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Posts Tagged ‘sexual objectification’


As a student of television and a feminist, I’ve been glued to 30 Rock for the duration of my college career. The show has been hailed as revolutionary television, as much for its postmodern critiques of the television industry as for its on-point portrayal of white collar women in the 21st century. The show has made Tina Fey into a powerful icon as the most successful female comedian of our time, and no doubt it’s a step in the right direction in the television industry to have a strong, current female auteur in prime time comedy as a writer, producer and actress.

But somehow in the midst of all this, Tina Fey has become the face of feminist television, and one has to wonder why. Is it in part due to the audiences willingness to accept Liz Lemon, Fey’s fictional 30 Rock character who claims to be a feminist, as a real person, or is it due to Tina Fey’s overwhelming success as a female comedian with on-point political and cultural critiques? But in terms of character development, Lemon seems less an attempt to empower women than an attempt to embody all the stereotypical flaws of women–she’s an overeater, is perpetually single, a workaholic, dresses like a “lesbian” (ie: not sexy to men), hates sex, is crazy for babies, and is a motherly bitch figure to who work beneath her (while those who work above her are father figure archetypes). Fey makes these qualities endearing and human, but they are still indicative of a larger misogynistic view of women within the comedy genre. Liz Lemon doesn’t so much as defy stereotypes as she does redefine them, and moreover, outside of costume, Tina Fey does not embrace her natural flaws, and even less does she try to embody a feminist.

There’s another huge difference between Liz Lemon and Tina Fey: Lemon is an open feminist, and Fey is not. Rather, Fey has become Hollywood’s token feminist. Who else could NBC pitch against Sarah Palin, the 2008 candidate of conservatives who pull the strings behind network executives? Anyone who has looked at Tina Fey separate from her Liz Lemon character can see she’s just as much an embodiment of a beautiful female celebrity as any other. Moreover, she consistently defies feminist beliefs in interviews–on the episode of The Marriage Ref she advises a woman who didn’t want to have sex with her husband: “Women know that if you just give them the schnooki, they shut up and do what you want. … You wait for the moment immediately after schnooki, then you say ‘Oh, I love you, I need you to drive my cousins to the airport.'” Call it whatever you want, but this type of language is the stuff feminists have been pulling their hair out over since the second wave. Moreover, this is really just the opposite of Liz Lemon’s views on sex, and, at their core, neither Lemon nor Fey really embody progressive views of women.

At their best, they poke fun at the hardships you face once you’re a beautiful successful career woman looking for a husband. At their worst, they foster ideas of female submission while perpetuating an image of feminism that ignores consciousness of class, race, and other privilege. Here’s what it comes down to: whether it’s as Liz Lemon or herself, Tina Fey is not making efforts on the behalf of feminism. She is looking to better her career as a relevant comedian and please her employers. Television as a medium has continued to be subservient to the capitalistic structure and values that contain it, which means that it must continue to help sell the ideas of advertisers. The audience that television constructs is not one that leaves room for feminism beyond continuing to encourage women to be consumers, and to consume ideas that have reinforced subservience among us. Yet Tina Fey’s version of feminism is all we’re being offered by big networks, and that’s why it continues to sell. One has to wonder when and if it is possible for real feminism to get a fair voice in mainstream culture.

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We live in a culture that revolves around male sexuality; female sexuality is rather unstudied and warped by male view points. Young women are seen as attractive and passive, while older women are often associated with the “cougar” stereotype. Women who have sex too much are promiscuous and are contributing to the spread of disease, abortion, and the cultural demise of the “family.” Men are more likely to remain bachelors and sleep around; women need to marry because they depend on a man for income. Dr. Laura Berman has come forth from her own research into female sexuality to dispell four common misconceptions about sex & relationships:

1. A woman’s sexual performance peaks in her forties, while a man’s peaks in his teens.

Myth. While Planned Parenthood says that the sexual prime for males is around age 17, and that females’ sexual prime is around age 30, these ages actually reflect the genital prime, when sex hormones (testosterone in men; estrogen in women) are highest. But in general, both men’s and women’s sexual performance will peak when they feel most comfortable with themselves and their sexuality. Though this tends to happen between 40 and 60 for both men and women, it can really happen at any age, depending on the person!

2. Having sex more often can help boost your immune system and prevent illness.

Truth! Researchers at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., found that sex may help strengthen the immune system. According to their study, couples who had sex once or twice a week as compared to couples who had sex less than once a week had 29 percent higher levels of immunoglobulin A, an immune system protein that protects the mouth and upper respiratory tract against cold and flu viruses. Just another reason to get busy with your honey as often as you can!

3. Older people have less sex and/or less enjoyable sex.

Myth. According to a recent study of 27,000 people conducted across 29 countries, the majority of men and women studied had active sex lives past the age of 40 and well into their ‘eighties’! Couples in Western Europe who shared greater equality were more likely to enjoy their sex lives than couples in more male-oriented societies, such as those found in Asia and the Middle East.

4. Most American women who are 45 and over are married.

Myth. About 25 million of the 57 million American women who are 45 and older are not married, according to a recent study by the AARP. The study’s authors suggest that this may be because American women marry later, have high divorce rates, and tend to outlive their mates.

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I’ve been successfully avoiding Lady Gaga for years now and it’s worked out pretty great. I tend not to pay attention to pop stars until they reach their trainwreck stage. However, tonight, a shocking twist in the Gaga epic took place when my facebook newsfeed informed me that several formerly proclaimed die-hard fans were recounting their fandom on account of her leaked video featuring Beyonce. So, I decided to take a peak at what the fuck exactly is this “pop-culture art” trend I’ve been hearing so many people condescendingly circle jerk has been about all this time.

The comparison of Gaga to Britney and Madonna has seemed obvious to me. What I don’t understand is how people can mistake Gaga for a great thinker in terms of art. Sure, she’s a legitimate artist–the same way Billy Ray Cyrus is a legitimate artist. Her music and image is a cultural commodity–she was signed to a sub-label of Universal not three years ago, and was launched into fame by Akon. Next thing you know, she’s playing a major stage at Lollapalooza, and the rest is history. I recognize some fans might not consider Gaga’s latest video to be her best, it’s still drawn out, exaggerated, and hypersexual. It’s I really don’t see how it’s much different from any of the other mainstream pop videos whose popularity essentially hinges on selling its female star as a sex object. At the same time, Gaga exploits her audience under the premise of “advancing art” and has even become a political speaker. Gaga definitely isn’t making art for art’s sake, and to perpetuate her impression that she is is sheer stupidity. Gaga is acting on the behalf of the major record labels that make money for her, and the “spectacle” is feeding a million-dollar industry.

I first heard about Gaga in my intro to gender studies class when my teacher read us an interview in which Gaga disowned feminism while simultaneously claiming to be fighting against sexist double-standards within the music industry:

G: You see, if I was a guy, and I was sitting her with a cigarette in my hand, grabbing my crotch and talking about how I make music ’cause I love fast cars and fucking girls, you’d call me a rock star. But when I do it in my music and in my videos, because I’m a female, because I make pop music, you’re judgmental, and you say that it is distracting. I’m just a rock star.

I: Are you also a feminist?

G: I’m not a feminist – I, I hail men, I love men. I celebrate American male culture, and beer, and bars and muscle cars…

Apparently Gaga likes to buy into the stereotype that feminism=manhatingism, and although she claims to be at least as ballsy as a shallow, groin-scratching male, she’s not man enough to stop spreading ignorance of the political opinions she claims to believe in. Throughout her career, Gaga has gone back and forth on where she stands with the ‘f’ word. What’s puzzled me this whole time is how Gaga, in addition to being the latest thin, blonde, half-naked super star, has come to be seen as a leader within the LGBTQ. In this same interview two years ago, she speaks revealingly as to her appeal to the gay community:

G: I’ve got three #1 records and I’ve sold almost 4 million albums world wide.

I: So what’s the biggest [thrill] of your career so far?

G: The gay community.

I: Why?

G: ‘Cause I love em so much. ‘Cause they don’t ask me questions like that. ‘Cause they love sexual strong women who speak their mind.

Gaga recognizes that her most loyal fans are members of the gay community, and in this strange political climate, apparently that means she has a right to claim she’s a leading voice within that political sector–even though the LGBTQ and feminists have worked together for decades.

You know who else the gay community loves? Britney Spears and Madonna. Britney Spears and Madonna even made out one time, you know, just for their gay fans, right? It seems to me Lady Gaga–who is an open bisexual–is no more a gay rights activist than either of the former Queens of Pop. Further, if she’s so gung-ho about supporting the gay community, why is she so apprehensive about being an open feminist? I guess I just don’t see how Lady Gaga has really changed anything in the mainstream music industry.

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“The woman artist” is a notion that persists today, assumed to have gained the most strength during the Women’s Liberation Movement. Today, the idea behind “woman art shows” is the same as it was in the 60’s and 70’s—to give women a platform in which to share their art, lest they be marginalized in the regular art world. Almost all of the time, these shows focus around female empowerment, and, by association, feminism. But, truth be told, whenever I attend these shows or take part in them, they leave my feminist senses with something to be desired.

A month or so ago, I caught wind of a “feminist show” at Locked Out, one of my favorite Chicago venues that doubles as an anarchist commune. I was pumped about it, expecting to show up and see lots of riot grrrl style bands. But the real show was nothing like that. I walked in at the beginning of a performance art installation that featured many naked women on stage, just standing there and being naked, and what looked like the Bride of Frankenstein with a phone cord wrapped around her neck in the middle of it all. Once the performance was over, the host informed us, “The artist wants you to know you can interpret this installation in anyway you please.” I thought to myself, Really? Because this looks like blatant sexual objectification under the mask of avant garde to me. The next act? An all-male band with a female front woman who, again, made little to no actual feminist commentary. The fact that the only reasonable explanation for this band performing being because of the sole female member added insult to injury, especially when I know of several local all-male bands that deal with feminism in a more direct way. Not only was this show failing as a statement for feminism, but it also struggled to find enough talented, all-female artists to fill the bill.

To be honest, much of women’s art has gone this route—an art student’s desperate, yet failed, attempt at political consciousness—or another route: to try to continue to exemplify feminist art from the Women’s Liberation Movement rather than expand on it in the Third Wave. If you said this was because there have been very few prominent feminist art influences since that time, you’d be half right. If you said this was because feminist art is still trying to market itself as art for women by women when the conversation has been expanded upon immensely, you’d be on target.

“Hey! What’s wrong with making feminist art for the purposes of feminism?” You might ask. Well, there’s nothing wrong with making art for whatever purpose you see fit—or for no purpose at all. What’s wrong is the way this art is presented to its audience, almost always through “woman artist” shows. It’s not that “woman artists” are less talented because they’re women, it’s that most serious artists reach a point in their career where the last thing they want is to have an extra noun tacked onto their title, be it “woman artist” or “gay artist” or “black artist” or “working class artist.” At this point, I should hope the interests of feminism have progressed so that “woman artist” and “feminist artist” should not be synonyms. I know female artists who would like to have nothing to do with feminism and many male artists who frequently give adapt insights to our oppressive climate. Many of those actually talented have the title “woman artists” thrust upon them by others, regardless of whether or not they identify as such. When someone says, “Here’s a poem written by a woman poet,” it’s like saying “Here’s a poem I wouldn’t bother to read if it weren’t written by a woman.”

Not every “woman artist” rejects the notion of being labeled, however, and these artists usually fit into one of two categories: 1) they need the exposure and are willing to play-up their womanhood in order to get it, 2) they recognize that being a “woman artist” and making feminist art will gain them a place in a community. The second one I consider to be much more damaging, because the “woman art” community, in true tradition of Second Wave Feminism, continuously isolates other political opinions, not to mention female artists of color. Yeah, there are still a lot of poetry open mics that feel like old boys clubs, and sometimes when I get up on stage and share my poetry, I know I’m going to have to deal with at least one audience member hitting on me after the show. I have been to plenty of open mics where I was the sole female contributor, and seen as a novelty for this reason. But the fact of the matter is that the objectification of women is really not much better at these “women’s only” shows. Fuck, at the feminist show I previously mentioned the vast majority of the audience were males who find hyper-sexualized art arousing, and the so-called feminist artists were more than ready to give it to them. This climate is no less threatening to women and their legitimacy as artists than any other.

So should woman artists shut up and just try to compete with the white males who still dominate the art world? No, but they could certainly try to look at the art world in a way that isn’t either half a century old or, more often than not, concerned primarily with getting exposure for their political platform (and, by association, themselves). The obvious solution—to me, at least—is for artists who are truly concerned with politics not to isolate themselves to a venue where everyone will share their opinions, but to try to make political art more visible, yet more subtly political, outside these realms. Perhaps it’s easier for me to say this because I live in a major city with a seemingly endless supply of galleries, venues, and cafes seeking artists, but in the age of the internet and the rising popularity of blogs (or other forms of self-publication), there are even more outlets for art and audiences for it than ever before.

One phrase closely associated with feminist art is “the personal is political.” This was true in the 1960’s as it is in our time. But the fact of the matter is, unless you are extremely careful not to isolate your audience, people are more likely to not relate to your personal political poem. It’s dangerously easy to bypass technique in favor of getting a political message across clearly. One should never sacrifice artistic integrity in favor of better voicing their own opinions. Instead, one must look at the challenges they face as both an artist and someone with political opinions, and accept them in order to make great art. After all, in art, it’s not sound opinions that influence people, it’s mind blowing compositions that make people see the world in a whole new way. Let’s focus on that, shall we?

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It pretty much goes without saying that the media has been an integral manipulative tool to politics in the 21st century. Our president frequently exploits the talk show circuit, appearing next to celebrity powers such as Oprah and Jay Leno. Meanwhile, the story of another drunk driving pro-prop 8 republican getting arrested on his way home from the gay bar gets the more exposure on Perez Hilton’s celebrity gossip blog than on CNN. Somewhere, in the midst of all this, is Sarah Palin, doing a stand-up routine on Jay Leno. While she appeared to get knock-out laughs from the audience for defacing jokes such as “When I saw the giant moose [at the Winter Olympic closing cermonies], I thought ‘boy, I forgot to make the kids dinner,’” the live audio was apparently compromised, laugh tracks being added later. Michael Stinson, a former sound engineer, was there and witnessed the actual live show:

“They added laughter where there was none during uncomfortable portions. Well, there was some laughter. Mine, of derision. … The real heroes of the night were Shaun White and Adam Lambert – the audience was delighted, all of it, and blew the roof off the place when they were mentioned and appeared. Meanwhile, Leno’s show used the ambience to give Palin Cover. They sold her. Her book, her body, her celebrity, her future, all of it. And 70% of an audience weren’t buying it, but you can’t tell from the broadcast. I know. I was there.”

Some of you may be wondering how it’s possible for such drastic modifications to be made to a live broadcast when there were hundreds of members of the audience and crew who witnessed the actual event. Others might not be so surprised knowing that The Tonight Show is a product of NBC, where the network executives know how much a bad stint on late night can make their conservative sponsors pull out stock. And then, there’s Sarah Palin, truly an anomaly to American politics – as she should be, since she was John McCain’s desperate attempt at trumping the smooth, culturally embedded image of Barak Obama. Today, Palin stands as just that—she’s like that awful outfit your grandpa thinks is hip and fitting for a young woman. No one is really buying it anymore, but those who have put all their faith in this being the next “in” thing are not willing to back down before 2012. Republicans are doing everything they can to sell her, hoping she’ll look good if they just put her on the same line-up as actually accomplished people.

It seems like every time I hear about Sarah Palin doing some new stint on TV, I ask myself, “Why doesn’t she just go away?” People don’t like her, they don’t find her funny or charming. Sarah Palin? That’s so 2008. The reason she doesn’t stay in the past and just retire to her moose lodge with her oil-loving husband and her baby’s baby is that the Republicans have invested too much money in her to just put her back on a shelf—from August to October in 2008, the RNC spent more than $150,000 on just her outfits. You can just imagine the price tag on making a virtually unknown politician from Alaska the face of your political campaign in addition to the costs of making her look like the product of flawless beauty (as is the only way women can hope to scathe by when they’re in the lime light), and the Republicans are still waiting for a pay-off.

So, for those in television, that means there’s a face-off between the few and the many—the few conservatives that are willing to pay for as much control of the media as they can afford, and the many in the audiences all across America who would forget Sarah Palin ever existed if TV shows would just stop reminding them. And then there’s those who work in television, on the sets or behind the scenes, who really don’t get much of a say in what happens—until you get a team of writers and producers willing to attack a politician head-on. In Palin’s case, the face of this satirical attack was Tina Fey.

At first, Palin’s resemblance to Tina Fey was seen as a good thing by Republicans. When first selected as Republican VP candidate, people were eager to point out how much she had in common with the 30 Rock star—I remember the phrase “Tina Fey glasses” being used to describe her eyewear fairly often. It was as if they had hoped Palin would come to share Fey’s relationship with the younger crowd. However, it was only a matter of days before the next SNL episode came out and Fey’s spot-on Palin impression—from the former beauty queen wink to the almost verbatim Couric interview parody—came to define the former governor’s public image. Before Fey’s portrayal, much criticism of Palin from the left was dismissed by right-wing media as “sexist,” although they had made many of the same comments about runner-up Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. It seemed Palin was gaining popularity among conservative female voters rather quickly while feminists pulled their hair out in frustration.

The fact that Fey was able to satirize Palin so adequately and receive such raving reviews, as well as make that significant first blow to Palin’s since-then doomed public relationship, is a sign of a unique point in our history. On the one hand, Republicans think America is stupid enough to support a woman candidate just because she’s cute—and, unfortunately, many Americans are that fucking stupid. On the other hand, Tina Fey is able to penetrate audiences as both a woman comedian and open feminist, as well as achieve status as celebrity icon—this is something female comedians have often be marginalized or persecuted for in the past. In addition, she has gained a massive audience for the long running SNL, which allowed her to make a funny, yet poignant, wake-up call to many of those left undecided on who to vote for in the election. And, lo and behold, the Republicans lost big in 2008.

But, in the long run, sexism wasn’t defeated, I hear more about Barak Obama’s celebrity guest appearances than about the future with Afghanistan, and Sarah Palin is doing bad stand-up on compromised “live” recordings. After all, NBC aired the SNL sketches that put the nail in Palin’s coffin less than two years before giving her a comedy debut. The world isn’t really a better place because of any of this. And, certainly, female politicians are not seen as anymore legitimate because of this parade. I wonder how much longer it will be before women who want to be in office isn’t so quickly turned into the butt of a joke. But, as long as there are women like Sarah Palin so willing to get on her knees and suck the dick of capitalism over and over again on television, I can only dream of a future where feminists make all the jokes.

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I’m sure many of you are familiar with Candie’s, the shoe brand notorious for sexualizing teens in their controversial ad campaigns, the most recent being a campaign featuring Britney Spears juxtaposed with the concept of her being a role model for girls all across the country. I would have little objection to yet another celebrity getting paid to further confuse the body images of girls at least ten years her junior if it weren’t for The Candie’s Foundation, which was formed to promote teen abstinence, their prize-winning slogan being “I’m sexy enough to keep you waiting.” Essentially, a teenage girl should continue to use sex to prove her self-worth, but abstain from sex until marriage when they can go on to have lots of babies and fulfill their purpose as a slave to the uterus.

Ironically, it was Britney Spears who faced a minor career sabotage as a role model for teen girls just a few years ago when she admitted to giving her virginity to Justin Timberlake outside of wedlock, after promising to wait until marriage–just as the Candie’s Foundation begs teen girls to do. The Candie’s Foundation Website is designed to get important information to both teens and parents about the facts of premarital sex, but these “facts” are rather questionable; they are percentages of teenagers who share an opinion rather than concrete statistics regarding issues such as teen pregnancy and STI’s. Nowhere does it suggest using condoms to correct the problem of unplanned pregnancy/spreading of STI’s, which may be useful information for teenagers who are already sexually active, or those who plan to have safe sex one day.

Examine the numbers from the Kaiser Family Foundation to see just how much worth abstinence-promoting campaigns such as Candie’s contribute to keeping teens out of the bedroom. Between 1993-2003, the percentage of sexually active teens decreased from 53% to 43%. However, the likelihood that a teen will engage has increased in correlation with age: in 2003, 62% of high school seniors had engaged in sex, in comparison to only 33% of ninth graders. The majority of students still lose their v-cards in high school. In addition, although students chose to abstain from intercourse, engaging in oral/anal sex has been on the rise, and abstinence only programs–such as the Candie’s Foundation–turn a blind eye to other sex acts, focusing only on preventing pregnancy outside of wedlock. At the same time, abstinence only programs seem to have had little effect on Latin American and Black communities, which have the highest rates of teen pregnancy. (Is it a coincidence that the Candie’s Foundation website has virtually no depictions of anyone other than white?)

The most startling statistics from the KFF have not to do with teen girls–who are so inaptly singled out in the Candie’s Foundation Campaign as being those solely responsible for maintaining virgin purity–but with teen boys. Males are, on the whole, more likely to have sex in high school–and at a younger age–than their female counter parts. Yet they are rarely the target of abstinence only campaigns; the responsibility of chastity is placed upon girls, who are taught starting from a young age that they are inherently more valuable to life-long partners as a virgin than if they are not. Meanwhile, girls who do choose to have sex are looking towards older partners; a quarter of girls lost it to guys who were at least four years older. Girls are also much more likely not to use protection the first time they have sex. Reasons for this? Perhaps the perpetuation that the person they have sex with should be their life long partner–someone in their 20s or older is more likely to be ready to settle down and can provide better for a young girl, although most men that age are not interested in making babies with a baby. What’s the point of preventing pregnancy with someone with whom you plan on having children? What’s the point of preventing the transmission of STI’s that you’ve never been educated about?

We could be investing time and money into programs that tell 20 year olds not to commit statutory rape, or programs that teach kids what truly constitutes a healthy, long-lasting relationship. We could be turning our attention to the prevention of spreading STI’s and preventing teen pregnancy across the class/race board. But instead, Candie’s exemplifies what many would rather do–use sex to sell abstinence, and to keep women virginal and pure objects for the morally perverted.

Teens have sex. You can’t stop it. Telling an adolescent not to do anything is pretty much counter-productive to the cause. Worse of all, promoting abstinence clings on to gender expectations as outdated as the role of women as put forth in the Old Testament. Instead of perpetuating images that turn young girls into soulless bodies with the purpose of looking good for boys, how about we try to produce thoughtful, opinionated, well-educated young women responsible enough to call their own shots about their personal health.

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