Fighting with the Sky

Posts Tagged ‘empowerment

So, keeping with the theme of “Dollhouse” today…

I’ve been hearing this song on the radio a lot lately.  Being a pop song, it’s not perfect, but I think it has a good message…

The song “Dollhouse” by Priscilla Renea is about how her boyfriend treats her poorly and orders her around and how she’s not going to take it anymore.  She sings about how he has this picture of a perfect girl that she used to try to be, but can’t anymore.  He orders her around, she likes what he likes because he told her to, but now she’s realized that it’s a bad relationship and is out.

The chorus goes like this:

I tried to be a picture perfect girl
But you were in your own fantasy world
Tryna control me like some kind of Barbie
but that just ain’t me

Cause I ain’t a doll, this aint a dollhouse
You’re way too old to be, puttin me down like this
and playing around like this
I ain’t a doll, this ain’t a dollhouse
No, I could never be, stuck living life like this
behind these four walls,cause I ain’t a doll

I like that this song is popular and plays on the radio a lot.  I’m sick of hearing all the songs about either the “perfect” relationship or songs that sexualizes, objectify, and oppress women.  I think that this song could have the potential to empower girls and women.  It could show girls and women that they don’t have to take being in a relationship with this kind of man.  But, like I said, it’s not perfect because it is made to appeal to the mass population and therefore reflects some of the sexist societal norms.

I really like the end of the song:

And I come with imperfections
Epitome of perfection
if you can’t understand, loving the way I am
then you’re no good for me, so glad i kept my receipt


whip-it-ellen-page-drew-barrymoreI’m not even going to try to pretend I didn’t love this movie, because I did.  Whip It is about a 17-year-old girl, Bliss, who falls in love with roller derby and finds herself in the process.  (Warning: there are some spoilers throughout the analysis)

I haven’t been to the theater to see a movie in a while, but I couldn’t resist going to see Whip It this weekend because it looked like something I couldn’t miss, and I was right.  The line that pretty much summed up the themes of the movie (that was also in the trailer): “Put some skates on and be your own hero.”

Whip It is all about finding yourself and what you love, as well as friendship and family.  Bliss finds herself in roller derby.  She gains confidence and becomes more outspoken.  She makes new friends.  She gets a boyfriend.  When she finds out her boyfriend cheated on her (not that he admits it), she stands up to him.  She doesn’t want to be “that girl” who follows the guy around even though he doesn’t feel the same way.  She eventually calls her mom out on her “50s view of womanhood” because she makes Bliss participate in beauty pageants and doesn’t understand Bliss’ need to find herself and participate in roller derby.  Of course, they make up by the end of the movie and Bliss praises her mom’s ability to stick to her values and always stand up for her daughter.  And while Bliss’ father initially opposes her participation in roller derby, he’s the first one to come around and realize that he didn’t want to lose his daughter because he wouldn’t let her do what she loved.

This is where one of the main spoilers comes in…  I was really glad that the Hurl Scouts (the roller derby team that Bliss was a part of) didn’t win the championships.  Throughout the movie, the Hurl Scouts went from last place to second, with the help of Bliss, but also because they started to believe in themselves and wanted to beat this one other team.  But it would have been just too predictable and too feel-good if they won the championships.  The Holy Rollers were their main rivals throughout the movie and that’s who they were up against in the championship.  While the message of the movie is to do what you love and feel empowered by that (as well as setting your mind to do something), I don’t think the movie would have had the same feeling about it if they had won the championship.  Don’t worry, it was still a happy ending though.  The Hurl Scouts believe in themselves even more because they can hold their own against the Holy Rollers now and the crowd loves them.  Bliss’ parents now accept her life in the roller derby.

I’m trying to think of some bad things about the movie, but I’m having a hard time thinking of anything that really stuck out to me.  As a point of personal interest, I was excited that this was filmed here in the lovely state of Michigan and some of my local roller derby girls were in the movie as well.  I also really enjoy that Maeby from Arrested Development was in it as Pash, Bliss’ best friend (I know, great names, right), who also starts to find herself and what she enjoys through Bliss’s roller derby involvement.

Overall, I think you should all go out and see this movie.  If not only because it is great, but also to help support movies made by women — Drew Barrymore directed and starred, Ellen Page was the star, and written by Sauna Cross.

So I’ve spent the last couple days (when not working) curled up in my bed watching TV.  Yesterday I watched the premiere of Eastwick (which aired on ABC last Wednesday).  I’m not too familiar with the story of The Witches of eastwickEastwick, but this new show is loosely based on that story.  It follows three women (Joanna, Roxie, and Kat) who previously did not really know each other as they develop and form their magical powers.  There is also a mysterious man, Darryl, who comes to town and buys up half of it.  It is unclear what his role is in these women’s magical powers, but he definitely has some sort of role.

I enjoyed the show as it was going on, but after watching it I have mixed feelings.  On the one hand, I can see how it might be about female empowerment, but on the other hand, it still falls into those same old sexist stereotypes and gender norms.  In the show, these three women have something “awakened” in them that brings tremendous magical power.  This power comes from within and it is unclear how it was “awakened.”  Joanna has to power to control men (yeah, more on this later), Roxie has psychic dreams, and Kat has the ability to make things happen that she says (for example, when yelling at her husband she both caused a mini-earthquake and made lightning strike her husband).

I think it’s Joanna’s ability to control men that bothers me the most.  Lindsay Price, who plays Joanna, is very beautiful.  For the first part of the show, she wears glasses and her hair in a bun the whole time.  But then Darryl tells her that she’s beautiful and can control men, she starts wearing her hair down and tighter clothing.  I hate this age-old storyline — a beautiful girl isn’t beautiful until she wears “sexy” clothing, her hair down, and all of a sudden she’s so beautiful and no one ever recognized it before!  And playing into women’s sexual power over men generally bothers me as well.  It suggests that women don’t have much to offer other than their sexual appeal and that men are very easily manipulated.

As for Roxie, it’s not so much her power of psychic dreams that bothers me, but her relationship with Darryl.  She’s origianally repulsed by Darryl.  She thinks he’s a pompous jerk, which he is.  But he helps save her daughter from being raped by her boyfriend (which I mean, is a great thing to do) and all of a sudden Roxie is all over him.  It was just weird.  And rewarding the guy for being a jerk.

I do really like Kat though.  She has five children and an unemployed husband who shows no signs of wanting to get off the couch and stop drinking beer all day.  She seems to have some sort of power to control the world around her.  When angry, she can make what she says actually happen.  Everyone thinks that she’s this straight-laced mom, but once she connects with the other women and starts to realize her powers, we see that she’s not quite what she seems.  At the end of the first episode, she finally comes to terms with the fact that she is in an unhealthy relationship and asks for a divorce.  I was really happy at this time because throughout the episode she started standing up for herself more and this was just the last step in that transformation (even though her husband has threatened to take her kids away, so you know there’s going to be lots more drama).

I think the show is supposed to be about female empowerment, but they are kind of falling short.  Yes, there seems to be a theme of finding the power within and all that stuff, but it’s still just falling into the same old sexist stereotypes and gender norms.  And are these women really empowered or are they being controlled in some way by this mysterious man, Darryl?  I mean, we have Joanna who realized her sexual power only after Darryl told her she had it.  And all three of the women get “drunk” off of this special water while Darryl watches for his own entertainment — that was just weird and creepy.  It’s just sad that shows that are supposed to be about female empowerment just fall into the same old social norms and sexist beliefs.  I guess they have to make it entertaining…which means stereotypes and gender norms, I guess.

Dollhouse_DVD-Eliza_Dushku-Joss_Whedon-Tohmoh_PenikettI know, Dollhouse isn’t a movie.  But I just got the first season on DVD and I wanted to write about the show, so I figured I could blur the lines this time, right?  And I wanted to get you, my readers, caught up on Dollhouse before I start my weekly analysis of the second season.

I try to explain the concept of the show Dollhouse and why I think it’s feminist (or can be feminist) to other people, and if they haven’t seen the show, they don’t usually get it.  Maybe it’s just my skills at explaining the show, or maybe it’s just a show that’s hard to grasp.  I think it’s a little bit of both, but I am going to try my best here.  I should note my bias first.  I love Joss Whedon and will probably always defend his creations.  Joss Whedon has defined himself as a feminist, and even though he says Dollhouse is not a feminist show, his values seep into all of his creations.

Dollhouse is about an organization called the Dollhouse that provides a very specific service to elite clientele.  The Dollhouse can provide anything that you need through Actives.  The Actives are people whose memories and personalities are erased and then the Actives can be imprinted with any personality and skills that are needed by the client.  The Active can become an assassin, a hostage negotiator, a spy, a midwife, or the perfect girlfriend or boyfriend.  After each engagement, the Active is wiped “clean” again.  The Actives wander around the Dollhouse (which is pretty much a glorified spy) when not on an engagement with the “innocence” of children without any memories.

The Actives have supposedly volunteered for a term of service with the Dollhouse.  But this becomes questionable.  The Dollhouse recruits people who don’t have much to lose by signing away five years of their life.  Echo, who the show centers around, played by Eliza Dushku, has a shady past that we learn pieces of throughout the season.  In the first episode, Caroline (who is Echo pre-Dollhouse) contemplates signing the contract with the Dollhouse and talks about how she doesn’t really have a choice.  We also learn during the first season that the Active Alpha signed up for a term of service in order to shorten his prison sentence.  So the people who “volunteer” aren’t really given that much of a choice as to whether or not they want to sign up.

I have heard many arguments that Dollhouse is a sexist show.  I can understand this argument, even if I don’t agree with it.  This argument is basically that it is about prostitution and catering to male fantasies.  The Actives are passive and completely designed to be the “perfect” woman for that specific man.  The dolls are attractive and “perfect” physical specimens.  They are made to be everything the man wants with no care for what the Active wants, because they don’t really have any desires of their own.

But what about the male Actives?  Sure, the show has more main female Actives (Echo, Sierra, November, and Whiskey), but the main male Actives (Victor and Alpha) also play a key role in the show.  And not all of the engagements are about being the “perfect” girlfriend (or boyfriend for that matter).  While there are certainly a lot of engagements that center around sex, there are many that do not.

But I think the matter runs deeper than catering to male fantasies (or female sex fantasies for that matter).  I think Whedon’s shows are supposed to be read at a level deeper than the surface.  They are supposed to make you think.  What the show is really about is the issues of consent, personhood, and agency.  Do the Actives really have the ability to consent to any of the activities that they partake in while an Active or while imprinted?  Do the Actives have personhood if they have no personality?

If the Actives are sent out on a sexually-natured engagement, they are by nature, not consensual.  The Actives do not have the mental capacity to consent to sexual activity, much less any of the engagements.  In this sense, the show does depict a type of rape culture.  The show also depict human trafficking because the people who sign up to be Actives don’t necessarily have a choice in the matter or know what they are really signing up for.

But just because the show depicts rape and human trafficking does not mean that it can’t be feminist.  This show fosters discussion about feminist issues such as consent, personhood, and agency.  In a post about Dollhouse on the blog Deeply Problematic, meloukhia states:

The question is not “did Whedon realize he was making a show about human trafficking, rape, and the exploitation of women?” Obviously, he did. He’s said so on numerous occasions. The question is “are viewers of Dollhouse actually engaging with these issues as a result of seeing them depicted on the show?” And the answer, by and large, seems to be “no,” judging from the routine silencing of viewers who are engaging with these issues and would like to talk about them.

People who defend the show by arguing that it doesn’t depict rape are actually doing Dollhouse a grave disservice, because they don’t seem to understand that television can depict deeply problematic things which are Not OK, and still be good television. Indeed, some of the greatest television ever made deals with very difficult issues, and the creators of great television don’t feel the need to slap warning labels on their shows to let viewers know that they aren’t condoning or promoting the activities depicted, because viewers should understand this without needing guidance.

Feminist shows do not need to depict strong, empowered women.  Feminist shows can foster discussion about feminist issues.  People aren’t supposed to watch Dollhouse and say “everything is morally right with this show.”  It’s supposed to make you question why you don’t feel quite right with the story line of the show.  And this comes through with the character of Agent Ballard, the FBI agent investigating the Dollhouse.  His investigation and obsession with the Dollhouse bring to light the moral issues that Dollhouse presents.

Dollhouse shows an extreme objectification and disempowerment of women (and men, which I will touch on briefly in a second) that reflects — in a science-fiction-y way — the objectification and disempowerment of real women.  The male Actives, especially Victor (who is the one that we get to know the most), present an interesting situation to the view.  The Actives are objectified and disempowered, which is not a usual situation for men.  For the first couple episodes, Dollhouse focuses on the female Actives.  But when we learn that Victor is actually an Active, we are surprised because we are not used to men being disempowered in the way that women are.

A show that makes people think about “unpleasant” issues is not always well-received.  As happy as I am that Dollhouse was picked up for a second season, I was surprised that Fox did that.  But I guess they learned from their mistake with Firefly.  On top of fostering discussion and awareness about these feminist or unpleasant (not that the two are one in the same), Dollhouse is a story about trying to find who you are while people are telling you who you should be, which is a struggle that almost everyone goes through.  What is so great about Dollhouse is not just the writing and acting, but that it is not afraid to touch on those “unpleasant” issues that television producers often think people don’t want to hear about while still being relateable on some level.

Further Reading:
Feminism and Joss Whedon series [this ain’t livin’]
Dollhouse S1 DVD Review [Entertainment Realm]

A couple weeks ago I wrote a post on the feminist aspects of the show Buffy the Vampire Slayer for Feminist Flashback Friday.  While I got many positive responses to the post and supporters of the show, I also got some comments about why I didn’t address any of the problematic aspects of the show.  To clear that up, the purpose of the post for Feminist Flashback Friday was to sing the praises of the show.  I’m not denying that there are not problematic aspects of the show (as this post will prove), it just wasn’t the purpose of the post.  In this post, however, I plan on bring up some of these promblematic aspects of my beloved Buffy.

c11Buffy-Spike-Angel_lOne of the biggest problems that I see is the punishment that characters face for having sex.  The most straight-forward example of this is Buffy and Angel.  When Buffy and Angel have sex for the first (and last) time, Angel experiences a moment of pure happiness and is punished by having his soul taken away again.  Having his soul taken away is obviously a punishment for sex — the two are very much connected.  Additionally, after Buffy tries to end her relationship with Spike, he tries to rape her.  His reasoning?  Because she had sex with him already, so she should want to have sex with him again.  Have sex, be punished with rape for later refusing it.  Moving away from Buffy, let’s look at Dawn’s first date.  While Dawn didn’t have sex with him, she was moving away from the “innocence” of childhood into the realm of sexuality.  And then her date turns out to be a vampire.  Don’t start exploring your sexuality because your date will be a vampire.

Tara is killed by Warren right after having sex with Willow.  Tara and Willow had been having sex for a while by this point, but punishment for sex does not have to come immediately.  Another example that was offered to me was Faith.  When Faith was first introduced, she was a promiscuous party-girl.  Then she turned evil.  When Buffy’s mom started dating again, she’s dating a crazy robot who tries to kill everyone.  While Buffy is full of powerful and strong women, it is also full of a fear of female sexuality.  Women who express or try to express their sexuality are punished in some way, usually in death (or threat of death) of themselves or a loved one.

Another problematic aspect of Buffy is the lack of diversity and the demonization of people of color.  All of the main characters are white.  A majority of the vampires and other demons are white or portrayed as being white.  There is very little diversity even in the minor characters.  When people of color show up, they are often being portrayed as demons.  I can’t remember every demon that showed up on Buffy, but one example that I can think of is the episode “Once More With Feeling,” (I love this episode, just thought I’d say).  In “Once More With Feeling” the main demon is imagined to be a person of color who is there to take Dawn, a 16-year-old girl, as his bride and kills people by burning them from the inside out.  When people of color are in episodes of Buffy and aren’t portrayed as demons, they are often the first ones to die in that episode.

The main think about Buffy though that bothers me is the fear of female sexuality and punishment for sex, as discussed above.  The strength of the women portrayed in the show is diminished because they are not fully sexually empowered.  Showing punishment for sex implies an implicit fear of female sexuality within the show.

To continue reading about the problematic (and good) parts of Buffy and other Joss Whedon creations, please look at meloukhia’s series at this ain’t livin’ on Feminism and Joss Whedon.  Get ready for the season premiere of Dollhouse with her feminist analysis of the show and be prepared for my episode-by-episode analysis of the second season.

Movie Monday is a weekly feature that highlight a movie every Monday. I watch a lot of movies, so this is my way to share my “expertise” with you. In the inaugural Movie Monday post I will be reviewing the new movie Julie & Julia, starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams.

Two amazing women, mouth-watering food, and a great story are what make up Nora Ephron’s new movie, Julie & Julia. What started out as a story about cooking and eating delicious food turns into a story about self-discovery and empowerment.

Meryl Streep steals the show with her portrayal of Julia Child. Amy Adams plays Julie Powell, a 30-year-old woman trying to reinvent and find herself after she realizes that she hasn’t really reached any of her goals.

Julia Child herself was a pretty amazing woman. She loved to eat good food so took it upon herself to go to cooking school to learn how to make delicious food. She faced her all male class at Le Cordon Bleu and thrived. She stood up to the school’s administrator. She wrote a cookbook and didn’t give up on getting it published.

Julie Power, on the other hand, was pretty unremarkable until she set on this road of self-discovery. She started a project, with a correlating blog, dedicated to cooking her way through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a year. 365 days, 524 recipes. Of course she didn’t know it was about self-discovery when she started, she just wanted to do something with her life. Powell found herself in the life and recipes of Julia Child.

And the other main character — the food. I love cooking so I melted like the pounds of butter they went through during all of the cooking scenes. And I’m pretty sure I started to drool in the theater because the food looked so good!

I was told that the review of Julie & Julia on NPR’s Fresh Air said that there was no character development. I don’t know what they were thinking about. Julie Powell went from a shy, self-depricating woman to someone who is confident and loves life, all through her connection with food and Julia Child. Julia Child went from a secretary and someone’s wife to developing a passion for cooking and making a name for herself. There’s plenty of character development.

And now on to some of my favorite parts of the movie:

  • Any scene with Meryl Streep: she’s one of my favorite actresses. As Julia Child, she was charismatic and funny. I was laughing throughout all her scenes.
  • Changing the song “Psycho Killer” by the Talking Heads (one of my favorite Talking Heads songs) to “Lobster Killer”
  • Mary Lynn Rajskub: I love her in whatever she does and her relationships with Julie Powell reminded me at points of my relationships with one of my friends
  • The promotion of blogging as a form of self-expression

I think is movie is definitely feminist. It’s made by and starring some awesome women. It’s all about finding your passions, doing what you love, and finding yourself along the way. Part of my values in feminism are all about the right to self-expression as well as allowing and encouraging women to follow their dreams and do what they love.

I highly recommend this movie. It’s well made and has a good message. When I saw it, the theater was packed, primarily with middle aged women. But this is definitely a movie for all ages (well, maybe not all — there are sexual references and cursing) and sexes. Finding yourself and doing what you love should be a message that everyone should get behind!

Further Reading:
Julia & Julia By the Numbers [Women & Hollywood]
Julie & Julia Need More Julia, Only a Dash of Julie [Jezebel]
Julie & Julia [Women & Hollywood]
Julie & Julia: A Film Review [Entertainment Realm]

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince came out last Wednesday and I have already seen it twice. I really liked the most recent installment. However, I have talked with some people who haven’t read the books (gasp!) who didn’t really care for it. I think that if you have read the books, you can better understand the pivotal points in relation to the Deathly Hollow (the 7th book and 7th and 8th movies). This movie doesn’t do a great job at filling in people that have forgotten what has happened or hasn’t read the books or seen the movies.

I thought that the movie was really good and pretty funny, at least more so that the other Harry Potter films. In this installment, the main characters discover the opposite sex. Harry and Ginny Weasley start to develop feelings for each other (which I was a little disappointed that they didn’t develop this further as they did in the book), Ron starts dating Lavender Brown (which is where a good amount of the comedic relief comes from, that and the love potion Ron accidentally ingests), and Hermione is all about the teen angst when she sees Ron with Lavender.

But some controversy has come up over the sexualization of the characters. In the movie, the characters are entering their sixth year at Hogwarts, making them 16-years-old. This seems like a perfectly reasonable age to bring romantic relationships into the mix of the Harry Potter movies. But many don’t think so…

An article on attacks the film for being too sexual, saying that’s not what J.K. Rowling intended. Maybe the film did develop these relationships further than the book (it has been a while since I’ve read the book all the way through), but the book definitely had these relationships in them. The author, Jean Bentley, proclaims that, “Despite illusions to the contrary, teenagers don’t actually have adult relationships.”

What? I’m pretty sure if you talk to 16-year-olds, they are capable of romantic relationships, and even want them (oh no!). But apparently, according to Bentley, teenagers don’t have relationships and don’t have sex. While there is no sex in the Harry Potter movies (and I don’t think there should be because it was technically started as a children’s series, even though it’s evolved into much more), there is definitely a lot of sexual tension and snogging (I love British lingo).

And what of the lovely actors who play the main characters. Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint are now between the ages of 19 and 21. Oh no! They’ve grown up! This seems to be particularly treacherous for Emma Watson, the beloved Hermione Granger. As Salon points out, it is harder for Watson to transition into maturity and change her image from girl to woman than it was for her co-star Daniel Radcliffe, aka Harry Potter (or would be for most any male actor).

After discussing Watson’s “Interview” cover, Joy Press (author of the Salon article) states…

Is this Hermione’s get-out-of-child-stardom card, I wondered? Daniel Radcliffe had already plotted his escape route last year with a quick shortcut to instant adult status: full-frontal nudity. Since it was for a serious role in a serious play (Peter Shaffer’s “Equus”), Radcliffe was feted for artistic credibility and bravery (especially after he talked in interviews about the shriveling effects of a live audience on the male member).
But shifting your image into a more mature gear has very different ramifications for a young woman than for a young guy. I doubt many people actually wanted to glimpse Harry Potter’s wand, whereas at least one creepy Web site counting down the days till Watson’s 18th birthday popped up back in 2004.

Yes, there was some controversy surrounding Radcliffe’s appearance in Equus, but, like Press says, that was accepted once it was realized that it was a “serious role.” But Watson’s entrance into maturity is not as easily accepted because it involves her posing seductively on covers of magazines, not taking serious roles where you have to run around naked on stage. But she’s 19. We only care because we still think of her as the 10-year-old from the first Harry Potter movie. And she can hold her own against the press (at least from what I’ve seen) and even describes herself as “a bit of a feminist.”

And speaking of the movies again, can we talk about Watson’s character, Hermione? She’s amazing. She’s smart, sexy, and kicks ass (much like I believe Emma Watson to be). One of my favorite scenes of the series (there are many) is from Prisoner of Azkaban when she punches Malfoy for laughing at the execution of Buckbeak the Hippogriff.

Overall, I really loved the Half-Blood Prince. I appreciated the sexual tension that

was there, I thought it lightened the movie and gave some great comedic relief. And really, there wasn’t a whole lot of it seeing as how the movie was still PG. But, granted, it would take a lot for me to not love the movie because I am pretty much obsessed with the series. I think people just need to get over the fact that teenagers have romantic relationships. It’s really not a big deal.

Further Reading:
Half-Blood Prince Suffers From Lack of Action, Emma Watson’s Hotness [Jezebel]
Our Little Wizards Are All Grown Up [RHRealityCheck]
Emma Watson Owes It To Her Public To Get Naked, Says Public [Jezebel]
Just Saw Harry Potter and… [F Bomb]