The Teresa Jusino Experience

Create Like An Activist

Tag: feminism (Page 1 of 3)

Create Like An Activist: TJXP’s New Mission Statement

Soundtrack: “Chief Don’t Run” by Jidenna

I got a new agenda that I gotta carry through
When your father’s enemies try to bury you…

The results of our recent Presidential election was a gut punch, and I spent all of last week recovering. You can read the last thing I had to say about the election HERE. However, the stuff that’s of particular note reads as follows:

But while I do plan on holding Trump, Pence, and the rest of their administration accountable for any decisions of theirs that hurt my communities and continuing to fight for the needs of my communities, I’m also not going to make them the focus of activism and work.

Instead:

1) I will up my political activism game. Now is the time for me to keep tabs on my local politicians to make sure they’re doing what we need them to be doing, regularly reaching out to their offices not only when there’s something I wanna yell at them about, but also to write in praise of awesome things they’ve supported that are important to me.

I will keep up with these people, as well as midterm candidates, throughout the year so that, when elections roll around, I’ll be informed about what’s going on and who’s actually standing up for me in office.

2) Since certain issues may receive less attention from a Trump/Pence administration, I will put my time, energy, and resources into organizations that advocate for, provide awareness of, and provide services to the populations and issues that are important to me. In this case, my focus will likely be on (in no particular order):

    • Gender Equality
    • LGBTQIA Equality
    • the fight against racism and bigotry
    • Campaign Finance/Election Reform
    • L.A’s homeless population
    • the protection of Civil Liberties.

3) I will create like an activist. Now, more than ever, I am confident in the importance of stories. Not just any stories, but the stories I need and want to tell. Because a big contributor to people being so willing to throw people like me under the bus is the fact that they have no personal connection to people like me. I get that.

But I also understand that media plays that important role in people’s lives. I have a friend from the Upper Penninsula in Michigan who told me once that the first Latinx she ever “met” were Maria and Luis on Sesame Street. And she thought they were so cool. And having grown up in a majority-white, sparsely populated area of Michigan, she’s gone on to have traveled all over the world, move to New York, and be one of the most kind and welcoming people you could ever meet. Because the shows she watched, the books she read, and the films she saw gave her a glimpse of a wider world she’d never encountered in real life, and made her want more. That might never have happened had Sesame Street only been about a bunch of white people hanging out with some Muppets. 🙂

May the diverse characters I create, the diverse communities I depict, and the stories I tell be that glimpse of a wider world for someone else and inspire that person to action.

And may my work as a producer of those stories allow me to employ from marginalized communities and contribute directly to those communities from production through the release of the project, and beyond.

angela-davis

And so here I am, back to my blog after months of being away, because one of the few silver linings of this election for me is that it has lit a fire under my ass, and I’ve decided to use whatever platforms I have at my disposal to try and protect the progress already made with regard to the populations and causes I care about, as well as continue to fight for further progress.

To that end, the new tagline around here, and my new mantra is “Create Like An Activist.”

The weapons with which I am the most skilled are: my writing (fiction and non), the ability to translate ideas in a way that allows people to understand opposing views (or think about things in a new way), and my history of being a connector between people.

Media and pop culture are where I live, and where I hope to make my living for the rest of my life. It’s my area of the world, and fluffy and superficial as it may seem to some, it’s an area in which I can affect the way people think, feel, and take action. It’s an area in which I can inspire people and help them maintain the strength to keep going, and it’s a place where, eventually, I will have the power to provide opportunities for the most marginalized among us.

But I don’t believe I have to wait until I get to that place of power to start making changes with what I do. I can do it right now, through the characters I create, or the artists/projects I choose to cover in my pop culture writing. I can do it by speaking up when I see injustice being done in my industry (or elsewhere in my life). I can do it by being brave enough to turn down opportunities, or refuse to work for certain people – lucrative though an opportunity might be – if they don’t align with my ethics. I can do it by using my art as a way to help others (ie: screenings as fundraisers, donating leftover craft services to homeless organizations, organizing casts and crews for volunteer opportunities, etc).

And so I plan on using this blog as a hub for all of that work. There’ll continue to be fun stuff around here, too (and what’s more fun than helping others!), and I will continue to write about my journey through this bonkers life and career of mine, but there will definitely be a shift in focus and intention.

I will write about both the creative and the more activist work I’m doing, and I will also provide resources and ideas for work you can be doing. Especially if you’re interested in the same areas I mention above. None of us can do everything, but if we all do what we can in the areas we care about the most, we can change the world. And if you’re interested in causes like solving climate change, ending factory farming, or any other issues I haven’t mentioned, I hope that you can take any ideas that I bring up here, and apply them to whatever’s most important to you.

Sadly, I’m not confident that the government that’s currently been elected into office will operate in the best interests of all its citizens. So, in addition to resisting anything they do or pass that will negatively affect already marginalized and oppressed communities, I will be setting more of an intention both with and outside of the creative work I do to take on some of that work myself, helping others do the same.

It’s our country. It’s up to all of us to take care of it, and each other. I love you all. Yes, even you. 😉

Teresa at the Movies: The Legend of Billie Jean

The Legend of Billie Jean (1985)
Starring: Helen Slater, Christian Slater, Keith Gordon, Yeardley Smith, Barry Tubb, Martha Gehman, and Peter Coyote (with a big nerd shout-out to Dean Stockwell!)
Logline (from IMDb): 
A Texas teenager cuts her hair short and becomes an outlaw martyr with her brother and friends.

Two Christmases ago, I was at a friend’s White Elephant party, and I’d finally received my gift. It was a big box full of really random stuff. I’m talking magnetic tape, tissues, and a bar of soap random. Also in this box were two DVDs and a Blu-ray: Congo, The Last Boy Scout, and the “Fair is Fair” edition of The Legend of Billie Jean on Blu-ray.

I hadn’t seen any of these movies.

Later, my secret gift-giver, Sam, outed himself at the party, and I thanked him, genuinely grateful, because I hadn’t seen any of these films (and, to be honest, was glad that I didn’t have to pay to see them or know they exist). He immediately zeroed in on The Legend of Billie Jean, being all “Oh my God! You’re going to love this one! I think you in particular will really like it.”

Me in particular? Okay… 🙂

Others started gathering around and squealing enthusiastically. Oh my God! The Legend of Billie Jean! I love that movie! How had I never even heard of this movie before? And how is it that a bunch of people even younger than me had heard of it, and I was six when this movie came out?

It sat on my shelf unwatched until New Year’s Day this year, when I had some friends over for brunch and I busted it out after one of them said it was one of their favorite movies.

Billy Jean (Helen Slater) and Binx (Christian Slater)

Billy Jean (Helen Slater) and Binx (Christian Slater)

Meet Billie Jean and Binx (played by Helen Slater and Christian Slater – no relation), teenage siblings in Corpus Christi, Texas who live in a trailer park. Really the only thing they have going for them at this point are their looks and Binx’s awesome new scooter. Billie Jean gets hit on by a local bro (bruh? brah?) named Hubie. She shuts him down, and like any rational person would, he steals Binx’s scooter while he and Billie Jean are swimming in a lake, and totals it.

She goes to a mechanic, and gets an estimate for $608 to fix the bike, which is a really specific amount. Not $600, not $610, but $608. She tries to go to the police to get them to help, but Detective Ringwald is like ZERO help and gives her advice that’s the equivalent of when parents tell you that if you ignore bullies, they’ll go away. (Real talk to kids being bullied: They DON’T “just go away.” Talk to an adult you trust and get help!)

Anyway, she goes to Hubie’s dad, Mr. Pyatt’s shop to get the money she and Binx are owed for the bike, either from Hubie, or from his dad.

And this is where shit gets real.

Under the pretense of giving her the money, Mr. Pyatt lures her upstairs where he tries to proposition Billie Jean! A layaway plan in which he would get laid, and she’d get her money in installments. Obviously, she’s like NOPE. But then he tries to rape her right then and there! Thankfully, her friends and brother were waiting outside. They come in after Billie Jean after she’s fought Mr. Pyatt off and comes downstairs. Binx has found a gun in the shop, which Mr. Pyatt tells him isn’t loaded – but it totally is – and Binx ends up shooting Mr. Pyatt! He’s not killed, but he’s wounded.

mr pyatt and billie jean

 

Meanwhile, Billie Jean, Binx, and their friends Ophelia (Martha Gehman) and one of my favorite characters, not just in this movie but OF ALL TIME, Putter (played to perfection by Yeardley Smith) end up going on the lam as outlaws as Mr. Pyatt reports them for shooting him. Detective Ringwald sympathizes with them, and attempts to bring them in “for their own good” (and he’s probably just a little bit guilty that he was absolutely craptastic at his job and none of this would’ve happened had he just looked into it rather than dismissing her!).

Long story short, while on the lam, the friends meet a rich dude named Lloyd that Billie Jean sort of falls for and they hole up with him for a while. It’s at his house, after seeing their story all over the news and watching 1948’s Joan of Arc, she decides to give her self a badass makeover and lean into the legend that has started to come up around her and her friends, sending a message to news outlets demanding the $608 dollars from Mr. Pyatt that she and her brother are owed!

Wackiness ensues, and a Legend is born!

What amazed me the most about this movie is how feminist a movie it is! Sure, it’s in a cheesy 1980s way, but this film definitely has a feminist bent without hitting you over the head with it.

At the beginning of the film, we see Billie Jean scantily clad while swimming in the lake. Throughout the movie, pretty much everyone – from the people in her life, to people consuming her image in the media – remarks on her good looks. This film is about the price young women pay simply to exist (Hint: it’s way more than $608). They are taken advantage of by boys their age as well as older men. If they’re traditionally attractive, things are assumed about them that aren’t assumed about other girls. Their confidence is diminished, no matter how intelligent, beautiful, or assertive they are, because the world is constantly telling them that the only things they have that are worth anything are their bodies. We see all of this pummel Billie Jean in the first half of the movie, so that when she makes the decision to shed it all, it’s all the sweeter.

Even before her transformation, Billie Jean is a strong-willed, smart, kind-hearted character who goes all out to defend her brother, and later, her friends. She’s the one who goes to the police about the scooter, and when that doesn’t work, she goes directly to Mr. Pyatt. Yet, she’s not a “badass.” In Helen Slater’s performance, you see that she’s scared. You see that she’s unsure. She’s still a teenage girl figuring things out. Her bravery isn’t about not being afraid, it’s about acting in spite of her fear. It’s about not letting those who would take advantage of her keep her from her goal.

For her transformation into the “Billie Jean” that ends up becoming a legend and hero to young people everywhere, she takes her inspiration from an influential woman from history – Joan of Arc – who fought to defend her country with everything she had, and was burned at the stake for her trouble. No one convinced Billie Jean to do it, or gave her the idea. She was inspired and thought it through all on her own. Later, when things change, she makes her decisions based on what’s best for the safety of her friends. She never backs down, but she always remains considerate of others.

Billie Jean isn’t the only amazing female character in this. I’m absolutely in love with Putter, the youngest, tomboy-ish friend that tags along with them. Watching Putter go through this movie is one of the most interesting depictions of a young girl going through puberty that I’ve ever seen as we see her slowly morph from a girl who eats all the time and tries to steal candy by shoving it under her shirt, to a young woman who’s gotten her period, asks for a diaphragm, and stands up for her friend in a police precinct.  It’s rare that a female coming-of-age story is told at all, especially in the 1980s, and especially with such humor and poignancy and allowing the character such agency. Ophelia is less well-executed, but even she takes a journey as she is inspired by Billie Jean to go on the lam when she was only going to drive them to a certain point, and screams at the cops when they try to get Billie’s location out of her. Between those two and Billie Jean’s growth, we have a wonderful examination of young girls growing into powerful young women.

billie jean and binx

But seriously, do you hang out with your siblings like this? They’re just so…glisten-y and…close.

Equally impressive are the boys in the girls’ lives. Sure there are predators like Mr. Pyatt and Hubie, and the general public who would wear her image and sensationalize her story. But there are also guys like Binx, who supports and defends his sister, but defers to her when necessary. There’s no macho posing with him. Sometimes, he looks after Billie Jean, sometimes Billie Jean looks after him. And then there’s rich boy Lloyd (who’s also the son of Dean Stockwell’s DA), who comes off skeevy at first, but when we (and Billie Jean) get to know him, we realize that he has more depth than we thought, and that he values Billie Jean, not for her looks, but for her character. He supports and encourages her plans, and becomes a great sounding board for her. He genuinely respects her, in addition to being attracted to her.

And of course, there’s the fact that once Billie Jean becomes “Billie Jean,” both young girls and young boys are inspired by her. She becomes a larger-than-life folk hero in androgynous clothing and people of all genders start dressing like her and being inspired by her. This isn’t a “girl power” movie – it’s a “youth power” movie, and it’s nice to see a young female character as the face of that, without emphasis being placed on her Face.

Lastly, we have a rare instance in this film of a sexual predator actually being brought to justice by the young woman he victimized. Not only does Billie Jean force him to admit what he did to her in front of the whole town, but the town stands by and lets his store burn down. They have spoken – they will not tolerate this kind of behavior. It’s a far cry from what we read in the news today: media outlets and citizens alike being more concerned with the lives of alleged perpetrators than they are with their victims. No one tells Billie Jean that she “ruined this man’s life.” They stand with her.

The Legend of Billie Jean isn’t a perfect movie (there’s plenty in it that’s just ridiculous), but it’s an inspiring one. And really, isn’t inspiration what we want from our films? There’s a reason why this is a cult classic. If you push aside the cheesy 1980s trappings, there’s actually a movie that makes you think under there.

On a scale of okay to really fucking rad, I give The Legend of Billie Jean two fists up!

billie jean red-head kid

Oh, and you were right, Sam. I totally loved this fucking movie.

FAIR IS FAIR!

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NEW AT BEACON: Saved By a Kiss: Neil Gaiman’s “The Sleeper and the Spindle”

Illustrations by Chris Riddell.

Today’s piece at Beacon discusses a new book for young readers written by one of my faves, Neil Gaiman, called The Sleeper and the Spindle.

EXCERPT:

It’s the story of a woman saving another woman, teaching that we can and should help each other, rather than compete. It’s the story of a queen who is unsure of marriage having an adventure and hoping to do something bigger with her life than just stick to the prescribed path of marriage-babies-death. It’s the story of a woman who sees something that needs doing and is capable of solving the problem herself, rather than calling the nearest man to do it. In a fairy tale setting, that’s huge, because so often, girls are taught to wait for princes.

To read the full article and/or comment on the article, CLICK HERE! That’s right! Whether you subscribe to me at Beacon or not, you can now read all of my posts for FREE for seven days. So feel free to not only read and comment, but pass the link around! Hopefully, you’ll like what you read enough (both my work and the work of some of the other talented writers at Beacon) to subscribe to me for as little as $5/month and enjoy all that Beacon has to offer!

And if you like what you read, don’t forget to click the “Worth It” button at the bottom of the article! 🙂 Thanks!

NEW AT BEACON: "Joan Rivers: Unapologetic"

I write a pop culture column over at Beacon. So it would be remiss of me to not talk about the passing of one of pop culture’s loudest satirists, the inimitable Joan Rivers.

EXCERPT: 

I’ve spent most of my life not a huge Joan Rivers fan. 

I know, I’m not supposed to say that now that she’s passed away (she died yesterday at the age of 81), but considering how outspoken and brash she was throughout her career, I’m sure she wouldn’t begrudge me the opportunity to speak my mind. 

Her jokes always seemed a bit dated to me – women either being sluts, or “not being able to catch husbands,” etc – and I found the way she tended to laugh between each joke, as if she wanted to fill in just in case no one in the audience found her funny, a bit grating. People of my generation have known of Joan Rivers’ existence for our entire lives. However, unlike Robin Williams, she rarely appeared in a context that we were allowed to enjoy as children, so we didn’t “grow up” with her in the same way. Her stand-up was either on late-night talk shows, which we couldn’t stay up and watch, or it was on cable, where it was allowed to be as raunchy as she could make it, and we weren’t allowed to watch. So, unless we were specifically interested in pursuing comedy as a career, my generation primarily grew up knowing Joan Rivers as That Annoying Woman on Awards Show Red Carpets Who Doesn’t Have Her Facts Straight and Is Embarrassing Us All. We grew up with parodies of Joan Rivers, and very often, Rivers seemed like a parody of herself. 

And this is a horrible shame. 

It wasn’t until I watched the brilliant documentary about her life and career,Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work (IFC, 2010), that I truly began to understand just how much she contributed to comedy, to show business, and to feminism.

If you want to read and comment on my full post, you’ll have to subscribe to my work over at Beacon! Starting at only $5/month, you’ll be able to access all my pop culture criticism, as well as the work of 100+ other journalists writing about the topics you care about. Check it out! Once there, please click the “Worth It” button on the bottom of my article! (That is, if you actually like what I’ve written.)

Thanks! 🙂

NEW AT BEACON: "The Angel of Verdun: Nuanced Female Characters"

Posts once a week at Beacon. That’s how I wanna roll. 🙂

Anyway, here’s the latest at my pop culture column over there. It’s about the difference between “Strong Female Characters” and “Nuanced Female Characters” and why I think Rita Vratasky (Emily Blunt) in Edge of Tomorrow is a great example of the kind of female character we should be clamoring to see in films.

EXCERPT: 

I hate the phrase Strong Female Character

“Strong Female Character” carries with it a judgement that I don’t think its users intend. After all, what does “strong” mean? Does it mean physically strong (and so, are we defining strength according to stereotypically male criteria)? Does it mean emotionally strong (and so, does this mean that if a woman cries, falls in love, or protects her children she’s not strong)? Does it mean assertive and ambitious (and so, can more average women not be “strong characters?” And how do we square that with the fact that, with male protagonists, the Hero’s Journey is often defined by his starting out as an ineffectual schlub who grows into leadership. Was he not a “strong character” until the very end)? 

My preferred phrase – and what I think most people mean when they say “Strong Female Character” – is Nuanced Female Character.

What those who want gender parity in pop culture want in their female characters is complexity. We want them to be more than girlfriends, doormats, or prizes to be won. We want them to have their own inner lives and goals in the stories we watch. Even if they’re not the protagonists, we want them to be fully-realized people, not caricatures. We want them to have strengths and flaws. We want them to have, or at least want and earn, agency. Most of all, we want them to have a reason to be in the story that doesn’t boil down to: Plot Device.

If you want to read and comment on my full post, you’ll have to subscribe to my work over at Beacon! For only $5/month, you’ll be able to access all my pop culture criticism, as well as the work of 100+ other journalists writing about the topics you care about. Check it out! Once there, please click the “Worth It” button on the bottom of my article! (That is, if you actually like what I’ve written.)

Thanks! 🙂

NEW AT BEACON: "When Feminism Becomes a Marketing Tool"


Finally, a Beacon post about something OTHER than the movie, Noah! 🙂 In my latest over at Beacon, I talk about the current trend of using feminism to market products: when it’s effective, when it isn’t, and whether doing it at all is OK.

EXCERPT:

Not to be left out, Pantene put out an ad that focused on the double standard inherent in labels placed on confident women who work hard (“bossy,” “selfish,” “show-off”) as opposed to men who do the same (“boss,” “dedicated,” “confident”). The ad encouraged women to #ShineStrong (and apparently one way to do that is by washing your hair with Pantene, rather than – I don’t know – getting a Masters Degree), and again put the onus on them to not “let labels hold [them] back,” while not acknowledging that beauty companies are a big reason why women focus so much on their looks as their only asset, which leads to the labels this ad is warning against.

These ads are the equivalent of your older sibling grabbing your hand, slapping you in the face with it over and over, then asking “Why’re you hitting yourself? Why’re you hitting yourself? Why’re you hitting yourself?”

If you want to read and comment on my full post, you’ll have to subscribe to my work over at Beacon! For only $5/month, you’ll be able to access all my pop culture criticism, as well as the work of 100+ other journalists writing about the topics you care about. Check it out! Once there, please click the “Worth It” button on the bottom of my article! (That is, if you actually like what I’ve written.)

Thanks! 🙂

NEW AT BEACON: "NOAH PART 3: Where Is the Good In All This?"

It’s taken me forever – mostly because I was out of town for a month, and spent a month playing catch-up on various things in my life – but I’ve finally posted the third and final part in my discussion of the film Noah over at Beacon. I hope it was worth the wait!

In this final part, I discuss the thing I liked most about Noah, particularly now in light of stuff like the shooting committed by Elliot Rodger at USCB: the examination of gender, and gender roles.

EXCERPT:

We watch as Ham jealously eyes his brother and Ila’s interactions, wanting the same for himself. It’s understandable for a young person to want a partner, and as a woman with plenty of experience in being single while watching everyone around me pair up, I felt this kid’s pain! The trouble with Ham was that he had somehow gotten it into his head that Being a Man = Having a Wife and Fathering Children, which is a narrow definition. 

As he builds The Ark, Noah (Russell Crowe) gives Ham tasks for which he is to be responsible, including the greatest task of all – caring for the animals. The whole point of The Ark is to allow Creation to go on after the flood, so ensuring the safety of everything on The Ark is extremely important, requiring a high level of maturity and responsibility. Some might say that Noah would only bestow this responsibility on a mature adult – aka (if you’re male) A Man. Yet Ham is so preoccupied with Finding a Wife that he dismisses this great responsibility, runs off to try and find a wife, and when he can’t bring the girl he finds onto The Ark with him, he sabotages his father’s endeavor, allowing an interloper onto the boat (Tubal Cain, played by Ray Winstone), causing all sorts of problems, and eventually being so ashamed that he leaves his family once they do get back onto dry land.

Yet, as we’re seeing all this through Noah’s eyes, we know that Ham has it all wrong. That Real Men aren’t defined by the women they bed or the children they conceive. They’re defined by what they protect and cultivate. They’re defined not by destruction, but by growth. This is an amazing, appropriate, and necessary message in this day and age, when gender roles are shifting and feminism has caused many men to question what their “job” is now. It’s the same as its always been. Protect, create, cultivate. 

If you want to read and comment on my full post, you’ll have to subscribe to my work over at Beacon! For only $5/month, you’ll be able to access all my pop culture criticism, as well as the work of 100+ other journalists writing about the topics you care about. Check it out! Once there, please click the “Worth It” button on the bottom of my article! (That is, if you actually like what I’ve written.)

Thanks! 🙂

COUNTDOWN TO BEACON: Pop Culture and Feminism

Hello all!

Today, as I count down to my campaign on Beacon (beginning March 3, I’m going to be offering subscriptions to my pop culture writing for $5/month), I thought I’d shine a spotlight on one of my more popular pieces over at Tor.com.

And when I say “popular,” I don’t necessarily mean in the best way.

In this piece, Moffat’s Women: Amy and her Skirt, I talk about how much I love the character of Amy Pond, and how much I hate the fact that in the Comic Relief videos, “Space” and “Time,” the TARDIS crashing is blamed on Amy’s choice to wear a short skirt (rather than on Rory’s lack of concentration while fixing it).

EXCERPT:

Rory being distracted by Amy in a short skirt (not to mention the idea of two of her) is understandable. After all, he knows what she looks like under the skirt, making it even more understandable in his case. This isn’t my problem with the minisodes. My problem is with the too-easy, dated, sexist humor they employ, especially in the second part. First, there’s the issue of Amy being a bad driver and Rory being allowed to “have a go” at driving the TARDIS. Bad woman driver, ha ha. Now, one of the things I love about Amy is the fact that she’s flawed. She’s a complex woman, so if being a bad driver is one of the many things that make her who she is, I can forgive that.

Less forgivable, however, is the final message at the end. Once the crisis is resolved, The Doctor says that they should be safe, but to prevent it from happening again, he says “Pond, put some trousers on.” So, let me get this straight: Rory gets distracted, Rory drops the coupling…and it’s Amy’s job to put some pants on? Yes, it’s just a joke. Yes, she rolls her eyes at The Doctor and gives Rory a glare…but the fact that Moffat chose to have The Doctor reprimand Amy at the end instead of, oh I don’t know, slapping Rory upside the head for not paying attention, soured the experience for me.

If you enjoy this piece, and want to see more like it, consider subscribing to me at Beacon, beginning March 3rd. I’d love to continue to bring you the in-depth pop culture discussion to which you’ve become accustomed! 🙂

Women in Film: RAZE

Film: Raze

Director: Josh Waller; Writer: Robert Beaucage

Chosen because: Female protagonist and a predominantly female cast in a stereotypically “male” genre; Produced by Zoe Bell, and two other female Executive Producers  – Rachel Nichols, and Allene Quincy

I really need more people to go and see the film Raze, which is now in several cities across the country, because I need to be able to talk to more people about what they think about the ending!

Raze opens with a young woman named Jamie (Rachel Nichols) talking with a guy in a bar. Next thing she knows, she’s unconscious and wakes up in a dark, underground room. As she tries to escape, she meets another young woman, Sabrina (played by awesome stuntwoman and actress, Zoe Bell), and they walk together under the pretense that they’re looking for a way out.  But Sabrina leads Jamie into an enclosed, circular, stone-walled room with a steel door that shuts behind them and starts kicking the crap out of her for no reason. When Jamie asks her why, Sabrina says “Because we have to.”

Sabrina isn’t the only woman there. There are about fifty or so chosen (rather, kidnapped) by this crazy and ancient cult that does this every year because something-something-Greek mythology-something-something-women are powerful-something-something.  The women have to fight each other, tournament-style, to the death. The “winner” gets to leave and is crowned Princess of I Fucked All These Bitches Up, or somesuch. In order to force them into fighting rather than just escaping, killing themselves or letting themselves be killed, each woman has a loved one that the cult is targeting and has surveillance on. So, if the woman refuses to fight, she risks someone killing her child, or her husband, or her parent…

I enjoyed this movie muchly, because:

1) It was an amazing metaphor for what women face on a day-to-day basis. Not that we’re pitted against each other in brutal fights to the death – but we are pitted against each other in other ways. Especially if we’re powerful. Because God forbid there be more than one powerful woman at the top, amirite? It was also a great metaphor for how women are taught to do things, or sacrifice themselves, or put themselves through hell for other people. These women were encouraged to fight “for your daughter,” or “for your mother,” or “for your fiance.” But Tracie Thoms’ character has an amazing line where she basically says, “Any of those people you care about can be taken away from you anyway. You have to fight for yourself.” You have to deem yourself worth saving, because at the end of the day any other reason for staying alive doesn’t matter – you should be doing it because you want to survive and thrive.

2) There was a diverse cast of women. I don’t just mean racially, though they were that (shout-out to Tracie Thoms and Rosario Dawson, who is also in this film). I mean as far as personality types. There were women who were scared, there were women who were brave, and there were women who were driven insane by the experience. And there was one woman who loved violence and couldn’t wait to get her hands on anyone and everyone. It wasn’t just a parade of “kick-ass women.” They were real, average women under crazy, heightened circumstances. Some, like Zoe Bell’s character, had military training. Others had kickboxing experience, or gymnastics experience. They were all chosen because they were a certain level of physically fit/trained so that the fights would be interesting…but they weren’t Superwomen, and that’s what made this film so frightening, and what many of these women had to do all the more amazing. To top it all off, one of the leaders of the crazy cult is a woman, played by Sherilyn Fenn, and she sees what she’s doing as beneficial to women – well, to the one woman who survives. Sabrina asks her at one point, “How can you do this to other women?”

Her answer is not fucking cool.

3) There was also some crazy-amazing fight scenes, and if you’re a fan of stylized, violent fare, like I am, you will LOVE this. At first, the fights were too brutal to watch. But by the middle of the movie, I was actively, viscerally rooting for certain characters to kick other characters’ asses. So, not only is this a movie about women and their place in the world, but it’s about violence and how we, the viewers, respond to it. Even if violence isn’t your thing, you have to admire the phenomenal fight choreography. It takes a lot of work to make a fake fight look so intensely brutal.

Anyway, all this doesn’t mean the movie was perfect. Some of the shots, particularly when related to Sabrina and her daughter, were really heavy-handed and schmaltzy. And then there was that ending; that ending that I personally didn’t like, but that I know could be great conversation fodder – I’m still not sure if “being conversation fodder” is good enough for an ending, which is part of the reason why I want to hear what others think about it!

In any case, go see Raze if it’s playing in a city near you. And then find me so we can talk about it. 🙂

TERESOPINION: Benevolent Sexism

Several months ago, my friend Jean sent me the article I discuss below, told me that I should write about it on my blog, and that she wanted my “Teresopinion.” Not only did I feel strongly about the article in question, but I LOVED the term “Teresopinion!” 🙂 So, I’m making that a regular feature on the blog.

If you have an article, an issue, or a specific problem about which you’d like my Teresopinion, email me at theteresajusinoexperience[at]gmail[dot]com with “TERESOPINION” in the subject heading! I will only mention you by first name, and if you don’t want that, tell me, and I’ll call you Anonymous.

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Submission: “Benevolent Sexism” by Katherine Connell (National Review Online, December 2012)

TERESOPINION:

Feminism is the idea that women and men are equal, and as such should have equal agency in their lives, and an equal ability to design their lives however they like without fear of legal or social consequences based on gender. Taking that one step further, I’d say that feminism is the idea that “the masculine” and “the feminine” are equal, and as such no one should face legal or social consequences based on which part of themselves they choose to present.

In short, your gender, whatever it is or however you choose to present it, shouldn’t prevent you from living life as an autonomous human being.

If you believe that – CONGRATULATIONS! You’re a feminist! Whether you choose to call yourself that or not. You might not be an active feminist, but you’re a feminist, make no mistake. And the fact that so many women don’t want to call themselves by that name has a lot to do with sexism, which is the very thing that active feminists are trying to eradicate.

In this article, a skeptical Connell concludes with the following:

Because benevolent sexism is so much more insidious than old-fashioned “hostile sexism,” social scientists are forced to be creative in their attempts to measure it and analyze the negative effects they know it has on women. Consider the scenario constructed by Juliet Wakefield and her colleagues in their study of how women avoid seeking help in the context of “a dependency-related stereotype.” The university women selected for the experiment are individually allowed to “overhear” a fake phone call the female researcher supposedly receives from Joe the plumber, who is working in her apartment and has moved some of her furniture around without asking. After she hangs up, she says to some of the participants in the study, “Sorry about that — my plumber is such a typical man — he thinks that women are incapable of doing anything on their own!” To the others she says, “Sorry about that, my plumber is the most impatient person in the world.” It turns out that the young women exposed to the former statement — which sounds as if it is describing something a bit more hostile than benevolent — were subsequently less likely to ask for help with solving some anagrams, and they felt bad about themselves when they did ask for help. Conclusion: “All in all, our findings underline the point that the benevolent sexism in everyday banal interactions can be consequential for women’s emotions and behavior, and is, therefore, anything but banal.”

I tried to reflect a little on whether my banal interactions with benevolently sexist men have been undermining my emotional health and affecting my behavior without my realizing it. The other day, I asked a male co-worker for assistance with a technical issue. It’s hard to know if he was subtly robbing me of my agency, because he didn’t reply, “Oh, the network server, that’s so difficult and frustrating for a woman to grapple with. Let me do it for you,” as did the man in a script presented to students in the 2011 study “Damned if She Does, Damned if She Doesn’t: Consequences of Accepting versus Confronting Patronizing Help for the Female Target and Male Actor.” Instead, he just sent me the relevant link and went back to work.

I don’t think most women actually want to live in a world where men don’t offer to help them lug heavy suitcases up staircases or hold doors for them or propose marriage — never mind going down with the Titanic. If feminists find these things deplorable and in need of eradication, they can hardly be surprised when women fail to identify with their cause.

Here’s what I think about all of that:

  1. While I think that Juliet Wakefield’s study is flawed (so…are you saying it’s a good thing or a bad thing to ask for help? What exactly are you trying to prove?) Connell is missing the point of the experiment. The point isn’t that men shouldn’t give help when asked. The problem is when men offer unsolicited help on the basis of gender. Long story short, if you’re a dude and you’re offering the same unsolicited help to a woman that you would offer to another dude? That’s cool. Thanks. Very nice of you. If you’re a dude, and you’re offering unsolicited help to a woman that you wouldn’t offer to another dude because she’s a woman and you assume she needs your help? Not cool. When Connell ends with her example of asking a dude for help in her office? SO not the point. She asked for help, and he gave it to her. Done and done. That’s how it should be. Now, I’ve heard guys complain when women want to offer help by making them talk about their feelings; the guy doesn’t want to talk, and the woman insists that it’ll make him feel better and that guys need to “learn” how to talk about their feelings more. That’s annoying, right? Let’s make an agreement right now: no more unsolicited help based on gender stereotypes. If you’re offering someone help, ask yourself if you would offer that same help to someone of your own gender. If you wouldn’t, chances are, you’re offering it based on a gender stereotype, and you should probably rein it in until you’re asked. Yes, that goes for women, too. Because that guy will talk about his feelings when he’s good and ready.
  2. All women are not the same. There isn’t such a thing as “what women want” or “what men want.” That’s kind of the point. Things like behavior and emotions are only gendered insofar as human beings have made them that way. When Connell ends with: “I don’t think most women actually want to live in a world where men don’t offer to help them lug heavy suitcases up staircases or hold doors for them or propose marriage — never mind going down with the Titanic. If feminists find these things deplorable and in need of eradication, they can hardly be surprised when women fail to identify with their cause.” it DRIVES ME CRAZY. First of all, no one can speak for “most women.” Secondly, women shouldn’t be judged negatively if they DO want to carry their own heavy suitcases or propose marriage. Thirdly, men shouldn’t be judged negatively if they say YES to a woman who proposes, or if they don’t insist on helping a woman with her heavy suitcase after she’s already declined.
  3. Lastly, I wish people could just be honest about what they want and need without having to hide behind a specific gender role. This way a woman could say “I want to marry you” or “I want to join the military” and a dude could say  “Lauren, could you help me carry this up the stairs?” or “I want to join a ballet company” and both people would get a resounding “meh” from everyone else BECAUSE WE WOULDN’T EVEN CARE THAT MUCH.

Making the world safe for that kind of honesty is what feminism is all about.

Bottom Line:

  • Benevolent sexism? Totally a thing. It’s especially dangerous, because it seems nice, but it’s one of many things that contributes to the larger problem of prescribed gender roles. And small contributors to large problems are often the most difficult to fight, because they’re the easiest to ignore, and when left ignored for too long, they fester.
  • People aren’t afraid to call themselves feminist because feminism is “too feministy,” they’re afraid to call themselves feminist because of what people who buy into prescribed gender roles think about feminism (and do to people who call themselves feminist).
  • All anyone who labels themselves a feminist wants to do is make the world safe for all people to live autonomously without being prevented from doing so by their gender, no matter what it is, or how they choose to present it. If you believe that, then call yourself a feminist proudly! It’s nothing of which to be ashamed.
  • Yes, I wrote this, and yes I stand by it. My point was that women shouldn’t consider themselves less feminist for receiving help, and I was using the agony experienced during our periods as an “out.” Like, if you feel guilty about letting guys carry heavy stuff, don’t, because you also have to deal with a gremlin chewing on your entrails. It was a semi-joke post written when I was hopped up on ice cream and Little House on the Prairie.

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