Saturday, February 9, 2013

Dear Warm Bodies

Note for misogynist slurs.

Dear Warm Bodies,

I have a great deal to say to you about your movie, but I will try to confine my remarks to specific feminist issues.

While I wanted to enjoy your film, I came away with three glaring problems.

1.) The word "bitch."  It was completely unnecessary.  It was jarring and hateful.  I assume that it was meant to be played as a funny, "human" moment of male bonding when M said, "Bitches, man," but it went too far.  Of course I would prefer if you wouldn't employ such a gross misogynist theme in your film in the first place, but at the very least you could have used "women" or "chicks."

I repeat for emphasis: you didn't have to include the line at all, in any form.

2.) The kidnapping.  From the trailer, I assumed that R was helping Julie to fit in and escape.  I had no idea that he kidnapped her and kept her in a horrifying situation against her will because he thought that she was pretty.  Had I known, I wouldn't have watched the movie at all, so congratulations on that misleading marketing.

3.) The nurse.  Nora says that she wants to be a nurse; she says that she wants to heal people and find cures.  Healing people and finding cures?  Doesn't that sound more like the description of a doctor or scientist than of a nurse? Imagine that line coming from a man: it wouldn't make any sense.  It was a gross, disorienting moment.

I wanted to enjoy your film.  I really did.  I had hoped that it would be fresh and funny, but there's nothing new or interesting in the same tired, ancient, sexist themes.

With love,
Frank Lee

Dear "Parks and Recreation"

Dear "Parks and Recreation,"

Thank you for a great new episode!  It was smart and funny and fresh, and I really enjoyed a lot of different things about it.

One of the parts I found most interesting was the April-Andy storyline about April trying to rely on Leslie but learning to stand on her own.  It was a great moment of character development for her.

Here's the thing.  On any other show, it would've been reprehensible.  There would have been much more emphasis on Andy's manipulative behavior.  April would have struggled more (you know how women are, with their insecurities!), and Andy would have been highlighted as the strong, loving man who knows she has it in her and goes behind her back to set her up for failure but takes the credit when she pulls through.  It would have been really, very gross, with "men know best!" written all over it.

It felt different in the context of "Parks and Rec" because you've created interesting, complex, progressive characters.  It felt different because you portrayed Andy as supportive.  It felt different because when we see smart, strong women being smart and strong in every episode of your show, we don't have to police every nuance of the show to wonder what you really meant.

Thank you for letting Andy be a supportive partner, and not the manly hero of April's life.

With love,
Frank Lee

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Dear Gamers

Dear Gamers,

I saw a post today on the World of Warcraft forums from a player who had "outed" herself in real life as a gamer.  I didn't think much about it; the social stigma against gaming, whether or not exists, and how various gamers deal with it, is a topic which comes up fairly often on the forums.

And then the replies rolled in.

Here are my favorite two from the first page:
Careful, this kind of "coming out" may lead to more discrimination than the other one!
LOLS! (true though.) 
There is less stigma to being gay than there is to playing WoW. Gamers are just not normal.
The best part of that is how the poster backs off of the statement with a "lol" and then comes around again with a "true though."

Let's see.  Gamers face more discrimination than gay people, you say?  Let's look at that from the perspective of the USA, where the majority of WOW-US general forumgoers reside.

Can gamers legally marry each other in all 50 states?

Do gamers face discrimination in housing?

Can gamers legally adopt in all 50 states?  Do legal barriers prevent gamers from fostering children?

Can two gamer kids attend school functions together without facing resistance from the administration?  Can gamer kids wear gaming-related T-shirts to school without facing resistance from the administration?

How often are young gamers thrown out of their own homes by their own parents simply for liking videogames?

Do gamers have trouble getting appropriate healthcare?  Do gamers have trouble securing appropriate identification and government documentation?  For how many years were gamers barred from serving in the Armed Forces?

Job discrimination, murder rates, assault rates, legal barriers, institutional discrimination, the list goes on.  You can talk about the social stigma against gamers as much as you like, but please don't play "contrast and compare" and "who has it worse" with the gay community, or people of color, or women, or other marginalized populations.

Gamers who feel that they're facing prejudice and bigotry can, if need be, put down the controller, step away from the keyboard, or stop rolling the dice.  Trying to change or deny one's sexual orientation and sexual identity aren't comparable.

With love,
Frank Lee

Friday, February 1, 2013

Dear Tide

Dear Tide,

Here's some of the dialogue from your new commercial:
Woman: It was our first date and he took me to a restaurant and there was this waitress there and I got very jealous because she was pretty so I threw salsa on him.
Here's what we see actually happening onscreen:
Man and woman seated at a restaurant table beside a nondescript wall.  Waitress walks past without acknowledging their presence.  The man watches waitress to the point of turning around in his seat so that he can track her as she continues past them.
"I got very jealous because she was pretty" means that this woman is so insecure that the mere existence of an attractive woman in the vicinity drives her to violence.

"I was pissed off and resentful because he was ogling other women in front of me in ludicrous, obvious, cartoonish fashion" is a little bit different.

You're openly rewriting one scenario (a woman's angry response to a man's wanton rudeness) into another (an irrational, hysterical woman's overreaction to her own insecure impulses, with the man's behavior a complete non-issue) to make the scene more misogynist.

Here's what your commercial says to me: women are so petty and so nasty that the very presence of another woman will throw her into a violent rage.  The man, meanwhile, is completely innocent and has nothing to do with anything.  Sure, maybe he took a little look, but what do you expect?  He's gotta keep his options open, am I right?

Do I recommend throwing salsa on people?  No.

Do I recommend using Tide Stain Savers?  No, not if they're being marketed like this.

Please reconsider your marketing strategy, and I'll reconsider my laundry needs.

With love,
Frank Lee

Dear Audi

This post contains a description of sexual assault.

Dear Audi,

I saw your new commercial the other day.

Here's how you describe it:
A slightly insecure teenager is unhappy about going to the Senior Prom without a date. But when Dad lets him borrow the new Audi S6 for the night, he gains more and more confidence with every mile, arriving at the Prom a changed young man.
Here's how I would describe it:
A teenager is getting ready to go to the prom, but he's feeling self-conscious about going alone.  His mother tries to tell him that it's fine to go alone.  His father tosses him car keys.  He drives to the prom.  (There's some odd moment here with a girl yelling at him from another car, but since I can't understand what she's saying or why, I don't know what the significance is.)  He parks in the principal's spot (bad-ass alert!) and strides into the prom.  He walks right up behind the apparent prom queen, grabs her, and kisses her.  Judging by the "wow!" sounds in the background, this is supposed to be a great moment.  The prom king (presumably the prom queen's date/boyfriend) charges over.  We next see our "hero" back in his car, now with a black eye, looking happy.  There's a brief shot of the prom queen smiling, and then a shot of the guy in the car howling at the moon in celebration/victory/triumph.
Let's replay the key moment here again: he walks up behind her, grabs her, and kisses her.

It's a crowded, noisy, busy, dark room.  She's busy speaking with her friends and doesn't see him come up from behind.  She has no idea that he's even in the room, much less directly behind her, much less about to touch her.  Suddenly, someone she doesn't realize is on the premises and hasn't had time to recognize has seized her and is holding onto her and kissing her.

This is what we call sexual assault.

There's no indication that she wants this to happen.  There's no indication that she expects this and every indication that she doesn't.  There's no indication that she even knows who he is, given the "popular girl at school is so shallow and in her own world that she doesn't even recognize the nerdy guy who sat beside her in class all year" theme we keep seeing in movies/on TV.

Even if, generally speaking, she'd like to kiss this guy, there's no real chance for her to recognize that he's the one kissing her.  It happens too quickly and with no warning.  (Is his scent so overpowering that she smells it and recognizes him immediately, as he grabs her?  This isn't an Axe commercial.)

To sum up: Guy feels insecure, guy's dad lends him a bad-ass car, guy feels more confident in himself, guy commits sexual assault, guy gets punched in the face, guy feels great about it.  Then you slap on an image of the prom queen smiling, because some complete stranger sexually assaulted her and wow, wasn't that dashing and romantic of him!

Then these words come onscreen:
Bravery.  It's what defines us.

Let's not play around.  You just called sexual assault brave.

It isn't brave to commit sexual assault.  It isn't daring or courageous or heroic.  It's criminal and common and wrong.

Do you know what's brave, actually?  Reporting sexual assault.  Admitting to yourself that you were sexually assaulted.  Telling someone about it.  Standing up and announcing it in public.  Testifying about it in a courtroom.  That is brave.  That is daring and courageous and heroic.

Oh, and while I have your attention: I'm not entirely thrilled with your gender stereotyping, either.  The boy's mother tries to tell him that he'll be fine, because women are nurturing like that, but it doesn't have any effect, because moms, man, they just don't understand, they're so out of touch, they don't get the harsh reality, am I right?  But the boy's father, a man of few words, a man of action, he gets it; he just tosses over those keys, and that solves everything.

I hope that you'll reconsider your disgusting advertising choices.  I hope that you'll stop promoting criminal behavior as romantic.  I hope that you'll learn the difference between "bravery" and "sexual assault."  Coincidentally, Liss at Shakesville opened up a discussion thread the other day about bravery.  Here's a sample comment from whistlewren:
I was brave when Ieft an abusive relationship of seven years last year. 
I had been trying for years. I thought it was just leaving, actually packing my bags and finding a place of safety, that I needed to be brave for. And I did it! I left! I was ecstatic! I was shaking uncontrollably the whole time but I got out that door, and got myself and my two kids to a friend's house. 
Then came all those other things I hadn't counted on. Going to court to apply for restraining order. Going back to court to stand in the same room as my abuser to defend the restraining order. Finding legal advice I could afford. Finding a refuge to stay in when threats to my friend from my ex made it unsafe for us to stay there. Commuting 2 hours to work via public transport each way to work with two kids under five because the only refuge that had space was many suburbs away. Fighting in court for supervision on access visits when my ex started custody proceedings. Not jumping whenever my phone rang. Facing friends, other parents at school, my boss, all of whom now knew everything. Finding a therapist I could afford for my daughter and for me. Having to see and talk to my abuser every week at handover after the supervision period ended and he got unsupervised access. Doing all this while trying to keep up with my study, negotiate extra hours and pay, getting my daughters epilepsy diagnosed and dealing with PTSD, and the general panic of making ends meet, finding childcare, getting more temporary housing... 
It has been a big year :-) I never thought I could do even a half of what I have done. I learnt early on in the year that bravery isn't necessarily about not being scared. Sometimes it's about being so scared you can hardly move, your limbs are shaking so much, but you just breathe as best as you can, do it anyways, and collapse in a heap later on when it is safe to do so. Preferably with friends, and chocolate.
With love,
Frank Lee