Tag Archives: Johan Clarke

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.

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.

Queer Men Should Be Concerned About the Patriarchy

23 Sep

I have been a member of the queer community for most of my life and have been a vocal member now for some time. Though I may not participate that often by doing things like going to the LGBTQ resource center or volunteering at the HRC, I identify as a member of the queer community. I feel as if I have interacted with enough of my own community to point out some things that I have noticed.

The queer community is pretty great. It allows a voice for those who have been voiceless for generations. It provides a safe space for those who are otherwise ostracized, psychologically tormented, or physically abused. It allows people to interact with others who share their identifiers in a world filled with oppression.

However, the queer community is not perfect. Despite being a place that tends to question and blur gender, there are many aspects of the queer community that enforce gender very heavily. For example, I have heard in safe spaces like queer clubs, “I’m gay, boobs are gross, so why are those girls wearing clothes that show them off?”

Unless these girls are completely oblivious and did not notice the drag show that was occuring, I’m pretty sure they were fully aware of the clientele of the establishment. And because they are aware of the clientele, they are aware that you are not interested in them sexually. I know it’s difficult to understand, and it has been stated by many feminists many times, but there is a possibility that the women dressed that way for themselves and not for male attention. If they were going to a queer club, they in fact probably want no male attention. In fact, they may have dressed that way to get female attention. Just because you are male and they are female does not mean that they dressed themselves sexually for you.

I understand that straight people in your safe space are annoying. People don’t go to a place heavily populated by queer people to meet straight people. Fetishization of a community should not be tolerated.At the same time, you cannot disregard allies. Allies are still members of the queer community and if an ally is not helping but wants to, then tell them how to help. Pushing ignorant people out of your life will not end ignorance.

Another thing I have heard from several men in the queer community is that they don’t care about feminism because they are not women and it does not affect them. But feminism isn’t a “woman issue,” it’s a gender issue. Self-identifying men, I know it’s crazy, but you are a member of society, so therefore you have a gender. What’s ridiculous is that I have heard these same people use the argument: “Don’t ask me who the woman is in this relationship because we’re both men.” Is that argument not about gender? Does this argument not identify the problems with traditional gender roles in society? There is no woman in this relationship because it is not a heteronormative relationship. If you use that argument then you are a feminist because you are concerned with the destruction of the patriarchy.

Gay men, just because you are attracted to men does not mean that women are inferior. Just because you are not interested in women sexually does not mean that you should disregard them or their struggles. Just because you do not want to have sex with women does not mean you are allowed to touch a woman without her consent. Based on your sexual orientation, you defy your gender role. If you want equality in the world, you need to help feminists in dismantling the patriarchy. It is the patriarchy, not allies, that are oppressing you.

How Should a Feminist React to Miley Cyrus?

10 Sep

by Johan Clarke

This past summer has seen Miley Cyrus fall into infamy as she tries to pull herself away from her clean image and give herself a new identity. In our Madonna-whore complex obsessed world, this is incredibly difficult for a woman, especially a child star. The question is: has Miley crossed a line this summer or are we as a society just enforcing the patriarchy?

I had problems with her music video for “We Can’t Stop,” but not because of her sexual energy or the weird direction that the music video took. I am fine with someone trying something new, and if Miley wants to go up there and show off her body, we as a society have no right to tell her otherwise. It is her body, and she can do what she likes with it. Society sexualizes her body. Just because she wants to wear less clothing when she dances does not mean she is a slut, though there is nothing wrong with her having as much sex as she wants.

No, my problem with that music video is her cultural appropriation. Amy LaCount put it very well in her article when she said to Miley, “you grew up steeped in white privilege; with your father’s name, you’ve been wealthy your entire life. Because your simultaneous appropriation and stereotypying of black culture is harmful and oppressive. You can twerk and pretend to be ‘ratchet’ but it only lasts for the three minutes and 34 seconds that you’re on screen, and then you can take it all off and live life as the privileged white girl that you are. Other people of color can’t do that. They have to deal with the awful stereotypes, the racism, the discrimination that comes attached to their non-whiteness.” Miley is using this dance not to promote a part of her culture but to “rebel,” which garners much attention and therefore more money. She is selling out something she has no right to sell out because it does not belong to her.

Now Miley has come out with another music video for her latest song “Wrecking Ball,” which is a lot less racist but possibly more risqué. The music video begins with a close-up of just her face and a tear rolling down her cheek, setting the tone for the rest of the video. The song is very personal and about heartbreak, which is even sadder when you think about the constant torment she must get from America’s obsession with knowing everything about celebrities. For her, she does not get to grieve any loss by herself. Her tragedy simultaneously becomes a show that she must tip-toe through as the entire world watches, waiting for any “mistakes”.

This could explain why by the end of the first minute we see her swinging on a giant wrecking ball completely naked. Male sex organ symbolism aside (we will discuss that soon enough), Miley’s naked body could symbolize her nakedness in front of the American public. Any time she has suffered heartbreak, she has had to do it with everyone watching her. Not to mention, in this video, Miley shows off her tan lines, her creases, her tummy, her everything. Nothing seems overtly airbrushed as Miley only hides her nipples and her shoes (she oddly wears a large pair of boots, possibly to protect her feet from the large piles of cement). Her body, like her private life, is out there for your consumption. As I stated earlier, if Miley wants to show off her body, it is her body to show off, not society’s. She can do with it as she likes, and it is not society’s job to sexualize it or demean it.

However, the overt phallic images in this video cannot be ignored. In between nude shots of her hanging from a giant ball, she licks the head of a sledge hammer, something that seems incredibly out of place for a song about heartbreak. If Miley were trying to show her sadness like she was at the beginning of the video, then why does she now sensuously lick the end of a dirty tool? Terry Richardson, the director of the video, has faced much controversy in the past with things like this, notably in his GQ photoshoot with one clothed male and two scantily clothed females from Glee.  Could this be a continuation in his misogyny? It does fit with the aesthetic of many of his other works.

Could the fact that this was filmed by a notorious sexist and not by someone trying to promote female positivity hinder its power? Should Miley be allowed to portray her sexuality, empowering white women while not allowing a dialogue for the unfair sexualization and fetishization of women of color who would be scorned much more severely? If Miley fits into the westernized ideal for beauty, will this video harm notions of body positivity and enforce more fat shaming?

This video highlights the difficulties of what it means to be a feminist in this day and age. It is hard to make an opinion and stick to it when there are so many sides and so many different ways to be a woman. At this point in time, there is no right answer, and there may never be a right answer. There is no right way as a feminist to respond to Miley’s sudden character change. The only thing we can do is to start a discussion about it.

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.

The Fallacy of Labels

12 Feb

by Johan Clarke

I would like to ask you a quick question that I thought was very simple but, as I have learned through the years, might be more complicated than it should be:

Who defines my sexuality?

See, I always thought it was just me who defined my own sexuality. Now, however, I am starting to learn that it is actually defined by my childhood, my genes, the way I speak, the music I listen to, my parents, Congress, who I talk to, what time I wake up in the morning, the things I drink, some random person passing me on the street slinging derogatory terms at me…the list goes on and on.

I was mistakenly under the impression all of these years that I thought I knew me better than everyone else; that it was I who knew the type of person I was attracted to. But obviously someone who has never even met me will know much more about my orientation than the person who orients it.

I could probably count with the fingers on my left hand the amount of people whom I have told the label I had given to my sexuality. I’m not afraid of it or anything. I just felt like there was no need to. People always just assume in some fashion based on a pre-conceived notion of males similar to me. It made not being the norm that much easier. And I only told them when they outright asked me to define it for them, which I am always hesitant to do.

The fact of the matter is that words hold meaning. I know, it’s a scary thought. What’s even scarier is that sometimes these meanings are not correct. For example, a third world country actually means a country that does not side with either the Soviet Union or the United States. Therefore, Switzerland is a third world country. The term “developing nation” is not used because it is politically correct; it is used because it is a more apt term for said country.

Which is why I am hesitant to use sexual orientation labels. Each one comes with a connotation that I deem incorrect for me. Someone who is gay is different than someone who is homosexual. Someone who is homosexual is someone who is sexually attracted to members of the same sex. Someone who is gay has come out as such and is a member of the LGBTQ community. The sex scandals in airport bathrooms occurred between homosexual men. The congressmen were not gay because they do not identify with such a culture.

Every word we use comes with a history that helps to define it. Somewhere along the way, prejudice and stereotyping has broken down the term I had identified with and turned it into a monster. It has turned it into something that a group that some years ago were ignored now does not recognize. It has turned it into something that members of my own family have said, “I don’t believe they exist,” despite me explaining their faulty logic.

The term has a different connotation when applied to different sexes, which is possibly why I find such a problem with it. If it were to be a legitimate label, it would have to mean the same thing when applied to males as it is to females. When applied to males, it usually means that he is just too scared to go “fully gay”, a term I have heard more than once in my life and I am still not entirely sure what it means. When applied to females, it usually means she is just experimenting and will probably go back to only loving men eventually.

There are so many things wrong with this logic. The term should (but does not) refer to whom a person is attracted to. It is not about their sexual history (as Kinsey believed) or whom the person ends up with (as most believe). You cannot tell me that a married individual is not attracted to people other than his or her spouse, from the same or opposite gender. It is not even about a sexual attraction. Contrary to popular belief, you can be attracted to someone in more than just a sexual way. There are romantic attractions, sapiosexual attractions, soulful attractions, etc. I believe (and this may be a stretch) that in this male-dominated culture, people must love men. If you are a man and you identify in this way, then you must be completely in love with men. If you are a woman, then you must still in some way love men. It’s impossible to not love men according to society.

This word comes with an idea of a person that I am not. It is true that I am not exclusively attracted to either gender, but I will not let a label define me. We have come to the point where words have started to define us when really we should define them. I will not let people I have just met think I am ignorant or afraid of my own sexuality because of something I ascribe to.

So I will no longer ascribe to this sexual orientation (Note that I never used the actual label in this entire blog. That was an artistic choice and not because I am afraid of it. Bisexual. There, I said it). When people ask me what I am, I will tell them I am a Georgetown student. I will not be forced into a stereotype because you have been brainwashed by television and the media. Or better yet, I will tell them that I identify as wumbo. It means nothing and everything at the same time. It is something that helps me to define my sexuality because it implies that trying to explain the intricacies of who I am attracted to (because that is all it is, it is not how I talk or what clothes I put on or what food I eat) is more than just a single word. The only connotation that word has is Spongebob. And I always want to be associated with Spongebob.

Why Teen Wolf is the Most Feminist Show on Television

22 Jan

by Johan Clarke 

Teen Wolf.

The two words invoke fear in the hearts of my friends. Maybe because I talk about it constantly due to my obsession and they are afraid I am going to start drooling again. Maybe because the name is so bad that the show must be equally awful and they worry for my sanity if I think such a bad show can be that good.

But my friends who judge a book by its cover don’t know that it is, in my opinion, the most feminist show on television right now.

I guess nobody learned from their mistake with Cougar Town automatically thinking a show with a bad name must be bad. Except Cougar Town is on a respectable channel. Teen Wolf is on MTV. The channel with Jersey Shore. The lowest of the low. Those who blindly bash Teen Wolf also probably completely forgot about the existence of Daria. MTV can have good, intelligent shows. And what’s even better is that, surprise, they have the best soundtracks on television.

But how can a supernatural romance be feminist? Twilight brought us back 50 years in our efforts. Even True Blood is not that progressive with its women. Somehow, Sookie Stackhouse continuously finds herself defining her life based on the drawn-out love triangle between Bill and Eric.

Well, here’s the secret. Teen Wolf is not a romance. It’s something us fans have been keeping from all of you the entire time. Or, it’s not a romance in the traditional sense. Yes, there is a very important romantic relationship in the show. Everyone knows Scott and Allison love each other. And it is this simplicity that breaks the bods of gag-inducing saccharine. By episode 3, they’re a couple and that story sits lingering on the back burner. What is brought out, however, is the tension that Allison’s father is trying to kill Scott because he is a werewolf-hunter. If you think I’ve spoilt something for you, new fans, I’m happy to tell you that this happens in the first episode. A lot goes on in this show.

Here is where you might want to stop reading if you’re worried about spoilers.

Lydia, another character on the show, smashes the idea of HBIC to pieces. She is they typical pretty one who rules the school, except the reason she rules the school is because she can work the system with her heightened intelligence. She is the smartest one in the series, constantly analyzing people and using her knowledge to get people to do what she wants. She does not bat her lashes or stick her chest out. She out-logics you to put you in your place.

In regards to the batting of her lashes, there is a pivotal moment in the first season finale where she goes missing for two days and comes back naked and with no memory. Typical, right? Exploit the woman and show as much as possible while trying to integrate it somehow into the story. Here’s the thing. That is one of the very few times when female skin is shown. Don’t get me wrong. This show is not conservative with the amount of skin it shows. The thing is: it’s almost all men. In fact, the first shot in the entire series is Scott shirtlessly doing pull-ups. This completely turns the whole gender roles on its head. The boys are the sluts showing everything off.

Not to mention the women are the ones who are the most defined characters. Lydia, in my opinion, has the most intriguing storyline in the entire show. Because of the events mentioned earlier, Lydia gets PTSD and begins to have terrible flashbacks for the rest of the show. They do not forget that she went through a serious trauma and they show the consequences that happen to her rather than pushing it aside to talk about men.

Now, there is still the character Erica Reyes, the loser who suddenly becomes beautiful after being turned, yet even she has a strong story. First of all, her alienation from schoolmates was not due to her ugliness, it was due to her epilepsy, commenting on bullying and the unfair treatment of kids with illnesses in schools. Then, when she does become beautiful, it highlights just how shallow teen society really is. The show does not endorse this image, it tears it down and shows its faults.

Now, here’s the real kicker where you really need to stop reading or else I will ruin the season two finale for you. The one problem I still had while watching is that Allison and Lydia are still the love interests in the show. Despite Lydia having made great strides for women by portraying the aftermath of trauma on women, she is still there for Jackson, another prettyboy on the show. When Jackson becomes a terrifying creature because he has no identity, it is Lydia who gives him one.

Wait, what? Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around? Women can never be complete unless they have a man in their life. At least, that is what Twilight taught me. Except, nope, this time it is the woman who defines the man, who gives the man meaning to life, who gives the man an identity, who saves the man. She becomes the hero, her love saves him (you do need some sap), and he becomes the damsel in distress.

Now, for Allison. She is still only there to be the love interest for Scott. Until she dumps him. When her mother must kill herself because she has been turned into a werewolf and has no way of being able to cope with it for risk of her family (I told you this was a heavy show), Allison realizes she cannot be with him. Her familial bond is too strong and she must do the right thing for her mother’s memory. And she breaks up with him. And he accepts it. He does not say no. He does not argue. He deals with it. Granted, he says that eventually they will get back together again, but at least he does not treat her as an object. Allison becomes a free-thinking human.

I don’t know why they kept the name Teen Wolf for this show. Something about the stereotype of the teenage image makes it seem like this show would be stupid and cheezy. Well, please, give this show a chance. It is smart, feminist, and well-written. Also, it is known for having lots of pecs and abs. If that’s your thing.