Wednesday, December 2, 2009

In which I am (almost) as awesome as Shakespeare, or, Take that, Thomas Middleton!

In the lyric poetry class I'm taking this semester, we've not only had to read and critically analyze poems, we've also had to produce them in order to examine things like form and meter in a more hands-on way. Though I'm by no means a poet, I am especially proud of the last poem I wrote for class, and I wanted to share it with you. The assignment was to take a quatrain from an existing sonnet that we read and expand it into a full, quasi-original sonnet. This is what I came up with.

(The first quatrain is from Shakespeare's Sonnet 93)

So shall I live, supposing thou art true,
Like a deceive'd husband—so love's face
May still seem love to me, though altered new:
Thy looks with me, thy heart in other place.

Which ignorance be worse—presuming feign'd
Affection pure, or feigning falsehood right?
Both ask the heart be tightly trained,
And love obscure us from a harsher sight.

If knowledge power is, and dumb be bliss,
Then dumb I'll be, pray gods my lips shut fast!
If thou in secret find another's kiss,
My power's mute, but that our time shall last.

And since the moon cares not for constancy,
I'll just take light from your security.

What do you think? I'll gladly accept suggestions for titles, as I can't think of any.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Quick hit: Girls Investigate Our Views On Media

This video is the first of four released by the Women's Media Center (WMC). In it, young women discuss the media in their lives, how they feel about it, and whether or not it represents them. They're incredibly socially aware and articulate, much more so than I was at that age. It makes me very happy to see young women express themselves this way. I think I've found the charity I'm donating to next year!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A not-so-Glee-ful experience

I refuse to stop watching FOX's Glee, and I feel kind of bad about it. Kind of. I've been a fan of Ryan Murphy's offbeat, quasi-stereotypical style since the days of Popular, second on my list of Most Underrated TV Shows Ever (Freaks and Geeks tops that list, in case you were wondering). I think Popular did a great job of relying on stereotypes just enough to let the audience know that it was actually decrying those stereotypes. Glee tries to do the same thing, and so far, fails miserably at it. I really really wanted this show to be awesome. It's a musical, for one thing. In my world, there can never be enough of those. For another, it stars Lea Michele, who blew my mind with her awesomeness in Spring Awakening and is poised to be Broadway's Next Big Thing. While the pilot episode was filled with heart and promise and that transcendent cover of "Don't Stop Believing," the following episodes just keep going more and more into tokenism territory. There's not a woman on the show who's not a self-centered shrew, except for maybe Mercedes, the young black woman who refers to herself as "chocolate" and repeatedly spouts phrases like "Oh no you di'n't!" and "You betta watch yo'self, white girl!", and Tina, the quiet Asian with a secret. But the most complex and compelling characters (and the ones that have me thinking seriously about not watching the show anymore) are Kurt, a gay student who's just come out to his hypermasculine father (played brilliantly by that forgotten treasure of the 90s, Mike O'Malley), and Artie, who is in a wheelchair and was the protagonist of last week's episode, oh-so-originally titled "Wheels."

Kurt is flamboyant, dresses in way too much lame', and idolizes Broadway songstresses. Sure. okay. I expected that from television. It's not the greatest, but whatever. I think the great thing about Kurt's portrayal is his relationship with his father. The give and take of his dealing with Kurt's sexuality is heartwarming and honest, and though he doesn't agree with it, he loves his son enough to go to bat for him when he is discriminated against. They also have real conversations. Kurt frequently reminds me of what Rickie Vasquez might look like if My So-Called Life were a comedy and on the air today. Anyone who has seen that amazing show knows that that is a significant comparison. Here's hoping Kurt's character arcs continue to be complex.

And now to Artie, the reason for this post. There's been a great deal of discussion online regarding last week's episode. Some has been negative, some positive. I agree with a bit of both. I second Bitch Magazine's assertion that the episode contains a fair bit of "crip drag," especially in its closing number, wherein the entire cast performs a wheelchair dance version of "Proud Mary." Get it? "Rollin', Rollin'..." Yeah. They went there. I also agree with this blogger, who says the following about living with a disability:

[Artie's] portrayal as a kid who is frustrated and hampered by his disability yet is doing his best to live with it is such a much more realistic portrayal of what its like to live with a disability than other portrayals where the disabled person is a rude, bitter, sarcastic bastard who uses his disability as an excuse to avoid the real world (I'm looking at you, House), or a plucky, peppy go-getter who barely seems aware of her disability because gosh-darn it, its just a little ole minor inconvenience that doesn't really impact her life. When you have a disability, you are always, always acutely aware of it, and you live in a perpetual state of frustration over it - or so has been my experience. You can't let it stop you, and you just have to work with it as best as you can, but it's something that colors everything you do and every interaction you have with any other person and it is a source of constant frustration.

As someone who has spent every day of her life in a back-and-forth negotiation with physical ability, it really made me happy to see Artie expressing those struggles as well. Even as I lamented the fact that the young man playing him is able-bodied (disabled actors are notoriously unemployed, unless they're Marlee Matlin, and even then the majority of her roles boil down to either "She's so brave!" or "Oh, look, she's actually normal!"), I couldn't help but appreciate the obvious work he'd done to get inside his character's head. I guess I'll stick around to see what happens.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Quick hit: Yay Canada!

I'm totally loving this article from Canadian newspaper The Star. I really wish that more people thought like that. Even the pro-choice bits don't come on super strong, which I really appreciate, since that's one issue that I struggle to find a position on, as a Christian Feminist Edit: She does call pro-lifers "anti-choice," which is a rhetorical move I don't support at all.. I heard about the new Gail Collins book that the author mentions on NPR as well. It sounds really interesting. Plus, there's a Mad Men reference, so I want to hang out with the author a lot now. Any thoughts on the article?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Let it be, home is me, and you are mine

I've been a bit obsessed with this song lately. It's called "Home is Me, You are Mine," and it's by Everly, a female singer/songwriter duo that you haven't heard of and should check out. It is tangentially related to this post both in content and because I'm listening to it on repeat as I type this and think you could maybe feel the way I'm feeling right now if you did too. I'm not sure if it's an original song or not, but it's about being in love and being confused by life's twists and turns and trusting that God has a plan in all of it by paying attention to the little signs He sends, like light on the water and the laughter of children. Surface-wise, I'm pretty sure it's about this woman's husband going off to war, but that part doesn't matter as much as the overall moral. Okay, so it sounds really cheesy when I type it out like that, but it's not, I promise. Or maybe it is. If it is, I don't care.

As you know (because the only people that read this are either close friends or my husband), we've recently moved to a new town and I've started teaching at a new school. I've been struggling with why I got into this program, why I got into only this program. I've had some difficult moments with my new students, and this program is just so different from what I'm used to. I was really having a hard time figuring out why God put me here right now. I should probably say "why He put us here," as my husband has his own struggles in this new place, but I don't want to speak for him, so I'll just talk about me.

Until as recently as two years ago, I thought that I wanted to do my own research for a living, that teaching was just a means to and end that I would have to suffer through until I wrote a book, became the next Kathryn Schwarz, got tenure, and proceeded to do whatever I wanted until I retired. I'm still really excited about my personal research interests (posts most likely forthcoming about this semester's projects), but I'm getting to a place where I think teaching should be my main career focus, and settling down at a smaller school seems like the way to go. I've had several realizations that led to this decision.

My job is more than just teaching English.
When I look back on my college experience and the meaningful people in it, I remember those who took an interest in me as an individual, who challenged me to broaden my views of both myself and those around me, and who believed with me that I had something important and valuable to say. That's what I believe I'm supposed to do for my own students. Sure, they need to know how to make subjects and verbs agree, how to properly cite a source. But more than that, they need to learn how to respectfully listen to a classmate whose views differ from their own, to integrate themselves into a classroom community, to gather evidence for their own views, and to have the confidence to change those views if it turns out that that evidence isn't what they thought it was. It's my job to help turn these freshmen into respectful, compassionate critical thinkers, and I feel like I could do better at that at a school where I'm more encouraged to take an interest in students as human beings. I'm not saying that I can't do that where I am. I try to every day. Indeed, I probably have the best chance of doing that, taking into account the enormous size of most other freshman classes at my current University. In fact, one student with whom I've been discussing his problems over the past few weeks told me that he thinks I'm the only teacher he has that knows his name before saying, "Thank you for caring about me." That's why I want to teach, not so I can get my picture on a dustjacket someday (though that would be nice, eventually). I feel like there would be more emphasis on the importance of these personal relationships at a smaller school.

Personal responsibility matters. A moral code matters.
Currently, I teach at 8 a.m. I like teaching early in the morning. I feel fresh and ready at that time, and when I'm done teaching, I still have the whole day ahead of me in which to be (theoretically, at least) productive. That said, I realize that teaching at this time is ocassionally going to require me to wake up a few students. I'm okay with that. Sometimes we even do jumping jacks! I understand them being sleepy sometimes. What I absolutely will not tolerate, though, is the complete disregard for personal responsibility. On any given day, half of my fourteen-member class is tardy. Half! That is absurd. I'm told that the freshman dorms are far away, that the campus buses are slow. I remember dealing with this in my undergrad days. It wasn't fun. But still, I got up earlier. I shoved my way (politely, most days) onto a crowded, smelly bus, and I got to my classes on time, nine days out of ten. If I was more than ten minutes late, I did not go, because that disrupts class and disrupting class is rude. Last week, I had two stuents show up thirty minutes into a seventy-five minute class. I informed them to just not come if this were to happen again, and one of them rolled his eyes at me. The week before, a male student showed up without his shirt. I quickly informed him that that was innappropriate for class, and received a disinterested sigh (the kind that clearly says "Oh, GOD, you're so out of touch!") as he left to retrive his erstwhile clothing. These things should not happen. They show a terrible lack of responsibility on the part of the student. More than that, they should not be tolerated. Schools should not close their eyes to these transgressions, minor as I know they are, because that leads to eye-closing at larger transgressions. I get at least two or three crime bulletins from campus police every week, and I can't help but think that that's because these kids have no one answer to, no one telling them that what they do matters, that what they do affects people other than themselves. I want to cement myself in an environment with an understood, far-reaching code of community, responsibility, and morality.

Literature is a wonderful, beautiful thing, and it has something to give to the world.
As much as I love teaching my students to analyze advertisements and pop songs and the things they absorb every day without realizing the effect those things have on their views and ideologies, I want to also teach them the fun of meeting an unreliable narrator, or the way a well-placed caesura makes your breathing jump the tiniest bit as you read aloud. My current program forbids me to assign more than thirty pages of reading a week, and our FYC program is based on personal narrative the first semester and visual rhetoric the second. I asked in my orientation where the literature was, and was told that teaching poetry and fiction at the freshman level was old school, has gone the way of the close reading or the examination of authorial intent. I understand wanting to teach material that the students will see as relevant to their lives, but if we don't challenge them to look aoutside of themselves for meaning as well, outside of their own cultures, aren't we just cementing a culture of lazy, self-centered students who think that previous generations have nothing to say? It's for this reason that I'm becoming more and more attracted to Humanities programs that draw on the classics of literature, philosophy, and history to help students make sense of their ever-evolving worlds.

Okay, this is getting quite long, and I fear I may explode and reconstitute as Harold Bloom very soon, so I'll stop here. Thoughts, friends?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Megan Fox FAIL

So Megan Fox admitted that she used to cut herself in a recent Rolling Stone interview. My first thought when I heard this was, "Great, now maybe this serious problem will be acknowledged and some people will get some help as a result." I cut myself a few times in high school in a misguided attempt to overcome depression, and it's something I didn't emotionally deal with or overcome until years later. I think it would've been helpful at the time for me to see someone in a socially-empowered position who had dealt with the same problem. Megan Fox doesn't treat it as a serious problem or one that may need professional help or treatment, though. Instead, she remarks thusly:
Yeah…But I don’t want to elaborate. I would never call myself a cutter. Girls go through different phases when they’re growing up, when they’re miserable and do different things, whether it’s an eating disorder or they dabble in cutting.

WOW. Cutting is not a normal teen phase, not something you "dabble in," like ceramics or poetry or acting or volleyball. It's a serious problem, something that many people struggle for years to overcome. I really don't like that she both normalizies and trivializes the issue. Any thoughts, friends?

Rape Prevention that Really Works

I'm sure that, by now, all of you have heard of the rape allegations and subsequent recanting at Hofstra University. I'm not directly commenting on that, on who I think is right or wrong or lying or telling the truth. As much as I wish I had the time to make this a post about gender politics and the immediacy of victim blaming in America, I have to teach in half an hour and I'm locked out of my building, so intense thinking about that will have to wait. For now, I'd like to direct your attention to this clever inversion of tips to avoid rape. It seems to me that, in traditional schools of thought regarding prevention of sexual assault, there is too much emphasis on prevention by the victim. Don't walk alone; use the buddy system. Don't drink from a container that doesn't have a top you can remove and replace when at a party or bar. Know where exits are at all times. While this advice is smart and helpful, it does seem to place the blame on the victim when an assault or a rape occurs. If you follow these lists and someone assaults you, you must be protecting yourself incorrectly. That's a dangerous road to go down. The list I linked to is clever and very necessary because it drives home the point that rapists rape people, and that we should construct our views on the subject thusly, rather than assuming, as traditional prevention advice does, that victims are raped by rapists. The active verb clearly assigns responsibility as it should be assigned, as well as shows how important words and language can be to political action.

Monday, September 14, 2009

On fangirls and feminism, or, "Sweetheart, this ain't Gender Studies."

This post was requested by my dear friend Beth, fellow butt-kicking feminist and Supernatural fangirl. If you don't care about the show, you may want to skip this post. I won't be sad, I promise.

For those of you not in the know who decided to stick around, Supernatural is a television show about two brothers, Sam and Dean Winchester, who travel the country in their beautiful 1967 Impala killing ghosts, demons, and other things that go bump in the night. The show is, from its outset, a bit problematic from a feminist perspective. The brothers Winchester become demon hunters by following in the footsteps of their father, who is drawn to the business of hunting after he sees his wife engulfed in flames, pinned to the ceiling of Sam's nursery with her abdomen sliced open. He spends the next two decades learning to track the thing that killed her, and, as a result, the boys are alternately trained in supernatural combat and left to their own devices in a series of seedy motel rooms. While Dean takes their father's edicts as law, Sam yearns for normalcy and, when it's time for him to go to college, says goodbye to his family and their demon hunting ways for good, and says hello to Stanford's pre-law program, where he meets a comely blonde named Jessica and starts working on making his dreams of normalcy come true. That's all well and good until Dean shows up at his and Jessica's apartment in the middle of the night, asking Sam to help him find their father, who appears to be on a demon-hunt gone bad. Against his better judgment, Sam goes with him. The boys don't find their father, but do solve a mystery that he couldn't. They defeat a Woman in White, a spin on the Vanishing Hitchhiker legend who targets unfaithful men by making them pick her up on the side of the road. When they take her to her destination (her creepy, abandoned house), she flirts with them until they give in, then rips out their hearts. Sam and Dean kill her angry spirit by forcing her to confront the ghosts of the children she drowned after finding out her own husband was unfaithful. When she reenters her home, the watery spirits of her children engulf her own airy one, and she's gone. After their victory, Sam and Dean return to Sam and Jessica's place. Sam tells Dean he enjoyed the rush of the hunt and seeing his brother again, but that he needs to get back to his normal life, thanks. No such luck, because Sam finds Jessica pinned to the ceiling with her abdomen slashed, and she bursts into flame, a near-mirror image of what happened to his mother in his infancy, right down to her hairstyle. Sam now understands his father's motivation, and the pilot episode ends with a shot of Sam's duffel bag being thrown into the Impala's truck with its coterie of homemade weapons. We hear (but do not see) Sam say "We've got work to do," before the screen goes black.

Why does this get my feminist panties in a bunch? All of the above happens in the pilot. The catalyst for both sets of parallel action (father and son) is a dead woman, and the first spirit to be killed earns her fate for transgressing her appropriate roles as good mother and submissive wife. These points set up Sam and Dean's very male, very lonely world of muscle cars, hair metal music, and skirtchasing. Okay, so that's mostly Dean, but you get the idea. The boys are virtually alone in their weekly hunting pursuits until Season Two, when they meet the denizens of Harvelle's Roadhouse, a rundown place in Nebraska that seems to cater to a clientele of hunters. The roadhouse is run by Ellen Harvelle, a no-nonsense woman who somehow knows the boys' father, and her equally fierce (though not in the gross Tyra way) daughter, Jo, who longs to escape her mother's watchful eye and get in on the hunt herself. Both women are tough. They can take care of themselves without help from a man and they even best Sam and Dean in a fight. It turns out that John Winchester was there when Jo's dad was killed by a demon, so she has the same sort of familially-connected desire for revenge the boys do. A Jo/Dean romance is hinted at but never pursued, and though she proves herself capable of planning and seeking a hunt in episode 2.6, "No Exit," Dean looks at her as an inexperienced kid. When she suggests his disdain of her hunting is because she's a woman, he condescends, saying, "Sweetheart, this ain't Gender Studies." Jo turns out to be the ticket to the boys' solving the hunt, but only because the serial killer's ghost they're looking for has a particular hankering for petite blondes. Jo acts as bait and saves another woman in the process, but the boys must step in and save HER. We see her a few more times that season, and in her last major appearance, she's nearly raped by a demon-possessed Sam. Problematic and disturbing? Yes. Even more so? She was written off primarily due to negative response from the show's mostly female fanbase who didn't want a woman getting to close to the boys. They would rather all representations of themselves be screaming and helpless, apparently. Bah.

Fast forward to now, the beginning of Season Five. We've seen two more major female characters. One was a manipulative, double-crossing (or triple-crossing?) demon and the other was a mercenary. Both used their sexuality to get what they wanted. Not much to work with in the well-rounded female character department. There's been an interesting new development, though. Now the boys are trying to save the world from the apocolypse and a very upset Lucifer (yeah, that Lucifer...sort of). It turns out that they're the subject of a book series, cleverly titled (you guessed it) Supernatural, whose writer is a prophet from God. Yeah. They went there. This series has a small but rabid fanbase not unlike that of the actual television series. In the most recent episode we met Becky, the books' biggest fan.The author asks her to get a message to the real Sam and Dean. She tears herself away from the wincest fan fiction she's writing, and goes to see the boys. She then fawns, gropes, and generally freaks Sam and Dean out. I'm not sure what to make of this. On one hand, it's nice to see a wink and a nod to some of the more extreme members of a fandom I'm simultaneously a part of and love to hate. On the other hand, Becky seems like the latest addition to a series of poorly characterized women. I know the show has some silly fans. I know I like to get silly when I watch it sometimes. Jared (Padalecki, who plays Sam) and Jensen (Ackles, who plays Dean) are certainly easy on the eyes, and that's enjoyable, but the show is so much more than that. It's scary and funny and clever. It's just kind of sexist, too.

Jo makes another appearance in this week's upcoming episode. I'd love to see her confront Becky, but I doubt that'll happen. I asked Alona Tal, who plays Jo, how she felt about being written off the show and if she'd be back when I met her at a fan convention about two years ago (I meant it when I said I was a fangirl). She admitted that she was miffed about fan treatment of Jo and said tha she too had noticed a lack of a strong female character on the show prior to her tenure. Let's hope she remedies that for all of us this week.

Beth, I hope that satisfies your craving for some feminist discourse about our craziness. Everyone else, if you're interested in catching up, Seasons 1-4 are on DVD and Season 5 airs Thursdays at 9 on the CW. If you still don't care, thanks for reading anyway.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Girls, Gore, and the Female Object

So I should really be reading Roman lyric poetry right now, but I decided to surf the interwebs a bit while eating my lunch, and now I must write a quick blog post. There's been a fair bit of buzz in circles both filmic and feminist about Jennifer's Body, a new horror film directed by Diablo Cody of Juno fame and written by the fabulous Karyn Kusama, best known for one of my favorite sports films, Girlfight. I can't decide whether I want to see the film or not. I'm leaning towards yes, though, (sorry, husband!), and Michelle Orange raises a few of the reasons why in her NYT article about the film. Before I go there, the trailer is here.

Orange mentions some great issues in the article, the first being the tenuous positions of women in horror films, both as viewers and as actors. I'm not a huge horror fan myself. I get scared very easily, so I usually can't handle the genre very well. have lots of female friends who are into it, though (Hi, Jess and Laurie!), and I'm a good enough feminist pop cultural critic to realize that there's a goldmine there in terms of gender analysis. Though I've read Men, Women and Chainsaws, which Orange cites, I don't agree that the women who kill the killer are completely victorious, due to the fact that they are the objects of the camera's gaze. Our watching these films is, to some extent, about watching (and enjoying watching?) helpless women. Orange also throws in the buzzword "torture porn" to describe films of the Saw and Hostel ilk that seem to capitalize on audiences' desires to see beautiful women struggle. This is where Jennifer's Body comes in.

As the trailer opens, it's all about the female object of the camera's gaze (I should note here the importance of casting Meagan Fox as Jennifer. She seems to be our culture's piece of meat du jour, so maybe this role is an ironic comment?). First, Jennifer is swimming naked toward the viewer, then she's walking down the hall at school, all while keeping the fourth wall broken. Then we're given a universal that hearkens back to the high school hierarchy: "There's one girl that every girl wants to be friends with and every guy would die for." The next few frames exhibit this maxim. Amanda Seyfried is Needy (Oh, I hope this is a diminutive and not her actual name, but I can't find concrete evidence to the contrary), the dorky girl (She has glasses, you guyz!) who wants desperately to be Jennifer's friend. Kyle Gallner is Colin Gray, the emo kid with a crush who literally dies for Jennifer, because, guess what, she's a DEMON. WHO EATS HORNY HIGH SCHOOL BOYS. The rest of the trailer is rife with silly high school sex cliches (a joke about lesbian sex at slumber parties, boyfriend stealing, Jennifer calling an equal opportunity murder "swing[ing] both ways"), but what intrigues me most is the part where Needy tries to tell Jennifer that what she's doing is wrong : "You're killing people!" Jennifer's response? "Noooo, I'm killing boys." This, to me, sets the film up as a seeming reversal of torture porn where men are unempowered objects of the camera's gaze. Now, I'm not at all a proponent of affecting change by merely reversing an existing binary. This film is definitely still problematic, but I think it's an interesting shift. How does killing the killer change if, instead of a woman killing a man (who has social and patriarchal power over her, not to mention physical strength, typically), the battle is between The Hot Girl and The Nerd Girl and therefore becomes one about appropriate femininity and the various ways that role is performed? Any thoughts?

Monday, August 31, 2009

Childbirth, Form, and Androgyny in Shakespeare's Sonnets

I've read Eve K. Sedgwick's groundbreaking Between Men several times, and Sedgwick's theory of the homosocial, particularly the frequent erasure of women by the structure of the erotic triangle, is something that has influenced some of what has become the academic writing I've most enjoyed producing. Even though I'd read the book (including, of course, the Sonnets chapter) before, I'd never read it next to the sonnets themselves, and I'm still a bit shocked at what I found. The sonnets to the young man have been my favorite since late high school and early college, when I first started really getting into Shakespeare. Back then, I thought they were romantic and forbidden. Now, they seem to be dripping with misogyny, due precisely to that same triangular erasure. I still can't ignore the speaker's urging the young man to procreate (Sonnets 1-17), just as I couldn't when I first read those poems. Now, though, I'm increasingly aware of the role of women in this homosocial plea for procreation. They're, as Sedgwick says, nearly invisible in the poems, which is horrible, given how incredibly present they must be in order for the speaker's plan to be carried out. I just can't get away from the speaker's references to the young man's “form” being reproduced in future offspring. The word is used explicitly in 3.2 and 13.8, but is under the surface in other places, problematically so in Sonnet 11. To my knowledge, this refers to period medical theories adapted from Galenic ones that say that when babies are conceived, the men contribute the physical form, while the women contribute the less important matter (a misreading of the Latin “mater,” or “mother”). I know I originally got this from Laquer's Making Sex, but I don't have a copy in front of me, so I can't give you a page number. The word echoes this meaning in sonnet 3 (“Now is the time that face should form another”), while giving women none of the glory the speaker associates with the young man's future efforts at procreation by saying that the speaker will “unbless some mother” if he doesn't have children. Reproducing the young man's form is the blessing here, according to the speaker. The work of childbirth, or indeed, of child-rearing(confined almost exclusively to the feminine sphere in the period), gets no acknowledgement, and yet the woman is supposed to be blessed because the child she's been given is so beautiful, no thanks to her.
A few of the later sonnets in that section complicate the notion of form and how it is transferred. In sonnet 11, the speaker says that nature “best endowed” the young man with his beauty, and though there is no capital “N,” nature is anthropomorphized. She is also characterized as female. Since other sonnets have equated beauty with form and form as masculine dominion, sonnet 11 seems to say that female (N)ature gives form as well. Is something so godlike androgynous? Lastly, I'm not sure how to take sonnets like 18 and 19, in which the speaker suggests that the young man will be immortal through the poems that the speaker writes, as if textual reproduction is quasi-sexual as well. If that's the case, isn't the presumably male poet supplying both form (meter, poetic structure, etc.) and matter (words, topic-- e.g. Polonius' question to Hamlet in 2.2 : “What is the matter that you read?” and Hamlet's response of “Words, words, words.” ? I'm not so sure this fits with Virginia Woolf's notion of the androgynous mind, but it's certainly interesting, and something I'd love to explore further.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Christianity, Feminism, Submission, and Kyriarchy

I struggle daily to find a common ground between my feminist political beliefs and my Christianity. I truly believe that these two selves are not at odds with one another, as many would think, and that combining the two, when I do it right, increases the liberating power of each. In that vein, I've been reading feminist theologians lately, and one that I'm trying to make heads or tails of at the moment is Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza. She is a theorist in liberation theology with some pretty radical visions for how we define ourselves and explain our relationships, both physical and spiritual. The idea I've been thinking about a great deal lately is "kyriarchy," which the Wisdom Ways Glossary (2001) defines as follows:

Kyriarchy- a neologism coined by Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza and derived from the Greek words for "lord" or "master" (kyrios) and "to rule or dominate" (archein) which seeks to redefine the analytic category of patriarchy in terms of multiplicative intersecting structures of domination...Kyriarchy is best theorized as a complex pyramidal system of intersecting multiplicative social structures of superordination and subordination, of ruling and oppression.

This, in my opinion, is a much more complex and shaded notion than that of patriarchy, which is very dualistic and seems to suggest all men ruling over all women. Many societies and communities don't work that way, but aren't exactly matriarchal either. I'm thinking specifically about the complex historical and current role of many African American women, who have often been expected to simultaneously fill both a dominant single-mother role and the role of a traditionally “submissive” wife (I admit that this is somewhat of a generalization taken from broad trends. I don't mean to offend.), but there are certainly many other examples.

The connection of my discovery of and intrigue concerning kyriarchy and my Christianity is this: I received the book The Excellent Wife by Martha Peace as a wedding present. It purports to contain “a Biblical perspective” on marriage, and, I'll be honest, I expected to hate it. To my surprise, I was deeply moved and convicted, and I've read just short of three chapters so far. It contained none of the unreasonable and sexist dictums to submit that I've often heard (and ridiculed) in the past. Instead, it explained to notion of service to one's husband in a way I can really get behind. The author explains that the relationship between God, husband, and wife is akin to that of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. All three parts are integral for spiritual growth and well-being; they just occupy different roles. The author also makes it clear that different does not mean hierarchical. Men and women were both made in God's image and are both required to serve Him; they are merely to do so in different ways, and one of the ways a wife can serve God is through loving her husband and putting his needs before her own. Peace doesn't deny male responsibility either, as many critics who label Biblical principles as misogynist often suggest of the proponents of those principles. She states that husbands are to appreciate the work that their wives do for them and see it for what it really is: a dutiful response to a higher spiritual calling that they, as husbands, should be grateful to benefit from. They, too, are to strive to elevate their wives' needs above their own desires. That doesn't seem disempowering or degrading to me at all. On the contrary, it seems like a way for people to acknowledge and appreciate their natural differences while striving to love one another. It seems like the biggest problem in all this is that it's easy to misunderstand what Biblical submission is. It's not worldly submission, not the stuff of invading armies or political coups. Instead, it has to be mutual to work, and just because the acts take different forms does not mean the mutuality does not exist. Given those notions, kyriarchy seems to fit. It also seems to suggest that power is not bad, that it is the misunderstanding of the source and nature of that power (from a Christian standpoint) that has negative results.

While I was pondering all of these things and how they affect me as both a Christian and a feminist, I came across a post on, widely considered the center of the young (secular) feminist blogosphere by many. While I frequently appreciate the site's dseire to make feminism relevant and fun, I find that for all their preaching of respect and tolerance, its members are typically quick to dismiss those to adhere to a religious faith as brainwashed or blind, Christians most of all. The post is entitled “Christianity, Misogyny, and Anger in Oklahoma,” and, in it, its author details her shock after attending a “Southern Baptist church” with several of her friends. I'm not sure what exactly the pastor said in that sermon, or if it was as misogynist and degrading as she recounts. Maybe it was. I was raised in a Southern Baptist church and heard misogynist sermons many times as a child, so I'm not denying that that happens or saying that it's right. I think it's another case of humans equating Biblical submission with what we see of worldly submission and thinking that they are achieved by the same means. What really angers me about the post is the authors response when her friends tell her that the message they heard is a common one, one that they had heard and seen enacted by their own mothers. Her response:
This made me profoundly angry not only with the speaker, and other such speakers, but also at my friends. I realize it is wrong to solely blame my friends - that what has created them has been this environment of repression. All the same, they are able to read and think- they can see the outside world of strong, liberated women. They could be these women. Stand up for yourselves! Make your own decisions! Change the world! I only wish I had yelled it before.

Her friends did not say that they agreed with this viewpoint, only that it was a commonly espoused one (or if they did agree, she did not included their statements, which makes me think she's jumping to conclusions). More than that, she mentions “the outside world of strong, liberated women,” as if women who hold religious convictions are somehow under glass, like some holier-than-thou science experiment. She others women she claims to have the deepest concern for, yells at them to stand up for themselves while making no effort to stand up for them herself, to consider their position, to think about the importance of religious conviction and what defying that would mean for someone who holds it in a place of highest importance. That is intolerance, and that proves to me that we need a less black-and-white way to consider how power structures work in our daily lives.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

In which I criticize one of my selves and defend another

I promise that the post I said I would write on HBO's feminist fairy tales is coming soon. It's a lot longer and more involved than I thought it would be, and I'm trying to prepare to teach at a new school right now, so I'm a little busy. It'll be here eventually, though. In the meantime, I'd like to respond to two posts I read on the internet recently. While they are on wildly different topics, they are related, at least given my personal standpoint and overlapping identities, because both posts comment on/define something I identify as and are written by people outside those identifications. I've been thinking a great deal lately about inclusion and exclusion and labels and how those three concepts are so often inextricably linked for us as human beings when we identify or describe ourselves (to ourselves or to others), and these articles caused me to think a bit deeper about how I define myself and what those definitions mean or should mean to me.

The first article is on the website, which I've been exploring a good bit recently. It's an informative, often quite funny, and sometimes satirical site that seems primarily to endeavor to counter the widespread (mis)conception of Judaism as antiquated, boring, or irrelevant. The article I want to discuss is entitled 10 Things We Can Learn From Evangelical Christians. I was linked to the article from another site, and was originally intrigued by the title, as so often the word "Evangelical" is coded as backward or closed-minded. While I don't like his tone or diction very much at all, I do agree with the majority of the points the author makes. For example, the first thing Aleph cites that Evangelical congregations do well that synagogues should use is free food. It's always made sense to me in terms of ministry to use meeting basic human needs as a gateway to meet the spiritual needs of those who may be afraid of discussing such things outright. Not onlt is it practical, but sharing a meal with someone allows for conversation and relationship-building. If someone is comfortable with me as a person, they'll ideally feel less pressured or like I'm just trying to convert them if I try to open up a spiritual discussion.

While I thought that point and others in the article were spot on, I took issue with others, specifically "Making Denominations Irrelevant" and "Creating New Traditions," and I took issue with these points because I don't think they work within the Evangelical church the way Aleph seems to think they do. In regards to the first, Aleph writes that "[Evangelicals] talk about 'The Church" as if all Christians, regardless if they go to Faith Harvest Ministry or Harvesting Faith Ministry, are a part of one body. While I've certainly heard that phrase used in that way, I don't think that its being used means that Evangelicals don't care about denominations. In my personal experience, the contrary is often true. Fun fact: In my (private, Christian) high school, Baptists and Methodists openly mocked one another and ocassionally wouldn't speak to each other. I've seen that kind of pettiness mostly disappear with the arrival of adulthood, but I think that a lot of Evangelical churches hold in high esteem the social capital or privilege that comes with a certain denomination in any given area.

The "Creating New Traditions" section reads thusly: "This is something that I've seen the Evangelical World do, really well. Ever heard about 'Hell Houses', the Evangelical version of a haunted house which literally scares-the-devil-out-of-you? Or what about Promise Rings and Abstinence Pledges? These are all the new traditions of the Christian faith, and Jews could do the same thing." While I agree with Aleph's implication that new traditions can invigorate worship, I think he's missing a discussion of respect for doctrine. I realize that he may be ill-equipped to discuss Christian doctrine specifically, and that's fine. I just think that his comment as is is severly oversimplified and essentially says new=good.

The second article reflects a trend in the feminist blogosphere that I just can't get behind: polyamory as anti-patriarchal empowerment. I won't speak about it at length here, but I may return to this trend in future posts. In one such article on one of my favorite blogs, Feministe, guest blogger Frau Sally Benz is writing a series of posts about her entry into the "poly" community. The point she makes about monogamy in her most recent post that really irritates me is this:
The problem with many of our contemporary relationships is that we’re meant to be everything to another person: to fulfill all and every need. I see this in parenting, where one couple are supposed to be everything for their children. I see it in relationships that have gone destructive, like mine described above: where I have felt that I had to be everything to another person, and felt continually like I would never ever be enough, that I had to set myself aside in order to be enough. Where I have felt bad for having needs that my SO didn’t know how or didn’t want to fulfill. In poly, there’s no assumption that you ought to fulfill all of someone else’s needs, or that they ought to fulfill all of yours. Those responsibilities, which can weigh so heavily on relationships and on partners, can be shared. And they can be shared in ways that are made explicit, which are negotiated. Which means that women have space to be less self-effacing without feeling like they’re putting the relationship at risk by not being able or willing to fulfill a need or desire. And yes, that negotiation is possible in a mono relationship—and is engaged in, in the ones that work, I think!—it’s just that because poly is unusual, in my experience, people don’t assume they have a right to things, or assume they’re fulfilling your needs based on some pre-defined notion of what a relationship is, as is so clearly defined for mono relationships in almost every love story ever.

While I appreciate her asserting that some people in monogamous relationships are vocal about their needs with their partners (I'd like to think that my husband and I try to be that way with one another, though I'm sure he'd say I need some work in that area), I object to both her assertion that monogamous people look to their partners to meet ALL their needs and her further implication that poly relationships are better because the pressure is less when multiple relationships can spread out the need-meeting. It seems to me that FSB is viewing monogamous people as cut off from the outside world. I don't get all my emotional satisfaction from my husband. I have friends, a family, a job, a religion. All these things contribute to my mood, my joy, my sense of self. Given that the effect she attributes to poly relationships also probably happens to people in monogamous relationships who interact with other people in any kind of meaningful way, polyamory just seems selfish, like an easy way out.

And those are my rants regarding self-definition. Comments are welcome and appreciated.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Childhood, Representation, and the Princess Archetype, Part One

I have a lovely niece who is turning four at the end of this month. She's smart and kind and silly, and I want her not to lose those things as she grows up. I want her to realize that she can be strong and I want her to cultivate a healthy amount of confidence in herself. I'm sure these are things that most parents and relatives want for their children, and what most women want for the little girls in their lives. This is why I'm a bit wary of her sudden fascination with the Disney Princesses. I was the perfect age right in the middle of the Disney renaissance of the 1990s to have a similar fascination, and I turned out fine, but not without the help of some serious critical thinking, even as a child.

My first memory of what the Disney Princesses meant to me dovetails with my first memory of Barbie and similar dolls: I clearly recall being outraged (and possibly throwing a fit in the middle of a toy store, though I do not encourage children to emulate that particular form of social protest, if only for the benefit of their parents) at the sheer number of blonde toys there were to choose from, while Barbie seemed to have only one brunette “friend.” To add insult to injury, that friend seemed to be brunette only because no one else was, not because brown hair was just a pretty as blonde hair. If that was the case, why was there only one of her? After that moment, whenever I was asked who my favorite princess was—a very popular discussion among elementary school-aged girls at the time—I answered, “Snow White, because she has dark hair like mine.” Even at such a young age, in my own very small way, I recognized the pain of feeling excluded because the most popular toys, the prettiest toys, the toys the other girls thought were the best toys, did not look like me. I also recognized in that moment, though I couldn't pinpoint or define the feeling for many years, the sadness of feeling like a second thought, a token, when someone who looked like me was included. Almost twenty years later, I can't imagine how much harder it would have been to be a little Black girl or a little Latina girl or a host of other underrepresented little girls then, to need to see not just my hair represented as I played, but my entire physical being. I realize that Disney and Mattell have both made a concerted effort in recent years to rectify this problem. Disney films since my childhood have been populated with princesses of various ethnicities and backgrounds, with the first African American princess making her debut in The Princess and the Frog this fall, and the So In Style Collection, a new line of African American Barbie dolls with curlier hair and more realistic facial structure, was recently released.

While I'm thankful for this progress, I do want to make sure that young girls like my niece have alternatives to what I see as the most dangerous pitfall of the princess model: the role of the prince as active savior. While Disney has done work in this area as well (I'm thinking primarily of Mulan, who I near-worshiped as an eleven-year-old, and Kim Possible, who was a high school cheerleader by day and a crime-fighting secret agent by night), I am always on the lookout for something other than the traditional fairy tales from which that corporation has made its millions. That said, I was delighted to stumble upon the HBO series Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child. The series is a bit dated (I think the most recent one is from 1999 or so), and occasionally relies on cartoonish racial or ethnic stereotypes, but I believe its heart is in the right place. Its typical format is to tell a traditional fairy tale like Snow White or The Emperor's New Clothes, but to change them up by setting them in a different culture. For example, their Snow White is set in a Native American village, while their Emperor's kingdom is ancient Japan. Several episodes also strive for a deliberately feminist perspective. I'm touched by this desire to both show children of all colors that the stories they love can star heroes and heroines that look like them, and to teach children that the wisdom and morals these tales often deliver can be found in nearly all cultures. I'll examine two episodes from the series that claim to be especially feminist in my next post. For now, I just wanted to air some of my misgivings about how we teach children to view their world. I know there are some fabulous resources to combat how media can harm children in today's world. For example, I've read Packaging Girlhood , and I absolutely adore Amy Poehler's web show Smart Girls at the Party. Do you have more suggestions as to similar books , companies, or initiatives that I should check out? Please share your thoughts and stories in the comments section.

Monday, August 10, 2009

About This Blog

I'm going to use this blog to explore and share my thoughts about a number of subjects and causes close to my heart, including but not limited to feminist issues, GLBTQ activism and representation, teen culture in America, and the importance of popular culture as social critique. I would consider most of those notions "marginal" in the context of mainstream America, and since I agree wholeheartedly with the quote above that the best way for marginal groups to escape the margins is to communicate with and speak out for one another, "Marginally Yours" seemed like a great name for this space. In that same vein, I'd love to eventually open this blog up to multiple contributors to create a chorus of voices from the margins, whatever and wherever they may be. So, welcome to my bit of cyberspace. Read, think, comment, and tell your friends!