High School Musical: Disney Goes Feminist

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Granted High School Musical 3 has a rather unnecessary number of shots of Sharpay Evans’ arse and there is a very clear evidence of bullying by the two main male leads: Troy Bolton and Chad Danforth who steal the clothes of two younger classmates and make them chase them through the school dressed only in towels. In HS-land this gets the bullied boys detention. In my-land, it gets the two bullies an in-school suspension and a ban from participation in after school activities because it constitutes sexual harassment. And, I can’t even begin to describe the horror which is the Tiki song in High School Musical 2: racism a go-go there.

There are also very few non-white actors in the films. The best friends of the two leads are both African-American but they both are stereotypes. Chad Danforth is basketball obsessed and a loyal friend. Taylor McKessie is bossy, demanding and over-organised. Her character is also incredibly intelligent and loyal to her best friend which is a departure from many portrayals of African-American characters in Disney films. But, they are still only supporting characters living stereotypes of what “good” African-American teenagers are interested in: boys do basketball and girls do smart & over-bossy. On the other hand, the main character Gabriella Montez is Hispanic-American, which is a major departure for mainstream Disney programs. Disney does feature non-white actors but only in supporting roles and frequently as crass stereotypes.

We can’t forget the issue of class as every single one of the characters lives in a huge house, including Gabriella Montez whose mother is a single parent. Poverty is never an issue. In fact, the characters can afford to just hop on planes and fly 1000 miles without so much blinking about the credit card charge. Obviously, abuse doesn’t exist and no one has any disabilities. It is the American Dream: a white heteronormative culture.

There are also serious problems with gender stereotyping. The mothers of all the teenagers are shown in kitchens only bringing in groceries, baking snacks, serving food, and interrupting private moments between teenagers. Fathers, on the other hand, are actively involved in coaching sports and being ‘cool’. The drama teacher is OTT in the ridiculous and Sharpay, well, Sharpay is a blond narcissistic ice queen who treats everyone like shit. Because, that is oh-so-original.

Yet, High School Musical is probably one of the most feminist films Disney has ever produced. The main character Gabriella is a “good” girl who wears virginal outfits. But, she’s also intelligent, loyal and prone to speeches on everyone working together. She changes everyone for the better by encouraging them to be true to themselves. She’s also true to herself valuing her education over her boyfriend. Gabriella isn’t mean and she doesn’t take shit from anyone. Yes, there is an unnecessary amount of twaddle about boyfriends and girlfriends and loving one another forever but Gabriella is an inspiring female character. The value placed on friendships between the teenage girls is so very, very different. With the exception of Sharpay, the girls support one another through their dreams, their hobbies and their lives.  They work together for each other and they talk about the importance of valuing yourself as an individual over any potential relationship.

It’s not a perfect feminist film but it’s a start. And, in a complete departure from normal Disney narratives, the boy follows the girl to university.

 

<this rant is brought to you by my daughters who’ve been watching the trilogy together>

 

The “Magaluf Girl”: Consent, Alcohol and Coercion

I have been with my children all day. I’ve seen bits and pieces about the “Magaluf girl” giving blow jobs for a holiday but I didn’t want to look too closely because I could already guess how the media would report the story. A young woman who “gave” 24 men blow jobs whilst drunk in a club in Spain would only be reported one way: she was a slag, a slut and a whore.

I didn’t want to read because I remember the coverage of the sexual assault of a young girl at a concert at Slane Castle in Ireland last year: a 17 year old girl who was exploited, assaulted and then had to deal with the images being shared through social media. I thoroughly dislike the term “revenge porn” because it minimises sexual assault and rape with the suggesting of “consent”. Every single person who shared the images and video of the incident at Slane Castle was perpetrating sexual assault – particularly those who shared identifying details of the young woman.

The young woman, who will now be known as the demeaning term “Magaluf girl”, which may or may not be better than her real name being shared, is now experiencing a similar level of blame, harassment, and shaming as the young girl assaulted at Slane Castle. Yet, we still aren’t discussing the issue of sexual exploitation, consent to commit the acts, coercion, consent to share the images in the mass media and the role of men in the club, the audience, and the club owners  and managers who planned a game to have a young woman perform sex acts on multiple men.

@Seja75 has written an important critique of media coverage for Ending Victimisation and Blame but I disagree with part of her analysis. I don’t think it’s possible for a young woman who has been drinking in a club surrounded by large numbers of men cheering her on to have informed consent. Even if a woman has sexual fantasies involving exhibitionism, in a situation in a club with an audience, it is very difficult to feel safe enough to say no – to believe you have a choice to say no. Being surrounded by a large number of men is coercion.

This is without getting into the issue of sharing the video and images across the web. Here, I agree with Seja entirely: anyone who was actually concerned about issues of sexual exploitation and assault will have asked several questions including: has the young woman involved given consent to the the sex act? has the young woman consented to filming? Have the men involved consented to filming? Have the men consented to participating (and Seja raises some interesting questions about one of the men involved)? What was the role of the club in this event? Do they have informed consent? Do they even know what informed consent is?

Unlike Seja, I don’t think there is a best case scenario here. Young women are groomed into sexual exploitation from childhood. We are taught not to say no and we all learn very early what the consequences of saying no are. This is a clear case of sexual exploitation – by a club, by people at the club and by the media.

We need to start asking why men would line up to in a club surrounded by an audience to have a woman orally masturbate them. What is going through their heads at that moment?  Were they drunk and incapable of informed consent? Or, did they enter the club knowing that this was part of the evening?

We need to challenge the shaming of this young women but we also need to challenge a culture where a young woman could be put in a position like this. We need to start talking honestly about what informed consent actually means and we need to start looking at holding businesses accountable for sexual violence perpetrated on their premises but also created by their employees and managers. The staff who created this “blow job for a holiday” are guilty of coercion.

Sharing the images of this event is unethical and immoral. It isn’t required to discuss this case in the media. The media holds responsibility for further sexually assaulting this young woman, just as they did with the young woman at Slane Castle.

Whatever the answers to the questions raised, one point will remain: the media should be prohibited from sharing these images. And, any media outlet, blogger, tweeter or Reddit commentator who share these types of videos and images without consent should be legally prosecuted for sexual assault.