Recent debates on whether Chaz Bono on Dancing with the Stars is an appropriate viewing experience for children exemplify a dangerous conservative trend in the LGBT movement. As in debate on same-sex marriage, queer activists find ourselves being ask to defend our simple humanity, backed into a corner where visible queerness is seen as a bad strategic move.
Again, I find myself using an example of a queer celebrity in the media to argue the necessity of a truly queer movement. The more time we spend arguing that we are normal, “just like” our opponents, the further we get from our policy priorities. When we allow hate groups to define the debate, they have already won.
How can we turn this disaster around? Refuse to engage by framing our position around being like our opponents. We are not like bigots, homophobes, and transmisogynists. We embrace diversity. We fight with creativity and humor. We shift the ground under gender stereotypes and we regularly fuck with patriarchy. We don’t accept conservative arguments that dehumanize us and challenge our right to occupy our space.
We’re here, we’re queer. Join us.
The Internet has been all a-flutter the past few days with an unlikely question: Should Bert & Ernie get married on Sesame Street?
There have been a number of responses, from those claiming that queer representation for young children is crucial and Sesame Street should use the puppet-roommates to get back to its slightly subversive roots, to those suggesting that queer human characters make more sense, to those who are concerned that gay marriage might ruin the innocence of Sesame Street. The powers that be have explained that the Sesame Street puppets are not human, and therefore, don’t marry.
I’m not too invested in the outcome of the Sesame Street question, but I do think this is a good time to look at queer characters, and more broadly, what TV and film should be doing from a queer feminist perspective. My suggestions fall into two major categories.
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.
A couple of months ago, I had a thought. I was brainstorming an idea for an urban fantasy novel, one that would feature a strong androgynous superhero whose jurisdiction was over things like stopping rapists, confronting misogynists, and making vulnerable populations feel safe. But as I was brainstorming this hero, who not only saves your life but has a penchant for cuddling and physical affection, I realized that one of the traits I was using was still “could kill you with hir little finger.”
That got me thinking about competency kinks and how they align with violence.
“Competency kink” basically just means that someone being really good at whatever zie does is a turn-on. Movies certainly capitalize on this. Sometimes it’s intellectual competence, or psychic ability, or something else unrelated to violence, but very often the protagonist is competent at killing, injuring, and/or self defense. Whether it’s competence with weaponry, martial arts, magic, or some other violence-related skill, filmmakers are very good at combining destructive prowess with sexiness. Think Christian Bale in Equilibrium. Think Keanu Reeves in the Matrix. Think of all the bad-ass chicks in films that are unexpectedly very skilled at physical combat. Kill Bill, anyone?
My Google Reader was all abuzz today about Ellen Degeneres and Portia Rossi on Oprah, so I decided to check out the appearance. Now I know Oprah’s kind of schmaltzy anyway, and I’m sure she had the best of intentions, but the episode kind of struck me the wrong way from the opening segment. Oprah talks about a photoshoot where Portia walked into the room and Ellen’s eyes lit up, and how beautiful that was, and how she said “Hey Baby,” and how cute that was, etc. It had a very animals-in-a-zoo feel to me. “Look at the lesbians in their natural habitat!” Yes, Ellen’s eyes lit up when Portia walked into a room, because it’s her wife. I’m just saying.
So we all know about the stupid commercials trying to convince women that our guilty pleasure is shampooing, eating yoghurt, jogging… but today I’ve been thinking about my own guilty pleasures, things that I enjoy and feel a bit guilty about because I’m a feminist, because I’m queer, because I’m supposedly not girly, because I’m intelligent, whatever. These are my guilty pleasures – what are yours?
- Britney Spears, especially “Womanizer” and “If You Seek Amy”
- That fucking Katy Perry song that I hate on principle but can’t get out of my head
- Justin Timberlake
- The Holiday
- The Bachelorette
- Silly YA novels
- Diana Gabaldon
So to be fair, most of the lesbians I’ve seen referring to this songs on their blog do so either sarcastically or at least in a mildly disapproving tone. But, that said, I’m a little annoyed at the bloggers who have heralded this song as some sort of a grand gesture or a sign that our culture has embraced homosexuality and doesn’t need legal change as a result. Okay, that particular reaction was only one blogger:
Anyway, for the record, I’m not turned on at all by the prospect of two girls making out–it’s not my scene–but I do love the fact that this is a big hit among teens, those voters-in-waiting. There is a reason for the generation gap in attitudes about same-sex marriage and LGBT rights: culture. Which is all a way of saying that “I Kissed a Girl” has gotten me thinking, yet again, about the intersection between law, culture, and norms. Can the law ever really change norms in a positive way? And if we were to compare their impact, can we really say that Lawrence v. Texas (outlawing the criminalization of same-sex sex), or Goodridge v. Dept of Public Health or In re Marriage Cases (Lockyer) (finding a constitutional right to same-sex marriage in Massachusetts and California) have had more of an impact on the everyday lives of LGBT folks (their interaction with employers, co-workers, relatives, neighbors, etc.) than Will & Grace, Ellen, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and “I Kissed a Girl”?
Oh God, I hope thats sarcasm. I don’t really think he thinks that pop culture makes legal change unnecessary, but I do think he views it as a positive step and a sign that young people accept homosexuality. Uh.
No, see, what it’s saying is that women can feel free to be “edgy” and “controversial” by making out with another woman when they’re drunk. “I hope my boyfriend doesn’t mind it,” tee hee, watch me be my own woman. I’m not saying that women shouldn’t experiment (though I stay far, far away from those who do) and I’m not saying that there’s necessarily anything wrong with straight girls kissing other straight girls or queer girls. What’s wrong is confusing this with acceptance of queer culture. There’s nothing queer about this situation. It’s only a baby step away from the traditional woman-as-object using lesbianism to titilate the men bit. Yes, Perry indicates that the subject in her song is doing something that her boyfriend doesn’t know about, but it’s still all about the boyfriend. It’s still clearly a straight woman experimenting. This has zippo to do with lesbian culture or lesbian acceptance.
Case in point? Let’s come up with a new song, “I Kissed a Boy,” by I don’t know, Justin Timberlake or someone. I don’t think it’d get the same popular reaction. The fact is, girls kissing is not seen as threatening to heteronormativity. This doesn’t mean that the country is ready to give lesbians rights. This doesn’t mean that if we take the kissing girls out of the structure Perry is using and put them in a long-term relationship that society will support them.
Ironically enough, this song came on in a bar Saturday night (why I never go to undergrad bars unless forced) while several men were trying very desperately to grope and/or rub against my ass. I decided to change the lyrics to “I fucked a girl and I like it – I think my girlfriend liked it, too.” I doubt it’ll catch on.
Forgive the radio silence over the past few days (and thank you all the new commenters for dropping by and saying hello!)
I’ve been thinking for a while of doing a post about butch and femme, but it turns out I have more to say than I thought on the subject, so I’d like to ruminate on that for a while.
Somewhat related, though, is a little sidebar about self-worth and appearance. Of course we all hear a lot about how the media portrays women as stick thin and gorgeous, how detrimental the narrowing of “acceptable” fashion is to young girls, etc. All completely true. But I think it’s interesting as someone who’s an adult and not a fashion follower by any stretch of the imagination to notice how societal norms affect my own body image.
I no longer have a problem with my weight, which is a minor miracle. Though I’ve always known intellectually that I was healthy and not overweight, I had a lot of trouble with it for a very long time. These days I find myself relatively happy with my figure, especially when I’m clothed, and at least not freaking out and crying or going on a diet immediately when I’m not. But then the old self-confidence zapper popped up where I least expected it.
I got a haircut yesterday. I actually am coming to terms with it, as I normally do after a day or so, and though I don’t love the style I’ll live with it until it grows out. But yesterday, it got worse and worse. Everytime I looked at the mirror, little doubts crept into my head, until I was imagining just how unattractive and undesireable I looked and had to push back tears. This is so strange to me, because I don’t value myself on how I look at all. It’s not that it’s androgynous – I like androgyny! I think it’s just that I left the realm of conventional beauty and some little inner me was saying “good job, loser. You’ll never get a date.”
Of course, that’s how society trains women to view themselves. Your self worth is measured by your ability to attract others. I’ve always felt good and better about myself when I felt like others were attracted to me. The silly thing, though, is that I’m not particularly wound up in love and sex right now. I’m not on the market for a relationship. If someone asked me out tomorrow, I might say yes, but if someone said “hey, let’s get serious right away!” I’d run in the other direction. So why on earth should my self-worth be tied to how likely my current appearance is to get me a date? Popular culture, really. I am not amused.
So when I get a chance, I enjoy watching video blogs on AfterEllen. Specifically, I like watching Brunch with Bridget Sunday mornings, because, well, she’s gorgeous and funny and she has gorgeous and funny people on and they chat about dykey stuff – what more could you want? Also, I watch Liz Feldman, though I really just get up to her weekly chat with Raimy, her gorgeous and very cool friend, and stop, because her schtick with the celebrities gets kind of old. But anyway, the point is, this week’s episode made me grin quite a lot when she said “gay marriage… or as I like to call it, <i>marriage</i>.” You can see the video here.
Also, quick question for those of you who do comment here – when I reply, do you get an e-mail or something? I never know proper commenting etiquette, but with Blogger I just reply to the comment on the same post because someone gets an e-mail letting them know. Is that how it works here on WordPress?