Wednesday, 25 June 2014

A Feminist Character ≠ A Character Who Is A Feminist: Examining Claire Underwood and Olivia Pope

The Ampersand
As far as I can tell, there's a stark difference between a "feminist character" and a "character who is a feminist." While there certainly can be overlap, there rarely even seems to be, and I can't understand why there seems to be so much confusion.

This post has been buzzing around my head since February's season two debut of Netflix's House of Cards, but somehow I haven't been able to properly articulate what I've wanted to say until today.

The House of Cards premiere generated a lot of discussion regarding Claire Underwood's "credentials" as a feminist, specifically in regard to a plot line wherein she gets revenge on (and supposedly justice from) the man who raped her in college, (now a decorated military man) by invoking him as the reason for her (several) abortions in a live television interview. In one fell swoop, Claire is able to forever demolish the reputation of her attacker, and deftly explains away her childless marriage in a way that secures sympathy for herself and her husband witin the political arena.

For this, Jezebel declared her a "feminist warrior anti-hero."

If you've actually watched the show, you know different.

While the desire to hail Claire's actions in that scenario as a kind of feminist triumph is completely understandable, (especially as it is the beginning of a longer story arc in which Claire attempts to tackle reforming the handling of sexual assault and reporting in the US military), it too conveniently forgets that earlier in the same season, Claire threatens to revoke a pregnant former employee's health care in a ploy to strong arm her into dropping a(n admittedly fraudulent) wrongful termination suit.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Let's Talk About Robin Thicke's Manipulative Ploy To "Get Her Back"

By now, most people know that serial boundary pusher Robin Thicke is reluctantly single, and in the middle of a full on media blitz to prove contrition for the unnamed offenses that drove away, his lady love, actress Paula Patton. Said media blitz is supposedly meant to "Get Her Back", as indicated by the lead single of the same name, from his new album of public apologies, Paula.
Here's why all of this musical self-flagellation is not only not romantic in the slightest, but actually borderline abusive instead. 
Imagine this: A woman has been in a relationship with a manipulative man for years. He lies, he cheats, he drinks too much and he embarrasses her publicly. She's ashamed of how she's been treated but she finally has the courage to leave, and takes solace in the fact that this can be her private shame, and when she's gone she'll never have to look back again. She tells all her friends and family vaguely that they've just grown apart after so many years together.
But wait! The manipulative man shows up at her workplace with a bouquet of flowers and a huge sign that says "I'm sorry I got drunk and cheated on you so many times. Please take me back." The next day, he turns up with a brand new car that he bought just for her because he knew her old one was on its last legs. When she refuses his advances and asks for some space to think, he posts flyers all over town with a picture of them that say "Please help her forgive me. I love her and I want her back." Strange people she's never met start pressuring her to forgive him in the grocery store, at the bank, in the park. After all, look at how hard he's working to try to change! He's so sorry that he hurt her! Why can't she see how good she has it? Now, the woman feels obligated to take him back. Not only does everyone know how he humiliated her, but they all think she should go back to him, and that she's heartless and frigid if she doesn't.
Are we starting to see the cracks in this story?
It's lovely that Robin Thicke thinks his marriage is worth saving, but this is not the way to go about it. This entire album, the track names, the hashtag; if this is in fact a sincere effort to "get her back" it's basically a how-to on abuser dynamics. Rather than allowing Patton the time and space to decide whether or not to reconcile in private, with this album, Thicke has effectively enlisted the public to get on his side and pressure her into going back to him, and make her the villain if she refuses. "Oh, but he wrote a whole album about her! He's really sorry!" All while he rakes in the cash, and she loses her resolve to stay away from a man who cheated on her, publicly embarrassed her and ruined a decades long relationship. 
And I haven't even gotten to the video yet. 

Thursday, 5 June 2014

10 Things I Want To See In Season 2 of @Netflix's #OITNB

If you are a rational person alive today then you are likely beyond excited for the season 2 premiere of Netflix's Orange Is The New Black tomorrow morning. Since the freshman premiered season last July, the show has been lauded for it's revolutionary depiction of women, and for good reason. As my favourite culture bloggers Tom and Lorenzo so brilliantly put:
"[...] Digging down even further, it's clear to us that the strength of the tale isn't that it's universal and isn't even that it's women specific, but that it tells the stories of the types of women who don't get their stories told in our culture: black women, Hispanic women, fat women, butch women, bi women, old women, immigrant women, uneducated women - and even a trans woman's story. When the season is done, you will be astonished at the vast range of women you've been exposed to and if you reflect on it, will probably be a little depressed that such stories are so rare in our culture."
Tom and Lorenzo and entirely right. The amazing thing about this show is the way it takes the done to death (and pretty racist) trope of the "white person forced to interacted with the coloureds who experiences enlightenment and personal growth" (let's call it the Eat Pray Love), and subverts it so deliciously by essentially turning it's white de facto protagonist, Piper Chapman, into the butt off all the jokes.

It struck me during my rewatch of the first season two weeks ago that the show is essentially one long examination of the white supremacist heteropatriarcy, the way it functions, and the way it disadvantages those who are not privileged under that system. From showing us the special treatment that Piper gets from Healy because she's "not like those girls" to the way he immediately turns on her for "lesbian-ing all on each other" with Alex, to the way Janae was sent to SHU simply for requesting a female officer to pat her down, to the way Figueroa is quick to make sure that the word "rape" never appears in the incident report after Pornstache and Daya are caught; the entire show comes together to show us the different ways in which the intersections of these women's lives contributed to their incarceration in the first place. The world has not been kind to them, and prison is no different.