Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Warning: does not remotely resemble a perfect feminist

by Franki Butler

There are days when I see feminism as a school, a school where we sit diligently and learn of Susie B. and Betty Friedan, and if we’re lucky, Audre Lorde and Alice Walker. We’re taught how to recognize the workings of the patriarchy in the world at large and to rail against the misogyny and sexism of others. We’re taught how to lobby for better laws, how to critique crass Hollywood comedies and how to scorn a singer’s latest T&A music video. But often, we’re blinder to a deeper problem: the biases we hold within our own hearts.

I come here with a confession: My name is Franki Butler, and I am a misogynist.

Well, no, that’s not true. If it were, Amelia and Josh would have kicked me to the curb long ago. I do, however, hold a metric crap-ton of misogynist ideas, ideas that have become so tangled with my personality and my interactions with the world that I am unsure how best to unravel them.

I frequently privilege male viewpoints over female ones in conversations. I use the word “bitch” more often than most fratboys say “bro.” As much as I rail against Hollywood sexism, if I’m not looking for a romantic comedy I often default to my beloved male centered narratives rather than actively searching out female ones, convinced that a story centered around a woman will be too sappy/stupid/girly for my tastes. In times of severe emotional stress, I often tell myself to “stop being such a girl about it”. (For those of you who don’t know me, I am in possession of a XX set.) The list goes on; these are just the things I’ve caught myself doing in the past week.

And I’m pretty sure you do them to, or things like them. We don’t rail against the patriarchy solely for the outward harm it causes, but for the way it manipulates our psyches as well. It gets into our heads, and sometimes we need to do a bit of self-examination.

Most people I know are past the “bitchez r stoopid, har har” brand of misogyny, but it internalizes itself in all sorts of ways. For example, is this your favorite song in the world, (warning: Not Safe for Work), and do you defend it by saying “that’s just how rock music is”? Do you occasionally dislike female characters in TV shows/books/comics/movies for no logical reason, or do you like them only because they’re played by attractive actresses? Do you find yourself using gendered insults when non-gendered ones would work just as well? None of these make you a bad person, but they may be a sign that the gender issues of the outside world are working their way into your head.

And I don’t know how to stop it. All I can suggest is awareness. I’m not giving up the “Sex, Drugs & Rock n’Roll” playlist on my iPod, but I need to recognize that most of those songs are problematic. Most of my favorite films/TV shows don’t pass the Bechdel Test, but I’m looking for ones that do. If I want to be a good feminist, I can’t simply call out the missteps of others. I have to look to my own, as well.

I leave you with this lovely video. The song is arguably sexist and homophobic, but the video is a pretty fabulous critique on my favorite summer blockbuster (yeah, I know it came out 4 months ago. The video’s still awesome).


At September 8, 2009 at 10:29 AM , Anonymous Angela said...

Re: Star trek:

I saw Zoe Saldana's portrayal of Uhura as very Feminist. She's dismissive of Kirk, pushy in advancing her career, and portrayed as super-intelligent, sophisticated and superior. She almost always has the classically Feminist glare of disapproval cast in Kirk's direction. I suspect that people like Socks and Silverstein don't even see that because it just seems so natural and necessary, given today's climate. And I don't get the disapproval of the miniskirt -- do the writers actually have eyes to see how young, empowered women are dressing these days? If anything the sexualized appearance seemed particularly contemporary to me, in light of the current mores around dress.

In practical terms, I'm not quite sure what else Abrams could have done without introducing new characters. The original Trek did not feature prominent women, and the one Woman it did feature was thoroughly made-over in this film as an empowered Feminist Woman.

I'll note in closing, as I commented there, that the Uhura/Spock relationship is used to communicate – again with subtlety – the phenomenon of attractive women leveraging personal relationships to further their careers. In the film, Uhura confronts Spock about her ship assignment (not to the Enterprise) and he comments that he recommended another ship so as to avoid the appearance of favoritism. That comment doesn't make much sense at that stage in the film, because we do not know the nature of their relationship yet. Hence the subtlety. But later on we learn that there is indeed a personal, romantic relationship between Uhura and Spock, and she used it to leverage her way onto the Enterprise. The film also notes that Spock was one of her instructors, which raises the issue of personal relationships between teachers and students, which are almost always considered inappropriate. Again, Abrams is being subtle here by tucking it in at an earlier stage when we do not know the relationship exists, but when you step back and look at the bigger picture, there are a lot of things concerning about the relationship between Spock and Uhura, and which would raise eyebrows in classrooms and workplaces alike. And as I said in an earlier comment, taking advantage of privileges afforded only to women is an essentially Feminist act.

At September 8, 2009 at 2:21 PM , Blogger Franki said...

Oh, don't get me wrong; I absolutely loved Uhura in the film, for many of the reasons you stated here (though I would argue the taking advantages of privileges afforded to women thing, because many of those privileges are afforded for the convenience/titillation/pleasure o males). I would add that she is the only character (other than possibly Kirk) who we see promoted to her position by a Starfleet official based on merit. I see the video as a statement that there need to be more women, not better ones. In Star Trek TOS, for example, Pike's first officer was a woman, referred to only as Number One. While I'm not surprised that we didn't see Nurse Chapel and Yeoman Rand, Number One could feasibly have been inserted into the script. Winona could have been yelling at Jim on the comm when he stole that car. Star Trek is going to be highly male-centric because it's a narrative focused around Kirk and Spock, but there's room in the story for women as well.

Also, I will be upset beyond belief if Nurse Chapel doesn't make an appearance in the next movie.

At September 8, 2009 at 10:20 PM , Anonymous Sam H. said...

When you talk about being more aware regarding the language you use, the music you listen to etc., is it enough to just have that awareness or is it necessary to take it a step further? Am I allowed to love the line, "I like your pants around your feet" if I tell myself that it's misogynistic? This reminds me of the "I'm just joking" argument. Anyone can get away with anything as long as they say it's a joke or that they understand how wrong it is (while acknowledging they don't really think that way). But can we really expect to remove all bits of misogyny from our lives (is it even fair to call these things misogyny?)? What do we make of the feminist who finds things like "smack my bitch up" amusing?

At September 15, 2009 at 12:49 PM , Anonymous JL said...

Reading your self-description immediately brought this post to mind. You could call it the opposite perspective.



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