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Feminist Heroes of the Past: Josephine Butler

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Josephine Butler, official bad-ass

Whenever I hear a women say that they’re not a feminist I think one of three things:

1.) They don’t know the meaning of the word.

2.) They are scared that they will be negatively associated with (untrue) stereotypes that feminists are bitter, ugly, angry, masculine, man-haters.

or

3.) They Don’t Know Their History

Throughout all time in almost all cultures women, their bodies, and their sexuality have been attempted to be controlled.  I love reading and learning about feminism.  I am a bad feminist in the sense that since I am new to the movement I am still educating myself about the feminists of the past and the enormous obstacles they overcame.  I just learned about the all-around awesome woman Josephine Butler and I felt I had to share.

The following is an excerpt from the marvelous book ‘Farewell to the East End’.  Adapted into the popular BBC show, ‘Call the Midwife’ it is one memoir of three written by Jennifer Worth.  The books chronicle her life experiences as a Midwife in the poorest areas of 1950’s post-War London.  I find them endlessly fascinating as a look into the intimate lives of ordinary women of the past.


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[Trigger Warning]

In the following excerpt Jennifer is having a conversation with Sister Monica Joan, a 90 year old nun.  Sister Monica Joan was raised in a very wealthy family in the Victorian Age and did not embark on her journey as a nurse, midwife, and nun until she was over thirty.  Jennifer is asking why she became a nurse when she had the financial freedom to do anything she wanted:

                                                                       ***

     [Sister Monica:] ‘When Nancy died, I had an almighty row with my father, who wanted to control me.  I hated the shallow, empty life I was leading, and wanted to throw myself into the struggle.  I left home to become a nurse.  It was the least I could do in her memory.’

     [Jennifer:] ‘Who was Nancy?’

     ‘My maid.  She had been surgically raped.’

     ‘What! Surgically raped? What on earth does that mean?’

     ‘Exactly what it says.  Josephine Butler had rescued that child and asked me if I could take her on as my ladies maid.  I was eighteen at the time, and my mother permitted me to have a lady’s maid of my choice.  Nancy was thirteen.’

      ‘Who was Josephine Butler?’

      ‘An unknown saint.  You are ignorant, child! I cannot waste my time with such ignorance.  Go, fetch my tea, if your mind cannot rise to higher thoughts.’

     Sister Monica Joan closed her fine, hooded eyes, and haughtily turned her head to indicate the conversation was over.

                                                                        ***

After the conversation Jennifer made it a point to find out what Sister Monica Joan was talking about, and some of the older nuns filled her in.  I was also filled in with a bit of history I had never heard about.

In the 1860’s syphilis was rampant in England.  It was so common and so widespread that it was weakening the British Army and Royal Navy.  In an attempt to curb the spread of the diseases through prostitutes, the Contagious Diseases Acts were passed.

When these cruel laws were passed, this gave the right that a policeman or Doctor could inspect any prostitute on sight and demand a examination.  If they were infected, they were placed in a lock hospital (a hospital that you couldn’t leave that was basically a prison) until you were cleared of infection.  There were several terrible problems and consequences with this law.

  •   The law was designed to persecute women only.  Men were not subjected to examinations or locked up if infected.
  •   Women were forced to consent to the examination.  If a women failed to sign a consent form, she was imprisoned until she did sign.
  • Once a consent form was signed, it was indefinite and she could be examined whenever the examiner wanted.
  • This law attracted deviant, sadistic men that volunteered to do the examinations and were placed in complete power over these women.
  • These “examinations” were done without witnesses.  There are many reports that they weren’t examinations at all but simply an excuse to hurt the women.  Many women were raped by the examiner’s and well as having to endure the insertion of the instruments.
  • Gynecological instruments were primitive and no lubrication was used.  An examination was a tortuous ordeal.

Victorian speculum

  • Not surprisingly,  not only prostitutes were targeted but all lower class women.  Any woman could be “suspected of prostitution” and “examined.”
  • These exams were not just happening to women but girls starting at the age of thirteen.

 

So. To sum up.  If you were a teenage girl walking in London’s East End, you could be confronted by a policeman that may be an honest man may be a sexual sadist.  You will be confronted with a piece of paper and ordered to sign.  Once you do, you will be strapped down and violated.  Even if you are not infected, you now are on record and will most likely have to endure several more “exams” in the future.

This is what happened to Sister Monica Joan’s maid Nancy.  When she was 13 she was trying to take in some washing by the docks to make some money, and was accosted.  An “exam” that should have taken less than five minutes was a torturous forty-five minutes.  She was strapped and tied down and was treated so roughly she had injuries and pain for the rest of her life.  Fortunately for her Josephine Butler came to her aid and placed her as a maid in the West End so that she didn’t have to endure the ordeal ever again.

So who was Josephine Butler?  She was a Christian feminist that made it her life’s work to try to protect and speak up for the rights of prostitutes, who lived dismal and violent lives.  In Victorian times sex was not even mentioned in polite company and Josephine spoke up as to what was really happening.  In the 1870’s England was going to expand this law.  Instead of only London all of England was going to be affected.

Josephine started the Ladies National Association for the Repeal of the Contagious Diseases Act and dedicated all her efforts to repealing the law.  She is responsible for coining the term “surgical rape” and it proved effective as some people had not seen the procedure in these terms.  Josephine was vilified, and even physically assaulted.  This did not stop her and eventually as the public became more aware of what was happening.  In a time when women were literally their husbands property and under their complete control her husband George Butler not only “allowed” her activism but helped and encouraged her every step of the way.

It took a decade but the vile law was finally abolished in 1882.  Never think one person can’t make a difference.  Josephine saved hundreds of not thousands of women being surgically raped.

 Modern Day Applications

It should be mentioned that although this appeal happened over 140 years ago “surgical rape” is once more an issue in modern day America.  In 2012 the state of Virginia passed a law where if a women wanted an abortion she was required to have a transvaginal ultra-sound.  These ultrasounds serve no medical purpose. The idea is if a heartbeat is heard the woman won’t go through with  it. ( It hasn’t decreased abortions.)

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transvaginal wand, shown to scale

About four years ago I was having pains and my Doctor had to check for ovarian cysts and I had a transvaginal ultra-sound.  Let me assure you, THEY HURT.  Every ounce of my energy was concentrated on not crying in pain.

I believe abortion is an immoral act.  But since making abortion illegal neither increases or decreases abortions, and women’s deaths and injury skyrockets, keeping abortion safe and legal has always been a no-brainer to me, even though I realize some think that being a Pro-Choice Christian could be considered an oxymoron.

The idea that lawmakers are once again trying to violate women’s bodies without their consent is repellent to me and fits the legal definition of rape.  Since the women are receiving abortions I feel an undercurrent of “punishment” and “who cares if you don’t consent and it hurts” attached to the law.

I’m proud of all my modern Josephine Butler-esque feminists that stood up to say, “No, this is wrong.”  Their ruckus causing ways helped stop the spread of this gross law to other states.  Keep on fighting, Ladies.  Josephine would be proud.

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Photo taken at a women’s rights rally in Virgina, 2012.

 

You can follow Linddykal on Twitter @lindseykal28

SOURCES:

Jordan, Jane, Josephine Butler, John Murray, 2000

Moberly Bell, E., Josephine Butler, Constable, 1962

Stafford, Ann, The Age of Consent, Hodder and Stoughton, 1964

Worth, Jennifer, Farewell to the East End, Weidernfeld & Nicolson, 2009

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Possible Consequences of Hobby Lobby Ruling

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It’s been a few days since the Supreme Court sided with the Hobby Lobby verdict and I’m still adjusting to my shock.  I really didn’t think they would win, but they did.  I don’t work at Hobby Lobby, but the consequences of this decision is that my boss can now say what medical care I can and cannot have covered by my insurance based on his or her religious beliefs.  Awesome.  Though I don’t know why I was surprised.  Policing women’s bodies and attempting to control their sexuality?

That train is never late.

But what now?  As Ruth Ginsburg, Supreme Court Justice said in her dissent, “The court, I feel, has ventured into a minefield.”  Most disturbing of all is that the basis for their objection is not even scientifically sound.  There is the simple fact that HELLO!  IUD’s ARE NOT ABORTIONS!!

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That their claim is not backed up by science is of no matter.  It’s what they “sincerely believe” that counts when it comes to stripping women of their bodily autonomy.  While many do not bat an eye when it comes to taking away birth control I see no end to the ways employers can find loopholes to withhold insurance coverage from their employees if all it takes is citing a “sincere religious belief.”

 

1.)Unwed MothersAny coverage for prenatal and pregnancy care can possibly be denied if the employer cites only children produced in a marriage state will be covered.  This discrimination could continue after the child is born, not covering the child after birth.

 2.)GBLT People – The SCOTUS decision wasn’t even a week old before some people jumped on this bandwagon.  Religious organizations are already trying to use the verdict to discriminate.  Forget about medical coverage, it’s against my religious beliefs to even hire you.  Don’t let the door knock you on your way out.

3.)Blood Transfusions – Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t believe in them.  Get in a car wreck? Tough luck, you’re paying for it yourself.  Or just bleed out.  You know.  Whatever.

4.)Gluttony is a sin – Bad joints, high blood pressure, diabetes medication or surgery?  Sorry.  It’s my sincere religious belief that I shouldn’t have to pay for it.  Should’ve put down the cheeseburgers Fatty.

5.)STD’s – It’s my sincere religious belief that you’re out of luck…though you’ll possibly get covered if you’re married.  I haven’t decided yet.   Since I’m the boss and get to decide it will be whatever my whim is.

6.)You’re Body is a Temple – So that pesky lung cancer you caught from cigarettes?  Yeah….you’re on your own.  Come to think of it if you catch any cancer derived from not eating 100% organic food all the time, well that’s rough.  Sucks to be you.  You violated my sincere beliefs and I’m not paying for it.

7.)Muslim Boss? – A women’s naked form shouldn’t be seen by anyone save their husband.  Do you want to see a Doctor without the presence of your husband and have it paid for by insurance?  Tough titty said the kitty.

8.) Mental Health Medications – Watch out Californians, Scientologists don’t believe in mental health meds.  So if you’re bi-polar and in the middle of a nervous break or suicidally depressed maybe you should take some long walks in the woods while listening to classical music.  I’ve heard that helps.

9.) Genital Mutilation Reconstruction – Is your boss an immigrant from a part of Africa that cuts women’s clitorises off in the name of female purity?  Well, you’re not getting an operation that can restore partial sensation, women shouldn’t have any sexual feeling.  It’s my sincere religious belief.

But hey, maybe this law has some benefits.  I’ve decided it’s against my beliefs to pay back my student loans.  The Bible says all debts after seven years are forgiven.  Woo Hoo!!

 

For now there’s not much that can be done.  The Supreme Court is the end of the line.  Yeah, I can vote with my wallet and go to Michael’s instead of Hobby Lobby (and believe me, I’m never setting a toe in there again) but this decision and the ramifications goes well beyond a craft store.

I guess all there is to do now is wait until the 2014 November elections.  Since 99% of sexually active women use some form of birth control in their lives it’s pretty safe to say we’re quite fond of our whore pills.  We’ll just have to use our votes since our opinions on this matter mattered so little to the 5 judges (all men by the way) that dismissed us.

 

If conservatives are worried that this move might have alienated a huge selection of women beyond repair, I say to them, “Don’t worry, we’re not mad….”

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[Trigger Warning] How to Cope When Someone You Love is Raped

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When you find out that someone you love has been raped it is patently obvious (one would hope) that this is not about you. It’s about the rape survivor.  That said, after the smoke has cleared you may feel a lot of emotions while you are processing that you may or may not be ready for.

I want to clarify that this post is not about the what to do during a conversation if someone confides to you that they have been raped. How to handle that conversation deserves a post on it’s own, but the first and most important thing to do is BELIEVE THEM. For God’s sake, don’t ask them what they were wearing, or if they were drinking.  Really.  I’ll repeat that, it’s that important. Don’t tell them they have a “duty” to report their rapist.  That’s not your job.

 

Your job is to say “I’m so sorry that happened to you.”  Your job is to say thank you for trusting me with this. Your job is to say you love them.  Your job is to call their rapist a sick son of a bitch.  Your job is to support them, another topic that deserves it’s own post in the future.

 

I’ve have the privilege of never being raped myself.  That has not been the case with several people I care about and unfortunately I have a lot of practice with this conversation.  I tend to be empathetic, see all perspectives of a situation, and not judge.  Maybe I just have “one of those faces.”  Whatever the reason, people have tended to confide their secrets to me my entire life.  I’m thankful they do.

 

I would also like to add that I’ve never been in the position where a child or someone that needed my protection confided in me.  These were adult women (and one adult man) and their rapes all happened several years ago.  I also did not know any of the rapists personally. I don’t want to say if the rape survivors were family, friends, or a mix of the two because their story is not mine to tell.

The rapes ranged from years of childhood sexual abuse, a roofie during a college party, an assault while passed out drunk, an attack that included torture, and once the rapist was their ex-romantic partner.  However I think Obama said it best (and even his detractors would agree on this point):

“Rape is rape. And the idea that we should be parsing and qualifying and slicing what types of rape we are talking about doesn’t make sense.”

I found that no matter what the circumstances, the process I went through afterwards remained more or less the same.  I want to make clear that I’m not an expert or a counselor, but the following coping methods are what worked for me.

Your first responsibility is to your loved one.  You may not be sure how to act after the initial conversation, but the answer is really easy. You don’t need to walk on egg shells around them.  They are the same person they were before.  You just know their past better.  Respect that gift for what it is.  They did not need to make themselves vulnerable to you.  Take that for what it was, a sign of trust.  However, once you get home you will most likely experience the following:

You will feel rage.

 Blinding, unrelenting rage.  It is inevitable.  You care about and cherish this person, and some deviant tried to reduce them to nothing more than a Kleenex for them to use.

Along with the rage comes violent fantasies.  Technicolor, detailed, violent fantasies about what you would want to do to their rapist.  I had never had really violent thoughts before and they are disconcerting and disturbing.

I found that exercise helped.  Get on the treadmill and exhaust yourself with physical activity.  It exhausts the body but it also exhausts the mind.  Once when I was exercising hard I just burst out crying.  It has a way of bringing emotions to the surface.

Eventually, the rage turns to anger and the anger fades to a dull ache.  The fantasies and details become less sharp, less graphic, less detailed.

Also, do not discuss with the rape survivor the anger you are feeling.  It serves no purpose except to hurt them and feel undeserved guilt.  Be an adult and show some wisdom.

You May Have Nightmares

This is normal, and they will pass.  If you wake up from an especially disturbing one turn on your lights and read for awhile and try not to dwell on it.  Your mind is trying to process the anger and misplaced guilt you have about not being able to protect your loved one.  The aforementioned exercise will help you fall asleep faster and deeper.  Melatonin is a good natural sleep aid that helps put you to sleep but doesn’t keep you asleep all night.

Throw Yourself a Pity Party

Don’t pretend everything is fine. It’s not.  Your heart has just been broken.  Unplug the phone, call in sick to work, and take to your bed.  Get drunk.  Eat a pint of Ben and Jerrys.  Cry and feel depressed.

But then…then you need to stop and get up.  Jesus rose after three days and so can you.  The important part is to get it out of your system.  The next important part is to go on.  If you feel you can’t, then it’s time to get some professional help.

Don’t worry about feeling guilty that you feel so upset when the crime didn’t happen to you.  It’s all part of the process.  You care about the rape survivor and they are your first priority.  But it’s okay to take care of yourself too.

You May Get Depressed

You may feel a crushing sadness.  You may lose faith about the goodness in humanity.  You may question why God would let this terrible thing happen.  You just have to get through to the other side.  Like the anger, it tends to fade with time.

Talk to Someone

I never went to counseling, and to be honest maybe I should have.  It may have helped.  Call a rape counseling hotline or therapist.  Talk to a friend or family member about what happened.  Though be very mindful and conscientious about not speaking to someone that is in the same social circle.  Even if they are not in the same circles there’s no reason to use their name.  Respect their privacy.

Become a Feminist

Between the confessions of rape and confessions of domestic violence in my immediate circle I felt like I didn’t have a choice.  All the stereotypes that I’d be perceived as a bitter, ugly, angry man hater didn’t matter.  I simply couldn’t live like this any longer.  My heart couldn’t take it.

It helps you feel empowered.  It takes away the helplessness felt during depression because it feels like you are finally “doing” something to help stop the violence.

This is an aside but feminism helps combat male rape too.  One of the reasons male rape is so often suffered in silence is that rape is seen as something that happens to women.  Thus likening the survivor to a woman.  In other words, they’re weak.

The more I learn about feminism the more I want to know. The stereotypes aren’t true.  It’s simply women and their allies uniting around the simple truth that “this is my body and it belongs to me.”

The reality is that 1 in 4 girls will be sexually abused.  1 in 5 women will be sexually assaulted.  1 in 7 women will be raped by their husbands. Join in the fight to help support strangers and reduce the amount of rapes and violence.

So be well.  Love on your friends and family.  Take care of them, and take care of yourself.

RAINN – Rape and Incenst National Network

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Tina Fey: Bossypants

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“Whitney Houston’s cover of “I Will Always Love You” was constantly on my FM Walkman radio at the time. I think it made me cry because I associated it with absolutely no one.”

-Tina Fey, Bossypants

Straight up? I love Tina Fey. Whether she’s telling the audience she can see Russia from her house as Sarah Palin, or screaming at a plastic bag stuck in a tree, she’s always engaging to watch. I saw her memoir on the shelves and after the obligatory split-second “What’s wrong with her hands?“ moment, I couldn‘t wait to read her book.  

She tackles the “How did you get that scar?” inquiry right off the bat and makes a joke that the question can act as a barometer regarding a person’s rudeness. The more tactless a person is the quicker the issue comes up. Strangers don’t even introduce themselves before demanding an explanation about her face.

For the record, she got her scar while playing in her front yard when she was five years old. A disgruntled man approached Tina and randomly slashed her in the face. I’ve wondered a few times where she picked up the faint line on the left side of her face and had no clue the answer would be so violent. Fey declined discussing her scar thus far because it is impossible to talk about the incident without exploiting it in an sensational way.

I enjoyed my time reading this book, but it‘s just not as amusing as I thought it would be. Tina Fey is the funniest woman in Hollywood. So why wasn’t her book?

I think I was subconsciously expecting the autobiography of Liz Lemon, the goofy and scattered workaholic from 30 Rock. What I got instead was the memoir of a tenacious woman who clawed her way to the top of the male-dominated comedy world. Talent won out and so did the non-revelation that chicks can be funny too.

I wasn’t looking for career advice in this book, but it’s what I got. Among the most valuable is to be careful and not to fall into woman vs. woman hate crime.

 ”This is what I tell young women who ask me for career advice. People are going to try to trick you. To make you feel that you are in competition with one another. “You’re up for a promotion. If they go for a woman, it’ll be between you and Barbara.” Don’t be fooled. You’re not in competition with other women. You’re in competition with everyone.”

Now regarded as one of her keystone achievements, ironically her scathing Sarah Palin impression basically fell into her lap. She wasn’t even working on Saturday Night Live when it all went down. The writers of SNL created & wrote the skits, Tina would swoop in and deliver the lines, and swoop out again to go back to work on 30 Rock. She felt like the eye of a febrile political storm and still gets hate mail on a daily basis.

The book chronicles her well known work: her rise in SNL, the production of Mean Girls, and the creation of 30 Rock. There’s been some meh projects here and there (Date Night, I’m looking in your direction), but that’s the exception rather than the rule. Tina Fey proves that smart and sexy are not mutually exclusive concepts. Plus, she’s hilarious. But you already knew that.

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Adam Carolla…Feminist?

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With a best-selling book titled In Fifty Years We’ll All Be Chicks Adam Carolla is hardly seen as a progressive voice for women. Although currently famous for having the number one podcast on iTunes, Adam Carolla has been around for decades and is known for being the quintessential dude-bro. I’ve heard him make sweeping generalizations about all women on a fairly regular basis.  His most infamous, that women aren’t as funny as men, was widely reported and I’m not here to be an Adam Carolla apologist.  This is what made the following all the more surprising.

On his April 30th podcast The Adam Carolla Show he was in the process of telling his co-hosts how his seven year old daughter wants to get her ears pierced and how she has an overall preoccupation with being pretty. Adam shared that this is troubling to him because he wants his daughter to feel that there’s more to her and more to her life than her looks. He couldn’t find a solution to the problem though. The following is an excerpt from the show.

“So my daughter, everything about her is about being pretty, being pretty, being pretty. She likes ice skating and she’s smart and she’s very athletic and stuff like that, but all the conversation is just about being pretty, being pretty, being pretty. And it’s like, I don’t want that to be the end all and be all. On the other hand I don’t think the game has changed much in 50 years.”

 

“I also know we’ve created a society where it’s not acceptable for a woman to go out to work with not a stitch of make-up on and their hair all frizzy and sweatpants…it’s sadly not acceptable…women are spending an hour a day if not more on something other than math or science…You take that chunk of life…the amount of money, energy, and time expended…it’s putting them at a deficit. I wouldn’t call it crippling but it’s not fair.”

 

He pontificated about possible solutions. He thought that if all women back off the beauty emphasis on an honor system it would be like steroids in athletics. Women would cheat and use (beauty regimens) to get ahead of each other and we’d back to square one.
As a joke he offered possible solution about all chicks rocking the burka here, then they’d be on an even playing field. The problem with that route he says, is that it leads to getting acid dumped on them for daring to read a book.

 

Adam admitted he didn’t know what the solution and the conversation drifted away to another topic. It was interesting to see Adam Carolla, so eternally sure and confident of himself, admit the Catch-22 that women are hindered by the burden and judgment of their appearance in a way that men aren’t.

In another recent podcast, (The Adam and Dr. Drew show #117) he expands on these ideas even further. To build his daughter up his wife tells her how pretty she is and Adam doesn’t like it.

 

“My wife is doing the thing that society has taught her to do which is…[telling his daughter] ‘You’re beautiful. You’re beautiful.’ And I just stopped her and said, wrong message…Let’s stop telling all young women you’re beautiful…That shouldn’t be the message. The message should be you’re compelling, you’re smart, you’re interesting, you’re funny…Arguably, in a weird way, being exceptionally beautiful could be a curse. To a young woman starting at age nine or ten and moving all the way through high school, that woman, her job is going to be being hot.  She’s never going know her to full potential!

 

Adam then acknowledged that he and his wife are guilty of treating his son and daughter differently. They emphasize his daughter’s looks and his son’s actions. This worries him about what this is doing in shaping their identity.

 

“My son, all we do with my son is, ‘oh you’re great at math Sonny, that’s great, maybe one day you’ll be an engineer. You’re great at this and that and we never talk about his physicality. We never talk about what he looks like… …He doesn’t hear anything about what he looks like…it’s neither here nor there…my daughter is already getting sucked into this world where ‘you’re beautiful’.

 

The conversation then drifted to Lena Dunham, the star and creator of the HBO show Girls. For those that don’t watch the show Lena is considered talented, hilarious, and has received no end of accolades despite the fact that she could be considered plain and a bit overweight by classic TV standards.

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“What I want to say is I don’t want to get hold of a 9 year old Lena Dunham and try to explain to her and convince her that she’s beautiful. I want to say to her ‘you’re smart, you have other gifts. And by the way, gifts that are going to keep going into your seventies, whereas the beauty, at some point that’s going to fall off a cliff. So you’re lucky. And the good news is, there’s plenty of dudes out there that will be interested in a smart, funny, successful person with your personality and your gifts.”

 

I could hardly believe my ears. While I don’t think Adam Carolla should get a ticker tape parade for espousing decent sentiments, I couldn’t help but be somewhat astounded. Considering that The Man Show ended every episode with scantily dressed women bouncing on trampolines as the credits rolled, the previous quotes can be considered somewhat radical.

 

Adam Carolla has never had to deal with the pressures that society places on women, he had the privilege of being able to ignore them since they never impacted his life. I’ll be curious and interested to hear how his views evolve as his daughter is continues to grow up. He seems to resent and be somewhat frightened of her as being seen as merely ornamental and not as a full human being.
You can’t get much more feminist than that.

 

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Feminism and Orphan Black

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Straight up? If you are a science fiction fan and aren’t watching the new BBC America show, you’re missing out.  It is not only one of the freshest and well-crafted sci-fi shows I’ve seen in years, it is also surprisingly one of the most feminist.

(Minor spoilers ahead)  For the uninitiated, the pilot starts out with Sarah, (played by the ridiculously talented Tatiana Maslany.)  Sarah is a pretty but hardened petty criminal waiting for a late night subway train.  She witnesses a suicide, and is shocked and confused to find that the dead girl is her doppelganger.

Being the anti-hero opportunist that she is, Sarah’s first instinct is to try to take this affluent, dead look-alike’s identity in order to drain her bank account.  Through a series of twists and turns Sarah realizes that she is in fact a clone, made for reasons not given yet.  There are in fact a dozen or so of “her”, some friends, some foes, all made of the same genetic material.

The show has just debuted its second season, and more pratfalls and twists await.  Although I watch the show for the cleverness of the plots and the well crafted acting, it also employs some interesting feminist aspects that adds to my enjoyment.

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1.)   The Privilege Aspect –  Orphan Black  raises several thought provoking undertones about the aspects of sociology.  All the clones are beautiful, intelligent, and have impulsive tendencies.  But how they were raised morphs all of them into distinctly different personalities that raises questions about classism and internalized self respect.

There’s Allison, the tightly wound frustrated housewife.  Beth, the straight laced detective that solves crimes and upholds the law.  Cosima, the brilliant scientist grad student.  Last, there’s poor damaged Helena, so abused she is unable to function normally in society.

Theoretically they all have the brain power to obtain a PhD like Cosima, but she is the only one encouraged to take the academic route.  Sarah for instance uses her smarts as a low level grifter and scam artist.  As a woman raised in the foster system, she did not really have the temperament toward authority nor the opportunity to foster the traditional education route.

2.)Representation of GLBT Characters – Orphan Black has gay characters that don’t feel perfunctory or tokens.  There’s Felix, Sarah’s brother from foster care.  Felix is not only openly gay but he is a sometimes sex worker.  Sarah does not shame him or views him as less than for what he does for a living.  This is only one aspect of him as a young man and doesn’t define his role on the show.  Sarah and Felix alternate between love and frustration, a familiar dynamic to any sibling.  Felix is often funny, (and downright hysterical when paired with Soccer-Mom Allison) but his sexuality is never the butt of the joke.

 Cosima, the grad-school hipster clone mentioned above, is a lesbian.  This is never shown on screen to be a source of shame or pride, it’s just who she is.  Cosima’s lesbianism is never fetishized or unnecessarily focused upon as the main aspect of her character.  In short, she’s seen as a human being first, as most straight characters have been since TV began.

3.)    Female dominated cast. – Orphan Black passes the Bechdel test with flying colors.  The women are constantly interacting, at odds with, and supporting one another.  They rarely talk about their romantic relationships, there’s much more important things to do!  In fact, this show is almost a reversal on the Bechdel test.  Paul, Sarah’s love interest, is defined by Sarah.  Most of his conversations, actions, and motivations are based around his relationship.  It’s a flip on the standard formula and interesting to watch.

 4.)Bodily autonomy – I saved the most important for last.  The most striking symbolic theme for Sarah is an attempted control and ownership of her body by outside forces more powerful than she is.   She beats on ceaselessly against these forces, a boat against the current.  Spurred on by the soul deep belief that this is my body and it belongs to me.  You can’t get much more feminist than that.

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