The Personal is Political: Speaking about media and feminism while female

I wrote professionally for the online magazine California Literary Review for four years. My piece defending Hit Girl garnered something like 90,000 views. It (and some of my others) got some nasty, threatening comments – but you can’t see them anymore since my editor wisely deleted them. When CLR closed down, I began writing for PolicyMic. My first few pieces at the publication for millenials were about Mad Men (my forte) and Game of Thrones (with which I am nerdily, happily familiar – and about which I have very strong opinions). 

Silenced: Woman with Duct Tape

See bottom of post for more. Image courtesy Reductress.

I haven’t logged on to PolicyMic in eight months (until just now) because I was left so fatigued by the number of people calling me a terrible person, telling me I should just give up, that I’m obviously not invested, nor do I know a thing about Game of Thrones, Mad Men, or media criticism in general. I was completely beaten down by the number of people who think sexism in media is plainly not worth having a conversation about. It’s just a thing, and we should just deal with it. And that was a monitored forum.

re: the hopelessness of media, and why I should stop talking about it:

Could anyone in this discussion actually come up with an entertaining story line that would attract an audience globally with high ratings that did not portray sexist views of either sex and that did not objectify beauty and muddy the gain of power?

re: my comment that the casting directors didn’t portray Brienne with the kind of hideous features about which Martin writes (the hideousness that excepts Brienne from my argument – women in the canon are measured by and utilize their fuckability):

I don’t think Gwendolyne Christie is gorgeous. [Ed. This is not about your dick, dude.] 

re: not expecting more from my television:

you shouldn’t expect period pieces to reflect something antithetical to the period.

re: why I should just shut up:

It seems like you’re just looking to complain about women’s issues for no good reason other than to complain.

Point: completely, 100% missed. I’m not saying you have no right to disagree; I was, at the time, asking that people listen and consider. And I was repeatedly shot down for speaking at all. This is not to denounce the commenters on PolicyMic, who all things considered are a thoughtful, respectful bunch. But you know, not all commenters. 

Gwendoline Christie

Totally hideous. Image courtesy With An Accent.

I’ve never been super active on Twitter, for which, in circumstances like this, I’m grateful. The #YesAllWomen hashtag that appeared last weekend in the wake of the UCSB shootings took a collective fist, thrust through my ribs, and grabbed me right in the heart bits. Then it squoze. (Yeah, makin’ up words. How I do.) Not because I want to complain about women’s issues just to complain, but that I have been these women.

Two very close friends of mine were assaulted in high school and college, resulting in permanent psychological (and physical) damage. The authorities were no help. An old friend’s parents wouldn’t let her walk across campus at night for fear she would get raped (which evinces an ignorance regarding stranger danger). Even as I knew this was logically fallible – that the likelihood of some guy jumping out of the bushes and raping her because she was “pretty” – it affected me as a vulnerable 16-year-old, placing in my developing brain an insidious fear of moving independently that I had trouble shaking. I have known practically from birth that I can’t leave a drink unattended in a bar. I have, without really thinking about it, developed a set of responses to and avoidance methods for harassment (i.e. if they’re in a car and yell obscenities, I flip them off and find the nearest crowd; if they’re next to me on the sidewalk I ignore completely – which often means getting called bitch, whore, cunt; if I’m in the underpopulated country by myself, I don’t get out of the car much). I’ve been cruelly ostracized by both men and women for refusing men and for not refusing men. I carry my keys in my knuckles when I walk alone, and I know to knee the groin and then stomp the foot for maximum pain. But hey, you’ve seen all of these things on #YesAllWomen, right?

So why is it that, when I try talking to men I know and love, men I know love and respect women, their first responses are to dismiss, to say things like, “I don’t have the energy for that” or “what the fuck does hashtag activism even mean?” “You like to wallow in this stuff” and “I have never seen these things happen, but if I did…” And maybe worst of all, to say, “not all men are like that.”

Point: completely missed

This is in response to a brilliant piece over on Pop Tortes, one that links to both Arthur Chu’s nerd call to arms around the roles of women in media (particularly geek media) and Ann Hornaday’s much-lamented piece discussing the role of women in media (particularly Judd Apatow media). Look at the differences in response to two people making exactly the same point. Just. Look. You guys, this is why my Mad Men pieces have been so like book reports, containing little other than observations about the show’s story. I am a film critic; I devoted my education to feminist criticism. I care deeply about my friends, myself, my autonomy, and my freedom to speak and write. And I’ve been unwilling to dive back into that sea because frankly, it depressed the everloving fuck out of me to be told repeatedly that I should just quit complaining. But look at what Hornaday endured; look what Zerlina Maxwell and Lindy West go through regularly. If you have a really thick skin, look what Erin Gloria Ryan witnessed as a fly on the wall for eight horrible, frightening hours in a pick-up artist forum. Speaking While Female is a dangerous prospect, emotionally and sometimes physically.

Peggy Olson tells it like it is.

Fuck yes, Peggy. Image courtesy HuffPo.

And hey, those of you who say that if you ever see this behavior, you’ll be valiant and try to stop it: THIS IS THE TIME. You see it. We are talking about it. Listen. Pay attention. Sympathize with your loved ones and don’t interrupt or speak over them. Realize that no one is accusing you, personally, of being a bad person who hates women. But realize just as the insidious fear lurking in the back of my mind as a result of my socialization is important to examine, that your own socialization is to be scrutinized and jostled and shaken up. And please realize that telling people it isn’t worth the conversation is making you part of the problem.

No, I won’t stop complaining, and no, I won’t stop Speaking While Female. I’m on hiatus right now for personal reasons. I was unable to be calm and reasoned about the UCSB shootings and #YesAllWomen earlier in the week, and this is me trying to remedy that. Anger is appropriate, and focused anger can get things done. More important than being angry, perhaps, is making sure we’re having the conversation. All of us. All the time. Otherwise, nothing is going to change.

 

P.S. I just Googled “woman with duct tape” because I’m lazy and wanted a simple, effective image on this post. You want more evidence we’ve got problems? Check it out. 

3 comments

  1. San says:

    I hate to be insensitive, but is your complaint that people on the Internet push your buttons? In a purely numbers game there are enough people online at any one time that at least a handful are the kind who enjoy poking at really obviously telegraphed weak spots.

    Something I don’t get. A certain level of viewership generates a certain amount of hate. Some of it is sincere but most of it is simply bored people trolling. I am continually amazed that people pay attention to it.

    Also you are woefully unprepared for a confrontation with an aggressor, and live in an environment of fear. I hope you find peace.

    • Nick says:

      Wait, you’re complaining about someone getting upset on the internet by things people say…

      … by complaining about being upset on the internet by something someone said? Your argument is invalid; go home, you’re drunk.

      Also as Benjin Stark said, “…nothing someone says before the word “but” really counts”. If you’re going to be a jerk, at least have courage to own it; leave the passive-aggressive, false pleasantries at the door.

  2. julia says:

    Something tells me you don’t hate to be insensitive at all. This isn’t about the numbers game. This comment only serves to back up my argument, which is that the conversation remains important, and that writing about feminism on the internet is a dangerous prospect. I am living in an environment of fear; this fear is common among women, trans folks, gay people, and non-whites, who *statistically* endure more harassment and prejudice on a daily basis than straight white men. Acknowledging the fear and listening to those who speak up about it – that’s what this piece is about. That’s what #YesAllWomen was about. With this comment, you have made yourself part of the problem.

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