Sunday, 2 February 2014

Feminist Media Criticism- Why We Need It

Trigger Warning: rape jokes, rape culture

Cartoon by Kara Passey

I want to talk about this because I spend a lot of time reading, watching TV, listening to music, watching movies; essentially, consuming media. I am also a feminist and spend a lot of time on feminist websites, blogs, and magazines reading feminist media criticism and participating in conversations about it.

I’ve had conversations with people who don’t necessarily identify as feminists and feel like this criticism is far fetched and/or unnecessary because after all we’re usually talking about fiction, and it’s “just entertainment”, and other arguments that basically say we’re overreacting or reading too deeply into something when we participate in feminist media criticism. I also have a lot of feminist friends, like me, whom I’ve talked to about sometimes feeling overwhelmed because no matter where we look we find something problematic- it’s sexism, misogyny, racism, homophobia, or some other discriminatory point of view, if not a combination of them. There was an article on The Onion  that I read recently about a woman who “took a break from being a feminist” in order to be able to just enjoy a TV show- I think a TLC one, about a bride to be finding her dress *cue eye-rolling*. I’ll be honest; that article stung, and my initial reaction was “PFFSSHHTT THIS IS DUMB AND RUDE AND TYPICAL, THEY DON’T EVEN GET WHY WE DO THIS***”. So with that in mind, I thought I’d discuss why we do do it (ha ha- I said doodoo). I'll add that I don’t even think you have to “take a break from feminism” to be able to watch or enjoy a show like that.

I think feminist media criticism is actually really important and really necessary. I can’t speak for all feminists, but I do think that generally, as a movement, we are not about stifling voices or taking away people’s rights to believe what they want to, or their freedom to express those beliefs and views. So, I personally don’t think feminist media criticism is ever calling for people to stop making art or stop putting their voices out there, I think it is simply calling for people to recognize what might be problematic in some of the views that are put out there, so that we aren’t just internalizing them without giving them a second, deeper thought.  

For example, let’s talk about the show How I Met Your Mother, which is an example of a TV show I absolutely cannot stand anymore, now that I can see all these (in my opinion) shitty messages that are wrapped up in it. However, when I – and other feminists- criticize the characters and themes in this show, we’re not calling for the show to stop existing, or for people to stop viewing and enjoying it. We’re simply- or at least I am- calling for people to recognize that if we blindly accept a lot of the messages that come through this show, we’re going to end up normalizing certain sexist and misogynistic ideas. To me, the issue is not the existence of the awful character of Barney Stinson; the issue is that our culture glorifies him and his objectifying, rape-ey views. Feminist media criticism comes into play here because it makes us aware that these themes exist in the show, and it tells us why they are harmful to us as a society. And as long as we know and recognize that, (and we’re not making excuses for it), then we can continue to watch and enjoy the show for its other, comedic aspects. I mean, if we have to *more eye rolling*.

Personally, my guilty pleasure show is 2 Broke Girls, which receives- and rightfully so- a lot of heat for making jokes about violence and rape and that is really just never okay, because it trivializes pain that is very real for a lot of people. So when I do watch 2 Broke Girls, I’m aware of these jokes being made, and because I’m actively reading the show as a text, I’m able to stop myself from internalizing its harmful messages, and normalizing something unacceptable. Without condoning the humour employed in it which can be tasteless, I will admit I do enjoy a lot of aspects of this show- I mean, it is one of the few that passes the Bechdel test!

So, in a nutshell, my argument is that we need feminist media criticism because it makes us better educated consumers of media, so we are aware of discriminatory views expressed in media, and we have more control over how much we let media influence us. And that’s great because it gives us more agency and more power in how we perceive and eventually accept or reject ideas. I mean, it’s always going to be better for you to know more than less, right? 

*** Having said that, I have to admit, I get it. Ever since I got more interested and involved in feminism, there are admittedly fewer and fewer movies, TV shows, songs, books, etc. that I can enjoy with a clear conscience- whenever Blurred Lines plays when I’m out with friends, I literally sit down until the song is over, knowing this doesn’t actually change anything for anyone else. I guess it’s just so I know I’m not participating in ‘okay-ing’ the awful example of rape culture that is that song.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

It's five syllables

We repeat it over and over as a class
It's a tough word to get right.

You see how it rolls off your tongue?

Maybe I'll get it tattooed on my lower back
Or horizontally along my waist
Ha! Wouldn't that just take all the Individuellement out of it?

At this point I've forgotten what it means

Maybe I should spend more time on French
Maybe I should spend more time on me


Class goes on
"Les verbes pronominaux are verbs you do to yourself by yourself"
No, that's not quite what I meant.

You see how it rolls off your tongue?

Monday, 10 June 2013


If I told you a story about a young child,
In your mind's eye would you picture a young girl or a boy?

"He who is wise does blah blah blah"
"Patient is he who blah blah blah"
"A good man is he who blah blah blah"

Should I ignore my inner protests,
Should I focus on just the message?
Do they expect me to truly relate?

What would they think if I were to say she? Her? Woman?

Would we tell young boys proverbs in the form of she?
And if they said they couldn't relate, would we think it silly?

Why should I accept he, when he won't accept she, and by extension- me!
Why should I be flexible when he remains rigid?

I am not a fanatic,
I am not an extremist
I am not a "feminazi"

I am a woman.
And I haven't been blinded.
And I refuse to be silenced, subdued.

She who can see refuses to be subdued.

Friday, 7 June 2013


It has been months since my last blog post! It isn't that I don't have anything to write about- since January 26th, there have been many events in my life that stimulated thoughts I think were definitely worth speculating on in this space; not to mention a monumental event in itself, One Billion Rising, Hong Kong- which was, for me, an incredible experience in youth activism.
Youth activism is actually just what I want to talk about today. I've written about apathy, and the untapped power of youth before, but I've been realizing more and more that this is a topic that needs revisiting. I was discussing my idea for this post with my mentor, Maggie Chumbley, and she showed me a video of a young plastic-pollution activist (Maggie works to combat plastic pollution through education and youth, and has helped me a great deal in my own journey with the issue, which we've written about here and here) who echoed some of my feelings. Here it is: JD Russo on Indifference
What this speaker talks about is dead on. Not only do we refuse to care, but often we get so wrapped up in our own lives, that we forget about our responsibility to the rest of the world. Even though I insisted on my family separating our plastic trash to recycle and re-use, I often forget to take the plastic down to the recycling bins, letting it pile up at home. I forget to fight- and more importantly, I forget to care- enough. And it's a repeating pattern I see all around me.
So I've been thinking about it- why are we, as young people, so afraid to care? Why do we shy away from fully investing ourselves in causes, in ideas, even in relationships and people? One theory I've come up with is that we're afraid of the vulnerability that comes with caring. When you care about a project or a cause, failing to meet your goals can leave you feeling disillusioned. When you care deeply about a person, you give that person the power to hurt you just as deeply. And scariest of all- when you display what you care about to the world- you hand them the best tools with which to attack you.
These fears are natural, and very real. I tend to be very vocal about the issues that mean a lot to me, and so it's easy for me to become the butt of jokes related to these issues- and I am, everyday. But it's not so bad- I learned to roll with the jokes, and my constantly talking about issues related gender roles, discrimination, and pollution (among others) helped me connect with like-minded people and further develop my ideas! Some of my friends have even told me that my rants made them notice sexist trends in media, and start talking about it to people, themselves!
Now, I see caring as a sort of high risk/high return investment. As scary and potentially painful the vulnerability of caring can be, the rewards of caring- for our own identity and peace of mind, as well as for the world, are more than worth it. As JD Russo says in his TED Talk, "Before we address any challenge- societal, environmental, or even personal-we must end the indifference. We must break this shelled survival, expose a little of our flesh, and be open to wounds". So let's move away from the tired notion that "caring isn't cool". Nobody ever moved the world, the community, or even a person without passion. Let's unlock the JD Russo's and Maggie Chumbley's within ourselves. Let's have the courage to care, and let openness and vulnerability become our biggest strengths.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Eleven Women I Want to Celebrate

I have recently gotten very involved in V-Day's One Billion Rising movement, and in the spirit of it, I read Eve Ensler's I Am An Emotional Creature in one night. This morning, I was reading some of the monologues from the book to my parents, and though they support me in this endeavor, they weren't entirely on board with what they were hearing. According to them, there wasn't enough focus on the normal, successful, happy women who are contributing to society simply by being empowered and living fulfilling lives- which in turn empowers the people around them. 
I am still completely in love with the book, but my parents have a point. I'm glad we as a society are noticing our flaws, bringing attention to unpleasant stories, and trying to get better, but we should also be celebrating our successes. So, I'm going to start that off here, by celebrating eleven ordinary women whom I look up to, that have taught me something in one way or another. 
To be honest, I could think of many more than eleven women to put on this list, so there might be future posts on a similar note (heheheh). The eleven I will mention here are women  I see being extraordinary in their own way, whose success stories were never written down (as far as I know!).  

Woman 1- Tabitha Mark
I want to celebrate this woman for being excited about the world, education, and learning- enough to inspire some students to feel the same way, and make the most unmotivated students want to work hard. She gives students outlets to become change-makers, and helps students find the drive to do so, as well. One individual pushing a group of people to excel carries a huge impact.

Woman 2- Tracy Vieanneau
I want to celebrate this woman for pouring her heart into her students, and giving us a 'safe zone', while constantly pushing us to conquer our fears. Ms. V always fought for what she believed in- for the interests of her students. She is a model of 'leading by example', for she showed me and many others how to be strong simply by being so herself. When she was at my school two years ago, it was just a happier place. She helped so many of us get on the track to finding our own voices and confidence, which is one of the best things you can give a teenager. 

Woman 3- Sonia Wagh

I want to celebrate this woman for being what activists are trying to help every woman in the world become- energetic, stable, independent, caring, and happy. She is unbelievably intelligent, incapable of tiring, and a wonderful mother. She represents the place- of being totally empowered- which every woman in the world should one day reach.

Woman 4- Milan Kamerkar-Patil
I want to celebrate this woman for being vibrant and powerful. She's so full of laughter and wit, and almost exudes confidence and happiness, which is all part of her beauty. Her kids adore her to an extent you rarely ever get to, she's physically stronger than most men I know, which I think is awesome!

Woman 5- Suyash Nadkarni
I want to celebrate this woman for being an alive and emotional creature! There is probably nobody in the world that she wouldn't be able to have a conversation with, because she just instinctively knows how to connect with people! Her way with words, kids, and people is remarkable, even though she tries to play it down. I dare you to talk to her and walk away without a smile on your face! 

Woman 6- Ashwini Pradhan
I want to celebrate this woman for her kindness, understanding, and intellect. She is a powerhouse, whose energy is expressed through caring and humour. She embodies compassion- accepting everybody and their flaws, because she understands where they come from. On top of that, what I love is that she's a creative force who can make anybody feel good about themselves for what they are.

Woman 7- Aruna Soman
I want to celebrate this woman for her eccentricity, intelligence, forgetfulness, love, and drive. Despite our age difference of 35 years, I see Aruna mavshi as a close friend, because she knows how to relate with anyone and everyone. She works to unlock the confidence and power in young people, and has helped innumerable kids find their potential. She is capable of absolutely anything. I find  her enthusiasm for everything in the world and everything in life sincerely inspiring. 

Woman 8- Nicole Lovato
I want to celebrate this woman for her calmness, loving spirit, and bottomless pool of strength and support. She exudes wisdom, which nothing can cover up. She too, works with youth- helping them to love, accept, and push themselves to their greatest potential. She is an incredible teacher, and a lifelong student, who has lived and felt a multitude of experiences. I admire how deeply connected she is to her culture and community- something I am still learning to do myself. 

Woman 9- Maggie Chumbley
I want to celebrate this woman for constantly learning, being unafraid to give love to the world, and using that love to make a difference. The word that jumps to mind to describe Maggie is 'alive'- because she experiences and processes everything she does, and strives to get as much out of life as she can. She has taught me (and continues to teach me) about activism, love, life, music, peace, and myself. I feel so privileged to call her my mentor!

Woman 10- Jayashree Majgaonkar 
I want to celebrate this woman- my grandmother- for being unafraid, accommodating, loving, and thoughtful. She is somebody who knows who she is completely, and has taught me about self-respect through the way she takes care of herself and her family. She supported her family her whole life through her work, and her pension from her years of hard work is still supporting her and my wonderful grandfather. She is fearless in a completely humble way, as she tackles and faces everything that comes her way. I remember her having to travel somewhere for work a few years ago, for which she had to take a night-train- we were all extremely worried, and attempting to talk her out of it- but she and her no-nonsense attitude wouldn't stand for it, and so off she went, without any fuss at all. She teaches me about responsibility, duty, courage, and strength just by being who she is. 

Woman 11- Pradnya Kulkarni
I want to celebrate this woman's very existence. I look up to and admire many people in the world, but there is no woman from whom I have learned more, or received more love from, than my mother. Her respect for herself, her love for knowledge, and her strong sense of values and principles make her heroic. Personality-wise, she and I have very little in common, but the way she constantly grows, expands her views, and expresses and feels love, are all qualities I admire immensely. She is the most influential and important woman in my life, and it was because she noticed that ordinary women aren't given enough credit, that I was inspired to write this post. Here's to her and all the other (extra)ordinary women out there, who are making the world better by being the wonderful people they are! 

Friday, 2 November 2012

This post exists.

Walt Whitman:
"The question, O me! so sad, recurring--What good amid these, O me, O life?
That you are here--that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse."

It's not often that we take the opportunity to really stop and think; what will my verse read?

The best moments of my life are those when I suddenly understand some painfully obvious concept that has always existed right before my eyes. I had one of those moments today; I realised that I am alive!
I am living, thinking, experiencing and feeling. I am a tiny, insignificant conscious being in a corner of the vast cosmos. I am both the least and most insignificant thing ever to have existed, and that is a delightful state.
Eckhart Tolle said, "You are the universe, expressing itself as a human for a little while." I do believe he was right; I am inspired by the energy, strength and power of everything that has every existed before me, that exists with me, and that will exist after me.

The beauty of the human experience, I think, is this: that it is so empowering and humbling all at once. I am a tiny, insignificant part of the cosmos, and yet, I am here. And I am armed with the most powerful weapon: time. What I can do with it is undefinable, and limitless. There is an immeasurable amount of knowledge, wisdom, and experience that I have to suck up in the time I have, and there is an infinite number of things I can do with what I take in. Life is an un-drawn picture, and my creativity and art supplies are endless. This excites me more than anything else I can imagine.

As an atheist, I have often criticized groups of people for choosing to view the world through tinted glasses, not seeing it for what it is. But I am guilty of doing the same thing; we all are. There is no such thing as "the world as it is". There is only what you make it to be, and what you make yourself to be in it. I have been censured many a time for my naivety and idealism, and told to come back down to earth. I can understand this; even reading what I've written, the realist in me can't help but shake her head in condescension a little bit. But the romantic in me is far stronger; and the magnificence of life- taken as a whole- seems to matter a great deal more than the politics and economics we try to simplify the human experience into. I know these ideas are not new and original- countless minds before mine have been visited by them. I can see that they do not apply to the "real world"- nobody's going to pay me for recycled epiphanies. Right now, that doesn't matter. What matters is that in the last 24 hours, I have slept, eaten, wept, laughed, and even howled like a wolf. What matters is that the 'powerful play' is in motion, and I am in the process of writing my verse.

I am a hypocrite; As I said, I am guilty of viewing the world through tinted glasses. Everything I see is coloured with optimism, excitement, humour and mystery. I am naive, idealistic, and very likely to get hurt and be painfully disillusioned. But then again, maybe I won't be. I'll leave this to the gods of probability.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

The Future

John Lennon said that his mission was to charge up the apathetic youth. He wanted to excite them, tell them about peace, love, and their power to change the world with those principles.
Today, the words love and peace show up so much in popular culture, that they’ve essentially lost all meaning. And the youth isn’t so much apathetic in these times, as it is distracted. 
Maybe we’re overwhelmed by all the problems we see, or maybe we aren’t even aware of any problems beyond those in our own lives. But for some reason or another, we have chosen to turn a blind eye to the world, and occupy ourselves with trivialities. We’ve created a culture based entirely on appearance: what should I wear so people think I’m cool? What should I say so people think I’m funny? What should I know so I fit in?
Who's here to awaken the majority of youth today? Who are our role models? Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, and Britney Spears have more followers on twitter than anybody else in the world. Are these, then, our beau ideals? In a world that is still dealing with problems like poverty, war, and rape (to name a few), these icons are nothing but another distraction, stopping us from realising that we are eventually going to be held responsible for this planet we are about to inherit.
We- the youth- need to set higher standards for ourselves. We hold more potential and power than anything else in this world. If we broaden our minds and horizons, there would be no limits to the amount of change we could bring about; the amount of influence we could hold. As we grow up, we’re learning about global economic and social problems, we’re reading the UN’s millennium goals, we're hearing people talk to us about change and the future… I wonder if we fully appreciate that this is a huge weight; and that it's about to land on our shoulders. Right now, I'm not sure if we will be able to carry it.
I want to see my generation open our eyes and understand our role.Yes, it is scary- I won’t deny that- but it is what we have to do. And the truth is, really, that if we step up and take our responsibility seriously, there wouldn't be any challenges we couldn’t overcome.