Angelina Jolie’s Leg and Sexual Tension

8 03 2012

With this post, I descend deep into the dark vacuum of popular culture. I don’t do this unless it yields some sort of useful, insightful commentary, and when we look at how bodies are displayed and portrayed in public and in the media, it does. Consider the recent Academy Awards ceremony, in which Angelina Jolie slinked down the red carpet with a long, lean leg emerging profluently from a part in the side of a black velvet, custom-made Versace gown to seduce the cameras with its cold, alibaster glow. Brad Pitt wore the same tuxedo every other man wore. I won’t kid. Jolie looks truly ravishing, and we should appreciate her beauty, but something about the picture is a little bit more asymmetrical than her dress. It’s the perfect example of the schizophrenic attitude that women can’t expose as much of their bodies as men can, but should expose more of it than men should.

The tension between modesty and sexiness is greater for women than it is for men, at least in the West. If Brad had wanted, he could have gotten away with a wardrobe malfunction and exposed a nipple or two–hell, he could have exposed his whole chest for the world to see and the ladies (and some of the men) would have collapsed on the floor and swallowed up his sweat–but if Angelina had flashed her boobs or, heaven forbid, exited the limousine in a deliberately-designed topless gown (which would never happen), the police would have tackled her scrawny ass to the ground. Fashion critics would hold both Brad and Angelina culpable for being indecent if they exposed their nipples, but would hold Angelina more culpable. At the same time, though, they would hold Angelina more culpable if she exposed less skin than Brad. So, the woman can’t show as much as the man, but she should show more than he. It’s a finer line for her to tread.

This obviously isn’t fair. It’s a Catch-22 and a double standard. It’s a Catch-22 because it tells women that they should be modest and sexy, and it’s a double standard because it places this Catch-22 on women, but not on men. Women aren’t allowed to show their nipples in public (except maybe in British Columbia and Ontario), but they are expected to show more skin than men up to the nipple; meanwhile, men are allowed to show their nipples, but they are expected not to show as much skin as women. Now, you might say, “It’s the same difference. Women can’t show their nipples while men can, but men aren’t expected to show as much skin as women. So it all balances out”. But it doesn’t all balance out. The restrictions against men showing as much skin as women can doesn’t have legal consequences, but the restrictions against women showing as much skin as men can does. Men are socially criticised for showing as much skin as women are expected to show, but women are both socially criticised for showing less skin than men are expected to show and legally reprimanded (i.e. arrested) for showing as much skin as men can show. In short, women have to balance a finer line between appeasing social expectations of seductiveness on one hand, and meeting legal parameters of modesty on the other. That’s not right.

But the tension between the sexy and modest woman occurs on a global scale too. In some regions of Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Yemen, and Afghanistan, women are expected to wear veils such as the niqab, burqa (chadri), etc., and women are harassed by police for not donning these garments appropriately. In countries like Britain and the Netherlands, however, magazine racks and television shows are filled with bulging cleavages and glistening thighs, and in countries like France the authorities might actually penalise women for wearing a veil they might otherwise be required to wear in, say, Saudi Arabia. When we compare countries with one another, then, the teeter-totter of modest-versus-sexy woman takes on a global perspective. It infects the world. The world itself simultaneously imposes chastity and desirability on women.

This is absolutely stupid. If we believe in fairness and equality, we can’t penalise women for showing as many body parts as men can, but expect them to show more than men, without being total assholes. It isn’t fair. And it isn’t valid for Westerners to critique Muslim countries for covering their women in veils when Westerners rip women’s clothes off and paste the remaining bits on the covers of supermarket tabloids. It’s six of one, half-a-dozen of the other. What we should be doing is trying to strike a balance by telling women, “Hey, you can show your nipples if you want, but you don’t have to show more skin than men, either”, and telling men, “You can wear something sexier than grandpa shorts or 1930s women’s culottes to the beach. Start by wearing what every man in modern-day Europe wears. A bikini. You know. Like women.” I don’t expect to see Brad Pitt walking down the red carpet in a black velvet Versace gown any time soon–that kind of change takes centuries for men, apparently–but I do expect to see it happen sooner at home, at the beach, and even in the workplace. Surely Hollywood, being so progressive, will eventually follow.

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Christians vs. Witches!

30 06 2011

Oh my god. The other day I wrote the driest, most politically correct blog entry ever. The sad thing is that it was on one of the coolest and funniest things ever. I wrote about this blog on motherhood called Circle of Moms that was hosting a “best blog” competition for its subscribers. Basically, subscribers would vote on one another’s blogs through the Circle of Moms site–Circle of Moms was sort of the meeting place for voting on the blogs of its subscribers. (It’s a SEO strategy—everybody benefits when sites interconnect with one another through a site they all have in common.)

The competing blogs were categorized according to topic. One of these was “faith”, and it had a lot of stuff about “Biblical womanhood”, Biblical patriarchy, home-schooling, premarital sex, and all of that crap that Christian American soccer moms eat up like Starbucks protein bars. Anyway, a pagan mother submitted her blog, Confessions of a Pagan Soccer Mom, in the competition, and it was put in the “Faith” category, and boy, oh, boy, was there a shit-storm over that. Basically, acting as if they owned the “Faith” category, some of the Christian mothers descended on her like a flock of flying wolf-maidens and tore her apart, sending her nasty comments on her blog—after all, it is about witchcraft, magic, potions, and all of that scary stuff.

Ironically, however, the pagan mother won the blog competion. Guess why? The rest of the Christians defended her, sending her messages of support like “Oh, shit! We’re sorry! Christians shouldn’t act that way! We respect you and your faith tradition!” and even voting for the pagan mother’s blog as well as other pagan blogs. In fact, six of the top ten winning blogs were related to paganism. Now, six out of ten Americans are not pagan, so obviously the figures reflected this dispute. But in the end, people came together despite their different backgrounds. How about that for solidarity, girls?

Anyway, my blog entry on the whole debacle had to be polite and respectful-sounding, and I couldn’t tease any religions or make fun of anybody, because, well, it was a professional blog entry, and that makes sense—if I want to keep my job, I can’t do any dirty writing. But here and now, I can do what I want. And what I want to do is re-write that entry. I want to re-imagine it. I want to tell you what really went through my mind when I read about this hilarious catfight between Christian and pagan soccer moms, and the superbly elegant defection that led to an ultimate pagan victory. So read on.

The twilight slowly gave way to a lurid reddish haze which silhouetted Oxford’s innumerable stern spires, illuminating the soft, curvaceous, cottony English hills of the surrounding neighbourhood. On the town’s eastern border, with the rising of the sun, stood the daughters of Christ, and on the western border, the daughters of Earth. The former were servants of Yahweh, blood-god of the Israelites, and the latter, defenders of Nature, idol of the pagans. Both forces steamed with a heady passion and an impetuous lust. A hush fell over the gracious, still-sleeping city. The grizzly-mommy Sarah Palin, word-mangling publicity whore and leader of the Christians, flew forth to parley with her dread adversary, the numinous Laurie Cabot, leader of the pagans and high priestess of witchcraft in America.

“You will not refudiate my claim to the Throne of Morality!” clucked Palin in her grating Minnesota twang.

“I beg your pardon?” responded Cabot. “That isn’t a word. You cannot win the Throne of Morality with such illiteracy. Such neologisms are entirely ill-conceived.”

“Whaaat?” responded Palin. “I don’t care what you say, smarty-pants! I believe in Jesus Christ! He saved my soul from damnation when I accepted his sacrifice!”

“Well, yes”, replied Cabot with a roll of the eyes, “he did—by killing himself to propitiate himself for the imperfection he himself planted in you, so that you would no longer have to slaughter goats to propitiate him for your sins. Makes perfect sense.”

“Huuuh?? Stop trying to impress the people with your big words, you…you expert! It’s not as though people need to be treated like—”

“—like intelligent interlocutors? No, we wouldn’t want to treat the people with dignity, to address them as ladies and gentlemen. We wouldn’t want to hold them to such a high standard. Let’s talk to them like the retards we want them to be.”

“Grrrrrrr!” roared the angry grizzly-mommy. “I’ve had enough! Grizzly-women, attack!!”

Like a hive of wasps, the daughters of Christ ascended with the giant orb of the rising sun and flew like hawks at their enemy, through the spires of thriving schools and the steeples of long-empty churches, which jutted up mercilessly into the lightening sky. The daughters of Earth rose with the sinking moon as their harbinger of doom and shot at their opponent like a spray of arrows—a cloudy mass of horned bats and sharp-clawed cats. The two armies clashed with the bray of a shrieking eagle.

The leaders, Palin and Cabot, met each other head-on, their hosts crashing in behind them. Palin headed a phalanx of angels and grizzly bear-women that mauled and clawed at their opponents; Cabot’s vast host of flying cat-women and nature-spirits mauled and clawed and beat and savaged their aggressors. A frenzy of claws, bear-swipes, cat-strikes, bat-wings, and angel-wings blurred Oxford’s spikey skyline in a dark cloud against the early sun.

As the day dragged on, there was a temporary halt to the melee, and the two armies chose to employ their greatest champions. Palin submitted Michele Bachmann, U.S. Republican representative from the state of Minnesota, and Cabot submitted Doreen Virtue, PhD, doctor of counselling psychology and angel-whisperer from Laguna Beach, California.

Bachmann flew like a dragon toward the cloudy mass of light that was Virtue, and the light swelled to a near-blinding brilliance. Bachmann resorted to her chief power first, frustrating the light by constantly stating factual errors and making repeated, vacuous invocations of Jesus and God. For a moment, the light stood stunned and dizzied. At that point Bachmann lunged forth and slashed at the light with her bear-claws, but with effort the light regained its equanimity, invoking the angels. Gradually, like a trickle turning into a stream, a vast host of angels defected from Palin’s army and zoomed through the mass of clashing bodies to join Virtue, who absorbed them. The enlarged mass eerily invited Bachmann’s onslaught, unobtrusively absorbing and transforming the evangelical mommy into something like itself—a giant mass of bright, peaceful forgiveness.

“Fuck that New Age shit!” roared Palin. “I believe in the sacrifice of Christ Jesus! That sort of magical mumbo-jumbo is evil!”

“Why?” responded Cabot. “It was fair, and your champion was not killed; her consciousness merely melded with that of her opponent.”

“It’s the work of Satan! It says so in the Bible! Grizzly-women, draw now on the power of your Lord!”

“Seriously, you are one paranoid bitch. I have no choice—cat-women, attack!”

The rest will be conveyed to you in the following series of instalments, which will include such famous figures as Jesus, Stephen Hawking, and an assortment of individual angelic and divine personalities, among them the Archangel Gabriel and the Irish goddess of war and death, Morrígan.