Knapsacking Up: Sticks & Stones

I Am Male… No words or labels can be used to keep me down.

Comedian extraordinaire Louis CK has a great bit about how great it is to be a White male in American society. Go ahead, watch it. I’ll wait… The payoff comes when he muses that you can’t even hurt his feelings. There is no word that can hurt him as a White male. Cracker? Ouch! Taking him back to a time when he “owned land and people.”

That’s pretty incredible to think about. With all the words and phrases in the English language and all the hate in our collective hearts, there is nothing hurtful you can say to a straight White male to remind them of their past or their place.

Words like “bitch” and labels like “ice queen” remind women that they are supposed to be subservient to men. Words like “slut” and “whore” remind women that only men get to have sex with lots of people (By the way, has anyone ever considered the logistics of this? Who are these “pious” men having tons of sex with?). Words like “cunt” remind women that… well… it sucks to be a woman in American society.

What are you going to call me? A dick? An asshole? Meh… That’s my disposition, not my gender.

The only way you can get to a male is by referencing other disadvantaged groups. Call them a “little bitch” or a “woman.” That’ll sting because women are bad and men have no gender identity other than in opposition to women.

Call them “gay” or a “homo” or a “fag.” Then again, masculinity is at the heart of these insults, not sex or gender.

There’s nothing. I can’t think of a single, solitary word that has insulted me with my own gender. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt men. And it’s too bad. Because men can be real cunts sometimes.

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Knapsacking Up: WWE’s “Diva” Problem

It was a dark and stormy night in Minneapolis.

An enraged Demon, hoping to tarnish our noble Hero, was cutting a path of destruction through Hero’s life. Like Job or Luke Skywalker, Hero was being tested. Demon, a product of years of rage and hated, was trying to make our Hero give in to his anger.

Weeks before, Hero’s socially inept, and quite frankly, stupid, Friend had been attacked by the Demon. Friend had been pursuing Woman for weeks, clearly not getting her hints that she was not interested. When she finally agreed to go on a date, Demon attacked, nearly dragging Friend to Literal Christian Hell.

Soon after, Demon set his sights on Woman. Hero managed to save Woman from a terrifying near abduction, earning Hero a kiss from the relieved damsel in distress. Unfortunately, Hero’s injured Friend watched dejectedly nearby, ending their friendship on the spot.

Finally, in Minneapolis, things came to a head. After hearing that Woman was never interested in Friend, our Hero found the most public place he could and slut-shamed Woman, saying that he had traded a bro for a ho and that he wanted her gone since he was disease free and wanted to stay that way.

Meanwhile, everyone in that public space helped castigate Woman, whose two crimes were kissing a man who had saved her life and refusing the advances of someone incredibly below her.

*************************

Sadly, I was in that public place, which happened to be the Target Center last February for World Wrestling Entertainment’s (WWE) flagship television show, WWE Raw. Our hero was played by John Cena. Kane was the Demon. Eve was the Woman. And Zack Ryder was the man-child and mental midget Friend.

Originally, this was the introduction to an essay entitled “In Defense of Professional Wrestling.” It did not make the final draft, mainly because this is clearly a shitty story that would directly contradict that essay’s thesis.

Wrestling is a storytelling medium. Like all methods of storytelling, is not inherently anything. It is what we make of it and what we demand of it. Through wrestling, I’ve seen acting, choreography, athleticism, storytelling, comedy, and participatory theater that I have not seen or experienced anywhere else.

I’ve also seen it used for sexism, racism, homophobia, jingoism, and pandering to the lowest common denominator. Although the stereotypes about professional wrestling are false, many to most of the negative stereotypes concerning WWE programming are true. WWE has a lot of problems with women.

Let’s investigate, shall we… Continue reading

Knapsacking Up: Language

I Am Male… I can assume my own language will include and represent me

As I struggled through the GPA destroyer known as “Spanish Class,” one thing became abundantly clear. Unfortunately, it was not “Learning will always be easy” or “I can express basic competency in anything.”

No, it was that the Spanish language is sexist as hell.

Every word has a specific gender, male or female (It’s not very transsexual-friendly either, I guess). A group of mixed gender composition is always male. 50,000 women are overpowered by one male, presumably through the INCREDIBLE POWER OF THE PENIS!(TM) The word for “wife” is the same as the word for “handcuff.”

You get the idea.

American English isn’t nearly as sexist, although there are still too many phrases and terms that don’t really have a feminine equivalent.

Most of the problems with our modern language can be traced back to our founding documents. There, in the Declaration of Independence, is the noble proposition that “all men are created equal.” To be fair, Jefferson was talking about White, propertied males, if that makes anyone feel better.

And don’t get me started on the religious “He.” I’m sure the eternal, omnipotent creator of everything that exists fits neatly within the confines of our gender system.

From these basic inequities come problems in every other aspect of our society.

We have always elected Congressmen, at first literally, now just figuratively. “Congresswoman” works just fine for specific people, but what about members of Congress as a whole? Congresspeople? Ew. Members of Congress? What are we? British? There really isn’t a great gender-neutral term.

Every company has a Chairman of the Board. Chairwoman? Chairperson? We are so used to “chairman” that we just keep using it. Again, there’s no great gender-neutral term.

I have spent the last five years unsuccessfully trying to come up with a gender-neutral phrase for the start of a pregnancy. Women “get pregnant.” Clearly, we understand that a man was a part of that process somewhere along the line, but there is no phrase that implicates men in the care-taking process. Women “get pregnant,” so women get the problem.

Society could survive a few language-related idiosyncrasies if they didn’t bear such heavy costs. When we picture a Chairman of the Board, we picture a male. When we picture a Congressman, we picture a male. When we talk about pregnancy, we see it as a totally female thing. Our perceptions have a way of becoming reality.

We can’t imagine what we lack the words to describe. You can’t tell me there is no relationship between “Chairman” or “Congressman” and the lack of women in boardrooms or Washington. You can’t tell me there’s no relationship between “getting pregnant” and the total lack of support our society provides pregnant women. Until the language we use is fixed, our society will remain broken.

Unless you are a male, like me. We were created equal.

Knapsacking Up: Favor the Bold

There is probably no other franchise in all of television that broke as many boundaries as Star Trek. From interracial kisses in Star Trek to kisses between actresses of the same sex (Saying same-sex kiss is a bit oversimplified with the Trill) in Deep Space Nine to presenting, throughout the franchise, a society that had moved on from the racial and gender issues that divide us so starkly today. Despite being far ahead of its time in most respects, Star Trek rarely broke the mold with strong female characters until Deep Space Nine.

The original Star Trek featured Lt. Uhura as a member of the bridge crew. I would criticize Star Trek for failing to develop Uhura as a character, but Star Trek was about the triumvirate of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. Everyone else, regardless of race or gender, was an afterthought. Nearly every other female on the show was little more than window dressing or a love interest.

21 years later (or 100, depending on your perspective), Star Trek: The Next Generation threatened to introduce a groundbreaking female character. Lt. Tasha Yar, Enterprise-D’s though-as-nails security chief, was Trek’s first strong female character since the nameless Number 1 in the failed Star Trek pilot. Unfortunately, she was killed by an alien tar monster after she realized her character was going nowhere. With Yar’s subordinate Worf already a recurring character, it made storyline sense to simply promote Worf rather than introduce a similar female character.

Doctor Beverly Crusher was probably the least developed and least interesting TNG cast member and Deanna Troi’s job was dealing with emotional issues, helped by her ability to sense others’ emotions. A woman, clad in a low-cut uniform, in tune with feelings? GROUNDBREAKING! Next Generation’s intentions were good, but the show was hampered by male writers who had no clue how to write female characters. Only 12 out of TNG’s 176 episodes were written by women.

Although Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had even fewer female-written episodes, they got it right. Lt. Jadzia Dax was a sarcastic friend and mentor (again, Trill are complicated) to Captain Sisko, but only when she wasn’t busy out-Klingoning Worf or otherwise kicking ass. Major Kira Nerys probably had more crowning moments of awesome than anyone this side of Bill Adama. She was strong, badass, and confident, but still in touch with her femininity, giving her an advantage over Tasha “Man with Boobs” Yar. DS9 showed a generation of sci-fi fans that it was okay to be a woman and awesome at the same time.

The less said about Star Trek: Voyager’s cat-suits, or just Voyager in general, the better. Enterprise featured an intelligent, sexy, powerful first officer, the Vulcan T’Pol. However, the other female regular, Lt. Hoshi, was criminally underdeveloped.

The Star Trek franchise deserves all the credit it receives. Even if, by today’s standards, the franchise wasn’t always successful in challenging gender conventions and stereotypes, it undeniably helped blazed the trail for future shows to get it right.

Knapsacking Up: Default

I Am Male… I am the default.

Most of my early memories revolve around sports. I can’t remember the televised bomb cameras of the Persian Gulf War, but I remember turning a Kleenex into a Homer Hanky for the 1991 World Series. I don’t remember much from 6th grade, but I do remember our perfect baseball season that summer. I can’t remember my family’s birthdays without a text from my sister, but I still remember playing competitive games of football alone, throwing passes to myself and falling to the ground as though I had just been tackled.

What? I grew up on a farm.

I played baseball, football, golf, and basketball. I played sports, which is why I was taken aback listening to the Half-Assed Morning Show on 93X a few weeks ago. The two DJs, Josh and Nick, were interviewing a Fox Sports North correspondent who would soon be covering Hockey Day Minnesota. Nick asked if she was ever injured while playing girls hockey in high school.

That was the moment I came to realize that I was the default. If something seems insulting about the fact that a sport is given a different name simply because of the sex of the athletes, then congratulations! You have at least the deductive reasoning skills of an elm tree.

But, hey! Maybe contact and checking are so integral to the game of hockey for you that women’s hockey isn’t “real” hockey. There’s something to be said for that line of reasoning. However, it still doesn’t take into account the much larger problem with “girl’s hockey.”

Men play in the National Basketball League. Women play in the Women’s National Basketball League. Men play on the PGA Tour. Women play on the Ladies PGA Tour. The message is clear: Men play sports, women play women’s sports. It’s not men’s sports and women’s sports. It’s regular sports and then the female variant of the be-donged default.

There are sports, like volleyball, that do the same thing in reverse. There are sports, like tennis, that get it right. Sadly, these are the exceptions to the rule.

Perhaps the most interesting part is that while men are the societal default, women are the biological default. Every baby is female until a Y chromosome gets involved (Thanks, Wikipedia!). Then, upon birth, that child leaves the relative meritocracy of the womb and enters American society. More like a merit-cock-racy? Amirite?

Maybe one day, after Title IX continues to guarantee athletic access to women, things will even out. Until then, I’ll just keep playing WNBA Live 2008.

Knapsacking Up: Film Representation

I Am Male… I am fairly represented in film.

It was in a discussion of Last Resort that I was introduced to the Bechdel Test. The Bechdel Test is a set of three rather simple questions to help show gender bias in television or film.

First, the there must be two named female characters. That’s it. Two female characters who are given names. Second, two named women must speak to each other. That’s it. Two women talk to each other. Third, that conversation is about something besides a man. That’s it.

Two named female characters having a conversation about something other than a man. This isn’t exactly the most stringent test out there. However, you’d be surprised (or not) at how many films fail the test.

Forrest Gump has multiple women who never converse.

The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi have only one named female character. Star Wars and Revenge of the Sith have multiple women who never converse. This means that the only two movies that pass are the two worst of the series.

Citizen Kane, a film considered by many to be the greatest ever, has multiple women who never converse.

The Godfather has multiple women who never converse.

Batman Begins has multiple women who never converse. The Dark Knight only “passes” because Joker had one of them at gunpoint. The Dark Knight Rises passes because the writers were aware of the test and chucked in a token conversation that didn’t impact the story or film in any meaningful way.

Ditto for Argo.

The Departed, Slumdog Millionaire, The Social Network, Inception, Good Night, and Good Luck, The Avengers, and the entire Lord of the Rings Trilogy fail the test as well.

Now obviously, there are good reasons some movies fail and I’m sure anyone could cherry-pick a bunch of movies that pass. The point is that there is no “reverse Bechdel Test.” Film and television are male-centric. I’ve never had to think about it. Women do.

If I had to pinpoint a culprit, it would be the lack of female writers in Hollywood. I consider myself to be an empathetic, thoughtful person (I’m great!), but I know I would be HORRIBLE at writing female characters. Not because I’m stupid or sexist, although I can be both, but simply because I don’t understand.

I’m a straight, White, American male. I don’t know what it’s like to be anything else. Because of that, I’ll never be able to represent anything else 100% accurately. There are writers of both sexes in Hollywood who are way better than I in that regard. Sadly, most are not.

Until that changes, our movies won’t.

Knapsacking Up: Heroes

I Am Male… I have easily accessible heroes.

Growing up, I never had a shortage of heroes. First, when I was really young and determined to be a farmer, it was my dad. When I was introduced to sports, they became athletes like David Robinson, Shane Mack, and Sammy Sosa. Later, when I discovered history, I was drawn towards World War II heroes like Raymond Spruance, Ernest Evans, and Winston Churchill.

We’re in a feminist series, so I won’t insult you by explaining what they all have in common. (Cool first names? You’re not very good at this, are you, nonexistent reader?) I can’t imagine what it would have been like to be a woman growing up at the same time. Where, other than my own life, would I have been able to find childhood heroes?

It wouldn’t have been in sports. The Williams Sisters? Yeah, nothing like tennis talk around the classroom water cooler. Jackie Joyner Kersey? Yay! A hero every four years! Rebecca Lobo? Cool, but it’s not like there’s some sort of women’s version of the NBA in which she can play after college.

It wouldn’t have been in history. What important contributions to history by women are studied in elementary or middle school, other than, perhaps, the requisite Rosa Parks lesson in February? Not to demean the courage or heroism of Mrs. Parks, but her inclusion is much more about tokenism than a genuine exploration of women’s roles in history or the African-American Civil Rights Movement.

It wouldn’t have been in politics. I would imagine little girls were about as interested in growing up to be Madeleine Albright as much as I wanted to be the next James Baker III. Although, to be fair, Dean Acheson’s mustache is something to which every young man should ascribe.

Secretary of State references!

Secretary of State references!

It wouldn’t have been television, where the only strong pre-Buffy leads were… ummmm… (/Wikipedias “90’s television female leads.” No results except “Who searches Wikipedia like that?”) You get the idea.

Hell, there weren’t even great female heroes in comics. You, know? The place that HAS NOTHING BUT HEROES! I suppose Wonder Woman was alright, but she was about it unless you wanted Superman with boobs and a skirt or Batman with boobs and really sensible footwear for a thief.

I’m sure female heroes existed in some obscure comics or television programs that lasted all of a season before cancellation. But you had to work to find them. I didn’t to find any of mine.

You know what? I liked Buffy too.