Talking Back to Sexist Fan Reactions

For this project, I decided to do a video for Game of Thrones with the song “Run the World” by Beyonce. Game of Thrones has many interesting and multi-faceted female characters that wield varying levels of power and who use subtle (and not-so-subtle) negotiations with men to exert influence in a male dominated world. However, many of the show’s viewers dismiss these characters for existing within a traditionally feminine role. For instance, thirteen-year-old Sansa Stark is hated by a sizeable percentage of viewers for being too much of a stereotypical teenage girl and for using courtesies and traditional femininity to survive, while they praise her younger sister Arya for being a tomboy that subverts such expectations. Neither view fully understands the characters; Arya would be dead if she were in Sansa’s position and vice versa. Cersei, who is queen and then queen-regent, is another character that is often hated by fans. There are reasons to hate Cersei, she is positioned by the narrative as one of the antagonists to the designated moral protagonists the Starks and has done many bad things, but many of the reasons fans hate her are gendered. They hate her because they view her as a bitch or as overly manipulative. She is manipulative, but no more than many of the male characters who do not receive such hate, and her supposed bitchiness is often her way of showing her frustration with the limits her world places on her because of her gender. Viewers who hate Cersei seem to have confused hating a character’s actions with hating the character herself, something that does not generally happen with morally questionable male characters.

Because the female characters in Game of Thrones are so frequently misunderstood, I decided to make a vid exploring how women in the world of Game of Thrones exert influence and power, and how they use either feminine or masculine roles to survive in their circumstances. My vid is thus less a critique of the subject material, as is common among vids, but a critique of the fan reaction to the subject material. I decided to use Beyonce’s “Run the World” song to demonstrate how the women in Game of Thrones actually exert a great deal of power with very limited resources, and how even if they use power by utilizing traditionally feminine gender roles they are still strong and worthy characters. As Game of Thrones is a visual narrative, a vid is a good medium to address these things. With my vid, I can take clips from the show and place them within a context that more easily demonstrates why a character’s actions were a sign of power, even if viewers may have interpreted them as passive or weak within their original context. However, a visual format was at times not adequate to get all I wanted to across. Many of Sansa’s exertions of power are extremely subtle out of necessity. Her only outward sign of power is her continued survival in a hostile environment, and that can be hard to convey through a vid format.

I think DIY is very effective in this instance. As fan reactions are DIY, making a vid talks back to their reactions within the same context and reaches about the same audience. As Francesca Coppa explains, “in vidding, […] music is used as an interpretive lens to help the viewer to see the source text differently. A vid is a visual essay that stages an argument” (Coppa). My vid is a visual response to sexist critiques of female characters demonstrating why the female characters in Game of Thrones are awesome and powerful, especially the commonly hated ones.

Works Cited:
Coppa, Francesca. “Women, Star Trek, and the early development of fannish
vidding.” Transformative Works and Cultures, 1 (2008). Online.


Masculine Femininities

This zine explores the ambiguities of gender and gender identity.  Trans* identities rarely get a voice in our society, and when they do, it is generally the voice of people who follow the gender binary, even if they have crossed it.  This zine is largely written by people who don’t fit into that gender binary, and it explores their relationship with their bodies and the world in general, as well as the multitudes of their identites.  It has a lot of images, poetry, and interviews, written by people who don’t view gender as static or as something able to be defined by a single word.

I found this image especially interesting because it explores how gender is performative, and how for many of the people in this zine, it may not be constant or wholly male or female.

This zine also has a lot of Indian voices.  It explores the voices of people of color, as well as Indian culture, which has a long tradition of the existence of a third gender fits outside of the male-female binary.  This exploration also acknowledges the harm that European colonialism has done to this tradition.  Indian mythology contains many stories of ambiguous or dual gender, but European colonialization robbed them of that.

The gender binary is so deeply ingrained in our society, that it is extremely important to give voice to people who don’t fit into it, and I think this zine does that in an interesting way.




The Manic Pixie Dream Guy After Marriage

Phil Dunphy from Modern Family is what a manic pixie dream guy is like after 20 years of marriage. He retains many of his more childlike hobbies and his quirkiness (though this seems to irritate his wife at times) while being a relatively responsible husband and father, and you can see how in his youth he would have been an endearingly dorky manic pixie dream guy.

“Post-feminist Confusion”

Part of post-feminism is the idea that feminism has succeeded in what it set out to do, and is thus no longer necessary because women (supposedly) have equal access and opportunity both in the workplace and in their social lives.  The Mindy Project certainly seems to reflect this in many ways. Tasker and Negra’s article argues, “One of postfeminism’s signature discursive formulations couches the celebration of female achievement…within traditional ideological rubrics,” something that is seen in the show.  Mindy is a proficient, seemingly successful doctor, and she has an active sex life.  However, much of the focus of the episode is on her lack of boyfriend and her various relationships with men, and at one point Mindy laments that because she hasn’t found someone yet she’s going to die alone, showing a focus on her sense of self in relation to men, and her casual sex is presented as a bad habit she needs to break.  Both of these things suggest that the supposed gender equality seen in the show, and in our society, does not go beyond the surface, and that social interactions between genders still follow more traditional gender roles that generally go unquestioned.  The article alludes to the tension between Mindy’s desire to have a boyfriend or husband and her continued booty calls as “post-feminist confusion,” that is an “encapsulation of modern mores.”  The second wave feminism of the 1970s, 80s, and early 90s has given Mindy the freedom to have casual sex, but it has not yet eradicated entirely the idea that casual sex is a shameful thing.  Because of this, Mindy has to negotiate the opposing types of relationships without violating any social mores too badly, something she doesn’t quite know how to do.  She lies to her friend about continuing to sleep with Jeremy, showing that she feels that such a relationship would not be socially acceptable, but at the same time, she doesn’t care enough to stop.  Still, the show falls into post-feminist complacency about societal views on women having casual sex, and does not examine these dynamics at all deeply.

The Mindy Project is also notable in that it has an Indian-American main character, a departure from the usual white main character.  As the article notes, “Kaling is the kind of actress you used to see unjustly relegated to the role of the sidekick, the funny best friend. She doesn’t look like the type of leading lady common to the romantic comedies with which her character is so enamored.”  She also doesn’t fall into the post-feminist ideal of being put together and fashionable all the time.  The scene showing Mindy’s transition from date to work is especially interesting, depicting her changing from an impractical dress, thong, and heels into scrubs and sneakers, with clunky glasses and her hair hidden behind a surgical cap.  Her priority at work is not her appearance but her ability to do her job.  The article notes that the show has many moments that “showcase genuine character imperfections instead of the artificially created ones that tend to be dabbed on after the fact on female comedy leads.”  She still demonstrates the youthful vitality, with some rebelliousness thrown in, which is a marker of post-feminist works, and as a whole she is a very post-feminist character, but she does not fit entirely into the post-feminist mold.


Homoerotic Wrestling and Hot Tubs

I wouldn’t say that the bromances in Workaholics rely on a positive view of gay love so much as a view of women as sex objects; however, there are homoerotic undertones to the trio’s friendship that counteract the hypermasculine image they are trying to project.  The most obvious instance of this is when Adam and Anders are wrestling (over a women) and they become aroused.  The blatant homoeroticism this arousal injects into the moment is undercut by the fact that they are fighting over a woman, and is immediately dismissed by the characters as a result of so much skin touching.  The moment (supposedly) wasn’t a demonstration of repressed sexual feelings for each other but a reaction to strong emotions.  The presence of the woman they are fighting over also reinforces this. The woman in question caused tension because she was disrupting their male space, but her very existence belied anything gay about the trio’s relationship. Throughout the episode, she is treated as a sexual object or prize to be passed around, supposedly by her own agency (as demonstrated by her rejection of Adam’s possible replacement), but her passivity when it comes to her interactions with Anders and Adam reinforce one of Scott Fabius Kiesling’s imperatives of hegemonic masculinity, that men ought to be dominant, “strong, authoritative, and in control,” even if it is just behind the scenes and not within actual sexual dynamics.  She is presented as a domineering woman (as evidenced by the chin dildo scene), but her presence on the show is nothing more than a flat character that is introduced as someone for Adam to sleep with and as a plot device to cause tension between the trio while reinforcing their heterosexuality (another one of Kiesling’s imperatives of hegemonic masculinity).  The boner moment is given a callback at the end of the episode, but it is depicted as a joke that the audience is supposed to laugh at, not a hint at deeper emotions.  After all, the characters spent the entire episode fighting about a girl—they can’t be gay. Another instance of homoerotic bromanticism is after Adam has left the group and Blake has insisted that nothing change.  He and Anders are sitting in a hot tub, and like the contestants on Bromance, they find the situation extremely awkward, saying, “Two guys in a Jacuzzi, it just doesn’t work.” The scene reinforces heteronormative masculinity by implying that because they are men, anything remotely sexual about the moment is out of place, not fitting with their ascribed gender roles.  This instance is interesting as it is not the presence of a woman that made things less awkward and homoerotic, but the presence of another man that keeps things from seeming gay or couple-y.  Two guys in a hot tub is gay, but three guys is just bros hanging out.

But I’m a Cheerleader

I was talking to my sister about this blog topic, and the first thing she said was, “Oh, like But I’m a Cheerleader.”  But I’m a Cheerleader is a movie about an ex-gay camp where parents can send their non gender-conforming offspring to be cured of their errant ways. The movie embodies many aspects of Sontag’s definition of camp, including artificiality and an affinity for dramatic exaggeration.  Brightly color coded (hot pink for girls, blue for boys) with exaggerated characters (including RuPaul as an ex-gay counselor), the movie uses a satirized version of ex-gay rehabilitation centers to demonstrate the ridiculousness of the ex-gay movement as well as to explore the artificiality of gender roles.

Alone on the Water

My mind has not yet touched the reality that he is leaving. I can barely remember life without him in it. He’s slyly inserted himself into all my memories, as if he’d been there all along. He’s there in Afghanistan, sitting on the next cot, commenting on the other men, bothering me when I’m trying to stitch someone up. He’s at Bart’s, interrupting my study time to drag me over to the morgue, stealing my textbooks and marking them up in red pen when he finds errors. He’s at school with me, at home, in the park I played in as a child.

I stand in our living room and watch him go back to his files. At some point over the past two years he and I have become a hybrid. Sherlock-and-John. The graft has been so complete that even when we’re separated, for days or weeks as has occasionally occurred, I still feel the invisible seam that joins me to him. For a moment, I’m angry. Because he won’t be the one who’ll have to cut away half of himself and go back to being a singular entity. John-and-[redacted]. The seam will remain, though. I will bear the scar down my center to remind me of what I’ve lost.

We introduce each other as flatmates. What we really mean is that we’re friends. People sometimes assume that we’re lovers. None are accurate descriptions. I’m not sure the English language has a word for what we are. Harry once called us “hetero life partners.” Sherlock liked that. It made him laugh. I don’t know if that covers it, either. We’re just – well, we’re just us.

All I know is that there is a deep pit in my chest and it’s yawning wide and hollow and in a minute it’s going to swallow me and I can’t let him see that. “I need to go out for awhile,” I say. My guilt at leaving him alone given the news he’s just been given is mitigated by the knowledge that he’d rather be alone than have to deal with me expressing any emotion.

He just gives me a terse nod. “See you later.”

I turn and clatter down the stairs. My stomach is cramping. I have to hold onto the wall for a moment. I make it outside and hail a cab.

I keep it together until I get to Sarah’s. Yet another relationship in my life that defies categorization. Girlfriend? No. Friend? Yes, but more. Shag buddy? On occasion. These terms might apply, except she’s been more privy to what I go through with Sherlock than anyone. She knows about the seam. It’s made us unable to have what we started out hoping for, but yet unable to retreat into a safe zone of friendship. So we hover here in the land of undefined. She dates other people. I just have Sherlock.

The Sexiness of Magic Mike

The stripping scenes in ‘Magic Mike’ were written and choreographed for an overwhelmingly straight female audience, and were intended to be sexually appealing to straight women.  However, in the article “‘Magic Mike,’ Junk in the Face and the Female Gaze,” the author notes that some of the moves were not seen as particularly sexy by certain members of the audience.  One woman said, “The dancers in this movie say over and over again that they are providing women with what woman want. So, the message is that women want ball sacs shoved in their faces? That is hard for me to accept.”  Other authors theorize that this is due to a combination of the subjective nature of female desire, the dearth of male objectification in media, and that there’s “nothing sexy about the floppy, flaccid male penis.”  Do you think the above woman’s disconnect was because of these things, or was it also a result of a male perspective on what women find sexy that influenced the choreography?

Re-imagining the World of the Little People Toys

For this post, I decided to examine the use of Fischer Price’s Little People toys by my sister and I.  Little People were first produced in the 1960s and marketed to the toddler-aged children to fill a gap in toy market demographics.  Originally called the “Play Family,” a name that indicates domestic-themed play and imaginings, the toys consisted of figures that filled certain roles such as mom, dad, boy, and girl; cars, including a fire engine; and backdrops and settings such as a school, a farm, a town street, and a mechanic’s garage. The ideology behind these toys is less obvious and explicit than other toys from the period due to the age of the target demographic.  Toys for toddlers, with the exception of dolls, tend to be somewhat similar across genders, and the various available settings indicate that Little People were for both boys and girls. Still, as toys that originated in the 1960s, the ideology behind them was clearly that of a simple, American dream type life that never truly existed as well as a promotion of the traditional nuclear family.

When my sister Emma and I began playing with Little People, we were two years old, right in their target demographic.  Our Little People were old, obtained from various garage sales, and were still in the original, choking-hazard shape and size, unlike their chunkier successors that began production in the 1990s.  They also retained much of the traditional family cast, though by this time it had been expanded to include an entire town’s worth of characters, as well as more racial diversity.  Our first games were much in the vein of the toy’s intended use.  They were simple and domestic, with the characters riding in cars and going to visit other houses or buildings.  Still, we ignored many of the designate roles of the toys, choosing instead to create our own characters that did not fit within the nuclear family mold. 

As we got older, the nature of our games began to change.  Our continued use of Little People challenged the toy’s intended design merely because of our ages (we played with them well into elementary school).  We were years older than their intended demographic of toddlers and small children, and our games had grown with us.  In first or second grade we began reading historical fiction such as the Dear America and Royal Diaries series’, and we quickly became enamored with the past.  Our games with the Little People took on historical themes.  After reading the Cleopatra royal diary book, I remember playing out an epic tale with the Little People involving Cleopatra, her scheming older sisters, younger brother, and her father that involved attempted poisonings and plots to steal the throne.  Another game I remember was set during some sort of plague, possibly the Black Death, that killed all of the characters until only one remained to slowly die alone (we were morbid children).  Our games required a greater knowledge of the world and encouraged a more vivid imagination than the toy’s intended settings.  We found those settings interesting enough, but you couldn’t really do anything with them, so we created our own.  Our idea of play did not match the maker’s idea of child-appropriate games, reflecting the sentiment expressed in Griffin’s article Kings of the Wild Backyard, that childhood is a “concept of innocence, which has often little relation to the material experience of actual children” (103).  The toys and the backgrounds that came with them were a sanitized, idealistic version of some past American life. Like the Polly Crockett’s in Griffin’s article who rejected the role of wife and mother in favor of adventure (116), our games existed in a world much more vast and violent than the safe, domestic world of the Little People.

 Our games were also heavily female focused.  This may be because although the toys were vaguely gender neutral, their similarity to dolls meant that their audience was more female and thus the female figures were more distinctive, or it could have just been due to the selection of Little People that we had, which combined with our exposure to female dominated media and the fact that we were both girls to create girl-dominated stories.  All of our stories revolved around two friends named Tasha and (creatively) Yellow Hair with the other girls and adult women playing supporting roles and the more visually boring men and boys in the periphery (although there were exceptions).  We ignored male-dominated stories in favor of characters that reflected us, and because these characters were entirely our creation, and not from a movie or book, we did not have to look to male characters to find complex, interesting roles like the Polly Crocketts did.  The original Play Family did not emphasize men over women, but it did represent a family that fit into the patriarchy and lived in a much more boring world.  The simplistic forms of the toys allowed Emma and I to re-imagine them in ways that more complex and gendered toys like Barbies would not.


                   Tasha                                         Yellow Hair

My Grandmother and the Gender Roles of Post-War America

For this post I interviewed my maternal grandmother.  My grandmother was born in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1937, moving to New Orleans in 1941 before the Atlantic became too unsafe for a sea crossing.  After their neighborhood in New Orleans was deemed too unsafe for a child, she was sent to live with her grandparents in Baton Rouge for several years.  Her father was a doctor with the U.S. Public Health Service and the World Health Organization who worked all over the country as well as overseas, and her mother got her doctorate and eventually became a college professor.   A lifelong bookworm and eventual librarian, my grandmother said during the interview that she did not consume that much media in her childhood and adolescence because she was always reading books instead (I guess books could be counted as media, but for some reason I didn’t treat them as such during the interview).  She is similar to many of the interviewees in We Didn’t Have Any Hannah Montanas in feeling that media did not play a large role in her childhood (119).  The media she did consume was mostly in radio form, as her family did not get a TV until she was a freshman in high school.  Her favorite radio shows were the crime dramas, like the Shadow and the Green Hornet.

Her parents and grandparents monitored her consumption of these shows to make sure that they were not too violent (my grandma noted that the violence in them, in audition to being only auditory, was nothing compared to today’s crime shows).  Her grandmother liked to listen to soap opera type shows like One Man’s Family and Stella Dallas, so my grandmother sometimes listened to thoseAs stated in We Didn’t Have Any Hannah Montanas, listening to the radio was a social activity for the family (not for when friends were over) (119).

When they finally got a TV, they found it to be much more addicting than radio.  Sometimes they would schedule things around airtimes.  Her grandmother absolutely loved the Beverly Hillbillies and made sure to watch it as often as possible.  My grandmother and her friends liked to watch Ed Sullivan, and the day after every episode they would gather to talk about it.  Westerns were also popular (my grandma did not mention any specific ones she watched).  Singers were shown on TV, and when Elvis Presley was on, the camera made sure to only film him from the waist up, because his pelvis was apparently too scandalous.  Any hint at sexuality was not allowed, as she mentioned that couples were always shown sleeping in separate beds.

When I asked my grandma about depictions of female characters in the shows, she said that they were always in a passive role, generally as the wife of the male character.  In Ozzie and Harriet, Leave it to Beaver, and Father Knows Best the women were in subservient roles that reinforced the idea that women should not have careers and should instead focus on their husband and family.

Female characters were generally shown as “weak, ineffectual, victimized, supportive, laughable, or ’merely token females’” (Gauntlett 47).  She theorized that this emphasis on rigidly traditional gender roles was partially a result of the end of World War II.  Many women had gone to work during the war, and now men were returning to their jobs and women were being forced back into more traditional roles.  However, she said that in her opinion, many women wanted to go back to more traditional roles because they saw it as a return to what life was like before the conflict, hardship, and long absences of the war and the Depression the preceded it.  When I asked her if the pervasiveness of these gender roles influenced her goals, she said that when she went to college many of her friends joked about getting a “Mrs. Degree,” essentially only going to college so they could find a husband and start a family.  Education had expanded greatly for women since the beginning of the century, but like Gauntlett states, “finding a man to marry and have those children with was still a primary—and seemingly inevitable—goal” (56).  The phrase was not said in my grandmother’s family, as her mother was a very independent, highly educated woman, and education was extremely important in her family, but her father did say that my grandmother should consider becoming a teacher so that her holidays would be the same as her kid’s.  She says he would have supported her in whatever she wanted to do, whether it be a doctor or something else, but the expectation was clear: whatever else she did, she was going to get married and raise kids.  My grandmother ended up marrying at 19, and by the age of 25, she had four children.  She did finish her college degree (how she managed that with four small children, I’ll never know) and have a career as a librarian, but in a way, her life fit with some of the gender roles presented on TV, though none of these gender roles seem to have been imparted to my mother.  She said that this was all before the women’s movement, and that when The Feminine Mystique came out in 1963, it was revolutionary.  She mirrors Gauntlett’s assertion of the book as “the first major assault on these images of ‘the happy housewife heroine’” (54), saying that it showed for the first time that having a career outside the home was an option.  The beginnings of the women’s movement sparked social change, and by the time my twin sister and I were born, our parents shared the child care, with our father staying home during the day for the first several years of our life while our mother worked, reversing in the evenings so our dad could go to work, a departure from the rigidly split gender roles shown in the TV shows of my grandmother’s adolescence.