inadequate. Cultural hegemony -- whether the cultures in question are racial, gender-based, national, etc -- is real and powerful. And, it is persistent. Part of what fuels its persistence is that it is self-replicating: the dominant group does not simply impose its values, it naturalizes those values, so that those on whom they're being imposed come to embrace them, to see them as real. Those who are not of the dominant group are marinated in the values of the dominant group, and eventually internalize them as their own. Society's beauty standards are, I think, an accessible example by now -- things like people of color having internalized pale skin and straight, preferably blond hair as THE way to be beautiful, as opposed to one of many.

Similarly, women in the United States (I speak specifically because it's what I know best) have been steeped in the set of ideas about beauty and sexiness. So, while women may dress or act in a way that furthers their objectification, they don't do so in a vacuum. That is to say that they do not usually start from a neutral point of full understanding of objectification, its causes, and its effects and think, "Yeah -- that sounds great!" The nature of cultural hegemony is that it warps reality, so that we think we're seeing clearly when we're not. We look at ourselves in funhouse mirrors, but think that we're seeing the truth. And change is not, in this case (in any case?), like flipping on a switch, so even if the warp in reality becomes visible to some, that doesn't mean that we will all just stop believing and living that false worldview overnight. You've got to get people to realize they've internalized as natural or ideal something that is not, in fact, natural, probably isn't ideal for all, and may not be ideal for any. You've got to get them to internalize something new, which is difficult. And the new thing you've got to get them to internalize might not be clear yet, and is certainly not as well established as the old ways.

All of which is to say that the idea of objectifying yourself, or otherwise playing into a worldview that lessens you, is a tricky one, which makes the sense of censure that usually attaches to it tricky, as well. Yes, I want women to dress like they respect themselves, and to project what I consider to be a positive image. But, that involves moving beyond giving them the side-eye, and really thinking about how to change what someone has internalized as positive, negative, or neutral. This requires changing how people perceive reality, and what they therefore think is worth projecting. (It also involves shaking up how we all interpret what we see, and convincing more people that they're always interpreting and being interpreted, but those are at least a couple of different blogs.)

So, how do we give more people the tools that would enable them to perpetuate a new and better set of images and behaviors? Well, I suppose that we give people the side-eye and shake our heads, but also try to explain why we're doing so. And, we continue to point out, in various ways, where reality has been warped, hoping to help others see it. We participate in conversations about how to straighten things out, and we take the lead in shaping the reflections and representations younger generations are shaped by.

And, sometimes, we point out how obvious the problems are, and extol the virtues of mass craniorectal extraction.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

And they were both naked, but only the woman was ashamed.

So, now and again (by which I mean all the time), I post something here at the blog to keep myself from posting it on Facebook. The intention is usually to avoid starting a comment war on someone's wall, in a situation where I can tell that actual discussion will be difficult, if not impossible (which is to say, most of the time on Facebook). Today, that situation is the comment section on a link shared by J. The link is to this article, on gender and coverage of the Petraeus affair, and J. quoted the following passage, by way of introduction:

There are questions of real consequence, such as why the F.B.I. got so thoroughly involved in what has been vaguely described as a case of e-mail harassment, whether the bureau waited too long to tell lawmakers and White House officials about the investigation, and how much classified information Broadwell, by dint of her relationship with Petraeus, was privy to. The answers matter. Her 'expressive green eyes' (The Daily Beast) and “tight shirts” and 'form-fitting clothes' (The Washington Post) don’t . . . . [but] it’s the women in these situations who are often subjected to a more vigorous public shaming — and assigned greater responsibility.
I won't go into the details of the thread, because it's not my thread. It suffices to say that someone called into question the importance of the gender conversation, while basically doing exactly the (gender-based) things the article, and J, were critiquing -- that is, focusing almost exclusively on whether Broadwell was dressed properly, and what kind of assumptions we can make about her based on her appearance. So, rather than starting a comment war over on Facebook, I'm going on a rant here at in medias res.

I think you raise good points, [redacted], about how our clothing portrays us to the world. I can't speak for [redacted], but I suspect that you and I, at least, disagree concerning whether or not the specifically gendered ways in which that happens are a) real, b) acceptable, and c) something we should talk about, with an eye to changing it. Regardless of what we do with that set of ideas, I'm not sure why her appearance (or her age, which has also come up a lot) would be relevant to this incident, and I'm certainly not clear on why it would be offered as in any way relevant to Petraeus' professional (not to mention personal) failures, which included making good choices about who to associate with, and how.

And, I think that [redacted] and others (like me) think it's interesting and important to talk about how our gender dynamics (illustrated in things like discussing what men and women should and shouldn't  wear) create and "reinforce ideas of women, men, and power," and exactly because of situations like this.

The article linked is pointing out that the coverage of these events spends an inordinate amount of time paying attention to what Broadwell looks like -- her eyes, her clothes, her body fat (or lack thereof) -- then makes various statements and insinuations about her behavior, her motives, and her character, based largely on those physical attributes. Yet, in most of the coverage, there is no discussion of even the things you mention in your comment -- whether Petraeus is a "horndog" or how he sent her signals, or what sorts of chances were worth it for him to take. If behavior, motives, and character are important, then surely these things that reflect on his are worth discussing, no? The article points out that the coverage has focused on how her clothing plays up her physical assest in a sexualized way. You insist that men and women are equally scrutinized on the basis of what they wear. Where, then, is the discussion of what Petraeus was wearing? We've been told about her short skirts, as if they were snares, set to trap an unsuspecting Petraeus. But, surely, if women's clothing and feminine wiles are important, then men's clothing and masculine wiles are too, right? Was that uniform worn just-so, knowing what a tempting figure a distinguished man of power is to some women? How could he have dressed in such an enticing way, if he wanted to be taken seriously professionally? Such questions only seem more ridiculous than their female-directed parallels, because "masculine wiles" are not a thing, or at least not a thing we've spent centuries blaming things on. The truth is that it's ridiculous in both directions, but is only entrenched in the culture in one.

Speaking of which, if she wore clothing that played up her desirability more than it played up her intelligence (already a problematic statement, because why would those two be at odds, if not for some long-standing societal patterns that it would probably be important to talk about), what of it? Do we really think that "she was tempting" is a line of argument that does Petraeus any favors? In addition to the fact that he's a grown-ass man, shouldn't we reasonably expect the director of the CIA to resist all sorts of temptation, making it moot how appealing her toned arms were? As above, if gender and its shaping of discourse are unimportant, why do we care that she was a temptation to Petraeus, but not whether Petraeus was a temptation to her? Perhaps more importantly, in the wake of this election season, do we really want to trot out the "she was dressed like she wanted it" chestnut so soon?

But I digress.

Much of the coverage is uninterested in whether Petraeus dressed, spoke, or acted in ways that encouraged this relationship, but it is very interested in analyzing Broadwell in terms of her clothing and what some think it tells them about her personality and her intentions, and it focuses on those things to an extent that makes it seem as if her choice of attire somehow outweighed his choice of actions. This is a problem. But, of course, the answer is not to make ridiculous claims about how what Petraeus was wearing determined Broadwell's behavior. And, of course, Broadwell's perceived attractiveness or her choice of clothing should not deflect discussion of Petraeus' agency in both cheating on his wife and, in the process, tanking his professional credibility.

It seems to me that the story should be about whether Petraeus chose to act like someone who valued himself as an individual who makes intelligent choices, and whether he made choices that showed supported or undermined that claim that he was competent and well-suited to carrying out the responsibilities with which he had been entrusted. We should care more that someone whose responsibilities included supervising those who sneak around on behalf of the nation showed himself to be bad at sneaking around than we do about the eye color of the woman he was sneaking around with. We really should focus on the fact that someone whose job title meant he had been trusted to show good judgment about very important things showed himself to be untrustworthy. To derail the conversation, as many have, with claims (whether explicit or implicit) about what Broadwell's clothes and exercise habits are supposed to tell us about her agency, personality, intelligence, judgment, competence, or moral rectitude shifts the conversation from what should be under discussion -- what Petraeus' actions tell us about his agency, personality, intelligence, judgment, competence, or moral rectitude, and specifically because those things were relevant to his job.

PS - In reference to the original article, there is not a single thing in the text that suggests that Eve was "pushy with the apple." Just sayin'.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Please, sir -- could I have some more equality?

On FB, my friend K. linked to an interesting piece called "The Distress of the Privileged." My initial reaction was to roll my eyes at the title, but I read it, knowing that this friend is not usually on the side of the assholes. It turned out to be a thoughtful take on responding to those feeling what the author calls "privileged distress." Muder's piece is an attempt to articulate how one might deal compassionately with those reeling from the loss (or, more often, the questioning) of their privilege, without lessening the importance of the justice due those harmed by the privilege in question. "Confronting this distress is tricky," writes Muder, "because neither acceptance nor rejection is quite right." It is, as I said, a thoughtful piece, perhaps insightful on the mental state of those thrown of balance by the tectonic shifts of the world around them, or the shaking up of the things they thought were solid ground.

It took me a while to figure out what it was about the piece that made me uncomfortable, but I eventually did. It is thoughtful and it is generous: to be honest, I feel like the generosity is at least a little bit misguided.

At the very least, there's a distinction that needs to be made, between those who "uncritically accept" their privileged role, and those who actively work to maintain it. In the former case, I am more than willing to espouse the virtues of dialogue, and the attempt to reason. If someone simply hasn't thought things through in a careful way, I think it is crucial to try to help them do so. Ignorance is not a character flaw. But, if you refuse to think critically, to listen, to engage, then you have actively refused to participate in dialogue, or to reason. Ignorance may not be a character flaw, but I believe that willful ignorance is.

Muder speaks of the danger of an implacable resentment on the part of the dis-privileged, but says nothing of even the possibility of an implacable sense of entitlement on the part of the privileged. He writes that "it never works to ask others for empathy without offering it back to them," but he seems only to be writing that to those he sees as needing to "win over" the privileged. The message seems to be that the dis-privileged must meet the privileged in the proverbial middle, taking care to coax them gently into non-hegemony in a way that makes them comfortable and soothes their wounded psyches. 

Now, one problem here is that meeting in the middle only works if the middle is actually where we should be. Consider the current national discourses on climate change and evolution. If what you're saying is counter-factual, meeting you halfway is a mistake. In terms of privilege, if I say "we need to level the playing field," and you say, "I'm used to being at the top of a mountain -- how about we just make it a smaller mountain," then you're still privileged, and I'm still fighting an uphill battle. That may be an example of compromise, but it's not really justice, which, as Muder points out, is what's at stake.

But, even more than this, I believe that there is a real and significant injustice in expecting people to ask nicely that someone stop hating, oppressing, or otherwise mistreating them.

As someone in the comments pointed out, "allies" (those invited to the Muder's proverbial party, but sympathetic to the concerns of those excluded from it) may be able to ask nicely, to supportively validate the good-personhood of those peers they hope to persuade to more enlightened treatment of their friends outside. But they're able to do that because they're at the party. They stand shoulder to shoulder with the privileged group -- they're not being directly threatened or hurt by the inequality in question. The fact that they're on the same level makes them well-placed to offer a supportive shoulder to those for whom the world seems suddenly incoherent or antagonistic, even as they attempt to persuade them of the error of their ways. But, while those struggling to gain full recognition of their human dignity *may* be generous enough to attempt to rehabilitate those who have denied it, to insist that they must be, or even always *can* be, is to claim yet another unwarranted privilege.

If you refuse to acknowledge an inequality that diminishes my personhood, it is not my job to preserve your positive self-image. If you are working to maintain a status quo that denies my full and foundational human dignity or threatens my well being, I shouldn't be expected to care about winning you over, or to try and lessen your feelings of disorientation when I defend myself. I should only be expected to care that you immediately stop diminishing my personhood, denying my dignity, or threatening my well being, regardless of whether or not you've been won over or convinced of my full humanity. If we're all at the party, and we're standing side by side, perhaps we can have a mutually open-minded and sympathetic conversation. But, if you've got your foot on my neck, you can't reasonably expect me to care if my throwing you off upsets your balance.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Under Construction

A quick heads up: I'll be tinkering with things in the next few days, including importing in some archival material from previous blogs. If you follow me on a feed, things might go a little haywire -- my apologies in advance!

As I prepared to post this, I thought I'd find a stock "under construction" image to add, just for kicks.

This one seemed apt:

While this one seemed oddly ominous:

Then I thought maybe I'd post a hot construction worker, instead. Now, I figured I knew what would come up on a google search for that term -- lots of heavily oiled models, probably some frontal nudity (true, on both counts). But, after the first few greasy photo shoots, and before the first penis, there was a familiar face:

Any guesses? Here's a hint:

Wow, 1994. Can we just take a moment to talk about the fashion and hair in that commercial? I mean, I know some of the women are supposed to look particularly repressed,

But back to Lucky. 18 years later, I recognized this guy's face, and immediately remembered his name. Lucky Vanous. Now, it's a memorable name, in all fairness, but I'm not really sure what made his face stick. He's good-looking, but I'm not sure I'd really pick him out as particularly hot, if I saw him in an ad today. Maybe that's part of it, though. The commercial caused quite a stir, and was notable for its then-surprising reversal of the standard "hot chick's hotness used to sell something" trope, and Vanous was sort of a thing, for a bit -- enough that he was featured in that annual archive of It Boys and Girls: People 's "Most Beautiful People" issue:

The commercial seems pretty tame now, but I feel like it was kind of A Big Deal, 18 years ago (let that sink in), that the blatantly objectified body being used to sell something besides Calvin Klein underwear was male. And were those CK ads (first one in 1982) ahead of their time on that?

I've never been sure whether this was brilliant marketing on Coca Cola's part, or not. Here's what I do know: I do remember it as a Diet Coke commercial, but it never induced me to drink Diet Coke. Even in 1994, when I remember talking about that commercial in the hallways at school, there wasn't guy -- male model or not -- hot enough to get me to drink Diet Coke.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

We, the people.

This is Bill O'Reilly, explaining/bemoaning Mitt Romney's defeat:

The problem, according to Bill O'Reilly, is that "demographics are changing -- it's not a traditional America anymore." And what does he mean by "a traditional America"? Well, that's one in which "an establishment candidate" wins easily. Well, "establishment" we know -- it's a group that holds the real power, most often by holding it away from everyone else. The establishment wields the socio-economic and political influence in a society. So, who is this establishment, according to Bill O'Reilly? Well, it's "The White Establishment," which "is a minority now." And who, just to be sure, does Bill O'Reilly think is not a part of "The White Establishment?" No surprise here: "Latinos...Blacks...and women." Thanks for clearing that up, Bill.

O'Reilly mentions that "the voters feel that this economic system is stacked against them," then goes on to demonstrate exactly why "the voters" (by which I presume he means that half of the people who did not vote for "The White Establishment") are justified in that feeling. The fact that Bill O'Reilly can still even hope for victories for a "White establishment" -- a group that, by definition, does not include people of color or people (even White ones) who are not a part of "The Establishment" -- means that there is, by his own admission, an established system, from which many are excluded. What I love about this is that he keeps saying that it's because "people feel like they're entitled to things." This may still count as a dog whistle, but I'd say that it's a shout-out to the continued demonization of the poor, and people of color in general, as grasping, lazy, demanding. O'Reilly says the issue is that "people feel like they're entitled to things," but can't stop himself from saying what's really bothering him: White (rich, straight, male) privilege is no longer absolutely secure, because their Establishment is no longer calling all of the shots.

"People feel like they are entitled to things." Yes, Bill, they do. Those women, those poor, those LGBT, those young, those people of color -- they "feel like they are entitled to things." As my friend A. pointed out, the "things" those people think they're entitled to are basically "dignity, equality under the law, opportunity unhindered by bigotry, and the franchise." We, the people, feel that we are entitled to a full voice, a fair share, and equal opportunities to participate in a thriving life, to establish ourselves as an equal part of our nation. Ours, O'Reilly -- not just The White Establishment's.


eta: the original video eventually disappeared. This video includes the same footage, starting at about 4:00. (