A tool for critical viewing

Here’s a handy memory device for the next time you watch a movie.

It will help you remember the 3 rules to Alison Bechdel’s measurement of gender bias in media.

The bottom line is TWO–are there two named female characters on screen? If yes, great! Advance to the next level.

The second is TALK–do these female characters talk to and interact with each other? If yes, holy crap, you’re moving up to…

The third criteria TESTES–do our characters talk about something besides testicles? If they only talk about men, the film fails. But if they do not, hurrah! Get that star!

The original context of this test was a comic strip, yet I find myself amazed and horrified at how regularly films fail it….and often on the first level. Try it for yourself sometime.

-Nicole

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Encounter at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Johannes Vermeer, Study of a Young Woman, 1665-67

Some man said you weren’t as beautiful as

that floozy in a turban, but at least you have

a measure of gracefulness to offset your plain

features, thank goodness for virtue.

I had a laugh when he compared you to Mona

as if you had anything to do with her Leonardo

amused, together in that imaginary space

the gallery

admiring your pearl face

from the corner of my eye.

what you know that I don’t is worth a moment

the shape of Vermeer’s dirty brush and maybe

not by choice

and how to sit statue-still, a porcelain lady

hide your teeth and your dark womb thoughts

relinquish even your name

for father’s art.

–Nicole

“The Revolution Will Be Designed”

That catchy title is not my own and instead is a comment on our changing culture. Everyday, especially with accessible technology, do we both perpetuate and watch society’s standards, regionally and globally, as they shift and merge.  This is why it is so incredibly important to remember that what we build, break and blog today will have a different type of significance tomorrow.

I began doing informal research on the topics of Gender and Design and how they could possibly intersect on the whole. Design, as a principle of advertising, innovation, architecture and so many other fields is often connected through its partnership with Functionality. Where Design is not always functional, it is itself a dialogue on beauty or aesthetic and, as it seems to go, often consumerism as well.

Considering how Gender is a “function” of society; a convenient way to categorize and communicate cultural roles, I only now thought of it in terms of Design. When it comes to marketing, Gender is crucial for economy and trendsetting.  In relation to inventions and new technology, Gender comes into play largely in ratios behind the scenes, but also in how we see ourselves reflected back by identity politics online. And in terms of architecture, in this case the many levels that overlap to make a society work, we notice Gender as part of the institutionalization of different populations and groups.

Remembering that Gender is a construct that we are socialized into is a key factor towards building a better, more egalitarian culture and future. Notions about how men and women (and every person who identifies in between) are supposed to act and behave is designed. Every part of one’s gender identity is packaged as a way to move in and out of social situations and how to process purpose and place when living a moment is just not enough.

We have to be open to the constant movement of trends, of language and of how we occupy physical and emotional spaces. When we chose to design, or in some cases, redesign, such decisions come with consequences we may or may not be able to determine prior to the switch. By analyzing the worlds in which we live we take the “risk” of become subversive, of going against a grain which seemingly works. What many overlook though is that when someone openly questions such functions, like Gender, they begin to realize that there are others that too are less happy than they could be. Remembering also that functionality is relative is important too if just simply to remind oneself to be an aware participant in the Design process. Because a Design works for one, or many, does not mean that it works the way it could, that it works the best it can or that it is even still relevant.

More to learn, More to grow

-Darragh

Fatal Friday – June 28

Sometimes, you find yourself mid-conversation with an intensely charged and intelligent woman in a space full of erotic toys and fetish gear. At least you do if you’re ever invited to a sex educators mixer. The event took place in the Sexploratorium, recently re-located to 317 South Street. We took our usual walking detour to get there, [not lost at all, ahem] toyed with the thought of hopping a wall into a churchyard, and finally wound up at the shop around 8pm.

Five hours earlier, we were sitting in a kitchen discussing our respective research for our Fulbright grant applications over custom gorditas and chocolate milkshakes. The conversation transitioned to past loves and romances, horrendous kissing techniques and bad dates. Eventually we stood up and got mint iced tea, finally deciding to make the sacrifice…. to actually put pants on. [Yes, it’s hot out there.] It’s been a while since we’ve had a proper Fatal Friday, you see. But hopefully we’re not out of practice.

Now, back to the Sexploratorium. Once inside, we did a whirlwind tour of the first and second floors, which were dripping with leather restraints, BDSM How-To books, gags, corsets and whips. Eventually we made it to the third level where we found a lovely setup of deep red, carpeted floors, chairs, and baked goods. The space was occupied by a varied and beautifully passionate group of fellow educators. Soon we were absorbed in conversation with two of these women, Susana Mayer, Ph.D and the Rev. Dr. Beverly Dale. Throughout the course of the evening, Nicole took a Sex and the Bible quiz, after which she learned that she was not erudite enough to be a Sexy Bible Scholar. While the Reverend Beverly Dale spoke with Nicole about the intersection of sexual and spiritual, Darragh spoke to Dr. Mayer regarding rape culture both here and internationally, touching upon the topic of ‘safe sex’ versus “responsible sex.” At some point, the conversations organically merged together and everyone ate homemade snicker-doodle cookies and exchanged business cards.

Before, the Reverend had observed to Nicole that part of spirituality is in righteous living. Speaking to us both, she elaborated on the beauty of a religion founded on incarnation–a God entering into human flesh–explaining that, for her, Christian faith should be the most loving, most sex-positive expression possible. Needless to say, we were blown away by the experiences and insight of these outspoken educators. We are seriously considering presenting a class ourselves, and most certainly attending some events that the program Passion 101 offers. We left with a giddy high from good conversations and the offer of a potential chance to put together a panel series.

However, our night was far from over. Making our way back to Broad Street, we devoured some vegetarian fare at Govindas, but we quickly rushed away to make it to The Venture Inn. There, we had a birthday to attend, or rather two birthdays, and we didn’t want to be late. We had a very festive drag show to get to.

Miss Scarlett Bleu, second from the left, performed two numbers on her birthday. She sang live to the whole place, and absolutely rocked it! Darragh screamed in delight as Miss Scarlett hit baritone lows and cooed of true love, the eve after DOMA had been knocked off its rocker. The night was particularly important, as Scarlett’s parents had shown up for the first time to see her perform in full queen regalia. At the end of her second number, she went over to where her mom was sitting and dropped down into her lap, at which point we both nearly cried. So touching, so supportive, so fun!

A successful Fatal Friday we think! 

-FF

Agonizing Ads….

Just last week, I had the pleasure of flipping through an issue of the fashion magazine Marie Claire. According to their website, this publication is: “Your source for information on fashion, style, beauty, women’s issues, careers, health, and so much more. It is the fashion magazine with character, substance and depth, for women with a point of view, an opinion and a sense of humor…If it matters to women, it’s in Marie Claire.”

Hmm, sounds promising so far.

Inside I found these two ads:

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What matters to women? Apparently Slimfast diets and breast implants. I particularly love the Slimfast image, with its bait and switch. Women want to lose weight to be more confident, it’s improving their self-image, right….? Oh wait, what they actually meant was women want to look better naked.

Two things:

1. Don’t tell me to diet.

2. I already look good naked.

Why do these ads make me happy? It’s not because I’m looking to drop pounds or get bodywork done.

It’s not even because they expose Marie Claire’s mission statement as blatant hypocrisy.

These ads make me smile because of what happened as I was looking at them. (Glaring in anger, really.) Because at that moment, two other women in the room with me became interested in what was causing my face to twist up. I quickly showed them the offending pages. And what happened next was brilliant. We started a dialogue.

In a very simple way, we deconstructed the hell out of those images. We talked through it. We voiced our different opinions. These stupid, frustrating pictures of faceless women turned into tools whereby we could talk about what it means to be a woman now. And that’s a seed of hope for this society. Women want to talk about what it means to be women. They just need the opportunity. And what is more fitting and more ironic than using  mass media as a diagram of exactly how we don’t want to be seen?

I may even write a little note to Marie Claire, to thank them for making their idea of womanhood so clear to me. It’s useful to know thine enemy.

-Nicole

Back to Basics…

This Spring has been a roller-coaster of feminist studies in and out of the classroom. Between two women’s studies courses and a lot of relevant experiences outside of school, I have really powered through the past few months by trying to lace a continuous theme of advocacy in to all my projects. Because of all my running around, writing posts on Fatal Femmes has gone to the back burner, but now that finals are almost over, I can begin to get back to the swing of things. Let this post be a summation of my feminism this semester as well as the jumpstart to a Summer of analysis and media critique!

First, January 16th was the last feminist dinner party I was invited to by my friend and the activist artist, Phoebe Bachman. This dinner marked the end of a multi-meal performance piece that Phoebe was hosting for the long-term research project, “Women Making Activist Art in Public Spaces,” that she had been conducting for months on feminist creators. I was so thrilled and honored to be included in her work as both a documented subject and as a participant. I guess I was a little surprised that I was picked because although I am very open about my feminist politics, I never count myself as an artist. I write and paint, film and edit, but I never seem to consider myself as a creator. I have begun to rethink the idea in recent weeks.

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Following up with her work, Phoebe officially presented her art and research on February 4th at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art. I silently joined a “tour” of spectators that she was walking through her exhibit the night of the opening. Although I had been aware of her methodology and work throughout the process of watching her plan everything for almost a year, I was thoroughly impressed by the final execution. She knowingly glanced up and caught my eye and asked me to speak out about the experience of being a participant. I was so content to speak on her behalf. It was wonderful to be a part of someone else’s work. She inspires me.

In February, Temple University’s branch of HerCampus, run by my friend Jaimee Swift, asked me to sit on two informational panels. The first was titled “Young Women in the Media.” Like Phoebe’s dinners, I felt that I held a unique place being the only self-identified academic (or budding academic) in the group. Regardless, I still have a few documentaries under my belt and have picked up an interest in band photography and headshots so I was still counted as media maker. As usual, I was impressed by the women I that I was being associated with and thrilled to sit with them. The other panel was silly as it was about Valentine’s Day and Romance. I tried to be serious at parts when asked to discuss safe sex and consent, with added knowledge about sex toys and why it’s important to communicate partner-to-partner. I was excited to bring two of my friends, Karley Cohen and Tom Diaogistino, onto the panel last minute. They had completely different perspectives and experiences that completely added to the discussion.

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Also in February was the Women’s Way tenth annual Women and Influence Conference at Moore College of Art in Philadelphia. I went with two fellow feminists, Melissa Fabello and Nuala Cabral. It was exciting to see accomplished women acknowledged and celebrated, but Melissa and I had a few comments about how to improve the event as a whole. Firstly, we noticed that although Women’s Way did a great job coordinating the conference, many of the workshop sessions lacked interactivity. The topics seemed stiff and centered around business and entrepreneurship, less about the “issues of importance to women, girls, and their families in our region” that the program highlighted. Throughout the day there was great debate as to whether or not women could truly have it all. I hope to attend next year.

I spent quite a bit of time preparing for my first workshop this semester in early March. I was asked by Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania to host a media literacy session for their Pot of Gold, or bi-annual adult volunteer day. More than happy to accept, I included in my proposal that Nicole should join me to speak. As my collaborator, she deserves to share in the sharing of knowledge. I was particularly proud of her the day that we presented because not only had we created the workshop together, but it was also her first ever public speaking engagement outside of classroom presentations and our first ever as a team. The workshop was great and the feedback we received was amazing. Comments ranged from “It was thought provoking and on point for what’s going on with tween and teen girls today” to “This workshop invoked a lot of great conversation. It really could have benefited if it was given more time!” 9 out of 10 guests recommended the workshop for future audiences. It was the first time I had ever really worked with adults without children being present. This allowed for flexibility of material, faster teaching and discussion, more examples of current events and, of course, a wide range of debate. After the two sessions we hosted, Nicole and I took time to reflect on being what we called “novice masters,” a term we use to explain the odd relationship we have to our highly specific studies and those outside the field. Being students, particularly undergraduates, we are learning all the time, but to give back by breaking down what we absorb we are the closest thing to “masters” or “experts” that those unfamiliar with such schools of thought may interact with at the time. If anything, it’s a responsibility that we do not take lightly.

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Next was another workshop, later in March, for the GirlTalk Summit hosted by the YWCA of Greater Harrisburg, PA. I was asked to do a presentation on media’s glorification of teen pregnancy, a controversial, but incredibly important topic. I suffered through research by making myself watch “16 and Pregnant,” “Teen Mom” and a few other shows that I really could care less about as a viewer, but as a budding media scholar I do understand that their impact is intense and widespread. I ran three sessions with about two-dozen teenage girls aged 15-19. Some of these young women were already mothers, many watched the shows I discussed and all were identified as “high-risk.” Being from the intercity placed them into a special category that sociologists, educators, politicians and paperwork like to use. I was just excited to interact with young people close to my age that had ideas about how to start talking about what they cared about. I found that when presenting, I must learn to sum up lofty ideas with more examples. Nonetheless, I am happy to have participated. The experience was very important to me.

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The tail end of April was all over the place. Out of the blue I received an email from a former professor from a few semesters back who asked if I was interested in teaching one of my favorite articles from his class to his current students. I was ecstatic. The writing, “Fraternity Gang Rape,” started with a brief summary of America’s sexual history and eventually discusses present-day rape culture. The day I was to teach, I was surprised to find out that my mentor chose not to assist or comment and left both of his classes up to me. I excitedly spoke as I moved around the classroom. Students, my own peers, followed up with me via email and gave me wonderful feedback. It was an amazing time and really gave me a better idea of how much I think I would enjoy teaching.

During the last weekend in April I was ask to present yet another workshop! This time, I occupied the upstairs lobby of the Warner Hotel in downtown West Chester, PA during the ninth annual West Chester Film Festival. The experience was special because I was also a nominated director. My documentary “The Voices of Time Before They Are Silenced: The Holocaust” was up for Best Pennsylvania Director. During the workshop, titled “Lights, Camera, Action: Women’s Sexuality In and On Film,” I found myself very comfortable with the material I had arranged. I think it was a touchstone of confidence in understanding that I know what I’m talking about. Pretty cool if you ask me! A great discussion was peaked post-speech and carried on for about half-an-hour with yours truly as moderator.

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As of May 7th, I can also say that I may add state lobbying to my feminist activism this semester. Just earlier this week, I went with a few fellow feminists to the Capitol in Harrisburg, PA with Women’s Way. The organization was supporting the efforts of the Polaris Project to advocate for stronger human trafficking laws in the state. According to Polaris, Pennsylvania is at the bottom of the scale when it comes to safety for “victims” or survivors of slavery and does very little to fully prosecute pimps and other traders. Lobbying was really interesting. It was much like a performance of suits and ties and smiles and handshakes. I credit Women’s Way and Polaris and all the other activist group present, but there was something sad about having to dress up to talk about real issues, problems outside the marble and stained glass of the Capitol Building.

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At the Capitol talking to a Senate Rep

While all this was going on outside of school, I was also a student in two women’s studies courses, as aforementioned. One was a foundations course treated as a history class on women’s rights and activism in America and the other was an upper level topics called “Male Perspectives of Women’s Studies.” New to Temple, Dr. Edward Onaci taught both. As the semester eased on, he became more flexible with the format in which he chose to teach. Eventually, both classes came to rely and appreciate a circle approach to roundtable discussion. No raising of hands, just commentary and dialogue. No yelling or fighting, just debate and civil conversation. It reminded me of the circular education paradigm that Gloria Steinem spoke of during a speech I witnessed in November 2012. She emphasized the importance of shared knowledge passed through or across teachers to students and from generation to generation. This approach opposes our current academic institutions’ way where education is treated as another form of class that oppresses those who seemingly do not have access. In “Male Perspectives” I found great frustration in reading the works of men like Rousseau, men who believe women’s place in under them, in society and in the every other context. I have realized that, as Lynda Lange explains in “Feminist Interpretations of Jean-Jacques Rousseau,” if nothing else, perhaps reading the works of a man as sexist as Rousseau, who is “the very embodiment of misogyny,” will encourage feminists “to read and view more works by women.”

Lastly, my future endeavors. Besides giving Fatal Femmes a make-over, which Nicole and I both agree that it needs, I have a lot of other projects going on that need time and love ASAP. These include, but are not limited to another workshop for Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania coming up Fall 2013, possibly photographing LadyFest in Philadelphia in July, learning how to be a peer health and sexuality educator for Temple University in Fall through the HEART Wellness Resources Center on campus, becoming a Women’s Way media intern this Summer, traveling to Los Angeles to volunteer as a student scholar for NAMLE (the National Association of Media Literacy Education), animating an abstract documentary about gender literacy and word structures titled “WoŸman,” and trying to kick as much as butt as possible on the side.

-Darragh Dandurand Friedman

Atlantis: The Lost Empire (media review)

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2001

Directors: Gary TrousdaleKirk Wise

A Look a Gender in Children’s Cinema

            Atlantis: The Lost Empire (Disney, 2001, Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise) is not original by Disney’s standards, race and gender cartoon archetypes or many of the other characteristics that indicate the typical genre conventions of children’s cinema. Instead, it shows its uniqueness by not falling prey to the whole formula used by other directors to produce a moneymaking movie that kids nag their parents to see and that adults plop their kids in front of as a baby-sitter. Atlantis is not the break-through, progressive movie that questions industry habits or societal norms, but it does put race relations, semi-non-traditional protagonists and the importance of education and cultural preservation at the forefront of its storyline.

Firstly, it is important to acknowledge the elements that make Atlantis an average film in the genre. Like a laundry list, certain aspects also seen in numerous other kids’ movies can be checked off: the film explores the demise of a royal family, the female lead is a princess, the female lead is hetero-sexual, almost all the female characters are hyper-sexualized, the male protagonist must save the royal family and its people after being begged by the female lead, the female lead’s mother disappears/dies when she is a little girl (thus she has never had a ‘proper’ role model), the male protagonist lost both his parents at an early age, the male protagonist is white and hetero-sexual, the male protagonist is more knowledgeable than the female lead (about her own culture, she is illiterate and only he can translate the written word of her people), the female lead is gawked at openly by several male characters (with and without her knowledge), the male protagonist’s goal is to fulfill a dream of his grandfather’s (i.e. patriarchal pride, almost all of the characters are trying to fulfill a dream of their fathers’), there is a clearly defined bad guy (who is a “foreigner” – with a twist), there is a fight / violent scene in which the male protagonist must save the female lead who is in danger and cannot help herself and, last, but not least,  the male protagonist and the female lead wind up together by the end of the movie. For most of Disney’s films and other producers and distributors of children’s cinema, it can practically be assumed that this list is handed off to the scriptwriter prior to the completion of the story in order to fill the standard format. Even with the fields of gender studies and children’s psychology consistently publishing work on the topic, few things have changed.

As for the aspects of the film that are atypical, there are many, but perhaps not enough to clean the slate and wipe away the stereotypes it is also laden with. Nonetheless, these differences need to be discussed for their importance in making Atlantis one of Disney’s more “conscious” movies. To start off, characters of multiple ethnicities, nationalities and backgrounds are featured in speaking roles (including Hispanic, French, Italian, African-American, Southern-American and, of course, Atlantian – each has a special talent or skill that makes them invaluable to the plot), both of the supporting female characters are more technologically advanced than rest of the male characters, one of supporting female characters holds military rank and is addressed with her title throughout (and the film is set in 1914) and there is an appreciation for a foreign culture, not just a foreign love interest.

from julvett.deviantart.com

from julvett.deviantart.com

Although several gender-related observations have been already pointed out, these dynamics are more influential with the context of the whole film. While watching, I could not help but to question the choices of the “binary” and wonder why the film-makers did not choose to perhaps explore an alternate caste for the Atlantians, maybe one with no gender or at least with more than two. Additionally, even though Atlantis is described as being far below sea level in a secret “cave,” the women are clothed in tight dresses and bikini tops as if they were influenced by Summer Sale commercials in the modern-day West. Apparently practicality was lost on this lost civilization, at least according to Disney.

As explored in the course article, “Hetero-Romantic Love and Heterosexiness in Children’s G-rated Films” (Martin and Kazyak), hetero-romance plays a role in uniting the main characters, but, thankfully, is not the goal of the movie. It plays a minor part post-climax as closure to the audience to assure the future of Atlantis (and to suggest a sequel). To further the affair, the female lead has to flaunt her wears and the male protagonist has to prove his worth through intellect. The classic innocent vixen trope is displayed when the female lead undresses to go swimming and the male protagonist’s eyes bulge slightly as he trips over his words. “Do you swim?” she says. “Uh, pretty girl, uh, uh, I meant, pretty good,” he replies. This odd idea of the woman being aware and unaware of her appeal at the same time is tricky and sometimes hard to recognize. It is an elusive look or a flirtatious action, often followed by a sincere comment to diffuse her sexual awareness, but increase his, which is acceptable.

Examining the male protagonist more closely, we notice that he does not fit the bill of the normal, masculine hero. He is scrawny and academic and made fun of for both traits. “You are a scholar, no less?” the female lead inquires. “With your diminished physique and large forehead you are suited for nothing else!” He is not set on finding a maiden or damsel in distress, instead he is hopeful in his hunt for history and heritage. His adventure is one of identity. His tools are education, dedication and empathy. Nonetheless, while his uniqueness begins the adventure, it is brute force, fast action and violent combat that saves the day. One moment he doubts his ability to lead and the next he is leading makeshift troops into a fiery battle to save the female lead, who, by this point in the story, is literally an object.

As the climax begins to ramp up, the female lead, for one reason or another, transforms into a holy statue, a glowing figurine frozen by a mystical crystal that binds her community. She is not a woman, definitely not a person, but a representation of the female form. The “bad guys” kidnap her in this state to bring her back to the modern world to sell her as an artifact. In other words, her autonomy is lost when she sacrifices herself and identity for her culture. She cannot have it all.

from tk-the-tiger on tumblr

from tk-the-tiger on tumblr

Caricatures in certain cases, when used in clever ways, can explain a cultural identity, understanding or phenomena that only parody can. By utilizing a stereotype to prove an idea about how such a generalization came to being so widely accepted, a lesson is learned and a comedy is often played out. On the other end, when a formula of tropes is repeated over and over without active commentary, such as in children’s movies where the target audience is obviously not media, politically or gender literate, lessons are learned lacking realistic dialogue to balance the digested material. This is the weary consequence of reusing the same story and characters in a loop with no responsibility for the messages being created, interpreted and internalized.

-Darragh