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Archive for the ‘The Issues’ Category

!!Spoilers for Tokyo Boys & Girls!!

Despite all my complaining about romance, I seem to read a lot of it. As a result, I’ve run into dozens of trends, seen one scenario done over and over, and observed how people portray romance, both the good parts and the difficult parts. Years ago, before I was typing away on Gagging on Sexism, I came across Tokyo Boys & Girls, a manga created by Miki Aihara, better known for her hit, Hot Gimmick, at my local library. Now, Aihara doesn’t have the best track record for making manga with particularly forward-thinking and healthy relationships, but I didn’t know that when I read Tokyo Boys & Girls. What did I think of it? I was thoroughly irritated by it. So, years later, I had thought to do a scathing review, but I had to stop my eager fingers. Upon refreshing myself with the story, I found it not quite as bad as I remember, but I still have some things to say about some issues surrounding the heroine and her romance.

The story opens with Mimori Kosaka, your average peppy and cheerful heroine who wants only a couple of things out of her high school years; to wear a cute uniform, become cute, and to snag a boyfriend. Education? Pssh! When have girls ever been interested in knowledge? Anyway, Mimori’s third wish just might come true because not one but two studs have stepped up as potential love interests. Yeah, I know. One of them is a playboy and the other one is a long-lost childhood friend turned guy-out-for-revenge against Mimori for unknown reasons (Haruta), but obviously, these boys truly like our lucky heroine. I mean, with guys like that after her, can anyone say, “jackpot?” So, there is our lovely love triangle.

All sarcasm aside, obviously this story gets off to a troubled start. This was one of those romances where I just wasn’t impressed with the potential love interests. Both are jerky toward Mimori at some point and Tokyo Boys & Girls plays right into the old cliché that the heroine ends up with the one that comes off as mean toward her initially. I also had a problem with why Haruta is not-so-nice to Mimori at first; back in elementary school the two had been friends and Haruta had a crush on Mimori. Mimori, however, only saw Haruta as a friend and was completely oblivious to his feelings for her and to add insult to injury, years later in high school, Mimori doesn’t even recognize him. This understandably hurt his feelings, but the way the story plays it, this makes Haruta justified for being a jerk. When Mimori realizes all this later, she feels she had been a selfish person to have not realized Haruta’s feelings all those years ago. I felt this was over the top. The situation Haruta and Mimori faced in elementary school happens all the time and while it’s not fun and feelings may be hurt, that doesn’t make the oblivious party an awful person and certainly doesn’t give the hurt party reason to be a jerk.

The other big thing that bothered me with this manga was a certain incident that occurs in the later half, when Mimori and Haruta have started dating. Haruta is still insecure about his relationship with Mimori and afraid that his former rival in love is actually still very much a threat. Propelled by these fears, Haruta confronts her about her feelings and her relationship with his rival. Unable to simply take Mimori at her word (or her actions) that she wants to be with him, he demands that she prove she’s really Haruta’s by having sex with him. Frankly, Haruta’s inability to believe in the relationship and his jealous nature made for an unstable relationship in my opinion, but this particular bit had red flags flying. Mimori is understandably scared by his behavior and rejects him. Haruta jumps to the conclusion that because she wouldn’t have sex with him then and there, Mimori really didn’t love him and would rather be with his rival-in-love. This paranoia and aggressive behavior just screamed abusive relationship to me. Mimori asks why he always has to be so malicious before running out. Readers are left with Haruta by himself, saying, “Why? Why do you think? Because I love you!” Riiight, because malicious behavior toward someone always equals love. He goes so far as to break up with her because she becomes a little scared of him after that incident, believing she simply has something against him in particular touching her.

I also felt like Mimori’s later reactions to all this is plain terrible. She connects her obliviousness to Haruta’s feelings back in elementary school to her more recent rejection of his pressure to have sex. She feels terrible because in her mind she’s been thoughtless of Haruta twice and hurt him twice. Mimori doesn’t do everything right over the course of the story, but that episode was not one where she should take blame. And after all, Haruta wasn’t thinking of Mimori’s feelings when he demanded that she prove herself by having sex with him. What does this say to readers? It reminds me of situations where someone is in an abusive relationship and they twist things in their own mind until they believe they did something wrong, and that’s the last thing I want to see in stories promoted toward teenagers.

The conclusion of this argument saves it from being completely rotten. The two make up, both realizing they were causing problems in the relationship; Mimori tries to be more honest with her feelings with Haruta and Haruta vows not to rush her with sex and never to do anything that would make her afraid of him again. Having them both realize their mistakes and having Haruta finally make it clear that he understands he did something wrong by pressuring her made me feel better about the story as a whole. I still feel it presented confusion and unhealthy messages regarding relationships, but it wasn’t a total flop.

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Last week I went to a book club discussion. I’ve never really been a part of a book club before, but when I heard the book being discussed would be Gail Collins’ When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present, I decided to go at the last minute; if it gave me the opportunity to hear opinions on a good book on the history of feminism, I had to go.

It was a relatively small gathering, apparently not accumulating as many readers as last month’s, but promising an interesting discussion nonetheless. In the end, there were five women (including myself) and three men, ranging in diversity from a grandmother who experienced much of what the book discussed to a man and a woman from other countries who could compare America’s feminist progress to their own country’s. Certainly, it was an eye-opening experience.

However, one of the topics that stuck the most with me was about today’s feminism. A number of the people present seemed to believe that the feminism movement was going just as strong as in the past and without receiving as much grief from non-feminists. Certainly, there are feminists continuing to strive for equality, but there’s also a large group trying stubbornly to soundly undermine them. I also have to wonder how we can compare our current feminist movement to that of the past when nowadays many people (including young women that could be the strength of a feminist movement) are under the impression that feminism isn’t even needed anymore. These people think we’re all fine and peachy now that women are able to wear pants without grief even though women are still being paid less than men.

There’s the classic, “I believe in equal rights for women, but I’m not a feminist” phrase that really says a lot about some people’s view of feminism. It’s been warped in many people’s minds from a cause for equality to something ugly and extreme. Thanks to people like Rush Limbaugh and his famous invention of the word “feminazi” and other media, people don’t want to associate themselves with feminism.

On Feminist Frequency, Anita Sarkeesian used the sixth part of her Tropes vs. Women series for Bitch Magazine to point out just how the media has tried to sabotage people’s opinions of feminism through the use of what she calls the “straw feminist” trope. Sarkeesian explains that the media not only presents viewers with feminist extremists in this trope (if you can even call these characters “feminist”), but also feeds them the idea that feminism isn’t needed anymore. This makes anyone who dares to call themselves a feminist look crazy and extreme. Similar issues are discussed in Susan J. Douglas’ book Enlightened Sexism: the seductive message that feminism’s work is done.

 Hey. I’d love it if feminism wasn’t needed anymore, too, but if people are just going to believe it isn’t needed, they may as well try to believe away the recession as well. As long as companies like Hardee’s and JCPenny are still using scantily clad women as the bait to get customers, Hollywood is still shoving offense female stereotypes at viewers (while pointedly not presenting us with many realistic female characters), and the government won’t allow women to make their own health decisions, we still need feminism.

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 “Are you a female dog? …Because you’re acting like a real bitch.” – The Clique Series by Lisi Harrison

Books, politics, school, reality TV, and manga: what is the common thread that can tie these topics all together? Well, there could be a number of threads, but the one I’m fishing for is women fighting women. You know, manecured nails extended, ready to take a stab at the other party wherever and whenever possible? School girls post videos of their triumphs online and you don’t have to look hard to find some woman putting down another woman on TV. However, instead of condoning this behavior, like bees to honey, some people seem to get a real kick out of hissing and scratching (figuratively or literally) that can go on between women and promote it. Get the popcorn popping!

Cat fights of a previous century.

It all begins at an early age. To prime little girls still dreaming about becoming princesses when they get older, show them a classic of cat fights, Cinderella. An innocent girl thrown to the ugly wolves, her vile step-mother and step-sisters, sweet Cinderella is at the mercy of these jealous ladies. At the prospect of catching the attention of the very eligible bachelor prince, the mean step-sisters can’t take a chance with Cinderella. In a scene that could have been taken right from modern times, the step-sisters shred with vigor Cinderella’s would-be dress to the ball in an attempt to sabotage a possible threat.

As girls reach puberty and are looking for something a little more updated and adult than Cinderella, young adult books are swimming with choices for girl vs. girl wars.  Books like The Clique, A-List, and It Girl series center around girls going at each other over boys, popularity status, contests–anything that can be made into a competition and sometimes just to sabotage. Girls size each other up, “steal” each other’s boyfriends, call each other sluts, and spreading vicious rumors. While these characters are usually presented as mean girl-types, in The Clique series the story runs more along the lines of the normal girl Claire morphs slowly into a mean girl herself rather than vanquishing her evil foes. As Naomi Wolf puts it in her review, Wild Things, Claire “abandons her world of innocence and integrity — in which children respect parents, are honest and like candy — to embrace her eventual success as one of the school’s elite, lying to and manipulating parents, having contempt for teachers and humiliating social rivals.” 
 (These books are popular though so, if you want to check them out from the library, you may have to use your new-found all-girls-for-themselves tactics and beat off the competition!)

Of course, you won’t have to scavenge the teen book/movie section for this. Just flip on the TV. Shows such as ABC’s The Bachelor are perfect transitions from your favorite teen book. There’s one hot guy and 25 gorgeous women all fighting for his heart like starving wild cats over a piece of tender meat. Of course, now there is The Bachelorette, a reverse harem with 25 men after one woman however, this was created after the original Bachelor.

Physical fights, nails ready, brutal verbal messes, hissing aplenty, fights over boys, and fights over nothing but someone’s need to get that vindictive high. So, girls, take your pick; just don’t take your eyes off the girl next to you. If the media is right, I think she’s totally trying to sabotage you.

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Slut. The word is like one of those neon billboards, blinking tastelessly back you. It’s hard not to just gape at it as it burns the letters into your mind so that even after you’ve left it behind, it’s still there when you close your eyes, blaring on the backs of your eyelids. It sticks with you.

My mind started buzzing about the term after I came across this article from Sociological Images titled “Resistance, Language, and the Toronto SlutWalk” (click here). According to Lisa Wade, the women and men of Toronto formed the “SlutWalk” event “in an effort to bring attention to word and  its use as a mechanism of control[ing] girls” a couple of weeks ago. The “SlutWalk” was apparently trigger by an unfounded comment made by a local police officer essentially blaming women for the way they dress–“dressing like sluts”–for being victimized.

Of course, there is the whole issue of the fact that the way one dresses is no excuse for inexcusable treatment of them. When people see business suits, suitcases, and well put-together men, should they link these business men with Madoff and take their angry out on them? No, that would be stupid and uncalled for. Yet obviously some think that is completely and uneqivically acceptable, at least in certain situations (such as a woman dressing in a way they consider “slutty”). But today I’m more curious about the term than the stupidity.

What does “slut” mean in today’s society?

It’s become too common in today’s society, much like fast-food chains and advertisements. It echoes through the halls at schools and has been smeared all over the internet like some kind of black plague on sites. Just check out these statistics on the usage frequency of slurs against women on some notorious game sites brought to our attention by Go Make Me a Sandwich (Google Results-misogynist language used on major game sites).

When was the last time you saw a male politician photoshopped into a sex object?

Whether or not everyone knows the precise definition of the word, I think we all understand the meaning and how it is commonly used. Most of us probably know it as a put down, a nasty label that degrades a girl or woman to something less than others, something dirty, cheap, and easy that deserves no respect. I use the word “something” on purpose; the term “slut” is just another way to dehumanize someone and take their power away. Take female politicians for example. If someone doesn’t like a female politician, what better way to take away her dignity and power than to label her a “slut.” Some buried deep in the depths of their man caves even add the extra touch of taking the time to photoshop pictures to add to the point.

Although fictional, "Mean Girls" did portray the behavior of some young women, including calling each other sluts.

But aside from the ugly usage of it, did you know there is a movement by some women to try to “reclaim” the term “slut?” This does not mean it would be ok for a woman to use it against another woman, but instead reinvent the meaning of the term. Some have cast away the meaning of “a dirty woman” or “immoral woman” for a modern revamp of, basically, a person who is at ease with sex and feels it is nothing to be ashamed of. Here are some I came across:

“in the pursuit of their own pleasure”–The Sluts & Goddesses Video Workshop (sex info video)

“a person of any gender who has the courage to lead life according to the radical proposition that sex is nice and pleasure is good for you” —The Ethical Slut (sex and lifestyle book)

(On the other hand, there are other women and girls that are trying to adopt “slut” on as a joke term that would be ok to use on each other, much like the word “bitch” is used by some nowadays. Honestly though, does it make a person feel good to hear that from her friends, even as a joke?)

While it is an interesting and worthy endeavor to change the usage, I struggle with the concept of wiping clean the repulsive term “slut” into something good. It is certainly not out of humankind’s reach to completely reinvent the idea of a commonly used word, just look at what we’ve done to the term “gay.” But can we flip a word from a stinging slap into a pat on the back instead of the other way around for once? I have to wonder if the reinvented term of “slut” will be wholly embraced or if it will simply become a poor cover up on the black stain that is the history of the term.

What do you think?

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Wedged between the phrases “feminazi” (see my “About” page for a definition), “man hater,” and the thought process “feminist=ugly,” is the capital phrase “special treatment” on the shelf of words used by those who are befuddled by the thought of why women should be treated equally. It is flung into arguments against feminism with such vigor, like some harpoon of justice that completely undermines the crazy plots of scheming feminazis (though it is more like an annoying stick used to poke people while they try to get some real work done). For those of you fortunate enough not to have this idiom thrown at you, here is it used in a sentence:

“Men will start respecting women once they stop accepting special treatment.”

This quote was taken off a forum in response to the article on a gaming website called Kotaku under the title, I’m an Anonymous Woman Gamer (http://kotaku.com/#!5782957/im-an-anonymous-woman-gamer). A firestorm of sexism, feminism, and everything in between was unleashed after the article discussed the insulting and demeaning treatment female gamers receive by some male players on video games that allow players to interact with each other such as World of Warcraft.  Contrary to what some responders seemed to think from their sputtering reactions, the woman gamer interviewed in the article was not demanding all the world’s gold, but only that she thought female gamers “should not have to hide [their] gender to play games.”

But what a crazy idea! Like little elementary boys on the playground fearing the dreaded cooties said to rub off in near proximity to girls, some grown men, too, reel in disgust at the idea of women involving themselves in what has been considered male dominated areas. Thus, these boyish warriors are forced into bring out the “special treatment” defense!

Although the exact origin and definition are unknown today, evident by the fact that many seem unable to embellish on what “special treatment” includes, many seem to equate it with the word “chivalry.” The definition most commonly used of “chivalry” that I snagged from dictionary.com would be “courteous behavior, esp. towards women” and this is what the dictionary I own has under “chivalrous.” Note that it is the act of being courteous more notably towards women, but not excluding men. So, this “special treatment” women shamefully partake in would be simple things like having someone hold a door open for them. However, this feat is something I see practiced every day by both men and women alike and it has become a common, but polite gesture for people in general, not something partial to a certain gender.

Ye Old Chivalry (This comic is not my own.)

Strange. The thought to be courteous to each other seems to be such a lost and foreign art that many think it so extraordinary that it could be considered “special treatment” (that, or they do not understand the meaning of chivalry). Doubly strange since chivalry is indeed a rare art that appears all but discarded in today’s society yet still a usable thing to hold over the heads of women who ask for equality. What is chivalry, but being polite to another person, something we don’t see enough of anymore?

But the issue is that women accept these generous acts of godly benevolence. So, from now on, women should freeze upon someone opening a door for them and gape at the hapless door-opener in disgust and demand, “What do you think I am, some kind of feminazi?”

Yes, some women may want some sort of “special treatment” from men, but I have this radical thought that if many women were given the choice between equality and a man holding the door open for them, those women would take hold of the door themselves and say with a satisfied smile, “Go right ahead.”

Yet there exist other curious theories on the translation of this mysterious phrase. Some see it not as chivalry, but define “special treatment” as how society treats women like that porcelin doll on the shelf at grandma’s house (“Don’t touch!”) and men more like the old rag doll that can take two or more generations of wild children throwing it off the balcony (“Don’t worry; it can handle it.”).

“If a guy insults another guy by attacking his manhood (verbally, not physically), it’s just another insult. But if a guy attacks a woman’s womanhood, it’s automatically a much worse insult and immeasurably more personal and hurtful. That is special treatment.” Argued another user on the same Kotaku forum. “Insults should be unacceptable equally!”

Aka man-hating is just as bad as woman-hating. True. Sexism is sexism no matter what gender it’s directed at. Just watch commercials; women are sex kittens stuck in a tree to be saved by a guy who looks and acts like he hasn’t left his man cave in years (Thank you, Keystone Light!) and men are worse than monkeys in the smarts department and can’t even open a bag of Cheerios (And thank you, Hardee’s!).

But why is it considered “special treatment” if women ask not to be called vulgar names or sexually harassed every time they step into a male dominated area or to be paid the same rate as fellow male employees? Should women lay down like useless sacks of potatoes and take it? No one should, not men nor women of any race.

Explaining “special treatment” and its precise definition may prove impossible. It remains such a general term, explaining it perfectly would be like knowing every inch of this planet like the back of your own hand. Watch out though! It’s wielded like guns in this country and like guns, not every user knows what he’s doing with it.

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