Posts Tagged: Feminism

Lady Inspiration: Janeane Garofalo

Janeane Garofalo in Seattle

““The personal is political. Every time you get on that Stairmaster, every time you don’t put sugar in your coffee, every time you take Pilates, every time you pose on the cover of Premiere in your underwear, you are saying to the Hollywood status quo, ‘Yes, this is OK. The patriarchy has made the rules, and it’s OK by me. I’m gonna keep lying about my age to fit into rules that I had nothing to do with, and I’m going to keep perpetuating this.’”
Janeane Garofalo, Bust Magazine, Fall 1999

*Good points all around, but of course I’d add that maybe you just take Pilates because it makes you feel good! I think we all get what she’s saying, though.

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The Vilification of the Teenage Girl

In high school, I was obsessed with Chuck Klosterman. I mean, I read his books multiple times, I underlined my favorite passages, and I wrote a letter that I thankfully never sent. But I always knew that, as a teenage girl, I wasn’t exactly his target audience. He spent a lot of time writing about music that came out before I was even born and television shows that were on when I was in kindergarten. I didn’t care, but I do remember one line that really stood out to me because it made me realize that I was definitely The Other when it came to his books. He was talking about hair metal (like usual) and he said something to the effect that hair metal’s decline was due, mostly, to teenage girls. Because once teenage girls start liking something, it’s over. It’s not cool anymore.

I’ve been thinking about that a lot this week, because everything I’ve been reading seems to point back to that concept: the inherent uncoolness of the teenage girl. Take, for example, this amazing excerpt of an article by Tavi Gevinson, where she explains the all-encompassing awesomeness of Taylor Swift while also explaining why people seem to hate her so much: “Swifties see the characteristic at hand for what it is: writing. Her songs are her point of view, making it her job to blow up the most minor event into something that more accurately represents the way she experienced it. As Tay quoted Neruda in her Red liner notes, “Love is so short, forgetting is so long.” This is basic Nabokov shit, right? Everything hits harder in memory. Everything changes color.”

Basically, Taylor Swift’s writing about feelings. And who cares about feelings more than anyone else on earth? Teenage girls. And me. That’s why I read so much YA; YA isn’t ashamed of feelings, of all-consuming, dangerous, ridiculous, over-the-top love, and that’s the only kind of love I want to read about. T. Swift’s writing about teenage girl stuff and teenage girls love it, so naturally it isn’t cool. Even though, as Tavi notes, she’s writing about the same basic concepts as Nabokov and Neruda.

And then there’s this video from a super-smart gal named Subi:

My favorite quote: “People don’t wanna be compared to the teenage girl; the teenage girl is hated, teenage girls hate themselves. If you listen to a certain kind of music, or if you express your emotions in a certain kind of way, if you self harm, you write diaries, all those kind of activities are sort of laughed at and ridiculed because they’re associated with being a teenage girl. Even just things like being cripplingly self conscious or overly concerned with our appearance, that’s considered like a teenage girl thing and therefore its ridiculous, it’s stupid, it’s not relevant or legitimate, and you know, what we needed at that age was legitimization and respect and support but all we got was dismissal and “Oh, you’re such a teenage girl.”

When I first heard those words, I got a flash or recognition. Yes. That’s exactly it. That’s what Chuck Klosterman was talking about all those years ago–no one wants to be compared to a teenage girl.

And it’s still true now. Stuff that girls like (or even stuff that we, as women, liked when we were girls) is inherently vapid, while stuff that teenage boys like (action movies, for example) is held up as nostalgically cool. I mean, how many guys do I know who have long conversations about the movies they loved in junior high, and how many of them have tshirts for their favorite action movies? I hope you said ALL OF THEM, because that’s the correct answer. And that’s somehow okay, encouraged even. I’m not saying it shouldn’t be okay, but to pretend that Twilight is someone less legitimate than any given superhero film? Give me a break.

And don’t get me started on the guys who will begrudgingly admit that Mean Girls, a “teen girl” movie, was “actually” good. No shit, genius.

The same goes for teen girl books, which I know quite a bit about. YA is a genre that’s written primarily by women and read mostly by teen girls (or, okay, women like me). But do you know which YA books often gain the most respect? It shouldn’t be a surprise…the ones written by men! The ones featuring male characters!* Meanwhile, the books that I focus primarily on in my column (those by women, for girls) are seen as fluff. Kid stuff. Teenage girl books. And, oh horror of horrors, what could be worse than reading something intended for a dumb little teenage girl?

I remember, very clearly, what it was like to be a teenage girl. To always feel like my teenage girlness, the very fact of who I was, was undesirable, stupid, less than. To always feel like my opinion didn’t matter, to always feel like my very approval of something instantly lessened its cool quotient. To get constant warnings that my feelings were transient, that I everything I cared about would be no big deal at all when I “grew up” and got out into the “real world,” as if the world I was in was some sort of alternate reality where pain, embarrassment, heartbreak, and frustration didn’t count.

How do we expect girls to grow up to be strong leaders if we treat them like this? No, really. I’d love it if you could tell me. We constantly tell them their thoughts and feelings are unimportant, trivial, silly. We make sure they know that their interests are vapid and trite. We hate everything they love, on principle. How are they supposed to grow up to be writers, thinkers, artists, lawyers, doctors, or anything when they feel subhuman?

Being a teenage girl is exciting and awesome, but it’s also scary and terrible. I know because I was there. And the absolute last thing any girl needs at that age is to feel bad–as Subi says in her video, what girls at that age need is legitimization and support.

I’m not saying you have to like Taylor Swift. But I am saying that maybe you shouldn’t roll your eyes every time you come across something teenage girls like. They’re people too. Trust me.

*This is a big generalization, and I don’t mean to imply that I don’t enjoy/appreciate YA books by or about males. Some of my favorite YA books are dude-written!

The Great Name-Change Debate

Hey guys! I’d love it if you pop on over to Blisstree to read my feelings about changing my name after marriage. It’s a topic that really interests me, because it evokes A LOT OF FEELINGS. Not that I’m saying it evokes ambivalence for everyone–some people have always known they won’t/will change their name–but typically people have strong feelings about their personal choice. Anyway, I’m interested to hear your thoughts! Well, not if your thoughts are, “Why are you talking about this I hate you and you’re dumb,” in which case keep your thoughts to yourself, weirdo. Just kidding, I know you wouldn’t even think that. You’re a doll! Never change!

I Just Want to Thank Lena Dunham for Being an Inspiration to Pear-Shaped Women Everywhere.

Lena Dunham’s acceptance of her body and her constant display of it makes me feel better about myself. And I don’t mean that in a vague or flip way. I mean that when I look at her, my brain literally thinks, “Oh, a person like me!” and I feel relieved. Lena Dunham has the body of a human being, not the body of someone who starves herself. Sometimes, I think we don’t even realize how thin the women are that we’re used to seeing. Lena’s said that she’s a size 8, which is not very big. That’s a completely average size. You can buy size 8 clothes in any store. And yet we’re being told by newspapers and magazines that she’s fat. There’s something really, deeply wrong with that.

A few weeks ago, people complained that Lena Dunham was showing off her lower body again. Lena Dunham, badass that she is, said:

“If Olivia Wilde had gone to a party in . . . little shorts, she might have been on a ‘weird dressed list’ or been told her outfit was cute. I don’t think a girl with tiny thighs would have received such no-pants attention. I think what it really was . . . ‘Why did you all make us look at your thighs?’ My response is, get used to it because I am going to live to be 100, and I am going to show my thighs every day till I die.”

She’s a spokesperson for us all, ladies, and I appreciate it. As body parts go, large thighs aren’t celebrated much. You know who likes women with huge boobs? Everyone. You know who likes women with large lower bodies? Robert Crumb. Thank you, Lena Dunham, for normalizing thighs. You keep doing you. I know that once I complained about how you never wear pants, but that wasn’t because I thought you should wear pants for modesty. I just didn’t understand why you weren’t worried someone would unexpectedly show up at the door (I still wonder that! I still wonder, Lena!).

I love Lena Dunham for repeatedly showing off her body, and for never accepting it when other people tell her she should be invisible. The whole idea that she should cover herself up because she has big thighs is bogus and offensive. We all deserve to be seen and to dress how we want, even if our thighs have “dimples” on them, as one article stated.

Lena Dunham: she speaks for those who have no voice. I’m talking about our legs, here. They can’t talk because they don’t have mouths, and…you know what, forget it.

Ladyville Book Club: Commencement by J. Courtney Sullivan

I love books and films about women. I especially love books and films that are set in entirely female environments, like boarding schools, convents, or homes for unwed mothers. I know “homes for unwed mothers” is not exactly a popular location for books (especially since I’m pretty sure those don’t exist anymore), but have you read The Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett? Good gravy! I love (most of) that book! I also love books about all-female families (like Little Women. You can stay gone, Mr. March) and strong groups of female friends (don’t even talk to me about Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants because I’ll probably start crying). I took to Twitter a few weeks ago to get some recommendations for lady-centered books, and Carrie recommended Commencement. I went right to the library, got a copy, got distracted for two weeks, and finally finished it. And guess what? This is a perfect book to feature in Ladyville Book Club. It has strong ladies, feminism, a women’s college, romantic relationships, strong friendships, hard truths about serious feminist issues, and it’s fun to read.

According to a blurb on the back, Entertainment Weekly called Commencement “a beach book for smart women,” and I can’t really think of a better description. There are all the hallmarks of “chick lit”*–ladies tryin’ to make it on their own! Relationships! Sex!–but also a lot of really serious information about sex trafficking, prostitution, porn, mainstream vs. radical feminism, and rape. What’s better than getting invested in a character’s love life and feeling physically ill after reading about the harsh realities of prostitution? Oh, and there’s a very detailed childbirth scene, which I always appreciate because childbirth is real life and I think we should read about it and hear about it all the time. The more graphic, the better. I need to know what I’m getting into (someday in the very distant future).

Commencement follows four friends who meet at Smith. April, Bree, Celia, and Sally are very different but they still become close friends. If that sounds a little cliche, that’s because it probably is, but it totally doesn’t matter. The characters and interesting and it’s fun to watch them interact, both at school and in the “real world” after graduation. If you’re still navigating the post-undergrad world, or if you recently did, then you’ll probably identify with the girls’ struggles as they go through their “freshman year of life.”

J. Courtney Sullivan is also one badass lady. She actually went to Smith, and she edited a book called Click: When We Knew We Were Feminists. Plus, she has amazing taste in books, if this article from The New York Times is any indication.

J. Courtney Sullivan recently came out with another book, Maine, that I’ll have to get my paws on. She’s an interesting writer who knows how to make a book easy to read without making it devoid of substance. I feel about Commencement the same way I do about brussels sprouts. They taste so good, but they’re also really good for me. I realize this analogy only works if you love brussels sprouts as much as I do (and if you don’t, just…I don’t even know what to do with you), but what I’m saying is that Commencement is great and you should totally read it.

If you have any recommendations for books set in all-lady environments, let me know! Especially if they’re in that elusive “home for unwed mothers” setting.

*I hate the term “chick lit” because, duh, it’s an offensive and reductionist way of dismissing any woman who writes about relationships and women’s issues.