Why We Should All Want to be Bad-Ass Superwomen (And Why We Don’t)

This week, I really want to put an emphasis on this concept of Straw Feminism. Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency defines the Straw feminist as “a trope that is  a deliberately created, exaggerated caricature of a feminist that is used to undermine and ridicule feminist movements.” Straw feminism is probably the main factor behind why many people associate feminism with crazy, radical, militant women, fighting against sexism and inequality that really doesn’t exist.

I know Straw Feminism works, because it worked on me. For a long time this was my exact opinion on Feminism. But the thing is, I grew up idolizing a lot of really awesome female characters from some really awesome shows. I mean, my friends and I were constantly playing some variation of Xena: Warrior –Moon-Princess-who-also-slays-vampires-while-wearing-a-yellow-Ball-gown-because-Bell-is-the-best-Disney*-princess-but-I’m-also-secretly-Spiderman (not Spider Girl because she was lame and why do the boys get all the cool superheroes?”) If I had all these great bad-ass women to look up to, where did this anti-feminism ideology come from?

*I was not immune to Disney, okay? I can’t help it. I didn’t know what Stockholm syndrome was when I was a kid.

Answer? Everywhere. There has been a strategic attack against feminism that continues to this day – and I know this may sound like an extreme thing to say – but when you start to think about it, you see it literally everywhere. If you don’t believe me, check out this villain from the Power-Puff Girls.

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Her name is Femme Fatal. The logo on her outfit is the “woman” symbol. Her gun matches. The beginning of the episode starts by showing us the happy and peaceful wherever they live, where everyone gets along and there is no such thing as gender inequality. Femme Fatal comes along and manages to convince the Powerpuff girls to see sexism where none exists. Then they start TERRORIZING the men of the town while screaming in the name of feminism. This is a kids show. Aimed at little girls. They are telling little girls that feminism makes you crazy.

I mentioned Anita Sarkeesian in my last blog, and she takes a really in depth look at this episode in her video on Straw Feminism. Her other examples are Phil and Lil’s mother from Rugrats, the group of Women’s studies majors and self-proclaimed feminists featured in Legally Blond, and, this one breaks my heart because I love her so, the 3rd season of Veronica Mars. I cannot emphasise enough how much I want to you watch this video. It will wrinkle your brain.

Since I watched that enlightening video, I’ve been playing a game I like to call “spot the Straw Feminist.” I was really just trying to be more aware of it, but the game became so easy I was really glad I didn’t make it a drinking game, because my liver really can’t handle that kind of abuse. So out of the group, I picked one that at first glance is a pretty trivial moment in a movie trailer, but actually really illustrates just how ingrained straw feminism is within pop culture, that not only do we not really notice, we laugh at it.

Let’s check out this trailer for Pitch Perfect. Click Here For the link

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Looks fun right? If you didn’t bother watching, let’s sum up. Boys Vs. Girls. Battle of the sexes. Classic, harmless, entertaining. The film is basically Glee for University aged kids too embarrassed to say they watch Glee*.  It’s so much fun in fact that they live in a world where needing a rape whistle on campus is a ridiculous over exaggeration of university life! HILARIOUS!

*me

Go back and watch just the first 10 seconds of the trailer. Kendrick’s character arrives to her first day of University and is greeted by an enthusiastic student rep, whose first action is to give Kendrick a rape whistle, informing her in a happy chirp “not to use it unless it’s really happening!”

Kendrick responds with a sarcastic eye roll, clearly dismissing the advice. Now, upon first glance this may seem a little trivial. It sets up Kendrick as an above it all character that doesn’t want to deal with the over enthusiastic people that tend to come with the whole university experience.

But it also accomplishes something else. (It touches on the same problems Anita brings up for Veronica Mars) The film is about an all-girls singing group versus an all-boys singing group. SO MUCH FUN! So in these first few seconds of the trailer, it creates a world were a young woman receiving a rape whistle is viewed as over enthusiastic, and therefor unnecessary (i.e. women on a university campus in the world of this movie don’t really need to worry about being raped), and it sets up a space where a group of women can get together to sing and to compete against a group of men, but it’s not feminism. Because the only inequality they face at this University is that maybe the boys are better at group dance numbers.

What exactly did this 10 second interaction manage to dismiss? The fact that Rape on University campuses is a real and serious problem. Between 2006 and 2008, Harvard University alone had 128 reported cases of rape. And those are just the ones reported. By laughing at the expense of this character trying to provide protection to fellow women on her campus, we dismiss the work of thousands of young women working on University campuses in real life to try to make them safer, by providing things like rape whistles, safe rides home, and on-campus security.

In addition, when the student rep says “don’t use it unless it’s actually happening,” it implies that women cry wolf about sexual assault. This is used a lot to discredit victims of sexual assault, and is really along the lines of “innocent until proven guilty” or I guess “totally fine until they can prove they were sexually assaulted.” The more prevalent this belief is, the more grief women who are victims of sexual assault have to go through if they actually come forward and report it. In the States is estimated that 54% of sexual assaults go unreported, in Canada, only as many as 6 in 100 are reported. This can be due to a lot of reasons, but a prominent one is that women feel too ashamed to come forward, and don’t want to have to publically deal with something so personal. If actual victims of sexual assault are that unwilling to admit it happened to them, what are the chances a woman would lie about it? In Canada, only 2-4% of reports are found to be false. It’s just so rare it’s insulting to imply otherwise.

I’m not saying to boycott Pitch Perfect. When it comes to sexism in films, this is pretty minor. I also don’t want everyone to start picking apart every minor detail of a film in a never ending search for sexism. But the fact that this was the very first line in the trailer? The dismissal of feminism is the very first thing they want the audience to know about this film. That is incredibly telling of anti-feminist attitudes so ingrained in mainstream popular culture. It’s amazing how we are just programmed to be dismissive of serious issues effecting women, like sexual assault and the concept or rape whistles. With little tiny jokes like that written into almost all media these days, it’s no wonder it’s hard to convince young women that we don’t have equality, and that Feminism is still something we need. So, be media aware. Think critically and shit. Pay attention, because little jabs like this do a whole lot of damage.

LINKS AND SOURCES

Sexual Assault on Canadian University Campuses

For more on American College safety Ranks

Sexual assault statistics

In Canada
In the USA

World Wide

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5 Reasons you Dismiss Feminism (That are Total Bullshit)

I broke this week. A combination of things I’ve been reading online, seeing, and experiencing first hand have made me so angry that I can’t ignore that this is an issue anymore. I snapped. I broke. I can’t take it anymore.

I don’t want to rant. I don’t want to preach. What I hope to accomplish with this, if you take the time to read it to the bitter end, is to make you think.  To make you realize that equality still is an issue, and that “feminist” isn’t a dirty word. We have been asked to accept so much as “just the way things are,” but I’m tired. I’m tired of tolerating it. I refuse to accept that I have to put up with sexist, dismissive attitudes because “hey, we have equality, what’s your problem?” Fuck. That. Shit.

5 reasons you Dismiss Feminism (That are total bull shit)

1)      Feminists hate men

This is a stereotype is founded on extremist statements made by radical Feminists, and is reinforced by the media and popular culture.  Every group has its radicals. The Socialists have Hitler, Christians have Westboro Baptist Church, people from New Jersey have Snooki, and Cults have a bad name thanks to Charles Manson. There are always going to be the bat-shit crazy people waiting in the wings to jump on whatever cause happens by. Don’t take the words of one crazy person and judge an entire group by them. That’s a hasty generalization. And that is an invalid argument form. P does not equal Q.

ALSO: This study has shown that women who identify as Feminists are more likely than their non-feminist counter parts to be in a satisfying heterosexual relationship.  http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/10/071015102856.htm

2)      Feminists are hairy

Feminists have a reputation of being hairy legged, dirty, flannel wearing, who gives a damn kind of people. But these days I’m pretty sure I just described a hipster.

Feminist?

What I’m getting at is not shaving your pits is not a pre-requisite to being a feminist, and likewise, if you see a woman who hasn’t shaved her pits, that doesn’t mean she IS a feminist. Maybe she’s lazy. Or doesn’t believe in the beauty standard. Or forgot. You don’t know her life! On occasion I myself am a dirty hairy person because I tend to be a lazy asshole, not because I am making a political statement. Sometimes I just want to see how long my leg hair will grow. (answer – forever. My leg hair can grow forever.)

If you thought someone was making a political statement every time some unwanted hair made an appearance, we would have the biggest social upset since Firefly was canceled. A person’s choice to shave or not to shave is personal, and not indicative of an entire group of people.

Again, this stereotype can be attributed to negative representations of women in the media and pop culture. I smell a pattern.

3)      Feminists don’t have a sense of humor

Just because I don’t split my gut laughing every time someone tells me to “go make them a sammich” doesn’t mean I can’t laugh. I also plan to not laugh at rape, sexual assault, pedophiles, and that story you and your buddy have about going to strippers that one time.

Things I will laugh at: Farts, poop, baby panda’s sneezing, people falling down, burping, and literally almost anything else. But not LOL Cats. I hate LOL cats.

For more on feminists having a sense of humor, check out this list of “25 Republican-Approved Ways to Say ‘Vagina’ Without Offending Political Pussies” My favorite is “Hermetically sealed shame-basket” http://jezebel.com/5918587/25-republican+approved-ways-to-say-vagina-without-offending-political-pussies

Also, to sum up this argument see Nellie McKay singing “Mother of Pearl” (The first line is “Feminists don’t have a sense of humor) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hU446HDtGv8

 

4)      All Feminists are Lesbians

This one is a biggie. It’s an issue within an issue within an issue. I don’t have time to go into it all in detail (hopefully in the future) but I’m going to start with an exchange I had recently, which is what pushed me over the edge and onto a blog.

A person I consider a friend and whom I have a lot of respect for opened my eyes to this issue. He is smart, educated, and a well meaning guy. After discussing some of my interests with him (which include Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Amanda Palmer, Kate Nash, and playing video games) he said to me “Non tradition female roles, strong women, going against stereotype – it makes me wonder – what team do you play for?’

Oh my. Where to begin.

Before giving in completely to my rage at being asked such an obnoxious question stemming from a stereotypical generalization so inherent in our society, I managed to respond with “Being a feminist does not make one a lesbian. I admire strong women because I aim to be one.”

But it wasn’t the fact that he asked if I was a lesbian (albeit in a tacky, dated, and insensitive manner) that made me so upset – it was why he asked. Why does looking to up to strong, independent, female role models, automatically cause people to question your sexual orientation? What does your sexual orientation even have to DO with that? And why is it asked as if it’s a bad thing?

The only answer I can think of is that it minimizes potential issues and dismisses them. Why do we want to dismiss this? Because our society still believes in traditional gender roles, and if a woman acts outside of this then there must be something wrong with them. It’s a way to discredit feminists to the general public, and to discourage young women from wanting to become one.  And this leads to an EVEN BIGGER ISSUE: Why do we still think there is something wrong with lesbians, and why are they the most easily dismissible people in our society? Why does it matter that a Feminist may also be a lesbian?

“She says she’s a feminist? Well she must be a lesbian.” How does this make sense? And don’t pretend you haven’t thought this at some point in your life, we all have, because despite its immense lack of logic, it’s somehow become ingrained within our society. But think about it,

What is the thought process behind this argument? “Oh, well she’s a lesbian, of COURSE she doesn’t want women to be raped and murdered.” One simply has nothing to do with the other, and the other is not an insult. Why are lesbians (arguably) the most dismissed people in our society? Why is it that being a Lesbian suddenly voids someone’s opinion?

Gender equality is unequivocally tied to Gay Rights. Gay women are criticised for behaving or appearing more masculine, Gay men are criticised for behaving or appearing more feminine. And both are used as insults to anybody who wants to challenge traditional gender roles and stereotypes, because we are all seen as LESS THAN a man.

I look up to these strong women because I dream of living in a world one day where being a “strong, smart, independent woman” is not considered “going against the stereotype.”

*it should be noted that I discussed this issue with my friend who asked it – again, not a bad guy. HE JUST DIDN’T THINK ABOUT IT. He has now.

5)      The fight for Equality has been fought and won

 

Famous Feminist Gloria Steinem (Google her) recently said in an interview about the current state of Feminism that “it’s hard to be angry about something you haven’t experienced.” I know this to be true. I’ve asked a lot of my gal pals how they feel about equality, and they don’t feel like they’ve been discriminated against, and thus, what would they be fighting? Well, all of the reasons I’ve listed above might be a place to start.

Ladies, we’re lucky to live in Canada. We have it pretty good here. But it’s ignorant to assume the battle has been won. We make less money than men. Abortion is still on issue. Every time a man yells “Nice tits!” out of his car window, that’s not one asshole – that is a symptom of a cultural inequality we have been raised to accept as a social normative.

This “Straw Feminist” trope is the first thing people think of when they think “Feminist.” An angry, man hating, militant woman, fighting against something that doesn’t exist. If you’ve stuck with me this far, take another 10 minutes and watch Anita Sarkeesian’s vlog where she explains the Straw Feminist trope, why it exists, and just how prevalent it is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tnJxqRLg9x0

My point is: the fight is far from over. Anita Sarkeesian? When she started a kickstarter to fund a research project exploring female tropes and representations in video games, she was the target of a mass interest harassment campaign. She was threatened with violence, murder, and rape. SOMEONE THREATENED TO RAPE HER BECAUSE SHE THINKS SOME VIDEO GAMES MIGHT BE KIND OF SEXIST. To reiterate what she said in her response to this: this is not a trivial issue. You cannot brush off this kind of behavior because hey, the internet is the internet.

I’m not saying all us women should start burning our bras – I know some of you really really need them – I’m saying don’t accept what you’re told. Ask Questions. Don’t take what rights you do have for granted. Pay attention to the little jabs you brush off every day. Always ask “why?” Who benefits from you not standing up for yourself?

And to all my male friends? You can be feminists, too! Think about what you’re saying and why you’re saying it. So much of this inequality is perpetuated by simply not thinking about it.

 

Ignorance is not bliss – it’s just ignorance. A Feminist is someone who believes in equality. For everyone.

You can read more about Anita on her tumblr: http://www.feministfrequency.com/

For more info on Gloria Steinem –http://www.gloriasteinem.com/

“Let’s Watch a Girl get Beaten to Death” a great post by Director and Feminist Joss Whedon (The Avengers, Buffy, Firefly):  http://whedonesque.com/comments/13271