Friday, September 27, 2013

Shakespeare, Benevolent Sexism, and Female Superheroes

Here were are again: another feminist post to add the rapport on my blog. However, this post isn't going to be easy to write. Not only do I have to make my typical highfalutin jumps between things, I also have encounter a critical adversary I'm reluctant to recognize, akin to that messy post I wrote about people's hatred of Benedict Cumberbatch. It's not that extreme, but it's still going to be tricky to talk about.

I've been seeing this post of Tom Hiddleston going around rather frequently, a gifset from an interview he did at some point (though the interview never seems to be linked). It's labeled as: "[about romance] 'Do you think Shakespeare would be disappointed with this generation?'” and includes these captions:
However, when I saw this post the other day, the person who had reblogged it added this comment:  "…..does he really think Shakespearian drama respected women?" They also included these tags: "I mean just watch Taming of the Shrew or Merry Wives of Windsor or Richard III or Hamlet or fucking anything like the most women are respected are in the 2 plays about women crossdressing-- 12th Night and As You Like It and Macbeth because Lady Macbeth is not to be fucked with"

This gets complicated fast. In the gifs, Hiddleston expresses some reservation about current romantic practices but doesn't talk directly about Shakespeare. I don't claim to know his opinion on Shakespeare's portrayal of women. I don't claim to know my opinion on Shakespeare's portrayal of women either. I mean, history-wise, Shakespeare was making women pretty kick-ass. Obviously, The Taming of the Shrew is problematic (until you've seen it performed with a feminist twist - oh my God is it BRILLIANT (good work, Propeller, I'm still awed by you)) and it's terribly annoying and frustrating and distressing, to say the least, that so many wonderful female leads die in his plays. Also there's the issue of not many female parts to begin with. But considering that women weren't allowed to be actors at the time, perhaps this was a situational and historical limitation. His characters are fairly complicated (okay, so Much Ado's Hero isn't really - you win some, you lose some) and they do have quite a presence. But then there's the issue of what is said about women and how plays end for them and whether Shakespeare was really being a trickster or an asshole when he left Anne Hathaway his second best bed when he died. The world will never know and there's hundreds of different ways to interpret the plays. If you're curious about reading more, this article from the Guardian is a decent place to start. But I'm going to table this argument for now because it could continue (and may very well continue) for the next couple of centuries. Instead, I'm going to go into much more unfortunate territory - namely where my mind went when I saw this Tumblr post.

Let me set the stage for you: I'd recently been coming off my "gah, everyone hates millennials and what is going on with my life!?" stage in which I'd been immersed for the better part of the last few weeks. I was reading Sheryl Sandberg's book Lean In (which is a marvelous read for anyone interested in women and work). I'd recently read a section of the book that discussed benevolent sexism (the rough and dirty definition: acts that are positive towards women but treat them as unequal, such as believing that women need protection or are weaker than men). I've been listening to a lot of Disney music and trying to reconcile my love of Disney princesses with my beliefs about how women are portrayed in film. And so, I saw this post in a way I'd never seen it before.

For some reason, the word choice of princess confused me. Along with the comments from the Tumblr reposter, I suddenly saw the entire post as a sort of benevolently sexist thing. It was a momentary deluge of overreaction - I was taken off-guard and now I don't quite know how I pulled together all the loose ends that I pulled together in that moment (and now as I write this while drinking a hefe weissbier, I really don't know). However, my overreaction occurred for two reasons: one, I'm terrified of benevolent sexism, and two, I continue to be convinced that everything I love is going to be destroyed.

First off, the benevolent sexism. I honestly think I might find benevolent sexism harder to deal with than overt sexism. At least when it comes to overtly sexist behavior or comments, you can argue back against it. It's clearer how it's wrong. But benevolent sexism is finely engrained in our culture, so much so that it's harder to combat. Women are physically different than men so it becomes harder to argue that they are just as strong and as capable when science and physiology can be badly used to prove otherwise. I recently saw a post on Tumblr that called out the issue with girls saying they wanted to be treated as equals only to say they can't get hit because they're girls. Which then prompted the response of a very angry person saying you shouldn't be hitting people in the first place.
This perfectly sums up the issue with sexism that is so much a part of the world around us we forget to question it. Instead of recognizing that we shouldn't be hitting people in the first place, we jump to presume that women are asking for special treatment. Then with benevolent sexism, there's the prevailing belief that women need special treatment because they are lesser. This is far different from recognizing that women have disadvantages in our society but working to lessen those disadvantages, not make them more extreme. In retrospect, I don't think that Mr. Hiddleston is being even the slightest bit sexist - it would seem to him that princess connotes respect and strength, not the tainted image I have thanks to people reading princesses as helpless in fairy tales and making everything princess related pink. Considering that I don't actually know Mr. Hiddleston I could be wrong, but considering he's talking about respect and meaning here and he has a reputation of being a being a pretty feminist-friendly dude, I'm going to label my momentary reading as wrong and a result of being already amped-up feminist princess stuff (how exactly I've reached the point of spending half of my free time theorizing about Disney princesses, I'm not really sure) and also point number two from above - the fear of things being destroyed and that nothing is sacred.

Let me explain. I came across an article about why we need female superheroes through the Lean In group on Facebook which stated that Stan Lee doesn't think we need female superheroes. Which kind of killed me. If there is one thing we most definitely need, it's female superheroes. There's many reasons why female superheroes haven't gotten their own films: there aren't that many of them to begin with, they're sometimes poorly written (but hey, so are some of the male ones and THEY STILL GET FILMS), somehow the whole idea of writing a well-rounded character gets distracted by the focus on sexiness and objectification, and there's this issue with female characters and Mary Sues, which this blog post talks about really well. Regardless, it's no excuse to say it's completely unnecessary.

Let me be honest: I really like Stan Lee. I like him a lot. He's created some amazing comics and he seems like a pretty cool dude. So to hear that he said that made me feel crushed Really, really crushed. Like David Tennant standing in the rain crushed.
In a world full of cynicism, apathy, and general distrust, it's had to have role models. It's harder when you have fewer female role models because of fewer women reaching the top (ie: glass ceilings and read Lean In). It's even harder when your male role models say things that you are completely against and delegitimize you. It's just kind of... well, I can't quite put it into words. See above gif.

Perhaps this is why I reacted so extremely to the Tumblr post. I live in perpetual fear that the people I admire are going to say something that is either taken the wrong way or expresses some sentiment that I can't reconcile. I think of Jeremy Iron's statement about gay marriage which was strangely phrased and seemed incredibly negative. I think of Martin Freeman's misquotes that I wrote about a while back and my personal dealings with admiring Stephen Fry but deeply disagreeing about his view of boycotting the Olympics. Deep down, my fear is that everything will end up like my appreciation of Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa where I really struggled to like them as athletes when what they were good at had become dependent on using steroids which I saw a mark of their character. I'm afraid that my appreciation for people like Fry will become marred by the fact that I disagree with things he has said that expresses his character since I don't actually know him personally and have no personal idea of what he's like as a human being. I suddenly find it hard to like Irons when he said expressed unclear opinions about gay marriage. I still feel like little eight-year-old me trying to understand that people have faults but that some faults are really, really hard to deal with.

But lo and behold if Tumblr didn't have a response for me on all of this:

Internet, I see what you did there. Of course people say things that are problematic; I certainly have. Sometimes I look back through old blog posts and cringe out of my mind.

I certainly don't expect my favorite people to be perfect. That would be weird and wrong. But there are certain shortcomings that seem uncharacteristic and difficult to reckon. Tomorrow, if one of my favorite actors were to say something very, very racist or homophobic, I'd be reeling. Misunderstandings are simple - I fairly easily brushed away the issues with Freeman's misquotes. I can deal with not agreeing on Stephen Fry's opinions with Russia. However, I'm still grappling with Iron's odd interview reaction about gay marriage. There's a struggle here - we want to hold people accountable for what they say, but we also believe that people's opinions change as they grow as people. I think of Ralph Waldo Emerson quote from his essay "Self-Reliance" which gave me utter encouragement in high school when I felt like the world's biggest hypocrite:
A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. — 'Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.' — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.
(Because I want to avoid spiraling into a philosophical crisis, I'm going to completely sidestep how all of this gets infinitely more complex in the realm of politics where being held accountable for words is a major conundrum. I would like to recognize this factor though and marvel at how in the world I came to be discussing Syria, reading Machiavelli's The Prince, and dwelling on Henry V and Coriolanus all at the same time. I think I've made a terrible mistake.)

The issue remaining is that, yes, people say problematic things and, yes, they definitely have the opportunity to rephrase and change their opinion on them, but the issue with our dealings with language and our ability to pull out quotes and ideas from the vast memory of the internet is both a miracle and a curse. For example, what The Daily Show does with digging up old clips to make fun of political issues but also draw attention to disparities I think is usually positive. In a culture that loves to hate, it can easily be used to unnecessarily tear someone apart. While I feel like I completely over-analyzed the gifset when I saw it with those opinions, it's very much how media presents issue to us - framed in a certain way to cause us to draw a certain conclusion. And while the Tumblr user who posted this didn't intend to do this and was simply expressing their opinion on the post, it would be a much different situation if this was done by, say, The Daily Mail. But misconceptions are easy to start, especially on a post that gives a brief response and no source. Clearly my research-y side is taking over, but all too easily do people jump to conclusions about someone's response - as I did - because of how something is posted or framed.

Hopefully this begins to clarify why the suggestion that Hiddleston could have said something that could be read as benevolently sexist (caused by my certain skewed reading) gave me a sort of anxiety. I've grown used to people professing such beliefs and to hear someone not say them makes me nervous. Fans often joke that seemingly really nice people are actually puppy kickers or serial killers just because we've grown so used to people in the limelight having cataclysmic flaws or expressing disagreeable things. When they don't do that, we begin to get nervous that they're just hiding it and we keep looking for it, digging for it, even when it really may not be there. These issues exist in culture but perhaps not in specific people's sentiments. But we can't believe it because we've grown so used to having to explain that yes, women do sweat and yes, women do poop and yes, women actually have the same physical and emotional ranges at men. Being called a princess can't be a compliment because we've always heard it used as a weakness. So this... this seems unusual. Not the norm. I'm used to hearing it used endearingly and condescendingly, not endearing and respectfully.

Because I feel like I'm now just throwing words against the wall and not making much sense, let me use a personal example to articulate my point. Last year before I graduated, I was studying with a guy in one of my classes. It was later at night and the sun had already set when we finished up our study session and we about to depart the cafe we'd been working at. He offered to walk me home even though it was in the opposite direction he was headed which I kindly refused. But it confused me. At first I was kind of upset that he thought I couldn't handle walking home by myself on a school night at ten or eleven o'clock or whatever it was. I did this on a fairly regular basis and considering I didn't live that far off-campus, I was unperturbed. But he didn't know exactly where my apartment was and, yeah, terrible things happen on campus all the time, even early in the evening. It was most likely a gesture of him being nice and accounting for the fact that the world is a rough place rather than assuming I couldn't handle walking home in the dark. If you haven't noticed by now, I'm very good at overreacting to miniscule things (why else do you think I continue to have blog posts? :P)

It's tough. We've been told that chivalry is dead but we've also been told that chivalry is degrading but we've also been told that chivalry is sexy. Ultimately it's of all of these things. Certain aspects of chivalry are gone that would be kind of excellent to bring back - the respect part please. Definitely that. And giving and receiving chocolate. I'm totally cool with that (wait, that's not part of chivalry you say? My mistake). Certain aspects should stay dead, or die for good - because if you think I'm too weak to take you on, you should know the pen is mightier than the sword and I happen to have been trained at the Joss Whedon School of Badassery. And really, we could all do with people being kinder and more polite to each other - be chivalrous to everyone, not just because of their gender! But wait, that sounds familiar...
Oh. Right.
Well, there you have it. Tom Hiddleston is still probably a wonderful human being and I'm still befuddling myself. Good work, team, let's call it a wrap.

But truly, I do find it hard to grasp these things. I'm a feminist, I believe in equality, but I see it so rarely practiced by men that I get kind of skeptical. And then when someone points out how they could actually be not as feminist, I leap to it even though I dread to because it's so common. I'm not a misandrist; I just don't assume that men are feminist. Which is a major problem. (Remember that part where I said I say problematic things? Bingo.)

Patriarchy just... why?

On the bright side I did come across this really awesome quote on Tumblr, originally posted by sinkorswimbullshit:
My mom told me to “find a man who respects you like a sea captain respects the sea.” A man who looks at you with awe and reverence but knows you are a force of nature. I like that.
I like that too.

I've got no way to end this post; take this song from the Red Hot Chili Peppers that I've been obsessed with since my senior year of high school and has been stuck in my head for the past week for no apparent reason:

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Queer Baiting

I meant to write this post immediately after writing about complicated queer community but clearly that didn't happen. So, harken back to that discussion a little bit as I begin to lay out a my grasping of a somewhat related topic.

More and more frequently I am seeing posts online about an issue called queer baiting. What is queer baiting, exactly? Here's a video I originally saw on Tumblr that explains it rather well. Queer baiting, or slash baiting, as the video defines, is when two same sex characters on a show have a lot of erotic subtext between them but they never have a canon relationship. They are also commonly in a show that has little to none LGBT representation. This can be problematic. As the video narrator described, it gives the idea that here is something naughty or wrong with these expressions of sexuality while choosing to include this sidelong suggestions and insinuations instead of actually representing LGBT characters. You can understand why people are frustrated by this.
I'm very interested in this issue, but given that I'm not a member of the LGBT community, it doesn't really affect me in the same way that it does someone who is part of that community. In fact, given my dubious nature of fangirling, it affects me in a very limited yet complicated way. As I've mentioned here in the past, I'm not much of a shipper. I often care very deeply about romantic relationships in books, films, and shows, and other times I'm less interested and prefer to see friendship or other forms of love expressed instead. I admit that when I first heard about queer or slash baiting, I struggled to understand it beyond initial understanding of the lack of representation of LGBT people because I failed to understand the need to have romantic relationships expressed canonically. For example, I like the show Sherlock but really enjoy the Sherlock and John as BroTP. It's not that I'd have a problem with them being an OTP (one true pairing, or romantic coupledom) it's that I really like watching friendships expressed too and I find myself caught between wanting to see both expressed. Again, I'm not a LGBT member so I watch their relationship far differently. But I think I know why.

This blog post does a great job at expressing why I seem to privilege friendship over romance. I'll quote the main bit that I like here:
Heteronormativity isn’t just about the presumption that everyone is heterosexual. The expectation that boys woo girls feeds into your mind the expectation that relationships are necessary for fulfillment, and you are less than if you are not having particular kinds of sex with a particular, and a particular kind of, person at particular intervals. It’s about what Lauren Berlant calls the love plot, in which love is produced as a generic text enabling society to interpret your life as following certain conventions. It’s not about what you want, it’s about what you’re supposed to want. You’re not encouraged to think about what you want in relationships, if anything, so much as you are encouraged to fit a script. Heteronormativity messes things up for everyone, straight people included.
While I love seeing romantic relationships of any kind expressed, I continue to see them through this lens of skepticism as a heterosexual woman who continues to wonder why everything has to be about sex. "What's wrong with portraying romance, or non-sexual relationships?" I've often wondered. "Why are OTPs privileged over BroTPs?"
I, of course, am making a grievous mistake. The problem is, of course, that there have been hundreds and hundreds of same-sex friendships expressed on television. There have been very few same-sex relationships and those are often not portrayed very well. I can't think of any bi- or trans- relationships (my television history is kind of rusty, so I'm not saying there aren't any; I just can't think of any off the top of my head). It's a big issue when an entire group of people are not being represented in culture - it's a certain kind of silence that's frightening. After seeing people rant and write about queer baiting, I understand it better. Comparing it to the lack of BroTPs for opposite sex friends on TV helps me get a grasp on how important it is to show these differing relationships. Because it's just as important to have opposite sex BroTPs as it is to have same-sex OTPs, since we've got this stupid idea that men and women can't be friends without sex being an issue. Fortunately, we've got some really good BroTPs - Elementary for one, and I'm hopeful for the new show Sleepy Hollow (and both have women of color too WOOT). But we're still severely lacking in the GLBT relationship category.

We're also lacking in representations of asexuality. I go back and forth between feeling like a somewhat sexual person to not having any interest in sex at all, so the representation of asexuality is something I care very much about. Which then complicates the issue of how characters are represented. When it comes down to it, fans are going to have different feelings about how certain characters are going to interact. Some are going to want more focus on friendship, some on romantic and sexual relationships, some on intimacy and romantic relationships. However, it also has a lot to do with writing and portrayal. When you set up a lot of erotic subtext and have a lot of insinuation of a certain kind of relationship but no follow through with it, there's a lot of built-up desire on the part of the viewer and perhaps even a sense of betrayal when it's never followed through. While I'm not a regular viewer of the shows where these issues are the most prominent - Supernatural and Once Upon a Time are the first I think of - I've seen enough to know that there does seem to be a lot of build up to nothing. Hell, I saw the pilot of Xena: Warrior Princess and, knowing very little about the show, already thought that Xena and Gabrielle were totally a couple. Writing is important. And while it may be dangerous for fans to always see things in terms of ships, it's far more dangerous I think to suggest ships and make them integral to the storyline and then never do anything with them.
I'd also like to briefly approach the issue of slash and fangirls, but that could be a thesis paper, not a paragraph. So I'll be brief. I think there is a tendency to fetishize LGBT ships just as there is a tendency to do so with other aspects of culture. Generally, I think there is less fetishism and more of a celebratory nature towards sexuality. However, there is a tendency to desire relationships with gay men simply because it would be sexy, not because of wanting representation for those people. So, it's important to recognize that some fans out there are more focused on this, but not all fangirls are this way. Some people just really want Dean and Castiel to get together because there's a lot of richness in their relationship. And yes, they are attractive human beings, but the focus is on more than just that. At least, that's the feeling I get from my Tumblr dash.

Finally, while I may not be much of a shipper, there is something kind of wonderful about it. I saw a post going around Tumblr a week or so ago how someone who had just been told what shipping was described it as choosing to see the possibility of love everywhere. This is beautiful, really. Love and all its complicated forms is really underrepresented, when you think about it. And given all the multitudes of relationships that could be shown, we kind of get the same boxed up idea of what love is over and over again. So, how do we get more love diversity? Make more things. We have to understand that we likely won't be able to express all relationships in everything we write and we don't want to write in things just to have a token relationship or because we feel we have to represent them. But when I look at the world around me and see how complex it is, I wonder how we ever got to the point where so many shows represent the same things. When did we decide to have twenty cop shows and few shows about teachers or farmers or dieticians or something? Why did it take so long to represent people complexly? Why is Two and a Half Men still on?

The point is, the world is a complicated place. And we should create things that represent it in all its  complexity. We've got fanfiction, yes, but I think mainstream media should represent the same diversity represented by fanfic writers.

One last (slightly unrelated) note: In my past post, I mentioned the struggle with the LGBT acronym: somehow, letters always get left out. You'll note in this post I used LGBT, simply for convenience's sake. However, since the acronym seems to be getting longer and longer and causes the issue of labeling people who perhaps don't want labels, my roommate Sarah and I came up with an alternative name: queer pi(e). Yes, queer pi(e). Why? Because of the definition for the mathematical pi:
Pi is infinite, non-repeating. There are numerous amounts of combinations - just as there is a numerous amount of diversity among LGBT people. But, like pie (the food), they are all part of a larger, wonderful whole. Also, pie is delicious.
So that's my suggestion: queer pi(e). Your move, internet.
Lastly, some blog business to attend to. You'll notice that, once again, I failed to post this Saturday and that I'm posting on a Tuesday, not a Wednesday. I've decided that given my new work schedule and general upcoming insanity that will be my life once school starts in October, I'm going to try a different posting schedule for the time being: on Tuesdays and Fridays. Those are days (I think) that will work better for me. However, I maybe be moving that around, but hopefully I'll be able to settle on something consistent. So look for another post this Friday!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013


The other night, my roommate Sarah and I had a conversation about age. Both Sarah and I agreed that we have issues telling people our age - that it sounds strange to say 22, that people automatically make assumptions about us based off of our age, and that we're in this weird crux of not really adults but definitely not teenagers. We're what people call twenty-somethings. But because we are this age, and because age matters, we're treated differently because we're in this demographic.

Age is an arbitrary system. It matters because we as a society decided to make it matter and agreed that larger numbers denotes more experience, more intelligence, and a more privileged status. Our obsession with youth has of course put certain limitations on this but generally, one assumes that the young are inexperienced and stupid.
While it may be true to some extent that younger people are in some ways naive or don't have as much experience simply because they've spent less time living, I think it's wrong to assume that they are utterly inexperienced, especially for the generation known as Millennials. Millennials are the demographic born between 1980 and 2000 (which I fit exactly in the middle of). The media is fascinated in discussing us right now, given that we aren't buying cars and houses or getting married like everyone assumes we should be doing at our age. There's an interesting disparity between what people assume one should be doing at a certain age and what my generation is actually doing and this is causing a great deal of consternation to people one might say would fit in the Baby Boomer generation. Many people in this older demographic were able to marry young, buy houses and cars, and had good jobs early on in their lives. However, the world has changed since then and the economy, work force, and relationship scene is very different. Millennials, I argue, even have a different mindset than that of those who preceded them.

I spent half the morning trying to find a quote from Tom Hiddleston in which he talks about how his/our generation was raised with a certain skepticism due to media influence and issues with truth in politics (he says it much more eloquently than I can summarize so if you have any idea what quote I'm talking about and where I can find it, I would be incredibly grateful). It's true - Millennials grew up after a lot of political turmoil and conflict (for the U.S. I think specifically of Vietnam and Watergate, as well as the culture wars of the 1980s) and in a time when the media such as 24 hour news networks were beginning to strengthen and grow. There's a certain fascination with media (from fandoms and interests in celebrity to discussions of journalism and valid news sources) as well as a certain distrust of it. We live in an era of truthiness (God bless Stephen Colbert and his writers for this word), a concept that didn't exist when my parents were growing up. But my generation has been completely absorbed in it all of our lives. And it's having some interesting affects. The world has become a very strange place to many people, a place that looks nothing like it did when they were younger. But it's more or less looked this way to my generation's entire time here and we're going about things as usual. Pictorially, I'd say it look something like this:

The previous generation:

I believe that my generation has had a lot more expected of us than those who preceded us. As a recent college grad who's going back to school because I couldn't get a full-time job, I believe the job market is much more ruthless and less forgiving that it was in the past. People claim that my age group has no experience in "the real world" (as if school is part of some alternative universe), but in order to get a job or go to grad schools this day, it's necessary to have done a number of internships, had a work experience, have excellent grades, have a thriving social life as well as important extracurricular activities, done volunteer work, have good credit, and possible describe in fifty words or less on the spot where exactly they see themselves in five years (and if that answer is anything less than stellar, then, well, you just don't care enough). Aside from the fact that it is very difficult to gain all of this experience by the time you graduate college (and even if you do, it guarantees nothing), there's also inherent paradoxes in the whole thing: we have to work to gain experience, but in order to get a job, we're already supposed to have that experience. I went on the tour of the University of Minnesota with Sarah and her sister a month ago and was shocked at what is expected of students entering college now. Sarah's sister is interested in nursing and one of the representatives of the nursing school asked her if she had done any work (ie: volunteer work) in a hospital. She turns eighteen in a few weeks. Eighteen. She's just started considering what she wants to do with her life. And she's supposed to have already gained experience before she can even be considered for the major? It's unreal to me.

The paradox intensifies with the ageism towards young people. I know ageism is generally applied to people who are older, and I don't want to downplay the seriousness of the issues they face and the wrongness of how we view people over the age of fifty. But ageism is also relevant to the young. I have often been treated differently just because I am the youngest person in the room, or because I was new to something and also young. It's not an overt treatment but a subtle attitude of superiority from someone simply because they are older (I'm paraphrasing Sarah here). It's an assumption that time equates experience, not effort or initiative. And it's a belief that you have to prove that you are an adult, instead of just being accepted as one (being an adult, of course, is also arbitrary and linked to age. I for one go back and forth between feeling like I'm thirty-four and fourteen. Which is continually terrifying). This treatment prevents us from having conversation with adults, as Sarah pointed out, keeps us from feeling like adults, and splices us off into this strange amorphous state of being both too young and too old. It, in short, sucks.

I have a lot of respect for Millennials. We're constantly being described as the generation with its hand out expecting special treatment and have everything given to them on a silver platter, expecting to live the life of ease that they grew up in. This is a very warped perception of Millennials, one that only focuses on those who grew up with a lot of privileges and who do expect to easily gain what their parents have. That's not the sort of Millennials I most often see. I am surrounded by a generation crippled by debt with parents who are worried about their finances and their mortgages and keeping their jobs. I am surrounded by young people who can't get jobs or internships or into grad school because there are so many other people struggling to get the very same thing. I know people that do have jobs but are no less worried about the state of things. We rent instead of own, we walk instead of drive, we question the idea of owning things to begin with. We question "the American Dream" and its ideology, we question the idea of democracy and how its practiced and how its come to be defined, we question the media and what is supposes are facts and truths. We're searching for truth, surrounded in a world that seems to think that truth doesn't exist anymore. So when I hear that people think my generation is stupid, I get very upset. Maybe I'm not your average twenty-something. But I don't like the idea of averages or any one group being entirely one thing or another. Millennials are complex and diverse. And we deserve to be treated as such, not as fools who are still expected to make leaps and bounds in the workplace, who are expected to have experience even while they are treated as though they have none. We're floundering around, trying to make sense of the world as much as anyone else. And it would be nice if people older than us would treat us like equals.
This all being said, I've been blessed enough to be surrounded by many adults who have treated me like equals - my parents, a number of teachers and professors, and advisers in both academics and in the workplace. But I have seen many people treat others - sometimes myself, but usually others - with less respect than they deserve simply because they are in their teens or their twenties. Age is important in certain ways, obviously - when it comes to protecting the very young and the old from harm and ill-treatment, absolutely - but the double-edged sword with the fascination of twenty-somethings along with the belief that we're immature in every way is less than ideal. It's a complex issue and one I have no idea how we'd go about changing - it would be a long, slow process, that's for sure. But it would sure be nice if the media was less concerned about the fact that we're not buying stuff and owning houses and actually talk to us about how we're living and why. Maybe if they actually cared about what we thought, we wouldn't be having such a mess. Maybe if the world wasn't so convinced we're going to wreck everything before we even begin, we'd actually have a chance.
I'm not sure how I come off in this post, but I felt rather bitter writing it. Apologies if I sound overly harsh, but I am really angry about this issue. I've actually been angry and kind of Hulk-like all week, so this just furthers this sentiment. But I have a right to be angry - I went through four years of college and get judged by customers because I struggled the first night using a cash register at my new job (I work at Target, a retail chain in the U.S. and apparently Canada), a job they assume someone with far less experience can do. But it's literally all I'm qualified for because employers expect so much now. I'm angry because it's expected of me to be a young professional making boatloads of money right out of college but the reality is not matching up to the assumptions - and probably never really has. We create so many expectations for twenty-somethings to fulfill and yet present a very narrow path of success for them to reach it. It may sound like petulant bellyaching to some, that I should just accept that "this is the way things are," but I refuse that. If I just accept that this is how things are, I feel like I'm giving up on changing it. I don't want to have a family and raise kids in a world where I have to enroll them in early education classes as soon as they're out of the womb so that they have a fighting chance of fulfilling their dreams or having a job or making a difference when they grow up. I believe in my generation - we might be in a mess, we might have low expectations placed upon us, but I really believe that we care and that we can make a difference. Not because we're a completely unique generation or that we're "special snowflakes" (a phrase I have heard used sarcastically so many times I hate using it myself but it best captures what I'm trying to get across) but because we're capable of it. We have much in common with every generation before us and yet we're in this specific time with specific differences. Maybe those differences can make a change for the better.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

A Glimpse of Hope

Today's post is once again based around a Tumblr post I came across the other day. It wasn't what I was planning on talking about this evening, but, as per usual, this became my focus as it continued to bother me.

You can see the original post here where I reblogged it. It centers around the pictured comic which I have also reblogged and seen before. In the comic, an older man who expresses racist tendencies travels the world and changes his opinion on those who are different than him. The post linked here, however, critiques this comic and states that traveling does not cure racism but can actual further certain kinds of racism and cultural misunderstanding, such as the white savior complex (which I believe I've mentioned before, likely in one of the several posts on charity groups).

This post raises several good points, which is why I reblogged it, even though it caused me a sort of dissonant sadness to so (if you're familiar with that sad realization of noticing something you really like isn't perfect in its representation of something, you'll know what I mean. Basically, this is most everything in my life now, but that's a blog post for another time (no, really, it is). As my roommate Sarah said, "I can't be a functioning member of society now!" in regards to critique of things. This is essentially how I feel looking at this post). Yes, the white savior complex is an issue, especially in regards to humanitarian efforts, traveling, and understanding cultures in` general, especially in an academic setting. Yes, traveling cannot magically cure racism - there are certainly people who travel and return to their homes only to more firmly believe that they are the epitome of civilization and that people elsewhere are less so or "others" or "exotic" or what have you. And yes, a simple little cartoon cannot capture the complexity of traveling and race relations and privilege in the world. But despite all of the errors this post does illuminate from the comic, I still like the point the comic is trying to make and I like this comic no matter what. Because it give me hope.
I understand that we don't live in a perfect world - usually I'm the one pointing this out and critiquing things, so perhaps I'm not one to talk. But the critique on this comic really bothers me. If we can continue to say that traveling - certainly an open-minded sort of traveling, one that accepts that many who travel are privileged and that we are going to places with a certain kind of background and a certain kind of view on the world, but even just a curious traveler who wants to get out and explore - makes no difference to the world, then what are we to say about getting rid of racist thought and making change at all? While the argument still stands that racism will likely never be gone while certain hegemonic structures stay in place, I still believe that there are ways to rid the world of racism in small ways. Look, I'm a huge fan of this Margaret Mead quote: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." I believe it and I've seen it to be true. I believe that as long as people are committed, we can work to combat racism - if we don't and we simply wait for certain structures to be overthrown, what's the point? While this article doesn't necessarily make that point, it does in a way argue against the idea that simple things can't combat racism, which I deeply disagree with.

This response to the comic makes several assumptions which I find counterproductive. They assume that people who travel are not educated - no, not even educated, that assumes that someone needs schooling to act this way. I'd say aware - enough to think of people from other areas of the world outside of the realm of exotic or othered. I understand that I have had the privilege to be exposed to a way of thinking that allows me to work against othering people and that we are very much part of cultures that continue to do this. But I find it kind of distancing to assume that this is how a white traveler thinks. Perhaps this is how media and hegemonic influence would like us to think, but I somehow don't feel that we all thinking this way. Maybe I really am farther from the norm than I think. But I'd like to believe that if you took a random group of white Americans to another country that it wouldn't continue the "ugly American" perception. Perhaps I'm terribly wrong. But I'd rather be optimistic and be wrong than be a pessimist on this issue.
Of course, the comic also makes a likewise assumption that people who do travel will have some sort of enlightening experience and feel driven to help and make a change, which is also likely not the case. Many people travel for pleasure and, while this is not overtly wrong, it can be harmful in some ways. I think of the kiosks set up around the pyramids outside Mexico City that my father talked about when he traveled there years ago, of low-income residents trying to profit from the tourist traffic there and make a living off of people visiting the area. Of course, the problem is that they become reliant on tourists, who spend their money without thinking about the state of affairs around them, and when tourist traffic slows, the kiosk owners are affected. There is an uncomfortable relationship between tourists and the residents - read anything written by someone from Venice or a port where cruise ships stop and you'll get a very clear idea about this. Tourism is flawed because it is centered around capitalism, which is also flawed. But this again goes back to the idea of traveling and why one travels - it's not always about spending the money and buying the souvenirs and having the photos to brag about later. Some people travel because they really enjoy seeing the world and meeting different people and widening and changing their perceptions of things. And I believe that this is what the comic is getting at - not that traveling cures racism or that people should help people less fortunate than themselves so that they can go home and feel good about it. I believe it's trying to say that we should travel the world and widen our minds and if we end up helping people along the way, brilliant. However, it stands that this comic did not do the best at expressing this.
I don't want to weaken the argument made in the response to the Tumblr post or say that it's incorrect - I think it's very correct, but it makes a lot of assumptions about the audience of the cartoon. It assumes that people are not aware of these issues already - and maybe they're not - or that all humanitarian actions of this nature are made from a state of white savior intent, which I find too cynical to support. Of course these are issues, but I think the are more present elsewhere than in this comic. I don't know who originally wrote the comic or what their intention of it was, so I can't say whether they would be aware of flaws in the reading of it. I also don't want to sound like I'm coming off saying that "not all white people are this way, this is unfair" because I understand that it weakens the ability for these sort of arguments to be made and makes some people feel as if they cannot make criticisms. Like this post on Tumblr about feminism and why women shouldn't have to specify that they aren't complaining about all men, I can see why my own response to these criticism can be harmful. Reading Susan Bordo's book Twilight Zones, in particular her essay entitled "P.C., O.J., and Truth," I can see how the idea of "world traveling," especially in regards to academic material can be dangerous. As Bordo states, "Simply introducing students to different voices is not enough, if only because Western culture has not been a celebration of diversity, and treating it as such cannot explain the actual inequalities of the world we live in" (Bordo 82). But I also find it harmful to be cynical about these sorts of things and think that such a cartoon only makes things worse rather than posing a positive influence. Yes, the comic is flawed, but it gives hope that people can change and that racism can be eradicated, one person at a time. I believe that people can change through thought and action and I will continue to believe this even though I know it has flaws and shortcomings. I need these little hopes in life - that people will become more open-minded by seeing the world, that differences can be made in the smallest of ways, that there is a lot of good and a lot of hope to be gained. I need this perspective, because if I don't keep it in mind and focus only on the critique and the criticism and see how everything is flawed, I will never get out of bed in the morning and be a very, very miserable person. It's not perfect. But some days, it's all I've got.
So I will leave you all with two quotes that give me a glimpse of hope, because the world is rather bleak right now and perhaps you need this as much as I do. The first is from Susan Bordo, in the same text mentioned above: "[I]t is not necessary to win the big race in order to transform 'they way things are.' All of us in myriad, small ways, have the capacity to do this, because nothing that we do is ever a self-contained, disconnected, isolated event" (64). And finally, one of my new favorite quotes from Indiana author Kurt Vonnegut: “Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place."

Works Cited:

Bordo, Susan. Twilight Zones: The Hidden Life of Cultural Images from Plato To O.J. University of California Press, 1997.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A Public Letter to Miley Cyrus

So a while back I wrote a letter to Justin Bieber. Now with all the hullabaloo about Miley Cyrus, I feel driven to do the same.
Dear Miley,

You've been getting kind of a hard rap for your performance at the VMAs couple weeks ago. While I didn't care for the performance, I'd like you to know that I don't mean this to be a passing of judgement on your character or you as a person. I actually kind of like you. I'm not a fan of your music but as a human being, I don't really have any reason to dislike you. However, I am worried about what you are doing only because... well, you're my age. Being twenty-something is incredibly perplexing. Life itself is perplexing. And so, I thought I'd slow down to take a moment, grab a cup of tea, and talk to you about what's culturally going on with you and your image. I'm sure your well aware of all of it but, you know, it doesn't hurt to have another perspective, right?

So let's talk about the VMAs. I didn't watch them; I don't have cable. But I heard all the chatter about them the following morning and saw clips from your performance with Robin Thicke everywhere. I've already said I didn't care for the performance, but not because of you. I am rather disturbed by your incorporation of twerking and assimilating what you see as "black culture" in to your style because I think it's kind of racist. However, you're not the only person to do this in music and culture in general so I can't solely blame you for it. I'd just like you to be aware of it. No, my particular dislike with the VMAs performance rests with Robin Thicke.

I have a hard time talking about Robin Thicke without relying upon obscenity and threats. This is because I find "Blurred Lines" one of the most sexist and misogynistic songs I have ever heard. The lyrics are all about not understanding consent which, to hear sung by an adult male is terrifying and alarming. I don't care how catchy it is, I don't care how it's the "number one song of summer" (nope, disagree; that's totally Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" song, hands down), and I don't care how many people may tell me it's "just music" or "you're thinking too hard about it" or "just enjoy it, don't take it so seriously." Look, the lyrics literally talk about using drugs to get a girl to have sex with the singer - if you don't find this troubling, then we need to talk about basic human rights. Not only is Thicke's song and especially the music video incredibly objectifying of women, he makes himself and men in general look completely dehumanized. It's all about trying to sleep with this woman and telling her she's not "plastic" and making men look like big, dumb, sex-obsessed oafs who are use too many hashtags. The fact that Thicke creates such a poor image for himself makes it really hard for me express anything but derision for him, especially when the video further dehumanizes him. He's an adult, married, and to hear him sing about "I know you want it" like a stereotyped drunken college frat boy makes me really, really sad.
So when it came to your performance at the VMAs, yeah, I found what you did kind of shocking, not because I think female expression of sexuality is shocking, but because of how you chose to express it. It feels really male-focused and not about yourself and I think it's objectifying. However, I'm more outraged that Thicke allowed this to go on and didn't express any hesitations about having a young girl perform that way around him. I'm further outraged that when it came to criticizing the performance, all of the criticism was placed on you, my dear, not on Thicke, who I think should bear quite a bit of blame for it. But no, we blame women because it's their fault for acting like "sluts." Welcome to the suckage of the patriarchy.

And now your new video, "Wrecking Ball" has come out and people are once again flailing about the sexual edge to it. I came about the controversy about it in this article from The Guardian. I gotta say, Miley, while I'm no stranger to human sexuality, watching your video made me feel incredibly uncomfortable. I felt prudish being so shocked by your performance and while I'm not the most sexual of beings, I don't think I'm that much of a prude (but to be totally honest, I am a little bit. I'm working on it).  Again, it's not because I'm against women sexualizing themselves - I'm all for women embracing their sexuality and finding wide and varied ways to express it. But I realize the discussion on this whole issue is going to be difficult, mainly because of how we think of women and sexuality.

My roommate's sister reblogged this as part of a post on her Tumblr page this morning, with the text "Demi Lovato defends Miley's new video:"

Lovato has a very excellent point. We are really judgement of musicians today because the hipsters have won and we believe pop music is trashy and cheesy. I think this is a pretty unfair judgement of pop - yeah, sure, it may not be the most complicated or deep music to listen to, but it carries with it a certain cultural zeitgeist. There's a reason why we have "songs of 2013" or "songs of the summer." Pop music - and other music as well, but especially pop in the U.S. - has this ability to capture a certain element of time within it. Everytime I hear Daft Punk's "Get Lucky," I'm going to think about hearing it every morning on the Current (a local radio station in Minneapolis), thinking it was super repetitive and not liking it, then realizing the more I heard it, the more I liked, and that damn, that song is fun to dance around my apartment to. It'll remind me of sweating to death in my old apartment and packing up and moving to my new one, and also job searching, celebrating graduation, driving up to a friend's cabin, and all the other things I've done this summer. Pop music is really powerful and it's a shame that people don't appreciate that more. This is one reason why I'm so concerned about what you are doing with your music - because it does matter, very much. What you do in your music videos in your performances and what you say in your songs creates a certain mindset. And it does bother me that "Wrecking Ball" sounds like it's about letting a guy do what he wants to keep him happy instead of having him leave. That aside, I can't tell you what to write your songs about or how to make your music videos. But I can tell you how I see them and why I think Lovato's tweet is both correct and incorrect.
You absolutely have the right to express yourself anyway you want. I firmly believe this. But I would like you to be aware of how your doing it and how this expression might actually be more of objectification. I worry that you aren't expressing yourself but objectifying yourself. The writer from the Guardian describes some instances in your video as "pornographic" and while I don't know if I would use that word, I do find them difficult to deal with. The issue, however, is that feminism has a bad track record for dealing with content like yours. Too often, it comes down to slut shaming and scandalizing certain heterosexual female expressions of sexuality rather than embracing how women can embrace them and turn them against things like the male gaze and gratification. Feminism sometimes narrowly focuses in on a certain kind of woman it would like to accept, instead of accepting all women, and men, and people who do not identify with our goddamned gender binaries. However, I worry that what you are doing is not because you want to do it but because you have been convinced to do it, whether knowingly or unknowingly, through your manager, through the music industry, through culture itself in its idea of how women are supposed to act, especially in regards to sex. It comes back to the Madonna-whore crux: either you're "pure and virginal" or you're "slutty and dangerous." Don't further express that crux. You are much better than that, Miley. You are an incredible young woman who has a lot of devoted fans - many of whom are young and look up to you. I worry at what they might be learning from you, just as you likely learned from other musical role models. All I ask is an awareness of what your music and videos present and perhaps a moment to think about how you can change it. You shouldn't do what sells - you should do what you want to do. Because your fans love you and they'll love you no matter what. Find a way to say, "I am Miley, I am an adult, I am sexy but not sexualized. I am being expressive, not objectified." Easier said than done, but it is well worth the effort. It, I think, will make a big difference both for you and for your connection to your fans. You are already strong and confident and seeing yourself in this way will only make you more so.

So best of luck, Miley - I really want the best for you. I would love to see a Disney star do well and not lose herself because she's trying so hard to put the Disney days behind her. They will never be completely gone for you, I'm afraid - we're far to nostalgic for that. But you can rewrite and recreate who you are while still recognizing where you got your start and make something new and wonderful.

Best wishes,
Gina Musto

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Minnesota - You Betcha
Due to a slight misfortune - I was unable to go to the Renaissance Fair today, but only because I had orientation for my new job at Target (YAY I'M EMPLOYED AGAIN) - you guys are getting a blog post. A very brief one because I'm a bit tired from absorbing all the stuff I need to know about my new job, but a blog post none the less.

I mention Minnesota quite a bit on this blog so I thought I'd share this post from Buzz Feed that accounts the 29 most Minnesotan things that have ever happened. The first one is a pretty excellent representation of our tendency to be over-polite and apologetic. And yet number 15 shows that our intolerance of our neighboring state's football team can make us anything but polite and apologetic. And also the snow - lots and lots of references to snow. (Which I'm missing sorely in yet another heat wave we've gotten.)

So, in celebration of me working the sales floor for a Minnesota retail chain, this is a small nod to the awesomeness of Minnesota. Rock on, Star of the North.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

How Steven Spielberg (sort of) Ruined My Life

Apologies again for missing another posting day - last Saturday was moving day to my new apartment and things have been a bit crazy getting stuff unpacked. This Saturday, I'll be busy as I'm going to the Renaissance Fair, but I'll do my best to get a post up before I head out. So today I'm submitting a random bit of silliness that's been waiting to be published. Enjoy. 

There's an ultimate conclusion I've reached here recently in thinking about film and my childhood and life in general: nearly everything I'm afraid of or that torments me can be traced back to a Steven Spielberg film.
Let me explain. Steven Spielberg is, without a doubt, one of the most influential directors in American cinema. Say what you will about his films or his themes or the ideology present throughout his movies; I have heard these arguments and acknowledge them (if you're unfamiliar with this, which I imagine many may be, please let me know and I'd be happy to elaborate either in the comments or in another post). However, I'm not going to bring in criticism of Spielberg's films here simply because it's not entirely relevant and I don't quite know how I feel about these criticisms. Yes, Spielberg films have issues but so do many, many American films. I just want to clarify from the get-go that this is not intended to be a film critique. But this is a personal and tongue in cheek example of how damn influential film can be on our lives - for better or for worse; I'll let you decide.

I have a rather deep, abiding fear of velociraptors which can only stem from one source - Jurassic Park, the first Spielberg film I think I ever saw. I think I somehow saw it when I was at the ripe old age of five or six (and by ripe and old I mean highly impressionable and deeply swayed). Realistically I have no reason to be afraid of velociraptors considering they've been extinct for hundreds of millions of years, and yet ever since Sam Neill explicitly described how velociraptors feed at the beginning of the film, I have a certain anxiety about their former existence on Earth. It's also one of the most quoted movies in my family - especially the line about blood-sucking lawyers (why? I have no idea. Funny now that I'm going to be a paralegal).

I am not directly afraid of sharks but thanks to Jaws I often wonder about what's swimming beneath me when out in a lake. Especially because Minnesotan lakes have Northern Pike... and they have a lot of teeth. I don't care that they are not interested in nibbling on humans - it's the fact that they could, ala Jaws, that is worrisome. Also, without Jaws, would a film like Sharknado have been possible? Would Discovery Channel's Shark Week be as popular?

A northern pike, just in case you don't believe me when I say they can be terrifying. (

Then there's Poltergeist. I saw part of this film when I was pretty young and have been forever scarred by it. Snowy television screens, paranormal activity, the dark, building on burial grounds - yeah, this film is chock full of things to give me nightmares.

Indiana Jones made me nervous about snakes and aware of Nazis long before I understood anything about WWII. Close Encounters and E.T. gave me a lot of feels about aliens. And War Horse... basically, if there's any one film that I particularly blame Spielberg for ruining my life with, it's War Horse. He put two of my favorite actors in the same movie, in the same scenes. I got really excited when I saw the stills on Tumblr because I thought it seemed like Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hiddleston were in a large chunk of the movie. And then I saw the film...
Yeah, let's just say I'm still emotionally compromised about that movie. It's probably a good thing I've never met Steven Spielberg because the conversation would basically go like this:
Despite all of this, I continue to see Spielberg films and often enjoy them. Lincoln was great. War Horse was good, even though it feels like having your heart torn out and set on fire watching it. I would be lying if I denied how much I love Jurassic Park and Indiana Jones. His films continue to be popular and influential in American culture. But goddamnit man, I hope your happy for causing so many tears and fears and feels. Because my life is completely different for having seen your films.