Wednesday, November 25, 2009

This is just... wow

Not that you needed me to tell you this, but don't go looking at for intelligent reflections on the topic of feminism.

Case in point: a recent article that, in its single lucid moment, notes that the feminist label has been "corroded" and taken on a negative connotation that is difficult to shake, that its stereotype suggests "a woman who's basically unattractive both in looks and spirit". For most of us who call ourselves feminist - and who don't see ourselves as "unattractive both in looks and spirit", much less see that in our friends who identify as feminist - this is a problem. And feminists tend to respond in one of two ways: to try and recuperate the word or to continue being a feminist in practice without naming it as such.

Salmansohn, the author of the article, tries something else. And it's awful. The blurb under the headline sets the stage nicely: "Being a strong, powerful woman doesn't mean you have to be tough, overworked and unattractive. Karen Salmansohn explains how power and success come from being in touch with your feminine, sexy and loving side." Implicitly, then, we're meant to assume that feminists aren't unfairly maligned, but that they actually "have to be" unattractive. Salmansohn isn't just reporting the stereotype - she's validating it. Like I said, awful.

Writes Salmansohn: "We don't have to make a choice between feminine or powerful and successful. We can be all those things." Sure, sounds great. This attitude is, in fact, a premise that's central to pretty much every feminist movement - it is feminism. Except, according to Salmansohn, it isn't. Because this is what she wrote in the preceding sentences: "I find this negative connotation to be shameful and highly unhelpful. Women could truly benefit from finding a more inspiring word than 'feminism' to stand by, as well as stand for, when seeking to become our most powerful and successful selves." Apparently, it doesn't matter that feminism can already provide what she's looking for - she's been shamed into refusing it.

And where does this shame come from, anyway? Salmansohn opens the piece with a story told by a male friend who can't fathom that he was mugged by a woman and convinces himself that "he was a transvestite". And Salmansohn uses this anecdote to segue into her lament, opining that "there's still a disconnect between a woman being 'beautiful, leggy, sexy' and being powerful—even in a low-level career like mugger." Sadly, but appropriately, it's a man's failure to acknowledge female power that leads the author to declare feminism a lost cause - because, clearly, if some trans/homophobic guy has "a disconnect", what hope could women possibly have?

The problem here is not "feminism", the movement or the word, but the all too telling implication that feminism won't get anywhere unless it toes the line with the heteronormative men who still refuse to legitimize it. Except that looking for legitimation within the order that you ostensibly oppose isn't likely to change much of anything. "Empowering" women by encouraging them to play on men's terms, within a sexual economy that privileges being desirable to straight men, isn't something new - it's simply more of the same.

(I'll avoid taking many direct shots at the idea of "feminine-ism". It's a patently idiotic idea that, in its ignorance, steals from feminism as much as it claims to revise it, and reduces gender equality to calls to embrace your "male and female sides" - a bland pastiche of the second-wave and self-help rhetoric that needs only to add bits about 'actualization' or 'realizing your full potential'. And it reduces men's participation to that of an audience: "what's not for a man to love?" It's in this shameless reproduction of a heterosexual economy premised on men's desire for women, and women's requirement to be desired as objects, that it falls over that the line that separates the merely ludicrous from the ironically sad.)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Adventures in TAing, case 6 (in a ? case series): don't do what Donny Don't does

Prefacing your request for an extension #1 - due to illness:
'I forged a doctor's note in another class.'

Asking for an extension #2 - due to chronic lateness:
'Can I hand the second essay in late so that I have more time to finish the first essay?'

Asking for an extension #3 - due to ???:
'I need a good mark because I can't petition the grade. I have too many petitions already.'

Bargaining for a better participation grade #1:
'But I talk to you after class all the time'
(All of these after-class discussions related to late papers, not the content of the course. And yes, sadly, they did happen 'all the time'.)

Bargaining for a better participation grade #2:

'But I took really good notes.'
(The student also kindly offered to email them to me.)

for study tips:
'I didn't have the chance to read any of the readings, yet. Do you have any advice for how I should study for the test?'
(Nine weeks into the course, no less.)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Batman and Robin (the comic book, not the movie)

I was planning on a writing a very brief blog post about Grant Morrison's Batman and Robin, which I found amusing enough when Quitely was drawing it, and much less so when Tan took over from him. And it would be short because, by the sixth issue, I just totally lost patience with it. Tan's art is muddy and hard to follow and Flamingo, while dressed up in an appropriate homage to the 60s show, is simply an awful character. (He laughs and has some sort of ambiguous resistance to pain and/or injury. That's it - he doesn't talk, doesn't do anything other than fight.)

Then Geoff pointed out this short essay at 4thletter, which argues that these six issues are a rewriting of Alan Moore's Killing Joke, a new version that's situates Jason Todd as the Joker to Dick Grayson's Batman and, further, fractures the character of the Joker and spreads his various aspects (with diminishing returns, I think) among the villains of the piece. Which is clever, but it isn't enough to redeem the awful art and generally boring story. (Maybe if it was, oh, two issues shorter and Tan didn't draw one page of it. Maybe.)

Saturday, November 14, 2009

V, cult audiences, and disappointment

It seems like this TV season has a few new players vying to take Lost's place. Of these shows, V is the only one I've seen, and it makes its goals pretty clear. The opening shot is of Elizabeth Mitchell (late of Lost) lying in bed, and the camera zooms in on her face as her eye opens. Lost has started episodes this way no fewer than 18 times, enough so that it's clear the producers of V are making a winking reference to it.

But V isn't just trying to suck in the Lost audience - as a lot of people have noticed, the cast is overflowing with actors from other sci-fi shows with cult followings: Inara and Wash from Firefly, Tom from The 4400, Kara from Smallville, and Tory from Battlestar Galactica spring immediately to mind. Part of the fun, I'm sure, is trying to read the characters that these people are better known for against their V counterparts - Alan Tudyk's Dale is Wash, at least until they pull the rug out from underneath us by revealing he's a V sleeper agent; Rekha Sharma's Sarita Malik appears to be an FBI agent who's suspicious of the Vs, though her role on BSG makes us immediately suspicious of her.

That said, the first two episodes have been disappointing. We were promised a reveal on par with the original series' dislocated-jaw-hamster-swallowing, but it hasn't materialized - and we're already two episodes into only a four episode block before it disappears until the spring. (And given that nearly 1/3 of their audience disappeared in between the premiere and the second episode, we can't be sure that it'll ever return.)

Friday, November 13, 2009

Brief comment on Twilight

With New Moon about to premiere, I thought I should finally getting around to commenting on Twilight, which I watched a couple months back. (I also read parts of the book, but couldn't bring myself to read more than a page here or there in isolation. It is badly, badly written - Bella "shudder/s/ed" four times on one page. Either buy a thesaurus or send her to a doctor, because this girl is obviously sick.) And having seen the movie, I get why people like it - it's hot. Pattinson and Stewart do a remarkably good job of making it look like their blood is boiling over with super-heated hormones and it's all they can do to keep it from exploding out of their perpetually fluttering eyelids and, yes, shuddering bodies.

But that doesn't make it good, or even not bad. And it also isn't enough to totally distract you from the often subtle, and sometimes less so, creepiness of Edward and Bella's relationship. When you notice that the characters seem to model their behavior on stereotypes of abuser and victim - especially in the hospital scene near the end, which made my skin crawl - that kills the sexiness pretty fast.

[Only somewhat related: I just learned that the villain in the Buffy: Season Eight comic is also named Twilight. I'm guessing there's a joke here, as Buffy fans on the whole despise the Twilight series for undermining Buffy's feminism, but has it been made explicit? Is there anything more to the joke than the name?]