First, I would like to thank my mother’s computer for allowing me to put up a blog post. As some of you know, me and my computer have been forcibly separated by circumstances beyond my control (*cough* Olive oil *cough*) and until some kind of brilliant solution is worked out, I need to mooch off of other peoples’ computers to get blog-related work done. So thanks, Mom! (and Mom’s computer. I’m sorry I made fun of you for not having an alarm clock.) It’s also a minor miracle that my mother and I are in the same city, so thank you, giver of miracles.
[My mother would like to take this opportunity to note that:
1. She doesn’t like my blog theme (hey, you should see the other ones. But shall work on it.)
2. She thinks it’s too hard to comment on my blog (fair point. Shall work on it)
3. She thinks I should talk more about why the title of the movie Shame is an example of America’s moralizing puritanism (yeah…that’s probably not going to happen)
4. If I don’t talk about why the title of Shame is an example of America’s moralizing puritanism, she threatens to take over my blog for a day and do it herself (oy! Get your own blog!)]
Secondly, I would like to register my outrage at the fact that Skylar Laine was eliminated from American Idol this week.
Skylar should not have gone home in fifth place. Let’s just say that when I found out, I used language that I would not repeat on the internet.
Skylar was not necessarily my favorite contestant – I kept switching between her and Jessica Sanchez for the female contestants (and Joshua Ledet for the male contestants) – but she was a bloody incredible singer and performer; she was charismatic and always fun to watch; and unlike certain other contestants, she was consistently improving, consistently pushing herself, consistently staying on pitch and on key, consistently challenging the boundaries of her vocal abilities.
SHE SHOULD NOT HAVE GONE HOME FIFTH PLACE, is what I’m saying.
Heck, she made me, a non-country fan, like country music. Which is Saying Something – one of my best friends has been trying to get me on board the country bandwagon for years.
Her ouster is particularly frustrating because the one contestant who messed up both of his performances (I’m sorry, Phillip Phillips fans, but he was off-pitch for most of the night, and the melody got beaten into a bloody pulp in his first performance) was STILL nowhere near the bottom 3. At this point, I think Phillip Phillips could kill a kitten onstage, and he’d still sail through to next week.
And no, I still won’t blame teen girls. I don’t need to. Last week, after a particularly bad Phillip Phillips performance, Jennifer Lopez said: “I need you to do songs that are going to get you to that last show so you can win.”
Did she say the same thing to Elise Testone, Jessica Sanchez or Skylar Laine in one of their less-spectacular performances?
Even in Phillip Phillips’ bad performances, he’s still tagged as the winner.
Bias? What bias? I don’t see bias!
(And Lopez, let’s be clear, is the judge who has explicitly said she wants a girl to win idol this year)
Bah. I shall bring this rant to a close, because, in the immortal words of Skylar Laine, the show must go on:
On with the (book-related) show!
This is, of course, my monthly act of reading-related naval-gazing, whereupon I list and discuss all the books I read in the past month. Let’s look at my reading list for April, shall we?
1. The Warrior’s Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold
2. After the Apocalypse by Maureen McHugh
3. Libra by Don Delillo
4. The Vor Games by Lois McMaster Bujold
5. The Jew of New York by Ben Katchor
6. Cold Fire by Kate Elliot
7. Chime by Franny Billingsley
8. The Stepsister Scheme by Jim C. Hines
For those of you who have been following my monthly reading roundups since the start (ie: my brother)… have you noticed the drop? Eight books! Eight! That’s well below my monthly average of thirteen (for last year), and it’s a four book drop from March.
I would be worried, but, let’s face it: it was finals.
It’s surprisingly hard to read when you’re trying to memorize a hundred and fifty pages of lecture notes, or desperately trying to find your way out of Heidegger’s Hermeneutic Circle. (What is the hermeneutic circle, you ask? Don’t ask. You don’t want to know).
On the other hand, I enjoyed every single book I read, which is… rare. Very rare. It’s why I didn’t star and italicize the books I would recommend – because I would honestly recommend any of the books I read this month. Very bizarre. Very VERY bizarre, even. Maybe I’m becoming less picky in my old age? (hey, my brother thinks I’m old. And I can buy alcohol in the United States. That’s pretty old).
I even enjoyed Don DeLillo, who I was convinced I would dislike based on the reviews I’ve read of his work. I also tend to dislike contemporary American “literary” writers (*cough* Jonathan Franzen *cough*), but… I liked DeLillo. Maybe it was just the pre-finals adrenaline rush. Maybe it was just the fact that Libra is a spy novel, and I like spy novels. I’ll have to read something else of DeLillo’s, and make my mind up then.
The Jew of New York was the most painful read of the month, but it wasn’t the book’s fault (necessarily). For some reason, every time I tried to read it, I would fall asleep, which would, in turn, make me freak out that I wasn’t going to finish the book before my Graphic Novels final. Not a good reading experience. In the book’s defense, I think my falling asleep was due more to my finals-related exhaustion than to the contents of the novel – it’s not a boring read. Once I’d had a couple hundred cups of coffee, I really enjoyed it.
Of course, in a moment of supreme irony, I spent the days before my graphic novels final desperately finishing The Jew of New York… and it ended up being the only book of the entire course that I couldn’t find a place to talk about in the exam. We read 13 comics. I managed to talk about every single one except this one. GAAAH. ( I added it to my definition of graphiation, just so I could say I’d covered every book. Yes, I’m slightly obsessive, why do you ask?)
April would have been a good reading month if only because I continued my foray into Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan saga. Yes, I do now understand why everyone in Sci-Fi is obsessed. I read Shards of Honor and Barrayar during winter break, and was immediately hooked onto the series (as evidenced by the fact that I put both books in my list of great SF books for women). Sadly, Young Miles, the omnibus that contains The Warrior’s Apprentice and The Vor Game, was unavailable at my local bookstore, and checked out of the city library… so it took me a while to get my hands on it.
I was somewhat worried that I wouldn’t like Miles as much as I loved his mother, Cordelia Naismith (the hero of the first books in the Vorkosigan Saga). But although my love for Cordelia is eternal, I have managed to find a place in my heart for Miles, who is just… divine.
Miles Naismith Vorkosigan lives on Barrayar, a planet where physical strength and military ability are valued above all else. Worse yet, his father, Admiral Aral Vorkosigan, is an intergalactically reknown military hero (his mother, Cordelia, is also a military hero, but Barrayar is a highly patriarchal society, and thus prefers not to talk about a woman’s military achievements).
Unfortunately, Miles is a dwarf. A biological attack on his parents while Cordelia was pregnant with him permanently damaged Miles’ spine and bones, leaving him short and disabled. His bones break easily; he needs leg braces and canes to walk correctly. On Barrayar, someone like Miles would usually be aborted; only the courage of his parents saved his life. As someone with extreme physical disabilities, Miles has no real place in Barrayar’s militaristic society. Indeed, the beginning of The Warrior’s Apprentice sees him failing out of officer training when he breaks his legs on an obstacle course.
So Miles needs to find… alternatives.
Alternatives which include (among others): commandeering an ship, running guns to a besieged planet, impersonating an admiral and, somewhat accidentally, gaining the control of an entire mercenary fleet. For kicks, Miles wins a war and then goes to save the emperor of Barrayar from an evil plot.
He’s pretty resourceful, is what I’m saying.
All of Miles’s achievements should feel ridiculous, but Bujold crafts the character so well that I bought them, hook, line and sinker. I never felt like Miles was a Gary Stu. He’s real. And the stakes are sufficiently high, and the plot is sufficiently dark that the books are more than just a caper. When I started to worry that Bujold was making things too damn easy for Miles, she hit me with a great plot twist, and I was satisfied: there are consequences to Miles’ actions.
Yet even with the darkness, Miles is just so damn fun to read. I found myself laughing at the sheer audacity of his schemes, or cheering at his ridiculous and hard-earned successes. You can’t help but enjoy him. Case in point:
“Am I reading too much into all that innuendo, or did you in fact just connive to assassinate Gregor in one breath, offer to cuckold him in the next, accuse your father of homosexuality, suggest a patricidal plot against him, and league yourself with Cavilo—what are you going to do for an encore?” (Bujold, The Vor Games)
I, for one, can’t wait to see what Miles does for an encore. Damn, I love these books.
I’ve been trying to read more short stories – they are not my genre of choice, sadly, but I’m learning to appreciate them. Since I was a big fan of Maureen McHugh’s novel China Mountain Zhang, I thought I would pick up her short story collection, After the Apocalypse.
That turned out to be a good decision – as it turns out McHugh is one of a very few writers whose short stories I enjoy every time (Octavia Butler is another of this rare breed).
All the stories in this collection are linked by the title theme – they tell stories of people surviving after some kind of major, apocalyptic change. And, just as she does in China Mountain Zhang, McHugh focuses in on the stories of individuals, and the way they live (or don’t) in the midst of these changes.
Although I admired all of the stories in the book, I was particularly impressed by four: “The Naturalist,” “Special Economics,” “The Effect of Centrifugal Forces” and “After the Apocalypse.” I’m actually glad I was spoiled for the ending of “After the Apocalypse,” because I think it would have been too much of a blow if I hadn’t known it was coming – it’s a tale of mother-daughter survival that… does not go the way reader’s expect (I shall refrain from spoilers). “The Effect of Centrifugal Forces” is a bit of a companion piece to “After the Apocalypse” – it too, focuses on mother-daughter relations, although in this case, the “apocalypse” is a degenerative disease.
“The Naturalist” has a fascinating premise: Zombies have been confined into a sort of natural reserve; the government drops criminals into the reserve as punishment. One of the criminals (our protagonist) becomes fascinating by the zombies, and starts using his fellow criminals as bait so he can observe the zombies’ behavior when they feed (I mean, people have to find a way to occupy themselves…).
I suppose one of McHugh’s central questions is whether or not “natural” relationships and instincts are that “natural” when people are in extreme circumstances. Do mothers and daughters remain close in the face of the apocalypse? Do we keep our link with our humanity, even when we’ve been abandoned to die? McHugh’s exploration of this theme is brutal (if fascinating) which is why I appreciated ‘Special Economics,” a somewhat more light-hearted take on two women navigating an exploitative Chinese company.
I also thoroughly enjoyed Cold Fire by Kate Elliot, but have no idea how to review it without giving spoilers for the first book in the series, Cold Magic. I’ll just say that you should check both books out: they’re pretty fantastic.
The series as a whole is:“An Afro-Celtic post-Roman icepunk Regency fantasy adventure with airships, Phoenician spies, the intelligent descendents of troodons, and a dash of steampunk whose gas lamps can be easily doused by the touch of a powerful cold mage.”
And if that’s not enough to send you running to the bookstore, the series also includes irritatingly handsome men who would be more attractive if they weren’t trying to kill you, cat-human shapeshifters, dragons, trolls (the intelligent descendents of troodoons), witty (and less witty) banter, and an awesome protagonist who has her priorities straight (when married off without warning, first: locate food. When sent to the spirit word, first: locate food. When exiled to an island full of zombies, first: locate food. Priorities: Cat has ’em).
Oh yes. There are now zombies.
Seriously, why didn’t I know about Kate Elliot earlier?
(Dear Universe: When there are awesome authors I should read, please let me know about them early, okay? An intergalactic newsletter will do just fine! Thanks!)
Okay, I lied before: the worst part of my reading this month was the cover of Chime. Seriously. Worst and least accurate cover ever. Yes, it’s pretty…I suppose. But why does Briony look like a half-buried barbie? For that matter, why is she so darn pretty? The cover makes it seem like poor Briony is off to a very, very bizarre school dance (she’s not).
If you can’t already tell, I REALLY dislike this cover. Maybe it’s because I spent my childhood decapitating my barbies and burying them in the backyard (totally normal behavior!). Or maybe it’s because the book is about a girl who is convinced she’s a horrible witch who deserves to be hung, and not about a girl going to her prom (not that there’s anything wrong going to your prom).Chime is dark and edgy and tortured and the cover… is a very pretty version of that.
On the other hand I really liked the book, which is one of the most original YA novels I’ve read this year.. It’s very rare to read a young adult character quite as self-loathing as Briony, who is convinced she’s a witch, and responsible for the death of her stepmother, and the mental illness of her twin sister. Briony’s voice and her journey is fascinating. I was disappointed by the ending, which was a bit too pat for my taste – I was hoping that such a nuanced character would merit an equally nuanced ending. Or perhaps I wanted this nuance to translate to the rest of the “monsters” in the story. If Briony is redeemable, shouldn’t witches be redeemable as well? Are all (other) witches evil? Are all dark creatures evil? Did anyone else feel unsatisfied by the ending, or is that just me?
I also feel like there’s a trend in YA these days to write about protagonists who would usually be the villains – I’m thinking of Briony, of course, and also of Cassel Sharpe in Holly Black’s Curse Workers series. But maybe that’s always been a trend, and I’ve just missed it? The villain-as-hero seems particularly pertinent to the YA genre, in any case (since the genre is oriented towards teenagers).
I’ve been following Jim C. Hines’s blog for a while, and he did me a big favor a couple of days ago (he doesn’t know he did me a favor, and I don’t know him personally. He just wrote something very helpful on his blog). So I figured since I was getting so many benefits from his blog, I should probably buy one of his books (rather than just mooch off his free stuff).
The Stepsister Scheme is the very, very long epilogue to the Cinderella fairy tale. Cinderella (Danielle) and her prince (Armand) are happily married. Unfortunately, Danielle’s evil stepsisters haven’t given up on marrying Armand themselves, and kidnap him (they’re persistent, you have to give them that). Danielle goes off to save Armand; she’s joined by two of the Queen’s employees, Snow and Talia.
It took me a while to get into the plot of The Stepsister Scheme – I almost needed three more chapters of info-dump than I got. Since the story begins in medias res, it was harder to attach to the characters – I almost needed three more chapters of info-dump than I got. I know, I just said I wanted more info-dump. I’m sure the universe will punish me for this horrific statement somehow…
Once I was hooked, however, the book was very good. What’s fascinating about the story is that it’s not just the epilogue of one fairy tale – Snow turns out to be “Snow White,” and Talia turns out to be “Sleeping Beauty” The interactions between the three princesses – Danielle, Talia and Snow – are also quite interesting. They’re all deeply traumatized by their “fairy tale” experiences, and who can blame them?
I’m intrigued to see what else Hines does with the series – the characters are great, and it’ll be interesting to see how they continue to evolve in the rest of the series. Plus, I’m hoping for the appearance of Little Red Riding Hood. Apparently, she’s an assassin now.
Random Other Stuff
Apparently, when I’m super -stressed out for finals, I find awesome things on youtube. Yes, those two things seem… incompatible. I am a woman of many skills.
The Lizzie Bennet Diaries: a video-blog (re)telling of Pride and Prejudice. I loves it very much. It is my precious. And it is helping me get over the end of my Austen course.
America’s Next Top Doll
It is a truth universally acknowledged that I, to my great shame, have watched every single episode of America’s Next Top Model. More than once. Yes, I pretended it was some kind of deep sociological problem, but really? I was hooked. Hooked on the weaves and the photoshoots and the drama. And hooked on the weirdness of Tyra Banks.
(For the record, my favorite cycles are 3, 6, 7 and 13).
I have since gotten over my obsession, but the scars of those months run deep. Very deep. And this youtube parody has helped me heal. With the gift of laughter.
(Oh, Michael Slezak, where would I be without you?)
Sadly, the season is not complete (and probably never will be…) , but my money is on Zombie-girl to win it all.
And that’s all for now! Hopefully my computer will be fixed soon, and I can return to some kind of normal blogging schedule… but until then, I remain, as ever, trapped in Heidegger’s Hermeneutic Circle.
(p.s: in my next post, there may be a cat. No promises, but I figured I’d give advanced warning just in case for those allergic to cat hair. And cuteness)
I feel quite guilty about my sporadic posting on the blog. But in my defense, it’s finals season at my University… and I’m not getting a lot of sleep. I might as well admit that until finals are over (April 30th), posting is going to continue to be sporadic. If anyone is following the blog, my apologies – I promise, it will get better after the 30th.
Other signs that its finals season?
- Yesterday I misspelled the word “misspelling” AND the word “typo”
- I have over 450 unread emails (by the way, if you’ve sent me an email in the past two weeks, there’s a good chance I haven’t gotten it. Sorry!)
- After my American Literature final, I ate three bags of carrots in a row. Don’t ask me why. I don’t know why.
- I am slowly regaining feeling in my right hand after the aforementioned American Lit final. My reaction to the numbness is particularly worrying: “well, at least this way my hand won’t hurt during the NEXT final.”
- I used up an entire pack of pens in less than a week.
Anyways. Back to your regularly (or irregularly) scheduled blog content. Today, I’ve got a rant. Yes, a rant! I don’t think I’ve had a rant on here yet. Oh, sure, I got annoyed at the “Great Science Fiction Books for Girls”, and I had some negative comments about the Hugo Shortlist, but a real rant, with bitterness and snark and anger? Haven’t had one yet.
So yay for innovation?
[trigger warning for misogynistic language]
Last week Jessica Sanchez was voted out of American Idol. Fortunately, the judges exercised their power of veto and saved her from elimination. But it was the shock boot of the season: Jessica is widely regarded as the best vocalist left on the show, and everyone thought she was a frontrunner. She’s cute, she’s passionate, she sings brilliantly, the judges love her, the critics love her – she’s got it all. In fact, most commentators have seen Jessica as the Great Female Hope: the woman who might finally break the four straight seasons of men winning on idol.
With her almost-ouster hanging in the air, now seems like a good time to ask this question: What’s up with American Idol and the Ladies, huh?
I mean, seriously.
It’s been FOUR YEARS since a woman won. And last week, Jimmy Iovine, the producer and mentor for the contestants, said on the results show that this season will come down to a contest between Phillip Phillips and Colton Dixon.*** Well, there you go; might as well stop watching and take a nap now – we’ve got the results! Five straight years of men! Hurrah!
We should stop calling it Idol and start calling it “The White Male Idol… and the Supporting Ladies” (I’m not even going to touch on the racial aspect in this post, because that merits a rant of its own).
The woman problem isn’t even confined to the winners. If there were no gender bias on the show, we would expect some years to be dominated by men, some by women, and most to be roughly equal. But in the past five seasons, only two of the top ten singers had a rough gender parity (season seven and season eleven). By contrast, the top ten singers in seasons eight, nine and ten were mainly male – in fact, by the top eight of all three of those seasons, there were only two women left (vs. six men). Which means that for three out of the last five seasons, it was three times easier to get voted into the top eight if you came equipped with a Y chromosome.
And listen, this rant is not about individual voting decisions. If you prefer a male contestant in any given year, I have no problem with you. My feminist fervor does not extend to believing you should always, in all circumstance, support a woman over a man. Gun to head, I probably would have voted for Adam Lambert over Allison Iraheta in season 8. Gun to head, I would have voted for David Cook over Carly Smithson in season 7. If you prefer Colton Dixon to Jessica Sanchez, more power to you. I’m interested in examining the trend as a whole – not in castigating people for their personal contestant preferences. (As the great Haley Reinhart once said “It’s your opinion, and you’re entitled to it”)
Nor is this rant about how the streak of male winners – Scotty McCreery, Lee Dewyze, Kris Allen and David Cook – are terrible, terrible singers and shouldn’t have won. There are perfectly decent reasons those individual singers won; there are also perfectly decent reasons why individual female contestants were eliminated. But if we rack up all those individual choices and map them out over the space of the past four years, the message is pretty damn clear. Women have a much, much harder time on idol.
There are two reasons why Idol’s Woman Problem bothers me:
1. Female Talent isn’t as recognized as male talent
(the links, in order, are Season seven’s Carly Smithson (Jesus Christ Superstar), Season eight’s Allison Iraheta (Cry Baby, exit performance), Season Nine’s Katelyn Epperly (The Scientist), Siobhan Magnus (Paint it Black) and Crystal Bowersox (Up to the Mountain) and Season Ten’s Pia Toscano (I’ll Stand by You), Lauren Alaina (Anyways) and Haley Reinhart (House of the Rising Sun))
(links, in order, to Erika Van Pelt (Edge of Glory), Skylar Laine (Stay with Me), Jessica Sanchez (Love You I Do) and Elise Testone (Whole Lotta Love))
So why aren’t they getting the recognition they deserve? Why is it basically impossible for these women, no matter what they do, to win the show?
And listen, I realize I’m ranting about gender disparity on a reality show. But you know what? It does matter. Yes, anyone who gets onto the Idol stage has a great deal of exposure. But the longer you stay on the show, the more chance there is you’ll be successful. A tenth place finisher rarely gets a record deal, a fourth place finisher often does. And the winner, of course, gets a huge boost in both exposure and sales (not to mention a guaranteed record deal). So when women are continually shut out of those spots, it means that women have a much, much harder time making a career out of their singing by going through Idol than men do. Which, of course, plays into the greater societal problems women have in getting recognition (and equal pay) for their work.
Here’s the other thing: American Idol is watched by approximately 30 million viewers. A lot of those viewers are women. A lot of those viewers are young women. When over and over and over again women on Idol are unable to win, or even to crack the top four; when you have week after week after week of only women going home (Season 10! Good times); when singers like Jessica Sanchez, who do everything it’s possible to do, are still voted out seventh – young women get the message that no matter what you do, no matter how talented you are, there is a glass ceiling, and you can’t break it. Women can be on the stage, but remember, it really belongs to the men.
So, this is bad enough. But here’s the other reason Idol’s Woman Problem bothers me.
(by the way, I realize that a year ago, I’d never watched Idol, and now I can name the ten best female performers of the last five years in a single breath. There is a land called ‘obsessiva’ and I am it’s Queen).
2. The way people react.
I am not the only person to have remarked on Idol’s gender problem. It’s pretty much a universally known fact; you’d have to have your head buried in the sand to avoid it.
And people talk about it. And they try to figure out why women are voted out so early and so often. They too, wonder why women never win anymore. And no matter what, the answer always, always, always, ALWAYS ends up being (drumroll, please): TEENAGE GIRLS.
Yes, everyone. The collective wisdom has spoken. American Idol has been completely ruined because teenage girls only vote for cute boys, and refuse to vote for talent.
A collection of quotes, for our edification:
“American Idol is ruined because all these girls are voting for the same boyfriend – I mean singer.”
“And hopefully these teen girls don’t vote them out. Stop messing with people’s careers and lives!”
“Teenage girls of America. Look, there are a lot of places to see cute boys. Google is very useful – ” “You know what they can do? They can go get a boyfriend. Or a friend who is a boy who is cute.”
“Of course, they’re going to vote for the cute boys. I mean, come on!”
A female contestant, after getting eliminated: “Once [teenage girls] get a crush, we’re done.”
“These teen girls have no clue, are dumber than a box of rocks. They’re stupid, selfish and vote against the talented ones because they’re not white boys.”
All of these comments either come from well-known idol critics (including my favorite, Michael Slezak, who is usually SO GOOD with the feminism) or from message boards on well-reputed idol fan sites. I edited some of these comments for misogynistic language. Believe me when I say that these are some of the least insulting comments I’ve seen. There’s a whole lot worse out there, and most of it involves references to prostitution or female dogs.
Over and over again, the commentary turns into an attack on teenage girls. Teen girls ONLY vote for people based on attractiveness. Teenage girls ONLY vote for boys (come on!) And then it turns into: Teen girls are stupid. Teen Girls have no taste. Teen Girls suck. Teen Girls are ruining people’s lives. I hate Teen Girls.
Inevitably, these discussions turn into a giant excuse to talk about how much teenage girls suck.
This drives me NUTS. Just… NUTS.
The implication is that teenage girls can’t possibly have taste that is unrelated to their sexual attraction to contestants. They can’t like a male contestant because they like his music. It can only ever be about his cute looks. Oh, Culturally Disoriented, you and your cute beliefs that young women can make rational decisions! You’re so funny! And so ridiculous! (but then again, you do have lady bits, so the logic thing can’t come easily to you).
Yes, let us reiterate again that teenage girls always have terrible taste, and anything they like is terrible. Hey, remember Twilight!
And it bothers the hell out of me.
Listen, I’m not sure people are aware of this, but when you dismiss an entire gender’s taste level, intelligence and ability to make rational decisions? Where I’m from, we call that sexism.
Teenaged boys are allowed to like Jessica Alba and Transformers and the first three Star Wars movies. And even though we as a culture have decided that Jessica Alba is a bad actress and Transformers and Star Wars (the prequels) are terrible movies, we don’t insult teenage boys for liking them. When people point out the misogyny in comic books, or the ridiculous way women are drawn, the reaction isn’t “don’t the teenage boys who read this suck?” The reaction is “well, boys will be boys.”
I ask only for consistency. If “boys will be boys,” then girls should be allowed to like what they like without anyone shaming them for it. Girls should be allowed to like what they like without people questioning their intelligence or generosity. Girls should be allowed to like what they like without people calling them sluts.
I mean, for crying out loud, people.
Yes, let’s talk about the gender disparity on American Idol. Please. We need to do it. But let’s not try to solve the problem of female singers on idols by tearing down other women. Let’s not get into a game of “every teen girl sucks, except the teen girls on idol, who are so awesome they need to be protected from OTHER teenage girls.” (hello hypocrisy). Let’s stop taking the gender disparity on Idol as a giant excuse to talk about how much we hate teen girls, and how much teen girls are clearly always ruled by their hormones. It’s insulting. It’s misogynistic. And most importantly, it’s not true.
That’s the most infuriating thing about this whole discussion: no one actually knows whether or not the majority of voters are teenage girls, and no one knows who they’re voting for. There’s no data. There’s no concrete information. We’re just guessing. All of these allegations are unsubstantiated.
Frankly, I don’t buy the “teenage girls are ruining idol” explanation in the least. There are so many better reasons women don’t win idol. There are so many provable reasons women don’t win idol. But of course, to acknowledge those reasons would be to acknowledge that the show itself has a gender bias. And it’s so much easier to blame it on the girls.
So if teenage girls aren’t to blame for the gender disparity, who is?
The show itself.
I’ll start with the judges.
Judges are important on American Idol. Despite Nigel Lythgoe (the executive producer’s) claim that viewers aren’t sheep and will vote for whomever they want the contestants only get to sing for 90 seconds or so. And then the judges get to talk about it for at least as long, if not longer. You think that kind of power doesn’t matter?
Please. The people the judges like are almost always the last people standing. Last year’s Haley Reinhart was one of the few exceptions to the rule.
There are two “special” advantages the judges can give: opening up the top 24 (having an extra performer or two allowed to compete for America’s votes) – and the judge’s save, where they prevent a performer from being eliminated. The judges must be aware that there is a gender disparity – and yet they continually these “special” advantages onto male performers. This year, after selecting the top 24, the judges decided to choose an extra “surprise” contestant from the people who had already been eliminated. Of course, that person got an automatic boost because they were “saved” from elimination. It was a man.
…Yes, the perfect solution to the problem of women appearing in the top ten less is to add an extra guy. Well played, judges. Well played!
The Judge’s save, meanwhile, has been used three times. Until Jessica’s elimination, all the “saved” people were male. And even more importantly: none of the men who were saved were frontrunners. No offense to Matt Giraud, Casey Abrams and Michael Lynch, but when they were eliminated (and saved) almost no one thought they were going to win. They were really talented people who went home too soon. Simon Cowell even said to Matt as he was saving him that he didn’t think Matt could win. The people who got the save weren’t people like Adam Lambert or Scotty McCreery – male singers who had a shot at the title.
Jessica Sanchez, our sole female “saved” contestant, on the other hand is a frontrunner. Before her elimination, many pundits thought she would be the winner; almost everyone thought she’d make the top three. In other words, it wasn’t until a potential female victor was eliminated that the judges were willing to use their save on a woman. Until then, they were very happy to let women get eliminated, all while saving men who probably weren’t going to win.
Speaking of “saves.” Judge Jennifer Lopez has twice begged voters to vote for someone this season. Both times, they’ve been men (none of the other judges have actually asked the audience to vote for a specific contestant)
Outside of these special advantages, there are all kinds of invisible, informal advantages that the judges give male contestants. Now, I want to be clear: I don’t think either the production or the judges are doing this on purpose. I don’t think they all sit in a room and go “yes, this is the way we will prevent women from ever winning the crown, MUAHAHAHAHA.” But even if their intention is not to cause a disparity, the reality is that the show has created an uneven playing field for male and female contestants. How have they done it?
First, the Judges recognize male contestants more often. Two weeks ago on Idol, the judges gave an unprecedented FIVE standing ovations in the course of a single show. Every single male performer except one got a standing O, and the one who didn’t was mentioned over and over in the show as having “set the bar.” Only one female performer received a standing ovation, despite the fact that most critics thought performers like Skylar Laine or Jessica Sanchez (neither of whom received a standing ovation) performed better than Deandre Brackensick and Heejun Han (both of whom received one).
Second, women tend to be far more critiqued than men. In Seasons 7, 8, 10 and 11, the main person criticized by the judges was a woman: Carly Smithson and Syesha Mercado in season 7; Allison Iraheta in season 8; Haley Reinhart in season 10 and Hollie Cavanaugh in Season 11. And it’s not because the other performers are flawless either.
Look, if you’ve decided that you can’t possibly give constructive feedback to everyone and have to concentrate on one performer and one performer alone… could you at least choose a male punching-bag every once in a while? Variety: it’s the spice of life.
Moreover, the Judges – and the producers – all seem to have an idea that there’s only one template for a female singer: a cute, young, peppy, pop-balladeer. Men get lots of roles they can play successfully – grown-ass men like David Cook, young heartthrobs like Scotty McCreery; dark, edgy rockers like Adam Lambert; masterful musicians like Casey Abrams and Kris Allen.
Women are far more restricted. Many critics (and fans like me) believe the reason Haley Reinhart was torn to shreds on a weekly basis by the judges (despite her near-flawless performances) was because she was a blues-rock singer. Meanwhile, her competitor Lauren Alaina, a country-pop balladeer, was almost never criticized. Simon Cowell spent a good ten hours of Season 11 making fun of Siobhan Magnus for being “weird.” Allison Iraheta, a sixteen year old Rocker, received critiques from the judges for not having any “personality” and being too “dark.”
Iraheta who had a delightful sense of humor, once replied that it’s “not like I’m cutting myself.” These remarks are particularly ironic because Allison shared the stage with Adam Lambert – possibly the most provocative, darkest performer to come on the idol stage (I say with love – I’m a huge Lambert fan) – and who was never critiqued for his performance style.
A subset of this problem is the clothes issue: while I’ve never heard a man criticized for his fashion choices by a judge, many, many female contestants have had their style questioned. Allison Iraheta and Carly Smithson being the two who come to mind first – and they were, of course, women who didn’t dress like pop stars. They dressed like rockers.
(possibly because they WERE rockers)
As Michael Slezak once said, “Simon isn’t happy unless the women are Whitney Huston and singing “Against All Odds” in a pageant gown.”
Unfortunately, even though Simon Cowell has left American Idol, his attitude remains. There’s nothing inherently wrong with Whitney Huston. The problem is that while men will be praised by the judges for all kinds of performance styles, women will only be praised if they fit the One True Female template. Men have all kinds of roads to the title; women only have one. And it’s all kinds of ironic, because the women who dominate the pop-charts right now – Kei$ha, Lady Gaga, Adele – are not cute, peppy pop-balladeers.
(I should add: Lady Gaga’s fanbase is primarily young… and female. So the “teenage girls only like cute conventional boys” narrative? Not so much.)
Women also almost never get credit for “artistry.” Judges will tell contestants like James Durbin or Casey Abrams that they weren’t just singers, they were “artists.” Usually these praises come after a contestant has done something really interesting with their song, rearranging it or reworking it in order to prove that they’re not just singing Karaoke. Which is great, and they should be praised for doing something original. “You have the heart and soul of an artist,” Jennifer Lopez said to James Durbin last season. Randy once said to a male performer that he was proud to be judging “artists” as well as “pop stars.”Kara DiGuardi called Matt Giraurd a “true artist.”
The trouble is, I’ve never heard a judge call a woman an artist. Or give her credit for song rearrangement. I’m sure it’s happened – it’s not like I’ve watched the show for that long. But again, as Michael Slezak said “somehow, it’s always easier for a guy with an acoustic guitar to get credit for song rearrangement than a girl.” Female contestants like Crystal Bowersox, Carly Smithson, Haley Reinhart, Katelyn Epperly, Allison Iraheta and Siobahn Magnus would make radical – and successful – changes to songs, and the judges would never praise them for it. And yes, this does matter: I don’t always know when a song has been rearranged, because I’m not always familiar with the original. So when the judges tell me Adam is a great song re-arranger, but never mention Allison’s endeavors, I assume Adam is a more well-rounded singer/artist than Allison.
While a man can be a great singer and a great artist, a woman on Idol can only be a great singer. It’s another weapon in their arsenal that men have, and women don’t.
Speaking of things men can do, but women can’t: women can’t make the judges emotional. I realize this sounds like the weirdest critique ever, but seeing a judge cry or lose it because of a performer makes a huge difference. After listening to ninety critiques, I always remember the ones where Jennifer Lopez started crying.
And when you think back, the people who have made the judges cry? Men. James Durbin. Chris Medina. Joshua Ledet. Adam Lambert. Michael Lynche. Lee Dewyze. Listen, I can’t necessarily yell at the judges for crying – it’s not a reaction they can control. But when the judges don’t cry, they’ll often say things like “this touched my soul” etc. And even then – even when no physiological reaction is needed – they usually say those things to men. Well, of course, Culturally Disoriented. Don’t be ridiculous. Men are artists. And they can affect you emotionally. But women? Women can be pretty, and perfect – but they can’t make you cry.
And, in a case of hitting someone when they’re down, women tend to get the “cold and emotionless” critique far more than men do.
Speaking of which, I’m going to turn back to the teen girls issue to talk about the “cuteness” factor. You know what group of people are really, really, REALLY obsessed with cute boys? (hint: it’s not teen girls).
It’s the Judges (and the Production).
Listen, maybe teen girls are voting for male contestants because of their looks. But the judges are practically begging them to do it. During critiques, they’ll pause to ask the audience: “Ladies, what do you think of this man?” Or Jennifer Lopez to Casey Abrams “I think you’re sexy!” Or Simon Cowell will tell Kris Allen that it was a mistake to reveal “the wife” too soon (because Kris should pretend to be an available heartthrob).
And this kind of critique happens all the time. The message? You should pay attention to these boys looks. They matter. (Sometimes they seem to matter more than the actual singing – I remember a Casey Abrams performance where all the judges could talk about was his “sexy” appearance).
During Top nine week of Season 11, Nigel Lythgoe (the executive producer) actually went into the audience and pushed a group of girls onstage to hug Scotty McCreery. The host, Ryan Seacrest, started calling Scotty “Scotty the Body” (urgh. God. No. Please. No. (he’s sixteen, you maniacs)). The judges and the production basically frame these men as sex objects.
(Seriously, judges/ producers. Don’t you have google? Don’t you have access to boyfriends or hot-friends-who-are-men? Why else would you constantly comment on the male performers looks, or turn them into sex objects?)
But they judges don’t do the same thing for female performers. Despite the fact that Haley Reinhart, Pia Toscano and Lauren Alaina were all attractive women, the judges never said to them “the boys at home are really going to eat that up.” (excuse my heteronormativity here). When Crystal Bowersox had a boyfriend, Simon Cowell didn’t tell her she should “hide” that information in order to seem available. Nigel Lythgoe doesn’t send a group of teen boys to hug Jessica Sanchez or Skylar Laine.
I know the judges call the women “beautiful.” But there’s a difference between calling someone “beautiful” and “sexy.” Sexy frames you as an object of desire. And desire… makes people vote. It reminds me of So You Think You Can Dance, where Cat Deeley introduces the contestants by saying “these are the girls… and here are your boys.” The “your” makes it more personal; as an audience member, you’re instantly more engaged. Comments like “ladies, what do you think of this man” have a similar effect.
Listen, I’m kind of grateful for the lack of sexual objectification, to be honest. I don’t want to see the judges framing sixteen year old Lauren Alaina, or sixteen year old Jessica Sanchez, as an object of lust. Steven Tyler’s already crossed the line a few times, and it was super-awkward. But I don’t want to see the judges framing sixteen year old Scotty McCreery as a sex object either (gaaaaaah). There’s got to be a happy medium. Maybe dial back the sexualization of the boys, and throw in a few remarks like “I’m sure all the boys appreciated that song, Jessica.”
Commentators are right on one count: sex sells. And when only men are framed as sex objects, when only men are “cute,” when only men are desirable – then men have a distinct advantage. And if you’re not going to give the “sexy” edit a rest for men, then girls should get it too. At least sexualize equally, damn it!
(*AHA. Last night Steven Tyler said that Elise’s singing struck a chord in every man’s heart. Clearly, he’s reading my mind.)
Here’s my point (which has been almost twenty paragraphs in the making – I prefer my rants long and bitter). Maybe people aren’t voting for the best singer anymore. But neither are the judges. Over and over, the judges emphasize that you should vote because of “artistry” and “emotional connection” and “hotness.” The standards have changed.
Perhaps this wouldn’t matter if women were praised for artistry, looks and emotions. But they’re not: only men are “hot” “artists” and “emotional.”
It’s no wonder women can’t win American Idol. They’re thrown into the ring with only one path to victory – cute pop-ballader – and no weapons. They must fight their way through judge critiques of their personality and clothing, and pray they won’t be a scapegoat that season. Their male competitors, meanwhile, get the weapons of “hotness” “artistry” “emotional connection” and “overpraising.” They get the “special advantages” of Judges saves and extra spots in the Top 24. And they have many, many paths to victory – from rock to pop to soul.
We live in a misogynistic society. It’s sad, but true. I’m not surprised that we see that misogyny manifest itself in the format of American Idol. I’m not surprised the judges favor men.
Like Elise Testone so appropriately sang: this is a man, man’s world…
I’m not, at the end of the day, even that surprised that people refuse to see the very real, provable reasons why women don’t win American Idol. Because to acknowledge those reasons would be to acknowledge that the show itself has problems with sexism.
And it’s so much easier to blame the teen girls.
Ironically, the people who have the biggest problem with women and Idol? The (non-female, non-teen) fans. The fans who, every time this issue is raised, go to the message boards and rant about the “stupid teen girls” and the “sluts” and the “bitches” who keep their favorites from winning. The fans who call teen girls whores, and accuse them of wanting boyfriends rather than voting for talent. The fans who say teen girls can’t have taste.
Those fans? Those fans have serious problems with women.
And so does the show.
But like I said: it’s so much easier to blame teen girls.
And so that we all remember that:
a) Teenage girls are awesome
b) Women on Idol are awesome
I give you teenager Allison Iraheta’s exit performance of Cry Baby
ETA: I wrote a followup a week before the Idol finale: And In Breaking News, American Idol is Still Sexist.
*** ETA: I wrote this post BEFORE the top eight results, when Colton Dixon was voted off the show. Colton’s exit means it’s the first time in who knows how long that there are more women on the show than men (hurrah!). It also means that Jessica Sanchez is safe for another week (hurrah!). I do think my commentary is still applicable – the Jessica Sanchez situation is one example of a much wider situation. It should also be noted that this means that all the contestants have been in the bottom 3 except Phillip Phillips (male) – and that no one who has appeared in the Bottom 3 before top 5 EXCEPT Fantasia Barino has gone on to win the show. Which… is a not-so-good sign for the women.
I do hope that the trend of women losing Idol is reversing course. And I hope there is a female winner this year – I prefer the women to the men this season, although I do love Joshua Ledet. And I was a Colton fan, I will admit, so I’m sad he was voted off.