07 March 2011

Choosing your knickers 101

A couple weekends ago, I was meeting up with an old friend, had some time to kill and found myself perusing the shops of the local mall. Just minding my own business, taking in the spring window displays, I stumbled upon a Victoria’s Secret PINK store. I know I'm not much of a mall shopper, but I've never even heard of these stores. Not that I'm a huge fan of Victoria’s Secret in general (padded neon bras and cupcake-printed thongs aren't really my thing) but hey, I’ve got ten minutes to spare, I’ll go in.

Needless to say as soon as I crossed the threshold, I felt like I entered the world of delta kappa omega..?? (No idea how those names work.) There were strange academic-inspired/coat of arm-like signs littered throughout the store (and not in the vein of palma per ardua- just a shoutout to the old stompin' ground). All the clothes were merchandised to look like they were 'strategically' placed in drawers or strewn across a bed- you know, they were messy enough to look like a cool display, but not so messy that they looked like crap. And then I noticed an alarming amount of writing...on 85% of the clothing...and here's where things took a turn for the worse.

I should warn you that I tried really hard not to take out my phone and snap away in disgust. I don’t know if the employees could notice my shock and awe (I can be VERY indiscrete when I want to be) but I like to think my highschool drama skills covered for me on this occassion. In my own mind, I was flawless.

For your viewing pleasure...

And the worst offenders.....

I’m going to keep this short and simple.

This store is categorically geared at one group and one group only- college girls. And perhaps more specifically (dare I make this assumption?!) college girls that party. Think I’m making a grandiose, uninformed generalization? I'm not. There’s an entire tab on the website dedicated to university-inspired PINK products. Like actual NYU shirts made by PINK. What a weird partnership.

After spending much of this past Sunday reading Jessica Valenti's The Purity Myth, a book exploring the fact that we live in a culture responsible for creating an unnattainable pedestal of virginity/purity for young women, so much so that there exists an assurance that ‘young women’s perceptions of themselves are inextricable from their bodies’. A really awesome read (she even does sarcastic footnotes- my kinda gal). She makes a strong case, arguing that because young women are ‘unable to live up to the ideal of purity that’s forced upon them, many (young women) are choosing the hyper sexualized alternative that’s offered to them everywhere’. In short, it’s the easier and (sadly) more attractive option. And let’s face it, she’s probably right. It is quite easier succumbing to deeply embedded messages of female sexuality which suggest our bodies and our sexuality are what defines us than to challenge something so deeply entrenched in the psyche and operation of (not only) businesses like PINK, but the minds of young women, men, and the general population of any patriarchal culture.

The shittiest thing is the slogans and one-liners on this clothing are all predicated on the idea that female sexuality is lived through the eyes of a male- the ever-present ‘male in the head‘. Nobody would have ’sure thing’ written on the front of their crotch if the underwear in question were for their own benefit...you cannot argue with me on that. These ridiculous excuses for undergarrrments are meant to be worn and seen for the benefit of anyone other than the woman wearing it. I am ALL for the hipster/boycut fit, but I usually opt for the plain green pair, not the pair donned with ideas that only help reinforce some of the worst aspects of our hypersexualized culture... that is to say, that young women live their sexuality through the eyes of an ominous Other, that Other being male.

There's no doubt that we live in a culture where woman-as-gatekeeper is the norm when discussing heterosexual practices...and by this I mean that she has been taught to be passive in relation to sex. She sets boundaries (enter the gatekeeper, but not the creepy one from the always-terrifying Nightmare boardgames) because she's been taught to react to the opposing male sexuality (which is based on being the active partner). What gets my panties in a twist (ha!) is that these types of product only continue to negate her active participation in sex because of the messages which suggest he has to 'get' her. She is in full compliance of her perscribed passiveness by wearing these...and it remains his responsibility to 'act' on the message presented. Coming full circle??

What if someone wearing the 'take it off' thong had been raped, her underwear enclosed as evidence and her case dismissed on account of the many tragic 'she was asking for it‘ excuses. "Her underwear said she wanted it, obviously it’s her fault." What an awesome bit of logic. Oh trust me, it exists.

This may be a slight derail from the original intent of this post, but there's a quote from The Purity Myth on the issue of ‘if you’re wearing something slutty, you’re going to inevitably get raped’ and I thought it appropriate to share:

I was sober; hardly scantily clad. I was wearing sweatpants and an oversized tshirt; I was at home; my sexual history was, literally, nonexistent- I was a virgin; I struggled; I said no. There had been times since when I have been walking home, alone, after a few drinks, wearing something that might have shown a bit of leg or cleavage, and I wasn’t raped. The difference was not in what I was doing. The difference was the presence of a rapist.


Point of the above? You don’t need to wear underwear or sleepwear that reduces you to a non-being, in other words, just a body. Your worth and your sexuality are not interrelated, nor should you be defined- nay, reduced to it. In all honesty, if you shop at these PINK stores maybe have a bit of a re-think. If women don't stop endorsing and supporting these kind of ideals, we're only perpetuating the issue. Hookup culture is damaging enough- we don't need to encourage it with this kind of product.

Girl, Deconstructed

21 February 2011

'Cinderella Ate My Daughter'...

Throughout her career, Orenstein has observed at close range how the media and popular culture have colluded to serve up distorted visions of womanhood to girls. So perhaps it’s fitting that Orenstein’s new book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Frontlines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture, takes on the Disneyfication of American girlhood, and the princess narratives sold hand over fist to girls like her own 7-year-old, Daisy Tomoko. Disney princess narratives have long been a staple of modern girlhood. But Cinderella Ate My Daughter emphasizes that princess culture is a 21st-century phenomenon
-M. M Adjarian, ‘Pink Slip: breaking down the princess castle with Cinderella Ate My Daughter author Peggy Ornstein’, Bitch Magazine.

I’m always pretty fascinated when I read about studies surrounding girlhood. If anything, it’s a selfish opportunity to reflect on my own experiences as I‘m pretty certain I‘ve had a very regular, very stereotypical upbringing of a white, middle class girl and my experiences tend to be largely represented in studies like this. Now I feel doubly drawn to them because I can witness girlhood through the eyes of my niece- my niece who wears the same pink polka dot dress day in and day out. It’s time we put a method to her madness.

Exhibit A...

Chillin' with the ladies- Orange Blossom, Plum Pudding, Raspberry Torte, Lemon Meringue and the everpopular Strawberry Shortcake...

The 'I just got out of bed but I'll rock the polka dot dress anyway because I have a cardboard guitar' look

Completing the ensemble with a pair of classic pumps (scrappy hair, optional)...

This is not meant to be a secret letter to my sister and brother-in-law about the anxieties of raising a girl since I obviously have no idea what that must be like (and as outlined in my last post, don‘t plan on experiencing this first hand)...Claire is simply the eyes through which I’m attempting to find reason in why little girls do what little girls do.

It seemed like she just woke up one day, knew that girls were supposed to like the colour pink, Barbie and ...well, that was it (thank goodness she likes Strawberry and the Berry Bitty City gang way more!) She doesn’t have a thing for Disney Princesses yet, but that‘s probably because she can‘t sit still for more than 3 minutes (not to mention she's just outside the age bracket Orenstein researched). Regardless, Claire seems to be on a pretty average playing field of what little girls experience, how they are capable of being consumed by images of girlie-girl culture and as a result, how they project those images onto themselves through participating in what Orenstein calls the ‘inflexible stage’ - the stage in which little girls appoint themselves chief of the gender police.

Orenstein writes, ‘for a preschool girl, a Cinderella dress is nothing less than an existential insurance policy’. As if Claire knows anything about existentialism. In plain English? Girls need to prove they are girls (as boys need to prove they are boys) so they effectively grab on to exaggerated ideas of femininity and utilize them to the fullest extent, all the live-long day.

According to Orenstein (and any other research I‘ve read on the topic), external/visual signs and signals are what little boys and little girls use to define themselves. That’s simply how they understand gender and perhaps more importantly, gender difference. Clothes, hair style, colours and toys are all external factors which help determine and convince toddlers that they are either a boy or a girl. So...once a girl understands that she is a girl, she begins to denounce all things visually associated with being a boy. To further ensure she is understood as a girl to anyone paying attention, (and perhaps most importantly, herself) she not only latches on to these external signals but starts mimicking the performances of most girls/women around her (here enters the maintainence of certain views, ie. ones that argue genders' innateness).

But as I'm sure you'll agree, there's nothing innate and natural about this!

Bottom line - little girls start to perform their gender, blurring the lines between what‘s believed to be innate and what‘s constructed through learning, through seeing and through experiencing other people‘s ideas of gender and femininity.

It’s not hard to see that little girls are easily consumed by ideas of femininity, right? Susceptible to most images put in front of their faces, especially because they lack the critical thinking skills to actually question the information and images presented to them. They simply accept it. Now let’s add passive, fragile, dependent Disney princesses into the mix, (characters who are defined by beauty first and the aforementioned negative traits next), and we’ve got a whole new detrimental ball game. Don’t believe me? Fast forward 10 years and we’ve got 16 year-old girls who still understand their femininity through performing it. Performing it in ways that are (negatively) presented to them by their culture. This has all been proven through research.

Anyone who has taken a class on gender and representation (and therefore been subjected to at least one lecture on the horrifying effects of Disney princesses), knows that femininity, aka gender performance has the ability to leave oodles of room for serious and damaging effects. Now I’m not saying burn all your Disney VHS (yes, VHS) or that digesting images of Ariel and Cinderella will inevitably cause serious psychological problems for all girls... just honestly think about what those princesses portray and how they portray it. The evidence is damning.

It's moments like these where I’m thankful Belle was the one I identified with most (the lesser of evils on the princess scale!) It's true!! She wanted more than her small provincial life :)

I want adventure in the great wide somewhere
I want it more than I can tell
And for once it might be grand
To have someone understand
I want so much more than they've got planned

I kid you not, that song resonated with me more than I could have known at that age.


Anyway - gender is learned. We simply cannot escape performativity. No if's, ands or buts. And if we’ve been performing femininity since the ripe age of 2, we’ve obviously come to master it thereby making it appear natural. So while it might look as if we’re just ‘being‘, in actuality, we're ‘doing’. Getting over this fact is fine by me although I encourage more to do it. I fully accept that I’m forever performing my gender- but it's important to determine who we are performing for! And here's where one of its more damaging effects comes in to play.

Take for example what Orenstein says about girls who are sexualized from an early age (and by this I'm making a slight assumption that she means girls who have had experiences of objectification from a pre-pubescent age). She argues that these girls are more likely to see sexuality as a performance, not as something that they feel internally. Ding Ding Ding! While I completely agree with this statement, I think we should extend the definition further to include all girls. I truly believe all girls (each and everyone one of us!) has at some point in time, or currently is, or will in the future, perform female sexuality.

I had to delve pretty deep into my own heterosexuality and sexual experiences during the process of writing my MA dissertation (negotiating male-defined systems of power through acts of heterosexual sex) and in so doing, I discovered (not only for myself) but for those that I interviewed, just how much performing we actually do as women - by and large through our sexuality and in the case of heterosexuality, through our sexual experiences with men.

Now I’m not saying that anyone who is currently raising a girl will have to deal with the horrifying effects of this girlie-girl culture (according to Orenstein the pitfalls include eating disorders, depression, risky sexual behaviour, etc.) I mean, sure, we could relate these pitfalls to a whole slew of other variables, there's no denying that. But there's also no denying the correlation Orenstein draws thereby making this phenomenon something worth acknowledging.

What’s most important to acknowledge? Performing femininity is part of our existence as female social subjects - to me, gender as performance is as obvious as my attraction to James Franco - inevitable, unavoidable, simply an undeniable fact of life. But it’s how we perform, our reasons for doing so, who we are doing it for and perhaps most importantly, coming to a deep awareness of those performances, that for me, make books like Cinderella Ate My Daughter, worth a close look.

Little girls, for the rest of time, are going to do gender, we might as well help steer them in the right direction.

On that note, brilliant words from a brilliant woman -

‘Gender is not a singular act but a repetition and a ritual, which achieves its effects through the naturalization in the context of a body.' -Judith Butler

Girl, Deconstructed

10 February 2011

Babies, babies, babies...

I hate when magazine’s rag on Jennifer Aniston for being childless. Stories are fabricated, week after week, for no other reason than to point out that she‘s strayed from the norm. She’s 40, not married and child-free - it’s like the trifecta of failure, according to some. And to others, it’s considered the biggest act of selfishness. Uhh, what?

Thankfully, a blog that circulates via Bitch magazine (best magazine in the world) shares the same 'how does being child-free make me selfish?' sentiments...

You can read that piece of wonderfulness here!
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Over the past few years, I’ve started questioning two very large, overwhelming concepts. Marriage and Children. Both of which go so easily unquestioned because of their deep internalization as something that just is. Something that we do, just because we do it. It‘s a natural stage of life. A rite of passage... or is it? I would venture a guess to say 65% of people enter these stages of life without questioning what it would be would like if they did, in fact, question them.

I simultaneously have one ear on Access Hollywood and wouldn’t you know it, Jennifer Aniston‘s 42nd birthday is fast approaching. When will Jen finally have a baby, asks the consistently intrusive Billy Bush. Aniston grapples with the idea by saying that she thinks "people want to see me as a mom and married and barefoot in the kitchen..." A-ha! Regardless of how she even feels towards having children- on her own, with a man or however she pleases, she knows that it’s what people want to see. Alright, sidetrack over.

For reasons beyond this post but for the sake of at least acknowledging its ties, I should probably share (for those interested/not already in the know) that I do not want to get married. Yes, I want to share my life with someone but I don’t think the institution of marriage is for me. Cliché and lame, I know. Let me explain (although I’ve learnt it’s not so easily explainable)...

I don’t exactly warm to the history of marriage...the ceremony for starters (an exchange of women between two men...as in ‘who gives this woman away?’ The father. 'To whom?' Ohp, another man.) Call it a superficial reason and one that can obviously be revamped in any ceremony ('Nikki, BOTH your parents could walk you down the aisle!'), but this is an image that legitimately frightens me because it remains a part of so many weddings today, hundreds and hundreds of years following its origin. Coupled with this, the obvious exclusion of rights is another big one - a set of written and unwritten laws and rules that have transcended through time, producing the most damaging effects (in my opinion) on the female psyche throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s (so perfectly portrayed by the one and only Betty Draper).

Look at those empty eyes!!

Need I continue? It’s not for me. Of this I am sure. Another post entirely...

Spending my life with someone doesn’t need to be bound by a legal document. I think if you’re meant to be with someone, that someone will share the same values, and marriage thus becomes obsolete.

So like marriage, it took a lot of questioning these deeply embedded social codes to come to the realization that I don’t actually have to have kids just because I’m probably physically capable of it.

And it’s not even like I don’t enjoy them - the exact opposite is true. I never in my life thought I could love anyone the way that I love my niece. She’s the reason I moved back to Canada, a large part of my weekly routine, and I genuinely cannot imagine life without her. We talk about Strawberry Shortcake, what she had for dinner, why she likes my hair (because it‘s long and pretty), why she can only jump on my bed and nobody elses... She can cheer me up at the worst of times and I would pay good money to find someone who knows a 2 ½ yr old with a sharper sense of humour. And to top it all off, the girl’s got Beiber Fever. BIG TIME.

The thing is, I always assumed I would have kids. I had even shortlisted several names. I still sometimes find myself thinking, ohh, that’d be a nice name...that's how deeply embedded this idea is- that sometimes, I just forget! But then again, I also always assumed I would get married. Realizing that I actually have a choice in these matters was a huge wake up call.

I realize the most common argument is that becoming a mother is meant to serve as the pinnacle of any woman’s life, the moment her existence is defined- where something deep within her brain shifts because of an experience that will irrevocably glue her and another person’s body and soul together.....well, yes, obviously. It doesn't take decades of research to figure that out. But is it really necessary to treat motherhood as the only experience single-handedly causing a woman to self-actualize? The only event capable of defining her purpose on this planet? Honestly, think about it. Can you think of any other experience that gets treated with the same importance? I can't. And it's kinda shitty.

I sincerely, and with the the utmost respect to any mother reading this, don’t think it’s the only way a woman can, will or even should self-actualize and come to understand her existence and/or purpose on the journey that is life. Yes, it would change my life forever - yes, I would do anything in my power so that child never felt less than adored. I’m not discrediting motherhood - but I really think, as human beings, we are capable of being satisfied and finding purpose - real purpose, with things other than reproducing children. Couldn't I also feel the same feelings of fulfillment and satisfaction spending my life with one person, a person who is also happy to not have children? Couldn’t I also be fulfilled, satisfied, proud, and full of purpose when I have the letters P, H and D after my name?

There are a lot of things I want to do with my life - and I trust that I will have human experiences, connections and relationships that are just as rewarding as reproducing children, without actually reproducing them. Because as my life takes on different meanings through different experiences, having a child falls lower and lower on my list of priorities. And there's no changing that. It's how I genuinely feel.

And I know some of you reading this are thinking that I just haven’t met the right person yet, that I'll have trouble finding someone who feels the same, etc etc. And you know what? Maybe you’re right. But I have it on good authority to think I’m capable of making this decision if these thoughts have been at the forefront of my mind for quite some time now. I will put stubbornness aside and say FINE, I’ll never say never, but come on...give me some credit!

It’s true though, I don’t know many girls my age who feel this way - and it usually surprises people (even good friends) when I tell them it‘s something I‘ve seriously been questioning. Do I think it'll be tremenously difficult to meet boys who feel the same? Absolutely not. The few that I do know who share these sentiments are great. Wonderful even. I should hope to know more of you.

So should I reproduce solely because I’ve been saturated with the idea that I should? Certainly not.

Am I really to believe that I will only self-actualize if I produce minituare versions of myself? Good God...

Is it really that selfish to not want kids? Couldn’t we say the same about someone with 19 of them?

The greedy Duggars.

Joking aside, I certainly don’t think it makes me selfish. I think it defines me as assured in knowing life offers varying ways in which we are capable of finding happiness, satisfaction and fulfillment. I don’t need to be defined by my ability to reproduce. And this doesn’t mean I think those who choose children are succumbing to some ridiculous notion of conformity. I think that it’s a set of unwritten social codes that require questioning- and I think more people should be questioning them.

And as for Jennifer Aniston...whether she’s ever barefoot in the kitchen, baby on hip, husband at her side, I have to say that I may be a bit disappointed. But if it’s her choice to do so, then by god woman, run with it.

Girl, Deconstructed

04 July 2010

"You orient yourself around him without even thinking about it"

Ah, Twilight. The perfect kind of saga for my two favourite worlds to collide - pop culture and gender theory, of course.

No, I haven’t seen Eclipse yet. And I probably won‘t for a while...at least until the teenagers (and their moms) have had their fill and I can sit in a cinema where there aren‘t high-pitched squeals every time someone takes their shirt off. That scepticism you’re sensing? It’s completely warranted! Somewhere along the line I had the opportunity to take a class for my Masters where I wrote a 25pg paper about the the Twilight series. This may have been the ultimate low (or high, depending how you look at it) in the merging of my two favourite worlds. Judge all you want - I got an A on the paper...and an offer to have my Phd supervised (should I choose to spend the next four years of my life writing about vampires).

As far as I’m concerned, the books have all amalgamated into one. I know bits of what I’m about to say don’t actually appear until the fourth instalment, but that’s beside the point - I’m simply taking the opportunity of its cinema release to enlighten the world on my view of this seemingly innocent tale of star-crossed love. And if you’re mad that I’m spoiling storyline details, get over it. It’s a low brow piece of fiction.

The Twilight saga, in a nutshell, presents certain messages (grounded in patriarchal ideology) that deals with the construction of teenage femininity- promoting traditional gender roles, a conservative view of sexuality, and most importantly, a reactive depiction of female sexuality, all causes for an otherwise informed reader to ask the following: do we really want teenage girls reading a story that promotes this kind of backlash whilst supporting some of the most damaging ideologies within our current culture?

As you can see, I wholeheartedly believe this series is capable of doing more bad than good. Why? Because I honestly think the targeted audience (females, aged 12-17) have the ability to consume these books without the knowledge of sexism in popular culture and the larger ideological powers of patriarchal society. And yes, I also believe that this could lead them to conclude certain things- namely, that Edward and Bella’s relationship is what romance, love and sex should look like.

Now of course the whole point of fiction is that the author can create a fantasy world (enter vampires and werewolves) but I think it’s also fair to say that Stephenie Meyer more accurately reproduces real and current patriarchal values and norms, ones that actually do permeate in real life. This, in short, is why I find it appropriate to label the Twilight series a literary backlash. A decidedly anti-feminist piece of fiction. There you have it. My opinion.

So - let’s get into it.

The topic of sex and female sexuality is where I want to touch base as it’s a bit of a tricky sitch between humans and vampires, particularly when the latter could quite easily kill during a moment of pure ecstasy!

Most important thing to keep in mind? Edward is first and foremost the ultimate predator...everything about him is meant to invite Bella in, in order for him to destroy her. But gee, what a guy- he makes the noble choice to be her protector instead. What. A. Hero.

(This might be a good opportunity to say that I firmly reside on Team Jacob.)

Because Edward is dangerous and Bella breakable (the playing out of male aggression and female fragility) and as we learn early on, that both are virgins, Bella’s physical safety becomes an immediate substitute for her virginity. And despite Edwards’ position as a constant threat to Bella’s physical safety, we find that she is all too willing to sacrifice this for the dangers associated with sex. So, in order to not be killed by her partner, purity and chastity (no sex!) remain the ultimate goal, hence the oxymoron ‘abstinence porn’ that some have used in describing the Twilight saga. And it’s through this exact juxtaposition, Bella’s fragility and Edward’s threatening appetite, that Meyer manages to sexualize abstinence while simultaneously romanticizing sex.

Think about it...the act of sex (even so much as kissing) can very easily lead to and/or equal death for Bella. So, it’s Edward who must takes sole responsibility for preserving Bella’s virginity (read: sexuality). So really, abstaining from the physical act(s) of intimacy become heightened and sexualized because it’s equated with danger (Bella’s death). And wouldn’t you know it, this is exactly what plays out...

“It” happens when Bella is still human so the possibility of death looms closely, permitting an otherwise critical thinker to read Bella’s overjoyed reaction to this sickening encounter as somewhat of a rape fantasy. The actual ‘scene’ is never even described- perhaps an intentional move by this otherwise conservative author (Meyer practices Mormonism..is that a word? Whatever - she‘s a Mormon. Birth control is sans appropriate as is sex before marriage...Yikes!). Anyway- Edward says something to the effect of ‘if I hurt you, tell me at once’...and through the magic of books and a few “* * *” centred on the page, we know that time has passed. The scene picks up the following morning where E and B have found a pillow torn to shreds, bite-sized chunks missing from the headboard and Bella is covered in bruises and welts. This is where things get unspeakably frustrating. Bella doesn’t even notice the marks until Edward points them out, and when she looks in the mirror, she describes herself as being ‘decorated with patches of blue and purple’. Decorated. You mean like a Christmas tree? Because those are the kinds of things I like to see decorated.

I remember reading that sentence for the first time and thinking Whoaaaa, back up the truck! The use of this word and the connotations associated are only enhancing the fact that Bella isn’t angry or fearful for her life (even though Edward almost killed her in the act of sex) but that she somehow feels more beautiful and complete, having shared something so intimate with him, something that has left these so-called ornamental, beautiful marks. Doesn’t stop there - this is what Bella says when she realizes how beat up she is: ‘I tried to remember the pain- but I couldn’t. I couldn’t recall a moment when his hold was too tight...I only remembered wanting him to hold me tighter, and being pleased when he did’. So what this seems to be suggesting is that they so perfectly belong together that any amount of pain becomes irrelevant and worthy of enduring. All in the name of love, right? And only her arms and legs were covered in bruises, correct? The act of penetration left no marks or excruciating amount of pain?

For Bella, the vulnerability associated with sex and the danger Edward poses are ultimately irrelevant because they are outweighed by a pleasure that’s obviously grounded on the basis of what she thinks love is; not only does this suggest that sex should be worth the risk of any dangers involved (uhh, pregnancy, infection to name but a few) but that it should be. Especially if two people are in love. Answer me this: does the targeted audience of these books really know what love is? Mmm probably not.

Does the targeted audience also know that a woman is much more likely to experience sexual violence by someone she knows rather than a complete stranger?

Do the readers know that partner-related violence stems far beyond the physical and that Edward manages to psychologically, emotionally and verbally abuse Bella?

Do they know that 1 in 4 female adolescents report these varying forms of violence each year? What about the girls who, for one reason or another, don’t report it?

Violence is violence. Whether you’re told you can’t hang out with your werewolf best friend because your boyfriend is jealous or whether you wake up battered and bruised from a night that’s meant to be special and memorable, it’s all violence. It’s all a way in which Edward controls Bella.

Speaking of power and control...

(Click on image to enlarge)

This wheel was developed from women who have experienced violence and is used in thousands upon thousands of domestic violence treatment centres. It acts as a way to place name to certain behaviours, something that Bella inherently refuses to do. But as you'll notice, many of these behaviours are portrayed in their relationship.

Don’t think I’m giving Twilight readers enough credit? On ‘Obsessive Edward Cullen Disorder’ (a fansite that had thousands of views when I referred to it last year), visitors were asked ‘Is Edward too controlling of Bella?’ Out of 3305 responses, only 5% agreed that he is. The vast majority (78%) were cast in favour of ‘No Way! I love him just the way he is!’ I think that says enough.

Numbers like this support the notion that, like Bella, the readers are completely unaware of how controlling Edward is and that their relationship does, in fact, blur the lines between love and intimate partner violence. And since 78% of the poll-takers don’t think Edward is too controlling, doesn’t this just prove that the readers may not know that partner-related violence goes beyond the physical? Mindboggling. And truly, truly sad.

To recap, not only do we know that Edward has to abstain from Bella‘s blood (described as his own personal brand of heroin), but he now must control his sexual appetite as well. How does he do this? By controlling Bella’s sexuality and any and all decisions regarding he and Bella’s sexual relationship. The underlying message? That when it comes to a woman’s sexuality, Bella can really only learn it as a reaction to Edwards actions. She has literally no control over the decisions made as her very existence depends on his ability to protect her, not prey on her. And as I’ve so beautifully shown, this occurs at the price of blurring the line between love and violence.

The Twilight series may have been voted by teenagers themselves as one of the ‘Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults’ but what becomes obediently accepted is that certain damaging ideologies are embraced without question. And that the literary backlash this series represents becomes dismissed through the narcotic power of romance fiction and its relationship with female audiences.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I’ve got way more ground to cover with this. Maybe that offer to do a Phd wasn’t such a bad idea after all?

Girl, Deconstructed

19 June 2010

Daisy Dukes, Bikini's on Top

Let me present you with a preview of what's to come:

The accused? Katy Perry and her latest video 'California Gurls' (yup, Gurls with a 'u'). The issue? Consumption of the female body and the infantalization of women (both represented brilliantly in the above photo).


There’s ALOT of things going on in this video, none of which promote any sort of positive aspect of what it means to be a California girl...or a woman from anywhere! The imagery is tasteless, the dance moves are cheesy, and of course, I can’t help but ponder the notion that ‘sun kissed skin so hot we’ll melt your popsicle’ is meant to conjure up some serious phallic images. Popsicles...sure.

During the first few seconds I was only annoyed that she seemed to be seriously ripping off the giant room in Wonka Land. You know the one, the only place in the world where they mix their chocolate by river :) ...But then things took a turn for the worse: she’s wearing sweets (sweets that we are meant to want to eat, but by virtue of the fact that she's wearing them, we would be eating her). And then we see her licking some of the bon bons....uh oh, this can only lead to one thing...the ultimate consumption- the sexual objectification (this is what I mean by consumption) of the female body! Enter the annoying, stick-in-your-head-for-three-days-at-a-time chorus and we are literally forced to consume Perry, naked on top of a cotton candy cloud. Awesome.

Consumption of the female body...in other words, viewing/objectifying/gazing at the female body as something to be consumed, both literally and figuratively. And if you think about it, when all's said and done, this certainly supports the notion that women and their bodies are simply meant to be consumed...by men, and in this case, the male spectator. But more on that later...

It's not just me, right? She is acting like a 5-year-old throughout, no? She completely infantalizes herself throughout the entire jont in candy land! Listen lady, you’re not a child. You’re 26, and you’re marrying someone who’s 10 years older than you. By embracing all this cutesy cupcake business and for the love of God, sporting a sexed up version of a girl guide uniform, I cannot help but seriously wonder what the fuck is up with this girl.

This is a classic example of how women can so easily (and unwittingly) promote certain values regarding femininity and as a result, become a part of their own suppression. The infantalization of the female subject, whereby Perry’s act of licking ice cream, embracing child-like/coyly innocent poses, age inappropriate costumes and so on, only helps support the understanding that many hold - women are inferior. Why? By association of course. A child cannot take care of themselves, right? So the representation of women as children helps to maintain certain male-defined meanings of what it means to be a woman- that they are fragile, inferior, need to be taken care of, and so on.

And if you actually pay attention to red carpet fashion/love the weekly gossip mags, you’ll know that Perry actually dresses like this outside of her music videos. Not only has it always been a part of her image as an artist but she’s a full blown Hello Kitty-wearing, lollipop sucking, streetwalker. Don’t believe me? Have a gander…


School girl? Blowing bubbles? Yes, infantalization.

Cool panda dress!

And the classic Perry....coyly posing, holding a lollipop, plopped in front of a kiddie pool....oh boy!

The one word that repeatedly plays over in my mind is tacky. Tacky, tasteless and of course, way too juvenile. I don’t know how music execs can take her seriously when she dresses like a rebellious pre-teen. UGH...

You know, I eventually forgave Miss Perry for kissing a girl, liking it, and hoping her boyfriend wouldn’t mind...that song was the perfect example of hetero-lesbianism, in other words, lesbianism for purpose of heterosexual men (not for the women‘s own pleasure). This time, however, I don’t know if I can forgive her for.

In both cases, she may not have produced the male-privileged meanings attached to the consumption of the female body or the infantalization of women but by participating in it she is doing nothing to eradicate such concepts- only confirming them and their existence in our culture. I, along with others, would surely argue that this makes her an accomplice in her own oppression (not that she thinks she’s oppressed, but by this I mean the general subordination of women as a whole). By promoting an image such as this, she supports claims of female inferiority.

This begs the question...

What kind of space does this song and video offer young women in terms of what it means to be a woman? A very narrow one I tell ya. The role of the female spectator is seriously restricted here- we become forced to adopt the male gaze and effectively consume her as a sexual object and therefore accept her portrayal of a sexualized and infantalized version of what it means to be a woman. Why is this, you ask? Well, have you ever pranced your way through Candyland with Snoop-a-Loop?? Didn’t think so. We simply cannot relate therefore view her from the only perspective made possible. The male gaze.

Biggest annoyance of them all? I think Russell Brand is genius.

But their pending nuptials make me like him less.

Bottom line is this….

It would be really great if there was a mainstream female artist that portrayed herself as an image of a woman for a woman; but Perry continually proves to be the exact opposite....she’s an image of a woman for a man.

Girl, Deconstructed

29 May 2010

"I really thought you were different, Finn"

I’ve been anxiously waiting the arrival of this clip on YouTube since Tuesday‘s episode of Glee. The second it aired, I actually verbalized (out loud, alone in my bedroom) ‘ooo gotta get my greedy little hands on that one!’…… Done!

Apologies for the quality - the original version has been stripped from YouTube somewhere inbetween when I started this post and now (darn copyright laws!)

I get legitimate chills watching this.

Firstly, because I think...Hang on,

...if you don’t watch Glee, you probably should. For someone like me, it’s literally mind-blowing - there’s pop culture references left, right and centre; they cover current music (whatever, I hate Lady Gaga); they cover older music (most recently Sinatra‘s ‘Lady is a Tramp‘)…and for the younger generation of viewers, this is probably their first listen to some everlasting classics; annnnnd lastly, I’m kind of in love with Puck.

Sigh....back on track...here’s some context to the above clip:

Kurt’s dad, Burt (Ha!) and Finn's mom are dating. And moving in together. Burt loves Finn- he’s the football-playing, heterosexual son Kurt could never be. Enter Finn's enraged schpeel about the drapery and Burt stands up for Kurt (seriously, the rhyming!) in a fricking heartbeat. The underlying intensity of this scene is grounded in the painstaking heartache that is Kurt and Burt's relationship. They've both made attempts at embracing the other's interests but as we’ve seen all season, their relationship remains strained. Kurt even tried his hand at being straight a few episodes ago- and it didn’t even feel like it was so much for Burt's approval but rather so they could have some things to talk about (namely girls, lumberjack ensembles and John Mellencamp). We saw the extent Kurt was willing to go to be a part of his dad’s life and this week, we finally saw Burt stand up for his son when it mattered most.

If we take this tiny clip, this small portion of an (already) iconic television show and enlarge it tenfold, we can see that it addresses a seriously important issue. Language. Better yet - the pejorative use of it, also known as derogatory slang.

Have you ever heard anyone say the following?

That’s so gay.
Stop being a fag.
You’re a retard.

Have you ever said some variation of the above? It’s okay, I have too. But in 2003 (yes I remember the year, it was during Frosh week of my undergrad) I started making an extremely conscious effort to take these words out of my vocabulary. For good. It wasn’t like I was going around dropping bombs all the time, but I most certainly used them sporadically. But now...pfft, you can bet your bottom dollar I’d rather eat a light bulb than call someone by a name so inappropriate. So disgusting. Sure, it took a bit of effort (a few lip-biting incidents) but proved to be more than worth it in the end. I took responsibility for something that I hadn't created or produced but could've easily been a part of. I chose not to participate.

Burt Hummel dosed out some serious information-questioning to Finn- scratch that, to Finn and (hopefully) Glee audiences everywhere. And it made me love its creator (Ryan Murphy) that much more. Not only did he push the envelope so far as to say ‘fag’ on primetime television, but in so doing he created a situation where the characters could address a hugely important social issue.

Gay, Retard, Fag...all in their pejorative form suggest that something (or someone) is abnormal. (What’s normal, you say? Whole other can of worms!) Every time you or someone you know uses these words- joke or not, no matter what the context- you/they are only affirming current laws and social norms which suggest homosexual people, disabled people (and so on) should be treated as 'not normal'. In short, you only confirm the worst traits of our society when you choose to use words like this.

Glee gets it. And has showed us where these pejorative meanings stem from and how they can so easily be dismissed as meaningless everyday slang. So come on people, let’s be that generation Burt Hummel talks about... 'that new generation of dude' who sees things differently- 'who just came in to the world knowing'.

And that’s what you missed on...Glee

Girl, Deconstructed

25 May 2010

(Insert generic male name), will you accept this rose?

The girl who once chose her career over love now officially bats for the opposing team, the fairytale. Enter Ali - the new bachelorette.

First things first, what is up with this photo? I think it's the childish cutesiness of the hand-on-chin combination. And she's wearing a pair of Converse...with a wedding dress. Ohhh, I get it.....So what you're saying is that you're serious about marriage but you're also a fun-loving gal who likes to mix things up. Awesome.

I have to admit - I sort of ashamedly enjoy this show. But I justify it by the fact that, like most bits of pop culture, I enjoy it through the always-present informed lens. Alright, sometimes I just enjoy it for all its juicy drama (reality television has some sort of hold over my life.) I don’t however, watch this programme and others like it, for the fairytale it so falsely promotes.

I only ever caught a few episodes of last season's Bachelor (in which Ali left for reasons explained below) but I definitely do like her...(I wrote this section before the episode aired last night. I think I might actually hate her...it looks like she might cry... ALOT.) One thing's for certain, I'm glad she forewent a future with the prepetually lame, nerdy (and not in the cool way) Jake. Such a dink…

See? Dink.

But alas, he is the reason Ali caught my attention. In short, when she was faced with the tough choice whether to stay on the show or keep her job, Ali inevitably took the realistic, non-fairytale route. She apparently had her dream job and at the end of the day, couldn't gaurantee that Jake would choose her. So, for anyone keeping score that's Career, 1; Love, 0. And even though we witnessed her immediate regret when whinging about having made the wrong choice, I respected her decision. Why? Because at the very least, it was a nod to this thing I like to call real life.

Then she got offered The Bachelorette. Can we blame ABC? The poor girl had to go back to work! She lost her chance at love...what a sad and tragic event. Of course they were going to offer her the new season! I mean, what better way to make up for it than asking her to leave her job permanently! And as we now know, she did. So while that would make it a tie game, Career, 1; Love, 1, I'm effectively overriding career's point on account of Ali's idiocy. Apparently love. conquers. all.

So what do I think is in store?

Well, considering the eight minute ‘This Season on The Bachelorette...’ segment, it looks like my Monday nights are about to get real interesting! Hands-down best bit? A group of the guys suspect Kasey for being legitimately obsessed with Ali. Like, stalker-obsessed! Ambulance sirens are heard, a distraught Ali is shown, Kasey shows up the next day with bandages around his wrist...ohh Boy!

Well readers, I did a little digging. Someone who suggests that their ideal date is (and I quote) "horseback riding on the ocean, followed by lunch on a sailboat, then coming home to a prepared dinner with candlelight" needs to seriously get a grip.

Plus, there's embroidery on his shirt.

In the spirit of yachting and candles, that's the other thing I can't handle - the forced romance. And they’re only making it worse this season by shipping Ali and the boys around the world...well who wouldn’t wanna fall in love in an exotic location with someone they've only known for three weeks?!? Ali does! (I kinda do too actually.) And as someone who actually has, let me just say the location can blind you to your partner's faults. End of.

My stomach literally turns at the thought of fairytale type stuff - not the being in love part, just the actual acts of romance...I don't know about you, but I do not want to sip champagne, wrapped in a blanket at the top of the Eiffel Tower. That, to me, is not romantic. It's not original, it's not personal, it's crap. Plus, I hated Paris.

Nonetheless, if you do watch the Bachelorette (heck, even if you don’t!) stay tuned for more indulgences, because let's be frank here, this show offers a whole realm of worthy topics...representations of heteromasculinity, the non-existence of racial diversity (thank GOD she gave the ‘first impression rose’ to Roberto, the only non-white bachelor out of the entire 25)....perhaps even a look into the promotion of traditionalism, for instance, the importance in maintaining the nuclear family through reality romance television.

So while I may have only written this to ensure myself of having a valid reason to watch The Bachelorette, I guess I’ll just accept the fact that like Ali, I’m going to be there until the final rose is given. Whether I like it or not.

Girl, Deconstructed