Girl, It’s Only You: A Feminist's Take on One Direction’s Year

By Siobhan Thompson

Courtesy of Billboard

Courtesy of Billboard

The moment I began to openly embrace my love for One Direction was the very moment that people started to ask me why. No one was able to understand why on earth I would, without even a bit of irony or shame, listen to a boy band—especially a boy band as notoriously teeny-bopper as One Direction, Simon Cowell’s own pet project from season seven of the X-Factor. 

I don’t waste time feeling shame for the things I like, especially those things that are immediately categorized as “silly” (also known as: feminine). But it seems that time and time again, I’m asked to explain myself when it comes to my love for One Direction. Time and time again, people say, “You don’t look like you listen to One Direction.” 

I’ve written about this before. The misogynist mist that seems to surround the unwarranted and occasionally aggressive hate of One Direction and boy bands like them is something I find deeply troubling. In short: the things that are loved by teenage girls are often the first things that society dismisses because teenage girls are not taken seriously, ever. Meanwhile, the things teen girls love become enormously successful and popular due to the incredible amount of energy, devotion, and passion that teen girls have.

2015 was the year that I began to notice that, unlike many others, One Direction seemed to deserve the love and devotion they conjured out of their fans. The hoards of people that rushed to their side through the good and bad this year seemed to feel appreciated, loved, and sometimes most importantly, seen.

This year brought a lot of firsts to the band. In March, Zayn Malik quit in the middle of a tour. Malik’s departure made the band a blindingly white quartet, but the boys didn’t stop. Less than three days after his departure, they played for a crowd of 95,000 in South Africa. Those who attended the show said that the boys were profusely thanking the crowd with a new kind of sincerity, as though the ground being shaken beneath their feet at Malik’s departure was steadied when they focused on their fans, who remained a steady constant.

One Direction’s lyrical content has shaped up considerably, especially with their last two full-length releases, Four (2014) and Made In The A.M. (2015).  When reflecting on their previous work, it is important to recognize that bands as high profile as One Direction are largely the creations of their marketing and PR teams, and most of their content is what the label wants it to be. 

The band’s first smash hit, "What Makes You Beautiful" (2012), is at best pandering to the insecurity of young girls and at worst capitalizing and exploiting their insecurities.

“Baby, you light up my world like nobody else,

The way that you flip your hair gets me overwhelmed.

But when you smile at the ground it ain't hard to tell,

You don't know you're beautiful,

If only you saw what I can see,

You'd understand why I want you so desperately…”

Two years later saw a huge shift in gears with the release of the song "Girl Almighty." The 2014 single is a girl power anthem of sorts. I didn’t think too much of it until I saw just how empowered other One Direction fans became from the song. You couldn’t even count the number of “girl almighty” tattoos that decorate the arms of fangirls everywhere. "Girl Almighty," as a simple phrase, is empowering and endearing. As a feminist, that message was good enough for me to take One Direction out of the category of a Band That I’m Simply Tolerating.

It’s not a lot toward advancing feminism—it’s a crumb, really—but that’s really most of what we get with mainstream media, especially in musical groups that are men-only. Personally, I don’t have the energy to be constantly angry and bitter, and when I see people that probably mean well, that try to do well, that seem genuinely appreciative, I let myself feel good about it.

When 2015 came, I continued feeling good about them. Their lyrics seemed to be evolving—while still mostly about love, loss and girls, it was becoming more sophisticated, less condescending and sickeningly sweet.

On their 2015 release, the song "End of The Day" goes like this:

“All I know at the end of the day is you want what you want and you say what you say

And you'll follow your heart even though it'll break

Sometimes    

All I know at the end of the day is love who you love

There ain't no other way…”

Besides the songs themselves, the boys as individuals have promoted more of a feminist rhetoric and even make a point to reach out to queer fans. This year, Harry Styles performed more than once draped in a rainbow flag, especially after the US Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage. Much discussion throughout the years has been had about Styles’s sexuality, and he doesn’t address it. That’s fine. He shouldn’t have to. But a gesture as simple (and in some ways, powerful) as wearing the rainbow flag was a marker of love and acceptance to many queer fans.

Even after another member of the band, Liam Payne, expressed his dislike of the flag itself due to the inappropriate behavior of fans who vehemently ship Larry (Louis + Harry), Harry kept wearing the flag. It’s a quiet statement, but it’s a statement. Queer fans will (and should) always demand more, and it’s my sincere hope that they’ll get more.

The members of One Direction are incredibly young, incredibly famous, and horrifically rich. A lot could go bad. But they’ve been in the spotlight a long time, and 2015 saw them at their very best. From where I am now, at the very end of the year, I’m happy to be a fan of One Direction, I’m happy to be a woman, and I’m happy to be a feminist, but most of all, I’m happy that all of those things can co-exist.

Tangerine: Challenging Respectability Politics Through Media

By Sung Yim

Courtesy of Netflix

Courtesy of Netflix

WARNING: Post contains spoilers.**

Tangerine opens with a scene inside an LA donut shop. Two broke girls sharing a single donut and gossiping. From here unfolds a vibrant world of girl talk and theatrics amidst pockets of economic devastation in one of America’s wealthiest cities. The plot is pretty basic stuff—Girl A discovers her boy’s been cheating, so she goes after Girl B, who he’s cheating with. Well, Girl A, or Sin-Dee Rella (played by Kitana Kiki Rodriquez), happens to be fresh out of prison. Sin-Dee also happens to be a transgender sex worker, and her boyfriend Chester happens to be a drug-dealing pimp, and part of what’s got Sin-Dee riled up is that he’s rumored to be cheating with a cis white woman. So whenever I bring this movie up, people inevitably question whether or not it perpetuates harmful stereotypes.

It’s understandable in some ways. Main characters Sin-Dee and her friend Alexandra (played charmingly by Mya Taylor) are both trans, both black, and both sex workers in Hollywood. These girls are rough around the edges. Sometimes they have to be ready to throw down when a john tries to skip out on the bill. Sometimes they lock up in a bathroom stall to smoke meth. They’re brassy, they’re loud, they’re unapologetic, they’re out on the streets selling sex and surviving.

Much of the action in Tangerine takes place in cars, which frequently serve as a workplace. We learn about the kinds of men our girls are dealing with day to day, we learn what these transactions are like, we get glimpses of the potential for danger they face now and again, and we even see moments of real connection. Still, given the subject matter and the unflinching way Alexandra and Sin-Dee’s lives are laid out for us, it’s understandable why movies like Tangerine are saddled with the responsibility of representation. Considering the current state of American media, where trans women are regularly played by cis men onscreen, where varying degrees of black, brown, red, and yellow face are still disappointingly common, where narratives across all mediums predominantly center the lives of white, middle-class cishetero people-- I can understand why this movie might seem dangerous. When there is such a woeful lack of representation for you and yours, it might be instinctual to demand respectability of what scraps you have.

I can’t honestly argue the movie’s accuracy because I haven’t lived this life. I don’t know what a brothel looks like and I don’t know how johns pick their girls up on a corner or on which corners. What I know is the release of Tangerine broke new ground in the chokingly white world of contemporary indie cinema. This is a movie that stars two black trans actresses as black trans women—something that is, unfortunately, a revolutionary decision. Not only that, Mya Taylor actually has experience with sex work in Hollywood, like her character Alexandra. She could probably tell you more about how accurate or ethical the writing is than I can attest.

But speaking from the perspective of the average film enthusiast, Tangerine doesn’t play up Sin-Dee or Alexandra’s gender or profession for laughs. The comedy largely comes from characterization and everyday circumstance—perhaps "everyday" looks a little different for Sin-Dee and Alexandra, perhaps the intersections of race/class/gender and so on more often than not will drastically skew the meaning of "everyday" depending on who you ask. But that’s what makes these characters so compelling. They capture the world-weariness of people whose everyday is harder than most, while maintaining a sense of humor about it that only the jaded can. Rodriguez is hilariously glib and feisty as the self-professed “upper-hoe” Sin-Dee, who spends the better part of the movie dragging around the white girl her boyfriend’s purportedly cheating with, singularly focused on confronting him with the evidence. Mya Taylor’s straight-faced reactions to Sin-Dee’s outrageous shenanigans make for a classic comedy pairing. Tangerine isn’t a movie about being trans

This movie is in many ways your typical zany slice-of-life romp. It allows Sin-Dee and Alexandra’s transness to simply exist as an honest and integral part of their backdrop, but never hog the stage as the only distinguishing trait about them. Take for example, a moment when Alexandra is consoling Sin-Dee after the revelation of Chester’s infidelity. Alexandra recalls how as a young girl, she had a Barney doll that sang the “I Love You” song, which she cherished dearly until it broke when she took a bath with it. “The world can be a cruel place,” she says. And Sin-Dee replies, “Yeah, it is cruel. God gave me a penis.”

From the aforementioned moment, we are flippantly informed that yes, Sin-Dee’s mad about her cheating boyfriend, but there’s a lot more where that came from. As we watch Sin-Dee stir up drama (against Alexandra’s hopeless pleading), we grow more and more conscious of what’s beneath the surface of Sin-Dee’s manic confidence and self-absorption. We watch her rudely accost friends for information and take a dude’s cigarettes without asking, strutting around with a teacup-sized backpack and flaunting that Mean Girl-type of bitchy grace. Yes, she’s mad he’s cheating, but he’s also cheating with a white girl. He’s also cheating with a cis girl. There are things she’ll just never be and she’ll never have, and there’s this unspoken sense that a lot of her bravado is masking vulnerability. It’s what made me forgive her for committing an assault and an abduction. As ludicrous as it might sound, I had to. She’s not perfect, but neither is anybody. In this movie or in the world.

A lot of this film’s tension rests upon the potential for violence that our girls face. There’s one moment where Alexandra gets cheated out of money by a john. Their altercation is witnessed by cops, who misgender Alexandra in the squad car before getting out to diffuse the situation. Nothing monumental happens here, no arrests are made, but Alexandra has to walk away unpaid and the fact that a cop misgenders her, albeit privately, is unsettling.

At the heart of it, this movie is one that centers female friendship above all else. I would argue that Sin-Dee and Alexandra’s friendship is the main character. Throughout the film, we see Alexandra trying in vain to calm Sin-Dee down. There’s a little bit of anxious energy to the way Alexandra pleads with her friend, and we quickly learn that she’s eagerly promoting the show she’s playing at a club that night. It’s clear, judging by their dynamic, that Alexandra rightfully fears she’ll be ditched with no audience. She’s running around digging up cash and handing out flyers while Sin-Dee drags her boyfriend’s side piece halfway across town for a wrought confrontation. Then very abruptly, it occurs to Sin-Dee that it’s almost time for Alexandra’s performance. She drops everything (except the white girl) and runs over to the club to show her support. Nobody else shows up and Alexandra’s waiting outside dismayed when Sin-Dee barrels down the street shouting and waving, still dragging her abductee around by the wrist. It’s not perfect, but it’s what they’ve got.

This is largely how Tangerine functions. The characters’ motivations are frequently interrupted by one another, by the world outside, and sometimes they have to drop everything they care about to deal. The movie builds these whirling, kaleidoscopic scenes on top of each other. It never takes itself too seriously and it functions a lot like life, making room for the random. There’s the everyday hustle, the drama, the antics, Sin-Dee at it again and Alexandra putting up with it still, until suddenly a car full of transphobes passes by shouting slurs at them.

These sharp notes of violence strike without warning, realistically sudden and disruptive. Sometimes the girls scrape by and the worst thing is getting misgendered. Sometimes the worst thing is having a stranger’s urine hurled at your face, which is exactly what happens towards the end of the movie. And there’s always this looming sense that it could be worse. It could be worse.

Tangerine ends with a girlfriend moment, much like how it began. Tender and private. Alexandra walks a jarred Sin-Dee into a laundromat, where they wash her clothes. Sin-Dee takes off her urine-soaked wig and laments that she can’t afford new hair. Alexandra then takes off her own wig and lends it to her friend. Sin-Dee smiles and says they can both be bald together. There’s this sense that the wig wasn’t the worst of it, and they’re working to recover the real loss together. They sit and gab, they laugh softly. It’s not the best way a night could go, but they’re in it together. Their love and support for each other is at once hapless and steadfast, possibly the one safety net these girls have in a world brimming with potential danger.

And whatever it says to the wrong people, whatever stereotypes it might reinforce for the wrong audience, whatever role this movie plays as one of such few opportunities for trans women in popular media, don’t these girls deserve love, too? Don’t these girls deserve compassion, understanding, and adoration? Don’t these girls embody tenderness and feminine love, too? Who says you can’t smoke meth and love somebody in the same breath? Who says you can’t throw some punches and own your girlhood in the same day? Aren’t these girls more than the stereotypes their lives overlap? Isn’t their friendship an act of revolutionary survival, too?

Survivors of Assault Are The Superheroes in 2015

By Meg Zulch

Courtesy of  Forbes

Courtesy of Forbes

With the obvious absence of feminine superheroes in Marvel and DC tales, it's about time that ladies were front in center, rather than posing as attractive sidekicks or heroes with a smaller role and lesser powers. This year, Supergirl and Jessica Jones came into existence, finally speaking to a broader spectrum of genders in their audience. The latter show was what everyone around me was raving about. Despite my natural aversion to all things superhero and Marvel, I settled into my bed and Netflix account with the will to give it a try. 20 minutes into the first episode, I realized my aversion to superhero flicks was entirely because of the lack of representation of feminine characters. Any character in Jessica Jones with real substance was female (including the sharky lawyer), and the men all posed themselves to be less capable complications on Jessica’s journey. The greatest complication of all was the show’s super villain Kilgrave, played by David Tennant (which my Doctor Who-related love for him quickly turned into hatred). I was delighted to discover that the villain, the man Jessica was using all of her (super) strength and resources to destroy, was her rapist. The real life villain lurking in the shadows of every survivor’s life.

 

There was nothing that gave me as much joy as her bravery to track him down, and the satisfaction she felt in wounding him when she finally got her hands on him. It made me think of my own attacker, but without any feelings of defeat or shame. Jessica is a ridiculously powerful superhero, but acknowledges her attack without any guilt or hesitation. She takes back control over her own agency as she hunts him down, choosing to address the damage he's caused, and discovers that Kilgrave has less control over her than she originally thought. The show has all the action, braun, and sexual prowess of an ordinary superhero flick, but with undertones of real vulnerability and relatability from her trauma.

I found myself being able to relate to this superhero, not only because she was non-male but because she was a survivor, not a victim. She got triggered, had flashbacks, and used methods recommended by a therapist to bring her back in the moment. She was sometimes emotional and disoriented after sex. Her abuser affected her in many ways, but she wasn't letting him take over her life, hunting Kilgrave down between her obligatory shots of whiskey. With most media, such as Law and Order: SVU, portraying assault survivors as one-dimensional broken victims, Jessica Jones is refreshing. It portrays all the realities of PTSD with all the badassery of a lady with superpowers.

Her commitment to bringing her abuser to justice, for the sake of liberating Hope Shlottman from jail and saving others from even worse fates at the mercy of Kilgrave’s mind control overshadows her personal experience, pointing to her larger concern of annihilating sexual abuse and emotional manipulation of women. Despite the number of times Jones denies this fact, she is the true hero as she sacrifices her own mental health and safety to defeat Kilgrave. It's reminiscent of the bravery of those who testify in court against their abusers, but without all the legal bullshit and misogyny that often gets in the way of a rape conviction.

Jessica Jones, like last year’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, portrays survivors as they are: living among us, still strongly plugging on and making the best out of their situation in the midst of their healing process. Some survivors, like Kimmy Schmidt, decide to keep looking forward with an unbelievable optimism. But there are those, like Jessica Jones, who feel that they must face their painful past head on for the good of the long term, for closure, and for personal growth. “Knowing it's real means you gotta make a decision,” she said in the show’s first episode. “One, keep denying it. Or two, do something about it.” For someone who is more at a crossroads about how to deal with their trauma, I appreciated the alternate reaction to trauma that Jessica Jones portrayed.

Speaking up about your abuse, reporting an assault, or confronting your attacker can all be incredibly terrifying experiences that many survivors like myself cannot even imagine doing. And with the way law enforcement dismissing many victims and questioning the validity of our stories, our fear in doing these things are justified. But Jessica Jones doesn't care how many odds are against her or how difficult the process may be- she does something about it. And it doesn't make me feel guilty that I didn't press charges, or ashamed of my own reactions to my trauma. Jessica Jones validates my experience to its core, and makes me feel like the superhero I am for simply getting up everyday, and fighting to be more whole and at peace with myself.