Am I Still A Feminist If I Watch And Read (Maybe Even Enjoy) Sexist Pop Culture?

Posted on July 28, 2016 in Aunty Feminist, Staff Picks, Stories by YKA

By Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan for Youth Ki Awaaz:

I’m fighting the flu one Crocin at a time, so this week will be under the influence of Drugs. Let’s begin!

 L asked: 

Does it make me “less of a feminist” if I watch films and videos and read books that are not feminist in nature? Like K3G is a patriarchal AF film, but I have still watched it multiple times.

Dear L,

I’ve been sick this past week thanks to a dreadful flu epidemic that’s been sweeping Delhi (My only comfort is that I have no FOMO since everyone I know is also sick). You know how when you’re lying in bed, ill and bored, sometimes you need something mindless to entertain you? Usually I watch television, but for me, that ultimate comfort read has often been my ancient Enid Blytons, preserved from my childhood, often so crumbly and dusty (they were second-hand when I acquired them thirty years ago) that I wind up with a worse cold than I had in the beginning, but still. Enid Blyton! With her obsession with food and her children falling into super safe but also super exciting adventures. With her British pride and portraying all foreigners as less than.

Now, I don’t know how much you remember Enid Blyton’s Adventure series or any of her mystery novels, but there’s usually a theme that runs through it—the boys get into all sorts of mishaps, the girls somewhat reluctantly follow. Or are told to stay behind because they’re girls. Blyton’s books are sometimes sexist, often racist and also, as I realised on this time’s re-read of “The Valley Of Adventure”, feature privileged little brats. And yet, in times of illness, I reach for her, because Blyton’s comforting stories are like a cool, soothing palm on my forehead—whether I was sick at four or thirty four.

I sort of excuse her political incorrectness by saying it was normal for her time. But it wasn’t really. I mean, there are other writers who wrote around the same time (the 1930s onwards) who didn’t write sentences like this one from The Three Gollies: “Once upon a time, the three gollies, Golly, Woggy, and Nigger went for a long walk.” (This book has since been banned and is out of print now.) So, let’s face it: Blyton is racist, and probably a little bit sexist as well. And yet, I still read her cozy writing.

Sometimes you wonder whether an artist’s personal beliefs can be separated from the work that he or she creates. Take Woody Allen. I used to love his films, but with the accusations made on his character, plus his somewhat creepy obsession with very young women even evidenced in his films, I’m not sure I can stand by him anymore. Same with Bill Cosby, once America’s favourite uncle. Roman Polanski. Michael Jackson. David Bowie. So many people whose sex lives were terrible, but who made great art. Do you stand by them? I personally can’t separate an artist from the man, but a lot of people do. And that’s understandable as well. Would you deny yourself a whole body of work just because you think the creator is a horrible person? Obviously in India where “Mien Kampf” is a bestseller to this day, people don’t believe that.

In the same sick bed I was watching a TV show called “Community”. It’s a fantastic show, great dialogues, perfect pop culture references, but while the four male characters were perfectly rounded, the three female ones seemed a bit one note. One was the religious Christian, one was the teenage control freak, one was the feminist who ruined everything. In the meanwhile, two of the male characters formed an adorable bromance and went on adventures together. “Why can’t we see a show where two women do that?” I said, between sniffles to my partner (who I’ve also infected with my germs). “Because then it would be two manic pixie dream girls?” he suggested. Do people prefer to watch manic pixie dream boys then? Why is Zooey Deschanel such a perfect unique snowflake, while boys who live in a similar fantasy world always seem to have another boy around to share their interests with?

I think, dear L, that you ultimately can’t shy away from all the sexist/racist/questionable content out there. The trick is though to keep challenging it in your head. All that you consume is from someone else’s brain, and that brain could be hardwired to have opinions that you disagree with thoroughly. So watch “K3G” to entertain yourself, but remember that it’s patriarchal faff. And mix it up with some real feminist stuff—books by women authors (except maybe Aunty Enid), shows written by women, movies written by men which have a diverse cast and feminist roles, and so on.

In the end, it’s up to you and not the shows you watch whether or not you take away a message.

Love,
Aunty Feminist

Aunty Feminist loves to hear from her readers! If you’d like her to answer a burning question you might have, send it to us at [email protected] or tweet your questions to @reddymadhavan.

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