Tag Archives: popular media

You Say ‘Feminist’ Like it’s a Bad Thing

It’s something that everyone who’s even passingly interested in not treating women like crap has heard once or twice. “What are you, some kind of feminist?” “Ugh, stop being so feminist about this.” “Oh great, here come the feminists, time to stop having fun.” Because wanting equal rights for women is such an obnoxious and horrible thing, I guess!

There’s a definite stigma against feminists in our current society, which likes to portray us as ball-busting man-haters and/or hairy lesbians. (I mean, personally I am a hairy lesbian, but that has very little to do with my feminism.) Because the only reason you could want positive change for women is because you hate men? After all, it’s not like feminism is about equality or anything, because then it would be called equalism! And it would talk about men’s issues all the time, as is proper. Feminism must be about female superiority or something.

(Obviously this article isn’t trying to change anyone’s mind about feminism, because let’s face it: if your mind is already made up about how awful feminists are, reading feminist articles is probably not going to help. Actually, if you’ve already made up your mind about how awful feminists are, why are you reading feminist articles in the first place?)

There also seems to be this conception of feminism being unnecessary in modern society. Oh sure, historical feminists were important and all, getting women the vote and getting us out of the home and into the office. But things are equal now, so what on earth do you have to whine about? I had a roommate in college who told me, with a sneer, of an acquaintance: “And she’s a feminist.” I looked at her sort of blankly. “So what?” “You know it’s because of feminists we have to write he or she?”

God, what horror. (Did I mention this roommate was majoring in biochemistry and had no interest in marriage or children? But feminism wouldn’t have anything to do with that!)

Feminists these days complain about such stupid things, like shows about colorful ponies! Aren’t there bigger things to worry about, like actual sexism? Because what we’re exposed to as children can’t possibly have an affect on our perceptions of masculinity versus femininity, or what it’s acceptable to do and be as a woman. And obviously caring about some minor things means you have absolutely no care left to spare on major things. (Because choosing to write an article about a specific facet of society while not simultaneously writing about every other facet of society means you clearly don’t care about the big picture.)

In my ideal world, everyone would be a feminist, because I think it’s pretty cool that women someday achieve equal standing with men; that one day women won’t be forced into rigid boxes of societal acceptability, and that likewise, men aren’t forced into other boxes (while avoiding the feminine boxes as their life depended on it– because sometimes it does). But I guess that just makes me a lesbian.

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I’m Not Your Brony, Bro

Happy New Year’s Eve! Today I want to talk about a subject that’s near and dear to my heart: My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.

The newest addition to the classic My Little Pony franchise was created by Hasbro in 2010, produced and directed by animator Lauren Faust, who has worked on a number of other successful children’s shows, including The Powerpuff Girls (another great show for girls, I must say). Faust claims that in producing the new pony series, she wanted to create something that was closer to how she had played with her own ponies as a girl, and hopefully something that would be relatable to a lot of little girls, and enjoyable for their parents to watch also. She also wanted to prove that “cartoons for girls don’t have to be a puddle of smooshy, cutesy-wootsy, goody-two-shoeness.” [1]

In that, most will agree that she succeeded. The ‘mane’ cast of the show consists of six ponies, each with her own individual personality, strengths and weaknesses, who, despite the occasional argument, still manage to be best friends. The cast plays on archetypes, but without— for the most part— letting them fall into stereotypes. Twilight Sparkle, the bookish one, is highly intelligent and slightly socially awkward, but (at least after learning an important lesson about friendship) also enjoys spending time with her friends and actually experiencing the things she reads about. Fluttershy is quiet, timid, and gets along better with animals than other ponies, but she isn’t weak or helpless, and can be incredibly assertive when it comes to standing up for those she cares about. Rarity is a fashionista and a bit of a drama queen, but completely avoids the stereotype of ‘snotty mean girl’— she’s generous to a fault and always thinking about the needs of others.

Perhaps most importantly, even as each character learns lessons about what it means to be a true friend, none of the characters are ever shamed for being who they are. Twilight is never looked down on or scoffed at for being a ‘nerd,’ Fluttershy isn’t told that she must “come out of her shell” to be a worthwhile person pony, and Rarity’s fashion design is looked at as a legitimate career and an art form, not as a shallow or pointless pursuit.

However, because of the depth and relatability of the characters, and the fact that it was designed to be enjoyable for parents as well as children, Friendship is Magic has gained a popularity far outside its target demographic, specifically among older teens and young adults on various internet forums. This isn’t in and of itself a bad thing; in fact, for a children’s show (especially one aimed at girls, “girl cartoons” being a notoriously shallow genre) to have such appeal to an older audience speaks volumes about its quality and content. However, there’s a particular segment of the show’s following that I find to be intensely problematic.

They call themselves “bronies:” 18-35(ish)-year-old male fans of the show who congregate on self-created fansites
such as Equestria Daily and Ponychan. They (generally speaking), tend to be very vocal about being male fans of the show, seeing it as a sort of badge of honor. The word brony itself was originally created to separate the “cool and unique” male fans of the show from the target female fans. The word was later taken to be a sort of blanket term for all of the older, online fans. Brony became gender-neutral, because maleness is, as usual, taken as the societal default.

The thing about bronies is, they seem to think they’re the most important— or sometimes perhaps the only— viewers of the show. “My Little Pony isn’t for girls!” they shout. “It’s cool!”

… Do I even have to explain what’s wrong with that statement? My Little Pony is, in fact, for girls, that being the demographic the show and merchandise is marketed toward, but, more importantly, the fact that something being “cool” must mean it’s “not for girls” says a lot about how our society perceives femininity.

Bronies also tend to complain that the show doesn’t cater more to them. “There should be more male characters!” for example. Nevermind the fact that there is not only a male main character: Spike, the baby dragon, but also a decent number of male background characters of varying importance. Cartoon shows targeted primarily toward boys may have a token female character or two, but rarely very many important background women.

The toy line is also a problem for them. “Why do the ponies have such stupid hair?” they demand. “It isn’t show-accurate!” Never mind the fact that little girls (again: target marketing group) would probably much rather have fun, brushable, styleable hair than stiff, show-accurate molds.

Even the news media has noticed the phenomenon, writing articles about how extraordinary it is for grown men to like a little girls’ show, rather than the fact that the show itself is a standout of the genre and the excellent message that it sends to the actual little girls who watch it.

Overall, the main problem with the brony phenomenon is not that they are men who are fans of a show designed for young girls— there’s nothing inherently ‘creepy’ about it when the show was intended to be enjoyed by parents as well, which includes male parents. The problem lies in male fans demanding kudos for being male fans— by “pushing the envelope” by liking something perceived as girly or “sissy”— in what should be primarily a space for girls, about girls, and by girls. It lies in the fact that they clamor to be acknowledged above the target audience of the show, and complain bitterly when they aren’t catered to. It’s in the fact that they frequently completely overlook female fans of the show— both the young girls it’s aimed at and the older women who also populate their online communities. It’s in the rampant misogyny of the fandom: calling Rarity useless (or a bitch) simply for occupying the fashionista role, even when she completely defies the shallow girl stereotype, while simultaneously lauding Rainbow Dash (probably the character that sticks closest to common media tropes) for being tomboyish and tough, and therefore awesome; or wanting to protect and “take care of” poor, submissive little Fluttershy, while ignoring the fact that she isn’t actually submissive, nor does she need a man (or anyone) to take care of her.

I fully admit that there are male fans who don’t fall into this category in the slightest, and I appreciate that, but when so many of those who identify as “bronies” exhibit this entitled and misogynistic behavior, it’s a small wonder the word makes me twitch a bit each time I see it.

1. A Rebuttal, Oct. 4, 2010.

Homophobia’s a Bitch

I’m sure a good number of you have seen Rick Perry’s recent campaign video, “Strong” (if you haven’t, the link is here— go ahead and downvote it and/or flag it for hateful language). There’s certainly something wrong with this country when a person can run for president on a platform of “Christians are more oppressed than gays.”

Being a queer American and a Christian— and realizing I’m considerably more oppressed for the former than the latter— I went to Governor Perry’s facebook page to let him know what I thought of his recent video. While I was there, I checked out what some of the other commenters were saying. Several of them, like me, expressed distaste at his campaign choices, or posted pictures of gay men kissing, or pointed out that his jacket is oddly reminiscent of the one worn by the cowboys in Brokeback Mountain. A few were expressing their support for Perry and reminding him not to let the godless heathens and queers get him down. But in one of the comments, I noticed something odd.

“Why don’t you come to [city redacted] so we can teach you the manners that your whore of a mother obviously didn’t bother to.”

Wait a second. What? What does Perry’s mother— especially her promiscuity, or lack thereof— have to do with his campaign video? She didn’t make it. And even if she had, it wouldn’t make her a whore, or appropriate to call her one. I replied to the commenter, politely, that calling out homophobia with misogyny is no more acceptable than homophobia itself.

Her response to me was that my comment was “well put”… as she continued to completely disregard my point and place all the blame for Perry’s disgraceful campaign squarely on his mother’s shoulders for not aborting him when she (didn’t) have the chance. As if she should have known what he would be doing sixtyish years down the line and aborted a presumably wanted child for that reason? (And if we are blaming his parents for his upbringing or his existence in the first place, why does his father get no mention? He ought to be equally as responsible in that process as the mother, oughtn’t he?)

The (lack of) logic displayed here is disgusting, but unfortunately, not uncommon. How many times have people been called “r*tarded” for engaging in homophobia, or “f*ggots” for being racist? How many times has the c-word been used against female politicians for espousing unpopular opinions?

Slurs are slurs are slurs, even when slung about for the “noble” cause of calling out bigots for their bigotry. It isn’t okay. It doesn’t make you look good. In fact, it makes you look about as bigoted and narrow-minded as the people you’re attempting to call out.

It’s always good to call people out on their hateful rhetoric, but please. Take a minute to think about the language you’re using before you do.

But for a Boy to Look Like a Girl is Degrading

When I was young, I asked my mother a question. “If a tomboy is a girl who acts like a boy, what’s the word for a boy who acts like a girl?” She thought about it for a moment, and then replied, “A fairy. But that’s not a good thing to be. You shouldn’t call someone that.”

“But why?” I wanted to know. “Why is it a bad thing?”

So, in all my childlike wisdom, I decided that, since my brother’s name is Thomas, the male equivalent of a tomboy would naturally be a melissagirl. And that wouldn’t be a bad thing at all.

So why, then, is tomboy a natural, accepted, even encouraged thing for a girl to be, and melissagirl isn’t even in our lexicon? Feminism has come far enough that it’s fine and wonderful for women to dress in men’s clothes, to wear pants and play sports, to shun makeup and fancy dresses. Which is a good thing! A girl should be able to express herself any way she chooses. But it’s still not acceptable for a man to dress in women’s clothes, or wear makeup, or play with dolls and stuffed toys. His sexuality is questioned, and he gets called derogatory names, merely for expressing himself the way he chooses. Why? Because in our society, it’s okay to want to be a man. It’s not okay to want to be a woman.

The same thing is true even for women. It’s not okay to take interest in stereotypically feminine things, because femininity is inherently inferior to masculinity.

In most shows aimed at tween or teenage girls, the main character is at least a little bit of a tomboy. Usually down-to-earth, doesn’t obsess over makeup and clothes, maybe she’s into sports. If anything, she’s a little bit boy-crazy. On the other side, her “rival” is the stereotypical girl, vapid and shallow, always out to make herself look good and the main character look pathetic. She’ll sometimes have sidekicks, brainless airheads who only know how to be pretty. The message is clear: girls, you don’t want to be like this.

I’m glad that in this day and age, it’s acceptable for girls to like sports, and mud, and frogs, and typically “boyish” things. A girl should be allowed to like whatever she wants. But why then are more traditionally feminine interests portrayed so negatively? If a girl likes to wear dresses and look pretty, to wear makeup and accessorize, she’s categorized as either a brainless girl who will coast through life on her looks, or an evil, conniving villain who wants to tear everyone else down. Why can’t a girl just be a girl, in any way she happens to enjoy?

I Heard She’s Had Like, Three Abortions

Who hasn’t heard that rumor, or something like it, during their tenure at high school? Usually leveled against one of the ‘popular’ girls, the cheerleaders, the ones that are rumored to be sleeping with the entire football team, and probably many other boys besides. Right? Teenage girls can be cruel.

In high school— and who am I kidding, far beyond high school— basically everything is a competition. Not only in the academic sense, competing with your peers for honors and elusive college spots, but everything else besides. Popularity and coolness, making and keeping friends, getting a boyfriend, extracurricular activities, etc. And girls are taught, over and over again, that they can’t possibly hope to compete with the boys, so their only option is to turn on each other. Tear other girls down in order to elevate your own status. It’s hardly an isolated phenomenon. If you’d asked high school me, an unmotivated girl with a small, but close circle of friends, who had no interest in being popular OR getting a boyfriend, I still would have told you that the ‘popular’ clique were bitches, they were probably sleeping with all these different guys, a couple of them had probably had abortions. Quelle horreur.

What was my motivation to say things like that? It didn’t really affect me in any way. It wasn’t even really true. Plenty of those self-same girls had been perfectly nice to me in isolated incidences. They’d really saved my butt once or twice. But if teen movies taught me anything, it was that popular girls were bitches and sluts, and I, however consciously or subconsciously, latched onto that even as I scoffed that real high schools are nothing like the ones in the movies. And on the flip side, the girls who do have status will often use that influence to tear down other girls; the poor ones, the desperate ones, those who aren’t doing well in school, or who have never had a boyfriend— or the ones who they suspect might be horning in on “their” man. It’s a vicious circle, and nobody wins.

The fact of the matter is, even if what I believed about those girls were true— that they slept around, or even had abortions— it was no one’s business but their own. A woman’s worth is not determined by the number of people she’s had sex with, or at what age, whether she’s taking birth control, or not, or what she chooses to do in her free time. Every woman has worth, whether she’s a teen mom or a Rhodes scholar working on a double PhD. Popular culture likes to insist that there’s an upper limit on the number of men a woman can sleep with before she becomes a worthless, valueless whore, and of course, even a single abortion means you’re an irresponsible skank that’s going to hell for murdering your baby. (My opinion: if you’re responsible enough to realize that a child isn’t in your plan right now (or ever), and to reduce the number of unwanted children on this planet, more power to you!)

Society teaches women that we need to tear each other down to elevate ourselves, but nothing could be further from the truth. YOU determine your own self-worth, and by elevating others, you elevate yourself as well.