Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Croods: Surprisingly and Refreshingly Feminist-Friendly (Guest Post)

This review is a guest post by Bailie.

The Croods is DreamWorks Animation’s latest film, released March 22, 2013. It follows the story of cavegirl Eep and her family, the Croods, who find themselves without a home and wandering through new and colourful lands while on the run from geological events that promise the end of their world. The film is charming on multiple levels, and adults and children alike will really enjoy this film’s quirky humor, family values, and stunning visuals. However, what is really interesting about this movie are its feminist messages.

Brave (Disney-Pixar), another cgi kid-flick with a female protagonist, got a great deal of media attention for its feminist messages, both positive and negative. Its decision to have a Princess that didn’t have a romantic interest was the one that garnered the most attention, but it also stood out against other Disney films by having the mother play a large part. The feminist messages for Brave are very predictable. She’s tough, she’s capable, she must battle the patriarchy and prove herself worthy! Now, she spends most the film being a real tomboy, rebelling against femininity, but in the end can see that her mother, even with her embrace of all things girly, is still a force to be reckoned with. This is actually quite good, as many people trying to appeal to feminists often force the character away from ‘girly’ things, essentially turning the characters into men, or belittling the ones who are happily performing their traditional gender roles. In this respect, Brave does very well, but it falls behind on the male characters. They’re really only there to provide conflict and humor.

Now The Croods is deceptively similar to Brave. It’s about a willful teen girl who wants more from life than her parents offer her, and the end moral of the story is to love, look after, and respect your family. Comparing the two, it looks like Merida has a lot on Eep when it comes to pro-feminist messages. Eep spends a good portion of the film fawning over a guy, while Merida don’t need no man -snap snap-. Merida hates having to wear the latest fashions; Eep screams in delight at the discovery of shoes. But while Brave shoves its messages down your throat, The Croods is more subtle.

Eep is tough as nails. She’s from a family of cavemen, it’s in the genes. But even considering that, she’s tougher than usual. She’s capable, solid, and generally reliable, unless her curiosity for the world around her overpowers her. Her Dad is big tough guy who uses his considerable strength to literally carry his family, protecting them with everything he’s got, but while he’s got the claim on being biggest and baddest, he bows to his wife. But she’s not the type to browbeat or nag, she respects and supports him as he does her, and their relationship is one of give and take, and equality. Gran and baby Sandy hold their own as well as the rest of the family, and it’s never assumed they are incapable of anything. The only other male in the family, Thunk, isn’t pushed to the sidelines - he’s right up front with the rest of the gang, and even though he comes off as slightly weaker, with more nervousness and less brains than his sister, it’s not really a downplay of his character, or a boosting of hers; rather, he is an example of what Eep would be like if she had taken their father’s messages of doom and destruction to heart. Thunk is not an idiot, he’s just very trusting, and throughout the film he loses a lot of his timidness entirely by his own efforts.

The biggest test for this film was the introduction of Guy, a teen male from outside the family who has evolved a bit more than the Croods. Eep and Guy’s interactions are beautifully thought out, and refreshing. So often in films we see the same formula; Mr Tough and Dumb falls for Ms Smart and Pretty, or Ms Gorgeous Idiot falls for Mr Weak but Brainy. We oh so often see the beautiful women fall in love with the unattractive man, but the opposite is very rare. And if we do, then it’s either played for a laugh, or she goes through some sort of amazing makeover where she’s suddenly super attractive. The Croods is different because Eek is an incredibly physically tough lady who does not possess generically ‘pretty’ features, with her beefy arms, non-existent forehead, and frizzy hair, and she falls in love and actively pursues a boy who is generically attractive, and super smart to boot. Her methods of getting his attention are played for laughs, but not her attraction, and more importantly, neither is his returned attraction. The best part is that neither of them change. Eep doesn’t get a makeover, and Guy doesn’t become manly and muscular. They love each other because of who they are, no makeover montage necessary.

The genius of this movie in regards to its feminist messages comes down to this: Eep is not a "strong female character." She’s just a good protagonist. If you can swap the genders of the main characters and not have anything taken away from the story and love everyone just as much, then you’ve got a winner. Eep just happens to be female, and unlike in Brave, it’s never even thought of or brought up as a flaw. She’s not allowed to hunt for while, not because she’s a girl, but because she’s grounded, which is a huge thing, because it implies that it’s something that she enjoys, and she’s not thought of as weird or wrong for that enjoyment. But neither is she weird for being flirty and giggly. She also eats with a ferocious gusto, very unlike Guy, who nibbles daintily at his food, and in that instance, it’s Guy you laugh at, not Eep.

So not only is this one of the funniest and most entertaining movies you’ll see this year - it’s also one of the best for breaking down gender stereotyping, and hopefully it will get the respect and praise it deserves. 

Bailie is a part-time student, part-time graphic designer, and full-time feminist. She spends any free time either at the cinema or home catching up on tv shows.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Rape Culture Among Feminists

Recently the term "rape culture" has made its rounds in popular culture, with many reporters and bloggers complaining about the victim-blaming, perpetrator-excusing behavior of major news networks. But rape culture is more pervasive than most of us want to admit. (Note: I'm about to go on a rant. Feel free to skip to the paragraph that starts "last night").

Because reporters aren't the only ones who tend to side with the perpetrators. After all, as many trauma theorists have pointed out, victims ask a whole lot more than perpetrators do. Victims ask us to listen to their accounts, to believe what they're saying is true, to stop it from happening, to protect them, and even to take responsibility for any part we played in their abuse, as complicit bystanders. At least, that's what victims would be asking if rape culture didn't shame them into silence.

What do perpetrators ask us to do? Nothing. That's right, nothing. They don't have to ask us for anything, because they already have power over their victims. And as long as we do nothing, they can keep victimizing people, and we can continue living our lives as viewed through rose-tinted glasses. We can continue believing that the only real perpetrators out there are people who look spooky and scary and whom we would never befriend. And when a victim or survivor tells us that they were abused by someone we know and like, we can assume they were lying, but then go turn on the news and pat ourselves on the back for getting angry at the true rapists out there, who fit our narrow definition.

I'm used to rape culture. I see it all the time in friends, family, and associates. I see it when people assume men can't be raped, or when a group of male scholars performs exhaustive research to determine what factors make women most likely to become victims of sexual assault and presents it as a checklist on how women can avoid being raped. And then the presenter is surprised by my frustration.

But I'm not used to seeing it among other feminists. Maybe I haven't been paying close enough attention before now.

My preamble has gone on a bit long, I know, so I'll get to the story that has me so upset.

Last night, a member of a feminist group I belong to on facebook posted an article about a 17-year-old woman who came forward and testified that a former teacher and coach had been sexually assaulting her for the past couple years. The perpetrator is now 33, but the woman was just 14 when the then-30-year-old man first began courting her, so to say.

When she was 15 he kissed her, and by the victim's own account, she felt helpless after that day and felt incapable of saying no when he pressured her to have sex with him, as he suggested he would withdraw his love otherwise, and as he told her that she would be worthless and have no future if she ended things. Apparently learning that an LDS woman would now be eligible to serve a mission at the age of 19 (formerly 21) gave the victim a reason to hope and the courage to seek aid.

Fortunately, those she turned to actually believed her, and a judge agreed to bring the case to trial.

And yet, horrifying to me, at least half of the responses from members of this feminist group where the link was shared responded by questioning the victim's accountability in the situation and questioning whether she was a victim at all. Because it is a closed group, it would be unethical for me to share names or exact words, but here's a summary of the arguments that were made:

- Some 17-year-old women want to have sex, so she probably did; the only difference is she had sex with an adult, not a teenager.
- The fact that she ended things now shows she always had the power to end it, so she can't be a victim.
- She may have committed sexual sins that she'll need to repent of, so she's probably accountable for at least some of what happened.
- It sounds like she consented at the time, but now she's regretting it.

Bull. Shit.

When I responded that these statements were forms of victim-blaming and that I expected better on a feminist group, one person responded that she was merely being technical, while I was responding emotionally.

So, let me explain, in technical detail, why this is sexual assault.

1. A minor cannot legally consent to sex with a 33-year-old man. Sexual assault is not merely the presence of a "no," but the absence of consent.

2. Statutory rape is rape-rape, no matter what Whoopi thinks to the contrary.

3. This relationship went on for three years. That means a then-30-year-old man initiated a personal, emotionally intimate relationship with a 14-year-old girl. And took advantage of it a year later, when he first kissed her and began making sexual advances on a 15-year-old.

4. Courting a person in preparation for sexually assaulting them is known as grooming a victim. It is also a crime, and it makes it that much harder for a victim to leave or resist.

5. The now-17-year-old survivor of this abuse identifies it as sexual assault and describes how her perpetrator groomed, assaulted, manipulated, and threatened her. She identifies it as abuse. She says she did not consent. Based on her testimony and whatever evidence her lawyer presented, a judge saw at least enough evidence to take the case to trial.

And so, all my feminist friends out there, we need to be on our guard against rape culture from within. That's how prevalent rape culture really is.