New Girl: Fighting Sexism with Humor

 

There’s a big difference between sexist comedy and comedy against sexism. Now, I typically avoid comedies as I find them more offensive than funny. But I finally got around to watching the first episode of New Girl and my initial reaction was a very well thought out meh. Could be better could be worse, but at least I didn’t hate it.

However, although I didn’t find most of the jokes particularly funny, I kept turning them over in my mind trying to figure out if the show used sexist comedy or not. I mean, the pilot perpetuated gender roles with Jess being the “emotional woman” watching Dirty Dancing and crying for a week over her break up with her boyfriend. But the show was more than I expected and had more to it than I initially thought.

I’m not going to analyze the entire pilot right now, but rather look at one of the show’s running gags that shows the pilot of New Girl is using comedy to fight sexism, not perpetuating sexist comedy.

If you have not heard of it already, let me introduce to you: the douchebag jar.

Now, as I have only seen one episode I am not commenting on the series as a whole or how sexism is treated even beyond episode one. This is solely a comment on the pilot and the use of the douchebag jar.

What I loved about this gag is that the humor was not when the character Schmidt did something that was sexist and considered “douchebagery” (which would have been sexist comedy) but when Schimidt’s room mates called him on his behavior and made him put money into the jar (comedy against sexism). We’re not laughing at Schmidt’s antics so much as groaning that he has the audacity to act in such a way as to take off his shirt to show off his abs, for instance. Instead, we’re laughing that he gets punished for his behavior.

In short, sexism isn’t the joke and that is the best comedy this pilot could have brought forth.

 

Use the “F-Word” in Polite Company

I don’t swear. My friends are shocked if I casually say “damn.” But I think it is important to reclaim the “f-word” and not just on bumper-stickers. It is all well and good to proclaim from the back of your car: Reclaim the F-Word: Feminism,

but now, we need to proclaim it in the streets, in our homes, and in our work place. Feminism cannot be a silent presence, not when it can be so easy to look the other way and claim sexism is from a by-gone age.

I have a friend who is going into video game design and the last time she and I met up we talked about female characters in films. We talked about Tauriel in The Hobbit (I plan on making a post on my hatred of Tauriel, keep on the look out), the women of Frozen and Tooth from Rise of the Guardians. Without delving too deep into our entire discussion, it was clear we agreed that women in all forms of media deserved to be treated with respect and not rely on a male character to define them. We watched Wreck it Ralph and as my friend gushed at all the video game references, I told her about Feminist Frequency’s video series on Tropes Against Women in Video Games.

I mentioned the word “feminist” and her face darkened. She said she might look into it, but I doubt it. But, she is a feminist: she believes in equality for women. She is a woman going into a male-dominated field who believes she is just as good as her male peers. She is a feminist, but right now would not admit it.

I do not blame her. When I first proclaimed myself a feminist, it was entirely on this blog. I was ashamed of admitting it out loud for fear that I would be fighting a dead fight, that I would be viewed as a man-hater, that I would be insulted by strangers and family for my beliefs. And I cannot say my life as a feminist has been completely devoid of any of this, I do not need to compromise my morals by claiming to be anything that I am not.

I am a feminist. When I began my blog, I was terrified to publish even my about page . I had to whisper to myself “I am a feminist” until the words became easier to say. Now, I do not whisper. But about two years ago I wouldn’t even have dared to let the word “feminism” cross my mind. It was the f-word, and I didn’t swear. At my women’s college, we have a festival in the fall where different diversity organizations set up booths for arts and crafts. The Feminist Club had a booth to make buttons and pre-printed on every piece of paper was one word:

FEMINIST

Friends grabbed at the buttons and wrote slogans already made famous by t-shirts, but no less powerful in meaning.

I, on the other hand was threatened by the word feminist so much that I nearly took a button and wrote “I am not a feminist” in large black marker to offset myself from the hordes of women who were deluding themselves into believing women were not yet equal. Thankfully I did not make this mistake as I do not know how I would have gotten over the shame of my sexist views.

However, I have gotten over the shame of feminism. I do my absolute best to let my friends, their family, my family, co-workers and bosses know exactly where I stand on the issue of gender equality. It doesn’t have to be the first thing out of my mouth, but there is nothing wrong with using the f-word in “polite company” because feminism is not impolite. If those who hear it disagree or are offended, then they are offended. But at least you stood up and did more than whisper or put a bumper sticker on the car. The words need to come from our mouths and the words need to be loud and spoken with certainty.

I AM A FEMINIST.

The Too-Strong Woman Cannot Exist: Rose Tyler and Donna Noble in Doctor Who

I am a recently converted Whovian who began watching Doctor Who this past summer. And while I had had friends for years tell me to watch Doctor Who, I never felt I had the time to sit down and watch a television series. I must thank my roommate who, over the summer, convinced me to watch this phenomenal series. But as much as I now love the show and am emotionally invested in the characters and story arcs, Doctor Who is not immune to participating in sexist tropes and practices.

For this post, let’s examine two particular moments in Doctor Who: at the end of Season 1 (9th Doctor) when the Doctor absorbs the time vortex out of Rose to save her life, and at the end of Season 4 (10th Doctor) when the Doctor takes the DoctorDonna’s memories to save her life.

To clarify, I know I am not an expert on Doctor Who. I have only seen the more recent Doctors, and even then I have only seen up to a few episodes into Season 5. All the same, I am not making an over-arching claim that Doctor Who is an entirely sexist program, nor am I claiming anything on the quality of the show. I am looking at two specific moments to identify a harmful trope against women.

For both Rose as the Bad Wolf and Donna as the DoctorDonna, the story line is, at its heart, the same. The female character has extraordinary powers, shines as the hero for a moment, and then the true hero of the show takes these powers away in order to save her life.

Let’s begin by analyzing Rose as the Bad Wolf:

On the surface, this is an incredibly empowering scene. The human female companion controls the action. She is the one to destroy the Emperor of the Daleks, save the Doctor and save the planet. But, as soon as the immediate danger of the Dalek Emperor  has passed, the series shifts back to the Doctor. It is his story we’re meant to follow, not Rose’s. When he says, “It’s all my fault” we are brought back to the reality of a male dominated program: the hero saves the woman.

I’m examining the Doctor absorbing the time vortex from Rose because this is more than a simple hero saves the day plot devise. The woman gains too much power and too much knowledge. For her own good, it has to be taken from her. The Doctor is a Time Lord and therefore he has superior intelligence, superior stamina and pretty much superior everything and that, as audience members, we trust his opinion. If he says the time vortex is killing Rose, he is correct. He sacrifices himself to save her and the world continues to turns on, with the hero saving the woman.

The writers wrote themselves into a jam here. Although theoretically, they could have let Rose continue to be the Bad Wolf and travel with the Doctor as his equal (or potentially superior), the Doctor wouldn’t have regenerated and the classic formula of Doctor and Companion would have been ruined. In short, Rose gained power specifically to for it to be taken away after the defeat the villain. Her power surge, is only to serve the Doctor’s story arc. There is no room for a woman who has knowledge and power because, as the Doctor explains, it’s killing her. For her own good, the Doctor needs to take that power from her.

The same issue of too much power and knowledge being deadly for a woman occurs when Donna becomes the DoctorDonna and the Doctor wipes her memory:

http://http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ScUgeZ-fvvU

Again, we have a female character in an incredibly powerful position, who gains knowledge and defeats evil. But, again this power is only temporary. She is not meant to hold onto it, as it is beyond her due. Now, I know some people may say that it is because she is human that this power was taken from her, not because of her gender, but television shows exist within a cultural context. It is not an accident that the man of the story is the alien of superior intelligence, wisdom and the like. It is not an accident that his companion is a human who needs to rely on the Doctor to save the day. The traditional power structure of the man knows best and female subservience is merely cloaked under the disguise of alien superiority.

This is an issue because it spreads the message that women cannot physically handle knowledge and power. It is too much for them. It is too great for them to exist holding onto such power. And for their own good, men need to keep them sheltered. If men do not then women will die as the result of over-reaching herself. The Doctor can possess immense knowledge. His female companion is along for the ride.

I do not say that what Rose and Donna do in the series is inconsequential or that their great deeds as the Bad Wolf and the DoctorDonna should be overlooked as a sexist scam. There is a strong possibility that the writers of Doctor Who are not even aware of the messages they are spreading to their audiences. But, they are spreading them all the same.

As much as I love the show and admire the Doctor as a character, it is not his job, or the job of any man (alien or otherwise) to strip a woman of power. The plot devise of “for her own good” does not hold up as legitimate when analyzed under a feminist lens.

The Princess Bride AKA Look at the Straight White Blonde Couple

Anyone who knows me personally will know that I have complex feelings about The Princess Bride. It was the film my parents saw on their first date and the book that led me out of the teen section and into the world of adult fiction. I loved the film before I read the book and then criticized the film to no end once the book became my bible. I worked at a summer camp and would spend days reciting the story of The Princess Bride to my campers.

Then I found out that the classic tale by S. Morgenstern and abridged by William Goldman was actually just written by William Goldman. S. Morgenstern does not exist. This was earth shattering to someone who was legitimately planning on finding a way to get to Florin (the city Goldman claims to be real) and seeing the museum where we could actually see Buttercup’s wedding dress and the six fingered sword.

Just a quick summary of the story for those who don’t know. Buttercup is the most beautiful woman in the world and lives out on a farm. She and a farm boy named Westley fall in love and he leaves to seek his fortune in order to marry her. But he is killed at sea by pirates. The Prince of Florin, Prince Humperdink, finds out about Buttercup’s beauty and decides he will marry her, even though he knows she doesn’t love him.

But on the day her engagement to Humperdink is announced, Buttercup is kidnapped by a hunchback named Vizzini, a Spanish man named Inigo, and a giant named Fezzik. Her captors plan to kill her and blame it on the neighboring country Guilder in order to start a war. But they are being followed by a man in black who rescues Buttercup through a series of sword fighting, hand fighting, and a battle of wits.

The man in black turns out to be Westley who was never actually killed and the straight white couple is re-united. Then, Prince Humperdink tracks the lovers down and Buttercup makes a deal that she will go back with Humperdink if Westley is allowed to live freely. Though Humperdink agrees, Westley is not spared and is taken into Humperdink’s Zoo of Death (Pit of Despair in the film if you’re more familiar with the movie version) to be tortured.

Humperdink kills Westley, but Fezzik and Inigo bring him back to life with a miracle pill and they storm the castle to stop Buttercup’s wedding. In the end, Westley and Buttercup ride off with Inigo and Fezzik and true love conquers all.

The End.

I know I’m leaving out Inigo’s storyline and tons of stuff from the book (for those of you already familiar), but this is the main plot condensed as best as I can condense it.

For the past two years I haven’t touched the book or the film because of my anger at William Goldman. But last night I watched the movie with my room mate who had never seen it before and I realized that this was the first time I was watching it as a feminist.

It is such a heteronormative story! It is such a sexist story!

I knew even before I would even consider touching the word feminism that Buttercup does nothing and gets everything she could ever want. And what she wants is Westley. Her arc, if we’re generous and want to call it an arc, revolves around her love for Westley. What is she without the male protagonist? She is beautiful. The most beautiful woman in the world. Why does Westley love her? For her beauty. Her looks are all anyone ever mentions of her in the book and it’s all that Westley ever talks about in regards to her. Granted there isn’t much else to talk about. William Goldman makes it a point actually to emphasize that Buttercup isn’t very smart: she named her horse Horse and used the world syllabub instead of syllable. This just shows that Goldman is sexist and thinks that writing comedy involves making fun of women’s brains in order to highlight their beauty.

Hilarious, William Goldman. Hilarious.

The whole idea of a couple where the woman is just prized for her looks reminds me of this scene from The Swan Princess:

Even when I liked the book, I never liked Buttercup. It’s a shame to hate a female character just because she is written as flat as a piece of cardboard. But the strange thing was that even though I hated Buttercup, I envied her and perhaps that was the source of my hatred. A shallow part of myself wanted to be Buttercup because she does nothing and gets everything she could ever want. She is the stereotypical princess, except that The Princess Bride was writte in 1973 during the Second Wave of Feminism. William Goldman had to have been aware of what he was doing in writing this “perfect woman” who had all the beauty in the world and none of the brains.

Westley on the other hand has both looks and brains, because the two go hand in hand in men, but not so much in women, right? Westley is also perfect, but where Buttercup is a Mary Sue, Westley is amazing! He scales the 1,000 feet of the Cliffs of Insanity (part of the way not even using a rope), he duels the greatests swordsman alive, beats a giant in hand to hand combat, outsmarts a schemer and rescues Buttercup at every possible moment where she is in danger. Buttercup exists to be rescued by perfect Westley and this is called true love!

There is such a double standard here. When Buttercup is brave and stands up to Prince Humperdink expressing her love for Westley her bravery is framed in words. She has the regal bravery of a queen who commands in words though not in actions. She is and always was passive. When Westley is brave he is undergoing torture and not crying out because he is removing himself to think of Buttercup’s beauty. As Westley says to his captor Count Rugen, “We are men of action”.

I don’t care if this book and film were meant to be a comedy because it takes the theme of true love very seriously as being the through line of the plot. And Goldman’s idea of true love is the limited one of a straight white blonde couple where gender roles match up like puzzle pieces. Comedy is never funny when it is at the expense of any group of people. If someone believes in true love more power to them, but true love is not just between a man and a woman. True love is not just between “beautiful people” and true love is not based on gender roles.

Mountain Dew and other forms of Racism and Misogyny

I know it’s been on the news and around the internet a lot, but in case you haven’t heard, Mountain Dew had to pull an online commercial on account of it being racist and misogynistic. Below is a link to the commercial and news commentary about the ad.

I take multiple issues with the ad and also the news briefing afterwards.

The ad is both racist and misogynistic, but they work  hand in hand and cannot be spoken about separately. Everything about this commercial is grounded in stereotypes. All the criminals are black men because obviously, only black men commit crimes. It’s the same logic that all criminal black men are gangsters and abuse women. It’s the same logic that on one hand says we’ve moved into a post-racial world because of Obama and in the same breath compares black men to animals.

In a more subtle fashion, I’m interested that those newscasters failed to mention that while the women’s assailant could only be black, she herself was white. The notion of black men attacking white women has kept our modern age secretly grounded in Jim Crow because we refuse to become racially aware and progressive. The message of this commercial was not “buy Mountain Dew” but “black men are criminals and animals; white women are fragile and overly emotional; the white male law officer is in charge.”

The racism is not more or less important than the misogyny. They feed off of each other.  While the racism pits the good guys in white against the criminals in black, the misogyny pits men against women, and the battered woman is harassed on all sides. Yes, the goat is trying to intimidate her, but so is the white man behind her. She is placed in the role of absolute weakness: physically because of her injuries and emotionally because of her harassment and eventual breakdown.

By this analysis, the ad says it’s okay for men of both races to intimidate women, but when the black man does it he is demonized in a police line up, when the white man does it he has authority behind him. Racial and patriarchal hierarchies are kept in tact and are perpetuated by the ad.

There are not two different fights raging for equality. There is no racial equality camp and gender/sexual equality camp. If we are for equality, we are fighting for everyone to have the same human rights. It helps no one to separate racism and misogyny into two categories because they support each other and they divide us. We need to unite under a banner of human dignity for all because this separation is helping no one but those who wish to uphold the racial and patriarchal standard.

Women Wear Bras…Get Over It

When I was in 5th grade, my mother started telling me to wear a tank top underneath my shirt. I didn’t understand at the time this was her way of transitioning me into wearing a bra without having to bring up such a distasteful word. And it’s word ripe with negative connotations.

After all, bras are a reminder that women have breasts and that this is a main biological difference between males and females. It is the reason women are not permitted to go shirtless despite both sexes having a chest area and nipples. Somehow, having breasts must make women inferior.

It seems that way, as when growing up I was constantly embarrassed to even say the word bra or have it come up in conversation. There was an episode of The Amanda Show where during a sketch in outer space, Amanda’s space ship was attacked by a giant bra. I was offended and mortified watching that episode with my brother and I left the room. I was too young to be wearing a bra yet, but I understood there was a horrible connotation with female underwear and I was ashamed I would one day be associated with something so vile. I explained that there was a flying bra in The Amanda Show to my mother and I had to use the offensive word and that somehow made the situation worse. It was barely 30 seconds out of a 20 minute television show, but that attacking bra still tugs at my mind that a woman’s body is evil and destructive.

I am well aware of the counter arguments to my point: 1. it’s a comedy show so they weren’t trying to be offensive  2.it was said by a woman and therefore it’s okay, and 3. I’m overreacting. But this wasn’t comedy to debunk stereotypes and it didn’t explain why a woman’s body and what she is told to wear is not evil. Laughter is only the best medicine when it’s laughter with purpose and direction not geared to oppress. As to the show starring a woman and the joke being said by a woman, that does not make the joke funny any more than it makes it excusable. Women do not have the right to put other women down anymore than men do. And no, this is not an overreaction because I was traumatized by this one memorable instance where it felt shameful and horrible to be a girl. No one should have to go through that.

From early middle school into most of high school I didn’t wear bras. I wore tank tops with bras built into them because I hated underwire and I was embarrassed when someone could see the outline of my bra through my shirt. But above all, I didn’t want to be associated with wearing bras. I didn’t want to be a woman.

The last time I went bra shopping with my mother at the mall, my brother was at the mall with us. To explain where we were going, my mother told him we were going to go get me unmentionables. Bra is not a word for polite conversation and is apparently not even polite speech within families. Heaven forbid my brother realize I’m a woman and that I wear a bra! Heaven forbid the world catches on that half the population is female and most are expected to wear bras! It all goes back to the nipple conundrum, I suppose.

This is not to perpetuate the stereotype of the bra burning feminist. My point is that female biology is treated radically different than male biology and this is a tactic to keep women feeling poorly about themselves. If women’s underwear is linked directly to sex and being sexy then there is a cultural connotation that sexualizes women’s bodies no matter whether they wear Victoria’s Secret or a run of the mill Sport’s Bra. It’s the breasts that are sexy and the bra just increases this natural sex appeal and so women are naturally more sexy than men (the female body is supposedly always sexy because of a woman’s breasts). By this theory, there is a  need to keep this sexy nature under control.

Breasts are always tempting to men and therefore evil, but to dissuade this perpetuation of rape culture being featured prominently in the media, when bras aren’t advertised as sexy they are portrayed as funny. The only reason bras can be played as humorous is because they are directly linked to women and not only is it okay to sexualize the female form but it is also okay to portray the sexualizing device as necessary and evil.

 

I’m not suggesting women go burn their bras as signs of the patriarchy and oppression, but use the word. Take back the word bra to mean support or however else you define it. If we can own the word feminist we can take back the word bra. Bras are not synonymous to Victoria’s Secret, they’re not a measure of your worth, they’re not designed as a gag to make fun of women, and above all they are not evil.

A woman’s body is not evil and there is nothing to be ashamed about.

*NOTE:For more information on wearing bras and why women should or should not wear them, check out this link:

http://www.007b.com/why_wear_bras.php