When I watched the opening minutes of Cathryne Czubek’s documentary — the credit fall over close-ups of red-polished fingernails loading, cocking, and shooting all manner of guns, jacked up with music that sounds appropriate for a spaghetti western of of the 1960s — I fretted that this film would turn out lite. Unserious. Uninformative. Jean-Luc Godard once said that “all you need for a film is a girl and a gun.” This is not a quote that reassures me that I’m about to see an important doc on women and gun culture.
But my mood shifted during the course of this film. I’m still not convinced that Czubek displayed the best editorial choices in selecting her subjects and her material. Yet what I’ve found is that A Girl and a Gun amounts to more than the sum of its parts, and that the subjects it raises still rattle around in my head during our current debates on guns. In the end I feel that even though it’s far from perfect, this doc gets at something crucial about American gun culture.
Let me just speak from my own perspective here — as a politically progressive advocate of gun-control who is also a feminist and film lover. Because seeing this film forced me to wrangle with the many conflicting and contradictory views I have regarding women and guns.
Just take the spate of women interviewed for this film who bought guns after being abused or stalked. Each of them spoke about what we know: that there’s very little comfort in a restraining order if your ex is willing to ignore it, and that there’s very little help from the police until he’s already gotten caught ignoring it. Lots of women live in terror in their own homes.
We all know this. We all know that women are caught in a big gap between the law and actual security. And, I think, we probably all agree that it’s kind of great that women in this situation arm themselves.
Certainly the wider culture has taught us to appreciate this figure of the woman who, wronged by men, finds her own ways of protecting herself. My god, I enjoy this narrative so much that I have an entire category on this site entitled “women with guns.” Indeed, I would go so far as to say that this is the only inherently feminist theme permitted in mainstream pop culture.
You see? I rationalize my appreciation for Women With Guns in film by calling it feminist. But having had this pointed out to be so baldly, I’m not sure I’m willing to stick with that characterization. Moreover, A Girl and a Gun shows that this is not the only reason actual women wield guns, nor is it a new or uncomplicated issue.
There are plenty of reasons to feel uncomfortable with female gun culture, starting with how it’s marketed to women. The pink guns — lots of pink guns. The long & fascinating history of selling guns to women during the 20th century, as unfolded by the historian Laura Browder (who might be the most camera-ready and beautiful historian I’ve ever seen, although perhaps that’s not saying a lot). The consistently condescending tone industry leaders use for addressing female customers. The way the customers buy into that condescension.
“In many ways the history of women and guns is the history of American women,” Browder offers persuasively over a raft of early 20th-c. images of women with guns — a forgotten history indeed.
If anything, Czubek could have done more to clarify the ways that gun consumer culture is eager to pigeonhole women as a group. This, and the documentary’s rambling and anecdotal style, draw away from its effectiveness as a film.
Perhaps the most illustrative moment emerges in the dynamic between a Stephanie Alexander and her daughter Aishia, who was permanently disabled by a stray bullet during a drive-by shooting in New Jersey. Aishia speaks openly about feeling vulnerable in her wheelchair, and her reasons for purchasing a handgun to protect herself. Her mother, however, has gone a different route: her avenue to healing after her daughter’s trauma has led her to become a victims’ rights activist, speaking eloquently at public meetings for gun control and community activism.
But Stephanie also has a more complicated history with guns herself as a drug dealer and addict back in the 70s who owned a gun — par for the course for dealers. The filmmaker asks her whether she had a gun when her daughter was shot. “No,” she says — and explains that if she had, she would have sought out the shooter’s mother and “shot her in the face” because “that mother had to feel my pain.” It’s one of the most chilling moments in the film.
I finished this film with two thoughts in mind: that my own thoughts and feelings about guns ranged all over the map (almost as much as Stephanie Alexander’s) and that I wish Czubek had done more to clarify the problems raised by these topics. My recommendation of the film is based on the sense that it evokes the right questions — and that more work needs to be done to articulate the morass of conflicting positions on women and guns.
6 July 2013
These are basically quotes from coverage of the women’s Wimbledon final match between Marion Bartoli and Sabine Lisicki. I have never seen the word quirky used so frequently and so transparently as code for weird.
For example, USA Today’s headline, “Quirky Wimbledon Deserves Quirky Winner in Marion Bartoli.” This article proclaims that “quirky is too easy a word to describe” Bartoli, but:
sometimes the easy word is the best word. Bartoli looks like Luis Tiant when she serves, bounces around on her feet like Muhammad Ali before a title fight and takes practice cuts like she’s on-deck at the Home Run Derby. She’s had public fallouts with her father/coach, claims to have an IQ higher than Einstein’s and gives interviews that are actually insightful, a rarity in the modern tennis game.
Other writers (like in The Guardian) use eccentric and/or unorthodox. “She’s a woman unlike any other,” Chris Fowler said uncomfortably on ESPN after her win today. Others call her Marion the Contrarian or openly mock her oddness, like Sports Illustrated.
The quirkiness, according to received wisdom, is thoroughgoing. Her doctor-father taught himself to play tennis by reading every book he could find; he taught Marion. Her training includes boxing, far afield from typical tennis stars’. She uses two hands for both forehand and backhand. She moves without grace; when she beat Kirsten Flipkens in the semifinal, she dropped into the awkward position you see above. Even the generous Chris Evert frequently describes her as “not a natural athlete.”
I admit, I don’t quite know how she serves (she has an excellent serve) — her serving arm stretches straight back from her body in a way that exaggerates her physical awkwardness. The commentators seem to see her as an embarrassing quirk of the women’s game.
Unlike her opponent Sabine Lisicki, the smiling, large-eyed, blonde girl (who, ahem, cried during the match when things went badly), Bartoli doesn’t girl it up on the court. Instead she pumps her fist after every won point, never cracking a smile or dropping the slightly dour look to prettify herself for tennis audiences looking for smiling blonde girls. There’s no makeup, unlike the heavily applied eyes of Serena Williams and Agnieszka Radwanska.
Bartoli’s body also sets her apart from virtually all the top players aside from Serena Williams. Shorter than many (she’s 5’7″), while also bigger/stockier, she doesn’t cover up the roll of belly fat around the middle.
The news that she tested at genius level as a child has not missed the commentators. “She’s very smart,” they often say with considerable skepticism. Alternately, they note that her IQ has been claimed but never proven.
One keeps waiting for someone to point out that she hasn’t bothered to shave very carefully.
You know what? Thank heavens we have major athletes like Bartoli who show that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all model for success. Why aren’t we having a conversation about how great it is that a normal-looking woman — at age 28 — who “isn’t a natural athlete” has won Wimbledon? Isn’t this the best possible inspiration for all of us?
I say it again: our culture has such issues with female athletes who sit outside the “norm” — a norm that seems to be defined by beach volleyball players. Get over it, folks.
I know, I know … lots of radio silence from my end. Hey, it’s been a busy summer, after a busy school year.
But holy crap, the Paula Deen story has brought me out of my writing-and-watching-tennis malaise. Maybe you’ve heard about Deen’s racism, her frequent use of the N word to her employees and her poor treatment of Blacks in her several businesses. In focusing so intently on her use of the N word, however, journalists have ignored the vast bulk of the story which deals with sexual harassment, misogyny, racial and sexual violence, and over five years of ignored complaints about all of the above.
Don’t want to read the full formal court complaint? Let me offer some crucial details as I ask: What’s wrong with our culture that we can’t see this is a case of BOTH racism and sexism?
It would be easy to attack Deen’s public persona, the syrupy-accented Food Channel cook who naughtily put more butter into everything while winking at her viewers. But no matter how you feel about that persona, you have to admit she’s a canny and spectacularly successful businesswoman — a woman who has used gender to her advantage in every way. She has built a multi-million dollar empire on food and her self-portrayal as “The Lady” — her restaurant in Savannah is called The Lady and Sons, for example.
The problem is not just that behind the scenes Deen is a racist. It’s also that she maligns, under-pays, and permits sexual harrassment and violence toward her female employees. Old South, indeed.
Mainstream coverage of the case has focused on racial slurs used by Deen or implicitly condoned by her when her managers or business partner/brother used them. But Deen and her partners were equal-opportunity bigots. They referred to the litigant as “almost Jewish” because of her business acumen — in fact, Deen’s brother Bubba (sigh) called her his “little Jew girl” — while they insisted on a strict policy of paying women far less than men, and refused to promote women to positions that might pay more.
“Women are stupid because they think they can work and have babies and get everything done,” was one such (alleged) pronouncement by Karl Schumacher, the douchebag who oversaw compensation for Deen’s empire of companies. Schumacher was also responsible for taking away the litigant’s annual bonus when she got divorced, because he disapproved of divorce. (Hm. Deen herself was divorced at the age of 23. Oh well, never mind.)
Meanwhile, the court documents reveal that brother Bubba sexually harassed the litigant with sexual and misogynistic jokes, pornography, insulting comments about female employees’ weight or physical attractiveness — all the while skimming profits off the top and wallowing about in a drunken stupor.
All in all — by my eyeballing of the 33-pg court document — the specific cases of gender bias and sexual harassment total about three times the amount of evidence of racial discrimination and violence. This should not surprise us, as the litigant is a white woman and has launched the case based on her own experiences as a manager within Deen’s empire; doubtless a Black employee would have far more evidence of racial crap. Nevertheless, I’m stunned by the fact that the vast majority of misogyny is ignored by the mainstream press in order to focus most of all on the racial slurs used by Deen, Bubba Hiers, and her managers.
The racism is stunning and awful — but why can’t we see that it is of a piece with Deen’s and Hiers’ overall plantation mentality? Why can’t journalists demonstrate that this is not a case of simple racism, but a corporate culture in which white men and a single plantation “lady” reign supreme, all the while insisting on the subjection of all black and female others?
I’m sorry, but I think the American public can grasp that the Old South exemplified in the Deen corporate empire is not simply racist. Leaving the female employees’ stories out of the mainstream coverage is a crime, for it points out the kinds of experiences that millions of women encounter every day in their jobs as well.
Racism and sexism aren’t separate problems in the workplace; nor do they fall in a hierarchy in which one or the other is more important. Racism and sexism intersect in myriad ways, all of which become clear in the court documents in the Deen case. The public is smart enough to recognize that — and smart enough to know that when mainstream media coverage ignores 3/4 of the damning evidence against the Deen empire, it represents an implicit message: “Ladies, your workplace complaints are not important.”
It may be that Deen getting fired from the Food Channel and losing her corporate sponsors results entirely from those accounts of her using the N word to her employees. That would be too bad. I venture to guess that a huge percentage of her support comes from women — women who see her story of a young divorcée building success in a classically American way (bootstraps, gumption, self-made woman) as inspiring and worthy of support. That‘s the public that needs to hear how women of all races were treated behind the scenes. Because Deen’s claim to be “The Lady” has a long history in the United States — a history rooted more in the Plantation Mistress than the Self-Made Man. We need to know this.
After agonizing a while about yesterday’s angry/ desperate post on a guerrilla response to rape culture, I opened up a new novel last night.
After reading the first five pages of Claire Messud’s The Woman Upstairs, I want to kiss her on the lips. Here’s how it begins on p. 1:
How angry am I? You don’t want to know. Nobody wants to know about that.
I’m a good girl, I’m a nice girl, I’m a straight-A, strait-laced, good daughter, good career girl, and I never stole anybody’s boyfriend and I never ran out on a girlfriend, and I put up with my parents’ shit and my brother’s shit, and I’m not a girl anyhow, I’m over forty fucking years old, and I’m good at my job and I’m great with kids and I held my mother’s hand when she died, after four years of holding her hand while she was dying, and I speak to my father ever day on the telephone –every day, mind you, and what kind of weather do you have on your side of the river, because here it’s pretty gray and a bit muggy too? It was supposed to say “Great Artist” on my tombstone, but if I died right now it would say “such a good teacher/ daughter/ friend” instead; and what I really want to shout, and want in big letters on that grave, too, is FUCK YOU ALL.
Don’t all women feel the same? The only difference is how much we know we feel it, how in touch we are with our fury. We’re all furies, except the ones who are too damned foolish.
And with that, I’m now 5 pages in and feel as if I have a new best friend who’s also a Betty Friedan version of those visionary doomsayers of days of old, who looks a little disheveled perhaps but then lapses into otherworldly trances like Sybill Trelawney in Harry Potter and scares the shit out of you. Just wait till you read (on pp. 4-5) what she means by The Woman Upstairs (and those of us whose first thought was Madwoman in the Attic are on the right track).
This is going to be scary and awesome, like having to run through a house on fire. I feel like I’m being tugged by the hand by my new unfiltered visionary friend, and I might have to dedicate the afternoon to her.
26 March 2013
For four years now I’ve been a old-fashioned fangirl for Brittney Griner, the basketball standout at Baylor University. And this year I have something kind of amazing to hope for: that she might beat the all-time women’s college basketball scoring record, which has been locked up for twelve years. Griner’s currently holding at #2 as Baylor makes its way through the women’s college basketball version of March madness. If Baylor keeps winning, and if Griner keeps having these amazing scoring nights, she might just beat it.
In 2001 the amazing Jackie Stiles of Southwest Missouri State finished her senior year with a grand total of 3,393 points — blowing away the previous record (Patricia Hoskins of Mississippi Valley State, who had ended her senior year with 3,122 points twelve years earlier). Stiles’ record is all the more impressive because she was a full foot shorter than Griner — at 5’8″, Stiles is the shortest of the 8 women to score over 3,000 points in their college careers.
For Griner to beat Stiles’ record is almost impossible: she needs to score 157 more points, and at best Baylor has only 5 more games left in the tournament. That works out to, on average, about 31 points per game. Whew — 31 points per game. Criminey.
Almost impossible. Or is it?
Don’t you want to know whether she can do it? I do.
So why dontcha watch with me? Baylor is matched up tonight against #8 Florida State — 10pm EST. Let’s follow this one into history.
[By the way: a previous version of this post got the numbers wrong (hey, I wasn't a math major) -- I had thought she had only 4 more games, and hence had to score 40 points per. Correction made!]
Those of you who’ve been following my Griner obsession know that one of the things I find most fascinating is the way she up-ends typical gender expectations. Like when she won the ESPN Female Athlete of the Year award and wore that awesome suit. Or when I wrote about the crazy list of search terms people used to find stories about her on this blog.
(I still get those crazy searches, BTW — every single day. But lately I’ve been extra pleased to see that people are misspelling her last name slightly — they’ve been calling her Brittney Grinder. Which gives me no end of happiness to think that they’re also ending up at Grindr, and that they’re getting a little bit of an education in social networking. [Happy.]
Oh yeah, and this:
22 March 2013
16 March 2013
Here’s what I’d like to see.
Washington, D. C., 12:55pm:
Within hours of Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) announcing that he had reversed his position on gay marriage after his own son came out of the closet, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) gave a press conference announcing a new stance on abortion.
“During my career in Texas and my first coupla months here in the Senate, I’ve taken a position against abortion, rooted in part in my faith and my faith tradition, and also because the ladies can be selfish and irresponsible,” Cruz began. A senator known for his extreme far-right views (called by some of his GOP colleagues to be “wacko, but in a good way”), Cruz stunned his own caucus with his revelation:
I listened to my colleague talk about his change of heart after learning that his own son was gay, and I was very moved by his Christian love for his child. I’m sure we were all moved.
But then I thought, why is it that so many of my colleagues only change their minds about social issues when it strikes their own family?
So I began reading about the issue of abortion and realized that approximately 1/3 of all American women have had abortions in their lifetimes, and that 1 out of 5 women is raped in her lifetime. I read about families destroyed when a woman died during pregnancy because she felt morally obligated to carry the child. And I realized the simple contradiction between my firm belief in smaller government, and my insistence on monitoring women’s bodies regarding abortion and birth control.
Thus, I change my position today not because someone in my family needs an abortion, but because my entire position was wrong and morally inconsistent with my own political values in this great nation.
Well, you can’t blame me for wishing, right?
Don’t get me wrong: it’s great Portman changed his mind. But dammit, why do they only change position when suddenly their own family has a need? I’m sorry, folks, but this should not be how policy works.
15 March 2013
I’m working my ass off here, folks — so let me ask how it’s possible I only just discovered this awesome comic? Why aren’t my readers turning me on to brilliance like this?
I’m going to spend the whole weekend catching up on all the issues. And y’know what? I’m going to call it “research.”
8 March 2013
The VIDA count is out — and yet again, men authored 70% of the pieces in highly-respected literary publications.
Produced by an organization dedicated to encouraging women’s equal representation in the literary arts, this annual statistical breakdown traces the bylines in a number of publications (including the Times Literary Supplement, The Atlantic Magazine, and The Nation) and within several categories.
Congratulations are hereby offered to The Boston Review, and Poetry Magazine for getting close to equity, and to Tin House for realizing it. But then there are the rest, including a number of magazines I actually subscribe to:
A few years ago one of my favorite NPR programs, On The Media, did some soul searching on its own gender breakdown — when they ask experts to opine on questions, do they find a relatively equal number of male and female experts? The answer was a resounding no. I’ve long wondered whether they ever followed up on that question to see whether they’d changed their ways.
And yet these stats will likely produce little change. Someone out there is going to argue that men are better writers than women, or that male readers want to read male writers, or that men write about things that are awesome for everyone … of whatever. Jeez, it’s 10:30am and I’m already bone tired.