Thursday, April 30, 2009

Sexism Creeping In

There is a somewhat sickening article on CNN about a mother-to-be, and how she doesn't want a girl after having two boys. Her reaction to discovering she was having a girl? Well, it was something like this:
This child I was just starting to feel stir inside me was a girl? I waited for the excitement to wash over me. It didn't come. Not only was I not thrilled -- I was disappointed. I'm still not sure whether I was more bummed by how I found out or what I found out. Either way, I was shaken.

The reason she was shaken? Well, that one goes something like this:
Even before I had sons, I worried about having a daughter. I could handle boys, with their cut-and-dried needs, but girls were so much more complicated. Girls have elaborate hairstyling requirements. They whine and mope, manipulate and triangulate. How was I going to deal with that?
I could feel my face getting hot as I read through that. But I nearly blew my stack when I got to this:
I fear I won't know how to protect my child from a world that may often tell her that she's not good enough as she is.

Because it is obvious that it isn't just the world who thinks she's not good enough as she is, even though she's never been born yet. It is her own mother. This little girl may one day grow up and play the game many of us like to play from time to time, and that is to Google her name or the name of her loved ones. And when she Googles her mother's name, she may stumble upon this very article, telling her that her conception wasn't a joy - because she was a girl. And even if she doesn't, or even if she Googles and there are so many other Amy Wilsons out there she never stumbles upon this particular article, that sentiment - that girls are yucky, and so is pink! sentiment - is still present in this mother's mind. That is just all manner of sad.

I also want to know why this woman, a woman who herself has no interest in pink or princess or tutus, automatically expects a girl who will be. I want to know why this woman doesn't anticipate how having two older brothers will help shape this particular girl. How having that older niece who loves to get dirt underneath her nails will affect how this particular girl views being a girl. I'm not denying that this little girl may become inalterably in love with the shade of pink, but I find it all the more ironic that a mother who is protesting pink then goes and buys her daughter pink outfits instead of dressing the kid in the gender neutral outfits her boys were dressed in. In this case, I fear this little girl may very well suffer from mixed messages regarding pink and its attributes - and probably other girly things and their attributes, as well as the attributes of being a girl.

And then there's this: kids are always going to be interested in things their parents don't give two flying leaps about. One of my sisters is, at the moment, psychotic about remaining in her number 1 position in academic rankings; my other sister loves soccer, to watch it and to play it; and I was obsessed with dance and dance classes. My parents? Not really that interested in any of those things. But one of the things about parenting is in enduring activities you would rather not simply because it makes your kids happy, and because it doesn't hurt them. So, my parents go to parent-teacher conferences and soccer games, and went to at least one dance recital a year for about 17 years. The other thing is that kids are, generally, also interested in some stuff their parents actually do like; in my parents' case, that covers a wide range of subjects including but not limited to politics, history, animated films, games of frisbee, and Apples to Apples. So this girl may turn out to be a pink-wearing, princess obsessed girly-girl who also loves to roughhouse and play Matchbox cars. Stranger things have happened. Almost as strange as worrying about the world devaluing your daughter, as if you haven't spent an article doing just that.

Related reading on the devaluing of girl babies via FeministGal.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A Long Explanation For Some Reading Recommendations

I've been reading a lot of Sadie's work on Judd Apatow at Tiger Beatdown and her guest post on Shakesville. Now, I have to admit that I have a love-hate relationship with Judd Apatow. I love his films' trailers. I hate his films. Seriously; I see every movie trailer in the Apatow oeuvre, and I think to myself, "I want to see that!" And then I forget about it for a year or three, and catch it when it is on HBO - and then I hate myself for having ever wanted to see it in the first place.

I think my favorite post of Sadie's is her Because, Um...? post. Because it's true. I have been a romantic comedy fan from way, way back. Mostly because I'm a big wuss who really does love a happy ending. This is my reason for also loving action films, and one of the reasons I have for disliking westerns. And yet, the romantic comedy has begun to wear thin, for the reason Sadie highlighted. Too many of the romantic comedies I have seen - movies that are purportedly chick flicks, mind you - employ the Because, Um...? girl. A lot don't; I can definitely see why Sally ends up with Harry, and why almost every woman ends up with Hugh Grant across his multitude of films. It's because even though Harry and every guy Hugh Grant has played recently are assholes, they've got some redeeming quality - even if that redeeming quality, in Hugh's case, is simply being as cute and charming as Hugh Grant. But too many romantic comedies end with me scratching my head thinking, "Why is she interested in him?" Movies like 29 Dresses; movies like Knocked Up; even movies like Juno (seriously, Juno says Paulie Bleeker is the coolest person she knows, and all I can think is that Juno needs to meet some more people). The Because, Um...? phenomenon is incredibly annoying, and I'm glad it has been named.

I liked her other posts as well, though I took some umbrage at the maligning of a puppet Dracula musical throughout the Forgetting Sarah Marshall post. But that's really because I'm a big fan of puppets, musicals, and vampires, and because I could totally see Joss Whedon being able to pull off a Dracula puppet musical about eternal love and having it be edgy and cool and artistic and fun.

Really, though, Sadie does a great job pointing out why these films make me so incredibly, Hulkishly, angry. It's because the films are based on the belief that sex is cool but girls are not; that the vagina is a thing to be pursued, and that the woman who that vagina belongs to is pretty much worthless. It is because the bromance aspect of Apatow's movies directly correlates to an inability to form actual romances with women. I'm actually a huge fan of the idea of a bromance; my favorite bromance writer is Aaron Sorkin, and part of why I love his work so much is the deep, passionate, platonic love many of his sets of male characters hold for one another. But the Apatow bromance is damaging, because it too often keeps the bros of the 'mance in an enforced childish state. There is no encouragement of growth within these bromances; the bromances exist in part as a way of preserving the legitimacy of the man-child life, as a way of insulating themselves from the corrupting influences of those women who want actual partners to share in the joys and responsibilities of domesticity.

So, I highly recommend the multiple Apatow posts. And her Dollhouse post, which - aside from her dislike of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, my favorite show of all time - is beyond awesome, and probably deserving of a whole post on its own.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Saturday Sesame Street

It has been a couple of weeks since my last Sesame Street post, because I fell off of the posting bandwagon. I'm (hopefully) back on now, so here's a classic clip featuring James Taylor:

I like how excited the kids are to help with the refrain.

Why She's My Best Friend:

"Many of our appliances don't work in tandem."

- My best friend, explaining that due to faulty wiring, she had to wait to make cinnamon toast until after the dishwasher finished.

This could have fallen under "My Night So Far" status, but I didn't get to post it when it was happening in my night.

Friday, April 24, 2009

A Patriarchal Metaphysical Conundrum

I love this Jay Smooth video:

And as much as I love Miss Congeniality (and I do - I watched it Wednesday night instead of writing a blog post; I know, I know), I was also in agreement with this:
Watching this clip raised a lot of questions for me. Questions such as: Why do beauty pageants still exist? This whole ritual just seems so out of place to me in 2009. It feels like watching a Renaissance Faire. My twitter friends pointed out that beauty pageants are a leading source of scholarship money for young women, which is something - but I mean, if that scholarship's coming along with such crazy messages about how women are supposed to be valued, that's kind of like we're pulling you up as a reward for letting us push you down. Do you really come out ahead at the end of that? It's like a patriarchal metaphysical conundrum.
I'm sure there are women out there, like Gracie Hart from Miss Congeniality, who do find pageantry to be a freeing and wonderful experience. I'm sure there are a lot of women in the pageants, like Cheryl Frasier from Miss Congeniality, who are in highly complex fields of study. But that doesn't really change the fact that the scholarship opportunity is built upon conforming to certain standards of feminine beauty, that the beauty in question almost always equals white or close to it, and that looking good in a swimsuit is mandatory. I'm sure that all of these contestants do want to bring about world peace and are, as Gracie Hart put it, just trying to make a difference in the world. That really doesn't change, as the wonderfully insightful and funny Jay Smooth puts it, the "patriarchal metaphysical conundrum" of it all.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

This American Life

If anyone gets a chance to see the encore theatre presentation of This American Life's live show on May 7, I would highly recommend it. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A Gilmore Girls Moment

While poking around NPR's website at some point in the past two weeks, I stumbled upon this article:
"A Social Experiment: Communes In Cul-De-Sacs"
The first time I saw the article, the issue didn't really jump out at me. The second time I glanced at it, it suddenly hit me:

Someone at NPR needs to watch more Gilmore Girls. If only someone there was an obsessive Gilmore Girls fan, NPR would have never made such an obscure spelling error!

On another note, I'm going to start referring to yo-yos as yos-yo. Just for yucks.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Problem with PETA

The thread on the latest PETA post has gotten long. Very, very long. And then I fell off of the grid for about a week, and no longer feel compelled to post my thoughts there. That doesn't mean that I'm not compelled to answer the questions my continually hounded friend asks, though, so I'm going to once again use him as a jumping off point to write a blog post. My friend ponders,
I was wondering if you think it's equally offensive when Peter Singer compares animals to black slaves, or when he compares apes to the mentally handicapped (another traditionally marginalized group).
I haven't read Peter Singer since sophomore year of college; without the text in front of me (or a strong memory of that text), I'm unprepared to make a judgement about whether or not it is equally offensive, or even offensive in its own right without needing a comparison with PETA. I would hazard to guess that Singer's own comparisons would in all probability be at the very least slightly offensive, for the same basic reason as the PETA ads: it takes a group of people, a group traditionally thought of as deficient or less in some shape or another, and turns them into objects in the course of furthering one's own cause. It is at best a "greater good" argument, and I'm not a big believer in the "greater good"; utilizing some populations for the greater good still leaves those populations being treated as simply tools, and that is unacceptable. It is unacceptable because in order for there to be a workable greater good, then the individual must be recognized as being a vital part of that good. It can't just be the individuals liked best by one organization or another, or the individuals fought for by one organization or another. The greater good is simply not a moral 'good' if individuals or groups are left behind in order to facilitate that victory. In the paraphrased words of one of my favorite characters, "Me and mine gotta be objectified so you can live in your better world?" I don't think so.

This is a problem that has been present in political and social organizations probably since the start of political and social organizations. That does not excuse the practice. Again, I have no recollection of Singer's allusions. But the problem with PETA is that while it may be true, as my friend contests, that:
Often, PETA’s goal in producing these ads is to compare the objectification of people to the objectification of animals – trying to link racism or sexism to “species-ism,
PETA is utilizing that objectification to further its own cause. The problem is that PETA is taking advantage of already present social inequities in order to make their point. This is an issue, because although their goal may be to link racism and/or sexism to species-ism, they are still complicit in creating and distributing sexist and racist images. They are still playing upon those social ills with no conscious - or at the very least public - recognition that by doing so, they are perpetuating those same social inequities. Their goal may be to draw more feminists and anti-racists into the fight against 'species-ism' - ignoring, for a moment, that feminists and anti-racists are more likely than not to have at the very least pondered these connections even if they have not accepted those connections' veracity - and their intent may not be to directly contribute to the continued sexist and racist images and lines of thought that are present in society; nevertheless, intention has very little impact on what is actually imparted. They create racist and sexist imagery, and there is no disavowals present in regard to those images. Which leads directly to this question:
Is there something about the nature of advertisements that makes these comparisons more offensive?
Without comparing the images or advertising to anything else, the medium - and how that medium is used - does go a long way to making the advertising offensive.

PETA's ads are like when hipsters (or others) 'ironically' use racist terminology; it is cloaked in the idea that because the person or organization using the terminology is 'progressive' or 'with it' or 'hip' or 'cool', then somehow the meaning behind the original terminology or image simply fades away or becomes unimportant. The opposite is more true. Being 'progressive' or 'with it' or 'hip' or 'cool' means recognizing the power of those images and that terminology, recognizing how intent does not shape the work independent of the societal reading of such a work, and recognizing how utilizing that terminology or image for one's own ends is the very opposite of progressive, or hip, or with it, or cool. And in both the hipsters' case and PETA's case, I suspect that knowledge is very much present - but that they feel they can play both sides of the fence on the issue.

While PETA claims to be drawing a line between racism and sexism (as well as racialized sexism) and their pet project of species-ism, they are also happily trading in on the titillation of those very images. In short, they are trying to pull in the progressive groups they are objectifying, as well as those who will not see the images as sexist or racist in the first place - or who won't care. A good friend of mine (heretofore known as My Good Friend - or MGF for short) put it best when he said, "When I see the ads of the lamb with leprosy, I want to help. When I see the ads of the hot women, I want to help to meet hot women". Like hipster racism (using racist words/imagery ironically disparage others' racism but to also get away with being racist), PETA is involved in activist sexism/racism. And that is the problem.

Part of it is definitely a media problem; it would be hard to both use a naked body to draw parallels to one's own cause and also disparage the use of such a body as well in a 8 1/2" by 11" glossy. That doesn't mitigate the problem, though. PETA chose the format; PETA chose the message; PETA chose, through certain ad campaigns, to further degrade their cover of simply trying to draw that line between oppressions. PETA chose to use the pictures they use, with no evidence of even trying to deconstruct the traditional pin-up model. Instead, they play quite cogently into that image with nary a hint that isn't exactly what we as the audience are supposed to take away from it. PETA designed the campaigns like PETA Striptease Quiz. My friend (not MGF, though I certainly consider him a good one), continues with this:
You have to place the ad in the context of PETA's larger argument, and that argument isn't racist by any means. In fact, it's an argument against marginalizing and dehumanizing certain groups. PETA is holding up the dehumanization of black slaves as an example something that's wrong - and that we should all recognize as wrong. That's the starting point.
Where is that point in the Striptease Quiz? When has PETA ever tried to continue the conversation past its original, sexualized, imagery? Where is the progress of thought? PETA's larger argument is flawed for a myriad of reasons, but none strike quite so quick as the fact that there is no larger argument presented in their images, in their ads, or in their demonstrations. They begin and end with the exploitation of marginalized bodies; without a continuation of that idea - in the places everyone sees - the 'larger argument' isn't one. The 'larger argument' loses its viability. Because the larger argument then becomes just a skirt to hide behind. If PETA's end goal is to broaden the conversation, then it is also partially PETA's responsibility to keep moving that conversation forward. They have continually failed in that duty; they have continued to simply pay lip service to the idea that the argument is "against marginalizing and dehumanizing certain groups" while marginalizing and dehumanizing the same groups that are and traditionally have been among the most vulnerable. That is PETA's problem. I doubt they are going to solve it any time soon.

Why I Should Take The Time To Watch Television:

Exhibit A:

Visit for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

I discovered this awesome song featured on the Rachel Maddow Show while I listened to both last thursday's and friday's shows at work in an attempt to maintain my sanity, and because I had a meeting that ran long on friday preventing me from listening to thursday's show then. What this means is that I missed out on this greatness, and was unable to respond to it in a timely fashion. However, I do think the song is terrific.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

An Atheist Among Us

Okay, it has been around 10 days on no posts and no real explanation other than I couldn't write anything, didn't want to write anything, was perpetually dizzy, and had the house to myself - which never happens. So, I bought a car and watched Made of Honor 3 times. One of those things is a good and the other is a really, really big bad. I'll leave it up to you to decide which is which; but if you fail to discern between the two, there's obviously a problem. I also took a couple of days off from the interweb to do things vitally important, like cut myself off from almost all of my friends and inch a little to the left of the grid. Meaning, I slept a lot. The other thing was that Rebekah suggested an episode of Family Guy for a posting topic, and I had to wait for it to come up on Hulu to really look at it. This is that post.

First things first, though. I'm at best apathetic toward Family Guy, and at worst I really dislike it. At the same time, though, I love Brian and Stewie. I think they are awesome, and if the two of them ever had a television show dedicated solely to them, I would watch every episode with awe. However, the rest of the Griffin clan, along with the rest of the show's characters, are particularly loathsome and I don't really like any of them. When I tell people this, they generally think it is because of one of two reasons: (a) the show has too many pointless segments that lead to no greater understanding of the episode on an individual level or for the show as a whole (a former coworker thought that might be it, which confused me as that never even entered my mind), or (b) it is sexist and racist and a whole lot of other -ists, and as a feminist it would drive me insane. To that I say, "Hey, I watch romantic-comedies and some mainstream television!" Well, I don't really say that, but it would be a good rebuttal. No, the reason I don't like Family Guy is because it contains opposing family dynamics of The Simpsons. Peter doesn't give a damn about any other member of his family, and they don't really seem to give any damns about each other either. If Lois ever left Peter, he probably wouldn't notice until he ran out of socks - or food. Even episodes dedicated to showing how Lois and Peter care about one another (I'm thinking specifically of the one with Jennifer Love Hewitt), what is demonstrated is a weirdly possessive but in no way loving relationship. Contrary to the name, Family Guy mostly centers around a bunch of people who share DNA also living together, but having no common cause or theme or concern for the other members of their household.  Standing in contrast is The Simpsons, which manages to truly be about a cohesive, if dysfunctional, family. And we get plenty of episodes demonstrating that fact (like Bart and Lisa being on different hockey teams *sniffle*). As someone who becomes enamored with television shows precisely because they're about family, biological or otherwise (Gilmore Girls, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, The West Wing, Sports Night, etc.), Family Guy was never going to make the short list.

That doesn't mean I don't enjoy some individual episodes of Family Guy, and "Not All Dogs Go To Heaven" is one of those. Though, strangely, not for the atheist-Brian moments. The end scene where Stewie deals with the cast of Star Trek: Next Generation is classic, as is when he explains how Picard's choice to embrace the baldness made him a better captain than Kirk. I also almost died at the scene where Peter put on LaVar Burton's visor.

At the same time, there were aspects of the Brian-atheist storyline I truly enjoyed. I loved the town's reaction; I love the Griffins' reaction. Well, 'love' may be the wrong word, but I was particularly gratified by the contrast between Meg's newfound religiosity and Brian's atheism. Meg's religious faith actually imposed upon the Griffin family (even if it was just in the form of a television sermon), but Brian just existing in the same space was what caused the biggest uproar. I also thought it was telling that when Brian was being harassed and assaulted and ostracized for his atheism, Lois responded to it not by wishing others would learn to be tolerant but by hoping "he finds faith of some kind". That same sentiment has been expressed several times to me throughout my life. During a particularly surreal two weeks in 9th grade, when almost everyone I knew stopped talking to me, one of the girls I had previously considered my friend told me that she would be happy to start talking to me again once I found "my path". I was stunned, because I was already on "my path". It was just an entirely different one from her own. I also found it particularly telling that Brian's admission caused not only an uproar but seemed to offend the Griffins, as if Brian had been deceiving them simply by not believing in a god. I also know that feeling well. 

I think that feeling of being deceived is what caused most of the people in my high school to stop talking to me for those two weeks; because I hadn't "come clean" sooner, because their idea of me was built upon a false belief that I was a believer when I wasn't, it seemed to them that I had lied to them. The truth was (and is) somewhat more complicated. In high school, I didn't lie; I just didn't come out and proclaim my atheism, because it honestly has never been a huge part of my own personal identity. In college, I did frequently proclaim my atheism, partially due to the odd reaction that discovery had provoked in high school. Now, though, I'm back to not articulating it, because I work in a very religious office where a majority of my coworkers are practicing Catholics (and conservatives) and because I don't want to be a Brian. It is just easier for me to allow them to believe I'm a Catholic, rather than to deny it or to assert my atheism. And until they ask me outright what I am, I don't really feel like I'm lying; at the same time, I'm sure they would be about as thrilled as the rest of the Griffins were with Brian's pronouncement. I don't want to be pelted with Priuses, and I do have to be able to make my car payments so I'm tacitly accepting that being perceived as religious is sometimes a necessity - kind of like Brian did.

At the same time, I disagree fundamentally with some of Brian's proclaimed reasons for being an atheist, along with his arguments at the end to Meg about why she shouldn't believe in God. I felt Brian hit the nail on the head when he told Meg,
You don't need an outside voice to feel those feelings. They're inside you. What you call God is inside you, all of us.
He lost me when he said:
I just hate to see people hating and killing each other over their own interpretations of what they're not smart enough to understand.
That isn't my atheism. My atheism recognizes that religion is not the reason for violence, but the excuse. My atheism recognizes that the world would still be a place of atrocity and hate and hatred and marginalization even if the thought of a supernatural being had never entered the minds of men. My atheism recognizes that if the reason a person doesn't believe in God is because of the horrors committed in his name, then that same person should also not believe in political parties, in countries, in culture, in race, or in gender. My atheism recognizes that hating and killing isn't a product of religion, but that people who hate and who kill often express that through religion. Human beings are the problem; the institutions we make and the ideologies we follow are flawed because they flow from us, but to become a Bill Maher and declare that the religious are idiots is to miss a huge chunk of the picture. Yes, the guy who truly believes the world was created in six days scares me; but it isn't his belief that scares me. It is what else he comes to understand he can do and should do because of that belief. If a guy (or girl) wants to believe that the world was created in six days and s/he also leaves me the hell alone and accepts that I do not, then I am more than fine with that belief.

Brian is wrong because his argument against God rests firmly on the ills of mankind. It decrees that religion and God is the problem, but that argument can be readily combated by the many times religion and God are part of the solution. For every Pat Robertson, there is a soup kitchen being run by a church. For every incident of violence, there is a commitment to nonviolence. For every cretin who hides behind his or her book while spewing hate, there is another person who uses that same book to promote tolerance, love, and peace. Religion has brought us some incredible things. I happen to be extraordinarily fond of church architecture, and gospel music. But that doesn't mean that there is a God, any more than death and disease and hate is an argument for why there isn't a God.

I'm not an atheist because religion and God are fairy tales; I majored in literature. I know the power of a good story. A fairy tale can still be used to impart some truth; in fact, I am of the belief that stories are one of the best ways to spread truth. Stories are how we frame our world; stories are how I became a politically minded person. Stories are how my personal philosophy was born and how it started to take shape. Belief in God and in a religion and a particular story can be an awesome force for good, just as nonbelief can be channelled into a force of badness.

I'm an atheist; I'm an atheist not because I hate humanity but because I love it. I am an atheist because I believe in people. I am atheist because I am whole without god. I am an atheist because I believe mankind is a powerful force, an inventive force, and I don't believe in granting any credit for humanity's triumphs or shortcomings to a supernatural body. I'm not an atheist out of hate, but out of love. That is what was missing from Brian's atheism.

And yet, I understand his frustration. It is hard to continue to love humanity and to believe in its goodness when you feel demeaned and diminished and bullied, to see some spark of light present in the organizations most directly responsible for that bullying and inhumane treatment. I think Brian's anger stems from a real place of marginalization, and his assertion that being an atheist is smarter than being a believer comes from that same place. In a way, "Not All Dogs Go To Heaven" demonstrates a coping device I see a lot; it is the "well, I may not be cool but at least I'm not dumb enough to want to be" syndrome. But while I understand it, that doesn't mean I endorse it. It could hardly be a Family Guy episode if it wasn't lampooning everything in sight, but I can't help but feel as if Meg's reason for finding religion is a great deal more sympathetic than Brian's reason for rejecting it. After all, I continue to be a proponent for that old adage:

Monday, April 6, 2009

"We are not Guantanamo"

I've been busy watching my men's team getting their asses handed to them, my women's team making it to the National Championship game undefeated (We're #1!), and the team that took down my men's team being decimated. Though to be fair, that last one hasn't really concluded yet. Let's just say that it isn't looking good for Michigan. In the course of all that, though, is this incredible take down by Rachel Maddow from friday:

This is righteous anger at its finest. Maddow manages to come off as both hopping mad and coolly analytical. Emotional, yet logical. And the points she makes are the points that should be drilled home in regard to national security and international policy for years to come. The Dick Cheneys of the world only make it harder for the United States to not only be the great nation we can be - one that actually abides by its own rule of law - but they also make it harder for us as a nation to protect our own citizens. They make it harder for us to truly make a difference in the world.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

PETA: Turning Over A New Leaf?

PETA as an organization has a repeated and varied history of being sexist, racist, and classist (and oftentimes combining two or more of those), along with being generally unsympathetic to humans in their epic quest to save the animals. They are an example of a "Greater Good" organization, seeming to believe that turning women into sex objects (again and again - and again), dressing up like the Klu Klux Klan, linking murder and cannibalism to slaughterhouses, and equating factory farming with the Holocaust is justifiable in seeking to codify the ethical treatment of animals. A huge problem with this type of campaign is that it equates people who already occupy a lower position in society, people who have historically been considered or compared to animals, people who in many cases still are, with animals - and expects this to be revolutionary and educational.

And yet, there is a recent PETA ad that isn't controversial, that doesn't seem to be sexist, and that is almost... cool. Cloris Leachman is featured in a new PETA ad, clad in a fabulous cabbage dress:

While I don't know that this ad will make anyone suddenly become a vegetarian, I do think it is beautiful, and beautifully done. Leachman looks strong, and powerful. The dress itself looks like a work of art. As an individual ad, I think this is a win. It is a good use of a celebrity; it isn't outwardly sexist, or racist, or classist. It is noncombative, and still visually interesting. It has the added benefit of being reminiscent of Austin Scarlett's Corn Husk dress from the first seaon of Project Runway (only less dried out):

And yet, Ophelia over at Feminocracy wonders whether or not this ad is an example of ageism:
Placing Cloris in a lettuce dress reaffirms the sentiment behind their previous ads–that the female body is meant for consumption, and when that body begins to show age, it must be covered to protect our sensibilities (however, it is worth note that the dress conforms to her figure–so they’ve got to have their sexy factor in there).

In terms of PETA's history, I think the hypothesis is worthy of examination. As much as I love this ad for its individual merits, its place within the pantheon of PETA ads warrants extra attention. After all, PETA has called women 'hags' before, and with every other sexist and racist action, questioning why Cloris Leachman in particular - out of all of the women featured in PETA ads - gets the full body cover is valid. It isn't that I want Cloris Leachman to be objectified or nude in the ad; I suspect Ophelia does not want that either. However, while this may seem to be a way a marginalized body wins out when it comes to objectification, it instead reinforces the idea that after a certain age women become undesirable or asexual. It plays into the way we view how women age; how women become undervalued as their skin wrinkles and their hair grays. Men become 'distinguished' and women become 'old'. It is a familiar trope in everything from business to film; Nicholas Cage can be a viable romantic partner for Jessica Biel, but a friend of mine had a problem with Cher being considered a viable romantic partner for Cage when a mutual friend attempted to show her Moonstruck. The difference between Nicholas Cage and Jessica Biel? 18 years. The difference between Nicholas Cage and Cher? 17 years. This isn't to pick on that friend, because the older man being a logical love interest is fairly common. After all, Sean Connery was a leading man through 1999, when he played opposite Catherine Zeta-Jones in Entrapment; she is 40 years his junior. Meanwhile, women in films become mothers. Sally Field played Tom Hanks' mother in Forest Gump; she is only 10 years his senior.

However, ageism doesn't seem to be the case in this instance with Cloris Leachman. A couple of other ads similar to Leachman's were also made by PETA, one featuring Alyssa Milano:

and Pippa Black:

Both dresses show a bit more skin than Leachman's. They're both more flirtatious (and I kind of covet that pepper necklace Black is wearing), but all of the cabbage dresses are reminiscent of formal wear. 

The problem comes with the promotion featuring Alicia Mayer:

While the others are stylized ads, this one does just seems to be a candid photo much in the vein of PETA's usual publicity protests. The others are of white women. This ad is of a Filipino woman. I don't think we can ignore that aspect of the overt and specific sexualization contained in this image versus the sexy but not exploitive pictures of the other three. This could just be a product of the different environments. But this isn't the only picture treating women of color differently than their white counterparts. The same kind of ad as the Cloris Leachman, Alyssa Milano and Pippa Black ads features the model Kadra:

Her outfit is once again in a different league than the white women who are also focused upon. This demonstrates a similar kind of distinction between the ads Ophelia was concerned with in regard to the Cloris Leachman ad. Different categories of women are being treated differently by PETA. And that difference is incredibly problematic. It is again a reminder of the different ways women are sexualized, and how minority women are oftentimes over sexualized. The ads are a serious issue, no matter how much I like the Leachman, Milano, and Black ads. In the light of other PETA ads, these seem to recognize that their treatment of white women was an issue; but they continue to pull the same old sexist crap in relation to women of color. And it leads to this question: if the way white women are portrayed is changed, why continue framing other women in the previous fashion? Why create a series of ads with different visual stimuli? Why not place all of the women featured in vegetable formal wear, or all of the women in vegetable bathing suits? I doubt PETA could offer a cognizant explanation for the differences.

Friday, April 3, 2009

"The Bullet Was This Guy"

I love Sarah Haskins!

My mother has a theory that Lifetime, far from being a channel for women, was actually developed to keep women scared and complacent. Don't step out of your house! You might attract tons of murderers like Heather Locklear! You might enter into a relationship with a guy who beats you! I don't know what Lifetime and their movies are like now, but back when I was a kid, every movie was like a horror film. I had a babysitter who liked Lifetime (and soap operas! And the Beatles before they became all drug-crazed and hippie-like.), and I don't think I ever saw one actually uplifting film. I saw women get beaten to death. I saw women go to jail for killing the guy who molested their children. I saw women get raped. And although I didn't see any victim-blaming moments and these sorts of goings-on should have more of a mainstream presence, the titillation factor was extremely high. It was like more sensationalistic episodes of Law & Order: SVU, except this was meant to be for women. In other words, good on Sarah Haskins for taking on Lifetime!

Plus, the Smesa Guy just reminded me of all love songs that are really just extraordinarily creepy, the kind that promote stalking as a healthy component in any relationship. The kind of songs that promote making movies like Management. Billed as a romantic comedy, it is just creepy. If any guy followed me across the country and then wouldn't leave me the hell alone, I would be terrified. I would also, and this is just a guess, never date him. What makes these movies so gross is that they set up only two guys as potential love interests, with the nonstalker being worse than the stalker - making the stalker seem like an acceptable choice. Because when your choices are 'bad' and 'worse', of course you would pick 'bad', instead of remaining celibate or joining a nunnery or moving to a different city without telling either of them and attempting to meet some new people.

And because I've been so remiss recently, here's some more Sarah Haskins, this one sans the rant:

Except to say that I'm weirdly disgusted how they kept describing the girls as "cute" and "petite".

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Song I Have Stuck In My Head

It makes getting to sleep a little bit more difficult than I'd like. And if anyone wants to know why I even know this song, it is because it is on the Bend It Like Beckham soundtrack.

In other news, In Bruges is a really weird film. I can't figure out if it is a good film with some bad parts, or a bad film with some good lines. I'm not watching it again to see though.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Glenn Beck's Tears

I'm working on a rather large project, inspired by the SXSW band statistics. This may or may not work; it may or may not come to pass. In the interim though, while I'm still full of boundless optimism, watch Colbert take on Glenn Beck:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
The 10/31 Project
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorNASA Name Contest

I have one question. Well, I have many questions. But the main one is this: How did this man become a conservative icon? He starts crying all the time! That isn't manly. How can one be considered a conservative manly man if you're tearing up every five seconds?