Feb 07 2014

Reality TV star slips off rope

The Savage Death heart bleeds for Rachel Frederickson, whose name was all over our news feed yesterday morning. I allude to the winning contestant on a TV reality show called The Biggest Loser.

The Biggest Loser is a weight loss competition.* You heard me right. Competitive weight loss is apparently a spectator sport now, because what could be more entertaining than watching a bunch of out-of-shape women with low self-esteem weeping in agony on an exercycle? So there’s that.

I was only able to watch about 6 minutes of this show before drifting off into a quiet reverie about nachos and world peace, but from what I recall, this is the set-up: contestants work out with hard-ass celebrity trainers at a “secluded ranch” for a number of months. They start out unfit and full of self-loathing, they end up buff and Beauty2K-compliant. Each week they compete in weight loss challenges. At the end of every episode there is a melodramatic public weigh-in, the numbers writ large on the screen. The contestant who has lost the least weight gets kicked off the ranch; screw you, ya lazy slob! Footage is edited for maximum schmaltz and pathos. Cast members intone scripted platitudes like “I believe in myself,” and “It’s been a healing journey” and “I’ve found who I am” and (my favorite) “I’ve revealed the heart of a warrior inside me.” In short, this is the most boring TV show ever made.

Or possibly — aside from Animal Hoarders — the most depressing, because, again: They’re vying for the title of “loser.” The winning loser gets a quarter of a million bucks. She is rewarded with fame and fortune for diminishing her physical self.

But, as we saw yesterday, if the winner doesn’t diminish herself precisely within certain unwritten and ever-changing parameters, she gets publicly shamed. The reason Frederickson was all over the internet (they were even yakking about it on NPR) is that at the big season finale reveal she shocked viewers by being way skinnier than the last time she’d weighed in. Whereupon it was universally adjudged by social media surveillors that she’d “gone too far.” Twitter, that preeminent medical authority, diagnosed her as anorexic. According to viewers, she’d become “unhealthy.” Which is, you know, criminal.

This poor woman, who had been so horrified by her own body that she erased fully 60% of it in pursuit of public redemption, instead became the recipient of a public excoriation. Like every other member of the sex class since the dawn of time, she’d somehow got it wrong. She’d slipped off the rope.

I allude to the impossible femininity tightrope upon which all women are constrained to do the butt-dance 24/7. We are required to demonstrate our degree of patriarchy-compliance through our constant struggle for the feminine ideal. Every facet of our behavior must be balanced just so. We can’t be dumb, but neither can we be intellectuals. We have to be sexy, but we can’t be slutty. We have to be child-like, but we have to raise children. We should be fun, but we can’t seem easy. We have to be demure, but not frigid (i.e. we can’t say yes, but we can’t say no). We have to obsess about our appearance, but we have to make it look like we don’t, lest we seem vain or crazy or pathetic.

The joke’s on us, though. The sweet spot, where all these stupid attributes intersect at some apex of feminine perfection, it doesn’t exist! The standards change from one minute to the next. The struggle is merely a diversion, imposed by the Global Accords Governing Fair Use of Women, the better to keep us under control.

As Biggest Loser Rachel Frederickson can no doubt attest, the struggle for femininity entails, among all these other self-destructive practices, a perpetual anxiety over body weight. We can’t be too fat because it’s “unhealthy,” and we can’t be too thin because that’s unhealthy too.

Note that in our enpornulated, fat-averse culture, “unhealthy” is merely a passive-aggressive, concern-troll way of saying “insufficiently fuckable.”

A woman’s Prime Directive is to endeavor at all times and at all costs to maintain fuckability.** Fuckability, as we have seen, is achieved through the performance of femininity. It’s all that really matters. Whether a woman is truly healthy is of no real concern to anyone. If society really gave a crap about women’s health, it would abolish femininity tootsweet. Femininity kills!

These fans of The Biggest Loser who are shaming Frederickson for what they perceive to be a fatal breach of health etiquette, if they really gave a crap about her health, why would they vilify her? If, as they believe, she is in some way “unhealthy,” she’s still a human being, and all human beings deserve compassion. But they don’t care about her health. They’re merely incensed that she made herself less fuckable.


* The actual point of the show is to sell Biggest Loser fitness DVDs, Biggest Loser Resort Fitness Vacations (sponsored by Sunkist), Biggest Loser Bootcamp 8-week programs, Biggest Loser Cuisine (slogan “It’s Easy To Be Good”) available at a Costco near you, and a buttload of other weight loss products.

** Once a woman ages out of fuckability, her job shifts; she must now try to be as invisible as possible, to quit cluttering up the landscape with her dessicated old uselessness


Feb 05 2014

Actual comedy

Even if you’ve seen Tig Notaro’s Taylor Dayne bit, you need to see it again. No question.

Feb 04 2014

Fuck Jerry Seinfeld, too.

My sibling Tidy is a big old Seinfeld fan. A few months ago she pestered me into watching a few episodes of his web series “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.” In this series, Seinfeld drives a guest comedian out for coffee. It is as boring as it sounds.

Right off the bat I wasn’t feelin it on accounta the first 28 minutes or so of each episode is Jerry going off about the awesomeness of the zillion-dollar classic car he’s driving. It’s a different car every time. He babbles on and on about the gold-plated twin axlerods and the triple McSorley gasket-valve sump-plugs in his one-of-a-kind 1962 Jagoffi 1000 SUX. This makes him sound like a total asshole.

Then it’s on to the product placement. He’s shilling for a car manufacturer, apparently. Hey, check out this new Acura! That’s a damn fine sedan!

Then he drives the 1962 Jagoffi 1000 SUX over to pick up some white dude — Jay Leno or Louis CK — and they go to some restaurant and have a carefully edited extempore conversation, after noticing the awesome Acura parked right out front.

I am an advanced patriarchy blamer, so I divined pretty quick that, except for inveterate misogynist Chris Rock and fart-jokist Sarah Silverman, the guest comedians in cars getting coffee are all white dudes. All this whitedudeitude rang a bell, so I cast my mind back through the mists of time, to the popular 90s sitcom that put Seinfeld in a position to afford all those 1962 Jagoffis. Every episode, I recalled, was dripping, not just with regular misogyny, but with really mean-spirited misogyny. And the only black character was the buffoonish lawyer Jackie Chiles.

I perceived a sexist, honky-centric trend. I was not alone, it turns out. “What’s the deal with your apparent disregard for diversity, Jerry?” somebody on TV asked him yesterday. Here is how Seinfeld responded:

“People think it’s the census or something,” Seinfeld said of the assertion that all pop culture should accurately reflect society. “This has gotta represent the actual pie chart of America? Who cares? Funny is the world that I live in. You’re funny, I’m interested. You’re not funny, I’m not interested. I have no interest in gender or race or anything like that.

Seinfeld went on to say that approaching comedy through the lens of race or gender or sexuality are [sic] “anti-comedy.” “It’s more about PC nonsense than ‘Are you making us laugh or not?’” he said.”

OK, look. When rich white dude comedians “have no interest in gender or race or anything like that,” what they’re really saying is that they’re assholes. Their rich white dudeliness permits them to ignore their own participation in oppression so they can continue to cash in. Seinfeld seems to think that, in his “funny world” where jokes about dating virgins and deporting immigrants are hi-fucking-larious, race and gender are antithetical to comedy.

But he is deluded; what is actually antithetical to comedy is being a rich white dude. Only dickheads make fun of the oppressed, and when you’re wealthy and powerful, pretty much everybody is more oppressed than you are. This shrinks up the joke-butt pool pretty quick. When you’re on top of the world, who or what are you gonna make fun of without coming off as a complete tool? Will you complain about the food in first class? Will you put a bumper sticker on your Ferrari that says “My Other Car Is A Rolls”? You can always say something mean about Kim Kardashian or Honey Boo-Boo I guess; enpornulated women and hillbillies are always fair game, right?

So. Aside from Chris Rock and Sarah Silverman, apparently nobody on the planet except a lot of white guys is funny enough to sell Acuras with washed-up ham Jerry Seinfeld in a Jagoffi.

What a dick.

Feb 03 2014

Spleenvent Sunday (a day late): Anti-Pantyites Unite!

My New Year Resolution was “blog, ya twit!” Consequently, I’m making a smallish bit of an effort to get up offa that thang and resume scribbling, with increased frequency, the odd trenchant remark and/or pithy observation on Our Busy Sexist Society. For example, many blamers appear to share my aversion to the word “panties.” This is important work that I do!

Of course, I’m already a failure in the daily blogging department. I forgot to write a post yesterday and I don’t have time to write one today. I guess we might as well have a Spleenvent. By which I mean “open thread.”

Go ahead. Blurt it.

I’ll start:

Fuck Woody Allen. I have never understood, ever in my entire life, why everybody is so fucking in love with Woody fucking Allen. Oh yes, I used to pretend to love him back in my pre-Savage Death Island funfeminist poseur days. I’ve seen most of his movies up to the 90’s, and I’m here to tell you: the dude is a pig of the first water. I wish I could un-see them.

So I was pissed off and saddened — but not, alas, surprised — when I read his daughter Dylan Farrow’s open letter outing him as an abuser and calling out the complicit silence of his fawning Hollywood collaborators. Like blamer Josquin said in yesterday’s comments, I totally believe her.

Feb 01 2014

“That can’t be sexual assault because it’s normal”

When I started I Blame the Patriarchy back in 2004, the idea was that I would out the gazillions of secret little misogynies hiding in plain sight in every woman’s life, and that, once revealed, they would all wither and die under the burning light of scrutiny, and women everywhere would be free at last.

Well, you can see for yourself how that turned out.

Fortunately, Laura Bates of the Everyday Sexism Project is having somewhat more success. She’s one of our favorite young feminist activists here at Spinster HQ. If you haven’t seen it yet, check out her TED talk on the origins of the project. She discusses debunking the liberaldude myth that “women are equal now more or less,” the torrential outpouring of rape threats she received as a result, how the project eventually began to inspire women to stand up to harassment, and how it led to real social change. A tear of inspirationalized joy will spring to your jaundiced eye.

Speaking of Laura Bates and online abuse, what gives with these “Spotted” Facebook pages about which Bates writes in the Guardian? Since Facebook suspended my account over a year ago (“Twisty Faster,” they cleverly figured out, is not my real name), and since I haven’t been a college student since the 80s, I have been pleasantly out of touch with the latest FB youth culture trends. This one sounds pretty ghastly:

“To the dirty skank… for gods sake buy some new leggings!! jesus christ! i can see your minge!” [sic] – ‘Spotted: Swansea University Campus’ (2407 likes).

These are the kind of comments that proliferate on university “Spotted” pages – Facebook pages encouraging students to write in with comments and messages about their peers, which are published anonymously by page administrators. […] Many of the pages veer into heavily sexualised and offensive comments about students’ appearance and sexuality, and female students are targeted with particularly misogynistic comments.

?“To the stuck up slut who looked at me as if I’d just slipped a finger up her grandma…” –‘Spotted: University of Portsmouth Library’ (7460 likes).

Some posts include images, seemingly uploaded without the subjects’ knowledge or consent. A current post on the ‘Spotted: University of Essex’ page (3955 likes) shows a young woman sitting at a computer, apparently unaware of the fact that her underwear is exposed above the waistband of her trousers, or of the fact that she is being photographed from behind. The caption on the photograph reads: “Nice bit a crack in the reading room.” [sic]

As a middle-aged crone who used to write English papers on a Smith-Corona, I have a hard time imagining how the modern woman of tender years manages to navigate the hostile waters of this ceaseless, judgey, hateful peer surveillance. The creep factor is off the charts.

I’m not saying this kind of thing didn’t have non-digital analogs back in the day. In high school and at college I was abused, mocked, and harassed like every other girl trying to mind her own beeswax. But nowadays the size of the audience, and the potential horror, is orders of magnitude more ginormous. When some asshole groped me at a frat party in 1977, maybe he told 5 of his idiot friends, but it was inconceivable that 7460 spiteful strangers would ever see a photo of my butt — complete with disparaging commentary — and “like” it.

My nieces are 8 and 10. I want to roll them up in bubble wrap. The thought of some cretinous teen jagoff posting stealth-shots of them on Facebook makes my lobe boil.

Since men perpetually insist that boys will be boys and are hardwired to engage in criminal behavior, the apparent solution would be to ship them all off to a charm school planet— or prison — until they turn 40 or so. The prison planet would have all the amenities, except no internet connection. Can you imagine an internet with no dudes? I can’t! The notion that I could go a whole day without receiving a rape threat, or a description of my physical hideousness, melts my processors. So far today I’ve gotten 3 harassing comminiques, like this one:

This is so funny. Ya’ll beardy bitches or what? :-)?Anyway, keep that dried up old prune of a pussy.

And 2 mansplains, like this one:

As a philosopher, I find the foundational roots of patriarchy theory to be severely lacking and the oppressor-oppressed dialectic to be far too simple a model to apply to such a complex issue, especially in creating essentially a warring chasm between the sexes – psychologically damaging to say the very least! There needs to be a transcendency [sic] of the Marxist dialectic here and an understanding of a rather different hierarchy – hierarchies that are immediately present as a result of the human condition and the social fabric of existence, if you will. I very much contest the notions of power and liberation in the feminist movement – power is a measure of control over one’s own life, and their ascendency towards self-actualization (and accountability also, I would argue), rather than an exertion of will over other people, in for example, the corporate or governmental spheres (with the employer-employed relationship or the Hegelian master-slave dialectic) [… 5 long paragraphs about Heidegger and “dialectics” and of course postmodernism, and finally an apology if he’s coming off as too aggressive, but he has his own model of Western feminism blah blah blah …]

And it’s only 8:00 AM.

I know it’s wrong, but I want to punch that “philospher” in the neck even more than I do the 4chan dickhead.

Jan 31 2014

The ensloganed crotch

Consent underwearConsent underwear: it was a pretty amusing idea when it was a consciousness-raising prank perpetrated by arty feminist activist group FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture. The fake Victoria’s Secret website they created purported to hawk undies emblazoned with anti-rape slogans. Everyone on Facebook and Twitter thought it was real for a little while, and the outpouring of support was huge.

This prank was pretty nice, because the idea that a misogynormous corporate purveyor of rape culture like Victoria’s Secret should actually be on women’s side for a change, using its far-reaching brand recognition to (putatively) advance human rights instead of exclusively profiteering on women’s oppression, was nothing short of astonishing. FORCE’s prank parlayed the popularity of a traditionally antifeminist brand into a crap-ton of publicity for the feminist cause of consent awareness. Demand for the non-existent underwear — and conversations about consent — skyrocketed. Success!

Of course, as we are all now aware, Victoria’s Secret not only sells no such thing, the company continues to actively promote rape culture with both its porn-infused line of objectification-wear and its pukeceous, overhyped dude-fantasy TV “fashion show.” What a let-down, right? So, Amulya Sanagavarapu, a Canadian college student who believes that, to balance things out, the world needs actual real-life thongs printed with “NO MEANS NO,” has initiated a Kickstarter campaign to produce her own version of the hypothetical FORCE product.

[Just a little sidebar here: when did the female crotch turn into a sloganizable commodity? A hundred and forty-seven years ago, when I was someone whose undies were, with any frequency, in a position to be scrutinized by a second party, the days of the week scrawled in laundry marker were about the only words likely to be legible thereupon. Furthermore, the second party would likely have been too drunk to read’em.]

Meanwhile, from an article at Think Progress:

Sanagavarapu, whose Kickstarter project is called “Feminist Style,” is ultimately interested in a larger effort to subvert the mainstream messages in popular advertising. She points out that most companies rely on objectifying and sexualizing women in order to sell their products, and there’s a big opportunity for feminists to provide alternate options to challenge the status quo. In a video to promote her new effort, Sanagavarapu describes the idea as “leveraging the consumerist aspects of our society to create social change.”

Sanagavarapu’s Kickstarter page says that she will use the proceeds from the sale of the feminist panties (is it just me, or is “panties” a creepy word?) to buy “feminist advertising.” This, in turn, will generate more consent-panties sales, which will generate more consent-panties, then more advertising, then back to more panties, and so forth. It remains to be seen if, or for how long, consent-panties can support this cycle of feminist capitalism.

Feminist capitalism! Dear lord.

I don’t wish to be overly critical. There certainly are worse messages Sanagavarapu could be trying to sell. Besides, anytime a gal can scrape out a living in this world without actively slut-shaming anyone she totally gets a hell-yeah from Savage Death Island. As for the product’s potential to effect social change, I suppose it isn’t beyond the realm of possibility that a “CONSENT IS BOOTYFUL” bikini could, given a sufficiently receptive audience, provoke a contemplative interlude at a traditionally non-contemplative moment, or at the very least, introduce a bit of political levity into an otherwise unremarkable PBR-fueled hookup. However, as a world-renowned expert on political lingerie, I posit that the chief value in donning a consent thong would be the garment’s modest potential to reinforce within the wearer a certain sense of don’t-fuck-with-me personal sovereignty.

On the other hand, it seems unlikely that a line of consent-themed underwear marketed for profit by an unknown college student could have quite the cachet of the FORCE prank. The beauty of the original prank was its Victoria’s Secret connection and the ensuing hilarious, improbable fantasy: what if this large, influential company suddenly decided to give up misogyny? But without the conceptual artsiness of the improbable corporate juxtaposition, the underwear itself becomes kind of secondary and banal, particularly when you consider that a lot of it looks to be the same old skimpy, lacy, thongy knickers specifically designed to emulate an enpornulated heteronormative aesthetic. “Leveraging consumerism” to market feminism as a Porn2K-compliant, girlie lifestyle accessory simply is, at its core, problematic. Not entirely the “feminist alternative” to Victoria’s Secret the designer seems to be going for.

What I’m trying to say, in my usual, dependent-clausical way, is this: on the Patriarch-O-Meter this consent underwear registers inoffensive-to-benign,* but shopping is not, and should not be mistaken for, feminist activism.

Consent thong, Savage Death Island-style

Consent thong, Savage Death Island-style

Another sidebar: I don’t know what “real” feminist underwear would look like, so don’t even ask me. I have struggled for years with the concept of gender-, sex-, class-, and politically-neutral clothing, but it turns out that every garment ever invented either alludes to or connotes or evokes or specifies the wearer’s position on one or more of the aforementioned continua (continuums?). Flowing robes were a candidate for a while, but even those will elicit unintended reactions from people who mistake you for a New Age navel-gazing doofus or who are cheesed-off that you seem to be coopting some ancient tribal tradition or other for your own culturally tone-deaf honky ends. Just another little data point supporting the thesis that you cannot opt out of patriarchy. Participation is compulsory, and it starts with your knickers.

Oh, and remember: stopping rape requires men to stop raping, not women to wear slogans on their crotches.

* Assuming it isn’t made by indentured slave women in a Bangladeshi firetrap or similar; I was unable to determine the product’s sweatshop status from the website.

Consent underwear pic from Feminist Style Kickstarter page.
“I will cut you” boxers from the author’s private collection.


Jan 29 2014

Done with Downton

In yesterday’s comments blamer Lab Rat mentioned that she’d given up on Downton Abbey owing to Season 4’s now infamously sudden and disturbing rape story line.

I’m with you, sister. Stinkin crapulence!

But let’s face it: even before Downton writer Julian Fellowes went over to the Dark Side with his decision to rape the virtuous, incorrupt, lovable Anna character for no philosophically justifiable reason whatsoever, there was no way that that show was ever gonna pass muster by even the most lax standards of feminist critique. I never actively Bechdel-ed it, but I think it’s safe to assume that when the whole thrust of a plot is “which dashing white male aristocrat will Lady Mary hook up with and what will she be wearing when she does it?” you aren’t going to see too many conversations between the ladies on the subject of string theory.

The feminist issues with Downton are many and obvious. Other problematic issues include, but are not limited to:

The only gay character is the show’s main villain. You get the sense that his gayness is supposed to add an extra little fillip of depravity to his malicious knavery.

The only person of color is an exotic, passion-crazed profligate who corrupts Lady Mary and is promptly killed off. You get the sense that his skin color is supposed to add an extra little filip of depravity to his malicious knavery.

Disability (in the Mr Bates character) is played for pity and pathos. You get the sense that his limp is supposed to add an extra little fillip of poignancy to his sterling heroicism.

A pattern of filliping exploitation emerges.

Also, they killed off the only feminist character, Sybil (death by childbirth stands alone without equal in the canon of sentimental lady-deaths: take that, you feminist!). Also, relying heavily on tired stereotypes — the jolly ginger cook (Mrs Patmore), the maternal spinster chatelaine (Mrs Hughes), the loyal family retainer (Carson) — Downton glorifies the myth of the benevolent master/contented menial as it has never been glorified before. And, inexplicably, there are scenes without Maggie Smith in them.

I’m not gonna lie. At the beginning of Downton Abbey I shut off the old obstreperal lobe and absorbed the first couple of seasons with the blind, uncritical adoration of a childhood Upstairs, Downstairs fan. Downton was lush, mindless, and pretty. And, OK, fine, I’m not too proud to admit it: those accents were music to the ears of this lifelong Anglophiliac.

I know, I know. I cannot easily explain why any British accent — no matter what its geographical or class-ical origins — strikes an aunt as more mellifluous than its American counterpart. Put it down to a kind of romantic disease or mental deficiency that, to my jaundiced ear, a British accent confers absolute authority upon the speaker and a kind of poetical interestingness upon the otherwise boring shit she is spaking. It’s not just me, either. Accent-fascination afflicts idiot Americans in droves. Advertisers are now using more Brits as pitchmen than ever before. There’s the Cockney lizard in the Geico commercials. Another Brit on TV is selling toilet paper in — I kid you not — a “let’s talk about your bum” campaign. She makes wiping your ass sound like the most magical pursuit a mortal could ever contemplate. An American dude in another ad I saw recently says, “if you don’t believe me, take it from this English guy drinking tea.” Cut to a pasty white dude in a tweed jacket who says, in a fake public school accent, “Product X is best or I don’t have a dry sense of humo[u]r!” Or words to that effect. I was like, yep, it kind of is more convincing when it comes through a stiff upper lip. I still didn’t want to switch to his phone company, though. The only torture more horrific than switching phone companies is going to the Whole Foods at 5th and Lamar on a Saturday.

So — back at Downton Abbey — it isn’t an excuse for my ethical lapse in giving the show a pass, but the whole accent thing (and of course Dame Maggie) may explain why an otherwise right-thinking aunt would turn a blind eye to the classist, sexist, genderist, racist, and stupidist plot lines of this mediocre soap opera for as long as she did.

Well, no more! I draw the line at the gratuitous raped-woman-as-plot-device. You get the sense that rapedness is supposed to add a little fillip of titillational suffering to the faithful servitor’s otherwise waning story arc.

Fellowes has defended the raped woman plot line by suggesting that such a “difficult” story can “take you to a helpful place in terms of self-analysis.” He appears to suggest that I should be deriving some kind of profound therapeutic value from Downton’s rape dramatization. But I wonder, what “helpful place” does he imagine I can get to from having watched a sympathetic character with whom I totally identify suffer a sudden, brutal sexual assault? Is the usual rage and revulsion elicited by the casual exploitation of rape-as-entertainment, not to mention the concomitant elicitation of shameful feelings of real-life powerlessness, supposed to be good for me now?

Fellowes appears to believe that he is entitled to sensitivity points because the rape itself is not depicted. No, you just see the rapist hitting Anna in the head and dragging her off, screaming, to a closet, and then you vividly hear the whole thing, and then you see her afterward all messed up, and then you’re like, oh mang, now there’s gonna be this whole shame thing with Mr Bates and she’ll have to keep this horrible secret and although you know in advance that in the end she’ll come through it OK with her unsinkable British resolve, who the hell wants to endure all that upsetting crap? The last thing an internet feminist feels like watching, after a depressing-ass day dealing with the copious sexisms afflicting the real world, is another goddam graphic rape presented in the context of entertainment. If it were, which it never is, there are countless rape-as-entertainment shows already on offer. Those shows don’t lie to you, at least. You know up front that Law & Order SVU is about raped women and sicko violence; unlike Downton Abbey, it doesn’t purport to be a harmless soap opera and then turn around and, out of the blue, violate you for no reason.

The job of a fluffy, meaningless divertissement like Downton Abbey is not to suddenly start pretending to take up an enlightened position on the global humanitarian crisis that is violence against women, or trying to pass off exploitation as some kind of philosophical gift to society. Its job is to add an extra little fillip of bland, rape-free confectionery to an aunt’s horse-manure-filled life.

Jan 27 2014

The Arm (also, the art of selective disregard as a means of intellectual survival in a hostile society)

Hopefully* the other night at 3 AM you did not, while in the throes of a nuclear hot flash, accidentally tune to the Turner Classic Movies channel. If you did, I pity you, for with your bloodshot eyes you saw an Irene Dunne/Charles Bickford movie from about 1842 and were once again reminded why American culture makes you want to rip your own head off.

I allude to pre-code rags-to-riches melodrama No Other Woman, the story of a Joe Sixpack steel worker, his saintly paragon of a wife, and all the trouble that is heaped upon them by wife’s modest aspirations beyond her station. Owing to Dunne’s cleverness the couple unexpectedly make a pile of dough, whereupon Bickford immediately starts drinking like a fish and cheating on Dunne with a gold-digging “exotic blonde.” Bickford’s behavior is very bad indeed, but ultimately the long-suffering Dunne’s endless capacity for abuse shows him the error of his ways. She takes him back at the end; after so much profligacy the poor guy needs a little TLC.

What do you care about some crap B-movie from the 30s? Not much, except possibly for a couple of rape-culture-proliferation details: one, No Other Woman contains an example of that gag-a-mag misogynist plot device, the assault-embrace; and two, TCM promotes it (and every other “classic” sexist/racist/heteronormative film they show, which is every film they show) as fluffy entertainment without critique or analysis of any kind, thereby contributing to the 21st-century proliferation of rape culture.

I’ll get to the sweepingly generalized impugnment of globally sanctioned misogyny in a sec, but first, take a gander at the assault-embrace trope as it appears in No Other Woman.

Like all female characters used to glorify the Global Accords Governing Fair Use of Women, working-class Irene Dunne displays a spunky bit of personal autonomy at the beginning of No Other Woman. This is so she can be properly bitchslapped by the rest of the movie. Her little spark of humanity is quickly extinguished when Bickford, her thickneck galoot of a fiancé, domesticates her with his animal magnetism. He does this by forcing her into an embrace to which — because Hollywood is synonymous with rape culture, and rape culture insists that women want to be raped — she ultimately submits with great enthusiasm. Dunne’s inherent feminine weakness for Bickford’s brute force plays out according to the standard model of 20th century heterosexual relationships: sexual assault as an expression of romantic love.

An indispensable mainstay of all filmic melodrama of the 20th century, the assault-embrace scene — by which I mean, the moment at which the woman gets her humanity dominated out of her by a representative of the male supremacist class (and likes it, goddammit) — is filmed in exactly the same way every time:

Dude grabs woman by the wrist. Woman protests “you’re hurting me.” Dude muscles her into position and starts sucking her face.

Cue the Arm.

Scarlett O'Hara demonstrates the art of the submissive arm

Scarlett O’Hara demonstrates the art of the submissive arm

The Savage Death Island Institute for Dudelionormative Cinematic Studies has found that the primary requirement for 20th century Hollywood ingenues, apart from Nordic genetics, was an arm that could, all on its own, cogently express sexy, feminine submission. During the forced kiss we usually can’t see her dude-encrusted face, so we have to gauge her level of assimilation by the attitude of the arm. At first she stiffens it against the autonomy-sucking assailant, but after a titillating moment of resistance, it relaxes into a lily-white noodle of compliance. It’s as if all her humanity were contained in the muscles of that arm, and now that he has successfully degraded her, all she can do is drape languidly around his neck like a limp cravat.**

“No” means “yes.”

“I hate you” means “I love you.”


Colonel Kong rides the giant dick of death to Mutual Assured Destruction

Colonel Kong rides the giant dick of death to Mutual Assured Destruction

Longtime readers are no strangers to my tumultuous and ambivalent relationship with Turner Classic Movies.*** The agonizing predicament of the radical feminist film enthusiast is that pretty much the entire canon of cinematic oeuvres she grudgingly admires (for technique-y reasons relating to Truth & Beauty) she must simultaneously dismiss (for political reasons relating to the ceaseless promotion of the Global Accords Governing Fair Use of Women).

“Turn if off!” you say. “Why torture yourself?”

But it’s no use just not watching the movies. The cognitive dissonance elicited in the feminist film buff by Hollywood’s exaltation of misogyny is not unique to the cinema/buff relationship. It isn’t just cinema, but the entirety of human culture and society, including all the arts, sciences, governments, media, traditions, and religions, that ceaselessly promotes rape culture. Thus, movie fan or no, a high-grade cognitive dissonance is a permanent and uninterrupted fact of life for all women. You may not be a film buff, but certainly you are a life buff. Unlike TV, you can’t just turn universal patriarchy off. There’s no opt-out because there’s nowhere to opt out to. Somehow, you have to try to scrape up the occasional a speck of joy or pleasure or whatnot from within the context of oppression.

So, because it is impossible to exist outside the culture that hates you, you learn, after a time, how to cope: denial, appeasement, compartmentalization, or, as in the following example, selective disregard. In order to appreciate, say, dude-directed Dr Strangelove, you may selectively admire the set designer’s nod to German expressionism, the hand-held cinéma vérité sequences, the gritty realism of the B-52 scenes, and the masterful comedic treatment of Cold War mutual-assured-destruction angst. But then you have to selectively ignore shit left and right. You have to ignore that the only woman in the film is a bikinied sexbot, literally a porn model. You have to ignore that disability is portrayed as evil. You have to ignore that this is a whitey film about a manly subject, full of white men doing manly shit, intended for an audience of white men who think white men are awesome. You also have to ignore that the whole thing — from the opening sequence where the planes are schtupping, to the climax where Slim Pickens sprouts an H-bomb where his dick used to be, to the dudesex fantasy denouement — is basically just Kubrick whacking off, cracking a big fat 95-minute dirty joke.

By the way, the argument that, because Strangelove is satire, it gets a pass? Nope. In a patriarchy, if the sex class is the butt of the satirical joke, the satire is misogynist. And if the American universe were not unequivocally misogynist, the following exchange between George C Scott and Peter Sellers, describing Strangelove’s post-apocalyptic mineshaft fantasy, would not be funny.

Doctor, you mentioned the ratio of ten women to each man. Now, wouldn’t that necessitate the abandonment of the so-called monogamous sexual relationship, I mean, as far as men were concerned?

Regrettably, yes. But it is, you know, a sacrifice required for the future of the human race. I hasten to add that since each man will be required to do prodigious … service along these lines, the women will have to be selected for their sexual characteristics, which will have to be of a highly stimulating nature.

So, for women, watching famous movies (or reading famous novels, or looking at famous paintings, or walking to the — in short, appreciating critically-acclaimed “culture” in any way whatsoever) is an exercise in anger management, rationalization, and self-loathing.****

Meanwhile, back to 3 AM and my encounter with No Other Woman: there are only so many times an aunt can, without blowing a lobe, watch perfectly interesting leading women in these classic films suddenly morph into dishrags as they nobly sacrifice their humanity to the tyranny of some dickhead lug for the sake of patriarchal mores. Just once, after a lifetime of ingesting this dehumanizing, sexist, patriarchy-affirming cock-schlock, it would be so gratifying to see an attempted assault-embrace scene end with the woman using her humanity-arm to sock that rapey-ass dude in the neck and off she goes to pursue a successful career as an astrophysicist. And her wardrobe is sweatpants.

In Hollywood, a female lead in sweatpants would normally portend a Pygmalion plot where the lonely tomboy depressive can only find happiness after she gets a femininity makeover and lands a dude who suddenly finds her interesting now that she’s conventionally hottt. Not in my movie! In my movie there is no dude love interest for whom she must be tamed into a delicate fuck-flower; she is still in sweats at the end. Neither are there any scenes where a serial killer puts her in a wet, ripped T-shirt and chains her by the wrists in an abandoned factory. Pregnancy isn’t a plot device, either. In fact, the rest of this movie is about her discovery of a distant planet where the atmosphere contains an awesome radioactive element that turns Y chromosomes into X chromosomes. Eluding government special ops cylons who try to stop her, she leads a crack team of sweatpant-wearin’ rogue spaceladies on a mission to collect the element, bring it back to Earth, and resolve the War Between the Sexes once and for all!


* “Hopefully,” for you hidebound old linguistic purists, is the modern, declunkified way that people under 50 now express sanguinitude. Try it!

** Another creepy aspect of the classic submission pose is the broken-neck-lookin’ angle of the head. Chiropractic was invented to address the chronic cricks of subdued females.

*** If you’ve never felt moved to tune in to TCM, the deal is, it’s the only commercial-free channel on basic cable, and it runs mostly old mainstream Hollywood movies, from turn-of-the-century silents to Jaws, all day and all night. In the evenings the films are introduced by avuncular Hollywood fanboy Robert Osborne, whose focus leans more toward gossipy details about the stars than toward critical analysis. Maddeningly, he has no interest whatsoever in camera angles or editing or any of the arty stuff that makes film truly interesting.

**** Women are occasionally allowed to make films, but I reveal no secrets when I say that in its 85-year history, only one woman has ever won an Academy Award for Best Director. She is Kathryn Bigelow, who made The Hurt Locker, a movie about attractive young white women fighting with each other at a girly wedding. No wait, I’m thinking of the one with the knee-slapping scene where a woman in a wedding dress has atomic diarrhea in a public street. The Hurt Locker is the tasteful, artistic one about a dude who is addicted to war.

Either way, amirite?


Oct 12 2013

Internet porn: is there any problem it can’t solve?

Yay internet porn! says Matthew Yglesias. It’s solving a pesky social problem, that of how to facilitate the displacement of poor people from their seedy neighborhoods by an influx of glowing, poverty-averse yuppies.

How does internet porn do that? Well, apparently, now that American disgust-o-pervs can beat off to women’s degradation via WiFi whenever and wherever the fancy strikes, the seedy urban porn theater of yore is on the decline. That’s because the only clientele remaining are pervs too poor to afford an internet connection, so the theaters are shutting down. Whither goeth the smut parlors, so goeth the impecunious and unsightly letch-a-holics, leading to rising property values in gentrifiable neighborhoods and, according to Yglesias, “cleaning up America’s cities.”

“Many people do not want to live near a porn theater,” Yglesias asserts. What he actually means is that many people don’t want to live near a porn theater that’s open to the public. Many people, if the stats are to be believed and 276.9% of all internet traffic really is porn-related, have no problem whatsoever turning their laptops into personal porn theaters and addressing their throbbing incontinence privately.

Yglesias doesn’t delve into it, but the reason people don’t want to live near porn theaters is that, on some level, they are at least dimly aware that pornography is gross, and that the gross people who are attracted to it are not their sort of people. Paradoxically, they believe this even if they are themselves gross porn consumers. I base that last assertion on the fact that, except for my mother, I’ve never met anyone who hasn’t consumed porn, yet at the same time I’ve hardly ever met anyone who would describe himself as “gross.” Which leads to a corollary hypothesis: most people have an unrealistic and inaccurate sense of their own personal grossness.

But that’s another post.

Yglesias omits to comment on the following aspect of the Internetian democratization of porn access: that, by popular demand, porn — that is, the graphic sexification of women’s oppression — has been thoroughly normalized as a legitimate hobby. Its damaging effects are downplayed if not contravened outright, its detractors vilified as prudes and pearl-clutchers. Porn is normal.

How normal? Pretty goddam normal, according to the Huffington Post. And, as the news site of record for sideboob, they oughta know. Says HuffPo, “the Internet is for porn. Everybody knows that,” a claim they back up with a helpful infographic entitled “Everyone You Know Watches Porn.”

According to this infographic, 70% of men and 30% of women use internet porn, they visit porn sites an average of 7.5 times a month for an average of 12 minutes at a time, everyone looks at porn at work, etc. Then it segues into sex advice, helpfully proposing porn as a therapeutic remedy for the deplorable state of the female orgasm with respect to vaginal intercourse. A spot of hottt XXX action is all that’s needed to put a recalcitrant gal in the mood.

It turns out that the infographic is actually an advertisement for an internet porn site (claiming “legit” statistics that I cannot verify because I can’t read its teeny-tiny sources list). It appears to be an attempt to reassure the furtive, self-loathing porn consumer that fetishizing women’s oppression, however sketchy it may sort of vaguely feel, is in fact perfectly ordinary, healthy behavior, which these “legit” statistics prove. The overwhelming majority of the populace gets off on watching the oppression of low-status sex drones, therefore there can’t be anything wrong with it. Everyone’s in on porn culture! “It’s human nature,” the porn site ad chides. “We’re beings, not robots. Grow the f!*#k up.”

Ironically, the pornmongers, who make their money off fucking an oppressed sex class, can’t spell the word “fuck.”

I would suggest that shifting the consumption of porn from the public square to the private lair is the exact opposite of “cleaning up America’s cities.” All it does is turn an open sore into a septic, festering abscess. You can put a Whole Foods where the porn-a-rama once stood, but the porn isn’t going anywhere. In fact, it is now integrated more seamlessly than ever before into the daily lives of otherwise normal people by dint of its round-the-clock smartphone in-yo-faceness.

Snap out of it! Oppression is gross!

Oct 10 2013

Spinster aunt weighs in on the unpaid intern/ harassment thing

By now you will have heard about the New York City intern whose sexual harassment suit was chucked out because her position was an unpaid one. If not, check it out here. The gist: boss gropes intern in hotel room. Intern, grossed-out, rebuffs incursion, is subsequently passed over for job. Coincidence? She thinks not. The court wouldn’t hear the case, though, ostensibly because “significant remuneration” was not a condition of the victim’s internship.

Thus harassment may be legally recognized by the city of New York only when its victims are paid in coin of the realm. Absent the exchange of cash, unpaid interns are apparently considered to be exempt from civil rights. They’re fair game. They should just shut up and be grateful for the opportunity to get their butt squeezed by their boss. Any negative consequences arising from their uppity assertion of fully human status are their own fault.

This may seem arbitrary and absurd to you, a reasonable person who possesses a normal sensitivity to social injustice, but you know what’s going on here: the intern was merely adjudged to have been fairly used per the Global Accords Governing Fair Use of Women.

You know what’s funny? The Global Accords also contain a provision wherein the opposite condition obtains. This provision states that women who are monetarily compensated for sex, i.e. prostituted women, are also fair game. These women cannot be sexually abused any more than an unpaid intern can, since they are paid be be abused*, and abuse is known to be consistent with the essence of prostituted women. Prostituted women may not assert personal bodily sovereignty, because they are considered to have sold those rights to the dude who pays for access to their bodies. The intern can’t claim sovereignty rights, either, as she is considered to have signed them over to her non-paying exploiter of a fuckface boss in return for, I guess, the singular privilege of basking in his reflected magnificence.

Not surprisingly, a Neanderthal victim-blaming commenter on the aforelinked Think Progress article objected to the characterization of the intern as a harassment victim. He suggested that because the woman voluntarily agreed to meet with her employer in the hotel room, she was askin’ for it. Which presents an interesting conflation of the two Global Accords provisions under discussion. The introduction of the hotel room — internationally acknowledged as the traditional venue of illicit sex on the DL — instantly recasts the intern as a sexbag with no rights. Just like that! (Female + hotel room) ÷ (douchebag) = whore.

Thus we observe that the Global Accords cram women in between a rock and an even bigger rock. Unpaid interns cannot be sexually harassed, paid prostituted women cannot be raped. From these conflicting contingencies we may deduce that the issue of payment is in fact a red herring. Pay’em, don’t pay’em: whether it is a condition of a business transaction or not, money is just an excuse to rationalize discrimination and abuse based on the power differential between DudeNation and the sex class. It’s a tool of the institutionalized misogyny that permits and sanctions women’s exploitation. The system is entrenched, immutable, codified, sanctified, and virtually ungameable. Everyone is subject to its impossible conditions. That’s because all women worldwide, including those of us in this supposedly enlightened, patriarchy-free American society, are indistinguishable from sex itself.

* By the way, sexual harassment is abuse, and should be a considered a crime, not merely some minor workplace impropriety.

via @ZerlinaMaxwell

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