“Knocked-up” examined more closely at Slate

Over at Slate, Meghan O’Rourke turns the spotlight of her “Highbrow” column to the sexist endorsement of male autonomy and female obligation in Judd Apatow’s “Knocked Up.”

Who’s surprised to see misogyny in a movie with this title? “Having a baby” is what happens when adult parents operate together to produce a child. When slovenly, unmotivated men underestimate their reproductive might, that’s when a chick gets “knocked up.” It’s a phrase that captures male potency and female receptivity as differences in power, rather than mechanically dissimiliar reproductive roles.

(I do remain unconvinced that we should shed a tear for the demise of the ‘female slacker’.)

Mammalian misogyny in mammoth movie?

Over at The Hathor Legacy,  C. L. Hanson lays out a case for the unexamined misogyny of the Pixar film “Ice Age,” in which the adventures of the protagonist mammals is launched by the death of a mother for the sake of her child. Does this mean that the filmmakers consider female characters disposable, or that they failed to realize that they treat female characters in this disposable fashion? I happen to think that the mother died of natural causes, and rather than being abandoning her to an unaided demise, Manny the Morose Mammoth was watching her last act before exhaustion and injury closed inevitably upon her.

Not the most imaginative plotting; the lazy device of the mother’s death in this film does not set female characters back a few millennia; but it does reflect a gender imbalance, a lack of concern for that imbalance, and is an amplification — albeit a quiet one — of the role of mother mere vessel, fulfilling her noble duty: bear the baby, birth the baby, save the baby, expire.

Whether you agree with the author or not, the question is a fair one, and a smart one, the sort of discerning interrogation of culture that is bound to expose even the most firmly rooted gender preferences.

Peeing in bushes: you’ve come a long way, baby.

Over one hundred and fifty THOUSAND Facebook members have joined the group *30 Reasons Girls Should Call It A Night*. Among these reasons, numbers 11 (“You talk to stupid skanks you really hate and tell them you really do like them and that ya’ll should be friends.”) and 14 (“You become overly enthusiastic when someone offers you $20 dollars to make out with your friend when you totally would have done it for free”) stand out as first-rate examples of how popular culture demeans women. Because, like totally the only way for a female to have a good time is strip down, smear some makeup on her face, and wade out into debauchery.

Number 18: “Your make-up is smeared all over your face and somehow you have still managed to make out with 5 different guys. very classy.” It’s clear that what’s going on here is veiled self-reproach; when someone does something which they would be embarrassed by if they had any sense, they mock the same behavior in others while remaining aloof to their hypocrisy. In an article for the UK Daily Mail, Alcohol Concern spokesman Frank Soodeen was quoted as saying that this group is “symptomatic of the culture of acceptability around drunkenness.” Of course, drunkenness is a means to an end, namely, the dismantling of dignity and mores which stand between women and objectification. A very non-scientific study of the members of “30 Reasons” reveals that 40% are male — a ready audience for the photos and videos of drunken foolishness that college women are being convinced is the finest way to spend one’s time.

Smut, rape, and premature conclusions

Steve Chapman, writing for The Chicago Tribune, doesn’t endorse the theory that easy access to Internet pornography explains the decline in sexual crimes reported by the FBI in their annual Uniform Crime Report: rape is down 72% since 1993, and other sexual assaults have dropped by 68%. He even paints the theory — proposed by Clemson University economist Todd Kendall — in dubious terms, as the “most surprising and controversial account” of this downswing. What then is the point of drawing our attention to a remarkable phenomenon in need of explanation, and then offering up an explanation put forth by a credible expert? Come on, Chapman, don’t be coy. If you agree, say so, and your only misstep will be leaping prematurely to a conclusion that is wholly not supported by the data. At least you won’t be accused of being disingenuous.

Klemson presented “Pornography, Rape, and the Internet”in October 2006 at Stanford, in front of students enrolled in a Law and Economics Seminar. Since his research was presented as a working paper, it did not purport to demonstrate clear causation between web porn and the incidence of rape. Indeed, Klemson is quite cautious in his conclusion:

The associated decline in rape illustrated in the analysis here is consistent witha theory, such as that in Posner (1994), in which pornography is a complement for masturbation or consensual sex, which are themselves substitutes for rape, making pornography a net substitute for rape.

Given the limitations of the data, policy prescriptions based on these results must be made with extreme care. Nevertheless, the results suggest that, in contrast to previous theories to the contrary, liberalization of pornography access may lead to declines in sexual victimization of women. [bold mine]

So an economist throws an analysis at some data, observes what may be something worth investigating, and cautiously reports that he’s looking into it. When journalists do their job, they are condensing and repacking news about this sort of scientific development; when they fail to pay attention, they are distorting and exaggerating the claims of scientists in order to nudge public perceptions.

People are properly interested in learning what science has to say about the origins of sexual assault. The media is going to continue misrepresenting scientific research for the sake of the sales that come with sensationalism. So please be skeptical of what you read; the gravity of rape demands more than sensational, unreflective explanation.

When this paper was making the rounds last fall, it caught the notice of more than one blog. At Freakonomics, Steven Levitt is skeptical of the conclusions being attributed to Kendall, his former student, explaining that “the concern is always, with this kind of approach, that there are other factors that might be driving both the adoption of the Internet and the decline in rape.” At 2x3x7, blogger Falstaff proffers a thoughtful analysis of the maths, and wonders whether if it “isn’t it more likely that what we’re seeing is just multicollinearity unrealistically inflating the regression estimates?” Translation: it looks like correlation rather than causation.

But the economist jury is still out. Rape, like any other (anti-) social phenomenon, is the product of multiple causes interacting in manifold ways. That the moral aspect of the crime is as simple as they come does not mean we should settle for simplistic explanations of the causes behind it. Simplistic answers, attractive though they may be to pundits eager to thicken their opinions with a little research,  beget ineffective policies and inaccurate perceptions.

Heineken Robots

I don’t know why I continue to let myself get shocked by these things. The first time I saw this commercial, I sat on the couch stunned, my jaw resting contemplatively on the floor. I know I should expect such objectification from advertisements, especially beer companies, but it never ceases to amaze me. As I watch a green sexy robot who eerily resembles a futuristic Stepford wife dance around, spout extra arms, slap her own ass, pour a glass of beer, and then open up to reveal two more, different-colored, but equally sexy robot-women, I begin to realize it’s no wonder we live in a rape culture. It’s no wonder men think it’s OK to treat women as less than human. Look at what they’re being told!

And the worst part? As the horror of the commercial finally ends, I turn my aghast face upon my mother’s only to find she is completely unaware of the blatant objectification, sexism, oppression, I could go on and on, screaming out from the TV screen! And this is in no way a comment against my mother. Instead, it is a lament to the fact that beer companies (along with many others) are showing ads such as these, and not only the men are buying into them. This form of objectification is becoming so mainstream and normal in our culture that we’re completely desensitized to it and don’t even notice when we’re being objectified right in front of our faces.

How are we supposed to fight and change our rape culture when men are constantly being told women are objects (i.e. robots), and women don’t even see the problem with this??

News Flash: Hillary Clinton Has Breasts

Robin Givhan of the Washington Post expressed her shock at discovering Hillary Clinton is in fact a woman (and not some sort of androgynous mystery?) after witnessing her “undeniable” cleavage Wednesday afternoon on C-SPAN2.

She was talking on the Senate floor about the burdensome cost of higher education. She was wearing a rose-colored blazer over a black top. The neckline sat low on her chest and had a subtle V-shape. The cleavage registered after only a quick glance. No scrunch-faced scrutiny was necessary. There wasn’t an unseemly amount of cleavage showing, but there it was. Undeniable.

Because we all know how relevant her fashion decisions are to her political stance. Funny how she failed to mention the flattering cut of Rudy Guiliani’s black pant suit and his more free-flowing hair style that night. Oh wait, no one gives a shit how the guys look. Respect for them is not earned by the way they dress, style their hair, or show off their cleavage. Respect for them is earned by the way they vote, speak, and act. Hmm…that’s a concept.

Givhan proceeds to discuss the difference between when women weren’t even allowed to wear pants in the Congree to now…when cleavage is apparently allowed to run rampant. She points out Clinton’s always-conservative Oscar De La Renta and Donna Karan gowns as the first lady. It seems as if every one of Clinton’s fashion decisions while in the public eye are going under direct scrutiny just because she dared show a millimeter of cleavage.

With Clinton, there was the sense that you were catching a surreptitious glimpse at something private. You were intruding — being a voyeur. Showing cleavage is a request to be engaged in a particular way. It doesn’t necessarily mean that a woman is asking to be objectified, but it does suggest a certain confidence and physical ease. It means that a woman is content being perceived as a sexual person in addition to being seen as someone who is intelligent, authoritative, witty and whatever else might define her personality. It also means that she feels that all those other characteristics are so apparent and undeniable, that they will not be overshadowed.

To display cleavage in a setting that does not involve cocktails and hors d’oeuvres is a provocation. It requires that a woman be utterly at ease in her skin, coolly confident about her appearance, unflinching about her sense of style. Any hint of ambivalence makes everyone uncomfortable. And in matters of style, Clinton is as noncommittal as ever.

Brilliant. She brings up such good points! Of course, Clinton displayed cleavage because she wanted to suggest a more sexual image to her fellow members of Congress. Why else would she wear a V-neck? Hmmm…maybe because she’s a woman and V-necks are a part of women’s fashion? No…it has to be a cry for sexual attention. She’s just not stylish enough to be comfortable in her own body.

When will we stop analyzing what Clinton wears and how she styles her hair and actually give her the same respect we give the men? Or at least judge her under the same kind of scrutiny. You don’t see anyone blogging about Obama’s latest fashion choice. Analyzing Clinton’s fashion choices just keeps her at a lower respect level. It indicates that she is only deserving of our intellectual respect if she is dressed perfectly. The problem is, no matter what she wears, we will comment on it simply because she is a woman. As soon as a woman is in the public eye for political reasons, she is under scrutiny first as a woman and then as a politician. If this isn’t a sign of a lack of equality, I don’t know what is.

Abortion Registry in India

According to Reuters India plans to implement a registry for all abortions in order to cut down on abortions of female fetuses.  Apparently, many families choose to abort female babies despite the law against sex determination tests.  The registry will cut down on “mysterious” abortions and (hopefully) create a safer environment for women who actually would like an abortion for “an acceptable and valid reason.”

“An acceptable and valid reason,” huh?  What exactly does that mean?  When I first read this, I thought, Right on!  The fight against gender discrimination is taking another step forward.  But then I realized, Wait…what exactly is an “acceptable and valid reason”?  And who exactly makes that judgment call?  This same question is brought up on Feminsting.com, and now I’d like to attempt to tackle it while proposing it to our beloved readers.

On the  one hand, this seems like a great step away from the preferential treatment of the male gender in India.  They are trying to eliminate the abortion of females strictly because of their gender.  That’s great.  The problem with this registry is, who is deciding what abortions are OK and what aren’t?  If the only criteria is that the abortion is not desired strictly for gender preferences, and if the register aides in providing safer options for women, then I don’t seem to have a problem with it.

I’m skeptical, though.  The patriarchy runs rampant in all parts of the world.  Gender discrimination is everywhere, and it seems that only in a perfect world would women have control of our own bodies and be able to decide what we can and cannot do with them.  I suppose we will just have to wait it out and see what happens.

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