feminism, feminist theory, gender, media, television, women

Masculinity in Crisis and the Monstrous Feminine in “Rick and Morty”

Animations not just for kids anymore, as wacky, sci-fi, Back to the Future reimagining Rick and Morty no doubt reveals. The shows been heralded for it’s twisted humour, clever plots and surprising pathos, but is it really as “transgressive” as it seems?

[Spoilers ahoy!]

 

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While certainly unusual and definitely curious, Rick and Morty are not entirely transgressive; certainly and definitely not in their more gendered characterizations of Beth and Jerry.

The first two seasons build on the common trope of troubled couples and toxic relations which are emblematic of sitcom marriages. It’s a problematic representation of (cartoon) marriage, where the primary caregivers – the wives and mothers – are not only expected to expend their emotional labour extremely frequently and often without clear value or return, but will overlook problematic treatment, internalize frustration at ludicrous situations, and still, somehow, maintain the relationship largely alone. Think of Marge and Homer, or Peter and Louis Griffin; sitcom, cartoon marriages where troublesome issues are (often far too easily!) solved (and notably, never in divorce or permanent separation) Rick and Morty attempted something different and potentially transgressive through the characters of Beth and Jerry.

Beth and Jerry have quite a lot in common with their aforementioned animated archetypes. Like Marge and Homer, they are high school sweethearts who marry for the sake of an unborn child; like Peter and Louis, they are married young and without their parents’ support; and all 3 couples have what can easily be described of as toxic and often unfulfilling heteronormative relationships. The difference with Rick and Morty is that this toxicity isn’t simply a withheld secret either; many characters openly assess and challenge Beth and Jerry’s relationship and marriage. As far back as Season One, even their own daughter challenges their reasons for being/remaining together:

Summer:
Yeah, thank you guys so much. It's a real treat to be raised by parents that force 
themselves to be together instead of being happy. ("Rixty Minutes")

.

This much becomes very clear when Beth and Jerry, attending an other-wordly marriage counselling resort, discover how they subconsciously view one another. The physical manifestations which emerge in this moment are anything but transgressive, rather, they reaffirm normative gendered tropes excessively coded via televised/film media: the monstrous feminine figure and masculinity in crisis.

Resignifying Beth’s character as, literally, an Alien monster (who drapes masculine figures over her like pelts) interlocks with contemporary understandings of women – specifically, of vocal and challenging women – as abject, monstrous and horrifying. Furthermore, her monster-self is destructive and devious – plotting the creation of an army and physically attacking the other couples and therapists. Not only is the monstrous feminine represented as horrifying to behold, she is threatening in her behaviour towards this (albeit alien) establishment. She actively destructs the key unit in the family structure – the married couples present at the resort – and the very hierarchy which support them – the resort itself – thereby assuming the danger behind the monstrous woman and the need for her to be controlled and maintained.

Jerry’s re-characterisation is alike to Beth’s only in it’s own abjectness. Worm-like, passive and easily shaken, Jerry exemplifies the conception of “masculinity in crisis” as a pathetic, easily subjected and emotional figure. He is easily swayed by the demands of the Beth-Monster and is later easily dominated and controlled by Jerry-in-human-form once confronted.

What becomes evident from these interactions between Monster and Crisis in this instance is the threat which dominating women pose over hierarchical systems, and that effeminized, traditionally demasculinised men – like Jerry-in-human-and-worm-form – are threatened by this very take over. Once again, I feel that I have to point to Beth-Monsters wearing of Jerry-the-Worm/Crisis like a dead (and unfortunate!) accessory. From this point, we are struck with the narrative need to reaffirm traditional masculine processes and representations in order to save the marriage unit and its supportive hierarchies. The very image of macho-masculinity which heroically comes to human-Beth and -Jerry’s aid is very much the atypical representation of heteromasculinity. Although, perhaps as significantly, it is a notably imagined representation – it is Beth’s subconsciousness which ultimately produces this imagining.

I think there is definite value in challenging the use of the word progressive or transgressive in relation to Rick and Morty; despite it’s interesting narratives and occasionally unusual narratives, the Season Three finale definitely did not live up to those monikers. For me, it was a cathartic relief to finally see a cartoon marriage break up. To witness Beth relinquish that tenuous grasp on a problematic and unfulfilling relationship – and to express this herself, throughout the third season, with both grief and joy, sorrow and celebration.

Beth and Jerry’s season long separation established Beth not only as a struggling mother or unfulfilled wife, but also as a person in herself who had experienced lost time and regret as a result of her relationship and marriage – one who could change that at her own will, and who had the autonomy and agency to do so. Beth – unlike other cartoon sitcom mother-wives – differentiates herself from the animated pack in doing so.

My relief was short lived, though, when the season ended with Beth and Jerry’s underwhelming and atypical reunion.

Transgressive? Phffff…

 

 

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abuse, feminism, feminist, gender, media, misogyny, race, racism, strenght, Uncategorized

Give Us Le-ss Misogyny and Racism

The significant uptake and influence of fandoms over their respective show/movie/media can have amazing effects. Just look at Brooklyn 99 loyal fanbases efforts to see their favourite crime-fighting sitcom renewed, or, more recently, the #SaveShadowhunters hashtag which takes pride in (the need for more) LGBT+ representation. Just as fandoms can be wonderful and inclusive spaces, so too can they be vitriolic and destructive, as the recent case of Star Wars actress Kelly Marie Marie Tran.

Tran was apparently driven off the picture sharing network Instagram earlier this month owing to the needless and vile influx of abuse and harassment; her decision to virtually pack it in has led to many of her co-workers and fans lamentation, but that has not stopped Give Us Legends from claiming responsibility and claiming pride in what they have accomplished.

GiveUsLegendsHateGroup

It’s disconcerting and downright scary that someone would find the abuse of another person as “bloody glorious,” it more worrying that they call for further acts in the name of “forced diversity”

Digital violence is real; abuse does not happen in a vacuum, it has affects and influences the people involved. It is a common misconception to think it is easy to sign out and leave the comments behind; the reality is that this abuse has racial and misogynistic overtures which not only belittle Tran (and others, let’s not forget Leslie Jones’ abuse) but support and boaster such hegemonic structures.

What the user defines as “forced diversity” is a mechanism currently being heralded by far right political groups to reaffirm white male hegemony. These groups maintain that diversity politics and affirmative actions processes are in themselves somehow “racist.” These are groups which fail to account for an already unfair playing field; one which sees white as default, acceptable and welcomed while People of Colour are at worst the anti-thesis of their white counterpart, at best different. Reni Eddo-Lodge details this well in the recent book Why I’m not Longer Talking (To White People) About Race. To quote Eddo-Lodge at length, because she has both lived this reality and details it so succintly:

“Positive discrimination initiatives are often vehemently opposed. Descriptions of the work addressing the over-representation of whiteness inevitably reduce it to tokenism, nothing more than an insult to the good hard-working people who get their high-ranking jobs on merit alone. Whenever I do the panel-event circuit, meritocracy and quotas tend to be an issue that rests heavily on audiences’ minds. The main questions asked are: is it fair? Do quotas mean that women and people of colour are receiving special treatment, getting leg-ups others can’t access? Surely we should be judging candidates on merit alone? The underlying assumption to all opposition to positive discrimination is that it just isn’t fair play.
The insistence is on merit, insinuating that any current majority white leadership in any industry has got there through hard work and no outside help, as if whiteness isn’t its own leg-up, as if it doesn’t imply a familiarity that warms an interviewer to a candidate. When each of the sectors I mentioned earlier have such dire racial representation, you’d have to be fooling yourself if you really think that the homogeneous glut of middle-aged white men currently clogging the upper echelons of most professions got there purely through talent alone. We don’t live in a meritocracy, and to pretend that simple hard work will elevate all to success is an exercise in wilful ignorance. Opposing positive discrimination based on apprehensions about getting the best person for the job
means inadvertently revealing what you think talent looks like, and the kind of person in which you think talent resides. Because, if the current system worked correctly, and if hiring practices were successfully recruiting and promoting the right people for the right jobs in all circumstances, I seriously doubt that so many leadership positions would be occupied by white middle-aged men. Those who insist on fairness fail to recognise that the current state of play is far from fair.”

– Eddo-Lodge pg. 78-79*

Groups such as We Are Legends, which build a community based on anti-diversity, while they may maintain other ideals (in this case, magically re-glorifying the Star Wars through heterosexual, masculine and significantly, white representation), are primarily interested in maintaining patriarchal structures which only benefits them (often, heterosexual, masculine and significantly, white).

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These groups are afraid of the (often still decidedly token) female and PoC characters who are finally emerging on screen. Reactions to Daisy Ridley and John Boyega as protagonists on the Star Wars reboot depicts this enough; it would be no surprise to find them next targeting L3-37 for her representation of a humanitarian/(robotarian?) freedom fighter if she had a social media presence. (Here’s hoping her voice actor is left alone, given that she is the main delight for most the movie, and, you know, a human being?)

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Kelly Marie Tran’s Instagram account is still there, but it’s empty of posts, leaving her abusers no opportunity to abuse. Her account picture still stares out, her bio still reads “afraid but doing it anyway”. It exists now at once as both her own attempt at self-care and, perhaps, her space of protest.

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*I quote Eddi-Lodge at length and copyright that work to her; I feel that, in the discussion of “positive discrimination” and affirmative action policies, her work details both a truth and a reality of what PoC live and work daily.

abuse, advice, feminism, feminist, GBV, gender, misogyny, rape, strenght, Uncategorized

Being Victim and Being Brave

Yesterday, I opened Roxane Gay’s new edited collection, Not That Bad: Dispatches From Rape Culture, a selection of stories of abuse, harassment, trauma and surviving. I knew, given my history with rape and it’s structures, it would be no easy read.

The first three stories (introduction included) were visceral, troubling and unnerving. The fourth cut me to the quick:

“Sometimes people tell me that something bad happened to me, but I am brave and strong. I don’t want to be told that I am brave or strong. I am not right just because he was wrong. I don’t want to be made noble.
I want someone willing to watch me thrash and crumple because that, too, is the truth, and it needs a witness. “He broke me,” I say to a friend. “You’re not broken,” she whispers back. I turn my palms up, wishing I could show her the pieces.”

– “& the Truth is, I Have No Story,” Claire Schwartz

I cannot speak for how hard these words hit me: they collaborated with a truth inside me, a bothersome narrative which I find others reaffirming for me once they hear I was raped/assaulted.

It is the same mantra which they will tell countless others:

“You’re a survivor/Brave/Strong/Better/[Input inspirational comment here]”

And I do understand the impulse and the kindness which drives them to tell me and others these words. I also rail against them, because they erase the messy truth of the event, the negate the reality of rape and that to become a survivor in any way, one is first a victim.

That’s a denigrated word nowadays: victim. It’s frowned upon to see a someone, post-rape, as a victim:

“You’re a survivor”

But to be a survivor at all, one first needs to be a victim. Sometimes, after rape/harassment/assault, you need to be broken. You get to be torn apart and take the time necessary to re-piece parts of yourself together, however haphazardly. I needed time – a lot of it – to repair and recollect. I look back on that time, full of self-pity, loathing and anger, and know I was not the image of a survivor; I also know that I needed that time to find recovery and locate self-care in myself.

I recall one day at feminist event, one of my peers told us her story, told us her rape, I sympathized, felt an instinctual bond, a desire to protect. Another attendee interrupted her:

“Can I let you know, you are not a victim, you are a survivor”

I remember thinking: What is wrong with being a victim. Why is it so negated? So hated a term? Why do others feel the need to remove that identity from us?

Is it their own fear? Their own unwillingness to see the unjust realities of the world? An uneasiness over how easily rape can happen? Or is does it fall back on the old moniker: ‘everything happens for a reason’ so of course, you survived this and became better?

I cannot tell, I do not know the reason behind these platitudes; I do know their is nothing wrong with being a victim.

One cannot become a survivor without having first been a victim, and there is nothing wrong with that truth.

abortion, feminism, feminist, gender, Ireland, misogyny, pro-choice, pro-life, Uncategorized, women

Let’s be Real, No-one Celebrates Abortion

On May 25th 2018, Ireland made history.

Less than two weeks ago, a majority voted to repeal the 8th Amendment from the Irish constitution, legalisng abortion in Ireland up to 12 weeks and beyond in exceptional circumstances.

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Fig. 1: Irish Times exit poll prediction

I won’t lie, I rejoiced, I celebrated privately and via my social media accounts. I applauded Ireland’s decision to respect women’s autonomy and agency and wept with joy.

The Bishop of Waterford and Lismore, Alphonsus Cullinan would have been disgusted with me. Fr Cullinan apparently didn’t pick up on the public distaste with the clergy’s involvement in the campaign; certainly, I spoke to countless Yes voters who specifically flinched at Church involvement and campaigning for the No Vote, many of whom cited Tuam and the Magdalene Laundries as enough cause for silence in these matters. I even spoke with several undecided and No voters who blanched at Church involvement.

But that isn’t the issue here; the issue, once again, is the habitual act of construing the act of celebration in the wake of the Yes vote:

“I was horrified to see the jumping and roaring and cheering in Dublin Castle last Saturday. How can you cheer about abortion?”

Cullinan, as so many before him, purposefully redefined the events in Dublin Castle as a celebration of abortion.

Let’s be real here though, no-one celebrates abortion. No-one toasts a cheers to that difficult decision or memorializes the occasion with photographs. Abortion is not an easy made resolution; I am sure (though I thankful have never been in the position) that is is anxiously agonized over. I know this because no-one I have spoken to would ever wish to be in that situation.

Rather, the women and men who stood in Dublin Castle celebrated women’s rights; like me, they rejoiced in the safety and care which Repeal demanded for all women in Ireland. They reveled with the proof that women’s agency and autonomy mattered to a two-thirds majority; that the 8th Amendment which rendered women’s bodies as vessels, as containers, as nothing more than baby makers, was no longer a representation of Ireland or its people.

What Cullinan deemed a celebration of abortion demeaned every woman who has ever had to make that decision, and take those difficult steps – often outside of Ireland, perhaps to back street, clandestine clinics, or in the privacy of their own homes with a pill and no supervision or even witness to their act. What Cullinan did, once again, was to attempt to shame the brave and the fearful women who have made that difficult choice.

feminism, feminist, gender, literature, politics, women, writer

An Interesting Turn of Events: Ohio Bookstore Celebrates Women’s Month

All puns intended here, an Ohio Bookshop has chosen to celebrate International Women’s Month by effectively silencing all their male authors — and doesn’t that make a nice change? — by displaying them spine inwards.

Loganberry Books, a feminist-oriented bookstore, and their small staff worked through around 8,000 books in order to protest the historical suppression of women’s voices and to ensure their voices are now heard in this playful and potentially controversial exhibition.

The act means that only female authors are left on view, their voices, narratives and histories made visible against their newly anonymous male colleagues. And it does make an interesting turn of events, especially as women’s literature and history has for so many centuries been oppressed and censored in myriad ways.

Varied attempts only the last two to three decades have been made to render women’s words more salient: it’s a great thing to see that continue in new and interesting formats.

In conclusion, I suppose, Happy International Women’s Month!

https://heatst.com/culture-wars/ohio-bookstore-flips-male-authored-books-displaying-them-backwards/

feminism, feminist, GBV, gender, Ireland, misogyny, personal, politics, pro-choice, race, racism, rape, sexism, strenght, violence, Violence Against Women, women

Post-March Hope

There will be less political antagonism in this post than a sense of positivity and hope (I hope…).

The post-Women’s March euphoria is upon us, and I haven’t truly come down from that high. In the face of overwhelming intolerance and hate, and the knowledge of four (possibly though hopefully not more than four) years of threats and risky policy cuts, the Women’s March proved that when they go low, we go high.

Despite the sense of anger and fear which wrought it’s insemination following the Trump victory, the women and allies in Ireland took to the streets with a sense of courage, determination and hope in what they could achieve via resistance and solidarity.

For this gathering the political overtures of what could and is occurring across the pond largely mirrored the concerns facing the Irish constituency: a Trump government threatens to ban and limit abortion access to the same circumstances which Irish women suffer and which ignites the Repeal the Eight movement; Trump and co’s misogynistic and racist practices mimic much of the vitriol which grows in this post-Brexit atmosphere; Trump has been accused by no less than a dozen women of sexual assault and harassment, in 2015 approximately 16,375 incidents of domestic violence were disclosed (Women’s Aid, Ireland) how many more victims still suffer in silence is a testament to the fear which men like Donald Trump instill.

In the face of these facts and fears, the women and allies of Ireland gathered peacefully and hopefully, chanting slogans and bearing placards both hilarious and quieting. We cheered the sponsors and speakers of the event with gusto, we welcomed the challenge gravely and bravely, we sang as one that those sisters and allies in the USA and worldwide who needed our support could certainly rely and lean on us in the future.

Nasty women, bad hombres and the next generation of children who deserve better stood united in protesting the intolerance and hate which a Trump administration stands for. The accumulation of nearly 3 million protesters worldwide attested to the fact that so many liberal snowflakes would, indeed, make a significant avalanche.

 

advice, feminism, feminist, gender, misogyny, sexism, Uncategorized, writer

Academia’s “Large and Small Indignities”

I’ve been exceedingly lucky so far in my doctoral progress: between the backing of a highly supportive and enthusiastic supervisor and surrounding colleagues – of both a qualified and student status – and the fact that I still warrant the opportunity for future funding (fingers and toes crossed!), however all is not well and good in the academic arena for the early stagers and newbies…

What has become apparent during my first year of my doctoral profress, and in the meeting and greeting of other students, are the frankly frequent injustices and grievances – from the petty and small scale to the larger and outright disgraceful actions – which early stagers and students suffer, and often without any official structures of support or aid from these issues.

Well, in mentioning that earlier supportive supervisor: she updated on this earlier today:

https://largeandsmallindignities.tumblr.com/

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Opportunities for support are few and far between for students in these early stage positions. Sometimes it’s only one another we can rely on, but all forms of activism are essential in these matters.

As such, here’s my (small) grievance:

 I attended a very high profile conference in Leicester, England in 2016. I won’t provide details, suffice to say, I was not a confirmed speaker but an audience participant looking to expand my horizons as a first year doctoral student. I met with many wonderful and enthusiastic early stage researchers and a great many later stage doctors and professors who offered nothing but enthusiasm, email addresses, advice and aid.

This is notable in comparison to the one older gentleman and professor who felt it impertinent to advice me twice:

“You look so much better without your glasses. You shouldn’t wear them.”

Ta, love.

feminism, feminist, gay, gender, misogyny, personal, politics, race, racism, rape, sexism, Uncategorized, violence, Violence Against Women, women

Trump: Them Vs Us

The privileged today are those who are truly not thrown by the election results in the US – those who are unperturbed. They are the ones who know their livelihoods and hopes are in “safe” hands. They are the powered individuals whose conformity to majority rules renders them safe in a new Trump-ian world. I am not one of those people, but let’s get one thing straight:

I was not hoping for a feminist vote.

I did not believe Hillary Clinton fully represented a feminist vote, nor did I want her to win simply because she was a woman in some narrow-minded feminist fashion.

I did believe she was the better of two mediocre options; I did believe people wanted unity and fairness for all. I know better now.

Today, a majority of Americans voted for hate and intolerance – that is what made up Donald Trump’s campaign. He took a divide and conquer rhetoric. Even now in his victory speech he declared “This is about us.” Us. In true Trump-ian fashion,  it is “us” versus “them.”

Them are the women Trump so often vilified or objectified – women are nothing to him if they cannot be cast as villains or beauties. Them are the immigrants and refugees whose needs are less significant that those of Caucasian, US heritage. Them are the gay, lesbian, bi, trans, queer, and intersexed whose huge wins and political successes over the last several years are suddenly cast in doubt. Them is the poor and working classes who struggle with two jobs and two kids and too little money to support their families.

Them is everyone who Trump is not simply because Trump represents and campaigns only for those who are liked – or aspire to be like – him.

I hope he proves me wrong here. I hope he engages with the minority communities. I hope he stands for people who aren’t like him and changes his approach to the others of our world. Wouldn’t that be the biggest plot twist of all?

If not, God help “them” now.

 

feminism, feminist, gender, homosexual, Ireland, misogyny, politics, race, sexism, Uncategorized, violence, Violence Against Women, women, writer

The Woes of Feminism and the Movies

Many of us have been unfortunate enough to witness the vitriol and small-mindedness which accompanied the build-up and release of the gender-reversed reboot of Ghostbusters earlier this year. With it, of course, came the chorus of mostly male laments against feminism: “How dare four women take the place of four men, who do they think they are? When we say reboots, all we want is updates CGI, not feminist propaganda!”

Unsurprisingly, the malevolence didn’t end there, but included the use of intimidation and threats against the spook-filled films selection of female stars, most notably and again unsurprisingly Leslie Jones, the specter-ass-kicking squads resident black sass queen. While Jones’ stand against the intimidation tactics unfortunately involved a loss for the Twittersphere (she recently announced a much needed break from the site following the abuse) the equation which continues to divide feminism and movie media has become once more evident via Twitter trend #FeministAMovie

The hashtag reached trending proportions in early August, catching my own attention on 11 August… of the hilarious possibilities which were available. How excited I was to scroll through potential hilarious gender-reversals, queer puns, and non-heteronormative re-titles.

What I got instead proved the false consciousness which continues to surround the feminist movement. Several of which used Ghostbusters as the bone of contention:

It was only following my disappointment that I discovered the hashtag was, in fact, a response to the all-female cast announced for Oceans 8; the new installment combining the star skills of Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Rihanna, Helena Bonham Carter, Mindy Kaling, and Awkwafina. The outraged reaction against the positioning of women in public spaces resulted in a reiteration of misogynistic themes,  homophobic and transphobic commentary, and the general array of stereotypical sexist insults which amount to the manosphere’s armory.

Certainly, the stereotype of the “Feminazi,” the “manhater”, the angry, hairy, cajoling cartoon feminist consistently drawn into bad cartoons was redrawn again and again:

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These texts reanimate negative stereotypes commonly linked with the feminist figure in popular culture, many concentrating on the negative ways feminist discourse (supposedly) affects women’s most crucial aspect: appearance. A failure to adhere to traditional and overtly-normalised femininity and the beauty standards related to this unnatural state of being is consistently related one’s success or failure in being a woman.

Related to these highly idealised beauty standards and ideals of proper womanhood is the contemporary horror related to female menstruation. Horror movies, blockbuster comedies and the following tweets alike depict this natural and widely experienced event as the abject moment:

2016-08-20 (22)

Many others simply and in-eloquently depicted feminism and feminists as something to be despised and abused, where feminists are literally unknowable (and unloveable) and as at once undeserving of men and unable to keep them.

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Thankfully, and once again in keeping with the Ghostbuster’s narratives, feminists rallied against their would-be oppressors with a selection of their own #FeministAMovie tweets which created new sexual spaces, challenged heteronormativity, repossessed female and coloured space from male and white privileges and generally educated individuals that the humourless, hairy-feminazi figure could at least, occassionally, be funny for the sake of politics:

 

In short, movie media continues to challenge feminist gains, but there is an undeniable movement occurring wherein women are being permitted space to narrate new experiences on screen. Comedies such as Bridesmaids, Ghostbusters and the up-coming Moms are repositioning women’s traditional position on screen, while action genres are redrawing squad goals in Oceans 8, and sci-fi/comics genre is FINALLY due to welcome Wonderwoman to the big screen in the first female-lead movie, and while these narratives are being challenged by the greater masses, we’ll continue to met the challenge.

 

 

S.