sleeping alone and starting out early

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Archive for the ‘sex’ Category

the sleeping alone review of films: And Then Came Lola

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on February 3, 2010

summary: I have a big problem with this movie.

I’ve been sitting on a review of And Then Came Lola (2010), described in press materials as a “time-bending, comedic and sexy lesbian romp-loosely inspired by the art house classic Run Lola Run,” since it showed at Bloomington’s Pride Film Festival last weekend. On the one hand, yay! This film presents a welcome antivenin to the cultural poison of heterosexual action-romances, romantic comedies, action-comedic romances, thriller-romances, romantic melodramas…you get the idea. On the other hand…well, I’ll get to that in a minute.

The story is much more than loosely inspired by Run Lola Run, the 1998 German film that has a fire-haired Lola desperate to get 10,000 Deutsche Mark in 20 minutes in order to save her boyfriend’s life. The conceit of this film is that when Lola fails, she gets to try again: shot by a police officer and dying on the sidewalk, she yells “stop” and starts over, armed with an awareness of what went wrong the first time. As the story resets itself again and again, the audience is offered backstory: Lola’s relationship with Manni, her boyfriend, is not fully secure; there are doubts about whether each feels a genuine love for the other. There is a question, then, over why Lola would risk her life, again and again.

And Then Came Lola works with several of the plot points of its inspiration, not least of which is the main character’s ability to go back in time and try again. As in Run Lola Run, there is a punk with a dog; there is a homeless man; there is a beautiful woman named Lola and a camera that cannot look away from her as she runs through the streets of her city. This time, though, Lola is a photographer running through the streets of San Francisco to deliver prints to her girlfriend, Casey, who needs them right away in order to secure a Big Client. Beneath this is a backstory: Lola has issues with commitment, has issues with being dependable and on time, but thinks that Casey might be The One and wants to prove that she can change. As in Run Lola Run, this Lola needs multiple tries to secure the happy ending.

And Then Came Lola is basically a lesbian retelling of Run Lola Run, which isn’t in itself a bad thing. In this version, every character is gay (or gay-curious, as in the mixed-sex tourist couple who invite Lola to share their taxi and then put the moves on her), and the film starts from an assumption that same-sex romances are neither perfect nor fundamentally much different from heterosexual romances. And thank god for that–it’s about time we started moving beyond the startpoint of needing to justify same-sex attraction and romance.

On the other hand, for a lesbian action-romance, And Then Came Lola feels pretty heteronormative. First of all, the main characters are beautiful in a way that most straight men could probably get behind. Here are Lola and Casey, played by Ashleigh Sumner and Jill Bennett:

I don’t challenge the notion that some lesbians look like Lola and Casey (and, in fact, the actors made an appearance at the showing I attended, and they look about the same in real life as they do in the film*). But I do have a problem with a film that aligns femininity with heroism and turns anything else into comedy. In this relationship, it’s Lola who’s the problem–she’s emotionally distant and because of this, as one character explains, sex with her is “like sex with a man.” In order to get the girl, Lola has to learn to access her feelings; her big breakthrough comes when she can no longer have sex with Casey without knowing if Casey loves her.

This film is pretty overtly about sex, and its plot is pushed forward through presentation of sexual fantasy. In their fantasy, Lola and Casey get romance, with candles, caresses, and glasses of wine. They are therefore the heroes of the story.

Here are the villains: The punk with a dog is a little butch lesbian who trips Lola up again and again and, it’s revealed, has a disturbingly close relationship with her dog. The most evil villain of the movie is a lesbian parking officer, who’s presented as a fat, disheveled Latina. She’s ugly, we’re told, and also mouthy; and her fantasies are therefore presented as hilarious. They’re offered up as a joke, as comic relief.

It’s not enough, not anymore, to make films with tons of gay characters. What we need is films with tons of gay characters that also strive to complicate our understanding of sexuality, attraction, romance, and what it means to be human. And Then Came Lola would have us believe that the stereotypes are correct, that the more traditionally beautiful you are, the more right you have to your sexuality. That’s not only blatantly wrong, it’s deeply problematic, especially for a film making the rounds at LGBTQ film festivals.

*Note: I’m making a fairly big leap in assuming that Sumner and / or Bennett are gay, when it’s entirely possible that both are straight. If they are, that doesn’t negate the fact that there are plenty of lesbians who are approximately as heteronormatively beautiful as Sumner and Bennett are.

Posted in culture, gay rights, gender politics, movies, sex | Leave a Comment »

I wish fake feminists would cut it out.

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on May 19, 2009

“You can’t claim to be a feminist simply because you’re a woman.”–Julie Bindel

“There is no such thing as a bad feminist.” –Jess McCabe

Being controversial may not always be fun, but it certainly guarantees that people will pay attention. This is exactly what happened with Double X, the new site launched by Slate earlier this month. Double X describes itself with a slight nod toward feminism without explicitly mentioning the dirty F-word itself:

Double X is a new Web magazine, founded by women but not just for women, that Slate launched in spring 2009. The site spins off from Slate’s XX Factor blog, where we started a conversation among women—about politics, sex, and culture—that both men and women listen in on. Double X takes the Slate and XX Factor sensibility and applies it to sexual politics, fashion, parenting, health, science, sex, friendship, work-life balance, and anything else you might talk about with your friends over coffee. We tackle subjects high and low with an approach that’s unabashedly intellectual but not dry or condescending.

Double X targets its demographic with both barrels smoking, presenting itself in pastels, pinks, and purples and offering stories on motherhood ( “Why are moms such a bummer?”), breast cancer (“Enough with patenting the breast cancer gene”), and first-person, “it-happened-to-me” testimonials (I Wanted to be Blondie. Now I Write for Colbert”).

By now, it may be clear that this is not your mother’s feminism. The site is playful, mouthy, and just a little self-indulgent–normally exactly my cup of tea, except…well, if you were, say, a 30-ish, self-described feminist living an out-of-the-mainstream lifestyle, you might be a little worried.

This is not necessarily about topic choices–it’s about the fights Double X has picked in its opening weeks. As this Guardian article by Amelia Hill and Eva Wiseman points out, Double X galloped out of the gate, chasing down and pummeling the popular site Jezebel. In “How Jezebel is Hurting Women”, Linda Hirshman explains that

[t]he Jezebels are clearly familiar with the rhetoric of feminism: sexism, sexual coercion, cultural misogyny, even the importance of remembering women’s history. But they are also a living demonstration of the chaotic possibilities the movement always contained…. From removing the barriers to women working to striking down the criminal laws against birth control and abortion, feminism was first and foremost a liberation movement. Liberation always included an element of sexual libertinism. It’s one of the few things that made it so appealing to men: easy sexual access to women’s bodies. (And to their stories about sex, which helps explain why 49 percent of Jezebel’s audience is men.)

But unregulated sexual life also exposes women to the strong men around them, and here, the most visible of the Jezebel writers reflect the risks of liberation…. How can women supposedly acting freely and powerfully keep turning up tales of vulnerability—repulsive sexual partners, pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, even rape? Conservatives have long argued against feminism by saying women are vulnerable, and we need to take care of them. Liberals say there’s no justification for repressing sexual behavior.

The Guardian article highlights the conflict that has erupted out of this attack (Jezebel, of course, struck back, prompting a response from Double X…there is, so far, no end in sight), pointing to the heart of the issue: A struggle over how to define feminism in 2009.

It’s a struggle that strikes close to my heart, as I see the term, if not the ideals, taken up in disheartening, even terrifying ways by friends and colleagues. Men calling themselves feminists push for “open,” commitment-free relationships, since “that’s what women want.” Women shove their way to the top of corporations at the expense of (male and female) coworkers, and proclaim victory in the name of feminism.

For that matter: Women who call themselves feminists and push for “open,” commitment-free relationships, and men shoving their way to the top of corporations at the expense of (male and female) coworkers.

It’s no wonder so many young women and men are so loath to consider sexism as an ongoing issue: Feminism has been co-opted in vile ways for the purpose of self-advancement. Why would anybody want to associate with a movement whose name is responsible for so much abominable behavior?

Feminism, at its heart, is not about political justification of personal behavior. At its very best, feminism is about setting aside petty personal interests and considering what’s best for an entire culture–and considering the best approaches for making the kinds of changes that will enable this culture to emerge. The Double X-Jezebel debate threatens to obscure this larger point beneath vitriol and, on the part of anti-feminist observers, the most loathsome kind of schadenfreude.

Posted in blogging, breast cancer, feminism, lame, obnoxious, sex, social justice | 2 Comments »

Gearing up for Operation Feel Your Boobies

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on February 9, 2009

I’ve just learned about a breast cancer awareness organization called “Feel Your Boobies.” As the name probably suggests, the target demographic of this group is young women. Here’s what you learn by visiting their website:

Feel Your Boobies® is a breast cancer awareness non-profit organization whose mission is to utilize unexpected and unconventional methods to remind young women, to “feel their boobies.”

I learned about Feel Your Boobies through Facebook, when a friend joined the cause online. The upside, I guess, of using the name is that it piques interest; while I normally pay little attention to similar notifications, I did notice this one. I checked out the Facebook group, then I went to the website. Then I started writing.

I gotta say, I’m not a fan of the name, however positive the effects. After all, isn’t the fetishizing and sexualizing of female body parts a piece of the problem? Let’s face it: We’re really freaking immature when it comes to talking about breasts. Culturally, we treat them as dangerous; unless they’re on display as sex objects, we don’t want to see them at all (for more on this, google “breastfeeding in public”). We’ve imbued the breast with so much sexual power that serious cultural conversation about diseases and dangers is difficult, at best, to carry on. It was only through great struggle and the loss of many great women to breast cancer (and, I suspect, a parallel rising awareness of the dangers of prostate cancer) that we got to the point where we could begin having frank discussions about tactics for diagnosis and prevention.

That’s why calling a campaign “Feel Your Boobies” doesn’t quite work for me. I get the point, I really do–kind of a ‘reclaiming,’ a ‘taking back,’ a clever usage of the language of the target audience. The organization and its name may even have some impact, raising awareness among young women and perhaps leading to some early diagnoses (the site provides some testimonials to this effect). I do wonder, though, what the longer-term effects may be. No matter how “postfeminist” we believe our society to be, the reality is that we’re walking around in a heteronormative culture designed through a partriarchal lens. We continue to agree to think and talk about the world in male-friendly ways. On the one hand, “Feel Your Boobies” may make men (and lots of women, I’m sure) productively uncomfortable: Sexualizing breast self-exams, increasing awareness through the promotion of a kind of autoerotic call to action. On the other hand, the name seems to perpetuate the kind of socio-sexual power breasts have in our society. “All hail the great Breast,” right?

I’d rather see us take the sex out of self-exams. I’d rather see us work to divorce breast cancer research and breast cancer awareness from the cult of the breast. My sense is that Feel Your Boobies may increase awareness—and that’s good—while continuing to worship at the altar of the breast—and that’s not so good.

Posted in breast cancer, culture, Facebook, sex | 21 Comments »