Have you been keeping up with the WAM! (Women, Action, and the Media) It Yourself unconference this week? Today is the last day of the Blogathon and we’re talking about various aspects of gender and the media. My post for this event focuses on the idea of the “battle of the sexes” and why it presents such a barrier to feminism and gender activism in media.
I got this idea from watching the first few episodes of Celebrity Apprentice Season Four, an endeavor I do not necessarily recommend to my readers. I started watching because my favorite actress, Marlee Matlin, is on the show, and of course it’s not too surprising that a show like this would piss me off with all its ableism and misogyny. I do think it provides an interesting example, though, of one place where reality TV consistently goes wrong–and it’s not just reality TV.
A battle of the sexes is supposed to be fun, funny, and rile up the audience. Everyone can root for “their” team, and it’s a clear dividing line that we’re all used to in this society. You can even make an argument that in this modern, “post-feminist” world, the battle of the sexes is updated and consistent with feminist goals. Many of the shows that use a battle of the sexes have a strong female team, the women tend to be intelligent and kick ass, and the female viewership supposedly gets excited about this and ratings go up.
But something is seriously wrong with this picture.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about perspective this week.
It’s a topic I often hone in on, though in my everyday life I settle fairly firmly into my own shoes, like most people. Still, I remember the absolute eureka moment when I once learned about some particular African tribal practice (don’t ask me now what it was) and it occurred to me, some time late in my high school career, that I didn’t know shit about what it meant to look at a problem from a different perspective. I thought I knew difference, but in fact, the multitude of options of this world are always going to be beyond my grasp – and I like that. I like knowing that there’s always a new way of looking at things, a new way of understanding.
Wednesday night, I went to an MLK week discussion called “Open Mouth, Insert Foot: An Open Community Discussion on Hate.” Though a lot of what we talked about were things I’d already considered, I did hear some perspectives that were new to me. It had never occurred to me, for example, that when journalists always mention that the Postville immigration raids happened at the largest kosher meatpacking plant in the country, the decision to include the kosher part might be interpreted as anti-Semitic, even though Judaism is part of my (rather complex and syncretic) faith. As a panelist put it, “those guys weren’t Jewish crooks. They were crooks.”
Yesterday, I listened to an inspiring address by National Urban League President Marc Morial on the topic of Obama’s presidency and the new multi-racial America. He’s a fabulous speaker, and even in a lecture hall at the law school with maybe thirty people, he spoke as if he were addressing a crowd of hundreds. He made a lot of very poignant statements, but the one I copied down was this: “We as we look to the future cannot be restrained and straitjacketed by the analytical frameworks of the past.” A simple statement, yes, but immensely powerful. He spoke about how whites will soon no longer be the majority, but also about how minorities themselves are complex and diverse – more Africans and Caribbean blacks, for example, are coming to this country, and Latino and Asian populations are similarly made up of individuals from a variety of backgrounds, with a variety of interests, values, and concerns. He didn’t mention this, but I also thought about how ethnic minorities include women, and LGBT people, and linguistic and religious minorities. He spoke about how the society is not post-racial, but multi-racial, and we should embrace that. I wholeheartedly agree. I also would add that we should reach across lines, find commonalities and use those points to approach and learn about difference. For example, I have friends who are women of color whom I met because we share a lesbian sexuality. Though I’m learning how to do this in appropriate ways, I would like to use this connection to ask questions about these friends’ perspectives as a racial minority, and as women of color specifically, and I would like to learn what interests and concerns these friends have that are different from my own, both as someone who may be involved in policy and also just as an interested citizen.
Finally, I read this article by Robert Kagan for my European Union law class, and I found it very interesting (and readable whether you’re a legal person or not). Rather than race, it’s talking about the difference in perspectives based on position of power, comparing the United States and Europe, and it’s a way of looking at geopolitics that I hadn’t quite considered.
As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on any of this.
Why is it that some women who are sexually dominant assume that they have license to make everyone they meet do as they please, or that women who are sexually submissive are expected to defer and automatically be interested in them sexually? I’m not saying that all, or most, dominant women are like this, but I encountered one casually (not in a romantic/sexual context) and it really baffled me. My understanding is that kinky relationships are something to be negotiated, based on trust. So perhaps that sort of dynamic would evolve within a relationship, and I can respect that. What I don’t understand is someone who assumes that because they take on this role they should suddenly have everyone wait on them hand and foot. That’s called arrogance.
Throughout the coming year, I’ll probably be bouncing around thoughts on this space as I prepare for my Student Note with the Journal of Gender, Race, and Justice. Tonight, I have some observations in three areas.
The first deals directly with gay rights, and it was a bit of an emotional crisis I had the other night. I had been receiving some conflicting messages about the extent to which our Notes can pertain to an international issue. That’s since been cleared up, but at the time I was asking myself – can I write a domestic issue? Well I could write about a domestic issue. So I started doing some searches in legal databases for the issues to see if there was anything interesting I could write about. I’m not saying that there isn’t, but a lot of what was coming up were the same issues – marriage, adoption, IVF, the military, discrimination, hate crimes, immigration. All important topics that I believe in. So why do I find it hard to write about domestic issues?
It’s like putting a bandaid on a corpse. I believe, and I am a pessimist and sincerely hope that I’m wrong, but I believe that each of these issues, though solveable, will not help the situation in this country all that much. They will provide individual solutions for individual problems. People will be able to get married, or serve in the military. But this will not change the systemic hatred, intolerance, violence, ignorance, and annoyance towards LGBT Americans. The discrimination is persistent, it is terrible, and it is real. It may be more obvious in certain pockets of the country, but it exists everywhere. Everywhere, young LGBT Americans are terrified to come out to their peers. Adults experience the same fear, and with just reason. When I started thinking about the possibilities, it only made me upset. Of course LGBT people face discrimination all over the world, but this is so close to home. This is my own experiences, my communities, my adolescence. It’s hard to look in the eye. Like other minority groups, I think this struggle will take us hundreds of years, and it may never fully be over. That’s difficult to think about.
Another thought I had when thinking about my Note topic was how I wrote in my application for the Journal about the essentialization of identity. I’m wondering if I haven’t started to essentialize my own identity. The more out I become, the more I make myself a poster child for lesbianism. I’ve been able to embrace being the gay one in the room. I’m cool with that. But it becomes “my issue,” and other parts of who I am – female, Southern, etc – disappear into the background. It doesn’t change the fact that I want to write about an LGBT issue, but it does make me wonder what I’m missing by “zooming in” so much.
Finally, just a general observation about human rights. I’m seeing two complementary views of human rights that I hadn’t before, and I’d like to share them. One, which I’ve understood and held very dear for a while, is the concept that rights do not have to be enjoyed by anyone to exist. People say “but if human rights are universal, there must be very few, since people don’t really have most of the rights on the list.” My response is that they have the rights, they just aren’t recognized or enforced. African slaves had the fundamental human right to liberty throughout their enslavement in the United States, but that right was violated. Women have the right to be treated humanely and not discriminated against, but they do not fully enjoy that right in many places. It doesn’t mean they don’t have it. The second view, however, is an interesting one that I haven’t thought about as much. That view is that rights can come from practice, even where they are not recognized by the law. A scholar on Mexico, Speed (Sharon, I think?), makes this point in relation to the Zapatistas in Mexico. They took over their communities and implemented human rights, and then told the government that they didn’t need to negotiate for legislation protecting them. They had the right and so they were going to implement it themselves. Interesting food for thought.
ps – Lesbian Book Club folks, I’ve posted my thoughts on Stir-Fry here. Feel free to chime in if you’ve read it, and if you’re reading or planning to go at your own pace and post your thoughts whenever you get to it. No pressure. (Don’t forget to log-in to access the link).