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The heavier stuff

The heavier stuff

Fifty Shades of maybe don’t go see this movie

February 6, 2015

I needed to write this because it’s important, and I also need to write this because Facebook has decided that the Vermont Teddy Bear Company’s Christian Grey teddy bear is appropriate advertising for me and I want you all to suffer with me.


In case you care, this post has spoilers for the whole series.

I’m getting this post out before the movie comes out, because I’d like you to seriously reconsider going to see Fifty Shades of Grey.  By the end of this post, I hope I’ll have given you some very good reasons to not go see it.  By “very good reasons,” I do not mean “Jaime Dornan is #NotMyChristian.” Also, I do not mean that I personally thought the original book was really poorly written (which I do, in fact, think, just for the record.  It’s so bad.  It’s so, so bad.)  Also, I do not mean that I do not understand the attraction of watching this movie in a large room with a group of people who are also watching this movie and gahhhh uncomfortable just thinking about it ahhhh NO I DON’T UNDERSTAND.  But people can watch things I don’t like!  Even ones about sex!  That’s totally fine.  I’ve tried watching Friends a bunch of different times, and it just doesn’t take.  This does not mean that people should not watch this movie.

It’s also super not chill that people are tearing this thing apart because “it’s mommy porn.”  Women, even mothers, are allowed to run their own sex lives, including reading romance novels and watching their adaptations.  Jenny Trout, an absolutely amazing author and blogger, discusses this in her recaps of every single chapter of all of these books, which you can and should read here.  No, don’t stay away from this movie because it won’t be good; stay away because it’s demonstrably bad.

1. The book is plagiarism.
Okay, yes, fanfiction happens, no matter how much we’d like to pretend it didn’t.  I ended up in an internet wormhole one time and read about 50 pages’ worth of One Direction fanfiction.  …There is no justification in this, only shame, and please at least be proud that I stopped, okay?  And this is not to beat up on the quality of the book by saying that it’s fanfiction: there is a whole host of well-written fanfiction (and in the case of Jane Austen, an entire industry).

However.  This series of three books was begun as Master of the Universe, by Snowqueens Icedragon.  (I cannot in good faith mock her screenname, because duuuuude I would have been ALL OVER THAT at like 14-15 like are you serious ICEDRAGON??? hell YES)  Christian is Edward, Ana is Bella, BDSM is vampirism, etc etc.  She and her publishers have repeatedly said that MotU and 50SoG are different works, but if you run ’em through a standard “did this student plagiarize” thingy, it’ll pop out with 89% similarity.  If you run anything important in the book through a standard “why the hell does this sound so familiar to Twilight” brain comparison, it’s probably like 97%.  Yes, the author still made up her own “plot” “points” and yes every bit of literature is inspired by other literature and yes it would be really hard to make out a full copyright case but ughhhh do we really want to reward this?  And not just reward it, let it sell a book every two seconds, which, in fact, was the rate at which the series was selling at its zenith.

2. The series is hugely judgmental of others’ sex lives, particularly those who practice BDSM.
(not The Others’ sex lives.  I’m assuming they don’t have them?  Sorry if I’m wrong, White Walkers you get down with your bad selves)
This book is not a how-to about BDSM.  It’s more of a how-not-to.  It is stated over and over in the series that Christian is only into his type of sex (“my tastes are very…singular” ughughugh) because he’s broken, and that his sexual preferences are evidence of his damage.

This picture came up when I searched that quote and now I can’t stop laughing

We’re told he was abandoned in a horrific way as a kid, and then one of his adoptive mother’s friends made him her submissive when he was a teenager. So now this is all he does.  He doesn’t like anything but his own “kinky fuckery” (this is a legitimate phrase that happens in this series more than once and I’m sorry for making you read it but IF I HAVE TO SUFFER, SO DO YOU.)  Ana tries repeatedly to basically love him to wellness, which means no submission, no Red Room of Pain, no other ridiculously mild forms of bondage.  Seriously, guys, if anyone is scandalized by the sex in these books, just shut down Frederick’s of Hollywood and like, music videos.  There is nothing scandalous in here.  And that’s ME saying this.

There are a billion things wrong with Christian Grey and with Christian and Ana’s relationship, but the BDSM aspects are exactly none of them.  People who enjoy this type of sex, and literally any other type of consensual sex, are not broken, or damaged, or scandalous.  They’re just some people who like a thing, and to act like there’s something wrong with the way consenting adults choose to have sex (and especially to imply that only screwed up people like BDSM) is unacceptable.

3. Ana, the heroine, is horrible to every other woman.
This is not a person you want to emulate in any way.  Remember in the Twilight movies, where everyone was inexplicably nice to Bella even though she seemed like not interested in literally any of their own lives/problems/anything except Edward?  Ana is the same way, except somehow worse, and there is no Anna Kendrick to sweep in and be sassy.  She ignores or discards every friend she has, up to and including being annoyed by their enthusiasm to talk to her.  She describes any questions asked of her by her best friend, Kate, as “the Katherine Kavanaugh Inquisition.”  Gurl, this is your friend asking you shit about your life, can u not.

The worse part, though, is her absolute disdain for every other woman who looks at Christian for a second, in particular blondes and women who wear more makeup than she does.  She gives them little derisive nicknames in her head, like “Miss European Pigtails,” “Miss Flushing Crimson,” “Miss Very Short Hair and Red Lipstick,” and my personal favorite, “Miss Hotpants,” for a hostess at a nightclub who wears them as part of her goddamn uniform.  This dude is the epitome of male beauty but if any woman looks at him “for longer than strictly necessary” (an actual Ana original, right there), bitch hold my earrings because you do not look at my man like that.

I get it: I spent portions of my life being angry at women prettier than me, but I don’t get how it is still A Thing past the age of like, 16 to be angry at women who wear makeup and look nice and might be attracted to the same person you are.  E.L James is (in theory?) a grown-ass woman, her heroine is 22 at the beginning of the book, and both should know better.  Ana is absolutely insufferable and horrible to those around her, and it is really freaking hard to dredge up any sympathy for her.

However, I do sympathize with her, because this leads me to the most important one –

4. The hero is abusive.
This is not in any kind of shades of grey.  This is black and white, textbook-case, completely clear abuse.

The first big romantic gesture in the book is Christian tracking Ana’s phone to discover she’s at a bar, and he shows up to the bar, fends off a different guy, Ana passes out, and then he takes Ana with him to his hotel.  This is not romantic, this is not sweet, I don’t care that he fought off another guy who was trying to attack her, he tracked a woman’s phone and took her unconscious body to a second location.  And that’s just the beginning.

Here’s some key points from a list you may recognize.

  • You feel uncomfortable about something he has said, or done, and the feeling remains
  • You make excuses for his character or minimize his behavior
  • You tell your friends you are “unsure about the relationship”
  • You think no one else in his life understands him
  • You sense he is pushing too quickly for an emotional connection with you
  • You notice he quickly discloses information about his past or present emotional pain
  • You wish he would go away, you want to cry, and you want to run away from him
  • You feel bad about yourself when you are around him

This is a list of red flags meant to be used when you or someone you care about is potentially in an abusive relationship, and these are all things Ana either says or thinks during the course of the books, multiple times.  She is regularly afraid of him, and is worried that he’ll be mad over things like a male friend calling her cellphone: something she has no control over.  She tries to get in with his therapist so she can help fix him with love, or something.  She tells both her mother and her best friend, in tears, that she’s scared.   And the BDSM component of their relationship?  Ana repeatedly describes what they do as “he hit me” or “he hurt me,” and Christian uses it as an excuse to threaten horrific things, up to and including threatening to “beat the shit out of her” because he’s angry with her.

This is not BDSM, this is not love, this is not admirable.  This is abuse, and many, MANY women have come forward to say this; they say their abusers acted like Christian Grey.  The fact that he has a fucking helicopter and pretty hair does not make him a Billionaire Bad Boy, they make him a terrible human with a ton of money.

The worst worst part?  E.L. James has dismissed survivors who have contacted her to let her know that her book describes an abusive relationship.  She has said she does not see what she’s written as abuse.  This is not negotiable, she is wrong, and she is now also a billionaire of being wrong.

Maybe the movie won’t be like this, but then the movie wouldn’t be Fifty Shades of Grey, and judging by the trailer, it will be.

“Okay, so what if I want to actually see it now?  You can’t stop me from doing that, and the movie’s going to make money anyway!”
You’re completely right!  I cannot stop you from going, and this damn thing with its inexplicably good soundtrack??? (Twilight is to Muse what 50SoG is to Beyonce????) is gonna make a gazillion dollars no matter what you do.  The two things I’ve heard so far that I like are

– Buy a ticket to a Better Movie (meaning probably any other movie?  Idec go see The Hobbit again) and then sneak in to see this movie so you’ll be able to critique it
I don’t dislike this option, but it will probably not be the one I choose, because I am so uncomfortably a Good Girl that I cannot do anything Bad without having a gigantic bout of anxiety.  Like, I felt bad at law school events taking the Lexis swag because I preferred Westlaw.  I’m messed up, I get it.

Option 2!
– Donate whatever the cost of the ticket was and then some to a women’s shelter
This one will be my option if I choose to see the movie, and I think it’s a really good call.

I am not telling you you cannot see the movie.  I’m not telling you you cannot like the book.  I’m telling you to be aware that the book unarguably describes an abuser and is problematic as hell, so just be aware and critical of the media you consume.

And don’t buy that bear oh my GOD do not buy that bear.

The heavier stuff

Why does she stay?

September 9, 2014

I don’t know Janay Rice.  I don’t know her story, other than what’s been captured on film or filtered and given to us.  I don’t know if she loves her husband or fears him or both.  But we need to stop putting any responsibility on her and other victims of domestic violence for their own abuse. “Why does she stay?” is the most disgusting of questions, because it puts all the agency on her, when she usually has none.  If you ask the question, you might get an answer you like, or don’t like, but it really doesn’t matter, because you shouldn’t be asking that question in the first place.

Why might she stay?

Maybe she stays because it earns her money.  Maybe Rice earns enough that she’s comfortable, and doesn’t have to work, and he buys her nice things.  Maybe she didn’t want to give up the fame that comes with being married to a player on the Baltimore Ravens.  And this doesn’t change the fact that her partner hits her.

Maybe she has no support network.  Maybe her family, or her friends, or her church, or the Ravens, are all telling her that he’ll change, she should stay, or that they can’t handle her moving in with them if she were to leave.  Maybe she has no family.  Maybe she has no close friends. Maybe he’s made sure of her having no close friends.  Maybe she doesn’t want to leave her home and go to a shelter because it’s not the same standard of living she’s used to.  This doesn’t change the fact that her partner hits her.

Maybe she’s scared for her daughter, Rayven.  Maybe she’s worried that if she leaves, her daughter will never see her father, and she doesn’t want that.  Maybe she’ll be scared that if she leaves, her child will be in danger, or she won’t be able to support her without her husband.  Her abuser also being her daughter’s father doesn’t change the fact that her partner hits her.

Maybe she thinks she deserves it.  Maybe she saw the tape, and thought that her actions towards him were too aggressive for a wife.  Maybe her brain tells her that she mouthed off, that she got him mad, that she should have walked away before things got heated.  Maybe her brain tells her that she’s supposed to be the stability of their marriage, and she let him down.  Maybe her brain talks in its own voice, or maybe it talks in his.  This doesn’t change the fact that her partner hits her.

Maybe she loves him.  Maybe he’s told her that he lost control, but he’ll never do it again because his love for her is stronger than anything, and that together they can work through their problems.  Maybe he buys her flowers after.  Maybe he tells her that he wouldn’t make it without her, or that he’ll do something dangerous if she leaves.  Maybe the video caught his worst moment, and 99% of the time she knows he’s good to her.  Or maybe in his calm moments he’s good to her, and she only sees those moments every so often, but when they come, it’s wonderful.  Or maybe her love for him is completely irrational and he’s never good to her.  None of this changes the fact that her partner hits her.

Maybe she’s scared.  Maybe she knows the statistic that the time women are most likely to be killed by their abusers is when they attempt to leave.  Maybe her statements about true love have all been under coercion.  Maybe she thought that he’d hit her more if he lost his job because she wasn’t standing by him.  Maybe he’s threatened her, or maybe he hasn’t, but she thinks something bad will happen.  Maybe she’s scared but nothing bad actually will happen.  This doesn’t change the fact that her partner hits her.

Unless you’re a trained professional directly aiding the victim, trying to determine why a woman stays in an abusive relationship is a selfish, insulting, horrible thing to do.  This question is nearly never asked for the victim’s benefit; it’s asked so whoever’s asking gets to stop caring because she could have left and helped herself.

There are so, so many better questions you can ask.

Why do so many men hit the women they’re married to?
Why did the Ravens take so long to fire Ray Rice?
Why are DV shelters so full, and why can’t they get funding?
Should DAs be able to prosecute abusers when their victims don’t want them to?
What do we do to help?

I don’t know if we’ll get answers to any of them any time soon, but these are the questions that have to get asked.

The heavier stuff

I read Elliot Rodger’s manifesto so you don’t have to…but you probably have.

May 27, 2014

You can, if you want.  I wouldn’t.  I can summarize it for you with a few choice quotes.  There’s a whole lot of racist and classist garbage.  There’s a lot of “beautiful blonde,” there’s a lot of “supreme gentleman,” there’s a lot of “deserve.”

And if you’re female, you’ve probably seen a milder version of this most days of your life.

I spent a lot of time this past weekend on the #YesAllWomen hashtag on Twitter.  The phrasing on this hashtag is a play on the words “not all men,” an expression you’ll frequently see when people try to bring up anything related to violence or general harm against women that’s committed by men.

It will appear like this:
“When women are raped…” “Not all men rape!”
“Women are frequent victims of domestic violence..” “Not all men are abusers!”
“Many women get catcalled walking down the street…” “Well I don’t catcall anyone!”

I get it, guys, I do.  I’m not being sarcastic here.  Elliot Rodger was a raging misogynist, and you don’t in ANY way want to be associated with him.  He was a disgusting human being, and his actions were unforgivable.  Most men aren’t like him!

But I listened to the radio this morning, and I heard a guy who called in say that he, too, frequently gets mad at women because he sees them with “the wrong guys,” and he lets out his resulting anger by listening to music or playing violent video games.  Elliot Rodger got mad at couples too, and wrote about throwing his hot coffee on couples that disgusted him, hoping to burn them.

I’ve talked to men about the pick-up artist community, who calls women “targets,” and is willing to sacrifice the personhood of those women to win sex.  Elliot Rodger tried the pickup artist technique, and spent time on a website called PUAHate.  This website does not criticize pickup artists for treating women like objects; its members hate on the technique because it doesn’t work.

I watched an episode of The Big Bang Theory in which Howard is painted to be a sad geek who just wants to love women, and never gets the chance, all because Penny calls him “creepy.”  She explains to him that she’s not interested in him, he attempts to kiss her anyway, and she punches him.  His last line states that he’s “at least halfway to pity sex.”  Elliot Rodger played World of Warcraft and skateboarded and read A Song of Ice and Fire and just wanted a girlfriend.

I heard a conversation on a SEPTA train where two guys were describing this one girl as a “whore” who would “f*** anything that moves,” but they also “wouldn’t say no if she offered, I mean, I’m only human, right?”  Elliot Rodger wanted nothing more than to lose his virginity to a beautiful blonde, but called all the blondes he saw “sluts” in his manifesto.

I’ve been catcalled while wearing a dress, and while wearing jeans; I’ve been called a “bitch” because I don’t respond to the catcalls, and my choice to respond is taken away from me because the men drive away…and because I don’t know if I’ll be attacked if I respond.  Elliot Rodger would spill his coffee on people and then run or drive away before anyone could do anything to stop him.

I’ve seen parents tell their little nerdy boys that “the geeks shall inherit the earth,” and let them know that once they’re older, girls will be lining up to date them because they’ll have great jobs and tons of money.  Elliot Rodger was an affluent young man, and didn’t understand why his fancy car and Hugo Boss shirts and Gucci sunglasses didn’t turn into automatic sex for him.

I’ve heard close friends detract women as “crazy,” and dismiss their exes as “she doesn’t even know what she wants.”  Elliot Rodger called all women, including his mother, mentally ill, because they didn’t make the “right” choices, the choices he would have forced them to make.

I’ve read writings of men who don’t understand why on Earth a girl doesn’t want to date them when they’d treat their women like queens.  Elliot Rodger’s “Day of Retribution” was committed because he felt he hadn’t gotten what he deserved, and “if I can’t have them, no one can have them.”

And in the #YesAllWomen tag?  I’ve given up on you if you’ve decided to take over a hashtag written by women to discuss the universal shared experience of feeling threatened every. fucking. day. of their lives to interject and say “Well I’M not like that!” as if it mattered at all.

My first contribution to this tag was this:
“#YesAllWomen Since when is ‘not all of us’ a good enough standard? Go fix it until it’s ‘not any men.'”

No one is giving you a medal because you weren’t Elliot Rodger.  That isn’t the decency standard.  If you’ve laughed at a rape joke, if you’ve called yourself a “nice guy,” if you’ve heard a catcall and said nothing, if you saw this story break and felt anything except “what the hell is WRONG with men,” you’re a part of the problem.  Women are trying to fix it, but we can’t fix everything; you have to help.  Not just sit there and not hurt anyone and hijiack a hashtag to tell everyone how not-terrible you are: actively fix this problem.

My other contribution to this tag was this:
“#YesAllWomen makes men mad because they’re grouped with misogynists.  It makes women mad because misogyny kills us.  See the difference?”

Being grouped with Elliot Rodger sucks.  You know what’s worse?  Having “text me that you got home safe” after a date being a necessity.  Needing to alter routes or when you leave somewhere because it’s dark out.  Getting called a c*** because you won’t respond to a guy calling you “cutie” from across the street.  Being terrified to reject advances because you think you might get assaulted.  Getting assaulted.  Getting killed.

I get that this makes you uncomfortable, but it should make you more uncomfortable that literally every woman you talk to is scared at least once a day.  When every interaction I have with an unknown male is a game of Russian roulette with vaguely better odds, I don’t want to hear how I’ll be fine because you’re not a bullet.  We’re not having this discussion to attack you; we’re trying to stop being scared and getting hurt.

You’re not Elliot Rodger.  Go fix the world so no one is.

Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire, The heavier stuff

Brienne the Beauty and what this means for us

March 23, 2014

Relatively short post that attempts to sum up my thoughts on the line “Everyone is beautiful!”

I’ve always had a thing for female warriors in fiction, especially when they’re fighting in a male-dominated society.  Alanna the Lioness was my main girl…at least, until Tamora Pierce wrote the Protector of the Small books, and then my love was shared with Keladry of Mindelan.  These women put everything aside to do what they wanted to do, and endured taunting and secrecy and betrayal for, frankly, the privilege of being hacked at by men with swords.  But I started to notice something with all of these women.

They weren’t just badass; they were beautiful.

Alanna, Keladry, Eowyn, Katniss; they all were at least above-average in what was considered conventional beauty.  Every one of them had love interests; some of them had several.  Many chose to grow out their hair and wear dresses; many got married and had children.  As much as men wanted them off the battlefields, they also wanted them in bed.  Perhaps not their bed, but at least a bed, because of course someone wanted them.

And then, sometime in 2010, I read A Clash of Kings, and was introduced to Brienne of Tarth, and my world changed. (Side note: this stuff pretty much doesn’t apply to Gwendoline Christie, who plays Brienne in Game of Thrones.  She’s over six feet tall, but she’s also certainly conventionally attractive.)

File:Brienne by quickreaver.jpg
My personal favorite fan art of her

Brienne is a warrior implied to have the skill to best all but a handful of men in Westeros, and not through the trope of being small and quicker than her bumbling male opponents.  She’s six and a half feet tall, and essentially pure muscle, with barely noticeable “female” secondary sex characteristics.  She keeps her hair short, not as a cute pixie cut, but so she can look more male and fight better.  She doesn’t have a quick, sassy wit to keep her opponents off-base: I’d even argue she’s not very bright.  And, most importantly, she’s ugly.  Not “ugly-duckling-but-can-be-a-swan-when-grown” ugly, since she’s supposed to be in her early twenties when introduced.  Not “she’d be pretty with a bit of makeup” ugly: she’s described as having a face like a ham, and no dresses would fit her.  Not Hollywood-ugly, where you take the character’s hair out of a ponytail and switch out the glasses for contacts and new haircut and she’s a babe because she’s actually been one the whole time.  And not even “she’s ugly for a woman but hot for a man” ugly so that hijinks can ensue when someone, male or female, finds her attractive.  It’s 100% possible and implied that no one ever really will.  Her name is Brienne the Beauty, not as a hint to her true appearance when the man of her dreams is waiting in the wings (yes, but what about Jaime, I know, I know, I get it, let me make my point anyway), but because the (fictional but still patriarchal) world mocks her for looking the way she does.

And you know what?  I LOVE IT.

I love it SO MUCH I can’t even express it in speech because I get too excited.  George R.R. Martin finally wrote a patriarchy-defying character in all sense of the statement: no one wanted her on the battlefield, but no one secretly wanted to bang her either.  AND THAT’S AMAZING.  SHE’S AMAZING.  SHE’S THIS UNATTRACTIVE MASS OF MUSCLE AND SWORD SKILLS AND IT’S AMAZING.

Some of you might be tempted to say something like “aww, don’t call her unattractive!  She’s the best!”  You see what’s going on there?  She IS the best, and she’s also unattractive, and that’s totally okay!  Why? Because beauty is 100000% subjective and highly influenced by society and advertising and other associated bullshit and should never, EVER be a measure of a person’s worth.  Statements such as “everyone is beautiful” are well-intentioned, but they miss the mark.  Beauty straight up does not matter to how you should value a person, and this goes double for women because they are the ones who suffer more when their appearances aren’t up to standard.  The ugliest person in the entire goshdarn world is as deserving of your respect as the most beautiful.  “Every person has worth, regardless of beauty” is a much more accurate statement.

I realize that attempting to teach that statement as a replacement (especially to groups that include young girls who have been taught since birth that beauty is the most important thing) will be an uphill battle.  I realize the intentions of calling everyone beautiful are wonderful and pure and good-hearted.  I realize that to maintain a sexual relationship with someone, a perception of beauty most certainly does matter.  I realize a lot of y’all want Jaime and Brienne to get together and go on adventures and be adorable. (Trust me, I SO get that one.) REGARDLESS.  I’d really, really love to see the entire way we speak about a person’s value become independent of how they look.  Because Brienne is my homegirl no matter how ham-like her face.  Brienne the Worthy.  Brienne the Awesome.  Brienne the Badass.  Brienne the Ham-Faced Deliverer of Justice.  Pick whatever you’d like, she’s still the best.  She still has value.  And so does every single “ugly” person in the world.