Get Past Your Magikarp Phase, Or Internalized Misogyny and Pumpkin Spice Lattes

 

Author’s note: Apologies for the two week hiatus. Richard and I both had some Life Stuff happening. This week you are probably expecting me to talk about the Kavanaugh nomination, or Les Moonves, or that Jian Ghomeshi bullshit, or why Ralph Norman should be punched in the face, or the newest evidence of extensive molestation in the Catholic church, or that guy who kidnapped a woman and assaulted her and is getting no jail time, or the assholes who are blaming Ariana Grande for Mac Miller’s death, but literally all of those things make me so angry that I make a sound that I am pretty sure only my dog can hear. So in order to save my blood pressure and her ears, I’m turning my attention elsewhere this week. I’m calling my past self out and defending pumpkin spice lattes. So buckle up.

***

I’ve mentioned before that feminism is a process as much as it is an identity (or, you know, a noun). We are all the products of our culture and of our education, and there is always more learning and growing that a person can do. The feminist I am now is vastly different from the feminist I was even five years ago. (For one thing, I’m even angrier! I wouldn’t have thought that was possible five years ago.) If you’re a nerd like I am, it can be useful to look at the journey like you’re a Pokémon. You’re continually gaining experience, learning new skills, and even getting items to help you along the way. And while you’re on the journey, you feel like you’re pretty awesome at what you’re doing at all times. And then once you hit Celadon City (yes that’s a Pokémon Red reference, I’m old, shut up) you look back at yourself at think, “Holy shit what was wrong with me?” Because while you might be a rocking Gyrados now, you had a few really, really unfortunate Magikarp phases. For a lot of cis female feminists (including myself) that Magikarp phase is also known as “internalized misogyny.”

For basically as long as I can remember, I have found myself at odds with a lot of the dictates of traditional femininity. If I had to describe myself from basically age 6 to… now… I would probably use “smart, large, angry, and awkward.” I was the tallest person in my grade for most of my elementary education, and shot past the size for most of the “cute” clothes other girls were wearing at an early age. When other girls were having tea parties, I was wandering around forests, and learning how to fend off mountain lions in a way that skipped straight to the most disturbing possible option. Most of my friends were boys, and despite my best efforts, I never seemed to fit in well with girls. (The closest I got was when I was used as a bodyguard for the popular girls during our collective “boys have cooties” phase. It’s good to be needed?) While I still did a lot of the things that all the other girls were doing—playing with Barbies, listening to Spice Girls, hanging NSYNC posters on my wall—there seemed to be some kind of fundamental divide between me and other girls, one that I couldn’t bridge no matter how hard I tried.

So I stopped trying, and started hating instead. I entered a prolonged “not like other girls” phase. I decided to formulate my own identity, my own special status, and my own worth, by how different I was from other girls, and by how much I could disdain the girls who alternately bullied and mystified me.

I decided I abhorred the color pink. I closed my eyes whenever I passed the violently pink Victoria’s Secret store in the mall, forcing my mother to take my hand and lead me safely past it before I would deign to open my eyes. I bought long sleeved tees from the boys’ section because they were more “hardcore.” I convinced myself that I liked wrestling and South Park, because that’s what the boys liked. (I didn’t, and I didn’t at the time, though I like it a lot better now.) I wrote poems that mocked girls as airheads. I declared an absolutely unnecessary vendetta against Leonardo DiCaprio, simply because all of the girls in my class were swooning over him. (To be fair, I’m still way more sad when the poor people in steerage die than when Jack sinks unnecessarily into the ocean.) I idolized fictional characters like Daria from Daria, and Kat from 10 Things I Hate About You, fellow smart girls who disdained the “normal” girls and were odd and quirky (and somehow still ended up with the guy). I bragged about having mostly male friends, and talked about how much “drama” other girls were. I also bragged about how I didn’t wear makeup, and could get ready for school in five minutes flat. In short, I did everything I could to prove that I was “not like other girls,” because in my roiling mix of anger, jealousy, and frustration, I misidentified the source of my problem. (Again, to be fair, I hadn’t learned words like “patriarchy” when I was twelve.)

While the girls who confused and abused me were definitely part of the problem, they were the symptom, not the source. I wasn’t truly angry at girls. I was (in the words of one of my friends) angry about girls. I was angry about gender norms, and the patriarchy, and enforced, performative femininity. But it was way easier to hate and make fun of girls, and police the things they liked and didn’t like, than to understand that.

And I’m not the only one. In my piece about Ready Player One, I briefly discussed Lindsay Ellis’ video essay on Twilight, and the points she made about how we have extra disdain and hatred for the things that women (and especially teen girls) enjoy, and how it’s seen as a way for women and girls to gain respect to distance themselves from the “average” girl. I luckily eventually evolved. Or at least got more uh, EXP. I’ve tried to expunge phrases like “I don’t really ‘girl’ well” out of my vocabulary. I am a girl (actually, I am a motherfucking lady thank you very much) and therefore I “girl” just fine. I’ve started wearing dresses way more often. I’ve called a ceasefire on my war on the color pink. I wear bright red lipstick like a confident 18th-century harlot. I like to think I’ve gotten a lot better. But I still have slip-ups.

Which brings me to my second “Magikarp/Internalized misogyny” phase, and the one that I’m hopefully helping myself (and others!) overcome today: the discourse around the “basic bitch.” And of course, pumpkin spice lattes.

I don’t really remember how old I was when the phrase “basic bitch” began to enter the cultural consciousness, but it was probably a good deal after that when it entered my consciousness. I also don’t remember when pumpkin-spice lattes became so… hateable. But I remember leaning into the curve, hard, in my mid-twenties, long after I should have known better. College Humor has a video that pretty accurately sums up the “symptoms” of what was culturally known as “basic,” but in my own mind the phrase is inextricable from leggings-as-pants, Ugg boots, Pinterest, and the ultimate symbol, the pumpkin spice latte.

In my mid-twenties, I apparently hadn’t totally overcome my desire to make myself seem more special by putting down other women. I definitely described more than a few women as basic. And at the time, I didn’t mean it as a compliment. My only (weak) defense of it is that I associated “basic-ness” with a certain class and race consciousness, or rather unconsciousness. For me “basic” was pretty much inextricable from “Becky,” referring to upper-middle class white women who “didn’t see race” and would have kept drinking Starbucks even if the coffee beans were proven to be made from dried orphan tears. But that’s not what most people meant by “basic,” and it wasn’t even everything I meant by “basic.” Luckily, I went from “leaning in to the curve” to “super uncomfortable with the curve” pretty quickly. But it seems other people haven’t made the trip with me.

For whatever reason, I feel like the anti-pumpkin spice latte hate has gotten worse this year (prompting this article). It’s the middle of September, and I’ve already seen multiple articles and Facebook posts that are basically like, “Put down the pumpkin spice lattes and stop being happy about terrible things, IT ISN’T FALL YET YOU WHORES.” And we all just need to take a deep breath, calm down, and stop hating on things that are basic/hating on basic women who love pumpkin spice lattes.

Because if we are not intending it as a critique of willful ignorance (as in my former paltry defense) then we are expressing it as a critique of women. And not in the “women who don’t help other women” sense, but the “the thing you like is stupid because things girls like are stupid” sense. Because when we call someone or something basic, we are letting that word stand in for other words. “Bland,” maybe. “Inoffensive, but not my scene.” “Mainstream.” Most of all, “normal.” When we are calling someone or something basic, we are reliving our desperate desires to be seen as special, or set apart. For those of us who overcame our first Magikarp stage, we’re reliving our desire to be seen as “not like other girls.”

We’re hating things for no reason other than the fact that multiple women performing “traditional” femininity like them. Leggings are comfortable, and we’re basically a couple steps away from returning to the “legging and tunic” days, which would make my inner fantasy nerd happy. Uggs are also comfortable. Pinterest is shiny and addictive. And pumpkin spice lattes are not totally my thing, but they are no worse than any other seasonal thing Starbucks pops out. To steal a quote from another friend, “Liking Doctor Who and craft beer does not make me inherently better than another girl who likes This is Us and pumpkin spice lattes.” These are preferences, not the moral judgments that we frame them as. Ironically, College Humor recently released a new video doing basically what I am doing here, and defending things that are “basic.”

And the things “basic” girls get made fun of are all just as average, and just as popular, as a lot of the things that guys like, but never get called “basic” for. How stereotypical is it for a guy to like cars, or sports? Or beer? But we don’t look at a pack of men shouting at a stadium and sloshing Budweiser and go, “Ugh, oh my god. Look at those basic bitches.” Because again, we’re unfairly angry about things that girls like, and we internalize a loooooot of misogyny.

So learn from my example. Make your Magikarp phases as short as possible. And for fuck’s sake, stop making fun of/using the phrase “basic bitches.”

Signed: Feminist Fury.

***

Featured Image of two packets of Dunkin’ Donuts Pumpkin Spice coffee is by Mike Mozart and released under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic licence.

The Venn Diagram of Victims and Victimizers

Because there IS overlap and we need to learn to admit it.

 

[cw: discussion of sexual assault]

 

***

 

American culture is weird in that (a) we are often able to believe in (and even weirdly appreciate) the often-cyclical, “pay it forward” model of violence and the dual nature people can hold as victim and victimizer, and also that (b) sometimes we’re really, really not.

Robin Hood’s basic shtick is that things were taken from him (either in the form of his lands and title being stolen or just really oppressive taxes, depending on the version of the tale you’re looking at) so he takes things from other people who are better off. A good portion of hero origin stories consist of “Bad shit happened to me so now I do bad shit to other people in the name of justice and/or revenge,” most notably “darker” heroes like Batman or the Punisher. Hell, even our government-sanctioned death penalty is somewhat based on this model—we kill people who kill people to show them that killing people is wrong (think about that…I’ll wait.)

But when it comes to sexual assault, we suddenly get a mental record-scratch. We cannot believe that the same person is both victim and victimizer. And this disbelief can take one of two forms; either “they are a survivor of sexual assault, so there is no way that they could sexually assault someone else,” or “they committed sexual assault, so there’s no way that they could be telling the truth about their own assault.”

I’ve seen both versions of this narrative swirl around Asia Argento. Argento is an actress, #MeToo activist, survivor of sexual assault from Harvey Weinstein, and girlfriend of the late Anthony Bourdain. She is also (Richard always makes me put “allegedly” here so we don’t get sued) a perpetrator of sexual assault. And this combination of identities does not seem to suit…well basically anyone.

Argento has been one of the more vocal members of the most recent iteration of the #MeToo movement. It was recently revealed that Argento paid a $380,000 settlement to Jimmy Bennett, an actor that she (allegedly) assaulted when he was barely seventeen. (She also played his mom in a movie and has known Bennett since he was seven, so there are alllllll kinds of layers of “fucked up” in this story.) And these two features combined seemed to break the internet’s cognitive dissonance meter.

I’m not linking to articles or comments, because they are often vile, but I’ve read them so you don’t have to, and things fall basically into two camps:

On the one hand, you have people firmly disbelieving that Argento could have assaulted Bennett, for a variety of reasons. Some are clinging to outdated, sexist notions that women cannot be perpetrators of sexual assault. Some are saying that because Argento herself is a survivor, there is no way that she could have been a perpetrator as well. Some are calling it an attempt to discredit the #MeToo movement. Argento herself claims that Bennett is both emotionally damaged and financially destitute, and is simply trying to extort money from her based on his knowledge of her partner Bourdain’s perceived wealth and her prominence in the Weinstein case.

On the other hand, you have the people who say that this is proof that Argento herself was never sexually assaulted, and that the #MeToo movement is also bullshit by extension. Because how could someone who has experienced sexual assault also commit sexual assault?

The answer is, the same way everyone else does: by seeking power and control. There are a lot of reasons why it may be harder for people to believe that a sexual assault survivor could become a sexual assault perpetrator than it is to believe that someone who has been robbed could become a thief, or someone who has been hurt could beat up someone else. My personal theory is that this inability to suspend disbelief comes from a couple of sources. The first is that we consider sexual assault to be something so intimate, and so personal, that it affects the victim and the victim’s spirit in a way that is different from all other crimes. We find it nearly impossible to believe that someone who has experienced a violation on that level could go on to violate someone else. I also think it comes from the fact that the majority of sexual assault survivors are women. No matter how many “Wives with Knives” shows get trotted out on the ID channel, we still have a concept of women as gentler and more forgiving than their male counterparts. It is harder for us to imagine them perpetrating on someone else. (This also feeds into our general difficulty imagining women being perpetrators of sexual assault, period.)

But while experts disagree on if there is a causative or correlative relationship between being a victim of various types of abuse and becoming a victimizer of that type of abuse (and if so, to what extent), the Venn diagram of “victims” and “victimizers” definitely has some overlap. Just because we don’t have as many movies about women being sexually assaulted and then going on a revenge spree where she sexually assaults others doesn’t mean that someone who has experienced sexual assault can’t perpetrate it against someone else.

So while we’re at it, let’s correct some of the misconceptions present in the discourse currently surrounding Argento.

  1. Asia Argento can’t have sexually assaulted anyone because she was assaulted herself.

….nope. See above.

  1. If Asia Argento sexually assaulted someone, that means she’s lying about being sexually assaulted herself.

Do I find it deeply disappointing, not to mention hypocritical, that a sexual assault survivor who is asking for her own experiences to be recognized and believed is belittling and gaslighting another survivor of sexual assault? Of course I do. Do I think that this means that Argento herself was not assaulted? Abso-fucking-lutely not. For the five millionth time, sexual assault is about power and control. You can be someone who has had power and control taken from them, and then take power and control from someone else. One doesn’t preclude the other.

  1. Argento’s assault of Bennett discredits the #MeToo movement.

Again, no. As Princess Weekes points out, the fact that Argento is facing scrutiny for her actions is actually a sign of the #MeToo movement’s strength. The movement is about believing and supporting all survivors. But supporting Argento as she works through the aftermath of her assault does not have to mean forgiving her for the assault she committed.

  1. The #MeToo movement is only about/should only be about women.

While the majority of sexual assault survivors are women, and the majority of sexual assault survivors who have spoken up in the #MeToo movement are women, that does not make them the only survivors or the only voice in the movement. Men and nonbinary individuals are also sexual assault survivors, and men in particular are likely to under-report their experiences. Terry Crews and Brendan Fraser have both come forward with their own experiences of sexual assault and harassment, and Crews in particular has become a major voice in the #MeToo movement, discussing toxic masculinity, gender norms, the interplay of power regarding race and gender, and sexual assault myths about “fighting back.”

It’s always going to be tricky and complicated when a survivor of sexual assault commits sexual assault against someone else. Both deserve support as survivors, and both should be believed regarding their experiences. I’m not going to pretend that I’m an expert at simultaneously supporting and condemning a survivor who is also a perpetrator. But just because it is complicated doesn’t mean that it should be dismissed, or that it doesn’t happen. And if we’re going to move forward as a society, we have to learn how to address these instances as well.

Signed: Feminist Fury.

***

Featured image is of a Venn diagram of A and B and the overlap A+B.

Mollie Tibbetts, Immigration, and Male Violence

Or, “why are you only concerned about male violence when it’s done by an immigrant?”

 

[cw: sexual assault]

 

***

When sexual assault advocates talk about ending sexual violence, they draw a distinction between “risk reduction” and actual prevention.

“Risk reduction” consists of the common “wisdom” about sexual assault (aka the things all of our moms told us before we left for college): keep an eye on your drink at the bar, carry your keys in your fist when you walk to your car, take self-defense courses, don’t get too drunk, use the buddy system, etc.

But if the only way that we’re working to end sexual violence is through risk reduction, we’re doing two things: putting the weight to “avoid” sexual assault on the victims of assault, and saying, “Don’t get raped—make sure he rapes another girl.” Because sexual assault is about power and control, not sexual attraction, it isn’t “foiled” because a rapist’s chosen victim is on her guard—there will always be another woman at the bar who is drunker than you, who isn’t paying attention to her drink, or who isn’t here with a friend. And that’s not just at your bar. It’s at every bar. Because men who desire power and control are at every bar.

Which brings us to undocumented immigration. (No, seriously.)

By now you have probably heard about Mollie Tibbetts, the missing Iowa woman whose body was eventually found. Her alleged killer, an undocumented immigrant Christhian Bahena Rivera, approached Tibbetts while she was running. According to one narrative that I read, he claimed he ran “with or behind” her for a while. At one point, Tibbetts grabbed her phone and told Rivera that he needed to leave her alone or she would call the police, then ran away from him. Rivera chased her, then according to his statement “blacked out.” In another, Rivera followed Tibbetts in his car and then pursued her when she ran away from him, eventually abducting her. (It is also important to note that Rivera has disputed his own status as an undocumented immigrant, while his employer claims that Rivera used false identification.)

Of course Trump, who started his campaign by calling Mexicans rapists and murderers, had a field day with this news. He and many other Republicans started blaming Tibbetts’ death on poor immigration laws, saying that it was poor border security that led to her death. To the credit of her family, they have been very strongly pushing back on this narrative. But of course, the same people who happily ignored the murder of Nia Wilson were not about to pass up the opportunity to insist on the (statistically disproven) narrative of immigrants being more violent than US citizens. Trump proclaimed at a rally, “You heard about today with the illegal alien coming in very sadly from Mexico,” he said. “And you saw what happened to that incredible beautiful young woman…Should have never happened. Illegally in our country… We’ve had a huge impact, but the laws are so bad, the immigration laws are such a disgrace. We’re getting it changed but we have to get more Republicans.”

Setting aside for the moment that human beings can’t be illegal, let’s focus on one section of that speech: “illegally in our country.” Because even if the Republicans get what they want and border security is tightened, it is risk reduction, not true prevention. We aren’t saying, “We should have done something so that Rivera did not hurt any women.” We’re saying, “Something should have been done so that Rivera could not hurt any women in the USA.” We’re saying, “Make sure he hurts a different girl.” If Rivera did it (and it seems likely at this point that he did), he didn’t hurt Tibbetts because he is an undocumented immigrant.

He hurt her because of toxic masculinity.

This is a simple narrative that we’ve seen again and again. A man approaches a woman who gives him no indication that she wanted his company. A man pursues the woman. When the woman rejects him, he gets angry and hurts or kills her. This happens literally every day in the US, and in most if not all other countries. Not because there are hidden pockets of angry, violent immigrants in each country. But because there are both hidden and visible pockets of angry, violent men in each country. Taking Rivera’s immigration status out of the equation, and we still have a story of toxic masculinity and a man attempting to assert power and control over a woman.

Now I admittedly can’t say with 100% certainty that Mollie Tibbetts still would have been hurt or killed if Rivera had not been able to make it into this country. And I truly mourn her death, and sympathize with her family and loved ones. But I can say with near 100% certainty that men like Rivera hurt women every day, even if they aren’t in this country. They just hurt them in a different country, and Trump and his cronies don’t give a fuck.

Signed: Feminist Fury.

***

Featured image is of white crosses on the Mexican side of a large steel border wall. It was taken by Jonathan McIntosh and released under a Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 License.

This is America

One of the phrases that I am heartily sick of hearing (from my own side, no less) in response to the treatment of immigrants and refugees is “This isn’t America.” I understand the sentiment—the people who are saying it mean that what is happening is horrific, and doesn’t match with our stated position of Greatest Country in the World.* But it’s a statement that is brimming with so much privileged ignorance and naivete it almost makes my teeth hurt. Because for anyone who is paying attention, this is and this has been America. We are pretty high in the rankings for “Treating People as Subhuman and Putting Them into Camps and Boxes.” It’s kind of our MO. And I should know, because I’m from one of the states where we very famously put people into camps and boxes.

Wyoming is one of those states that pretty much only shows up in your history books when something bad is happening. We get a couple early shining moments with the whole “Equality State” thing (Though long-time readers know how much of a crock that is) and then it’s basically “Things that Show Up on Depressing History Timelines: The Greatest Hits.” The Teapot Dome Scandal. Native American Resettlement. “Buffalo Bill” Cody exploiting a mythologized west. The hanging of Tom Horn and the death of the “Wild West.” Matthew Shepard. Missile silos. Being the last holdout to change the drinking age to 21. Dick Fucking Cheney. (We also brought you J.C. Penney’s. I’m never sure if that’s a good or a bad thing.) And of course, Heart Mountain Relocation Center.

From 1942 to 1945, legal US citizens of Japanese descent were involuntarily held at the Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Wyoming. At its peak it held 10,000 people, which made it the third-biggest town in Wyoming at the time. (It wouldn’t be terribly far from third now.) Internees were torn from their jobs and careers and forced to do jobs in the camps for subpar wages, or were used as manual labor for nearby ranches. Children took classes indoctrinating them into the glories of the US, which I’m sure would have taken a bit better if they weren’t inside a fucking barbed-wire fence.  Many Wyoming residents worried that the prisoners were being “coddled” or treated too nicely. Prisoners who thought that they should maybe have their constitutional rights back before they were forced to fight in WWII were charged in a mass trial as draft dodgers. Because if something can’t be described as “Kafkaesque,” then where is the fun in that?

Most of the people at the camps came from the West Coast. When I was learning about Heart Mountain when I was younger, I wondered if those people, used to warm weather, thought that they were literally being sent to the coldest part of Hell.

If you’ve never been in a Wyoming winter, then count your blessings. It’s not just the snow, or the cold, or the bleakness, though all of those things are terrible. It is the wind. The wind in Wyoming is vicious to the point of malevolence. It will find any crack, any crevice, and use it as an entry point so effectively you’d swear your front door was wide open. It will whisk the oxygen out of your lungs and leave you gasping like you just stepped onto the surface of Mars. It will howl like a demon being tortured by a cat. It will reach speeds that are referred to as “hurricane force” in places that have water, but here are referred to as “Wednesday.” And it is relentless. The wind is hard enough to deal with when you had the shitty fortune to be born here or the dumb idea to move here. It’s bad enough when you have access to adequate building supplies, and blankets, and heating. When you have indoor kitchens and bathrooms. For the prisoners in the camps, with their tarpaper walls, shared mess halls, and outdoor latrines, surrounded by barbed wire and prairie… I can think of few ways we could better show our inhumanity than by picking Wyoming as the location for these particular boxes and this particular camp.

And now, our country is looking at a period that should be one of our greatest shames and saying, “Don’t you guys think it’s time for a reboot?”

You don’t need me to tell you that Trump’s blustering is just that. That there is very little chance that the children who have already been separated from their families are ever going to see their parents again. That the private adoption industry, heavily Christian and heavily invested in by the GOP, anti-abortion groups, and of course, the fucking DeVos family, is going to make out like a bandit from this cluster. That Trump’s executive order, while seemingly kind enough to stop separating families, actually makes many things infinitely worse, including allowing for indefinite detention. That if we spent a fraction of the money we are wasting on holding these people on revamping the immigration and asylum system or addressing the humanitarian crises that drive refugees here we could save money *and* stop committing human rights violations. You’re all smart people. You’re all reading what I’m reading.

But what people apparently do need me to tell them is, “This is America.” It shouldn’t be. It sucks that it is. But like apple pie, putting people into camps and depriving them of their rights is something that we borrowed from the Germans and put our own spin on before rebranding as ours.

We can’t make progress unless we are being honest with ourselves, and with our past. Acting as if this is something new and unusual masks how frequently the US has used this as a tactic in the past, and the many iterations and practice runs that we’ve had. This idea didn’t spring out of nowhere, and acting as if it has will make it all the easier to happen again. We don’t need more tragedies in state histories. We don’t need more innocent people at the mercy of the elements. And we don’t need pretty lies about what kind of country we have in order to work towards having the country we want.

Signed: Feminist Fury

***

*Or at Least Greater Than a Lot of Other Countries, Fuck You, Swaziland, You Don’t Even Sound Like a Real Place.

***

Featured Image of five children of Japanese descent holding their hands over their heart during the pledge of allegiance in 1942, by Dorothea Lange, CC0 Public Domain 

Roseanne vs. Puerto Rico: A Fight Where All of Us Lose

Because if we’ve learned anything, it’s that we really can pay attention to two awful things at once.

Last week, a few different infographics and tweets started floating around that compared the abundance of media attention on Roseanne’s comments to the dearth of media attention for the new report that showed that over 4,600 Puerto Ricans died as a result of Hurricane Maria. The overall tone of these comparisons was scolding—it implicated both media outlets for covering the deaths so little and Roseanne so much and viewers for caring more about the Roseanne news than the Puerto Rico news. But I’d like to break down this comparison a bit more, because while there are aspects of it I agree with, I think that it also shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the way that our attention spans work.

Agreement point 1: I absolutely agree that the media should have covered the deaths more, and covered Roseanne’s comments a bit less.

This death toll, which is almost equal to the death tolls from 9/11 and Katrina combined, absolutely deserved increased attention, potentially at the expense of coverage of Roseanne’s comment. The fact that Fox News apparently managed to diminish coverage of the Puerto Rico deaths to just 48 seconds out of a day and a half of news coverage is absolutely sickening. It should certainly be a larger part of our cultural consciousness.

Agreement point 2: The disparity between the coverage reflects in some way on our inability to address systemic racism.

As Pete Vernon points out, “We’re comfortable calling individual actions or comments racist, but struggle to paint systemic issues—the criminal justice system or the lack of attention to Puerto Rico, for example—with the same clear strokes.”

I agree to this up to a point—I believe that it is harder for us to come to grasp with systemic racism, because it is a giant problem with few obvious solutions besides “be less racist” and “get into a time machine and prevent colonization.” But I also think that we often give individuals a pass on their own racism because they are either “joking,” deemed too culturally important to lose, or it is too uncomfortable on a personal level to confront them. We’re sometimes willing to admit that a system or institution is racist, but when it comes to applying that same label to individuals within the institution (especially people we care about), we start mumbling.

Counterargument 1: The Roseanne comments are still important, even if they are not as important as the death toll.

One of the things I will go to my grave arguing about is the extent to which the media and pop culture influences and is influenced by those who consume it. While Roseanne’s comments are certainly not as important as the death toll in Puerto Rico, they are still important. First, it’s very important that someone in a public position of power and authority said something terrible and was actually punished for it. When was the last time that actually happened? (Aside from the smokescreen of concern on the right for Samantha Bee saying the C word. We might talk about that later.) I’ve lost count of the number of politicians and other public figures who have said absolutely terrible racist, misogynistic, transphobic, homophobic, anti-Semitic bullshit and had absolutely no consequences happen. I don’t believe that Donald Trump created terrible people, but he sure as hell emboldened them. And every time they have been able to spew their shit in public with no retribution has only emboldened them further. ABC actually punishing Roseanne for her words is actually a very important moment in the current conversation.

Not only that, but her comments, and ABC’s response, bring up a whole host of other questions. This isn’t Roseanne’s first brush with racism and terribleness. (Google “Roseanne + Hitler outfit.” I’ll wait.) Why would ABC, knowing Roseanne’s history, greenlight a reboot of her show? Why would liberal women, queer women, and women of color (looking at you, Sarah Gilbert and Wanda Sykes) sign up to work on a show helmed by a woman who has become increasingly vitriolic, conservative, and hateful over time? Why did anyone think this particular jaguar was not going to eat their face? We need to be having a conversation not only about the people who do terrible things, but the people who enable them. Trump is a ridiculous pumpkin, but there are dozens of people enabling his terribleness. Roseanne would have (hopefully) slowly faded back into obscurity if it weren’t for the popular renewal of her show. Now instead of a shameful historical footnote, she’s a goddamn martyr for people who misunderstand what “free speech” means.

Counterargument two: We should be caring about both things. / Things are only a “distraction” if you let them be.

The thing that ruffled my feathers the most about the infographics was the way that it seemed to scold viewers for caring about the Roseanne comments at all. You’ll see this pop up every once in a while when there is a big pop culture or gossip item. The media will be in a tizzy over the lighter topic, and there will usually be a deeper topic happening simultaneously (because seriously, when is there ever a day where something terrible *isn’t* happening?) Viewers get scolded for caring about the light item, everyone gets called sheeple, and we’re all told to stop getting distracted. I remember this happening when Mike Pence was confronted at Hamilton. Pence was met with boos from the audience and a prepared statement from the show’s creators and stars. Trump, accordingly, lost his damn mind on Twitter, and then Vox scolded everyone for caring about the Hamilton incident more than / letting it distract us from the then-top level scandals of Trump’s various conflicts of interest and “in all but name” bribes he received from foreign leaders staying at his hotel, and Congress still had time to stop some of his more disastrous cabinet nominees. (It was a simpler time.)

But, and this may surprise you, I can care about two things at once. Sometimes I even manage somewhere between “three” and “what feels like goddamn a million” depending on how stressed I am and how much caffeine I’ve had. And just as it is important for Roseanne to be publicly punished for being racist, it was important to see art and artists, (and particularly a form of art where the lead character was being played by a gay, HIV-positive actor) confront Mike “Hoosiers don’t discriminate (except all the gays are evil and we don’t like them, plus Mulan is making girls want to be dudes)” Pence in a public forum. I can, and did, care about both Pence’s Hamilton visit and Trump’s conflicts of interest at the same time. Just because I was laughing at the idea of Pence getting booed by a bunch of theater-goers doesn’t mean that I wasn’t also writing my Congressperson in a vain attempt to keep Betsy DeVos from being confirmed. And again, the more “serious” issues likely should have been receiving more attention. But calling either the Hamilton incident or Roseanne’s meltdown a “distraction” is a disservice to both the events themselves and to the mental acuity of culture consumers.

Counterargument 3: The death toll, while an important news story, also wasn’t something we didn’t already know (sort of).

Now, before you call me a heartless bitch, let me explain. (Though if you call me a heartless bitch, I’m one step closer to getting a blackout on my “woman writing on the internet” bingo card!) The death toll is indescribably tragic. I’m disgusted in our government, in our country, in our response, in everything. I cannot believe that Puerto Rico is about to face another hurricane season and that they still haven’t been given the support they need to recover from the last one. I can’t believe how long it took the president to respond to Puerto Rico. I can’t believe how much less we care about Puerto Rico than we cared about Houston. I can’t believe we left so many people to die.

What I can believe, and what anyone who has been paying attention has always believed, is that the death toll in Puerto Rico is much, much higher than the official 64.

Puh-leaze. Within weeks of the hurricane I was reading multiple articles about how the hurricane itself, and the lack of access to water, electricity, food, and medical care that followed, was resulting in more deaths than could be handled by many local mortuaries, and that many morticians were having to quickly bury or cremate people rather than send them to a centralized hospital for government autopsy (the only way for a death to be counted as an official consequence of the hurricane) because the roads were impassable, the mounting bodies were a health risk, the centralized hospital was overwhelmed, etc. I was reading articles about families having to bury their family members on their own property because they had no way to get them to mortuary services. While we may not have known the exact number, we have known that the death toll had to be in the thousands. After watching the clusterfuck of a response, there was no way that the death toll wouldn’t be in the thousands.

And again, it is important to the conversation to know the exact number. It is important for the death toll to be brought forward in the cultural consciousness once more, because we’ve been doing our best as a country to forget about Puerto Rico and just hope all will be fine the next time it is overtaken by a hurricane. But the report was not a bombshell. Not to anyone who has the awareness to distrust official numbers. So it is disingenuous to imply that caring about Roseanne’s comment’s more than reporting on the death toll means that people did not care about the death toll report. For many, it just meant that people weren’t paying as much attention to a report that was telling them what they already know.

And in all of this, it is important to remember that emotional fatigue is a real thing. I truly do my best to care about as many issues as I can at once. I read internet news, listen to podcasts, and read political and social science books in the precious little free time I have. But while caring about things is certainly not a zero sum game, there are some very real limits to my time, my attention, and my mental and emotional well-being. If you’re a longtime reader, you’ve probably noticed that the last couple months have seen a nosedive in terms of me getting a Feminist Friday post done on an actually freaking Friday. Part of that is scheduling, but part of it is emotional fatigue. Trump has been president for almost two years. I have been screaming into the void for almost four years, and it has been equal parts cathartic therapy and weekly reminder of how terrible the world is. I’m my own production of the Gift of the Magi. Yes, it would be fantastic if people could care about everything all the time. But we have to be patient with others, and with ourselves. We have to be kind to ourselves. We have to acknowledge that it is okay to care about multiple things, and just because someone else isn’t caring in the exact way and amount that you want them to doesn’t mean that they don’t care.

Signed: Feminist Fury

***

Featured image is of a Perto Rico flag hanging outside a building in New York, by Christopher Edwards, CC BY SA 2.0

Debunking the Roseanne Arguments

Because comparing this absolute unit to Trump isn’t racist (even if it’s insulting).

 

One of the biggest tragedies to befall the media has been the steady rise of false equivalencies presented in the name of “fairness.” After Fox News proclaimed themselves “fair and balanced” (and somehow never had a lawsuit brought against them for false advertising) and began declaiming the “mainstream media” for being biased, so-called “liberal” outlets have been falling all over themselves to prove themselves fair-minded. They also want it to be known that they are totally cool, they didn’t narc on you for smoking that cigarette after 5th period, and they have definitely had alcohol. They’re not squares.

The inevitable result is a decline in the objectivity of the press and a decline in a basic understanding of reality. For example: climate change is a thing. It is absolutely, provably, a thing. It is also provable that humans have had an effect on climate change. That’s just objectively true. Where we have some grey area is the extent to which humans have had an effect on climate change, and the best ways to decrease our impact. So a truly “fair and balanced” debate on climate change would look like this:

Person 1, a scientist with expertise in the field and who definitely believes in climate change: “I believe that if we go to a more vegetarian diet and decrease our reliance on animals for meat, we would reduce our environmental impact by decreasing the CO2 produced by animals and decreasing deforestation that occurs in order to provide for grazing land.”

Person 2, also a scientist with expertise in the field and who definitely believes in climate change: “When you account for things like climate and transportation, a vegetarian diet does not actually have less of an environmental impact for people in many areas where a plant-based diet is not readily available. It’s certainly not a bad idea to try to decrease our meat intake, but I think that we’ll have a large impact if we can continue carbon emission capping programs for large corporations.”

The two people have a shared basis in reality, and a difference in opinion. They can have a healthy, productive debate. Wouldn’t that be nice? Instead, what we usually get is something like this:

Person 1, a scientist with expertise in the field and who definitely believes in climate change: “Humans have an impact on the clim—”

Person 2, who has no scientific background but does run a blog that has been tweeted by the president: “FAKE NEWS. The climate just goes through cycles! WHY DO YOU THINK WE HAVE SNOW?”

One of these people is a scientist, and one of these people is an ignorant fool. But they are presented to us as if their opinions are equally valid. In order to avoid claims of being biased, mean, or stuffy, news outlets have thrown objectivity out the window in order to make two sincerely unequal positions seem equal. In addition to harming the notions of reality and truth, this tactic is pathetic because it just doesn’t matter. Nothing, and I repeat, nothing, will keep fact-phobic conservatives from feeling as if they are the injured, maligned party in a cruel world full of PC police and feminazis. Did any of the journalists who wrung their hands over Michelle Wolf’s “mean” speech pointing out that Sarah Huckabee Sanders lies all the time and also wears eyeliner increase the “extreme conservative/conspiracy theorist” demographic in their readership? Did it keep Trump from calling these outlets “fake news” multiple times? Of course not. They have already been declared the enemy. But they keep trying anyway. This desperate attempt to compromise values and morals in order to seem “cool” affects every outlet from CNN to the ostensible bastion of liberal thought, the New York Times.

I have grown too weary to count the number of times that the NYT has pivoted between doing truly important, hard-hitting journalism and offering a (lukewarm at best) “hot take” in which they turn themselves into metaphysical pretzels to try and appeal to red-state voters who are going to hate them anyway. This takes the form of hiring conservative writers and doing little to nothing to edit their thoughts in the name of “expanding perspectives,” normalizing neo-Nazis in sympathetic “think-pieces” that show that they, too, go to the grocery store, bemoaning the white working class that the Democrats supposedly abandoned while giving basically no shits about the black/brown/anything-but-white working class that has been abandoned by everyone… the list goes on. So when Roseanne Barr proved for like, the billionth time that she was a racist and then finally got punished for it, Richard and I both held our breath for the hot takes, especially from the NYT, on how this is a terrible blow for free speech and is also somehow helping Trump while also killing puppies.

Somewhat to our surprise, the NYT wasn’t… totally terrible. Yet. I’m writing this on Wednesday, and they have two full days to fuck up before this gets posted. (As if I’m going to go back and edit my work to update it. Who do you think I am, someone with more integrity than most journalism outlets?) While they were a bit too sympathetic to Barr and a bit more concerned with how this is going to affect ABC/congratulating ABC for becoming the first major broadcast TV outlet to hire a black woman as entertainment president in the Year of our Lord Two-Thousand-Fucking-Sixteen, nevertheless they were at least willing to go all out and call the tweet “racist,” which is a very low bar that many outlets did not meet.

Unfortunately, many other “hot takes” are trumpeting about how this is a violation of the 1st Amendment, how this is just the same thing as the NFL protest, and on, and on, and on. So I’m going to do my best to slowly and patiently break those arguments down. It’s gonna take a LOT of patience.

First argument: ABC firing Roseanne is a violation of the First Amendment.

My answer: No it isn’t.

My answer, with more detail because Richard is mouthing the words “please elaborate” at me: The First Amendment protects your right to speak without receiving consequences from the government. So ostensibly, if I write a book called Donald Trump is a Cave Troll Who Made a Wish on a Genie Lamp and Turned into an Approximation of a Person, the government could not arrest me. The First Amendment also has some restrictions, like not being able to share military secrets or inciting violence (they don’t enforce that second one particularly strongly, imo). However, if I was writing the same book and suddenly went on a thirty-page tirade about how men should be killed en masse and used sparingly as breeding stock, my publisher would be well within their rights to be like, “Elle, this is weird and violent. We don’t want to publish your book any more, or reward this kind of thinking by giving you money.” My theoretical publisher is a private entity, not the government, and can fire me with cause.

There are obviously some (also poorly enforced) discrimination protections that would hypothetically keep me from being fired just for being a woman, or for having a baby, or for other protected reasons, but “being a violent weirdo” is not a protected status. Neither is “being a racist asshole.” There is a difference between “protection from retribution against your speech by the government” and “protection from all consequences for your words and actions.” We are all entitled to the former—no one is entitled to the latter.

Second argument: This is exactly like the NFL kneeling thing!

My answer: Well… kinda. But not in the ways that matter.

Jack Holmes puts it pretty well:

In truth, the argument applies in both cases: ABC and the NFL can both fire employees for their speech if they think it’s alienating customers. The only difference is that ABC fired someone for free speech that was racist. NFL players are protesting racial injustice in policing and the criminal justice system, but their opponents suggest they are disrespecting The Flag or The Anthem or the armed forces. This is factually untrue, and the difference between the two cases is moral: Those offended by Roseanne Barr’s comments are offended by racism. Those offended by Colin Kaepernick’s silent kneeling have ascribed it a meaning that ignores—and often contradicts—his clearly expressed intention. The repercussions imposed on him are unjust. 

So basically, “You’re not wrong, you’re just an asshole.” Yes, the NFL legally has the right to fire someone for behavior that they think is hurting the brand. (Though their case does have some big old holes in it, labeled “discrimination” and “collusion.”) But Barr was fired for being a racist (or rather, a racist who finally was making enough of the public uncomfortable that her racism was suddenly a punishable offense) while Kaepernick is protesting racism. You’re basically comparing getting fired for resembling a Nazi to being fired for protesting Nazis.

Having the legal ability to punish employees in both cases does not mean that the cases are morally on the same level. There is a difference between “could” and “should.”

Third argument: By firing Roseanne, ABC is showing that they’re intolerant!

My answer: Oh my God, it is OKAY to be “intolerant” of bigotry.

Here is where we get into that whole “fair and balanced” issue again. Not all thoughts and opinions are on the same playing field. “Global warming is fake” is not an equally valid statement compared to “global warming is real.” Likewise, “it is bad to be racist” and “it is okay to be racist” are not equally valid. Pretending that Roseanne’s tweet is in the same moral realm as the NFL protest, or pretending that negative reactions to Roseanne’s tweets are in the same realm as, for example, negative reactions to pro-LGBT statements, is disingenuous. Again, this is about both morality and humanity. If someone is screaming in my face and I ask them to stop, or find a way to force them to stop, I am not being “intolerant” of their speech. They were screaming at me. It was rude and (probably) uncalled for. It is not small-minded, unjust, prejudiced, or any of the other synonyms for “intolerant” to make someone who is saying hateful things stop saying hateful things. There should be consequences for saying terrible things, in the same way that there are consequences for violating other moral norms. Again, Holmes tackles this pretty well.

“There should be consequences for hateful or racist rhetoric, it’s just it’s the job of private citizens—and companies—to enforce them in the right ways and at the right times. That used to be called having some common decency and moral judgment.”

Now, obviously, this can get us down a rabbit hole of who gets to decide what is moral and what are norms and blah, blah, blah. But if you use “the good of humanity, the promotion of equality and equity, and the ending of injustice” as the lodestones for your moral compass, you should probably do ok.

Fourth Argument: Roseanne didn’t mean anything racist by what she said, she was just trying to be generally insulting.

My answer: Shut the hell up and learn to use Google.

Seriously: go google “Roseanne’s racist history” and “racist history of comparing black people to apes.” I won’t wait, because I have better things to do with my time, but I assume this will suffice for you.

Fifth Argument: People have called Trump an orangutan, which is the exact same thing! Why aren’t you mad about that?

My answer: …*heavy sigh* please re-google “racist history of comparing black people to apes.”

It is a very, very different thing to compare a white person to an ape or monkey and comparing a black person to an ape or monkey. Because of things like “racism” and “history.”

 

That (hopefully) covers it. This shit is exhausting, y’all.

Signed: Feminist Fury.

***

Featured image is of an orangutan, not Trump, is by cuatrok77, and is shared under a CC-BY-SA 2.0 license.

There Shouldn’t Be an App for That

Because consent is more slippery than a yes/no before-sex contract.

 

I consider myself a generally well-read, up-to-date person. Often this is to my own detriment, as I usually know the exact reason that the world is on fire, or the newest thing that should make me despair about humanity. It also makes me a total buzzkill. Whether I’m explaining why we should stop using helium balloons if we want to be able to use MRI’s in the future, or pointing out that Santa Claus shares a lot of characteristics with abusive partners, I can be counted on to provide an informed, depressing reality check. Which is why it’s actually a little bit surprising that I find out something new and weird about the world that I didn’t actually know. Especially when it’s something that I really should have known. Case in point: someone having the bright idea to create an app for consent. 

Consent is something that is both incredibly simple and functionally complicated. Far beyond the old, over-simplified “no means no,” we’ve moved on to “yes means yes.” Consent has to be affirmative (silence does not equal a yes, only yesses or other signs of affirmation equal a yes) enthusiastic (not the result of coercion, badgering, or other negative action, but rather something the person genuinely wants) and sober (you legally cannot consent if you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol). Admittedly, this can look a little weird in practice, and often requires a lot of communication between partners—a nod can be a yes, as can other body language. Sometimes consent is not a super formal “Is it acceptable if I insert my penis into your vagina right now?” but rather a “Are you ready?” or “Is this okay?” The idea of affirmative consent is new for a lot of people, and many people who haven’t been practicing it can be understandably confused. But that confusion is no excuse for the dumb idea of turning consent into a literal contract.

Reina Gattuso does an admirable job of explaining the many reasons that a consent app is a bad idea, but they really boil down to one point: consent cannot, and should not, be reduced to a contract. Consent is a mobile concept—I can think that I will be okay with something, only to change my minds moments later. I can be okay with something on Tuesday and not okay with it on Wednesday. And while there is nothing wrong with going over lists of activities with a partner and deciding what you do and don’t feel comfortable doing, you should never feel beholden to that list.

I can’t get over the sensation that a consent app serves the same purpose as a non-disclosure agreement—a way to cover the ass of the person doing the bad thing, and not really anything helpful for the person who is likely to be hurt. I can easily see consent apps and consent contracts being used in court to paint a rape survivor as a flip-flopping liar, or used to pressure a survivor to stay silent. Let’s just not, okay?

Signed: Feminist Fury

***

Featured image of “terms and conditions” based on: bfishadow, CC BY 2.0

Things That Make Elle Mad (This Week)

Because even in the low-energy weeks, there’s time for lists.

 

Normally when I do a list post, I at least have the energy to add links about what I’m talking about. Today I don’t. Sorry folks. But to make up for it I’m adding extra rantiness to the earlier ones, and trying to make the later ones short, witty bon mots.

Here’s ten eleven things that are making me mad this week, roughly in order of most-described to least-described.

1. Apparently at least one of the women who was abused by Eric Schneiderman was advised by friends and loved ones not to come forward, because Schneiderman was “too important” for the Democrats to lose. Let me make something very clear—no one is so important that we cannot afford to lose them if they abuse women. No one. If Barack Obama was revealed to be an abuser it would hurt my soul, but I would drop him like the heavy end of a couch if it meant his victims felt safe coming forward. (Barack Obama don’t you dare turn out to be an abuser, my poor heart can’t take it.)

2. Gina Haspel is one of the best case studies in both “women aren’t necessarily feminists, a woman in power is not necessarily good for women” and “criticizing someone while they are a woman is different from criticizing someone for being a woman.” It is not sexist to point out that Haspel oversaw torture. It is not sexist to point out that Haspel destroyed evidence. It is not sexist to point out that Haspel gave wishy-washy, disappointing answers and refused to condemn her former actions during her hearing. It is not feminist to have a torture condoning, evidence destroying, human rights violating person as the head of the CIA, even if she is a woman. Breaking the glass ceiling isn’t worth it if the shards fall down on women and other oppressed groups.

3. We treated Monica Lewinsky really terribly and Town and Country is continuing the process. You don’t disinvite Monica Lewinsky from an event when Bill Clinton confirms he’ll be at an event. You disinvite Bill Clinton. Good rule of thumb from Miss Manners: If there’s going to be an awkward confrontation between two people, you disinvite the person who has credibly been accused of rape.

4. Fox cancelling Brooklyn Nine Nine is the saddest thing since they cancelled Firefly. Fox doesn’t know a good thing when it has it.

5. White people really, really, really need to stop calling the police on black people unless an actual felony is happening. And even then (because in some states just having a bag of weed is a felony) we should think super carefully.

6. No one should listen to R. Kelly anymore. Stop it.

7. I don’t want to read any stories about where Donald Trump Jr. is sticking his dick. Stop it.

8. Donald Trump pulling out of the Iran deal is incredibly, indescribably ignorant.

9. Aaron Persky needs to shut up forever.

10. So does Roman Polanski.

Oh, and

11. “Be Best” is a ri-goddamn-diculous name for an initiative.

 

That is “What is Making Elle Mad Right Now.” I hope it was educational.

Signed: Feminist Fury

***

Featured Image: A feminist blogger “to do” list. Source: own photo.

Toxic Masculinity, Elliot Rodger, and What You Can Do

The actions of future Elliot Rodgers are preventable.

A long time ago, my first foray into screaming into the void came in the form of my own blog. It was, by most measures, not terribly successful. As you may have noticed by my often-rambling posts and my loose relationship with the term “Friday,” I’ve got a tendency to focus on over-long deep dives and a hatred of deadlines. These characteristics often make it difficult to actually finish and publish pieces, and these characteristics are not improved when I am my own editor/boss.

The best thing to come out of that early blog, besides Richard going “hey, wanna also write for my blog?” (seriously, imagining Richard looking vaguely disappointed in me does wonders for my completion rate) was one of my very first, and most disturbing, deep dives—a prolonged piece on Elliot Rodger, his 100+ page manifesto, and aspects of sexism in culture.

At the time, many news outlets were focusing on the more sensational aspects of Rodger’s manifesto, like his declaration that women should either be starved to death in concentration camps or selectively bred, like cattle, to declare Rodger somehow less-culpable by means of “insanity.” But at the time, I had the notion that the explanation was both more simple and more dangerous—Rodger’s actions weren’t the result of a mental illness, but of a cultural one. And the laborious, upsetting slog through his manifesto and his videos confirmed that belief for me. Rodger may have been a few different kinds of emotionally disturbed, but he was, at heart, a product of his culture.

He had been taught that women, and specifically sex with beautiful women, was his due in life. He had been taught that virginity was shameful. He was taught that he was special, and that he should be treated as such. He was taught that his narcissistic view of the world was the right one. He was taught that money would solve all of his problems. He was taught that his feelings and thoughts were more valid than those of women. He was taught that any rejection by women is the cause of great distress. (Seriously, he apparently cried for an hour in a bathroom stall after he said “hi” to a hot girl and she didn’t respond. I’m so not even making this up.) He was taught that his actions have no real consequence, and that he could get away with assaulting women. He was taught that women were lesser than him, no better than “beasts.” He was told that he was a “gentleman,” and that he should be rewarded accordingly. He was taught that there is something wrong with women, and something wrong with the asshole “alpha males” they supposedly flock to. He was taught that other men were being given things that he deserved more.

Elliot Rodger was a product of toxic masculinity.

It was in reading his manifesto that I first began truly understanding and appreciating the multitude of meanings behind that phrase. The way that it implies both danger and disease. The way that it implies harm both to the infected and the people around the infected. Toxic masculinity is like nuclear waste—dangerous in small doses, deadly in larger ones, and capable of harming both the first person to come into contact with it and all of the people that come into contact with that person. In my mind I start seeing the world as if I’m Roddy Piper in They Live—when I have my sunglasses on, I can see the neon green taint of toxic masculinity on teenagers joking about “no homo,” on message boards, on the survivors of domestic or sexual abuse. I can see men glowing a sickly chartreuse, eating themselves up from the inside at the same time that they infect the world around them.

When I first wrote about Elliot Rodger, I assumed that I was already as outraged, and as burned out, as I could get. Now I look back on that time with a sad smile, because 2018 Elle can’t help but think that 2014 Elle was still sweetly idealistic and naïve. I ended my original post on Rodger thusly:

I wish I had some nice, neat way to wrap this all up, but I really don’t. My outrage is too strong for that. Seeing the ways that seemingly innocuous “nice guy” rhetoric can snowball into murder, seeing the ways that the indignant and apologetic “not all men” battle cry can be used to cover up the obvious and self-professed motives of a killer, and even briefly scrolling through the stories on “When Women Refuse” is enough to make me despair about the world. All I can do is hope that the things that I write, and the things that others who are much more eloquent than myself have written, can spark a thought, a conversation, or a movement. The actions of future Elliot Rodgers are preventable. If we can create a culture where sex is neither an assumed privilege nor a badge of honor, where a woman’s right to decide her own desires and sexual partners is respected, where women are allowed to voice their grievances without being interrupted, and where women are seen as equals, not as transactions, then there may be some hope for us yet.

The actions of future Elliot Rodgers are preventable.

The actions of future Elliot Rodgers are preventable.

The actions of future Elliot Rodgers are preventable.

That line jumps out to me again and again. Because I was so right, and so wrong, at the same time. The actions of future Elliot Rodgers were preventable. We just didn’t fucking do it.

The pickup artist forums of Rodger’s time have turned into the “incel” forums of today. (“Incel” is an absurd made up word that means “involuntary celibate.” It’s used by misogynists who think that women literally owe them sex, and that the fact that they aren’t getting their dicks wet is the highest treason possible. I will never use that term again after this point in the article, because I think of it the same way I think of the term “alt-right”; I refuse to use the terms that bigots came up with to keep themselves from sounding like bigots. So they’ll be “misogynists” and “Nazis” respectively from here on out.) A brief perusal of these forums shows virulent misogyny, bewildering levels of entitlement, and a frightening commitment to violence and violent language. Rape is frequently advocated. Women are frequently denigrated. The “Stacys” of the world, aka women, are purposely going out with the “Chads” of the world, aka “normie” guys who are alpha males and not this particular brand of misogynist, and that is just super unfair. It’s so unfair, in fact, that people should probably die because of it.

That seems to be the thought process behind Alek Minassian, who praised Elliot Rodger as the “supreme gentleman” and promised a misogynist rebellion shortly before using a van to kill and injure people.

Alek Minassian is the future Elliot Rodger that four years ago I was hoping we could stop. We obviously didn’t. If anything, things have gotten worse. Even our president is a sexual predator. There’s not a lot of difference between “grab ‘em by the pussy” and the vitriol spewed on these misogynist sites. #MeToo is happening, but there also already a slate of fawning articles wondering when the men who were temporarily deposed by #MeToo can make their “comeback,” as if they were caught doing coke at a party and not, you know, sexually harassing and assaulting women. If I had a nickel for every time a respected news outlet wondered if feminism has gone “too far,” I wouldn’t have student loans anymore. Gamergate has permanently changed the landscape of gaming, game journalism, and even the goddamn sci-fi awards, all for the worse. I thank my lucky stars because I have been a woman blogging about feminism on the internet for four years, and I have yet to receive my first rape threat for doing so. I’m basically the only female blogger I know who can say that, and I know it is a matter of time and google algorithms until it happens to me as well.

The only positive difference between today and four years ago is that this time, news outlets are actually acknowledging Minassian’s misogyny and toxic masculinity, instead of just wondering if he’s mentally ill (which, for the record, is not a significant contributor to violence, so stop blaming mentally ill people every time someone goes on a shooting spree).

That difference is the only reason I can end this post on a somewhat hopeful note. Because unlike issues like gun control or SESTA, toxic masculinity is something that literally every one of us can help fight against. This is not in the hands of an inept Congress. While the patriarchy is strong, MRA’s don’t have quite the political reach of the NRA. This is our culture, and we can take it back. This is especially important for parents. We’ve already fucked up our existing generations, and we’re gonna have to do a lot of work to fix them. It’s easier if we can start when they’re young and haven’t learned toxic masculinity yet. So to that end, I’m going to leave you with ten things you (yes you!) can do. Start today.

  1. Stop buying into bullshit gender binaries, especially ones that claim men can’t be emotional, weak, or have associations with traditional feminine qualities.
  2. Encourage men and boys to consume more “girl-focused” media.
  3. Don’t segregate children by gender for every damn thing. Encourage non-gendered friendships and play.
  4. Abandon terms like “real men.” Even if it is being used in supposedly helpful ways, like “real men respect women.” There is no such thing as a “fake man.” At least not until the robots take over, and that’s an entirely different conversation. Let’s just give up on that whole concept of policing what it means to be a man, shall we?
  5. If you’re a man, do your best to unlearn gender norms that hurt you, even if, again, they are supposedly positive. You don’t have to be the bread winner. You aren’t “babysitting” your kid, you are raising your damn kid. You don’t have to pay for dinner (unless your partner is making 60% of what you do because of the pay gap. In that case, yeah, keep paying for dinner.)
  6. Work to dismantle the value system around virginity. The fact that guys who are virgins are failures and that girls who are no longer virgins is sluts means that guys and girls are constantly in a sexually-based conflict in which the rise of male value implicitly comes with the diminishing of female value. Stop it. Encourage healthy, consensual sexuality for everyone. Virginity is great if people want to be virgins. Not-virginity is great if people want to be not-virgins. The end.
  7. Please, for the love of God, abandon language like “don’t be a pussy.” Anyone who has seen a childbirth video knows that the vagina is basically the strongest thing in the world. I’m not telling you to “reclaim” the word pussy, because I’m a little skeptical about the idea of “reclaiming” words, but at the very least it shouldn’t be a phrase that means the very opposite of what it should. While we’re at it, let’s get rid of phrases like “that takes balls” and “ball busters.” Let’s just get rid of cisgender-normative genitalia phrases in general, shall we?
  8. Stop assuming the worst about men, even when it’s a convenient excuse. I’ve known plenty of boys and men in my life. Weirdly, none of them have been sex-obsessed maniacs who can’t control themselves around a woman’s bare shoulders. They’ve also all been passable at doing laundry, keeping track of appointments, talking about their emotions, and communicating clearly. It’s like men aren’t all latent rapists lying in wait, or totally inept at household tasks and emotional labor. Weird.
  9. Call people out on their shit. Is someone around you buying into outdated stereotypes? Is someone telling a rape joke? Is someone complaining about “blue balls” because they haven’t been graced with sex yet? Is someone complaining about being in the “friend zone”? Tell them to knock it off.
  10. Encourage male friendships and male affection/diminish the association of weakness with homosexuality. I can hug any of my girlfriends pretty much any time I want. I can hug any of my guy friends almost any time I want. It’s a fantastic world of hugs. But for a lot of guys, simple affectionate contact is seen as suspect, especially with other men. They live in fear of being called too sensitive, or being called homosexual. They have to hedge acknowledgements of platonic love with “no homo, bro.” Men, I have to conclude, are often really fucking lonely. Let them be friends. Let them hug.

Signed: Feminist Fury

***

Featured image is of a warning sign reading “TOXIC” and showing a human figure in distress after consuming something presumably toxic. Michael Smith, CC BY 2.0

When Character Descriptions Should Exit, Stage Left

Screenwriters. Dialogue yes. Characters not so much.

 

Hey loyal readers (yes, both of you, I see you!), sorry for my prolonged absence. Life refuses to cease happening, even when I’m really, really busy. Totally unfair. To make up for it, I’m going to babble about female characters in movies! (Which I was going to do anyways, but now it sounds like a treat. That’s called “salesmanship.”)

In my last roundup post I mentioned the “describe yourself as a male author would” trend, and my adoration for it. This week, Vulture is helping me up my game by providing 50 actual descriptions of female characters from (primarily male-written) screenplays. And…. wow. We have got ourselves some sexism folks. And some weird obsessions. But first, I want to take you back a bit, to the Long Long Ago, when Richard and I were on This Week in Tomorrow. You may remember my insanely long posts on Joss Whedon, and how I started by taking umbrage with his script for Wonder Woman. The script started off on literally the wrong foot, focusing on Steve Trevor as he crashed into an island, before revealing a character known as “The Girl,” followed by a sexualized, primitive-esque description of said Girl. (Who, remember, is Wonder Woman. Like, our main character.):

To say she is beautiful is almost to miss the point. She is elemental, as natural and wild as the luminous flora surrounding. Her dark hair waterfalls to her shoulders in soft arcs and curls. Her body is curvaceous, but taut as a drawn bow. She wears burnished metal bracelets on both wrists, wide and intricately detailed. Her shift is of another era; we’d call it Greek. She is barefoot.

I made a lot of fun of this description, and all of the descriptions after it, (did you know that absolutely every character in that movie is beautiful? I mean all the female characters, obvi.) but little did I know how… average… they really are in the film industry. Because hot damn, do male writers like their semi-pornographic character descriptions.

James Cameron made me very, very uncomfortable, both because his description of Neytiri made me realize how young she was supposed to be (18? Are you freaking kidding me? Were you trying to go full Pocahontas and make her 13 but just couldn’t do it?) and because of how clearly it seems that James Cameron has been thinking about sex with blue catgirl teenagers:

Draped on the limb like a leopard, is a striking NA’VI GIRL. She watches, only her eyes moving. She is lithe as a cat, with a long neck, muscular shoulders, and nubile breasts. And she is devastatingly beautiful — for a girl with a tail. In human age she would be 18. Her name is NEYTIRI (nay-Tee-ree).

Yep, beautiful except for that tail. The tail is definitely a turnoff, and not clearly a turn-on. Also, the description of her breasts doesn’t even make sense. You’re either saying she has sexually mature breasts, or sexually attractive breasts. Which, yeah. They’re breasts. That’s kind of their gig. You could have gone with like, actually describing them (which is still icky but at least makes sense) or just say what you’re obviously trying to say, which is “SHE’S LEGAL I PROMISE.”

Or we have the description for Margot Robbie’s character in Wolf of Wall Street:

We see NAOMI, 24, blonde and gorgeous, a living wet dream in LaPerla lingerie. Naomi licks her lips; she’s incredibly, painfully hot.

The only thing that should be “painfully hot” is touching a working stove. But the “winner,” both for creepiness and for bringing back a racist word I thought for sure died during Reconstruction, is Quentin Tarantino in his description of “Jungle Julia” from Death Proof:

A tall (maybe 6ft) Amazonian Mulatto goddess walks down her hallway, dressed in a baby tee, and panties that her big ass (a good thing) spill out of, and her long legs grow out of. Her big bare feet slap on the hard wood floor. She moves to the cool rockabilly beat as she paces like a tiger putting on her clothes. Outside her apartment she hears a “Honk Honk.” She sticks her long mane of silky black curly hair, her giraffish neck and her broad shoulders, out of the window and yells to a car below. This sexy chick is Austin, Texas, local celebrity JUNGLE JULIA LUCAI, the most popular disc jockey of the coolest rock radio station in a music town.

Of course he mentioned her feet. Of course. And of course he compared her to multiple animals, and brought back the “M” word, and called her “Amazonian” for being tall. Of course he had to mention her ass, and even enter a parenthetical about it. Of course he called her a “chick.” What does a “giraffish” neck even mean? Shouldn’t that mean its abnormally long? Is that also supposed to be sexy? I need about a million showers, and to never read these words again.

The one saving grace of these descriptions, and of the Whedon descriptions, is that they at least don’t try to underplay the beauty of the character, or act as if the woman is unaware of it.

The “Obliviously Beautiful” trope is common enough it gets its own TV Tropes page, as well as about a million songs.  With this trope, the character is somehow unaware of her beauty, or could be more beautiful if she tried, or something. There’s some weird moralizing attached to this trope– it is as if we are supposed to like the character better, or think she is a better person, because she is either unaware of her beauty or doesn’t try to be beautiful. Or even as if her beauty is enhanced by not being aware of it. As opposed to all of those self-aware skanks ruining their good looks by thinking about them, or something? A bizarre number of the scripts follow this theme.

Sarah Connor, in the first Terminator film:

SARAH CONNOR is 19, small and delicate-featured. Pretty in a flawed, accessible way. She doesn’t stop the party when she walks in, but you’d like to get to know her. Her vulnerable quality masks a strength even she doesn’t know exists.

Lisa Cohen in Margaret:

On LISA COHEN, just 17. Not the best-looking girl in her class but definitely in the top five.

(Insert obligatory Flight of the Conchords reference here)

Helen Tasker from True Lies:

To call her plain would be inaccurate. She could be attractive if she put any effort into it, which doesn’t occur to her.

… Right. I’m sure that any woman, in the beauty-obsessed US, simply didn’t have it “occur” to her that she could be attractive. That’s definitely the issue.

Summer, from 500 Days of Summer:

SUMMER FINN files folders and answers phones in a plain white office. She has cropped brown hair almost like a boy’s but her face is feminine and pretty enough to get away with it.

(Who knew you had to be pretty in order to “get away” with short hair? All this time I was assuming that you could just do what you wanted with your hair, but apparently there are standards. Next time I get a pixie cut I’ll make sure to stamp “not a boy” on my forehead, since I don’t know for certain if my features are feminine enough to support that haircut.)

They even have to downplay Princess Buttercup from The Princess Bride before building her back up:

Buttercup is in her late teens; doesn’t care much about clothes and she hates brushing her long hair, so she isn’t as attractive as she might be, but she’s still probably the most beautiful woman in the world.

Damn, if she’s already the most beautiful woman in the world, I’d hate to see what she looks like if she is as attractive as she “might be.” She might turn out “painfully hot,” like Margot Robbie.

All of this seems to be done to make the character seem more “realistic” to the audience (as if they are not still being played by amazingly beautiful movie stars.) As Kyle Buchanan and Jordan Crucchiola put it in the same Vulture article,

Many screenplays try to hedge their female character’s beauty, lest she seem so gorgeous as to be unattainable. Perhaps the woman doesn’t know how pretty she is, or there’s a slight imperfection added to make her relatable. The exact calibration of these female characters’ beauty begs a reference to Goldilocks: They’re hot, but not too hot.

Why, you may ask, am I harping so much on these character descriptions? I’ll tell you.

The way we write about women shapes and is shaped by the way we think about women. Some of the most iconic women in movies are introduced, not via their personality or their attitude or their bearing, but by their beauty. Beauty that is either nearly pornographic, or is undercut and underplayed in some vain attempt at “relatability.” It’s important to remember, that these descriptions aren’t just the first appearance of the character in the film; they are the basis on which the director, actors, stagehands, everyone who works on the film, start to  get their idea of the character. What is she like? How does she carry herself? What are her concerns? And I don’t know about you, but I’d have a hard time trying to get to the “heart” of my character if most of what I knew about her was “she’s pretty, but not like, too pretty, you know?”

And to me, the ones that try the “Obliviously beautiful” route are almost worse. The porny ones are at least aware of the objectification they are taking part in. The oblivious descriptions are trying to have their cake and eat it, too. Oh, she’s beautiful, but she doesn’t know it. Or she’s not as beautiful as she could be. It adds even further restrictions on how women are supposed to look and act; we’re supposed to be beautiful, yet so humble or so stupid that we don’t realize it. We are only relatable when we are unselfconscious about our appearance (yeah, good luck with that) but we are not actually allowed to be ugly or even unalterably plain. 

In almost every case I listed here, the actress who was given the role imbued their character with energy, tension, and dare I say, pizzazz. But that likely has much more to do with the skills of the actresses than the quality of the character descriptions they were given. I would love to see these skilled actresses get handed scripts where their character is introduced with complexity and not just sex appeal.

Signed: Feminist Fury

***

Featured image is a close-up of the description of Wonder Woman from the script.