Saturday, February 7, 2009

Anti-feminist women?

by Elizabeth Winkler

Someone recently played “Dirty Song” by the band Cars Can Be Blue for me, with the obvious intention of offending my feminist sensibilities. I won’t copy all the lyrics, but here are a few of the more repulsive lines to give you a taste:

“You can sodomize me
Get behind and ride me
Stuff your cock inside me
Proceed to fuck me blindly…

I will suck you off
Choke me with your cock
Blow it on my face
Your load I want to taste”

My point in mentioning this song (by a band that I’ve been told is relatively popular), is not to decry all the nasty, misogynistic strains in the musical world – that would be quite a never-ending project – but to point to the problem of women who themselves dispense quite a load of woman-hating into an already patriarchal society: this song is performed by a woman, who in her tone of voice, seems to express quite a zeal for being “choked with your cock.” It seems to me one thing for a woman to be pro-life (which of course, many feminists argue is anti-woman), and quite another to actually romanticize, glorify and make a catchy song out of violent sex/rape.

But the problem of the feminist-hating female is not new: girls who are happy to be objectified and degraded, thrilled with porn-star fame, eager to claim that feminists are just ‘ugly bitches’ etc. have always plagued the feminist movement. But how do we address them? Is it their feminist prerogative, their “choice” to reject attempts at equality? We certainly can’t make them want to be ‘liberated.’ Is it ok if a girl loves being a porn star, or if she truly believes that her only place is in the home?

What does the women’s movement do with women who have no desire to move forward?

The bathroom conundrum

by Josh Franklin

Today, I needed to use the bathroom. I was at an event with about 50 participants, around 40 of which where men. The facility had 2 single-occupant bathrooms, one had a urinal and was labeled male, and the other had no urinal and was labeled female. The male bathroom was occupied, but I felt a strong compulsion to wait for it, rather than using the female bathroom.

This is a bit peculiar, since the female bathroom was designed for a single user; there wasn't really a good reason for me to avoid that bathroom. In general, this arrangement of restroom facilities is silly; since only one person uses each at a time, the only thing that is accomplished by arbitrarily restricting their use to one gender or the other is inefficiency.

In general, it seems that we have strongly entrenched ideas about restrooms and gender. I've found that even people who have serious commitments to such idealistic projects as 'reshaping gender in society' surprisingly find the idea of gender-segregated bathroom facilities to be legitimate. I think that a sincere feminist viewpoint has to call into question those activities that make an arbitrary distinction between men and women. But is this one of those institutions? Are there legitimate reasons to segregate restrooms, or is this just another heteronormative stigma that we ought to see through?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

"I no longer think about marriage"

The story of Nujood Ali, recounted in an article published Tuesday in Time, is truly horrific. Nujood is ten years old - and one of the youngest divorced people in the world, after she walked out on her husband, who was more than 3 times her age. The marriage was arranged by her father; she didn't meet her husband until her wedding day, when he took her to his family village, and beat and raped her every night. Nujood finally escaped to a larger city, where she walked into a courtroom and told a puzzled judge, "I want a divorce."

As if this wasn't bad enough, stories like Nujood's are very common. In Yemen, despite laws against child marriages, "52% of Yemen's girls marry before the age of 18, often as the second or third wives of far older men." And the law was certainly not on Nujood's side. Her father and husband were arrested, but released after 10 days.

It's no wonder that, when a reporter asked Nujood whether she hoped to meet her "Prince Charming" someday (right, because that's an appropriate question to ask a ten-year-old who has already been sold, beaten and raped within the institution of marriage), she said, "I no longer think about marriage."

The Girlfriend

by Jordan Kisner

Jim Beam's most recent ad doesn't really have anything to do with alcohol. In the entire 45-second commercial, the product being sold doesn't appear once. Instead, the video shows a twenty-something woman sitting on a sofa. She's tan and 'exotic', with an indistinguishable accent, huge eyes and a full bust line on display in her low-cut top. This woman, whom is clearly meant to represent the ultimate in "hotness," flirtily describes her ideal man. And what is this man like? Intelligent? Caring? Funny? Nope. Someone who watches a lot of football, forgets her birthday and goes to strip clubs. "He can do whatever he wants," she says, pursing her lips suggestively, "I don't care." This woman, the ad tells you, is the kind of girlfriend that men want, the kind of girlfriend that you get when you're a man who drinks Jim Beam.

...Really? This ad is insulting both men and women alike. Men, aren't you bothered by an ad that reinforces the stereotype that you are all insensitive, boob-hungry ogres? Women, aren't you insulted by an ad which shamelessly tells you that THIS is the model you should be striving for? Mostly, I am insulted because of how brazen this ad is in its reinforcements of misogyny and damaging gender stereotypes. Do better, Jim Beam.

Of course if the video isn't disgusting enough, you could always look at the annotations added by the person who posted the video on YouTube: "Nice bra, could have used a more zoomed out shot to see her legs. Kind of a big nose, but does it really matter?" Ugh.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Women and heart attacks

by Chloe Angyal

A few days ago, The New York Times reported on findings by a Tufts study, that women experiencing heart attacks wait longer for treatment than men do:

Ambulances arrived just as quickly for women as for men, the researchers found. Patients of both sexes spent an average of 34 minutes in the care of emergencymedical workers, including about 19.9 minutes of care on the scene and 10.3 minutes spent traveling to the hospital.

But 647 patients, about 11 percent, were delayed, spending 45 minutes or longer in the care of emergency workers.

Women were 52 percent more likely than men to be among the delayed, said Thomas W. Concannon, an assistant professor of medicine at Tufts University who was lead author of the study, published this month in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.

It is not clear what caused the waits, he said, but other studies have suggested that heart problems in women are not recognized as readily by medical personnel.

My mother had a heart attack at 51, and after she recovered and got healthy, she became a Heart Health Ambassador for Australia's National Heart Foundation. One of the most important things we learned from her experience, apart from the need to cherish every day and watch your cholesterol, is that, because heart attacks are thought of as a predominately male affliction, a woman who comes to the emergency room complaining of heart attack symptoms is assumed to be having a panic attack, which, unlike a heart attack, is not deadly. It's a dangerous misperception because, according to the American Heart Association, nearly twice as many women in the United States die of heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases as from all forms of cancer, including breast cancer. And it's also dangerous because the first hour of symptoms is when heart attack patients are most likely to die. So, being delayed 45 minutes longer is a big deal, and may even be a dealbreaker.

This is really crucial knowledge for women over 40, and women who have a family history of heart attack (in men or in women). Learn the causes, learn the signs, and learn how important it is to get medical attention in the first hour. And most importantly, take care of yourselves and each other.

You can listen to my mom's story here (on a podcast, because she's that cool).

Matthew Mitcham on being Australia's first openly gay Olympian

Check out The Advocate's interview with openly gay gold medallist diver Matthew Mitcham. In this clip (there are four in total), Mitcham talks about the intersection of celebrity and homosexuality and how he felt about NBC's omission of his homosexuality in their coverage of his Beijing win. The Sydney Morning Herald recently reported that unlike his fellow Olympians (all of whom are, ostensibly, straight), Mitcham has had trouble securing endorsement contracts.

Mitcham, when asked about his hopes for fellow gay athletes, and the next generation, says, "my hope for gay athletes in the future is that their sexuality isn't an issue in sport, that they don't have to deal with adversity or controversy, that it's just not such a big deal, that people don't make such a big fuss of it, that it's not something that's unusual, it's not something they have to deal with, because sport itself is not easy, and so if negative things come from their sexuality, or extra work or extra stress comes from it, on top of sport... it's not something that an athlete has to deal with, so I hope it's something that gay athletes don't have to deal with."

Couldn't have said it better myself. After all, no one goes around asking Usain Bolt, "hey, what's it like being a straight athlete?"

Also, check out the amazing airborne shots from the magazine's photo shoot. This guy can do some seriously cool things with his body. His accent's not bad either.


by Laura Pedersen

It brings a whole new level of understanding to the word “gyrating.”
I have never been presented with the opportunity to move my hips so quickly, so (yes, this word is appropriate) violently in my entire life.

Zumba, for those less-inclined to hip gyration, is a workout phenomenon that features dance movements to Latin music with the ultimate goal of ‘toning’ and ‘sculpting’ and ‘invigoration’ and whatever other marketing words you wish to apply. As a survivor, I can tell you: it is a genuinely intense workout.

To Zumba is enjoy a kind of liberation. It’s sensual, not sexual; and it is about self-appreciation. As a newcomer, I saw experienced women adding twirls, fun hand motions, sexy body rolls, twists, or simply anything they felt like putting into their personalized dance routine. And when that Latin beat is throbbing in your ear, telling you about how sexy and alluring women are, you feel some part of that sensuality rub off on you.

Question: why can I, with great confidence, guarantee that these Zumba women will not dance like this on Prospect Street?

The question is perfectly relevant: Zumba is dance, with a repertoire of practiced moves performed and reperformed with each class. It’s not as if suddenly you have a crowd around you – you’re one of 50 on the Zumba dance floor. A fear of embarrassment in front of female friends? No, I saw some of my own friends there, and many women came in groups of friends to the class.

I suggest the change is because there are men on the Prospect Street scene. The purpose of the dance changes from a liberating workout to an opportunity to meet men. Obviously, this is not every woman’s motive for dancing in a club on the street, but let’s be realistic – it’s a powerful motivator. And when this motive is present, the nature of the dance itself changes. Why? Why not dance with your moves, that suit your body and your style with an equal level of enthusiasm whenever you have the opportunity?

Paternal child support: a personal perspective

by Jordan Bubin

Perhaps it’s not ignorance of a frequent plight of women, and I see how it’s hard to find a solution for this problem—but I feel that the criminal justice system is far too lax with deadbeat fathers. Now, this is a personal observation, based on my own family; I’m not trying to make some empirical argument. (Although a summer of working in the New York City foster care system showed me that my experience is in no way unique.) Also, as another caveat, this isn’t meant to be heterosexist—the problems gay and lesbian couples face in regards to getting child support are numerous, perhaps larger, but entirely different, from what I’ve read, and this is meant to be my own experience, and so is about the problems mothers face when divorcing their husbands.

I could write about plenty of aspects of this system, but let me just point out one for today—the requirement that fathers pay child support to their estranged families seems to me scarcely enforced, or stressed, in our system. My mother finally gained a restraining order against my father on June 21, 2006; in order for her to receive her child support payments without my father knowing her whereabouts, the court set up a bank account into which he was required to make deposits that only my mother could get information on, or make withdrawals.

Now, he was only ordered to pay around a little over $700 a month. That might sound like a lot, but my mother had six mouths to feed—I didn’t count on either the restraining order or the child support bill, as I was over 18, which left my five younger sisters and one younger brother. If you’re doing the math, that counts out to a family of seven living on $8400 a year, or, ostensibly, under $17,000 if you believe that’s a sufficient amount for each parent to be earning. To compare, you’re getting free school lunches if you’re family only counts four and your household income is half that again.

Of course, minimum wage at the time was still $5.15 in Pennsylvania, which works out to about $380 a week after taxes, or $1420 a month. So one could make the claim that $700 a month is an absurd amount for the man to have to pay.

I would disagree. Maybe it’s my own personal experience, but I don’t think you can disavow yourself of responsibility to your children, whether they’re in their house with them or not. Moreover, $700 a month for six children is stupidly low. I spent a summer interning for a family court judge who apparently felt stronger about paternal duties; when a father came in complaining about paying his $800 a month, the judge looked him in the eye and told him he’d better find a second job. $800 a month is pretty standard for two children; $700 for six kids means your lawyer didn’t care. In other words, my father got off easy.

Let me step back from this math lesson for a second. I’m male too, andI’m fully aware of the arguments around—for and against—the duties of parents regarding the children of one night stands, where one parent wants to keep the child and one doesn’t. This is not one of those cases, so in case you’re mentally stockpiling complaints and objections about how this is harsh towards males, put ‘em out of your head. This is about paying—caring—for the kids you’ve created in an abusive marriage where one spouse flees.

My point in this number crunching was to point out that, so far as financial obligations go, he got off easy. Contemplate buying groceries, clothes, school supplies, medicine, and other necessary items on a budget like that for a family of seven. Even so, he still couldn’t cut it—and this is my problem with this system.

When a father doesn’t pay child support, he gets dragged into court for contempt. His spouse, who has made a point of fleeing and is busy trying to hold down her own minimum wage job to make ends meet, has to take a day off—which is not highly recommended, in case you’ve never been in a desperate minimum-wage job—to come to court and report “Yes, Your Honor, he doesn’t pay,” just in case the judge and relevant attorneys couldn’t figure that out themselves from the bank statements. She does have the alternative of not coming to court, which would of course mean hiring a lawyer. Of course, that’s not much of an option for people with no money.

After wasting the woman’s time, they slap the guy on the wrist—i.e., they charge him with contempt of court, and order him to pay the money. This is no different than what he was supposed to be doing before that hearing; it just means that a judge sternly nagged him for a few moments.

Two years of suffering through this idiotic process means that the civil case actually becomes a criminal one. This changes nothing except that the mother does not need to continue coming to court to assure everyone that she is not getting any money.

This picture ought to be rather clear to you by now, and I don’t want to waste your time. Throwing the father in jail does little other than guarantee that the mother will not be getting child support, as it ensures he doesn’t have a job. I don’t have an answer to the problem; it’s not exactly feasible to force someone to get a job that doesn’t pay under the table, or to have the police enforce garnishment of cash wages.

What is rather pathetic, it seems, are the social workers my family’s encountered in this ordeal. There are a few stellar cases, but the key word is few. At one point, my father had missed $6000 in consecutive payments. Eventually, a few hundred dollars arrived. When my mother complained to the pertinent bureaucracy, the worker informed her that my father was “trying,” and that my mother should therefore be grateful.

Social work is demanding, and the turnover rate is atrocious. The requirements to be a social worker are practically nil, and the screening process is in many places laughable. It’s hard to raise the bar for a job that has such little dedicated supply in the first place, but it seems the same problem that public schools face in trying to get good teachers. It seems to me that programs such as Teach For America and the New York City Teaching Fellows, however, are doing what also needs to be done for social work—establishing a way to get dedicated, motivated people into a position to help those in need.

In my own family experience, and after two summers working around families in similar situations, it’s almost uniformly women who are stuck with the burden of caring—alone—for kids after men leave, refuse to pay, or otherwise shirk their moral duties. A system that almost promises them horrid support—emotionally and financially—and offers little sympathy for their plight is not one I have a solution to…but it’s one that, morally, demands one.

(On another note, for anyone who may have been watching the Super Bowl, cheerleaders got exactly one half-second of face time, and that was accidental. I’m sure it may be a rush to cheer at the biggest sporting event in the country, but after last week’s piece, it was pointed out cheerleaders may do it for the fame—but not even in the midst of the cleavage fest that is Super Bowl advertising did cheerleaders get any television time: They only got on-screen when a player ran out of bounds near them.)

Gender neutral housing?

Emily Rutherford, a freshman writer for Princeton Progressive Nation, thinks that Princeton should have gender neutral housing:

Princeton does not segregate men and women in any other way-not in classrooms, in extracurricular activities, nor in any other aspect of housing and dining. Now that we have our first freshman class in which the male-to-female ratio is perfectly balanced, it is time to bring coeducation to its logical conclusion: allowing all students to make their own choices about whom to room with-just as young adults do in the real world
Read the rest here.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

"They came with my body"

Samantha Ginsberg at RH Reality Check has written a fascinating piece about her experience of being a woman with one aspect of the "perfect" women's body: large breasts. As a woman with a similar blessing/infliction/inability to find a bra that fits, I sympathize with Ginsberg, whose experience of having large breasts has given her a great deal of insight into what breasts and, more generally, women's bodies, mean in our culture:

Being regarded as attractive generally makes life much easier and puts one in a position of privilege, an unfair and wholly undeserved privilege that I am aware of having. But being seen as extremely sexually attractive is massively problematic for the individual in question. In such a deeply sexist and heteronormative culture, looking like the personification of “sluttiness” is seen as an invitation for sexual harassment. It’s bad enough when people think you are inviting sexual harassment because of how you happen to be dressed that day, but at least mini skirts and high heels come off. Breasts do not. The size of a woman’s breasts, surgery notwithstanding, is not a personal choice. Forget “This is what a feminist looks like” - I think I need a t-shirt that says, “These came with my body."

So what does this double-edged sword mean for the women who spend their lives in a quest to be perceived as sexually attractive? If and when they finally achieve it, do they perhaps regret and enjoy it, in equal measure? Give Ginsburg's piece a read - it's fascinating stuff.

Bye bye, Global Gag Rule

by Emily Sullivan

On January 28, the global gag rule was repealed by President Obama. The global gag rule, or the Mexico City Policy, was reinstituted in 2001 by the Bush administration in an effort to thwart all-inclusive family planning education abroad.
The rule forbids any NGO that has anything to do with abortion from receiving family planning aid from the US. This includes any organization which performs or promotes abortion with the exception of rape, incest, or life-threatening conditions.
This is great news for all the women who have been denied accurate medical information and contraception due to the U.S.’s outdated policies!

All together now: na na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Death as a woman

by Chris Moses

We shit our way into this world, and we shit our way out.

A year after watching my mother die from Alzheimer’s disease—the anger, the sadness, the guilty pleasure of the word after, of measuring time since, of my own power to break the world into then and now—this is the best I can do by way of a conclusion.

Crass, yes. But the sort of honesty I believe a mother deserves from her son.

The strength we apportion to teachers, especially parents, disappears completely in this beginning- and end-of-life helplessness. We learn so much in weakness. It’s no surprise then that we spend so much time trying to avoid it.

Who wants to be born, and who wants to die? Choice enters little.

Vulnerability means need and in the receipt of help no reckoning can segregate from good will the self interest and righteousness and masked insecurity that everyone contributes to charity. Clarity of this kind comes only with the true inability to say no. Patience replaces the pick-and-choose divisions of emotional acceptance. Take. What. Can. Be. Gotten.

To romanticize birth and death misses the point. Revelations of human character, the acquisition and loss of language, the dreamed of essential, distilled aspects of being—come whatever they may be shit reminds us in its stink and repulsive, revolting nastiness that an uncontrollable urge to vomit can at any moment replace whatever selfless will to nurture we imagine ourselves to possess.

The truth is messy. Or unexpected or unwelcome or all three, pleasant only as it disappears.

The truth is that old women die as old women, passed sexual desirability and a nuisance in their odd smells and fickle, at best imaginative attempts at recreating past moments of relevance. Even those most sympathetic and caring nurses draw on reserves of pity, secular indemnity against what for them, too, is next and in some cases as a way of religious reassurance in pious, abstinent, timeless matronly virtue. Though neither excuse the most troubling question: if you can’t even remember who you are but still want to get fucked, or at least acknowledged, hand taken and smiled at by whatever man appears single and charming, does that make you a slut or a person or merely a woman?

Guys just slap asses and make passes with little worry about whether or not they’ll be recognized. An old flirt is the only cute flirt, levity to counter the de facto wisdom that accrues to men as they age.

The best a woman can hope for is to dissolve Mother Teresa-like into devotion for anything but herself. Where is the reserve of exemplary, older women in possession of contemplative fulfillment balanced with an open pursuit of physical satisfaction? No Socrates-like lady has been gazed upon to reveal a vision of the gods.

However equally naked we may have been born the images of gender in which we are made carry us to our graves obscuring however slightly the neat circularity of shit into, shit out of. I wonder if this is a mark of strength or weakness. Or for solace do we avoid the issue so that virility and vitality can remain free from shittiness?

To ask the question another way: knowledge brought shame to Adam and Eve and caused them to cover their nakedness, so is it beyond knowledge to see shamelessly your mother naked, fearful, incontinent, paranoid about going the bathroom?

Avoiding the muck obviates a deeper question of pleasure. Oddly amidst the extreme feelings operative at the end of life—pain, solace, grief, forgiveness—no space is given to pleasure. So close to the sexual liveliness we create through near constant efforts of appearance, thought, conversation, anticipation and reflection—so close to that for which we live, it cannot trespass the innocence of birth or the absence of death. Endless magazine covers’ youthful promises of lust fulfillment to the contrary, pleasure may be farther from these day-to-day yearnings and closer to the poles of our existence than would ever make us comfortable.

The basic power of touch can reassure a sense of being in even the most desolate emotional landscape. Literature is rife with examples of words spoken or heard as dramatic counterpoint to life in extremis, so large a bounty because no utterance has yet been found to express the soft touch of a hand, the encircling arms of a hug or the warm, gentle feel of parting lips left from a kiss on the forehead. Even language depends more on the warmth of breath, care gestured upon the face and the mere noise of love rather than any reality signified by words.

In the rare pockets of lucidity that interspersed my mother’s speedy departure from consciousness she would hold out her stuffed cat and invite me to pat it, complimenting his softness. He was more alive that anything else in her world.

How does sex hold pleasure hostage? Power, passion and control define the prowess we imagine as necessary to culminate the deepest urges and greatest reaches of satisfaction. Even fantasies of conquest require an animated innocence itself a gesture of coercion and dominance.

Worse, birth and death capitulate to this quarantine of pleasure by claiming pain for their emotional quota. Yet from sublimity and sadism alike we known that the two are not mutually exclusive and in fact cannot be taken apart.

At the beginning of life the rush towards responsibility, maturity, and independence acts similarly to disavow the mingled experience of injury and enjoyment. When do we learn that laughter and tears should be considered opposites?

I spent the last portion of my mother’s life as her legal guardian, an oddly placed twenty-something male, eyes opened widely to the unpleasant process of dying as a woman alone, destroyed by dementia, at once the object of prejudice and protection. From this and future posts I hope my experience will speak across generations and subjects that too often remain hidden from each other. Matters as mundane as life and death deserve as much attention as those more visible or extreme forms of gender discrimination and sexual difference that occupy most cultural commentary. Behind glamour feminism must ensure a fullness of being from beginning to end.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

"Boys don't cry." But perhaps men do?

by Chloe Angyal

Those of you who watched the final moments of Roger Federer's Australian Open final against Rafael Nadal today (or those of you who stayed up all night to watch all five riveting sets) would have seen the shots of Federer crying when he lost. It was a heartbreaking moment, even for those of us who aren't Federer fans.

But even as my heart was going out to him, I was also so thrilled to see him cry, and I promise I don't mean that in a vindictive way. I say that I was thrilled to see him cry because I think, as heartbroken as he was to have lost, his tears were so productive. Federer is a man who can cry in victory and in defeat, out of relief and joy, and out of disappointment. And I think it's so important that this legend of a man, an athlete and a role model for millions of young men, is unafraid to express his emotions in tears, with the cameras rolling and the world watching.

The image of an alpha-male crying with disappointment after playing his heart out for five sets sends a strong message: it's ok for men to cry. It's ok for men to feel pain, and it's ok for them to show it. Unfortunately, men don't hear this message enough, and consequently, the powerful stigma against men crying, in public or otherwise, is still alive and well.

A little while ago Courtney Martin at Feministing wondered why even women are still so uncomfortable with seeing men cry. She hypothesized that "crying men remind us that there really is no 'knight in shining armor'...that life is insecure no matter who's in charge." I think she's spot on: we must really be in trouble if even the strong, dependable men can't keep it together, right?

When a man like Federer cries, does he give men everywhere permission to cry too? Are men like him to helping us to combat traditional macho "boys don't cry" masculinity? Or is it only alpha men, the super athletes who have proven their manliness five sets in a row,who can afford to let their guard down, and let a few tears fall?

Running in circles: "Run Fatboy Run" leaves us where we started

by Lauren Rother

Romantic comedies confuse me. In fact, romantic movies in general confuse me. On the one hand, my initial introduction to the concept of romance was through romantic movies. These movies demonstrate some emotion, truth or wish in a way that resonates for us or they wouldn't make money. We can't help but feel for the protagonist, generally the underdog with some grand lesson to learn to propel him or her through life and love. On the other hand, these movies rarely mirror our own experiences. The way in which characters interact is often realistically counterproductive, if not completely untenable. Yet, we watch them. In fact, sometimes we mimic them, striving to find the love that has been presented to us over and over again onscreen.

From a feminist prospective, romantic comedies are frequently problematic because they often depict strictly heterosexual relationships (with any homosexuality limited to lesbians, whose sexuality is often portrayed as solely the sexual bait for men) where the woman is patient, determined, beautiful and a prize. Whether she is an initially unrecognized prize (Pretty in Pink) or an obvious prize needing the perfect champion (Notting Hill), she is still something that is awarded.

Run Fatboy Run stumbles into a few issues, from its title to the ways in which it handles male-female interactions. However, it takes baby-steps in the right direction, as well. This, naturally, leaves me more confused.

As a disclaimer, I truly love Simon Pegg's work. The man has a nerdy, nerdy gift for words that cuts right through all of my academic armor. Therefore, when I tell you that I liked Run Fatboy Run despite its occasionally problematic handling of gender, sex and size issues, you may take it with a grain of salt.

The basic rundown of the movie is that an out-of-shape, somewhat unattractive and unambitious man, Dennis Doyle, is still in love with the woman, Libby Odell, he ran away from, while she was pregnant, on their wedding day. Dennis can't follow through on anything he does, from remembering his flat keys to picking up his five year old child, Jake, on time, and he is roundly criticized for it. When Dennis finds out Libby is dating a new, stereotypically perfect man, Whit, he finds himself suddenly motivated to prove his worth to Libby. Naturally, this leads him to enter a 26 mile marathon that Whit is running in, with 3 weeks to train. With some help from his good-natured landlord, Mr. Goshdashtidar, and his ex-fiancée's gambling-addicted cousin, Gordon, Dennis learns important lessons about himself.

I think it is important to, for just a moment, acknowledge one significant forward step in Run Fatboy Run. Libby is a beautiful woman who is romantically entangled with a significantly less beautiful man, Dennis. She is an exceptionally pretty woman who has been patiently and responsibly been taking care of their child alone. This scenario toes a line that stretches as far back as we can glance. However, Libby is a woman of color. She is a woman of color who owns a business. She owns a bakery, and is appreciably more financially advantaged than Dennis. That's a step up from traditional representations of single-mother women of color. A baby step, but a step.

Despite how tired the "man running from commitment" line is, I don't really have issues with Dennis leaving a pregnant wife at the altar as a general plot device. This is namely because he is never commended for it, not even jokingly. In fact, an interesting reasoning for it is revealed a third of the way into the film. In a scene where Dennis is having tea with Mr. Goshdashtidar and reveals that he is planning to run the marathon to "show Libby that (he) can change," Mr. Goshdashtidar asks Dennis why he left Libby at the altar in the first place. When Dennis replies that he "just wasn't ready," Mr. Goshdashtidar tells Dennis, "the toothpaste was already out of the tube, being ready had nothing to do with it."

So why did Dennis run? Because, as Mr. Goshdashtidar tells us, Dennis "did not think (he) was good enough. (He) was terrified that he could not give (Libby) what she wanted, what she deserved." Naturally, Mr. Goshdashtidar tells Dennis that he would have made himself good enough throughout marriage, and reminds him that he had already earned Libby's affection. Later in the film, Dennis relates his lesson to Libby. At her birthday party, Dennis finds Libby alone on a balcony. He says, "I know I didn't do you any favors on that day. It was a stupid, stupid thing. But it was only because I thought spoiling your day was better than ruining your life."

The important bit is the acknowledgement that, in hindsight, the reasoning that essentially boils down to "it is up to me to decide what is and is not right for you," is wrong. This is emphasized by the introductory conversation wherein Dennis tells Libby that while he originally entered the race to win back her affection and still harbors the illogical hope that it will work out that way, he acknowledges that being in the race won't change her decision to be or not be with him over Whit. He states that his real goal is to win back her respect (and the respect of other people in his life). Why? Because she can make her own decisions regarding relationships. She has the reins.

But these are only taking baby steps. The fact is that this "I did it because I didn't think I was good enough for you" reasoning is used by a man (socially empowered) to alleviate himself of some of the guilt of a bad decision that harmed a woman (socially disempowered). So when we look at it: I made a choice that ignored your choices because I thought that I knew better than you what was in your best interest. Sounds a little less sweet now, doesn't it? And in the movie, it works. Libby gets teary, signaling a softening of the heart for this father of her child. The process of apology, semi-justification and forgiveness is a classic romantic move; it is a move that reinforces the idea that a good woman (one you should never leave in the first place) is one that will patiently weather all of your (male) bullshit while you pull yourself together.

The ending, which I am about to spoil for you, is also half steps forward and half steps backward. At the end of the movie, after Dennis has successfully finished the race and, in doing so, exposed Whit for the jerk that he is, Dennis and Libby are not together. Dennis's accomplishment seems to have largely benefitted himself, proving that he can pull it together and sorting out his inability to follow through. His final interaction with Libby is to pick up Jake and invite her to dinner later in the week, which she accepts. Basically, he has set himself up for another chance but has not accomplished a Forgiveness Miracle, wherein one positive action magically atones for years of inconsistent and inconsiderate behavior. Of course, there are issues with the fact that Dennis had to reveal to Libby what a jerk Whit truly was, because, clearly, she would never have figured that out for herself. And, when it comes down to it, Libby is still a prize; this is demonstrated perfectly as Dennis, having fallen just feet from the finish line, looks up and sees Libby and Jake, and then runs to them and collapses in Libby's arms.

Where does that leave us? That leaves us neutral. While Run Fatboy Run is still mired in some of the tired tropes of force-fed gender roles, it manages to eke out some resistance, making it slightly more realistic. It's witty, it's gross and it fails the Bechdel-Wallace Test.