Batman and the Case of the Missing Women

*MASSIVE SPOILER FOR THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, I AM NOT EVEN JOKING, IF YOU DON’T WANT TO BE SPOILED, DON’T READ THIS POST*

So. Er. Did anyone notice that here really weren’t any women in The Dark Knight Rises?

Audrey Hepburn Shock gif

U Serious, Girl?

Everyone Else On the Internet: “… No?”

Yeah, I’ll admit this seems like an out-of-place critique. Compared with Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises was practically FLOODED with women.

We had not one, but two female characters! They both had big important roles! And both of them were defined by more than just Bruce Wayne’s romantic interest in them!  We finally – FINALLY – got Catwoman.

But I, the resident Feminist Batwoman, still have some complaints about the presence (or lack thereof) of women in the movie.

In the immortal words of Selina Kyle:

Selina Kyle Catwoman Deal With It

Okay, so, I will gladly admit that there are actual women in The Dark Knight Rises. I will even gladly admit that they are interesting, well-rounded characters. We have Miranda/Talia. We have Selina Kyle. We even have Selina’s friend Jen. And then we have, er…

Other women?

Hem.

A quick search of IMDB informs me that the other women included Maids #1-#3, a female security guard, and Ra’s Al Ghul’s wife, who never talks (and honestly, we never even see her face).

So… not so much in terms of “other women.”

Oh, but maybe The Dark Knight Rises just doesn’t have a lot of named characters! Maybe that’s why there aren’t that many named women!

er… no.

Least you ask, there are some fifteen-odd named male characters in The Dark Rises, including Bruce Wayne, Fox, Alfred Caine, Commissioner Gordon, Blake/Robin, Dr. Pavel, The Mayor, Strykker, Daggert, Ra’s Al Ghul and Foley.

Talia Al Gul GIF

“Equal Representation is a strong phrase to throw around The Dark Knight Rises, Bruce.”

It’s a product of how few women there are in action movies full stop that we look at two (or three) women in a superhero movie as a lot. Named female characters in The Dark Knight Rises are vastly outnumbered by named male characters. So while I’m pleased that we’re finally moving towards having more well-rounded, interesting female characters…

I’m not ready to start baking feminist cookies yet.

cookies baking gif

No cookies for you, The Dark Knight Rises.

Okay, so, not a lot of named female characters in The Dark Knight Rises. Sure.

But frankly, it wasn’t the lack of named female characters that struck me. It was the lack of unnamed female character. The lack of female extras.

The lack of women in the movie’s background.

The Dark Knight Rises is filled with people. The filmmakers must have hired thousands of extras to create all of their crowds; it is, after all, a film about a city.

And most of the crowds are divided into very specific groups: Groups of terrified civilians. Groups of Bane’s henchmen. Groups of cops. And groups of young children.

According to my very un-sophisticated analysis, the four “groups” that were the most important in terms of the plot were the henchmen, the cops, the prisoners (both in the Gotham and the Bane children) and the children. All four get big chances to shine, both as heroes and as sympathetic (or antipathetic) figures. There are, I will admit, a lot of shots of terrified crowds, but they’re more important in terms of atmosphere than in terms of thematic importance. The scene of the police advancing on the henchmen, or the children stuck on the bridge, is much thematically important, in my understanding of the movie, than the shot of all the bankers screaming as they exit the stock exchange.

Perhaps most importantly, the henchmen/prisoners, the children and the police serve as mirrors to the larger themes of the movie: sacrifice, service, loyalty and family. The children and the police are the two sides of Bruce Wayne – the innocent, wronged child, and the protective, warrior-adult. The police, moreover, are the lawful side of Batman’s quest – they too, work to protect hte civilian population.  The henchmen are the more brutish manifestations of Bane and Talia Al Gul. And the prisoners are in the middle – symbolic of Bane and Talia’s past, but also of Bruce’s challenges. They are the dark side of the population of Gotham, the angry hordes hidden inside prisons, just waiting to be released.

So. Four major groups of people. Huge thematic importance. Thousands of extras.

And you know what?

There aren’t a whole lot of women in those groups.

In fact, in most of those groups, there are no women at all.

Catwoman Selina Kyle Anne Hathaway GIF

Selina Kyle: “Not a whole lot of women ’round here…”

Try to think of a female policewoman in The Dark Knight Rises. Any. There were hundreds of police officers in that movie, both in and out of uniform. They’re everywhere.

And I will be highly impressed if you manage to find one woman in the mass of teaming cops.

I saw the movie twice; the second time I was specifically looking for these elusive background women. I think I managed to catch a glimpse of one female cop near the middle of the movie. I can’t be sure.

Sure, I think we could probably find one or two women cops, if we looked hard. But one or two women in a group of hundreds – or thousands – of policemen?

… that’s all kinds of ridiculous.

And I will bet you actual cash (not a lot of it – remember that I’m a poor college student) that you cannot find a single female henchman. Again, I looked pretty damn carefully, and I did not see any.

There are a LOT of henchmen in The Dark Knight Rises.

None of them are women.

Bane’s group of merry terrorists are solely and exclusively male.

Not surprisingly, there are also no female prisoners

(with the notable exceptions of Selina Kyle and Talia Al Gul, but crucially, but women are cited as EXCEPTIONS. Selina is in a men’s-only prison, as is Talia Al-Gul, and in fact, prisoners are so coded as male that no one guesses the escaped prisoner (Talia) might be female. Also, both Talia and Selina are named female characters – there are no random female prisoners walking around as extras).

So yeah. Women can’t be “normal” bad guys (henchmen/prisoners) and they can’t be “normal” good guys either (the police).

Now, I can hear the objections already.

Oh, well, that’s just ACCURACY, that is. Because there AREN’T a lot of female cops or bad guys in real life, so The Dark Knight Rises is just being ACCURATE. 

Veronica Mars GIF

OH REALLY?

I HAD NEVER THOUGHT OF THAT.

(that was sarcastic, in case you couldn’t tell).

Okay, Point the First:

The Dark Knight Rises is about a man who dresses up like a bat and fights bad guys in the dark of the night. I’m not sure it’s going to win any prizes for accuracy. Also, that part where Bruce Wayne’s back is broken and all his cartilage has been destroyed, but he gets back to top physical form in less than, like, two months?

TOTALLY ACCURATE.

Point the second: There aren’t female terrorists or female cops in real life?

Selina Kyle Bitch Please GIF

What she said.

… no.

In the United States, most local police departments have at least 12% female officers. In big cities like Detroit, Philadelphia and Chicago (one of the places where the Batman series was filmed), nearly one fourth of cops are women. In Canada, TWENTY PERCENT of cops are women.

Female cops EXIST.

Rookie Blue Cop Celebration Women GIF

“HURRAH, I am not a construct of someone’s imagination!”

There is no good reason why, in a movie with dozens of shots of hundreds of police officers, we can’t spot more than one or two female officers. That would indicate a 1% female enrollment, which is SIGNIFICANTLY lower than the actual rate, even if you take the lowest one one (12%).

Missy Peregrine Rookie Blue GIF

“Yo, you may not believe female cops exist, but this female cop can still *shoot* you.”

And henchmen? No female henchmen? Oh, right, there have never been any women involved in terrorist movements, or resistance movements, or populist uprisings.

… with the small exception of ALL the terrorist movements/ resistances/ populist uprisings.

There are women suicide bombers and female members of terrorist groups. Some populist resistance groups/ freedom fighters are mostly female. It’s ridiculous that I even need to do a  historical overview, because women freedom terrorists are so damn ubiquitous it would be like trying to prove the existence of MALE terrorists.

[Sidenote: I'm about to cite a whole host of groups that have been classified by the west as terrorist organizations. This does not mean that I personally believe they are terrorists; it's just that the popular western imagination SEES them as terrorists, so they're organizations that someone like, say, Nolan, would look to to craft Bane's group]

Here are just a few examples of women in terrorism: Women have been central figures in Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tigers (a group that pioneered female suicide squads), Chechen terrorism (the “black widows”), the liberation movement in Algeria (where women smuggled weapons, planted bombs and served as spies), the Shining Path in Peru, the Japanese Red Army (founded and led by a woman), the Weathermen of the United States and the Ku Klux Klan of the United States (okay, these guys are definitely terrorists, no qualifications needed. They’re also racist assholes).

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of female involvement in terrorist groups.

Believing that a Bane-like revolt movement would not have any female participants involves such a willful ignorance of history and social realities, it’s somewhat mind-boggling.

The tales of your incompetence devil wears prada gif

Details of your historical incompetence…

Miranda Priestly Meryl Streep GIF

Of course, the place where the whole “but there aren’t that many women in those groups ANYWAYS” argument *really* falls apart is with the children.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but there are usually approximately the same number of male and female children, right? That’s a thing, right?

So why the hell are there no female children in The Dark Knight Rises? (I will get to the notable exception later; don’t kill me).

Uuurgh.

I mean, the filmmakers even make a POINT of coding children as male: they make sure to specify that Blake went to a home for young boys and when Blake tries to save the children, he returns to that same home for young boys. When the Wayne Mansion is converted into an orphanage, it’s pretty clear that it’ll be a boy’s orphanage (I didn’t spot any girls in the crowd of children running in, and I was looking pretty closely).

Where the fuck are all the female children, that’s what I want to know. Do they get fancy orphanages? Are there any organizations taking care of them? Does anyone bother trying to save the orphan girls during the nuclear explosion?

Why don’t they matter enough to be a part of the narrative?

Did some kind of plague kill all the girls?

OHMIGOD, HAVE THEY ALL BEEN KIDNAPPED?

BATMAN! GET ON IT.

Do women just pop out of the ground, fully-formed, like Athena from Zeus’s head?

Selina Kyle Princess Diaries Gif

How Ladies are Made: MAKEOVERS.

What aggravates me is that children – or, more precisely, boys – are SUPER important thematically. The orphan boys represent Bruce Wayne’s past; they also represent Gotham’s future protectors (since both Blake and Bruce were once orphaned boys). Moreover, they’re symbolic of what Batman has to protect, both with his fortune (by building orphanages) and with his life (by sacrificing himself so the boys don’t die).

[note that even in the previous movie, The Dark Knight, the child Batman saves at the end is a boy]

And women are completely excluded from that. They’re excluded from this narrative of loss, and eventual growth:

They don’t get to be protected. They don’t get to be the orphans who grow up to be heroes. They’re not part of Gotham’s future.

Because all the children in The Dark Knight Rises are boys, the Batman cycle is an exclusively MALE cycle: young boys with dark pasts grow up to protect other young boys.

It’s also quite disappointing to see this lack of girls in the movie because of Selina Kyle. In the comics, Selina Kyle was also an orphan. After her parents died, she was put in a juvenile detention center; she escaped and, in order to survive, she became a child prostitute. Later, she transformed into Catwoman in part to protect and feed (with her ill-gotten gains) her fellow child-prostitutes.

Thus, in the comics, Selina Kyle serves as another side of Bruce Wayne’s narrative of loss and protection. The movie, however, refuses to let her mirror Bruce in that way.

Selina Kyle proves that the Batman story – the story of loss and eventual heroism – is not an exclusively male narrative; instead, The Dark Knight Rises CHOSE to make it an exclusively male narrative.

Selina Kyle Steals Car GIF

“Personally, I cope with my history of loss by wearing driving fast cars and wearing fabulous masks. Who does that remind you of?”

***

Random People object: ARE YOU SAYING NOLAN IS EXCLUDING WOMEN BECAUSE HE HATES THEM AND HE’S A MISOGYNIST? YOUUUUU SUCK.”

Answer: Yes, I do suck, but for other reasons.

And to be fair: No, I do not think Nolan and his fellow filmmakers excluded women on purpose. I think it was almost entirely unconscious.

That’s what so damn depressing.

I will bet you a giant pile of jellybeans that when Nolan and Co. looked over their crowds of policemen, henchmen and children, none of them thought: “Huh, there aren’t a lot of women.”

And I will bet you another giant pile of jellybeans that most people who saw the movie weren’t thinking that either.

In fact, both the filmmakers and their audiences probably saw these giant, male-dominated crowds, and thought it was perfectly normal.

They also probably didn’t think “oh, look at all those men.”

They probably thought: “Oh, look at all those people.”

If you’re casting for a pretty gender-neutral group of extras – like, say, policemen or children (yes, I think policemen are gender neutral), you would assume that in a gender-neutral world, people would cast their crowds approximately 50-50. But in our world, you can cast an entire set of extras as men and not have anyone (except me) bat an eye

Because men are the default.

That’s why we don’t notice when we see all-male crowds, or all-male movies. Men are the default. Men are people. You grab women when you specifically want a woman (like for Catwoman), but you don’t cast women to just be people. People are men.

That’s why feminists – including me – did a happy dance when Barack Obama used a default female pronoun to describe the life of an average American child. Because we’re so used to thinking of these average workers, average children, average voters – as men.

Women are other.

If men weren’t the default, I guarantee you that I would not be the only person ranting about this gender inequality. I don’t think people didn’t notice it because they’re sexist, I think people didn’t notice it because we’re used to having men be the default. I don’t think Nolan cast his extras this way because he’s sexist, I think he cast the movie this way because he’s used to having a male default. Need a random bit character? Cast a man!

Hell, if men weren’t the default, there would be tons of female henchpeople serving Bane, and no one would say anything, because of course women are henchpeople, why wouldn’t they be?

Catwoman Batman GIF

Selina: “For the record, Bruce, I’m totally willing to take you on as a henchperson, even if you are a man.”

***

Here’s the really important part. The part I think everyone – mostly superheroes – need to understand.

If you assume a male default, you’re REALLY SHOOTING YOURSELF IN THE FOOT.

Look, the only reason Miranda/Talia managed to pull off her whole “hiding in plain sight” routine is because everyone assumed the “child” that climbed out of the prison was a boy. The child had short hair, no one called her a “girl” – so Bruce assumed it was a boy, and thus assumed it was Bane. If he hadn’t assumed it was Bane, maybe he would have, you know, done research to check the evidence.

And the reason the cops let Selina Kyle go during the bar shoot-out scene is because they assumed that a frightened, screaming woman couldn’t have anything to do with the kidnapping. WHOOOPS.

Assumptions are a dangerous thing. Because we’re so used to seeing women in action movies as a single role – the love interest – most of the audience didn’t even consider that Miranda/Talia could be anything but that.

You assume a male default, you’re basically allowing women an automatic advantage of surprise.

batman catwoman gif PSYCHE

PSYCHE!

…And I really don’t think someone like Selina Kyle or Talia Al Ghul needs any more advantages. They’re pretty badass already.

Women can be bad guys. Women can be cops. Women can be children (no shit). Once we start moving away from these huge inequities and gendered assumptions, we won’t have to construct plots based on the major surprise of “OH MY GOD, THE CHILD WAS A GIRL.”

So yeah, I’m not giving The Dark Knight Rises a feminist cookie. Like I said, I appreciate that there are more named female characters. I’ll appreciate it even more when women aren’t treated like exceptions or like “surprise bad guys” or Othered in various ways. And I’ll appreciate it EVEN MORE when I can see a crowd of police ready to take on the bad guys… and half of both the bad guys and the police are women.

Thinks women are people cookie

I’m keeping this cookie for now.

There’s a point in The Dark Knight Rises where one of the Baddy McBadGuys (Daggert), flush with his evil victory, says “Hey, can we get some girls in here?”

You know what, Mr. Baddy McBadGuy? Much as I disagree with your morals, I very much agree with the sentiment. Can we get some girls in these movies?

… I don’t think it’s going to bring the quality of the action down.

Selina Kyle fighting GIF

***

GIANT POSTSCRIPT:

I should note that I loved The Dark Knight Rises. LOOOOVED it. I want to follow Selina Kyle around and give her buckets and buckets of roses and champagne and pearls. I want to give Alfred a big hug. Hell, I even want to give Talia a high-five for pulling one over Bruce Wayne. You are one BAMF, Talia. I salute you.

And I was SOBBING through the end.

snape crying harry potter gif

EVERYONE in the theater could probably hear me.

Stitch crying lilo and stitch gif

HOW CAN YOU DO THIS TO ME, NOLAN?

I just have a lot of feelings about these characters

And for the next three days, I was just like:

I don't know what my feelings are doing

Kristen Bell sloth GIF

tina fey high fiving angels liz lemon

So… yeah.

I really loved The Dark Knight Rises.

Which I think speaks to the fact that art is COMPLEX, and people are COMPLEX, and we can have COMPLEX feelings, and be having joygasms over awesome things while also pointing out the ways in which they suck.

It is possible to like problematic things, everyone!

Talk amongst yourselves.

 

[BRUCE WAYNE x SELINA KYLE OTP]


A Bra Of One’s Own

A day late, but yes, this is the long-promised blog post where I talk about boobs. Watch my search ranking shoot up 1000%!

Yes, an entire 4000 word post on boobs!

Joan Christina Hendricks Mad Men Get Your Tits On

GET YOUR TITS ON, EVERYONE.

Let’s start with story time:

In the early days of my college years, I accompanied my Future Wife* on her first trip bra shopping. Or rather, her first trip shopping for an underwire bra: until the fateful bra-shopping day, Future wife had been a very happy sports-bra aficionado.
But now she wanted to try “traditional” brassieres. And I, the resident expert, stepped in to help.

[What is a resident expert, you ask? Well, on top of all my other wonderful qualifications, I have a PhD in lingerie. #NotIntendedToBeAFactualStatement]

Now, faithful reader, if you yourself do not wear bras, you may be wondering what the difference is between a sports bra and a more traditional – or “underwire” – bra.

Quick Demonstration:

1. Underwire Bra: has individual cups that are usually molded to fit the shape of the wearer’s breast. [I mean, that's the theory. For 90% of bra-wearers, not so much]

fat heffalump plus size model bra

UNDERWIRE

2. Sports Bras: Sports bras restrict the movement of breasts, and are thus particularly useful for athletic activity (hence the name). They can be – and often are – worn in non-athletic contexts.

Venus and Serena Williams NY Times Magazine Deuce Sports Bra

Venus and Serena Williams, both wearing sports bra.

Bra-wearing folks sometimes prefer one type of bra to the other, and sometimes wear a combination of the two, depending on the occasion/ the clothes/ the physical activity/ what’s not in the laundry. It’s entirely a matter of personal taste.

Clear?

Clear!

Great. Let’s move back to the story.

Now, although I don’t have a PhD in lingerie (OKAY I LIED ABOUT THAT, SORRY), I had purchased underwire bras before. I therefore had a pretty decent idea of where Future Wife and I should shop. Since Future Wife and I were both poor college students, I steered her towards H&M, a magical store where you could buy an underwire bra for less than $20.

[Another random fact for non-bra-wearers: $20 is CHEAP for a bra. For comparison, bras at Victoria Secret, the most (in)famous lingerie store in the USA, usually cost at around $50.]

Future Wife liked H&M. But Future Wife also likes to try new things. Future Wife likes adventures. Future Wife likes to explore.

Future Wife wanted to go to the Victoria’s Secret store.

Victoria's Secret Store

Victoria’s Secret Store

Miranda Kerr, Victoria's Secret Commerical Boobs

Average Victoria’s Secret Commercial

Oh boy. OH BOY.

See, even though I was slightly more of an underwire bra expert than Future Wife, I had never been into a Victoria’s Secret store. In fact, I’d been avoiding it for most of my bra-possessing lifetime.

And I did not think putting a Modern-Day Hippie (Future Wife) and a Humorless Feminist (Me) in a Victoria’s Secret store was going to end well.

Victoria's secret Advertisement Miranda Kerr

Women as Christmas presents. Stay classy, Victoria’s Secret. Stay Classy.

But I was wrong. So, so, so wrong.

Putting a Humorless Feminist and a Modern-Day Hippie in Victoria’s Secret? HILARIOUS.

***

First: Future Wife discovers the Victoria’s Secret price tag

“This is eighty dollars! Why is it eighty dollars? It’s a piece of CLOTH.”

“To be fair, I’m sure there are at least four pieces of cloth involved in there.”

“I could sew a bra together for less than TEN dollars.”

“But would it have a pink-leopard-spot pattern? WOULD IT?”

“True. I’m not sure if I could live without the pink leopard spots.”

Victoria's Secret Pink Leopard Spotted Bra

PINK LEOPARD SPOTS. You’re welcome, Internet.

Second: Future Wife discovers the concept of a Push-Up bra

“What is this?”

“Oh, that’s padding. It’s a push-up bra.”

“… A push-up bra? Are you supposed to do push-ups in them?”

“No, you see, the inserted padding pushes your breasts up and makes them look bigger and bouncier.”

“Like balloons?”

“I mean, kind of – okay, yes. Like balloons.”

Victoria's Secret, Bra, Zebra Print Push-Up

At least a LITTLE like balloons.

“But what’s the point?”

“You’re asking me? What do I know?”

“Well, you’re the expert.”

“I mean – I think guys are supposed to like bigger boobs more? Maybe?”

“Yeah, well, I like being able to walk around without my breasts looking like balloons.”

“Me too.”

“The guys will just have to live with my non-balloon-y breasts.”

“A true tragedy, but I think they’ll live.”

“Where are the non-push-up bras?”

“They’ve got to be around here somewhere.”

*ten minutes of futile searching later*

“I told you we should have stuck with H&M.”

“Wait, this one doesn’t have padding.”

“That’s because it’s for triple D breasts. What about this one – OH MY GOD.”

“WHAT?”

“WHERE DO THE BOOBS GO?”

I had just discovered Victoria’s Secret’s Crowning Achievement: the double-padded bra. That’s right. DOUBLE. PADDED.

Inside of a 2 cup size bra

This image does not do justice to the ENORMITY of the padding. It was almost overflowing.

Maidenform Bra, Victoria's Secret, Giraffe Print d

The Add-two-cups Bra is now called the “Maidenform.” Also, what’s with the animal print, Victoria’s Secret?

“I don’t – I don’t understand. There’s so much padding, there’s no room for the breasts.”

“No, see, I think if you insert the nipple here and like, tape it down, it might be doable.”

“Yeah, cause I really want to tape down my nipple.”

“Fair point.

“What is this, one inch of padding?”

“Are you kidding? I think it’s two inches deep near the bottom.”

“Oh, I found the tag. Apparently it’s an “add-two-cup-sizes” bra.”

“Two cups? TWO CUPS? Why don’t you just stick two cups down your T-shirt? It would have the same effect.’

“Although much less comfortable.”

“True. This padding is very squishy. Wonder what’s in it.”

“Probably foam.”

” WAIT, WHAT DOES SHAVING CREAM HAVE TO DO WITH ANY OF THIS?”

I should note that as of the time I found the double-padded bra section of Victoria’s Secret, we were basically crying with laughter. You have to imagine this entire exchange interrupted with hysterical giggles. And an increasingly worried-looking staff hovering nearby.

Andrew Garfield laughing GIF

Like this, but with two people

“Some cups are made of foam. STYRO-foam.”

“WORST JOKE EVER.”

“GAH. Why would you even wear this? It practically makes your breasts levitate! It’s like putting them on a TRAY.”

“No, I think I’ve figured it out! There’s some kind of horrible boob-punching gang running around Wisconsin, and in order to protect our breasts from terrible damage, we need to wear extra padding!”

“That must be it! Why weren’t we informed?”

“Seriously. This is a major health risk.”

“We should ask the clerks if these bras protect effectively against boob-punching.”

“Maybe we shouldn’t. They’re looking at us like they want to call the asylum.”

“Fair point. Let’s get out of here.”

Add two cups victoria's secret

Sadly, we left the double-padded bra behind, and were thus without protection from the boob-punchers.

[I would like to belatedly apologize to the staff of that Victoria's Secret Store. We were really losing control there. Sorry guys]

***

Here’s the end of the story. We calmed down. We had a coffee. We stifled our giggles. We went to H&M. We found reasonably-priced bras.

All of them were padded.

Now, the difference with Victoria’s Secret was that with the H&M bras, the padding was removable. So Future Wife and I just bought the bras we liked… and removed the padding.

silicone bra inserts

I have a mini-pile of these in my closet.

*sigh*

Why did I tell this story (other than the hilarity)?
It’s the best illustration of my continued frustrations with bra-shopping in the United States. For indeed, since the dawn of my bra-shopping days, I have searched for that holiest of holy grails: the affordable un-padded bra for the small-breasted woman. I have enlisted knights and pages and armies; I have scoured vast stretches of Malls and Specialty Stores; I have even taken to the internet, and still, the grail remains out of reach.

Unlike the Knights of old, I do not seek the Grail for glory alone. I need the grail. You see, I am a card-carrying member of the Association of Small-Breasted Women. I usually wear a cup-size A, although I can go as low as an AA, and as high as a B, depending on the store.

If you have no idea what any of those numbers mean: I wear the lowest or second-lowest bra size. I’ve played a couple male characters in theater, and when I do, all I have to do for my chest to virtually disappear is wear a sports bra.

Yep. I have small breasts.

OH NO!

Professor Chang Angry Community

VERY UPSET

OH THE PAIN! OH THE HORROR! OH THE SUFFER -

Okay, yeah, I can’t do this.

I realize that according to the beauty standard for women, I’m supposed to be upset about my bra size. Very upset.

[blah-blah, Horror of Not Being A "Real Woman" blah-blah, The Terrible Curse Of Men Not Being Attracted To You etc. etc.]

But you know what? Fuck that noise.

My breasts are fine. I happen to like them. They’re easy to deal with. I like the way they look – and honestly, I’m the one who has to live with them, so my opinion is the only one that really matters.

That’s not, by the way, to say that there’s anything wrong with having larger breasts (or any size breasts!). My acceptance of my size is not a put-down of other people’s breasts. Breasts are great! Big breasts are great! Small breasts are great! Medium breasts are great! Lopsided breasts are great! ALL BREASTS ARE GREAT. The configuration of adipose tissue on one’s chest has absolutely no relationship with a their worth or with their beauty.

Tyra Banks You Wanna Be On top ANTM GIF

Tyra Banks says: Don’t Judge People For Their Boobz

Unfortunately, there are few things I hate more than bra-shopping. Because, as previously mentioned, finding an unpadded bra in my size?

Holy-grail level of impossible.

I tried this summer. I wanted one bra. A single one. No padding. I went to five stores, including Target, Boston Store, H&M.

I didn’t find a single one.

Padded bras? Sure. SUPER-padded bras? Yep. Add-one-cup-size bras? Everywhere. Add-two-cup-size-bras? WALLS of them. Push-ups? Absolutely.

Hell, I even found bras with INFLATABLE padding (and I thought that was an urban legend).

But despite groping enough bras for the cops to put me in a harassment registry, the unpadded size A bra remained elusive. I couldn’t even find the push-up bras with removable inserts. And worst, I’d spent days bombarded with dozens of advertisements explaining how I could turn my “A” into a “C” or explaining how push-up bras would make me “sexy.”

Because obviously the only way to be sexy is to have a “conventional” breast size. Urgh. I say again: URRRGH.

I’ve derived a few conclusions from the lack of unpadded bras:

1. If you have small breasts, you can’t possibly want to LOOK like you have small breasts.

2. If you have small breasts, your bra needs to fix you.

3. A small breast size is an inconvenient problem to be fixed.

4. One cannot have small breasts and still be sexy.

Most of these stores claim that their lingerie will make women feel “sexy” and “empowered.”*

But I don’t feel empowered when I walk out of those stores. I don’t feel confident. At best, I feel mad. At worst I feel discouraged Or ashamed. Because the constant barrage of “push-ups” purporting to “fix” my chest is enough to make even the most confident girl feel like there’s something wrong with her.

{*Women are certainly not the only ones who wear lingerie – a fact that none of the stores I frequent seem to be aware of. But that’s a rant for a different day]

***

Here’s the thing: I’m not inherently opposed to push-up bras. I don’t personally like wearing them, but I don’t begrudge anyone who does. Some of my similarly-sized friends buy them because they find that push-ups provide more support, or are more comfortable. Some people like for their breasts to appear bigger/rounder/fuller. Some clothes fit better if you’re wearing a push-up. One friend explained that she likes wearing push-up bras when she’s on her period because her breasts are sore, and the padding helps mitigate the pain.

All of these things are valid preferences. I am not at all trying to set up a dichotomy between good “natural” bras and bad “push-up” bras (and if that sentiment comes across, TELL ME, because I will fix it). If you want to wear a push-up bra, you should be able to wear a push-up bra (and you should not have to feel ashamed of that choice).

But what I resent is the lack of choice. What I resent is that wearing a push-up has become an OBLIGATION. I can’t choose not to wear one, because they don’t bloody well exist.

[in point of fact, they DO exist, but I have to go to more expensive stores to find them. Yes, it's more expensive to buy a bra without padding than a bra with padding. Excuse me, I need to pick my brain up off the floor]

Clearly, the stores I frequent think that if a woman has small breasts, she must want to wear padded bras. They’re only providing me one option because what other option could I possibly want? Un-padded?

HA! WHY WOULD ANYONE WANT THAT?

Merida shoot arrow gif brave

Next thing you know, you’ll be telling me some princesses would rather shoot arrows than get married. HAHAHAHAHAHA

This impossibility of finding an unpadded bra for small sizes is part and parcel of the our beauty standard – the same beauty standard that tells women there’s only one way to be beautiful. You must be thin and small-waisted and big-breasted, you must be white, or, if you can’t be white, you must be “exotic.” You must be tall, but not too tall, because if you’re too tall, you will emasculate men. You must be fit, but not muscled, because then you are too manly. Your hair must have volume and not too much curl. You need to pluck your hair here and shave it there, and there are no lines allowed on your face, because you don’t want to look old, do you?

Tyra Banks Angry Gif

Impossible Beauty Standard Make Tyra Banks Hulk ANGRY

And if your body does not conform, in some way, to this  impossible beauty standard, then you have an obligation to change it. You must wear spanx, shave your legs, wear black (because black is slimming. You must spend hours straightening (or curling) your hair. You must spend years on diets that may well ruin your health. You must spend hundreds of dollars on anti-aging products, and on bras that mold your breasts into the “perfect” size.

Whatever you do, don’t forget: You cannot sag. You cannot have lumps or bumps. You cannot have visible veins or scars. You cannot look like a fucking human being. You need to look PERFECT.

Healthy is the new skinny, Barbie as a real woman, Katie Halchishick

Kate Halchishick. What Barbie proportions look like on a real woman.

Listen, I love fashion. And I am no innocent when it comes to conforming to the beauty standard. I used to diet – I’ve even walked to the edge of an eating disorder. I shave my legs. I wear makeup. I use anti-aging products. I care way too much about which clothes make me look “skinny.”

I don’t think adhering to aspects of the beauty standard makes you a bad person or a bad feminist. But adhering to the beauty standard should be a CHOICE, not an obligation.

That’s the key. Clothes are not currently designed to fit the person who buys them. They are designed to make that woman fit into the beauty standard.

Underwire bras are supposed to be MOLDED to the shape of one’s breast. Instead, they now mold breasts into fitting an arbitrary standard of beauty and sexiness.

And if all clothes are designed to make women fit an arbitrary beauty standard, then there’s no choice at all.

Which is a problem, because one of the best ways to get rid of this ridiculous “objective” beauty standard is through the natural human diversity of appearances. But of course, if all clothes make you fit the beauty standard, then there will be no natural diversity of appearances, because everyone (AND ALL BOOBS) will look the same.

On one of my favorite shows, What Not to Wear(which has TONS of problems, but does a good job with body acceptance), the hosts have a great mantra: “If clothing doesn’t fit you, the problem is with the clothing, not with your body.”

(that was a total paraphrase, so don’t quote me)

Therefore, I say unto the bras of North America: y’all got problems.

What Not To Wear Stacy Clinton

Stacy and Clinton Disapprove of the Bras, Not of the People Wearing Them

***

Moreover, let us assume, for one second, that women are ONLY beautiful if they have larger breasts. It is a highly stupid assumption, but let us assume it, if only for the sake of argument.

So: women are only beautiful when they are large-breasted. Women are only attractive and sexy when they are large-breasted. Padded bras allow Unfortunate Small Breasted People like me to experience the joys of sexiness! Hurrah for padded bras!

But here’s the thing:

Being sexy is NOT the only reason I wear a bra.

I know.

Neil Patrick Harris, How I Met Your Mother, Barney Stinson Mind Blown

*EXPLOSION*

Shocking, but true: A bra is not JUST an Instrument of Sexiness.

[On another note, I now want to create a line of musical instruments called "Instruments of Sexiness." There will be a lot of violas. Violas are very sexy]

The primary reason I buy – and wear – bras is not so that I look sexy/beautiful/attractive/whatever. And according to my bra-wearing friends, sexiness is not the primary reason they wear bras EITHER.

I wear a bra so that my chest stays still while I’m running around on campus. I wear a bra so my clothes fit semi-correctly. I wear a bra to provide a minimum of support for my breasts. I wear a bra to provide a second level of protection against accidentally flashing people.

A lot of my friends wear bras so that they can play sports. Some of them wear bras to help with back pain. Some wear bras to help with soreness.

There are tons of other reasons that people wear bras that are not directly related to enhancing their personal attractiveness.

Hell, on our epic Underwire Bra Shopping Expedition, my Future Wife almost didn’t buy her first underwire bra, because she thought it looked *sexy* and she didn’t WANT her bras to look sexy.

So yeah, people wear bras for other reasons than sexiness.

Again: Le shock.

The idea that women need – and want – to be sexy and attractive every second of every minute of every goddamn day needs to die in a fire.

I don’t need to be sexy every minute of every day. 90% of my bra-wearing time is spent in front of my computer, or in class, or cleaning my kitchen. Even assuming that people are only seduced by large breasts and that I, of course, want to seduce these people…

I’m not trying to seduce my fucking mop.

[Hell, I don't need to seduce it. I bought the damn thing, it's going to do it's job or I'll buy a NEW ONE.]

Ditto for my laptop: trust me, my computer  could care less if my breasts are twice as full as they are when un-bra-ed.

And same for most of my friends! My friends are lovely people. I think most of them can live with the heartbreak of seeing me wearing an unpadded bra (I mean, the bra is under my clothes, so it’s not like they’ve seen the bra full-stop. But you know what I mean).

Someday, the bra industry will realize that people wear bras for reasons other than sexiness, and it will be possible to buy a bra that is not sexy-fied to the maximum.

That will be a glorious day.

If only because I don’t want to send my mop the wrong messages.

[I mean, darling, you're a wonderful mop. Don't get me wrong. But I just don't feel that way about you]

***

I want to be super-clear that I’m not harping on individual bra-wearers who choose to wear push-up bras. Heck, I own a push-up bra. And I’m not saying that people shouldn’t be able to feel sexy while mopping, if that’s what they like. I like getting dressed up – in fact, I’m more likely to dress up if I’m staying home than if I’m going out (but I’m bizarre that way).

[Actually, ALL of my bras are push-ups (with one exception). I just removed the padding from three of them. The fourth has padding that cannot be removed by my skill]

What bothers me is the expectation that ALL bra-wearers wear bras to:

a) look sexy

and

b) enlarge their breasts (particularly we of the small-breasted variety)

And these two assumptions, which seem to govern the way bras are built and marketed, are NOT TRUE. Someone tell the fashion houses.

The problem with these two assumptions, moreover, is that it makes it nearly impossible for anyone – small-breasted, large-breasted, whatever – to get bras that actually WORK for them. Often bras are made to be sexy at the expense of other things, like comfort, fit, structure etc.

In spite of my complaints, I am extraordinarily privileged in terms of bras. I wear straight sizes, which means I can find bras that fit me (even if they are padded) at most stores. I can also find cheap bras in my size. Moreover, as a relatively small-breasted person, I can wear the vast majority of clothes- since most fashion is designed with a size D-or-under in mind.

If you do not fit these (very narrow) parameters – if you are not straight-sized, A-D-cup-sized; if your breasts are not symmetrical –  there are far more pitfalls in the world of bra shopping. Bras cost more, are harder to find, and often do not do their jobs (support). Others have written far more eloquently than I on this subject (I particularly like this post from Shapely Prose), but yeah: my problems are pretty small in comparison.

Bras are supposed to be items that help us. Support us. Fit our bodies. Now they’re just items that try to fit our bodies into the dominant paradigm.

Fuck One-Size-Fits-All-Beauty Standard, man. One size does NOT fit all, and Clothes are supposed to fit US.

I dream of a day when push-up bras of every size are next to un-padded bras of every size. When every bra-wearer can find affordable, comfortable garments that support their chest (or, in my case, lack thereof) properly. When every bra-wearer can decide for themselves what kind of bra makes them feel sexy, or healthy, or comfortable without issues of price or access. When people can own many types of bras – push-ups and unpadded bras and lace bras and leopard print and sport and extra-support.

Perhaps it’s not a big dream. But sometimes it seems like an impossible one.

Vonnie Seiyuki Chan beauty in all shapes and sizes

Image created by Vonnie Seiyuki Chan. I’m like, a third from the left.

I have been on this quest for my personal holy grail (a Bra of My Own).  And I do not think it will end soon.

Then again, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe there really IS a notorious boob-punching gang roaming around North America. Maybe that’s why we all need padding. THE BOOB PUNCHERS ARE COMING FOR ALL OF US!

Anyone here has bra-related quests/dreams of their own? We could team up and have a giant holy-grail team! Or we could have a giant anti-boob-punching-gang team. WE WILL DEFEAT THE BOOB-PUNCHERS!

Tyra Banks boobs gif

We can protect our breasts using the patented Tyra Banks method!

***

Notes:

* Future Wife and I are not yet married. We’re planning a fall wedding sometime in the next forty years or so. We’re not in a rush. We’d like a very long engagement. You are, of course, ALL INVITED.

** Interestingly, since I’ve returned to school in Canada, my friends have informed me of a couple places where I could probably find these holy-grail bras. They’re more expensive, admittedly, but they EXIST somewhere. My friends in the USA, on the other hand, were all “Yeah, you’re kind of screwed.”

*** Fun story about the usefulness (or not) of padded bras. The last costume I wore in a show was a dress with room for a very generous bosom. When I tried it on, there was a lot of… empty space, as it were. My director looked at me critically “What?” she said, waving her hands in front of my chest. “Are we going to do about this?”
Then she asked, looking guilty: “Have you considered… push-up bras?”
Me: “This is a push-up bra.”
Still the best moment of my theater career to date.
(I ended up taking all the padding I’d taken out of my OTHER push-up bras and stuffing them into my push-up. Not very comfortable, but it worked)
Oh, and hey, if you’re still not sure whether you should read this blog, feel free to read my new page: Objections/Praise for This Blog


Artistry and Misogyny, Or: Do Not Mess With Women Athletes

I’m BACK everyone!

It’s been well over a month, and I’m sorry I disappeared for so long. I have a long, perfectly reasonable explanation for why I disappeared, which can be summarized as:

1. Depression sucks

2. Pretending you don’t have depression is a STUPID-ASS IDEA. [Denial: it's not just a river in Egypt]

3. Going off your migraine pills because the side effects are terrible? Without talking to the Doctor first? WILL NOT END WELL.

This message has been brought to you by No Shit Sherlock University.

More Wine Game of Thrones Cersei

Me: for the entirety of August. Except with less wine, sadly.

But I should be back much more regularly now. Because if there’s something the world needs, it’s more feminist pop-culture commentary.

There will be rants! There will be entire posts about BOOBS (I’m not even kidding: wait for Thursday). There will be book reviews! There will be fun stories! There will be more misandronists than the trolls know how to deal with!

AND THERE WILL BE A RANT ABOUT A FUCKNECK.

Stick.

Around.

Christina Hendricks Get Your Tits On

Get Your Tits On, Everyone.

***

The Olympics are over. The Olympics are waaaay over.

But because I was off not-blogging, I still have a rant stored up. A BIG rant.

And it’s a bad idea to let rants fester, because eventually festering turn into gangrene. Then you’ve got to chop the whole brain off.

… I need my brain.

So let’s just get this over with, shall we?

Ladies, Gentlemen, People of All Genders: CHRIS CHASE IS AN ASSHAT.

Sorry for the language.

[Actually, I'm not sorry. The feminist blogosphere has been GREAT for my vocabulary. Asshat, fuckneck, douchenozzle... all the best insults]

Okay, backing up for a second. Who is Chris Chase, and how did he get on my bad side?

Chris Chase is a columnist for Yahoo! Sports. During the Olympics, he wrote a… thing – I hesitate to call it a column – called United States Leads China in “Real” Medal Count.

The impetus for the “column”? China was in the lead of the medal count – a catastrophe of international proportions.   And of course, Chris Chase took it on himself to rectify this devastating situation.

Lovely.

I mean, yes, the Olympics are supposed to be about bringing people together and celebrating sports, but really, they’re about the USA beating everyone.

Come on, people, didn’t you get the memo?

Road to el dorado headdesk

Seriously

How did Chris Chase rectify the horrifying problem of China’s medal lead? Simple! He posited that only certain sports really counted in the Olympics – the ones where victories are “objective and undeniable.” As opposed to “judged activities masquerading as sports.”

See, gymnastics and diving and judo and other “judged sports” aren’t “sports.” They’re just pretending! They’re “nonsense”! I kid you not, in a followup post, Chase explained that gymnastics is a “hobby”

A HOBBY.

Yeah, I feel no shame in calling him an asshat.

ASSHAT.

Discounting people’s athletic achievements so you can make the USA win the medal count? REALLY? That’s what we’re doing now? We’re just going to cut out all the sports where Americans don’t do well, and call them “hobbies”? Then we’re going to call the people who enjoy them “rubes”?

(again, actual quote. Rubes.)

Asshat.

Asshat who wrote a terrible column.

A terrible patronizing jingoistic column.

A terrible patronizing jingoistic MISOGYNISTIC column, at that.

***

An aside: you know, sometimes, I sympathize with non-feminists. I mean, not enough to agree with them, but I can sympathize. You’re reading a blog post about Chase, a guy, who has issues with gymnastics. Suddenly the writer yells “misogyny!” And you’re all “Uh, Chase doesn’t like gymnastics. It’s stupid, but what the hell does this have to do with misogyny? God! Feminists! So hysterical! Getting upset over the smallest things. Next thing you’ll know, they’ll be saying my cat is a misogynist.”

[by the way, your cat is definitely not a misogynist. We're cool]

Let's unpack that - anti-oppression baby animals

This kitten speaks truth

LET’S unpack my misogyny claim. Because sadly, misogyny isn’t just people running around and screaming “WE HATE WOMEN.” (although that does happen).

In fact, a big part of misogyny is categorizing things associated with women as “lesser.”

And what do all the “judged sports” Chase discounts – with the exception of judo – have in common? They’re all “artistic” sports. “Artistic sports,” like dance, gymnastics, diving, rhythmic gymnastics, trampoline etc. tend – rightly or wrongly – to be seen as “women’s” sports. “Artsy” things are coded female in our society.

Thus, dismissing artistic sports as “not” sports? Coded misogyny.

I should note, too, that in the USA, women tend to do better in these particular sports than men. American women’s gymnastics is a much bigger presence in the Olympics than American men gymnastics (the men won one individual medal, the women won team gold and four individual medals). American female divers also tend to get higher on the podium than American male divers.

So when Chris Chase decides that all these artistic sports – gymnastics, diving, trampoline – aren’t real sports, that they aren’t worthy of being included in the medal count – he’s also playing into the idea that sports associated with women are less important.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that every single athlete Chris Chase names in the “fake” sports category is a woman. Every. Single. One. He doesn’t go after male gymnast Danell Levya (the bronze medalist for the all-around) or male synchonized divers Troy Dumais and Kristian Ipsen (who won bronze in synchronized diving). But he does make sure to list female gymnnasts Gabby Douglas, Jordyn Wieber and Victoria Komova as members of a “fake” sport. He takes particular glee in explaining how Gabby Douglas’ victory over Victoria Komova – and her earlier qualification over Jordyn Wieber – are invalid: “why did [Douglas] win a gold over Victoria Komova? Because some judges said she was 0.259 better? It wouldn’t be so insulting if we weren’t the rubes who accept it like it’s real. Gymnastics wins aren’t victories.”

ASSSSSSHAT.

Sorry, couldn’t help myself. *cough*

Chase proceeds to cite “real” victors – athletes who participate in “real” “objective” sports (I will not even begin to parse the ridiculousness of these labels): Michael Phelps. Usain Bolt. Both men. He does give a nod to Missy Franklin in at the end, but the contrast between the female-heavy “activities masquerading as sports” and male -heavy REAL sports is pretty obvious.

The reason I’m still so pissed comes down to gymnastics, honestly. Americans didn’t do that well in diving or in tumbling, so Chris Chase didn’t have to throw many of them under the bus for his little “real sports” equation. But in gymnastics? In gymnastics, he took five of the most widely-recognized, inspirational athletes of the Olympics and he said they were nothing.

To these women, who won team gold for the USA for the first time in 16 years, he said: you are not athletes. You, who have trained for forty hours a week for the past five years? You are not athletes. You, who can flip multiple times in the air? You’re just “masquerading.”

Fun hobby! *headdesk*

To Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas, who won individual medals in beam, floor and all-around, he said: you are “masquerading” as athletes. Gabby Douglas, the first African-American winner of the all-around gold medal?

She’s not an athlete.

Mulan tea gif

Mulan is not impressed

And yeah, I think taking the achievements of five women and pretending they don’t count – making a POINT of explaining why they don’t count (since the women’s gymnastics team are the only “fake” athletes Chase names and discusses for any length of time) for no other reason than for the USA to pull ahead in the medal count – damn straight, I think that’s misogyny.

Chase concedes that “Gabby Douglas winning the women’s all-around was one of the most memorable moments of the first week” but damn, why are we even WATCHING this girl? Why aren’t we paying attention to REAL sports like swimming and track? If we only had MANLY sports, we would be able to beat China on the real, testosterone-filled field of battle, instead of having to fight them in all these silly, feminine, artsy “hobbies.”

The good news? I don’t really need to take down Chase’s post. At this point, I’m just ranting into thin air.

Because the USA did win the medal count. And they won it because of their female athletes, not in spite of them.

American women won 29 gold medals to the men’s 17, and 58 overall medals to the men’s 45. Thus, it was thanks in large part to the women that the USA won the medal count.

The extent to which I care who wins the medal count is pretty minimal. But – and forgive me for being annoying patriotic right now – the USA winning the medal count thanks to the women is a fitting ending to the story, don’t you think?

Final thoughts:

Gabby Douglas, bars, all around champion

Gabby Douglas: ATHLETE

Ali Raisman, tumbling pass 1, floor gold medal

Aly Raisman: ATHLETE

Gymnastics, diving and trampoline are all “real” sports.

Jordyn Wieber, McKayla Maroney, Ali Raisman, Gabby Douglas and Kayla Ross? All “real” athletes.

Chris Chase? “Real” Asshat.

And don’t mess with female athletes. They’re the reason America did so well at the Olympics.

(Hurrah for Title IX)

Rant over. Nits picked.  Festering done. Gangrene avoided. Soap-box used.

Up Next! The BOOBS post!


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