rape should be blamed on the rapist.

So a few days ago, a friend of mine linked to an interesting picture on Facebook.  It was of a topless woman who had written “STILL NOT ASKING FOR IT” on her breasts and abdomen.  I won’t post it here, because I know some of my readers find nudity distasteful*, but it sparked a very interesting debate.  I’ve seen it shared a few other places since, and every time the comments are just breathtaking.

You wouldn’t wear a chum suit to swim with sharks.

There is this idea, beneath the surface of almost all of the comments, that women’s bodies are a dangerous weapon that once unleashed turn normal respectable men into mindless automatons of desire with undeniable destructive force.  There are two issues to be addressed there:

  1. Men are not savages, and society should not give them permission to behave like such.  Showing men a pair of perky breasts should not turn them into raping machines.  If they cannot control themselves in the face of a flash of skin here or a lowcut top there or a pretty lady in high heels and a skirt walking through the park in twilight, this really isn’t the lady’s problem.  It’s the man’s.  If the men in our society cannot bear the sight of a little boobs or butt without losing their minds, I think that we should either blame society or men, not women.  That’s sort of like saying, “I know I promised not to eat any more sugar but then there were chocolate bars in the checkout lane and I completely lost my mind and woke up the next morning with a Hershey’s mustache surrounded by shredded wrappers.  I blame Safeway.”  Uh, no.
  2. Women’s bodies aren’t chum.  They aren’t a shredded bucket of viscera whose only purpose is to attract sharks.  Imagine for a moment that a man was painting the side of his house in only a pair of tight shorts and the woman who lived there invited him in for a cup of lemonade, roofied him and raped him.  Do you think society as a whole would say, “man, you really shouldn’t work with your shirt off.  You KNOW what those rock hard abs do to women.”  No.  Because there is a double standard, and women’s bodies are the only ones treated like a weapon.  Women are told to be demure, to be “good”, to keep their breasts and buttocks covered, to not wear too high of heels, etc, etc, etc, to “protect themselves” or to “protect men from temptation”.  Then, women are told that they should be sexy to keep their husband and they must dress attractively to be respected and on and on and on, because apparently our bodies aren’t our bodies, they are a tool.  A tool that must know when to be used and when not to.  A tool that is constantly meant to be in the service of others.

I don’t normally cuss on this blog, but I can only think of one word to sum up my feelings on this subject:

bullshit.

Let’s make one thing clear; the only time a woman is “asking for it” is when she says, “give it to me, I want it.”  Simply having a pair of breasts isn’t asking for it.  Even showing you her breasts isn’t asking for it.  Her body isn’t consent, period.  I know people who think the act of sexual intercourse is in and of itself consent, which is such an utter crock of insanity I hate to even write about it because it makes my heart bleed.  It really does.  Women have a right to decide when they want to have sex and when they don’t.  I once jokingly told someone that it’s a little different when you’re married, because there’s this assumption that your bodies are there for each other.  I was talking to a guy, as a matter of fact, and his response was that while some guys might think it’s cool for their girl to just stick her hand down their pants and say “give it to me” it really doesn’t work that way.

And you know what?  It doesn’t.

We live in a world where privacy is something that you can have or give away with the click of a button, it’s a commodity that is bought and sold without so much as our knowledge.  Our bodies may be our last line of defense.  Our bodies may be the last place where we can truly feel ownership of ourselves, the last thing that isn’t being bought and sold and grasped at for profit.  And for women, that feeling of ownership and peace has never really truly fully been there.  We’ve always understood that our bodies belong to our children, to our husbands, to our world as a whole.  Our beauty has always been something we’ve been told to use to our advantage, if we’ve got it, or if we haven’t that’s always been something that has set us apart.

But violence.

Violence.

To tell us that our bodies deserve violence because they are appealing, that it is our duty to avoid violence by hiding our bodies…

NO.

Let’s make everything very, very clear:  No one’s body belongs to anyone else, even if you are married.  You give access to your body, but it must be a gift and it must be given freely.  If a woman is less than dressed, that’s not consent.  If she’s passed out on the couch, that’s not consent.  If you have some control over her, as her boss, as her lover, as coercion, that’s not consent.  If you didn’t ask and she didn’t say please, one of those two things has to happen.  And the reverse is true, ladies: men don’t want it by default.  Don’t go around sticking your hands down their pants.

We don’t have a right to each other’s bodies.  Nothing but permission gets that for us.

I know in the romance novels he always gets that look in his eye and she just knows and they fall on each other like wolves in heat and it’s so whatever, but that’s not life.  I know in the movies they never talk about it either.  It’s ridiculous.  We’re adults, and we’re responsible, and this is the real world where consent is necessary.  If you’ve got someone willing to communicate with you about sex, by all means communicate.  And if you don’t, you should very seriously think about whether or not your sexual life is really what you imagine it is, because there are plenty of people out there afraid to say no, afraid to say slow down, afraid to say I don’t want this.  They are afraid because society has taught them that if someone goes after their body it must be their fault for taking the lid off the chum.

So don’t treat each other like chum.  Honor and love and respect each other.  Treat the gift of a lover’s body like the miracle and art that it is.

I guess that’s all I’ve got to say.

 

* Side note:  I see nothing shameful in nudity.  God created Adam and Eve naked, and they only felt ashamed after experiencing sin.  I, personally, believe that our bodies are a good creation, and in their purest (nude) form are not an embarrassment but a testimony to the art and pleasure of our Creator.  

Advertisements

Femininity and Conflict in Buffy the Vampire Slayer

The following is an essay I wrote for my final English project at the beginning of last year.  A few people have voiced an interest in reading it.  It’s long, it’s formal, it uses citations and the like, and certainly isn’t for everyone.  But for those who like 20 page essays about television characters and femininity in the media… well, here you go:

 

Femininity and Conflict in Buffy the Vampire Slayer

When the popular movie Twilight first appeared in theaters, it did not take long for fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (BtVS) to shame Twilight’s Edward with a fan video smackdown (“Buffy Vs. Edward”). The video shows Edward stalking Buffy and professing his undying love, with Buffy responding in sarcastic incredulity and staking Edward. While it may appear that this “remix” of the two characters was about Buffy slaying a juvenile upstart and reinforcing her status as the queen of the genre, there was more at stake, so to speak. Buffy slaying Edward says more about the perceived masculinity and virility of the vampire in question than about Buffy herself as an independent woman. Buffy was never given that much agency in her own show. Buffy’s lovers stalked her, lied to her, and often ignored her own wishes about their relationships all in the name of “protecting” her. Many of these things are what fans of BtVS pointed out as anti-woman flaws in the narrative of Twilight, yet Buffy did not stake the vampires who denied her agency in her own relationships; instead, she pined for them! This is only one area in which BtVS as a vehicle fails to respect the ideals of a generation of young girls who crave a positive female icon. In family life, romance, and success outside of her primary role as Slayer, the show revolves around not Buffy’s strength and independence but the struggle she finds herself in because of it. The constant conflict Buffy suffers sends a mixed message to viewers; women can be granted strength but will be punished for it.

Dressing to Kill

One cannot watch BtVS without noticing the sometimes outlandishly girly way that Buffy is costumed, as well as the berating she often faces as a result. It isn’t uncommon for Buffy to climb into the sewers to head off an impending apocalypse wearing a pink sequined halter top. It is also likely that Buffy will face criticism from her watcher, mother, friends, or teachers the more girlish her garb becomes. While Buffy’s wardrobe may seem to contradict her warrior role, in actuality her feminine appearance helps to “normalize” her in the eyes of the viewer by reassuring them that she retains her female self despite her masculine strength (Jowett 23). When asked to patrol with the military Initiative, Buffy rejects their offer of camouflage garb, stating, “I’ve patrolled in this halter top before” (“The I in Team”). This rejection of the male warrior’s need to wear protective clothing in battle does not weaken Buffy, it instead positions her as a transgressive icon of female strength (Early). Buffy wields her girlish appearance like a weapon, using it to disarm and distract her opponents. Buffy’s unique approach to her role is also evidenced in the way that she and her friends often “resolve conflict nonviolently, through rationality, tactfulness, compassion and empathy” (Early, 20).

Deborah Tannen explains the way in which women are denied a “default” state in the way they dress and portray themselves, stating that “if a woman’s clothing is tight or revealing (in other words, sexy), it sends a message… …If her clothes are not sexy, that too sends a message, lent meaning by the knowledge that they could have been” (622). If Buffy were portrayed as butch, she would just be a girl pretending to be a man. If she were portrayed as too vanilla in the way she dressed, spoke, and acted she would be less interesting; her plainness would also send a message to the viewer by making her more androgynous. Buffy may be saucy and sexy and contrived in the way she dresses, but that is part of what makes her character complex. She is a warrior but also, undeniably, a woman.

Thus it is interesting that the plot and dialogue of the show often does not reinforce Buffy’s feminine dress as a positive thing, but instead condemns her for it. In the episode “Bad Eggs” Buffy and her mother are shopping and Buffy wants a new outfit. Joyce says no, “it makes you look like a streetwalker”. Buffy pouts and replies, “but a thin streetwalker, right?” This scenario is sadly common. Buffy’s peers, her mentors, and authority figures criticize her appearance as if it were offensive, and Buffy deflects such comments with sarcasm instead of defending her right to determine her own physical appearance.

Life Outside of Slaying

The punishment Buffy receives for her appearance is the least troubling aspect of the way in which Buffy is treated. From the first episode, Buffy is perceived of as a delinquent by those who do not know her dual identity as student and slayer. Buffy burnt down the gym of her old school, forcing her mother to quit her job and move to Sunnydale. Despite the fact that telling her mother the truth would assuage some of the resentment Buffy faced at home, Buffy chooses to lie to her mother to “protect” her. This pattern, in which Buffy stoically faces the judgment of others without defending herself repeats with her principal, teachers, and peers; in this way, Buffy accepts punishment that could have been avoided while reinforcing the idea that her treatment, while not deserved, is just.

As the show progresses and Buffy moves out of high school and into college and pursuing a career, she continues to encounter difficulty in her everyday life because of the dual identity slaying forces her to concoct. When her mother dies Buffy takes on the role of provider for her household. Buffy works a minimum wage job at Double Meat Palace to make ends meet as she is incapable of securing better employment. Buffy is eventually offered a position as a school counselor by the new principal in town, Robin Wood. In the episode “First Date” Principal Wood reveals that he knows that Buffy is the Slayer, and this is why he offered her a job. Buffy says, “so you didn’t hire me for my counseling skills?” and Principal Wood responds with a chuckle. Buffy may be powerful as the Slayer, but as a provider for her family and as an employee, her skills are portrayed as laughable.

Buffy’s necessary efforts to cloak some of her actions and engage in subterfuge to protect those unaware of vampires also constantly weaken her standing in society. Dramatic irony is often engaged as a plot device in BtVS, wherein Buffy is posed almost clownishly trying to hide the truth from an ignorant and often judgmental public. It is humorous as well as endearing to see how poorly Buffy lies, and Buffy’s lack of finesse outside of slaying does lend her character a great deal of humanity. Yet one must question why dramatic irony so often has Buffy playing the part of the bozo. Buffy is too often percieved of as flaky, inconsistent, or downright delusional. As one character says, a lot of people think Buffy “is some kind of high-functioning schizophrenic” (“Potential”). While Buffy may be possessing of super-human strength and a higher calling, it greatly impedes her ability to function as a normal member of society. She faces humiliation, prejudice, and conflict on a daily basis.

They Say Not to Take Work Home

As JP Williams writes in Choosing Your Own Mother (Mother-daughter Conflicts in Buffy), Buffy is “over-fathered and under-mothered” (61). She is reliant on the men around her for her survival, but denied an adequate female role model. For the first two seasons of BtVS, Buffy hides her true identity from her mother, Joyce. When Joyce does find out the truth about Buffy’s powers, they fight bitterly. Joyce tells Buffy, “if you walk out of this house don’t even think about coming back” (“Becoming”). Buffy has to leave or risk the world ending; so she walks out of her home and does not return to it until the third season. Buffy’s powers in this case strip Joyce of the ability to mother because Buffy’s calling must take precedence over her family obligations. Yet Buffy’s relationship with her mother suffers from far more than just the tension created by slaying. Joyce doesn’t seem to know how to properly communicate and often offers meaningless anecdotes, with Buffy reassuring her mother in an apparent role reversal. In “The Witch”, Joyce is attempting to encourage Buffy to follow through on trying out for cheer squad. Buffy says, “what was I trying out for?” and Joyce fumbles for words, having already forgotten. Buffy says, “that’s okay, your platitudes are good for all occasions.”

As the series progresses Joyce becomes portrayed as less neglectful, but in the first few seasons especially there are serious questions to be asked about her role as a mother. She has a teenage daughter who sneaks out nightly, lies to her, skips classes and bucks authority and Joyce is largely incapable of informing her daughter’s actions. Much of the early dynamic between mother and daughter comes down to the fact that Joyce does not realize the reality of Buffy’s “dual identity as Slayer and Student… a greater failing than Lois Lane’s traditional inability to envision Clark Kent without his glasses” (Williams, 64). The fact that Joyce is kept ignorant and Buffy routinely shuns her mothering is not entirely Joyce’s fault. The Slayer cannot respect her mother’s authority because the Slayer’s role is more important than mother-daughter relations.

Buffy the Relationship Slayer

Buffy’s relationship with her mother is not the only one which is strained. If her relationship with her mother is tense, then her romances are strenuous. Her first romantic pairing is with Angel, a vampire who is cursed with a soul. Unbeknownst to Angel, he will lose his soul if he experiences even a single moment of pure happiness. He finds this happiness when he and Buffy consummate their relationship in Season 2. When Angel then transforms into the demon Angelus, Mary Magoulick writes, it “culminates in a graphic, brutal, and bitter fight scene” (738). This is “particularly disturbing” as it comes in the second part of the episode in which Buffy makes love to Angel for the first time, giving the viewer the message that “being in love is more torment than pleasure” for Buffy (Magoulick 738).

Buffy’s later relationships may not be equally as tormented in terms of scale, but they do continue to revolve around themes of pain and conflict. This conflict is evident not only in romantic relationships, but in all her close relationships with men. Buffy even comes to blows with her mentor, Giles. While often their fighting is only in words, twice she resorts to hitting him. The first time occurs in the final episode of season one, “Prophecy Girl”. When Buffy realizes that Giles is going to sacrifice himself to save her life, she knocks him out in order to protect him. This action does lead to Buffy’s death by drowning, but she is resuscitated by her close friend Xander. The second time Buffy punches Giles echoes the first. In “Passion”, Giles is inflamed with rage after Angelus kills the woman Giles loves. Giles pursues Angelus in a suicidal rage. Again, Buffy resorts to blows in order to get through to Giles where words failed, to save his life. No matter how close the relationship, how deep the trust between two people, Buffy always seems to have to resort to her role as Slayer and her superhuman powers in order to make herself heard. This repeated theme has a serious connotation; Buffy as a girl is powerless. Her authority is intrinsically tied to her physically strength, which comes from her role as Slayer.

The Troubling Issue of Being Female On TV

One might ask how much any of this matters. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a television show, and much of the drama it depends on for ratings necessarily comes from conflict. No one watching the show should be surprised that Buffy’s interpersonal relationships are constantly disrupted, that she wears revealing clothes, or that she has to struggle in some areas of her life. The only problem with such thinking is that it assumes that such tensions could not have been written in a way that strengthened Buffy’s character rather than weakened her. It was not necessary to deprive Joyce and Buffy of a healthy mother-daughter relationship. A strong mother who supported her daughter’s calling would not necessarily have been less interesting to viewers than a mother who fumbled for words and appeared helpless. Nor was it necessary for Buffy to date men who stalked her, lied to her, and deprived her of agency in her relationships. While there is inevitably a price to pay for living a double life, the way in which Buffy is punished for her duplicity speaks volumes when viewed as analogous to the feminist struggle.

Often Buffy resorts to saying “I’m the Chosen One” when her authority is questioned; she is the Slayer, and that truth defines the way in which she acts and relates. Because of her power Buffy is forced to struggle in every area of her life. What message does this send to a young girl watching the program who is imagining being as powerful as Buffy? Rather than being an encouragement for girls to picture themselves as superheroes as boys so often do, BtVS sends the opposite message. Don’t pursue power, because that power will define your circumstances and those circumstances will define you. You will be forced to lie, to cheat, to sacrifice healthy relationships and to face constant conflict as a result of your independence.

It is unfortunately true that many shows that feature women as primary characters employ the same kind of storytelling. Xena: Warrior Princess, La Femme Nikita, The Closer, Alias, In Plain Sight, Saving Grace, Weeds and Battlestar Galactica all feature women as primary characters. All of the women in these shows have just a few things in common aside from their beauty: their intelligence and capability is challenged regularly; they face conflict in their private lives and homes; and they are punished for their physical and emotional strength. It is almost inevitable that any strong woman on TV would face the same treatment, especially those who play a traditionally masculine role. Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica, Xena, Nikita, Sidney Bristow of Alias, Mary Shannon of In Plain Sight and the Closer’s Brenda Lee Johnson all play traditionally masculine roles. All of those women face conflict and physical violence in almost every episode. Not only do they have to fight for respect, but their good works are seldom rewarded. Appreciation, respect, achievement, and victory are few and far between and must be won at high cost; home is not often a safe haven and interpersonal relationships are constantly disrupted. What is true for all of these female characters is especially true in the case of Buffy; she is a singular icon for female strength as well as for the punishment of feminine power.

Male Superheroes do not receive the same treatment. Spiderman, Batman, and Superman may engage in conflict in their everyday lives as a result of their necessary deceptions, but it is certainly not to the measure which Buffy does; their familial ties are free from extreme stress. They all have close relationships with older figures who mentor them and preserve their familial ties (Aunt Mae, Alfred, and the Kents respectively). They have places they can go home to which are a respite from the pressures their dual identities create. Each of the male superheroes mentioned also receives a certain measure of success both in their chosen careers outside of crime fighting and their romantic lives. While Batman does not have any long term romantic relationships he is a millionaire and dates often; he is rewarded for his power. Buffy is not afforded the kind of pleasures these male superheroes enjoy. It is because of that truth that Buffy’s story is far from empowering. Rather than showcasing a character who has achieved full agency as a woman and been rewarded for it, Buffy the Vampire Slayer instead chronicles one girl’s fight to be respected; a fight it sometimes seems she will never win.

The fact that women recieve unequal treatment in today’s society is made wholly apparent in the fact that feminine strength is not showcased or rewarded in television media as masculine strength always has been. Until women are allowed to be feminine and strong without fear of their homes and lives being disrupted, or facing constant judgment and critical backlash, women will remain less than men. While Buffy the Vampire Slayer may have gone further than any show before it in creating a female character who was independent and powerful, the fact that her strength could not go unpunished leaves a gaping hole. Young women are still hungry for a role model who can navigate all of the complexities of modern womanhood successfully. Buffy’s final fight, the fight for respect, must not be left unwon. It’s time for a female superhero to get equal treatment: strength, intelligence, achievement, and reward.

Works Cited

“Buffy Vs. Edward”. Jonathon McIntosh, ed.

http://www.rebelliouspixels.com/2009/buffy-vs-edward-twilight-remixed viewed 10/28/11

Early, Francis. “Staking Her Claim: Buffy the Vampire Slayer as Transgressive Woman Warrior.” Journal of Popular Culture 35.3 (2001): 11-17.

Jewett, Lorna. Sex and the Slayer: A Gender Studies Primer for the Buffy Fan. Middletown: Wesleyan, 2005. Print.

Magoulik, Mary. “Frustrating Female Heroism: Mixed Messages in Xena, Nikita, and Buffy.” Journal of Popular Culture 39.5 (2006): 729-55.

Tannen, Deborah. “There is No Unmarked Woman.” Signs of Life in the USA: Readings on Popular Culture for Writers. Ed. Sonia Maasik and Jack Solomon. 6th ed. Boston: Bedford St. Martins, 2009. 620-24. Print.

Whedon, Joss. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Seasons 1-7. Television Program.

Williams, JP Fighting the Forces: What’s at Stake in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Ed. Wilcox, Rhonda, and David Lavery. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2002. 61-68. Print.

Feminism and the ailing of western society

Can someone please explain to me what is so bad about being a feminist?

I’ve seen a lot of Christian forums wherein feminism is blamed for high abortion rates, single parent households, working mothers, males being “emasculinated”, ADHD, drug use, sex in the media, and so on and so forth.

I just don’t see the connection.  I don’t see how me- a woman- wanting to have equal rights with men means that my neighbor will get an abortion, her husband won’t feel like much of a man, their son will get ADHD and shoot up a school, and her daughter will be “over-sexed”.  I really don’t see how there is anything resembling a connection.  Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that all of these things are connected.  It may be quite possible that men feeling out of place, mothers working, kids having higher incidences of ADHD and other disorders, and higher abortion rates all share a single source.  But if that were the case, if this laundry list of societal ills is easily blamed on anything, doesn’t it make sense that the blame should be placed not on women but on society as a whole?

Isn’t it more to blame on consumerism, on modernity, on the digital age, on the loss of a connection to nature and work and simplicity?  Isn’t it more about the kind of world we live in these days?  No longer hunters and gatherers are we.  No longer do we live in a world where the man works and earns his place by the sweat of his brow while his little wife stays home and wins her salvation through childrearing.  No longer do we depend on neighborhood and community, no longer are we all well known to each other.  Perhaps all of these things are easily blamed on something.

It’s just not me or my rights.

It’s the world, it’s need and greed, it’s the ailing of souls who have lost their connection to the divine.

Perhaps the Christians who are so quick to point fingers should examine themselves.  They should ask if they’ve bought into a world of consumerism and capitilism.  They should ask if they’ve turned a blind eye to the “sex sells” and “anything for the bottom line” mindset that pays so many of our paychecks;  If they’ve spent more time trying to pad their wallets than care for their hyperactive sons and over-sexed daughters;  If they’ve confused the real message and instead of teaching their children to win favor by compassion and good works, taught them to win by competitiveness and pettiness.  Perhaps there is someone who ought to be blamed.

Perhaps it’s all of us.

It’s easy to fall back on flashy headlines, pointed fingers, fear and disquiet.  It’s easy to bring in the readers through controversy and infighting on your forums.  It’s easy, but it’s not right.  It’s not right to blame a movement that one could easily argue Jesus himself would have supported.  It’s easy to say the common line.  But what is right?  What is right is being honest and real.

Reality is that if anyone is to blame, all of us are.  Christianity perhaps the most of all- because we’re supposed to be the ones bringing life and healing.  And instead, once again, we bring condemnation and blame.