Monday, July 30, 2012

Creative Writing Prompt #9: Write about an addiction

I never felt complete without it. Ever since childhood, there were subtle encouragements, affirmations that I should feel that way. It was sanctioned, normalized... for a woman, at least. She could not feel complete and truly happy without a man by her side and romance in her heart. I became addicted to romance, but I saw it as a healthy addiction. It had positive outlets; love poems, stories, dreaming, crushes. No harm done, right? During my teenage dating phase, I always made sure I was with someone who claimed to love me back and treated me decently. It wasn’t until I fell in love with someone who didn’t love me back that it became a bad addiction; one that could hurt me. And it wasn’t until then that I became so thoroughly addicted that all of life without a hit (a glance, a conversation, a smile, a wayward hope) became washed out, dull, empty. Incomprehensible.

I wrote much to describe it back then, but even though I was plumbing its depths, in a way it was shallow, reflexive, animal obstinance. I was convinced it was something high and lofty, expanding my spirit, touching everything, giving me panoramic, bird’s-eye sky-sight of the whole world. But it was also a contraction, a compression of the whole world into a single person. Even my Self was lost in the crush of the singularity.

Still, I felt it was the highest pursuit, the intensity of all of those love poems and romantic stories finally made manifest in my own life. There was no better reason to be steadfast in suffering, and in my mind, I could do nothing but be steadfast and hold onto my feelings. They were a part of me. He was a part of me; thoughts of the most random subject would eventually find their way back to him; I had conversations with him in my mind. But when these conversations occurred far more frequently than those in real life, I felt depressed and worthless. I wasn’t loved in return because it was difficult, perhaps impossible, for him to love me. Something was wrong with me. I wasn’t interesting or confident or cool enough. I was ashamed of who I was, yet addicted to what gave me that shame.

I was fully aware of my state of addiction, but didn’t want to stop. It was a test of my will, of the depth of my feelings; a way to prove that my love of romance was not hypocritical, not counterfeit, not in vain. I was addicted to both the experience of being in love and the possibility of fulfilling it. Perhaps there could be some change, some break in the cycle, some amazing victory. A moment where he understood, he reciprocated in the same way.

The dream of that moment fueled my addiction.

Now I see that the Endless Mystery of His Feelings and Actions that I wrote hundreds of pages about could be reduced to a single line of code. That I was engaged in a struggle for which there could be no victory. I was consumed in masochistic reflection that convinced me that my Self could be re-made if it was un-done; re-shaped into someone who could get me what I wanted. But this only made my Self assert itself even more, like a red stain soaking through a white metal mesh screen of a bird’s cage as it flies against the sides and bleeds. 


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Tradition vs. Freedom in Pixar's "Brave"

I saw Pixar’s “Brave” a few weeks ago. It was well-executed and I liked it, but it was somewhat predictable and I don’t think it was Pixar’s best. Because it was their first full-length animated feature with a female protagonist, I was scrutinizing it quite a bit (I wasn’t specifically trying to, but I knew that I probably would regardless). I’m not posting this as a review, I just wanted to outline the impressions, issues, and questions the movie raised for me. It will discuss some plot-points, so if you haven’t seen it, spoilers are ahead.

“Brave” centers on a young Scottish princess named Merida who loves archery, horse-back riding, and adventure. Her mother disapproves of Merida’s tomboyish nature and wants her to be more lady-like and act in a manner more befitting a princess. Merida and her mother butt heads frequently, but she gets along well with her father. Now that she is fifteen, her mother tells her that tradition dictates that her marriage be arranged. Merida rebels, claiming that she is not ready to get married. They argue bitterly but her mother refuses to budge on the issue, and Merida runs away, angry and distraught. She comes across a witch, and asks the witch to “change her mother” so that she can “change her fate”. The witch gives her an enchanted pastry to feed her mother, and it ends up transforming her mother into a bear. This puts her mother in grave danger, because Merida’s father is obsessed with killing a bear that attacked him years ago and is responsible for the loss of one of his legs. We find out later that that same bear was also once human, and that he’s part of a legend that Merida’s mother has told her repeatedly about a man who ruled Scotland equally with his three brothers, until he used magic to try to become stronger than they (which transformed him into a bear) and thus disrupted the harmony of the kingdom. Merida must find a way to save her mother from becoming a bear for good.

In my eyes, the movie had two main themes: one, the importance of owning up to the consequences of one's actions, and two, the importance of maintaining communal and filial harmony. The latter struck me as rather conservative, in a way. I mean, it’s still great that Pixar finally created a female protagonist, and that she is strong, resourceful, and excels at typically “masculine” activities, and that they focused on the performance of femininity that was expected of Merida and the limits imposed on her freedom as a result. But when Merida refuses to get married, her mother chastises her for breaking tradition, and tells her (for the umpteenth time, apparently) of the legend of the four brothers, which is painted as a cautionary tale about how asserting your individual agency and independence can harm your community. Her mother is likening her fifteen year old daughter’s refusal to get married, which would severely curtail her freedom, to an adult man’s selfish, destructive power grab. Merida's marriage would be a political one; her choice of suitors is limited to the princes from the three neighboring kingdoms (although she only marries a prince from one, so go figure). We are told that peace between the kingdoms hinges on her actions, so her position is tied to the legend in that respect. However, I don’t think we are supposed to support Merida’s arranged marriage (the developers are American, after all), and after her mother is turned into a bear, she eventually decides that Merida doesn’t have to get married yet.

The problem is, there is no explanation given as to why Merida’s mother changes her mind. And in real-life situations like this, where people are convinced of the rightness and necessity of tradition and a woman’s proper place within it, they usually don’t abruptly change their mind like that. What option would be left for a woman who rebels, in that scenario? The movie couldn’t imagine a situation where her mother didn’t change her mind about the marriage, but before the whole magic bear business, that was the main conflict of the story, and it seemed pretty intractable. It’s wrapped up rather quickly in order to shift focus to the new magic bear conflict.

The movie casts Merida’s desire to change her mother as deeply wrong;  a severing of their bond that endangers her family and the broader community. But the only reason she wants to change her mother in the first place is because she doesn't want to get married, so the film seems dangerously close to condemning Merida's resistance to marriage itself. At the end of the film, Merida is in tears, contrite for changing her mother and for not owning up to it. It’s easy for her to forget the importance of why she did it in the first place, now that her mother has changed her mind about the proposal. I’m not sure that the movie differentiated enough from the cause of Merida’s unhappiness and the method she used to solve it; it’s insistent that Merida got it wrong and needs to be remorseful, but it doesn’t make it clear that she was right to advocate for herself and her rights. Furthermore, her mother doesn’t go through a similar moment of contrition for trying to force her teenage daughter to marry and for generally brow-beating her for not being lady-like enough; she just randomly has a change of heart, prompted by moments where Merida’s "un-feminine" knowledge impresses her when they’re in the woods. They obviously go through a lot and learn about eachother’s strengths while trying to reverse the spell, but I still think that more explanation and development was needed here (I guess it is pretty typical of parents to not admit when they’re wrong with regards to their parenting and simply change their mind at their own whim, though).

But I keep thinking about Merida's tears at the end, which to me was the most powerful moment of the film. She was wrong to want to use magic to fundamentally change her mother, especially before understanding the implications and dangers of all that that might mean. And she was wrong to not admit that it was her fault that her mother was in terrible danger. But she was not wrong to want her mother to change her mind about marriage, not wrong to be angry and upset that her desire for freedom was ignored and vilified, and not wrong to want to change her fate. Maybe the writers thought that this would be so obvious to us that it would go without saying. But when it comes to women’s right to autonomy, I think it’s best to just say it.


Monday, July 23, 2012

Double Team in Action: More Thoughts on "Offensive Humor"

[CN: Rape, rape culture]

Recently the two of us had a conversation with someone about the Tosh issue and thought we'd post some of it here--especially because it covers a lot of topics that might typically come up in discussions of "offensive" humor. Hopefully it's useful to some readers out there!

"Not all good comedy is inoffensive and that not all offensive comedy is unfunny."

J: That isn't a fact; that's opinion. For some people, if comedy offends them, it's not funny. Rape jokes can do more than offend; for survivors, it can make them relive their trauma and feel humiliated, like this horrible thing that happened to them is just something for people to laugh at. Few comedians seem to factor that rape survivors might be in the audience or listening at home and instead treat rape as some remote, abstract concept, ripe with shock culture potential they're itching to exploit. But it's not actually that shocking or subversive to minimize rape in this culture; it's done all the time, and if a rape joke adds to that, we should try to recognize it. Most feminist commentary online has said that telling a good, funny rape joke is possible ; it just should be well-thought out, critical of the rapist, rape culture, and/or rape apologia, not further mocking the victim. Then there are a few feminists who believe that no rape joke is funny because they all normalize rape. 

C: A big part of this argument turns on the usage of the word "offensive"—I think people aren’t often on the same wavelength regarding its definition. If you tell a joke insulting someone's hometown, they may be offended, but it's not unreasonable to believe they might also find the joke funny. But if you tell a joke about rape, depending on what you say, and at whose expense, you may make a member of the audience feel ashamed and hurt. That's not the same thing as feeling offended and those feelings are much more viscerally incompatible with laughter and feeling good. Additionally, it's about the content of the joke—myself and most feminist bloggers are not arguing rape jokes are off-limits, just that telling rape jokes in which rape victims are the butt of the joke, rather than rapists, can be cruel and a dick-move overall--and THAT’S the issue here. A joke at the expense of rapists in qualitatively different than a joke at the expense of rape victims--especially coming from a dude who has never and most likely will never have to deal with the threat of rape as a reality.

"This is just the PC movement trying to silence comedians!"

J: I don't know that I buy that there's a "PC Movement" per se, or that whatever you're referring to should be given that name. There's a difference between some knee-jerk, prudish, FCC-motivated offense at something and being angry or upset from a personal, empathetic, or socially-conscious standpoint, and it seems like you're conflating the two. When it comes to a rape joke, most people are not criticizing it because it offends their delicate sensibilities, but because they believe it supports rapists, minimizes the gravity of rape, and mocks rape victims. In the case of Daniel Tosh, he wasn't just making rape jokes (not the "good" kind described above either) but also lashing out at the woman who stood up to him and using the threat of rape to put her in her place. 

C: The idea of a “PC movement” has got to be one of the worst mischaracterizations of this kind of criticism—on top of it being a terrible misnomer. I could dissect the concept in greater depth in a later post if you want, but for now I’m just going to focus at the issue at hand: rape jokes. I don’t think I’ve ever read an objection of them that claims that the actual language and terminology used is arbitrarily out-of-bounds. It’s not some knee-jerk, schoolmarm-like reaction of “You can’t say that! It’s inappropriate!” which is what people tend to be invoking when they talk about political correctness. In this case, it’s not about the words and terminology being used—it’s not about the word rape being thrown around—it’s the content of the jokes, it’s the subtext. As I mentioned earlier, there is a big difference between a joke in which the subtext is “aren’t rapists terrible people?” and “it’s funny when drunk girls get raped, they’re really asking for it anyway.”

"But what about free speech? This is censorship!"

 Free speech means you CAN say anything you want, not that you SHOULD, or that you can say anything and no one can give you shit for it. Likewise, any criticism for a joke is also free speech, but you don't hear that one thrown around as often.

And I'm curious, in terms of free speech supporters--- why do you think someone's right to tell some joke is more important than causing someone pain? This isn't a matter of "anyone who's offended needs to stop being so sensitive, it's their own fault for feeling that way", because again, for rape survivors, it's not a choice so much as being triggered into the memory of trauma. As for having everything on comedy on the table; it should be, but again, both the comedian and the audience should examine what the joke supports and perpetuates. Comedy at its best criticizes the powerful and supports the powerless, or makes unique, cogent, subversive observations. This isn't a matter of "hurt feelings" or making the world a "perfect" place, but being aware of existing power dynamics. A joke told at the expense of a rapist is not equivalent to a joke told at the expense of a victim; they function very differently.

There are few people that can say anything with impunity, especially while on the job. Why should a stand-up comic be any different? If anything, their job is MORE dependent than most on making everyone feel like they're having a great time. I love to laugh and I've watched a shit-ton of stand-up throughout my life, but I'm not willing to let them say anything they want with impunity. And it's not like all we do is laugh at comedians; they're telling stories, making observations about society, and further shaping our perceptions.

Free speech and censorship issues are straw men arguments. I haven’t come across anyone advocating that comedians should be thrown in jail or censored. Even if there are critics that have argued that, let me be clear: that is not my argument. Anyone is free to make whatever joke they want, just as I am free to criticize them for the implications of their jokes. Anyone is free to continue making fun of rape victims, just as I am free to consider them an unempathetic, uncritical asshole for doing so. 

One more reason free speech is a red herring: free speech, as a constitutionally protected right, does not govern certain relationships between individuals. A comedian can tell his jokes without the threat of being jailed, that’s true, and that’s already his situation. Does he have a constitutionally protected right to be on stage doing stand-up? No, it’s a privilege. People can boo him off the stage, the event coordinator can cancel his show, etc. etc. These aren’t free speech or censorship issues, so let’s not distort the term by calling them that. He *can* say whatever he wants. Is he constitutionally guaranteed a nation-wide platform to distribute it? No, that's a privilege.

"But it's comedy! Everything is and should be fair game!"

C: Yeah, everything is fair game for a comedian to joke about, that doesn’t mean that if they say something really uncritical and unempathetic that no one is allowed to criticize them for it. It’s not as if comedy is divorced from society and language. Words have meaning. Words about social phenomena have meaning. It's not as if tacking on a punch-line at the end magically makes that meaning and social relevance disappear. Comedy is part of an ongoing discussion and exchange over how to talk about and represent a host of different issues—and sometimes, comedians (as fallible humans sometimes tend to do) get it wrong.  This is especially important because lot of the jokes in question don’t just hurt people, they also shore up damaging ideas that shape our culture and society. At most, I just want comedians to understand and own up to that. If they see it and just don’t care, that’s one thing, but when they deny that their words can have such an impact at all, it’s pretty grating. 

"But this would be too hard on comedians!" 

C: I guess the ideas I’ve expressed would be “hard on comedians” if you agree that thinking critically and being empathetic and intellectually honest is somehow difficult. But I hold everyone to that standard, no matter how difficult it might be for them, and comedians don’t get a free pass on that. Also, other comedians have done it no problem: George Carlin, Richard Pryor and Wanda Sykes tackled rape in a way that embodies that standard. In all honesty, all I want is for comedians to be aware of the social and individual impact their words can have, and either own up to their own indifference or try to actively change it. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Owning the Subtext: Thoughts on Humor and Satire

[CN: Rape, rape culture]

I've been planning to make a post on shock-humor and effective satire and irony, especially in light of similar discussions and debacles, most recently this incident involving Daniel Tosh.

I should start off by saying that I recognize what an incredibly powerful tool humor can be, especially irony and satire. It's one of the reasons I love the Daily Show and the Colbert Report so much--which is not to say I agree with every view or every joke ever made on those shows*--but rather that I appreciate the way they're utilizing humor. Their coverage of current events can be more memorable, engaging and overt in a way that conventional news programs can't replicate. For instance, when news programs reported on the House Oversight Committee hearing on birth control back in February, you might have simply heard an anchor say flatly "There were no female participants at the conference." Jon Stewart, on the other hand, is able to belabor the
absurdity of the fact in a way that sticks and has a greater emotional impact. And this kind of engagement has an impact: there are more young people politically informed and engaged because of these programs who might otherwise have been uninterested in politics.

Despite the fact that not all humor is necessarily social or political commentary, there is one thing that almost all jokes share: subtext. If we take Stephen Colbert's brand of satire as an example, the subtext is the absurdity of conservative tv pundits--it's the butt of all the jokes, it's the punchline we're all in on. And because it's satire, Colbert's rhetoric itself is insincere--the literal meaning of his words is the exact opposite of the intended message. But although we're not supposed to take his actual rhetoric seriously, we are most certainly supposed to take the subtext seriously.

While the subtext in The Colbert Report is intentionally and skillfully crafted, the subtext in other jokes is not well thought-out or intentional--but unfortunately, it's still there, whether the joke-teller likes it or not. And sometimes that subtext offends or worse, actually hurts people. In those cases, joke-tellers have three options: 1) stand by the original subtext and attempt to justify it; 2) engage with people's complaints, clarify the intended subtext (while still admitting to the flawed execution) and/or apologize; 3) derail and deflect by claiming things like "you're not supposed to take it seriously, can't you take a joke?" and/or "quit trying to censor me!" or denying that jokes have subtext in the first place.

So now that we have a framework for evaluating jokes, let's take a closer look at Tosh's rape joke fiasco. What's the subtext? It's pretty simple and hackish: there is something funny about the idea of someone being raped (and that even if it is horrible, it is also funny). Note the specificity here-- the butt of the Tosh's joke is rape
victims, not rapists and not rape culture. This has been covered by others before, that what separates a "good" rape joke from a "bad" one is that the former invokes the horror of rape at the expense of rapists and rape culture, while the latter is at the expense of rape victims by seemingly mocking and belittling their pain and trauma, as if it was an amusing sport.

To say that mocking and belittling trauma "offends" people is a gross understatement--in fact, I resent that word being used, because it's not even accurate. If you insult someone's favorite sports team, they may be merely offended. If you make someone relive a traumatic experience, make them remember all the hurt and fear and shame, except this time in a room where everyone is laughing at the very idea of their experience--then they are not offended, they are experiencing something painful. Even if the listener has not experienced rape, if they have ever felt anxiety or fear over it, can imagine how horrible it would be, or even simply feel empathy--that joke doesn't simply offend, it is unsettling and still painful. That is not the same as feeling offense and indignation. And it's no longer about "political correctness."

Let's take a look at Tosh's response: 

"All the out of context misquotes aside, i'd like to sincerely apologize,”

While I'll give him credit for attempting to apologize, it is pretty irksome that he simultaneously writes some throwaway line about "out of context misquotes" without actually ever specifying what was misquoted or taken out of context. I suspect he didn't specify anything because, assuming it even existed, it didn't actually change the subtext of the joke. 

He then followed up with this gem: 
"The point i was making before i was heckled is there are awful things in the world but you can still make jokes about them. #deadbabies."

As noted earlier, there is a difference between making a joke that illustrates how horrible rape is and making one that makes light of it. Tosh did the latter. If he were trying to do the former, he failed. If he wants to do better in the future, he needs to be cognizant of the subtext of his jokes and actively change it. Somehow, I doubt this is going to happen.

I'm not saying that it's not possible for critics to ever misinterpret the subtext of a joke. That certainly happens, especially in cases with jokes less simplistic and hackish than Tosh's "joke." But what I am saying is that the conversation should at least revolve around both the joke-teller and the listener agreeing that jokes have a subtext, and from there they can discuss the intended meaning and whether it was executed properly. That is a much better conversation to have than denying that subtext exists at all, that it can hurt people and that it matters.  
For an example of a comedian genuinely engaging with the subtext of his joke, see Jason Alexander's statement here. It's not impossible. It's not even difficult. It just takes some thoughtfulness and empathy.

One last point I want to discuss is a response to hurtful jokes I mentioned earlier: 
derail and deflect by claiming things like "you're not supposed to take it seriously, can't you take a joke?" and/or "quit trying to censor me!" or denying that the subtext exists in the first place. This is the tact that the bulk of Tosh's supporters took when defending him. 

Regarding the claim that jokes "shouldn't be taken seriously": I think this is ultimately a poorly constructed phrase (similar to "offended") that obscures what critics of hurtful jokes are really trying to say. It's not that they've lost sight of the fact that it's a joke and are trying to interpret the words literally. In Jason Alexander's case, it's not as if they thought he was literally saying only gay men played cricket, or that he was giving a serious appraisal of the sport. But what they did take seriously was the inescapable subtext: that men acting "effeminately" is worthy of ridicule. They took this seriously because it's a serious problem in our society that has serious consequences: homophobic discrimination, bullying and killing.

There is no space where you can make commentary about society and have it be divorced from social issues, no matter how subtle the commentary might be. Comedy is not a space that can be free from social criticism so long as it is full of individuals talking about society. Words have meaning. Words about social phenomena have meaning. It's not as if tacking on a punchline at the end magically makes that meaning and social relevance disappear.

We understand this about comedy perfectly well in some contexts. We understand that when a little boy bullies another boy he considers effeminate by jokingly calling him a girl that the bully doesn't actually believe he's a girl. But we also understand that his bullying is serious--both in terms of it being a serious problem and the bully's serious intention to inflict pain. We also understand that it's wrong. Would it magically not be a serious problem if suddenly the bully had a microphone and was in front of a crowd? Would it suddenly not be wrong? 

This brings me to the next point: censorship. This is a particularly frustrating straw man. Not one critic that I've come across has advocated that Tosh should be thrown in jail, or should be prevented from ever making these kinds of jokes. Even if there are critics that have argued that, let me be clear: that is not my argument. Tosh is free to make whatever joke he wants, just as I am free to criticize him for the implications of his jokes. He is free to continue making fun of rape victims, just as I am free to consider him an unempathetic, uncritical asshole for doing so.  

And more importantly: he is free to make jokes about rape all he wants. He will simply be a more decent human being if he actually thinks a bit about what he is saying, and whether it's the rape victims or rapists he's laughing at. 


*EDIT: For instance, I'm not happy with this at all...

No free pass for HBO's "Girls"

This may seem like belaboring a point, but even with all of the coverage it’s been given, I would like to discuss a few things. The fact that the "Girls" controversy centers on the representation of women, race, and class makes it a topic of great interest to me. And being a white twenty-something recent college graduate, I’m pretty sure I was part of the show’s target demographic.

Anyway, "Girls" got heat for a couple of reasons: for not including a woman of color as one of its main characters, for portraying the few minor characters of color it does have in stereotypical, other-izing ways, and for having a hipster ethos and whiny, entitled characters. The last two points are less important to me, although personally, I can’t stand whiny, entitled white people (and I’m sure I’ve been one at various points in my life, but that doesn’t make it less annoying). My main point is that TV shows, movies, videogames, and comics need to be more racially diverse. Period. More diverse in general, from class to race to sexuality. It isn’t a matter of numbers, the ethnic break-down of the country, or some strict (but convenient) adherence to “realism”.  It’s about representation, belonging, and exclusion. It will not be solved by stereotypical portrayals or tokenism. I’m not naive; I know how entrenched white American power is in this country. I know why there hasn’t been an honest effort to have diversity in the media or promote and invest in work by people of color. But none of it is a good reason. There isn’t a good reason for “Girls” lack of diversity either.

Nevertheless, some excuses people are making for it:

1. It’s only the first season! OMG, lay off poor Lena Dunham!
2. You weren’t saying this shit about shows like “Sex and the City” or “Freaks and Geeks”, so you can’t say it about this show.
3. If you’re a man criticizing it: it's only because the show is made for women, by a woman. You’re a sexist! If you’re a woman criticizing it: you need to support this show, because there are so few shows out there that privilege a woman’s perspective.
4. It’s realistic--- some white people only hang out with other white people. Can’t we make a show about that? Also, other races hang out with people of their own race too. If this is racist, then so are they.
5. Wait, HOW is this racist? It’s not openly hateful to black people or anything...
6. Lena Dunham is white--- how is she supposed to know how to portray people of color?
7. Blame the system/the industry, not Lena Dunham.

I would like to address each of these.

(Note: You can criticize a show on one level and praise it for others. You can be aware of a show’s failings, and still enjoy other aspects of it. Being aware of problematic representations of marginalized peoples, and not silencing anyone by dismissing their importance, is the key thing. “Girls” may be valuable for other reasons, but discussing those is not the purpose of this post. It is also not the purpose of the post to attack Lena Dunham, rather to address the arguments that people have made in defense of her/the show and its lack of diversity.)

Moving on:

1. It’s only the first season! OMG, lay off poor Lena Dunham!

I think it’s fair to judge a show on its first season. Can anyone think of a show that had an all-white or mostly white cast the first season and then came back the second season with non-tokenizing, meaningful, multiple characters of color? Because I can’t. And since there was such a poor showing this season, it’s obviously not a priority to Dunham. The casting calls for the first season were made available by the time the first episode aired, and there were only minor characters of color requested and it was obvious they would be stereotypes and/or flat, menial extras. At that point, we knew what to expect from the entire first season. If we do see more diversity next season, it will be because of how much shit the show got, not because it was the intention all along or Dunham had some independent epiphany about race representation.

2. You weren’t saying this shit about shows like “Sex and the City” or “Freaks and Geeks”, so you can’t say it about this show.

Actually, I bitch about the lack of diversity or problematic representations in many shows, even the ones I like. Many people do this, it’s just usually not listened to or taken seriously. The blogging scene, which has democratized the propagation of news and opinion beyond the established media, wasn’t as big back when “Freaks and Geeks” aired, but I’m sure that many people, especially people of color, were aware of how white the cast was. And with “Sex and the City”... do socially-conscious people even watch that? (just kidding).

Also, you could just as easily say “we” (whoever this *we* is) “didn’t criticize the lack of diversity in other shows, BUT WE SHOULD HAVE.” To say instead that "we didn’t do the right thing back then, so we shouldn’t now"  is fucked up, cowardly, and not a good argument. It’s a deflection and an avoidance of the real issue at hand. I’m not sure why “Girls” is getting more heat when other shows aren’t, but I have a couple theories:

a. Annoyance with hipster culture and the whiny entitlement mentioned earlier.
b. We’re used to seeing white female characters on TV but they’re usually movie-star white: tan, thin, polished, expert make-up, impeccably dressed. These girls aren’t tan. They’re pale. They’re white-bread, urban-chic, real white people white. Culturally white. Maybe this flagged people’s attention more than the usual depiction of whiteness. These girls look more like “normal” white girls you might see on the street, which is what Dunham was going for. There’s nothing wrong with this; in fact, it’s a good thing to have characters look more like real people. But I think it might’ve drawn attention to their race more.
c. It’s set in present day, in Brooklyn. Whites are the minority in Brooklyn, and Brooklynites (obviously many of them POC) know this. Thus, the show doesn’t ring true and seemed to go out of its way to be exclusionary.
d. The show has been marketed as fresh, unique, and truly representative of our generation. But to the point where it’s excluding so much of that generation, and therefore not providing anything ground-breaking in that real sense... yeah, expect it to get more heat than a fluffy show like “Sex and the City”.
e. It’s written by a woman, for women. Yes, I do recognize that the ensuing storm of criticism could have had some opportunistic sexists jumping on the band-wagon. But they were probably going to diss the show anyway, and I doubt they care much about the race issue. I also don’t think they formed the majority of critics in any sense. However, if anyone is cloaking their sexist contempt for the show in the racial representation argument, that’s wrong and insincere. In a way, though, does it really matter WHY people are talking about this? The point is, they’re right, and this is something we should be talking about. No, “Girls” certainly should not be the only show getting heat for this, and anyone who zeroes in on it and no other shows is a hypocrite.

3. If you’re a man criticizing it: it's only because the show is made for women, by a woman. You’re a sexist! If you’re a woman criticizing it: you’re aiding and abetting sexism, and you need to support this show, because there are so few shows out there that privilege a woman’s perspective.

Yes, this show is one of the few that is trying to represent (young, white) women’s experience and is actually written by a (young, white) woman, but we can’t give it carte blanche just for that. It has a problem that’s endemic to mainstream art and media in this country that should be addressed wherever it arises. It should also be acknowledged that the show is only about young, white, middle-class women and not every woman writ large.

Furthermore, it’s unfair to label all men who would critique the show as necessarily sexist, and again, it’s a deflection. In addition, most of the race-based criticism I read was written by women. But even if we address that claim directly, the implication is that you can’t criticize a show about (white) women without being sexist. As though the only reason you could find fault with the show or want to is because you don’t like women, or you want to bring other women down. Or that even if this wasn’t your intention, you are essentially betraying “the cause” if you critique something created by women for women, regardless of racial politics. Women of color’s opinions, unique racial experience, and valid criticism are being rendered totally invisible in this equation (uh, they’re women too, so don’t they deserve to be supported by white women? You rarely hear that one). You can be both pro-racial equality and pro-feminism, and situate both at the center of your political ideology. In fact, the more recent Feminist theory is integrated with examining the intersectionality of identity based on gender, sexuality, class, ethnicity, nationality, coloniality, religion. Feminism isn’t some zero-sum game where you either support any endeavor of (white) women or you’re a sexist. It’s more nuanced. And to pressure women of color to support any white woman regardless of differences, as though their identification as women mattered more than their racial identification, implies that white cis-hetero women are the universal embodiment of all women, and assumes a unity between women that doesn’t exist. It erases both the privilege of white women and the unique struggles that women of color face. Telling all women they need to blindly support this show because it’s a measly crumb of female authorship that mainstream TV has allowed us is not only a lazy, disingenuous attempt at unity, but also a way to silence dissent from marginalized voices that we already hear from the least. That’s never a good thing for Feminism. We can have solidarity, certainly, but we also must be free to criticize eachother.

But solidarity can’t be genuine when there’s such a double-standard and no acknowledgement of inequality between white and non-white women. We need to encourage debate and discussion among all women, from every community, if we can ever hope to unite in a meaningful way, not stifle it. Solidarity needs to flow from both directions, not just one. As African-American Feminist poet Audre Lorde said: “the oppression of women knows no ethnic or racial boundaries, true, but that does not mean that it is identical within those differences”. Lorde writes of how, throughout the history of the women’s movement, it has been all too common for white women to expect women of color to support their endeavors, while not supporting women of color in turn, continuing to marginalize and stereotype them, and not acknowledging their own privilege vis a vis race. 

In this case, stories about white women are posited as stories for all women to support and enjoy equally despite unequal representation. In a telling way, the show is just called “Girls”, not “White Girls”. 

4. It’s realistic--- some white people only hang out with other white people. Can’t we make a show about that? Also, other races hang out with people of their own race too.

 Whites who only hang out with other whites get represented much more frequently than Asians who hang out with Asians, Arabs who hang out with Arabs, Native Americans who only hang out with Native Americans... you get my point. Where are the shows about them, by the way? Nonexistent. Even shows that simply feature a mainly non-white cast or non-white protagonist are often purposefully not funded or given a chance to air. For example: when Issa Rae, creator of the popular web-show “Awkward Black Girl” met with TV executives to discuss bringing ABG to TV, they made it clear that she would not be given full creative control the way Dunham has over “Girls”, despite Rae’s level of success and accolades.

Also, even if something happens in reality, that doesn’t necessarily justify its existence in art. The artist’s representation of the world has the potential to be anything, so when they choose to make it an exclusionary, white-bread world, we can say something about it, because it was their deliberate decision.

5. Wait, HOW is this racist? It’s not openly hateful to black people or anything...

True, but this is a more subtle, insidious but prevalent form of racism; exclusion. Marginalization. Being either absent from the popular narratives that shape and drive American culture or only available in stereotypical or inessential capacities. And anyone who denies the importance of this is taking it for granted.

6. Lena Dunham is white--- how is she supposed to know how to portray people of color?

To me, this is by far the most legitimate excuse for not having a diverse cast. Given the stereotypical POC side-characters in season one, it’s obvious that this was a stumbling block for Dunham. Some claim that it would have been better at that point if the POC side characters didn’t exist on the show, because they only perpetuate stereotypes and serve to reinforce the white character’s realness and depth next to their flatness. I understand this position completely. Yet I’m torn between pointing out that on the one hand, non-white people are people too, so you can write them as you would any other character rather than treat them as “Other”, and on the other hand, not wanting a non-white character to be white-washed, removed of cultural markers and unique experiences they’ve had as a result of their race. I understand that it’s a tough balancing act for a white writer and entails straying from the “write what you know” maxim, but if it really mattered to Dunham, couldn’t she at least consult or collaborate with someone who could help her there? It’s worth going out on a limb for. Also, shouldn’t the fact that white writers have such trouble conceptualizing characters of color show us how racially stratified our apparently post-racial society still is? It’s pretty troubling....

7. Blame the system/the industry, not Lena Dunham.

We can do both. Lena Dunham has been influenced by the system/the industry, but she has her own agency and could resist if she wanted to (and has resisted tropes of the industry, on other fronts). Yes, we do need to take issue with the entire industry, but Lena Dunham is part of the industry now--- it’s made up of individuals. Again, she doesn’t get a free pass because she’s an indie writer or a woman. We need to be firm about what kinds of worlds we want to see portrayed on TV; we need to insist upon inclusive, diverse worlds. “Girls” takes its place alongside the majority of TV shows in which characters of color, as blogger Jen Wang puts it, “function as props, plot devices, foils... for the white leads. [They’re] one-dimensional, which only [throw the white lead’s] three-dimensionality in starker relief... their stereotypical un-realness only makes the white lead’s ‘realness’ seem all the more staggering, [a] realness for which [“Girls”] has been endlessly lauded for thus far by its admirers”.

For so many, “Girls” is not the first show that they have criticized for its race problem. But even with those for whom it was, I hope they don’t stop here. I hope they don’t ever stop, even with art and media that they love.

EDIT: It looks like what I predicted might happen, (i.e., Lena Dunham back-pedals and tries to make the next season more racially diverse because of all the heat the show got) is exactly what happened. I’m glad she got the message and is working to remedy it. More people should be this receptive in the industry. However, it remains to be seen how these characters of color will be portrayed; note that the casting call is not for any specific race, and in fact, is open for "Caucasians" as well. Also, it asks for “hipster-types” of all ethnicities, which could lead to white-washing over their identities in favor of emphasizing their hipster-ness. They might only be side-characters as well. I don’t think we should close the book on this and stop scrutinizing. And oh, in response to the tweet by The New Yorker’s Emily Nussbaum at the end in that article (“Who is more entitled, the character of Hannah [on "Girls"] or the young bloggers who feel Lena Dunham owes them everything?”): Yes, how entitled of people to want equality. The nerve of some people.


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

"Fifty shades of fucked up"...yeah that pretty much sums it up

[CN: Abuse, misogyny]

Many writers and bloggers are weighing in on the success of Fifty Shades of Grey. While most can agree that the writing is abysmal, the story itself has proven polarizing, with readers either loving it despite its flaws or hating it.  For context, I’ll provide a basic plot summary of the first book in the trilogy (SPOILERS AHEAD): A 24 year old virginal college graduate named Anastasia Steele falls for a 26 year old business magnate named Christian Grey, who in turn wants her to sign a contract that would make her his submissive sex slave. The contract also stipulates what she eats, when she eats it, what clothes she wears, how she exercises, and prohibits eye contact or touching him without permission. Fifteen women have signed this contract before Ana. Ana NEVER ACTUALLY SIGNS the contract, and asks for some time to think it over (really? You’re not going to make a run for the door after hearing about this shit?) During that time, he is still a controlling, abusive dick, and she has conventional “vanilla” sex with him. Eventually she has sex as his sub three times, twice where he spanks her with his hand and the third time where beats her with a feathered flogger. While she does orgasm from these activities, she tells him she would prefer a more “normal” sexual relationship and only agrees to these activities for his sake. But Christian still wants to inflict real pain on her, so after he beats her bare bottom with a belt, she tearfully leaves him, saying that they’re incompatible (oh, okay, THAT’S the problem, not that he’s a control-freak, misogynist, and doesn't care about getting your enthusiastic consent). At some point we learn that Christian had a difficult childhood in which his "crack-whore" mother’s boyfriend/pimp burned out cigarettes on his chest, and an older woman made him her sub when he was 15, which I guess is supposed to make us forgive him for his misogyny. 
Despite its laughable execution, the book has sold many copies among both young and middle-aged women. Granted, maybe one of the reasons why this story has been able to get so much traction among female readers is because its poor execution made it easy to dismiss the more troubling aspects of it and take it as light entertainment/escapism and erotic stimulation. But I don’t think it’s that simple. In order to like
Fifty Shades of Grey in any capacity, you have to be okay with a male/dominant/active and female/submissive/passive dynamic. Although the more intense, extreme BDSM erotica (like Story of O) may not be as popular as the comparatively more watered-down Fifty Shades, subtler versions of the dom/sub relationship between men and women is echoed across TV, cinema, other erotica, and even more high-brow literature. 

I have no issue with women reading and enjoying erotica, and support women engaging their sexuality. I’m also not judging those who found the love story of Ana and Christian compelling. But I never stop there and say to myself “well, people like what they like, and that’s all there is to it” because there are a lot of deeper implications here that didn’t start with this book but are encapsulated within it and its popularity. If women weren’t historically taught to be and socially constructed as submissive, if abuse, violence, and rape were no longer present in society, and if men weren’t largely the beneficiaries of female submission, whether social or sexual, maybe I wouldn’t feel such a strong urge to write this post. But that isn’t the world we live in, and it’s delusional to believe that any art, no matter how stupid or bad or fluffy or purely about entertainment, fantasy, and pleasure, can be divorced from societal and cultural conditioning. At its core, this book is about excusing a man’s attempt to control a woman and fetishizing male domination and female submission. Again, the latter has been going on in erotica and porn for years, and is nothing new. The book is also about a woman compromising her own happiness and comfort in order to not only secure a relationship with a man (even when he explicitly says he doesn’t want one) but also to tame him and change him into the "nice guy" she wants him to be. This is also a conventional theme in romance. And they are both damaging ideas that usually do not end up so neatly when played out in real life.
Many people seem to believe that fiction/fantasy, especially erotic and romantic fantasy, is immune from cultural conditioning--- as though for some inexplicable reason, it is a space of total freedom and organic expression. But the truth is, there is no space like that; or at least, never one that isn’t agonized over, analyzed, critiqued, and fought for. I know there are some who don’t care about the sociopolitical origins and implications of anything they do--- least of all in the pursuit of the almighty orgasm. But when it comes to fetishizing a woman’s pain and utter subordination (to the point where it’s encoded in a contract), when a woman's pain is so often dismissed and when she is so often made to be subordinate in real life... I mean, fuck. The fact that a woman wrote it this book means little when the script is so utterly conventional to patriarchal erotic imagination. The voice and point-of-view might be different, but the basic dynamic of dominant male and submissive female, is the same. It’s male fantasy, internalized by a woman and re-packaged as authentic female expression. Some people seem to believe that the scenario in the book is fresh and edgy, like it isn’t just some bare-faced, extreme version of sexual relations between men and women throughout history. The success of the book underscores the success of the patriarchal project. As Ashley Judd stated cogently in her recent and awesome feminist
article addressed to those who criticize her based on her appearance:

“Patriarchy is not men. Patriarchy is a system in which both women and men participate. It privileges, inter alia, the interests of boys and men over the bodily integrity, autonomy, and dignity of girls and women. It is subtle, insidious, and never more dangerous than when women passionately deny that they themselves are engaging in it”.

Whether it was the sex scenes or the romance that readers enjoyed, how the hell did Christian’s obsession with contractual slavery thing, even in the face of Ana's reluctance, not disrupt that enjoyment? “Love” and “great sex” make that kind of behavior okay? Or does it only make him more attractive to some readers?

Despite having all the qualities of a misogynist, Christian has moments of being a decent human being; apparently he doesn't take advantage of Ana when she's drunk, asks her permission before they have sex for the first time, and wears condoms each time they have sex subsequently. However, he does not ask permission for all subsequent sex and sexual activity, even the more extreme ones, despite the fact that it is all new to Ana. Obviously, the sex-slave contract is the antithesis of consensus-building, so it’s not a priority for him. Even during the first time they have sex, once Ana agrees, he goes full-out and does not pace himself, which doesn’t usually work out well for virgins. This isn’t just me promoting the Feminist values of trust-building and consensus-reaching; even BDSM in practice is supposed to be built on trust, safety, defined boundaries and a respect for those boundaries: “many practitioners and organizations have adopted the motto...’Safe, sane and consensual’, commonly abbreviated as "SSC," which means that everything is based on safe activities, that all participants be of sufficiently sound/sane mind to consent, and that all participants do consent. It is mutual consent which makes a clear legal and ethical distinction between BDSM and such crimes as sexual assault or domestic violence. ...Consent is the most important criterion here. The consent and compliance for a sadomasochistic situation can be granted only by people who are able to judge the potential results. For their consent, they must have relevant information (extent to which the scene will go, potential risks, if a safeword will be used, what that is, and so on.) at hand and the necessary mental capacity to judge".

Whether these principles are followed by BDSM practitioners is another matter (hint: not always, as I discuss later). But my point is that even a community that is built on edgy sexual practices and performing abuse and degradation scenarios values consent; indeed, recognizes that consent is even more important for this extreme sexual play, to differentiate it
from sexual assault. So in case it wasn’t already clear, I’m not criticizing this book out of some knee-jerk, prudish aversion to BDSM. I don't believe that practicing BDSM nullifies one's desires for social equality or one's commitment to Feminism. However, I maintain that female domination and female submission are NOT socially equivalent acts; the latter is bolstered by a history of oppression and its continuing forms in society, while the former is not and can arguably subvert existing gender dichotomies. It is also important to remember that BDSM, regardless of the "role" a practitioner takes, does not exist in a vacuum and thus is not removed from our social context.
I’m sure some might say that it’s easy for me to judge behavior I don’t partake in (erotic fantasies of submission, in this case) but that if I did, I would defend it more. Well, those people would be wrong. I’m ashamed to say that I have in fact had such fantasies (not about being physically hit, but certainly submission). It’s not like I want people who have submission fantasies to feel my same sense of shame (it's my issue to work out), but I do want everyone to recognize that our fantasies--- like everything else we like, feel, and do--- have some underlying socio-political and psychological reasons. And maybe, when it comes to enjoying the thought of being hurt or submitting ourselves to someone else’s power (or fantasizing about dominating and hurting someone), we should ask ourselves what those reasons might be.
To some, it's a meaningless question, I know; all they need to know is that they like something, so they shouldn't be shamed for it. I agree they shouldn't be shamed (if enthusiastic consent is given by their partners) but still the question of why we like these things has always preoccupied me personally.

This does not mean I support evo-psychologists making sweeping claims about all women based on the book, which is exactly what happened in this
pseudo-scientific post that states that women are “biologically hard-wired” to be sexually aroused by submission. This arguement not only renders invisible those women who do not have submission fantasies or who have domination fantasies, but also legitimizes male dominance as a biologically imperative. For a good rebuttal to this garbage, see here. Others have made the argument that enjoying submissiveness is transgressive and revolutionary because it’s what the “feminist regime” (uh, what?) doesn’t want you to do. But I think this book is totally counter-revolutionary; it’s the same old conservative, patriarchal inequality and
indifference to consent, this time through a woman’s (poorly written) voice. Not only that, but I think the appeal of female sexual submission can be linked back to purity--- if you relinquish control in the bedroom, then you’re not a slut, or you’re at least less of one. “Sluts” seek out sex, rather than waiting for love, the way “good girls” do. I think there is so little openness and honesty in dealing with women’s sexuality that it’s difficult for some women to even imagine participating in it, especially because they’re not quite sure what it will entail. So they imagine someone aggressively taking it instead. Someone experienced, to compensate for their utter lack of experience (that society told them to have, otherwise they would be slut-shamed and not taken seriously). I'm not making the generalization that this is the reason behind all women enjoying sexual submission, but I think it can be a factor.

The book certainly seems to support this--- the protagonist is a virgin. This authorial decision could also be based on making the experiences more intense and new, and for the reader to put themselves in the intensity of Anastasia's position, but it’s also about not viewing the protagonist as some “nympho” who we can’t take seriously, and who (gasp!) might not be there for love at all, just a good time. The whole female virgin with the experienced partner is also a
male fantasy, by the way. I think the fantasy has just trickled down to women, who are allowed by mainstream mdiums so little space to create more organic, subversive sexual fantasies of their own that aren’t just reproduction of men’s. The virgin/experienced lover is also just another permutation of the submissive/dominant dynamic; Christian is deemed superior to Ana with his wealth of experience.

The fact that the story arose out of
Twilight fan fiction is telling. Twilight itself is about a girl subordinating herself to the ultimate alpha male who she is convinced, we are told ad nauseum, is smarter, stronger, and better-looking than her. Stephanie Meyers claimed in a response to Fifty Shades of Grey that BDSM is “not [her] thing”, but isn’t the dom/sub dynamic what Twilight is all about, even if it doesn’t play out in overtly sexual ways (at first)? If it isn’t about masochism, why does Bella’s first sexual encounter with Edward result in bruises, and she likes it? Why is she so amenable to the thought of him killing her violently, and only seems more drawn to him after she learns that he is perpetually on the verge of doing so? Both stories involve women who have no regard for
their well-being, who are consumed in their obsession with the alpha-male. Fifty Shades of Grey just takes a more overtly sexualized approach and adds some BDSM flavor to the same tired, damaging idea.

  This ties into what is one of the worst things about Fifty Shades of Grey--- that abusers would read it or hear about it and think “see? Women actually get off on this stuff--- they pretend they don’t like it but deep down, they want to be dominated,coerced, controlled, even when they express reluctance and don't give enthusiastic consent”. They’ll think that sexual submission and pain is what the erotic is all about, and even women know it. I’m aware that this isn’t exactly what the author was saying and in a sense, it isn’t her fault that misogynist sickos would misinterpret her work that way. However, all artists should try to be aware of how their work will be interpreted. What does their work support and perpetuate? What does it stifle and negate?

It's important to reiterate that Anastasia isn't giving her informed consent for BDSM play--- she deliberately puts herself in situations she is not comfortable with and frequently alludes to her fear of Christian, while he frequently states his desire to inflict her with real pain
(note: THIS IS MISOGYNY. It’s not even subtle here). He also frequently asks her to “trust him” when she seems uncertain of something, but he hasn’t earned her trust at all, and in fact, given his uncontrollable sadistic urges, it seems like he would very likely violate her trust. And he pretty much does when he beats her with the belt, but the seriousness of that is downplayed in the book as a conflict of desires rather than a violation of Ana’s very legitimate boundaries. In real life, those types of situations can go much worse.  Case-in-point: there was a similar situation recently called the “Philadephia incident” described here:

“The “Philadelphia Incident” concerns a younger, inexperienced female submissive who entered into a domination and submission relationship with an older dominant man. Her limits were violated and she was forced to enter into oral sex with the man against her will. Some people in the BDSM community are calling this rape. Some people have suggested that the submissive woman consented. Others have criticised the submissive woman for not fully understanding what she was getting herself into. The young woman has now been run out of her home due to the criticism, publicity, and notoriety she has faced.”

In fact, rape and sexual assault
are common in the BDSM community (which shouldn’t come as much of a surprise; if it happens in the “vanilla” world, too why wouldn’t it happen there?). Putting yourself in the power of a person you don’t know can be unsafe, but the story makes it only seem titillating and exciting. I’m not victim-blaming; ultimately it’s the perpetrator who is responsible, and we must never lose sight of that. But it makes me depressed to see women swooning over an image of masculinity that is predatory, controlling, insensitive, and uninterested or flat-out unwilling to put you on equal terms. Christian is portrayed as a character who is beyond simply role-playing as a dominator; it's who he is. 

If a reader's attraction to this character-type feels beyond their control, I hope they can at least recognize its problematic relationship to patriarchal history, gender norms, and the oppression of women on a macro-level. At the very, very least, recognize its real-life dangers on a micro-level. Controlled role-playing is one thing, but it doesn't always take that form; some men like to dominate you in other areas of your life, too. And if you stay with a man who wants to hurt and control you, who views you as a thing to dominate and abuse rather than a human being, if he wants you to fear rather than love him, if he does not respect your independence and views you as inferior... then he will. And I don’t buy that a man like that can suddenly make a total 180 and become grade-A husband material. Sure, an abus
er is not a villain-ish abuser 100% of the time; they have moments of contrition, tenderness, vulnerability, interspersed throughout their violent abusive periods. It’s precisely this inconsistency that usually causes the abused to stay in the relationship, believing that their partner is on the cusp of changing into someone who will not make them afraid and hurt them anymore. Even if the abuser professes that they want to change, they usually relapse. Sometimes their promises of change are only more manipulation to put their partner right back under their control. But in part because of stories like this, women often believe that love, and making sacrifices and suffering for love, are the noblest, highest aims, and that you just don’t understand, she can take it, and he’s actually a great guy once you get to know him, but he’s just damaged, she’s trying to “heal” him and maybe one day he’ll change and maybe sometimes it’s her fault for being too demanding or nagging or unreasonable and he just gets jealous because he loves her so much. I know because I’ve heard this all before. And it makes me angry to know that these men are rewarded and validated with love, because they don’t deserve it. At least not until they honestly change and stop abusing, which won’t be easy or instantaneous.

I’ve heard the bad boy that women stereotypically “want” described as a coconut; hard on the outside, but soft and sweet on the inside. This is a dangerous way to think of people. You can’t ignore outward behavior and focus only on some elusive interior that contains wonderful potential that you must bring out, that will come into prominence in the future. Take them as they are. The hard shell isn’t a shell at all--- that’s part of who they are. If they hurt you now, they very well might always hurt you.

There are those that would say “but it’s just one book, it’s not reality”. They would say that the Philadelphia incident and real-life abuse should be treated differently, and they are not connected to this book. But art, especially the stories we tell each other, shape reality. Yes, reality also shapes art, and there’s a feedback loop going on, but when it comes to our identity and how we interact with and perceive others, stories exert a collective influence on all of us. Especially for women, romance novels, film, and erotica shape our conceptions of how relationships are “supposed” to be. Most popular mainstream art doesn’t show reality as it could be; it shows constructed reality, usually with the biased view that this is how life inevitably is, as though there was not the invisible hand of cultural conditioning guiding the author's creation of fictional worlds. This story could not exist the way it does without existing systems of thought that permeate our culture. It doesn’t exist in a vacuum; it’s a product of society, because the author is. Yes, it is just one book. But it’s part of a continuum of so many other books, TV shows, movies, video games, pornographies, comics, songs, that say the same thing--- it’s one more brick in the towering edifice of Western gender norms. And we really can’t afford even one more brick to this depressingly solid wall.