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Where have all the Buffys gone?: the Grimm and Supernatural absence of girls who kick ass on TV

13 Aug

Where have all the Buffys gone?: the Grimm and Supernatural  absence of girls who kick ass on TV

    A guest post from Anna Brecke,  a PhD candidate and graduate instructor in Literature and Cultural Studies at the University of Rhode Island. Her research interests include Victorian cultural studies, gender and women”s studies, television and the supernatural. 

 

  Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon is famous for his outspokenness on strong female characters. He claims the inspiration for Buffy sparked because he sympathized with the “female victims of all those slasher films” and wanted to give them “a chance to take back the night.”[1] Currently, we lack strong female characters on network television that fill the void left behind by Buffy. In her place we find the übermasculine and slightly misogynist Winchester brothers of Supernatural and Grimm’s Nick Burkhardt, basically a male Buffy Summers. Like the female heroes of many programs from the late 1990s and early 2000s, these male characters have an unavoidable destiny and diegetic position requiring them to combat superhuman foes. Problematically, both programs combine this trope with the glorification of heteronormative masculinity that requires female characters be subordinate. This trend is especially disturbing in light of the fact that science fiction and fantasy are popular culture spaces where strong female leads have been a generic norm. Along with Susan Faludi, I contend that between Buffy (1997-2003) and our current television climate, the American media machine has shied away from female action heroes in favor of their male counterparts as part of a post 9/11 anti-feminist rhetoric emphasizing “neo fifties nuclear family ‘togetherness,’ redomesticated femininity, and reconstituted Cold Warrior manhood.”[2] By removing women from battle and  repositioning them as passive victims, show writers and producers reinsert a stereotype of heternormativity that erases one of the few cultural spaces where the “kick ass” female character has historically flourished.

In 2000, a television viewer interested in science fiction/fantasy and strong female characters could find multiple viewing options. Concurrently running shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Xena: Warrior Princess, Dark Angel and Charmed relied on female leads combing intelligence and physical prowess to fight the big bad while simultaneously delivering messages of female empowerment. Characters like Buffy and Xena display characteristics that are traditionally gendered male as protectors, warriors, and leaders. Charmed’s brand of wicca and the Halliwell family backstory draw on pre-Christian matriarchal tropes to produce female heroes who fight frequently male demons. Most of these programs ran for five plus years, developed a loyal fan base and survive in syndication. Fast forward a few years and the number of strong female leads of this type has dwindled. The 2008 primetime line up provided Echo on Dollhouse and Sarah Connor on Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, but neither program survived beyond a second season. Jump forward a few more years and we see the Winchesters and Nick Burkhardt instead.

Programming like Supernatural and Grimm does more than return the hero role to male characters. It undermines the idea that women could be heroes by reinforcing gender roles that require women be passive objects rather than acting subjects. Supernatural”s Winchester brothers spend their time hunting demons and mythological creatures. In contrast to Buffy”s “these things, never helpful”[3] stance on guns, the Supernatural diegesis is one where the answer to a problem is often ‘shoot first and ask questions later.” More importantly, their world is one in which women who attempt an active role either die in the slasher movie victim vein or are literal monsters. The show’s dialogue employs feminization such as “girl” and “chick” to indicate emasculation, emphasizing the subordinate position of women. This feminization of weakness is supported by one of the show’s inside jokes, that any woman Sam Winchester has sex with ends up dead. The message here is that women are necessary casualties in a world where men do the tough jobs.

Grimm is similarly problematic for its repositioning of women in the victim role. Although the show’s producers cite the original Grimms’ tales as source texts, the story lines do little to retain the female agency often found in those texts. Grimm takes tales of clever, resourceful women and reconfigures them as damsels in distress. The program’s pilot episode treatment of Little Red Ridinghood is one example in which an active female hero is transformed into a victim.[4] The Grimms’ original text has two endings[5] and in both Red triumphantly kills the wolf herself. The Grimm version turns Red into a victim online casino who clings gratefully to Nick after he kills the wolf. This is only one example, but the program relies heavily on the repeated action of Nick rescuing women or children through violence to resolve episodic story arcs.

What is most disturbing about these two programs is that they follow on the heels of similarly themed previous programs that featured female leads. Supernatural is a show about siblings who are charged with fulfilling their family destiny to fight demons alongside a guardian angel. This is also the premise of Charmed. A chosen hero has a secret identity that allows them to see and fight monsters to protect their town and by extension, all of humanity. Are we talking about Grimm or are we talking about Buffy? The fact that Grimm’s executive producer David Greenwalt produced Buffy and its spinoff Angel and Supernatural”s Ben Edlund worked on Angel is even more damning. It is as though these production teams are cannibalizing the texts they produced for female leads to feed male heroes. The sci-fi/ fantasy action hero teleserial is being reclaimed in the name of heteronormative masculinity when it was one of the few cultural spaces where female heroes flourished. This visible trend, the decline of the Buffy figure and rise in the Winchester type on regular network programming, coincides with Faludi’s theory on the post 9/11 return to the myth of the nuclear family. Young women looking for Buffy figures now must move farther away from mainstream programming to find them. And even if they do find them, they might find them plagued with enlightened sexism, like Trueblood”s  Sookie Stackhouse. The absent Buffy is symptomatic of an overall devaluation of strong women that mirrors our current media climate and asks young women to accept increasingly limited options in which to locate their identities. When Faludi refers to anti-feminist backlash, she refers to the way a lack or an absence can be equally damaging as the  active devaluing of female characters. Recently asked why he feels the need to write strong female characters, Whedon summed up the issue succinctly by saying “because you”re still asking me that question.”


[1]               Susan Douglas. The Rise of Enlightened Sexism: How Pop Culture Took Us from Girl Power to Girls Gone Wild. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin. 2012. Print. 79.

[2]               Susan Faludi. The Terror Dream. New York: Henry Holt and Co. 2007. Print.  3-4.

[3]               “Flooded.” Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Writ. Joss Whedon and Douglas Petrie. Dir. Douglas Petrie. 20th Century Fox Televsion. 2001. Netflix. Web. 2013.

[4] “Pilot.”  Grimm. Writ. Stephen Carenter. Dir. Marc Buckland. G K Productions. 2011. Hulu.com. Web.

[5] “Little Red Cap.” Brothers Grimm. The Norton Classic Fairy Tales. Ed. Maria Tatar.  New York: WW Norton and Company. 1999. 13-16. Print.

Spring Issue Published

9 Aug

SPRING SELECTIONS

Volume 4, Issue 1
Spring 2013

Articles

Book Review – Claire Hemmings, Why Stories Matter: The Political Grammar of Feminist Theory.
by Gigi NcNamara

Sex, Work, Law and Sex Work Law: Towards a Transformative Feminist Theory 
by Tom Dreyfus

Breastmilk Exchange and New Forms of Social casino online Relations
by Robyn Lee

One After buy non prescription viagra online the Other: Collecting in A Girl of the Limberlost
by Beth Nardella

Women ‘Waking Up’ and Moving the Mountain: The Feminist Eugenics of Charlotte Perkins Gilman
by Susan Rensing

About the Contributors

Book Review: A Year of Biblical Womanhood

10 Jan

Book Review:  A Year of Biblical Womanhood

A Year of Biblical Womanhood, by Rachel Held Evans (Nashville:  Thomas Nelson, 2012)

The subtitle of this book, “How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband ‘Master’,” provides an intriguing and true, but somewhat misleading, description of the actual contents.

Held, who writes a blog on women and faith (http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/), decided to go on a yearlong journey investigating what, exactly, the Bible says about women and trying to follow the rituals and behavior patterns it sets out for women.  She takes these roles or characteristics one or two at a time, for a month each.  Some items, such as growing her hair she continues for the entire year.  The ten she selected, gentleness, domesticity, obedience, valor, beauty, modesty, purity, fertility, submission, justice, silence, and grace, are all based on Biblical teachings.  Evans doesn’t start out with an agenda; she intends to explore these virtues, as she calls them, to understand Biblical womanhood, and to see how it aligns, or doesn’t, with her evangelical upbringing.  Her attitude towards the project is reverent. Each chapter describes one month of her journey and at the end, highlights a Biblical woman whose story relates to that virtue.   Occasionally excerpts from her husband’s journey are included to provide his perspective on what she had done that month.

She kicks off the year with a study of gentleness and it is this chapter that she references in the subtitle, when she mentions sitting on the roof.  In order to avoid a contentious spirit she sets up a system that requires her to put coins in a jar every time she finds herself engaging in “gossiping, nagging, complaining, exaggerating, and snark” (8).  One of the verses that inspired this chapter is Proverbs 21:9 “It is better to live in a corner of the roof than in a house shared with a contentious woman.”  At the end of the month she counts up the money in her contentious jar and then sits on the roof one minute for every cent in the jar.   One autumn day she sat on her roof for an hour and a half.

This is not the only section wherein the author adapts an ancient phrase to a modern use.  In the chapter on valor she takes the verse on women selling garments to provide income to her household, but since she cannot sew, she makes a sash with ironed on embellishments and sells it on eBay.   For the chapter on fertility she rents a lifelike computerized doll (Baby Think It Over) used in high school classes on child care.

Held consults with people from various viewpoints, polygamists, Orthodox Jews, the Amish, Biblical patriarchy groups, and organizations promoting large families, among others, to understand their interpretations of Biblical womanhood and the Bible’s view of women.   Though she presents these views in a non-judgmental fashion she writes at one point:

“I’ve heard all kinds of explanations from Christian apologists for why the Bible includes such harsh laws about women:  that the laws were progressive in comparison to the surrounding culture, that they were designed to protect women from exploitation, that they weren’t strictly observed anyway.  These are useful insights, I suppose, but, sometimes I nbso online casino reviews wish these apologists wouldn’t be in such a hurry to explain these troubling texts away, that they would allow themselves to be bothered by them now and then.” (53)

She also visits a community in Bolivia when studying justice, and focuses on social justice, including learning how and where the food she eats was grown and how it was produced.  In the chapter on silence she spends a few days at a monastery and also attends a Quaker service, both of which value silence.

Evans contrasts the story of Abraham and Isaac with Jephthah and his daughter (whose name is not mentioned), both fathers promising to sacrifice a child.  Isaac is spared; Jephthah’s daughter is not.  Evans points out a lost ritual from the book of Judges, chapter 11:

“Wrote the narrator, “From this comes the Israelite tradition that each year the young women of Israel go out for four days to commemorate the daughter of Jephthah (vv.39-40).

They could not protect her life, but they could protect her dignity by retelling her story – year after year, for four days, in a mysterious and subversive ceremony that perhaps led the women of Israel back to the same hills in which Jephthah’s daughter wandered before her death.  It was a tradition that appears to have continued through the writing of the book of Judges.  But it is a tradition lost to the waxing and waning of time, no longer marked by the daughters of Abrahamic faiths.” (63-64)

Another woman whose story was forgotten, or in this case erased, is Junia.  In Romans 16:7 Junia and Andronicus are referred to as apostles.  Early church commentaries clearly regard Junia as female, but in the Middle Ages a female apostle became somewhat inconvenient to the increasing marginalization of women in the church so Junia became Junias, a male version of the name that was seldom if ever used in Biblical times.

Held also takes up the famed woman of “Proverbs 31.”  The King James Version describes her as a “virtuous woman.”  Held compares several different translations; some saying “good wife,” or “capable wife” or “worthy woman.”  Here, as in other places in her book, Held cites scholarship, and finds that most scholars translate it as “valorous woman” and that the verses uses militaristic language than most English versions of the Bible soften.  “She girds herself with strength” is literally “she girds her loins.”  She also points out that rather than a list of commandments the chapter is a poem of praise of all women and the only commandment is for men to honor women.

In a discussion on the verse in Timothy (2:11) that is often interpreted to say that women should be silent and are not allowed to teach men, she points out that three verses earlier (Timothy 2:8) men are called upon to pray with uplifted hands.  This is seldom quoted as often or with the same vigor as the verse on women.

Later in the book Held points out that the woman who is healed by Jesus’s touch in Mark 5:26-34 is “the only healing in the Gospels that occurs without the express intent of Jesus” (170); it is the woman who touches Him not the other way around.

The Biblical women Evans choses to highlight in the vignettes at the end of each chapter include Deborah (a victorious general), Tamar (a widow who tricked her father-in-law into giving her the family rights he had tried to deny her),  Vasthi (the queen who refused to be paraded before her husband’s drunken friends and was set aside for her disobedience), Tabitha (the only woman in the New Testament identified with the female form of the word disciple), and Huldah (a prophet in the Old Testament who was asked to pronounce judgment on the authority of a prophetic scroll).

This is an interesting book that explores a number of aspects of Biblical teachings on women.  Held’s open minded approach makes the book accessible to readers having a variety of viewpoints.    She includes references for further reading in the back.  It is not a scholarly book in the traditional sense but it is certainly a thought provoking one.

Swearing and Stitching: The 21st Century Approach to a Traditional Craft

4 Dec

Swearing and Stitching: The 21st Century Approach to a Traditional Craft

Guest blog writer Emily L. Newman holds a Ph.D. from The Graduate Center, City University of New York, and is currently Assistant Professor of Art History at Texas A&M University – Commerce. Often exploring the intersections between popular culture and art, her research focuses on the way contemporary artists have addressed female body image

Femininity and cross stitching have traditionally been linked, as Rozsika Parker has thoughtfully articulated.[1] In many ways, these ideas, which developed in the 17th and 18th century, persist today in the growing trend of American crafters selling their patterns and wares on the Internet. These artists often become popular by embracing controversial subject matter or phrasing. For example, Julia Jackson, founder of a blog and author of a book of the same name, Subversive Cross Stitch, created a community that has developed based on her use of unconventional cross stitch patterns. Jackson often combines traditional patterns with bold phrases such as “Chill the fuck out,” “Beeyatch,” and “Go fuck your self.”

Jackson is just one of many artists who blog about their designs and make them available on Etsy, a site that makes it easy to sell handmade products. Sellers going by the names “StitchOutLoud” and “The Stitch Bitch Cove” sell similar pieces that incorporate surprising language as well as rude and insulting phrases.  Mr X Stitch, the pseudonym for Jamie Chalmers, provided a place for him to display and sell his designs, but he also brought in other stitchers and their patterns. He has parlayed the success of his own designs into success for others, providing them a space to discuss and sell their work while also working to create exhibitions and spaces for their works to be shown publicly as well as writing and publishing books on the art form.

Geographical location becomes less significant as these artists are able to work together and share patterns and techniques across the country via chat rooms, websites, blogs, and Meetup groups.[2] Like traditional quilting circles and consciousness-raising groups, these artists, primarily women, have created a place where they can share ideas and skillsets while also bonding and developing creative approaches to the craft. These artists rely on the community to create friendships but also to further develop their skills. Physical space is no longer important, however, as the internet creates opportunities beyond the scope of where they live.

            Yet their popularity is especially dependent on their transgressive language. These 21st century artists are working in a conventional and popular craft, one that was often used as a way to manipulate women and reinforce submissiveness.[3] By bringing in a variety of swear words, offensive phrases, and sometimes graphic imagery, these artists harness the power of taboo. Not only do these works come off as brazen and frequently humorous, but the rely on the contradiction of the words with the design. Because cross-stitching is often affiliated with women, the incorporation of curse words is jarring and unexpected, as women are less affiliated with swearing than men.[4] The contradictions inherent in these works show that cross stitch artisans have not only continued on the path Parker laid out when discussing cross stitch in the twentieth century, but they are further questioning the way that craft can be used to challenge online casino societal norms.

            Additionally, as these artists can share their work immediately with other artisans and the public, many of them engage in contemporary events and popular culture.  A popular design on Jackson’s site is the phrase “Put a bird on it!” Referencing IFC’s Portlandia, this saying was uttered by series creators Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein, in a skit that has received almost 1.5 million youtube hits.  Armisen and Brownstein were playing with hipster culture and their affinity for revamping objects, often personalizing them by adding simple graphic designs like birds. Erin Keane of salon.com even suggests that the show spurred the use of birds on products of all types. In her piece, “’Put a Bird on It’ – The Aftermath,” she quotes Brownstein who explains how the project got started,  “I had started noticing that putting a bird atop an otherwise pedestrian or utilitarian object elevated it to art — or that putting a bird on a painting made it an instant signifier for coolness. The bird was basically becoming shorthand for art.” The phrase has become a playful way of acknowledging the way symbols and pictures are used throughout society. In referencing Portlandia, cross-stitchers are acknowledging their awareness of the cultural phenomenon, but are also further commenting ironically on the use of a bird as a symbol of hipster coolness while perpetuating the spread of the bird image.

            Cross-stitching may represent a traditional hobby for women, but these artists have turned around the practice by making its subject contemporary. These communities that have developed are using the most up-to-date social media programs, while furthering something often considered old-fashioned. Thankfully, these artists have figured out a way to keep the unique art of cross-stitching relevant in the 21st century.

First link: http://www.subversivecrossstitch.com/

Second link: http://www.mrxstitch.com/

Third link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0XM3vWJmpfo

Fourth link: http://www.salon.com/2011/10/24/can_a_portlandia_comedy_sketch_destroy_a_fashion_trend/

 


[1] Rozsika Parker, The Subversive Stitch: Embroidery and the Making of the Feminine, rev. ed. (London: I.B. Tauris Publishers, 2010).

[2] David Gauntlett, Making is Connecting (Cambridge and Oxford, UK: Polity, 2011).

[3] Parker, The Subversive Stitch, 1-39.

[4] Robin Tolmach Lakoff and Mary Bucholtz, eds. Language and Woman’s Place: Text and Commentaries (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004) and Geoffrey Hughes, Swearing: A Social History of Foul Language, Oaths and Profanity in English (Oxford, UK: Basil Blackwell Ltd, 1991), 207-212.

New Issue Available

19 Nov

New Issue Available

 

The latest issue of MP is on the website.

 

FEMINIST SUMMER CAMP

Volume 3, Issue 5
Summer 2012

Articles

Queering Masculinity: Sexual Dissidence as Anti-bullying Discourse in Kimberly Peirce’s Boys Don’t Cry
by Justine Gieni

A Womb of One’s Own: A Wandering Rhetoric
by Lydia McDermott

Deconstructing the online casino Erotic: A Feminist Exploration of Bodies and Voice in Lucille Clifton and Audre Lorde’s Poetry
by Roxanne Rashedi

Harassment, Exploitation, and Rape: Sexual Offences in Measure for Measure and All’s Well That Ends Well
by Jeff Carr

The Construction of Women from a Gendered Perspective: Pre-Cinematic Victorian Representations and the Male Scopophilic Gaze
by Emily Ennis


About the Contributors

Download the complete issue:

 


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