Archives for posts with tag: sexism

Lindsay crusades against lazy “Scandinavian ice princess” metaphors.

Because you’re a woman, the music industry puts you in another corner. I want to be fighting with the men.
– Lykke Li

On her first record she was the submissive. Now she’s the dominant. I know massive success is going to happen. When? I’m not that clever. I just know it will.
-Atlantic Records U.K. Chairman Max Lousada

Lykke Li recorded her first album, Youth Novels, when she was 19. On it, the Swedish singer introduced herself as an introspective, honey-voiced wallflower who found pop music a means for communicating her feelings; “Couldn’t possibly tell you/How I mean but I/can dance dance dance” went the standout track, “Dance Dance Dance.” The maudlin ballads on Youth Novels were balanced out with punchy pop anthems like “Breaking It Up” and “I’m Good, I’m Gone,” on which she offered up a few choice words for the haters: “If you say I aim too high from down below/Well say it now ’cause when I’m gone/You’ll be callin’ but I won’t be at the phone.”

Though Youth Novels found Li trying out a variety of different personas like so many oversized ponchos, the “honey-voiced wallflower” (or, to quote her US label exec Lousada, “submissive”) image won out in the media depiction of her. This was perhaps due to the context in which many were introduced to her terrific and sultry breakout hit, “Little Bit:” soundtracking Heidi Klum’s pensive wanderings through a windblown glass elevator in this inspired Victoria’s Secret ad. Li then won over more new fans when Degrassi‘s own sultry dude Drake sampled it on his breakout mixtape So Far Gone.

Li and Drake’s words meld together seamlessly on the chorus of his reappropriated version of “Little Bit,” but plenty of writers responded to Youth Novels Li was in terms that you’d never see in a Drake review. In Spin, Sean Fennessey called Li “an adorable little thing” and attributed the triumphs of Youth Novels to Li’s producer Bjorn Yttling, praising him for “keep[ing] things from ever getting too cute.” (If that’s what a producer’s there for, shouldn’t we offer up similar thanks to Yeezy for cutting all those references to rainbows and unicorns in “Find Your Love”?) Also, good luck finding a review or an article about Li of her that doesn’t contain the word “beautiful,” “sexy” or make some sort of comment about her looks.

As she began work on her second album, Li started to speak publicly about this particular variety of bullshit. “It seemed like people weren’t listening to what I had to say,” she said in a November 2010 interview with Pitchfork. “I just felt like I must be some kind of porn dream or something because all they seemed to listen to was my high-pitched voice…I just wanted people to listen to what I have to say instead of focusing on anything else. And of course, there are a lot of things I’m angry about.”

Her recently released second album, Wounded Rhymes, channeled that anger into an even more confident and assured sound. Songs like “Youth Knows No Pain” and “Jerome” pack an even harder punch than “I’m Good, I’m Gone,” and the single “I Follow Rivers” is a mesmerizing and deeply felt ode to devotion. The album’s talking point, though, has been “Get Some,” the sexually assured lead-off single on which Li sings in the chorus, “Like a shotgun needs an outcome/I’m your prostitute/You gon’ get some.” It’s a confrontational line, deriving power from its forthrightness about the nature of female representation in the music industry — and its ability to jar the listener. But Li explains it’s not necessarily about sex: “It’s about this power play in the war of the sexes…If [women] say, ‘I’m your prostiute,’ they mean, ‘I’m the power.'”

Most of the reviews of Wounded Rhymes have been positive and — better yet — free of the kind of brash sexism that often plagues discussions about women in the industry. But, alas, by “most” I mean “not all.” Spin’s review of the album seeks to contain Li’s expressions of sexuality into to neatly defined, male-gaze curated stereotypes, calling the Wounded Rhymes “equal parts seething ice princess and lonely snowwoman.” If you didn’t get the whole “woman asserting control over her sexuality = ice princess” trope, allow them to beat you over the head with this sub-headline: “Ms. Freeze: Steely vamp turns heartbreak into a chilling spectacle.” And perhaps just for the sake of squeezing one more tired, female stereotype into a two paragraph review, the piece concludes, “So much for the the cutie pie routine.” Drowned in Sound takes subtler, though no less confounding approach, criticizing Li through the lens of that trusty meme of pseudo-enlightened cultural relativism, the “first world problem.” (Do the people who use this hashtag all the time really not get that complaining about “first world problems” on their Twitter feed or tumblr is fast becoming the most quintessential first world problem there is?) Adam Johns’ review classifies the historically feminized thematic of “problems with romance” as a petty “first world problem” (and he does it with this zinger of an opener: “First world problems are a bitch.”) and reinforces the notion that Men’s Problems are Important and the things that women tend to sing about are trivial, petulant and insignificant. And, as you’ve probably assumed by now, Hipster Runoff found occasion to drag out the ol’ slutwave dead horse for one more thwack. How…incisive.

Perhaps the article that’s most emblematic of the tricky power dynamic Li now finds herself in is the cover story for Spin‘s February 2011 Next Big Things issue. The cover is indeed devoted to her, but the finer points of its Maxim-esque staging are also echoed in the text of the story, in which writer David Marchese fawns over Li’s mysterious sensuality and gives us such journalistic gems as “Lykke, by the way, means happiness, which proves ironic, and is pronounced Likk-ya, making her name intriguing to me on at least two levels.” I think for once I can purport to speak for all femalekind when I say “Barf.”

Wounded Rhymes and its reception represents an interesting moment in Li’s career: in some ways it presents itself as a brash (though, to be sure, not too brash) reclamation of female sexuality, but it seeks success in an industry obsessed with defining, manipulating and boxing in all expressions of feminine desire. Li’s public comments about sexism and the evolving power dynamics in her music attest to a performer interested in staying one step ahead of the status quo — but for any female performer, that’s a difficult dance to pull off.

In which Lindsay and James talk Oscars and end with an earnest plea: “Let’s never speak of this night again.”

Lindsay: Zzzzzzzz.

James: Lindsay! Wake up! The Oscars are over! I think you dozed off sometime after the third Melissa Leo “fuck” joke!

Lindsay: ACK, sorry James, I’m just now rousing myself from a daze induced by this year’s painfully dull telecast. Or by those brownies that James Franco dropped off at my house before the show. Either way! Well, I hardly have to ask, but how are you feeling about the show now that we’ve had a full day to reflect?

James: I feel a feeling that I haven’t felt since the anxiety nightmares I suffered during my middle school production of You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown, except if my sweet and shy friend who didn’t even make the chorus was Gwenyth Paltrow, and everything gay was edited out.

It’s also similar because of all the agonizing over getting young people to come out and appreciate the performance when really we should have just focused on getting our moms to enjoy it.

Lindsay: Apt. Which I think speaks to what I saw as the night’s main theme: the harder the Oscars tried to cater to any “niche”-demographic-that’s-not-really-a-niche-demographic (young people! or women! or, to quote Anne Hathaway, “LESBIANSSSSS”!) the more they ended up looking painfully out of touch with said demographic. We can parse all of this from a feminist perspective in a moment, but first: did you also find yourself wishing midway through the show that Anne Hathaway and James Franco would magically morph into Sandra Bullock and Robert Downey Jr.? Could one of those Inception effects specialists have pulled off that kind of wizardry? Or perhaps Charlie Sheen? I hear he’s a warlock!

James: Do you have a subscription to MY MIND!?

All I was thinking while Sandy did her little Actor in a Leading Role banter was, “This would be the perfect opportunity for her to redeem herself for winning an Oscar she didn’t deserve for playing a condescending comparatively uncomplicated overprivileged white woman.” And RDJ2 with the navy suit and white on white tie/shirt combo, I was into it.

Lindsay: In a Better World, as they say.

James: I will say this of the hosting though, I fear more about the generalizations that will now be surmised about our generation from the hosts’ performances than I fear for the effect on the hosts’ careers themselves, you follow me?

Lindsay: I do. As if the Kirk Douglas set needed more fodder for their assumptions about Facebook turning our brains into oatmeal, I’m afraid that we young folk will be answering for Hathaway and Franco’s universally acknowledged faceplant for some time to come. Which leads me to bring up — as there’s no avoiding it – Franco. Is it just me, or do you find nothing at all challenging or subversive about his “performance art,” if we must call it that? And do you think the fallout from this show (and his bizarrely benign crossdressing moment) is going to finally make people stop trying to talk about him on such a conceptual level?

James: The thing is I don’t know that people really do talk about him on such a conceptual level, however, he’s more associated with that conceptual level. I mean, I was a very big fan, but recently, and I won’t pretend Sunday didn’t have a large part to do with it, I’ve become a bit tired of his high-brow attention-whore antics. Journalists like to draw attention to how, “He does it all!” But the bottom line is he does it all with a resounding mediocrity at best. He’s just hot and good at branding himself as playfully intellectual without having to do anything of substance to back up the laurels he rests on. (Though let it be known that he is really fucking hot.)

Lindsay: No one’s denying. But the reason I brought up the whole Boy Who Cried Performance Art thing is that I can imagine James Franco taking out a couple of Glamour Shots-esque “Consider” ads in Variety and everyone seeing it as some brilliant commentary on modern celebrity. But then Melissa Leo does these (admittedly totally, gloriously wacky) ads and the world is thrown for a loop. Am I wrong to smell a little gender bias here?

James: It could be that, though I’m not sure as to how much of the hoopla surrounding those ads was actually from the Academy’s reaction and how much was the media creating that reaction to heighten drama and build a narrative in a year where all of the major categories were so anticlimactic. This year, in particular, I’ve felt like I’d like the Oscars so much more if I didn’t read anything about them before. And that may seem obvious, but this illusion of a horse race driven by the media is exhausting and cheapening of the whole process.

But what I will say is between her fur-clad “Consider” ads and her Maleficent costume sprayed in gold paint and covered in doilies, Melissa Leo is America’s newest fashion it-girl!

Lindsay: Or its greatest performance artist. Melissa Leo is Banksy?

James: That would be something!

Lindsay: Well, before further grievances, let’s count the night’s small blessings. For only the third time in history, Best Foreign Language Film went to a female-directed movie: Susanne Bier’s In a Better World. (Though: in due recognition of literally the one and only subversive Oscar nomination this year, Team Dogtooth!) Also one of the producers of Inside Job was a woman. And Lora Hirschberg won for Sound Mixing, an historically male-dominated category. And, um. A woman who won an Oscar for playing a transperson shared the stage with a woman who won an Oscar for directing last year. The Oscars are really progressive, yeah?

James: Progressively irritating. It felt so clear that Hilary Swank’s grandiose introduction of Kathryn Bigelow was an extension of the pat-on-the-back the Academy is giving itself for honoring a woman with the Best Director Oscar, an extension of that unwarranted self-satisfaction and a distraction from their return to the status quo. Which, I feel it appropriate to say, is also what they were doing in having Halle Berry do the extension of the In Memoriam to Lena Horne, congratulate themselves by honoring a woman of color in film while distracting us from pointing out they honored ZERO PEOPLE OF COLOR THIS YEAR.

But, as you said, small blessings. Though it was truly devastating to watch the mesmerizing Annette Bening lose for a fourth time, I am very hopeful for the good things Portman’s new focus on production will bring to women. Between her speech at the Spirit Awards Saturday night and what she’s said in recent media profiles, I’m excited for what opportunities she will bring as a highly respected and intelligent woman in show business aware of the industry’s sexist infrastructure and interested in and proactive about working through that.

Lindsay: And I was pleased to see the Times remind us of the oft-forgotten fact that Natalie Portman can not only blind us with Rodarte, but also with SCIENCE. And I agree with you and Melissa Silverstein in noting that these overt acknowledgements of both Horne-by-way-of-Berry and Bigelow came off, in typical Oscar fashion, as weirdly self-congratulatory and only heightened the absence of black people and women in the winner’s circle. The Bigelow moment was particularly ironic, coming as it did right before the acknowledgement of this year’s five (white, male) Best Director nominees, and winner Tom Hooper’s acknowledgement of the “triangle of manlove” shared between him, Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush. But at least when Hooper thanked Helena Bonham Carter for staying out of the way of said triangle, she gave us fodder for the best gif of the night.

James: May God save that Queen! I think what The King’s Speech and the overall feel of the show taught us was that maybe the Oscars were a great year for lesbians, but they’re almost always better for kings.

Before we wrap up, we have yet to discuss the musical theatre major Adderall-head who fluttered about wearing a lot of expensive gowns. And no, I don’t mean Christian Bale.

Lindsay: Oh, Anne. While admit that I don’t understand why Hathaway seemed to be channeling Tracy Flick from Election and that at times she was downright painful to watch up there, the male/female pairing and the contrast of the hosts’ rather traditionally gendered personas make the critiques of their respective failings potentially really sexist. Already Franco’s just the brunt of a bunch of played out stoner jokes, but Hathaway’s “irritating” or “obnoxious.” Or, worse: the Times said Hathaway emphasized “the frequent industry argument that she lacks chemistry with her male co-stars.” Ouch. I’m not exactly out to defend her hosting chops, but I’d like to see a level playing field in the critique of what I thought was an equally bad job by both.

James: Well said, Lindsay. I think that overall the Academy should have learned that if you take something that is essentially old and stuffy, it’s best to just let it be that way. Trying to make yourself seem “hip and edgy,” by having younger hosts and repeating the words, “hip and edgy” will just make your viewership bored and uncomfortable, especially if you’re doing it while simultaneously awarding something like The King’s Speech, which is the furthest from edgy of all the nominees. Don’t futilely strive to look younger Oscars, Billy Crystal’s suspiciously lineless face has got that schtick covered.

Lindsay: But as a closing thought, I’ll say that given the pretty tepid crop of nominees this year, I was pleased with The King’s Speech‘s victories (though, as I’ve stated before, its problematic representation of women actually didn’t keep me from loving The Social Network too). While it was all too easy to view The King’s Speech as the preferred film of the stodgy old establishment, I found both Colin Firth’s performance and David Seidler’s script to contain some of the most quietly complex statements about masculinity in any film I saw this year. Firth’s “lefthanded/righthanded” speech can easily be read to have a subtext speaking about the dangers of perceiving identity – and gender — as a collection of binaries. And as much as I hated the phrase, I still preferred that triangle of manlove over any other bromance I saw in a theater this year.

James: Indeed. Now I can’t wait to look forward to weekend trips to the movies where I’ll watch Nic Cage kick ass in Drive Angry and then wind down by sneaking into Rango.

Lindsay: Yes, James as always it’s been a pleasure talking Oscars with you, but especially after this anticlimactic year I’m relieved to see the season come to a close. For the next couple of months at least, I think it’s time for us to make like Jean-Luc Godard and not give a shit about the Oscars at all.

Lindsay in no way condones reading blogs at work, except this one.

Last Thursday at work, I was making a late afternoon scan of some of my favorite blogs (which is a “very rare occasion,” ok), and I loaded up Jezebel, the hugely popular women’s blog. I read Jezebel pretty frequently (“after work hours” of course, and “only on my personal computer”). Or at least frequently enough to have known, when I saw the now infamous/ever-so-elegantly-titled post “I Had a One-Night Stand With Christine O’Donnell,” from the parenthetical link at the end of the post’s teaser that that it was a story that had been originally posted to their parent site, Gawker, and that that meant I’d probably be better off not wasting my time reading it. So I didn’t.

But what I did read, when I checked the site again an hour later (“rare occasion”), was Jessica Coen’s defense of why Jezebel (arguably the Internet’s most prominent feminist site) posted the (heinously misogynistic) O’Donnell story. It’s a strange, kind of convoluted defense, provoked by the outpouring of Jezebel commenters who were offended by the fact that a feminist site would post something so obviously offensive to women. Coen says that Christine O’Donnell’s private sex life is pertinent info because it contradicts the crazy things she’s said publicly about sex, and that we have some sort of duty to uncover this kind of stuff as there was a threat (or at least  there was last Thursday) that this woman and her crazy hypocritical beliefs about sex could get elected to the Senate. I wasn’t really buying it, and Coen’s defense also has a sad little aside, the tone of which totally bummed me out: “And yeah, Jezebel features a link to the story because we are a part of a company that, let’s be honest, knows how you work all too well. So it goes.”

In a lot of ways, I love Jezebel. Not only do they post some really wonderful articles about contemporary feminism and routinely call bullshit on sexist media, but their readership is huge — which means that their message travels far and wide, probably all the way to that proverbial misunderstood teenage girl in Idaho who would have never known what feminism is or where to read about it  prior to stumbling upon the site and its community of readers. I don’t think I’m being too romantic when I say it’s probably changed some girls’ lives and opened up a whole new way of thinking for them.

But here’s the catch: Jezebel is only able to reach that huge number of people because it’s run by the hugely/sort-of-terrifyingly powerful Internet tabloid conglomerate, Gawker Media, which is run by a guy who fashions himself to be the Charles Foster Kane (sorry, Zuckerberg) of the Internet age, Nick Denton. To call Denton a misogynist, it seems, would be to mistakenly single out a specific target for his cultivated air of indiscretion. A recent New Yorker profile painted him out to be a vacuous, self-styled nihilist with an uncanny knack for making people want to barf. (My favorite part of the profile: “The first time McClear had lunch with Denton, she returned to the office afterward and threw up. She attributed this to food poisoning, but it happened again the second time they had lunch.”) Jezebel is just one (albeit abnormally well meaning) arm of Denton’s Gawker Media beast, which means that, on occasion, it has to bend to Gawker’s politics and morals (which is to say: complete lack thereof) and post such page-view grabbers as “Lady Gaga’s Vagina Almost Fooled Us Into Forgetting About Her Penis.” From these sensational headlines come page views, and from page views come ad sales and from ad sales writers can pay their rent. So it goes.

All of which I knew already, all of which I sort of grin and bear every time I read Jezebel, understanding that to reach an audience that large and diverse, compromises in content will necessarily have to be made. My interest was piqued, though, so I went back and read the original Gawker story. And, predictably, it made me want to barf. Regardless of your politics or views on O’Donnell, the story is so aggressively misogynistic that it had me wishing Jezebel could have put some sort of editorial foot down on running it on their site. Goes one poetic detail, “When her underwear came off, I immediately noticed that the waxing trend had completely passed her by.” The whole thing’s credited to “Anonymous,” though I can assure you, dear reader, that it’s not the Anonymous of Go Ask Alice fame. She wouldn’t have stood for this shit, and we shouldn’t have to either.

Last week I had just finished reading bell hooks’ Feminism Is For Everybody, but this incident was suddenly making its title ring so idealistic, a goal blocked by seemingly insurmountable systemic impediments. How can pure, unadulterated feminism possibly reach everybody when we have to constantly grin and bear these kinds of compromises in content, even from supposed feminist media? The question was overwhelming me as I stepped off the Metro on Thursday afternoon, until a momentarily comforting thought popped into my head: “Ooh, Thursday. New issue of the City Paper.” I stooped down to grab a copy of my city’s alt weekly — which routinely publishes great writing and used to be home to Amanda Hess’s amazing feminist blog/column The Sexist — and, flipping it over to the back cover, was confronted with this American Apparel ad.

If nothing else, these incidents serve as great, lucid examples of something else hooks writes about: the ways in which sexism is inextricably tied to other systems of power (it’s pretty easy to see the role that our good friend capitalism plays in this whole mess). But they’ve also triggered something in me — a desire to stop just accepting these sorts of compromises and dismissing them with a rueful, “So it goes.” Because even though we understand why this kind of shit happens, we shouldn’t just have to internalize it with an accepting sigh. We should be able to express that it pisses us off.

Lindsay’s preamble to what we are trying our best not to call “Men Week.”

I have been nothing short of jazzed about Slate’s recent series Strictly Platonic — from Juliet Lapidos’s terrific meditations (through cultural analysis and personal accounts of her own Platonic relationship with her best friend, Jeff) on the idea of male-female friendships, to the comments section in which readers fiercely debate whether such friendships can exist. As a woman with many close male friends, I have reason to think they can. Lapidos does too: so much so that she says comments to the contrary (such as this gem left by a reader: “As a straight man, I can’t imagine liking someone enough to be friends with, but not enough to have sex with”) strike her as a little absurd. And I’d imagine she’s not alone. For many people I know — and especially for people of my generation, cross-sex friendships have become so normal that it’s not until we’re asked to think about them as abstractions (or, perhaps, the subject of a multi-part web series) that we realize how historically significant and strangely radical they actually are.

Lapidos puts the idea of cross-sex friendship in a larger context: “For most of Western history, society was not built to foster non-romantic attachments between the genders. Women were relegated to domestic roles, without access to education, and most cross-sex mixing was reserved explicitly for courtship.” Of course, when women began entering the workforce and then participating in the feminist movement, the dynamic changed — though not unequivocally for the better. Mainstream media often (incorrectly) depicted the feminist movement as anti-male, which bred a lot of misconceptions about men, women and shared experience.

But I get the feeling we’re finally ready to break free from those misconceptions. Lapidos’s original piece featured the results of a survey she’d conducted:

I asked respondents to approximate what percentage of their friends had a close but platonic cross-sex relationship. The average for teens was 73 percent; for twentysomethings, 59 percent; for thirtysomethings through fiftysomethings, about half; and for sixtysomethings, 24 percent. The trend could be taken to mean that younger (unmarried, unattached) people are more likely to form cross-sex friendships in any era. But it could also reveal something about the time in which we live: Maybe it’s much easier to make cross-sex friends now than it’s ever been.

Which is to say: there’s something sort of revolutionary going on with all of this right now. Even more commonly than with women and men who actually participated in the feminist movement of the 1970s, the current generation of teens and twentysomethings are living a quiet — even blase — sort of revolution: ladies and dudes are exercising the simple freedom to form friendships around shared interests and enjoyment of each other’s company. And in doing so, we’re finding tiny pockets of equality in a world that’s still far from equal.

I never realized what all of this had to do with feminism until reading Lapidos’s series, but then it struck me: we are living in a time of tremendous opportunity. Yes, us. Me, the blogger who just stopped writing mid-paragraph to tweet about the Mad Men season finale (but really: how good was that scene between Joan + Peggy?! #sterlingsgold). You, the dude who posed for the illustrative photo to an article about “twentysomethings in the workplace” I recently read on an airplane — remember, that picture where you were breakdancing in a conference room, wearing a suit jacket and Air Force 1’s? I’m talking about all of us, the generation that gets so often maligned for our short attention spans and our shallow wells of knowledge and all the cultural debts we’ll probably leave unpaid. Because we have a truly awesome opportunity. We are now living in a time when men and women are free to talk about feminism in a way that is honest, productive, all-inclusive, no-bullshit, and totally, completely new.

Because let’s face it — feminism’s never going to bounce back from all its recent death sentences if the way we talk about it doesn’t change. So let’s embrace some basic truths. Men can be feminists. Women can be sexist. In fact, every single one of us — dude, lady, and those outside the unholy dude/lady dichotomy — has sexism internalized within us. Feminism is not anti-male. And the only way that feminism is going to evolve with our changing society is if we all get comfortable talking about it — the times it works for us, the times it fails us, the times when we’re not even sure what the hell the word means anymore. Let’s just get it all out there.

All of this is my and Mia’s way of introducing our first guest posts, which will go up later in the week. And yes, they are written by men. Specifically, men writing honestly about the experience of reading (and, in some cases, not reading) the work of female writers. There will be many more guest posts — some by men, some by women, perhaps even some by you! But above all things, we want to make Canonball a space that breaks down the hesitation and the misgivings that a lot of people have when talking about feminism. Really, it’s about time. So when writing and commenting, know that there’s no question too simple, no experience too trivial, and — to those worried about offending — know that silence borne out of a fear of offending is more offensive than (well, almost) any words.

Check back all week — and beyond! And if you’re interested in writing something for us, do drop us a line. We’re all friends here.