Feminism, Health and New Media: (Finally) Understanding Their Cohesive Properties

So folks, the sun is setting on our Fall semester of 2012.

New York sunset, from Google Images

New York sunset, from Google Images

I’d say it was a pretty challenging roller coaster ride for me and many of my peers. But the hardest learned lessons always stubbornly turn out to be the lessons hardest to forget, and I think now as I tie pieces of my critical essay together, I am finally learning to understand Professor Daniels’ purpose in titling our Hons201 course, “Feminism, Health and New Media!”

Well maybe I am a little late to the picnic, but you know what they say: never deny a late bloomer her slice of the pie. Is that how that one goes? Anyway, I apolgize for the awkward UN-funniness of this final blog post. I guess I am having separation anxiety, or something. The individual puzzle pieces are finally fitting together for me in my head, forming a cohesive picture that I can somehow superimpose onto my critical essay, and all I am able to do is crack lame jokes. So, what was I saying? Oh yeah! Feminism.

For my critical essay, I will be pulling largely from feminist theory so as to articulate my thesis on, “female to male YouTube Trans* vloggers and the construction of knowledge,” therein. This semester we had focused on the “women’s health movement, 1969-1999” as purposeful practice of autonomy (Morgen). It was inspiring to read and watch self-identified feminists advocate for gender liberation and reproductive justice here in the US. Pulling from those inspirational sources within feminism, I aim to expand upon those cisgender parameters so as to navigate a contemporary discourse – happpening right now in the online vlogosphere – pertaining to transitioning and knowledge of Health.

Health is that which “knowledge” will refer to in the body of my final paper. Knowledge of the body and knowledge of self in relation to social assimilation ideology surrounding what constitutes gender. The discourses upon which we very often find ourselves resisting are those that claim there is a one-way-road to gender authenticity and that that is via genital matching, or in the case of FtM Trans* folks, assimilation. New Media is assembling a strong defensive front to such rigid defintions of gender.

New Media is going to be the B-B-BULK of my critical essay. I have been researching FtM Trans* YouTube vlogs for some time now, and I’m finally zoning in on which ones will be most representative of my central claim, that is to say:

FtM Trans* folks are producing knowledge by and through new media, that knowledge largely pertaining to health: bodily modifications and psychic journey toward self-hood. It is necessary to state that I fully intend on debunking those arguments that wish to assert any kind of homogeneous, monolothic liberation and/or empowerment among Trans* folk, let alone Trans* YouTube vloggers. I argue privilege (along all social identity markers) has so very much to do with the ways in which knowledge gets produced online in the YouTube vlogosphere, as well as the means by which FtM Trans* political identities are made visible.

So, in short, I aim to argue that FtM Trans* vloggers’ feminist intent(s) to (re)claim bodily health-based knowledge are negotiated by and through new media (i.e. YouTube).

And that’s all folks!

I "love" finals week, you guys. Weeeee!

I “love” finals week, you guys. Weeeee!

Please watch some of the following YouTube vlog posts, if you have time, and are interested in learning about the ways and means by which FtM Trans* folk are navigating their bodies in relation to their gender-in-TRANSition:

Stuff Cis People Say to Trans People

Binding the Pain – FTM Binding, by Ryan Cassata

Ryan Post-Top-Op

Liam in TRANSition

2.5 Years on “T”

Binders & Packers, Part 1. by Kamari Marchbanks

FTM Binder, Packer Show ‘n Tell

How I Use My Pee-Cock

Metoidioplasty Information FtM

“T”estosterone & Tampons

Post-meta surgery

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FtM TRANSitioning, Utilizing New Media and Bodily Modifications

So I’m in the process of drafting my critical essay for our class, Hons201: Feminism, Health and New Media. The most inspiring part about this whole process of research has truly been the new media aspect of it all. My purpose is to focus on the way young people are utilizing new media via trans* YouTube vlogs and Tumblr blogs, as a means by which to navigate their bodies in relation to their gender. Throughout the bulk of my online research, I found myself particularly drawn to Female to Male (FtM) Vlogs and genderqueer blogs. In watching and reading, and reading and watching, I noticed certain trends throughout each new media representaion:

  • educational HOW TO’s on binders, packers and stand-to-pee (STP) medicine spoons
  • personal accounts of how testosterone (“T”) has affected the body, and at what rate should one expect to see “results”
  • reflections upon top and bottom surgeries, both from experience as well as from speculation

These themes kept on repeating themselves throughout my research, over and over again. I became more knowledgeable on the ways and means by which FtM folks navigate such issues as – Where can I find the least expensive, quality packer for men of color? How can I avoid yeast infections from wearing my packer for long periods of time?How long do I need to avoid direct sunlight, post-top-op? Where on my body can I expect to discover masculine change after X number of months on “T”? – and so on. Each Vlog tells a story: a story of the body in transition, away from ‘entrapment’ and toward one’s self-identified gender.

The corporeal journey to self-hood, I am finding, truly is an autonomous one. That is to say, every FtM TRANSition is specific to the individual. New media provides a space for which #LGBTQIA youth can create communities of online solidarity, support, information and education, reminding me of those brilliant strides made between 1969-1990 in the United States for the women’s health movement, which Sandra Morgan has titled in her book, Into Our Own Hands. Trans* youth are negotiating their own bodies on their own terms via new media. Health is central to TRANSitioning and TRANSformation, from female to male, including mental health and the processing of emotion(s).

In focusing on FtM trans* Vlogs and blogs, I hope to conceptualize some sort of conversation taking place between V/bloggers that is pertaining to perceptions of gender ‘authenticity’ and how much of a role bodily modification plays into that. In other words, does the penis really make the man? And to complicate that question further by suggesting that to be in a position to CHOOSE is to be in a position of socioeconomic privelege; that is to say surgery and hormone therapy can be quite costly (and more often than not are NOT covered by one’s insurance company, assuming one has health insurance). This makes for a nebulous cluster of conditional confusion.


But I think, by the time I figure it out, my critical essay will argue something like this:

FtM trans* folk are navigating body modification via new media. This online community serves as both a teaching tool on HOW TO perform masculine gender identity ‘authentically,’ as well as a ‘room of one’s own‘ in which to negotiate what it really means to be a man, and under what conditions said self-identity ‘ought’ to be inscribed upon the body via hormone therapy and/or surgery.

This critical essay will also examine the LACK of medical discourse surrounding what effects do hormone interventions have on the health of trans* folk.

Please let me know if you have anything you’d like to contribute; I am very open to critical suggestions! Below are some FtM Vlogs, with which I have been transcribing:

Ryan Cassata

I’m not looking to go on testosterone or anything…I feel normal….it was the first time I ever felt normal in, like, myself. And, you know, it was a great moment for me…my brain was satisfied. And I guess that’s, you know, what the surgery’s supposed to do.


Once you hit your year, things slow down and once you hit your two year, things slow down even more. My facial hair comes in a lot quicker. I just started shaving with a shaver and cream only 2 months ago (I used to use a trimmer). My voice hasn’t changed, my feet stopped growing somewhere between the year and two year mark.


Will I ever have bottom surgery? Probably not, unless there’s some way that I can get a penis transplant because what I have down there works really well, it’s healthy and I keep it clean and I’m not going to lie, I like orgasms. Ok? I mean who doesn’t? …I don’t want to muck with it, and I’d rather not mess with it when I know it works perfectly the way it is. For me, having something down there is not about just having junk in my pants or being able to pee standing up. For me, it’s about sex.


I don’t pack all the time, only occasionally because I do get self-conscious. I do it for comfort so I can feel better about myself…there’s something there and it’s not so empty and I’m not so conscious of it…sometimes I do forget that this thing is not real. Sometimes I forget there’s nothing there. …Most of it is for comfort. …

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UN Humanitarian Aid to Liberia

The United Nations (UN) has recently sent me to Liberia to provide aid to women, men and children in surrounding internally displaced person (IDP) camps. Some critical questions to be asked include: What steps are to be taken by the UN so as to ensure safety, health and well being in the surrounding IDP camps? What information must be recorded and why? What services must be delivered, and how?

The first step in any kind of outreach is to acknowledge that I am an outsider coming into a conflict zone which I know very little to nothing about in comparison to those who have experienced life in the Republic of Liberia. All too often, well meaning aid efforts from the global north have historically misinterpreted and imposed ethnocentricites onto communities of the global south. Hence my first course of action would be transnational in nature, to listen to what women, men and children had to say about their living conditions since the 2003 resignation of Charles McArthur Ghankay Taylor and the 2005 democratic election of Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

President Sirleaf has been dealt a complex history of Liberian Civil Wars: the first from 1989 to 1996 and the more recent having lasted from 1999 to 2003. These conflicts pose serious challenges to the current reconstruction and rebuilding of Liberian politics, economy and social landscape – namely the severely sensative reintroduction of former combatants into society.

“For post-conflict societies, the challenges of reintegrating…war-affected youth are likely to far outlast and outsize the formal demobilization, disarmament and reintegration (DDR) of ex-combatants… In Liberia, where the bulk of the population is young, poor, and underemployed, many rural youth continue to make their living through unlawful activities, including unlicensed mining, rubber tapping, or logging…ex-combatants, and some remain in loose armed group structures, doing the bidding of their wartime commanders..” -ipa (innovations for poverty action)

After I attempt to initiate an open dialogue with internally displaced persons living in conflict zone camps, it is necessary to examine those social relations, which are particular to Liberian culture, through a gender lens, as Professors Daniels and Richardson often say. This might mean respecting certain restrictions pertaining to space and gender when constructing UN IDP camps; can men and women occupy the same space at the same time? This deeply impacts the lived experiences of girls and self-identified women, in terms of proximity to safe or potentially unsafe toilet facilities, coming out from under IDP camp tents for fresh air, etc.

These considerations are vital to the physical construction of safety and security among those who are most vulnerable to sexual violence. Women and girls disproportionately face the atrocities of rape as a weapon of war in conflict zones such as Liberia. Hence access to medical facilities and free-of-charge mental health care are imperative to addressing the physical and psychological consequences of war on women, among which include but are not limited to:

  • unwanted pregnancies
  • unwanted abortions
  • genital trauma
  • post traumatic stress disorder:

“an anxiety disorder that develops after exposure to a traumatic event characterized by ‘actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of oneself or others.” -Evan D. Kanter, The Impact Of War On Mental Health

  • spread of sexually transmitted infections such as HIV/AIDS
  • incontinence
ICRC Resource Centre: ICRC / N. Kero

ICRC Resource Centre: ICRC / N. Kero

Humanitarian aid workers ought to be well versed in these kind of ramifications of war as well as in the languages spoken in Liberia, so as to most effectively assist IDP communities in both physical and psychological healing. Another step in the reconstruction of Liberian conflict zones will be to provide gender-specific aid to girls and women as well as to boys and men, respecting those societal gender-based divisions which may or may not allow women to interact with men who are not their husbands, even if those men are UN humanitarian aid workers, doctors, psychologists or medical assistants.

“Gender training is necessary for peacekeeping troops and humanitarian aid workers to prevent reoccurence of rape and exploitation of women and girls by men who have power and money. Greater efforts must be made to ensure that humanitarian aid reaches women and is not first derived to men.” -Mary-Wynne Ashford, The Impact Of War On Women

Ashford urges UN aid workers, ‘like myself,’ to ensure the safety of women and children in refugee camps by providing, “adequate cooking fuel,” so as to avoid the, “necessity for women,” to unsafely leave IDP camps, “in search of firewood,” and by providing, “efficient cooking stoves to conserve fuel” (6). Particular considerations such as these are to be integrated into UN relief efforts, so that actual relief might take root in conflict zones such as Liberia.

My main goal, as a UN humanitarian aid worker, is to help local communities negotiate reconstruction on their own, peace-keeping terms. By listening to women, men and children’s needs, more direct solutions can be of service.

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Vlog Assignment #4: A Transnational Approach to US Feminism

What a pleasure it has been to work with the wonderful Kerishma Panigrahi, on our final Vlog assignment!  This video is meant to depict our own interpretation of what a US feminist approach to assisting women living in conflict zones should represent, keeping in mind the questionable politics of saving so as not to invoke neocolonial ‘white savior’ tropes.

Short Video Assignment #4: Working in a small group, produce a short 1 – 3 min campaign video directed to United States feminist communities explaining at least two (2) effects of war/violent conflict on women, why these issues need our attention and what resources might be used in order to address these effects and create a more stable life for women living through conflict.

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Princess Odette: The Feminist Swan

Okay, so it’s very possible that my sisters and I were the only three children in 1994 who were singing along to Dreamworks’ obscure animated film, The Swan Princess, being that Odette was not as popular as everybody’s favorite Disney princesses. She was however, in my opinion, a feminist.

If you haven’t already seen the movie, in which (according to IMDb), “a power hungry sorcerer transforms a princess into a swan by day in this tale of everlasting love,” then I highly recommend you watch the following clip and see for yourself the provocative question Princess Odette asks Prince Derek when he appears to fall madly in love with only her beauty:

Derek’s response is a self contained question, or rather a rhetorical one: “what else is there?” One such utterance implicates to Odette that beyond beauty, nothing else matters. Of course, such meaningful things as personality, likes, dislikes, passions, fears, aspirations, etc. are all to be included within that arbitrary category of beyond. Those were the things Derek felt no compulsion to consider in his arrogant “proposal,” in which he spoke not to Odette, but rather for her:

“Arrange the marriage!”

I think it’s necessary to point out this critical turning point in the plot because it is something that is oftentimes overlooked in some of the more traditional fairytales of Walt Disney Pictures. In fact, there are many arguments surrounding the dangerous effects that the Disney industrial complex has on the self-esteems of young people everywhere. They instruct rather specific gender norms, which teach young girls that as long as they dream, (see: Cinderella‘s “A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes“), their insecurities will magically be cured by a fairy God mother or a handsome prince, or both!

Animated Disney classics tend to repeat certain themes:

Men are brave, handsome saviors.

(Masculinities theorist, R. W. Connell, writes about hegemonic masculinity theory in his research on representations of ideal masculinity versus subordinate masculinities, along the lines of race, class, ability, sex, gender, sexuality, ethnicity and religion.)

Women are feminine, cisgender victims of external forces of violence- from which they require external saving.

Disney Princesses adhere to a strict size 2 body and dress code.

Beauty is defined in terms of, “fairness of skin,” and quality of hair.

(See: true classics blog post on, “Lips red as the rose. Hair black as ebony. Skin white as snow.”)

Disney villains are often distinguished according to bodily malformations, darkness of skin, advanced age and/or weight.

(Beauty and love are synonymous to lightness [of features], youth, and innocence in the wonderful world of Disney.)

But Walt Disney Pictures aren’t the only culprits in this neoconservative scheme to instruct traditional gender norms Take, for example, my girl Odette! The Swan Princess adheres to that same size 2 body and dress code, those same savior-damsel heteronormative codes of gendered behaviors and also that same racialized morality according to character’s skin pigmentation and appearance.

But instead of accepting her fate as the unthinking flower, Odette asked a critical question to Derek and to the viewing audience (i.e. ME!…& hundreds of thousands of impressionable children). She asked us to think about the intensified value we place on physical appearance versus what else there really is to a person.

Why hadn’t any other princess challenged her own occupation before? No wonder nobody has ever heard of Princess Odette.

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Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone?

We all know the stories; there are two of them after all.

1.) First, there’s the story we learn about when we are children, or maybe if we are young adults assimilating into American culture. It’s the classic tale about the Pilgrims, or rather the English separatist Protestants who later formed the [Puritan] Plymouth Colony in present day [southeastern] Massachusetts and eastern Rhode Island, and the so-called-Indians, or rather the Wampanoag tribe of Native Americans, whom had inhabited the land for the previous 12,000 some-odd years. They met and put aside their cultural differences in order to survive the frigid Fall of 1621. Their harvest gathering was attributed, by the Puritan settlers, to an almighty [Judeo-Christian] God, the Father. And it is in this colonial spirit that the American people celebrate Thanksgiving each year on the fourth Thursday in November.

2.) Second, there’s the story we [hopefully] learn about as we get a little but older in our education(s), or maybe if we are wise (or post-modern) enough to critique meta-narratives on our own merits, regardless of educational attainment. It’s the story that is a lot less fun to listen to when we sit down and feast upon a dead bird, I mean turkey. The initial social contracts made between the settlers and the native people only lasted a generation, in which the Puritan settlers’ survival owed great thanks to the Wampanoag’s superior hunting skills and knowledge of the land’s fertility.

“The Wampanoag people do not share in the popular reverence for the traditional New England Thanksgiving. For them, the holiday is a reminder of betrayal and bloodshed. Since 1970, many native people have gathered at the statue of Massasoit in Plymouth, Massachusetts each Thanksgiving Day to remember their ancestors and the strength of the Wampanoag.” -Text adapted from 1621 A New Look at Thanksgiving by Catherine O’Neill Grace and Margaret M. Bruchac with Plimoth Plantation, 2001, National Geographic Society. Text by Lyssa Walker.

And if you’re unfamiliar with the, “bloodshed,” Walker and O’Neill are referring to, in a children’s version of the story of the first Thanksgiving, by the way, then a better education of North American history is in order: one which begins long before the arrival of Europeans and one that is complicated by the plurality of local narratives. Also, a little accuracy would be nice. To my general horror and dismay, I have come across a great deal of unnerving neo-conservative new media literature – in my research for this blog post alone. And it is disgusting how skewed interpretations of North American history has been convoluted, so as to politicize certain capitalist agendas that are no doubt tied into our [class] discussions of feminism, health and new media.

It is necessary to criticize contemporary interpretations of historical facts so that the systemic erasure of indigenous tribes (via European colonization) does not, yet again or moreover, become eclipsed or occluded by the childish meta-narratives we are all too familiar with. I am not advocating for an overturning of the nationally established holiday, nor am I suggesting that anyone who celebrates the fourth Thursday in November is hypocritical by any means. I believe that offering thanks transcends temporal location(s) as well as any social identity markers, such as race, sexuality and gender. It is a fundamentally human thing to seek closeness with one’s kin, and to celebrate appreciation without shame. I say, let our own local narratives be based in whatever truths we subscribe to.

However, we know this to be far from what [new] media preaches as festive. Like any other national or religious holiday, capitalists have taken full advantage of the spiritual meanings behind people’s cause for celebration and turned out a handsome profit, so to speak:

from Google Images of Black Friday shoppers

And to properly interrogate the hegemonic myths of Thanksgiving, one must pay close attention to their developmental paths throughout the [re]construction of American history. Any legitimate critique of racialized and gendered representations need be historicized, that is, accurately contextualized, before we can even begin an intellectual dialogue; the subsequential genocide of Native Americans by European imperialists is not up for debate…

The reason why it’s so important to defend local narratives is because they can so easily get become delegitimized in the public eye (see: Rush Limbaugh’s version of ‘The True Story of Thanksgiving’), endangering social justice strides made everywhere in defense of those who have been persecuted along the lines of race, gender, sex, sexuality, disability, language and ethnicity.

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Vlog #3: Racialized “Beauty” in India

Special thanks to my Hons 201 partner in crime, Kerishma Panigrahi, for another awesome experience in both filming and editing!

Short Video Assignment #3: In groups of two or three, produce a creative 1- 3min web video that challenges and/or demonstrates resistance towards some of the negative representations of women of color’s bodies online.

The above video assignment was partially inspired by such advertisements as the following, which dangerously conflate whiteness for beauty and femininity:

What are the consequences of standardizing beauty according to white supremacist ideologies?

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Queer and Trans-Blogging: Mapping New Social Landscapes

In recent years, the presence of queer and trans-blogging has grown in frequency as well as spatial range, directly impacting LGBTQI communities on a global scale. In her piece on, “The Reality of Virtual Reality: The Internet and Gender Equality Advocacy in Latin America,” Elisabeth Jay Friedman examines the democratizing potentialities of the internet in such spaces as Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico. Her ethnography implores us to think critically about the internet’s so-called-“horizontal organization;” do digital spaces inherently mark democratic cyber-social relations by nature of the internet’s presumed wide spread dissemination? It is necessary to critique such contemporary assumptions about the internet as that which is somehow different from the hierarchical structures that are erected in our material social relations. Friedman’s work on gender-based justice and equal rights advocacy in Latin American civil societies is rather telling of these dialectical tensions between the internet’s dual roles as, “a powerful new tool for non-governmental activism,” and simultaneously the creator of “digital divides” (2).

Similarly, Rahul Mitra and Radhika Gajjala tackle these same issues surrounding the politics of voice among LGBTQI communities in their relative spheres of political identity and influence (both on and offline). Their work more specifically historicizes the Indian digital diaspora. How are these digital spaces utilized by queer, lesbian, gay and transgender communities? How is knowledge produced in contrast to the dominant ideologies of heteropatriarchy? In what ways do these local productions of knowledge disrupt the meta-narratives inscribed within legal doctrine and health care policies? In their work on, “Queer Blogging in Indian Digital Diasporas: A Dialogic Encounter,” Mitra and Gajjala narrowed the scope of their research down to eleven specific blogs, in which they examined the interactions between bloggers such as Closetalk, Kris, DeviantChick, Mike-higher, JerryMumbai, Men I LikeLivingsmile, Hanuman, VenialSin, Uberhomme, and DeviantCore. What the authors found in these digital interactions were, “unequal power relations online as well as offline,” being negotiated among queer bloggers.

Visual representation of hierachical articulations of power among queer bloggers, from Google Images

Perhaps more resonant than those hierarchical articulations of digital power relations were each authors’ discovery of the online arena as a space that which, “allow[s] for certain kinds of self-expression while also shaping their performance of sexuality in these [political] spaces” (403). Much like Virginia Woolf‘s feminist concept for “A Room of One’s Own,” the blogosphere provides the unique opportunity to simultaneously reveal and conceal meaning(s) through anonymity in a particularly oppressive political climate for gays, lesbians, queer, transgender and intersex people. The blogger gets to govern, “how much of the ‘self’ comes through” (418). This proves highly significant in the process of shaping identities within national-State contexts; the effects of which are transformative for the lived realities of those identifying as sexual or gender minoritiesIf individual and collective efforts are aimed at the reconfiguration of sexual diversity as legitimate manifestations of humanity, then existing legal documentation and health policy surrounding such stigmatized identities are thereby interrogated from the bottom up;change is an eventual marker for progress among sexual minority groups throughout geopolitical spheres.

Take for one such notable example: the newly supported patient-centered approach for “treating” those born with an intersex “condition,” as opposed to its pathologizing predecessor(s). How did the medicalizing discourse around intersexuality shift from that which needed immediate surgical and hormonal intervention to that which took into consideration the actual person? How did humanity enter the picture here? I believe the temporal moment of twenty-first century critical sex-gender-and-sexuality theory has much to do with the slow, yet evident, progress which social justice advocacy has made. I believe new media is arguably, in part, to thank for the [re]production of such necessary social reform.

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The Five Sexes: Reflecting on Why Male and Female Aren’t Enough

Rimma Gerlovina and Valeriy Gerlovin, Romulus and Remus, 1989

In her visionary article, “The Five Sexes: Why Male and Female Aren’t Enough,” Anne Fausto-Sterling engages a frequently ignored biological fact of intersexuality.  Human intersexuality, as Fausto-Sterling teaches us, “is old news,” as it has been featured in various religious and legal texts, such as the Bible, the Talmud and the Tosefta.  The ancient Greeks sought to explain the origins of this natural occurrence through mythological tales in which the body of a nymph fused with the child of Hermes, “the messenger of the gods,” and Aphrodite, “the goddess of sexual love and beauty”; hence the name hermaphrodite.  This term has stuck with us in Western culture as a catch-all phrase and is often used interchangeably with intersex in “standard medical literature”.

As “old news” as it may be, we rarely hear about intersexuality.  When we do discuss intersexual bodies, it is quite often met with contempt or fear, as it is human nature to fear what we do not know.  There is an absence of dialogue with the very real existence of human intersexuality in our modern society.  In writing “The Five Sexes,” Fausto-Sterling attempts to break through this wide-spread ignorance and open our minds to the concept of sexual variation.  Our lack of knowledge is due to a concentrated and collective effort by our Anglo-Saxon legal system, gendered language and westernized medicine to “correct” these “abnormalities” and further establish a culturally constructed two-party sexual system, that’s [re]produced as legitimate in the name of modern science.  These structural factors each play a part in our limited ability to understand and accept the gradations of sex in human biology.  Anne Fausto-Sterling quite effectively forces our socially accepted views of a two-sex system into question, as she proposes alternative methods for the medical and ethical treatment of those born intersexed.

Robert Gober, Untitled (Torso), 1990. Beeswax, human hair

This text proves entirely culturally relevant today as it did during the time of its first publication in March/April of 1993.  Legal documents such as birth certificates require[d] that as soon as an individual is born, they check off one of two designated boxes: male or female.  Fausto-Sterling explains some of the contemporary reasons behind this requirement:

“today it means being available for, or exempt from, draft registration, as well as being subject, in various ways, to a number of laws governing marriage, the family, and human intimacy.  In many parts of the United States, for instance, two people legally registered as men cannot have sexual relations without violating anti-sodomy statutes.”

It is apparent that social constraints over choosing a sex by our rigid definitions stem from an anxiety about human variation.

In order for these heterosexist systems of power to thrive, they must first divide us into two categorical boxes and then control our freedom to choose for our individual bodies.  One might view this article’s intended message as a moral imperative to argue for recognition of multiple sexes.  Fausto-Sterling contends that there are at least five sexes, with “many gradations running from female to male.”  The purpose of this number five is to challenge the concept of a two-sex system, which is so deeply embedded in and throughout Western culture.

Towards the end, Fausto-Sterling admits that even the number five constrains the vast variance of human sexual biology that is policed so thoroughly by social processes.

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What’s So Feminist About #Frankenstorm?

Several days ago, our class received an email from Professor Daniels suggesting that we respond to some current events touching on gender, race and feminism. Included in this email was a link to Professor Daniels’ recent blog post on Racism Review, titled, “Is (Hurricane) “Sandy” a White Name?” The article was insightful as it was informative. Daniels posed the significant question:

“Does it matter what name a storm gets called?”

After reading this post and several of its comments, I started to think about the chronic gendering of nature, which our [Western] culture has been guilty of throughout history; not to mention the inherent stigma attached to femininity. Among many thoughtful messages of safety and well-being, I received several texts and tweets referring to the so-called-bitchy nature of (Hurricane) Sandy: her brutal wrath; hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, etc. The implications of which are dangerous in reifying negative female stereotypes about uncontrollable emotional rage. Let us remember we are discussing a hurricane and not a woman when we discuss “Sandy” and its devastating effects. After all, many individuals refuse to conform to one such categorical gender, so why force natural disasters into that same [false] binary construction?

But beyond name blaming, there are many other issues surrounding this recent disaster, which indeed necessitate a feminist critique. And that leads us back to the discussion of a hurricane – the second consecutive hurricane to DIRECTLY impact the New York-New Jersey area, among many other 2011/2012 tropical storms, since 2011’s Hurricane Irene. Now I may not be very old, nor wise, but I have lived in southern New York all my life – that’s twenty-some-odd years – and I can assure you that THIS IS NOT NORMAL. What I mean by normal is normative weather for a location like the north-eastern United States. And if you haven’t already guessed it, yes I am referring to global warming.

Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding! I said it: the controversial buzz word of all dismal realities. And I hope it goes without saying that what New York & New Jersey are experiencing right now include the devastating effects of one such complicated occurrence. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has publicly announced his support for incumbent presidential candidate Barack Obama on the basis that opposing candidate Governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney has not adequately acknowledged the effects of man-made global warming and thereby has not contributed to the safeguarding of our fair city of New York (and not to mention the planet).

“Mr. Obama was the better candidate to tackle the global climate change that he believes might have contributed to the violent storm, which took the lives of at least 38 New Yorkers and caused billions of dollars in damage.” -Mayor Michael Bloomberg

I took this photograph right outside my sister’s apartment on East 26th Street, between 1st and 2nd Avenue in Manhattan on October 30, 2012.

So what makes climate change a feminist issue? Climate change is planetary change, meaning it affects every intricate level of [human] life. It dictates population control policies, public control over drinking water versus private, adequate access to contraception, education and the right to work, to name a few. So as New Yorkers, we are currently dealing with the immediate effects of Hurricane Sandy – in the wake of all its chaos and destruction – but I encourage all my fellow citizens of the planet to wake up and observe the larger picture, the one that is STARING us all in the face.

Let us remember that on election day this November, when we cast our votes for the consequential in/action of environmental protection by the United States for the next four years…

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Transgressive Bodies and the Capitalization of Obesity

In 1978, psychotherapist Susie Orbach published a book about binge eating disorders titled, Fat Is A Feminist Issue.  Orbach gained her then-revolutionary status and popular credibility by and through working with stars like Princess Diana, but her book spoke directly to women as something of a prescriptive teaching tool: how NOT to fear being thin…how food is not “the enemy…”  This title no doubt homogenized all “fat” experiences to fit that particular mold of binge eating disorders; we know this to be untrue for a multitude of lived realities.  One book review understands the textual mission as that which is both healing to the corporeal form as it is to the psyche:

“By uncovering deeply held fears and beliefs, women can understand how they use food to fill emotional and psychological needs” (goodreads).

But could corporeal experiences really be that simple? That individual cognitive-behavioral/self-help therapy could fix, person by person, body by body? That women eat to feed their psychological hunger, and that psychological hunger is inwardly driven and self-derived? As an undergraduate being trained in the Sociological tradition, I tend to think that nothing is ever really that simple. Guest lecturer Melissa Campbell would agree with that sentiment, having made mention of those larger, structural forces at work in the complex social landscape that we call the good old USA. She brought up Orbach’s book last Thursday as a means by which to introduce certain theories surrounding the construction of self within and against differing notions of fat: fat is unrestrained consumption taking over the organismfat is an alien life form wrapped around the true self. And it’s THIS very concept that Orbach reproduces in her book, Fat Is A Feminist Issue.

Guest lecturer Melissa Campbell (@pluralisms) drew something like this on the board last Thursday, October 25, to represent the conflicting message of body/self derived from Susie Orbach’s book, FAT IS A FEMINIST ISSUE

Campbell spoke to, “fat as a manifestation of societal pressures on women’s bodies and emotions,” as well as to the consequential visibility and invisibility of fat bodies: “not fat people, fat bodies.” In other words, we dehumanize people when we reduce them to their adipose tissue. Just google the hot button word, “obese,” and you’ll find countless headless bodies! Without faces, without identities: their humanity denied to them by the eye of we who gaze.

Indeed it is a very mechanical process: we numerize the calories in versus calories expended, we quantify pounds gained versus pounds lost. We measure behavioral successes and failures, which are morally-based, according to such empirical measures of body mass. This is, yet again, biopower hard at work, as discussed by Zoë C. Meleo-Erwin in her work on, “‘A beautiful show of strength’: Weight loss and the fat activist self.” Meleo-Erwin discusses obesity in those terms defined by our social culture: as risk as well as epidemic. Public health responses, generally signaled by the hyper-visibility of ‘excess’ adipose tissue, require certain “containment” like an ‘out of control disease’ (Meleo-Erwin). In her work on weight loss surgeries, Karen Throsby talks about the war on fat – which in turn can be interpreted as biopower’s war on deviant bodies.

But wait, why all this “waging war” on obesity? Where do these discursive powers stem from?

Underscoring biopower is an undeniable capitalist intent by hegemonic powers all throughout the State-financial nexus we call America. Over the past ten to fifteen years or so, media representations of fat bodies as bad & fat bodies as simultaneously sick or unhealthy have dominated the billboards, magazines and television screens – not as desirable images of fashion – but rather as forewarning images of transgression, deviance and monstrosity.

These messages are read to us LOUD and clear: obesity is badness, obesity is disease, stop the spread of obesity for the sake of public health. This analysis of fat bodies gets complicated by social class, race and gender, as women are often condemned as bad mothers if they are fat mothers; the implications of such being an unhealthy role model causing her children bodily harm via fatty foods and an unfit lifestyle. No one really ever seems to ask about fat father’s and their role in potentially ‘poisoning the seed(s).’ Historically, women have always come under harsh attack when children do not produce as good, capitalist citizens  no matter the context – it was her fault.

Public service announcements, reality television series, morning talk shows and news network coverage all capitalize on obesity as epidemic so as construct images of health as images of beauty. But at the very same time, we are saturated with media telling us to CONSUME, CONSUME, CONSUME! Beautiful people on television commercial advertisements bite into big, juicy, McDonald’s hamburgers but then TLC tells us, “Honey, We’re Killing The Kids.”

(I used to watch this show in Health class, both in Middle School as well as in High School); obesity rhetoric is also deployed as educational, as it simultaneously propels multimillion dollar industries, such as mass media as well as pharmaceuticals. Check out this interesting article, posted by Professor Daniels via Twitter, on “Why the ‘war on fat’ is a scam to peddle drugs.” But no matter the context, obesity rhetoric and representations of bodies in peril instruct the viewer how to read these discourses: fat bodies are the physical, material embodiment of hyper-consumption, which we are taught as good, passing citizens, to not only practice but to simultaneously hate as well.

But therein lies a contradiction of neoliberal proportions – fore we cannot trace a linear path from hard, ethical [body] work (i.e. diet and exercise) to weight loss, and furthermore to societal conceptions of beauty, just as we cannot trace a direct line from hard work to socioeconomic success, especially in the United States where freedom of opportunity does not translate into freedom of equality. How, then, are we to think freely residing under such conflicting discursive powers of governmentality?

It is imperative that we remain critical of biopower hard at work in its deployments of bodily regulation via media representations and public health rhetoric. Tracing the effects such discourses have on women’s bodies is key to contemporary feminist theory; those intersections of capital, class, race and gender are crucial to our understanding of how biopower operates and how it mobilizes itself so efficiently – as we are the mechanism by which bodies are policed.

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Halloween Costumes of Girl World: Sick Trick or Sweet Treat?

Hopefully you all remember the scene from Tina Fey‘s 2004 comedy, Mean Girlswhere it’s Halloween, and Lindsay Lohan’s character, Cady, says:

“In the real world, Halloween is when kids dress up in costumes and beg for candy. In Girl World, Halloween is the one day a year when a girl can dress up like a total slut and no other girls can say anything else about it.”

Well Cady, I’m not so sure there’s any real separation between so-called-“Girl World” and the real one we’re all living in today. In fact, there’s really no division when you account for all the influence one ideological realm has over the other. Young girls watch television where beautiful, busty women fill out their costumes like Playboy Bunnies with seemingly effortless ease. Likewise, young girls interact with one another, in such cliques as those displayed in Mean Girls, learning how to perform their gender properly via socialization in “Girl World.” When I refer to Fey’s construction of “Girl World,” I am indeed referring to that social landscape in which certain young ladies of a certain socioeconomic status inhabit, one from which I, in many ways, came from: having grown up a white, middle class girl in Long Island, New York.

Long Island was a lot like you what think of when images of suburbia enter your mind: freshly mowed green lawns, white picket fences, trees (instead of skyscrapers). And I remember one particular October 31st, it was a beautiful autumnal afternoon and my friends and I were all dressed up for trick or treating. It was our freshman year of high school, so we were smack dab in the middle of Girl World, which I conceptualize more as a temporal location (as well as sociocultural) rather than a physical place. Our costumes were short, tight and what some might call scandalous. A middle aged woman passing by my front lawn, with her ten year old daughter in tow, said with shameless disgust,

“See? No wonder someone was raped on this block not too long ago. Those SLUTS are gonna get it!”

My freshman year of high school: Christine (me, top left) the “army brat,” Amanda (bottom left) the “pink fairy,” Emily (center) the “red devil,” and Ali (right) the “1920’s flapper girl.” Long Island, NY.

And I can remember the sting of her words. I can remember the instant guilt I felt in snapping this photo (above). Was I dressed like a slut? Was I a [Halloween] slut? How had Girl World suddenly collapsed with the real one? Why were my friends and I not accepted as the army brats, pink fairies, red devils and 1920’s flapper girls that we were trying to emulate? Instead, we were branded sluts, and according to my former neighbor, worthy of one such heinous crime as rape. This type of mentality is the direct offspring of an entire culture of ignorance, known as rape culture. Rape culture refers to that patriarchal society in which we reside (within which Girl World and the real world simultaneously dwell). It is a social environment that accepts rape as normative – even natural – thereby placing blame and responsibility on victims of rape, whom, according to rape culture, did not successfully avoid the so-called-inevitability of asking for it.

Some popular ideas surrounding this notion of rape and rape culture include (but are not limited to):

…Don’t dress too revealing…

Don’t walk/drive alone late at night…

Always watch your drink at parties…

The implication always being that if s/he failed to comply with any of these regulatory rules, then they stupidly put themself at risk for having their body violated.

If I could go back in time, I would tell that woman about the powerfully dangerous ignorance she was perpetuating to her daughter by calling us sluts, and by forewarning her daughter about the invitation to bodily violation via Halloween costumes. What a terrible, terrible thing to do, to teach young girls that there is shame attached to the body, and that they alone carry the extraordinary burden of responsibility. How dare we teach children: “don’t get raped,” as if that is ever any person’s intended goal. It is time we begin targeting the source(s) of violence in and around rape culture; it is time we begin to teach the rhetoric of, “don’t rape,” as stranger rape is far less common than familiar or familial rape.

For information on SlutWalk and its mission(s), check out this NY Mag article.

This blog post is not to occlude those pressing realities surrounding the hyper-sexualization of girls and self identified women in society, namely surrounding the American Halloween season in which underage girls dress like (well, let’s face it) Playboy Bunnies. This blog post is specifically targeted at the rape culture which I, myself, experienced in Girl World, where to my shock & dismay, ‘I was not allowed to dress like a slut, since other girls did say something bad about it,’ Tina Fey! This blog post is intended to interrogate rape culture and to challenge its debilitating rhetoric.

No matter who you are, No matter where you work, No matter how you identify, No matter how you flirt, No matter what you wear, No matter whom you choose to love, No matter what you said before: NO ONE has the right to touch you without your consent.” –SlutWalk NYC

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LiLo the Monster: Biopower Hard At Work

French social theorist Michel Foucault first coined the term “biopower” in his 1978 three-volume study of sexuality titled, The History of Sexuality.  Foucault was referring to the national-State practices of policing, regulating and moralizing bodies according to constructed ideals of so-called-good health and the ideal bodily form, that is no doubt racialized as it was gendered.  Furthermore, Foucault attributed such deployments of hegemonic discourse to the national-State desire for control over populations: “an explosion of numerous and diverse techniques for achieving the subjugations of bodies.”  Today when we talk about biopower, it is often not in reference to the governmentality of national States, but rather to the societal policing of one another and of selves.  Indeed, we are the mechanism by which hegemony gets produced and reproduced.  Need some evidence?  No problem!  Look no further than celebrity gossip blogs, magazine articles and news coverage of Lindsay Lohan (LiLo) and her infamous struggles with addiction.

Editor Jeffrey Jerome Cohen would have us believe that the public rise and fall of LiLo is nothing new.  His Monster Theory details numerous case and points in which cultural perceptions and expectations of transgression are imprinted onto the body of the monster.  In his article, he attempts to read cultures by and through the “monsters they engender” – meaning we designate the boundaries of what passes as acceptable and what gets demonized as monstrous.  Monstrosity has taken many forms throughout histories and throughout cultural contexts but one truth remains the same, Cohen warns us, that: “Monsters are our children,” in that they are our creations produced through our imaginations; “They ask us to reevaluate our cultural assumptions about race, gender, sexuality, our perception of difference, our tolerance toward its expression.”  Monsters are telling in this way.

I have no doubt that we, as a society, have transformed celebrity identities into dialectical Others: embodying a larger than life quality and simultaneous monstrosity all at once.  It is against these constructions of monstrosity that we regulate ourselves.  We punish transgression in the form of public, online condemnation.  Celebrity online blogger, Perez Hilton, details [his take on] the chronology of LiLo’s various court dates, familial interactions and Tweets to fans – facilitating a forum through which his followers can then partake in comment wars, in which they contribute their own opinions and advice surrounding LiLo’s ‘addictions’ to “partying,” “drugs,” and “drinking [alcohol].”


Guest lecturer and Sociologist, Rebecca Tiger, traces public insistence upon two dueling conceptions of addition: 1.) “that addiction is a disease that should…be fixed” by punitive measures (i.e. incarceration and/or institutionalized rehabilitation), and 2.) “that addiction is a disease that…can’t…be fixed.”  So therein lies a paradox for those transgressive (i.e. addicted) bodies.  There is a simultaneous construction of addiction that embodies both badness as well as sickness.  These two manifestations of deviance work together in order to strengthen the call to biopower; the desire of knowledge and to control deviant bodies is what drives our online obsessions to ridicule the monster and to ultimately justify her imprisonment, as consequence of her wasted self.  Juxtaposed to these images of deviance are certain fetishized images of ‘good health’ as both a physical and moral state of superiority.  Indeed, we fetishize the so-called-natural body and, ironically, strive for it.  If something is natural, then why is it so darn difficult to obtain? Hmm…

These reproductions of biopower feed into the system that which exercises its surveillance power over populations.  This is the very same [American] system which has successfully incarcerated more people than any other industrialized national-State in the world, but has rather unsuccessfully done much of anything to STOP drug use.  Perhaps by punishing individuals, it has lost sight of those much larger, structural factors of society that are more truly to blame.  And of course when I say “it,” I mean that mechanism which we occupy – by which we govern.

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Shattered Illusions: ‘Intervention’ and How A&E Got Rich Off of Recovery

Do these faces look familiar?

These are the faces of A&E’s hit reality television series, Intervention.

Each of them are white and every one of them has their own story to tell, or rather has a version of their story told for them – by friends, family and the show’s network narrators. I have been watching this series on and off for a couple of years now. It is very intriguing and, needless to say, has brought its network (A&E) so much success, that can be measured in both dollars as well as credibility. In fact, Intervention reports a 70% success rate for its “participants” – using a method of intervention known as the Johnson style. This traditional model typically yields a 30% – 40% success rate, meaning that those who undergo one such style of intervention report sobriety one year after treatment. But the folks down at A&E have separate standards by which they measure success. In her lecture earlier today, Professor Daniels shared with our class that several people have died since their episode featured on A&E, but were counted as “successes” simply for having completed their 30-day-or-so treatments.

But aside from revealing those not-so-inspiring truths about Intervention’s so-called-success rates, Professor Daniels lecture and article on, “INTERVENTION: REALITY TV, WHITENESS, AND NARRATIVES OF ADDICTION,” did work to truly deconstruct those narratives told by A&E’s Intervention, exposing their representative biases. The show is predominantly heteronormative, in that it almost exclusively deals with heterosexual individuals – rarely featuring those identifying as gay, lesbian or bisexual. Furthermore, the show is totally cisgender in that it has not featured transgender individuals or those identifying as genderqueer (i.e gender identities other than man or woman, which do not adhere to binary categories of cisgender normativity). In terms of sexual diversity, Intervention consistently ignores the wide ranging reality of sex-gender variance among ‘substance abusers’ alike.

So what are the dangers in framing representations solely along heteronormative lines? It occludes differences among what substances impact which communities (and how). It undermines the legitimacy of human variance. How can something (or someone) be regarded with any real validity if it (or s/he) continues to go unrecognized? But those blind spots (unfortunately) do not stop at sex, gender and/or sexuality. Intervention features [cisgender] men and women equally on their program – meaning 50% of the episodes feature men and 50% feature women. However, this seemingly non-biased representation of addiction is skewed. Real life statistics paint a very different picture pertaining to substance abuse and gender.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA):

  • Any use of alcohol is reported by 58% of males and only 48% of females
  • Binge drinking is reported by 31% of males and only 15% of females
  • Heavy alcohol use is reported by 11% of males and only 3% of females

In all cases, males accounted for more or heavier usage of alcohol, which just happens to be the predominant substance featured on A&E’s Intervention as the abused drug of choice. But in the case for alcohol consumption/abuse, women are being over-represented, as such 50/50 narratives of addiction do not properly mirror reality. Daniels further elaborates on such (mis)representations in her piece on, “INTERVENTION: REALITY TV, WHITENESS, AND NARRATIVES OF ADDICTION,” as she deconstructs the show’s deployment of medicalization, biopower, and governmentality. These Foucaultian buzz words indicate certain regulated processes of policing bodies that are racialized as they are gendered, according to strict standards of health and morality.

We have discussed some of the ways in which A&E’s Intervention disproportionately features women as addicts, and furthermore how the show systemically constructs a heteronormative binary world of just men and just women; failing to mirror reality on both accounts. Daniels also focuses on the series’ depiction of addiction as whiteness in crisis. That is, social privilege being wasted: “wasted whiteness,” as the show rarely features men and women of color. This works to reify certain punitive measures surrounding race and addiction that are present in society at large; that is to say that the State penal system punishes racial/ethnic minorities while “self-sufficient [white] citizens” are subjected to more “neoliberal regimes” of bodily regulation.

…whites make up 63.7% and Latinas/os make up 16.3% of the general U.S. population, 4 yet Latinas/os only appear as characters in 6% of episodes of Intervention. African Americans make up 12.6% of the U.S. population, while only 4% of those appearing on Intervention are black. Asian and Pacific Islanders make up 5% of the U.S. population and appear on Intervention as main characters 1% of the time (Daniels 7)…

We can draw parallels from the show’s narratives of addiction to the ways by which we conceive of race and addiction in our every day lives. By constructing addiction as both badness as well as sickness, A&E’s Intervention effectively justifies popular notions of moralizing health that are the productive rhetoric of biopower (hard at work). The show’s representations of race, ethnicity, sex, sexuality and gender contribute to hegemony, as they are skewed. It is imperative that we remain critical of these makeover reality television series, which aim to construct certain capitalist qualities as desirable (i.e. heterosexual relationships, and in the case for women, beauty).

Let us unpack these narratives, so as to reveal the neoliberal mechanisms by which they have been articulated.

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The Stinky Truth About Pink

Have you ever seen one of these pink ribbons on an advertisement or on a product you were expected to buy and started to feel really bad about yourself?  Or have you ever seen on of these pink ribbons and felt rather hopeful, encouraged and/or empowered?  That if you support this little pink ribbon, you are helping to save lives and if you do not, then you are somehow not helping to save lives?

If you answered YES to any of the above, then you are not alone!  The pink breast cancer ribbon is a symbol that carries with it many different meanings for many different people, but it often gets produced and reproduced as a symbol of hope, empowerment and survival.  This is all very well and good for those individuals diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer, whose likelihood of survival is greater than those diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer.  The mantra goes: early detection is your best protection…

There are several things I now find problematic about that mentality and about the breast cancer pink ribbon, after having viewed in class Pink Ribbons, Inc. , which is a documentary film offering an alternative perspective to the current capitalism surrounding cause-related marketing and the like.  One might ask the obvious question, What is cause-related marketing?

Well, it’s exactly this:

…and it’s exactly that:

…both advertisements of products indicate the popular notion that a breast cancer diagnosis is a call to battle, “the crusade,” (as Avon would say).  Those who fight either win and become survivors or those who lose…didn’t fight hard enough?  No.  So why do ad’s like these imply such nonsense?  Because it sells like pink ribbon hot cakes.

Cause-related marketing is motivated by the drive to earn a profit – first and foremost.  Capitalists capitalize on the opportunity to turn a profit by means of catering to consumer emotions surrounding the close-to-home realities of breast cancer.  Wanna help find a cure?  No problem!  Just lick as many pink yogurt lids as you can, stick them inside an envelope when you’re done and mail them to the address so as to find a cure.  Simple.

Only it’s not so simple.  In fact, finding a cure to breast cancer is a LOT more complicated than Avon or Yoplait might have you believe.  Did you know that there are at least five different kinds of breast cancer that affect the breast tissue differently?  Neither did I, until the makers of Pink Ribbons, Inc. opened my eyes to some of the more dismal realities of breast cancer. Like: 1.) We currently do not know the causes of breast cancer, 2.) Hundreds upon thousands of women – in this country alone – are diagnosed yearly, while tens of thousands of women annually die as a result of breast cancer, and 3.) Almost all cause-related marketing schemes promise to donate a portion of their profits to ‘finding the cause.’  The biggest problem with finding a cause to a cancer we know very little about is just that: WE KNOW VERY LITTLE ABOUT WHAT CAUSES IT IN THE FIRST PLACE.  Or do we?

In fact, many of the companies advertising to sympathetic consumers contain cancer-causing ingredients in the very products they sell as to “save lives” – *cough* *cough* Estee Lauder *cough* *cough* – ESPECIALLY beauty products that are marketed toward female consumers!  The nature of this business is selling promises that are false as they are tactical.  Consumers are misguided by the pink, enchanting allure of finding the ambiguous cure to a cancer that is much more complex than licking yogurt lids, no matter how delicious that yogurt may be.

It’s certainly difficult in our cultural economy but it is very much possible to be a supporter of the cure(s) to breast cancer by means of CRITICAL CONSUMPTION.  Know the toxic ingredients that are manufactured in beauty products, so you know which ones to avoid granting further business and profit to.  Ask the foundation asking you for money: exactly where is my money going?  What kind of research is your organization supporting?  Fore there are many environmental factors (caused by air and water pollution and the like) that are likely contributors to breast cancers, just as there are synthetic ones (in beauty products), and the funds might support one kind of prevention research over another – if that research is prevention-based to begin with!

And to those whom are less fortunate, diagnosed with late-stage cancer, KNOW that these women are not losers of the battle.  In fact, they are resilient in their spirit to endure the popular notions of breast cancer battles, and to cope with the processes of living and dying.  This is not to take away from the inspirational strength of those who are fortunate enough to survive breast cancer, but rather to reshape our thinking of it in terms of the good fight – those coming out on top occluding the other side that unfortunately does not.  This is to call attention to the much needed demand for specialized, preventative research.

It’s like Samantha Jones (of Sex and the City says),

“Every year I attend this fucking breast cancer benefit and every year I see that fucking breast cancer cookie.  Now I don’t care about a breast cancer cookie and I had breast cancer!”

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2Pac: Critical Race Theorist


This past summer, I lived and worked in Brooklyn, New York.  How exotic, I know.  But my internship was only a couple of blocks away from where Christopher George Latore Wallace (AKA the Notorious B.I.G.; AKA Biggie Smalls) began his fame as a talented young rapper.  My Chief of Staff, at the District Office of Council Member Letitia James (@TishJames/@Tish2013) in Brooklyn’s 35th Council District, used to tell me about seeing him ‘way back when’ on the corners of Fulton and Saint James – nearby where our office was located.  I confessed in her office one day that while I had the utmost respect for Biggie, and the legacy he left behind for Brooklyn as a cultural center for rap and Hip Hop, that my heart truly lies with Tupac Amaru Shakur.  To my delight, she agreed, quoting lyrics from his, “Dear Mama:”

“And even as a crack fiend, mama
You always was a black queen, mama
I finally understand
for a woman it ain’t easy tryin to raise a man
You always was committed
A poor single mother on welfare, tell me how ya did it
There’s no way I can pay you back
But the plan is to show you that I understand
You are appreciated”

Later on that summer, I was on the phone with a friend of mine who had his own connection to Biggie: his mom, having grown up in Bedford–Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, was once approached by the young Christopher Wallace for a date – and supposedly told, “that fat boy,” NO, she was not interested.  I told him I had just finished watching a documentary about the Notorious B.I.G. – but that I resented its depiction of Tupac as solely antagonistic (i.e. an East Coast-centric model of analysis).  He said to me, “Biggie was no doubt a talented rapper, but Tupac – he was something else – he was starting a revolution.”

Now this post isn’t to reify (yet another) false dichotomy of east coast/west coast Hip Hop rivalries, nor is it to claim any authority over who is better, which side wins and so on…  This post is talk more specifically about the late, great rapper and the lyrical legacy he left behind.  Contrary to many other opinions out there, I find Tupac’s rap music to be emblematic of scholarly critical race theory.  He pays careful attention to the dynamic roles of masculinity, white sepremacy, and the LAPD as a hegemonic mechanism of racist, patriarchal practices.  Tupac takes into account the history of the United States, including slavery, laws and policies representing social inequities and the systemic institution of discrimination and ghettoization of Black America.

One such example of this kind of critical work can be found in the lyrics to his song, “Panther Power” [see below].  Shakur’s mother was a former Black Panther and refers to Black Panther co-founder, Huey P. Newton, in his famous song, “Changes” (i.e. “It’s time to fight back, that’s what Huey said.  Two shots in the dark, now Huey’s dead”).

Beyond his observations and critiques of the complicated space he occupied, Tupac presented conflicting messages when it came to feminism and feminist ideology.  Many people will accuse Shakur of his misogynistic views of woman, his use of derogatory language toward women, etc.  I could go on and on about how [I believe] Marion “Suge” Knight (AKA co-founder and former CEO of Death Row Records) to be powerfully influential on Tupac’s aggressive demeanor later on in his career.  If you take the time to watch as many documentaries [about Tupac] as I have, you might come across certain material portraying Tupac as, dare I say, feminist.  Take a look at this film footage of Tupac discussing transformative potentials of youth, gender equity and respect toward women at the age of 17:

If I have the opportunity to pursue graduate school, I would love to write my dissertation on Tupac’s lyrics as deeply layered and representative of late, twentieth century critical race theory.  His music was profoundly influential as his image was widely controversial.  Tupac embodied all that has been demonized in the history of the [main-stream] United States.  Clearly, I am slightly biased in my admiration for his unique voice and presence in the tradition of rap music and in contemporary social landscapes, but I would resist depicting Tupac in the angelic light I [most likely] have done so in this blog post.  The music and words he produced make for compelling social critiques, dialogues and theories surrounding racism, sexism, hegemony and a critical moment in 1990s America.


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HOLLABACK Pre-Rally Interviews: Interactions With Public Spaces

Feminists Using New Media To Fight Back

I presented this video-audio presentation at a NYC Hollaback Rally to raise awareness of street harassment, which is a form of violence.  Thank you to all my peers who allowed me to interview them for this Vlog!

Short Video Assignment #2: Produce a 1-3 minute rally speech as though you are attending a Slutwalk or Hollaback rally in the city that you live in, or country where you/your family are from. Make sure to address the issues facing harassment and/or pornography and violence of that specific location, city, country. (Due Monday 10/8 by midnight.)

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Speaking For Other People’s Vaginas

Yeah, I said it: VAGINAS!  I like to think it’s not a dirty word and yet the word itself evokes oh so many emotions for us all.  Please let me begin this post by acknowledging several of its inspirations (among many): Sigmund Freud and his theories on the female orgasm, Anne Koedt and her 1970 piece on, “The Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm,” Eve Ensler and her famous play The Vagina Monologues, Dina Siddiqi [of Hunter College] and her course in Transnational Feminisms as well as Jaclyn Friedman and her lecture on how feminist digital activism is like the clitoris (e.g. “it’s misunderstood, not a button, more complex than it looks – the tip of the iceberg – part of a larger system,” etc.).

Even in 2012, vaginas are a touchy subject.  There are a lot of people who have tackled this issue, who have written about vaginas and filmed documentary films about vaginas and given lectures about vaginas.  But, having read and watched and listened to many of these compelling stories, arguments and theses, my question remains the same: Who has the authority to homogenize vaginas?  And the answer, I say with absolute certainty, is NO ONE.

Don’t get me wrong, Eve Ensler did incredible things with her ground breaking play, The Vagina Monologues, and with her V-Day [anti-violence] campaign.  But if you watch a production of the show, you can’t help but notice a somewhat racist, albeit unintentional, trend of white vaginas being liberated and non-white vaginas being tortured by various manifestations of gender violence.  If you watch her documentary on V-Day, you will also see her organization donating funds to stop the practicing of female genital modifications (labeling it “mutilation”) in parts of Africa by providing means of transportation to educate the youth on gender violence; young African girls learn the difference between what a healthy and what an unhealthy vagina look like.  Ensler’s work mobilizes corporeal ideals of the global north, silencing many voices that are otherwise eclipsed.

Take a course in Transnational Feminisms and you will come across some not-so-widely-well-known literature about female genital modification.  As a student of the global north, I myself was taken aback by the ideas surrounding ‘pro-choice,’ when it came to genital modifications (FGM).  But how can that be considered choice?  What [self identified] woman would choose to mutilate her body?  It must be that she has internalized her cultural norms so much so that she is blind to her own oppression.  Thoughts like these are typical of a so-called-Western mind, shaped heavily by Euro-American discourses of universal human rights, etc.

Adopting a transnational perspective might resolve some of these dividing tensions by its strong resistance to homogenizing narratives.  Indeed, some cases of FGM are absolute incidences of physical abuse.  However, other cases are quite different.  There are [self identified] women whom identify as post-colonial feminists and who advocate for feminisms (i.e. plural) so as to accommodate for the voices that aren’t heard on the international scale.  In many cases, these women are fighting for the local rights of girls and self identified women, and ask that global north feminists not intervene so as to reify First World-Third World dichotomies that are rather neo-colonial in nature.  In some other cases, global south feminists are advocating for ‘pro-choice’ policies, as some women construct their senses of beauty and sexuality around the symbolism of FGM.

Pro-choice seems like a relatively fair way to go, especially considering all the voices that are silenced in the global debates as well as all the factors that are otherwise occluded in the politics of saving in the global north; Why are we so focused on vaginas and so inconsiderate of malnutrition?  Those like concerns of malnutrition, starvation and poor drinking water impact the very same objects of scrutiny surrounding FGM.  But there’s plenty room for discussion about these charged debates in the Comments section as well as on Twitter!

I want to shift this topic of vaginas over to the O word, and what some so-called-experts on the matter have to say about it.  After all, science is a loaded term that has been deployed by authoritative voices like Sigmund Freud and, you guessed it, Naomi Wolf.  In fact, their theories aren’t quite different.  Wolf recently wrote a book titled, Vagina – A New Biography, which I have not yet read (so please excuse the prematurity of my critique but I cannot help myself).  Most of what I know about this book derives from The New York Times review as well as from Friedman’s lecture on feminist digital activism.  Wolf attempts to homogenize all [heterosexual] vaginas into flowery goddesses who must ascend up the latter of orgasmic maturity: from clitoral, that is adolescent, to vaginal, that is superior.  Please allow me to invoke Friedman when I assert that the G-spot, to which Wolf is referring, is actually an extension of the clitoris and need not be isolated as its own royal entity; that “it is part of a larger system.”

Wolf’s book should be titled, Vagina – A Dated, Neo-Freudian, Auto-Biography, and recognized for its prescriptive To-Do-ness, which reminds me more of Cosmopolitan Magazine than anything resembling feminism.  Here is a message to Naomi Wolf and any ‘expert’ who claims to have cured women of their so-called-frigidity: Stop assuming that your vagina is just like everybody else’s vagina and that you have the inherent right to speak for other vaginas just because you yourself have a vagina.  It doesn’t work like that, or rather, it shouldn’t…anymore.

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Last Monday, October 1st, our Hons 201 class watched the documentary film titled, Live Nude Girls Unite!  The film followed Julia Query, a part-time comedian/ stripper whose higher education was based in Women’s Studies.  Query and her co-workers dance nude at a San Fransisco peep show strip club claiming to be “feminist,” called The Lusty Lady.  The club’s managers, however, would have rather handled their employees’ affairs privately as it were – and without accountability or respondibility to their staff in terms of basic social securities (i.e. no firing without just cause, sick-leave, sick-pay, holiday pay, privacy safeties and liveable wages).

But The Lust Lady staff had complaints extending beyond those issues of basic workers rights and care.  The way it worked was managers believed the most lucrative customers were those “white and Asian American business men” who so-called-preferred to see the white, blond stereotype up close and personal (i.e. in the ‘Private Eyes’ room).  Dancers who were booked for ‘Private Eyes’ showings made nearly double the earnings of a standard peep show viewing.  So the white, blond staff members (or the white staff members willing to dress up in blond wigs) were – by default – making more money in tips based on racizlied mangerial practices.

This documentary opened my eyes to one stubborn reality that many people have difficulty accepting and ultimately admitting: sex workers are workers [period].  They are not, “workers, too,” nor are they necessarily pursuing a temporary career path which is “fun” in all its non-permanence; managers at The Lusty Lady attempted to construct stripper job descriptions in this way.  I believe workers are entitled to rights as well as benefits.  I believe contracts help to ensure the safety and protection of workers’ rights.  There is a fundamental difference between being an employee of a business and being a private contractor utilizing company space.

In many if not most cases, strippers are considered to be – by law – “private contractors” utilizing the space inside peep-show strip clubs.  So in addition to making more in tips than actual wages, strippers are expected to pay a stage fee.  Many of the women interviewed during the filming of this documentary were paying large percentages of their weekly, bi-weekly or monthly income checks just to maintain the status of employment.  Peep-show strip club managers largely received more profit than the actual workers, whom according to their non-contracts were simply ‘private contractors’ and thereby unentitled to employee rights.

What Query and the staff at The Lusty Lady was empowering as it was transformative.  I think LIVE NUDE GIRLS UNITE brings to light a lot of issues that have previously occupied dark corners.  The concept of sex, sexiness and sexuality relating to race was a big, hot button issue on deck for workers of color at peep-show strip club, as many white staff members were receiving more [or the only] opportunities for higher pay through racialized managerial practices.  One of the club managers said ironically, “you know, some people actually find these women attractive,” referring to women of color (i.e. Asian American and African American club workers), and not just as the exoticized other.

from Google Images

This documentary also [re]shaped my perception of sex work as work and all the rights that go along with that notion of employee status.  If sex were not so tabou, maybe a conversation about sex workers rights could be further lifted out of the dark and into the light.

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“Democratization of the Gaze”

“Internet pushing more girls towards cyber bullying”; Submitted by Sahil Nagpal to TopNews.in on Mon, 05/11/2009

In the Surveillance & Society Film Review of Ondi Timoner’s 2009 documentary film titled, We Live in Public, Nathan Jurgenson upholds those beliefs proposed by Kahn & Kellner and so many other [cyber] social theorists that social media has inherently democratizing potential in it (hons201.pbworks).  Jurgenson details the various shifts taking place in the cybersocial world of social networking sites like Facebook: from panoptic surveillance of the many by the few, to the “omniopticon” in which, “individuals are not just passive consumers, but also producers of both content and the gaze” (Jurgenson, 377), which differs from the synoptic consumer experience in which the many watch the few (i.e. “people blankly starring at and consuming television images”) (377).  Social networking sites allow for one such omniopticon to manifest due to their interactive nature: users simultaneously consume and [re]produce images and ideas online via cyberspaces like twitter, MySpace, and WordPress.  This indeed has democratizing potentials as a grounds upon which grassroots activism can take root and grow through imbricated solidarity, that is the digital-material overlap of an online-era.

Interactive Social Media Users are Prosumers! From Google Images.

What is feminist about this?  Well, as we have learned about through course readings, cyberfeminism is a widely contested term for discussion, debate and dialogue.  It can be reduced down to a simple web definition of: “Cyberfeminism is a feminist community, philosophy and set of practices concerned with feminist interactions with and acts in cyberspace” (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyberfeminism).  Faith Wilding has defined this discourse in terms of an ongoing and expanding practice of feminist theory that recognizes how, “the digital environment has opened the territory of the Internet as a strategic field of artistic production and political intervention,” (feministwebproject.org/).  Cyberspace provides a digital space that can and has operated as a room of one’s own, to steal from Professor Daniels’ referencing Virginia Woolf’s extended essay on women’s access to education; that opportunity being granted by ‘money and a room of her own.’  This speaks to that complicated relationship to embodiment (i.e. are girls and self-identified women utilizing the internet as a means by which to escape or engage the body?)  That answer, we have discovered, is deeply nuanced.

In order to theorize the importance of embodiment online, it is first necessary to gauge an individual’s physical, social and historical location.  That is to say that earlier suggestions that the Internet might serve as an “escape” or a refuge from (female) embodiment implies a physical location, a social condition and a political context which may differ from, say, the white, heterosexual, gender-conforming or cisgender experience (hons201.pbworks).  In other words, the quest to formulate universal answers to transnational questions of difference defeat the purpose of constructive feminist theory.  Turning our focus to the affluent, white, heterosexual, gender-conforming experience reveals a number of contradictions to that democratizing ideology that professed the internet as liberating disembodiment.  In fact, many feminists argue that the social media’s particular reliance on the visual aspects of digital culture tends to reify surveillance culture and reproduces representations of gender that are hegemonic and therefore dangerous for those who transgress the codes of sex, gender and sexuality so deeply embedded in our society.

Jurgenson wrote about the refinement of representing one’s self on the internet.  He contested Josh Harris’ (of Timoner’s documentary, We Live in Public) claim that people will surrender their individual rights to privacy in pursuit of “15 minutes of fame everyday” (WeLiveInPublic).  But Jurgenson sees a world in which those who use the internet most utilize the most privacy settings on their social networking homepages.  And there are indeed statistics that will back up his claim.  Harris saw a changing world in which the so-called-rats in his social experiments paid the [ultimate] price of privacy in order to see and be seen (i.e. the omniopticon).  Embodiment continues to be an issue with which feminists grapple in the online world of advertisements, youtube videos, etc.  To occupy space, a presence, an identity on the web is to be recognized and thereby policed by the public.  Foucault would say something like we are the mechanism by which hegemony operates; in addition to and perhaps more prevalent than some top-down strategy of control, we whom interact with one another influence each others’ [re]presentation to the world.

Images of idealized perfection are represented & reproduced via interactive social media, thereby regulating bodies/policing embodiment. From Google Images.

This, we can see simply by signing onto Facebook or MySpace.  This is something to remain critical about when engaging online with interactive social media.  There are entire sites dedicated to showcasing Hot Facebook Girls whose photos have been extracted from Facebook and re-uploaded onto alternative websites.  Is this legal?  Probably not, since Facebook owns the web content of Facebook.  But these photos represent images of girls and self-identified women, bodies represented by the camera for the viewer, for the gaze.  Similar to ‘sexting,’ in which an intended audience might not be the only recipient of such explicit content, these photographs are not intended for the viewing eyes of ‘Hot Facebook Girls’ viewers, but they are anyway.  And so, here, privacy is of concern to say the least.

Facebook also offers a forum in which to interactively police bodies on pages such as: I Hate How Ugly Girls Don’t Think They Ugly, i love LOLING at ugly girls pictures, i hate it when ugly girls act like they so hot, and the hegemonic policing goes on…

**My posting links to these websites is simply to expose the examples of policing embodiment online and not to reinforce their problematic intent to hurt.

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