Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Megan Fox FAIL

So Megan Fox admitted that she used to cut herself in a recent Rolling Stone interview. My first thought when I heard this was, "Great, now maybe this serious problem will be acknowledged and some people will get some help as a result." I cut myself a few times in high school in a misguided attempt to overcome depression, and it's something I didn't emotionally deal with or overcome until years later. I think it would've been helpful at the time for me to see someone in a socially-empowered position who had dealt with the same problem. Megan Fox doesn't treat it as a serious problem or one that may need professional help or treatment, though. Instead, she remarks thusly:
Yeah…But I don’t want to elaborate. I would never call myself a cutter. Girls go through different phases when they’re growing up, when they’re miserable and do different things, whether it’s an eating disorder or they dabble in cutting.

WOW. Cutting is not a normal teen phase, not something you "dabble in," like ceramics or poetry or acting or volleyball. It's a serious problem, something that many people struggle for years to overcome. I really don't like that she both normalizies and trivializes the issue. Any thoughts, friends?

Rape Prevention that Really Works

I'm sure that, by now, all of you have heard of the rape allegations and subsequent recanting at Hofstra University. I'm not directly commenting on that, on who I think is right or wrong or lying or telling the truth. As much as I wish I had the time to make this a post about gender politics and the immediacy of victim blaming in America, I have to teach in half an hour and I'm locked out of my building, so intense thinking about that will have to wait. For now, I'd like to direct your attention to this clever inversion of tips to avoid rape. It seems to me that, in traditional schools of thought regarding prevention of sexual assault, there is too much emphasis on prevention by the victim. Don't walk alone; use the buddy system. Don't drink from a container that doesn't have a top you can remove and replace when at a party or bar. Know where exits are at all times. While this advice is smart and helpful, it does seem to place the blame on the victim when an assault or a rape occurs. If you follow these lists and someone assaults you, you must be protecting yourself incorrectly. That's a dangerous road to go down. The list I linked to is clever and very necessary because it drives home the point that rapists rape people, and that we should construct our views on the subject thusly, rather than assuming, as traditional prevention advice does, that victims are raped by rapists. The active verb clearly assigns responsibility as it should be assigned, as well as shows how important words and language can be to political action.

Monday, September 14, 2009

On fangirls and feminism, or, "Sweetheart, this ain't Gender Studies."

This post was requested by my dear friend Beth, fellow butt-kicking feminist and Supernatural fangirl. If you don't care about the show, you may want to skip this post. I won't be sad, I promise.

For those of you not in the know who decided to stick around, Supernatural is a television show about two brothers, Sam and Dean Winchester, who travel the country in their beautiful 1967 Impala killing ghosts, demons, and other things that go bump in the night. The show is, from its outset, a bit problematic from a feminist perspective. The brothers Winchester become demon hunters by following in the footsteps of their father, who is drawn to the business of hunting after he sees his wife engulfed in flames, pinned to the ceiling of Sam's nursery with her abdomen sliced open. He spends the next two decades learning to track the thing that killed her, and, as a result, the boys are alternately trained in supernatural combat and left to their own devices in a series of seedy motel rooms. While Dean takes their father's edicts as law, Sam yearns for normalcy and, when it's time for him to go to college, says goodbye to his family and their demon hunting ways for good, and says hello to Stanford's pre-law program, where he meets a comely blonde named Jessica and starts working on making his dreams of normalcy come true. That's all well and good until Dean shows up at his and Jessica's apartment in the middle of the night, asking Sam to help him find their father, who appears to be on a demon-hunt gone bad. Against his better judgment, Sam goes with him. The boys don't find their father, but do solve a mystery that he couldn't. They defeat a Woman in White, a spin on the Vanishing Hitchhiker legend who targets unfaithful men by making them pick her up on the side of the road. When they take her to her destination (her creepy, abandoned house), she flirts with them until they give in, then rips out their hearts. Sam and Dean kill her angry spirit by forcing her to confront the ghosts of the children she drowned after finding out her own husband was unfaithful. When she reenters her home, the watery spirits of her children engulf her own airy one, and she's gone. After their victory, Sam and Dean return to Sam and Jessica's place. Sam tells Dean he enjoyed the rush of the hunt and seeing his brother again, but that he needs to get back to his normal life, thanks. No such luck, because Sam finds Jessica pinned to the ceiling with her abdomen slashed, and she bursts into flame, a near-mirror image of what happened to his mother in his infancy, right down to her hairstyle. Sam now understands his father's motivation, and the pilot episode ends with a shot of Sam's duffel bag being thrown into the Impala's truck with its coterie of homemade weapons. We hear (but do not see) Sam say "We've got work to do," before the screen goes black.

Why does this get my feminist panties in a bunch? All of the above happens in the pilot. The catalyst for both sets of parallel action (father and son) is a dead woman, and the first spirit to be killed earns her fate for transgressing her appropriate roles as good mother and submissive wife. These points set up Sam and Dean's very male, very lonely world of muscle cars, hair metal music, and skirtchasing. Okay, so that's mostly Dean, but you get the idea. The boys are virtually alone in their weekly hunting pursuits until Season Two, when they meet the denizens of Harvelle's Roadhouse, a rundown place in Nebraska that seems to cater to a clientele of hunters. The roadhouse is run by Ellen Harvelle, a no-nonsense woman who somehow knows the boys' father, and her equally fierce (though not in the gross Tyra way) daughter, Jo, who longs to escape her mother's watchful eye and get in on the hunt herself. Both women are tough. They can take care of themselves without help from a man and they even best Sam and Dean in a fight. It turns out that John Winchester was there when Jo's dad was killed by a demon, so she has the same sort of familially-connected desire for revenge the boys do. A Jo/Dean romance is hinted at but never pursued, and though she proves herself capable of planning and seeking a hunt in episode 2.6, "No Exit," Dean looks at her as an inexperienced kid. When she suggests his disdain of her hunting is because she's a woman, he condescends, saying, "Sweetheart, this ain't Gender Studies." Jo turns out to be the ticket to the boys' solving the hunt, but only because the serial killer's ghost they're looking for has a particular hankering for petite blondes. Jo acts as bait and saves another woman in the process, but the boys must step in and save HER. We see her a few more times that season, and in her last major appearance, she's nearly raped by a demon-possessed Sam. Problematic and disturbing? Yes. Even more so? She was written off primarily due to negative response from the show's mostly female fanbase who didn't want a woman getting to close to the boys. They would rather all representations of themselves be screaming and helpless, apparently. Bah.

Fast forward to now, the beginning of Season Five. We've seen two more major female characters. One was a manipulative, double-crossing (or triple-crossing?) demon and the other was a mercenary. Both used their sexuality to get what they wanted. Not much to work with in the well-rounded female character department. There's been an interesting new development, though. Now the boys are trying to save the world from the apocolypse and a very upset Lucifer (yeah, that Lucifer...sort of). It turns out that they're the subject of a book series, cleverly titled (you guessed it) Supernatural, whose writer is a prophet from God. Yeah. They went there. This series has a small but rabid fanbase not unlike that of the actual television series. In the most recent episode we met Becky, the books' biggest fan.The author asks her to get a message to the real Sam and Dean. She tears herself away from the wincest fan fiction she's writing, and goes to see the boys. She then fawns, gropes, and generally freaks Sam and Dean out. I'm not sure what to make of this. On one hand, it's nice to see a wink and a nod to some of the more extreme members of a fandom I'm simultaneously a part of and love to hate. On the other hand, Becky seems like the latest addition to a series of poorly characterized women. I know the show has some silly fans. I know I like to get silly when I watch it sometimes. Jared (Padalecki, who plays Sam) and Jensen (Ackles, who plays Dean) are certainly easy on the eyes, and that's enjoyable, but the show is so much more than that. It's scary and funny and clever. It's just kind of sexist, too.

Jo makes another appearance in this week's upcoming episode. I'd love to see her confront Becky, but I doubt that'll happen. I asked Alona Tal, who plays Jo, how she felt about being written off the show and if she'd be back when I met her at a fan convention about two years ago (I meant it when I said I was a fangirl). She admitted that she was miffed about fan treatment of Jo and said tha she too had noticed a lack of a strong female character on the show prior to her tenure. Let's hope she remedies that for all of us this week.

Beth, I hope that satisfies your craving for some feminist discourse about our craziness. Everyone else, if you're interested in catching up, Seasons 1-4 are on DVD and Season 5 airs Thursdays at 9 on the CW. If you still don't care, thanks for reading anyway.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Girls, Gore, and the Female Object

So I should really be reading Roman lyric poetry right now, but I decided to surf the interwebs a bit while eating my lunch, and now I must write a quick blog post. There's been a fair bit of buzz in circles both filmic and feminist about Jennifer's Body, a new horror film directed by Diablo Cody of Juno fame and written by the fabulous Karyn Kusama, best known for one of my favorite sports films, Girlfight. I can't decide whether I want to see the film or not. I'm leaning towards yes, though, (sorry, husband!), and Michelle Orange raises a few of the reasons why in her NYT article about the film. Before I go there, the trailer is here.

Orange mentions some great issues in the article, the first being the tenuous positions of women in horror films, both as viewers and as actors. I'm not a huge horror fan myself. I get scared very easily, so I usually can't handle the genre very well. have lots of female friends who are into it, though (Hi, Jess and Laurie!), and I'm a good enough feminist pop cultural critic to realize that there's a goldmine there in terms of gender analysis. Though I've read Men, Women and Chainsaws, which Orange cites, I don't agree that the women who kill the killer are completely victorious, due to the fact that they are the objects of the camera's gaze. Our watching these films is, to some extent, about watching (and enjoying watching?) helpless women. Orange also throws in the buzzword "torture porn" to describe films of the Saw and Hostel ilk that seem to capitalize on audiences' desires to see beautiful women struggle. This is where Jennifer's Body comes in.

As the trailer opens, it's all about the female object of the camera's gaze (I should note here the importance of casting Meagan Fox as Jennifer. She seems to be our culture's piece of meat du jour, so maybe this role is an ironic comment?). First, Jennifer is swimming naked toward the viewer, then she's walking down the hall at school, all while keeping the fourth wall broken. Then we're given a universal that hearkens back to the high school hierarchy: "There's one girl that every girl wants to be friends with and every guy would die for." The next few frames exhibit this maxim. Amanda Seyfried is Needy (Oh, I hope this is a diminutive and not her actual name, but I can't find concrete evidence to the contrary), the dorky girl (She has glasses, you guyz!) who wants desperately to be Jennifer's friend. Kyle Gallner is Colin Gray, the emo kid with a crush who literally dies for Jennifer, because, guess what, she's a DEMON. WHO EATS HORNY HIGH SCHOOL BOYS. The rest of the trailer is rife with silly high school sex cliches (a joke about lesbian sex at slumber parties, boyfriend stealing, Jennifer calling an equal opportunity murder "swing[ing] both ways"), but what intrigues me most is the part where Needy tries to tell Jennifer that what she's doing is wrong : "You're killing people!" Jennifer's response? "Noooo, I'm killing boys." This, to me, sets the film up as a seeming reversal of torture porn where men are unempowered objects of the camera's gaze. Now, I'm not at all a proponent of affecting change by merely reversing an existing binary. This film is definitely still problematic, but I think it's an interesting shift. How does killing the killer change if, instead of a woman killing a man (who has social and patriarchal power over her, not to mention physical strength, typically), the battle is between The Hot Girl and The Nerd Girl and therefore becomes one about appropriate femininity and the various ways that role is performed? Any thoughts?