Posts Tagged ‘Feminism’

By Jenny Jocks Stelzer, English Faculty. 

I know that I’m most likely overthinking, overreacting, and overstating this, but I find myself constantly on the defensive over my love of football, probably due to the unrelenting pace of my Facebook posts with tiny hearts and hashtags like #lovethenfl #lovecollegefootball, #adrianpetersonissohot, etc., etc., etc.

21spoy1223I’m a woman. I’m a feminist. I’m an annoyingly self-righteous progressive. So, in light of the social, ethical, and safety concerns brought about by the sport, I’m supposed to be a hater. My love of football is oxymoronic. It befuddles some. It irritates others. It appalls a few. So, I love it.

Like any form of entertainment, art, or sport, football creates a cultural and social space. It’s an integral space where men can be “men” in ways that are stereotypical and sometimes repellant, to be sure, but also kind of awesome. Our society expects men to maintain the precarious balance of command and cooperation, strength and tenderness, primal physicality and intelligence. All of this happens on the football field.  The players we talk about most are aggressive, unrelenting, self-aggrandizing, and Superman-tough, and I usually love those guys, so I catch a lot of shit for it. I’m supposed to oppose this kind of hyper-masculinity, because it upsets the social expectations of my feminist-liberal position. Certainly, I’m not supposed to enjoy the muscles and the trash-talk and the brutality. So, I love it.

Not only is it unrealistic to expect men to maintain the difficult primal/social balance of appetite and acceptable behavior, it is simply NO FUN if we demand that they adhere to such a strict social protocol at all times. Football creates a spacepatrick-willis wherein men can growl, pound their chests, and smash into each other with primal aggression, and I get to watch. Now, THAT is fun. They get to channel animal urges toward a common goal and I get to enjoy, unapologetically, watching men with superior physical strength and mental acumen crash their big, strong bodies into one another and out-think their opponents. Then, they do awesomely cute little dances, flex their muscles for the camera, and slap each other’s asses adorably. So (of course), I love it.

Now, I realize that this celebration of hyper-masculinity is not securely contained within the cultural space of football. I know the serious social and interpersonal problems that present when a man is encouraged to be aggressive and self-important, when physical violence is the go-to solution to a problem, when putting one’s health and future at risk is expected toward the aim of winning a superficial game for money and fame and to enrich a few a-hole owners and a grossly flawed system. These are problems, and I know I should be repulsed, but it makes football dangerous. So, I love it.

I know, football promotes many of the negative aspects of stereotypical masculinity, and it subsequently facilitates serious social problems like domestic violence, economic inequities, and mental illness when those aspects creep from the cultural space of the football field into the social space of the actual world. I get that, and it disturbs me. I don’t mean to embrace or forgive any of these social problems, but football is complex enough, and compelling enough, and fun enough, that these dangers create, for me, a conflicted set of feelings. I’m supposed to hate it. So, I love it.

For these dangers, and the sex-appeal of athletic bodies in strenuous battle, come with another level of complexity. All of these “negative” aspects of masculinity bring with them impressive and undeniable displays of camaraderie, cooperation, intellect, and, yes, tenderness. When eleven men are on the field together, on offense or defense, they must operate withNFL: Atlanta Falcons at Detroit Lions absolute connectedness to meet their goal and to protect themselves and their teammates from serious harm. Teamwork is real, and it works: WE win when we work together and protect each other. That connection, and the insanely hard work that teammates do together, makes football a space of intimacy and brotherhood, and THAT is beautiful. Intimacy and cooperation is subtly discouraged among men in our culture, which expects a certain level of rogue individuality to achieve an unrealistic masculine ideal: I win; you lose. Cooperation toward a common goal in football demands a level of intelligence and intellect that is often overlooked in discussions of athletics.  Football players are rarely given props for their intellect, but, in order to reach their common goal, these men have to study, collaborate, and think critically about their own, their teammates’, and their opponents’ strengths, weaknesses, and strategies. Teamwork, hard work, and smarts: now, THAT is sexy. I love it. And you should love it, too.

By Jenny Jocks Stelzer, English Faculty.

Beyoncé is a feminist. No matter what you think. No matter what I think.

Beyoncé is a feminist. Because she decides.

She creates this crazy-dope album that is, in effect, a whole new pop sub-genre that not only demands the “album” experience (we’ve seen the rebirth of the “album” over singles with artists like Nas and Kendrick), it forges a new inextricability between song, beyonce-visual-albumalbum, AND video. No singles, please. You gotta experience the whole damn thing. You listen according to Bey’s direction. And, you watch. And, by the way, you’re happy about that (trust me). She then forgoes the beaten path toward sales (much time, energy, money on hype, little time, energy, money on art) to drop “Beyoncé” as a straight-up surprise. No matter what you cynics say about marketing ploys, “Surprise! Here’s my amazing new album! Enjoy it!” is way better than the uber-strategic beat-us-over-the-head-with-hype-on-your-upcoming-album-so-much-that-we’re-kinda-over-it-before-it-even-drops thing (think: Eminem and Lady Gaga).

Beyoncé is a feminist. Because she controls “the gaze”.

So much is said in feminist theory and cultural criticism about the male gaze, which objectifies and sexualizes women according to masculine desires. The camera, and his eye, is on her. He watches, she moves, for him. Beyoncé shifted the power of the gaze way back with “Video Phone,” when she took control and directed HIM on how to watch her. She does this often on her new album, repeatedly directing his gaze (“Don’t take your eyes off it/Watch it babe”) and in thoughtful and sometimes ironic ruminations on beauty and social distortion (“Pretty hurts/We shine the light on whatever’s worse”) as well as, yes, feminism (by taking the male gaze straight on with the self-celebratory: “I look so good tonight/God damn!/I woke up like this/Flawless”).

Beyonce is a feminist. Because she brags about her sexual prowess.

SO damn hip-hop. She appropriates the common trope of sexual ability from the fellas. Sure, other female artists have done this before (Eve, MC Lyte), but Bey does it bigger. First, she owns what he’s gazing at (like a stone-cold fox): “my fatty, daddy, “, then she makes her demands (like a man): “You rock hard/I rock steady,” and then she declares him worthy of her (like a BOSS!): “Ooh, my sh*t’s so good that it ain’t even right…/…you’re my equivalent/So sexy”.

(Run, don’t walk, now, and listen to “Rocket”. Seriously. Stop reading this, download this album, and listen to that song RIGHT NOW. Uh, huh. You’re welcome.)

Beyonce is a feminist. Because she’s powerful enough to break the rules and to have fun doing it.

Much ado has already been made about the  questionable rhymes her husband, Jay Z, lays on “Drunk in Love,” which reference Ike and Tina Turner’s forcible-cake-eating moment in their abusive marriage. Rightfully so, black feminist bloggers like Black Girl1369078467_beyonce-jay-z-lg Dangerous’s Mia McKenzie and Crunk Feminist Collective (“5 Reason’s I’m Here for Beyonce the feminist“) take on the lyrics, Jay Z, and Bey, for this. Sure, in the pre-“Beyoncé” pop culture space (read: male-dominated), the fact that Jay raps almost jovially about spousal abuse in his wife’s song seems an affront to her, to marriage and to women. However, this is Bey’s world now, y’all; Jay’s just rapping in it. First of all, as McKenzie repeatedly notes, Beyoncé “allows” Jay to spit these lyrics on her album. Secondly, as far as we (the public, audience, fans, even haters) can possibly know, Bey’s and Jay’s is a mutually respectful relationship between equals. They allow us glimpses into their intimacy (Lucky us!), so we must approach their relationship on their terms, and take at face value the fact that this is the (pretended or genuine – no matter) sex life of two equally powerful adults. By the look on her face (in the oh-my-god-I-might-just-die-its-so-sexy video for “Drunk in Love”), and the fact that she mouths the words along with him (while turning her own gaze on him AND on the camera itself, I might add), suggest that this just might be sexual play that SHE demands; he’s just living up to her expectations. Lucky him. Plus, just watch her dance. The woman is running sh*t and she’s having so much fun doing it.

(By the way, no fair judging fantasies. People be kinky, and you know it. Enjoy the show. Whether it’s right or wrong AIN’T your business.)

Beyoncé is a feminist. Because she says so, b*tches.

No matter how earnest, self-righteous, educated, or angry we are, we don’t get to define Beyoncé’s feminism. SHE DOES. This weak-ass defense I offer is no different than some rant about her sexiness or her very public relationship. This gets to the (really important) discussion of the problem with white feminists. We want to decide, to explain, to define, and we have a hard time just listening. Because white women have always been in a (slightly, to be sure) higher position of power than black women, we’ve been able to voice what does or does not constitute feminism, and this definition has often neglected, even degraded the black female experience and the black feminist perspective. Beyoncé’s declaration of feminism is, on the one hand, none of our damn business, and, on the other hand, an opportunity to take a closer look at our own deeply held convictions about beauty, marriage, feminism, sex, and fun.

Nonetheless, this is Bey’s feminism, not yours, so shut up and listen.

By Jenny Jocks Stelzer, English Faculty. 

“You’re a feminist; how could you be into Shakespeare, what with all of the ‘witches’ and the ‘shrews?’”

Um, I’m pretty sure I never heard that question in grad school or at any point in my academic experience. It’s pretty much understood that, despite the disinheritance of a less-Imagethan-compliant daughter, the taming of an obstinate wife, and the inevitable insanity of the power-hungry femme fatale, it’s cool for a feminist to be into Shakespeare, because he’s good. He’s THAT good.

However, I am continually posed with that question in my current intellectual pursuit:

“You’re a feminist; how could you be into rap, what with all of the ‘bitches’ and the ‘hos?'”

Because, I say, like any art, when rap is good, it’s THAT good.

Why is it totally acceptable to give Shakespeare props for his skills, despite his apparent misogyny, but not, say, Ice Cube? I think it has something to do with who gets to define art. While our cultural reverence for Shakespeare stems from the way that he kicks ass with English (Sound and fury? Damn right.), it is made unquestionable by our acceptance of his stories as universal and his skill as peerless. His cultural position is dominant, white, male. However, we, even feminists, let him speak for us, because he does it so good.

So, Ice Cube brings a perspective that is not just different from that of theImage accepted universal, it is downright unsettling, to understate the matter. It is unsettling in that it doesn’t fit nicely into the cultural definition of art. It can’t. It comes from an angry, black dude, and that angry, black dude could not possibly represent the universal, according to the dominant (white, male) definition.

So, we dis it. It is violent. It is misogynistic. It disturbs the shit that makes us comfortable.

Guess what? That’s art. And, guess what else? When it’s done by the likes of Cube, it’s peerless: the man can rap. Yes, he is THAT good.

Let’s take a look at some examples:

When Hamlet accosts his mother and mind-trips his girlfriend, it’s totally cool because Gertrude’s tumble into “incestuous sheets,” means that Ophelia is sure to be Hamlet’s 100th problem. Yeah, go ahead and mess with your girlfriend’s head to fulfill your revenge fantasy against your mother: “Frailty, thy name is woman.”

ImageWhen Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassidy blast through America and the “awfully dumb…sweet little girl[s],” we are quick to forgive their youthful indiscretions because they are rebelling against the stifling square-ness of the 1950’s, and because Kerouac does it with such frantic, insanely sexy lyricism: “…I knew there’d be girls, visions, everything…”

When Anna Karenina finally offs herself, the only thing she CAN do in Tolstoy’s Russia (she did cheat on her husband, after all, and he’s got a rep and a fortune to defend, yo), we praise the beauty of the tragic love story: “Sensual desire indulged for its own sake is the misuse of something sacred.” That is, if it’s a woman’s indulgence.

Now, I’m not saying we shouldn’t go mad for these writers. They are amazing, and they tell stories of the human condition in ways that challenge and move us. My point is, though, that this power of (seemingly universal, but, almost always white and male) art is not found only within literature; it is found in a good rapper’s flow.

When Ice Cube claims that “Life ain’t nothin’ but bitches and money,” he is, as a matter of fact, speaking from the same misogynist universal as all the rest of these dudes, it just happens to arise from the culturally oppressed, rather than the culturally dominant. More importantly, his flow is so urgent, so angry, and so damn smooth against Dre’s hard-driving, irresistible beat, that his mastery is undeniable. So, I give him much respect: “Even saw the lights of the Goodyear blimp, and it read ‘Ice Cube’s a pimp.'”

As for my take on Norman Mailer and Eminem, I’d really like to claim that I represent as a feminist, but, like Jay-Z says, “Ladies is pimps, too.”