Mailbag 3/29/07

Welcome to the first installment of The Mailbag, a (hopefully) weekly column featuring interesting tidbits visitors have emailed to me.

Patricia Mathews had this to say about Rome:

I just wanted to rant about the way that miniseries “Rome” treated Cleopatra like an outtake from “Desperate Housewives.” No survivor of Egyptian politics would have chirped “Of COURSE he’s to be trusted” about Octavian, she’d have researched him down to his toenails. Nor would she have had a screaming crying fit at his “betrayal” (in quotes because she’d be onto him.)

The only thing good about that portrayal is that she WAS shown as being smarter than Mark Antony!

I kept straining to catch glimpses of the canny politician our Cleo was known to have been, but all the series gave us was skimpy dresses and lots of bedroom action.

They did do one thing gloriously well. The final scene where Atia, Octavian’s mother, which this series inflated into a major player by adding to her character the deeds of several real women of the period, joins her son’s other ladies for his final triumph, we sudenly see her as a flaming anachronism in Octavian’s New World Order. She hasn’t changed, but Livia is mealy-mouthed where Atia swears like a gladiator; they’re in white and pastels, as sanitized as a monument, where she’s her flamboyant self – think of a 50-year-old Sally Bowles from Cabaret, appearing unchanged in 1950.

Just a side note. It’s been a fascinating series and I’m sorry its over, but they really did seem to reduce the women to sex and hysterics, which is a serious misreading of their role during that century.

But it’s a pretty good reading of our image of women’s role in this century.  Makes you wonder about the times you’re living in when ancient Egyptian queens need to be “naive-atized” for modern audiences. And while Atia sounds quite interesting… is it just me, or is it usually women characters who get consolidated from several into one?  It’s as if historical men are so important, you wouldn’t dare consolidate their deeds into one character, but women?  Why bother with several strong women, when you can make do with one?  Then you still have lots of women supporting the usual female stereotypes, and only one the little target audience boys have to ignore.

And SunlessNick came across one of those things that make you go “hmm”:

The entry page for the Borad Comedy group – equinoxtheatre.com/broad – includes this review quote:

“These vaginas have balls!”
-Terminal City, Vancouver BC

Obviously the group themselves didn’t mind it, or at least not enough not to include it, but it did hit me
with an “I know you think that’s a compliment, but…” vibe.

Hit me that way, too.  “Balls” are the only body part that slang English associates with courage, which linguistically removes (Orwell style) our ability to talk about women having courage in this earthy, poignant verbiage.  “She’s got guts” or “She’s got chutzpah” somehow doesn’t hit the same note.  In that sense, I think the reviewer’s intent was to include us by simply overstepping the gender boundary – which is a positive thing (and, it appears, appropriate to the theme of the play itself).  What sucks, however, is the unavoidable reinforcement of the idea that only people with testicles have courage, and that women who display courage are acting “like men”.

Of course, applying phrases about “balls” to women is the surest way to drive them out of usage completely, so maybe that’s not a bad idea.  ;)

On a more disturbing note,  TV Smack sent me this link about blogger and author Kathy Sierra getting anonymous death and rape threats on her blog and around the blogosphere. And this rebuttal from one of the guys who says she’s accused him unfairly.  Of course, some bloggers are claiming that she’s making the whole thing up.  Others are claiming they get death threats all the time and it’s no big deal.  Others think she’s playing the gender card.  Um, the day I see a man tell another man about all the various ways he’d like to rape him and then kill him, I will consider the possibility of a future in which rape threats could be gender blind.  Until then, my address is still on Earth.

Comments

  1. Purtek says

    “Balls” are the only body part that slang English associates with courage, which linguistically removes (Orwell style) our ability to talk about women having courage in this earthy, poignant verbiage.

    Damn, that’s well put. I’ve always been bothered by this, but I never took it to the Orwell level. It’s worse than just “courage=men”; it actually takes the concept of gender-neutral strength out of the common discourse. I agree that many who apply it to women are trying to neutralize its masculine connotation, but cognitively, you can’t, as the metaphor is designed to evoke a specific image. (But also note that the quote doesn’t say “These women have balls”. It’s metonymizing the human beings to their genitalia, and that in itself is pretty disgusting. Men have balls, but women are vaginas)

    I’ve been misunderstood and/or lumped into the prudish feminist camp when I’ve asked people not to use slang for female genitalia to mean “a weak person”. The misunderstanding comes when they think I don’t like those terms for the actual body part itself–in reality, I don’t give a damn what one calls any part of his or her body, because that’s just the body part and doesn’t really have anything to do with the actual person. It’s when the sexual, female terms becomes not just an insult, but also an insult meaning “weak pushover” that I’m no longer cool with it.

  2. Jennifer Kesler says

    Men have balls, but women are vaginas

    That’s a very good observation that I missed. While I suspect he was making a contextual play on words… that context got lost in the quote, didn’t it?

    I used to be really bad about using “balls” and “pussy” as references to courage and weakness. I usually applied the first term to women and the second to men (hey, if you need a patriarchy to prop your ass up, you are not my image of strength!), so I thought I was making a point. A few years ago, it suddenly dawned on me that the language unavoidably reinforced the very stereotypes I was trying to break down.

    Online now, I pretty much just talk about “weak people” and “strong people” – while these terms lack the spice of slang, in a way there is nothing colder than calling someone “weak”, and it’s perfectly accurate for what I mean. Offline, I’ve become fond of calling weak people “creampuffs”. :D

  3. says

    I’ve seen a couple feminist bloggers use “She’s got ovaries” instead of balls, which I think is awesome, though I don’ treally see it catching on in general use.

    One of the few things that really bothers me about my boyfriend is his casual use of gendered/generally non-PC insults–and worse, how they’ve crept in to my vocabularly. Definitely a habit to break myself of.

  4. SunlessNick says

    “These women have balls”. It’s metonymizing the human beings to their genitalia, and that in itself is pretty disgusting. Men have balls, but women are vaginas - Purtek

    Too true. I can’t imagine a reviewer referring to as “these penises” a group of men they mean to compliment.

  5. ignotus says

    At a restaurant over the summer (in italy, if it matters), I heart the waitress tell the manager that he was busting her balls. I don’t know if it means anything it particular, but it made me chuckle to see that at least there, the idea has become pretty gender-neutral.

    Of course, a little while later I saw a smarmy poster-y thing for sale with a variant on the old saw “opinions are like assholes, everybody has one.” Only this one said “opinions are like balls. Everyone has theirs.” I think the implications there are a little different…

  6. Jennifer Kesler says

    Of course, a little while later I saw a smarmy poster-y thing for sale with a variant on the old saw “opinions are like assholes, everybody has one.” Only this one said “opinions are like balls. Everyone has theirs.” I think the implications there are a little different…

    Oh, yeah, that’s a little different, all right! I can’t help but feel like the speaker of the “balls” variation isn’t even aware women exist when it comes to opinions and matters of the mind. I mean, it’s not as if we don’t have centuries of history in which we were told to keep our mouths shut and look pretty.

    I rather like the “assholes” version, though – that’s a good one. :)

  7. yocibox says

    it may be counter productive (I’m not fully decided) but I think its worth noting that everyone in fact has gonads (the above comment about Ovaries being in this vein). Whether you keep your balls tucked up inside, or hanging out where they become a liability tends to be determined by ones biology, but does not mean they’re not there. Admittedly this line of thinking willfully ignores the prevailing cultural context (balls = MALE gonads), but is the reason I’ve personally never looked askance at a woman using the phrase “you’re bustin’ balls here” or any similar variations.

  8. Jennifer Kesler says

    Yocibox, that’s an interesting perspective. I wish there was a way to redefine balls so the term didn’t refer exclusively to “testicles”, which are exclusive to males.

  9. Mecha says

    I am personally a fan of using the ‘She’s got a set of ovaries’ construction, and in general substituting ovaries for balls in the language people use it in. ‘Steel ovaries’ has a slightly different mind feel, though. Not that either one makes much _sense_, but.

    -Mecha

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