Archive for the ‘Television’ Category

Hot water and milk

January 23, 2013

image of a woman in the 'Rosie the Riveter'/We Can Do it pose while breastfeeding her baby

[image source: strawberry mohawk]

I was initially reluctant to weigh in on the debate about public breastfeeding that ignited last week around comments from television host David Koch. Mostly because I think he has had plenty of air-time and column inches to defend his offensive and old-fashioned comments about how women should and should not breastfeed their babies. ‘Why give him and his stupid remarks any more thought?’, I thought to myself.

But the more I think about his comments, the more they enrage me.

I’ve been breastfeeding my daughter, my first baby, for about seven months now. I am angered by David Koch’s comments about how women should be “classy”, “modest” and “discreet” if they’re going to breastfeed in public.

When I first saw the segment on his Sunrise program that sparked the public outrage, I was willing to give Koch the benefit of the doubt – particularly because in that segment where he interviews three women about a ‘topic of the day’ his role is to play devil’s advocate. I figured he was just being a troll for the hell of it. Roll your eyes. Move on.

But since the original comments went to air his opinions have angered me further and I feel the need to protest. In the aftermath of his offensive comments (and yes, they are offensive!) a “nurse-in” was organised to protest outside the television studio. About 100 mothers breastfed their babies and the organiser of the protest, Amy Ahearn, was invited into the studio to discuss the matter further. She did a great job staying cool, calm and collected in front of Koch who, in response to the protesting mothers didn’t back down from his argument that women who breastfeed in public need to be careful about how they do it.

He said:

“I totally agree with breastfeeding in public, but I think you’ve got to be a bit classy about it”

His comments that women need to be modest and classy make me angry because they reinforce the idea that women’s bodies are constantly being judged. Even when doing something as natural and vital as feeding our children, we have to look “classy”?? Are you serious!?

Breastfeeding is difficult. Especially in the beginning. Breastfeeding in public is also quite tricky a lot of the time. I don’t love doing it. But when I have to feed my baby, I have to feed my baby. Running off to try and find a parents room or trying to put a cover over the baby is not always possible, nor desirable (Hello, Sydney summers. Hello, baby who loves grabbing at all kinds of fabric.)

Every single breastfeeding mother that I know is actually quite “discreet” about it – as Koch so lovingly puts it. We don’t just have our boobs hanging out all over the shop. But that’s not the point! It’s hard enough breastfeeding in public as it is, but when a male media personality with a large platform for espousing outdated opinions tells us we better cover up with a “muslin” or to turn our chairs around, or that feeding an infant by the side of a public pool is unacceptable, then we are getting the message that breastfeeding is something to be ashamed of, something to be covered up.

If you’re not presenting yourself in a classy way, ladies, then watch out! Careful not to offend any middle-aged men by letting some breast tissue be exposed while you’re feeding your child her lunch.

Koch dug himself further into his hole by making ridiculous comments such as this gem:

“I don’t mind if women sunbake topless as long as they don’t do it between the flags in a high traffic area.”

ARGH!

The double standard here is mind-boggling. Sunbaking topless and breastfeeding are vastly different activities, even though both may involve some amount of breast flesh being visible to the world. But why even mention sunbaking topless? It’s completely irrelevant.

In an article for the Sydney Morning Herald, “Breastfeeding, Kochie and double standards”, Amber Robinson writes:

Telling women to feed their babies in a smelly nappy-change area or to inhibit feeding with a cloth cover (babies usually yank it off in 5 seconds anyway) is discrimination. Motherhood is isolating enough without being forced out of public spaces because of the way you feed your child.

Indeed.

Fortunately in Australia it is a woman’s legal right to feed her baby anywhere anytime. So basically, if a mother breastfeeding a child in public bothers you, LOOK THE OTHER WAY. It’s as simple as that.

There are some other issues troubling me about this whole debate, and thanks to a link shared by Blue Milk (who blogs a lot about breastfeeding and feminism), I think I now know why I have been so pissed off by the comments from David Koch.

Blue Milk links to this great piece: “Transgressive breastfeeding and the rules of the public sphere“, written by an Australian living in Hanoi. I think she has a really interesting take on why breastfeeding in public is so, apparently, controversial. And why men like Koch think they have the right to complain about mothers not being discreet enough.

She writes:

You see, according to Sharwood (and his ilk), mothering is an ‘intimate’ and ‘private’ activity that should not be taking place in the public sphere. If somehow it does stray into that public sphere then it really ought to be careful not to become “a public spectacle.” This means that if for some reason a mother of young children does have to leave the house (which, by implication, is a transgresssive act in itself), then she should take every measure to ensure that her ‘private, intimate’ work of mothering young children does not take up public space, because it does not belong.

I think she’s really onto something here!

She goes on to write about the way the language of modesty and discreteness is actually about women’s body language rather than covering up… I quote again:

I have been wondering for days now what “discreet” even means in the context of public breastfeeding. I now realise that what it means is that the woman in question must show through her body language that she knows that she is in breach of the rules of the public sphere. The specific position of her body, or her cover, is not really the issue. The issue is the body language of apology (I think the code word being used is modesty). She needs to show that she is sorry for taking up public space with her private activity. Then it would be OK. Then she could be excused.

Being proud or even nonplussed about breastfeeding our babies is an issue, not because we are being public exhibitionists, but because we are (even if we didn’t realise it) openly challenging the rules of the public sphere. We are being unapologetically, overtly female it what is still, essentially, a male space. That is what is so offensive – the brazen transgression of these long-standing, unwritten rules.

Fascinating! I think this is such a big part of why Koch’s comments irk me so much. As breastfeeding mothers we have to seem as though we are apologising for doing something “private” in the public domain.

Well if feeding my daughter in public is being brazenly transgressive, bring it on!

Pondering Princess Fever

April 29, 2011

A photo of Kate and Prince William smiling at one another. Kate, on the left, is holding up a white floral bouquet thing. The image has been captioned at the top with "Shouldn't you be holding this rubbish?" and at the bottom with "I've got a coat to wear."
[Image source: katemiddletonforthewin.tumblr.com]

Bloody hell I’m sick of hearing about this Royal Wedding.

Who the hell cares that a couple of rich farts from an outdated institution are tying the knot? To date, my favourite headline about the whole silly business is this one: “Unemployed English Girl to Wed Soldier from Welfare Family”.

I honestly don’t know what I find more sickening. Is it the over-the-top non-stop media coverage of the lead up to the Big Event? The atrocious wedding memorablia? Is it the absurd attention to every little detail about what soon-to-be-Princess is wearing? Her weight? How she’s going to wear her hair? Whether or not she’s going to don a tiara?

Or could it be the nauseating sentimentality, and the Princess-fever that seems to have swept everyone up. Do women really dream of nothing except the charming and remote possibility of becoming a princess one day? I think not.

I also don’t understand how the fairytale can remain such a buoyant fantasy when we saw, in the case of Diana, that becoming a princess does not guarantee the happy ending.

And don’t get me started on the problematic representations of Beauty, Bride, Feminine, White Heteronormativity, etc, that perpetuate limited roles and ideals for women.

Look, I’m not anti-wedding altogether. I love a good wedding as much as the next person. I’ve been to many a gorgeous event to witness various friends celebrate their love in a formal ceremony. It can be a beautiful thing. Good food, smart outfits, a perfect excuse for a party, and a chance to celebrate life and love with people you care about.

But surely the joy of a wedding, and the celebration of a partnership, only has real meaning if you actually know the two people involved?

I also have a bunch of reservations about the institution of marriage itself, particularly the fact that not everyone in Australia is allowed to marry their chosen loved one.

I’m also kinda disappointed that the Chaser’s pisstake coverage of the event has been canned. That would have at least provided a bit of relief from the earnest coverage the wedding has been receiving since they announced the engagement.

Heh, and I just found another cool headline. Whoah! No way! – ‘Couple Who Met at University to Marry’:

Two people who went to university together are to get married, it has emerged.

William Windsor (or possibly Wales or possibly Saxe-Coburg-Gotha) and Kate Middleton, both 28, met at St Andrews University eight years ago.

Mr Windsor is a Flight Lieutenant in the RAF – and also a prince.

Wall-to-wall, dewy-eyed hysterical coverage can be found in every other media outlet.

Indeed. Make it stop!

Garnish suitably

January 16, 2011

Whenever I watch Mad Men I find myself feeling incredibly grateful that I was born when I was, and that second wave feminism came along in the 1960s and 70s to improve opportunities for women, and to improve gender relations more generally.

When I marvel at the period depicted in Mad Men, all retro and cool in its whisky-slugging, cigar-smoking, no-such-thing-as-sexual-harrassment-laws way, sometimes it’s easy to forget how recent that era was. I sometimes have to remind myself that this level of sexism (and racism and homophobia) is not something from back in the dark ages. Sure, it was last century, but it really wasn’t that long ago. My thought process often goes something like this: “Oh yeah, my mum lived through this. She was a teenager in the 60s. Wow, I’m so glad things have changed!”.

For me, one of the best things about Mad Men is that reminder. But I don’t mean to set up a distinction between the bad old days of the sixties and some sort of feminist utopia of the present. I’m certainly not suggesting that sexism, racism, homophobia are things of the past.

In fact, some of the most powerful moments in the series – the ones that turn up the dial on my melancholia or my rage – are the reminders that, actually, things have not changed as much as they could have. As much as they should have.

One theme that came through quite strongly in the interviews that I did with young women for my PhD, was the idea that women had more to fight for in previous generations; that the inequalities were much more stark, more obvious, more urgent. And I suppose this is what Mad Men helps to highlight for me. That is, the sheer awfulness of the misogyny depicted in the program gives me a hint of what it was like ‘back then’, and helps me understand what second-wave feminists were battling against.

But my interviews with young women also uncovered a sense among this generation that although lots of things have been achieved for women, there is still a long way to go. This sentiment was summed up really well by one of my participants, who I nicknamed Katrina. She said:

But I don’t know, it’s not really an equality that’s you know, “I’m not allowed to do this but he is”, kind of thing. I think it’s more an inequality in that women get raped more than men, and women are in domestic violence situations more than men. And women report sexual harassment more than men. So in that way we’re not equal because there’s still this divide in what’s acceptable to do to a woman and what is acceptable to do to a man. And so that’s unequal. But in terms of, kind of, yes we get paid equally. However women experience the glass ceiling. So yeah, it’s kind of an unequal equality, if that kind of makes sense.

Katrina, and a number of other participants, recognised that issues such as domestic violence, sexual harassment and barriers to women in the workplace are still important and worthy of our attention. In my thesis I used Katrina’s phrase “unequal equality” to unpack the complex relationship that young women have with feminism, and also to discuss the idea that equality discourses alone cannot adequately deal with the issues and pressures they are experiencing.

But having said all that, I was recently, hilariously, reminded of how attitudes to gender have changed in recent decades. At my mother’s house a little while ago, we were flicking through her copy of the The Commonsense Cookery Book, an Australian classic that was first published in 1914. My mum’s edition is from the 1960s and is filled with all manner of weird-sounding delights, such as Apple Snow – a recipe involving stewed apple, sugar, beaten egg-whites and red food colouring. Mmm, delicious!

Besides being grateful for advances in gastronomy, looking through that cookbook made me think about the generational aspects of gender relations. My mother and her sister were both given copies of The Commonsense Cookery Book when they started high school in the early 1960s. My grandmother told us that she too was handed a copy of the book when she began high school!! In the 1930s!

If my grade-seven classmates had been handed a recipe book on our first day at big school in the early 1990s, we would have laughed in the teachers’ faces. In the years between my mum’s first year at high school and my first year, something shifted. No longer was it a woman’s primary role to be a housekeeper, a wife and a mother.

The image at the top is a photograph of a page from the Commonsense Cookery Book with a recipe for “toasted sandwiches”. I had to take a photo because I found it so amusing. The text reads:

TOASTED SANDWICHES
Method
1. Make the sandwiches.
2. Toast on both sides and cut into small triangles
3. Serve on a hot plate and doily
4. Garnish suitably

I laughed for minutes when I first came across this recipe. I particularly love how there are no actual instructions or ingredients for the sandwich, but there is detailed information about doilies, garnishes, and the shape that the sandwiches should be cut into.Thank goodness we’ve moved on from teaching school girls how to make toasties!

Learning Gender

November 28, 2010

I’ve got another video for you to watch, Feminist Frequency: Toy ads and learning gender.

It’s by Anita Sarkeesian from Feminist Frequency, a video-blogger I’ve linked to before.

Hoyden about Town and Blue Milk have already linked to this video, but I wanted to share it too because it’s really good and shows so clearly the way children are socialised into limiting gender roles from an early age.

[There's a transcript of the video available here]

This weekend’s Sydney Morning Herald has a section on Christmas gift ideas for boys and girls (children and teenagers). Annoyingly, they seem to follow a similar logic to the toy advertisements above. You only have to glance at the two pages to notice the differences in colour. The girls’ page is red/pink and the boys’ page is blue. But here are some of the gift suggestions.

Girls: bikini (pink and red), red Nintendo DSi, pink stationery and lip gloss, a red skateboard and a red scooter (at least there are some active things, I suppose), pink rollerblades, a handbag with red cherries, a necklace, sandals with pink ruffles. The only things that are not so stereotypical and worryingly coloured are a black digital camera and a copy of Roald Dahl’s The BFG.

Boys: star-gazer kit, a game of quoits, a cubby house (blue roof), model aeroplanes (mostly blue), blue and white checked sandshoes, a telescope, a planetarium (also blue).

The gifts for the teenagers are also heavily gendered.

Teen girl: lip-shaped telephone, high heeled shoes, a pink purse, make-up, a necklace (with a pink flamingo pendant), a pink watch, a pink dress, a floral bikini, and Gossip Girl on DVD.

Teen boy: Red sneakers, red skateboard. And the rest of the things are mostly black – electric guitar, an amp, a bicycle, sunglasses, earphones, a skateboarding magazine.

Sigh.

How about I throw in a picture of my cock?

November 21, 2010

Check out this video of American comedian and political satirist Bill Maher. He’s talking about an American football star, Brett Favre, who was recently involved in a bit of scandal because he allegedly texted (or sexted) pictures of his penis to a female sports journalist.

The details of the case don’t really interest me (and neither does American football) but what is cool and interesting and funny is Bill Maher’s response to the whole thing.

The clip goes for nearly six minutes, but the good bits (I think) start around 1 minute 10 seconds in, because this is when Maher begins to tie this “sport sexting scandal” to a broader discussion about white masculinity and the rise in popularity of conservative women like Sarah Palin, or “MILFs of the New Right”, as he calls them.

If you can’t view the video, I’ve transcribed some parts of Maher’s piece that I think are the most interesting:
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Female television characters: assorted favourites

October 15, 2010

I know this has been done before, but I thought it would be fun to give it a shot. In no particular order, below are some of my favourite female characters to have graced the small screen.

Lynda Day from Press Gang

Ah, Lynda Day. What a woman. Smart, sassy, successful. Press Gang was such an awesome television show. It was about a group of school kids who run a newspaper, the ‘Junior Gazette’. Lynda was the bossy, confident, bitchy and ambitious editor, and she was brilliant. The entire cast were fantastic, actually. A couple of years ago I bought the series on DVD because I wanted to re-live it’s awesomeness. I was pleased when it lived up to the fond memories I had. The Spike-Lynda relationship is full of brilliant one-liners and offers perhaps the most sparkling sexual tension ever seen on the small screen. (Is it wrong to say such a thing about teenaged characters?) For me it remains immensely enjoyable television, largely due to the clever writing and snappy dialogue by Steven Moffat. I am forever grateful to him for creating such a brilliant piece of children’s television series and for bringing to life one of the coolest female characters of all time.

Isobel Sutherland from Hamish Macbeth

Yep, another newspaper journalist. Based on my love for all these fictional journalists, it’s surprising I didn’t decide to study journalism. I do however have a massive love affair with Scotland. And I suspect it all started with Hamish, which was set and filmed in the beautiful Scottish Highlands. The series is named after the local policeman of a sleepy little Scottish village, Lochdubh. Isobel, played by Shirley Henderson, works on the local newspaper and for much of the series, her love for Hamish is painfully unrequited. Later in the series (as far as I can remember) Hamish returns her love, but he’s in a relationship with Alex, a tall blonde woman whom as an audience, we’re never supposed to like. We all know he’d be happier with Isobel, the short, sweet, softly-spoken brunette. I fear I’m making the show sound a bit naff. But it was brilliant. It had quirky and well-developed characters, surreal plots, and a wicked sense of humour. Oh, and accents. Sexy sexy Scottish accents.

In one of episode, fed up with Hamish’s inability to recognise her devotion and awesomeness, Isobel goes off to the big smoke to get a makeover. She has a job interview, joins the gym, crops her hair short, buys a convertible and scores a date with a lad from another village. Hamish is mega-jealous. However, Isobel wasn’t only there to be the love-interest. Her role as the village reporter had her involved in most of the police action, and she often uncovered mysteries or helped solve them.

Veronica Mars from Veronica Mars

I’ve written briefly about my Veronica fandom before, but I’ll say it again. This chick is awesome. She’s a highschool student by day, private detective by night. She’s booksmart and streetsmart and always manages to solve the mystery, whether it be a trivial highschool drama or an unsolved murder. She’s also very techno-savvy, and we’ll often see her using the latest gadgets to help catch the bad guy. Veronica is supported by a strong cast and the writing is full of deliciously witty one-liners and wry observations about the world.

Caitlin from the Degrassi series

The great thing aboot Degrassi – apart from the fantastic Canadian accents – was the way we got to see the characters from grade seven all the way through until senior highschool. In the process the series tackled a whole range of issues facing young people. There were lots of memorable characters in Degrassi – Joey, Spike, Snake, Melanie, to name a few – but I think Caitlin was always my favourite. She was an outspoken activist and she worked on the school newspaper (see, there’s definitely a theme here). She re-appears in the new version, Degrassi: The Next Generation. I’m so pleased they made an updated version for another generation of kids to enjoy. Caitlin appears occasionally in this season, and there’s a whole storyline devoted to Kevin Smith, who so famously admitted his crush on Caitlin that he was offered a cameo appearance as Caitlin’s partner. One of his characters in Chasing Amy says he has a “weird thing for girls who say ‘aboot’”. Thanks to Caitlin, I think a lot of people do.

Darlene from Roseanne

I was thinking I should probably have Roseanne on this list, but then I realised that my favourite character from that show was actually the sarcastic and sullen teenager, Darlene. Roseanne was a pretty groundbreaking show, in that it was one of the first to portray a working class family. And one headed by an overweight woman. Even today there aren’t many portrayals like this. I haven’t seen episodes of Roseanne for years so I can’t remember many details, but I liked Darlene. She was the apathetic sister who offset the annoying perkyness of Becky, and she delivered her lines with a deadpan humour that I remember fondly. I was also a bit jealous of her because I had a crush on her boyfriend, David.

Albee from Love is a Four Letter Word

Perhaps the most obscure on my list, Albee was a character in a short-lived Australian drama called Love is a Four Letter Word that screened on the ABC in 2001. It was set in the innerwest of Sydney (some of it was actually filmed at one of my favourite pubs) and featured a cast of twenty-something characters. I remember longing to be like Albee and her grunge-trendy (and troubled) friends. The stories revolved around their love lives, failed attempts at careers and the ongoing battle against the poker machines that were threatening to ruin the live music scene. In fact, one of the coolest aspects of the show was that it featured a different Australian band each week.

I just found this archived website, with a page about Albee. She worked in publishing and I think she was writing a novel. She was in a relationship with Angus, played by Peter Fenton (actor and lead singer of Sydney band Crow). I liked Albee a lot. Apparently in one episode she said: “They accused me of being a shit-house feminist because I couldn’t quote the great ten female novelists of all time. I got a couple but they weren’t from my top ten”. I’m sure this line must have endeared Albee to me even more. Even though I was enrolled in Gender Studies when this was on air, I remember feeling like I was a bit of a shit-house feminist at times, too. Before I learned that there’s no “proper” way of being feminist. I’d love to re-watch this series to see if I still think Albee is fantastic. I even tried to emulate her outfits. :)

Joan Holloway from Mad Men

I’m having a tough time deciding on my favourite female character from Mad Men. Peggy, Betty and Joan are all pretty awesome in different ways. You’ve got the ambitious career woman in Peggy, and the downtrodden, depressed and lonely housewife in Betty Draper (perfectly epitomising The Feminine Mystique, and constantly reminding me how fortunate I am to have been born post-second-wave-feminism). And then there’s Joan, the bitchy, beautiful and va-va-voom curvaceous office manager. Even though she doesn’t have any official power at Sterling-Cooper – she’s only a woman after all – she’s definitely the queen bee of the secretaries and you wouldn’t want to cross her. She’s confident and self-sufficient and knows how to use her assets to get what she wants. [I've only seen up until the end of Season Two so no spoilers please!]

Lisa from The Simpsons

Ah, Lisa, the little girl doomed to wear that red dress and be eight-years-old forever. She’s the yellow, spikey-haired over-achiever we all love. She’s passionate about the environment and social justice issues, and always stands up for her beliefs, despite what her family or the Springfield townsfolk think of her. She’s headstrong and clever, with a big heart and a love for her family that doesn’t go away no matter how infuriating they can be.

Kate from The United States of Tara

I love all the characters in Tara. The gay teenage son, Marshall. The loving and patient husband, Max. The ditsy sister, Charmaine. And of course there’s Tara, and her “alters”, brilliantly played by Toni Collette. But my heart lies with the outspoken, sarcastic and somewhat troubled teenage daughter, Kate, played by Brie Larson. In the second season she starts dressing up as comic book character Princess Valhalla Hawkwind. I loved this postfeminist superhero persona, but for Kate dressing up as the Princess was just an escape. She acts all tough and knowing, but really she’s sensitive and doesn’t always deal very well with her mother’s mental illness. In the end she ditches Princess Valhalla, saying: “I’m mad at myself. I wanted to be an adult and I settled for a costume”. Kate is strong, but there’s also a vulnerability to her that I like, that makes her seem very believable as she navigates her way to being a ‘grown up’, whatever that means.

Buffy Summers from Buffy the Vampire Slayer

And last but not least, Buffy, our real postfeminist superhero. Wise-cracking, vampire-killing tough chick, Buffy Summers is probably Joss Whedon’s most famous character. The show ran for 7 seasons and developed a cult following. Buffy is independent, smart and incredibly physically strong. She’s also surrounded by a fantastic group of friends whom we also grow to love over the years. In the early seasons, we see Buffy as a schoolgirl, trying to balance the dramas of being a teenager with her demon-slaying responsibilities. Later in the series, she’s more mature but still wrestling with who she is and what she wants from life. Buffy has an incredibly strong cast of characters, but what I love the most is the humour. The clever dialogue, the mid-battle banter and the witty one-liners always have me coming back for more.

Also, if you haven’t seen it already, check out Joss Whedon’s Equality Now speech, where he discusses the answers he usually gives to the rather ridiculous question that he is most often asked: “Why do you write these strong women characters?”.

Honourable mentions:
- Brenda Chenowith, Six Feet Under (lots of great female characters in that show!)
- Alicia Florrick, The Good Wife
- Miranda, Sex and the City
- Lynette, Desperate Housewives
- Shane from The L Word
- Teresa Lisbon, The Mentalist
- Sookie, True Blood

Who else?! Who are you favourite female television characters? Why do you love them?

Princess Valhalla: postfeminist superhero

August 24, 2010

Not too long ago I posted a link to a rather odd video called Princess Valhalla Hawkwind. For readers who don’t know the television series The United States of Tara, the youtube clip would have made absolutely no sense. I awarded it a ‘postfeminist heroine of the week’ prize, but without explaining why. So perhaps it’s time to try put Princess Valhalla into context.

First, let me explain a little about the series. Don’t worry, there won’t be spoilers. In Australia the ABC is screening Series 2 once a week. (Except it has been rudely interupted mid-season by The Chaser’s election show. Boo!) You can also watch the series online via iView, but only one or two episodes are ever up at one time. The series is executive produced by Steven Spielberg, written by Diablo Cody (of Juno fame) and features Australia’s Toni Collette in the lead role.

Toni Collette is absolutely fantastic in this. So good that she has won Emmy and Golden Globe awards. She plays Tara, wife to Max and mother of teenage kids Kate and Marshall (perhaps my two favourite characters). Toni Collette also plays several other characters, in the form of Tara’s “alter egos” or Alters, because Tara suffers from dissociative identity disorder.

I’m not a psychologist so I don’t know how accurate a portrayal of the condition this is. But this is television, and as a piece of drama, it’s fantastic. I really love it. The acting is brilliant, the scripts are moving and hilarious and the relationships between the characters always strike me as believable. Each character copes with Tara’s mental illness in different ways, painting the complex story of a family in all its quirks, its tensions and its humour.

So where does this whacky Princess Valhalla Hawkwind character come in?

I’m glad you asked. Princess Valhalla Hawkwind is a fictional character within the series. We first come across her when Kate (in her new job as a debt-collector) has to track down a woman called Lynda P. Frazier. Lynda turns out to be an artist, and the creator of a comic-book featuring feminist super-hero Princess Valhalla. Kate and Lynda quickly become friends, hanging out and smoking pot. Kate becomes fascinated with the Princess Valhalla character, and in one episode she raids Lynda’s wardrobe to dress up in full Princess Valhalla costume.

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Princess Valhalla Hawkwind

July 21, 2010

Our feminist of the week, or “fictional post-feminist superheroine” of the week goes to Princess Valhalla Hawkwind!

What would Buffy do?

June 20, 2010

Have you seen the Buffy vs Edward (Twilight Remixed) clip yet? If you haven’t, you’re missing out.

As a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I absolutely love this brilliantly edited six-minute video mashup. It was created by Jonathan McIntosh and cleverly merges together scenes from Buffy with scenes from Twilight to highlight just how creepy Edward’s actions are. I’ve watched it a few times, but now that I’ve actually seen the Twilight film, I feel compelled to write about it. It was odd to see Edward in the original context rather than in the mashup. I thought, perhaps, that if I saw Edward in the film I’d be able to understand the attraction. But for me, Edward is as creepy in the movie as he is in the mashup. There is one scene in the film where Bella wakes to find Edward hovering near the end of her bed. He has entered her bedroom at night, without her consent. (I think this breaks vampire-story convention, but anyway…) He goes on to tell Bella that he likes to watch her sleep. Bella doesn’t find this disturbing or stalker-y. Instead she thinks it’s incredibly romantic and later in the scene they share their first kiss.

I’d read criticisms of Twilight in relation to Edward’s possessive and stalker/abusive tendencies before, but it wasn’t until I finally saw the film that I realised how truly creepy Edward is. I think he’s actually creepier and stalkier in the film adaptation than in the novel on which it was based.

A little while ago I read the first Twilight book in an attempt to understand the female fandom surrounding the series. I was sick of critics dissing the series on the basis that lots of women were fans of it. “Oh, those stupid women, how can they like this trash?”. (As an aside, this type of criticism is often used in relation to Sex and the City too). The first Twilight novel is pretty badly written, but despite my lack of interest in Bella as a character, I must admit, it was still a bit of a page-turner. The movie version, not so much. In fact, I didn’t hang around for the end of the film. Over an hour in and Bella’s only just figuring out that Edward is a vampire? Yawn. I might have been able to put up with the wooden acting and plodding pace, but what’s the point of a vampire love story without any blood, sex or lust?

But back to the mashup. In some ways it seems silly to compare Twilight with Buffy. Despite the presence of vampires in both stories, they really are quite different genres. Twilight is not a vampire superhero-action-horror. It is essentially a romance. It’s Mills&Boon for teenagers. Except the bad boy who comes to rescue the heroine from her boring life is not a leather-jacket-wearing, motorbike-riding, tough-guy/delinquent [insert your choice of 'bad boy' here], but a blood-suckin’ vampire. I can kind of see the appeal in that respect. The drama and sexual tension based around the person you can’t have, or the person you’re not supposed to have, is the basis for many of the best love stories. (But, of course, the Buffy and Spike relationship in BtVS does this waaay better).

I think what I find most problematic about the Bella-Edward relationship is that the whole thing is a metaphor for abstinence. Vampire stories are often largely about the sexual awakening of the young female character, and that’s fine, but it becomes a problem in this story because it is framed within the dangers of an ‘uncontrollable’ male sexuality. If Edward “can’t control himself”, Bella’s going to get deaded. This is quite a dangerous and unhealthy portrayal of human sexuality. Men are painted as predators, and women as helpless victims. As McIntosh (the creator of the mashup) puts it, their romance plays into “antiquated, sexist gender stereotypes”. These outdated stereotypes are not helpful for men or women.

The mashup video works so well because it uses the strength and humour of Buffy’s character to demonstrate the creep-factor of Edward. I absolutely love the part where Edward is following Buffy down a dark laneway at night, and she turns around and tells him “You know, being stalked isn’t really a big turn on for girls.” Brilliant stuff!

Jonathan McIntosh has written an interesting piece about his “Twilight remixed” project here: What would Buffy do? Notes on dusting Edward Cullen.

He writes,

Five months in the making, Buffy v. Edward is essentially an answer to the question “What Would Buffy Do?” My re-imagined story was specifically constructed as a response to Edward, and what his behavior represents in our larger social context for both men and women. More than just a showdown between The Slayer and the Sparkly Vampire, it’s also a humorous visualization of the metaphorical battle between two opposing visions of gender roles in the 21st century.

And a bit later,

We were troubled by how the main characters in Twilight seemed to embody antiquated, sexist gender stereotypes. Teenage protagonist Bella Swan is written as passive, co-dependant and perpetually the damsel in distress. Edward Cullen, her love interest, is written as over-protective, domineering and possessive.

What has always been so great about Buffy the Vampire Slayer (and I think it’s the case with True Blood as well) is that these gendered stereotypes are turned completely on their heads. The female characters may fall in love with vampires, but Buffy and Sookie are never passive, helpless victims in the story. They’re strong, independent and they know their own minds. Both series also explore death, sexuality and human relationships in much more nuanced ways than Twilight.

Related to this topic:
* A Feminist’s Guide to Curing Yourself of Twilight-Mania. I think the author of this piece makes some good points about the reasons behind the popularity of Twilight. The writer herself was caught up in the story and was reminded of the drama and intensity of being a teenaged girl. I too felt a bit like this when reading the novel. Although I cursed Bella for being so passive and un-interesting, there were elements of her character that rang true for me…particularly the sense of adolescent insecurity that Bella does so well.

* And while I’m on the theme of vampires, I recommend this article, which is not about pop cultural representations of blood-suckers, but explores some of the history behind the emergence of vampire myths: All the Dead are Vampires. (Thanks to O, song! for the link)

So to bring this to a hasty conclusion, we all know what Buffy would do.

…and then Buffy staked Edward. The End.

Fangirl feminism

June 4, 2010

Whoah, another new post. Two in the one day!! Perhaps I’m avoiding something. Like that mega pile of essays over there on my desk. The pile that contains about 160k words. But wait, this blog is for pondering feminism and pop culture. Not pondering procrastination! Right then. Here we go.

I recently stumbled across a wonderful woman on Teh Intertubes. Her name’s Anita Sarkeesian.

You can find her work at http://www.feministfrequency.com: Conversations with Pop Culture. An ongoing series of videoblog commentaries from a fangirl/feminist perspective.

I haven’t had time to check out all of her stuff yet, but she’s getting my vote for “feminist of the week” because two of her videoblogs (embedded below) are simply fabulous. They align so neatly with both my academic and fangirl interests that I just have to share!

(The Bechdel Test for Women in Movies)

One of my students discussed the Bechdel Test in class the other day. I had not heard of it before. You may not have either. This short 2-min clip neatly describes what the Bechdel Test is. Watch it, if you haven’t already!

Basically, to pass the Bechdel Test (or the Mo Movie Measure, as it is sometimes referred) a film has to meet these three very simple criteria.

1. It has to have at least two women in it,
2. Who talk to each other,
3. About something besides a man.

It is incredibly eye-opening to realise how many films don’t make the cut. A film might meet one or two of the points, but it cannot pass the test unless all three points are met. As pointed out in the video, the Bechdel test highlights systemic problems with the way women are portrayed in movies.

The maker of this fantastic videoblog won my heart and cemented herself as this month’s “feminist of the week” after I watched another of her clips: “Why we need you Veronica Mars”!!

Just this week I have started (re)watching Season 2 of Veronica Mars in all its funny, sassy, feminist brilliance. And then I happened upon this gorgeous youtube clip offering brilliant and insightful commentary about Veronica, popular culture and feminism. What’s not to love?

(Why we need you Veronica Mars)

Like, Anita, I urge you to get your hands on some Veronica. It’s brilliant television.


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