I’m a feminist, but…

In women’s studies, we make a fair bit of fun of people who tend to preface their statements with “I’m not a feminist, but…”  And when we aren’t mocking these people, we’re discussing how their rejection of the term indicates its historical misuse and derogation by the media.

Obviously, I don’t have a problem with the label. I don’t find if necessary to distance myself from the name of the ideology I’m about to espouse.

But it’s possible that feminism might want to distance itself from me. You’ll never hear the words “I’m not a feminist, but…” come out of my mouth, but you’re likely to hear me say, “I’m a feminist, but…” before I try to explain why I was listening to “Love the Way You Lie” so loudly that I didn’t hear the phone ring when you called.

There is no excuse. It’s an offensive song. I’ve already acknowledged that here. The problem is that I like the way it sounds; in fact, one might say that I love the way it lies to me.

I have a weird relationship with hiphop. I can only name a handful of the most famous artists of the genre (think about when Tina Fey says “Salt and Pepper” when she means “Salt-N-Pepa” in Baby Mama—that’s me), and I almost never understand the cultural references in the songs. My favorite kind of music is quiet and introspective; there is some guitar and maybe some piano. Hiphop is not like this, but every now and then, when I’m in the car, my finger, moving independently of my brain, selects 107.9 on the radio. The next thing I know, the volume is turned up and I’m crunking in my seat. Wait, is that a thing? Is crunk a verb? Is it some kind of dancing?

It isn’t just “Love the Way You Lie” or even hiphop that make feminism switch seats when I try to sit down next to it on the bus.

I like Barbies. I always have and I always will. I recognize the impossible—literally impossible—body type that a Barbie doll possesses, but I don’t care. There, I said it. Barbies were never beauty objects to me. They were senators and lawyers and writers and professors and artists. They had dysfunctional relationships with the people in their lives because they were a) unbalanced, b) too focused on their careers, or c) both. In other words, they were characters. Let’s not dwell on the limited experiences I offered my Barbie characters. I have an excuse because I was 10. I doubt all of the TV executives in the world are 10; probably just half of them are.

While I’m on this “I’m a feminist, but…” kick, I might as well admit that I love those movies Lifetime always shows. You know what I mean. There’s an abused wife who takes her life back by killing her husband and then has to go on the run. Or there’s a neglected wife whose affair with the pool boy scandalizes the entire town, especially when it turns out that the pool boy is her step-son. I don’t even have any weak explanations for this habit like I do for the hiphop and the Barbies. These movies have tired and formulaic plots which are enacted poorly by trite dialogue in the hands of mediocre actors (usually from the soaps, so maybe there’s a clue about my fondness). My problem has actually gotten a lot better over the years. I don’t watch any movies on Lifetime that I haven’t seen already, and only a handful were grandfathered in after I declared a moratorium on this rubbish. These include Blood on Her Hands, in which Susan Lucci actually gets away with murder, and To Love, Honor, and Deceive, in which Vanessa Marcil (better known around here as Brenda Barrett) knocks out a guy with a blender.

During the first or second week of the semester, one of my Intro to Women’s Studies students stood up and declared, “Can we just talk about Lifetime for a sec? This network is supposed to be ‘television for women’ but all the women on there are victims, sometimes of other women!” I couldn’t have put it better myself. Lifetime is not advancing the cause. It is further pigeon-holing women by assuming this kind of fare is what they want to watch. The idea that women need a special TV network for special terrible lady-movies is straight out of the Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus ideology, which is really one of the more obnoxious ideologies mostly because it assumes there are fundamental personality differences between ALL women and ALL men and because it presents itself as helping women and men have better relationships when it is actually creating a problem where there isn’t one.

So many of my internal monologue’s lines are about reconciling the so-called guilty pleasures of pop culture with my feminist attitudes. I want to expect and demand better quality entertainment so why do I continue to settle for Melrose Place (a dark spot in my past) and Saturday Night Live (a straight white boys club complete with fart jokes)?

Earlier this week, I heard Susan Douglas discuss her book, Enlightened Sexism, which addresses the “seductive message that feminism’s work is done.” (One of Douglas’s strongest pieces of evidence that feminism is in fact not “done” is the TLC show Toddlers and Tiaras. ‘Nuff said.) At the end of her lecture, Douglas urged us to point out not just what is rotten about the media but what is good about it, too.

I ask my Gender and Sexuality in Pop Culture students to examine the TV shows they consider “good,” the ones with good acting, good writing, solid stories, and maybe even some awards. How do these shows represent gender? Are there a lot of jokes that involve insulting homosexuality? It’s important to examine what gets privileged as “serious” art, not just popular fluff. Basically, we’re talking about Mad Men versus Jersey Shore, if you want to be extreme about it.

The bad stuff is less harmful if we recognize it as bad, right? That’s what I tell myself, but the truth is that every time I listen to “Love the Way You Lie,” I’m encouraging artists to produce more content like it. The other truth is that “Love the Way You Lie” would be just as entertaining (if not more) to me if it were called “Love the Way You Read.” Bear with me. This is how it would go:

Just gonna stand there
And watch me learn
But that’s all right
Because I like
The way I yearn
Just gonna stand there
And hear me teach
But that’s all right
Because I love
The way you read
I love the way you read
I love the way you read

Now there’s a song I wouldn’t be embarrassed to listen to.