Sexy Halloween Costumes IV: The Stockholming

Because at this time of year we witches scream. Not for fright, but in rage.

[cw: mention of sexual assault (in relation to a Handmaid’s Tale-eque costume)]

 

A lot has happened in the past two weeks. But if I let myself start writing about Kavanaugh, voter suppression, or Proud Boy assholes, I am going to start screaming and not stop. Luckily, I have a built-in excuse to not think about those things; my yearly Sexy Halloween Costume Roundup.

I have been writing round-ups of sexy Halloween costumes for four years now. That’s a lot of time spent poring over costume sites, evaluating their wares, categorizing them, and then  thinking of clever things to say about them besides “Sexy costume. Ha.” (It also means that there is about a solid month where my computer cookies mean that basically all of my ad suggestions are for sexy costumes.)

I first decided to get a head start on the costume post for this year back in mid-September. And I started wondering… had I spent too much time looking at sexy costumes? Because while there were certainly plenty of costumes that were objectionable (And we’re gonna talk a whole hell of a lot about racist costumes here in a minute) I found that a lot of them… weren’t bad. And I might even… like? Some of them? I was pretty sure I’d gotten Stockholm syndrome.

 

Don’t worry. The feeling passed. Exactly three days later.

 

But we’ll get to that. First, I think it’s useful for you to come along with me on my journey from hopeful “huh” to despairing “oh my fucking god.”

So first, the costumes that I actually liked. Or at least kind of liked. And because I love you all, you get slightly blurry screenshots instead of links.

Yandy actually did remarkably well with quite a few hero costumes this year.

There is the Avenging Assassin, which is definitely NOT Black Widow, which I think is actually pretty fabulous aside from how difficult it would be to sit in:

There’s also a similar costume for plus size ladies, that I frankly think looks way more comfy.

 

There is a fairly fun if particularly booberific gender-bent Aquaman costume known as Atlantis Queen:

 

There is a pretty damn fantastic General Okoye costume that only fails in that it doesn’t involve pants:

 

There is a pretty spot-on Scarlet Witch costume:

 

There is Toxic Treat, a Poison Ivy costume that, despite being sexified, still manages to give her more clothing than the entire Arkham series of games:

 

There’s a Hornet Honey that actually is a pretty good take on the original comic costume for the Wasp. (And also reminds me of Dr. Mrs. The Monarch):

 

There is a legitimately cute anthropomorphized version of Rocket Raccoon:

 

There’s a pretty good take on Wonder Woman’s Themiscyra outfit:

 

There were also a few interesting video game-based costumes, including this legit fun Assassin’s Creed outfit:

 

And a fairly accurate Lara Croft costume:

 

There’s a cute and kitschy sexy Sherlock Holmes:

 

A sparkly peacock showgirl outfit:

 

A “Jackie the Ripper” costume that would be a really good Steampunk outfit:

 

A couple of Barbie costumes that are only as sexualized as much as… you know…. Barbie is:

 

A Clueless Cher costume that is exactly what it says on the tin:

 

A Jessica Rabbit/Roger Rabbit set that is… actually kind of amazing. I think they actually do a really good job of gender bending the Roger Rabbit costume, and it’s sexy without being insane. And again, Jessica Rabbit is already pretty damn sexualized:

 

This is a genuinely great flapper costume:

 

I would totally wear this bizarre but weird space cadet costume:

 

One of a million pretty passable Wonderland-related costumes:

 

I know I should hate this costume, because there is no reason to have a Prickly Pear costume, but I love it. Look at it. LOOK AT IT. It is so adorable. Look at that hat! Look at that bag. This is amazing:

 

I will be honest, I would totally wear this Pokemon Go trainer costume. Probably with leggings, because damn, but I would wear it:

 

I should not like this costume. I know I should not like this costume. This “Silent One” costume is a sexualized, gender-bent Hannibal Lecter. And no matter what fanfiction tells me, that is not ok. But it comes with a brain clutch. A BRAIN CLUTCH. How can I hate a costume when it comes with a BRAIN CLUTCH?

 

So you can see why I was getting a little confused. Why were there so many good costumes? Was I still on Yandy’s website? What was going on here? Was I actually finally going crazy?

Luckily, there were some costumes that let me know I was exactly where I thought I was. Weird ass trends and half-assed costumes abounded.

For example, there were four deer costumes. Four. Deer. Costumes. All of them new. Someone looked at the world and said, “You know what we need? Multiple forms of sexy deer.”

 

There were no fewer than three Mary Poppins costumes, all of them imaginatively labeled “English Nanny”:

 

Cavewomen were also a new trend, with two generic cavewomen, and two sexualized Flinstones costumes, Bedrock Babe and Bedrock Baby, the latter of which is sexualizing a toddler. Just saying.

 

 

There were some lazy and bizarre news-based costumes, including a Sexy Mystery Op-Ed, and a sexy Newsflash:

     

 

There were a lot of religious costumes, either due to the new Conjuring movie about the scary nun or just…. straight up sacrilegiousness:

 

… I am pretty sure this is what happens when you try to make the Three Wolf Moon t-shirt sexy:

 

And then you have this…. brain breaking quartet. Obviously South Park Characters, they are known as Small Town Erika C, Small Town Kylee, Small Town Stanka (seriously? Stanka?) and Small Town McKenna. I just…. cannot:

 

 

There were two Wednesday Addams costumes, known as Mid-week Honey (cuz her name is Wednesday. Get it? Get it?) and Gothic Child. I mean, I guess if you want to make it super clear that you’re sexualizing children you can but… it’s a weird decision:

 

There is a “Slim Man” costume that seems fine, until you think too hard about what that poor person does when they need to use their hands:

 

And a… Playboy Bunny logo costume. Was the Playboy Bunny costume itself, which is basically synonymous with sex, not sexy enough? Did we need this, too? This is bad. This is worse. It is emphatically less sexy:

 

And then… No. Nononononononono. No.

Do not accept. This is horrendous. It’s lingerie plus a sleep mask. No.

 

So a lot of these were bad. Some of them were really, really bad. But it wasn’t heinous.

I was first looking at this on September 17th. Some of my examples were admittedly added later, because as I found out on September 20th, apparently Yandy hadn’t finished stocking their store for the year. I found this out, because on September 20th, I found out about… this:

 

This… this is the Brave Red Maiden costume. It is a Sexy Handmaid’s Tale costume. A SEXY. HANDMAID’S TALE. COSTUME. This is literally an Onion article come to life. (Or at least Onion-equivalent.) 

It’s also something that actually happens in the show, when June and Fred go to the club/brothel. I am not willing to subject myself to the emotional trauma of rewatching multiple episodes to find the scene, but I promise you there is at least one sex worker in the club who is dressed as a sexy handmaid.

To really explain why this is terrible, let’s relabel it. This is a Sexy Rape Survivor costume. There, I fixed it. And by fixed it I mean revealed how terrible it is. Handmaid’s are subjected to repeated, ritualized rape. And while I believe, to a certain extent, in the concept of embracing sexuality as empowering when you have been subjected to sexual abuse, that is a personal, case by case issue. Not for a company to decide on and sell at $64.95.

Following the outcry about this costume, Yandy did something I’ve never seen it do in the four years that I have been doing these roundups: they responded to the controversy, and took the costume down. It was the right decision. I was able to get angry and have my anger deflate within the same 24-hour period. But it also raised the question: Why in God’s name have they not only not removed other costumes, but continued making them?

 

So: the following is a selection of the worst offenders for new racist costumes at Yandy. Not all of the racist costumes, not even all the new racist costumes. Just the worst ones.

These costumes are named things like “Beautiful Native,” “Chop til You Drop,” “Chief’s Desire,” “Harem Nights,” and a name that I won’t repeat because it involves an actual goddamn slur. The only way that Yandy has improved over past years is that at least a fraction of the costumes are worn by actual women of color in the photos. But in every case, they are replicating racial stereotypes, making cultures into costumes, and again, using slurs.

We should be just as upset about these costumes as we were over the Handmaid costumes.

If you want to actually appreciate other cultures, there are places to start that actually benefit people from the culture you are appreciating. Try Beyond Buckskin for Native-owned online places to shop for clothing and accessories, and this list from Bauce for African clothing and accessories. But please, please don’t go there for Halloween costumes.

At this point it’s clear that we’re not going to stem the tide of sexy costumes. But if the sexy costume trend could involve less cultural appropriation and mocking of sexual assault survivors, that would be great.

Signed: Feminist Fury

***

Featured image of a jack-o-lantern light is by Flickr user Thomas and released under a CC-BY-SA 2.0 license.

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.

Ellements of Film: Gallowwalkers is a Thing That I Saw

“Ellements of Film” is back! With… Gallowwalkers? Wait, why did we

 

[cw: mention of film depiction of sexual assault]

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I have notes sitting in various notebooks for long, in-depth posts on various movies that I have watched, enjoyed, and been affected by over the last year. Most of these movie posts have been sitting in my brain long enough that the movies themselves have come out on video. Or even Netflix. I have tons of thoughts on the way that women are depicted in them, the ways that the fan community has reacted to them *cough* Star Wars *cough* and even the way that they have reacted to sociopolitical trends. This post is about none of those movies.

There is a spectrum of bad movies. On the far end, there are “movies I refuse to watch.” These are movies that seem to have little to no redeeming qualities to them. For me, this category mostly consists of “torture porn” movies that seem to get more out of showcasing violence and rape than they do things like “story.” This is where Hostel and Human Centipede live. Then there are “bad movies.” Bad, pure and simple, with little to redeem them, and even drinking games feeling like a sort of penance. For me, these are movies like Catwoman and Descendants. Then you have “so bad they’re good” movies, where somehow the horribleness of the movie comes back around and makes it fun. These are the movies it is fun to MST3K with a group of friends, like The Happening or Plan 9 From Outer Space. Then you have “good despite being bad” movies. These are the movies that just soldier on, despite not having a lot to recommend them. Or they have some aspect that should discount them, but they manage to overcome it. This is the category for Demolition Man and White Chicks. Then you have “guilty pleasure” bad movies. These are movies that I acknowledge are not great, but that I will watch all the way through whenever they come up on cable, or that will make me coo, “Oh I love that movie!” when someone brings it up. You can pry Spice World and The Faculty out of my cold, dead hands. Zig-a-zig ah.

But there’s another category that is mobile, and whose contents can fall anywhere along the spectrum. These are what I call the “What happened?” movies. The movies that seemed to have almost everything going for them, but failed despite that. Or the movies that had almost all of the right elements, but then some key component failed. This is the category for Wild Wild West and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. This is also the category for about half of Paul Bettany’s career. Legion and Priest should have been amazing and definitely weren’t. Wild Wild West, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Legion, and Priest actually have a lot in common as “what happened?” movies. They have interesting worldbuilding, fun visuals, (mostly) good casts, and the outlines of an interesting plot. They fail in different ways, however, and these failures put them on different parts of the spectrum. For me, Wild Wild West falls into the guilty pleasure category. I know it’s bad. I know that Will Smith and Kevin Kline have the on-screen chemistry of baking soda and more baking soda. Now that I’ve passed my 20s and have read a lot of intersectional theory, I know that the whole “ableism versus racism” scene between Smith and Kenneth Branagh is hella problematic. But god damnit I will watch steampunk spiders and Crazy Southern Kenneth Branagh every time it is on TNT. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen falls into “so bad it’s good.” It really, really wants to be a mix of Oceans 11, Victorian novels, and the Justice League. It fails so hard. But it fails endearingly. I will drink beer and say mocking things about Dorian Gray any time. Legion and Priest are actually probably also in that category, though Legion edges towards “just bad.” Mostly because I am sick to death of the whole “magical baby will save the world” trope.

Which brings us to Gallowwalkers. A mixture of boredom, Netflix, and an idle curiosity regarding what Wesley Snipes has been doing since he got out of prison had me pulling this gem up late one evening. And it is a “what happened?” movie on a scale I previously didn’t think was possible. I don’t even know if I can categorize it. And I’m pretty sure the English language does not contain the proper words and syntax to give the movie a synopsis.

The imdb blurb says, “A cursed gunman (Snipes) whose victims come back from the dead recruits a young warrior to help in the fight against a gang of zombies.” But oh, it is so much more than that. So much. I am going to list some plot lines, any one or two of which would have been a perfectly good movie. I’m not going to worry about spoilers, because no one besides me should go into this movie not knowing what they are in for. Please keep in mind that ALL of these plotlines are in the movie.

  • Wesley Snipes plays an Old West version of Blade, as a semi-immortal monster hunter. There is no point at which it is not super clear that the main character is Wesley Snipes/Blade.
  • Wesley Snipes/Blade is the child of a Satanist priestess who makes a deal with the devil and revives Snipes after death, but at the cost of also reviving his enemies.
  • Wesley Snipes/Blade seeks revenge on the people who raped and robbed his would-be wife and struggles to live with the mixture of duty and hatred he feels towards the child she had as a result. She died in childbirth, because of course she did.
  • Wesley Snipes/Blade saves a young man from some bad guys and then trains him to be a monster hunter to help him defeat his enemies.

(Side note: New Guy is played by someone who I recognized as “Dean Talon” from the Disney movie Motocrossed because I am a young woman who grew up in the 90s and early aughts. I possibly missed some attempts at plot while I imdb’d what he’d been up to since the early 2000s. The answer is “not much.”)

  • Wesley Snipes/Blade paints his body in random war paint to go after the people who raped his would-be wife. There is no clear purpose behind this war paint, besides Looking Badass.
  • Vampire/zombie hybrids known as Gallowwalkers roam the west, having to frequently kill people and steal their skin, because the bright sun dries out their stolen flesh, revealing their weird muscly underbits. Some of them wear metal helmets or make do with lizard skin in order to avoid this. Those people are more interesting than about 90% of the other characters and get little screen time.
  • The head Gallowwalker seeks the home of the Satanist priestesses in order to find out why he and his crew were revived, but his son was not. He carries his son’s body on a weird cross thing, and frequently kidnaps women in anticipation of them needing to provide his son’s new skin.
  • There is a weird sect of Religious people who are primarily Albino or just very, very pale, and they are planning to hang sinners on the same day that the Gallowwalkers invade their town.
  • Wesley Snipes/Blade’s training of the New Guy includes dropping him into a secret set of underground tunnels where he has trapped a random Gallowwalker that he just sics on the new guy to test his skills.
  • Wesley Snipes/Blade’s would-be wife is the daughter of a badass lady butcher, who took Wesley Snipes/Blade in as a child and now looks after her grandson.
  • The girl the Gallowwalkers kidnapped happened to be acquaintances with the person Wesley Snipes/Blade gets to be his new trainee. She also might be a prostitute, because the only women in the Old West are prostitutes, women who die in childbirth, and one (1) badass butcher lady.
  • It is revealed that anyone Wesley Snipes/Blade kills becomes a Gallowwalker as well. The rules for actually killing a Gallowwalker are hand wavey.
  • Wesley Snipes/Blade, New Guy, Feral Child Snipes Abandoned, and Badass Butcher Lady have to protect their home from the Gallowwalkers in a 30 Days of Night/Home Alone hybrid scene.
  • Wesley Snipes tracks down the main Gallowwalker and they fight.

(Side note: At this point I’d given up paying attention/was kinda falling asleep, so I don’t remember much of the climax of the movie. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.)

Seriously. ALL of that happens. In 90 minutes. And through the use of flashbacks and bare exposition and basically everything they can do to make sure you are mightily confused. It’s like watching a car crash with someone projecting a Western over the top of the crash and a vampire movie over the bottom of the crash. You have no idea what is going on but there are lots of moving pictures and you’re certain that something bad but fascinating is happening.

I literally cannot place this movie on the spectrum of bad movies. It’s a “what happened” mixed with a “bad movie” mixed with a “guilty pleasure” mixed with a “so bad its good.” It is fifteen movies in one.  And some of them had promise! You would have had me at “Old West Blade.” There. Done. Do that. Or focus on the weird albino religious people, or the lizard head Gallowwalker. That town was fascinating. But everything together is just…. WTF.

Normally I’d have to say that you’d have to see it to believe it, but I’m not even sure that I would recommend that anyone else watch it. At least not sober.

Signed: Feminist Fury

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Featured image is a close-up of Wesley Snipes’s face and his gun as shown on the cover of the Gallowwalkers movie poster with the words “Ellements of Film” superimposed.

Wait, Do I Have Economic Privilege?

Economic privilege is not having to *think* so much.

 

Economic privilege is a funny thing, in that everyone wants to be rich, but no one wants to admit that they have economic privilege. If you tell someone who is lower-middle class up through to the 1% that they have economic privilege, they will find fifteen different ways to “prove” to you that they don’t. Usually this proof consists of what they can and cannot buy. And while purchasing power is certainly an aspect of economic privilege, it is not the most important sign. Economic privilege is about the ability to avoid thinking. It takes an intense amount of mental and emotional energy to be poor.

I know this because I recently joined (or rejoined, depending on your definition) the ranks of the economically privileged. (Caveat: I am aware that as a white woman who was able to attend graduate school, has never been evicted from my housing, and has consistent access to things like clean drinking water, I have likely always enjoyed a certain level of economic privilege. That being said, without going into the entire sordid tale of my poverty bona fides, let’s just say that I’m well-acquainted with the experience of having various utilities turned off, and of sacrificing my opportunities for economic security so that family members could avoid being evicted.) It was not until I recently began making enough money to put me in the realm of what I would call “economically comfortable” that I realized exactly how much of my daily processing power I was using in order to navigate my economic situation.

It started, as many things do, with my gas tank. Rather than a luxury, a car is basically a necessity in Wyoming. Our public transportation system blows, and our large square mileage means that basically everyone decided to build out instead of up. Our largest city, Cheyenne, has about 64,000 people and a halfhearted thing that might be called a bus route if you are feeling kindly towards it, and is actually two square miles larger than the island of Manhattan, home to 1.66 million people and a large supply of buses and subways. Even the poorest in Wyoming often require a car if they want to become anything other than the poorest. Which means that many, many people in Wyoming are exquisitely aware of the gas stations in their area.

For most of my adult life, I have kept an encyclopedic knowledge of the gas stations in my surrounding town. I know which ones are liable to be 2-10 cents per gallon more expensive than some of their counterparts. I know which ones regularly overcharge by as much as 15-30 cents per gallon more expensive because they are a “last chance” gas station before you hit nothing but hundreds of miles of prairie, or because they are rare commodities in mostly-residential areas. I know which ones appear to be more expensive, but are actually a better deal because they provide discounts associated with a grocery store rewards card. I know which gas stations update their prices the fastest when oil prices go up. In short, I have devoted incalculable amounts of mental energy to the tracking of gas stations and their prices over the past two decades.

There is, in fact, a gas station only a few blocks from my house. It’s one of those “residential area markup” gas stations, and is usually at least 3-8 cents per gallon more expensive than some of my other options in town. I normally refuse to use it for that reason, though there have been a few times that I have let my “tank almost empty” light shine for an alarming amount of time and I sulkily put half a gallon of gas from that station into my car because I’m not 100% sure that it’s going to make it to the next station. I was having one of those moments a couple of months ago, and was keeping an eagle eye on the counter to make sure I could stop it at half a gallon. While I did so, I contemplated the pain in the ass that it would be to finish up there, close up my tank, exit with a left turn onto a busy street, drive to the next gas station with lower prices, force the machine to acknowledge my card as real currency, start filling my tank again, exit with a left turn onto yet another busy street, and finally make my way to work. And then I had a thought that I’d never really had before. “I don’t have to do that.” I did some quick calculations. At the very most, I’d be saving $1.50 by leaving the gas station I was at and going to another one. In days past, that had meant the difference between putting gas in the tank and not doing so. It had meant the difference between making my budget for the month and not doing so. And now it could very easily be seen as a convenience fee. It was now suddenly within my power to decide that $1.50 was a convenience fee. I could just finish filling my tank, and think no more about it.

It was revolutionary. I stopped paying as much attention to gas prices. I’d glance at them as I drove by, but more to keep a sense of gas overall, and no longer to obsessively catalog each price. When I started running low, I would just go to the nearest station, without worrying about whether or not it was one of the cheaper ones. I stopped having to devote as much brain power to saving money.

The other signs started piling up. Not automatically reaching for the generic brand of everything. Not studiously poring over the “per ounce” cost of every product to decide which size of something was truly the better deal. Offering to pay for friends’ lunches more. Letting myself impulse buy things on Amazon. They were all fairly small acts, but they all had something in common: I didn’t have to think as much. Every financial transaction took much less of my brain power. Purchasing was reduced to “Want—should I?—yes—buy.” When before it was “Want—should I?—can I?—really?—are there better uses?—maybe… buy?” I wasn’t going crazy. I wasn’t being absolutely foolish with my money. But I was relaxing. I was thinking less.

But the moment I knew that I had “arrived” at economic privilege was when my dog got sick. I was told she’d need emergency surgery. I was told the likely eventual price range. I was told I’d need 80% of the lowest price up front. I flashed quickly to my bank account, to my credit cards, to what I was pretty sure I had in my wallet. And with barely a thought, I said yes.

It wasn’t until after I’d said yes that I even considered that it should take more thought. It was a sum of money with three zeroes. It should worry me to pay it. But I’d been told that her chances of surviving the surgery were good. I was told that her quality of life should return to normal. I knew I had the appropriate sum in my savings. I knew it would save my dog’s life. That was all the thinking I needed to do.

A year ago, that wouldn’t have been the case. I would have been with the 40% of Americans who couldn’t cover an unexpected expense of $400 without selling or borrowing something. I’d have been on the phone with every friend I could think of, begging for help and doing my best to patchwork together the amount I needed. I would have wasted valuable hours hunting down money—hours that could have significantly affected my dog’s chances of surviving the surgery. I’d have been thinking about all kinds of things—who to call, how much money to ask for, how I could get the money to where I was in order to pay the vet up front. I’d have been thinking about whether I could afford it even with help, if it would drain my account and leave me unable to return home, or to get through the next week, or until my next paycheck.

Or I would have been having even more terrible thoughts—I would have been thinking “Would it be kinder to euthanize my dog than to admit that I don’t have enough money to save her? Can I even afford the euthanasia drugs, or do I have to let her die slowly of ‘natural’ causes?”

I knew I had economic privilege because I didn’t have to think about the question, “Can I afford to keep my dog alive?”

A lot of economically privileged people act as if poor people are stupid. As if they don’t know that that they could save money if they buy in bulk, if they give up Starbucks, if they stop using payday loans, etc. That simply isn’t true. Poor people are some of the smartest motherfuckers I know. Poor people are thinking all the time. Poor people can tell who what grocery store has the cheapest produce, and what grocery store has the cheapest meat. Poor people can tell you when the stores start marking down clothing so they can make room for new stock. Poor people can tell you what cafes or coffee shops let you stay the longest to mooch their wifi while only buying a single plain coffee. Poor people can tell you when their bills are due, and how long the grace period is for each bill. Poor people can tell you which laundromat has the best quality of machines for the lowest price. Poor people can tell you exactly how much money they have in their bank account. I doubt Trump can even tell you exactly how much money he has paid to Cohen to hush up affairs.

To have economic privilege is to have freedom from thinking. You can use the nearest gas station without thinking about it. You can tip your server 25% instead of 20% just because the math is easier. You can buy the food that tastes better, or is better for you, or is just easier to put into your cart. You can keep yourself reasonably healthy. You can keep your animals alive. You can avoid thinking about every moment of every day.

Sure, even economically privileged people still have financial worries. Wages are down, healthcare costs are up. No one seems to have enough retirement savings, and Social Security isn’t going to exist by the time I’m old enough to retire. Health problems can crop up at any moment.

But poor people have all of those worries, and then everything else. Hell, it becomes a privilege to have enough spare brain power to worry about retirement. Being able to worry about the future means being certain you’re going to survive the present. And when you’re having to devote so much of your time, your energy, and your thoughts to day-to-day existence, that isn’t a certainty that is easy to have.

Signed: Feminist Fury

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Featured image is of spare change on a table, is by Flickr user frankieleon, and is used under a CC-BY 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

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

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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

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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.

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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

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