Photo by Samantha Vladom (Creative Commons)
There are other things to write about. They are more pressing, more vital feminist issues. There are the rape threats directed towards protesters at Dartmouth College and the almost daily stories of rape apologists at University campuses. There is the courage and decency of Praveen Halappanavar. There are the young women, on the streets of New Delhi, protesting about their lack of safety. There are the trans men and women who are hounded by the media and harassed on the street. There is this http://100percentmen.tumblr.com/. Every day those of us who are feminist-identified, allies of every gendered identity and sexual orientation, blog, tweet and post about the horrors and injustices that go down in the world and salute the fearless men and women across the world who are fighting for people to get a fair deal (for that is feminism: basic human decency). I don’t do enough, but we do what we can.
Though, after a hard day writing, teaching, parenting, caring, blogging etc, sometimes a person just wants to switch off and enjoy some high or low quality entertainment. We try to be ethical with our consumer choices, avoiding sweatshop fashions on the high street and the dubious business practices of major online retailers, but can we bring our feminist values into our spare time? Or do we risk vetoing every single type of entertainment until we are sitting in with a mug of organic ethically-sourced herbal tea, a copy of The Second Sex and a volume of Adrienne Rich? (All of which I am fond of). I’d like to share some of my favourite cultural things which give me pause, and hopefully start a bit of a conversation in the comments about consuming popular culture and still being a badass feminist.
Gender Battlefield: Game of Thrones
I love a good HBO series. From The Sopranos through The Wire to Boardwalk Empire I have devoured box sets of their quality drama. While few of them would pass the Bechdel test, I put this to the side as The Sopranos has intelligent things to say about masculinity and psychiatry and The Wire unashamedly tackles race and class in the US. Boardwalk Empire has a cracking soundtrack and superior costume design. However, Series 2 of Game of Thrones has made me really uneasy and has seriously diminished my enjoyment of this show. Everyone suffers violence in the show, men and women alike are not spared the brutality of a fictional world at war. There are strong female characters, though, as as Daenerys Targaryen, Arya Stark and Brienne of Tarth. What made me feel most uncomfortable, though, was the preponderance of gratuitous naked female characters juxtaposed with extreme violence done to women (particularly in the scenes with Joffrey and two sex workers). In fact, the sex worker characters in this show seem to exist primarily to be hurt. While not every show has to feature women as perfect, I’d like to watch a show were women aren’t regularly victimised, and their abuse aestheticized. I’ve been trying on LoveFilm to find shows and films that, while not having to just put a feminist point of view across, show women as complex, human, two-dimensional characters and not just in the altogether.
I am something of a music obsessive, enjoying the genre hopping eclecticism that is the hallmark of the digital age and the Spotify playlist. In particular, I adore anything danceable, from LCD Soundsystem through anything touched by the hand of David Holmes and Joe Goddard. Some pretty brilliant electro acts, such as The Knife (http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2013/mar/23/the-knife-shaking-the-habitual) and Grimes (http://actuallygrimes.tumblr.com/post/48744769552/i-dont-want-to-have-to-compromise-my-morals-in-order) have recently been loud and proud about their feminism, and I like to think about the wonky world of electronica as a place that focuses on the possible and allows different voices to be heard. This was highlighted by the problematic macho reaction to the racially and sexually diverse Disco movement. Amy Rushton (https://twitter.com/amysrushton) recently alerted me to a new radio show called ‘Nemone’s Electric Ladyland’ which will showcase electro, and the fine work of the WMN! Collective in Paris: https://twitter.com/w_m_n. However, while all this is pretty darn fabulous, it is still the case that the representation of women in mainstream chart music is generally limited and, quite frankly, boring: writhing, pouting and often reduced to individual body parts in twerking videos on youtube. Even (Queen) Beyonce is exhorting us to ‘Bow Down Bitches’. As a sex-positive, choose-your-own-feminism kind of gal, I welcome expressions of sexuality in the mainstream media. But, isn’t it often a bit samey and dull, eliding the erotic into one homogenous mass when the beauty of desire is diversity and unpredictability?
Vanity and Beauty Work
This is one you might have to, to unfortunately paraphrase Charlton Heston, rip from my cold, dead hands. With the privilege of a CIS-gendered heterosexual woman, I am very lucky that my idea of my identity is largely concurrent with my physical appearance. But I am occasionally bothered by the thought that a great deal of what I think is a ‘good’ look is a manifestation of the internalisation of patriarchal norms and that damn gender panopticon. I could quote you Butler chapter and verse and hate the unrelenting pressure men and women are under in order to ‘perform’ their gender correctly. Yet, still, I spend a disproportionate amount of my income on beauty products and frocks. I have long since given up on women’s magazines and replaced them by watching YouTube videos of applying the perfect 1960s flicked eyeliner. I can spot a pair of Irregular Choice shoes at 60 paces. Whether butch, femme or androgynous, I love someone who rocks a look. This is why I can’t judge the students in tottering heels at graduation ceremonies, or the ladies who enjoy a Scouse brow, or chaps who style out a fedora. But at the back of my head there is the idea that beauty work is still work, that I am spending money that my male counterparts do not, that it is time-consuming and self-obsessed. And then I catch myself on: life is too short not to be a bit fabulous.
So, what do you think? What are your popular culture pleasures and how do they square with your feminist identity?
Caroline Magennis is a lecturer and literary critic, originally from Northern Ireland, now living in England. Full details of her writing can be found at http://harlaxton.academia.edu/CarolineMagennis