Thoughtful Revolution


Category Archive

The following is a list of all entries from the Feminism category.

The Perfect-Girl Paradigm

(or, Why We Need To Shift The Way We Look At Young Women)

Embarrassing and little-known secret: For the first seven or eight years of my life, I had a serious fairytale habit. My second-wave egalitarian parents, who plied me early on with Legos and Girls Can Do Anything, looked on in horror as I devoured Disney movie after Disney movie, as I worked my way through crates full of the world’s fables, myths and princess stories, as I dressed myself in pint-size gowns that would put a wedding cake to shame. Granted, by third grade, I had started developing a critical eye towards said obsession, writing a book report that denounced the — and I quote — “sexism, ageism, racism, and lookism” of my favorite stories. (Clearly, little has changed since I had feet the size of Snickers bars.)

Thus, via this phase and the reactions it elicited, I learned something very quickly: that fairytales were bad and wrong because, among other reasons, they elevated female beauty to a stratospheric plane. In a fairytale, a woman is (generally) not recognized for her sense of humor, her fashion sense, or her terrific fastball; Prince Charming elevates her out of obscurity on the basis of extraordinary beauty. It is worth pointing out that that beauty cannot be on the level of “above average” or “cute.” The successful princess-to-be is always described in superlatives, her face the fairest in the land, her hair more golden than the radiant sun. There is no room for a single freckle — or, God forbid, a zit — on her narrow button of a nose. While it is certainly true that there are no ugly princesses, there are also no pretty princesses; a woman’s beauty must literally be beyond mortal imagination to register in a fairy-tale.

The problem is, even after I learned from the adults around me that intelligence, not beauty, is the important factor in a woman, I didn’t leave that paradigm behind.

And I’m not just talking about physical insecurity, though I am, despite my best efforts, humiliated by my body — it would take a small miracle for a young girl to grow up immersed in our culture and feel entirely comfortable in her own skin. No, I’m talking about the expectation of perfection we have for young women; when we are taught to literally replace beauty with intelligence in our judgment, that expectation (as abstract and flexible and fraught with nasty baggage as it is) can become as oppressive as the norms we seek to escape. There must, it seems, always be some impossible standard by which to judge a young girl, some self-improvement footrace with no finish line. 5.0 weighted GPA, captain of five different extracurriculars, glowing reports from teachers? Merely bright, in a corporate-establishment conformist valedictorian sort of way, a good test-taker, lacks originality and individual spark, we’ll never hear from her again. Prodigious artist, painting since she was five, a vision to rival the professionals? Would it be so hard for her to get a decent score on her SATs, or to bring home a sparkly report card for once? And of course, either of these exceptional young women would be judged in compound for the size of their waist, the length of their hair, the tint and clarity of their skin. By introducing intelligence as a benchmark on which to judge women (and it is a worthwhile benchmark, of course!) without fundamentally changing the form of our judgment, we’ve introduced another severe and poisonous invitation to self-loathing.

Is the ideal to return to the days when a woman’s intelligence, her creativity, her personal brilliance was discounted? Of course not, and it would be absurd even to propose that. But I’ve seen the smart, hard-working, strong women around me struggle with the fact that their many and varied achievements are just not enough, they’re never enough, by the standards on which we judge brightness. The chase for the elusive “genius” demarcation is exhausting and painful, as I’ve learned more and more in the scramble to set my own boundaries. A truly progressive, egalitarian system of evaluating individuals would replace the hyper-evaluation of single unachievable gifts (beauty, intelligence), with a more measured and case-by-case appreciation of a single person’s unique skills. It’s unrealistic, certainly, to expect that we as a society will wake up one day and stop setting yardsticks for women: after all, it took long enough just to add another system of measurement to those yardsticks. But we cannot claim that the fairy-tale-ification of intelligence, this Randian ideal of mental perfection, is a profound step in the right direction. Like beauty, it plays into the fiction of the “perfect girl” — a fiction that torments young women with its nonexistence, that undermines our self-confidence and constructive growth as we strive to build ourselves into it.

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Feminist Self-Definition

(or, a post in which I do it.)

My feminist awakening, I admit, took place mostly via the Internet — that grand, interactive, fragmented world of thought — and as such, I’ve never quite been allowed to be “just” a feminist. One is a Feministing type, or a Shakesville type, or an IBTP type, each with their own connotations, styles, and set strands of belief. And I’ve flirted with each of these categories in chronological order, then had difficulty with each and moved on to the next. Right now, my feminism seems to be floating in cyberspace, often-but-not-always found via Natalia Antonova or various tumblrs, not always streamlined to any given style. And in real life, folks generally take it for granted that, when I say “feminist,” I’m referring to whatever belief set the listener associates with the word. Suffice it to say, I’m rarely asked to define my feminism.

My feminism is fluid. It’s sex-positive (mostly), empathetic (hopefully), and thick with analysis (though not always well-phrased).

My feminism is staunchly pro-choice, even if the choice you might make in any given situation is a different choice than mine.

My feminism is predicated on intersectionality, even if you or I are most passionate about non-identical areas of that intersectionality, even if I may sometimes be clueless enough not to see the intersections as they reveal themselves.

My feminism is a constant flow of learning and maturation, even if that means that I will make (and that I will have to politely correct) dreadfully stupid mistakes.

My feminism is always in favor of sexual autonomy and pleasure, even if your route to that pleasure is unappealing to me, or vice versa.

My feminism wants to move beyond the gender binary, both in allowing me to define my own gender and persona and by inviting others to enjoy that same freedom; my feminism is conscious of the ways in which the patriarchy oppresses cis men, and cis women, and trans men, and trans women, and the many of us who don’t fit cleanly onto one point of the spectrum, and my feminism wants that vast party of people under its umbrella.

My feminism does not inevitably dress its mouthpiece in sleek blond hair, a wasp waist, a delicately tapered middle finger — my feminism knows how alienating it can be to enter a supposedly progressive world where I (in all my stubby frizzy bespectacled Russian Jewish glory) am no more accepted as a “face of the movement” than I would be on the staff of Vogue. My feminism can be painted in many skins, and many textures, and many lengths and breadths, on many diverse canvases.

My feminism can be all of my life or a sliver of it; I can be, say, a proud feminist activist who does some calculations on the side, or a mathematician whose feminism is only one integrated part of my wide-ranging identity.

My feminism is about conversation over rhetoric, open ears over closed-mindedness.

My feminism can’t help but chant that old slogan — “The personal is political” — my feminism is rife with raw emotion and the power of one’s own experience, and with the close-knit bond that comes of hearing someone else speak.

My feminism understands the limitations of the computer screen as a means of consciousness-raising.

My feminism grapples constantly with cognitive dissonance, with the pernicious effects of internalized sexism, and allows for myriad solutions to that cognitive dissonance without assuming that anyone has “just not thought deeply enough.”

My feminism is shaped by family and friends, by lovers and writers, by harrowing experiences and empowering ones, by Sleater-Kinney and my mother’s yellowing sheaf of folk songs, by the front page and the editorial page, by self-education and the mentorship of others, by a literary culture that doesn’t know what to make of women and a feminist world with its own rich reading list, by vegans and omnivores and childfree folks and mothers of three, by the figures I love and loathe, by the pants that never seem to fit and the knapsacks that always do, by the burden of understanding that I will never be beautiful enough or bright enough, thin enough or moral enough, by the struggle of accepting worlds of privilege, by the chill that runs down my spine when I see something change within or without me.

My feminism is not my own. It’s shared by individuals and organizations across the world, by people of all ages and experience levels coming into themselves. It’s sometimes flatly wrong, it’s sometimes well-meaning and still wrong, it’s still developing and riddled with the confusion of a baby-duckling philosophy finding its feet. And sometimes my faith in it flags, sometimes I question it until it’s punched full of doubtful holes, and then I’ll wake up the next morning and find it welcoming me back, altered slightly but suffused with its own strength. My feminism scares me sometimes, and sometimes it weighs heavy when I’m trying to balance it with the minutiae of my life, and it’s radiant even when it’s napping at the back of my mind. My feminism is one of my many homes, its threshold always open to me, and even in my darkest days I find myself coming back to the door.


Things that Taste Better than Skinny Feels (and Why This Post Is Worth Writing)

As I’m sure everyone is, by now, probably aware, Kate Moss (waiflike model of ’90s fame) was recently quoted as saying this: “Nothing tastes better than skinny feels.”

Come up with at least 5 problems with that statement. In 30 seconds. And if you can’t — which is highly unlikely — I’ll supply a few: use of pro-ana rhetoric that smacks of garden-variety “thinspiration,” reinforcement of a single attractive body type, reinforcement of the artificial [fat=gluttony-laziness-disease]/[skinny=glowing-with-perfect-health] dichotomy, refusal to acknowledge the diversity of female experience, unoriginal repetition of a retrograde diet mantra that has existed, in some form, for decades.

And finally: I believe, with all my mind, body and soul, that a hell of a lot of things taste better than skinny feels.

Before I start enumerating those culinary pleasures, there’s a word or two left to say. Posts on the subject by fellow bloggers have raised enough questions that I figure I ought to attempt some answers preemptively; below is a reflection that I hope will address any qualms.

Disclaimer. The last time I could reasonably have been accounted “skinny,” I was three years old. I have struggled with my weight all my life; the only way I could return to a state of skinny — much less Kate Moss skinny — would be through full-out starvation, and indeed I was at my thinnest when, in tenth grade, I stopped eating for extended periods of time. Ergo, for me, skinny feels lousy and unhealthy and unnatural. Would someone who was naturally pencil-thin feel the same way? Of course not, and it’s insulting to assume so. But I don’t mean to relish the pleasures of food as a covert way of saying “eat a sandwich”. I also don’t mean to imply that those who suffer from eating disorders could just cast all their troubles away if they wanted because this food tastes so darn good. Because that’s been a major concern with many “Things that Taste Better than Skinny Feels” posts, and justifiably.

But feminist blogging is meant as a safe space for everyone, and a safe space not only to take on problems but to embrace pleasures that patriarchy has traditionally withheld from women. Yes, I realize that it is triggering for folks with eating disorders to read list after list of favorite foods — I’ve been there, I know. So, too, is it triggering for women with vulvodynia or other physical barriers to sexual pleasure to read about the joys of sex. Does that mean that, for an arena to be properly sensitive and feminist, all positive discussion of food or sex must be scrapped? Such a move seems counterintuitive to me, even as I understand the motivation behind it. Food, like sex — though arguably more so — is something that society discourages women from enjoying; in what might be colloquially called “the real world,” visible enjoyment of food is too often suppressed or accompanied by the requisite fat talk. A feminist blog is designed as a safe space, and in that vein should be a haven not only for complaints but for pleasures that we are, as a general rule, not supposed to express. I can’t talk about food when I sign off the computer — my ability to discuss it online is as much a prerogative, and a feminist prerogative, as yours to avoid discussion of it. That has been an operating principle of this blog, and if it seems repugnant and hyperprivileged, please feel free to call me out.

And without further ado, a few “Things That Taste Better Than Skinny Feels.” (These are not all vegan. I am not all vegan. And that’s that.)

1) Ben and Jerry’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream.
2) Fried rice, browned all over and slightly burnt on the bottom, or coconut rice.
3) Alfajores. I had about thirty of these in Argentina: a pair of cakey sugar cookies, sandwiched together with oodles of dulce de leche and smothered in coconut shavings. Mmmm.
4) Hot chocolate with vanilla extract and whipped cream.
5) Fettuccine pomodoro.
6) Crusty Italian bread with olive oil and cracked pepper.
7) Spring mix salad with oil and vinegar.
8) Sauteed mushrooms.
9) Cucumber tea sandwiches.
10) Pumpkin anything. I’m a big fan of pumpkin soup.
11) Panang tofu.
12) Green curry over seitan and broccoli.
13) Crepes stuffed with grilled vegetables.
14) Vegan With A Vengeance’s coconut cupcakes.
15) New Mexico-style vegetarian Frito pie, with plenty of green chile.
16) Yuan Fu’s “chicken” with cashew nuts.
17) Shahi paneer.
18) Really excellent pad thai.
19) Sourdough bread with avocado, lettuce and red pepper hummus.
20) Potbelly’s Vegetarian Sandwich, hold the American cheese.
21) Cherry pie.
22) Pumpkin pie.
23) Any other kind of pie.
24) Red bean buns.
25) Eggplant in garlic sauce.
26) Nutty brown rice, tossed with the leftover sauce from any given main dish.
27) Veggie pizza, with an emphasis on the roasted tomatoes.
28) Guacamole with corn chips.
29) Burritos.
30) Black beans, rice, and salsa, all scrambled together and microwaved: the most satisfactory “quick lunch” out there.
31) Stoned Wheat crackers, despite (or because of?) the unintentionally hilarious name.
32) Chocolate-covered raisins.
33) Honey-roasted cashews.
34) Asparagus.
35) Avocado sushi, topped with pickled ginger.
36) Fondue.
37) Symphony bars.
38) Freshly baked sugar cookies, topped with a handful of rainbow sprinkles.
39) A toasted plain New York-style bagel with chive and onion cream cheese. Anything less is blasphemy.
40) Tabbouleh salad.
41) Acorn squash.
42) Beets.
43) Ripe figs, on their own or stuffed with goat cheese.
44) Sweet potato latkes with cardamom applesauce.
45) Kung pao tofu, complete with crushed peanuts.
46) Blondies, which I maintain are far superior to brownies.
47) Black bean soup in a bread bowl.
48) Spanakopita.
49) Trader Joe’s Masala Burgers.
50) My mother’s matzah ball soup.
Feel free to add your own!


An Unfortunate Advertisement

There is plenty that could be said about the ANSWER Coalition; all of it — whether pro- or anti-ANSWER — has been said ad nauseam, and so you will not find my opinion here.  But however one feels about the controversial coalition, it is difficult to deny its status as an influential, often galvanizing force in the anti-war, anti-imperialist movement.

So I was disappointed, though not entirely surprised, to view the official poster for this year’s keystone march.

First off, I don’t believe that ANSWER is an intentionally sexist organization, any more than I believe that it’s an intentionally colonialist one.  On the contrary, its stated mission is to combat colonialism, and I have no doubt that — though a cursory search of the website yields no mention of women’s rights — the progressive ANSWER crowd endorses them wholeheartedly.  But this image, to me, smacks of both sexism and colonialism, simultaneously presenting women and Afghanistan/Iraq/Palestine (and especially, needless to say, Afghani/Iraqi/Palestinian women) as powerless victims in need of marchers’ rescue.

The meme of the damsel-in-distress has been deployed in many a movement, from temperance to anti-choice to pro-“war-on-terror”; I don’t need to explain that it plays on the patriarchal fantasy of “saving” a nubile young woman from the destructive ignominy of alcohol/abortion/scary-faceless-terrorists.  And as admirable as the cause may be, implying that we Americans are the only ones who can save poor miserable women from colonialist aggression plays into the same fantasy, while reinforcing the all-too-prominent stereotype that Middle Eastern women are obedient, spineless victims in constant need of white male protection.  Which is a very effective marketing tactic, no doubt, but from a coalition that advocates following our better instincts rather than the allure of the convenient, it seems out of place.

ANSWER, I’m sure, would have something to say about the way that “the defenseless Middle Eastern woman” has been used as a pawn to advance right-wing political agendas.  First, however, it would have to embrace that there are two problems with that attitude: not only the right-wing political agendas but the infantilizing use of women as pawns.  And while I understand the efficacy of enticing potential marchers with the lure of a damsel in distress, the ad’s underpinnings contradict the very ideals that ANSWER so hopes to protect.  In conclusion: ANSWER, find yourself a better marketing team, one aware that a big ol’ font and a catchy slogan can be every bit as eye-catching as, and far less of a turnoff than, an offensive picture.


Gabo, Cacho and Art

This is one of the more difficult situations I’ve come across in a while — not because of its challenging subject matter, or its prominence, but because I admire one of the protagonists very much.  And that’s the protagonist I can’t bring myself to entirely side with.

Essentially, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s 2004 novella “Memoria de mis putas tristes,” roughly translated as “Memories of my Melancholy Whores” (promising title, right?) was, like the more famous “Love in the Time of Cholera,” going to receive the silver-screen treatment.  This elicited considerable controversy from activists across Latin America, and as per the Post, “a human rights organization called the Regional Coalition Against Trafficking in Women and Girls in Latin America and the Caribbean filed a criminal complaint with the Mexican attorney general last week, asserting that the filmmakers would be ‘responsible for acts that could be constituted as the crime of condoning child prostitution.’ ”   So the government of the state of Puebla revoked the $1.5 million in taxpayer money that had previously constituted 25 percent of the film’s budget; the film has been postponed until further funds can be scrounged up.  Since that move, Mexico City’s media has been rocked by the controversy, with well-known intellectuals publicly voicing their support for either side of the debate.

One of those intellectuals is the amazing Lydia Cacho, a world-renowned feminist activist primarily known for her work against the sexual abuse of women and children; she vocally opposes the film’s production, saying that “[her opposition to the film] is not about censorship or prudishness, but about the need of an in-depth debate about the ideological support for child exploitation.”

I agree completely.  Which is why I think that legally forcing the termination of the film’s production is a terrible idea.

And that’s hard for me to say, because in any given debate, I don’t want to side against Lydia Cacho.  I certainly don’t want to side against her by going with Gabo.  It must be noted here that I am one of the few people I know who wholeheartedly dislikes most of his work, particularly the vastly overrated, unremittingly prurient, seemingly substance-less “Cholera;” I also think that his novels are among the most (consciously or unconsciously) sexist I’ve ever read, and it shocks me how infrequently this comes up in critical evaluations.  Simply put, Gabo unfailingly characterizes his women as either hardbitten matrons or lush, dewy-eyed virgins, all of them happy to sexually pleasure male protagonists at a moment’s notice.  He is too willing to treat them as faceless entries on a list — in the case of at least two novels, they literally become sexual-conquest statistics — and far too willing to whitewash rape or present it as an act of love.  Finally, perhaps most disturbingly, many-if-not-most of his novels come close to lionizing pedophilia; there is barely a male hero in Gabo’s work that has not, at some point, sexually pursued a prepubescent girl. And it’s not presented in the gritty, morally ambiguous sense of “Lolita” — rather, it is romanticized, honored, shown with cascades of rose petals like a Harlequin paperback by way of Roman Polanski.  (“Memoria de mis putas tristes” is a prime example: the book concerns a 90-year-old man who “gives himself the gift” of sex with a 14-year-old virgin, drugged until completely unconscious.)  Lydia Cacho’s objections are well-founded.  This is not, in an era plagued with human trafficking and sexual abuse, the sort of thing we’d like to see circulated, much less praised as art.  Certainly, I’m uncomfortable with the idea of taxpayer funds being directed towards the production of the film — especially when granted by a governor who attempted to protect a known child abuser.

But it seems to me that, while concerns about the movie are absolutely well-founded, I’m not sure that legally banning it is the best path to take.  The most obvious, and perhaps most dangerous, reason is this: that it will attract more attention, and the wrong kind of attention, to the book.  Were all that attention coming from legitimately curious readers, I would have no problem with that; in fact, I’d be excited about the possibility of a greater discussion about Marquez’s work and the disturbing undercurrents therein.  But if a work is famously banned as child pornography, it will increase its appeal to readers in search of titillation — titillation that, if you’re already in search of it, Gabo’s books can provide, with a handy helping of moral exoneration to go with.  Nabokov was good enough to make “Lolita” ambiguous and ugly, unappealing enough to mostly negate the effect of readers in search of a cheap sexual thrill; “Memoria” and “Cholera” are not solely pornography but their truly distressing possibilities lie in their not-so-quiet okaying of pedophilia.  And not just quiet pedophilia limited to the realm of fantasy, but exploitations, manipulations, abuses, rapes, all romanticized past recognition until they seem desirable.  If the film goes forth, both book and film will be inconsequential, and when either comes up it will be primarily as a subject of discussion.  If it does not go forth, the book will become forbidden fruit, elevated to pornographic heights and singled out by the very readers on whom Cacho fears its effect.

The other reason, of course, is a precedent of censorship.  I believe, of course, that child pornography should be banned.  But, though it might have that effect on readers who seek it out for sexual purposes, none of Gabo’s work can be placed under a conventional definition of pornography; certainly, however overrated his talents, his novels have enough “literary or artistic merit” to escape such a classification.  Legally, much as we may wish it, we cannot ban these books for their themes, nor should we.  Art can be disturbing, and not always purposefully.  Likewise, art can be sexist, racist, repugnant, and not always purposefully.  Art, as much faith as we hope to put in it, can be wrong.  But can we ban Marquez, or Rand, or Hemingway — or, hell, Margaret Mitchell — for themes that are repulsive, or themes that could have a pernicious effect?  It seems a societal slippery slope, and an undesirable one.  In part, I dislike the idea because it would give Marquez’s sleazier defenders ammunition, attention and support with cries of undue censorship; in part, I dislike it because to ban media without circulating it would be to eliminate any factual basis for genuine discussion, for shades of gray if you will.  Allowing the film to go through will do far less damage than banning it would (and, incidentally, is based on the fundamentally wrongheaded and vaguely condescending assumption that more people would make the effort to watch a mediocre, uncontroversial, inconspicuous movie on TV than to read a short, un-esoteric book around which controversies and accusations of child pornography swirl) — and might even, if handled with the expertise that Cacho and other prominent defenders of human rights have demonstrated, give way to an intelligent, meaningful reevaluation of Gabo and the mores that pervade his work.


Sexism in the System, Off and On Stage

In [1985], then-New York Times theater critic Frank Rich wrote an essay entitled “Theater’s Gender Gap is a Chasm.”  It was insightful and hard-hitting then; sadly, twenty-some years later, it’s still insightful and hard-hitting.  In fact, as theater grows more and more elitist, financially driven and plagued with nostalgia, the chasm is perhaps wider than ever.

According to the <a href=http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/11/theater/newsandfeatures/11foru.html>New York Times</a>, in 2005, only 3 of the season’s 39 new shows were directed by women; a recent <a href=http://pqasb.pqarchiver.com/washingtonpost/access/1707750651.html?FMT=ABS&FMTS=ABS:FT&date=May+13%2C+2009&author=Peter+Marks&pub=The+Washington+Post&edition=&startpage=A.1&desc=The+Rarest+Role+in+Musicals%3F+The+Female+Director>Washington Post article</a> shows that the stats haven’t much changed.  That, some might easily maintain, is a problem with the generation – young women growing up in the ‘50s and ‘60s had few female role models backstage, the Broadway elders are more willing to give female theater artists “feminine” jobs such as costume design, etc.  Granted, it’s possible, though that doesn’t entirely explain the dearth of younger female directors in younger-skewing theaters.  But there’s no excuse for the relative lack of female playwrights – though there’s a pretty simple reason.

As I articulated in an earlier post, financially strapped theaters are desperate for cash – cash that’s only likely to come from revivals or the occasional star scribe (e.g. new plays by Neil Simon or Andrew Lloyd Webber, or the seemingly endless cadre of posthumously-discovered Jonathan Larson works) An astounding proportion — perhaps the majority — of American female-penned plays have been composed in the last few decades; the theatrical aversion to new plays, and the tendency of producers to marginalize female-penned works as “girl plays” with little mass appeal,  almost ensures that they won’t get mainstream success and (with a few exceptions, such as the extremely talented and very lucky Sarah Ruhl) can’t yet bridge that gender gap.  And, of course, few of the stage’s most popular revivals – if any – have been written by women.

Which means that Broadway is sorely lacking in female voices.  And it doesn’t take a student of literature to tell you (though students of literature know this from experience) that where the female perspective is missing, the female characters will, as a general rule, be less rich and less convincing.  Suddenly, the continued gender gap becomes a problem not only for female playwrights — and for female directors and technicians, who many producers are unwilling to put at the helm of a “real”(read: male-penned) play — but for actresses currently battling furiously for the three or four significant, worthwhile female roles in a season.

This is especially true on Broadway, where seasons are powered almost entirely by large-scale revivals, and new musicals are so rare that the engaging-but-really? “Jersey Boys” won the 2006 Best Musical prize.  It’s bad news for actresses, and for audience members, and for the gender gap in theatre, when most of the shows being mounted (plays and musicals) are male-written products of their generation.  I wish I could say that the recent, highly successful revival of “12 Angry Men” was an exception to the norm, but most of the theatre’s go-to revivals are male-driven and often sexist, creating nonexistent or cardboard female characters and trapping them in misogynistic paradigms.  A quick look at some of Broadway’s most recent revival hits:

“Kiss Me, Kate” — a reworking of Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew,” but with neither the depth nor subtlety of the original material.  In direct opposition to the almost-fully-realized Katherina of Shakespeare’s play, the modern “shrew,” Lilli Vanessi, is a wealthy, selfish, mad-with-power diva who we are told from the beginning is “uppity” and must be put in her place.   The first act ends with a climactic, intended-to-be-cathartic act of domestic abuse, and the rest of the play doesn’t get much better.

“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” — No play exemplifies the omnipresent virgin-whore dichotomy like “Cuckoo’s Nest,” which, like Ken Kesey’s novel (which, despite its hero’s misogyny and racism, happens to be a masterwork; the same is not true of the insipid, less morally ambiguous play), shows two “types” of women: the chaste, overbearing, utterly evil Nurse Ratched, and the passel of dumb, gum-chewing hookers with hearts of gold.

“Nine” — Despite its imaginative conceit, this musical’s many vaguely ornamental female characters and roughly sketched love triangle are — as Frank Rich pointed out in his review of the original — about what you’d expect for a show centered around the male protagonist’s romantic conquests.  I’d be interested to see what the upcoming movie is like.

“The Pajama Game” — What should have been, by rights, a socially progressive gem (and it is, to its credit, admirably pro-union) presents all its female characters as swooning, man-crazy airheads — even, perhaps especially, the union leader unfortunately named Babe.  And when its male characters sexually harass and manipulate women, it’s presented as acceptable, even admirable, in light of the “girls’ ” stupidity.

“Company” — Amidst “Company’s” modernity, exquisitely crafted score, and constant air of worldly progressiveness, it is easy to forget that, in a play that professes to explore both genders’ takes on marriage, all the males are real people and all the females are stereotypes so cut-and-dry one could list them.  The Bubbleheaded Stewardess, the Neurotic New York Single Girl, the Goody-Goody, the Indie Chick, and the Aging Bitter Socialite are all there in full force, singing up a storm; it’s a startling contrast to the realistic, multidimensional men of the cast.

“Glengarry Glen Ross” — One of the plays that, in its original form, was the primary example of the gender chasm in Frank Rich’s original essay.  Women barely register in the foul-mouthed, macho, all-male world of “Glengarry,” and when they do it’s as nagging wives or as sluts.  And, as Rich pointed out, the most intense, climactic insults of “Glengarry” — the ones that, in a play of four-letter words, are reserved for the cruelest moments — are those relating to womanhood or the female anatomy.  Which isn’t too far off the mark, sadly, from real life, but it’s worth noting nonetheless. “Glengarry” is an extraordinary play, there’s no getting around it, but its entire world is essentially a staging of all the most repulsive aspects of the male perspective — and if we keep staging “Glengarry” without putting any on Broadway, it will, I believe, be an act of and broader representation of sexism.

And these are just the recent Tony winners!

I’m not saying the revivals being mounted aren’t great works of theater.  For the most part, they are.  But until we can counterbalance them with new plays, plays that show a female voice and not just a female body, the gender chasm and covert misogyny that infuse the theater will continue to grow.  And, conveniently enough, a sea-change wouldn’t just ease the sexism inherent in theater’s decline.  In fact, with the infusion of new plays, new voices, and new theater artists, it might take the first steps towards reversing it.


Wow.

This is fantastic.  I’m not sure how excited I am for “Precious” — on the one hand, it’s based on a work by Sapphire, stars Ms. Sidibe, and has garnered some very impressive critical acclaim; on the other hand, the trailer seemed to indicate a certain syrupy condescension that rubs me the wrong way — but the actress’s confidence, all too rare in interviews with young Hollywood women, is exhilarating.

Like the Feministing crew, I’m especially drawn to this quote:

“They try to paint the picture that I was this downtrodden, ugly girl who was unpopular in school and in life, and then I got this role and now I’m awesome,” says the actress. “But the truth is that I’ve been awesome, and then I got this role.”

There is a certain media myth cultivated around previously-unknown actresses who don’t fit the conventional Elle magazine standards, particularly those who defy them in terms of weight (see also: Nikki Blonsky, Ricki Lake, even Jennifer Hudson) — the myth that they were socially isolated, unattractive losers until Hollywood swept them off their feet and made them into worthwhile (“awesome”) people.  There’s so much underlying sexist, sizist, and classist baggage beneath this illusion, and as the illusion becomes more and more integrated into Hollywood lore it adds that baggage to the common consciousness.  Which, when one is a well-rounded young woman trying to formulate one’s own self-esteem, is the worst of mental obstacles — if there’s no chance of Hollywood scooping you up and carrying you off (as there never was for me), suddenly you’re stuck in the “loser” paradigm without any kind of escape route.

And that makes proclamations like Ms. Sidibe’s such a relief — because she understands, and publicly understands, and inspirationally understands, that despite the prevailing myth, her appearance and anonymity never negated her value as a person.  Perhaps, if “Precious” makes it big and/or other incipient stars echo Ms. Sidibe’s sentiments, the existing “damsel-in-distress” fantasy will be replaced by a popular, populist assertion of self-worth.  We — as women, as teenagers, as unknowns, as human beings — can only hope.


Really, Drew Barrymore? Really?

I’m sort of surprised that, amidst all the “Whip It” hype, this hasn’t gotten more publicity in the feminist blogosphere.  From a rather fawning piece in the Washington Post:

And when asked if the current prevalence of buzzed-about films by female directors — from Jane Campion’s “Bright Star” to Lone Scherfig’s “An Education” — is evidence that more women can successfully break through in Hollywood, [Barrymore] insists that gender is no longer a barrier to cinematic success.

“I just call bull[expletive] on the whole female chip on the shoulder: ‘We’re repressed and men have all the power,’ ” she says. “Like, get over it. Make it happen for yourself, stop complaining, and P.S.? That chip on your shoulder is super unsexy. Like, you want something? Make it happen. Work hard.”

Barrymore continues at great length about how women should feel empowered to do anything with their careers, a message she’s savvy enough to note is also conveyed in “Whip It.” She is at turns candid (“I never felt like, oh, I’m the young girl that’s not going to get taken seriously. I was just astonished and grateful when I was.”) and, always, intense.

This quotation may not be indicative of Drew Barrymore’s attitudes — honestly, I find it more emblematic of the Post’s — but it’s frustrating nonetheless.  This month’s relative windfall of female-directed movies (three or four among 30- or 40-something films) is more a statistical anomaly than an accurate representation of Hollywood output.  And to deploy it as evidence for a current “post-feminist” era is idiotic and willfully blind — almost as idiotic and willfully blind as deploying one’s life experience as a Barrymore.

Drew Barrymore may not have had the happiest childhood.  Certainly, her preteen years were rife with horrific experiences (experiences, I might add, that are all too common for young women in Hollywood, and challenges laden in every possible way with misogyny; that’s another post), but there is no escaping the fact that she grew up in a financially privileged environment, encased in the Hollywood bubble and gifted with a famous name.  She had access to expensive rehab clinics, luxurious trappings, and, even by the age of 11 months, career opportunities that would be off-limits to much of the world.  When she did stage her remarkable comeback (also laden with misogyny; see also, flashing David Letterman for his “birthday present”), it was with all of the resources that money could buy.  And if she needed an abortion, or a new job, or medical care, she would have no trouble at all obtaining it.  But to take her own extraordinarily uncommon experience and project it onto all women, to chastise them for the “chips on their shoulder” when they struggle for access to opportunities she has never been without — that’s not just insensitive, that’s downright ridiculous.  Of course, Drew Barrymore has been through a great deal, and I don’t want to downplay or delegitimize her suffering; it just strikes me as egocentric that she should completely write off legitimate grievances as “super unsexy” simply because she herself has never been burdened by them.  It’s all weirdly reminiscent of The Secret, another infamous piece of work that took a bourgeois, highly egotistical solution (the “power of positive thinking”) and elevated it over more practical, tangible solutions in situations completely outside of the author’s range of experience.

And P.S., Ms. Barrymore: I only have 16 years of experience with capitalism, but I do know one thing for sure — it’s never a good idea to alienate your product’s niche demographic.  And the grounded, progressive, feminist, “chip-on-the-shoulder,” “super unsexy” roller derby-lovers who have made “Whip It” possible may not be too happy with you.  This one sure isn’t.


The “Sanctity of Art”

I will not be writing a post about Roman Polanski. Everything I am fuming about has already been said (on the excellent Feministing.com, among other venues) — the utter obviousness of Polanski’s guilt, and the repulsive victim-blaming omnipresent in the case, have both been discussed ad nauseam.  Though it’s hard not to rage about the sheer prevalence of “she was a temptress/a whore/asking for it” rhetoric that’s been circulating, not to mention the constant trivialization of statutory rape to “not-actually-rape” status, I will do my best not to write a blog post on the subject.

What I would like to address, at least as a jumping-off point, is the seemingly popular idea that Polanski’s art exempts him from any sort of ethical obligation.  Consider the defensive, knee-jerk petition put forth by a number of prominent artists and intellectuals — the first sentence, with an almost unbelievable lack of subtlety, reads, “We have learned the astonishing news of Roman Polanski’s arrest by the Swiss police on September 26th, upon arrival in Zurich, while on his way to a film festival where he was due to receive an award for his career in filmmaking.” (emphasis mine) The rest of the petition reads similarly; points are raised that would be utterly inane without the qualifier “artist” or “filmmaker,” and the entire thing is rife with the implication that artistic criminals, unlike the hoi polloi of lawbreakers, must be able to define their own justice for the sake of their Art.  I could respect this point of view if Polanski had been arrested for political or artistic vandalism, for public disturbance, for public obscenity — but the drugging and rape of a 13-year-old?  In such a case, one’s relative artistic merit is thoroughly irrelevant.  Rape is not art, even when an artist does it; it is not immediately important that a rapist is an artist, but that he is a rapist.

Polanski’s actions, of course, are impossible to defend.  But I feel like the attempted defense is based in a fundamental — and fundamentally wrong — cultural assumption: that artists are given a free pass from ethical behavior because they are artists, and “art saves.”  The model of the dissolute, destructive, abusive artist has been a consistent fixture in Western literature and culture, and (astoundingly) that model has been more romanticized than censured.  More importantly, though, it has been perpetuated, not always to Byronic proportions but always to an unhealthy extent.

I must make it clear that I don’t object in the least to artists drinking, or smoking, or (as Michael Gerson would have it) “cohabiting.”  I applaud the latter as a sensible, healthy and ultimately beneficial choice, and remain fairly neutral on the former two.  No, my problem with the “sanctity of art”  lies in the minutia of ethical relationships with fellow human beings: both on a global or communal scale (volunteer work, outreach) and in the most deeply personal of arenas.

I have seen too many artists exempt themselves from meaningful social action beyond online petitions, arguing that their art takes up too much of their time, and that — astoundingly, this isn’t an uncommon thing to hear — it’s more important to the human race in the long run than a stint at a measly soup kitchen.  Yes, of course art is important to the human race.  Yes, of course society wouldn’t be nearly as emotionally or intellectually rich without it.  But it’s the worst kind of narcissism to claim that your art, piece by piece and hour by hour, can save more people’s lives than physical action would.  Not only is it (statistically speaking) highly unlikely, considering the level of exposure and popularity most artists achieve, but it’s as ethically lazy as cubicle-style workers turning down volunteer work for the boss’s next memo — we just don’t snap to the same judgment about artists, because the preexisting artistic model has assured us that no matter how time-consuming it might be, art is an Entirely Different pursuit.

This notion of “Entirely Different” similarly poisons personal dynamics under the existing artist model.  I have very little day-to-day connection with adult artists, but there is a certain mindset among teenage artists that someone who doesn’t create art is automatically an inferior human being.  I don’t need to say that this not only creates a devastating atmosphere of condescension in the “arty set,” but shuts off possibilities of new relationships (and, on a more community-wide scale, might be a hidden motive behind that soup-kitchen avoidance).  More disturbingly, the Byronic template — I find it interesting, incidentally, how often the term Byronic has been used to describe Polanski — allows for abuse of those pathetic non-artists close to you, including-but-not-limited-to friends, family, colleagues, and significant others.  I’m not saying that such disdainful abuse is a crime on the scale of statutory rape, but it is a pernicious element in the paradigm that Roman Polanski’s defenders use to defend him — and there is no doubt that a cultivated, societally approved superiority complex can escalate into morally reprehensible behavior.  When one believes that there is something inherent in him/herself setting him/her above others, it makes it all the easier for him/her to commit cruelties against those others; those cruelties can be horrific, or they can be the day-to-day wearing-down of a nasty word, a snarky remark, a condescending glance.  This is true of bigotry, this is true of misogyny, and this is true of the “sanctity of art” complex.

All that being said, art is wonderful, and so (for the most part) are its practitioners.  There are so many artists out there who manage to balance profound creative output and a genuine commitment to improving the world beyond a facile, narcissistic “my art is doing the work for me” mentality; I admire those artists more than I express, both for doing the incredible things they do and for surpassing the easy way out that is culturally provided for them.  But it’s important to remember that without an audience, art is diminished; an ethical life, both on the global and personal scale, will expand that audience.  The sort of condescension so prominent in the artistic community will cause it to shrink.  And that condescension can never, never become a viable excuse for the crime that Roman Polanski committed, and that too many artists continue to defend.


The Thoughtful Revolution

This blog may or may not be interesting.

This blog may or may not be well-written.

This blog may or may not be about the following: feminism, politics, childhood toys, economics, food, global human rights, theatre, educational philosophy, electric cellos, DIY crafts, Emma Goldman, yoga, theology, dried flowers, collages, songwriting, Kurt Vonnegut, bellydance, acrylic paint, swimming, environmentalism, linguistics, Amanda Palmer, Michael Pollan, farming practices, rubber ducks, and/or my charming little heartland hometown, Washington D.C.

This blog may or may not be one of those dreaded teen poetry sites.  Or one of those dreaded teen art sites.  Or one of those dreaded teen catharsis sites.

This blog will sadly not blast the entire Rasputina discography if you find the right Easter egg.

But this blog will be religiously updated, very pretty, and even — sometimes — insightful.  It will always involve a good deal of thought, hence The Thoughtful Revolution.

Before we get started, I need to define my terms.  To change the world (and it’s a world that desperately needs changing, on countless levels and topics), there needs to be thought.  That little Captain Obvious moment is step 1.  But more importantly, that thought can do nothing but fester if it isn’t communicated.  That’s step 2.  Eventually, for it to achieve importance, it must (I think) be worked into something greater than itself, a new, tangible, productive way of sharing it with the world — step 3.  This blog is, I hope, step 2: a place to communicate thoughts, to keep them from rotting inside my skull.  Some of them may be rotted and worthless on arrival.  Hopefully not all of them will be.  But if I have a place to put them out, and if I can get enough feedback and trolling and interest and discussion and devil’s-advocate criticism, maybe together we can hoist them up to step 3.

And I hope dearly that any readers I can find will feel free to send or post their own thoughts, to be processed and shared in the same manner.  Send me things that occur to you, with or without provocation from anything on this blog, and they’ll take their place in the exchange.  Because that, that marketplace and development of ideas, is the thoughtful revolution — and a revolution of thought might be its own step 1 in finding and implementing the solutions that our world craves.

In conclusion, read.  Think.  Write.  Explore.  Treat this blog not as a vacuum — as the solitary writings of one teenage girl — but as a constant game of mental tug-of-war, or cyberspace give-and-take.  And if you figure out how to get the entire Rasputina discography on here, please feel free to let me know.