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Hey kids! Are you ready for your daily dose of outrage?

You are? Well let's get crackin'!

I just read Cunt: A Declaration of Independence by Inga Muscio. More precisely, I tried to read it, but ended up throwing it against the wall in disgust about 50 pages in.

Ostensibly, the book is a feminist reclamation of the word "cunt," which apparently amounts to a long discussion of how wonderful uteruses, Fallopian tubes, ovaries, eggs, menstruation and all associated hydraulics are. I don't object to the concept -- we need more appreciation of these long-devalued body parts -- but I object strenuously to the execution.

Muscio insists that all women have cunts. Yes, she actually writes that. I promptly yelled at the book, "NO THEY DON'T!!!!!!!" but this did not alter her erroneous assumption. Apparently all the women I know who don't have cunts aren't women??!?!?!?!?!?!? Keep your essentialist claptrap to yourself, Muscio.

In one of the book's early chapters, Muscio talks about her childhood in which she was shamed and characterized as unclean for menstruating. She then recounts her reacquaintance with her reproductive system, her determination of her own reproductive schedule and her switch from "feminine hygiene products" to sea sponges and rags. There is also a huge tangent about the ocean and the moon and how this somehow relates to fertility [hint: it doesn't]. Yay hooray, she liberated her reproductive system, and she feels good about it.

The problem arises when Muscio prescribes her reproductive liberation program for all women. First of all, as I mentioned before, not all women have the same biology. Second, even if they do have the aforementioned long-devalued body parts, they don't all menstruate. Third, if they do menstruate, they don't necessarily do it on a regular schedule the way that Muscio apparently does. ["Fun" experiment: try figuring out your menstrual "schedule" if you have PCOS!] Fourth, the ocean and the moon have nothing whatsoever to do with menstruation. Fifth, some of us have slightly more complex relationships to our bodies than "Ick, I'm disgusting; the patriarchy has oppressed me!" then transforming into "My womanhood is wonderful!" However, Muscio presents her experience as the sole option, thereby foreclosing on the full and varied range of experiences that a full and varied range of women have in their bodies.

This is not feminism. This is simplistic, biologically reductionist bilge in complete denial of multiple axes of oppression.
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Oh for God's sake! Less than 2 pages after fearing for her safety because she's pregnant, Ana suddenly changes her mind (p. 413):

"...Perhaps I shouldn't tell Christian. Perhaps I...perhaps I should end this. I halt my thoughts on that dark path, alarmed at the direction they're taking. Instinctively my hand sweeps down to rest protectively over my belly. No. My little Blip. Tears spring to my eyes. What am I going to do?"

Well, because this is a romance about a fertile, heterosexual couple, they will be brainwashed by Baby Magic into abandoning their previous agreement to postpone kids. The Miracle of Reproduction will overawe them, activating their dormant, but hereditary and totally natural, parental instincts. With surprising ease and no ambivalence at all, they will quickly convert to anticipation and adoration of their little Blip. Baby Magic is overtaking Ana even in this paragraph: Automatically characterizing her thoughts of abortion as a "dark path," she "instinctively," without any thought at all, develops protective inclinations. YAY BABEEZ!

I detest this trope so very much. I've discussed before, in relation to Bones' pregnancy on her eponymous show, the trivializing, insulting and misogynist ways pregnancy is portrayed in popular media. It compresses a range of emotional, intellectual and characterological responses into a single trajectory of blissfully complaisant, essentialized and instinctive [ergo brainless] femininity. It's pretty much always a horrible derailment of character that represents a descent into utter boredom.

This can't end well either.
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Bones is back [well, I finally got to watch the first ep of Season 7], and there's yet another Pregnancy Plot on the table. After suffering an entire season of Angela and Hodgins' heteronormative nesting behaviors in Season 6, we have to go through the same thing again with the 2 main characters, Bones and Booth. I say "the same thing again" because there's apparently only one way for mainstream pop culture, especially TV and movies in the US, to treat pregnancy.
  • No matter what the situation of the woman getting pregnant and the way that she gets pregnant, she always wants to go through with the pregnancy and have a child and raise it herself. Where are the miscarriages? Where are the adoptions? [Once Upon a Time, featuring Henry, Emma's son that was given for adoption shortly after birth, remains an exception to the rule.] Where are the abortions? Mainstream pop entertainment does not reflect the realities of so many pregnancies.
  • The attitudes of the prospective parents suddenly become suffused with gooey lovey-doveyness, confidence, starry-eyed idealism and happiness. I mean, God forbid that anyone feel hostile or ambivalent about the fetus! That's just not possible! That would destroy the unrealistic emphasis that TV has on pregnancy and childbirth being some sort of panacea for life's problems.
  • Pregnancy brings out the inner femininity of the pregnant woman and fulfills her. No matter how many successes and enjoyments the character has had in her life before becoming pregnant, the glorifying way in which pregnancy is haloed on TV makes all the other accomplishments and sources of joy insignificant in comparison. For some women, pregnancy may be the best thing they've ever done with their lives, but, if TV insists that every pregnant female character feel this way, then these shows are just reproducing boring, essentialist, reductionist stereotypes about what women can do and be.

Pregnancy Plots just instantly flatten out character depth and plot dynamism. Furthermore, their relentless heteronormativity makes me want to throw up. 

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A post at Sociological Images about the gendering of sperm and egg in popular media got me thinking. I just saw the “brave little sperm” trope on an episode of Family Guy this Monday. Stewie, the hyper-intelligent, destructive, child genius, was celebrating his first birthday. He reminisced about his life in the womb and before, when he was apparently a tiny pilot in a sperm-shaped aircraft [see YouTube clip].

Stewie’s flashback showed him piloting his sperm ship toward the egg and firing at it in a scene reminiscent of the scene in Star Wars where Luke tries to explode the Death Star. He think thinks about being sucked in and “trapped” inside the egg. The relationship between sperm and egg is shown as adversarial, the egg evil, hungry and encompassing, not unlike a vagina dentata.

Of course, this flashback occurs in the context of a cartoon in which everything is supposed to be exaggerated and humorous. However, the fact remains that the humorous exaggeration is presented with gratuitous violence and misogyny. You might argue that violence and misogyny are part of Stewie’s character, which they are, but the flashback does not develop Stewie’s violence and misogyny in a way peculiar to his personality. Instead it just recycles wholesale a tired, sexist cliche about human reproduction.

And this is just one of many reasons that I hate Family Guy.

 
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This weekend, I returned to one of my guilty pleasures, the glamorous, cliched, convoluted and opaque BBC series Hex [2005-2007]. This gorgeous trash heap of magic + soft-core porn features fallen angels, lesbian ghosts, witch burning, time traveling, demons in the guise of priests, kinky nurse fairies, blah blah blah, all taking place on the isolated grounds of Medenham Hall, a boarding school populated by 6 sexy students, 2 or 3 teachers and gallons of moody mist.

Anyway, one of the tired plot devices trotted out by Hex is that of the fast-forward Jesus baby. As the result of a Divine Screw between a supernatural male and an ordinary female, the fast-forward Jesus baby develops alarmingly fast from conception to birth. Read more... )
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Part I is here. Part II is here.

All right, I've fired my first salvo: to wit, Breaking Dawn breaks rules of good fiction by being inconsistent with the logic established in earlier books. Now my second reason for despising Breaking Dawn shall be detailed here. As I mentioned earlier, I find Breaking Dawn "philosophically objectionable." 

Oh look...more spoilers, not to mention a well-reasoned argument impervious to twits! )

 

 
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So, just in case you couldn't tell from my capsule reaction last night, I deem Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer the worst book in a horrible series. I have two major reasons for calling Breaking Dawn the turd of the series.

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According to the NY TImes, "The Bush administration wants to require all recipients of aid under federal health programs to certify that they will not refuse to hire nurses and other providers who object to abortion and certain types of birth control." This same proposal also wishes to define the use of common contraceptives as abortifacients because they terminate "human life" "before...implantation." 

Thanks to tikva's highlight of the especially galling sections of the report and to hammercock's link to NARAL, I E-mailed my Congresspersons.
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I finished American Gothic with equal satisfaction and disappointment. My satisfaction came from Lucas' masterfully done fake death and the neverending tension of the denouement between Lucas, Caleb and Merlyn. 

My disappointment lay in After American Gothic, I have several options.

I've always wanted to see Nip/Tuck, and season 5 is on Hulu. I want to see if Julian McMahon can do a better job than he did in Charmed.

Roswell's angle of powerful half-aliens living among us has intrigued me for a long time, since I've engaged in an epic on the same subject, so there's season 1 of that on Hulu.

Select eps of Outer Limits, an hour-long attempt at a modern Twilight Zone, are also on Hulu.

Though I've already blasted New Amsterdam as boring, it's still so bad that I can't look away. Season 1 continues on Hulu.

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Following up on my previous comments about the Divine Screw, I have an example of the reinvention of this theme in Tanith Lee's sprawling series Tales of the Flat Eath [good plot summaries and overview here]. In one of the major, multi-book storylines, the male divine, Azhrarn, the Lord of Wickedness and most powerful of all the demons who are de facto rules of earth, gets his freak on with Dunizel, human priestess. Their daughter, Sovaz/Soveh/Ahzriaz, goes through a whole book, Delirium's Mistress, searching for herself. She goes from Sleeping Beauty to death-dealing vigilante to despotic goddess queen to prisoner under the sea to wise innocent child to dueler with angels to mortal sage. She ends up, satisfyingly enough, bargaining with Death for a mortal life, which she receives.

Despite Lee's active, overdetermining essentialism about sex roles [men=active, women=passive], the three players in her Divine Screw transcend the narrative limitations to become rich characters.

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Having been American Gothicked out, I skipped over the pond to investigate the BBC's Hex. The British show seasons are usually 6 to 8 eps, 1/3 the size of American show seasons, so I watched the first season, eps 1-6, before, as the reviews commented, the cast switched around and character development went out the window.

On a more thematic note, I have a huge objection to the Divine Screw narrative line, despite having co-created a decade-long saga predicated on just this exploitation. You know the story: Some all-powerful dipwad wants kids and decides to rape a human woman. The woman may resist, but the Penis of Doom cannot be stopped. The dipwad rapes the woman. She conceives a son, always a son -- the Dipwad is convinced of it. The woman may try to abort the fetus or to kill herself, but her attempts avail nothing against the Son of Dipwad. The woman gives birth to Son of Dipwad, who inevitably takes after Dipwad Dad. The expendable woman, having served as an incubator, is pretty much abandoned by Dipwad, and who cares what happens to her next? All focus shifts to the glorious Son of the Penis of Doom, who naturally fulfills his destiny and destroys the world.
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Oh, what a dreadful dilemma the aging hipster parents, in their 40s and expecting kids for the first time, face. They have spent so much time creating exquisite, exorbitant interiors, and they now must change their plans. 

Must their curtains woven from mermaid farts and moonbeams succumb to the slovenly onslaughts of partly formed humans who cannot properly wield spoons? 

Will the throne of imported unicorn horns, garnished in a tastefully pseudo-ethnic pattern with laser-etched bees' knees, be relegated to the garage before a tiny being with the gait of a drunken landlubber trying to set up a folding chair on the deck of a ship in a typhoon careens into its corner and bumps its head?

Who gives a shit?

The New York Times Home & Garden section, with its earnest examination of the heart-wrenching dilemmas faced by 0.0000000000000000003% of the U.S. population, cannot be taken seriously.  Most people make a compromise between their new kids and the fabulously decorated, kid-unfriendly house they lived in before kids. I'm sure there's some wailing and gnashing of teeth as certain beloved objects are discarded or removed, but it's not a tragic turning point of life worthy of some Catholic Sacrament of Banished Knickknacks. By characterizing this compromise as some sort of undefeatable tension in the lives of new hoity-toity parents, the New York Times makes the interviewees come off as self-absorbed idiots who not-so-secretly like their Louis Quatorze chairs more than their kids. 

BITE THE WAX TADPOLE, MORONS!!
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Hmmm...interesting. Commentary later. 

LATER: I'm rather annoyed by the narration's tendency to overdetermine the women's experience by addressing the reborn dolls as if they are actual children, rather than dolls. From what I can see so far, owners of reborn dolls range in their reasons for owning and playing with reborn dolls, just in the same manner that people own and play with any other type of dolls [duh], from action figs to Barbies to RealDolls to 3-D models. The very title of the docu, My Fake Baby, sensationalizes the reborn doll interest as a pathological baby substitute for old woman with empty aching wombs, but, if you investigate the docu closely, you'll see the dolls functioning as much more than kiddy substitutes.

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