Tag Archives: tv

The Anatomy of Grey’s Anatomy

25 Jul

Doctors? Female doctors? A female main character who is a doctor?

Yes, yes, yes.

It is rare for an advertisement of an ensemble cast to feature more women than men, especially in a show about doctors (the fields of medicine are still abundantly male-centric).

But the figures of Grey’s Anatomy are generally of the female anatomy, where their bodies are tools for medicine instead of just tools for men.

Grey’s Anatomy is a female-driven drama that allows its characters to make mistakes, attain success, be sexual,  be emotional, and just generally be.

There are male characters (who do make up the majority of head positions), but they are usually first introduced in relation to the female characters (Derek to Meredith is an obvious one from the pilot).

This is somewhat of a subversion of the typical tv dynamic. Usually it is female characters that first are wives, mothers, and love interests  before they are characters in their own right (see: Robin Scherbatsky). Here, instead, complex women dominate the screen with their triumphs and failures alongside some men.

The premise is freaking female friendly.

So I’m distressed to find an article (written in 2007, so at least it’s outdated) that asks is Grey’s Anatomy bad for women? I was taken aback, but wondered if the article would touch upon some of the problematic natures of the relationships, or for the love of Grey’s, bring up the gaping problem of George O’Malley.

Instead the writer, as they astutely put it, finds Meredith “whiny, spineless and selfish,” and that not even Cristina and Bailey, two characters regarded as cold, respected, and powerful (cough, typically masculine, cough), can “make up for Meredith’s mushiness.”

SANDRA OH, ELLEN POMPEO

This, ladies and gentlemen, is faux feminism. And it is bullshit.

The worst part? The above quotes were in response to an article published in The New York Times that said Grey’s Anatomy is bad for women because these tv career types have “devolved into basket case[s].”

Women are constantly policed for how we look, act, and generally appear. What these articles propose is that seeing women that are not perfect on tv is somehow demeaning to women, instead of empowering.

It is okay to be a doctor. It is okay to be a mess. It is okay to be a doctor and a mess. It is okay to be a “basket case.” It is imperfect, it means that these characters have complexity,  and it means that women are allowed to be whiny, spineless, and selfish. It means that isn’t all we have to be either.

Even if there are those who refuse to see it, this is the takeaway message from Grey’s Anatomy — women can be more.

Women are more.

More than what media expects us to be, what the audience expects us to be, and what both are comfortable with women generally being. We are complex, human beings, and Grey’s Anatomy not only recognizes this, but shows us.

This is especially highlighted through the relationships between the (differing) women. A big part of the show is the relationships (romantic and otherwise) between characters, especially in the friendship between the main character, Meredith Grey, and Cristina Yang.

My best friend once told me that I was her person, a direct reference to Meredith and Cristina’s relationship that goes beyond friendship to a kind of kindred sisterhood. They are even called “The Twisted Sisters” by their male counterparts.

The show explores sisterhood in this way — because going through the internship process to become surgeons is a maturing experience. They all have a lot of growing up left to do, something Meredith and Cristina face together. They support each other’s careers, dramas, and baggage. They support each other through one’s choice to abort, in miscarriages, adoption, and birth.

These moments are typically a part of the significant others’ role, which Meredith and Cristina take on when they are able to. Not everyone has a significant other they can rely on, and even when they do, not everyone’s significant person is a romantic partner.

Often times women find partners in sisters and female friends. We bond. We fight. We love. This is often overshadowed by bromances and male relationships.

There are a tremendous amount of male-dominated relationships in our media. Brothers. Bros. Bromances. Fathers and sons. Uncles and nephews. Husband and husband. And so on.

Then we get to the women! Husband and wife. Main character and romantic interest girl. Father and daughter. And so on.

Then at the bottom of the media barrel are the sisters, female friends, mothers and daughters, and wives.

Positive relationships between women aren’t regarded as important as relationships that involve men because the main demographic for our media is men. Most of tv is written, produced, and directed by men. Men, men, men…(oh, don’t get me started on that).

So it’s important that we have characters on our screens that show us these positive female friendships, even if we only find them in shows marketed to women. (Because only women want to watch or read about women, right?)

I’ve written a little about how media portrays sisterhood as a mostly negative experience (read: (Not so) Modern Family), so when Grey’s brought Lexie, Meredith’s half-sister, into the mix, it could have pitted the sisters against each other.

Lexie had the family that Meredith didn’t — a loving mother and father (Meredith’s father who left and started a new family).

Yet Meredith and Lexie grow past these differences, become friends, and ultimately consider each other as sisters.

Isn’t sisterhood awesome?

But not all of Grey’s is about the positive. It’s a drama, remember?

It is not uncommon for women to suffer in media. A lot of what we do is suffer. So that the men can have characterization. So that plot can be furthered. Even so that men can be sexually pleasured.

Grey’s Anatomy makes its characters suffer a whole lot. It’s dramatic. It’s soap-opera like. But it gives women the courtesy to own some of their own tragedies, at least, whether it is backstory (the death of Cristina’s father) or part of the plot (the plane crash).

Rarely does the media spotlight on a character with a disability. I have to be honest and say that I am not completely sure that Grey’s Anatomy handles one well in terms of representation. I do not feel qualified to voice such a strong opinion on it. What I do know is that we need more representation of men and women with disabilities, which the media often pretends don’t exist.

How many people have you known, or seen, that are physically disabled? As a reader, you may have a disability, yourself, and it is your voice that matters most in this. (But do we hear it?) In contrast, how many people have you seen in visual media with a physical disability? (How many of them have voices?)

Michael P. Murphy, in his article ‘Combating Stereotypes,’ says —

“In movies, on TV or in novels, physically disabled characters are rarely the protagonists. Rather, the disability is the catalyst which propels the main character–generally a photogenic, able-bodied person–to act/react/grow/save/emote/empathize. The token disabled person serves one dramatic purpose: moral impetus for the hero.”

So, in these terms, Grey’s Anatomy fairs pretty well when Arizona Robbins loses her leg. Arizona’s disability is not a catalyst for her partner, Callie, to grow. The disability affects their relationship, yes, but when the spotlight leaves Arizona to go to Callie, it does bounce back.

I just wish they had cast an actor or actress with a disability for such a role. I wish more than one character on one mainstream tv show represented an entire (marginalized) group of people.

But it’s a start, and Grey’s Anatomy is in the forefront of my mind for positive, diverse representation overall. Not only is the cast racially diverse, the body types are, as well.

Grey’s not only tell us that women are doctors, but that women of color are doctors, small and big women are doctors, disabled women are doctors, and bisexual and lesbian women are doctors.

And no one in the hospital bats an eyelash.

callie and arizona wedding

Grey’s Anatomy is the go-to show for representation of a long-lasting relationship between two women. Arizona Robbins is a lesbian, and Callie Torres is a bisexual woman. Their daughter is the biological daughter of Callie and plastic surgeon Mark Sloan, but Arizona is very much a mom to little Sofia.

Modern family can take note on this unconventional family dynamic. It’s absolutely refreshing to see LGBTQ representation that isn’t all about (white) men.

All in all, you would think that Grey’s Anatomy would get an A+ on a feminist grading system…but not quite.

We need to discuss George O’Malley.

Trigger warning: rape.

george and mer

I wish that I didn’t understand why the audience and show runners love George. We are taught to root for the underdog, unconventionally attractive, white male. He’s the friend. He’s the nice guy. He doesn’t get women at the bar.

And, sometimes, he’s a rapist.

Nice Guys are the ones that get “friendzoned,” a bullshit word for men who are sexually interested in female friends (who are only interested in remaining friends). We’re supposed to feel really, really bad for them. Because unrequited love (and sex) sucks.

But being a Nice Guy doesn’t mean he deserves the girl. It doesn’t mean she owes him anything.

So when Meredith and George get into bed, and Meredith starts crying, I could not believe that Grey’s Anatomy turned it into a story about how awful Meredith was for not wanting to have sex with George.

She cried because she realizes that she doesn’t want to have sex with him, and in that moment, the very moment a woman does not consent mentally, physically, and/or verbally, she is raped.

There a million feelings crashing into Meredith, not one of which was that she wanted to hurt George. Yet somehow George thinks it is the worst thing Meredith could have ever done to him, and the show agrees. The other characters and narrative treat Meredith like a vindictive vixen, instead of a woman who realized that she did not want to have sex.

And possibly realized that she was being raped.

Meredith was visibly upset when George entered and professed his feelings. But when she starts crying during his thrusting, his response is something about how sex with him is that “awful,” and storms out of the room.

And the show thinks he’s the mature one?

It’s the absolute worst storyline Grey’s Anatomy has ever done, and at times, it made me physically ill to watch unfold. Women and men who are raped are never the victims. They’re the vixens. The sluts. The ones who asked for it. The ones who wanted it. The ones who cried.

When rapists go on trial, they’re the victims, the ones whose lives are being ruined. It’s disgusting, and I am still upset that a show with such good representation utterly fails by victim-blaming and victim-shaming their main character.

And they don’t even know they were wrong for doing it. The characters and show still revere George. I don’t even know why, other than he’s the Nice Guy, the underdog…

The white, male underdog, sure. I have no respect for the Nice Guy syndrome, especially when it ends up hurting women, as it always does.

Ugh.

After it all, I would still recommend the show because of its vast representation of women. I honestly believe Grey’s Anatomy tries to be good for women, but when it’s problematic, it doesn’t know when to stop.

grey's girls night

I will always love Grey’s girls, their relationships, and triumphs and failures as individuals and as a whole. I hope there are many others who feel the same.

I want my future baby brother, nieces and nephews, and possibly children to grow up knowing that women are complex enough to be surgeons, and complex enough not to be defined by only that.

Because we are not just basket cases. We are not just whiny, spineless, or selfish. We are not just what the media says we are.

We will always be more.

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The Sexually Violent Diaries

21 Jul

Trigger warning: rape, sexual violence, and abuse. Graphic images from The Vampire Diaries ahead. 

tvd poster

Famous for its bloodsucking, teenage vampires, and infamous for its underage drinking and sex, The Vampire Diaries has gained a cult-like following over its first four seasons.

When The Vampire Diaries aired its first season, I caught an episode or two, and thought of it as superfluous, especially with the rising momentum of Twilight and the Paranormal Romance section of Barnes and Noble. We surely didn’t need another supernatural love triangle, did we?

Apparently, we did.

As Twilight grew in popularity, so did Twilight-shaming, or more aptly, girl-shaming. There are reasons to criticize the Twilight Saga and its author — in terms of technique, pacing, world-building, and all else related to writing, as well as problematic material presented by Stephanie Meyer.

What Twilight-shaming does instead is shame the people who enjoy Twilight, i.e. teenage girls, rather than the writing or problematic story lines.

Wearing Twilight paraphernalia, standing in the movie ticket line, and carrying around the books became taboo. I first read Twilight when I was fifteen and I loved it. It was a time before I could recognize the problematic nature of Edward Cullen’s possessiveness and stalking of the main character.

But it was when Twilight was discovered overnight, made into a movie, and subsequently shamed, that I stopped wearing the (very comfortable) Twilight jacket my grandmother bought me.

Girls and women needed a safer place to enjoy paranormal high-school life. We found that in The Vampire Diaries, which we could watch from the comfort of our couch.

We just didn’t know how uncomfortable The Vampire Diaries’ content could be — arguably worse than Twilight’s problematic material, even though it is shamed less.

tvd triangle

I decided to give the series a real try while in college. And I became a Vampire Diaries junkie overnight. I introduced it to my roommates (one of whom still loves it, and the other stopped watching) who ate up the love triangle and supernatural spins as much as I did.

We found something we could enjoy and only mildly feel embarrassed about, something difficult as young women who routinely enjoy female-geared tv like Say Yes to the Dress and The Bachelor/ette.

That’s great, right? Looking back, I realize it was not so great. The Vampire Diaries has a host of problematic material that goes beyond the over-used, paranormal love triangle.

I was not as disturbed by some of The Vampire Diaries’ M.O.s as I should have been. The same things that I watched fervently then, make me uncomfortable in my own skin now.

Let’s put a sharp eye on —

The abuse and rape of Caroline Forbes.

caroline and damon

…by Damon Salvatore, the most beloved antagonist-to-protagonist vampire in our media.

I’m afraid that if this post falls into the wrong right hands, Damon lovers and Delena shippers will want to tear me to shreds. Because no one wants to admit that their favorite Bad Boy Turned Good is a rapist.

When Damon first struts into Mystic Falls, he’s a villain, bent on making life miserable for his brother, Stefan Salvatore. As the season progresses, his bad image starts to unravel as his feelings for our main character, Elena Gilbert, deepen.

But, in his journey to become a Good Guy, the narrative must have Damon continuously rape and abuse one of the female characters, then never apologize, admit, or be held accountable for what he did.

In The Vampire Diaries, vampires use compulsion to make their prey malleable. With a quick dilation of the pupil, and some words, humans are made to do a vampire’s every whim. Normally the power is used to lure prey, keep them silent, and make things in life generally easier for a vampire, such as getting a free drink at the bar.

Damon decides, as the resident evil in Mystic Falls, to subject Caroline, the show’s spunky, neurotic, and judgmental friend of Elena’s, to this compulsion for days.

He compels Caroline to not only date him (so that the can be closer to Stefan and Elena), but to let him feed on her, and rape her. Let me make this very clear, compulsion is not consent.

Even when Caroline is unaware of what Damon is and what he is doing to her, she is under his compulsion, and cannot consent. It is Damon’s words that make her believe not to be afraid, and that what is going on is okay. It is what he wants that is happening, not what the everyday Caroline who has never met a vampire wants.

Even when Caroline is aware of what Damon is and what he is doing to her, she is powerless against him, and cannot consent.

Damon rapes her the first night they are together, again the next morning (when she wakes up scared), and more as the compulsion continues.

Then Caroline does what some abused women are forced to do. She hides the physical marks of the abuse with a scarf and a smile.

Friday Night Bites

Damon keeps Caroline in a limbo of limited awareness and an inability to act.

In a moment of clarity, she asks him, “Are you going to kill me?”

He answers that he will, but not yet.

Caroline can’t act on any feelings about her imminent death, rape, and further abuse. It’s an extremely frightening and traumatic situation, one that The Vampire Diaries sweeps under the rug once Damon is a Good Guy.

Sure, Caroline often voices her dislike and distrust of Damon, but never once is her character allowed to bring up her rape and abuse as the reason, or as something that even happened to her.

She and Elena are often at odds over Damon, and never once does Elena say, “Actually, you might be right. Remember that time we were all aware that he sexually abused you and we still let him into our circle, anyway?”

And that’s frightening too.

But it was a one time thing! He was a bad guy then! He’s good now!

The abuse and rape of Andie Star.

andie

Hate to burst your bubble. (Note the tell-tale scarf)

Let’s jump ahead to season 2 and 3 when Damon is a part of the group, working for good against the Originals and his brother, Stefan Salvatore (plot twist: Stefan’s the bad guy now).

He’s on the side of good, a changed man. Yet he still compels, then rapes and abuses a woman he “dates.”

Andie is not a part of the main cast, and was only introduced for Damon to compel. When her story comes to an end, she doesn’t get away with just a fogged memory and inkling feeling that she had been sexually abused. Stefan overrides Damon’s compulsion to force Andie to fall to her death.

Damon is horrified after, and the look on his face is supposed to make us believe that in the end he did care for Andie. The moment is about his anguish, not the death of a woman whose last memories were being forced to sexually gratify her “boyfriend” and then commit suicide.

What I’m not trying to do is vilify Damon’s character. He does that enough himself, if we just care enough to see it.

It’s the people writing and directing these things that need to be held accountable for not holding their work accountable. The actions on screen have real-life consequences. The audience needs to be aware, and demand better from their favorite tv shows, and their favorite characters.

We live in a culture that absolves Chris Brown of his abuse against Rihanna because he’s a talented, attractive male. And, well, just because! That same culture forgives Damon of any recognized sins because he’s a smoldering vampire (with a heart of gold, guys) played by the Ian Somerhalder.

It’s a problem in the real world and on our screen because the two aren’t exclusive. What we see in our media is shaped by society’s standards and gender bias, and what we see in our media somehow justifies society’s standards and gender bias that created it in the first place. Confusing? I know.

Think of all the people who say, “It’s always been this way!” or “Things aren’t ever going to change!”

Well, The Vampire Diaries doesn’t learn from its past mistakes. Things don’t get much better when Damon finally does  get the girl.

The siring and silencing of Elena Gilbert.

elena and damon

Major Spoiler — in the finale of season 3, Elena becomes a vampire.

She then becomes sired to Damon, something that causes her to listen to everything he says, and want to do anything that will make him happy.

Naturally, season 4 is the season of Delena, when Elena finally chooses Damon over Stefan. So it’s their first shot at a real relationship. The implications of such a relationship are more than a little problematic.

Elena can’t consent when she’s sired. Elena can’t focus on what she wants when she’s sired. In essence, we lose the Elena we knew to a woman that wants one thing only: to make a man happy.

No one listens to her after the truth of the sire bond comes out (as if they listened to her before she was a vampire, anyway) because she can’t be trusted with her own opinion. Yet, Damon, the one who can make Elena do anything he says seriously or on a whim, can still be trusted, and uses this power against Elena.

To be fair, most fans that I’m aware of hated this story line. Partly because they wanted Elena’s feeling to be proven real, and partly because they just wanted Damon to be happy after seasons of pining after Elena.

This time, a compelled love wasn’t enough for Damon. It just happened to be enough with the other girls before getting Elena.

The culture of sexual violence in Mystic Falls.

tvd sexual violence

I told a friend once that I didn’t fully understand the fascination with vampirism. She responded that its origins come from a place of forbidden, sexual desire.

It’s not a stretch to think of a vampire feeding as an erotic experience, after all of the Buffys and Angels, Bellas and Edwards, and Elenas and Stefans/Damons. The question is: an erotic experience for who?

In The Vampire Diaries, feeding is often shown as a painful experience for the victim, unless compulsion is involved. It is a violent experience for both parties, and one that is usually sensual, if not sexual, for the vampire.

And this sexual violence is almost always against women. Even if the vampire is a woman.

Haunted

It was a chilling moment when I first fully realized that even the female vampires choose to victimize other women. As vampires, any human is prey, whether it is a high school cheerleader or a football player. Time after time, our female vampires go for the cheerleader.

There are, of course, moments when the women feed on men, but most of the moments we see on screen are male and female vampires feeding on women. Sometimes they even tag team! Rarely do the men victimize other men. Remember, it’s an act with sexual history and implications.

the vampire diaries

Feeling uncomfortable? I am.

The Vampire Diaries sensationalizes violence against women, as do most horror films, and macho films rated R. It is common to see violence, especially sexual violence, against women in our media, while it is uncommon to see women sexually pleasured.

We see sexual violence against women far, far more than sexual pleasure for women.

This is one of those moments when it’s perfectly clear — media is against women, not for. Even when it’s a tv show with a female main character, shrouded in romance, and marketed to women.

The problems don’t stop there. A Vampire Diaries M.O. apart from its sexual violence? Stripping its women of agency, namely the main character, and Caroline Forbes.

Caroline’s insistent, romantic interest is Klaus, the Original who teeters on the Bad Guy – Good Guy line. What Caroline needs to do is push him over into Not My Guy territory for good. Even now that he’s starring in a spin-off, the writers have kept him available as a viable partner for Caroline.

Except, he’s not. His interest in her often leads to violence, and he won’t take “no” for a final answer. After touching on the sexually violent nature of the show, I’m surprised Klaus keeps up the chase instead of just forcing what he wants, as so many of the other characters do.

But, I guess, if it’s true love , it’s worth pressuring her the good old way, instead of compelling her.

Most of the show involves Elena caught between the two Salvatore brothers, both of whom routinely make decisions for Elena, whether she voices disagreement or not. Out of love, of course!

The Vampire Diaries seems to say that so long as men are around to streamline the decision making process, a woman’s agency isn’t necessary. And it certainly isn’t necessary when that agency gets in the way of the plot or sexual gratification of men.

Nina Dobrev, who plays Elena Gilbert (and her doppelganger, Katherine Pierce), once said in an interview that Elena would be better off leaving Mystic Falls and the Salvatore brothers.

post grad

I couldn’t agree more. The Vampire Diaries already has one spin-off, The Originals. How about another called —

Post Grad: where the girls leave Mystic Falls (and TVD’s writers) behind.

(Not so) Modern Family

19 Jul

Heading into its 5th season this fall, Modern Family has been celebrated for its unconventional family dynamic between the Dunphys, Pritchetts, and Tucker-Pritchetts.

But in terms of representation, Modern Family is not so modern, and often relies on stereotypes that the humor can’t rise above.

Here are the Dunphys.

the dunphys

Your typical, white picket fence, white-faced Mom, Dad, and three kids.

Phil is our goofy, unbuttoned Dad who always gives the audience a good laugh, whether we’re laughing at or with him. Either way, it’s all good fun.

His wife, Claire, is the yin to his yang. She often  stirs up trouble of her own with her Type A personality.

I will admit that I love Claire and Phil. They’re equally ridiculous and one wouldn’t quite be whole without the other. So it bothers me that Modern Family allows greater characterization for one over the other. Outside of the house, Phil is a real estate agent. His clients make appearances in the show, his job is often referred to, and he even wins a Real Estate award.

But who is Claire, other than Phil’s wife, and the mother of his children?

claire

Before marriage, she was a bit of a wild child. As a teenager, she snuck out of the house with guys, got in trouble with the cops, and presumably experimented with alcohol and drugs. Before becoming a mother, she was on the management track at a successful hotel chain.

She chose to leave her career to be a Stay-at-home Mom. Over a decade later, she’s still a Stay-at-home Mom, and her characterization revolves wholly around her immediate and extended family. We see that Phil has friends (and a nemesis), but the women we see Claire interact with are certainly not friend-material, not even  Gloria, the only other adult woman in the cast.

So why can’t Claire have friends?

She’s high strung and a control freak, sure, but so are many women who have plenty of friends (myself included). I chalk it up to Modern Family’s Mom-Syndrome.

Only two women make up the female demographic of the adult cast. Both are mothers. Both are wives. Both stay at home.

We find friends in school, at work, and through hobbies. Claire is no longer in school, she doesn’t work, and her hobbies include solo running and competing for a spot on the town council (and she certainly doesn’t make any friends there).

The only former friend that comes back into her life for a day is a woman who continued her career instead of marrying and having kids. Claire’s bit in the episode is about competing with this “friend” and showing her up. It’s a classic girl vs. girl. Mother vs. Working Woman.

In this episode, and through it’s Mom-Syndrome, Modern Family perpetuates that women can’t have a career and a family. Women must always choose.

Even when Phil reveals that they aren’t doing well financially (duh, he works in the housing market), Claire doesn’t go back to work. I truly thought the show was opening a space in its line-up for Claire to be a working mom, but the idea isn’t ever taken seriously, even though Claire’s restlessness (shown in Slow Down Your Neighbors) and drive (her run for town council) indicates to me that she would enjoy being a working mom.

In 2012, 68% of married mothers were working or looking for work. Modern Family needs to step out of the 1950s and into our age, where most mothers with older children are working or seeking employment. Staying at home is a valid choice, but the idea that it is the only choice for Claire wears a bit thin.

But this is Modern Family, where women are either moms or too young to be moms.

And it’s always Girl vs. Girl.

haley and alex

Media loves pitting girls against each other and creating dichotomies, and Modern Family willingly falls into this trap. Sisters Haley and Alex rarely get along, throw insults at each other, and seemingly revel in each others’ unhappiness.

These insults are not harmless, and I was deeply disappointed when Alex made an anorexia insult at Haley’s expense (and many viewers’ who have actually struggled with eating disorders).

Those of us with sisters, or siblings in general, know what it’s like to fight. My sister and I were different growing up, and I will admit that I was jealous of her at times, as Alex is of Haley, and Haley is of Alex. Despite that, we not only got along well, but were very close even when we were both teenagers.

It is deeply troubling that our comedies paint sisterhood as a mostly negative experience. The moments when Haley and Alex come together in friendship is moving, and would still be touching without the Pretty Girl/Smart Girl dichotomy.

Alex can’t understand Haley because she’s a Pretty Girl. Haley can’t understand Alex because she’s a Smart Girl. It isn’t until seasons in that they realize they aren’t only defined by one characteristic. Alex can be smart and pretty! Haley can be pretty and smart! Hallelujah!

Girls are people too, did you know? They are complex. It’s too bad Modern Family didn’t give these sisters the benefit of that doubt from the beginning. Haley and Alex’s rivalry could have been replaced with a stable, close relationship all along.

Sisterhood and female friendships are lacking in media representation. We can hope that Modern Family takes Haley and Alex’s relationship to a positive level in season 5, where they can continue to help each other grow and understand themselves.

Here are the Pritchetts.

the pritchetts

Jay is our older patriarch married to Colombian beauty Gloria, whose son from a previous marriage gets added into the mix.

Casting a woman of color in the ensemble of Modern Family was, indeed, modern. Casting her and her son, Manny, as light-skinned? Not as much. This could have been a chance for a darker-skinned woman to break into an acclaimed comedy, something difficult to do when most scripts write about only white characters.

And with a little digging, the problems get deeper. Women of color are often hyper sexualized, something that has real life consequences, such as higher instances of sexual violence, and dehumanization.

So it’s more than a little problematic that Gloria’s defining characteristics are that she’s Colombian and considered seriously sexy. Gloria’s laughs stem from these characteristics, feeding into the sexualized latina stereotype.

I like Gloria. I her passion, her devotion to family, and her sometimes goofy nature. I like how she can find a way to relate to everyone in the ensemble, from Phil to little Lily.

I don’t like laughing at her.

She can’t pronounce certain words! Ah-ha. Things weren’t like this back in Colombia! Ah-ha. Gloria was poor once! Ah-ha.

Another Colombia joke! Ah-ha.

In the finale of season 4, Cam and Mitchell discuss whether or not Gloria looked like a woman who could have run a brothel once. As answer, the camera zooms in on Gloria reaching over into a car, her heels splayed, and butt in the air. Ah-ha, she’s so sexualized, ah-ha, I can’t stop laughing, ah-ha.

Gloria is rarely taken seriously by her husband and family members because of her accent, background, and attractiveness. The show uses her passion and tough (“Colombian”) nature to often make her the fool. A large part of her relationship with Jay involves pulling pranks on each other and besting the other.

Because the show often makes Colombian culture the butt of the joke, we can never be sure what is real, what is fake, and what is stereotype. In one episode, Gloria gets back at Jay by making up “Colombian” superstitions that he must do, such as wearing shoes around his neck and slapping meat while chanting. So when Gloria wins, her culture and characterization loses.

Before marrying Jay, Gloria provided for herself and Manny (and possibly ran a brothel out of her apartment). Now that she has money, there’s no need for her to work, right? Certainly not. Once women marry, we don’t need our own income, fulfillment, or place to go outside of the house!

Somewhere along the way in season 3, the writers decided that Gloria needed a new spin in her storyline. This was a chance to have one of their two women pursue a job or career. Gloria job hunting, or developing said career, would have been an interesting turn of events.

She’s affluent in fashion and design, so she could have decided to open her own business, a venture that would have offered a chance for creativity and growth. Gloria’s certainly passionate enough to pull it off.

Instead, Modern Family decided that her uterus was more interesting.

JULIE BOWEN, SOFIA VERGARA

So we see the same side of her that we’ve seen since season 1: Gloria as a mother. Now that Gloria has a newborn, and her husband is an older, working male, I’ll hold off my hopes of Gloria’s Glamour shop.

Unfortunately, as the diversity continues, so do the stereotypes.

Here are the Tucker-Pritchetts.

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Your average, red-blooded males who happen to be gay. Mitchell is a tightly wound lawyer who often differs in opinion with Cam, his fantastical, dramatic partner. Lily is their adopted daughter from Vietnam (who, like Gloria, is a POC subjected to stereotypes).

The relationship between Cam and Mitchell is what partly put Modern Family on the map — more and more people are opening up about their need and/or support for LGBTQ rights and representation.

So I wish that the show took that task a little more seriously.

What do you mean? It’s a gay couple on tv! And gay men are funny —

That’s where I’m going to stop you. Gay men have typically been side characters to be laughed at. Look how effeminate! Look, he’s cross-dressing now! Look, he’s joking about how many sexual partners gay men stereotypically have!

Modern Family may not sideline Mitchell and Cam, but their characterizations involve a lot of humor that rely on stereotypes about gay men. How girly Cam is. How girly Mitchell is. Who is “the wife”? The “mother”?

And a lot of that reflects poorly on women, as being girly or being the wife or mother figure is inherently laughable.

But the biggest problem with Modern Family’s representation of LGBTQ characters is their lack of and insensitive treatment of characters that don’t represent the “G”.

Representation tends to isolate gay men as the only faces of the LGBTQ community. There are no lesbian characters in Modern Family’s ensemble, and none of the characters have recurring lesbian friends. Jokes are made on their behalf, and the only lesbian couple on screen was there to up-stage Cam and Mitchell for their child’s spot in a prestigious school.

What can beat a gay couple with an adopted Vietnamese daughter in terms of diversity? Interracial lesbians, one of whom is disabled, with a black son. Naturally, Cam puts on an extremely racist caricature of a Native American to try to win over their interviewer. It’s supposed to be ridiculous. It’s supposed to be funny.

Because Native American stereotypes are just as funny as the other stereotypes rampant on the show, right? It would be wrong to exclude them.

The lesbians are throw-ins for a good laugh at our resident gay couple. (Not to mention that one of the women is the only disabled character that I can distinctly remember being on the show. And we don’t even know her name.)

Besides these core problems, there are moments of slut-shaming, chauvinism, and a poorly handled episode when the three Dunphy females get their periods at the same time. Because women become emotional monsters on their (hush-hush) periods who must be tricked and/or avoided, instead of, I don’t know, treated like human beings in discomfort and pain.

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What Modern Family has going for it is the love and differing relationships between the members of each family unit, and the importance of accepting different kinds of families.  The characters are all somewhat fleshed out, which is good for an ensemble, especially one with diverse characters. I just wish that these diverse characters were given more to work with than stereotypes that often go un-debunked.

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Modern Family is a step in the right direction, but one that zigzags away from its intended message. It’s an award-winning, critically acclaimed show supposedly about a modern-day family — one that seriously lacks understanding of what would be truly modern.

We need a show that counters this one. A show with an interracial ensemble, a wider range of women and their relationships, better representation of the LGBTQ community, and less walking stereotypes.

We deserve a show that delivers on its promise.

The (lack of) Breasts in Media

17 Jul

And why I got a breast reduction at 19 years old.

There’s a common theme about women’s bodies in real life and in the media: they are not our own.

Open any magazine and see tabloids that sometimes laud, but more often shame (female) celebrity bodies. These are almost always paparazzi photos, taken either without the woman’s knowledge or consent, and debated by people that have no business giving opinions on someone else’s body.

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Open the links online that take you to a series of Walmart goers whose bodies are shamed for being what they are: bodies, and for doing what they are doing: existing. Usually the “funniest” or “most disgusting” photos are of women, again taken without knowledge or consent.

Or read the articles online about men spying on women through their webcams, trading and selling access to women’s webcams, and calling these women “girl slaves.” The comments between men predominately involve the women’s bodies, not what the women do, or who these women are. It’s all about female bodies.

But it’s never about us.

If we were considered half as important as our bodies, we wouldn’t be caught in a losing tug of war regarding our reproductive rights, it wouldn’t be legal for a woman to be fired for “being too attractive”, or for larger women on trial to be given a guilty verdict more often than smaller women.

The evidence doesn’t matter, your honor. So long as she is living in that body, she’s guilty of something.

Living in a female body means always being guilty of something. Her stomach is too large. Her legs are too skinny. Her shoulders are too wide. Her lips are too thin. The same magazines that praise women for having trim figures criticize the celebrities who struggle with eating disorders for being too skinny. It’s a lose-lose.

And this is where breasts come in. No matter what size breasts you have, you lose. There is no way to “win” the female body lottery. If your genetics predisposition you to have an A cup, you are set up by society to want larger breasts that are more attractive to the male sex.

If your genetics give you an F cup, I think the school grading system will tell you exactly how to feel about this: you failed the genetic lottery. You won’t find bras at Victoria’s Secret that fit and make you feel sexy.

Because this is their definition of sexy:

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Heavenly, isn’t it? Most certainly not a DD or larger.

So when my breasts grew from a B – C to a DD between fifteen and sixteen years old, I no longer saw (a very skinny version of) myself represented by the women in bra ads. Not just for Victoria’s Secret, but for Aerie’s bra and panty store, where many of my peers shopped. Even Target’s sizes did not allow for coverage and comfort.

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The $10 bras at those stores were not for me. Instead, I bought minimizer, granny bras from Dillard’s that shrunk my breasts an inch and 3/4. The straps were as thick as two of my fingers and cost a fortune each.

Wearing black became an everyday staple. My breasts blended into the black folds of t-shirts and jackets. When I got really desperate, I started wearing extremely tight sports bras over the already minimizing bras to flatten them further.

It was a very uncomfortable four years of my life. I was constantly aware of my breasts, that I was unable to wear spaghetti straps, and unable to wear the dresses that I wore before puberty took its toll.

I couldn’t go to pool parties or the beach without revealing what I truly looked like to my peers. I felt absolutely hideous. I didn’t know anyone else with my frame and breast size. I did know girls with larger breasts that fit their bodies. Their breasts were not eye sores like mine.

I never took off my bras except to shower. I avoided looking at my breasts in the mirror, or else I might cry. I was a  sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, and nineteen year old with sagging breasts, stretch marks, and down turned nipples. All the sitcoms told me that women weren’t supposed to worry about things “not perking up” anymore until they were middle-aged or older.

How very wrong. And that was the thing that hurt most of all: I never saw myself represented in the media.

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“Big breasts are sexy” says everyone ever. A quick glance up will show that the women on GQ’s covers are not all that big-breasted. Big-breasted women are fetishist, on special issues, and special pornos, but never on the classy, objectifying covers. Not in the mainstream porn.

When a good friend of mine tried to assure me that big breasts are attractive in the halls of our high school, I told her, “There is a point when they are too big.”

My D-breasted friend didn’t disagree.

Looking back, I realize this was wrong. All shapes and sizes of breasts can be considered attractive; I just didn’t consider my size attractive, and the tv certainly didn’t either.

(There is also the big, underlying issue that a woman’s breasts aren’t for men. They’re a part of our anatomy that are sexualized for their pleasure, but they are still ours, first and foremost).

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, they say, but there’s a reason I didn’t consider my DD breasts anything other than large parasites attached to my chest.

We are told that larger breasts are what men want, so they must be what women want, but nearly all of the women on screen are small-chested. At most, you see C-cups.

I’ll name some famous faces with smaller to average sized breasts.

The ladies of Friends.

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The Pretty Little Liars.

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These Gossip Girls.

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These Spring Breakers.

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And these doctors.

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Though Grey’s Anatomy deserves its own, positive post about the varying women its show allows, the ensemble still compromises of many small-chested, small-framed women.

There is what I call a lack of breasts in media. What our tv shows, movies, and red carpets lack is varying sizes of breasts (and bodies, in general).

A traditionally tv-sized woman with large breasts on tv?

I can only think of Sofia Vergara.

sofia vergara

That’s because Gloria from Modern Family is an outlier, and her character is known for her big breasts and body.

But Sofia Vergara has been quoted saying that she was told she would have to get a breast reduction to be taken seriously! Big-breasted women are bimbos and sex objects. They are certainly not people.

Well, the person who told her that she would not be taken seriously was, unfortunately, right. Modern Family takes Gloria about as seriously as they do their gay characters. Their gay characters just happen to get a little more room to breathe and grow in their characterization.

Because women on tv don’t have large breasts, unless they are bimbos for Barney on How I Met Your Mother to bang, or larger women in general. Those women are usually just comedic fodder for the “attractive” main character, anyway.

Media representation is important because the girls and women who don’t see themselves reflected in media suffer from otherness. This most acutely affects women of color, who are subjected to white beauty standards and colorism, and rarely see girls and women that look like them on screen and in books. And it’s the white kids watching who learn that they are the norm and that POCs are other.

This otherness affects larger women, as well, who are brutally fat-shamed by their own on-screen counterparts’ scripts. (Identity Thief. Even Bridesmaids. Melissa McCarthy deserves better!). And it affects women like me, who have never looked like the women on screen, and are a part of the 90% of women who feel down about their bodies.

The women on screen shouldn’t be cookie-cutter versions of each other. We need the big-thighed women, the fat women, the obese women, the skinny women, the big-breasted women, and all women in between.

Which is why I am thankful to have these two women on my screen (who clearly aren’t impressed with the rest of tv, either).

CHANDRA WILSON, SARA RAMIREZ

I still don’t see my body represented on screen, and I knew reducing my breast size wouldn’t make me look like Jennifer Aniston. Still, people asked me where it ended — after a breast reduction? After lipo? Did I want to be one of those women who have multiple plastic surgeries in their life? I was told I wouldn’t be happy after the breast reduction.

My decision to alter my own body was met with this disbelief, scorn, and caused a rift between myself and certain family members when I was seventeen. At that time, I had met with a plastic surgeon, discussed the costs and outcomes, and was thinking things over financially.

My father’s girlfriend said that I would regret the decision when I had sex because women who undergo breast reduction sometimes lose sensation in their nipples. I wouldn’t be able to breast feed. Sure, I never even said that I wanted kids or to breast feed them, but I was only seventeen, I couldn’t possibly know what I wanted.

And there would be SCARS. (Cue thunder)

My father said he would rather I go to therapy than have surgery. I told him  that therapy wouldn’t make my internalized feelings disappear. The small possibility that I would feel better about my breasts over time wasn’t enough.

My viewpoint was only getting worse as the years went on. What would happen if I did give birth to a child? Or gain weight? Would I be happier then, when they were bound to grow even bigger?

The back pain was my excuse when my friends couldn’t fathom why I was considering surgery. They didn’t know it, but their noses upturned, so I lied, and told them the pain was the main reason I wanted surgery. It was a secondary reason, but certainly not the first.

No one was happy for me, except my very best friends, only one of whom said they understood why I was choosing surgery in the first place. My mother and my boyfriend supported me.

But I worried about what my boyfriend would tell his family and friends when he would take care of me during recovery. My sister would quiet when I brought the idea of surgery up, and my grandmother would get a sad look in her eye even as her mouth said she supported me.

A relation told me after that they didn’t realize my breasts were so large, even after seeing me at my most casual for years, lounging around the house, wearing pajamas, and doing family activities.

Most of my friends were shocked to hear of my breast size, even as their eyes glanced over my chest. Most people nowadays are shocked when I tell them that I have had a breast reduction. Still, some voice concern over the decision. I’m certain that there are people out there that think I surgically altered myself to look more attractive, and that it is somehow not a valid reason.

That’s part of it. There’s also nothing wrong with that, no matter how much we like to shame women for getting botox or lipo, yet also shame them for naturally wrinkling and gaining a waist. But the biggest reason I reduced my breast size was for myself!

It’s about how I feel about myself and how comfortable I am in my own body. There are just some people who will not understand that.

This brings me back to what I said at the beginning — female bodies aren’t ours. So when I said that I was going to alter mine surgically, I was met with disapproval, opinions that I didn’t want or ask for, and, worst of all, silence.

When I first told my dad I wanted surgery before my eighteenth birthday, so that I could recover and enjoy that big milestone, he said, “I won’t sign off on that.” Parental permission was required.

When I told my dad at dinner (two years later) that my surgery date was set, he didn’t say a word. When I reminded him that my surgery date was coming up and that I would be in recovery, he didn’t say a word.

He did call my boyfriend after the surgery to see how I was doing.

Below is a rendering of a breast reduction, before and after, and the incision process.

breast reduction

I don’t look much different to the peers that never realized I was a DD-cup, but I feel more like myself than I ever did in the years before the reduction. I can go through an entire day without spending much time thinking about my breasts at all. The first time I slept without a bra on, it was odd, but liberating.

My breasts are still not considered small. If you’re wondering, I am between a C and D, closer to a D. I don’t love them, but I don’t hate them either. They simply are a part of me. A flawed, scarred part, just like the rest of me.

I’m very open about my procedure, my scars, and everything in between. I welcome questions and concerns, but I don’t welcome opinions that can’t change what I’ve already done.

Go on, tell me that I’m crazy for not wanting to be a DD. Tell me that I was well represented. Tell me I was wrong for making a personal decision about my own body.

My family doesn’t mention my past surgery often. It’s still a bit of a sore topic. So, the one time that I did bring it up after, I made sure they knew —

It was the best decision of my life.

Why you’ll love Orphan Black

16 Jul

Minimal spoilers ahead. Just enough to understand Orphan Black’s premise and characters.

Orphan Black is the must-see show of the summer. I just ordered my copy of season 1 on DVD (available online and in stores tomorrow!).  Weeks after finishing the first season, my head is still spinning over it.  So don’t wait any longer, take my word for it —

Three reasons why you’ll love Orphan Black:

1) Tatiana Maslany

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2) Tatiana Maslany

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3) And…Tatiana Maslany

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Orphan Black is a BBC sci-fi show that aired in the USA this summer. It only took the first half of the pilot to hook me in on a ten-episode ride through its first season.

So what is Orphan Black all about? What makes it so good? And why am I toting it on a feminist blog?

Meet Sarah.

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Sarah is our main protagonist, a rough-around-the-edges, leather-wearing, twenty-something woman returning home after a year away. She’s down on her luck financially and has a young daughter being taken care of by Sarah’s former foster mother.

The series opens with Sarah after her combat boots hit home ground. While still at the train station, she witnesses a woman commit suicide. Suicide by train? Okay, odd, sure.

The freaky part? The woman looks exactly like Sarah. Weird. Sarah doesn’t have a twin. A doppelganger? Sarah muses. Well, she doesn’t muse long because our protagonist  is too busy stealing the doppelganger’s purse.

Then her identity.

Her doppelganger, Beth, is not unlucky financially, and it only takes a little acting to drain her account. All Sarah has to do is grab her daughter, her foster brother, and get out of town with the cash. But getting away from Beth’s demons isn’t so easy.

Insanity ensues as Sarah slowly discovers what her doppelganger was running from when she jumped in front of that train, involving trysts with cops and a well-to-do, straight-laced boyfriend.

Then when Sarah comes face to face with more doppelgangers, the lies get deeper, the secrets stronger, and running away isn’t the clearest option anymore.

Meet Alison.

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Alison is our conservative, soccer mom in suburbia. She’s got a house, a husband, and two adopted children. And a bit of a wayward temper. She volunteers in the neighborhood to host block parties, bring snacks to the kids’ soccer team, and owns a gun.

She’s clean-cut and in control until the alcohol and doppelgangers come out.

Her life would be perfect if it weren’t for the pesky little fact that she knows this woman:

Meet Cosima.

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Our scientist brainiac who is starting to figure everything out. She’s impetuous, driven, and is determined to unravel the medical mystery of the doppelgangers. Cosima is the first to tell us what Orphan Black is really about: Clones.

Cosima is onto something big about their origins, who’s behind their existence, and why they should be afraid.  A new face comes into her life, shaking up her whole world. Is her new romantic interest a friend or foe? Should she wait for the answer?

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Sarah, Alison, and Cosima are the three main faces of Orphan Black (the one and only face of the talented Tatiana Maslany), but there are plenty of notable supporting characters. Sarah’s foster brother, Felix, adds humor to the drama, many times alongside clone Alison. But it’s really the clones that keep you glued to the screen.

Maslany plays each clone with such nuance that you forget that they are all played by the same woman, even when they are in the same room. Each woman is a complex being with her own quirks and fears who happens to be genetically identical with the others.

And when the mysteries become demystified, what’s left from the smoke is a tale of autonomy of life and body — a topic so relevant in a time when our reproductive rights and personal decisions about female bodies are not just debated, but taken from us.

That’s what’s so feminist about it. It’s a show about a group of women who converse, share their struggles, and rely on each other. Its about rallying together and fighting for their rights to live their lives as they choose to.

The narrative doesn’t slut shame Sarah for being a young, single mother. Even alongside Alison’s picket fence life, the show doesn’t shame Sarah for not being able to care for her child in the same way.

There is also a spotlight on the love between Sarah and her foster brother, Felix, for her daughter, and the often strained relationship between Sarah and her foster mother. It’s not a conventional family, but it’s a family nonetheless.

On top of all that, Orphan Black not only accepts gay characters, but doesn’t sideline them. Sarah’s foster brother  is often humorous, filling the typical gay character that exists to make the audience laugh. But he transcends that. Felix often elicits the joke’s punchline, but he, himself, is not the punchline. He is not the joke.

When he’s not painting or helping Sarah/the clones, he often interacts with romantic interests on screen. He is also a sex worker, something that is not shamed.

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Which is great. But my biggest problem with LGBTQ representation is that it is almost always gay men being represented. (See: Modern Family). I am hard pressed to find shows and movies that showcase lesbians or bisexual women, and when they do, it’s often fetishist.

So when Cosima’s romantic storyline turned out to be this:

cosima and delphine 2

I was enthused. A lesbian main character? That’s pretty damn feminist.

Orphan Black gives its female characters (clones and others) voices, interests, sexuality, and room to breathe and grow. There are male characters working with and against them, but ultimately it’s about the girls, big and small.

I can’t gush anymore without giving more away, so do yourself a favor, and go watch it! Let me know what you think.

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Welcome to the Clone Club.