Tag Archives: sexist

5 Reasons People With Brains Shouldn’t See Transformers: Age of Extinction

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If you’re one of the people I refer to in the title of this blog—that is, people with brains—then you are probably already aware of the things that make Michael Bay one of the most vile and overrated directors in Hollywood. Explosions substituting for character development. General cinematic bloatedness. You know these things. But in case your instincts need a little sharpening, I will save you your money—and a precious three hours of your precious life—by providing five handy reasons you shouldn’t go see the new Transformers movie. You’re welcome.

#1 Michael Bay Once Again Proves That His Understanding of Women is Mere Millimeters Deep

With every movie that Michael Bay makes, he further proves that he not only hates women, but possesses the qualities of a panting 14-year old boy with acne and a public erection. His understanding of women is disjointed and stumbles between the two sexist binaries of Madonna and whore: the female lead in Transformers 4—I won’t say heroine because then I’d be a liar—reels between half-naked party girl whose skin provides 25% of the film’s panning shots and nagging wife-figure who is pure and cares only for the welfare of her helpless daddy. As the film goes on and real action starts to take place, the girl gets fewer and fewer lines. In fact, I believe an entire hour passed in which she didn’t say a word: just screamed, gasped, and moaned in fear. The last half of the movie was full of close-ups on her sweating, crying face. When she finally did get a moment of action in the last ten minutes of the film, it was 30 seconds long and completely underwhelming, seeming to exist grudgingly, added in as an afterthought so that her character does something other than hide and weep.

But creepier still is the fact that Bay chooses to make her young age a focus point of the film. He smugly references Romeo and Juliet clauses, as if to cover his pedophilic tracks. “See guys, the fact that I’m forcing you as an audience to spend almost 3 hours ogling a 17-year old girl is legal. Romeo and Juliet clause, baby!” Michael Bay is rich enough for therapy. I wish he’d go.

#2 Michael Bay Once Again Proves That He Believes Explosions Are the Key to Good Filmmaking

Guys, I’m not kidding. Explosions. This movie is almost 3 hours long and I’d wager that 50% of it is just shit blowing up. It’s an action movie…I get it. Explosions and chases and crashes are part of the game and ordinarily I love it. But a five-minute shot of a car overturning and smashing other cars is overkill. Ask yourself, is it possible that explosions can be boring? Michael Bay makes it possible. Trust me. In the lifetime I spent in that movie theater watching Transformers 4, I looked at my phone four different times to check the clock. Is it over yet? The explosions washed over me in waves of monotony. Never have I felt so apathetic about things catching on fire and being launched into the air. I literally yawned as a car flipped through the sky during a ten-minute motorcycle chase in which no real stunts were performed. I yawned. This is a problem.

#3 Michael Bay Once Again Proves That He Has No Problem With Racist Stereotypes

Remember the Transformer twins in Revenge of the Fallen? You remember…the jive-talking, illiterate, violent autobots that were criticized widely? Well, Bay didn’t learn his lesson. Age of Extinction features a samurai Transformer with a heavy Japanese accent who calls Optimus Prime “sensei.” Oh, and his face is made of yellow metal. Need I say more? Also, another fun racist fact, my fiancé, who has done karate for over twenty years, pointed out that samurais are Japanese but when the samurai autobot bowed, it was the traditional clasped-fist bow, which is Chinese. Bay doesn’t even do his research, apparently. An Asian autobot is an Asian autobot, right? (And made to have a yellow face? I mean, come on.)

#4 Michael Bay Once Again Proves That He’s Got Issues With Masculinity

Casting Mark Wahlberg to play a nerdy inventor is kind of a funny choice. Wahlberg’s character is supposed to be a tinkerer, a guy who builds little robots and hopes to invent the”next big thing.” But in the mind of someone like Michael Bay, that kind of guy isn’t masculine enough on his own: he needs to be someone muscular who can also punch people in the face and shoot guns and ride spaceships. At one point, Wahlberg crashes a spaceship in downtown Chicago, wrecking a car. A nerdy man with glasses and average biceps gets out and delivers a “funny” line about hoping Wahlberg has insurance. What does Wahlberg do? He makes a big macho declaration, cracks open a beer, and threatens to shoot the guy. No, not kidding. That’s what he does. Because BIG TOUGH GUY IS COOLER THAN SMALLER NERDY GUY WHO CARES ABOUT WIMPY THINGS LIKE INSURANCE. Guns! Beer! <scratches armpit>

#5 The Writing is So, So Bad. So Bad.

I actually stayed in the theater even longer than necessary so that I could glimpse who was responsible for writing this script. His name is Ehren Kruger. Ehren, wherever you are…stop. Please. For the good of mankind. The Transformers call people “bitch” (because aliens are familiar with misogynist epithets) and deliver the most pathetically limp one-liners I’ve ever heard. Optimus Prime, known for his speeches, delivers monologues more likely found in a badly-translated anime film than in a Hollywood feature. The plot holes…well, the entire film is a plot hole. The narrative coherence…well, there is no narrative coherence. Ehren, give me a call if you need a consultant for next time. (God forbid there is a next time.) I’d be happy to brush you up on creating female characters who exist outside of a misogynist binary, and we can discuss these one-liners too, because right now they’ve got about as much zing as a can of SPAM.

There you have it, folks. I hope I saved you some time and money. But hey, if you’re a masochist, knock yourself out. If you can stay awake.

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Single Moms Club: Tyler Perry Still Has A Problem with (Black) Women

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Firstly: there are spoilers below. I won’t apologize for them. I’m trying to save you from seeing this film, after all, so yes, there are spoilers.

Secondly: I wish Tyler Perry would stop making movies about women.

This morning I saw Perry’s newest mark-misser, Single Moms Club, in which five single mothers from different walks of life coincidentally cross paths and become friends. You can tell that Perry thinks he put a lot of thought into the “walks of life” aspect, as the women are ethnically and socioeconomically diverse. But their lives and personalities are straight out of the one-dimensional Woman Playbook that Perry has become known for: we have the sexified Latina knockout whose cleavage is displayed prominently in every scene of the film; we have the ambitious career woman who, because she’s an ambitious career woman, is sexless and bitter; the helpless, dainty white housewife who is so innocent that she doesn’t hear innuendo when her outdoorsy male neighbor hints at “erect wood;” the sassy black woman whose husband and older sons are in jail and slaps a lot of people throughout the film; and, finally, the pure, good black woman whose only fault is being too good of a mother.

The movie is tiresome for a number of reasons, which I will discuss here. Perry claims to have made this movie to support single moms and highlight their challenges, but the majority of the film is spent punishing them and highlighting their failures. Their children hate them—sometimes inexplicably—and blame them for everything. Before all the parents (including my mom) jump up and exclaim over the reality of kids blaming everything on their parents, let me say, “Sure.” Sure, kids blame their parents for stuff. But the blame that the women in this film receive isn’t the kind of blame that kids realistically level at their parents: “I didn’t get invited to a party because you won’t buy me cooler clothes!” or “You won’t let me have a cell phone! I hate you!” No, it’s adult-level blame, which merely happens to be delivered by children. In these blamey lines, I hear the societal judgment popularly aimed at single mothers, which Perry works in clumsily not because he wants to challenge these assertions, but because he agrees with them.

For example, Wendi McLendon-Covey’s character, Jan, the successful career woman, is told by her twelve-year old daughter: “I’m never going to be like you. I’m going to grow up and marry a man and have a family so I don’t have to do everything myself like you!” The daughter then proceeds to tell her mother that she’s ruining her child’s life because she chooses to continue to dedicate a lot of her time to the publishing company where she’s worked for seventeen years. Cocoa Brown’s character, Lytia, is told by her youngest son (after he shames her for her lack of education when she doesn’t know the answers to his homework) that he “isn’t his brothers or his dad” and she has to let him grow up and be a man. He’s also twelve-ish. Amy Smart’s character, Hillary, is told by her daughter to “Stop making everyone leave us.” Esperanza, played by Zulay Henao, is still being supported financially by her ex-husband but he dictates her life, and her daughter’s lack of respect—and disdain—for her is evident throughout the film. These are some of the things Perry charges single mothers with—being overprotective/smothering, having careers, being uneducated—and it is the children in the film who communicate most of these accusations, which is both annoying and disturbing.

Another thing I noticed was the number of “I’m sorry’s” that the single moms in the film delivered. I wish I had been keeping a tally. The women are always apologizing to their children, their lovers, and their bosses. Meanwhile, no one is apologizing to them: not for harm, disrespect, insult, or anything else. Especially the children. When the kids of these moms are caught spray-painting and smoking at school—the intersection of their lives that brings all the single moms together in the principal’s office—they don’t apologize. Each of the children are petulant, dismissive, rude, and bored by their mothers’ attempts to discipline/reason with them. Perry makes a point, I would say, of illustrating that the women are shoddy disciplinarians. That’s a man’s role, I think Perry would declare, which is evident in the way that all of these women’s lives are “fixed” by the end of the film.

What’s the fix? You guessed it. Men.

Each of the women gets a man, and by the end of the film they are miraculously happier, more stable, confident, and in healthier relationships with their children. Just like that. The magic is in men, Perry seems to think, as healthy single-parent families do not exist in this film. And of course Perry just had to cast himself as the cool, calm, collected, well-dressed man with car engine expertise who appears early in the movie just in the nick of time to save Nia Long’s character from car trouble. All of the single moms have some kind of drama with the fathers of their children: drug addict, jail, nasty divorce, controlling jerk, sperm donor. But Tyler Perry’s character? He’s a single dad, but he’s normal! “We’re two good people, just not good for each other” was the gist of the line. He sees his kids every weekend. Takes them fishing. What a great guy! Perry’s insistence on painting himself as the savior in his films is distracting and irritating. But that’s taking me away from my central problem with this film, and that’s Tyler Perry’s problem with black women.

It’s been said a thousand times, but I’m going to say it again because it’s still true: Tyler Perry has a problem with black women. It’s evident in Single Moms Club, in which we have two black women, different in age, appearance, and socioeconomic status. Perry displays them as two archetypal poles of black womanhood: the good woman, and the sassy Mammy.

Nia Long’s character May is a writer. She lives in a nice house. She has one child. She is educated. She has no bad habits. She is polite and funny and her language is precise and her clothes look like she shops at Macys. In a conversation with the other single moms about sex, she reveals that she has been celibate for a long time. Unlike the other women in the movie, she has no flaws: she is kind to everyone and loves her son so much that it makes her flighty and, once, when her son runs away, angry. But only because she was being such a good mom.

Then there is Cocoa Brown’s character, Lytia. She waits tables for a living. She lives in a ratty apartment complex. She has “more children than the Harlem Globetrotters,” according to McLendon-Covey’s character. She is “sassy.” She is loud. She is inappropriate. She is often angry/annoyed/confrontational. She is gruff. The white single moms tell her how “strong” she is. (Sigh.) She slaps people and says “girl” a lot. She wears leopard print pants and other bright colors. She talks freely about sex in the conversations with the other single moms.

In these two women, Perry reveals to us his feelings about black women. There are Mays, classy, sexually pure women with no bad habits, who Tyler Perry’s character, TK, obviously wins by the end of the movie, and who exist to remind us of the virtuous woman we should all strive to be. And then there are Lytias, who Perry casts as the comical foil to May’s perfection: the brunt of all jokes, the classless train-wreck no one wants to be. In fact, much of the movie is spend mocking Lytia. And when I say much, I mean it. Barely a scene passed where some joke at Lytia’s expense wasn’t being flung into the dialogue.

The scene where Lytia’s son shames her for her lack of education was not a poignant moment meant to shed light on the plight of women who have children at sixteen, as was the case with Lytia. It was a jab, written not as a “deep moment” but as a deliberate gag. The line about “more children than the Harlem Globetrotters” was delivered by McLendon-Covey’s character. In fact, most of the racist, misogynoirist lines were: “Why did you name your child after a Jewish holiday?” McLendon-Covey asks. Lytia’s daughter’s name was Rashawna. Ha ha. Single black moms can’t help their twelve-year old sons with their homework because they had to drop out of school! Tee hee. Black single moms have a bunch of kids! Kee kee. Black single moms name their kids the darndest things! Often, it seems that Perry is hiding his own disdain of Lytia behind McLendon-Covey’s character. She delivers all of the black-mom-disparaging jokes, but I’m not fooled: those are Perry’s jokes. They’re in the film, after all—his film—so he must think they’re funny. Black single mothers are a joke to him, it seems, worthy of little respect and standing in their own way. Unless you’re a black single mom like Nia Long, Perry’s logic goes: the ideal woman. Celibate. Sweet. Sophisticated. There is little room for humanity or flaws on Perry’s scale of black womanhood.

But there’s more. The most telling scene is when Lytia is the first to arrive at Hillary’s home for a single moms meeting. Hillary, the helpless white housewife who has had a maid for as long as she’s been married, is now, after the divorce, “without help.” Help with a capital H. She is completely clueless about how to care for her own children: her infant sits crying in the highchair and her young son spins aimlessly in the kitchen—I’m not really sure what he was doing, actually. But have no fear—Lytia is here! Perry’s casting incarnation of the sassy black Mammy character reveals itself in full force as Lytia swoops in, scoops up the baby, stops its crying, and tames the other boy with a whisk of her hand. “Let me ask you something,” Hillary says to Lytia: “How do you be a single mom?”

Because what do white women know about being a single mom? She asks Lytia because as a black woman, she must be the expert, right? Hillary is a divorcee, and the other white woman in the film is single by choice with her decision to go with a sperm donor. Only black women end up as single moms that are unwed and unsupported, Perry seems to say. “You better not ask me to be your maid!” Lytia quips, and it’s supposed to be funny. But it’s not. It’s too late for her character to reject the role of Mammy with this line: Tyler Perry already prescribed it to her.

One of the most disturbing scenes is one with Lytia and Terry Crews’s character. Crews is his typical clownish self, courting Lytia at the diner where she works as a waitress. The very first words she says to him are, “I don’t like you!” And she doesn’t. Never is there flirtation in her meanness to him. She rejects and dismisses him regularly. Once, she missed the bus and was late getting her children to school, so she accepted a ride from him, but made it clear that it did not mean she was interested. Eventually, at the urging of the single moms, she allows him to accompany her to the movies in a group outing, making it clear that it’s not a date, and even flirting with another man in Crews’s presence. However, at the end of the evening, Crews forcefully kisses her. When I say forcefully, I mean he grabs her, and smashes his face into her face. She shoves him off, slamming him into his truck. She says, “I am a woman, okay!” meaning that she won’t be treated that way. Crews’s character then grabs her, slams her against his truck, and kisses her again. (And when I say “slam,” I mean slam. The violence is intended to be comical—Lytia is “so strong”—but it’s disturbing.) Crews comes up from the kiss and Lytia looks dazed, still pushing him off. He says, “And I’m a man, okay!” Meaning…what? That when a man wants to kiss a woman, he will? Even when she shoves him off? That when a man wants to kiss a woman, he will, because she doesn’t know what she wants until he shows her? Eventually Lytia gives in and kisses him back, forcefully, and they take turns slamming each other against the truck while making out. When they finish, Crews says, “When I see you tomorrow, you better be nice to me!” and Lytia says in a soft voice, “Okay baby.” In other words…she submits: Tyler Perry uses the violence of Crews’s character to “tame” Lytia. Tyler Perry’s interpretation of a woman like Lytia is that she not only doesn’t want tenderness, but isn’t capable of understanding it either. Affection and violence go hand in hand for Lytia, and in a film that is supposedly about self-growth and soul-searching, Lytia isn’t allowed to grow beyond that prescription.

Tyler Perry’s vision of black women is not only woefully narrow, but abusive. In a film he claims celebrates the single mother, I see nothing but judgment, blame, and shallow misogyny. The only way a single mom can be happy, Perry tells us, is by ceasing to be a single mom: he creates “the single mom’s club,” and by the end of the movie, destroys it. There is no single mom’s club. There is only a club, he thinks, for bitter, lonely, angry women—and occasionally the perfect princess who just hasn’t met the right man (himself) yet—and that’s not a club at all. My mother told me once “If someone keeps showing you who they are, eventually you need to just believe them.” Today I sat in a theater of black women and throughout the film, the audience was mostly silent, even as everyone filed out of the room. Mr. Perry, you keep showing us who you are. Are you surprised that we believe you?

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Sluts, Whores, Skanks, and Tramps

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The word slut has many synonyms: hoe, whore, skank, tramp, promiscuous.

By age thirteen, I’d been called all of them.

By age thirteen, most girls I knew had been called all of them, by other girls, especially by boys, and even by authority figures. The words came down on us for many reasons:

  • We had breasts.
  • We wore a shirt that didn’t hide our breasts.
  • We wore shorts that showed our legs. (That’s what shorts do.)
  • We liked a boy, and another boy didn’t like that we liked that boy.
  • We liked a boy, and another girl didn’t like that we liked that boy.
  • We liked a girl, and no one liked that.
  • We were raped, touched, sexually assaulted.
  • We told someone no.
  • We told someone yes.

The list goes on.

When I was a teenager, I faced my abuser in court. The defense called me promiscuous. It was because of my supposed, thirteen-year old promiscuity that my abuser walked. Now, at age twenty-five, I am still called these words. Every woman I know has been called these words. People I know use these words. People I don’t know use these words. But other than our femaleness, the women who are called these words have nothing in common:

  • We are black and white and brown.
  • We are virgins and not.
  • We are fat and thin and muscular.
  • We have big breasts and small breasts.
  • We are adults. We are children.
  • We wear all different kinds of clothes. Some of us wear burqas.
  • We say yes and no.

The list goes on.

If every woman has been called these words–regardless of her sexual activity; regardless of her clothes–what does that tell you?

It tells me that something is wrong with the words–with the world. Not with the women.

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The First Time I Shaved My Legs

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The first time I shaved my legs, my mother cried.

Not because “her little girl was growing up” but because her little girl was entering a world that is cruel to little girls.

I did it in Florida, on family vacation. I was twelve. I’d been in the pool playing with some girls I didn’t know and they were laughing at me, at my legs. They didn’t say why, but somehow I knew. Girls are programmed with shame. We are only clean for so long and then must start doing the things that keep the dirt off: shaving our legs and underarms, stripping all the hair from our bodies, douching, lasering, scraping, bleaching. A little girl is only a little girl until she is not, and then the shame settles on her like a blanket. She wraps herself in it, sometimes forever.

My mother had tried to keep me safe. She let me do what I wanted. She said, “There is nothing that you have to do.” I believed her. I wanted to be like my brothers and pierce only one ear. I wanted my hair short like my brothers. She let me. I was a wild brown pony, barefoot in the yard and wearing Spiderman shirts. I had a pair of jeans with “Chic” stitched on the pocket. She took the thread out because I asked her to, because I thought it said “chick” and god knew I didn’t want to be one of those.

She was saving me from a world that hated girls, but somehow it leaked in: it was in my one earring, my short hair. Seven years old and already I knew which was the better sex to be. By the time the razor scraped my shin, the damage was done. Now comes the undoing.

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