Professional pounder of the patriarchy.

Posts tagged ‘problematic fave’

Is Ross Poldark A Hero?

If you’ve read the novels or seen the original series (I have done neither), then you probably saw the events of last week’s episode of Poldark coming. In Series 2, Episode 8, we saw the tension between Ross and his former lover Elizabeth come to a head… and it was less than romantic. Let’s be real: it was a rape scene. There is no getting around that, there was nothing consensual about it. No matter how the BBC or the fans dress it up, Ross was firmly in the wrong. He was aggressive (he had the air of a fairly dastardly Bond villain when he entered the room). He ignored her wishes (she asked him to leave her bedroom and he refused). Finally, damningly, she plainly and repeatedly said “no”. It was rape. But the handling of the scene seems to suggest that those involved think otherwise. The BBC haven’t bothered to try and contextualise it, the author’s son has praised their faithful attitude to his father’s text – written in 1953, I might add – and even Aidan Turner, Cap’n Poldark himself, has weighed in on the issue. He said of the scene in a statement made to the Sun newspaper: “It seems consensual, and it just seems right. He goes to talk. He doesn’t go to commit a crime. They talk and it seems like there is still this spark between them, this unfinished business emotionally. Certainly, that’s how Ross feels. He doesn’t force himself upon her. He is emotionally quite inarticulate. I don’t think he quite understands himself.” He elaborated: “It would be boring to play a character who’s just a do-gooder”, which I think is in somewhat poor taste. This isn’t the excusable behaviour of a rogueish ne’er-do-well. It was a calculated attempt by a male protagonist to intimidate and control a leading female character. In a popular TV series, to cast that man as a hero is unacceptable.

The response from the cast, the crew and the fans begs the question: why are we so willing to excuse the flaws of our heroes? Furthermore, is Ross Poldark a hero at all?

The answer lies both in how the narrative unique to Poldark treats its protagonist and in how fiction at large treats rape and sexual violence.

First and foremost, Ross is not a nice character. He is a terrible person dressed up by the narrative and the cinematography to seem like a lovely ray of sunshine. Oh wow, look at his Adonis-like bod… whoops, you missed him being an abusive, unfaithful shitbag. At this point, he is as bad as the series’ villain George Warleggan. George is violent, emotionally manipulative and arrogant, and we as viewers are encouraged to hate him for it. All those qualities could be said of Ross too. We are not, however, expected to hate Ross, because he doesn’t know he’s doing wrong, poor boy. I think this ties in with the comments Aidan made – that Ross didn’t intend to commit a crime. The implication there is that, because he didn’t really mean to violate both her body and her autonomy, it isn’t actually that bad. 

This is the same thing survivors of rape are told in real life. Rapists are constantly leaving court without a conviction. They didn’t mean to, you see, they didn’t know. They thought they had the victim’s consent, because “no” really means “yes” in the throes of passion, doesn’t it? That’s my real issue with this scene. I get why it happened. Ross Poldark, a desperate, angry man with a big, control-freak ego, feels betrayed and confused. Elizabeth is torn, caught between the man she really loves and the man she must marry to secure her son’s future. Something catastrophic and ugly needed to occur at this point in the plot – as a writer, I know that. I’m also aware that the BBC are adapting a book series from over 50 years ago which is set in the 1790s; of course there will be iffy ethics and dodgy morals. However, there are ways to present this scene without condoning what happens. They needed to pick a point on the spectrum, frankly – either she consented enthusiastically or Ross forced himself on her. Yes, there might have been a grey area; perhaps Elizabeth was simply overcome with her long held passion. But, unfortunately, there is a long history in cinema of what amounts to a rape fantasy, in which the victim will eventually enjoy an unwanted encounter if the perpetrator is pushy enough. Poldark, unwittingly or not, has signed its name on that list.

We’re at a point in the evolution of pop culture that, by now, we should have grasped that you can enjoy something and still be deeply critical of it. Poldark is not a bad TV series, nor am I crediting it with being some kind of moral touchstone for the masses. The cast are fantastic; the plot is (generally) well-crafted and engaging. The Cornish coast is the real star of the show, obviously.

However, my enjoyment of it doesn’t diminish the discomfort I feel. We excuse the faults of fictional men – and often those of real ones too – all the time. In a way, that “Oh, but he didn’t know” (which we’re all so fond of) is rather infantilising to men and it’s deeply violent towards women. Our media and our visual culture is saturated with this idea that all can be forgiven because he’s the hero. Ross, in my opinion, is very much a Homeric hero – an Achilles or an Odysseus. In ancient Greek culture, a “hero” achieved incredible feats, but always for personal gain. Our modern heroic qualities are normally more along the lines of selflessness and compassion. There’s a real clash of ethics there. We’ve blurred that line, I think, and now we don’t really know what we want or deserve from our fictional protagonists. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t portray bad people on screen. I’m also not saying that the main character of a film or book should always be a saint. Real people are flawed and they do terrible things.

We just need to be honest about that.

Still thought Demelza was justified, tho

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Terminology Every Feminist Should Know

Contrary to popular belief, feminists are not – gasp! – a hive mind. Sometimes, it’s hard to stay knowledgeable about all the issues your fellow feminists are tackling, and it’s even more demanding when you want to put a name to them. For this post, I’ve decided to compile a short list of key terminology (along with their definitions!). We all know the really important stuff, like what the patriarchy is, but what is POC an abbreviation of? What is a microaggression? What is womanism?

DISCLAIMER: This is IN NO WAY a complete and exhaustive list. My intention is to create a separate page for terminology unique to the feminist movement and to social justice activism, which I can continuously add to in the future. This is just a (hopefully) concise list of words I’ve come across frequently (and occasionally had to Google).

Cissexism (x) – Cissexism is a type of discrimination, often referred to as a “subtle” form of transphobia. Cissexist assumptions enforce the gender binary and exclude trans people. An area in which I’ve witnessed a lot of cissexism is in discussions about menstruation – it’s quite common to hear “Men will never understand how painful periods are!”. The speaker ignores/is unaware that not everyone with a uterus is female.

Intersectional feminism (x) – a type of feminist theory which encompasses the “intersections” between different forms of oppression – where racism, homophobia (biphobia, transphobia, etc) and sexism connect. It operates with the awareness that women deal with unique challenges in daily life, not just based on gender. The historic sexualisation of Black and Latina women is one example; the stereotyping of lesbians as “butch” or bisexual women as “promiscuous” is another. See also: my kind of feminism.

Kyriarchy (x) – Kyriarchy is a social system (or group of social systems) that are constructed through oppression and domination. It’s essentially a broader term than “patriarchy” – a society ruled by men – and encompasses oppression from all privileged groups.

Microaggression (x) – microaggressions are actions/statements that exclude or denigrate someone based on their race, gender or sexual orientation. They can be verbal or non-verbal, and they are often unintentional. It can be in a business environment, such as a woman having her point interrupted in a meeting, then a male colleague being praised for the same idea. They can be racist assumptions, no matter how “well-meaning”. Essentially, they belittle and silence the targeted person/people.

POC (x) – acronym for “people of colour”/”person of colour”, a term used to refer to anyone who is not white and does not benefit from white privilege. It frames the description positively and it avoids the use of a degrading or outdated adjective, such as “coloured”. Martin Luther King first used the phrase “citizens of colour” in 1963. You may also come across “WOC” – “women/woman of colour”.

Problematic fave (x) – I’ve discussed this at length in another post (a post that I plan to rewrite, actually). A problematic fave is a favorite person (usually a character) who has problematic views and opinions.

White feminism (x) – white feminism is a term referring to feminist activism that, unwittingly or otherwise, excludes women of colour. The feminists involved may not be white themselves, but usually they are – white people don’t have to think about racial prejudice on a daily basis. It very much focuses on one-size-fits-all feminism, accessible only to white, educated women. It’s the antithesis to intersectional feminism. A prime example of this is Taylor Swift’s refusal to accept Nicki Minaj’s critique of racism in the music industry, or what the media chose to call “a feud”. Another is the queen of white feminism, Lena Dunham.

Womanism (x) – Womanism is a social theory based upon the lives and experiences of Black women, aiming to change the gender-based and race-based oppression they suffer. The term was first coined by Alice Walker in 1979. Womanism is, in some ways, a response to how the feminist movement has alienated minorities throughout its history – something that many of us want to change through intersectional feminism. Womanism has allowed Black women to celebrate their culture in a way that feminism, sadly, has not.

Hopefully this (not so brief) list is helpful and alleviates some confusion! The terminology page will be up and at ’em in the near future. 🙂

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Now go! Use your new vocabulary!

Uh-oh! Your Fave is Problematic!

Trigger warning for brief strong language and (it should come as no surprise) some offensive/problematic incidents in the link I’ve given. I was debating whether or not to publish this article – it has lingered in my draft box for weeks, in one form or another – but I’ve decided I might as well. It’s full of metaphors and gifs (I’m trying to be lighthearted, is it working???)

problematic

Those of you who regularly plunder the deep dark caves of the internet might have stumbled across an interesting ore known as the “problematic fave”.  It’s intriguing, but, once you’ve picked it up, YOU CANNOT GET RID OF IT.

That was unnecessarily melodramatic. But it’s still an important issue and thinking about it has made me analyse everything and everyone – including the nature of the “problematic fave” movement itself.

By definition – according to the internet’s answer to the Encyclopedia Britannica, Urban Dictionary – a problematic fave is “a favorite person (usually a character) who has problematic views and opinions.” This could be a favourite film/TV/book character, a musician, an actor/actress… literally any well-known (and generally well-liked) public figure. They are usually considered problematic due to their attitudes and actions; for example, they might have used culturally-appropriative imagery in a music video or used racist/sexist/homophobic/cissexist slurs in interviews. Sometimes this is a result of ignorance or misinformation, sometimes it is intended to be “satirical” (although there’s also a tendency among fans to scream “it’s satire!” whenever their fave does/says something offensive).

luke newberry

(Hint: it’s not satire if nobody finds it funny except bigots.)

Several tumblr blogs have arisen in recent years, devoted to highlighting – or naming & shaming – celebrities who have, perhaps unwittingly, crossed the line into problematic territory. The most notable is http://yourfaveisproblematic.tumblr.com/, which gives a comprehensive list of various incidents. Search their tags: is your fave up there? When I first glanced through their list, I was shocked to find a staggering number of my favourite people on it. Some of the issues described were ones I had heard about and others I had not.  It confirmed my suspicions about some celebrities and shattered my illusions about others, and perhaps this is why so many people are quick to dismiss or defend these allegations – consider, for example, the way so many people jumped to the defence of Youtubers who were accused of sexual assault in recent years.

It ruins the illusion.

Celebrities are supposed to be perfect people. We put them on a pedestal, idolise them, worship them. In a way, the people you admire and respect are a reflection of you, demonstrating your values and your interests. Discovering that they have said/done things which, either directly or indirectly, attack a community or a demographic – possibly your own – is not a pleasant sensation. It made me want to shovel ice-cream and Pringles into my face by the tonne.

eating gif

I searched for an appropriate gif for SO LONG.

Does that mean you should hate them now? Are you now obligated to avoid their work?

Not necessarily. In fact, some might argue that you should continue to follow them, but do so with a more critical, discerning eye. Challenge the fans who back them up when they’re in the wrong. Don’t presume that, just because your fave thinks it’s acceptable, you have to buy into it too. You don’t have to like an artist as a person in order to appreciate their art; you don’t have to appreciate their art in order to like an artist. Not a hip-hop fan, but damn do I love Nicki Minaj!

You may be wondering why the image at the top is of Benedict Cumberbatch, the BBC’s darling and, I can only assume, the result of a collective wet dream among the women of Britain. Well, it may shock you to discover that he too is a problematic fave. This is due to some comments he made in an interview regarding his role as The Creature in Frankenstein, alongside Jonny Lee Miller. You can read an analysis of it here (x), from an autistic woman’s perspective.He had visited a residential school for autistic young people with JLM and had based his characterisation upon that. He compared people with autism to Frankenstein’s monster – which, we can all agree, was really fucking stupid.

drag race - gif

The mixed response to the movement and to these types of blogs has led to the creation of this one, a humorous take on the issue using fictional characters:  http://yourfavecharacterisproblematic.tumblr.com/ Personally, I think it’s important that celebrities do not go unchallenged purely on the basis of their fame. No matter how much you admire someone, you should still accept and acknowledge that they are a human being – a species renowned for being complex and, well, problematic.

I want to hear your thoughts on this issue! It’s a fairly tense one for me to cover. Do you have any problematic faves? Comment below!

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