I am going to try my hardest to not speak for Rihanna. My goal here is to dissect the widespread discomfort with how she’s disturbing the intimate partner violence narrative (I prefer the term IPV over DV, because it is a broader term meant to encompass more experiences), and not psychoanalyze Rihanna specifically. I say emotional process only because I can’t come up with another word to describe what is happening. I mean that she is publicly operating outside of both the practical concerns and the “acceptable” emotional concerns commonly talked about in IPV rhetoric.
I’ve avoided writing about Rihanna since 2009. Friends asked me why I’ve avoided writing about her, as it seems like the kind of complicated, high-profile situation that I would follow obsessively. Truth be told, I have followed it obsessively, just not written about it. It’s taken me that long to figure out what I want to say.
Here is the narrative, in vaguely chronological order. For more detail, I suggest the Rihanna tag on Oh No They Didn’t.
While dating in 2009, Chris Brown assaulted Rihanna while he was driving a car and she was a passenger; he also threatened to kill her, and eventually left her on the side of the road and walked off (only calling Rihanna’s assistant later to ask whether she had provided the police with his name). I become very conscious of them pretty much immediately; my last partner was abusive and to see IPV given the same amount of coverage we generally reserve for war was something new. The photo of her face was released, though we can only guess whether the intention was to damn Brown or salivate over her suffering. Rihanna gave an interview to Diane Sawyer about the incident, and it was my perception that she was well received by anyone who had any sense at all (I know that reference is not fair, and those tweets are the product of a cultural message that tells young girls that the attention of a man is worth any price, no matter how steep). I occasionally followed her and thought about charting the tarting up of Rihanna along with the current [at the time] gossip about her to see whether there was a trend, but then I decided to go outside.
During all this, Chris Brown acts a fool across every channel possible. He gave no indication that he comprehended the gravity of what he did, and gave a disastrous, bow-tied interview to Larry King (where he explained what caused the violence was “I mean, that’s relationships. I wouldn’t say it’s OK. I think, just in relationships in general, there’s a chance where you lose your temper or like arguments get heated or whatever the case may be”). He went jet skiing like he didn’t just try to murder his girlfriend in the street three weeks previous. He complains bitterly about being persecuted to this day, and when asked about the incident on Good Morning America, he threw a chair through a window, shouted down a producer, ripped off his shirt, and ran out into the streets of New York. He tweeted that he is “done apologizing,” and in a stunning display before the 2011 AMAs he tweets and deletes, “I know a lot of you wack ass (OLD) celebrities probably wanna f— my ex, but talking sh-t on me wont get you far! and to be REALLY HONEST, ya’ll wonder why ni— spazzes all the time?” (for the criminally unhip, the last part means “If you really want her…well, don’t you ever wonder why I act the way I do?”). He begins dating another girl publicly.
And then with Chris Brown still refusing to acknowledge the severity of what he did, he and Rihanna released a remix of her song “Cake” that is raunchy enough to raise my eyebrows (a difficult task). Also featured in the song is a suspected racist dig directed at Brown’s public girlfriend, followed up by a photo that confirmed that story to everyone who is possession of a head. Rihanna admitted that she still loved Brown to Oprah. Brown and Rihanna start making coy tweets to one another, going so far as to post separate photos of one another in the same bed on New Year’s Day. There is a song on her seventh album called “Nobody’s Business” which is a duet with Brown, where she sings “Every touch becomes infectious/Let’s make out in this Lexus” which is absolutely ghoulish given the circumstances of her assault. They position themselves as the Bonnie and Clyde of Instagram, and when a journalist from Complex magazine asked Rihanna why she made a song if her relationship was really nobody’s business, she abruptly walked out of the interview.
All of this, given to us via social media and gossip reporting, is a narrative just like any other, and we have certain expectations of it. Unlike other narratives, however, it plays out in real time. The real time aspect of this contributes to the shifting interpretations somewhat, but I think stopping there is lazy. More on that in a moment.
Concurrent to this narrative is the narrative of public opinion. You may go to any gossip blog and you will find comments that fall in these camps (and I am sure there are others I have missed). Through my various trawling of the internet, I’ve discovered that reactions to this narrative can be thrown into four categories:
- Team Breezy and the Misogyny Crew. I lumped these together because both of them are steeped in patriarchy. These people generally think, and have always thought, that what happened is no big deal. They think that Chris Brown has fully indicated, rather than just said, that his behavior has changed in any way (it has not, just follow his Twitter) or that Rihanna was somehow at fault for what happened because she touched his phone or takes photos with no pants on or what have you. This narrative is a common one, and it has remained stationary, and it’s boring and should probably stop.
- Chris Brown is a Douchebag. This group tends to vocalize that hitting your girlfriend is wrong, Chris Brown has in no way indicated that he’s done any of the work on himself that was needed, and would he please just go away. This narrative has also remained stationary.
- Whatever. Whatever people are vaguely interested, or understand that IPV is wrong, but if Rihanna wants to date him, who cares. This narrative has also remained stationary.
- The Court of Shifting Opinion. This, however, is the reaction that interested me the most. I’ve seen this one come about in two ways. First were people who, immediately upon her reconciliation with Brown, announced that she was stupid and they were done with her. Later were people who were immediately concerned, but after she began to aggressively promote his presence in her life via social media, were turned off by what they common referred to as “attention-seeking behavior” (alternately, they dismissed the whole thing as publicity, which might be true, but that doesn’t mean we’re not still watching a plot play out in front of us or that we’re not having a reaction to the incidents as they occur, even if they are fictionalized) and have generally decided that she’s either stupid or they are done with her. This reaction is dynamic, and it is the one that most interests me.
I started to wonder what about this situation actually turned the opinion of a large subset of her supporters against her. It was my first guess that it was contingent on her refusal to be a Good Victim. You know, the one who leaves the first time and never goes back and denounces the abuser immediately and goes right to therapy and everything is nice and neat and tied up and nonthreatening. When someone refuses to be a Good Victim, we get angry because it just doesn’t make sense; that’s not what’s supposed to happen (even though research shows that most women are not Good Victims, so it’s actually that narrative that doesn’t make sense). After thinking on it for a while more, I began to wonder if Rihanna’s refusal to act the way we think that an IPV survivor should act does more than reinforce cultural IPV narratives that most of us already know. If she hasn’t done anything out of the ordinary compared with the average IPV survivor, why are we suddenly so disturbed to see her return to her abuser? I think that the situation and the amount of attention that garners are worth examining critically, and that we should truly take this opportunity to think about about why Rihanna’s inability to be a Good Victim is so fascinating to everyone watching (the album containing Nobody’s Business was her 7th album in 7 years, and her first number 1 album).
So I’ll start the thinking. (I do have a plea. My bookmark of this blog disappeared into the ether of my smartphone. If anyone reading this knows of it, please send it to me so that I can link to it)
I read a blog a few weeks that talked about shifting our perception of how women leave IPV situations. It said that it normally takes smokers 5 tries to fully quit smoking and not go back, and that doctors who help people quit smoking understand this, and they accept it as a natural part of the quitting process. They also think that, hey, if someone goes cold turkey the first time and never touches another smoke, good for them! It then invited us to try and conceptualize the IPV process in the same way. We, in general, see a woman who goes back to an abusive partner as dumb, weak, or foolish. We wonder why she doesn’t have the sense to know that he’s just going to abuse her again. We get fed up with her, and a lot of times people will walk away after a woman returns because they don’t want to “enable” her (I do not think that word means what you think it means…).
The blog goes on to say, however, that it takes a woman an average of 7 times to fully leave her abusive partner, and we all know there are a million reasons why a woman wouldn’t leave immediately. As we know, 75% of IPV homicides occur when the victim is trying to leave the abuser, and that alone is a terrifying little factoid to have in your head while you’re in the situation. There are concerns about practicality, money issues, children issues, divorce issues, where to live, how to get to work the next morning. This blog invites us to stop seeing women who return to abusive partners as having “failed” at leaving; they have just completed one step of their process. Six more to go. When you think of it like that, it becomes easier to conceptualize (and therefore assist effectively with) the process of a woman leaving her abuser, and it also removes the shame associated with returning to an IPV situation…therefore empowering the woman with the knowledge that she didn’t fail, she’s just on step two.
However, I want to take that one step further. There’s the narrative that a lot of us use to keep us safe. I’d leave immediately. Or even—there’s nothing wrong with someone who can’t get away, but I’d leave immediately and never go back. You will see this in a lot of places, women swearing up and down that they don’t judge…but they would never allow themselves to be treated in such a way, that they would be good mothers and take their children out of an abusive household, they would starve and live in shelters and suffer, but they would leave. Even most feminist discourse holds up the narrative of the practical concern; women who don’t leave or who return to abusers have their reasons. After all, not everyone has a money tree, children need a place to sleep, and not every woman is in your same fiscal/emotional situation. It’s the Understandable Victim that we look for if we can’t find the Good Victim, because we can look at the Understandable Victim and cluck and say, “Hey now, that situation was very complicated, and mine is totally different.”
Given that a lot of feminist discourse conceptualizes the difficulty in leaving an IPV situation in practical terms that usefully highlight the intersection of feminism and classism, what if the thing that makes us uneasy about Rihanna and Chris Brown is the fact that she also resists that narrative—the narrative of the Understandable Victim. Instead, Rihanna is playing out a new emotional narrative that makes those of us watching it both fearful and uncomfortable, and this might be a contributing factor to the public sway towards category 4.
I think that very few people reading this could, if their partner were to walk into the room right now and punch them in the back of the head, leave quickly, easily, and with few practical repercussions. If you share a household with someone, have children, do not have family/friends nearby (abuse victims are notoriously systematically cut off from sources of support), and/or do not have unlimited money, look around and carefully take stock of how long it would take you to leave without any practical repercussions. That’s probably at least a few weeks of hiding money, making arrangements for places to stay, and ways to get to work. Most people can conceptualize the terror of suddenly being homeless or even of hoping that the abuser will come through on their promises so that they won’t need to deal with the pain of what’s happened coupled with the fact that their entire life, from their relationship to their living situation, is about to change.
Rihanna, however, has no such problems. She has no children and enough money to walk out of her house right now because she’s bored with it. She has access to protective services that none of us will ever dream of, and could easily hire 24-hour security to assure her safety. She would have access to the best therapists and treatment that money could buy. Jay-Z is credited with discovering her, and gossip sites reported that he was notoriously protective of her. Whether that is true is anyone’s guess, but I’m just saying that I would be way more afraid of Jay-Z than Suge Knight. Suge would maybe at least wind up in front of a judge. Jay-Z is friends with Obama…he isn’t going to jail for shit.
And she, too, went back. I don’t know whether Rihanna returned to Chris Brown to fulfill some emotional need or maybe she forgave him and doesn’t have any negative emotions about what happened. What I do know is that Rihanna unsettles a bootstraps myth that a lot of people like to hang onto in order to deal with the fact that, at any time, our lovely partner could stop yelling at the TV and start punching us. I’d leave.
In fact, she even unsettles the narrative of the “gray area,” which many people also use to comfort themselves when having to confront horror. There is no “gray area” regarding what transpired in that car in 2009. There is a photograph of a woman who was beaten until she was unrecognizable, a gruesome police report, and a man who fully admits that he did that to her (though he did once claim that he thought the photos has been manipulated to make it look worse). I wonder if the discomfort with Rihanna and her aggressive behavior surrounding her current relationship with Chris Brown isn’t in some way tied to the fact that her situation is expanding our understanding of IPV and how it affects people. Maybe it’s comforting to dismiss her outright as “stupid” rather than to think that no one is immune to patriarchy. Rihanna is publicly demonstrating that even cut-and-dried IPV situations rarely fit the narratives of the Good and Understandable Victims.
I have to admit that I have thought, “If this woman didn’t leave—this woman who has access to the best living arrangements, the safest living conditions, the best therapists on earth at her disposal, and a rather impressive support system—what the fuck hope do the rest of us have?” Every last tweet reminds us that, if we’re ever so unfortunate as to need to leave, we will have contend with the devastating practical concerns and with an emotional process that is incomprehensible, overwhelming, and impossible to prepare for. This is the plain reality of what women face every day in their relationships with men—we know the statistics about how likely it is that someone will abuse us, and we know that person will more than likely be someone who we love and trust. The frightening reality is that, despite the rhetoric that women should protect ourselves, we have absolutely no way of preparing for that situation—unless one were to suggest that we view all male relationships with suspicion and always have money hidden, but then we’d be hysterical. We are watching something play out in a very public way that re-focuses the discourse about IPV in real time. When you think about the level of beliefs that are being called into question here, is there any wonder why people are suddenly very uncomfortable watching it?
Rihanna, in fact, doesn’t even have the safety secrecy. If you had a public IPV situation…let’s say you were badly abused, left openly, and told your friends and family the terrible details of what happened. Let’s also say that you have money and no practical concerns, and also that your family and friends have been vocal about their love for you. And now let’s say that you then return to your abuser. Would you immediately tell your friends and family? How would the thought of telling them that you were working things out with a person who nearly killed you make you feel? Would you wonder what would happen if you were abused again? Would your friends and family think you were stupid and leave you? I wonder if you wouldn’t keep your return a secret, or close yourself off from your family so as not to have to feel any shame…just in case. Maybe the desire to avoid that shame would even keep you away from your abuser.
Rihanna no longer has that emotional process for us to grab onto, either, to make ourselves feel better about the reality of IPV. Her relationship is public (though she calls it a friendship), and if Brown were to hurt her again in any noticeable way, that would also be public. While it’s true that this might give her some power in the relationship—perhaps a second incident coupled with his unrepentant behavior and his race* would be enough to destroy his career, but I doubt it—it’s equally true that patriarchy affects women disproportionately. To many people (three of the four categories above) she would be a laughingstock, completely humiliated, and publicly disgraced as an idiot. In fact, it’s infinitely more likely that her career would be over should Brown hit her again. Given how aggressively she presents the relationship—in the middle of writing this, she released the cover art for her single “Stay,” which is a blurry photo of her nuzzling Brown’s neck—to a public that mostly disagrees with it, it’s not a huge critical leap to think that the crowd might enjoy an opportunity to see her swiftly punished for the transgression.
Here is a person who not only has no practical concerns regarding walking away from an abusive relationship, but someone who openly returned to an IPV situation when it’s clear that were it to happen again, she would lose everything. What Rihanna is giving us is a singular look at the complex emotional process of an IPV survivor, which is a story that we don’t often see standing alone. Now instead of deciding whether she’s smart or dumb or attention seeking, we need to decide how we’re going to confront the reality and complexity of IPV, including possibly admitting that there’s no amount of money, forethought, public outcry, or support that can fully prevent anyone from making choices that they never saw themselves making, and that’s a very scary thought to have, indeed.
*While doing some quick googling to provide a few links for this footnote, it turned into basically another blog. Rather than delete or cut it, I am leaving it intact. Here it is.
I also recognize that Chris Brown’s position as the poster boy for IPV is strongly tied to the fact that he is a black man and not a white man. I’m not saying that Chris Brown is merely an angelic victim of circumstance. In fact, some of this is before my time, and I would appreciate input from those who were slightly more present in the 80s about the cultural reaction to some of this. I was 6, and I’m viewing everything from the vantage point of many years later. I’m just saying that I find it culturally interesting that, for example, Miranda Lambert (rightfully) slammed Brown at the Grammy awards, and then a few weeks ago said that she felt the exact same way. This is all well and good, until you recall that both Miranda and her husband (as helpfully pointed out by ONTD) maintain a relationship with Glen Campbell. Campbell famously knocked out Tanya Tucker’s front teeth when she was 20, but I guess it is “cool to act like that didn’t happen.”
Also of interest, at the time of this writing, Chris Brown’s Wikipedia has a six paragraph retelling of his situation with Rihanna. Glen Campbell’s Wikipedia article has a brief mention that he was in a relationship with Tanya Tucker when she was 21 and he was 45. There are 3 sentences in Sean Penn’s Wikipedia vaguely mentioning that he beat Madonna with a baseball bat, and then tied her to a chair and terrorized her for 9 hours. Charlie Sheen’s wiki entry has a single paragraph about his divorce from Brooke Mueller, but no identifying details of the “felony menacing” he was charged with. There is a vague mention of Denise Richards and “threats of violence”
In reality, by the way, Charlie Sheen “accidentally” shot his fiancé, Kelly Preston, in 1990. In 1994, Charlie Sheen was sued by a student who said that he punched her in the head after she turned him down for sex. In 1996, Sheen beat up his girlfriend, Brittany Ashland. In 2006, Denise Richards filed for divorce amid allegations that Sheen threw furniture at her and threatened to kill her. In 2009, the “felony menacing” was actually Sheen strangling and then holding a knife to the throat of Brooke Mueller. In 2010, Sheen threatened to kill and attempted to strangle Capri Anderson, who locked herself in a bathroom and hid from Sheen until the police arrived (Wikipedia said that he “trashed a hotel room,” no mention of the naked, screaming woman locked in a closet).
I’m just saying that these things are interesting to think about, that’s all.
I’m not saying that you aren’t just as outraged and disgusted at Charlie Sheen as you are about Chris Brown. I certainly am. I also know that, while both these men still have public careers and fans, there are also vocal sections of the population who refuse to normalize their behavior and speak out vehemently against both in conversation and online, many people who do so totally equally for both parties.
I’m just saying that isn’t it interesting that at least one person was pressed enough to write an entire high school English paper about Chris Brown’s violent behavior (down to his lawyer telling him, “I don’t dance. You don’t talk,” at his most recent court date), but not a single person (not even me) was that pressed over Glen Campbell, Sean Penn, Charlie Sheen, Michael Fassbender…
So after my post about gatekeeping, I started discussing the classist implications of nose-thumbing at people who do not fit your geeky defininitions.
After meandering around for a bit, I’ve decided to compile this handy list of things I have seen happen that need to stop happening. These are all solid, real world examples that I am talking about, and there is very little theory or discussions of class cultural issues (which are vast and fascinating).
This post is U.S. centric. I apologize, but if you have universal healthcare, I hate you and I am jealous and you can just deal. So there.
If you would like to add anything to this list, feel free.
1. Don’t call an ambulance or emergency 911 unless directed to do so. Contrary to popular belief, and ambulance ride is not just a little courtesy extended by the hospital. Ambulance rides run anywhere from $400 to $1000 plus mileage and materials used. That can be devastating for a family that does not have insurance or one that lives paycheck to paycheck.
How not to be classist: Ask the person (if they are capable of speech) what they want to do, or offer your services free of charge, even to strangers. Factor class into your risk-reduction. A person who had her arm torn off in a thresher cannot drive herself to the hospital safely, and it’s possible that she could hurt or kill others if allowed to drive–this is a bigger devastation than a thousand dollar medical bil, so drive them to the hospital yourself or call an ambulance. A person who broke her ankle at a skating rink can answer your questions about the best way she wants to proceed and you should not call 911 and just assume she has insurance.
2. Don’t act like cars and gasoline grow on trees. Even if you think you’re “on the way,” chances are that the driver won’t drive directly past your house on the way home and will be using their time and money to pick you up and drop you off. This is especially the case if you’ve invited someone out but then expect them to drive a long distance or play designated driver. Gasoline is often one of the easier ways that people can budget, because it’s very simple to make it stretch; you just don’t go anywhere except work. It’s also one of the more expensive necessities if you don’t live near public transportation.
How not to be classist: Offer money to the the person who is driving, even if it’s only 5 dollars. If you don’t have a car and regularly ride with someone else, offer to split the insurance costs with them, if you can. Do not assume they are in a better situation than you are because they own a car. Do not assume that the person in the car is made of money–if you ask them to drive you somewhere (even in an emergency), it’s possible they won’t have enough gas to get to work at the end of the week. It’s better to have someone turn down your 5 dollars than to have them thinking that you’re an entitled jackass.
3. Don’t decide what is a luxury for other people. I see this a lot on tumblrs that are really angry at the Occupy movement. “How poor can you be if you have X?” Substitute a latte, a cell phone, clothes, free time, a tent, a car, a salad, or anything else you want for X. It’s the assumption that if you have the money for a latte (did you ever notice that it’s always a latte, and it’s a never a good old, American cup o’ joe!), then you don’t need help or you are not drowning that is classist, and it plays into the notion of the Deserving Poor.
How not to be classist: Mind. Your. Own. Business. I have no idea where people got the idea that only the rich deserve coffee, but there you have it. Being poor, protesting, or having a low paying job does not mean that you must live life austerly and you must put every last dime into a savings account until you reach the magical class status where everyone looks at you and says, “Yes, you have sufficient money to have a cappucino.” Poor people are not, in fact, cloister nuns and they do not deserve to do nothing but work until they die. I would eat ramen every night of the week and drive absolutely nowhere if it meant that I could enjoy my first hour of work with a cup of coffee and raw sugar, and there is nothing about my class status or my job that makes me more or less deserving of having it. And you are invited to run your finances absolutely any way that you might see fit (privately or publicly).
In fact, if anyone who said this opened their spending up to scrutiny, they would probably die of embarrassment. Did you really need all those dresses? Why did you buy the luxury car, when you could have bought a compact car and put money into a savings account? You’re not really making enough money for that salon trip, are you? Why are you doing this wasteful nonsense instead of bettering your situation? Did you buy name brand food? The idea that the poor don’t deserve a new pair of jeans really doesn’t have much to do with the poor, it’s about telling everyone else how fantastic of a person you think you are for doing everything correctly.
If anyone would like to refute this, you are more than welcome to submit to me your monthly reciepts for publication and perusal (with all identifying information removed, of course), along with a general description of your lifestyle and where you would like to see yourself in 5 years.
Don’t worry. I’ll wait.
4. Do not assume that someone has a “good” job. At a party I was at recently, someone asked me what my mother did for a living, and I said that she was an administrative assistant. They then asked me whether she was the head of all the secretaries or something, and we got to have a very awkward moment where I explained that she was not (therefore revealing my class status and upbringing, which is one of the things that I don’t like to discuss until I’m sure the person I’m talking to isn’t going to say something stupid and hurtful. Too late, in this case!). Or rather, I got to have that very awkward moment caused by someone else.
How not to be classist: Don’t assume that people have money or come from money. Don’t assume that no one you know was raised by a janitor or a waitress or a cashier or a grandparent on disability. Also, do not act like poverty is some kind of novelty living situation (oh wow, you lived in a trailer/section 8 housing/a studio apartment? What was THAT like?). Try to think about whether what you are saying denegrates their life or their job. Be aware that other people may not have had your life and that your expectations are hurtful.
5. If you run a business or are a large company, try to figure out how the “bottom line” affects the lives of your employees. This recently happened when my job moved offices from a less-expensive (cost-of-living-wise), convenient area to a remote, incredibly expensive area in order to cut down on costs (we post about 200 million dollars of revenue per quarter; you do the math). A number of employees were left with a job that they could not afford to have on the salary they were making (and these were people with master’s degrees, welcome to the new job market). They could not afford the gas to get to the new office, and could not afford to move closer due to the housing price spike. This left us with a really angry office culture, and changed a job that they all loved to one that they couldn’t afford to have.
How not to be classist: Think about the people who depend on you as seriously as you think about your own pockets. Everyone deserves to make money, and I’m not going to begrudge a business that makes ethical decisions in order to keep the doors open and keep people employed. If you can’t afford an NYC storefront and you need to move the store to Missoula, that’s terrible but unavoidable (in terms of risk reduction, again, closing all together or outsourcing makes zero jobs. Moving to a cheaper area messes up your employees right now, but maintains some jobs). If you are making your employees miserable in order to cut your own costs for a bigger profit, you don’t deserve good employees. The fact of the matter is that people often say, “Well, just get another job at night, work two jobs, full time! Lazy!” without realizing that killing yourself to survive so that other people might profit from your misery is a really awful thing that we don’t want to encourage. Work ethic is one thing, but by claiming that there is no problem because people can sleep in boxes and work 100 hour weeks, you’re basically saying to everyone around you, “I’m a huge fool who can’t think through the logical conclusions of what I’m saying.”
6. Do not change plans at the last minute or pressure someone to do something that they can’t afford. If your original plan for the evening was going to the movies and getting some pizza (total cost, 20 dollars) and you decide that you want to have a sit down dinner and four hours of arcade time at Dave and Busters, and then tell everyone this information without getting any input…you’re doing something incredibly classist.
How not to be classist: The awesome thing about poor people is that we know what everything costs, so you could ask people for suggestions about what other plans are feasible. When changing plans, try to change them into the same price range. When you don’t, you are either forcing someone to spend beyond their means in order to save you embarassment, or you are forcing them to announce their class status to you, which they might not want to do.
7. Do not annoy people about their diets/Do not say that lentils are cheap/Do not push people into veganism/vegetarianism/organic eating. If you’re railing on someone for not eating the way you have access to, you’re being classist by assuming access and ability.
How not to be classist: I realize that a lot of veganism is activism, and I respect that. I personally think that any moral, thinking human being ought to be vegan. I just am not one. I have a variety of reasons for not going vegan, price being one of the ones near the end of the list. However, what I find more disturbing than anything is how many people will just demand that I explain to them why I am not vegan, which is actually intensely private information. Instead of being prepared to convert, try “Have you ever thought about going vegetarian?” If they say no and don’t continue the conversation, then go about your day. Let it drop. Don’t make people feel bad for not having the space to lead your lifestyle, and if someone is interested, they will come to you later. While it might seem like I have an issue with veganism from this, I don’t, and I fully support people who make a difficult change for the greater good. I have an issue with classist foodies, of which there are many.
Please stop telling people how cheap a pound of beans are. Do you want to eat a bowl of plain beans for dinner every night for a week? Me, either. I know this might be difficult to believe, but building up a stocked kitchen takes money. So does having a kitchen–many apartments do not have stoves; they only have hot plates and microwaves. Many people also do not have cars, which puts them in the position needing to spend an inordinate amount of time walking back and forth to the grocery store buying small amounts that could be easily carried. It’s also a privilege to try food that you may or may not like. You see, when poor people experiment with their diets in ways they aren’t sure they will like, they don’t just go to the magic dinner tree for another dinner if it doesn’t work. They go hungry or they go without something else, like shampoo, in order to replace the food (to this day I am highly resistant to trying to new foods, even though it’s no longer an emergency when I decide that apricot chipotle tastes like throw-up).
Stop, sit down, and read up on the class and race in relation to access to food. The way to deal with this is to realize that not everyone has the access that you have, and that while you might think “Everyone has a grocery store in their city,” what you mean to say is, “Everywhere I have had the privilege of living has had an easily-accessed grocery store.” Anyone in the United States who had access to school and is above the age of 8 has heard at least once that vegetables are good and junk food is bad; instead of assuming that ignorance and laziness are the problems you need to rail against, try fighting for access.
8. Don’t ask for free labor unless you are very close with the person you are asking. This is the one that makes me personally crazy. I am an editor. I have been handed many resumes and cover letters and short stories from people who I don’t know very well, and the classism puts me in the most awkward position ever. When I have refused, even when I explained that I could not afford to turn down a paying job to find the time to edit their screenplay, the person making the demand was always affronted and made me deal with it. I then have two choices–lose sleep or lose money. You’ll notice the person who can’t afford to work for free is the one who loses out there, and that’s classism (so is the assumption that I can fit in your screenplay between my ceramics class and my marathon bonbon eating session).
How not to be classist: People who have jobs that transfer outside of their industry (e.g., editors, mechanics, plumbers, teachers, computer experts) deserve to be paid for their time (everyone deserves to be paid for their expertise, but I don’t have a huge need to call up my scientist friends and ask them to come manipulate things on the molecular level for me. Though now I want to). Don’t ask Little Timmy’s teacher to come to your house at night to tutor Little Timmy for no money. Assume that all people are using their time to make money for basic survival and act accordingly. You have a few solid options for fixing classism here. You can just offer to hire the person if you think that their services are so good or you trust them so much that you wouldn’t want anyone else to do the work. If you have money issues and can’t afford to hire the person, offer a trade, even if the trade is “I will cook you dinner as soon as I get a job.” You could also ask them for advice in the course of a conversation (What’s the best way to find a good mechanic? Do you know any teachers who also tutor at night? Your website is lovely, who made it?). That way they can volunteer their services, ask for pay, or refer you to a friend without having to deal with your classist assumptions.
9. Don’t make your ignorance someone else’s problem. The problem with classism is that instances of it make the victim of your ignorance responsible for the rest of the conversation. Assuming things about class puts the person you are assuming things about in the position of having to correct you, and therefoure out their class status, or having to pay money or make arrangements in order to avoid embarassing themselves and you.
How not to be classist: When you fuck this up (and you will fuck this up. I fuck this up all the time) apologize.
So I was on my friend Ana’s facebook and I came across this article.
Which is infuriating, I guess. I mean, first of all, gatekeeping is boring. Guessing at the motivation of instagram users is even more boring. The meme she uses to illustrate is also incredibly sexist. Authenticity, you’ll notice, is often a question for women. No one has ever asked my dates whether they were perhaps faking their interests in games and books to get in my pants, yet the concept of a girl being “fake” is the subject of a popular and instantly recognizable meme (and in order to understand the meme, one must understand the stereotype. If this were not a widespread idea, the meme would fall flat. Like, is this funny to someone other than 6 people?).
Anyway, my friend was also kind of infuriated by the idea of girls “faking it” and I thought that this was another opportune moment for me to talk about authenticity.
First and foremost, “faking it” is a charge that is usually leveled at a woman. From sex to interests, a woman “faking it” represents reprehensible behavior. Faking an orgasm is the source of so much male anxiety that dozens of articles have been written about how to “tell” if she’s faking orgasms…but very few about how to be a partner that women aren’t afraid to speak with about their sexual needs.
This isn’t the first article written about women faking interests for men, either. Months ago, as referenced on my blog, there was a big tadoo about Vince Mancini’s article called Hot Women Pandering To Nerds where he accused everyone from Rosario Dawson to Olivia Munn to Adrienne Curry of “faking” their geekery in order to attract men.
This speaks to a certain hysteria on the part of heterosexual men about whether their partners are what they think they are. And hey, it might be true that your girlfriend really hates Ninja Warrior, but she wanted to date you so bad she’d have told you she ate babies if she thought it would get her a coffee date. I have to say that I have had female friends come to me and ask me about video games in order to have a conversation with an adorable boy that they liked.
The problem, however, is not their authenticity. Rather, that’s not the root of the issue. The problem is sexism; isn’t it always? And by playing into the concept of authenticity the author is accepting sexism and then disseminating it–and she’s disseminating it from a culture that is already pretty girl-unfriendly.
The issue here is twofold.
1) Women are told that their greatest accomplishment is gaining the favor of a man
2) Men are told that their interests are somehow “better” than women’s interests.
So the Forbes article is not only playing into that, but is very clearly playing into the socialized competition between women. I, frankly, have no need to dig up dirt on the author to assert that she’s not a real geek, either. I don’t care if she’s “real.” Her reality doesn’t pay my bills (and I’d advise her in the interest of feminism and geekery to stop giving a shit whether girls posting pictures of their yarn collections on instagram are “real” or not).
So there are a lot of problems at work here, and I’m not really interested in whether some women and girls on instagram post too many picture of original nintendo cartidges. I’m more interested as why some women do fake their interests for male attention. Then we can get right to the crux of everyone’s problems.
First, the accusation that women do things for male attention is heterosexist. I hate to inform everyone that not all women are exactly interested in men or their attention and will, in fact, do things to gain the attention of the adorable butch dyke who works in the coffee shop.
I am going to recognize the inherant heterosexism and then side-step the analysis of seeking approval in gay relationships, because I feel like someone (anyone) is probably more qualified to speak on that than I am. I am talking about women’s relationships to men under the patriarchy umbrella and the societal messages that we give to women about male acceptance (which, sadly, even queer folks aren’t immune to).
Given that, I wanted to mention that this obsession with women’s authenticity is incredibly sexist. I can’t seem to recall anyone going “Vin Diesel? That guy’s not a real geek. He’s just trying to appear less threatening to attract women!” Only women are scrutinized in such a way and only women’s bodies and minds are open to that much public criticism. We could only be having this discussion about women.
As I said (let’s do this in an orderly fashion), women are told that their greatest accomplishment is gaining male favors and male attention. Any attention, even if it’s negative. How often do we hear of people defending or minimizing street harassment as “being paid a compliment,” like I should be thankful that someone, anyone, whistled at me and demanded that I take my tits out. Now, while I take a look around and use my head to notice that a lot of women’s culture is devoted to making them into what women’s culture says is attractive to men. Women are taught, everywhere, to seek this approval (Open any magazine and find a hundred articles about how to get sexy for him, about how exercise will give you a body that is attractive to members of the opposite sex, cover your hair, wear a short skirt, stick out your tits, tousle, wear lip gloss, let’s just keep listing all the things girls have to do to themselves) and I’m going to be (not nearly) the first one to say that when you get a hit of this attention you have been told for years that you need like fucking air…it feels good.
Well, it feels good until you smarten up and realize that frenetic desperation you’re feeling is the feeling of being constantly consumed, but what’s a little emotional death between friends?
When I was 14, I didn’t have anything like facebook or instagram, and thank god for that. I would have shot myself in the foot with it within seconds. Instead, I dressed semi-provacatively, and mistook any male attention for positive attention and thought I was successful at being a woman. I thought this because everwhere I turned from the age of 5 onward showed me that the “success” of a woman’s life was dependent on marriage. Or being a princess who was eligible to be married. Therefore, if I was attracting this attention, sooner or later one of them would bestow upon me my greatest accomplishment…having a boyfriend that all the other girls wanted!
Yeah, see how that worked out?
So I’m not saying that there are not girls who fake their interests to get male attention. We fake EVERYTHING to look attractive. I’m wearing mascara right now, these are not my eyelashes. This is not my hair color. I’m not even this height. I don’t know why we suddenly get very concerend about people faking interests. Why is that more of a worry than my eyelashes anyway?
Anyway, women get rewarded for this behavior but then repremanded for doing it too well. It’s the equivalent of training a dog to take a cookie and then slapping him when he takes it. So when you swear up and down the line that you’re the one with the real interests and these other girls are just attention-seeking whores…you’re the one doing the slapping. I have no idea how positiong yourself as the slapper, as it were, is solving the underlying problem that we socialize our girls to seek out male attention by any means necessary, including by “faking” a personality (we also are socialized to give up our sexual satisfaction and career aspirations in order to properly fill our role as a mirror that reflects men as twice their actual size).
So why the epidemic (apparently) of girls faking “geeky” interests for male attention? Possibly, and this might be a long shot, this happens because we privilege “male” interests over female interests.
Observe. What would most people call a girl who likes beer, football, and video games while still maintaining the appropriate level of feminine presentation? I usually hear that girl described at the very least as down or chill. At the most…marry her twice.
Now then, what would most people call a boy who likes shopping, spa-days, and cooking?
If you guessed “gay,” you win a prize (all expenses paid trip to a patriarchy-free island for at least an hour). Another acceptable answer would be “pussy whipped.”
So we have a culture that privileges male identity, and rewards women for seeking out male attention, and measures her success by what kind of boyfriend she’s likely to have, and then when they play the game that was laid out for them too well, we call them attention-whores and give page space in Forbes magazine to talk about how terrible the girls are.
Yeah, those girls are totally the root of the problem. Good, hard-hitting cultural journalism there.
Give me a break.
Oh you people and your ridiculous ideas.
[Trigger warning: mentions of rape and violence, but not graphic descriptions]
[Content warning: I am not sex positive. I am also not sex negative. I do have a horse in this race. I tend to come at things from an angle I like to call sex critical. I will not say ALL SEX IS TOTALLY FUCKING AWESOME AND POSITIVE or ALL PORN IS TOTALLY FUCKING DEMEANING AND OPPRESSIVE]
Short version, Katie Roipe says that women are reading books about submission (like Fifty Shades of Grey) because we need a break from all that upward mobility we’ve got now. You know, the free birth control falling from the sky and the lack of the glass ceiling. The burden of all that stuff we have.
Now then, Fifty Shades was a Twilight fanfic that blew up to huge proportions. I won’t discuss the writing in either of them because it’s been done. I also won’t discuss in depth why the relationship is abusive because we all know that, too.
Let’s discuss why women are currently so heavily invested in the erotics of brutality.
I am saying currently and not suddenly because we’re not suddenly interested in anything. I hate Twilight in the way that I hate all things that teach women to accept their victimization as romantic. However, Meyer didn’t precisely invent the concept of dating your abuser like they are the greatest love of all. I read V.C. Andrews as a child. In fact, I went back and reread V.C. Andrews in preparation for this. My favorite V.C. Andrews was actually My Sweet Audrina, and while I prefer not to spoil the book, apparently the cure for PTSD is to rape her again so that she realizes she likes sex and marries you.
Twilight is a Little Golden Book compared to that.
Fifty Shades is slightly different, more sexual, more human (full disclosure, I have only made it through the second book, which was difficult at best. James’s writing is difficult at best, and eye-rollingly horrible at worst, but goddamn it, I’m a fighter), but still eroticized brutality.
There is so much at play in the critique of these two books, that I need to comment on them twice.
Fifty Shades is currently being referred to as Mommy Porn, but this is also not new. You might also remember the Twilight Moms, who were the adult fans of the eternally 17-years-old Edward Cullen (they would show up to movie screenings with signs that said “You can break my headboard, bite my pillows, and bruise my body ANY day,” therefore sexualizing and giving a name to a scene that doesn’t actually happen in the book, which is righteous fucking, apparently). I’m not going to sit here and psycholanalyze these fans personally, but both of these books are, at the end of the day, about a life less ordinary. The extraordinary is the basis for most fantasy books; that’s the porn. The idea that you no longer have to take the kids to school or go to work or do anything even a little bit normal is 10x the porn as the actual sex in either book.* Most pornography is meant to display some kind of fantasy, some sex you could be having right now. It’s generally meant to fulfill a need, but is culturally shamed. It’s a need you can’t admit to having.
To refer to these things as “Mommy Porn,” is more than a little disparaging. First, it enacts a separation of mothers from the rest of us—this isn’t just porn, it’s porn for “moms”—which says that how mothers want to get fucked is somehow inherently different from the rest of us. Regular porn just won’t do? Then it denigrates by playing on the cultural ideal that your mother cannot possibly be cool, culturally adept, and sexual. Mom porn. Mom jeans. Mommy blogging. If you want to call something “shitty,” just stick “mom” in front of it. These are terms used to disparage parenthood as tragically unhip and boring. Furthermore, if you have read either Twilight or Fifty Shades, you are aware of the fact that both books are rather tragically chaste (Fifty Shades caveat—so far). So what we’re really saying here is “Sex so bad that only your mother, who is totally soulless and sexless, could get off to it.” You know, except she can’t.
Harry Potter is also porn by the definition that Twilight is porn, by the way. While I can’t find anything about the gender demographic across Harry Potter fans, apparently the key demographic for Rowling was age 18–34:
The eighteen-to-thirty-four age group is arguably one of the most discontent. Many of my friends and I have been in “real jobs” now for ten years, give or take, yet most of us still can’t quite believe it. Years after graduating from college, we’re still coming to terms with the fact that we sometimes wake up when it’s still dark out, pay our rent on time and in full, eat breakfast, take our Vitamin D, and make real efforts toward regular exercise. The mere fact that we’re actual real-life adults still eludes us a lot of the time, and can actually seem pretty funny. We started reading the “Harry Potter” series when we still had the pleasure of being somewhat carefree and ignorant; we weren’t yet the disillusioned, jaded youngish adults that we are now (although this is fun, in its own way). And so the “Harry Potter” movies are the ultimate form of escapism…I don’t mean to say that “adult life” doesn’t have its upside—but it’s nice to have “Harry Potter” to fall back on. (http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2010/11/adult-education-at-hogwarts.html#ixzz169IQ2dKw)
TL;DR J.K. Rowling can clearly write, but her books are still fantasy fulfillment. I mean, really—I’d rather be a fucking wizard, too. We’d all rather be wizards.
We’d all like to have an eternally beautiful 17-year-old body with the wisdom and maturity of an adult.
We’d all like to have more money than King Solomon and a sex drive that is never interrupted by reality.
It’s all porn**.
Furthermore—and while I can’t find gender demographics, I have been to the movies in the last ten years—why are Twilight and Fifty Shades “Mom porn” and Harry Potter is “charming?” I know nobody like to go for the obvious on the internet, but I’m going for the obvious. Twilight and Fifty Shades are apparently being read, overwhelmingly, by older women (except that isn’t true. However, it’s being presented as a “women” thing). Harry Potter is much more mixed demographic.
What’s an easier way to disparage a woman than to tell her that she’s sexless? Mom-like? Basically only by calling her a slut, and the term “mommy porn” shames women not only for wanting an outlet for sexual and romantic expression, but also for it being so tame that only your mom could like it. Now you want the wrong kind of sex. You want MOM sex.
Take Me, You Brute
Second soap box full disclaimer—I am not talking about BDSM. I am talking about brutality and violence, which is something very different and much less fun or consensual. If women are “suddenly” into BDSM, call me a trendsetter!
Why is literature that depicts violent romantic relationships suddenly the new hotness? Katie Roiphe is wrong for many reasons that are not because she’s Katie Roiphe, though being Katie Roiphe is a black mark in her “Cons” column. These books are not, as I said, suddenly the new anything. They just have one thing in common: a representation of a violent male being written about like he’s the second coming.
While pages and pages of this have already been written, let’s just put this here so that we have something to look at.
-Prevents Bella from seeing her friends
-Drags Bella around by the wrist
-Repeatedly threatens her life
-Shames her for wanting to kiss him, saying that if he lost control, it would be her fault
-Shames her for wanting to have sex with him, even after they are married
-Shames her for HAVING sex with him, after they are married
-Follows her relentlessly, everywhere he can physically go
Cannot read Bella’s mind, so he reads the minds of everyone around her in order to find out what she’s talking about
-Uses his power and influence to put himself in Anastasia’s way
-Keeps a dossier on her, including her social security number and everything she does
-Forces her onto birth control
-Forces her into changing her hair
-Refers to her repeatedly as a possession
-Her foray into punishment is not safe or sane and is only marginally consensual***
Implicit in each book is the fact that neither woman could ever, should she so chose, get away. Edward Cullen is a vampire. He spends 3 months in Bella’s room without her knowledge or consent, staring at her while she sleeps. It’s made explicit over and over again that he can outrun her, outfight her, and outsmart her.
Similarly, Anastasia could never get away from Grey. He apparently makes $100,000 an hour with his businesses and has kept a file on every woman he has ever had sex with. He knew who Anastasia was before she introduced herself, and has her address, her family’s address, her social security number, and bought the company that she works for without her telling him that she was even working.
We just have to assume that Edward and Grey would be gentlemanly enough not to take the abandonment to it’s natural and realistic end, which would be to kill her so no one else can have her. That’s reality. In 45 percent of Chicago homicides in which a man killed a woman, an immediate precipitating factor of the fatal incident was the woman leaving or trying to end the relationship. For clinic/hospital women who were abused on followup, 69 percent of those who had left or tried to leave an abuser in the previous year, but whose abuse continued despite their attempted departure, experienced severe incidents compared to 44 percent of women who had not left or tried to leave.
Maybe we read these things because they are reality. Men are socialized to be violent against us women from birth, and women are socialized to take it (see: If he hits you, that means he likes you).
As I said, I read V.C. Andrews as a child, but I also read other things like Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, and Wuthering Heights, which are all about How To Love The Asshole You’ve Got. Jane, Elizabeth, and Catherine are all Bellas and Anastasias—women with spirit who have romanticized and fallen in love with men who are absolutely brutal. From Mr. Rochester’s Forgotten Wife to Heathcliff’s Generational Manipulation A Go Go to Mr. Darcy the Neckbeard, our romanticized men are brutal creatures who hurt and lie to their partners just enough to still be romantic, but they never get to the point of, say, shooting her and then turning the gun on himself. They stop just before the natural conclusion, or the women never try to leave, so there’s no occassion for having to write out the natural end of this kind of behavior.
A lot was made about Stephenie Meyer looking an awful lot like Bella Swan (http://4.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_ku7uy2kIlm1qatyobo1_400.jpg) and something similar is being said about E.L. James (there is no kicky internet meme yet, but it’s been brought up that Anastasia is pale skinned with dark hair and a wide smile…Here is a picture of E.L. James http://c4241337.r37.cf2.rackcdn.com/04-29-56_elj_420.jpg). These books are clearly some level of fulfillment for the authors, and are clearly filling some niche in the women who are just gobbling them up so voraciously that they can’t make the movie fast enough. So why are we reading this? What fantasy does this fulfill in women?
The natural answer is that having lots of sex and money is really pretty convenient, but lots of people have lots of sex and money and still read these. We can write a book where people have lots of sex and money and a husband who is pretty nice, does his share of the boring tasks of every day life, and trusts his wife to do as she likes because she’s a thinking person, but we don’t write that book. We write this book, and we’ve been writing this book for hundreds of years.
Perhaps the reason that we flock to the Brute is because 9 times out of 10, we’ve got the Brute at home. And how could we not? Look at our cultural ideals, where men are given male heroes to emulate who are violent or hypermasculine, aggressive go-getters who don’t take no for an answer. The masculinity scripts that men are given are usually violent in some way (the tough guy, the emotionless rock, the ladies’s man) and when men reject these scripts in childhood, they are often bullied, and usually for being “gay.” While we all know how horrific childhood can be for everyone, and while I am not male, I can imagine that daily beatings for not conforming to the cult of masculinity pretty much suck, and even if you’re not hypermasculine, my guess would be that you can fake it. In that way, even when following the script is just an act, my second guess would be that some of it becomes natural. I mean, you can’t sit in dirt for 25 years and expect to come out clean, can you?
This is not to say that your husband is some kind of brutal testosterone junkie who is just waiting to fucking kill you. It’s only saying that the Brute is familiar territory in both lives and literature. Maybe this isn’t about the male characters, maybe Edward and Grey are just the background, and infinity money and constantly hard dick would just be nice.
Maybe the fantasy is in being Bella (or Anastasia, or Jane, or Elizabeth, or Catherine), in so much as none of them are particularly bothered by things like misogyny and abusive behavior. Maybe, instead of it being about our secret desire to submit all our power, it’s about ignorance being bliss. Or maybe it’s a fantasy of not having to be scared by the Brute, of living somewhere where misogyny can’t touch you, and the natural end of abusive behavior is Happily Ever After and not what really happens.
Though I suppose it’s just easier to mark it as women actually wanting absurdly bad sex.
*If you can jerk off to a sex scene in Fifty Shades of Grey, seeing as they are written like Jim Morrison’s pussy took a bunch of acid and saw orchids and tin foil, I’ll give you a dollar.
**This is not to say that your life sucks and your husband is ugly and you resent your children. This is to say that your life is pretty good, but these impossible things, fantasies, if you will, are also pretty good. I wouldn’t kick a partner out of bed for Edward Cullen or Christian Grey, but infinity money might be pretty useful.
***Spoiler: When he finall does convince her to try something kinkier, Grey belts Anastasia. He apparently hits her as hard as he can six times, which she finds so painful that she forgets her safeword and basically loses her shit while he continues. She is traumatized enough to walk out directly afterward. First of all, this is not how you introduce someone who’s never masturbated previous to six weeks ago to sex, let alone kinky sex. Secondly, I know very few people who like to take pain out of context or who enjoy scenes with new partners that were not negotiated. Lastly, the whole scene read incredibly rape-y and I was really put off by it.
Preface: I am the world’s biggest Bioshock fangirl. I have no idea whether I will buy Infinite or not, given everything, but my hero worship ends right here.
Dear Ken Levine,
We’re breaking up. I’m sorry.
This begs some explanation.
As I’m sure you know, because you’ve responded to it, there is a lot of criticism going around about the main female character in Bioshock Infinite. Her name is Elizabeth, or as we like to call her around the way, Boobs Nelson.
As you know, Ken Levine, some weirdos on the internet don’t understand you the way I do. They seem to think that Elizabeth’s chest is absurd, they think she’s sexualized, and they think that she doesn’t really speak much in the trailer—she just stands around and has boobs, occasionally squeaking out lines.
I didn’t say anything at first because I didn’t particularly mind her. Yes, she does have an absurd chest and a waist so small that she resembles an insect more than a girl. There are mannequins like her in Macy’s. They put necklaces around the waist. I find them scary and deformed, and I’m not sold on having a waist smaller than my neck, but I was willing with Elizabeth. There’s a new Bioshock! I’ve had it reserved since I went to pick up my copy of Cataclysm (December 2010), if that gives you any indication of my borderline obsession with your games.
But Ken, your reaction, I’m sorry. You’re just not the sort of person I can continue to admire. I can be forgiving, Ken Levine. I don’t mind giant boobs. I mind female characters being so sexualized that the things they do border on absurd (I’m looking at you Lara Croft). Elizabeth might have giant boobs and a corset that might only cover her nipples and a waist the size of her neck for a good, storybased reason. I mean, Catherine, while having the distinction of being the single most misogynistic game I’ve ever played (and still I love that game), also has Catherine looking that way for a reason.
It was just those things you said, Ken Levine, they hurt. I can’t be with someone doesn’t have any self awareness at all. Coupled with the way that you showed that you have no awareness of other people…I’m sorry, Ken Levine. We’re breaking up.
“In terms of her body type, I think certainly people on the Internet have spent way more time thinking about Elizabeth’s chest than I have. It’s something I’ve barely thought about.”
Well, that’s true. While your default slider for a female character might be set all the way to ten, you’re right. You have absolutely no need to think about women’s bodies. After all, we can look at her and think about that for you. We have to all the time, because almost every image that we are shown is an idealized version of ourselves, but so twisted as to be physically impossible. I am happy, Ken Levine, that you don’t need to think about women’s bodies and the way they are represented. I would love that option.
“We sort of evolved her over time, and that’s the challenge when you show stuff early on – you’re still in the creative process and you’re still evolving the creative process. I’m sure Elizabeth may evolve a little bit more over time because until it’s out, I haven’t made the definitive statement on it… so I certainly don’t spend as much time thinking about this issue as the Internet does, and I’m not sure what that says about the Internet but, you know.”
I was so hopeful here. You didn’t totally dismiss her character model as set, and I understand that the game won’t be out until later this year. There’s still time!
I’m sorry, however, that you don’t like the people on the internet. We are clearly just a load of big perverts who have nothing else to do all day than to look at representations of women and complain about them. We’re not nearly as busy as you are, you forceful and dynamic man, and if we were that busy, we wouldn’t have the time to give a second thought to avatars that are meant to represent our gender and race. Surely if you had a little less to do, you would also be aware of the fact that there are other people in the world. I can tell you what it says about the internet, though. I’ll give it to you quickly, so you won’t have to devote any time to thinking about the class of people you are representing.
There are girls on the internet. And we are so over this shit.
“It’s disappointing when [Elizabeth's chest] becomes a focus for conversation because that was never my intent and it’s sort of a disincentive – I’d much rather talk about what she’s going through as a person, but whatever, they have the right to shout out whatever they want.”
Ken. May I call you Kenny? It doesn’t matter, I’d rather call you Kenny, so I’m just going to go ahead and do that.
I have no idea why her chest would be a focus point for conversation.
I would love to talk about what she’s going through as a person. If only any of that had been released. In the gameplay trailer, Elizabeth speaks directly to the narrator for the first thirty seconds, going so far as to take his hand and wrap it around her throat (the first image in this post is from that trailer). After that, it’s FPS footage of the player; a single time he calls for her help and she yells, “On it!” from off screen, but never appears. Ever. For the rest of the trailer.
So while I wait a year for you, Ken Levine (and trust me, I love your games so much, I’d wait forever), I don’t know what else I’m supposed to talk about, since her boobs are given more screen time than her voice.
“To me, the most important thing with Elizabeth was just honestly her eyes because, you know, they’re somewhat exaggerated and the reason for that is because there’s so much expression you can do there, with her eyes, and you see her often at a great distance.”
Your heart is in the right place, Kenny, but this just isn’t working out for me anymore. I do believe that she has some deep and intense back-story. I do! I have played your games over and over and over again.
I suggest, humbly, that if you wanted to focus on her eyes, that you simply swap places. Greatly exaggerate her eyes and somewhat exaggerate her boobs.
Though what do I know. I’ve only been a woman for my entire life and therefore I have no idea how people react to women’s bodies. The internet perverts who spend a lot of time complaining about her breasts are just wrong. We have been looking in the wrong place.
Ladies, her eyes are up there!
“I’ve spent way more time thinking about her eyes than her chest because eyes show a ton of expression, and you see her at a great distance. AI characters get very, very small, very, very quickly so you need to be able to recognize her silhouette, the shape of her body. Her colour scheme’s actually very simple, you know, the sort of two tone colour look – that’s all to do with this sort of exaggeration.”
Oh, I see! Elizabeth is usually far away, so you have to recognize her silhouette. The more she looks like an actual hourglass, the easier it would be for the player to pick her up.
I mean, he’s right. This is basic game design. Characters should be able to be identified in multiple ways by the player; silhouette, movement loop, color codes, tags, and voice.
And there is practically no way to make a female character identifiable at a distance other than to exaggerate her chest size and pull in her waist so tight that there is no room for organs…
Those are your Big Sisters from Bioshock 2.
Oh, and Brigid Tenenbaum. Another of your distinct female characters, easy to pick up behind the screen in Bioshock 2 because of her distinctive sloping walk.
While I’m here, actually, Ken Levine. Let’s talk about one of the other reasons I’m breaking up with you, while I have these ladies with distinctive silhouettes around.
When I first played Bioshock, Ken, I fell in love. I watched my friends play in the background at my apartment and I looked and looked and there was not a single woman who was ornamental. Which is not to say that none of them were pretty, because they were beautiful, but that they weren’t ornamental. There was nothing about their character models that was ornamental. When people asked me for recommendations for games for women, I suggested Bioshock. This is a big secret; to appeal to girl gamers, you did not need to have a pony or a sim where the player can try on new hair styles and heels. I did not need Rosie The Riveter Fights The Patriarchy (PS3).
I only needed women who had a function and who were distinctive. Even if they were not the player character, it was amazing and life changing to look at a video game and see me. My definition of “me” in video games is fairly large—Me: noun. Any woman in a game who does not tantalize the assumed male player character, who has some function of import, and a realistic-ish body. If they tantalize, I can get over it if they also do the other two. I’m not non-sexual, after all. It’s just that I do other things, too.
I know you’ve been taken to task by feminism, Ken Levine, but I found your games to be woman positive in at least a few ways. I didn’t want to throw your baby out with the bathwater, though your Plasmid videos and underwater objectivism reeked of privilige. Yes, Brigid Tenenbaum is a horrible mother, as it were…but it wasn’t because she was a woman. Big Sisters will make you wish you had harvested every last one of those little brats in the first game…but they had lithe, feminine bodies, without being over-exaggerated fanboy service. Little Sisters do need to be protected by Big Daddies…but they are children, and Big Sisters can quite easily take out a Big Daddy.
I mean, just look at the female characters you have given me over the years, Ken Levine.
A Little Sister
Sofia Lamb, antagonist of Bioshock 2.
Various Female Splicers (Bad Guys, for the uninitiated)
In thinking back, the only scantily dressed female I can recall is Jasmine Jolene, and only in her poster. She made her living as a dancer, so I don’t find that to be totally unnecessary, and she also serves a huge plot point.
Of course, none of these are a distinctive, driving force, female character with a distinctive silhouette, who plays next to the PC for all or part of the game…
Oh that’s right. Eleanor Lamb. A character with big, expressive eyes, who has been through an ordeal, and plays next to the character for part of the game. As I recall, she also needed to be distinct from the other big sisters, so I bet that was achieved via exaggerating her secondary sex characteristics.
Ken, Ken Levine, this is why I have to break up with you. This is why I can no longer shrug helplessly while you say some weird Objectivist shit all over the internet.
Now you are lying to us. You are well and thoroughly capable of producing a game with female bodies that don’t exist to be eye candy. You have been producing them for your entire career.
I don’t care that you made Elizabeth. I don’t even particularly dislike Elizabeth or her body, once I get past the fact that this change in your style makes me sad. I care that you are now lying about your motivations in order to avoid being called to the carpet for making a sexist choice. I would have at least gone to couples counseling if you had come out and said, “I’m tired of the gangly women and I wanted to make something else. I wanted to create a girl completely and totally physically unlike any of the women I have created before, and darn it, I did.”
Instead, Ken Levine…I used to think you were a genius and now you are giving interviews that leave me embarrassed for you. You, you see, very obviously think that this is just an overreaction. We don’t understand you. You didn’t mean it like that, and anyway, don’t you ladies have something else to talk about? I’m not even going to entertain this!
Furthermore, you have attempted to demonstrate that you think that I’m stupid, that the women who noticed this ridiculousness are stupid, because only someone who was utterly and painfully stupid would think that you have made a career out of creating women with distinctive, yet realistic, bodies, and just didn’t give a damn about this last one. Didn’t even give her chest a second thought. I don’t know why anyone is even discussing this, because it’s clearly totally in line with my previous offerings.
So I’m sorry, Ken. My love affair with you is over. I will wait for you to come around, and I hope you do…but I don’t think you will. I think that if you will conveniently forget your entire body of work in order to avoid a question that makes you uncomfortable (a question about making your fans uncomfortable, no less), you will forget me just as easily. I will be fine, though. I still have my copies of Bioshock and Thief to keep me warm at night. I will make my SHODAN cross stitch. Don’t worry about me. I will survive.
But if it helps, it’s not me. It’s you.
I keep meaning to blog, but every time I sit down, something more fucked up and horrible happens, leaving me in a state of shock and sadness so great that I just wander away. Instead of saying something, I tweet incomprehensible ramblings from my friends. Sometimes I retweet feminist things, but mostly I am tired.
These are all highly triggering.
A So. Cal derby girl was shot by her husband before he turned the gun on himself.
A Florida derby girl was beaten by her partner so badly he did $500,000 dollars of damage to her, and she is still recovering.
A Canadian derby girl is missing, and has been for weeks
There’s Penn State. That doesn’t need a link.
There’s ESPN covering up molestation.
Oh, and police pepper sprayed…all of Seattle.
A white man puts himself in the place a of “poor black kid” and by doing so illustrates the gross misunderstanding people have of poverty and race and debt.
Paypal refers to charity for poor children as “not a worthy cause,” though in the wake of a PR nightmare and what was probably the worst day on earth for whatever poor intern is stuck with the Paypal facebook, Paypal fixed the issue.
I think about Occupy a lot. I think about class. Narratives. What we’ve done.
Here goes nothing. I’m going to share my story first and preface it by saying that I am incredibly fortunate, and it’s sad that my situation falls under the heading of Incrediby Fortunate.
People say that Occupy is lead by spoiled kids with too much time and too many lattes, but I know this is a lie. Occupy is desperation at its absolute purest; it’s a generation realizing that terrible mistakes were made with us and we now have to adjust to living with these mistakes while simultaneously being judged for them.
My mother groomed me for college since I was five. I was given the speech, of course. If I go to college, I will somehow escape my mother’s fate by virtue of being educated. My mother didn’t want me to flip burgers, or strip, or take an administrative position with no mobility. My mother wanted what most parents want—for her kid to do better than she did. When I asked my high school career counselor how people pay for college, she said that loans are available for college, and the education will enable me to get a job that pays me enough to pay off the loans plus some interest to ensure that another person can have a loan. I was 16 and I wasn’t fiscally worldly. I trusted adults. I went to college.
I left school with a mountain of debt. I believed that if I was educated and tenacious and honorable, there would be a job for me (this is a continuation of “if you get good grades, you can go to college,” which is also a lie). I do have degrees people decry as useless, but I find it funny when people look down on the humanities. I am an editor now. Many people couldn’t conjugate a verb if it wore revealing lingerie and came with a map. The fellow from Forbes magazine could have used an editor with a background in class and race issues. That nonsense with Paypal would have never happened if they hired anyone who was adept at social issues and communication at the same time. I am useful.
Anyway, I won’t go into how much student debt I had upon graduation, but the payments are often more than I actually take home (I pay almost 1/3 of my paycheck in taxes, and could not afford both loan payments and retirement savings). This debt was acrued on top of various scholarships, a grant, and payments made while in school. It was a staggering number that I was told would be paid off with the money I’d make for being educated a cut above the rest. Indeed, as scary as this is, in school I was among the best and the brightest. I’m supposed to be some kind of creepy genius, and I might be one. I haven’t thought about it much and I won’t go into my qualifications, but suffice to say they are numerous. Unfortunately, there is nothing called summa cum debt forgiveness.
Upon graduation from college, when I realized the gravity of my student debt and employment prospects, I reconciled myself to the fact that I would not do better than my mother. I only tread water when the loans are paid. I accepted long ago that I would never be able to afford a house or could never have a wedding if I wanted one. I have a skilled job that makes use of my talents and education and I live paycheck to paycheck. I do not have much credit card debt, because I used my credit cards for emergencies only (I am incredibly lucky, because credit card companies prey on college students, hoping they rack up a $10,000 balance before they even have a job. I escaped this through sheer dumb luck). I have a small, shared apartment that is cheap for the area. I have a little car that I use to get to my job. I live slightly worse than I did when I was actually in college.
I have the education needed for my position; I would be unable to have this job without going to college. Most of my paycheck is used to pay the loans I ran up to get the job. Isn’t that a trick? Isn’t that amazing? I have a friend who wanted to be a teacher, and chose the profession thinking that teachers are always needed and she would have a job. She needed her certification and her M.Ed. to become a teacher in her state. The salary for a teacher in her state is not enough money for her to pay off the loan she needed to become a teacher. If she could even find a job, which is an entirely different problem.
How does that sound reasonable and logical to anyone? How? Explain it to me.
This doesn’t even make sense when you’re stoned, let alone when you’re a thinking human being.
I wanted to pay my student debt. I wanted to pay the universities I went to for the education I recieved. I had some truly amazing teachers and professors, and I wanted to pay for their time. I wanted to pay for the time of everyone who made the universities run for me, from the registrars to the professors to the custodians. I do not want to have to pay 50 times the cost of my education for the rest of my life, when I could have paid off what I owe with reasonable interest already. When people graduate with $30,000 in college loans, and pay $400 a month faithfully for 20 years (when $400 monthly would pay that debt in 7 years) and still have $20,000 left to pay, they are no longer paying for college. They are paying Sallie Mae for having been born poor. I don’t want something for nothing and neither does Occupy. I only want to stop being punished.
The root of the Occupy movement is desperation; a generation realized that it is the proletariat in the worst way. We paid to get a job, and can never do anything else except pay that money back. We are not even producing things we can’t afford, we paid for the privilege of coming to work (for people who then spit on us and call us whiners looking for a handout).
So please, let’s not start with the latte talk, vicious classists. I can see the sadness and fear driving Occupy. This is not hard.
It’s not just this lie that my generation has to contend with. There is a whole social order of necessity that we can not buy into because we went to school instead, and we are punished for this, though mentally instead of fiscally.
As I said, I can not have that student debt and buy a house or have a wedding. I also cannot afford children, but I am lucky to have access to health care so that I will not accidentally have a child and we all starve to death. In truth, I would like a house, and I am undecided on marriage and children. I think I could make a decision like that if I knew I could handle the fiscal issues that go along with children. I don’t know that, so I opt to keep the damage contained. I made a mistake by believing that boot straps and hard work were all it would take to give me a modest life.
I am often asked why I am not married and why I do not have children. Almost everyone asks me this, especially people I haven’t seen in many years (thanks, facebook!). This is socially acceptable—to ask a woman what exactly she’s up to with her own vagina, since she’s clearly not using it in a way that is expected. No one asks me why I didn’t make other choices, like why I am not an astronaut or a NASCAR fan. They ask me about what’s been taking up residence inside my body, and how socially sanctioned is that residence.
They are not asking for a concrete answer. When people say, “Oh, you didn’t have a family? Why not?” they are asking, “Why did you not uphold your part of the social order? How did you screw that up? What deviant lifestyle are you living?” Yet if I had a child, I would need assistance to feed them and would be socially derided for not knowing how to keep my legs closed. Truthfully, I am living the life of the educated poor, with the added derision heaped upon women who side-stepped the burden of having a family, either by choice or by necessity.
What the current system does is destroy the entire social order, not just the class order. The protests against the 99% seem to come from people who want to cling to the concept of hard work as a bottom line. They probably want to believe, like my mother did, that their children will be able to do better than they can.
Yet the reality is that if you go to college and work hard and apply yourself, you can have three jobs and no health insurance? Eighty-hour work weeks? The inability to have children? Small, cold apartments? If you do not go to college, you may have the exact same thing, only with extra derision for not having the grit and determination to…buy into a broken and unsustainable system, I guess.
Unless you have privilege or incredible luck, the top of the game now is the total inability to thrive. Basic survival is incredible good fortune. That is horrible.
And there is no way out. We have created an entire generation of people who ruined their lives by believing in bootstraps. Yet the next generation just can’t skip college, because the job market demands university for everyone.
Occupy isn’t spoiled. They are trapped and they are scared, and so are the rest of us.
And the very least you could do is stop lying.
So Amy Winehouse died and that’s funny.
The jokes about “Guess she should have gone to rehab!” aren’t particularly funny, actually. What concerns me more is the idea that none of us should have been surprised because she was a trainwreck, out in public, high as jesus, acting a fool. I admit to being unsurprised at the news, but for entirely different reasons. My reasons being that, having had a Blake of my very own, and having a tendency towards self-medication…well, we can smell our own. Anyway.
First of all, I wanted to highlight here something my friend Lynsey said on my facebook (Lynsey is the fabulous organizer of the Glazgow Slutwalk and all around feminist rock star)
Our women artists, when they suffer addiction, mental illness etc. well then they’re silly whores, they’re wasting themselves! But guys do it and they’re tragic figures that you plaster on your walls. Never mind that she obviously never had the support she needed. Never mind that it’s pretty clear her management and label were more interested in shoving her back on stage to make money than helping her. Never mind that she obviously had a complete wasteman of a violent husband who exploited and harmed her. “lol she was an addict what do you expect” I’ll tell you what, stuff like this is a really great way to see what people are really like, and which ones are worth talking to ever again.
UPDATE: Hello, everyone. I see that this post has gotten some attention in the past few days. Welcome to Feminist Land. It’s fun here.
The one thing that I wanted to say here is that the comparisons I’ve made above aren’t entirely meant to be 1:1. I did my best, and I could argue, for a long time, about the validity of my comparisons, but I won’t. The point of this was never to figure out if Live Through This was as genius as Nevermind (I contend they there were different, but significant) or if Keith Richards can truly be compared to Britney Spears on a musical level or only on a cultural level.
That’s not the point here. The point is all the other stuff. We’re not judging our female artists and our male artists on the same criteria.
Anyway, thank you for coming here. Please come back again some time. There will be more feminism and video games. And cookies!
I’m late to the party, but I’m going to talk about why the Slutwalk is epic and awesome and has absolutely nothing to do with sex, which is what everyone seems to be getting arms about, as well as the issue of pejorative names, which is a slightly more relevant topic.
Here’s your obligatory background sentence. Don’t say I never did anything for you. At a local community meeting about women’s safety, Constable Michael Sanguinetti had recommended that if women wanted to avoid sexual assault they shouldn’t dress like “sluts.”
You know, he was just saying.
Let me also explain, slowly and clearly, that I have been called every gendered name under the sun (including slut pretty consistently) in order to shame me. There’s no other reason to call names unless you’re trying to shame a person (or reclaim the term—more on that later).
My reaction to this shaming has been to grab the terms and run with them. I wear a little necklace that says BITCH in rhinestones. I’ve got a baby tee that says “Let’s Fuck Tonight!” in an absolutely beautiful purple script. I also want my readers to understand that I thought about buying these things and wearing them very carefully, and I thought about what they would say and what they would do. I’m 30 years old, I stopped trying to shock mommy half my life ago (she’s unflappable anyway, it wasn’t very satisfying). This is a deliberate, thought out move on my part.
The reason Slutwalks are so important is because they change the course of the conversation we have about sexuality drastically. You can be on either side of that conversation all you want, but they are putting nails in the coffin of the old discourse. Please, for the love of god, stop cheering for the old discourse.
The thing is, 90% of the time, slut is a designation given to a person by someone else. Let’s just get the Feminism 101 out of the way here. Slut is a concept, sluthood is not a concrete state of being. For other states of being, there are some pretty solid things that you have to do to fit into that category. If you’re a vegan, for instance, everyone agrees that vegans don’t eat or use any animal products. Vegan has a definition. Zero animal products. Slut…doesn’t have much of a definition. Well, I guess it does.
- a. A person, especially a woman, considered sexually promiscuous.
Of course, that doesn’t say who does the considering. There’s not a slut board of directors, is there? You there…you’re more of a skank. We’re sorry.
The Slutwalk has completely and utterly reversed that conversation. Now that the wayward girls and wicked women have opted to totally flip the script, they are attempting to finish this issue in more ways than one. I fully and truly support this dialogue being changed (and I also look forward to the opportunity to march down the street in my fucking panties if I feel like it).
Slutwalks don’t intrinsically shame people who have very few sexual partners. Do you want to know why? Because there is no such thing as a slut. There is no magic number where you hit sluthood and you get your official toaster. We’re not talking about Sluts vs. Prudes, which is where the argument seems to be going. We’re talking about ways that we shame women with words for their sexuality (and that does include the ever-popular “frigid,” in case you missed that one). There is no such thing as a slut. There is no such thing as a prude. There are only derogatory names for women’s sexuality. Can you think of a single positive term used widely to denote a woman with “a lot” of sexual partners? Go on. I’ll wait.
Slutwalks are absurd because the concept of the slut is absurd. Showing up in pearls and a smile isn’t required, but it’s a certain level of absurdity that throws up a critical mirror at the concept of a slut. Ye shall know her by how high her heels are? No, that’s not how that works. Only the most uninformed of us think that the Slutwalk is actually a parade of women who fuck everything that moves. The rest of us are reacting to the actual damaging ridiculousness of the idea that what you wear is directly related to how much you will deserve it if another human being hurts you.
Slutwalks also challenge another cultural myth, which is that the responsibility for sexual assault is with the victim. Slutwalk is busy poking holes in that myth. Slutwalk looks directly into the face of Mister Sanguinetti and says “Please, tell me which one of us is asking for it?”
This is also something that people need to understand. There are very few people on the planet who think, “YAY, RAPE.” There, however, are a lot of people on the planet who have been drowned from birth in cultural narratives that do, occasionally, amount to YAY RAPE in a much more insidious way. How many times have we heard that women are supposed to coyly say no, which really means yes? How many times have we heard that men don’t have feelings and should be indifferent to the suffering of others, ruthless in their pursuits of what they want? How many times have we been told what a victim should act like (which is incorrect and correct simultaneously)? These things exist and they are sad and they are no way for people to interact with one another and they are absolutely fucking ridiculous.
Slutwalk is attempting to change all of these conversations and it is taking terms used to hurt women and repossessing them to do so. This is a change. Change is good. You might not agree with the method of the change, but we’re entering into a completely new era of discursive sexuality.
And it’s going to be pretty fucking awesome to march across the National Mall wearing tailfeathers and nothing else in what will possibly be one of the safest environment where you could do so (and if you see me at the DC Slutwalk, please come say hi).
So I’ve basically just read the worst article on the planet about marriage.
This article asserts that you are not married because you area selfish bitch with your own needs who has sex and you’re never going to find a man like that.
This first part is going to be fast. Here is why you’re really not married.
1) You haven’t found someone who you want to marry and who wants to marry you at the same time.
2) You’re gay and you’re not allowed to be married.
3) You don’t really want to get married or don’t care one way or the other.
I’m going to write a significantly more useful article right now, because I’m nice like that.
Why You Feel Bad About Not Being Married.
1) Articles like this one
Articles like this one feed into the hysteria surrounding women and marriage and also set up dangerous ideas about men.
First of all, I’m going to be a bit mean and say that perhaps, undertaking three failed marriages doesn’t quite make one an expert on human relations. Getting married and divorced three times isn’t all that special. I could be married and divorced 3 times by next week, if anyone would like, and then do I get a job writing misogyny and misandry (at the same time!) for the Huffington Post? Is that what makes you an expert on marriage? Getting married is actually not all that hard. Being in a long term, loving, supportive relationship (or multiple relationships, if that’s your thing) is actually the hard part.
Still, that little tweak of “Aww, but I want to get married…” exists. We might not all feel it, but I will admit that even I feel it sometimes. I sometimes worry that I’m not complete without a partner, or that I’m going to miss out on an important part of humanity.
I had it while I read that article. Then I realized two things:
a) This article makes me feel bad. I’m basically being shamed into the marriage culture. This article is designed to make me feel bad for not taking part in marriage and that it’s better to marry a “liar and cheater” like the author’s third husband than to have needs.
b) My life is awesome. I have nothing to be upset about.
The reason people tweak about not being married is because marriage is set up to be the pinnacle of a woman’s existence and none of us live in a bubble. We internalize this ideology, and even those of us who have looked critically at it and rejected it still get pangs of, “I’m doing something wrong!” We have to live with everyone else, after all.
And this isn’t helping.
This is horrible. These are horrible things to say to someone.
You’re getting that little twinge at a wedding or while being a bridesmaid because…it’s a happy event. Very few people don’t want to be happy. Our brains make the connection between this happy event and our own happiness.
Except this happy event does not last and you are currently witnessing only a single side to the story; the good side. I’m not saying that every marriage is destined for bitter, nasty divorce. I’m saying that love certainly does NOT mean never having to say you are sorry. It means having to say you’re sorry a lot. Or having to be apologized to a lot. Sometimes it even means having to say, “Sorry isn’t good enough this time.” The sooner we get rid of this idea that love is effortless and needless and every day looks just like your wedding day, the better we will all be.
In fact, call me crazy, but this ideal woman she wants you to be…would make me get divorced. Having to act like you don’t have needs is actually exhausting. This an article calling all kind of judgments on women that concludes with the saying that marriage is about giving. We mean women giving, though. A proper marriage, for men, is about getting.
Furthermore, and this is a thread that goes through the entire article that makes me uncomfortable as a feminist—
I am the mother of a 13-year-old boy, which is like living with the single-cell protozoa version of a husband.
No, it really is nothing like that. Aside from that being a really creepy sentence which leads me to wonder what kind of narcissistic wonderland she’s forcing her child to live in, I’m going to make an assertion here that might not shock anyone with a brain.
Men aren’t children.
If your husband is as utterly dependent on you as a child would be, stop, drop, and go to counseling. Your partner should be your equal partner and not your charge. If you are treating your husband like he is your child or your child like he is your husband, that’s REALLY BAD. If you are reducing your husband, who is a fully grown human being, to a drooling, Neanderthalic ball of id, that’s a really horrible thing to do to a grown, thinking human being. I can’t wait until we get away from this myth of the woman as the caretaker for a nation of children. It’s not doing anyone any favors.
This entire article pretty much advocates you treating your husband like he’s an overgrown teenage boy, and not only do I have zero interest in treating anyone like a child, I imagine that’s insulting to a lot of men. Really insulting. Especially to those men in the article who don’t want a teenage girl for a wife. I imagine they don’t want a mom for a wife, either. I imagine that men of character want partners. Human, breathing, imperfect partners.
I mean, honestly, I think men deserve more credit than being reduced to a “their most treasured possession — a free-agent penis.” What? No! Men are human, and as a feminist, I’m aghast at how this article describes men. I don’t want to infantalize 49% of the population. I’m reduced to wildly gesturing at the screen in horror right now.
I’m going to throw my little pence out there for women, though, since you have to live with so much hatred all the time. It’s actually my hope that someone reads this and feels better.
It’s okay if you’re angry at injustice. It’s okay if you like to have casual sex. It’s okay if you have needs. It’s okay if you’re selfish sometimes. It’s okay to ask your partner for things. It’s even okay to think about your career. It’s okay if you’re not married. It’s okay if you really want to get married and feel bad that you’re not. It’s okay if you are married. It’s okay if the idea of marriage makes you break out into hives. It’s okay if the only thing stopping you from getting married tomorrow is the law (actually, that’s not okay, that’s a horrible violation of your human rights, but your relationship with your partner is beautiful and no less valid than anyone else’s). It’s okay if you want to raise your children alone. It’s okay if sometimes you buy into bodily hatred and wish you looked differently. It’s okay to not want to have to walk on eggshells around your partner.
It’s okay to be a fully realized, flawed human being. You’re fine. You’re going to be fine.
So Justin Bieber appears on the cover of Rolling Stone with his trademark bowl cut pushed back off his face, wearing a wife beater and a leather jacket coyly slipped off one shoulder. So begins the Growing Up process that most tweener sensations go through. Rolling Stone did the same for Britney, with her teletubbie and little girl bicycle shoot, though Vanity Fair got Miley Cyrus wearing a sheet and a smirk. This has happened and will continue to happen.
This, however, is usually a cycle of control over girls’ bodies. We take our semi-sexless pre-teen girls and repackage them to be sexually appealing for a mass audience, usually in a series of magazine covers and shocking interviews about how they are “growing up now,” and “maturing emotionally.”
This is one of the first times I’ve seen it done to a male popstar and while the New Hair and Slightly Too Big Jacket speak to a certain sexualization of character, indeed you can see that the Biebs is going to be a pretty handsome guy one day, when it comes to sex in the interview, we get a sound bite about waiting until you’re in love and then, of all things, the interviewer decided to ask 16-year-old male Bieber about abortion and rape.
“I really don’t believe in abortion,” Bieber says. “It’s like killing a baby.” How about in cases of rape? “Um. Well, I think that’s really sad, but everything happens for a reason. I don’t know how that would be a reason. I guess I haven’t been in that position, so I wouldn’t be able to judge that.”
Now, here’s the thing, Bieber answered the question and I hold him responsible for his answer. That’s a horrible thing to say, and as my friend Angela put it, “Plus, dipshit, if everything happens for a reason, then someone who has an abortion after being raped must have done it for a reason.”
Rape is also not ever, Bieber (though I highly doubt you’re reading this), a Happy Fucking Accident. It’s an act of violence that one human being does to another human being and it’s not going to Make You Stronger or Part of God’s Plan. It’s evil. The end. Also, you’ve never been in the position of having to have an abortion under any circumstances, so you are not able to judge that to begin with.
Bieber is a pretty easy target here, after all, he opened his mouth and stupid came flying out all over the place. In fact, his answers to most of the questions show his age. They are the short, uninformed, moral-absolute answers (including not knowing the politcal parties of the US or Canada, but being able to designate Korea as “bad”) of a young kid. I know most of us would like to pretend that we were born at age 28, but I’m sure we’ve all said our fair share of stupid things while the world was still new to us. I imagine there will an apology in the form of, “I regret if my words caused any harm to any of my fans,” and then we will move on.
But we’re still left with why Rolling Stone would ask a 16-year-old boy about his stance on abortion and rape in somewhat good detail. I highly doubt that anyone was hoping that Bieber was going to sit down and have a nuanced discussion with them about the concept of foreign relations and the hefty emotional and physical toll that comes with being sexually active. They got the answer they were looking for, and I guarantee this was done on purpose and here’s why.
This is what I want everyone to remember…Bieber’s fans are legions of screaming pre-teen girls who use Bieber (albeit subconsciously) as a safe conduit for their burgeoning sexual desires. The girls love him, ferociously and desperately. When he kissed Selena Gomez, youtube was FLOODED with videos of crying tweeners in genuine agony. I realize most of us looked at these videos and thought “Ha! Aww! Poor thing!” and sort of giggled about the silly fantasy of being Justin Bieber’s Dream Girl, but we’re looking at a very real heartbreak and the reason the connection is so strong is because of his function as a safe sexual object.
Believe me, I feel dirty even writing about this, but I was a 13-year-old girl once (though I wanted to be Axl Rose’s Rocket Queen) and to buy into the idea that our breastless and hipless daughters are somehow also sexless is a dangerous fallacy. To propogate that idea is to continue to send our kids out into the world without basic knowledge.
As Bieber ages, his fans age. These girls are growing up, they want to have sex, some of them might even get pregnant by accident. The best way to keep their sexuality under control…have the object of their desire discuss what they should and should not do with their own bodies.
We knew what Bieber was going to say. Moral Christianity is part of his schtick and there’s no way Jesus Bieber was going to say, “You know what, abortion is a matter between a woman and her doctor.”
I don’t really think Rolling Stone is part of some weird conspiracy to keep little girls from having sex, but the media does not exist in a vacuum and the sexual control of women is a given. The question isn’t even framed in a way that relates to Bieber; what would you do if someone you were with wanted to have an abortion? It was simply a broad question about women’s bodies asked of a young male who had a lot of sway with young females.
So shame on you, Sir Biebs, for propagating rape apologism and abortion shame to your legion of fans, but shame on you Rolling Stone for setting him up to even be that kind of mouthpiece to begin with.