Danielle at One Black Girl. Many Words. has some words for the New York Times, in particular the comment that Viola Davis is not “classically beautiful.”
I suppose I dislike two things: (1) that the need to be “classically beautiful” is held over the heads of women due to patriarchy and (2) that dark skinned women such as Viola Davis are automatically cast outside of “classic beauty” because of white supremacist standards.
It shouldn’t be my or any woman’s job to be classically beautiful. And yet, classic beauty shouldn’t be denied of any woman.
I’m right there with Danielle on both counts. Davis is, of course, an absolutely stunning woman by most standards. “Classically” is an interesting word. Dictionary.com gives a lot of definitions, only a couple of which are at all relevant. One is “modeled upon or imitating the style or thought of ancient Greece and Rome,” by which standard no one with particularly dark skin can be classically beautiful. Another is “of or adhering to an established set of artistic or scientific standards or methods,” which only works in this case if there is an established set of artistic standards.
So we can only conclude that the New York Times columnist was 1) sloppy with her words, and 2) not looking at the real Viola Davis.
MariNaomi at Midnight Breakfast has a long collaborative piece on “Writing People of Color (if You Happen to be a Person of Another Color).” In the same vein as Kristen Radtke’s “Women Cartoonists Draw Their Bodies,” which Laurie and I wrote about in September, MariNaomi enlisted a wide variety of cartoonists for advice. Most of the pieces are too large to reproduce here, but here’s a lovely one by Maré Odomo:
Don’t make your Asian character carry a katana and don’t put chopsticks in their hair (this isn’t a real thing, by the way). Ask your PoC friends to read your stories. If you have to ask if something is racist, it probably is. Base your characters on real people, but don’t just project your own feelings into a stranger’s life. Don’t assume that because someone is a minority that they’ve lived a certain kind of life.
Basic advice, always worth following. (For a less visual resource, don’t forget Writing the Other: A Practical Approach by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward, currently on sale from Aqueduct Press.)
Here’s a cautionary tale illustrating “nothing about us without us.”
Sarah Silverman, a prominent comedian, made a video for the National Women’s Law Center’s Equal Payback Project, in which she pretends to be considering a sex change to increase her income. As Zack Ford points out at Think Progress, mainstream (progressive) media thinks this is the bomb.
E! Online praised the ad as “humorous” and “thought provoking.” US Weekly joked that Silverman found the “perfect solution” for beating the “vagina tax.” Even Time Magazine highlighted the “risqué” ad, describing its plot as Silverman deciding that “it’s easier to just get a penis.”
But transgender people frequently see the question differently:
Rachel See, a transgender lawyer in Virginia, told ThinkProgress that “being used as the punchline of a fundraising campaign by a group that should be our ally made me sad.” Though the ad suggests Silverman’s salary would go up, See explained that “transgender people routinely face discrimination for transitioning. Many lose their jobs, or find that they have a harder time getting a job.” Indeed, the National Transgender Discrimination Survey (NTDS) found that in 2011, transgender people were four times more likely to be living in extreme poverty than the general population and faced double the rate of unemployment. As activist Janet Mock quipped on Twitter Wednesday, tagging the NWLC and Silverman, “Sex reassignment doesn’t help one advance in workplace. Ask one of the most underemployed populations: trans people.”
Ford goes on to further recomplicate the question and bring up important related issues. Read the whole thing.
Speaking of transgender issues, Tim has put together a fine collection of links about why (and how) biological sex is a social construct. Here’s just one quotation, from Natalie Reed writing at skepchick:
In truth, sex is a loose aggregation of a variety of variables. Chromosomes, yes, but also hormonal levels, genitals, secondary sexual characteristics, skeletal structure and so on. We consider each of these traits to be male, female, or not quite either, then collectively make some kind of rough, relatively subjective determination as to whether it is a male body, a female body or an intersexed body. This is not unlike the daily process of gendering we engage in every time we come across another human being. We make a quick, subconscious, intuitive weighing of the feminine cues against the masculine ones and make a judgment call on how we should mentally categorize that person. But even in a medical situation, where we are strictly looking at an individual’s anatomy, it can still be just as much of a subjective judgment call based on the relative weight being given to individual traits, and there’s no real reason to say the karyotype gets the final say.
Bookmark Tim’s list for your next pitched battle on this topic.
Finally, Harris O’Malley at Kotaku takes on some gender stereotyping, and gets it mostly right. In response to a letter from a man who believes he’s not finding dates because of his weight, O’Malley says, in part:
First: you’re assuming that women are a monolith and all want the same thing.
… Just as with men, women as a whole have a wide range of body types that they find sexy, from the skinny geek to big – not just husky but fat men. Look at how many women went absolutely bugfuck over Prince Fielder’s nude pictoral in the ESPN “Bodies” issue. [I wrote about that Prince Fielder phenomenon here in July.] The man is rocking a 50 inch waistline, and there are a lot of women who want to rub themselves all over that.
He goes on to talk usefully about the complexities of attraction. He’s too glib, and too locked into the physical nature of attraction as if it were a whole story, but he makes enough important points clearly enough to be worth reading.