The Glass Ceiling in Television Not Even Dented by Reality

anigif_enhanced-buzz-21683-1381975239-16 (1)Welcome to the Two Oh One Four. Fourteen years into the new millennium and we are still having the same conversations about politics, women and the media. Our depiction of female politicians in the media, especially as more women enter the real political sphere, lags behind the reality.  Real women entering elected positions is creating a real model of the politician “lady version,” yet fictional media representations of the political landscape not only disregards our increasing presence, the TV version of female politicians stands in stark contrast to the reality. Even in politically based TV shows with strong female characters, for example Scandal, the women in elected positions are portrayed as emotional, cheating, ambitious at all costs (until they lose because of lady parts) characters.

Let’s compare the two female candidates attempting presidential bids on Scandal to two actual female politicians, Senator Wendy Davis (D- TX) and Senator Michelle Bachmann (R- MN), who hold political office and are making considerable waves in national news this year.

Scandal:

Candidate 1: Josephine Marcus (D- Montana) (played by Lisa Kudrow)

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Likely character pitch: Naive, yet ‘intelligent’ female candidate who unexpectedly makes waves for off the cuff comments becomes a serious presidential candidate. A childhood secret threatens to derail her run and Olivia saves the day. Marcus is politically unpolished and repeatedly fails to grasp the realities of running for president in the current media environment.  She constantly exclaims ‘why does the public need to know about [insert personal issue]?’ as if the thought that her private life might become interesting to the public or her opponents never crossed her mind when she decided she would run for president. Eventually the character must sacrifice herself because she loves her daughter more than she desires to be president. O,h and somewhere in there she gives an amazing feminist speech, which I’m assuming is suppose to appease us, yet she completely fails to live up to her speech.

Conclusion: AWWW… this would be cute if it didn’t involve possibly being president of the FUCKING UNITED STATES. Any one, but especially a woman, who manages to put together a reasonable bid for a presidential nomination cannot be this naive, I’ve worked on a lot of elections, and candidates can be dumb but they can not be naive; naivety is the first thing to be weeded out.

Candidate 2: VP Sally Langston (R – Texas) (played by Kate Burton)

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Likely Character Pitch: Highly moral woman who helps bring the right over but is willing to bend her defining morals to become president, by switching to a pro-choice stance. VP Langston is consumed by her ambition, and demonstrates repeatedly her willingness to sacrifice everything with cold collected calculation.  However when her husband does the nasty with another man, which she implies she understood prior to their marriage, Sally flips and stabs him to death, effectively ending her run against the president.

Conclusion: Bitches be crazy.

Reality:

Candidate 1: Wendy Davis (D- Texas)

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Character pitch: Known for her ability to filibuster unlike this country has seen since the 18th century, she knowingly positioned herself as the face of the new blue Texas.  After getting gerrymandered out of her district she decided to stage one last great state stand defending women’s right to their bodies in pink sneakers.  Almost immediately following this highly viewed senate session (over 100,000 people watched the live feed, over 150,000 tweeted, and many, such as myself, found themselves unable to access the State Senate Live Feed because of bandwidth problems), Senator Davis announced her bid for governor of Texas, and there is considerable buzz about a presidential run in the future.  In contrast to the fictional Marcus, Davis fully understands the implications of stepping onto the national stage, and further more is carefully crafting a public image useful for promoting her political goals.

Conclusion: These pink sneakers were meant for running (for president).

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Candidate 2: Michele Bachmann (R – Minnesota)

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Character Pitch: The darling of the Tea Party, Bachmann is as close as a religious libertarian can get to a true ideology. She believes what she believes, or at least knows that deviating is bad base politics.  Bachman clearly challenged the Republican establishment by incorporating the Tea Party wing better than the old white males who tried to cater their rhetoric to the new, very scary, branch.  I do not like Bachmann, but there is no way that the woman who stood in front of the country and called out the old Republicans would ever compromise her ‘values’ in a party that uses flip flopping to out their own incumbents in state primaries.  Moreover, there is no way a gun toting, Minnesotan, hunter would ever be stupid enough to stab her husband on a publicly owned rug when the presidency was within reach.

Conclusion: Bitches be crazy, but not stupid.

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The dumbing down of female candidates, on both sides, in media representations is dangerous.  What 90s kid doesn’t remember Topanga telling the class she was going to be the first female president of the United States? I believed that, and I was surprisingly disappointed when as an adult she became a ‘little wife’ to Corey (who I thought would be a great first husband).  For kids of the 90s, female television characters under the age of 15 talked about breaking the glass ceiling, yet that conversation disappeared after they started dating.  This model eerily mirrors the current statistics on women in the work place. Whether society models media or media models society is an issue too long for this post, but if we want to foster strong women in the future maybe we need to start looking at the women we are showing to young girls and women around us. In reality women in politics have made record strides this year, yet in media they are still stuck in the 1850s. Maybe its time somebody grew up.

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Does it Really Matter if Chick-Fil-A had a Change of Heart?

So, apparently this happened:

(Links to Huffington Post article)

I raised my eyebrow when I saw this. My hometown Baptist caterer of Jesus Chicken isn’t exactly known for its flexible attitude. See, I had known about CFA’s questionable political donations long before the huge kerfuffle earlier this year. CFA is a private entity, so all I could do was proclaim that I wouldn’t be giving my money to them for them to pass on to people who chose to lobby to deny people of their rights. I know how stubborn Baptists can be, so I fully expected the Cathy family to stand by their principles until the company folded as the world moved forward. So, yeah. I was surprised.

You know, I just might.

More surprising, though, was the lack of fervor this seemed to generate among my friends; I thought they’d be happy to see their boycotting efforts had prevailed. But, alas. It’s easy, in light of a company’s blatant disregard for a group of people, to get your righteous anger on and spew all over the internet. It’s harder to manage that anger and consider forgiving.

Because I am an optimist, though, let’s consider the best case scenario: Chick-Fil-A decides to clean up its internal hostile practices against gay people and cease funding “traditional” marriage and family groups. Woot. Say they do this only because they want more money and not because they genuinely care about LGBT equality—should we go back to sucking down lemonade out of giant styrofoam cups?

Absolutely. In fact, we should be encouraged that Chick-Fil-A is so responsive to its customers. It tells us several positive things:

  1. There are enough people in America who care about LGBT equality to put a significant dent in the CFA profit margin.
  2. We have the ability to affect institutions in our society that we don’t have a vote in.
  3. CFA employees, managers, and operators get the opportunity to interact with people of the LGBT community directly, and, thus, the opportunity to change their hearts as well as their actions.
  4. Most importantly, that money isn’t going to be going to the aforementioned groups. Wasn’t that the point?

It doesn’t particularly matter whether the bully who has been beating me up stops because the teacher forced the issue or if it’s because the bully suddenly likes me. Action makes a bully, not thought. As long as bad actions have stopped, we should be satisfied.

So, Chick-Fil-A, take some preliminary congratulations. You’ve taken your first step to a whole other level of profit margin, and, hopefully, acceptance. But know this: We’ve got our eyes on you.

Why I’m Not a Feminist

You’ve seen me around. You know that I get into that whole gender, race, and class deal. So it might surprise you to find that I do not consider myself a feminist. Why, you ask? Well here are a couple of examples of issues I have with the feminist movement.

Here the speaker makes the claim that feminism is just about equal rights for women. This is just not true.  Feminism has been more than that for a long, long time.

It has been my experience that the majority of contemporary feminists have a particular conception the nature and role of government (for example  demanding that maternity leave be codified into law or that pornography be banned), the way society is (“rape culture”), and the way people should interact with one another. I do not agree with many of those principles, so I cannot consider myself to be a feminist. That is pretty simple.

The second group of “gripes” I have with feminism can be anchored to this video:

The speaker here looks at this issue from a female perspective and fails to consider the male. This is a huge problem within the feminist movement. Take the trope in the video. In our society, men are seen as unable to control their sexuality. Because of this, we do not teach men how to control their sexual responses.

This leads to a world in which men may feel out of control of their own sexuality. Imagine being obviously, visibly responsive to a person who is psychologically unappealing, yet you have no control this response. Thus, the evil demon seductress might hit on men’s fears that they cannot control their physical reactions to something that is bad for them.

Considering the above interpretation of the “evil demon seductress” trope makes the discussion a little more dynamic, and we begin to understand things a little better. We get closer to the truth.

There is little attempt to understand the ways in which men are oppressed by gender in the feminist movement, and that deeply disturbs me. While I agree that men benefit from sexism more than women do, I do not think we should ignore the ways in which sexism affects men. Everyone should be able to live free of gender oppression, not just women.

I am not saying, nor will you ever hear me say that feminism is wrong, outdated, or unneeded. All genders owe a great debt of gratitude to feminists for putting down the groundwork for us. They questioned the social construction of gender, pushed for other genders to have voice, and got legal rights for their descendants. But it’s time for feminists to look beyond the tree, begin to see the forest and realize that our gendered society goes beyond the feminist construct of the world. We will never reach gender equality — even for women — if we keep making these mistakes.

A Complete Guide to ‘Feeling Superior and Deflecting White Guilt’

[Editor’s note: As should be abundantly clear by now, the opinions expressed in posts on Serving Tea to Friends are those of the authors and not of the other writers or editors. We encourage our writers to explore their opinions and express them here—that’s what this space is about. That being said, please read West’s article (also linked below) before critiquing this one. If you still have beef, we want to hear about it. Comment here, on Facebook, or email us at teatofriends@gmail.com. Hearts, Lyzi and Anna.]

By now it seems that everyone on the blagoblag has read  “A Complete Guide to ‘Hipster Racism'” by Jezebel columnist Lindy West. I’ve read it three times now. Honestly, when a coworker tossed this article my way I didn’t think much of it. Then I saw my friends reposting it on Facebook, and skimming through the comments I saw droves of people saying “This” over and over, and I suddenly became very concerned.

Like West, I believe people need to call each other out on their bullshit, and I’m afraid I might have to step up and do so here. So, I have for you today:

A Complete Guide to ‘Feeling Superior and Deflecting Your Own White Guilt’

Step 1: Pretend to Acknowledge Your Privilege

Good little self-conscious citizens of the world know that you always have to acknowledge your privilege. This, of course, means you have to simply state that you are a white, middle class, suburbanite. The more obscurely you do this, the better. If you can put it in a footnote at the end of your rant, that’s best, but at least put it in parenthesees (emphasis mine):

It’s the gentler, more clueless, and more insidious cousin of a hick in a hood; the domain of educated, middle-class white people (like me—to be clear, I am one of those) who believe that not wanting to be racist makes it okay for them to be totally racist.

 or set off in em dashes (emphasis mine):

People benefit from racism—hell, I benefit from it every day—and things that benefit powerful people don’t just suddenly get “fixed” and disappear because Halle Berry won an Oscar or whatever.

Pay as much lip service as you have to in order to get people to believe that you have humbled yourself, but do not spend more than a sentence on it. Under no circumstances are you to actually think about how your privileged position affects what you have to say and that by drawing attention to things that matter to you as a person of privilege that you might be damaging the cause you are pretending to care about.

Step 2: Trivialize the Oppression You’re Addressing

Your goal here is to make everyone who doesn’t agree with you feel like a complete imbecile. You do this by stating that racism is so simple that even you understand it. Better yet, say that it’s made up! Comparing it with a mythical figure is best.

Race is one of the least complicated issues that there is, because it’s made up. It’s arbitrary. It’s as complicated as goddamn Santa Claus.

Be sure to ignore the fact that there are entire fields of academia devoted to race and that race intersects with sex, class, and gender in a myriad of different ways that increases the complexity of the issue. No, my friend. Race is ‘made up.’ And anyone who doesn’t see that is idiotic. This allows you to elevate yourself above all the plebs you ridicule.   The more people who agree with you, the more superior you can feel. You can all be superior together.

Step 3: Isolate a Group of Other People who are ‘Bad’

The key to feeling superior and deflecting your white guilt is focusing as hard as you can on people who do something that is ‘bad.’ Because of step 1 and step 2, whether or not these behaviors have any relevance to people of color’s lives is now irrelevant. Your task here is to take the guilt that you feel for participating in and benefiting from a system that favors you and shove it onto a group of people who are popular to make fun of.

Hipsters. Pick hipsters. Everyone fucking hates hipsters.

Be sure to ridicule this group of ‘bad’ people as much as you can. Everyone hates them, so it doesn’t matter how they feel.  By focusing intently on what they  do that is perpetuating the disgusting racist cycle, you are now completely absolved from thinking about the things that you do that perpetuate the racist cycle.

Step 4: Protect Defenseless Minority

As we all know, people of color  are poor, ignorant, defenseless people who have absolutely no ability to write, read, or criticize those who wrong them. They don’t have a community of people or a diverse set of leaders from different places in the political spectrum who can speak out against the atrocity that you have identified. Therefore, you MUST use your power to defend what YOU think is the greatest threat against them: the inane conversation of your friends.  Be sure not to listen to any particular individual person of color in the vicinity who might have his or her own thoughts about such statements. S/He can’t have an objective opinion on the matter. Because racism is so simple, and because you understand it so thoroughly, you are adequately prepared to defend that person’s honor.

Better yet, write an article.

Step 5: Profit

Publish your work for a site widely read by white people so that there are very few people who will call you out on your bullshit, because they are so busy attempting to deflect their on white guilt. They will upvote, share with their friends, say “This.” over and over again, and perhaps get into a debate about whether ‘thug’ truly applies only to black people. This will get you and your website millions upon millions of hits, which your advertisers will love, and you will rake in 1 cent more per hit than you did before. Not only that, but now not only are you  not-guilty, you are in fact far superior than you were when you started out.

Don’t you feel better now?

Women Talking to Women, and Why It’s Important

Commenting on my post on Zooey Deschanel’s totally irritating perfection and the problematics of resenting her for it, one reader wrote:

“This conversation and almost every conversation on here makes me confused about feminism. From what I’m hearing, I’m pretty sure I hate modern-day feminists, especially if they question my polka dots. Will someone please write what modern-day feminism means to them?”

I’ve been putting off responding to that comment, partly because I chafed at the phrase “hate modern-day feminists,” but mostly because I’ve been having trouble coming up with a way to define my very complicated, nuanced, and sometimes fraught relationship with “feminism,” its definition(s), and its role in my life. Five or six years ago, I don’t think I would have called myself a feminist, partly because I thought that would impress boys (believe me, you do not want to be dating the kinds of boys who’d be impressed by that statement) and partly because feminism seemed like a lot of hollering about injustices that I didn’t see, or really feel part of.

College, my early twenties, and generally living life in the wider world changed me drastically, and among other things, brought me around to perhaps a more modern, less bra-burning brand of feminism, with which I now feel aligned. But how to define that? There are so many things I could say about what feminism means to me. In part, it’s about something I might, if pressed and at some kind of camp, call “sisterhood” – that is, the value of supporting, and of deeply loving, other women and celebrating rather than cutting them down. It is the rejection of the notion that women need to hurt or step on other women to get ahead in a “man’s world,” and the assertion that instead of trying to beat each other at a game someone else invented for us, we need to work together to forge a world in which there aren’t just one or two slots into which all of us are meant to fit.

It’s also about allowing for, and indeed embracing, all types of womanhood, from, yes, a love of polka dots to a penchant for short hair and cargo shorts. It’s about not letting ourselves be told that either of those modes are wrong, or don’t represent womanhood in the appropriate or most flattering way. It’s about our right to be represented in debates about our bodies and our health care, and (at least for me) about our right to make safe choices about our bodies without undue and ridiculous measures being put in place to hinder those choices.

As I was struggling to articulate all this (I still am struggling, and I know my meagre definitions don’t even scratch the surface of what feminism can do and mean for women), I came across the video above. It’s a little longer than your average YouTube clip, but seriously, watch it, especially if you’re trying to formulate a definition for modern feminism.

Because, at its core, it’s about women talking to women. And as the video, and the Bechdel Test on which it’s based, point out, that’s simply not happening enough. Not in our pop culture (though TV blows film out of the water when it comes to passing the test), not in our politics, and maybe not even in our daily lives. Although the Bechdel Test is not necessarily the only, or even the best way to gauge the overall feminist slant or success of a piece of art or culture, for me, it’s a really good place to start. Women sharing with women about issues in their lives other than men is perhaps the most important, the most basic and grassroots, and the most alive way of sharing “feminism,” whatever that means for you or your best friend or your mom or grandma or professor or sister or hairdresser or accountant or any of the other women you interact with.

So I guess what I’m trying to say to that commenter, who wanted to know why we hated her polka dots (we don’t — they’re adorable) and what we thought a feminist looked like is simply this: Ask. Talk to the women you love about what they’re about and what they’re trying to accomplish in the world, and you’ll get a pretty good sense of what feminism means today.