Welcome to the latest installment of Ms. Opinionated, in which readers have questions about the pesky day-to-day choices we all face, and I give advice about how to make ones that (hopefully) best reflect our shared commitment to feminist values—as well as advice on what to do when they don't.
Dear Ms. Opinionated,
Some time ago (within the last year), when one of my dear friends registered a social media account under a handle that involved an ableist slur ("t*rd" to be more specific), I felt uncomfortable but didn't bring it up. What I didn't realize was that this is a handle she's taking on as she pursues a career in the gaming industry, and since then she's registered a few internet accounts under this name (some promotional social media accounts and a blog, as well as accounts on websites relevant to her industry).
Ever since The Mary Tyler Moore Show debuted in 1970, young, independent single women on TV have flocked to the cities to pursue their careers. But Mary Tyler Moore made it big in Minneapolis. In more recent single lady sitcoms—Cagney & Lacey, Living Single, Friends, Felicity, Sex and the City, 30 Rock, Ugly Betty, Don't Trust the B----- in Apt. 23, Girls, and The Carrie Diaries— storylines emphasizes that, for young, unattached, career-minded women, New York City is the only place to be. These shows suggest that, if you take your career seriously, you simply must move to Manhattan.
But conflating ambition, glamor, and New York City is has a major drawback: Living in New York is a lot easier for people who come from money. For working class girls like the title character of Ugly Betty, the dream will, more often than not, remain out of reach. If you have no trust fund, it will be hard to pay tuition to earn the "University of New York" diploma seen on Felicity's wall. If you need to support your family, there will be no hanging out at Indochine, like in The Carrie Diaries. If you need to pay off over $25,000 in student debt, Sex in the City's Fifth Avenue professional-outfit shopping sprees will remain a Manhattan myth.
In the comments of Wednesday's post, Anita pointed out that Queer As Folk is not the only Showtime program that struggles in its depiction of bisexuality. When discussing depictions of biphobia in the gay community, one can't avoid The L Word. The difference between the shows as I see it, however, is that if Queer As Folk suffers from bi invisibility, The L Word suffers from straight-up bi loathing. Rather than giving you a play-by-play of every epic bi fail (if you're interested in that, After Ellen has a comprehensive list), I want to focus on one particular episode—one that deals with bisexuality and straight privilege.
"I know what racial oppression feels like... my ancestors were Irish." "Assuming I have male privilege.... is sexist." If you missed out on the short-lived but prolific Tumblr page of Privilege Denying Dude (a series of images that used a stock photo of a white dude sandwiched with all-too-familiar privilege-denying text, like that seen here)—you missed the beginning of a genius appropriation of a popular meme (or internet trend) that shoveled smarm back in the face of the privileged cluelessness that litters YouTube and social-justice blog comment threads alike (not to mention IRL). What started as a simple trend went viral, with thousands of submissions (all with their own unique manifestation of privilege!) coming in . But due to a terms of violation with the image used, Tumblr shut down the site last Friday.
This domination of narratives with one narrative, one story, one set of concerns, is an incredibly destructive dynamic in feminism. And it plays out in discussions about pop culture in a major way.
When people in nondominant groups challenge much-beloved popular culture, they encounter a lot of opposition. They are told that the good messages in the pop culture outweigh the bad, that people can't be expected to get everything perfect, that they are just looking for something to be offended by, that they are dragging in side issues, that they are being buzzkills. Bringing in new perspectives can be a dangerous and loaded act when it comes to discussing things that people hold near and dear.
As every tabloid reader knows, it’s a short step from a celebrity marriage to a publicity-filled divorce. When Jonathan Franzen’s new novel, The Corrections, was published this fall, critics waxed hyperbolic over its wedding of character-driven family drama and up-to-the-nanosecond cultural commentary.