J.J. Abrams’ second installment of the rebooted Star Trek franchise delivers classic geekery at warp speed, ratcheting up the action sequences, the rapid-fire dialogue and laugh-out-loud moments and the poignant emotionalism at the root of Spock and Kirk’s famous friendship. It’s a film that any fan of the TV shows and prior films will enjoy, rife as it is with in-jokes and shout-outs and a gorgeous flip of a truly memorable sequence in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. However, it’s another sort of flip that holds Star Trek Into Darkness in limbo: the controversial casting of Benedict Cumberbatch as the film’s central villain.
I’ve been attending conventions and conferences since I was a teenager. I’ve been to fan cons, to professional conferences, to spaces where men dominated and to ones where women empowered each other and created unforgettable bonds. Coming back from the 2013 RT Booklovers Convention, at which I worked as a representative of RT Book Reviews magazine, I have a lot of Thoughts about gender dynamics and safe spaces. (I can’t promise I’ll articulate any of them adequately!)
I have never felt safer at a convention than when I’m at one for women’s media. It’s such a sisterhood. A shared joy. A meeting of minds and passions. Be it soaps or romance, that is when you’ll see me at my most Me. (Assuming I’m not sleep-deprived and/or hysterical from nerves.)
And I can tell you exactly when I begin to feel diminished: when a man, SO aware of his Mighty Thunderstick, holds court and treats me like a silly little girl. I go from being a competent writer and editor, and proud published author, to an interloper in a boys’ club. I hear my voice get higher in response. I feel dumber. I feel naked. I feel like someone just took my safe space, and my brain, away from me. It’s pretty awful.
Author John Scalzi*, whom RT honored with a Reviewers’ Choice award for his science fiction novel Redshirts, was not part of a boys’ club. Neither was writer Andrew Shaffer. They were allies; they acted as part of the greater community, happy to be included in a group of women, not to rule it. They may be controversy magnets on the Internet (and who isn’t?) but, in person, they couldn’t be more welcoming and welcomed. It was just really cool to have them there. Not as men, not as dudes, but as people. Like the rest of us.
When I was in my late teens, visiting Calcutta (this was pre-“Kolkata” conversion, not that renaming a place changes its ethos), I was groped by a guy as my cousins, my mom and I stood on a curb waiting to cross over to a shopping mall. Stunned, I whirled around and glared — I was so shocked that the expletive-laden tongue I’ve cultivated in the nearly 20 years since was struck silent. He locked gazes with me, defiant, those coal-black eyes unrepentant, as he vanished into the crowd.
Yes, I still remember his eyes. His pencil-thin mustache. The abject hatred for a girl he didn’t even know but felt he had to touch. What I also remember is the mix of empathy and shrugging from many female family members. “Oh, I’ve been groped xyz times…” was the refrain. Everybody had an assault story. As though we were trading campfire tales, because it’s so normal for Indian women to experience unwanted touches.
That’s what it was couched as: normal, every-day behavior from men that just had to be endured and accepted. I would roam the para, our neighborhood, with my cousin sisters and we would, without fail, pass packs of young men clustering on street corners and staring at us like prey. We walked a little faster, made scornful comments to stave off our fear, but there was nothing we could do to stop how they looked at us and, more than that, how they saw us. Like meat.
Almost 20 years later, it’s still an issue…that gaze. That hatred. “The India rape case” trumpets western media in headlines, as if there’s just the one…but there are multitudes. From rape to street harassment and forced touching, I honestly don’t know a woman who has lived in/visited South Asia who hasn’t been victimized or depersonalized in one form or another. I haven’t heard all the campfire stories, but that’s because women aren’t generally encouraged to tell them. After all, why would you acknowledge something commonplace? “It’s raining today, I went to the bajaar and, oh, some creep felt me up on the metro.”
You’ve pretty much had to be living under a rock to not hear about Steven Soderbergh’s Magic Mike, which opens in U.S. theaters tomorrow. Loosely based on the life of lead actor Channing Tatum, from its promo campaign you could safely assume it’s two hours of nonstop thongs and gyrations. “Plot, what plot?” is the question that keeps coming to mind. Of course, since it’s a Soderbergh picture, you can actually expect there to be a story … not that it matters one bit. The PR blitz has been selling sex from the get-go, and the target audience for the sales pitch, women, have been whipping out their dollars to buy it.
Cue the pearl-clutching, the nay-saying, some people uncomfortable with male sexuality being exploited in such a flagrant manner. No, don’t laugh, that last one is a legitimate concern. Stripping, while it’s been considered more and more empowering with pole-based workouts and interest in burlesque, is hardly the most equalizing and enlightened of professions. No matter who is taking off their clothes.
Look, I’m not going to claim any moral high ground because I’ve spent the last couple of weeks shamelessly staring at shirtless pictures of Matt Bomer and Joe Mangianello. It’s all a little icky. I’ve never been one of those people who thinks something isn’t an “ist” or an “ism” if it’s being perpetuated by an oppressed minority. Objectification is problematic all around. Is it sexist to be reducing the cast of Magic Mike to pieces of meat? Hell yeah. Is it gross to slow down every time I pass the shirtless athlete-emblazoned covers of Jaci Burton’s sizzling Play-By-Play series? You bet. But guess what…? Welcome to our world. It’s nothing women don’t face on a daily basis from men … except that we’re doing it in a far less personal context. Rewinding a red band trailer, or clicking through a slideshow, is not claiming any sort of ownership over what we’re looking at.
It’s 2012, and we’re still having a world-wide conversation about women’s sexuality. Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t get it either. So, allow me to throw my .02 cents in the ring with a resounding “What in the ever-loving HELL is going on around here?”
I wish I could tie this all up in a neat package and lay it at the feet of E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey — blame/thank this trilogy for stirring up the hornet’s net after Lisbeth Salander kicked it. But as a former soap opera journalist and current editor at a romance novel magazine, I’m well aware that female-centric media and women’s desires have always come under fire. It doesn’t matter if you’re Anais Nin or SamDeanLuvr12 on Fanfiction.Net; it doesn’t matter if you’re watching General Hospital or Iss Pyaar Ko Kya Naam Doon or Verbotene Liebe, someone’s going to judge you. And by “someone,” I mean men. Or, at least, the male-driven media machine and the societal voice that seems to come from a deeper register than the average female one.
…or not so much.
On the heels of our mutual Dirty Dancing remake outrage, my pal Amy, at PopGurls, and I couldn’t help but try to make lemonade out of lemons. Last night, we came up with increasingly ludicrous substitutions for Penny’s back alley abortion.
For the click-shy, a sample: Amy: “Penny has Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, so you have to learn The Lift!”
Seriously, folks. I can’t wait to see what cockamamie excuse the screenwriter and Kenny Ortega are going to come up with. A hangnail? Bloating? Twisted ankle? (At which point I would posit that Penny and Johnny could just do The Sprain at the Sheldrake, ala Lisa Turtle and Screech…)
Yesterday, for the first time in years, we had a black leading man highlighted on daytime: U.S. President Barack Obama, on The View. Yes, folks, in order to have a full hour devoted to a black man in daytime programming, to have a voice and tell a story on the front burner, he has to be the most powerful elected official in our country. “Post-racial,” my ass!
This was the absurd series of thoughts that was running through my head this morning…that soaps are a truly fascinating microcosm of society and yet, the seven shows we have on air do not represent current American society in the least. A genre that helped women realize they had places outside the home and validity outside the traditional two-parent household, that featured integration and AIDS education and cancer awareness…has fallen behind in mirroring what this nation has become. We have one significant leading man of color: Maurice Benard as General Hospital‘s Sonny. One. And his half-Cuban (God forbid he be wholly Cuban!) character is an unrepentant mobster. Um…whoo-hoo? Yay? All My Children‘s Hubbard family, The Young and the Restless‘ Winters and Days of our Lives’ Carvers barely rate airtime unless they’re in scenes with white characters. Latin characters are few and far between as well: Days‘ Hernandez family will soon be losing a member, when Arianna is written off; AMC jettisoned the Santoses, and Y&R‘s Rafe holds the trifecta of being Latin, gay and seldom seen. And Asians…? Please. In the 32 years I’ve been watching soaps, there has been one contract Indian character on soaps…Dr. Saira Batra, and she was on GH: Night Shift. Can you imagine CNN telling Sanjay Gupta he could only have a significant role after 11 PM? GH‘s Kelly Lee is a glorified dayplayer. Y&R‘s Ji Min Kim was killed off. I mean, I could go on and on listing the examples of diversity fail…but listing it does no good. Someone has to change it.