Monthly Archives: November 2012

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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