Dudes in distress and the badass women who rescue them

You may  have noticed that in the make-believe world of film, there are specific gender-based rules surrounding who gets rescued and who does the rescuing.It usually looks like this:

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Best Reads of April/May: Pop Feminist Edition

Award April MayHow are we 12 days into June already?!! No really, how did the past two months go by so quickly? Maybe it just seems that way because I spent a frightening amount of my free time (1) napping and (2) binge-watching “Breaking Bad” (ah, good times).

But I wasn’t a total slacker, I made sure to also get my pop feminist read on.

Below is a list 10 of the most insightful articles on gender that came out in either April or May.

Drum roll…




(10) Disney misses the point in response to Merida petition
by Rebecca Hains, The Christian Science Monitor (May 16)

Most thought-provoking quote“By squeezing a character so widely regarded as a barrier-breaking role model into a cookie cutter mold, Disney’s Consumer Products Division sent the message that in the end, looks are all that matter.”

(9) Angelina Jolie Controls the Narrative
by Anne Helen Petersen, Celebrity Gossip, Academic Style (May 14)

Most thought-provoking quote: “And this is no tell-all interview, no banal celebrity profile.  There’s no fawning description of Jolie’s children surrounding her, or how peaceful she looks in her bed.  It’s a narrative in her voice, with her story, her decision, her description.  Because of the length constraints of the op-ed, it’s unembroidered, to the point and, well, persuasive.  There’s no glossy photos attached, nothing to distract you from Jolie’s words.”

(8) The UnSlut Project is the “It Gets Better” of Slut-Shaming
by Amanda Hess, Slate (April 26)

Most thought-provoking quote: “In the wake of Steubenville, the internet has been pinned as a destructive force in youth culture—porn warps minds, Instagram enables sexual assaults, and Twitter amplifies sexual bullying. By taking an analog diary from the ‘90s and transplanting it to Tumblr, the UnSlut project reminds us that technology is not to blame for sexual shaming—our culture is.”

(7) The Missionary Movement to ‘Save’ Black Babies
by Akiba Solomon, Colorlines (May 2)

Most thought-provoking quote“Fueled by a race-baiting, national marketing campaign and the missionary-like evangelism of its affiliates, Care Net has turned the complex reality behind black abortion rates into a single, fictional story. In that story, poor black women who have abortions are the unwitting victims of feminists and morally deficient reproductive healthcare providers, embodied in sadists such as [Kermit] Gosnell. Crisis pregnancy centers, in this fable, are the best place those women can go to be saved.”

(6) Because nobody cares about men and boys
by Dean Esmay, The Moderate Voice (April 26)

Most thought-provoking quote:“If you’re a male, you’re disposable mother*****. If you’re abused, it’s your fault. If you’re poor, it’s your fault. If you’re out of a job, it’s your fault. If you’re desperate, it’s your fault. If you’ve had your children and all your possessions and most of your income stripped from you by an insane family court system and a vindictive and abusive ex-, it’s your fault. You’re “privileged,” don’t you know, because you’re male.”

(5) Queer Talk: Collins and Griner – Coming Out in a Patriarchal Society
by Joyce Arnold, taylormarsh.com (April 30)

Most thought-provoking quote: “Thinking of Collins and Griner: Does the greater attention to a man coming out mean it’s “easier” for women? Or is that in itself an indication of sexism at work? Is the greater attention all about the money, as in male professional athletes make a lot more of it, because a lot more people are willing to pay to see men than women play sports? It’s a complex situation, but my perspective is that at the root, it’s about gender and heterosexism, as defined and maintained by a patriarchal view.”

(4) Mad Men, Megan Draper and the Skyler White Effect
by Marion Johnson, The Huffington Post (April 4)

Most thought-provoking quote: “The Skyler White effect takes its name from Breaking Bad‘s lead female character. It goes like this: a female character judges the male protagonist’s bad behavior in a completely rational way, and the audience hates her for it.”

*Pop Feminist note: As I watched the first two seasons of BB, I was totally guilty of  succumbing to the “Skyler White effect.”

(3) Kanye West’s “New Slaves” Is Right On Prisons And Consumer Culture, But Weird On Women
by Alyssa Rosenberg, ThinkProgress (May 20)

Most thought-provoking quote“‘West reflects of the DEA and CCA. ‘Fuck you and your Hampton house / I’ll fuck your Hampton spouse / Came on her Hampton blouse / And in her Hampton mouth.’

Even if you think it’s important to prioritize the analysis of racism in ‘New Slaves’ over the song’s dip into misogyny, it’s hard to deny how useless it is to turn away from the real structural targets of West’s critique to a dream of shaming powerful men by sexually dominating their wives, or how much that fantasy plays into the demonization of black male sexuality.”

(2) Amanda Bynes’ public meltdown says more about us than her
by Jill Filipovic, the Guardian (May 29)

Most thought-provoking quote: “We love watching women the way we watch things. We’re used to women’s bodies being physical representations of sex, being coat-hangers for clothing, existing for our aesthetic pleasure and admiration and disgust. Even the females among us often adopt the male gaze, watching other women and watching ourselves be watched. Aesthetically, we gravitate toward culturally-agreed-upon beauty, but perfection slashed through with hideousness can be particularly compelling. When we’re used to seeing actresses, pop stars and models as part of an assembly line of real-life Barbie dolls, it becomes all the more interesting to see one with go by with her head popped off.”

(1) Elizabeth Smart and the Psychology of the Christian Purity Culture
by Richard Beck, Experimental Theology (May 7)

Most thought-provoking quote“Based upon my experience, I would argue that male sexual sin isn’t generally framed as a purity violation. The loss of male virginity still gets the performance failure metaphor. If a boy losses his virginity it’s a mistake, a stumbling. Consequently, this is something he can easily rehabilitate. He’s not damaged goods. He can simply resolve to do better going forward. How is this so easy for him? Because his sexuality is being regulated by a performance metaphor.

By contrast, and this is the heart of of the matter, the loss of female virginity is almost exclusively regulated by the purity metaphor. For females the loss of virginity is a bit more than a performance failure. It’s a loss of purity that, because of the way purity works, is catastrophic and beyond rehabilitation. And because of this she’s got no way to move forward, metaphorically speaking. The game’s over. And thus she reaches the only conclusion the purity metaphor makes available to her: She’s damaged goods. And all the emotions related to that judgment of contamination rush forward as she internalizes all the shame, disgust, revulsion and nausea.

This is the psychology that makes the Christian purity culture so toxic.”

It’s OK to admit there’s sexism in a lot of video games (no, really!)

Paolo Uccello’s rendering of Saint George and the dragon, c. 1470

Media critic and Feminist Frequency creator, Anita Sarkeesian, received both praise and criticism for her videos highlighting the Damsel in Distress trope in video games. If you haven’t seen her videos, it’s definitely worth checking out. You can view part one here and part two here.

Now, full disclosure, I don’t play video games nor do I know much about video game culture. Therefore, I’m not in a position to say if the people who criticized Sarkeesian’s research for not being thorough are right or wrong. What I do know however, is that based on the responses to her videos, a lot of people seem to either dismiss the significance of this trope being prevalent in video games, or they don’t understand how the Damsel in Distress trope is sexist. These critics do this by making one of the following arguments:

1. These are just video games and shouldn’t be taken so seriously because it’s just escapist entertainment for gamers.

2. There are video games out there that depict strong women.

3. How can the Damsel in Distress trope be sexist against women, when it’s all about a man loving a woman so much that he risks his life to save her?

OK, *deep breath* I’m gonna take a stab at addressing these arguments.

The “chill out, it’s just a video game argument”: It might just be fantasy, but the symbols and depictions of humanity in even escapist forms of entertainment still reflect cultural beliefs.

For example, the sole purpose of an advertisement is to compel viewers to buy a product, but in order to do this advertisers have to tap into conscious and sometimes unconsciousness cultural beliefs.

The main objective of this ad, for example, is to simply sell perfume and cologne.  However, in addition to showcasing the product, the ad also reinforces popular beliefs about masculinity and femininity.


The “there are video games out there that depict strong women” argument: To counter Sarkeesian’s argument, people have mentioned video games that depict ass-kicking females as the protagonist. Again, since I don’t play video games, I’m in no position to say if featuring an ass-kicking female protagonist is the norm or mostly an exception. However, trotting out a few examples of strong female characters doesn’t mean the Damsel in Distress trope isn’t pervasive. Some critics have called Sarkeesian’s Damsel in Distress videos misleading, but so far I haven’t come across anyone who solidly backs this claim up. For example, I haven’t come across any criticism that says something like “out of x amount of video games featuring someone being held captive and someone acting as the rescuer, only x amount use the Damsel in Distress trope.” Sure, there are probably video games out there featuring strong women, but in the very specific Hero Rescues Captive storyline, I suspect gender roles are much more rigid than Sarkeesian’s critics care to admit.

The “Damsel in Distress tropes can’t be sexist since it’s all about helping women” argument: Helping women (or anyone) is always a good thing, but if the Damsel in Distress trope is pervasive it’s problematic. This is because it reinforces the idea that in the face of danger, men are action oriented while women remain passive. This is a form of benevolent sexism (you can read more about that concept here). The Damsel in Distress trope infantilizes women by showing that they aren’t capable of saving themselves, let alone being capable heroes. Oftentimes, this trope paints a woman’s helplessness as being alluring. Sarkeesian explains this  idea perfectly when she says:

So narratives that frame intimacy, love or romance as something that blossoms from or hinges upon the disempowerment and victimization of women are extremely troubling because they tend to reinforce the widespread regressive notion that women in vulnerable, passive or subordinate positions are somehow desirable because of their powerlessness.” 

“The Knight Errant” an 1870 painting by John Everett Millais is said to be a perfect example of the “erotic subtext” in the Damsel in Distress trope.

So does this all mean that people shouldn’t enjoy playing video games anymore? Sarkeesian doesn’t say that at all, in fact she’s a fan of video games and states:

It’s possible (and even necessary) to simultaneously enjoy a piece of media while also being critical of some of the more problematic aspects of that same media.”

The reason I mention this, is because I often see a reflexive hostility from fans whenever someone points out racism or sexism in a piece of media they enjoy. I believe the hostility stems from the belief that media with any hint of racist or sexist elements is by default not capable of having entertainment or artistic value.  It’s entirely possible for a piece of media to be so entertaining and effing brilliant it makes you want to squeal (or maybe that’s just me), while also not doing such a great job of depicting a certain group of people. The people pointing out things like sexism or racism aren’t a bunch of angry killjoys (well, to be fair a few might be). Most likely they’re hardcore fans themselves, and their aim isn’t to diminish a piece of media or genre. Their aim is to make it better by making it less cliched and more inclusive.

The tale of two celebrity sex tapes and what it says about us

Celeb sex tape compyIt seems like every few months a leaked celebrity sex tape is released or is rumored to soon be released.  Last month there was chatter over a sex tape featuring Farrah Abraham, a cast member on MTV’s Teen Mom. Vivid Entertainment reportedly paid Abraham a whopping $1.5 million for the footage.

What sets Abraham’s tape apart from most other leaked celebrity sex tapes is the fact that this one wasn’t really leaked, but marketed to appear like it was. The ploy quickly unraveled when people pointed out that the footage looked professionally produced and James Deen, a professional porn actor, was her co-star.

This month, the latest celebrity at the center of a leaked sex tape scandal is Joe Francis, the founder of the porn franchise Girls Gone Wild. Apparently someone is shopping around a footage obtained from his girlfriend’s stolen iPad.

A few people have speculated that Francis is claiming the tape was leaked to create hype for it’s release, but so far there’s no proof of that and he maintains that the video was meant to be private. So for now, he seems to be a victim and that’s prompted a lot of news outlets to report on the scandal with a certain amount of smug satisfaction due to his reputation for being an exploitative jerk and all around sleazeball. Girls Gone Wild was criticized for releasing footage of intoxicated women and girls (some were under 18), who ultimately decided they didn’t want the sexually explicit images they filmed made public. Francis’s plight is being painted as a sort of ironic payback.

On the surface, the circumstances of the Abraham and Francis sex tapes appear to be wildly different. One was professionally filmed but intended to be released as a leaked tape, the other hasn’t been released and appears to have been legitimately stolen. What the two stories have in common though, is that they’re both glaring examples of how invading and exposing someone’s sexual privacy has become a disturbingly normalized. A leaked sex tape is an extreme form of violation because it turns someone into a porn performer against their will. And what makes it worse is that thanks to the internet, footage can be seen and shared with millions in a matter of minutes.

Vivid Entertainment could have easily marketed their video of Abraham as porn entertainment featuring a celebrity who wanted to be in porn, but instead they came up with a convoluted “leaked” tape marketing scheme. Far from being concerned about a backlash, they operated on the belief that the public believes pornography is extra titillating if it’s released against the star’s will.

It’s this same belief that some have used to justify the snarky coverage of the leaked Francis sex tape. For these folks, the thought of the porn entrepreneur being humiliated in this way is extra satisfying because he’d be getting a taste of his own medicine.

To be sure, it’s easy to understand how this could be satisfying for some, but such thinking is flawed and deeply troubling. To take glee in his humiliation is is to believe that it’s OK to violate someone’s sexual privacy if they happen to be a really shitty person. The act is always wrong and there’s never an instance when it’s a suitable punishment.

When it comes to all leaked (or fake leaked) sex tapes, I’d like for them to swiftly fall out of fashion (along with the exposed zipper trend!!). Whenever talk of a leaked sex tape hits the news, far too many of us seem to be passively accepting or rationalizing something that is clearly a form of public sexual shaming.

Best Reads of March: Pop Feminist Edition

Award MarchThe month of March brought us a wealth of thought provoking articles on gender and pop culture. I’ve compiled a list of what think are the very best 10.

These were the articles that made me pause and reflect, some made me chuckle and all of them made me think “damn! I wish I wrote that!”

So sit back, get comfy and prepare to get your pop feminist read on!

10. CNN Reports On The ‘Promising Future’ of the Steubenville Rapists, Who Are ‘Very Good Students’” from Jezebel (March 17)

Best quote:

It’s perfectly understandable, when reporting on a rape trial, to discuss the length and severity of the sentence; it is less understandable to discuss the end of two convicted rapists’ future athletic and academic careers as if it were somehow divorced from the laws of cause and effect. Their dreams and hopes were not crushed by an impersonal, inexorable legal system; Mays and Richmond raped a girl and have been sentenced accordingly.”

9. “Chris Brown Wants Everyone To Know That He Holds The Deed To Rihanna’s Pussy” from Dlisted (March 9) 

Best quote:

 I would say that RiRi should evict Fist Brown from her pussy and change the locks, but she’s probably creaming over this. And she’s the one who pays the mortgage and maintenance bills on her pussy!”

8. “Let’s get ratchet! Check your privilege at the door” from Feministsting (March 28) 

Best quote:

Remember when people who weren’t actually from the ghetto started to use the word ‘ghetto’ to describe everything from their friend’s booty to a broken blender (real life examples)? The same phenomenon is happening with ratchet, even for those who do not use the word itself. It is super easy to borrow from the experiences of others as a way to be “fun,” or stretch boundaries on what is ‘acceptable,’ without any acknowledgement of context or framework.”

7. Mila Kunis, Jennifer Lawrence, and the Delicate Formula for Becoming America’s Best Friend” from the Vulture (March 7) 

Best quote:

Apparently it’s not enough for a woman to be smart and likable and humble. Audiences presumably don’t crave [Lena] Dunham as their best friend because they already have a best friend just like Dunham. They want an upgrade. The key is to act just like average humans, but not to look remotely like them.”

6. “Justin Timberlake and the Male-Celebrity Hall Pass” from the Vulture (March 13) 

Best quote:

If we held the omnipresent Justin Timberlake to the same standard as these women, he’d be a pariah — a self-aggrandizing sell-out like Beyoncé (Bud Light Platinum, anyone), a cloying fake like Hathaway (Serious Actor glasses?Instagram filter? Check), a self-indulgent nuisance like Dunham (an album of seven-minute space jam sessions and a love song about himself?), and a vengeful brat like Swift (that Joey Fatone joke had nothing on the Britney sketch. Also: “Cry Me a River”). “Instead, we call him charming.”

5. “Confessions of a Former ‘Sex and the City’ Fan” from Flavorwire (March 8) 

Best quote:

We loved it because Sex and the City was a coming-of-age show that just happened to be about women in their 30s and 40s.”

4. “Bigger than Rick Ross: an industry that glorifies rape and drug culture” from The Root DC (March 29) 

Best quote:

Still, there are many black men who seek to remain within the margins of the dominant hip-hop culture. Many of these men have bought into limited definitions of masculinity and are scared to be “outed” as weak, a hater, or – God forbid – gay if they speak out. There are, of course, even many women who fight endlessly to prove that the lyrics are about ‘those’ women and not ‘me’ or ‘us.'”

3. “The Finkbeiner Test” from Double X Science (March 5) 

Best quotes:

Campaigns to recognize outstanding female scientists have led to a recognizable genre of media coverage. Let’s call it “A lady who…” genre. You’ve seen these profiles, of course you have, because they’re everywhere. The hallmark of “A lady who…” profile is that it treats its subject’s sex as her most defining detail. She’s not just a great scientist, she’s a woman! And if she’s also a wife and a mother, those roles get emphasized too.”

“To pass the Finkbeiner test, the story cannot mention

  • The fact that she’s a woman
  • Her husband’s job
  • Her child care arrangements
  • How she nurtures her underlings
  • How she was taken aback by the competitiveness in her field
  • How she’s such a role model for other women
  • How she’s the “first woman to…”

2. “Rape Is Not Inevitable: On Zerlina Maxwell, Men and Hope” from The Nation (March 12) 

Best quotes:

Here’s the thing—when you argue that it’s impossible to teach men not to rape, you are saying that rape is natural for men. That this is just something men do. Well I’m sorry, but I think more highly of men than that. (And if you are a man who is making this argument, you’ll forgive me if I don’t ever want to be in a room alone with you.)”

“And when you insist that the only way to prevent rape is for women to change their behavior—whether it’s recommending that they carry a weapon or not wear certain kinds of clothing—you are not only giving out false information, you are arguing that misogyny is a given. That the world will continue to be a dangerous and unfair place for women and we should just get used to the fact.”

1. “Feminism’s Tipping Point: Who Wins from Leaning in?” from Dissent (March 26)

Best quotes:

Sandberg assumes instead that the feminist question is simply, how can I be a more successful worker?”

“Sandberg has penned not so much a new Feminine Mystique as an updated Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.”

“… as a manual for navigating the workplace, it teaches women more about how to serve their companies than it teaches companies about how to be fairer places for women to work.”