Quick Thoughts on Pop Culture from Your Grumpy Neighborhood Feminist

A few big pop culture items have crossed my radar this week, which is remarkable given that I’ve been sick and grumpy and menstruating and it’s cold and rainy outside. Frankly, I think it’s marvelous that I’ve managed to do anything aside from eat Doritos in sweatpants and watch Supernatural, marathon style, on Netflix.

Some of these things gave me thinks. I thought you might be interested in them–the things or my thinks, or maybe both.

Me with a bad case of The Thinks.
Me with a bad case of The Thinks.

A) Renee Zellweger’s face. I’ve seen a lot of discussion about her so-called transformation in the facial area on news websites, TV, and feminist circles, and it kind of weirds me out. OK, so she shows up to a red carpet event looking like… not Renee Zellweger. Really, not like who I remember from Chicago and Bridget Jones and so on. Not at all. More like if Renee Zellweger and Naomi Watts had a lovechild, and that lovechild grew up to be… um… totally gorgeous. Whether via surgery or not.
There doesn’t seem to be any definitive answer going around as to whether surgery was responsible for the drastically changed appearance of the celebrity in question–Zellweger issued a statement that doesn’t exactly say where the change came from. But there has been a ha-yuuge amount of speculation about possible surgery, along with speculation over whether or not it’s OK if it was done surgically, whether it sends a good message to the public about female beauty standards, and so on.
And I’m over here scratching my head. Ok, first of all–JESUS F-ING BOTOX, who cares? And I don’t say that lightly. I think it’s important for people to watch what happens in our entertainment industry and be critical of it, as it’s so often both a source of our culture and a reflection of that culture. So, yes, when an A-list female celebrity, particularly one like Zellweger, who has repeatedly and fearlessly acted in roles that go against the prescribed grain for pretty little blondes, shows up looking like she’s had major changes made to her visage, it’s worth talking about in regards to us, the little people. We don’t want the women we look up to to make decisions that don’t reflect the values we want them to cherish.
But here’s what bothers me about that: Renee Zellweger is not the amalgamation of all our hopes and dreams for Renee Zellweger. She is not a reflection of what we want her to be. She is not any of the characters she has played in movies. She is a human person. She gets to make her own decisions about her own body and face and life. And, from the statement she issued, she’s pretty happy with the decisions she’s made. Why are people so upset by this?
It’s not as if she showed up with a huge boob job and butt implants, gigantically inflated lips, and a face so smooth she can’t smile. Even if she had, then good for her for doing what makes her feel good. But had her transformation been calculated to make her face and body fit into the more stereotypical “sexpot” features so prized by cosmetic surgeons and what we expect to see celebrities do, I could see some reason for the circus that has ensued in the media. But she didn’t do any of that–instead she looks natural, relaxed, happy and… just different.
Of course I want for all women to be happy with themselves without making drastic changes, but if one does want to make changes, then I say go for it, if it will help you. But, jeez, I guess you have to stay off red carpets.

B) The Potty-Mouthed Princesses video. If you haven’t seen it yet, here:

So there’s that.
I have to admit that when I first saw this popping up on my Facebook feed, I thought, “Ew, really?” It felt a little exploitative to get a bunch of kids to say swear words on a video just to get some clicks.
But then I watched it.
“What is more offensive?” the princesses ask. “A little girl saying ‘fuck,’ or the fucking unequal and sexist way society treats girls and women?”
It’s a decent point. The princesses go on to cite real numbers about the pay gap and sexual assault, pointing out along the way that on the scale of what’s offensive in our world, the fact that most young women will grow up in fear of being raped and learn to tailor their behavior to try to avoid it because they know it’s so likely should be far higher than curse words.
I’ve seen some people get up in arms about the “shock tactic” of getting kids to swear on camera is, as if these kids are somehow tarnishing themselves by using words they no doubt hear used around them all the damn time. As if it’s the bad words–which are pretty fucking harmless, all things considered–are more of a problem than the issues young people are up against as a result of sexism.
But hey, I’ve seen more people sharing this on Facebook in the past week than anything else. Even if it is using shock to elicit reactions from people, if even a small fraction of the message here–that teaching our young people about the dangers of sexism is more important than cringing at swear words–gets into a small fraction of the brains watching the video, it’ll be a win.
I  hope FckH8 sells all the T-shirts.

C) Salon is on fire suddenly! I go to Salon.com for a lot of my news, but I have to admit that sometimes I get very tired of the “We’re liberals so we can say really hyperbolic, mean things about non-liberals” sentiment. I usually give the newsletter a quick skim, watch some John Oliver videos, and call it a day. But this week? Some great stuff.

  1. First of all, this article from Tracy Clark-Flory, rebutting Annie Lennox’s contempt for Beyonce’s brand of feminism.
    “Beauty and sex appeal can get you attention and power. They can also be profoundly limiting and disempowering. Women are rewarded for their bodies and sexualities, and they are punished for them too, in equal measure. It’s is the most impossible balancing act, one that pits the “virgins” against the “whores,” the “virtuous” against the “vile.” This is how women end up policing each other’s behavior, it’s the way we are turned against each other.” Preach.
  2. A refreshing article on a topic we’ve all read too much and not enough about, from a voice rarely heard in the mainstream: bullying of sex workers, from within at strip clubs and from without the porn industry, written by adult star Kayden Kross. But the article is (again) badly titled: it’s really not about “My strip club bullying nightmare,” it’s about the bullying she’s experienced as a sex worker her entire adult life. It’s one of the most well written and poignant looks I’ve ever read about being a porn star, from the inside looking out:
    “What began as a short-term job morphed into a career morphed into a life path I identify heavily with. I don’t regret my life. I don’t regret my decision to turn away from the degree I was after and choose this occupation instead. I don’t feel like it has made me something for the worse. Somehow, though, I am constantly finding myself reassuring strangers of this intensely personal feeling.”
    Please go read this. It is worth your time.
  3. This sort of bizarre article called “Why I Visit Prostitutes” really isn’t about why the writer does what he does. It’s much more about his personal experiences. The end starts to take a peek into the larger ramifications of sex work’s illegality, but for the most part this article is personal. And though I found it frustrating to read, because this dude could be giving us so much more worth thinking about, it’s also fascinating to see what it looks like when someone talks about his decades-long history with buying sex–sans shame or fear. Especially because, as his opening paragraphs indicate, what he does is pretty damn normal. We talk a lot, in feminist circles and elsewhere, about sex workers–the stigma they face, the dangers of working in an illegal industry, their rights and freedoms–but so rarely about their clients.


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