Living Candidly #2: Is Mainstream Media Whitewashing the Black-Lesbian Love Story?

Living Candidly #2: Is Mainstream Media Whitewashing the Black-Lesbian Love Story?

DISCLAIMER: I am, in complete honesty, a heterosexual white woman. I did, however, complete my undergraduate thesis in the oppression of the black female body in Afro-American diasporic literature and I received top marks. I am not an authority, but I am a passionate ally. Let’s begin.


Last night, after binging the new Zac Efron/Ted Bundy Bio-Pic, two friends and I turned on Netflix’s new — for lack of a better word — chick-flick Someone Great starring Gina Rodriguez, Brittany Snow, and DeWanda Wise. On the surface, the core cast was diverse and riveting. Rodriguez played a broken-hearted Latina who had recently landed her dream job at Rolling Stone in San Francisco, ultimately driving her away from New York and her boyfriend of the past nine years. Snow was the uptight WASP who learns to let loose through the course of the film, finding out that not everything has to go according to plan. And finally, Wise is the Black-Lesbian.

I leave that sentence at seven words because there is so much more to unpack there than to sum up in one singular sentence. Through the course of the film, her character Erin has to learn that it’s okay to fall in capital-L Love, even if that means opening herself up to vulnerability of rejection. In a poignant moment with her lover, she reveals that she was in one semi-relationship in college only to be left for a man, leaving her to feel like “an experiment.” But prior to this reveal, Erin is cold romantically, withdrawn when it comes to her romantic partner’s pushes for more intimacy. When pressed by Snow’s character Blair for why she won’t just date someone, Erin tells her to keep her “heteronormative labels in a motherf**king box to the motherf**king left.”

And while it was a laughable line in the way that Wise delivered it, was she right in the fact that Blair was whitewashing the situation? Or was the situation already whitewashed in its very essence?

I couldn’t help but reflect upon the character of Kat Edison on The Bold Type, played by Aisha Dee. While the show actually chronicles her coming out story, it also features her own reluctance to commit to a relationship of any formulation even when heavy romantic feelings are involved. In one altercation between Kat and her love interest Adena, Kat says that she doesn’t “do” relationships — an exact sentiment that could have fallen from the lips of Wise’s character in Someone Great.

And while both romantic scenarios resolve in the happily-ever-after plot, I can’t help but wonder if there’s something incredibly whitewashed and gentrified about the black-lesbian experience in this film and televison show? Are we sterilizing it to make it safe for general audiences? Are we generalizing it to a point that it covers all the bases in order to make it so larger than life that it is no longer gritty and real? What are we supposed to be gaining from these portrayals? One is relatable, and two is celebratory, but if the trend continues in the cookie-cutter format, what cost will it have for our open-heartedness when we face their real-life counterparts, particularly those who don’t fit the mold?

Did I get subconsciously driven into publishing by RomComs?

 

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Trainwreck, Apatow Productions and Universal Pictures

There are two things in life guaranteed to give me a spiritual high: religious retreats and romcoms. Now, the feasibility — financially, socially — to attend retreats consistently is very, very small. Which is why I haven’t been to one since high school. But romcoms — man, those will get me every. damn. time.

I love most of them. There are some that actually make me want to vomit glitter and chocolate (I’m looking at you 13 Going On 30). But the good ones, the ones that fill your soul — those are the ones that will send me into a euphoric state. Stuck in Love. Letters to Juliet. Love, Rosie. Love Actually. The Holiday. The Big Sick. What If. Trainwreck. Set It Up. To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before. And those are just the ones on my laptop. Those are the back-up, bad-day-fixers. Don’t ask me how many times I’ve watched them. Ask my roommate.

But as I laid in bed last night I had a chilling realization: almost all of these movies that I love feature a leading lady in publishing. And the trend extends past those I listed and further into the genre: How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days, The Devil Wears Prada, He’s Just Not That Into You, Bridget Jones’ Diary, Never Been Kissed, I could go on.

So the question stands: have I pursued publishing because, in this warped reality I’ve invested myself in, publishing is the most “attractive” industry to belong to? Because I’d be lying if I said I didn’t model part of my behavior in my youth on these women who graced my television screen (remember the days of actual tv’s, not laptops?). I could recite to you some of Reese Witherspoon’s best lines from Legally Blonde and Sweet Home Alabama when I was ten. Ten!

And, if I’m being honest, I can’t say whether or not this career I’ve chosen for myself is a result of socialized expectations. I do remember the first time I chose to pursue being a book editor. My peers and even some close friends had made abundantly clear I would never be CEO of Disney Enterprises. I was sitting in World Religions senior year with Mrs. Forst when we were all told to go around the room and say what we wanted to be “when we grew up,” an almost redundant question at that point due to repetition. Before I knew it, the words “book editor” had tumbled out of my mouth. Instead of getting the jibes that had accompanied every other job aspiration I had previously clung to, people around the room nodded in agreement and one classmate even said “You’d be great at that.” In that moment, I was set. (Since then I’ve changed my aspirations to something a bit more “me” — literary agent. More social, just as literary, maybe even a bit more independent depending on the status of your agency. I could still be a CEO if I wanted to.)

Here’s what gets me about it all though: what about a woman in the publishing industry is less intimidating and perhaps emasculating to peers than a woman who wants to be a CEO? What about my shift that day in class — a pure whim likely brought on from watching a romcom the night before — coincided perfectly with what society views a smart (but not too smart) woman should be? Why did I get accolades for this momentary change? Why did it stick?

I don’t have the answer.

Of course, there were several more factors that played into my choice. I could have changed tracks at any time in university. No one forced me to pursue my Master’s. applied for all my internships. But there is something terribly cliché, thanks to the movie industry, about a young white woman pursuing a career in publishing from the ground up.

But I’ll be damned if I let that stop me now.

Thoughts? I’m a bit confused myself, if you haven’t noticed.

 

24 year old feminist thoughts on the motherhood penalty

24 year old feminist thoughts on the motherhood penalty

Until we think of men and women as both caregivers and breadwinners, we are not going to get there because as long as it is a woman problem we are enforcing that stereotype that care is her job. — Anne-Marie Slaughter, International Lawyer

The roots of my feminism took hold in the foundations of my mind in late 2014. I was studying abroad — 4,000 miles away from everything I had ever known — and yet, thanks to a friend’s interest in American politics, I was captivated by the possibility that I would see a woman in the White House in 2016. The campaigns were just revving up, and we would compare notes on where the Democratic party stood. After a few too many drinks, you might have found us walking down the street proudly (and loudly) proclaiming “HILCIL2016” (pronounced Hill-Kill-2016). Of course, this phrase did not relate easily to her name, but it gave me hope.

I moved back to Villanova that spring 2015 with three friends and this is when I can proudly say my feminism came into full flourish. We would sit around and discuss the pay gap, what sort of misogyny we had experienced that day, or other topics that would get us heated and yet bonded in ways that still hold ever-so-slightly today. While I was pretty uneducated in the topic, Jen and Katrina were long-standing feminists and what I learned from them still sustains and serves me to this day.

So when it was time to vote in the 2016 election, I knew exactly where I stood on the issues. And if anyone asked me why — because at this point my approval for Senator Clinton went beyond her matching chromosomes — I had a simple answer. I wanted to put someone in a place of power that would help me live a better young adult life. Namely, I wanted maternity benefits.

While my feminism is relatively recent (nascent really, at four years old), my maternal drive is deep-seated. And as I reach an age in which it is deemed societally appropriate to procreate, I become more and more threatened by the lack of provisions made by the American government for career-driven mothers. Now, I’m not having children for at least five or six years, but if asked I’ll tell you that if I don’t have a partner by 32, I’m considering IVF. The why is foolish and selfish, but I really don’t want to have amniocentesis, a common procedure for pregnant women over 35. I also want to have kids when I have the energy for kids. And, finally, I want my kids to have a life with grandparents who can pick them up and twirl them around, a reality that was short-lived in my own life.

All these maternal dreams considered, I know I’m a career woman. I enjoy what I do. I dream of escalating further up the career ladder. I’m good at it. But American culture normalizes the idea that women can only truly achieve a career or a fulfilling motherhood. There is the mother who quits her job or works significantly less hours in order to be more present for her child(ren), or there is the career-driven mother who is absent at the big moments.

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Artwork Screenshot from Explained, a Netflix and Vox Media Docuseries

And I don’t think I should have to sacrifice one dream to achieve the other, in either reality.

Which brings me to today’s consumption mindfulness: “Why Women Are Paid Less,” a docuseries episode of Explained by Vox Media and distributed by Netflix. The episode featured captivating interviews by (my girl) Hilary Clinton and Anne-Marie Slaughter as well as leading Rwandan and Icelandic government officials, their countries chosen for their nearly diminished pay gap (and whose names I should note but I can’t find where they are listed in the episode).

The breakdown is this: the pay gap experienced by much of the first-world, Western world, whatever you want to define it as is brought about not by the simple sex difference between men and women. No. In fact, a woman without children can earn nearly as much as a man in the same position. Multiple studies have shown that it is when a woman with children is in a similar position in young adulthood, her chances of making as much as a man who started on the same career trajectory diminishes irrevocably as she is forced (or, admittedly, more willing) to choose care opportunities — EVEN IF SHE HAS A “PARTNER” — because there is still a lingering notion that women are the caregivers and men are the breadwinners.

Take this into consideration: if a man decorates his office with pictures of a family, he is seen as a good provider, a family man. If a woman does, however, she is seen as distracted

Iceland has nearly diminished their pay gap by giving a “use it or lose it” paternity leave, leveling the playing field for when an employer hires a young adult due to the equal chance that he or she is going to need maternity/paternity coverage.

Which brings me to Anne-Marie Slaughter’s quote that struck a chord with me today. If men and women are to be truly, undeniably equal in the workforce, then they need to both be seen as potential caregivers and breadwinners for families.

No more motherhood penalty.

This isn’t a feminist issue. This is a humanity issue. And it can work. Rwanda and Iceland prove that.

So why are we waiting around as if it’s going to fix itself?