If you thought it couldn’t get worse, it just did. Air Force Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski was head of the Air Force’s sexual assault prevention program prior to being arrested and charged with sexual battery by the Arlington, Virginia police department. Krusinski drunkenly “approached a female victim in a parking lot and grabbed her breasts and buttocks.”
It’s become clear that the military is not capable of solving its epidemic of sexual violence. Despite years of studies and empty talk, there were 26,000 sexual assaults in 2012 — more than 71 per day — and up from 19,000 in 2011.
The Sexual Assault Training Oversight and Prevention (STOP) Act — H.R. 1593 — will take the prosecution, reporting, oversight, investigation, and victim care of sexual assaults out of the normal military chain of command and place jurisdiction in an autonomous Sexual Assault Oversight and Response Office made up of military and civilian experts.
Before I write one word about my thoughts on the fifth book in the Harry Potter series, Order of the Phoenix, let me be clear. I bow at the feet of J.K. Rowling. She is a masterful storyteller. I am already onto Book 6. I can’t stop. I should say that my nine year old daughter is appalled that is has taken me months to complete Order, a book she finished in three days. My slow pace has forever shattered her view of the talents and skills and grown ups. We have our limits, now she knows. In my defense, I’m always reading about 7 – 10 books simultaneously, but this fact means nothing to her. She just shakes her head at me, her eyes sad.
In this fabulous installment, Rowling addresses a few of my on-going gender complaints with the series: no female Dark Arts teacher, no female head of Hogwarts, no super evil female villain, and no female Quidditch captain. With the wicked, Dolores Umbridge, Rowling creates a villain so wicked that reading about her made me feel weak in my knees.
Umbridge fascinates, in part, because she takes on typical characteristics of femininity: she is often seen in pink, speaks “sweetly,” often with a ladylike “ahem,” before voicing yet another shocking decree. Umbridge’s office is sickeningly prissy:
The surfaces had all been draped in lacy covers and cloths. There were several vases full of dried flowers, each residing on its own doily, and on one of the walls was a collection of ornamental plates, each decorated with a large, technicolor kitten wearing a different bow around its neck.
Swathing this evil woman in fluff reveals that “sugar, spice, and everything nice” is a put on, not just for Umbridge, but no one can live up to this persona. Lace, kitties, and a quiet, “polite” voice is simply another studied costume.
When Harry insists Voldemort is alive, he is sent to Umbridge’s office for detention to do lines in a chilling scene:
“You haven’t given me any ink,” he said.
“Oh, you won’t need ink,” said Professor Umbridge with the merest suggestion of a laugh in her voice.
Harry pressed the point of the quill on the paper and wrote: I must not tell lies.
He let out a gasp of pain. The words had appeared on the parchment in what appeared to be shining, red ink. At the same time, the words had appeared on the back of Harry’s right hand, cut into his skin as though traced there by a scalpel– yet even as he stared at the shining cut, the skin healed over again, leaving the place where it had been slightly redder than before but quite smooth.
Harry looked around at Umbridge. She was watching him, her wide toadlike mouth stretched in a smile.
“Nothing,” Harry said quietly…
And on it went. Again and again Harry wrote the words on the parchment in what he soon came to realize was not ink, but his own blood.
Creepy! I had to put the book down at that point and go consult with my daughter on the high level of Umbridge’s madness and meanness.
Important, complex female characters in Order don’t stop with Umbridge. Luna Lovegood, the misfit, smart, intuitive girl who befriends Harry has a real, spiritual connection with him, so much so that I would call actually them soulmates, in a non-romantic way. One of my favorite parts of this series is how Rowling creates cross-gender friendships and partnerships with no romantic tension clouding the relationship.
And then, with Angelina, finally, we get a female Quidditch captain. I was psyched to see a female in this part, but I can’t say I was that impressed with Angelina. She whined a lot and didn’t do much to save the team. Similarly, I was disappointed with Cho, Harry’s romantic interest who devolves in this book into a hyper-sensitive, sniveling, annoying character. At the very least, I wish Rowling could’ve written a scene or two showing how good Cho is and how Harry is in awe of her skill, is attracted to her because she can play, not just because she is pretty.
Tonks is a new witch on the scene, but I have to say that her klutziness reminded me of one of my least favorite characters in kidfiction, the good hearted imbecile, Amelia Bedelia.
At the end of the book, we meet Bellatrix Lestrange, a horrific, terrifying character who murders the brave, loyal, but arrogant Sirius. Though sad at Sirius’s death, and so sad for poor Harry, I was pleased to see a female be so instrumental in the plot as clearly, that means Lestrange is a character who will stay important to the action of the book.
Chapter Thirty-Three, pictured above, shows an image rarely seen out of the Pink Ghetto in kidlit: two female characters to one male, and he is not in the lead. The opening text underscores Hermione’s important position:
Harry had no idea what Hermione was planning, or even whether she had a plan. He walked half a pace behind her as they headed down the corridor outside Umbridge’s office, knowing it would look very suspicious if he appeared not to know where they were going.
While I think Hermione’s role will always be loyal friend, I like how she got to play her part in this book. Hermione essentially figures out that Voldemort is luring Harry into a trap and she warns him, yet Harry refuses to listen. This is an important role in the story, and I’m glad Hermione gets to play it.
So bottom line: Order is the best book for females so far in the Harry Potter series. Still, as I keep writing, clearly, this is Harry’s world. The rest of us just live in it. Thank you, Rowling, for allowing us the visit.
As a mother of 2 little boys I’m constantly struggling to find movies for them to watch that aren’t completely sexist. And it is frustrating because he is too young to have an opinion on what girls can or can’t achieve. I want him to grow up knowing girls an be strong leaders, smart and funny, not just pretty to look at. But hardly any kids movies give you a decent female protagonist worth bothering with. For me “Brave” was embarrassing as Pixar’s first female lead movie. Despite the film having a stereotypically “feisty” heroine (when is that word ever used to describe a boy/man?) it is still all about whether Merida will marry or not. Merida is seen as subversive, difficult because she won’t do as her mother asks and get engaged, but why not a movie where strong, independent Merida has a great adventure that’s nothing to do with romance like any number f her Pixar lead character counterparts? Also as Merida seems to be a young teen the whole idea of marriage is particularly creepy.
I’m glad Clare wrote in because, just like “women’s” issues, people tend to think sexism in animated movies is a girl issue. It’s not. What are our kids learning about gender when the males get to do all the cool, fun, brave stuff, when they get to be the center of attention, while girls are stuck on the sidelines?
Yesterday, my daughter brought a light up fairy to show and tell. She earned that fairy for reading her first chapter book, and she was proud of it and her accomplishment. A couple first grade boys yelled out, “Stupid! Boring!” The boys wanted to be clear that they wouldn’t be interested in something as uncool and girlie as fairy, Fairies, are sadly, on eof the few images we can find in our culture of magical females. Unfortunately, the boys’s reaction isn’t a rare reaction when girls show and tell “girl” stuff. How’s that for an early lesson in public speaking?
What if fairies flew out of the Pink Ghetto? What if kids saw fairies go on exciting adventures in narratives marketed to all kids? What if fairies didn’t look coy, with short skirts and shy smiles?
What happens when kids learn, from the moment they exit the womb, that there are girl toys and boy toys, and that girls are less important than boys? How does it affect who our kids grow up to be?
I’m HUGE fan of Silverman. Not only is she a great performer, she’s a fantastic writer.
Here’s what I blogged about her memoir, Bedwetter, a couple summers ago:
Bedwetter by Sarah Silverman. Silverman, you probaly know, is a comedian; this book is hilarious but also poignant. She wet her bed until she was sixteen years old. One passage totally sticks in my head: Silverman is just back from sleepaway camp, a traumatizing experience for a bedwetter; she secretly wore diapers at night. When she gets off the camp bus, full of shame, her mom is frenetically taking pictures of her. Silverman has a strange feeling of getting attention yet being completely ignored. When I read this, I thought it was a great way to describe the experience many women have of being looked at but not being seen. I blogged about the book here.
I’ve been reading some great posts from around the web about how horrible Seth MacFarlane was last night. From the New Yorker:
Watching the Oscars last night meant sitting through a series of crudely sexist antics led by a scrubby, self-satisfied Seth MacFarlane. That would be tedious enough. But the evening’s misogyny involved a specific hostility to women in the workplace, which raises broader questions than whether the Academy can possibly get Tina Fey and Amy Poehler to host next year. It was unattractive and sour, and started with a number called “We Saw Your Boobs.”
“We Saw Your Boobs” was as a song-and-dance routine in which MacFarlane and some grinning guys named actresses in the audience and the movies in which their breasts were visible. That’s about it. What made it worse was that most of the movies mentioned, if not all (“Gia”), were pretty great—“Silkwood,” “Brokeback Mountain,” “Monster’s Ball,” “Monster,” “The Accused,” “Iris”—and not exactly teen-exploitation pictures. The women were not showing their bodies to amuse Seth MacFarlane but, rather, to do their job. Or did they just think they were doing serious work? You girls think you’re making art, the Academy, through MacFarlane, seemed to say, but all we—and the “we” was resolutely male—really see is that we got you to undress. The joke’s on you.
A new Muppet movie is coming out in 2014. On Disney’s site for the movie, the characters listed are Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Animal, Fozzy the Bear, Gonzo the Great, and Walter. So here we have a typical gender ratio in children’s media of 1:5. Females, half of the kid population, are once again, presented as a minority. Miss Piggy is a Minority Feisty.
Make that 1:6. The human star of the movie is Ricky Gervais.
In case you forgot, here’s the poster your kids got to see for the 2011 movie.
When females are marginalized and sidelined in a fantasy world created for children (not to mention creatures from a world that originated on PBS) how can we expect them to get equality in the real world? If we can’t even imagine it, how can we achieve it?
I’m grateful to you for giving me the term ‘Minority Feisty’, because indeed, there is a girl character (a nerdy, excluded type with a monobrow who plays the witch in a play) in Paranormal who has very few lines, but one of those lines is a feminist piece about the mistreatment of witches throughout history, or something similar.
Plotwise, it’s up to Norman to save the world (or community, at least) from a witch. Which he does.
I haven’t seen “ParaNorman” but from Stace’s description, the female character is classic Minority Feisty. As with Colette in “Ratatouille,” she delivers a feminist line or two. Her place in the narrative allows parents to breathe a sigh of relief and think: OK, this movie is about a boy, there are more males than females in it, but it’s still feminist.
And one more thing about the word “feisty” so often used to describe strong female characters in children’s films. “Feisty” doesn’t imply strong, it implies playing at being strong in a cute way. Think about this: Would you call Superman feisty? How would he feel if you did?
Not only will a record 20 women hold U.S. Senate seats next year, but women voters also greatly influenced the 2012 election, making an impact in swing states such as Ohio.
As founder of reelgirl.com Margot Magowan says, Hollywood needs to catch up.
The sheer increase of strong female characters isn’t enough, Magowan said, noting that role models such as “Wreck-It Ralph’s” Vanellope (voiced by Sarah Silverman) are often secondary characters.
“It’s important for the female to be the star of the movie,” the mom of three girls said. ” ‘Harry Potter’ has Hermione, but her role is to help Harry on his quest. … You can be the first lady, but you can’t be the president. … If you can’t imagine it, you can’t be it.”
My favorite quote is from Joss Whedon:
In 2006, while accepting an award from Equality Now (an organization promoting the human rights of women), Joss Whedon (“The Avengers,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) said he’s often asked why he creates such strong women characters.
His response: “Why aren’t you asking 100 other guys why they don’t write strong women characters?”
I was on FB and saw this post from my friend Lateefah Simon, that shows what I meant perfectly. Here is her post:
This sweet lady ran like a bat out of hell to catch the Caltrain this morning. Her cute black boots were moving at crazy light speed. She didn’t have time to swipe her clipper before boarding the train. She was soaking – breathing hard but managed to find a seat. The ticket taker dude approaches her first. Lady with the cute rain boots pulls out clipper and tells story about what happened. She’s kicked off the train. Next one comes in an hour. Sad cause it’s storming.
Sadder because I hate waiting. Booooo! At least my boots are fresh. Just wanna get yo work. Sheesh.
This is about catching a local train, right? No big deal. But clearly, the runner is a hero and the ticket taker dude, a villain.
If you were writing a story about a woman catching the train, running for it “as if her life depended on it” you might create a plot situation where her life actually depend on it; that will evoke the emotion in the reader that the runner experiences. To evoke and communicate that emotion, you have to make the reader care if she catches the train, understand what it means if she misses it so that the reader misses it to. For me, coming from this place, plot doesn’t feel contrived but the opposite, fully accurate.
Of the movie’s thirteen or so lead roles, three of them are played by women, and none of them are the caliber you might expect from a film that takes its female characters seriously…
Part of the movie’s marginalization of female characters can be rationalized away by the true-life nature of the film. Because the movie is “based on a true story,” Affleck and his screenwriter, Chris Terrio, have to somewhat stick to the facts and show the story the way things happened. But unlike this year’s Compliance, which told about as accurate of an account of real-life workplace abuse possible, Argo plays fast and loose with the facts for cinematic impact — to ramp up the drama and intensity. (If you needed someone to tell you the airport chase probably didn’t happen that way, you have no idea what the definition of a movie is.) Thus, the “we-had-to-stick-to-the-facts-so-no-lines-for-womenfolk” argument doesn’t hold up. If you can make room for an airport chase, a protracted dénouement where Mendez is awarded an Intelligence Star, a speech from Jimmy Carter (that adds nothing to the film) and a gratuitous shot of Affleck’s abs, you can give one woman something to do. Anything at all.
I’m not saying they should create a new role for a woman or magically create a female spy (it’s not Alias, after all), but the women here deserve more than virtual silence. The film doesn’t take place at an all-boys’ school or a magical world in which all of the women have gone mute. It was the 1970′s, not Spike TV. There were women who had relationships to the story, and the film’s desire to marginalize them or cut them out completely shows how little modern Hollywood thinks of female narratives. Movies actually made in the 70′s had better roles for women than this, and the idea that Affleck gets let off the hook for sexism because he made a period piece is insulting.
Writer Nico Lang is addressing an issue that people always raise on Reel Girl: “a magical world where the women have gone mute.” Fill-in-the-blank movie has to leave females out because that’s just how it is, in the original story, in the time period, in the jungle, whatever i.e. Tintin, Lord of the Rings, Marvel comics, DC comics, pirates, the 70s.
WTF? There is only one female chef in “Ratatouille” because there aren’t female chefs in France. The movie is about a rat who can cook. A talking rodent is more believable than 50% of chefs being female? In “The Lion King” the female lions have to wait until the male lion, our hero, Simba, returns because males lead the pride in the real world. That same “real world” where a lion dances, sings and is BFFs with a warthog and Meekrat? Huh?
The “we-had-to-stick-to-the-facts-so-no-lines-for-womenfolk” argument rarely holds up, yet it gets used all the time.
Lang makes another point in her criticism of “Argo” that I often address on Reel Girl. When a female is allowed to be a lead in a movie, she is surrounded by a constellation of males. You almost never get to see powerful females working together. Lang writes:
Argo isn’t alone in marginalizing women’s roles in film, as all but five of this year’s Top 20 films were dominated by men, and even films that feature women as leads do so in films where their gender is the minority (see: The Hunger Games, Brave, Snow White and the Huntsman).Although it may be wrong to criticize Argo for doing the same thing everyone else is (just more egregiously), the film shows that even our “serious films” often do not privilege women’s narratives.
Not serious films and not children’s films. What does that leave? Oh yeah, chick flicks.
I’m still thinking about blue milk’s post and those damn bananas. What is fascinating to me, as blue milk posted, is that the act of covering up reality to protect the child’s imagination, is such an important part of parenting. That’s why routine is so great. If your child has safe boundaries, she feels brave enough to take healthy risks. That this episode put that burden on the girl children is remarkable and sad.
Psychologist Stephen Mitchell in his book, Can Love Last: the Fate of Romance Over Time said all of this better than me:
One of the things good parents provide for their children is a partially illusory, elaborately constructed atmosphere of safety, to allow for the establishment of “secure attachment.” Good-enough parents, to use D. W. Winnicott’s term, do not talk with young children about their own terrors, worries, and doubts. They construct a sense of buffered permanence, in which the child can discover and explore without any impinging vigilance, her own mind, her creativity, her joy in living. The terrible destructiveness of child abuse lies not just in trauma of what happens but also the tragic loss of what is not provided– protected space for psychological growth.
It is crucial that the child does not become aware of how labor intensive that protracted space is, of the enormous amount of parental activity going on behind the scenes.