‘Media’

Manic Pixie Dream Girls, Erasure, Entitlement, and Me

Laurie Penny’s article for the New Statesman, “I Was a Manic Pixie Dream Girl,” and the ensuring conversations I had with friends about it, spoke to a specific type of erasure women all too commonly encounter: many of my female friends recall experiences similar to Penny’s, where former boyfriends expected them to expend emotional labor “fixing” them, while these men wouldn’t lift a finger trying to find out about the smart, dedicated, and driven women I knew they were underneath the surface.

 

You may be wondering why I even care about the Manic Pixie Dream Girl archetype, which, as black feminist writers have noted in the past, is almost exclusively a white archetype. What resonated with me was the critique’s concern with projection, and how that projection has real-life consequences for women.

Central to Penny’s argument is the assertion that the stories we tell matter, and inform the social roles we end up playing. Because girls only see themselves playing supporting roles, especially in film, they, in turn, conform to those roles in real life. By contrast, men’s autonomy and self-actualization has endless cultural representation, and is too often built on the backs of archetypes like the manic pixie dream girl (as well as people of color, I might add). Even though women constitute 52% of movie theatre audiences, lack of representation both behind and in front of the camera, as well as conservative ideas about what audiences want to see continue to translate to limited narratives for female characters.

For Penny, finding her identity as a political writer may have had the consequence of driving away men who were looking for her to fill the role of fictitious girl-muse, but Penny feels casting her own spells is worth the compromise. She writes: “What concerns me now is the creation of new narratives, the opening of space in the collective imagination for women who have not been permitted such space before, for women who don’t exist to please, to delight, to attract men, for women who have more on our minds.”

Finding positive models to articulate my identity has been a challenge I’ve faced my entire life. As a quiet, awkward black teenager, I didn’t see people like me on television or in movies. I had to build an oppositional narrative for myself on suburban Long Island, even as the story I crafted at the time was deeply self-hating. That story was built on accommodating white people’s comfort, making myself smaller in the process. Feminism provided a way out of the partially self-imposed cage of internalized racism, and gave me the means to reaffirm myself. From Rebecca Solnit’s definitive essay on mansplaining to the phenomenon of gaslighting, I learned how to center my experiences and articulate truths about interpersonal power dynamics that made me uncomfortable.

Structurally, culturally, and interpersonally, men take up a lot of space. For years, I never questioned their entitlement. Instead, I chose to defer to men, to accept their opinions as correct and legitimate in comparison to my own. (But afterward, I’d review the conversation in my head and find myself thinking, “Hey, wait a minute…”) Living in a world where my experiences weren’t seen as reliable for a matrix of reasons – my race, my gender, or my age – I eventually internalized the lesson that I was wrong, I was unreliable.

This combination of entitlement, projection (of who I am, and whose experiences get to be legitimate) and erasure gets to the heart of why I no longer find it safe to pursue interpersonal relationships with men. It’s too easy to fall back into the automatic habits of doubting my own experiences just so a man doesn’t feel uncomfortable, a courtesy that is never extended back to me (or any other woman, I’m sure.) These behavioral patterns are incredibly self-hating, and emotionally draining. Like Penny, I’m no longer interested in dumbing myself down or doubting myself to assure men of their superiority.

See You There: WAM NYC and Women’s eNews Present “Reporting on Rape and Sexual Assault”

On Wednesday, I’m going to an event held jointly by Women’s eNews and Women, Action, and the Media’s NYC chapter on best practices for writing about and reporting on rape and sexual assault. (It’s at 6:30PM in Manhattan.)

The reasons I’m going are obvious. I really admire the work of both these amazing organizations that serve as resources for feminist writers and activists to stay connected and share advice, and as a writer for this blog, I feel like I have a long way to go to sharpen my own skills in writing about sexual assault. I find my writing tends to become overly euphemistic, mimicking cultural trends. Because these are topics our culture often avoids discussing at all, when I write about sexual assault, I become aware of how difficult it is to write about it well.

Claudia Garcias-Rojas, a reporter who is facilitating this workshop, wrote an excellent piece for PolicyMic about how to write about sexual assault well. Above all, she stresses the need to illustrate the ways that cultural violence against women and girls doesn’t occur in a vacuum; rather, it is systemic. I’m hoping to learn more from her on Wednesday.

If you’re in the NYC area, join me! Tickets are still available.

“Blurred Lines” Crosses The Line Before The Music Even Really Begins

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few months, you’ve probably heard Robin Thicke’s new song “Blurred Lines,” a smash-hit that also features rappers T.I. and Pharrell. The song has been at the top of the charts for several weeks now, and the music video has tens of million of views on YouTube and Vevo, positioning “Blurred Lines” as a major contender for the coveted title of “song of the summer.” The song has been on my radar since it hit #1 on iTunes a few weeks ago, but, because evidently I do live at least partially under a rock, I hadn’t actually paid attention to the lyrics or watched the music video until this past weekend. To tell you the truth, my initial reaction was primarily a positive one – “Blurred Lines” is ridiculously catchy, and I find Robin Thicke to be very talented, not to mention pretty damn sexy. I was all excited to have discovered this new song (several weeks/months after the rest of the world, as is the norm for me) – that is, until I realized that the lyrics are actually really sexist and reinforce a very damaging narrative about women and their sexual behavior. Sigh.

The cover art for

The cover art for "Blurred Lines"

In the chorus of the song, Thicke sings:

I know you want it
You’re a good girl

Just these first two lines, while only nine words combined, are extremely problematic in several ways. (And the song doesn’t get better, by the way.) By saying “I know you want it,” Thicke is implying that he knows what this woman wants sexually – namely, that she wants to have sex with him. Which leads me, as the listener, to question how exactly he knows that. As far as I can tell, she hasn’t told him so, and in fact, the lyric is delivered in such a way as to confirm this observation. Instead, we are meant to believe that the woman has not, or will not, acknowledge her desire, but Thicke can still tell, somehow, that she wants to sleep with him. This is a familiar narrative, but also a dangerous one, because consent is assumed rather than explicitly given. Furthermore, it suggests that saying “no,” or even not saying “yes,” isn’t to be taken seriously – instead, it can be explained away as a woman playing hard to get. Consent should never, ever be assumed – it should be enthusiastically given by all parties involved, regardless of gender, relationship status, age, or any other factor. And when a woman, or anyone, is hesitant to say yes, the first reaction shouldn’t be that she’s playing coy – it should be that sexual advances, at least at that moment, are unwanted.

And this brings me to my other complaint regarding the lyric “I know you want it” – which, sidebar, is frighteningly overused in pop, hip hop, and R&B music. My problem with this phrase, other than its implications of dubious (or nonexistent) consent, is that it suggests that the woman in question doesn’t know what she wants sexually, or at least is unable to articulate it, and therefore needs a man to tell her. This thought process, of course, springs from the persistent myth that women are, by nature, sexually passive, that they are out of touch with their sexual desires and don’t know how to express them. I take major issue with this mentality, not only because it makes it easier for men to assume a woman’s consent, but also because it devalues women’s actual desires and their sexual agency. It reinforces the belief that women aren’t really equals in sexual encounters, with the result that both their pleasure and their willingness to participate are of lesser priority than that of their male partners. This imbalance is made even clearer by the music video for “Blurred Lines,” which features three nearly naked models dancing around Thicke, T.I., and Pharrell – all of whom are fully clothed. The power dynamic is familiarly skewed, with the men watching as the women, vulnerable and often expressionless, put on a show.

The second part of the lyric, “you’re a good girl,” also raises some troubling issues. In the context of the song, being a “good girl” clashes with “wanting it” – Thicke is saying that the woman seems like a good girl (whatever that means), but in reality she wants to “get nasty” with him. Being “good” and wanting sex, then, are at odds with each other – evidently, a woman cannot want sex or be horny while also remaining a good girl. Instead, there is something intrinsically not good, even bad, about her sexual desire. Why can’t she be a good girl who also wants to get freaky with some guy (or girl) of her choosing? Why does her sex drive make her naughty or slutty or bad, when if she was a man that same drive would be accepted (as it should be) as completely natural? Thicke positions the qualities of good and horny as incompatible, thereby perpetuating sexist stereotypes about what is considered acceptable sexual behavior for women.

Believe it or not, the main reason I wanted to write this post actually wasn’t my desperate desire to break down the misogynistic subtext of Robin Thicke’s lyrics. Instead, I wanted to share my personal experience with this song, because silly as it may sound, I’ve been feeling very conflicted over “Blurred Lines.” I really, really like the sound of the song, and I like Robin Thicke as well, which is why it’s so upsetting to me that the lyrics and music video clash so drastically with so much of what I feel passionately about (things like, say, sexual integrity and the equality of my gender). I’m finding this more and more lately – things that I once would have shrugged off in music, movies, or TV shows are beginning to trouble me. Jokes I might have laughed at, lyrics that I sang along with, couples that I rooted for – I am rethinking my feelings on a lot of that now. It’s kind of a sad situation to be in, realizing that so much of the media surrounding me compromises a lot of my beliefs about gender and sexuality. Right now, I’m trying to navigate a path through it all, to figure out how to channel my frustration and confusion into something rational and productive. Sometimes I feel, or am made to feel, like I’m overreacting – and maybe, sometimes, I am. But if something feels wrong to me, I’m going to speak up – even, or perhaps especially, if that something happens to be the most popular song in the country.

Fighting Rape Culture on Campus: Activists File Suit

Momentum continues to grow for holding colleges and universities accountable for their handling (or, perhaps more accurately, mishandling) of sexual assault on campus. In late April, a group of students at Occidental College filed a civil rights suit and two federal complaints against the college for alleged mishandling of assaults there. Renowned civil rights attorney Gloria Allred is representing the Occidental students.

via Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times / May 22, 2013

On May 21,  activists and survivors from four more institutions followed in Oxy’s footsteps: Dartmouth College, Swarthmore College, the University of Southern California, and the University of California at Berkeley are all named in separate complaints. Allred is representing the plaintiffs in these cases as well. As with the complaints filed against Occidental and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the new suits are a combination of Title IX complaints alleging that the institutions violated provisions of Title IX and helped create a hostile environment for women on campus, and allegations that the institutions have violated the Clery Act, which mandates reporting of crimes on campus.

The suits are the latest in a series of events this spring that have shined a brighter light on the issue of sexual assault on campus. Department of Justice statistics show that women in college face a greater risk of being sexually assaulted than they will at any other time in their lives, with as many as 1 in 4 college women experiencing sexual violence during their time in school.

As Occidental College professor of criminology Danielle Dirks said at the May 21 press conference announcing the new litigation:

“There are 5,000 colleges and universities in the United States. Every day on these campuses students face rape, sexual assault, sexual battery and sexual harassment. . . .These behaviors have horrifyingly become a normal part of students’ educational experiences and . . . are routinely betrayed by their institutions who treat them with indifference.”

In urging the Department of Education to examine the complaints against Occidental, UNC-Chapel Hill, Dartmouth, Swarthmore, USC, and UC-Berkeley, Allred said:

“Women from all over this country are demanding that their colleges stop these rapes and sexual assaults from happening. They will no longer accept the status quo where rapes and sexual assaults are being swept under the rug and condoned by college administrators.”

Anonymous, Steubenville, and Administering Great Justice Online

In a Mother Jones article published earlier this week, Josh Harkinson discusses Anonymous’ crucial role in making the horrifying cases of gang rape in both Steubenville, Ohio and Halifax, Canada crest on the national radar. The publicity Anonymous brought to the Steubenville case eventually led to the prosecution of two of the perpetrators in Steubenville. However, the women responsible for directing Anonymous to these brutal cases played an instrumental role in directing the online group’s resources to publicizing the cases and putting the perpetrators on blast, a refreshing change to tired narratives of victim-blaming and shaming.

Michelle McKee, an activist from Washington, and Alexandria Goddard, an Ohio-based reporter, were both frustrated that the now-infamous events in Steubenville, Ohio, weren’t receiving national coverage despite several attempts on McKee’s part to tip off reporters to the story. Goddard, a friend of McKee’s, used Twitter and her expertise studying teen’s social media usage to cobble together the sordid commentary by members of the football team of what occurred that evening, and eventually published her findings on her blog, Prinniefied. The collection of screenshots Goddard gathered from Twitter from students who were in attendance proved vital not only in implicating the rapists but also in displaying an overwhelming endorsement of rape culture.

Meanwhile, McKee reached out to Anonymous, aware of their previous campaigns against cyberbulling. Along with KnightSec, a subgroup of Anonymous, McKee was instrumental in starting the #RollRedRoll hashtag and subsequent campaign in order to bring attention to the case and Steubenville’s silence, which clearly prioritized the football players’ prestige and careers over the psychological damage the victim, who goes by the alias Jane Doe, suffered. Using a compilation of tweets from the perpetrators and those complicit in the group rape, and information from the high school web page, Anonymous created a video officially putting Steubenville on notice.

That so many of the perpetrators’ ribald tweets were linked to their real names, without any regard to future consequences, is telling about our cultural priorities. Rapists are free to tweet and share photos detailing their acts of aggression, with the calm assurance that they won’t be penalized in any way for their actions, no matter how disgusting; all the blame will be shifted to the victim. As Elizabeth Plank, a writer for the blog PolicyMic, points out in her article on the trend of viral rape, the documentation of rape on social media is a way to once again proudly violate the victim. She writes:

The fact that rapists want others to know that they have raped suggests that violating women is a rite passage, a legitimate method to climb the social ladder of masculinity or at least the bastardized toxic masculinity that they covet). Forcefully penetrating an unconscious girl is not a source of shame, but a badge of honor in the march of toxic masculinity, passed on through cultural narrative and weak “boys will be boys” punishments. Instead of guilt, the rapists feel pride. They get to rape their victims all over again, with ever share and every nasty comment, with every “LOL” and every “what a slut.”

The most prominent mainstream media narratives for rape and sexual assault only serve to reify the dictates of viral rape, demanding to know what the woman was wearing or drinking in an attempt to re-shame her. In CNN’s coverage of the Steubenville verdict, anchors Candy Crowley and Poppy Harlow were far too preoccupied with how the guilty ruling would ruin the rapists’ lives to be concerned for Jane Doe’s well-being. As of this writing, CNN still has not made any sort of apology regarding their rape apologism for the perpetrators.

As Harkinson correctly notes in his article, Anonymous is a surprising ally to the movement to combat rape culture and rape survivors, considering its genesis from 4chan. However, Anonymous’s work has resulted in legal repercussions for the rapists in Steubenville, and national attention to Rehtaeh Parsons’ suicide following her group rape and subsequent relentless bullying. Their decentralized nature, broad reach, and unfettered access to resources civilians might not be able to utilize makes Anonymous a force to be reckoned with. (Their ability to quickly compile all the relevant evidence regarding Parsons’ viral rape is nothing short of remarkable.)

Aided by the work and dedication of survivors and feminists, Anonymous is taking an important step towards declaring that women will not stand for the continued proliferation of rape culture in both its online and offline manifestations.  Using new technologies not only to break stories about the effects of the cycle of rape and unrelenting harassment by peers on survivors, but also to control the narratives created about these stories is an important tool that feminists online must continue to wield to send a clear message: rapists and rape culture will no longer be tolerated.

Ray J’s “I Hit It First” Completely and Totally Sucks

Singer Ray J recently released a single charmingly (read: offensively and horrifically) entitled “I Hit It First.” The song is very obviously about Ray-J’s ex and, now, Kanye West”s pregnant partner: Kim Kardashian. (You may recognize Ray J from films like the sex tape that made Kim famous in 2007.)

In the lyrics and the music video, Ray J makes a number of blatant references to Kim – including featuring a Kim look-alike as the female lead in the video. The cover art on the single is even a blurry version of what is most likely a picture of Kim on the beach.

cover art

The single's not-so-subtle cover art

I am absolutely disgusted by the song, the music video, and of course, Ray J himself. Watch at your own risk:

First and foremost, his actions are blatantly disrespectful – I’m not Kim Kardashian’s biggest fan, but under no circumstances is it appropriate to publicly call out personal details about your sex life with an ex. It’s a violation of her privacy and an offense to her current relationship with Kanye West. It’s also just pathetic, because he is clearly using Kim’s fame (which is far greater than his) to garner media attention and promote his music and career. It’s sad watching him get attention, even if it’s negative. That’s what he wants, and at too high a price.

“I Hit It First” is degrading and incredibly mysogynistic. After reading the title (an abridged version of the song’s imaginative chorus, which goes: “I hit it, I hit it, I hit it, I hit, I hit it, I hit it first”), you might innocently wonder what the “it” in question is. A wall, perhaps? A baseball? Maybe a tree that he ran into with his car? But then you realize, oh no, wait – he’s talking about an ACTUAL HUMAN BEING. He is literally referring to this woman that he slept with as “it.” IT. As in, the same pronoun that you use when describing your toaster oven or the copy machine at work. She is not a person, not a partner – she is “it.”

Look up “objectification” in the dictionary and you could find a downloadable MP3 file of this song. Ray J’s language is dehumanizing; he dismisses this woman’s personhood, reducing her to the status of an object for fucking. Her sole value derives from her body and its sexual functionality – except for it’s not really her body, but his; his to look at, to touch, to fuck, to sing tacky songs about, and to use as he pleases. Because, as this song makes brutally, unavoidably clear, we live in a society that consistently tells women that they have no rights to or control over their bodies. Our culture overwhelmingly refuses to acknowledge women’s sexual agency, the fact that women are individuals who possess both desires and the capability to decide for themselves how to act on those desires. “I Hit It First” is a particularly shameless example of that mentality – by using the words “I hit it,” Ray J establishes himself as the dominant figure in this encounter - in all encounters - implying that the woman, his partner, played no active role in the “really bomb” sex that was had, and that he benefited socially from the encounter and the fact that everyone knows about it:

I had her head going north and her ass going south
But now baby chose to go West
We deep in the building she know that I kill ‘em
I know that I hit it the best
Candles lit with that wine, money still on my mind
And I gave her that really bomb sex
No matter where she goes or who she knows
She still belongs in my bed
Going hard in the streets, mobbin with my homies
Sippin’ on good, blowin’ on OG
Me and ghost sittin’ clean with the matching rollie
I did that first so everybody know me

Why Ray J feels that allegedly being the first person to sleep with Kim Kardashian (or any woman) gives him some kind of bragging rights is honestly beyond me. Kim is not a prize – she is a person who (regrettably, it seems) decided to sleep with Ray J, and that’s about all there is to it. Being the first person to have sex with a woman does not give you any kind of claim to her. I don’t care if you were the first, the last, the only, or one of 55 – the ONLY person with ownership over a woman’s body is the woman herself. Not her husband, her wife, her father, her brother, her boyfriend, or any other person she’s ever looked at, spoken to, or slept with. Only her. And the fact that we still seem to struggle with this concept is a key reason that rape and all other forms of sexual violence are still so prevalent in our society.

The media coverage surrounding this song has focused almost exclusively on Ray J’s subtle-as-a-gun references to Kim Kardashian and their relationship. Which, while mildly entertaining, is extremely problematic. Really, it doesn’t matter who “I Hit It First” is about – the real outrage should be focused on why Ray J, and countless other artists (Kanye West included), feel that it’s acceptable to speak about women in such despicably disrespectful terms. Why, WHY, do we let this slide? Why does equating a woman to a disposable item make a man a badass? Why are we teaching boys that it’s cool to disrespect their partners and girls that they’re only worth something if men want to have sex with them? These are messages that stay with us even in adulthood, degrading our most intimate experiences and fostering a sexual dynamic that is toxic for men and women alike.

So, what can we do about that? For starters, do yourself a favor and never, ever listen to “I Hit It First” again. Seriously. We all had to hear it once to be part of this conversation, but honestly, the music video alone sets the entire feminist movement back about 50 years. Check out this great article from Feministing to read another perspective on why the song is so harmful to women. And beyond just that, start paying attention to the media you consume. Take a moment to think about what you internalize when you hear the Ying Yang Twins tell you to “shake that shit, bitch,” or when Nate Dogg says “I’m looking for a girl who will do whatever the fuck I say, every day she be giving it up.” Lyrics like that do something to you; they influence the way you think about yourself even if you’re not actively aware of it. So be aware of it. We can’t stop this barrage of grossly misogynistic media overnight, but we can take steps towards shielding ourselves against its negativity.

#CSW57 Roundup: Orgs We Met and Loved At The UN’s 57th Commission on the Status of Women

 The UN’s Commission on the Status of Women took place from March  4 – 15, and we were on the front lines live and tweeting.

The commission was focus on eliminating and preventing violence against women and girls, as well as how to share responsibility among women and men on the issue and reflect the changing needs of gender equity. The Millenium Development goals were a huge part of what was going on.

Not everyone can spend quality time at the UN, so the Panelist papers and webcast are available online. And since you missed out on the elbow-rubbing, here’s an overview on the orgs we met and loved on during the commission and think deserve your support!

Avon Foundation for Women:

Domestic violence is a pattern of abuse with the goal of establishing or maintaining power and control over the victim. It can happen occasionally or continuously and often worsens over time. Domestic violence includes physical, sexual, mental, and financial abuse. It knows no boundaries: Domestic violence can affect anyone, regardless of income, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or religion.

To help bring this issue out of the shadows, the Avon Foundation for Women launched Speak Out Against Domestic Violence, an initiative to build awareness, educate, and improve prevention and direct service programs. Through the end of 2012, in the U.S. alone, we have provided more than $33 million for the domestic violence cause.

Take Back the Tech:

Take Back the Tech! is a collaborative campaign to reclaim information and communication technologies (ICT) to end violence against women (VAW).

The campaign calls on all ICT users – especially women and girls – to take control of technology and strategically use any ICT platform at hand (mobile phones, instant messengers, blogs, websites, digital cameras, email, podcasts and more) for activism against gender-based violence.

Take Back the Tech! accompanies the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence (November 25 – December 10 each year) with daily actions that explore different aspects of violence against women and ICT tools.

Bytes for All:

Bytes for All (B4A), Pakistan is a human rights organization with a focus on Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). It experiments and organizes debate on the relevance of ICTs for sustainable development and strengthening human rights movements in the country.

At the forefront of Internet Rights movement and struggle for the democracy, B4A focuses on capacity building of human rights defenders on their digital security, online safety & privacy. Working on different important campaigns particularly against Internet censorship and surveillance in Pakistan, B4A continues to work on cyberspace issues, awareness raising and policy advocacy from civil liberties & human rights perspective.

Globally acclaimed Take Back The Tech Campaign is the flagship of Bytes for All, which focuses on strategic use of ICTs by the women and girls to fight violence against women in Pakistan.

Sonke

Sonke Gender Justice Network is a non-partisan, non-profit organisation, established in 2006. Today, Sonke has established a growing presence on the African continent and plays an active role internationally. Sonke works to create the change necessary for men, women, young people and children to enjoy equitable, healthy and happy relationships that contribute to the development of just and democratic societies. Sonke pursues this goal across Southern Africa by using a human rights framework to build the capacity of government, civil society organisations and citizens to achieve gender equality, prevent gender-based violence and reduce the spread of HIV and the impact of AIDS.

Breakthrough

PCI Media Impact

We work with partners around the world to produce Entertainment-Education (E-E) programs rooted in our three-pronged My Community approach to communications for social change. Using a combination of serial dramas, talk shows and community mobilization, we:

Strengthen the capacity of our local partners to effectively use communications to catalyze change;
Create a community of constituents who support our collaborative work; and
Promote positive changes in audience knowledge, attitudes and behaviors around target issues.
As a result we are promoting a new generation of change-leaders using communications to effectively turn up the volume on their important work.

Introducing new Blogger Maddie

My name is Maddie and am currently a rising sophomore at NYU majoring in Media, Culture, and Communication and minoring in Gender & Sexuality studies. I originally applied for my major with the intent to work in the fashion industry post-college but after becoming fascinated by how the media affects people, more specifically women, I decided to take a different path. Picking up my minor at the end of my freshman year I am hoping to graduate and go onto grad school with a focus on the ways in which women are portrayed in the media and why this portrayal is often detrimental.

Before college I considered myself a liberal but didn’t understand what a feminist was and didn’t even give thought to self-identifying with the term. It wasn’t until we touched upon gender in my introductory media classes that I began to understand that the messages sent to women through media, specifically through imaging, are harmful and are often used to control women’s thoughts and actions (more specifically, what women spend their money on). I also realized that the way I view myself as a female is greatly affected by patriarchal media and that this type of media is responsible for why I did and still do struggle with my appearance and sexuality. Feminist thinking gave me a freedom that I did not have previously and as a feminist (even though I may be a novice) I feel that’s it’s essential that I spread feminist thought to others through writing and activism. I hope that by writing for The Line I can generate feminist thought in myself and others!

In my spare time I like to read, write, watch entire television seasons on Netflix in one sitting, slowly kill my soul working in retail, and sometimes be productive. You can read my rude grrrl rants on my new blog hexgrrrlfriend or find my highly inappropriate tweets on my Twitter.

Jamia Wilson: Badass Activist Friday

It’s Friday, and we all know what that means! Interviews with your favorite badass feminists and activists. Whether social media queens and kings, creative artists, sex educators, or just kick-ass personalities, these people harness righteous anger, instigate movements and inspire cultural change. We’re here to honor them and their work, but more importantly, to highlight how we can all get up, plug in, and Just Start Doing.

Today’s Badass is Jamia Wilson. Jamia is a media activist, storyteller and organizer. She has a BA in Public Communication from American University, and an MA from NYU in Humanities and Social Thought. She has previously worked for Planned Parenthood, among other things, and is now the Vice President of Programs at the Women’s Media Center.

And without further ado, here she is!

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Chloe Angyal: Badass Activist Friday

It’s Friday, and we all know what that means! Interviews with your favorite badass feminists and activists. Whether social media queens and kings, creative artists, sex educators, or just kick-ass personalities, these people harness righteous anger, instigate movements and inspire cultural change. We’re here to honor them and their work, but more importantly, to highlight how we can all get up, plug in, and Just Start Doing.

Today’s Badass is Chloe Angyal. Chloe is a blogger and freelance writer based in New York City. She writes at her own blog, and is an editor of well-known feminist blog Feministing. Her work has also appeareed in various online and print venus, including Slate, Salon, Jezebel, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Christian Science Monitor. In her writing, Chloe has covered a variety of topics, including body image, pop culture, women in politics and reproductive rights.

Here are her answers:

When was your feminist/activist awakening? Did you know you wanted to be doing the kind of work you are now, or did it come as a surprise to you?

Like a lot of people of my generation, I grew up with feminism in the water. My mom was a Second Waver who did feminist public health work her whole life. My dad did my hair for ballet on Saturday mornings and certainly identifies as a feminist. I was really lucky to grow up in that kind of environment. And there was a watered-down, commercialized feminism in the cultural water when I was growing up, too. I came of age in the “girl power” era in pop culture – I think the first Spice Girls album was one of the first CDs I ever bought myself.

But I didn’t explicitly start identifying as a feminist until I was about fifteen. I went on a three-month exchange to France, and I stayed with a traditional family in a tiny town in Brittany. For the first time, it occurred to me that my parents’ arrangement: two careers, two last names, sharing parenting duties (and, it should be noted, hiring a fair bit of outside help to make those two careers possible), was unusual. And, to me, vastly preferable. I remember being really annoyed when my host dad came home, plonked down on the couch and watched TV until dinner was ready, then went back to the TV after dinner as my mom cleaned up after the meal she had just cooked. I recently found my diary from that time and I wrote something like, “I’m so confused, isn’t France the birthplace of Simone de Beauvoir and modern feminism?”

That trip was significant for other reasons. I went from taking four dance classes a week to doing no exercise and eating a lot of rich French winter food. I gained a lot of weight, and I really hated it. I hated going home and being so much bigger than when I left, and feeling like my classmates and my family and friends were all judging me as some kind of failure. I hated how angry and inferior that made me feel – and I hated that something as trivial as two dress sizes could make me feel all those things. But then I read The Beauty Myth and I realized that it wasn’t actually trivial; it was political. And it wasn’t just me, either. Say what you will about what Naomi Wolf has said and written since that book (and believe me, there’s a lot I want to say about that), that book changed my life.

I didn’t know I wanted to do this kind of work. I wanted to be a dancer, actually. I’ve been a performer my whole life, and I really wanted to do that professionally, but my parents very wisely insisted that I finish college before attempting that. They wanted me to have a great education because, you know, ankles break, or in my case, spinal discs herniate, and that can end a dancing career. I think they were secretly hoping that during college I would find something more stable, and lucrative, than dancing. I found feminist writing, which is one-eighteenth of a modicum more stable and lucrative than dancing. Suckaaaahs!

But yes, it comes as a surprise to me, a happy surprise, that I get to do what I do. I have always loved to write, and I feel so grateful that I get to use that talent in a way that, hopefully, helps people and makes the world a better place.

You joined the Feministing team in 2009. Do you remember when you first started reading the blog yourself? What has it been like working with some of the pioneers of feminist blogging?

I started reading the blog in the spring of 2008. I was a junior in college, and I was in the eating disorder awareness and prevention group on my college campus, and we brought Courtney Martin in to speak. I was assigned the task of introducing her before her talk, so I started reading Feministing for a little bit of background. And I was totally hooked. I started reading it daily, and then it was my home page, and then I started reading Shakesville and Shapely Prose and a bunch of other great feminist blogs, and by the end of that semester I had decided that our campus needed its own feminist blog. I started it when I came back to campus that fall.

What has it been like working with some of the pioneers of feminist blogging? It’s been like a goddamn dream. I wish me from the spring of 2008 could see this. Past-me be so excited. Past-me would also wonder when and why future-me finally caved and started wearing skinny jeans, but that’s another story.

You are writing your dissertation on the portrayal of women, gender and sex in Hollywood romantic comedies. What led you to this topic? What is your favorite “good” romcom? What is the most distressing one you have come across?

The thesis grew out of a year-long series I did at Feministing. I’ve had a love-hate relationship with the genre for a while, and in 2010 I decided I wanted to take a closer look at contemporary romantic comedies, so I saw and reviewed every single rom com that came out that year. About half way through I realized that I wanted to keep writing about them, and that I wanted to learn more about their history and their development. I wanted to figure out exactly how we ended up with the spate of particularly sexist rom coms we got in the last few years. And I’m certainly not the first scholar to write about popular culture or even about romantic comedies. There’s a whole body of literature on romance novels, and when I was doing my literature review, some of the most interesting stuff I read was about gender in horror movies.

There’s no such thing as a perfectly feminist rom com. There’s no such thing as perfectly feminist pop culture. But there are elements, glimmers of hope, in a lot of movies. For example, I love Emma Stone’s character in Easy A. I like that she’s smart, and observant, and self-aware, and imperfect. I love her relationship with her parents. I love their relationship with each other. The movie isn’t perfect, but it’s got more glimmers than your average rom com.

The most distressing rom com I’ve come across is Kate and Leopold, which stars Meg Ryan and Hugh Jackman. It pains me to say this, because Hugh Jackman is a gentleman and a scholar and a countryman and a total babe. But that movie is the worst. At the end, the educated, professionally successful independent woman goes back in time, giving up her family, her career – not to mention the right to vote, contraception and indoor plumbing – to be with the man she loves. It’s horrendous.

Earlier this year, you started the Tumblr “Men who Trust Women”, as a response to the increasingly anti-woman discourse around birth control, abortion and sexuality in the US. Can you tell us why you chose that name and what you hoped to achieve with the Tumblr project? How has the reception been so far?

The name is a reference to the late Dr. George Tiller’s motto, “trust women,” and to the original subtitle of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, “men who hate women.”

I was really dismayed by the fact that most of the men who were speaking publicly about reproductive health were anti-choice. There were some exceptions: Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Martin O’Malley, Garry Trudeau. Bless those men, I’m so glad they stepped up.  But they were few and far between. With the exception of those few men, you could be forgiven for thinking that there weren’t any pro-choice men out there. So I wanted to create a space for those men to make themselves known. But, I didn’t want to use the phrase “pro-choice” if I could help it, because while I identify that way, and while I really value that term and that movement, that term is highly politicized, and I didn’t want this to be about red-blue left-right politics. I wanted it to be about what it’s about at its core: women are human and humans have rights. I wanted to make it as simple as I could: do you identify as a man? Do you trust women to make their own choices about their own bodies? Are you a man who trusts women? No labels, no barriers to entry. Trust women.

So far, the reception has been great. We had hundreds of men submit their stories, and now I’m working with a young filmmaker, Alexandra Steinmetz, to turn a couple of the stories into documentary shorts, which is so exciting. Alex doesn’t know this, but I’ve already bought a megaphone and a floppy old-timey director’s hat, like in Singin’ in the Rain. It’s going to be awesome. On a more serious note, I’m excited to put faces and names to some of these remarkable stories. Now we just need to raise the money to make it happen!

Do you have any new or upcoming projects that you would like to share with us? What are you working on and thinking about these days?

I’m really focusing on my dissertation, and my book, right now. At some point I’m going to have to lock myself away in a room like a monk and get them both done. Maybe I’ll buy myself a nice brown hooded robe for that. But that would look pretty weird with the floppy director’s hat.

 

Thank you for your time, and good luck with your thesis!

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