media literacy

I Passed Up a Career in STEM for an English Degree—Here’s Why That Doesn’t Make Me a Bad Feminist

Yep, that's my copy of The Waste Land. Guys, go read that poem. I'll wait.

Yep, that’s my copy of The Waste Land. Guys, go read that poem. I’ll wait.

 

As a feminist, sometimes a newly minted humanities degree can feel a bit like a scarlet letter. After all, one of our current battlegrounds is proportional representation in STEM fields (that’s Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math for the acronym-disinclined). If you have the privilege to attend a four-year university, shouldn’t you dedicate yourself to closing the gender gap in these historically male-centric professions? And besides, don’t you ever want to have a job? Or do you like Starbucks that much?

Thanks, imaginary questioner of my life choices. Some advice: never tell a recent graduate they should’ve chosen a different field, particularly not when 40% of the unemployed are Millennials as of June 2014. That’s 4.6 million recent graduates who don’t find your faux-concern helpful.

But I can’t dismiss these concerns out of hand. As feminists, we protest—and rightly so—the lack of diversity in major Silicon Valley firms and startups. According to USA Today, the gender divide is pretty pathetic: from Facebook to Apple, Google to Twitter, they hover at around 70% male. (For reference, the total US population is 49% male.) Mind you, race is an additional issue here, since tech industries range between 70-90% white and Asian. And, of course, the intersection of race and gender provides a different lens with which to view the problem.

Yes, girls should be encouraged to pursue their passions in mechanical engineering or computer science or microbiology. We should promote toys that allow children all along the gender spectrum to experiment with what they like and what careers they might pursue. This means making female scientist play sets, and not just as a limited edition, LEGO. This means more products like Goldieblox that urge girls to develop problem solving and spatial reasoning skills, even though such toys are still generally marketed toward boys. I’m all for programs like Girls Who Code, and think that STEM education should be as gender-neutral as building blocks.

But I think embracing social sciences and the humanities can be just as much of a feminist choice as attending MIT to study programming.

Here’s the thing: in high school, I was pretty good at math. I could graph cosines and tangents. At one point, I even knew what cosines and tangents were, conceptually. (Alas, those days are gone.) Had I gone on to get a degree in computer science and work for IBM, I probably would have done fine. Guidance councilors and teachers certainly thought so, from the extent they pressured me to go for it. But I knew I would have been miserable.

So I didn’t. I took creative writing instead of chemistry, Romantic poetry instead of the “hard sciences.” Four years later, here I am, proud owner of a BA in English and Creative Writing (and so many gently used classic novels it’s probably a fire hazard). Yep, that’s right, folks: the humanities aren’t dead. Even if sometimes it feels like I’m single-handedly keeping them alive. Chat with me for thirty minutes and you’re bound to hear a Shakespeare pun slip into our conversation. Most likely, more than one.

Why is maintaining the “feelings and humanities are for the ladies, numbers and science are for the menfolk” status quo not mean I have to turn in my Feminist Card? Glad you asked.

Logically, we have to start by defining what we consider feminism. My working definition, inspired by the one, the only bell hooks: the practice of combatting gender-based oppression, or oppression based at the intersection of gender and other aspects of identity.

Gender-based oppression includes many things, but the one I want to focus on here is the devaluation of things deemed “feminine.” You know what I’m talking about. The phrase “throw like a girl” is an insult because if a girl does it, it’s got to be bad. Female emotion is trivialized, because if a girl is upset, she’s either hysterical, not to be taken seriously, or on her period. (Worth noting how cis-sexist that last one is. Even if the seat of emotion was the uterus, not all women have menstrual cycles, folks). Our society shames boys who cry, play with dolls, or wear pink, because those are all associated with something no one should ever be, if they can avoid it: feminine.

Literature, sociology, philosophy, languages, history, all these social sciences and humanities deal with subjects and experiences we’ve categorized as female. They treat the human psyche, the experience of emotions. They discuss theories of love and value and motivation and behavior. They talk about interpersonal relationships and social phenomenon. Humanities and social sciences are cultural: science and math are universal.

Does this make them less valuable?

Don’t we need the ability to look at a text or an advertisement or a speech and see its latent meanings and influences? Media literacy and awareness of social biases are crucial, and that skill set is almost indistinguishable from that of a humanities major.

Does the ability to develop complex, abstract reasoning and express it in clear, lucid prose have no place in our society? Well, if we look at the incomprehensible emails in our inbox or that poorly fact-checked web article we read this morning, we might think so. But identifying a need for change goes nowhere without enabling others to understand your point.

Feminism isn’t (or shouldn’t be) about privileging one type of life plan over another. Pro-choice feminism isn’t about making sure everyone gets an abortion, but rather making sure everyone has the possibility of having one if they so choose. The workplace equality movement isn’t about making sure every stay-at-home mom morphs into a CEO of a Fortune 500 company, but that social and bureaucratic barriers preventing her from doing so are removed. Same with feminism geared toward STEM parity. The point isn’t that girls pursuing science-based careers are more valued than those interested in marketing or grant writing or fashion design, but that it shouldn’t be systematically more difficult for them to do so than for men.

We need scientists and engineers and mathematicians and astrophysicists, perhaps more than ever. No one’s questioning the dire need for reformed climate policy (well, some people are, but I digress) or infrastructural improvements across the globe. But we also need writers and thinkers and philosophers and journalists and artists. Let’s value “feminine” traits as well as “masculine” ones, soft sciences as well as hard ones. Let’s make our feminism inclusive, where the most important thing isn’t the differences in our interests, but the force of our passions that destroys all boundaries placed around them.

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Five Lessons the Media Can Learn from Welcome to Night Vale

welcome-to-nightvale-podcast

Warning: there be spoilers ahead. If you haven’t listened to the podcast yet, you have been warned.

A friendly desert community where the sun is hot, the moon is beautiful, and mysterious lights pass overhead while we all pretend to sleep. Welcome… to Night Vale.

If an ambient snare / hi-hat / piano melody is playing in your head right now, then you’re already familiar with the podcast Welcome to Night Vale. If you’ve ever opened up a Tumblr dashboard, chances are good you’ve at least heard of the bi-monthly storytelling extravaganza by Jeffrey Cranor and Joseph Fink that, over the past two-odd years, has taken over the iTunes podcast charts, Comic-Cons, and my life. And if none of these things are true, what are you even doing with your time. Go listen to this podcast.

As a feminist writer and fiction junkie, I look for two things in my media: quality storytelling, and a basic adherence to the principles of equality, social justice, and representation. Now, it’s not necessary that something holds these principles up 100% of the time for me to fall in love with it. You can love media and still criticize it at the same time. Guys. I watched every episode of four seasons of The Real Housewives of New Jersey. I know.

(Team Jacqueline. Anyway.)

But the beautiful thing about Night Vale is that it doesn’t ask me to compromise. Amid its gloriously self-referential, convoluted storylines that somehow intersect with the fulfilling eclectic fatality of a tweaked-out spider’s web (listeners: I’m torn between Nazar al-Mujaheed and Marcus Vanston’s coffee table as my favorite bits), Night Vale’s creators make efforts toward dismantling the kyriarchy on a bi-weekly basis. And guys, it is awesome.

I could make a list of hundreds of tips mainstream media could take from Night Vale Community Radio, but this is a blog post, not a manifesto. So, here are five awesome elements of the podcast that make my feminist heart sing.

1. LGBTQ Representation, Without the Drama

Night Vale’s central romance takes place between Cecil, the velvet-voiced radio host, and the perfectly imperfect Carlos, seemingly surnamed The Scientist. Now, that’s a step in and of itself, since gay relationships are often mined as campy comic relief (Will and Grace, though long off the air, comes immediately to mind) or angst-ridden existential crises and ultimate tragedy.

This isn’t to deny the weight and gravity LGBTQ folks face when coming out in our homophobic society. I’m not suggesting that discounting the serious struggles homophobia creates is the way to go.

But as a counterpoint: science fiction and storytelling are just that: fictionAnd Night Vale invents a world in which being gay is exactly as interesting as being straight, or being a five-headed dragon. (Okay, it’s a little less interesting than being a dragon.) Cecil and Carlos’ romance develops as a caring, nuanced, consensual, unbelievably adorable relationship between two adults for whom sexuality is just another aspect of their identity, not something that needs to be questioned or torn apart or defended to anyone.

My favorite example is what can, if you squint, be called Cecil’s coming-out. The character Old Woman Josie asks him why they don’t go bowling like they used to. Cecil replies,

“I don’t know. There has been a tiny underground army living under the bowling alley, and they’ve declared war on all of us. They injured my new boyfriend. Also, I have a new boyfriend. Listen, we should totally get the team back together and go to League Night again.”

That’s what I mean. There’s so much craziness going on in Night Vale that a radio host’s sexuality could seriously not be less of an issue. Looking at our own current events, there’s a lesson there for us to think about.

2. Saying No to Whitewashed Casting

I don’t know a single listener that doesn’t have a small crush on Carlos the Scientist, possibly because Cecil, our narrator, “fell in love instantly” the moment Carlos entered town. He fell in love with Carlos’ perfect eyes, his perfect teeth like a military cemetery, his perfect hair (especially his perfect hair). And Carlos, quite unequivocally, is hispanic. Take that, mainstream media’s tendency to whitewash sympathetic characters (cough cough Exodus: Gods and Kings).

As if this wasn’t already pretty awesome, there’s the casting of Carlos’ voice actor to take into account. To begin with, Carlos was voiced by co-creator Jeffrey Cranor. But following that, latino actor Dylan Marron was recast into the role. Why? In Cranor’s words,

“It sucks that there’s a white straight male (me), playing a gay man of color (Carlos).”

And Dylan Marron is fabulous. Let’s not forget that. And his hair, folks, actually is perfect.

3. WOC in Central, Awesome Roles

I talked about this recently: guys, fantasy and sci-fi requires you to invent a world from the ground up. If you’re putting dragons into it, what the hell is stopping you from making important, central, well-developed characters of color?

Oh. White privilege and social racism. That might be it.

Remember the controversy when Rue from The Hunger Games, despite being described as having “dark brown skin,” was cast as black? Proof that society has conditioned us to expect sympathetic characters to be white, regardless of what their physical descriptions read as.

Night Vale is a radio show, after all, so we rely on narration and our own imaginations, but Fink and Cranor make a deliberate point of specifying that certain characters cannot default to white. One of these, and by far a fan favorite, is the unbearably kick-ass Tamika Flynn.

Tamika Flynn is every English major’s spirit animal. Her weapons of choice are a slingshot and heavily notated copies of classic lit. She leads children from the summer reading program in a battle against an evil corporate bureaucracy. She’s a revolutionary mastermind who hides throwing stars in copies of Willa Cather. And have I mentioned she’s thirteen?

Have I also mentioned that she’s a woman of color, voiced by two voice actresses, Flor De Liz Perez and Symphony Sanders, who are also women of color?

Have I also mentioned that she’s amazing?

4. Women In Political Office and Positions of Power

All right, “positions of power” is a little vague, because Night Vale is run by a mysterious otherworldly force probably lurking in a canyon. But the fact remains that both mayors in the series, as well as one of the candidates during election season, are female. Just as with Cecil and Carlos’ relationship, no one in the series has any problem with this.

There’s no endless dwelling on Mayor Pamela Winchell’s choice of skirt or pantsuit. There’s no concern that she won’t be able to carry out her duties because her daughter had a baby and who wants a grandma for a mayor? Being female, as being of color or being gay or bi or gender-nonconforming or without a face, is simply a non-issue.

Another tip that our media could take from Pamela Winchell’s emergency press conferences. Report the issues, not the mayor’s cleavage.

5. Speaking Out Against Cultural Appropriation

If you’ve looked at an Urban Outfitters catalogue, been to or read about Coachella, or watched a Katy Perry music video recently, you’re pretty well aware with the concept of cultural appropriation: taking a phenomenon, belief, or cultural practice from a group of people to which you do not belong and taking it in a one-sided and non-mutual colonial-style transaction. For a really clear and valuable explanation of the difference between liking sushi and exploiting someone’s culture, I recommend this article from Everyday Feminism.

Night Vale is having none of this. We are introduced to the Apache Tracker, who is universally regarded as a “huge jerk” for walking around in a cartoonishly inaccurate Native American headdress and claiming to possess “Indian magicks.” It’s recognized by the whole town that he’s taken a symbol with great cultural importance and just tossed it on his head for the sake of insensitive, tone-deaf, and racist ass-hattery.

Another glorious allusion to this very issue came in an episode from just a few days ago (I was listening to it while going for a jog and fist-pumped a little bit on the sidewalk):

“[Pamela Winchell cracked her whip] like in that popular and heartwarming series of adventure movies about a wisecracking archaeologist who comically destroys countless important artifacts under the hilarious misapprehension that they belong in his museum rather than in the religious sites of the cultures that made them.”

And then on to a discussion of the dubious existence of angels. It takes artistry and writing skills to work political and social commentary into a show while still making it entertaining and making me laugh.

You know what it doesn’t take? “Indian Magicks.”

——

Night Vale listeners: what would you add to this list? Do you have any critiques or suggestions for areas of improvement in the podcast? I’d love to hear them if you do.

Stay tuned next for the sound of your own breathing, filtered through a lifetime of regret, indecision, and missed opportunities.

Good night, readers. Good night.

#StopTheBeautyMadness – A Body Positive Interview

imagesHey folks,

So I’ve been talking about it quite a bit lately, but I’m sure you’ve heard that I’m one of the FrontLine Voices of the Stop The Beauty Madness campaign, an online activism movement dedicated to dismantling the destructive beauty ideals that surround us each and every day. And as the words “FrontLine Voices” imply, I’ve lent the voice to their audio series. This fantastic series features body image activists, bloggers, writers, slam poets, and generally a pretty awesome constellation of folks.

Don’t believe me? Check out the lineup and judge for yourself.

The audio series went live last week, so if you’re so inclined – and you should be! – you can subscribe to the whole thing just by providing a name and email address to the Stop The Beauty Madness website. 30-minute interviews with folks working to end body negativity and oppression in our world, delivered straight to your inbox. What’s not to love?

If you’re looking for a taste, you’re in luck. My interview with Robin Rice went live on Sunday, and I’ve linked the audio file right here in this lovely post. The transcript can be found embedded right below, for those looking for it. Be gentle – it’s my first time being interviewed for a podcast!

https://soundcloud.com/stopthebeautymadness/394allison-epstein-stop-the-beauty-madness/s-vuD2Y

(Also, forgive any errors in the transcript. I’m as accurate as I can be while also drinking coffee at the same time.)


A Feminist Blogger Always Pays Her Debts – Victories and Failures of Game of Thrones

game_of_thrones

 

Confession: I just started watching Game of Thrones at the end of June.

Yes, yes, I know. I’m letting down the whole generation of Millennials who have been trying to make Lannister references at me for years. (And I do mean at me, since even after I announced that I’d been streaming other shows instead, the Lannister references continued to flow in. Maybe they thought they owed it to me – I’m told they always pay their debts.) Nonetheless, I caved this summer, largely because searching for full-time employment leaves a whole lot of free time on either end of perfecting cover letters and resumes.

I’m only on season 3, episode 2, so there will be no spoilers here. Okay, just one: Dumbledore dies. But having spent so much time recently listening to the epic intro music (possibly more epic when played by a New Orleans jazz trio) has given me some time to think. I was told I would love Thrones for its “strong, well-written, complex female characters.”

Now, I’ll admit, the prospect was attractive. Growing, up, I was that kid.  I devoured the Lord of the Rings trilogy and for a period could rattle off extended dialogue sequences from the films. I plunged headfirst into series like Terry Brooks’ Shannara series and Christopher Paolini’s Inheritence cycle. In my “younger reader” days I was into Percy Jackson and the Olympiansthe His Dark Materials trilogy, and the full sequence of The Dark is Rising. Hey, I never said I wasn’t a dork. But I’m aware of how fantasy novels can (and frequently do) dismiss women into minor roles, plot devices, or non-speaking parts. You’ll never catch me throwing Tolkien under the bus – the man defined my childhood – but let’s take a moment to count up the number of female characters with important speaking roles. I’m at three. And I’m done.

Thrones, on the other hand, smashes through the Bechdel Test on the regular. Catelyn Stark, at least as far in as I am, is running around kicking ass and taking names. Arya is adorable and spunky (in a way that, to any fantasy-reading child of the 1990s who was into Tamora Pierce at the right age, will sound bells of familiarity at every turn)Daenerys has killed a lot of people, albeit with her breasts quite frequently seeming to do a whole lot of the work. These are characters with internal lives, motivations, and specific traits all their own. You could not sub Arya in for Sansa and expect the story to unfold in the same way. Cirsei and Shae’s dialogue can’t be switched.

Would I call Game of Thrones a feminist show? Maybe? Meh?

Would I call Game of Thrones a show directed entirely by men, based on a book series written by a man, with a female-to-male nudity ratio of about one metric fuckton to a naked butt here and there? Absolutely.

(Note: “metric fuckton” not to be used in situations requiring accurate units of measurement.)

While I absolutely appreciate George R.R. Martin’s ability to write women in speaking roles and major parts – which is awesome and let’s never lose sight of the fact that this is also an anomaly – there are also many, many things we should keep in mind before touting Thrones as the pinnacle of feminist television. Among these:

The excessive use of brothels as a plot device.

Let’s think about how so many of the most sympathetic characters use “whoring around” as the most manly and dashing of pastimes. Let’s think about why Tyrian’s entrance to the show waking up in a whorehouse is supposed to be endearing and entertaining, not troubling.

The frequency of rape scenes or almost-rape scenes

Let’s think about how these are tossed in and tossed aside again without really even being discussed. And let’s remember the feelings I’ve already expressed about rape as a plot device – for the link-averse, they’re wildly negative.

The representation of people of color

This is actually the first thing that skeeved me out watching the show. Keep in mind the way the Dothraki are represented, as an interpretation of the “shamanistic, earth-goddess, noble savage” trope linked troublingly to Native Americans. Let’s look at Daxos, the sole black man (at least up to the end of season 2), and the way he’s presented as a liar, a cheat, a womanizer, and manipulative master of fraud. Then let’s look at the way every single major character is white.

Guys, this is the great thing about fantasy. It’s fantasy. You can make your world look like whatever you want it to. You’ve got warlocks reproducing themselves in a magical tower with no doors. You’ve got zombies rising out of the snow and ravens with three eyes carrying messages on scrolls. Surely your imagination can stretch far enough to POC in leading roles.

Strategic presentation of prestige dialects

I’m not claiming to be an expert on this – I’m an English major with an amateur’s interest in sociocultural linguistics. Take my assertions with that very specific grain of salt, but still, let’s talk about linguistic discrimination. The Lannisters are from the southwest. The Starks are from the north. The Baratheons are presumably from King’s Landing in the south. The Targaryens are from Valyria, wherever the deuce that is, but is presumably nowhere close to anything. Despite this geographic disparity, Tyrian, Ned Stark, Joffrey, and Daenerys all speak in the same “standard English” dialect using the same prestige RP accent used so often in high drama even when it doesn’t make sense.

(Side note – I’m not necessarily proud of it, but I watched all three seasons of Showtime’s The Borgias in a month. It’s a historical drama about murder and intrigue in renaissance Italy, and everyone speaks in standard British RP. Why is this a thing?)

On the other hand, anyone not a prominent member of these families almost universally speaks in dialect. Prestige accent gains its prestige from socioeconomic and sociocultural factors – this is why RP is considered “posher” than, say, a northern accent, since political and economic power centers in London. What is this saying about people who don’t speak “proper” or “standard” English? It sounds like reading too much into it, until you remember the history of dialect discrimination that is unfortunately not really history.

Oh yeah, that nudity thing

There’s a reason no one watches Game of Thrones with their parents or relatives without squirming. It’s not the violence or the language. It’s those completely gratuitous scenes of female nudity in order to appeal to HBO’s target demographic. It keeps nicely in step with fantasy, sci-fi, and nerd culture generally’s long-standing tradition of presenting fully-clothed armed men wielding swords alongside women in push-up bras and underwear. I mean, I’m not here to bash Wonder Woman’s status as feminist icon, but let’s look at a side-by-side of her with Batman and Superman. That’s all.

It’s true: the male gaze is a thing. And, to clarify a point and to stop the thundering onrush of #notallmen I sense cresting the horizon, let’s talk about that for a second. A large percentage of people in the world are sexually attracted to one or more genders. (Naturally, not all, as asexuality is a thing that exists.) Which is fantastic. And some people are very pretty to look at, which can be enjoyable. Guys, I have watched nearly the entire filmography of Tom Hiddleston partly because he’s a splendid actor, partly because I have eyes and am a straight woman who finds him beautiful. I’m not saying that we should all close our eyes and lock ourselves in chastity closets. (What is a chastity closet? Don’t ask me.) What I am saying is that when a show chooses to represent its characters in a way meant to appeal to its viewers’ sexuality, and it does so in a way that disregards the sexuality of approximately 50% of the population by only representing women in sexually charged and vulnerable positions, something is off.

Am I saying that Game of Thrones would be a more feminist endeavor if there were more dick shots? I might be. I won’t deny it might help.

——

As with most media analysis, the important thing here isn’t to decide once and for all whether Game of Thrones should be used in Women’s Studies 101 classes as a classic example of feminist media. We need to appreciate the time spent developing the personalities of female characters – and, for the sake of the old gods and the new, giving them speaking roles for a charming change – while at the same time looking critically at our favorite media outlets and insisting that they do better. Without media analysis and critical lenses, we’ll be relying on blind trust that people will do the right thing. Which as Ned Stark used to be able to attest to, never works well.

Sorry. I said no spoilers. Well, that’s the internet for you, then.

An Open Letter To Downton Abbey

DowntonAbbey1
TRIGGER WARNING and SPOILER ALERT
 (season 4, episode 2)

Dear Downton Abbey,

First, let me make one thing very clear: I adore you. I’m coming from a place of love. My favorite bag for the longest time was my canvas tote screen-printed with “What is a weekend?” (I carried my books to the library in it on Saturday mornings.) I firmly believe that Dame Maggie Smith is a god in human form. And I’ve been shipping Sybil and Branson for longer than was reasonable, especially as I continue to do so long after Sybil’s death. So I’m not writing this out of spite, or any deep-seated dislike of English period dramas. (My friends and family can attest to this.)

No, what I’m trying to do is speak to you like I would any friend who has made a terrible, disappointing choice that caused me to seethe in anger for longer than ten minutes. Keeping aggression inside is not healthy or helpful. Consider this my constructive criticism.

Why, why, why did you have to end the second episode of your new season with a melodramatic, completely pointless, vicious and gratuitous rape scene?

No really, why. I want to hear your reason.

It certainly wasn’t to drive forward an existing storyline. The rapist, one Mr. Green, the valet of a passing houseguest, was completely phoned in for this episode. He appears out of nowhere. He doesn’t even get a first name as best as I can remember, and if there’s a less distinct name than “Mr. Green,” please let me know. He seems to have no other purpose other than to seduce Anna and then rape her when she refuses his advances. After which he promptly disappears into the night. He was created to fill the role of Visiting Rapist. So clearly, writing a rape scene for its own sake was your goal.

It also wasn’t to pick up a dragging storyline and spur things along. You have no shortage of drama. You have Edith and Gregson’s (slightly unrealistic, but I’ll go for it) divorce-clandestine-not-secret-romance, you have Lord Grantham’s total inability to cope with anything that happens around him (I could rant about his character too, but that’s not the point), you have Mrs. Crawley’s mourning and you have Thomas Barrow, an enigma unto himself. But none of these have the sensationalism factor of a rape. Sex sells, and violence sells, and when you bring them together you know you’re going to get people talking. There’s a reason I’m not writing a blog post about Branson’s class standing and existential crisis.

Although I would like to. Because that’s my favorite part of the whole show. #TeamBranson.

You might argue, and not without reason, that you’ve leaned towards the dramatic and the violent before. You’ve almost given Mrs. Hughes breast cancer, you’ve had Matthew crash his car into a tree (though really I’m told that was a casting issue with Dan Stevens, so I’ll let it slide), you’ve killed Sybil. You killed my Sybil. But I let that go, because you had narrative work to do there. You were able to humanize Mrs. Hughes in a way that might have been difficult otherwise, and to look into Edwardian and Georgian medical practices, which the dork in me liked. You were able to deal with the issues of primogeniture and patriarchy in the estate system while having Mary navigate the aftermath of Matthew’s death. You gave me this tragic and beautiful storyline with Tom Branson holding a baby he loves while trying to fit into a world that is not his. Go you. All these things are great.

What has Anna’s rape done for the story, except sensationalize the reality of sexual violence that happens to someone in the United States once every two minutes, or an estimated total of 237,868 people per year?  What has it done except force her pain and suffering and abuse into the limelight, glamorizing and dramatizing the very real pain of sexual assault and violence that an estimated 35% of women in the world have gone through?

Don’t tell me that you’re trying to raise awareness. The only possible constructive message to be taken from this scene is that rape is “a thing that happens.” Women are already very aware. 

You’re trying to get people to talk. You’re appealing to an audience you think you have that glories in violence and sex and rape and murder and torture and vulgarity and violence and nudity, because that’s what modern culture tells you people are into these days.

Here’s a hint: maybe that’s what people watch because that’s what they’re given.

I can’t even think of a show within the past five years that hasn’t featured murder, death, assault, or sexual violence of some kind. Some of these are dealt with tastefully, some of these are not. But this isn’t ancient Rome, and I don’t need to watch somebody be fed to the lions to be entertained.

No. Actually, I'm not.

No. Actually, I’m not.

I think it’s possible to make a show where the drama comes from the human interactions on-screen. And so far, Downton, you’ve done a great job with this. If you want to have cruelty and underhand manipulation, do it like you’ve been doing it with Thomas Barrow. He’s my secret second-favorite character, which I realize is weird, but you know why? Because he’s a villain and he does evil, seemingly purposeless things, but they’re not exploitative or sensationalized or gut-wrenchingly awful, and his motivations are there and waiting for me to parse them. I think of him as an Edmund figure from King Lear (please humor me, non-English-literature-people): I can’t justify anything he does, but I can see why he would behave that way. And it’s just soul-wrenching enough that I can sympathize with him, and I want things to work out for him in the end. Treat your villains as people and your victims as people, not as mindless rapists and plot devices. It’s just offensive to everyone involved.

So, Downton Abbey, the ball’s in your court. I realize that Season 4 is already done filming, and that it’s already aired in the UK, and that you’ve probably already set the script for Season 5. And I will continue cheering from the comfortable sidelines of #TeamBranson, but it’s my responsibility to hold the things I love accountable.

As Dame Maggie Smith would put it, if she had access to the internet: “I’m a media-literate feminist, Mary, I can be as contrary as I choose.”

All I’m saying: just think about it. It didn’t work.

Until next Downton Day,

-Allison

The Scariest Thing You Can Be Is Free To Choose

So it’s been a little while since I’ve been able to put together a post. Not for lack of material to write about or problems that need to be torn down, more a lack of time and energy to get out of bed in the morning. College life is catching up with me, and all too often I just want to curl up in bed and watch Netflix for three hours and escape from the papers and exams that need to get done in the (very) near future.

But then I saw this video this afternoon between exams and classes, and I knew that I couldn’t write a better Halloween-themed post than this if I tried. I’ll let it speak for itself, since these four ladies are more than capable of getting their message across. This piece of slam poetry comes from the Brave New Voices Grand Slam Finals from this year in Washington, D.C. And, more immediately, from Upworthy.

Whether you decide to go out on Halloween night as a sexy kitten or as Susan B. Anthony, just make sure it’s your choice. Because that’s the scariest thing you can be to some people: capable of making your own decisions and owning your own body for what it is.

And those are the people worth scaring.

Happy Halloween, to those of you who celebrate. As for me, I’ll probably spend it in my apartment, eating half-price Snickers bars and watching Hocus Pocus while quietly waiting for the hoopla to be over.

Be well, and hopefully I’ll be back soon with longer posts when people stop expecting me to write them term papers.