femmanism

My name is Emma. This is my feminism.

Consuming Kids: The Commercialization of Childhood

Every parent or future parent should watch this.  Anyone who talks about ‘kids these days’ should watch this.  Every teacher or future teacher should watch this.  Every daycare worker or future daycare worker should watch this.  Basically, everyone should watch this.

Obviously, this is about kids (my other passion), and is not explicitly feminist, but I think consumerism is absolutely a feminist issue.  I have learned a lot about consumerism through feminism, and I think there is a lot of overlap between the two. 

It is scary how much time, money, and energy is put into manipulating children.  Some of the research methods that marketers use are really creepy, including following children around (including during bath time) and watching how they interact with their environment and the products in it.  They watch children watch commercials and record how many times the children blink, and then switch to commercials which are more mesmerizing.  They study child development, so they know that toddlers like slow motion commercials with soft, circular shapes.  They know that by 6 months of age, children can recognize brands, and they want to make sure that those babies recognize their brand. 

One thing I’m starting to recognize as a trend from marketers and corporations trying to sell a product is that they will come right out and say “I don’t know if it’s ethical, but it makes me money.”  I know that companies want to make money above all else, but I’m surprised that these people are so open about it.  I often wonder how they sleep at night, and I used to think that they lied to themselves.  But obviously, they’re not lying to themselves, and they’re not even lying to us.  They don’t care at all about the ethics of what they’re selling or how they’re selling it, as long as it makes money.

But interestingly, if you talk about the negative consequences of advertising, an easy one being obesity*, those same marketers will essentially say that their ads don’t affect behaviour.  Kids could play outside if they wanted.  This is interesting because I don’t really know why any advertisers would have jobs, or why so much money would be devoted to producing effective ads if they had no affect on behaviour.  But maybe that’s the lie they tell themselves so they can sleep at night?

According to this documentary, the States is the only country in the industrialized world that has no regulations on children’s advertising.  Gotta love freedom of speech.  Lucky for us, almost everything on TV in Canada is American.  Super.  So it’s basically our kids vs. a multi-billion dollar industry and extremely educated individuals.  That’s fair right?

No.  So what do we do?  This documentary didn’t talk too much about media literacy, but it is clearly essential in attempting to combat all these messages from advertisers.  Even if you remove TV and the internet and cell phones and magazines from your home, kids are going to go out into the world.  So limiting their media consumption in your own home is not enough.  We have to teach them how to be critical of the media that they will inevitably be exposed to.

It’s crazy to think about teaching this to kids when I’m just learning how to do it myself, and most people I know aren’t really critical of the media they consume.  It’s hard to do, especially when it’s so ingrained and seems so natural, like representations of femininity and masculinity.  Maybe you can watch a toy commercial and think “that’s stupid, I can just use make believe to build that myself.”  But it’s more difficult when you think about the what the commercial is implicitly selling, like the fact that it’s always a girl playing with the Barbie and always a boy playing with the super-muscled action figure. 

This is something we all need to be aware of.  It is not just something that targets children, although it is arguably much scarier when it does.  We need to redefine what success and happiness mean.  We need to recognize that we are not what we own, but who we are.  When I first started trying to think like this, I found it almost impossible.  And I think that should piss us off.  That commercialism has so completely invaded our minds that we can’t comprehend being the kind of person that we want to be without a cute dress or a nice house or a lot of money.  But, kind of like feminism, I have found that the more I practiced thinking that way, the easier it has gotten.  And I am certainly not innocent of consuming unnecessary shit, but I am starting to see how fucked it is.  I was in a mall today (buying an amazing pair of shoes that I absolutely don’t need and are not practical in any way), and I felt like everyone walking around in there with me was a zombie, completely brainwashed by capitalism into thinking that they need the newest whatever.  But how could it be anything different when we have been programmed from birth to consume.

Thinking this way really leaves us empty.  There is a positive correlation between children’s screen time and likelihood of anxiety and depression, and this is not at all surprising.  Thinking that these superficial, material things will make you happy will inevitably disappoint.  Being sat in front of a TV because your parent thinks that Baby Einstein will make you smarter** instead of bonding with your parents or siblings or friends is not going to fulfill your needs.  And isn’t that the point?  If what we bought actually did satisfy us and make us the perfect people that we wanted to be and make everyone like us, we wouldn’t need to buy more things.  If we weren’t constantly and futilely trying to fill a void in ourselves with products, companies would stop making money.  And obviously, that would be no good. 

Imagine if we could all teach our children to be critical of this system.  Imagine if all our children thought that kindness and morality and happiness were actually more important than money (because clearly many of us adults don’t believe that).  Imagine the world that they would create when they are the ones controlling it.  It would undoubtedly be a more beautiful world than they one we are creating for them.

 

The whole documentary is on YouTube.  It’s just over an hour, and totally worth watching.  I think it is one of those documentaries that will change how you look at the world forever, even if you don’t want it to.  I highly recommend watching it.  Extremely smart, educated people are spending billions of dollars and working their whole lives to manipulate your children in order to make a profit.  Spend an hour to learn about what they’re doing, why it’s harmful and how to counteract it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h_M8EPSXYcE

*because kids playing outside produces very little profit when compared with mechanical toys which you essentially sit and watch or electronics, and kids playing outside cannot be bombarded with more advertising as easily.

**There is no evidence that Baby Einstein or other “educational” media is beneficial in any way to children, only to the companies who make billions of dollars selling it.  In fact, children who watch “educational” DVDs tend to have smaller vocabularies than children who don’t.

I also want to say how much I appreciate the Occupy movement for trying to change this system for us all.  I am the 99%, and I’m with you all in spirit… even though I start my new job tomorrow.

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Sin By Silence – 2009

This is a documentary about women who are serving life sentences for killing their abusive husbands.  They have created a really warm community in jail where they are all able to talk about their experiences and relate to each other.  One thing that many of the women commented on was how empowering it was to learn that they were not the only one who had suffered in their marriage.  They had had no idea that other people were going through the same things as them. 

I think, like these women, people who have never experienced domestic abuse underestimate its prevalence.  In fact, I think most people tend to think it doesn’t actually exist.  Maybe I’m being naive here, but if people really knew that it happened, how could they joke about it?  Or maybe they logically know that it happens, but they have effectively distanced themselves from it enough to think that it only happens to “them.”  I don’t know.  Maybe I’m just giving people too much credit.

I know that for me personally, what had more impact than even this documentary (which still allows me to really distance myself from the issue), is an experience that a relative of mine recently had.  She was on vacation, and heard a woman screaming for help in the room next door.  It was obvious that the woman was being beat up by her male companion. 

I was completely shocked by this story.  Which is stupid.  I read a lot about feminism and feminist issues, and I know that women are regularly the target of rape and violence, but somehow it never became real to me.  But the fact is that at any point there is a possibility that a woman in the same room as me has experienced something this terrible.  So, just like with rape jokes and victim blaming, be so so careful what you say.  You never know who is looking for a way out, and who has already decided that you will not be that way out because of some joke you have told.

I also realized as the women in the film talked about the early warning signs*, that I have seen those signs.  Once in my first boyfriend, and once in a male friend who I knew had feelings for me.  I have heard descriptions of these signs in other men that friends were involved with.  And I’m sure you have seen some of these signs as well.  Luckily for me, it never turned physical.  But I often wonder about the women who got involved with these men after me.  I often wonder if I should have done more.  But I think that any woman who is involved with a man who has the potential to be abusive has tried everything she can to change him.  I know I did.  So I really don’t know what else I could have done to protect the women that came after me.  Maybe all we can do is make sure the women in our lives know that they deserve respect, and that we will help them if they need it.  I have definitely made that a priority, especially in the past when I knew a friend was involved with a potential abuser.

Despite the fact that I was surprised to realize how common such extreme violence really is, if you look at this lovely culture that we have created for ourselves, it is really not all that surprising.  I tend to think that whenever there are examples of extreme misogyny or racism or heterosexism or any other social problem, they are really just a magnification of the social issues that face women, racial minorities, and non-heterosexuals daily. 

For instance, a number of women in this documentary said that their husbands would tell them what makeup they were allowed to wear.  Women are often similarly policed in public by being mocked or called names for wearing too much makeup.  I don’t think this would usually happen to a woman’s face, but by hearing comments, or even making them, we reinforce ideas about what is the right makeup to wear, what is ‘slutty,’ etc.  Some examples:

Of course, as comes into play in these examples, we also police and control other aspects of femininity, like clothing, hair dye, and tanning.  Such control is rarely imposed on men (we police masculinity in different ways).  Men** are also taught to see women as objects to which they are entitled.  One example that has been on my mind recently is bikini contests in bars, and bar atmospheres in general.  You can read my recent post on this for a more thorough explanation, but generally it is quite clear in bars that the men tend to feel that they have a right to the women.  If you are a woman who has ever been to a bar, I’m sure you can relate to how this feels.  If you chose not to dance or drink, men will come up and pressure you.  If you are dancing with a man, he might continually touch very private parts of your body to which he has no right, despite the fact that you continue to move his hands away.  A group of men might line the wall and grab your ass as you walk by.  If you refuse to give a man your number, he might get angry and aggressive.  All of these have been very common experiences in my bar-going career, and all of them are related to men’s feelings of entitlement to women’s bodies.

Add all this to ideas of masculinity as power, control, anger, strength, aggression and violence, and it really seems quite obvious that this culture would produce men who abuse their wives/girlfriends, and women who will ‘accept it.’

When I say ‘accept it,’ I don’t mean that they allow it to happen.  One thing that this documentary pointed out to me is that victim blaming in domestic violence situations is no different than victim blaming in sexual assault situations.  It is no different.  This seems obvious, but it can be so easy to say “I know it’s hard, but*** she should have done whatever she had to to get out.”  Women are at a greatly increased risk of death for the 2 years after they leave.  And when there are children involved, what is worse?  If the woman is killed, they are left alone with their father.  Is that a risk you would really take?

I think the movie Enough does a really great job of showing the complexities of domestic abuse.  Just like many of the women said in Sin by Silence, in Enough the relationship starts out like every girl’s (socially scripted) dream.  He is a great guy, and you can totally understand why she falls in love with him.  Then it gets scary, and eventually she tries to leave.  She packs up in the middle of the night on one attempt, risking everything on the fact that he will not wake up.  He does.  When she finally is able to get out, she realizes that she has no money, no where safe to go, and that her husband is looking for her. 

It is not impossible to get out.  But it can be extremely difficult, and extremely dangerous.  Especially when, along with the physical abuse, there has been psychological abuse which has convinced you that you have no power, nobody cares about you, you don’t deserve better, this is your fault and you need this relationship.  I think that is the most important thing I learned from this film.  Have respect for women who are dealing with this.  If you are lucky enough (and yes, I do think it has a lot to do with luck) to have never experienced domestic abuse, try to put yourself in their shoes.  Remember that they once did, and still do love the man who is hurting them.  I think almost everyone who has been in relationships has stayed in one that they knew was bad for them.  As with anything like this, it all comes down to compassion and empathy.

I would really love to watch a documentary about the men who abuse; the ones in this situation for whom it is more difficult to have compassion and empathy.  Sin by Silence talked a little bit about the men’s perspectives, but it mostly focused on the women.  Since the men are the ones causing this problem, like with rape, I think we really need to learn more about what drives their behaviour and focus on how to change that instead of how to help women escape it. 

The last thing I want to say about this film is that it reinforced what I have been thinking lately about the use of the word ‘trash’ to describe lower class people.  Think about that for a second.  Trash.  Literally referring to people as garbage totally discounts anything they have to say.  Usually, these are the people who have really lived a hard life.  For instance, one of the women sharing her experience in this documentary immediately made me think ‘white trash.’  She has suffered abuse, not only at the hands of her husband, but of other family members as a child as well.  She is now in prison and is working with other women to change laws and change themselves.  She has stories and knowledge and wisdom that anyone would be lucky to have access to.  I feel very honored to have been able to hear some of her stories through watching this film.  Who else do we discount as ‘trash’ that might have something amazing and powerful to offer if we just gave them a chance?

*extreme jealousy, possessiveness, controlling attitude, low self-esteem, unpredictable mood swings, alcohol and drug use, explosive anger

**I do not at all want to imply that all men think this way.  I am simply pointing out that this is a cultural value that we are taught.  Just as many women reject the ideas, so too do many men.

***I used to watch Dr. Phil a lot, and I am often reminded of what he used to say about the word ‘but.’  When you follow a statement with a ‘but,’ you are completely negating it.  “I love you, but…” is not really an ‘I love you’ at all.  “I know it’s hard, but…” means really, you have no idea how hard it is.

http://www.sinbysilence.com/

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The Interrupters – 2011

This is a little different than most of the documentaries I watch.  It’s not about feminism, it’s about the violence on the streets of Chicago, and – more importantly – stopping it.  It takes you inside these people’s world, and makes it so real.  We all know that in certain areas there’s a lot of killings, that boys expect to be ‘dead or in jail’ by the time they’re 20, and that we wouldn’t want to live there, or even walk down the streets.  (At least, that has been my experience as a middle class white person.)

But these people are not monsters.  They’re not different than other people.   They’re not evil.  If you look just a little closer and you hear their stories, you realize that they are victims of this racist, classist, and yes, patriarchal system.

Crips and Bloods: Made In America is a great documentary that explains how this all started (which I don’t think I will post on).  But, accepting that it has gotten to the point that these babies are being born into this world, told that they are scary, dangerous, suspicious, that there are no resources or jobs for them, they have very little hope for any kind of profitable future (‘you can’t be what you can’t see’), and that being a man means demanding respect, not being afraid of anything, and being aggressive and violent, how could we expect any different outcome?

There are a lot of heartbreaking stories in this documentary, but overall, it is amazingly hopeful.  (I just watched the trailer again to refresh my memory, and am now tearing up, and covered in goosebumps.)  The interrupters are men and women who used to contribute the the violence in this war zone, but now work to interrupt individual violent acts.  Because the people that they work with know and respect them, they are able to have a profound influence**.

And they do.  On individuals and on the system as a whole.  Murder rates are down in areas that have interrupters.  This is just so inspiring I can barely even handle it.  I didn’t know I believed in angels until I saw this film.  Looking into this world, hearing the stories and learning the stats… it just seems so hopeless.  If they can change this for the better, what can’t we fix?

Despite the fact that there are multiple ism’s working against this community (rather than just the sexism that feminism usually focuses on*), I still see parallels between the situation in Chicago and the situation for Western women in general.  The war in Chicago is much more literal, direct, violent, and oppressive than that facing women in other areas, but still there are similarities.

As I watched, I was frustrated because these people are just keeping themselves down.  It’s no surprise that they are pissed and want to do something about it – the system has completely fucked them.  But it’s not their neighbour down the street, or that kid that just walked past their house, or the little family business on the corner that caused this.  They’re all in the same boat.  Just imagine if they directed their energy and spirit and anger towards the right people!

And then I thought about all the women who call each other sluts, point out each others’ “flaws,” are jealous or hateful, and – essentially – keep each other down.  Aren’t we doing the same thing?  It sucks to be oppressed by these fucked up, pervasive, elitist system, but why are we taking it out on each other?

We need to love each other.  Really.  We’re all in this together.  One of my favourite parts of this documentary (there are so many) was the relationship between Ameena (an interrupter) and Caprysha (a teenaged girl who was getting in a bit of trouble).  In the trailer, it shows Ameena asking “Do you want to be loved? Absolutely.  Do you deserve to be loved?”  And without hesitation, Caprysha answers, “no.” And without hesitation, Ameena says, “Absolutely.”  (And then I sobbed.)  Even if she did nothing else, loving this girl changes everything.

I know I sound like a crazy hippie (but I’m not the only one), but imagine if we could all just love each other.  Instead of internalizing whatever oppression you’re facing and using it to fuel your hatred of other people in similar situations, or of yourself, have compassion.  We’re all dealing with this shit, let’s just love each other through it instead of holding each other down.

*I know this is problematic.  As a white woman, I (try to) recognize my many privileges, and feminism helps me do that.  But I still think of feminism as focusing primarily on the sexism that all women face, while more marginally commenting on other inequalities.  I know that a black woman’s feminism is different than mine, and that a lesbian’s is different still.

**This fact makes me feel a lot better about the fact that I don’t do anything near this amazing.  Sometimes I feel guilty for focusing only on what affects me, and feeling like I’m doing something by sitting at home blogging or tweeting.  I know really terrible things like this are happening not so far away, so I feel like I should be interrupting it as well.  But if I walked into Jane and Finch (which is the only comparable area I can think of that is nearby) and told people to just be nice… well, I don’t think I would have the same impact.  I am so thankful that there are such amazing people in this world who are able to do these things, but you also have to know what you can’t do.  And obviously, I can’t do this.  (Hopefully one day I will find what I can do that will have such a huge impact.)

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The Line – 2009

This was a really interesting, really intimate story about date rape.  The woman making the documentary was raped when she went home with a co-worker.  To be clear, she went home to have sex with him.  He wasn’t a creepy stranger who jumped out at her an in dark alley.  She was in his bed, having sex with him.  Some people think that this means that she was asking for it, she deserved it, or she wasn’t really raped. 

But to me, this is terrifying.  I know it’s fucked to teach women to not get raped.  But honestly, hearing ‘don’t talk to strangers,’ ‘don’t walk home alone,’ ‘stay in a populated area,’ and other victim blaming statements thinly veiled as advice and concern really does have an impact.  I probably wouldn’t walk through a dark alley alone at night after I had been drinking.  Doing the things that, as women, we constantly do to avoid rape make us feel safe and in control (to some extent). 

But what if I just want to have sex with a guy I work with?  Or even a stranger at a bar.  I’m already going to have sex with him, so why would I have to worry that he would rape me?  Well, in this case, because he wanted anal sex, and she didn’t.  He seemed to interpret her consenting to vaginal sex as her consenting to any sexual act he wanted, regardless of her screaming and crying.  This is terrifying.  Really.

I think that most women have had an experience similar to this (but hopefully much less extreme).  You think you’re just making out, but he thinks that means he can undress you, or touch you, or make you touch him.  You’re not really okay with it, but you don’t want to freak out and be ‘that girl’ either.  Whispering no should be just as powerful as screaming it, but it often isn’t. 

Of course I don’t mean to minimize more intrusive, penetrative rape by comparing it to a much less intense situation, but I think it all comes from the same place.  And I think it’s really important to recognize that a lot of women have experienced this.  Almost every woman I know has experienced it to some extent.  It’s such a huge, complex system of patriarchy, entitlement, low self-esteem, and women’s objectification that it sometimes feels impossible to find your line and speak up, but we all have to.

I really admire the woman who made this documentary for doing just that.  She talked about how she sometimes questioned whether or not it was really rape.  Maybe she was overreacting.  The man who did it certainly didn’t think he was a rapist.  That’s why date rape is so dangerous and so scary.  Who knows how many men are walking around thinking they’re decent guys while a woman knows that they are a rapist. 

This documentary really changed the way I think of date rape.  It’s not ‘just’ date rape.  It’s not just that she kinda didn’t want to, but she compromised for him.  She thought she was having consensual sex and ended up being anally raped.   Then, when she told her friends, they didn’t believe her.  If her case had been judged by a jury, she almost certainly would have lost.  She is seen as a drunk slut who was asking for it.  Or maybe she’s lying to get attention.  Either way, it was her fault and she deserves no sympathy.

I think people need to really take a minute to think about how awful being raped would really be.  Then think about the rape myths they are perpetuating, and how damaging they would be to hear as the survivor of rape.  Then, next time you hear of someone being raped, consider saying, “That’s horrible.  I hope she’s okay.  I can’t believe someone would do something like that,” instead of, “Well why was she walking there alone?”  Just because you haven’t been raped doesn’t mean the person you’re talking to hasn’t.  Or the person nearby who can hear you.  Or someone they love.  You never know who is listening, so be careful, and be supportive.  We’re all in this together. 

http://whereisyourline.org/

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Generation M: Misogyny in Media & Culture – 2008

 

This is my favourite kind of documentary, obviously, since it’s basically what this blog is all about – examining misogyny and sexism in media.  Unfortunately, after watching quite a few documentaries about this, they’re starting to get a little repetitive.  But I can still find a few things that I had never thought of before in all of them.

One thing that I liked about this documentary was the way it contrasted sexism with racism.  For example, it presented the song Kim by Eminem (which, admittedly, I actually know all the words to and used to love), which is pretty undeniably misogynistic and questioned if the reaction would be the same if he was being so violently racist instead.  Plenty of people – including women – defend Eminem, saying that he’s just pissed at Kim for cheating, it’s not meant to be taken seriously, he’s fucked up, he’s just angry, etc.  But would people of colour defend him in the same way if he was talking about killing black men?  This could be argued I guess, but it seems pretty clear that they would not.  In fact, Eminem will not use the ‘N-word’ in his music (but feels very comfortable saying any derogatory word or phrase he can think of about women).

Another example used was the video game Grand Theft Auto.  I have no experience with this game at all (I’m not really into video games.  Except the Sims which I love, and may have to do a post about), but I have seen it criticized in more than one documentary now for it’s violent misogyny.  Specifically, I guess, killing prostitutes is a thing in GTA… isn’t that original.  Gamers say it’s fun because you can do things that you would never do in the real world.  Okay, so what else would you never do in the real world?  Would a game sell big because it allows you to be a pedophile?  Or lynch N- – – – – s*?  Of course not! Because those things are horrifying!  But then, the implication there is that killing prostitutes is not horrifying?

The beginning of the film talked a lot about female pop stars and the image of femininity, sexuality, and “female empowerment” that they present.  As they flash images of the Pussycat Dolls, Britney Spears, Jessica Simpson, and whoever else, I totally agree with their point.  But I also still secretly wish I looked like them.  It’s so frustrating to recognize how problematic and impossible these standards of beauty are, but still be affected by them.   I sometimes wonder if documentaries should show all the hundreds of images (of sexuality, violence, gender stereotypes, etc.) that they are criticizing the media for showing, but I think it does make a difference.  Now when I see ads in the real world like the ones that have been shown in these documentaries, I immediately think of the criticisms of the ad (rather than immediately criticizing myself, which is what the ad would prefer I do).

I agree with their criticisms of the Pussycat dolls, Britney Spears and Jessica Simpson, but I can’t help but get defensive when they start talking about Christina Aguilera.  I love Christina Aguilera.  I like to think I have a good reason to, and she is not like all the others, but maybe I’m just too biased to see that this isn’t true.  I have always seen her as a strong woman, and have reminded myself many times that “Lil Kim and Christina Aguilera got your back” as I walk out of the door worried that I look ‘too slutty.’  I have gotten a lot of strength from a lot of her songs (most notably Can’t Hold Us Down, which still makes me cry), and I totally think she is a feminist.  Her songs about sexuality imply agency and are about her own desire, not about men’s desire for her.  Get Mine Get Yours talks about her need for sexual satisfaction, Still Dirrty talks about how she’s still a ‘freak’ even if she’s not always dressed like it, even in Dirrty she says “I wanna get dirty,” not ‘I’m getting dirty so you can watch.’  I think it’s always been a bit different with her – more authentic.  And a lot of sexist assholes feel the need to call her a slut (etc.), but say they wanna fuck Nicole Scherzinger, so I’m clearly not the only one who sees a difference.    She’s not perfect, but I still just have to love her.

The last thing I have to say about this documentary (after that somewhat off-topic rant about Christina) is that it has taught me a lot about what guys to stay away from.  I never really put the pieces together before, but guys I’ve known who were into Rush Limbaugh, Howard Stern and Eminem have pretty much all been sexist, ignorant, had very traditional ideas about gender roles, and had absolutely no desire to change.  I never knew who Howard Stern or Rush Limbaugh were until I started watching feminist documentaries, and now it all makes sense.  So there’s my advice for you.  If you come across a man who talks about Howard Stern all the time, run.  (Unless sexism, ignorance and traditional gender roles appeal to you, in which case, go for it.  Who am I to judge?)

*Forgive me for using that word, I was just trying to make a point that a game would never use that word in that way to sell a product.

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Indecently Exposed – 2004

This is a documentary about white Canadians’ racism toward non-white, specifically Native, Canadians.  We all like to think that Canadians are so nice – we would never be racist!  But that’s a big problem.  Since we would never be racist, we can hate a whole group of people based on their race and think it is justified.  Or just not recognize it within ourselves.  I know I have certainly been guilty of doing this.  “I’m not racist, but” (always the beginning of a wonderful sentence) “what do Native people want?  They don’t pay taxes, but they want all the benefits?  They want our government to do everything for them?  Can’t they just get over it?”  Sadly, yes, I did say those things, and I did believe them.

So I knew I had to watch this documentary if I wanted to become a better person.  Based on the trailer I had seen, I thought it was going to be awful.  Some old white woman was going to go into a room and treat all the white people like shit and think she’s teaching them a lesson.  I was going in defensive and with a bad attitude, but trying to keep as much of an open mind as I could. 

Within 5 minutes of starting the movie, my defenses were down, my bad attitude was gone, and my mind was wide open.  Jane Elliott is absolutely my new hero.  She starts off by bringing the ‘Brown Eyes’ into a room with her, where they sit in chairs and discuss what is going to happen in the experiment.  Meanwhile, the ‘Blue Eyes’ are forced to sit on the floor in a separate room, are given nothing to do, and are not allowed to talk to each other.  She then tells the ‘Brown Eyes’ that while they are working, the ‘Blue Eyes’ are resting.  How is that fair?  ‘Blue Eyes’ are so lazy.

And that’s when I got it.  These horrible racist statements feel true because we hear them framed like this all the time.  White people feel better thinking that we’re working and ‘they’ (whoever it is that we would like to discriminate against in this moment) are resting.  But no.  We are being given the opportunity to be a part of our community, to contribute, to learn, to be respected.  And we pretend it would be easier to ‘rest?’  This is absolutely white privilege at it finest – we don’t even see how lucky we are.

When the ‘Blue Eyes’ are finally brought into the room with the rest of the group, the experiment really begins.  Jane Elliott shows how racism and discrimination really work, and it is just awful.  Some of the ‘Blue Eyes’ get it right away.  Women and younger people tend to be pretty quick on the uptake.  Women understand discrimination, and are not used to always having all the power.  Young people may just be more willing to learn.   But a couple of the older white men put up a fight.  Clearly, they don’t believe they could do anything wrong.  They can’t take the experiment seriously because they know that no one would ever treat them the way Jane Elliott is treating them.  They would never be treated like a minority.  But isn’t that the point?

Despite those ignorant men, this was really beautiful and powerful to see.  Watching other people get it, feeling myself get it, and getting to hear stories from the ‘Brown Eyes’ was so humbling.  I highly recommend this documentary to any white person who is ready to confront that little bit of racism inside them that it would be so much easier to deny.  One of the ‘Brown Eyed’ men said he would rather deal with someone who admitted their racism than someone who denied it.  We have to admit it before we can change it, and we have to change it.

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Miss Representation – 2011

Watching this documentary is actually what made me want to start this blog.  I haven’t written about it yet because I was too intimidated; I didn’t know what to say that would do it justice.  If I could only recommend one documentary, I think this might be it.  It summarizes most of my views on feminism today, and focuses on the portrayal of women in all the media, which is obviously something I think is important to look at.

It mentioned quite a few things that I hadn’t realized before.  For one thing, movies are almost never really about women’s lives.   They are either made for men, by men, and about men, or they are “chick flicks.”  But in fact, chick flicks are also about men.  It would not be a happy ending if the woman ended up with great girl friends, a great job, great family, but no man.  The only thing that matters in a chick flick is getting the man.

The problems are not just how the media constructs fictional women though.  This film also looks at the way strong women politicians like Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin are talked about in the media.  “What is she wearing?”  “Did she get a boob job?”  “She’s hot.”  “She’s nagging and complaining.”  “She’s looking old.”  And on and on.  Why are these things important?  These women are trying to run your country, but you care more about their appearances than what they stand for?  If you can’t take these women seriously, how can any woman feel that she can take a stand and be taken seriously?

Media gives girls and women the message that the way we look is the most important thing about us.  We get this message constantly from everywhere we look.  Going on YouTube to watch the trailer for Miss Representation I had to see an ad about foundation.  We get this message so much that we don’t even question it.  We have completely embraced it, and have become the ones oppressing ourselves in many ways.  We do it to other women all the time.  If you want to hurt a woman’s feelings, quick, call her fat.  Because that would be the worst thing ever.  But we do it to ourselves even more.  We are so critical of the way we look because we have been fooled into thinking that it really matters. 

When I really think about that for a minute, it just makes me want to cry.  We are so much more than how we look.  But we have so completely internalized this message that I don’t think most women can actually, truly accept that.  How we look does not matter.  If I’m overweight, or have pimples, or have a big nose, or – God forbid – pores, I can still be amazing.  But we can’t just focus on being amazing, because looking amazing takes too much of our time and money. 

My sister pointed out, as we watched this documentary, that the women in it were very attractive.  They don’t look like the ‘ideal woman’ idolized by the media, but they speak so intelligently and their passion is so clear that it is really a pleasure to get to watch and listen to them speak.  After she pointed that out, I realized how true it was and is with other women in my life.  I enjoy watching women who I have a lot of respect for, and who I think are impressive as people.  I could totally see that type of true beauty replacing what we think of now as ‘beautiful’ women. 

What I love most about Miss Representation is that it is hopeful.  It offers solutions to many of the overwhelming problems that it brings up; things that all of us can do.  Teach media literacy and critical thinking.  Help girls and women tell their own stories.  Let children make films so that they know that the media is a construction, not a truth.  Support women who are doing great things rather than women who look great.  Stop criticizing your own body.  Support movies by and about strong women.  Speak up when you hear people saying demeaning things about women. 

I think the most important thing to do is to interrogate your own thoughts and feelings about women.  We are raised in a very sexist society, and recognizing that some of that has rubbed off on you does not make you a bad person.  It just gives you a place to start. 

“May we all make empowering other women and girls a priority.”

http://www.missrepresentation.org/

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The F Word: Who Wants to be a Feminist? – 2011

I do!  But it took me a while to get here.  I think we all know women who embrace ideas about equality and women’s rights in particular, but avoid using the word ‘feminist.’  It’s a little sad I think.  Part of what this documentary talked about was whether or not that label is important.  If you are embracing the message, do you really need the label?  I don’t know.  The point was made though, that a bunch of individuals will not have the power of a unified group who all identify themselves as part of the movement.

Who gets to call themselves a feminist?  One woman in this film identifies herself as a ‘conservative feminist.’  Is that a thing?  Is Sarah Palin really a feminist?  Can I believe in strict gender roles and conservative values and still call myself a feminist?  Who owns the word ‘feminist?’ 

Well, no one.  It’s interesting though, as this film pointed out, that young women who embrace feminist values reject the label, but Sarah Palin and Christina Hoff Sommers (the conservative feminist) reject the traditional values of feminism, but embrace the label.   Apparently, there are political and financial incentives for conservative women to publicly call themselves feminists while simultaneously saying that women have it all and there is no need for feminism anymore.  But that’s a scary, depressing thought that makes me kinda angry, so I’ll try to avoid thinking too much about it. 

One thing I am just starting to understand and appreciate about feminism is that you can do it your own way.  You can wear a mini dress or a burqa, lots of makeup or no makeup, shave your legs or not, be a politician or a housewife, date men or women, be a man or a woman, it doesn’t matter. You make your own meaning of these things.  If you feel empowered by what you’re doing, like you’re in control of yourself, your life, and your choices, then really, that’s all that matters.  (Well, if you wanted to support other women, and men, and women’s rights in general that wouldn’t hurt either…)

I was a little worried for a while that I’d hafta stop wearing makeup, liking pink, wearing heels and shaving my legs in order to be a feminist.  But feminism is not sposta suck…  So I decided that as long as I’m not judgmental of non-conforming women, realize that not all girls like pink, and am not disgusted by my own leg hair, then it’s all good.  Maybe if we allowed a more free definition of feminism, more people would want to be a feminist. 

The F Word: Who Wants to be a Feminist?

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Tough Guise: Men, Violence and the Crisis in Masculinity – Jackson Katz, 1999

I think it’s really important to look at masculinity as well as femininity when examining gender roles in the media.  This documentary is a little dated, and a little on the boring side, but it definitely brought up some really important points.  Unfortunately, although the movies and video games he used as examples are clearly outdated, the problems he was talking about are still everywhere.  

As a straight, single 21-year-old woman, these issues affect me constantly.  Dealing with men who seem to have no emotions can be extremely frustrating, and I can only imagine how hard it must be for them.  Emotions are a huge part of what it means to be human, and denying those emotions is obviously not exactly healthy. 

As I watched, I was suddenly struck by the fact that I have absolutely no idea what it’s like to be a man.  I have thought a lot about the social construction of masculinity, but I have mostly focused on how it affects me, other women, and society in general.  Maybe I’m completely self-centered and selfish, but I really never considered the actual experience of being a man in this society.  I can’t imagine how hard it must be to constantly be policing your own emotions for fear of ridicule, bullying, name-calling and rejection.   This society has stripped away a huge part of men’s humanity and has allowed men to be only a fraction of what they could be.

It’s obvious that defining masculinity in terms of power, control, and violence creates problems for women, who, as a result, suffer physical and emotional harm.  But what I never stopped to consider is that the vast majority of victims of men’s physical violence are other men.  It sounds obvious, but somehow it’s not.  Women would not be the only ones benefiting from a new definition of masculinity.  Men need this change as much as, if not more than, women do. 

This is definitely something that I wish everyone would watch.  It is just as relevant today as it was 13 years ago when it was made.  Clearly, something needs to change.  Men need to stop attacking each other and being afraid of showing a little emotion and vulnerability.   Those of us who date men need to make it clear that men with emotions are desirable.  That doesn’t necessarily mean you need your boyfriend to be crying all the time – but he shouldn’t be ‘tough’ all the time either.  In general, we need to stop using words like ‘fag,’ ‘pussy,’ etc. to maintain this narrow, exclusive definition of masculinity (and for many other reasons of course) that is so harmful to all of us. 

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