Tag Archives: Pop Culture

Wonder Women! Pop Culture and Feminist Role Models

24 Apr

Lynda-Carter-WWAsk someone to name a superhero, and the first answers you’ll get are almost always men. As with much of popular culture, the roles available for women in comics are often sadly subordinate. A wonderful new documentary explores this issue and the relationship between feminism and popular culture.

Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines was directed by Kristy Guevara-Flanagan and produced by Kelcey Edwards and is featured on the PBS series Independent Lens. The hour-long documentary poses an important central question

What are the consequences for women when they are strong and when they are the central actors of their own lives?

The film is centered on one of the oldest and most well-known comic heroines, Wonder Woman. Created by psychologist William Moulton Marston as an antidote to what he saw as the overly violent and masculine world of 1930s comics, the Amazon princess has been a figure of admiration and scorn alike since her introduction in 1941.

Princess Diana has been rebooted and rewritten dozens of times (unlike her male colleagues) but still maintains a loyal following. Her treatment over 70 years has clearly reflected the ups and downs of feminism in this country. As women were driven from the workplace after WWII, so was Wonder Woman reduced to guest star in her own books. The notorious Fredric Wertham, whose book Seduction of the Innocent shut down huge sections of the comic industry, made it clear that a strong woman must be a lesbian and was therefore not a fit model for children. As Second Wave Feminism got rolling, Wonder Woman lost her powers — it’s hard not to see a backlash correlation there. Despite everything the character has been through, however, she remains a strong symbol for millions of people, serving as a nice symbol of the undying spirit of feminism in the face of obstacles.

The documentary features insights from a wide variety of people. Gloria Steinem discusses the importance of strong women role models in all media, and other icons from the Bionic Woman to Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Xena are given their due. Riot Grrrl pioneer Kathleen Hanna takes a keen look at the backlash against feminism and the trivialization of strong women as merely sex symbols as the 20th Century came to a close. Comic historians and media analysts look at the roles of women over the decades, providing some sad and disturbing insights. With 97% of all decision-making positions in media held by men, it’s no surprise that women’s roles are narrow and hard to come by.

The film also remembers the groundbreaking 70s Wonder Woman series, featuring conversations with star Lynda Carter. She is outspoken about the power of the series for girls and women, however light the plots and dialogue may have been. We hear from Portlander Andy Mangels, the writer who created Wonder Woman Day, an annual comic store fundraiser for domestic violence shelters and programs. Given Diana’s mission to spread a message of peace and love in a violent world, that’s a perfect tribute.

Wonder Women! is a significant and fun look at 70 years of popular culture and how it succeeds — and fails — both to reflect our world and to inspire us. It serves as an excellent introduction to some important themes and provides a good jumping-off point for anyone interested in further study. The film is being rebroadcast on Independent Lens based on local PBS affiliate schedules; it can also be watched online at the series website.

Hero of the Week Award: April 5, Amy Pascal of Sony Pictures

5 Apr
Hero of the Week

Hero of the Week

This week is is a real pleasure to celebrate an entertainment executive who really understands the power of her industry to influence society — for better or for worse.

Amy Pascal is the co-chair of Sony Pictures and the chair of its Columbia TriStar division. She has been recognized as one of the most important women in entertainment by the Hollywood Reporter and one of the 100 most powerful women in the world by Forbes. She recently spoke at the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center’s Gala and took her industry to task for the way it treats the LGBT community.

Brokeback Mountain, Milk, Boys Don’t Cry, Philadelphia, The Hours, Gods and Monsters, The Talented Mr. Ripley, A Single Man, My Own Private Idaho, Cloud Atlas – in all these movies, the main character is murdered or martyred or commits suicide or just dies unhappily. And there are far more pernicious and dangerous images that confront gay kids and their parents: the lesbian murderer, the psychotic transvestite, the queen who is humiliated and sometimes tossed off a ship or a ledge.

Pascal takes that analysis one important step further and asks two important questions. First, what is the impact of these messages?

The most benign stereotypes would have a gay kid believe that they will end up being the asexual, witty best friend of the pretty girl, or a drag queen, or a swishy hairdresser. The list goes on… Not every gay character needs to be defined by his or her sexuality. Can’t being gay be one stitch in the fabric of someone’s life? Can’t we depict men and women who just so happen to be gay – perhaps a lawyer or soldier or business executive or scientist or engineer?

More importantly, she issues a challenge to her peers.

We need to create an atmosphere that encourages people to speak up, so we get this right. How about next time, when any of us are reading a script and it says words like fag, or faggot – homo – dyke – take a pencil and just cross it out. Just don’t do it.

How perfectly put. Like it or not, movies, television, webcasts, video games, and the whole of pop culture have a significant influence on our lives and can help shape attitudes. We need more people like Amy Pascal to insist that this power be used for good.

Women’s History Month 2013: bell hooks

29 Mar

bell_hooks_wikimedia_commons_cmongirl_pdToday we honor and celebrate one of my personal heroes, bell hooks.  Our bell hooks was born Gloria Jean Watkins in 1952 in Hopkinsville, Kentucky.  hooks changed her name to honor both her grandmother (whose name she took) and her mother. She earned her B.A. in English from Stanford University, and her doctorate from University of California, Santa Cruz.  hooks’ career has centered around the intersections of oppression, with a focus on race, gender, power, and privilege–a woman after my own heart!

Every diversity training or mediation my company, EqualityWorks,NW, does starts off with this bell hooks’ quote:

For me, forgiveness and compassion are always linked: how do we hold people accountable for wrongdoing and yet at the same time remain in touch with their humanity enough to believe in their capacity to be transformed?

I think all of us that are doing any type of social work have to believe we are all capable of a transformative experience; that we can experience each other and ourselves in new ways that benefit the greater good. I do admit that on my worst misanthropic days, I have difficulty believing this, but I do strive to have hooks’ strength of character.

It is not a small wonder that hooks was strongly influenced and inspired by another hero of mine, Paulo Freire.  hooks talked about how Preire allowed her the, “right as a subject in resistance to define reality.”  We see this philosophy of hooks in her book, Ain’t I a Woman?: Black Women and Feminism.  We also see this philosophy in how hooks addresses the power and influence of pop culture:

Whether we’re talking about race or gender or class, popular culture is where the pedagogy is, it’s where the learning is. So I think that partially people like me who started off doing feminist theory or more traditional literary criticism or what have you begin to write about popular culture, largely because of the impact it was having as the primary pedagogical medium for masses of people globally who want to, in some way, understand the politics of difference.

 My ulterior motive in celebrating bell hooks is that I want more people to read her work and be impacted by her wisdom.  Of course, I also hope I eventually get to meet her in person.  We are all exceedingly fortunate to have bell hooks!
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