30 September, 2010

My Day of Misogyny

A little backstory - after returning from a lengthy stint abroad, I haven't yet fallen into a regular work pattern. So I've been at home a lot with only daytime TV to entertain me (there's only so much time one can spend on Facebook). Having cable at my disposal that shouldn't be so bad (although Diagnosis Murder on BBC1 remains unmatched so far as shows involving crime-fighting physicians go) but I discovered a large part of what's on offer is a veritable visual feast of sexism.

I like comedy, so these last few days I settled on Comedy Central to soundtrack my post-morning paper day:

9am - 10am Frasier

I like Frasier. I used to watch it when it was originally shown in the nineties/noughties. However, revisiting it with more mature, feminist eyes, does diminish its legend somewhat.

The main female characters are Daphne, a live-in carer come housemaid, and Roz, Fraiser's radio show producer. Daphne is a Benny Hill type female cliche (ironically the actress, Jane Leeves, made her name as a Benny Hill girl, so that's possibly why she didn't flinch at taking on such a sexist role) - dizzy and distinctly unintelligent, she is continually mocked for being too talkative and her supposedly terrible cooking - not generally in a physical therapist's remit, so far as I'm aware - is a running joke. Her main part in the show is to serve as the love interest for Frasier's brother. Unrelatedly, her Mancunian accent is the worst I've heard this side Peru.

Roz is a more impressive character in that she has a successful career in radio. There the feminist glories end. The running gag with Roz is that she's promiscuous. Needless to say this is not presented as a liberated, modern choice, but rather makes her the subject of regular lewd jokes about her sex life. This is, somewhat confusingly, paired with the decision to gradually turn her into a Bridget Jones type. She is also desperate to find a husband and often frets about her age (she has passed that golden threshold of 30). She eventually finds redemption in motherhood.

The more peripheral female characters come in the form of girlfriends for our protagonist, Frasier, and his father, Martin. Frasier in his mid forties, is also on the lookout for romance; I have a theory that his failure to find a long term partner is based on the fact that he rarely dates women out of their late twenties to early thirties. Confusingly there are lots of women in their forties around - they are the love interests of his 60-something-year-old father. In the course of the series he is engaged twice to women two decades his junior. Only Niles, the younger brother, ends up with a woman closeish to his own age when he eventually marries Daphne.

Special mention also to Lillith, Frasier's ex-wife. She is the typical bitch ex wife, and stereotypical frigid "ice queen" type. Niles' estranged first wife, Maris is never seen on camera, but jokes are made about her obsession with food and her weight; she is constantly on the most ridiculous of diets and is so insecure about her appearance that she often refuses to be seen in public. As a psychiatrist you'd think her husband would recognise probable body dismorphic disorder and a large dose of agoraphobia, but instead the character is just written off a high maintenance, nagging harridan.

10-am - 11am Everybody Loves Raymond

I've also been aware of this long-running American sitcom for quite some time; I remember watching it in the mornings when I was at university.

It's a family set-up, our protagonist Raymond, along with his wife and children, parents and brother. His wife, Deborah, is again stereotype wife. Her terrible cooking is again a running gag, her housekeeping is poor, she denies her hapless husband sex and not an episode goes past where she isn't shown nagging him (not surprising when they have three children and he makes no contribution to the chores). The other main female character is Raymond's mother, a shrill harpy who constantly nags her husband (to be fair, he is also portrayed as a fairly unpleasant character) and exists mainly to fill the snooty mother in law cliche and make her daughter in law's life hell. The only other recurring character is Amy, Raymond's brother Robert's on-off girlfriend. A wet dishcloth of a girl, her main goal in life is to get married and her main function in the show is to quietly wait for Robert to propose, despite him cheating on her more than one and dumping her several times before eventually committing.

11am-12pm King of Queens:

King of Queens employs a device beloved of US comedy - pairing an overweight, under-achieving, slobby, "loveable rogue" character with a somewhat unrealistically beautiful, slim, successful and intelligent wife (see also Family Guy and any film involving Seth Rowland). Not so much of a problem in itself, you may say, but imagine the scenario the other way around - doesn't happen, does it?

Carrie, and I feel wearied typing the same words again, is a stereotype wife - she constantly nags her husband, doesn't like him spending time with his friends, doesn't want sex as often as he feels is appropriate. There are mercifully no jokes about her cooking, though needless to say she does all of it, along with the shopping; but there was an extra dose of misogyny in one episode I saw where the husband, Doug, bullied the beautiful, slim Carrie into going on a diet because he thought she was getting plump, all the while making no reference to the fact that he himself is grossly obese, despite the fact that the disparity between he and his wife's weights and general physical attractiveness is something he is shown to be aware of.

12pm-1pm Scrubs:

A shining light in my day. Maybe it's because it doesn't revolve around a traditional family/household set up, but there's no sexism that I can see in this programme. And it's very funny. YAY.

1pm-3pm Frasier and King of Queens repeated.

3pm - 4pm Two and a Half Men:

The misogyny of this inexplicably popular contemporary US sitcom is so legendary I barely need to revisit it. The set up sees two middle aged brothers living together, one having occasional custody of his young son. The elder brother, Charlie (played by Charlie Sheen - not himself known for showing a great deal of respect for women) is a notorious womaniser. the male equivalent of Roz in Fraiser, if you like, but instead of censure, his almost heroic promiscuity is rewarded with praise, luckless younger brother Alan referring to him once as an episode as a "lucky, lucky bastard" as he's seen ascending the stairs accompanied by two giggling pneumatic blondes.

Charlie is in his forties but shamelessly dates women two decades his junior. He has rules about not dating women over the age of 25 and devotes a large portion of one episode I saw this week to explaining why he could never date a woman of 40 (still significantly younger than him, by this point) - because they all have big ears, apparently. He treats the women he briefly knows with nothing short of contempt - the running "joke" in this series is that he pretends to be romantically interested in women to convince them to sleep with him, then sends them away with a fake phone number. Women who attempt to pursue a relationship with him are portrayed as pathetic, clingy, boderline stalkers. One early recurring character who disappears in later series, Rose, actually IS a stalker.

Younger brother Alan is a loser in love, and clearly supposed to be a sympathetic character, with more open minded views on women than his brother. He dates women in his own age group, and generally more bookish types than the stereotyped "bimbos" his brother brings home, but his ultimate goal is also casual sex, and through his eyes women are shown as little more than receptacles to fit this purpose. One episode focussed on the absolutely "hilarious" consequences of both brothers openly lusting after a 17-year-old child. It's ok though, it is made known several times, that she is, in fact "asking for it". From two paunchy middle-aged men. Obviously.

Alan is also the link to one of the shows female leads - his ex-wife Judith. Judith is clearly modelled on Lillith from Frasier; a frigid "ice queen", who never wanted sex with her husband when they were married, continues to nag him despite their divorce, and is a "ball breaker" who continually harasses and emasculates her ex-husband. She "screwed" him in their divorce settlement and Alan always being broke because he has to pay Judith alimony - presumably to finance raising their child - is a regular joke. Alan also has a second ex-wife after a brief failed married to a 22-year-old woman so deficient in intelligence that in real life sleeping with her would probably be regarded as abuse. She also somehow "made" him pay for everything during their courtship and marriage, including her cosmetic surgery and car (despite being so thick that realistically she would have choked to death brushing her teeth before the age of 16) and he has to pay her alimony after their divorce; she too is subsequently shown as a millstone around Alan's neck.

The other recurring female character is the mens' mother. She is - wait for it - a shrill, nagging harridan who the pair do their best to avoid at all costs. They make jokes about the number of sexual partners she had in their youth (their own mother!).

Berta, Charlie's housekeeper, is butch, bullish and rude.

One storyline saw Charlie break the habit of a lifetime and fall for one of his throwaway dates. They become engaged, but when she, eminently sensibly, has misgivings about marrying him, she becomes the evil bitch who ruined his life.

There is literally not one, single female character on that show, whoever brief her appearance, who comes out of it looking good.

And so concludes my day of sexist "comedy". The evening gives way to more highbrow legal dramas such as Law and Order; even this franchise, one of my favourites, is guilty of sticking to the senior partner = male, junior partner = female set up. If I didn't watch anything that was sexist I'd probably spend a lot more time doing things more constructive than watching television. Like writing blogs about television, for example.

Thank goodness I'm working tomorrow.

24 September, 2010

Feminism burnt my toast

First there was the article in the Daily Fail.

Then Humphreys had Rose Prince and Rosie Boycott (Spare Rib founder turned Fail writer) on the Today Programme. The issue:


Germaine Greer has spent the last 30-odd years running around force-feeding cakes to children, and because Betty Friedan has personally kicked all women out of the kitchen and into the workplace, and forced them to feed their children ready meals (Susan Faludi was preventing all the men from lifting a finger, obviously) - your children are fat.

On R4, both Prince and Boycott seemed quite happy to point the finger of blame at women - even though Boycott was ostensibly there to argue against Prince's feminist-killed-healthy-eating rubbish - to the point where Humphreys ended up taking her part, saying
"I'm going to have to defend women here... because neither of you are doing it. You treat women as though they're incredibly gulible and vulnerable to all these pressures"
At the same time, both women agreed that it is difficult to criticise families; what they do instead is criticise women, saying that as women are the primary caregivers, it is up to them to make sure their children eat well. Women are the scapegoat. The problem is not that women don't give a shit about their children eating healthily, but that modern capitalism requires women to work - there is no married man's wage, and most people would agree that for an average family, two average wages are needed. And if both parents are working full time - or the family has only one parent - they may not have time to cook from scratch each and every day. They may not be able to afford lots of vegetables; hell, I find vegetables expensive enough and I live in a household with two (admittedly low) incomes and no kids.

In her Daily Fail article, Prince laments that
"The way we cook has to change if the gentle art of feminine food is to be revived."
As opposed to what - the tough art of masculine food? Cooking isn't gentle, it's hard bloody work, taking time and effort - even if, like me, you enjoy cooking. No doubt Prince wouldn't consider sweating, swearing when I drop a potato, or getting flour on my jeans particularly feminine - but cooking can and does involve all of those things. And I guess if my partner cooks, then what he makes is masculine food - even if it's cupcakes.

Both Crumbs and Jessica Reid on CiF have excellent rebuttals to Prince's (and Boycott's) nonsense as well, albeit from different angles.


In other Daily Fail news: send your sons to private schools, girls will get enough education to marry well at the local state school - because everyone knows that private schools are always better, state schools fail boys, boys need special treatment, and girls get on with it, and don't need an education anyway because all girls are fit for is marrying, having babies, and cooking (in a gentle, feminine way). No doubt "they will both go to university and everything will work out", so that's ok then.

The article quotes "social commentator"James Delingpole - climate change denier, he of the "men don't want paternity leave" and "gays aren't normal" bullshit, who writes for the Mail and the Torygraph - saying,
"Girls can always marry a rich man, ... If a girl is middle-class and reasonably educated in the state system, the chances are she will marry well anyway.

"Boys, like it or not, are much more likely to end up earning their family’s crust as the breadwinner. Girls, being more sophisticated, socially adept and devious, are much more capable of negotiating the complexities of the state system than boys. It may not be liberated or politically correct, but it’s true.’

"... the state system is woefully geared against boys. Almost all the teachers are female, and a kind of ideological feminisation has crept into the system.

‘Boys aren’t built to sit still and conform in class. They are boisterous - they need to run about and they need to be challenged. "

Oh, fuck off you tit.

13 September, 2010

Indefensible (trigger in paragraph 5)

Having a slightly masochistic streak I'm occasionally compelled to pick up the Metro, the Daily Mail's ugly little sister, on the train into work. This rag usually offers a bit of bile to start your week with and this morning's edition was no exception, with the story of a woman who neglected her children and let her dogs starve to death while playing a computer game as its front page offering. (The story is covered in even more gory detail in the Fail itself). By the time I'd finished reading I was shaking with rage, but possibly not for quite the reasons the editors intended.

This seems at first reading to be a continuation of the Fails' bizarre crusade against the evil interwebs: the addictive game in question is called Smallworld, to which "she received an invitation from a friend on Facebook", and is "an online boardgame featuring characters such as wizards, dwarves, orcs and giants" – clearly such a tempting prospect it can turn an ordinary mother into a neglectful monster. Look a bit closer though and the story gets rather more complicated.

It seems the problems started when she lost her husband to a heart attack, after which she stopped taking care of her dogs and her house, barely managed to feed her children and started obsessively playing the game. That doesn't sound to me like an addictive game ruining someone's life, it sounds to me like someone with severe depression taking refuge in a virtual world from a life that's become unbearable. It sounds to me like turning someone with a severe mental illness into a hate figure in order to fit with their anti-Facebook agenda.

Apparently she got a ban on using the internet and keeping animals and a suspended custodial sentence. What I hope she also got is counselling, a lot of hot cups of tea and a lot of friends reassuring her that whatever she's done they still care about her. What she certainly doesn't need is a media-maddened mob who can't imagine themselves ever ending up in that position to tell her what she did is inexcusable, I'm pretty sure she already feels bad about it.

Honestly, in my more tinfoil-hatted moments I sometimes wonder why the Daily Mail puts so much effort into making sure we hate each other. Do they want us to be too busy squabbling amongst ourselves and bitching over biweekly bin collections that we won't notice when Paul Dacre peels off his fleshmask and leads his army of Martian Lizardmen to victory or something? Maybe it's meant to be reassuring. We're not like those people, the narrative goes. We're not workshy scroungers sponging off honest taxpayers, or underdressed sluts who go out and get themselves raped (or probably make it up anyway) or foreigners inventing tales of persecution to leech off the public services we pay for. We'd never get addicted to an absurd game "featuring characters such as wizards, dwarves, orcs and giants". And we're certainly not the sort of weak, pathetic people who get depression.

Only it's a lie of course. It's hard to find a firm figure but it's widely accepted that about a quarter of us will experience some sort of mental illness at some point in our lives. No matter who we are or how strong our work ethic may be, we can find ourselves sick or unemployed, we may even be assaulted whatever precautions we take. And sometimes, maybe in response to bereavement, maybe because of something else, our brains can do things we don't like and can't control. Life can be touch, and possibly the one thing I'd agree with the Daily Mail on is the need to look out for each other – this story probably wouldn't have ended so tragically if this woman's friends or family had noticed she wasn't coping and offered to help at the beginning. But a little understanding and compassion is what would promote that sort of society, not the judgement, mistrust and condemnation peddled by this paper.

In short, there's some indefensible behaviour here, but it's on behalf of the writers of this article, not its subject.

P.S. I should probably point out that I'm a dog lover (currently dogless due to circumstances rather than choice), and while the idea of letting your dogs starve to death makes me feel sick, I'm not so self-righteous that I can't see how someone with depression could let that happen.