On Shonda Rhimes, Race, and the New York Times

September 19, 2014 Leave a comment

Let me start off by saying this: I’ve been a fan of Shonda Rhimes’ shows since Grey’s Anatomy first debuted. I was all over the tequila, the Mer/Der romance, and the awesomeness that is Cristina Yang. I loved how Bailey was teeny tiny, but commanded respect. I’ve watched Private Practice, and Scandal. And yes, I’m totally THERE for How to Get Away With Murder. Because I haven’t found a Shondaland show that doesn’t appeal to me.

Here’s my second confession: I’m a five-foot-five white girl. I love Olivia Pope. I never once looked at her and thought she was an angry black woman. Does the show address race? Sometimes, yes. In a way that has importance and relevance, reminding us that it is still an issue in society today. Because it is. Anyone who tells you differently isn’t paying attention.

So, imagine my surprise when I was reading this article in the NYTimes, when I discovered the insane analysis and reduction of the characters, by the writer. Let’s just take a look at the first line, okay? Here:

            When Shonda Rhimes writes her autobiography, it should be called “How to Get Away With Being an Angry Black Woman.”

Are you kidding me? Are you KIDDING me? No. NOPE. That is not okay. It’s insanely offensive. First of all, if you reduce characters to be ONE stereotypical thing, you’re clearly not paying enough attention. What I find incredibly appealing about ALL of Rhimes’ characters is that they’re multifaceted. No one is all good or all bad. They’re FLAWED. And they’re human. To imply that Rhimes simple writes angry black women is derogative and shortsighted at best.

Let’s look at another quote, shall we? Behold:

             Be it Kerry Washington on “Scandal” or Chandra Wilson on “Grey’s Anatomy,” they can and do get angry.

Okay, hold up. Find me a character on either of those shows who DOESN’T get angry at some point. Why is anger the defining characteristic? This isn’t reinventing the wheel, guys. Characters do things. They have feelings, and they’re not always pretty. No one gets angry more spectacularly that Cyrus Beene (Scandal).

Now, there’s also this:

            One of the more volcanic meltdowns in soap opera history was Olivia’s “Earn me” rant on “Scandal.”

First of all, as a longtime fan of the show (and a Scandal-Thursday tweeter), let me explain someone about Liv, as a character: she never reacts for no reason. This “rant” wasn’t a meltdown. It was a woman standing up for herself in a relationship, drawing lines and boundaries. There was nothing tantrum-like about it. To reduce it to such a definition is unobservant at best.

When I got to this part, though, I felt like the top of my head was going to pop off:

            Even now, six years into the Obama presidency, race remains a sensitive, incendiary issue not only in Ferguson, Mo., but also just about everywhere except ShondaLand, as her production company is called.

First of all, Scandal does address race in the context of both the character and the plotlines. It’s not freakin’ utopia. Second of all, you know why race may appear to be less of an issue in Rhimes’ shows? Because she casts widely and diversely. And it’s pretty damn wonderful.

I’m skipping ahead in the article, because a large chunk of it made me apoplectic. I can’t even comment on it without cursing every other word. Let’s address this little gem:

            [Rhimes’ characters] struggle with everything except their own identities, so unconcerned about race that it is barely ever mentioned.

Um, what? First of all, all of the characters (at some point) struggle with identity. Otherwise, it would be a very boring show. Again, Cyrus had a complicated backstory and though gay was once married to a woman. So, if that’s not an identity struggle, I don’t know what is. Additionally, on Scandal, several scenes between Liv and her dad effectively illustrate how race has affected Liv’s identity. Go watch this, especially the ‘twice as good’ part. I’ll wait. I’m pretty sure that scene invalidates the abovementioned statement.

I have to wonder, honestly, why the Times thought that steaming pile of bullshit was fit to print. I have no clever closing line for this post. I’m just furious that something like that was thought to be good reporting.

a love called religion

September 18, 2014 1 comment

We’ve never been a good idea,
but good is relative
and despite appearances, I’ve never
quite been that –
not when it comes to wanting you,
or loving you,
or needing you – there’s no
getting over it, no putting it aside,
it’s too much skin
and not enough teeth, a mouth
full of ocean, an invitation
offered like new sheets:
crisp, but not without consequence,
something
is always changing.

Here is what I do not say:
I could’ve kissed a thousand men
and not wrecked a single life –
instead, I met your mouth
like a hurricane, knowing
full well what that means
for my heart – neither of us
are getting out alive, are we?

I can’t pretend
there’s no crossover effect, no
unfound bleed, no celebration
of sacrifice – I can’t outrun
you or myself,
and I’m offering you more
than just my throat –
give me a new rhythm
to move my hips
and I’ll give you a new religion:
if this body isn’t worthy of worship,
what is?

Love is not an alternative
for desire, and although time is always
a thirsty tide, it evaporates
nothing of this relentless feeling –
what miracle are you offering me?
Where is your tribute
made of thunderstorms?
Let us, together, hurl
all the ships from the sea.

Next, cross every ocean
in your heart, build
a bridge of yes between us,
and tell me all the ways
you love me –
I’m listening,
like a dove
in a magic trick: action
built on instinct, passion
full of flight.

Find my mouth. Take this
body made of blueprints,
let me make a map
of all your curves, sighs
are more important than fingerprints
and I don’t care how this dance looks –
give me every chamber of your heart,
and when every god is asleep,
we will invent
new ways of praying.

Categories: poem, Poetry Tags: , , ,

Sometimes, You Have to Let the River Live Its Unruly Course

September 13, 2014 Leave a comment

I am spilling words
I can’t bargain with; they are
unreasonable
and unrelenting, and the truth is –
I almost say I love you
every time we hang up the phone.

And it scares me,
because my heart is full of dirt
and I just want everything to grow –
but wishes are not wheelbarrows,
and I can’t tell
the difference between
famine
and flood – I only know
this skin is familiar
and this hand
is mine (I want it to be yours).

I wish I could restrain
myself, but I am too much wolf
and not enough sky – this is
my forest of promises,
my river of longing –
I want you everywhere at once,
recounting all the uses for a mouth,
and all the muscles in a tongue.

Too much?
Your body is a safehouse,
a prayer, an act of self-defense,
a kind of magic, a divining rod
when everything has gone dry.

Still too much? To hell
with trying to train my heart
to be quiet; it won’t keep
like that. You’re beautiful
in all the ways that matter
in this obscuring and ugly world.

Maybe I don’t need to hold back.
Maybe you need to give in.
Maybe coming undone
is the only way to build
something true.

Categories: poems, Poetry

I am Deliberate: On Not Being Silent

September 12, 2014 Leave a comment

So, yesterday, I was chatting with my friend Kristine Wyllys. You know her, right? Fabulous badass, author extraordinaire? Well, she’s awesome. Anyway, we were talking on Twitter about how people can be assholes, and while it isn’t socially acceptable in everyday life to walk away from awful conversations, one good thing about conversations on the internet (Twitter, Facebook, etc) is that you CAN walk away. Better you, you can mute, block, unfollow, or unfriend. Someone says something horrendously stupid? You can disentangle without any consequences. You cannot do that at, say, a dinner party. People don’t have mute buttons. And getting rid of someone in face-to-face life is frowned upon for legal and moral reasons.

Just as a made the point that I realllly wished people HAD mute buttons, a stranger chimed in on our conversation. He said the following:

They do. For men it’s the sentence “I’m pregnant.” For women…em…er…em

Grammatically horrors aside (missing commas abound!), this is insulting, unacceptable, and offensive on SO MANY LEVELS. So many that I’ve resorted to shouty caps. First of all, neither Kristine or myself were basing on conversation on gender. Second, the implication that they only way to silence a man is through the THREAT of pregnancy boils my blood so much that if I ate coffee grounds, I’m pretty sure my veins would fill with Starbucks. Third, the statement that there is no way to SILENCE women (because heaven fucking forbid we have a voice! Oh, no! The patriarchy and humanity will dissolve into nothingness! The world will end!) is so vile because it implies a) that women talk too much and b) that women should be silent.

To complicate this insult of ridiculous proportions, this was tweeted by someone she and I don’t know from Adam. Essentially, it proved the point that, hey, people are assholes. And yes, it’s the internet, so theoretically, I could walk away and not light something on fire.

But, honey, sweetie, darling – the second you imply that I should be seen and not heard is the second you ensure that I will not shut up. This brief interaction was an illustration that not only are people raging asshats, sometimes, sexism is alive and well. And #YesAllWomen. Because the gender implications and insults couldn’t be clearer (or more revolting).

So, perfect stranger dude (who happens to be an author – great. THIS IS WHY WE CAN’T HAVE NICE THINGS), you are what’s wrong humanity. You’ve implied that all men are terrified by pregnancy – and given that implication, it doesn’t seem like you’d take responsibility for the actions of your own penis. Because, hey, when a woman gets pregnant, it’s totally her fault. You and your helpless sperm were just minding your own business, right?

Excuse me, I need a moment to compose myself, because I can’t stop laughing. *ahem*

Let’s look at this from a different angle. Pretend that this was everyday life, would a man walk up to a woman and say something like this? You want to say no, don’t you? You want to believe that it wouldn’t happen to a woman in person, face-to-face? You want to blame it on the faceless internet, which enables cowards to be dickbags at record level?

Well, I’ve got unfortunate news: this DOES happen in everyday life. Once, I had a man tell me that I should I be seen and not heard, because I’m a woman. Once, I had a different man tell me that I couldn’t be part of something because I’m a woman.

I didn’t realize that having a vagina meant that a) I shouldn’t have an opinion and b) that it rendered me incapable.

Oh, right. It doesn’t. That’s just something shitty people say.

So, to sum up: this weird and offensive thing happened. This was a thing that some random person felt compelled to put in writing. This man thought it was okay to be a sexist schmuck. I considered letting it go. I considered not saying a word. But you know what? No. This is unacceptable. And the only way to change things, even one instance at a time, is to talk about it. Because awareness matters. Because things like this happen all the time.

And because I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to just lie back and think of England, darlings.

“I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.” ― Audre Lorde

* “I am deliberate and afraid of nothing.” (Title credit)
Audre Lorde

not a war easily won

September 8, 2014 2 comments

I try very hard not to be insecure. But life, and people, can be confusing. And let’s call a spade a spade: I’m sensitive. I think a lot. I feel even more. I’m basically a CareBear on emotional steroids, for better or worse.

There are some days where I totally fail to understand humanity, and in the absence of actual facts, my brain helpfully (not really) fills in the gaps with all the fears I’m too scared to say out loud. That’s what happens, I think, when we’re feeling weak or vulnerable. A seemingly small thing, left unattended, becomes a shadow. Then, that shadow becomes a monster. Before the cowering part of your rational self knows it, you’re five years old, again, hiding under the covers. Figuratively. (Or literally. Who hasn’t had the urge to cal out of work, build a blanket fort, eat candy, and hide for the day?)

The simple truth is that my brain is, often, a scary place of stupid. It can be a ridiculous graveyard of logical thinking. I am forever grateful that no one can ever read my mind, because (to paraphrase Anne Lamott), I often think such terrible thoughts that it would make Jesus drink gin straight out of the cat dish.

Internally, I’m Angela Chase. And don’t even get me started on Jordan Catalano. Because #MySoCalledLife forever. Yes, I know this isn’t Twitter. It’s my blog, and I’ll hashtag if I want to. (Somewhere, Leslie Gore is glaring into her morning coffee. Sorry, lady. #NotSorry)

There are days where I am unsettled and insecure. I don’t let that bleed into the rest of my life. I don’t take it out on people. I refuse to do that, because I’m had that done to be – and that stuff is not fun. It’s actually the mark of a jerk and a coward, but that’s a rant of a different color. (Is bullshit a color?)

I keep making jokes, I know. That’s because I’m uncomfortable, as I’m writing this. The subject makes me feel like I should run, because it’s not easy to admit vulnerability and flaws. And I think I’m doing both. Or I’m trying to.

While I don’t let me insecurity affect my actions, that’s not to say that it doesn’t affect me. Recently, I had a friendship tank spectacularly. Like a final scream as one is unexpectedly pushed off a cliff, I’ve never heard a death knell quite like that. It was strange and alarming to, essentially, watch it disintegrate in spasms. When something like that catches a person off guard, it can lead to a lot of questions – and a lot of self-examination. (That should, eventually, end when you realize that it’s not your fault – and, really, not your circus, not your monkey. In fact, take a match to that damn monkey, if you must. It’s probably rabid.)

Where was I? Yes, death of a friendship. Since the demise, I’ve felt rather wretched. I’ve tried to laugh it off and ignore it. I’ve tried not to take it personally, but…um, it is rather personal. But if I’m being honest, it has made me realize that this can be the norm more than the exception. People let us down. People disappear. People do hurtful things. And if we don’t talk about them, we end up internalizing them. Which is bad. Very bad. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200. Dive straight on in to the rum. Or the vodka. Or the tequila. (Never the gin. I’m sorry. It’s vile.)

So, today, I am feeling insecure. I am feeling a bit underappreciated from several angles. I’m both curious and confused, and these are not necessarily pretty things. I’m neither angry nor upset. But I find myself dangerously close to so many things – and one of them is losing my patience. The thing is that life is tricky. It’s often unclear and uncertain. But I feel as long as you’re trying, reaching for your dreams, and not simply whining about what is and isn’t happening – that’s the trick to getting what you want/need/love.

For me, today might be a wash. I may be cranky. But tomorrow, darlings, is a fresh start and a new adventure. I’ve named the monster. Now, it’s less scary. Naming a thing is a powerful act. After all, we start our lives with naming. It is the beginning of identity. We name someone friend or lover. We call love, love. Saying things out loud means it’s more real. It means you can’t take it back. That’s why it’s a risk, sometimes. But naming is where everything starts. It’s the words that declare what the heart feels. And actions drive that arrow home. Remember that, when you’re scared. Name the fear. Name the confusion. Then, kick it in the ass.

Own it. Claim what’s yours, darlings. Say everything out loud. Because life is too short not to be absolutely, ridiculously bold. Don’t let your fears chase you away from what’s possible. Don’t let your doubt keep you where you don’t want to be. And, for coffee’s sake, remember: you never get what you don’t ask for. So, ask. It doesn’t matter if your hands are shaking. It doesn’t matter if you words come out in a rush or a heap.

Remember to fight for your life — for what you want and for who you are. Remember that, occasionally, means you’re fighting you. Nobody can save you but yourself — and you, love, are worth saving. (Sorry, Charles Bukowski, for paraphrasing you poorly.)

kaleidoscope of miracles

September 3, 2014 6 comments

All I want
is
a galaxy of stars
and constellations
of simple wonder.

That is why I trace
your freckles
and smile when I kiss you.

All I want
is
an ocean of memories
and tides
salted with laughter.

That is why I listen
two ways – one with my hands
and the other, with my heart.

All I want
is to map our bodies
against each other, building
new places.

That is why I offer
this familiar skin
and open
to a universe
full
of possibility –
heart like a drowning river,
I (your girl) love
and never look back.

You are a kaleidoscope
of miracles –
and I want to watch you turn.

Categories: Poetry

The Danger of Tools Over Solutions: On Nail Polish and Dirty Photos

September 2, 2014 1 comment

 

Lately, I’ve seen a disturbing trend – one that places blame on the victim and/or treats the symptoms of a problem, but not the problem itself. This, unfortunately, isn’t a new development. It’s commonplace. But that doesn’t make it right.

A group of college students invented a nail polish that changes color if there’s a date rape drug in a drink. Like parking under a streetlight at night to deter criminals, this is a good safety precaution. It’s another tool for someone to use in order to be safer. Not safe – safer. There are some folks that argue that this, again, places responsibility on the victim. A woman shouldn’t have to wear nail polish to deter rape from happening (deter, not prevent). There are also gender implication, here – because it presupposes that all women wear nail polish. It also overlooks the fact that men are raped, too. And, honestly, I never want to hear someone ask a rape victim, “Were you wearing your anti-rape nail polish?” Because NO. You don’t the victim how short her skirt is, how much she had to drink, or if her nail polish turned purple. It’s never the victim’s fault. Repeat after me: it’s never the victim’s fault.

 This brings me to my second example, which was that several celebrities had their phones hacked and naked photos of them were posted on the internet. They were all, to be knowledge, women. The most notable is Jennifer Lawrence. The uproar has been, “Well, she shouldn’t have taken naked photos in the first place.”

 This is blaming the victim, guys. A person (male or female) has the right to do with their body and property as he/she sees fit. Stealing from another person is a crime. In this case, the stolen item was naked photos. Would we still by blaming her if it was something different? If someone stole her car, would we ask why she owned a car in the first place? A crime is a crime.

 Here is an important takeaway from this article from the Forbes article on the subject:

 “It is not the responsibility of our female population to take “X” number of steps to lessen the chance that a member of our male population will engage in untoward conduct towards them, be it assault or street harassment.”

 It’s that simple. You don’t blame victim. You never blame the victim. So, why are we still trying to do just that? It’s a fundamental failure of our society. Several times, over the past few days, I’ve found myself arguing on Jennifer Lawrence’s behalf. I don’t know her. She doesn’t know. We’ve never had lunch. But she is a person who has been wronged, and society is saying that she is at fault. It would still be a crime if someone hacked her phone and stole her text messages. Her privacy has still been breached.

 This isn’t a case of revenge porn (which is a different kind of privacy breach altogether). An ex didn’t get pissed off and share the photos with the press. This is a total invasion of privacy. It’s not a scandal, as the Forbes article points out – it is a crime. Last time I checked, our legal system isn’t supposed to blame the victim. So, again: why are we blaming the victim?

 It’s never the victim’s fault.

 Anti-rape nail polish doesn’t solve the problem of rape – no more than a rape whistle does. Not taking naked photos doesn’t solve the phone hacking problem. We, as a society, have to stop treating symptoms and start treating the disease. Yes, a nail polish that detects date rape drugs is a potentially helpful tool – but it doesn’t keep someone from raping someone else. Yes, not taking nude photos means if your phone is hacked, they can’t be stolen – but that doesn’t make the breach of privacy (the hacking) go away. Someone can always steal something else.

 And, once more: it’s never the victim’s fault. Period.

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