Our faves are problematic (revisited).

So a couple years ago, I wrote a couple pieces for this blog about problematic faves – celebrities that many seem to adore and love but are problematic in different ways. My point with writing these posts wasn’t to be malicious or to really tear people down but instead, to really start the conversation on why we shouldn’t be putting people on pedestals and why we should hold people accountable.

People aren’t prefect – as a species, humans are messy and tend to make a whole lot of mistakes. I know that I’ve made so many mistakes that would qualify as a problematic person and I don’t deny that I’m still not making mistakes. But I’m trying to be better and I’m trying to learn more in order to make less mistakes in the future.

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Things to do.

Things are hectic and overwhelming now on so many different levels – trying to just keep up with what’s coming out of the White House and from 45’s administration on a regular basis is difficult most days. Add in everything else, including trying to survive, just getting out of bed most days can be hard. But it’s so important that we, especially and particularly we as white people, do get out of bed and work against white supremacy and fight for justice and equity.

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Non-apologies and Trans Characters in Hollywood.

There seems to be a weird trend where someone is called out on a mistake only for them to issue a non-apology that takes none of the blame. Making mistakes is inevitable – as humans, we’re flawed and messy. The repeating of the same mistakes and not owning up to them is what I personally have trouble with.

It can be hard to admit you’re wrong and even harder for your actions to reflect that. Our society’s obsession and subsequent intense pressure towards success and perfection makes owning up to mistake damn near impossible but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Mistakes can often offer an incredible opportunity to learn and grow more.

All of this comes in the wake of yet another cis man being cast as a trans woman in a film. In this case, Matt Bomer was cast as a trans woman in a new movie called Anything and Mark Ruffalo offered a non-apology for it. I could go on about the implications of casting men to play trans women in Hollywood – like how it sends the dangerous message that trans women are really just men or how it takes away what little roles trans actors have to portray trans characters. This is an incredibly important conversation but there are significantly smarter people with significantly better insight that have been talking about this and I’ll let them take the ropes on it.

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Making mistakes and being held accountable.


[image with text saying “make mistakes but learn from them” on a tan background]

As people, we make mistakes on a regular basis because we’re a flawed species and not one person has the answers to everything. There are times in which we fuck up and that’s fine. No one is perfect and it’s impossible to expect everyone to be such. But for me, I do think it’s possible to at least expect people to grow from their mistakes rather than hide from them. And that’s especially important in activist, feminist, and ally circles.

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Your Faves are Problematic.

So over the past few months, I’ve been writing about different celebrities and the different ways that they are problematic. And a big part of why I’ve been doing this (and why I’ll keep doing it on occasion) is because we as a society tend to emulate celebrities and put them up on untouchable pedestals. It’s important to remember that celebrities are human – they’re flawed and bound to make mistakes. But they should be held just as accountable for their problematic behavior as anyone else.

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Quote on Tina Fey.

Like numerous residents of the feminist blogosphere, I’m disappointed in Fey’s persistent bullying of sex workers and other women she judges to be inappropriately sexual. While she skewers society for shitting on the fairer sex, she turns around and does the exact same thing to those lower than her in the social hierarchy.

[…] It’s not my goal to police the feminism of random celebrities. But when you publicly brand yourself as a feminist and reap huge rewards from that brand, you open yourself up to criticism and debate. Being a feminist is not just about standing up for people like you. It’s about standing up for all women who are being oppressed for bullshit reasons, which include interlocking factors of race, class, gender identity, sexuality, et cetera. I find it disappointing (if unsurprising) that not a single interviewer has held Fey’s feet to the fire about this essential hypocrisy as she promotes her latest movie to the masses. Consider this my attempt at doing just that.

Jamie Peck in Tina Fey’s Disappointing Feminist Hypocrisy

Your Fave is Problematic – Tina Fey.

Shocking right? Tina Fey is quite literally the definition of white feminism – her work and activism fights for equality of (white and middle class/rich) women and lacks any sort of intersectional lens.

A part of the reason I consider Fey to be problematic is because of 30 Rock – the show in which she was the creator, executive producer, and star. The show was loosely based on Fey’s own experience being head writer at SNL and during its seven season run, there is ableism, blackface, and so much more. There were at least three instances of straight up black face in the show, twice done by Jane Krakowski’s character. And there have been more than one rape joke in many of the show’s episodes.

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Your Faves are Problematic – Christopher Columbus.

Okay maybe the title is misleading – I’m not entirely sure if Christopher Columbus is anyone’s favorite but the main point is that that he was super problematic and there’s a lot more to his ‘discovery’ of the new world than many (or at least I) learned in school. The Oatmeal actually has a really great comic about a more truthful version of what happened in 1492 when Columbus sailed the ocean blue (including the fact that no one really thought the world was flat).

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Your Fave is Problematic – Taylor Swift.

Honestly, I am not a Taylor Swift fan – in part because I think she’s way too hyped up and hearing her songs constantly play over the radio has gotten rather irritating. But I’m also not much of a fan because of the annoying way she’s presented herself over the last couple years and the fact that Swift is quite honestly the best example I can personally name of White Feminism™ (okay so Tina Fey and Lena Dunham also rank as some of the best examples…).

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - JULY 10:  Singer/songwriter Taylor Swift performs onstage with Hailee Steinfeld, Gigi Hadid, Lily Aldridge and Lena Dunham during The 1989 World Tour Live at MetLife Stadium on July 10, 2015 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Larry Busacca/LP5/Getty Images for TAS)

Melissa A. Fabello wrote for Everyday Feminism about the 5 ways in which Taylor Swift does exemplify white feminism and why it’s a problem. One thing that Fabello brings up is that Swift seems to only really surround herself with beautiful, thin, rich, famous, white women. Her squad seems to be mostly women who look exactly like her…

And her latest video (The Wildest Dreams), for example? It’s set in Africa (that’s vague as fuck) but features almost exclusively white people. Plus, her Bad Blood video? Not exclusively white people but very close to it. Dayna Evans also wrote an amazing piece about how Taylor Swift isn’t your friend, as much as she appears to be.

Taylor Swift has frequently been critiqued for her cultural appropriation, particularly in regards to her twerking and use of black culture in Shake It Off. (She’s not the only white pop star to not only use black culture and be criticized for it.) Janell Hobson wrote about both Shake It Off and Nicki Minaj’s Anaconda, highlighting in particular that Swift works to distance herself from being overly sexual:

…when Taylor Swift deliberately positions her awkwardly dancing body in “Shake It Off” as a way to defend her innocence against the constant slut-shaming she has experienced, she reifies her whiteness, her purity.

And for me, it just seems like Swift’s own feminism seems the easiest path she could have taken to proclaiming to be a feminist. The thing about fighting oppression, about being a feminist is that there is going to be work and the journey will be uncomfortable. But many of Swift’s actions seem to be a shallow nod at what mainstream White Feminism is. Adding people to the background of your tour doesn’t mean representation. And for someone who has said feminism can mean women helping other women, Swift has made a lot of money off hating other women as Elfity on Persephone Magazine pointed out:

Taylor Swift has made a very, very large amount of money off of hating on other women. She’s sold a lot of records with the, “I’m not like those other girls,” message and helped to perpetuate the virgin/whore dichotomy. She is not without blame. It’s nice that you like t-shirts and sneakers, but it doesn’t make you any better than the woman who likes high heels and short skirts. Lobbing hateful, sexist lyrics like “She’s an actress, whoa. She’s better known for the things that she does on the mattress, whoa,” that seek to specifically devalue someone’s profession because OMGslut don’t really seem like they’re helpful to other women.

I do think that Swift’s identity as a feminist and some of her actions (like apologizing to Nicki Minaj for making Minaj’s critiques of the 2015 VMAs all about her) can have some good implications. People aren’t perfect and we as society shouldn’t expect people to be so. But that doesn’t mean that Swift or anyone else is free from critique. Nor does it mean that we should just ignore problematic behavior because of a few good actions.