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Archive for December, 2009

I love Kate Harding, who writes for salon.com. She’s brilliant, and she always manages to say exactly what I want to say, but can’t find the words to express it eloquently. In this post she talks about the Method commercial that has been getting a lot of attention because it makes light of sexual harassment. The company decided to pull it when they realized that their target demographic (women) was actually offended by the product rather than intrigued. She discusses the blogger Steve Hall who wrote a post about how annoying feminist bloggers are and how they should be banned from the blogosphere.

Of course I’m personally offended by this, since I consider myself to be a feminist blogger, but I also think that when you put Steve Hall and Tucker Max together what you get is a new culture of men who are incredibly afraid of feminists and strong women in general. These men seem to think that it’s funny to objectify women and to make fun of sexual violence. They think that feminists should keep their mouths shut and lighten up. Although it’s possible that these men are few and far between, I worry that they are in fact more common than we think. It certainly doesn’t help that “I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell” exists for mass consumption. I’m not sure that I have a point here, but I just wish that there was more education out there for young men to feel comfortable with themselves and respect women. Because ultimately I think this all boils down to men being incredibly self-conscious and uncomfortable with themselves.

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I have been so bad about blogging lately, which is in part due to the fact that I have a big paper due soon, and I’ve been desperately trying not to procrastinate. The procrastination has won over, however, especially after I saw this article.  Written by Manohla Dargis, one of the NY Times film critics (and, I admit, my least favorite NY Times critic), this article discusses the lack of opportunities for female directors in Hollywood.  She cites to some pretty depressing statistics, not the least of which is that in the 81 years of the Academy Awards, only 3 women have been nominated for best director. (!!) None of them won. Organizations like The Women’s Media Center and the blog Women and Hollywood are vigilant about tracking these statistics.

It’s hard to know why women have fared so badly in Hollywood in the last few decades, though any business that refers to its creations as product cannot, by definition, have much imagination. The vogue for comics and superheroes has generally forced women to sigh and squeal on the sidelines. Even the so-called independent sector, with its ostensibly different players and values, hasn’t been much better, as we know from all the female directors who have made a splash at the Sundance Film Festival only to disappear. New digital technologies and the Internet have leveled the field — though usually it seems as if it’s sheer grit that pushes filmmakers like Kelly Reichardt (“Wendy and Lucy”) along the hard road from idea to distribution.

I recently wrote a law review article that discusses the idea of digital technology and its democratizing potential. (Soon to be published…) I think there’s a lot to be said for the fact that more women are starting to use new (cheaper) digital technologies to create their own films without the backing of a studio. These films always tend to be more interesting anyway. But, I think it’s insane that the studios haven’t caught on to the fact that women go see movies. And, many women are interested in more than cheesy romantic comedies. I enjoy rom-coms as much as the next girl, but I personally feel so refreshed when I go see a movie like Whip It! or Bright Star. Not to mention that it would be nice for younger girls to see role models on the screen, rather than just Bella and her dysfunctional relationship with Edward. (Sorry, at this point I feel like a Twilight reference is obligatory).  I could go on and on about the blatant discrimination that happens in Hollywood, but I’ll spare you.

What I would like to say, however, is that this year there has been a whole slew of films that are directed by women and are starring women. And, many of these movies are not your typical rom-coms (see Bright Star, Coco Avant Chanel, An Education, The Hurt Locker, Julie & Julia). Many of these movies and directors are getting Oscar buzz, but predictably, male-driven films like Up in the Air and Avatar threaten to pull ahead and woo the Academy with quirky style or crazy special effects (respectively).  Bright Star, Coco Avant Chanel, and Julie & Julia, I think, are the best three movies that I have seen all year. I am not advocating for the Academy to give the best director award to a woman, just because she’s a woman, but I think they should at least take it into account. And, this year seems to be the perfect year to do it. I also hope that the studios will get their heads out of the ground (to be kind) and look at how many both financially and critically successful films came out this year that were led by women. Next year, I hope to see even more…

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So obviously I’m way young to be making this decision for myself, but cosmetic surgery is  one of those feminist dilemmas that gets me thinking. Can I, as a feminist, support cosmetic surgery? On the one hand, I feel like the pressures that suggest that women even need to get botox injections or other types of cosmetic surgery are really awful. They suggest that there is no such thing as “aging gracefully” for women. And of course it just reinforces the idea that women are valued for their looks, and not for their intelligence or personalities. I fully support the idea that a person should be comfortable with the body that she has and not the one that she should or could have. On the other hand, I don’t think this is a problem unique to women. I feel like our society as a whole has an obssession with yoouth – that growing old is just not option. Think about all the lengths men go to to prevent balding. Even some men get facelifts and botox injections. While it’s true that men are definitely subject to less pressures about age, and it is much more acceptable for an older man to be with a younger woman than an older woman to be with a younger man, I think that we should maybe step back and look at how the obsession with youth affects everyone and not just women.

This whole discussion has been very prevalent in the media recently because of the proposed tax on people who opt to have cosmetic surgery. While I agree with the message, that perhaps we should not be encouraging people to be making these changes to their bodies. But, I just don’t think that adding a tax for cosmetic surgery is the most effective way to do this. People are still going to have cosmetic surgery despite the extra cost. And really, why shouldn’t they, if that’s what they really want to do? What we should be doing is having a national discussion about aging. It’s going to happen to all of us, after all. Judith Warner has an interesting op-ed in the Times about this issue.  I think she makes some really good points about the current state of the feminist movement and our looks-obssessed culture.

Also a great post about this issue on salon.com here.

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I saw “New Moon” last night, and I was surprised to discover that the movie was even worse than my expectations.  Bella seems to have no convictions and just falls for the guy who pays her the most attention. Meanwhile Edward seems to be using her for his own edification.  Sure, the movie centers around a female protagonist, but she is far from a good role model for teenage girls. Kate Harding at Salon explains why much better than I can, so I’ll leave you with a few quotes:

The marketing campaign for the movie pits “Team Edward” (the vampire) against “Team Jacob” (the werewolf), but as Carmen D. Siering wrote in Ms., “few young readers ask, ‘Why not Team Bella?'” That’s because the whole point of Bella’s existence is earning the suffocating love of supernatural hotties; even if you think her obsessive devotion to Edward might waver in the face of were-love, you know you’re never going to see her throw them both over to stand on her own two feet. (In fact, given that her only noteworthy quirk is clumsiness, she can’t even be trusted to do that literally without male supervision.)

 I can appreciate the desire for an alternative to vicious social power games. But then, that reminds me of another favorite from twenty years ago, “Heathers,” which skewered mean girl culture (and certainly hit on the extremes of adolescent emotion) with brains, black humor, and a heroine who’s not sorry to see her manipulative, homicidal boyfriend blow up at the end. Maybe after worried parents have finished going through Simmons’ suggestions for discussing “Twilight,” they should try arranging a screening of that. The female protagonist swears, drinks, has sex and kills people, sure, but I’d still pick her as a better role model for teenaged girls than Bella Swan any day.

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I recently saw the movie “Precious,” and I am currently reading (almost finished!) “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” by Steig Larsson. You might be asking, how can there possibly be a connection between the two? “Precious” is about a pregant Harlem teenager who experiences severe abuse and who eventually finds a place for herself in a supportive educational environment. “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is a Swedish murder mystery involving rape and domestic abuse (I can’t really say more, or I’ll ruin the mystery). The similarity between the two is that both of the works were created by men. (Although the book Push, on which Precious was based, is written by a woman, the director of the film is a man). Both works are also trying to provide some sort of critique/insight into the violence and sexual assault that many women have to deal with on a regular basis.  Although I appreciate the work that both of these works are doing to educate people about domestic violence and sexual assault, I wonder about the ways in which male critiques of this nature differ from female critiques.

In both “Precious” and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” the scenes of violence and sexual abuse hit the viewer/reader hard over the head. The descriptions and images are shocking, raw, and exceptionally brutal. Of course, this type of violence is shocking, raw, and exceptionally brutal. But, I wonder if sometimes directors and authors purposely play up the violence and play-down the emotional effects of the abuse in order to get more viewers or readers. I wonder if this focus on the physical, visceral violence is more of a male trait, whereas sometimes I feel that in works created by female authors more time is given to the victim’s emotions and psychological responses. Unfortunately, in both “Precious” and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” I feel like I ended up paying more attention to the abuser rather than the abusee. This troubles me, because I don’t think it does much to actually empower the exact women the creators are trying to call attention to. Instead, in some ways I feel like both Precious and the female characters in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” seem even more like victims, and less like the strong, brave women they really are.

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