By: Taylor B.
There are so few feminist movies out there that it’s easy to get excited when one comes along, but are all “feminist movies” really feminist? What’s the difference between a “good” feminist movie and a “bad” one?
I recently watched Itty Bitty Titty Committee (IBTC) and it turns out these are pretty complex questions. While the movie had some amazing parts, there were others that left me disappointed. In this review, I’m going to try to parse these out.
IBTC is a film about a woman in her early 20’s named Anna who gets pulled into a radical direct action feminist group called Clits in Action (CIA). She learns about feminism and feminist ideals while chasing around the group’s leader, Sadie, who is in a long-term and fairly problematic relationship (I’ll address why later). I’m having a lot of conflicting feelings about this movie so I’m breaking this review down into themes.
This review has general spoilers! I don’t get too specific but I do mention events throughout the movie. Reader beware! TW: I also mention an emotionally abusive relationships (mainly in the “Dysfunctional Relationships and Power Dynamics” section).
Race and the “White Feminist Savior” Problem
(Via the LA Times)
I was really excited to find out the main character, Anna, is Latina. Lesbians, feminism and a WOC main character? Off to a good start. Latina representation in film in incredibly low (see the above chart). Unfortunately, I was pretty disappointed with how Anna develops throughout the story.
When we first meet Anna, her personality is one-dimensional. She seems to be more defined by the people around her than by her own motivations and desires. She is stuck working as a receptionist at a plastic surgery clinic, she’s very timid, and her girlfriend recently broke up with her. She has an endearing young lesbian movie trope lack of feminine fashion sense. Then, suddenly, ta-da!, she meets Sadie, the leader of CIA (where everyone else is white), and suddenly gets excited and becomes a young angry and naive militant feminist stereotype. She dyes her hair, she wears boots, she sits on tables, she yells at the taco delivery guy, she mouths off to her mom, she even abandons her sister’s wedding shower (because “MARRIAGE IS A PATRIARCHAL CONSTRUCT DESIGNED BY MEN TO OPPRESS WOMEN”). In her reckless pursuit of Sadie, Anna seems to almost accidentally find herself and her voice.
It’s unclear whether Anna’s character would really feel different if played by a white actress. I think it’s important to have WOC in roles just purely for the purpose of representation, and in an effort to normalize people’s experiences, I don’t think it’s necessary to overly highlight Anna like “Look! Look someone not white! Look at them do not white things!” But in this movie the contrast between Anna and the otherwise all white CIA is noticeable and troubling. It would have been nice to see some cultural visibility/criticism or even a mention of how feminism may mean something different to Anna than it does to the otherwise completely white cast. I’m left feeling like Anna was swept up by a white feminism that the movie depicts as one-size-fits all. The actions of white feminists are so often problematic and racist in the real world that the lack of societal criticism on the topic in the movie is striking.
With representation in movies so skewed, it’s unfortunate that this movie doesn’t highlight Anna’s experiences in the way it could. Studies have found that Latinas are the most likely to be depicted sexually in films. Over 37% of Latinas in the 100 top grossing films of 2013 are shown partially nude or fully naked. Another 36% are shown in sexualized attire. Although not sexualized in the typical heteronormative way, Anna still appears partially naked in the film and a large part of her character is defined by her sexual desires for Sadie.
Dysfunctional Relationships and Power Dynamics
Ugh, I just want a lesbian movie that shows a healthy lesbian relationship. Is that so hard? Yes, apparently it is.
As I mentioned before, Anna joins CIA because she’s all hot for Sadie— and that’s fine, I totally understand her being into Sadie. However, Sadie is in a weird relationship with her partner, Courtney. Courtney is older than Sadie and is the director of a national feminist non-profit. While Sadie is out spray painting and getting drunk, Courtney is wearing pantsuits and going to bed early.
There is definitely tension between their different styles of activism and the generally brave/loud/outgoing Sadie is suddenly quiet and timid around Courtney. Their relationship seems more like a mom and a misbehaving but well-meaning child than a solid romantic connection.
This then gets mirrored in Anna’s pursuance of Sadie. Anna is younger and is trying to learn and get approval from Sadie, just like Sadie does with Courtney. Sadie continues to lead Anna on and as a viewer I became very uncomfortable with this dynamic. In a movie that is supposed to be feminist and queer-friendly, it’s disappointing to see such abuse. This perpetuates the stereotype that lesbian relationships are “catty” and filled with drama, instead of illustrating a loving and healthy dynamic.
Strong Supporting Characters
Although I’m less than thrilled with the main movie plot, I am all over the supporting characters. First of all there’s Aggie, a young transman whose parents kicked him out when he told them he “wanted to be a dude”. I have concerns that the actress who plays Aggie (Lauren Mollica) is not trans, to my knowledge.
Then there’s Shulamith who is a very (passive) aggressive feminist who also sleeps with lots of men and seems to then steal their car keys and such. I liked how her character was so solidly feminist while also maintaining her pro-sex lifestyle and not being a lesbian. Which leads to Calvin, who is certainly a very male-presenting person but also referred to as a woman by another character, so it’s unclear if they are a transman who got incorrectly gendered or just a very masculine-presenting woman. They got a medal for explosives before getting kicked out of the military due to Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Calvin and Shulamith make me really happy.
Finally there’s Meat, who basically does awesome art the whole time and is just pretty solid overall.
I would consider this to be a feminist movie in a very general sense. The film is clearly trying to show women, genderqueer individuals, and trans people in various relationships and in pursuing feminist ideals. Although it is not without problems, I do believe there is a lot of value in a movie that brings up issues like the ones mentioned here and gives a reason to discuss them. I’d recommend watching this movie with friends and taking time to talk about it afterwards— and don’t forget to write in an tell us what you think.
If you’re a feminist, or generally just someone who prefers good quality television, you are doomed to forever being disappointed in media portrayals of women. When it comes to representation, television falls miserably short of respecting and portraying female agency.
If you were a female character on western tv you would by design be white, skinny, straight and a device to further your male counterparts storyline. Women of colour, on the other hand, are mere props. Actually no, props tend to outlast these women on TV.
Okay so not all television conforms to my reductionist analysis—. but just enough. Orphan Black, bringing you star actress Tatiana Maslany (in multiple roles as the show demands it), alongside Jordan Gavaris, is hard at work trying to fix this broken system.
This sci-fi series from BBC America checks off most of the boxes on any feminist’s media wish-list. It has a wonderful tightly packed plot which kicks off within the first few minutes of the series when Sarah Manning (Tatiana Maslany) comes face to face with her doppelganger Elizabeth Childs (also played by Maslany; boy this is going to get old really fast) as Childs jumps in front of a train to commit suicide.
Manning is depicted as an unreliable parent, a punk struggling to gain some stability in her life and to take care of her daughter Keira. She assumes Childs identity in order to con some money off of her doppelganger, but what starts out as identity fraud quickly morphs as Manning finds herself in the middle of a murder mystery. She is somewhat reluctantly dragged into the investigation of a murder of yet another of her doppelgangers when she assumes Childs’ life as a police investigator. The plot further unravels as she discovers several other genetic identicals of herself, or clones as she eventually comes to find out. The self proclaimed “clone club” comes to include Cosima Neihus, the geeky scientist who is the brains of the group as well as Allison Hendrix, the uptight soccer mom provides the finances, and Helena , the assassin trained by an extremist Christian group to murder the clones because they see them as cheap copies of God’s work.
The first few episodes of the show are gripping and you find yourself instantly hooked on the fast-moving narrative. Brilliant portrayals of lead characters Manning, Felix (Jordan Gavaris) and the rest of the clones, Cosima, Allison and Helena keep you invested in the personal lives of each of these characters. Maslany’s incredible acting chops will have you perpetually forgetting that the four clones are actually being played by one person, that Manning, who comes to be seen as the protector of the clone club, is simultaneously being played by the same person who plays Helena, who is attacking them.
Sarah Manning’s portrayal of a strong female lead is unfortunately a rare sight on television, especially one that is this well done. Her character is shown as a survivor. She’s on the run from her abusive drug dealer ex-boyfriend after stealing drugs from him to sell. She often depicts more machismo on screen than her foster brother, Felix, and is fairly comfortable resorting to violence to protect herself and her loved ones. However, it is her role as a fierce protector of her daughter, brother and clone family that adds depth to her character. Seeing the show invest more in a healthy concept of sisterhood between Manning and the clones instead of compromising her agency and character development for her love life is refreshing. In fact, the show has been fairly bold in its mistreatment of her love life, not restricting her love choices to one true lover. The audience is left confused, rooting for either of the male leads but equally unconcerned with whomever she picks since Felix will always trump all other male relationships in her life anyway.
But the show was never about male relations. It instead explores female relationships, pitting them together as the only solution to survival and against a corporate empire, and the scientists who engineered them. Orphan Black passes the Bechdel test with flying colors, having multiple female characters talking for long periods of time about things other than men. Cosima, Allison and Sarah all struggle with adjusting to the idea of being clones as the show follows their respective journeys towards exploring their dynamics with each other, while mapping their journey towards trust and interdependence to find their chance at survival.
Helena’s character development also stands out on Orphan Black, often heralded as a groundbreaking female villain. Developed as a foil to Manning, she has been trained as a killing machine. She embodies all the crucial elements required to make a vicious maniacal villain (complete with her own evil sounding soundtrack announcing her entry on screen). But she is not reduced to her past and she does not fall neatly into any one TV trope for evil women on screen. In fact, she has been sketched out better than most of her villainous male counterparts. Her evolution over the course of the two seasons quickly became one of the biggest selling points of the show and definitely something to watch out for.
Another key feature of the series that sets it apart from other contemporaries in the genre is its representation of the LGBTQIA community. We see characters with a range of sexual orientations and genders on the show, with a considerable variability within the clone club, having straight, bi and albeit fleetingly, a trans clone: Sarah’s openly gay foster brother, Felix, is also shown celebrating his sexuality on screen with a string of relationships. These characters are not stereotypes, they’re not lip service to representation and they are not reduced to their sexualities on screen— and you can just feel the writer’s itching to verbalize this point lest it gets lost in the noise when Cosima voices that “My sexuality’s not the most interesting thing about me.”
But where the show strives to include sexual diversity, to actively tackle prejudices in representation it is disappointing to note the general absence of people of color. The main cast is white (but in their defense it also mostly consists of Tatiana Maslany), with very little exceptions. Unfortunately it fails miserably at depicting true diversity and excludes people of color from what is essentially a feminist conversation about choice, reproduction and control. The show that actively speaks up about issues of representation loses credibility when it fails to confront it’s own racial issues.
Orphan Black’s success on television proves that audiences globally appreciate better female representation and that political correctness does not undermine quality. The women on this show might be clones, but all of them have something unique and special to add to the world of fiction. They look the same but as Manning points out “There’s only one of me”. So if you’re looking for a new show, definitely check out Orphan Black, all it will take is one episode to get you hooked.
Welcome to Advanced Sex Ed, Planned Parenthood’s newest Tumblr segment. Put on your smarty pants because we’re kicking things up a notch with some higher-level sexual learnin’.
Birth Control Effectiveness Rates: Perfect-Use vs. Typical-Use.
“Why are there sometimes two different effectiveness rates for birth control? Which is correct?”
One of the questions we get all the time is, “How effective is birth control?” Usually people are looking for one, definitive percentage that tells them exactly how well a certain method prevents pregnancy. But reality is more complicated than that.
Birth control effectiveness is measured two ways: how well it prevents pregnancy when used PERFECTLY every single time, and how well it prevents pregnancy after factoring in human error. These are called “perfect-use rates” and “typical-use rates.”
Let’s look at the birth control pill, for example:
Perfect-use rate: Less than 1 out of 100 people will get pregnant each year if they ALWAYS take the pill every day as directed.
Typical-use rate: About 9 out of 100 people will get pregnant each year if they don’t always take the pill each day as directed.
So the pill is extremely effective if used perfectly, but that old saying, “nobody’s perfect,” also applies to birth control. We sometimes make mistakes or life circumstances foil our perfect-use plans: things like forgetting a pill, losing a pill, not being able to get the next pack on time and barfing can all impact the pill’s effectiveness. Therefore, we have two different rates, and the “real-life” one applies to most of us.
But what’s up with birth control that has only one, very impressive effectiveness rate? (Lookin’ at you, IUDs and implants!) These LARCs — long-acting reversible contraceptives — are virtually impossible to screw up, so they get a perfect-use rate by default: more than 99%, the best there is. More and more people are using LARCs these days because they’re super convenient AND super effective — even the folks on our Planned Parenthood Tumblr Team are huge fans.
Life happens, so typical-use rates are the most true to life. The most common reason birth control fails is because we mess it up. So whatever method you choose, you’ve got to use it as perfectly as possible or it just won’t work as well as it should. Be honest with yourself: if your lifestyle just doesn’t jive with having to think about birth control on a regular basis, consider getting yourself a LARC.
And remember: no method of birth control is 100% effective, even if used perfectly. But you can increase your pregnancy-preventing superpowers by using both birth control and condoms. There’s another really good reason to do this: condoms are the only method of contraception that also protects you from STDs.
-Kendall at Planned Parenthood
Great advice— in response to an old post, but throwing this out there anyways because it is important!
My advice is that anybody who tells you how to define your own sexuality isn’t being an awesome friend. Having had sex before has nothing to do with whether or not your are asexual. The great thing about sexuality is that yours is your own to define- so don’t listen to what anybody else has to say about whether or not you fit into what their narrow definitions are.
The images from Swedish photographer David Magnusson’s new book, Purity, are beautiful, disturbing and tell a distinctly American story – a story wherein a girl’s virginity is held up as a moral ideal above all else, a story in which the most important characteristic of a young woman is whether or not she is sexually active. This narrative of good girls and bad girls, pure girls and dirty girls, is one that follows young women throughout their lives. Purity balls simply lay that dichotomy bare. In a clip from a Nightline Prime episode on these disconcerting events , a father tells his braces-clad daughter, “You are married to the Lord, and your father is your boyfriend.”
While it would be easy to dismiss purity balls as fringe – most American fathers don’t require their daughters to pledge their virginity in an elaborate ceremony – the paternalism and fear of female sexuality underlying the events are present throughout American culture. (I wrote about this phenomenon in my 2009 book, The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Young Women.)
The idea of girls’ chastity as a mobilizing force in culture and politics may feel like a throwback, but it’s something that still tangibly impacts thousands upon thousands of modern women – even through policy.