Becoming Gilead: How About We NOT

Editor’s Note: Our M.O. at Beauty Coup is positivity. We aim to celebrate, uplift, and champion all women. Today we feel compelled to take a break from our regularly scheduled exulting to address the unprecedented threats* to women’s rights in our country, and why The Handmaid’s Tale scares the sh*t out of us.

When I first read The Handmaid’s Tale, I was nineteen years old. Back then I was rattled by how possible a future it seemed for the United States, and moved by Margaret Atwood’s eerie ability to tap into a pear-shaped, unrecognizable world that still somehow felt like it was only a few clicks away from the present day.

After four episodes of the new series, I’m taking a break because the anxiety is overwhelming. In our current political climate, what once felt possible about Atwood’s story now seems plausible. One, maybe two clicks, and we could all be consumed by a plague of fear, hatred, and brutality born out of the subjugation of women.

To illustrate the extent of this anxiety, here’s an excerpt from another piece of Atwood’s writing, which was then condensed into this well-known quote:

“Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.”

As seen in the world of The Handmaid’s Tale, the whole truth is that the degradation and enslavement of women serves no one (except possibly an elite, demented few). If you’re a fervently pious sociopath, you’ll be happy in this world. But if you’re a layered, vulnerable human being – as most of us are – then, no matter if you are the oppressed or the oppressor, your humanity will be compromised.

I am actively trying, even in light of all the evidence to the contrary, to believe that there is too much goodness, too much kindness in the world for the atrocities of The Handmaid’s Tale to ever actually happen… but mothers being torn away from their children in the name of serving the state, female genital mutilation, subjection to a life of forced surrogacy, being branded an ‘un-woman’ and hanged for the crime of loving another woman… these are things that have already happened. These are things that are happening. Yes, they’re happening in other parts of the world… but they are happening. Human beings are inflicting horrible indignities on other human beings because of their gender, and sometimes right under our noses. Sex trafficking and forced marriages are not mythical injustices happening in faraway lands; these things happen in the present-day United States of America. Thanks to current U.S. immigrant policy, immigrant women and girls are the most vulnerable to these atrocities.**

Make no mistake, our democracy is at risk. The populace is electing violent men, self-serving men who care more for profits than people, and men who condone sexual assault into political office. We are giving these men power, and it is not them but us who will reap the damage that they sow. Many U.S. women are already suffering under restrictive laws and policies, as their rights are being legislated away by conservative lawmakers. If you’re feeling the heat living in a more progressive state, imagine the lives of women living in Texas and Indiana.

In another time and place, certain male behaviors would seem harmless, amusing, or simply eye-roll-inducing. When a man buys a ticket to a woman-only film screening as some sort of pouting protest, or a guy sues his date for texting during a movie, or another man places a statue of a peeing dog next to the statue of a fearless little girl so the dog is soiling her foot… it would be nice to see these incidents as innocuous and isolated, instead of a pervasive vitriol bubbling under the surface, on the verge of boiling over into actions that are far more harmful and ruinous. But how many clicks away are those men from becoming the men who beat their wives, or rape an unconscious girl behind a dumpster, or shoot up college campuses because they feel rejected by all women everywhere? How many clicks away are we from giving too many of these men the power to strip us of our rights, our agency, and our very humanity?

I don’t want to leave you in a state of despair. We need to hold onto our strength and our levity, even in – especially in – the face of all this awfulness. (There’s a reason this has become my #1 gif of 2017)

I know you’re tired, and overwhelmed, and frustrated. We are, too. But the good news is, that means we are not alone. And together, we are a force of nature.

Nolite te bastardes carborundorum, bitches.

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Via Lauren Duca on Twitter

 

*Women’s rights in the U.S. are facing greater threats than most of us have seen in our lifetime. Wondering what you can do about it? Volunteer for an organization that supports women’s rights, pay attention to and participate in local politics, support progressive female politicians, run for office, and/or donate money to reproductive rights organizations.

**If you want to fight sex trafficking and forced marriages in the U.S., here are some great resources: Polaris Project, Restore NYC, Unchained at Last, and the Tahirih Justice Center.

Written on the Train

Note from the Editors: If you’ve ever read our blog, you know that we here at Beauty Coup are champions of women. The political events of this week have us reeling with shock and uncertainty, but above all we are ready to fight. The next four years will not be easy, but complacency is not an option. S’s heart-wrenching writing below shows us only the preliminary glimpses of what we are up against.  
 
Know that we are here with you. We are Others, as many of you are, too. We are all in this together, and in the face of hatred and violence we will not back down. If anyone tells you to be calm in the face of all this hatred, you quote our good friend G: “I won’t be calm, there’s rage in Love. Ask mothers.”
 
In Solidarity,
S & E

train-station

Written on the Train 
things I heard and saw today
November 9, 2016

One
The morning after election day
You let me stay home from school.
It’s the first time you ever did that.
You are usually on the train by six– gym, work, meeting,
sorry sweetheart,
But today, it’s different because it’s already nine
and you let us wear our pajamas to the bodega,
where you and Mr. Wong talk quietly.

Two
Everybody on this train
Looks like they’re going to a funeral,
says the man as he gets off at Court Street,
laughing, and turning his hat around.
Cheer up, it’s still America.
Stand clear of the closing doors.

Three
My boss’s hands flit nervously–
Whisking thin blonde hairs back,
Wrapping and unwrapping the scarf at her neck
Tucking and untucking her shirt.
She’s slammed her office door closed
three times now
to cry.
But when her husband calls
she just asks him if they have an onion.
She’ll be home by six.

Four
You already called your mom, and she said was happy for us–
just upset that she couldn’t be here. Obviously.
You’re talking too fast, like you do
when you’ve practiced what you’re going to say.
When you don’t want me to see that you’re unhappy.
We stand on the steps of the courthouse. It’s raining.
It’s not how I wanted to marry you. In the rain. No party.
But what if next year
we can’t?

Five
We decided months ago what we would do
if he was elected.
I went to work, without my hijab,
to give my notice.
I begged the principal not to make me say goodbye
to my students.
Because, how could I explain?
She holds my hand. Says that the kids were all crying,
and holding each other, at breakfast.
One asked her,
Will my father be sent away?
She curses under her breath. But she respects my choice.
We will be safer with my family
in Pakistan.

Six
The older women are whispering in the kitchen
where I’m hoping to find coffee.
“He grabbed me, and they didn’t do anything. He was my boss.”
The others nod, click their tongues, let out soft sounds of affirmation.
“That’s how it was back then, remember?”
They do.

What do we want? Representation

As I said goodbye to everyone after my kickboxing class tonight, this little queen stopped me right in my tracks. She had a cardboard box slung over her shoulders like a backpack, with a paper towel tube affixed to the side of it with yarn. Does it look familiar to you?

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You guys, she’s a Ghostbuster:

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This young child is out here busting ghosts with her lonchera cookie box and I am LIVING FOR IT.

If you think that movies are “just movies”, I hope you’ll see that this is a perfect example of why representation matters. Cookie box backpack girl saw a big summer movie about a group of smart, funny women who save New York City, where she lives. It affected her. She now wants to be like them: a scientist and a hero at the center of her own narrative.

This is exactly why I was obsessed with Special Agent Dana Scully as a child. She was not secondary to her male partner, Agent Mulder. She totally kicked ass on the X-Files, furrowing her brow skeptically at Agent Mulder’s nonsense, frequently shutting it down with a simple “I’m a medical doctor, Mulder.” She saved the day on multiple occasions…with science. Apparently, actress Kate McKinnon (who plays Dr. Holtz in the Ghostbusters reboot) was obsessed with Agent Scully as a child also:

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Amazing right? Still, though we have our Scullys and our Holtzs, when I think about the other women this little girl sees depicted in movies and on television, I am reminded of just how much work there is left to do. When her parents watch TV, she sees women who only speak about the male character’s story. She sees women who don’t speak at all. Women who only look a certain way. Women who are props. Women who are punchlines. Soon enough she’ll get the message that we don’t really care about women that much, and she’ll be right.

The 2016 Ghostbusters reboot was the subject of vitriol, before it even came out, just because it featured women. It is the most “disliked” movie trailer on YouTube. After its release, actress Leslie Jones was harassed on Twitter by a bunch of racist trolls for daring to be a non-white, non-model-sized, non-model-aged woman in a movie.

But it doesn’t stop us. We demand better. We demand to be seen and heard. We tell our stories anyway.

AND we support films with women in front of the camera and behind it. I hope you went to go see Ghostbusters opening weekend, as we discussed, and if you didn’t, I hope you saw it shortly after. I went opening weekend and I thoroughly enjoyed the movie in a packed theater. Everyone was cracking up.

And I really hope I see more little girls with ghostbusting cookie box backpacks around Brooklyn as a result.

-S

A Friendly Reminder

Hello beauties! This is just a friendly reminder to put your money where your mouth is this weekend to support females in film! As we have discussed, the best way we can support female made and female centric films is to go see them opening weekend, since the success or failure of a movie is measured on how it does at the box office on those crucial first few days.

GHOSTBUSTERS (2016) is directed by Paul Feig, produced by Ivan Reitman & Amy Pascal, and written by Katie Dippold & Paul Feig. So this definitely counts! Let’s go rouse some rabble, rabble rousers!

Also, I don’t know if you’ve heard this, but all the Ghostbusters are… um…women.

I know you all love rabble rousing, so you probably already have tickets. Further, do I really need to convince you to go see a remake of a beloved 80s movie starring Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy?

I mean:

 

Based on the trailer alone, it obviously passes the Bechdel-Wallace test and will likely top our Beauty Coup list of passing movies for 2016. Honestly, I hope there are so many passing films that it doesn’t even make sense to have a list this year. We’ll just say, hey, there were multiple movies that featured women talking to each other about something other than a man this year. Was that really so hard?

So, it’s a date I hope. GHOSTBUSTERS comes out this Friday, July 15th. I’m really excited.

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xo

-S

#OscarofMyHeart

Ever since I’ve known of their existence, I have watched the Oscars every single year, save one. We’re talking decades of Oscar watching. (Why I missed the Oscars that one year is a post in and of itself, but let’s just say there was a pretty girl involved.) I love the Oscars. The era of Billy Crystal hosting the Oscars was a tenet of my childhood. I remember my favorite winners and their speeches and often, yes, what they wore. The Oscars are my Super Bowl. Usually, I throw a fancy little Oscar party, where everyone gets all gussied up, and we drink a lot of champagne and do a lot of celebrating. Sometimes I even roll out a cheap little “red carpet.”

Like everyone else with a sliver of social awareness, I am also very, very tired of the straight white male Hollywood boys club. It’s extremely frustrating every time the nominees are announced, and – once again – people of color and women are not recognized for their cinematic contributions in Hollywood. The #OscarsSoWhite controversy primarily focuses on the acting categories, with some scrutiny of the nominated directors. The sea of white faces (and male, for directors), is tiresome at best, and at worst, it’s a sad reflection of the pervasive racism and sexism that persists in the world’s most dominant creator of cinematic entertainment.

As an actress, I am thrilled whenever I see something different in those categories. “Something different” includes anything other than beautiful, twenty-something white gals. Which isn’t to say that those ladies don’t deserve their spot at the table. It’s to say that the hyper-focus on youth and Hollywood beauty* excludes and invalidates the experiences and stories of older women, women of color, women who aren’t thin or who don’t meet a highly inflated standard of what qualifies as attractive/sexy. Start looking at the women nominated vs. the men. Start paying attention, and you won’t be able to stop.

As a writer, I pay special attention to the Original and Adapted Screenplay nominations, and if a woman or person of color is on either of those lists, it’s like goddamn Christmas. This year, the only women nominated for Original Screenplay are part of writing teams – a phenomenon so common, if you only used the Oscars as a barometer, you’d think women are incapable of writing scripts without the help of a man. In the Adapted category, women fare slightly better, with Phyllis Nagy nominated for Carol, her adaptation of a Patricia Highsmith novel (The Price of Salt) and Emma Donoghue for her adaptation of her own novel, Room.

This brings us to directors. I’m the most tired of sharing these stats (So. Depressing.) but since it’s important to know, here you go:

  • 88 years of Oscar
  • 4 women nominated for Best Director
  • 1 woman has won (Kathryn Bigelow in 2010 for The Hurt Locker)

If inclusive nominations among the writers is like Christmas, when women** show up among the Best Director nominees, it’s f*cking Christmakwanzakah.

The sexism and racism of Hollywood is not a problem that begins and ends with the Oscars. It is inherent and systemic, and needs to be tackled in many different ways from many different arenas if we are to affect real change.

Since the 2016 Oscar nominations were announced, and declarations of boycotting began to surface, I’ve discussed these issues with many admired and trusted people in my life, both within the industry and without. In the end, I’ve decided to go ahead and watch the Oscars. Because I am a writer and an actor, I believe there is more tangible work I can do from the ground up, to ensure that more and more unique voices and stories are heard and recognized. Through the stories I write, the characters I play, and the films I hope to one day produce, I will help make the seats at those coveted tables more far-reaching, inclusive, and welcoming.

That being said, I’m not having a party this year. I’m watching the awards with two friends and my 15-month-old daughter. We aren’t getting dressed up, and we aren’t drinking champagne. The super fab soirée that is E’s Oscar Party is shut down until further notice. I’m going to watch the Oscars, but I’m not going to celebrate them. I won’t celebrate them again until there is truly something to celebrate.

Oscar Party
On Hold Until Further Notice

*yes, this is different from Real World Beauty

**I looked for stats on PoC nominated for/winners of Best Director. All I could find were stats that either strictly addressed black nominees (there have only been three), or “foreign born” nominees/winners, many of whom are white. If anyone knows where to find stats on PoC nominated/awarded the Best Director Oscar, I’d love to see them.

Merry Swiftmas! The Swift-Off (Round 1)

A Note From E: As S and I embark on the Swiftiest of Swift-Offs, please keep in mind the following… Over the years we have debated Tay Tay to such degrees that we are able to see many sides of this shiny, blonde, leggy enigma. We could deliberate Her Swiftyness for hours, and find certain opinions overlapping. But for the purposes of these posts, we’ve agreed to go full-on Debate Class, with me taking the For argument and S taking the Against. Merry Swiftmas to all, and to all a fair fight!

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Dear readers, as you have probably guessed, my dear friend Elizabeth and I agree on a lot of things. Taylor Swift is not one of them. While E is on Team Swift (or Squad Swift, I guess?), I am just not, and it’s high time we hashed this thing out.

As you may or may not know, Ms. Swift was born on a Christmas tree farm (because she’s just that magical), so December seems like the perfect time of year to finally hold our Great Swift Debate. When I started working on this post, I also discovered that Swiftmas is a thing where Taylor Swift buys you presents, and that the word Swiftmas may soon be trademarked. In the spirit of the holidays, Beauty Coup presents our latest two parter: The Swift-Off. AKA The Swiftening. The Twelve Days of Swiftmas. (Realistically, it’ll probably be more like two days.) I’ll have the first word, then E will have her rebuttal in Round 2.

A bit of Swiftstory

Two years ago, right here at Beauty Coup, I pointed out that Taylor Swift hates girls with brown hair, probably because they stole her boyfriend. She didn’t know what Feminism meant, but she DID know that she looked great in virginal white. But that was 2013, baby, and we’re living in a whole new world now. 2015 Taylor Swift doesn’t hate any girls– in fact, she’s best friends with ALL of them. Just look at her having a blast with all of her female friends:

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I’m not threatened by her, or her…
Taylor Swift seems to have it all figured out. Lena Dunham famously explained Feminism to her, and now she is ALL ABOUT IT. Which brings me to my first hang up on all things Swift:

This Shit is Phony and it ain’t Cute

I’m sorry, but I’m not buying it. I chose those words carefully, because Taylor Swift is a savvy business woman with a well crafted brand. She didn’t make $365 million dollars this year by accident. Seems to me like there was a lot of criticism about the negativity towards other women in her earlier work, she saw the writing on the wall, and took it as an opportunity to adjust her brand– right along with her shift away from country music. SMART. Now any time another woman has something to say about her, THAT woman looks like an asshole. Even Amy Poehler and Tina Fey!

Taylor took this performative friendship act with her on the road for her 1989 tour. She may be famous, but she’s so down to earthShe’s such a supporter of women. Just look at how she brings them onstage with her to share the spotlight.  That’s what’s she’s selling– and lots are buying!

Seriously, what is this? Karaoke night in Korea Town? Haha, wouldn't it be so funny if we all went on stage together and sang No Scrubs?
Seriously, what is this? Karaoke night in Korea Town? Haha, wouldn’t it be so funny if we all went on stage together and sang No Scrubs?
Now, you may be wondering how I can really fault her for any of this. This is her job, you know? She’s good at it– and good for her. I’m just saying it’s phony and I don’t think it’s cute, cause it ain’t. Onto her real crimes.

Such as, talking in the middle of your song using words you never say. An incomplete list of words that Taylor Swift would never use in conversation but appear in her songs:

  1. Fella
  2. Hella
  3. This
  4. Sick
  5. Beat

But seriously though:

Beyoncé Really Did Have the Best Video of All Time

I should probably amend my whole jam right now by saying that I’m not against Taylor Swift, The Person. It might not be reading this way so far, but I’m having a hard time writing this because I really do feel conflicted. I will go to the mat for Taylor whenever I hear anyone trivialize her success. I think she has put in the work. She had to go on tour opening for Brad Paisley, the poor thing. Her songwriting, which isn’t to my personal taste, speaks to a lot women (and young women) and that is valuable. My beef is that I think she’s celebrated disproportionately and for the wrong reasons, and the best way to illustrate that is to point out the ways other women are not celebrated.

It turns out that the crux of my Taylor Swift-aversion is that Beyoncé really did have the greatest video of all time. The 2009 VMAS are infamous as the origin of the Kanye West “Imma let you finish…” meme. We all looked on, mouths open, as Kanye strode on stage and interrupted Taylor during her win for Best Female Video, proclaiming he was going to let her finish her “little old me?” act, but first it needed to be said that Beyoncé had the greatest video of all time. The interrupting (and the Kanye-ness of it all) overshadowed his point, but I have to say that Kanye was one hundred percent right on this one. In what universe is this shit better than the Single Ladies video? Honestly. Re-watch this.

Heavy handed, predictable, trope-laden, slut-shaming (!!!), Americana milquetoast bullshit. I can’t decide if I want to PUKE or FALL ASLEEP. Oh, Taylor’s so “ugly” in those glasses. That brown-haired girl is so mean and slutty in her red car. That football boy is so good. But she won for this, you guys! Over Single Ladies. I don’t need to post the Single Ladies music video for you. Why? Because it’s ICONIC! Never mind that Single Ladies is just a better song than You Belong with Me, this was the Video Music Awards. And Taylor’s video is better? You’re going to look me in the eye and tell me it’s BETTER? No, you’re not, and yet, Taylor Swift has SEVEN GRAMMYS. This. Drives. Me. INSANE! NO WONDER KANYE WAS MAD AT THE VMAS.

I AGREE WITH KANYE

So you may be saying, but Shannon, You Belong with Me is her old stuff, from when she was still pretending to be a country singer. According to the person who lives with me, who grew up with two country music stations on his TV, You Belong with Me is marginally better than your average country music video. FINE. She didn’t win Best Country Music Video. Back to my original point: her shit is phony. Boys didn’t like Taylor Swift in high school? YEAH RIGHT, STOP LYING. Her faux-shock face, her “humble” routine, her “I’m awkward, just like you!” shtick is still going on and it’s still ridiculous. Take the Shake it Off video. Taylor Swift can’t dance and I’m supposed to think it’s cute? Why the hell is she dancing, then?

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I took this in Barnes and Noble yesterday. You really need this on vinyl, huh?
Oh, but she’s such a good role model for young women. Why? Because for some reason she reads “Christian”? Nary a cross to be seen, I might point out. It’s because she doesn’t “take her clothes off”. That’s her choice, and I won’t trivialize the importance of that choice. She shouldn’t have to. But valuing a woman for her “purity” is just as negative as casting her as a sex object. It’s the same thing. And if you think what she’s bringing is maturity to the table with those lyrics, you’re wrong. She’s still singing about bad boys breaking her heart and it’s conveniently never her fault. (There’s also one song about being in a fight with another girl). That’s great role modeling?

When Nicki Minaj spoke out earlier this year with a critique on racism in the music industry, Taylor made a mistake by taking it personally and accusing Nicki of tearing down her fellow woman (because Taylor was nominated and Nicki wasn’t). Taylor graciously invited Nicki to come up on stage with her if she won (wow, gee, thanks). Nicki ended up taking the opportunity to educate Taylor by sharing information on the issue. Taylor ended up apologizing and agreeing she had missed the point. Unfortunately, most of the coverage labeled it as a cat fight, belittling what it really was– a real moment between two women. Not a fake ‘get on stage with me’ performance. A real moment of solidarity about a real issue, a woman of color and a white woman illustrating inclusive feminism! That’s a headline! (It wasn’t the headline).

I love this. Honestly, this is what I want to hear from Taylor– about all of it. I wish she would stop the “lucky girl” routine. She isn’t lucky. It’s a combination of working hard, being a gifted story-teller, and happening to be thin, white, and blonde in a culture that values that. I just wish she would acknowledge this. I understand why she doesn’t, though. She is celebrated for being “humble”, read: grateful. A woman should not be too proud, lest she be considered vain and stuck-up. She can’t be sexual, unless it’s in a little innocent package. It makes me crazy. It isn’t her fault that is this way, but couldn’t she use her position to do something about it?

It seems as though things could be moving in that direction. Until that time, I guess I’m with Kanye.

xo
S

A Galentine’s Love Letter

It’s Galentine’s Day and Friday Feminist Funtimes! Clearly this calls for something special, and I’ve decided that something special is Celebrating S, my bestest bestie and my one and only cacahuete.

It all began nearly a decade ago, when I made my way into the unique and magical lands of the southwestern US. First on my agenda was to finally finish my undergraduate degree, and after a brief flirtation with switching majors to Spanish, I succumbed – as I always do – to the lure of the performing arts.

Also I had 60 theatre credits I didn’t want to lose.

And thank the goddess for that, because otherwise this never would have happened:

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Baby S&E

What you readers see through Beauty Coup is a collection of our thoughts and opinions and the ladies we want to champion. What you don’t see is a friendship that has essentially made me who I am today.

Without S, I would never have had the nerve to start calling myself a writer. Without S, this blog surely would have fizzled out after a few months. Without S, I almost definitely would still be a person who had never visited New York. Without S, I’d be clueless about what it means to have a true Writing Partner. Writing Partner, capitalized, because of the utter harmony and delight and inspiration that comes from working with someone who is the Colette to your Mia, the Charlotte/Miranda to your Samantha/Carrie, the Karou to your Zuzana – always supportive, encouraging, and all kinds of real.

Creatively, S and I are not only co-authors of this blog. We also write TV shows together, make theater together, and brainstorm more ideas than we could ever possibly bring to fruition together. We never fight, even when we disagree, which isn’t really a problem because we agree on almost everything (except for that Great Divider, Taylor Swift).

S, I love you. Thank you thank you thank you. Thank you for never judging me, for laughing with me, for making art with me, for being so over it with me, for being there when the world fell apart and I needed you to go on benders with me, for rousing the rabble with me, for singing karaoke with me, for enjoying the f*ck out of food and drink with me, and for being so unequivocally you.

Let’s hold hands and punch the glass ceiling. 

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HAPPY GALENTINE’S DAY, S!