Media Review–“Accessory”

Jordyn Taylor

Confessions of a Shopaholic

2009

“Fashion defines women” is certainly not a new concept, but I was surprised to learn that by tracking fashion trends, you can track the modernization process of a society. To put this into practice, I’ll do my best to gain some sort of insight into our society by breaking down the messages in “Accessory.” I am indebted to Professor Susan Hiner for her excellent talk on fashion and modernity given at Tyler School of Art, which inspired and provided the background for this post.

Oh, our love affair with inanimate objects.

No, really, she is about to make out with that mannequin. Do woman (wealthy, white) have so much agency that they can afford to love their luxury accessories instead of- or more than- other people?  Clearly, pleasure is tied up in the acquisition and display of “brand name” objects. Now take a moment to appreciate this image.

Here’s where it gets interesting: the handbag did not always carry the meaning we assign to it today. In fact, circa 1801 handbags were seen as ridiculous alternatives to pockets, which were hidden underneath the dress. A handbag, in contrast to the secrecy of the pocket, was promiscuous. The women carrying a handbag openly was immediately “classed down”  as vulgar, letting it all hang out. Unless her bag was a sewing bag, because in that case it announced her prowess at home economics and thus potential wifely qualities. Needlework was acceptable, it showed a woman’s moral fiber. Virtuous needlework would keep a woman from the idle vanity of handbags.

Jump forward to the 1880s. Department stores have entered the scene, trampled small businesses underfoot. We can see all too clearly the developing gendered economy, reflected in the literature of the time. Women, as consumers, are idiots. They drive men to bankruptcy. And who is to blame for this trouble? The humble handbag. Because woman get irrational over them. In fact, it’s almost like your wife or fiancee is having an adulterous relationship with these huge stores full of fashion. Isn’t it? Check out 2:52 in the video again. Stores are seduction machines.

Well, the adultery never stopped. By the 1900s, women had moved into the public sphere of activities. Their defiant use of fashion accessories allowed them to transgress traditional  boundaries that associated women with privacy and the home. Where does that leave us today? The bigger the better! In the video, our girl dances in front of bags larger than she is. Designer bags are now symbols of wealth and status, to a much greater degree than they were in the past.

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See? We’ll even fight for them! How can we go out into the world without an accessory that proclaims our power and marks us as better than the competition?

“He’s my latest accessory. Was he on sale?”

We’re at the point now that we use relationships in the same way we use designer labels: to boost our status. To give us another reason to feel good about ourselves, in the public street and online, through photos and status updates, anywhere. It’s a kind of power trip to be able to claim someone as “your significant other.” “Accessory” is a bit interesting in that it is the women who are making this statement of power, quite blatantly listing men as objects in their collections. I would not call it empowering, however. It comes at the expensive of dehumanizing men, even to the point that men are bought and sold like the shoes and bags. That’s no kind of progress.

We tend to think that quantity makes up for quality. If we own a lot of bags, or boyfriends, our quality of life will increase. Are these things just tools, or are they some fundamental part of our egos? And at that rate,  I wonder at what point does ownership transfer? When do we stop owning our accessories, and they start to own us?

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~Nicole

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Media Review – “Tea and Sympathy”

“When you speak of this in future years…and you will…be kind.”
1956
Starring:  Deborah KerrJohn Kerr
They sure don’t make movies they way they used to. Everything about this film is slow and mannered, taking its time to never climax, but instead reflect on society through consequence and controversy.
The premise is simple enough: gender identity and its weight worth in gold.
The plot is a little more dynamic: young Tom Lee, played by John Kerr, is a student at the promininent Chilton boarding school for boys. He doesn’t fit in and doesn’t want to. Tom prefers to sew instead of play football and talk to the professors’ wives instead of his peers. It’s not that he flaunts his unquie masculinity, it is that he doesn’t actively try to supress it. He is bullied and mocked and seemingly diseased on campus when it comes to trying to socialize or bond with any of the other boys. They want nothing to do with him and it is only his manly roommate, Al, that tries to teach Tom to “walk right” and even encourages his down-and-out roomie to “be with a girl alone,” cause that’ll sure make him a real man. Long story short, Tom’s housemaster’s wife, Laura Reynolds, played by Deborah Kerr, takes pity on him, but wants to do more for the lost boy that just offer him some tea and sympathy. Laura wants to connect and heal the sullen student on more levels than one and for more reasons than one, including that the Tom reminds her of her former husband, sent off to war and killed, and that she’s apparently getting no loving at home. As things unravel and Tom is bullied into a sucide attempt by a loose woman he is trying to get his rocks off with, he and Laura end up coming together in a innuendo-filled scene that cuts away just before the good stuff.
Whoa.
I feel a little conflicted. Is this film actually about gender identity in the 1950’s? Yes. Is it creative and political? Theoretically. Does a married woman try to “fix” someone with her vagina by having sex with a minor and then leave her husband and run away? All signs point to yes.
This film is filled with wretch-worthy moments of male dominance and all too realistic scenarios of bravo and meat-headedness. From Laura knelt next to her husband, asking for his approval and his “touch” to Tom ridiculed for his sensitive side, it’s amazing that this film was even released when it was!
Nonetheless, with any issue I do have with the movie, which in comparison to the positives I see is very small, it is so important that mass media makes headway with issues that society has problems comprehending and  dealing with. Issues like how to be a man or a woman that are so fully loaded and charged with confusing gender and cultural norms.
Some people argue that male dominant and aggressive behavior is innate and that a woman’s delicate touch and caring disposition is born into them, but I am a nurturist and I believe that nature has very little to do with how we turn out. The human mind is just so impressionable and to think that something as superficial as “girls like pink” could be a genetic or biological trait boggles my mind. It confuzzles me.
This movie handles the distressing parts of youth in a way that is not necessarily ethical, but gentle and compassionate. The two souls lost in the   film are born in the wrong time period with too much tolerance to try to change their worlds. Today there are more opportunities and communities open to those that do not “fit” the strict roles our society expects us to adhere to. Using media and art to start the conversation is a creative way to begin early activism and breech language barriers and cultural norms. We need more movies like this one that say that women can make a difference, are not just here to offer men a little “tea and sympathy” when they’re down and that they can go after their sexual needs. We need more movies like this one that say that men are not all brawn and no brain, that they can have an acceptable gentleness to them and that sensitivity is a virtue, not a flaw.
I recommend this movie to anyone interested in gender and women’s studies and to everyone else in general. I think I might just write a paper on it for class…

Media Review- “Putin Lights up the Fires”

“Putin Lights Up The Fires,” single dropped on August 17, 2012.

Feminist punk collective Pussy Riot released this track right after their three members were sentenced to 2 years in prison for “hooliganism” and “offending religious believers.” The video is a tribute montage edited by staff at the U.K. paper The Guardian.
My gut reaction the first time watching it was, “This is too fucking incredible. Amazing.” Clearly, the editing is very persuasive, especially some of the beginning photos featuring close-ups of Riot members with upraised eyes and melancholy expressions. On my second watch, I took issue with those photos. They seem placed to garner sympathy as well as admiration. Pussy Riot, from the performance clips and news coverage, do not need either. Also, the members specifically designed the group to be anonymous. The fact that they are beautiful individuals is irrelevant when they don their trademark balaclavas.

I wanted to know what the group members themselves had to say to explain and justify their actions.

From this article:
“We understood that to achieve change, including in the sphere of women’s rights, it’s not enough to go to Putin and ask for it…this is a rotten, broken system.”

In answer to the question ‘Why Pussy Riot?’                                                                          “A female sex organ, which is supposed to be receiving and shapeless, suddenly starts a radical rebellion against the cultural order, which tries to constantly define it and show its appropriate place. Sexists have certain ideas about how a woman should behave, and Putin, by the way, also has a couple thoughts on how Russians should live. Fighting against all that—that’s Pussy Riot.”   (From VICE)

Hmm. “Fighting” and “rebellion against cultural order”….. not a lot of room for sympathy there. While The Guardian video is well made, its agenda is showing. In addition to rioters, it wants us to see the members as beautiful sufferers. I reject that out of hand.

Support for the arrested members has come from various sources: Madonna, Paul McCartney, FEMEN, and the London feminist choir Gaggle to name a few.
Gaggle founder Deborah Coughlin said in this article, “It’s not fundamentally important that Pussy Riot are musicians, but it is important that we learn from their ideas. They are a living illustration of what needs to change in their country, because we can see them suffering for it. I’m in awe. We’ve been discussing what we would risk for our beliefs.”

Instead of offering pity, Coughlin asks herself a tough question.

What would we risk, indeed. Since we Americans can’t seem to get past the word “Pussy,” the likely answer is “as little as possible.” Even the Times and the Post didn’t print the name Pussy Riot in their headlines.

On the other hand, when Pussy Riot’s sentence was announced, protestors in NYC staged a punk prayer session outside St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Cathedral. It functioned as a show of support, while raising the question what form of political art gets attention in America? If an organized group of artists criticized and mocked members of our government in a real public space, what would be the fallout?

The key to Pussy Riot is their physicality. They take over public space, even if it’s for 40 seconds, and they make noise. They make a scene. Not on the Internet, in a select conference, or on a printed page. In front of your face, where you can’t click a box to turn them off. (Yet!) This is good old-fashioned confrontation, coming in a time where people have to break up via text message. And coming not from men with guns, but women with guitars, voices, and pussies!

The next question on my lips is how do we answer them? Not with pity, that’s for damn sure. (I doubt if they would accept it anyway.) Do we transition from actions in cyberspace to actions in real space? Is there a point when discourse isn’t enough?

What can we learn by doing, that we miss by speaking?

Media Review – “Saturday Night Fever”

“Saturday Night Fever”

1977

Director: John Badham

Starring: John Travolta, Karen Lynn Gorney

SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER is the ultimate male pornographic fantasy film.  It has a central character that is young, handsome, and worshipped by his friends.  He has a cocky and suave bravado and oozes cool charisma wherever he goes.  Most importantly, when he struts into a dance nightclub, he is transformed into a swinging, hip shaking,  prancing god.  Men want to be like him and women simply want him.  During a time of hedonism gone wild and of rapid, consequence-free promiscuity in a pre-Aids America, it’s no wonder that the “hero” of FEVER was so easily idolized.

FEVER does a great job balancing comedy and drama.  Re-watching it now the one aspect of it that still is fresh is its frank and brutal honesty at times.  Tony is likeable, but he is undeniably a crude racist (he flaunts ethnic slurs around with his buddies to unseemly levels).  His treatment of women is equally appalling, and a later scene where he fails at making a half-hearted attempt at raping Stephanie is revolting.  Then there is another very difficult scene to digest where Tony’s friends, one by one, proceed to rape the drunken Annette.  Tony does not partake in the sexual abuse, but when his friends are done he puts salt on Annette’s wounds by asking her if she’s finally satisfied with herself.  Oddly enough, it is the unsavory material in FEVER that separates itself away from other films of teen angst.  The time period and culture is different, but it still feels current.” – Craig J. Koban, CraigersCinemaCorner.com

 

“Saturday Night Fever.” It’s got the moves. It’s got the disco. It’s got the rape that NOBODY told me about.

Maybe it’s just me and the people I talk to, but whenever I ask about the classic cult film, “Saturday Night Fever,” the first few things mentioned are John Travolta and his skin-tight pants, that the movie was a voice of a “generation,” and often I also hear that the film has a very special place in the pop culture hall of fame. Why is it though that no one seems to remember / care about the two, count ’em, two(!) rape scenes in “SNF?!” Are we desensitized? Are we embarrassed? Are we turned on? Are we dismissive? I don’t know, but I’m going to try to figure it out.

I like to study editing. Film editing. Editing theory. Non-linear. Compositing. Short-form. Sync-point. If you don’t know what these words mean, don’t worry about it. If you do, congratulations, we have something in common. Long story short, I was always told to watch “SNF” for how it was cut together. Plus, I love disco music (it should never have died…). So one night, after my mother and I get home from work and are ready to pass out exhausted, I find “SNF” listed on cable and in my sleepy stupor decide to finally get around to seeing it. The credits roll and the famous take of Travolta walking down the street with his paint-can swinging to the beat comes up. Nothing too exciting yet. Twenty more minutes in, there’s a conflict; uh-oh, who will he dance with in the contest?! Well, that’s just great. I can’t help but think that everyone who loves this movie must be seeing something I’m not, because it’s really not that fantastic.

And then, BAM! Close to the end of the movie and out of (almost) nowhere, Annette, one of the main characters, gets gang-raped when she’s drunk. She’s literally pinned down in the back of a car while Tony’s buddies take turns. She’s saying “no” in a muffled and pained voice and then Travolta’s character even has the guts to call her a “pig.” WHAT?! WHAAAATTTT!?? Did no one else notice this scene?! Nobody?! Really?! ARE YOU ALL BLIND?! No, we can’t write it off as “boys will be boys.” No, she was not “asking for it.” No, I’m not crazy, I’m angry. And disturbed. I even had to turn off the film to cry for a little bit after that scene. The other rape is an attempted violation when Travolta’s character tries to force sex on his dancing partner after they win. Yeah, that’s how I’d celebrate too, buddy. After he’s been trying to court her throughout the whole film, Tony has an angry moment and pushes her down into the backseat of a car and tries to get his rocks off. She fights and he lets go (wow, ain’t he a good guy?) and they end up becoming friends at the end. Oh, I’m sorry if I ruined the movie for you.

So, back to my original questions….

Are we desensitized?

There is such a thing as rape culture and it’s spreading. Rape culture is the commercialization and perpetuated approval of sexual abuse and violation that is running rampant in our society. Certain types of media encourage it, i.e. some rap music videos and lyrics, some video-games, etc. Certain people and groups encourage it, i.e. bro-culture, etc. And certain mindsets encourage it as well, i.e. “women are objects,” “men must be hyper-masculine and hyper-sexual to have worth,” etc. This is all detrimental to our world and to ourselves. Thoughts of self-sexulization, chauvinism and worse, the acceptance of both, destroys more intellectual ways of valuing each other.

The very fact that no one remembers this scene seems, to me, to really answer this question by itself.

Are we embarrassed?

No, I really do not think we are. “We,” being audiences that absorb content as well as creators that generator the content that the audience absorbs. I think “commercialized sexiness” has become so banal that we wouldn’t know what to do with ourselves if we didn’t have commodified sexuality fed to us all the time. That being said, we live in a world where rape can actually be sold as “sexy” since it’s still sex and, say it with me, sex sells. Seriously, check out half of Dolce & Gabbana’s ads. I think American culture accepts rape as a fact of life without actually examining the consequences.

Are we turned on?

Maybe. The idea of power is a staple in Western culture and patriarchal reality in the East. In “SNF” power extends from showmanship on the dance floor, popularity on the street and talents in the bedroom – all pretty sophomoric if you ask me. So wherein this caste system of status does rape fall? The ability to dominate another seems to be a point of pride or at least a way to release some stress from a long night shaking your tail-feathers, but it’s more than that, it’s the sole fact that the Tony’s friends rape because they can. Because it’s acceptable, because it’s the 70’s, because it’s in the slums of Brooklyn, because no body was saying “no.” (The woman’s “no” doesn’t count, duh.) What kind of a world do we live in where you can take for granted the fact that you can have sex anytime you want it simply because you want it, with or without consent?

What also worries me is the idea of “scripts.” No, not film or play scripts, but dialogues created by cultural phenomenons in the media. Basically, “scripts” are repeated themes shown over and over again in TV shows, in movies, in lyrics, etc. and once they become ingrained, they become reality, sometimes without media consumers realizing it. This is particularly frightening when young people start seeing patterns like when to be sexy, how to be sexy and with whom to be sexy. Behaviors start to be commodified instead of being authentic and this leads to regret, confusion and the need for approval from others participating in such “scripts.” You can read more about “script” research here.

Are we dismissive?

Um…YES. And yet, it’s a movie, it’s not real life! She knew better than to get into their car! It was a different time period! At least women aren’t being raped as much anymore! She could have stopped them if she wanted to! They thought that she wanted it! Kids are young and stupid! ….and, your point? That you’re a dumb-ass? Oh, I got that.

I’ve heard each of those phrases at one point or another and they don’t cut it. I don’t give a flying you-know-what, because the justification of abuse is the beginning to an end of turning your head the other way. It’s seemingly the by-stander affect and that is a miserable excuse…for anything! Open your eyes to what you let slip between your fingers and what’s in front of your nose.

No one has to like every movie (or piece of “art”) ever made. Even I can tolerate most media I don’t like when it is used to start a dialogue on ethics, reality and stereotypes. Not everything is sunshine and fuzzy bunnies, but when there is a slap-in-the-face moment of truth in a work of commerical art, it needs to be used to discuss those realities, in reality. It CANNOT be written off. So in the end, a rape scene shouldn’t ruin “SNF” for me, but it does. And I think it does, because the rape is never used to start the conversation about not raping. The rape is not a plot or character conflict, but more of a tell-tale sign of who the characters are and how they view the world and themselves in it.

Media Review–Story of O

Story of O

By Pauline Réage

Translation by John Paul Hand

1954

Influences: The Marquis de Sade

 

We had no idea that this book would have such an affect on us. In reflection, we are disturbed, intrigued, confused and frustrated. Story of O was suggested to us by a co-worker who said that he knew of a writing that “surpassed” Fifty Shades of Grey. Curious, we each read it and tears of anger flowed from our eyes. Binge eating, hugging and raving rants were all we could do to fill the void of unpleasantry that Story of O ripped in our hearts (and frontal lobes). Before we officially sat down to write this review, we did “research” for several hours which included watching several Rihanna music videos, listening to the lyrics of “E.T.” by Katy Perry and “No Church in the Wild” by Jay-z, Kanye West and Frank Ocean and, finally, reading the testimonies and self-help blog of an actual submissive / BDSM slave. It was a fun time.

And now, because we simply cannot handle this book or take it seriously, for a limited time only, we have chosen to re-write the beginning of Story of O, almost word for word, with our own context, setting and sense of humor. You’re welcome.

One day Nicole and Darragh go to a section of the Internet where they never go — the scary part. After they have taken a stroll through Youtube and have scanned the higher numbered pages of Google search, sitting together in the dank lighting of the Office, they notice, on one link of Wikipedia, on an interface where there are never any good articles, a page which, because of its title, invites them to click.

“What is this?” Darragh says.

She opens the page. It is Summer, but they have been inside all day. They are dressed as they always are: beat-up Converse sneakers, ripped sweaters, black-framed glasses, and no hat. But long hair which gets caught as they huddle close over the keyboard, and in their dirty book-bags they have their dirty books and feminist theory articles.

The page loads slowly, Nicole still not having said a word in response. But she pulls out a notepad from her bag and her eyes scroll down the window. She takes off her glasses, thinking Darragh wants to talk about what they’ve just read. But instead Darragh says:

“I think I threw up a little.” Nicole hands her a napkin in humorous response. Darragh takes it distractedly, puts it on the table and adds:

“There are just too many things wrong with this. I don’t know where to start. Can you please hold me?”

By now the Internet connection, which is less than trustworthy, has decided to freeze the screen, and Nicole has some trouble closing the window; she’s also afraid that Darragh may actually vomit. Finally, though, the window is at least minimized, but they’re not the least bit embarrassed to be reading NSFW articles at their job. Besides, it the same office in which they started this blog anyway.

“Fasten your seatbelt,” Nicole says, “and hold onto your panties, because I think we need to review this on FF.”

That’s easy enough, all they have to do is read one of the most infamous BDSM “erotic” novels ever written in less than two weeks and retain their sanity. And it’s written by a French woman. Nicole looks over at Darragh and says:

“You shouldn’t stay curled up in a ball in the corner. You’ll only start rocking back and forth.”

The floor is littered with burger wrappers, crumpled pages, broken audio cables and pens left empty and lonely. It’s quite a disgusting sensation to wade through it to get to the computer. Then Nicole says:

“Oh God, there’s a movie version and it’s on Netflix.”

The Internet connection is no longer frozen and is streaming a disturbing clip from the 1975 trailer, and Darragh doesn’t dare ask why Nicole just sits there without moving or saying another word, nor can Darragh guess what all this means to her – having Nicole there motionless, silent, so sad and exposed, so thoroughly glued, to a story going God knows where. Darragh doesn’t need to tell Nicole what she thinks or how she feels, since it’s obvious, but she’s afraid to un-bunch her legs and come close to the screen. She sits with out-stretched arms braced on either side of the wall.

“Well that was…..yeah,” Nicole says suddenly. Here they are: on the Internet, beneath fluorescent lights – they are annoying lights – inside of some sort of institution which can be seen nestled between North Philadelphia and Center City, the type of huge collegiate dwelling where one finds students asleep on sofas at any time of the day or night and wandering aimlessly through the halls along Broad Street. The real world is some distance away, and it is always a little unsettling anytime anyone leaves. Outside it is raining.

Yeah, we did that. And now here’s our actual review:

Enter the world of the woman called O, and give up any thought of mercy. This is no coy rip-off, couched in the supernatural realm of fantasy. Here there are no excuses, and absolutely no safe words. This is a testament to the power of conditioning on the human brain. Also, it’s torture porn.

We have many thoughts about O and her story. The plot is minimal, summed up and spoiled by the blurb on the back cover. O is kidnapped, conditioned to be a submissive sex slave, and given to two men. Both tire of her and discard her at the novel’s end. The last sentence? “O, seeing that Sir Stephen was on the verge of leaving her, preferred to die. Sir Stephen gave his consent.” She needs his permission to die. O has nothing to call her own.

Why do we resent this book? Why does it anger us? Dehumanization, for one.  Previous readers have already commented that “O” might as well be an abbreviation for object. Indeed, the novel follows O’s transformation from a human into a living sex toy. The book glorifies the most generic role-playing of master and servant. There’s no individuality in the characters. They are not defined by anything other than their extravagant sexual acts. They are animals that happen to have extreme mating rituals. We can’t speak for anyone else, but watching dogs and cats have sex is not arousing to us. That’s how detached we felt while reading….as if we were watching several stray cats do it. O isn’t a person, she’s a sex-bot.

[Added Paragraph] But then there is the idea that O may very well be the perfect woman. She is thin, beautiful  and submissive. She lives to be loved in whatever form “love” many take. She is simple and un-materialistic and low maintenance. She doesn’t mind if you beat her, brand her or betray her, as long as you don’t leave her. Because then she’ll want to die. O is so perfect, she’s living, breathing clay for any Pygmalion that comes along to sculpt. She is so devoted to her idea of acceptance that she does whatever she can to find it and receive it, including, but not limited to: being raped by several strangers one after the other, being flogged and whipped until she bears permanent scars, getting a leash attached to her genitals and proclaiming slave status to appease her Master. And what really makes O the perfect woman is that one may assume she does not have a menstrual cycle nor can get pregnant. There are no consequences for her Masters to be concerned about. They have nothing they need to apologize for because their actions only seem to ripple to O, who is literally an “o,” an orfice, a sex doll. O cannot possibly be the ideal woman because she seemingly does not live the lived experience of what it is to be a woman, biologically or gender-chosen.

We are struggling in a conflict between accepting O’s submissiveness, because she accepts it and being overwhelmingly frustrated by her awareness of oppression. At the end of the day though, we just are trying to wrap our brains around understanding how anyone could live an authentic BDSM lifestyle. We’d like to think that Story of O is perhaps an ironical take on patriarchy and a hyperbolized tale of gender roles and politics. Maybe that is myopic, but it is the only way we can consume  its passages in good conscience while hoping, praying and at least pretending it is commentary on the ills of society and institutional brutality against women. From this perspective, it’s as if Pauline, the author, is mocking cultural standards by writing a satirical subversion that says, “Of course women want to be abused! They cannot think for themselves! Yes, violence is the answer! Oh, and men are insane, sex-crazed lunatics without an ounce of compassion. Yes, that’s it; women are merely walking, talking (if they’re allowed) holes for self-centered dicks to put their dicks into!”

Analyzing Story of O in this way lets us compare it to the graphic movies of South Korea’s “extreme cinema” genre. Ki-duk Kim, a director who has created several films that fall into this category, is often called a misogynist for his violent and profuse use of rape, prostitution, gang brutality and sickening sub-cultural realities. His defense for such accusations? Well, he says that his movies are actually more like commentary on society, forcing audiences to see what they ignore in their communities everyday. He believes, like other “extreme” artists, that the “slap-in-your-face” method is disturbing enough that it actually does raise awareness about social issues. We would like to think that this is what Pauline had intended for her book to do; the idea that Story of O is not criticizing the BDSM community, but is highlighting the larger problem of gender-typing and manipulation.

This also settles into the “reality” of “desensitization.” Just look to any one of the music videos listed below as examples of the male gaze, of self-sexualization and of the “pornification” of the mainstream:

Dirty Talk” – Wynter Gordon

S&M” – Rihanna

Disturbia” – Rihanna

Alejandro” – Lady Gaga

Dirrty” – Christina Aguilera

Lady Marmalade” – Christina Aguilera, Lil’ Kim, Mya, Pink (there’s a riding crop in this one!)

You can read the novel (if you’re a little crazy or a little curious) here, although we do not take blame for any emotional distress caused.

*Two young feminists were scarred in the reading of this book. No animals were injured. Lots of sweet potato fries were consumed though.

Media Review–“Where Have You Been”

2012

Rihanna

Album Talk that Talk

directed by Dave Meyers

 

“Is that Gaga?”

That question was put to me as I was blasting Rihanna’s new video. No, friend, that was not Gaga….but I can see where you might get confused. Rihanna’s voice here is at least reminiscent of Gaga’s electro-pop style. Not to mention Rihanna manages five costume changes throughout the four minutes. And the frantic editing, which employs split screens, ghosting effects, and duplicate Rihannas,  flirts with ridiculous. In fact this video is so excessive, I had fun. If nothing else, she’ll get your attention with moments like this:

Meet Rihanna, the crocodile. To give credit, I actually enjoy this much more than if she had worn a full crocodile skin bodysuit.  This is a bit subtler, and I still get the idea: she’s a hunter, a predator. Her prey is the perfect guy, if we go by her lyrics. In these opening swamp shots, I think she largely succeeds at promoting herself as powerful yet attractive.

Another surprising positive I found was the choice and arrangement of dancers. Rihanna dances separately with both an all-male and an all-female group.

Yes, I had beautiful male dancers to watch!  I felt like there was a sense of cooperation in the group dance scenes, especially in the moment where the female group forms an eye and blinks. That takes coordination and a sense of the other members in the group. It seems intimate, as opposed to everyone dancing in their own three feet of space.

Really, movement is the key to understanding this video. This is a celebration of energy and rhythm and the ability to express those with your body. There is no example of a guy dancing to seduce a girl. There is no example of a girl dancing on a guy. You could maybe make the argument that Rihanna is dancing for her yet-unknown lover. But, he’s never shown in the video itself. She’s in a position of control and power over her body. We, the anonymous viewers, are the sole audience to her performance.

Power and prowess are continually shown; the dancers even seem to shake the frame itself, as it pulses with their movements (around 2:06).  They gaze out at the viewers, as if to say bet you can’t move like this. 

And then we get this:

Shiva-Rihanna. Destruction, transformation, rebirth. Shiva, a Hindu deity who is referred to as male.  Rihanna makes herself Shiva, defying that masculine pronoun.

This feeling is echoed in her voice as she asks for, “someone who can please me, love me all night long.” She knows her own sexual appetites. Knowing what you want….that’s power!

I think she’s on to something here.

Media Review – “The Purity Myth”

“Starting from the premise that there is in fact no medical or scientific definition of virginity, The Purity Myth offers a crisp and compelling refutation of the obsessive claim that ‘saving it’ means saving the world.” – Dahlia Lithwick, Senior Editor of Slate.com

2011

Featuring: Jessica Valenti
Executive Producer: Sut Jhally

 

Long story short, “The Purity Myth,” as an idea, is about America’s obsession with “virginity,” “purity” and the worth of young girls based on sexualization, whether it’s abstinence of experience that gives them “value.” The book, published in 2009 got picked up for a documentary spin by the Media Education Foundation in 2011.

While I watched the film (and LOVED it), Nicole read the book. Below are our reactions and ideas:

FILM:

Film poster

It kicks misconceptions, contradictions and inequality out of the water. With the intensity of a graduate course in Human Sexuality, the slap-in-your-face delivery of a passionate protestor and the opinions of a clearly educated and clearly frustrated feminist, “The Purity Myth” debunks false ideas about values in our culture and how pushing them on young women is detrimental.

Valenti really burns the bridges of traditionalism when she breaks apart the essence of the “power of virginity,” such a cliched idea in our culture. No, I have no problem with people having sex, a little or a lot or none at all, but I do have a problem with is when so much emphasis is placed on a girl’s sexuality and understanding of her sexuality as “worth,” that she can only view herself and her own power as sexual.

And oh the horror of the Purity Balls that Valenti scorned and steamed over! They are horrifying, they are repulsive and they are all-around a complete unbalanced portrayal of familial control and self-esteem. The patriarchy, as usual, is too much to bear! Who could ever think that hosting a big formal party where little girls promise their “purity” and “virginity” to their fathers was a good idea?!?! Whether metaphorical (or physical *shiver*), it’s creepy and teaches girls that they don’t have control over their bodies and decisions.

The movie was great and I am so glad I watched it with an audience of close to 100 feminists at a closed screening at Suffolk University in Boston. The experience was special and enlightening and helped me to better grasp why feminism is so important to who I am and the world around me.

BOOK:

Book cover

Jessica Valenti is incendiary. Underlined and everything. She wields a double-barreled shotgun of sarcasm and insight, and woe betide you if your ass is anywhere near her target. I ate her words up, ready to have some clarity of thought at last. Her prose voice is compelling, not overly academic or highbrow. Reading Purity feels like a conversation with a very confident, articulate dinner date.  While reading, I often had the urge to leap up and dance for joy, as if Valenti had just scored a point at a debate. Why aren’t non-heterosexual couples part of the purity discussions? Why would a government that supposedly supports separation of politics and religion fund abstinence-only education? Why is a woman’s sexual history used to assign her value, instead of, oh say, her INTEGRITY?

Yes, she is persuasive, citing her facts and numbers extensively, and for most of the book I absorbed her agenda like a sponge. And that’s the danger. While I read, I agreed with her so often that I began to accept her word as infallible. Thank God there are a few moments in the footnotes where she becomes reflexive, acknowledging that she is by no means an objective onlooker. It reminded me to insert my own thoughts into the dialogue, to question and probe before accepting every point she made.

In pushing her argument, I find that the author goes too far the other way to the point where sincere religious beliefs aren’t given the respect they deserve. For example….Abstinence-only is a ridiculous sex-ed curriculum choice, and safe sex needs to be taught, period. But I believe that schools should provide an option for a religious exemption from a safe sex class. Basically, give people a choice. If someone believes she will be sinning, let her choose not to attend that class session. Bottom line: religious chastity deserves exactly the same amount of respect as responsible, safe intercourse.

Because, let’s say it again, sex does not define your value as a person. Judge people by their honesty, their compassion, and their self-disipline. While you may disagree with the person’s choice of when and how to become sexually active, that doesn’t mean you get to treat them with less respect.

With her words, Valenti destroys preconceived notions about “virginity” and suggests a new frame of reference where sexual status is not the beginning and the end of a person. While I give that a round of applause, I also note that freedom to disagree and be heard is essential when struggling with issues on this gigantic of a scale. Hopefully, for Jessica and the rest of us, The Purity Myth will not be the final word on the matter.