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the radical notion that women are people. fem·i·nism [fem-uh-niz-uhm] noun the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men. feminism is organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests. “as a woman i have no country, as a woman my country is the whole world.” - virginia woolf. feminism is a collection of movements and ideologies aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights for everyone. feminism is both an intellectual commitment and a political movement that seeks gender justice and the end of sexism in all forms. feminism is respecting people of all genders, races, and sexuality as human beings. feminism is for everyone. feminism is the belief that equal rights are not defined by sex. fem·i·nism [fem-uh-niz-uhm] verb to help women get the vote, obtain equal rights for jobs, make laws to control domestic violence, obtain the rights to own property, to divorce, to have access to birth control and to have possession of their own bodies. wake up people, and look around you. “if you have some power then your job is to empower someone else.” - toni morrison. feminism means recognizing the past inequalities that have historically denied women access to many social, economic, and political spheres that are mostly occupied by men—also recognizing the result of these inequalities have lasting impacts today. “a woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.” – gloria steinem. feminism challenges the dominant narrative. feminism is the difference between life and death. feminism is a celebration of diversity. feminism is inclusion feminism says the personal is political. feminism is having a room of one’s own. feminism is the radical belief that we were all created equal. feminism is
© Sally Katz
We write (about) issues from a gender-aware perspective.
editors-in-chief ana cecilia alvarez & amy la count & analise roland managing editor david sanchez-aguilera chanelle adams & | academic nicole hasslinger jennifer avery & | art sally katz siera dissmore & | culture ann kremen kate holguin & | features tanya singh grace adler & sarah brandon & | literature caroline steinfeld lily gutterman & | opinions einar ragnar jónsson jasmine bala & | politics kristy choi priya gaur & | sex & health alexandra wardlaw maru pabón | contributing editor design editor | carolyn shasha designers | casey friedman & sean simonson business | thomas baker & bridget ferrill & chaelin suh blog | kyle albert & cecilia berriz & patricia ekpo & ginger hintz & bridget sweet web advisor | danaë metaxa-kakavouli
We accept work from every genre, including fiction, nonfiction, poetry, visual art, comedy, and academic writing focusing on culture, politics, sex, health, science, and sports. We believe feminism is not a rigid set of guidelines or restrictive beliefs, but instead contains a fluid spectrum of definitions that can be negotiated through the creative process. It is a malleable perspective that is both personal and public. We will not try to answer the question, “What is feminism,” but rather, “What can feminism be?” We openly accept and encourage submissions from all people, regardless of race, color, religion, ethnicity, nationality, class, ability, gender or sexual identity. We hope to promote and practice inclusivity of voices from writers and artists of all identities and orientations. We approach our work with anti-oppression and anti-discrimination frameworks in mind. We hope Bluestockings provides a platform for engaging and exciting work being created within our community that relates to issues of gender and sexuality, including those that express radical, dissenting, or unpopular viewpoints. We believe feminism can be a generative process that has relevant and productive ties to every other area of study. We hope to create a community surrounding Bluestockings where creative production can lead to generative conversations that help develop a broader social impact.
In the spring of 2012, we “established” Bluestockings Magazine. Yet, established is too stable a word—we never mounted a stable monolith. Instead, our process was one of unearthing problems and envisioning possibilities within our work. We were not establishing; we were building. As we present our sophomore effort, we are incredibly proud of our content and grateful for the support we continue to receive. Yet, we also are aware of the challenges inherent in this project. For one, as a magazine, we are continually contending with the stigma attached to the history of feminism. Like many movements, feminism has a history of excluding and othering. With each wave of feminism, spaces are created that legitimize and empower certain identities while excluding and negating others. This stigma has created access points to this conversation for some, and created barriers for others. As a result we have resolved to approach our work with anti-oppression and anti-discrimination frameworks in mind. We may call ourselves “Brown’s feminist magazine” but we are not the only space on campus that facilitates gender-aware, anti-oppression discourse. People are “doing” and “living” feminism everywhere in our community. Yet we have found ourselves in the predicament this semester that we have not always intersected with other groups, and, more disconcertingly, that we have unwittingly installed new hierarchies that we did not anticipate. This spring, the issue of inclusivity has been most salient in our editorial discussions and descisions. We felt inclusivity was essential not only to the community we formed
within and beyond Brown’s campus, but also essential to the way in which we organize, edit, and solicit content. We did not want to privilege one voice, one genre, one topic, or one form of writing. This was incredibly enriching for us as editors; by opening up our submissions to include all forms of writing, we received an incredible breadth of works. We believe feminism must be informed by the problems that intersectionality and inclusivity pose to its practice. To do so, we must realize that we cannot always prioritize feminism in our activist efforts, even while we continually wrangle with it. As feminists, we must forge coalitions between activist groups on and beyond campus and learn to stand in solidarity with the communities we write and think about. We have seen that, far too often, knowledge is power. This creates discourses that can drive power and paradigm shifts at the individual, community, and systemic level. We acknowledge that we have not always succeeded in our feminism. But as we write in our mission statement, we believe in trying to navigate not what feminism is but what feminism can be. The time and space between what “is” and what “can be” is tenuous. We ask for leeway—for more room to grow. We hope Bluestockings continues on a road filled with more people, experiences, and perspectives. Please join us. This space has always belonged to you. We thank you. With love,
11 | Timbre Timbre David Sanchez-Aguilera 15 | The Thaw Emma Ruddock 17 | On Words Katie Harris 18 | Dear Edgar Julia Longoria 24 | The Shrine of the Black Madonna Doreen St. Felix 25 | Women of the Faith Kate Holguin 29 | An Interview with Leora Tanenbaum: On Slut Shaming, Choice, and Moving Forward 33 | Short Hair Claire Luchette 35 | Queer Science: Biases and the Biology of Difference Gopika Krishna 38 | Fucking Ourselves Gabe Schwartz 42 | Advent Chanelle Adams 44 | Changing the Man in the Mirror Chris Challans 52 | Band Not-Boyfriends, Cooties, Mint Candy Apple Lauren Allegrezza
Deconstructing the Fantasy of Genius Julia T. | 55 Triptych Leah Douglas | 59 A Woman’s Work: The Failures of American Parental Leave Policies Ana Cecilia Alvarez | 60 The Old Art Lauren Sukin | 66 Don’t Touch Me Gadi Cohen | 67 “Hey, I’m the Liquorice Bitch”: The Politics of Azealia Banks Einar Ragnar Jónsson | 70 Thing Sophia Rabb | 75 “She Should Have Taken God’s Name”: The Politics of Victim Blaming in India Ujwala Dixit, M.D. | 76 Fight Like a Feminist, Sting Like a Bee Katie Sola | 79 On Cultural Competence: A Latino Family in American Therapy Kate Holguin | 82 Acknowledgments | 88 Art | 90
Features | 11
I find myself in T.F. Green Providence airport dozing off again, wondering if I should pick up a book I haven’t touched since my last connecting flight between Providence and Chicago, if I should get coffee, or if I should do neither thing. I decide on the last option and, between flipping through the pages of a Moleskine, checking my text messages, and reading the back cover of Mrs. Dalloway for the umpteenth time, I fill the last piece in the story of my sophomore year. I realize that my current situation, deranged and in transit as I am, is pretty representative—and is at the very least typical—of the past years of my life since attending college. I have trouble straining my early adult years from the images of airports, as any attuned young adult in my position probably does. I admit these things, but I also think that the story of my understanding of airports, the ways in which I have incorporated them into the narration of my life, says something deeply personal about the kind of person and intellectual I am. I am not so obtuse as to only consider terminals, tarmacs, and angry flight attendants as defining symbols of my adulthood, but this is also part of my story. Before the liftoffs between Providence and Chicago, there was driving in Agata’s car—teenaged, feverish, her battered Suzuki taking one too many hits on prairie lanes and trips to Chicago just to see the skyline at night; no reason given, no reason necessary. So I wonder why my mind always returns to these airports to discern meaning from these experiences when I know there are parts I will not entirely understand. I am beginning to see that between the terminals there is still the driving; still.
© Carolyn Shasha
12 | Features
Features | 13
I am thinking about the people I can barely hold onto, hold onto only by threads. What of a relationship that is weighted unequally? They are plagued by the same recurring predicament. The sense of balance is absent in them; the moments register weirdly. I have decided to untie these threads, to lay them straightly, to count them. I have decided to stop reading ahead of strings and to exist unwound. I am fine by myself. The second: ages that existed inside me, lacking coordinates at the moment of composition: the faces of people who I had grown incredibly close to over those six weeks and who I would most likely never see again, my feelings of sexual abandonment in the face of a homophobic culture, the first plane six weeks earlier, and Chicago on the horizon. These are the specifics, but what I am really thinking about, and what these split images orbit elliptically, is addressed in this journal entry from July 17, three weeks before the connecting flight in question. The core reads as follows: There are timbres of emotion that contain the past. Which is why a sunny morning can make me unhappy faster than anything. How does one release the shards, or, better, weld them into a new collage, a new stained glass through which our emotions filter and shade our experiences? Retrospectively, I would like to change the first sentence so that it more closely resembles its intended meaning: there are timbres of life, as they happen to us, which contain the past. What does it mean to be made upset by a sunny morning, even as an adult—what is the aura beheld at dawn? I read my inscriptions from that month and realize that the airplane and the airport terminal existed for me by constituting a liminality between my past and future self. Boarding a plane, we suddenly become weighted with the past, startled by our dislocation, made aware of tropes in response to the
‘‘I only wish to convey that I am a kind of person who leans towards emotions, whose experiences and interpretations with the world are initially converted into feelings before they can be logically deconstructed later.’’
So, airplanes are only part of the full story, but the following account is of the most significant and encompassing piece. My most vivid travelling experience occurred two summers ago: a seven-hour layover in Munich on the way back to Chicago. I was leaving Poland, where I had spent six weeks teaching English to grade school children in the bucolic southern parts of the country, and returning home, to custom and to normalcy. I remember not having slept for over two days and stopping outside the German passport check in a daze. My fingers numbly performed the same ritual mindlessly: passport, wallet, phone, passport, wallet, phone. After having accounted for my items, I walked forward, pitted, and sat myself at the correct gate. I find that physical acts of travelling are never truly lived. The explanation for this is partly visceral: a bodily reaction, a circadian rhythm out of sync. On this final flight, it was more of an emotional numbness than anything; both factors conspired to induce a surreal mood that transformed life into a movie being played before me. I spent my time in that terminal replaying the film of my life and wondering how I had been made different from my time teaching; a de-centering and culturally alienating experience the likes of which I had not known before. On the flight home I believed myself ignorant and afraid of the ways in which I would reconstitute these experiences to impose on a cohesive narrative of my life. I was afraid of not liking this narrative. I was afraid of the future. My memories of Poland from this past summer begin and end in terminals, though they are in no way recounted or recollected linearly for me. I admit that not all moments of travelling (again, I am speaking of those physical acts of transportation) slip off the slide of reality. For me, some moments do feel like they exist, and they help me see these airports for what they symbolically represent. On the connecting flight departing from Krakow to Munich, the penultimate leg in my journey home, I experienced a stretch of lucidity in which I more directly vocalized the anxieties, thoughts, and ideas that would later paralyze me on the final ten hour flight to Chicago. Waiting at the gate, I found myself writing in my journal out of necessity (I don’t normally write in a notebook except in moments of desperation) and addressing the mental restructurings that I could sense were at work and had been since the moment I stepped off the first plane six weeks ago. I sat at the gate with a hand hovering over an open journal, pen in safe distance, coming eventually to compose the following entries.
I have never before met people that laughed so deeply that their laughter actually grew within them, fortified by its own honesty. I feel reawakened. I danced and I did it honestly. I have already spoken of the problems I have faced negotiating my sexuality with a new culture in previous entries. On one hand, I believe in my own beauty—I can hold it as I dance with Bekah, Hilary, and Marina. Still, it has been a long time since I have felt so abandoned. I have felt and still feel unwanted. I am wanted, but where? I read my inscriptions now and can more discerningly see the fears, hopes, and presences that spilled their way into my journal, clamoring to be understood, the instant my pen hit paper. I see now that the first passage—concerned as it is with self-sufficiency—and the second passage—my wondering quest for home and for acceptance—are old tropes redressed in new specifics. The new specifics can be explained by telling of the im-
‘‘To explore another seed, my emotional understanding of my sexuality is one of real abandonment, and my search for home so happens to exist concomitant with my search for acceptance.’’
14 | Features
of our lives raying indistinguishable and uncontained into the future. The indefiniteness of the future makes us scramble for order. To understand the past, I thought before, was in some sense to control the future and to control the direction of these vectors. So arose the nervous conditions of my ten-hour flight home; an attempt to forge a new stained glass out of inappropriate, faulty material. It was not until after I had settled back home that I realized what these entries were actually saying; it was not until later that I saw the tropes I initially recognized as being superficially recurring as marks of deeper things. For example, I don’t believe it accidental that I originally substituted the word “emotion” when I logically intended the word “life” in this July 17 journal entry. In my relationships and within myself, I continually encounter modes of thinking that are defined (in black and white terms, I concede) by differential treatments of logic and emotion. I only wish to convey that I am a kind of person who leans towards emotions, whose experiences and interpretations with the world are initially converted into feelings before they can be logically deconstructed later. My gut reaction is not to rationalize first. To explore another seed, my emotional understanding of my sexuality is one of real abandonment, and my search for home so happens to exist concomitant with my search for acceptance. If the role of my sexuality in these retellings seems insidious, it is perhaps because the pain and joy of being homosexual is so often experienced insidiously. The power of memory, to borrow an image from Michael Ondaatje, is that memory is viewed as if through a kaleidoscope—continually reinterpreted and differently experienced. As he succinctly puts it, “We live permanently in the recurrence of our own stories, whatever story we tell.” How we labor to remember and rework our stories is a matter of how we structure our lives and ourselves. In many ways, this essay is my attempt to rework my memories that have recently plagued me through the frame of travel. What I see is not that I can manipulate the past or control the future, but that I must come to terms with myself, to realize what I am feeling, and why I am feeling it. This interpretation is the only way to take comfort in the future, the only way to find assurance in my own independence. I believe that my preoccupation with airports is actually a way of understanding the responsibilities of adulthood. The endless flights between Chicago and Providence and the pit stops in Europe that summer continue to be empowering and beleaguering experiences. Here, I am suddenly beset with the realization that I am now in control, that I am far from the plains of Chicago, and that, most terrifyingly, I am in charge of my own happiness. While these flights underscore my responsibilities, they also point to what is missing: a bastion of security that does not exist in any physically determinant place. I see more clearly that the disjuncture I feel between airplanes and driving and between my adulthood and my teenage years is precisely this ongoing search for home and acceptance. In that red Suzuki, amongst my friends, “out,” and burden free, is where I have the closest feelings of home. To me, it seems that the thing for us all to do is de-center our idea of home, to realize that our understandings of home, whatever they may be, are carried inside us, and to see that these feelings have regenerative and transferable qualities. The most important journey, to borrow a concept from Joan Didion’s essay on self-respect, may be to find the person at home inside us. I realize that there is no disjuncture inside of me, and, as I conclude in one of my final entries from that summer, regardless of where we are, we are never alien to ourselves even when we fear ourselves most lost. Alas, that summer I found the opportunity to rest my head against Agata’s car, momentarily prairie bound, one more time. There is this time When Winter lays his head In the lap of Spring. A wasting love. Have you considered therapy? No. I’d rather just melt away. If she places her two little hands in his, she will feel his pulse— three more weeks, maybe four four weeks and two days just four weeks and three days more. You might wonder if all Spring’s rain is simply wet snow evading Winter’s paralyzing breath. Count each inhale, count each exhale, I don’t seem to enjoy things the way I used to. She wonders if she can’t slip him deep into the night and lead his straightjacket hospital gown medicated late March mix out into the streets Where they quietly form one unit of time in transition before shifting past each other. A painless inconsequential exchange.
Literature | 15
But the empty streets slushed and echoing only amplify a collective silence She is cold and he is warming. It is corporeal. Leaching that heated body a shock from self a break from home Spring’s precocious bulb forces its naked self through the surface, through Winter’s thawing skin, a slow suffocation. Breathing finally. Her rueful green leaves pointing towards the sky He lies in the ground.
Sex & Health | 17
So, I lost my virginity somewhere in his room. It happened among the piles of dark clothes on the industrial carpet−the murky kaleidoscope type particular to universities because it is stain-resilient. But the trouble is not the carpet. The trouble is not that he kept so many clothes on the floor that finding my underwear afterwards took longer than it should have. The trouble is not even him. The trouble is that I “lost” it, or worse, that he might have “taken” it. Because, quite frankly, I don’t particularly want to know where it went, nor am I asking for it back. The truer trouble is that I don’t know how to talk about it. The language I have is restricting, ascribing and denying agency, without considering that my experience might fill the space of more than four letters. The words I’m left to sift through offer unintentional power dynamics, framing the experience in a way that traps me in a traditional narrative. I don’t feel deflowered if it means he is emflowerpowered at my expense. My loss of virginity wasn’t an exchange, transferred upon penetration. It was a pro-con list with my roommate, questions about his sexual health, and a moment of crafted spontaneity. And I’d just like a word to say that. A word free from connotations of defensiveness and innocence and even empowerment. A word that fills the ears of my listeners with understanding. Maybe it’s already out there, and some girl with a shorter list of expectations and hair the color of mine has carved a place for it in her mouth. Or, maybe, it’s already pressed itself against my tongue and I’m just saying it wrong.
© Kirby Lowenstein
18 | Culture
Lo! in that little window-niche How statue-like I see thee stand! The folded scroll within thy hand — A Psyche from the regions which Are Holy land! Biographers paint Helen and the people in Poe’s life as Poe would: wrapped in a veil of intrigue. After all, it’s Poe who’s at the center of this cemetery scene, the man whose name we recognize. But wish all we might that Poe’s real life was something out of “The Raven,” it just isn’t. Sarah Helen Whitman went by Helen. She was a feminist, a critic, and a writer in her own right. She was born on January 19, 1803, in Providence. This was six years to the day before Poe’s birth in 1809 in Boston. Poe’s poem “To Helen” was first published in 1831, fourteen years before the two met. Even in the definitive timeline of her life, it’s easy for historians to lose Helen in Poe’s shadow.
Culture | 19
One evening in 1848, in the days leading to her delayed acceptance of Poe’s proposal, Helen walked in on Poe brooding in a dimly lit parlor, the coal fire casting hyperbolic shadows on the walls. Staring at a portrait of Helen hanging on the wall, Poe seems in a trance. “Helen,” he started, as she recalls in one of her letters to a friend. “I have had such strange dreams since I have been sitting here that I can hardly believe myself awake! Your picture in this dim light looked so like the face of Robert Stanard that it startled me. You remember that he was the schoolmate of whom I have spoken to you, the son of Mrs. Helen Stanard, whom I loved so well.” It’s clear Helen Stanard—not Sarah Helen Whitman—is the object of Poe’s 1831 poem “To Helen.” Helen listened to Poe when he told her the poem was a sign he knew her ages ago, that he loved her ages ago. Recalling that night in the dimly lit parlor, Helen wrote to a friend that she fancied herself almost a “weird fantasy in some of his stories.” She was smitten, wrapped up in a grand man’s delusions of grandeur. Even Helen herself couldn’t resist making herself one of Poe’s characters, linked to her “poor Raven” by premonition and parallel birth.
A version of this piece was originally published in The College Hill Independent in March 2013 Draped in the pale, empty elegance of lace, Helen’s look is haunting. It’s appropriate, against the cool, grainy darkness of the cemetery where she sits. She has a coffin-shaped necklace hanging from her rail of a neck. In her purse, she carries a kerchief sprayed with ether to treat some imagined heart condition or other. Her elegance for tonight’s ordinary occasion, an evening’s walk, makes her fanciness seem strange, remote, not quite of this earth. Facing this ghostly presence is a man who looks like he was born in that black floor-length double-breasted greatcoat he’s sporting. With sunken eyes and wispy tresses, he has the look of a man who wouldn’t say things; he quoth them. Edgar Allan Poe might be kneeling now, the neat, mildly worn trouser on his left knee pressed on the frigid cobblestone sidewalk. On this hillside cemetery in 1848 Providence, RI, Poe proposed to his “Helen of a Thousand Dreams,” the woman he wrote odes to before he even laid eyes on her—or so he said. An 1831 poem begins: Helen, thy beauty is to me Like those Nicean barks of yore…
“By the way,” she wrote in a letter to a writer friend Julia Deane Freeman, “did you ever think how strange it is that Lady Macbeth has no name—no distinctive name?”
20 | Culture
Long before Poe passed through Providence, Whitman was a woman of letters. She pored over the romantic and transcendentalist writings of her time: Emerson, Shelley, Byron, and Keats—literature suffused with over-sentiment and spiritualism. Helen made her own debut in the literary world with the help of her first husband, John Winslow Whitman, co-editor of the Boston Spectator and Ladies’ Album. But Helen began writing poetry as a girl, in Quaker school. Growing up, Helen’s house was on the corner of Benefit and Church Streets, a warm, reddish brown cottage that still hugs the side of College Hill today, where it slopes toward the river. Cozied up in her home of “pure and gentle peace” where human hearts found “fine accord” and “cares and follies are together fled,” Helen wrote. She wrote poems in wide, curly cursives. She wrote odes to invisible dogs. She wrote mountains of letters, mostly to female friends, recounting lazy days in the countryside. And as a grown woman, she published accolades to her literary admirations like Percy Bysshe Shelley and Ralph Waldo Emerson, and accounts of her fast-paced travels abroad. In 1845, the year Poe first saw her, Helen wrote a letter to her friend Ruth recounting her meeting with another man, abolitionist Thomas Wilson Dorr. She described how his right hand’s gentle pressure “still pulsated” along her fingers and made her forget her “tea, strawberries and cream!” In Helen’s writings, there’s a quirky, providential marriage of girlish pleasure and scathing cynicism that makes her an unusually candid voice of her time. “By the way,” she wrote in a letter to a writer friend Julia Deane Freeman, “did you ever think how strange it is that Lady Macbeth has no name—no distinctive name?” History remembers Helen best for her writings on Poe. She actually made the first move. At a friend’s party in Providence, she recited her hypothetical valentine she thought he’d never see: Oh! thou grim and ancient Raven, From the Night’s Plutonic shore, Oft in dreams, thy ghastly pinions Wave and flutter round my door… Little did she know, Poe was smirking in the audience. Her earnest admiration in that poem is proof Helen the writer valued candor. In her literary criticism, she revered the honest, domestic dramas of Charlotte Brontë. The books of literary magnate William Thackery, who wrote savage satires of high English society, Helen dismissed as “prosaic, ignoble and passionless.” She found passion in Poe. “I have pressed your letter again and again to my lips, sweetest Helen—bathing it in tears of joy, or of a ‘divine despair’…All thoughts—all passions seem now merged in the one consuming desire—the mere wish to make you comprehend— to make you see that for which there is no human voice—the unutterable fervor of my love for you—for so well do I know your poet-nature, oh Helen! Helen!” This is the second correspondence, October 1, 1848, between the two writers, who hadn’t formally met yet. Only acquainted through their writings: Poe’s published stories and Helen’s intellectual valentine. Not quite a fortnight had passed after their first letter of correspondence and not but a few weeks would pass before
© Jennifer Avery
22 | Culture
Poe would propose. Biographers write that Poe first laid eyes on Helen in her hillside rose garden in 1845, in a scene much like the cemetery one. Their romance was fast, furious, and mostly long-distance. After his first proposal to Helen, Poe writes to her, “Would it not be ‘glorious,’ darling, to establish in America the sole unquestionable aristocracy—that of intellect—to secure its supremacy—to lead and control it?” Helen, no doubt, was smitten. After receiving this letter and hearing that Poe, alone and awaiting an answer to his proposal, had attempted suicide, she finally obliged. The engagement was conditional; Poe had to promise not to drink. It may be hard to imagine no-nonsense, levelheaded Helen acceding to Poe’s extravagant proposal. But it seems she did love him. Helen’s literary life is often veiled beneath a shroud of romantic portraits. But Poe’s life too was swathed in its own malign mythology. The talk of the town was that Poe had begun an affair with an old flame, Mrs. Shelton, in Massachusetts, during Helen and Poe’s engagement. When Helen heard word from friends that Poe had begun drinking again, she was done. “To my excited imagination everything at that time seemed a portent or an omen,” she wrote. “I had been subjected to terrible mental conflicts, and was but just recovering from a painful and dangerous illness.” Helen had no way of knowing the truth. Biographies paint the next scene like this: Poe ambled onto the threshold of the Benefit Street cottage from his train from Richmond. He stands in the parlor, dreamyeyed and ready to embark on a life with his Helen of a Thousand Dreams. Helen’s mother and sister brood in the corner of their dimly lit parlor, frowning at the madman who thinks he’ll be marrying their Helen. Helen walks purposefully down the stairs and throws the adulterer out of her house. He protests angrily, violently, and storms out, never to see Helen again. In less than a year, Poe dies. “Of course the incident caused a great deal of gossip and the wildest and most exaggerated stories,” Helen wrote to a friend. Three weeks after Poe returned to Fordham, he wrote to Helen about the horrible rumors circulating about his character, asking, “by the love that had subsisted between us to write him at once to assure him that I, at least, had not authorized their circulation.” Helen never wrote back: “Dreading that an answer to this letter might lead to a renewal of the harrowing scenes I had passed through I did not reply to it.” Poe continued to write to her in his final days, asking her, again and again, to write to him, to reassure him that the calumnies that spread came not from her tongue. “No amount of provocation shall induce me to speak ill of you,” he wrote, “even in my own defense.” Shortly after Poe’s death, the biographer Ruphus Wilmot Griswold, a poet whose work Poe criticized, led a campaign to deface the name of Edgar Allan Poe as madman, freak, and infidel. Suddenly, Poe himself was painted as a character out of “The Tell-Tale Heart,” a psychotic, amoral, drunken monster. Seen this way, it’s easy to imagine the horrors that Edgar Poe must have inflicted on his loved ones. Whitman was likely the woman torn most by this man’s infidelity. But Sarah Helen Whitman was elegant, dignified, and critical; she suffered no fools. Helen wouldn’t love just anyone. Helen, whose own literary life is ever obscured by Poe’s notoriety, spent her final days clearing Poe’s name in a
Culture | 23
‘‘But Sarah Helen Whitman was elegant, dignified, and critical; she suffered no fools. Helen wouldn’t love just anyone.’’
series of letters, articles, and her published book Edgar Poe and His Critics. Helen writes her Poe, a very different Poe from the one he wrote himself. Helen’s Poe was a man who “delighted in the society of superior women.” Poe was a poet with “exquisite perception of all graces of manner and shades of expression,” Helen writes in Edgar Poe and His Critics. But more than that, Poe the man was “an admiring listener,” she writes, “an unobtrusive observer.” In life, Poe insisted he wrote odes to Helen before he even knew she existed. It seems in her final days, Helen returned the favor. Edgar Poe and His Critics was Helen’s response to Poe’s final request. Her book was a final love letter. Helen never had children. She married John Winslow when she was 25, and he died when she was 30. Poe was a one-year whirlwind in Helen’s 46th year. She never married again. She lived to be 75. From the sheer volume of Helen’s letters, poems, and articles that sit in the John Hay Library, it seems words were Helen’s life’s work. Though history may not have taken note, Helen made a name for herself in the papers of her time that earned her students of writing, among them John Hay of Brown
Univeristy’s John Hay Library. Hay expressed great gratitude for Helen’s attention to his poems while he was in Rhode Island, and after he moved out West, he wrote to her, saying he would read her letters “repeatedly.” He said he sat, immersed in her “beautiful descriptions, trying to lay the foundations of mountains in my soul and retouching with the colors of your fancy the picture of Niagara, which was fading from memory.” Helen was fond of her community, but she wrote unflinchingly about the inequality that plagued society. Her stinging poem, “Woman’s Sphere” appeared in the Providence Journal in 1871: Theme for the reckless taunt and idle jest, — Man’s patient vassal, or his toy at best… Alarmed the sound of her own voice to hear Kept in the dark; commended to ‘her sphere;’ Scoffed from the platform with pretentious scorn To nurse the children never to be born… Taught to believe marriage is a woman’s heaven Though only one can get there out of seven Judging by her writings, Helen was many things, but “haunting” doesn’t seem to fit that playful, biting master of wit that comes to life on paper. Quirky, maybe, but not quite other-worldly. Her elegance wasn’t empty; it was prolific. A new scene comes into focus. Helen, graying, still sitting in that upstairs room of her childhood cottage, looking back at a life in stacks of letters, dons a silent smirk.
24 | Literature
Literature | 25
The Shrine of the
Doreen St. Felix
Is oiled wet where the oil popped Grease on the mary-blue Turning-white fire-blooms, blooming fast From the encrusted stove. Tattooed with the salt, the pepper, The dry parsley flakes, The chicken breast blacks stiffly while Night children sleep. Unclasp the gold chain, the tired shoe And come with me! he said. In his quick boy’s eye, he caught her flying up Shoe removed, bone and skin shed. The sun rose and her sons rose to find clothes Scattered in open repose A little ashen chicken loosing orange glows; A recently shut-off stove. Who stole her, cries the youngest. Where is she, moans the oldest. A pale man with no skin, flying due west He thinks, standing, the coldest.
Women of the Faith
The priest in Torreón had always told bisabuelita Lucía Oviedo López that if she were a good soul, she would die and go to heaven. Instead, she died and went to Santa Ana. There she was, a newlywed at sixteen, in a canvas tent lying supine on a wool blanket underneath a thin cotton sheet. Sweat dripped down her face as she kept screaming out in pain and terror, giving birth to her first child with only another migrant woman sitting by her side (she had said she was a midwife of sorts). Her husband was nowhere to be found—probably off drinking with her brothers, flirting with girls even younger than she, she assumed. She always thought she had been a good soul, but as she entered the final stretches of labor, she remembered. She remembered how when she was young during la revolución she always disobeyed her parents’ orders not to leave the safety of the church when there was fighting outside. A sin to disobey your parents, the priest had said. But sometimes the bullet holes through the church’s adobe brick were too slight for her to see through to the exhilarating action on the other side. «¡Dios mío!» she pleaded, staring up through the small holes in the canvas tent up to the California sun, «¿por qué me haces sufrir tanto?» No response.
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The priest in Acambay had always told Mama Clotilde Martínez Cano that if she were a good soul, she would die and go to heaven. Instead, she died and went to Marysville. She knew she was already quite old at the age of forty to have two very young children. Now Wilfredo, four, and Edie, two, were running her ragged down the aisles of what everyone kept calling an esupermarket. What kind of place was this mercado, where people bought fruta in a can and leche sometimes came in a solid powder form? Esevan dolers, the cashier seemed to say to her. She stared at him blankly. What did esevan dolers mean? The cashier got impatient and started yelling at her. Edie started crying and Wilfredo hid behind her in fear. Finally some sort of superior came to the register and calmed the cashier down. The superior looked at her and held up seven fingers. She scrambled for her wallet and carefully counted out seven bills that had the number one on them. She always thought she had been a good soul, but as she walked home from the esupermarket, she remembered how her parents had always wanted her to go to Toluca and marry a rich doctor or lawyer. Instead, she married a boy from her little town of Acambay, trained as a silversmith and now a bracero, a farm worker—a farm worker that had taken her from her beloved home. A sin to disobey your parents, the priest had said. But what other boy in Acambay, or even Toluca, didn’t drink or smoke and would stay faithful to her? «¡Dios mío!» she thought, waiting for her husband to come pick her and the kids up in a borrowed Packard, staring down the long dirt road back to the ranch where she now lived, «¿por qué me haces sufrir tanto?» No response. --«¡Dios mío!» she softly sobbed, her head in her hands, «¿por qué me haces sufrir tanto?» No response. ---
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the stairs through the backyard; countless times with Tristan, my sister distracted my parents as we snuck out the front door. A sin to disobey your parents, the priest had said, but I was eight-years-old when the priest told me this, so what did sinning mean to me? “God—” I whispered, alone in my room for the fourth day straight—no class to go to, since professors are real flakes when it comes to teaching, and no one to see, since the other students disliked how little I spoke Russian and how little I cared about Christianity—“why must I suffer so?” No response. «¿Dios mío?» I whispered apprehensively, «¿por qué me haces sufrir tanto?» «На русском, черт возьми! Говори по-русский!» (In Russian, goddammit! Speak Russian!) “God? ¿Dios?” «Я не понимаю тебя. Ты в России. Скажи на русском, пожалуйста.» (I don’t understand you. You’re in Russia. Speak in Russian, please.) My babushka stood in the doorway of my bedroom, a scowl on her face. Bisabuelita, mama, and grandma—they were women of the faith. I’d always thought I wasn’t like them, that I didn’t get religion. It turns out religion never got us.
The priest in El Paso had always told grandma Celia Rebecca Martínez Alonzo that if she were a good soul, she would die and go to heaven. Instead, she died and went to Nebraska. And then Virginia. And then Massachusetts. José told her he loved her and that the best gift she could give him would be the gift of children. So, because she loved him, she gave him children—first one, then another, and, before she was forty, there were seven. She gave him children, and she followed him to wherever the United States Air Force said they needed him, “A good man like Joe.” A good man like Joe, she thought, every time he scolded her for leaving the house without telling him, and every time he hit her when she talked to another man, and every time he disappeared for days—“serving his country,” he would say, when he was really “serving” some gringa named Carol in California. She always thought she had been a good soul, but as she stared out the window of their new home in Falls Church (or Sleepy Hollow, whatever this new town was called) and watched her children play in the yard, she remembered how furious she had made her father by eloping with José. Un sinvergüenza, her father called him—just a good-looking, sweet-talking faldero. A sin to disobey your parents, the priest had said. But every time José looked at her with those bold, dark eyes and told her that to kiss her was to see las estrellas, she melted, and told him she would follow him anywhere. And that’s just what she did.
The priest in Los Angeles had always told me that if I were a good soul, I would die and go to heaven. Instead, I died and went to Russia. Do something different, I told myself, go somewhere no one has gone. No one I knew had gone to Moscow, so I did something different and I went to Moscow. There I was, two months shy of twenty-one, sitting at the kitchen table of my babushka (that’s what we were supposed to call our hosts, anyway), eating the bean and cheese burrito that I had made for dinner. I stared intently at the television in the hopes of avoiding the stink-eye my babushka’s daughter was giving me and my little burrito. That’s not food that real people eat, she had said to me. After bolting it down, I walked to my room, passing the bathroom on the way. Most of the time, I could bet on the door being wide open and seeing my babushka, fully naked, sitting on the toilet, probably about to defecate. This was one of those times. She smiled and waved. I always thought I had been a good soul, but as I sat on my bed, listening to Herb Alpert and peering out my window to the cold and barren streets of the city, I remembered how many times I had snuck boyfriends in and out of the house right under my parents’ noses— Corey coming in through the patio doors, Alex leaving through the side door, Michael jumping down from my bedroom window onto the balcony below and taking
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Features | 29
On Slut Shaming, Choice, and Moving Forward
slut shaming (n): the idea of shaming and or attacking a woman or a girl for being sexual, having one or more sexual partners, acknowledging sexual feelings, and/or acting on sexual feelings. victim blaming (n): the devaluing act that occurs when the victim(s) of a crime or an accident is held responsible—in whole or in part—for the crimes that have been committed against them. Writer Leora Tanenbaum thought she was alone in experiencing the shame of a bad reputation. She realized that the sexual double standard she was subjected to as a teenager—where men were applauded for the same sexual behavior for which women were continuously humiliated for—was lived by many young women, and no one was talking about it. Her book Slut! follows the personal narratives of young women who were victims of slut shaming. The book went on to become a foundational text in many gender studies circles. She has written several other books, including Catfight, which looks at conflict between women. Bluestockings talked with Leora about SlutWalk, the idea of “choice,” and why she finds hope in the Internet.
An Interview With
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Bluestockings: Even before the recent SlutWalk marches, women have been questioning whether “slut” should be reclaimed. What do we lose and what do we gain from reclaiming this term? Leora Tanenbaum: I know for many feminists of different generations, there is a lot of power tied up with reclaiming the term slut. I am not trying to diminish that empowerment for anyone, but I do want to point out some problems. For many of us who either have been called slut in our own lives or are members of groups, especially African American women, whose bodies have been historically marked as sexually promiscuous, the term still carried too much baggage. I am a white Jewish woman so I am not putting myself in that group; I have my own problematic relationship. For me personally, I am 43 years old and I was called a slut starting when I was 14 and I am still not at the point were I want to reclaim it. Instead, I want to get rid of the sexual double standard. The cultural moment we are in right now is one in which all women, but especially teenage girls and younger women, feel enormous pressure to self-objectify, to dress and present their physical appearance in an overtly sexual way. I worry that many women will feel they have to adopt this hypersexual persona in order to be empowered and accepted. I know from having attended the SlutWalk in New York City that many women really did feel empowered by that experience, so I don’t want to take that away from them. BS: It is a hard line to play if you want to present sexual liberation for women as possibly empowering without implying that it is a necessary and overtly feminist choice. There is this myth of empowerment where making a choice becomes inherently feminist, in a way, simply because you are choosing. LT: The idea of choice is inherently problematic because we are all living and existing in an ideological and cultural framework in which our choices are cut off. When we say we are making a choice, we are already making that choice within specific constraints to begin with. In the public school I teach at, some of my female students, whom I hold with the upmost care and respect, dress in incredibly revealing clothes. Now I wrote the book on slut; you know what I am about. This is not about what girls should and should not be allowed to do. But they are 15 years old and it did make me wonder—why are they making these choices? Are they trying to make a statement about their physical self or is there something else going on? Is this perhaps the best strategy to get attention or to be popular? I just wanted to know what was going on in their heads and the answer I kept getting is, “this is the way girls dress,” “this is what’s in stores,” “you want to be trendy or fashionable, this is what you wear.” So when a 15-year-old girl wakes up in the morning and is choosing what to wear to school, this is what all her peers are wearing; this is the only fashion she knows; so what kind of a choice is it exactly? On top of that, the New York public school system has a dress code that restricts cleavage. So then these girls are caught in this difficult situation where they are getting punished even though they weren’t even trying to be oppositional or offensive. That wasn’t the choice they were making. Within their “choice,” they are already being given these limited options, and then they have to face the scrutiny of accepting those options by administrators or people at school calling them sluts. Either way there is no easy way to make a choice and not feel like you are being judged by it. BS: To what extent then can we say that a “choice” is feminist or not? LT: On the one hand, I reject that whole approach to thinking about the concept of choice within an ideology, because what works for one person might for many reasons not work for another. On the other hand, every-
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“For many of us who either have been called in our own lives or are members of groups, especially African-American women, whose bodies have been historically marked as sexually
promiscuous, the term still carried too much baggage.”
body’s got to draw their line in the sand. I certainly have some. I don’t think it’s helpful. Do I think any choice enacted by a woman is inherently feminist? No—I’d like to know the context, why the person is doing that, and what she is trying to achieve. BS: In your second book, Catfight, you investigate the inherent competiveness and jealousy within female-to-female relationships. Can you talk more about catfighting and its connections to slut shaming? How does race play into this? LT: I think that every single human being oppresses other people at some level. Certainly we all have the potential to do it. Certain women have certain privileges that other women lack, whether it’s racial privilege, economic privilege, educational privilege, and so on. A woman who has certain privileges that other women lack, can still experience oppression too. I just want to start that as a baseline understanding. There is this popular idea ever since Queen Bees and Wannabes that you have a group of girls who are the mean
girls and the other girls who are the victims. I totally reject that dichotomy—we are all mean girls and we are all victims, because we all oppress each other. You could be an affluent white woman living in a home on Park Avenue on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and still be a victim of domestic violence. I think it is important to think about subjectivity that way. Intersectionailty is complicated and constantly fluid. It’s not that all the black girls are this way and the Latina girls are this way and white girls are this way. The thing I found after doing research for Slut! in the 1990s was how similar the narrative arc of slut shaming was regardless of a girl’s ethnic, racial, economic, sexual orientation, and even gender positionality. Being steeped in critical theory, I originally figured there would be differences. I need to point out something important—I am not a sociologist, I am a journalist. Everyone who I interviewed wanted to be interviewed, so it is not representative of all women called sluts. They had to have some educational privilege because they were all people who were literate, who had some education, who felt comfortable talking about their life stories. They are
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not representative of all girls who experience slut shaming. But I found that when a girl was marked as a slut, it wasn’t about race or economics—it was about being different from her peers. She was left holding that minority position even if that meant she was affluent and no one else was. BS: How does the Internet play into slut shaming? LT: I am actually really optimistic. The Internet is an amazing vehicle for consciousness raising. I wonder, what if this would have been around when I was going through this? Back then, I thought I was the only person in the world going through what I was going through. I had no other way of knowing it was so common. The Internet has been a real force of good in the sense of sharing information. If someone is repressed or harassed or victimized, she has a forum and she can fight back. There are also certainly many negative things regarding social media networking and constant sharing. The issue of permanence is particularly scary. Every single one of us can lose control over how we are percieved. Especially when you are dealing with younger kids, they are not developedmentally and cognitively at the point where they can recognize the dangers inherent with sharing on the Internet. There are so many awful stories of girls who are slut shamed online and they feel they are never going to escape this—and for some of them, they are right. That is the most frightening difference between now and the previous generation. Fifteen years ago, I would have told the parents of these young girls to let their daughters transfer to another school and get a fresh start. Don’t think of it as being cowardly; think of it as an empowering step to start over. You can’t say that to girls anymore. Changing schools isn’t going to make a difference. When online, it’s going to follow them wherever they go. The opting out way of dealing with slut shaming does not exist. This stuff can follow you for the rest of your life. That part is very scary, yet I am trying to be hopeful that the generation that comes after you will benefit from the lessons you have learned on how to grow up and live with the Internet. BS: After all of your research on slut shaming and catfighting, have you found a silver lining? LT: Just in general there is so much more awareness now about slut bashing that did not exist in the late 1980s. The concept of sexual harassment was only coined in 1974. When you put it in a historical context you realized people didn’t use terms like sexual harassment and because they lacked that vocabulary to talk about it. And now it’s like the air you breathe. The more conversations you have, the more critical thinking occurs, so I am very hopeful.
Sex & Health | 33
At age 15, I cut off all of my hair. My inspiration was Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby: close-cut and shapely. To me, Mia was the image of sophisticated, elegant Cool. Remember how Rosemary’s husband responded to her haircut? He wasn’t impressed. In fact, he informed his pregnant wife, “That’s the worst mistake you’ve ever made.” Of course, if the movie bore any more significance to my life, I’d be with devil child and craving raw meat. When I returned home from that initial chop, my dad set down his reading, and for the first time, I saw that he was genuinely disappointed in me. “Oh. Honey. It’s so, so short.” Other men were equally boneheaded. My boyfriend at the time broke up with me a week later, citing the reason that he was “no longer attracted to me.” I look back now and wonder what I ever saw in a boy who expressed his appreciation for Mel Gibson’s “personality” and Rush Limbaugh’s sense of humor. I suppose dickery loves company. Subsequent lovers have always had an opinion, too. My gay ex-boyfriend loved the short locks, admiring how they framed my face. A later man told me he wished my curls had some length. Another despaired over the fact that his hair was longer than mine. Despite my pride, the negative feedback stings. I think the majority of heterosexual men prefer long hair on ladies. Long hair is feminine and sexy, a definitive feature of women who are universally recognized as beautiful: Pocahontas,
Cher, Beyoncé. A hair toss is, I’ve been told, a very alluring thing. It makes sense: a flowing mane is a beautiful asset. But let’s review the great perks of short cuts: my ears and neck are on display, it’s different and quirky, and as an added bonus, I haven’t lifted a comb in years. Short hair says, “Hello, world. I spend very little time shampooing. Let’s have a cocktail.” When I find myself getting caught up on these issues, I’m reminded of something Amy Poehler told Jimmy Fallon. Amy was telling an “unladylike” joke and Jimmy told her, “Stop that! It’s not cute! I don’t like it.” Amy rejoined, “I don’t fucking care if you like it,” and went right back to the joke. It’s the perfect attitude: firmly unconcerned, honest, and direct. This is the attitude I channel when my dad implores, “Please don’t get another trim.” This is the attitude I channel when a friend tells me, “But I love your curls.” Sorry kids, but I don’t fucking care if you like it. My hair is this short, and I dig it. Which brings me to another of Mia’s haircuts. In The Princess Diaries, Mia Thermopolis comes to class with her hair blown out straight, and her peers are in an uproar about her transformation. Lily Moscowitz, best friend and genius, brings clarity to the commotion. “Voltaire, hair. I would personally like to learn about Voltaire.” Me too. Let’s please not talk about any of this for too much longer.
within specific constraints to begin with.”
“The idea of is inherently problematic because we are all living and existing in an ideological and cultural framework in which our choices are cut off. When we say we are making a choice, we are already making that choice
Science | 35
Queer Science: Biases & the Biology of Difference
© Ivy Brenneman
The relationship between science and sexual orientation began long before Lady Gaga released her identity-affirming anthem and “Born This Way” became a mainstay at pride parades and rallies. For some activists, increased research around the “gay gene” brings us one step closer to “naturalizing” homosexuality, making it seem like no more of a choice than our eye color. Interestingly enough, anti-queer opponents also embraced genetic and neurological explanations of sexual orientation as proof of its pathological nature and ability to be ‘fixed’ or ‘cured.’ While both sides differ in their interpretation of this research, their use of science to legitimize their views is based on a shared assumption: science is an apolitical, objective source of ‘pure’ knowledge and facts.
History, however, has shown otherwise. The science of human behavior and human differences has time and time again been marked by numerous forms of biased pseudo-science. When scientific explanations of social issues rose in popularity in the nineteenth century, researchers used these theories to naturalize social differences in an increasingly unequal society. For the white, male, upper-middle class bourgeoisie, who primarily produced (i.e. controlled) scientific knowledge, biology provided a justification for their socially dominant status and proof of the ‘natural’ inferiority of oppressed members of society. Eugenics, for example, was an entire scientific field dedicated to the view that minorities (most notably people of color) were genetically weaker and unfavored by
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evolution. Biology was no longer simply a way to understand ‘natural’ phenomena; it became a means of legitimizing domination and a channel for social control. As these examples have shown, scientific knowledge is not merely ‘discovered’; it is actively produced by people with preexisting views and values that enter their work in conscious and unconscious ways. These values usually manifest themselves as unanswered assumptions that guide research questions. While most current research may not have the same blatantly racist/sexist assumptions as that of the eugenics age, values still present themselves in subtle ways. One area where assumptions enter research is in the research question itself. In other words, the specific things that scientists choose to study or investigate, and what they exclude from questioning, can be telling of underlying cultural norms. For one, instead of questioning sexual desire or sexual orientation as a whole, most scientific papers single out homosexuality as a biological curiosity (I use the term homosexual here not from personal preference, but because it follows the language used in scientific research.) The exclusion of heterosexuality from scientific questioning signifies a major paradigm in sexuality research: heterosexuality is the natural form of human sexual desire, and thus not in need of any explanations. The attention placed on homosexuality, however, shows that it is considered “deviant” from the heterosexual norm, and therefore deserving of the scientific gaze. Another example of cultural values in sexuality research is the assumption that science is the best way to explain social phenomena. In our society today, authority is placed on scientific evidence to explain and legitimize many aspects of human nature that may not be solely biologically determined. Researchers of sexual orientation usually focus on a particular gene or hormonal mechanism that “shape the brain to lean towards homosexuality.” While it is true that all behavioral traits are biologically based in some cognitive or neurological structure, it is difficult to prove that all behavior is biologically determined. By saying that sexual orientation is ‘determined,’ we erase cultural limits and contexts that are vital in definitions and labels of sexual identities. So how exactly does this assumption show up in the research itself? A large part of biological study is classifying and categorizing living things and their traits. Some traits, like eye color, fall into tidy, discrete categories. Gender and sexuality, however, are fluid spectra/matrixes that encompass a wide variety of identities. Sexologists such as Alfred Kinsey and Dr. Fritz Klein have supported this view, creating their own continuous scales of sexual identity based factors such as desire and experience. Furthermore, sexual identities and labels are strongly influenced by societal standards. What someone defines as ‘straight’ or ‘gay’ behavior is usually informed by what their culture defines as ‘straight’ or ‘gay’ behavior. However, in order for scientists to easily measure and quantify sexuality in their studies, they must define sexual orientation as a discrete category, thus ignoring gender and sexual fluidity. In fact, most scientific papers adopt a very binaried view of sexuality that establishes a false dichotomy between heterosexual/homosexual as the only two variables. Maintaining these categories not only erases other sexual identities from scientific study, such as bisexual and queer, but also forces people into categories that may alter the course of the study. This is apparent in the work of Simon LeVay, who authored one of the most well-known studies on neuroanatomy and sexuality. LeVay’s sample consisted of 41 subjects—19 of whom were men who died from AIDS via “homosexual behavior,” 16 of whom were men who were presumed heterosexual, and 6 of whom were women who were presumed heterosexual. LeVay appeared to have labelled his sample on the basis of “straight until proven gay,” as it was never made explicit if the straight men had non-straight relationships or desires. The sampling also shows how scientific studies simplify sexuality by defining orientation based on only behavior, and not on the variety of desires, fantasies and social contexts that also influence someone’s sexual identity. This oversimplification has been implicated as one of the many reasons why LeVay’s (and other researchers’) studies may not be wholly accurate and haven’t been replicated. There are many more ways in which values can integrate themselves into scientific work. For example, cultural values around the social stigma of homosexuality can prevent people from reporting their sexual identity, creating sampling biases. Additionally, as we’ve seen before, people’s cultural beliefs affect the ways in which they interpret these results, using them for both identity empowerment and erasure. If producers of scientific knowledge are not aware of these assumptions, then prejudiced information will likely be unconsciously used to justify “facts.” In the end, it is important to remember that science is a venture that is actively produced by knowers in a social context. Science does not only have rules and procedures; it also has a history, a context, and a philosophy, all of which are essential to understanding how it produces truth and knowledge. In order for us to better understand our own nature, we must be willing to accept the inevitability of biases in science. Values have their place; they can guide us into knowing what is right. But it’s when those values go unchecked that we can create unfair depictions of people’s bodies, histories, and experiences.
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References: Blum, Robyn, Anne Jacobson, and Heidi Maibom, ed, Neurofeminism: Issues at the Intersection of Feminist Theory and Cognitive Science. London: Palgrave MacMillan, 2012. Byne, William. “Science and Belief,” Journal Of Homosexuality 28:3 (1995): 303-44 Lewontin, R.C, Stephen Rose, Leon Kamin, Not By Genes Alone. England: Clays Ltd, 1984 Marks, Jonathan, Human Biodiveristy: Genes, Race, and History. USA: Transaction Publications, 1995. Stein, Edward,. The Mismeasure of Desire: The Science, Theory, and Ethics of Sexual Orientation. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. Stein Edward, ed. Forms of Desire: Sexual Orientation and the Social Constructionist Controversy. Great Britain: Rouledge, 1990.
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Opinions | 39
TRIGGER WARNING: This article contains explicit description of acts of sexual violence.
Before I am accused of saying otherwise: The sex positivity movement has done a lot of great things. Led by women, fought for by women, and realized (to the extent that it has been realized) by women, it has pushed back against the narrative of women being the frigid sex, unworthy and unwanting of pleasure. It has returned sexual agency—to masturbate, to vocalize, to consent or not consent, to discern— to an oppressed class. And for that, it should be commended. However, in the 1980s, Andrea Dworkin and women like her were at the forefront of calling bullshit. The branch of the feminist movement she was a part of pointed out that sex in pornography, its major form of media, had ceased to be sexual in the classic sense. Focus on pleasure ceased; instead, pornography became a locus of power, an emblem and reification of male domination and a not-so-tacit endorsement of sexual violence. In the latter days of her scholarship, sex, especially with men, seemed more and more inherently violent to Dworkin. It was an enaction of female oppression; it was the enemy. To many this seemed crazy, and that is how she is remembered. Sex-positive third wavers have long since won the title of feminists of the future, and they have an agenda. Dworkin is not in it. Instead, at Brown we have events to learn how to make women orgasm, events about fisting, events about kink. We learn that BDSM has nothing to do with oppression, and can be done consensually, then we hand out handcuffs. As participants, we nod fastidiously at these workshops. After all, these things are inarguable in the sex positivity-dominant climate of modern-day feminism. Personal pleasure is our mantra; “in cumming we trust.”
That focus on the individual, however—where we talk about all the great feminist porn out there that you can feel good watching, and rave about our internships teaching students about sex toys—has become a policing mechanism. The claim that, in lived reality, porn is a bad thing, BDSM is a bad thing, caring chiefly about our own sexual pleasure is terrible advocacy: these have become anathema to even discuss. As a result the Dworkins of the world have become pariahs: antiquated, un-hip, anti-pleasure (though they never were). In their stead, we have pamphlets about dildos, leaving the feminists of our generation completely uneducated about (and uninterested in) the sexual violence the majority of the men (~70% according to Rebecca Goldin) regularly jack off to. The porn industry has grown in our absence. Between 1992 and 1997, the profits from pornographic videos literally doubled. That boom has continued. In 2007, GOOD Magazine reported that 12% of all websites were pornographic, as were 25% of all search engine requests and 35% of all Internet downloads. An average of 266 new porn sites appeared on the Internet every day (for a grand total of 372 million), 89% of which were produced in the US. Together, they grossed $10-14 billion a year in the United States alone (depending on one’s definition of the industry’s scope). For reference, that’s greater than professional football, basketball, and baseball combined. It has also gotten substantially more horrifying. Take Brazzers.com. It’s a kind of umbrella straight porn bonanza, encompassing many different sites, each with its own niche. Their most popular sub-site, however, isn’t about people with big tits being in a particular location (“Big Tits at McDonald’s!” “Big Tits at REI!”). It’s more thematic. It’s called Pornstar Punishment. The various crimes committed by the women ‘punished’ on the website include not letting men into an office building; not renewing a man’s license; being a “cheating whore”; being too promiscuous; stealing; being a “tattletale”; oppressing men (see “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Anal!”), or just being a “psycho hoe bitch.” Cross a man, and you might be subject to “Anal Armageddon!,” “Slavery,” and/or repeated gang-banging. That includes, but is not limited to: taking a man’s promotion, not calling a man back when you told him you would, taking custody of the kids, or just being “too dirty.” (In that last instance, you will be fucked by a detachable showerhead.) But hey, at least he didn’t “Secre-tear” your “pussy” because you weren’t good enough at maintaining your boss’ calendar
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of appointments. Though the women in these videos may protest, or beg for mercy, they also kinda like it. It’s pain, but it’s pleasure. They always end up moaning seductively. They really like sex/rape. It’s good for them. When I mentioned this to an editor of this publication— one of the smartest and most capable women I know, and as “with-it” a feminist of our generation as you’ll meet— she had never even heard of Brazzers. She didn’t know it existed. Brazzers is just the tip of the iceberg. Rape fantasy (or “punishment”) porn is everywhere, and it isn’t only on themed websites. The majority of today’s porn resembles these kinds of scenarios. Granted, it’s often subtler than straight up rape, but it’s still all over the place. Sex in porn is almost always transactional; when it isn’t taken or coerced, the woman involved has ceased to resemble the timid but lascivious women of yesteryear. These women disappeared around Dworkin’s time. Instead, they are the spitting image of the good sex-positive: assertive, overjoyed, enthusiastic about dick. This is not without consequences, though what those are is hotly contested. The link between watching pornography and actually committing sexual assault is really hard to prove. Nonetheless, the weight of evidence is beginning to lean towards consensus: that among convicted rapists, hard-core porn leads to a self-reported higher likelihood of rape, as well as a greater enthusiasm for the humiliation and torture of victims; that soft-core porn may have a protective effect against those ills; and that BDSM porn might be dangerous. In one study of a Midwestern sorority, watching BDSM-themed porn regularly and recreationally—the only kind of porn consumption with a serious effect on participants—was associated with a lowered willingness to help other women in cases of sexual assault, increased acceptance of rape myths, and a worse sense of what to do (or a willingness to do it) when witnessing another woman who is in a potentially deeply unsafe social situation. Even if we dismiss all this as equivocal conjecture, however, there remains something to be said for the epistemic violence done by this kind of porn—about the way women are perceived, and their value structured. There is something to be said about how little we talk about this, about how often men’s fantasies (and their cash flows online) remain uninterrogated, by themselves or by their peers. Only censor-obsessed parents of middle-school-aged children talk about boycotting porn anymore. No one reputable (i.e., outside of 4chan) is writing about what they find on the dredge edges of the internet. It’s considered passé and gross. It’s just also what a huge proportion of your male friends jack off to. It’s also what forces women to choke over and over again on comically proportioned penises so that men all over the world can fantasize that that penis was theirs. It’s just the vanguard of American media, a near-monopoly on the world market which writes the script globally about what women want, setting the tone for race relations in places with far less diversity than the U.S., exporting blacks-as-tops-withmonster-penises and Asians-as-bottoms-with-tiny-ones, sending money back into white men’s pockets a continent away. It’s just that video hiding in your Romeo’s Chrome incognito, that one where they hold her down and strangle her kinda subtlety with her own underwear—that one he watched right before he went to hang out with you at that bar, right before he came over, all smiles, all brighteyed, carrying a flyer for that female orgasm lecture you told him about, and told you he loved you. When he said it like he meant it. We wouldn’t want to ruin the moment. We need to start educating ourselves. If we are at all concerned with sexual violence against women, and we
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have not been traumatized by it so much that investigating it’s lived realities would be triggering, why aren’t we talking about this? To our boyfriends? To our classmates? It is time to change that. In our negligence, men have abdicated themselves of their fiscal responsibilities and funded a global effort to normalize sexual violence. We have let them. If we are serious about advancing feminism, our vision of sexual advocacy needs to be pushed beyond the narrow foresight of sex positivity. We need to start acting like we give a damn. This piece was edited by Kristy Choi.
References: Brosi et al. (2001). “Effects of sorority members’ pornography use on bystander intervention in a sexual assault situation and rape myth acceptance.” Oracle: The Research Journal of the Association of Fraternity/ Sorority Advisors. Vol. 6, Issue 2. 26-35. D’Amato, Anthony. (2006). “Porn up, rape down.” Northwestern Public Law Research Paper No. 913013 (2006). Emmers-Sommer, T. M., & Burns, R. J. (2005). “The relationship between exposure to Internet pornography and sexual attitudes toward women.” Journal of Online Behavior, 1 (4). http://www.behavior.net/JOB/v1n4/emmers-sommer.html Flood, Michael. (2009) “The Harms of Pornography Exposure Among Children and Young People.” Child Abuse Review. Vol. 18: 384–400
Malamuth, N.M. & Ceniti, J. (1986). “Repeated exposure to violent and nonviolent pornography: Likelihood of raping ratings and laboratory aggression against women.” Aggressive Behavior, 12, pp. 129–137 Malamuth, N.M. et al. (1980). “Testing Hypotheses Regarding Rape: Exposure to Sexual Violence, Sex Differences, and the ‘Normality’ of Rapists.” Journal of Research in Personality. 14, 121-137. Mancini, Christina; Reckdenwald, Amy; Beauregard, Eric. (2012). “Pornographic exposure over the life course and the severity of sexual offenses: imitation and cathartic effects.” Journal of Criminal Justice40:1, 21-30. Osland, Julia A. Fitch, Marguerite. & Willis, Edmond E. (1996). “Likelihood to Rape in College Males.” Sex Roles. 35: 3/4, 172-183. Seto, Michael C; Maric, Alexandra; Barbaree, Howard E. (2001) “The role of pornography in the etiology of sexual aggression.” Aggression and Violent Behavior 6:1, 35-53. Thompson, Sonya. (2007) “Study Shows 1 in 3 Boys Heavy Porn Users”. University of Alberta Study, , http://www.healthnews-stat/ com...0&keys=porn-rural-teens. As reported on http://www.enough. org/inside.php?id=3K03RC4L00. GOODMagazine, prod. GOOD: Internet Porn. YouTube, 2007. Film. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QOFTQpNhsWE>.
“If we are serious about advancing feminism, our vision of sexual advocacy needs to be pushed beyond the narrow foresight of sex positivity.”
Goldin, Rebecca. (2006) “Porn Causes Brain Damage.” George Mason University STATS. George Mason University STATS. Web. 13 Dec 2011. <http://stats.org/stories/porn_causes_brain_damage_apr04_06.htm>. Jensen, Robert. (2004). “Pornography and Sexual Violence.” Applied Research Center, VAWnet: The National Online Resource Center on Violence Against Women, available at http://new.vawnet.org/Assoc_Files_ VAWnet/AR_PornAndSV.pdf
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join my church in the broken-down building by the bubbling brook where we bathe our half-open eyes before spinning spoons in terracota teacups before breaking any bread join my church of endless saturdays and velvet evenings of haunting honesty and solstice in solitude of holding holy inhales and hearty releases felt far away of productive prayer of merciless motion and sinful stillness of worship in wild and all that is earthly where we cherish the wonders of silky skin and melodious muscles of our abandoned sanctuaries and hearts who chant in rhythm with the river and pulse against pebbles
Mary Kate LoPiccolo
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The world keeps changing, rearranging minds and thoughts “People ask me how I make music. I tell them I just step into it. It’s like stepping into a river and joining the flow. Every moment in the river has its song. So, I stay in the moment and listen. What I hear is never the same. A walk through the woods brings a light, crackling song: leaves rustle in the wind, birds chatter and squirrels scold, twigs crunch underfoot and the beat of my heart holds it all together. When you join the flow, the music is inside and outside, and both are the same. As long as I can listen to the moment, I’ll always have music.” --Michael Jackson, Dancing the Dream (1992) The Ship of Theseus paradox illuminates a major point of tension for philosophers of identity. Theseus’ ship was preserved in Athens for many years after he died. Over time, decaying parts were replaced until eventually the ship no longer had any of its original parts. The paradox charges us with finding a meaningful sense in which this was still the ship Theseus sailed. To bite the bullet here and say it is a different ship is problematic as we, too, are ships of Theseus. All the matter that composes our bodies gets replaced several times over the course of our lives. As you read this, there’s not a molecule in your body with which you were born. This is true of Theseus’ ship as well. Even if no parts are ever replaced, the molecules inevitably are. Theseus’ paradox forces us to consider whether a thing is identical with its matter, whether we are identical with our bodies. If we decide that we’re not, we are left without a coherent account of what we actually mean by identity. Plato wrote that every individual thing could be thought of as a variation of its ideal form, which “exists” in an abstract realm of perfect entities. While not reducible to any bundle of specific properties, a thing has a certain haecceity (a word that roughly translates to “its thisness”) which makes it the thing it is. In order to do the work that they
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purport to do, essences must be distinct and fixed; they provide us with an epistemic model for a world in stasis. Michael Jackson, then, is thought of as a body with the essence of “Michael Jackson.” This is necessarily construed as part of his identity. Even children have natural tendencies to categorize and label things, to think of things as specific types and to group them together with other objects that fit the same criteria. As Richard Dawkins puts it, “Maybe they have to… if they are to remain sane while their developing minds divide things into discrete categories each entitled to a unique noun. It is no wonder that Adam’s first task, in the Genesis myth, was to give all the animals names.”  To the essentialist and to the creationist, every plant and animal has a fixed essence that makes it what it is. Similarly, we imagine people have specific identities that make them who they are. No matter what else changes, one’s identity is what remains the same. Our essentialist instincts make the identity sacred. We consider it taboo to deny one’s identity, and we are offended when we feel someone is being inauthentic. Essence is rendered a transcendent, metaphysical entity which exists in the world of ideal forms. Evolution uproots this concept. By tracing the tree of life back through time, the world of fixed Platonic entities is dissolved into a river of change and with it, I think, many of our intuitions about identity. [I]f the genealogist refuses to extend his faith in metaphysics, if he listens to history, he finds that there is ‘something altogether different’ behind things: not a timeless and essential secret, but the secret that they have no essence or that their essence was fabricated in a piecemeal fashion from alien forms.  Evolution gives us a fruitful analogy. First, I want to consider the resemblance between biological genealogy and philosophical genealogy, as introduced by Nietzsche in On
Changing the Man in the Mirror
We tend to evaluate identity visually. “Who we are” is important to us, so we also like to think there’s something constant about our identities. Feminist theory probes the ways we ascribe meaning to different kinds of bodies. I want to consider these intuitions in a feminist critique of identity and metaphysics via an analysis of Michael Jackson, whose appearance and behavior were often construed as crossing both racial and gendered lines. Beginning in the mid-1980s, Jackson’s face and the color of his skin began changing drastically. A popular reaction believed this was simultaneously evidence of a detachment from reality and a rejection of his own identity. In the first section, I use the oft-cited philosophical paradox of the Ship of Theseus to frame the general problem of identity in metaphysical philosophy: traditionally, the debate between bundle theory and essentialism over whether a thing is identical to its matter. Taking a brief detour through the nineteenth century, I consider the way Friedrich Nietzsche’s genealogical method may be useful in thinking about this question. In the second section, I trace the particularities of some of Jackson’s physical changes while introducing key concepts from Shuh-Mei Shih’s Visuality and Identity: Sinophone Articulations Across the Pacific. The third section draws on Rosemarie Garland-Thomson’s work in disability theory—particularly the notion of monstrosity—to discuss our visual interpretations of bodies, how they relate to disability, and how they slide into questions of sanity.
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Kick me, kike me, don’t you black or white me
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In the banned prison-version of the short film They Don’t Care About Us, Jackson collaborated with Spike Lee to create a commentary on racial profiling and police brutality. Nearly all of the inmates shown are people of color; the majority of them are scruffy, muscular black men in durags. We’re presented with an essentialised picture of the inmate: someone who “belongs” in prison. Nothing immediately stands out to us because the screen is saturated with the agency one would expect to see in the given environment. This visual stasis is upset by the presence of Michael Jackson as one of the prisoners. This gives us a stark contrast from the essentialised inmate: Michael appears devoid of pigment, apparently wearing eyeliner and lipstick, with straight, longish hair and a thin build. He appears juxtaposed not only with the essentialised inmate but also with the essentialised black male. Shu-Mei Shih notes: ...the means of constructing and representing identities
“The issue of authenticity flirts with being made into a moral one, and his visual changes are perceived as a denial, or a mutilation, of his identity.”
the Genealogy of Morals. Identity is essentially a matter of providing an account of what something is. History and genealogy are, in a sense, different approaches to this question. Genealogy does away with the notion of origins; it is an unweaving of the tapestry of history to give an account for why we have what is. “A genealogy … will cultivate the details and accidents that accompany every beginning…”  A genealogical account recognizes that our concepts or social behaviors have no singular points of origin; they are in fact complex accidents of history, born out of behaviors that emerged from previous accidents.  The tapestry that results can be said to have its own unique aesthetic. A genealogy for any individual could be biological or philosophical. We as individuals, too, have our own unique aesthetics. Maybe the things we take to constitute identity, like other phenomena, could be understood as properties which emerge at the convergence of disparate forces: “What is found at the historical beginning of things is not the inviolable identity of their origin; it is the dissension of other things. It is disparity.”  Another relevant aspect of evolution for us to notice: it is the environment that determines the direction of evolutionary change. With no destination in mind, no final blueprint toward which the process moves, contingencies in the genome adapt to flow with the propensity of their environment. The natural story of life on Earth is one of
contingency and propensity. In his Treatise on Efficacy: Between Western and Chinese Thinking, François Jullien notes a following difference between Eastern and Western thinking: Rather than set up a model to serve as a norm for his actions, a Chinese sage is inclined to concentrate his attention on the course of things in which he finds himself involved in order to detect their coherence and profit from the way that they evolve. From this difference that we have discovered, we could deduce an alternative way of behaving. Instead of constructing an ideal form that we then project on to things, we could try to detect the factors whose configuration is favorable to the task at hand; instead of setting up a goal for our actions, we could allow ourselves to be carried along by the propensity of things. In short, instead of imposing our plan upon the world, we could rely on the potential inherent in the situation.  [emphasis mine] Looking back at our initial quotation from Jackson, this approach very closely resembles his creative process. It may also be that the way he visually represented himself was itself a creative process; a kind of “yes-saying” and “giving style” to himself that was, in fact, a little Nietzschean. Figure 1 Michael in 1977 Figure 2 Michael in 1987
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Representation permeates discussions of authenticity. The act of representation is one in which a thing is perceived, constructed in our minds by our senses and represented in a way that’s useful to us. As such, a representation has very little to do with what is actually there. In some significant sense, a representation is by definition an epistemic distortion of what is really there. One could argue that this renders our perceptions mental constructs based on our own personal narratives. When we see Michael Jackson at the end of the short film getting ready to lead a prison riot, we can’t help but feel a lingering sense of disbelief. We feel like we are looking at something inauthentic—someone who looks the way he does physical leading over a group of big, strong, black inmates. Looking at Jackson’s visual presentation, we construct not only a representation of his identity, but also a narrative about the appropriate power relationships he is allowed in specific environments. Because one views him in an inauthentic power relationship, we feel as though he is being disingenuous. Many people expressed the same sentiment regarding the changes to his skin and face. One blog labeled Jackson circa 1972 “the real Michael Jackson,” offering a visual collage with the implication that, by changing so drastically, he had made himself into an inauthentic copy of that idealized and Platonic “Michael Jackson.” The issue of authenticity flirts with being made into a moral one, and his visual changes are perceived as a denial or a mutilation of his identity. (Fig. 1-3) Shih invokes the concept of identity as an assemblage, writing that “assemblage has both voluntary and involuntary dimensions.” She goes on, “This is useful in thinking about how identities can be actively formulated by the artist (through practices of identification), and yet at the same time how identities may be ineluctable constructs of historical imposition beyond one’s control.”  Jackson’s identity represented itself to us as an assemblage of traits, of which we can sketch a rough genealogy for a few of his visual changes. His autopsy reported that the majority of his body had been stripped of its color due to the pigment destroying genetic condition vitiligo. The autopsy also notes he had tattooed his lips and eyebrows, due to the natural pigment loss in those areas of his face. A side effect of this is that it looks to us as though he was wearing makeup. Jackson also received second and third degree burns on his scalp while filming a Pepsi commercial in 1984. This left him with a bald spot which he was forced to cover with wigs, hair extensions and sometimes that now-iconic item of his performing repertoire: a fedora. On the assemblage view, we can make sense of several aspects of his visuality
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as involuntary factors to which he tried to adapt and this can be understood as a creative process in itself. He chose to channels Jullien, chosing to exploit “the potential inherent in the situation,” stepping into the river and joining the song. Drawing on Shih’s concept of identity as assemblage, these fragments of Michael’s visually constructed identity explain the emergent representation of him as “wishing he were really a white woman.”  If you wanna see eccentric oddities, I’ll be grotesque before your eyes In her paper “Integrating Disability, Transforming Feminist Theory,” Rosemarie Garland-Thomson argues for the importance of disability theory in deconstructing identity by understanding the relationship between Western cul
Figure 3 Michael in 2007 are more and more predominantly visual. In the broadest sense, identity is the way in which we perceive ourselves, and others perceive us, and is constituted by a dialectics of seeing and being seen. At the core, identity is therefore a question of representation and occurs in and through visual representation. At a time when various visual media have inundated our lives, visual mediation of identity may have acquired a fundamental status in the study of representation. Arguably, the historical nature of the resources with which identities are constructed and negotiated today lies in their heavily visual character. 
“Looking at Jackson’s visual presentation, we construct not only a representation of his identity, but a narrative about the appropriate power relationships he is allowed in specific environments. Because we view him in an inauthentic power relationship, we feel as though he is being disingenuous.”
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physical properties completely contradicted his essence; they didn’t know “which Michael Jackson” was the authentic one. Even the language of plastic surgery lends itself to the notion that there’s something inauthentic replacing something real. In a final wink to controversies over his appearance, Ghosts culminates with Jackson smashing his own face into the ground. As he looks up, it crumbles into pieces and his body turns to dust. This Is It In Garland-Thomson’s words, feminist theory “investigates how culture saturates the particularities of bodies with meanings and probes the consequences of those meanings.”  We have looked at how Jackson’s body is visually represented, and the problems such a paradigm poses for issues of identity and authenticity when paired with Platonism. I think that the integration of visuality and Platonism gives us a clearer picture of how we relate to one another, understand inauthentic relations and identify others. We should consider that the Ship of Theseus is just the name we give to an ever-changing assemblage of parts, resulting in a kind of aesthetic tapestry which we come to identify as Theseus’s ship. What is interesting about the ship is not the particular stuff of which it is composed; it is what that compositional stuff is doing and what we are signifying. We generally regard questions of identity as relating to questions of existence. I have argued instead that they are tied to questions of mental categories and names whose only relation to existence is in describing it. Perhaps it is time we give serious consideration to the idea that the substance metaphysics of Plato and Aristotle is a dead end for identity; that, in reality, there is no property, haecceity, or essence to which we can point as the unchanging anchor of identity and exclaim, “this is it!” Chris Challans is an undergraduate student of philosophy at the University of Kansas, living in Leavenworth. He loves rap music and thinks Ani DiFranco is pretty spectacular.
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“When we see Michael Jackson at the end of the short film getting ready to lead a prison riot, we can’t help but feel a lingering sense of disbelief. We feel like we’re looking at something inauthentic”
References:  Richard Dawkins, “The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution,” (2009), p. 23  Michel Foucault, “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History,” The Foucault Reader, p. 78  Ibid., p. 80  Evolutionary biologists and Nietzsche alike would probably be guarded about referring to ‘accidents.’ “[O]nly against a world of purpose does the word ‘accident’ have a meaning” (GS §109). There is a logic from which these things emerge, but because of the unpredictable nature of emergent properties, they aren’t intended to be brought about. Still, I think we can understand them as “accidents” for our purposes.  Foucault gives an extended explanation of emergence. (“Nietzsche, Genealogy, History,” The Foucault Reader, pp. 83-86).  Ibid., p. 79  François Jullien, “Treatise on Efficacy: Between Western and Chinese Thinking,” (2004) p. 16  Shu-Mei Shih, “Visuality and Identity: Sinophone Articulations Across the Pacific,” (2007) p. 16 Ibid., p. 65  “Dead Celebrities,” South Park (Season 13, Episode 8)  Rosemarie Garland-Thomson “Integrating Disability, Transforming Feminist Theory,” (2002).  Regarding impairment, Thomson references “atrophy” (degeneration) and “hypertrophy” (enlargement).  Ibid., p.8  Julien  Ibid  Garland-Thomson
ture and the disabled. She distinguishes impairment from disability, likening it to the distinction between sex and gender. That is, “sex” and “impairment” refer to particularities of bodies; “disabled” and “gender” have to do with the roles and relationships those particularities take on in society. She explains, “The cultural function of the disabled figure is to act as a synecdoche for all forms that culture deems non-normative.”  Medical language of excess and deficiency, as it relates to impairment, also frames the discourse of disability.  One implication of such a language is that there is an essentialised norm, allowing bodies which depart from the norm to be stigmatized as “disabled.” Garland-Thomson references an 1885 drawing of “a pathologically ‘Love Deficient’ woman,” which “suggests how sexuality and appearance slide into the terms of disability.”  It is largely due to the discourse of disability that people thought something was wrong with Jackson’s psyche. Thomson notes, “The historical figure of the monster, as well, invokes disability,” and, “As departures from the normatively human, monsters were seen as category violations or grotesque hybrids.”
The semantics of monstrosity are recruited to explain “gender violations.” Jackson uses his short film Ghosts (1997) as an allegory for exactly this notion. He plays a town eccentric whose mansion is stormed by an angry mob of parents who want him to leave town because he’s “weird,” “strange” and “a freak” who’s been stirring up trouble just by living there. According to Garland-Thomas, the “corruption of the youth,” taking place is his visual challenge to our sacred “cultural belief that the body is the unchanging anchor of identity.”  At one point in the short film, Jackson sings, “Am I amusing you, or just confusing you? Am I the beast you visualized?” He did both. As Garland-Thomson describes the disabled body, “It is incongruent both in space and in the milieu of expectations.” Jackson’s visuality was almost completely incongruent with the idealized black male body, which is supposed to be dark-skinned, wide-nosed, and well-built, with short afro hair. A “grotesque hybrid,” Jackson was a black man whose body fused identity fragments from “white man,” “woman,” and perhaps even “cartoon character” (critics have speculated that his nose was supposed to look like Peter Pan’s). His great, corruptive blasphemy was that he blurred these Platonic entities to the point that people felt as though his
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i think i started to fall in love with bad boys at age seven am i cool yet?
saturday you still can’t play that instrument cold beer against my cheek, a saint bernard’s keg for leaving me hanging praying to the altar of the cool dude is taking me home your salvation or mine? sing me that drake song in the volvo with a scratched up passenger seat a saint jude on the dash you’re a lost cause for sure i felt a funeral in my brain but it was just me trying not to text you
mint candy apple
i’m embarrassed i accidentally matched my nailpolish to my sweater this particular date can i roll my eyes back far enough enough into my teenage bedroom it’s cool, we can still be friends
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True story: I have on multiple occasions thought I was a genius. Not casually self-admiring my intellect, but feeling full on manic revelations of secret superhero cognitive abilities. In hindsight these moments of ‘clarity’ are painfully hilarious, often complemented by countless social faux pas and a bizarre fascination with self-documentation. They aren’t moments, really, but periods in time, periods that last long enough to forever alter your perception of reality. In fairness, these periods are contrasted by equally intense bouts of depression. When they began, there was such a dramatic shift in my relative mood that they warranted reflection and analysis. In a moment you may have a ‘stroke of insight’ and continue to make similar connections or observations for a week. Once unable to get out of bed, much less harness intellect, your brain suddenly is firing on all cylinders and the world is new and fascinating. It is undeniably alluring, and when it began I was sure that I was finally curing melancholy—what my depression had been suppressing all along was a secret genius. While the genius never lasted more than two weeks I always held on to the notion that perhaps if I did everything right—if I only slept eight hours, didn’t eat sugar, played outside—it would stay. And so every time it went away, I felt it was my fault. I wasn’t trying hard enough. In an effort to capture and hold onto the feeling, I began expressing the sensation through a complement of poetry and music—all written while manic, mind you. In time, this process has helped deconstruct my fantasy, however trying it might be, that genius is not my reality.
© Carolyn Shasha
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STAGE 1 The first time I experienced this sensation was after a period of major depression. It was so distinct from the previous six months, and such a relief. After two years of feeling distant and separate from my brain, I then felt limitless. Along with increased cognitive abilities came heightened senses—I literally felt music. I actually rapped this while driving in Boston. I alternated between whispering to myself and bouncing off my seat and giggling. I recorded myself on my phone. People say you can achieve happiness on LSD, well yes you most certainly can for six grueling hours. But that’s not happiness, that’s touching the heaven but not really living it, then getting back down to earth and thinking you’ve hit it—I am not against drug usage, go for it if you like, but don’t be disillusioned by the temporary light, thinking it’s the real deal, combo meal, and it only comes once in a while, while wearing short shorts and seeing unicorns smile, in the grass, as we walk as we talk, that’s where the real drug is, happiness, see? And if you don’t that’s fine too—because I am gonna die, you’re gonna die, now 50% of you are going to continue thinking about this while I talk and not hear anything I say, and that’s fine, but for the other 50% of you, I have some good news. You may just be on the way to finding happiness, or you could be happy already in which case good on you. The fact is though, we are living. So why stew? I say stew a lot, and if you have ever had a discussion with me the topic comes up frequently. Which is funny because stewing is very much a dichotomous subject amongst people—much like the dichotomy between how people perceive happiness and unhappiness as mutually exclusive events. But that’s wrong. While I may find the idea of stewed prunes to be more than off putting, lamb stew I can dig. What I mean to say is that in every action you can find a positive reaction—isn’t that the basis of physics, of life? So I may have told some cold hard truths, like life is short and drugs are too. But are you going to spend your day stewing, or are you gonna open yourself up and experience living?
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“I am not a genius, as these junior poems bluntly display—but in these moments I feel boundless, the world is beautiful.”
STAGE 2 Still clinging to the notion of genius, I conveniently experienced another episode right before I left for a summer internship. I would be interning at an investment bank while living with my evangelical uncle —not things I would normally be thrilled about. I decided beforehand to seek opportunities to channel my ‘gifts’ in my new environment. I delivered this speech to my therapist before I left as a portion of a sermon I was planning to deliver at my uncle’s church. The sermon was never delivered. If you looked at a Twitter account that I created last fall, which allowed no one to become my follower, and was a complete secret, you would find that below my given name of HoolzHoolia, my description of myself was “existential crisis fueled by vapid introspection,” and my location was “anywhere but here.” Please feel free to laugh out loud, it makes me very uncomfortable knowing it’s going on simultaneously in everyone’s head. In the spring, I experienced what I affectionately call the “rebooting of my brain.” And while this happened, my eyes were strained and started to droop and then a thought would occur and they would hazily reengage and as they did every time I wrote, every time I spoke, I spoke with a certain rhythm.
The intentionality of what you say affects the audience you can sway. So if I speak like this you’re not going to hear me, but if I speak like this you follow, and if not, you’re not listening anyway, so get out. Just kidding. But the rhythm of the way you speak affects your decision to pick up the beat and listen. STAGE 3 I started college again and had three episodes by the second semester, each different but increasingly intense. The allure of the high started to wear as the periods accompanied waves of energy so intense I literally wore myself out. I was becoming aware that this mindset was not self-induced. No amount of optimism or concentration could channel this kind of energy. Perhaps I had little if any control and if that were true maybe I really did need medication? To reach a degree of religious ecstasy I wake up and tie my laces Meet pavement soul for sole Eat my earth and nurse my water Smile sunshine, hug everyone Talk ideas, imagine universes At universities, ripe playgrounds for drugs Rapid repression begets idealistic idiosyncrasies Retention rather rough edges sounds Similar to static stigmas stipulating thoughts Cacophony not symphony repeats Ravaging while whittling wild minds Sole too weary to carry soul Hides under goose feather Abandoning earth, light is blinding Finding solace in logy glucose comas Closes door, opens shroud over Fragile frazzled neurons
“What might be more painful to admit is that I let myself become romanced by these notions of uniqueness.”
58 | Sex & Health
I am not a genius, as these junior poems bluntly display—but in these moments I feel boundless, the world is beautiful. It has taken me many months to accept these events as part of a disorder, as part of Bipolar 2. The DSM describes this as hypomania, a period of mood disturbance in which three or more of the following symptoms have persisted and have been present to a significant degree: Inflated self-esteem or grandiosity check—emailing MIT professors with ‘collaboration ideas’… Decreased need for sleep check check—I am almost always up at around 5AM. More talkative than usual or pressure to keep talking check. Flight of ideas or subjective experience that thoughts are racing I recently leapt out of the shower to write a couple of ideas on post-it notes, so check. Increase in goal-directed activity (either socially, at work or school, or sexually) All of the above, check check check. Excessive involvement in pleasurable activities that have a high potential for painful consequences (e.g., the person engaged in unrestrained buying sprees, sexual indiscretions, or foolish business investments) For the past year no, but when the disorder first began, yes. What might be more painful to admit is that I let myself become romanced by these notions of uniqueness. Perhaps it’s because my lows tend towards dangerously low, that the highs seem that much higher—or maybe I’m too immature to admit my limitations. Whatever the reason, it has only been until recently that I began to understand and deconstruct the problematic duality of both ‘sides’ of my mental illness. These events serve to blur the line between reality and fantasy, shifting your mindset so drastically just long enough to convince you it’s true. I still struggle with understanding how much control I have over how I view the world, and to what degree it is a part of a chemical imbalance. Either way, I am beginning to reconcile the need for medication. I tried it my way, I told myself that the doctors were wrong, that depressed Julia was just a phase, and that I just needed to be more careful to preserve hypomanic Julia. But that experiment has largely failed. I’ve come to realize I have to let go of these precious moments; as they are just as much a problem as periods when the lights are all dim. In prose it is often an alluring subject, romantic even, but in reality the pedagogical discourse around bipolar does not do the experience justice.
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[did you know: this is a Safe space? when our elbows are touching and glasses of wine and whiskey clutter our table, and your eyes open wide honest— you say I don’t know how it feels to be comfortable to be not alone to be Safe—] [did you know: you smell like soil? when you come home in the afternoon and the morning was warm, but your fingers are cold from the earth— you say I don’t know if I feel anything anymore if I’m happy or just—] [did you know: you are beautiful? when you don’t give a fuck and you dance, with your arms and hips exulting— you say I don’t know when I’ll fall in love or if ever or with myself—]
60 | Politics
Politics | 61 “Women still find themselves having to precariously strain the distance between what are wrongfully deemed as two unconnected and unrelated identities—that of a mother and that of a professional employee.”
A Woman’s Work: The Failures of American Parental Leave Policies
Ana Cecilia Alvarez
This past year, women in positions of power have attempted to diagnose the continuing lack of leading women. Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg told women to “lean in to” their jobs, Yahoo’s Marissa Meyer told all her employees to quit working from home, and former Director of Policy Planning Anne Marie Slaughter told us we could never “have it all” to begin with. Even with the elitist tones of their arguments, they are all pointing to an ever-present problem: women still find themselves having to precariously strain the distance between what are wrongfully deemed as two unconnected and unrelated identities—that of a mother and that of a professional employee. This is disproportionately experienced by women in every economic sector— while Marissa Meyer can build a nursery next to her office to take care of her child from work, Brown University employees can’t get pregnant for the first four years of their employment if they want to get guaranteed leave, and for even more women, the idea of staying with their child after birth is trumped by the need of their salary to maintain their family. Indeed, one of the continuing impediments against true employment equality is employer’s consistent refusal to accommodate pregnancy. As women begin to play a more determinant role in the professional world, the question of parental leave policies is becoming even more salient. Despite the fact that our countries’ lawmakers constantly laud the importance and vitality of the American family, the birth of a child can sometimes be the most challenging economic and professional issue families have to face in the United States. A 2004 Harvard study reported that out of 168 countries, 163 provided some form of paid leave to women who undertook childbirth, and 45 also guarantee paid paternal
leave. In stark contrast, the United States does not guarantee any paid parental leave. There are only two national laws that address the issues of maternal or parental leave. Even with these measures, nearly half of all first time mothers in the U.S. do not receive any form of paid leave from their jobs, according to a report filed by the U.S. Census Bureau. The first national law passed to protect new mothers was the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA.) Passed in 1978, this act criminalized employee discrimination based on pregnancy status; as a result, women cannot be fired, refused to be hired, or denied a promotion because they are pregnant. Though the passage of this law was a significant milestone, it did not address the challenges that come after giving birth. If women needed to take more time off to take care of their child than their employer could provide through illness or disability benefits, they were often forced to leave their jobs, with no guarantee that their jobs would still be available when they returned. This problem was partially addressed in 1995 by the second national law—The Family and Medical Leave Act, or FMLA. Through this law, eligible employees, in companies with more than fifty employees, are guaranteed to twelve weeks of unpaid job leave in the event that they must leave to take care of a newborn, seriously injured relative, or themselves after personal injury or illness. Although this law provided millions of workers with job security, it still
only covers 60% of the workforce. Everyone who works in a small business, is self-employed, or has worked at a company for a limited amount of time is exempt from this law. Even more problematic is the fact that the leave is unpaid. There are many women who do qualify for the leave provided by the FMLA but are unable to take it because they cannot afford to go without income for three months, especially with the added costs of providing for a child. In addition to the provisions guaranteed by these national laws, some states also provide programs that expand on the FMLA. In Rhode Island, women who are medically certified to be “disabled” due to childbirth are able to take up to thirty weeks of paid or partially paid leave through the state’s short-term disability insurance. Obviously, there are serious theoretical implications to labeling pregnancy and childbirth as “disabilities.” The use of short-term disability insurance in granting parental leave excludes adoptive parents and those who bypass childbirth. Beyond the problematic aspects of these disability benefits, there are still nineteen states that do not provide a single benefit plan for pregnant mothers and there are no states that provide both guaranteed job protection and paid benefits. While many conservative lawmakers fight for the protection of a fetus, few seem to care for the job protection of its mother. Perhaps the most egregious characteristic of the instituted programs for parental leave is the evident gap between a woman’s economic status and the amount of protection
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and compensation she can receive. The statistics speak for themselves—the National Partnership For Women & Families found that 76 percent of low-income workers have absolutely no access to paid leave of any kind, be it for illness or pregnancy. This means that low-income women, who at times are the most in need for added income when they welcome a new member into their family, are the least likely to receive it. These are the mothers that are at most risk of having to return to work almost immediately after giving birth. And what about the fathers? Just as women are discouraged from continuing working after becoming pregnant in order to take care of their children, men are equally discouraged from leaving their jobs in order to partake in childcare. There are neither provisions in national law nor additional insurance for those who have not physically given birth. The underlying assumptions to all these policies point toward the continuing cultural belief that women do not belong in the workplace, that taking care of children is a labor not worthy of economic compensation, and that being a professional and being a mother are two mutually exclusive identities that must necessarily clash. The key to understanding why parental leave is understated in this country is to first analyze why the limited measures of parental leave are provided in the first place. Per-
haps one of the most prevalent assumptions underlying our understanding of parental leave policy is that this is solely a women’s issue, one that employers have to excuse. This is especially highlighted by the fact that these policies are catered towards excusing the specific act of giving birth, and the physical “disablement” that comes along with it, often ignoring the childcare that comes after the fact. Women are given time off from work in order to recover from giving birth, not to foster a healthy and necessary bond with their newborn. Even more troubling is the pathologization of pregnancy and birth created by short-term disability insurance. As Randi Irwin wrote in response to the New School’s parental leave policy, using short-term disability insurance as a compensation for paid parental leave “implicitly identifies the act of giving birth as an event that disables the female body.” Instead of focusing the purpose of parental leave as an opportunity for mothers and their newborns to develop their relationship, this policy marks the women’s body as injured and in need from recovery. Maternity then becomes an issue of disability, and pregnant workers, just like any “disabled” person, are culturally portrayed and understood as weak and incapable bodies which need a leave from work in order to recover from their incapacitated state. Indeed, when women file for short-term disability leave, they have
© Christopher Thompson
to categorize themselves as “incapable” and demonstrate the extent of their injuries. Is it that women are incapable of working after giving birth or are employers incapable, or unwilling, to accommodate working conditions to allow women to partake in the necessary care of their child while retaining their employment? As Gail Landsman explains in her discussion on the PDA, “by defining pregnancy as a disability, and dealing only with issues of childbearing rather than of child rearing, the act failed to effectively address tensions between women’s work and their reproductive roles.” This notion of parental leave as a response to disability only strengthens the conception that pregnancy invariably weakens women, making labor and motherhood incompatible, because commitment to one field means a lack of passion or care in another. Beyond understanding the issue as one of disability, current policies frame the necessity for parental leave on the basis of economic productivity. When the FMLA was being introduced into legislature, all of the conversation surrounding the bill was geared toward proving to employers and government institutions that parental leave would increase productivity. The effectiveness of the law was measured in dollar amounts: the cost of implementation and the impacts on worker productivity were examined to determine if paid-parental leave would be a positive investment for employers. Lawmakers felt it necessary to convince employers that this was an issue they should be concerned with, indicating that parental leave need not come out of a spirit of incorporation and equal opportunity for female workers, but as a measure to eventually make more profit. Seen here yet again, the question of childcare is primarily understood as a woman’s issue, a blessing-turned-burden that can only rest on the mother’s shoulders, forcefully relegating women to the sphere of the home. When something is framed as a “women’s issue,” it invariably makes it necessitate support and legitimation. As Lucinda Findley writes, framing parental leave solely as a women’s issue “makes it hard for judges, legislators, or employers, most of whom still are men, to take the issue seriously or to understand its ramifications.” The issue is legitimized in terms of economic productivity to make it seem relevant. Brown University is no exception. There can be several more technical additions made to the parental leave policy at Brown to make it more in line with the anti-discriminatory platitude it pronounces. As of now, Brown provides six weeks paid leave for mothers or adoptive parents. It is unclear whether the “eligible staff” that can collect this pay covers all staff or only faculty members. The one overwhelming offense of the Brown policy is that it is limited to staff who have been employed for over four years. If a female employee gets pregnant before the four-year mark, they are not entitled to any job secured leave or compensation. Brown must eliminate the four-year time mark stipulated in its parental leave policy. It should also be stipulated that for faculty members, any time taken for parental leave will not affect their sabbatical status or affect their chances for attaining tenure. Brown should provide measures for employees, both male and female and both faculty and staff, to modify their duties if they need to while working full or part time, in order to allow them to spend more time on childcare, all the while ensuring that their job would be secured when they decided to return to a full workload. This means that faculty could choose to remain active in administrative duties, while forgoing teaching classes, for example. Similar measures should be provided for staff. Additionally, Brown should invest in comprehensive child care services on campus for all of its employees and students. After the closing of Taft Child Care Center and a year of advisory boards and reports, Brown has expanded its childcare provisions within community child care centers. Yet all the gaps are still not filled. Since Brown will not build its own private day care center, parents are often conflicted between job responsibilities that run past the time in which community day care centers are running. The Brown administration needs to continue its commitment to making affordable and available child care a reality for all of its employees and students. Any less would propagate the already present gap between women and men in positions within academia. Beyond the technical changes that can be imposed to improve employers parental leave policy and child care provisions at Brown and beyond, perhaps the greatest changes can come from shifting our perceptions of the workplace and parenthood. We need to shift away from a workplace that solely welcomes a male definition of an employee and then makes added accommodations for female employees. Instead of trying to fit our female employees into a male worker prototype, we must create policies that actively incorporate all employees. We must reconceptualize our notion of what work is considered valuable, and what commitments are considered worthy. The long-held, male-created understanding of work commitment as necessitating long hours and uninterrupted periods of employment must be shifted to a more encompassing nature of work that allows for flexible and shorter hours, that is open to employees working from home, that provides forms of child care, that encourages and allows for co-parenting, and that, most importantly, recognizes the valid and significant part that family can play in the lives of all of its employees, regardless of gender. This new framework for understanding employment must stem from the valuation of our innate interconnectedness; it must once and for all dissolve the illusory wall dividing family and profession. Once this is accomplished, parental leave policies will cease being measures to equate women to men or to hand them out special treatment and instead be understood as laws that ultimately benefit all members involved. This piece was edited by Lily Gutterman.
References Dowd, Nancy E. Marternity Leave: Taking Sex Differences into Account, 54 Fordham L. Rev. 699 (1986), Expecting Better: A State-by-State Analysis of Parental Leave Programs. Rep. National Partnership For Women & Families, 2005. Web. 16 Dec. 2011. Finley, Lucinda M. “Transcending Equality Theory: A Way out of the Maternity and the Workplace Debate.” Columbia Law Review, Vol. 86, No. 6 (Oct., 1986), pp. 1118-1182. Published by: Columbia Law Review Association, Inc. Garland-Thomson, Rosemarie. “Integrating Disability, Transforming Feminist Theory.” Feminist Formations, Vol. 14, No. 3 (Fall 2002), pp.1-32. In Print. Irwin, Randi, and H. H. Williams. “Critical Reflections on the New School’s Maternity Leave Policy.” Canon Magazine. Canon Magazine. Web. 16 Dec. 2011. Landsman, Gail. “Negotiating Work and Womanhood.” American Anthropologist , New Series, Vol. 97, No. 1 (Mar., 1995), pp. 33-40. Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the American Anthropological Association. “University of Rhode Island - ADVANCE Program - Parental Leave Policy.” The University of Rhode Island. Web. 16 Dec. 2011. U.S. Census Bureau. (2011, October). Maternity Leave and Employment Patterns For First Time Mothers 1961-2008, Retrieved December 14, 2011, from Vogel, Lise. “Debating Difference: Feminism, Pregnancy, and the Workplace.” Feminist Studies, Vol. 16, No. 1 (Spring, 1990), pp. 9-32. Published by: Feminist Studies, Inc. Weinzweig, Marjorie. “Pregnancy Leave, Comparable Worth, and Concepts of Equality.” Hypatia , Vol. 2, No. 1, Philosophy and Women Symposium (Winter, 1987), pp. 71-101. Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of Hypatia, Inc. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3809861.
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Literature | 67
“I don’t trust women,” I tell you. What I meant was that I don’t trust myself. Because somehow, I cried anyway, and you took me away: into the men’s room, cigarette smoke, scotch. It’s an acquired taste, but I still like red lights. I escaped your black bonds, but I still see your eyes in strangers, and sometimes, I still see strangers. And sometimes I wish that the others would kiss like you.
The Old Art
In the night, when no one is sleeping, I wait in the bathroom with my tits out. No shirt on. Only a pair of guy shorts dangling all leafy over the tops of my quads. Sometimes Ihave my glitter flip-flops on, too, the ones I mined out of a dumpster the summer I ran out of clothes. But most nights, I don’t care what kind of water the soles of my feet lick up. It’s cold in the bathroom. My nipples get so hard I swear they curl up sometimes. When a boy walks in, my palms open, swing to my breasts to cover them. I like the casual ones. The ones who take a step
back out the door, if it’s still open. I harden my eyes at them through the mirror and they dissolve, flow away, with unemptied bladders and faces dripping with a kind of fear. But the best ones are those who—if the door’s already shut behind them—lock themselves in a stall, stay in it forever. Sometimes I stand there for hours, testing them; I spot the cut of their eye just over the hinge in the hind slit of the stall door. But none of them have done shit about it—only one. The one to do something about me, the solitary fraternity bro, he didn’t chicken out when he strode in on my half-stark-naked ass—my ritual waiting, stripper meditating—the brave boy who made a move, who had the guts to gawk,
I guess that bondage is a big part of it, after all. the old art, the tactic of rendering a lover submissive. Isn’t it the fear, after all, that’s so sensual about it? Or knowing what the silver of that necklace tastes like by heart, that these fragile lungs can still throw you over on your back, that no one else will ever kiss like this. So, this is what I have left then: five scars and a fear of handcuffs, crying for all the women.
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Literature | 69
maybe to touch, who fucked up my hypothesis and simultaneously proved it—was Will, third-floor Will: I want to tell you All About Will. Let’s delve straight into the physics: the number one thing you notice about Will is the lips. On good days, they’re elastic, like a rubber snapping in and out of his cheeks every time he smiles or talks. They’re thick but they’re thin. He’s dark-featured, with stormy black hair like wildfire smoke, burnt candle wisps for eyelashes. The blackest eyes you’ve ever seen. He speaks smart like he knows it, a half-warm nasal voice. A licking, succoring voice. It happened two months ago, the Thursday before Halloween. I was watching the way the fluorescent lights flickered on my forearms like a million little cuts and splits, crisscrossing down, layers upon layers of them, when Will walked in. “Hello,” he said. Behind him, the door clunked shut. “I’m sorry,” his lips whipped in his face. “Did I—do you want me to leave?” I stood there with my breasts inside my palms. “No,” I said. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
“No.” “Did something happen? Do you need help?” He seemed knowing then, like he knew me, even though he was inventing me, stories of me, things that had to have happened to me to have brought me to this fraternity lavatory. “It’s just, really hot,” I said then. “Do you want me to call someone?” “No, no, no, it’s okay, I’m not sick or anything. Just the heaters are turned on full-blast, I needed to cool off,” I said. “Anyway, isn’t this the girls’ bathroom?” A smirk slapped over his face. “Only officially,” he said. “You know this is a frat? You’re, like, the only girl here.” “So?” “So,” he said, leaning against the wall, “it’s weird.” I let my hands fall to my sides. He could see everything; I didn’t care. In hindsight, he didn’t like any of it anyway. Something dripped in the shower. The sound resonated on my skin, long and cold. “Why is it weird?” “Not because you’re a girl,” he said, his eyes pouring down,
philosophizing. “I don’t care that you’re a girl, no. The weirdest thing about it is—it’s that you seem to want to do it. You seem to do it on purpose.” “Why shouldn’t I do it?” I said, stepping so close I could see the fluorescent light marbleize onto his skin, those little cuts of light along his wrists now, like a hundred miniature wheat fields. “Look,” he said, the smile still slitting into his face—but I could tell he was getting serious now, scary-serious, his eyes pinned down into me, trying to drive something out of me. “Let’s not get circular here—I want to help you. Something is not right about what you’re doing.” The walls in the girl’s bathroom sent echoes down the span of my arms and toothed up their goosebumps—like echoes of voices I’d heard before, echoes like overheard wisps of familiar songs on the street, echoes like the sound of your own feet slapping against the marble floor in the dark, when you’re not sure who can hear you. And I felt them, then, the voices, more real, more comforting than ever before. I walked right up to him. I felt like a step closer and it could’ve been second base. I walked right up to him and willfully bolted my eyes into his. “This,” I said, “this right here—is the girls’ bathroom. So you, you get the fuck out.” “Why?”
I turned around and looked at both of us in the mirror. We both stared at my body, but the way Will’s eyes fluttered open like breeze-blown window blinds made him seem more naked than I even was. He was beautiful; I couldn’t take that away from him. But I wanted to. I wanted to take something away from him. I couldn’t wait to get out of this place, I decided then, couldn’t wait to denude myself, on my own, in a bathroom that’s mine, no one else’s, not Will’s, nor any other guy’s. I felt like my skin was dirtier without any clothes on it than with. Maybe because of the dumpster shorts. Maybe because of boys’ eyes in the slits of stalls. I crumpled down then, my stomach folding like a leaf, my arms twisting around my center. “Shit,” I heard him over me. “Shit, are you okay? Should I call someone—is it—“ The cry-sighs fell out of my mouth, fragments of airlessness, frenzied half-moans. He put his hand on my shoulder. The rough skin of his palm shattered into me, ripping open my body in jags and kinks, like the edges of continents, crackling out from his fingers. And then, the words I’ve been meaning to say my entire life, each syllable a breath, hot, hard, filled up every wrinkle and crevice in my lips.
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Culture | 71
I’m the Liquorice
The Politics of Azealia Banks
Einar Ragnar Jónsson
To spit: to rap Flow: speed of rapping Vamp: a financially or sexually powerful woman, who is drawn to dark subject such as witchcraft Nigga: a male whom AB interacts with sexually Bambi: a highly desirable and ladylike femme girl
The most recent doyenne of rap, Azealia Banks, has garnered equal amounts of praise and criticism from the mainstream press and blog-elite for her unreserved lyricism and sexual bravado. Going by multiple pseudonyms (AB, Young Rapunxel, and BamBi), she is known for her brazen beats and talent as a rapper, singer, and lyricist. On her first international hit, “212,” Banks spits about cunnilingus with bemused nonchalance—“I guess that cunt gettin’ eaten.” Clad in a Mickey Mouse sweater and cut-off shorts, she alternately flirts with and antagonizes a silent, still white male. Using different vocal modes, including rapping and singing, she spins the tale of her path to fame and glory in which she steals his girlfriend and derogatorily depicts him as gay, before laughing the whole affair off with a, “I’m fucking with you, cutie-q.”
In most of her recent releases, she sells sex, but unlike many of her predecessors (at least those with much success,) she does so as an openly bisexual black woman. Her treatment of black female sexuality and bisexuality is categorically different than that of her adversaries in the business, most notably Nicki Minaj, who employs bisexual imagery in her lyrics and music videos for the pleasure of her fans instead of her own sexual preferences. Banks, on the other hand, explores bisexuality in her lyrics to express herself as a bisexual woman of color, traversing the slippery slope of rendering her politics personal without ever seeming disingenuous. She does, of course, profit from “vamping” her blackness, bisexuality, and sexually racy thematics throughout her music. Do not be fooled: Banks does not trifle with coy flirtations, nor does she fully yield to the impulse to sexualize her identification as a black woman or bisexual. She croons for the love of someone to whom she can be his “lady”; yet, when
she raps and sings about sex, she artfully describes scenes of group sex, masturbation, and infidelity. She is equally willing to play the role of alluring coquette, irate vixen, and provocative powerhouse. She is both the self-described pelagic leitmotif of a black-skinned mermaid on her mixtape Fantasea and the brazen figure of the Jezebel: seductive, mercurial, and dangerous. Banks’s music engages the intersections of gender, sexuality, and race with ease, flair, and a smirk. A close reading of Azealia Banks reveals a project that commodifies black female sexuality vis-à-vis white male consumption of said sexuality, yet which cleverly subverts many of the power dynamics that dominate white-and male-driven depictions of interracial sexualities. Banks deliberately intertwines her race with her sexuality in this way, often referring to stereotypes that are whiteor male-driven. On “L8R” she describes a hook-up with an “older nigga,” while explicating the integration of white su
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premacy in the realm of beauty and aesthetics: “Light skin world, light skin girls / Switching his vanilla cause he likes that swirl, yeah / He like black girls and he love a musician.” Banks uses a plethora of metaphors to describe this interracial sexuality and black women’s bodies. Though the metaphors are too many to list, some include: “the pastry chocolate croissant,” “café au lait” (“1991”); “chocolate candy,” “liquorice,” “cinnamon” (“Esta Noche”); and “that chocolate body,” “that tootsie roll,” “that flirty Hershey,” “roly poly” (“Chips”). With metaphors like these, Banks intentionally markets herself to white “niggas” and fetishizes her blackness. Banks uses the word “nigga” to describe all men with a “liquorice interest” or an attraction to black women, undermining the semantic association of “nigga” with its allegedly self-evident link to race, specifically blackness, by subjecting white men to this prejudicial term historically employed against African-Americans: “these niggas be gorillas for the pin-k flesh / These niggas be vanilla, the chips be legitimate.” Not only does Banks racialize white men, she also plays upon “pink flesh,” referring to her labia, to absolve herself of her own epidermal blackness and to twist and distort the generally unquestioned optics of racism. ate desires (“I could set you right.”) Then, moments later, retorts, “So since you vanilla men spend / can my hot fudge bitches get with your vanilla friends?” She is aware of her own fetishization of her blackness—“that black girl pin-up with that black girl dip”—that is often represented as marginal, peripheral, and exotic. The rendition of herself as a “pin-up”—a material object of desire, to be seen and revisited recursively, yet to remain only an image of fantasy—encapsulates many of the problems inherent in interracial fantasies/fantaseas. Her songs similarly act as “pin-ups” or “dips” of female blackness, since they can be consumed in private solitude, the space within which sexual fantasies of their “liquorice interest” thrive. In the video for “Liquorice,” Banks presents herself as four different personas each with their own unique attire. First, she appears as the all-American girl, whose sexualization serves to subvert her own sex appeal. For instance, she reaches to bite a hot dog that she then crushes in her fist. Second, she dresses as the American cowboy. Her third and fourth personas both represent Banks as a femme Bambi. In her most femme persona, Banks reaches for her groin, a gesture common to some voguing dance subcultures as an indication of being fiercely cunt, literalizing its metaphor since Banks actually “shows off” her snatch unlike the queer men who flaunt it symbolically. Banks holds power in this song precisely because she is the one who allegorizes her own race and the interracial relationships that she navigates. Similarly, she does not forfeit control in her video because she not only controls its images but continually subverts them.
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“She is black, yet she absolves herself of it and turns racial epithets against white men in her music. She is bi, yet she isn’t willing to let her sexuality be driven by the desires of other men.”
“Do not be fooled: Banks does not trifle with coy flirtations, nor does she fully yield to the impulse to sexualize her identification as a black woman or bisexual.”
As her motto in “Esta Noche” indicates, “Banks ‘bout: money, power, respect.” She states, moreover, “I’m a rude bitch but I like gentlemen / who spend dividends, benjis, residuals too.” On “L8R” she hollers, “You gotta spend a lot for this behavior / If it ain’t about a dollar I’ma holler at you later.” And on “1991,” she explicitly refers to herself as a commodity, spitting, “I sell, you buy, that’s my version.” Not only does she commodify sex, she also often displays a willingness to be the object of men’s fantasy/fantasea. Laden in her lyrics is hetersexism specifically directed at males. Her Twitter feuds do little to repair this heterosexism that is prevalent within her discography. After a feud with fellow female rapper Angel Haze went public, blogger Perez Hilton began to side with Haze, calling AB “thirsty,” “pathetic,” and “hurtful,” claiming “You drag while others uplift.” Banks wrote the following tweet in response: “lol what a messy faggot you are.” Then, in an attempt to decouple the presumed homophobia and heterosexism that the word ‘faggot’ immediately implies, AB tried to alleviate the gravity of her former Tweet with her own definition of what constitutes ‘a faggot.’ She tweeted: “A faggot is not a homosexual male. A faggot is any male who acts like a female. There’s a BIG difference.” And then for more clarification: “When I said acts like I female I should’ve said acts like a cunt.” What is evident, here, is that Banks believes she can transfer the meaning of the word ‘faggot’ to signify a feminine
or femme male instead of a gay or homosexual male. This obviously ignores the history of the term’s usage against LGBTQ+ people in gender-bashing, often in conjunction with physical acts of violence. To be fair to Banks, Hilton does exaggerate this application of ‘faggot’ against him to an extent, insofar as him previously calling Will.I.Am a ‘faggot’ in a club in 2009 renders him a homophobia-spreading hypocrite, but this does not lessen the severity of Banks’s statement. Her amendment is especially troubling in the way she shifts the cause of denigration from queer sexuality to feminine expressions of gender by male-bodied individuals. Which, if we follow her reformation of the pejorative, makes her application of ‘faggot’ transphobic or phobic of gender fluidity more generally, not homophobic. As was also clear in “212,” Banks’s homophobia stems from her disregard for expressions of femininity by male-bodied individuals, perhaps most caustically in “1991,” where she says to T.I., or “tip top or all his niggas,” “sucka a di-i-ck nigga / cause you gonna be a bitch nigga.” Again, she scapegoats femininity and instantiates a larger trend of trans-misogyny, where people are derogated and often bodily violated because of femininity. Yet, “212” is also provocatively explicit in her depictions of women giving other women sexual pleasure. In the first stanza, she speaks of kicking it “with the bitch who comes from Parisian” and “now she wanna lick my plum in the eve
The song “Liquorice” can be considered Banks’ billet-doux to white men who “like that swirl.” Banks provocatively asks her listener whether he likes his lady in her “color,” as if she were a saleswoman speaking to a perusing shopper. She is willing to mold and reinvent herself for him (“Can I be what you like?”), and assures him that she can satisfy his innumer-
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nin’ / And fit that tongue tongue d-deep in / I guess that cunt gettin’ eaten.” The final refrain is repeated five times; and, in the video, the lyric is superimposed over Banks’s lips in large white text. Banks’s bisexuality allows her to market herself as both male sex-object and male sexual fantasy of lesbian sex. Thus, she is able to unabashedly describe wanting to sleep with or “vamp” the boy’s girlfriend, while still teasing and flirting with him. Azealia openly self-identifies as a “vamp,” “bitch,” and a “witch,” going so far as to describe her music as “witch pop” in “Atlantis.” For her, being a vamp woman is empowering, noting sex and money as two channels through which women can attain power. This positioning as powerful and uncompromising in her own right resembles her claims in “212” and “Esta Noche” to be “a rude bitch,” a claim that she often reiterates, saying “I’m a hoodlum nigga” to suggest that she’s in control and ready for a fight. She raps, “You could get shot, homie, if you do want to / put your guns up, tell your crew don’t front,” and on “No Problems,” aims a diss at fellow rapper Angel Haze: “bad queen is my pedigree, bad bitch is my legacy.” Her self-confidence shines as she ends “Salute,” the last song on Fantasea, with the command, “Salute a bad bitch you should.” This formulation of “vamp bitch” connotes the “bad bitch” personas of modern female rappers, as well as previous articulations of women’s positions like those in Betty Friedan’s seminal feminist text, The Feminine Mystique, where a woman’s power is partially derived from being menacing towards her male counterparts, especially white men. She is also skeptical about the border she is constantly crossing between rap and song. This rap-song dyad becomes an integral component of Banks’s music because it allows her to transcend the ostensible inferiorities of her identites. Banks is not comfortable with this duality, admitting in an interview with Hypertrak that she finds rap “unladylike” and that “One day I don’t wanna rap anymore…I think it’s kinda tacky. I think it’s very unladylike. I like it but I think I’m gunna get tired of it.” However, it is only through this “unladylike” genre that Banks is able to appropriate the agency to racialize whiteness and reinterpret masculinity. As a black, bisexual woman, Banks experiences three intersectional forms of discrimination and abjection—racism, sexism, and heterosexism—and her conscious alternation between the vocal modes of rap and song allows her to resist their terms. She is black, yet she absolves herself of it and turns racial epithets against white men in her music. She is bi, yet she isn’t willing to let her sexuality be driven by the desires of other men. And, although she is a cisgender woman, she resists, perhaps reticently, sexism through her practice of “unladylike” rap. Her raps, in fact, often contain the vast majority of expletives that she uses, layered over cacophonic, abrasive beats to sonically bombard her listeners. In the best example of this, the otherwise euphonic and melodious “Esta Noche,” she serves acerbic flows once a discordant beat hits, rapping, “Here with your man, hand on my hip / a bad bitch do it like this.” Thereafter, her line—“I entice, I supply what your girlfriend can’t provide / that tight-grip twat, that slip and slide”—is certainly an instance of self-sexualization, yet the eroticism is lacking in this pornographic rendition of vaginal sex. Once confronted by any of these three forms of discrimination (racism, sexism, and heterosexism) Azealia Banks is steadfast in her views and does not hesitate to call out sentiments embedded in these systems of hierarchy and privilege. For example, at the very end of her latest “No Problems” video, shot at ULTRA 2013 in Miami, FL, Diplo appears holding Banks around the shoulder. Diplo tells the camera, “I just wanted to say, I’m in the video, she needed me to make it shine a little bit. A big white star…” Smiling, she throws back, “A big white star in my little black girl video, huh,” laughs, and offhandedly remarks, “Fuck you.”
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Some girls I know have a tendency to call penises “things,” which seems vague to me—like there could be anything inside his pants. Unzip those jeans and out pops a rubber chicken or Burt Bacharach or a friendly dog. They do it most likely because they don’t know which word for penis they should choose. Dick? Cock? Those sound too harsh, you know? If she’s describing a romantic interlude with some guy, she’s not going to say that he pulled his dick out. Because it was sexual, yes, but it was also nice and sweet and innocent—in a way. Not a dick situation. So she says “I touched his thing,” and I have to stop myself from imagining him removing his briefs to reveal to her waiting hands his surrealist manifesto or favorite teddy bear, which she [then] pats politely.
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Widespread cultural doctrines preach the sanctity of marriage and the shame associated with unwed girls in the family. They play a central role in a victim’s reluctance of reporting rape. In order to safeguard “honor,” police routinely encourage victims to marry their rapist, so much so that weddings are enacted in the very police station where the rape is reported. If a victim refuses to marry her rapist she essentially refuses any possibility for marriage in the future and becomes a social outcast. “More than likely,” an Indian activist confesses, “she will commit suicide.” ---
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and feet...then the misconduct wouldn’t have happened.” They blamed the incident on her inability to worship her rapists and beg for pardon. The leaders of the ruling political party of India, the Congress Party, had very little to say in response to the outrageous comments. A member of the opposing political party in India recommended implementing a law that banned girls from wearing skirts to school. “The intention of this demand is to keep girl students away from men’s lustful gazes and for their comfort in hot and cold weather conditions,” Singhal, a member of the party told reporters. “It is not a Talibani type of thinking or restriction on girls’ freedom or right, but a concern for their safety.” It is very plausible that he did not know any other way to offer safety or articulate a meaningful strategy. --After an international uproar about the violence against women in India, the judiciary system is attempting to institute a system of laws that makes the country safe for women. The new anti-rape law calls for stricter punishments for perpetrators. The law mandates a minimum of twenty years imprisonment for those convicted of raping a minor. The law demands a death penalty if the victim passes away or is left in a vegetative state. Even with the new system of laws, many feel that there is a gap between institution and the practice of a law. Success cannot be measured by the number of people imprisoned or the number of capital punishments handed out. Kiran Bedi, an Indian law enforcement agent, said it best. “Rape is not just a few sentences, it is a whole book.” Only time will tell if the new law improves the victims’ situations. The war against rape and violence against women in India has just begun. For now, no amount of outrage will be enough.
“She Should Have Taken God’s Name”:
The Politics of Victim Blaming in India
Ujwala Dixit, M.D
The gruesome rape of the twenty three year old student in New Delhi triggered my memory about a particular incident from the 1970s. My friend arrived eight months pregnant for her sister’s wedding. Wedded around the age of fifteen, she conceived within a year. As per Indian custom, she came prepared to spend the next three months at her mother’s house. I worried about her. On the night of her sister’s wedding, she lost her unborn. Her husband had demanded intimacy. They could not find a private place. He forced her into a side room, kicked her belly multiple times and raped her. She could never conceive again. Her tears haunt me sometimes. She accepted the dictum, “you did this to yourself. It was your duty to find a room” to appease his hunger. Nobody talked about the real problem. In the Vedic period, Indian women were valued and society prized women’s education. Today, patriarchal ideology infiltrates society, supposedly to protect women from sexual predators. Yet, victim blaming breeds fear and curbs individualism. The Indian woman shuns the word “I.” She hides in yards of silk. It sets the stage for an exploitative configuration, corrupt gender roles, values, and attitudes. Women are seen as a social and economic burden. Women are expected to shoulder sole responsibility for the family’s honor and image. Their chastity decrees the cure for all social sins. Doctrines such as these established women’s masochism, creating tenets of shame, disgrace, and dishonor. They allow for unquestioned tolerance of a subculture which sanctions and minimizes violence against women.
During my visit to India last month, I was shocked to hear what many had to say regarding the Delhi rape victim. “Why did she go out past 9PM?” questioned many. “Women should know how to behave,” said my co-traveler on a bus, who is a professor of a renowned Indian college. She added that men should know how to control their women. Many of my friends felt a compulsive sense of ‘pity’ towards the victim, but still thought she was to blame for ‘not being careful enough.’ Parallel to common dogma, Indian leaders’ callous remarks on the Delhi rape case are shocking. Comments from the Indian government officials are an eye opener to the unshakable belief system that blames the victim. For instance remarks such as “…it would have been better if the girl did not travel by bus at that time,” by Botsa Satyanarayana, Arunachal Pradesh Congress Committee President and state Transport Minister, have major far reaching negative impacts on the psyche of the masses. A female lawmaker, Kakoli Ghose Dastidar, described the crime as “not at all a rape,” but “as a deal gone wrong.” Many so-called “saints” offered remedial measures such as “she should have taken God’s name and held their hands
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Fight Like a Feminist, Sting Like a Bee:
Body Power in Taekwondo
I do Taekwondo. It is a Korean martial art, closer to karate or kung fu than to Mixed Martial Arts or boxing. I’m on the Brown Taekwondo Team and we are the national champions at sparring. That means we go into the ring, bop around and try to kick our opponent in the head or on the body. We wear helmets and rigid chest protectors wrapped around our torsos, and it is all very respectful and safe. The tournament this past February at Princeton was the opposite of Fight Club. Before every fight, you pass through the valley of the shadow of death. The night before a taekwondo tournament I never sleep well. I can’t stop visualizing Image provided by the author my roundhouse kicks. I check to fake her out, switch out at a 45-degree angle, and nail her right in the ribs with a big satisfying smack that earns me one point in the match. I imagine my opponent’s body: will she be tall and skinny, or short and muscular? Will she be aggressive or timid? Will she cry when I kick her one too many times? When you are a woman, it can feel like your body is public property. The female form is constantly analyzed and discussed. I could talk about Kim’s ass, Pippa Middleton’s arse, Angelina’s lips, Elizabeth’s violet eyes, Scarlett’s boobs, Keira’s jawline, Jennifer’s hair or Julia’s smile and you’d
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know which fleshy protuberance or sculpted bone I’m talking about. This level of scrutiny carries over into everyday life. For some reason, the way I look seems to be important to a wide variety of people. Bizarrely, it can feel like parts of my body are sending messages that I don’t endorse, like in the Middle East where my light hair telegraphs, “I’m a Russian prostitute,” or when my breasts shout out, “I’m fertile. Fuck me.” Those aren’t my words, but my body is part of an established discourse that I cannot control. Part of the performance of femininity is to give pleasure to others—visually, emotionally or physically. I learned that in “Introduction to Cultural Anthropology.” Anyway, I spent a lot of time feeling like my mortal coil was a thing for other people. I don’t want to say male gaze, but to have a successful body means being appreciated by someone else—to get a compliment on how it looked in that shirt, in those trousers. I know my feet belong to me, even when my body feels like it is for someone else. There are few cultural expectations for feet beyond basic cleanliness. In contemporary Western culture, there’s no idealized foot. We don’t remember celebrities’ feet and we certainly don’t notice other people’s feet— that is, until a teeny tiny girl is slamming her foot against me during practice, twisting her hips in order to send all of her body power deep into my solar plexus. I go watch my opponent fight someone else. She’s got longer legs than me and she’s quick and powerful with one signature move: when her opponent moved in, she snapped up her front leg and scored on her first. I’ll have to go faster than she does, block the kick and respond with two or three while she’s off balance. Watching her, my coach Master Park leaned in and said, “Look. She’s not really fighting. You go out there and you fight with your heart. Show her you want it more.” I gulped, “Yes, sir.” When I started doing Taekwondo, I began to think about my body differently. Instead of a souped-up pleasure vehicle, I realized my body could actually feel like a supreme killing machine. So that was new, delicious and decidedly unfeminine. To have a successful body in Taekwondo is to be flexible, so you can reach that foot up higher and rake your toes down your opponent’s face. It’s shifting out of a kick’s path and thinking three moves ahead so you can smack her back. It’s tensing your abs so you can take a hit without getting winded. It’s fighting for a minute without vomiting or passing out. It’s bowing, eyes lowered to the mat in one smooth and graceful motion. It’s a whole new way of using myself. You don’t have to be strong to be powerful; you can be a big muscular dude and have feeble flapping taps for kicks. The trick is learning how to put all the power and torque of your body into a few square inches of your foot. There are at least twenty different kicks that use different parts of your feet: sometimes the ball of your foot, the blade, the heel or the hard part on top. When you do kick properly, it feels like swinging a tennis racket and nailing a perfect shot as the ball sails over the net. It’s hard, but it feels easy because you’re not straining your leg muscles to generate that pow-
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“It can feel like parts of my body are sending messages that I don’t endorse, like in the Middle East where my light hair telegraphs, ‘I’m a Russian prostitute,’ or when my breasts shout out, ‘I’m fertile. Fuck me.’”
er; you’re twisting your torso in the most effective way. It can be a little scary to effortlessly kick your partner in a drill and have them cry out because you hit them too hard without realizing. So you apologize and try again with control and finesse, a flick instead of a lash. Last round, forty seconds to go. I’ve cracked her pattern and I’m two points ahead and I’m throwing the most beautiful combination. I’m turning my hips all the way over to drive my body power into my foot when she loses her footing and falls. I kick her directly in the face as she goes down. She hits the ground, rolls over and doesn’t get up when the referee hollers for a medic. My imagination spins. I feel like I’ve either killed her or gouged her eyeball. I’m unspooling into martial arts lyricism here. The feet are great. I like my feet. I can do cool things with them. They’ve transformed from useful appendages into little weapons. Through Taekwondo, I take control of the messages my body sends and the functions it performs. After a several minute delay, it turns out that she’s fine but she’s mad and comes at me hard. Now she’s fighting and I can feel that rage and frustration as she pounds my stomach and ribs. Master Park is hollering at me to reach further with my kicks, to punch her off-balance. But she overwhelms me. I guess my foot in her eye was just what she needed. By the end of the second round, I’m hyperventilating and might just throw up. Worse, the score is tied. “Breathe. Reach forward, don’t bounce up. It’s sudden death and you only need the one point,” intones Master Park. It’s funny to see who feels threatened when they find out what I can do with my body, especially heterosexual males. Guys asking, “What do you do besides school?” is pretty common, but when I say “Taekwondo,” they get freaked out. I get a lot of aggressive responses: “Can you beat me up?”, “Let’s fight!” and “I bet you can’t do shit.” It’s rude. Once my friend’s flatmate asked me to show him a kick. Reluctantly, I got up and did one that stopped short of making contact. He grabbed my foot and pushed me backwards onto the floor. “Not so great, are you?” he laughed. I’d like to say I used my brilliant technique to reach further than my long-legged and enraged enemy to score on her in the last few seconds. But my heart was sinking and she lost on a technicality. Ironically, she kicked me in the head by mistake—an illegal move at our level. I was with a boy once who got off on how petite I was compared to him. He held my feet and said, “They’re so dainty. I can’t believe that you do all that with these little things. Show me.” So I rather awkwardly got up and did an axe kick. He smiled. “You can kick as high as my head,” he said. Then we went back to kissing. But I won.
‘‘When you are a woman, it can feel like your body is public property.’’
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On Cultural Competence
A Latino family in American therapy
two nurses, my father, and me, and went straight into my sister’s room. “HOW COULD YOU DO THIS TO ME?” she demanded to know from my sister. “WHAT WERE YOU THINKING IN DOING THIS TO ME? HUH? Don’t think you’ve done yourself or anyone any favors. You’ve only made everything worse.” Two nurses and a security guard escorted my mother off hospital premises. April 2009 My sister and I did not see my mother for five months after our hospital encounter, except in the setting of intense therapy that we as a family attended many days a week in the subsequent months after my sister’s close encounter with death. Apparently in therapy we were supposed to consider where we had broken down as individuals, and how that had contributed to our becoming broken down as a family. Some things we considered are, but do not exclude: 1) My mother’s stresses working as a high-powered partner at the largest international law firm in the world translated into a quick temper at home. 2) My sister had just turned fourteen and, as many fourteen-year-olds do, had just entered the throes of teen angst. 3) My father was working as a city attorney in a time when the city was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, and, in order to keep his job, had no choice but to work as many hours as were demanded of him. 4) I was in my last months of living with my family, college-bound for a place thousands of miles away from home, and had already begun to check out and spend my days dreaming of a place where things might actually start going well.
Some things we did not consider are, but do not exclude: 1) We are all of full Mexican ancestry, and therefore, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, must have our mental health treated with something called “cultural competence.”  Mexican families typically live by a cultural philosophy called familismo, which refers to the emphasis on family-level communication and decision-making.  It is a mentality in which you do everything “for the group.” An individual’s personal preferences have no consequence if they impede a family from reaching some sort of group goal. This goal, in relation to mental health, can be to not disclose problems to people outside of the family, or a refusal to acknowledge a family member’s suffering. November 2008 We’re sitting on the red couch in the room with the red rug and the red curtains and the red candles and we’re watching something stupid like Gossip Girl and little Ryan with her dainty arms and bony wrists starts sobbing and I ask her why she’s crying but she won’t say anything and just keeps shaking her head and it isn’t until I also start crying because I’m so scared of her sobbing that little Ryan rolls up her sleeves to reveal thin red lines of congealed blood all over her dainty arms and bony wrists. Why are you doing this I ask Ryan and she tells me it’s because she’s always very sad and hates it here and I tell her that she can say the word and we can leave and never come back to this awful house and she tells me no and that by here she meant the world and wishes she just didn’t exist anymore. Don’t say that I tell her because now she’s really scaring me. I hug her and I tell her that I’m going to get her outside help from a professional and she shakes her head again because she doesn’t see how that’s possible since mom and dad don’t approve of us telling other people
To begin, I have only once in my life watched someone dying. I was eighteen when I watched the dying, and it was my sister that was doing the dying. December 18, 2008 Living at home was not going so well. Between the rage blackouts,  the excessive and superfluous clothing purchases, and the un-prescribed Lexapro I had found in the medicine cabinet, it was clear that my mother wasn’t doing too well. And rather than saying anything or taking action, my father stayed longer hours at work during the week and went into the office most weekends, so it was clear that my father wasn’t doing too well, either. None of us were doing too well, but my sister wanted us to know that out of the four of us, she was doing the least well. So, she swallowed half a bottle of Tylenol PM, slit her wrists and said goodbye to us in her own way. “Goodbye ladies + gentlemen,” she wrote in her own blood on the hardwood floor, but only a few minutes later I came home and found her and this whole final performance on earth. Much to her chagrin, I made the executive decision against this being her final performance and got her to a hospital, where over the course of the customary seventy-two hours given to a suicidal patient, they stopped her bleeding, pumped her stomach, and in a sense, brought my dying sister back into the living world. December 20, 2008 In the seventy-two hours at the hospital, my father and I thought we had finally taken care of the worst of this whole “not doing too well” situation. Much to our chagrin, my mother and, more importantly, her rage blackouts, made the executive decision to come to the hospital, even though my father had expressly forbidden it. (I assume it’s clear to see how interactions between a suicidal teenager and a woman with rage blackouts should be expressly forbade.) My mother stormed past
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our problems and they think therapy is for crazy people and we’re not crazy people. I tell her I will get her help once I get my paycheck from the local clothing store I work at and once I turn eighteen in a few weeks I can be her legal guardian and mom and dad won’t ever have to know about the therapy but she just keeps crying and tells me that she doesn’t think she can wait that long so I just hug her until we finally stop crying and go back to watching Gossip Girl. 2) Sometimes in conjunction with familismo lies marianismo, which is defined as an idea of female gender role that emphasizes nurturance and self-sacrifice. It is usually manifested as the tendency for Mexican females to take on so much responsibility that they feel burdened. Familial obligations preclude the female from taking care of herself.  March 1991 My mom is sitting with my grandmother and she talks on and on about my mom’s brother and how he just got a fantastic job as a principal at some engineering firm and now makes more money than my mom and drives
a Porsche and my mom tells my grandmother that she doesn’t even know what a Porsche is and my grandmother tells my mom that she’s right but that nonetheless a Porsche sounds very fancy and important and my mom is sitting there trying to not scream in my grandmother’s face or throw something across the room or storm out of the house but the more my grandmother goes on the less restrained my mom feels. Eleven years with the same huge corporate law firm had finally gotten her a very fancy partnership with all kinds of benefits and she had managed to get this partnership not only as a woman but also as a Latina and not only as a Latina but in the same year that she was pregnant and subsequently gave birth to me so my mom doesn’t quite understand how a Porsche could be more important than her partnership but my mom ends up sitting there and waiting until my grandmother finishes raving about my mom’s brother and once my grandmother finishes talking my mom tells her she was just appointed by the old rich white Republican mayor of Los Angeles to be president of the city’s police commission which will be a big time commitment but the police force in the city seems to be stable enough that it won’t
© Alejandra Lindstrom Peralta
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“We are all full of Mexican ancestry, and therefore must
have our mental health treated with something called
References:  Rage blackouts are a type of memory loss due to fits of rage, which almost entirely impair social skills. There are fourteen conditions associated with rage blackouts, including medication reaction or side-effect, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. (Courtesy of WebMD Symptom Checker. “Blackouts (memory time loss), Fits of Rage, Impaired Social Skills and Impulsive Behavior: Common Related Medical Conditions.” Web. 13 April 2013. http://symptomchecker.webmd.com/multiple-symptoms?symptoms=blackouts-(memory-time-loss)%7Cfits-of-rage%7Cimpaired-social-skills%7Cimpulsive-behavior&symptomids=473%7C475%7C478%7C265&locations=2%7C2%7C2%7C2).  J.E. Mezzich, A. Kleinman, H. Fabrega and D.L. Parron, Culture and psychiatric diagnosis: A DSM-IV perspective (Washington D.C.: American Psychiatric Press, 1996), 5-11.  Rachel Zack Ishikawa, Esteban V. Cardemil and Rachel Joffe Falmagne, “Help Seeking and Help Receiving for Emotional Distress Among Latino Men and Women,” Qualitative Health Research 10 (2010): 1558-1572.  Rachel Zack Ishikawa, Esteban V. Cardemil and Rachel Joffe Falmagne, 1558-1572.  Rachel Zack Ishikawa, Esteban V. Cardemil and Rachel Joffe Falmagne, 1558-1572.  P. Fossion, L. Servais, M.C. Rejas, Y. Ledoux, I. Pelc and P. Minner, “Psychosis, migration and social environment: an age and gender controlled study.” European Psychiatry, 19, 338-343.  Teresa Kirchner and Camila Patiño, “Latin-American Immigrant Women and Mental Health: Differences according to their Rural or Urban Origin,” The Spanish Journal of Psychology, 14, 843-850.
too much from her family or me the newborn daughter but that night she gets her first assignment as President of the Los Angeles Police Commission when the media gets ahold of an alleged police brutality story involving some black man named Rodney King. 3) Particularly with Mexican-Americans, the influence of prior experiences with psychological treatment will provide a clue as to whether or not an individual will seek mental health help.  This is, yet again, due to the stigma in Mexican culture surrounding therapy. May 2002 I’m in the fifth grade and I have a crush on a boy on my class named Chris and it’s the first time I’ve never had a full-blown crush on any boy so I fall pretty hard for him but fall even harder when I find out he’s going to the park after school to kiss another girl in our class who doesn’t have frizzy hair and isn’t gawky like me. The day I find out about Chris and this other girl I come home and cry a lot and my mom rolls her eyes and tells me to get over it and to get a tougher skin but that only makes me cry harder so then my mom tells me that I’m crazy and that I’m sick and that I need help so she sends me to a therapist named Cheryl who works out of her house and seems very nice and always gives me
candy but one day after a few months of seeing Cheryl my mom and I get into a fight in which she informs me that she knows everything I’m saying in therapy because Cheryl has told her and I realize later on in life that this is unethical and that Cheryl was probably just my mom’s friend and not a therapist but at this time I decide that therapists are good for nothing and even the supposedly crazy people like me can’t trust them. 4) My mother is an immigrant, and my sister, my father, and I are all children of immigrants. Immigrants, as research shows, have increased psychotic symptomatology and rates of depression in comparison to natives.  Beyond that, my mother is a rural immigrant who comes from two rural immigrant parents. Research shows that in these circumstances, psychotic symptomatology and rates of depression are compounded.  July 2007 My mom seems to be looking at herself in the mirror but really she’s looking at the photo of a pile of millions of dollars that she had printed out and taped up in the bathroom so she wouldn’t forget that money was the most important thing in life which to some people might seem shallow but those people probably didn’t grow up in a tiny rural town in a tiny farm house where they had to share a room with their parents until they
were fourteen and their mother made all their clothes since their parents couldn’t afford to buy new ones and their father was a janitor when they were in high school and tried to talk to their friends in his very broken English during passing periods but that was certainly how she grew up so money was the most important. My mom thinks about those other people and their childhoods and then she thinks about her own and she starts crying because it’s all so unfair so she takes some of the un-prescribed medication she got from a doctor friend and stops crying and feels nothing for a little bit. Apparently therapy is about the situation at hand, so we consider none of this. --We only had ten sessions of family therapy, rife with screaming, pointing fingers, running out of the room, and long silences. Four years later, we have distanced ourselves from this time, whether by physically moving far away, like me, or ignoring it, like my father. But we are still a family of screaming, pointing fingers, running out of the room, and long silences. We cannot be “cured” so to say, without cultural competence.
Bluestockings was made possible in part by a grant from the Brown University Creative Arts Council
Sarah Doyle Women’s Center Feminists At Brown Pembroke Center Department of History of Art & Architecture Granoff Center AS220 Finlandia Gail Cohee Sarah Forman Lily Goodspeed Janet Isserlis Gopika Krishna
Frances Mantak Taylor Lanzet Sara Matthiesen Nikos Melachrinos John Qua Anna Reed Robert Self Alexandra Sepolen Michael Stewart Stoni Tomson Brenda Zhang Dan Zhang
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Hannah Antalek Bedroom Scene II
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Megan Pickering She’d Drunk The Shampoo
Tom Deininger MickOprah
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Jen Lewis Beauty in Blood: Hitting Bottom
Jenna Marsh Untitled
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Christopher Thompson Sunbathing on Czorsztyn Lake
Maya Fuhr Objectify
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Alexandra Metcalf Bad Sex
Elizabeth Walden I pressed the copper between my flesh and the bathroom wall...
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Dillon Froelich When commissioned to film Atlantic City Airways’ safety PSA, The Decision Makers eventually chose to call in the Hot Girls Club mascot after only two days of shooting, giving the illusion to 15 year old boys that it is actually possible to sit next to an attractive girl on both domestic and international flights.
the radical notion that women are people. fem·i·nism [fem-uh-niz-uhm] noun the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men. feminism is organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests. “as a woman i have no country, as a woman my country is the whole world.” - virginia woolf. feminism is a collection of movements and ideologies aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights for everyone. feminism is both an intellectual commitment and a political movement that seeks gender justice and the end of sexism in all forms. feminism is respecting people of all genders, races, and sexuality as human beings. feminism is for everyone. feminism is the belief that equal rights are not defined by sex. fem·i·nism [fem-uh-niz-uhm] verb to help women get the vote, obtain equal rights for jobs, make laws to control domestic violence, obtain the rights to own property, to divorce, to have access to birth control and to have possession of their own bodies. wake up people, and look around you. “if you have some power then your job is to empower someone else.” - toni morrison. feminism means recognizing the past inequalities that have historically denied women access to many social, economic and political spheres that are mostly occupied by men—also recognizing the result of these inequalities have lasting impacts today. “a woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.” – gloria steinem. feminism challenges the dominant narrative. feminism is the difference between life and death. feminism is a celebration of diversity. feminism is inclusion feminism says the personal is political. feminism is having a room of one’s own. feminism is the radical belief that we were all created equal. feminism is
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