My Brave review, or why I haven’t yet seen a review I like

Brave movie posterThe big news about Brave, as I’m sure you’ve all heard, is that it’s the first Pixar movie with a female main character. Twelve other Pixar movies, and each has focused on a story about a male, leaving females to be love interests (save Finding Nemo). I was pleased when I heard Merida, a girl, would be the main character. Then I was disappointed the other twelve movies have been male-centric. Then I was embarrassed that I’d had to have that fact pointed out to me.

And now we can’t seem to let it go. We, as a culture, especially as a feminist culture, can’t seem to talk about anything else. Every review I’ve seen has focused on this aspect, and found Pixar lacking. Why a princess, some wonder? And I suppose this point of contention has some truth to it—too often female-centric movies, especially animated ones, have to center around a princess or around a male (or a group of males, such as Ice Age or UP). Feminism is not a concern of the past, and questions or gender roles, gender performance, and gender stereotype should be asked.

I’m a feminist, but I’m also a writer. I write fiction. I make up stories, and while I usually write about women, I’ve found that forcing overt feminist messages into my art cheapens it. I’ve written about a girl who rebels against her conservative father and questions her faith—and his authority. I’ve written about another girl who believes, truly, that a sexually and emotionally abusive male might be the love of her life. I’ve written about women stuck in relationships where there’s really nothing wrong but there’s not really anything right either. I’ve written about a girl too self-conscious to wear her mother’s swimsuit on vacation when she forgets her own.

As a writer, I often have trouble squaring my beliefs as a feminist with my number one belief as a writer: that it’s a writer’s job to sometimes look at the parts of society the rest of us would rather forget, or look past—the parts that we ignore. There’s story everywhere, in every character, if you know how to tease it out.

And this is where feminism—at least the kind I often see splayed across the Internet—fails for me. The stories feminists want are imbued with feminist meaning. But what is feminist about criticisms such as Merida being skinny and Pixar continuing the myth that skinny is beautiful? Critique the cause, not the effect. Critique the fact that all we ever see in animated media is skinny women (even animals in animated films meet our country’s beauty standard), but how can each individual piece of media be held accountable? Yes, we need more diversity in age, color, size, etc., and yes, ultimately the change will come through individuals making changes,  but the writer in me gets offended when critique of one aspect becomes critique of the whole.

To bring it back to Brave, there is no mention of looks. The closest thing to it is perhaps the scene with the corset. Merida is not prized for her beauty, and since her beauty is not integral to the story (it would change nothing in the writing), to critique the story’s validity based on this is to miss the mark. Instead, consider what would change if Merida were black, or overweight. The story being told doesn’t change—what changes is our interpretation of it, how we, as a collective audience, respond.

And this is the crime, but it is not one committed by Brave. Brave is a step forward, taking the princess narrative and flipping it on its head. Brave tells us that stories about princess do not have to be sloppy love stories about women giving up their liberty, their family. Brave shows us a woman who refuses to be bound by gender roles.

Stories about women are not universal.  It’s a sad but true fact that a man’s experience is considered human while a woman’s is considered niche. And to me, this is where Brave’s largest strength comes in. There are special concerns still held by women, concerns that are overlooked because they are not applicable to men—they are not universal. Yes, Brave is set in 10th century Scotland, but the idea that women have a narrowly defined world to inhabit is still true today. Brave tells us that doesn’t need to be so. Brave tells women and girls—and everyone, really, if we could all accept that the message is more broad—that you do not need to meet anyone’s definition of yourself, even when the one doing the defining does so out of love. Brave tells us that we can change our fate, that we can change our reality—and that the only way to do it is by being ourselves.

How can anyone think that is less than feminist?

A man’s world

I went to a concert tonight at a local bar-slash-music-venue. It’s a band that got its start at the MSU Battle of the Bands and that I first (and last) saw perform seven years ago when I was a sophomore at Michigan State. It’s a band that I like, that has a female lead singer, that has non-offensive lyrics. So I went to see them tonight. I listened to three cover bands that did little to impress me (I’d say they did nothing to impress me, but one of the three bands actually had my attention for a little bit). And then the Real Band got on to play. My friend and I were in the middle of the crowd, not in the front but still close enough to see (somewhat).

Now first, let me emphasize, I went to see a rock band, but it’s sort of an indie rock band. It’s not hard rock, and it’s not punk, and it’s not metal. The group consists of guitar, keyboard, and drums (vocals by the keyboardist and guitarist).

So when they played the song that started them on their path to success, and a group of men next to me started a mosh pit, I was really quite at a loss. I was right at the outer edge of it, behind a man and his girlfriend who were trying to stay clear but kept getting slammed. I only got slightly jostled. But still. Five minutes later, a guy dove into the crowd to crowd surf. He was coming my direction, and I told myself I would not touch him.

I have a right to go to a concert, to listen to music, without risk of injury. I have a right to not have to decide between touching a strange man in a spot that makes me uncomfortable and having him dropped on my head. I have a right to go out in public without always having to watch my surroundings, having to listen in on all the conversations around me to make sure there isn’t something sinister going on. I have a right to stand somewhere without being groped (as happened a few months back in a bathroom, while I was washing my hands). I have a right to my personal space, to my autonomy, none of which (save for the lack of groping) I had tonight. My friend and I were on our own as the group of all men careened into one another, bodies crashing together, trying to do who-knows-what. We left a few minutes later. There was no enjoyment left in the evening.

So tell me: When did this become a man’s world? When did something as simple as listening to music become something so male-centric? When did personal safety become a privilege rather than a right? Why do I have to leave a concert that I paid for, why do I have to step back and away, giving up my space? Why aren’t we teaching men to respect the space of others? To notice those surrounding them? Why aren’t we teaching men that this world is inhabited by a wide scope of people, including women? When will we understand that respecting women is more than cheering for a female singer on stage, it’s more than opening doors, or refusing to wrestle a female opponent. Together we must recognize these spaces that have been so thoroughly claimed as male, and we must work to make them for everyone.

7 reasons why I’m a feminist

Today was the first night of my feminist theory course and so I decided to do a feminist blog post tonight.

1. I do not believe women are inherently inferior or should only strive to support and complement men. I do not believe the story of Adam and Eve.

2. I do not believe we live in an equal or post-feminist society; I see injustices in our world; I see sexism and misogyny everywhere.

3. While feminism is not perfect, I see in it the possibility for both the change and inclusiveness I seek.

4. It has given me a purpose and freed me from pressure to get married and have children on society’s schedule instead of mine, and allowed me to consider never following that path.

5. I once stood in a crowd of people and listened to a man tell the story of how he sexually assaulted me, and everyone laughed.

6. It has made me more knowledgeable of the world around me and, at the same time, made me more interested in learning and understanding more.

7. While I do not think I can change the world single-handedly, it only takes one person to make a change, and the more people involved, the greater the chance of success.

Getting bit by the hand that feeds you

I’m no fan of Sarah Palin’s—not what I (seem) to know about her as a person, politician, or product. I’m just waiting patiently (okay, maybe not all that patiently) for the day she disappears from the public life. I think she’s disrespectful and hypocritical, but this doesn’t change the fact that I feel she’s had to endure quite a lot of disrespect herself. First, there was the hockey game where she was booed, which would have been fine in my eyes were it not for the fact that her kids were with her, though, on the flip side, maybe she shouldn’t have brought her kids to a political event or used them as a means to political points (anyone ever notice how, when she gave speeches, Bristol was usually in the background of the shot?). So yeah, I didn’t really approve, but I’m willing to let that one slide at least a bit.

But recently I feel like she’s just been slammed with disrespect—from her own party as well as (though it pains me to say this) from feminists.

Sarah Palin does not represent women. She stands against many issues that help women and so many (most?) feminists cannot stand her, but lately I feel they (we) have been too quick to dismiss the oppression she faces because they disagree with her.

First, there was the issue of Rahm Emanuel’s use of the word retarded. I can’t fault her for calling him out on this, and I actually feel like she stands for this issue due to something deeper than politics. But then, when Rush Limbaugh used the same language, she was strangely reticent in her criticism, saying that she agreed with him.

This is some of the hypocrisy I’m talking about, but I want to take this issue one step further, into the realm of speculation, since I have no hard evidence to back up this thought: Sarah Palin can’t afford to offend Limbaugh. Ultimately, she’s still a woman in a party that is predominately interested in representing (upper-class, white) men. It’s a party (and a political environment) where it is completely acceptable to criticize women based on appearance instead of policy, that has only 21 female representatives in congress compared to 71 female democrats, that supports a politician who believes women not work outside of the home, that holds anti-feminism bake sales and catch an illegal immigrant days. It’s a party that believes that a century after gaining the right to vote, women still need others to make voting decisions for them. Palin supports a party that will use her when it’s convenient (gotta get all those Hillary voters who are so uneducated they will vote for anyone with a vagina) but silence her quickly if she steps out of her place.

And calling out Limbaugh would have been stepping out of her place.

And Palin knows this.

But when she didn’t speak out forcefully against Limbaugh, or against the legislator who said disabled children are god’s punishment for previous abortions, the main feminist response seemed to be one criticizing her hypocrisy. And yeah, it is hypocritical. But where’s the deeper examination? Where’s the look into what might have caused her to call out a democrat but not a republican? You could argue that she put herself in this situation, that she chose to be a republican, but that sounds to me an awful lot like saying the rape victim is partially responsible because she chose to wear a short skirt, or chose to have a few drinks.

That’s not my feminism. Sort of like the symbol of the American flag represents the same laws that allow dissenters to burn it, I try to extend my beliefs to all, even those who seem dead set on working against them. I still don’t like Sarah Palin and I can’t imagine that will ever change, but I have been feeling for her a bit these past few weeks, because even if she chooses to ignore the lessened state of women in our culture, it affects her. Even if she chooses to work against the rights I believe all women should have, it affects her. So I may disagree with her, but I don’t believe that changes the fact that she deserves to live in an environment that doesn’t treat her as she seems so set on treating others.

March Links

I’ve got a few posts brewing in my head, but I’m still on a high from the game today, so I thought I’d do a quick post of links that I’ve found lately and what I’m thinking about them. Some of these ideas I want to explore in more detail later on.

Girl sues school over prom-wear. This 17-year-old is suing her school for the right to wear a tuxedo to her high school prom, saying that, as a lesbian, she doesn’t identify with the message of sexuality a dress projects. The American Family Association supports the school, saying that her sexual identity is an “impulse” and that her wearing a tuxedo sends “destructive message” to other students. This is blatant homophobia and a push for clear-cut, traditional gender roles, leaving out anyone who doesn’t conform.

Pope claims condoms “aggravate” the AIDS problem in Africa. This is not to say that abstinence is not effective, but this is looking at the spread of AIDS through Western eyes. What about addressing gender roles, rape, women who cannot, culturally, ask their parters (husbands or otherwise) to use protection? What about AIDS education? Why does the Catholic church always seem to spout one idea as the cure rather than look at the problem comprehensively? It seems that they value upholding their law more than the lives of their followers. It’s all about the message and the power, not the people, and, unfortunately, the pro-life people seem to feel the same way: that the fetus deserves more rights than the woman.

Effort in England to improve rape prosecutions.  Now, I have to admit that when I saw this headline, a part of me was worried that it would be about how rape cases are just about crazy girls trying to cover up a mistake, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was about improving the conviction rate. It’s nice to see something that recognizes the difficulty in women (or men, though that’s less talked about) seeking and achieving legal justice for the crime committed against them. Too often certain people are presented as unrapable (the victim was a man, the victim was a woman wearing seductive clothing, was drunk, she was dating or married to the perpetrator, she was asking for it, she engaged in some level of sexual activity, she’s a sex worker, she’s a lesbian, etc…) or as bitches who falsely accuse innocent men and ruin their lives. (As a note, I’ve used one sided pronouns here, not to discount rape of a man by a woman but rather as a reflection of the gender that is most often the victim.)

Tammy Bruce calls Michele Obama trashy. This is just another example of backlash toward the first family for rising up in a white-dominated world. When it’s (mostly) frowned upon to make blatant racist statements, people often resort to messages such as this.

And finally, 14-year-old girl arrested for child pornography for posting naked pictures of herself on MySpace. I find this problematic for a variety of reasons, not least because of the double standard set for females in this country that they must be simultaneously innocent and sexual.

What have you been reading in the news lately?