What if Trump is the Real-World Version of Negan? Thoughts on the 2016 American Presidential Election through a Walking Dead Lens

While not shying away from the realities of all the work that must be done to forge ahead so as not to let liberty die under Trump’s towering ego, I am currently finding viewing Trump through the fictional lens of a zombie apocalypse both apt and cathartic. If there is any character that seems Trump’s fictional double, it is Negan – the hyper-villainous leader of Sanctuary introduced in Season 6 of AMC’s The Walking Dead.

Negan, drunk on power, makes his followers bow before him, rules not with an iron fist but a bat wrapped in barb-wire. He amasses wealth and resources through oppression and fear. In The Walking Dead series, he has built a safe-haven surrounded by a wall. To live inside his “Sanctuary,” one must give up their individual identity, their personal relationships, and become one of his minions, willing to do his bidding. The wall surrounding Sanctuary is guarded by chained zombies who serve as a sort of flesh-eating border control. These zombies stop anyone getting easily in or out. And is this not key to Trump’s visions of wall-building? Not only does Trump want to keep certain immigrants out of America, he wants to keep CERTAIN people in as well and keep them beholden to his vision of a “great America.”

After his wind, some found Trump’s acceptance speech rather conciliatory, interpreting his vow to serve and unite “all Americans” was a sign that the hate-speech that fueled his campaign trail was just grand-standing. I think not. I think his statement hinges on his definition of “American” – an exclusive category in his mind that exists of the white and the right (and those willing to serve them) –  to those that believe in all those constitutional things the conservative right holds so dear – gun ownership, amassing capital, manifest destiny, America as “the greatest country on earth.” Trump and Negan are kindred spirits here as well.

While the season 7 premiere of The Walking Dead introduced us to the hyper-violent Negan, a man who revels pummeling people’s heads to a pulpy mush and whose idea of fun is forcing a parent to face cutting off their child’s arm with an axe, the third episode of the current season, “Cell,” gave us far more details regarding this uber-creepy leader of Sanctuary. In the premier, Daryl was taken prisoner for protesting Negan’s killings and violently removed from the scene, much like resisters at Trump rallies. In “Cell,” we learn Daryl is locked in solitary confinement. Deprived of sleep and fed one dog-food sandwich a day, Daryl is tortured with an upbeat song played on loop to prevent him from sleeping. The lyrics of the song bare analysis:

We’re on easy street, And it feels so sweet, Cause the world is but a treat, When you’re on easy street. And we’re breaking out the good champagne, We’re sitting pretty on the gravy train, And when we sing every sweet refrain, Right here on easy street. It’s our moment in the sun, And it’s only just begun, It’s time to have a little fun, We’re inviting you to come and see why you should be, On easy street. Yea we got a front row seat, O, to a life that can’t be beat, Right here on easy street, It’s our moment in the sun, And it’s only just begun.”

To consider this in relation to Trump, certainly his life on “easy street” feels “sweet.”. When you lack any moral compass and live a life framed around amassing as much wealth, power, and doing as much “pussy grabbing” as possible, all while believing you fully deserve to “sit pretty on the gravy train” and drink “good champagne,” well surely your believe that you deserve your “front row seat” to “ a life that can’t be beat.” That this life is one that depends on “easy money usually gotten by illegal means,” as the idiomatic/etymological origins of the term “gravy train” suggests, is key to remember. Trump’s “easy street” (which 1% of the world’s population lives on), is made easy on the backs of the other 99% – a good portion of whom, in the U.S., voted for the very man that supports such a stark economic divide based in sexism, racism, classism and so on. This feel-good ditty also links to the way bigotry and racism are framed as “individual problems” that come to those who don’t accept the “invitation” to join life on easy street. The type of “easy” framing used in the song and Trump’s rhetoric denies the systemic, generational, deep-seated aspects of racism (as well argued here).

 Trump, like Negan, is a champion of the individual – that “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” lie that feeds the myth of meritocracy. Such individualism encourages people to feel they deserve their “moment in the sun” regardless of who or what has to suffer as consequence. Worryingly, as history teaches us, giving despotic tryrants more power generally escalates their despotism, thus, Trump’s “moment” has likely “only just begun.” Trump/Negan types don’t turn over a “good leaf” once handed the keys to the kingdom – no, they go the way of Caesar, swelling up already overblown egos and inevitably banging the drums of war and hate ever more urgently.

In the Walking Dead comics, as well as in his televised depiction so far, Negan is a bully running an autocratic enclave of humans who survive by stealing from others. His fondness for hyperbole and profanity echoes Trump’s style of speech – one devoid of any substance other than egotistical boasting and hateful rhetoric. His kingdom is located in a former factory where the men serve as soldiers/laborers and the women as sex slaves. Believing the best way to have power over another man is “by fucking his vagina,” Negan not only subscribes to the view of women as men’s property, but actively ‘steals’ women from other men, amassing a “harem of wives” and insisting all females of Sanctuary belong to him. Meanwhile, he claims to be anti-rape (remind anyone of Trump?).

A loose cannon, Negan vacillates from bullying to threatening to bombastic bragging. Incredibly sneaky and manipulative, he will do and say anything to maintain power. Ruling over what he calls his “new world order” mainly through threats of violence substantiated by torture and murder, Negan uses fear and intimidation as his main means to power, dehumanizing people and forcing them into submission if they wish to remain alive.

Is this not what Trump wishes to do with those he plans to welcome into his “great America”? In short, his Americans will need to tow the line and to swallow various lies used to justify abhorrent acts and policies so that his version of “American Dream” (read white, right, male, uber-capitalist) can thrive. This will allow his ilk to continue stamping their business-suited, designer-shoed tyranny over the nation and the world – at the expense, of course, of working class Americans who will not benefit from Trump’s vision, of middle-class Americans who have less buying power than they have ever had along with less prospects for future growth, of students misled into an increasingly corporatized academic system which graduates them into a society of underpaid and not enough jobs, of the minorities and the marginalized (people of color, Muslims, immigrants, women, the queer, the disabled) who will variously continue to have their humanity trumped on by police brutality, Islamophobia, threats of deportation, repeals of reproductive rights, a return to “conversion therapy” for non-heterosexuals, and a society that condones the mocking of those with non-normative bodies, be they disabled, fat, of the ‘wrong’ skin color.

Way too many voters bought into Trump’s message. Surely, many did so out of desperation. And this is not the time for us to turn against those misled by this sneaky fucker. Trump assaulted the populace, much as Negan assaults the post-apocalyptic survivors of The Walking Dead. They both use fear as a weapon, spew condescension, and have egos so over-inflated it’s a wonder their ballooned heads don’t find them floating above ground.

In his latest assault on Alexandrians, Negan forced Rick to hold his weapon of choice, the bat Lucille, while he lorded all over town insulting people with quips about their weight and tossing off various rape threats like so many jokes – Negan, like Trump, sees “grabbing the pussy” as his birthright. Negan plunders medicine, weapons, beds, and various other supplies from the Alexandria safe-zone while strutting around like cock-of-the-walk, pretending his tyranny is oh-so-charming. Before leaving, he acts as if he has done Rick a great favor by not killing anyone and forces Rick to thank him. Smug as ever, he tell Rick, “I just slid my dick down your throat, and you thanked me for it.” It seems to me this might be something like what Trump is repeating on loop in that puffed up noggin of his while we, as a nation, have Trump shoved down our throats.

The question is, what are we going to do in order to spit him out, cut off his power, and show that we are not a fearful bunch of neophytes, but rather have Michonne’s rebellious determination, Rosita’s strategy skills, Father Gabriel’s ability to play nice while figuring out how to turn the tides, Eugene’s technological savvy, and Carol’s shape-shifting abilities. In addition to adopting the skill set of the human survivors of The Walking Dead, so too must we become like a rising tide of walkers, a mass that will not stop shuffling towards Trump and his ilk until we bring them down. Not as brainless zombies but as the awakened masses. Only in rising, in moving forward, step by painful step, in refusing to cede our humanity, can we take down the infection that Trump has unleashed. Whether we do this wearing safety pins or Black Lives Matter t-shirts, by disrupting racism, or simply by day in and day out refusals to be accomplices to the hate and fear Trump represents, we can do it. We will. We must.

What if you want to be the hero of your own narrative AND you are female? Well, don’t look to Rango for the answers… (A film review)

Rango opens with our lizard hero accompanied by a headless, legless, one-armed Barbie as his female companion. Rango (voiced by Johnny Depp) imagines himself as a suave leading man instead of the googley-eyed lizard he is, draping his arm around Barbie and asking “are those real?” Ah, the joy of objectifying sexist jokes in kids films. What fun!

As you can imagine, this opening did not bode well for my hopes that this film might just be the one that has equal female and male characters (in numbers as well as in narrative arc) and maybe, just maybe, a representation of femininity that goes beyond the princess, witch, dead mother meme stamped on our psyches by Disney.

Thankfully, the film moved beyond dismembered Barbie, introducing us to a key female character – Beans (voiced by Isla Fisher) – a rebellious, smart, and outspoken female lizard trying to save her farm as well as discover the truth behind her town’s water shortage. Alas, she is not the hero, Rango is. He has to mosey in with his Depp swagger to save the town – and, in the end – to save Beans as well, with the obligatory blossoming romance between Rango and Beans closing the film.

Yawn, you might be thinking.

But wait — even though the representation of females is problematic (not to mention the stereotypical depiction of the one Native American character who is – surprise surprise – a noble warrior type of few words), the film itself is a visual treat with the dessert dwelling animal protagonists vividly portrayed, the action scenes expertly paced, and the narrative itself offering a lovely blend of adventure, mystery, and humor.

Yet, I don’t want to like this film, damn it!

Yes, I like Johnny Depp, yes I appreciated the updating of the western genre with the tongue in cheek critiques of corruption, consumerism, and our apathy towards the environment, but NO NO NO I don’t want yet another film that has scant female characters and for the billionth time relies on the damsel in distress being saved by a plucky male hero. Puke.

It’s true that in a key escape scene, Beans does the driving and she is the one (yes ONE!) woman to join the group setting out to save the town, but is this type of paltry tokenism really enough? Why not make her Rango’s EQUAL? Why not nix the romantic, hetero-monogamous ending? Why not cut the horrid cat-fight scene between Beans and one of the few other female characters, a fox named Angelique, in which Beans and Angelique call each other “tart,” “tramp,” and “floozie”?

To keep with the “all women are catty sluts” message, there are also a handful of saloon-hall prostitutes in the background. Why place women front and center when you can instead place them on the side, all tarted up and ready to claw each other apart? At least Beans is closer to the center of the film – too bad she has an affliction where she freezes up, going all catatonic at the most inopportune moments. How feminine of her!

I can hear the groaning right about now – why do you have to be so picky? Can’t you just enjoy the film for what it is – a crazy take on the western genre with several metatexual components, a great voice cast, and jaw-dropping animation? Well, yes, I can, and I did. Yet, I can also, like Rango, call for a “paradigm shift” – one that stops representing the world as if it was 90% male, 7% slut, 2% silent/catatonic female, and 1% headless Barbie.

What if you don’t want to wrestle a girl? Just justify via religion and voila, instant hero!

(cross-posted from Ms. Blog)

“Really? Girls wrestling with boys? Has feminism really lost its mind?” So goes the question from Catholic blogger Defend Us in Battle, writing about Joel Northrup’s decision to withdraw from the Iowa state wrestling tournament rather than compete with female opponent Cassy Herkelman.

Northrup’s withdrawal resulted in the first-ever win for a female at the tournament. However, Herkelman was denied the opportunity to actually wrestle for the win due to Northrup’s forfeit. Referencing his personal faith as the reason for his forfeit, Northrup stated:

As a matter of conscience and faith, I do not believe that it is appropriate for a boy to engage a girl in this manner. It is unfortunate that I have been placed in a situation not seen in most other high school sports in Iowa.

Females have been competing with boys on wrestling teams in Iowa for more than two decades. If Northrup’s beliefs translate into a personal conviction that he cannot wrestle against a female, then why is he wrestling in a state where wrestling is co-ed? Even more pertinent, why are so many championing his choice, framing him as a religious hero? If he had used religion to similarly state he could not wrestle against a person of color or a homosexual, would he still be applauded? Likely not.

I don’t wish to condemn this young male for his decision, especially as he may not have been given a choice of whether he would follow the patriarchal tenets of the faith his family follows. Rather, I would like to condemn the championing of this “choice” by news outlets and bloggers who fail to consider how this relates to Title IX, to the sexism still commonplace in sports and to the supposed separation of church and state. For example, this story names three key questions of the debate, none of which even obliquely refer to sexism or Title IX.

Northrup has been championed by many, particular many religious and/or MRA (men’s rights activists) bloggers, most of whom fail to recognize that his statements are not only about “faith” but also represent an implicit condemnation of Title IX, the 1972 amendment that states,

No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance…

Northrup goes further than using his faith as excuse: He suggests that such a “situation”–namely, girls competing equally in sports–is “unfortunate.” Yet Northrup is being framed as a “genuine” hero for his decision, as in this newspaper article, which goes to pains to note he has “four little sisters he adores.” (Yes, kind of like the “I’m not racist; I have a black friend” excuse.)

Another story from Mercury News frames Northrup as a heroic martyr who “found himself in a quandary no sophomore should ever have to face–paired against a girl in the state wrestling tournament.” According to author Gary Peterson, Northrup “did the only thing a gentleman could. He forfeited.” Yes, because competing with a female who worked just as hard to be there as he did, who has just as much dedication to her sport as he does, would be the coward’s way out, right? (Notice also the latent sexism in this author’s language: Herkelman is a “girl” while Northrup is a “gentleman.”)

Peterson then suggests we “shoot a raised eyebrow at the Iowa High School Athletic Association” for not recognizing that:

there are plenty of sports in which men and women can compete together as well as against one another on more or less equal and nonthreatening terms–golf, tennis, bowling, Pictionary.

Pictionary? Please.

Bloggers on the religious right, such as Defend Us in Battle, also argue that this story is not about sex/gender, but rather, “about conscience and faith.” Not surprisingly, Defend Us offers the huge generalization that feminist-liberal school officials don’t care about things like conscience or faith,” equating this story with claims that feminism promotes violence against women (!), goes against god and/or is bringing about the ruination of humanity. Wow, all because a young female with great skill as a wrestler threatened the faith of a male. If one’s faith is that tenuous, perhaps one should not be competing in wrestling in the first place?

Alas, as Defund Us notes, such sports can be “intimate and touchy.” Gasp.

He writes,

I just don’t think boys and girls should compete against each other in most sports, especially ones like wrestling where the physical contact is so intimate and touchy. Yes, I know gay boys probably compete, but they are the ones having to make the decision and deal with any uncomfortableness.

Here, the author suggests that “gay boys” can make such decisions and “deal with any uncomfortableness” but that girls (regardless of sexual orientation) cannot. Hmmm.

True Manhood similarly warns readers that female wrestlers go against god and “natural manhood,” writing,

Deep inside every man is a sense of wildness, a rugged ‘warrior’ drive and our natural inclination towards adventure.  There’s nothing natural inside a man that says ‘I should [sic] my brute strength to pin a woman to the floor to win a tournament.’

True Manhood goes on to write:

It’s not authentically feminine for women to do things men are naturally inclined to do … It’s not about some notion of equality that a woman should be able to do whatever a man can do.  It’s about the notion of order.

He ends with a call to “TrueMan up!” Excuse me while I vomit up my latte.

It’s about order?!? As in the “divine right” of male rule? Yes, because the world would clearly fall apart if females wrestle males–next thing you know, those little ladies might want to vote and such!

Meanwhile, as Northrup is granted sainthood on the Internet, the achievements of Megan Black and Cassy Herkelman–the two girls who made history by qualifying for the Wrestling championship this year–have been relatively silenced. So it’s up to those of us on the side of gender equity and fairness in sports (let alone the separation of church and state) to salute the first female win in the Iowa State Wrestling Championship! To those of you shouting the “True Man Up” chorus, your thunderous support of Northrup is insulting to the young females who earned their spot in the tournament in the same way as the males.

What if a hate-speech paper comes to your campus?

In light of last week’s appearance of the heinous Koala paper at the campus where I teach, I am re-posting the thoughtful piece below by Kit-Bacon Gressitt. The Koala is a racist, sexist, homophic, able-ist, and every other bad -ist publication (though that is too nice a word for it) that has now reared its ugly, closed-minded head at CSUSM. Thanks to much student activism and protest, very important dialogue is taking place about the concept of free speech versus hate speech. I am proud to be part of a campus community that condemns work such as The Koala and I look forward to its succesful eradication from campus!

Free-for-All Speech at CSUSM

By Kit-Bacon Gressitt

The Koala, a tabloid launched last week by some California State University San Marcos (CSUSM) students, has achieved its publishers’ apparent goal: to inflame the university community with hate speech.

“Apparent” because, while The Koala has certainly engendered impassioned responses, the predominantly white males behind the publication have refused to discuss what it is they have wrought — or to identify themselves. At a recent recruitment meeting, they would not give their names and avoided being photographed; they moved the meeting to a private dorm room to exclude critics and news media; and they demanded 30-packs of beer from journalists who requested interviews, which, given their likely ages, smacks of soliciting criminal acts — and challenges their legitimacy as a newspaper, as they describe The Koala.

It is The Koala’s content (downloadable at csusmkoala.com) that most effectively challenges the newspaper claim. Just about every demographic — except straight, white males — is addressed with violent, prurient and/or grotesque language: gays and lesbians, women, rape and pedophilia victims, pediatric cancer and burn patients, African Americans, Latinos, Asians and Muslims. The Koala is a miasma of isms.

The Koala recommends used bikini wax as “lip balm for lesbos,” suggests leaving c-section incisions “open for easier future abortions,” and reports that one advantage of dating a 10-year-old girl is “If you knock her teeth out, they grow back.” It includes statements that glorify and encourage pedophilia, rape of a teaching assistant, domestic violence, date rape and physically assaulting campus police.

Anecdotally, the “reasonable person” test of The Koala’s content suggests that many CSUSM students and staff indeed find much of the content obscene — obscene and hateful. But obscenity remains in the eye of the beholder, and in the United States we can speak freely whether our speech is hateful, loving or indifferent.

More interesting are the test results of The Koala’s two advertisers, cougarbookrentals.com and Miramar Wellness Center — “interesting” because it takes funding to publish any speech.

The textbook-rental service is, according to bookrenter.com Vice President of Marketing Michael Geller (at 650-288-3500), an independent bookstore using bookrenter.com’s open platform, an “entrepreneur” who can “choose to market it any way they want.”

Nonetheless, when read content from The Koala, Geller’s response was, “Oh! Oh god! Okay, that’s enough!” An articulate man — and pragmatic — he disavowed any responsibility for cougarbookrental’s ad and declared that bookrenter.com “would never, ever, ever” advertise in The Koala. He also said, “I’m going to contact the owner of [csusmbookrentals.com] and first make sure he or she is aware of what this is all about.” Then the company will “evaluate whether or not we should attempt to restrict our store partners’ advertising.” Whether or not? Hmmm.

The Miramar Wellness Center (at 858-689-9098), a marijuana dispensary, had a slightly more definitive response. An employee who did not identify herself said the Wellness Center had received “a lot of upset calls, a whole lot” and that the manager would not take any more, but she added, “I heard [the ad] was a mistake and they are trying to get it removed.”

That’s promising, but, in the meantime, what to do about the privileged young men who publish hate with anonymity?

Read The Koala so you can make informed comments about it (available at csusmkoala.com). Although the thing is no joy, condemning something you haven’t read is shallow commentary. And ignorance is not bliss.

Contact The Koala’s advertisers to reinforce the message that their ad dollars are supporting content that encourages pedophilia, racism, misogyny, rape and domestic violence. If a second issue comes out, contact any new advertisers. Eventually The Koala publishers will run out of businesses they can dupe into supporting them, if they haven’t already. Any advertisers left deserve to be boycotted.

State your opinion of The Koala freely and frequently. The right to free speech goes both ways: They have the right to speak and you have the right to criticize what they say — maybe even the responsibility. Hate that goes unchallenged goes on and on and on.

Call or email CSUSM President Karen Haynes’ office (760-750-4040 or pres@csusm.edu) to ask what the administration can do about the content that promotes rape and pedophilia; how they can protect students under age 18 from The Koala’s obscene content; and what they can do about students who appear to be below the drinking age soliciting alcohol on campus.

Identify, if you can, the fellows involved with The Koala, in the photos below (please see the original post to view the photos). They are accountable for the speech they publish. No one — white, male student or anyone else — has the privilege of anonymous hate masquerading as “lighthearted humor.” If they can say it, they can own it for all the world to see.

Then, find some peace in this thought: What goes on the Internet stays on the Internet, and one day in the next few years The Koala’s publishers will be looking for jobs in competitive marketplaces where respect for diversity, social maturity and the ability to self-edit will be deciding factors for employment. These young men have already round-filed their job applications by exercising a most wonderful right irresponsibly.

Free speech is a messy, exquisite, ugly, glorious and precious free-for-all; comeuppance is delicious.

What if you’re in the market for a vampire daddy this father’s day?

If you have been following pop culture over the past 5 years, you probably know the genesis of vampire fathers: He’s the vampire who turns you into a vampire via toothsome bite or venom injection. The most popular contemporary vampire series, Twilight and True Blood, don’t feature any vampire mothers. But they do present us with a number of good, even godly, vampire fathers. Twilight’s Carlisle Cullen is a perfect undead dad to permanently teenage vampire Edward. And when Bill Compton, the hunky undead leading man of HBO’s True Blood, becomes a reluctant father to vampire Jessica, he steps up quite well.

It’s clear Twilight author Stephanie Meyer would put Carlisle up for the prize for best vampire dad. He literally MAKES his vampire Brady-Bunch family, by, yes, turning people into vampires. How preferable to having to reside in one of those icky woman-wombs for nine months! And, in a saga that so values the sex-free life, he is a surprisingly good matchmaker, turning first the seductive Rosalie into a vampire to provide his century-long-virgin-son Edward an opportunity for bumping uglies, then, when that doesn’t fly, voting to make Bella undead. (Imagine if he sought sex partners for DAUGHTERS–now that would likely cause quite the stir, no?)

Even the non-vampire dads in these series compete for best dad status. In Twilight, Charlie is a benevolent dad to heroine Bella Swan, giving her the space and independence most teens desire and even supplying her with cool wheels. Billy Black is touchingly protective of both his werewolf son Jacob and Bella, and Sam is the dedicated, if overly authoritarian, muscle-daddy of the werewolf pack. True Blood is full of touchingly queer fathering arrangements: queer cook Lafayette serves as a quasi-father to his cousin Tara, shapeshifter Sam acts as dad to waitress Arlene’s kids when she is on a bender induced by an evil manead (don’t ask!), and the town yokel Hoyt plays the role of compassionate, forgiving father-figure to his unlikeable mother.

But, if I were in the market for a vampire daddy to call my own, I would pick the surprisingly progressive Bill of True Blood. Despite his reluctance to vamparent, he is patient with his new vampire daughter, Jessica, helping her to find a synthetic blood she can tolerate and carefully teaching her the rules of vampire life. And, with heroine Sookie’s help, he recognizes Jessica is a sexual being and does not go all Edward-in-Twilight-crazy with talk of her “virtue” or how sex will damn her soul. The final episode of Season Two included a particularly touching scene where Bill and Jessica are each dressed to the nines for impending dates. Bill tells Jessica “you look quite the vision.” She worries this is a nice comment to soften his coming complaints about her dating a mortal (the goodhearted-but-hapless Hoyt). Instead, Bill admits “times have changed” and tells her “I hope you and Hoyt have a nice time.” What a nice trade from dad as quasi-virginity warrior (a concept Jessica Valenti explores in her book The Purity Myth). I would much prefer this kind but not-overbearing Bill to Carlisle’s creepy matchmaker habits!

The uber-pale good vampire daddies in Twilight and True Blood certainly outclass the bad vampire dads of older texts. Such narratives represent vampire dads as crazy, violent and racist (as in the 1987 film Near Dark), as creep-fest, power-hungry patriarchs (1987’s The Lost Boys), or as tooth-happy ghouls who turn innocent girls into wanton, lustful beasts (as in Stoker’s paradigmatic Dracula). In contrast, the human daddies are the bomb. In Near Dark, for example, protagonist Caleb is turned back into a human by his kindly father. Daddy even saves Caleb’s vampire love Meg, who turned Caleb into a vampire in the first place. How sweet.

While these dad-saviors that populate vampire narratives are appealing–they allow us to envision fathers who approve of our chosen mates (as Bill and Carlisle do) –they fail to have equally satisfying mother figures. They reveal the sad fact that our culture still assumes that fathers, even when vampires, werewolves, or shape shifters, know best.

Twilight takes “father-knows-best” to an extra level of creepiness with the notion (one fostered by Freud and certainly held by many Mormon polygamists) that females are seeking daddies via their romantic relationships. In a horribly irksome piece originally posted at Save the Males (who knew they needed saving!), writer Henry Makow argues that men “ought to be more ‘father-like’ in their approach to women;” they “should seek younger women who ‘look up’ to them.” Meyer seems to agree with this notion, providing Bella with a man who has 100 years on her and matching up baby Renesmee and toddler Claire with much older wolves via the imprinting meme (were the wolves “imprint” on a mate – a sort of love at first sight which involves male wolves imprinting on much younger female humans). Such May/December romance is only natural, according to Makow:

Many men want a daughter-figure, someone who will demonstrate the loyalty, trust and devotion that a girl feels for her father. A man wants to be affirmed in his authority as husband and father, not mothered like a child.

So there you have it people: If you are a hetero woman, go find yourselves an older daddy-man to look up to! If you’re not hetero, you can read more (PLEASE DON’T!) from Makow on how homosexuality is destroying capitalism, the family and the world.

To close, here’s hoping that you, dear readers, have a good father or father-figure in your life to celebrate this Sunday. And, nope, I don’t mind at all if that figure happens to be a vampire, werewolf or even a woman! Seems to me we should celebrate parenting in general rather than gendering the phenomenon…

(cross-posted at Ms. blog here)

What if strong, successful females were not cast as domineering bitches? A review of The Proposal

I watched The Proposal last night. Though I am a Sandra Bullock fan, I was less than impressed. Particularly irksome from a feminist point of view was the tired perpetuation of the notion that powerful women are domineering bitches.

To be successful, the movie indicates, Bullock’s character (Margaret Tate) has become a cold-hearted control freak whose employees fear and loathe her in equal quantity. Of course she is single, family less, and friendless because women who care about their career obviously can’t care about anything else.

Early in the film, her employees send around “it’s here” instant messages, warning that Margaret is about to enter the building. Tellingly, she is an “it” rather than a subject – like Miranda in The Devil Wears Prada, she is demonized into an inhumane she-monster. Later, as she leaves her office, another warning is sent that “the witch is on her broom.”

Why is it that cruel male bosses are not similarly depicted? When they are horrid, they are most often mocked as humorous buffoons rather than depicted as vile (think 9 to 5). They are not called “it” or warlocks, or, as Bullock’s character is, “satan’s mistress.” Moreover, there is no suggestion that their male gender contributes to their horribleness. In contrast, female bosses bitchiness is often linked to their “failed” femininity – they are not doing what their “supposed to” – not cooking, cleaning, wiving, mothering, nurturing…

In The Proposal, Margaret is “saved” by the boy-faced Andrew Paxton (Ryan Reynolds) who schools her about love, family, and proper femininity. Once she forces him into a deal to marry her to avoid deportation back to Canada, he quickly loses his simpering employee stance and turns the tables (and starts to “wear the pants” in the relationship). He makes her kneel before him on the ground, mocks her inability to navigate a boat ladder in heels, and blackmails her into giving him a promotion. As pointed out here, this story would never fly if the roles were reversed…

The film explicitly pokes fun at feminists when Andrew explains to his mom and grandmother that he is not helping Margaret navigate her heavy suitcase because “she’s a feminist.” Here, in a double-jibe, the movie insinuates women really are incapable of hefting their own suitcases while also perpetuating the notion that ALL feminism is about is who will open the door or carry the bags…

At the start of the film Margaret is dismayed at the sight of her aging face in the mirror. As the film continues, she is presented nude in many scenes – and though her body meets the thin, firm ideals of U.S. culture, she is markedly ashamed of her body and constantly instructs Andrew “don’t look at me.”

Margaret is ridiculous in her crippling high heels and teeny lingerie in the rugged Alaska setting that is home to the Paxton family empire. This good-ole slice of USA is ruled by a domineering dad who mocks Andrew for having a female boss (furthering the anti-feminist undercurrents of the film that suggests we need to go back to “the good old days” when men were bosses and women stayed in their place). The mom (Mary Steenburgen) and grandma (Betty White) have no leadership in this male empire, rather, they dodder around smiling, delivering food, and being oh-so-excited about the pending wedding. They, like Andrew’s x-girlfriend (who works in a “properly feminine” profession – teaching), are used to depict positive femininity in contrast to Margaret’s ball-breaker aura.

As if the stereotypical depiction of smart successful women AS bitches who NEED a good man (and a good fuck) to save them were not enough, the film also trades in racial stereotypes.  Oscar Nunez (of The Office) plays Ramone, a heavily accented, highly stereotyped Latino who works as a stripper, a grocery clerk, and an inept catering employee – yeah, because Latnino’s always have multiple low-paying jobs which they suck at. Ugh.

This movie is yet more proof that a female director and a strong female lead do not a feminist-friendly movie make…

What if the “best books” were not always centered on male protagonists?

Today we have a guest post from Meg of Planning the Day. Meg responds to Nicholas Kristof’s list of best children books, a list that featured mostly male writers/protagonists. Granted, Kristof’s list was much more diverse than Publishers Weekly Best of 2009 book list that was male/white biased in the extreme. He included some books I would count among “bests” — Charlotte’s Web, Harry Potter, Anne of Green Gables. Yet, he, as Meg points out, has chosen a list where ONLY ONE GIRL is front and center. In keeping with the call at She Writes to speak out against the still male dominated world of publishing/writing, Meg offers us a more diverse, less penis-privileged list in what follows:

“I usually enjoy the writing of Nicholas Kristof, the New York times columnist who often uses his space to bring attention to the ongoing genocide in Darfur and the plight of trafficked women in Southeast Asia. So I was excited when I saw that his column this week was a list of the best children’s books; I expected selections that would inspire social-consciousness and empathy among their readers.

What I did not expect is that nearly every book would feature male (and when he is a person, white) protagonist. Out of thirteen suggestions, only one is based on the story of a young girl. Who is the lucky lady? Anne of Green Gables, “one of the strongest and most memorable girls in literature.” And not one of them centers around the story of a person of color.

Some of his other suggestions have great girls in supporting roles: Charlotte’s Web, with beloved Charlotte and Fern as Wilbur’s best protectors and friends, topped the list. The Harry Potter series was also recommended, which features such strong women as Hermione Granger and Ginny Weasley.

So what’s the problem with his suggestions? There’s nothing wrong with any book in particular on his list, but it fails to offer characters that young girls or children of color can immediately relate to. There is something special about picking up a book and connecting immediately with its main character by seeing yourself in that person. While it is not out of the question for girls or children of color to relate to a white boy protagonist, it would be great for children to see themselves, with all of their historical particularities, represented in their books.

Kristof invited his readers to comment on his article with their own additions, so I’ve made my own list to add to his. Not all of them feature girls or people of color, but I hope that they represent a more diverse set of characters:

  1. “Island of the Blue Dolphins” by Scott O’Dell. I vividly remember buying this from our school’s book fair when I was in fourth grade, and then retreating into my room for three days to read, emerging only for meals. This book is based on the true story of a 12-year old Native American girl, Karana, who survived alone on an island for 18 years.
  2. “Tuck Everlasting” by Natalie Babbitt. I was enchanted by Winnie when my mom read this story to me in first grade.
  3. “Number the Stars” and “The Giver” by Lois Lowry. These are two of my absolute favorites from elementary school. I read them countless times between third and fifth grade, and remembering them now makes me want to check them out of the library again. Number the Stars is the story of Danish girl whose family helped her best friend escape from the Nazis in Denmark. And The Giver… just read it, it’s great.
  4. “Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry” by Mildred D. Taylor is the story of Cassie, a black girl growing up in a segregated and oppressive southern community in the 1930s.
  5. “Walk Two Moons” by Sharon Creech. Native American Salamanca Tree Hiddle travels across the country with her grandparents, trying to find her disappeared mother. I don’t remember much about this book except that I loved it.
  6. “From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler” by E. L. Konigsburg. This book-on-tape kept us kids silent for countless car trips, as we listened to the adventures of Claudia and Jamie, two kids who secretly live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art while they try to solve the mystery of the new statue.”

(Please add your suggestions in comments!)

What if Twilight was given a Buffy twist?

Buffy vs Edward (Twilight Remixed) offers a great feminist ‘re-mix’ of the decidedly non-feminist Twilight.

As the re-mix envisions, Buffy teaches Edward a thing or two, telling him “You know being stalked isn’t really a turn on for girls.” (Come to think of it, Bella needs to hear this one too – maybe Buffy could convince the wilting wallflower Bella to respond to Edward’s bedroom intrusions with her “get out or I will drop you out head first” comeback.)

Ah, from Buffy to Bella – from strong, smart, witty slayer to oh-I-am-soooo-clumsy Bella – we are decidedly stepping backwards as far female role models go.

What if we are a fanpire nation, allowing the passage of Prop 8 via our Twilight obsessions?

I have been absent from blog-land for some time now, immersed in teaching, grading, research, parenting, etc. I was spurred to post today due to the appalling decision yesterday regarding Prop 8 that has blighted the sunshine state in which I reside.

Part of what has kept me from blogging is my current research/writing project – a feminist analysis of the Twilight phenomenon in relation to girl culture, abstinence-only education, the hyper-sexualization of females, and our corporate capitalist patriarchal world of Christian, white, male, hetero privilege.

This project was born via the intervention of one of my very favorite feminists – my ten-year-old daughter. She wanted to read the series and find out what all the fuss was about, so we read it together. I expected to be disturbed by it, I expected to hate it, yet I was surprised on both counts.

I was DEEPLY disturbed by it – but not only or mainly for the reasons I expected (more on this later).

And I did hate the series in many ways– but I also became fascinated by it – I could not put the damn books down!  (more on this later, too)

For today, I want to focus on Prop 8 and what it represents – the continuing homophobia and heteronormativity of our culture– and how the mega-profitable Twilight franchise helped to enshrine such hatred into law.

As Dancin With Your Mouth Open posted back in November of 08,

With the huge boxoffice success of “Twilight,” it grossed over $70M domestically, this past weekend, not only is Stephenie Meyer making tons of money so is the Mormon church. Stephenie Meyer, described as the “the Mormon Anne Rice,” does what any good Mormon does which is called tithing. Tithing is a requirement in the Mormon religion and it’s usually 10% of their earnings. So, with all the talk about the Mormon church being a huge supporter of Prop 8, it seems like “Twilight” and Stephanie Meyer are contributors as well.

Meyer has on multiple occasions stated that, in accordance with her Mormon belief, 10% of all  her profits for all things Twilight go to the Mormon church. (See, for example, The Advocate).

While she has not made any public statement regarding Prop 8, her tithing to the church supports institutionalizing discrimination against those who are not heterosexual. By extension, a percentage of the multi-billion dollar Twilight industry went towards the Mormon Church, an institution that played a huge funding role in initially getting Prop 8 on the ballot, and then kept the funding in plentiful supply in order to grow support for the Yes on 8 camp. The success of this campaign, which relied on dollars and dogma, would not have been possible without the big money that came from the Mormon Church and other religious donors.

Can we finally admit that rather than a separation of church and state we have a MARRIAGE between church and state – they are like the perfect couple, supporting each other via campaign contributions on the one hand and tax exempt status on the other.

In terms of the fanpire’s role, their obsession with all things Twilight has further lined the pocketbooks of a Church that is unashamed of its homophobia. Even those of us who are not members of the growing legions of fanpires, those of us who merely read the series and watched the movie and yet can still somehow sleep at night without dreaming of Edward, have contributed to Meyer’s tithing, and, by extention, to the success of Prop 8. To be honest, I didn’t consider this component of purchasing the books until a friend mentioned it to me, and I feel the fool for NOT realizing it. (Then again, it seems even going to see Milk helped those in support of prop 8).

How in a world where homophobia is the norm can one NOT contribute to it? I think not contributing at this time is an impossibility  —  our culture has it set up so we all must contribute, even if only subconsciously.

Yet, I find tithing, from whatever religion (as not only Mormons tithe), particularly abhorrent when used in such ways. Not only is it tax-exempt but it  is used (as in this instance)  to turn prejudice and discrimination into law in the name of religion. How ironic given the frequent complaint from the Mormon Church that they are discriminated against for their religion, that they are the Christain ‘Others’!

Meyer’s silence about the issue of homophobia in her church in general, and Prop 8 in particular, comes across as deafeningly loud –it speaks volumes, showing support for discrimination via economic buttressing of an institution that helped California, the state I live in, to etch inequality into law. So much for the sunshine state – so much for dazzling, sensitive vampires – instead, we have Prop Hate funded in part by Ms. Meyer and her adoring fanpire. Guess it’s ok for a lion to love a lamb, but not for a man to love another man.

What if we loved fat girls as much as we love the “bowl full of jelly” Santa?

We attended my son’s holiday concert the other night. The kids were mainly middle schoolers, with a handful of high schoolers sprinkled in the mix. There were a number of solos, and the talent rivaled that of American Idol auditions – some were brilliant, some you had to mentally plug your ears to…

One part of the show I can’t get out of my mind though:

Two girls came to the front, 7th or 8th graders I would guess, dressed in identical shimmery gold and black sleeveless dresses. One was tall, thin, and tan, the other was pale, fat, and short.

Now, without describing them further, most people will picture the tall thin girl as attractive, and the short fat girl as ugly. This is the reaction the people sitting behind me had, as they audibly tsk-tsked as the fat girl made her way to the front of the stage (I had to force myself not to turn around and begin to beat them over the head with my umbrella). Their sounds of disapproval seemed to emanate through the audience, and, as the girls performed, I sensed the (mostly parents) in attendance trying to muster applause for the fat singer, while the thin singer was showered with whistles and mighty claps. Yet, the fat singer was the better singer – and, in my book, she was beautiful. I loved her dark hair, the way her limbs pushed mightily from the sleeveless dress, her full face, the hulk of her form as she sang clear notes into the audience.

The thin girl next to her exuded embarrassment due to standing next to such fatness – her look indicated that she was trying to convey to the audience, “please, it wasn’t my choice to have to sing next to lardo here, if I smile big enough and look pretty enough and just pretend I’m up here all by my beautiful batting eyelashes self, maybe it will work.” I hated her. I know she is only a tween, but I couldn’t help it. The contempt and shame she exuded due to being placed on stage next to a body she deemed ugly was way too palpable for me to forgive.

As for the fat beauty, she never looked up, never made eye contact with the audience, never owned her wonderful singing talent. At 13 or perhaps 14, she seems to have learned that her body is not supposed to exude confidence, that it is not supposed to expect praise and love, and that, perhaps, she is lucky to even be included in the show with a body such as hers. The skinny-minny family behind me certainly would have preferred her not to be in the show, that they made clear. (And, yes, I realize I am doing a bit of skinny bashing here, but fat hatred and the destruction of the self esteem of young fat bodies brings out the skinny-hater in me…)

Anyhow, as I wished fervently that I could somehow make that fat girl on stage love herself, love her body, and love her pale, full limbs as much as her vibrant voice, I thought of, of all people, Santa. As the holiday carols boomed out from the choir, I pondered why we love this iconic fat old “man” so darn much, but can’t muster love for fat girls. (For my refusal to believe that Santa is really a man, come back for a post on this matter Xmas eve.)

This holiday season, my wish is that all fat bodies, not only those bedecked in red suits and donning beards, will be shown love. They too deserve affection, praise, and compliments – and, yes, a plateful of cookies.

Happy holidays fatties! And, yes, to the skinny-minnies too.