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.