m u s i n g s of a young feminist on culture, media and feminism
v o l u m e o n e i s s u e o n e s p r i n g 2 0 0 9
HOLDING US DOWN 3 Thoughts on Aguilera’s Hypocritical Video for ‘Can’t Hold Us Down’ GAZING AT THE READER The Gaze and Gendered Power in the Film
CONCERNING VIRGINIA WOOLF Thoughts on A Room of One’s Own
SAY WHAT The Pope’s Absurd Claim about Condom Use in Africa & Thoughts On Christianity and Feminism THE UNDESERVING MILLIONAIRE A Critical Look at the Award‐Winning Film Slumdog Millionaire FLY TUNES Feminist and Alternative Music That’s Worth Trying to Find TEN THINGS… That I Want to See End
ART WITH BALLS Works of Female Artists That I Want to See More Of
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H O L D I N G I recently saw again the video for Christina Aguilera’s ‘Can’t Hold Us Down’. The song appeared on her album Stripped (mmm, classy) and in itself, is a nice sort of gesture of repenting for the song ‘Dirrty’ (enough said), off the same album. I have no problem with the song. Though many of Aguilera’s other songs (particularly those from the aforementioned album) are demeaning to women and enforce the hegemonic system of male dominance, ‘Can’t Hold Us Down’ doesn’t bother me. What upsets me is the music video. It seems Christina couldn’t quite escape the iron‐grip of her male producers, because as much as the lyrics stand up to assert women’s rights and defy the hegemonic system, the music video wearily melts into a La‐Z‐Boy and enjoys what is essentially yet another tasteless demonstration of the female body as a meaningless object for male pleasure.
U S D O W N Watching the video, I became mildly outraged at the sheer hypocrisy of it all! I honestly cannot believe that the message the video conveys to the audience is the message Aguilera intended to convey when she wrote the song. In the video, it seems that Aguilera and Lil’Kim are nostalgically re‐ living their Lady Marmalade days (voulez‐vous couchez avec moi?) rather than belting out a strong‐minded feminist tune. I cannot believe that Aguilera would’ve consented to the making of this video, seriously convinced that it would prove the song’s point. Clearly it does the opposite of that. How could it not? Christina, along with all the other girls in the video, sport booty‐shorts and barely‐there tops, or bikinis, while gyrating and body‐popping on the street. Is this the way to assert oneself as an independent, powerful woman—humping a fire‐hydrant hose in very little clothing? I’d rather be subordinate. Is it really the case that in order to be successful in the mainstream music industry, one has to off‐set a feminist song with a racy and raunchy, objectifying video, stripping the original song of all its meaning? Christina, I guess this is how the target fires back.
GAZING AT THE READER When I first saw The Reader a few months ago, I immediately became interested in how The Gaze plays out in the film. The film chronicles Michael Berg’s coming‐of‐age, and how he deals with the guilt he feels for loving Hanna Schmitz, and his feelings of being responsible for her. In the first few scenes where the two are together, we see things from Michael’s perspective. Hanna is passive, as Michael watches her while she is unaware, first at her place of work, and then around her apartment. While possessing The Gaze, Michael is clearly more powerful than Hanna. The audience watches Michael, watching Hanna, who is clearly a passive, rather powerless figure. The major shift occurs in an early scene, wherein Hanna significantly returns The Gaze, and the power in the relationship is transferred to her. Michael is watching Hanna, who is getting ready for work and doesn’t realize that Michael, who is out of the room, can see her. In this scene, Hanna is perhaps at her most passive and vulnerable. She is changing, putting on pantyhose (Michael, fascinated, is watching her smoothly roll up her stocking) when she senses him watching her, and looks at him, returning The Gaze. Shocked and ashamed, Michael immediately flees the scene in terror. From this point on, Hanna is entirely in control of the relationship, and wields power over Michael. The change becomes obvious instantly. The audience is revealed to Hanna’s perspective, and we witness she gazing at him. In fact, the first time we witness her watching him, he is intimately passive. He is naked, and Hanna breaks her promise of not sneaking a peak, in looking at him. This act of gazing at the passive and vulnerable Michael signifies Hanna triumphantly obtaining The Gaze, and therefore the power in the relationship.
t h e g a z e a n d g e n d e r e d p o w e r i n t h e f i l m Hanna continues to exercise her power over Michael throughout the film. She makes the bold first move, she is older than him, she gets angry at him, she sets limits on the relationship, she decides their itinerary, he falls deeply in love with her, and ultimately she spontaneously leaves him, becoming the burden that he will carry with him the rest of his life. In this sense, The Reader contrasts most films. It is rare‐to‐impossible that a male figure is the object of The Gaze, while his female counterpart is in control of him and wields significant power over him. I really appreciated the film for this reason. In general it was a great, provocative film I would highly recommend. David Kross (Michael) and Kate Winslet (Hanna)
C O N C E R N I N G Kudos to Virginia Woolf. I mean that honestly. There are a lot of things I really like about A Room of One’s Own. Obviously many of her arguments are wholly legitimate. There are however, a few things that I cannot agree with. For one, I do not believe that the mind has to be “incandescent” and devoid of all anger in order to produce ‘good’ writing. I know that personally, this isn’t true for me. But aside from that, what I find problematic about the talented author’s text is how it makes room for biological determinism and undermines female writing. Towards the end of the lecture, Woolf states, “the book has somehow to be adapted to the body, and at a venture one would say that women’s books should be shorter, more concentrated, than those of men, and framed so that they do not need long hours of steady and uninterrupted work ... The nerves that feed the brain would seem to differ in men and women, and if you are going to make them work their best and hardest, you must find out what treatment suits them”. Hmm. I acknowledge that there certainly are biological Props, Virginia.
Virginia Woolf differences between man and women, but the manner in which Woolf claims that women require shorter, less complicated books, because of their biology, I find problematic. First of all, I find the statement about women needing different sorts of books a little absurd. Beyond that, Woolf backing up her belief with biological evidence bothers me, simply because it leaves room to legitimize the ridiculous theory of biological determinism. I found this upsetting just because quite a few entirely illegitimate theories of the past were based on the foundation of biological determinism. Woolf also seems to frequently undermine women’s writing. She finds a lot to criticize about the five great writers she mentions, excusing their faults by reminding the reader that they were women, and therefore writing in very limiting conditions. I understand that her argument is that these works are great, and let’s imagine how great they would’ve been, were their authors allotted the proper time and space to work. This logic does make sense to me, but reading page after page of her criticisms of women’s work, I just want her to accept it for what it is, instead of discussing its flaws, and attributing them to the poor conditions for women. I think I would’ve found her argument more convincing if she had focused on the strengths of the writings, and then pointed out to the reader the state of the women’s lives when they wrote their masterpieces. 8
The Pope’s Absurd Claim About Condom Use in Afr W T F ! This makes sense!! (heavy sarcasm) This past week, Pope Benedict XVI declared that condom use in Africa does not (as is widely believed) help diminish the spread of AIDS in Africa, it actually makes the crisis worse. Say whaaaaat? I guess I’ve missed a step in this sexpert’s logic, because for the life of me I cannot understand how his claim is anything but a statement of sheer and dangerous ignorance. There’s no need to point out the safety that accompanies using a condom—most people understand that they help to guard against sexually transmitted diseases like AIDS. The Pope however, thinks abstinence is the only protection that works. I’m sorry, Benedict—abstinence doesn’t work. It’s completely unrealistic and unhealthy. That’s why condoms were invented. And teaching people in Africa not to use condoms, when we all know they’re not going to abstain (because who does?!) is extremely dangerous, and will only worsen the state of the AIDS crisis in Africa. These foolish words, coming from the authoritative Pope, are especially hazardous because many people in Africa don’t have access to education, and therefore might actually take the Pope’s advice (not using condoms, that is) to heart. I don’t understand the Christian obsession with abstinence. Having sex is healthy and we’re meant to do it. The teaching of abstinence means that the knowledge of sex that people are kids are invested with is extremely limited. Kids who are taught abstinence grow up with an incredible lack
ica and Thoughts on Christianity and Feminism. of understanding about their bodies, and how to safely and Irresponsible Pope responsibly be sexually active. is dangerous— PROTECT YOURSELF!! We don’t need the teaching of abstinence to kids, and we certainly don’t need the Pope telling people that condom use will aggravate the AIDS crisis in Africa. I cannot believe that a benevolent god could agree with abstinence, or will the spread of the epidemic. How is it that this is the message that is being transmitted so clearly by Christianity at the moment? I think a large part of why I’m an atheist has to do with that I can’t agree with claims Christianity makes. To me, it seems like feminism and Christianity clash so definitely, the latter enforcing gender roles and the hegemonic system of male dominance, blaming women for mortality, and authoring the female slut‐or‐mother binary. If a god does exist, would it will the subordination of women? I can’t believe it would. I can’t believe it would promote male hegemony or condemn people who aren’t heterosexual (would he assent cries in the streets of, ‘I don’t hate homosexuals—JESUS DOES!!’?). Either the Pope falsely conveys God’s word to us, or God’s word itself is cruel, malicious, and entirely incorrect.
T H E U N D E S E R V I N G Slumdog Millionaire made headlines this year with its over‐whelming success among Western audiences and at acclaimed awards ceremonies. Unlike most people who’ve seen the film however, it did not sit will with me. In my opinion, the film romanticizes the slums of Mumbai and does not adequately provide a voice for the Indian people. How can a film that chronicles so much violence and sadness be classified as a comical, “feel‐good” movie? It is wrong that a film which has as its subject matter violence, torture, extreme poverty, forced prostitution, rape, murder, and being an orphan, puts a smile on the viewer’s face. Either there is a problem with the film itself, or the audience is perversely moral and emotional. Perhaps it is easy for Western audiences to detach themselves from the reality of the film, but it must be taken into account that the brutality of the scenes in the film is experienced every day by people—children—in poverty‐ stricken slums of the global South. In her article “Shocked by Slumdog’s Poverty Porn,” (The Times, January 14, 2009), Alice Miles asks, “as the film revels in the violence, degradation, and horror, it invites you, the Westerner, to enjoy it, too. Will they find it such fun in Mumbai?” Along with considering the ways in which the film portrays the horrors of the Mumbai slums in a flattering light, we
should examine whether a film like Slumdog even comes close to adequately voicing the people of the Mumbai slums.
The movie is based on Q & A by Indian author Vikas Swarup, and was primarily envisioned by two British artists (screenplay and direction). In this sense, the film is a British interpretation of an Indian novel and of Indian lives and tragedy. It is entirely unsurprising then, that the movie “revels” in the atrocities of the slums and of poverty, romanticizing them. British filmmakers couldn’t possibly, ever, appropriately and meaningfully tell the story of a world they haven’t lived in, of lives they could never imagine being their own. If the filmmakers are themselves wholly detached from the story, how could it feel real, actual, for the Western audiences who shuffle into a theatre to watch a feel‐good movie? Is it possible for someone outside a given culture and experience, to provide a voice for those who are within it? I would argue that it is not. Slumdog Millionaire is a great example of how it fails entirely. A story that should demonstrate to its audience the horrors and tragedies of a life in the slums, ultimately achieves the opposite of this. All reality and experience evaporates from the production, and the viewer is uplifted by what remains— an entirely un‐disturbing, heart‐warming tale. 12
F L Y T U N E S Plants & Animals Great Canadian indie band. I love the intricate instrumentals combined with the softness of the lyrics and voices. For fans of Band of Horses and Andrew Bird? May I recommend listening to ‘New Kind of Love’ and ‘Early in the Morning’.
Lily Allen Fun cheery pop songs that actually have something of significance to say. For fans of Fiona Apple? May I recommend listening to ‘Knock ‘Em Out’, ‘LDN’, ‘He Wasn’t There’, ‘Chinese’, and ‘The Fear’.
Missy Higgins I really like Missy Higgins. Her songs have a certain vulnerability to them which appeals to me. For fans of Regina Spektor? May I recommend listening to ‘Steer’, ‘Don’t Ever’, ‘They Weren’t There’, and ‘The Special Two’.
feminist and alternative music that’s worth trying to find Great Lake Swimmers
Nice, simple folksy band out of Canada. Their songs feel sort of natural to me. For fans of bluegrass, Joe Purdy and Josh Ritter? May I recommend listening to ‘Imaginary Bars’, ‘Bodies and Minds’, and ‘The Animals of the World’.
Incredible, easy, soulful voice. Weighty lyrics that are refreshingly nonconformist. For fans of Lauryn Hill and Erykah Badu? May I recommend listening to ‘I am not my Hair’, ‘Video’, and ‘The Heart of the Matter’.
I love Laura’s crisp voice and its combination with her instrumentals. Intriguing lyrics. For fans of Maria Taylor? May I recommend listening to ‘Ghosts’ and ‘New Romantic’.
T E N T H I N G S Feeling apologetic for my body.
The Hills and Paris Hilton: My New British Best Friend.
The global trend we have of rejecting and turning our backs on our bodies.
My fear of going outside without makeup on during fire drills. (It rivals my fear of burning).
The teaching of abstinence.
that i want to see end The looks I get when I tell people I take Women’s Studies and they gather I’m a feminist.
The economic crisis.
The global disregard for the environment.
Watching people I know waste away until their eyes are sunken in their skulls.
A R T W I T H written and directed by Elissa Down
f i l m
The Black Balloon
writing Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl
P H O T O G R A P H Y
m a d e f o r W M N S 2 2 5 X : S E X , G E N D E R & P O P U L A R C U L T U R E C r e a t i v e I n t e r v e n t i o n P r o j e c t Q u e e n ’ s U n i v e r s i t y a t K i n g s t o n P r o f e s s o r M u s i a l L a u r a K e l l y b y M a r y L i l l y 5 9 2 9 6 6 4 p u b l i s h e d W e d n e s d a y , M a r c h 2 3 , 2 0 0 9 a C a n a d i a n p u b l i c a t i o n
musings of a young feminist on culture, media, and feminism