Why Do We Insist on Calling Women Girls?

This article was originally published on TheVine on 24th February, 2015.

Pop culture would dictate that women are girls until they’re too old to warrant being a part of public life: so, like, 50. I probably internalised this as it’s only in recent years that I’ve felt a) old enough and b) confident enough to call myself a woman. Up until then I was, to borrow a line from Britney Spears, “Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman”. Now that I identify as a woman, I find it all the more noticeable when other people refer to women as girls.

As one of the strongest influences in many people’s lives, how certain cultures and minorities are represented in pop culture informs how we feel about them in wider society. Just listing the shows and pop groups with the word “girl” in the title already says a lot.

There’s Gilmore Girls, about a young woman and her mother; Gossip Girl, which follows the trajectory of high schoolers to just-as-immature adults; Girls, the brainchild of one of the most influential women in pop culture currently, Lena Dunham; and Gone Girl, about a very-much-adult woman who disappears. The Spice Girls are now grown women who still trade on that moniker. Even Sex & the City, which follows the lives of four 30-somethings, and later 40-(and 50!-)somethings in the ill-fated movies, insists on referring to Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda as “girls”. “I couldn’t help but wonder about brunch with the girls”, Carrie would muse from her laptop.

In actuality, all but a few of these pop cultural representations could more accurately be described—and titled—with the word “women” in mind. Calling the career women of Sex & the City or The Spice Girls… erm… “girls” undermines the positions they are in their careers and personal lives.You would hardly call a Samantha Jones-type an “It girl” in her field if you met her in real life. Anne Helen Peterson continues to unpack the notion as it pertains to “It Girls” in a recent article for Buzzfeed.

Further to this, in a 2008 piece on Jezebel, Dodai Stewart writes, “A girl is insecure, incomplete; a woman is confident, competent.” With this in mind, calling the women of Girls girls might not seem as out of place as using it to refer to, say, Beyoncé, who sings about being a ‘Grown Woman’ on her self-titled album. (I am well aware that she also has a contradictory song called ‘Run the World [Girls]’).

Madonna addressed the stigmatisation and violence that trans women and girls face in ‘What It Feels Like for A Girl’ in 2000. Her voiceover states that boys who want to look like girls are “degrading, ’cause you think that being a girl is degrading.” Certainly, in some communities there is no distinction between women and girls: they both wield a dismal amount of power. The transmisogyny that Madonna sings about surrounds Bruce Jenner’s rumoured impending transition and shows that we might not be as progressive about gender relations as we fancy.

It’s not always necessarily about explicitly saying “girl” but the sexist connotations applied to the word. This is perhaps none more evident than in sport, as we’ve seen at the Australian Open. World number seven Eugenie Bouchard was doubly infantalised by the male interviewer who called her and her fellow female tennis players “you girls” and asked her to twirl in her pretty tennis duds.

The distinction comes down to the sexist ideal of girls being perceived as fun and fancy-free and women as hard-to-please shrews. Women have agency and aren’t afraid to ask for what they want; girls are agreeable to anything.

Law professor Kate Galloway writes further about this relationship between language and treatment at law blog Amicae Curiae, specifically referencing how the “girls” of our Olympic basketball team travelled to the London Games in 2012 in premium economy while the male team flew business class.

This, along with the lack of mainstream support and coverage, would seem to indicate an obvious disregard for women’s sports. “Throw like a girl” being used as an insult solidifies it. The term was, however, used positively in the recent Superbowl commercial for feminine hygiene brand, Always, and was the title of the Spike Lee-directed doco about baseball player and Associated Press’ Female Athlete of 2014, Mo’ne Davis.

In daily usage, we may not be actively diminishing the independence of our women friends when we “catch up with the girls” but it’s amazing how prevalent the term is. I’m just as guilty of it. I’ll sometimes refer to the saleswoman who presents as younger than me as “the girl who served me” or I’ll comment on something on social media with the cliché, “You go, girl!” Sure, “girl” can be used as a term of endearment between equals, just the way “queer” has been reclaimed by the gay community.

But as Galloway says, “I acknowledge that sometimes it might be [okay] to be ‘one of the girls’… I use the term to refer to my women teammates or close women friends. For former women team members now commentating on their sport at the Olympics, it may likewise be acceptable during an interview to refer to ‘the girls’. It should not however be presumed that any woman athlete can acceptably be referred to as a girl.”

When being a girl—indeed, being a woman—is still seen as less than, whether blatantly or more insidiously, I’m making a conscious effort to instead interact with and encourage my fellow women without pigeonholing them as “girls”. Women are capable of so much more than the gossiping, brunching and winging our pop cultural compatriots would reduce us to when they call us that.

Elsewhere: [Buzzfeed] The Trouble with “It Girls”.

[Jezebel] Ladies, Let’s Be Honest: Are We Girls? Or Are We Women?

[Daily Life] Eugenie Bouchard Asked to “Twirl” By On-Court Presenter Following Australian Open Match.

[Amicae Curiae] Don’t Call Me Girl. I’m a Woman.

[Daily Life] Eugenie Bouchard Deserves Better Than Sexist “Twirl” Request.

[Bitch] Is “Girl-Power” Advertising Doing Any Good?

When Your Heroes Let You Down is it Time to Wave Goodbye?

This article was originally published on TheVine on 8th January, 2015.

Recently, I attended the exclusive, two-day, $800 Blogcademy workshop in Melbourne, hosted by blogging extraordinaires Gala Darling, Shauna Haider of Nubby Twiglet and Rock N Roll Bride Kat Williams, who have turned their almost unprecedented success as bloggers into an international business. For that amount of money and time, my fellow attendees and I were expecting to come away bursting with fresh inspiration and tools to turn our blogs into mini success stories in the vein of the Headmistresses own blogs. What we emerged with, however, was an hours-long lesson in taking the perfect selfie and disappointment in our former entrepreneurial role models.

Before I turned my hand to the blogosphere, I fantasised about becoming a high-powered magazine editrix the likes of former mag hag turned web impressario, Mia Freedman. Ever since I cracked the glossy spine of my first Cosmo as a teenager, I wanted to be Freedman, so much so I even named my dog after her.

But, as with the Blogcademy Headmistresses, in recent years I’ve been forced to stop gazing adoringly at Freedman and acknowledge the stray, misguided comments coming out of her mouth.

For example, in April 2013, Freedman appeared on Q&A on an all-women panel with former sex worker and author of the book-turned-TV-series Belle de Jour: Diary of a London Call Girl, Dr. Brooke Magnanti, where Freedman stumbled over the use of this preferred term—sex worker—and said she would be “disturbed” if her daughter grew up wanting to work in the sex trade. In May that year, Freedman wrote on her website MamaMia in defence of Tony Abbott’s classist comments about “women of calibre” taking advantage of his paid parental leave scheme. Two Octobers ago she victim-blamed women who are assaulted whilst drinking. Freedman tweeted in April last year that she agreed with Joe Hildebrand’s attack on Rosie Batty whose son was murdered by her ex-husband in a domestic violence incident in February 2014, in which Hildebrand essentially blamed Rosie for her son’s death for not escaping her violent partner on Channel Ten’s morning show, Studio 10. And late last year Freedman came under fire for comparing gay sexual orientation to pedophilia. To her credit, though, Freedman immediately owned up to her mistake on The Project, admitting she was “mortified” that she caused offence to a community she’d so long been a champion of.

Freedman herself is no stranger to the disenchantment that comes when your icons speak out of turn. She confronted Australia’s once-patron saint of feminism, Germaine Greer, who was also a panelist on the abovementioned episode of Q&A, about those comments she made about Julia Gillard’s body and fashion sense. Freedman further lamented that Greer had “stayed too long at the party”. The most recent example of this has been Greer’s remarks about Duchess Kate’s pregnant body.

Another woman I look up to in the publishing industry is author of the forthcoming book The Sex Myth, Rachel Hills. She wrote about a similar phenomenon when her former feminist role model Naomi Wolf, author of The Beauty Myth and, more recently, Vagina: A New Biography, equated rape charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is still evading extradition on said charges in the Ecuadorian embassy in London four years later, with “honey trapping”.

When I spoke to Hills about how she felt about Wolf proving herself to be out of touch with rape culture she had this to say:

“My initial dismay over Naomi Wolf’s Julian Assange comments weren’t so much about what she said, as the way she responded when people criticised her for it. Why was this person I admired being so pigheaded and insensitive to the criticisms of people who were on her side? That was the moment when the Naomi Wolf gloss started to wear off for me.”

Likewise, my memories of the glossy pages of a Freedman-helmed Cosmo, with its Body Love campaign and articles on sexual assault and reproductive rights, have become disillusioned by Freedman’s continued tendency to put her foot in her mouth. But, as with many public figures we insist on asking for their opinions on any and all topics (ie. asking young female celebrities if they’re feminists), they’re “damning [themselves] to irrelevancy if [they] don’t stay up to date”, Hills says. (See Wolf’s ignorance of the term “cisgender”.)

We’re all human and, in the case of Freedman, Greer, Wolf et al. and their feminist faux pas, it’s not to say that they should be foisted out of the feminist club for being “bad feminists”, as Roxane Gay might put it. When an idol or hero has shaped so many of your formative years, whether positively or negatively, you can’t just turn their influence off as easily as a switch. We all say and do things we shouldn’t at times but a reluctance to appear vulnerable or ill informed shouldn’t prevent us from using those moments for growth. Failing that, we can start looking to other influences in our lives that are perhaps a little more positive and progressive and strive to be those influences ourselves.

Related: The Blogcademy Melbourne.

Elsewhere: [The Blogcademy] 

[Gala Darling]

[Nubby Twiglet]

[Rock N Roll Bride]

[Hello Tillie] Six Things I Learnt at The Blogcademy.

[Happy Hotline] Why I Don’t Have Idols. Anymore.

[ABC] Q&A—The F Word, 8th April, 2013.

[MamaMia] In Defence of Tony Abbott.

[MamaMia] This Isn’t Victim-Blaming. This is Common Sense.

[MamaMia] A Statement from Mia Freedman.

[MamaMia] Germaine Greer, You’ve Lost Me…

[Newsweek] The Duchess of Cambridge: How Britain Stopped Believing in the Royal Fairytale.

[Musings of an Inappropriate Woman] Naomi Wolf & Me, Or Why Heroes Are Only for the Young. 

[Jezebel] Feminist Gathering Sadly Lacking in Matricide.

Can a Feminist Love Pro Wrestling?

This article was originally published on TheVine on 14th May, 2013.

Being a professional wrestling fan and a feminist don’t necessarily go hand in hand albeit I identify as both of them.

While I’ve been a wrestling fan since the age of 13 and have only begun calling myself a feminist in the past few years, I think I’ve always had feminist tendencies: I’ve always believed in reproductive rights, I try—and often fail—not to judge other women for their choices, and it’s instilled in me that everyone is and should be treated equally, no matter their gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, abilities or class.

So to have an affinity with professional wrestling has, at times, baffled me personally and anyone who knows my dirty little secret.

Because professional wrestling is very much a guilty pleasure: the homoeroticism of a bunch of muscular, oiled up and sweaty men grappling with each other’s flesh for the visual gratification of (primarily) other men and the reliance of tired and bigoted male stereotypes that go along with it don’t always connote a proud admission of fandom from its more self-aware enthusiasts.

For example, one of the most high-profile and long awaited feuds—between John Cena and The Rock, culminating in their match at this year’s annual WrestleMania, the 29th in the franchise—employed the use of homophobia and gay jokes in the several-year lead up. In 2011, the two traded barbs that included The Rock making fun of Cena’s purple garb, calling him a “Fruity Pebble” (a cereal for which he is now a mascot), and Cena retorting that in his movie career as Dwayne Johnson, The Rock tends to accept roles in which his character wears lipstick (Be Cool) and a skirt (The Game Plan, Tooth Fairy), which got them into trouble with GLAAD.

Earlier, in 2002, a same-sex life partnership ceremony between tag team partners Billy and Chuck was set to take place on live television, but was abolished at the last minute despite GLAAD previously showing support for the storyline.

More recently, WWE announcer Michael Cole tweeted fellow commentator Josh Matthews with one word: “faggot”, which was later deleted and apologised for. And just last month TNA World Heavyweight Champion Bully Ray was caught on camera living up to his name and calling a fan a “faggot” and a “fricken queer”.

For those with a passion for wrestling and who are also capable of intelligent, critical thought, such marginalising slurs are just embarrassing. As Anita Sarkeesian asserts in her exploration of the damsel in distress trope in video games, it is “both possible and even necessary to simultaneously enjoy media while being critical of its more problematic or pernicious aspects.” Similarly, in her fantastic article about the intersection of rap, feminism and cunnilingus (!), Maddie Collier urges us to acknowledge the instances our pop culture of choice “sickens and disappoints us” in order to “fully appreciate the moments when it’s good and kind and real”.

But if you thought the blatant promotion of one kind of masculinity (ripped, strong and, perhaps above all else, heterosexual) as supreme is the only agenda professional wrestling is guilty of pushing, it’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the problematic nature of the sport (entertainment).

From a gender equality point of view, for example, professional wrestling most certainly has a long way to go, baby. Sure, there are female wrestlers, like Chyna, Jazz and Lisa Marie Varon (better known as Victoria in WWE and Tara in TNA) who eschew traditional femininity, but the bulk of women in professional wrestling are employed as eye candy, not as athletes. Those who do get to face off in the ring are often limited to three minute gimmick matches, which involve such male-gazey stipulations as Paddle on a Pole matches, where the winner is determined not by pinfall, submission or countout, as in most traditional (read: male) matches, but by retrieving a bat suspended from a pole with which to spank their opponent, and Bra & Panties Matches, in which the winner emerges victorious only after stripping her opponent of her clothes.

There are exceptions, though, such as a cage match between the aforementioned Victoria and Lita in 2003, which could be seen as damaging to the status of women in a whole different way in that it normalises violence against them, but by and large women in wrestling are used as managers, valets, guest ring announcers, wives and girlfriends. This attitude is evident in the demotion of the WWE Women’s Championship, held by such legends as the late Fabulous Moolah and Sherri Martel, Lita, Chyna and Trish Stratus, to the renamed Divas Championship, replete with a sparkly pink butterfly design, to better signify that it’s meant to be fastened around a slight, feminine waist.

This is not to mention the blatant disenfranchisement of non-able bodied wrestlers, often called “midget wrestlers”. At one point the SmackDown! brand of WWE had a “Juniors” midget wrestling division, and employs a little person on their roster whose character borrows from the leprechaun trope. As Margaret Cho once wrote, perhaps some kind of representation of minorities, stereotypical or not, is better than none…

Arguably above all of this, though, wrestling is one of the most obviously racist modes of mainstream entertainment going around. Let me count just some of the racial stereotypes throughout wrestling history that come to mind: The Iron Sheik was pitted against such all-American opponents as Hulk Hogan and Sgt. Slaughter during the height of the Iranian hostage crisis and the Gulf War; the Mexicools’ ring entrance comprised the use of a ride-on lawnmower, insinuating that people of Mexican descent make excellent yard workers; African American wrestler Charles Wright went from one black trope—a witch doctor named Papa Shango—to another—The Godfather, a pimp who came to the ring followed by his “Ho Train”; the Boogeyman was another witch-doctor-esque character played by another African American wrestler, Marty Wright (of no relation to Charles Wright); Native American wrestler Tatanka got around in traditional Native garb, such as headdresses and warpaint and carried a tomahawk; Kofi Kingston is from the Republic of Ghana, but somehow a Jamaican gimmick for his character made more sense; we all know people of African American descent are probably criminals, so why not bring two black wrestlers together in a tag team and call them Cryme Tyme?; Jim Harris played the wild “Ugandan giant” Kamala, while the late Edie Fatu had a similar, albeit as a Samoan giant, gimmick as Umaga; and Mohamad Ali Vaez, of Iranian heritage, plays up the Islamaphobia angle for his character. In a documentary entitled Wrestling for Rotary, which chronicles an independent wrestling gig for charity in country Victoria in 2011, Vaez talks about the internal struggle he faces in “perpetrating stereotypes that my family suffers because of.”

But, at the end of the day, “I’ve suffered inherent racism in the United States, so you know what? I’m gonna make money off of it.”

So while Vaez chooses to be an active participant in the culture that disenfranchises his people, fans have to acknowledge the part they play in holding up the gospel according to pro wrestling.

About a month ago I had the opportunity to be involved in the filming of a mockumentary about professional wrestlers on tour in Australia. My role encompassed escorting male wrestlers to the ring and looking pretty whilst doing it. While it was not something I initially wanted to do, after spending time with the seven men (Chris Masters, Carlito, Orlando Jordan, Rob Conway, Nick “Eugene” Dinsmore, Gene Snitsky and Vaez) I’d watched on TV in the past five to ten years, it became evident that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity I didn’t want to pass up.

As I got to know the wrestlers better, and they were made aware of my equalist proclivities and my intent to write about the experience, I became quite a novelty to them; I don’t imagine they encounter self-identifying feminists often in their line of work. One could argue that this is just substituting the fetishisation of women in wrestling with the tokenism of feminist women in wrestling, but I elected to be a consumer of a product that thrives on the objectification of women and to be an active participant in my own objectification which, to me, is no different from donning heels and some thicker eye makeup than usual for a Saturday night out on the town. (Apparently this makes me a bad feminist, according to the mansplainers. A choice response: “How can you play the role of a pretty cheerleader on the sidelines and still be a feminist?” How indeed.) Just because a woman happens to dress in a hyper-feminine way for her own pleasure, as I do, doesn’t mean she’s betraying the sisterhood. It makes her a person choosing her choice to go about her everyday business without being chastised for it.

So while I’ve resigned myself to feeding my wrestling addiction it doesn’t mean the myriad examples of racism, misogyny, homophobia and ableism can be ignored. In discussing this with a friend, he raised the notion of whether these bigoted views aren’t better off in the cultural underbelly of professional wrestling which, in Australia at least, doesn’t get paid much lip service, than industries like politics, for example, or the corporate world.

I wouldn’t argue that such ideologies aren’t rampant in politics and business, but pop culture can be a form of education to many and it helps to work through larger societal issues. Your average Joe wrestling fan doesn’t necessarily have a vested interest in dismal numbers of women (19%) and people of colour (16%) in United States Congress, the suicide rates of LGBTIQ youths or the selective abortion of disabled foetuses, for example. And younger fans, which WWE is increasingly marketing itself to, probably aren’t going to be as open to accepting the local gay or trans kid if their idol, John Cena, comes across as homo- and transphobic. So if some more progressive attitudes about non-white, non-straight, non-cis, non-able bodied, non-males can be snuck in amongst the titles, Hell in a Cell’s, blood, T&A and tables, ladders and chairs, then that’s a step in the right direction.

Related: My Weekend with Wrestlers.

Elsewhere: [Hollywood.com] All the Homoerotic Photos from WrestleMania 29.

[Cageside Seats] GLAAD Forces WWE & John Cena to Knock Off the Homophobic Jokes.

[TMZ] WWE Announcer Tweets Gay Slur, Deletes It.

[HuffPo] Bully Ray, Professional Wrestler, Apologises After Engaging in Anti-Gay Rants Towards Chicago Fan.

[Think Progress] Anita Sarkeesian’s Tropes VS. Women Series Is Up—And It’s Great. 

[The Pantograph Punch] Eat It Up & Lay Wit It: Hip Hop, Cunnilingus & Morality in Entertainment.

[Margaret Cho] Harajuku Girls.

[ABC] Behind the Scenes of Wrestling for Rotary.

Wonder Why They Call U Bitch.

This article was originally published on TheVine on 5th September, 2012.

Earlier in the year a rumour was circulating around the interwebs that Jay Z had shunned the age-old method of addressing women in rap and hip hop—“bitch”—after the birth of his baby with Beyonce, Blue Ivy, had made him realise the error of his ways. Alas, the poem in which Hova allegedly “curse[s] those that give it [bitch]”, turned out to be a fake, but it did raise some pertinent issues about calling women “bitches” in the rap game.

More recently, Jay Z’s bestie Kanye West revealed he wrote his song “Perfect Bitch” about Kim Kardashian, who took it as a compliment, showing how one person’s misogynistic insult is another’s compliment.

Rapper Lupe Fiasco’s latest track and accompanying video ask is “Bitch Bad”, using children to show the different ways we internalise the term. Again, one person’s put down is another’s feminist manifesto, like Bitch magazine, Missy Elliot’s “She’s a Bitch” and “Queen Bitch” by Lil’ Kim.

Perhaps in response to Fiasco’s request to start a dialogue on the “destructive” and “troubling elements” of bitch, Kanye has taken to Twitter to add to the discourse. He asks, perhaps in relation to “Perfect Bitch”, “is it acceptable for a man to call a woman a bitch even if it’s endearing?” To those who tend to towards “yes”, he asks, “would we refer to our mothers as bitches?”

A similar question comes to mind as the one brought up when the Blue Ivy poem, “Glory”, was released: why did Jay Z only shun the word after the birth of his daughter, as opposed to when he wed one of the most desirable women in the world, Beyonce? Is she not good enough to warrant not being called a “bitch”? I guess in this case, baby trumps baby mama.

But supposing that because women are addressed as “bitches”, “tricks” and “hos” in rap music they must automatically be viewed as such (and, really, what is a bitch or a ho? Someone who speaks their mind? Someone who gets some action between the sheets? If so, sign me up!) IRL is to subscribe to the outdated “hypodermic needle” theory of media studies. Certainly, though, popular culture does infiltrate other aspects of daily life so it’s important that Fiasco and West are contributing to the unpacking of this word that’s so inherent in rap and hip hop.

This is hardly a new phenomenon, though. 2Pac “Wonder[ed] Why They Call[ed] U Bitch” on his 1994 album, All Eyez on Me, concluding that having unprotected sex, getting paid for it, looking and moving a certain way and abusing the welfare system are all reasons why someone might “call you bitch”.

Eighteen years on, “bitch” is still “so prevalent in our culture right now,” says Fiasco. Because, as mentioned above, “bitch” is most certainly a derogatory term for many in the hip hop industry, as evidenced in “Bitches Ain’t Shit” by Dr. Dre and Too $hort’s pertinently titled “Call Her a Bitch”, but also in wider society to address a woman who doesn’t conform to femininity norms: mouth shut, “legs closed, eyes open,” from 2Pac’s abovementioned battle cry.

But, alternatively, as Busta Rhymes’ “I Love My Bitch”, Ja Rule’s “Down Ass Bitch” and Kim’s reaction to “Perfect Bitch” will attest, it’s also a term of endearment.

In a rare moment of clarity, Kanye Tweets, “Perhaps the word BITCH and N*GGA are now neither positive or negative. They are just potent and it depends on how they are used and by whom.”

Indeed. So while friends and lovers might use the word in passing affection, those who want to stifle independent women or ones who’ve scorned them, it’s still very much a problematic term.

Elsewhere: [Jezebel] Rapper Lupe Fiasco Weighs in on the B-Word: “Bitch Bad, Woman Good, Lady Better.”

[The Wire] Discussing Linguistics with Kanye West.

[The Rap Up] The Unified Bitch Theory.

The Rise of the Hunk.

This article was originally published on TheVine on 9th August, 2012.

“You know the apocalypse is nigh when men want to see a movie about a talking teddy bear and women want to see a movie about male strippers,” read a friends’ recent Facebook status.

While the world may be ending in December, and the integrity of Ted is questionable at best, I think it’s high time hetero women (and gay men to a lesser extent) turn subjugation on its head and become the voyeurs, and they’re using Magic Mike as a tool to do so.

Never before in mainstream Hollywood film can I recall a movie that so blatantly puts the male body on show for the unashamed consumption by straight women, primarily. Tom Cruise may have been shirtless for the majority of Rock of Ages, and True Blood has as much male eye candy as it does female, but Magic Mike is the first of its kind to feature conventionally attractive and perennially half-naked male actors as strippers: Hollywood’s last taboo, perhaps.

The male form has been sexualised for the last few decades, notably in underwear commercials. Remember Mark Wahlberg’s Calvin Klein’s and David Beckham’s distracting Armani ads? Or how about a shirtless Ryan Gosling in Crazy, Stupid Love, which arguably spawned the current obsession with him that has reached fever pitch? Porn star James Deen is experiencing a cavalcade of female appreciation not normally seen with adult actors. Even pay TV channel LifeStyle You is cashing in on the male body objectification trend, using in their advertisements shirtless men carrying out everyday household duties like ironing to reel the women in. (Because women are who we talk about when we talk about “lifestyle”.)

In the male stripper movie vein, there was that late ’90s UK effort, The Full Monty, which featured a bunch of average Joes getting their kit off at the encouragement of women, demonstrating that men don’t have to look like Channing Tatum, Joe Manganiello or Matthew McConaughey for women to find them sexy and to want to see them naked. But there is a certain allure to rippling abs, strong thighs and loaded guns that the comedic stripteases of unemployed steel workers just doesn’t have…

Dodai Stewart writes for Jezebel of the hollering and hooting in the cinema when she went to get her Channing fix, while I noticed more of a silent sexual tension in the air. There was nary a squeal of approval throughout, which lent a certain palpability that watching a sex scene with your parents or a potential love interest might elicit. Tatum’s dance moves succeeded in getting me and—if all the mute leg-crossing, uncrossing and squirming in seats was any indication—all the other red-blooded, presumably straight women in the audience hot under the collar. As Stewart continues, “Could it be that women are so used to seeing the female body sexualised on screen—from the point of view of the male gaze—that we don’t even know how to react to the sexualized male body?”

It seems that the characters who are virgins to the Tampa male stripping scene don’t know how to react either, with Alex Pettyfer’s portrayal of Adam consisting of equal parts disgust at Mike’s occupation and awe at the perks of his lifestyle. Adam’s sister, Brooke (played by Cody Horn), is closed in on by the camera when she first sees Mike dance and a range of emotions cross her face: judgement, arousal, amazement, discomfort at the role reversal male strippers provide. Discomfort and concern are also expressed by the bank clerk when Mike attempts to get a loan, showing up with a down payment in wads of ones and fives. Presumably the teller recognises Mike from the male revue, and offers to sign him up to a program for “distressed” clients, inferring that because he gets his kit off for money, he must be either strapped for cash or lacking self-esteem. Hmm, where have we heard this before? Usually directed at women who trade on their looks and are deemed “at risk”, “battered” and, yes, “distressed” as a result. Mike even has to resort to the ol’ spectacles trope to be taken seriously as he enters the bank, an action most often utilised by hot chicks who want to appear smarter. Speaking of hot chicks, in another play on man as sexual object, Mike’s lover, Joanna (Olivia Munn), tells him she doesn’t want to talk about his feelings: “just look pretty”.

With all the double standards that come with being a male stripper in Magic Mike—female adoration, money, drugs—Caroline Heldman at Sociological Images wonders why this kind of “stripping as fantasy life” attitude would never be seen in media about female stripping: because Magic Mike still panders greatly to male sexuality.

“Make no bones about it, this movie is all about reinforcing the notion that men are in control and men’s sexuality matters more…” Heldman writes. “… [M]any (but not all) of the simulated sex acts the dancers perform in their interactions with female audience members service the male stripper’s pleasure, not hers. Dancers shove women’s faces into their crotch to simulate fellatio, hump women’s faces, perform faux sex from behind without a nod to clitoral stimulation, etc. As a culture, we have deprioritised female sexual pleasure…”

Indeed, there is no full frontal male nudity in the film (does a stunt penis in an enlarging device count?!), however Munn and the actress who plays stripper Ken’s (Matt Bomer) wife have their breasts on show, as well as several other female nude scenes. When it comes to the penis, it would seem that it is the last taboo, not male stripping.

That Tatum’s penis ever so briefly flashed onscreen during a bedroom scene means there’s hope for a full-frontal peen shot yet, with Magic Mike 2 on the horizon. You’ll notice that most of the male stars of the films’ careers have thrived on the comidification of their bodies. McConaughey is more recognisable with his shirt off than on and Manganiello has been quoted as saying he “could care less” about being typecast as a beefcake. I find it kind of refreshing that men are wanting to show off their bodies in a way that has been traditionally reserved for women.

For those who cry “hypocrite” at the women who’re now wolf whistling at the screen, as if all women find the sexualisation of their bodies oppressive, I direct you to one of the core tenents of feminism: choice. If women are deemed autonomous enough to make their own decisions about their bodies and whether they want to use them as a commodity, it stands to reason that men are, too. It might be a hard concept to grasp, but after centuries of the ingrained objectification of women, perhaps men want to try their hand at being desired as opposed to desiring.

While the mainstream media still has a ways to go towards female sexual liberation and the refocusing of the gaze onto men and away from women in a way that benefits all parties and exploits none, Magic Mike is a step in the right direction.

Elsewhere: [Musings of an Inappropriate Woman] On #DailyWife & Writing for the “Women’s Pages”. 

[Jezebel] Magic Mike, Junk in the Face & the Female Gaze. 

[Sociological Images] Magic Mike: Old Sexism in a New Package.

[The Frisky] 12 Women Who’ve Used Their Sexuality (To Get Ahead).

[Salon] Male Strippers: Please, Just Leave It On.

Following Bill Cosby & Hugh Hefner Down the Rabbit Hole.

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In July it came out that in 2005 Bill Cosby admitted in a sworn deposition to buying Quaaludes with the intent to use them to rape women, not to “have sex with them” as headlines read.

Around the same time, former Playboy Playmate and Hugh Hefner’s “No. 1 Girlfriend” Holly Madison released an incriminating memoir, entitled Down the Rabbit Hole, about her time in the Playboy Mansion and how it often involved Quaalude-addled group sex with Hefner.

You might remember that late last year when we finally started to pay attention to the long-standing assault allegations against Cosby after a deluge more came to light, Hefner wrote in a statement that “Bill Cosby has been a good friend for many years and the mere thought of these allegations is truly saddening. I would never tolerate this kind of behaviour, regardless of who was involved”.

Putting aside the fact that Cosby and Hefner are friends (14% of Cosby’s accusers were employees or guests of Playboy at the time of their assaults), both men’s predilection for drugging women to better inure them to sex is a damning testament to their power in Hollywood.

It would seem that since last year reports of sexual and physical violence against women have begun to be taken more seriously. As of this writing, 2015 alone as seen 63 women be murdered by their intimate partners or killed in gendered attacks, according to Destroy the Joint’s Counting Dead Women project. The prevalence of these crimes doesn’t necessarily mean that women are experiencing more violence but perhaps that we’ve started to actually give a shit about it.

The striking similarities of the stories of the upwards of 40 Cosby accusers with nothing to gain should be enough to prioritise their safety and justice over the comedian’s legacy and power, but alas, it took the comedian’s own admission for reruns to be cut from networks and a statue in his likeness at Disneyland to be taken down. And even then, apologists such as The View co-hosts Whoopi Goldberg and Raven-Symoné urge us to resist making a “snap judgement” despite the “proof”. (Goldberg has since come around, saying on The View that “all off the information that’s out there kind of points to guilt.”)  

“What did these women do to get themselves in that situation?”, we ask, particularly in the case of apparently complicit women like Madison and others who frequented the Playboy Mansion.

Madison explains in Down the Rabbit Hole that “I was about to be homeless. I had no place to go and was panicking over what to do next when this opportunity with Hef just sort of fell into my lap. If I became a girlfriend, I would have somewhere to live. If I became part of Playboy’s inner circle, perhaps that could even help my career.”

“The Playboy Mansion… had been both my safe haven—and my prison,” she continues.

What further kept Madison trapped was her decreased confidence and self-worth upon becoming a girlfriend. Hefner’s six other girlfriends at the time Madison moved in were also plagued by insecurities which Madison says led them to bully her. And, in turn, “my shrinking violet personality was a sign of submission that [Hef] used to manipulate the other women.” When Madison tried to have an intelligent conversation with the man she supposedly loved and whom expressed love for her, “he would scoff at whatever I said. It didn’t matter if my remark was educated or even correct, because if I said it, it must be wrong.” In attempting to exert her independence and autonomy by getting a makeover, Hefner belittled Madison, calling her “old, hard and cheap”. After a seemingly throwaway comment from Madison about fellow girlfriend and Girls Next Door star Kendra Baskett (nee Wilkinson), Hefner screamed at Madison to “stop being such a fucking CUNT!”

“He frightened me,” she writes.

Just because young women seek out rich men to experience the fame and fortune they otherwise wouldn’t have access to doesn’t mean they consented to inebriated sex. On the same night she refused Quaaludes from Hefner in a scenario that made headlines upon publication of the book, “I can’t even begin to tell you how much vodka and champagne I consumed… While I patted myself on the back for turning down the pills, by the time we left the club, I couldn’t have been any more incoherent” for her first group sex encounter with Hefner.

The ostensibly compromised integrity of Madison and others who’ve written similar accounts of their time with Hef, like Hefner’s former girlfriend Izabella St. James, and their previous contributions to maintaining the glass curtain Hef and the Mansion are shrouded in makes them less likely to be believed.

Also making headlines for embellished claims was Rolling Stone’s damning article entitled “A Rape on Campus” at the University of Virginia in which reporter Sabrina Erdely failed to properly corroborate the alleged victim Jackie’s story by seeking out other sources before the story went to press. While the feminist and left-leaning media have made it clear that Erdely and Rolling Stone were at fault, a report was issued further blaming the very people it was supposed to protect: sexual assault victims.

“The editors and Erdely have concluded that their main fault was to be too accommodating of Jackie because she described herself as the survivor of a terrible sexual assault,” the report says, feeding all-too-perfectly into blame-the-victim rhetoric.

Chloe Angyal wrote at Feministing that “‘Jackie’ will become shorthand for people seeking to discredit future allegations of rape” just as Fatal Attraction’s “Bunny Boiler” has for unhinged women who trap and frame innocent men.

Even in the face of overwhelming evidence such as that surrounding the 2014 Isla Vista shooter, Elliot Rodger, society doesn’t believe women when we tell them that harassment and a general feeling of being unsafe is something that happens on a daily basis for many of us. The hashtag #yesallwomen was spawned in an effort to debunk that. Despite the fact that the killer sent an accompanying 140-page manifesto to former friends and family members outlining his murderous intentions, people were still willing to believe that Rodger and men like him (#notallmen) are “good blokes”, while “blonde sluts” are to blame for “starv[ing him] of sex” .

Going back to Hefner, in 2005’s Female Chauvinist Pigs, author Ariel Levy speaks at length with Hefner’s daughter Christie, then CEO of Playboy Enterprises. Like Cosby and his respectability politics, Levy also quotes from past interviews with Hef in which he claims to be a champion for women and, dare I say it, a feminist.

In the book, Christie is described as the founder of many women-friendly organisations, such as Emily’s List, which works to elect pro-choice Democratic candidates to office, and the Committee of 200, which runs a mentor program between successful business women and young women and girls. Levy writes,

“The Playboy Foundation also gave grant money to NOW’s Legal Defence and Education Fund and supported the ERA; Hefner personally hosted a fundraiser for it at the Playboy Mansion. ‘I was a feminist before there was such a thing as feminism!’ Hefner has said. A mutual friend even tried to set him up on a date with Gloria Steinem before she became famous.”

(Arguably the piece that made Steinem famous was an undercover exposé on the hostile and sexist conditions at New York City’s Playboy Club, including immediate dismissal for accepting a date with a customer.)

Just because someone calls themselves a feminist, does it make it so? Sarah Palin and Tony Abbott have done so, but their public policies and conversational faux pas would indicate that they are anything but.

The same could be said of Cosby’s respectability politics. On the surface it might look like Cosby is championing his race, but really it’s about minorities policing their own behaviour in an effort to prove how “good” and worthy they are of fair treatment by the powers that be. Cosby has done such an expert job of portraying himself as black America’s father figure that defenders like Raven-Symoné (in whose case Cosby literally played her grandfather on TV) are still in his corner.

In Female Chauvinist Pigs, Levy quotes from a 1967 interview with Hefner that the self-professed feminist does “not look for equality between man and woman… I like innocent, affectionate, faithful girls.” Perhaps that’s why he challenged Madison’s post-Playboy life as not being “happy, healthy and productive”: because she, like the 41 women who kept Cosby’s secret for up to 49 years in the earliest reported case, didn’t play along with the socially prescribed rule to put up (or out) and shut up when it comes to powerful men.

Related: The Year of the Stalker.

Elsewhere: [Gawker] Who Wants to Remember Bill Cosby’s Multiple Sexual Assault Accusations?

[Vulture] A Timeline of the Abuse Charges Against Bill Cosby.

[HuffPo] Hugh Hefner Responds to Bill Cosby Sexual Assault Allegations.

[Jezebel] The Connection Between Bill Cosby’s Alleged Crimes & The Playboy Mansion.

[Facebook] Counting Dead Women.

[The Cut] “I’m No Longer Afraid”: 35 Women Tell Their Stories About Being Assaulted by Bill Cosby & the Culture That Wouldn’t Listen.

[ET] Bill Cosby’s Accusers: A Timeline of Alleged Sexual Assault Claims.

[TV Line] Bill Cosby Sitcoms Yanked from Centric, Bounce TV’s Schedules.

[WNEP] Bill Cosby Statue Removed from Walt Disney World.

[Us Weekly] Holly Madison: Hugh Hefner Offered Me Drugs, Tried to Buy Me in His Will.

[Rolling Stone] Rolling Stone & UVA: The Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism Report.

[Feministing] Rape, Rolling Stone & the Radical Notion That Women Are Trustworthy.

[ABC The Drum] Disability & Murder: Victim Blaming at Its Very Worst.

[The Guardian] Elliot Rodger’s California Shooting Spree: Further Proof That Misogyny Kills.

[The Hairpin] Life Lessons from the 1968 Playboy Club Bunny Manual.

[WaPo] The Fake Feminism of Sarah Palin.

[The Guardian] Tony Abbott Says His Three Daughters Helped Him “Turn Into a Feminist”.

[ET] Hugh Hefner Responds to Holly Madison’s Tell-All Book: She Has “Chosen to Rewrite History”.

Image via HuffPo.

World Wrestling Entertainment Will Never #GiveDivasaChance As Long As It Prioritises Bad Men.

aj lee wwe diva

A.J. Lee as Divas Champion.

After years of viewing the Divas (women’s wrestlers) matches as bathroom break time, it seems the time for women wrestlers to be cast in roles other than “eye-candy, crazy-person, or reality television shill” has finally come if recent social media campaigns are any indications.

Last week, the hashtag #GiveDivasaChance began trending, and some NXT (WWE’s developmental brand, with a weekly show airing on the online subscription service, the WWE Network) Divas were involved in a #LikeaGirl advertisement for the SuperBowl. This movement isn’t without its detractors, as NXT announcer Corey Graves took to Twitter to assert that the Divas don’t need a hashtag to make their own opportunities: yeah, ’cause that’s worked so well for them up to now.

This debate has emerged in the wake of WWE COO Triple H’s (real name: Paul Levesque) comments about the future of women’s wrestling on Stone Cold Steve Austin’s live podcast, broadcast on the WWE Network, a month ago. When asked about the trajectory of WWE moving forward, Levesque said, “I would like to see the women get more time and more dedication. We have a large fan base of women that watch and I think [the WWE Divas] are inspirational.” While it wasn’t until the last two minutes of the hour-long podcast that Levesque made reference to WWE’s female performers (instead calling the wrestlers “the guys” throughout the rest of the interview), it’s interesting that he thinks they should be given a higher priority in WWE when he’s arguably one of the only people who can make that happen.


Chyna as Intercontinental Champion, the first and only woman to ever hold that title.

Austin also asked Levesque if he thought Chyna—a pioneer in the world of wrestling, both women’s and otherwise—would be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. (Again, that’s a decision Levesque would have a lot of sway over.) Despite Chyna’s (real name: Joanie Laurer) status as Levesque’s ex-girlfriend, she’s also found a post-wrestling career in porn, which severely limits the likelihood of her induction. Levesque said:

“I’ve got an eight-year-old kid and my eight-year-old kid sees the Hall of Fame and my eight-year-old kid goes on the internet to look at, you know, ‘there’s Chyna, I’ve never heard of her. I’m eight years old, I’ve never heard of her, so I go put that in, and I punch it up,’ and what comes up? And I’m not criticising anybody, I’m not criticising lifestyle choices. Everybody has their reasons and I don’t know what they were and I don’t care to know. It’s not a morality thing or anything else. It’s just the fact of what it is. And that’s a difficult choice. The Hall of Fame is a funny thing in that it is not as simple as, this guy had a really good career, a legendary career, he should go in the Hall of Fame. Yeah… but we can’t because of this reason. We can’t because of this legal instance.”

Surely a nod to Chris Benoit’s double murder-suicide of 2007 there, but is porn really the equivalent of massacring your whole family? In addition to having abuse allegations made against him by Laurer, which Levesque denied, he is a also good friend of Laurer’s ex-partner and co-star in that porn video who also allegedly physically abused her, Sean “X-Pac” Waltman. While not a Hall of Fame inductee yet, he’s a member of the infamous Kliq, including Hall of Famers Shawn Michaels and Scott Hall, the latter of which was inducted last year.

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All of these men—from left, Sean “X-Pac” Waltman, Kevin Nash, Stone Cold Steve Austin and Scott Hall—have been accused of or arrested for domestic abuse.

Furthermore, while Benoit may never be inducted, and rightly so, it’s not like the WWE flat out prohibits the induction of violent criminals: Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka is under suspicion for the accidental death of a woman he beat unconscious in a hotel room in 1983. While never charged, that investigation was reopened last year. Other criminals in the WWE Hall of Fame include convicted rapist Mike Tyson in the celebrity wing, the aforementioned Scott Hall, who has been arrested numerous times for domestic violence as well as the 1983 murder of a man in a bar, and the host of the very podcast in which Levesque made the comments that inspired this article, Stone Cold Steve Austin, a serial domestic abuser.

Recently, the WWE added a domestic violence, child abuse and sexual assault clause to their wellness policy, stating that “upon arrest for such misconduct, a WWE talent will be immediately suspended. Upon conviction for such misconduct, a WWE talent will be immediately terminated.” In the wake of other sporting codes’ embarrassingly lax attitude to domestic violence and crimes of a similar nature, this is a step in the right direction for WWE. The host of wrestlers who are or have been under contract to WWE with similar charges brought against them prior to this stipulation must be thankful for a time when they were swept under the rug.


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Triple H (Paul Levesque) with, from top, Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and Mike Tyson, who’ve both served time for assaulting women.

To Levesque’s point, it’s easy enough to find out any of this information with a Google search. In the wake of the podcast, the first page of Google results yields nothing about Laurer’s adults-only post-WWE career. (Granted, you’d have to prefix Tyson, Austin et al.’s names with their respective crimes for those results to appear first.) If Levesque is as close to Hall, Waltman, Austin, Tyson (he and Shawn Michaels, as D-Generation X, inducted him into the Hall of Fame) and even Floyd “Money” Mayweather, who is also a serial woman abuser who was recently denied entry to Australia because of this, surely his children have met them. Why, then, is it so hard to talk to your children about Laurer’s choice when you associate with convicted criminals? Presuming Levesque and his wife, WWE’s Chief Brand Officer, Stephanie McMahon Levesque, have told them about the substance abuse problems Hall’s had of recent, they can talk to them about the travails of what you can find online. In this day and age, it’s never too soon to start.

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Some of the cast of E! reality show, Total Divas.

It wasn’t so long ago that WWE unapologetically traded on the sexualities of its female performers such as Sable, Stacy Keibler and Laurer herself. Total Divas, the E! reality show charting the lives of eight WWE Divas, could arguably be said to be doing the same thing. And there’s nothing wrong with a woman using her body to her benefit if it’s consensual and she gains pleasure from it. What Levesque is saying, whether consciously or no, is that using women’s sexualities to sell a product is fine, as with the WWE’s mid-to-late 2000’s trend of Divas posing for Playboy, but getting pleasure (presuming porn was pleasurable for Laurer) from them is a no-no.

In addition, this promotion of legitimately dangerous and criminal men over women such as Laurer (it should also be noted that Laurer’s been charged with domestic violence against Waltman) indicates that despite Levesque’s lip service, the WWE prioritises bad men gone by over its current female roster. WWE may profit from the Divas’ physicality, but it’s dropped the ball when it comes to protecting them physically. For example, Debra Marshall (then Williams) was under contract to WWE when her partner Steve Austin, also under WWE contract, beat her. Debra was never again to be seen on WWE programming while Austin is still lauded as one of the greatest performers of all time.

So to #GiveDivasaChance may finally indicate a change in consciousness coming from wrestling fans but comments from within the company such as Graves’ and Levesque’s show that insider perceptions of women in wrestling still have a long way to go, baby.

Related: Baby, It’s a Wild World: Navigating Pop Culture as a Feminist.

Why Are Famous Men Forgiven for Their Wrongdoings, While Women Are Vilified for Much Less?

Elsewhere: [Bitch Flicks] The Choice to be a Total Diva.

[Bitch Flicks] Body Image on Total Divas.

[The Work of Wrestling] The Women Warriors of NXT.

[Pyro & Ballyhoo] Full Joanie “Chyna” Laurer Shoot Interview.

[E! Online] WWE Star Kevin Nash & Son, 18, Arrested for Domestic Violence After Fight at Home.

[The Morning Caller] Grand Jury to Review Death of Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka’s Girlfriend.

[Fox Sports] Ramon Charged with Domestic Violence.

[The Smoking Gun] Stone Cold Steve Austin Roughs Up Girlfriend.

[WWE] Talent Programs & Policies.

[Deadspin] The Trouble with Floyd Mayweather.

[Herald Sun] Floyd Mayweather’s Visa Application Rejected by Australian Authorities.

Images via The Outhouses, Jobu’s Rum, Shitloads of Wrestling, Zimbio, Sabrina Brand, Pro Wrestling.