What if you want to support student activists and new feminist bloggers? WTF! is the answer!

I am excited to announce that the blog created by students in my Feminist Activism class at Cal State San Marcos, WTF!,  launched today! Woot woot!

Students felt the creation of such a blog from our campus community was particularly crucial at this time due to the arrival of the sexist and racist paper The Koala (covered by Anna North at Jezebel recently), the presence of pro-life extremists on our campus, and the appearance of “noose grafitti” in campus bathrooms (covered in my earlier post here).

Thus far, the WTF! blog has posts on sexism in the workplace, LGBTQ rights, single motherhood, The Koala  and much more (with more posts on the Occupy movement, World AIDS day, and many other topics forthcoming soon!) The anti-Koala poem has already been attacked by pro-Koala commenters, so please visit that post to voice your opinion regarding hate speech vs free speech.

If you could spread the word about the blog and encourage your networks to read the blog and comment, that would be very much appreciated. Students could use the encouragement and feedback as brand-new bloggers!

Also, the WTF! writers will be putting out a “call for contributors” soon and anyone can guest post so if you or people you know are interested in guest blogging, please considering submitting to WTF!

The blog is called WTF! We’re the future and can be found at wtfcsusm.wordpress.com.

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What if you don’t want to be Smurfalicious? (A review of The Smurfs)

The following review was originally published here at Ms. Magazine Blog.

In her classic 1991 article, Katha Pollitt named the tendency in media where “a group of male buddies will be accented by a lone female, stereotypically defined” the “Smurfette Principle.” Twenty years later, this principle is still all too common–including in the new movie The Smurfs.

In the film, Smurfette–the first and usually only female Smurf–is certainly stereotypically defined, as she was in the cartoon. But in CGI her blonde locks are even more obvious, threatening to weigh down her feminized Smurf body. Near the start of the film, Smurf-antagonistic sorcerer Gargamel (Hank Azaria) has a rather creepy sequence praising “the tawny locks of Smurfette.” In a later scene, we see Smurfette distracted in a toy store, first with unicorns then with doll dresses, at which she exclaims, “Dresses! I could have more than one kind of dress. What?!?” Shortly after, she is angry when told it’s time to go, insisting “Wait! I am shopping!” She wears heels, again in keeping with the cartoon, and has a wide-eyed made-up look to her blue face.

As asked in the post “Gendering Smurfette” on the blog Feminist Media, “Why, decades after the original Smurfs were trotted out, are we still portraying the only female Smurf as an essentialized cliché of femininity?” Why indeed. Even if the filmmakers wanted to stay true to Smurf-lore, they could have brought in the later added female Smurfs Sassette or Nanny, or how about one of the witches instead of only including Gargamel?

Or, they could have made up for only one Smurfette with the inclusion of more female human lead characters. Instead of Patrick Winslow (Neil Patrick Harris) being an ad exec, why not give that job to Grace (Glee’s Jayma Mays)? Instead, she is almost entirely defined by her pregnancy and her niceness. How feminine!

At Smurf.com we learn, as we do in the film, that Smurfette was created by Gargamel to cause trouble for the Smurfs. Ah, the evil that is feminine. To add a nice twist of colorism to her origin story, she originally had black hair but it turned blonde when Papa worked all night to make her a real Smurf! She is described as “the charming Smurfette that melts the hearts of the other Smurfs. She’s one of a kind, full of feminine grace and frivolous. She can also be very much a woman, playing with the feelings of her sweethearts.” Oh my Smurf!

In the film, Smurfette uses these feminine wiles–”making sexyface“ at the camera and coyly telling Patrick, “Ohh, someone looks Smurfalicious.” The poster featuring her character has the same word on it printed in huge letters, metaphorically shouting, “Look, girls, you better be Smurfalicious too. Your looks are all that matter.” In one of the worst instances of sexing-up Smurfette, she has a Marilyn Monroe moment where she models a new dress and her skirt blows up. One of the male Smurfs smirks “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”

The emphasis on female beauty (vs. empowerment) is furthered by Patrick’s work at the cosmetics company Anjelou, where his boss Odile (Sofia Vergara), is marketing a new anti-age cream with the name “Juvenel.” In one scene, Gargamel uses his magic to turn Odile’s mother beautiful, which, by the film’s standards makes her younger, thinner and larger breasted. Odile, like Smurfette, uses her “feminine wiles” as she flirts with Gargamel in hopes she can buy some of his magic.

The film is stereotypically gendered in other regards as well. A male Smurf is told to “smurf up” (i.e., “man up”) to be a real Smurf. And when a customer tries to buy a Smurf at the toy store, he asks, “Do they come in pink? My daughter wants pink.” Ah yes, because all girls like pink. This is why Sassette–the second-ever female Smurf, who doesn’t make it into the film–wears pink overalls. Of course. Blue is for boys–and is even the name of the boy child born to Patrick and Grace at the film’s close.

Through such gendered depictions, as Pollitt argued so well 20 years ago,

“Little girls learn to split their consciousness, filtering their dreams and ambitions through boy characters while admiring the clothes of the princess. The more privileged and daring can dream of becoming exceptional women in a man’s world–Smurfettes.”

Like others of her ilk who play by and benefit from patriarchy’s rules, Smurfette is not doing women and girls any favors. Instead, she just shakes her blonde mane and coos in her Katy Perry voice, “I kissed a Smurf and I liked it.” Poor Smurfette, if only she had instead kissed stereotypical femininity goodbye

 

What if you’ve got Hermione fever? (A Hermione Granger link round up…)

Well, I certainly have. Over the past week or so, I have written five posts discussing Hermione. There is some overlap, but for those of you in the throes of Harry Potter mania, I have provided links below. I have also included three other posts (not authored by me). I am sure there are more – please add more links in comments!

7 Feminist Take-Aways From the Final Harry Potter Movie

Hermione, the warrior princess, or Bella, the total sadomasochist?

Why we Need More “Warrior Princesses” Like Hermione Granger

Popularizing Strong Girls: Will the New Hermione Please Stand Up?

The “Smurfette Principle” Needs Killing Right Along with Voldemort.

Posts by others:

“In praise of Joanne Rowling’s Hermione Granger series”

Hermione Granger and the Fight for Equal Rights

Harry Potter’s Unsung Feminist Heroes

What if words matter? Thoughts on “pussy” and “slut” and word baggage

Having just returned from a visit to the Pacific Northwest where I lugged suitcases across Oregon and Washington, I have baggage on my mind. Currently, my unpacked suitcase is swollen with my finds from the Portland Saturday Market and Pike Place Market. And dirty laundry. Ah, if only it were filled with Voodoo Doughnuts, but those don’t travel so well. Alas, my suitcase will be far easier to unpack than the baggage that comes along with words. While away, a lively debate ensued among some feminist friends of mine about the word “Slut” and its usage in the many SlutWalks taking place around the world. As I missed this glorious and erudite debate, I am posting this carry-on- size food for thought about words and baggage.  (For some posts on  Slutwalk, see  here, here, here, here, here, and here)

Before my holiday, I posted on what I saw as the unnecessary (and sexist) use of the term pussy in Super 8 (Super 8 and The Monstrous Pussy” at Womanist Musings and “Super 8’s ‘Super Pussy’” at Ms. Blog). Reading through the comments, especially those at the Womanist Musings thread, which include many claims that the use of the word is “historically accurate,” got me thinking – can words ever truly  be “reclaimed” or, to stick with the baggage metaphor, unpacked? Granted, Super 8 is not trying to unpack the word “pussy” – rather, the film uses it in its common sexist meaning – i.e. pussy=coward=being like a woman.

But, could “pussy” be put in a pleasant new bag, one with nice polka-dots or a furry peace sign? Some think so. Some also think “cunt” could be repackaged into a term of feminist empowerment.

As for myself, I think it is difficult to entirely reclaim words as they cannot be drained of their historical baggage.

Words matter.

In fact, they matter so much that they almost have a material weight to them – a baggage that cannot simply be ignored or erased.

Words are like suitcases, carrying with them all manner of meanings and socio-historical links.

I don’t think we can easily “reclaim” words any more readily than we can “reclaim” lost baggage at the world’s most disorganized airport.

(And, as for Speilberg and Abrams, well, they likely travel first class and don’t have to think about the “baggage” some of us on the other side of the privilege matrix must lug around. And their baggage, is of course, filled with BALLS, not pussy – which, are, I might add, far more vulnerable than the mighty pussy!  Thus, isn’t “Don’t be such a testicle” more apt? I would love to hear that in a summer blockbuster sometime!)

What if Dexter is Killer Feminism? A Review of Showtime’s Dexter, Season Five

Dexter’s eye for an eye vigilantism came to a gripping season finale this week with Jordan Chase, serial rapist and murderer, brought to a bloody end by Lumen. (If you are not familiar with the show, go here and here for two good feminist overviews of the series or see this series of posts here.)

Season five had much to offer feminist viewers.

For example, Dexter’s single dad status led to one episode with a mommy and me play date that revealed the ruthless world of toddler/parent interaction. As the lone dad, Dexter was the outcast amongst a sea of women – many who viewed him with extreme suspicion. The episode avoided demonizing the moms though, and instead suggested just how gendered the parenting realm is and how dads, when they walk amongst this “female world,” are outsiders in many regards.

And, the rape revenge fantasy at the heart of the season involving Dexter and Lumen allowed for a insightful exploration of sexual assault and violence against women. Lumen (played by Julia Stiles), one of two survivors of a murderous gang that raped, tortured, and murdered 12 women, joins forces with Dexter to bring the male perpetrators to justice. That justice in Lumen’s and Dexter’s book is vigilante murder may not seem in keeping with feminist aims for a less violent world.

So, why was this season good viewing for feminists? Yes, the violence is visceral and the blood excessive. The administered justice is very harsh – with murder on the agenda for those serial killer Dexter decides “don’t deserve to live.” But, underneath its brutal exterior, the show also presents us with deeper moral questions about a legal system that consistently fails to catch or punish serial killers, rapists, and child abusers – and, deeper still, about what type of society breeds such violence and, if indeed our legal system creates just as many criminals as it attempts to apprehend.

The depiction of Lumen  – a female raped, tortured and nearly murdered who realizes that the violence done to her cannot be denied and will forever change her view of the world and her place in it – was extremely powerful and expertly played by Stiles. As noted at Feminists For Choice, “the show does an above-average job of accurately depicting the agony of rape trauma syndrome and PTSD.” Moreover, by suggesting the boy-gang formed at summer camp that ultimately became a group of male serial killers is related to the equating of masculinity with violence (and particularly violent sexuality), the show functions as a scathing critique of guyland and its codes.

Ironically Dexter, the serial killer at the show’s center, is one of the best models of masculinity in the series – he is a good father, partner, and brother struggling in a world that often rewards the wrong people. Jordan Chase, leader of the murderous gang is a prime example of this – as a successful self-help celebrity, he is rewarded with admiration and wealth. Yet, beneath his shiny exterior, he is the mastermind behind the torture and rape of at least 14 women.

Men such as Jordan impel Dexter’s “dark passenger” to dole out punishment in order to partially make up for the brutal murder of his mother, which he witnessed as a young child. Yet Dexter suffers with his compulsion, feeling more monster than human. Here too, the show grapples with the complexity of morality and justice, showing that, as Deb reiterated again and again in this season’s finale, things are never simple. This message was also emphasized in the recent episode when Aster, Dexter’s tween daughter, showed up drunk. At first viewers were encouraged to see her as selfish and immature, to view her drinking and shoplifting as sign of a girl gone wrong. Yet, along with Dexter, viewers slowly realize Aster’s behavior was spurred by her attempts to help her friend, who was being abused by her stepfather. Such storylines reveal that often the “crime” committed (in this case, tween drinking and stealing) has much deeper roots than an individual’s “badness.” Indeed, the show turns the entire “a few bad apples” idea, where society is harmed by a handful of “evil people,” on its head. Instead, we see that our society is pervaded with rot – from tip to top – and that this rot is intricately linked to the violence done to girls and women by males raised on an excessively violent code of masculinity.

The show also explores how the competitive model of dog-eat-dog individualism leads to workplace backstabbing, especially among the few women who have had to claw and fight their way to the top.

This was exemplified this season via the storyline in which Lt. Laguerta (Lauren Velez) betrays Deb (Jennifer Carpenter). For me, this was the most problematic narrative arc – not only because it smacked of the “see what happens when you give women power” meme, but also because of its racialized undertones with a lying Latina throwing a wrench in the career of white female detective. However, given the racial diversity of the cast, the series avoids demonizing any one racial group, just as it avoids suggesting only men are violent or only women are victims. To the contrary, the show reveals that no one is safe from the violence that pervades our world and this viewer, like the Feminist Spectator, “can’t help celebrating Dexter’s queer victories, and looking forward to more”  – not only because the show transgresses boundaries and challenges a social system organized around a decidedly unfair system of power and privilege, but more simply because, as foul-mouthed Deb would say, I fucking love it.

What if men are made of iron and women are made to ogle? (A review of Iron Man 2 with a few spoilers)

(cross-posted at the Ms. Magazine blog here)

It’s right there in the title – Iron MAN- not man in terms of the (supposedly neutral) term meaning “human,” but man meaning male. As I sat watching the movie with my thirteen year old son (and cringing at all the overt sexualization of females), I came to the conclusion that Iron Man 2 is really about the glory of males, the fact they are indeed “iron,” that with their strength and ingenuity, the world will be saved.

Along with this key lesson, a number of other gender lessons are imparted in the film:
On men and masculinity:

  1. Men don’t cry, they scream – as Ivan (played by Mickey Rourke) does when his dad dies.
  2. Men like power tools, technology, welding and weapons. Talking, not so much.
  3. Men are “big wheels” and “lone gunman.” They may say “It’s not all about me” – as Tony Stark (played Robert Downey Jr) does at the beginning of the film – but, really, it is.
  4. Men need to leave a “legacy” and build a better future. The best way to do this is via weapons, wealth, and womanizing
  5. Men are fabulous businessmen – so fabulous they can successfully privatize world peace.
  6. “Real men” (aka Tony Stark) think the “liberal agenda” is “boring.”
  7. Men will always need to be in “the theatre of war.” As such, they might as well turn their bodies into weapons.
  8. Men’s hatred of women is cute and humorous – or as one blogger puts it, “Tony stark’s privileged sexist playboy antics are hilarious” teaching viewers that “Men’s sexism is funny and endearing, as is their greed.”
  9. The male body is a weapon. Literally, figuratively, metaphorically. Man is iron. Or, as Andrew O’Hehir naming of the Iron Man suit as “impenetrable iron-dong costume” in his Salonreview suggests, the iron suit allows for the fulfillment of the male body not only as weapon, but as walking erection – hard and ready all the time.

On females and femininity (these lessons are longer, you see, because females need a lot of teaching):

  1. Women are for dancing – either around poles (as in Iron Man 1) or on stage as props for Tony Stark at the Stark Expo (in Iron Man 1). Wherever they are dancing, they should be scantily clad. And a note to cameramen – shoot them from behind so as to get maximum amount of booty shots – as in the opening scene of Iron Man 2 where our gaze is directed to numerous bent over butts in tight red spandex hot pants. As O’Herir points out in his Salon review, there is “no irony” in these “loving, loop-the-loop tracking shots of these dancin’ hoochie-mamas with their spray-bronzed legs and perfect Spandex asses.” Rather it is, as this blogger aptly names it, “a vomit-inducingly sexist scene involving various swooping close-ups of womens’ body parts as they gyrate.”
  2. Women are objects to be ogled and joked about. This lesson permeates both films. In the sequel, when Tony is shown his new car and “the new model” is ready, he makes a joke about the woman standing next to the vehicle: “Does she come with the car?” Or, in other words, women, like cars, should be sleek, good looking, fast, and expendable. Tony assesses the new female character Natalie Rushman (Scarlett Johansson) using the same parameters – her intelligence, multi-lingual skills, and martial arts training don’t seem to matter as he uses Google to find her old modeling pictures. As Froley of ReelThinker notes, she is put “in her underwear just for the hell of it” and her character is no more than a “near-cameo.” This incites Froley to assume that director “Jon Favreau must be some kind of chauvinist dog, because he takes every opportunity to objectify women.”
  3. Women need to have good make-up know how. Both Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and Natalie are not only beautifully made up themselves, but also have the foundation skills to mask Tony’s various bumps and bruises. This skill, along with their ability to take precarious, mincing steps on incredibly high heels, frames femininity as a performance that benefits males (whether via hiding their bruises for press junkets, wiggling their butts for the male gaze, or spreading their bodies for male pleasure – as the female reporter, later referred to as “garbage,’ does for Stark).
  4. Womens most important asset is their body. Even when they are in full-on battle mode (as Natalie is near the end of the sequel) they should remain hyper-vigilant about their bodily display. They don’t get to wear “iron man” suits – only really tight body suits. What fun would it be if their boobs and butts were hidden under metal?
  5. Women are petty and jealous – as when Pepper refers to Tony’s reporter liaison as “garbage”. Make fun of their jealousy by telling them “green doesn’t look good on you” (as Tony says to Pepper when his ogling of Natalie is obviously bothering her).
  6. The female body is weak. Pepper, after being saved by Tony near the end of Iron Man 2, says “I quit…My body can’t take this stress.” So, after two hours of watching Tony’s body take bullets, bombs, electric shocks, and Palladium poisoning, we hear poor Pepper can’t take “the stress” of being CEO for a week.
  7. Women are very forgiving – ignore her, lie to her, bring her the one food she is allergic to as a gift (strawberries), and generally make it known that you are a lifelong womanizer – none of that will matter as long as you kiss her at the right moment. Or as Kyle Smith gleefully notes, “the Gwyneth Paltrow character is comfortable with being Tony Stark’s assistant instead of judo-chopping and blasting away at bad guys herself, in the somewhat silly manner of virtually every female lead in action movies these days.” Yes, it’s soooo silly when we act as if females want to be part of the action! Instead, as noted by Lou Lumenick at the New York Post, “Paltrow is reduced to mothering our hero.” Or, as another blogger more caustically puts it, “if I were Gwyneth Paltrow and I just played the role of a stiletto-heel-wearing submissive secretary cleaning up after some rich white chauvinist asshole, I’d send back my Oscar.”

In case these gender lessons are not enough backlash for you, the film also provides some lessons in racism, homophobia, and the wonders of militarized capitalism as follows:

  1. Tony Stark explains his desire to no longer making weapons with “I saw Americans killed by my own weapons in Afghanistan!” I can’t put it better than this blogger: “do I even need to mention how stupid and racist it is to say that he was ok with his weapons being used to kill all those other non-Americans?” In this same vein, as noted in my earlier post, various Others are framed as “evil terrorists,” namely Middle Easterners and North Koreans.
  2. Black actors are exchangeable. Swap Don Cheadle for Terrence Howard. No one will notice.
  3. Organizations which discriminate against homosexuals deserve huge donations. (In the sequel, Tony donates a modern art collection, which Pepper has collected over 10 years, to the Boy Scouts of America).
  4. The government is made up of almost entirely of white males. As is the military. This is a good thing. As is capitalism.  Or, as O’Hehir argues, the films takes the superhero genre and “embraces its most militaristic, fascistic, ultra-individualist ideology. “

And, that’s not all, the message of the films are spilling-over into our fast food culture with Burger King offering four lifestyle accessories for girls and four action-packed toys for boys.” Yeah, now those kiddos that may not get to see the film can still learn important gender lessons. Girls, get busy accessorizing! Boys, take action!

As for this feminist, I won’t be stepping out in my non-high heels in any hurry to see the sure-to-follow Iron Man 3, that’s for sure.

What if you are fond of Fonda? (On Jane Fonda’s continuing feminist and peace activist work)

Well, despite my best intentions, I didn’t post too much on Women’s History last month… So, now that the month is over (!), I wanted to include at least one post devoted to a woman still making history – Jane Fonda. I have chosen her for a number of reasons – because I recently wrote about her for an encyclopedia of women in military history, because she has been in the news quite a bit lately regarding her plans for world fitness day, because she continues to be an important feminist activist even though she is often overlooked by our youth obsessed culture (which includes a rather youth obsessed feminist movement as well…), and, lastly, because she has personal relevance for me given my dad loathes her as “a traitor” and I have long loved her not only for her “feel the burn” antics but also for her life-long devotion to feminism.

I knew of Jane Fonda first as an actress and aerobics guru . I loved On Golden Pond, and my sister and I regularly popped her workouts into our Beta-max player to “feel the burn.” It wasn’t until years later that I learned of her anti-war and feminist activism. My dad, like many former military peeps, still views her as a traitor.

Now 72, Jane Fonda continues to fight the good fight and remains active both literally – she will launch world fitness day on May 1 – and intellectually/politically through her continued devotion to empowering girls and women, critiquing militarism and patriarchy, and working to eradicate violence globally.

Born December 21, 1937 in New York City. Fonda is a well-known actress and anti-war activist who rose to fame in the 1960s. Known in the 1980s for her exercise videos, she is now perceived as an anti-war icon by some and a traitor by others.

Conflicting views of her anti-war activism stem mainly from her longstanding and very vocal opposition to the Vietnam War. Though she devoted years of her life to educating herself about war, its effects on soldiers and civilians, and worked tirelessly with GI’s, peace activists, and leaders, she was often framed as “just an actress” who had no business speaking out about the war. The response to her work was gendered in the extreme – and remains so to this day.

Fonda became a well-known opponent of Vietnam War in the early 1970s, especially its reliance on civilian bombing. From 1970 to 1975, she used her celebrity status to raise money for various anti-war groups. She traveled across the United States in 1970 visiting GI coffeehouses run by veterans and civilians.  Her reputation for strong antiwar speeches and generosity in funding antiwar causes soon resulted in large crowds at public appearances.

During this time period, Fonda made significant contributions to the United States Serviceman’s Fund and formed the “Free the Army Tour” with Fred Gardner and Donald Sutherland. Free the Army toured through1972 and was then made into film titled F.T.A. Fonda played a major role in the Winter Soldier Investigations into war crimes. She raised funs for Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW), founded the GI Office in Washington D.C, which provided legal aid for draftees, and helped to establish the Indochina Peace Campaign, an antiwar education organization.

Credited with helping connect the Vietnam antiwar movement with the cultural mainstream by some, Fonda was vilified and attacked by others. A large part of the attacks stem from Fonda’s 1972 trip to Hanoi, a pivotal moment in her anti-war activism. While in Vietnam, she spoke out against the war, highlighting the mistreatment of civilians, calling the war a lost cause, and condemning both the Johnson and Nixon administrations. She argued the war was for the benefit of U.S.businessmen and not in the interests of American citizens generally. Her speeches and talks emphasized the tolls of war on individual families, on children, and on poor or underprivileged communities both in Vietnam and in the U.S.

Fonda is often credited with publicly exposing the strategy of bombing the dikes in Vietnam. While in Vietnam, Fonda also visited American prisoners of war and publically claimed the POW’s assured her they had not been tortured. This resulted in much animosity towards Fonda. In the years following her Hanoi visit, many accusations Fonda had caused POW suffering and torture circulated. The infamous photo of her seated on an anti-aircraft battery used against American pilots fueled her future characterization as “Hanoi Jane.” Fonda apologized for this photo sixteen years later in an interview with Barbara Walters. Directing her comments  to the soldiers who served in Vietnam, Fonda carefully crafted her apology so as to only include the photo incident and not the rest of her antiwar activism. In a 60 Minutes interview on March 31, 2005, Fonda reiterated she did not regret her trip to North Vietnam in 1972, with the exception of the anti-aircraft photo.

Named in 1999 by ABC News as one of 100 most imp women of 20th Century, Fonda continues her work as a peace activist. She has continued to place particular emphasis on war’s impact on women, often iterating that war is rooted in patriarchy and acts as one of the greatest threats to democracy. In 2002 she visited Israel and demonstrated with the Women in Black against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza strip. More recently, Fonda has argued that the so-called War on Terror will result in more terrorist attacks and an increased global hatred of Americans. Fonda and George Galloway organized and anti-war bus tour for 2005 but postponed the tour to focus on to the relief operations in the Gulf Coast necessitated by Hurricane Katrina. In 2007, Fonda participated in an anti-war rally in Washington, D.C. Currently, Fonda remains active in feminist and peace activist movements, focusing in recent years on war in the Congo and violence against women.

References:

Burke, Carol. Camp All-American, Hanoi Jane, and the High-and-Tight. Boston: Beacon, 2004.

Hershberger, Mary. Jane Fonda’s War: A Political Biography of an Antiwar Icon. New York:  The New Press, 2005.

Hershberger, Mary. Jane Fonda’s Words of Politics and Passion. New York:  The New Press, 2006.