Why we can’t have nice things: MEN and rape culture

June 1, 2016

When all the hullabaloo about banning transgender people from bathrooms in North Carolina hit the front page, my brilliant wife said something profound (as she is wont to do). She said, “As the mother of a daughter, I only have two things to worry about, BOYS and MEN.” There are no cases of transgender people attacking children in restrooms. There are endless cases of BOYS and MEN attacking girls and women in every conceivable location, including on a subway during morning rush hour in the nation’s capital. How we raise our BOYS has a lot to do with the hell that girls and women face on a daily basis.

robin-thicke-blurred-lines_11

The reason people are opposed to transgender people using their restrooms is partially a product of transphobia but it’s also due to the fear that MEN, costumed in drag, will somehow abuse the bathroom right and assault girls and women. So trans people are punished for what MEN do. Frankly, I think much homophobia, in general, is rooted in this threat by MEN. Homophobic MEN are afraid gay men will treat straight MEN the same way straight MEN treat women; by sexualizing them, objectifying them, hitting on them, and raping them. I try to tell MEN that if a gay guy is looking at your ass, you’re safe. Just take it as a compliment. Those guys have high standards!

13315800_1167206273321767_7034038042958316777_n

Even before Cozy was born, MEN started telling me that I needed to get a baseball bat (or a gun) and be ready to beat down any BOY or MAN who harms my daughter. “If somebody lays an unwanted hand on my girl, I’ll kill him!” I’ve never heard a single father of a BOY say, “If my son lays an unwanted hand on a girl, I’ll kill him!” It’s up to the girls to not get raped. We train them for defense at an early age. When will we train BOYS not to do the raping and the assaulting and the harassing and the objectifying?

images

There’s plenty of work being done to teach girls and women how not to become rape victims. Maybe she can take a class and learn a few good self-defense moves (“Go for his eyes!”) and her potential rapist will just go rape somebody else who didn’t take the class. There’s not much training of how BOYS and MEN can fight rape. But there’s plenty of training that helps BOYS and MEN to at least think about raping. It’s called our culture.

When I was a senior in high school I got called into the office. I routinely wore shorts to school to defy the unwritten dress code. One day the intercom in my Folk Guitar class squawked, “Will you send Mr. Blazak to the vice principal’s office?” When I asked why wearing shorts was forbidden, the very southern VP said, “Because legs are distracting.” I had to laugh at the thought of my sixteen-year-old BOY legs distracting anybody. But I asked, “What about the cheerleaders in their short skirts on Fridays? That’s not distracting?” The VP gave a chuckle and lowered his voice to say, “Okay, MAN to MAN, are you saying you don’t want to see their legs?”

13339599_1121054967959056_282469717959141891_n

Right there is the mixed messages we give to girls. On one side, they have a narrow scope of expression or they risk slut-shaming (“Not wearing a bra? You’re suspended!) or being told they are asking to be raped. On the other side, they need to put as much energy into attracting MALES as possible and if their grades suffer, that’s just too bad. (“BOYS don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses.”) No wonder teenage girls get all emo. You have to look good to BOYS but not so good you “get yourself” raped.

Feminists are all too familiar with the concept of “rape culture.” It’s the normalization of rape in our society. The data is clear, nearly a quarter of all American women will become victims of rape. That’s a quarter of our daughters, wives, sisters, mothers, girlfriends, co-workers, and students. If I’ve got a hundred students in my class and half are female, at least a dozen are or will become rape victims. If you reading this and you’re female that’s not news to you. If you’re MALE, you might have done the raping or want to. Or just maybe you want to stop your fellow BOYS and MEN from raping. What BOYS and MEN fear the most about going to prison is what girls and women fear every day.

If you don’t believe rape is normalized, just watch a few episodes of Game of Thrones, a series that must be written by teenage rapist wannabes. “Rape as entertainment” is justified on that show because some of those rapists get their heads hacked off. Yeah! A survey last year found that 1 in 3 college MALES would rape women if they could get a way with it. Think about that. That’s rape culture. I’d like to give that survey to the MALES who watch Game of Thrones. I bet it’s a lot more than 1 in 3.

productmockup

A few years ago, I went the big Bi-Mart Country Fest in a giant field near Corvallis, Oregon. (Hey, I’m from Georgia and a good country song about beer can take ahold of my soul.) There was a young MAN in the crowd that had a T-shirt that read, “Let’s play a game. Let’s see how many drinks it takes before you fuck me.” I swear to God. This was a big GUY but I said, “Nice rapist shirt, dude.” He puffed up and said, “I’m not a rapist. I have a girlfriend!” His date looked like a scared rabbit.

You add the sexual violence that BOYS and MEN wage against girls and women to all the crime BOYS and MEN commit (Another school shooting yesterday?) and you wonder why presidential candidates aren’t spending more time talking about the threat by BOYS and MEN in this country and less about (the BOYS and MEN in) ISIS. I used to assign a book in my Criminology class called Men Are Not Cost Effective. Author June Stephenson makes the case that the bad behavior by MALES is so costly to our society (police, prisons, storage space for rape kits, etc.) that MEN should be taxed to help pay for their shit. Why should females pay taxes that go to arrest, prosecute, and lock up the BOYS and MEN who rape them? Maybe the MEN who didn’t stop them should pay. And just think what we could do with the trillions of dollars we have to spend dealing with the mayhem of BOYS and MEN? (Google “Iraq War”)

ANDI0087

I’m going to raise my daughter to be strong and understand the real threats of living in a patriarchal society. But I’m begging you to raise your sons to not rape her. It seems like a simple request.

Note: June 7. I want to dedicated this to Brock Turner’s father, the worst father in America and a representative of everything that is wrong with affluent maleness.

Farewell to my Good Wife

May 4, 2016

Alicia Florrick, I can’t be ready for court without you.

logo

As a feminist sociologist, I’ve lectured for decades now on the problematic world of television. It’s easily dissected as a tool of patriarchal social control, with the camera lens as a metaphor for the male gaze. As a kid who grew up on incredibly messed-up shows, like Three’s Company, there is plenty to talk about. And don’t get me started on the commercials that still run during daytime soaps. In this blog I’ve taken on current fare like The Bachelor and the short-lived NBC show, The Island. The Miss America beauty contest is still coming to a network near you.

But something has been happening since the days of jiggle TV.

Some of you know I have a toe in the Hollywood pool (more like a cuticle at this point), and it is evident that the “old boy network” that ran the town is caving in. There are more women writers, directors, and producers each year. According to Variety, women now make up 23% of executive producers in TV Land. Variety reports that shows with at least one female executive producer have significantly more female characters. Add to that the long-held knowledge that women watch more TV than men and now we have some programming that would have been hard to imagine when the best thing females had was Charlie’s Angels. Have you seen the Reddit discussions on Comedy Central’s Broad City? It’s off the feminist hook!

MV5BOTI4ODExNTg4NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjQwNjY4MjE@._V1_UY1200_CR84,0,630,1200_AL_

One of those shows is CBS’ The Good Wife that, sadly, ends its seven-season run on Sunday. I’ll be stuck in front of the TV begging Alicia to run away with Jason into a spin-off where they fight crime on the streets of Chicago. The Good Sex Partners.

The Good Wife hit the airwaves in 2009. I was oblivious. CBS seems to have a lot procedural crime shows that people love, but I just don’t have the time for. You’d think as a criminologist, I’d be all over CSI: Toledo, or whatever it’s called. But I kept seeing the show win awards and my curiosity started to ask, “What’s up with this good wife?” I’d see the show’s star, Julianna Marguiles (who is roughly my age), at numerous awards events, like the Golden Globes, making speeches about women finding new roles in television and I was reminded that this was something I cared about.

So when Andrea and I got pregnant during the 2013 holidays (well, I had something to do with it), I decided we had the perfect opportunity to play America’s new favorite game, binge-watching. It was time to enter the complicated world of one very smart and funny lawyer. While we waited for Cozy to arrive, we burned through several seasons of the show that follows the adventures of defense attorney Alicia Florrick and her legal compadres in a twenty-first century version of Perry Mason. It was clear that the title of the show, The Good Wife, was an ironic one. She performed the role of the good wife to her philandering husband because it served her own interests. Needless to say, we were hooked. How could a network show be this well-written? One more episode.

08GOODWIFEWEB-tmagArticle

As a criminologist, I could have written lectures about crime and the law from these episodes. Topics like the problems of forensic science and eye-witness testimony, institutional racism, intellectual property rights, and the corrosive impact of incarceration were presented by writers who knew the research. Intelligent topics for people looking for something a little deeper than Teen Mom 3. The shows were often “ripped from the headlines.” Even though I was enjoying my paternity leave from Portland State, I was looking forward to bringing Florrick and associates back into my classroom.

13115715_10154086744792593_1444347744_n

Now that Andrea works at a law firm in Portland, it was fun to compare her daily dramas to the nighttime dramas CBS provided. Much law work is really just paperwork. Very few cases ever make it before a judge and especially before a jury. But each case has its own human story about how we manage to exist in such a complex society. Turning that into something that’s actually compelling viewing is the result of some insanely talented people whose names I will probably never know.

As a feminist, there was so much to unpack and debate about this show. For once, a show built around a woman who refused to bend to the will of the men in the cast because she was female. Julanna Margulies played the role with great pathos, including Alicia’s need for another glass of wine or a sexual diversion with her law school sweetheart, Will Gardner. We got to see the world through her lens and it was eye-opening. And she wasn’t the only ferocious female in the cast. Women representing a wide range of ages and skin tones created the type of intersectionality that’s often absent when the the focus is just on gender politics.

the_good_wife_alicia_florrick_jeffrey_dean_morgan_2_1

There are a ton of essays debating feminism on The Good Wife (just click on this word, Google). But the proof is in the pudding. When Margulies says young women regularly tell her that they are going to law school because of the show we know that television can change power structures. An army of female attorneys with an affinity for red wine and lovers on the side is nothing to be trifled with. Like how female TV producers have changed the portrayal of women and girls in media, they will change the very institutions that have worked against the interests of the feminine half of our country. Throw a female president into the mix, and we may hit a critical turning point.

TV shows come and go. I’ve leaned not to get too hung up on their passing. (I still remember bawling my eyes out after the last episode of M*A*S*H.) But Sunday nights at 9 pm have become important, especially for a lot of women of my generation.  They, and their daughters, benefit from something that looks like a grown-up version of the Romper Room mirror. “I see Alicia, and Kalinda, and Diane and Lucca and a world where women are full players in the game.”

And if you’ve never seen an episode of The Good Wife, I have two words for you; binge watch.

the-good-wife-759x500

We need a Rosa Parks of genitals: North Carolina and the need to pee

April 21, 2016

I used to love North Carolina, the beauty of the artist nook in Asheville, the cool cranny of a rock scene in Chapel Hill. I’ve spent a lot of time crossing the state and enjoying its wonderful nooks and crannies. That was until North Carolina became the new Mississippi, the bastion of backwards bigotry. Ever  since its governor, Pat McCrory, signed HB 2 this month, the rest of the world (including Bruce Springsteen!) now knows the truth about the Tar Heel state. And the truth is North Carolinians are convinced that in those nook and crannies are hiding… transexuals. Transsexuals who want to attack them in restrooms!

Even bonafide bigot Donald Trump thinks the new law goes too far. He is a businessman after all (and wouldn’t want to alienate Caitlyn Jenner). The ongoing boycott and recent appeals court decisions will doom the law before Ted Cruz and “Christian” hate-mongers will be able to claim it as a victory for “religious freedom,” or “decency” or “safety.” After all, if kids are going to be molested in bathrooms, it should be by someone with the same genitals. Gawd!

Screen Shot 2016-04-21 at 2.51.59 PM

The right needs to manufacture a continuing parade of bogeymen to project their fears on. Trump’s “rapist Mexicans” sort of backfired when Republicans realized Latinos were lining up in record numbers to vote against the entire GOP slate. “Who haven’t we kicked around yet? Transexuals! After all, you are your genitals!”

We are ignorant of so many things. It’s understandable that so many people don’t understand the challenge and reality of being a transexual person. The DSM-V has moved from the term “gender disorder,” to “gender dysphoria,” but there is still a stigma of “sickness” among many who are in the dark about the population. Fortunately, I have friends who are transitioning or have transitioned from both male to female and female to male identities and I can say they are probably the most “not mentally ill” people I know. (Some of my Republican friends, though…)

I don’t have it in me to do another lecture on the innate difference between biological sex, gender performance, and sexual orientation. Maybe later. Let me just invite the good-hearted people of North Carolina and other shit-holes of bigotry (which might be in your own home) to talk to a human being who is transsexual and ask them about the basic right of using the bathroom that conforms to your gender.

The right like to pretend that this is about “safety.” As if they care. Women are raped outside of bathrooms everyday. It doesn’t seem to be much of an issue for them (unless it’s done by an “illegal alien”). Every day seven kids are killed by guns. They could care less about that. But the weird scenario where a perverted man dresses as a woman solely so he can assault a woman or a girl in a public restroom is sufficient reason to change the law and screw over an already marginalized part of our American family. How Christ-like. Maybe a law that keeps ministers away from children, I mean, if you want to base legislation on actual documented sexual assaults.

Let’s be clear. There is no documented cases of a transgender person assaulting anyone in a restroom. There are, however, multitudes of reports of transgender people being assaulted in restrooms. And violence against the transgender people is on the increase. The legacy of the ignorance coming out of North Carolina.

So let’s break this stupid law down. The Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act says people have to use the public restroom or changing room that corresponds with the sex on their birth certificate.

13083220_489182247954124_6088560807262248512_n

First, how the hell is this enforced? Will the state fund an army of crotch monitors to check the junk of anybody using the restroom. “Excuse me Miss, I need to verify that you have a vagina.” And will this enforcement be administered fairly? I know some pretty butch ladies and some femme boys that may be asked to drop trou more often than Biff and Tiffany. And how will I know that the genital monitor in the men’s room who is verifying the presence of my penis does not have some alternative motive? And what about folks who have had gender reassignment surgery? Are we going to have to carry our birth certificates with us into the john? I know you really need to go, but can you prove RIGHT NOW what YOUR sex at birth was? (And can someone please tell me where intersex people in North Carolina are supposed to take a leak?)

c77161c6d901c23edf3f0f112ac3775b

Secondly, despite the drag queen stereotype of Flip Wilson dressed as Geraldine (a reference for us old timers), it’s not exactly easy to identify a transperson. So what this law does is forces a lot of guys (who have vaginas) into the ladies’ room and gals (who have penises) into the mens’ room. I’m not sure that’s going to make the transphobic folks of North Carolina feel more “safe” while they pop a squat.

tumblr_o5jjnfYYtu1tdb1who2_540

I secretly think that there might be a hidden agenda here. I know plenty of people in the trans community and those are some good looking folks. Often the transmen (born female) are very masculine and transwomen (born male) are very feminine. What North Carolina lady wouldn’t want a hunky macho guy? Who wouldn’t beat her! And what curious NC boy wouldn’t want a glamour girl? Who knows what a man really wants! Maybe this is the Tar Heal state’s “tearoom trade,” and there is a secret desire to queer “chance meetings” in the toilet. Hey, a cis-boy can dream. (But it would be helpful to know how many people from NC cruise trans-porn websites.)

And third, this law obviously exposes transpeople to even more violence. Imagine a high school girl who was born male being forced to use the restroom with teenage boys who already use words like “fag,” and “pussy” as a put down. And how are women in the locker room at the gym going to react when dude comes in (who happens to have a vagina) to change clothes? The result will be to push people away from the gender expression that they feel most comfortable in. Just like the bigots who want gay and lesbians to just “act straight,” this is another dictatorship of the majority designed to force people to act in a way that doesn’t make the bigot feel uncomfortable. What ever happened to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? But instead we are likely to see more suicides because of North Carolina’s move backwards.

But I like to look for the light. Look how far we’ve come in a short time on the issue of gay marriage. Public attitudes have flipped. Well-meaning people realized that gay folks just want to have the same right to enter into disastrous (and occasionally successful) marriages as they do. They didn’t want to get married so they could molest children in churches and rose gardens. At some point even the backwards people of North Carolina will realize that when it comes to really having to pee, we are all the same.

But in the mean time, I would encourage a little civil disobedience by my friends in North Carolina. If you identify as female (whether you are transgender or cisgender), every time you enter a public restroom or changing room, announce, “I do not have a vagina!” And if you are a male entering the men’s room, exclaim, “I do not have a penis!” Then wait for a law enforcement officer to verify your crotch situation. You could be the Rosa Parks of genitals.

transphobia-kills-copy

The Feminine Mystique: Stay-at-Home Dad Edition

April 14, 2016

cq5dam.web.1280.1280

When Norton Books published Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique in 1963 it opened the door for the great “second wave” of feminism. Friedan, who had been a labor reporter, had a revelation after a college reunion with her classmates at Smith College in 1957. After surveying the women about their lives in 1950s domestic tranquility she found that they were far from happy. A life of staying home and taking care of your husband and children as “Mrs. Joe Blow” was not exactly satisfying to a human being who was taught to follow her own path in life. Friedan labeled this the “problem with no name” as women suffered at the hands of what was supposed to make them blissfully happy, a prison with a picket fence.

She named the problem and it was sexism. These (mostly middle-class and white) women were taught to find happiness in cleaning products, perfect dinners and occasionally entertaining the husband’s boss. Their own dreams would be packed away in a hope chest. My mother, who was married in 1962, once told me, “I should have finished college and maybe become a lawyer.” But women went to college to find husbands and a chance to move out of their parents home. They traded their father’s name for their husband’s name and kept the “father knows best” machine moving forward at the cost of their own personhood.

The book created a revolution on a macro level, waking up a generation of women to the lie of domestic bliss. Some recently awakened feminists worked with their husbands to create partnerships and trade “Mrs.” for “Ms.” Others just walked out the door to find their freedom. But, at its core The Feminine Mystique is a micro-level psychological evaluation of the soul crushing way patriarchy takes a female’s humanity away and replaces it with a myth, propped up by bottles of “mother’s little helper.”

Father-holding-baby-6-9-m-008

Fifty-three years later women now make up 47% of the total U.S. work force and while they still have to work over three extra months to earn the same income as men, there is an unspoken norm that women can find their path outside the home. The converse is that men can stay home and take care of the domestic front. (According to the latest data, 16% of stay-at-home parents are men.) So it shouldn’t be surprising that we men are experiencing some of the things Friedan wrote about in 1963.

When is my time?

June-Cleaver

I used to love showing my students clips of episodes of Leave It To Beaver from the late 1950s and early 1960s and leading discussions about how far we’ve come in such a short time. What do we know about Mrs. Cleaver after six years of the show? Hardly anything! Besides cooking and cleaning and taking care of The Beaver, the rest is a mystery. It should be made clear for those who don’t know, The Beaver was her young son, Theodore. Beyond that, one can only guess.

Wine

I’m the 2016 June Cleaver. I have a Cozy instead of a Beaver and my day is pretty full with her. I thought I’d have all this time to myself but a toddler just vacuums it right up. We drive Andrea to work at the law firm by 8 am and then we’re off. I have to get her dressed for the day and fed a healthy breakfast, half of which will end up on the floor. Maybe when Sesame Street comes on at 9 am I can jump in the shower and check my email. I try to clean while she plays but I’m often just cleaning up after her playing, trying to keep my cool as she’s spreading Andrea’s coloring pencils all over the floor or trying to pull a Basquiat on the living room wall. After lunch, she takes her much needed nap. I would like to nap as well, but her nap is much needed because I’ve got some laundry to do and, if at all possible, a bit of writing.

Afternoons we run errands and try to make plans for dinner. The good thing is the folks at the grocery store love Cozy (we are there enough). The bad thing is that doesn’t get us any free pie. If it’s sunny we might go to the park or blow bubbles on the porch, but whatever it is, it’s for the house or the kid, and not for me. Then there are ants in the kitchen, a missing sippy-cup half-full of milk and a horrible stench coming from the diaper bucket. By the time we pick up Andrea downtown at 5, I’m wondering where the day went. “How was your day?” she’ll ask. “Good. Cozy didn’t eat any crayons,” I’ll say. And through this there are an infinite number diaper changes (nothing in a diaper can shock me now) and plenty of carrying the baby around trying to turn her grumpy mood around. It’s wonderful and yet it feels like it is erasing me.

The Second Shift

When Andrea gets home, I like to imagine it’s going to be a shift change and I’ll just crack open a beer. But she’s just put in a full day of work at a very busy firm. She needs to just unwind and veg out of a while. Doing the dishes or making dinner seems extra difficult when you’ve been just been slaving 8 to 5. “How about take-out tonight?” There’s some time to play with baby and wife, but I prefer just playing with the wife by that point. Then maybe a TV show and story time and hope we’ve got a little body memory left once the kid hits the sack.

But I’m lucky. My wife knows how this transition has been like for me. I went from a fulfilling career that impacted many lives to spending my days trying to figure out what’s in the kid’s mouth. I went from long discussions on the complexities of Queer Theory to babbling about  poop. “Baby make a caca?” So she’s given me a free pass to the bar or the coffee shop whenever I need it. Of course, I want to go to those places with her. Bars really need daycare areas. But I do get a night out for a show each month. Last week I saw Ages and Ages at the Doug Fir and slammed whiskeys on ice to make up for lost time. It’s a brief window into the person I was.

housework

There should be enough time in the day to get everything done in the house but there never is. Cozy is a tasmanian devil and if there’s anything left from the tax return, I’m buying an apron that says, “I hate housework.” I feel guilty asking Andrea to help but she does anyway. Unlike the working husband who has no clue what is stay-at-home wife’s life is like, she has a pretty good idea of the daily strain of being Mr. Mom.

Walk a mile in my slippers

Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 8.19.16 AM

I first read The Feminine Mystique in grad school as a “feminist scholar.” Now I feel like I’m living it. The great irony is that millions of men are living it and probably bitching and moaning and wondering when they can have three hours just to sit and watch a baseball game. Alone. Hopefully they’ll see that this experience has been the norm for so many women for so long. It explains why a generation of moms got lost in handfuls of Valium and stacks of romance novels. More than once I’ve eyed the booze and muttered, “Calgon, take me away!

But it might be slightly different for men for two reasons. The first is that I had my time in the self-actualizing world of work. I made something amazing and then left it behind for childcare. Friedan’s women mostly went from school to marriage. In a sense, they didn’t know what they were missing, they just knew they were missing something. Those women are now finding out. But men who leave the work world leave a world that defined their core identity. Then: “What do you do?” “I’m a sociology professor.” Now: “What do you do?” “I think about what I did.”

fathtv1

The second reason is the American definition of masculinity has laid heavily on the idea of being the breadwinner of the family. That iconic image of the working man is still a giant pillar of popular culture. To not occupy what feminist theorist Dorothy Smith called the “public sphere” is hard enough, but to not be the primary income generator is counter to all the gender socialization men have had for generations. In Trump America, to be not be financially strong is to be a “loser.”

One of the purposes of this blog is to mark all the times that I get it. Those little micro-moments that women have experienced a billion times that are blocked out by my lens of male privilege. And I’ve had many. But as the balance bounces a bit, it may be time to write a new version of The Feminine Mystique for men who are at home with the kids and wondering if there is more to life than uploading e-coupons and catching the first half of Ellen.

Diaperchange

I truly love this time at home with Cozy. And there’s an extra thrill when Andrea is a excited when I’ve come up with a new spin on macaroni and cheese (mushrooms and avocado!). But I am anxious to get back to work and reconnect with my outside-world self. The other option is that I’ll be writing articles for Cosmopolitan about how to turn your woman on with the right macaroni and cheese recipe. (Mushrooms and avocado!) But to my mother, yes, you should have gone to law school, but thank you for all that mac and cheese.

ilovemacandcheese1

 

A Zombie Ate My Baby! Social anxiety and the Walking Dead

March 28, 2016

As we all get ready for next week’s season finale of The Walking Dead it is understandable that our collective thoughts turn to zombies. I’ve loved the zombie genre ever since I saw the low-budget 1968 film Night of the Living Dead. It was at a midnight movie in Stone Mountain when I was 13 and I didn’t sleep all night. But as a parent, my consumption of zombie media has changed a bit. After the last Walking Dead episode I had a flash of stepping into the nursery and seeing a ravenous walker chomping on my daughter. Cozy had a look on her face that just said, “Daddy help me.” The horror. And if you know anything about the undead then you know by that point it’s just too late.

Let me point out before I go any further that there is no such thing as a zombie. Sure there are some people wacked out on bath salts or haunting 80s dance nights that might seem like they are zombies. And of course there are kids who “die” on the operating table and their parents convince them they went to heaven and should write a book that might technically be zombies for a moment. But other than some meth head that thinks your arm is a corndog, there are no zombies. So don’t waste a second worrying about World War Z.

31LT126a4SL._AC_UL320_SR214,320_

But the question remains; What is up with zombie-mania? And is there a feminist take on it? We’ve got movies, TV shows, video-games and comic books. You can buy zombie toys, costumes, t-shirts and even doorstops. We’ve gone zombie crazy! Are we hoping for the zombie apocalypse as a preferable alternative to a Trump presidency? Or is it perhaps an excuse to unleash our inner Rick Grimes and kill at will? What’s the appeal?

Not surprisingly a “sociology of zombies,” has been around for awhile. I would recommend Todd Platt’s “Locating Zombies in the Sociology of Popular Culture” (2013) for a recent overview. Usually, the explanation is rooted in some type of social anxiety, whether it was the Cold War and the fear of a nuclear apocalypse or now, in a post-9/11 world, it is a fear of the collapse of western society. We play out these “What If?” scenarios and imagine how we would respond when the shit hits the fan for real. Would we recreate a new authoritarian hierarchy, form a collectivist team response, or just devolve into every man for himself? (Women and children don’t usually fit anywhere in that last one, at least not in a good way.)

One of my right-wing pals told me yesterday that we don’t need illegal immigrants. And I said, “Who is gonna pick your food?” His response was that there was a time in America when most Americans worked on farms. I said, “Yeah, maybe 1816. In 2016 kids don’t even know what a fucking tomato looks like.” Face it, most of what we eat is processed. After your Kroger gets looted, next on the menu is your family pet. We would not do well in an apocalyptic setting where the food delivery app on your phone stops working.

So maybe the zombie thing is a reflection of our fear that society could collapse at any moment and we would be tested on our social survival skills. It seems like we are perpetually on the verge of the big flame out. Would you just blow your brains out or “man up” to fight the undead? Ah, there is a little clue to another explanation.

top10zombiegames

I was in the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program and my little brother was a sweet kid who had a touch of the developmental disability. He loved video games and taught me how to play Halo (which I found infinitely boring). His big fantasy was a zombie apocalypse so he could kill thousands of zombies. He would go into great detail of how he would shoot them, behead them, and set them on fire. It became clear that the zombies were stand-ins for all the people in his life who he wanted to dispatch with a sharp blade or a shotgun blast. He had a whole list of people he dreamed about killing.

In war movies, we don’t kill human beings. They are nips, gerrys, gooks, and hajis. In Westerns it’s savages. Science fiction body counts are aliens and robots. And in zombie shows, films, and games it is the undead. Each one a less-human than human enemy that we have permission to kill. For its time it is the act of dehumanization that allows us to vent our violent bloodlust against those who threaten our world somehow. Indians and Muslims and Zombies, the infected. Much was written about how the westerns of the 1960s used Native Americans as stand-ins for African Americans who threatened whites living on the urban frontier. Guns and blades allow us to re-establish the white male order over the chaos of the “diseased” other. And if we can bring a few women and people of color (and Michonne) along, all the better.

959bf65e172f9baa9413e922dff00a0b

If you watch The Walking Dead, you know (and probably love) the character Daryl Dixon, played perfectly by Boondog Saint Norman Reedus. I’ll admit I have a man crush in Daryl and would give anything if my hair could be that greasy (without my under-carriage being equally rank). And here’s why. Daryl is the iconic strong silent type and on a steel horse he rides. He’s best on his own. He doesn’t talk about his feelings or much of anything. He squints and kills in a primal way. He is Clint Eastwood in the the first 20 minutes of High Plains Drifter (1973). He is everything that is right about a film or show set in an apocalypse. He is also everything that is wrong with masculinity in our culture. (And Norman Reedus is absolutely nothing like this fictional character.)

In the real world, men don’t need to kill, abandon the group (Oh, there goes Daryl again.) and keep their emotions buried deep behind their “I don’t give a fuck about you” (sultry) eyes. I love Daryl because he is who I was told I was supposed to be when I was a boy. I used to practice squinting like Clint Eastwood when I was a kid. I tried to be silent and menacing. It sucked (or I sucked at it). That way is pain and loneliness. Feminism gave me permission to be a human instead of a cartoon character male. I don’t want to ride into the sunset. I want to hang out with my friends and family. No slaughter necessary.

The same right-wing friend asked me what I would do if some guy called my wife a “cunt.” I told him I’d tell the guy that vaginas are awesome and probably let my wife take it from there. He (and a very confused female friend) were horrified. How could I not immediately respond with violence? What would Daryl do?

I will continue to be a zombie fan. I live for the post-episode discussions of The Walking Dead on reddit. TWD fans are brilliant and clever and can find humor in deep meaning in the handle of Carl’s gun. (Oh, Carl.) I just wonder how much of the appeal is based on the push to use of violence against those who would challenge the existing order. Maybe I should be rooting for the walkers. Just don’t eat my baby!

12939179_10154005790757593_570809958_n

Violence is the answer: I’m over football.

February 2, 2016

janet-jackson-435

I give up. I was ready to give up on American football before Concussion, the recent Will Smith movie that focuses on the NFL hiding the issue of the staggering number of serious head injuries among players. I was ready to give up before the endless stories of boys in high school who have died while playing football. I was ready to give up before the continuous stream of stories about college and professional football players beating the women in their lives. I was even ready to give up before Justin Timberlake ripped Janet Jackson’s bra off at Superbowl 38 and the controversy was more about almost seeing her nipple than it was about the implied sexual aggression against women. You can have it, but I’m giving up.

I was ready in 1978, the day I sat on the bus after a B-team football game with the rest of the members of my team at Redan High School. We had lost the game and I took it in stride. But I questioned another player who was in tears. He said, “If you don’t care about this team to cry when we lose then you don’t belong on the team.” And then he beat me up. I quit the next day and joined the punk rocker team.

It might surprise some folks that I was a huge football fan as a kid. I was obsessed with the Miami Dolphins in the early 1970’s and can still name the starting offensive team (including kicker Garo Yepremiam). In 4th grade I wrote a letter to coach Don Shula asking him why the Dolphins never played my hometown Atlanta Falcons. After that the O.J. Simpson poster was on the wall right next to Farrah. There was nothing more blissful than a Sunday watching the NFL highlight reel and all the great tackles shown in slow motion.

539619_10151251324954307_578630440_n

In my podunk Georgia county (Dekalb in the 1970s), there were no middle schools. So 8th grade was the first year of high school. You want to feel small? And I skipped 5th grade so I was essentially a 7th grade kid in high school. The only way for a 12-year-old boy (or any boy) to stake his claim for Southern masculinity was to join the football team. No cuts. You show up to practice in the sweltering Georgia sun and you are on the team. You might be tenth string but you get to wear the jacket and be in the team picture and sit in the front at pep rallies. Oh, and you get cheerleaders cheering for you. And the only people that get to beat you up are your teammates.

So I rode the bench as an outside linebacker (#53) for three years. I was skinny but fast so when I did get to play I channeled those NFL films and did recover a fumble in one big game against Cross Keys High School. At most of the games me and the other sideline jockeys would smack our helmets against the bleachers to make it look like we got in some good hits. When I left in 10th grade I was happy to let the jocks have their game and get out without a serious injury. (The first year I broke my tailbone. The second year I broke my thumb. The third year I ripped a muscle in my back and got to sit in the hottub during afternoon practices.)

But it’s hard not to be a casual football fan with all the billions spent on hyping college and pro football. Even last year I wondered if feminism and Super Bowls could exist side-by-side. Football is the only major sport where there is not some reasonable equivalent for females. (And don’t you dare say, “Lingerie Bowl.”) At least Major League Baseball has women’s softball to narrow the gap. If my daughter wants to become a part of the NFL, her best option is to become the wife of a player and risk abuse that comes from a guy who is being exploited and has been hit in the head too many times. Or she can be a cheerleader, cheering on the guys and getting paid minimum wage. But who cheers for the cheerleader? Even management in the NFL is an old boys club. What’s a female football lover to do?

140919182947-nfl-players-accused-of-abuse-lead-gfx-horizontal-large-gallery

The abuse of women by players (and fans) is an old sad story. The new wrinkle to that story is the growing understanding of the cumulative effect of countless head blows that players get as part of their job description. And this starts when they are unpaid players in school. Yet people are still making millions off these young men killing themselves for our entertainment. A few will make it to retirement with a nest egg but more are just chewed up by the machine. There is even a Wikipedia page for NFL players who died while still playing and you have to stop wondering when you see all the suicides. But go team!

There is, of course, a racial and class element to this as poor boys from inner cities and rural communities are told their one way to the American Dream is through professional sports, especially the hyper-masculine world of football. They can have everything they see dangled in front of them on ESPN, including super-model wives. All they have to do is sell their soul (or brains, ACLs, and spines) to the game and hope they are one of the few that has a post-career life worth living.

tumblr_nblqjnaq241qa62w0o2_500

This issue is finally getting some attention. The NFL reports that this season there were 317 reported concussions of NFL players. (Who knows how many are unreported?) And that number may be down because of better helmets for teams that can afford the latest, most expensive protective gear. I doubt the inner city high school team is in line for the new top-of-the-line Xenith helmets any time soon. And there is a new effort to decouple the violence on the grid iron from the violence in the home front that is encouraging. You just wonder if the neurology of football can counter a few well-meaning PSAs. But I have to say I have a big ol’ man-crush on former LA Ram Terry Crews and his efforts to bring these issues to the audience that needs to hear it the most. There are feminist football players, y’all.

In a society that claims to preach, “Violence is not the answer,” why do we still obsess over the macho violence of football? In football, violence IS the answer, and the harder the better. I’m not immune to this. As a kid in Georgia I would go to stock car races and PRAY to see a big crash. The game itself can be fascinating and artful and (in those slow-motion NFL films) can look more like ballet, than war. But there is a growing body count that is part of the cost. And that includes battered women who are beaten by brain-damaged players and former players.

I’m just not sure it’s worth all the hype. Sure it’s fun to meet friends to watch a big college bowl together. Maybe you even went to that school 100 years ago. And I know some people want to watch the Super Bowl “for the commercials,” but your are going to see every single one of those commercials a thousand times over the next three months (including whatever sexist crap GoDaddy and Carl’s Jr will throw at us). There certainly is a thrill to watching a live sporting event as it happens, and not TIVO’d (or like with the last Olympics, on a 3-day tape delay). To share in a global experience can be unifying and exhilarating. (Just witness my freak out for the World Cup every four years.) It crosses political, racial, class and even gender lines. I bet even Bernie Sanders has a pick for the big game. (I can hear him say, “I’m quite impressed the the Carolina Panthers ability to reduce the inequity between the salaries for its support staff and its management.”)

article-davis-1023

I won’t hold it against you if you are all in for the sport and Sunday’s Super Bowl. I’m out. I’ve devoted enough time watching reruns of players getting folded, spindled and mutilated and just thinking, “That’s awesome!” This year, out of respect for the dozen boys who died playing high school football in 2015, like 17-year-olds Luke Schemm and Andre Smith, I’m going to spend Sunday hanging out with my daughter. Maybe we’ll go to the duckpond or go shopping. And I’m trying to teach her to play catch so she can play softball someday.

Edit: I’m supposed to watch this Frontline story: League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis.

I’m in charge of your butthole: The intimate world of parenting

January 20, 2016

This is a piece I’ve tried to figure out how to write for a while. It could simply be a meditation on something that every parent has thought about. Or it could be just plain icky. This could go either way. Here is something that every parent of a young child can relate to or here is something that screams for state intervention. Okay, here goes. There is a sensual element to parenting a child.

Before you get on the horn to DHSS, there is a difference between sensual and sexual. If fact, as I’ve written about before, being a parent can really interrupt the sexual. We’ve come to refer to our wonderful daughter as the “great cock blocker,” as we reminisce about the good old days when we were crazed weasels who, well, you can guess. All the time.

There’s still weasel action but there is also this other thing. Someday I will write about the increase in connection with a person you’ve had a child with, but this is the trickier area of the relationship between father and child. I was thinking about what to write about today when Cozy, now 17 months, started stroking my hair. I don’t know if she was doing it to be nice to her stressed-out dad or she was assessing how much conditioner I needed, but it felt nice. And I realized how many moments we have like that. Moments where we just snuggle or give kisses or just look into each other’s eyes and I wonder how bizarre it is that I’ve played a role in the existence of this beautiful creature.

It shouldn’t be creepy to be routinely humbled by how soft baby skin is. It’s like as if there was a freaking baby panda that was actually a cloud. I feel like like a chewed up piece of 80 grit sandpaper compared to even the bottom of her feet. There’s a whole industrial machine that sells “baby soft” products, but they can’t even approach my baby’s bottom. Since much of the time is spent holding or changing my daughter there’s a lot of skin to skin contact. Sometimes that’s depressing (“Honey, your father is not the Crypt Keeper, he just grew up in Georgia.”) but often it’s awe inspiring. Did we all start off so perfect and unblemished?

Screen Shot 2016-01-20 at 8.32.16 AM

My ethnic heritage on my father’s side is Czech. Czechs tend to be moley people. Cozy was born this wonderful Czech-Mex mix. Her blue eyes turned brown after about a week. And a week after that she got a little mole on her butt. It just appeared like a message from my ancestors. Every time I change her, I’m reminded of that genetic line. Also when she runs around the house bottomless. Hey, sometimes you’ve gotta air your business out.

I grew up in a weird time and space, the South in the 1970s. On one hand it was the Bible Belt so there were plenty of people who thought bodies were dirty things to be covered (because of that bitch, Eve). On the other hand, it was the height of sexual liberation and people were walking around their homes naked with copies of Playboy and Our Bodies, Our Selves on the coffee table. (My parents were from Ohio and midwesterners just ignore anything sexual.) I have to think those mixed messages didn’t do the psyche of my generation any good.

shower

Cozy bathes with her parents fairly regularly. She and I had a shower together this morning. It’s really just a way to be efficient. I can watch her if she’s in the tub with me and we can save water on the probably much-needed booty hose down. It is perfectly innocent but I am aware there are some very uptight people who would see it as inappropriate. I know at some point one of us will grow out it, but it’s a nice thing we share. I’ve got friends that showered with their kids into the double digits (in Georgia!), so maybe I’m too worried about the Bible thumpers and their cousins in ISIS.

It is funny when she waddles into the bathroom when I’m standing there peeing. She has this confused look on her face as she tries to figure out what my penis is. I always feel uncomfortable and sing this little song I made up.

What are you looking at Baby B?

What are you looking at, what do you see?

What are you looking at, you’re looking at me.

You better not be looking at my pee pee.

You can’t not have an intimate relationship with a child after you’ve changed thousands of diapers. I know her vagina better than I know most of my family members. And that thing is as clean as a field hockey coach’s whistle. (Wait, that sounds rather dirty.) As a stay-at-home dad, I am the primary agent of her undercarriage management. I often joke that I am on “Butthole Patrol,” because you don’t want to let a kid sit in a dirty diaper too long or you’re gonna need a power sprayer to do the job. (How I envy the French and their clever bidets.) As much as I want the kiddie potty to take over my job, their is something bonding about the diaper change ritual. Eye contact and mutual trust, and a song from dad. (This week it’s been David Bowie’s “Ashes to Ashes.”)

playapair

Freud, Foucault and Judith Butler all have written about the psychic damage done to boys who have to be weened from their mothers and switch their identification to their fathers. In this new age of stay-at-home dads there is the interesting question about daughters who have similar intimate connection to their fathers. How will Cozy’s psycho-sexual identity be affected by all this time we spend together, including the showers and diaper changes? Perhaps not at all, or perhaps she’ll have a solid sense of self that is not defined by one idea of gender or genders.

I do know it has affected me. Besides the protective “papa bear” mandate it fuels, I also feel more like an actual human being. This is a true connection between two people. She might not remember any of it, but I’ll never forget any of it. Before I put her to bed, we have a little dance to some soft music and she puts her head on my shoulder and I make a wish that this dance never ends.

How David Bowie Bent My Gender

January 11, 2016

This is a strange bifurcation point on our blue planet. From this point on there is no David Bowie to share the world with. Like people born after 1980 who claim John Lennon, or those born after 1959 who claim Billie Holiday (as they have a right to), every child born after today will never anticipate hearing David Bowie’s new song on the radio or changing their fashion to fit Bowie’s new style. It’s all just back catalog now. He can’t be truly their peer. Fortunately there’s enough there for future generations to mine for inspiration.

I awoke this morning to a message from my friend Roy in England that just said, “Sad day for music.” A sense of dread swelled up. I know that I am likely to witness the passing of Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and Patti Smith. What will the world be like without them? For the moment we share the same sunlight and oxygen supply. When there is a lunar eclipse, I know that Paul McCartney and Toni Morrison are looking at it, too. I know there is a chance that I could bump into Smokey Robinson or Elton John getting coffee in an airport somewhere in the world. We share this tiny globe together.

Screen-Shot-2015-11-13-at-11.27.27-AM

But not with Bowie. He is gone so unexpectedly. I was in New York City all weekend and was waiting for today to get Blackstar, his heralded new album. The beginning of the next phase of Bowie in our lives. Would there be a tour? Would I get a new haircut to look like him? Again? I should have found him on his deathbed there in Manhattan to thank him. A kiss on his alien eyelids.

Screen Shot 2016-01-11 at 6.05.13 PM

For those of us that came of age in the 1970s, David Bowie was more than a “rockstar.” He was an avatar of our awkward young selves as gangly beings who had just fallen to earth, genderless and omni-sexual. I was an Apollo kid so it started with “Space Oddity,” and imagining the astronauts circling our troubled planet. But when Ziggy Stardust arrived, I could see clues to a third path, somewhere between male and female that was beautiful and personal. Glam rock was liberation, even if was just the thought of it. “Rebel, rebel. You’ve got your mother in a whirl ’cause she’s not sure if you’re a boy or a girl.”

That was the beginning of me wanting to grow my hair long. Endless battles with my mother (“Boys with long hair are all on drugs!”) and my father (“Why would you want to look like a girl?”). Each half inch it grew, you’d get called “fag,” and “queer,” in rural Georgia. (Of course, once Willie and Waylon grew their hair out all that ended.) If word got around you were a Bowie fan, that was like declaring your homosexuality. “You must be AC-DC like him!” I didn’t really care. The music came from some place magical. His self-declared bisexuality created a safe zone for us as we engaged in our own space exploration. My sexuality was never an issue. The sanity of the world I expressed it in was.

All us misfit kids had Bowie. Before punk roared in, we had Bowie to speak for us and to tell us we were wonderful. “Rock and Roll Suicide,” must be an anthem for so many young people, both then and now, who feel zero validation from the straight world. It’s a reason to reject suicide as an option.

You’re watching yourself but you’re too unfair

You got your head all tangled up but if I could only make you care

Oh no love! you’re not alone

No matter what or who you’ve been

No matter when or where you’ve seen

All the knives seem to lacerate your brain

I’ve had my share, I’ll help you with the pain

You’re not alone

716MR8ZpkkL._SL1300_

In fourth grade, when the other kids were obsessed with the Captain and Tennille, me and my little goon squad were memorizing “Young Americans,” and “Fame,” (listening for John Lennon’s voice). It was like a secret society. You had to say, “Oh yeah, Deep Purple rocks!” and then find out what kid in the neighborhood had a copy of Diamond Dogs you could borrow, being sure to hide it from your parents’ gaydar.

bowiePopOfTheCherry

Bowie always defined gender non-conformity. Wearing make-up, dying his hair, wearing a skirt on Saturday Night Live. In a culture obsessed with a simple gender binary, what could be more rebellious than that? Boys keep swinging! For all us kids that didn’t quite fit in the butch boy/femme girl box, we had permission to mix and match and create something completely new.

My first sociology professor at Oxford College who radicalized me in so many ways had a bit of blind spot around queer issues. I remember him trying to make the case that we are all sexual but socialized to be heterosexual and if that process gets messed up we end up confused, “like David Bowie.” I remember thinking, Wait, that’s not right. Bowie’s not “broken,” he is just free and rebelling against social constructions of gender. He knows exactly what he’s doing.

So, yeah, I have every piece of music that Bowie has released (except Blackstar, which is sold out all over the city). I have b-sides and oddities. Have you heard the soundtrack to The Buddha of Suburbia (1993)? You should. I’ve seen him in concert several times. My favorite moment was at Live Aid in London in 1985. I was right front for the global event. All my favorite stars were there. I should mention that I really hated Bowie’s Let’s Dance album when it came out in 1983. It was such a commercial piece of fluff compared to 1980’s Scary Monsters (although it has aged better than I have). So I was supremely bummed when he opened with “Modern Love,” my least favorite Bowie song. But then he played “Heroes,” and it could not have been more perfect. We were there trying to feed the world, just for one day. There were tears everywhere. Bowie transformed us.

Screen Shot 2016-01-11 at 6.17.22 PM

He transformed us many times. He loosened us from our moorings. He made being smart and aging into your 60s look really, really cool and never stopped playing with our weird obsession with gender roles. All the kids that got beat up for being “Bowie fags” can have the last laugh (the ones that weren’t murdered, at least). Now that he’s dead, everybody will claim him as their own.

He’s never not been with me. His ex-wife, Angie Bowie, was my first guest speaker at Emory, delighting my students with tales of Ziggy and Iggy and the glam explosion. I courted my wife, Andrea, with mix CDs that linked Bowie songs to Nina Simone songs. When Cozy was born, I sang “Little Wonder” to her repeatedly (and “Space Oddity” when I strapped her in her car seat). And she’s napping to Station To Station as I write this. I want her to have the sexual and gender freedom that was so hard for us over forty years ago. But for all the goon squads out there, Bowie made it a lot easier and cooler.

A lot will be written this week about the Thin White Duke as a “chameleon” and all the ch-ch-changes he went through, the movies he made and the fashions he inspired. I just think about us kids who didn’t fit in who got to feel that we had a very special space boy on our side.

A Star Wars for Our Daughters

December 19, 2015

There are no major spoilers in this post about The Force Awakens, including anything about the Wookie-Ewok wedding at the end of the film.

Now that the long wait is over, I can reveal what makes The Force Awakens perhaps the best Star Wars film of the series. This opinion is greatly influenced by the fact that I am now the father of a little girl and have a vested interest in the world being a fairer and kinder place for females.

When the first Star Wars film came out in 1977 I was a 13-year-old boy waiting in line for the first screening at the Lefont Tara theater in Atlanta. The word was out among comic book and sci-fi fans that this was a different kind of space movie. I bought a program that listed all the actors who would soon be icons. When that giant Empire ship moved across the opening scene, all our jaws dropped. I don’t remember any girls in the audience but there must have been a few.

comicon77

Later that year, at the Atlanta Comicon, I entered a costume contest. We didn’t call it “cosplay” yet. In honor of the Marvel Kiss comic book, I went as Paul Stanley. I was beat out by a Jawa and a Sand Person. Star Wars had taken hold of the universe.

 

hqdefaultWhen the third Star Wars film, The Return of the Jedi, came out in 1983 I was a 19-year-old college boy (I saw it opening day at Phipps Plaza in Atlanta). This is the film where Princess Leia (Carrie Fischer) is enslaved by the grotesque Jaba the Hut and forced to wear a bikini with a chain around her neck. The image was featured prominently in the movie posters and promotional materials and is the only thing a lot of fanboys remember about that film. I should point out that badass Leia ends up strangling Jaba with that chain in what could be viewed the greatest feminist metaphor in all film history. (Similarly, I’m sure some claim Game of Thrones is feminist because a few of the many rapists on the show get beheaded. Um, no.)

Kim_Kardashian_Princess_Leia_costume-e1316495359256

But that image has remained iconic among the sci fi boy world. Not the killing of the slaver but the eroticizing of the slave. Carrie Fischer has said how much she resented director Richard Marquand putting her body on display in that scene. But how many boys wanted a slave Leia of their own? I’m willing to bet that 99% of comic conventions have at least one “Slave Leia” cosplayer in attendance with Jaba the Hut-like boys getting wood right and left. Even Kim Kardashian has worn the outfit. So there’s that.

I try not get sucked into the pop culture hype machine (Adele, meh.), but I would be lying if I didn’t say my 13-year-old self was reawakened by the fact that J.J. Abrams was doing the next chapter of Star Wars, the follow up to The Revenge of the Jedi. Besides the cool Star Trek/Star Wars link, Abrams is just two years younger than me and has the same reverence for the Skywalker mythology.

And a mythology it is, deeply rooted in the most ancient heroic tales. If you’ve never heard religion scholar Joseph Campbell (The Power of Myth) discuss the links between Star Wars and the ancient myth of the reluctant hero, you should. It’s a life-changing analysis. These are old tales. But they are typically stories about boys and men.

That’s why The Force Awakens is such an absolute joy. Yeah, it’s great to see our old heroes rolled out of the prop closet. (Harrison Ford looks only a bit more rusted than C-3P0.) But our reluctant Skywalker hero is now a female named Rey, played genderlessly by newcomer Daisy Ridley. The nearly all-male cast of the original has been expanded to include plenty of amazing female actors, including Fischer, Game of Thrones star Gwendoline Christie, and Oscar award winner Lupita Nyong’o.

The cast is also much more ethnically diverse, including Finn, the other reluctant-hero, played by black Brit John Moyega, and a Latino X-wing fighter named Poe (Oscar Isaac). This made my Mexican wife very happy but of course it infuriated racist trolls and Donald Trump supporters who lamented the “political correctness” of the casting and mounted a pointless #BoycottStarWarsVII campaign on Twitter.

star-wars-the-force-awakens-rey-finn

Having a female hero like Rey surely means a lot to the scores of female fans. When Finn tries to hold her hand during an attack by the bad guys, she rips her hand away and assures him that she can take care of herself. And that’s the sub-plot of the film. What at first appears to be a “damsel in distress” scenario gets turned on its head and here comes our girl to the rescue. (Sorry if that’s a spoiler.) Even Han Solo recognizes her badassness. She’s ultimately a Skywalker-Solo hybrid who drives a giant movie on her never uncovered shoulders.

There’s sort of a sad test to measure the “feministness” of a film called the Bechdel Test. Do two women in a movie have a conversation about something other than a man? Lots of  “chick-flicks” have a female heavy cast but the dialogue is often about their men (i.e. every Jennifer Lopez movie ever made). The Force Awakens has several scenes that pass including one with (now) General Leia Organa and Rey.

star_wars_poster_full.0.0

J. J. Abrams has a teenage daughter so I have to think he thought of her and how her experience sitting in a theater would be different than a girl sitting in the theater in 1977. Abrams and producer Kathleen Kennedy have given us an epic tale that puts a female protagonist at the center for at least three films (Star Wars 8 and 9 are scheduled for 2017 and 2019). Along with this year’s successful Mad Max film, it serves to rewrite the narrative that boys like action and girls like romance. (The other side of ledger would be films that deal with the romantic emotional lives of boys and men. Where is this generation’s Woody Allen?)

When we think about movies and video games that are targeted at boys and boyish men, there are usually lots of explosions, chases, shooting, and scantily clad women who need to be rescued. It’s a male-driven narrative. The Force Awakens has plenty of those tropes but seriously tweaks the primary one and that may be a game changer for a generation of fanboys and their sisters.

Like 1977 (and 1980 and 1983), I was in the theater Thursday for the opening night of The Force Awakens. I had our tickets months in advance. I could barely contain myself with excitement as I fell through a time hole to my adolescent self.  And like 1977, the theater audience was 90% male. (Do these guys have wives or girlfriends? Some brought Star Wars toys, though. That may be part of the puzzle of patriarchal pop culture.) When the John Williams score started and the Star Wars logo appeared on the screen, we all screamed with approval (as we did whenever any of the original cast of characters and spaceships appeared). The film was wonderfully loyal to the original trilogy in all the important ways, but was a huge departure in one very significant way. Hopefully that evolution continues. Carrie Fischer made it clear to her young female cast mates, “Avoid the slave girl costume.

Andrea and I always have a good conversation after a film and it was immediately clear how important it was to her to have a female protagonist in such a massively hyped film. She loved having a hero that looked like her. It was a subtle message buried inside an epic tale that all those boys in the audience will hopefully digest without even thinking, Oh, the main hero was a girl! That’s how change happens. After our post-film analysis, Andrea excitedly said, “I can’t wait until our daughter is old enough to show her this movie.” Me either.

 

Toys in the Attic

November 29, 2014

I hope everyone had a nice Black Friday. We spent the day in bed watching movies: Hannah and Her Sisters and Blue Velvet (I wanted my wife to see where Lana Del Rey gets all her video ideas from) and spent absolutely zero dollars. But now it’s officially the Christmas season (for those who celebrate it. Also, for everybody else.) and a parent’s thoughts turn to toys.

I went absolutely ape-shit over Xmas as a kid. By mid-November I had 90% of the toys in in the JC Penny catalog circled (the remaining 10% were girl toys) and ended up with most of them under the tree. I would be tired of the majority of those toys in a day (they always seemed cooler on the Saturday morning commercials) but my parents would be stuck with the credit card bill for months. I did love those Hot Wheels well into the summer, though.

16448766-mmmain

Now as a socially conscious feminist, the whole issue of toys brings me great anxiety. First is the fact that most toys for kids today (and all the toys at Wal-Mart) are made under questionable labor practices. The thought of giving a child a toy made by child labor in China is just a deal with the devil. How many of those Black Friday parents are clobbering each other for a Barbie doll that was made by kids who are essentially slaves? Would they buy that doll if they knew? (Probably, they were only $5 at one Wal-Mart.)

Black Friday 2014: Fight breaks out at Walmart over Barbie doll, more incidents

But most of what we consume this season has some bad mojo behind it, from the chocolate we shove down kids’ throats to the coffee we drink while we do it. So the first goal this season is to pay attention to where this stuff comes from and who makes it. Portland is a great city to buy local from. It’s not always the cheapest option, but it’s good for the soul and that’s what the Baby Jesus would want.

13 Products Most Likely To Made By Child Or Forced Labor

The other issue is the relationship between toys and gender socialization. I’ve lectured on this topic for 25 years. I’ve always found it interesting that as soon as little girls can sit up we give them baby dolls and start training them for motherhood. Why don’t we similarly train boys for fatherhood? Boys DO play with dolls. They are called “action heroes” and come with guns and “Kung Fu Grip.” I was obsessed with GI Joe as a kid but knew which girls got the Easy Bake Oven for Christmas because they had the cookies (along with their domestic apprenticeship).

The new adds for the Easy Bake Oven are just as sexist as they were in 1972, but the tide has turned. Mattel recently reported its profits were down as Barbie dolls had fallen out of favor. Good. This house will be a Barbie-Free Zone.

I remember the talking Barbies of the 1990s that said things like “Math is hard” and “Let’s go shopping.” That’s not the message I want for my daughter. If she wants dolls, they can have realistic figures and non-gendered aspirations. I want a doll that says, “I’m applying to MIT” and “I’m not a SkyCap. Give your baggage to somebody else.” If she wants to bake things, I’ll get her a chef’s hat and a Gordon Ramsey DVD. Gone are the days of Mystery Date and princess parties.

They gave each kid a Barbie and a doll with real proportions. What they say next really says it all.

¡]02051707¡^--SHANTOU, May 17, 2002 (Xinhua) --Workers dress for dolls at the Yiewei Arts and Crafts Company in Chenghai City in south China's Guangdong Province May 17, 2002. The city puts production of toys and handicrafts as a pillar industry which earned some 7 billion yuan(US$875 million) in 2001. (Xinhua Photo/Zhang Yiwen)

Of course my fear is that she’ll want a Little Mermaid costume made in some sweatshop by Vietnamese orphans and know how to sing “Someday My Prince Will Come” instead of Sleater-Kinney’s “I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone.” Do I honor her choice? Or do I take her to a basketball game instead (explaining that some of the players are wife-beaters)? I really have no idea in a consumerist society like ours how to avoid these moral landmines that are set in front of our children, especially our girls. No answers yet. Stay tuned.

EDIT: Thanks to my cousin Jennifer for turning me on to Amightygirl.com. Take a look at this link below!

http://www.amightygirl.com/holiday-guide

Image source: http://feministing.com/2014/11/25/photo-of-the-day-7-year-old-girl-unimpressed-by-sexist-advertising/