Monthly Archives: October 2012

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].”

from PEREZHILTON.COM

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

2pac.com

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.

PLEASE WATCH THIS LINK, ON TUPAC [AGE 17] ABOUT RESPECTING WOMEN.

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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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LIVE NUDE GIRLS UNITE: A Reflection

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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