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Do you hear the people sing? ugh.

IDK about you but I was up until 11:30 PM watching the 25th anniversary concert of Les Mis and boy am I feeling it today.  It’s about revolution and the people rising up against oppression. And the only roles for women were in the love story that’s a sub plot. Les Miserables is right.

Back in November, Cindy Royal wrote an open letter to Wired criticizing their cover cleavage image for a story about tissue regeneration. The letter went viral, women in tech were encouraged to write their “break up” letters and a boycott of the magazine was underway. Then Wired Editor Chris Anderson responded asking for Royal’s ideas with the caveat, there are “not enough high-profile women in the tech industry who are recognizable to sell a cover. This problem goes beyond women: we have trouble putting ‘people’ on the cover.” Once we found out that a woman actually choose the cover image and edited the article with different intentions, things got more complicated in the world of gender representation in the media.

Cindy Royal:

It’s the pattern of representation of women in Wired that is more troublesome to me than any one particular image. The breast image was just the catalyst/ the last straw.

Nancy Miller:

I’m really pleased to be able to hear from so many women who read Wired. With an 80% male readership, I don’t tend to get access to you–something I’m hoping will change with this cover.
Is the cover attention-getting? Yes. Is it sexist? No. Is it misogynistic? No. This is a story about breast tissue engineering. The image is of breasts–how you feel about them is something that is up to you. The bioengineering technology also treats urinary sphincters, but, admittedly, those aren’t as photogenic.

Rachel Sklar:

Hey Nancy, a few points: Yes the cover is attention-getting. Is it sexist? I would say yes, on its own and especially in the context of Wired’s coverage and showcasing of women. Reducing women to just breasts is a pretty time-honored way of sexualizing them. I realize that was not the intention in this context – or your intention – but there’s no denying that that’s a huge part of it…Had this been in the context of more balanced coverage of women in Wired over time, I might not have been as upset by it. My main interest in this is in my responsibility to recommend a publication to my students that doesn’t cater to the stereotypes of women in tech that I am trying to reverse.”

Hitting newsstands this week is Wired’s April 2011 issue titled “Under Construction” featuring it’s first female engineer. This is why talking back to the media is so important. Because these are our options.

Remember when subtext was something that culturally poor and ostracized communities projected onto mainstream narratives as ways of coping and identifying with normative identities? Well little did we know that the practice would come to an end and be seen as ‘the good old days’. At the Center for Media’s PaleyFest panel in LA, Glee creators Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan came out with the news that Cheerio cheerleader Santana, played by Naya Rivera was officially gay, despite not having her actually come out yet in the narrative of the show. 

Falchuk, who was apparently driving the gay-aspect said

“Santana is now out, internally…we think we’ve made a big step in giving the world that character… (Lesbian visibility) was our intention…We want to make sure everybody is included. Santana is a lesbian…A lot of people are very interested in that relationship..now we have a major character on one of the top shows on TV who is a lesbian. Whether she’s dating someone or not is not really what we’re getting at here. What we’re trying to do is explore that character and what it means to be that character.”

Huh. Ok. So she’s a lesbian who hasn’t come out yet in the narrative but enough people wanted her to be one so now she is, a decision that will no doubt boost our series web-cred. Fair warning that Santana will now be seen as “the people’s” character; one who’s arc was chosen by the participatory millennial fan audience. This move will be referenced to at panels, conferences and show-runner meetings for years to come.

When AfterEllen.com asked how much of Santana’s sexuality was brought on by vocal lesbian fans, Ryan Murphy said, “Are you happy now?” Um.. no.

I want to point out that while I’m extremely happy that Glee creators are listening to their audience, they took the easy way out. Their intention of increasing visibility might be commendable if they took on other issues fans have with the show. Announcing at a panel that one of their female characters was a lesbian smells of a gay-for-pay PR stunt to boost the show’s web-cred. But here’s the writing on the wall for those of us who intend on creating a better stories: while fans generate the types of stories they’d like to see, creators cherry-pick the safest ones and call it participatory storytelling and brand it as interactive entertainment. Maybe relying on subtext wasn’t so bad after all.

In other news, don’t complain about lesbian representation on TV anymore. NBC picked up half-hour romantic comedy pilot set to star Amanda Peet called I Hate That I Love You from Will and Grace creator Jhoni Marchenko. Here’s the pitch: “A straight couple introduces two of its lesbian friends to one another and what results is both instant attraction and a pregnancy.” Another lesbian-centered  narrative is set to air titled A lot Like Us about a lesbian couple and their sperm donor. If you didn’t catch the hint, women want nothing more than to have babies, even when they’re with other women!

So yeah, I’m hearing the people singing but….Ugh.

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2 thoughts on “Do you hear the people sing? ugh.

  1. Emma says:

    Hi, there! I enjoyed probably 90% of this post. You were spot on about Santana and Brittany on Glee, and the issue of, well, cleavage, on cover of Wired magazine. But I have to respectfully disagree with you on what you said about Les Miserables being somewhat sexist.

    Could the musical have done more to cover the feminist movement and women’s march on Versailles, instead of the student uprising at the Barricade? Yeah, probably, but then it would be an entirely different story.

    And there’s an important distinction here that you’re missing: the difference between a story that’s not overtly focused on women’s rights and a story tht’s *against* women’s rights. As I recall, “Do You Hear the People Sing?” has just as many women singing as men.

    The main cast is of Les Mis four men and three women, which is hardly shoving the female characters off to a “sub plot.” In fact, the quintessentially feminist and ass-kicking TV show, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” also had a cast of four men and three women. I’m not equating Les Mis and Buffy; I’m just saying the statement that ‘not-main-plot equals sexist-sub-plot’ isn’t actually all that true.

    And for the record, Fantine and Eponine are incredibly strong, human, and compelling female characters. You said Les Mis was hypocritical concerning equal rights, but it really doesn’t get more equal than this.

    • Anonymous says:

      Thanks, Emma. I agree with your POV on Les Miz. I don’t think it was overtly sexist, I just hoped that they had more songs for the women to sing that weren’t love songs.

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