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In the Dark

“What’s on your list? Did you see (name a TV series or movie) is on Netflix?”

These are common questions, conversations starters, even identity definers. I share my recommendations with my friends, coworkers, and sometimes the family that share my phone plan. But, I watch each selection alone, in the dark.

“Don’t you want to mirror it? You could watch it on the big screen.”

I stretch out over my bed. I leave the hall light on like a kind of cinema aisle guide. I click the bedroom fixture to the off position because my dogs prefer dim lighting. I push play and begin to watch alone, in the dark.

Yes, it’s tiresome to hold the phone between my fingers.

Yes, sometimes the sound or picture isn’t what it could be.

No, I don’t want to watch it on our large television.

When I watch ‘My List’ with my dad, my viewing is disrupted. It’s true, he likes to talk through and over the character dialogue. It’s true, he doesn’t like to wait to see what’s going to happen, instead requesting the ending (whether or not I actually know what it is). Those things are not why I prefer to watch alone.

I used to share “My List”. First, there was Bones. He would share often how he didn’t like her style, but I ignored this example because her character is quirky, perhaps just a matter of taste.

Then, we began watching Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman each morning while eating breakfast. “She’s a meddling woman. Sully is just asking for trouble marrying a woman like that.”

“Like what?”

“Can’t keep a secret. Can’t stay out of anything.”

“Don’t characterize ‘women’ that way.”

“Some things are just reality. I’ve had enough experience to know.”

With this example, it’s already obvious to some, perhaps, why my stomach turned. I brushed it off. Dr. Quinn has a savior complex, something for which my years of development work gave me a distinct aversion.

I responded, “Her character moves the development of the other characters forward. Maybe she’s a bit stereotypical but the writers have a purpose for her choices.”

I was shocked more than anyone that the positive example was the one that pushed me up the stairs, Kensi from NCIS, Los Angeles.

“See, now she’s convincing. Those other women, that’s ridiculous. They would never be law enforcement,” Dad analyzed.

His words sounded like a compliment, almost. Of all the strong, female role models in my viewing favorites, this should have been the one we could agree on, except.

What is the image, or what are the characteristics ‘to be convincing’. . .

His words may sound good. They may sound right. I didn’t realize how the hollowness of the words truly rang in my stomach until I watched the Netflix documentary, “This Changes Everything”.

When my dad actually likes a female character it is because, as the documentary points out, ‘you like it because it’s like you’ or at least how you decided things are like. This documentary is based on data, which is in direct contradiction to how society has processed the images and stories of women being shared through mass media. From lack of leadership opportunities (directors) to lack of multidimensionality (actresses), this film shows the contradiction in my father’s words, the gap between perception and fact. Throughout the interviews and data snapshots, the film returns to the image of a little girl in a movie theater, alone, in the dark.

“Good” fathers tell their daughters you can do anything. I know mine did. The documentary points out that the message is actually, ‘you can do anything, as long as do it in a certain way while looking a certain way’. Prior to audio required dollars in the film industry, women were prominent voices directing this gaze. Today the imbalance of female leads, even female conversations, is stark.

In my notes, I wrote the title of the song being played during the documentary’s end credits, “Side by Side” by Andra Day. I click into my Netflix account, and then I select my list. The documentary knows it was watched to the end, so I slide my finger until I’m at the end credits again. Since Sunday when I watched this film, I have had conversations that express my reality, which is that even without a camera, I am caught by a male gaze.

Infiltrate, trouble

Make, innovate, detonate

What you expect of me

Keep it sweet

Keep it low

Sugar don’t rock the boat. . .

People assume the worst of me

Stuck in a rut

Only because you clipping my wings. . .

Because words that describe me are not seen positively

Holding me down

Caging me in

And locking me out. . .

It always boils down to

Standing on me to hold yourself up. . .

High skills

Stalemate, elevate,

Equal parts, co-create

How you gon’ know the way

With only half the truth. . .

Bad behavior

Saying I got a bad attitude

According to what

According to who

Word of advice,

I’m being polite

Years ago in a writing class, edits slashed through details I had included. “It’s your job as the author to tell people what to pay attention to.” I know I’m guilty too. I wrote lead male characters, who could have been female. I shut my computer down.

“You know you can watch anything you want,” Dad calls from the other room.

“You know there’s nothing on.” I answer. Across years and movements, the details may have changed, but we are still being told to pay attention to the same message. When that message changes, it changes everything. The percentages in the documentary weigh me down. I climb the stairs to my room to watch Netflix alone, in the dark.

Previous blog posts exploring gender


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