#askeljames or, Q & A and literary antifeminism

#askeljames or, Q & A and literary antifeminism

Mary Catherine Lawler

EL James, author of Fifty Shades of Grey, was catapulted to success by the incendiary interest in her triptych of Twilight fanfic qua BDSM fantasy. The BDSM community was understandably upset by James’ lack of respect for mutual boundaries, safety, and caution, while (wo)men* everywhere wondered how a thinly veiled abusive relationship could pass for romantic (as long as he’s rich and hung, he can hit me, stalk me, and isolate me?).

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James’ dead horse-tired plot of a virgin (of course, the female protagonist) meeting a dangerous and sexually experienced man who introduces her to technology (wow, a laptop!), patriarchal condescension (he acts without permission both in and out of the bedroom), money (sex for things – prostitution?), and, of course, sex, is only marginally better than Stephanie Meyer’s lackluster Twilight, featuring paper-thin character Bella (no talents, no interests – a canvas for YOU!). At least main character Anastasia Steele (a shade of grey, get it?) can do something – write. She’s an English major and does land a notable publishing job post-graduation, although hubby-to-be Christian Grey then buys out the company “to keep an eye on her”.

Readers (presumably) chimed in during Twitter’s Q & A , asking sarcastic advice and rhetorical questions, referencing allusions to Meyer’s Twilight, and pointing out how poorly the event itself went (not as predicted, to be sure).

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One Twitter-literature user posted a reference to George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones‘ character Ramsey Bolton, a sadist and sociopath, linking EL James and Fifty Shades of Grey to larger literary culture, but at the same time underscoring the unquestionably negative drive of character Christian.

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The ironic tone in these posts point to the clarity with which readers recognize verbal, physical, and sexual abuse in the poorly written three-book saga.

As we see here, Twitter as an online platform provides both the means to open up a discussion and also the potential for it to go off-direction, veering off course and dragging all skeletons out of the closet. Intent and reaction misalign here as users simultaneously wield humour and critique to express the affective repercussions of simplistic, sexist, gender-normative storylines such as James’, and to tell the author that her writing is “fifty shades of fucked up”.



Mary Catherine Lawler

Recently in the US, dress codes have been aggressively enforced against young women in high schools. Last year in New Jersey, a group of young women formed to emphasize that dress codes as they are currently being enforced (read: against women and not men) are not only sexist, but also promote rape culture, teach women that physicality trumps education, and teach men that women are sex objects. In May of this year, female students in Toronto joined Alexi Halket, a high schooler at the Etobicoke School of the Arts criticized for wearing a crop top to school, with , while August 2015 saw the rise of the hashtag #IfAnythingSchoolTaughtMe in protest of dress codes being prioritized over women’s learning.

Laci Green, a vocal feminist vlogger, issued a summary of what’s going on and five ways that the dress code epidemic is damaging young women and even girls as young as Kindergarten-age.

Megan MacKay spoke out with a satirical vlog-style YouTube video in which she demonstrates ways to tweak your outfit based on different dress code criticisms:

A high school posted some pictures of herself on Instagram and described her experience at school, captioning it as follows:

“Today, I wore this outfit to Beaufort High School. About 20 minutes into the day, my friend and I were excused from class to venture to the vending machine because our teacher was planning to do nothing all class period, as usual. On our way back, I learned something very important about myself: I am a whore.
As I was walking down the hallway, I heard a voice behind me. “Your skirt is too short. You need to go to in-school suspension and then go home.” Thank you, Mrs. Woods. Thank you for teaching me that looking good for school is NOT appropriate. Thank you for letting me know that while I may think that I am dressing up for my Teacher Cadet lesson, I am in fact dressing to go to a night club or the whore house. Thank you for bringing me to tears in front of my friends and classmates because you do not have the decency to pull me aside and explain the problem. Then again, I did not have the decency to put on real clothes today.
So maybe I am in the wrong. Maybe our society isn’t yet advanced enough to handle 3 inches of my thigh. This is a patriarchal society and I am a woman. I have to be kept in my place, or I may do something that is so rarely seen in Beaufort High School- learn.
You saved me, Beaufort High. As Student Body President, junior marshal, and a recipient of the Palmetto Fellows, I was heading down the path of hard drugs (good thing you’re testing next year!), strip clubs, and sugar daddies. I don’t know where I would be without your misogynistic views. How could I go on without a certain teacher making sexist jokes all class? How could I survive without my science professor letting me know I am an inferior woman? Yes, I am a woman. I am woman with thighs, a butt, and a brain. I am bigger than Beaufort High School. All of us are. Maybe instead of worrying about my skirt, Beaufort High should take notice of its incompetent employees, and sexist leaders.”

Carey Burgess on Instagram – mynameiscarey

Others at the Charleston County School of the Arts​ in North Charleston, South Carolina stood up for women’s rights to wear what they like by showing up to school with a literary and social accessory: a scarlet letter.

Caroline Hamrick on Instagram – caroline.jpg

This summer, the Toronto-based trio Andrea Villanueva, Kerin John and Erin Dixon formed Project Slut, making public a video that explains the dangers of dress codes for non-traditional, non-heteronormative, and non-white students. Their promotional image, seen early in the video, closely resembles Santigold’s 2006 debut album Santogold and issues a call to action to #endthedresscode.

Project Slut on Facebook

As fashion changes, it remains crucial for us to use social media as a use to combat everyday sexism such as the enforcing of dress code only for women. With female-only mandatory assemblies, the removal of students from class for hours, detention, and other public embarrassment and harassment of female and non-traditional students, features like YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, though too often also an anonymous platform for misogynistic and patriarchal hatespeak, also provide us the means to speak out and fight back.

Gender Reversal YouTube Videos: Responses from India and France

Gender Reversal YouTube Videos: Responses from India and France 

Mary Catherine Lawler

As a visual pushback to responses of ridicule to outspoken feminists, two YouTube videos from India and France, respectively, portray day to day life by showing male actors experiencing social prejudices against women and female actors enjoying the privileges normally and invisibly bestowed upon men. Though at times it almost seems that the video is making fun of how women move, talk, and dress (see the nightclub scene in Man’s World or the daycare drop-off scene in Oppressed Majority), overall the stories do a decent job of throwing into relief problematic gender interactions and highlighting daily sexism.

To start, I will give a brief summary of both videos. Oppressed Majority (Majorité Opprimée English) deals with a day in the life of a man living in a woman’s world; he interacts with neighbors and friends, takes his child to daycare, is harassed both during the day and at night, and met with disdain from his high-profile business wife. Man’s World is a four-part series of videos much in the same vein; Kiran, a young man, is frustrated with the “preferential treatment” given to women and after we see a typical privileged day in his life, he wishes for gender experiences to be reversed. They are indeed, but his attempt at a reverse wish fails, and he marries and has a child in a woman’s world.

Man’s World, Episode 3 / 2015

Oppressed Majority / 2014

Though on the whole on point, the French YouTube video betrays its stance as staunchly secular, in a scene in which the father (who lives in a feminist world) drops off his child at a daycare run by another man in a mock-hijab. He confronts his acquaintance, telling him that as men, they’re “not objects”, but his friend protests that “it’s the law” and “God will protect me”. This rather simplistic view of Islam is disappointing, but we understand the feminist point trying to be made, as this man’s wife had asked him to cover himself.

While the Indian YouTube series can at points be somewhat silly (we see Kiran getting his period and a pull-back shot of him screaming a drawn-out “Nooooo!”), the ending of the series is both the best and most difficult moment to stomach. After Kiran monologues to his newborn son, rejected by most of the women of the family, one of whom even offered to “take care of it” for her daughter, Kiran’s wife has a realization about the woman’s world in which the characters live. She makes chai, serving it to Kiran, which in the context is a progressive gesture, but to us as viewers who still live in a patriarchal environment, almost seems like a 180 back to the original world Kiran wished for.

Both videos assertively tease out daily problems faced by women such as workplace harassment, difficulty on public transit, sexism in interactions with the police, and overall safety concerns and discrimination within the family. More work is needed, however, to create a video response that doesn’t read as sometimes borderline mimicry or ridicule; sometimes the acting comes off as a straight man trying to play a gay man rather than a man living in a woman’s world. Perhaps this itself is a symptom of the man’s world in which we live and the stereotypes of gender and sexual orientation with which we operate.

ASMR and Comment Pushback

ASMR and Comment Pushback 

Mary Catherine Lawler

ASMR, an acronym for autonomous sensory meridian response, is a scientifically unfounded phenomenon described by the YouTube community as experiencing “tingles,” or having physical sensations of tingling in different parts of the body. The goal of this audio-visual content is to enact relaxation and to combat anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia, depression, and insecurity, along with other mental health issues, and it comes in various forms, such as role-play (visit to the doctor, caring friend, spa) and specific “trigger” videos that employ particular sounds or visuals to “trigger” ASMR in the viewer, always including a form of personal attention (eye contact with the camera, having a “conversation” with the viewer.

Recently, a new ASMRtist has begun posting videos, calling herself Bella ASMR (most ASMRtists operate under a “pen name”). Her videos, while somewhat pubescent in humor and content (see “Friend with Weed Roleplay”), are also lighthearted and sweet. Much of the community surrounding ASMR can be supportive and encouraging, leaving messages of gratitude for others’ creativity and attentiveness, but many others, commonly known as “trolls”, write hurtful insults and threats, armored behind a wall of internet anonymity.

Only one week into posting videos, Bella ASMR uploaded a video entitled “Not ASMR – Being a Human (People and Hurtful Comments)” in which she addresses both the comments themselves, by which she reads them aloud, almost in tears, and then provides a verbal response to get her feelings off of her chest.

(Update: This video has been removed by the user since I wrote this post. Her channel can be found here.)

In this video, she reads – to name just a few – rape threats (“where can I dump your body?”), racial slurs (“ape face”), and misogynist insults (“whore”, “slut”, “nice tits, bitch”).

While this is an acknowledgement of these comments and in some ways a concession to the “trolls”, it is also a great way for Bella ASMR to reclaim and stand her internet ground, responding to and directly addressing the nonsensical and cruel nature of these insults.

The Art of Gentle Revolution – Experience with a Feminist Wikihack

The Art of Gentle Revolution1 – Experience with a Feminist Wikihack 

Sarah Bekaert

Digital resources offer an exciting opportunity for feminist activity. Wikipedia, written by ‘the people’, is an accessible and ubiquitous ‘encyclopaedia’ where feminist activists can challenge and change androcentric assumptions, and ensure the experiences and realities of women are represented. A feminist masterclass, part of the Motherhood and Culture conference (Maynooth, Ireland 15-17th June 2015), encouraged feminist activism through a coordinated wikihack. Participants chose a topic from their own discipline in relation to motherhood and formulated content to challenge norms and broaden feminist representation on Wikipedia.

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Does Nudity Help to Deliver a Clear Message?

Does Nudity Help to Deliver a Clear Message?

Daria Polianska

Feminist organizations exist around the world for many decades. Nowadays feminists fight not only for women’s rights but they are actively involved in political affairs as well. FEMEN group is often represented by media as a feminist organization and is famous for its provocative way of protest by using their nude bodies. However, it is not the matter of nudity that is questionable but the appropriateness and clearness of the message it is supposed to represent. Our research group is constantly raising the question of the efficiency of FEMEN tactics. To explain our concerns the following video may be analyzed:

On March 6, 2014 FEMEN sextremists staged a topless protest at the Times Square, New York, in order “to stand in solidarity with the Ukrainian people against the excessive military aggression and opportunism of the Russian government under the command of Putin regime” (cited from the video above). They asked US and EU officials to apply economic sanctions toward Russia by advocating the motto: “Stop Putin’s war before he stopped you!” and “Fuck you, Putin!” Their political intention seems to be pretty obvious. Nevertheless, there are several issues which invoke some doubts. First, if they are addressing their protest to the officials, why have they chosen the Time Square as the location? Wouldn’t it be more reasonable to organize the protest in front of the parliament building or any other official state establishment? Second, in many of their interviews, and the video provided above in particular, it is emphasized that FEMEN uses their nude bodies because people are not ready to see naked and aggressively disposed women. At the same time they choose not only to expose their uncovered breasts but also to represent a common stereotype of women who wear high heels and make up. The question then is whether they accept such an image of contemporary woman themselves. Finally, since it looks like FEMEN chose media as the mediator between them and US government, a range of questions arise: what audience is this organization referring to – journalists, government, citizens – and what do they expect from such a protest? Do they anticipate any response from the target audience or is it simply another attempt to popularize their organization around the world by using a defiant way of protesting? How do FEMEN activists promote the feminist motives and do they intend to do this at all? What is the difference then between a commercialized popular brand and a reactionary organization which chooses to consciously fight against various inequalities and under which of these categories can we place FEMEN?

All these uncertainties appear mainly because of FEMEN’s lack of clear platform. They seem to be against many injustices and it is their right and choice to use naked bodies as the tool for the protests. The question remains though whether their message is lucid to people and in which way it is productive. Although the questions raised still remain open, there seems to be a disconnection between FEMEN’s motives, the follow-up results and the intention of using naked bodies in the first place.