Friday, November 22, 2013

23 Opinions on Women's Fashion You Can Ignore

As a feminist, fashionista, and feminist fashionista, this article published in the Huffington Post style section is pretty disappointing. While reading it, it was one alarm bell of annoyance after another. Here’s why:

- The tone is heteronormative as all hell. Some women actually dress with the intention of attracting other women. Or a combination of men and women. Or maybe no one! Imagine. The statement “Trends Guys Hate (But Women Love)” presupposes that this is a relevant topic because perhaps we should be more aware of men’s preferences.

- Brief, vague, and anecdotal “research.” One statement, from one dude, criticizing a trend or style that is supposed to represent a significant and noteworthy comment on What Men Hate. Lame. This may constitute the honest statements of a handful of men, but giving a platform to the statements raises them to a level far beyond what they deserve.

- Reinforcing sexist judgments and prejudices. Most annoying are:

“It's like hooker red lipstick.”

We’ll criticize you if you don't look sexy, and criticize you more if you look too sexy!

"Definitely strapless bikinis, they just make your shoulders look like a linebacker's."

Don’t look like a man. It’s not sexy.

"The return of our moms' high-waisted shorts is the most unattractive recycled trend going on nowadays... It makes the fittest girl look frumpy and the less fit girls look even more unfortunate."

Looking too much like a woman isn’t sexy! Moms can't be sexy!

"Men's business're a woman, not a man."

Boys wear blue and girls wear pink. You’re a woman, goddamnit, dress like one!

So many contradictory things goings on here. I think men have a right to weigh in one women’s fashion as much as I can say I prefer a certain look on men, but most of these testimonials are thoroughly sexist and anti-feminist in a way that suggests women do and should care what they (men) think. But it’s moreso reifying blanket stereotypes and judgments about women based on how they dress. The same article comprised of women hating on other women’s fashion choices would be almost as annoying.

Which leads to my next criticism. This article hinges on the presumption that women care. Breaking news, ladies, men might not find your peplum sexy! Better reconsider your entire presentation of self. And while you’re at it, don’t look too big, too small, too young, too old, too girly, too manly, too momly, etc.

I love fashion. I love clothes, shoes, accessories, jewelry, hair, and makeup. I love new styles and trends and how my fashion evolves. But I mostly love having long since moved past needing the approval of others, male or female.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Bare Boobs and the Death of Innuendo: Robin Thicke's Line Blurring

In the spirit of my new endeavor – returning to school to work on a Master of Gender Studies degree – I’m going to devote this blogspace to mulling over ideas and observations I have about sex and gender, especially in pop culture. Since, in my short and inconsistent blogging career, I have yet to write anything more popular and more viewed than my analysis / review of Fifty Shades of Grey, I will look to the things that fascinate, disgust, or mystify the most people for source material. Even better if it’s all those reactions at once.

Chaps? Might as well wear a nun's habit.

Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” video. It seems like a fairly logical extension of where music / movies/ television / music videos have been going in terms of continuously needing to push the (increasingly strained or non-existent) limits to shock and engage the audience and consumer. Am I really surprised that this video shows women literally half naked, breasts bared? Of course not! Music videos have shown women scantily clad or in bikinis forever – eventually skimpily clad bodies lose their ability to shock and maybe even to arouse. Remember Christina Aguilera’s assless chaps? They seem pretty tame now. You want people to talk about your video? Sexy ladies with cleavage probably won’t cut it now. Over-exposure leads to ubiquitousness.

"Gonna make you come tonight - over to my house!"

My reaction to the video is complicated. The song is pretty catchy and the lyrics, which have been described with the new adjective “rapey,” don’t strike me as reaching any new echelon of sexist language towards women. And that’s pretty much how we perceive and react to these kinds of cultural products – comparatively. My desensitization to overtly sexual and even pornographic (in the literal sense of describing or depicting sexual acts) lyrics leads me to react nonchalantly. It becomes increasingly challenging to truly know, on a base level, what offends, intrigues, provokes us – there is so much mediation. I remember when B44’s “If You Get Down On Me” song, rife with euphemism and innuendo, was edgy. It seems so tasteful now – Robin Thicke uses no such euphemisms. His failure to shock me that much more than other artists yields my wishy washy reaction.

Ummm, ok?
I’m more interested in the video. “Silly” is the word I keep coming back to, and I can’t believe that it’s self-conscious. Or maybe he’s trying to pass off stupid silliness as smart, self-conscious tongue-in-cheekness and I’m not buying it. Not least of all because of the words, emblazoned by balloons, “Robin Thicke Has A Big Dick.” C’mon Robin, leave something to our imaginations.

And in terms of the video, I don’t have a problem with the bare breasts. This is primarily because I don’t see a huge difference between a skimpy bikini or bra, revealing the size and shape of some boobs right down to the nipple, and completely naked. We all know what boobs look like. If you don’t have a pair yourself, or someone else’s to look at, you can probably find some on the Internet or even (how antiquated!) a magazine. It’s amazing how a tiny pinnacle of flesh – the nipple! – has garnered so much mystery and power. Women naked except for their nipples have become commonplace in music videos – but three women completely topless in this video gets my attention.

Beware of chafing.
When it comes to nudity in a music video, no one has done that more …enthusiastically than Miley Cyrus in “Wrecking Ball.” Again, I go back to having to consider how hard it is to shock and attract an increasingly desensitized to sex consumer audience. If you’ve already shown mostly everything, how are you going to get our attention whilst dressed? Interestingly, the video is very dull because of this. I actually really enjoyed the video for “We Can’t Stop” and thought it very effective. This new one just misfires – starts with close-up tears in a way that recalls Sinead O’Connor except instead of leading us through a stark, emotional journey through song, she moves into laughably awkward sledgehammer licking. And that’s pretty much as far as I can go on that topic. The video's too boring to be shocking. But will we watch it? Yes. At the time of writing this post the video has been viewed over 51-million times on YouTube.

What will the taboos be in a few years, 10 years, 20 years from now? The increasing depiction of eroticism and nudity in mainstream culture raises our tolerance. The more accepting we get the less critical we may become.

I don’t want my comfort and tolerance, my thick skin to being offended, my increasing desensitization, my willingness to show that being a feminist isn’t about getting angry about some boobs…to slowly make me less critical. I can’t let it.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Speaking Out, Literally: My Vocal Cords

Something I’ve been thinking about for awhile is how we often take our voices for granted. I don’t mean “voice” as a synonym for autonomy or empowerment – “find your voice” – no. I mean on the base level of using our vocal cords to produce sounds comfortably and effectively. And to do so without hindering self-consciousness.

My relationship with my own voice, physically, medically, has been trying, and as I currently use my voice for my job, as a very important part of my job, I am grateful for the body’s ability to heal itself. I’ve lately remarked how grateful I am, not only that I manage to speak comfortably without extreme raspiness and sounding like I’m permanently getting over laryngitis, but that I can speak well enough to be on the radio. I thought a vocally demanding profession might be an impossibility for me several years ago.

In 2004, I suffered permanent vocal cord damage in the form of the development of vocal cord nodules. Because the experts at Wikipedia can doubtlessly describe them better than I: “A vocal cord nodule is a mass of tissue that grows on the vocal folds. A vocal cord nodule reduces or obstructs the ability of the vocal folds to create the rapid changes in air pressure which generate human speech. Symptoms include hoarseness of speech, painful speech production, frequent vocal breaks, and reduced vocal range. Vocal fold nodules develop mostly in adult females, and children of both sexes.”

This is a performer/ public speaker’s nightmare. At the time, as a high school student, I used my voice extensively. In addition to being exceptionally talkative, I was in musical theatre, drama, improv, public speaking, and, most importantly to my vocal use, Sea Cadets. I used my voice to excess in each of my activities and the concept of ‘vocal rest’ was unknown to me. The activity of being in the Cadet movement is extremely demanding on the voice. Between teaching classes and leading cheers and chants to calling drill commands, your voice is used and abused constantly. Especially if you’ve a persistent over-doer, like myself. During my time as a staff cadet at a Sea Cadet Summer Training Centre in 2004 I pushed my voice to its limits. I overused my voice until I lost it, or, at which point it was gone enough that I shouldn’t have been speaking, let along calling commands and yelling. However, I continued to do (and overdo) my job and pushed through the strain. I didn’t take time off or let anyone know I was effectively losing my voice.

My voice became progressively lower and hoarser. By that autumn, I saw an ENT and experienced the greatest discomfort of my life by way of the tiny camera scope thingy that had to go up my nostril and down into my trachea. I was told I had developed nodules and that they may never go away. I had to be extremely careful with how and when I used my voice, avoid yelling or any sort of straining, and generally rest it as much as possible with the hope of rehabilitating.

This was pretty upsetting at the time. While I was never a serious or accomplished singer, I did sing, and in front of people. Having been in choirs and musical theatre and a solo singer in school productions, I was devastated by my inability to sing. I don’t mean that I couldn’t sing well, or with skill, or with a great range – I mean that when I opened my mouth to sing, no sound came out. It’s as if that part of my vocal register was gone. It was just croaks and voice cracks. At age 17, after singing for fun for years and, recently, for performance, I had to learn how to sing all over again.

I was fortunate to have a very knowledgeable musical theatre teacher who taught me a lot about how to bring my singing voice back. I had to be conscientious of my voice and vocal fatigue in all aspects of my life. I continued in cadets, yet had to be extremely careful of not over taxing and had to avoid teaching drill – my favourite area to teach.

I went back to camp the following summer and did a different, less vocally intensive position. I became very aware and deliberate about the simple acts of speaking and yelling and cheering. Nothing about using my voice was “second nature,” to me for a long time, but something I had to think very carefully about. I had to consciously try to bring my voice “up” in pitch, and avoid “frying” my cords. I felt like nothing about my voice was natural, as I had to always think about how I sounded. I had never had a high-pitched voice, and now I wouldn’t change my tone and timbre for anything, but I was very self-conscious about having a “deep” voice at the time.

I remember worrying that I would never be able to have a job that revolved around my voice. No matter what I ended up doing in life, I always thought my voice would be an instrumental part of the job, as I love speaking and facilitating, presenting and describing.

Since developing nodules, I have made countless presentations, led workshops and training sessions, performed in plays, and acted in many employment roles in which I had to speak – and a lot.

I’m more reflective of my nodule situation that ever, now that I’m working as a reporter and news reader, pretty much the apotheosis of vocal use and self-consciousness for a job.

In that way, I think about my voice more than ever, but also think of it less, as I’ve healed so well that I can finally just speak first –and think later.