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Ally vs. Superhero: The Western Gaze in How We View News Coverage

2 May

by Queen Adesuyi

 As updates about the 200+ kidnapped Nigerian girls break out, hashtags such as “#SaveOurGirls” and “#SaveOurDaughters” flood my Facebook and Instagram timelines. There were common responses attached to each post with these hashtags and flyers that I saw:

“Why isn’t there more coverage?” “Why isn’t this headlining in the West?” “Why aren’t there any reports of this?” “Why haven’t we done anything?”

I even participated in these criticisms with my thought that if it were 200+ British girls who were kidnapped, the news’ outcry would be drastically different and those girls would have been found.

These criticisms and responses are well-intentioned and in many ways, necessary. Western media has been guilty of perpetrating stereotypes, ignoring important stories, and misconstruing the realities of many complex nations and cultures.

However, why is there an assumption that no one is reporting or taking action on this issue? Many of us are associating a story’s importance with how highlighted it is or is not in our [Western] media. Apparently, the gravity of the kidnappings cannot be legitimate until countries like the United States and the United Kingdom dominate in how it is covered in news. It’s as if Western media validates or legitimizes the narratives and actions of the “other” world. Victims of our own western gaze, many of us are also confusing news coverage with action. Obviously, what is more important here? Does what happens on the ground in Nigeria not count for something?

African media has been reporting this story from the very beginning. Nigerians, most importantly, Nigerian women have utilized their political agency as a response to the kidnappings. Nigerian women have mobilized and have started movements such as the “Million Women March.” Parents of the girls, local neighbors, and other Nigerian allies are raising money and rallying for the return of their daughters. Moves are being made. Yes, proper media coverage would be nice and ideal, but pleas for Western attention/help should not overshadow the fact that efforts made by Nigerians and other Africans are both legitimate and worthy with or without Western eyes.

Being an ally is always a positive. Who can object to sincere solidarity? However, the paternalistic nature of how we approach the “third world” is problematic in that it cultivates an elite, superhero mentality. This mentality deems efforts and actions taken by non-Western nations as inequipped and of no value. Just because the United States or the United Kingdom hasn’t headlined it (though they should) or it originally did not flood your timelines on social media, doesn’t mean that nothing or no one is working on the issue on the ground. Nigerians are taking stand. Nigerian women are taking stand.

We should all make sure to be aware of what happens in our global community, but we should also stop assuming that if our eyes are not watching then nothing is being done. We are not the end all, be all in feminism, the promotion of liberty, medicine, etc… though we like to think so.

The global community needs allies, not superheroes.

Tired

7 Apr

by Anonymous

I should be angry. I should be enraged and impassioned. I should be motivated to fight and struggle. But I’m not. I’m simply too tired.

I’m tired of going to my evolutionary biology class. Tired of being a gay in person in a space where all we talk about is critical importance of heterosexual mating behavior. Homosexual animal behavior was alluded to once – as something bonobos do for fun in their spare time. I’m tired of my sexual orientation being reduced to an outlier in the data.

I’m tired of hearing professors casually use the word “rape” in classes containing survivors of sexual assault.

I’m tired of being warned to avoid certain professors because they’re sexist. (Does anyone even ever say that to male students?)

I’m tired of people believing that my painted nails and long hair tell them anything substantive about me.

I’m tired of explaining why a lesbian cares so much about reproductive choice.

I’m tired of that little bit of discomfort every time I write or say “mi novia” in my Spanish classes.

I’m tired of going to parties with my straight friends and being the only one that doesn’t get the option of a hook-up (I enjoy sex just as much as everyone else.)

I’m tired of my dreams of motherhood being tainted by the extraordinary cost of IVF and the logistic and bureaucratic nightmare of the adoption process.

I’m tired of feeling feminist shame every time I enjoy a TV show or movie that happens to include female characters that personify lofty western beauty standards.

I’m tired of being asked if I have a boyfriend. The answer is always going to be no, no matter how much you’d like to define me by relationships with men.

I’m tired of knowing how much more likely I am to be raped that my hetero best friend. I didn’t do anything to deserve this.

I’m tired of knowing how likely it is that my hetero best friend will be raped before we graduate. She didn’t do anything to deserve this either.

I’m tired of explaining why feminism is still relevant.

I’m tired of being told I talk too much about “women’s issues.” You can bet that no matter how tired I get, I will never stop talking.

Looking for Women Representation in HBO’s Newest Series

21 Jan

by Johan Clarke

The new series Looking premiered on HBO this past Sunday, opening with a jab at the “cruising” trope as one of the main characters, played by Jonathan Groff, awkwardly tries it  just for fun. From there, the show begins to look at his failures in the dating world, showing fairly honest portrayals of the lives of gay males in a fairly liberal American city. The show seems like it wants to destroy certain images about the gay community, and in some regards, it does.

To a certain extent, it does better than many other shows that have tried to do the same thing by having characters that are not just white. One of the main three characters in the show is Latino, but the show does not necessarily define him by his background. He and the other Latino character are not exotified (yet), but they keep their identities and are not wholly white-washed.

This representation is nice to see, but some of the creator’s comments on it have been less than ideal. In response to certain concerns that the show would be as lacking in diversity as Girls, which plays on HBO right before Looking, creator Andrew Haigh commented, “We have two very prominent Latin characters. We have an African-American character. We have an Asian-American character, so I think we are dealing with different ethnicities. There’s always a limit to what you can put in a half-hour show and we’ve never tried to represent the whole of the LGBT community because it’s an enormous community made up of lots of different elements. All we can really do is try and tell a story about our characters.” The comments sound similar to many other responses in the past from shows with lack of diversity. They have every right to tell a story about their characters, and as of now they do tell stories about the queer people of color fairly honestly. However, the beginning of his comment is akin to the “I have black friends” argument many people with white-savior complexes tend to use to say or do things they really shouldn’t be doing.

The problem is that they could have these characters, they just choose not to. At the moment, there are no characters on the show who identify as bisexual or pansexual, though Dom, one of the main characters, alluded to a girlfriend in the past, though it was done more as a joke. There are also no trans* characters on the show, furthering trans*-erasure in media. And they also have no lesbians in the show.

In fact, in the entire thirty minutes of the first episode, only one woman had a somewhat significant speaking role (there was one other woman, Augustín’s artist boss, who had a total of about three lines and was on screen for less than half a minute). The show does not even pass the first criterion on the Bechdel test. In a scene at a wedding ceremony, there is a shot of the guests, and the crowd looks uncomfortably masculine. The only female character is Dom’s long-ago ex, who is shown for about a minute as she gives him dating advice in a fierce, almost sassy manner. The only reason she is on screen is because she is a support for the male character to not make a bad decision, treading dangerously close to the rather sexist “fag hag” trope.

Some people may argue that the show is about gay men, so why would there be women? If the show wanted to accurately portray gay life, though, it would have at least more than one woman in it, or the woman would have more screen time. Gay men do not exclusively hang out with other men, and when they do hang out with women, they do not have to be overly feisty and talk only about the men’s love lives. This way of thinking has dangerous implications in creating a new trope of the “token female friend”, as the show is also dangerous to tokenize its characters of color.

If the show is not supposed to have women because it is a show about gay men, then it proves that female characters can only be love interests. Gay men would never have a girlfriend or would never be romantically involved in one, so why would they be allowed a character on the show? In fact, the only woman on the show is an old romantic interest because in media logic, men and women can never just be friends. It’s the same basic logic that fuels the notion of the Friend Zone.

Looking has great promise, but it has also set itself up for possible failure in regards to representation. For a show that claims to represent the real gay man, it does little outside of obsessing with his dating habits. If it wants to really show what it’s like to be queer, it will have to show more than one letter of the acronym LGBTQIA, and show that there are queer women as well, or any women.

My Mad Fat Feminist

17 Dec

by Anonymous

There is a show (a British show—the best are always British) called My Mad Fat Diary. The title is fairly explanatory: Rae is a fat teenager who struggles with binge eating, depression, and self harm. There are only six episodes, but those six episodes are life-changing.

As someone who has identified as fat my entire life, I had never seen a fat character be a main character. She is no one’s sidekick. She is self-conscious and funny and just a little trite. It is a TV show with a fat main character and before I saw the TV show, I didn’t know why I needed it so badly.

Here’s the thing: people always try to hide my fat. It’s secondhand embarrassment; I am the living embodiment of something everyone around the world is afraid of being. My roommate freshman year said that fat people disgusted her. My friend said that fat people weird her out so much that she can’t even look at them. My classmates grimace as a fat person slips into the desk next to them. Being fat means I’m lazy and ugly and always relegated to the back of the photograph. Being fat automatically means I am unwanted because fat itself is unwanted. There is a reason fat people are known to be “jolly”: when we put up with your bullshit 24/7, we have to use humor as a coping mechanism, because otherwise we will literally want to tear our skin straight off.

I have found other ways of coping to get around being fat. I am the first one to every class, every day, every semester of every year because I have first pick of seats. When I choose where I sit and I sit down first, I don’t have to squeeze between desks and maneuver between gaps that I may or may not be able to fit through. It’s a defense mechanism. No one has to see how I angle myself to fit between the desk and the chair. When I eat at the dining hall, I go when the dining hall is empty so no one can see me eating alone. A skinny person eating alone looks different than a fat person eating alone. A skinny person eating alone is not a big deal; a fat person eating alone means they did not deserve to have someone sit with them. When I listen to my friends talk about how much they ate at dinner, about how fat they feel, or about the three pounds they gained over the summer, I stay silent. I am supportive in their quest to be skinny and I ignore the implication that what I am is undesirable. I smile at strangers on airplanes because I know they are angry they have to sit next to me during the flight and I avoid stares when I finish my Chipotle burrito.

Because I have been told my entire life that I am something that people do not want, I have believed it. I still believe it. But when I watch My Mad Fat Diary, I feel a little better about myself. Rae gets to be a main character. Rae gets to be interesting. Rae gets to battle binge eating. Rae gets to talk about her depression with a therapist and have it not be embarrassing. Rae gets to have a boyfriend.

Rae gets to have a boyfriend.

For the first time in my television-watching history, I get to see a fat person be likable and desirable. Rae’s visible sexuality (she masturbates to the fantasy of a Roman god in an early episode) is absolutely vital because I have absolutely zero idea what orientation I am; I have been conditioned to believe that I do not deserve sexuality. I am universally unwanted and, as a result, my sexuality is futile. So when every TV show, every magazine, every book and movie stars a skinny girl, my sexual erasure is reinforced. It doesn’t matter if the medium is alternative manga or reality TV; fat, sexual people do not exist, and they certainly do not exist as main characters who have entire stories and worlds revolve around them.

My Mad Fat Diary is a pioneer and a champion. It tells me that I deserve attention and that I deserve to be seen sexually, and what’s more, I deserve to have a choice. I do not have to settle for the first person who expresses any interest in me. I do not have to be flattered when I am harassed on the street because at least someone noticed me. When I am treated like a real person, and when I see myself as a real person, I can escape from oppressive structures that keep me meek and mild-mannered. I get to have a voice. I get to have self-worth. And yes, of course, my self-worth should be self-derived, but in the meantime, I get to walk through the world with the knowledge that there are people who think I deserve to be a main character. That I deserve attention and respect. That I, unlike my fat, am wanted.

(Note: I could write pages and pages and pages about how great this show is regarding issues of mental health, but that’s an essay for another day. Also, disclaimer: My fat experience is not the same for all fat women—WOC experience size very differently than white women.)

Tom Daley Is Not Gay, He’s Just in a Relationship with a Man

2 Dec

by Johan Clarke

Tom Daley recently came out via YouTube with the information that he is in a relationship with another man, surprising many and bringing pride to many different communities. In the wake of the Winter Olympics in a country with incredibly harsh anti-LGBT laws, the news that a well-known and well-respected athlete from the most recent Summer Olympics is queer provides awareness and visibility to a community that in the past has been erased. Stereotypes within the gay community are slowly coming down. More and more athletes are coming out as gay, giving pride and hope for young people who do not feel they fit into certain categories defined by our culture. One can play sports, be one of the team, and not have to be straight or pretend to be something they are not.

I find it remarkable that Tom Daley has found the courage to do something so brave and come out with his relationship with another man at this pivotal time. Coming out is still an incredibly difficult thing to do, and to do it in front of everyone in the world, to have everybody watch your every move, to judge you without having met you, takes incredible strength. I commend him for doing something so hard, yet so necessary. Daley is helping to change history for the better and creating a safer space for queer youths.

The media’s response, though, is not the most ideal. As I have written in previous articles, I do not like labeling, and I especially do not like labeling that erases other communities. Many of the articles that have come out this morning have titles with the word “gay” in it, yet in the video he posted, he never makes that claim. He says that he is in a relationship with another man and that he is comfortable and feels safe with him, but he does not say the words, “I am gay.” In fact, during the video, he claims, “I still fancy girls, but right now I’m dating a guy and I couldn’t be happier.”

This may seem like an unnecessary difference for some, but this is a prime example of bi erasure, something that has been going on for years. It’s fantastic that Daley has come out with his relationship, but it is not okay that the media has once again mislabeled someone. Daley has not defined his sexuality. He has stated that he is in a relationship with a man, but he has not come out as gay as several articles have claimed. He has not come out as bisexual either, so the media needs to stop saying that he has.

Mislabeling erases many different communities that struggle to have their voices heard. It makes it difficult for people who are unsure about their sexualities or who do not fit with “gay” or “straight” labels. It illegitimazes legitimate relationships and does not allow people to understand or accept themselves in ways they can. We need to stop enforcing labels on people or the great stride Daley made today in this announcement will do little in awareness for the overall queer communities.

Feminist Mulan

30 Sep

by Tucker Cholvin, re-posted from Tucker’s Blog 37th and O

Just imagine: since our birth, a major studio motion picture has been conspiring to inculcate the radical feminist agenda into our nation’s young people. It’s an animated feature, so it naturally appeals to children. It’s even a musical, for the love of God. With Donny Osmond. And at the same time, it’s pumping fringe feminist theory into our boys and girls like steroids into Alex Rodriguez. What evil plot could this be? Feminazis? Another assault in the Fox News-exposed War on Men?

Or could it be…Mulan?

Yes, friends, if Mulan is one thing, it is a work of feminism. Let me tell you why.

Right off the bat, Mulan encourages the idea that a woman can do all the work that a man can. Even the idea that a woman is entitled to do all the work a man does. The insanity! Consider Mulan as we meet her: helping her father to run the home and manage the estate. At the same time, she appears the ideal form of femininity: graceful, lithe, elegant. Nothing about Mulan’s appearance suggests that she has to be butch or masculine to do a man’s work, and do it well. She just does.

And then, about five minutes in, Mulan decides to blow patriarchy to hell. Consider this: in about the space of five minutes, Mulan gets literally struck by the government for speaking out (symbolism!), fails her appointment with the Matchmaker to make her entrance into society as a traditional debutante, and steals her father’s sword and armor to join the army. BAM. If that’s not the makings of a great experiment in gender theory, I don’t know what is.

And in Mulan, as in life, things only get interesting when the cross-dressing starts. Enter Drag-Mulan, dressed and working in society as a man, 24/7. If anyone has any problems with what this movie says about the potential role of women in society, I won’t start with the implications for transgender people. But Mulan definitely implies that women, and people in general, can dress however they want, work the jobs they like, and define their gender however they want and society will not collapse. In fact, the direct implication of Mulan seems to be that gender freedom and equality will prevent the collapse of society. Hopefully we can strive to be as advanced culturally as 10th century China.

The implications continue: When Mulan straps on the Big Golden Weight-Thingies and climbs the big ol’ Pole of Masculinity to get the Arrow of Toughness (or whatever), do you think that kids are led to believe that women should earn 70 cents on the dollar? When Mulan singlehandedly wins the battle in the mountains against the huns, is a woman’s place in the home? At the climax, when five of China’s greatest warriors put on dresses and save the country, do traditional gender roles really matter in the preservation of national greatness? I allow you to decide, dear reader.

Naturally, there are some criticisms that can be lobbed at Mulan. The song “A Girl Worth Fighting For” does not 100% avoid objectification of women. But hey, at least they’re trying to impress women and not get them drunk at parties. More seriously, it’s true that Mulan spends most of the film ‘passing’ as a woman and not acknowledging her true identity. But in the end, when she saves the country and is decorated by the Emperor? Definitely wearing a dress. Visible breasts. I think she’s alright.

There are a lot of movies, Disney or otherwise, that spend a lot of time, energy and money telling women and girls what they can do, and more often what they can’t do. Mulan tells girls that they can do whatever the hell they want, and win. That’s worth watching.

Hey, Pretty Girl, I’m a Sexist Lover

12 Sep

by Kayla Corcoran

“You can bet you make this ol’ boy’s day, hey pretty girl, won’t you look my way,” Kip Moore croons out of my headphones, singing about the “long and winding ride” of life with his “pretty girl.” Moore advises us in his chorus that during this ride, you “better have the right one by your side” because “time moves faster than you think.”

Over the course of the song, Moore spots a “pretty girl” at a bar somewhere and flashes forward through their entire life together, right from the first dance to the day he dies (yes, this moment in the song is just as morbid as you’re imagining it to be). This “long and winding road” is full of defining moments: bringing the “pretty girl” home to meet his momma, buying a house, having a baby, etc. The only thing that remains stable in the life that Moore constructs for him and the girl is her prettiness—over the course of three and a half minutes, Moore sings the phrase “pretty girl” fourteen times.

The song might be titled “Hey Pretty Girl,” but there’s something else going on here that deserves to be noticed: yes, pretty girl, you guessed it—sexism!

There’s no denying that Moore employs the phrase “hey pretty girl” to appeal to all women. After all, had he chosen to sing, “Hey Amanda, won’t you look my way?” only women named Amanda could imagine “build[ing] some dreams” with Kip Moore. The vagueness allows Moore to pursue individual connections with each of his listeners, and you might even find yourself thinking, “Yeah, cool, I could be that pretty girl. I like apple trees.

You don’t want to be that girl. Here’s why:

“Pretty” is pretty much the only characteristic that Moore attributes to this woman.  This woman, apparently, who does nothing on her own except to give birth to their baby, for which Moore gives her his highest praise: “Hey pretty girl, you did so good.” That woman just gave birth to your child, Kip! Might you want to try being a little less patronizing? Not even in the moment of childbirth is Moore’s love referred to as a “woman.”

The only time the woman is referred to as anything other than a “pretty girl” is during the last stanza—the moment of death that I mentioned earlier. “Hey pretty girl, when I see the light, and it’s my time to go, I’ll thank the Lord for a real good life, a pretty little girl and a beautiful wife.” In the culmination of this song, the “pretty girl” goes from being a “pretty girl” to “a beautiful wife.” What a move!

The woman in this song is presented only as two things: a girl and a wife.  There is nothing wrong with the life choices presented in this song, and there is certainly no reason to say that this woman is unaccomplished because there’s no mention of a career. The problem is that this woman is presented as so one-dimensional that she has no interests or talents other than being pretty, falling in love with Kip Moore, and having his baby. Come on, Kip, give your fictional wife some credit. She must have hobbies.

Moore’s not the only country artist to invoke seriously problematic gender stereotypes in his songs. People often complain about rap music’s objectification of women, but I see an equally disturbing image of womanhood presented in country music.

Here’s a quick catalog of my favorite sexist lyrics in my favorite country songs:

  • “Back down a country road, the girls are always hot and the beer is ice cold.” I see what you did there, Jake Owen. Clever juxtaposition of temperatures between girls and alcoholic beverages. Women love nothing more than to be compared to inanimate objects.
  • “Crazy girl, don’t you know that I love you?… Silly woman, come here, let me hold you. Have I told you lately? I love you like crazy, girl.” I’m not sure, Eli Young Band, why she doesn’t know that you love her. Maybe it’s because you repeatedly call her crazy and silly? Let me know how that works out for you. Don’t even get me started about how this music video exploits the very serious issue of mental illness.
  • “All them other boys wanna wind you up and take you downtown, but you look like the kind that likes to take it way out, out where the corn rows grow, row, row my boat.” Aside from the fact that “row, row my boat” is a terrible euphemism for who-knows-what, I really like the part when Luke Bryan disses all those other guys for having no idea what this girl wants, only to make his own assumptions about what she desires based on not talking to her even a little bit. The whole song is actually a clever exercise in Luke Bryan convincing the girl that she wants what he wants. Bravo, friend!
  • “Hey girl, what’s your name girl, I’ve been lookin’ at you, and every guy here’s doin’ the same girl…I know you don’t know me but I can’t leave here lonely.” Hey, Billy Currington, next time you try to pick up a girl at a bar, you might want to start by not insinuating that you’re not taking no for an answer when you ask her to go home with you. She does have to say “yes,” you know.
  • “And all the angels up in Heaven started singing, ‘All it’s missing is a pretty thing,’… let there be cowgirls for every cowboy.”  Obviously Chris Cagle and I have different interpretations of the Old Testament, but the suggestion here that women’s sole reason for existence is so that every cowboy can have a cowgirl is blatantly offensive. Kip Moore’s over here like, “At least I referred to her as a ‘girl’ and not a ‘thing’!”

It’s an old joke that you get a lot of things back when you play a country music song backwards: according to Rascal Flatts, “Ya get your house back, ya get your dog back, ya get your best friend Jack back…” and so on. I’m beginning to think that we should add “female agency” to that list, since it seems to keep disappearing in a lot of these songs.

Of course, all generalizations have plenty of exceptions. There are country music artists, both men and women, whose songs don’t fall into a misogynistic trap of what women are supposed to look like or how they are supposed to act. My fear is that there’s a perception that country music as a genre is somehow more “wholesome” or “nicer” than other types of music, when that’s not always the case.