things I did not scream on the sidewalk

“SIDEWALKS ARE THREE PEOPLE WIDE. DO NOT WALK THREE ABREAST!” – to the obvious tourist group dawdling their way down a busy downtown sidewalk in front of me. I also didn’t bother with a curt “excuse me” and a bustling break through their passage-clogging cluster; just as I was about to, I spotted a young woman sporting a mohawk walking toward us and thought “I bet he’ll step sharply out of her way.” And indeed he did.

“SHE DOES NOT EXIST TO BE ATTRACTIVE TO YOU!” – to the man from that same tourist group, who waited until Mohawk Woman was just past him, still well within earshot, then dropped a dry “Very attractive” to his female companions. For the first sixty seconds after not-screaming, I was proud of my restraint; for the next 24 hours and counting, I wish I had let ‘er rip, and maybe jammed a “FUCKING!” in there somewhere.

“I DO NOT NEED YOUR HELP!” – to the dude who approached the crosswalk where I waited, gestured at the thinning traffic, stepped out into the street against the light, then looked over his shoulder to see if I was following.

“SO MANY ELECTRODES!” – to the nurse smoking outside the hospital, as we both glanced up from a distasteful survey of the littered street.

thing I did yell on the phone today, for no explicable reason:

“DUUUUUUUUDE!” – in greeting to my sister, who started laughing so hard that I started laughing, too, delaying our conversation by a good two minutes.

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what a total witch

inspired by Mallory Ortberg’s How To Spot a Witch

Can you see her third nipple through her clothing? No? How about her first and second nipples? Yes? She’s a witch.

Can you not see her nipples through her clothing despite trying (and trying and trying) to? No? She’s a witch.

Does she wish, whether purposefully or wistfully, for equal pay for equal work? She’s a witch.

Does she have a greenish cast to her skin? Warts? A bumpy complexion? Any blemishes or flaws that betray a less-than-perfect obsession with skin care, to the exclusion of all other concerns? WITCH.

Has she ever participated in a Take Back The Night march? Obvs a witch. “Take Back the Night”? Come on.

Does she own a “This is what a feminist looks like” t-shirt? She’s ensorcelled you with a mis-perception spell; it actually reads “This is what a femi-witch looks like.”

Is she a proponent or practitioner of intersectional feminism? InterSECTional. WAKE UP, SHE’S TOTES A WITCH.

The Woman

Let me be very, VERY clear: The Woman features brutal, unflinching violence and disturbing — even traumatic and triggering — themes. This is not a film for everyone. It’s hardly for anyone. But it struck a chord in me — hit it so hard and so relentlessly that I spent the second and third act rocking back and forth on the couch trying (and failing) to suppress my cries of second-hand anguish.

[note: I’m imbedding the trailer, but it edges closer to spoiling The Woman than my review does.]

In the first few minutes of The Woman, we see a feral woman striding surely through the woods, clad in rags and streaked with mud. She is powerful and fierce, commanding even the wolves. Cut to a jolting contrast: a neighborhood barbeque where we meet the Cleek family: mom Belle (Angela Bettis, the riveting star of director Lucky McKee’s May and Sick Girl) with her tight smile and flashing eyes, sulky daughter Peggy (Lauren Ashley Carter, Premium Rush), quietly obedient son Brian (Zach Rand), and twinkly little Darlin’ (Shyla Molhusen), and the chipper, chirpy, casually controlling dad, Chris (Sean Bridgers, “Deadwood”). It’s inevitable that these two scenes will collide, and also inevitable what will happen when they do: the patriarch captures the wild woman and spends his free time trying to subdue her. And in this simple, brutal story, Lucky McKee taps into and articulates an anguish and an anger that lurk within me — and maybe within you.

The power of The Woman comes from its ability to surprise us even as it plays out the story that we know is coming, the story that we dread. McKee gives that dread its due, never turning from the stark horror of her subjugation. The sexual violence — and of course there is sexual violence, though smug, self-satisfied, self-congratulatory Chris takes his time building up to it, telling himself that he’s civilizing his charge, not imprisoning her— is not titillating or stirring, never framed for the audience’s scandalized pleasure. This is rape, plainly presented. It’s stomach-turning.

The Woman showcases McKee’s perfect grasp of sexualized horror tropes and reclaims them with flawless ironic aplomb, stirring up fury and horror and grief and empathy instead of fear and perverse thrills*. Some critics complained that The Woman is outrageous, dehumanizing, sickening. And those complaints are right, in a very limited, obtuse way: it is an outrage. Abuse and rape — and even worse, the way our culture conspires to shame victims of abuse and rape — are dehumanizing. The sheer beaming smugness of an abusive patriarch secure in his role is sickening. It’s not the movie that makes them so.

This viciously, mercilessly graphic film expresses something I’ve long felt in my heart: that misogynists, and those who support misogyny by standing silently by, aren’t just denying women’s abilities or intelligence or rights: they are denying our very humanity. They are arrogating the mantle of full humanity to themselves and denying it to me and to other women based purely on anatomy.

Before the film started, your editor remarked “Angela Bettis is in this! You like her! … but she isn’t The Woman.” Not very many minutes in, I wondered “… isn’t she?” I think she is. I think daughter Peggy is The Woman, as well. I think that — to a certain, all-too-common class of misogynist — I am. Misogynists aren’t just denying us some rights, they are dehumanizing me — and if you’re a woman, they’re dehumanizing you, too. And that’s terrifying. Once a person persuades themselves that you are less than fully human, they can allow themselves to do anything to you.

*Hey, I’m not knocking perverse thrills. There are a lot of movies and a lot of movie-watchers, and there’s a place for almost everything. But seeing an on-screen rape presented uncomplicatedly as a rape was weirdly, jarringly reassuring to me: a reminder that, despite our culture’s reliance on rape-as-drama or rape-as-redemption or rape-as-plot-catalyst, the actual act is just a brutal, painful act of personal terrorizing.

family values

Perhaps because our household has a landline and is therefore Officially Old, we’re getting dozens of calls a week aimed at a conservative “Family Values” voting contingent. I always let the robo-caller play through in hopes that at least I’m keeping them busy for 90 seconds, and I always answer the surveys and push-polls. The thought that my unexpected, unwanted response makes a tiny bump in their data pleases me. And if there’s an actual human on the other end, I always — always — let them know that my values are family values, just not the kind they espouse.

So let’s talk about Family Values. I’m tired of that phrase being claimed solely by conservative forces. I have a family, and I have values, and my Family Values are just as valid as anyone’s.

I value education. I value science. I value equality for all our citizens regardless of race, class, gender, or orientation. I value cultural diversity. I value my rights as recognized — not given, not bestowed, recognized — in the Constitution. I value freedom of religion — including freedom from religion. I value civil discourse, even about inflammatory issues. I value individual reproductive rights, including the right to choose abortion. I value equality and freedom.

This election season, local ads from anti-equality committees frantically urge us not to let the upcoming vote “redefine marriage.” I’m quite pleased that they’re framing the issue that way. See, I’m all for for periodically redefining marriage, and I bet most Americans feel the same way if they really examine the historical and ongoing redefinition of marriage.

Think of how our laws have redefined marriage just in the the past century. Married women now have the right to own property and to maintain their own bank accounts. Single adults can legally and readily obtain birth control. Spousal rape is now a prosecutable offense rather than a right or a punchline.

That last one particularly stands as a shining example of “redefining marriage”. Until the mid-1970s, there was no process or statute by which to prosecute a spouse — even an estranged spouse — for rape. The marriage license constituted an exemption (in many statutes, an explicit exemption) from rape prosecution; it was a license for even an alienated spouse to force intercourse upon their partner. As recently as 1993, North Carolina upheld this exemption from prosecution for marital rape. In a generation, our nation as a whole has transitioned from explicitly permitting spousal rape to making it a criminal offense. This is a vast shift in our understanding of consent, sexuality, and privileged entitlement, and a redefinition of the rights and responsibilities bestowed by marriage.

Every time we update our outmoded marriage statutes, we make strides for greater equality. It’s appallingly improper to let civil rights be decided by popular vote, but if this vote — this “redefinition” — helps to shift the tide for progress, then let’s do it.

… for everyone!

Elsa: [continuing, as usual] and he was presenting all these supposed benefits to women that are actually by-products of a sexist system that objectifies and marginalizes women while placing undue burdens on men to pursue us as sexual objects!
The Fella: I know.*
Elsa: I asked you out! Y’know why I asked you out?
The Fella: … because you liked me?
Elsa: That’s why I asked you out. You know why I asked?
The Fella: No?
Elsa: BECAUSE FEMINISM IS GOOD FOR EVERYONE!
The Fella: Yeah! It works out okay for me!

And then he went back into the kitchen and finished making pizza, which would have been a gender-prohibited behavior for most husbands a few decades ago, so there’s another example of how feminism is great FOR EVERYONE!

*Note: he did not know**.

**He did know about the sexist system, but not about the conversation.

Saturday

Let’s see: I got our always-problematic TimeWarner account corrected & reset (and got the direct number for the very helpful local supervisor dedicated to fixing any future difficulties), made a cogent argument against portraying the small benefits available to women within a marginalizing sexist system as unearned privilege, danced for 10 minutes (the first 3.33 minutes of music embedded for your convenience), formed a small personal philosophy for sweetening my inevitable dealing with sour people, and cleaned the kitchen.

Not bad for a Saturday in pajamas.

Velvet Goldmine: a movie review

Writer-director Todd Haynes (I’m Not There, Safe) intended Velvet Goldmine to tell the story of David Bowie’s rise to fame, but Bowie refused his approval — and songs — when he realized the script focused on a largely-fictionalized account of his sexual exploits and public persona rather than his musical career.

Haynes made a virtue of necessity, rewriting and reframing the narrative. What could have been a mere bio-pic became instead a wider statement about the consuming nature of fame and power. Fittingly, the rewritten story follows the structure of Orson Welles’ notoriously not-a-bio-pic Citizen Kane: reporter Arthur Stuart (Christian Bale) is tapped to investigate the disappearing act of former rock idol Brian Slade, the glammest of the glam, whose most outrageous stage act drove him into obscurity.

As in Kane, the reporter tries to divine the icon’s history at second-hand, struggling to assemble the glib or sorrowful gossip of Slade’s scattered coterie into a coherent history. Unlike Kane, Velvet Goldmine ties the reporter’s personal narrative to the subject’s, expressing the slippery way we can incorporate a celebrity’s persona into our own histories, consuming the energy of those we admire or emulate, eroding their identities in favor of our own projections.

It could have been dreary or didactic, but instead the film is a giddy tissue of visual tales, richly laced with a soundtrack of glam-rock’s greatest hits, original and reworked (and notably minus any David Bowie). Velvet Goldmine shows us the grime under a layer of glitter, the sordid soul-drain that fame can become.