Saturday, 22 March 2014

In Defense of Kim Kardashian (And Her Vogue Cover)

I really didn't want to have to write this. 

In fact, I've started and deleted an equivalent post at least three separate times in the past, most recently when Kim was accosted by a man in blackface as a guest at a Viennese ball and the internet masses decreed that she deserved to be mistreated for being a paid escort. The time before that it was because I saw someone declare that it was perfectly acceptable to body shame Kim Kardashian because that's what she's famous for; we're only discussing her job! The time before that it was after seeing the awful way the tabloids were treating her during her pregnancy. 

Kim Kardashian can't seem to catch a break in the public eye. Granted, she's got her millions to keep her warm at night, so I'm sure she'll be all right. 

But the reason I kept deleting this post? It's because Kimberly Noel Kardashian doesn't need me to come to her defense. I am uncomfortable with the dynamic of me as a black woman, swooping in to defend the honour of a white woman (and no, her Armenian ethnicity does not make her any less white, or negate her access to whiteness). She doesn't need that from me or anyone else to be honest. Kimberly Noel Kardashian is living the high life with her A-list fiancé, her beautiful baby girl, and her millions, and millions, and MILLIONS of dollars. But I've always found it interesting that Kim has never been able to benefit from her whiteness when it comes to the court of public opinion. 

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Some Cobbled Together Thoughts On The #BanBossy Campaign

I've been thinking a lot about Sheryl Sandberg's new #BanBossy campaign over the last week or so since it debuted. I've read the thinkpieces both for and against, and even the ones that fell in the middle of the road. And after considering all of the very valid critiques, I've realized why this campaign bugs me so much: it's completely counter-intuitive. 

Bear with me as I try to explain this as best as I can because it literally just came to me in the shower this morning.

I appreciate what #BanBossy is trying to achieve. The website's downloadable PDF for girls gives tips like "speak up in class," "stop apologizing before you talk" and "challenge yourself" in order to combat the ideas that women and girls cannot or do not want to lead. The fact that the confidence gap starts so early is definitely cause for alarm, and challenging these attitudes is an issue that deserves attention. 

But don't all these tips amount to asking girls to be more bossy?

The purpose of this campaign is essentially to make it okay for girls to be bossy while simultaneously asking for us to stop teaching girls that being bossy is bad. Which is fine. Great even. So then why #banbossy at all? It's quite the mixed message when you think about it. 

We are asking girls to be more assertive, take on more leadership roles and speak out more. These are all things that bossy people do. The problem here isn't the word bossy, it's the way the word is applied in a gendered context. We WANT girls to be bossier. We WANT them to be assertive and to feel confident and empowered enough to assert their worth. So asking them to shy away from a word that precisely describes this behaviour is more than a little silly when you really examine the semantics involved. 

Nicki Minaj's "Bossed Up" rant has been making the rounds as a counterpoint to this campaign, and with good reason. In the video Nicki explains quite well that the problem we have as a society isn't with bossy behaviours but rather with who is doing the "bossing up." When a man does it, we praise him. When a woman does it, we call her a bitch. 

But to me, the solution isn't to stop calling people bossy. The solution is to work towards removing that negative and gendered connotation from the word. The solution is reclaiming it. In all the discussions around this campaign, the one idea that kept coming back to me was this:

As do bossy women. Which is why it amuses me so much that "bossy" is being touted as "the other b-word."

I think that the #BanBossy campaign has definitely touched on a key issue in the fight for feminism, but I also think they maybe didn't think this all the way through. We shouldn't be teaching girls to shrink away from a word like bossy. We should be teaching them to accept it, love it, and wear it as a badge of honour. If someone calls you bossy, it's because they see you as a threat to the status quo. They know you're here to shake things up. For many black women for example, "bossy is an anthem, not a pejorative" revealing yet another blind spot in Sandberg's approach. Asking us to ban a word that we wear with pride, is the equivalent of taking away yet another of the tools we use to navigate our different experience as women of colour.

#BanBossy would have been much better served by teaching girls to revel in the glory of their bossiness, and to use it to demand an equal place. So as much as I love you Beyoncé, I'm with bell hooks on this one.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

"In The Commons" Is Not The Same As "In Public"

thing happened on twitter last night. It was a powerful thing. Prompted by a discussion she was having with a few of her followers, twitter user @steenfox opened up the conversation and asked women to share with her what they were wearing when they were assaulted. She explicitly asked that they indicate if it was okay to retweet them, and even followed new people so that they could privately message their stories to her directly. Knowing that the topic was sensitive and triggering, she made as many provisions as she could (within the boundaries of twitter) to make the women who were engaging with her feel safe to speak out about their trauma. She spent the night retweeting replies and discussing her initial point: that there is no way to dress to avoid assault. It happens whether you're on the way to the gym in a tank top and shorts or on the way home from work in a business suit. Too many women recalled night gowns, childhood PJs and multiple assaults.
As this moment of intense cathartic solidarity was happening, Buzzfeed ran a post aggregating some of the tweets. The author* claims to have gotten permission to embed the tweets, but some of the women involved claim otherwise. @steenfox was not contacted until after the post went up.  The author, seeing the conversation happening in full swing, published too quickly and did not handle the subject with sensitivity. While they blurred some of the handles and avatars of the tweets involved, later portions of the piece directed the reader to these same accounts. This was while the conversation was still happening and before any of the women involved were allowed to process the emotions of discussing their (often multiple) assaults. The piece was not constructed with any sensitivity or care for the well being of the women involved.
The Root, who published today and actually inerviewed @steenfox, managed to get it right. Allowing the time to properly report on a story will do that.
Here's the rub: "In the commons" is not the same as "public." Twitter is not publicTwitter is publicly accessible. There is a difference.  

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Comedy, Blackness And The "Pursuit of Sexiness"

If you haven't heard of web series Pursuit of Sexiness, you're missing out. Starring SNL's Sasheer Zamata and Girl Code's Nicole Byer, the six episode first season focuses on the two besties living in NYC and, you guessed it, getting sexy.

Comparisons to Girls are pretty inevitable, but truthfully, the show reminds me more of Comedy Central's newest show, the brilliant Broad City; which itself started out online. It's less "self-conscious, over-earnest examination of life and love" and more "shameless pursuit to get laid at all costs." It's raucous, funny, and completely bananas.

I'm not going to pretend that the stars' blackness doesn't impact my enjoyment of the show. It does. It matters greatly to me to see two dark skinned black women, one of them plus-sized, unabashedly take charge of their sex lives. Byer's character is delightfully inappropriate, spending the end of the pilot desperately trying to coax her date's penis into a satisfactory erection. Zamata's character spends the pilot dropping increasingly obvious hints that she's more interested in her date's financial prospects than his company.

For all the writing I've done about the lack of presumption of sexual agency for black women, it's incredibly refreshing to see two black women; women who look like me; move through their sexual interactions unencumbered by the racial micro-aggressions that most black women are far too familiar with. In Zamata and Byer's universe, neither Sasheer's natural hair or Nicole's body are obstacles that must be overcome. They are simply parts of the people that they are; mere footnotes that accompany their whole.

Monday, 3 March 2014

#BlackGirlsKillingIt: All Hail Lupita Nyong'o

And the Oscar goes to Lupita Nyong'o! I don't have anything more to say about her impact on pop culture, or my feelings about her that hasn't already been said, or that I didn't say the last time I mentioned her, but I am beyond over the moon that the academy gave her the recognition she deserved. 12 Years A Slave is a powerful film with many powerful performances, but Lupita, as a newcomer, really stood out for bringing the visceral pain of Patsey to life. Her performance was heart-wrenching and triggering as hell, but it was worth it to see that pain be so passionately portrayed, when stories of slavery are so often diluted in order to assuage white guilt.

With last night's win, Lupita becomes only the 7th black woman to take home an Oscar in the academy's 75 year history. That's MAJOR. I love everything about this woman; her talent, her humility, her poise and her style. I love her conscious acknowledgement of what her visibility means for black women, and especially dark skinned black women. I love that she constantly pays respect to the women who came before her and gave her to confidence to believe that she was worthy. I love her understanding of her place in Hollywood because of her skin colour and her willingness to be vocal about pushing against it. Lupita is such a spectacular woman and talent and she deserved the hell out of this award.

I only hope that this win translates into a huge career, full of meaty roles worthy of a woman of her talents. Don't ever sleep on us black girls. We are coming for you, and we're taking over.