Archive | August, 2013

I Am Here for Me, Too

21 Aug

by Kevin Carty

For anyone who’s spent at least a minimal amount of time within the pages, blogs, feeds, and conversations of modern feminism, it should be more than apparent that feminism can no longer survive and succeed as a discrete, limited endeavor. Intersectionality has been a buzzword and important focal point of the movement for decades. Millions of feminists have come together to fight for the rights of the LGBTQ community. The best feminists today are inclusive of and fighting for the rights of trans individuals. And, altogether, if you’re a feminist today, it is unlikely that you are only focusing on the plight of women who are of your class, race, and orientation. And if you are so exclusive, it is likely that you are receiving endless, justified criticism.

No, hopefully, your feminism is broad, willing to include and appreciate the endlessly unique narratives of oppression that you will come to hear if you come to listen. And hopefully your feminism is humble too, willing to acknowledge the privileges and particularities of your own perspective whenever you weigh in on an issue.

These two directives are kind of the hard and fast rules of modern feminism, as far as I see them, and they exist for good reason. They are the modern effects of feminism’s past failures, the best responses that we feminists have to the blindnesses and biases which have afflicted our movement since the very beginning. Furthermore, for those of us who are privileged and who attempt to write about feminism, these are the rules by which we should live if we wish to be moral, modern feminists.

But, now that I have used ‘we’ and ‘our’ to talk about this ongoing movement, we get to the point where I should explain my own feminism, and my relationship to these rules. As a man, there are understandably a few questions that I receive whenever I call myself a feminist.

Does your feminism subtract, or detract from the efforts of female feminists?

Do you need to be a feminist?

Are you too privileged to write and act against social injustice?

Can you be a male feminist?

Or (worse) should you be a male feminist?

I can answer all these questions, or at least avoid them, through the hard and fast rules above. I can be broad; I can be humble; I can summarily check my privilege as best as possible. But, that doesn’t feel like enough in terms of an answer. Yeah, as long as I do these things, I can be a ‘good’ feminist even though I’m such a privileged man. But that doesn’t sufficiently explain why I identify as a feminist, and why I want to be one. I have a better answer for that question, and it has to do with the interconnectedness of gender justice.

Feminism has always been an action-oriented movement. The fight against disenfranchisement, domestic violence, the opposition to working women, sexual violence, the lack of reproductive healthcare and rights, the wage gap and the sexist exclusivity of the high-paying boys’ clubs of the world, these are the battles which prove the necessity of our movement and keep us going. But, additionally, we are a movement of ideas, because beneath those obvious violences also lurk the gendered ideologies and expectations which drive such injustice, ideas that are dominant, hurtful, and self-perpetuating. So, we attack the idea that women are meant to take supporting roles in life, the purity myth, the sexual double standard, and the socialized lies that women are disinclined to traditionally logical and mathematic endeavors.

And, here is where interconnectedness comes in. These violences and the concepts which undergird them are not simply perpetrated and maintained by men to the detriment of women. Additionally and accordingly, these violences exist alongside violences that men feel and inflict upon each other as a result of gender ideology, and these ideas were all developed in tandem with conceptions of masculinity that affect and hurt men just as related conceptions of femininity affect women.

For instance, consider the social expectations surrounding female virginity, the madonna-whore complex, slut-shaming and the double standard; consider the generalized ideas of female sexuality that constrain and hurt women, each of them based in the patriarchal belief that women are not interested in sex, and that they should be pure, angelic, virginal beings who are tainted by sex and sexuality. This paradigm of sexuality does not live in a vacuum; with it goes the belief that men are grossly sexual beings, defined by aggressive desires for release and horniness that they can’t control. And independent of the implications of this idea in regards to victim-blaming and leniency toward rapists, this idea that we men are wild sexual beasts has great and profoundly negative effects on the vast majority of us men who are not violently sexual.

It should go without saying, but we are in control of our sexual drives. Our horniness is not some monolithic presence that deprives us of personal choice. We are not wild, sexual animals. And when the culture around us works to make that argument again and again, demonizing our sexuality saying that women must always say no to us, that we all think with the ‘wrong head,’ and that rape and sexual harassment are built into our genes and driven by our hormones, that is profoundly, disgustingly disrespectful. And when we hear this again and again, I think that many of us come to believe its truth and unwillingly buy into this myth of male sexuality. Some of us might unwittingly feel that we can not and should not control ourselves, and some of us, I believe more of us, come to fear ourselves. If we are taught to believe that we are sexually aggressive beasts who act outside of conscious control, what reasonable response is there other than self-fear?

Likewise, think about the larger frames of social role and purpose that circumscribe work and family for women: the overwhelming share of domestic work that working women shoulder, the fact that women are underpaid relative to men by eighteen cents to the dollar, the dearth of women in leadership positions across industries. The understanding of femininity that argues for women to stay home and support is obviously also built upon a societal devotion to the male breadwinner, the chivalric man who provides for his woman and finds purpose in doing so.

To many, this role doesn’t seem to be obviously problematic for men, but I think that ignores quite a bit. Noah Berlatsky has written that feminism has given him more options because it has given his wife more opportunity. Because feminism continues to propel more women into the workforce, so is it ending the requirement that we men be nothing but the sole providers for our families, allowing us to be better dads, independent freelancers, stay-at-home parents, and loving and loved caregivers. Further, when men are seen, as is the case in patriarchal understandings of masculinity, as being needed because they provide for women, there is a long-term detrimental effect of that need to be needed. When that form of utility is the only role we are praised and heralded for, it becomes increasingly difficult to find other sources of meaning, whether they be in close fulfilling relationships, independent work, caring fatherhood, or even love itself. Noah Brand has written that because we only know how to be needed, we have trouble being wanted. We have trouble being truly, freely loved because we’ve only ever been needed.

And lastly, consider the rampancy of domestic and sexual violence, the vast majority of it committed by men. This phenomenon should be shocking. The numbers alone are unconscionable; one in two women have been victims of sexual violence and one in 5 have been victims of rape. Fighting gender violence has, up until now, been seen as a women’s issue. Not only should this be a men’s issue, as Jackson Katz argues in this video, because it is our friends, brothers, sons, and fathers who are acting out sexual violence and because it is in our power to stop and change them. But, moreover, this epidemic of violence is rooted in social structures that have hurt most of us men throughout our lives just as it has hurt the women around us.

The same all male groups which consciously and unconsciously maintain rape culture through rape jokes, sexist language, and the validation of rape myths, are the same male groups that maintain themselves through exclusionary, bullying behavior. The devaluation of women and womanhood that is a central part of rape and sexual violence is closely related to the devaluation, by men, of all those who are not masculine, whether they be female, gay, trans, or simply different. This need to otherize, victimize, and bully comes from the anxious state of masculinity as constructed, an identity which always need to be proven, and which is most easily proven by identifying those who are non-masculine as a sort of empty distraction. Many of us have experienced the aggression of these groups in our fraternities, high schools, military squads, and sports teams, and it can be an incredibly difficult, hurtful experience.

I am a feminist, ever-opposed to sexism, passionately supportive of reproductive freedom, an ally and supporter to all victims of sexual violence. I will march in slutwalks, work against harassment and violence, use my privilege to raise the voices of my female friends and allies, and use my maleness to engage and the change the opinions of other men.

But, in addition to my ally-ship and active support of the women around me, I’m here for men too. The interconnectedness of the gender constructs that feminism is uniquely successful at identifying and fighting means that we have a direct interest in making gender justice a reality, for our girlfriends, female friends, daughters, mothers, and wives, but also for our sons fathers, friends, brothers, and fellow men the world over. I am a feminist, but I am more than a male ally. I am here for me, too.

Running Naked

20 Aug

by Bethany Imondi

Okay, so the title is a little misleading. I have never run naked, but ask runners and I bet they will tell you they wish they could run in their birthday suit during D.C’s hottest months.

D.C. in the summer is hot. Not just 95-degrees-and-sunny hot, but 95-degrees-and-oppressive-dew-points-that-make-you-think-you-transported-to-the-surface-of-the-sun hot.

This past summer has been no exception. Despite this being my third summer in D.C., this was my first time living here as a “runner,” as in someone who despises treadmills, uses a GPS to track miles and reads running blogs in one’s spare time. After being bitten by the running bug last fall, lacing up my sneakers has made me one of “those people” who actually enjoy sweating en route to the monuments or along the Rock Creek Parkway.

Sweating in the summer, however, is a whole other story. Having begun training for my first half marathon last December, my runs were mostly done in temperatures requiring gloves to hold the water bottle that remained cold regardless of how long I ran and five minutes post-run peeling off layers of clothing to reveal that, in spite of the wind chills and inability to feel my nose, I still managed to work up a sweat.

Nowadays, I can barely keep the layers on. When the heat index is already 85 degrees at six thirty in the morning, a part of me cringes at the idea of attempting any sort of mileage. But then there is also that part of me that loves racing past the Kennedy Center and down to the Lincoln Memorial, watching as the sun peeks behind the Washington Monument and illuminates the National Mall’s Reflecting Pool.

Unfortunately, as a consequence of my runner’s high, I finish my summer runs in need of a shower as much as I look like I just took one— hair underneath my baseball cap soaked, shorts sticking to the back of my legs and running top looking as if I had just taken it out of the washing machine. After pushing my run even earlier in the morning and still feeling/looking like a hot mess before the official sunrise time, I made a decision: hello, sports bras.

During my recent runs, I could count on two hands the number of women I have seen running the streets in only a sports bras, a number far less than the number of men I have seen pacing shirtless through the city. The low value does not surprise me. Myself a subject of street harassment while fully clothed in broad daylight, I can understand why a woman would not want to subject herself to the torment of beeping car horns and obnoxious taunts simply because she wanted a little relief from the heat.

So when I see those few belly-button displaying women I pass, I feel admiration. By running in a sports bra, even if they just want to feel less sticky or have a less awkward runner’s tan, these women say to society:”Look, I don’t care whether you judge me; I don’t care if you holler; I don’t care if you can see the chicken pox scar near the bottom of my spine—it’s hot and this is how I feel comfortable!”

This level of comfort is the main reason behind my respect for these women. Females are all too familiar with the anxiety of wearing a bathing suit on the beach, so running in a sports bra can be equally discomforting. Yet with these women, I sense a great deal of self-confidence in themselves and their bodies. At times, I almost want to stop mid-run and high-five them for being such bad-asses and inspiring me to work up the courage to don the bikini top of running apparel.

If you had asked me four years ago whether I would ever venture outdoors in a sports bra, I would have fiercely shaken my head in the negative. Insecurity and body consciousness were regular thoughts that drove me to exercise for not always the healthiest reasons. Though days of low self-esteem and body loathing are not absent from my calendar, I am in a much more comfortable position with the way my body looks and feels today. Whereas before running was something I mainly did to burn calories, today I do it mainly for the pleasure, for the sweat and sense of accomplishment that comes with running half of a half marathon before the work day begins. Choosing to run only in a sports bra has been a small way of demonstrating to myself, and to others, that I am comfortable enough in my own skin to show it off.

Running in a sports bra is the closest a woman can get to running naked while avoiding an arrest for indecent exposure, but It is also an act of empowerment, well-being and self-confidence. Even if I notice runners glance at my bare belly, their subtle acknowledgement is all I need to remind myself how much my self-esteem has grown to feel comfortable enough to run sans shirt, sweat, flaws and all.

You Can Kick Ass, Just Fit Into the Costume

19 Aug

by Guy Jones

As someone who has written scripts for plays and short films, I’ve struggled to write from a perspective not of my own. Whether that means writing for a character of lower socio-economic status, of different age or race, of different philosophy, religion, or worldview, or of different gender, it has prompted me to first understand these viewpoints better and then represent them in an honest and respectful way. This leads me to one of my biggest pet peeves in cinema and its representation of women: the way action films tend to depict heroines as opposed to their male counterparts.

I want to use two different examples that strike me as representing the extremes of this issue. On one side, there is Scarlett Johansen’s character Black Widow in Marvel’s Avengers film (directed by notably feminist-minded Joss Whedon who has, indeed, claimed that he is “pissed off” by the lack of female superheroes). On the other, there is my personal favorite character in HBO’s Game of Thrones series, Brienne of Tarth, portrayed by Gwendoline Christie.

I first want to point out that while Whedon was restricted by his source material in what he could do with a female character (comic books are notorious for their depictions of women as “perfect” in form and often wearing very little merely to please the overwhelmingly male audience), Game of Thrones is based on the series of novels by George R.R. Martin, who recently explained that his female characters are written so well because he’s “always viewed women as people”. Consider my thoughts on the subject to be using two different examples to evaluate trends in film and television, rather than individual productions.

I’ve always hated seeing scenes in which a dainty, thin, scar-less woman is seen beating up several men three times her size without her hair moving out of place or getting a wedgie in her skin-tight suit. This for me embodies how Black Widow operates in The Avengers: Scarlett Johansen (who, I’m sure to her own chagrin, is often typecast as the delicate, elegant, conventional beauty who may or may not also be able to kick a bunch of people’s asses) simply walks through dozens of enemies who are heavy enough to simply sit on her to stop her.

Sure, comic book movies, especially The Avengers, are not particularly noted for their realism, but compare Black Widow’s physique to her male counterparts whose physical ability is also exaggerated. Every one of them is rippling muscle combined with impressive height and at least one superpower – even Tony Stark, who relies on his suit the whole movie, is ripped (remember that welding scene from the first movie with the dreamy biceps?). I think of Christian Bale’s insane weight changes from The Machinist to Batman Begins in which he added literally 100 pounds of muscle. If we expect superheroes, even those with grossly exaggerated powers, to be giant hulks of muscle, why is this only acceptable for men, whose “ideal” body type is muscular?

Which brings me to Gwendoline Christie’s Brienne of Tarth. She is tall, muscular, chiseled, and downright impressively large. She is insulted and mocked for her seeming lack of femininity, and her role as a warrior stands in contrast to many of the women surrounding her. But when she swings a sword, I believe it. I not only believe it, but I revel in it. Brienne has a physical power that is almost unrivaled in the series, and she does not expect to keep this strength while maintaining the proper “hourglass” figure. And, believe it or not, she is absolutely beautiful – just as beautiful as Scarlett Johansen in The Avengers.

And this may be my ultimate point: women can kick ass just as much, if not more, as men can, but it looks ridiculous when that woman is beating the crap out of goons who look like they could eat her weight in meat for breakfast. It looks ridiculous, and it looks like we are simply pandering to a male conception of what a female hero is – conventionally “hot” and kickass. Of course, Scarlett Johansen is beautiful and there is nothing wrong with her beauty. Of course, Gwendoline Christie is beautiful and there is nothing wrong with hers. What is wrong, in my opinion, is our demand that women be tiny but powerful, delicate but strong, elegant but badass, sweet but aggressive, ladylike but rebellious, passive but active – all at the same time.

And here’s to hoping that a Wonder Woman film franchise gets picked up soon.

Binary Bullshit

16 Aug

by Anonymous

Gender is a social construct – it’s been one of my favorite phrases since my first Women’s and Gender Studies class. I’ve read academic theories about and deconstructions of the gender binary, personal narratives, talked with trans and genderqueer friends about their experiences. I thought I had a good handle on everything, until I realised that I was trapped in that binary, too.

I was a tomboy for most of my childhood, wanting to play with my male cousins, but instead hiding away in my oldest cousin’s room with my sister as she painted our nails, or being frustrated when they wouldn’t let me roughhouse with them because I was a girl (at which point, I decided to hit them – somewhat playfully – because they wouldn’t retaliate, and I thought they were stupid for doing so).  All that sounds like my inner baby feminist showing itself, but at some point I got this fantasy into my head that I had been born a boy, or partly male, but my parents had made me a girl instead and one day I was going to discover the truth and life would be better. Apparently I was an imaginative child. When I was maybe nine or ten years old, in a fit of ‘but you’d let a boy do insert-activity-here’, my mother asked if I didn’t like being a girl (the implication of the question being did I want to be a boy) and I said no, that wasn’t true, and the conversation ended. But while I said one thing, I remember clearly thinking the exact opposite but knowing, somehow, that I couldn’t say that because it would be bad. And so life continued, a stream of begrudgingly wearing skirts and dresses and makeup and push-up bras, and eventually coming to a vague state of enjoying, or at least accepting, all of it as part of being grown up. The approval I got from my mother, from other family members, from friends and peers – ‘oh wow, you look so grown up!’, ‘damn, you look good!’, squeals of excitement when I showed up places in makeup – and even my ability to see myself reflected in images of femininity around me was enough to make me hide away all of my childhood fantasies.

Over the past year or two, though, doubts about my image began to creep back.  For a while I chalked it up to just needing to find the right ‘look’ – I wasn’t quite femme, but obviously I wasn’t butch, so maybe chapstick lesbian would work for me – but whatever it was, was still within the confines of being a vaguely feminine woman.  And when I settled/gave up on finding a ‘look’, I chalked it up to my self-esteem and body image problems, a history being subtly (or not so subtly) told to lose weight or dress a certain way if I wanted to look good, resulting in my never feeling entirely comfortable in my appearance whether it be weight, hair, muscle definition, strength, or a general feeling of inadequacy.  But everyone deals with stuff like that, so who was I to complain about it and make myself feel special? After a while, these feelings narrowed down more and more to my feminine presentation, and realising that maybe I enjoyed passing as a boy at Genderfunk “too much”, but I still pushed them off playing the Oppression Olympics by convincing myself I was being absurd, that other people had real struggle with this, and I had no right to equate my petty self-esteem issues with that. But shit hit the fan as I was getting out of the shower one night a few weeks ago – I looked in the mirror and thought ‘hey, if I didn’t have boobs, I’d look like a guy!’ and for a brief moment was excited by that.  The flash of clarity, that moment of ‘yes, that is how I want to look’ shocked me and I realised that what was seen cannot be unseen, and my years of ostritching my way through life wasn’t really gonna cut it anymore.

So what does that mean? Well, fuck if I have a straight answer right now. I’ve come to realize, though, that a big part of my struggle has been dealing with the gender binary; I’m strongly attached to my identity as a queer woman, I’m on the whole just fine with my body, I like some “girly” clothes and all that jazz, and most days I don’t even register consciously any discomfort with my gender or gender presentation. But then I have the days where I want to butch it up, when wearing a dress makes me feel nauseous and I look in the mirror and the visual clashes so strongly with the self-image I have in my head.  I look at guys and wish that I could look just a little bit like them, and when my girlfriend told me I looked handsome, it made me feel really good, but my inner angsty feminist riles at the thought of being associated so closely with the male species.  And so I get confused because how can I like some aspects of my female identity but at the same time want so desperately to be more masculine in other ways? Reading over that sentence, even I think it sounds stupidly simple, but at least for me, it’s a whole heck of a lot harder to walk the talk. The gender binary system we have doesn’t allow (at least not easily, by any means) a gender or gender expression that doesn’t equate with female or male, woman or man. So I’m trying to find that space in between, navigating reconciling my academic and theoretical knowledge with my feelings. Wish me luck.

Misconstruing Intention in Relationships

15 Aug

by Johan Clarke

A post came across my tumblr dash the other day (yes, I am an avid tumblr person) that made me stop and think for a second. The text said, “The biggest coward is a man who awakens a woman’s love with no intention of loving her.” I didn’t really understand it at first, mainly because I had no idea how someone “awakens a woman’s love.” Does that mean flirting? Am I not allowed to flirt with women in a harmless, consenual manner?

The reason this took me aback so much was because something like this happened to me when I was in high school. One of my close friends from school developed a crush on me. I in no way intended her to develop this crush. I treated her as a friend and was nice to her in a friendly manner and she misconstrued my intentions. I wanted to be her friend and she wanted more. Once I realized this, I told her that I was not interested in being in a romantic relationship with her. Things got kind of awkward and our friendship kind of fell to the wayside. I found out later that she had blamed me for making me fall in love with her, which made no sense to me. Am I not allowed to be charming and nice? Am I not allowed to be friendly?

I don’t think I’m a coward because I didn’t want to pursue a romantic involvement with my friend. I may have unintentionally awakened this woman’s love or whatever that means, but I don’t understand how that makes me at fault or makes me into a coward. Is there some sort of social obligation that if a woman is attracted to me I must therefore be into her as well? Do I not get a say in this?

I don’t believe in “men’s rights”. People who genuinely believe in the “matriarchy” don’t really understand what oppresion is and are oftentimes sexist and ignorant. I also wouldn’t say this is the female equivalent of the “Nice Guy Syndrome” because that has a completely different context with years of oppresion and patriarchy behind it, but at the same time I think this quote creates an unfair assumption.

I don’t know, maybe there are guys out there who force women into falling in love with them, and in that case that’s a truly terrible thing to do because emotional manipulation is disgusting on all fronts. But to me the idea of a man forcing a woman to fall in love with him sounds ridiculous and enforces gender stereotypes. This quote makes it seem that women are overly emotional and are too prone to fall in love with men. It also assumes that men are loveless, emotionless robots and if they are not attracted to all women, then there is something wrong with them.

To me, this is the part of the patriarchy than negatively affects men. This claims that if a girl falls in love with you, then you must be in love with her as well. If you’re not attracted to this woman, well then there must be something wrong with you and maybe something off with your sexuality. It questions the man’s sexuality and claims a heteronormative idea that men must be really into women at all times or else they may be, God forbid, a homosexual.

Maybe I’m reading too far into it. Maybe there are men out there that are emotionally manipulative and those men are cowards for not owning up to that fact. But it’s okay to be emotional. It’s okay if someone doesn’t like you. Rejection is something to feel sad about. But once you feel angry and blame the other person for rejecting you, regardless of gender, then you create an unfair assumption on the other party that that person has no right to recieve.


14 Aug

by Anonymous

*Trigger Warning*

How dare he victimize me?

Force a giant to feel small

Make me unsafe in my own home, sick in my own skin

Scratching and scrubbing till my cover wears thin

How dare he make me feel less than my worth

And tattoo on my body his permanent curse


Reduce a life to a story

A one-liner on a discarded warning label

Wash cold – will unravel – hang to dry


Make my mind a revolving record

Forced to reply and rewind and futilely try to re-write

How dare he turn pleasure into pain – my loss to his gain

Sick to remember but it rides through my veins

A leech stealing love as his life-meal, his blood

Leaves a discarded carcass of all that once was.

Body Positivity for Men: Lessons to be Learned

12 Aug

by Guy Jones

In any discussion, debate, fireside chat, or what have you regarding feminism, the topics of body image, ideals of beauty, self-esteem, and lack thereof are hard to avoid. The conversation is important to have, though society will likely always prop up conventionally “beautiful” people as models for our emulation.

Advertisements often get significant attention in this kind of discussion, and for good reason: those who sell products know they can profit more from fear than from genuine attraction to the product. If you don’t try this diet you won’t look like Megan Fox, don’t you know Bane uses P-90X, buy our lingerie or your breasts won’t look nice enough, if you think your acne cream is working remember that girl who dumped you.

This kind of dialogue is addressed in feminist thought and is often seen to be mainly a women’s issue, and yet men have a lot to gain from the attitudes and understandings that feminists have adopted towards body image. I’ve seen plenty of men shrug off the issue of body negativity in advertising, media, and overall culture because they think women should either be able to attain the perfect body or simply ignore this pressure entirely.

However, pressure to conform to an ideal body type applies to people of all genders, and this is why I believe men who don’t self-identify as feminist have a lot to learn from those who do. Victoria Edel wrote a wonderful piece on this subject that offers ways to approach body positivity, and she is right to say that both genders can benefit from this kind of thinking. Men tend to overlook body positivity as an issue at all, because often the body negativity fed to men is more quiet, and in darker places in entertainment.

I mean, of course, in that circa-30% of the Internet that is visited mainly by males. I don’t mean ESPN, mind you, since most women love sports much more than I do. And though many women do enjoy their porn, those sites and companies know that they are targeting a male-dominated audience. As in, people with penises. I’m sure you know where I’m going with this.

Shocking Discovery Reveals 1 Secret for Big D*ck”. This one was a tad strange: “I taught my 23 year old virgin little bro ONE amazing secret to get a big d*ck”. Or perhaps this great offer: “C*ck under 7”? 20% of men know the secret to growing 4” in 4”. (this one cut off here, and I’m anxious about how long it takes. Four days? Weeks? Years?). And this was found all in just a few pages of internet porn.

Now, whether or not you think porn is wrong and supports the subjugation of women, or a sex-positive expression of ownership over one’s body (a very different conversation which is worth having), it’s hard to deny that men are very often assaulted with similar fears and anxieties concerning purported body flaws that serve to make them purchase some terrible product. And while it may be more direct and less nuanced than advertising targeted at females (I hardly see ABC running an ad that even mentioned the word “dick”), and though it is obviously all a scam, many men have an incredible anxiety regarding their body image as it relates to their attractiveness and sexual performance – even those with average or above average body types.

Take, for example, the one penis enlargement advertisement that makes it onto actual TV: ExtenZe. What they are doing with the Z there, I don’t know. But consider the tagline for a moment – “natural male enhancement”. Tongue-in-cheek as it may be, this is a deceptively sinister marketing strategy that should be lauded at least for its complete honesty: when it comes to male bodies, bigger is always better, and smaller is always worse, and when there’s always room for improvement (or “enhancement”) you ought to buy all of our products and continue their use for as long as possible (ExtenZe claims its effects are only temporary). Don’t forget – in all this talk of “male enhancement”, men in almost every clothing ad have six-pack abs and huge biceps; they’re tall, tan, and chiseled. And (implicitly, since there’s nearly always a conventionally pretty girl under their arm) they have a big penis.

It’s important to know that the repercussions of all of this negative advertisement are not limited to buying bad products. As feminist thought has already unpacked in great detail, selling poor body image as a way to make people feel dependant on your product harms everyone’s self-esteem and can move them to destructive habits. Crash diets, eating disorders, unhealthy supplements and even unnecessary surgeries are undertaken by people of all genders, and men need to recognize this as it affects them more silently than it does women. Whether one self-identifies as a feminist or not, everyone must support a body positive culture in which self-loathing is not a marketing tool and beauty is found in everyone, including ourselves.

Gender and Power in The Conjuring

8 Aug

by Jon Coumes

Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir has turned out the most fauxned-in diatribe you’ll read all month. Pretend-outraged rants against masculine values have to be the new lazy-man’s response to art. In the same way that early critics of Lolita’s ‘pro-pedophilia’ message were both ignorant and misguided, O’Hehir’s review of The Conjuring managed not only to miss the point, but portray the work’s message entirely backwards.

The Conjuring tells the story of the Perron family, mother, father, and four girls who move out to a house in the country. Soon enough, they discover an ominous boarded-up basement, and a standard possession-haunting scenario develops, with flying pictures, creepy sleepwalking, and terrifying apparitions. Coming to their aid are the Warrens, a husband and wife team of ghostbusting paranormal experts, with Ed Warren playing the academic and his wife the strong-willed psychic.

O’Hehir imagines the film’s politics to be reactionary, but his is the only retrograde thinking in taking a feminist dream and writing it like a nightmare. He claims that the women in the movie are the fount of all its evil, and he’s right, but only because the women are the only important characters in the film.

The witch that constitutes the main antagonist is indeed a descendant of a Salem witch (and one should remember that the Salem witch trials were driven by women, for better or, obviously, for worse), and her power worked its way through an impressive number of generations. When she has a child to sacrifice, it’s a girl, and when her husband discovers her, he doesn’t stop her but stands impotently by as she curses the land, a motif that permeates the story. More, the land that she curses is hers, not his, and she controls its ultimate fate.

O’Hehir points out that the ghosthunting couple were Catholic radicals in the real world, but they represent anything but Catholic values in the film. O’Hehir notes that the husband of the duo, Ed Warren, played by Patrick Wilson, tends to play the fool, presenting painfully simplistic explanations for their paranormal cases, and his silliness extends to his plaid worsted wool ties and general seventies faux pas, while Vera Farmiga remains regal and “curiously sexy” as Lorraine Warren throughout. More, she’s the only half of the team that seems to bring any benefits. When they first inspect the house, Ed gets a couple awkward and cliched lines about bad smells indicating demonic presences, while the wife is already seeing the demon at hand. O’Hehir points out the focus on baptisms, the Church, and Latin foolishness as the solutions to the movie’s evil, but each is as impotent to stop it as the original witch’s husband. The baptisms, though counted on as essential, are neither carried out nor key to the climax. The Church only approves the planned exorcism after the denoument’s nearly ended, and the Latinate exploits of Ed Warren fail entirely in driving out the witch. It is only the hand of Mrs. Warren and the appeal to Carolyn Perron’s motherhood that manage to stay her hand.

In fact, every traditionally male institution in the film can only stand idly by while the women steal the scene. The Vatican, though treated as the supreme solution, plays only an obstructive role, The haunted family’s father, played by Ron Livingston, is as ineffective here as he was at turning in his TPS reports. He’s perenially absent when the real shit goes down and plays an inactive role in the investigation. When the Warrens volunteer to watch the house for awhile, Ed heads off to work on the car, while Lorraine does the more important washing and goes on discovering more ghosts. The cop, officer who gives a shit because he’s a dude, is the only skeptic and his chief role is to leave a Chekovian shotgun around during the exorcism for the witch to make use of.

The only apparition without a speaking role is also the only male. The little drowned boy is seldom seen and never heard, only given voice by the youngest daughter. Each female spook is granted at least a couple lines and a physical presence in the movie.

Ed Warren constantly tries to marginalize his wife, with good intention, to protect her from the evil that she sees. She, however, never suffers to be left behind, because without her, her husband is less than half a team. She refrains that ‘God put us together for a reason,’ and that reason was to saddle his male access with her female effectiveness. He never asks her what she saw during the last exorcism, and we are made to believe that whatever terrible vision it was has robbed her of some of herself, but she seems almost unspeakably brave in the face of terrors that we can barely stand and that he has never even been permitted to see. She confronts his fear with her own bravery at every turn, and this is supposed to be a testament to masculine values.

If we want to see a film actually playing to the male vibe, take a look at The Exorcist. The daughter, Regan, is possessed by Pazuzu, a male demon. Her mother, Chris, finds herself totally unable to help, and turns first to the (in the seventies and in the movie) male medical profession and then to the male Catholic Church. The methods the demon uses to terrorize and disconcert stem from the feminine: he imitates father Karras’ mother and causes Regan to masturbate with a crucifix. The salvation, moreover, comes from the masculine—”the power of Christ compels you! The power of Christ compels you!” And Pazuzu’s final defeat is only achieved through the sacrifice of both father Merrin and father Karras. At no point in that film does a woman wield any power. Compare that to the awe-and-terror-inspiring women in The Conjuring

It seems clear that if O’Hehir had taken some time to think about the movie before tapping out his fashionable little put-down, he might have thought better of it. But no harm done. Everybody’s got deadlines.

Learning Body Positivity

1 Aug

by Victoria Edel

Having a positive body image is incredibly difficult for both women and men, though usually body positivity is seen as only a women’s issue. People of both genders are affected by eating disorders, self esteem issues and other problems related to the society’s obsession with an ideal body.

Loving yourself is generally really hard, and loving the way you look may be hardest part of it. We consume media that tells us that only certain types of bodies are acceptable or desirable, despite the fact that most people don’t have those and still live meaningful, loving, exciting lives. But we believe the lie — we obsessively count calories, we hide the parts of our bodies we’ve been told to be ashamed of, we spend an inordinate amount of time worrying that we don’t look the way we’re “supposed to look.”

But all hope isn’t lost! You can be a body positive god/goddess, whether you have a six-pack of abs, flabby arms, love handles, a flat chest — whatever! It’s time we all stop hating ourselves, because it’s pointless. You only get one body, and your life doesn’t start when you lose weight — you’re living your life right now, and any moment that the way you look keeps you from being happy is wasted.

Here’s the thing — admitting you deserve to be happy is one thing, but actually living that is hard. I’m speaking from experience. Logically, I know that my body is awesome and let’s me do great things, but sometimes I can be pretty unhappy with it. This is an experience you might be familiar with.

But just because you have bad moments doesn’t mean you can’t be happy. Here are my tips for being body positive, whether you’re fat, thin or somewhere in between.

Recognize negative body talk.
Sometimes this is really obvious. You might look in the mirror and think something bad about yourself. A friend might make a comment about someone in a bathing suit, a magazine might dissect a celebrity’s cellulite, or your parents might comment on you gaining the Freshman 15. But sometimes it can be a lot more insidious. It’s a comment about how something isn’t “flattering,” how you might want to think about working out more, or how “some people shouldn’t wear skinny jeans.”

Once you’ve recognized the comments that work to make you feel awful, you can realize why they’re happening. A magazine wants to make you feel bad about your body because then you’ll invest in diets. Your friends or family members might be projecting their own insecurities. When you realize that these comments usually aren’t really about you, you can distance yourself from this hateful speech.

Don’t talk about “health” or “fitness” to shame people.
Sometimes people will talk about being “healthy” or “fit” when they actually don’t care about how much you work out or what you’re eating. They often are just talking about being thin. Don’t fall into the trap. Some thin people eat junk food all the time and some fat people run marathons. Both those groups of people are awesome, for the record.

Don’t criticize others.
Besides the fact that this makes you a mean person, being critical of other people’s bodies will only make you more critical of your own. It will also make it hard for your friends to feel positive about their bodies. Ever gossiped with friends about someone who wasn’t there and then wonder if they gossip about you when you’re not there? Shaming other people’s bodies is just like that — it leaves people wondering what you say about them.

Related: Don’t project your friends’ insecurities onto yourself, which is something I’m often in danger of. Sometimes when a friend is talking about wanting to be thinner, he’s just talking about himself and not you. Don’t drive yourself crazy.

Don’t talk about “real bodies” or “real women.”
There was a time when “Real women have curves” was a very popular slogan in the body positivity movement. It was well meaning — those who said it wanted fat and curvy women to be considered beautiful too. The problem is the slogan excludes those who lack curves, who are still obviously “real women.” We can’t put down other people to make ourselves feel better. Body positivity means all bodies, not just ones that look like yours.

Don’t tolerate negative speech.
This means negative words from you, your friends, your family and the media. When you’re saying or thinking something negative about yourself, try to stop. Calling people out for their behavior can be really difficult so don’t feel badly if you can’t bring yourself to do it. But you can try to tell your friends that what they’re saying makes you uncomfortable, explain to your mom that you don’t like when she talks about your weight, or use social media to chastise companies that use problematic messages.

Say positive things.
This one is much easier. When you look in the mirror, instead of thinking you look too fat or too thin, think about how nice your hair looks, how pretty your eyes are, or how much you like the shirt you’re wearing. Or do yourself one better, and think about what a good friend you are, how much you like the essay you’re working on, or something else that has nothing to do with your appearance. Also say positive things about your friends. When you put those things out there, everyone will feel better.

Surround yourself with people who are body positive.
This doesn’t mean abandoning all your friends and making new ones. But if one of your friends or acquaintances happens to exude a confidence that you’d love to have, try to spend more time with them.

This is exceptionally easy to do on the Internet. Read fashion blogs of people of all shapes and sizes who are happy with the way they look and celebrate a diversity of sizes and shapes. If Gabi Fresh can be confident in a bikini, so can you!

Don’t beat yourself when it doesn’t work. Realize everyone goes through this.
This is actually the hardest part. Some days I know that I am super cute and awesome, and some days I catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror and want to hide in my bed for a few days.

You’ll feel better about these moments when you realize that everyone has these moments. Your size two friend whose body you envy probably envies how big your boobs are. Your bootylicious friend might wish she could buy pants as easily as you can.

When you realize that everyone has these insecurities, you’ll slowly start to stop being jealous. When you see that other people who you think are beautiful and lovely have trouble seeing it, you’ll realize that your friends aren’t lying when they say you’re beautiful and lovely.

I’ll end with a quote from blogger Mara Glatzel, who probably says it best:

“It is hard to be a fat girl. No matter how much you tell yourself how sexy, talented, amazing, worthy, fabulous, and genius you are, there is a pretty serious backlash that you are facing … And I absolutely guarantee that inside every phenomenal kick-ass fat positive role model is the tiniest inkling of doubt and fear, and every once and a while, when you are feeling a little vulnerable, even the toughest, most awesome girl can be tripped up, even if they refuse to admit it. I’ll even go out on a limb and say that I believe this so wholeheartedly – anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. This is not to say that we should just succumb to the cultural standards and get all weak in our knees when someone calls us fat – we will keep fighting and loving ourselves no matter what and becoming role models for other women to follow in our example, BUT there has to be some room for honesty in the equation. And honestly? It is not always easy to be a Body Image Warrior.”

And being one is possibly even harder at Georgetown, which isn’t exactly known for it’s size diversity. (I’m one of few fat people on campus, and it really sucks sometimes.)

Hopefully now you, whether fat or thin, curvy or stick straight, male or female, are on your way to being a confident, amazing Body Image Warrior too. But for the days when you don’t want to take it anymore, remember that you’re not alone.