Sep. 14th, 2014

joreth: (Super Tech)

So this has been floating around my Facebook feed in the last week. I'm re-posting it, not because I agree with every one of them or because I don't think the show has valid criticisms, but because some of the lines are actually really good advice.

The show has a lot of problems with it, I'll be the first to admit. I believe it's important to be able to admit the flaws of the media we like. We don't have to wait for the Perfect Media, we can like stuff with flaws. I just think we have to be able to admit and accept those flaws for what they are.

But I think this show is also undervalued by a lot of my progressive circles because of those very legitimate flaws. And I see most of the devaluing of the show from people who have never watched more than a couple of episodes.

The power of this show is that it highlighted a segment of the population that does not often get highlighted, let alone celebrated. This show celebrated the single, adult, independent woman. Yes, it showed them searching for love and relationships, but even single, adult, independent women often search for love and relationships. These are not mutually exclusive traits.

Over the seasons, as the characters age and continue to date as single women, the show addressed the concepts of aging, of female independence, of designer relationships, of the fairy tales, of social pressure and the expectations of womanhood, of class warfare, of alternative life choices, of dealing with death and mortality, of reconciling poor choices, of introspection, of introverts vs. extroverts, of communication, and of parenthood vs. non-parenthood and the validity of options.

I'm not saying that every episode was gold. I'm also not even saying that I agree with the conclusions they reach on any of those subjects. I'm saying that they introduced the topics to a mainstream audience when those topics had previously gone unstated or under-discussed. Much like The Golden Girls brought to every American living room the idea of seniors having sex and the challenges faced by single women as they age, this show eschews the standard formula of happily married but quirky heterosexual monogamous couple raising children in the suburbs.

It's not very realistic in that it does retain many of the other most-common sitcom (yes, I know it's not a sitcom) tropes of hip, attractive people living in one of the most expensive cities in the world and somehow managing to, not just survive, but thrive with enough expendable income to wear designer clothes and attend fabulous parties searching for love in all the wrong places and hilarity ensues. But it doesn't cover it in the young, early-twenty-something way as those sitcoms; it tells the story from the perspective of women who have "passed their prime", who have reached and passed the age at which they should have overcome their silly, young faux pas and found The One already and settled down into that married-with-children sitcom storyline. It tells the story of trying to find love while one's ability to have children becomes compromised and the effects of aging are just beginning to be seen and dealt with.

It tells the story from that in-between stage, where the women are no longer the hip, young people we can excuse from making the mistakes they make because they're young, and the older people who have already reached the stage where aging is a given and now they have to deal with that class. The process of coming to terms with aging, and of aging in our appearance-obsessed, monogamy-and-love-obsessed society is a process rarely examined.

As I do with any serial or episodic form of media in which there are good episodes and bad episodes, I like to take certain episodes that cover certain topics and examine that single topic on its own merit. I might have to provide some long-term context of the characters to explain why they react or behave the way they do, but the episode itself is being addressed as a stand-alone for the message. Even when the characters reach a conclusion that I disagree with, I find it to be a valuable teaching tool, discussion starter, and illustration of important or complex points.

I have a series of clips taken from a few different episodes that single out certain topics and points that I've uploaded to YouTube, and I post them occasionally when the comments threads are relevant. Maybe someday I'll get around to starting up that blog series on this show. It'll be in the Media Reflections tag here in my LiveJournal, if anyone is interested.
joreth: (Super Tech)

Boy did this bring on unpleasant memories. I grew up in California, straddling the boundaries between suburbia and the barrio. My adopted mom is Mexican and my adopted dad is white, but my biological mother is white and my biological father is, well, we just say "Mexican" because my bio-mom only vaguely remembers that his family actually came from one of the indigenous tribes in Mexico but she can't remember which one. So I could be Aztec or Maya or Zapotec or Mixtec or Tepehuan or who knows.

Anyway, I grew up in a culture clash. I didn't look white enough for my blonde-haired, blue-eyed private school classmates, but I didn't look brown enough for my Spanish-speaking, gang-member peers in church either. My parents enforced gender roles, but it was from my mom's side that I got the exposure to Mexican gender roles and I had no brothers and a white father, so I kind of got introduced to Machismo through implication, not direct influence. But the guys I went to church with sure got that lesson in abundance. Let me tell you, my early dating years were a trial. I dated almost exclusively white men because I had such problems with the Chicanos attempting to enforce Machismo-based gender roles in our relationships. Although my comparatively fair skin (which was actually much darker than it is today because I was a competitive swimmer and in the sun a lot when I was a teen) mixed with the long dark hair traditionally prized in Mexican cultures and bold indigenous nose made me somewhat exotic yet familiar and attractive to exactly those same boys and men that I was trying to avoid because of their Machismo culture.

I went to a private school, but because it was a private school, it didn't have a school bus so I took the city bus home until I was old enough to get a car. The city bus went through the lowest-income (a.k.a. Hispanic) areas of town although I lived in an almost exclusively white middle-class neighborhood. I learned to change out of my school uniform before getting on the bus because my uniform was blue and this was the height of the Bloods and Crips wars which had reached such epic proportions as to have bled north into my hometown far away from East L.A. I couldn't be caught wearing blue either by a Blood gang member who would hurt me or by a Crip gang member who would hit on me.

On top of that, several years ago I learned some interesting things about my biological father. In addition to being Mexican, he was also a cross-dresser. My biological mother and his current girlfriend both insist that he's straight. He could be, or he could be bisexual, or he could be like the "straight" Rios in the article which really means a very good straight-acting gay man. I'm not sure and it's not really relevant. But the reason why I can only relate the suppositions of my bio-mom and his girlfriend is because he went into hiding to protect himself from his parents (my grandparents) from finding out about his cross-dressing.

Back in the '70s, my bio-mom discovered his interest in wearing women's clothes. She didn't break up with him over it, but she did tell him that she didn't want to see or know anything about it and that he was to keep it from her completely. Out of the people he loved the most at that time, this was the most mild response to his non-gender-conforming ways. His parents were the sort of abusive religious parents that Valesquez in the article had. My bio-father was so terrorized by his religious mother and his Machismo culture that, as soon as he could, he escaped his family and could only be reached by pager (at a time when smartphones were not available but cellphones were nevertheless readily available, circa 2005-ish), from which he would then return calls via payphone so that his parents couldn't discover his location or his actual phone to harass him. He did still have some contact with his parents, but I gather that was because he still had younger siblings that he didn't want to lose entirely.

The last thing I heard about him was from his girlfriend. I had found out his full name and tracked him down to his city of residence, so I sent an introduction letter to everyone with that name in that city, just hoping to let him know of my existence. One of those letters found the right man, because his girlfriend came across that letter one day and called me to tell me that I had found him. She wanted to respect his desire to remain unfound but also wanted to reassure me that I had reached him. In order to confirm that I had reached the right person, we talked a little about him and that's how I found out about his current circumstances.

She confirmed that his home life was unbearable and his parents were crazy religious nuts who terrorized him in a manner consistent with Machismo culture. She also confirmed that he did cross-dress, and she had issued the same sort of restriction as my bio-mom - that he keep all aspects of his lifestyle from her because it made her uncomfortable. But he wasn't just cross-dressing anymore either. He was working as either a bouncer or a bartender (I forget which, now) in a gay club that has a drag show. And, apparently, this job was a source of extreme joy and relief to him as well as a major source of cognitive dissonance because it clashed with his internalized Machismo. The girlfriend wasn't really sure what to do about all this. I suspect that bouncer/bartender and "straight" were still whitewashing his activities, but his girlfriend apparently needed to believe that these were the limits to his behaviour.

I don't have any particular personal feelings towards this man because he's a stranger to me. I never internalized the message that we have to love people we're related to. Since I was adopted, sharing DNA with someone wasn't the important connection point in my loving relationships. But I do feel a sense of pity for him, because of all the people in his life, the daughter he doesn't want to acknowledge is probably the one person he is related to either by blood or marriage, who would completely accept him for who he is and even actively celebrate his life choices. With me, he wouldn't have to be anyone other than who he is.

But like Rios in the article, because of the lengths he's going to hide his activities, I believe that even my acceptance of him wouldn't be welcome. I believe he is so indoctrinated in Machismo culture that he would probably be offended at my acceptance. Just like Rios who insists on raising his own sons in the Machismo culture, I think that the freedom that acceptance by me would afford him would be threatening to his own internalized homophobia and misogyny. He would probably be very opposed to my own gender nonconformism because, as a female, I consistently attack and break down my own role as a woman in society and that would, by extension, attack his own Machismo culture even as he chafes against it.

So this was kind of a hard article to read, especially the part about Rios and the internalization and perpetuation of Machismo culture by someone who is so directly harmed by it. People who haven't grown up in this culture, especially people who are naturally predisposed to fit the status quo, like to think that we're much further along in our social progress. I hear a lot of lamenting about the "sissyfication" of boys and emasculating men, and all I can think when I hear that is that they must not have ever stepped outside of their houses before because Machismo is alive and well, and even more macho than the pissant white-boy misogynists think they are. Chuck Norris, Clint Eastwood, and The Duke have nothing on the average Hispanic male raised in the Machismo culture.

And that's NOT something to brag about, that's something to be deeply troubled about.


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