Thursday, August 30, 2012

Tale as Old as Time

I was recently directed towards this article by The Funny Feminist about Beauty and the Beast. It's an interesting article addressing concerns about how feminist Beauty and the Beast really is, largely focusing on the issue of Belle's relationship to the Beast and Gaston, and the commonly brought up issue of Stockholm Syndrome (otherwise known as Survival Identification Syndrome).

I was originally going to respond in a comment, but chose to make this a post instead (because, let me tell you, internet, I have a lot of feelings). My shortest opinion on this is: they're right. And they're not. I'll expand on that in a minute, but first a little history.

The story of Beauty and the Beast is old and predates most of the modern, Disneyfied and bowdlerized variations we're familiar with. The basic story - a young woman or girl is married off to a beast, figuratively or literally, and discovers that he is someone she can love - has its own classification in the Aarne-Thompson system, 425-C (a list of stories in that classification can be found here). It has developed and warped throughout time, but there are a few main differences between the usual Beauty and the Beast story and the Disney one. First, often Belle is one of several sisters, who each make requests of their father for gifts, and Belle's request causes him to fall into the Beast's territory. Second, there is no Gaston or enchanted objects; they were late additions likely inspired by a 1940s film of the tale. And lastly - though this is not true of every version, but certainly enough to make it an important feature - the Beast is beast only in name, not in conduct.

Now, back to the Funny Feminist's article. They don't believe that Belle thought she could change the Beast's behavior if she loved him enough. That's fair enough, neither do I. Belle doesn't go into this relationship to change anyone, she just wants to save her father's life.

But is there really no hint of Stockholm Syndrome in the film? Well... no. Regardless of whether or not people want to make it, an argument can pretty much always be made about this movie that it's a story of Stockholm Syndrome. Because the Syndrome is, at its core, a bond a captive forms with a captor basically out of gratitude that the captor isn't actively hurting them. The Beast is her captor, there is no denying that. And it would take an awful lot of justification to convince me that throwing Belle in a dungeon, starving her when she refuses to eat with him, threatening violence if she doesn't obey his wishes and emotionally abusing her with his uncontrolled rages.

So the question isn't really does the Beast treat her badly enough that his one-eighty could bring on Survival Identification Syndrome? The question is would Belle truly be capable of putting her earlier fear aside so fully that she could really love him without it being colored, even in part, by SIS? Maybe she could. Forgiveness can be a powerful thing. But so can the need to not be locked up for the rest of your life with someone who not only acts like a Beast but is a Beast. I can't bring myself to believe that Belle was capable of setting aside that kind of traumatic experience completely. Maybe you can.

Especially when I consider that the relationship with the Beast doesn't occur in a vacuum. Belle also has to deal with Gaston, and although she is capable of rebuffing him with aplomb in the beginning of the movie, by the end he has escalated to threatening to throw her father into a madhouse (essentially a combination prison and freak show, at the time) if she doesn't consent to his proposal. With two abusive* men vying for her attention, it almost creates an artificial narrowing of her choices to just the Beast or Gaston; certainly the movie seems to think so.

 I also find it genuinely saddening that the subject of Belle's obligatory "I Want" song, travel and adventure, aren't really addressed. One can certainly consider what she experienced to be an adventure, though frankly it seems more like a nightmare to me. But one of her biggest wishes, to get away from the little scope of her town and travel somewhere new and exciting, gets downgraded to traveling a path she most likely traveled before and getting imprisoned in a castle. Not exactly new, and a little more terrifying than exciting.

Does this mean it's completely unsuitable for kids? Well, no, not necessarily. A lot of people watched it when they were kids without any particular ill effects. But it shouldn't be accepted whole-heartedly, either. It can't be assumed that no one will come away with the message "if you're just nice enough to your abuser, he will become nice in return**" or even "it's not that bad, and besides, I need to stay for the sake of the enchanted household staff children", especially since these are disturbingly similar to things people are told or will tell themselves when it comes to a real abusive situation.

So while some people certainly do go overboard in estimating the potential harm in this story - there certainly are positive points, which the Funny Feminist brings up - it's also less than productive to over-idolize it. It's okay to like it. It's okay to hate it. It's okay to acknowledge that it has problems but the animation and music are so kickass that you just don't want to give it up. It's okay. All I ask is that you take a really good look at what it is and decide from there.

 * Arguably reformed abuser in the Beast, though it's also important to remember that - to be frank - he's using her as his ticket to humanity. Knowing what we do of him from the beginning, it wouldn't be unreasonable for the more cynical among us to assume that he just wised up and learned how to act nice. You could also argue that his giving her access to the library (which she already had) was the equivalent of candy and flowers after an attack, but I digress.

**Which is arguably the moral of the story and has been for a long time. There's a reason several people with vested interests in fairy tales have theorized that Beauty and the Beast was partly intended to comfort girls in the event that their arranged new husband acted or looked like a beast.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

the origin of wall-eyes; or, why "derpy" is not a word about making a silly face

Readers - all one and a half of you and that ant over there - I am a lover of brightly-colored cartoon ponies. Watching them sing and dance and save each other from various minor and major disasters makes my cynical heart all fuzzy and happy like a Tribble on a planet of delicious grain. I started out with a collection of zero and built it to twenty plus in a handful of months. I look up guides on the internet about how to style their manes and restore the older ones. I am a Pony fan.

Now, if you follow My Little Pony fandom to a certain extent, you're probably aware of some controversy over a certain grey pegasus with bubbles as her cutie mark, largely concerning her name and fandom depiction as mockery of the developmentally disabled. I've been over this song and dance before, and by now anything I say probably won't convince you that she's offensive in that regard if you don't already. What I'd like to talk about is a trend I've noticed from people in defense of their beloved pony.

"'Derp' is an internet meme about doing something dumb or making a silly face. It's NOTHING to do with mental disabilities. Some people need to do their homework."

Here's my homework.

Know Your Meme chronicles some of the first instances of that word in media here.We largely have Trey Parker and Matt Stone to blame for its emergence, though most likely the word has been around for longer before it was popularized. Whether or not it's directly insulting the developmentally disabled is, as I said, something I'm not likely going to be able to convince you of, so I'm not addressing it right now. (Though, for the record: I do, and I refuse to believe that a fandom that created this charming little piece of shit is as innocent of problematic connotations as they like to claim.)

What I'm going to address largely, though, is the idea that calling Ms. Hooves "Derpy" is okay because she makes silly faces. The simple fact is: she doesn't. Overwhelmingly, looking at pictures of her, her facial expressions are completely normal and comparable to any other pony.

The picture that started it all.
Flying through the air with the greatest of ease. Notice that her expression is your run-of-the-mill smiling pony face.

Focused eyes, regular face.
Again, focused and regular, for comparison.
A season two example. Her eyes were unfocused here, but you'd never know it from the side.
Aside from having her mouth open more than the other ponies, her face is the picture of just yet another excited pony.
With the exception of eyes, their postures and faces are almost identical, yet one of them would be called silly and the other one wouldn't.
And just chillaxin' with Blossomforth while she waits for hurricane duty.

In comparison, here are some pictures of ponies making silly faces on purpose.

I don't even know what you'd call this one, but bravo.
Oops! Walking into Pinkie Pie really throws you for a loop.
Pinkie Pie shows us how it's done.

Notice that their ridiculous faces include more than their eyes. Their mouths are contorted as well, and sometimes the entire face. Their eyes, if unfocused, are only so temporarily (usually to indicate dizziness of some kind, which is a staple of cartoon comedy), and a couple are also drawn out of proportion to the rest of their faces. When they're done making silly faces, they go back to their usual dimensions.

But Ms. Hooves doesn't have her eyes unfocused only temporarily, and the majority of the time, she's just going about her business. What her eyes look like have nothing to do with how silly or serious or happy she's being, they're just there. And there's a word for that.

Strabismus, found on any internet search, is a medical condition that causes wandering eyes due to miscommunication between the brain and/or the eye or lack of coordination in the eye muscles*. It is not an intentional action. It is a medical disorder.

To call an otherwise perfectly general face that features symptoms of strabismus "silly" is saying, in essence, that strabismus is inherently silly. It's a joke. And by treating it as a joke, you are broadcasting that this medical condition exists for you to laugh at. This is not appropriate, especially not in a program aimed towards children. Even if there wasn't a bullying problem in our schools, encouraging the singling out and making fun of people with medical conditions has no place in children's media.

Does that mean there can't ever be a character with strabismus in children's media - or any media, for that matter? No. But they should be treated with respect, like any other character. They should be acknowledged as normal, because people with strabismus are normal. They shouldn't be turned into the punchline of the fandom.

So next time you feel someone has insulted the honor of your pony and you reach for your definition of 'derpy' to fight off their accusations of offensiveness, remember this and rethink what you're saying.

*I have no doubt that I'm oversimplifying, but I'm not particularly versed in the ways of medicine and never claimed to be.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

I will be angry.

I will be angry because I am not allowed rights to my own body.

I will be angry because I am not acknowledged even in issues that concern me intimately.

I will be angry because I am jailed for being a victim and trying to bring my attacker to justice.

I will be angry because I am unworthy of protection.

I will be angry because I am not valued.

I will be angry because I can't take a joke.

I will be angry because I am an outlawed word.

I will be angry because I am crazy.

I will be angry because I am not crazy

I will be angry because I am a slut.

I am a target.

I am decoration.

I will be angry. I will be furious. I will feel every emotion it is possible to feel, and I will not hide it. It is my strength. It is my right. No matter what you say, how you say it, or what you have backing it, I will not be complacent and I will not shut up.

I will not be happy for your comfort, and I will not be polite for your feelings.  

I will be angry.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Day the Internet Met Lisa

[The following is a post that got placed on the back-burner for a while, and as such is no longer precisely in vogue. However, it contains points that have not magically become invalid, so I've decided to post it anyway.]

Fairly recently, Lisa Khoury posted a reply to the public outcry against her article "Why Put a Bumper Sticker on a Ferrari?". It's called "The Day I Met the Internet" and can be found here. It's a standard Lack of Apology letter, largely citing the forms of name-calling she's endured (some of which, particularly the gendered, threatening, or otherwise inappropriate slurs, were genuinely Not Okay) and asserting that her piece was misinterpreted. "I took the woman's stance and said I'm beautiful without a tattoo," she says. "My tattoo column, along with its counter point, was supposed to generate a discussion about tattoos. That's what journalism does. It continues the conversation people are having among themselves – at least that is what my instructors say."

Well, all right, Lisa. Let's take a look at what you said.

Why Put a Bumper Sticker on a Ferrari?

I'm inclined to at least consider that this was not intended to reduce women's bodies to objects, but the analogy is made so often (and in such problematic contexts, such as the old house burglary = rape analogy) that I can't just let it slide. By setting up an analogy where bumper sticker = tattoo and Ferrari = women's bodies, she has, once again, reduced women's bodies to possessions.

I get it. It's the 21st century. You're cool, you're rebellious, you're cutting edge, you have a point to prove, and you're a woman. Awesome.

And with this, Lisa makes her first mistake: her article is about women. This is not longer an opinion piece about tattoos, but about how Lisa feels that tattoos are inappropriate on women's bodies. 

Ladies, I know you're at least at the legal age of making your own decisions, but before you decide to get a tattoo, allow me to let you in on a little secret. A secret you may have not fully realized yet thus far in your life. What you must understand is, as women, we are – naturally – beautiful creatures.

Seriously, though. Your body literally has the ability to turn heads. Guys drool over us. We hold some serious power in our hands, because – as corny as this sounds – we hold the world's beauty.

Are women beautiful? Yes. But so are men. So are non-binary people. Everyone's attractive in some way. But not to Lisa! No, only women can be pretty, it's just a statement of fact - sorry, "opinion". Not only that, but she helpfully implies that women are interested only in male attention and that this somehow confers power, rather than reinforcing the idea that women exist to be looked at, not listened to. Notice that there's nothing about our minds catching attention. No, just our bodies. And everyone has the ability to do this, not just the conventionally attractive.

But something girls seem to forget nowadays, or maybe have not been taught, is that women hold the world's class and elegance in their hands, as well. So what's more attractive than a girl with a nice body? I'll tell you what: a girl with class. Looks may not last, but class does. And so do tattoos.

Problem number one: class tends to imply wealth, excluding those who are poor (sorry! Can't be attractive if your income is low!). Problem two: I'm sorry, the answer to "what's more attractive than a girl with a nice body" is "a woman's personality", not "class" (there she goes, limiting this discussion to women's bodies rather than minds again). Problem three: only women can be elegant, really? I'm learning so much about society!

An elegant woman does not vandalize the temple she has been blessed with as her body. She appreciates it. She flaunts it. She's not happy with it? She goes to the gym. She dresses it up in lavish, fun, trendy clothes, enjoying trips to the mall with her girlfriends. She accentuates her legs with high heels. She gets her nails done. She enjoys the finer things in life, all with the body she was blessed with.

But marking it up with ink? That's just not necessary.

I'd just like to get this over with: no one is required to flaunt their body. Lisa also brings up a lot of uncomfortable religious connotations to referring to bodies as temples and blessings. Bodies are not temples. Bodies are not blessings. They're bodies. If a woman (or anyone, really) is not happy with it, chances are it's because society has forced her into thinking of herself only in terms of conventional models of what bodies should look like, or she suffers from some form of disability (note: this is not to say that women have to or should dislike their bodies because of disabilities, just that it's a possible reason), or any other number of reasons.

The gym is not a solution. Many people suffer from physical disabilities that prevent them from exercising, many cannot afford the money or the time to expend in exercise, and still others just have bodies that are not going to conform to conventional standards of attractiveness, gym or not. Clothes are not a solution. This again comes down to money for many, but probably at least as many women just have no interest in clothing. Can clothing boost confidence? Of course! But it stems from doing what you want with your own body (in this case, dressing it up in things you like), not because of some magical powers that new, "trendy" clothing confers. (I'm not even sure how to approach the comments about girlfriends and malls and high heels. It's like a remnant from a bygone era that assumed all women love shopping with their platonic "girlfriends" and modifying the way their bodies look with high heels, because all women are the same. And I'm not even going to touch the valid medical reasons that can prevent women from wearing high heels, even if they want to.)

Possibly the best part of this segment is the reference to "[getting] her nails done", followed immediately by derision for women "marking up" their bodies. Makeup and nail polish are presumably okay for women to use because those are the approved methods. Tattoos are just gross and not in any way artistic or beautiful, because... why? 

I'm not here to say a girl should walk around flaunting her body like it's her job – that's just degrading. Instead of getting a tattoo, a more productive use of your time would be improving and appreciating the body you have been given, not permanently engraving it.

A quick summary of the previous paragraph: women should flaunt their bodies. If they're not satisfied, they should devote time to changing the way it looks (but not permanently, because tattoos = bad). And now she's saying that no, women shouldn't flaunt their bodies. Well, which is it? And I notice that she's still dancing around the body issue with suggestions like "improve" and "appreciate". Allow me to be blunt: many people suffer from varying degrees of conditions like body dysmorphism. Some of them will get through this on their own. Some of them will need professional help. The solution is not to tell them to make their bodies better, but to help them learn to make peace with and maybe even love the body that they have. And by all means, if that includes exercising a bit more or consciously trying to make healthier food choices, then may the Force be with you. But sometimes people need to hear "you're amazing the way you are", not "well, maybe if you worked out more or bought newer fashions..."

Can you get meaning out of a tattoo? Arguably. If you want to insert ink into your skin as a symbol for something greater than yourself, then maybe you are proving a point to yourself or the rest of the world.

But at the end of the day, are you really a happier person? Has this tattoo, for instance, caused you to learn something new about yourself? Has it challenged you? Has it led you to self-growth? Nothing comes out of getting a tattoo. You get a tattoo, and that's it. You do something productive, though, and you see results. That's a genuine, satisfying change in life. Not ink.

Allow me a moment of sarcasm.

Lisa would like you to engage in meaningful interactions with your body, like wearing high heels and buying more clothes and putting on nail polish. Not like those shallow tattoos, which are just pieces of artwork chosen by someone to be displayed on their skin. It's just not productive.

It's okay to like clothing. It's okay to like high heels. It's okay to like doing your nails or going to the mall or hitting the gym. It's okay to like tattoos. They can all be shallow or deep, depending on the person. Many people I know of have tattoos that mean something to themselves on a personal level, but it's equally as valid to get one just because it's pretty or funny or just strikes their fancy. Nail polish can have a personal meaning for people (I've seen some really gorgeous designs, and any form of art has the capacity to really have a message). If it makes you feel happy, then who cares?

Oh, right. Lisa does.

Invest your time, money, and effort into a gym membership, or yoga classes, or new clothes, or experimenting with different hairstyles if you're craving something new with your body, not a tattoo.

I promise, it will be a much more rewarding experience, and you won't find yourself in a rut when your future grandkids ask you what's up with the angel wings on your upper back as you're in the middle of giving them a life lesson on the importance of values and morals.

God knows the last thing this world needs is another generation of kids questioning their basic values and morals.

I love the heavy implication here that tattoos somehow negate morality, and I'm even more amazed that her example was that of a set of angel wings (because as everyone knows, a set of angel wings denote Evil Devil Women). The last that I checked, tattoos largely indicate the presence of tattoos, not "anything that comes out of this person's mouth is a dirty untruth". Another gem is that a simple question about them would cause a rut ("Grandma has wings because they're beautiful; now, about judging people based on superficial characteristics..."), or that it should even be taken into account when deciding what to do with your body.

Essentially, this article can be boiled down to: "Don't get a tattoo because I don't find them visually appealing, and you shouldn't do anything that will diminish other people's enjoyment of your body". It's just another refrain in an ongoing message, and it does nothing but reinforce gender norms and the concept of women's bodies being public property to be "admired".

And gods know the last thing this world needs is another generation of kids shaming each other for daring to take control of their bodies.