12 Posts of Christmas: In Defence of Rachel Berry as Feminist.

In the spirit Christmas, I’ve decided to revisit some of my favourite posts of the year in the twelve days leading up to December 25th.

I’m taking this final 12-Posts-of-Christmas opportunity to squeeze two Rachel Berry-related posts into the one. Think of it as one last Early Bird gift to you.

The first post was written “In Defence of Rachel Berry”, while the second explores the character as a feminist one. You can access the original posts here and here, respectively.

In the first season of Glee, Rachel Berry was introduced as an attention- and approval-seeking know-it-all diva, who sticks a gold star next to her name on the New Directions’ sign-up sheet because that’s what she sees herself as. Season two showed the glee clubber soften her resolve a bit, realising that she’s still only in high school, and has her post-high school years to carve out a Broadway career and have the world see her as the star she knows she is. The season final saw her choose a relationship with Finn Hudson in her senior year at McKinley High, despite having to leave him to head to New York when she graduates.

Not all young girls have to wrangle their feelings for the school jock whilst contemplating a move to the big city to make their dreams come true, but many of Rachel’s problems are shared by the show’s audience.

In the most recent Lady Gaga-themed episode, Rachel struggles to accept her “Jewish nose” and considers rhinoplasty. She also strives for the acceptance of her New Directions band mates, and to be seen as fashionable and popular.

It’s in the character’s nature to be highly-strung, goal-oriented and ambitious, so it’s not likely she’ll change any time soon. And why should she? While there are certainly other young women out there who identify more with the saccharine Quinn Fabray, the sassy soul sisters Santana Lopez and Mercedes Jones, or badass Lauren Zizes, there are plenty who see Rachel as their Glee counterpart, myself included.

A recent New York Times article by Carina Chocano praised the “relatable” and “realistically weak female character”, like Kristen Wigg’s Annie in Bridesmaids—“a jumble of flaws and contradictions”—over the “strong” one. “We don’t relate to [the weak character] despite the fact that she is weak, we relate to her because she is weak,” Chocano writes.

But what exactly does she mean by “weak”?

Pop culture commentator Dr. Karen Brooks notes that talented, beautiful, popular and successful female characters need to be broken down before they can be seen as relatable. “The more talented and beautiful you are, the greater the threat you pose and so ‘things’ are introduced to reduce that threat,” she says. Just look at the “women falling down” video on YouTube.

While Rachel’s had her fair share of setbacks, it seems Glee’s audience is finally beginning to understand her. “We’ve been given time to understand Rachel’s initially painful personality and to identify both her strengths and weaknesses. Her ambitions and drive haven’t shifted, but the context for understanding them has,” Brooks says.

“Rarely are unpleasant characters redeemed, they are simply ‘punished’, while the ‘good’ characters soar to impossible heights, not on the back of hard-work and self-belief, but usually [because of] a love interest and wishing hard. Rachel is a healthy and welcome exception to that,” Brooks continues.

So she’s an unlikely heroine we can all get behind, you might say? “A girl who reminds you of you,” as Chocano opines. An everywoman, if you will?

If Rachel Berry encourages more young women to see themselves as gold stars striving to have their accomplishments recognised, then so be it!

*

Last week I wrote in defence of Rachel Berry.

This week, I wanted to explore the character as a feminist one.

While Glee isn’t exactly known for its positive portrayals of women,people of colourthe disabled, or the gays, Rachel has managed to grow in spite of all this, and become somewhat of a feminist icon.

wrote that audiences have come to know and love Rachel not because her obnoxious know-it-all persona has changed, but because “We’ve been given time to understand Rachel’s initially painful personality and to identify both her strengths and weaknesses. Her ambitions and drive haven’t shifted, but the context for understanding them has,” as Dr. Karen Brooks reiterates.

Other bloggers have come to similar conclusions.

Leah Berkenwald at Jewesses With Attitude writes:

“I… have trouble with the vilification of Rachel Berry on a feminist level. How often do we dismiss women as ‘bossy,’ ‘know-it-all[s],’ or ‘control-freaks’ when their behavior would be interpreted as leadership, assertiveness, or courage if they were men?

“… In the right context, Rachel Berry’s personality would not seem ‘intolerable’ or ‘annoying’ so much as bad-ass, renegade, and hardcore.”

And Lady T, who used Rachel as her “Female Character of the Week” on The Funny Feministsaid:

“… The show wanted us to root for a girl who was ambitious, daring, and driven.”

It might be because I have been known to be seen as bossy, a know-it-all, a control-freak (just ask my new housemate!) and ambitious that I’m standing up for her, but just think of another feminist heroine in modern pop culture who could also be described using these words: Hermione Granger. The only difference is, she isn’t vilified for these attributes.

I have also been called ugly and a slut, not because I am ugly and a slut, but because these qualities are removed from the “‘good’ [female] character… [who] soars to impossible heights, not on the back of hard-work and self-belief, but usually [because of] a love interest and wishing hard.”

If you look back to the beginning of Glee, especially, Rachel was often deemed ugly. Now, anyone who’s seen Lea Michele knows she’s not exactly unconventionally attractive, but Rachel is characterised as this because she’s annoying. And she’s annoying because she stands up for herself, knows what she wants and how to get it. (From a racial point of view, she could also be seen as being “ugly” because of her Jewishness.)

Despite these inherently “unattractive” qualities, Rachel manages to snag her man, Finn, in what can be seen as typical Glee sexism and discrimination:

“‘I love her even though she’s shorter than Quinn and has small boobs and won’t put out and is loud and annoying.’ 

“The show wanted to make me believe that Finn was doing Rachel some grand favor by simply being with her at all.”

On the other hand, it can be seen as a poignant take on teenage life that the underdog is always being compared to the most popular girl in school: Quinn Fabray.

If Rachel is Glee’s feminist heroine, Quinn is her polar opposite. She has had next to no character development, which leads to her motivations changing week to week.

In “Original Song” she tore Rachel down, telling her to get over her “schoolgirl fantasy happy ending” with Finn, who would never leave Lima, taking over Burt Hummel’s mechanics business, with Quinn, a real estate agent.

But in “Born This Way”, she was “broken down” by her fat past coming back to haunt her, to come across as more “relatable”.

Sure, Rachel’s had her fair share of being “broken down” (being dumped and subsequently egged by Jesse St. James, being publicly broken up with by Finn, getting slushied… I sense a food theme here.), but in the grand Glee scheme of things, she’s actually doing pretty well for a female character.

Now, if only we can get Mercedes a boyfriend

Related: [The Early Bird Catches the Worm] In Defence of Rachel Berry.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Rachel Berry as Feminist.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] The Underlying Message inGlee’s “Born This Way” Episode.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Do “Strong Female Characters” Remind You of You?

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] The Problem with Glee.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] The Underlying Message in Glee’s “Original Song” Episode.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Brown Eyed Girl.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] The Underlying Message in Glee’s “The Rocky Horror Glee Show” Episode.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] The Underlying Message in Glee’s “Duets” Episode.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Sookie as Feminist? Hear Her Roar.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Do “Strong Female Characters” Remind You of You?

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] SlutWalk.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Slut-Shaming as Defence Mechanism.

Elsewhere: [The New York Times] A Plague of Strong Female Characters.

[Bitch] The Transcontinental Disability Choir: Glee-ful Appropriation.

[Jewesses with Attitude] Why Rachel Berry Deserves Our Compassion.

[Huffington Post] Hermione Granger: The Heroine Women Have Been Waiting For.

[Feministing] Pretty Ugly: Can We Please Stop Pretending That Beautiful Women Aren’t Beautiful?

[The Funny Feminist] Female Character of the Week: Rachel Berry.

[Jezebel] Why Won’t Glee Give Mercedes a Boyfriend?

Image via Wet Paint.

12 Posts of Christmas: Will Boys Be Boys When It Comes to Objectifying Women?

In the spirit Christmas, I’ve decided to revisit some of my favourite posts of the year in the twelve days leading up to December 25th.

This post was one of my favourites for the year. Sure, the actual experience wasn’t all that riotous, but it’s given me loads of blog fodder and, I think, has promoted growth from the people involved, including myself. There are updated versions available here and here. The original is here, and below.

It’s been a beauty-centric week here at The Early Bird.

We’ve talked about Grey’s Anatomy and beauty as represented by Cristina Yang, and brains over beauty.

I’d already planned to post those two articles last week before a beauty-related scandal came to light at my workplace.

Apparently, two of my male co-workers had devised a “ranking system” for the hottest to nottest girls in our department.

This is sickening on four levels.

One: it’s sexual harassment and discrimination based on gender and appearance, and those who were victimised by the “ranking” could take those who were responsible for it to H.R. Just look at the Pricewaterhouse Coopers incident. Or the Duke “Fuck List”, on the other side of the coin.

Two: we interact with these men boys (as that’s what they are: one has just turned 21, and the other is 23. But age really has nothing to do with maturity) as friends, colleagues; PEOPLE. Not as objects for them to rate and pit against each other in terms of how we look and nothing else.

Three: I don’t want to have to stoop to their level, but if we were ranking them, one would be at the top in terms of looks, but both would be at the bottom in terms of personality, morals and decency, which is all that really matters. So what gives them the right to judge us?

Four: this is not the ’50s and women are not reduced to what they look like.

The men boys who devised this ranking are sexist misogynists, one of whom I am deeply ashamed to have dated for a short period. Thank god I never got naked with him, ’cause who knows what he would have to say about me then!

What gives them the right to rank us? The same right men’s magazine editors have to rank female celebrities in terms of hotness, I suppose. But the difference there is that, while it’s still pretty sexist but somewhat understandable and accepted, most of the women on the list don’t work with and consider(ed) them friends.

How can you separate the things you know about someone—their personalities, interests, history, temperament etc.—with how they look? I know I can’t.

I was taken aback recently when a coworker praised me for being close friends with a man who’s not super attractive. Unlike the two who ranked me, I don’t make friends in terms of looks. If anything, I find it easier to be myself around and make friends with men I don’t find attractive.

But my so-called “ugly” friend has an awesome personality; anyone would agree. And that makes him attractive. And at the end of the day, it’s what’s on the inside that counts.

As I mentioned above, one of the boys who devised this ranking is probably about an eight in terms of looks, but knowing this about him, in addition to other undesirable traits that lead to our dating demise, makes him a one in the personality department.

Now, I don’t know where I ranked on this list and, frankly, I don’t care. My self-esteem is high enough to not give a shit about what other people think of the way I look. But that’s not the point. How would someone who doesn’t have such high self-esteem feel? As much as we say looks don’t—or shouldn’t—matter, to them, it does.

So is this just a case of “boys will be boys”, as one co-worker who knows about the list put it?

I don’t think it is. You will notice that two out of about thirty were involved in this. The overwhelming majority chose not to act as boys do, whatever that means these days. Again, this is 2011: not 1951.

Another co-worker said “judging” is just what people do. Sure, I judge young mothers who leave their kids with a babysitter so they can go out clubbing, the guidos/ettes from Jersey Shore and, certainly, these two men in light of this list. But I’m judging them on their behaviours and attitudes, not what they look like. And who am I, really, to judge them based on any factor? No one. The same as the makers of this list are to judge us. Nobodies.

At the end of the day, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Ellen DeGeneres brought this up when she interviewed FHM AND Maxim’s Most Beautiful Woman, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, on her show last week. DeGeneres compared Rosie’s “ranking” to her own as “Most Beautiful Woman” on This Old House magazine’s cover. We know Ellen, we like her, and that’s what makes her beautiful, in addition to her physical beauty. Bitch looks good at 53!

And true beauty comes from within. Don’t ever let someone else’s “ranking” of how you look make you forget that.

Related: [The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Will Boys Be Boys When It Comes to Objectifying Women?

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] UPDATED: Will Boys Be Boys When It Comes to Objectifying Women?

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] UPDATED: Will Boys Be Boys When It Comes to Objectifying Women 2?

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Beauty VS. Brains.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Cristina Yang as Feminist.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Snooki & the Jersey Shore Girls as Feminists?

Elsewhere: [Gawker] The “Top 10” Office Email That’s Scandalising Ireland.

[Jezebel] College Girl’s PowerPoint “Fuck List” Goes Viral.

12 Posts of Christmas: Snooki & the Jersey Shore Girls as Feminists?

In the spirit Christmas, I’ve decided to revisit some of my favourite posts of the year in the twelve days leading up to December 25th.

I love watching Jersey Shore because, like Glee, I know I’m always going to get a blog post out of it. The gender issues that run rampant on the show were inspiration for the following post, the original version of which you can find here.

This notion has been on my mind since the start of the year, and watching season three of Jersey Shore got me thinking about it again. So, are the fake-tanned, fake-boobed and fake-nailed women of Seaside feminists?

On the one hand, while Vinny, Pauly D, Mike “The Situation” and Ronnie spend 20 minutes blowdrying their hair and plucking their eyebrows each morning (okay, if they’ve been out clubbing the night before, it’s the afternoon), followed by GTL (gym, tan, laundry), and frequently cook “family” dinners, the girls lie around the house, get in fights and try to score with guys at the club. If this isn’t throwing gender norms on their head, I don’t know what is.

As Tracie Egan Morrissey writes:

“… so much of what these people do actually challenges old school notions about gender-appropriate behavior: Men who wax their eyebrows? Men who place that much of an importance on hair products? Women who fistfight? Women who drink so heavily?”

But on the other, JWoww, for example, subscribes to the stereotypical sexualised female body: fake boobs, fake hair, and done up to the nines when she hits the clubs. If she’s got it, should she flaunt it?

I’ve always been a big believer in this, so more power to her. In fact, despite their meteoric rise to fame in the last two years or so, the guidettes haven’t changed a thing about themselves. They’re still the trash-talking, ugg-boot-in-public-wearing, pussy-flashing white Italian trash they always were, even after Harper’s Bazaar attempted to make them over under. The problem with that was that millionairess socialite Tinsley Mortimer acted as the guidette’s teacher, insinuating that “richer… mean[s] ‘classier’ or better or nicer”. Especially considering “… the socialites of the last ten years have done everything they can to prove that ‘trashiness’ appears at every income level.”

Paging Paris Hilton, who’s never been accused of being classy or well dressed.

If being a feminist means not changing to reflect the views of mainstream society and The Patriarchy, then so be it. After all, Snooki “seems real precisely because we can’t believe that anyone would actually try to look that awful.”

In strapping their boobs up and wedging their short-shorts further into their buttcracks, the mating dance the guidettes perform each night (which has nothing on the aforementioned regimen of the boys!) seems to subvert the very look they’re trying to achieve: sexiness. I don’t believe this is done purposefully, so in that sense it’s not very feminist-like, however the brazen bedroom talk the girls engage in—or rather, lamenting the lack of bedroom action, especially when it comes to Snooki—makes them highly relatable. As Sady Doyle writes, “we are all Snooki”.

I’m sure all women can relate to slut-shaming, regardless of how many sexual partners they’ve had, and that’s something the Jersey Shore females have to deal with on a seemingly episodic basis. Egan Morrissey puts it best, after Pauly D voices his views on sexual double standards (“She’s [Angelina] brought all these random people home. She’s a girl. You don’t do that. That’s a guy thing. Guys do that, not girls.”):

“Shouldn’t Pauly and The Situation be grateful for sluts? If there were no sluts then they would never be able to have sex. Do they think for one minute that they would even want to live in a world in which all girls acted the way that they’re ‘supposed’ to?”

Still with sex, feminists are either viewed as sex-negative man-haters, or insatiable sex machines who throw away men once they’ve got theirs. JWoww certainly falls into the latter category, who says in the opening credits, “I’m like a Praying Mantis: after I’ve had sex with a guy, I will rip their head off.” If Jersey Shore were a scripted show, JWoww’s bad breakup with Tom, who steals her hard drive, which contained naked pictures of the reality star, amongst other things, would be payback for her independent woman status. How dare a woman step outside of the stringent guidelines The Patriarchy has set for her?!

Speaking of bad breakups, if there’s one guidette who falls furthest from the feminism tree, it’s Sammi. While she finally plucked up the courage to leave Ronnie after their tumultuous on-off relationship ended in a very realistic fight in season three, in which Ronnie trashed Sammi’s bedroom and her belongings, including breaking her spectacles, reports about the fourth season seem to indicate that Sammi took Ronnie back.

While we can never understand the dynamics of each individual abusive relationship, and feminism can’t realistically be applied to them when a woman (sometimes a man, but mostly women) has had all of her resources—family, friends, employment, finances, access to a car etc.—taken away from her and therefore has limited means to escape, Ronnie and Sammi’s relationship may have some benefits to viewers of the show. Because Jersey Shore is marketed as “reality TV” (although, after The Hills and the revelation this week that one of the “geeks” on Australia’s version of Beauty & the Geek is an actor, its dubious how “real” the show is), female viewers who may be involved in an abusive relationship at some stage in their life can see that the relationship is being portrayed in a negative light, that Sammi’s housemates, friends and family are telling her it’s not healthy, and that she should get out. We can only hope that the one in four women who will have an abusive partner will take heed.

A little too deep? How can we derive all that from something as asinine as Jersey Shore, a show that, grammatically, should have a “The” at the beginning of its title?

Take what conclusions you want from the overtly sexual show, but one thing’s for sure: the guidettes are “empowered sexually, that’s what I’m seeing on Jersey Shore… The women seem to be making their own decisions about who they sleep with [Early Bird note: or don’t sleep with] and when.

“Almost by definition ‘guidette’ is a derivative term. It is a male-based subculture… The women were always defined as sex objects. And I think that’s something that they’re reversing.”

So, guidettes as sex subjects? If talking about “hairdos, shoes and body image snafus” and “preen[ing] and put[ting] on lipgloss” is a stereotypically female—and therefore weak—trait, then the guidos are certainly the background characters of Jersey Shore.

Related: [The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Snooki & the Jersey Shore Girls as Feminists?

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Glee: The Right & Wrong of It.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] My Week in Pictures 6th October 2011.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Extreme Makeover: Jersey Girls.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] The Mystery of Snooki Revealed.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] In Defence of Rachel Berry.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] The Hills: All Good Things Must Come to an End.

Elsewhere: [Salon] Jersey Shore’s F’ed Up Brand of Feminism.

[Jezebel] If Men Can Wax Their Eyebrows, Why Can’t Women Sleep Around?

[Jezebel] Snooki & Her Boyfriend Break Up Over Her Pussy.

[Jezebel] Bazaar Gives Jersey Shore Guidettes Elegant Makeovers.

[Jezebel] JWoww’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Ex.

[The Atlantic] We Are All Snooki.

Image via The Gossip Wrap Up.

12 Posts of Christmas: The Problem with Serena van der Woodsen.

In the spirit Christmas, I’ve decided to revisit some of my favourite posts of the year in the twelve days leading up to December 25th.

I thought I’d take this Serena van der Woodsen-opportunity to talk about what a spoiled brat she was on last night’s episode (you can read about what a spoiled brat she is in general below, and in the original post here.)

When a friend releases their first book to such fanfare as Dan did last night, you should be happy for them, right? Even if one of the characters is semi-based on you, and perhaps doesn’t portray you in the best light, Dan was adamant that Inside is only loosely autobiographical and amplifies Serena, Blair et al’s worst qualities to make it a scandalous and best-selling novel.

But, of course, Serena thinks it’s all about her, all the time, and has a big cry because Dan wrote her character as a selfish, vapid, flighty and irresponsible Upper East Side princess, which she kind of is. She’s so blinded by her anger that she can’t be happy for Dan’s success, worried for Blair’s portrayal and her relationship with Dan and what it might mean for her engagement to Louis, or saddened by Chuck’s character’s death by asphyxiation in the book. Talk about a bonfire of the vanity!

She’s got the clothes, the hair, and she’s mighty fine to look at. But that’s about all Gossip Girl’s Serena van der Woodsen boils down to.

I really liked Serena in season one of the show. I could relate to her because everyone thought she was this spoiled, vapid princess, but she showed her true self to her first love Dan Humphrey.

By the end of season two, she’d stopped evolving, though, and it turns out she was just a spoiled, vapid princess, intent on upstaging Blair Waldorf at every opportunity, stringing a multitude of guys along, and having her antics and dirty laundry on the cover of all the tabloids.

Like in the Cecily von Ziegesar (she made an appearance in last night’s final, telling Serena she’d “read a lot about her”) novels of the same name, Serena is the central protagonist of Gossip Girl. But unlike the books, the show has run with Blair and Chuck Bass in the driver’s seat; characters who have grown, changed and become more likeable as a result. Serena, along with her male counterpart Nate Archibald, followed closely by Dan, has remained a stagnant shell of a human being, like the kinds you overhear on the tram and thank God you don’t know them or, worse, aren’t like them.

There have been many a fan disappointed in and perturbed by Serena’s lack of development. Why has she languished in and regressed to the mindset of a highschooler, albeit with better clothes, more freedom and a more active sex life? Is she just “coasting on cuteness”? Most of her storylines seem to revolve around her busting her bust out in an evening gown or standing around looking bored and Amazonian-like. Just because she looks the way she does, doesn’t mean she shouldn’t be as well written as Gossip Girl’s other characters. In real life, how many of this type of woman do you know? Personally, I don’t associate myself with people—girls especially—with no personalities, who’ll turn on their besties for a taste of the spotlight, and who have no opinions save for what outfit they’re going to wear that day, so I don’t know anyone with the personality of a napkin Serena van der Woodsen.

But, let’s face it, Gossip Girl isn’t exactly a realistic interpretation of life. 20-year-olds don’t flit around the city unemployed, never wearing the same outfit twice, depending on Mummy and Daddy’s trust funds. And if they do, then that’s a reality I’m glad I’m not a part of.

This unreality and lack of character development makes the audience not care about Serena’s storylines. Personally, I loved the Juliet/Ben/Serena storyline, but it was because of the mystery surrounding who Juliet and Ben actually were and what their connection to Serena was, not because of Serena. And the latest development in the character’s tumultuous yet über-boring life leads me to make comparisons to the actress who portrays her, Blake Lively’s, life.

I remember when Gossip Girl first came out, Lively said in an interview that she was very low-key, didn’t like to go out to events and preferred to stay home and work on her Martha Stewart skills.

Flashforward four years and Lively’s oft-papped lifestyle is far from the one she naively spoke about. She’s Karl Lagerfeld and Anna Wintour’s muse, flitting from one European country to the next to attend fashion shows and sun herself on yachts. Not to mention her latest nude photo scandal.

While her acting’s not anything to write home about, Lively still has much more to offer than naked pics and Chanel ads. I just hope that it isn’t a case of life imitating art when it comes to Blake Lively and Serena van der Woodsen.

Related: [The Early Bird Catches the Worm] The Problem with Serena van der Woodsen.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] The Beautiful & Damned: Serena Settles for Second Best.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Gossip Girl Season 4 Final.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Who Speculates About Domestic Violence in the Affleck/Garner Household.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Mag Cover of the Week: Blake Lively for Australian Cosmopolitan, February 2011.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Picture Perfect.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] So Misunderstood.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Breaking the Mould.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] On the (Rest of the) Net: 10thDecember 2010.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] How Very Proustian.

Elsewhere: [Jezebel] Is Kate Hudson Coasting on Cuteness?

Image via VideoBB.

12 Posts of Christmas: In Defence of Porn.

In the spirit Christmas, I’ve decided to revisit some of my favourite posts of the year in the twelve days leading up to December 25th. 

This article didn’t garner as much controversy as I anticipated, which might just mean that porn is becoming more accepted in mainstream society, for all the right reasons, I would hope. The original post is here.

“Porn Wars” covered The Monthly in September. Melinda Tankard Reist and Abigail Bray just released Big Porn Inc., a compilation of anti-porn essays. Serendipitously, when I decided I would write this article over the weekend, controversial sex writer Bettina Arndt wrote about the porn debacle in The Sunday Age.

She said:

“The suggestion that porn changes men’s attitudes to sex is really questionable. While there’s a body of psychology research suggesting exposure to porn has that effect, Professor Catherine Lumby and colleagues in The Porn Report, published in 2008, found this laboratory-based research to be contradictory and unlikely to reflect real-life situations. ‘The entire tradition of social science research into pornography has started with the assumption that porn is a major cause of negative attitudes towards women and has set out to prove this,’ conclude these Australian academics.”

She goes on to write:

“… Arguably porn has nothing to do with the insensitivity causing men to behave in that way [with negative perceptions of women and sex], which stems from their cultural and social backgrounds.”

When society encourages the viewpoint of women as second-class citizens there for the appropriation of men’s desires and the male gaze, which—granted—porn does replicate in a lot of instances, I just don’t get what the big deal is surrounding it. While Tankard Reist and others go on about the “pornification of society”, shouldn’t we be looking at the society which spawned porn, not the other way around? Shouldn’t we be looking to, as Arndt suggests, porn consumers’ (of both sexes) backgrounds to determine their use and the effects of the medium?

Caitlin Moran says in her memoir, How to Be a Woman (which, keen-eyed Early Birds, has been referenced here a hell of a lot in the past week or so!), that “the idea that pornography is intrinsically exploitative and sexist is bizarre; pornography is just ‘some fucking’, after all. The act of having sex isn’t sexist, so there’s no way pornography can be, in itself, inherently misogynist.”

She raises an interesting, left-of-centre notion that is not often discussed in (extremist?) feminist critique: if consensual sex isn’t sexist, how is consensual sex—that just happens to be filmed—in porn sexist?

I will argue that there are plenty of representations—in fact, most—in porn that are sexist. The lack of female orgasms, or the ejaculation of the male partner(s) into the face of his female partner(s), which seems to be how so many porn videos “finish” these days, come to mind. But, as Fine writes in The Monthly, “is degradation in the eye of the beholder, or is it just in the eye?”

As “facials” are really the only problem I have with heterosexual, seemingly consensual, two-(sometimes-three-)partner porn, I’d have to agree that “degradation is in the eye of the beholder.” In that case, you don’t have to watch it.

Not only that, but porn might be seen to have some positive effects.

Firstly, as have always argued, the existence of fetish porn is an outlet for those with said fetishes, who might otherwise have gone elsewhere to have their sexual desires fulfilled.

“… Some researchers suggest exposure to pornography might make some people less likely to commit sexual crimes,” writes Melinda Wenner Moyer in The Scientific American.

So long as we can educate young people—with an emphasis on young boys—about consent, the fantasy that porn survives and thrives on and expression of your own sexuality, whether it conforms to sexual stereotypes or no, porn is not harmful, in my opinion.

As a recent article on MamaMia opined: “We need better porn.” If we have access to porn in which everybody gets off, which is a major flaw in the current porn industry, what’s the problem?

As is a major focus of Arndt’s article, as well as The Sunny Side of Smut, men prefer to view women engaging in “enthusiastic consent” to sex, as opposed to the oft-mentioned concern that porn “incite[s] violence against women.” According to Wenner Moyer, the opposite is true, in fact:

“Perhaps the most serious accusation against pornography is that it incites sexual aggression. But not only do rape statistics suggest otherwise, some experts believe the consumption of pornography may actually reduce the desire to rape by offering a safe, private outlet for deviant sexual desires.”

In countries such as Japan, China and Denmark, and in certain states in America, which have increased access to online porn, rape statistics have receded significantly.

It’s not just porn that is changing attitudes (or our changing attitudes to porn) to sex, but prostitution, also.

In a Newsweek article a few months ago, Leslie Bennetts, profiled the idea of making soliciting prostitution illegal, instead of charging the women involved in prostitution. In countries that have started to bring in this legislation, such as Sweden, South Korea, Norway, Iceland, Israel and Mexico, sex trafficking has been “dramatically reduced”, whereas in countries where prostitution is legal, such as Australia, trafficking in other kinds of sex trade has increased. Are we cutting off our nose to spite our face?

There has been a lot of debate over the sex trade in Australia. I don’t pretend to know what I’m talking about when it comes to prostitution (for a more comprehensive look at this, see Feminaust), but I do know that it is still very much a grey area. Much greyer than porn, in my opinion. (Voice yours in the comments.)

And, back with porn, I do think it’s about education, in essence. Just as we educate young people about safe sex, we should be educating them about safe porn use, too. That the smorgasbord of sexual entrees (oral sex), main courses (vaginal intercourse) and just desserts (anal sex) on offer in porn can not always be expected of real life sexual relationships, and certainly not on the first date! (In porn, a first date amounts to come breast fondling and perhaps, in “feature” porn, a pizza delivery or plumbing [pardon the pun] fixed.)

Not to lessen the effect that porn can have on some users (again, harkening back to Arndt’s “cultural and social backgrounds” argument), but studies have shown that how a man responds to a woman in a porn clip is not how he’ll respond to her in a real-life sexual encounter. If anything, introducing porn into a sexual relationship can be the spice of life:

“… Variety in sexual experiences contributes to men’s sexual satisfaction—and other works support [Alan] McKee’s suggestion that pornography can help that along. But [Aleksandar] Stulhofer also found that intimacy is at least as, and probably more, important for sexual satisfaction and—contrary to stereotype—as much so for young men as women.” [The Monthly]

As is my understanding, if a porn consumer lets what they see on the computer screen (who uses DVDs these days? Although, I did hear a funny story from a friend about a porn DVD getting stuck in a DVD player. When I suggested throwing out the DVD player, the friend said it was part of the television. And that the DVD was borrowed from their partner’s Dad. A comedy of porn errors.) dictate their perception of sexual relationships, they’re probably not capable of real intimacy anyway.

So, what do you think? Is porn the hotbed of debauchery it’s made out to be? Or, like Moran suggests, is it “just some fucking”?

Related: [The Early Bird Catches the Worm] In Defence of Porn.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran Review.

Elsewhere: [Melinda Tankard Reist] Big Porn Inc.: Exposing the Harms of the Global Pornography Industry.

[The Monthly] The Porn Ultimatum.

[Sydney Morning Herald] Porn is Not a Dirty Word.

[The Scientific American] The Sunny Side of Smut.

[MamaMia] Why We Need Better Porn.

[Newsweek] The Growing Demand for Prostitution.

12 Posts of Christmas: The Taboos of Sexual Harassment.

In the spirit Christmas, I’ve decided to revisit some of my favourite posts of the year in the twelve days leading up to December 25th. 

Sexual harassment seems to be the theme of my (and a lot of those around me) life lately, and the blog has had a heavy focus on it in recent months. The original article can be found here.

The other day at work I was sexually harassed by a customer.

I was just standing there, and a short (probably around my height), bald, fat man in a dirty navy blue polo shirt, who was about 50–55, came up to me and asked me where the toilets were. I told him, then he asked “how’ve you been”, with a tone that implied he knew me. I said fine, and he looked me up and down and said in a sleazy voice, “Ooo, I’d like to take you home.” I immediately walked away and told three of my colleagues who were stationed nearby. As I left, he said something to the effect of, “I probably shouldn’t have said that.”

No, he shouldn’t have.

Now, sexual harassment probably isn’t anything new to a lot of women. It’s just something we have to face because we have a vagina.

I’ve been harassed at work before, not as blatantly as Sunday’s episode, but I’ve never felt comfortable enough to eject myself from the situation. As someone who works in customer service, I think I placed not being rude above keeping myself safe. But, post-SlutWalk, I now have the confidence not to put up with that shit.

But I didn’t report it.

I told a few colleagues, until I eventually mentioned it several hours later to a security guard, who also happens to be a close friend of mine. He sternly asked me if I’d reported it to my manager. I told him no, and he asked me what I would do if he came back? If he stalked me? If he attacked me? If he attacked someone else? His older-brother protectiveness made me decide to report it.

It’s funny that I didn’t think to report it the moment it happened. I guess that’s the stigma of sexual harassment (and don’t even get me started on the stigma of sexual assault!). I think I thought that because I can handle myself and I won’t put up with that shit, that it wasn’t a big deal.

It was.

I filed a report with my manager, security know about it and have footage of the man, and it’s been forwarded to the appropriate department.

The responses I got from fellow colleagues were at each end of the spectrum. Some expressed outrage and encouraged me to report it, others asked me if he touched me, as if that would be the only thing to warrant filing a report. No, he didn’t, because that would be sexualassault. (Why do we not bat an eyelid when verbal harassment occurs, but are quick to leap into action when the physical barrier is breached? Both are violations of a person based on the fact that their harasser thinks they’re public property, or available for them to make comments on/touch.)

But these responses really illustrate the abovementioned taboo of sexual harassment. That boys will be boys. That as a young, pretty woman, you just have to suck these things up. That it doesn’t really count because you were only verbally violated.

I am somewhat ashamed that I was so quick to brush it off. (Let’s be clear: I’m not ashamed that I was harassed. I’m ashamed that I didn’t take it seriously to begin with. Rape is my biggest fear, but if I was ever raped, you can be damn sure I wouldn’t keep quiet about it because I was ashamed.) This is 2011. This kind of thing shouldn’t be happening. But it does. So as modern women, we should be able to say that making comments about our physical appearance without our consent is a no-go. Just like making physical contact with our bodies without our consent is.

Related: [The Early Bird Catches the Worm] The Taboos of Sexual Harassment.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] I Ain’t No Hollaback Girl: Street Harassment in CLEO.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Ain’t Nothin’ Gonna Break My Slutty Stride.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] So a Tattoo Makes Me Public Property, Huh?

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Will Boys Be Boys When it Comes to Objectifying Women?

12 Posts of Christmas: Why is Feminism Still a Dirty Word?

In the spirit Christmas, I’ve decided to revisit some of my favourite posts of the year in the twelve days leading up to December 25th. 

Despite how far I feel I’ve come as a feminist in the last year or two, I find most people have “a long long way to go” in terms of realising what feminism actually means. I wrote this post in response to Beyonce’s musings on the topic, as well as the release of Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman, “Sarah Palin feminism” and Tina Fey, amongst other things. The original version is here, and you can read an update here.

Recently, when asked in an interview with UK Harper’s Bazaar if she’s a feminist, Beyonce said she wanted to invent a new word for feminism, because she doesn’t feel it “necessary” to define whether she is one or not.

Why, in this day and age, do we still distance ourselves from the word “feminism”?

And it’s not just Beyonce. Keri Hilson, Lady Gaga, and even (kind of)Tina Fey, have been called a feminist in one instance, and tried tobacktrack on it in the next.

In response to all this, Jezebel ran a contest to come up with “a catchy new word for feminism”, like Beyonce suggested. Some suggestions were “FUCK PATRIARCHY”, “Flesh-Hungry Young Slutism” (seemingly appropriate given it has been the year of the SlutWalk, if you will), “Vaginist”, “Diva-is-a-female-version-of-a-hustla-ism” (how you like that, Beyonce?), but the one that came out on top was “Equalism” which, in my experience, is what young feminists today strive for.

Speaking of young feminists, I would probably only define a handful of my friends as this, and even they are hesitant to describe themselves this way.

One says she’s not a feminist because she wants to “cook for her boyfriend”. Since when did not cooking and feminism become mutually exclusive?

Another says he’s (yes, he’s) could never truly be a feminist because he doesn’t have a vagina, so therefore will never know what those who do have to go through on a daily basis in a patriarchal society, and have gone through for centuries in patriarchal societies.

I have another who, just by looking at her, screams feminism before she even opens her mouth. Yet sometimes, when she says things I morally disagree with, I think, “she’s not feminist enough”. (Abhorrent, I know, and something I strive not to think and say as a feminist. And, by my own admission, some might say I’m “not feminist enough” because of the way I talk and how I dress.)

It’s a far cry from Beyonce, Gaga et al., who try to distance themselves from feminism, while young feminists (and old!) bicker amongst themselves about who’s more feminist! And it perfectly illustrates the discrepancies between what self-described feminists project onto the movement, and what lay, non-feminist Generation Yers believes it to be about.

Camilla Peffer over at Girls Are Made From Pepsi writes:

“I think most women associate feminism with radicalism and the whole bra burning hulla-balloo. Which is RI-DUNK-U-LOUS. And a lot of people see the term feminist [as] biased towards females in the sense that the whole movement promotes this idea of women being better than men.”

Indeed, there is a far cry between the first wave suffragist movement, second wave “bra-burning” and the sexual revolution, and current third-wave feminism. Some would even say that we have passed third-wave feminism and are now living in a post-feminist society.

When I first started getting into feminism about two years ago, I subscribed to this notion. Now, having been exposed to all manner of blogs, academic articles, events etc. to put the sexism, discrimination and harassment I’ve experienced as a woman into perspective, I can see that we sure as hell aren’t living in a post-feminist world and that we still need feminism, perhaps more than ever with the rise of the Tea Party and Michele Bachmann and the closure of Planned Parenthoods in the U.S., the blatant harassment most women experience on the street and in their workplaces every day, theattacks on SlutWalk, and the atrocities facing Third World women, to name but a few.

Taking on these battles shouldn’t be seen as something “dirty”; it should be seen as something we can all get behind, if it leads to our daughters experiencing a world free from harassment and discrimination based on what genitals she possesses and what she looks like, no matter what part of the world she hails from.

Sadly, as Rachel Hills muses, “it can be a bit uncool to care. Feminism means caring and wanting to change things, ergo it makes people uncomfortable—especially people who are comfortable with the status quo.”

Are you comfortable with the status quo? Do you think feminism is still a dirty word?

Related: [The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Why is Feminism Still a Dirty Word?

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] UPDATED: Why is Feminism Still a Dirty Word?

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran Review.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Why Young Feminists Still Have “A Long, Long Way to Go” in the Eyes of Second-Wave Feminists.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] So Misunderstood.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Melbourne Writers’ Festival: A Long, Long Way to Go: Why We Still Need Feminism.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Has Feminism Failed?

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] I Ain’t No Hollaback Girl: Street Harassment in CLEO.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] The Taboos of Sexual Harassment.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Ain’t Nothin’ Gonna Break My Slutty Stride.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] SlutWalk: A Smokescreen of Lies, Misinformation & Those Old Myths About Males.

Elsewhere: [Jezebel] Let’s Invent a Catchy New Word for Feminism.

[Jezebel] The Catchy New Word for Feminism.

[Jezebel] Keri Hilson is a Feminist, Not That She Wants to Say So, Exactly.

[Jezebel] Tina Fey on the Message of 30 Rock’s “Joan of Snark” Episode.

[Feministe] Time to Check In With Tina Fey’s Feminism.

[The Frisky] Tina Fey: Not Feminist Enough?

[Girls Are Made From Pepsi] The Post in Which I Talk About Beyonce, Feminism & Equality For All.


12 Posts of Christmas: Cristina Yang as Feminist.

In the spirit Christmas, I’ve decided to revisit some of my favourite posts of the year in the twelve days leading up to December 25th.

It’s no secret I love underdogs and Grey’s Anatomy, so what better way than to combine the doctor drama with one of its most dramatic doctors, Cristina Yang, in a post about—what else?—feminism? The original post is here.

When it comes to “likeable” female characters on TV, you might think of Buffy Summers. Or Rachel Green. Or the Gilmore girls. But Grey’s Anatomy’s Cristina Yang probably isn’t one of them.

She’s abrasive, unfeeling, career-driven, ruthless and selfish. Everything a woman shouldn’t be, according to patriarchal norms.

Perhaps she could be more like the ousted Izzie Stevens, who was bubbly and sexy and baked cookies. Or the virginal and highly-strung April Kempner, whom Cristina praises for having “virgin super powers”, enabling her to be super-organised.

But I like Cristina just the way she is. She’s got her eye on the prize, won’t compromise her personal beliefs or goals to be liked or for a man, and she’s got “tiny little genius” hands that enable her to roll with the big guns.

This is why Cristina Yang is one of the only “feminist”—or “strong female”—characters on television. Nay, in all of fiction.

For one thing, she refuses to rely on her looks or her feminine wiles to get ahead. In “This is How We Do It” in season seven, she rejects Owen’s compliment about her beauty, saying, “If you want to appease me, compliment my brain.”

And in last week’s final, we saw Cristina exercise her right to choose, and schedule her second abortion on the show, after much (mostly solo) deliberation. While excluding the opinion of her significant other and father of the future child wasn’t the most respectful thing to do, ultimately it came down to her choice, and she chose to terminate the pregnancy.

In season two, Cristina divulges that she’s pregnant to Dr. Burke and, again, makes the decision to get an abortion on her own. Whereas a character like Izzie seems to serve the pro-life agenda (she gave up her own baby for adoption when she was a teenager growing up in a trailer park, and convinced a HIV-positive woman to carry her pregnancy to term), Cristina resists the societal pressures to tap into her maternal instincts and give birth to a child she does not want.

Regardless of whose agenda could be seen as being served by Cristina’s character, she acts without fear of what other people will think of her.

As a person, no matter what gender, it is seemingly second nature to want others to like us, and to portray our best selves to them. Just look at the ritual of the date or the job interview. That Cristina defies this action (though we have seen her star struck when meeting surgeons like Tom Evans, and Preston Burke for the first time) makes her not just a feminist character, but a truly humanist one.

There are people in this world who challenge us, grate on us, and whom we genuinely don’t like or approve of. But that’s what makes the world go around. Cristina Yang being one of these kinds of people, and being portrayed to us as a whole person on television, with hopes and dreams and trials and tribulations and relationships and a career and no desire for children, and not just as the bitchy mother-in-law who lives off her husband’s money and needs a good fuck, is truly a sight to behold.

Related: [The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Cristina Yang as Feminist.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Grey’s Anatomy Final Asks “When Does Life Begin?”

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] The Underlying Meaning in Grey’s Anatomy’s “Superfreak” Episode.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Sookie as Feminist? Hear Her Roar.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Are Our Favourite Fictional Females Actually Strong, or Stereotypes?

Elsewhere: [The Feel of Free] Cristina Yang + You Can’t Compromise on a Baby.

[Marinagraphy] Motherhood, Cristina Yang & Grey’s Anatomy.

12 Posts of Christmas: Slut-Shaming as Defence Mechanism.

In the spirit Christmas, I’ve decided to revisit some of my favourite posts of the year in the twelve days leading up to December 25th.

This one’s about the good ol’ slut-shaming most girls experience at some stage in their life and how it is often, at the hands of other women, a defence mechanism. Original post is here.

A good male friend of mine has recently started dating someone new.

When I asked him how it was going, he said fine, blah blah blah, but that one thing she said really offended him. I was intrigued, so I asked him to tell me more. She must have been looking through his Facebook photos, and came across several in which we’re tagged together. She confronted him about it, saying, “Who’s that Scarlett girl, huh? She looks like a bit of a skank.” He proceeded to set her straight and defend my honour.

Upon going through the photos we’re tagged in myself, I have to say she made a fair call! They’re mostly from costume parties where my skank switch is on full throttle.

But, more than that, it is not uncommon for me to be called names like this. I’m not going to deny it, because if SlutWalk taught me anything, it’s that denying you’re a slut means that you’re acknowledging that other women are. What is a slut/skank, anyway?

But I know why she called me that: she’s jealous. Instead of asking nicely who I was and why my friend looked so chummy with me in the photos she saw, she was threatened by our relationship, so in lieu of admitting this, she questioned the relationship by insinuating that he shouldn’t be hanging around with someone (who seemed) so skanky.

I don’t begrudge her for this; I kind of think it’s funny and a bit sad. In this day and age, people are going to have to start accepting that men and women can be platonic friends. This is why I wrote on my online dating profile that if a man wants to date me, they have to be comfortable with the other men in my life. Especially since my new roommate come Saturday is one of my closest (male) friends.

What to you think? Have you ever experienced this kind of jealousy from another woman, manifesting itself as slut-shaming?

Related: [The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Slut-Shaming as Defence Mechanism.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] When Girl-Hate Turns Into Obsession.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] ’Tis the Season…

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] United States of Ameri-Canada.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Party Like It’s 1986.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Come on Barbie, Let’s Go Party.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Bad Taste Foxymorons.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Getting Our Pirate On, Christmas Party Style.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Ain’t Nothin’ Gonna Break My Slutty Stride.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] SlutWalk.