Blog PostsAre You Now, or Have You Ever Been, a Feminist?

2014 seemed to be the year of female celebrities saying that they weren’t feminists. From Shailene Woodley to Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting, young actresses and singers have answered the question, “Are you a feminist?” with responses like this one:

“I love men, and I think the idea of ‘raise women to power, take the men away from the power’ is never going to work out because you need balance. With myself, I’m very in touch with my masculine side. And I’m 50 percent feminine and 50 percent masculine, same as I think a lot of us are. And I think that is important to note. And also I think that if men went down and women rose to power, that wouldn’t work either. We have to have a fine balance.” – Shailene Woodley

“I’m very proud of being a woman, and as a woman, I don’t even like the word feminism because when I hear that word, I associate it with women trying to pretend to be men, and I’m not interested in trying to pretend to be a man. I don’t want to embrace manhood, I want to embrace my womanhood.” – Evangeline Lilly

These quotes indicate a fundamental misunderstanding of what feminism is. Even in 2014, women in the media still equated feminism with thinking women are superior to men, putting women in a dominant position over men, and thinking women should act more traditionally masculine.

I have no doubt that we will continue to hear female celebrities publicly misinterpret feminism in 2015. Online magazines and commenters will continue to criticize these women, and the cycle will go on.

What I’d like to know is when journalists plan on routinely asking male celebrities if they’re feminists.

Feminism at its core is about equality among the sexes. Yet for some reason, only female celebrities are regularly asked whether or not they’re feminists.

Should we not be equally concerned that men also believe in equality among the sexes?

Forgive the imperfect comparison, but it would be a little strange if only black celebrities were asked whether or not they believe in anti-black racism?

I’m reminded of the interesting decision by The Today Show to cancel their interview with Amy Adams because she allegedly didn’t want to talk about the information revealed in the Sony hack that she received less payment for American Hustle than her male co-stars. Meanwhile, they didn’t ask Bradley Cooper any questions about the Sony hack when they interviewed him a few days earlier.

There seems to be a pattern here of questioning women whether or not they believe in gender equality and how they fare in a world with male privilege, and not questioning men whether or not they believe in gender equality and how they feel about benefiting from male privilege.

And we wonder why there’s so much confusion about what feminism really means. How can we expect female celebrities to embrace gender quality when the very question about gender quality is only posed to women?

I’m sure the question is well-intentioned…sometimes.

Other times, I have the distinct feeling that journalists aren’t asking these questions because they really care about feminism. They’re asking because responses to that question always trend, and articles deconstructing those responses also trend.

From now on, I’m not going to judge female celebrities’ responses to the “Are you a feminist?” question until male celebrities are routinely asked the same question. When the question is only posed to female celebrities, the implication is that only women should care about gender equality – and that’s kind of the opposite of what feminism is supposed to mean.

 

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Blog PostsA Few Stories About Walking in Public

It was a muggy day in Greenpoint in 2009. Dressed in my favorite pink fleece sports jacket and sweatpants, I was walking from the local YMCA back to the apartment I shared with my then-boyfriend. My face was flushed after finishing my workout and my hair was stringy and soaked in sweat.

My fleece jacket, pictured several years later

My fleece jacket, pictured several years later

A man’s voice called my attention: “Excuse me, miss. Your shoe’s untied.” I looked down and saw that my sneakers had, in fact, become unlaced yet again, a problem I experienced with these particular shoes almost every five minutes.

I thanked the man for pointing this out and moved to the corner of the sidewalk where I could tie my shoe without getting in anyone’s way. As soon as I bent over, the same man slid next to me and whispered, his voice husky and thick with expectation, “Now that I helped you out, do I get your phone number?”

My body tensed and I said the only sentence that was guaranteed to end this conversation quickly: “I have a boyfriend.” Not a lie, but something I would have said regardless of whether or not it was true.

“Oh, that’s too bad,” said the man. I straightened my back and walked a little more quickly to get back to my apartment, grateful that I hadn’t already showered at the Y, since I would need one to wash that conversation off of me.

* * * * *

A year earlier, in Williamsburg, I emerged from the Lorimer L/Metropolitan G stop late at night to walk to a nearby concert held at a bar. It was late fall and chilly, and I wore a winter dress, leggings, boots, and a long coat.

The dress, minus the coat

The dress, minus the coat

I hadn’t walked a block before a strange men leaped out of a dark corner and said, “Excuse me, miss.”

I didn’t wait to find out what he wanted. I averted my eyes and quickened my pace to get away from that dark corner and to my destination.

The strange man yelled, “Bitch!” at my departing form. I walked even faster as I felt the sting of his words and prayed that he wouldn’t follow me now that he had gotten angry.

* * * * *

May 2014, 8 AM, at the Port Authority Bus Terminal. Dressed in comfortable clothes with a suitcase in tow, I walked around looking for the Adirondack Trailways line to take me to my friend’s wedding.

This was years earlier, but similar to the clothes I was wearing that day.

This was years earlier, but similar to the clothes I was wearing that day.

A little ahead of schedule but not sure where I was supposed to go, I scanned the announcements of departures and arrivals to locate my bus. As I looked, I could feel the eyes of a strange man on my back.

Having found my bus, I started walking in the direction of the Adirondack Trailways. The same strange man who was watching me stepped in front of me and said, “Good morning.” Against my better judgment, I stopped, but fixed him with a warning look that I hoped said, “You’d better just be asking for directions.”

Off my look, he held up his hands and said, “Hey, whoa, no need to get upset. I was just wondering, before you leave, if I could have your phone number.”

I didn’t even pause before I yanked on my suitcase and marched off in the direction of my bus, because I was off to my friend’s wedding and I did not have time for that shit.

* * * * *

In late June 2014, I walked in the Coney Island Mermaid Parade with a group of friends. After the parade, I left my friend’s apartment, still in full costume, to meet someone on the Upper East Side.

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Mermaid

Since I was wearing a tube top and exposed a bare midriff and shoulders, I prepared myself for an onslaught of sexual innuendos and gross comments, and briefly considered taking a taxi uptown even though I couldn’t afford it at the time.

The propositions never came. I received many comments from passersby, men and women alike, but all of them were compliments on my costume, with quite a few shouts of “You go, girl!” directed my way.

* * * * *

In fall of 2007, I stood across the street from the school where I taught, dressed in professional attire, waiting for the light to change. When the walk sign came on, I stepped into the street, only to leap back onto the sidewalk when a bus sped up and charged through the red light.

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Professional clothes

The man next to me had also jumped backwards onto the sidewalk, barely escaping being hit by the bus. We looked at each other and rolled our eyes at the recklessness and assholery of MTA city bus drivers.

Then the man paused and looked at me again, and he said, “You have nice eyes,” in a thoughtful tone.

Surprised but flattered, I said, “Oh! Thank you.” He nodded respectfully and turned and walked across the street. I followed shortly after with a slight spring in my step after this unexpected compliment.

* * * * *

The men who creepily demanded my phone number and called me a bitch on the street were demanding my attention with no consideration for my feelings. Some of them were actively trying to intimidate me.

The people on the street who complimented me on my costume were amused and surprised to see a mermaid walking on the streets of Manhattan and expressed their appreciation in ways that were not intimidating.

The man who complimented me on my eyes was a person I had briefly bonded with in the way only New Yorkers can after experiencing the same jerkiness from an MTA bus driver. When he said I had nice eyes, there was no demand in his tone, no salaciousness, no expectation – and after he made his compliment, he left me alone to go about my day.

Many people would like to pretend that the line between harassment and genuine compliments are blurred so that they can continue to shout at women on the street with impunity.

They are lying.

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ArticlesI’ve Been Published on Reductress

Psst – for anyone who’d like to take a peek at other places I’ve been published lately, here are links to a few pieces I wrote recently for Reductress.com!

I Lived It: I Didn’t Actually Like My Friend’s Profile Picture

3 Surefire Ways to Upstage Your Friend at Karaoke

Quiz: Did Everyone Sign Sharon’s Birthday Card?

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Blog PostsLost Season 2: What if Ana-Lucia Was a White Guy?

Lost premiered almost ten years ago exactly, and to celebrate the show’s anniversary, I started a rewatch. Lost was a notable show for me because it was one of only two shows I watched from day one (Freaks and Geeks being the other) rather than catching up after strong word-of-mouth, and I watched it religiously.

The mystery and scope of Lost appealed to me, but the characters appealed to me more. Charlie was my first favorite character by default, since the whole reason I watched the show was the presence of Dominic Monaghan (aka one of the hobbits from Lord of the Rings). Over time, I grew to become invested in Jack, Sayid, Sun and Jin, Juliet, Locke, Miles, and most of all, Hugo Reyes (aka Hurley).

But there was another character I loved, one who was not a fan favorite, and was, in fact, one of the most reviled characters on the show: Ana-Lucia Cortez, played by Michelle Rodriguez.

Ana-Lucia

Ana-Lucia

Viewers didn’t like Ana-Lucia for a multitude of reasons. The Sayid/Shannon fans didn’t like her because she accidentally killed Shannon and then tied Sayid to a tree. They didn’t like her because she was rude to Sawyer, everyone’s favorite woobie. Mostly, viewers didn’t like her because she was unpleasant.

Yet it struck me upon rewatching season 2 that, if Ana-Lucia had been a white man, she not only would have been a fan favorite, but possibly the protagonist of the whole show.

Let’s pretend for a moment that Ana-Lucia Cortez was a white guy named Andrew Collins and look at the character backstory from that point of view.

Andrew Collins was a police officer working in the LAPD. His captain and commanding officer was also his parent of the same sex. While investigating a shooting, he came across a college student who was a suspect in the crime. He allowed the college student to reach for his ID. Instead, the student reached for a gun, and shot Andrew several times.

After making a physical recovery and undergoing therapy, Andrew returned to the force, but was clearly suffering from PTSD. His captain and father tried to relegate him to desk duty, but Andrew needed to be on patrol. When the college student who shot him was brought in for questioning, Andrew claimed not to know him. Later, he followed his assailant and shot him several times, killing him.

When the plane crashed on Craphole Island, Andrew woke up underwater and managed to swim to safety. He helped save a few lives, including the one of a little girl after performing CPR on her. He took on a leadership role, trying his best to keep everyone calm and safe, and tended to listen when other survivors offered alternate plans and ideas.

This attitude changed after time. Andrew became less trusting, more bullheaded, and stubborn, after other survivors of the plane crash (including the children) were kidnapped by hostile natives on the island. His stubbornness and paranoia increased significantly when the person he had trusted the most turned out to be one of the hostile natives. In a scuffle, he killed the hostile. He could then only be open and vulnerable to one other person in the group of survivors, and finally broke down crying after forty days of trauma.

An ultimately decent person with a sometimes unpleasant personality. A brash, insensitive, but ultimately caring police officer, who had a soft spot for children. A person who put on a tough front but could show vulnerability in front of one other person.

Andrew Collins would have been fan catnip. But Ana-Lucia Cortez was hated. Even though she should’ve had bonus sympathy points, since she was pregnant at the time she was shot and lost her unborn child.

Not every character is going to click with every viewer, and I understand why some viewers didn’t like Ana-Lucia. The widespread hate, on the other hand, I feel has roots in subconscious sexism, and perhaps subconscious racism as well. A white male character can be bullying and obnoxious (look at the widespread popularity of Sawyer on the same show), but not a Latina woman. Not even one who lost her baby while on the line of duty.

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Blog PostsIn Praise of “Moaning Lisa”

In honor of the glorious “Every Simpsons Ever” marathon playing on FXX for one and a half weeks, I’m going to talk a little about an underrated episode: “Moaning Lisa.”

“Moaning Lisa” is not one of the funniest episodes of The Simpsons. In fact, a fair amount of the jokes, particularly in the Bart-Homer video-game subplot, are a little obvious and corny. What makes “Moaning Lisa” great is not the humor, but the emotional resonance.

The episode opens with Lisa staring into a bathroom mirror, almost paralyzed by her sadness.

sadlisa
I can’t think of many sitcoms, animated or not, that would open on a scene with a character so vulnerable.

We follow Lisa as she goes about her day, and we see that the sadness is affecting her interaction with everyone. She refuses a cupcake from her mother, she improvises wildly in music class, and doesn’t participate in dodge ball in gym class because she’s “too sad.” When her family asks her for the reason behind her sadness, it turns out that there’s no inciting incident or traumatic event she’s been keeping from them:

I’m just wondering what’s the point. Would it make any difference at all if I never existed? How can we sleep at night when there’s so much suffering in the world?

Homer, at a loss for words, ineffectually bounces Lisa on her lap and tries to cheer her up. He cares about his daughter but has no idea how to help her – he’s completely out of his depth. Lisa, knowing this, gives her father a kiss and tells him she knows he means well. Homer then orders Bart to clean the living room in one of the few moments of the episode that’s as funny as The Simpsons would be in its prime (“In times of trouble you got to go with what you know – now hop to it, boy!”), and Bart, as a result, is unsympathetic to Lisa’s pain. There are many times in the show’s future where Bart steps out of his selfish, ten-year-old viewpoint and shows empathy to his sister (“Separate Vocations,” ” ‘Round Springfield,”) but this isn’t one of them.

Later, Lisa practices her saxophone in her room, and Homer runs upstairs to tell her to knock off all that racket – until she starts crying again, and once again, he has no words of comfort except to tell her that she can practice her fingering as loud as she wants.

7G06_-_Moaning_Lisa
Lisa’s sadness runs so deep that she can’t even describe it to anyone. From what we’ve seen, she doesn’t have a bad life, but she’s isolated from others because of her pain, and even people who want to understand her and help her don’t know how.

That all changes when she hears more saxophone music miles away, and she slips out of her house and meets Bleeding Gums Murphy playing the “I Never Had an Italian Suit Blues.”

Meanwhile, Marge has a nightmare straight from her own childhood about her mother encouraging her to smile even when she’s sad:

“Wait, Margie. Before we go out the door, let’s put our happy face on, because people know how good of a mommy you have by the size of your smile!”

Young Marge then puts on the most strained, fake smile I’ve ever seen before walking out the door. The smile looks like it’s hurting her face. But when the adult Marge wakes up, she wonders out loud how to educate their daughter on how to become a young woman.

Back at the bridge, Bleeding Gums Murphy and Lisa each sing aloud their pain. He tells her, “You know, you play pretty good for someone with no real problems.”

I’m going to take a moment just for that one line, because it’s brilliant. One hand, you understand Bleeding Gums’s point. From his perspective, Lisa is the exemplification of #firstworldproblems or #whitegirlproblems. She’s healthy, cared for, and she wants for nothing. On the other hand, depression is real and Lisa’s definitely feeling a version of it deep in her bones. It doesn’t really matter that she has no “real” problems when the feeling of sadness is all-consuming.

Marge comes by and whisks Lisa away, telling Bleeding Gums, “Nothing personal, I just feel the unfamiliar.” And Lisa is taken from someone she commiserates with and makes her feel less alone.

The next day, Marge tries to get Bart to be nicer to her sister, and they have an exchange where he awkwardly half-admits to some affection for Lisa:

“Marge: You do love her, don’t you?
Bart: Oh, Mom…
Marge: Well you do, don’t you?
Bart: Don’t make me say it. You know the answer, I know the answer, he knows the answer, let’s just drop it, ok?
Marge: Okay, Bart, you don’t have to say it, but you do have to have a loving attitude. Be nice to your sister.”

It’s a perfect portrayal of that stage of boyhood where it’s socially unacceptable to admit to any positive feelings for his sister, because girls are gross. He can’t even say out loud to his own mother that he loves his sister.

And of course, the only thing Bart can think to do to cheer up Lisa is to make a prank phone call to Moe’s Tavern. It doesn’t work, even though she usually laughs right along with him.

Marge makes one last effort to cheer up Lisa, and the only thing she can think to do is to give her daughter the same kind of damaging advice her own mother gave her:

“Well it doesn’t matter how you feel inside, you know? It’s what shows up on the surface that counts. That’s what my mother taught me. Take all your bad feelings and push them down, all the way down, past your knees until you’re almost walking on them. And then you’ll fit in, and you’ll be invited to parties, and boys will like you, and happiness will follow.”

Hearing this come from Marge is downright heartbreaking when we see how much pain this caused her in her own childhood. She’s clearly giving this advice because it’s all she knows, and she’s convinced herself that it was the right way to go.

But even repressed suburban moms have their limits, and Marge reaches hers when she sees one boy tell Lisa, “I used to think you were a brainiac, but I guess you’re okay,” another boy invite her to do his homework, and the music teacher chiding her for her creativity. She makes a U-turn in her car and whisks Lisa away. Then she parks the car and does a similar 180 on her advice:

Lisa, I apologize to you, I was wrong, I take it all back! Always be yourself. If you want to be sad, honey, be sad. We’ll ride it out with you. And when you get finished feeling sad, we’ll still be there. From now on, let me do the smiling for both of us.

Then Lisa hugs her mother, and gives her first genuine smile of the episode, because she “feels like smiling.”

moaninglisa_zps1537f8e0
This display of support from her mother is the moment that finally breaks Lisa from her sadness, and she takes her family to the jazz club to hear Bleeding Gums Murphy play.

We can see the lasting effects of “Moaning Lisa” throughout later episodes and seasons of The Simpsons, where the saxophone is a vital part of Lisa’s identity and an important outlet of creative expression. Finding a kindred spirit and creative outlet is key to her sense of self-worth and identity.

But just as important is Lisa hearing exactly what she needs to hear from her mother – that it’s okay to be sad, that her feelings are valid, and that she will have support no matter what she’s feeling.

I feel like most sitcoms would gloss over an emotional crisis like Lisa’s (if they bothered to portray that kind of emotional crisis at all) by having their character experience some kind of sentimental moment that Restores Their Faith In Humanity or some other garbage, but “Moaning Lisa” doesn’t try to gloss over Lisa’s problem by pretending she’ll never be sad again. We know she will be sad again, and maybe one day she’ll be sad again for no reason she can identify. But now she’ll have a support system that doesn’t rush to “cheer her up” and instead lets her see her emotions through.

That kind of emotional support is validating and essential to Lisa, and yet the moment is still tinged with bittersweet sadness. When Marge says, “I’ll do enough smiling for the both of us,” we understand that her practiced happiness is too ingrained in her personality to ever change, and she’s giving Lisa the freedom and emotional validation she never received herself.

“Moaning Lisa” doesn’t make anyone’s top 10 list of The Simpsons episodes, and it’s easy to understand why. It’s not the funniest episode by a long shot. But in terms of emotional resonance, it strikes as much of a chord as “Lisa’s Substitute,” “Mother Simpson,” and “And Maggie Makes Three.” Whether a person struggles with depression or just feels “down” sometimes for no identifiable reason, there’s nothing more helpful than hearing, “It’s okay to feel sad.”

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Blog PostsWhy I Write Male Characters

When asked if the criticism regarding the lack of substantial female roles in True Detective affected his conception of the second season, producer and creator Nick Pizzolatto said, “[It] affected me a little bit in my conception of season 2, but then not at all. I realized I was listening to things I didn’t agree with and taking cues from the wrong places. I just put it out of my mind.”

This doesn’t mean, necessarily, that there will be no prominent female characters in the second season of True Detective - it just means that another male creator of a television show didn’t think that the inclusion of female characters was important.

I could talk about why that attitude is problematic, but instead I’m going to explain why I write male characters.

I live in a world where men make up half of the population.

I have a father. I have two younger brothers. I have grandfathers and uncles and male cousins. I had male teachers and male classmates. I’ve had male bosses and coworkers. I’ve had male acquaintances and close male friends and boyfriends.

Men exist in my world, and I interact with men every single day of my life.

It would never occur to me to not write male characters in my fiction. 

My first novel includes four main characters, two of whom are boys, and the narrator is male. The web series that I’m writing with two friends has a gender-balanced ensemble cast of six characters with a female protagonist. The play that I’m writing, a romantic comedy twist on an old formula, has a female protagonist and the story is told entirely from her point of view, but I can still tell you everything about the male lead: his motivations, his insecurities, his flaws, his goals, and the relationships he has with other people in his life.

The reason I’ve put so much thought into the male lead’s character, even though he’s not the point-of-view character for the narrative, is because I want to write a believable love story between two people, not one fully drawn human being and a hunky object of her desire.

I write male characters because I consider men to be people.

The other day, I had a conversation with one of the co-creators of the web series we’re developing. I told him how much I appreciated the fact that he and our friend were male writers who made a point of creating interesting female characters. (It was their idea, not mine, to make our protagonist a woman.) He said, “Of course. Women are messy and flawed people, just like men are.”

Women are messy and flawed people, just like men are.

I’m glad that my creative collaborators are men who who a) enjoy writing women and b) enjoy writing with women, but it’s pretty depressing that I found their attitude remarkable and worth commenting on at all.

And I’m not the only one. George R.R. Martin, Joss Whedon, and a few other prominent male writers known for writing interesting female characters were asked by interviewers why they write interesting female characters – not how, but why.

Asking a man “how” he writes interesting female characters is insulting enough, implying that women are some mystical “other” creature too difficult for men to possibly comprehending, but the “why” question is even worse. It expresses wonderment that a man would consider a woman’s story even worth telling.

When asked why he writes strong female characters, Joss Whedon responded, “Because you’re still asking me that question.”

Why am I telling you why I write male characters? Because no one ever asked me that question.

And I doubt that I would ever be asked that question, even if I someday have the reach, influence, and body of work as Joss Whedon.

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Blog PostsTo the Liberal Men Worried About the “Slippery Slope” of the Hobby Lobby Decision

Dear liberal men who are worried about the “slippery slope” of the Hobby Lobby decision:

Stop. Just stop.

I don’t want to hear another word about how the Hobby Lobby decision is frustrating for women and all, but what you’re really worried about is the precedent that it sets for future decisions relating to religious freedom and corporate personhood.

Don’t get me wrong. I worry about the precedent, too. Corporate personhood is a nightmare, and I’m convinced that religion is going to ruin America. Women and trans* men all over the country will be forced to carry unwanted pregnancies to term, and these children will spread disease as the anti-vaccination movement continues to become more widespread, eventually killing us all. (Actually, that sounds like a good plot for a science fiction novel. Dibs and patent pending.)

But to say that the precedent is what you’re really worried about indicates that the precedent is the real problem, and a restriction to access to birth control is just a minor inconvenience.

Here’s the thing: a woman’s ability to control her body and reproduction is actually a huge freaking deal.

There are women who don’t want to have children. There are women who might want to have children someday, but not now. There are women who already have children and don’t want anymore. There are women who already have children and might want more, but are carefully planning their next pregnancies.

And there are many people in this world who don’t believe that we have the right to make those decisions for ourselves. And there are many people, including five Supreme Court justices, who want to limit our options in making those decisions.

Decisions about our bodies. Decisions about the very skin we live in.

If you have ever cared about a woman in your life, and if you see women as human beings equal to men, that should worry you.

That should be enough.

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Blog PostsConfessions of a Former Nice Girl™, Part 2

Once upon a time, I exhibited some Nice Guy™ tendencies in girl form. As a lonely teenager, I idealized boys from afar, built them up in my head to meet unrealistic romantic standards that no human being could possibly meet, and never made my feelings known, preferring to hang around them until they realized how cool I was and fell for me. (This part never happened.)

Back then, I could check off some of the main qualities on the Nice Guy™ checklist. I had the unrealistic expectations, the romantic objectification, and the romantic interest disguised (sometimes poorly) as friendly interest.

Still, there was one big quality on the Nice Guy™ checklist that I lacked: the sense of entitlement.

I wanted these boys to like me, maybe even love me. I wanted it badly. But I never once thought that any of them owed me their affection or interest.

I never thought that, after all the effort I’d spent yearning for a person, that he somehow needed to pay me back for the time I spent thinking about him.

This lack of entitlement could just mean that I’m a better person than those unfortunate people whose Nice Guy™-ness extends past adolescence and far into adulthood, and I think there’s something to that theory. I also think my lack of resentment has something to do with the difference between how boys and girls are raised in our society.

Boys are taught, “If the girl you like doesn’t like you back, you should never take no for an answer, because if you keep pursuing her and never give up, you can turn that no into a yes. And if she still doesn’t like you after all that, she’s a bitch who doesn’t deserve you and you’ll find someone hotter later on.”

Girls are taught, “If the boy you like doesn’t like you back, it’s because there’s something wrong with you, because you’re not pretty enough, or you’re too pretty and too shallow and focused on your looks, or you’re too girly, or not girly enough, or any other item on a list of flaws that makes you imperfect, and the only way to get that guy is if you change x, y, and z.”

Imagine how society would function of boys and girls are both taught, “If the person you like doesn’t like you back, it probably doesn’t have any reflection on either one of you as a human being. You’re probably just not right for each other even if you’re both decent people. C’est la vie.”

But that’s not how it works. Boys are taught that girls are to blame for crushed sexual and romantic hopes, and girls are also taught that girls to blame for crushed sexual and romantic hopes.

Perhaps that’s why, while I didn’t have the Nice Guy™ sense of entitlement, I did have a very Nice Guy™ view of the girls my age: they were the source of my unhappiness.

If the boys I liked didn’t like me back, it wasn’t their fault. They were distracted by the prettier and shallower girls. Guys were stupid and entranced by shiny objects, but other girls were the real problem. They were the mean girls, the Heathers, the ones who wore short skirts while I wore T-shirts, the cheer captains while I sat on the bleachers.

It didn’t matter that, on the whole, the popular girls left me alone and the boys were the ones who bullied and teased me (and I didn’t know many cheerleaders in the first place). Somehow, I still had the perception that the other girls were the enemy, that they were far more to blame for my lack of romantic success than any boy’s lack of interest.

Fortunately, I got over this phase midway through high school and stopped resenting other girls, but it took me much longer to stop feeling this bizarre superiority/inferiority complex with them, where I thought I was smarter and funnier and more interesting than other girls, but they were all prettier and more socially savvy than I was.

I resented boys as well, of course, but mostly because I couldn’t get through a single day without several of them making fun of me. I resented girls because they attracted the attention of the decent guys I idealized as being “not like the other guys.”

I resented boys because of the way they treated me. I resented girls for existing.

Boys are taught to hate girls. Girls are taught to hate girls.

In my days of being a Nice Girl™, I had negative feelings towards other girls, but the lack of entitlement meant I also didn’t actually believe I deserved what they had…because girls are taught to hate themselves more than anyone else.

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Blog PostsConfessions of a Former Nice Girl™, Part 1

I have yet to write at length about Elliot Rodger’s killing spree or the #YesAllWomen hashtag that surfaced in response to his misogynistic manifesto, partly because I haven’t had much free time lately (hello, first blog post in over a month), but also because I needed to sit with my thoughts on it for a little while. Some news stories are too upsetting to talk about immediately and I needed a little time and distance before I could comment.

I considered writing a blog post about the most egregious forms of sexism I’ve experienced in my lifetime, or of being harassed on the street, or of being on the receiving end of a piece of intimidation disguised as a compliment.

Instead, I want to talk briefly about the Nice Guy™ phenomenon. Elliot Rodger was the most dangerous form of the Nice Guy™, whose anger towards and hatred of women led him to commit a series of murders. He desired women, and when they didn’t desire him back, he resented them, and he killed several women (the prizes he could never win) and several men (the undeserving jerks who stole the prizes he could never win).

Most Nice Guys™ don’t go as far as committing murder, but the Nice Guy™ mindset runs rampant in our culture, with scores of men thinking that the best way to get a woman to be interested in him is to be Nice, and then eventually, she will reward him with sex and/or romance.

Already, I can hear the choruses of men – some of whom are jerks, some of whom might be genuinely good guys who are feeling momentarily defensive – crying out that sometimes women do that too, and are we saying that there’s no such thing as a Nice Girl™?

No, I’m not saying that. There are definitely Nice Girls™ in this world. I know because I used to be one of them.

In middle school and high school, I was not a pretty girl. I had few friends, I was isolated and teased, and I was repeatedly told that I was undesirable, unattractive, and ugly. As a coping mechanism, I invented elaborate fantasies about the guys I had crushes on. Most of these fantasies involved a popular boy declaring his feelings for me in front of his popular friends, thus getting the affection and validation I wanted and saying “screw you” to anyone who was ever mean to me.

These boys all had the same two important qualities in common. They were all funny and all had shown me more basic human decency than the other kids in school.

In every case, I decided that we were meant to be, and focused obsessively on the qualities that I liked about him (he’s funny, we get along, he’s friendly) and conveniently edited out the qualities that made him incompatible with me (he’s not interested in me in that way). I didn’t want the real guy. I wanted the idealized version of him in my head.

As a result, I never asked the guy out or let him know that I was interested (with one exception, which I’ll get to shortly). Heavens, no. That would have required guts that I didn’t have. Instead, I would hang around the guy more frequently, time my exits from the lunchroom to coincide with his so we could walk up the stairs together, and try to be his friend…because even if he didn’t like me now, surely he would once we spent enough time together and he saw how cool I was.

I broke this pattern only once in my sophomore year, when I told a male classmate and friend over email that I liked him, that I knew he probably didn’t feel the same way, but I wanted to let him know just in case, and I still wanted to be friends regardless. He let me down very nicely, and after a few days of awkwardness, we were back to normal, and we stayed friendly until the end of high school.

Looking back, it’s funny to see how, at the time, the “pining in the distance and waiting for him to like me” strategy seemed like the safer choice, when being honest about my feelings was too mortifying a concept to entertain.

Looking back, my moments of pining and longing still make me cringe, while the one time I was forthright and honest makes me want to go back in time and high-five my fifteen-year-old self for having the guts to lay my feelings on the line.

Looking back, I understand what set apart that incident in sophomore year from the other times I pined from a distance. In that case, the boy in question was more than an idealized object I worshiped from afar and sometimes conversed with awkwardly. In that case, he was actually my friend, not someone I faked friendship with in the hopes of getting something more later on. And I realized that I had to tell him how I felt because hiding my feelings was driving me to distraction, but I also knew that I would want to continue be friends regardless of whether or not he returned my feelings, because I liked him enough as a person that the friendship was worth maintaining.

To put it more simply, I had crushes on several different guys during high school. With most of them, I was a Nice Girl™. With the guy in sophomore year, I was just a girl who had unrequited feelings for a friend.

Because most of those guys were fantasy objects I put on pedestals, but the guy in sophomore year was an actual person in my eyes, not a vessel in which I could pour all my romantic hopes and fantasies.

And it’s really not hard to tell the difference between the two.

[To Be Continued...]

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ReviewsA Review of Peach and Frog Theatre Company’s “King John”

King John (Eric Doss) and Hubert (Randy Howk) in Frog and Peach Theatre's King John. Photo by Claire Taddei

King John (Eric Doss) and Hubert (Randy Howk) in Frog & Peach Theatre Company’s King John. Photo by Claire Taddei

The press release for Frog & Peach Theatre Company’s production of King John advertises the play  as “Game of Thrones, Shakespeare style.” It’s a catchy descriptor and in some ways an accurate one. The plot of King John shares some similarities with Game of Thrones, as the play contains political intrigue, shifting alliances, swift changes in power, and many self-interested characters with only a handful of “good guys” to root for. Describing a production as “Game of Thrones, Shakespeare style” is a great marketing pitch to get public interest in a show.

However, this production of King John feels less like a production of Shakespeare’s text and more of an excuse to put on a stage version of Game of Thrones. Quick pacing is prioritized over letting the emotional moments of the play breathe. Costumes are designed to be attention-grabbing, particularly for the actresses, and the female characters are unnecessarily sexualized, put in tight dresses and leggings. (One even carries a riding whip for some reason.)

The portrayal of female characters in King John is the strongest indication of the production’s . Queen Elinor (Karen Lynn Gorney) is portrayed as the powerful, intelligent matriarch as she’s written to be in the play (though she’s described as “wily and seductive” in the press release), but the grieving Constance (Amy Frances Quint) vamps and flirts when trying to ascertain information about France’s new alliance with King John, while Lady Blanche of Spain (Ilaria Amadasi) is reimagined as a warrior princess sold into reluctant marriage with Louis of France – almost as if, to use another Game of Thrones comparison, the Stark sisters, Cersei, and Ygritte were combined into one character. Whether these directorial choices were made for sensationalist purposes or out of a misguided attempt to give the female characters more depth, they show a mistrust of the original text to hold the audience’s interest. Constance is a grieving widow and the mother of a boy whose rightful inheritance was stolen from him, and Blanche is a political pawn suddenly thrust into the middle of a war between two nations. Those motivations are enough to invite an audience’s sympathy, and the extra vamping, pouting, and indications of overt sexuality are superfluous and distracting, taking away from the more genuine moments later in the play.

Fortunately, some genuine moments do still ring true, most of them involving Hubert (Randy Howk), combining the political acumen and cunning thinking of a Lannister with the honor and nobility of a Stark. He agrees to kill young Arthur against his conscience, and the scene where he attempts to kill the boy is the highlight of the play. Howk’s Hubert shows a wide range of emotion throughout the scene, showing the character’s guilt, self-hatred, determination to fulfill his bloody deed, and almost parental love for the young boy. Hamish Carmichael as Arthur plays off of him well, showing a deep trust and affection for Hubert, increasing the tension and emotional weight of the scene.

Another strong performance is found in Eric Doss as King John himself, who gets his chance to shine once he makes a covert deal with Hubert to dispatch of the boy Arthur. Doss’s John is a petty, small man who laments and whines and lashes out at others when things don’t go his way. After receiving news of his mother’s death, he transforms into a little boy right before our eyes. This John is a deeply insecure man who has no business being king even if he were in the proper line of succession.

The scenes between Hubert and Arthur, and Hubert and John, are by far the strongest in the production. Not coincidentally, they are also the scenes where the director takes a step back from emphasizing the costumes and “sexy” political intrigue and lets the actors work with the text. (They are also two scenes where no one has to say the word dauphin, an unfortunate cast-wide mispronunciation.)

King John is not often produced – a shame, because the play is an ensemble’s dream come true, with a large number of strong, interesting characters. It is also only one of two Shakespeare plays written entirely in verse (the other being Richard II). Any company that decides to mount King John should be admired for producing such an interesting, underrated play and providing so many great acting opportunities to its cast. This production of King John gives its actors those opportunities but sometimes hinders them for the sake of an inconsistent vision.

King John is playing at the West End Theater at 263 W 86th Street from April 24-May 18 on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30 PM and Sundays at 3 PM. 

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