Made Up

I kind of love this post on Rookie. The writer’s philosophy on makeup seems to be pretty much the opposite to mine, but I think it comes from the same place.

I don’t wear makeup. I stopped about ten years ago, partly because I realized one day that I actually preferred how my eyes looked without any eyeliner and partly because I didn’t want to take the time to put it on (that’s valuable procrastination time that I’m wasting!). I completely reject the idea that people (women) should have to wear makeup to be considered presentable, but I don’t think that really factored into my decision to stop. I think I was able to reject the idea in theory while still sometimes wearing makeup in practice.

Once, I think I was in grade 8 or something, I decided I wanted to do something dramatic on my face, so I swept green eyeshadow across my eyelids in a style not unlike Mr. Spock’s. Several classmates told me that I was wearing too much makeup. I don’t know if they thought I had meant to create a more natural look and just screwed up, or if they just didn’t like how it looked and felt I needed to know that. Anyway, it bugged me. Thankfully, no one has ever made a comment about me having too much hair dye on when I made my hair green or blue or purple. Maybe things are different for hair and face. I’m not sure.

A few years after I stopped wearing makeup, I considered buying something really bold and bright, like a bright eyeliner or something, just to maybe wear on occasion when I felt like looking different. I walked back and forth in the makeup aisle of the drugstore several times, trying to decide if I should buy something or if it would just be a waste of money because I would hardly ever (never?) use it. In the end I decided not to buy any makeup, not so much because it would waste money, but because I didn’t want to support that industry. If makeup really existed to make people’s faces look exactly how they want them to look, like that Rookie post says it should, and if it were marketed that way, I might have bought something. But that’s not how makeup is advertised. Makeup companies make money by telling people (women) that they don’t look good enough on their own. And I hate that and I don’t want to support it, so I won’t, except when I did last month because I needed to dress the way I did in high school so I bought a black eyeliner for my goth look. I had fun wearing it but I didn’t like buying it.

I used to sometimes feel smug about my lack of makeup. I don’t really anymore because that’s obnoxious and I don’t judge people for doing what they need to do to survive and have fun in a patriarchal society. I have sometimes felt a bit betrayed when someone would tell me how amazingly attractive it was that I didn’t ever wear makeup, and then start dating someone totally glam who wore it all the time. But I think I’m over that too, because I’ve realized that we are all more than the stuff we put on our faces.

I know I have a lot of privilege in being able to not wear makeup. Like when I said earlier that I first stopped wearing makeup because I preferred how I looked without it? That isn’t a thing that is true about everyone. And I have a job where I’m taken seriously without having any makeup on. And my looks fall under the conventional definition of attractiveness enough that without makeup I think people still see me as conventionally attractive, and there are a lot of benefits that come with that. Also my eyelids are naturally darker than the rest of my face, so I kind of look like I have eyeshadow on all the time.

But when I’m tired, I look tired. When I have a zit, I look like I have a zit. When I’m pale, I’m pale. I don’t feel like I’m making a statement by not putting anything on my face to change how it looks. I might not feel this way if I had spent a larger part of my adult life wearing makeup regularly, but I guess I’ll never know. As it is, it just feels like being me when I drag myself out of bed, brush my teeth, get dressed, and maybe moisturize if my face is itchy. And that’s where I totally agree with Meredith who wrote that Rookie post:

It’s a question of agency and visibility. Exactly what makeup you wear and how and when is unimportant—the point is, it’s your choice. Now get out there and face the world.

Okay. But first it’s bed time.


I was never a member of The Baby-Sitters Club

I’ve had The Baby-Sitters Club books on my mind recently. It might be because Roxane Gay wrote about the Sweet Valley High books in a few of the essays in her book Bad Feminist. I never got into Sweet Valley High, and I didn’t feel a strong need to identify with either twin (I probably would have picked Elizabeth), but for a few years, I really cared about which Baby-Sitters Club member I was.

I sometimes felt like Kristy, even though I didn’t play sports and I didn’t have a short temper and I don’t think I was bossy. I dressed kind of like her (although several of my classmates wore jeans, turtlenecks, and sweatshirts in grade three or whatever) and I sometimes felt more comfortable hanging out with boys than with other girls because boys weren’t socialized to tear each other apart.

I also sometimes felt like Mary Anne, because I had a lot invested in being well-behaved and I was kind of shy. But then I had a friend who I knew (or thought?) would always be better behaved than I was, and who was also very much into The Baby-Sitters Club, so I felt weird claiming the Mary Anne identity when it fit this other person so much better. But I guess we sometimes shared it.

I couldn’t be Claudia, because I was a good student and I got along well with my family and my fashion sense wasn’t as creative as hers. Or at least I thought it wasn’t. I actually did dress kind of weird.

I saw myself in Stacey a little bit. I was from a big city like she was, but that didn’t set me apart from anyone at school because we all lived in downtown Toronto. I wore a lot of black like she did, but I don’t think that ever made me look sophisticated, possibly because I was eight.

I definitely wasn’t California hippie tofu-loving Dawn, but maybe I’ve become more like her in recent years.

I didn’t think much about whether I would be a Jessi or a Mallory, and I wonder now if they were a bit low on personality. Their Wikipedia descriptions are on the short side. I think Jessi’s main traits were that fact that she was a ballerina (I danced too, but in Baby-Sitters Club land that meant you needed to always want to dance, which was not a thing in my world) and the fact that people were racist to her family (possibly to remind the reader that she was the black one). And Mallory just always seemed miserable with her huge family and not liking the way she looked, and that really wasn’t me at all.

And I stopped reading before I really got to know the other characters. But that’s probably enough about the characters (and me). My question now is, why do people need to do this? Why do we need to pick one character in a crowd to identify with? Because maybe some people don’t do this, but I know I’m not the only one who does, and I did it with other books and TV shows and movies, not just The Baby-Sitters Club. But it’s weird, because I’ve never met anyone whose personality actually matches up with a fictional character’s. And when someone in my life does remind me of a character it’s always in an unexpected and kind of weird way, not in a way that makes them an exact copy of that character. I mean, fictional characters are either too simple and archetypical to feel authentically like any real person, or so complex and rounded out that the likelihood of an actual person having their exact combination of personality traits and life experiences is way small.

I guess there’s something comforting about finding someone I can identify with and seeing how they interact with (and are loved and accepted by) people who are different from them, but since none of my friend groups ever really feels like the same mixture of people that I read about in The Baby-Sitters Club (or met in any other story), that identification often ends up feeling a bit hollow.

Also, I really wonder if it’s a coincidence that the two characters I identified with most were the two who had the same hair and eye colour as me. It probably isn’t, which just reinforces the fact that articles like this one (it says that the pendulum has now swung to far in the direction of diverse casts of television shows) are a load of crap. When I was a kid, I had enough white girl characters to pick from that I could sometimes narrow them down based on hair and eye colour, and maybe even height and body type, and still make choices based on personality. Diverse casts are important so that people can see characters that look like them AND act like them in multiple situations and at multiple stages in their lives, and it’s also important so that privileged white girls like me don’t think that the only characters that can really be like them are the ones who look like them.

(Also, Janet Mock and her Smart Ass Pop Culture Feminist Clique tore that article apart last week over here, and you should totally watch that video because her show is awesome.)

Why Angel Doesn’t Work

I really like this piece on vampires as privilege. It reminds me of something I meant to write last summer but didn’t. It might be something that everyone has already figured out, but I haven’t read it anywhere, so I’m gonna write it.

Some Buffy and Angel spoilers below.

I watched a lot of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel last summer. I had already seen most of Buffy, but I caught up on some of the episodes I hadn’t seen, and I watched in order story arcs that I’d seen before in bits and pieces. It was good. Buffy generally is. I mean, it isn’t close to perfect – it’s super racist, to start off with – but has some good messages about gender and it nicely critiques the helpless damsel trope that used to be so prevalent in horror movies. (Has that trope actually gone away some or do I just not watch enough movies to notice it?) I hadn’t watched as much Angel before. I knew the overall storyline, and I wanted to know how those events actually happened. I figured I would enjoy it the way I always enjoy watching Buffy. Instead, I decided that Angel just doesn’t work the way Buffy does, and there’s a very good reason for that.

If Buffy (the character) is the shallow, helpless, blonde cheerleader who finally learns to protect herself, Angel (also the character) represents white, straight, cis, male privilege, and its resulting guilt. He spends about 150 years living as a metaphor for sexual violence, and then when a pissed off family curses him with a soul, he feels guilty about all of the horrible things he has done. I think he works as a character on Buffy. It makes sense to me that they would fall in love with each other (a teenage girl who grows up too fast in a way that no one else can relate to and a guilt-ridden man who hasn’t really grown up yet sort of fit well together, if not in the most healthy way). On Buffy, Angel tries to fix the problem he used to be a part of by working with the Slayer. The minute he experiences true happiness, he loses his soul. This also makes sense. When people with privilege forget about their privilege, they become part of the problem. On Buffy, Angel is an ally, but most people don’t fully trust him, and Buffy makes the decisions.

On Angel, Angel’s the boss. He briefly puts Wesley in charge in the second season, but the show still revolves around him and he generally ends up being the hero. The audience is supposed to identify and sympathize with Angel, the guy who is one moment of pure happiness away from switching sides. I think Joss Whedon forgot, or maybe never realized, that this isn’t Angel’s fight. It’s Buffy’s fight. It’s the Slayers’ fight. It’s the humans’ fight. It’s the fight of the people that actually suffered as a result of the things that Angel, and others like him, did. Angel can help, but he can’t be the solution when he caused so much of the problem.

(Also, the show just doesn’t deliver on the same critiques of gender in fantasy and horror movies that Buffy does. They have, like, a zillion mystical pregnancies and don’t handle any of them particularly well, and I then I just stopped watching when I got to the episode in the third season where Angel fully prohibits Darla from terminating the pregnancy she doesn’t want to have. Awful awful awful.)

Personal Responsibility

TW for sexual assault and mention of Dear Prudence’s awful advice

There are many things wrong with Emily Yoffe’s Dear Prudence article on how college women should stop drinking so as to prevent rapists from raping them (I’m not linking to it because it’s awful), but this is the part that really made me want to do something drastic. (Or just maybe want to write a blog post about it). The very last paragraph:

Lake [someone she quotes a bunch throughout the article] says that it is unrealistic to expect colleges will ever be great at catching and punishing sexual predators; that’s simply not their core mission. Colleges are supposed to be places where young people learn to be responsible for themselves. Lake says, “The biggest change in going to college is that you have to understand safety begins with you. For better or worse, fair or not, just or not, the consequences will fall on your head.” I’ll drink (one drink) to that.

(To put that last sentence in context, Prudie goes on a bit earlier about how she only drinks in moderation and still has lots of fun, I guess to imply that people who drink more than she does really have no excuse.)

Right. People go to college (or university, as they say in my country) to learn to be responsible for themselves. Except, I guess, for the people who actually commit any kind of sexual assault. Those people don’t need to learn any kind of responsibility. They don’t need to worry about anyone’s safety. They won’t ever have any consequences fall on their heads, or their toes, or anywhere near them, because we would all rather just blame victims of sexual assault for getting drunk.

This attitude of personal responsibility, the idea that we each need to look out for our own self, and not anyone around us, has screwed up this world so much. It lets us ignore centuries of oppression and structural inequalities. It lets us hold marginalized people responsible for getting themselves out of awful situations that they were forced into. It’s a ridiculous way of looking at the world that privileges the already privileged and screws over the already screwed over. No school should hold that as part of its core mission. We don’t need to teach people to be selfish. In fact, part of what students learn when they first start going to school, in kindergarten, is to recognize the effects that their actions have on other people in their community (at least in Ontario; I don’t know about other kindergarten curricula). It’s called empathy, and we could do with a whole lot more of it in this world. I absolutely agree that university should be one (of many) place(s) where young people learn to be responsible for themselves. But maybe they could try to build on the ideas that students learned in their kindergarten classrooms rather than contradict them.

We need to keep talking about marriage and name change.

I got home from work last Friday night, exhausted from a fast-paced second term and ready to start my March Break. I collapsed onto my bed, took out my phone, and scrolled through the stream of tweets that I had missed during the day. I found myself in the middle of a conversation in response to this article on marriage and name changes. I groggily tweeted a few times about it, and then got ready for bed and fell asleep.

But over the course of the weekend, I felt less and less comfortable leaving those tweets as my only words on the subject. So this might come a little late in internet time, but I want to say more about it. Before I start, I should say that I’m talking specifically about the practice of people changing their name so that it’s the same as their spouse’s. I know people change their names for other reasons, and I’m not talking about those. I also know that not every culture expects women to change their names if and when they marry, and I’m not talking about that either. I’m talking about people who change their last names so that they can have the same one that their spouse has because that’s the name-changing practice that has the strongest effect on me.

My mom didn’t change her name when she married my dad. None of my married aunts changed their names. My grandmothers both did, and as a kid I thought they had done it because they weren’t allowed to keep their own names back when they had married. I still assume that’s why they did it, but I could be wrong. I have two last names. Legally, one is a middle name, but it feels like a surname so that’s what I count it as. When I was younger, I felt confused when I met a married woman of my mom’s generation or younger who had taken her husband’s name. I thought maybe she didn’t know that she had the option of keeping her own. As I got older I realized that women were aware of their options and that some of them just made choices I disagreed with, in this area and others.

I don’t understand why people change their names when they marry. I’ve heard some reasons, about wanting to have the same name as their kids, about wanting some kind of family unity, about it really not being a big deal and not wanting to go through the trouble of explaining why they didn’t change it. I can get those on an intellectual level, but not on an emotional one. For me, my name is my name. It’s what people call me. It’s what I call myself. People sometimes mispronounce it or make up new versions of it, and that’s just always been a part of having the name that I have. I don’t understand the need or even the willingness to just go and change your surname to reflect your marital status. (I also don’t understand the need to marry, but I suppose I might be willing to do it. I mean, I don’t think I ever will, but even if I decided I really wanted to get married, I would still never change my name.)

And I don’t need to understand it. As I tweeted on Friday night, it’s none of my business. I don’t care if or why a woman chooses to marry a man and take his last name. But I do care when people assume that a woman who marries a man will or should take his name. I do care when people act as though a husband should have a say in what surname his wife has. I care when I hear someone (a straight dude) say he wouldn’t mind a hyphenated name, and I care when he looks at me uncomfortably when I ask if he means hyphenating his own name, because that option hadn’t occurred to him. I care when someone else (a straight lady) tells me that she would take her husband’s name because she wouldn’t want to deal with the hassle of correcting people who assumed she had. I care when people roll their eyes when I insist that they write both of my surnames on name-tags or anything else that has my name on it, but not when a married woman tells them to change a name-tag so it has her new last name on it. I care when people talk about how difficult and confusing it will be for a child with two last names to eventually decide what name to give their own children, in front of a new mother who gave her kid two last names and an adult who has two last names (me).

If a woman marries a man and chooses to take his name, she should have the freedom to do that without any kind of political or social or economic repercussions. Just like if a man marries a woman, he should have the freedom to take her name without any repercussions. But a woman should also have the freedom to marry a man and keep her name without any trouble. Without having to correct people who call her Mrs. Husbandslastname automatically. Without any pressure from her husband, his family, or anyone else that keeping her own name means she hasn’t committed. Without worrying that people will call her kids a freak.

And most women I know don’t have that freedom. When I was a teenager I thought that, by the time I was an adult, enough women would have kept their names after marrying that it would seem normal. That hasn’t happened yet. In some ways, I want more women to keep their names just to add to the number of married women who have kept their own names. Just to make it seem more normal. Obviously, I don’t get to make that decision for other people. But until it seems normal, or at least no less normal than women changing their names, we need to keep having this conversation. As Kate Harding says, we need to keep having this conversation without getting derailed by women who did change their names who feel attacked. (She says a lot of other smart things in that piece too. I strongly recommend it.) We shouldn’t attack those women, but discussing the context of married names is not the same as attacking married women who choose to take their husband’s name. So let’s not make the conversation about that. Let’s make it about changing the context in which people either change or don’t change their names.

Review: The Five-Year Engagement

Spoilers ahead, but minor ones. Most of them are about my feelings.

Disclaimer: I don’t watch movies very often*, so any generalizations I make about Hollywood or movies in general are based on the small sample of movies I’ve seen, as well as things I’ve read or watched about movies I haven’t seen.

I finally saw The Five-Year Engagement, and maybe I can only provide a biased review, since Jason Segel won me over with Forgetting Sarah Marshall and just about everything else that I’ve seen him in, but I feel like I need to say: the guy writes good movies. I have a lot of problems with romantic comedies, but I really enjoyed this one. It went to a darker place than I thought it would, and about half way through I realized I had no idea what to expect, and I liked that, because that’s pretty much how life works. You have all these amazing plans, and sometimes they go well, and sometimes they go horribly wrong, and sometimes even when they go well they screw other things up, and you kind of just have to deal with it. And then you do deal with it, and sometimes you like the outcome, and sometimes the outcome sucks, and sometimes you realize that the outcome is actually just another temporary state, because life actually continues after the credits roll (thank God). I might be reading some of my own life lessons into this movie.

I hate stories that end with epilogues ten years later, showing who the main characters end up marrying (usually someone they knew ten years earlier) as though the story wouldn’t be complete without that piece of information. I hate them because they reinforce the idea that the end result is all that matters, when really it’s the in between moments that we should all focus on**. So I like that The Five-Year Engagement celebrated the in betweens, in love and in other parts of life, like work, friendship, family. It had a satisfying ending, and it left some serious ambiguity. Nothing in the movie is permanent or safe, which is scary, but also refreshing.

As usual, the movie certainly isn’t perfect. It doesn’t pass the Bechdel test, and it really should. Maybe I’m supposed to be impressed because it’s a romantic comedy that focusses mostly on a guy, but I don’t buy it. Guys’ stories get told often enough that telling them in a lady-dominated genre doesn’t count as subversive. We see Tom (Jason Segel) develop in a way that’s only tangentially related to his love life several times; we should get the same scenes about Violet (Emily Blunt). Instead, all of her important realizations have to do with who she wants to be with.

The movie probably does better than most Hollywood romantic comedies about white people in terms of representing people of colour, but that’s mostly because Hollywood usually does a super shitty job of that. There are a few non-white characters with names and personalities who actually contribute some to the story, and they only come off a little bit like stereotypes. But I’m not giving out any gold stars for that, even if it is a step in the right direction. All of the primary characters (and most of the secondary ones) are white, and that could have been changed very easily.

I did like all of the main characters, though. Suzie (Alison Brie) and Alex (Chris Pratt), who came off as an uptight, lonely cliché and a boring douchebro respectively at the beginning of the movie, very quickly turned into real human beings that I could both resent and have a soft spot for. Tom went, believably, to a really bad place, and I felt for him the entire time, but I also wanted to slap him and tell him to pull himself together and stop acting like an asshole. And I really liked Violet all through the movie, both when she tried as hard as she could to make things work with Tom and when she got fed up with his crap and put herself first. I think I saw Jason Segel say in some interview that when he writes women, he writes them as though he would play them, so that he ends up writing people, not girls. That’s probably a good philosophy to have, since movies about people are more interesting than movies about gender roles. And I actually believe it, at least for this movie and for Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Just like with Sarah Marshall, I think it would be really easy to write Violet as self-centred or high maintenance, always spoiling the fun of her well-meaning but sometimes clueless boyfriend with her need to have a job she likes, and for the moral of the story to be that she just needs to lighten up and let Tom just be himself. Instead, she’s a highly sympathetic character, and when she fights with Tom, you can see quite clearly how both of them have very valid points, but are also kind of in the wrong. One of the main problems I have with romantic comedies is that I frequently find myself taken out of the story because of the silly and unreasonable way that the main woman is written, and it was nice not to have that happen.

So, I’d recommend the movie. It’s funny and sweet and it challenges some of the problematic aspects of most romantic comedies. I think it’s helping to pave the way for other big budget movies to be better.

*The ratio of movies to other things on this blog does not at all reflect the ratio of movies to other things in my life.

**I especially hate young adult stories with those endings, because we should not feed those harmful messages to teenagers. (I’m glaring at Harry Potter and The Hunger Games right now.)

Switching Gender in the Movies: 50/50

I’ll start this off by saying that I really enjoyed 50/50. It can’t be easy to write a comedy about cancer that also makes people cry, and this movie pulls it off really well. One of the only things I disliked about the movie, and it’s not even real dislike, was the fact that it made me think of how few similar movies exist about women. Actually, this movie may have been the one that inspired me to start writing about gender flipping in movies. (I’m not sure why I wrote As Good As It Gets first, but I did.) Like before, I’m not giving a plot summary but there will probably be some spoilers.

Very little in 50/50 would change if the gender identities of all the characters were flipped. The central plot, of two friends dealing with the fact that one of them has cancer, would stay exactly the same. The way the Adam and Kyle (Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen’s characters) interact with each other wouldn’t need to change much, although the joke about shaving your head with your friend’s testicle trimmers might not work quite as well. I can think of several easy modifications, though, so I don’t see that as much of a problem. Adam’s mother is almost a stock character (although Angelica Houston does amazing things with it), but it might be fun to see how the overbearing parent trope plays out in a father-daughter relationship as opposed to mother-son. It would also be nice to see a man be overprotective of his daughter for something not related to sex.

I would really enjoy seeing Bryce Dallas Howard’s character, Rachael, played as a man. For some reason I think that a man cheating on his cancer-having girlfriend comes across as less bitchy and vindictive than Rachael character did in this movie. (I would like it even more if straight women could do shitty things to their romantic partners in movies without those shitty things being somehow connected to their womanhood, but this isn’t the time for that discussion.) Gender stereotypes are so strongly ingrained pop culture that it’s impossible to talk about straight romantic relationships without running into them. When Rachael cheats on Adam, she’s not just being an asshole to him, but she’s also failing in her womanly duties to care for him. Even if you (like me) absolutely do not believe that women have any kind of inherent nurturing tendencies, you might still find her behaviour jarring because it so strongly goes against the way women are portrayed. A man doing the same thing doesn’t buck any stereotypes, but it takes away that gendered dimension. Also, I really love the idea of a woman shouting Kyle’s line, “I’ve hated you for months, and now I have fuckin’ evidence that you suck as a person!” to her best friend’s boyfriend.

Adam’s interactions with the other chemo patients would show some really nice intergenerational conversations among women. Mitch and Alan’s skepticism about Rachael’s behaviour might be played as more meddlesome and nagging when expressed by women, but it would be quite refreshing to see three women talk about life and death and also get high.

Then, of course, we have Anna Kendrick as Katherine, Adam’s therapist. Her role and her relationship with Adam are written in such a way that neither character comes across as creepy or desperate, although giving a client your cell number is probably not a good idea for any therapist. The only thing that might not be as believable with the genders flipped is how bad Katherine is at her job. I feel like people are more accepting of an incompetent woman in a caregiving role than they are of an incompetent dude, maybe because we see more women than men in caregiving roles in general, and maybe because we see more women than men in movies screw up at their jobs because they’re emotional and don’t know how to handle the stress. Or something. In any case, I would be interested to see if a man in Katherine’s role could still come across as worth hanging out with.

I don’t watch a lot of movies, so it’s possible that something like 50/50 except starring women exists, but I feel like I probably would have heard about that on teh feminist blogz, so I highly doubt it. The closest ones I can think of are Now and Then, which came out in 1995, and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, from 2005. I don’t remember much about the publicity for or public reaction to Now and Then, but I do remember that The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants was marketed to teenage girls and generally perceived as a movie for girls. I knew many people (mostly guys, I think) who didn’t see it because they thought it looked stupid, and a lot of them didn’t believe me when I told them that it was actually a really great movie. They had no interest in seeing a movie about girl problems. Maybe they thought it would be all about tampons and hair braiding?

People have made this point before, but it’s still true so I’m going to say it again: Movies about girls are always movies about girls, and movies about boys are usually movies about people. I would actually really like to see a movie almost identical to 50/50, but about women, not men. If I were in the movimaking business, I might try making it myself, but apparently I’d be told that no one would want to see it. It would be so refreshing, though, to see a friendship between two women explored with such depth and nuance in a serious, non satirical way.