Trigger warning: rape, sexual assault, violence
You can watch more videos by Bethan May Bishop here.
Trigger warning: rape, sexual assault, violence
You can watch more videos by Bethan May Bishop here.
Trigger warning: discussion of slut shaming and mentions of rape
This week Jenna Marbles, a youtube personality who I had previously liked and found quite funny, posted a rather problematic video called ‘Things I Don’t Understand about Girls: The Slut Edition’. The video (imbedded below, although only watch it if you want to get really angry) contains a lot of slut shaming and perpetuation of stereotypes that occur within rape culture.
The video says things like ‘a slut is someone who has a lot of casual sex’ and ‘I hope you realise some day that it feels so much better when you’re not having so much sex’ which is definitely slut shaming, telling women that they cannot do what they want with their body, and that if they are promiscuous they are inferior to other women. The worst part of the video for me, was when Jenna suggested that if a woman is ‘blackout drunk’ and being taken advantage of by a group of men, you should help her because it will stop her acting like a slut, not because it will stop a case of sexual assault, I could go on…
However, something that is helping to soothe my anger at society is the responses from other youtubers. Laci Green postponed her planned video to post a response to Jenna Marbles. She discusses slut shaming by breaking down the idea that ‘sluts don’t respect themselves’ and showing the double standards of promiscuity within society.
Hayley G Hoover, a youtuber whose channel isn’t centred around sex positivity and feminism, made a response to Jenna Marbles’s video talking about how slut shaming leads to rape culture. Her audience isn’t predominantly feminists, so when she says ‘if a man has sex with a woman who is incapacitated, too drunk to know what she’s doing, unconscious, asleep or otherwise incapable of making a sober decision, that’s rape every single time’ she’s educating some of her youtube viewers on what is and isn’t consenting sex.
Finally, a feminist society member Megan Fozzard posted this video by John Green to the facebook discussion group:
Admittedly, when talking about slut shaming, John Green compares women to cereal, in a way that commodifies women; however, the point he makes to a large youtube audience is still sex positive and arguing against slut shaming.
While there will always be youtubers who will make problematic and misogynistic videos, due to the state of the society we live in, youtube does have a good sex positive and feminist community and the response to Jenna Marbles’s video illustrates this.
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone etc etc. On Sunday night, the unthinkable happened. Julian Fellowes (creator of Downton Abbey, the most gloriously silly period drama ever to grace our screens) mercilessly took the life of its most feminist character, Sybil Branson, nee Crawley.
The cry as Sybil took her final breath and left her husband and newborn child to go on without her was heard across the country. Twitter exploded. Three days later, many are still in mourning. “I’m still in a right state over #Sybil” Victoria Finan, UEAFS member, tweeted – “had another little cry earlier.”
For those of you wondering what all the fuss is about, I suggest you watch Downton Abbey. It seems unlikely that a Period Drama, which must by its very nature hark back to the glory days of a ruling class of white men, could possibly be in any way feminist. And yet the female characters of this show kick the arse of every male in it. While the men are chasing their own coat-tails, tying themselves up in knots of “honour” and “duty”, the women are pursuing their own lovers, securing their own dowries and fighting for their own suffrage. The women deliver all the wittiest lines and pull the mens’ socks up before the whole estate crumbles into the ground.
And Sybil was at the forefront of these battles. Sybil, who got her dressmaker to stitch her a pair of trousers without her family’s permission, who was knocked unconscious at a socialist rally, who trained to be a nurse during World War One and who gave up her fortune to marry the chauffeur… Sybil was an unmissable critique of the patriarchal period, the one constantly reminding viewers that there was more for young ladies to be concerned with at the turn of the century than just who they should marry. Her marriage to the Irish socialist revolutionary Branson was a clear sign that women’s liberation was tied with that of the working class – Branson wants to burn Downton Abbey to the ground, while all his in laws are battling to save it.
The plots of the show were becoming increasingly ridiculous, but Downton Abbey never lost its humanity, an aspect of the show that always overtook without eclipsing its politics. Branson wants to see an end of the nobility, but at the same time he knows his in-laws are people too and wouldn’t want to see them hurt. For Fellowes, the personal is the political, and every character-driven storyline could make you laugh and weep.
And yet for all its insanity, I never thought it would come to this. Perhaps I should withhold my judgement and wait to see how the series plays out, but I have to say it – Julian Fellowes has shown his true Tory colours and fridged my Sybil. For those of you who don’t know about the “Women in Refridgerators” trope, it is where a main, well-developed female character is killed off for the sake of the character development of her male counterparts. (Here is a great Feminist Frequency vid to explain further) Death by childbirth is a crafty way of doing this – leaving her husband with a newborn baby and her father with a shedfull of guilt at not trusting the doctor is a great way to develop their characters. And though many women do die in Childbirth, particularly in 1920, it doesn’t stop this death being no more than a random and brutal plot device.
We can only hope that Lady Edith, a developing political writer and probable spinster, will be able to fill her younger sister’s feminist shoes. Until this happens, I will be mourning Sybil Branson, our fallen sister. Dying at the age of twenty-four when only women over twenty-five were awarded suffrage, she never even got a chance to vote.
I will quite happily call Steven Moffat one of the most talented writers working currently in British television. I will also quite merrily declare that he has issues, either inherent in his subconscious or assaulting him on a daily basis in his dreams.
Let us be serious for a moment. I’m not going to claim that Steven Moffat has a secret agenda of writing deliberately ill-formed, ill-considered characters that are, more often than not, women. He’s clearly an intelligent and educated man- it is simply that his tenure over Doctor Who is flecked with the enraged spittle of thousands of fans, both confused at the lack of coherent plotting and believable character, and concerned that female figures in the show seem to have undergone an apparently accidental but alarming transformation. This level of concern and discussion has clearly sprouted from somewhere, but to what extent is the criticism justified? Let us start with the most obvious candidate.
Amelia Pond. The Scottish girl in an English village, with no parents, meets a time traveller in the middle of the night. He vanishes, and returns twelve years later. In the meantime, Amelia has become Amy, been a guide to her errant, yet-to-be-born child Melody and fallen in love with the good ol’ useless Rory. Oh, and bit four therapists and become a kissogram, as you do in rural 21st century Gloucestershire.
The Doctor and Amy save the world. He leaves, but returns two years later, on Amy’s wedding night. She agrees to run away with him. Obviously. They have adventures. Amy tries to proposition him for no-strings-attached sex. The Doctor, alarmed, picks up Rory, because, you know, Amy’s sexuality is dangerously out of control or something. Rory dies. Rory becomes a Roman. The universe blows up. Amy gets parents then totally forgets about them. Amy and Rory marry, and then leave with the Doctor because running off into time and space is something you do once you’ve got everything you ever wanted and missed.
(And that’s only Series Five. We haven’t even mentioned her cloning, giving birth whilst imprisoned and living 37 years alone in isolation)
Of course, Amelia Pond is like this because, by Moffat’s repeated assertion, women are three things: sexy, maternal and mental.
Whether it be time-bending ‘Mother Christmas’ Madge Arwell in The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe or the repeated appearances of gun-toting cleavage display team River Song (played by a drunk Alex Kingston, seemingly), the women of the Steven Moffat era are repeated characterised as sexually promiscuous, heroic breeders or simply psychopaths. Sure, they can be in positions of power, witty and even driven, but this is generally balanced by thoroughly impractical or revealing outfits (see Liz X in The Beast Below or Oswin Oswald in Asylum of the Daleks) and an eventual capitulation to the threat of the story.
The only woman that is ever seen to truly ‘win’ is Amy Pond, but only by throwing bullets about willy-nilly (The Wedding of River Song) or sacrificing her life twice for marriage, the ultimate holy grail of being human, seemingly (The Angels Take Manhattan). There are no true triumphs of intelligence, wit or individuality- both Amy and River’s ‘strengths’ derive from sass, technology, verbal dexterity (mostly flirting) and recreational violence.
There is, of course, absolutely nothing wrong with being married, a good mother, or even a confident, sexy woman (I understand they’re very popular in some circles). However, when the field of representation is so narrow, modern audiences can quickly become disenchanted and lose belief in the emotional integrity of characters that provide so little variety. The fervent online criticism of Moffat’s approach says much about previous show runner Russell T Davies’ massively diversifying impact on fandom demographics. Once an audience typically dominated by fathers and sons, so-called New Who drew in fan audiences that would never have considered the show before its transformation- namely, the female 16-24 demographic. Thus, it would seem that Russell T Davies not only understood the construction of character more effectively, but the composition of modern audiences for sci-fi drama.
It is a truly sad state of affairs that from recent seasons only UNIT’s new leader Kate Stewart from Chris Chibnall’s The Power of Three seems to be alone in flying the flag for independent, progressive female characters. Whilst she was a step in the right direction, the debut of Jenna Louise Coleman as Oswin/Clara didn’t fill fan communities with confidence for the future. Despite a competent performance, unnecessary flirting, a whimsical reference to bisexuality and a costume with a ‘utility belt’ that didn’t seem particularly utilitarian, hinted at a very similar future.
Even the Doctor himself, in Moffat’s tour-de-force of stupidity Lets Kill Hitler, inverts his entire character to acutely surmise both the unconscious attitude of the show, and its head writer’s riposte to such criticism.
Of River, he says:
“Well she’s been brainwashed. It all makes sense to her. Plus, she’s a woman. Oh shut up…!”
I am a bit of a Fantasy nerd. I only do one third of the nerd trifecta (Warhammer, World of Warcraft and Magic cards) by having a fairly substantial Warhammer High Elves army. Anything set in a Fantasy realm will do – I quite often become so fully absorbed when playing Skyrim that the sight of Draugr genuinely terrifies me. I have seen Lord of the Rings (extended edition, obviously) enough that I can quote large chunks. And Game of Thrones this year became one of my favourite TV shows. I just really like dragons, I guess.
But I have a fairly major problem with the Fantasy genre. It always uses a kind of warped Medieval period as it’s backdrop, and seems to always use this as an excuse for sexism.
“Oh its fine!” People will say, “Women were treated like that in Medieval times!”
In my opinion, however, this is NOT an excuse.
One of the main offenders is Warhammer. These are miniature models that one collects, paints and fights other people’s armies with. (Known as ‘Plastic Crack’ by my boyfriend in testament to the hobby’s extremely addictive nature.) Now, I prefer to imagine that my High Elves are so ‘high’, such a higher being, that they have done away with the concept of gender altogether; but actually, when looking at the models as a whole, it becomes clear that the number of female models is tiny. (In Warhammer 40K, the sci-fi set version of the hobby, there is a whole army of women, called the Sisters of Battle. But the point I am about to make stands for them, too). When there are female models, 90% of the time they are not clad in armour, as in their male counterparts (and surely all that makes sense for a war) but scantily-clad, often with large breasts on show.
Take these Witch Elves from the Dark Elf army:
Surely that level of clothing cannot be practical?!
Or maybe these Wardancers, part of the Wood Elf army…
Nope, they’re not very practically dressed either…
How about this Tomb Banshee of the Vampire Counts army. Surely a Banshee can’t be sexy?!
That waist is quite something… Looks like the makers of this model really were trying to objectify a Banshee. A BANSHEE, FOR GODDNESS SAKES.
The problem isn’t only with Warhammer. The women of Skyrim, a role-playing video game, also suffer from extreme-inappropriate-clothing-syndrome. This is an example of a man and woman from the Forsworn race. Granted, these people do believe in the less-is-more philosophy of clothing. But how does that little clothing on the female Forsworn make sense?! This is supposed to be armour!
Surely the makers of Warhammer and Skyrim cannot expect us to believe that in medieval times women were quite so exposed? No. This is evidence of the objectification of women persisting in the modern world and seeping into the fantasy worlds that the modern world has created.
Now, don’t get me wrong, there are many things that Skyrim gets right. In the handbook that comes with the game there is an N.B. at the beginning which states that whether you play as a male or female character doesn’t matter, as the way that you learn skills is not affected by gender. This is perhaps an obvious statement, (as it would be absurd, not to mention outrageous, if gender did make a difference) but one that I feel needs to be made in the context of the sexism of the Fantasy genre.
Game of Thrones has been a subject much discussed on our UEA Feminism Facebook group. There are immediate issues with Game of Thrones. In Season 1, Episode 1, we see a woman being sold by her brother to a man who, later in the episode, rapes her. It took a lot for me to overlook the treatment of women in Game of Thrones so that I could continue watching the story. Certainly, there are some strong female characters, such as Catelyn Stark, Cersei Lannister, and Tyrion Lannister’s mistress, Shae. But still, I believe that the treatment of women in Game of Thrones is pretty shocking, and it, like all the other problems with the fantasy genre we have seen so far is excused and explained away by citing it as in keeping with the medieval treatment of women.
Lord of the Rings is the final nerdy thing I will discuss, honestly. And it’s my favourite, as it includes Éowyn. Éowyn is a daughter of Rohan, niece of King Theoden, who, at the end of The Return of the King, does this:
She kills the Witch King, King of the Nagzûl, the servant of the dark Lord Sauron. Which is freaking BADASS.
Éowyn is surely the strongest female character Tolkien wrote. In a culture run by men, which values prowess with the sword, she recognised that she could never be considered equal to her male counterparts until she proved herself in battle. And my god, does she do that. And she doesn’t do it half-naked, either.
There is a problem here, however. Éowyn must act as a man in order to become respected. All the everyday, more feminine aspects of her character (the way she cared for her uncle in The Two Towers, for example) are not enough for her to be respected by her people. Ideally, Éowyn would be respected for acting in her normal way, right?
Well of course. But the key word there is ‘ideally’. The Lord of the Rings is the product of a man who wrote it in the 1950s. The problematic aspect of Éowyn’s transformation into hero is surely symptomatic of these facts, rather than the fictional patriarchy of Rohan.
So, is Éowyn a Feminist hero? Decide for yourself. She is one of my personal heroes, at least.
The problematic aspects of the Fantasy genre cannot be explained away by using the middle-ages type era they are invariably set in as an excuse. The problem with there being few female characters in Warhammer armies, or that Forsworn women wear hardly any clothes, and that Éowyn’s nurturing side is not enough to gain her respect, are all indicative of a problem of today rather than medieval times. (Aside from anything else, fantasy worlds are clearly not set in the real medieval times. So why have real medieval views of women?!) The culture that invented these fantasy worlds is at fault, not the fantasy worlds themselves. It is testament to the fact that women still aren’t respected and treated equally to men. They are objectified daily, mistreated, raped, and these sad realities have permeated fantasy worlds.
UEA Feminism Treasurer
Parks and Recreation is an American comedy series about to enter its fifth season and in my opinion, the most feminist sitcom on TV at the moment. Shot in a mockumentary style, it follows the adventures of the parks and recreation department of fictional town, Pawnee, Indiana. Funny, ambitious and clever, Parks and Recreation’s main character is a self-proclaimed feminist, Leslie Knope.
For one thing Parks and Rec is a brilliant show among the few feminist programmes even available. Leslie Knope never lets other people’s doubt or cynicism get in her way of making Pawnee a better place by practically running the department single handedly. It effortlessly avoids common feminist stereotypes by subtly pointing out the everyday sexism within politics that women have to face. The women in the office are treated, by the show and its characters, with respect. Side character and misogynist Jean-Ralphio sexually harasses any female character with a pulse and as a result is constantly ridiculed and rejected by everyone. All his endeavours are unsuccessful as a direct result of his blatant sexism.
Parks and Rec is not afraid of actively advocating for feminism. In one particular episode, the lovable but stupid slacker Andy Dwyer; stubborn and cynical April Ludgate; and epitome of traditional masculinity Ron Swanson are awed when they attend a sample lecture for a women’s studies course at the local college. The lecturer states that “many societal institutions were established solely to oppress women” and that “some feminists have even condemned marriage as a glorified form of slavery” without mockery, a breath of fresh air in comparison to the straw feminist trope, in which feminist ideas are only mentioned for the purposes of either proving them wrong or ridiculing them.
Likewise, in the episode Hunting Trip Leslie valiantly takes the blame for her coworker who accidentally injures Ron Swanson by shooting him in the head with a hunting rifle. In the following investigation, Leslie uses a series of excuses typically forced upon badly stereotyped women, including my personal favourite, “I guess when my life is incomplete I want to shoot someone.”
Undoubtedly a main component of Parks and Rec is the strong female friendship between Leslie and Ann Perkins, a nurse who she meets in the first episode. The relationship between them is unusual because of the total lack of bitchiness and jealousy that usually characterises depictions of female friendship. Leslie and Ann are constantly supportive, kind and respectful towards each other. Similarly, in the romantic relationships that Leslie has during the series, she is treated as an equal by her partners and never overtly sexualised or inappropriately idolised. In addition, many of Leslie’s role models are also powerful women, including her mother and Hillary Clinton.
However, Parks and Rec is not perfect. Despite it being a running joke that Pawnee is the town with the fourth highest instance of obesity in America, only two of the named characters are even above average weight. Body positivity is an important part of modern feminism and by only portraying a small amount of overweight people in a specifically overweight town, it’s enforcing the idea that for a television show to be watchable the majority of its characters need to be slim and attractive.
Despite this issue and and a few others, Parks and Rec remains a great feminist show and one of the best of its genre. The cast of rounded, well-written female characters with interesting and developed storylines effortlessly showcase the feminism that drives the show without feeling forced.
So. Joss Whedon.
Joss Whedon is honoured for his strong female characters. But are they atually strong, or are they, as someone I know put it, “Barbie dolls that punch people”?
There isn’t one simple answer to this, I think. He has written many wildly different characters (which, let’s be brutally honest, is an accomplishment in itself). And while I love most of Whedon’s shows, I acknowledge that there are some issues there. So! There is clearly only one thing to do. I’m going to watch Whedon shows, and I’m going to blog about his female characters. Fun and thought-provoking! I am excited.
(originally posted to my personal blog)