Tag Archives: misogyny

Snoop Dogg Cyber-Bullied Iggy Azalea, But Here’s Why I Have Problems With Both Of Them

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Below is an excerpt from my recent piece (“Snoop Dogg Cyber-Bullied Iggy Azalea, But Here’s Why I Have Problems With Both Of Them”) which has been published over at xoJane. I encourage you to go read it.

“The same goes for her fans. The reaction I’m seeing from white fans on Twitter seems distinctly racialized: zealous concern for a white woman who has been wronged at the hands of a “scary black rapper.” Are these fans listening when black women voice their concerns about the wrong Iggy has done? Doubtful. Is Iggy listening? Does she lend an ear when black women air their grievances and list the ways her shtick has harmed them? Never has she given any indication or acknowledgment to suggest she has. Yet with Snoop Dogg’s sexism infecting the Internet, now Iggy wants her grievances heard.”

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Naked Graveyard: The Ghosts of My Nudes

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Below is an excerpt from my most recent piece (“Living in Fear of My Own Personal Celebgate”) which has been published in the NSFW issue of Kernel Magazine. I encourage you to go read it.

“My nudes are out there somewhere: naked orphans of mine, moles and smudged eyeliner and half smile. The girl in those photos is wearing a red satin bra one size too small. She’s floating in cyberspace, between the pages of a dusty yearbook, or perhaps plastered on a bar’s bathroom wall, eyes blacked out with Sharpie. Some days I think of the photos and am filled with dread. They are exposed specters of a girl searching for beauty in her own bones, her body rising from the grave to sink her teeth into my throat, dragging me into a bottomless pit of ruined reputations.”
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The Feminist Death Match Between Emma Watson And Beyoncé Is Some Anti-Feminist Sh@t

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Below is an excerpt from my most recent piece (‘The Feminist Death Match Between Emma Watson And Beyoncé Is Some Anti-Feminist Sh@t”) which has been published over at xoJane. I encourage you to go read it.

Hopefully you all remember the numerous times Beyoncé’s feminism has come under attack in the past? No? I’ll refresh your memory. When Beyoncé dropped Beyoncé last year, accompanied by a corresponding collection of music videos, the think pieces flew fast and thick. “Is Beyoncé a feminist?” “OK, but is Beyoncé actually a feminist?” The speculation was endless, despite the fact that Beyoncé was self-identifying, answering the question before it was even asked. But somehow many mainstream publications still thought that their opinion on Beyoncé’s feminism overrode her own identification.

When Emma Watson gave her speech on Saturday, I didn’t see a single tweet (other than from Men’s Rights Activists) criticizing her. No one dissected the roles she’s taken in Hollywood, the times she posed in sexy clothes, no one has questioned her relationship status.

Yet when I tweeted the above tweet, those kinds of dissections were exactly what filled my mentions—dissections voiced by white feminists. No angle was left uncovered. The responses ranged from “Maybe because Emma actually dresses like a lady!” to “Maybe because Emma has a college degree!” “Maybe because Emma didn’t dedicate an album to her husband and take his last name!” “Maybe because Emma doesn’t gyrate on stage!” “Maybe because Emma included men in her argument!” Don’t believe me? Look on Twitter. These tweets aren’t hard to find.

Guys…as a white feminist whose feminism is by no means perfect and has committed her share of missteps in the past, let me say this as gently as I can: This…shit…has…to…stop.

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Dear Forbes: This Is Why Iggy Azalea Doesn’t “Run” Hip-Hop

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The Internet is currently on fire following a piece on Forbes that was initially titled “Hip Hop Is Run By A White, Blonde, Australian Woman” but was changed after the backlash forced Forbes to realize what an absurd claim they were making. The new title is “Hip Hop’s Unlikely New Star: A White, Blonde, Australian Woman.”

I’m annoyed for multiple reasons. Let’s discuss them, shall we?

First off, I wouldn’t go to an Iggy Azalea concert if it were happening on my front porch. While I understand (somewhat confusedly) that she does have something of a fan base, anyone who has any love for hip-hop is currently decrying the notion that this woman “runs” hip-hop. Or anything at all, really. But that’s why the article title was changed, right? Because it (as the update reads) “did not accurately reflect the content of the piece.” Nor does it affect, um, reality. So yeah, good choice, Forbes. But you’re not off the hook.

Let’s get into the article. Here is the author’s reasoning for what he calls Iggy Azalea’s “notable” “rise to prominence”:

Making a name for yourself as a woman and hip hop is laudable enough, forget the fact that she is a white, blonde, Australian woman. In a genre dominated almost exclusively by African American men she sticks out like a statuesque thumb.”

Yes, making a name for yourself in hip-hop as a woman is laudable. But lauding Iggy Azalea here is ludicrous. The author seems not to understand the fact that it is precisely because Iggy Azalea is white and blonde that she has “made a name for herself” in hip-hop. White privilege has successfully floated her to the top of a genre where black women have fought for decades to be represented: her presence (and success) in hip-hop isn’t a shining beacon for feminism, but for the power of whiteness and what it can accomplish.

The author goes on to say:

“While this is all happening very quickly for her in America, she has actually been honing her craft for a decade now, first rapping at the age of 14. In the ten years since, she has seen and been through all the trials and tribulations of the industry.”

Really? All the trials and tribulations of the industry? All of them? Black female rappers encounter a unique struggle in their journey to success in an industry bent on attacking (and exploiting) black female sexuality, not to mention the complex dichotomy of battling male rappers on their misogynist lyrics while also being pressured to support the genre of hip-hop as a whole. The experience of black women in hip-hop is nearly analogous to life outside of hip-hop: black women being asked to choose between supporting black men in the struggle against racism and supporting their own struggle against misogyny (and misogynoir.) Has Iggy Azalea had to make these choices? No. Rather, she is flippant about the subject of race, spitting this lyric in her song D.R.U.G.S:

 

“Tire marks, tire marks, finish line with the fire marks

When it really starts I’m a runaway slave…master

Shitting on the past gotta spit it like a pastor”

 

“Shitting on the past,” huh? Bye Iggy.

In the end, the idea that Iggy Azalea’s fame is “unlikely” is equally absurd. Of course it’s likely. A woman who represents every patriarchal and white supremacist ideal of beauty—tall, slim, undoubtedly white-featured, blonde—finding success in an industry that champions these qualities is entirely unsurprising, especially in a genre that is, as the author says, dominated almost exclusively by African-American men.” Iggy Azalea is not a success story I wish to celebrate. To me, she isn’t a success story at all: she is a novelty, a tiresome example of white female privilege and the delight white culture finds in white people appropriating any and everything.

Lastly, I would ask Hugh McIntyre if he has heard of FM Supreme. Awkwafina. Dominique Young Unique. Rapsody. Jean Grae. 3d Na’Tee. Women of color in hip-hop who are making a name for themselves against all odds. They run hip-hop. Next time you’re feeling all gushy about women in hip-hop…maybe write about them.

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In Defense of V. Stiviano: Your Misogynoir Is Showing

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This will be short.

Today, anyone paying attention is expressing their contempt for Donald Sterling. For example, Snoop Dogg posted this particularly eloquent video which sums up my feelings on the matter pretty accurately. In general, everybody hates Donald. From his blatant expression of ownership over Stiviano—dictating who she spends time with, what she does with her social networking sites, etc.—to his disgusting overt racism, he is currently public enemy #1. When he said this of the Clippers:

“I support them and give them food, and clothes, and cars, and houses. Who gives it to them? Does someone else give it to them? Do I know that I have-Who makes the game? Do I make the game, or do they make the game?”

he made it clear that when it comes to black bodies, he claims absolute ownership. David West’s tweet on Saturday is extremely accurate:

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In general the trends on Twitter indicated almost zero support for Sterling, with the exception of a few trolls. I did, however, notice one troubling trend on multiple social networks, repeated by men and women alike: the idea that somehow V. Stiviano is to blame in all this, and that it’s really her status as a “gold digger” that we should be talking about.

Let me spend two seconds telling you why blaming V. Stiviano is a mistake. Really, just two seconds.

  • V. Stiviano is not the one on tape spewing horribly racist garbage, parading around like a glorified Calvin Candy and exhibiting all the traits of a narcissistic, abusive white supremacist.

That’s all. Just one bullet. There’s no list. That’s it. It’s that simple, because focusing on V.Stiviano and whatever relationship she might have with Donald Sterling is irrelevant, misogynist, and relieves him of accountability. The fact that people would rather delve into her work as a model, whether or not she’s actually dating Sterling or “using him” for his money, and whether or not she’s had plastic surgery, rather than spending the time giving critical thought to a man whose idea of black bodies is no different than a rancher’s idea of cattle—the ongoing story about Cliven Bundy is particularly well-timed in all this—indicates the hatred for women (particularly black women) that is so prevalent in Americans of all races.

It is easier to hate V. Stiviano, isn’t it? To turn the rifle on a beautiful brown woman comes naturally to Americans who have been carefully groomed to never blame white men for anything, ever. But when we focus on V. Stiviano, we demonstrate our deep-seated hatred of black women. She is not the villain here: in fact, she is the agent of change. She is the hero in this little story. How can we, on one hand, hate Donald Sterling for what he says on that tape, and on the other hand criticize the agent who did the exposing? You’re confused. You know racism is horrible, but the racism you (we) have been fed our entire lives says we also must hate Stiviano: a woman. A beautiful woman. A beautiful woman of color. Each of these things have bigoted attachments that we’re choking on when we try to be proud of her. And we should be proud of her. Why wouldn’t we be? She exposed a racist for what he is, and simultaneously liberated herself from a relationship in which her womanhood and her blackness were being torn down and controlled.

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Think long and hard about where your blame is coming from. When we blame Stiviano, when we imply that the emotional abuse she clearly suffered in her dealings with Sterling, that she “let herself” be “enslaved,” it implies that Sterling and racist, abusive scumbags like Sterling, are not responsible for their racism and abuse. Sterling is rich, white, and male: he has all the power he needs to ensure that a woman like Stiviano—young, brown, and female—lacks the agency and power she needs to be autonomous. Others imply that Stiviano’s beauty gives her power over Sterling, which illustrates a profound lack of understanding about the way patriarchy, misogyny, and misogynoir operate and the ways in which women who are seen as beautiful are just as susceptible to abuse and coercion as anyone.

What it comes down to, and the only thing it comes down to, is the fact that Donald Sterling is a racist, misogynist, narcissistic, abusive piece of human garbage. Period. That’s it. When you turn your sights on V. Stiviano, you expose not only your misogynoir, but your intellectual laziness. Keep your eye on the ball, America. Sterling and only Sterling is to blame here. Soon there will be media campaigns dedicated to discrediting Stiviano based on her previous sexual partners, her tattoos, her clothes, other rich men who she supposedly “used:” all the weapons a misogynistic and misogynoiristic culture employ to protect men like Sterling. Do not be distracted. Do not be deceived. Eye on the ball.

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Why Steve Harvey Needs to Have A Seat

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As Mimi and Nikko’s sex tape makes the rounds on the Internet, I knew it was only a matter of time before the policing began. Sure enough, yesterday a friend posted a recording of Steve Harvey on the radio, in which he earnestly advised “young women” against the making of sex tapes, etc. and once again revealed himself to be the sexist, opportunistic D-bag that so many have come to loathe.

The excerpt of his little speech that I heard begins with him explaining that the internet is forever, and how what gets put online stays online forever. Case in point. And while it’s true that many people—young or not—lack full understanding of the permanence of the Internet and how nothing can ever be truly erased, I already have a problem with the direction this sermon is going because…”young women?” Now, I haven’t actually seen Mimi and Nikko’s sex tape, but from what I understand…it’s a sex tape with Mimi and Nikko. Not Mimi. Mimi and Nikko.

Steve Harvey-types view women and sex through the lens that misogyny has provided for centuries: the lens that renders men invisible when there is an instance of shame being doled out. Casual sex, unwed pregnancy: centuries of misogyny dictates that it only takes one to tango; that the shame of “illicit” sex falls squarely on the shoulders of one and not two. And those shoulders always belong to a woman. When it comes to wagging a finger or calling someone a whore for premarital sexual activity, the man involved somehow dematerializes into a puff of smoke, leaving the woman to bear the brunt of society’s scorn alone.

In the radio recording, Steve Harvey goes on to rail against the Internet:

“The Internet has become a playground for evildoers. You sit up and you listen to somebody and all the sudden they’re making decisions and comments about you and they never even met you.”

He then adds:

“Please young women out there, think of yourself […] think about what people will say about you when you’re not around; stuff people will say behind your back.”

What’s annoying about Steve Harvey is that he delivers these little gems under the guise of being interested in the empowerment/protection of women and girls. A thin guise, I might add. Harvey warns girls about the backlash they will receive from random people on the Internet if they participate in a sex tape, but isn’t Harvey pretty much exactly that: a random voice on the Internet/TV/radio making comments about girls and women he’s “never even met?” He cautions us about the shame we will receive if we dare make a sex tape, but uses the same shame as the tool to keep us from doing it. Shamed if you do; shamed if you don’t. According to Harvey, women’s lives should be dictated by the expectations and presumptions of others. Our bodies are not our own: we exist at the will of laws perpetuated by people like Steve Harvey, who would have us covering our ankles in the name of modesty. Harvey isn’t interested in empowering us: he only wants to lay red tape in tight boxes around us in his effort to corral us into his idea of the ideal woman.

And Steve Harvey’s ideal woman is exactly what you would expect, fitting neatly into the virgin/whore dichotomy that has plagued women for lifetimes. “You’re not here for sex,” Harvey says in the recording. “You’re here for life. God didn’t create you for sex.”

Oh?

And why not? Why are we not here for sex? Isn’t it part of life? But more importantly, how did this conversation go from talking about sex tapes to sex in general? It’s one thing to say “Hey boys and girls, sex tapes are forever. It may be sexy now, but you may not want the whole world seeing that in ten years.” Sure. Fair facts. But that’s not enough for Harvey, and for some reason he seems incapable of addressing boys: only girls. Rather than using the Mimi and Nikko sex tape as a teachable moment about privacy, permanence, and the longevity of Internet decisions, Harvey can’t resist transforming that moment into a diatribe about shame and God’s plan for women’s bodies.

You see, those who are truly interested in empowering women and girls use different words. Instead of “Think of the horrible things people will say about you,” people who are truly interested in empowering women and girls say, “Don’t worry about what people say. You are autonomous.” Instead of, “You weren’t put here for sex,” people who are truly interested in empowering women and girls say, “Sex is one of many beautiful parts of life when it is consensual. You can have as much or as little of it as you want: just protect yourself.” These are the words we use when we seek to empower girls and women. The kind of shaming tactics Steve Harvey employs are not only tired, patriarchal regurgitations, but they fly in the face of actual women’s empowerment and turn “sex” and “women” into painful opposites that should have nothing to do with another. And everything else aside: men and boys are still absent from Harvey’s lecture.

This has all been written about before. Extensively. Yet Steve Harvey still added this to the end of his little speech:

“You’re putting your most precious gift out on display. For a pearl, you gotta dive to the bottom of the ocean […] Ain’t no diamonds laying on top of the earth: they don’t grow like corn. […] This thing every man got to have: your body. Your precious jewel. You’re sitting on a gold mine. Please act like it, young ladies. Act like you’re sitting on a gold mine. Because it is what every man is after. And we will pay dearly for it.”

Is anybody else creeped out? Is anybody else extremely uncomfortable about the fact that Steve Harvey is telling girls that they should treat their vaginas like a means of currency because men will “pay dearly for it”? Let me tell you a few things, Mr. Harvey. I’ll put them in bullet points so you don’t miss anything:

  • Women’s vaginas are not our most precious gift. Our minds, our souls, our personalities, are far more precious and will do more for us in our lives than the so-called gold-mine between our legs. In fact, for vaginas to be gold mines, they don’t bring us much gold just sitting down there being vaginas. Ever heard of women’s struggle for equal pay? Come on, Steve.
  • Diamonds aren’t that f*cking great. In fact, they’re intrinsically worthless. Their value is based on artificial scarcity, a system created by tycoons who seek to propagate the belief of their rarity to increase their worth. It’s almost like the idea of chastity. Chew on that.
  • If women “aren’t here for sex,” yet it’s the thing that “every man wants,” then does that mean that men are here for sex? Why would “God” make men for sex and not women? That seems silly. No, it doesn’t seem silly. It is.
  • Nikko was in the sex tape too. Where’s your sermon for him? Aren’t men and boys’ bodies just as valuable? Is their sex not also precious?

Steve Harvey’s explicit advice to young women is that when it comes to our sexual activity, we should think before we act—before we “give it away”—because “think of what people will say about us behind our backs.” And when it comes to a society that makes women’s bodies and what women do with them a matter of scorn and shame, Steve Harvey knows which side he’s on: the side that does the scorning and the shaming. His critique looks no further: it stops at the young women who are held prisoner by this ideology. He does not criticize the ideology itself; rather, he upholds it.

Steve Harvey is not interested in empowering or protecting young women. Instead, he joins the likes of Tyler Perry, Tyrese, Chey B, who would sit on their towering soap boxes making money off policing the lives and bodies of women. Write a book about young boys for once, Mr. Harvey, if you want to impress me: write a book about rape culture and the way we teach young men that women’s bodies are trophies, objects, status symbols, commodities.

Oh wait. You already know. Because with all your jabbering about gold mines and diamonds and precious jewels, you’re doing the teaching. The woman, Mimi, that you are criticizing is doing exactly what you suggest. You said what’s between our legs is a gold mine, right? Isn’t Mimi set to make a gold mine from this sex tape? Oh, but that’s not what you meant, right? A little too much autonomy, mixed with too little care for “what people say behind her back.” Have a seat, Mr. Harvey. Have this one. Or this one. Or this one. Just make sure you choose a sturdy chair, because times are changing: women see through your crap and we’re not here for it. Get comfortable. You may be sitting for a long time.

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Robin Thicke Thinks He’s a Victim of Miley Cyrus

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Let me begin by saying I am not a fan of Miley Cyrus. She is an appropriative, entitled little twit who sees black women’s bodies as mere cogs in her privileged fame machine. But everyone knows that if we’re going to talk about the shit show that was her infamous VMA performance, then we’re not just talking about one party. If we’re going to talk about twerking and raunchy attempts at notoriety, we’re talking about two parties: one the near-naked and tongue-wagging Miley Cyrus, and the other is the pinstriped and pompadoured Robin Thicke. Which is what this blog is about, because yesterday in his interview with Oprah, Robin Thicke laid all responsibility of the backlash after their twerking fiasco firmly on the shoulders of 20-year old Miley Cyrus.

Let’s talk about why this is bullshit.

The simple explanation is, “Hey, you slick little bastard, it takes two to tango.” Cyrus wasn’t on stage alone. If she had been, we could point all available fingers in her direction. But we can’t. Because she wasn’t alone. Her ass was against somebody’s crotch and that crotch belonged to Robin Thicke.

Thicke has an answer for this.

“Listen,” he told Oprah. “I’m the twerkee. I don’t twerk. I’m just twerked upon.” Oh. What does this remind us of? A sixteen-year old girl winds up pregnant and is the talk of the town. “Little Betty got herself pregnant,” they gossip. “What a trollop.” The male in question—without whose sperm there would be no scandalous pregnancy—becomes invisible. In the face of a patriarchal framework of female behavior, the unwed girl somehow was alone in her baby-making. The stigma falls to her. The shame falls to her. Thicke throwing Cyrus under the bus—a bus he’s driving—is eerily reminiscent of this scenario in which women are viewed as lone actors in a two-man show.

Thicke goes on to further absolve himself of all responsibility. “I was onstage, so I didn’t see it.” He adds, “I’m not thinking sex, I’m thinking fun. I’m singing my butt off. I’m singing and I’m looking at the sky and I’m singing and I’m not really paying attention to all that.” His final damning quote? “That’s on her.”

Robin, no one’s demanding child support payments. They’re just saying, you know, maybe you could share some of the controversy here.

“I spent my whole career playing it safe, being a gentleman, never doing anything controversial,” he told the November issue of Vanity Fair. “They told me [beforehand] that Miley’s going to take her clothes off and dance around and she might bend over…I just said, ‘I don’t care, let’s entertain the people.'”

Is it just me, or is Thicke describing Cyrus’s potential bending over the way one might describe a loaded gun? As if he’s a victim in this whole thing, and Miley Cyrus’s body/sexuality is the true danger here? If that ass was so dangerous, Robin, why did you place yourself firmly in the way of it?

It’s all so absurd. Cyrus discussed the double standard shortly after the VMAs and as much as I dislike her, I was inclined to agree. But this is even worse. What else does this remind us of? This shunning of responsibility in the face of young female sexuality? Thicke is a 36-year old married man, Cyrus a 20-year old child-star. How many times have we heard about the grown ass pedophile saying that the 14-year old school girl “seduced” him? Remember this case in Montana? The judge gave a 54-year old teacher who repeatedly raped his 14-year old student a 30-day sentence because he believed the girl was “older than her chronological age,” implying that the girl was a willing agent in her rape by a man 40 years her senior.

Before all the rape apologists start whipping out their Sharpies and making cardboard signs decrying my comparison of Thicke/Cyrus to rape, let me be clear. What happened onstage at the VMAs was not rape, and Cyrus was and is perfectly able to make her own ridiculous, appropriative, tiresome decisions. But Thicke’s behavior after the fact, especially now with this most recent interview with Oprah, requires criticism.

Thicke’s ability to saddle Cyrus with the blame indicates a problem in our culture, a culture in which men are rewarded for their sexuality and women are punished; a culture in which a man has the agency to engage in sexual acts and then withdraw from them untainted, leaving the woman to deal with the shitstorm as if they acted alone.

All this aside, the show was rehearsed. Every second of the VMAs was choreographed, planned, done over and over. For Thicke to throw up his angelic little hands and claim ignorance not only illustrates him as the spineless coward that he is, but exposes his willingness to let misogynistic public opinion to run its dirty course, knowing full well that in this culture, if a man says “It wasn’t me, it was all her! Female sexuality is scary and gross!”…the whole world won’t think twice before shoving her under the bus that’s always rolling.

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Riddick Thinks Lesbians Are Just Kidding About Being Lesbians

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I saw Riddick this weekend, against my better judgment. Watching Vin Diesel act is like watching a lump of cookie dough animate and plod across the kitchen floor, but I like movies with aliens, so give me a break. Yet the film was confounding. Not just because Vin Diesel’s attempts at acting are so one dimensional that your brain will go numb, but because somehow Riddick—and thus its director, David Twohy—seems to think that lesbians are just playing hard to get when they say they aren’t attracted to men.

There is only woman in the movie—except for a woman of color who was onscreen for all of four minutes before she was shot like a dog while running braless—and her name is Dahl. Dahl is a white, blonde, tough lesbian. Her sexuality is made clear when she says very plainly that she “doesn’t fuck guys.” She is referred to as a “lesbo” by the human antagonist. Her character is what could be called “masculine”—if “masculine” indeed means one is gun-toting, strong, somewhat muscular, and possesses the ability to throw a mean right hook.  Dahl makes it clear that she has no interest in any of the men in her crew, let alone Vin Diesel’s character Riddick, who is unpredictable, arrogant, and extremely violent. Despite her disinterest, Riddick spies on her while she’s naked in the bathroom, makes repeated advances to which he receives no positive encouragement, and, while chained up, vows that when he’s free, he will kill the antagonist and also go “balls deep” in Dahl. This would be shockingly rapey if he didn’t follow up with, “But only because you [will] ask me to…sweet like.”

If this sounds wack, that’s because it is. (And follow-up or not, it’s still rapey.)

In the end, Riddick does indeed kill the antagonist and survive some aliens. The “good guy” inexplicably rescues Riddick in a spaceship, and who repels down with a harness to bring him onboard? Dahl. She straddles Riddick and, as they are towed upward, says that she has something to ask him “sweet like,” and he grabs her ass.

<slow applause>

So according to Riddick and Twohy, lesbians are just kidding. They don’t really “not fuck guys,” they just don’t fuck guys until some irresistibly masculine, bald-headed lump of clay with two chins struts along and renders their sexual orientation invalid. Twohy and his screenwriters have given themselves away as the overcompensating, adolescent jackoffs that they are: “what’s hotter than fucking a lesbian?” they giggle to one another under their Superman bedsheets. “Nothing!” They could’ve written Dahl as straight and set up the typical “bad boy gets to have sex with girl at end of action movie” trope. But no. Why stop there in their subjugation?

Dahl—who was named “Dahl” for a reason: the joke is they’re really calling her “doll” throughout the entire movie—is strong, necessarily violent, muscular, a great shot with numerous weapons, and smart. Yet Riddick renders her passive. Despite her strength and capability—and despite her sexual orientation—her identity is subject to the whims of the men onscreen: she is a rapeable object lacking agency and even a real name. Riddick, on the other hand, is subject to nothing: not even Dahl’s humanity.

Why? Let’s face it. In Hollywood—in America?—the male hero must get the prize. Despite the fact that Riddick didn’t really do much to redeem himself (his actions were in pursuit of his own survival; in retrieving the power cells from where he’d hidden them, he ensured his own well-being: the fact that the others also survived was coincidental) Hollywood still thinks he should get the prize. The prize is the girl, of course: the flesh dowry of male success awarded like cattle to any penis that patriarchy deems worthy. Riddick gets the prize simply for surviving. The message here, friends, one that we see over and over and over, is this: men deserve to have women awarded to them like chattel, simply by virtue of their maleness. You don’t even have to do anything good or moral or prince-like or gentlemanly to receive this prize: continuing to breathe is enough. And your prize? She doesn’t even have to be attracted to you. She doesn’t have to like you. Heck, she doesn’t even have to be straight. She’s all yours, pal. Enjoy. The prize is yours, even at the expense of others’ agency, humanity, and identity.

Fail. Riddick, you fail. On so many levels. You can’t “convert” a lesbian with a bald head, forty-six year old muscles, and a comically emotionless voice. In fact, you can’t convert a lesbian at all. Will Smith can’t convert a lesbian. Christian Bale can’t convert a lesbian. Barack Obama can’t even convert a lesbian. Do you know why? Because lesbians are lesbians. And that means truly, actually, in real life….they don’t fuck guys.

Really.

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Beyond the Token Black Guy: Isolationism in American Media

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Many of you have likely heard of the Bechdel test, but in case you haven’t, I’ll run it by you now. The Bechdel test is a feminist means of analysis, originally conceived for evaluating films. Virginia Woolf wrote long ago of the problem of women characters existing, almost without exception, only in relation to men or barely existing at all, and this test is a way of exposing that cinematic inequality. Introduced in Alison Bechdel’s comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For, the test demands three requirements of a film in order for it to be deemed woman-friendly:

  1. It has to have at least two named female characters;
  2. who talk to each other,
  3. about something besides men.

In your spare time, go through this list of movies and check out all the films that have failed the test. There’s tons. But that’s not what this blog is about. Rather, I want us to consider applying the same rules to films, television, etc., but reframing them to consider the presence (and absence) of people of color in these mediums.

Clutch Magazine did a piece on this awhile back in which Tami Winfrey Harris crowdsourced some ideas for what that set of requirements would be. One suggestion offered the following demands for evaluating whether a film represented people of color as multi-faceted human beings:

  1. One or more named people of color,
  2. who talk to each other,
  3. who don’t act in a service capacity
  4. who are reflective of their culture and history but don’t communicate through stereotyped action, such as an affected accent.

An interesting list. Somebody do me a favor and go ahead and apply this criteria to every movie made in the last fifty years and let’s watch the vast majority of them fail.

You see, these tests are interesting because they reflect the way Hollywood a) perceives the humanity of oppressed groups, and b) interprets America’s willingness to see women and people of color on their screens as more than fragmented stereotypes, fetishes, etc. (I will add that I think Hollywood often underestimates the greater American audience’s sensibilities, but when we see backlash like this over a character being cast as black, we can see why Hollywood would say “Fuck it” and stick to the white male hero over and over….and over and over and over again, in the interest of their profits.)

Anyone who knows me knows that my mantra is “Movies are never just movies. TV is never just TV. Nothing is ever just something.” In a culture of capitalism, oppression, patriarchy and white supremacy, every piece of media we consume, from our movies to our commercials to the packaging of our food, carries messages. And when it comes to women and people of color, the message being sent isn’t just “Women’s lives revolve around men,” or “Black people are servile,” although those messages are certainly present. The message is this:

You are alone.

That is, in my opinion, one of the most dangerous messages that Hollywood imparts. In the midst of the negative images of sluttiness, airheadedness, docility, thugification, propensity for violence, ignorance, and more, all of which are dangerous in the way they impress upon the audience a skewed and inhuman version of real people, the image of isolation is one that concerns me greatly.

The problem is twofold.

For the oppressed group being represented, being a “token” is more than just being the only black guy at the party, or the lone female officer on a starship. We are being fed the message that we exist alone in a white, male world. There is no one to help us. We exist solely as an opposite to a norm. We are allowed little flexibility in our identity and our future. We are a joke: our breasts are on display, our blackness, our way of speaking. We are a face that could be replaced with any other face, a life that could be replaced with any other life. We are not unique. We do not matter. Rising above this cookie cutter life isn’t worth attempting, because do you see how alone you are? In this film, in this commercial, you are not father, daughter, astronaut or engineer. You are your blackness. You are your femaleness. You are alone in your blackness and femaleness. And that is all you will ever be.

For white, male audiences, the problem is just as great and allows the white, male gaze to feel justified in its Othering. The message is, “You are not alone.” By (over and over) perpetuating a white world on every screen in America, white audiences’ belief that they are the core, they are what matters, they are the hero, they are the norm, is fed, and continues to grow. White male characters onscreen generally only have to deal with one black guy at a time. That isolated black male presence is manageable, governable. Dominatable. The message is, “You don’t have to worry about people of color. You don’t have to worry about women. See how few of them they are? And look how many of you there are! You are the majority! You are what matters!”

I’ve heard the “token black guy” stereotype referred to as “Affirmative Action for Hollywood.” Perhaps. Perhaps this long-running trend is half-brained directors wanting to appear diverse and inclusive. Perhaps someone, somewhere thinks this method of representation is accurate: “Well, I only know one black guy, so only one black guy needs to be in the film.” Perhaps it’s Hollywood covering their ass and not wanting to upset the never-sleeping giant of white self-righteousness. Perhaps. But either way the message is the same, and I urge you to consume media with great caution. Malcolm X once said something about newspapers which I will apply to all media in our generation: “If you’re not careful, the [media] will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”

Keep your eyes open and, when consuming mass media, keep your mind closed. You are not alone. You are not a joke. You do not exist solely as an extension of your blackness, femaleness, gayness. You are not an Other.

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Brainless Bits of Misogynist Flotsam in Star Trek: Into Darkness

ImageSaw Star Trek: Into Darkness this weekend. Great movie except two little bitty scenes, which I will discuss here.

Scene 1: The first came early in the movie. Chris Pine (Captain Kirk) is in bed with a ridiculously beautiful woman. His phone rings, and he sits up. So does the beautiful woman. There’s a lump in the bed. When he reaches for the phone, the other lump turns out to be—surprise surprise!—another beautiful woman in bed with him.

Scene 2: Later, Alice Eve (Carol Marcus) is explaining something to Captain Kirk in weapons jargon. She says, “Turn around,” and he does, while she goes on explaining.  He’s listening (barely) but turns around to peek anyway, giving us a look of what we knew we’d see: Carol in her sexy lingerie in a sort of bizarrely posed position.

My beef? You know what it is.

How did either of these scenes add anything—anything at all—to the film?

Both scenes occupied mere seconds of the film. Kirk sitting up in bed alone would have changed nothing. Alice Eve being fully clothed during the second scene would have changed nothing. The film gained nothing by adding these things, and thus would have lost nothing by removing them.

The predictable argument that Star Trek is a “guy’s movie” and that guys expect to see some T&A when they go to the theater is an outdated one, I’d say. Most of the self-proclaimed “geeks” that I’ve spoken to regard this kind of random sexual insertion as distracting and taking away from the film. Also, the idea that a male protagonist has to be a womanizing rebel is played out. Yawn. Snoozeville. “Oh, the second lump is…another chick! Threesome?! Score! I’ve never seen that in a movie before!” …..said no one ever in their life.

To me it seems that directors like J.J. Abrams—and Hollywood itself—are a little behind in the times. Apparently no one told them that “chicks dig” nerd stuff too and that they are alienating a huge audience when they choose to include brainless bits of misogynist flotsam in their otherwise decent movies.

Hollywood, you need to do three things.

1) Stop alienating your female audience. We exist, we like space and aliens…and we have money.

2) Give your male audience a little credit. They don’t need boobs! boobs! boobs! boobs! to enjoy your film.

3) Be good filmmakers. If a scene contributes nothing, cut it. Period. Stop pandering to imaginary penises.

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