September 24, 2010

Top 5 Problems with Glee: Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Season 2 Premiere

Filed under: Television — Tags: , , , , — anita @ 6:00 am

by Anita Sarkeesian
Crossposted from Feminist Frequency

Tuesday night’s season premiere of Glee may have been one of the most offensive hours of television I’ve watched in a long time. It seemed like every minute or two they would make another sexist, racist or homophobic joke. I was afraid Glee was going in a bad direction after the first few episodes of season one but none-the-less I kept watching. I understand the popularity surrounding Glee because it’s a fun show with silly over the top characters, and I’m kind of a sucker for musicals, however the offensive stereotypes masked in humour as well as continuous tokenizing has taken it’s toll. The season two premiere had me enraged.

Glee is a show that stars mainly white characters with a secondary cast of token “minorities” which is illustrated by the fact that only the white cast members were featured on the cover of Rolling Stone. The show is notorious for tokenism. It does so by including a limited number of individuals from oppressed groups to make a TV show (or workplace) “feel” more inclusive while maintaining the status quo. In this case the status quo is white and heterosexual. Token characters are usually relegated to a secondary or sidekick role. In Glee, nearly all the secondary characters are tokenized even as the writers attempt to cover it up by “special episodes about —insert oppression here–“.

There were so many problems with the season premiere that it would take me pages and pages to write it all out so here are my top 5 issues.


In this episode we are introduced to Sannon Beiste (pronounced Beast – I CANNOT believe they had the nerve to name her Beast), the new female football coach at McKinley High. Immediately Beiste is made ridiculous because of her name, her appearance, her gender and her profession. The writers used all this to make jokes at her expense playing up her perceived sexuality and gender identity without ever mentioning it. Although Beiste does not necessarily self identify as lesbian or transgendered the writers are clearly playing on transphobia. I’ve already seen posts on the internet inquiring about the actor’s “real” gender. They did attempt to add complexity to her character by bringing in a bit of a back story which I appreciate but it doesn’t make up for endless homophobic and sexist jokes. Also they consciously chose to name her Beiste, a “butch” and monstrous name to match their casting, costuming and writing of the character. They clearly did this to create a hyper stereotyped caricature of a masculine or ‘butch’ woman with endless possibilities of homophobic and sexist jokes. Characters on the show that have a non normative gender presentation and don’t fit neatly into traditional “male” or “female” identities are often ridiculed; this even happens with Sue, the villain that everyone loves. Beiste is initially made fun of by other characters and framed as an outsider. Later the audience develops more sympathy for her through Will as he begins to see that she is a “person” too despite her monstrous appearance and behaviour. Although we are supposed to have more tolerance and some measure of sympathy by the end of the episode, she is still an over the top stereotyped, caricatured “other”.


I’m so tired of the fake rape plot point in TV shows. Writers often use it because it provides a seemingly unpredictable twist in the narrative, but in this episode it’s just played for comedy. It’s another case of writers having fictional women use the fake accusation of rape or assault to destroy an individual as a personal vendetta. Sue convinces Brittany to accuse Coach Beiste of sexual assualt in order to get her fired. Although it is clearly and obviously a plot point played for laughs, the pervasiveness of this trope creates an environment where real women are thought of as suspect when reporting rapes and assaults. In the real world these sorts of false accusations are extremely rare especially in contrast to the real world epidemic: 1 in 6 women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime.

Read the last 3 issues over at Feminist Frequency >>

March 22, 2010

Kathryn Bigelow: Best Director. Period.

Guest post by Rachel O:

The Hurt Locker is a movie that while, not hitting big at the box office, hit big with critics, and racked up the awards at the Oscars – Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Picture.  Portraying the story of a bomb technician in Iraq without being Anti-War or Pro-Bush, Kathryn Bigelow is having a good year in Hollywood.  While this certainly isn’t the first time Bigelow has directed a “manly”/”masculine” action movie, it’s the first time she’s garnered this much attention.   She directed a successful, and, in my opinion and the opinion of many others, brilliant movie, but also became the first for women in many places – first to win a Director’s Guild Award, first to take home the Oscar for Best Director.

Both pre- and post-Oscars, much has been written, some praising, some criticizing Bigelow and The Hurt Locker.  In the midst of award season, Martha Nochimson wrote an article at Salon that resorted to personal attacks on the director.  Nochimson took issue with the fact that while Bigelow was racking up awards and nominations, Nora Ephron and Nancy Meyers, two other female directors who direct “life-affirming situations of romantic comedy” were cast by the wayside.  However, it didn’t seem to be a case of gender divided media, (i.e. all books that feature stories about women are considered “chick lit”).  Sometimes shit is just shit, no matter of the gender of the writer, director, producer, or characters.  I saw Julie and Julia, and personally, I didn’t think it could even compare to The Hurt Locker in terms of worthiness of awards, and truly amazing filmmaking.  My criticisms did not come from the fact that the person behind the lens has ovaries, but rather because the movies are simply not as good.  These romantic comedies which Nochimson wrote so highly of, are sometimes just as (if not more) damaging than a typical “guys” movie.  I don’t feel put down while watching Zombieland, but get depressed about the state of women in Hollywood while watching the trailer for All About Steve.  Jeremy Renner, in a recent interview, was told by the interviewer, that everyone she knew was shocked that such a “macho” film had been directed by a woman.  Renner simply responded, “What does having a set of ovaries have to do with directing a film? It’s through her eyes that she sees, not through her mammaries or anything else that defines her as a woman, right?”

Nochisom (or possibly an editor at Salon) felt an appropriate title for the piece was “Kathryn Bigelow: Feminist Pioneer or Tough Guy In Drag.”  I feel that calling Bigelow’s gender into question in the headline was just downright disgusting .  Nochimson put forth the idea that Kathryn Bigelow acts all tough, being such a badass in directing a war movie, to impress all the cool dudes – she couldn’t possibly be interested in making a war movie because she wants to, right?  On top of her hypercritical anger at Bigelow, Nochimson took homophobic shots at the successful director, writing that while Quentin Tarantino referred to her as the “Queen of Directors” (after her DGA win), a more accurate description would have been “Transvestite of Directors.”

The writer directed her anger at the fact that the whole movie is about this guy who diffuses bombs, and they focus on him the entire time!  Nochimson failed at both the movie and social/pop culture critical levels.  In criticizing the fact that Kathryn Bigelow failed to give the female characters (the daughter and wife of the main character, Will) a voice in the film, she simply came off as someone who participates in faux feminism.  That she wrote such a scathing piece about Bigelow because she’s successful, and did it while not having female characters (no matter their role) in her film, pointed out a much bigger failure on Nochimson’s part than Bigelow’s.

Following Bigelow’s historic win at the Oscars, one would think the anger and grievances for her and her film would slow, or even stop.  Instead a new set of issues sprung forth, people complaining about her male centric career up to this point, questioning her win based on the subject matter of The Hurt Locker and taking issue with Bigelow’s apparent lack of recognition of what a milestone moment it was for women.

Susan G. Cole wrote a critical piece, titled “Kathryn Bigelow: The Absentee Feminist.”  Cole makes assumptions based on Bigelow’s 120 second long acceptance speech – she must not celebrate International Women’s Day, appreciate the historic moment it was when she won, or care about her gender.  Seeing the almost immediate criticisms that appeared online after her win, my boyfriend said “She directed the best film of the year – period.”  To say I agree with that sentiment is an understatement.

Apparently praising her fellow nominees, dedicating her award to the troops, and thanking the critics who supported the film, along with the cast and crew who helped her make The Hurt Locker wasn’t good enough.  Cole compares Bigelow’s speech to Halle Berry’s 2002 Best Actress win at the same awards show, stating, “Berry wholly acknowledged that she’d made history, emotionally responded to the Oscar’s significance, reeled off the names of those actors who paved the way before her – from Hattie McDaniel onwards – and grasped that she didn’t do it on her own.  Not Bigelow.”  While it was Berry’s prerogative to mention the achievement in her award speech, I don’t think it’s right to position that against Bigelow for not doing the same.  The media talked about Bigelow’s gender constantly, and it’s pretty obvious she must’ve known what a big deal it was.

Cole’s piece feels unfocused – she writes about how feminist bashers love Kathryn Bigelow’s supposed stance on her gender, but then goes on to write about the attack on Women’s Studies courses and programs throughout the country.  The last line of the article is particularly bothersome – Cole blames Bigelow for ruining the week (Oscars on Sunday, International Women’s Day on Monday), writing “All in all, what could have been a great week for women turned out to be a bit of a washout.”  To blame Bigelow for ruining the week for 50% of the population is a little offensive to say the least.  It’s unfair to put all that on her shoulders.  While I think it’s important to examine gender and the role it has played historically in movies, Hollywood, and the award shows that praise them – I don’t think it’s worthwhile to attack this moment, to dissect every minute detail of Bigelow’s films, speeches, interviews, looking for flaws to criticize her on.  I’ll simply repeat the sentiment I felt after watching Bigelow take the stage twice in a row on Oscar night – The Hurt Locker was awesome, Bigelow is brilliant, and that’s that.

Kathryn Bigelow: Feminist Pioneer or Tough Guy In Drag? (Salon)

“It’s Through Her Eyes That She Sees”: Kathryn Bigelow On 60 Minutes (Jezebel)

Kathryn Bigelow: The Absentee Feminist (NOW Magazine)

October 23, 2008

Get active: No on 8!

Straights for No on 8! bring you this opportunity to fight the momentum in favor of proposition 8, the constitutional amendment that will pass into law the California Marriage Protection Act.  Counter to what it’s name implies, the California Marriage Protection Act will define marriage as a legal sanction only available to heterosexual couples. Refer to the California Official Voter Information Guide here.

Click here to visit the No on 8! site. Click here to read the Obama’s statement on 8 and why they are encouraging voters to vote against it on November 4.

To volunteer in the fight against Prop. 8:

A message from Bryan Safi and Amy Rhodes, Straights Against 8!

Prop 8 is now in very real danger of passing, which will ban gay marriage by changing the constitution to specifically discriminate against gay men and women. Gross.
You don’t have to be a homo to care, just a homosapein.
We need your help to spread the word and make sure this bullshit does not pass!

Bryan Safi and I are going to be volunteering at the following times/locations and we would love to have you there – BRING A CELL PHONE AND A CHARGER. Basically, you’ll be calling people to remind them to vote NO on Prop 8 – it’s easy and fun – and a lot more fun the more people that come. You can let one of us know you’re coming, or just show up! You do need to be there at the start time to go through a quick training session.

Sunday, October 26th
1 to 4 pm
The Gay and Lesbian Center at The Village
1125 N. McCadden Place
Los Angeles, CA 90038
PH: 323-860-7302
(street parking available)

Tuesday, October 28
6:30 to 9:30 pm
1268 N. Fairfax Avenue (at Fountain)
It’s a house – there is street parking and they will provide parking passes for you

Tuesday, November 4th – Election Day
We will be at voting polls when people enter reminding them to vote No on 8
If you want info on that, please email Bryan and he’ll put you in contact with the correct person –

October 15, 2008

Book Spotlight: Feminism is for Everybody by bell hooks

bell hooks has been an inspiration to me for a long time.  I’ve seen her speak over four times and I leave feeling invigorated and awake each time.  She speaks in a language that is clear, intelligent and accessible.  I appreciate her ability to speak to women and men within and outside academia and spread the word about sexism, racism, homophobia and classism.

To me, she has created that important bridge into the mainstream and has committed herself to becoming not just a scholar but a public intellectual.

I have many favorites from the prolific bell hooks but I find that Feminism is for Everybody truly exposes the multifaceted heart of feminism in an accessible and engaging way.

From chapter 1: Feminist Politics

Simply put, feminism is a movement to end sexism exploitation and oppression. This was a definition of feminism I offered in Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center more than 10 years ago. It was my hope at the time that it would become a common definition everyone would use. I liked this definition because it did not imply men were the enemy. By naming sexism as the problem it went directly to the heart of the matter. Practically, it is a definition which implies that all sexist thinking and action is the problem, whether those who perpetuate it are female or male, child or adult. It is also broad enough to include an understanding of systemic institutionalized sexism. As a definition it is open-ended. To understand feminism it implies one has to necessarily understand sexism.

From chapter 2: Consciousness-Raising

Feminists are made, not born. One does not become an advocate of feminist politics simply by having the privilege of having been born female. Like all political positions one becomes a believer in feminist politics through choice and action. When women first organized in groups to talk together about the issue of sexism and male domination, they were clear that females were as socialized to believe sexist thinking and values as males, the difference being simply that males benefited from sexism more than females and whereas a consequence less likely to want to surrender patriarchal privilege. Before women could change patriarchy we had to change ourselves; we had to raise our consciousness.

In this 1997 film from the Media Education Foundation, she articulates the value and importance of studying popular culture.