Category Archives: Feminism

Manshowers? Bro Baths? Redefining or Reinforcing Masculinity?

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Originally Published on Gender Focus.

There are few customs more gender ritualized in Western society than those associated with the wedding planning process. The wedding industry, a money making monolith boasts 40 billion a year in revenue. It is a seemingly untouchable empire wrought with timeless tradition, cultural significance and deeply embedded gender stereotypes. The contemporary wedding has become a veritable commodity and multiple pre-nuptial parties are par for the course.

The usually hyper-feminized bridal shower in particular is one of the tried and true traditions that centers on the bride and typically precludes the groom. In recent years, men, ever the gender-busting pioneers, have expressed their desire to cash in on the fun. And thus was born the “man shower” or – in some crowds – “bro baths” or “man gatherings”.

These testosterone-infused affairs blend the gift giving of the bridal shower with the male merrymaking of a bachelor party. A closer examination of this crossbreed reveals a stale reproduction of restrictive gender roles and reinforcement of traditional definitions of masculinity. It lacks the gender convergence it suggests and continues to wholly ignore those who do not subscribe to a definitive male/female identity.

The bridal shower’s origin dates back to sixteenth century Western Europe. It was adopted in the late 1890s in the United States as an event that could help the bride supplement small dowries. From there it grew into a traditional gathering that primed the soon-to-be-bride for domesticity. It aided in providing her with the necessities that would equip her for her new life as a wife.

Expanding to later include lingerie, linens and trimmings to furnish the matrimonial abode, bridal showers typically conjure images of colorfully coiffed packages and fancy finger food. Showers are generally female-focused and despite modern movement in the direction of co-ed celebrations, prenuptial rituals are largely rooted in traditions that reinforce gender stereotypes.

Spreading technology and the rise of reality TV have aided in creating and glamorizing a consumer fantasy of the wedding process. Reality TV boasts a litany of inflated programming centering on wedding planning and prep work, many depicting excessive events, unaffordable venues, and costly couture. They characterize brides as hysterical, stressing over the conundrum of cake fondant and flower arrangements with hovering mothers and submissive grooms along for the ride.

Weddings themselves have become commercialized and mass marketing efforts gender skewed. They pander to the bride who is marked as the matrimonial decision maker and project planner. So we certainly should not be surprised that some grooms are piping up.

Wedding specialists speculate that the evolution of “man showers” and other male-centric celebrations as an organic outgrowth of grooms becoming more involved in the wedding planning process. One MSNBC article cited the Executive Director of the WeddingChannel.com claimed it to be driven by more material pursuits, believing the drive was the gift-receiving piece.

So what exactly goes on at these groom-geared soirees? Oh just some “manly” shenanigans: poker, pizza, Xbox tourneys and nail pounding competitions to name a few. Nearly every piece I read on man showers made some note of breaking out of sexist stereotypes but in actuality all evidence points to the contrary: an unwavering adherence to traditional symbols of masculinity.

All of the examples illustrated informal social gatherings that emphasized “male bonding” and clichéd gentlemen gift giving: home improvement tools, electronic gadgets, etc. One piece even highlighted a self-proclaimed “man shower” pioneer who had adopted these gatherings as part of a family tradition to welcome in new male members. This was an important rite of passage where attendees ate wings and sausage off of rustic license plates and participated in contests that judged how “manly” they dressed up.

There was a depiction of the men participating as casual, wedding role renegades, reaching in to claim their slice of the pre-nupital pie. But what about the Bachelor Party? Isn’t that essentially the same thing? Au contraire; manly men need gifts to aid in building their new life, literally and figuratively. Not all these gatherings channel convivial camaraderie, poker tourneys and chalking cue balls. I would be remiss if I did not mention the ridiculous relative of these “man gatherings”, the “Groom Roast”.

According to Urban Dictionary, multi-generational men in the groom’s life can celebrate him, at his expense of course, all for the noble purpose of fostering a sense of communal camaraderie prior to the wedding. This is done by collectively engaging in “public-appropriate comedic insults, praise, outlandish true stories and uplifting tributes.”  All things that men are supposed to enjoy and endure because they are purportedly emotionally immune to all things women are not: jocular jabs and crude commentary and supposedly relish and readily endure theatrical retellings of their most mortifying moments.

While these guy-geared gatherings are innocuous to many, there are larger problematic elements at play in lauding something that encourages gender conformity and is rooted in sexist stereotypes. In each article I read heterosexuality was a blind assumption. There was nary a mention of gender diversity or same sex unions, presumably because as a nation we have not legalized it.

Propagating the sexist underpinnings of traditional marriage can alienate those who are unjustly barred from participating in ritualized celebrations that honor their love and commitment because of their sexual orientation. Rather than helping to deconstruct marriage roles, these “man showers” simply reconstruct the traditional bridal shower, stripping it of its feminine stigma. They effectively sanction male participation without a threat to one’s masculinity.

They are a crafty redressing; trading bows for beers and billed to the heteronormative community as role reversal renegades. Unfortunately, this is far from any actual progression in dismantling the patriarchal formation of marriage. To me, the opposite is true, juxtaposing the male and female versions of a bridal shower merely serves to highlight the stodgy restrictions of gender stereotypes in pre-wedding preparations.

Yes, modern day bridal showers have certainly evolved from their antiquated archetype, but they wholly lack progression and remain embedded in narrow sexist stereotypes. I support the idea of an integrated bridal shower, but the gendering of gift giving and separation of sexes for this sort of celebration has got to go.

As our society expands its definitions of gender and identity, so must the wedding industry and the development of segregated showers is certainly not the answer. It is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a seemingly innocuous take on tradition. In reality, it is just another pernicious reinforcement of a social norm that supports traditional heterosexual marriage roles, lacks consideration of other gender identities and panders to an exclusionary social framework.

I love you Philly, but this Billboard sucks.

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Although it has been three years since I relocated to the sunnier space of South Florida, I consider myself a city girl and proud former Philadelphian. My passion for the City of Brotherly Love runs deep; I experienced many “firsts” and essentially entered adulthood in the quaint Center City neighborhoods amid looming brownstones, historic monuments and rustic BYOBs. It is and always will be a city teeming with heart and history. So imagine my concern when I found out that the urban dwelling I hold near and dear was running a deeply disturbing billboard campaign. Generated by the geniuses at the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation one of its current citywide banners outwardly encourages sexism and street harassment.

                       

Unsolicited commentary in public spaces has always sparked a special brand of rage in me. Many a movie clip normalizes the off-handed “Hey baby” shouted into the wind from a passing car. Upon first seeing their prom partner donning formal wear, an affable whistle of approval is innocuous coming from a teenage date floating in a heady hybrid of hormones and hair gel. These conspicuous catcalls, non-verbal noises, evaluative sniggers, even objectifying remarks sheathed in good intentions somehow socially sanction us for acceptance of our bodies as products for consumption.

Long before I identified as a feminist, I was furious at the audacity of certain individuals who presumed they had some implicit right to remark upon my body and appearance while I was simply enroute to my place of employment, school or even my home. I was a human, not an item they were entitled to assess and objectify and then publicly comment upon. I felt silenced, small and scared. I took to mapping circuitous routes throughout the city that would bypass the areas I knew I would be subjected to this sexualized scrutiny. How was it that in a city that boasted being the birthplace of freedom, I was having my basic civil rights violated two steps from my front door on a regular basis?

Only years later after relocating did I hear about Hollaback!, an awe-inspiring initiative, Hollaback!, who currently has an impressive presence in 50 cities, 17 countries and nine different languages. Now a nonprofit, the movement seeks to empower citizens to essentially “hollaback” at open and objectifying commentary, dehumanizing behavior and gender-based harassment. Users are encouraged to share their stories through the organization’s website (or via their iPhone app), including uploading photographs and geographic locations of the perpetrators. Because street harassment is so often tacitly accepted and the offending parties rarely held accountable, Hollaback! serves to encourage women to use their voices in a non-violent manner.

Through Hollaback!’s Philadelphia site, I was alerted to the recent advertisement from the masterminds at VisitPhilly.com. A billboard prominently featured on the iconic Broad Street in downtown Philly (and strategically displayed during the Broad Street Run, when exposure was heightened) says: “Dear Walking this Way, I like the way you move it, move it”, while cheekily signing off “With Love, Philadelphia XOXO.”

If you could see me at this very moment, you would observe the plumes of steam shooting from my ears. I am so utterly disturbed that such an overtly offensive message was approved and placed in a public sphere. This billboard is dripping with disrespect and practically sanctions street harassment.

Hollaback!Philly in their diligent and amazing activism attempted to show GPTMC the error of their ways. In an email response, Meryl Levitz, the President and CEO weakly defended the ad, citing that it was meant to reference the song, “’I like to Move It, Move It” as “sung in the children’s film, Madagascar 2” and that the collection of letters were meant to be pieces of a larger conversation, the ‘With Love’ lines “meant to be catchy, playful and topical.”

Do I even need to mention that this claim is rendered null and void on two very obvious counts? The first being that they augmented the line “I like to move it, move it” to “I like the way you move it, move it.” Second, please note that anyone old enough to understand the implication of the billboard’s maligned message is much more inclined to associate the song with the 90s House duo, Reel 2 Real, rather than the DreamWorks’ designed Bronx brood. This completely misses the mark of being bold and brazen and instead results in something uninspired and embarrassingly offensive.

A 2010 billboard from the same campaign camp’s shamelessly solicited “fellas”: “The sun is out. So are the Ladies”; the ad then urges the reader to get a front row “spot“ dining al fresco and displays the website for booking. Not only is the ad highly genderized, (there is a prominent LBGQT presence in Philadelphia), but it is one of the most blatant forms of sexist and misogynistic advertising I have ever seen. Despite fervent pleas from HollabackPhilly to the GPTMC for removal, the billboard remained. Its message encouraged and promoted outright objectification in public places and openly sold street harassment and voyeurism as a form of realistic recreation.

What is even more unsettling is that these ads aim to foster tourism. Philadelphia is one of our nation’s richest resources; a city that is home to deep historical significance. These one-liners devalue its prominence and counteract its creative vitality. Surely these campaign managers cannot think that a cheap chuckle on one street corner is an effective selling point or furthermore, a true reflection of a city with so much heart and history?

HollbackPhilly continues to use their voice at Change.org, where it has started a petition to remove this atrocious ad. To date the GPTMC has acknowledged the outrage and say they are “looking into it”. I shudder when I think of what communication it conveys to our youth, not only about the roles of male and women, but of gender and identity and the limiting narratives we are all forced into. One of Philadelphia’s greatest strengths is its diversity, which this ad outwardly renounces in its alienating and restrictive language. These messages not only devalue the city that so many call home, but they commit silent crimes against their citizens, especially the vulnerable parties that it is exploiting in an attempt to be edgy.

We all deserve to exist in public spaces without harassment and to use our voices to speak up against perpetrators without fear of reprisal. This antiquated idea that ignoring unsolicited attention will lessen its influence is reflective of a larger problem. When we don’t speak up, we become complicit with a global power dynamic that attempts to silence women and other marginalized groups. We need to foster dialogues about how to effectively fight back against public harassment, hold companies accountable who contribute to the problem and build communities that thrive on mutual respect and safety for all citizens.

Pop Culture Paradox: Hunger Games’ Katniss as Barbie?

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A pop culture paradox: Hunger Games’ Katniss Everdeen as a Barbie

BarbieCollector.com has announced the arrival of the Hunger Games Katniss Everdeen clone, but replicating the character as a Barbie doll feels at odds with the very essence of the character’s power.

 Progressive or Regressive?

Joining the ever-growing pop culture collection, the Katniss emulation is sold alongside other blockbuster-inspired dolls: classic favorites like the belly-baring I Dream of Jeannie doll, royalty replicas of Wedding Will and Kate, and the ubiquitous Twilight duo. Part of this assortment also surprisingly included female versions of Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley.

So of course the powers that be at mega toy giant Mattel know a good business decision when they see one and the Hunger Games is no exception. To be fair, the actual doll version has Katniss dressed in her Games attire, the pump braid trailing down her back, a mini Mockingjay pin affixed to her coat lapel. She even has her signature bevy of arrows slung in a collection across her back, bow and quiver in hand, combat boot clad and poised for action. With a purchasing limit of five and a price tag of $29.95, the doll isn’t the doe-eyed damsels typically associated with the traditional icon. But, I am still skeptical as to whether or not morphing Katniss into a brand of Barbie is reductive to all the empowerment and aspiration her character represents.

Barbie dolls historically have symbolized deeply embedded female stereotypes, the pinnacle of femininity and arguably a historical pop culture mark of objectification. Not to mention how they model unrealistic body proportions and reinforce specific standards of beauty and attractiveness. While the diversity in terms of race has expanded in years, it is still drastically unequal. The majority of Barbiecollector.com’s offerings pander to the classic collector and are not sold in stores, which is unfortunate. It is the non-traditional dolls that should be adorning shelves, not the countless, carbon copies of the same Malibu crew.

In comparison to the other characters that Mattel has modeled their dolls after, Katniss is ostensibly progressive. Sure, she isn’t a twin of Happy Birthday Barbie in a bejewled ball gown, or her Mermaid cousin clothed in swaths of iridescent shimmer and sporting a frilly fin.

But the aim of the doll isn’t to combat the inherent stereotype deeply embedded into the Barbie identity. But rather as creating designer, Bill Greening told Entertainment Weekly, he “chose to dress her in the outfit she wears during the games, since this is where all the non-stop action takes place and is instantly recognizable by fans.” So, the fact that she is not rivaling her Barbie cohorts in her Reaping dress has less to do with honoring the positive and empowering attributes of her character and more to do with character continuity.

Also what about the anti-corporate beliefs that the character in the film holds and her commitment to rebellion against the Capitol?
Barbie is famously a mark of mass merchandising efforts on so many fronts. Surely Katniss would be against becoming a product in the same way she frequently states that doesn’t want to be an object, a pawn in The Games. Isn’t making her character into a doll, doing the same thing?

Mattel’s aim is certainly more of a calculated business decision rather than any attempt to offer up a more realistic role models or combat traditional stereotypes about their dolls and what they mean for girls and women.

Furthermore, BarbieCollector.com indicates that this is a doll geared towards the adult collector, but the brand is inextricably linked to children. The entire plot of Hunger Games rests on youth death battles which is certainly not kid-friendly.

Sure, Katniss is a welcomed sight among the sparkly swimsuits and glittering garbs that adorn many of the other selections on the site, but isn’t reducing her to a Barbie to begin with problematic? Mattel has been complicit with culturally commodifying women for decades. Now when they appear to softly step outside the box to capitalize on Katniss and grab a slice of the prosperous pie that is the Hunger Games, they to be lauded? I don’t think so.

While the doll’s dress resembles Katniss, her proportions still remain ridiculously unrepresentative of reality. Little girls who play with Barbie’s are still subconsciously receiving the message of an ideal body type and definition of attractiveness. Under those cool clothes, Katniss is still a plastic product of unattainable perfection.


Do you think this doll reinforces stereotypes or combats them? Should we give credit to a company who unintentionally produces products that go against a stereotype they have spent decades creating and reinforcing? Is this is a zero sum game; same “Barbie”, different “cover”?

Don’t be fooled: beneath the warrior wear is the same manufactured mold.

What are YOU reading?

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What are you reading?

I’m straddling two books right now. The second installment in the behemoth book series, The Hunger Games, that is about to blow up on the big screen. Advanced ticket sales broke records on the first day they were offered. I have a piece coming out on About-face that talks about a recent Glamour photoshoot Jennifer Lawrence did where her cleavage clad jumpsuit was sadly unrepresentative of the character in the book. More on that later!

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 I’m also reading Outdated by Samhita Mukhopadhyay. Touted as a feminist dating book, I am enjoying it more as a research read. I  genuinely like and respect Samhita as a modern feminist so her analysis and insight is well received. She recently started a weekly Feminist podcast with fellow feminist Amanda Marcotte called Opinionated that is broadcast by Citizen Radio.

Her book reinforces the way that this romantic industrial complex”, the system of ideas and reinforced narratives that we unconsciously digest since we enter this world and are what we base and compare our relationships to, that do not necessarily align with reality.

I’ve been passionately railing against this insidious romantic myth for years. Speaking out about the ways that especially Hollywood and its ubiquitous(and in my personal opinion nauseating) Rom Com’s poison the minds of young girls and adult women alike, making them believe that a fairy tale ending is realistic and attainable. This dovetails nicely with our consumer culture that sells us every powder, prescription and potion to make us more attractive to others.

Samhita helps us to deconstruct these treacherous tales we’ve been fed as young girls, pulling back the curtain on the ways that mass media,corporations, cultural norms, familial and even political pressures work   women into thinking that if they don’t devote themselves to finding a mate that they face a death sentence of loneliness and spinsterhood.

It’s incredibly informative and eye-opening and I can’t wait to write more about it here.

What are YOU reading?

The Trouble With Pole-Dancing…Slight Clarification, Strong Reiteration

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I recently endured my first journalistic lambasting in response to the below piece I wrote for the About.face. It is par for the course in any opined endeavors and with the Internet everyone is a qualified critic. (Myself included!)

The comments section on About-face was awash with ardent aficionados and dedicated defenders, supporting the practice of pole-dancing, or what they would like me to refer to as “pole fitness”.

Many critics of the my piece dubbed my research “lazy” and ignorant, which incidentally, I did spent a large chunk of time researching various studios, course offerings and trends AND – gasp- received information from direct sources!

There were a handful of species rebuttals about the upper body strength and stamina of the exercise being a great energy expeller for kids, citing the climbing and bending beneficial.

While many opinions were expressed and alternate points raised, I feel that my point was largely misinterpreted. I was not attacking the pole-dancing practice. Nor was I was disputing the physical rigors or even the athletic merit of the activity. I was simply exposing the studios that were allowing egregiously underage youth to take part in their very adult-themed classes and calling into question the appropriate age for participation.

My argument is not that the practice itself is exclusively erotic – but that it could be. There is a sexual subtext and symbolism in pole dancing that is deeply embedded and often inextricably linked in the fabric of our society. I cannot be blamed or held responsible for giving voice to an unquestionable correlation. It is a fact. Whether we as members of a society continue to perpetuate the stimga is not up for discussion. The debate that is on the table is not whether or not this link is just. Right or wrong it exists.

Some commentator so aptly compared the issue to thong underwear. There is nothing inherently immoral (yes, undoubtedly some would refute this) about it; it simply is not suitable for young children. I would find few who could dispute that.

While performing my indolent investigation I discovered that these classes are in fact surprisingly progressive and lauded as a sport in many circles. My daily Groupon’s inform me of many local course offerings and I was hardly lacking in the a availability of studios or impressive websites that often courted women with tag lines promising to make one “feel sexy at any age”. Of course not all employed this approach, but a large majority did have this advertising approach. And I’m not surprised by this. The inference of pole-dancing is that in many forms it is sexually explicit. It would stand to reason that feeling sexy would be par for the course, and thus a marketable angle for these classes. Feeling sexy for a consenting adult is fine by me. But for children and even pre-teens, it’s criminal, let along egregiously inappropriate. Teenage participation, is at best, problematic.

I am neither in support or against this choice of a fitness regimen for adult men or women. I consider myself to be a sex positive feminist. I have no problem or issue with sex workers who choose to be employed in their industry. I DO think that poledancing/fitness is a legitimate, physically demanding endeavor. I think it does have credibility as an activity for age appropriate adults and am not questioning its efficacy. The legitimacy or fairness of the stigma is not the topic of this particular post or the inspiration for my article, so I feel it is best left of out of this debate.

Teaching young girls or boys moves that in our culture have sexually explicit messages and connotations inextricably tied to it is the issue at hand. This is never a good idea for youngsters who are trying to develop their individual sexuality and forming relationships with their bodies. I know at that age I was trying to make sense of the tangle of feelings that I had – a yearning to be desired and validated and loved and finding an appropriate way to do so that was aligned with what felt safe. Most young girls are not taught to love, honor or respect their bodies, but to objectify them. Too many don’t have the forethought, language or supportive environment to gain that awareness or have that perspective. The brain doesn’t really have those developed pathways that tell them such things are damaging, let alone dangerous.

A lot of individuals raised the objection that gymnastics and swimming were activities replete with less than conservative garb, as simple par for the course of participation. Obviously, this is not disputed that these are accepted attire for these sports. More of this seems to relate to tradition and necessity (in the sense that bathing suits are used for swimming) rather than actual attire making a statement.

The merits of gymnastics and dance were also raised, as being a point I missed. I could honestly pen a 300 page tome on the dangers of hyper-competitiveness and overemphasis on one’s physique in the crucial physical development years of young girls in boys. I am sure this subject alone would endow me with a tidal wave of angry critics, but it is a cultural point of contention that can be expanded upon in a later post.

Here I only wish to mention that those activities can breed their own brand of harmful and are not without fault. I have come into contact with many young girls and boys who were exposed in their most formative ages to the stressors of highly competitive and physically demanding sports that required an overemphasis on appearance and weight. This focus proved beyond damaging in terms of developing a healthy body image and many resulted in full blown eating disorders and dangerous behavior.

My point is that however mainstream, pole dancing/fitness (it’s really just semantics, folks) largely lends itself to a reflexive association with exotic dancing and provocative poses regardless of whether or not the intent to appear so is present. Society still holds certain aspects of pole dancing to be sexually associative. A child swirling on a pole in subway could garner unwanted attention from an onlooker or dancing (innocently taught in the privacy of a studio) could lead to attention, reinforcing a boy or girl’s experience that their body can provide them with validation or love they seek.

                                               Nope…No sexual implications here. Even with the empowering words, the graphic speaks for itself.
Lastly, I’d like to raise the matter of those who believed I was attacking their chosen fitness style or livelihood and how they responded with a fierce brand of fervor. Sadly, I felt that the responses inadvertently proved my point. My piece said nothing in the way of relating pole dancing to the likes of being promiscuous or as one person blatantly dubbed “slutty”. Even in their defending statements, they felt the need to distance themselves from any sort of sex worker correlation. They automatically offered a disclaimer to combat the stigma, yet at the same time felt attacked by my supposed implications. I feel that in their innocent defenses they proved my point and raised with it, an even more disturbing confirmation that this stigma is so deeply ingrained that those who take pleasure in it feel they need to separate themselves from some seedy stripper life that the practice may imply to the unknowledgeable.  
Unfortunately the good intentions of a professional instructor, an approach of decorum to the subject matter or the ascetic ambiance of a studio have little weight in terms of overriding cultural implications that are deeply woven into the fabric of our society.  Yes, society objectifies and marginalizes women in a myriad of ways and there is certainly a stigma surrounding sex workers and the inatimate objects related to that trade, but that is a separate feminist issue not up for debate in this piece. I’m not questioning the morality of pole dancing/fitness or the physical prowess required to perform it, nor am I stating that the association is a just one. Rather, I am acknowledging its existence and holding that it is an inappropriate offering for children and a questionable one at best for teens/pre-teens.

Rockette Revolution?

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The New York Times recently published a piece titled “Rockettes: Rebooted for a New Era” highlighting an attempted shift in the theme of the famed showcase and the function of its illustrious Rockettes.

The Radio City Christmas Spectacular is a well-loved and time-honored tradition for many. With 80 years of performances, the Rockettes have popularized this annual holiday show with their sky-high, synchronized kick line. Making their debut at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade since 1957, the precision dance troupe that performs like a well-oiled machine has become an American holiday institution.

The Rockettes have long been revered as a glorified group of long-legged eye-candy, but recent changes to their traditional dance numbers claim to be challenging the show‘s status quo. Linda Haberman, who took over the show in 2006 as lead choreographer believes she has been taking progressive strides to rejuvenate and modernize the showcase. Her goal is to fit the changing cultural climate that encourages female empowerment and highlight the dancers’ talent. While the token high-kicks still abound and the string of lifted limbs orbiting the stage in perfect synchrony is plentiful, a new twist to the “Christmas Spectacular” boasts reinvention. Stilettos are swapped for combat boots in a techie twist, employing 3D technology and transforming the performance into a videogame-esque sequence. The girls strut about on stage in armored attire, military precision in tact, brandishing swords and side kicks. New story lines include a mother and daughter collaboration to defeat a villain, pushing empowerment. This particular number replaces one in which the Rockettes are infantilized, altering into cute, cavorting Raggedy Ann dolls. The new dance includes less of the concurrent can-can and more kicking with confidence and conviction.Image

 

While the efforts of this remodernization do appear to be skewed towards marketing objectives, the obvious implications and reverberations of the change are welcomed. Many of us characterize the Rockettes as dainty dancers and rarely put them on par with the professionals performing intricate and intense routines in ballet productions such as the Nutcracker. A show that once solely produced an array of replicated high-kickers, bedecked in glittery garb with smiles painted on their faces is now attempting to reveal the athleticism and rigors of the dance world.  While the push for empowerment versus viewing pleasure is a positive step away from the old, any increases in the diversity of body types, genders, races or ethnicities represented in the troupe remains to be seen.

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There is no denying that the RadioCityMusic Hall showcases impressive performers. There is talent and effort required to be a Rockette; mastering the practice of precision kicking, tireless training coupled with the physical stressors is no easy task. While the changes in story line and thematic elements are certainly welcomed, they do not eclipse the reality that this enterprise is inherently structured around and capitalizes on the female appearance, placing a premium on the physical. This still reinforces the age-old idea that women are best used as visual treats. It continues to encourage the one-size-fits all standard of grace, beauty and desirability, ignoring the importance of featuring a variety of sizes, races and ethnicities. The recent changes to the show are a remodeling at best, and hardly a radical overhaul. A true reboot surely requires more than a wardrobe upgrade and trippy technotronics. Perhaps this is as progressive an improvement as we can hope for from this iconic clan. Should this change be lauded at all when its very foundation is fundamentally flawed and embedded in limited beauty ideals? Is it impossible to make changes to an institution so inextricably encased in damaging stereotypes?

In what other areas do you think the Rockettes can modernize their image? Do you think that because the Rockette tradition was built on revering women for their physical appearance and ability to conform and that there is only so much reformation we can expect? 

A condensed form of this piece can be viewed at http://www.about-face.org/can-the-radio-city-rockettes-be-revolutionary/.

 

Miss Representation

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A dear friend of mine taped the airing of the documentary Miss Representation on Oprah’s OWN network last week as I am sans cable.

We had a wine and dine viewing this evening and I devoured the message with impassioned fervor.

This documentary gave voice to the ways in which women are marginalized, disempowered and objectified in mainstream media and popular culture.

The scary stats and main message was not one I was unfamiliar with and some would argue it was a didactic dispatch. I found it important to try to remove my feminist frosted goggles and remind myself that the statements made are geared towards the unwitting flocks of females in our society who simply swallow the cultural candies they are fed, never really questioning or acknowledging the STILL ubiquitous disparity in equality among women and the continual perpetuation of an unattainable beauty ideal that is fueled largely by advertising, capitalism and a need to maintain a sense of social order. I think that it important for those in the feminist community to be aware of the critical target audience, we as a society, must hope this film reaches.

Regardless of cinematic critique, the message was powerful and potent. The vast viewing platform, Oprah’s literally and figuratively OWN network, encouraged a large female viewership, which was the only caveat I could consider, as I think it is equally important for men to understand the atrocities facing women today and the sexism still stewing in so many spectrums of our social presence.

We hear from prominent talking heads in the political, comedic, journalistic and activist genres, as well as heart-wrenching divulgences from youth so addled by the pressure to slide into a certain standard of special. The damaging and far-reaching effects of this idea that young women must sacrifice any sense of self in order to breed acceptance and alignment with our societal sold form of beauty and personal value.

The thematic vein of the entire piece was the encouragement of ingesting media responsibly, an unveiling of the systemic ways in which the very nature of our social order in this country marginalizes women. The film speaks to the idea of media literacy: the promotion of responsible consumerism, the understanding that the images and stereotypes and definitions perpetuated by the media are simply idyllic and not attainable. The flawless models we see are not in fact real, but digitally enhanced. Yet, our children and youth are spoonfed these artificial atrocities and led to believe they will never measure up. We are breeding our future female leaders to value the size of their hips rather than their SAT scores.

After watching this film, even I felt embarrassed that I still reflexively react to certain media impetuses in ways that I’ve been culturally coached. This has further recommitted me to challenging the automatic and making a concerted effort to be more aware of the unconscious ways I may be responding at any given point in time.

I cannot encourage the viewing of this documentary enough. It inspired me so much that I could have easily pumped out an impassioned tome on all its implications and subtleties. I was moved, not so much because there was any pioneering precept of sorts, no revelatory realization either, but just simply the fact that there were so many other women exercising their vocal chords about something I feel so deeply about.

We must contribute to the collective voice of challenging popular culture and continue to encourage others to acknowledge and fight against the insidious ways in which the media holds women back, limits them and trivializes them in society.

As a culture our females are trained in self-objectification from birth, the majority of our worth lies in our outward appearance. While males societal worth grows as they age, a women’s currency is in her physicality, her youth and diminishes as she grows older. It is a stifling paradox, that of the older, well adjusted and presumably successful male seeking out a youthful counterpart.

The sexualization of females in all forms of mass media is nothing short of repulsive.  .  I was especially happy to see the distinction highlighted between mainstream cinema, the lack of female protagonist and the seemingly innocuous way in which all the major plot lines somehow revolve around a man. Big budget films either have a male leading character, or if the front runner IS a woman her power is largely sexualized (a suggestive and scantily clad superhero or latex-lined and lithe, a la Catwoman). Female leads are also highly popular in the indigestible genre that is chick lit, where  the plotline still tirelessly orbits around a man.

I fully intend to expound upon this highly nuanced film and provide additional insights into the many streamlined subtleties. Each incites its own unique and in-depth discussion and expansive pieces of perspective.

There is an overhaul needed in the portrayal of women in the media, the world over – and it needs to begin with expansive attempts at education and increased advocacy in media literacy. There is an irrefutable and inherent sexism still alive and well in our patriarchal society.

If you haven’t already seen this doc, it will be airing again on November 12th at 11:00AM.

Read more at http://missrepresentation.org.

Make arrangements to view it, DVR it, heck – throw a party! Regardless, it is certainly a must-see for the masses and a popular culture vegetable that promotes the increasingly important cause that is media literacy.

I’ll be saddling back up on my soapbox shortly, so stay tuned. Until then, pass this along.

Flick Chicks

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I like to think of myself as a selective and responsible consumer of media. Given that, I find I am routinely repelled by mainstream cinema. I am a lover of indie flicks and unconventional and/or unorthodox endings. Being asked to view Nights in Rodanthe is about as pleasurable as a pap smear for me. I devour profanity laced television series to the chargrin of my mother who prefers her media moral and conventionally kosher, buttoned up by some quixotic conclusion.

I rail against the confection coated, often gag-worthy histrionics of  Hollywood “happy endings”.  The depictions of achieving self-actualization and fulfillment through male validation/blissful, almost utopian relationships/unity feed society’s appetite for ideals. Even when the ending purports to be less than a dull rendition of the last film, there is always some repeated resolution that still leaves the audience warm and fuzzy. I am all about “feel good” flicks and pass no judgement on those who relish the Katherine Hiegel, Sandra Bullock led casts of gorgeous misfits who inevitably “get the guy”, as if that should be a of woman’s primary aspirations.

Many individuals cite escapism as reasonings behind their preferences for click flicks and their cousins. A study named Family and Personal Realtionships Laboratory at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh revealed that romatic comedies aid in the “unrealistic expectations” people levy on relationships. The conculsion was that fans of this genre possesed a misconception about communication in marriage, suggesting the influence and weight that many people, sometimes subconciously, give such media portrayls.

I do, however, believe that gorging on said genres passes along unrealistic messages to our young ones and teens about the realities of relationships.  This cinematic conspiracy is another topic I could easily rant and rave about for pages upon pages, but wanted to lightly touch upon before sharing a humorous link.

Predictable plotlines aside,  the depictions of women in mainstream movies are generally hackneyed and clichéd, but now even the dutiful attempts at character diversity ultimately evolve into stale stereotypes. Make no mistake, these set of personas are a tad more palatable than the evil tempress or the “good girl”, but they still end up being contrived characters that fall short of reality.

While I can’t join in her affection for RomComs and the like, I believe Mindy Kaling, a la the Office, gives a witty and wry voice to these typecast token females. I find it comical that Hollywood’s attempts to etch out new characters, ultimately end up being archetypes themselves.

Mindy’s book comes out in November and should be a fun read.

Flick Chicks by Mindy Kahling