Bridesmaids: Achievement for Women?

Ever since the movie Bridesmaids was announced, the feminist blogosphere has been abuzz with speculation about the first women-oriented “bromance”-style movie. The movie opened in theatres in Canada last Friday and I had a chance to go see it this weekend so thought I’d weigh in on the discussion.

Bridesmaids is a new comedy from Judd Apatow, written by Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, and directed by Paul Feig. The plot revolves around Annie (Wiig), a single woman who’s in a casual relationship with a douchey guy (Jon Hamm) and who’s struggling to get back on her feet after her bakery business folded. Things take a turn for the even worse when her friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) gets engaged and asks Annie to be her Maid of Honour. Annie accepts and joins the eclectic bridal party, including super-rich diva-esque Helen (Rose Byrne) and other bridesmaids played by Wendi McLendon-Covey, Melissa McCarthy, and Ellie Kemper.

One thing that distinguishes Bridesmaids from other wedding-oriented romcoms is its yuck factor (including the food poisoning scene covered in the trailer):

The toilet humour moments and the number of sex jokes are part of what’s led to some calling Bridesmaids The Hangover for Women”. A lot of feminist and women’s blogs like Jezebel and The Mary Sue praised Bridesmaids for blazing a new trail for women’s comedy and succeeding where other women-centric movies have failed.

So first, the good stuff about Bridesmaids:

  • The movie easily passes the Bechdel test. Even though the movie is wedding-focused it’s almost more about women and their friendships. Annie spends a lot of time talking with Lillian, Helen, and the other bridesmaids about things that aren’t related to men. One thing I really liked was that in at least a couple of scenes (one scene where the characters are post-workout and another where Lillian is crying), the movie showed the women with less makeup than you’d usually see in a mainstream Hollywood movie. Seeing more of the tiny “flaws” made the characters seem more real.
  • It shows weddings in all their insanity.Bridesmaids isn’t anti-wedding, per se, but it does show all the insanity that surrounds huge, expensive weddings. Annie, who’s broke, bears the brunt of it when she’s constantly forced to shell out for Maid of Honour responsibilities like buying a bridesmaid’s dress and organizing a shower and bachelorette party.
  • Kristen Wiig is hilarious. I didn’t think Bridesmaids was the funniest movie I’d ever seen, but it had a few great scenes, mostly because of Kristen Wiig’s awesome use of facial expressions. I particularly liked her drunk scene on the plane and her reaction when she finds out Maya Rudolph’s character is engaged. Other notable acting mentions to Melissa McCarthy and Rose Byrne.

Now, the critique:

  • It’s unoriginal. As Kjerstin at Bitch Magazine blogs points out: “While this film is garnering comparisons to The Hangover and not, say, The Brothers Karamazov, it’s like the six leading (mostly white) women were given a bucket of character and when they had to divvy it up, each had barely enough personality to fill a single high-heeled shoe.” The movie is rife with cliched stereotypes and jokes about diarrhea aren’t exactly creative. The only thing that makes it different is that the plot’s happening to women characters.
  • It portrays singledom as pathetic. Can’t go into this too much without getting into spoilers. Let’s just say Annie’s the only character that shows both sanity and a degree of independence but even she has a lot of insecurity over being single.
  • It’s only good because the bar’s set so low. Bridesmaids is not revolutionary and it’s not an achievement for women. I found it enjoyable, but it’s sad that this is considered so groundbreaking given the fact that it follows so many character cliches and has such a lack of clever humour. It’s also sad that the future of comedies not centred around straight, white men may hinge on the commercial success of Bridesmaids, given that I wouldn’t say it reached a pinnacle of movie quality, even for light comedies.

Bridesmaids isn’t an achievement for women. If anything, it reinforces the idea that women have to prove they can be as funny as men, in a style developed by men. That said, it was a nice break from the bromances and it was enjoyable and funny enough that I can still recommend it.

-Jarrah

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Feminism, Pop Culture 5 Comments

The Round-Up: May 17, 2011

Here’s some great links we came across in the past week:

 

-Jarrah

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Fighting Homophobia in Burnaby Schools

On June 14th, the Burnaby Board of Education will vote on a proposed anti-homophobia and heterosexism policy, Policy 5.45. If it passes, Burnaby will become the 13th school district in BC to adopt such a policy. The goal of the policy is “To ensure that all members of the school community learn to work together in an atmosphere of respect and safety, free from homophobia, transphobia, antigay harassment and or/exclusion regardless of their sexual orientation of gender identity”.

It sounds like a bit of a no-brainer; who wouldn’t want to pass a policy designed to foster respect and safety? Yet no policy ever debated by the School Board has caused such uproar as this one.

The Burnaby Teachers Association (BTA) first pointed out the horrible bullying faced by gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, and questioning students and teachers twenty-one years ago. The BTA suggested at the time that the School Board should adopt an anti-homophobia and transphobia policy to make Burnaby schools safer and more inclusive for everyone. The School Board ignored the issue, but the BTA resurrected it in 1999. Again, their request was ignored.

Meanwhile, LGBTQ students and teachers continued to be bullied, verbally and physically abused, and sometimes even assaulted for their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

In 2001, four men with baseball bats beat Aaron Webster to death simply because he was gay. The identities of the murderers weren’t discovered until 2003, but it was proven that all four were youths from Burnaby, and two of them were under eighteen. They had driven 45 minutes to Stanley Park to have some “sport” beating up gay men. Once again, people pointed to the rampant homophobia in Burnaby schools, but it wasn’t until 2009 that the Burnaby Board of Education finally did something about the issue.

The Burnaby Board of Education spent two years putting together a draft anti-homophobia and heterosexism policy. They posted it on their website as a Notice of Motion. They sent information on the draft policy out to all of the PACs, and the District Parent Advisory Committee. They even made sure the policy got front-page coverage in both of the local papers: the Burnaby Now and the Burnaby Newsleader.

However, just when the policy was set to pass, anti-gay protesters showed up, arguing that they hadn’t been informed about the policy and accusing the School Board of having a hidden agenda. Flyers went out from an organization called Parents Voice, accusing the Burnaby School Board of trying to indoctrinate youth into becoming gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, or transsexual.

At the last two meetings of the Burnaby School Board, protesters showed up to speak against the proposed anti-homophobia and heterosexism policy. Some had Bible verses written on placards, while others waved signs with sayings like “Respect Parental Rights”.

However, at the following School Board meeting on May 10th, students countered the protesters with their own rally, chanting “Five-Four-Five! Let the gays thrive!”

After the meeting, I sat down to talk with a number of the student  demonstrators. A couple of them identified as either gay or bi, but most were straight students out to show their support for their LGBTQ friends, classmates, and teachers. One of them pointed out, “They want us to respect parental rights, but what about student rights? We’re the ones who have to go to school every day. We’re the ones who have to watch our friends get bullied in the hallways just for being gay.”

The opponents of Policy 5.45 may feel that Burnaby schools teaching that homosexuality is not a sin somehow impedes their rights as parents, but who’s answering the question the very intelligent Moscrop student pointed out: what about student rights?

What about the rights of students – all students – to feel safe in their schools? If education is compulsory, then does not our society have a duty to make schools as safe and welcoming as possible? If we do not take steps to make sure that our students feel safe and respected, valued and supported, than is compulsory education anything other than a prison for children?

Education is the foundation of society; no-one should be made to feel excluded. No-one should be bullied because of their sexual orientation or gender identity; no-one should feel that their community is invisible – or worse, does not exist. No-one should be made to feel alone because their school refuses to acknowledge the existence of LGBTQ people.

An anti-homophobia and heterosexism policy will do more than dealing with bullying, it will show LGBTQ students that they are not alone. It will help the School District tackle the high drop-out rates among LGBTQ students, as well as the high suicide rates. And although it may be too late to help Aaron Webster, it will help to ensure that no Burnaby youth ever again thinks it’s okay to beat up, assault, or murder another queer person.

-Kaitlin

Note: On June 14, a “Wave of Pink” rally is being organized in Burnaby in support of Policy 5.45. Get more info at the Facebook event page.

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Feminism, LGBT 4 Comments

FFFF: Atlas Shrugged Spoof Trailer

(trailer fromthe Second City Comedy Network for “Atlas Shrugged 2″)

-Jarrah

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Feminist Classics Book Club: A Room of One’s Own

May’s read at Feminist Classics Book Club is Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. I’d read it before in University but for some reason didn’t remember liking it. Luckily I really enjoyed and appreciated it this time around.

Nymeth, the host of this month’s discussion at FCBC does a good job summarizing the book:

“Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own was first published in 1929, and it was based on two lectures delivered and Newham and Girton Colleges in 1928. The central premise of the essay is that “every woman needs a room of her own and five hundred pounds a year” – without economic independence and the freedom that derives from it, women’s achievements in the arts and letters will always lag behind.”

Even though A Room of One’s Own is based on lectures, Woolf chose to deliver her message through a fictional narrator and used an impersonal tone in order to avoid the impression she “had an axe to grind”. Nevertheless, I found myself really drawn into the narrative, which moves with Woolf’s characteristic flowing, compound sentences.

Woolf takes us from the women’s college at Oxbridge, where the academics are served inferior meals and possess inferior resources for study than their male counterparts, to the childhood home of Shakespeare and his fictional sister Judith, to the shelves of the library where books about women authored by men predominate. The writing doesn’t feel like a lecture and throughout all we get the message that there is a gaping hole where women’s writing should be, and that this cannot be filled until women gain economic independence through advances in social equality.

The part that I found most interesting and which I’d somehow overlooked on my first go-round was Woolf’s defense of the depiction of lesbian “friendship” in books:

“Chloe liked Olivia…” Do not start. Do not blush. Let us admit in teh privacy of our own society that these things sometimes happen. Sometimes women do like women.

“Chloe liked Olivia,” I read. And then it struck me how immense a change there was. Chloe liked Olivia perhaps for the first time in literature…For if Chloe likes Olivia and Mary Carmichael knows how to express it she will light a torch in that vast chamber where nobody has yet been.

One of the key pillars in Woolf’s argument is to contend that women’s creativity is inherently different than men’s, and therefore needs to be promoted in order to advance the richness in our culture. But while that argument  might appear overly essentialist on the face of it, what Woolf is saying is more that women should not be forced into a masculine ideal in order to succeed: “It would be a thousand pitites if women wrote like men, or lived like men, or looked like men, for if two sexes are quite inadequate, considering the vastness and variety of the world, how should we manage with one only?”

In the end, this section is my big take-away:

“All these infinitely obscure lives remain to be recorded, I said, addressing Mary Carmichael as if she were present; and went on in thought through the streets of London feeling in imaginatino the pressure of dumbness, the accumulation of unrecorded life, whether from the women at the street corners with their arms akimbo, and the rings embedded in their fat swollen fingers, talking with a gesticulation like the swing of Shakespeare’s words; or from teh violet-sellers and match-sellers and old crones stationed under doorways; or from drifting girls whose faces, like waves in sun and cloud, signal the coming of men and women and the flickering lights of shop windows.

All that you will have to explore, I said to Mary Carmichael, holding your torch firm in your hand. Above all, you must illumine your own soul with its profundities and its shallows, and its vanities and its generosities, and say what your beauty means to you or your plainness, and what is your relation to the ever-changing and turning world of gloves and shoes and stuffs swaying up and down among the faint scents that come through chemists’s bottles down arcades of dress material over a floor of pseudo-marble.”

-Jarrah

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The Round-Up: May 10, 2011

-Jarrah

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Spring Book List 2011

In addition to the informal Gender Focus book club reading and the occasional monthly read for Feminist Classics Book Club, I’m still doing a bunch of other reading so, without further ado, here are some super brief reviews on the books I’ve been reading over the past few months.

1. When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present by Gail Collins.

I’d bought this book when it first came out, being a big fan of Collins’ New York Times columns, but I’d put off reading it after reading Collins’ subsequent open letter to young american women, which basically laid the decline of popular feminism at the feet of young women. I argued it was insulting to young feminists and showed a complete lack of accountability for any problems in the second wave feminist movement.

Eventually I came back to the book, having just read Rebecca Traister’s Big Girls Don’t Cry. While Traister’s book focused on the 2008 Presidential campaign, it alluded to the history of the women’s movement Collins’ book discussed. Traister’s book also did a great job talking about the divides in the present-day feminist movement due to race, class, and age. I was curious to see if Collins’ book could deal with any of these subjects with the same sensitivity.

It couldn’t. While Collins’ book went very in-depth describing the lives of everyday women from 1960 to now, she glossed over conflicts in the women’s movement and whitewashed its history. Her chapter on the civil rights movement seemed to focus more on the handful of white women who put themselves in danger for the cause than the black women and men who’d faced danger day after day just for being black.

When Everything Changed wasn’t a complete loss: the sections on the beginning of the movement for reproductive rights are informative, richly detailed, and inspiring. However, I think it’s biggest problem is reinforcing an idea of feminism as monolithic: white, straight, and middle-class, thereby limiting its potential in the present day.

2. Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer

I’d never read anything by any of the absurdly talented Foers, but this book was recommended by someone I met at a Tweetup and it sounded right up my alley. In Moonwalking with Einstein, Joshua Foer recounts his attempts to become a US Memory Champion and “mental athlete” through learning methods to memorize random numbers, shuffled decks of cards, poetry, and names and faces. Interspersed with the entertaining stories about his training and the unique people he encounters on the world memory circuit is a thoughtful discussion of the history of memory training, pedagogy, and the importance of memory in our society.

This book isn’t an instructional guide for people interested in memory sport, but Foer’s enthusiasm is infectious and it’s hard not to finish reading it and not try one of the techniques he touches on.

3. Room by Emma Donoghue

Room is one of the best novels I’ve read in a really long time and I’d probably even put it in my top 5 favourites. The story is told from the point-of-view of Jack, a little boy who lives in a room with Ma. For a book whose plot line could’ve come out of an episode of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, Room manages to be more a story of hope, love, and determination than just fear and disgust.

And it sticks with you. There were several points when I was reading it that I felt just shaken and thought I’d never be able to sleep normally again – not because it was frightening per se but just because the story was so involving. I can’t recommend Room enough.

4. World Without End by Ken Follett

So of course I had to follow up an awesome book like Room with a trashy paperback historical novel like this. World Without End is the sequel to Pillars of the Earth, which my roommate and I got into after watching the miniseries. WWE is set in a fictional priory in England during the black plague and while it maintained Pillars’ commitment to interesting, empowered women characters, the plot and character dynamics seemed formulaic. Also, Follett seems given to overly descriptive rape scenes, which definitely bother me, even if the rapists end up being punished at the end.

5. The Backchannel: How Audiences are Using Twitter and Social Media and Changing Presentations Forever by Cliff Atkinson

If you’ve found yourself giving or attending presentations since the advent of Twitter, you’d probably find this book useful to help break down how things are changing. The book provides concrete suggestions for making presentations more interactive, especially using social media tools. The graphics are a little corny but overall it’s a clear, concise handbook that I found especially helpful to rethink how I do presentations.

6. Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell

I’m a big fan of Vowell’s The Wordy Shipmates so I was excited to come across Assassination Vacation, one of her older books, at the New Westminster library. In this book Vowell documents a road trip across the United States visiting sites associated with the assassinations of Presidents Lincoln, McKinley, and Garfield. Yet again Vowell proves she’s my kinda history geek: the kind that drags her friends and relatives out to seemingly insignificant monuments commemorating obscure historical happenings, and who spends time worrying about things like whether it’s wrong to find Lee Harvey Oswald attractive. Few people can combine history, social analysis, and personal reflection in a way that’s as interesting as Sarah Vowell.

7. Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach.

For the curious mind, but not for the weak stomach, Mary Roach’s book describes how human cadavers have been used throughout history, including looking at dissections, the use of corpses as crash-test dummies, and researching how corpses are used to study decay processes to solve crime.

One of the most interesting things she looks at is how we dispose of bodies now and why chemical breakdown and composting corpses still hasn’t caught on. This discussion looks at touchy areas around the distinction between body, mind, and soul. Roach’s tone is matter-of-fact so as long as you aren’t innately turned off by the thought of blood or death, I’d really recommend the read.

-Jarrah

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Feminism, Pop Culture 1 Comment