Archive for television

Neither closet nor fridge: Or how Marvel’s Deadpool needs to take care of female and LGBTQ characters

With the rising popularity of comic book storylines turned movies, Marvel has been dominating the box office and the public’s interest for a few years now.

Most Marvel fans (myself included) have a favorite movie, a favorite avenger, and a favorite future project they’re looking forward to. (For me, they are Captain America: The First Avenger, Captain America, and Captain America: Civil War—anyone see a pattern yet?) Even if you find a die-hard fan of DC Comics, you can be sure that they’re familiar with the Marvel universe as well since it’s an almost unavoidable phenomenon.

One of the most recent installments in the Marvel universe was Deadpool, an irreverent, witty, and incredibly self-aware origin story that paints the main character (played by Ryan Reynolds) as anything but a hero. He’s a “bad guy who kills other bad guys.” Deadpool starts out as a mercenary and ends the movie as a man who’s gotten his revenge. Sure, he has a future as a reluctant superhero, but it’s more than likely he’ll be a thorn in the sides of the other superheroes.

deadpool heart hands

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The film version of Deadpool has gained some serious critical attention and made Marvel history by featuring an openly and explicitly pansexual character, which means that any potential romantic interest he has isn’t limited by gender. His partner in the current film is indeed a woman, but Deadpool’s attraction to folks of other genders isn’t invalidated by this fact. Ryan Reynolds has even spoken in favor of Deadpool getting a boyfriend in a future film, and fans (myself included) would love to see that.

The only hesitation that I have with this idea is his current partner, Vanessa (played by Morena Baccarin).

deadpool ring pop

Most of the film focuses on this relationship, even [SPOILER ALERT!] placing Vanessa in a vulnerable position that Deadpool rescues her from, allowing for a reconciliation at the end of the film.

This means that if Vanessa’s still with him in the sequel, then we’re most likely going to see one of two things happen:

1: Deadpool doesn’t get a boyfriend (which is such a drag, honestly, it’s about time).

or

2: Vanessa will be suddenly unavailable to Deadpool, allowing him to find a boyfriend.

But this presents a problem: I adore Vanessa. She’s sweet and smart and funny and retains agency even though her role at this point is mainly that of a love interest. She and Deadpool have a great relationship, and as of right now, I don’t see any reason for them to break up and I certainly don’t want them to.

You might be wondering why I wouldn’t want Deadpool and Vanessa to break up. If it means a well-known male superhero gets a boyfriend, and their relationship serves as open and obvious representation for LGBTQ+ folks in a way that’s handled with the proper respect, there shouldn’t be an issue, right?

To be clear, my issue isn’t with a potential male love interest, but rather with what would have to happen to take Vanessa out of the equation.

So often, superhero storylines rely on tired tropes when it comes to their female characters, whether they’re love interests or protagonists. These tropes include the Disposable Love Interest, who is left out with little to no explanation in the sequel, or the Disposable Woman, whose main role is most often to get kidnapped or killed in order to move the protagonist’s plot forward.

The worst trope originated in a Green Lantern comic storyline and is referred to as Stuffed into the Fridge or “fridging,” and it’s as bad as it sounds. An often female character close to the hero is killed and left behind for the protagonist to find, sometimes as the start of a revenge plotline, but always for the main male character’s development even though the female character will get little to no attention or development as a result of her brutal murder. In the Green Lantern comic, for instance, the hero’s girlfriend was shoved into the refrigerator for him to discover later.

My point is I don’t want Vanessa to go through any of this.

There was beautiful and careful attention given to fleshing out Vanessa’s character and her relationship with Deadpool in the first film, and she and the other female characters have so much potential moving forward.

It would be easier for the writers to kill off Vanessa in the next film than it would be for them to have to fully utilize her character (It would also be the lazier thing to do on their part.) Is this a bit pessimistic? Sure. But check out the list of women who’ve been fridged in comics before (warning: the descriptions in this link are brief but potentially triggering since they often refer to varying levels of abuse and violence), and you might also start worrying that yet another writing team will fall back on lazy writing rather than spending the time it takes to be innovative.

If the writers really need any ideas about Vanessa’s future role in Deadpool’s life, here are some suggestions about what they could do with her:

—The two of them could mutually decide to breakup in order to avoid any more damsel-in-distress moments.

—Vanessa could have a new job opportunity.

—Or she could have some cool powers that elevate her from girlfriend to partner-in-crime.

—They could break up but still be on good terms as friends (allowing her to poke fun at him in front of his new boyfriend).

—They could literally do anything besides killing her.

deadpool coupley Look

My point is this: it’s fantastic that big blockbuster movies—especially ones rooted in comics—are making an effort to become more inclusive of LGBTQ+ characters, but let’s not have that move forward happen at the expense of women.

—Molly C.

Tackling the teen movie: the role that body image and bulimia plays in Heathers

We’ve all had that movie we completely underestimated when we first approached it. That movie we thought was going to be okay but wasn’t a priority. That movie that ended up changing your life, the one that made you wonder why you waited so long to see it: The Surprise.

One of my dear friends had never seen the Lord of the Rings movies before, assuming they were silly and probably not her thing, but she sat through the first one with me anyway (partially because she’s a saint and partially because I badgered her until she did).

The Lord of the Rings was The Surprise for her. She was never much of a fantasy fan, but there was something really special about the the storyline and the visuals that she hadn’t expected to find there.

I’ve always been willing to give most fantasy movies and cult classics a try, but for some reason I had never gotten around to watching Heathers.

As a fan huge fan of Mean Girls, I was told that Heathers acted almost as a precursor to the film, that there were the same kind of social dynamics addressed, and that, like Mean GirlsHeathers validated the struggles of teenage girls. I was also excited to see that someone had turned it into a musical as well.

Spoilers ahead, so if you haven't seen it, what are you waiting for?

Spoilers ahead, so if you haven’t seen it, what are you waiting for?

What I didn’t expect was for Heathers to draw me in with ’80s movie charm mixed with an irreverent and all-too-honest humor. The focus on murder and suicide was also a little bit jarring.

Heathers is an incredibly important film, putting some serious social weight behind its jokes. It addresses eating disorders and the way that we see food as well as body size as well as the way that our bodies affect how people see us.

 

Grow up, Heather. Bulimia is so ’87.

The film features a trio of beautiful, rich, popular girls that seem to run their high school. All of them are named Heather. Shannen Doherty plays Heather Duke, the bookish opportunist who’s most often seen wearing green and most often victimized by Heather Chandler (played by Kim Walker), the group’s fearless leader.

One of the first scenes in the movie shows Duke calling for help from inside a bathroom stall, after which Veronica (played by Winona Ryder) quips, “A true friend’s work is never done” while wiggling her index finger. Although it’s not shown on camera—thank god—it’s clear that Duke is plagued by an eating disorder, one that makes the other Heathers tell her offhandedly to “Grow up, Heather. Bulimia is so ’87.”

The other Heathers don’t take Duke’s plight seriously, and even Veronica’s suggestion that “maybe you should see a doctor” is quiet and only uttered while she files a nail. Duke reacts by looking uncomfortable, shrugging it off with a “yeah, maybe.”

It’s clear that Heather Duke will not be going to a doctor.

I know I was appalled when I saw that Duke’s friends were barely reacting to her eating disorder, but for them it was a non-issue. In the context of the film, it seems as though Heather is expected to continue to purge if she wants to keep her already shaky spot in the Heathers’ clique, and the dialogue suggests that she’s not the only one dealing with this kind of issue. If bulimia is “so ’87,” then there must be other eating disorders in vogue at the time, maybe not even disguised as crash diets or cleanses.

The exaggerated nonchalance in these characters’ attitudes toward eating disorders isn’t just a product of the movie. Young women in our society are constantly inundated with images of skinnier and skinnier bodies that they have to aspire to, and they often resort to extremes to achieve that kind of body.

And while I’m willing to admit that movies have gotten a little better about including actors of all sizes, the majority of them are still incredibly skinny and, at the same time, actors with bigger bodies are still used as punch lines.

While Hollywood might still have trouble with body image, Heather Duke takes a turn after Heather Chandler’s shocking death. Once the news gets around school, Duke starts stuffing her face with chicken. Her friends notice; Veronica jokes that she needs to “watch it” since she “might be digesting food there,” and Heather McNamarra (played by Lisanne Falk) asks, “where’s your ‘urge to purge’?”

Duke’s response?

heathers fuck it

She says “fuck it,” throwing away the chicken bone like she throws away her attachment to her eating disorder. Duke doesn’t seem to care anymore about how food is going to affect her anymore. Heather Chandler isn’t there to put that kind of pressure on her.

Duke was consistently scrutinized and picked, particularly by Heather Chandler, and with that girl’s death, Duke feels able to eat freely. While it’s not quite that easy to come back from an eating disorder, the sentiment is clear. Sometimes you just need to eat, whatever the consequences.

 

You can live the dream or you can die alone!

If Heather Duke struggled to stay afloat in high school, her classmate Martha Dunstock (played by Carrie Lynn) was virtually drowning. Stuck with the nickname Martha “Dumptruck,” she’s living proof that social hierarchies, especially those in high schools, rest uncomfortably and uncontrollably on the body. Martha doesn’t interact with any of her classmates, sits alone at lunch, and is laughed out of the cafeteria when she tries to speak to one of the football players.

It’s clear that while Veronica and some of the other students have the opportunity to get on the Heathers’ good sides and move up in social status, Martha never has that chance. The Heathers even test Veronica by writing a fake love note from a football player and pressuring her to put it on Martha’s tray. Veronica keeps saying that she doesn’t have an issue with Martha, but since her friends think it’s funny, she makes herself complicit in Martha’s humiliation.

It’s a minor moment, but the prank that the Heathers and Veronica pull on Martha illustrates how difficult it is to be fat in high school. Even Veronica, who has no issue with Martha, is willing to help make her life a living hell because she doesn’t want to say no to the Heathers. The message is that it doesn’t matter how you feel if you don’t act accordingly; Veronica could have easily been Martha’s ally, but it was easier for her to let her othering continue.

Veronica manages to get it right by the end of the film though. After watching her classmates die at her the hands of her boyfriend (played by Christian Slater) and desperately fighting to stop him from blowing up the school, it’s a lot easier for her to put her values in perspective. She gives up on the school’s social hierarchy, snatching the red scrunchie from Heather Duke and proclaiming herself the new sheriff in town before inviting Martha over for a movie.

By renouncing the Heathers’ high school pettiness, Veronica is able to begin making amends for the harm she helped cause. She’s not absolved of responsibility, but the movie ends on a hopeful note as Martha and Veronica walk away together, metaphorically into the sunset.

—Molly C.

Tackling the Teen Movie:
How the messages in Mean Girls go beyond “On Wednesdays, we wear pink!”

Usually when I start a new show or look for a new movie, I try to gauge whether or not it’s going to frustrate me too much.

There are some movie tropes that I absolutely adore despite how problematic they might be—for instance, the makeover montage, the mean girl’s comeuppance, the pining best friend, and the musical number (thanks Ferris Bueller and Easy A!).

But there are a few things that end up being deal breakers for me.

If there’s a diverse cast, queer characters, or even just a cast that’s made up mostly of women, I’ll look into it. However, I can’t stand it when all the women hate each other or are competing for This One Guy who’s actually not that attractive when it comes right down to it.

Has anyone seen John Tucker Must Die and understood why he was that sought after?

Has anyone seen John Tucker Must Die and understood why he was that sought after?

Or when two female leads are both drop dead gorgeous, but one of them isn’t blond and has glasses so she’s the one that’s presented as undesirable or even ugly.

“Designated Ugly Fat Friend” where?

“Designated Ugly Fat Friend” where?

As a writer and an English major, I literally cannot stop myself from analyzing the media that I consume and support, and the more I do so, the more I realize that it’s something we all should be doing.

To start with, Mean Girls is a great example of a film that offers a fascinating commentary on the struggles of young women as they grow up and learn to navigate the world, specifically in regards to dieting, diversity, and solidarity.

beware of the plastics

Mean Girls established itself as a cultural fixture not long after it was released in 2004. So much so that it’s rare for me to meet anyone who hasn’t seen the movie, and I can still quote almost the entire movie with the same tone and inflection that the original actors used.

It’s easy to tell that the script was written by Tina Fey, who also plays a significant role in the film, as the biting wit and humor mirrors the very real issues that women—teenage girls in particular, mostly demonstrated through the main character of Cady (played by Lindsey Lohan)—face when trying to navigate the path to adulthood. Romance, friendships, school, work, beauty, body image, and self-respect are all addressed in different parts of the film, and while they’re not always addressed perfectly, Mean Girls has a lot of really important messages to communicate.

One of those important messages is about dieting…

Despite being considered one of the most beautiful girls in her high school, the character of Regina George (played by Rachel McAdams) complains throughout the film about how she needs to lose a few pounds and keeps trying crash diets like juice cleanses, all-carb diets, or “weight loss nutrition bars.” She is so obsessed with losing weight that one of the first times we hear about Cady’s interest in math is when Regina is worried about the caloric content of her food.

While it’s played off as a joke, this behavior and the references to “girls who eat their feelings” and “girls who don’t eat anything” mirror the terrifying behavioral patterns that young women fall into while trying to achieve American beauty standards. The connection between eating disorders and dieting, while not stated outright, is made abundantly clear.

Additionally, after Regina says, “I really want to lose three pounds,” she pauses expectantly for her friends to tell her—in what sounds like a rehearsed, ritualistic response—“Oh my god what are you talking about? You’re so skinny.”

But why is this comment necessary? What is so bad about not being skinny? Skinny doesn’t mean healthy, and healthy doesn’t mean skinny either.

Of course, Regina’s skinny body—and the skinny bodies of almost all the main characters—send a message about which characters  have worth, about characters are valid. Most of the time, movies that are marketed towards young, American, and usually female audiences have a thin lead actor and a cast full of similarly skinny actors. The movies and television shows that follow this pattern all send the message that the only stories worth telling are about skinny people.

Janis (Cady’s best friend played by Lizzy Caplan) also identifies this conception of a thin female body as a “hot” body—with “hot” in quotation marks—as she maintains that Regina has a “technically good physique.”

regina georges resources

It’s striking to see the way that Janis writes hot with quotation marks. It seems that in doing so she recognizes the way that hotness is constructed rather than inherent and that Regina’s shape and size have a lot to do with this concept of hotness.

In recognizing this pattern, the girls in the film are able to exploit it for their own agendas. During Janis and Cady’s plan to sabotage Regina, they give her nutrition bars meant to put more weight on her and recommend that she eat all kinds of food that could do the same.

It’s honestly really depressing how much Regina’s weight gain affects her. It’s difficult to tell that she’s gained weight just by looking at her (and maybe that’s the point), but the other characters make sure that the audience is in on the joke when they laugh at Regina after she puts on a few pounds.

That’s always how it happens, isn’t it? Other people feel the need to comment on your weight in real life, and this truth is demonstrated in the film as the others make jokes both behind her back and to her face.

At one point, she even tries on a dress that she’d put on hold only to find it no longer fits. While this scene is mostly there for laughs, the moment is actually heartbreaking. There are few things more discouraging than going shopping and finding that the clothes you thought would fit don’t anymore. This is the moment in Mean Girls when the comedy becomes all too real.

 

Another important message in Mean Girls is about diversity…

The majority of the cast is female, and the fact that this is something that we need to celebrate is a little bit sad. But stories like these are essential: stories about women, by women, and for women, stories that acknowledge the limitations that popular culture and the powers-that-be place upon us. These stories can expose and criticize these limitations by pointing out how gender roles and stereotypes consistently devalue women and their contributions to the world around them.

The movie also features a few people of color, such as the principal, some of the boys on the Mathletes team, and others in more minor roles.

Furthermore, women of all body types are featured in the film as well. Tall girls, short girls, skinny girls, chubby girls, and even a girl in a wheelchair. Some of them even look like they’re actual high schoolers instead of just hot twenty-something actors.

In these ways, Mean Girls does an excellent job of being inclusive and showing a more accurate picture of the world we live in than most teen movies.

However, one thing that’s always bothered me about this movie is the treatment of queer characters.

Damien (played by Daniel Franzese) is very obviously a gay man, but most of the time it seems as though he’s played off as a joke. And he doesn’t get the typical teen movie happy ending—a romantic partner—which sets him apart from the other main characters: Janis who ends up with a boyfriend and Cady who finally wins over Aaron Samuels by being herself.

Additionally, the rumor that Regina started about Janis that sparked Janis’s resentment back in middle school was that Janis was a lesbian. Not only did Janis vehemently deny that accusation in the past and not want to mention it to her new friend Cady in the present, but it’s also implied that she was severely hurt by the rumor as well as being ridiculed and isolated because of it.

And in the end, it’s all treated like a big joke that Regina made, brushing off the major impact of the rumor and ignoring the harmful message that it sent.

Sure, Damien is allowed to be the token gay character—albeit a flat one without his own storyline—but the thought that a straight person like Janis is called a lesbian is laughable, even unthinkable. The implication is that there is no worse insult than calling someone gay who isn’t.

This movie came out years ago, so I suppose that this kind of homophobia is a smaller problem in the grand scheme of things, but it’s important to note that there’s definitely room for improvement.

 

Finally Mean Girls says something important about solidarity…

In a somewhat cheesy speech toward the end of the movie—even the principal tells Cady that a speech isn’t necessary—Cady reinforces why girls fighting amongst each other is the worst thing we can do. During the speech she makes sure to compliment the girls who aren’t considered pretty by “Plastic” standards, girls who are chubby or disabled or isolated, and in the same speech she equates all the girls with each other, no matter how pretty or popular people think that they are. Cady says:

“I mean, I think everybody looks great tonight. Look at Jessica Lopez! That dress is amazing, and Emma Gerber that hairdo must have taken hours and you look really pretty. So why is everybody stressing over this thing? I mean it’s just plastic, it’s really just [she breaks the crown and starts passing it out]. A piece for Gretchen Wieners, a partial Spring Fling Queen. A piece for Janis Ian, and a piece for Regina George. She fractured her spine and she still looks like a rockstar, and some for everybody else.”

The breaking of the crown represents Cady’s final denial of an unattainable ideal. Talk about a powerful moment. She’s literally taking a symbol of feminine power, breaking it down, and distributing the power to all the women around her, empowering and uniting all the girls who now share ownership of the crown.

Mean Girls might seem like typical teenage comedy, but it’s really important to emphasize messages of female solidarity, and Cady’s speech does just that. The “divide and conquer” approach is a legitimate strategy to weaken a group of people since they can’t organize and challenge authority or an opponent if they’re fighting among themselves. Women share common struggles, so why shouldn’t these same struggles bring us together instead of allowing petty competitiveness to keep us apart?

tina fey sluts and whores

Say what you want about Tina Fey, but this teen movie has become iconic for quite a few excellent reasons… it’s quotable, it’s hilarious, it’s relatable, and, most importantly, it speaks to issues central to being a woman. I cannot stress how refreshing it is to see an articulation of the struggles that women go through and have them treated as relevant difficulties, even in a lighthearted manner. No, it’s not a perfect film, but it’s just as important to celebrate what is working as it is to be critical of what’s not working.

 

janis and damien scared popcorn
—Molly Couch

If I wanted your opinion, I would’ve asked for it: Or, I don’t actually want guys’ opinions and I won’t ever ask for them

I’m not the most confident person in the world, but I know that I’m really good at a few very specific things. I can maintain my absurdly long natural nails, I will never forget how to spell the word “didactic,” and I give fantastic compliments.

I love giving people compliments.

I firmly believe that we don’t tell each other enough how pretty we look or how clever that joke was or how much fun it is to be around someone, and I’m doing everything that I can to change that. My approach often involves finding something positive, latching onto it, and then bringing in a fun adjective or a not necessarily applicable but still adorable noun.

Leslie Knope is a natural

Leslie Knope is a natural at compliments.

I once referred to my pal Rachel as a “versatile butterfly” while talking about a bunch of her impressive accomplishments. Just last Friday I called another pal my “lovely little jellybean.”

It’s actually really fun to give compliments.

Of course, the tone and the setting all play into these interactions and how well they go, but for me the key is to get creative with them, taking people by surprise and making them feel special.

If all else fails and there’s no quirky comparison to be made, find a tiny cute detail and hone in on it. I mean, everyone is excited when you appreciate the skill and perseverance it takes to apply liquid eyeliner. Compliment that shit.

that's some next level kind of makeup

That’s some next level kind of makeup.

Of course, there’s a huge difference between a welcome compliment and an unnecessary comment. Yes, guys, I’m looking at you.

I don’t know who teaches men how to interact with women, but whoever they are, they need to stop immediately.

Women deal with a lot of nonsense every single day: not only do we face the same pressures that come up in life regardless of gender (keeping up with school or work, taking care of yourself, finding the time to spend with your cat), but we also have to deal with all of our gender baggage.

Our weight and appearance are WAY more scrutinized than men’s, and most often we’re scrutinized by men. We have to literally fight to be heard (in the past and in the present), and even though—news flash—not all women are interested in men, we’re all expected to constantly cater to the male gaze. Even women that are attracted to men don’t feel interested in every single man they see, but the pressure is still on.

So while we’re trying to navigate all of this nonsense, you approving of us? It’s not helpful.

Now, I’m not saying that men can’t compliment women. If you can manage to approach a woman in a nonthreatening, friendly manner, and pay her a genuine compliment that doesn’t make her feel uncomfortable, props to you.

However, there are very few times that this happens and that saddens me.

A lot of times dudes come off as really creepy or inappropriate or suggestive or condescending or some other thing that makes it harder for women to feel like their commentary is uplifting or constructive in any way.

I mean, why does it matter what the guys in One Direction look for in a girl? They’re just five pretty young dudes, and I don’t remember hearing about what qualifies them to talk about what’s desirable and what’s not in women.

While I love them (yes, including ex-member Zayn), I don’t think they’re in any position to talk about women’s qualities, physical or otherwise. Zayn fans were super excited when his magazine interviews started coming out at the end of last year and early this year, but when we saw what he had to say about what he likes in women in his Billboard article, it became less fun.

Honestly, Zayn: the part about liking “fuller women” wasn’t bad, but saying that you only like “girls that are a bit chunky in certain areas—the nice areas” [emphasis mine], that’s where you messed up, son. And then this bit?

“I enjoy an intellectual conversation as well, where someone can construct a sentence beyond what hair and makeup they’re wearing, and talk about something political or about the world. I like an opinion.”

That’s an interesting comment coming from a guy who’s dating a Victoria’s Secret model. (No offense to Gigi, I’m sure she’s a wonderful gal.)

And men obviously have a lot to learn about the complexity of makeup and hair if the “men doing makeup” videos are any indication. In fact, hairdressers and makeup artists go through longer periods of training than police officers, and I’m sure they have opinions, but go on and assume that typically feminine interests aren’t relevant or interesting, Z. I hope you know better one day.

Well, some men get it. Thanks Willam!

Well, some men get it. Thanks Willam!

What it boils down to is that men often feel entitled to women’s attention: see catcalling as an easy example. On the road from my college campus to the Catholic chapel nearby, there are a few Greek houses that are snugly nestled next to each other. I can’t tell you how many times my friends have complained about men yelling nasty things while they’re walking to church.

What is the point of this interaction? If dudes start yelling sexual things at random women on the street, it’s not like they’re trying to form a meaningful connection; it’s about power and opportunity.

And if a guy tried to actually approach a woman after yelling “nice ass!” or “I’d fuck you, baby!” I can almost guarantee that it would never work. That’s a surefire way to make a gal turn on her heel and sprint away from you.

Some guys see these comments as compliments. For women—who face the realities of sexual violence, rape culture, and victim blaming far too often—these comments are borderline violent.

Because of these kinds of things, even an innocent comment like “that’s a nice dress” or “you look cute today” from a guy I don’t know well is enough to set me on edge.

So how do we deal with this?

We talk about it. If it goes unspoken, it’s way too easy to brush things like this under the rug and pretend that everything’s fine.

Also, dudes? Stop saying nasty things to women. It’s not cool and it’s not funny. There’s literally nothing good that can come from that experience. Just stop.

A way to get better at talking to women is to listen to how we speak to each other. Sometimes familiarity and friendship can make things that gals say to each other a little strange, but y’all should pay attention to what makes them smile, what they respond to positively.

leslie knope muskox

Ann Perkins and Leslie Knope have a beautiful friendship where they lift each other up with their words and their actions. They listen to each other. They know when not to push.

They also know that women don’t owe men anything. No matter what. Not even if a man has bought a woman a drink or taken her on dates or complimented her or acted as a friend or a shoulder to cry on. (I’m looking at you crybabies who are complaining about the friend zone.)

Women might be expected to cater to men, but we don’t actually owe you anything. So here’s a radical idea: treat us like equals, like human beings with thoughts and feelings and unique interests.

Bottom line… dudes, y’all ought to talk less and listen more. And ladies? Stay beautiful, you charming cherubs.

leslie knope rainbow infused unicord

—Molly Couch

Taking up space:
Why plus-size actors on television are important

For a period of my life I was told by my peers and by society that I was always in the way.

Being bigger means taking up space, space that belongs to people who are thinner, blonder, and supposedly prettier. Even in the body-positive movement, anti-fat-shaming activists are often told they take up too much space. 

I’ve had some experience with this myself.

In my university’s campus-wide newspaper, a recent cover story featured a thin girl who shared her feelings on thin-shaming, saying that these campaigns make her feel bad about being thin. But the article missed its mark, not because her feelings aren’t valid, but because it fat-shames those who aren’t thin, not to mention the fact that it was the first body-positive piece on the front page of the paper and did not even touch on fat-shaming except as it compares to thin-shaming. 

I replied with a very agitated letter-to-the-editor, and almost immediately someone else replied with another saying that my letter was thin-shaming yet again. 

And the accusations didn’t stop there.

I was bombarded by people who claimed by “have class” with the young woman featured in the story, and they all swore to me that she’s not dumb, which I never even implied, and that she must have been misquoted or something. I felt like I had to defend myself every five minutes.

I felt, once again, like I was taking up too much space.

But I really wasn’t because what I had to say was a valid representation of how I have felt all my life—first as a girl who was never less than chubby and now as a woman who always seems to get in the way.

Taking up space on television

This is why shows like The Mindy Project, Girls, and My Mad Fat Diary make me feel so good about everything. They force viewers to look at their bodies, bodies that have likely been ridiculed by the community of misogynistic, body-shaming bullies that exist in this country.

Now that viewers are being made to look at women like this has made me feel more comfortable in my own body. 

As a woman who has been made fun of for her weight, one of the biggest things I have battled with is my sexuality. How can I be sexy when I don’t look like a Victoria’s Secret model? How can anyone love a body that rolls and folds and flaps and jiggles? My body even made me question what was wrong with guys who were attracted to me. I actually thought only a screwed-up guy would think fat is cute.

real rae

Rae Earl the author of the book, My Mad Fat Diary, that the television show was inspired by.

But women like Kaling and Dunham either disregard that idea or take it and flip it on its head.

In one Girls episode, Hannah Horvath (Lena Dunham’s character) wears a neon string bikini the entire episode—allowing the viewer to see cellulite everywhere on her body and watch as the bottom of her suit rolls up her butt. Despite this, I realized she looked just as good as everyone else in the episode.

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Lena Dunham as Hannah Horvath in tv series Girls

Actually I thought she looked better.

In that moment, I not only wanted that bikini, but also wanted to wear it everywhere  I went—even when I didn’t have to.

While Hannah is prancing around half-naked on Girls, Rae on My Mad Fat Diary has a romantic life with boys her age that like her for who she is. She doesn’t only have sex; she is also admired by so many male characters that it makes me feel simultaneously envious and proud. Rae thinks that boys won’t like her because she’s brash, loud, funny, and fat, but actually that’s why they like her.

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Sharon Rooney as Rae Early in the tv series My Mad Fat Diary

In the “Inappropriate Adult” episode, Rae is sexually harassed by a guy she’s been seeing, and he tells her that she should appreciate his coming on to her because no one else will think she’s attractive. She responds so brilliantly because she tells him off and leaves the party. She didn’t break down and she acted with such strength that I cried for the rest of the episode because I knew, if that were me, I probably wouldn’t be as strong.

In the show, Rae chooses when she wants to have sex. Sometimes it’s not always the right choice, but it’s the result of her self image rather than being because of a poor body image. We also realize that a poor self image is the reason her skinny best friend has problems and makes the wrong decisions too, showing us that thin women can struggle with insecurity too. It also shows that insecurity goes beyond looks sometimes. 

Ultimately the popularity of these shows—and their characters’ bodies—allow women to take up the space they need to feel whole. 

And that means, for once, I want to take up space, I want people to tell me, “You’re in my way. Move, fatty,” so that I can respond by taking up more space on their favorite TV channels, their favorite TV shows, their favorite award shows and in their water cooler conversations, their text messages, their blogs, their Facebook cover photos.

I want them to see me so they know that their ridicule and bullying has not stopped me from being talked about, praised, criticized, and acknowledged.

After all, if we don’t take up that space, who will?

—by Leah Railey

The best moments at this year’s Golden Globes
… a.k.a. Take that, mani-cam!

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The Golden Globes were last Sunday night, and though there were a few disappointments, it was mostly a great night for women (a fact one NY Post reporter actually had the hutzpah to complain about).

 

THE HIGHLIGHTS

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On the red carpet, one of the stars of Mad Men summed up how we all feel about the head-to-toe scrutiny of women when Elisabeth Moss flipped off their ridiculous E! mani-cam. Thank you, Elizabeth, for doing what we all want to do on the red carpet. Lord knows how many times I’ve flipped off the mani-cam and the glam-o-strator and the 360 degree room and whatever other bullshit they come up with to reduce women to their looks. And, wow, was it fun to see Giuliana Rancic freak out like that.

 

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During the ceremony, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler KILLED it with an outrageously funny opening “monologue” and other hilarious bits throughout the evening including a great rejoinder to the inherent sexism of “Miss Golden Globe” by pretending Fey had an illegitmate son who was the night’s “Mr. Golden Globe.”

They didn’t shy away from women’s body issues either, explaining that “For The Dallas Buyers Club, Matthew McConaughey lost forty pounds. Or what actresses call being in a movie” and encouraging the men to “kick off your shoes, try on the ladies’, and see how awful they are.”

 

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Men who date younger women got BURNED when Tina and Amy introduce Gravity as “the story of how George Clooney would rather float away and die than spend one more minute with a woman his age.”

 

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Philomena Lee stood up for solidarity among women, saying that the movie based on her life is “not just about me; it is about all the women who have still not gotten justice.”

 

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Emma Thompson showed us what it means to be a strong woman in Hollywood when she came out to present an award carrying her high heels in one hand and a martini in another. “That red you see is my blood,” Thompson said as she held up her shoes, eventually chucking them behind her.

 

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Several winners called attention to how much their mothers helped them, including Amy Adams and Matthew McConaughey.

 

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Amy Poehler won best actress in a television comedy for playing feminist Leslie Knope on Parks & Rec! As one of my friends said, I don’t know who to love more—Amy Poehler or Leslie Knope—because both are such wonderful role models for women.

 

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Amy Poehler made out with Bono after her name was called, finally getting revenge for what Adrian Brody did to Halle Berry at the 2002 Oscars.

 

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Diane Keaton continued to challenge gender roles 37 years after she first did it in Annie Hall by wearing a men’s suit to accept the honorary Globe for Woody Allen.

 

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Melissa McCarthy presented an award, and no one made any jokes about her body. It’s the small things, isn’t it?

 

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Jimmy Fallon and Melissa McCarthy had phenomenal chemistry, making me believe they could star in a rom com together about a skinny dude and a bigger woman. Come on, Hollywood, make it happen!

 

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Robin Wright ran to the stage in her giant heels, proving that women can do anything, and despite what Meryl Streep’s character said in August: Osage County, Wright canoodled with fiance Ben Foster, showing that women really DO get better with age.

 

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Okay, I admit this one isn’t related to gender or body issues, but I also loved it when, in a moment of rare Hollywood camraderie, the cast/crew of 12 Years a Slave helped director Steve McQueen remember who to thank when he won Best Dramatic Motion Picture.

 

*

 

THE DISAPPOINTMENTS

In addition to all the normal annoyance on the Red Carpet (including the aforementioned mani-cam, glam-o-strator, and 360-degree camera), a new tradition was introduced in which entertainment reporters repeatedly asked celebrities how much their jewels were worth, highlighting how out of touch Americans are with the state of the world.

Parks & Rec, one of the smartest television shows about a strong woman EVER, lost the Golden Globe for Best Television Comedy to Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Really, Hollywood Foreign Press? Really????!!!!!!

Diane Keaton made us cringe by reducing the female actresses in Woody Allen’s film to “Woody’s Women” and then desecrating A GIRL SCOUTS’ SONG ABOUT FEMALE FRIENDSHIP by singing it in tribute to Allen.

And possibly most important of all, the Hollywood Foreign Press ignored all of the amazing movies made by women this year. In fact, not one woman was nominated for Best Director or Best Screenplay even though 2013 brought us excellent films written and directed by Nicole Holofcener, Lake Bell, Greta Gerwig, Sarah Polley, Sofia Coppola, Julie Delpy, and many more.

Let’s all take a deep breath and calm the fuck down about Lena Dunham… a cross post by Stephanie Rogers of Bitch Flicks

Lena Dunham and the cast of GIRLS

 

Dear Lena Dunham Haters,

I’m sick of the Lena Dunham hate.

I’m not referring to the criticisms of Dunham, which are—in most cases—valid and necessary critiques of her privilege, especially how that privilege translates into her work. The first season of Girls in particular either ignored people of color entirely, which is problematic enough since the show takes place in Brooklyn (a predominantly Black neighborhood), but when it did include people of color, they tended to appear as stereotypes (nannies, homeless, etc), and Dunham absolutely deserves to be called out for that.

But I’m sick of the Lena Dunham hate.

Just take a moment and Google the phrase “I hate Lena Dunham.” Feel free to spend some time browsing through the more than a million results. Searches related to “I hate Lena Dunham” include such gems as “Lena Dunham annoying,” “how much does Lena Dunham weigh,” and “what size is Lena Dunham.”

We live in a society that constantly undervalues and devalues the work of women while simultaneously expecting that the work we do—from mothering to directing movies—is performed fucking flawlessly. That said, we can’t sit back and pretend the vitriol directed at Dunham isn’t largely about a young woman breaking barriers in an industry that doesn’t like women (especially women who aren’t conventionally attractive and who aren’t gasp! spending all their waking hours apologizing for it). We shouldn’t pretend either that we, as a culture—and that includes women and feminists—haven’t internalized a little bit of this uneasiness surrounding successful women. It makes sense, then, that the undercurrent bubbling beneath all this Dunham hate is the very sexist notion that somehow Dunham doesn’t deserve her success.

Lena Dunham, looking all ungrateful for her unearned success

 

Admittedly, I have a soft spot for Dunham, having written about her wonderful film Tiny Furniture way back in 2011, before she’d manage to offend the entire nation with her giant thighs and sloppy backside. I think she comes across as genuinely funny and interesting, and I hope that her success—and the hard hits she’s taking because of it—will make the next woman who dares to step out of line (where “line” means “the patriarchal framework”) do so with just as much fearlessness.  

Lena Dunham, probably getting ready to annoy people with her incessant whining

 

But how about we leave the I HATE LENA DUNHAM BECAUSE SHE SEEMS ENTITLED AND KINDA HORRIBLE AND WHINY AND ISN’T DOING THINGS THE WAY I WOULD DO THEM IF I WERE LENA DUNHAM grossness off the table for five seconds.

Lena Dunham, being all entitled and shit

 

When I was 26, I was spending my fifth year failing undergrad, drowning in student loan debt (that’s still happening), smoking pot incessantly, binge-eating pepperoni rolls, sleeping through most of my classes on a broken futon, and shoving dryer sheets in my heating vents because my shitty always-drunk neighbors wouldn’t stop chain smoking. Occasionally, out of nowhere, a giant fly would swoop down from some unseen cesspool where flies live and attack me. Those are my memories of being 26. Maybe your memories of being 26 suck way less, and if so, congratulations! But you’re allowed to make mistakes at 26. You’re allowed to learn from those mistakes and evolve into a person who looks back and thinks, “Wow, 26 was rough, and I sucked at it.” That’s a general goddamn life rule, and we aren’t taking it away from Lena Dunham just because she’s a young woman who dares to make her mistakes in public. (Read Jodie Foster’s thought-provoking essay on society’s disgustingunsurprisingly misogynist reactions toward young women acting like young women in public.)

I mean, just to double check, we’re all still cool with Louis C.K., right? I haven’t yet seen season three of Louie, that award-winning show that C.K. writes, directs, produces, edits, and stars in (sound familiar?), but I remember the first few episodes or so of this New York City-set critics’ darling being fairly fucking White, except for a few peripheral characters outside of Louie’s inner circle. And the Black people who do exist (at least in the first season) pretty much serve as vehicles to illustrate Louie’s uncoolness by comparison. (Has anyone given a name to that trope yet?) So, did I miss the accompanying INTERNET FREAKOUT, or does this bro maybe represent—I dunno—society’s favorite quintessential middle-aged, balding white dude who can’t get laid, that we all find so endearing and impossible not to love?

Did I also miss the 100% JUSTIFIED NOT REALLY BECAUSE IT NEVER HAPPENED OUTRAGE over C.K. exposing his huge gut and sloppy backside to the masses—whether he’s climbing on top of hot women (duh) or getting a totally unnecessary (because assault is funny!) rectal exam from doctor-character Ricky Gervais? And we’re all still cool with his awkward and embarrassing sex scenes, right? Because they’re just … so … what’s that word people keep railing against when it’s used to describe the sex scenes in Girls … oh yeah … “REAL” … ?

"Eh, what are you gonna do?" --privileged White dudes everywhere, in response to rarely getting called out for their bullshit

 

My bad. I’m probably missing something, since Chuck Bowen called Louie “possibly the most racially integrated television show ever made,” (I’ll admit “Dentist/Tarese” is an interesting episode toward the end of season one) and there isn’t at all an inkling of a double standard at play here regarding what we consider “acceptable” bodies to display onscreen. (Sidenote: I love, not really, how groundbreaking it is that C.K. cast a Black woman to play his ex-wife in season three of Louie, yet we’re still treated to that “schlubby dude landing a hot lady” trope. I can’t keep suspending my disbelief forever, boys.)

Sorry, tangent. But seriously.

If I sound like a Lena Dunham apologist aka “a fucking pig who can go to hell,” let me clarify (again): Lena Dunham should be—and certainly has been, I mean fuck—criticized for her show’s failings. Most television shows and films for that matter would benefit even from a miniscule amount of the kind of intense anger flung at Girls over its racism and lack of diversity. But I’m angry that people—including women and feminists—can’t seem to criticize Lena Dunham’s show without launching into sexist attacks against Lena Dunham, in the same way I was angry when people couldn’t (and still can’t) separate their criticisms of Sarah Palin’s conservative policies from their sexist attacks against Sarah Palin.

So, if nothing else, I give you these few words and phrases to move away from when talking about Lena Dunham: “whiny” … “annoying” … “ugly” … “gross” … “frumpy” … “hot mess” … “neurotic” … “slutty” … you get the idea.

NEPOTISM NARCISSISM LENA'S BODY UGH

 

The truth is, ultimately, it doesn’t matter to me who likes Girls and who doesn’t. For what it’s worth, I liked the first season, mainly because I’ve been writing about representations of women in film and television for five years, and it was nice for once to know I wouldn’t have to analyze every scene to figure out whether this show passed The Bechdel Test. It sort of blew my mind to hear women talk to one another about abortion, HPV, colposcopies, virginity, and menopause, like, repeatedly—and with no unnecessary mansplainy perspective involved. I think the show actually makes a pretty serious case against living like an entitled, culturally insulated hipster, while still managing to love its characters. But I understand, even excluding the criticisms regarding lack of diversity, that people still legitimately dislike the show for other reasons. That’s allowed. I hate Two and a Half Men and Family Guy and The Big Bang Theory and How I Met Your Mother and every other White-dominated show on television that keeps pretending women exist merely as fucktoys and mommies to their manchildren, and that’s allowed too.

But if you’re having an epic conniption over HOW HORRIBLE GIRLS IS OMG WHY DOES ANYONE LIKE IT LENA DUNHAM IS THE WORST, maybe it’s time to evaluate the hate—not dislike of, or boredom with, or ambivalence toward—but the actual hatred of Girls Lena Dunham, and why it’s really there.

 

 

STEPHANIE ROGERS is the co-founder and editor of Bitch Flicks, a feminist film and media website. Her feminist commentary has also appeared at sites such as Ms. Magazine, Women and Hollywood, and Shakesville. In her spare time, she writes poems and streams a shitload of Netflix.

When did we become so fake?

This semester I’m teaching a class on creative retellings—that is, stories that retell classic texts in a creative way. If you don’t know what I mean, think Clueless (a retelling of Jane Austen’s Emma), think A Thousand Acres (a retelling of Shakespeare’s King Lear), think O Brother, Where Art Thou (a retelling of The Odyssey).

So this week we started watching 10 Things I Hate about You (a retelling of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew) in class, and I could not believe how different everything looked. Not only did the titles look cheesy, the hair look badly permed, and the clothes look out of date (thank God cropped shirts went out of style), but the PEOPLE in the movie looked different too.

The film stars Julia Styles, Heath Ledger, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Larisa Oleynik. These are all very attractive people, but somehow they all manage to look kind of normal and down-to-earth in this movie. In other words, a world apart from the young people we see in movies and television shows about teenagers today.

For example, here’s a still of the main character, played by Styles…

See how natural and un-made up Stiles looks here? It’s so damn refreshing. Don’t get me wrong: she still looks beautiful. But she looks beautiful and normal at the same time.

But we almost never see actresses looking like that in movies or television shows about high schoolers today. Instead they look like this:


Is it just me, or do these people look really really airbrushed? And kind of grotesque in an Andy-Warhol-does-Marilyn-Monroe kind of way too? And, while we’re on the subject, why does everybody on a television show have to pose like that now? Is there some kind of rule about standing with your hands on your hips and looking at the camera like your pissed?

Not only does Stiles look real in 10 Things, but so does Oleynik, who plays Stiles’ younger sister, Bianca. And what’s really interesting about Bianca is that she is the girl in the movie who all the boys pine over, the beauty who even the most popular guy in school is wooing.

So naturally you’d think she’d look something like Gossip Girl‘s Blake Lively, who played the hottest high schooler on the planet…

But in reality, Bianca just looks like a regular teenager…

And it’s not just the girls in 10 Things who look real. The dudes look pretty down-to-earth as well…

Sure, Heath Ledger looked hot even when he was leaning against a metal locker in a plain t-shirt…

…but would we really seen a teenage boy in a romantic comedy with that kind of messy hair today? I highly doubt it since the high school boys who’ve been dominating our screens the past few years usually look more like this:

I’m not talking about television shows or movies about “dorky” high schoolers a la Superbad or even Perks of Being a Wallflower—or the movie about the girl who gets a makeover as Lindsay Lohan’s character did in Mean Girls

These movies don’t count because they’re TRYING to make the actors look worse than they do.

I’m talking about the movies and television shows that are supposed to be about “regular” characters. Except that all the “regular” people look like they belong on the cover of Cosmo.

When I was looking for photos that proved my point, I came across two that made my case even stronger: publicity shots of the current and former cast of 90210.

Here they are now…

And here were back in the early ’90s…

See how different these people look?

The original cast of Beverly Hills, 90210—especially Shannon Doherty, Tori Spelling, Garielle Carteris, Brian Austin Green, and Ian Ziering—looked like real people. Yes, relatively good looking real people, but real people all the same.

But apparently teenagers aren’t allowed to look real anymore.

Instead they have to appear like they just stepped out of the plastic surgery ward—waxed and plucked and styled and coiffed and airbrushed so much that they look more like wax figures than real people.

If Lena Dunham and Mindy Kaling can feature real people in their shows about adult women, there’s no reason that shows about high schoolers can’t do the same.

It’s time people. It’s time.

The best show you’re not watching



In my Thanksgiving post, “Thanks to all the real girls,” I talked about the fact that The Mindy Project is another example of how the way women look in the media is finally starting to change.

And tonight’s episode of The Mindy Project reminded me yet again how much good work is being done on this one tiny little sitcom.

Tonight Mindy found out—during the office Christmas party no less—that her boyfriend, Jeff, has had another girlfriend the entire time they’ve been dating, making her the detestable other woman.

Not long after she found out, her boyfriend’s first girlfriend (played with appropriate outrage by Ellie Kemper of The Office) showed up at Mindy’s apartment demanding to know what was going on. It didn’t take long for things to devolve from there, and, though the ensuing fight between the two women relied too much on cliches, what was notable was that when Kemper’s character called Kaling’s character “chubby,” Mindy didn’t flinch or act offended. Instead she responded immediately by insisting, “I’m not chubby. I’m average.” And then adding, “This is how the anorexia culture begins.”

It was a shocking moment. A shocking and wonderful moment.

Here was a woman on television—a woman in her prime, no less—with an average body defending her right to be average and not be judged for it. Have we ever seen that before? Have we ever seen a character on television or in a film saying, “I’m average and that’s okay”?

I really don’t think so.

And at the same time, she was making a really important point by adding that calling an average woman “chubby” is the kind of thing that makes people in our society so obsessed with thinness.

Yes, tonight, on American television, Mindy Kaling defended her—and by extension our—right to have an average body, AND she also offered valid argument about why it’s wrong to call people fat.

I think I am in love with The Mindy Project.

So, tell me again, why aren’t you watching this show?

The Mindy Project airs Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m. EST on Fox. 

I Will Not Diet will return Thursday…

My computer is currently on the fritz, so there’s no new post today.

See you all Thursday!

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