Monday, January 31, 2011

The Nitty Gritty of the Academy Awards

With Oscar's favorites announced, it's an exciting time for Hollywood personnel and cinema-lovers everywhere. 

Actors travel the talk show circuit, insisting "it's an honor just to be nominated."  Movie trailers beef up their credentials, bragging about the categories in which they will compete.  And everyone's attention is steadily focused on the red carpet until that fateful day when all will be decided. 

These are the few precious weekends to give the movies you snubbed a second chance-- influenced heavily, of course, by the Academy's opinion. 

And while two films directed by women were nominated for Best Picture, but not Best Director, that was the topic of discussion last week. 

I'm over it-- for now. 

Today, we look forward and optimistically consider the movies of the year for their content, instead of their contributors.

So, even though we're hurting for women directors, Best Picture and Best Director(s) nominee True Grit was an excellent film with strong feminist themes and featured one of the greatest female personas ever created-- one that has Hailee Steinfeld up for Best Supporting Actress.

True Grit is a re-make of the classic John Wayne movie by the same name.  The Coen brothers revived Mattie (Steinfeld) and her vengeful story, but this 19th century character came alive in 21st century theaters with plenty of ass-kicking third wave girl power.

The pint-size protagonist is only 14 years old when she leaves home to handle her family's affairs following the death of her father.  But Mattie has her own agenda, beyond settling debts.  She wants justice.

Her father was murdered by a man named Tom Chaney, the same man Mattie intends to hire a bounty killer to find.  Negotiating with a drunken US Marshall (Jeff Bridges) and an egotistical Texas Ranger (Matt Damon), she stands her ground.  And when it comes time for a real adventure, she refuses to be left behind.

Mattie rides horses across rivers, climbs trees miles high, and always goes after exactly what she wants.  Her only traditional feminine qualities are her two long braids.  And her quick-wit is matched by a quick tongue that'll put anyone in their place.  She's stern, logical, and unwavering from adolescence to middle age. 

True Grit is not a fairy tale-- it doesn't have a happy ending.  It doesn't even end with a wedding.  But there is closure. 

Mattie finishes her story unmarried, and very matter-of-fact about a matter that doesn't seem to matter at all.  No one pities "the spinster" or questions her choices. 

She was able to live and love in the midst of incredible hardships, fully satisfied, without becoming a wife or a mother.  Her strength and peaceful solitude suits the child she was and the woman she's become.

While Mattie sought a man with "true grit," she possesses plenty of grit herself-- true enough to pull the trigger when it counts.

My only question is why the narrating heroine was not considered a leading actress? 

Either way, True Grit should sweep the Academy Awards-- and maybe even take Best Picture too. 

Friday, January 28, 2011

Friday's Five Feminist Friends

1) Akimbo reports on murder of gay activist in Uganda.

2) Womanist Musing's says "Fuck You."

3) Ms. wonders why foreign aid leads to poorer health.

4) Jezebel says you can't be pregnant in Antarctica

5) Bitch decrees Chick-fil-A douchebag status.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Women Who Direct the Best Pictures

Originally published in the BG News on Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Dave_B_ under Creative Commons 3.0

While actresses are a dime a dozen, and their marriages, pregnancies, and cellulite are plastered across the covers of tabloids, few media consumers could name just one woman director.  Living unknown and unappreciated, they are the unheard cry for equality in entertainment.  
With that said, Oscar nominations for the 2011 Academy Awards were announced yesterday and the Best Director nominees are as follows:
Darren Aronofsky, for Black Swan, David O. Russell for The Fighter, Tom Hooper for The King's Speech, David Fincher for The Social Network, and Joel and Ethan Coen for True Grit.
So where are the women? 

“Women didn’t make any movies this year,” you might say. 

But you would be wrong.
Actually, Winter’s Bone, directed by Debra Granik and The Kids Are All Right, directed by Lisa Cholodenko are both in the running for Best Picture.  How is it that these films are worthy of Hollywood’s highest honor, but their directors received no recognition?
“Movies rarely get awarded ‘the best’ in multiple categories,” you might say. 

But you would be wrong. 

Every contender for Best Director is waiting to see if their masterpiece will also win Best Picture.  Unfortunately, the inverse is not also true.
And this is one of Oscar’s most frustrating habits. In the past, five other films directed by women have been nominated for Best Picture without being nominated for Best Director. 

In 1986, it was Randa HainesChildren of  a Lesser God. In 1990, it was Penny Marshall’s Awakenings. A year later, the same thing happened to Barbra Streisand and Prince of Tides Valerie Faris missed out in 2006 for the hilariously moving Little Miss Sunshine and Lone Scherfig was snubbed last year, even though An Education was nominated.

While Scherfig fell victim to the Best Picture phenomenon, women in film had an epic win in 2010.  Kathryn Bigelow was the first woman director to ever win an Academy Award for Best Director for her film The Hurt Locker.

Yet in the midst of progress, imbalance remains the norm.  The continuing discrepancies in nominations caught the attention of Ms. magazine, recapping an extensive history of women’s unhealthy relationship with Oscar. 

Michelle Kort wrote that Bigelow “broke through a brick wall of directorial misogyny,” preceded by only three other women nominated for Best Director-- Lina Wertmuller for Seven Beauties in 1975, Jane Campion for The Piano in 1993 and Sofia Coppola for Lost in Translation in 2003.
Holding their breath for Tuesday’s nominations, The New York Times drew our attention to more concerning numbers.  Brooks Barnes reported out of 100 box office hits in 2010, only three were made by women.  And needless to say, The Last Song, Nanny McPhee Returns, and Ramona and Beezus weren’t going to win any awards, even with the talents of Miley Cyrus and Selena Gomez.
While women don’t fill traditional theaters, it seems they are more accepted and more successful outside the mainstream media.  Barnes contrasted the box office figures with the 27 of 117 films showing at the Sundance Film Festival directed by women—which is still a very small percentage. 
But the decisions at Sundance are made by a more diverse group of people striving for variety.  “Founded in 1981 by Robert Redford in the mountains of Sundance, Utah, the [Sundance] Institute secures a space for independent artists to explore their stories free from commercial and political pressures.”  They spend the whole year searching for “risk-taking storytellers” to promote with their “platform” festival.  In other words, they’re looking to fill quotas.
Oppositely, the Academy tends to hold the (white) male gaze while assuming their biased choices stem from expert status. 
And women in the industry have noticed.  Oscar-winning producer Cathy Schulman is President of Women in Film, “a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing sexual equality in moviemaking.”  Schulman believes women are left out for many reasons, starting with the fact that studios remain exclusive boys clubs. 

Directing is also considered a full-time job, nearly impossible to balance with child-rearing.  Meanwhile, Steven Spielberg shares seven children with his wife Kate Capshaw, but motherhood is still assumed be more life-consuming than fatherhood by today’s standards.
Schulman told The New York Times women directors “need to work harder to cross over from show to business.”  Translation; make movies that can be shown in 3-D.
While Hollywood seems unwilling to change, Sundance plans to draw real attention to gender and equality with panels discussing opportunity, involvement and the representation of women in the media.  Women in Film will be present, along with special guest Gloria Steinem.
Perhaps it’s time for feminism to focus on this new frontier-- because film appears to need it desperately.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Facebook Games

Photo courtesy of Flickr user English 106 under Creative Commons 3.0

Last week I received a Facebook message. 

This is what it said:
We are playing a game.
It was proposed that us girls do something special on Facebook to help gain awareness about Breast Cancer. It's so easy!  I'd like you to join us to make it spread!
Last year it was about writing the color of the bra you were wearing in your FB status...and it left men wondering for days why did the girls have colors (apparently random) in our status.
This year it has to do with our love relationships, in other words, for the status of your current relationship put the following drink:
Tequila: I'm a single woman
Rum: I'm a touch and go woman
Champagne: I'm an engaged woman
Red Bull: I'm a woman in a relationship
Beer: I'm a married woman
Vodka: I'm the "other woman"
Sprite: I'm a woman that can't find the right man
Whiskey: I'm a single woman with friends that won't stop partying
Liquor: I'm a woman that wishes she was single.
Gin: I'm a woman that wants to get married
Now all you need to do is write down the answer for your situation in your FB status (don't put this email, just put the drink in your status-go to your FB Wall and post it).
Also, cut and paste this message and send it to all your girl-friends as a message. The Bra Game reached the news. Lets make this one make it too .
Why does this keep happening?

First of all, changing your Facebook status doesn't do anything for breast cancer.  I don't care if it spreads like herpes.  There is no one walking this Earth unaware of breast cancer. 

Why don't you try donating money to breast cancer research?  Or volunteering with actual cancer patients? 

While I am strongly opposed to pink-washing, I would even prefer the masses go out and buy something pink than participate in something like this.

Please don't just publish a (stupid) status on Facebook and have an (undeserved) feeling of accomplishment.

Secondly, who "proposed" this?  Lindsay Lohan?  And how did Sprite finagle its way onto the alcoholic's wish list?

And this is anything but newsworthy.  So don't hold your breath.

But lastly, why must women identify themselves by their relationship status?  Or tell everyone the color of their bra?  Is there any way to talk about breast cancer without degrading or objectifying women?

A week ago, my "friends" were Tequila, Red Bull, or Gin.  But really they were single, in a relationship, or wanting to get married.  What a terrible waste of a status, when you could say so much more about yourself.

But what's more concerning are those who thought they had done "something" for breast cancer. 

Women of the Internet.  I'm begging you.  Please.  Stop being ridiculous.  Don't reduce yourself to a pair of tits or girlfriend status.  And if you want to do something-- DO SOMETHING! 

But first, you'll have to log off of Facebook.

Monday, January 24, 2011

All I Wanna Do

Warning: this clip will ruin the ending-- because it IS the ending.

Miss Godard's finishing school is attended by the best and brightest young women across the nation.  But this all-girls-academy is about to go co-ed.  And the current students aren't too happy about it.

Set in the 1960's, this movie captures the spirit of resistance.  Made in 1998, I have no idea how it slipped under my "awesome movie" radar. 

I recently caught a week-day-afternoon showing of  All I Wanna Do on MTV.  Once completely distracted from getting ready for class, I was on the edge of bed, committed, and crying.  It was that good.

Now before there is some sort of stereotypical misconception about chicks crying overchick flicks, let me explain.

There are certain women who have a certain reaction to the movie Iron Jawed AngelsAnd those women are feminists. 

Because there's just something about watching Alice Paul in action, and the strong, defiant women that fearlessly followed her in the abyss, fighting for their right to vote at the beginnin of the 20th century.  Seriously.  I get a lttle teary just talking about it.

As "Miss Godard's girls" get organized and hold a rather impressive protest, I found myself having a similar reaction.  There's something about radical political action that gets me all choked up.

While the title is misleading and creates expectations for a Sheryl Crow song, there are multiple speeches to inspire even the most apathetic, and multiple quotables.  For instance, when Verena (Kristen Dunst) is scolded for "missing an entire period" by her teacher, she exclaims "you mean I'm pregnant?!" 

Verena is the quick-witted, sharp-tongued leader, often plotting against her enemies and always encouraging her friends to look beyond marriage for fulfillment.  Her exclusive group meets in secret to discuss their dreams reaching beyond typical femininity and loudly reject society's expectations by chanting "no more little white gloves."

This movie is filled with allusions to powerful women of the past, while holding tight to the spunky girl power of the 90's.  It's the perfect mix.  The first, second, and third waves come together for 90 minutes of real empowerment.

Still mystified how I missed this one, I believe I have a new favorite.  And it should reside right next to Iron Jawed Angels in the "feminist films" section.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Friday's Five Feminist Friends

1) Ms. on the demise of Salon's Broadsheet.

2) Say It, Sister! on pregnant women and bad jokes.

3) Yes Means Yes on advice from Naomi Wolf.

4) Womanist Musings on race, class and dogs.

5) Feministing on rape and ovulation.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Quizzical Feminism

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Joe Shlabotnik under Creative Commons 3.0

Not that Seventeen Magazine is any sort of authority on feminism, but when they published the "What kind of feminist are you?" quiz, a few eyebrows instinctively raised.  I mean, come on.

Never mind that Seventeen is guilty of mind-fucking millions of young women into thinking they're too fat, too short, too tall, their hair is too straight, or too curly, their skin is too dry, or too oily, and their boyfriends are probably cheating on them-- all for the sake of selling the clothes and cosmetics they advertise; not to mention more magazines that possess the secrets of self-improvement. 

It's an endless, overly-critical, self-destructive cycle.  But I digress.

As a feminist, I felt like I was walking into a trap.  You have to be suspicious when you can find what kind of feminist you are and what celebrity perfume is best for you in the same place. 

Having read the magazine (and many others like it) when I was seventeen-ish, I knew the basic set-up of the personality quiz.  Answers marked A were usually extreme, B was somewhere in the middle, and C was always a conservative lost cause who was anything but daring, flirtatious or hot. 

When applied to feminism, I could already foresee the outcome-- A's would be radical, B's would be liberal, and C's would be cultural feminism-- even though I really question Seventeen Magazine's understanding of essentialism.

Now I love to be right.  I mean, I really really love to be right.  In fact, my three favorite words are "you were right."

But this one stung a little.  I mean, the divisions in feminism are puzzling, even amongst feminists.  And it's a rather sensitive subject.  Still, while the breakdown is disheartening, it serves a necessary purpose. 

Back when I was taking "Intro to Women's Studies" I struggled with this reality.  See, I thought I had everything all figured out.  So rather than complete a matching section connecting the label to the ideology, I wrote an essay across my midterm explaining why we should all just get along. 

Obviously, I hadn't "gotten it" yet. 

And many beginners don't-- until that "eureka!" moment when they begin to understand that everyone's picture of equality doesn't quite look the same. 

But the last thing feminism needs is for the delicate balance of differing viewpoints to be trivialized by a ridiculous quiz created by the pushers of the beauty-industrial-complex.

So the next time Seventeen Magazine wants to over-simplify something, I suggest they stick to face wash or the best style of jeans to flatter your figure.  Because really, feminists don't divide into groups of those who let boys open doors for them and those who don't.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Palin's Tucson Blame Game

Originally published in the BG News on Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Democratic Representative from Arizona Gabrielle Giffords took her first breaths without the assistance of a ventilator this weekend.  She endured a tracheotomy and doctors inserted a feeding tube, raising her condition from critical to serious.  And this is the best news to come out of Tucson in over a week.

Jared Lee Loughner, 22, is suspected of shooting 19 people.  Found with 30 bullets loaded and 30 more ready to go, Loughner is accused of killing six and wounding 13.  And one of those was Gabrielle Giffords—shot in the head.
Loughner’s lawyers are seeking a change of venue, i.e. outside of Arizona, to ensure a fair trial.  And Loughner’s reported mental illness has steered attention away from gun control to a more specific debate about second amendment rights. 
But there’s a more pertinent discussion to be had—even though some are flat out refusing.
While the actual environment is experiencing significant changes, our political climate is in even worse condition.  And this is also, very much, our fault.
Following the shots fired in Arizona, Jon Stewart delivered a sobering monologue for the Daily Show.  Keeping with the theme of his “Rally to Restore Sanity,” Stewart acknowledged the divisive nature of current democratic system.  Red and blue, depicted as good and evil, drawing lines in the sand and across the map, has reached a fever pitch and it must be stopped-- but it didn’t kill anybody.
“I wouldn’t blame our political rhetoric, anymore than I would blame heavy metal music for Columbine,” said Stewart, who admittedly hates the political environment of the United States—even though it’s his bread and butter.
“It is toxic.  It is unproductive. But to say that is what has caused this… boy wouldn’t that be nice—to draw a straight line of causation from this horror to something tangible…” Stewart said.
Yet suspicions surrounding the antics of the two parties have ignited a change in congress.  Diane Sawyer and ABC news reported Republicans and Democrats, for the first time ever, will cross the aisle for the State of the Union Address in the spirit of civility. And the donkeys will sit amongst the elephants.
But what about Sarah Palin?
A competitive opponent always foaming at the mouth, Palin’s campaign tactics were questioned after she depicted democratic districts, including Giffords’, in the crosshairs of a gun and making several violent analogies about winning desired territories.  The day she tweeted something especially incriminating is the same day Loughner took to the streets of Tucson, which is the same day she removed her crosshairs map from the internet.
Sarah Palin “targeted” victims of the shooting in her propaganda.  She visualized putting democrats in the crosshairs of a deadly weapon.  She told the masses, “don’t retreat—reload” and finally, Palin’s misuse of social media caught up with her.
Coincidence?  Yes.  But did she pull the trigger?  No.  And Giffords’ condition is not her fault—but the happenstance needed to be addressed.
Sensing unrest in the media, Palin made a short video defending herself-- but not once in her eight minute speech did she express any sympathy for the fallen. 
Drunk on self-righteous nationalism, she showed no remorse.  Her smug, “it wasn’t me” speech was an obvious opportunity to re-rally her Tea Party troops and she whipped them into an America-loving frenzy, convincing them that their rights are still in danger and she’s committed to defending them. 
But while reinforcing the fear she’s built her career on, she never said she was sorry for anyone’s loss.  When protesting that each individual is accountable for their actions—she never took responsibility for her own.
Palin said she was “speaking up and speaking out in peaceful dissent,” and when some questioned whether death threats were in poor taste, she felt her freedom of speech was under attack.  But why is it any time someone disagrees with Sarah Palin, or corrects her, they’re trampling her rights?
Of course she’s entitled to her opinion.  But “democrats should be shot” is not just an opinion.  Threats against human life are not the same as those health care or immigration policies we can’t seem to agree upon. 
Sarah Palin insists it’s her right, as an American citizen, to make animated death threats against people who think differently—in the spirit of debate.  Debate is an important and valuable tradition.  But what is the proper response to finding oneself in the crosshairs?  What counterpoint is there to “reload” other than a bullet-proof vest?
Murder is never just a metaphor.  And here’s where Palin’s beloved first amendment rights meet real restrictions—when they begin to infringe on other people’s rights.  Like 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green’s right to life or Gabrielle Giffords’ right to not eat from a feeding tube. 
The first amendment serves a specific purpose.  The framers of the constitution wanted to protect the people’s ability to criticize their government; not protect politicians from scrutiny.  And the people have spoken.  This overly-dramatic, uncooperative, filibuster-friendly, mud-slinging, arch-nemesis bullshit must end.    
 “Don’t let the random acts of a criminal turn us against ourselves,” said Palin.  Or reconsider our misguided actions.  Or maturely and sincerely express remorse for the misfortune of our fellow Americans.
No, Sarah Palin didn’t pull the trigger.  But she’s contributing to a world where other people will.  And no incident is isolated in a country where public officials and office hopefuls serve as opinion leaders.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Depression: No Homo

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Samael Kreutz under Creative Commons 3.0
Depression-- the most common mental disorder-- is defined as persistent sadness that interferes with normal functioning and daily life. 
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) describes depression as a disease with varying symptoms, depending on the individual.  These include feeling helpless, hopeless, worthless or guilty, as well as restless, irritable or anxious. Depression can cause, fatigue, insomnia and increased or decreased appetite, loss of interest in activities that used to be pleasurable, difficulty concentrating, and even thoughts of ending one’s life. 
Teenagers are especially susceptible to the disease.  The NIMH explains that “Depression in adolescence comes at a time of great personal change–when boys and girls are forming an identity distinct from their parents, grappling with gender issues and emerging sexuality, and making decisions for the first time in their lives.
Depression in adolescence frequently co–occurs with other disorders such as anxiety, disruptive behavior, eating disorders or substance abuse. It can also lead to increased risk for suicide.”  In 2007, the NIMH found suicide to be the third leading cause of death for people between the ages of 15 and 24.
As many as 1 in 8 teens are suffering from depression, making up a significant amount of the 17 million people affected by this disease in the United States.  And reports show that for gay teens, the numbers are even higher.
Psychiatrist and President of the Child Mind Institute, Dr. Harold Koplewicz thinks homosexual teens are four times more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual teens. 
These statistics were enforced by anecdotes from the “gay suicide epidemic;” the very event that prompted Koplewicz to write the article directed at worried parents.  By the time his advice was published, Tyler Clementi, Billy Lucas, Asher Brown and Seth Walsh had all commit suicide. 
These tragedies had celebrities flooding the internet with encouraging messages for “at risk” youth.  Widely read (and openly gay) columnist Dan Savage started the official campaign; “It Gets Better,” which was followed by a frenzy of uploaded support.  Everyone-- from President Obama to Project Runway’s Tim Gunn-- was chiming in, hoping to hearten their marginalized viewers.
Suddenly, suicide prevention was sexy and song-worthy.  Pop stars were cranking out music directed at young, gay audiences faster than the radio could play it.  Katy Perry dedicated “Firework” to bullied gay teens and the video even features a dude-on-dude lip-lock.  Pink’s “Raise Your Glass,” invited underdogs to toast themselves if they were “wrong in all the right ways.”  And Ke$ha told Rolling Stone “We R Who We R” was inspired by the gay teen suicides that briefly captured the media’s attention.
However, professor of developmental psychology at Cornell University Ritch Savin Williams told National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” that there is no gay suicide epidemic.  Scientifically, “it appears to me when I look at the data that they're actually just as healthy, and just as resilient, and just as positive about their life as are straight youth,” he said.  The author of The New Gay Teenager specializes in gay, lesbian and bisexual research.  
Williams told NPR people pick their studies to support what they already think—which would explain the statistics asserting gay teens are more likely to be depressed or driven to suicide.  
He believes “in the vast majority of life situations, that gay youth really are not that different from straight youth.”  He is also strongly opposed to victimizing gay teens and empowering bullies with the assumption that one is fragile and the other is strong. 
Williams is more concerned with the new image the “It Gets Better” campaign may have projected on gay teens and whether that weakness is being internalized.
Yet when Dan Savage was interviewed on the same NPR program, host Melissa Block opened the segment by saying this:
Last month, the suicide of Tyler Clementi, a freshman at Rutgers University, focused attention on a nationwide problem: Gay teens are more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers. And studies have found a large majority of gay youth experience bullying and harassment.
This “factual” information is widely accepted and often repeated.  It’s also understood as “just the way things are,” which opens another debate; if gay teens are more susceptible to depression and its terrible consequences, what causes the disease? 
The NIMH says “Substantial evidence from neuroscience, genetics, and clinical investigation shows that depressive illnesses are disorders of the brain.”  However, other influences have been given some consideration. 
The NIMH concedes “a combination of genetic, cognitive, and environmental factors is involved in the onset of a depressive disorder.  Trauma, loss of a loved one, a difficult relationship, a financial problem, or any stressful change in life patterns, whether the change is unwelcome or desired, can trigger a depressive episode in vulnerable individuals.”  Perhaps oppression or second class citizenship could also be to blame? 
For instance, women are more depressed than men.  According to the World Health Organization, depression is twice as common in women.  
Modern medicine believes women are increasingly vulnerable at every stage of their reproductive lives due to changing hormone levels.  Just like a century ago when doctors discovered hysteria and thought having a uterus made women “naturally” crazy.  Sometimes “illness” is reactionary to limited autonomy and mobility.    
So perhaps environmental factors like social inequality, economic disparity and constant discrimination should be examined as the primary causes of mental disorders like depression, rather than blaming estrogen or bad genes. 
Sexism could certainly cause persistent sadness interfering with daily life.  And homophobia could certainly interrupt normal functioning—especially when same sex relationships place individuals outside the realm of normal.
So before you believe that depression is a natural, biological dysfunction developing predominantly in some groups of people, but not others, consider the fact that medical authorities like the APA used to classify homosexuality as a mental disorder. 
Gendered science has always found ways to make biological justifications for social problems.  But some data is just too coincidental.  

Monday, January 17, 2011

And Best Song Goes To...

Katy Perry's "Firework!"

With P!nk's "Raise Your Glass" in a close second...

And Ke$ha's "We R Who We R" coming in dead last for your favorite song inspired by the "It Gets Better" campaign.

Sorry Ke$sha.  You lost.  Hard.

Sunday, January 16, 2011


Dear Readers,

Due to extreme illness, my blog has taken a week-long hiatus.

My bad.

I was bed-ridden with no internet and some scheduled content that needed further review and editing posted automatically.

So if any posts seemed out of sorts, they were.

This will not happen again. And I'm feeling much better now.

It should be smooth sailing from here on.


Slutty Feminist

Friday, January 7, 2011

Friday's Five Feminist Friends

1) Ms. remembers the women of the Black Panther Party.

2) Say it, Sister! talks about the tragedies of eating disorders.

3) Women's Rights considers the past, present and future of the ERA.

4) Feministing finds tears kill boners-- for serious.

5) Jezebel honors new woman judge on Ohio's Supreme Court.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Consent: Now and Then

Notice how Scott obtains consent from Roberta before kissing her.

Also notice how Roberta is good at basketball.  And not just for a girl.

That's hot.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

This Chick Rocks: Grace Potter

Girls, and guitars and awesomeness.

In a rock-and-roll flashback, Grace Potter plays a 70's-inspired guitar and belts out lyrics convincing listeners she was an unknown member of the band Heart.  The retro sound is undeniable, but Potter is winning over those who aren't even fans of classic rock. 

After hanging in the background, contributing to great soundtracks for great movies, it seems the band is finally front and center, demanding our full attention.

Potter and her creatures of the night paid tribute to an older Grace-- Grace Slick, in a cover of Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit."  The song was featured on Disney's Alice in Wonderland soundtrack; Almost AlicePotter also performed "Something That I Want" for Tangled-- Disney's version of Rapunzel.

But don't be misled--this is no strategic, Hannah Montana-esque success.  The nocturnals have paid their dues. 

The band's self-titled album, featuring the well-known hit "Paris," is actually their third release, following Nothing But Water and This is Somewhere

Twitter helped their popularity explode during VH1's "Divas Salute the Troops"-- where Potter sang with her estranged soul sisters from Heart and blew viewers awayGrace Potter and the Nocturnals also rode the channel's top 20 countdown for much of 2010. 

Potter is one of two women in the band, the other being Catherine Popper.  Both are extremely talented musicians and have an incredible stage presence, alongside band mates Scott, Matt and Benny.

The Vermont natives are currently on tour, anticipating their fourth album this summer.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Time Magazine's "Person of the Year"

Photo courtesy of Flickr user cellanr @ Creative Commons 3.0
While the ultimate popularity contest is described in gender neutral language, it seldom honors a woman.

The 2010 recepient was Facebook-creator Mark Zuckerberg.  With the success of his website and movie-- The Social Network, Zuckerberg was an obvious choice.

But last year, the winner was Chairman of the United States Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke.  The year before that, it was President Barack Obama.  And the year before that-- Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin

In 2006 it was "You," and that's the loophole.  Occassionally, Time Magazine awards large groups of people, like "The Whistle Blowers" who exposed the Enron scandal in 2002 or "Middle Americans" in 1969--and that's supposedly inclusive.  And enough. 

But, only four women have ever recieved "Person of the Year" individually-- which is even more impressive, considering the title wasn't changed from "Man" to "Person" until 1999.  The award has been given since 1927.  

Wallis Simpson, or "The Duchess of Windsor" won in 1936-- known for her several controversial marriages.  Also identified as a wife, Soong May-ling or "Madame Chiang Kai-shek" won in 1937.  A politician and a painter, she was married to the President of the Republic of China. 

In 1952, Queen Elizabeth II was honored when she became head of the English monarchy.  More than 30 years later, Corazon Aquino became the first woman President of the Phillipenes, recieving Time Magazine's award in 1986.  

Each time, the title was changed to "Woman of the Year."

In 1975 "American Women" were awarded, thanks to second-wave feminism and it's many accomplishments.  But does that take them out of the running until the next millenium? 

All but three American Presidents have received "Person of the Year."  FDR won three times.  Machines have won.  Planets have won. 

Why are women so underrepresented?

Monday, January 3, 2011

Black Swan

Are you a good swan?  Or a bad swan?


Black Swan is derived from the classic ballet Swan Lake; a soundtrack mysteriously recognizable even if one has never seen the performance.

In the ballet, an evil sorcerer puts a spell on a beautiful princess that makes her a swan by day and woman by night.  Only faithful love can break the spell.  She meets her prince and sensing his swan prisoner is nearing her freedom, the evil sorcerer intervenes. 

He casts a spell on his own daughter, who then seduces the prince, disguised as the princess.  After learning of the temptress and her trickery, the princess commits a graceful, swan-like suicide.

In the movie, a young girl has been dancing in the background of a prestigious ballet company, almost completely unnoticed.  But Nina (Natalie Portman) remains hopeful her time will come. 

After years of strict discipline, bordering on obsession, it's finally her moment to shine.  She will play both the white and the black swans in Swan Lake.

Nina is sweet, submissive and virginal, making the darker character a challenge.  But her desire for the spotlight drives her to act unlike herself. 

As the pressure mounts, and the line between fantasy and reality is blurred, her world starts spinning faster than her pirouettes.

"I had the craziest dream last night" she started, frightened to even remember.

Black Swan is a movie made up of dichotomies.  The most obvious exists in the title; a good and pure white swan rivals the evil, seductive black swan for the love of a prince. 

Nina's own sexuality comes alive as she's pushed to become both swans.  She attempts to win the affections of her womanizing producer, dabbles in self-love, and even has a questionable lesbian encounter. 

Here, the Virgin/Whore complex is personified by one girl, depicting the realities young women struggle with as they navigate love, sex, relationships and reputations.  Nina is inexperienced and totally unprepared, always instructed to avoid compromising situations.

But suddenly, she's making all sorts of compromises.   

Every time she rejects her mother's values and morally strays, her guilt manifests on her body.  Black feathers begin to sprout from her shoulder blades, like a red A, marking her as a tainted woman as she becomes exactly what everyone thought she could never be.

"I just want to be perfect," she confessed, begging for the role of a lifetime.

Nina is a perfectionist-- apparently her mother's doing.  A former dancer, she never reached her full potential once she became pregnant.  Now living vicariously through her daughter, she both guards and resents Nina as an absurdly controlling single mother.

And under her mother's panopticon-like surveillance, Nina practices several hours every day-- but it's not paying off.  Her movement is flawless, but mechanical-- unlike Lily (Mila Kunis) Nina's free-spirited competition.

Nina is told, "the only one standing in your way is yourself," igniting an internal struggle that she will ultimately lose. 

"I'm not hungry," she said, trying to convince herself.

Like any "perfect" woman, and "dedicated" dancer, Nina battles eating disorders.  There are multiple bathroom scenes suggesting she is bulimic.  And her protruding bones suggest her meals are few and far between.

For instance, after learning that she is the lead, the last thing Nina wants is a piece of her mother's celebratory cake that would threaten her waify physique. 

Natalie Portman reportedly lost 20 pounds to play the part of Nina.  In fact, while filming, Portman's visible ribcage worried others on the set, sparking rumors the actress may have taken on some real life anorexia for the role.

"Seduce me," he told her, in a voice that proved he doubted she could.

Of course the problematic protagonist has external struggles as well-- with her mother, frenemy Lily, and the prima ballerina (played by Winona Ryder) that she is replacing.  Much like the black swan stealing the white swan's happiness, Nina feels as though she is being sabatoged by an imposter lurking around every corner.

Her most important nemesis is actually her love interest.  She's attracted to, and frustrated by her producer, who refers to his (many) significant others as "Little Princess."  Apparently, the man controlling the fate of many vulnerable women has a habit of reducing them to his child-like possessions.   

But Nina's also attracted to Lily.  When the two "enjoy each other's company" after a night of New York clubbing, Nina wakes up alone and realizes it was all a dream.  Her desire for a partner of the same sex is then blamed on the black swan within.

Nina is slowly becoming a monster, unable to distinguish what is real from what is not.  Her anxiety drives her to scratch herself until she bleeds, and from her wounds, feathers emerge.  As she dances, she spreads her wings, but the wings are black.  She is a good girl gone bad.

 Her flirtation with darkness is accompanied by crippling paranoia.  Nina witnesses self-mutilation, passionate sex, and even murder-- but her eyes cannot be trusted.  From a first-person perspective, the audience is left to feel as helpless and confused as their hero.

Initially, the producer calls her frigid.  But he is magnetically drawn to her after witnessing her transformation.  Unfortunately, this triumph is short-lived.  Nina experiences the duality she always yearned for in her final moments, but it's too late.

"What happened to my sweet girl," she demanded, already knowing the answer.

Nina finds true freedom in death, as the events in the film parallel the storyline of the ballet.

Is this movie feminist?  Does Natalie Portman give blood, sweat and tears for the tormented character?  Yes.  And yes.

While this cinematic experience doesn't exactly inspire retired ballerinas to dust off their toe shoes and start practicing their plies, it does initiate several familiar discussions within feminism.  Sexuality, body image, and impossible perfection are all issues real women grapple with every day. 

These are their black swans, in the shadows of their existence.