Tag Archives: jezebel

The Blogger Who Cried Sexism: A Cautionary Tale

I don’t usually directly respond to articles written by other women who write from a place of feminism. I don’t like a lot of the infighting that goes on amongst feminists, the ‘is she a good feminist‘ and ‘can she be feminist even if she says she isn’t‘ and ‘can she be a feminist and also sexy‘ etc etc blah blah blah.  I disagree very much with the article I am about to discuss, but this will not be an indictment of the writer. Instead I just wanna tell a sort of cautionary tale, in the hopes that we can continue to have thoughtful discussions that go deeper than a click bait headline.

That being said, the title of the article in question is:

Dave Grohl’s Sonic Highways Systematically Erases Women in Music

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Ok. So. That’s a lot. It’s a big claim. And our author tries hard to back it up. Reading it, however, gave me the distinct impression that she had a pretty big issue with Grohl to begin with (“Grohl has shown himself increasingly to be not much more than a rock and roll formalist, the type of man who is a dying breed”), and wanted to write about her dislike of both the series and the director in a way that seemed important. She claims, “Sonic Highways is meant to reflect Grohl’s own fandom and musical upbringing—but it also positions itself as a type of definitive oral history of each city’s music scene.” I object! Sonic Highways is Grohl’s pet project, an obviously self serving adventure that he wanted to take his band on, and film and sell to HBO. Each episode ends with a Foo Fighters music video, with the lyrics displayed on the screen. It’s not exactly Ken Burns, but I’ve found it pretty entertaining. I don’t think he makes any claims that it serves as a Definitive Oral History. It’s just him talking to people he thinks are cool, and allowing the places he visits to directly influence his new songs.

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But, for the sake of argument, let’s say that it is a history of sorts. I have only watched 3 of the 8 episodes, but I can remember women in each episode. The last episode I watched, set in Nashville, shows women ruling the day. He talks at length to Carrie Underwood, Emmylou Harris, and motha fuckin’ DOLLY PARTON herself. The 2nd episode in DC features Amy Pickering, and our author does acknowledge that: “Amy Pickering, who headed up punk band Fire Party and started the scene’s legendary “Revolution Summer” essentially in solidarity with apartheid protesters, gets a decent amount of airtime, but mostly about politics (and, at one point, the camera cuts in to her convo with Grohl for the sole purpose of showing her laugh at a joke Grohl makes).” Is it just me, or does that parenthetical aside just reek of disdain. That aside is also a pretty big assumption about a directorial choice, meant to undercut the presence of a woman when she claims there are none. She goes on to mention female bands, mostly from Seattle, that she feels Grohl was remiss in leaving out. But it’s his show, for his personal fun. He interviewed who he wanted. I mean, sure, he could have tried to pick a few more ladies, I guess. But not only are there enough that I myself didn’t notice any dearth (and I love finding and pointing out misogyny/gender issues/sexism, let me tell you, I basically live for it), but the project just isn’t about that and I don’t think it needs to be. She also says: “As Sonic Highways tells it, women’s involvement in American music has been cursory, at best, with a the amount of women musicians allowed to speak in any given episode topping out at around three, regardless of how prominent these women might be. Furthermore, no women of color have a chance to speak in any of the seven episodes that have aired (the eighth and final episode, set in New York City and at least touching on hip-hop, airs Sunday, and will hopefully remedy that).”  I do not concur. I do not feel he portrays the women he includes as cursory to the main story, and 3 in an episode may be enough if you know how many men there are by comparison and how the screen time divides (I don’t, but if you need to delve this deeply and use math to prove your point then the phrase ‘Systematically Erases’ doesn’t apply. Also Dolly Parton counts as like 10 women cause she is effing amazing so in that episode there are like, 13.) I do agree with her observation about racial diversity; the majority of the folks interviewed on screen are white. But not everything is going to be a bastion of diversity when someone has their own agenda. So yea, he is choosing these specific stories, because his experience has been informed by these folks. And again, since he isn’t making claims about this documentary being all encompassing, I think the observation ‘diversity is scarce’ is fair, but find the vitriol confusing.

joeyI-m-so-confused

I don’t want to be an apologist for stories that lack diversity, and that is not my intent. Here is my issue: There are lots of super real and present issues that women continue to battle against on a daily basis. Sexual violence, the wage gap, reproductive rights and more are pressing and current and painful, and they are systematically supported by a culture that still doesn’t truly believe that sexism is real. And you know what, the erasure of women from history and culture is also real and painful, and in it’s own way a form of violence. I completely acknowledge that. And if Grohl had said ‘I am making a documentary about all the most important people in music organized geographically’, then the conversation would be different. But this is just some fan shit he’s doing. He wants to talk to people he thinks are cool. And some of those people, I would argue a fair amount, are women. I think we also have to remember that he grew up in a culture that downplayed women’s role in the culture, and downplayed their talents beyond beauty. So if his influences are mostly male, this is not entirely his fault because his experiences don’t happen in a vacuum. Neither do our own. And this article with it’s sensational title is NOT HELPING the cause.

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This headline, and her whole tone, I just feel they don’t create a productive piece. While sexism and misogyny continue to be pervasive and harmful, we must be mindful of the claims we make. It’s not fair, but it’s true. If we cry wolf, or get our facts wrong, then we leave ourselves open to criticism from folks who don’t want the world to change (Jon Stewart addressed this brilliantly last night, after he himself made an on-air mistake #worththewatch). If we blow our righteous anger load on stories that aren’t deserving of it, then our righteous anger becomes a joke. We become caricatures, the silly/emotional/hairy/angry feminazis they claim we are. The burden of proof is still, unfairly, on us. And this article doesn’t meet it.

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But this isn’t a trial, and if this author sincerely feels this way about Sonic Highways, then she has every right to express those feelings. I still think the headline is over the top, but maybe that’s the editor, and indeed that’s how the internet journalism game is played. In this case, I agree that we disagree. I urge you to check out the docu-series and judge for yourself. Are women given enough camera time? Does it matter in the context of this project? Are you inspired to create your own series dedicated to women in these places, in these historical spaces? Because I wish, rather than yell at Dave for being a “rockist-Dad”, that she’d just told us more about the bands she wished were chosen and why. Why be so antagonistic about a pet project that is not meant to cover the entire music history of each city it visits? Why not try to start a discussion instead of scold the front man of a band you so obviously find repulsive and dated? For example, lets talk about why there aren’t more documentaries directed by women or minorities, specifically telling stories that have been left out of the mainstream canon? I would love to see more women helmed projects about women in music, or more black directors telling stories about black music culture. If we diversify the people in charge, the resulting stories will be ever more unique and diverse, and more voices will be heard. Why isn’t this happening more? Is it happening at all? How can we help these story tellers to create and release their projects? Sometimes, I think it can be helpful to tone down the rage and just ask some questions.

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**Sometimes rage is completely the acceptable response, and women are completely capable of feeling and harnessing anger, and we should when it’s needed. I just want us to use all the tools we have, thoughtfully, with an eye towards education and inclusion.

Sebelius v Hobby Lobby UPDATE: It’s worse than you think

“It’s not that bad!” you might wanna believe. “It’s only a few kinds of birth control, and if they don’t want to pay for it they shouldn’t have to, and women can probably still get it covered from the government, and not paying for it isn’t really restricting access!!”

wrong

Lets address these one by one:

First of all, I maintain that corporations shouldn’t be able to have sincerely held religious beliefs in the eyes of the law. They should not be able to get around the law of the land in this manner. And this whole ‘not wanting to pay for things’ argument is really just tough shit. Because there are lots of things we all pay for that we could reasonably object to, particularly with regards to health insurance. For example, I sincerely believe that the American diet causes heart disease, diabetes, and many types of cancer. So I don’t want to cover treatment for any of those issues. People should eat more kale and less hamburgers, or pay for their drugs themselves (Sound familiar? Be less slutty, or pony up for your slut medication yourself? Yea, that’s a real thing people argue.) Or the classic Viagra argument. That shit isn’t strictly necessary, and men should deal with their own penis/heart disease issues, why should I subsidize their erections? But also, what is the real difference between paying for it via insurance coverage and paying wages with which employees purchase contraception? Both are technically benefits earned by working. So to me, not including contraception in a benefits package is akin to an employer deciding what you can buy with your hard earned wages. Which is scary, and wrong.

But Alex, you say, it’s only some BC they don’t wanna cover. There are still lots of options!

1) If the options are legal and FDA approved, there shouldn’t be limits imposed by your employer because they aren’t a doctor and their ‘sincerely held beliefs’ aren’t backed by science and they don’t know what’s best for your body and health. Full Stop.

2) This ruling is limited to only contraception, however it is not limited to only the 4 kinds that Hobby Lobby opposes. I repeat: Companies that wish to are able to stop covering any type of contraception they have a ‘sincerely held religious’ objection to. Here are the 82 companies that currently have cases pending. Not all object only to EC and IUDs.

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Additionally, I’d like to point out that not covering something is indeed restricting access for many many families. Contraception isn’t cheap. The reason that coverage was mandated when the ACA was passed is because the medical community widely recognized that contraception comprises basic care for women and families, and that it should be universally covered like other forms of necessary and preventative care. When it isn’t covered, women and families are forced to make tough decisions. It’s like if health insurance didn’t cover mammograms or prostate exams. These kinds of procedures are covered because they save lives, and often prevent more expensive and harmful issues from occurring. Contraception has the same effect on the lives of women and families.

Finally, the work around. Remember, this work around currently only applies to non-profits that are exempt, so they will need to extend it to for-profit closely held companies. They most likely will, but as of now it’s hypothetical. Regardless of the fact that women shouldn’t have to endure extra steps to get the basic care they need, the federal work around isn’t working smoothly for the non-profit employees. Because companies are assholes. In order for employees to seek coverage from the government, the employer must put in writing that they object to providing coverage. But employers don’t want to put it in writing, because that would allow access which obviously they are against. Erin over at Jezebel explains, complete with sass:

If your company objects, the workaround as it exists as of yesterday requires them to register their objection in writing. This will allow employees of said companies to obtain BC through the government rather than through their employers. Problem is, nonprofits that have been offered that workaround have said that signing a slip of paper objecting to birth control, thus enabling their employees to obtain birth control via other means, violates their religious freedom because it’s a tacit endorsement of birth control/murder/sluts/slutmurder.

It’s a real clusterfuck.

So then, what does this really mean. Is it about upholding your own values? Or forcing your values onto those around you? Is it about personal integrity, or controlling women’s bodies?

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Nope. I call bullshit. We cannot live in a religiously diverse nation if part of what it means to act religiously is to impose your beliefs on others. That’s a catch 22. And it’s really insidious and toxic that this ruling encourages the parts of religious exercise that seek to control women. Only contraception is covered under the exemption. Only the kinds of medicine that help empower women to have control over their bodies and their sex lives. Some women need this medicine for reasons other than preventing pregnancy, and some women cannot safely become pregnant, and those are really compelling points. But the real issue is that women should be able to not get pregnant if that’s what they choose, and they should have access to the medicine needed to safely have sex with their chosen partner(s). That is not radical, and it’s not anyone else’s business. We have all kinds of medicine that, it could be argued, allow people to act recklessly without consequences. People are allowed to smoke cigarettes despite the myriad health risks, and their eventual treatment is covered. We have drugs for constipation, gas, weight loss, diabetes, and heart disease, despite the fact that those issues are largely caused by poor diet and could be remedied with the proper nutrition shift. But controlling what people eat is crazy! They can eat what they want, and how much. Fine. So why is sex different?

why

Employers who find contraception morally reprehensible should figure out how to make money without female employees, or perhaps it would be easier if they accepted the full humanity of all women and all people and worried about the state of their own soul instead of forcing their will on other folks who are just trying to live life. I can’t help but think a lot of this would be a non issue if folks learned how to mind their own fucking business.

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Yea but, they don’t. And the justices are whack. And lots of companies could potentially stop coverage and refuse the work around, legally. I hope Obams is working furiously to figure this out, hopefully maybe by mandating that if you don’t provide coverage you MUST put your objection in writing, thus allowing employees to seek full coverage else where. But it shouldn’t require this much thought or effort. Women shouldn’t be forced to work this hard to get basic care coverage.

 

The Co-ed Porn Star (A Real Life Saga)

The news of a Duke college freshman being outed as a porn star raised many issues that I feel passionate, yet conflicted about. Jezebel reported that it was a class mate that betrayed the young woman’s trust, and she has since seen fit to come forward and tell her side of the story. I’ll get back to her words in a bit.

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I want to start by saying that the kind of filth that people immediately began writing about her is a clear sign of our culture’s complete discomfort with female sexuality, if that sexuality is not in the explicit service of men. Boys at Duke asked for explicit information from partner’s she has slept with, and claimed that her porn work nullified her right to privacy and respect. Porn stars are whores and sluts, and those kinds of women don’t deserve to feel safe or dignified. Even if they are bright students at a top tier university.

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And moreover, women cannot possibly be smart and a sex object at the same time. Many of the comments were confused: Why do sex work when you are so smart? The idea that she may enjoy it, that she made a decision and doesn’t regret it, is no where to be found. Because once you become a sex worker you cease to be a full human (sluts and whores aren’t people who deserve respect, remember?) And here is the thing: no one is asking about the morality of her viewership. Because men can consume sex without fear of judgement or consequences. Indeed, even the term ‘sex-worker’ and ‘porn-star’ are so tied to females in the cultural mind that ‘male porn-star’ is the default label for men who shoot porn. Why do we shoulder women with the burden of keeping themselves pure? Why is sex a female responsibility, something we must guard and keep clean within ourselves, denying parts of our identity that men can display and explore freely?

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I’ll let her speak for herself in some of my favorite passages form her open response on XO Jane:

However, the answer is actually quite simple. I couldn’t afford $60,000 in tuition, my family has undergone significant financial burden, and I saw a way to graduate from my dream school free of debt, doing something I absolutely love. Because to be clear: My experience in porn has been nothing but supportive, exciting, thrilling and empowering... Of course, I do fully acknowledge that some women don’t have such a positive experience in the industry. We need to listen to these women. And to do that we need to remove the stigma attached to their profession and treat it as a legitimate career that needs regulation and oversight. We need to give a voice to the women that are exploited and abused in the industry. Shaming and hurling names at them, the usual treatment we give sex workers, is not the way to achieve this.

These words were, for me, a bit of a wake up call. I personally find most porn scenes to be hard to watch. Mainstream porn does not teach good gender relations or, for that matter, fun and healthy sex practices. However, it is not for me to say that this girl is confused or mistaken. Treating her like a child is a knee jerk, paternalistic reaction, and I had to check myself. If she feels that her experience has been empowering, well then that’s what it’s been. And it is true that not all sex work plays out this way, and those concerns or valid. But we must not treat all sex workers as victims. This is just as damaging as treating them all as a-moral sluts.

The most striking view I was indoctrinated with was that sex is something women “have,” but that they shouldn’t “give it away” too soon -– as though there’s only so much sex in any one woman, and sex is something she does for a man that necessarily requires losing something of herself, and so she should be really careful who she “gives” it to.

The prevailing societal brainwashing dictates that sexuality and sex “reduce” women, whereas men are merely innocent actors on the receiving end. By extension, our virginity or abstinence has a bearing on who we are as people — as good people or bad people, as nice women or bad women.

This quote is particularly well thought out and eloquent. Sex is not something that women ‘have’ and men ‘receive.’ It is not something women are bartering out for commitment or marriage or respect, and men aren’t brainless idiots bumbling around trying to ‘get’ sex from girls. At least, this isn’t universally true. Sex is something people share for a variety of reasons. No one is innocent in a consensual sexual experience. Each person is an actor, and all parties are both giving and receiving something. And no one has the moral high ground, because sex isn’t immoral. But for women who have ‘too many’ partners or the ‘wrong kind’ of sex or who enjoy sex ‘too much’, those transgressions are linked to their status as good or bad people. This story is as old as Eve (original sin is my favorite rage trigger) and as new as Beyonce, Miley, and really any well known woman who dares transgress into ‘too sexy’-ville. It’s fucking played out. The narrative is absurd and reductionist and hypocritical, to say nothing of it’s dangerous implications. Because if we think women who enjoy sex or have too much sex are bad, then why would be want to treat them with respect? Why should they feel worthy of non violent relationships or privacy or the right to pursue their passions? Whores can’t have passions.

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Now, I feel very strongly that a lot of sex workers are in danger and coerced. But ‘a lot’ is not the same thing as all. I also feel strongly that the industry needs to re vamp itself, make different kinds of movies with more variety in terms of plot, body type, race, gender variation and overall message (everyone should be authentically enjoying themselves, and not just as a quick and exaggerated moment of foreplay), but these concerns are not in conflict with my desire to support this person’s choice to do what is right for her. I mean, I sure as hell didn’t graduate debt free. And porn work isn’t for me personally, at least not right now. But who the fuck am I, and who the fuck is anyone, especially folks who consume porn and who are sexually active but really I just mean anyone, to judge her? Her experience is her’s to have. Having sex for money is not a choice all of us would make, but if it makes you itchy you may want to ask yourself ‘Why?’ Why is it that we are suddenly uncomfortable or angry when the identity of an actor in a porn film is revealed, and the narrative isn’t what we thought it would be? Why can’t she be a college student on a prestigious campus and also shoot explicit sex scenes? If it was a male actor, how would the reaction be different? Why are we so quick to demonize female sexuality?

yea. keep mulling that one over.
yea. keep mulling that one over.

Remember, your feelings and concerns are valid. But so are her feelings and experiences. Your feelings do not give you the right to condemn the completely legal decisions of other adults, they don’t give you the right to be mean or disrespectful, and they don’t give you the right to throw stones from the front yards of your very own glass house. Because we all live in a glass house.

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Furthermore, if you are truly concerned for her and her well being, you can advocate for the rights of sex workers to feel safe in their work place and you can work towards dismantling the system that strips them of humanity and dignity. You can also educate yourself on feminist porn, and use that knowledge to explore your own paradigms, fears and opportunities for growth. We all want to get off. But we need to start acknowledging the full-on, complex, unique and varied humanity of the folks who work to help us get there. (On and off camera.)

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Eugenie Bouchard: Pretty Lady, and also Athlete

Eugenie Bouchard, 19 year old Canadian tennis player, is killin’ it at the Australian open. She just defeated the number 1 seed Ana Ivanovic to become the first Canadian woman in 30 years to reach the semis of a Grand Slam. Which is freakin’ awesome! New talent, especially in the sea of bland/unlikable ladies on the pro tour. And hey, that’s just my opinion, and there is no rule that talented athletes need be likable (Sampras was pretty boring, after all.) I’m just saying that as far as fans and growing the sport’s popularity goes, we need folks to turn out and get amped about watching the women play. Of course I think a big hurdle is the lingering idea that the women are less athletic (even though it’s pretty clear that Billy Jean settled that in ’73), which could be mitigated if the ladies would start playing best of 5 sets. If they play just as long and hard as the guys, we can stop arguing about prize money and just focus on the talent, the rivalries, and the heart pounding moments every tennis fan craves.

Up and coming Canadian! Woo hoo!
Up and coming Canadian! Woo hoo!

But I digress. Eugenie had a post game interview, which should have really focused on her hard work and great accomplishments on the court. But, surprise surprise, it didn’t. From Rebecca Rose on Jezebel:

After her win over Ana Ivanovic on Monday, Bouchard should have been doing a post-game interview about just how she managed to accomplish this most impressive feat. But NOPE! Instead, she got asked this:

“You’re getting a lot of fans here,” noted [Samantha] Smith, a former British tennis champ. “A lot of them are male, and they want to know: If you could date anyone in the world of sport, of movies – I’m sorry, they asked me to say this – who would you date?”

UGH. Because that’s what’s important. Of course.

This line of questioning, post game, is super disrespectful. Who this girl dates has no bearing on her game or her tennis career. Also it’s none of anyone’s business. Just because you, in this case ‘you’ being the media at large, thinks that someone is attractive doesn’t mean they owe you personal information (or kindness or courtesy, FYI.) They’d never ask Roger Federer that on court after a tough win over Nadal. GTFO.

Since Eugenie is conventionally attractive, it’s likely that she will have to deal with this kind of crap her whole career. And maybe, like Anna Kournikova before her, her looks will dominate the conversation more than her skills. Kournikova never got a fair shake, even though she made it to the semis at Wimbledon her first time there (the 2nd women ever to do so, after the legendary Chris Everet.) Everyone was mostly concerned with how young and beautiful she was. Thanks in no small part to a variety of injuries, she never really lived up to her potential, a Slam eluded her, and she became a punch line.

Anna back in 1997. She was fresh, competitive, and rocking a signature hair style.
Anna back in 1997. She was fresh, competitive, and rocking a signature hair style.

I hope Eugenie continues to work hard and brush past these moment of sexism. Even this kind of ‘everyday sexism’ can be really exhausting and depressing for the women on the receiving end. For the time being, female athletes (and actors, and politicians, and scientists, and journalists ETC ETC ETC) will have to deal with being seen as women first, and talented second. It still baffles me that we treat women like a weird alien species with mysterious parts and strange motivations. Women are people. Women tennis players are tennis players. Eugenie is a tennis player, a competitive athlete. The end.

Get it!
Get it! I love the fist pump, so classically tennis.

Friendly reminder: if you see something you think might be sexism (or as I like to label it: gender issues happening) a good test is ‘would this be happening if gender roles were reversed.’ So again, if Eugenie were Nadal or Federer or Djokivic (em, love him), would a reporter be asking them about dating on court post-match? No? Then congratulations! You’ve found gender issues happening! Shout out to the world about it!

FIST PUMPS ALL AROUND
FIST PUMPS ALL AROUND