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May 17, 2012

Cosmo Brings "Sexy vs. Skanky" To YouTube

There's a new YouTube channel called Hello Style that features weekly shows about fashion and beauty. It features shows produced by several women's magazines like Marie Claire, Seventeen, and our BFFs at Cosmo.

Some of the shows are based on columns and features from the magazines themselves, like Seventeen's prom specials and Marie Claire's "Big Girl in a Skinny World". So what did Cosmo choose for the show that would represent their magazine? That would be "Sexy vs. Skanky", of course! This is a feature that appears in each issue of the magazine in which Cosmo arbitrarily classifies random things like "posing with a hot dog" as either sexy or skanky. Our favorite Sexy vs. Skanky column of all time was one from last year where they included "slut-shaming" on the skanky list - so one step forward by acknowledging that slut-shaming exists and is a bad thing and two steps back by implying that the reason slut-shaming is bad is because it's too slutty, or something. Typical Cosmo logic.

Anyway, on to the show. Here's the premiere episode, hosted by Jessie Cantrell and Cosmo Senior Editor Carolyn Kylstra (or you can just skip to our breakdown below, because as with the magazine we're willing to watch so you don't have to):

First, let's talk about the problem that you don't even need to click play to see. I'm not surprised at all that Cosmo would choose "What Guys Think About ____" as the format for this show. If you read Cosmo regularly (which I don't recommend), you know that they encourage women to center all of their life decisions right down to the color of our nail polish on the question of what a guy might think. "What do guys think?" is the "what would Jesus do?" of Cosmo's theology.

Next, the choice quotes from Jessie and Carolyn's intro:

"We're on a mission to help all the ladies who may not know when they've crossed the line from hot to hot mess." (So glad these angels of mercy have come into our lives.)

"And don't feel bad if you've had a trashy moment or two in the past. We're all survivors of skanky decisions here, especially when it comes to today's topic...cleavage." (I feel so much lighter now that Cosmo has given me permission to let go of the guilt and shame of all of my past trashy and skanky fashion mistakes.)

Then, it's on to some man on the street interviews about cleavage. Finally! I had to watch a whole 42 seconds of this video before they finally got to the all important "what guys think" part. It's all pretty boring and mostly boils down to 'we like boobs', but this guy was definitely my favorite:
Cleavage Analyst Guy: It causes a lot of awkwardness, I think. Especially, you know, I have a girlfriend so if I'm with her and I'm walking somewhere and there's cleavage hanging out somewhere, it's like...I'm like a robot.

Jessie Cantrell: Your eyes can't help it.

Cleavage Analyst Guy: No, they can't. Now I'm training myself just to stare straight ahead.
I'm so sorry, sir. I'll be sure to start wearing baggy sweatshirts everywhere I go because you can't control yourself and avoid leering at me in front of your girlfriend.

Next, our hosts welcome in Cosmo Fashion Director Michelle McCool to give us some cleavage rules. They're all really fascinating, like 'don't squish them together' and 'no deep v-necks if you're more than a B cup' (a rule that Cosmo breaks on its own cover like every other month). Kim Kardashian is their "sexy" celebrity example because "she always does a great job with her chest, she covers enough and shows enough".

Aubrey O'Day is not so lucky. They show a photo of her wearing a low-cut dress - it doesn't quite fit her right so it's not the most flattering dress I've ever seen, but whatever. For committing this horrible sin Aubrey gets the word skanky plastered in huge letters under her picture while our hosts discuss how "tragic" it is that she didn't adjust the straps of the dress properly, and Cantrell finishes things off by saying "I'm worried the implants are gonna pop." Fun!

To keep the good times rolling, they move on to a game called Guess the Breasts!, which features cropped photos of celebrity cleavage because it's always fun to reduce women to random body parts. First up is a photo of JWoww ("those boobs look drunk"), followed by Mariah Carey ("that is really bad...sideboob is supposed to be subtle"). The celeb in the next photo (spoiler alert: it's Anne Hathaway), who is pronounced "pasty white", is also showing a little sideboob, so our hosts ask cleavage expert McCool "is that okay?" She replies, "I hate to say this but it depends on how old she is, cause if she's really old I don't want to see that much of her body." Leaving aside the fact that she's probably not "really old" if you can't actually tell how old she is from the cropped photo, it's almost like they sat around while scripting this talking about how to make sure they shamed as many women as possible and came up with ageism as a creative solution.

To end the show, we have a discussion of cleavage as a "useful tool for dating". Of course, since "not every date requires the same level of exposure", we'll need more rules to follow to make sure we're doing things right. Kylstra informs us that "Cosmo polls tell us that when women want to keep seeing a guy, they wait on average until the fifth date or longer before they sleep with him". (I guess these would be those super scientific polls that Cosmo likes to conduct via Twitter and Facebook.) Once this fifth date gospel has been established, we can move on to the cleavage dating chart.

On the first date, your cleavage should be sexy, but make sure it's a "tasteful" sexy so that he'll want to ask you on a second date. On the third date, you be thinking ahead to the fifth date, so make sure to keep him interested by "showing another side of you" with a casual (but still sexy) outfit. On the fifth date you can show a little more cleavage since you're trying to "seal the deal", but make sure it's sultry cleavage and not tacky cleavage. Got all that? I hope so, because if you don't follow all of these rules you'll surely die alone and unloved.

Our ESC dating chart is a little bit simpler. Rule #1 is "wear whatever the fuck you want" and there are no other rules.

I watched this show right after it premiered on YouTube last night, and I couldn't resist leaving a comment. (It's currently one of the video's top comments. We do what we can.) Since it was the first episode, they were actually responding to a lot of the feedback. Here's our comment and their reply:
evilslutclique - Oh cool, another show that revolves around slut-shaming women for wearing what they want and doing what they want. Just what the world needs.

HelloStyleChannel - We're sorry you didn't like the show :-( Our channel is all about celebrating women, and this show is no exception -- if you don't want to try these style suggestions, no worries! Thanks for sharing your opinion xo
Right. I'm sure Aubrey O'Day and Mariah Carey would feel really "celebrated" by this show.

We found some of the other comments and replies to be just as illuminating:
laurenwhit279 - My husband watched with this me and he agreed with the second and third guy. He likes a little cleavage, but if they're way too big or there's too much showing he said it's really gross. Sometimes we'll see women like that and he just feels awkward. I understand that sometimes you can't help but notice though.

HelloStyleChannel - Love that you watched it together! We always value a guy's opinion :-)
Truer words were never spoken. Cosmo always values a guy's opinion. Any guy. Even in situations where a guy's opinion is really not relevant or necessary. If they replaced "Fun Fearless Female" with "We Always Value A Guy's Opinion" as their magazine's tagline, it would be a lot more accurate. Incidentally, the last time Cosmo slut-shamed Aubrey O'Day, it was for posing for pictures holding a t-shirt she designed with a message that implied that she values herself more than she values men and their precious guy opinions. I'm sensing a pattern developing here.
ebilmuffins - Why do we need to associate words like "skanky" and "slutty" with how women dress? I don't get it. This is incredibly disrespectful, in my eyes.

HelloStyleChannel - We're sorry you think so :-( We definitely don't mean to be disrespectful -- our channel is all about celebrating women! "Sexy Vs. Skanky" is a well-loved column in Cosmo each month, so we're proud to translate it into a new YouTube show. Thanks for sharing your opinion with us xo
So you're calling women skanks, telling us to make sure we don't look too trashy because guys won't want to ask us out, saying that older women's bodies are gross and should be as covered up as possible, and cracking obnoxious jokes about someone's breast implants...but not in a disrespectful way. Oh, I get it now! And I'm pretty skeptical about their claim that the Sexy vs. Skanky column is so well-loved, but the real problem is that they think it's true and they're so proud of it that they'd choose it as the one thing from the magazine that they wanted to "translate" for this show. I guess I should thank them though, because they've also managed to translate everything that's wrong with Cosmo in one five minute video.

May 16, 2012

The problem with Girls is really a problem with HBO

There has been a lot written lately about Lena Dunham's new show "Girls" on HBO. The main topic of concern, aside from the fact that the characters are "whiny" and "narcissistic", is that the show is very white. Like pretty much all white.

Read the rest at ESCTVblog.com

    May 14, 2012

    The 10 Most Slut-Shamed Former Disney Stars?

    Hey Complex, fuck you. That's how we feel about your idiotic pop culture piece "The 10 Most Corrupted Former Disney Stars"... (Yes, this piece is from February, but we just found it - via ONTD - and we couldn't let it go without saying something.)
    No matter how many movies Vanessa Hudgens puts out, including this weekend's Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, they still won't erase the memory of her nude photo scandals. To be
    fair, she isn't the only former Disney star who has the problem of a tarnished image. From Miley Cyrus' salvia video to Britney Spears' mental breakdown, Minnie  Mouseketeers often make a grand exit from the House of Mouse.

    There's just so much wrong with their "top 10 list" that we don't even know where to begin... 

    Why are Disney stars expected to remain squeaky clean teenagers, well into adulthood? Teen stars - as most non-famous teenagers - grow up and become adults. It happens! Shocking! They drink alcohol. They have sex. They make mistakes. Just like most human beings. So why do we hold them to a higher standard? Why do we act like they have to be children forever and then shame them when they aren't?

    Or how about the fact that every person on this list is female? Because apparently when male stars do something wrong, it doesn't fucking matter. But if a young woman does anything at all, she's "tarnished". Why are female stars held to a higher standard than their male counterparts? 

    Shia LeBeouf, who starred on Disney's Even Stevens, didn't make this Top 10 list. Why not? He's certainly "tarnished" his image as much as some of the women on they selected... His past "fails" include: criminal trespassing (2007), unlawful smoking (2008), failing to make a court appearance (2008), drunk driving (2008), multiple bar fights (2011), and has admitted to dating certain  female celebrities while they were in relationships with others (or at least he claims to have done this; some of the women have denied his allegations). 

    How about Orlando Brown (That's So Raven) who was arrested for marijuana possession (2007) and DUI (2011)? Or Mitchell Musso, who wasn't even 21 yet when he was arrested for a DUI? Joe Jonas took racist photographs, allegedly smoked marijuana at a club and broke up with Taylor Swift over the phone (not a crime, but pretty douchey). Zac Efron dropped a condom on the red carpet of a children's movie premiere and Corbin Bleu posed practically nude for ads promoting his (now cancelled) racy series The Beautiful Life. [We don't see anything wrong with those last two, but they're certainly "as bad" for their squeaky Disney images as being the subject of a false pregnancy rumor, see below.]

    So why didn't any of them make the list? Why? Because we apparently don't give a shit with male celebs do. It's extra fucked-up that this list was compiled by a female "writer" (Tara Aquino) because the only thing more annoying than men slut-shaming women for their choices, is women doing it to each other!

    We went down the entire list and very few of these women's offenses are actually that bad (or bad at all). Most of them have to do with drinking alcohol (over the age of 21) or being sexual in any way. To be clear, we're not condoning doing drugs, drinking and driving, or any other illegal activity. But one mistake does not mean you are "tarnished" and it certainly isn't fair to hold women to a higher standard than men; former child or teen stars to a higher standard than stars who peaked as adults; or Disney stars to a higher standard than, well, everyone else.

    To view the fucked up, idiotic, sexist, slut-shaming list... with our commentary check out the full blog at www.ESCTVblog.com

    May 8, 2012

    Johns Scared Stiff: The Dangers of Hookers

    Disclaimer: We do not normally read The New York Post. We don't even read it like we read Cosmo magazine ("so you don't have to"). The Post is usually too bad even to read as critique. But sometimes their pun-tastic titles catch our attention and we can't help but glance. That's what happened yesterday.

    The following text conversation happened while one of us was commuting home from work on Monday:
    Lilith: Reading the Post over someone's shoulder on the train. Gotta google this story later: "Johns Scared Stiff. Class teaches men dangers of hookers". WTF

    Lilith: I assume it's the Post, based on the title.

    Jezebel: Wow. Yes, we need to google that later, because now I'm dying to know the story.

    Lilith: I'm sure it's an "amazing" article.

    Jezebel: Okay, I just looked it up. The first line is about "bad boys" who need to be "taught a lesson". High quality journalism as always.

    Here's the article, for those of you who actually want to read it in its entirety, instead of just our bitching and ranting about it. The title on the web version is "Brooklyn's 'john school' teaches men dangers of hookers" but the headline that was on the print version had the "Johns Scared Stiff" pun.

    Obviously the title alone was pretty infuriating: The dangers of hookers. Even before reading it, I already hate this article and its author (Josh Saul) just from that line alone. I'd imagine that on average, "johns" are much more of a danger to sex workers than vice versa. The "school" in the article is actually a 10-year-old educational program called Project Respect in which men are taught the "adverse consequences" of patronizing sex workers. Men who are arrested for soliciting or patronizing sex workers are given the option of avoid a court hearing and possible jail time by taking a 5-hour class for $350. Afterwards their cases are dismissed in 6 months, as long as there are no new arrests. (The article claims that more than 3,000 men have taken the class and only "a bone-headed 26" have been arrested again for the same crime.)

    Photo by Gabriella Bass

    Clearly "Project Respect" is a misnomer, because it doesn't seem like anyone is being respected here. The chief of the Brooklyn DA's sex-crimes division, Rhonnie Jaus, has referred to it as a "scared-straight concept". Yeah, scared-straight by slut-shaming and spreading propaganda. The program includes a lecture from an HIV-positive sex worker who "kept working the streets after her diagnosis", "graphic slides of diseased genitalia", and warnings from assistant district attorneys about underage sex workers.
    “If you are patronizing prostitutes, there is a very good chance you are going to encounter children,” Assistant District Attorney Jamila Cha-Jua-Lee told the men. “If you come into court and say, ‘I thought she was 18!’ and I have a birth certificate, I win.”
    Now, we understand that prostitution is illegal in New York, and we acknowledge that there are a lot of problems with the sex work industry and it's not always the safest line of work. But still, we have a hard time believing that this "class" is a great solution to anything. We'll concede that it's possible that the class itself is not quite as bad as the article's description of the class, but there's still plenty to dislike.

    First of all, it's nice for these men that they get the option of taking a class instead of going to court. But there's no mention of what happens to the sex workers who are arrested alongside them. Do they get offered the option of avoiding court and possible jail time by taking a class that teaches them that johns are dangerous liars who probably have a bunch of STDs? We're betting they don't. And we hope that Brooklyn is putting more time and resources into helping the underage girls who are working as prostitutes in their borough than they are into using them as scare tactics at john school.

    According to the article, most of the men in these programs claim that they were entrapped. We may never know how many of them are lying, but the claim fits right in with the overall framing of this story. It's not really about holding the johns accountable for their actions or digging deeper into the idea that the existence of something like a john school in the first place just may mean that our cultural attitudes and public policies about sex work are totally screwed up. Nope, instead we can boil it all down, as the article's headline did, to the "dangers of hookers". Hookers lying about their age, hookers concealing their STDs, undercover cops lying about being hookers. Thank goodness we have john school to teach men that hookers can't be trusted.

    We're thinking of pitching a follow up article to the Post. The working title is "New York Post article about Brooklyn's 'john school' teaches everyone dangers of criminalizing sex work and shaming sex workers".

    Also, this might just be us being petty... but they couldn't even come up with an original name. There is another Project Respect that has been around at least two years longer and has a lot more to do with respect. It is a prevention and education program aimed at preventing sexualized violence. Now that's the kind of respect we can get behind.

    May 3, 2012

    It Doesn't Have to Say Rape to Be Rape Culture

    We recently observed two examples of rape culture in action. Seeing the two incidents back to back, and watching how people reacted to them, really served as a depressing reminder for us of how many people out there still refuse to accept that rape culture is a real thing that does real harm. It also reminded us of how important it is to call this stuff out and talk about it when we see it so that hopefully more people will start to understand.

    The first incident was a story about a radio DJ on a morning show in Cleveland. The show received a letter from a father who had seen his teenage daughter kissing another girl and was concerned that she might be a lesbian.
    This morning GLAAD received several incident reports that alerted us to a horrific anti-gay remark that was made on today's episode of "Rover's Morning Glory," a popular morning show that airs on Cleveland's WMMS 100.7 FM radio (The Buzzard). Throughout the history of FM broadcasting, WMMS has been widely regarded as one of the most influential rock stations in America.

    According to the incident reports (and later confirmed to us by an executive for Clear Channel, the station's parent company), the anti-gay remark was made by Dominic Dieter, one of the "Rover's Morning Glory" cast members. Responding to an e-mail from a father who (for reasons unknown) wrote to the station to say that he'd happened upon his teenage daughter kissing another girl. Deiter responded to the father, on-air, by saying:

    "You should get one of your friends to screw your daughter straight." [GLAAD]

    Nothing like a little corrective rape advice with your morning radio, right? It's horrifying that a man would not only give this advice to a father about his child, but share it with a whole radio audience as well. The homophobia of suggesting that a lesbian teen needs to be turned straight combined with the misogyny of advocating rape as the method for accomplishing that makes this one of the most disgusting and inappropriate comments we've heard in a while.

    Unfortunately, not everyone saw it that way. We read a lot of the comments about this that appeared on various articles as well as Twitter and the Rover's Morning Glory facebook page. The majority of people who commented were just as offended as we were, but there were some who disagreed. Here's a sampling (we're paraphrasing a few of these and not linking directly to any of them because this is about the larger issue, not about calling out individual commenters):

    I'm sorry...but where in this statement does it say "rape"? You guys all have your panties in a bunch over something #1. You never even listened too. #2. He never said "rape"...What he said was told as a joke. Yes a bad joke, but he never said rape. Lets get the facts straight before we go for a witch hunt.

    Freedom of speech! [Every time the "freedom of speech" argument comes up in situations like this, which is every time there is a situation like this, I get a headache. I think it's a sympathy pain that I experience as the Founding Fathers turn over in their graves.]

    You stupid crybaby losers, he never said raped. 16 is the age of consent in ohio. Yeah, I don't agree with him...but its dieter. If you take him seriously, you're the moron. Get over yourselves for fucks sake

    People are over-exaggerating dieters comments... he didn't say 'rape'

    Disgusting as that comment was, I'm disturbed that the DJ said "Get one of your friends to screw her," yet the article puts the word "rape" in his mouth. Obviously a young gay woman can't simply become straight, nor would she want to. But it seems, to me, a large leap between "get one of your friends to screw her" and "get one of your friends to rape her." I agree that only a moron would think a young gay woman would consent to that. But the comment struck me as demonstrating a profound and disgusting lack of understanding for what it means to be gay. It was horrible, but rape still seems a leap.
    Variations on the phrase 'he didn't actually say the word rape!' came up again and again among Dieter's defenders. Apparently in their world it's common for teenage lesbians to consent to sex with men their father's age that have been hired by said father to cure their gayness, and "screw her straight" is just a term of endearment or something. (Of course, we don't even know whether this young woman is actually a lesbian or not, but we're describing the situation that way because that's the assumption that Dieter made about her when he made his comments.) Many people also seemed to be hung up on their belief that Dieter couldn't have meant it that way, that it was just a thoughtless joke and he didn't intend to promote homophobia and sexual violence with his comments. (Dieter himself said as much in the on air apology that he delivered after this outcry.) But it doesn't really matter. Maybe he didn't intend to advocate the corrective rape of a gay teen girl, but that's exactly what he did, and it still has the same harmful effects whether he 'meant it' or not.

    Some people seem to think that if it's not 100% blatant, if the person isn't literally shouting "Rape is okay! Rapists rule! Yay for rape!" from the rooftops, it's not an example of rape culture. They may even agree that something is offensive or in poor taste, and yet they're more willing to give the benefit of the doubt to the person advocating rape than to the crowd of Cassandras off to the side yelling "hey, this is rape culture and it's not okay". We don't know yet whether Dieter is going to lose his job over these comments, but at least there was enough of an outcry that he was suspended and forced to apologize. Hopefully the conversations that this has sparked will educate at least a few people about the issue of corrective rape and the reasons why comments like Dieter's are so harmful.

    The other incident was maybe minor in comparison to the Dieter fiasco, but still a page out of the same book. This was posted by a friend of ours on Twitter:

    It's always so funny to make jokes about how no really secretly means yes. We can imagine how this meeting went:
    "Okay, we need slogans for our new rule about how you can't change the toppings on our artisan pizzas."

    "I've got it! We'll combine that saying '____ is the new black' with that 'no means no' anti-rape slogan."

    "Brilliant! Let's go get cheesy bread."
    Some of the people who responded to the tweet agreed that the slogan was problematic, but some didn't:
    How does that connect to rape culture? You're reaching a bit....That has nothing to to with the advert. There are things that are worse than that.

    I'm vehemently against rape culture, but I didn't connect that statement to it. Mainly b/c the campaign contains specific language that makes it about their pizza, and in no way connected to sex, dating, etc.

    Searching the same topic on tumblr brought up some less polite disagreements involving charming phrases like "oversensitive bitches". And yes, obviously this slogan isn't literally about rape. It's about pizza toppings. But it's just really not helpful to make jokes about the line between no and yes being blurred, and to imply that no doesn't always mean no. In a society where rape jokes are a staple in many TV shows and movies, slut-shaming attitudes like the belief that a woman can be "asking for it" by dressing or acting a certain way and not by actually saying yes are prevalent, and phrases like "that test totally raped me" are common, I could easily see "no is the new yes" being adopted for use in non-pizza contexts. It's just one more thing, and maybe it's a small thing, but it all adds up.

    What do you think of these two incidents? Have you ever observed something that you thought was an example of rape culture only to have other people say you were wrong or oversensitive or humorless? What do you think is the best way to call out stuff like this when you see it?