What are we going to do about celebrities, the media, and society’s response to domestic violence??

Before reading: Prepare yourselves for lots of links and information about recent cases of domestic violence in popular culture. I encourage everyone who looks up the links to pay attention to the titles of the articles. Think about the phrasing and the order of names. Which person is the actor, or who is given power, and who is the one being acted upon in these titles? Are the authors of these articles attempting to frame domestic violence cases in a particular way? Are they trying to evoke some emotion or thought out of the reader?

Do you guys remember the Rihanna/Chris Brown incident back in 2009? Here’s a link if you don’t remember, even though it would be hard to forget, with everyone talking and gossiping about it: Chris Brown charged with assault on Rihanna. Domestic violence became a pretty huge topic, but over time, the discourse changed and focused more on romance, who the two were dating, or whether or not they’d get back together. Five years later, Rihanna, Chris, and the topic of domestic violence are back in the news and in our thoughts and conversations.

Rihanna and Kanye West were planning to perform at the NFL game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens, but CBS pulled the plug on it. Why would the TV network cancel such a high-profile performance? Well, the Baltimore Ravens recently released Ray Rice earlier this week, for reasons I will discuss in a moment, and CBS thought it best that Rihanna, a victim of domestic violence, should not be featured at that particular game. Taking this news in, two things come to mind. 1.) Once again, large television networks and the media are controlling decisions about what to show the public, and ultimately controlling what we should be talking and thinking about. And 2.) Domestic violence has followed Rihanna and marked her, even five years after she was abused by Chris Brown

Rihanna’s case ties to the Ray Rice case going on right now. Here is a link to the timeline of events: A complete timeline of the Ray Rice assault case. This case and how it’s played out is really interesting, for it tells a lot about today’s society’s thoughts on and definitions of domestic violence. The case started in May, when Rice was charged and released from jail on assault charges. There was a video used as evidence in the case, a video of Rice pulling his now-wife’s (Janay Palmer) unconscious body from her shoulders out of an elevator. As the case went on, Rice was able to get out of jail time, and the Ravens only suspended him for two games, assuring that he would return. Then, in late July, the full video of the incident was released, and it showed Rice punching Palmer in the face so hard that she passed out. It took this video and three months after the incident for the Ravens to release Rice and for the NFL to develop a domestic violence policy. And all while this is going on and amid the assault case, Rice marries Palmer!! What?!

Another couple that has been in the news recently is Jonathan “War Machine” Koppenhaver and Christy Mack. Here are three articles that serve as a timeline of events: 1.) MMA fighter arrested for assaulting porn star 2.) Christy Mack claims War Machine beat her and threatened to kill her 3.) Christy Mack posted an updated about her condition after War Machine brutality. This case also tells a lot about we deal with and respond to assault and domestic violence cases in the United States. This was a case of not only physical abuse, but verbal and mental and emotional abuse as well. Everything started on Instagram, when Koppenhaver joked about their aborted child and showed off a tattoo he got in remembrance. When Mack broke it off with him, he attacked on Twitter, defaming her and her mother, and then he threatened to kill her and her mother. Then we later learned that on the night that he physically attacked her, Mack called 911, but the police were not quick enough to prevent the abuse. The interesting twist that I’ve noticed in the articles about this case is the way people write about and describe Koppenhaver and Mack. Koppenhaver is War Machine, a character of violence and aggression, while Mack is his “porn star girlfriend.” Did Koppenhaver’s character’s aggression translate over into his reality? Should we blame Mack for dating him or see her at fault just because she’s a porn star? These are their identities in these articles, and if affects how we read them and interpret the situation. How do things change, though, when we see pictures of Mack being hospitalized for broken teeth, a fractured rib, broken bones to her face, and a ruptured liver?

As scholars of sex and society, we should also be thinking about sex and its relation to domestic violence. What are the different social institutions involved in these cases? …the media, TV networks, the NFL… What do these social institutions have to say about sex and sexuality? Who, in these cases, has the power to define what is domestic violence and what is not?

Lots of topics about sex and society that we’ve discussed this semester are brought to life in these cases of domestic violence. There’s the feminist perspective from Catherine MacKinnon who emphasized male dominance and argued that men use sex as a tool to control women. As it says in “Theoretical Perspectives” by Steven Seidman, “To the extent that men have the power to define what desires, feelings, and behaviors are sexual, they can define women’s sexuality in a way that positions them as subordinate. Does MacKinnon make a fair point and how does this relate to domestic violence?

I hope I’ve given you some things to think about. I’ve provided examples of three very different incidents of domestic violence. In closing, I encourage you continue thinking about a few things. Are these domestic violence issues being talked about or being hushed and shoved under the rug? Why do we need to talk about domestic violence? How do we educate people about the various issues of domestic violence?

What’s sex got to with the manic pixie dream girl?

The manic pixie dream girl (MPDG) archetype is recurrent in numerous films. The most popular and recent examples of the MPDG are in 500 Days of Summer, Love & Other Drugs, Garden State, and Almost Famous, which we covered in class a while ago. The narrative of the MPDG follows a typical pattern. According to Wikipedia, they are cinematic “creatures” that are usually bubbly, weird, and quirky, and they exist solely to uplift and support a sensitive, brooding man. For the purpose of the film, MPDGs are typically static characters that serve as the romantic interest for the person that really matters, the male protagonist. They are girly and cute and encourage men to embrace life by teaching them about the happiness and adventure that life brings.

I can’t speak for anyone else’s experiences, but regardless of how much of a feminist critique I can offer on the MPDG, I still love movies featuring this stock character. I always end up liking her, rooting for her, or seeing parts of myself in her. I assume that lots of women and girls feel the same way when they watch films with MPDGs. Moreover, I also assume that men also like the MPDG, considering her desirable and attainable. This is troubling and potentially problematic because it relates back to issues of sex, power, and “compulsive heterosexuality,” topics that feminist scholars Adrienne Rich and Catherine MacKinnon explore in depth.

All aspects of society, as Adrienne Rich argues, act as social forces toward heterosexuality. In other words, society romanticizes and normalizes heterosexuality. Rich calls this “compulsive heterosexuality,” and it’s a way of thinking and behaving that goes unquestioned. For Rich, every sexual desire and behavior in a patriarchal society is related to gender dynamics and ultimately expresses male dominance or women’s resistance. Catherine MacKinnon goes one step further and insists that sex is a tool used by men to control and manipulate women.

“To the extent that men have the power to define what desires, feelings, and behaviors are sexual, they can define women’s sexuality in a way that positions them as subordinate. […] Women’s sexual liberation involves fashioning a sexual life that reflects their own needs, feelings, and desires.” What does the MPDG have to do with what these feminist scholars have to say?

Kristen Barber, “Sex and Power”

MPDGs are defined in terms of men and their purpose throughout a film is to help men pursue happiness. They are assumed to have already figured themselves and the world out, and as a result, MPDGs are static characters who are not concerned about themselves, only their male interests. MPDGs, with their eccentric personalities and their hyper-femininity, are the center of male desire. What does it mean that the MPDG is super feminine and cute? What does it say about her gender and sexuality that she exists to serve a man.

As we’ve learned in class, the film industry is like a microcosm of the larger patriarchal society and they have a lot of power and influence in media and culture. Those in the film industry send subtle messages about culture to the public, especially creators of movies with MPDGs because these films with this stock character are inherently structured around particular values about gender and sexuality.

The Conversation Surrounding Amendment 1

Tennessee has become the next battleground in the war on women and their ability to access safe, legal abortions. In November, Tennessee voters will be asked to vote on Amendment 1, an attempt by Tennessee Right to Life to remove the “fundamental right to privacy” from Tennessee’s Constitution and to grant anti-choice, anti-abortion politicians unlimited authority to impose restrictions and regulations on abortion, including banning all abortions. Even in cases of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest or cases in which an abortion is necessary to protect a woman’s health, abortion can be banned if Amendment 1 passes this fall. The politicians and organizations behind this amendment have made it clear that they believe abortion should be made illegal in all cases.

Since summer, I’ve been working with the VoteNoOn1 campaign, a campaign with the mission to educate voters, get out the vote, and defeat Amendment 1. Working with this campaign has been interesting, and I’ve learned a lot. The most interesting aspect for me is the research they’ve conducted on voters and the most effective methods of reaching out, talking to, and educating voters. In a campaign, the way one contextualizes the debate is important, and campaigns use research in order to learn about voters and their values, with the ultimate goal of strategically framing the conversation and influencing voters’ opinions. I learned that in the Nashville area, it is important to frame the conversation around privacy issues, rather than declaring that a woman should have control and autonomy over her reproductive health. We get more support when we emphasize that Amendment 1 is about increased government intrusion in our medical decisions rather than about choice.

It’s obvious that Amendment 1, whether it passes or fails, has major legal implications for women, providers, and facilities that provide abortion. But what are the social implications? How is the way that this issue is framed, on both sides of the debate, affect our thinking and social consciousness? I want to reflect on three key terms that we’ve discussed in class—power, sexual agency, and cultural complacency­—for the remainder of this post.

Power comes into play in several ways in the Amendment 1 debate, as well as in the conversation about abortion in general. To begin, this debate is fundamentally about the power to control reproduction and women’s bodies. Outside the debate, on the larger, legal scale, it is assumed that lawmakers and health providers know what is best, and they become thought of as the ultimate decision makers and authorities on the issue. However, we as citizens have the power and the right to organize, campaign, and vote. So how have the two campaigns, the one for and the one against Amendment 1, negotiated their power within this debate?

The supporters of Amendment 1 focus their discourse on morality and “protecting” the rights and lives of the unborn and their mothers. This is a strategic power play by the Right to Life organization and by people on the conservative, anti-choice side to stigmatize women who seek abortions. Their campaign is one about moral corruption and creating the image of a sexually promiscuous and sinful baby killer. A discussion about sexual morality is a discussion intended to impose values and control someone else’s sexuality, and it is ultimately a reflection of power relations.

The VoteNoOn1 campaign, on the other hand, emphasizes the fundamental right to privacy. This amendment is about the power and right to make medical decisions and undergo medical procedures without the intrusion of the government and state. When I was phone banking for the VoteNoOn1 campaign, I was hesitant to actually use the word abortion even though that is the main focus of Amendment 1. I guess I knew that it was a term that triggers thoughts and opinions on morality, stigma, and power. The campaign knew that, too, and so rather than bring up those issues, the VoteNoOn1 campaign strategically encouraged us to talk about the right to privacy.

Within both campaigns, the conversations fail to address how power and power differences affect a woman’s sexuality and sense of self. What does it say that both sides of this debate on Amendment 1, at least for the most part, neglect the lived experiences of women? In leaving women’s experiences out, women are rendered invisible and are robbed of their power and sexual agency. Making this a conversation about morality and privacy rights says something about society’s perception of women and the social and legal limits imposed on female sexuality. The right to an abortion is also about the right to be a sexual agent, and this has been left out of the Amendment 1 debate. Women should have the right to medically accurate information, the ability to act on their own behalf, and the freedom to voice their concerns and experiences.

The lack of female narratives and experiences in this debate raises the issue of cultural complacency, a cultural dynamic whereby we go along with certain cultural agendas or societal norms, sometimes without even realizing it. By not highlighting women’s experiences and opinions, we subjugate their voices. Both campaigns, even though on different sides of the Amendment 1 debate, were inadvertently culturally complacent and sent subtle messages about female sexuality, mainly the message that women should be quiet and should leave decisions to someone else. Women’s silence, shame, and subjugation cannot be something that we are culturally complacent about, as it will never allow us to reach the root of the problem—patriarchy…which is a whole other conversation.

What’s sex got to do with House of Cards?

House of Cards is a political drama on Netflix that has certainly gained a lot of attention and popularity in the past year or so. It’s one of those shows that has us simultaneously terrified of, yet ultimately rooting for, the villain. Frank Underwood is a manipulative, maneuvering, and dark politician, who will stop at nothing to achieve ultimate power—which for him is becoming the president of the United States, and thus, becoming one of the most influential leaders of the “free world.”

And what would a political drama be without sex and scandal? Am I right? At one point in the first season, Frank references Oscar Wilde and talks directly to the camera and advises those watching, “A great man once said everything is about sex, except sex. Sex is about power.” Of course sex is about power, Frank. He says this to provide reason and rationalization for his affair and political relationship with Zoey Barnes, a youthful, cute reporter.

Let’s think about the economics of sexuality, as Marxist social theory would have us do. Marx argued that the economy is the most significant social force shaping human behavior, and as scholars, we can go one step further and conclude that the economy (which the government, and thus Frank, is intimately intertwined with) must also be the most critical force shaping sexuality. As capitalism emerged as the dominant economic ideology, the commercialization of sex quickly followed, which simply means that with sex comes a certain value, and in Frank’s case, it’s not necessarily a monetary value. We could call Frank a Marxist if we were to critically examine his and Zoey’s relationship and the negotiation of power between the two. Frank lives up to Wilde’s thoughts about sex and power, as the sexual relationship between him and Zoey has nothing to do with sex and everything to do with obtaining power. Both use each other’s different types of power, Frank’s political power and Zoey’s power in the media, to empower themselves respectively even further. For them, sex thus becomes a tool that can be used for bargaining or negotiating.

Kristen Barber, in her article “Sex and Power,” references many feminists who argue that heterosexual sex is a means for men to assert dominance over women, and that men define sex and sexuality through aggression and violence. In a way, this describes Frank perfectly. He makes it clear to Zoey that having sex with her is his means of establishing and maintaining control over her, that she is nothing but disposable to him once he gets what he needs out of the relationship. However, Zoey is not a passive, submissive, and weak female in this relationship. She, too, uses Frank for her own gains in the media. Moreover, as their relationship develops and grows more complex, Zoey finds Frank’s weaknesses and uses them against him to get what she needs from him. What would feminists that Barber mention, like Dworkin and MacKinnon, have to say about Zoey? How does Zoey fuck up their perceptions of gender, sexuality, and power?