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Yes, Dove has done it again. “It” being releasing an ad meant to convince us that this company just wants us to feel good about ourselves. I’ve been seeing this commercial EVERYWHERE in the last couple of days, but just in case you missed it, you can watch it here:

 

This wholesome and positive commercial manages to annoy me a lot. It might seem like I’m just being negative, after all, what’s wrong with telling women to love themselves? Well, a lot, apparently.

1. If we actually felt good about ourselves, these companies would go out of business.

I mean, yeah, most of us will use soap and maybe moisturizer even if we felt beautiful all the time, but would we really need all the products Dove and their competitors offer us? Would we need the “Dove Beauty Bar” (as opposed to just regular soap)? Would we need their “Purely Pampering Pistachio Cream with Magnolia Body Wash”? Would we need their serums, masks, creams, sprays, and oils? Some of us will probably go for some pistachio and magnolia even if we felt great about ourselves, but not as many as if we felt that this is what we need to be beautiful (and beautiful is what matters).

Cosmetic companies have spent decades crushing women’s self esteem in order to get them to buy more products. They changed the standards of what’s considered “basic hygiene”, made it harder for women to make a living if they don’t use certain products regularly, and made us feel like crap if we don’t follow their rules for beauty. Now Dove comes out suggesting that they have the solution for this decades-long problem: cosmetics companies made you feel bad about yourself? Great! We have the solution — more cosmetics!

Personally I think it’s awfully rude for a cosmetics company to see itself as the savior of all women with low self esteem. Yes, you can make commercials that are not actively harmful to women (and I would welcome that), but co-opting feminism to sell cosmetics is just too low. You created a problem in order to sell us products, and now you’re going to pretend to fix it by selling us more products? How convenient. Mind you, this is a company that literally sells “whitening” deodorants, perfect for when your armpits are just too dark. Gender equality is not a sales pitch and using it as such is ridiculous. I’ll save Dove the time and money, I already have a new slogan for them: “To love yourself – Dove yourself.”

2. Low self-esteem is more complicated than “choose beautiful.”

These cosmetics companies did a great job of making us hate ourselves. And it’s not just them, it’s pretty much every industry that has something to sell us. They did such a great job that now most women and girls have very complicated relationships with their bodies and appearances. This complicated relationship cannot be solved with the simple “choose beautiful.” If it was that easy, we would have done it already.

Learning to love yourself in a society that is constantly telling you not to is hard. Making it seem so simple and easy is annoying and disrespectful. Making it seem like women who “choose average”, meaning women who don’t love the way they look, just have to get over themselves and “choose beautiful” is misleading and silly. The thing is that body image is more than just personal choice. It’s a societal issue with a historical context. It wasn’t created out of nowhere. Give some credit to the women who deal with these problems, we already tried to choose beautiful. It didn’t work. This also shifts the responsibility and the focus from the strong societal powers that make women hate themselves to the women who suffer from this system. Meaning: you hate yourself? It’s probably because you didn’t try hard enough to choose beautiful.

3. What’s wrong with average?

By definition, most of us are average. Or, to be more exact, there are just as many of us below the average as there are above it. That’s just the definition of the word “average”. That doesn’t mean that average isn’t beautiful, it totally can be, so why make them into opposites? If most (or all) people are beautiful, then being beautiful is average. I’m guessing Dove chose “average” because a door with a big sign that says “ugly” probably wouldn’t seem as inspiring, but it’s silly nonetheless.

We’re all average on some things, maybe even on most things. Is that so bad? There is something to be said for being realistic and acknowledging that we’re not all the best at everything. And again, there is something very odd about referring to beauty in these terms, which brings me to our last point.

In an alternate universe

4. Why do we keep telling women that they should be judged on looks?

Yes, we should all feel awesome about ourselves, but does it have to come from our looks? Do we all have to feel like the most beautiful people ever? Can’t we think that we look, god forbid, average, but still feel awesome because we’re smart, strong, kind, funny, or talented? It’s okay to feel good about yourself because of the way you look, but it’s also okay not to. It doesn’t mean you have to be pitied or fixed by inspirational commercials.

This just perpetuated the same old idea: what matters about women is their beauty. If you don’t feel beautiful then you’re sad, have low self esteem, and need help. How bout we let women feel good about themselves because of things other than looks? Why isn’t there a “smart” door next to the “average” door? Why not an “awesome” door that we encourage women to walk through? Or maybe a “generous” door?

Does Dove even consider that by constantly telling women that it is essential that they feel beautiful, they are actually making it worse, because they reinforce the idea that your looks is what matters the most? I mean, if they did consider that, it would make a lot of sense. This way they can have their cake and eat it too, have the facade of an empowering, women-positive company, while still getting our money. They can tell us that they just want us to love ourselves. They can tell us that they have the solution for the problem that them and their competitors created. They can tell us that we need to choose beautiful, which means we need to choose Dove.

So Maroon 5 released a new video a couple of days ago, “Animals,” and there are already feminist critiques of it out there, talking about its glamorizing of stalking, as well as the general message portraying men as uncontrollable animals that just have to “get” women, no matter what. What I want to throw into the discussion is this thought: were they intentionally trying to create a music video that might as well come with every copy of The Sexual Politics of Meat, just to really drive the point home?

For those of you not familiar with Carol J. Adams’ work, she basically talks about how the culture around meat-eating has a strong connection to sexism and to sexual violence against women. A few examples include our association of meat-eating with manliness, our tendency to compare women to animals like bunnies, the sexualization of meat and nonhuman animals, and the way in which we dissect and use women’s and animals’ bodies for our enjoyment.

Women as Maroon 5 sees them (illustration)

Seriously, this video is so on point in portraying everything that’s messed up about how society views women and animals, that it almost seems like a parody (don’t worry though, I assure you it’s not). He’s a manly man who needs to “hunt you down and eat you alive” (literally that is the chorus! What.), just like he does with his “regular” cow and pig meat. That’s what men do, they hunt weaker animals, women included.

Chickens , as Maroon 5 (probably) sees them (illustration)

The video, which is actually very painful to watch, portrays Levine as a weird guy who works at a butcher shop, and stalks a girl he sees there. Earlier in the video we see Levine hanging out with some animal corpses in what looks like a serial killer’s kill room but I guess is actually just the back of the butcher shop, while the lady he’s stalking walks in the street, undresses seductively in front of the mirror, and sleeps as he creeps into her room. Then they even provide us with a lovely sex scene, where we jump from shots of them passionately doing it to shots of Levine fondling those animals corpses from before (which are perfectly sequenced with his fondling of the lady’s various body parts). Later I guess having sex while thinking about animal corpses becomes not manly enough, so they even go as far as making out in a rain of thick blood. Truly inspiring.

It is seriously a textbook example of how consuming women’s and animals’ bodies is what it’s all about. How meat is sexy, how women are meaty, how it’s pretty much all the same to them, and how sexism and patriarchy go hand in hand with speciesism (the ideology which sees nonhuman animals as inferior to humans).

Maroon 5 in a visual representation of The Sexual Politics of Meat

The reason it’s important to discuss this really gross and creepy aspect of the video, and not just the stalking part, is because it is crucial to understand that as women, our subordination and oppression is tied to that of animals. It’s not a coincidence that they show Levine hanging out with dead animals and not, say, with cupcakes or spinach. There is a very specific meaning and ideology  in our culture around animal meat, and that ideology is very close to the one that makes people think that “Baby, I’m preying on you tonight” and “Maybe you think that you can hide, I can smell your scent from miles” are manifestations of a romantic and sexy situation.

So yeah, Maroon 5: women and animals were not made for your amusement and pleasure, we’re not body parts for you to consume, and we don’t enjoy being abused (whether through stalking like the lady or through butchering like the animals). Go find something else to grope.

Last weekend I had the opportunity of going on a whale watch tour for the first time. Whales are a developing obsession of mine, and I feel so lucky that I got to see these majestic animals in their natural habitat. But I’m not here to talk about how cool whales are (although I really want to…), but about some other things that tour made me think about.

There was a very diverse group of people on the boat sailing out of Provincetown that day. Fewer kids than I thought, but still a good number, older men and women, tourists from other countries, young couples and small groups of teenagers. The one thing everyone had in common is how excited they were about seeing whales. We were all running from one side of the boat to the other to catch a glimpse of a whale’s back, constantly taking pictures and videos, and yelling out in awe whenever a whale came out of the water a little (this response seems to be almost instinctive, it just comes out of you without warning when you see these amazing animals). I mean, we did all pay about $50 for the experience of sailing around in the ocean looking for whales, and we were very excited once we did.

I saw similar reactions from people sitting on the beaches of Cape Cod, whenever a seal would pop their head out of the water. We felt so lucky every time we saw one, so lucky to catch a glimpse of another species of animals.

Seeing this much of a whale (two, actually) was pretty amazing

Seeing this much of a whale (two, actually) was enough to be amazing

This stood out in a very clear contrast to what can only be described as Cape Cod’s obsession with killing and eating pretty much everything else from the sea. The beautiful Cape roads and towns were overflowing with colorful signs offering tourists fried and raw clams, lobsters cooked in boiling water, crabs in a variety of forms, and just about any other creature from the sea that you’re legally allowed to eat.

It was just such a stark (and slightly painful) difference, the way people treated animals that they classified as food versus animals they classified as fellow inhabitants of the earth. Indifference on the one side, amazement on the other.

It seems to me that humans have a very deep instinct of loving and appreciating other animals. If you ever saw a toddler responding to a dog, you know what I’m talking about. They don’t need to be taught this, they are just automatically fascinated with them. They might be a little shy or even anxious, but they almost always get extremely excited, laugh, squeal, obsessively try to pet the dog (which often they don’t even know how to do), and are usually completely overjoyed. It’s a pretty similar reaction to what I saw adults express when seeing whales and seals, (or even just very cute dogs or cats really).

We seek the companionship of animals in a lot of ways. We raise them in our homes, taking care of their needs and wants, often swearing that they’re just like children or siblings to us. We spend money on whale-watching tours and spend three or four hours searching for a few precious seconds of looking right at a whale peeking out of the water briefly (and know that it was totally worth it). We venture into the woods to look for animals, and get excited to see as much as their footprints on the ground. We even go as far as abusing and imprisoning animals just so we can see and interact with them, in places like zoos, SeaWorld, and the circus. SeaWorld is actually one of those places that are absolutely awful and horrifying, and yet I completely understand why people go there, the excitement over seeing Orcas and Dolphins trumps the sadness and danger of their captivity.

Petting zoos (which I do not support) are also interesting. There you can see children (and adults) get excited over “farm animals” as if they were actually just animals. At first I thought maybe this apathy VS excitement distinction is all about the type of animal in question. The way each culture classifies animal species determines if we want to play with them or kill them (you know, why do Americans find it so awful to eat cats, dogs, or dolphins, but perfectly normal to eat cows and pigs?). But in petting zoos we see people excited about animals they should just want to kill. Suddenly, in the entertainment context, we can appreciate these animals for what they are. I mean, it is probably one of the only places where regular people (who do not work in farming) get to interact with these farm animals when they’re still alive, so it’s no wonder that it’s the only place where we show them empathy. If you went into a petting zoo and announced that you are going to slaughter one of the goats, you’d have children and adults absolutely infuriated and doing anything in their power to stop you. And yet when it’s all sliced up and ready in a nice plastic container in the store, they have no problem paying for someone to kill hundreds of these animals. How weird is that?

Earlier this year I visited the Maple Farm Sanctuary for the first time. It was a really special opportunity, and I can tell you that interacting with goats, sheep, and cows felt almost as cool as seeing whales in the ocean. They were playful, adorable, and surprisingly large. It was hard to believe what humans do to these innocent animals, who were just as excited and curious about us as we were about them. It was clear as day to me, you don’t have to be an animal rights activist to feel connected to these animals, and I am positive that 99% of the people who eat meat, if faced with one of these animals and having the choice of killing her/him or sparing them, would choose to spare them any day of the week. So why do they choose to kill them every single day, without thinking about it for more than a second?

Obviously there are a lot of answers to this question, but I think at least a part of it is due to the fact that we don’t see these animals in any other context, just in the fridge and on our plate. We don’t see them play, we don’t see them when they’re scared, we don’t see them care for their young. We don’t really see them being animals at all, so we don’t think about them that way. We just see them as food, products, and body parts for us to use and consume. We don’t know anything about them (some people actually try to tell me that cows will explode if it wasn’t for humans milking them, and are convinced that they lactate all the time, even when they don’t have calves), and we don’t really care.

Best friends at Maple Farm Sanctuary (they hang out together all the time)

Best friends at Maple Farm Sanctuary (they hang out together all the time)

The contrast and, honestly, hypocrisy that exist in our understanding of animals is really painful to witness and really dangerous. It is so backwards to be willing to risk your life for your dog, go to great lengths to see dolphins and whales (and regard the people who eat them as “barbaric”), while constantly directly contributing to the murder of millions and billions of other animals. I cannot handle people saying that they love and care for animals if it’s only for the kind of animals that their specific culture finds important enough to care about.

The good news is that I know we can change. I don’t believe that any creature has to “prove themselves” to show that they are worthy of living, but they do it anyway. I think people should really start looking not just at what they’re eating, but who they’re eating. Go and learn about these animals, visit farm sanctuaries and read about their behavior and life, go a little closer to the animals you find so delicious. If you think dogs are fun, go play with a goat. If you think whaling is cruel, go spend some time with cows and pigs and see if you find them relatable (and if your natural instincts kick in and make you want to kill them). Let yourself become excited about animals that you’re used to seeing as food, allow yourself to connect and appreciate them, not as a step in a process to something you consume, but as fellow animals sharing this world with us.

 


 

* Another small thought I wanted to share about my visit to the farm sanctuary is how surprised I was by all the animals sharing the space. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it was very odd at first to see all the different animals, chickens, llamas, goats, pigs, sheep, and ducks all running around together, in and out of each other’s pens. I couldn’t help but think about how they can all exist together peacefully (obviously without any predators, the cat has to stay in a separate area), but once humans get involved, we just mess everything up. Even in the context of the sanctuary, we very clearly stood out, not knowing how to behave and not sure how to relate to the animals, so not used to spending time with them and so used to think of ourselves as completely different from them.

“It’s been going on for thousands of years, this conflict is just never going to be solved.”

 This one is my favorite (aka most hated), and was the initial inspiration for this post because I’ve been hearing it a lot. The reason this pisses me off so much is not just that it’s not true (read about Jewish people in Palestine before Zionism to learn about this), but also because it pretty much portrays Jews and Palestinians as some sort of cat and mouse, two silly animals that just can’t get along for some reason. We’re not animals, we’re not kids, and we’re not just fighting for no reason. This conflict, like every conflict ever, has a history, a reason, and a solution. The fact the you don’t know enough about these things doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

I just find it so dismissive and condescending. There are thousands of people dedicating their lives to solving this conflict and to promoting peace and justice, but there you are, one genius American, declaring all resistance futile and sentencing us to eternal pain and struggle. How great and constructive. Maybe instead of saying what can or can’t be solved, you should educate yourself about what people are actually doing to, you know, solve this.

“It’s just too complicated, I can’t even try to understand it.”

I respect that you don’t pretend to know everything about something you’re not super familiar with. Really, it’s good and rare and important. But what a lot of people seem to actually want to say is “I don’t care enough to learn.” I guess it’s fair not to be interested in every single thing in the world, but it’s pretty messed up when you’re basically saying that people dying in other parts of the world just don’t interest you enough to get you to spend an hour reading a few articles. I’m not saying that you should be an expert on Middle Eastern politics, but it wouldn’t hurt to be curious and instead of shying away from complexity – embrace it and learn what you can (while acknowledging what you don’t know yet).

“Israel is the most evil country in the world.”

 Yeah, the Israeli government is pretty evil (as are most governments). What pisses me off about this is that if you’re American, you should see every action that Israel takes as an action that your own government took. Since the US has been the backer of the Israeli occupation for years, and has funded it and protected it from any international intervention – you can feel free to share the blame. I know that most Americans who critique Israel aren’t necessarily the biggest patriots, but it would just be nice if you felt as shitty about the occupation as we do.

“Both sides are to blame.”

The kindergarten classic – there are two sides fighting, therefore the fault must be divided evenly. Unfortunately life is not always so neat and easy, and not everything can be split right down the middle. Stop comparing just because it’s comfortable and stop trying to pretend that you’re “objective”, as if spreading misinformation and being lazy about understanding this situation is being objective. If you want to be on the side of justice instead of the side of silliness – start realizing that occupier and occupied are not the same. Yes, there are bad people on both sides and I never support violence against civilians, but you can’t compare aggression and offense to resistance and you can’t compare the consequences that each side faces. So don’t.

“Why do we talk about this but not about Syria/Iraq/Ukraine/someothercountry?”

 What this basically means is “I don’t care about this so I’ll justify not caring by bringing up some other issues I don’t care about.”  Yes, Israel is not the only country in the world doing fucked up stuff right now (I really wish it was), and we should pay attention, care, and do something about as many things as we can, but just because there’s always something more to get angry about doesn’t mean that you get to shit all over any effort to do anything about anything. Be respectful of people trying to fight for justice and don’t give them the unnecessary “but what about this and this and this??!?!??” as if they’re responsible for fixing all the world’s problems because they care about something. If anything else that’s happening in the world is bothering you: DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT, don’t just use it as your hypocritical justification for not caring.

“What would you do if missiles were being fired at Boston????”

What would you do if New York was under Canadian military occupation? What would you do if Maine was not in control of any of its borders, by air, land, or sea? What would you do if your whole family died in a bombing? I don’t know, because you never ask that. You can’t start telling a story from the point you’re comfortable with and ignore everything that’s happened before (aka treat the missiles being fired at Israel as an isolated phenomenon representing Palestinian aggression and hatred and totally disconnected from anything Israel ever did). Seriously this is just stupid so don’t do it. It’s like if I punched you in the face, and then you’d kick me and I’d go around telling people “Well, what would you do if this asshole was kicking you???” so I can justify punching you in the face again.


These are my six things for today, although some more might come up because people just love saying stuff that pisses me off. In the meanwhile you’re welcome to comment with your own thoughts about things that Americans (or other people) say about Israel and Palestine that piss you off!

You’re also welcome to check out these news sources to learn more about this and not be lazy (and comment with more links because this is just a brief list):

Al Jazeera English

+972 Magazine (read this article called Debunking Gaza war lies to learn about more things that you should stop repeating because they’re wrong)

The Electronic Intifada

Democracy Now

Jewish Voice for Peace

Arguing on the internet. One of those things that have become so famously useless that it’s hard to actually discuss it seriously (partially because it’s embarrassing to admit that you do it).

But I’ll admit it: I argue on the internet. I try to avoid it, but it’s often hard to overcome my natural tendency to not let anything go. I don’t seek it out, but I read and write in a lot of groups and pages that deal with things that are important to me, and every once in a while – someone says something that really pisses me off (or I say something that pisses them off). Most of the time this sort of online engagement in activism and issues of social justice is very enriching, interesting, and even empowering. I learn a lot from the women who share their experiences in small and big feminist discussion groups, I read a lot of interesting articles about sexism, racism, classism, speciesism and other isms, and find out about current events that aren’t covered by the mainstream media. AND, once in a while, I get into really bitter arguments with people I’ve never met, which often leave me feeling like a pile of shit on a bad day.

You might be thinking “well, why don’t you just stop arguing with people on the internet and use you time for something more productive?” and maybe you’re right, but that’s not what I want to talk about. It is a fact that a lot of people argue online at least once in a while, and so I think it’s worth thinking about without dismissing it as a silly waste of time as we often do. Also, like I said, a lot of good stuff comes out of discussing things online (particularly for people who don’t have access to these contents in real life), and sometimes it’s hard to draw the line between a constructive discussion and a poisonous argument, so it’s not so easy to just stop engaging in those (and I don’t think we should just stop talking about important issues on social media to avoid the arguments).

So here’s what I’ve been thinking about: the online arguments that really get to me, that have a strong and negative impact on my emotional state, that leave me feeling like the pile of shit I mentioned before, aren’t those infamous ones with trolls and mansplainers. They’re not with the people who comment “yum, bacon” on animal rights posts, they’re not with the oblivious men who burst into feminist discussions to generously explain how women are asking for it, and they’re not with the white people who express their deep concern over “reversed racism”. I mean, yeah, I do engage with those sometimes and they are always frustrating and really sad, but I always know that I have the online activist/feminist/anti-racist/social justice-ist community behind me, and I know that I’m most definitely on the “right” side, and will be treated accordingly. So most of the time I manage to let arguments with trolls and jerks bounce right off of me, and they almost never leave me feeling distressed in my personal life.

But when I encounter serious conflict within this “community” (which is obviously a very loose use of the word since it’s quite an elusive group of people) – that’s when it really gets bad. That’s when comments from total strangers stay with me for days, that is when I feel like just quitting all together, that’s when I wonder if I was just a fake feminist all along.

I’ve seen feminist communities tear each other apart online. I’ve seen activists that I really appreciate (in real life) behave like bullies when they don’t have to look the other person in the eye. I’ve done it all myself, wrote in ways that I would never speak and used my familiarity with the activist vocab and trends to get more likes and make myself feel cool. I think we all do this, all the time. Someone uses a word that we only learned is offensive two weeks ago – we bash them, someone asks a question we don’t like – we bash them, someone doesn’t know the exact way to talk about all the different issues we’re dealing with – we bash them, someone has a slightly different take on feminism – you guessed it, we bash them.

It’s not that we shouldn’t be angry when people say stupid shit. It’s okay to call people out and to be upset when they disagree with you. But I think that what is missing from the online discussions I’ve seen (and this is maybe the most obvious thing to say today about the internet and alienation and those kinds of things that people love talking about) is the simple understanding that on the other side there is a person, and like all of us, that person is in the middle of a process. “In real life” (as if when we sit in front of a computer we cease to exist in the real world) we put up with a lot from our friends, families, and fellow activists, and not only because we don’t want to make things awkward. Sure, that’s often a part of it, but the other part is that we are able to contain their complexities, recognize their processes, and give people the benefit of the doubt and some room to grow. We can understand them as more than just the binary of “totally awesome” or “awful and terrible pseudo-feminists”. We don’t start every conversation on 110% intensity and we don’t disregard people’s entire existence because of one thing they said. When I told my friend about the idea of the post she put it as “we see people online as static and as incapable of change”, and that’s a good way to think about it. Online our words literally stay static and out there (unless we choose to change them), and so every small comment or word weirdly becomes the static representation of our full and whole selves.

Illustration: bad calling out!

When we call people out, when our mom says that homophobic thing or our fellow feminist makes a slightly classist comment, we don’t flip the table and yell “You’re so damn homophobic and you should be ashamed of yourself!” (even if sometimes we feel like doing it). We say the classic “that thing you said sounded homophobic” and take it from there, giving the other person a chance to actually reconsider what they said or explain themselves (maybe even apologize or take it back), instead of shitting on their entire self and leaving them with nothing but resentment. And we expect to be treated the same when we’re called out, and we’re all called out every once in a while (or we should be), because we all make stupid comments sometimes and none of us started as the perfect activist who’s 100% against all oppressions, takes part in none of them and knows all the current and appropriate lingo in the world of social justice.

I’m a firm believer in the idea that the oppressed should not have to explain their oppression to the oppressor, so I know that it’s a little complicated to think about how we can have space to express our legitimate thoughts, frustration, and anger, and not have to “tone it down” for anyone, but at the same time still save space for the mistakes that we will all inevitably make and avoid policing and bashing each other. And that’s another important thing: we all have areas in which we are privileged and we need to remember that. Those areas of privilege, and just the reality of living in a messed up society, will definitely create messed up ideas in our heads that we will have to work through. We’re not just totally bad or totally good, totally feminist or totally sexist, we’re always somewhere in the process. And “working through it” doesn’t just mean learning which words will get you bashed online, it’s a more complicated process that takes time and happens on a deeper level. But it seems to me that this process, in the online world, has become not a process of learning and growing, but of trying to exert power over the other person, proving that we’re the better activist,  and constantly attacking and defending.

And it’s not surprising that we do this. When you read comment after comment saying really messed up things, when you have long arguments with really insensitive people who keep saying offensive and oppressive stuff, and when you’re just constantly in this battle called “the internet” (and “the world”), it’s natural to eventually just keep your sword in your hand at all times. It’s hard to tell a troll apart from someone who’s simply new to the topic, it’s hard to tell if someone’s being offensive or is just challenging something that is now “activist-consensus” and so it upsets us, it’s hard to tell if we’re talking to someone openly sexist or someone that just has a bit of a different take on feminism (or has a specific disagreement with us). All we have representing us and the other person is just a handful of comments, sometimes one sentence, on which we base an entire theory of who this person is and how they fall in our understanding of justice. So often we can’t tell the difference, and honestly, even when we can tell – we’re so damn tired, angry, and fed up with all the sexism, racism, and other isms on the internet, that we don’t even care.

I don’t have answers, no “Do’s and Don’ts of Online Activism” no “Ten Ways to Fix Our Poisonous Relationships with Each Other Online,” and no “17 GIFs that Will Change the Way You View Facebook Arguments.” just my thoughts and the hope that this is a conversation that people can have. For me, the bottom line is that we need to figure out what calling out can look like online (as opposed to bashing), what productive and inclusive discussions are (as opposed to bitter arguments), and how to use criticism to make each other better activists (as opposed to make each other feel like crap).

To conclude, I will give you an easy-on-the-eyes list of what I do know (some of them are reiterations) and I think can be used to help us rethink about our online conversations about social justice and activism:

  • Leaving people feeling like shit isn’t going to make them better allies/activists/feminists/whatever.
  • We are all in a process and no one is born the perfect activist (and so we all end up on both sides of this occasionally).
  • There are obvious activist trends that dictate which opinions are okay to express and which are not, and they are actually not so clear cut “good” and “bad”, they are often just different approaches to the issue, and although I might agree with a lot of them, treating any slightly different opinion as terrible betrayal doesn’t help us, it just keeps us from developing, critiquing, and improving ourselves and our activism.
  • Learning what words to avoid and what phrases to use to get more likes from other activists is not the same as understanding and deconstructing oppression.
  • When we use our familiarity with activist knowledge, trends, and ways of talking to make someone else feel crappy or to make ourselves feel cool- we’re not helping anyone.
  • Sometimes, when you’re being a “bad” ally, a “bad” feminist, or a “bad” whatever, maybe it’s okay to feel like one and to feel bad in general. Sometimes feeling bad can push us to become better, to expand our understanding of justice, to include more oppressions in our understanding of intersectionality, and to recognize the ways in which we are still benefiting from oppression. But it’s a fine line between all of these great things and the feeling of “I’m a bad feminist, I’m not worth anything, my activism is bullshit and I should probably just give up and go watch Netflix instead.” This is the line we need to find.

Hopefully we can take some of these thoughts, stir in some other thoughts, and find ways to create online communities that can handle complexities, include all of us as individuals who are always in the process of changing, contain our anger, provide us with opportunities for challenging, improving, and calling each other out, and keep us energized, hopeful, and strong.

If there’s something I don’t want to do – it’s join the public shaming frenzy of Miley Cyrus’ performance in the VMAs (and her new song and image). But there are still some things I want to say about this issue.

First of all, let’s all take a minute and think about how racist her performance and her video are, instead of just focusing on how much of her butt showed.

Second of all, yes, Miley Cyrus, like any other person in this world, should be free to do what ever she wants with her body and her sexuality. The whole uproar about her being “slutty” or whatever else people are saying is sexist and annoying and would never be said about a man and should never be said about anyone. But this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t think critically about what’s going on with her and with this story.

This performance (or her recent video) is not really about personal expression. Cyrus didn’t wake up one day and decide “hmmm what should I do next? Maybe wear really short pants, twerk, and grind with Robin Thicke.” Miley Cyrus, the superstar that she is, has people whose job it is to decide what her next song should be, what she should wear in her next video, how she should dance and basically how every detail of her life should look like in order to become more famous and make more money. There are no mistakes, no improvising, it’s all carefully thought out and planned, and not by her. “We Can’t Stop” was written by (surprise) a man, with additional help from Cyrus and… 5 other men (it takes a lot of people to write such a masterpiece). This is not simply a young woman exploring her sexuality and her image as a good girl; this is a business. It’s not a mistake, it’s not an adventure, it’s not growing up gone wrong; it’s an intentional act meant, as I said, to make more money.

I do think that her age has a lot to do with it, but not just because she’s going a little nuts like everyone does at some point. Let’s take a second and think about the fact that she is 20 years old. 20, as in can’t drink yet, as in born in (the end of) 1992, as in college sophomore age. Think about someone you know who is 20, and imagine them being as famous as Cyrus and trying to negotiate getting older. It’s nuts. I’m not trying to be ageist, it’s just that most of us are lucky enough to be able to do some dumb shit in the process of getting to know ourselves without having it be live broadcasted to the whole world and without anyone trying to make bank off of it. Growing up is a great and confusing process, but the important thing is that when we think about the number of people who carefully plan Cyrus’ career and who are financially dependent on it, it’s hard not to think that maybe someone (or someones) chose to take advantage of her age and her stage in life in order to make more money.

In addition, the real disturbing part of Cyrus’ performance (in addition to her usage of women of color as props) was her little duet with Robin Thicke. Mind you, this is a (married) 36 year old man, 16 years older than Cyrus, who quite literally could be his daughter. Now she gets to use her sexuality and her coming of age not only to make more money for herself and her producers/agents, but also for Thicke and his peeps. How very lucky.

You’d think that in this huge production there would be at least one person who would say “Hey, maybe we shouldn’t have a 20 year old in her underwear grind on a 36 year old man and play with a huge foam finger between her legs as he sings about her being a ‘good girl’ and says ‘you know you want it’. Just maybe!” But apparently there wasn’t, and it’s not an accident; it worked perfectly. This performance is the only thing anyone talks about regarding the VMAs; thousands of people wrote, tweeted, or just freaked out about it, and Miley Cyrus’ name, pictures, and gifs are everywhere. The only thing is that now she’s being called a slut who is out of control because she’s 20, but no one bothers to say anything about the people who carefully orchestrated this performance and Cyrus’ recent endeavors. No one even seems to have a problem with Thicke’s part in it, the 36 year old man who felt great about grinding with a girl almost half his age, wearing less than 10% of the fabric he’s wearing (talk about the double standard…). He’s not a slut. The only important thing is that Miley Cyrus is a slut and look how ridiculous she looks and how she’s embarrassing herself. Pretty much sexism 101; tell a woman she needs to do these certain things to get famous, and then shame and mock her for doing them, while not mentioning all the men who pushed her that way and facilitated (and participated in) the whole thing.

I’m not gonna lie, watching this performance kinda made me feel like I’m watching the end scene of a movie about the demise of a pop star, where a young singer is walking around the stage being confused and out of it, and then passes out to the surprise of the confused audience, teaching all of us a lesson about the price of fame. But we have to remember that this is not really about Cyrus herself; she is not just a college student going crazy on the weekend. This is about how the music industry uses every aspect of women’s lives, bodies, and sexualities in order to benefit off of their careers, and then lets them take all the fire for being sluts, dumb, shallow, crazy, and other endearing terms that the public and the media throws at them. The producers, agents, and Robin Thickes just get to smoothly walk away with all the money and none of the public shaming.

 

 

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Edit:

Just to let you all know, I’m not going to approve comments that call me or other women names, that slut-shame, and that try to explain to me how free women are to do whatever they want and not be sluts. The whole world and the whole internet world is there for you to be sexist and roam free, so please keep it out of this one place. Thanks.

(Trigger warning: strong language, sexual violence, and just… Game of Thrones)

It took me two weeks to watch all of Game of Thrones. Now let’s talk about it.

I know many people have already said that Game of Thrones is problematic as far as feminism goes, but I wanted to dig a bit deeper into those uncomfortable feelings that the show raises in those of us who have any interest or stake in gender equality (aka hopefully all of us).

Using women’s bodies as decoration is pretty much the oldest trick in the lazy-and-uncreative-media-making book. We see it in many different forms, all of them predictable and yet upsetting. (Some) men like looking at women’s bodies, so we stick them everywhere for them to enjoy. Game of Thrones is not different in this respect, its use of female bodies is pretty much identical to that of every shitty (and “good”) piece of media that thinks women (or at least those of us who look a certain way) were put on this planet so that men can sit back and “enjoy” their appearance. GoT is different in other ways, like in that it takes the whole objectifying thing, to which we got pretty desensitized, to such an extreme level that we’re almost convinced that it’s not even objectifying anymore. Now, they tell us, it’s quality, progressive, and insightful television. But it’s really not, or at least that piece of it isn’t. The fact that Game of Thrones is well-produced, interesting, complex, and super addictive doesn’t change the fact that it also reaps the benefits of our sexist society and its treatment of women’s bodies. Its usage of female nudity serves, above all, the “fuck yeah, tits!” ideology, even if those tits are surrounded by (and maybe even belong to) interesting characters and ideas in an epic and glamorous fantasy world.

The reason this is so annoying, more than it is when shows like How I met Your Mother or The Bachelor do it, is because Game of Thrones actually had the potential to be a not-sexist (or, god forbid, feminist) show, and partially it is. With a lot of decent female characters who get actual story lines, depth and complex personalities, GoT could have been truly progressive and interesting in its treatment of female characters, but I guess we really cannot have it all; some objectifying apparently makes the feminist medicine go down.

The sexism in GoT is pretty blatant, and if you haven’t noticed it yourselves, there’s probably nothing I can say to make you understand it (the show does a pretty good job of explaining it all by itself). But just to recap: the women in this show, all but the selected few who are outside the acceptable age range for blatant objectifying, serve a dual function: they’re characters, and at the same time they’re ornaments. It seems quite obvious that so much of the nudity on the show is unnecessary, it doesn’t serve the plot or enhance the emotional impact, and it is clear that its main goal is entertaining the male viewers who can’t stay engaged. The women in GoT are naked a lot. Seriously, a lot. It seems like half the time when there’s a conversation going on, there are just some anonymous women in the background, prancing away in the nude (as it is in all of our lives, I assume). Women are naked when they aren’t really even in the scene, just decorating the screen, and they are also naked when they’re talking and conversing (maybe that’s the only way they, or we, will listen). They’re naked at night, evening and morning. In their homes and in the great outdoors. When they’re having sex or when they just exist in the world as females. Basically, it seems like everything that a Game of Thrones man can do, a GoT woman can also do, only she has to do it naked.

Not only are women naked so much more often than men, but they are naked in a very different and particular way. Usually they are shown fully, or at least fully enough to have their breasts and almost-vag showing, facing the camera, and either dramatically removing and dropping a piece of clothing , or just kinda standing there, just being naked. This is the most obvious “I’m here to be looked at” nudity there is. Always passive, decorative, inviting, presenting. There is no variety in terms of what female nudity can be; it’s never aggressive, funny, intimidating, awkward, sad, or relaxing; it’s always just sexy and there to be turned on by. This can give us a pretty good idea of what GoT believes female bodies are for. Pretty basic male-gaze stuff.

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(Sorry about the kittens, I didn’t know what else to use and didn’t want it to be boring!)

The men, on the other hand, seem to be able to keep their clothes on most of the time, even well into sex scenes. Talk about a double standard… The striking visual of a fully nude woman and a fully clothed man is pretty common on the show. But even when men are shown nude (always when it makes sense, say when they’re having sex), it never feels like the viewer is supposed to get turned on by their nudity. They don’t get sensual shots focusing on their body parts, they don’t undress for the camera, they don’t stand there and wait for the audience to enjoy their strong bodies.

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Actually, the only time male nudity gets the same visual treatment as female nudity is, of course, in the gay sex scene. Why? Because, as sexism and heteronormativity have taught us, someone has to be the woman, right? (No.)

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I’m not saying that we should objectify men (although I’m sure some viewers would be happy to see Jon Snow sensually removing his heavy coat and present himself to the camera); they deserve to have their clothes, as do we all. I’m saying that maybe female characters can be treated with the same seriousness that male characters enjoy when it comes to decisions about their bodies and nudity, instead of being used as pretty decorations for the set.

We should also take a second to consider the few women who aren’t shown nude. There aren’t very many of them; Arya and Sansa who are both too young, in real life and hopefully in the show too (although I have a guess what will happen when Sophie Turner, Sansa, will turn 18), and Catelyn and Olenna, Margaery’s grandmother, who are both apparently too old. Since Arya and Sansa are both simply illegal to show naked, I’m going to focus on the older characters, who are also more interesting as far as nudity goes. So, the women of GoT are supposedly shown naked a lot because that’s the harsh truth, because in the world that the show portrays, this is the reality women live in. The reason I don’t buy this is exactly because of these older characters. Women like Catelyn Stark would also be naked sometimes in the world of GoT. She has sex, she showers… she is, like pretty much everyone everywhere, naked at times. But in the show, magically enough, she is not shown naked even once. Why? Maybe it’s because Michelle Fairley, the actress who plays Catelyn, has acted in more than 50 movies and TV shows before GoT, and might be harder to get to undress than, say, Emilia Clarke (Daenerys), who has acted only in 3 movies/shows before GoT. Maybe it’s because Fairley is almost 50 years old, while the other actresses who are shown nude tend to be in their 20s and 30s. Maybe older women aren’t considered “attractive” enough to be shown nude. Maybe there is even a disrespect that is associated with nudity, and older age gains you some respect that the young women aren’t given. Maybe it would just be too pricey to get a famous actress to agree to be filmed nude. Either way, Catelyn Stark manages to be a convincing and real character, even with all of her clothes on. Apparently the harsh reality can be compromised sometimes, even on the truthful Game of Thrones. The thought of Fairley being able to negotiate her nudity in a way that the younger actresses couldn’t is deeply disturbing (actually, Lena Headey, Cersei, who is 40 years old and who has acted in almost 60 movies/shows before GoT, did not agree to be naked and has a body double for her nude scenes), and the thought of the very particular kinds of female nudity that we are shown, even with the massive quantities of it, makes me think that maybe it’s not all about the plot and the commitment to the visual reality.

It is not only older women who aren’t shown naked, it is also bigger women or just any woman who doesn’t 100% fit the Hollywood ideal. Granted, there are pretty much no bigger women in the show at all, naked or dressed, but let’s just say that in the made up world of GoT, all women are probably not as thin as they are in the show. Bigger women exist, and they are also often naked. The traditionally less attractive men in the show (older, bigger) are actually shown nude sometimes, although never in a sexualizing way. Men’s bodies in GoT are a million times more diverse than women’s bodies, and they have different uses and meanings; women’s bodies seem to only mean “sexy.” The fact that bigger and older women are never shown nude and that it is always thin, young and traditionally good looking women who have their bodies presented to the audience, again, goes to show us that the main point of the nudity is to turn guys on, nothing more.

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Another important way GoT uses female bodies is as the recipients of many forms of violence. This is, of course, true  for male bodies as well (and animal bodies, or any body that appears on the screen really), but again, not in the same way. More often than not, it seems that the violence against the women of GoT is not meant simply to shock us, but also to please us in a weird fucked up way. This is also a common theme in film and TV, where abuse of female bodies is glamorized and presented as visually pleasing rather than as sad or disturbing. This often includes sexualization of violence against women, like we saw in the earlier scenes between Daenerys and Drogo, when he continuously rapes her. I prefer not to include screen shots from those scenes as I found them terribly disturbing, but they are still important. So yes, they are shocking and disturbing, but they also give this awful feeling that someone is finding this visually pleasing. They don’t just read “terrible,” they also read “sexy” and maybe even “sensual”. They still focus on Daenerys’ body, on her nudity as attractive, not as disturbing, as if telling the audience to be thankful that Drogo decided to rape an attractive woman because now we get to look at her. Much like in the dumb “We Saw Your Boobs” piece, here too we get to see Daenerys’ boobs, and the fact that it’s in a rape scene doesn’t seem to matter much.

Sin City (my least favorite movie of all times) is a great example of this, of using the hitting, stabbing and killing of women as visual stimulation for the audience and as a source of pleasure. It’s hard to put my finger on what it is that makes a certain portrayal of violence against women effective, meaningful, and compassionate, and another humiliating, glamorizing, and indulging. It’s one of those things: you know it when you see it. There is just this sense that the makers of the show find some pleasure in the visuals of violence against women and not necessarily use them for the right reasons. I’m not saying that they think that you should abuse women, clearly they understand that these are negative acts, but it can certainly seems like they find some distorted beauty in violence against women, which they don’t find in violence against men.

Abuse of women is also often taken less seriously than abuse of men. When Theon was tortured, he got to have his pain featured and detailed on several episodes and scenes, his abuse was taken seriously and the audience was expected to sympathize with him. We experience the violence along with him, twitching and cringing with every hit he suffers. But when Ros (aka the main prostitute and a much more interesting character, if you ask me) was brutally murdered, she got one swift shot (which was, of course, very artistically arranged) to show her death; you could miss it completely if you just looked down to your popcorn bowl for one second. Theon’s loss of his penis got so much more attention and screen time than the loss of Ros’ life. Obviously losing your penis would be a pretty traumatizing and generally terrible experience, but so would dying at the hand of a teenage psychopath.

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What these particular uses of female bodies teach us is who Game of Thrones is actually meant for. In a heteronormative society, constantly decorating the screen with female bodies is basically saying that this is guy territory. Women are allowed to watch, but it’s not really directed at us. It tells us that people who can’t handle watching the most graphic and brutal violence and sexual violence scenes (say, survivors of sexual assault who find it triggering) can basically go fuck themselves, because no one cares. Can’t take it? Too bad. Sissy girls can go watch the Disney Channel, this is for tough guys only. This pretty much sucks since, like I said, Game of Thrones is an addictive show with interesting characters and story lines, and excluding (mostly) women (considering that we are the majority of sexual violence survivors and of those who might not find the female-bodies-as-flower-vases genre appealing) is shitty, to put it simply.

The other reason this sucks is because although the story is made-up, fantasy, imaginary etc, these women had to be naked in real life. Now, there’s nothing wrong with being naked, when desired it’s fun and cool and all that, but this is not these women’s relaxing me-time; this is their job. Getting naked as a job is a complicated topic, but this is not really what these women do anyway. They’re actresses. They act. Game of Thrones, as one of the most popular shows in the past couple of years, is probably the best a beginner British actress can do right now. Many of these women are very new to acting, some of them having Game of Thrones be their first big role, and so there is something pretty disturbing about the situation this creates. Let’s see, you’re an aspiring young actress, and you’re offered a role in the most expensive TV show of all times, that people talk about nonstop and that will make you a star (and probably pretty wealthy) overnight, and where you will actually get to play an interesting character, with depth and all of that good stuff. The only thing is… you have to be naked. A lot. So, you can agree to be naked and become all of these things, or you can say no, keep your clothes on and spend the next so and so years auditioning for students’ short films and not earning enough money to cover even the bus fare to the set and back.

In other words, these fantasies create very real realities. A TV show is different from a book or a story, because it has to take place in the real world and be enacted on real people, at least to a certain extent. These are things that are written into contracts, that are negotiated, that people actually have to do. It matters when so much of the success you can have as an actress depends on whether you agree to undress for the camera.

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The other side of the reality behind the fantasy can maybe explain why GoT treats female bodies the way it does. Game of Thrones is made by men. It’s created, directed and written by men. Two men created it, men directed all but 2 episodes, men wrote all but 3 episodes, men filmed all but 2 episodes and out of 23 people credited for some level of producing, only 6 are women, none of which is credited for all 30 episodes. You get the point: a lot of men. Obviously, having a male-dominated production is not unusual in the TV or film world, but this is more extreme than many other popular shows, even less “progressive” ones. Hot I met Your Mother, True Blood, Bones, Grey’s Anatomy, Pretty Little Liars and Scandal are all either created, directed or written by mostly women, or at least an equal number of men and women. There are still A LOT of TV shows that have practically no women in main production roles, but it’s no longer obvious; clearly it is possible to include women in production and excuses are running out. This matters because when men tell all the stories, the way women are portrayed tends to go wrong. It’s not that involving women in the production guarantees a 100% feminist product, but maybe it increases the chances that female characters in the show will be treated more like characters and less like sculptures that can move. Also, going back to the piece about the realities for the actresses in GoT, I can’t help but think about the actual shooting of these scenes, of having to stand naked for long periods of time, in front of a room full of men who are telling you what to do and how, while your male counterparts are fully clothed. Again, these characters are naked in the made up story, but the actresses are naked in the very real set.

Game of Thrones could be a really great show. It has all the ingredients right there; it can be clever, innovative, surprising and trusting of its audience’s intelligence. Sometimes it is all of these things, but when it comes to female bodies, GoT is expected, boring, disregarding of its audience, and quite lazy. It could be great for female characters, actresses, and viewers, but instead it chooses to treat us and them in the old and boring sexist way of television.

For future reference: women sometimes wear clothes. When women don’t wear clothes, it’s not always for men (or anyone) to look at. Older women and bigger women exist. Violence against women is never beautiful or sexy. Women’s pain is real and important. Women watch your shows and deserve to be taken seriously as viewers and not be ignored. Actresses should be able to become successful even if they want to keep their clothes on. Female bodies were not put on this planet to please you with their form. If you want to make good television, take women seriously and find new ways to portray and engage with female characters, instead of repeating the same old boring stereotypes.

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A note on race:

I’m sure that there are a lot of people who can say this better than me, but I can’t talk about the body politics of GoT without mentioning the racist crap these guys pulled off. Okay, I didn’t read the books, and I don’t care, this is what it is. Portraying the violent, wild, sexually-aggressive and barbaric people as.. well, not-white (and, let’s admit it, probably Arab) is NOT okay. Showing all the slave-cities as, again, not-white (white people never enslaved anyone, clearly) is not okay. Having Daenerys, aka the whitest person ever, come to free all the slaves with her gracious good-heart is kind of fucked up. Again, the show supplied everything I could ask for to make a point, in this extremely disturbing last shot where Daenerys is shown literally as the shining, white center of the depressed brown mass of people who she is going to save. White savior complex 101. Thank god for blue eyes and blond hair, or these poor dark slaves would be stuck with their masters forever! I can’t remember where I read this (sorry), but someone criticized The Help saying that black people didn’t need white people to initiate acts of defiance for them; they did that all on their own. It is pretty much the same problem for this story, and the visuals speak loudly of the problematic idea that white people are needed to save people of color. Daenerys is like any white American college student in a trip to Africa, taking a picture with the poor village kids and posting it on her facebook to let the world know: “wohooo! look at me saving all of the poor dark kids!!! yayyy!” Thanks…?

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