What if Max became Maxine? Musings on Where the Wild Things Are…

I am torn about the new adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are. One of the beauties of that book is it has very few words, leaving much open to the imagination of the reader. Having it rendered in film will, I fear, spoil the imaginings of generations of future readers who will see the story as the film interprets it.

I have yet to see the movie, but the preview alerted me that one of the wild things has a female voice. This prompted me to ask — what if Max had been re-imagined as Maxine? Such a shift would have altered the imaginings of many readers, encouraging them to see females as viable wild leads. While some will certainly scoff at this suggestion, I would ask them:

Why are the majority of  books and films still populated with male protagonists?

What messages do you think this might send to young readers/viewers?

When over half the world’s population is female, while are only 1/10 to 1/5 of characters female?

When females are in lead roles in children’s texts, how often are they framed in terms of the princess/romance narrative?

Quick, here is a fun feminist Friday brain excercise for you, name, as quickly as you can, ten children’s films with a female lead who is not a princess…

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What if you are an artistic rapist? Better that than a microphone stealing musician! (On Roman Polanski vs. Kanye West)

The way that we codify and react to rape in the U.S. is utterly bizarre.

I do a classroom activity in my Intro to Women’s Studies classes where students read different crime scenarios and then debate who is to blame, who is innocent, if the blame is shared and by how much, etc. Invariably, in the rape and sexual assault scenarios, a majority of students partially or fully blame the victim, especially if said victim is female.

In contrast, in the scenario in which a man has something stolen from his car after leaving the doors unlocked, students more often place all or most of the blame on the thief. Sometimes I hear comments to the effect “It shouldn’t matter the doors were unlocked. It’s a matter of trust.” Why do I rarely hear comments of this ilk with rape scenarios? Why not “It doesn’t matter that she flirted/kissed him/was drunk/ etc…It’s a matter of trust”?

Another interesting factor is that in relation to the car story there is a tendency to espouse the idea that you should not steal or destroy someone elses “property” regardless of whether the opportunity arises.  Yet, in contrast, a woman apparently does not own and control her own body (as so cogently made clear in the battle against reproductive choice)—rather, her body is up for grabs. She, according to the parameters of patriarchy, “belongs” to men (and all the more so if she is young, a person of color, a sex worker, etc – as rape cases repeatedly show, blaming  the victim goes on hyper-drive the further a woman is from the “ideal” white, hetero, middle to upper class ‘good’ woman).

This cultural context of framing women as booty (and some as property for all while some as private property) is why, of course, the term “cock blocker” is so well know and so often used, with hetero males framed as if in virtual cock fights over who will “tap that.”

Now, the Polanski rape referred to in the title occurred before the term cock blocker was part of the cultural lexicon, but it too revolves around the premise that men have some sort of right to women’s bodies, and moreover, if they are talented, artistic men, we need to overlook their “faults,” even when those faults involve raping a child.

In reading around a bit, I have come across numerous comments to the effect “but he makes wonderful films” or “he is just a tortured artist, we need to cut him some slack.” Or, in a different vein, “it was a different time; we can’t judge him by today’s standards.” Oh yes we can, and indeed we are. We are judging him by the rape apologist ideology, the rape myths, and the blame the victim strategies that are our standards – or, more aptly, that reflect our lack of standards when it comes to preventing, punishing, and eradicating crimes of sexual violence.

Tellingly the 13 year old Polanski raped, a woman now in her 40s, is derisively framed as having had aspirations to be a model, as if wanting to be famous or successful is the equivalent of “asking for it.”

Now, imagine if Catherine Hardwicke had drugged and then sexually assaulted 15-year-old Taylor Lautner. The reaction would be much different, no? As the infamous Lorena Bobbitt case so forcefully clarified, we react far differently to female violence, and particularly when it is perpetuated against men.

To consider another contrast, let’s take the Kanye West microphone stealing incident. In the September 25 issue of Entertainment Weekly, 93% of people polled said they do not forgive Kanye. And yet, people are falling all over themselves to excuse Polanski.  So, insult a fellow artist and block her acceptance  speech and you are beyond reproach, but drug a 13-year-old, rape her, and then abscond from the country for decades to avoid punishment and that’s just fine. Cuz, come on, he’s an ARTIST and that Piano film was just super. (Plus, unlike Kanye West, he’s a white dude and we tend to forgive white dudes far more readily…) I’m not saying what Kanye did was alright, but it was a FAR cry from drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl. How sad that we seem more able to forgive a rapist than rapper…

What if my gaze mattered? On the continuing dominance of the white-male-hetero-gaze and how it’s infiltrating the “feminine” world of Twilight…

All the discussion of making the New Moon film friendlier to male audiences has my feminist panties in a bunch. Why must the Twilight films court the male demographic?

Granted, many feminists have decried the popularity of Twilight, and with good reason. But, I think we have more work to do in terms of scrutinizing why these books have such mass appeal, especially to females. Like Tania Modleski and Janice Radway, I believe the reasons we buy into mainstream narratives of romance are complex.

Liking such texts/films does not necessailry (or only) mean we are strengthening the chains of our oppression, let alone loving the ties that bind us to patriarchy. Many such narratives (Twilight among them) are both regressive and subversive, both rebellious and complicit of dominant mores and ideologies. Women, as we are positioned as lesser in our male dominated world, are drawn to such storylines for complex reasons. They allow us to vent our anger at female oppression, to romanticize the hetero-monogomous couple so that we can swallow this norm in our real lives, to experience the “happy endings” that real life does not foster.

Males are drawn to violence, action, thriller, and suspense for similarly complex reasons.  Yet, these genres are nowhere near as criticized, decried, and mocked. Many films, horror, action, sci-fi among them, speak to a mainly male audience. However, rarely is the need to court female viewers or speak to a “female gaze” ever part of our cultural conversations. In fact,  if one considers the pervasive “male gaze” of virtually all cinema, where women are to-be-looked-at and the camera either obviously or tacitly fondles female bodies to elicit pleasure from the presumed hetero-male-gaze, it can be argued that film in general courts a male demographic. When this is not the case, the rather derisive “chick flick” label is bandied about, with disdainful talk of tears, Kleenexes, and hand-holding.

While the terms “chick lit” and “chick flick” are relatively new, the concept is centuries old. Romance novels, gothic fiction, sentimental fiction, and domestic novels have long wooed a female audience while critics, cultural movers and shakers, and ‘high brow’ audiences have mocked these female forms. Yet, unlike genres identified as male, which are often just as (if not more) “lightweight” in their topics, focus, and messages,  genres labeled as feminine are seen as lesser, as frivolous, as laughable – much the way women have been viewed since patriarchy reared its ugly little head.

Where are the critics rallying about the fact that horror-porn movies  are “male flicks? Where are the cultural analysts deriding the male-centric view of comic book movies, action films, and thrillers? Were Hostel, The Fast and the Furious, and the umpteen zillion boob-filled Bond movies trying to court me? I think not.

I like horror films. I like good sci-fi and mind-bending thrillers. I like anything that has a bit of intelligence, humor, good acting, great effects, heart, and/or provoking ideas. Do most movies play to my gaze? Hell no. But I go anyway, as do most women. This, my friend, is the rub – women will go to “male flicks” far more readily than males will attend anything dubbed “too feminine” – it’s the same way you can call a female a dude, a guy, or ‘one of the boys’ and it’s just fine, complimentary even, but call a male a female, and it’s INSULTING.

So forgive me if me and my female hormones are insulted by the actors and the director falling over themselves to explain all the ways New Moon will be more “guy friendly.” I don’t need the world to be anymore guy friendly, thank you very much. Couldn’t females, once in a while, be seen as just as worthy, just as much a part of humanity, just as interesting as males? And why is it that when something is popular with a mainly female audience, it is heaped with scorn? You know the answer (s) – patriarchy, sexism, misogyny…

If you have men in your life who pooh-pooh the feminine, refusing anything defined as “for chicks,” too bad for them. Hop on your motorbike and leave these jackasses in the dust.

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Cross posted here at Seduced by Twilight.

What if you don’t want a bundle of joy let alone a man to call your own?

We live in a culture addicted to the idea of weddings, marriage, and babies. TLC is just one of the smorgasbords where we are encouraged to stuff ourselves silly on a veritable buffet of shows touting white poufy dresses and perfectly planned pregnancies.

The other evening, a quick exchange left me reeling. “All my daughter wants is to get married and have babies. It’s all she talks about,” a mother told me as we chatted during a concert intermission. Said daughter is eleven. ELEVEN! It is bad enough that each semester so many of my female women’s studies students share in their introductory speeches something of the variety “Yeah, I’m in college, but my real goals are to get married and have kids. I dream of being able to be a stay at home mom.” But – ELEVEN? Makes me want to move to another planet.

Now, far those of your raising your pitchforks in the air and shouting “Shut up you feminist baby hater!,” step back. I do not hate babies. I had two of them. Still love them both even though they are far beyond the gaga baby phase our culture fixates on. I don’t hate stay at home mom’s or see them as feminist sell-outs. This fabricated “mommy war” (so fabulously explored in Susan Douglas’ work) is yet another tool of the patriarchy that hammers away at women, keeping them firmly divided and conquered.

If you wanna have you some babies, fine. If hetero monogamy is your slice of pie, eat up. These choices are not the problem. The problem is that our culture does not present them as choices, but as imperatives. We live under what I have elsewhere called “the woman as womb paradigm.” If you don’t got or don’t want a baby and hubby, you ain’t squat.

Perhaps nothing more vividly captures our accelerating descent into this regressive paradigm than the final book of the Twilight saga, Breaking Dawn. Bella, our intelligent, klutzy heroine drawn to danger and adventure, mutates into a pregnant cyborg, her body bruised, battered, and broken from the parasite within. Gone are her college plans, her motorbike-riding-self – in their place, a fetus-incubator fixated on how much she loves, loves, loves the growing BOY inside her. Of course, said boy turns out to be a girl, but how typical that she transfers her fixation on Edward to what she envisions as mini-Edward! Like a good patriarchal daughter, she envisions the perfect child as male. When the baby is female, she then names it after her mother and mother-in-law, combining Renee and Esmee into Renesmee. Ah, what a potent symbol of this human/vampire hybrid’s future – she too can be a mommy, her name a metaphor for her future role! And, as she ages so far beyond her years, maybe she can aim for mommyhood at 11 rather than Bella’s 18. She already has a wolf-boy to call her own to help her produce the pups. Yuckety yuck yuck yuck.