Geek. Pirate. Mom

The Life and Times of Whitney Drake

Posts tagged 'feminism'

Brave. See it.

Here there be spoilers. This is both my review of Brave as well as a discussion about the movie- while I tried not to get too in depth with the movie, it’s hard to address some of the criticism the movie’s received without discussing the movie. If you want to remain spoiler free, the title of this piece and the paragraph is my opinion.

I saw Brave on Sunday morning with my boys. It was their first movie theater movie- and despite the fact that it was a much more intense movie than advertised, they survived. While it wasn’t quite to their liking- I loved it.

I’ve seen a lot of negative reviews about the movie, which baffle me. Most feel as though they watched a completely different movie than I did, or expected the movie to be about one theme and ignored the rest. Perhaps they don’t understand pantomiming bears. When Brave seemed to get more negative reviews than Cars 2, which was the most conventional, least imaginative movie Pixar has put out- there’s something else at work here.

Brave is, on the surface, the story of Merida. The oldest child of the King, Merida is reaching the age where she should be bethrothed to one of the sons of the three clan heads. Merida is just as you’ve seen in the previews. She’s brave (as the title of the movie suggests), athletic, and not very much of a girly girl. Her idea of a good time isn’t learning etiquette from her mother, but riding through the woods on her trusty steed while shooting at targets. She doesn’t think her mother understands her, though she doesn’t come out and say it. She whines, she groans- she’s a teenager.

Her mother, Elinor seems to be the polar opposite. She’s refined. She always knows how to act, what to say- though there are hints early on that Elinor is much stronger than she seems. She manages to quiet a room filled with angry Scots, without saying a single word.

Despite the fact that the plot includes will o’ the wisps and a witch, this actually feels like Pixar’s most realistic movie to me. It centers around the very real relationship between two very real female characters, and pushes them from being unsure of how to talk to each other openly to having to rely on each other.

As you might expect, the journey forces both of them to reexamine what they felt about the other. Elinor sees her daughter’s strength and stubbornness as more than something getting in the way of the princess she wants her to be, and Merida matures- realizing that simply because her mother is proper doesn’t mean that she can’t understand her. Or that her mother isn’t stronger than Merida believes her to be.

Merida and her family, from Pixar's BRAVE

It’s a remarkable movie for a few reasons. Merida is at times unlikeable. She’s selfish and ungrateful. It’s a hard mirror to look into for any adult- but we were probably a lot more like Merida than any Disney prince/princess. While she is right to want to speak up about the fact that she isn’t ready to be bethrothed, she’s wrong about a good many things.

Which brings me to my second reason. At the center of Brave is a complex relationship between two generations- one that feels a bit more honest and real than seen in most animated films. In most family movies, if there is conflict between a parent and child, the parent is wrong/prejudiced, the child merely misunderstood (see How to Train Your Dragon or The Little Mermaid). And if the child is wrong, it’s usually something minor. Brave actually dares to have conflict where neither party is right, but neither is totally wrong. It actually devolved into a harsh argument that felt real- the kind where it escalates until both sides say something they regret. It’s something you see often in real life, and in a lot of live action movies- but not often in a family film.

Plenty of reviews tried to criticize Brave for not having a story that supported Merida’s- completely overlooking that this movie isn’t just Merida’s coming-of-age story. It’s Elinor’s story too. The two stories fit together to make the whole.

Some people whined about it being TOO female heavy- which is a stupid argument to have. Both women have clear relationships with the four main male characters in the movie (Elinor and Fergus are seemingly as different as night and day, but there’s no doubt that he greatly appreciates her and indeed they both love each other deeply. Merida and her father are close, and understand each other because they have the same interests). Aside from Elinor and Merida, there’s only the maid and the witch as female characters. Everyone else in the movie is a man. Focusing on other relationships for the sake of “diversity” would have been silly – because the story was about Merida and Elinor.

Which bothers me- Toy Story and the sequels are ultimately about the relationship between two male toys and their male owner. Finding Nemo is about a father and a son. Monsters Inc is about two best friends who are guys. Ratatouille is about a rat and his boy. Oh and a son and his father. I don’t think that stopped a single woman from appreciating the stories. You could have adjusted genders in the movies and ultimately it wouldn’t have made much of a difference- because they’re relatable stories. You don’t need to be a woman to understand a coming of age story. Or what it’s like to think that your parents don’t understand you, or see that your children think you’ve forgotten what it feels like to be in their position.

I think that the damage comes from the sentiment that female centered movies are “chick flicks.” That there’s nothing in them for men. Thankfully, I married a man who watched chick flicks with his mom. So he knew that When Harry Met Sally might have been a love story, but it was a story about two real people. To him, movies were just movies. Sure, there might be some ridiculous movies that seem to pander to women (like Sex and the City), but there are movies that try to pander to men, too (see anything with Steven Seagal).

Brave isn’t a chick flick. It’s a story about two female characters. But the problems in their relationship could easily be problems that fathers and sons face- just look at Ratatouille for a Pixar movie about a strained relationship where father and son don’t see eye to eye. Or How to Train Your Dragon for a similar type of relationship strain. Nobody whined about Remy being unlikeable (when really, Remy was a snob)

I don’t want to give the opinion that I think criticisms of Brave are invalid- I completely understand people saying that the movie felt uneven (there were two directors that helmed Brave- Brenda Chapman was removed from the project, but the relationship between Elinor and Merida is undoubtedly as well-written as it is thanks to her). Or pointing out that the marketing campaign of the movie made it seem like it was a much lighter movie. That everything about the marketing focused on Merida, while not showing that the movie was about her mother, too.

But arguments that the movie is too female centric, that Merida isn’t likeable enough or that it didn’t feel like a Pixar movie- those are criticisms based on viewer’s expectations going into the movie, not the movie itself. Is Pixar not allowed to try to explore a darker more realistic story? Or are they supposed to keep making movies about things that all people experience, but in a way that doesn’t usually include human characters?

Finally- I saved the most ridiculous criticism for last. EW’s Adam Markovitz wondered if Merida might be gay. You know, because she’s a tomboy who says she isn’t ready to be married off. He even tried to point out that even Mulan had a love interest (when really, if you watch Mulan, Li Shang isn’t so much her love interest as she’s his- his storyline is about coming to terms with feelings towards a woman who isn’t what Chinese society accepts. She might have been attracted to him, but she knew that by pretending to be a man that wasn’t a possibility- and she was fine with that).

Many people in our society equate gender roles with sexuality. Assuming that a tomboy is a lesbian, or that a boy interested in ballet must be gay is wrong. People have interests. Not all fall in line with traditional gender roles. I babysat a wonderful little boy who loved ballet. His father didn’t want him to go into it because he didn’t want him to be gay- I told him I didn’t think he had a problem, his six year old son was busy telling everyone he was going to marry me.

Merida preferring a bow and arrow to working on needlepoint doesn’t mean she’s a lesbian. It just means she’s an individual. So stop making assumptions, people. Don’t you remember that adage about assumptions?

For what it’s worth, Merida never said she wasn’t interested in getting married ever. She just wasn’t ready to grow up yet. The movie was more about letting people grow up in their time, rather than forcing them into something they aren’t ready for.

So what are your thoughts on Brave – and on the strange reviews it’s been getting?

Forced Vaginal Ultrasounds: An open letter.

Dear Politicans of the United States (and the People Who Vote for Them)

There have been a lot of bills going around trying to find ways to undermine abortion. Except in trying to find legal ways to get rid of it- they’ve been creating laws to treat women as second class citizens.

One of the more popular laws being proposed and passing, are laws that require a woman seeking an abortion to undergo a vaginal ultrasound and having the fetus be described in detail. A lot of women’s rights groups are likening this to assault, since it’s a forced medical procedure.

Let’s leave abortion out of this discussion. What I’m here to write about today has nothing to do with where I stand on the issue, it’s about being a woman and standing up to protect other women.

To anyone who doesn’t know why this is a big deal, ask women what they think of going for their annual exams at a gynecologist. Why it’s important to find a gyno they feel comfortable with. It’s because as part of the exam a speculum is inserted into the vagina- and if you’re the slightest bit uncomfortable, your body will try to fight that. It’s an uncomfortable experience, enough that many women skip important health screenings.

Vaginal ultrasounds involve a probe wand being inserted into the vaginal canal to get a better look at the area.

I can speak to their discomfort. I’ve had two in my adult life, and can remember them with vivid detail. Both were procedures I consented to. The first was when I was 18 and in the ER with severe abdominal pains. They were concerned that it was my appendix, and suggested that an ultrasound would be the easiest and safest way to diagnose the problem.

Into the curtained area rolled an ultrasound tech with the machine. A man. Who looked like George Lucas. (TheBoy can verify that part, though they made him wait outside the curtained area) I asked if there were any female ultrasound techs, and after he checked, he verified that all of them were currently busy- and that if it was my appendix, that there might not be time enough for me to wait. No matter how I tried to relax, I couldn’t. So when he used the wand. It hurt. A lot. (It turned out not to be my appendix, btw. Just insanely bad cramps that needed more than over the counter ibuprofen to go away)

The second and last time was my hospital stay last year. I kept having recurring stomach pain and when I was hospitalized for a blood transfusion, the gastroenterologist I was referred to ran a ton of tests to take advantage of where I was. And yes, I needed an ultrasound to try to look at portions of my intestines. This time the ultrasound tech was a woman who spoke very kindly and calmly. It was still uncomfortable and painful.

Not to get into too much detail about my personal life, but I don’t have issues with pain during sex. So I feel like the discomfort (emotionally and physically) I experienced is probably pretty typical for the procedure. And those were two times that I knew they were needed to diagnose what was wrong with me- and I’m the sort of person who will happily endure 6 blood draws over the span of 36 hours and IVs inserted awkwardly at my wrist and elbow if it means I’ll get a diagnosis.

I do have an excellent memory. I can remember the best moments of my life in vivid detail- but the worst as well. The moments that were middling… I don’t remember in that much detail. Considering that I can remember everything about the two ultrasounds, I hope that helps you understand that it isn’t an experience I want to revisit.

Forcing women to have vaginal ultrasounds is nothing more than an attempt to scare and shame women into changing their minds. It is wrong- especially since there haven’t been any provisions to exclude women who were victims of sexual assault. That’s right. Violating a woman who was already violated.

Please, no matter where you stand on the issue of abortion, please stand up for women. If you live in a state where these bills are being proposed and being passed- please call your representatives. Tell them that you do not feel that this is an appropriate way to address abortion. It treats women as second class citizens, forcing them to undergo an invasive procedure- the legal definition of assault.

In a few states, it’s recently come out that they had forced sterilization of people that various states deemed feeble minded, due to mental health, poverty level and race. And it’s been met with outrage across the board. Yet allowing forced procedures like vaginal ultrasounds just begins to take us back down that slippery slope into allowing the government to decide that other invasible medical procedures are necessary.

Please. Don’t let the politicians wage war on women. Don’t let the government listen to a vocal minority and assume that’s how we all feel.

Whitney

If you’re not sure who your representatives are at any level, check out http://www.votesmart.org/ and input your address. It’ll spit out who represents you from the Presidential level all the way down to your local government. Then just click on their portaits and you’ll get their phone numbers and emails. If you’re truly upset, actually call and speak to someone. Emails don’t seem to weigh as heavily as a physical letter or a phone call.

Girl Power, Empowerment… and Sucker Punch

I’ve been meaning to write this post since I saw the movie last Saturday.

First, I should say that I liked the movie. It wasn’t perfect, but honestly… I never bought that this was supposed to be a movie about female empowerment.

That said, though, shame on Zac Snyder for thinking that this was female empowerment. I don’t doubt that the actresses felt empowered, having gone through a rigorous boot camp to learn how to wield all their weapons believably (and they do- they were more believable than most male casts in war movies), but that doesn’t mean that the movie itself is empowering. He claims that because the film is about the girls fighting back to escape, it’s empowerment. Which doesn’t automatically make it about empowerment, it makes it an escape movie.

For those unfamiliar with the movie, it’s about a girl who we only know as Babydoll who is locked up in a mental hospital, accused of killing her sister (and sent to the hospital by her stepfather, the real villain). She finds that she has five days to escape before she’ll be lobotomized, and travels to several fantasy levels to do so. Four girls from the mental hospital accompany her, so that they too can escape. (If you’re unfamiliar though, you probably want to stop reading about the movie, because I will be spoiling events)

It takes place in three separate tiers. There’s the mental hospital, which is grimy and practically in black and white. The next is a brothel, and the last is a fantasy level in which the girls are soldiers, literally fighting for their survival.

I do understand the existence of the brothel. Because we all understand what goes on in a brothel, it easily allows the movie to explain that the girls are being abused in the mental hospital without having to show it. They simply mention that they girls are supposed to do what Blue says, and the mind fills in the rest. It’s even understandable to think that Babydoll would imagine this brothel scenario in order to make the day to day life at the mental hospital seem more tolerable. Since the movie spends the bulk of its time in the brothel, the girls all spend the bulk of their time in bustiers, fishnets and heels, with long false eyelashes.

The deeper level is the fantasy level, which play out like short video game like missions that the girls have to take part in to get the items they need to escape. And they carry them out in skimpy outfits. Kicking ass, but in skimpy outfits. Keep in mind, all these levels seem to be the creation of Babydoll’s mind. She could have easily given them actual clothes or uniforms (which actually would have been a bit empowering), but instead it continues to play out like a teen boy’s notion of empowerment.

Despite the dialogue that promises the girls escape and freedom and gives them the illusion of power, it’s all lip service. The girls band together, but the film still treats them all like objects not characters. The only girl we know anything about in the movie at all is Babydoll. The rest all exist solely to serve the plot and aren’t very well fleshed out. While Sweetpea and Rocket are sisters, and there are vague things referred to about how they came to be in their predicament, it still isn’t very much. Amber and Blondie? We barely learned their names before figuring out that they were the movie’s sacrificial lambs. Want me to think that this movie isn’t just fanservice wrapped in a few words of encouragement? Let me know who the girls are.

Snyder has said that the movie is empowering because the girls are using their sexuality to escape the hell they’re in. Right. If he’d wanted to make it empowering? He would have spent a little more time in the mental hospital, where the girls weren’t made up to perfection or running around in heels. He would have let us actually see the girls use their wits and minds (and even their bodies) to triumph, instead of giving us the never seen Babydoll dance of hypnotism. And he would have actually given us real names to know the girls by, rather than nicknames that seemed to have been given to them by Blue.

So to anyone who wants to write a movie about empowerment? Write a story about the characters, not the things they do. Empowerment comes from us seeing the growth in someone, so that they can rewrite the rules and succeed. Not from us being told that they’re powerful and can do it.

_______

I have an ongoing love affair with movies that feel incomplete, or fall apart the moment you really start to think about them. Sucker Punch fell into that category for me. Definitely not in my “girl power” category. I still want to own Blondie’s goggles.

Blogging a feminist mountain out of a molehill…

Jezebel has decided to bring attention to a boycott by Anne Hays of the New Yorker. Why? Because in two issues of the New Yorker, she noticed a lack of female writers and illustrators. Let’s break out the feminist pitchforks!!

Sorry, Jezebel… no.

I would love to see more female voices reflected in magazines that aren’t directly aimed towards women- but ultimately, Anne Hays’ approach is flawed. She’s basing this boycott on two issues of the magazine. Not only that, she has no idea how many female writers and illustrators submitted work to the New Yorker. If there was a long standing pattern of rejecting quality work by female writers and illustrators, then there’d be cause.

But ultimately, what she’s doing is proclaiming the sky is falling because something hit her head.

I would like the point out that the wonderful Kate Beaton had cartoons in the New Yorker. She submitted scores, and only a couple of hers were selected- which to me doesn’t say that they’re trying to keep women out of the New Yorker… they’re simply looking for a specific sort of work, and pick the top quality stuff. (I wouldn’t make an issue out of there being many female cartoonists- there simply aren’t many women that try for that

Want to see more female writers in the New Yorker? Get familiar with what they publish and start submitting articles. Don’t say they’re sexist.

Ultimately, this is the problem I find with a lot of feminists. They want paths opened up to show an equal voice, but I’m not sure I want someone there as a token female voice. I would prefer to read something by a brilliant female mind who was picked because she was brilliant, not just because she’s a woman and they’re trying to fulfill a quota.

There’s being nice, and there’s sexism.

Earlier this week, Kate Beaton (of Hark, A Vagrant) tweeted that she wanted to address readers who tried to compliment her with some sort of sexual comment attached. The tamest example of this being “I want to have your babies.” Immediately Twitter exploded with people telling her she was wrong, some women agreed with her and she even clarified that she had posted a tame example. Some men agreed with her as well.

Someone posted a blog rebuttal, which she linked because she was trying to stimulate a discussion. Which was mostly people saying she was overreacting. Let me rephrase that sentence- it was mostly men saying that. This comic might be the best way to summarize what happened.

Read More…

On feminism

(Apologies in advance- this covers a lot of stories and I have a lot to say. Also, this is my 100th post on this blog. Yay!)

Picture by e-magic at Flickr.
Click for the original!

There have been a number of links that have made my head spin today. To start off with, cartoonist Barry Deutsch posted a checklist about Male Privilege that clearly sprang from Peggy McIntosh’s essay on white privilege. It was linked to on Blag Hag by Jen McCreight (which is how I found it), who later lamented that some of her male commenters had completely missed the point. Read More…

Don’t change at all, Erin Andrews.

Yesterday, Elizabeth Hasselbeck criticized Erin Andrews on the View for her skimpy costumes. When I first saw that blurb going around, I thought how unfair it is to say that. While I haven’t watched this season at all, I do know that the costumes are designed by the professional dancers, and have little input from the “stars.”

Then, I read the story. Read More…

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