Articles I love, pop culture

You Say “Pink is for Girls,” I Say “Screw you”

A great article was recently published by the NY Times about the growing market for “aggressive” girls’ toys in the wake of female action heroes like Merida from Brave and Katniss from Hunger Games taking the box office by storm. I’m glad that these kinds of toys are taking off, but what I’m not so happy about is the fact that all of these toys are pink, purple, and “feminine.”

Apparently, bow and arrow sets, nerf guns, and sling shots are only for girls if they have names like “Rebelle Heartbreaker” and “Pink Crush,” and come in all the same colors as cotton candy.  Why is a plastic sword only supposed to be appealing to a girl if it has glitter on it? Why is a girl supposed to still be pretty while she’s taking down evil sorcerers and scary monsters? I truly do not understand why the toys that parents’ buy their little boys will not suit their heroic little girls equally well. If these toys weren’t marketed exclusively for boys, parents might not see the problem, either.

It reminds me of the whole Easy Bake Oven debacle. Apparently boys can only cook if their cooking toys can double as the bomb in their next James Bond-themed game, and girls can only do it if the oven is the color of unicorn poop.

I think stores (and consumers) ought to be taking a page out of Marks & Spencer’s book and stop dividing all the toys between what is “for girls” and “for boys.” Absolutely some girls will still gravitate to pretty pink dress up clothes (and some boys will, too) but we don’t need to tell them that This Toy is Only For Girls.

Toy Companies: Please Stop.


Also, there’s this:

Holidays, pop culture

Get Spooky with Your Waitress

Let’s talk about Halloween costumes.

I’m a crafty lady, and I love making my own costumes. I’ve been Peter Pan, Cruella DeVille (favorite costume award: strangers on the street sang the theme song to me all night long), Sailor Moon, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a flapper, a clown (three years in a row. I had an odd childhood.), a pirate, and I can’t even remember what else. Most of these costumes I made myself. Some of them were sexy, and some of them weren’t. But I’ve never been anything where “sexy” was part of the concept of the costume. Peter Pan is a little boy, so, guess what? Not sexy.

Like many people, I’m getting a little tired of the pre-packaged sexy costume trend. Want to be a “Sexy Pineapple?” I’m sure there’s a way to make that happen. Which I guess is cool? if a little weird. My problem with The Sexy Costume is not that I have a problem with sexy costumes. I’m pretty into sexy costumes, to be honest. I think people should totally be allowed to be sexy if they want, not just on Halloween, but on every day of the year. There’s really nothing exotic about loving your body and wanting to show it to people, and the idea that Halloween is the one night of the year that women can sex it up with impunity is absurd. It plays into the idea that a woman’s sexuality is somehow taboo. As taboo as zombies, even. Which is just crazy talk.

So my main problem with the pre-packaged sexy costume is, as I said, that it exoticizes female sexuality. Also,  I think it’s boring.  If you’re going to dress up as a Sexy Ant, at least have the creativity to make your own costume. Buying a cheaply made polyester one for two hundred bucks off the internet is sort of an extreme waste of money, and it screams “I have the creativity of a rock, so we’re probably not going to have very much to talk about if you approach me at this party.” Which, I don’t know, maybe that’s your intention. In which case, by all means, buy that $150 Sexy Tampon costume. It’s so you!

But just because I don’t think Sexy Pancakes are very interesting, doesn’t mean I’m offended by them. I don’t think that the Sexy Blank Costume craze is ruining Halloween. I think it’s interesting and kind of sad that some people do:

The folks at the Real History Project have created this website. It’s a really unique Halloween website, in that it’s run by historians who created a bunch of historically accurate DIY costume ideas for women. So it’s great because 1) the ideas are really unique, and 2) it’s an opportunity for easy crafting! If you get a costume idea from this website I will be impressed and love it, and maybe even love you! The costumes on this site say to me, “I’m pretty smart and I like history and feminism, so we’d probably have a lot to talk about if you approach me at this party!” So I love everything about this website except the name: Take Back Halloween.

What exactly are we taking Halloween back from? Did “we” own it before, and then the sexy slut brigade stole it, preventing us from ever again using Halloween for what it was initially intended to be, which is a time for adults to dress up like historically accurate characters and talk about politics over bowls of candy? No. No one owns Halloween. The idea that there is a right way to do Halloween is like saying there is a right way to do any other holiday: “you celebrate Christmas but you didn’t go to church? Uh, oh, better take that holiday back from you.” “You celebrate Thanksgiving by eating Chinese food? Nope, not gonna fly, you’re going to have to give that holiday back. You’re doing it totally wrong.”

Halloween is a chance to party. Halloween also often involves children. It is supposed to be fun. And, it‘s the one day of the year that you can dress up as absolutely whatever you want, and no one is going to bat an eye. Want to be Adam and Eve, complete with no clothing whatsoever? Seen it. No one cared. (ok, there were pasties.) Want to be a sexy piece of bacon? Please, please, do. I would actually love to see that. (Guess what, I thought I was just making that up, but here it is.)

Now I know there is more to be covered in the “what is an appropriate Halloween costume” conversation than just the sexy/not sexy/”your grandmother is going to see those pictures” debate. For instance, this student group at Ohio University created a really smart ad campaign about the stigmatizing influence of racist costumes, which I think is totally rad. And while I think that we need to be careful about when we say appropriation is “bad” I do agree that there are some things that are pretty uncool. But ultimately, decisions about when cultural appropriation in a Halloween costume is acceptable are personal decisions, often made with an awareness of who you’re going to be around when you decide to dress up as, say, a Nazi.

Depictions of Halloween traditionally incorporate frightening, shocking, and bizarre images. You are likely to be put in situations where people are actively trying to scare you. With that in mind, the modern culture of Halloween embraces the idea that people can dress up as anything–there are no taboos. No one thinks that if you dress up as sexy corn, it’s because you have a corn fetish. I think it’s sort of understood that whatever you do on Halloween, it’s not real life, and tomorrow at the office, you’re going to go back to being your normal, culturally sensitive, maybe-sexy-maybe-not self. Which I think is so great.

Bring on the Sexy Pizza.

art, media, social justice

Miley Cyrus, Feminism, Sexuality, and Appropriation

All right, so I’m jumping on a bandwagon here. Although you can hardly call it jumping when every embarrassing click you’ve made in the last month has had the words Miley and twerking in the title. You don’t have to admit it, I know it’s true.

The scandal that is Miss Achey Breakey, Jr. has been all over the news: everyone wants to talk about her risque ensembles, her ‘risque’ dance moves, and her seemingly constantly-visible tongue.  Even some more respectable news sources have gotten in on the action, discussing her “appropriation of black culture” and everyone wants to talk about whether it’s racist. Or not. Or Racist. Or Feminist. Or Not.

In the widely touted open letter from Sinead O’Connor, the musical legend warns Cyrus against allowing herself to be “prostituted” by the men in the industry. Despite being fairly patronizing in tone, O’Connor seemed to have Cyrus’s best interest at heart at first, though this quickly devolved into petty rudeness on both sides with tweets from Miley and in three  subsequent letters penned by O’Connor. Plus Amanda Palmer wrote an open letter response to O’Connor, arguing that Miley is in charge of her own show, and has a right to be doing what she’s doing as her own brand of feminism.  (Suffice to say, the whole open letter thing is getting to be a bit much.)

What these two very famous women musicians address is primarily the sexuality of the female music artist, and how that sexuality relates to feminism. Now I’m all about subverting the male gaze and making sure that men and women understand that women have more going on than just being nice bodies. But I also believe that feminism in the modern day does, as Palmer suggests, allow for women, and men, to create and own their own relationships to their bodies and their sexuality. So, while I very much admire Sinead O’Connor’s choice to shave her head early in her career so that people would have to deal with her as a person, rather than a sexy singer-object, I also admire Amanda Palmer’s choice to drop her record label when they told her she was too fat to wear just a bra in a music video, and to get naked whenever she feels like it. Go Amanda, I love you.

But we’re talking about Miley. Particularly, how people are choosing to talk about Miley in the media. And it is notable to me that neither of these edgy, female, white, musicians is talking about the racial implications of Miley Cyrus’s recent performances. Writer Renee Martin noted that the scandal of Miley’s sexually charged performances only seems to be a scandal because it threatens the idea of what an “appropriate performance of white womanhood consists of” by incorporating “the dangerous sexualities of cultures of color.” With a good deal of scorn, she notes, “filth, ratchet, ghetto and animalistic sexuality is something which apparently should be left for black women.” In other words, if Miley Cyrus were being all sexified and nude in a more conventionally white way, it wouldn’t be a problem. Which to me is a huge problem.

As far as racial critiques go, Cyrus’s performance at the VMA’s and her music videos are frequently being compared to Madonna’s Vogue video and Gwen Stefani’s use of “Harajuku girls”; essentially, that these white performers are using an “other” race as a background on which to frame their own, white, stories. At least one article claims that the appropriation of another culture is just a step many white performers take to a financial end. Several have used the word “slumming” to describe Cyrus’s relationship with ratchet culture, and at least one writer is bemoaning the idea that white performers are now outselling black performers in hip hop.

One thing I find both intriguing and off-putting about a lot of the critiques of Cyrus is that the term “appropriation” is being used as though it is automatically bad. I have a hard time with the idea that because Cyrus is white, she shouldn’t be allowed to participate in a culture that she finds appealing. Cyrus claims that she feels a personal affinity to the culture she is appropriating. She says that the people who appear onstage with her and in her videos are “her homies,” not her accessories.  Does it even matter if I believe her? If she wanted to populate her videos with only white women twerking, she would still be accused of cultural appropriation, and people would still say she was racist for not including any black people in her video.

This fantastic article by aforementioned Renee Martin suggests that, culturally, we believe in “good” and “bad” forms of appropriation–taking as her example Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, she says, “Only when whiteness can claim a “positive agenda” are such acts of blatant appropriation presented as good.” Martin suggests that Gilbert, no better than Cyrus, is using cultures of color to “get attention” and “lend legitimacy” to her art. This is really problematic to me, because Martin seems to suggest that there is no acceptable way to participate in cultures of color if you are white. But what does that actually entail? Should white performers simply avoid all things associated with non-white cultures in an attempt not to be offensive to anyone? Maybe they should make a point to stick to only “conventionally white” things (what does that even mean?), thereby perpetuating the racial problems in today’s society: a society so culturally segregated that every time someone does something that is traditionally done by people who don’t look like them, people on both sides of the divide accuse them of racism.

(Added to this whole thing is the fact that it’s not actually accurate to say Cyrus is appropriating “black” culture, when not all black people consider themselves part of the culture Cyrus is appropriating. For example, several of these black feminists didn’t even know what twerking was until everyone freaked out over Miley’s performance at the VMAs.)

If you click any of the hyperlinks, you’ll notice I’m using a ton of articles by people who don’t agree with me to write this post. That’s because I think that what’s most important and wonderful about Miley Cyrus’s performance at the VMAs is that it sparked a ton of conversation about feminism and race. A lot of people who were already Miley fans were probably not having those conversations before googling her name brought up articles about whether or not the performance was a minstrel show.

So, ultimately, I appreciate Miley Cirus’s performance at the VMAs for two reasons: 1) it was sexual but not sexy, and I think she’s aware of that, and I want her and all women to have a right to perform their sexual identity however they choose. 2) It sparked a lot of very important and intelligent conversations about race, culture, and appropriation (like this one, and this one) that revolved around a figure in the media with such a wide following of young white people–a lot of whom are probably being exposed to  those conversations for the first time.

Don’t worry, I’m not deceiving myself into believing that Cyrus is so self-aware that she’s trying to shock people with her non-sexy sexuality and cultural appropriation in order to make them have really smart conversations about ideology. I would not be all that surprised if she hasn’t read a single one of the articles discussing the complexity of the choices she’s making as far as gender and race are concerned. And I do think that she would be a better and more interesting performer if she were more informed about those things. But, I am still defending her right to create the kinds of performances she is making, and yes, even saying that I think they’re kind of good for everyone. Like bad-tasting medicine.

Miley Cyrus: a spoonful of bear-flavored fish oil.

Plus she’s actually a pretty good singer.