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Rape culture: It starts in private

3 Mar


This is an open letter to Bart Tremblay, Alexandre Giroux, Alex Larochelle, Pat Marquis and Michel Fournier-Simard, 5 student executives at the University of Ottawa, whose sexually aggressive Facebook conversation about Student Union President Anne-Marie Roy was made public.

In the “Pillows and Blankets” episode of Community, two of the main characters, Abed and Troy, have the following exchange about a degrading email the former wrote about the latter.

Abed: You weren’t supposed to see that.
Troy: You weren’t supposed to think those things.

The problem with what you said about Anne-Marie Roy is very similar: you shouldn’t have felt it was okay to say any of those things, even in private. Especially in private. That you did makes you complicit in rape culture.

Rape starts with private thoughts, and thoughts can turn to action; it’s not such an illogical leap. The rapist has to first think their victim is worthless and powerless in order to eventually rape them.

When a woman is intimidated by a man’s aggressive advances, for example, she’s very worried about what he’s thinking of doing to her because that’s what will lead to him doing it. Often, the man knows he’s creeping her out, and that’s the effect he’s going for since her fear gives him the upper hand in the situation.

We’ve all heard that rape is about power. That’s why it isn’t consensual. That’s why in your “private” fantasy, your allusion to “punishing” Anne-Marie Roy was so uncannily rapey.

If you’re so incensed that your private conversation was made public, I have to ask: why wouldn’t you have had this conversation in public?

Would you have had the same conversation if the Student Union President had been a man? Why not?

That you said those things is tragic enough, but you also weren’t supposed to think those things. Thinking those things means there’s a chance you believe them, and that would mean you don’t believe women are equal to you, or are worthy of a satisfying sexual life.

In saying those things, we have to infer that you don’t understand how scary it is to live in a world where people – even young folks from a purportedly more enlightened generation – still think it’s okay to entertain violent rape fantasies.

Rape is the end result of rape culture, but it’s fed by profoundly held beliefs. You demonstrated in your  conversation, and your defense of its privacy, just how deeply that thought process is entrenched.

That one of you represents the Criminology Student Association is a sad irony. That you, Alex Larochelle, did not recognize how rape is culturally borne means rape victims have reason to worry that it will be a long time before rapists are appropriately punished for their crime.


Comments of an abusive nature will not be posted. Got something xenophobic and misogynistic to say? Say it somewhere else.

Nicki Minaj Gets Real

8 Jul

While the gossip mags are all caught up in whatever fresh insult Lil’ Kim can muster up, Nicki Minaj is busy working.

Why? Because that’s the only thing you’re really doing if you’re successful in the entertainment industry. As a woman, you work doubly hard to create the same conditions for yourself that men enjoy, but the acclaim may never come, and your body will forever be under the microscope.

In this video, Nicki gets real about what it’s like being an assertive woman in show business.


Never accept the pickle juice, Miss Minaj!

Unintended Bodysnark Is Still Bodysnark

4 Jul

A few weeks ago, I shared this picture on Facebook. My caption didn’t stray too much from the original poster’s sentiment: “Yep, times sure have changed.”

Man, I thought, I’d love it if I was encouraged to gain weight instead of losing it. Or really, for the body shape that I have – which mostly resembles that of the lady on the right – to be more socially acceptable than the micro-skinny norm.

Then my insightful friend, artist Jamie Q, pointed out a flaw in the logic. “It’s still the same old thing,” she said. “Only one body type that everyone is supposed to aspire to. Times will have really changed when advertising and the media stop objectifying and comparing women’s bodies to each other.”

Jamie then directed my attention to an interesting piece by Heather Cromarty on the “Marilyn Meme.”

Cromarty argues that “what’s supposed to be an empowering message to women – you don’t have to be a Victoria’s Secret model to be beautiful – is completely undermined by two much older memes: divide and conquer and the male gaze.” As she points out, the well intended exercise just pits women against one another. It might be praising that the ideal body type used to be curvier than it is today, but however you slice it, the Marilyn figure is still an ideal body type, which is the problem.

Fleshy or thin, if you’re female, you’re under more scrutiny and more pressure to maintain whatever the ideal du jour may be. Marilyn was no exception. While most people like to believe she was a 10, a 12 or a 16, author Simon Doonan, who prepared some of Monroe’s clothing for a Christie’s auction, found out that she was more like a 4 in a D-cup. “I discovered that Marilyn was shockingly and unimaginably slender. She was sort of like Kate Moss but fleshier on top,” he writes. “Conventional wisdom says that the camera adds five pounds. After my Marilyn experience, I would say it’s more like 500 pounds.”

It reminds me of something I read in The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B & Back Again). The famous pop artist wrote: “People look the most kissable when they’re not wearing makeup. Marilyn’s lips weren’t kissable, but they were very photographable.”

The lesson? Don’t idealize a picture.

Op-Ed: Get All the Plastic Surgery You Want

16 Apr

Near the end of Pedro Almodovar’s gorgeous movie All About My Mother, its transgender character Agrado, played to pitch by Antonia San Juan, delivers a significant monologue about the various surgical procedures she’s had to acquire the female physique she wasn’t born with. That her breasts and butt are “fake” is relative because, she concludes, “You’re more authentic when you look like what you’ve dreamed of being.”

I’ve met a lot of transgender folks, and they’re rarely shy about how much money and how many medical interventions it takes for your body to catch up to your mind. If you weren’t born female, it may require a lot of plastic surgery to live female. With Jenna Talackova having just overturned a major by-law of the Miss Universe pageant, it’s safe to say that our society accepts plastic surgery as a means towards becoming the version of yourself you see in your head and feel in your heart.

Yet we draw the line at Hollywood. We look down on Heidi Montag for the breast implants, rhinoplasty, brow lift and whatever else. We criticize Nicole Kidman’s botox and lip injections. We slam Madonna’s face lift. But we never stop to wonder just why these women wanted to have any work done to begin with.

Acid-attack victim Katie Piper got her face back with the help of a skin substitute called Matriderm. I’m sure she doesn’t regret her choice.

To gain some insight into this, I recommend watching Rosanna Arquette’s poignant documentary Searching for Debra Winger. She interviews an exhaustive array of Hollywood actresses, who discuss the issues they face on account of their gender. Martha Plimpton, Kelly Lynch and Samantha Mathis point to a consistent problem: there’s a serious shortage of roles for women. They’re either cast as mothers or girlfriends, so in their late 30s or early 40s, jobs begin to wane. Girlfriends must have plump faces and tight bodies. Mothers are allowed to have wrinkles. Some of the interviewees even hint at having been pressured from producers to get surgery.

I don’t know why Nicole Kidman had work done, but I know that into her 40s, she’s still being cast as “the girlfriend” and on occasion, the “young mom.” While she’s a public figure, Nicole Kidman is just as vulnerable to beauty standards as we mere mortals. Then again, maybe she’d always wanted fuller lips, and since she had the opportunity and the funds, she decided to resemble a person she’d feel better about. Whatever the reasons, they are likely complex, and they are her own.

But Lainey Gossip won’t let it slide. She feels the cruelty that’s aimed at celebrities is entirely justified. When Ashley Judd’s recent op-ed called out the inherent misogyny of our obsession with women’s appearances, Lainey fought back saying the reason tabloids attack celebrities is because they keep denying they’ve had any procedures.

Of course, when Cher admitted to having her nose and teeth done, she was damned as well. She told VH1, “On one hand, they really want me to look good, but on the other hand, it makes it easier for them if they can say that everything I have, I bought.” In other interviews, Cher addressed the fact that she’s pressured to look young, and blasted when she takes measures to make it happen. “Everyone says that I am terrified of getting old, but the truth is that in my job, becoming old and becoming extinct are one and the same thing,” she’s said.

I’ve also had cosmetic surgery. Officially, my ophthalmologist told our health care system that it was “reconstructive,” but she and I both knew the reasons were esthetic. I had – and still have – a lazy eye. At the time, I was 17 years old and I wanted to swap my thick prescription glasses for contact lenses. There was a 10% chance that if I didn’t get the surgery, the contact lenses would make the lazy eye turn in more rather than straighten out. It was a slim chance – not even a probability – but I couldn’t risk it.

I was hardly an ugly duckling; it’s just that I had these enormous glasses that covered up most of my face. When I’d get smaller frames, my eyes still looked huge. They were a barrier that got between me and my dream at that age: finding a boyfriend, a teenager’s version of validation. And if you think boys of that age are more concerned with boobs, consider that the guy I had a crush on drew a pretty picture of me entitled “Olivia without glasses.” It was flattering that he saw the beauty behind them, but it also confirmed that he thought the glasses were a blemish. Most boys did.

Me in grade 10. Those were the smallest frames I could get for my prescription.

Girls saw past the glasses. The meanest ones called me cross-eyed to my face, perhaps to take me down a notch lest I get too cocky.

What can I say? Kids are cruel creatures, and as a teenager, eradicating the problems my peers created was a priority. At the time, contact lenses cost $300 a year, and getting the surgery was free. Where do I sign?

Did I do it just to attract men and show the girls up? Of course not. But if there’s a chance a simple procedure can help me have a normal life, I’ll take it. So would anyone. And to me, having a normal life means paying a reasonable amount of money for regular sunglasses instead of $400 (minimum) on prescriptions. It means not having to wear heavy specs all the time, because even with ultra-thin lenses, my +5.50 and +6.75 strengths are burdensome. It means people can barely make out my physical flaw. I know it’s not that bad, but when people used to look at me, even the most soulful and compassionate among them would think “what a shame.” They’d do much worse, and more politely, to people with serious deformities.

What the eye really looks like.

This week, Maryse Deraîche wrote a thoughtful piece for Urbania about her decision to lose weight surgically. There’s a shocking photo at the end of the piece showing her thinner, deflated body. If she had a do-over, she’d still get the operation because it had important health benefits. But she just couldn’t afford all the complementary procedures (breast lift, getting rid of skin flaps, etc.) that Star Jones had to give her body that “normal” appearance.

Healthy and normal: that’s all any of us want for ourselves. That’s all any of us want others to see.

The Scrawn argues that on top of being obsessed with appearances, we’re inconsistent in terms of how we expect celebrities to look. We tell Melanie Griffith she’s too old and bash her when she tries to look younger. I use the societal “we” because we read the tabloids and gossip blogs that cultivate this idea. That these publications are still kicking is evidence of our complicity.

Because we’re attacking each other for stupid reasons, I propose a ceasefire. That’s why The Scrawn doesn’t care about your nips and tucks.

Look the way you need to feel. Tell who you want to tell. For all the snark she has to endure, Jocelyn Wildenstein still makes a better entrance than anyone I’ve seen. When they bottle that swagger, I’ll buy a lifetime supply.

Ashley Judd’s Words Are Too Big for Lainey Gossip

10 Apr

We’re grateful for what readers we have here at The Scrawn. We know gossip blogs like Lainey Gossip have the sort of numbers we could only envy, but we keep on keeping on just the same. So when a reader brought this LG editorial to our attention, we took it as a sign that our work is resonating with the right people.

Posted by Lainey Gossip founder Elaine “Lainey” Lui–who’s first on the scene when Nicole Kidman’s hands don’t match her face, or when Justin Bieber eats Subway–this op-ed attacks Ashley Judd’s piece for the Daily Beast because it’s…too wordy?

Apparently, Lainey had to “endure” the following sentence in Judd’s article:

“Of course, it’s wonderful to be held in esteem and fond regard by family, friends, and community, but a central part of my spiritual practice is letting go of otheration.”

Lainey asks:

“When you strip away all the Harvard language, is there a legitimate position here?”

The answer is yes. Here’s Judd’s point, and she doesn’t even use a single word that ends in “tion”, “ism” or “ment”:

“That women are joining in the ongoing disassembling of my appearance is salient. Patriarchy is not men. Patriarchy is a system in which both women and men participate.”

Nevertheless, Lainey thinks it’s a celebrity’s fault for not owning up to any surgical procedures she may have had to perk up her appearance:

“So is it really that they’ve had so many procedures, or is it the comical DENIAL of said procedures that really sets us off?” 

Cleverly skirting the issue of whether or not it’s anyone’s business what procedures a celebrity has done, and altogether avoiding the fact that there’s so much more pressure on female celebrities to keep up a “perfect appearance,” Lainey suggests that Judd is neither confirming nor denying the surgery because that might  prove she “succumbed to…patriarchy.” And in her silence, Judd is playing all womankind. Lainey (sort of) concludes:

“THIS, more than anything else, is what has led to the explosion of snark on Celebrity that has taken place over the last decade.”

So, if we understand Lainey correctly, that female celebrities succumb to the pressure of studios and patriarchy to maintain a youthful appearance, and then deny it to celebrity journalists, is why they deserve the onslaught of snark and judgement.* And should they dare fight back in a thoughtful, if verbose editorial, they will be lynched Lainey-style.

The undercurrent of this editorial is a palpable bitterness at having been called out by the people whose struggles are, essentially, putting food on Lainey’s table. But if this really is about feeling alienated by 10-dollar words, then by all means, Lainey, return to your brass tacks lady-bashing and carry on proving Judd’s point. And The Scrawn‘s.

*So I suppose that means Tanya Kim should have spent a whole etalk segment coming clean about her rhinoplasty, right?

Why Ashley Judd Should Replace Me as Editor of The Scrawn

9 Apr

In this most eloquent piece, Ashley Judd addresses the media flurry caused by her “puffy” appearance last month.

The gossipers lynched her for being on steroids, having plastic surgery, getting older or gaining weight, sometimes a variation of two or more of these. “We won’t even address how extraordinary it is that a size eight would be heckled as ‘fat,'” she says.

She rightfully calls out picking apart women’s bodies for its inherent misogyny. Ironically, she points out, women are largely the ones doing the picking apart. And if you think it’s hogwash, consider that Liz Raftery wrote about it for People, Debbie Emery represented for Radar Online, perennial favourite Ariana Finlayson was on top of it for Us Magazine, and Cara Harrington covered it for Hollywood Dame.

Judd asks, “Why was a puffy face cause for such a conversation in the first place? How, and why, did people participate?” I wonder how the media would respond. I bet they simply won’t. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.

Photo: Wenn, Splash News

Fat Studies: It’s Totally a Thing

2 Apr

The academic community spends way more time than I do deconstructing body image issues and pop culture, because it’s there to be deconstructed. My way just involves less paper-writing and more snark.

The Pop Culture Association and American Culture Association (PCA/ACA) are hosting their national conference in Boston next week, and if I could, I’d be there in a pinch. Among the “Fat Studies” talks I wish I could attend are:

A Growing Population: Fat Phobia, Urbanization, and Public Space, by Courtney Zehnder

Bodies in Question: An Analysis of Fat Bodies, Gender and Sexuality in the Television Show Huge, by Rebecca Agosta

Sins of the Body: Medicine, Media, and the Immorality of Fat, by Cassy Griff

Phantoms of Fat: Affective Spectatorship, Body Image and Fat Bodies in the Media, by Katariina Kyrola