Women's Work

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Vid
Title: Women's Work
Creator: Luminosity & Sisabet
Date: 2007
Format: digital vid
Length: 3:14 minutes
Music: Violet by Hole
Genre: meta vid
Fandom: Supernatural
Footage:
URL: streaming at Critical Commons
one of the tamer scenes of violence against women in the vid

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Women's Work is an influential vid by Luminosity & Sisabet. It is a candid and disturbing exploration of gender issues (or, more to the point, violent misogyny) in the TV show Supernatural. "Women's Work" premiered at Vividcon.

The vid is set to the song "Violet" by Hole which combines raw anger with the powerlessness that women often feel:

"When they get what they want, they never want it again

Go on, take everything, take everything, I want you to."

- "Violet" by Hole

Summary

The vid opens with a series of images of women being stalked, terrorized, beaten, stabbed, and brutalized. It then segues into a sequence where sexualized images of women are inter-cut with images of women with children, echoing the Madonna-Whore paradigm that modern media often uses to portray women. The vid shifts back to women who are dead, followed by yet more women being hung or ripped apart. By the time the song slows down at 2 minutes 30 seconds the viewer is often overwhelmed by the concentrated scenes of violence against women.

At this point the lyrics start telling a different story. The phrase “I told you from the start just how this would end, When *I* get what *I* want I never want it again" (emphasis added) can be heard and the viewer is presented with a new series of women: dark, sexy, powerful - and evil. Female demons, vengeful ghosts, and vampires are the ones taking violent action. For many viewers, this becomes a revelatory moment, where characters they are conventionally taught to be seen as “bad” are now fighting back. The vid continues to build on this theme until the very end when it becomes clear that even powerful women suffer the same fate as those who are less powerful: it ends with the image of a man breaking a woman’s neck with the words "go on take everything" echoing into the black screen.

Critical Discussion

As one commenter put it,

If that's not a powerful commentary on the nature of women in SPN, I don't know what is. Evil, slutty or helpless...not much of a choice is there? Brilliant.[1]

In November 2007, it was featured in a New York Magazine article[2], where Luminosity remarks on Women's Work that "[it] is a critique of the eroticization of the violence done to women in all media, not just Supernatural."[2]

Micole wrote an essay about the vid entitled Women's Art and "Women's Work" for the feminist sf blog, "Ambling Along the Aqueduct".

Francesca Coppa talked about the vid in The Gender and Fan Culture Debate Debates that were held at Henry Jenkins' blog during the summer of 2007.

The vid was selected by the OTW to part of its Test Suite of Fair Use Vids before the Library of Congress.[3]

Reactions/Reviews

"I don't think I can ever watch this vid again. I felt assaulted while watching it, like I was the one being beaten, attacked, destroyed and killed. Maybe that's what the vidders were going for. I actually felt betrayed because (and this is the fault of my own expectations) the title of the vid [Women's Work] led me to expect to see women kick ass. I don't know Hole, but the actual title of the song (Violet, which I looked up afterwards, which is when I found out that Hole was the group that had done 'he hit me (and it felt like a kiss)') would not have brought me to that conclusion. I spent the entire vid waiting for a sea change -- for Haley or Kat or Officer Kathleen or Jo or Ellen to show up, or to see the strong sides of the women that the vid did show being attacked. And it never happened. I felt like the vid was trying to tell me that I'm not allowed to both be a Supernatural fan and a feminist, that the vidders feel that Supernatural feels that the only reason for women to exist is to be brutalized, which so intensely far away from how I view the show that we might as well be in separate galaxies. In the end, though, I think I could have handled this vid as a feminist critique of the show if it'd had a different title. I would have been able to give myself that distance before watching and not felt personally betrayed by it. As it was, I started the vid with no distance and ended up feeling like I'd been punched in the stomach (which, again, may have been what the vidders wanted). ETA: Lesson in 'never say never' -- the vid as a feminist critique has been simmering in my head for the last few hours, battling out with the last bits of 'but my boys' (when they're actually irrelevant to the argument in question anyway), and has begun winning. I suspect that rewatching will occur soon, as re-evaluating has already begun. I may even come to terms with the vid's title." [4]""
"This one didn't work for me....After Premieres, I was surprised by the reaction to it; my assumption was that, like other vidders working with fairly dark source, Luminosity and Sisabet were attracted to this particular level of creepy violence in Supernatural, and wanted to share that love with other fans. It never occurred to me that they were making a wholly political argument about TPTB. I've been assured that that is indeed the case, though. Rewatching it with that knowledge, I can see that it's a meta statement about how horribly Supernatural treats women, and I'm glad that the few episodes I've managed to catch have been apparent exceptions to the usual SPN fare. But I don't see this as a statement about all fannish source (or all source, fannish or not?) everywhere, which is what I'm told other fans are reading it as. The visuals in the vid were evocative purely of the horror genre to me, which is a very specific thing. For this to have worked for me as a statement about all fannish source, I think it would have to have been a multi-media vid, and certainly one that incorporated fandoms that aren't horror-based. As it is, hearing that people are saying "this could have been any show", I have to strongly disagree."[5]
"The Price is the missing link between Lum and Sisabet's Women's Work and Sisabet and Sweetestdrain's On the Prowl, Y/N?[6]
"What I mean by that is that I’ve known for some time that I have a problem with how this show treats women. But I have a difficult time articulating what is actually upsetting me. This vid puts all the woman in the refrigerator, woman as victim, woman as object and woman as tempter stuff out there for all to see. Because the insidious thing is that on the show this is mostly just in the back ground. The creators probably aren’t even aware of it because they’re just reflecting what our society considers to be normal. And that’s scary."[7]
’’For me, this vid is an excellent example of interactive art in that it walks me through contradictory emotions while swaying my opinions about a show that I love - all in the space of a few minutes. I watch in growing horror as more and more women are brutalized and then killed. I cheer when the villains of the show appear - they are women and we are finally fighting back. But I grow more disturbed as I realize that even they/we are powerless until that final moment when "everything" is taken from the last woman on screen (her life). This is what fan vidding is all about. Grabbing the viewer by the scruff of the neck and beaming your message straight into the audience's brain. Sometimes the message is joy, sometimes sorrow, and sometimes rage. But it is a powerful experience – both as a vidder and as a viewer.[8]
"This vid is downright disturbing. I had no idea women were treated so badly in the SPN world but now....*shudders* These women are excellent vidders and it shows. Every clip is chosen to create a strong visceral reaction in the viewer and it did that for me several times over. The softer parts lull you into a false sense of security and then bam! with the death and carnage! Definitely one to watch with a few lights on. "[9]

Some thoughts on Luminosity and sisabet's vid "Women's Work," available here. Go watch it if you haven't and want to know what I'm talking about. I'd warn for disturbing imagery, except -- we see this stuff on screen all the time, and that's the point.

Like almost everyone who saw it when it premiered at VividCon, I found it both disturbing and thought-provoking. (And technically astounding. Beautifully made.) We had already seen Destina's excellent "Want" in the first half of the show, so creepy scary SPN vid was not a new concept, if you see what I mean -- but I pretty much sat bolt upright at the end of the first verse of "Women's Work," when the lyric screams You should learn how to say no and the visual is a RAPE. I mean, what the fuck. Blame the victim much? This is a woman talking? These are women vidding, so what in the name of God are they saying, here?

For me, the most disturbing thing -- and I'm sure as hell not saying that the ways violence against women is eroticized over and over again aren't disturbing, and I am a big SPN fan, here, people -- is the fact that the voice of the song is female, and she isn't saying only "They get what they want, and they never want it again" against image after image of women abused and objectified; she's also saying "Go on, take everything, I want you to."

We want them to? (They want us to?)

Well, we watch the show. (Again, I watch the show. I am not dissing SPN here. As Lum and sisabet say, this vid could have been made for any number of shows.) For me, one of the big questions this vid raises is how complicit we ourselves are in what we're seeing, what the vid encourages us to be enraged by. Who is wanting who to take what, here, and how much is that challenge serious; or is it a furiously bitter "go on, because you'll only do it anyway"? And what are the implications of reaching such a point of furious bitterness? If objectification is inevitable, do we relax and enjoy it?

When the lyric shifts to "I told you from the start / Just how this would end / When I get what I want / Then I never want it again," the visuals shift to monster women, evil women (perhaps that should be in quotation marks: "evil" women; as Lum said in a comment thread in her LJ, we don't even know if Ava knew what she was getting into). For a moment this can look like a "fuck you, I'll get you back" sort of empowerment, but of course they die anyway -- and we're supposed to be glad of that. Lum says that she and sisabet didn't even consider ending with any other clip, and I think they were exactly right to end it as they did. Nothing's as final as the sound of a neck snapping.

And even the strong women, the monster women, are sexualized, and perhaps also complicit: look at the Woman in White baring her own thigh.

Thank you, Luminosity and sisabet. This is part of why I'm in fandom (um, shout-out to morgandawn's recent post on that topic): for the squee and the porn and the shiny, for sure, but also for the chance to critically engage with popular culture with other people who understand that you can do that and still enjoy the squee and the shiny and the porn. [10]
"Shit, that's fantastic. Kind of pisses the viewer off after a minute or so, because you just get sick of seeing females so mistreated. But damn, it makes one think."[11]
In looking at it, I don't think the vid is saying, "This show we love is anti-women," so much as it is saying, "Look at how endemic sexualized violence towards women is in our society - this is our culture, our entertainment - and it's so prevalent that we often don't even notice unless we're hit in the face with it." .....I think the vidders are sadly correct when they say almost any of our source texts could have been used to make this vid, and that as much as men are villains or victims on SPN in particular, their suffering is almost never eroticized (I say almost because I believe Dean's maybe has been on rare occasions, but that's possibly just because the camera loves Jensen Ackles). I can't think of a time when Sam's pain is sexualized - Sam is presented as a (non-sexual) child when he's suffering, if he's not working from a position of power/knowledge in the first place."[12]
"#VividCon got me thinking, even though I'm not a vidder, how integral vids have been to my experience of fandom. "Women's Work" in 2007 completely changed how I consume media - I no longer have patience for manpain built on the backs of female characters.[13]

References

  1. August 31st 2007. Calla White. comment on Women's Work. on imeem. Accessed 2 November 2008.
  2. 2.0 2.1 November 12th 2007. Logan Hill, New York Magazine. The Vidder: Luminosity upgrades fan video. Accessed 2 November 2008.
  3. Test Suite, accessed November 9, 2012.
  4. Vividcon 2007: Premieres;WebCite for Vividcon 2007: Premieres
  5. Disc Two (Premieres part 2, also premiering);WebCite for Disc Two (Premieres part 2, also premiering)
  6. The Missing Link;WebCite.
  7. Feminist Fanvid Recs, dated Sep. 8th, 2010.
  8. Morgan Dawn's personal notes, accessed November 24, 2011.
  9. spnvidrecs vid post dated November 12, 2007.
  10. thinky post on "Women's Work"; archive link by Shoshanna (August 19, 2007)
  11. comment in the spnvidrecs vid post dated November 12, 2007.
  12. still trying to change this mold: musesfool, Archived version
  13. Tweet by drinkthepoison. Posted on August 12, 2018. Accessed on August 14, 2018.