Thursday, May 03, 2007

Grading, Misogyny, Naive and Uncritical Hope, and Coyote Ugly

As you might gather from the "everything but the kitchen sink" sort of title I've chosen, I am inspired to write because I am *fried* on grading, and yet, there are miles to go before the grading will be done. I still have the hope (though this is not the naive and uncritical hope of the title, even though it may be naive and uncritical) that I will finish the grading tonight. This is a kind of hope against hope, as it is nearly 9 PM, and I just poured myself a glass of wine, in order to ease the pain of the grading that I have already completed. But so, here's what's going on in my world.


And I'm not talking about some kind of subtle and insidious misogyny, but about the full-blown thing. I actually had a student submit a paper in which he asserted that motherhood is the source of women's meaning, nay, the reason for women to exist. This, after 16 weeks with me as his professor, so I was offended on three counts. First, I am offended because I am a woman. I exist, even if I haven't had a motherfucking baby. There are reasons for my existence that are not connected to my womb. One of those reasons that I exist is to be a motherfucking college professor and to teach students about literature. Second, I am offended because this... statement... was ostensibly supposed to be related to a paper about literature. Even if what the student was saying is that the TEXT treats women this way, the student should have had the sense god gave him to actually, I don't know, discuss the merits of this or to talk about why the fuck it matters to a reader. Third, I am offended because a student beyond his/her first semester in college should pay at least a modicum of attention to audience. I was the audience for this paper. I am a) a woman, b) a college professor, and c) an English professor. Think about your fucking audience when you write, students! Think about how they will, I don't know, respond to the idiotic and woman-hating claims that you make!

On the heels of grading this paper, I was leaving campus behind what I assume was a student. On the back of this student's automobile was a bumper sticker. It had a picture of Hilary Clinton. (From this, you might see where this is heading, but wait for it - ) The slogan on the bumper sticker? "Women belong in the house - not in the White House." Don't think I didn't consider ramming into the student's vehicle (though I then realized that this behavior would be self-destructive, perhaps even forcing me to confinement in the house, which would only serve this person's evil aims of oppression), taking down the student's license plate, hunting him or her down, and well, I didn't really get further than the hunting down, or fashioning some sort of explosive from the garbage in my car and firebombing the car before it left my sight. I don't give a shit if you don't like Hilary Clinton. Do not fucking proclaim that women belong in the motherfucking house. Offensive!

Naive and Uncritical Hope (which actually, now that I think about it, might be related to misogyny)

So, in one of my classes I teach the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. For my students, this is the height of experimental film. Non-linear narrative? An allusion to a literary text? You must be joking! But so it's challenging for them, but in good ways, I think, and yet accessible, for it has actors they've seen in other movies. Anyway, the point here is this: no matter how critically they evaluate the movie - and really, they do - when I ask the question - really the only question to ask about the end of that movie - does the movie end happily, they answer with an unequivocal yes. Yes, Dr. Crazy, it is wonderful that these two people who hurt each other terribly and had a totally fucked up relationship get back together! Yes, Dr. Crazy, this is hope in the face of the evidence offered by each and every other relationship in the universe of the movie that it's impossible to have a good relationship! Who cares, Dr. Crazy, that they are doomed to repeat the dysfunction forever because they don't deal with the reality of their differences but rather choose to pretend to erase them! It is a happy ending! It is perfect to go back with somebody who ultimately makes you miserable! Being together is always better than being alone, Dr. Crazy!

Coyote Ugly (which some might argue has something to do with misogyny as well, except I don't think it's so simple, actually)

Ok, so I'll admit, I am fascinated with the various incarnations of the Coyote Ugly show on CMT. First there was the show that documented the opening of the Austin bar. Then there was the Ultimate Coyote Ugly show where they got girls from all over the country and that girl with the two-toned hair won (yay!). And now, in the latest incarnation, they've teamed up some young hopefuls with more seasoned Coyotes in order to see which pair will win the day. So, if you don't know about Coyote Ugly, the deal is that Liliana Lovell opened the first one in NYC, and her ethos, it seems, is one that's all about business. She had a career on Wall Street, turned to bartending, and then decided that she would take all that she knew and attempt to create the uber-bar. Now the "business model" is that "beautiful girls+booze=money," so this might not seem like a feminist enterprise. Or, rather, it might seem like a feminist enterprise not unlike Heidi Fleiss's business. But here's the thing: there is something about the rhetoric of these Coyote Ugly shows that makes it seem like it might actually be feminist and empowering. And this, my friends, is why I'm fascinated. On the surface, what we have is exploitation, right? In order to be a Coyote, you've got to be young, hot, spunky, etc. You've got to be a guy's wet dream, and Lil and her dance instructor friend whose name I forget make no bones about that. BUT, here's the thing. The rhetoric of the whole thing is one in which ultimately all of that is just show(wo)manship. What really matters is good bartending skills and money. So yes, you've got to shake your ass, but the rhetoric is such that becoming a Coyote is "really" supposed to be about becoming the best of the best - it's about skill - with singing, dancing, entertaining, bartending, "flaring," etc. And however suspicious good feminists might be about that rhetoric, the fact of the matter is that this is a business owned by a woman that is about making other women - women who are often pretty dumb, if the show is any indication - some money. And so I'm fascinated, partly because I think it's great that these girls aren't working in some corner bar not making money, or stripping, or I don't know, working some dumb minimum wage job. And I think that it's great that they like this identity that they're acquiring - that they feel special and talented and like they are tops at what they do. But at the end of the day, what they're trading on is pretty fucked up. And sure, it's characterized as a fuck you to The Man, but is it really a fuck you with conviction? I think no. But then there's the fact that at least with Coyote Ugly all of this misogynistic bullshit is at least out front and center, so there is something kind of brilliant about that. Complicit, but brilliant still. But so yes, this is my deep and insightful analysis of Coyote Ugly, with which I am fascinated.

By the way, am now watching the Gray's Anatomy Two Hour Event, and it is a) awesome, b) also deeply misogynist, and c) following it there will be a story on my local news about slowing down one's biological clock. I want to kill myself.


exwool said...

Can I just say that the reason I bring you into MY house (that is sit in my room before going to bed and read what you write) is that, for a writer and professor of ANY gender- you rock. You're interesting, intelligent, creative, and fun to boot. And I bet if you felt like it, you could be tops at Coyote Ugly too.

kermitthefrog said...

The headline news story last night was "American Idols: How *Do* They Lose All That Weight?"

And speaking of "how to"s: I'd be curious to know how you responded to the misogynist student. I assume that you presented a profanity-less version of your second objection (how does this relate to the text under discussion?), but did you touch at all on the other points?

Virtually Actual said...

My students and I had a talk about their, there, and they're today (they're 20-22 years old). And then we got into why "back in the day" is not when racism or sexism ended. They didn't want to hear that last bit for a second.

Keep on kicking ass, Dr. C.

Bardiac said...

Can I just say, I seriously admire your self-restraint with regard to your student's paper and the bumpersticker.

Dr. Crazy said...

How I responded to the student was I noted the offending passage and I wrote something along the lines of the following in the margin: "This is offensive. If you are going to make the claim that motherhood is the source of women's meaning, you need to first realize that many, many people will disagree with you and for that reason you need to do something to back up that claim. It is not something that all readers, least of all this one, would accept as an unproblematic truth. However, it is not clear whether you believe this or whether you are saying that this is what the text is doing. If you're talking about what the text is doing, it might help you to cite the text and talk about it analytically. It also might help if you had secondary support to corroborate your claims."

This isn't verbatim, but it basically communicates my tone and what I said.

And can I just say, I'm still pissed off? But thanks for all the support my blogging peeps. At least my rage is bringing people from across the country together :)

Horace said...

If you think you get that statement a lot, Imagine how much I get it, when misogynist students are more likely to think they've got a friendly audience in their straight male prof.

Even though we spend large chunks of the semester talking about the mythical constructs of masculinity and gender as a socially bound performance. Ugggh.

adjunct whore said...

this reminded me of a bumper sticker i saw when i first moved to wierd scary place.

silly faggot, dicks are for chicks.

and i thought, my god, where do i live? how could someone advertise their nastiness and ignorance? how is it possible that college kids even get the old advertisment reference, that was on when i was a kid?

seriously, i almost started crying in my wms class when i tried to speak about it. i live in a land of bumper stickers. it's sick.

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

I distinctly remember seeing the "silly faggots...." t-shirt mentioned in the prior comment while teaching. I couldn't take my eyes off of it -- it was so sick and icky.

I think that sometimes, as strong women, we don't hear the BS people want to say about women, so we conclude it isn't being said.

Kate said...

It was really sad how your post came full circle in the context of Grey's Anatomy. I love/hate that show.

I have two male students who sometimes make me want to take two by fours to their heads. They're both good, well-meaning, nice guys, but the misogyny they spout -- with absolutely no self-awareness -- is amazing. One of them was able to totally turn it around in his last paper, and I was so amazed and impressed by him. But the other one wants to argue in his final paper about the wonders of abstinence and monogamy, without any awareness of how his argument really hinges on control of women through religion. I was patient with him until last night, when I finally laid out all the reasons his argument was completely faulty from the perspective he was arguing it. Unfortunately, now he's all excited to argue it from a different perspective (which, admittedly, is slightly better, but still sucks from a feminist standpoint).