Idolatry, Beyoncé and feminism

Dear Dad,

I think a lot about my Sunday school lessons, and particularly the commandment not to have “false idols.” As a kid, I learned that this was in response to the Israelites, led by Moses’ brother, Aaron, creating a calf out of gold to worship. As I grew up, you and Mom taught me that idols are more than just statues of gods; they’re anything you put on a pedestal for worship, like money, a relationship, or a pop star.

This lesson came to mind when I saw the latest Beyoncé trend sweeping the Internet: #Beyoncealwaysonbeat. If you’re not familiar, footage of Beyoncé dancing is matched up to almost any song you please, be it rap, pop, gospel, or the Ducktales theme. The results are glorious.

But, as anyone who reads music would know, and as Slate points out, it’s not hard to match up music and dancing when most songs are written in the same time signature.

I love Beyoncé. I think her music is fun and inspiring, her dance moves are ridiculously awesome, and her feminism is empowering in its unabashed visibility. But, scrolling through #Beyoncealwaysonbeat videos at 11:05 last night, I thought again about those Sunday School lessons on idols, Dad.

Beyoncé is not perfect. She does make mistakes. And putting her on a pedestal is dangerous for me and her, as I risk disappointment, and she gets held to impossibly high standards.

I’m learning to respect people I admire as humans, instead of believing they, and their dance moves, can never slip. I’ve written before about Anita Sarkeesian. I think her work is hugely important and I love her videos. Recently she tweeted about how Mad Max: Fury Road is not a feminist film. My heart sank. Obviously, I didn’t feel the same. And then I realized that it was perfectly okay for us to disagree. Feminism is not a monolith and Anita is not my idol. I can respect her opinions and work but I don’t need to be on the same page as her about everything.

In the end, Dad, learning not to have idols helped me be a better feminist, and helped me relax and enjoy things more.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go see if there are any new #Beyoncealwaysonbeat videos.

Love,

Victoria

The Phantom Rapist

TW: rape

Dear Dad,

Do you remember that story about what rapists look for in victims? I do. It was a chain email that Mom shared with me in middle school. The story detailed what convicted rapists in prison said they look for in a victim. I remember things like long hair, in a ponytail or bun for grabbing, women who are distracted, typically in parking lots.

  
The story terrified me as a child. I wore my long hair loose as often as possible, for safety. 

Today, the story showed up on my Facebook feed, as a post titled “Through a Rapist’s Eyes.” All the advice was the same: don’t have long hair; parking lots, garages and restrooms are all unsafe; putting up any fight will discourage a rapist because it takes time; umbrellas discourage them as they can be used as weapons. The post also offered self-defense tips, like punching an attacker in the groin.

Reading the post now, more than 10 years later, and seeing all the women commenting how useful this information was, I was horrified. Aside from the fact that this story originates with a “fear merchant,” as Snopes describes him, and has no basis in fact, this rape-prevention advice also promotes an unrealistic of what rape is and who it happens to.

This story claims to be written from interviews with rapists in jail. You know, the big, bad, evil rapists who get what they deserved and smacked with a hard sentence. Never mind that according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), 98 percent of rapists will never spend a day in jail

More importantly, approximately 4 out of 5 assaults are committed by someone the victim knows. This story spends a dozen paragraphs talking about how to fend of some anonymous hunter, a violent rapist specter who chooses his victim by how she wears her hair and whether or not she’s carrying an umbrella in a parking lot, and yet 4 out of 5 assaults are committed not by the anonymous aggressor but by an acquaintance, a lover, or a friend.

I can’t stand to see stories like this being passed around, Dad, not just because they’re untrue, but because they perpetuate a false idea of what real “legitimate rape” is. Much like conservative male politicians who seem to believe “forcible rape” is some sort of rare crime committed only against virginal young women by nefarious strangers, this rape-defense advice constructs a narrative around sexual assault that is incredibly misleading. 

And that falsehood causes harm. While our culture is busy sharing this meme, while we are busy telling women how to protect themselves, we are failing to protect them against boyfriends, coworkers and family friends, the kind who don’t lurk in parking lots and restrooms.

I suppose that’s not a pleasant reality, to think that people are raped by friends and loved ones. Much better to think of the rapist as the stranger, the hateful, anonymous aggressor. It’s easier to cut your hair, too, than to fear your loved ones. But if we’re not honest about rape, about who it happens to and who commits it, we can never offer the support to survivors that they truly need.

And that’s the real damage this meme does. And that’s the reason myths like this need to end.

Love, 

Victoria

Mad Max smashes the patriarchy

Dear Dad,

Have you seen Mad Max: Fury Road yet? If not, head to the movies RIGHT NOW and watch it.

Did you do it? Hopefully yes, because I am about to talk about what an empowering feminist flick it is. If you haven’t seen it yet, though, I shall attempt to keep this post as spoilers-free as possible.

Let me start by saying that I planned to see this movie from the first time I saw the trailer. It looked awesome. I mean, hello? Car chases, futuristic desert setting, explosions, post-apoc punks, those awesome firework flares? It all looked rad! 

To top it off, a bunch of Men’s Rights Activist-types were enraged by Charlize Theron’s tough character Furiosa in the trailer, and called for a boycott of the film:

Not only REFUSE to see the movie, but spread the word to as many men as possible. … Because if [men] sheepishly attend and Fury Road is a blockbuster, then you, me, and all the other men (and real women) in the world will never be able to see a real action movie ever again that doesn’t contain some damn political lecture or moray about feminism, SJW-ing, and socialism.

As David Futrelle writes over at We Hunted The Mammoth, these men are enraged that an action movie would dare to have a woman in one of the lead roles. So of course, if misogynists want to boycott a film, I have to go see it.

I was expecting action, explosions, a post-apocalyptic world and Charlize Theron. But I got an incredible movie about the power and agency of women.

To start with, there are the wives, the pretty young women wrapped in white cloth in the trailer. The harem of a powerful dictator, they rebel and try to escape, setting up the entire conflict for the movie. And their mantra? 

“We are not things.”

  
These women fight actively against being objectified, and their fight is the central struggle of the film. All of these car chases and explosions happen because a patriarch wants to keep women as property, and they refuse.

There’s also a delightful number of women in this movie, not just the wives and Furiosa, but a matriarchal tribe of biker babes who are badass and good with muskets. And these women are of all ages, with more women over 40 in speaking roles than any other film I can think of off the top of my head. (I will say no more on this matriarchal tribe as I don’t want to spoil anything, except that they’re called the Vulvalini, which is delightfully campy as well as hella feminist.)

And then of course there’s Furiosa, Charlize Theron’s delightful, glorious Furiosa, who gets top billing alongside Tom Hardy’s Max in the opening credits, who drives a war rig and is well respected in her society, who is missing an arm and wears an awesome robotic prosthetic, but can keep up with Max in a fight even without it. Furiosa is fierce, smart, brave, willing to die for what she believes in, and absolutely mesmerizing. She is a complex character, not reduced to eye candy or a love interest, and watching her on-screen made me feel as if I (and women in general) was included in the intended audience of the film, which is HUGE.

In sum, Dad, this is a movie about women’s struggle against an oppressive patriarchy, their fight to be seen as people and not objects, all set to the soundtrack of cars, explosions, and that awesome guitarist hypeman guy. Go see Mad Max.  Go see it again and again! I know I will.

Love, 

Victoria

Let’s talk about menstruation!

Dear Dad,

Today, I want to talk about periods. I know, not a topic that gets discussed a lot in the mainstream. If it does, it’s usually derisively, as in, “If Hilary Clinton gets in the White House, she’ll start a nuclear war the first time she gets her period!” (Spoiler alert: No woman has ever started a war over menstruating.)

  
I read a wonderful, emotional piece on the excellent website Femsplain today that made me want to sit down and get out my thoughts on this constant in most women’s lives. The essay, titled “I’m Not Crazy, There’s Something Wrong,” details the author, Katie’s, struggle with unusual periods, a heavy flow, and a misdiagnosed medical condition. When she goes to the doctor because she’s concerned about her cycle, he tells her that it’s normal and not to worry about it. Unfortunately, Katie had a serious condition that didn’t get recognized until she was severely weakened from the blood loss and had to be rushed to the hospital. She survived, and never went back to that doctor.

What really struck me, though, was how silence and shame around our periods keeps us from opportunities to be healthy and at peace with our bodies. Katie writes:

Why are so many of our embarrassing stories about our periods? Probably because everything in society tells us that this is something dirty that we should hide and only talk to other women about. We should definitely not speak to men about it. It’s so messed up because we know so much more about their bodies then they do about ours — I mean, do we really want to know about wet dreams, or morning hard-ons or the fact that they feel the need to adjust themselves all damn day and in public? NO. But we are inundated with this information. Meanwhile, I’ve had grown-ass men refuse to pick up tampons at the store for me.

I think about the way I saw menstruation shamed growing up, Dad: the constant rumors in middle school about who had “started,” the virus that changed your MSN Messenger name to “I got my period,” or my own brother dismissing me when I was upset with, “Are you on your period?”

I’m sure you also remember how vocal I was about my period, mostly because my cramps were so bad that I had to explain why I was curled up on the floor crying. Talking about it, refusing to apologize for it or be ashamed, was an incredibly powerful experience. Unabashedly saying, “Yeah, I’m on period right now,” was claiming back some power over my body.

I don’t always feel at peace with my body, Dad. Whenever I get sick I ask myself what I did wrong and why I deserve this. And lately I’ve been working to get back into shape so I can ride my bike for longer. But I will say that one step to help me and other women and girls feel better about themselves is to destigmatize menstruation.

Love,

Victoria

Compromise is a dirty word

Dear Dad,

I’ve been thinking a lot about romantic relationships, and the way I was taught to approach them. I keep having the same conversation with male friends of mine, and for some reason, I can’t wrap my head around the gap between my understanding of relationships and theirs.

See, I’m not a big fan of the idea of compromise. Growing up, I remember the virtues of compromise in relationships being extolled, and I internalized that. I learned my lesson well, and in high school, dating Kyle, I knew that compromise was a necessary part of making our relationship work.

 

No compromise, no surrender!

 
Unfortunately, it seemed that time and again, I did all the compromising. We abided by the rules of his church, not mine. He seldom came to church with me, though I frequently went to youth group with him. He wanted a different level of physicality than I did, and he decided all of the boundaries. I found myself compromising, and bending, and bending further until I didn’t recognize myself anymore. I know you noticed, Dad. I had learned compromise.

Now, 7 years later, compromise to me is an evil word. Too often, I feel, what is meant by “compromise” is really a surrender. Instead of reaching a mutually agreeable solution, the woman must give up what she wants for the relationship’s sake. Roxane Gay summed up my feelings pretty well in her essay “The Trouble With Prince Charming, Or He Who Has Trespassed Against Us“:

The thing about fairy tales is that the princess finds her prince, but there’s usually a price to pay. A compromise is required for happily ever after. The woman in the fairy tale is generally the one who pays the price. This seems to be the nature of sacrifice.

I know this is not what everyone means when they advise compromise. Good men, men who do not want women to sacrifice for them, have told me how necessary compromise is for relationships, and I believe they value cooperation equally between partners.

However, there are men who will hold that obligation of compromise above their partner’s head, demanding they give in. And there are women, like me, who have given in, who will continue to give in.

So you’ll forgive me if I say I don’t compromise anymore, Dad. Everything I give a partner is freely and happily given, and if I don’t want to give, I won’t. I don’t surrender anything anymore. Compromise is a dirty word.

Love unflinchingly,

Victoria

It’s just a joke

(TW: rape)

Dear Dad,

I want to talk about comedy today, partly because comedy seems to be all anyone’s talking about today (fitting that it’s April Fools), and partly because the discussion of Ari Shaffir, Trevor Noah and Patton Oswalt has reminded me of my own experience with off-color jokes.

First, my story: It was my first date with this guy. He had heavy eyelids and deep brown eyes and a soft, melodic voice. He recited a poem to me before asking me on the date. He seemed so charming and sensitive. I met him at his house and we decided to drive one town over for burgers.

“Let’s take the backroads!” he suggested.

“All right,” I agreed, “but you’ll have to direct me. I don’t know how to get there from here.”

I drove and he was copilot, but as he gave my directions, I felt we were head further and further out into the countryside, instead of toward town.

“Are you sure this is the way? It feels like we’re heading to the boonies,” I said.

“No,” he laughed. “I’m just taking you out into the middle of nowhere so I can rape you.”

He chuckled. My heart raced.

“That’s not funny.”

“It’s just a joke, because obviously, I would never do that. That’s why it’s funny. I’m clearly not a rapist.”

“What if I were a rape survivor?” I asked.

“If you were, you would obviously tell me,” he said, as if he had created a super supportive environment with rape jokes on our first date. I’d like to say I dumped him right there, Dad, but sadly, it took me a couple more dates to realize he had no respect for personal boundaries.

But what does this have to do with comedy?

There are a lot of comedians in the news right now for making jokes people deem inappropriate, in bad taste or cruel. Ari Shaffir called out a fellow comedian by name in a national special, laughing at her for having one-arm and being fat. Trevor Noah, the future Daily Show host, has come under scrutiny for posting Twitter statuses joking about Jews and violence against women. And today Patton Oswalt went on a 53-tweet twitterstorm about how people are too sensitive about privilege, oppression and triggers.

Now, I think what Ari Shaffir did was mean and unfunny. I think Trevor Noah’s jokes were in poor taste, but I’m willing to see how he does as Daily Show host. And I think Patton Oswalt’s tweets completely missed the point, which is this:

Comedy is not an excuse to be mean. Saying “it’s comedy” doesn’t make something un-terrible. The guy who laughed off threatening to rape me with “it’s just a joke” didn’t make his threat suddenly okay. Comedy is not an excuse.

Love,

Victoria

What happens when we get representation

Heya, Dad!

How long has it been since we talked representation? Awhile?

As a refresher, representation is when diverse people are included in media (preferably) as fleshed-out individuals. It’s the idea that people want to see stories about people they can relate to, and that when we see positive portrayals of people like us, that can give us something to aspire to. Like Whoopi Goldberg going into acting after seeing Nichelle Nichols on Star Trek.



Recently, I read a phenomenal article, Hanna Brooks Olsen’s “A Leslie Knope in a World of Liz Lemons.” Olsen contrasts Parks and Recreation and 30 Rock, two enormously popular sitcoms created by celebrity best friends and outspoken feminists Amy Poehler and Tina Fey. When 30 Rock aired, Olsen says, women reveled in seeing a woman as flawed as they were on TV. Liz Lemon was hungry, sloppy, kind of a mess with guys and really selfish. Seeing such an honest character was a breath of fresh air. Women everywhere found themselves saying, “I am Liz Lemon!” (Including me.)

But, Olsen argues, aspiring to Lemon-hood holds us back. Instead, we should aspire to be Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope, a woman whose flaws include her intense passion:

Leslie’s flaws — like that she’s a borderline hoarder and that she sometimes is so passionate about issues that it’s “like arguing with the sun,” as her husband tells her at one point—are less cute. They are real and they are difficult and they are the kind of flaws that women rarely play up. They are the flaws that get women pegged as “bossy” or “bitchy” in the workplace. They are the flaws that we desperately try to distract from as we “complain” that we sometimes (adorably!!!) eat the entire tub of Just One Of The Guys Full Fat Because We’re So Bad Ice Cream in one sitting.

But her positive traits — her unstoppable work ethic, her deep, thoughtful love of her friends, and her nonstop motivation to succeed—are the ones that make her a role model.

While the representation of Liz Lemon was refreshing and new, Olsen argues, Knope gives women someone they can aspire to be.

Reading this article, I couldn’t help but think of Broad City, another female-driven comedy. It’s the first comedy series I’ve ever watched that has made me laugh out loud at every single episode from the very first episode. 



Watching it, I tried to figure out which of the two protagonists I was. Like Ilana, I have short hair and sometimes wear inappropriate, childlike outfits. Like Abby, I work hard at my job and aspire to climb the ladder. But after several episodes of vacillating between the two, I decided I am neither. I don’t smoke weed or Skype my best friend everyday, or go on the same wild adventures they do.

And that is perfectly okay. That’s the thing about representation: When there are enough diverse, interesting women in media, I don’t have to see myself in every one. I don’t have to be every complex portrayal of every woman on TV. But when there are so many different women on TV, I have plenty of role models to choose from.

Have you seen Big Hero 6 yet, Dad? You’re missing out if you haven’t. Like I’ve said before, the film features several female scientists in the main group of friends. The best part about that is their gender doesn’t become central to their identity. When you don’t have one girl in the cast fulfilling the role of “the girl,” you’re free to create more interesting characters. In this case, there’s the tough-as-nails speed-demon with a cool bicycle and the sweet, all-things-pink chemistry whiz. Do you know how powerful it is to see a group of diverse women and realize how open your options are? It’s empowerment.

And it’s why representation matters.

Love,

Victoria