Posted in Uncategorized

Dreaming of a Gender Norm-Free Future

Like many liberal, left-leaning Gen Xers, I see the current state of affairs in the United States and I put my faith in future generations. As our society becomes incrementally more progressive, with marriage equality and better queer representation in media it mostly feels like we’re headed in the right direction. (The last year of atrocities committed by the Dotard-In-Chief notwithstanding.)

One hope that us jaded, almost middle-aged types focus on is that eventually old prejudices, discriminatory attitudes, and conservative mindsets will die out, as Boomers pass on to the Great Free Love Festival in the Sky. While it’s arguable that younger generations’ attitudes will automatically be more progressive, one trend that seems inescapable is the flaunting and downright dismissal of gender norms through fashion. This makes me supremely happy. As a cisgender femme, I dress in a pretty typical cis femme way, but I absolutely love watching others play with gender norms. Sometimes I enjoy the big spectacle of it all, like with drag king shows. But mostly, I love the subtle ways fashion trends supersede gender.

I’ve previously written about musicians and their gender-bending costume choices, but I’m thinking of something more subtle here. These choices made are not necessarily to shock, but just represent normality, as in, “This is me, this is how I like to look.” Billie Joe Armstrong from Green Day comes to mind, with his smudgy eyeliner.

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Incidentally, Billie Joe teamed up with Kat Von D last year to sell a brand of eyeliner specifically marketed to men, called Basket Case. I see what they did, there.

Another very current, very hot artist is reggaeton artist Bad Bunny, and his painted nails. I was flipping through Vevo recently, catching up on current music videos and came across his song Mia,with Drake. After a minute, I caught myself staring at his

BadBunnyfingernails every time his hands were visible. They were polished, and relatively long! For a Puerto Rican rapper, this felt like a really big deal. In an interview with Refinery 29, he talks about how painted nails have always been a part of his style, even before his rise to stardom. He spoke about being denied a manicure at a nail salon in Spain. While many of his fans support him and love his nail art, he still receives homophobic comments, and recently deleted his Twitter account completely. His Instagram account is still alive, and unapologetic. It will take a few lifetimes to rid the world of toxic masculinity, if ever!

Celebrities like these, along with Jaden Smith, Ruby Rose, and other celebrities who wear whatever the hell they want make it easier for their fans who seek their own freedom. Whether they are questioning their gender identity or just really like how makeup looks on masculine features, representation matters a great deal.

Posted in Uncategorized

Rock & Roll Gender Variance

David Bowie wasn’t the first the play with gender in his looks, but he certainly was the most influential. He always seemed like the epitome of cool; effortlessly fashionable with a dash of recklessness. The year he died, 2016, was the same year we lost Prince; another blow. One thing I read a lot after Prince passed away was how both of these iconic artists showed us there was more than one way to be a man. This thought was updated to include George Michael after his death in December of 2016.

While the latter two men would not be considered gender nonconforming, they absolutely challenged our preconceived notions of men in rock and pop music. 80s-era Prince was a vision in ruffled pirate shirts and spandex. My 12 year old brain couldn’t wrap its head around a man who would wear (what I considered to be) such feminine looking clothing, but his music was so full of raw sexuality! Around the same time we were introduced to George Michael via Wham! but it wasn’t until his solo efforts did we see the rougher side of George: unshaven face, cool-guy aviators, and a sensuality that demanded your attention.

The world of music owes so much to these incredible artists; not only for their timeless music or fashion sense, but because by their gender identity choices they gave us the freedom to express ourselves more easily. David Bowie and other gender nonconforming artists helped pave the way for new generations of gender variant artists.

Posted in feminism, TV Tropes

Sweet Birthday Baaaaay-Beeee

Russian Doll

I loved Russian Doll. Not because I’m a big Natasha Lyonne fan, I’m not. But the concept of the show was fascinating to me, the preview had great music, and at eight half-hour episodes, it was perfectly binge-able. I knew it was created, written, and directed by women, and featured a strong female protagonist. What’s not to love? I watched it in a weekend, and started thinking about when I wanted to watch it again. This was February, when the series debuted on Netflix. Cut to today…

This morning I stumbled across an interview with Leslye Headland, the co-creator, writer and director of Russian Doll on one of my comedy podcasts, Good One. Usually this podcast revolves around a comedian talking about a joke or bit, and the genesis behind it. But this episode talked about “the greatest joke of all, death.” Specifically, the 22 death scenes found in Russian Doll. This is not a spoiler, by the way. However, if you still have not enhanced your quality of life by watching this show, go do it already!

Since taking this feminist film class, I’ve been thinking more about feminist narratives, and more specifically, feminist counter-narratives. The character of Nadia is not your typical Hollywood female protagonist. I fell in love with Lyonne’s portrayal of Nadia almost immediately. She’s that cool but fucked up, fashionable without trying too hard, doesn’t give a shit kind of woman I think many women would like to be. This attitude doesn’t necessarily come organically; Nadia is dealing with generational trauma from her mother’s mental illness and untimely death, and the subsequent guilt and grief associated with it. Nadia is blunt, crude and selfish. Her own best friend describes her by saying, “I love that you’re a c***. It makes me feel morally superior.” Vanity Fair defines the character thusly:

“Onscreen as Nadia, Lyonne is acerbic and captivating; she doesn’t want to keep her cat indoors because she doesn’t “believe in dictating the boundaries of a sentient being’s existence,” and tends to leave parties early even when she isn’t abruptly being killed. She doesn’t care if you like her, but she suspects you will anyway.”

Simply put, Nadia is messy. The show allows her to screw up, over and over, without ascribing some moral judgment. Nadia’s own concept of morality is ambiguous, at best: “What is a bad person? There is Hitler, and there’s everybody else,” she says in defense.

Nadia’s antagonist is an OCD-prone, buttoned-down ball of anxiety called Alan. The two meet when they share an elevator that plunges them to their deaths. Neither are surprised it’s happening, as both are experiencing the same die-and-come-back events. “Didn’t you get the news? We’re about to die,” Nadia says to him. He replies, “It doesn’t matter, I die all the time.” Alan is the exact opposite of Nadia; he’s very controlled and proper. He’s certain his deaths are a divine punishment. He is highly moralistic, and wants to believe things happen for a reason.

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In Hollywoodland, leading men are allowed to be messy, complicated, unsure of what’s going on or what they’re doing. Maybe they’re immoral garbage humans, perhaps they are just stuck. Typically, a woman comes along to clean up his mess or help him grow up. She shows him that there’s a better life ahead if he would just get his shit together, for her. Sometimes she’s a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. The point is, she’s there to help him. Rarely in mainstream TV and film are we introduced to fully actualized female characters with their own list of wants and dreams, although this is improving.

What makes Russian Doll so joyous and refreshing is the twisting of these tropes. Nadia is flailing about until she finds Alan, who helps her make sense of it, and together they formulate a plan. He’s not rescuing her, because she doesn’t need rescuing. She’s gonna die anyway, with or without him. The character of Nadia eschews typical female concerns that seem to dominate stories about women; she’s not trying to keep the guy or get the dream job. She is already a respected software engineer in a male-dominated field of video game production. “Her journey of self-exploration begins at age 36, it doesn’t revolve around men, her career or a quest for motherhood. Those are worthy topics and goals for a female protagonist to have, but like you see with a lot of male-driven shows, she’s a character that wants something that doesn’t fall into those categories,” Headland says. “She really is asking, ‘What’s wrong with me?’ and ‘What is my life?’ And to truthfully ask those questions is just something that women I do not think have access to.”

The show has received high praise from many critics, from its positive portrayal of women, trauma and mental illness, to its all-female writing and show-running staff. Currently it sports a 96% Rotten Tomatoes rating. Season 2 is in the works. When crafted with care, feminist counter-narrative stories can be amazing! I hope the success of Russian Doll will inspire more female storytellers to share their gifts.

 

For further reading:

https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2019/06/russian-doll-nadia-anatomy-of-a-character-natasha-lyonne-interview

http://clydeinsider.co.uk/netflixs-russian-doll-a-win-for-femism#.XVWjweNKhhE

https://www.syfy.com/syfywire/russian-doll-and-the-seemingly-neverending-cycle-of-trauma

https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/live-feed/russian-doll-charlie-barnett-nadia-alan-relationship-1182194