Feminist Friday: Hollywood edition

Both of these articles are slightly old, but are new to me. Jon passed them along to me knowing I’d want to use them for this portion of my blog, so here you go!

First up, “6 Insane Stereotypes that movies can’t seem to get over.” This article is a great dissection of a whole host of problems in the film industry that intersect with feminism: racism (“Everyone in Africa is Uncivilized or a Warlord,” “White People are Better at Being Asian Than Real Asians,” “In Fantasy Movies, Everyone Has to Be White”), sexism (“Women Can Only Talk About Men”), homophobia (“Non-Heterosexual Characters Either Die or Are Murderers”), and ableism (“Anything (Including Death) is Better Than Being Disabled”). Each heading also offers a dissection of why this problem exists. Definitely a worthwhile read. Also, you’ve now fallen down the Cracked.com rabbit hole. Have fun.

Next up is an article that was linked in the Cracked.com piece, entitled “Why film schools teach screenwriters not to pass the Bechdel test.” The title is, sadly, pretty self-explanatory. When Jennifer Kesler was in film school, she was taught not to pass the Bechdel test, and this is still a problem today (and unfortunately, I can’t say I’m surprised).

Kesler describes her experience as such:

had to understand that the audience only wanted white, straight, male leads. I was assured that as long as I made the white, straight men in my scripts prominent, I could still offer groundbreaking characters of other descriptions (fascinating, significant women, men of color, etc.) – as long as they didn’t distract the audience from the white men they really paid their money to see.


My scripts had multiple women with names. Talking to each other. About something other than men. That, they explained nervously, was not okay. I asked why. Well, it would be more accurate to say I politely demanded a thorough, logical explanation that made sense for a change (I’d found the “audience won’t watch women!” argument pretty questionable, with its ever-shifting reasons and parameters).

At first I got several tentative murmurings about how it distracted from the flow or point of the story. I went through this with more than one professor, more than one industry professional. Finally, I got one blessedly telling explanation from an industry pro: “The audience doesn’t want to listen to a bunch of women talking about whatever it is women talk about.”


According to Hollywood, if two women came on screen and started talking, the target male audience’s brain would glaze over and assume the women were talking about nail polish or shoes or something that didn’t pertain to the story. Only if they heard the name of a man in the story would they tune back in. By having women talk to each other about something other than men, I was “losing the audience.”

Kesler ended up leaving film, deciding to “fight the system from without,” and I don’t blame her. As admirable as it can be to fight something from within, sometimes, there’s no point in staying in an institution, industry, or situation that’s dragging you down and making you miserable.

Kesler believes the men of her generation are better than Hollywood thinks they are. I have to agree. Although I see sexism on a daily basis, I also have a community in which men aren’t the juvenile, sexist zombies Hollywood claims are their target audience. The film industry can do better, and the sooner they realize that, the better.

Feminist Friday: Jennifer Livingston

The above video made the rounds on the internet last week, so it’s slightly old news, but it’s so great that I had to share it again.

For those of you who missed this one, a news anchor at a Wisconsin CBS station received a snarky letter from a viewer criticizing her for her weight. Not for her reporting skills, not for a story she presented, but her appearance. Which has no bearing on whether or not she is capable of doing her job of delivering news accurately.

Rather than being ashamed, Livingston went on the air and addressed the comment publicly, called the viewer out as a bully, and talked about the negative consequences that weight discrimination can have on children.

For all the fearmongering about obesity in this country, there is also a high rate of eating disorders, particularly among young women. And even thin people, when surrounded by a culture that denigrates fat people, are affected by size-negative messages. Being bombarded by magazines and television that claim you can never be too thin gets into your consciousness and wears down your self-esteem. We need more women like Jennifer Livingston, who are willing to call out bullies and create space in the world for confidence.

People don’t have to be thin to be healthy. Discovering the Health at Every Size community in 2008 was key to me shaking off negative images, and to ignoring toxic media claiming I would never be good enough. We don’t need more weight shame in this country. We need to learn how to be healthy, love ourselves, and welcome a diversity of shapes.

Feminist Friday: Facing Feminism

Last week, Kelli Russell Agodon posted the above photo at her blog, announcing that it would be part of the Facing Feminism: Feminists I Know exhibition.

From the opening of the Facing Feminism manifesto:

FACING FEMINISM is a project in which, through art and words, the many different faces of feminism are visually demonstrated. This project is a strong statement in contradiction to the stereotype, the one dimensional portrayal, of feminists (usually as stridently against makeup, fashion; graceful pursuits) that is dominant in the media. Some of us love wearing heels and perfume. Some of us don’t. Some are lesbians, some are straight. Concomitant with the many things that distinguish us individually, there are the things that unite us: our strength and our intelligence.

For this series, each woman was invited to submit a photo of her choosing and anything that she wanted to say in expressing her feminism. Each statement is individual to each woman and so it shows how individual women interpret the freedoms that they want within our common bond. The photos and statements are then made into photoems and the entire project, the series of art pieces, is featured here on the MNArtist.org website.

In addition to putting a more varied and representative “face” to feminism, and thus being a tool for education and advocacy, this project aims to enlarge the current dialogue about what it means to be a feminist and also to help women conceptualize a philosophy of feminism that works for them. It will help to de-demonize the concept of feminism.

Feminists come in all shapes, sizes, colors and ages (even genders as there are men that are feminists too) and this fact is demonstrated through the strong and smart feminists that are featured in this series. There are participants from around the world. Where applicable, their statement is featured in two languages (e.g., participant from Iceland’s statement is in Icelandic and English.)

This project is expanding to include, not just women personally known to me but also those women known to the women in this project that I don’t know — and then the women that are known to the second stage of participants but unknown to the first — a ‘six degrees of separation’ effect visually demonstrating how we are all — despite our differences, connected. This serves the second phase to this project.

This is a project that will continue to grow.

Curated by Annette Marie Hyder, this exhibition has been gathering steam for quite some time, and generated a large number of engaging submissions. I spent the better part of an afternoon looking at each one. It’s a worthwhile way to spend a few hours. I guarantee you’ll be inspired.

Feminist Friday: Collaborating with the Patriarchy

This blog post is a year old, but just because it’s been around the internet awhile does not make it any less awesome. Over at the blog Social Justice League, Rachael wrote an amazing post entitled “J’accuse? On women who ‘collaborate’ with the patriarchy.

I was pretty much cheering right from the introduction:

Being highly aware of sexism can be a tough gig. I sometimes wish I could turn off that nerve-jangle I get whenever someone says “he throws like a girl” or “don’t be such a pussy” or “she looks like a whore”. It’s tiring to go through every day constantly weighing up how we want to react. More specifically, for women who wish to actively resist the patriarchy, making everyday decisions becomes complicated: do I shave my body hair or not? Do I wear makeup to cover my pimple? If I want to wear socially-coded “sexy” clothes, am I actually subconsciously wishing to gain heteromale approval? Once you’re aware of sexism, you can’t easily switch that awareness off.

This is definitely something I struggle with on a daily basis. I can’t even watch a movie without my feminist consciousness scanning it for evidence of sexism. It’s what I do; it’s second-nature. I don’t think I could turn it off if I wanted to. And even though it’s frustrating sometimes, I’d rather be hyper-aware, than ignorant. Sometimes, such as at work, it’s not conducive to the environment if I call someone out. Sometimes, I’m just too tired to deal with it. So it becomes a day-to-day struggle figuring out how to deal with the sexism I encounter on a regular basis, and how my own actions fit in.

It’s honestly really difficult not to just repost the entire thing here, but that wouldn’t be right. The essay is just so well-written, and draws attention to an important fact: feminists often don’t know how to handle hyperfeminine women, and sometimes, our responses can be sexist:

Too often, hyperfemme women are unfairly accused of collaborating with the patriarchy. Yes, it’s true that the more people adhere to social gender norms, the harder it is to destroy these norms. There is no denying that some women are doing it explicitly to get heteromale attention, thereby buying into social power structures – and reinforcing them. But a lot of women just genuinely like presenting in a socially-coded feminine way. And if that is so, then presenting in that way is not collaboration at all. It is ridiculous to demand that women curtail their self-expression to further the feminist cause, when theaims of feminism include making it safe and acceptable for women to express themselves however they like.

Worse, a lot of the denigration of hyperfemininity is actually sexist. We associate lipstick and pink with women (this century, anyway) and then associate women with “weak” or “inferior”; when feminism tells us to destroy that second link, we just leap to “lipstick and pink must be inferior”. A lot of social opposition to traits or clothing or activities that are socially-coded-feminine is actually unexamined misogyny.

Rachael doesn’t forget that some feminine women can, in fact, be colluders. And that there are no easy answers when it comes to changing the world, much less one society. But she does offer this:

To the extent that we can accurately identify genuine cases of collaboration, which is difficult, we should see it for what it really is for those individuals: a survival response in a sexist society. That doesn’t make the behaviour any less problematic. That doesn’t mean it’s a good outcome. But it does mean that the individual is not the core problem. She is stuck in a system that makes certain demands on her, and this is how she’s going to play it.

That sucks, but clearly on some level that’s what she feels she has to do. It’s not anyone’s place to tell individual women how to respond to their situations. Of course we can call out hurtful and policing behaviour when we encounter it. Indeed, if we are able to do so, we must do that. But we must also criticise social norms that demand these behaviours from women, and in so doing, we shouldn’t let individual women become collateral damage. Our sexist opponents hate the idea of allowing women to make their own decisions, free from social norms, free from community pressure, free from judgement. We need to be absolutely sure that we never collaborate with them on that.

Identifying and changing sexism is difficult and complicated. Even the most active feminists encounter problems along the way. But we have to do our best,. and that means having compassion and avoiding judgment. And if that’s the best you can do, you’re doing a lot to make the world a better place. The world is lacking compassion in a lot of places; any amount you can give helps.

Feminist Friday: Feminist F.A.Q.s

[EDIT: When this post went live, I noticed something was wonky with my YouTube embedding, and the same video had been embedded three times. Not sure what happened there! It should be fixed now.]

[EDIT 2: YouTube apparently hates me tonight, and refuses to display more than one video multiple times. Thanks, YouTube.]

Recently, I’ve become a huge fan of Jarrah Hodge‘s YouTube series entitled Feminist F.A.Q.s. There are ten videos so far, covering everything from anti-racism to feminist men.

These videos are a great starting point for anyone exploring feminism, but they’re also fun and engaging for longtime feminists. I’ve enjoyed watching these, revisiting topics I know, and finding new perspectives to explore.

Hodge also blogs at Gender Focus, which is well worth your time and attention.

Feminist Friday: Ana Božičević on Madame Bovary

It’s Banned Books Month, and Pen is running a series of blog posts about controversial books. Yesterday, Anna Božičević  had an excellent post about Madame Bovary.

Božičević  starts by talking about the prosecution of the novel after its successful serial run, noting:

it is precisely this contrast between the “true/just/right” and the “good” that is on trial: aesthetic clash manifest.

But it’s not merely aesthetics, or the issue of basic decency, that’s at issue here:

The problem of Emma is the problem of desire. Her only métier is desire, and its top percent, love. Emma lusts for gratification through commodity and body and makes her body the commodity of gratification. And in her self-chosen death, is Emma Bovary not simply a Medusa felled by her own image?

Prosecutor Ernest Pinard wasn’t just concerned with Flaubert’s style; it was the fact that Emma (and her desire) could not be controlled.

But despite being published in 1865, that sense of judgment against uncontrollable women is not over. Božičević notes:

It’s not a tendency in Kristen Stewart, Kim Kardashian, Lindsay Lohan, Whitney Houston, Paz de la Huerta, Courtney Love, Britney Spears, or Cat Marnell that will be allowed by the public censor to pass without judgment. When women, the stuff of art, take their materiality into the freefall zone of de trop, either through imagination or its spectacular fail, Pinard will be there to seek for a person to rule them.

The public censor is loud, especially in the technological age, where we can criticize behavior in minutes thanks to photo and video uploads to social media. And yes, there is a difference between public censorship and worthwhile criticism. You can dislike Twilight without making sexist epithets about Kristen Stewart. You can be bored by Courtney Love’s work without resorting to name-calling or shaming. You can think Keeping Up With the Kardashians is a waste of time, but you don’t need to attempt to silence people. We don’t need to obsess about other people’s behavior (including/especially the behavior of celebrities). People will do what they want, even women, and they deserve better than constant judgment. 

Feminist Friday: Volunteers Needed for Rethinking Power & Resistance/Re-imaginando el Poder y la Resistencia

Rethinking Power & Resistance: Gender & Human Rights from Texas to the Transnational is a conference that will be held October 5th-6th in Austin, Texas. The bilingual event brings scholars and activists together for discussion, organization, and collaboration. The conference is currently in need of volunteers in the following areas:

1) English/Spanish translators/interpreters

Are you fluent in both English and Spanish? Do you have any experience with simultaneous translation? We need folks for the following translation collaborations:
A. Simultaneous translation to headsets during panels and events
B. Individual translation for folks networking
C. Individual translation for organizing issues during the conference
We are looking to staff folks on shifts during Friday and Saturday, October 5 and 6, 2012.
If you are interested in getting involved with activist translation, please email Andrea Zarate at a.zarate@utexas.edu to let us know which of these pieces you would be interested in and prepared for.

2) Housing and transportation for conference participants

The conference organizers are looking for volunteer housing and transportation to and from the airport for a number of the conference participants over October 4-7.
If you are able to host and/or offer transportation for one or more guests for the weekend of October 5 and 6, please email Rocío Villalobos at rocio.villalobos@gmail.com.
3) Staffing for the days of the conference
Volunteers are needed to assist in conference registration, session set-up, and helping to answer general questions for conference participants. We are seeking volunteers for shifts on both Friday, October 5 and Saturday, October 6.
If you would like to learn more about this volunteer opportunity, please email Michelle Mott at genderandhumanrights@gmail.com.