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.