Saturday, June 28, 2014

Joe Dante: Matinee

Joe Dante's love letter to the power and joy found in cinema. There is one scene in particular that I keep thinking about today. After her husband has been sent off to potentially defend the United States (there's criticism of the military industrial complex in here, like in most of Dante's late work) a wife sits solitarily with the cinema she created herself. The home movies of her loved ones. These are possibly the only things she'll have left since her husband could die any day in the wake of nuclear annihilation. The power of these images and those memories trapped in celluloid bring her to tears. Her son is framed in the background in shadow also feeling the weight of their current nuclear situation. It's a scene of mournfulness and longing and is in direct contrast to the cinema as entertainment John Goodman's scenes. It's the versatility of these two examples that make Matinee work. Cinema can be anything and here it can be as close as you can get to those potentially lost or a half man-half ant nuclear terror making you scream, smile and laugh. It's a beautiful sentiment.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Sexism within Wrestling and Problems We Need to Solve

I love professional wrestling more than almost anything in the world. It's where I go to whenever I'm stressed and it's easy just to sit back and enjoy the athleticism, the storytelling and the art of bodies in motion. This has been a difficult week to be a fan though due to sexism within the Internet Wrestling Community and a couple of things that happened over in the WWE. There is always a kind of "it comes with the territory" kind of attitude towards sexism within wrestling, and I don't think that has to be the case at all. We should constantly be making things better instead of just being complicit within the actions of companies who treat women as nothing more than titillation or fodder for jokes within wrestling broadcasts while they leave all the actual wrestling to the men. We're in need of a significant cultural change surrounding the treatment of women in both the IWC and WWE. We aren't on an equal playing field at the moment, and the only way to get there is to start talking about what needs to be changed. This week gave us quite a few examples.

When I started getting into wrestling earlier this year my best friend told me that I'd have to learn how to start tuning Jerry Lawler out, because if I ever listened to anything he said in commentary it would just detract from my viewing experience. She was right. I took her advice and a lot of the time during matches I turn on music so I don't have to hear what he or any other commentator is saying. I always do this during women's matches, but I feel like that's only putting a band aid on a larger problem. Jerry Lawler is absolutely toxic to my viewing experience. It makes me uncomfortable that he's still employed by the company and that he's still on my television every single week. Most of the time I just ignore what he is saying or what he does and wait patiently for him to retire, because his firing is never going to happen, but this week I couldn't ignore his actions. On his twitter account he recently posted a photo of him staring at current Women's Champion (I don't like using the term Diva) Paige's ass. I didn't notice it during the show, but when he posted the picture with the caption "best seat in the house" and it blew up all over my twitter feed it called to my attention Lawler's objectification of women in a way that I couldn't just mute. Cageside Seats did the right thing in posting an article about this incident and saying that he should not be doing this as a "legend" of the company. Paige would seemingly laugh it off on twitter with the hashtag #JerryJerryJerry but really even if she was offended what could she do? If she calls out a legend she'd definitely get buried. It's a lose-lose situation for her and a position no female wrestler should ever be put in. It makes me sick to think that this is a normalized behaviour to the point where calling out sexism is not an option because it would destroy your career. That's dangerous to any woman working within WWE, and that has to change.

The other incident within WWE that brings to light the sexism towards women within the industry was the pudding match between Vickie Guerrero and Stephanie McMahon. It's true that horrible degrading acts have been done to male wrestlers in WWE before (Vince's Kiss My Ass Club for example), but it doesn't quite carry the weight of women wrestling in something gross. I get why Stephanie McMahon did it. She's a heel and she wants to send Vickie off in the most humiliating way possible and that makes sense for her character, but how did we get here though? Vickie Guerrero is a trooper and a saint for putting up with everything she did while working within the WWE from jokes at her expense to being the subject of every kind of gross sketch Vince could think up. It makes sense for her character to go out this way and get comeuppance on her boss to put her in one of those situations. However, it's unfortunate that it makes sense for her character. She's the wife of beloved wrestler Eddie Guerrero and she carried strength through everything she ever did for the company that I've seen, but I hate that she was always relegated to jokes and gross out gags. She was great at her job and she could generate heat with a two word phrase all the time, and she went off strong on Monday's Raw, because she's always been strong, but I can't help but feel a little distanced from the scenario itself. Cageside Seats once again outlined one woman's problems with the sketch, and while I didn't have as much of an issue with it as she did it's a problem if any woman feels like a sketch is sexist, misogynist or offensive in any way. The last thing you want to do is drive away a potential audience member and if that piece is anything to go on they most certainly did on Monday. That shouldn't be happening.

The IWC is not a male institution. Their voices are certainly louder, but as a woman who has made many friends within the IWC who are also female I know that we exist and we like wrestling just as much as anyone else. There needs to be a place where our voices are heard so things like what happened at Voices of Wrestling this week do not happen any longer. There was a comment in a recent review of WWE Main Event where one writer referred to many different women's wrestlers that were featured throughout the show as "Whores". This is unacceptable on every single level. The comment has since been removed from the article and the author has issued an apology. Hopefully this never happens again, but knowing the kind of boys club attitude vibe that I get from most wrestling websites I know it's very likely I'll be seeing those words in a post again. No woman should have to feel denigrated by an author due to his own problems with women or whatever it is they are doing with female wrestlers on a specific show. There's also the problem of using "Whore" as a derogatory word. Sex Workers are not bad people and they deserve respect just as much as anyone else doing a job and to call a woman a "whore" as a means of trying to make her feel bad or anything else is just horrible behaviour and it shouldn't be appearing in official reviews for wrestling shows. Women should be treated with the same respect you'd give the men in any given wrestling show, and it's a shame that these problems both obvious and subtle seem to crop up on every wrestling site I visit. The writer is taking time off from Voices of Wrestling and says that he will not be reviewing women's wrestling ever again. That's probably the right course of action, because to have someone who doesn't respect what women do within the ring or within WWE or anywhere else probably shouldn't be writing about it in any official capacity.

I just want to talk for a minute now about why I love Women's wrestling. In the past year I've found another passion in my life in wrestling, and it mostly came on the backs of two wrestlers: Daniel Bryan and Sara Del Rey. Sara Del Rey is a hero to me. She got into wrestling because she loved it and she wanted to be just as good as any man who ever stepped inside of the ring, and if you've seen any of her matches with people like Claudio Castagnoli and El Generico you know that she absolutely was. I have issues with self confidence all of the time, but Sara Del Rey and many other female wrestlers (Rachel Summerlyn, Manami Toyota, Aja Kong, Bull Nakano) make me feel strong and like I can do anything in the world. They let me know that there is a place for me in any profession even if it's coded as more masculine and I can be better at it than anyone else despite what anyone tells me. They are amazing women and incredible wrestlers and it's such a shame that these issues crop up all the time. Women in professional wrestling are role models. Girls of all ages are watching the WWE and Indie circuits and finding super heroes in women who do suplexes and piledrivers. They are part of your audience and what are you teaching them when you say that they are only valued for their looks like Jerry Lawler did or their only place in the card is to get thrown into a pit of sludge, or reading that they are "whores" because of the way they dress or act. You're actively turning women off your shows, websites and sport by doing these things, and it's time that things start getting better. Wrestling needs to grow up, and I think it can. I'm optimistic about the future of WWE Women's talent with Sara Del Rey training new talent down in NXT. I think things can get better both in ring and in story lines, and fans are going to love it and women especially are going to appreciate it. It's just up to WWE and those writing about it in the IWC to let it happen and give it the respect it deserves.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Obvious Child

Female Filmmaker Project
(originally posted on letterboxd)

Obvious Child is a true feminist comedy taking up the mantle of a personal story being very political just for existing within cinemas for audiences to see. There's one scene in this movie where Nellie (Gabby Hoffmann) says something along the lines of "We're still being legislated by old white men in robes who think they have power over our cunts" and that's really the world we exist in today. Laws where access to abortion is easy and available are being repealed in states slowly and there's really no reason why that should be happening so here comes Obvious Child totally being marketed as an "abortion comedy" in the wake of all this recent fuckery. The abortion aspect of this movie is just one piece of this movie's story but the fact that it treats abortion as just something that people do is remarkable. The strengths of Obvious Child's politics are in what Donna (Jenny Slate) doesn't do as much as what she does. The film doesn't dwell on what the father will think in a major way and she never falls back and then decides to have the child just because the father seemed like he wanted to be a parent some day. She never wavers on her initial decision. She's free and independent and doing what she loves (comedy) and she doesn't want to be a parent. So an abortion is the best option, and it's her choice completely, because she's the one in control of her body. That's a strong statement in the world we live in today, and the biggest reason why I think this film won't end up getting the audience it so truly deserves. It's controversial, but like in the film it should be the most normal thing in the world.

In terms of cinematic family Obvious Child's closest relative is probably Bridesmaids. There's plenty of scatological humour to go around and Donna never tip toes around parts of her behaviour that aren't stereotypically ladylike. She just does whatever feels right and if that's standing up on stage and telling jokes about poop and farts that's what she's going to do. There's also a streak of female friendship plotting that runs through the course of this film. Gabby Hoffmann plays Donna's best friend Nellie and while Nellie isn't written as strongly written as Donna she stands as a great supportive best friend. This isn't Romy and Michelle levels of closeness but their strong chemistry and the few scenes those two have together give you the feeling that they really are best friends, and that's always a plus in this type of film.

Obvious Child isn't a perfectly directed movie but Robespierre's first major feature does have some quality moments. She finds a way to make the stand up comedy sequences feel different than the last with small variations in camera technique. After Donna bombs with a deeply personal set she works more often in close up and even begins the scene staring at Donna's back, her bra strap exposed, top totally ruffled on her chest. It sets up this feeling that this set is going to be a little more vulnerable and bare than the rest and Robespierre's lens on Donna's body gives us that feeling. Much like Frances Ha a lot of the legwork is done by the lead performance. Slate's body language, often at war with herself between confidence, fragility and recklessness, shows a person who knows exactly what she is doing with her life, but easily thrown into a tailspin when things veer off course. One of my favourite instances of Slate's acting is during the final stand up set when she finally lets the father to be know she is getting an abortion and does so with such varied emotional complexity while still keeping her set in rhythm.

Obvious Child is also just extremely funny. It helps that the audience I saw this with was almost 75% women and found every joke the most hilarious thing in the world. It almost felt like a communal experience of female energy laughing at a comedy that was made for women and had me feeling good for hours afterward. This is the kind of film that needs to exist more often, for representation, political and quality reasons.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

My experience with "Male Socialization"

CW: Abuse, Transmisogyny, Dysphoria

There’s this thing going around right now about Laverne Cox not being a “real” woman because of biological destiny and in a few places I frequent I’ve seen people fighting others over their support of this article. This has blown over into a discussion about whether or not trans women can ever be “real” because they grew up socialized male. I just want to talk about this from my own personal perspective. The attempts of my family to raise me as male and be a socialized through masculinity were destructive to my younger years in life to the point where I’ve blocked out almost everything that happened in my pre-teen and teen years. I seriously cannot tell you how difficult it was knowing you were female and the entire world from parents, schooling, and churches telling you otherwise. I felt it from as young as four years of age and some of my very first memories are of dysphoria. I wanted to be like any other girl when I grew up and everyone was telling me I’d be a man some day. That’s an extremely traumatic thing to deal with at four years of age. I did everything I could to do things other girls around me were doing in secrecy but I knew if I did any of this in the comfort of my own home my father would beat me. He did that a lot whenever I did something he didn’t want me to. I grew up knowing that if I ever did anything feminine I would be at the hands of abuse from my dad. I put on an act in front of him every day just so I wouldn’t make him mad or upset him, but I knew that it was just that, an act. I never picked up on any of the things he was trying to indoctrinate me with because I knew I was a girl from my first memories. I just didn’t know how to vocalize it and I didn’t even know what transgender was at the time. It’s not like transgender people were on television in 1995. 

So all of this was weighing on me when I was a child.  I’d later go into school and I had a hard time making friends. I couldn’t relate to guys and I knew my father didn’t want me only hanging out with girls and becoming their girlfriend. All of my closest friends were girls, but I never had a best friend forever or anything like that. I went through my entire elementary school years being bullied for being “girly” and not tough or liking stereotypical guy things. I faked it a lot of the time just to avoid being pushed or shoved, but I knew it was going to happen almost every single day even if I lied. All of this added up over time to the point where I couldn’t deal with it anymore and I just broke. I was a broken person by the time I was 12 years old. Then puberty started to happen and my body started to mutate into something I found horrifying. They were the most difficult years of my life, and I honestly don’t know how I got through them. 

This all culminated with me dropping out of school when I was 13 years old, and finishing at home. I couldn’t go anymore because I didn’t have the strength to deal with the people bullying me for not acting like a guy, and my body was destroying me every single day with puberty. Every time I tried to go back to school I had panic attacks and intense vomiting. I was hospitalized for months at one point because doctors didn’t know why I couldn’t stop panicking every morning of every day and throwing up. I couldn’t bear to tell them the truth and my story of why I was struggling with everything because it wasn’t safe. I tried to be the person my family and society wanted me to be, but it was killing me. I was self destructing from the inside out and I couldn’t do it. I was crumbling because of society’s pressures to conform to gender roles and it’s own insistence that who you were assigned at birth was locked into place. I never accepted maleness or learned from it and the men in my life were consistently physically abusive to me because I acted feminine. 

So I don’t get how I’m “socialized male” and a Trans Woman. I don’t think those things are necessarily connected. It certainly wasn’t for me. Whenever I hear people saying Trans Women have been socialized male I get uncomfortable because it brings all this back up. I wasn’t socialized as male. I knew that was never me, and I fought back against it the best I could. I wasn’t given a typical girlhood either even though that’s all I wanted when I was younger. I just grew up.  That’s all that happened, and I wish everything had been easier and less lonely. I always latched onto my mom. I just wanted her to think of me as her daughter, and at times it felt that way. Those are the only real memories I cherish from my childhood. Everything else is too hard to deal with, and I just wish I had more memories like that instead of everyone trying to sculpt me into a man. It ruined the first phase of my life. I knew I was a girl all my life, and I was punished for being feminine when I was younger every single time I was ever myself. There was never any part of me that wanted to be a guy. I prayed to an unanswering god and cried about this on so many nights. I just wanted to be myself and the only other option was an act. An act that I never believed in because I was always a girl, even when the men in my life were trying to shape me in their image. I am the person I always wanted to be now, but she wasn’t socialized as a man, and if I or anyone else says that we weren’t then that should be good enough.