Thursday, 26 July 2012

Criticism: In Which I Judge You For Liking The Fifty Shades of Grey Trilogy

So... The Fifty Shades Trilogy. Let's discuss.
Apparently we're calling it "Mommy Porn"?

Unless you've been living under a rock, you've heard of the Fifty Shades Trilogy, and you know that it has exploded in popularity basically overnight. Last count puts it as the fastest selling paperback of all time, edging out J.K. Rowling's (far superior) Harry Potter series.

A lot has been said about the books. Some people love it, and profess that it's forever changed their sex lives. Some think it's simply a poorly written story. Some can't seem to get over the fact that Ana is the world's first 21-year-old luddite, and others refuse to read it entirely. But the narrative that seems to keep getting lost, and the one that I think is most important, is the fact that the Fifty Shades trilogy glorifies abuse

Yes, ABUSE. And it's not okay that you're okay with that.

The Fifty Shades Trilogy
via Dorkadore

Before I continue, let me be clear: I am not saying or implying that these novels promote abuse and violence because they depict a relationship that includes BDSM. BDSM within a consenting sexual relationship is NOT abuse. I'll repeat myself because that last part is important. BDSM is not, in and of itself, abuse, and Christian's interest in BDSM is not what makes him an abuserMy opinion about these novels is not based on how these characters choose to get their jollies, but rather on how one half of the couple (Christian) exerts control over the other half (Ana) by emotionally manipulating her into submission. The fact of the matter, is that Christian Grey preys on Ana Steele. He controls every aspect of her life and even goes so far as to legally isolate her, by having her sign a non-disclosure. A non-disclosure for a romantic relationship. Not at all problematic. Additionally, he continually pressure her into giving him more than she feels comfortable with. Date rape. Basically.

Jennifer Armintrout of Sweater for Days and Moves like Jagger has written the best analysis of the abuse in Christian and Ana's relationship that I have seen so far. In it, she details the red flags in their relationship, working from a list in the book How to Spot a Dangerous Man. She writes,

The following "red flags" are from a hand out entitled "Universal Red Flags" taken from a book called How To Spot A Dangerous Man. The instructions read: "Check all the following that apply even if only remotely". Let me share the ones I checked on Ana's behalf:

You wish he would go away, you want to cry, and you want to run away from him. Ana often thinks about how she can "escape" Christian, how she needs to find an exit, how she can't handle being around him because she can't trust herself to think clearly. In just the portion of the book we've reviewed so far, Ana has ended three of her encounters with Christian as a sobbing mess.
You feel bad about yourself when you are around him. One of the clearest indicators, to me, anyway, that there is a power imbalance in their relationship is the fact that Ana constantly compares herself - how she looks, how she acts, how she's dressed - to Christian and his very wealthy lifestyle, and she always finds herself lacking. She often wonders why he's interested in her.

You only feel good about yourself when you are with him. Conversely, Ana doesn't have a nice word to say about herself unless it's confirmed by Christian. When her roommate tells her that she's pretty, Ana interprets it as a patronizing compliment Kate can't possibly mean, but when Christian Grey calls Ana beautiful, she suddenly believes she is. In fact, the only time she believes anything good about herself is when Christian is saying it.
Your value system and his are very different, and it's problematic. I have this phrase I trot out from time to time with my friends who are dating: If you have to "work on" the relationship within the first month, it's not going to work out. Sometimes, people are simply incompatible. Ana and Christian have spent most of their relationship with Ana trying to find ways around giving Christian what he wants, and Christian refusing to bend on his expectations. This is not going to clear up in a few more dates.

Because pain is love. Naturally
via Fanpop

If you're paying attention, the message these novels are trying to send is that "Love will overcome all", that love and passion consume you, and that if you try hard enough, you can change a person into someone better. Better for them, and better for you. But the implicit message is that if you love someone, you should stick it out with them no matter what, even when the situation is no longer safe or comfortable for you. These books are a manual on how to become an abused woman. Ana is unwittingly part of her own subjugation, and ignores her own instincts in order to preserve a relationship that she thinks is the best thing to ever happen to her. She's so completely invested in the fantasy of her relationship with Christian that she doesn't think she deserves him.

Not healthy.

And let's talk about Christian Grey for a moment. Other than his blinding and overwhelming beauty/handsomeness, he seems to have no redeeming qualities. He blatantly manipulates Ana, controls her life, makes choices on her behalf and against her will, all while murmuring a constant string of compliments meant to lull her into resignation. He is aggressively and violently possessive. This is the man that millions of women are fantasizing about? This is the man that women are wishing their husbands would emulate? You should be so lucky that your husband/boyfriend is not like this prick.

The feminist in me cries loud, racking tears that these books are so popular. It makes me sad and angry that so many women (many of whom I respect and admire, mind you) are somehow selectively blind to the sadistic overtones of this romance. I'm genuinely confused as to how anyone, much less a self proclaimed feminist, can read these novels and not take issue with the pretty explicit abuse storyline at play.

It doesn't help that Ana is the world's biggest Mary Sue. She is a vacuous mess of a person who essentially has no purpose but to be infatuated with Christian. Her entire life is consumed with her relationship with him, and she spends all of her time trying to make sense of how to interact with him. Christian is her Manic Pixie Dream Guy, except that contrary to what she thinks, he is far from perfect, and she has learned nothing from him except how to "behave". Ana is the woman that millions of women are wishing they were. This ignorant, naive little wisp of a thing whose entire life revolves around a man and that man's sexual desires.

And I'm supposed to hold Ana Steele up as some sort of progressive example of women's sexual evolution?

Bitch, please.

This is also not about sexual repression or expression. Some have speculated that the reason these novels have flown off the shelves is because women secretly want to be submissive. That's bullshit. Women "secretly" want to be able to say that they like sex, and to be able to talk about it without being shamed for it, and without having to use shitty erotic fiction to do. Sex is amazing and awesome and fun and good for your health. I'm all about women discovering and enjoying their sexuality, and taking charge of it in no uncertain terms. But I'm deeply troubled that so many are using the roadmap set out by a naive and inexperienced young woman and her controlling and dominating boyfriend in order to do so. Believe me, I understand the appeal of this novel. Even so-called vanilla sex is seen as forbidden or taboo to some people, so the idea that people are reading and discussing an erotic novel so widely and so openly is a pretty big deal. It's about the sexual fantasy, and the exploration of themes that we might be to ashamed to broach in our real lives.

Okay, don't buy a book just to burn it. That's a bit much.
via WotsHappening

Unfortunately, it's not just a matter of the fantasy. It's not okay to say, "It's not real! It's about escapism!" This trilogy promotes an emotionally (and borderline physically) abusive relationship as a romantic ideal. Its "heroine" continues to make excuses for her partner, and she rewards his bad behavior against her better judgement. It's the classic domestic violence story, but this time it's wrapped in a pretty bow. You cannot be a person who is against domestic violence and abuse in all its forms, and also be a person who enjoys this novel. The two ideals are inherently mutually incompatible. It's like saying that killing kittens is horrible, but then loving the shit out of a book that is all about how killing kittens is the most awesome and innovative thing you've ever heard of, because dammit, that book makes killing kittens sound AWESOME. Killing kittens in not awesome. Stop telling people that it's cool to kill kittens.

It's not lost on me that these novels began as Twilight fanfiction. The Twilight novels are just as damaging, there just isn't any X-rated sex. Blogger and Youtuber Laci Green put it best in her Dangerous Role Models video. In it, she discusses the framework of Edward and Bella's relationship and how the romance is essentially a farce that renders Bella (the original Mary Sue) powerless, incompetent, and a dependent and obsessive slave to Edward's whims. Bella never once stands up for herself. She has no autonomy in the relationship, and almost literally loses her mind when Edward leaves her. The narrative of this video almost perfectly mirrors the narrative of Fifty Shades.

There is nothing sexy or cool about the way that Christian treats Ana in these novels, and the idea that he behaves that way because he's "damaged" seeks only to lift the blame from his shoulders and place it squarely on Ana's. It is not okay that he dominates her life and actively tries to bend her to his will. It's not okay that he takes advantage of her youth and inexperience. It is not okay that he exploits her desperate need for acceptance and validation.

I won't be recapping the novels as I originally intended, because it's already been done, (quite hilariously, actually) and I've already said all that I wanted to say. But I do hope that reading this will give women (and men) a new perspective on the novels, and help them understand that far from sexually liberating women, these books are doing more harm than good by touting a relationship that is marred by inequality and subjugation as the standard to which we should hold our own relationships.

Fifty Shades is shackling women to old, destructive ideas about women and sexuality, and men and dominance.
via USA Today

There's a lot to parse through when it comes to the Fifty Shades Trilogy. What are your thoughts on the subject? What was your response to the novel? Are you a fan of Ana Steele and Christian Grey's relationship or did you find it as problematic as I do? Let me know in the comments below.

Natalie Dee & Other Things I Love

Okay, so really this post is only about Natalie Dee, but name alone didn't make a very good title out of context. I used one of her comics in my birthday post last month, and a lovely commenter on Jezebel directed me to the source. I spent a good chunk of time reading through her archives today, and I have to say that I love her. I love her minimal style, I love her sarcastic humor and I love the way she doesn't shy away from making fun of her daughters. I mean, that's a little mean I guess, but she did it first.

But honestly, Dee's comics are a delight. They're light and on-their-face hilarious without trying too hard. Check out a few of my favourites from the past year after the jump, and then head on over to Dee's website to see them in all their original glory.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Uncensored: Bloggging HBO's Girls [Episode #1: Pilot]

This is what a groovy lifestyle looks like.
Photo via Death And Taxes

It's here! I bet you thought I forgot, but as promised, here is the first installment in my review series of HBO's GIRLS! I've decided to take a slightly different approach. Instead of a straight review, I've enlisted my favourite cousin Ianthe (who is awesome, and with whom I will soon be starting a TV review blog! YAY!) to live blog each episode. We'll be watching each episode together in real time, (from different countries! technology!) and then putting our reactions, along with our slightly more thought out analysis, and some awesomely inappropriate screen-caps together for your enjoyment.

These comments are entirely conversational, and a lot of them are literally just us talking and responding to each other, so please don't judge us if we sound ridiculous. (Also, it was super late when we put this together so please forgive the occasional typo!) We both loved this show, and  we thought, as the target audience, we'd talk about our perspectives of the characters, their situations, and how it relates to our own lives.

Pink text is Cate (me) and purple text is Ianthe (awesome). So, do enjoy! And don't be shy about getting involved. Have you seen the show? What did you think? How did you enjoy the Pilot? Let us know in the comments. There is awesome sexy sex to be had after the jump! 

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Misc. Music: F*ck Up the Fun by Azealia Banks

Listen to it.

Then, when you're finished you should listen to the rest of Azealia's amazing Fantasea mixtape. She's amazing.

That is all.

Feminism: The BAMF Girls' Club

Don't you want to be part of the BAMF Girls' Club? 
I love the idea of bringing all these awesomely amazing ladies together (and Bella) and seeing what kind of mischief they get into!

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Feminism: 4 Kickass Female Characters Who Have it All

Recently, there have been a spate of articles about whether or not women can have it all. Not only do I think the answer is YES, I'm a little insulted that we're even still having this conversation.

Women are warriors in every single way. The important thing to note is that not everyone's "all" is the same. Not every woman wants 2.5 kids and a white picket fence. Some women are totally okay living it up with their huge group of girls,* or dedicating their lives to a career that they love.

Don't believe me? Here are some great examples of (albeit fictional) women who are kicking ass and taking names, and encouraging us to do the same. 

Deborah Morgan (Dexter)
Jennifer Carpenter as Deb Morgan
via Wikipedia

At the start of the series, Deb is a police officer working undercover as a prostitute on the vice squad of the Miami Metro Police Department alongside older brother Dexter. Six seasons later, through excellent police work, determination to succeed and a sharp eye, she's been promoted to Detective and then Lieutenant. One of Deb's prominent characteristics is her persistence, and it keeps her moving upwards in her career even when she faces personal tragedies. See: Serial killer fiancĂ©, murdered boyfriend and sister-in-law, getting shot and kidnapped, and *SPOILER!* falling in love with adoptive brother Dexter and seeing him murder someone. But never mind all that... At the end of the day, Deb is a foul-mouthed detective who knows what she wants and goes after it. She's succeeded in her career because it makes her happy to prove herself as competent. No kids or husband in sight. For her "having it all" means being an excellent police officer, and putting criminals behind bars, and that's perfectly fine. Deb is happy being of service to the city she loves, and for her, it's all she needs.

Betty Suarez (Ugly Betty)
America Ferriera as Betty Suarez
via Wikipedia

Betty Suarez starts the series as an aspiring writer, fresh from college, thrown into the shark pit of fashion. Working as the assistant to the Editor-in-Chief, Betty proves her worth over and over by coming up with quick solutions to problems, and continuously showing commitment to her job. By the end of the series, Betty has moved to England to start her dream job as the the Features Editor of an newly founded magazine. For Betty, "having it all" has always meant becoming a writer. She used her experiences at Mode to learn and grow, and to help her understand the ups and downs of the magazine industry. Through her ups and downs and various relationships, she never lost sight of her ultimate goal. Her stellar work ethic and dedication paid off, and in the end she was rewarded.

Cristina Yang (Grey's Anatomy)
Sandra Oh as Cristina Yang
via Hayley Hawkinson

Cristina Yang is a surgeon. She is brilliant and talented and driven and it's what defines her. After passing her boards, Cristina has several employment offers from hospitals across the country, a fact that she wickedly lourdes over her fellow doctors' heads. Even though she's been to hell and back at Seattle Grace/Mercy West, she's kept her eye on the prize, even in the face of the dissolution of her marriage. Cristina knows herself. When she became pregnant, she fought tooth and nail to make Owen understood that children were not part of the plan she had for herself, and to try to make him understand why she needed to abort. And when she found out that he cheated, although she still loved him, she made the best decision for herself by leaving the hospital to go to the Mayo Clinic. Cristina understands that in order to be happy, she needs to be okay with her personal decisions. For her "having it all" meant a job she loved and a husband who loved her. When Owen betrayed her, she didn't fall apart. She simply readjusted her plans to fit the new circumstances. After last season's cliff hanger, anything can happen, but I think it's safe to say that we can count on Cristina to know that she needs to look after her own self interests first, before trying please everyone else in her life. It's a lesson many women could stand to learn.

Leslie Knope (Parks & Recreation)
Amy Poehler as Leslie Knope

Leslie Knope is an overachiever, and of all the women on this list, she is the only one who refuses to compromise. She knows what she wants and she will have it dammit! Perky and affable, Leslie is an avowed feminist who aspires to higher office, and has numerous female role models. (whose faces sit framed around her office.) Leslie loves her town Pawnee, and strives to do everything she can to make it a better place to live, with an enthusiasm that even Ron Swanson would approve of. When she fell in love with a co-worker and began dating him against city policy, she fought to save her relationship, even after they initially broke up to save their jobs. When a campaign team dropped her as a candidate for City Council, her friends and co-workers rallied around her to replace them, knowing how dedicated she was to pubic service. For Leslie "having it all" means being an advocate for the city that she loves, celebrating her friends and being with Ben, the man she loves.

So there you have it. Kick ass women doing kick ass things. What do you think? Are there any other awesome female characters you think I should have included? Who are your favourite kick ass ladies? Let me know in the comments below.

*I'm not advocating this kind of behavior, I just think that video is hilarious... :)

Misc. Music: Summer Soundtrack of My Life

via BU Mass COM

It's the summertime! Regardless of how awesome or lame your days might be, the one thing that make everyday more awesome is the amazing music. I LIVE for music, and I definitely have some songs that will be on constant replay in the coming months. The awesome thing is that you can listen to music almost anywhere, and it always makes you feel something. Music really has the power to transform a mood, and there's something uniquely amazing about that. These are the songs that I'll be playing on repeat while I'm driving or running, or doing anything really...

Liquorice- Azealia Banks

212- Azealia Banks

Where Have You Been- Rihanna

Rumor Has It- Adele

Girl Gone Wild- Madonna

Pound the Alarm- Nicki Minaj

And a throwback just for the sake of it: California Gurls- Katy Perry

What about you? Do you hate my taste in music? What will you be listening during your lazy summer days? Recommend some new music to me in the comments below!