Thursday, August 13, 2015

Don't Tell Girls

"You're too pretty to be single"
Why is one person's idea of ideal aestheticism
A basis for a relationship status
And furthermore
What is so goddamn shameful or pathetic about being single anyway
Is confidence and comfort in being by one's self intimidating to you

"Swearing is unladylike"
Swears are only words
And these words do not negate my intelligence, or passion, or define anything about me as a person or my character
Men are never told not to swear
Swear as much as you fucking want

"Your standards are too high! Just give him a chance"
You are invalidating a woman's right to say no
She doesn't need to explain herself to anyone
She doesn't owe anyone anything
Everyone should have standards for themselves, and not feel like they need to lower them to please anyone
Or be shamed for leading someone on when they know it would never work
Because that happens too

"If you dress like that, boys will get the wrong idea"
What idea might that be?
That women might actually feel beautiful and confident in their own bodies?
Heaven forbid
Because obviously women's bodies belong to everyone else except themselves

"Don't frown - someone might be falling in love with your smile!"
Is it my responsibility to always smile no matter how I feel
I am a human being who is allowed to experience pain, or confusion, or sorrow, or boredom
Men are never criticized for having "resting bitch face"

"Short hair makes you look like a boy!"
This is assuming
That there is one certain way for "boys" and "girls" to look
Not so
Some boys have long hair, some girls have short hair, some people who are both or neither also have hair
Hair has no gender
Humans are allowed to look different from each other and express themselves how they like
Gender identity and gender expression are not the same

They aren't "real" girls because they were born with a penis
Anyone is a girl who says they are a girl
Stop trying to undermine someone's identity
They know themselves better than you do
Anatomy and identity are different, and sometimes separate
Why are you so obsessed with other people's genitals anyway

"You're going to break a lot of hearts one day"
Why would you ever
Say this to a girl
A young, impressionable girl
Breaking hearts is not a compliment, or a goal
Coming from someone who has broken at least one
From simply being honest and being myself
It is a burden - a guilt that has been (mis)placed on my shoulders since childhood
I never wanted to be labelled a heartbreaker simply for existing

"You don't want kids? You'll change your mind one day"
No I won't
Even if I do, one day, that doesn't make my opinion right now any less valid or deserving of respect
Stop disbelieving people about their own life choices
Also, having children is not a necessary milestone for a successful or fulfilling life

"Don't have sex before marriage - boys really want a virginal girl"
Sure they do
And are boys ever held to that same expectation
To stay virgins until marriage?
Because as women are shamed for "impurity," boys are applauded for "experience"
I love the smell of double standards in the morning

"You shouldn't wear so much makeup"
The natural look is great
The makeup look is great
The anything you feel like doing or not doing to your own face look is great
Let people do whatever they want to their own bodies
Whatever makes them feel good
Why do you care

"Selfies are just for attention"
Maybe not
What's so wrong about liking attention
What's so wrong about feeling beautiful and confident in your own skin
And wanting to share that feeling with others
We were taught for so long to hate our bodies
What is so threatening about finally loving them

"Cat-calling is flattering! Learn how to accept a compliment!"
"I like your hair" is a compliment
"You're a really talented writer" is a compliment
The gross, vulgar things that men shout at women they don't know on the street
Are not compliments
They are harassment - meant to imply ownership and dominance and even violence
Compliments should not make people fear for their lives walking home
Compliments should not actually get people killed 

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Problematic Movie Synopsis: Disney's "Enchanted"

Hello and welcome to PMS, where I rant about movies in order to further conversation about the way that media sneaks problematic material into our entertainment, maybe even without us being aware of it. Today's topic: Disney's Enchanted.

The story, for those of you who haven't seen it (if you haven't, well then this review will be chock full of spoilers for you, won't it,) follows Giselle, a sweet and naive princess who falls through a wishing well and ends up in New York City. I remember loving this movie as a young teen - catchy songs, fun costumes, and don't even lie, everyone was a little bit in love with Patrick Dempsey. But re-watching this movie many years later has exposed a truck load of issues that we're here today to discuss, so let's get to it, children.


Now, being Disney in the early 2000s, Enchanted was unlikely to actually include any canonically queer major characters, but seriously, did every single couple in the wedding dancer lineup during the "How Do You Know" number need to be a heterosexual one? I mean, we're in New York City, for crying out loud - statistically speaking, at least one of you is gay.

And as if that weren't enough, give Enchanted a nice, big round of applause for going to the trouble of making not just one, but two gay jokes over the course of the movie. First, there's the character of Nathaniel - even though he's depicted in canon as being in love with the witch Narissa, he's meant to come across as effeminate - which is supposed to be funny. He emerges from the manhole (pun intended) in New York, and one of the nearby construction workers says, "Let me guess - you're looking for a beautiful girl too," to which Nathaniel responds, "No - I'm looking for a prince, actually." The construction workers make a face at him, saying "...right" in that hint-hint-nudge-nudge kind of way. This was a completely unnecessary exchange except to make a joke out of Nathaniel being less-than-super-manly (and let's be real - he dresses only as flamboyantly as Edward the prince does, and since when does liking soap operas have anything to do with someone's supposed sexuality?)

We also have a scene with Edward running through the apartment building looking for Giselle. He tries door after door, and one of them is answered by a burly man in a biker jacket who checks Edward out and smiles invitingly at him. Edward grimaces and runs away. OKAY SO LET ME GET THIS STRAIGHT - we're going to include one presumably gay character in this movie, but let's make him predatory and have Edward flee from his presence like the superior, heterosexual man he is. I mean, you could've easily and tastefully played this moment off with Edward reacting calmly, maybe even returning the smile or a thoughtful expression before moving on, showing that there's no reason to panic if a guy checks you out (regardless if you reciprocate or not.) But no, the moment makes the gay man a joke, and HA HA ISN'T IT SO FUNNY TO THINK THAT EDWARD, A MAN IN A CAPE AND TIGHTS, COULD EVER DO SOMETHING AS RIDICULOUS AS BE...(GASP) GAY?

Next on the Representation docket - racial minorities. This movie is white as heck, and the inclusions of minorities are stereotypes to say the least. Jamaicans and Mexicans? Literally only appear in one scene as musical accessories to Giselle's song.

And hold your horses for all of TWO black minor characters: one fulfills the angry/sassy black woman stereotype in a scene where she is menaced by a chipmunk for comedy.

The other is a woman looking to get a divorce from her husband, based on (from what we can gather) years worth of disagreements and misunderstandings. All of these issues are apparently magically repaired after just one encounter with our white lady protagonist Giselle, who singlehandedly restores the black woman's self-worth as well as her beauty in the eyes of her husband.

Kinda Weird Main Romance, Let's Be Honest

Let's talk about the relationship between Robert and Giselle for a sec. Robert is a mature, adult person with an adult job and an adult relationship with an adult woman. We're given no reason to believe that he is in any way unhappy in his relationship with Nancy - in fact, he's all set to propose when the film begins. At first, Robert reacts to Giselle the way that any sane person would - volunteering to help her out (within reason) but seeing her behavior as strange, possibly dangerous and probably mentally unstable. But shortly after this, he (predictably) begins to develop Feelings for this young, innocent, naive, virginal girl who probably doesn't even know what sex is. Schoolgirl kink much?

And of course, let's not forget the daddy issues inherent in Giselle's attraction to Robert - he does, in fact, serve as a father figure to her (a presumed orphan) as he teaches her the ways of our world. She's attracted to his worldly knowledge and maturity, and he's attracted to her innocent and child-like nature. I'll just wait here for that one to settle.

Women, Know Your Place

At the beginning of the film, Robert gives his daughter Morgan a book on influential women in history, telling her that Nancy is a lot like those women. When we meet Nancy, we can see why - she's career driven, really seems to care for Robert and Morgan, and is a generally reasonable, hardworking, and selfless person.

Flash forward to the end of the film - Giselle and Robert have officially gotten their "happily ever after" on, and as if as an afterthought, Nancy is paired off with Edward (a la glass slipper soulmate logic,) and pretty much says fuck it to her career and everything she's ever worked for, running off with a guy she just met (a move that is made fun of and looked down upon earlier in this very movie in regards to Giselle). Not only does this essentially discount everything that we were told to respect about Nancy, but it delivers a very obvious message about how strong, career-driven women really just want a handsome prince to show up and sweep them off their feet.

On that note - Giselle's character development (or somewhat lack thereof) at the end of the movie needs to be discussed because this is where Disney really drops the ball. Visually speaking, Giselle's newfound maturity is presented in her very plain and simple purple ball gown, which juxtaposes her extravagant dress from the beginning (the likes of which are now being worn by Nancy, because symbolism.) In the final battle, the movie tries to do a role reversal with Giselle (the woman) rescuing Robert (the man.) But here's the kicker - she really doesn't. She grabs a sword and climbs up the side of the building after him, but it's ultimately Pip the chipmunk who instigates the dragon's ultimate demise. It would've been so easy to follow through with Giselle slaying the dragon, but no - she winds up in Robert's arms as they just barely avoid falling off the building, and that's that.

We end the movie with Giselle officially part of the Robert and Morgan family in the role of mother (even if her worldly ignorance and general immaturity would make her a better sister than a mother.) Little Morgan begins dressing in frilly gowns and waving pink fairy wands in princess make-believe, a sharp contrast to the beginning when Robert said he didn't want his daughter brought up believing in magic so that she could be properly prepared for the Real World. The movie explains this logic away with the whole "yes but magic DOES exist" thing, but it doesn't change the fact that Morgan's book of influential women is never mentioned again, and Giselle presumably takes over Nancy's job of designing professional clothing in order to instead design dresses for other little girls to live out their fantasies of being princesses.

Let me be clear - I have no problem with little girls wearing princess dresses or wanting to be girly or anything of the sort. Girls should wear and behave however they want - the problem is that this movie takes a very clear stance on a woman's "happy ending" involving either a family unit/motherhood, or leaving their career for a handsome prince (this is also reinforced by a miserable single mother who answers the door to Edward, surrounded by her multiple children, and tells him, "you're too late." Because obviously she's a woman who got tired of sitting around waiting for her Prince Charming and was decidedly unhappy without him.)

I hear you saying, "yes, but Giselle got to have true love and a career - she got the best of both worlds and didn't have to choose a binary!" You would be half right. Yes, she did wind up with both a family and a job, BUT her only priority from the very beginning was always just finding true love, whereas Nancy worked towards a career first before a relationship, and both characters were treated incredibly differently in the end because of this. And therein lies the problem.

Does any of this change the fact that I still enjoy this movie and find it fun and charming? No. Because it's perfectly fine to enjoy problematic things (after all, everything has issues in different ways, and if you dislike everything on those grounds you will never like anything ever) as long as you are open to discussion and can acknowledge when your fave is being problematic, as well as what we as a culture could be doing to change it. So yeah, it's easy to see what Enchanted was going for in the way of revolutionizing the typical fairytale story, but they fell into every single one of the traps they were trying to avoid.

And That's How We Know that Disney still has a bit of a long way to go.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Crazy That Way

For her sixth birthday, she asked for a tie
Like the kind her daddy wore
It made him look regal, and handsome, and strong
And she wanted to feel powerful too.
“Don’t be crazy,” they said, and handed her a dress. 
“This is what girls wear.”

So she held herself straight in the pink corset 
Trying not to think of doctors, and presidents, and kings.

In seventh grade, she met a girl who took her breath away
Hair like the sun and eyes like the sea
Her heart would beat fast and she would smile every day
She thought that she might be in love.
“It’s just a phase,” they said, and handed her a bible. 
“Girls only like boys.”

So she danced with a boy and let him kiss her
Trying not to think of rosy cheeks and glossy lips.

Sweet sixteen, and she found solace in stories 
Adventures, and heroes, and noble quests
She wrote and drew and dressed as the characters she loved -
An expression of everything she was and wanted to be -
And she wanted to show the world what she’d created.
“Fangirls are crazy,” they said. “No one will take you seriously.”

So she took her stories and pictures and hid them away
Trying not to think of princesses in towers who would always be rescued.

The magazines were everywhere - the mall, the library, the school
“Too skinny,” they said, “too fat, too tall, too short, too loud, too quiet.”
“Here’s what boys like and here’s what they hate.”
“Be yourself, but not like that.”
Her clothes were all wrong, her hair was all wrong, her body was all wrong
She cried into her baggy sweatshirt, and the sleeves hid the cuts on her arms.

So she marked herself again when no one could see
Trying not to think of clear skin and a smaller waist.

She went to parties because she was told how to make friends
But she was never taught how to say no 
His hands were like vices, his mouth like a steel trap
She was left broken and bleeding, empty and alone.
“But what were you wearing?” they said. “If you dress like a slut, you must have been asking for it.”

So she pushed it down and didn’t mention it again
Trying not to flinch when a man walked too close.

She started college in a new city in a new state
In the spring, she dated again, hesitant and wary 
This time, she kicked and screamed when he grabbed her 
“Bitches are crazy,” he said to all his friends. “My ex-girlfriend is a psycho.”
Crazy. Slut. Psycho. Bitch.

She curled against the bathtub and stayed there for hours
Trying not to feel anything at all.

The cement stained red where she had thrown herself from the window
“She was so beautiful,” they said. “Such a promising future.
Why would she have done this?”

Who knows?


She was just crazy that way.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Hell Hath No Fury: False Feminism and Perpetuation of the Patriarchy in "Lucy"



A few weeks ago, I saw a little film called Lucy. Now, like many young women, I was incredibly excited about a female-led action film, especially when it starred the talented and beautiful Scarlett Johansson. After all, female representation in the media is still painfully lacking, and the action genre is no exception. An action film with a female protagonist who kicks a lot of ass is, well, nearly unheard of. 

But as it turns out, what you see in the trailers is rarely what you get.

Before we talk about the film itself, we must begin by talking about something seemingly unrelated, but something that was incredibly important to the viewing experience of Lucy. I don't know if this was the case for all theaters, but in mine, the trailer shown immediately before Lucy began playing was for Fifty Shades of Gray. For anyone familiar with the books or this upcoming movie, you know that Fifty Shades is a story about a BDSM relationship between super rich and handsome business tycoon Christian Gray and plucky young journalist Ana Steele who, at the start of the relationship, is a virgin. 

Now, for anyone who actually READ the books, or is in any way familiar with BDSM in real life, you know that Fifty Shades GROSSLY MISREPRESENTS this kind of relationship: the violent dominance that Christian has over Ana goes too far - he is cruel, manipulative, stalker-ish, deceitful, and routinely ignores both her pleas to stop or go slower as well as the general aftercare that a dom like him is supposed to perform. Unfortunately, this behavior is still portrayed as romantic, sexy, and desirable, and the movie trailer (promoting a release date of Valentine's Day, of all things) encourages this mindset to upsetting degrees.

So why am I talking about Fifty Shades during a review for Lucy? Well sit tight, because it will all make sense in a minute. At the start of the film, Lucy is seen talking with her new boyfriend, who tries to convince her to deliver a metal suitcase for him. After many protests on Lucy's part, the man handcuffs her hand to the suitcase and all but forces her inside the building.

As a woman, the following scene was one of the most stressful and anxiety-inducing scenes I personally have ever witnessed. This young woman, who has just had her agency ripped away from her, is forced to stroll into a lion's den, where numerous men are waiting to literally drag her away into a private room away from everything. A gun is promptly pointed at her head and Lucy has become completely vulnerable at the hands of these men. Even without the gun and mentions of a drug ring, this scene plays so heavily on the day-to-day concerns and even fears that women face in regards to men that it was genuinely uncomfortable to watch.

But we don't end there.


Lucy is knocked unconscious, and when we see her awake, she is laying face-down on a bed, stripped down to her underwear, with crumpled and bloody sheets wrapped around her middle. It isn't until she sits up that we realize that the blood is from her abdomen, where the men had cut into her (read: penetrated her) in order to insert a bag of highly dangerous drugs.

This scene was a thinly veiled rape parallel, even for the casual viewer, but after seeing the Fifty Shades of Gray trailer, which focused on the romanticized (and indeed, sexualized) violence against women, it made the horror of this scene even more disgusting than was even probably intended.

But we move on, and this is where the problems with Lucy really take off.

Basically, the drugs increase brain activity to superhuman levels, and when they enter Lucy's bloodstream, she essentially starts becoming capable of literally anything that is conceivable (and even inconceivable) - all knowledge of the universe and the fabric of reality begins seeping into her consciousness. And Lucy's first act as a superhuman being?

Killing each and every one of the men who had kidnapped and imprisoned her.

Now, the ethics of this can be debated, because these were the men who had robbed her of her will and agency and then threatened to sexually assault her - but the fact remains that Lucy's first display of power was murder, and this does not stop being problematic for the rest of the film.

Over the course of the remaining hour of the film, Lucy continues to enact her plan of revenge against the entire drug ring who had planted the drugs in her (and several others) in the first place. On first glance, you have a woman taking on a number of men in a fight and winning, which in theory should have been a refreshing role-reversal for this particular genre. However, a glaring problem still remains in that nearly every single man in the film (at least, the ones that Lucy targeted) are all men of color. 

I won't go into much detail about the racial elements of Lucy here, because so many others have talked about it so well, but I have to point out how upsetting this whole dichotomy is: on the one hand, you have men of color with loads of power who are portrayed as extremely dangerous. On the other hand, you have a (white) woman with loads of knowledge who is portrayed as extremely dangerous, and who not only targets the men of color but is on a mission to kill all of them. There is a glaringly obvious White vs. Other binary going on in this movie, and the fact that two sets of minorities were pitted against each other - both dangerous and both unsympathetic - is not just disappointing, but a terrible perpetuation of the Western, colonial fear of the racial "Other."

In regards to Lucy as a protagonist, we must now address the issue of her humanity. Excluding the single scene we have of her at the very beginning (pre-drugs) and a scene where Lucy calls her mother and explains how overwhelmed by everything she feels, and how she can remember literally everything (biological or otherwise) that ever happened to her, Lucy begins losing touch with humanity the more drugs she takes and the more knowledge she gains. So for more than half the film, Lucy is basically an unfeeling, walking and talking supercomputer. Having a protagonist who is so removed from emotion and empathy makes it nearly impossible to root for them. 

We have come nearly full circle as Lucy's lack of humanity leads me to talk about the depressingly heteronormative and patriarchal nature of this film. There is only one other female during the course of this film - Lucy's friend from the beginning - but she is practically a non-existent character. So the film is essentially Lucy against a world of men. It sounded promising from the trailer - a woman who had been victimized by the patriarchy taking control and turning the tables on her oppressors. But in execution, not so much. Instead, we have an extremely forced and poorly timed kiss between Lucy and a male police officer who she is keeping around for convenience sake. In the scene, we are told that the purpose of this kiss is to reconnect Lucy to humanity (though it has little to no effect) - however, under the circumstances, it reads very strongly of Lucy being temporarily "tamed" by the very patriarchal system that had violated her and weaponized her in the first place. 

We also have a scene where Lucy is behind the wheel, weaving between traffic practically at lightspeed, and leaving crashes, explosions, and general devastation in her wake. The police officer asks, "Do you always drive like this?" to which Lucy responds, "I don't drive." I have been told that I'm reading too much into this, but if the expression on the police officer's face is not supposed to encourage a "women can't drive" joke, then I completely don't understand the point of that entire exchange. 

As we near the end of this long and super-ranty review, I have a few more things to add. When this film was first being promoted, I - among others - noticed many similarities between Lucy and the 2011 film Limitless. After having seen Lucy, I immediately sought out and watched Limitless in order to compare and contrast. And what I found was as disturbing as it was sadly predictable. 

The premise of both movies is more or less the same - the protagonist acquires a drug that provides them with an abundance of knowledge and places them in a position of power. 

BUT. Here's where it gets a bit hairy.

In Lucy, we don't know much about her as a character at all, much less prior to the insertion of drugs into her body. We know that she briefly dated the guy who chained her to the briefcase, and we hear something about her taking exams. That's it. We don't even know her last name.

In Limitless, however, we know a great deal about the protagonist Eddie Morra - we know that he's an author struggling with writer's block in New York, and we know about the strained relationship that he has with his girlfriend. Already, we see a male character who is career driven, whereas the extent of our knowledge of Lucy as a character begins and ends with her interaction with her boyfriend.

But let's talk about the actual acquisition of these life-changing drugs. It is important to note that with Lucy, she is violently kidnapped and the drugs inserted into her body without her knowledge or consent - she has absolutely no say in the matter. But with Eddie, he is given the drug from an estranged brother-in-law and decides to take the drug of his own free will, no coercion or threats needed. Already, we are seeing an extremely disturbing difference in the way these similar situations are presented with a male and female lead.

As mentioned before, Lucy's first act as a superhuman is to murder her captors and proceed on a bloody revenge spree to wipe out the entire drug ring. But for Eddie, his experience with the special drug provides him with an increase in his sex drive, incredible business success, and the completion of his novel. 

Do you see the difference? The man's power lends him success in all aspects of his life - the woman's power leaves death and destruction in its wake and immediately sets her up for a downfall. While both movies address the issue of the drug becoming addictive and the users undergoing a form of withdrawal if they should stop taking it, Eddie's life significantly improves while Lucy's quickly deteriorates the more powerful she becomes. 

Lucy concludes with the acquisition of all knowledge and she essentially ceases to exist. Or rather, she transcends as some sort of multidimensional being who is literally everywhere and in all things. It is clear that in a warping of the phrase "absolute power corrupts absolutely," Lucy's absolute knowledge has corrupted absolutely.

Going into it, I had high hopes for Lucy - a strong female lead in an action film was something that our media sorely needed - but what it actually accomplished was counterproductive. The overall message of Lucy seemed to be that women with knowledge are dangerous and must be destroyed. 

This was not the feminist film that it promised to be, and the fact that it (and the media) seem to believe that it is, means that Lucy's got some serious explaining to do.