Books: Book-Shaming.

New York Times’ “Bookends” columnists, Anna Holmes and Dana Stevens, were asked “What Were the First Books You Felt You ‘Should’ Read?” and responded thusly:

Dana Stevens: “I started shaping my reading list around the recommendations of people I wanted to be friends with, to get close to, to emulate, to be.”

Anna Holmes: “… Books one ‘should’ read are fine for high school English curriculums or collegiate surveys of American and British literature, but beyond that, figurative or literal checklists of published texts can suck the joy out of reading and should be avoided at all costs.”

Holmes goes on to say:

“… The holes in my ongoing literary syllabus are not so much intellectual failings as symptoms of a larger affliction—namely, a stubbornness against culturally mandated consumption and a lifelong disdain for authority, legal or literary. In short, my ambivalence about any number of what are commonly held to be great or important books is a direct result of the fact that they are held to be great or important books, especially when it comes to more contemporary works, whose agreed-upon influence may have as much to do with an author’s social capital—and publicity-machine marketing dollars—as the quality of the prose or the contours of the story.”

I can certainly relate to the shunning of particular popular fiction (though I have read so-called “low-brow” “literature” as Twilight, The Hunger Games and Dan Brown. And I’d rather forget 50 Shades of Grey!)

Taking a look at some of the books I’ve read produces a wide spectrum of literature. My bookshelf houses a healthy contingent of American authors you’d be hard pressed to find in the average Aussie bookstore, such as Dominick Dunne and Armistead Maupin; every book Mia Freedman has published; wrestling autobiographies; and some bestsellers, like Stephen King, To Kill a Mockingbird and Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman. My to-read list includes sure-fire Stella Prize winner, Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites (I’m aiming to get to that over Easter); Changed for Good, a book about feminism on Broadway that takes its title from the Wicked soundtrack; and the illustrated history of the East Coast/West Coast rivalry between rappers 2Pac and Biggie Smalls.

In a nutshell, if I had to describe the kind of writing I enjoy reading in book form, it’d be post-1950s American historical fiction. The problem with this generalisation, though, is that it excludes so much of the other books I love and make time to read: some of the Aussie work that’s out now, like Christos Tsiolkas’ Barracuda (I still haven’t read The Slap!), the aforementioned Kent and the rest of the Stella Prize shortlist, and Benjamin Law on the non-fiction side of things; and feminist theory.

Recently I was book-shamed by a colleague to whom I begrudgingly revealed I was applying for a literary-leaning job. When she asked what kind of books I liked to read, I mentioned the above examples, adding that I’m not a fan of the classics. She thought that maybe I should have some knowledge of the classics if I wanted to progress to the next round. She’s not wrong, but she’s also not exactly the most literary- or culturally-minded person I know (she has bemoaned the loss of Desperate Housewives from our TV screens) and, most importantly, I did not ask for her advice. I believe it’s better to have a passion for and knowledge of a certain genre that you’re able to wax confidently about than an obligation to consume books some arbitrary body says you should. Reading is primarily about enjoyment, for me at least.

So I may not have read Harry Potter or Shakespeare, but narrow prescriptions of what one “should” read, as Holmes further dissects in her response in The New York Times and that Gawker also picked up, only stifle inquiry and creativity; if we want to encourage our increasingly digital and short attention-spanned society to read more, shaming them for their book choices is probably not the way to go. Except if it’s Twilight.

Related:  The Hunger Games Review.

50 Shades of Grey Review.

Armistead Maupin In Conversation with Noni Hazlehurst.

MamaMia: A Memoir of Mistakes, Magazines & Motherhood by Mia Freedman Review.

Mia Culpa: Confessions from the Watercooler of Life by Mia Freedman Review.

How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran Review.

Stella: A Prize of One’s Own at The Wheeler Centre.

Adoption, Men’s Rights & Desperate Housewives.

Elsewhere: [New York Times] What Were the First Books You Felt You “Should” Read?

[Gawker] What Books Do You Really “Have” to Read?

Magazine Covers of the Week: Worth Talking About.

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The first cover listed here to grab my attention was Hillary Clinton for New York magazine, but then Miley came along and blew that out of the (pool) water as she is wont to do.

The accompanying interview for her Rolling Stone cover was done in the days following her much-talked-about MTV VMAs performance, which is discussed at length inside. And rest assured, there are lots of scantily clad shots to compliment her tongue-thrusting on the cover.

Next comes Chris Brown for Jet, a cover which doesn’t necessarily grab the eye as the others do, but it’s what Brown says inside, a snippet of which is captured on the cover, that’s noteworthy. He who is a perpetuator of violence himself identifies with Trayvon Martin, the teen who was shot dead a year and a half ago in Florida in an alleged self-defence. His killer, neighbourhood watchman George ZImmerman, was acquitted of his murder in July this year, and was involved in an apparent domestic violence incident with his estranged wife earlier this month. His wife later refused to press charges.

Now, I’m not saying that Brown can’t identify with a fellow young black man who has been victimised, but equating murder with justified criticism for intimate partner violence and a lack of remorse for said violence is a bit rich.

Finally, in the wake of the mall massacre in Nairobi which, it is believed, had a woman at the helm of the terrorist operation, Pakistan’s Newsweek has a cover story on the rise of female terrorist. I think alternative cover art would have conveyed their message just as well as explosive-tampons…

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Related: We Are All Trayvon.

Images via The Hollywood GossipVanity FairNY Daily NewsYahoo! Finance.

My Weekend with Wrestlers.

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The last thing I expected when I attended a cousin’s wedding a few weeks ago was to reconnect with a family friend/fellow wrestling fan and be swept up in a two-week whirlwind of wrestling mania.

But that’s what happened to me and I’ve been reeling ever since.

A bit of background: I’ve been a die hard wrestling fan for twelve years, and even though I can’t afford/my landlord won’t let me have cable television to watch weekly episodes of WWE Raw, SmackDown!, Main Event and NXT, I try to stay abreast of what’s happening in the world of professional wrestling, and I never miss a WrestleMania. (For the uninitiated, WrestleMania is a yearly wrestling spectacular that brings the biggest stars [The Rock, Hulk Hogan, John Cena, The Undertaker, etc.] together in some of the most memorable moments [Hogan lifting the over-500 pound Andre the Giant in a scoop slam at WrestleMania III, The Undertaker’s undefeated streak, Edge spearing Jeff Hardy from 20 feet above the ring at WrestleMania X-Seven, the Money in the Bank ladder matches] in wrestling history.) One of my grandma’s close friends, Zoran—a huge wrestling fan and promoter who is married to the cousin of a WWE Superstar—and I have been introduced once or twice before and bonded over our mutual interest, but that was really the extent of our relationship.

So when we ran into each other at the aforementioned wedding, you can bet wrestling was on the conversational agenda. My answer when asked if I was still into it was, “Hell yeah, I just met Mick Foley last week!” Zoran revealed he was actually the photographer for Foley’s show, and that they went out to dinner prior. If only that wedding had’ve been the week before…

Zoran also told me that as of the following week he was working on a film project with a bunch of former WWE stars: Nick “Eugene” Dinsmore, Orlando Jordan, Gene Snitsky, “The Masterpiece” Chris Masters, Carlito and Rob Conway, as well as Ohio Valley Wrestling star, Mohamad Ali Vaez, and that I should come out for dinner with them later that week. He didn’t have to ask me twice.

In the days leading up to the dinner, I contracted a stomach bug. Great! After a few days off work, I mustered up enough physical strength to trek to Prahan for dinner to sip lemonade while everyone else indulged in a three-course meal. There I spoke a little with Nick, Orlando, Rob and some non-wrestling company including Zoran’s lovely wife Carrie, but mainly kept quiet as I pondered Zoran’s previous offer to be involved in the film as a wrestling valet. Or, a piece of eye candy that escorts wrestlers to the ring, for those not in the know.

As soon as I was dropped home by Zoran and Nick and stepped in my front door I decided to do it. After all, it’s not every day you can say you spent the evening at dinner with some of the world’s most famous wrestlers, let alone engage in a working relationship with them!

At a barbeque a few days later, I got to know some of the wrestlers a bit better, namely Rob and Ali, met some more people involved in the film, and was privy to bits and pieces of the film’s storyline. It was there that my feminist tendencies were revealed in conversation (something I’m still trying to reconcile with my wrestling fandom: watch this space), and were continuously brought up throughout the rest of my time with them. While many people tend to tune out when the topic of gender equality comes up, I think most of the wrestlers really got a kick out of being around a feminist; something I don’t imagine happens very often.

It was also at the barbeque that Zoran invited me to go up to my hometown, Bendigo, for the filming and some club-hopping with the group the following weekend.

It’d been years since I’d experienced the insular nightlife of Bendigo, and I was feeling some trepidation about it. But, again, when else am I ever going to hang out with wrestlers I grew up watching in the town I grew up in? Worlds collide…

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So, on a Friday night after work, I took the train up, dumped my stuff at my mum’s house, and headed out to meet the group. We hit up a couple of relatively dead bars before ending up on the top floor of Huha, where people over 21 and music with words and a decipherable beat go to die. I gravitated towards Zoran, Carrie, their friend Merrin and the two guys who were filming the late-night shenanigans, Corey and Sam, as they seemed to have a similar attitude as me to the atmosphere of the club.

It wasn’t a total loss, though; I got a free drink, saw a childhood friend, got to wear an outfit I’d been wanting to debut for months, and had a D&M about U.S. politics, feminism and Tupac with Chris, who I had yet to really get to know.

Me and a couple of others eventually convinced the group to gravitate downstairs where they were actually playing good music. By that point we’d lost Zoran, Ali, Corey and Sam and their cameras, and Nick.  I had a dance to a few songs, but by about 2:30am with no end in sight for the rest of the revelers, I called it a night and went home.

The next day, after barely any sleep from ruminating about the surreality of the previous night, I caught a ride with Corey to the location of that day’s filming, a property out whoop-whoop. We stood around in the sun for a few hours while production managers, investors, the film crew and hired help set up for that night’s scene, until it was time to go and pick up the wrestlers and their food.

The rest of the day was kind of a blur, as I became increasingly anxious about my cameo appearance in the project. What started out as a simple valet job that required next to no acting transformed into my character (check me out, I have a character!) needing a reason to suddenly appear on the scene as a valet. At one point the idea of me physically interfering in Chris and Carlito’s match and getting spanked for my efforts (see how troublingly sexist wrestling can be?) was brought up, but was scrapped due to my inexperience in and around the ring and the likelihood that I could get hurt.

We shot a few takes of my eventual cameo in the hot early evening sun and it was over in less than twenty minutes, so I worked myself up over nothing. What I really should have been focusing on, though, was navigating my through the ring ropes in heels, which I’ve never done before. Hell, I’ve never even been in a wrestling ring, period.

Nick, Gene, Chris and Carlito (who I ended up escorting as a tag team) were super helpful and advised me of what I needed to do and when. I did experience some “displacement” (Chris and Carlito’s take on anxiety, from what I could understand of their sophomoric antics) in the lead up, but I’d like to think that dissipated once I clambered into the back of a ute (our mode of transportation to the ring in the middle of a dusty paddock), struggled my way between the bottom and middle ropes (according to wrestling “etiquette”, that’s the way women have to get into the ring, even if they’re too tall and wearing too high a pair of heels, with the exception of Stacy Keibler) and self-consciously cheered for my team on the outside of the ring. Only time—and the footage—will tell, I guess…

After the match we could relax, so I sat outside on the patio and chatted to Chris, Carlito, Ali and Gene, whom I probably connected with the most out of all the guys, and I got a foot massage (you can find a photo of the aftermath of said massage on Gene’s Twitter…) and a Masterlock as part of my initiation (see video above). When the filming had finished and everyone was covered in all manner of wrestling-in-a-paddock by-products (sweat, baby oil or “physique enhancer”, dirt) and in need of some serious “isolation” (another Chris ’n’ Carlito coined term for relaxation), we all went outside to take some photos in the ring to commemorate what is sure to be one of the most memorable nights of my life: the night I became a wrestling valet.

Stay tuned for more wrestling shenanigans as I attempt to unpack the culture of masculinity in the sport (entertainment) and how a feminist can really call herself a wrestling fan.

Related: Last Night I Met the Only Man Who Can Be Identified By Googling the Words “Hardcore Legend”, “Hell in a Cell” & “Feminist”: Mick Foley.

Elsewhere: [YouTube] SnitskyTV.

Images via Facebook.

The Changing Face of the Reality Singing Competition.

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There was a time, ten or so years ago, when American, and then Australian Idol, hit our screens and was judged by washed-up middle-aged music industry big wigs, like Simon Cowell, Mark Holden, Ian “Dicko” Dickson and the token female on the panel, Marcia Hines and Paula Abdul. These judges were mostly respected, if unfamiliar to Idol’s target demographic. Apart from Abdul’s “Opposites Attract”, I wouldn’t have known any of them from a bar of soap.

Not only was this before Britney, J.Lo, Mariah et al. demanded millions to sit in the judging chair, but it was also prior to the influx of talent shows; reality shows in general, really. Now we have a myriad of Got Talent’s, The Voice, The X-Factor and the truckload of former and current stars it brings with it.

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For every Britney and Christina, whose careers have been languishing in the pop wasteland for the last few years and could be helped by a judging role, there’s a Nicki Minaj, whose choice to judge the latest season of American Idol in the prime of her career baffles me. And we can’t forget Jennifer Lopez, who was the epitome of irrelevance prior to taking on the gig, and is now once again one of the highest earning performers in the industry (thanks, in no small part, to her franchise of perfumes), deservedly so, as I saw her in concert last year and she is the consummate performer. Closer to home, Guy Sebastian, a reality singing competition winner himself, had a sprinkling of top ten and number one hits in the last few years, but really hit the big time with the Eve and Lupe Fiasco collaborations, “Who’s That Girl?” and “Battle Scars”, respectively, released after his turn as a judge on The X Factor.

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So the “expert” record industry execs have pretty much gone the way of Dicko, albeit with the mainstays Cowell (The X Factor in the U.S.), L.A. Reid (ditto) and Randy Jackson from the original series of Idol, to make way for younger, sexier and more relevant, sometimes with an overhaul in between each season. And then there’s just the question marks that were obviously hired ’cause everyone else turned them down: Demi Lovato, Khloe Kardashian (tenuous) and, arguably, Nicki Minaj.

I think the new season of Idol’s focus on the feud between Mariah Carey and Minaj hinders not only the show (it’s about the TALENT), but also Nicki’s career in the long run. 2012 was perhaps Minaj’s strongest year to date, with “Superbass” being certified platinum, and “Starships” dominating the airways. While she’s never had a number one hit on the U.S. Billboard charts, Minaj was infiltrating pop culture at warp speed, so to her it might have seemed logical to dominate reality television as well. But, to me, singing competition judging panels are the domain of has-beens; people who’ve been down a similar road and can offer advice on the highs and lows of stardom. Who knows? Maybe Minaj will be the one to change that.

What do you think? Do you long for the no-frills early days of Idol, or are you all for big names on the judging panel overshadowing the talent?

Images via People, Wikipedia, Digital Spy.

12 Trends of 2012.

Girls (Who Run the World).

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So misogyny may be running wild in the real world, but on TV, girls are calling the shots. We’ve had a bevvy of shows with “girl/s” both in the title and the storylines this year, with 2 Broke Girls and New Girl carrying their success over from 2011. While a lot of the subject matter is problematic, both shows have women carrying the comedy. Which brings us to just plain Girls, which is the brainchild of actor, writer and director Lena Dunham. Girls is not without its problems, either, but its portrayal of young urban women is almost faultless. Rounding out the representation of leading ladies in 2012 we have Don’t Trust the Bitch in Apartment 23, Homeland, Revenge, The Mindy Project, Are You There, Chelsea?, Smash, GCB (farewell!), Scandal, Nurse JackieVeep, Emily Owens, M.D., Whitney, The Good Wife and Hart of Dixie.

“Call Me Maybe”.

Until “Gangnam Style” came along, the YouTube Zeitgeist was dominated by one runaway success: Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe”. Justin Bieber’s protégé came out of nowhere with the catchiest song of the year, which was subsequently covered by the guys from Harvard’s baseball team, Barack Obama and the Cookie Monster! Talk about diversity!

2012: Apocalypse Now.

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2012 was the year of the apocalypse, with the 21st of December long determined by the Mayans (or Mayan conspiracy theorists) as the day the world ends. You know, until the 7th of December tried to steal its thunder as the apparent recalculated date. Apart from the natural disasters, warfare and massacres, the 21st passed without a nuclear bombing, ice age or attitudinal shift, putting rest to the apocalypse panic. Until the next rapture, anyway…

Shit ___ Say.

It started with a sexist albeit funny YouTube video of a guy in a wig quoting “Shit Girls [Apparently] Say”, which snowballed into “Shit White Girls Say to Black Girls”, “Shit New Yorkers Say”, “Shit Christians Say to Jews” and “Shit Nobody Says”. Cue offence.

Snow White.

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Snow White was everywhere this year: Mirror Mirror, Snow White & the Hunstman, Once Upon a Time… Note: overexposure isn’t necessarily a good thing. In fact, I hated Mirror Mirror and Once Upon a Time, and Snow White & the Huntsman was such a snooze-fest I can barely remember what happened (not including Kristen Stewart’s affair with director Rupert Sanders).

50 Shades of Grey.

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On the one hand, E.L. James’ 50 Shades of Grey has singlehandedly revived the flailing publishing industry, so that’s a good thing. But on the other, it has falsely lulled its legions of (mostly female) fans into a state of apparent sexual empowerment: it’s a book about sex targeted towards women, so that means we’re empowered and we don’t need feminism anymore, right?

Oh, how wrong you Anastasia and Christian fans are…

“Gangnam Style”.

The Macarena of the 21st century, Psy’s horse dance took the world by storm, being performed in conjunction with Mel B on The X Factor, with Hugh Jackman in his Wolverine gloves, on Glee and at many a wedding, 21st birthday and Christmas party.

Misogyny.

Misogyny has long been the focus of feminists, but the word and its meaning really reached fever pitch this year.

After Julia Gillard’s scathing Question Time takedown of Tony Abbott and his sexist ways, people everywhere were quick to voice their opinion on her courage and/or hypocrisy. At one end of the spectrum, it could be said that Gillard finally had enough of the insidious sexist bullshit so many women in the workforce face on a daily basis and decided to say something about it, while at the other, many argued that the Labor party were crying sexism in a bid to smooth over the Peter Slipper slip up.

Julia Baird wrote last month in Sunday Life:

“Her electric speech on misogyny in parliament went beyond the sordid political context to firmly press a button on the chest of any woman who has been patronised, sidelined, dismissed or abused. It crackled across oceans, and, astonishingly, her standing went up in the polls, defying political wisdom that no woman would benefit from publicly slamming sexism.”

Whatever the motivation behind the speech, it went viral, with Twitter blowing up, The New Yorker writing that U.S. politicians could take a page out of Gillard’s book when it comes to their legislative hatred of all things female , laypeople bringing “misogyny” into their everyday lexicon, and Macquarie Dictionary using the momentum to broaden the word’s definition.

Kony.

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The viral doco that had millions of people rushing to plaster their neighbourhood in “Kony 2012” posters on 20th of April to little effect (the campaign’s goal was to catch Joseph Kony by years end) illustrated our obsession with social media, armchair activism and supporting the “cool” charities, not the thousands of worthy charities out there who could actually use donations to help their cause, not to produce YouTube videos and work the press circuit.

I’m Not a Feminist, But…

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While Tony Abbott is clamouring to call himself a feminist to gain electoral favour despite the abovementioned misogyny saga, it seems famous women can’t declare their anti-feminism fast enough.

First we had new mother and Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer jumping at the chance to shun feminism despite the fact that without it she wouldn’t be where she is today. My favourite anti-feminist campaigner Taylor Swift said she doesn’t think of herself as a feminist because she “was raised by parents who brought me up to think if you work as hard as guys, you can go far in life.” Um, Tay? That’s what feminism is, love.

Then there’s Katy Perry, who won’t let the whipped cream-spurting bra fool you: “I am not a feminist, but I do believe in the strength of women.” Right then.

Garnering less attention, but just as relevantly, was Carla Bruni-Sarkozy asserting that feminism is a thing only past generations need concern themselves with, while in an interview with MamaMia last week, Deborah Hutton also denounced her feminism.

Cronulla.

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The cronies from Sutherland Shire were all over our boxes, primarily on Channel Ten, this year. There was the widely panned Being Lara Bingle, the even worse Shire, and the quintessential Aussie drama set in the ’70s, Puberty Blues.

While these shows assisted in shedding a different light on the suburb now synonymous with race riots, it’s not necessarily a positive one, with The Shire being cancelled and Being Lara Bingle hanging in the balance.

White Girls in Native American Headdresses.

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This one really reared its racist head towards the end of the year, right around the festivities of Halloween and Thanksgiving.We had No Doubt “Looking Hot Racist” and Karlie Kloss donning a headdress for the Victoria’s Secret fashion show, in addition to the cultural appropriation of VS’s “Go East” lingerie line, Gala Darling’s headdress furore and Chris Brown dressed as a Middle Eastern terrorist for Halloween.

You’d think we were heading into 1953, not 2013.

Related: Posts Tagged “New Girl”.

2 Broke Girls Aren’t So Broke That They’d Turn to Sex Work.

Posts Tagged “Girls”.

Posts Tagged “Smash”.

Feminism, Barbeque & Good Christian Bitches.

Mirror Mirror Review.

Was Kristen Stewart’s Public Apology Really Necessary?

50 Shades of Grey by E.L. James Review.

Hating Kony is Cool.

Taylor Swift: The Perfect Victim.

Whipped Cream Feminism: The Underlying Message in Katy Perry’s “California Gurls” Video.

The Dire Shire.

Shaming Lara Bingle.

Is Gwen Stefani Racist?

The Puberty Blues Give Way to Feminism.

Elsewhere: [Jezebel] Why We Need to Keep Talking About the White Girls on Girls.

[io9] Why is Everybody Obsessed with Snow White Right Now?

[The Age] What Women Want.

[The New Yorker] Ladylike: Julia Gillard’s Misogyny Speech.

[Jezebel] Does it Matter if Marissa Mayer Doesn’t Think She’s a Feminist?

[Jezebel] Katy Perry, Billboard’s Woman of the Year, is “Not a Feminist”.

[MamaMia] Meet the Women at Our Dinner Table: Deborah Hutton.

[Daily Life] Carla Bruni’s Vogue Interview has Rough Landing.

[Racialicious] Nothing Says Native American Heritage Month Like White Girls in Headdresses.

[Racialicious] Victoria’s Secret Does it Again: When Racism Meets Fashion.

[Jezebel] Karlie Kloss as a Half-Naked “Indian” & Other Absurdities from the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.

[xoJane] Fear & Loathing in the Comments Section… And Some Clarity.

[HuffPo] Chris Brown Halloween Costume: Singer Tweets Picture of Himself Dressed Up as Terrorist for Rihanna’s Party.

Images via Collider, Fox News Latino, io9, November Grey, ABC, Now Public, Ten.

Movies: Ruby Sparks & The Catcher in the Rye*.

As I have written over the past week or so, there are many ways to interpret Ruby Sparks, whether as a commentary on the indie movie phenomenon of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl or the abusive nature of protagonist Calvin and title character Ruby’s relationship.

But I also picked up on the use of Catcher in the Rye as a sort of metaphor for Calvin’s tortured soul and his equally tortured relationship with Ruby. The intertwining of Calvin’s obsession with the way people perceive his dog, Scotty, and thereby perceive him, is made all the more symbolic in the scene where Calvin comes home late to discover Scotty’s trashed his room, peed in his bed and eaten a copy of J.D. Salinger’s seminal work.

It’s not really until the end of the movie that all the subtle references to the book come together as pieces of the puzzle. For those of you who have read Catcher in the Rye (I would assume everyone has, but those who I’ve spoken to about the movie in the hopes of getting their thoughts on the inclusion of the book as a theme have been unenlightened as to Holden Caulfield’s story), it could be interpreted that none of what Holden describes throughout the novel actually happened, as his mental capacity is questionable. Calvin is akin to a modern day Holden Caulfield, if only in terms of mental health, in that he sees a shrink (though in the creative world, who doesn’t?), has skewed views of what women should be and literally imagines his dream girl into existence.

This calls into question the turn of events depicted in the movie. Did Calvin imagine Ruby and their whole relationship? Did he black out around the time he met her, wrote about her and, reading back over his work, doesn’t remember how he met her, thereby making himself believe that she came to life from his writing? We know his family met and loved Ruby, but could that be a construction of his imagination? Holden concludes Catcher in the Rye in a mental facility; is that were Calvin tells his story from, too?

To further support the notion that something’s not right with Calvin’s account of his relationship with Ruby, his shrink, Dr. Rosenthal, asks him if he’s sure Ruby’s not real…

To employ the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope here, too, Ruby initially functions as a female version of Calvin to somehow narcissistically improve his existence. That he writes her to be depressed, then euphoric, then back again, and looks at her with pity when she expresses these extreme emotions could be seen as Calvin dealing with his own emotional ups and downs.

I don’t have the answers and there’s a good chance that I’m overthinking Ruby Sparks too much, but from my point of view there are endless realms of possibility the film could be taken in to.

What do you think?

Related: Ruby Sparks & the Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

Ruby Sparks & the Abusive Relationship.

*Blanket spoiler alert for both Ruby Sparks AND The Catcher in the Rye.

Image via The Thousands.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

Feminist Barack Obama! [Nerve]

Despite Everybody Dance Now being axed and the dismal ratings of Being Lara Bingle, The Shire and the relaunched Can of Worms, at least Channel Ten’s taking risks. [MamaMia]

Conservative rape-talk fatigue. [Jezebel]

Why “hookup culture” is good for women. [The Atlantic, via Jezebel]

Rihanna spoke to Oprah about forgiving and still having feelings for Chris Brown, but we shouldn’t shame her for keeping her abuser in her life. [Jezebel]

The Beheld’s Autumn Whitefield-Madrano on Helen Gurley Brown, beauty and effort. [The New Inquiry]

“The Official Guide to Legitimate Rape.” [Jezebel]

On the (Rest of the) Net.

The Dolly model search is back and seeking 13-year-old girls for their looks. Oh, and, like, a great personality and stuff. [MamaMia]

We need more men like THIS, who speak out about the blatant turning of blind eyes to violent and entitled footballers. [MamaMia]

Gloria Steinem urges voters to re-elect Obama, as he’s the only candidate who really cares about actual women’s rights. [Jezebel]

Rick Santorum used to work for the WWE?! Yikes! [Mother Jones]

Bristol Palin writes about President Obama and Sandra Fluke. I hate to say this about a Palin, but she makes a good point… [Bristol’s Blog]

Forced pre-abortion transvaginal ultrasounds, from a doctor’s perspective. [Jezebel, via Whatever]

Following on from last week’s article by Gala Darling on feminism and high heels, Jenna Sauers voices her own concerns on our sartorial choices dictating our political stances. [Jezebel]

On lady writers profiling “tall, brooding famous men with lots of money” for men’s magazines. [Gawker]

Jess McGuire on Jackie O’s Sunday Life profile. [The Vine]

The beauty politics of Snog, Marry, Avoid. [MamaMia]

What it’s like to be an executioner. [MamaMia]

Image via Perth Now.

Manning Up.

This post originally appeared on The Good Men Project.

“Man up, mate.” “Don’t be a pussy.” “Grow some balls.”

How many times have we heard these phrases—hell, sometimes we’ve been the ones dishing them out—aimed at the men we know and love?

I’ve been guilty of it myself, when a male friend cries to me on the phone about a failed relationship or bemoans a difficult co-worker/friend/family member and won’t just confront them about the problem. I don’t always say, “Just man up and do something about it!” Sometimes I just think it, which still isn’t ideal.

A recent spate of shows in the U.S. are cottoning on to this “masculinity” crisis, where men use “pomegranate body wash” and are at the mercy of the women in their lives:

“Among them are How to be a Gentleman, in which a metrosexual writer hires a trainer to dewussify him; Last Man Standing, with Tim Allen as a sporting-goods-company executive beset by girly men; Man Up, in which a group of male friends worry they’ve lost touch with their inner warriors; and Work It, in which two guys dress in drag to land jobs as pharmaceutical reps.”

This is nothing new, though. Scholars have long been lamenting “The War Against Boys”, which is also the title of Christina Hoff Sommers’ book on the topic.

But when we/society tell men to “stop being such sissies,” we’re sending the message that anything associated with “femaleness… [is] so insulting that men should react with full outrage,” Jill Filipovic writes on Feministe.

So how are these messages affecting actual men, not just those on fictional American TV shows?

When I asked a couple of my guy friends how they feel when told to “man up,” they replied as follows.

Eddie, 25, says because he “still does kiddy stuff like collect comics, people tend to think one of my faults is being a pushover. I also tend to be pretty open with my emotions. I can’t tell you the true meaning of ‘man up’, because everyone carries different reasons as to what makes someone a ‘man’. I, myself, will not ‘man up’ because I don’t think I need to and haven’t for a long time.”

Andrew, also 25, says, “I think there are men and women who, no doubt, find ‘man up’ offensive, because there are plenty of women who embody courage, fortitude and strength more than plenty of men. By the same token I think there are plenty of men who would find being told to ‘man up’ harrowing, because they lack confidence in their masculinity or cannot even define what the term means to them.”

As I wrote on this here blog last year, I have a real problem with the term “as it implies that simply being a man is equivalent to being courageous.” I, like Andrew, know a lot of women with more “balls” than their sack-packing counterparts. But talking about the role-reversal of women who possess “courage, fortitude and strength” as if they are purely masculine traits is damaging, too. We need to get over this gender stereotyping business and accept individuals for who they are, regardless of gender. (This way of thinking applies to the understanding of transgender people, too.)

We also need to get rid of this “disconcerting… focus on dominance and submission” in gender relations. On the other side of the coin, “stop being such a girl” comes to mind.

Hugo Schwyzer recently bemoaned the “real women” trope and how that has now been transferred onto men:

“Men are not immune from the pressure to be ‘real’. It’s been nearly 30 years since the tongue-in-cheek bestseller Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche spoofed an earlier generation’s Guy Code. But today, the ‘real men’ trope is everywhere. ‘Real Men Don’t Buy Girls’ is Ashton and Demi’s campaign to shame pedophiles, replete with the unspoken implication that ‘real men’ never have to pay for sex with women of any age …

“When I ask my students at the beginning of my Men & Masculinity course about ‘real men’, I get responses like, ‘real men aren’t afraid to show affection,’ or ‘real men like to dance,’ or ‘real men can cry in public and not care what anyone else thinks.’ My students want to subvert the traditional ‘sturdy oak’ model of masculinity. They mean well. But all they’re doing is swapping one unattainable ideal for another. Just as ‘real women have curves’ delegitimises countless slim women, ‘real men aren’t afraid to cry’ shames those men who for any number of reasons are awkward about public displays of emotion. The contemporary ‘real man’ ideal presents itself as inclusive, but it’s just another cultural straightjacket.”

So what is a “real man” according to… erm… real men?

Eddie thinks there’s a difference between being a “good man” and a “real man”:

“‘Man up’, for me, means being the best man you can be. Being selfless, being kind, being adult enough to handle responsibility while never taking yourself too seriously.”

While those traits may be what Eddie views as “good man qualities”, for the next guy they could be polar opposites. Being a good man is in the eye of the beholder, it would seem.

For me, respecting people and, especially, your significant other is paramount to “manning up” (or “human[ning] up”, as Irin Carmon puts it): being able to exert your opinion and standing up for what you believe in without the use of violence.

As Filipovic continues: “There is something very, very wrong with a masculinity premised on violence.” Where are men getting these messages that violence and aggression = machismo? (Um, years of socialisation and the media come to mind…)

For the founders of The Man Up Campaign, a “global initiative that engages youth to stop gender-based violence”, this ideal seems to be the consensus. “‘Our call to action challenges each of us to “man up” and declare that violence against women and girls must end,’ its mission statement reads.”

As recent as 50, 20, even ten years ago, being a “man” involved a large portion of physical aggression. And, despite feminism’s and gender equality’s best efforts, a look at many mainstream representations of men in the media, that stereotype still rings true today.

But if we can, through initiatives such as The Man Up Campaign, make it so that being called a “pussy”, like being called “gay,” is nothing to be ashamed of, even just for one person, then I think it’s a job well done.

After all, pussies push small humans out of them so they can’t be all that weak!

Related: Newspaper Clipping of the Week: Man Up.

Elsewhere: [The Good Men Project] Manning Up.

[Jezebel] Why Are Men Feeling So “Manxious” About The Rise of Women?

[Time] High Manxiety.

[Feministe] Masculinity Crisis.

[Jezebel] Stop Telling Men to “Man Up”.

[Jezebel] Real Women Have… Bodies.

[The Man Up Campaign] Homepage.

[New York Times] On Language: The Meaning of “Man Up”.

Rihanna & Domestic Violence*.

I’ve written about the Rihanna-domestic violence dichotomy before, and how no matter what the public persona presented in her music videos and interviews is, it’s consensual and it’s her prerogative. What Chris Brown did to her wasn’t.

But what role do her songs play in the unfortunately common perception that she “deserved” to get beaten by Brown; that she must’ve liked it if she sings about “S&M”; that she might have been egging Brown on in the form of “Breakin’ Dishes”.

We’ve heard a lot about the former two assertions. What I’d like to focus on in this post is her lesser-known single from the Good Girl Gone Bad album, “Breakin’ Dishes”.

Personally, I love the song and it’s one of my favourites from her. But, ashamedly, until recently I’d never put two and two together: the lyric “I’ma fight a man tonight”, the disbelief that female-on-male domestic violence exists, and Brown and Rihanna’s altercation three years ago.

Now, just to reiterate, I don’t think that what Rihanna sings about has any bearing on what goes on in her personal life (hell, she doesn’t even write her own songs). “Whips and chains” in the bedroom does not mean biting and punching in a car. But what does the lyric “I’m not gonna stop until I see police lights” mean coming from the mouth of Rihanna? That hitting a man and destroying his property is okay if you suspect he’s cheating? That it’s okay because he hit her first (yes, I am aware that “Breakin’ Dishes” was recorded well before the 2009 assault)? That it’s not really domestic violence because a woman hitting a man doesn’t do as much damage as opposed to the opposite occurring?

I’m not going to pretend that there are right and wrong answers to these questions, but I do know that intimate partner violence is never okay, no matter what the gender of the people involved. This is a message that we need to be getting across to everyone, so that those who are victims of it are better informed and equipped to leave the situation, and that they won’t be blamed or questioned for their role in it.

By the same token, and again, I’m not condoning or excusing it, sometimes the partner who takes the brunt of the violence is somewhat guilty of baiting their lover. I’ve witnessed it firsthand. Someone might start saying things that they know are sensitive subjects for the violent party; maybe they’ll slap or shove them to see how far they can push them. Sometimes they thrive on the aftermath; having their partner comfort them and tell them how much they love them and that it’ll never happen again. But this is part of the cycle of violent relationships and the “grooming” that is done by the perpetrator. I don’t know what’s going on in the heads of those involved, but I can certainly sympathise.

*

I remember reading a comment on someone’s Facebook post about Chris Brown at the Grammys last week or the week before. The comment was saying that yes, what happened to Rihanna was bad, but her music and sexy image is also bad and is sending the wrong message to our children. (Will someone please think of the children?!) I’m sure the commenter wasn’t aware that what they were writing was essentially a domestic violence apologist statement, but that’s certainly how it came across to me. Like they were sorry Rihanna got hit, but what does she expect when she acts so sexy and independent all the time?

In 2012, we should be able to understand that “art” (however loosely that term is applied) is not always an imitation of life, and that humans are capable of critical thought to separate the two. Singing about consensual sadomasochism and a hypothetical violent fight between lovers, however tasteless and closely related they are, is never an excuse for actual intimate partner violence.

*Trigger Warning: This post deals with domestic violence and may be upsetting to some.

Related: My Thoughts on Chris Brown.

“S&M”: Is it Really So Much Worse Than Rihanna’s Other Stuff?

Rihanna Upholds Traditional Gender Roles.

Rihanna’s “Man Down”: Revenge is a Dish Best Served in Cold Blood.

“Chains & Whips Excite Me” Take 2.

Image via MamaMia.