Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Musings from a Black Woman: April Showers

This is some nonsense. This isn't "artistic" or "beautiful." This is not about whether teenagers are having sex, Defamer. This is a situation made of fail. Miley's parents failed her. Vanity Fair failed her. Annie Leibovitz failed her. Disney failed her.

Miley is 15. When I was 15, there is no way my Mummy and Grammy would have let someone take a picture of me wearing a bedsheet. That is nasty. All the perverts involved in creating this debacle deserve a visit from Dateline's Chris Hansen, complete with a pitcher of sweet tea.

Trai_Dep sums up my final thoughts on the matter:

When I see a picture of The Jonas Brothers tarted up, wearing smeared lipstick and posed so they look like they've just had the holy crap raped out of them, then I'll know that America has finally reached sexual equality.

Free at last. Free at last. Thank God Almighty, free at last!

Also, where were Taylor Momsen's parents during this photo shoot?



This appropriation situation got me thinking about Jessica Valenti's appearance on The Colbert Report last year. When it aired, I was proud that Stephen had a young feminist on his program. However I was also annoyed for reasons I couldn't identify. Now I know why.

In a May 20, 2007, post on Feministing, editor Samhita asked "why is Jessica the face of Feministing?"

Because she got to promote her first of three books on The Colbert Report, a program that prefers its guests to be older, white and/or male. The Report occasionally books female guests, but rarely are they of a nonwhite persuasion. (Yes, I do know Michelle Obama was on the show two weeks ago.)

Additionally, Jessica is listed as the "Executive Editor" of Feministing.

It's that simple. I haven't seen "Vanessa, Ann, Celina, Jen" or Samhita on any Comedy Central program. I haven't read any controversy stirred up about any of their books like the controversy fostered by the cover of Jessica's book. In fact, I haven't heard of any of their books. Do they have a three-book deal? And if so, why have I not heard about it?

Back to me. I was annoyed because I shared the feelings that MirandaJay expressed in the comment section of Jessica's latest mea culpa:

I'm glad you finally said outloud you realize part of the reason why the mainstream media picks up on your work is because you are cute, white and well dressed and not because you have anything edgy or new to add to feminism. I think you are right to be proud of being able to make a living off of writing, but it's good you understand why you REALLY got on to the colbert show.

And yes, Jessica finally acknowledged this sentiment in the post by stating

I have no illusions as to why my work has gotten the press that it has. The media likes nothing more than a young sassy white feminist who is mainstream-friendly. I know that there is work out there being done that is more nuanced and cutting edge - because I see it all around me. That’s not to say I’m not incredibly proud of the work I’ve done. I am proud. I know that Feministing and [her book Full Frontal Feminism] have made changes in people’s lives, and that warms my heart every day. I believe, whole-heartedly, in the work that we are doing and the women who I’m fortunate enough to blog with. But I also believe in our ability - and my own - to do better."

I agree with all of that. I just wish that more people, like Amanda and, er, other people, could understand that when colorful people like myself point out the racial disparities in our media.

It is indeed a huge personal accomplishment to write a book. It is quite another thing to get it 1) published, 2) well-marketed, and 3) supported by a late-night talk show targeted at an 18-34 white male demographic. Those latter three qualities are much easier to attain if the people in charge of the publishing house, the public relations department, and the television network all think the author is "marketable", i.e. young, pretty and white. And if you have a thin, naked white woman on the cover of your debut book, all the better.

These are the feelings that have fueled the anger behind Amandagate. This isn't about trying to "tear up someone’s career" or "setting out to destroy someone’s reputation as sport". It Was Never About One Thing. This is about acknowledging that (perceived) talent and hard work aren't the only things that make people successful, especially in the arena of mainstream media, and that with great privilege comes great responsibility.

For more on appropriation, inaccurate media representation, taking a stand, and misguided ally chutzpah, respectively, I direct you here:

About Erasing …, by Thomas at Feministe.

Trans-Racialization in "21″, by Jenn at reappropriate.

To BFP: Chickens, Princesses, Gypsies, and Slaves. by Rainbow Girl at Team Rainbow.

Intellectual Appropriation, Attribution Of Credit & Privilege (UPDATED), at PhysioProf.

My favorite part was this:

OK. One final point about male privilege and the role of men vis a vis feminism. This partial excerpt of a comment to Holly’s post was written by a dude named Hugo:

I write all this not to distract from the conversation at hand. The point is, the meta-conversation between white feminists and RWOC bloggers (acknowledging that those categories create a bit of a false dichotomy) has produced a lot of pain — and a lot of growth — for a lot of us this past year. That conversation works best, however, when we move away from the personal attacks of the sort that have been thrown, primarily in one direction, this week.

I am not a woman, so there is, of course, no way for me to know how women would react to this kind of comment by a dude. But this made my jaw almost hit the floor. I sort of imagine that if I were a woman, my reaction would be “Us!? What the fuck are you talking about, dude!?” And it kind of surprises me that in the comments to Holly’s post, no one said, “Yo, dude. This particular argument is about and between women; mind your own fucking business.”

I have always assumed that women would find it really fucking annoying if I were to ever tell them what is feminist or not, or to use the pronouns “us” and “we” in reference to feminists. And I certainly never refer to myself as a feminist, as I don’t think it is for me to say if I am a feminist or not; it is for women to judge.

What I do is try to treat women like human beings, and tell other men what I think they can do to try to treat women like human beings. You gotta be fucking nuts to wade the fuck in there as a man and start taking sides in an argument between a white female blogger and WOC bloggers over how to further their respective common and distinct goals. Seriously.

I get that I am viewing Hugo’s remark as a privileged male, so I could be missing something important. Am I getting this wrong?'

Nope, you're not getting it wrong at all. Also, all you anti-choice men in the House and the Senate and in state legislatures trying to restrict my reproductive rights, please take note: you don't have a uterus, so get your laws off my body.

Seacrest out!



PhysioProf said...

Thanks for the link and for showcasing part of my post, Bianca!

Bianca Reagan said...

You're welcome!

Irwin Handleman said...

Bianca, I'm confused. Is it that you don't understand capitalism or that you don't agree with it?

belledame222 said...

I am not a woman, so there is, of course, no way for me to know how women would react to this kind of comment by a dude. But this made my jaw almost hit the floor. I sort of imagine that if I were a woman, my reaction would be “Us!? What the fuck are you talking about, dude!?”

pretty much, only with a lot more swearing.

actually i think i did say something like o would you PLEASE finally SHUT THE FUCK UP HUGO in one of the feministe threads. trouble is, with him, -any- engagement ends up going something like: (after a lot of argument, i mean)

'"At first, this made me defensive. But then, after a long, contemplative walk amid the heaths and heathers, my chinchilla barking joyously at my side, I said to myself, I said, "Self," I said, "you really have been dominating the discussion quite a bit. Is it right," I said to myself I said, "for a white male such as myself (for I am, indeed, a white male, I am) to take up so much space in the discussions between women? It is true," I argued with myself, "that I am highly regarded by my female students, many of them indeed, of color, and if I were to be silent as a teacher, well, that would be silly, wouldn't it? How can they learn, and how, indeed, can I?"

"And yet," I mused, "there is, yes, something precious about silence, and with great regret and sorrow, I humble admit that I have failed to hear the still small voice too many times. And with that, I hereby pledge to be silent, to simply -listen-, more often. Starting right now. And if any of you can help me in this project, I'd be most obliged. No, haha, not that way. No, I don't think asking me to wear a ballgag is appropriate, and in any case I don't think that's vegan, and sadomasochism is a tool of the patriarchy, and if there's one thing I don't want to be, besides someone who isn't silent after he's SAID he's going to be silent and listen, it's a tool of the patriarchy, or indeed a patriarch, or indeed a tool, because AIYIIEEEEEEEEEE"' the chinchilla finally pushes him over the cliff.


um. hi. i'm not a nice person. um, nice to meet you...

Bianca Reagan said...

irwin, I'm confused, too. I don't understand what your question is in reference to.

Welcome, belledame! Thanks for reading my blog. :)

Irwin Handleman said...

Ah, you don't understand it. That explains why you consistently mistake "capitalism" for "racism" or "sexism .

Companies in America are in business to "make money". This is true with the media you wrote about in this post. They also want to "make money". It just so happens that people like to watch attractive people. And the more people that watch. the more they "make money".

It's not the mainstream media who loves a "young, sassy, white feminist. It's the audience who buys laundry detergent and beer that does. And that's all that matters.

"Girlfriends" got canceled because there wasn't anymore money in it. There aren't any women superhero movies because the studios have determined that there is no money to be made by them. The only "ism" going on here is capitalism.

You wanna hate on this girl because she gets on TV and sells her book? What, would you say no?

Tobes said...

"Miley is 15. When I was 15, there is no way my Mummy and Grammy would have let someone take a picture of me wearing a bedsheet. That is nasty. All the perverts involved in creating this debacle deserve a visit from Dateline's Chris Hansen"

I LOVE You, Ms. Reagan!

Bianca Reagan said...

irwin, if you think American media companies create advertising and programming by, for and about mainly white male people solely because these companies are interested in "capitalism", then maybe you should run for Grand Wizard of your local chapter. Supremacist groups welcome angry white men who are willfully ignorant of their centuries-old privilege in our society. You don't have to be actively sexist or racist; you just have to be able to deny the bigotry and discrimination happening right in front of your face.

tobes, thank you!

Irwin Handleman said...

that's right, bianca. everyone who doesn't agree with you is a member of the kkk.

i guess you didn't take an economics class at lmu. but answer the question: if you were a "pretty, sassy, white girl" with a book, would you go on colbert if they asked?