Feminist Friday: Feminist Kids

Have you ever had a friend that just gets you in a way no one else does? For me, that friend is Buzzfeed. Whether it’s the posts with lots of pictures of cute cats, the weird recipes, or the surprisingly stellar reporting, Buzzfeed always finds the way to win my heart. When I saw this short post a few days ago, I knew I just had to share it. 18 Ways to Make Sure Your Child’s a Feminist by Sarah Breen really struck a chord with me. As someone who wants to have children someday, I really loved the practical tips and advice for how to raise the next Gloria Steinem or Virginia Woolf. I love point 18, “Apologize if you make a mistake. It’s the easiest way to prove that you respect them.” Isn’t that good advice for everyone, not just parents?

What’s your favorite part of the post? How do you encourage your children/nieces/nephews/students/cousins/grandchildren etc to be feminists?

Feminist Friday: What More Can I Say?

This week, my heart is heavy. As I read the news from Baltimore I can’t help but be disappointed and saddened by how we, as Americans are treating each other. I could try to make a great argument for why this is still happening in 2015, I could try to explain my views and thoughts, but at the end of the day, this isn’t about me. I benefit from a myriad of privileges (white privilege, straight passing privilege, middle class privilege), I don’t know what it feels like to be discriminated against because of the color of my skin. I don’t know what it’s like to grow up in a city where things are falling to pieces for years and no one with the power to change it seems to care. This week, I’d encourage you to read the articles and blog posts I’ve found written by people who have a very different perspective than I do. I want to leave you with the words of a very dear friend, Jessica Sorenson.

If you’re ‪#‎prayingforbaltimore‬, please be praying for this:

pray for those affected by poverty, pray for jobs (and fair job opportunities) for the unemployed and underemployed, pray for a better education system and better resources for public schools, pray for more shelters for the homeless, pray for better and safer childcare options for single working parents, pray for those affected by HIV and pray for an end to the spread of HIV, pray for more community resources for low income families, pray for an end to racial profiling and the presence of racism and racial divide, pray for the good cops whose reputations have been destroyed by the bad cops, pray for the protesters that their voices will be heard and pray for the rioters that they can overcome the circumstances and life experiences that have led them to turn to violence and anger, pray for the children that they can feel safe in their communities and homes, pray for the businesses that have been torched or looted that they can be restored, PRAY FOR BALTIMORE.

Here’s What You’re Missing When You Object to the Black Lives Matter Protests by Maisha Johnson

Don’t Be That Friend – 1 PoV by 1 PoC by Kalani

Dear white Facebook friends: I need you to respect what Black America is feeling right now by Julia Blount

YOU HAVE PRIVILEGE. USE IT RESPONSIBLY. By Sophie Lucido Johnson

Here’s What Martin Luther King Jr. Really Thought About Urban Riots by Allie Gross

Feminist Friday: The “Pink” Tax

Have you ever wondered why products marketed towards women are pricier than similar products marketed towards men? Me neither. Unfortunately, I’m here to tell you that it’s true, women pay more, on average, than men do for the same products! This phenomenon is referred to as “the pink tax”. This video gives a pretty good overview of what the pink tax looks like in real life.

A 2010 article in Consumer Reports magazine entitles “Men win the battle of the sexes” reported that:

“We discovered that products directed at women—through packaging, description, or name—might cost up to 50 percent more than similar products for men….Each “express gel” of Excedrin Extra Strength and Excedrin Complete Menstrual contains 250 milligrams of aspirin, 250 mg of acetaminophen, and 65 mg of caffeine. But Excedrin Menstrual cost 50 cents more at Walgreens. Julie Masow, spokeswoman for Novartis Consumer Health, Excedrin’s parent, says it was Walgreens’ decision, noting the suggested retail price for the products was the same.”

Aspirin wasn’t the only product on their list. Shaving cream, lotion, soap, antiperspirant and razor blades geared towards women were also more expensive per ounce or per item than the men’s products.

Unfortunately, the pink tax applies to more than just personal care items. In a great article by Groundswell.com Amanda Oliver gives a few examples where women pay more than men for the same products and services. Women pay more for plus sized clothes and dry cleaning, among other things.

As I researched for this blog post I came across an enlightening Tumblr feed run by Feminist collective Georgette Sand. The Groudswell article I mentioned earlier has this to say about Georgette Sand.

We could also take a note from French women’s right group Georgette Sand, who started drawing attention to these invisible taxes by posting photographs of unequal pricing found in French stores on their Woman Tax Tumblr. More than 44,000 people have signed a petition against French retailer Monoprix and the “Pink Tax” they charge. The petition is credited with prompting The Finance Ministry to order an inquiry into possible price discrimination by French retailers in general.

The Tumblr page is so eye-opening. Here are some of my favorite pictures taken from the Tumblr feed.

$.50 price difference for the same products.

$1.00 price difference? Why?

What?

This one might be my favorite. $2.50 price difference. The caption says “The thermometers need to be different for boys and girls. SCIENCE says so.”

As I was scrolling through these posts I can honestly say, I wasn’t even mad. I was just really, really confused. For goodness sake, why do pink products need to be more expensive than blue products? I really want someone to give me a straight answer about this, because I can’t come up with a good reason for the price difference between most of these.

So, should women just start buying products from the men’s side of the aisle? Maybe, but maybe not. Some editorials on the subject suggest that if women buy only men’s products big companies would get the message that women won’t fall for the silly marketing anymore. I don’t know if this would actually change anything. I’m not a statistician, I don’t have a degree in marketing. But if the experts say it will work, who am I to argue with them. In my opinion, making people aware of the price discrepancies and holding manufacturers and retailers more accountable for the way they price these items might be more helpful in the long run. How do we do that? Post pictures of the pricing issues on social media. Tweet and Instagram and blog and post on Facebook about it. Heck, I wasn’t even really aware of this issue until a few months ago. I, for one, will be much more careful and conscientious about what I’m buying and why. Am I buying those razor blades because they have feminine packaging or am I buying them because they actually work well. I’d love to hear your thoughts about this, let me know what you think in the comments. Until next time, fellow Feminists!

Articles I referenced in this post:

The Pink Tax” New York Times editorial

Men Win the Battle of the Sexes” Consumer Reports Magazine

Ever Heard of the “Pink Tax”? 4 Items Women Pay More For” Groundswell.com

Woman Tax” Tumblr page

For those who may be looking for a more intellectual review of the pink tax, here is a research paper put out by the University of Central Florida.

The Cost of Doing Femininity: Gendered Disparities in Pricing of Personal Care Products and Services

We Are Actually Living In “The Age of Ultron” (SPOILERS)

I saw Avengers: Age of Ultron last night, because that’s what we do now, as a species. All hail the Marvel Overlords, they will forever entertain us.

The series, so far, manages to incubate a cohesive, believable world full of interesting characters and exciting sci-fi action, yet it is increasingly difficult to form an opinion about the Avengers films. That’s because they are increasingly good at avoiding anything substantive enough for discussion. We are drawn to the films because they are maddening spectacles of achievement in entertainment, but after subjecting us to nearly three hours of heroic deeds and Hulk-smashing previously unimagined by humanity, the films give us very little to think about.

This is by design. Not the filmmakers’, or studio executives’, or writers’ design. This is by design of the franchise itself, the ethereal intelligence that has the next decade of our summer movie spending planned for us. This weekend, the Marvel Universe becomes self-aware.

In the film, Ultron comes into existence and takes over the world and follows a protocol of needless self-destruction with seemingly no motivation whatsoever. He becomes self-aware out of a necessity to drive the plot. Much like the franchise itself, which is moving along simply because it has nothing else to do, and we couldn’t stop it if we tried.

If you’ve seen the trailer, you have as much understanding of Ultron himself as you do by the end of the film. He is an evil robot who likes to sing Disney songs, much like Wall-E. Sure, there are hints of an internal struggle or a plotted vengeance against his ‘creator,’ Tony Stark, but it manifests as a cartoonish plot to create a meteor and crash it back down to Earth. The character exhibits no depth apart from his Spaderisms.

I half suspect James Spader didn’t even read the script, they just put him in a motion-capture jumpsuit and filmed him complaining about it.

Wikipedia tells me the comic book version of Ultron suffered a homicidal oedipus complex, and focused in on destroying his creator while also developing an obsession with his lover. But, since the cost of hiring Gwyneth Paltrow went to blowing up half a dozen CGI robots, that opportunity for complexity is vacant.

They couldn’t even incorporate the Pinnochio mythos–you know, the source of the “There Are No Strings On Me” song that Ultron sings throughout the whole film–by developing Ultron’s maniacal evil out of a desire to please his creator only for Tony to express disappointment, rather than an instantaneous need to kill him outright. Did nobody working on this film bother to think about subtext?

The Avengers films are so formulaic and expensive they simply cannot defy expectations and truly deliver the storytelling necessary to elevate the series. It desperately needs it, but cannot deliver. The film’s best moments (Vision, the Black Widow/Hulk romance) are smothered by its incessant need to cutaway to the Avenger’s World Destruction Tour. Ultron lives up to the established pattern of exposition/action/tension/action/resolution/action, and grows increasingly tiresome for it. Mostly because the character development is merely an inversion of “we can’t seem to get along” that brought the ensemble together in the last film, but without a clearcut goal and focus. The intersecting plots in Ultron just turn it into a mess. Nothing builds on anything else, and every promising moment of character arc is left irksomely unresolved, with one or two exceptions.

It’s a shame, since the film centers on a sequence where Scarlet Witch exposes the team to their darkest fears. But rather than explore what those fears mean to each of them, they just move on and try to punch more bad guys. Well, we do find out that Black Widow can’t have babies. And Thor’s vision-quest leads him to a magic pool that gives him the secret of… actually, I’m not quite sure how his bath revealed that he was supposed to electrocute Vision to life, probably because there was just no other way to incorporate the larger gem-mythology. But that’s it. Scarlet Witch makes Thor hallucinate, which leads him to take a bath, and then he does some lightning trick and now we have Vision. That’s Thor’s entire story in Age of Ultron. 

The decision to introduce the Maximoff Wonder Twins as mere plot points, and in the end to kill off Quicksilver (who Marvel fans are quite happy to pretend never existed in the first place, since Days of Future Past already established the gold standard for that character) proves that the Marvel film franchise has very little fear of death, and much like Ultron sees it as just a method of purging real emotion from a soulless reality. Why not kill off someone who matters? Because the franchise sees itself as indestructible. Despite knowing that it must raise the stakes to get anywhere interesting, Avengers has to play it safe and keep them all in the game, endlessly dodging bullets and lightning bolts and energy beams and boulders and Hulk smashes because that’s essentially what these films are built on. Great-looking people doing poses and not getting killed by the millions of things that should be killing them.

Which means there are just no more stakes to raise. The problems with Age of Ultron begin literally in the first moment, an overlong single shot of the team in action picking off Secret-Nazis in the snowy fortress level from Inception: The Video Game, utilizing some of the laziest CGI  the Star Wars: Special Editions and more witty banter. By the way, this film’s dialogue is nothing but witty banter. Wittier and wittier, and banterier and banterier. 

The imagery of the opening sequence is meant to remind us of the final battle from the last film, where we follow a tracking shot through the skyline of New York City to focus on each Avenger slaughtering interstellar henchmen. The thing is, that film–not particularly keen on subtlety itself–spent the majority of its runtime building up to that moment of harmonious violence. Age of Ultron shoves it out of the way, clunkily, in the first five minutes. Where do you go from there?

Nowhere. Just change the scenery.

The Avengers franchise is running on its own momentum, and will take no prisoners in its train wreck of a serial. Plots are increasingly dependent on a myriad of sources, inevitably giving rise to contradictions, confusion, and watered-down ideas. Heroes that once inspired us are reduced to a soulless existence, living out an endless battle with forces unnamed and irrelevant. We are subjected to overblown violence to prove the reaches of our arrested imaginations. We are living in the Age of Ultron. The biggest film franchise in the world is an unstoppable algorithm of crowd-pleasing factors. It is infected with its own self-importance, feeding us the exact amount of visual and aural stimuli to null our minds to the existence of a massive entertainment conspiracy that will inevitably lead us down a path of self-destruction, as we worship the hero-gods of our own creation and neglect the dreams and hopes that we need to sustain us for another generation. The end of the world will come, and we’ll be comfortably snacking on popcorn in the air-condition tomb of the cinema.

Vision was pretty damn cool, though.

Pulitzer

I want to point out this photo from The St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s coverage of the Rams’ protest back in October. The Post-Dispatch won a well-deserved Pulitzer prize for their coverage of the Ferguson protests. Plenty of the photos in the series are phenomenal, but I hadn’t seen this one before, and it really moved me.

Ferguson Protests

It’s a little too perfect of a metaphor for the conflict born out of Ferguson. I went to one of the early protests, on a day when the police presence was significantly reduced and there was the hope of healing in the atmosphere. Nine months later, and that moment is sweet but swallowed by the whole of the relentlessness of injustice in America. The death toll among African-Americans at the hands of police is consistently rising, and the disillusion over Ferguson complicates the feelings of a revolution taking hold. There is a lot of work to be done, and a lot of healing still to take place. There’s not a lot I can say about what this photo means, because it says enough. It’s worth a look, though. I’ll come back to this topic soon, because it’s not something I can ever let go.

This is your daily reminder that we are all just tools in a giant marketing machine

So these hit the Internet, and apparently they’re part of the Imax release of the trailer (the one that’s already online):

batman-v-superman-superman-poster-132355

 

batman-v-superman-batman-poster-132356

 

So, the marketing campaign for this looks like a lot of fun. Or, at least as fun as marketing campaigns for bloated blockbusters can get. Making them look like posters pasted on alley walls and lamp posts is neat, but it also seems like they’re maybe hoping that it will become some sort of fake guerilla marketing campaign. Which is annoying. It’s always kind of neat, kind of annoying when movies do that.

I don’t actually care too terribly much. These do seem nice because they break away from the normal superhero flick posters. You know, the ones that cram pretty much everyone (even Hawkeye!!) into the same poster in the least artful manner possible.

Batman has a solid history for posters though. In fact, plenty of comic book franchises do. Sometime I’ll write a whole blog post about how I think Dick Tracy had probably the greatest poster of all time. The greatest Batman poster, IMHO, is this one from Begins:

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Of all the Bat-films, I think Batman Returns had, cumulatively, the best posters (the one on the far right actually hangs in my office):

 

The Dark Knight had good posters, but they’re very blue. Too blue for my blood. And every poster from The Dark Knight Rises looks like a fan poster to me. Same goes for Man of Steel. (the character posters from BvS that have been released remind me of those). So at least these are definitely a step up from the last two Nolan-produced DC comics adventures.

Also, interesting thing I was not aware of — Chris Terrio co-wrote BvS with David Goyer. Terrio worked with Affleck on Argo.  So maybe that will make a difference. Maybe it won’t. In a statement of clarification, I do want to make sure that everyone knows I think the BvS trailer is awesome, but that could mean very little for the actual film. I’m way more optimistic now, and I love the direction it’s growing, but I remember when they released the trailer for X-Men: The Last Stand, and that was awesome too. Everyone was crazy skeptical about Brett Ratner as director, and then they released that trailer and it was awesome. Then the movie came out and it was terrible.

 

Journey Through Twin Peaks

One of the most engrossing films I’ve seen in recent years is Room 237,  a film essay exploring the depths of critical analysis on Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. The Shining is one of my all-time favorite films, because it carries an atmosphere that is almost intangible, but careful viewers have pieced together the various tricks that Kubrick used to create that atmosphere. A lot of people focus on the moon-landing theory behind The Shining, but that’s only one interpretation of the film among many, and it’s the least plausible. It doesn’t fit in with the some of the other more plausible analyses, but leaving it in certainly helped spread the word about Room 237. 

Mostly, I just love the idea of film criticism as entertainment. So much so that I immediately planned on a similar treatment of another work I find as equally open to interpretation, Twin Peaks. If you couldn’t tell, since this is not the first blog I’ve written about the TV show, and until JJ does another layout change you’re looking at some heavy Peaks imagery directly to the left, I’m a little more than obsessed with the franchise and will needlessly fit it into unrelated conversations. “Oh, you love the new Batman vs. Superman trailer? You know what else is dark and brooding? Twin Peaks. Go home and watch it. Yes, it is on Netflix.”

If I couldn’t make the film essay myself, I at least wanted to present my interpretation of Laura Palmer’s struggle as a powerful symbol of ending a cycle of physical and sexual abuse. Laura is the hero of Twin Peaks because she refused to let the horror that tormented her continue, whether it was by some demonic presence or something closer to home.

Joel Bocko beat me to it. His series, “Journey Through Twin Peaks,” presents a thorough and beautiful analysis I could never pull off on my own. Unlike Room 237, however, he did it all himself and threw it up on YouTube, instead of submitting it to Sundance. But I think that’s fitting, because it turns out there is quite a bit more to Twin Peaks than the feature-documentary format offers.

I’ve watched Twin Peaks in its entirety about four times since 2010, and Bocko highlights points in the series that I never noticed. It’s the loving criticism the series deserves. He presents a coherent thesis, that the magic formula of Twin Peaks is a child of the tension between David Lynch and Mark Frost, and backs it up with specific examples of the different ways they treat characters and situations. I wouldn’t recommend doing so, but someone could easily watch his series without any knowledge of Twin Peaks and have a clear understanding of what makes the show work.

But there’s no good excuse for not watching Twin Peaks. I particularly like the analysis of the end of Fire Walk With Me, though he credits it to someone else (spoiler, obviously) that the flashing light on Laura’s face as she sits in the Red Room with Dale Cooper is actually Laura watching the entire series and reacting to the impact her life had on the town, both good and bad. Seeing it through that lens completely decimated me emotionally. It could easily be one of David Lynch’s most beautiful moments. (Update: Joel provided the source of this theory in the comments below.)

Bocko also suggests that everything Lynch has done since is not only influenced by Twin Peaks, but actually about the experience of making Twin Peaks. That’s a powerful realization, especially since I was also under the assumption that Lynch never lingered on projects, and for years seemed too willing to put the series behind him.

However, I think he and I would disagree about whether the series should continue without Lynch. I think Frost’s vision of the series is underrated, as does Bocko, but I also think it’s only fair that he gets a crack at developing his ideas on his own, since Lynch had a chance to go back and explore Laura Palmer’s character. I stand by it. Twin Peaks without David Lynch would still entice me.

Anyway, the whole series is on YouTube, in 28 different videos, divided into four parts. He covers the entire series with surprising depth, explains some background on the mystical influences on the mythology, and defends Fire Walk With Me as a crucial masterpiece to Lynch’s entire career. I’ve been waiting for a satisfying treatment of Twin Peaks like this, and if I couldn’t do it myself, I’m at least glad it’s done so well.