Thursday, September 30, 2010

Graduate Women's Caucus Presents

Today, less than 1% of babies are born in the home.  Yet 100 years ago, that number was almost 100%-- so what's changed?  Searching for answers, Ricki Lake and her investigative team get down to business; The Business of Being Born.

In another installment of their feminist film series, the Graduate Women's Caucus exposed BGSU to the medicalization of childbirth.  This stunning documentary explores the disappearance of the midwife and the rise of the obstetrician-- data which seems to correlate in the United States.  Labor pains incite an almost Pavlovian response to get to the hospital.  But then why is the United States experiencing such high rates of infant and maternal mortality? 

Midwives have been discredited and their services likened to voodoo.  Yet, as we follow a real New York midwife from one home birth to the next, we see this method is both safe and efficient.  The midwife plays a supporting role, while the mother is the real star of her delivery.  Over and over women describe their experiences as empowering, compared to the alternative, which is frightening and restrictive.

While a home birth is fluid, the hospital offers only one method that keeps women flat on their backs.  OB/GYNs rule like tyrants and mothers lose any autonomy in their own birthing process.  Epidurals and pitocin eventually lead to invasive surgeries, a sequence that our society accepts as the norm.  But these interventions are unnecessary, not to mention increasing exponentially.  Under experts' watchful eyes, Cesarean sections have risen 46% since 1996.  And while doctors enjoy the convenience, the procedure is actually more dangerous for women, putting them at risk for deadly infections. 

One midwife makes the point that American women don't know what birth looks like.  As one of them, I would have to agree.  And last night I found myself in a theatre surrounded by many more.  Indeed, most of us were witnessing babies naturally emerge for the first time, having only another movie or sitcom as a point of reference.  And while childless college students seemed to agree that vaginal births are pretty gross, real footage of Cesarean sections are worse than even the raunchiest episode of Nip/Tuck.

So thanks to the Graduate Women's Caucus for keeping our minds open, even if our eyes were occasionally shut.  And thanks to The Business of Being Born for putting the midwife crisis on our feminist radar.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Poehler Helps Perry Get SNL Revenge

Pseudo-bi-curious and newly “Brand-ed” singing sensation Katy Perry re-made a video of her hit song “Hot N Cold” with her very ticklish friend Elmo.  (Sound dirty yet?)  But Perry didn’t dress the part, according to parents, and the infamous clip will only make it as far as the Internet.

That’s right.  PBS staple Sesame Street, known for incorporating celebrities and making pop culture parodies, has retreated after parental outrage over Perry’s cleavage, and kicked the scantily clad neighbor out of the hood.  For good?  We’ll see.  But let’s review what went wrong the first time.
This year marks the 41st anniversary of the street and producers are pulling out all the stops.  Stars like Jude Law and are rumored to be stopping by to help celebrate four decades of educational awesomeness.  And so was Katy Perry, until somebody remembered what Katy Perry looked like.
Sesame Street works on multiple levels, entertaining a vast audience, including grown-ups.  But keeping parents sane with relevant and topical programming can sometimes cause them to act insane.  Sure, adults may know Katy Perry as a gyrating California Gurl, overpowering Snoop Dogg with a whipped-cream brassiere.  But the kids only know her as “Miss Katy”—Elmo’s friend who stopped by to play dress up.
Speaking of innocence, kids don’t know that breasts are sexual.  Sorry parents, that’s on you.  This is merely a case of one’s reputation preceding themselves.  Britney Spears never visited Sesame Street.  But if she had, a similar controversy might have ignited over her appearance.  Just because society hyper-sexualizes pop stars and commodifies the female form doesn’t mean that children associate bare skin with sex.  And if they do?  Again, sorry parents, that’s on you.
What’s most disappointing is that “Hot N Cold” song was made to teach opposites.  I haven’t seen a muppet remake that clever since The Beetles sang about the letter B.  (Get it?)  And Katy Perry is adorable.  She almost upstages Elmo.  Maybe that’s what this is really about?
Elmo was interviewed on CBS’s The Early Show, along with Sesame Street’s executive producer, Carol-Lynn Parente, to explain their position.  When asked if she thought Perry was dressed inappropriately, Parente said this:
“If we had had a sweater on set, or maybe one of Bert’s turtlenecks, it might have changed the feedback a little bit…”
Ultimately, the producers were carrying out the will of the parents. 
But that was hardly the end of it.  Last week’s episode of Saturday Night Live was hosted by Amy Poehler, with musical guest Katy Perry.  Can we say fate?  Since leaving the show, Poehler stars in NBC’s Parks and Recreation and hosts the online show Smart Girls as the Party.  Both revel in feminist humor, which is why I have a sneaking suspicion that she was responsible for this brilliant sketch.

Poehler was the host of a talk show, called “Bronx Beat,” and Perry played Maureen; a teen volunteer who reads books to kids at the library.  But Maureen’s having some trouble.  It seems the library had asked her to wear looser clothing, because she “really developed over the summer,” emphasized by her character T-shirt, stretching Elmo’s face across her chest.
“Looks like today’s show is brought to you by the number 38 and the letter DD,” cracked Poehler.
But Maureen confesses that she’s really embarrassed by the situation, which has Poehler and her co-host, played by Maya Rudolph encouraging-- “Never be embarrassed about your body.”
Rudolph conveys Bronx-style-wisdom when she rationalizes, “boobs feed babies.”
Poehler also offers a street-smart analysis of cultural perspectives of nudity, while Rudolph publicly questions the nation’s inane practice of keeping the human body off TV while violence is abundant.  Both are dead on.  And hilarious. 
While I am grateful that Perry had a timely opportunity to retaliate, I am saddened by the obvious hypocrisy of my favorite childhood show.  Sesame Street isn’t about treating people differently or giving any weight to the way a person looks.  Some of their most important lessons focus on diversity and tolerance, and just being yourself.  And really parents—if you haven’t learned that yet, for the last time, that’s on you.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Easy A

It ain't easy being easy, especially for Olive, who just "lost" her virginity in the girls bathroom.

Easy A is full of surprises as it takes on double standards.  Specifically that one about women's sexuality that separates the virgins from the whores and leaves nothing in-between.  Yes, when it comes to the v-card, you either got it, or you don't, and societal reactions vary by gender. 

Those principles are put in perspective by a rather jaded principal; "If I can keep the girls off the pole and the boys off the pipe, I get a raise."

See, both represent rock-bottom scenarios; both imply a complete lack of moral character.  His message is clear-- overtly sexual women are a menace to society, as despicable as drug addicts.  And unfortunately, many people (men and women) share his sexist opinions about promiscuity.  

Purity is deeply rooted in religion, so Easy A incorporates a discussion about Christianity that is reminiscent of Saved.  (But Amanda Bynes is certainly no Mandy Moore as Bynes is more irritating than evil.)  This film also ties in commentary about homosexuality, or more importantly, sanctioned homophobia that would drive a young man so deep into the closet, he would publicly fake his own first (hetero)sexual conquest.

Other supporting roles I would applaud are the frenemy- "just because you lost your virginity doesn't mean you can go around throwing your cat at everybody"- the caring teacher, and the supportive parents.  All are necessary components in this twisted tale of a smart, confident, "A-typical" teenage girl.

This movie serves as a reminder that much of high school is spent pretending; boys pretend they are rounding the bases every night while girls pretend they have never set foot on the field.  And, as those of us with a diploma already know, graduation doesn't change much.

Now, to switch gears, I have a few bones to pick.

First, Olive (Emma Stone) wears a red "A"-- an intentional nod to The Scarlett Letter, when she never actually commits adultery.  In fact, she never does anything, except facilitate rumors.  So a single-virgin-minor brands herself to protest a theocratic punishment from the 17th century that wouldn't apply to her specific offenses anyway?  This is confusing.  Or maybe just overly dramatic.

Secondly, Olive is a strong female lead.  Yet, she is unable to redeem herself or make peace with her soiled reputation without the assistance of a "Prince Charming" who whisks her away on a lawnmower before the credits role.  Perhaps the ending would have made a larger impact if Olive had remained daring and dateless from beginning to end?  But then what's a happy ending heteronormative monogamy?

While the  pros and cons are debatable, Easy A has earned some rave reviews in the feminist community; check out Annie Shields and her response that critiques both the film and its critics.  So is this movie feminist?  Does Olive give a show-stopping performance that leaves audiences wondering if Stone might be co-starring with Cher in Burlesque?  Yes.  And yes.

Thought-provoking and laugh-out-loud funny, you're gonna wanna catch this one while it's still in theaters.  And then grade it for yourself.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Women's Leadership Coalition

Great ideas are seldom executed. 

Shayna Noonen is full of ideas.  A feminist, dedicated to social justice, this very serious girl never takes herself too seriously.  She also never misses an opportunity to interject a "that's what she said."  Noonen's like a human mullet; business up front, party in the back.  But damn, can she get things done.

Last year, as a college freshman, this one-woman-think-tank organized a campus-wide revolution.  While researching the history of activism, Noonen realized that her own school was suffering from splintering and she named the epidemic fractured feminism.  Then she vowed to fix it. 

Saturday brought about the second ever meeting of Bowling Green State University's Women's Leadership Coalition (WLC).  The tradition of congregating bi-annually was established last March at the first official get together.  Born during Women's History Month, the WLC chose the Women's Center as it's home base and has established itself as an organization that is now recognized by the office of campus activities.

While bureaucracy is a necessary burden, other aspects are certainly more important-- like the symbolic connectedness of this innovative collaboration.  Finally, there is a forum for discussion.  Finally, there is a space for interaction.  Finally, there is a supportive platform upon which the women of this college can take a stand against sexism.

Membership is still growing.  The WLC is currently comprised of leaders from five groups; the National Council of Negro Women, Precious Stones, Sisterhood and Serenity, the Organization for Women's Issues and Graduate Women's Caucus.  After drafting a constitution, they agreed to join forces in October for Bowling Green's Take Back the Night, and an empowering evening out in the Spring, to combat the culture of objectification that plagues the downtown area.

With this agenda, it would seem the first order of business is reclaiming public space-- a struggle for women in any arena, but of particular importance to those in college.  With high instances of sexual assault on a campus that is frequently visited by Girls Gone Wild, it makes sense that these women would unite against violence and degradation.

Looking at the earliest accomplishments of the WLC, one can't help but wonder why this hasn't been done before.  But like I said, great ideas are seldom executed.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Runaways

Wanna join an all-girl rock band?  You do now.

While the past is often romanticized, The Runaways captures an era of androgyny that had everyone re-thinking gender roles. The movie has two really great quotes that create a second wave atmosphere and remind the audience that we are, indeed, in the midst of a revolution;

"This isn't about women's lib.  This is about women's libido."

And then; "Men don't wanna see women anywhere except in the kitchen or on their knees."

Both were used to help band members realize their full potential and "rock out with their cocks out."  While phallic analogies are problematic, the duo of lead characters illustrate the dichotomy of what it means to be a woman musician, then and now.  Cherie, the original cherry bomb, conveys the sex appeal while Joan personifies the music.  Ultimately, Joan is the one with a lasting career.  Joan and Cherie are both young and tragic, lost in world of sex, drugs and rock-and-roll.  Yet Cherie's tragedy is self-destructive, while Joan's seems to fuel her creative ambitions.  One life was lost while the other was admittedly saved.  Mais, c'est la vie.

There's a strong message about friendship, which is convincingly portrayed by two actresses for whom I have a newfound respect.  Seriously.  I heart Kristen Stewart as Joan as much as I hate Kristen Stewart as Bella.  That means she's redeemed herself back to neutral... until the next installment of her vampire-werewolf-love-triangle.

And I am still in awe of Dakota Fanning crushing pills beneath her platform heels and snorting them off the floor.  And her feathered hair.  And her affinity for sequins, which apparently can be worn anywhere.  Even the grocery store.

Is this movie feminist?  Um, does Joan Jett drink vodka from a squirt gun?!  The answer, to both, is HELL YES!  So run and get a copy of The Runaways-- now!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

No room for harrassment "in those jeans"

"Could they get any tighter, those jeans?"
It’s no secret that our society values the good-looking, which may be why our nation is also home to a viscous beauty industry that preys on and profits from people’s insecurities.  But perfecting imperfections is an obnoxiously lucrative business.   In 2007, Sirens magazine reported  American women average about $12,000 a year on personal adjustments.  “Looking good,” isn’t so much a compliment, as it is positive reinforcement that one’s money has been well spent. 
With so many women budgeting for beauty, it must be a triumph to be found aesthetically pleasing.  Right?  Wrong.  America still loves to hate beautiful women.  Take, for instance, Ines Sainz.  The notorious reporter for Mexico’s TV Azteca was covering the New York Jets when the team began to “pester” her.
She tweeted that she was “dying of embarrassment” but later said that “in no moment did I even feel offended, much less at risk or in danger while there.”
When approached with an apology, she immediately caved.  In an interview with Fox News, she insisted she never used the words sexual harassment and the situation was blown out of proportion by other media personnel who observed the locker room antics.  Is that how she really feels?  Probably not.  But who wants to lose a job in this economy?
As the Fox slyly cut to pictures of her outfit, upholding their pledge to fair and balanced news coverage, John Scott asked so eloquently-- “Could they get any tighter, those jeans?”
He, and the entire station, had already condemned her.  Her interview was a joke.  She must have known it.  But she still calmly retorted, “They fit.  I don’t think they’re bad.”
To be clear, Sainz didn’t have to answer the question.  Sexual harassment is kind of like rape, and in a court of law, rape will never be justified because of the clothes a victim was wearing.  And unwanted advances, even cat-calling, will never be justified because of the clothes a victim was wearing.  Nothing will ever be justified because of the clothes a victim was wearing.
Seriously, flip the script and see how much sense it makes.  If someone was to yell, “Hey ugly!  You’re ugly!” and then explain that their unfortunate target was “asking for it” because they chose to occupy public space looking like a hot-shitty-mess, that would not be okay.  Fox News would not invite this ugly individual down to the station to insinuate personal responsibility for what happened and berate them on their show.  That would be wrong.
You would think women familiar with being “outsiders” would be supportive.  Surprisingly, they have been critical too.  Even veteran sports reporter Gail Shister, who began breaking sexist barriers in sports reporting 35 years ago, said Sainz should “stop dressing like a Hooters waitress.”  Apparently she hasn’t been to a Hooters in 35 years, because they wear those orange shorts now.   But her willingness to condemn another woman sports reporter, for whatever reason, is only helping to maintain the status quo.  She should have just told Sainz to go make a sandwich. 
So why would someone struggling to find an ally subject themselves to more criticism?  Sainz had an obvious strategy throughout the interview.  Her humiliating television appearance was a subservient bow to the boys club she offended. When asked about the future, she explained the matter is “in the hands of the NFL.”  But more importantly, “I’m only a witness.  I’m not the man, saying things.”  Until now, Scott had been using the language barrier to his advantage, but here, Sainz is positively brilliant in broken English.  She filed a complaint.  Her part is over.  Any repercussions will fall on the team, not her.  
But Scott continued to frame the story as a temptress seeking revenge.  “What do you want to happen?”
Sainz said, yet again, she never thought this private issue would become a national controversy.
And all the while, provocative photos of Sainz have been rolling through a slide show at her side.  Sensing that the end was near, Scott dropped the bomb and asked the victim if she was asking for it-- Look at your Myspace page.  Are you sure you didn’t do this for attention?
Okay.  You want to question her journalistic professionalism because you want to be “in her jeans” like Ginuwine, yet your fact-finding mission resorts to creeping on her Myspace?  And your “gotcha” moment is revealing that Sainz, an established television personality, also had aspirations to be a model?  That’s about as shocking as finding out that Pumpkin had done other reality TV and might not have been on Flavor of Love for Flav. 
This just in from John Scott—we have breaking news!  Beautiful women may attempt modeling, acting, news reporting, and other careers where their primary responsibilities are… to be looked at!  And Fox News shouldn’t be pointing fingers when 99% of their women reporters are blonde, bubbly, and under the age of 35.
Scott clarified that Sainz had “never posed nude” and was “never Miss Spain,” two other allegations that would supposedly rationalize sexual harassment at her job, before a woman co-anchor teasingly referred to him as the fashion police.  Unfortunately, feminism spends a lot of time in the closet, debating the politics of clothing.  And it will continue to do so, as long as women continue to be condemned for their appearances before we’ve even heard them speak.
But this issue is about more than jeans and Myspace; it’s yet another instance of gender policing.  The underlying opinion is that women don’t belong in the locker room and any discomfort once inside is deserved.  There’s no WNFL.  Women have no business talking about football, unless it’s a cheer accompanied by spirit fingers.  And patriarchy will see to that.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user movethelife @ Creative Commons 3.0