Posts Tagged ‘racism’
A couple weeks ago I received a great email from a reader that posed many thoughtful questions. I want to start by addressing one of them here.
This reader brought up the fact that in one of my posts about Glee I stated tht I wasn’t sure if I would continue to watch the show if it weren’t for the musical numbers because of the amount of sexism, ableism, racism, etc. apparent in the show. So, when does the sexism of the show outweigh the positive or entertaining aspects of the show? How much sexism is too much?
Because of the society that we live in, there is at least some sexism (and other -isms) in all tv shows. And I watch a lot of television, so I “put up with” a lot of sexism. So why do I continue to watch all these shows even though there is apparent sexism in them?
First of all, I am interested in how pop culture reflects the values of society. So even though I enjoy these shows, I am always critiquing them — analyzing what they are saying about society.
But we still have to come to terms with the fact that I enjoy these shows — they are entertaining to me — despite the fact that they promote values that I disagree with. Of course there are some aspects of certain shows that promote feminism, but they are certainly in the minority and still have sexist aspects to them as well.
For example, Secret Life of the American Teenager goes back and forth between healthy and unhealthy attitudes towards teen (and adult, sometimes) sexuality. There is the teen who in one episode thinks that the fact that she had sex with her boyfriend whom she loves killed her father, then has a conversation about masterbation with her mother in another episode. And Bones can have a great portrayal of bisexuality in Angela and then can portray stereotypes in heterosexual male-female reationships (Bones and Booth). And there are some many other examples that I could go into.
But there are still many shows that I enjoy that have very few positive feminist aspects (How I Met Your Mother, Gossip Girl, Grey’s Anatomy, etc.). When does the sexist factor outweigh the entertainment factor?
Honestly, I’m not quite sure. I think it depends on each person and each show. There are certainly a lot of shows that I don’t watch. And that might be becuase their sexism and oppressive norms outweight the entertainment…or that the premise of the show just doesn’t interest me. But I don’t really think there is a set line that can be used as a template for all shows.
I know this isn’t really an answer to the question. But I can speak to my personal preference in continuing ot watch shows.
First of all, I have a tendancy to get invested in characters and storylines. Shows that are good at storytelling tend to keep my interest. Also, characters that I can either identify with in some way or see as an escape from my life can keep me interested in the show. For example, I use Gossip Girl as an escape from my life because the lives of the characters are so different from mine…but I can still see some of my personality traits in some of the characters. If the show can’t keep me interested in the storyline and invested in the characters, then the sexism will start to outweigh the entertainment factor for me.
So…how much sexism is too much in television? I don’t know. It has to be considered with the storyline and characters of the show…at least for me. I might have a higher tolerance for shows that have apparent sexism than other people. But, like I said, even if the storyline and characters are enough to keep me interested in the show, I am still always critiquing and analyzing what the show is saying about society and the sexism, racism, ableism, etc. that is in the show.
It’s sectionals time in the Glee world. As already discussed, they are up against the reform school for girls and the deaf school (I’ve already talked about this pretty in depth, so I’m not going to go into it again). But, as we already knew, Sue had leaked the set lists to the competing schools, so they performed the numbers that our glee club was supposed to, leaving them with nothing to perform and an hour to come up with something (these numbers included that reform school girls performing “Proud Mary” in wheelchairs). Of course they pulled it off and won. I mean, were we really expecting them to lose?
In the side stories, Emma takes the kids to sectionals, moving her wedding to Ken back a couple hours. But that’s the last straw for Ken, and he leaves her at the alter. Emma then quits her job at the school because she couldn’t stand to see Will or Ken around the school. Rachel tells Finn about her suspisions about Quinn and Puck (all the secrects seem to be coming out). Terry’s trying to work on her issues and take responsibility for lying about the baby by going to a therapist, but Will doesn’t want to hear any of it. While the kids sing “My Life Would Suck Without You” (I hate that song) to him because he had to miss sectionals, he realizes that he’s in love with Emma and runs after her, where they share a kiss. And the principal finds out that Sue leaked the set lists so fires her from the Cheerios and suspends her from school (does she have a job other than Cheerios coach?).
This episode was filled with all the inspirational crap that the series started off with. I’m sorry, but maybe I’m just too cynical to take that kind of stuff seriously. It was all, “we’re facing difficult odds, but we can pull through” and “we can do this because we have each other” stuff. And there was a line that where they said they could win because “we believe in ourselves and what we’re singing.” I’m sorry, I just can’t handle that kind of mushy stuff, but that’s just me.
And I probably was not as happy as the audience was supposed to be to see Will and Emma get together in the end. We all knew that they were building up to this. And we were supposed to be happy when this happened because they were building Terry up as this evil wife whom Will should have left a long time ago, so it’s ok that he’s in love with another woman. And I don’t really feel their chemistry all the time, so the ending of the show felt a little forced to me. And just so we’re all clear, they are also doing the same thing with Finn and Rachel. They built Quinn up to be a lying girlfriend, so it was ok that Finn was in love with Rachel and now that Finn and Quinn are done, he is free to be with the person he really loves.
And speaking of Emma, I was quite proud of her during this episode (except at the end when she and Will kissed). At sectionals, she stood up to the other glee club’s supervisors. She told them off about the lessons that they were teaching their kids — that the only way they could win was by cheating. And told them that maybe if they would have believed in their kids more, they would have been amazing without cheating. Then later in the episode, she (briefly) didn’t let the men in her life control it anymore. After Ken left her, she realized that she couldn’t put herself through the pain of working at that school anymore, so she quit. And when Will realized that he didn’t want her to leave, she told him that she couldn’t be with him because he just left his wife. But apparently all that changed when he kissed her.
And did they seriously have to have the reform school girls do “Proud Mary” in wheelchairs? It would have been just as an effective of a steal if they had done it without the wheelchairs. I think they were trying to go for funny…that the reform school girls didn’t have anyone in a wheelchair so it was funny that they would do a number in wheelchairs. But it was bad enough when our glee club did it originally, but to have that school steal it and perform the number when there was no one disabled in their choir, I think that was worse.
I was happy for a while when Mercedes stood up for herself because she wanted to perform the ballad instead of Rachel. She did a great performance which even Rachel recognized as good and won that honor. But then the other school performed it, so she gave the ballad back to Rachel, even though Rachel just wanted to find another song for Mercedes to sing. I was happy for a while because it was a minority character who wasn’t just going to blend into the background. But then she gave it up to the white girl again, who already gets all the attention from the show.
Well, Glee is done for the fall. So I guess we’ll have to wait til January (or whenever it comes back on, I’m not really sure) to see how they are going to prepare for regionals. I wonder what kind of drama they are going to create now that Will knows Terry’s not pregnant and Finn knows Puck is the father. Maybe they’ll create drama away from pregnancy and making all women look decietful and petty. I can hope, can’t I?
I can’t quite place it, but I have hated the Kleenex “Get Mommed” commercials ever since they started. They bother me. And then I went to the “Get Mommed” website just to see what it was all about. It’s kind of worse.
But let’s start with the commercials. There’s obviously a lot of emphasis placed on motherhood. The voice-overs and slogans play off of the attention that a lot of mothers give to their children when they are sick. I mean, when I’m sick –really sick, not just the sniffles — I want my mom there to take care of me. When I’m not at home when that happens, I usually call home multiple times a day. But not all mother-child relationships are like that. And it plays off the idea that only women can be nurturing. Why can’t dads take care of their kids when they are sick?
But the commercials themselves show mothers cooking, playing with, and taking care of random people who “choose” them to be their mother. That’s not really taking care of them when they are sick. That’s just choosing random women to be their mothers. For some reason, I’m offended by this. I can’t quite place my finger on it directly, but I know that it bothers me.
And then there’s the website. The website relies heavily on racial stereotypes. There’s the large black woman with a big personality, the latina with a big family, the rich white woman who wants everything perfect. The website not only has all of the things that are wrong with the commercials, but also adds in racial stereotypes to make it “funny.”
Just in case you haven’t seen the commercials, I have added one of them here:
Chally was kind enough to let me cross-post this amazing post. Chally is a scary feminist. Among other things, she’s a non-white, heterosexual, cis, disabled, middle class woman. She lives in Australia and enjoys knitting, Doctor Who, and cake. You can find her at Zero at the Bone.
To recap: I identify as non-white (the language I use to refer to myself changes though; I’ve yet to find anything I’m really comfortable with). I have blue eyes and pale skin. (I have a bittersweet joke that I’m whiter than most white people.) I often take advantage of this and keep quiet about my ethnicity around people I don’t know. Because it’s just another thing to talk about, another thing through which a dominant group constructs me as less than, because it’s just too much.
This leads to some interesting patterns.
Not knowing my background, white people tend to claim me as one of their own. I have sat through so many racist “jokes” cracked by people who thought I was in on them. I think this is a reflection of what I like to call the default human mentality. If you’re a member of a dominant group, and representations of how normal you are are just everywhere, you’re likely to think that everyone else is of that group unless they’re obviously not. I know that’s something I’ve been struggling with as a heterosexual person.
Not knowing my background, non-white people are far less likely to make assumptions. This can be reassuring and comforting, but it can be disconcerting when I’ve decided I’m going to let people think I’m white in a particular situation, especially when I’m outed among white people.
Being able to pass – or, more, being passed – as white is a privilege, it really is. This is never more apparent then when I start to talk about my ethnicity. I watch the faces of the white people I am in conversation with. All too often, there’s a quick series of emotions that run over their faces.
It goes like this. First, there’s surprise. Then, there’s a sheepish look (did I say anything that could have offended her? I should have realised…). Then a bit of internal searching, going through the back catalogue of experiences with me to see if there were any clues. After that comes indignance: hey, wait a minute, it’s not my fault and how could I have known and anyway race is a sensitive thing so I’d best keep myself out of it. It’s then that most of them realise that I can see what’s going on in their heads. I take a moment to chuckle inside. Finally, it goes one of four ways. They continue to treat me as a person, with little deferences to my particular circumstances where required (which is, you know, very nice and exactly the sort of thing you ought to do, white people). They act exactly as they did before (which is also nice, but kind of missing the point). They totally change the way they interact with me, from the way they angle their bodies to their tone of voice. Or, they shut down. With regard to this last, sometimes I wonder, is it because they feel betrayed? Are they embarrassed? Do they just not like non-white people?
So, I am no longer coded as a white person, or there is no longer any ambiguity. And there are mixed emotions there. On the one hand, it’s another piece of oppression I’ve got to wade my way through with this particular person. On the other, it’s so sweet to be identified as what I really am, to no longer modify my speech and mannerisms and what have you to conform to whiteness.
But how do non-white people react, you ask? Sometimes a ‘really?’ but more often a look of non-surprise or a ‘yeah, I thought so’ and, more often than that, happily, thankfully, we just continue with our business.
Being invisible, playing white, has only the illusion of freedom. I’m still racism’s perpetual puppet, waiting until I don’t have to be scared.