Romy Shiller

Archive for the ‘3rd Wave Feminism’ Category

My thesis

In 3rd Wave Feminism, Academic, Drama, Film, Uncategorized on March 23, 2016 at 3:02 pm

My thesis: A critical exploration of cross-dressing and drag in gender performance and camp in contemporary North American drama and film



In 3rd Wave Feminism, Television on November 30, 2015 at 8:36 am


It’s Monday night. I’m in the living room. My boyfriend is in the bedroom. I’m wearing my sexy black teddy, mules with gentle pink feathers dangle from my perfectly pedicured feet, my lips are swathed in a lipstick called Fatal Femme. It’s a holy time and I want to be ready. My fireplace roars. My popcorn is poised for the new season of Queer As Folk. Like many women across the country who watch the show – fifty-two percent according to the Nielsen ratings in 2001, and growing – I’m addicted. I am not alone.

“At the beginning it really surprised me,” says Queer As Folk producer Sheila Hockin. “All of us working on the show, Showtime in the States and Showcase in Canada , expected to have predominantly a gay male audience.” Because most of the lead characters are male, the assumption was that “the group of people portrayed would likely be the people watching the show. It startled us in the beginning and at first we thought that maybe we’re drawing gay women.” After reviewing fan mail and Web sites about the show they realized it was a lot of straight women.

When openly-gay actor Robert Grant, who plays Michael Novotny’s (Hal Sparks) HIV+ lover Ben, appeared on The Mike Bullard Show, he noted that the women “like the cute guys. They relate to the stories or whatnot, but here’s the key… I found out that the truth is, women love to watch two guys getting it on! I was really surprised by this… it’s always, guys like to watch two women… socialization-wise.” Hot male bodies in action are a big part of the draw. Surprise! We could stop right there if that was all there was to the show’s fascination for women – there’s a hell of a lot more action happening in gay porn that could satisfy a Betty’s need to see Studly getting it on with Dudly.

So what exactly are women getting all wet over? What kinds of identifications are women hooking into? Women are creating their own gender performances in fantasy and play in ways that make gender go nuclear. Straight women watching Queer as Folk might be the ultimate Queer quotient. Femininity and masculinity, associated with “appropriate” sexual identification and desire, is suddenly attached to culturally inappropriate male and female bodies. There is an explosion of identification: girls desiring straight boys playing gay boys. Girls wanting to be a feminine boy kissing a butch boy. Girls wanting to be taken by or wanting to take a gay/straight boy. Girls romanticizing gay desire and freedom of sexual play.

What we are experiencing now is Gender Meltdown.

Why women find QAF appealing finds part of its answer in Hockin’s musing that “women find it erotic and sensual to watch.” Queer representations, however, transform the relationship the straight female audience has with the erotic and sensual, triggering new kinds of identifications because women need to take a leap not usually necessary in traditional (straight) television dramas or comedies.

Eroticism and sensuality are intertwined with romantic situations and dramas housed in queer cloth. Still, women are wrapped up in it. “Women are drawn to the working out of romantic relationships,” says Hockin. “And how people negotiate relationships. The power-plays. There are Ethan-Justin fan groups…a whole group of people on the Web called BJshippers – Brian-Justin Worshippers. People are so heavily invested in that relationship. [The executive producers] Ron [Cowen] and Dan [Lipman] think of Brian and Justin as one of the great Romantic couples.”

Hal Sparks plays the sweet and dysfunctional-enough-to-be-believed Michael Novotny, Brian Kinney’s (Gale Harold) best friend. I ask him what aspects of his character might appeal to women. He replies: “His sweetness. His vulnerability and his habit of binge eating comfort food when he gets upset.”

In a more serious vein, he feels there are common romantic identifications. “This is the first time many women have seen what they go through with their husbands and boyfriends portrayed honestly on screen. Most straight relationships on TV are told in an incomplete, male-focused way.” Sparks says that women relate “with a combination of deep rooted teary-eyed understanding and throw popcorn at the screen in frustration. I think we all can relate to unrequited love in some way.”

For straight women, buying into the show’s romance and eroticism is more complex – it is something of an identity juggling act. Keeping all the balls up in the air becomes especially convoluted in the worship of the actors. After all, to fall for one of the boys on QAF is often to fall for a straight boy playing a gay boy. Sparks has been upfront about being straight: “A very small section of the fan base gets angry every time I say I’m straight because they are under the impression that I ask to be asked so that I can say, ‘I’m straight, thanks for asking – here’s 10 bucks,’ and distance myself from the show. In my heart I know this criticism comes from people who have been severely marginalized by our culture and fear it will get worse.”

You may as well be desiring Matt Damon for all the chance you actually have of seeing Michael or Brian waltz through your door at the end of the day. But there is the illusion of possibility that is tempting beyond the illusion. And obviously, you might be falling for a gay boy too. In any case, the so-called secure straight identities actors have in distinguishing themselves from their characters gets blurred. They have kissed and often been naked with members of the same sex, after all. In character or not. Juggling the object-of-desire’s ambiguous sexuality is part of the straight fan’s own gender performance. The object she desires says something about her own sexual play and sexual orientation.

The show brings role-playing to the surface. Femininity is not necessarily female and masculinity male. On QAF there are traditional roles taken on by both sexes. Females, such as Melanie Marcus (Michelle Clunie) take on a traditionally masculine role as the provider for the family and it could be said that Justin, played by openly-gay Randy Harrison, takes on the femme role to Brian’s über-butch. Gale Harold plays a gay man objectifying men in the way that some men have historically objectified women. Brian’s total bad-boy hotness is reminiscent of the womanizer seen on soaps from suds past, collapsing a traditional (straight) male archetype with a butch gay one. Hal Sparks notes, “Ironically, even though the relationships on the show are predominately male-male, since one person must take on the feminine role, women get to see their struggle played out more fully.” Women might find a certain reflection of themselves in a gay ‘feminine-role-playing’ man on TV. Or a butch one.

The toss-up of conventional roles creates a grab bag of lust opportunity and gender play. Sheila Hockin elaborates: “A lot of straight women wildly romanticize Brian Kinney. There is some commentary on the Web, straight women talking about sexual fantasies to do with the characters, where they want to be a guy Brian kisses. They don’t want to be a woman. It all gets very gender-bending.” Women are not just taking a peek as themselves, replacing characters on the screen (Justin, for example) with their pretty, pouty faces, they’re also masquerading as gay males. Gender Meltdown.

With all the hype about women getting turned on by the gaze, straight women are also watching women getting it on. And this is something we don’t usually hear about. How do straight women relate to the lesbians on the show? Exit the Professor, enter Ginger and Mary-Ann.

The lovely Michelle Clunie plays Melanie Marcus, the somewhat butchier partner to Thea Gills’s Lindsay Peterson. Speaking from “my own perspective as a straight woman,” Clunie describes what turned her on to the show. “Before this I never saw two women making love in real life or in the theatre or in a porno or anywhere. I know the first time I saw the pilot, I thought ‘wow that’s kind of hot, I never thought about that before.’ I think a lot of straight women are re-thinking ménages-à-trois. I mean, there has always been this fantasy of two women for guys. This puts the shoe on the other foot.” She goes further by saying, “In a way because there is so much male nudity on the show and so much male sex on the show, it’s almost like we’re objectifying men.”

Women are also re-evaluating the ménages-à-trois players. “I’ve even heard women say ‘wow, I wonder what it would be like to be with two men?’” says Clunie. “One boyfriend of a girl came to this party and he said something like ‘do you want me to kiss a guy?’ because the girl watched Queer As Folk and she was really into the guy-guy thing. I think that it’s opening up a whole sexual layer to explore. And I think that’s wonderful and great and why not?” The exploration of sexual layers between ‘straight’ couples takes the term to task… It’s almost as though a new language needs to be created to accommodate the play involved in watching the show.

While the straight female fan hoopla is intriguing, there have been concerns on the fan chat-boards. One gay fan feels that the straight fans are given more credibility, that it means more to the show that there are female viewers, “sorta like AIDS didn’t mean anything until straights were affected…can’t exactly explain why this hits me so oddly, but it does.” Another fan worries the show might change to attract straight fans: “It may be cable but it’s still commercial American television and that is all about numbers, ratings and demographics.”

I asked Hal Sparks and Melanie Clunie if their performances were affected by the knowledge that they had a huge het female fan base and they both replied in the negative. Clunie’s primary goal was, “to be true to my character.” Sparks says, “My only real focus is on interpreting the script as close to the writer’s intention as I can. The British show had a big female fan base with no help from me. So, I just try to stay out of the way. Let Michael live without my ego getting involved at all.”

Producer Sheila Hockin is adamant that the writers have only been concerned with depicting the characters from their own gay, cultural perspective and that the story would not shift to accommodate a straight female audience. Rather the stories would grow, like the characters, from clubbing to different growth-oriented gay priorities and concerns. “The show has never been written for straight women,” says Hockin.

So what does this mean?

It isn’t surprising to find women subtextually replacing Justin with themselves or with an altered gay male version of self. That is what queers have been doing for decades, watching TV shows that didn’t represent their desire. What gay man hasn’t been Scarlett to Rhett or J. Lo to Ben?

In fact, straight women might be the ultimate Queer quotient when it comes to watching Queer as Folk by inhabiting that twilight-zone, the marginal, the Other – qualities of the Queer that are seemingly taking a lovey-dovey hiatus from the show within a gay context irrespective of a straight female fan base.

Women now have fantasy access to back rooms they could never get into before. The straight female fans might be fags in mental drag; they might be Queer as folk.

• Romy Shiller is a pop culture critic and holds a PhD in Drama and Film. Her academic areas of concentration include gender performance, camp and critical thought.

Books are available online. She lives in Montreal where she continues her writing.

 FAB Magazine, Number 213,  April 23, 2003,  12-17

Gone Girl: A Commentary

In 3rd Wave Feminism, book, Drama, Film, review on October 12, 2014 at 11:43 am


(The following commentary of Gone Girl (2014) contains a necessary plot spoiler. If you’re planning to see the film and have no knowledge of the plot, perhaps read this afterwards. – RS)

About: Gone Girl is an American mystery thriller film directed by David Fincher. It was adapted by Gillian Flynn from her 2012 novel of the same name. It stars Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, and Carrie Coon.

Oh, people will be divided here – no question, but the ideas in Gone Girl are much bigger than me and require a defender. So, here we go. I had absolutely no intention of reviewing this film because Piers McCarthy already did – REVIEW  so I just wanted to see Fincher’s new work.

Plot: On the day of his fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne (Affleck) returns home to find that his wife Amy (Pike) is missing. Her disappearance creates a media frenzy, and his awkward behavior and lies surrounding the marriage are interpreted by the media and public as characteristics of a sociopath, implicating him for her apparent murder. Flashback sequences told from Amy’s perspective reveal the disintegration of their once-happy marriage.

On one level, a cinematic one, you know; direction, editing, style, casting, acting…. Gone Girl is very good and that is why I am going to call this a dangerous film. It is dangerous to create a female lead character that lies about domestic abuse. It is dangerous to show that cameras lie about rape. We live in a world where a football player beats up his wife on camera.

Mail Online says, “Baltimore Ravens terminate contract of running back Ray Rice after he was caught on camera punching fiancée in lift.” He plead ‘Not Guilty.’ He was caught on camera punching her -Yup.

The Guardian reports, “It is easier to believe that a woman “provoked” catastrophic violence from a supposedly otherwise peaceful man than it is to come to terms with the fact that a well-liked public figure is abusive. It is easier to conceive Palmer as an accomplice in her own beating …” Their words, not mine. Sounds like the film, kind of…

‘But a woman wrote it!’ So? Are women outside of cultural influence? ESPN says that Janay Palmer married Ray Rice soon after the violent incident.

The marriage came one day after Rice was indicted by a grand jury on third-degree aggravated assault for striking Palmer unconscious. She publicly defends him. He punched her until she was unconscious! Yup.

‘But it is based on an existing novel!’ There is a choice here to bring it to a wider audience.

‘It’s only a film, you need to chill!’ Sure – when there is no more domestic abuse, when there is no more rape, when women are not scared to come forward about being assaulted and then called liars – I’ll chill.

Obviously, it is very good to create strong female leads but when our lead is a lying, crazy, murderous, sociopath it is not good. Calling women crazy liars is old-school and a part of our current thought-process, unfortunately. The Monthly, from Australia says; What does it say about us, in a society where domestic violence and rape are actually on the rise, that Gone Girl is so popular? I think it says that we still want to keep assuring ourselves that when women talk about rape and violence, they are making it up. That we are lying, scheming bitches. In one of the film’s closing scenes, Nick slams Amy’s head against the bedroom wall in frustration at her continued hold over him. We are invited, quietly, to wonder if he might be justified in doing so. And that makes me feel crazy. 

A Disney princess is not the answer. We need to see realistic, strong, competent and flawed female characters. I want layers, complexity – not clichés or stereotypes. ‘But Gone Girl is a great film!’ On one level yes but ideologically and culturally – no.

It is very hard to find a review that sees the blatant misogyny in this film. I found a great one in The Guardian – it is even critical of Affleck who directed, produced and starred in the Academy Award-winning film Argo, and will be taking on the role of Batman in 2016: For Affleck, some relation to reality is clearly important. So why doesn’t that apply to domestic and sexual violence? Admittedly Affleck’s character in Gone Girl – he plays the husband, Nick Dunne – is particularly bone-headed, but the actor isn’t, so why didn’t he demand a disclaimer? Affleck wouldn’t dream of suggesting that the US had clean hands in events such as its historic support for the Shah of Iran, but recycling the most egregious myths about gender-based violence is, apparently, another matter.

The Monthly says, Gone Girl fails as a crime thriller in part because it is far too long … It is impossible to discuss the plot without giving the game away, but I’m going to do it because the architecture of the story is bound up with its misogyny, so here goes: Amy faked it all. She faked her disappearance and murder because she resents her husband’s selfishness and dependency, and it turns out that this isn’t the first time she’s brought a good man down.

In the words of an ex-boyfriend, “She’s graduated from faking rape to faking murder.”

The twists in this film hinge on important social commentary. This film underscores ideology and dangerously reinforces the idea that rape and domestic violence victims lie. It may be ‘just a film’ but it is a mirror too.

The Television Show Orange is the New Black

In 3rd Wave Feminism, review, TV on July 7, 2014 at 8:39 am

OITNB Picture

About: [from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia] Orange Is the New Black is an American comedy-drama series created by Jenji Kohan and first released on Netflix on July 11, 2013.The series, produced by Tilted Productions in association with Lionsgate Television, is based on Piper Kerman’s memoir, Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison, about her experiences in prison. The second season premiered on June 6, 2014 at 3:00 am EST. The series has been renewed for a third season.

Plot: [from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia] The series revolves around Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), a bisexual woman living in New York City who is sentenced to 15 months in a women’s federal prisonfor transporting a suitcase full of drug money to her former girlfriend, Alex Vause (Laura Prepon), who is an international drug smuggler/mule. The offense occurred ten years prior to the start of the series, and in that time Piper had moved on to a quiet, law-abiding life among New York’s upper middle class. While in prison, Piper is reunited with Alex (who was in prison before Piper but then grassed on her so they could be together), and they re-examine their relationship and deal with their fellow inmates.

This show is much more than just good and I’ll tell you why in a bit. I’ll just say, Orange is the New Black is revolutionary. Usual representations of girls in prison are clichéd, unrealistic porno versions. This commentary assumes you know the story and are familiar with the characters.

In the book by the head of women’s studies at South Carolina University, 3rd Wave Feminism and Television: Jane Puts It In A Box, I am called a 3rd Wave Feminist so this article is filtered through a 3rd Wave Feminist sensibility:

In contrast to first-wave feminism, which focused on the right of a woman to vote, and second-wave feminism, which was centered around equality in the workplace and the fight for reproductive rights, third-wave feminism was mostly about fishnet stockings, excessive wordiness, and the belief that lesbian erotica is somehow empowering… a third-wave feminist would frequently tell everyone within earshot that she is a bitch and a slut.

  • Uncylopedia

Season 2 fleshes out most of the characters by providing back-story – we find why they are in prison. I call Season 2 the season of pain. We see so much anguish or despair or trauma. Morello loses Christopher, Poussey lost the love of her life in Germany, Piper’s grandmother… Elderly inmate with dementia will likely die, Suzanne is majorly manipulated by her mother figure — Vee, Mendoza was domestically abused, Rosa is dying of cancer. The first season focused on Piper and while she is still a focus, the other characters are given more screen-time in the new season.

Piper’s arc is fabulous. She starts out as a timid, straight, princess and becomes a bad-ass, dyke-hero. Her addiction to Alex is classic and I want them to end up together. My feeling is that Piper is a very layered character. She has integrity. When she initially learns that Alex was responsible for her being in jail, she owns up to her crime and still chooses Alex, not Larry, to be her lover. When Alex plays her AGAIN in court in Season 2 we still route for them.

Kate Mulgrew as Galina ‘Red’ Reznikov and Lorraine Toussaint as Vee Parker are formidable adversaries. There is so much age-ism in popular entertainment that showing older capable, independent and fabulous women is unique.

Red and Vee are presented as tough women who have lots of street smarts. Because they are older, they have experience with unusual people and events. They bring this experience to prison life and create lives for themselves, which are less of a knee-jerk reaction and much more deliberate strategy.

Orange is the New Black is revolutionary because it challenges and re-defines power, voice, sexuality, aging and gender-roles in addition to much more. I still believe that straight men are getting off to the girl-on-girl action but this action looks very different here. Bringing sexuality into a new realm is so liberating.

Laverne Cox as Sophia Burset, a transgender character – is sexy and smart. How many times has a trans character been represented on TV? Her presence is very important. She is accepted by the other inmates, has family struggles and in Season 1 – hormone pill issues. It is wonderful that she is complex and layered.

Lea Delaria as Big Boo is likewise quite amazing. She plays a very out-there bull dyke. To show a large woman taking care of her own desire is very new. Her sex-contest in Season 2 with Natasha Lyonne as Nicky Nicols puts the power of female sexuality on an amazing level and puts the idea of ‘power’ squarely in female terms.

Sexuality in Orange is the New Black does not speak to the male voyeur, it speaks to a Queer, female audience. When I use the term ‘Queer’ I mean ‘Twisted’ or norm-challenged. Sure, the women who watch the show might be gay, bi, straight, trans-gendered etc. but their commonality is a new lens, a new way of watching TV. Men also experience a new lens but the meanings here differ. A different kind of pornography is enabled for many men and for many women.

I once wrote an article about straight women desiring gay male characters in the television show Queer As Folk. I know that an intended audience often over-laps with an unexpected one – that is probably happening here. I do believe that straight men are watching the show. I would be surprised to learn that they are the intended audience.

We are not used to these images of women. Most of these women do not need men to feel beautiful or have sex. Many of these women do not participate in beauty or dominant sex culture. Many of the women swear, are big, are unkempt, fight, are loud and have opinions. So you see, even if straight men are using the show as pornography, it is subversive pornography. These aren’t beauty queens [but some are – eg. Lorna Morello] enacting male versions of what women do together. These are women owning power, voice and sexuality. There is strength here. There is freedom.

Another important part of this wave of feminism is sex-positivity, a celebration of sexuality as a positive aspect of life, with a broader definition of what sex means and what oppression and empowerment may imply in the context of sex… many third-wave feminists challenge existing beliefs that participants in pornography and sex work are always being exploited.

– Today’s Feminism: A Brief Look at Third-Wave Feminism

We do not see women as victims here. That does not mean everything is a bed of roses. Even roses have thorns but you never see a ‘woe is me’ or ‘why me?’ mentality. Piper often will say that she is responsible for being in prison. Sure some women cry, some are beat-up…this is living in the world and having sucky experiences.

Uzo Aduba as Suzanne ‘Crazy Eyes’ Warren is absolutely ‘played’ by Vee and is very distressed about it. The event says much more about Vee actually. Many of the women here have had horrid experiences.

There is a difference between ‘being a victim’ and ‘being victimized. A friend noted a distinction I thought was apt: ‘holding onto a frame of mind where one sees oneself as a victim.’ Being ‘played’ is not the same as being a victim. Suzanne was victimized by Vee but she is not a victim. She, like many women, is a survivor.

This television show empowers women. It is hopeful and embodies an alternative way of ‘being.’ Orange Is the New Black moves beyond ‘entertainment’ by including alternative representations of women. In my mind, this is not only phenomenal but very, very important.

ROMY SHILLER is a pop culture critic and a 3rd wave feminist. She holds a PhD from the University of Toronto. Her academic areas of concentration include film, gender performance and critical thought. She lives in Montreal where she continues her writing.

Side Effects – a brief commentary about the ‘fallen woman’ in film

In 3rd Wave Feminism, Film, review on March 21, 2013 at 10:05 am


[Warning: Spoilers. I cannot discuss the film without exposing certain elements. There are twists in the film so if you proceed beware.]

About: Side Effects is a 2013 psychological thriller-neo-noir film directed by Steven Soderbergh from a screenplay written by Scott Z. Burns. The film stars Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Channing Tatum. The film concerns the ramifications of an event following a young woman being prescribed antidepressant drugs.

This is more of a commentary on how dominant cinema marginalizes women than a review of Side Effects.

Side Effects is a good example of how mainstream film punishes the fallen woman. Traditionally, women were killed off in film for having sexual desire. The fallen woman used to be a prostitute or a female that had sexual knowledge outside of marriage. I was thinking about the melodrama, Camille (1936). Marguerite, played by Greta Garbo, is a courtesan in Paris. She falls in love but ideology dictates that she must be punished. She dies of Tuberculosis.

The term “fallen” was nevertheless most often conflated with sexual knowledge, particularly for women at a time when their sexual innocence was socially highly valued, indeed insisted upon. As the term narrowed to imply any socially unauthorised sexual activity, including pre-marital or extra-marital sex, whether initiated by the woman or not… 

Look, there is a lot written about the ‘fallen woman’ in literary fiction and film theory so I won’t regurgitate it here, I’ll just say that this film is an excellent companion or example of how the formula is played out. My evolution of the theory is in regarding how the fallen woman is depicted today. That is new.

Ideology is not overt. There is nothing that blatantly says that the fallen woman must be punished. Ideology creeps in and does its work.

In mainstream film, aside from being killed, women are often punished by being institutionalized or labeled crazy. In life, I am very suspicious when women are called hysterical – there is an awful tradition here. History is filled with real examples of taming shrewish women by lobotomizing the opinionated or contrary woman to keep her quiet. In film, we don’t necessarily need to see violence being done to keep women docile and quiet.

Sexual desire is no longer taboo in film but sexual desire that is placed in outside of a mainstream context is. Often the female is punished for being a lesbian. Women who don’t need men are the ultimate fallen woman. A woman who kills a man and is a lesbian is a double whammy nono.

In cinema, the fallen woman is one of the earliest representatives of the female prostitute, and the theme had great appeal during the silent era. By the mid 20th century, when women had access to a variety of jobs … their sexual activity was no longer necessarily associated with moral corruption …

Rooney Mara plays Emily Taylor, a woman who is punished by putting her in a mental asylum. What she does is absolutely heinous; the script makes her evil, conniving and duplicitous. She is constructed, as all fallen women are, as deserving what she gets. She actually deserves to have a trial. The ideology of the script simply does away with her. She is silenced.

If I were not aware of the story-flaws this would be a good film. The acting, directing, cinematography are very good and some of the actors are my favorite but I know that the story is contentious. The ‘twists’ go hand-in-hand with the story flaws. I cannot separate them. I really don’t like the treatment of women here

‘Nine’ or All That Glitters is not Gold

In 3rd Wave Feminism, Film, review on March 18, 2012 at 3:26 pm

I thought that I’d re-post an older article that I wrote elsewhere – ‘Nine’ or All That Glitters is not Gold from April 5, 2010.


In 3rd Wave Feminism, Film, review on September 29, 2011 at 4:54 pm

Good girls go to heaven, bad girls go everywhere. – Helen Gurley Brown

Director: Steve Antin
Writer: Steve Antin
Stars: Cher, Christina Aguilera and Alan Cumming

Okay. Weak story but fabulous representation of women. This film is not about story or acting so I’m not going to discuss it. It is about singing and dancing and fabulous costumes.
The burlesque tradition has made a huge comeback. “Burlesque is a humorous theatrical entertainment involving parody and sometimes grotesque exaggeration.”

As an example of resurgence, there is a contemporary Canadian act called The Cheesecake Burlesque Revue. Promotional material says, “The Cheesecake Burlesque Revue keeps audiences coming back for more! More laughs, more tease and more body confidence. With influences from cult classics to Broadway favourites they create imaginative show-stoppers! The performers are as individual as the stars on the walk of fame – cute and geeky, rock ‘n’ roll, classic and elegant – audiences can’t help but have a favourite or two or three! They’re known for high energy acts, lavish costumes, stand out performers, comedic timing, seductiveness and girl-next door accessibility.”

Burlesque suggests sexuality but it is not stripping. It is very sexy, campy and over-the-top. Look, females can be sexy and powerful. I detested the film Nine (2009) essentially because the women’s power revolved around getting the director.

Plot: Small-town girl ventures to Los Angeles and finds her place in a neo-burlesque club run by a former dancer.

This film is a show-case for 5-time Grammy winning pop diva Christina Aguilera. Like her or not she can sing and dance. Her hottness factor makes her ideal for this role. Cher is good but sidelined. The Kristen Bell subplot is a throw-away.

In an interview Christina Aguilera said, “There have been a lot of roles and scripts that have come my way but nothing that really inspired me or intrigued me like when “Burlesque” showed up at my door. Just the whole concept of burlesque, I’ve always been fascinated with it. I’ve always collected so many books about burlesque. I’ve been intrigued by the time that it’s set in, in the 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and so I knew it was a no brainer for me to be a part of once I met with the team.

I want to be very clear; this film is set in the present. While burlesque has a history, the film is like homage to the style.

Alan Cumming is usually known for his roles in, Spice World, Spy Kids and X2: X-Men United. He had great roles in smaller films like Investigating Sex, Suffering Man’s and Urbania. He played the Emcee in the Broadway revival of Cabaret (1988), for which he won a Tony and NY Drama Critics award. His association with Cabaret cannot be underestimated in this film: “they seem to have brought him in essentially to reprise his Emcee role from Cabaret, which won him a Tony in 1998. Variety describes the role as “the club’s gender-bending host and master of ceremonies…”

I believe that this film appeals to a gay and straight audience. Alan Cumming’s appearance enables a gay reading. I just want to say that I do not believe that all gay men like musicals; he is a sign, a representation. Cher is a standard gay icon. Christina Aguilera’s song ‘Beautiful’ (um, in her album called Stripped, 2002) is a gay anthem – you get the point.

“While Cher said she was fully aware that “Burlesque” is, in many ways, tailor made for a gay audience, she drew the line at the claim that this is solely for gay audiences. “I don’t think of it as a gay film but, of course, the gay guys love musicals and it’s fun. It’s just really fun and so I think that’s what appeals.” However, Cher did express much gratitude for her gay following and offered up the observation that “gay men either love you or they don’t even notice that you’re on the planet. If they do love you, they stick with you through thick and through thin and even when you’re not popular. I think they recognize kindred spirits that don’t really fit into society either. And, of course,” she added with a laugh, “there are sequins.”

Cher plays a woman who owns and runs the club. She performs as the star. Her business is spectacle. What a seamless role for her. “For the big screen musical “Burlesque”, Academy Award-winning megastar Cher ended a seven-year hiatus to take on the role of Tess, the glamorous proprietor of the dazzling Burlesque Lounge. When Ali (Christina Aguilera), a small-town girl pursuing her dreams to be a star, stumbles across the inspired musical revue, she becomes determined to prove she’s meant to be on that stage. As Ali comes into her own as a performer, Tess sees an opportunity to make use of her spectacular voice and showmanship in a way that will benefit not only both women, but the club itself.”Collider

Most critics do not like this film but honestly, I think the focus is misguided. If the emphasis was on story or plot I’d have to pan it. The way in which the film represents women and music is good though, and that is often overlooked. Even though I find most award shows contentious, “Burlesque” scored a handful of nominations from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (Golden Globes), including a nod for Best Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical. Should you see this film? Well that depends. If you are interested in camp, gender, hot women and representation – yes. If you want story or plot – no. Simple.

Romy Shiller is a pop culture critic and holds a PhD in Drama from the University of Toronto. Her academic areas of concentration include film, gender performance, camp and critical thought. She lives in Montreal where she continues her writing. All books are available onlin

Marriage, Divorce and Being Single or The ‘M’ Word

In 3rd Wave Feminism, General on September 1, 2011 at 11:00 am

(originally published May 5, 2010)

My article is‘Marriage, Divorce and Being Single or The ‘M’ Word.’ I examine some of the roles we are forced into and the damaging effects of ideology. I am not against marriage at all – I am for free-will.

If divorce has increased by one thousand percent, don’t blame the women’s movement. Blame the obsolete sex roles on which our marriages were based.Betty Friedan:
speech, New York City, January 20, 1974Marriage, Divorce and Being Single or The ‘M’ Word

You know, to be a single woman over a certain age really enacts a double standard. Men are labeled ‘bachelors’ – lots of doubtful questions arise for women that do not exist for men. Is she gay? Does she have trouble committing or holding down a man?

In my non-fiction book Who Knew?A continuation of You Never Know: A Memoir I say, “Wow. To be an unmarried woman is so suspect. I certainly could have gotten married and will – one day. I remember having a teacher in high-school who was unmarried and I definitely pre-judged her. I was not outside of ideology or expectation. It is kind of bizarre to be in a similar situation now. I was doing a Masters Degree and a PhD. I studied singing at The Royal Conservatory of Music. I had a band. There were relationships and jobs. I acted on film, a TV series and theatre, wrote articles, studied French and took seminars on photography and voice-work. Sorry if marriage was not a priority. I feel like it does not matter what I did – marriage would have been a measure of success.”It is so bizarre to me. I do so much yet validation from most others would be based through my relationship with a man. Sorry – but like it’s so hard to get married? Look, I do want to be with someone forever and marriage would concretize that idea but there are no guarantees, eh? Amy, a third-wave feminist like me says, “society has valued marriage to the extent that some people stay in marriages that aren’t healthy — and do so, because “not being married” or being “divorced” in this society punishes people — especially women — even those for whom divorce is a ‘life saver.’” ( A stable partner would be great, but if marriage is not an option, so be it.Like many children, fairy-tales were read to me. Instead of idealizing a prince-charming, I may have regarded the situation as make-believe. I never immersed myself in an ideology most take for granted. I still don’t. Good cake at weddings though. Usually, free drinks too. An excuse for a party? I’m honestly not a hurtful person; I just get a kick out of making fun of things.A New York Times article says, “The most recent crop of reality television shows taps the fantasies we first learned from fairy tales: castles and fortunes, true love and romantic destiny, and above all that most perfect storybook union, the ”fairy tale wedding.” On the rose-strewn finale of ”The Bachelorette,” Trista chose the shy fireman Ryan, who promptly got down on one knee and held out a diamond. ”I don’t think that I could have imagined a better ending to this fairy tale story,” she sighed. Meanwhile, on ”Joe Millionaire,” 20 would-be Cinderellas competed for the hand of a modern-day Prince Charming.” Ich but firemen… (“Fairy Tales and a Dose of Reality.”)Gay marriage – well, if it’s legal for straights, I say why not? “Brad Pitt gave one hundred thousand to fight the passage of Proposition 8, an amendment that would outlaw gay marriage in California. Brad’s donation is the biggest that any A-list celebrity has donated to this date. But it comes as a shock that Ellen DeGeneres or Portia haven’t given a penny to the cause. Rumors have it that eleven million dollars has been raised to fight Prop 8.” (Associated Content)

“Brad Pitt, ever the social activist, says he won’t be marrying Angelina Jolie until the restrictions on who can marry whom are dropped.” ( Way to go Brangelina!

I know some absolutely fabulous women, pioneers, who feel judged because of their non-marital status. If as much energy around them would be focused on their incredible accomplishments instead of analyzing why they’re single there would be such a positive shift for everyone concerned. This gets me mad on so many levels.

I was looking at the website, Single-Woman.TV. It celebrates singleness. This truly opposes dominant belief structures. Instead of judging and being negative there is pragmatic positivity and a very welcome breathing space. You are not suffocated into fitting-in. The very opposite of a Stepford wife is enabled: “The term “Stepford wife”, which is often used in popular culture, stemmed from the novel [The Stepford Wives is a 1972 satirical horror novel by Ira Levin], and is usually a reference to a submissive and docile housewife.” (Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia)

In my non-fiction book You Never Know: A Memoir  I say; “I guess the way my mind works is pretty revolutionary. I do not think like most people I know, that’s for sure. By many standards, I am pretty unconventional. My actions speak for themselves. Two things I can think of right off the bat are that I am unmarried and I do not have kids. Not that I do not want either, but they obviously have not been a priority for me. I was never the kind of girl who dreamt of her wedding day. Having a stable partner is very nice, but I never thought I would need to get married to have that. I remember when I was eight years old, a little boy asked me to marry him. I know we were too young to get married, but I cannot shrug this feeling that I was hard-wired for resistance early on.” (pp. 117-118.)

It is revolutionary to go against the grain, to resist a standard, a dominant ideology. It takes a lot of courage and strength to do things differently and I admire, no esteem, those that do. I know very well that I opt out of the so-called ‘normal’ (I can’t stand that word) but for me it’s like breathing air – a habit which takes little effort on my part. I do validate the effort and challenge most face though.

There is a ton of pressure to fit in and conform. Mark Twain said; “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” In You Never Know: A Memoir I say; “Difference is something that most people avoid. Fitting in becomes a goal. Personally, I think difference is valuable. It’s the “same” that irks me. Variation is not the same as inconsistency. One can be incredibly multi-tonal and consistent.” (p. 23)

Pat Donnelly’s article “How not to find love” (The Montreal Gazette) describes how playwright-actor-dancer-singer Fenulla Jiwani in her play, 30 Dates, draws upon her own dating experiences and feelings about arranged marriages. The pressure to get married is fierce. Donnelly adds, “Looking for Mr. or Ms. Right? Now that online dating and speed dating have entered into the equation, the comedic possibilities have multiplied.” I know that “arranged marriages” are cultural but the inference…

Even celebrity Carmen Electra feels pressure to marry: “The former ‘Baywatch’ star – who got engaged to the KoRn guitarist in April after a whirlwind romance – insists the couple are in no hurry to tie the knot but are constantly being asked if they have set a wedding date.”

She said: “It’s funny; everyone else puts so much pressure, asking, ‘When are you getting married?”
“If it was up to everybody else, we would be married and divorced already.” (“Carmen Electra Feeling Under Pressure To Get Married.”)

Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia says; “Divorce or dissolution of marriage is the final termination of a marriage, canceling the legal duties and responsibilities of marriage and dissolving the bonds of matrimony between married persons. In most countries, divorce requires the sanction of a judge or other authority in a legal process.”

I’ve had excruciating break-ups and the torment of divorce must be horrific. There is a great temptation, I’m sure, to be pain-free, to avoid conflict. There might be a fire one has to walk through to get to the other side. This side may ultimately hold mega-relief. Probably, stepping outside the ideology of marriage to some, feels very risky. I know so many people that are in bad marriages. Obviously, I think it’s worth it to get out. Breaking up is never easy, but why suffers permanently? All of the rationalizations in the world don’t seem to cut it. “Recovering from a breakup or divorce is difficult. However, it’s important to know (and to keep reminding yourself) that you can and will move on. But healing takes time, so be patient with yourself.” (

The power of ideology cannot be underestimated.

Accessed September 16, 2009.
Accessed November 30, 2009. “Carmen Electra Feeling Under Pressure To Get Married.” June 9, 2008.
Accessed October 4, 2009.

Levin, Ira. The Stepford Wives: a Novel. Fawcett Publications. 1972.
Marriage Quotes
Accessed September 16, 2009.

Shiller, Romy. Who Knew? Victoria, BC: Trafford. 2010.
—————. You Never Know: A Memoir. Victoria, BC: Trafford. 2008.

Accessed September 21, 2009.

The New York Times. “Fairy Tales and a Dose of Reality.” March 3, 2003.
Accessed October 4, 2009.

The Quote Garden
Accessed October 3, 2009.

Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia.
Accessed November 30, 2009.

Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia.
Accessed September 21, 2009.

Romy Shiller is a pop culture critic and holds a PhD in Drama from the University of Toronto. Her academic areas of concentration include film, gender performance, camp and critical thought.

Romy Shiller is a 3rd Wave Feminist according to the book Third Wave Feminism and Television: Jane Puts it in a Box by the head of women’s studies at South-Carolina U.

Books are available online. She lives in Montreal where she continues her writing.

The Runaways

In 3rd Wave Feminism, Film, review on August 29, 2011 at 11:11 am

Girls have got balls. They’re just a little higher up that’s all.

Joan Jett

I adored the film The Runaways.

Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning star as Joan Jett and Cherie Currie in the music-fueled coming of age story of the groundbreaking, all-girl rock band, The Runaways. They fall under the Svengali-like influence of rock impresario Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon, Pearl Harbor), who turns the rebellious Southern California kids into a rock group with outrageous success. With its tough-chick image and raw talent, the band quickly earns a name for itself and so do its two leads: Joan is the band’s pure rock n’ roll heart, while Cherie, with her Bowie-Bardot looks, is the sex kitten.(

Even though I was very young (sure!), I remember Joan Jett. The Runaways was off my radar or I was too young. Joan Jett was before her time – powerful, rocker-chick. I keep thinking of Courtney Love and Hole.

The film accurately portrays the aesthetic of the day.  The make-up, hair, costumes – OMG. Also the reproduced drug-haze, mirrored at times by the cinematography, and excessive rocker lifestyle is remarkable. Surprisingly good acting from Kristen Stewart (Twilight Saga) and Dakota Fanning who certainly left her child image behind.

There is a grittiness to the film. The filth, sleaze and grossness aren’t kept locked away or made tidy.

Cameron Crowe’s autobiographical film Almost Famous is: “about the experiences of a teenage music journalist who goes on the road with an emerging band in the early 1970s “ (Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia) and in retrospect it feels sanitized compared toThe Runaways.

I had a band in the early 1990s and while we were far from as edgy as The Runaways many of the feelings about music in this film strike a chord.

Many of my current interests are reflected in the film such as, girl-power, otherness, difference, marginalization… Even without my stuff I think it’s a great film.

Joan Jett’s urge to play music and become famous is captured. I’m pretty sure that most people see the film for her. It is quite astonishing to see her beginnings and even though it’s Cherie’s story we are given a major glimpse into Joan Jett’s life.

According to the commentary, Joan Jett says that director Floria Sigismondi sacrificed certain historical accuracies in favor of cinematic watch-ability. Even though this is a biography it is foremost a film.

Anyhow, what is real? I am reminded of what I once said in an article. “Ideas of ‘the real’ we hold are very interesting to me on many levels. Reality television exemplifies a level that suggests that if an actual person, not an actor, says or does certain things, it is fact and genuine. Things like editing or producing are invisible. I was in a mini-documentary (“Modern documentaries have some overlap with television forms, with the development of “reality television” that occasionally verges on the documentary…Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia) and sure what I chose to say came from my own mind but I had no choice in what was used, I had no say in how it was put together and it followed a predetermined aesthetic in keeping with the news-show airing it (even though the fabulous woman filming it had her own style). I would gladly do it again and was asked to be in a feature-length film documentary, but I am under no false illusion here. Even documentaries are ‘unreal.’” (Big Bother)

        The Runaways is not a documentary but based on a biographical book by Cherie Currie. We have this idea that the book and film are ‘real.’ The way that I perceive it is that both are based on real people and events but the facts are not fixed or secure. Joan Jett’s comments confirm this idea.

A rock aesthetic in the film appears to be authentic. The abject rejection of authority figures, the climb from obscurity and poverty to renown and wealth – capture the imagination.

I felt pulled into a brand new world.



Almost Famous. Dir. Cameron Crowe. Columbia Pictures. 2000.
Accessed July 24, 2010.

The Runaways. Dir. Floria Sigismondi. River Road Entertainment. 2010.

Shiller, Romy. Big Bother.
Accessed July 29, 2010.

Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia.
July, 25, 2010.
Accesed July 25, 2010.

Black Swan

In 3rd Wave Feminism, Film, review on August 25, 2011 at 10:39 am

Competition is a sin. – John D. Rockefeller

Director: Darren Aronofsky
Writers: Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz
Stars: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis and Vincent Cassel

I imagined that I was the only person on earth ambivalent about Black Swan. However, when I told the movie-watcher with me that I thought the film was a cliché, she agreed. I was so surprised.

 Plot: Black Swan is a 2010 American psychological thriller film directed by Darren Aronofsky, starring Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, and Vincent Cassel. Thomas Leroy (Cassel) is the director of a New York City ballet production of Swan Lake, in which he has cast Nina Sayers (Portman) as the Swan Queen and Lily (Kunis) as her alternate. The role requires a dancer who can play both the White Swan with innocence and grace, and the Black Swan, who represents guile and sensuality. Nina fits the White Swan role perfectly, while Lily is the ideal personification of the Black Swan. As the two young dancers expand their rivalry into a twisted friendship, Nina grows more in touch with her dark side, with a recklessness that threatens to destroy her.

I think that this film could have really pushed the envelope. It was already surreal but it wanted to be Dali-esque. It was conservative actually. Yeah, yeah, our lead (Natalie Portman as Nina) is frigid and crazy. Seen it, sorry. Her hallucinations are nightmarish? A psychological thriller?

Nina is obsessive and scratches herself where wings would be. She is cast as the lead ballerina in a dual role of white and black swan. She has trouble portraying the black swan but the darkness inside her is symbolized by a dark feather she plucks out of her skin. Yawn. She usually wears white to align her with the white swan. Her white scarf is feathered. Nice attention to detail but kind of obvious. This film takes itself seriously and is very committed to something. The hype…

Remember when Liveforfilms wasn’t impressed with Inception, well I’m not impressed with Black Swan. Because of that review, I feel like I was given permission to go against the grain.

No, I’m not ambivalent in the least. I absolutely do not believe that this film deserves acclaim. Sorry, but I kept thinking that I could have written a paper about it in high-school. If I were a teacher and needed a clear example of symbolism, I’d use this film. There was little mystery or intrigue here for me.

Okay, we’re going to talk about Natalie Portman’s character Nina. There is no question in my mind that Natalie Portman is a very good actor. There was only so much one could do with the character Nina. Nina had no arc, no development – she was the same from beginning to end. Also, I had little empathy for the character. This character required empathy – believe me! So, the character was flawed not the actor.

A review I came across says, “Darren Aronofsky is a master at making beautiful films you never want to see again. Part of this has to do with the inherently unpleasant nature of the obsessions and addictions he chronicles: the heroin chase of Requiem for a Dream, the eon-spanning pursuit of doomed love in The Fountain, the thirst for a dying fame in The Wrestler… The director’s earlier works are difficult to watch (let alone revisit) for the powerful emotional toll they exact on the viewer, but Black Swan earns the same fate for a far less satisfying reason: it’s just not worth it.” This is a film that I would not see again.

So, we’re dealing with a director who has made great films. It is hard not to give him the benefit of doubt here. His themes of obsession and addiction were prominent but they were lacking in my opinion. Portman says, “…it was absolutely a case of obsessive compulsive behavior. The scratching. The bulimia, obviously. Anorexia and bulimia are forms of OCD and ballet really lends itself to that because there’s such a sense of ritual — the wrapping of the shoes everyday and the preparing of new shoes for every performance.” It isn’t that Nina didn’t wrestle with her darkness it was just predictable to me and kind of flat. She was as intense as she could be.

Also, the virgin/whore duality has been done a lot and has been around for AGES. “Swan Lake is a classic ballet exploring light and dark, good and evil personified in white and black swan characters.” How unoriginal.

Darren Aronofsky said this at a recent screening of the film and it MAY have been directed to an elderly couple, “I’m really sorry. I want to apologize for what’s about to happen… I didn’t know what I was doing…” Okay.

This film will win awards and was nominated for a Golden Globe award – Best Motion Picture – Drama.

It should not win.

Romy Shiller is a pop culture critic and holds a PhD in Drama from the University of Toronto. Her academic areas of concentration include film, gender performance, camp and critical thought. She lives in Montreal where she continues her writing. All books are available online.