Where (a lot of) Feminists Go Wrong

Where I knowingly commit the unforgivable act of “mansplaining“.

Where do many feminists, like Eldest Daughter (ED), who I love dearly even when she repeatedly makes fun of me, go wrong? They think women’s equality rests on assertive demonstrations of personal attributes most often associated with males. This is understandable because traditional notions of femininity are extremely limiting, the problem though is the masculine characteristics Millennial feminists want to appropriate—such as physical and sexual aggression and promiscuity, profane/vulgar behavior, and insatiability more generally—aren’t socially redeeming. Of course they’re free to emulate the worst of male behavior, but we’re worse off for it.

My daughters and their friends celebrated the 2011 film Bridesmaids as groundbreaking and watched it until they could cite the dialogue. In essence they were saying, “Because Animal House has nothing on us, men have nothing on us.” Roger Ebert gave the film 3.5 stars of out 4, and opined that Bridesmaids “seems to be a more or less deliberate attempt to cross the Chick Flick with the Raunch Comedy. It definitely proves that women are the equal of men in vulgarity, sexual frankness, lust, vulnerability, overdrinking and insecurity. . . .”

Before ED fires off an exasperated, impassioned reply to this post, let me tell you what she’s thinking right now. This is a rare skill of mine, knowing what the members of my family are going to say before they say it. It may be a uniquely male skill some describe as “arrogance”, but I like to think of it as foresight. ED would say, “Debauchery aside father, the fact that you’re writing about Bridesmaids and Animal House together means we’re breaking down the historic, sexist notion that women aren’t as funny as men! So what if vulgarity helps create long overdue opportunities for women in the comedy world! The end justifies the means!” And of course she’d attach a funny gif for good measure because that’s how she rolls.

Wikipedia lists gentleness, empathy, and sensitivity as traditionally feminine traits.

Given these traditional feminine traits, better that young men be more feminine, than young women more masculine. Ideally, overtime, these more socially redeeming traits would come to be seen as gender neutral. Better that all of us be more gentle, empathetic, and sensitive.

This “We can be hella masculine” approach to gender equity is painfully evident on television shows like Comedy Central’s Broad City (BC). When it comes to sleeping around, swearing, and doing drugs, the two female stars are up to any male duo’s challenge. Again, ED would say, “No surprise, but you’re missing the point again father! There’s one more show on television starring two female comedians than there was three years ago!” Always with the exclamation marks.

ED’s frustration has now reached a breaking point, so she’s stopped reading, meaning I can write even more freely about one of her favorite television shows. I admit, despite BC’s vacuous foundation, it is among the most funny shows on television—subjectively based upon how many times I laugh aloud during an episode. Also worth noting, my critique of it as a cultural artifact that allegedly symbolizes New Feminism extends well beyond my negative view of its “we’re every bit as masculine as you” dead-end.

In actuality, because I said she wasn’t, ED is still reading. Here’s what she’s thinking now. “How did I end up with the most Puritan of fathers in the whole U S of A?!” But dearest ED, my critique isn’t based on morality. Abbie’s and Ilana’s embrace of mindless masculinity almost always translates into victimless crimes. So what if they get high or have random sex. The problem with the show is its nihilism, meaning it never raises interesting questions or addresses big ideas about how we should live. Put differently, it leaves no mark on my intellect or soul. ED, “Isn’t it enough just to be laugh out loud funny?! That’s no small feat!” Yes it is if all they’re motivated by is what they can charge advertisers for commercial breaks.

Wikipedia on BC:

The Wall Street Journal referred to the show as “Sneak Attack Feminism.” Critic Megan Angelo quotes Abbi Jacobson, main star of Comedy Central’s Broad City; “If you watch one of our episodes, there’s not a big message, but if you watch all of them, I think, they’re empowering to women.”

By which Jacobson means, “Good news my young feminist sistas, now you can act a male fool too.”

As this insightful analysis from Lili Loofbourow (LL) suggests (thanks ED), television is improving because of women’s increasingly influential contributions. LL convincingly argues that more and more female writers and producers are infusing shows with distinctive, intelligent sensibilities, thus demonstrating the limits of “we’re as masculine” programming.

One example of improved programming is the incredibly creative and hilarious comedy Portlandia which contrasts nicely with BC. Portlandia’s setting and cast are every bit as urban, diverse, and edgy as BC’s, but a typical two or three-minute skit on Portlandia pokes more fun at our modern selves and raises more interesting questions about the limits of materialism, the superficiality of popular trends, and the idiosyncrasies of modern life than several twenty-two minute episodes of BC.

Wrapping up, want to laugh, watch BC; want to think and laugh, watch Portlandia. Either way raise children—female, male, something in between—to be equally gentle, empathetic, and sensitive.

Postscript—Broad City interviews Sleater-Kinney.

Just Maybe The Most Important Thing to Look for in a Friend, Spouse, Work Environment

Generosity? Dependability? Energy? Care? Smarts? Loyalty? Connections? Kindness? Humility? Patience? Optimism? I’ll wait while you cast your vote. . .

My answer came to me Friday night at the Puget Marina off Johnson Point Rd in North Olympia. The Puget Marina has the single best view of the Puget Sound and Mount Rainier of any one place I’ve ever stood. I was there Friday night because Scott, a principal friend, was being celebrated for his ten plus year tenure at a local high school. He’s beloved by his faculty and staff in large part because of his sense of humor. Here’s a little flavor flav of his personality. He’s the guy on the scooter who can’t squat worth beans.

When our new high school grad watched that vid she said, “Our principal could never pull that off.” Few principals could because they’re keenly self conscious, just like people more generally. Most principals continuously worry, what kind of persona am I projecting? Authoritative enough? Professional enough?

Faculty and staff told funny stories all night. There was a moving mixture of laughter and tears. One person said Scott’s greatest talent is being able to switch smoothly from serious to silly and back again. There’s a lot to having and using a sense of humor thoughtfully. I think it’s at least partially learned. Too bad we don’t think, talk, or teach about it.

Day-to-day life is challenging; consequently, pressures continuously build. Humor is an indispensable pressure relief valve. It’s a salve for the super serious and the sad. Or in other words, all of us at times.

Friday night I realized Scott is wonderfully comfortable in his own skin and with those he works. Somehow he’s learned to sidestep the trap of self-consciousness.

I dug the evening because the informal vibe stood in such amazing contrast with my work environment at a university. Sometimes I wonder if PhD stands for Prior humor Disassembled. I challenge you to find a less humorous setting than a typical university faculty meeting. Just brutal. Everyone wondering if they’re coming across as smart enough. Maybe Scott should consult with Deans on how to make their own rap videos.

The other day on my Twitter feed, another reminder of humor’s value compliments of Carrie Brownstein of Portlandia fame. She tweeted, “Walked to my friend’s house to pick up my bike, cycled home, took a bath. Pretty sure I just completed the Portland Triathlon.” Anyone know Carrie? I want to be her friend. Maybe I’ll invite to her a faculty meeting.

Twitter is Like a Very Large Dinner Table

Facebook seems to thrive on nostalgia for the past. I like Twitter because it’s present tense in orientation.

Twitter is like sitting around a very large dinner table with guests you get to choose. I have little interest in faux, electronic, celebrity friendships. I choose guests who 1) make me laugh on occasion; 2) keep me informed about things I care about; and/or 3) share links to articles and videos about things I care about. Those I follow sit around the table and slide reading and multimedia material to one another saying, “Have you read or seen this?”

Sometimes Bill Simmons at ESPN, Alan Shipnuck at Sports Illustrated (golf writer), and John Dickerson at Slate can be funny. Among a few others, I follow Slate Magazine, the Atlantic Magazine, The Economist, Bonnie Ford, Atul Gwande, Walt Mossberg, and some of the bloggers I regularly read.

Most people think of Twitter success in terms of followers, the more the better. I’m more interested in the quality of the dinner conversation than the quantity of guests. And some people think the secret to more followers is to tweet more often. For me though, the more you tweet the more you have to make me laugh or keep me informed. If you tweet just because you like the sound of your tweets, you’ll soon join the ranks of former dinner guests.

Speaking of laughter, this skit is comic genius.

January 2013 Awards

Tweet of the month. “Of course I’d be willing to let the Postal Service continue to dope if it would speed up mail delivery.” Nikolas Kristof

Sports stat of the month. Bench Points—Clips 41.7, Lakes 26.5. Bench Rebounds— Clips 20.4, Lakes 13.4. Bench Assists—Clips 8.7, Lakes 5.4. Bench Steals—Clips 3.8, Lakes, 2.0. Bench Blocks—Clips 3.6, Lakes 1.1.

Unanswered question of the month. Did Beyonce lip sync her National Anthem performance?

Sports loose-end of the month. The likelihood that the Sacramento Kings will move 619 miles north before the start of next season.

Bush league sports move of the month. Azarenka’s “injury” timeout against Sloane Stephens in their Australian Open semifinal match.

Worst losses of the month. Gold—Seahawks 28-Falcons 30. Silver—Butler 64-GonZAGa 63.

Gracious loser of the month. Sloane Stephens.

Best basketball quote of the month. “If you have to bounce the ball three times and flip it and twist your arm before a free-throw, it probably means you can’t shoot ’em. Wynton Marsalis’ youth basketball coach.

Anti-swoosh event of the month. The European Tour’s Abu Dhabi golf tournament where Swoosh Senior (Tiger Woods) and Swoosh Junior (Rory Mcllroy) missed the cut.

Multibillionaire quote of the month. “I like today what I liked fifty years ago. . . I was happy when I was in my twenties, and I don’t see a reason to change things.” Warren Buffet

Parenting essay of the month. Coming Home: Returning to parenting after 16 months on the campaign trail. John Dickerson, Slate Magazine.

Book release of the month. Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright

Television shows of the month. Gold, Portlandia Season 3. Silver, Downton Abbey Season 3. Bronze, 30 Rock.

Movie of the month. Tie. Silver Lining Playbook and Zero Dark Thirty.

Word of the month. Tradecraft.

EXPLICIT cold ass honkey music vid of the year month. Thriftshop by Maclemore & Ryan Lewis.

Insight of the month. Michael Apted, documentary filmmaker on 56 Up. “That was a very important lesson I learned throughout the decades on the film, that I can’t project my version of happiness or success or ambition onto other people.”

Unappreciated health danger of the month.

Schooling the World: The White Man’s Last Burden

Last week I presented a paper at a “Globalization, Diversity, & Education” conference near Portland. It’s a small conference attended by equal numbers of liberals and radicals. An ideological oasis for lefties. At times it felt like I was on the set of Portlandia.

People enjoy like-minded company because it’s self-affirming, but at conferences it makes for less-interesting sessions because there’s little to no tension. When everyone is of the same mind, no one is pressed to rethink or refine their ideas. Conflict is exasperating, but after awhile, blanket likemindedness can be equally vexing.

I’ve never been too fond of professional conferences mostly because networking is a weakness of mine. Also, too much of the content is theoretical and directed only at other academics resulting in an echo chamber far too removed from families’, teachers’, and students’ day-to-day lives. And too often it’s a game—participants are simply padding their vitas with an eye toward promotion. I couldn’t help but think how differently people would have to write their papers if they were forced to present them in pubs or community centers to a mix of citizens from different walks of life.

The highlight of the conference was the film “Schooling the World: The White Man’s Last Burden” by Carol Black. Black created the Emmy award winning television series The Wonder Years with her husband Neal Marlens. TWY is one of my fav series of all time. After TWY, and the birth of her children, Black withdrew from Hollywood, got involved in the alternative education movement, and researched cross-cultural perspectives on education which lead to the making of the film. Black attended my paper presentation and helped in the discussion of it. I also talked to her right before the film screened. A lot of her thinking about alternative education resonants with me. Someone I wish I could get to know better.

Here’s the film summary from the DVD cover:

Schooling the World takes a challenging, sometimes funny, ultimately deeply disturbing look at the effects of modern education on the world’s last sustainable indigenous cultures. If you wanted to change an ancient culture in a generation, how would you do it? You would change the way it educates its children. The U.S. government knew this in the 19th century when it forced Native American children into government boarding schools. Today, volunteers build schools in traditional societies around the world, convinced that school is the only way to a ‘better’ life for indigenous children. But is this true? What really happens when we replace a traditional culture’s way of learning and understanding the world with our own?

It’s as well made and provocative an educational documentary as you’re going to see. Many viewers will resist the message and leave upset. After watching the film, one person did ask Black why she drew such a sharp dichotomy between the “negatives of western education and consumer culture” and the “positives of non-western cultures and people”. Black acknowledged the dichotomy and said it was intentional because no one ever questions the premise that western education is a positive force for all of the world’s children. It was a thoughtful explanation for the film’s one-sidedness. I couldn’t help but think of how when I’m arguing with my Better Half, frustration clouds my thinking and I take more extreme stands than I normally would.

I could write a few week’s worth of posts on the film’s content. One thought. Few in the audience probably thought to use the film as a mirror for evaluating their teaching. Every educator enters the classroom with biases, privileging some cultural practices, disregarding others. Put differently, every educator sometimes slights the significance of their students’ backgrounds. While watching the film, I couldn’t help but wonder, “How do my preservice teachers and how do I impose our worldview on students?”

Another thought in the form of a premise. Even if we could close every boarding school in traditional societies around the world, indigenous cultures would still face the same challenges imposed on them by western education as a result of global media including television, music, film, and advertising. I’ve written in the past about the societal curriculum‘s effect on students. Sam Wineburg and friends have shown that modern film is the single most influential resource in shaping high schoolers historical understanding. Here’s their paper titled, “Forest Gump and the Future of Teaching the Past.

Beginning in the late 80’s and early 90’s, I was blown away by how pervasive western popular culture was in my travels through East Africa and China. In African markets, endless posters of the three Mikes—Jackson, Tyson, Jordan. Hiking up a steep trail to the Great Wall, I was subjected to Lionel Ritchie whose music was being piped in through cheap speakers tied to tree branches.  Immediately after a Chinese teacher talked teaching with some colleagues and me as required, she turned far more animated and excitedly asked if we had seen the Bridges of Madison County. My favorite Michael Jordan poster in China, like all English in China, had a wonderful typo. Under his picture it said, “Michael Jordan, MBA.” Tru dat.

So given global satellites, coaxial cables, the internet, and smart phones, the central question, “How can we avoid imposing our worldview on the world’s last sustainable indigenous cultures?” is even more challenging than the film suggests. Maybe Black’s film will inspire someone else to make a companion one on the global media. And maybe people much smarter than me will figure out how to manage globalization so that indigenous cultures aren’t completely overwhelmed to the detriment of us all.