I spend as much of my time as possible watching television, and as with most of the media I critique and consume, I watch it primarily because I like it. From science fiction to sitcom to soap opera, TV shows are a worthwhile occupation on their own. Television, in its many problematic variations, is awesome.
While I like a broad variety of shows, I dislike just as many. I don't like watching shows I don't like, so I don't watch them. And I don't write about shows I don't watch—with few exceptions (Bones, Police Women of Memphis), I don't formally review media I haven't watched or read at least twice. When I'm interested in watching or writing about a particular series or season, I don't just look for how it's "good" or "not good" in a feminist sense—I have to have some kind of positive emotional, literary, humorous, or aesthetic reaction to it. There are too many socially irresponsible shows in television, so I focus on the ones I like.
A love letter to television and Bitch after the cut.
Image: An illustration of a smiling television against a pink background, with hearts above it. From Robert Couse-Baker on Flickr
What makes a work feminist? It's worth answering that before we begin. In some circles, depicting strong female characters resisting sexism is feminist. That's not enough for me. To qualify as a feminist work, I think that something actively needs to include an anti-oppression message, not just an anti-sexist one. A feminist work is one that challenges beliefs and attitudes about race, culture, gender, sexuality, disability, and much, much more. Not necessarily all in the same work or all at the same time, mind you, but I don't give a passing grade to works that are anti-sexist while conveying other -isms.
Your mileage may vary, and for the purposes of these evaluations, I'm looking at work that is considered feminist by society in general, not necessarily by my own standards, which means that these works might not pass my own personal litmus test. Or yours!
It's pretty much limited to reruns on the Style Network now, but when it was on ABC, one of my favorite shows to watch was Extreme Makeover. The show was hardcore; when they said "extreme" they meant it. From nose jobs to liposuction and body "resculpting" to butt implants, boob implants, tooth veneers and LASIK, they will turn your "ugly" into an artificially constructed version of what society deems attractive. For the fat participants on the show, an extreme weight loss plan was constructed that the participants had to complete to qualify for the plastic surgery procedures they so desperately needed. Besides the whole "carrot and stick" factor to the weight loss programs, they didn't particularly revolutionize the participant's eating and exercise habits for the long term, and if they didn't lose all the fat they were required to, they'd pretty much just liposuck that away.
Last week, I had the distinct pleasure of attending a lecture given by Mary Roach. Many of you have probably read her books Bonk and Stiff, and thus you know she is a thorough researcher whose tastes run a bit on the weird side. As she put it, she likes to cover topics that combine "history, science, and some gross stuff." The lecture I attended was on her latest book, Packing for Mars, and the subject matter definitely fits the bill. Pooping in space, anyone?
There are many reasons not to get involved with someone who is otherwise monogamously committed to another person. It's not because you're a slut destined to ever be unhappy, or because you're betraying some sisterhoodly duty to prevent someone else's man-child from betraying her. It is, however, because, regardless of what your relationship or dating goals are, you're likely setting yourself up for failure (and a whole raft of shit, which you know if you've been reading comment thread).
I view pop culture criticism as a vehicle to talk about structural issues. And so, it seems, do a lot of feminists. A lot of discussions about pop culture in feminist spaces bring up the fact that the messages in our media can be harmful. People internalize what they use as entertainment. When a song contains misogynist lyrics, for example, it's not just upsetting because the content is personally offensive. It's indicative of a social problem.
This is one reason why anti-feminists really don't like feminist critiques of pop culture; because they challenge social structures and the attitudes that reinforce them. People who don't view rape as a bad thing are naturally going to resist critiques addressing depictions of rape in pop culture, for example. People who think that abortion should be banned are going to kick and scream when feminists evaluate shows that discuss reproductive rights issues. And so forth.
Sadly, $pread, the all volunteer-run quarterly written by and for sex workers, posted yesterday that they can no longer sustain their magazine:
We regret to inform you that...$pread will close its glittery doors soon after the dawn of the New Year...We apologize for those of you who have only recently come to know us, and to all our longtime supporters. After all these years, five all-volunteer years to be exact, we have come to the conclusion that an all-volunteer magazine is simply unsustainable in the current publishing climate. Short of a donation of $30,000, we will be unable to sustain the magazine past January.
Fat women's sexuality is often joked about, and when it's not being joked about, it's being vilified. As fat women we get the cultural messages that convince us no one would want us sexually in the state we're in; mass media reinforces these ideas by portraying fat women's sexuality in a mocking way or as distasteful and unappealing. The almost violent pushback against any positive image of fat female sexuality is at once disturbing and also understandable. Understandable because in a society that views fat women's bodies as disgusting and their selves unworthy of love, any media that challenges that deeply ingrained belief is dangerous and can be the source of much cognitive dissonance if the portrayal happens to stir some kind of sexual attraction in the consumer.
I would be remiss in talking about pushback against intersectional critiques of pop culture without discussing my long and tormented relationship with the Fox hit Glee. To put it bluntly, I hate Glee.
Yet, a lot of feminists, including some of the staff here at Bitch, love Glee. The show is regularly celebrated on feminist sites, people post videos of their favorite moments, and everyone likes to talk about how great it is.
The reason I don't like Glee is pretty simple: The show has some of the most horrifically troped depictions of people with disabilities I have ever seen. The show's also been criticized for having a lot of problems when it comes to race and gay teens, but I want to focus on the disability aspect today, because the critiques of this show from the disability community have been universally ignored by the feminist community when it's not busy dismissing them.