On Shakespeare’s Ophelia

June 12, 2010 § 11 Comments

In my Shakespeare class, our final paper was on Shakespeare’s epic Hamlet and out of all the choices of topics we had to write about, I chose Ophelia. During our unit on Hamlet I found myself surprised over and over again by how intensely many people seemed to hate her. (And I don’t use the term hate lightly, I mean they despised her!) “The play would be the same without her!” “She doesn’t DO anything.” “She’s way too passive!” At one point, I ended up in a very impassioned debate outside of class against five other classmates. Guess who the one person that liked Ophelia was?

To be sure, Ophelia is a passive character, but for some reason that fact doesn’t cause me to loathe her. Weird.

I wrote this paper as a sort of defense, if you will. I think that Ophelia’s passivity stems from her environment and that the truly tragic thing about her is that she knows no other way to act. She is one of only two females drowning (forgive the pun–I’m tired) in an overpoweringly large cast of males. She has no support system that encourages her to act on her own and every man around her somehow feels the need to tell her how to behave. But I won’t lay out my thesis right here and now. You can click below to read the full paper.

I figure at least one reader must be a Shakespeare buff. Enjoy!

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Smilla’s Sense of Snow

January 3, 2010 § 1 Comment

I spent most of the holiday vacation zipping through Smilla’s Sense of Snow, a Danish thriller by Peter Hoeg. It was published over 15 years ago but its themes of political corruption, ethnic tension, and the dangers of scientific exploration still feel relevant. The novel follows Smilla Qaavigaaq Jaspersen, daughter of a deceased Greenlandic hunter and a power-hungry Danish physician, as she uncovers the mystery behind the death of a Greenlandic child in her building in Copenhagen.

Most mystery novels revolve around men. If a woman is present in the book, she is usually a sidekick, often characterized as exotic and sensual. By the end of the novel, when the murder is solved, they have sex. (Think every one of Dan Brown’s bestsellers.) These women are certainly appealing — male readers are supposed to like them because they’re fuckable and just smart enough (not too smart to be threatening or emasculating); female readers envy them because of their breezy confidence and obvious sex appeal. But these women are insubstantial. By the end of the novel the author assures us that they are mere sex objects.

Smilla, on the other hand, is a fascinating protagonist; on the book’s back cover, People describes her as a “spellbinding central female.” She is complex. She has a sexual relationship with a neighbor, but it does not overpower or overwhelm her. She effectively resists the cold-seductress/willing-sex-object dichotomy, confidently navigating the murky waters between dependence, self-sufficiency, passion, and control.

In the midst of her new relationship, she consciously strives to maintain her own identity, setting aside time to spend alone in her apartment. She’s also damn strong, braving violence and swimming naked through the freezing Copenhagen harbor.

Author Hoeg also takes on issues related to the Danish colonialization of Greenland, exemplified in Smilla’s ambiguous relationship with her father and memories of assimilating to Danish culture after being forced to leave Greenland as a child.

I’m not the biggest fan of mysteries, but I highly recommend Smilla’s Sense of Snow for its intricate plot, brave political implications, and of course, beautifully crafted protagonist.

Sexism and Psychopathology

September 25, 2009 § 2 Comments

Hey there.

In this first semester, I am taking a class entitled Abnormal Psychology, which is all about the philosophy, diagnoses, and treatments that surround the field of mental health. It’s been really baller so far, and my love for the class only increased when my professor lectured this week on the psychopathological effects of sexism on both men and women!!!

Overall, the sexist gender norms that men and women are expected to emulate have been correlated with post traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, substance abuse, attention deficit disorder, and obsessive compulsive disorder across both genders. All us feminists know that sexism hurts everybody, but I just think it’s so interesting and enlightening to see that stupid stereotypes actually have the power to make us psychopathological. That means that some of us are altered on literally a biological level by all the oppressive bullshit out there.

My professor (who happens to be a man, makes this even cooler) also lectured on the five stages of feminism as a means by which individuals can avoid and overcome sexism-linked psychopathology. Seriously cool. Here they are:

1. Passive acceptance of gender roles.

2. Questioning of gender roles — anger at self and others for allowing sexism and inequality.

3. Reaching out to a network for connectedness — “sisterhood.”

4. Synthesis stage — own sense of identity is solidified and and the individual can make decisions about sexism by themselves on a case to case basis.

5. Activism.

Those stuck in stage two are most likely to suffer from phobias, a feeling of alienation, depression, and anxiety.

Those who make it to stages four and five are least likely to suffer from those ailments, and are at lower risk for developing an eating disorder.

You think feminists are crazy? Think again.

Win!!!!!

Lovely Hula Hands

September 14, 2009 § Leave a comment

This is another one of my Sociology readings (they are proving to be great Women’s Glib resources!) that I find incredibly interesting. I’m a little too tired to comment on it, but these issues of exploitation and American obsession with exoticism are things I’d like to soon delve into. Anyway, here is the link to the article, Lovely Hula Hands.

Glee FAIL, Crossing The Line!!

September 11, 2009 § 33 Comments

Last night I decided to stay in and watch the second episode of the new TV show, Glee. The pilot episode was pretty interesting, with over the top high school characters, cheesy dialogue and intensely bright wardrobes. This was all intentional, similar in style to Ugly Betty. The pilot was entertaining enough, and I’m a huge dork and LOVE singing on television, so I thought I’d give episode two a try.

I’m glad I did, because now I know I will NEVER watch that show again. Glee simply took the high school stereotypes way too far, to an extremely uncomfortable level! I was shocked!

Examples:

The gay kid, in a ridiculously high-pitched lispy voice exclaimed that he refused to mess up his facial. Everyone knows he’s gay. It’s perfectly fine, in a show like this, to emphasize that fact… but seriously? He needs to have SOME unique characteristics. I don’t even know his name. He is known as the gay kid, without any other personality traits. Guess what? Homosexual is not a personality type! That was the first indicator of extreme prejudice among many examples.

Perhaps more offensive was the portrayal of the only black girl in Glee club. Obviously, when the club tackled Kanye (which was pretty fantastic, unfortunately), “black girl” took over the lead. Because she’s black, of course. She was teaching everyone else in the club some finger-wagging riffs. Additionally, the black girl (I don’t know HER name either, same story as above, NO personality except “ghetto”) is the only girl on the show who isn’t stick thin. Because black girls must have booties… but I haven’t even got to the bad part. When she was angry about the impending termination of Glee club, she threatened casually to bust her knife out. WHAT THE FUCK???? Way to support the belief that black people have an inherent predisposition to violent behavior.This show is really quite sickening.

Glee also decided that episode 2 was the right time to insensitively deal with really devastating teen issues, such as bulimia. The show poked fun at the ridiculous pamphlets in the guidance counselor’s office, once again crossing the line. There were several pamphlets, but the only one I distinctly remember said, “So you like throwing up?” Let me tell you, I wanted to throw up RIGHT THERE.

Interestingly enough, the lead female of the Glee club crashes the celibacy club and spouts some knowledge about the negative effects of teens practicing abstinence. This was sort of cool because the celibacy club hardcore judges those who choose to involve themselves in sexual behavior, so they deserved some sort of attack, however, I was slightly uncomfortable that the lead girl was telling everyone to give into their desires point blank. Not that there’s anything wrong with doing that, but I think it’s something that does take a certain amount of rational assessment.

And if you thought only high school students were victims of the condescending blows, think again! The older generation on the show has their own set of ridiculous incidences as well. Most offensively, the show really belittles the terrible phenomenon of hysterical pregnancy (this is the term they used, anyway, I’m not sure if it’s the appropriate one). They actually turned the false pregnancy into a comedic plot. I wanted to cry.

All in all… EW. I warn you, do not watch Glee. It’s not even entertaining enough to be a REALLY guilty pleasure.

Am I a Spanish Barbie?

September 3, 2009 § 4 Comments

Hola feministas (I have no idea if that’s a real world, but it seems fairly appropriate).

I’m sitting in the library doing my listening homework for my intro to Spanish class, all the while having little feminist daydreams. What’s currently on my mind are the ridiculous gender roles portrayed in language learning audio supplements. There is always a man and a woman having a charming conversation. The man has a deep, rich voice, while the woman’s is light and dainty. I’m kind of afraid that, in listening to these obnoxiously stereotypical gendered voices, I will adopt one myself, and inevitably become a Spanish Barbie doll.

I think the reason most tapes get away with this is because they typically have one person reading for each gender. Obviously, you aren’t going to get a whole lot of variety out of that. It just saddens me that there is one more part of my education that pushes traditional gender roles in a discreet (and therefore harder to call out) way. Luckily, women’s glib is the perfect forum for calling out seemingly insignificant shit.

Adios!

Hate Mail Targets Inwood Restaurants

July 31, 2009 § 4 Comments

I heard a story on NPR this morning about several Latino-owned businesses in Inwood — many that my friends and I frequent — receiving hateful letters, to the tune of “vermin pigeons,” “speak English,” “stop wrecking my U.S.A.,” and “step down Sotomayor.”

Fernando Mateo, of Hispanics Across America, claims the restaurants have been receiving the letters every couple of months, and he believes owners fear the hateful words might soon turn into violence.

“That somebody may come with a machine gun and shoot-up the area, shoot-up the patrons, you know?” Mateo said. “We don’t want to wait until it escalates into gunfire.”

Jesus Hernandez also owns a restaurant in the area – Mama Sushi. He came to the US from the Dominican Republic at age 14, and worked hard to be able to open his own business seven years later.

Mama Sushi opened eight months ago, and Hernandez said he cannot understand who is targeting his store and the other businesses on the block.

“I don’t have just Latin people coming here,” Hernandez said. “I have black, I have white I have all kinds of people as customers so I can’t point out anybody who would do such a thing.”

Mateo said he will be turning some of the letters over to the Federal Bureau of Investigation Thursday for analysis. He has also been in contact with the Department of Justice for Human Rights about the threats.

Obviously I know on an intellectual level that this shit happens all the time, but it’s something completely new to think of hate-motivated violence happening on streets where I walk. Altogether terrible, especially on a community level.

Another movie I won’t be seeing

July 24, 2009 § 4 Comments

Get it? Because men don't have brains, and women don't like sex! It's all becoming clear.

Get it? Because men don't have brains, and women don't like sex! It's all becoming clear.

It’s summer, and though I’m busy working my tail patience off as a camp counselor, I also have quite a bit of downtime. I’ve seen a bunch of movies lately: some silly ones with my family (The Proposal and Year One) as well as films that I actually wanted to see (Away We Go and, last night, 500 Days of Summer — both excellent, the latter mostly because of my enormous crush on Zooey Deschanel). But one movie that I’m certain I won’t spend $12.50 on is The Ugly Truth, starring part-time feminist Katherine Heigl as a “romantically challenged morning show producer” and Gerard Butler as a professional douche. I’ve seen some previews that warned me of its knee-slappin’ “humor,” and then this morning I read the excellently scathing New York Times review by Manohla Dargis, fabulously titled Girl Meets Ape, and Complications Ensue.

When it comes to the old straight-boy-meets-straight-girl configuration with big-studio production values…the romantic comedy is nearly as dead as Meg Ryan’s career. In the best of these films, the women aren’t romantic foils, much less equals: they’re either (nice) sluts or (nicer) wives, and essentially as mysterious and unknowable as the dark side of the moon.

Which leads to “The Ugly Truth,” a cynical, clumsy, aptly titled attempt to cross the female-oriented romantic comedy with the male-oriented gross-out comedy that is interesting on several levels, none having to do with cinema. Katherine Heigl plays Abby, a producer for a ratings-challenged Sacramento morning television show, the kind that specializes in empty smiles, cooking tips and weather updates. She’s single and therefore, in the moral economy of modern Hollywood, unhappy. Her life goes into a tailspin when her boss hires a professional ape, Mike (Gerard Butler), who delivers loutish maxims on camera about the sexes that basically all boil down to this: Men have penises, and women should accommodate them any which way they can, preferably in push-up bras and remote-controlled vibrating panties.

…Ms. Heigl doesn’t do perky all that persuasively, but she does keep her smile and relative dignity even in scenes in which Abby is forced to play the fool, which is often, as when she’s hanging upside down from a tree in her skivvies. She even survives the scene that finds Abby writhing spasmodically during a dinner with her corporate masters, because, well, she’s wearing those pulsating panties, the boy at the next table has the remote, and there’s nothing funnier (or, really, scarier) than the spectacle of female pleasure.

I am SO. TIRED. of media that portrays women’s minds as murky, our bodies as property, and our desires as hilarious. A woman’s sexuality is not so damn difficult to understand — if you talk to and listen to her, which society is apparently loath to do.

And another thing: no one seems to get that these movies are as offensive to men as they are to women. Commenters on IMDB rave that it’s a “comedy for both sexes,” one you can “bring your boyfriend” to. Men should not be like Butler’s skeevy character; and what’s more, they aren’t. But movies like this convince the public that guys are practically children, and we shouldn’t expect to hold them accountable for atrocious sexist behavior.

“The Ugly Truth” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian).
The language is consistently crude and includes the apparently now requisite antigay slurs.

Yeah. Because straight = manly, manly = asshole, and asshole = sexy.

Two Things

June 23, 2009 § Leave a comment

There are two things I’ve seen today that I think do the lovely, much-needed job of demystifying queerness. The first, a video via Shakes called Yes, We’re Gay But...

In the comment thread at Shakes, it’s been rightly pointed out that this video features almost entirely white gay men, which bolsters the privileged poster kid of the LGBTQ rights movement. Commenter Abby writes after commenting in that vein, “I think I was reacting to it based on discussions here and elsewhere about upper-middle-class-white-guys dominating the discussion about homosexuality, and wanting the video to be more inclusive. BUT it is still a great video.” I’m inclined to agree. The erasure of less-privileged queer folks within the movement is a serious issue, to be sure, but the video is still inspiring in its own right. Anyway, here it is (transcript in the original Shakes post):

The second, a post on Feministing Community by allybally called What’s It Like to Have Sex With A Girl?

But ask me now, “What is sex with a woman like?” and if I managed to resist rolling my eyes and walking off, I would be likely to say, “sometimes awkward, sometimes amazing, sometimes downright crappy, sometimes orgasmic; just like sex has always been, and always will be, throughout the ages.”

Enjoy, equality-lovers!

Princess Fat-Shaming

June 19, 2009 § 14 Comments

Via Latoya at Racialicious, I see a series of photographs by Dina Goldstein entitled “Fallen Princesses”. Goldstein says of her project:

These works place Fairy Tale characters in modern day scenarios. In all of the images the Princess is placed in an environment that articulates her conflict. The ‘…happily ever after’ is replaced with a realistic outcome and addresses current issues.

It’s a cool idea, artistically speaking, and some of the images are very thought-provoking. I especially liked the irony in the portrait of Snow White, an exhausted-looking young mother burdened by four kids.

But the project has some disastrous issues. Latoya’s post (go read it) and the subsequent comment thread are a nice breakdown of some troubling ethnic and racial stereotypes that Goldstein presents in her reappropriated version of Jasmine. And I’m also uncomfortable with Goldstein’s depiction of the “fallen” Little Red Riding Hood, boringly titled “Not so Little Riding Hood”:

red riding hood

Commenter Brenda DeShazer writes:

Excellent, let’s reinforce the stereotype that fat people gobble huge quantities of burgers and sodas.

For reals. I see two glaringly problematic stereotypes embodied in this photograph: that fat people eat indiscriminantly and “unhealthily”; and that being fat is the ultimate downfall.

This is the polemic “realistic outcome” that Goldstein came up with? Seems to me that she herself has fallen back on unoriginal (and clearly offensive) stereotypes.

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