What if Lost time travelled to a feminist future?

While island life on Lost has hardly been a feminist utopia, it has provided fertile ground for an analysis of gender norms and hierarchies. Via traditionally masculine characters such as Jack, Sawyer, and Locke, as well as through the representation of various other ‘non-normative’ masculinities, the show suggests there are many ways to ‘be a man.’ More importantly, it has at times suggested that perhaps being human is more important than being a masculine man or a feminine woman. After all, when you are fighting for your life, ‘doing gender right’ is hardly at the top of you priority list. The show has certainly not been consistent with this motif though, and frequently lapses into tired, sexist love triangles, masculinized aggression fests, and save the poor little lady narratives.

Jack and Sawyer exude macho, hetero-masculinity (and annoyingly try to out-masculine each other in their love triangle with Kate), but their characters have nevertheless challenged the ‘stock male action hero stud’ type at various points throughout the show’s narrative arc. They are more fully fleshed out than many a male character (and no, I am not referring to the ubiquitously de-shirted Sawyer). They are shown to be emotional, complex, vulnerable, nurturing – neither, in short, hold entirely to the Rambo-man-in-jungle motif. In fact, Locke is the more Rambo-like character – a rugged individualist and would be patriarch. Yet, he does take a collective/communal approach to solving problems and does not try to become the alpha male Jack and Sawyer do. He is a strong leader, but not one who lords it over the other characters. He, like Kate, is decisive but not bossy, strong-minded yet not dictatorly.

Jack and Sawyer, on the other hand, fall into the traditional ‘good boy/bad boy’ dyad. One week Jack is the good and Sawyer bad, the next week it flips. Via these characters, we are prompted to consider differing versions of masculinity. Do we like the good boy Jack who rules out of (supposed) benevolence or the bad boy don’t-give-a-damn Sawyer who makes his (supposedly) selfish nature clear?

While the show keeps the gender hierarchy firmly in place form the most part (with masculinity being valued over femininity), it also suggests that this may not be a good thing for (island) society. Jack and Sawyer are shown as too rash and domineering, Ben is a downright creep-fest, and Locke puts himself first far too often. Kate would be a far better leader than any of these patriarchs. Yet, the show maddeningly lets her slip into stale feminine norms too often, which, I suspect, is due to non-feminist writers penning the script…

What are these writers thinking by marooning her OFF the island and putting her into one-dimensional mommy mode? Kate is hardly the type to drop everything in the name of motherhood, let alone your typical stranded and awaiting savior female. And for freak’s sake, could she stop taking so much crap from Jack and Sawyer? Sleep with ’em as often as you like Kate, but keep your head on!

While Kate is back-tracking into the “problem that has no name” this season (re: Betty Friedan), Sun’s presence in season 5 could be hurtling towards a more feminist future. Unmoored from dad and husband, I am looking forward to where this season takes her.

Perhaps this season the show will break with the rather normative way it has presented gender thus far, with females being framed in relation to males and/or to their children (or desire for them). The season opener made this motif particularly clear. All the male characters were actively trying to save the island, save each other, and figure out the mystery while the females were either in save-the-kid mode or sidekick mode (Sun being the only exception).

The second show of the series was not much better. Penny was merely the loving helper to Desmond and Julia continued to play a secondary role in comparison to the ‘island saving’ males. The female sidekick to Faraday (I can’t remember her name, how telling is that???) was mere dressing to the narrative. Plus, she was infuriatingly depicted as going all gaga when Faraday declared his love. Yuck. And, while the ‘army’ was headed by a strong, gun-toting female, the real leader was (once again) male.

Thus far, all the time zones the island has travelled to have been hetero-normative, patriarchal, and cisgended. Maybe as the island is skipping through time, it will land in a feminist time-zone, one in which females and males equally share in the adventure and leadership, in which women too are the saviors, the important scientists, the visionaries. We need more than Kate and Sun and Julia – and more than the vision we are given now of mainly white hetero hyper-masculine males being the most valuable and valued island inhabitants. Perhaps they need to bring in Ilene Chaiken, Diablo Cody, Amy Sherman-Palladino, or Tina Fey to help pen a few episodes… What would Liz Lemon do on the island? How about Bette? What about Max (The L Word) or another non-cisgendered character/story-line?

(As a side note, Sawyer can keep his shirt off for all I care, but please avoid the lame meta-textual references reminding the hetero female audience they are being treated to a skin-show!)

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What if TV is worth watching again?

Television was pretty dire up until a few weeks ago. The only shows worth watching before the return of Lost and The L Word were The Office and 30 Rock.

OK, I will admit it, I am also a sucker for Grey’s Anatomy (and I use to be an avid watcher of ER in the Clooney days). Something about soap-opera tinged scalpel drama just appeals to me. Speaking of scalpels, now that I reinstated Showtime so I can watch the final season of The L Word, I am catching up on the new season of Dexter as well. Who would have thought a serial killer drama would be so enjoyable? I find the diversity of the cast impressive – and Deb has such a way with swear words!

I gave up on Desperate Housewives as of this season (see my post here explaining why). I have given up on House too although I used to quite like it. Don’t know if it was the feminist-bashing season opener or if House’s caustic wit and assholery antics have warn thin.

I haven’t ever watched Gossip Girl – can’t face it. The ads alone are more than enough – so many clothes! So many bone-thin bodies!

I have not had time yet to tune back into the new season of Nip/Tuck. I was so turned off by some of last season’s drama that I dread what might happen next. Will Sean be turning to the middle school set? Horrid.

As for new shows, I am loving United States of Tara. Toni Collette’s superb acting, John Corbett’s enviable affability, and Diablo Cody’s wonderful slice-of- life wit make for a great mix.

And, as for shows now deceased, the one I probably miss the most is Six Feet Under.

I also miss all the great telly from when I lived in England – with fewer channels they do a lot more great TV than we manage here stateside. I do occasionally watch BBC America, of course, but it ain’t the same as living across the pond and having ITV, Channel Four, and the Beeb!

As my DVR queue is finally full of some shows worth watching, I will post some questions to ponder of the TV-esque variety to allow myself some telly-time this evening. Some may turn into full posts later, some may not. Suppose it depends on how much TV I am watching and whether or not the shows are worthy of either praise or blame of the professorial what if variety… (And, dear readers, please feel free to post your answers to these questions in the comment thread. Or, if you are feeling writerly, contact me about guest posting. This would then give me more time to watch TV… Ha!)

What if Kate ruled the island? (Lost)

What if the Dunder-Mifflin crew made up Obama’s new white house staff? (The Office)

What if the crew of Gossip Girl were trafficked and became sweatshop laborers in the very factories that make all the duds they now where?

What if once women “speak the vagina monologues” their characters did not mysteriously disappear? (Grey’s Anatomy)

What if Dr. House were a woman? (You know SHE wouldn’t get away with all the crap he pulls!) (House)

What if they switched Wife Swap to Husband Swap?

What if bi-sexual characters were not always of the “crazy and hot” variety? (Grey’s Anatomy. Tila Tequila)

What if disabled characters were regularly featured as characters rather than relegated to the “overcoming obstacles” narratives of reality TV?

What if shows rewarded people for loving their bodies rather than hating them? (Biggest Loser, etc)

What if this were not (painfully!) the last season of the L Word? If the show continued as long as Happy Days, where would Better, Shane, and the crew be in 20 years?

OK people, go enjoy your box now. No, not that box silly — the one in your living room!

What if O stands for “Overwhelming body hatred”? (Reflections on the January cover of O: The Oprah Magazine)

O January Cover
O January Cover

As you can see above, the January 2009 cover of O features two different pictures of Oprah. On the left, Oprah is aglow. Dressed all in white, she exudes confident joy. On the right, a more quizzical, frustrated, and fuller Oprah dons a purple tracksuit. With her right hand, she indicates her “better” self, with her left,  she points to the question emblazoned across the cover “How did I let this happen again?”

A close-reading of this cover might question how the use of color perpetuates the notion that white is superior. The good white Oprah (or the thin Oprah, all in white with pearly whites blazing) is contrasted to the bad purple Oprah – that color Alice Walker so famously associates with womanism AND with blackness.*

The copy is telling as well, noting that “Oprah on her battle with weight” is “a must-read for anyone who’s ever fallen off the wagon.” Wow, weight as a battle and eating as an addiction akin to alcoholism all in one subtitle! And, in the left corner, “MAKING WEIGHT LOSS STICK” uses capital letters, indicating this is a directive, a must, something VERY important…

I admit to subscribing to the O magazine on and off since its launch. I like many aspects of the magazine- the book reviews, the emphasis on meaty copy rather than fluff, the coverage of global issues. Others I am not so fond of. For example, the “O List,” or those “must -haves,” many of which you would have to be a millionaire to purchase.  As this list indicates, the magazine suffers from rather pervasive class-blindness. Another aspect of the magazine I don’t like is its continual perpetuation of body hating messages that are all prettily wrapped up in a “love yourself” disguise.

This month’s cover, though, is perhaps the first one I will have to hide from my children’s eyes. I do not want them viewing this image, which screams that the “fat Oprah” is a failure. I don’t want them reading the copy that indicates one MUST be “Making Weight Loss Stick” by following a “simple plan.” I do not want them associating the color purple (Oprah, how could you?!?!?) with regret.

One thing I have liked about O in the past is that each month a black woman is on the cover – yes, it is Oprah, and yes, she is the magazine proprietor – but I still like the fact that a powerful, successful, brilliant, radiant black woman is on the cover each month. Having O decorating our coffee table along with Ms., New Moon, and The Nation conveys to my kids (I hope) that magazine covers are not only for thin white sexually objectified women.

Alas, this month’s issue of O will not be given a place on the table- it will hide away in a drawer, to be furtively read in preparation for further posts on Oprah’s “failure” to escape the body hating industrial complex, that prison house in which MOST of us dwell…

(As an aside, my nine-year-old daughter did see this cover and immediately tsked-tsked “That is so stupid mom. Why does she care so much about what she weighs?” Ah, these are the moments that melt a feminist mother’s heart.)

* See In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens: Womanist Prose (1983).

(For an excellent post addressing  Oprah’s failure to make peace with her body, read Kate Harding’s “Dear Oprah” piece here. )

What if you plan to email your professor?

Every time a semester is about to start or has just started, my email box is inundated with “URGENT” pleas from students. Many of the things they are writing about are in fact not urgent at all. Rather, most often the information they seek could be easily found at the campus website.  Another common “urgent” type of message relates to the fact they would like to add my class to their schedule AND would like to me to give them special consideration for umpteen different (almost always non-urgent) reasons. So, to those of you out there starting a new semester, before you email your Professors, please consider the following (rather cranky) suggestions:

1.       For goodness sake, spell  her/his name right! And, on that note, would editing for spelling/grammar kill you?

2.       Please do not take the liberty of referring to the professor by first name, nickname, or merely with ‘hey’ UNLESS you already know said Prof and such familiarity is warranted. Respect may be going out of style, but the lack of it will likely irk many (myself included).

3.       Do not request special consideration.  For example, do not ask to be put on add/crash lists due to “desperation.”  Like everyone else, show up the first day and prove you really are interested/dedicated. (And please try to remember that every student a professor adds translates into more grading to the tune of several more hours per student added  – especially in writing-intensive courses.)

4.       Do not write complaining about when the class is scheduled. Professors rarely control class times and often may be as unhappy with an assigned class time as you. We are not scheduling gods but mere cogs in the machine who must bow down to Dean’s and Provost’s and their ideas about optimum schedules.

5.       Do not act as if you are the only student that matters and that the Professor needs to bend over backwards to accommodate your work schedule, the fact you have children, or the fact you are hungry all the time and will need to bring bento boxes to class to munch on. (True story: in my early days of teaching,  I had a student who laid out a sushi spread on his desk on various occasions.)

6.       Do not include directives like “reply ASAP” or “please respond immediately” or “URGENT!!!!” when no such subject descriptions are warranted. Um, who do you think you are? And do you have ANY idea just how many emails most professors get each day?

7.       Do not ask for information that you can find yourself! Guess what, you can find out the textbook requirements ONLINE! You can look up professor office hours ONLINE! Often, you can access the syllabus ONLINE!

8.       Remember that such correspondence shapes your professor’s impression of you. If you come off as arrogant, demanding, self-centered, selfish, lazy, etc, many professors just might remember this about you. We are, after all, mere mortals. As much as we may try to overlook what an asshole you were in your email, we may very well remember right up to when we are formulating your final grade. (Now, I am not trying to suggest that professors are not good at impartial grading; I think most are –  but if you are one point away from a B- and you were an email jerk, some (consciously or not) may keep you at the C+ level rather than giving the one point bump…)

What if Obama and crew have their eyes and ears attuned to the feminist blogosphere?

Well, after Blog for Choice Day 2009 and the many, many posts around the feminist blogosphere decrying the Global Gag Rule, the day is FINALLY here – NO MORE GGR! Hurray, hurray, hurray. Perhaps right now, at the White House, Obama is reading feminist bloggers as he formulates what is most pressing on his political agenda. Maybe he is even wearing a “This is what a feminist looks like” t-shirt as he does so. One can dream!

What if our supposedly feminist president repealed the Global Gag Rule as promised?

On the one hand, this post is in honor of Blog for Choice Day 2009 . On the other, it is an angry response to the fact that President Obama is already failing to live up to his image as portrayed on the infamous Ms. cover:

obama

While I will not get into a lengthy debate as to whether one must be pro-choice to be a feminist, I will share that FAILING to repeal the Global Gag Rule or at the very least address the 36th anniversary of Roe V Wade publicly (and to address what this means in terms of reproductive justice) does seem to put one’s feminist cred into question.

Now, onto the question for this year’s Blog for Choice Day: What is your top pro-choice hope for President Obama and/or the new Congress?

Well, to start, let me get all professor-of- rhetoric on the question: ‘FOR’ seems to be a very poor word choice. As written, the question asks me to consider a pro-choice hope FOR Obama and/or the Congress RATHER than to consider a pro-choice hope for the world’s people let alone a pro-choice goal or agenda for the new administration.

To answer the question as written, I would say my hope FOR Obama would be that his daughters are given full reproductive freedom and the chance to grow up in a world where they can fully own and control their own reproductive capacity rather than having it be controlled for them. (A secondary hope FOR Obama would be that he could live up to the claim made on the Ms. cover.)

As for a hope FOR the new Congress, I would hope they collectively make (pro)choices that will give not only their children, but all the world’s children, the capacity to control their own reproduction.

Now, if the question was written as I think it should have been, as “What is the top pro-choice change that you hope President Obama and/or the new Congress will bring about,” well, my answer would be “Reverse the global gag rule!!!!”

GW’s first executive order was to reinstate the Global Gag Rule. Obama has already issued three executive orders – one to close Gitmo, one to ban torture, and one to create a task force to review detention policies. These are indeed important – but, a fourth order is in order!

Given that today is the 36th anniversary of Roe V. Wade, why is Obama NOT making good on his promise to repeal the GGR? Is the Ms. cover all photo-shop and no substance? IF he did repeal the GGR as promised, well, we could begin to redress some of the DOWNRIGHT DISASTROUS effects of the GGR (as documented here: “How the Global Gag Rule Undermines U.S. Foreign Policy and Harms Women’s Health.“) And, on a more personal note, he MIGHT begin to restore my faith that the claim made on the Ms. cover is true rather than mere wishful thinking…

What if you could buy social justice? (Part 10: Avoiding the ATM: Breaking the Consumerist Mindset)

This series has been based on my conviction that green products, pink ribbons, rubber bracelets, political t-shirts, and Oprah give-aways are NOT going to bring about social justice. The consumer activism mindset that has taken hold in US society will not end genocide, war, poverty, racism, or anything else. In fact “consumer activism” is largely an oxymoron. Although one can be a “conscientious consumer” (and take an activist stance via NOT shopping/promoting certain corporations (i.e. Wal-Mart)), I don’t believe a socially just world cannot be bought – no matter how much is being spent.

Further, although many social justice organizations need money in order to do their work, donating money will not in and of itself bring about equity. Such donations are important no doubt, but what is just as necessary (if not more so) is using your voice, your brain, your pen, your keyboard, your body to PROTEST those things that are wrong in our world. (And NOT buying can certainly be a form of protest.) Besides, throwing money at a situation never works – it may make things look better on the surface, but dig a little deeper, and the problem will still be there.

In spite of this, justice through consumerism is being sold to the world citizenry at an alarming rate. Donate to this politician and your country will be saved. Buy this car and the environment will be healed. Purchase products with pink ribbons and breast cancer will disappear. Send money and the ravages wrought by Katrina will be fixed. Order a box of Thin Mints for a soldier and ameliorate the damages of militarization. These are the types of messages that we are inundated with. They vary in type and urgency, but all, at their core, have the same purpose: to make us, as humans, believe that through consumption we can make the world a better place.

This mass-delusion keeps the wheels of advanced corporate capitalism spinning us happily towards our doom as we go about lives driven largely by consumerist desires. Even more abhorrent though is the way the consumer mindset has infiltrated activist/social justice movements. I imagine many earlier visionaries are rolling in their graves. Emma Goldman certainly would take issue with consumerized voting movements such as Rock the Vote. Karl Marx would hardly endorse the push for re-usable bags over and above the push for worker’s rights (after all, how many of those Whole Foods shoppers with their cloth bags are thinking about the exploitive labor that picked that organic produce?) Virginia Woolf would see right through pink-washing. And I doubt if Sojourner Truth would be quick to buy a rubber bracelet claiming “Ain’t I a woman?”

Part of the reason that this consumerist mindset has taken such a strong hold is that consumerism has become the new one world religion, as discussed in parts 1 through 5 of this series. We are encouraged that with shopping comes salvation, that buying is the best form of worship. Yet, in spite of the ways consumerism has infiltrated every facet of life, including not only religion but also activism and protest, there are a number of indications that the world populace is beginning to question justice through buying. Sites like Enough.org are good signs “enoughism” is gaining appeal. Enoughism, a concept that Berkeley Professor Wendy Brown describes as “a threshold of wealth and consumption above which no one needs more…a threshold below which no one can thrive” seems to be the type of system that combines socialism with capitalism in a productive way – a system that would allow for capitalism with a social conscious and a collective world view (Brown quoted in Ms., Winter 2009, p.37). Perhaps one positive outcome of the global economic crisis will be more people saying “Enough!” to the corporatist greed that got us here. Perhaps it will lead people to break their ATM habits, to a switch from a consumerist mindset to an enoughism one.

Meanwhile, I believe that instead of heading to the ATM, literally or figuratively, we would do better to spend time, rather than money, doing the following:

  1. Reading/Writing
  2. Thinking
  3. Talking
  4. Listening
  5. Acting

To elaborate:

Reading/Writing: We would be better served by educating ourselves about the many problems in our world rather than running out to buy green/pink products. Reading about the complex history behind the problems that plague human society is vital. We cannot hope to change the world without doing our research first. Writing is the next part of this equation – whether it is writing a blog post, a letter to an editor, or a missive to Dear Aunt Hilda. The pen (or keyboard) is indeed mightier than the sword.

Thinking, an activity that is woefully under-rated, must occur both individually and collectively. We need to think about the changes that need to be made, examine what prevents these changes, and consider how we can make change a reality (rather than merely a rhetorical stance peppered in speeches). Buying is easier than thinking, hence many opt to purchase something in hopes this will bring about change (i.e. a politically hip t-shirt or a rubber bracelet) rather than THINKING about what really needs to occur for change to happen.

Talking, or raising awareness, is crucial. We cannot hope to change the world until the masses wake up from their slumbering sheep-state. However, as the conversation is currently controlled by the corporate owned BIASED media, most of the ‘talking’ that takes place on a societal level works to maintain and perpetuate things as they are. We must interrupt this conversation and CHANGE the subject(s)!

Listening to ALL kinds of ‘others’ regarding how to make the world a more socially just place is vital. Everyone deserves a place at the table, and the more diverse the voices the better. We must listen to others as their experiences will be different from ours – even if they share the same sex/gender/race/class/sexuality/belief etc. This is one of the reasons the big umbrella labels we use can be problematic – not all women are the same, not all queers are the same, not all trans people are the same. Each person, no matter how many ‘social positionings’ they share, will bring something new and different to the conversation. We must keep our ears open for to ALL types of voices coming from all types of places. We need to seek out others to listen to who have different “lenses” or experiences from our own.

Acting in ways both small and large to bring about the socially just world we envision is the essential culmination of these five steps. If we do the first four, and forget about the fifth, not much will be gained. We need to take action regarding all of the above, continually asking ourselves “What actions can I take to change things? What activism can I be a part of?” What we do NOT need to do is act in more ways that our bound up with consumerism!

(And, for a list of sites that encourage NOT buying, go here to find a number of great sources compiled by Dervish.)